Cambodia, The Mekong Delta and into Vietnam

Community Highlights Asia Cambodia, The Mekong Delta and into Vietnam

Cambodia and the Mekong Delta
28th Jan -2nd Feb

An amazing and enlightening few days
Angkor Wat
On arriving in Siem Reap we arranged with a tuk tuk driver to be our guide for the next day and agreed which “Temple Tour” we would take of the Angkor Wat region. The drivers are setup for this, he had laminated sheets tucked into the ceiling showing our options. We agreed a sum equivalent of £20 for the day and paid a deposit (we used Thai Bat and felt this was a fair price) hoping that he would arrive at the hotel as promised at 4:40 the next day- he did and duly whisked us off to the ticket office to begin our day.

Watching the sunrise over the ancient Angkor Wat is spectacular, especially as we had not seen the temple before. As the sun rose more and more of its magnificence and splendour was revealed. I had been worried about the crowds, but I needn’t have been, there is plenty of space for everyone! Also, many of the bus tours left as the sun had risen, you need to wait for another 30 mins to allow it to appear above the Temple, be patient its worth it! The rest of the day was taken with Bayon, Elephant Terrace, and Ta Prohm (the setting for Tomb Raider).


Our trusty driver ferried us between the sites and was waiting (often scrabbling out of his hammock) in the agreed spot as we finished. Drivers and hammocks are part of the landscape of Angkor Wat! I will not go into detail about the Temples, others have done it far better! 20190128_103950.jpg?auto=format
Climbing the steps to the high towers forces you to crawl up them, due to the incredibly steep incline. Crawling towards God, hence giving homage to God, who was presumable waiting at the top?

The swimming pool and our comfortable air-conditioned room (JS Links Angkor) were a welcome sight after 8+ hours of exploring. Steve’s delight at the Temples was nearly matched at finding (though we weren’t looking for it!) a supermarket that sold western items such as milk and cornflakes. This was the first time we had any milk or dairy since leaving Australia.

Phnom Penh
Steve has covered our journey here in a separate post. I was engrossed in the latest Robert Galbraith book listening via Audible so the adventure of Cormorant Strike and Robyn took my mind off the road!

The Foreign Correspondents club is very well placed for a short trip to Phnom Penh, adjacent to the river, Royal Palace, museum etc. It is full of character and colonial charm and is also comfortable. I felt like a character in a Graham Greene novel as we drank cocktails on the terrace watching the riverside. We were in contemplative mood as we had just visited the Killing Fields, a museum and memorial documenting the atrocities of the Genocide between 1975\79 under the leadership of Pol Pot. It was harrowing to visit but important to do so if in Cambodia. It also seemed to us to be a mark of respect. We experienced so many emotions that it is difficult to document but here are a few
• Sheer sadness that we humans have the capacity for such cruelty. 3 million people including babies and children (about ¼ of the population) were killed or died of disease and starvation. Those who were executed were mainly bludgeoned to death as bullets were too precious.
• Amazement and incredulity that there seems to be no lasting urge for revenge. Each person we have spoken to talked about this has referred to the importance of Buddhism and the belief in Karma as a reason for looking to the future not the past.
• Perplexed…Where was the international community at this time? I think most Foreign Correspondents had left. We were adults at the time, marching for justice about so many things, yet oblivious of the atrocities in Cambodia
• Astonishment that The Khmer Rouge had a place in the United Nations until 1982,
the west was driven by a blind fear of communism and so turned a blind eye to the activities of its so called allies….anything sound familiar there?
• A greater understanding regarding the importance in the Buddhist tradition of respect for the dead and honouring the bones of one’s ancestors. The tower of skulls in the memorial may seem macabre to us but it is an important mark of respect to the Cambodians. Link to transcript.!Ao6jvSe4V-qYhvwxDK4OMWnj1TTfmg

Our driver talked to us about his family’s experience. His father had been a teacher, so they were an immediate target. The family left Phnom Penh as every family did. Everyone was expelled from the city in a few days. They went to villages, where his father pretended, he was a bicycle repairer. This worked for a short while but soon they were under suspicion, his father fled to the hills. The family was separated. At the end of the war 3 of his siblings were among the “disappeared” and have never been accounted for. 2 others had died of starvation. His mother aged 87 turned down the chance of joining a son in America because she still holds the hope that maybe a missing child may try to return home. He acknowledged that unknowingly he was probably living alongside those that had done the killing. We heard story after story like this. I recommend reading a novel by Madeleine Thien which explores this; Dogs at the Perimeter.

Jayavarman River Boat Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
3 nights and 4 days of luxury on the Mekong Delta travelling into Vietnam!
We spoilt ourselves here, but I am glad we did. A small river boat cruise (50 guests). This was the most “Western” we have been since departing Australia. Other guests on the boat were from the UK and elsewhere in Europe, the States and Canada and even a Kiwi. The lectures gave a good understanding both of Cambodian and Vietnamese recent history (our immediate conclusion is that, as ever, the interference of the Western countries has served to escalate tensions not resolve them). The local guides had devised tours and visits to villages that are not on the tourist trail, at no point did anyone try to sell us a souvenir. We felt that we had a glimpse of real life on the Mekong delta. One of the memories that will stay with me was when we had the opportunity to talk with 2 village elders from Binh Thanh Island, (Vietnam) in summary they were so relieved that the years of war were now over. They felt that life was now improving, their hopes for the future were for a high school and a hospital on the island (education and health care). Their fears….air pollution, water pollution, climate change and its effects on the River Delta. We have such a global challenge on our hands with regards to managing the earth’s resources, time we worked together to find solutions rather than building walls and developing policies based on fear of each other. This lady’s story was humbling and challenging.

The cruise was good in other ways, the Heritage line supported local projects and schools. they gave money to the villages and asked that we did not do so. Therefore, the local children did not beg or ask for gifts and the money given was used wisely to promote wellbeing. Some of the crew members had been recruited and trained from the school supported by Heritage Line. The boys of My An Hung village have been practising their Lion Dance and performed for us. I guess they ranged in age from about 8-15 years. It was splendid, so skilful as they leapt from platform to platform: in fact the lion was a unicorn in this story! They have performed in other village festivals and are hoping for more bookings; I get the feeling that this is quite a “competitive sport”!

Last but not least it was good to meet new people, share experiences over a glass of wine and plan future travels. Steve and I are spending a lot of time in each other’s company so its been good to chat with some new friends!

Saigon 2nd 3rd Feb
Its crazy!

I think the Top Gear episode in Saigon explains it well!
We spent 2 days and one night here. Walking the streets as the New Year celebrations were beginning, the year of the Pig, was good fun and interesting. We even became part of a crowd thronging to see the President.. we may have caught a glimpse of him in the distance!
Crossing the road is a skill that needs perfecting. You need nerves of steel, the eyes of a fly and the feet of a gazelle! Everyone in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) seems to own a motorbike and it is the main means of transport.
We also spent half a day at the Reunification Palace, worth a visit as you try to piece together the history of Indochina. Make sure you visit the interactive display about the period before 1954 (in the French style Villa).
All in all a good 2 days here and ready to catch the night train to Da Nang

This featured blog entry was written by Valfowles from the blog Granny On the Rails.
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By Valfowles

Posted Tue, Feb 05, 2019 | Vietnam | Comments