Johannesburg - The Mekong River is the 12th longest in the world and borders Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is also home to the legend of the Phaya Naga and the mysterious Naga Fireballs.

Similar to dragons and occupying a position somewhere between the gods and animals the Phaya Naga is a mythical serpent that surfaces throughout Indian and Southeast Asian legends. Travellers to the East will recognise the Naga immediately as it can be found in many Buddhist and Hindu works of art and on temples and statues.

In the Buddhist stories, the Naga serpent Muchalinda spreads out his multiple heads to protect the Buddha from a storm as he meditates. The role of protector is continued at almost every temple in Thailand, where Nagas grace the roofs of the assembly halls and guard the entrance to the temple precincts.

The Phaya Naga is a beast of mythical proportions that lives in legend and the imagination of many locals, but the 'Naga Fireballs' are most certainly real. This strange phenomenon occurs every year in the Mekong River near the border between Laos and Thailand. People gather along the banks of the mighty Mekong at night, towards the end of the rainy season on or near a full moon in October or November.

Silently small orbs of red light break free from the surface of the river, rising to a hundred feet or more before disappearing into the air. Legend has it that the Phaya Naga shoots these orbs into the air. Skeptics and scientists dismiss the fireballs as swamp gas and fireworks, but what is true is that to this day the origin of the Naga Fireballs remains unexplained.

Discover the mythical, magical Mekong River for yourself when you travel with Uniworld on their 15 days cruise and tour itinerary through Vietnam & Cambodia. Running the gamut from ancient to modern, rural to urban, forested mountains to arable plains, the 'Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong' will delight.

Modern history enthusiasts will find fascinating and terrifying remnants of the ravages of war, from the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Nature lovers will revel in the singular beauty of the Mighty Mekong and those in search of ancient cultures will be in awe of the Angkor Wat temple complex.

A photo posted by Vanessa Kole (@va_nesza) on

Your journey starts in Ho Chi Minh City-once known as Saigon and the “Paris of the Orient”-now a bustling economic boom-town that offers a heady mixture of old and new. Delve into the Vietnam War's infamous Cu Chi tunnels before boarding your comfortable ship, the River Orchid. Visit artisan workshops and a lively floating market via a traditional wooden sampan, as well as a tribal village and local fish farm. After crossing the border into Cambodia, enjoy an exhilarating cycle tour of the capital city, Phnom Penh, and stop at the city's Genocide Museum to learn more about the dark events of the 20th century. Take a scenic cruise to see a “floating village” on the Tonle Sap River, and visit a hilltop monastery where local monks will bestow a special Buddhist blessing upon you.

Handcrafted in French colonial style, the River Orchid provides an intimate and tranquil haven throughout your cruise on the Mekong River. This quiet and peaceful ship carries no more than 58 guests, ensuring gracious and attentive service from our friendly and impeccably trained onboard staff. The ship's comfortable staterooms have French doors that open to a shared promenade, a restaurant with panoramic views, a lounge and library, and an onboard spa.

One of the many highlights of your Uniworld journey will be two full days at Cambodia's spectacular Unesco-designated Angkor Wat temple complex, one of the world's largest and most important archaeological sites and the former epicentre of the Khmer empire. Explore Ta Prohm, with its massive stones smothered under the roots of giant banyan trees, and Bayon Temple, famous for its immense and enigmatic stone faces.

Your journey concludes in historic Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, where your city tour features the former prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs, a cycle tour of the colonial district, and a traditional water puppet show.

Adapted from a press release for IOL

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