Heritage Line is launching a new ship, offering passengers unique experiences, and immersing its travelers in the local culture. Let’s get to know this cruise line sailing through Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
“My idea, when I launched the boutique cruising company, Heritage Line, was to take our guests on rivers that are the life-blood of Southeast Asia. More than most places, the rivers of Southeast Asia are teeming with activities and are an integral part of the daily life of these countries,” says John Tue Nguyen, founder and owner of Heritage Line.
Jim Selkin, business development manager for Heritage Line, adds that, “Our excursions are all customized. We have exclusive rights on where we take our passengers. We can put in requests for unique experiences.” He notes an example of a passenger who was sailing with a family group of 15 and they wanted to go biking. The cruise line arranged for bikes and a guide to take them on their own tour, and the group boarded the ship later that day.
Sailings are culturally immersive with experiences unique to Heritage Line. “On the Mekong River, we take you to exclusive lectures with a well-known professor of modern languages; when we’re in Cambodia, we go to a master potter’s village and have a class with the master potter. We go to a village on the Vietnamese side of Mekong to understand the culture, the people who lived through the war, and what went on. We also go to a totally organic farming village that was developed and we get to work the field, plant and sample the food. In one stop, we were taken to a painter’s home, a well-known artist along the Mekong. They’re not all going to happen every time on every cruise, it depends on the water level along the Mekong—you can only sail on certain times to certain places,” explains Selkin.
For companies or groups with special interests who would like to sail together, Heritage Line also offers charters. “We also charter our ships. One of the big charters is National Geographic through Lindblad [Expeditions]. We also charter for culinary cruises and universities like Standford and Texas A&M,” points out Selkin.
A Unique Product
Selkin describes the ship as being built to emulate a bygone era. The ships in Halong Bay are built like ancient Chinese ships that sailed during the war. They feature original artwork resembling the same luxury junk that were built for rulers back in that era. “All paintings are unique—it’s like a floating art gallery. We really concentrate on the details,” says Selkin. He adds that the influence of the bygone era is seen in the styles of the lounge and in the decor of the rooms.
There is plenty to do while sailing aboard a Heritage Line cruise, with lectures, movies, documentaries and varying activities each night. Selkin mentions that when the ship is docked mid-cruise, cultural dancers come on board, and lectures by linguistics or archaeologists are offered, or even local people who share their personal history and how they lived. “Our guide in Cambodia lived through the killing fields. He had the audience mesmerized. And later [on the trip] we visited the killing fields and museum,” adds Selkin.
“It’s an experience on the river. Not only do you have a beautiful period-designed boat, you get to sail in the line of luxury, you also get to experience where you’re going,” says Selkin, in regard to the Heritage experience.
Heritage offers 7-night sailings on the Mekong between My Tho, Vietnam and Siem Reap, Cambodia. However, if your client can’t sail for seven nights, they can sail a portion of the trip on 3- or 4-night sailings. “If a client can’t come on the river for seven nights, we’re happy to sell them the segment,” says Selkin. A 4-night sailing in Cambodian waters from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (in either direction) is also available.
The line’s new ship, the Anawrahta, is currently being completed in Saigon Harbor, and will sail the Irrawaddy River and Chindwin River. The inaugural sailing is set for September, and another in October; regular sailings will begin in October. The ship is a paddlewheel, built to enable the line to sail at all times. The ship will feature three decks and 23 luxurious cabins—16 Deluxe cabins, 3 Junior Suites, 2 Executive Suites, and 2 Royal Suites—each with a 300-sq.-ft. balcony with a private jacuzzi.
The line will offer a 12-day sailing in Myanmar starting in Mandalay. “For the experienced traveler, the northern section from Mandalay to Bhamo is really a cross off your bucket list, or bragging rights,” says Selkin. He adds that, “at USTOA, Myanmar was the No. 1 destination, and the ‘Top 10’ destination for 2015, while Cambodia was No. 10, and Vietnam No. 6. We’re in all three of [these] ‘Top 10’ destinations. Because Myanmar is on everyone’s radar, as soon as they took sanctions off there was a boom to visit,” he adds.
Selkin mentions that hotels are going up in Myanmar, but will take about five years to complete. With Heritage, the cruise line is “taking the stress off,” points out Selkin, giving passengers a “floating experience in style going up the river essentially for one price.”
Heritage’s client is “the sophisticated traveler as opposed to the person on a budget,” says Selkin. “This is not a budget accommodation.”
“I believe travelers are curious individuals, open to new experiences and to connecting with people from other cultures. I know, because travel is my life. One of my personal passions is to search for new opportunities to better present the countries and their respective heritages to those who journey with us. To that end, I continue to build new vessels, like the Anawrahta for Myanmar, and look to expand our brand to other rivers across the greater region,” says Tue Nguyen.
Selkin notes that the majority of the line’s travelers are 40+, or an active 50+. He notes that being active is important as travelers are off the boat at least twice a day on excursions. “It’s not like you have a chance to be sedentary,” he adds. The line offers tai chi at 6:30 a.m. every morning on all ships. Adding that, “We’re not an adrenaline tour. We’re not going bungee jumping or anything like that. But it’s not sitting around your deck chair, you’re out there walking, learning, and it’s a lot of walking.”
As for the line’s timing with the new ship sailing in Myanmar, Selkin points out, “The Irrawaddy will see a number of new ships sailing on her waters. However, with the introduction of the Anawrahta in September, Heritage Line will be the focus for a long time because of her design and decor. In addition, we will provide discerning travelers with a culturally immersive experience in Myanmar while enjoying a luxury onboard experience.”
For more information, visit heritage-line.com.