Pioneering river expedition company Pandaw has relaunched its popular Saigon-Siem Reap Classic Mekong river expedition to penetrate further up the Mekong than any other operator.The revised itinerary on the RV Mekong Pandaw includes a rare opportunity to observe the Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin, one of Southeast Asia’s most charismatic and elusive river-dwellers.Thanks to Mekong Pandaw’s low draft, the sumptuous ship can carry passengers 100 kilometres further into the heart of the Cambodian interior than any passenger vessel has yet ventured. The new itinerary now goes as far as the picturesque French colonial river port of Kratie, from where passengers can travel by local transport into the habitat of the Mekong’s shy but playful dolphin population.Paul Strachan, Pandaw’s founder, said: “We are very excited about this new route, which allows us to take Pandaw passengers into completely new territory, which for navigational reasons has been hitherto off-limits to river cruise operators.“As none of our competitors goes anywhere near Kratie, this is an another unique opportunity for Pandaw passengers. I see it as one of Pandaw’s most exciting innovations in our 21 years of plying the rivers of Southeast Asia.”The new Classic Mekong itinerary offers Pandaw passengers the very best chance to explore local villages, markets, churches, temples, the vast Mekong Delta, Phnom Penh, the Tonle River, as well as Kratie and the Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin.Cousins of the better-known Irrawaddy Dolphin, the Mekong’s subpopulation of dolphin has lived closely with the river-dependent peoples for thousands of years, giving rise to many traditions about their spiritual significance. Dolphin numbers have reduced to less than 100 in this stretch of Mekong near Kratie, earning them the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s classification of “critically endangered”. However, they are closely monitored by various conservation charities, with whom Pandaw’s dolphin-watching activities are coordinated.Upstream itinerary in brief:Day 1: Saigon to My Tho and embark RV Mekong Pandaw.Day 2: Explore Sa Dec market on an excursion by sampan.Day 3: Visit Cham tribal village and a cat fish farm at Chau doc. Cross the border into Cambodia.Day 4: Full day in Phnom Penh, visits include the Royal Palace and national museum.Day 5: Venture up the Tonle River to a silver-making village.Day 6: Cruise to the charming colonial port of Kratie.Day 7: Observe the Mekong dolphin in the protected national park.Day 8: Transfer from Kampong Cham to Siem Reap.Note: downstream itinerary operates in reverse.The seven-night Classic Mekong itinerary operates from July to March, with prices from US$1755 per person (main deck, twin share).The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins can also be observed on Pandaw’s three- or four-night short cruises operating from July to March from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (or vv), with prices from US$792 per person (main deck, twin share).
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