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BOARD A PRIVATE SAMPAN ON THE MEKONG, VIETNAMBy Hannah Jones If being cocooned in an air-condi oned hotel on the water seems the perfect way to explore the Mekong (pictured above), then chartering a private sampan for a day or two is probably not for you! But for a more authen c view of Vietnam, there is no be er way to  avel.  ese converted rice barges o er one or two-night cruises along this bustling waterway where you can witness life along this unique s etch of river. e sampans are run with your own private crew and guide, stopping at key highlights along the way including the Mekong town of Sa Dec. Here, you can visit the former home of Marguerite Duras - the French writer lived here in the early 1900s and caused quite a scandal www.audley.co.uk/southeast-asia | AUDLEY TRAVELLER | 31by having an a air with a Vietnamese lover. Simple ac vi es, such as mee ng the locals that sell their  esh  uit and vegetables at the markets, were so memorable; in my case, this included the lovely wife of the captain of my sampan, who was determined to make me  y each of her products. My advice: stay away  om the durian! However, I returned to the sampan and found a terri c lunch wai ng, so the taste did not stay with me for long.As the sampan bobs along you can sit in a simple but comfortable living room towards the  ont of the vessel. Keep your eyes peeled - there's lots to watch, including the local  aders  anspor ng goods and livestock in boats that look like they might sink at any moment.  ere are also some fantas c opportuni es to stop o at local businesses including sweet factories, farms, even a brick kiln, where you can  uly understand how the local people live o the land. SOUTHEAST ASIAAnother exclusive and touching part of the cruise is the op on to have dinner in a local home, where three genera ons of the same family all live. Friendly faces and a lovely host made this a superb experience and a fantas c insight into family life in Vietnam, as well as enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal.  e  nal morning on board sees you heading to the largest  oa ng market on the Mekong, Cai Rang. Here there is  ue chaos as  aders sell their produce and the bartering ensues. Numerous boats, both large and small, are stu ed to the brim with goods - it is de nitely an astonishing sight.GET STARTEDA ten day tailor-made trip to southern Vietnam, with two nights aboard a private sampan, starts from £1,980pp. For more information please callHannah or our Vietnam team on01993 838 140.

32 | AUDLEY TRAVELLER | www.audley.co.uk/southeast-asiaTAKE A LUANG SAY CRUISE, LAOSBy Mark HothamIf you have ever been to Laos, you will be familiar with the deligh ully slow pace of life there. So  ying s aight in  om busy Bangkok or your hec c life in the UK can mean that your  rst taste of Laos comes with a bit of a jolt.  is is where the wonderful Luang Say Cruise comes into its own. A two-day cruise down the Mekong  om the border with northern  ailand, the cruise sails lazily down through some of the most remote areas of northern Laos, nosing into Luang Prabang at the end of the second day. En route you stop overnight in a lodge that nestles into the banks of the Mekong in a stunning loca on, and can sit back on the terrace in the evening enjoying fantas c Lao cuisine and a cold beer as the stars come out over the surrounding mountains.  e languid pace of this cruise, and the rela vely few calls on your energy, make it the perfect way to immerse yourself into the way of life in this charming land. SAIL ON THE ANANTARA SONG, THAILANDBy Alex RossWhen I think of Bangkok the  rst image that springs to mind is of tuk-tuks whizzing around busy s eets - a exci ng and vibrant place to spend  me, but when a break is needed, you do not need to look far.  e Anantara Song is a lovely three-day cruise  om Bangkok, the perfect way to take a break  om the ci in s le and explore the Chao Phraya River. Cruising along in a 100-year-old rice barge is a novel way to  avel. Coupled with classic  ai hospitali , super food and some mesmerising sights, the Anantara Song o ers a  uly unique experience.  ere are some fascina ng historical sites en route too, with the old capital Ayu haya and sprawling Summer Palace topping the list. Of course, as with all river cruises, it is the scenery that makes it. Life on the river is never s ll, with longtail boats and giant barges constantly plying the waters, sa on-clad monks in monasteries on the riverbanks and  oa ng markets alive with the cha er of bartering. With only four cabins, the Anantara Song is an in mate and relaxing way to explore the Chao Phraya River while enjoying the comfort of a lovely cabin and a very s lish boat. ci of hustle and bustle. Bangkok is an GET STARTEDAn 11 day tailor-made trip to Laos including the Luang Say Cruise starts from £2,335pp. For more information please call Mark or our Laos team on 01993 838 125.GET STARTEDA 12 day tailor-made trip to Thailand, including time in Bangkok, on the Anantara Song and a beach break, starts from £2,550pp. For more information please call Alex or our Thailand team on 01993 838 115.