About Us: Luxury Cruises Along the Mekong Delta

Magical Mekong: Dreamlike days in ancient Cambodia

The little Cambodian girl stares up at me with big round eyes and shyly takes my hand. "My name is Sehya," she says. "May I sing you a song? " Before I can reply, this charming eight-year-old is chanting her way through "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands". Her fluting voice is word perfect as her toes tap along to the tune.

I am in Sehya's home village of Kampong Tralach Krom which straddles the banks of the enormous Mekong River.

Our visit here is one of many highlights on a week's cruise on Toum Tiou II, sailing from Vietnam's bustling Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

The sprawling, muddy river snakes almost 3,000 miles from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea, a mammoth journey that Su Perkins undertakes in her BBC TV series, The Mekong River; my sector covers only 420 miles and two of the Mekong's six countries.

Sehya's village sums up what the adventure is about. Colourful stilted homes front emerald green paddy fields glistening in the steamy heat.

Dragonflies zigzag through the air and, on a dusty road, ox-drawn carts trundle past, laden with sacks of rice.

Seyha takes me to her school, a yellow painted one-storey building with two classrooms where children are diligently working on their English vocabulary.

Picture posters line the walls spelling out the dangers of not washing your hands or leaving food out for flies.

Not for the first time on this trip, I am struck by the attentiveness of the local pupils that we encounter. So, too, are my fellow passengers and we happily commend their excellent English before boarding our ox carts for a bumpy but jolly ride back to the boat.

There are 24 of us on Toum Tiou II. A family party of Hawaiians, two American couples and a fellow Brit.

The vessel is built to resemble an old Cambodian royal barge. It has two decks of cabins along with an indoor dining area and a shaded top deck where rattan armchairs and recliners surround a small cocktail bar.

Being a small boat, the atmosphere on board is intimate and relaxed: no need to dress up for dinner, no captain's cocktail party either, save a farewell drink and sing-along on our final evening.

My compact cabin is comfortable, with teakwood twin beds, palm matted walls and a bathroom featuring a powerful colour-mood effect shower.

BBC presenter Sue Perkins on her voyage along the Mekong

We spend mornings chilling over coffee on the upper deck, mesmerised by the dreamy views of fishermen in wooden longboats, fierce eyes painted on the boats' prows that aim to ward off sea monsters.

Water hyacinths bob gently on the ripples and tiny children wave as they splash in the shallows. Occasionally a brightly painted pagoda is glimpsed through the fretwork of gum trees.

A buffet lunch of local stir fry and soup along with a selection of international salads follows, with afternoons ushering in exciting excursions that are included in the cruise price.

Each village and town we visit has its own character, dominated by hectic street markets and distinctive Buddhist temples.

In Vietnam's Sa Dec, I find a small city barely touched by tourism. Early morning light glints over squat pastelcoloured houses. In the market, sellers crouch before shallow pails of still-leaping fish. Others offer pyramids of mangos, dragon fruit and yams.

The cities yield more durable souvenirs. Silk and wood carvings are readily available and the US dollar is widely accepted. In Phnom Penh, Cambodia's lovely capital, where splendid wide tree-lined boulevards flank the impressive royal palace, I find shops and covered markets selling exquisite handicrafts.

I buy woven tablemats and a brilliantly coloured silk scarf for $8 before enjoying a feast of amok, a delicious fish stew cooked in coconut, in a local restaurant.

Outside, streets are knotted with zippy mopeds, and crossing safely feels like injecting espresso straight into my veins.

The impressive Ho Chi Minh City Hall is just one of the many spectacular sights to see

The trick, I am told, is to walk slowly, giving plenty of eye contact, ignoring the natural urge to dash like mad and hope for the best.

I make my way past narrow French colonial apartments, stacked like so many pastel-hued Bento boxes among the new builds and arrive at the Tuol Sleng Museum.

This former high school was taken over by the Khmer Rouge in 1975, during the Vietnam War, and turned into a prison and torture centre. Rooms are filled with harrowing photographic images of unspeakable cruelty but it is a necessary detour if you wish to understand something of Cambodia's troubled past.

In the courtyard I meet artist Bou Meng, an octogenarian survivor. This diminutive man's serene expression belies the many horrors he must have witnessed. But Cambodians are a resilient race and farther north, on the banks of the huge Tonl© Sap lake, the floating village of Chnok Tru uncovers a self-sufficient waterworld of bridge-linked stilted houses, pagodas and schools.

A barge doubles as a clothes store, stilted sheds sell provisions and open-fronted bars reveal villagers sipping Angkor beers.

In contrast, our final stop, Siem Reap, is palpably urban. Hippies scour the markets for cheap T-shirts and colourful harem pants. Lively bars flank the narrow road known as Pub Street.

But my mission is to visit Angkor Wat, the remains of the world's largest medieval metropolis which straddles the city's northern edge.

What still stands of this extraordinary complex are its temples, their huge towers shaped like lotus buds piercing the sky. Most atmospheric is Ta Prohm, a temple still partially strangled by the jungle. This was the setting for the adventure movie Tomb Raider.

Like Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie) I pick my way through crumbling arches and past faded Buddhas while parakeets shriek among the sugar palms. It is an extraordinary place and a fitting end to a river journey that has only scratched the surface of two vibrant countries.

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