We made it to Cambodia…Angkor Wat, a hard reality we’ve had to accept…More Hanoi photos…”The Hanoi Hilton”

Hỏa Lò Prison, aka Mason Centrale (meaning central house in French) was nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” during the war in Vietnam. Hỏa Lò Prison was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War. During this later period it was sarcastically known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was demolished in part during the 1990s, though the gatehouse remains as a museum.”

Yesterday morning, we toured the Old Quarter in Vietnam riding in a small golf cart-like six passenger vehicle, through the narrow streets too tight for cars or buses. We took many photos we’ll soon share.

General information at the prison.

By 12:30 pm, we were on the bus on the way to the Hanoi Noi Bai airport where Kong, our leader, host and guide from Viking Cruises had every aspect of the flight and eventual arrival at the hotel in Cambodia covered. He’s so good at what he does, he even negotiated with Vietnam Airlines to waive our excess baggage fees. 

Broken glass atop this wall as added security. This type of glass was cemented into the top of the walls of our villa in Kenya. (See our link for details and photo).

From the baggage handling, to immigration and customs processing everything was prearranged and handled seamlessly. Our little group of 54 passengers shuffled along  with our carry-on as we made our way to the newer comfortable airplane.

A painting currently on display at the historical site.

In less than two hours from boarding, we landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s funny how we’re still so excited entering a new country, especially as beautiful as Cambodia, a lush green plethora of flowers, trees and dense rainforest.  

A painting of the prison.

Vietnam had its own unique charm and appeal, but Cambodia is an entirely different environment, covered in water and rice paddies in many areas in what appears to be vast lowlands. It’s the rainy season here now and the Nazis are on a frenzy for fresh meat, making our group ideal targets.

A drawing of the map of the prison.

After a short 20 minute bus ride we arrived at yet another luxurious five star hotel, Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort. Unlike the Sofitel in Hanoi this hotel complex is nestled among the trees in the rainforest. It, too, is exquisitely appointed with some of the finest service we’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Massive gates to the main prison area.

Our spacious room (we didn’t upgrade this time) was perfect, again with every amenity we can possibly need or want.  Photos will follow, of course. The grounds are breathtaking. 

An architectural representation of the prison prior to parts of it being demolished in the 1990’s.

Last night’s included dinner buffet and this morning’s breakfast buffet were over the top. The chef met with me before dinner pointing out which foods fit my strict dietary criteria. 

Rendition of prisoner’s shackles.

I was practically squealing with delight when so many dishes were suitable including the most delicious side dish I’ve had in five years, a cauliflower cheese gratin made without sugar, starch or grain.

Statues of how prisoner lived.  Horrifying.

Rarely do I ever return for a second plate at a buffet but last night Tom went back to the buffet to bring me a second plate of the cauliflower gratin. It was comparable to eating a fine dessert minus the sweetness. Guess I’ll be adding this dish to our repertoire of side dishes as soon as we get to Phuket, providing we can find cauliflower, whole cream and cheese.

This word translates to “dungeon” since this was the solitary confinement area.

Anyway, one of many reasons I was particularly attracted to the Viking Mekong River cruise and tour was my interest in visiting Angkor Wat (see below from this website):

“Angkor Wat is a temple complex, indeed the largest religious structure in the world, and part of the capital city of the Khmer Empire, which controlled all the area in what is today the modern country of Cambodia, as well as parts of Laos and Thailand, between the 9th and 13th centuries AD.

The Temple Complex includes a central pyramid of some 60 meters (200 ft) in height, contained within an area of about two square kilometers (~3/4 of a square mile), surrounded by a defensive wall and moat.”

The tiny solitary confinement cell.

Supposedly, visiting Angkor Wat is comparable to visiting Petra in Jordan (see our link here) for its profound effect on each visitor its in own special way. Of course, this appealed to both of us.

Few prisoners escaped from the prison through the sewer system. 

But, reality of daily life prevails and as hard as I tried to make this morning’s arranged four plus hour walking tour suitable for my current painful condition, it just wasn’t worth the risk. 

Example of how prisoners chipped away at the stone in the sewer system in order to escape.

There’s no way it made sense to walk the long distances, required at the historic site, climb the many flights of steps without handrails and not exacerbated my slowly recovering condition.

Artistic rendition of a part of the prison.

We considered just going and doing what I could but I know myself…I would have pushed beyond reason forcing myself to “tough it out” without complaint. Essentially, I could have reversed the progress I worked so hard to attain over this past almost six weeks since the injury. 

The guillotine in the Hanoi Hilton.

Then, we wouldn’t be able to do anything on the cruise itself which begins in 54 hours. We just didn’t want to risk it. Its the nature of our lives. If we lived like most of the world, if we had such an injury we’d have stayed home, canceling the trip and taken the time necessary to heal.

Side view of the guillotine.

For us, we continue on in our travels as long as we get on a plane, into a hotel or next vacation home, all of which I’ve somehow managed to do over these past busy weeks. 

This area ensconced in artwork may have been the prisoner’s exercise yard.
In the past two weeks we moved into four different hotels in four different countries, flown on three international flights, taken over 1000 photos and posted each and every day. 

I can’t beat myself up over not choosing to visit Angkor Wat or, as a matter of fact, a few more temples in the next few days, all of which require hours of walking and climbing steps. 

Artwork in yard.

It is what it is. Personal strength not only comes from “doing” but also from “accepting” when one can’t “do” when a situation requires holding back. I’m there today, in acceptance mode. With smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts we’ll participate in everything I can do instead of focusing on what I cannot. 

Today, we’re sharing more photos from Vietnam and soon will start uploading many photos we’ve already taken of Cambodia including those we’ll be adding over the next few days until our departure.

Happy day!

Photo from one year ago today, July 11, 2015:

Spoonbill, rightfully so named. For more photos, please click here.

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