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All travel is a journey into another world, and Vietnam-based Heritage Line seems to add time travel to its exotic cruises on Asian waterways.
Heritage Line reaches back to the romance of British and French colonial style of the early 1900s to design ships with rich woods, elaborate carvings, shining lacquer and elegant fabrics, while offering the amenities that today’s traveler expects. Highly individualized vessels combine influences ranging from French art deco and the legendary ocean liner, the Normandie, to classic Indian art and architecture.
According to Jim Selkin, business development manager for Heritage Line, the company seeks to become a known brand in itself. Though it shares the same corporate ownership umbrella as Trails of Indochina and is a member of Signature Travel Network, Heritage wants agents to associate its name with a signature product: the new paddlewheel cruise ship in Myanmar, launching in September, to be specific. The 23-stateroom, all-balcony Anawrahta’s shallow draft will allow it to carry passengers into the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River.
Heritage has features that vary from ship to ship on the Mekong River and Halong Bay, including butler service, alternative dining and spas. Selkin points out that the variety of Heritage vessels is demonstrated through the three sisters deployed on HalongBay: Ginger, Jasmine and Violet.
The trio is built in the style of glorified traditional Vietnamese junks with saffron and scarlet sails, unique lacquerwork and regional art. Ginger offers 10 staterooms, while Jasmine has 23. The newest of the three ships, Violet, has just six balcony suites (two juniors and four full suites), which is ideal for a full ship charter.
On the Mekong, Heritage has two vessels: the Jahan and Jayavarman. The 26-stateroom Jahan is named after the 17th-century Mughal ruler Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal and was a patron of the arts. The ship is straight out of British colonial luxury — but, of course, with updated amenties. Accommodations onboard the Jahan range from about 323-square-foot staterooms to 549-square-foot suites, all with private balconies. Suite guests enjoy butler service and Jacuzzis.
The Jayavarman, influenced by the art deco style of the Normandie, offers 27 staterooms, with elaborate carvings and colorful Vietnamese lacquer paintings.
Onboard the vessels, guests enjoy formal dining and casual barbecues; learn tai chi and regional cooking; and experience local massage treatments. The company capitalizes on the ships’ small size to bring passengers to authentic local culture in seldom seen towns and villages along the rivers, and offers opportunities for them to take part in the daily life of the villagers. Hands-on experiences — such as visiting a master potter’s village in Cambodia and taking a class from the master potter — bring high praise from the passengers.
Current itineraries include several different approaches to cruising the Mekong, such as the seven-night The Lost Civilization cruise, between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, that combines World Heritage sites with barely visited destinations. Another example is the three- or four-night Serenity Cruise between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, visiting some of the best areas of rural Cambodia. Heritage also offers an unusual Cruise & Bike itinerary between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap for active guests.
Heritage is a green company and just announced new eco-friendly tenders. In addition, ships on the Mekong and the new Anawrahta in Myanmar have triple-filter, reverse osmosis water purification systems to ensure ample supply of clean, fresh water. The line also focuses on giving back to local communities — guests can donate time and money to the schools Heritage subsidizes along the rivers.
To help agents become more familiar with its product, Heritage offers fams through its destination management companies or partners, including Signature Travel Network.