Final post on Cambodia and Vietnam Viking Mekong River cruise and tour…Photos of us and more…Why did we choose this particular cruise?

Camera in my hand while Tom carried our little insulated bag with chilled bottled water as we exited the boat for a tour.

Today is our final post on our recent tour of Cambodia and Vietnam by land and river over a period of 15 days to which we added an extra three days.  Certainly, 18 total days in two countries is hardly enough time to gain the perspective we acquire when spending two to three months living in a country.

The first night aboard the river boat for a lecture by our cruise director Enrico, about the upcoming adventure.

With the number of tours we attended, the three cities in which we stayed; Hanoi, Vietnam, Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, we had an opportunity to experience a little understanding of life in these cities and two countries, both in today’s world and in the past.

Why did we choose this particular tour/cruise?  During our past 13 ocean-going cruises we had opportunities to ask other cruisers as to their favorites. 

Visit to Ho Chi Minh Memorial in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Many mentioned this cruise as one of their favorites each offering their personal reasons which may have included; (for older citizens) vets having fought in Vietnam during the war; having lost a friend or loved one during the war; or having diligently followed the news of the war during its progression and later, or simply having an interest in war history.

For Tom, having lost his brother-in-law Ernie (brother of his ex-wife) whom was KIA in Vietnam in 1970, always felt visiting Vietnam was some sort of betrayal. 

Not quite clear (not our photo) at dinner aboard the river boat with some of the many new friends we made on the cruise/’tour.

But, after hearing from many US and Aussie vets we met on past cruises, who expressed that visiting Vietnam was cathartic and ultimately healing, he reconsidered with a little prodding from me.

My reasons were less profound.  One, I wanted to see Tom find peace in the process and two, an immense curiosity after reading and hearing over a period of many years, of how both Cambodia and Vietnam as they’ve recovered from the war and decades of horror and strife, now welcome citizens of the US and others from around the world with open arms.

This day’s ride through Phnom Penh in a rickshaw proved to be very uncomfortable for me and I was thrilled when it was over.  Otherwise, it would have been a fabulous outing in the busy city.

Neither of us were disappointed.  From the moment we landed in Hanoi, Vietnam to the flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to the full day bus ride through the Cambodian countryside and then back to Saigon, each element of our travels left us with a new awareness and knowledge we’d never experienced had we not visited this part of the world.

Tom’s most meaningful experience of the entire period we spent in Cambodia and Vietnam was the visit to the Cu Chi Tunnel which left him reeling over acquiring a better understanding of the perils of war and the challenges of life for the soldiers during these many years.  Please click here for the first of our several links for Tom’s personal experiences in the Cu Chi Tunnel.  Please see our archives for the remaining posts in this series, a few days later.

At the Kampong Cham Temple in Cambodia.

My most powerful experience was the eight hour bus ride (with stops along the way) through Cambodia.  Staring out the window of the bus for hours, taking only a few photos along the way, I sat alone in the two seats toward the back of the bus, while Tom sat alone across the aisle. 

Not a big fan of “selfies” I took this one of us as we began the ride through the old French quarter in Hanoi, riding in what was referred to as an “electric car,” comparable to a six person golf cart.

This quiet time to myself was spent in it’s entirety in imagining life for the people of Cambodia, the Killing Fields, the loss of life of millions, and how since that horrifying period in their history, somehow they’ve managed to rebuilt, to regrow and to heal.  It had a profound effect on me, a memory I’ll always carry with me.

A beautiful young girl and adorable boy at the orphanage in Kampong Cham.

Traveling the world isn’t always about personal gratification and pleasure.  Yes, at times, it is.  But, for us, we try to embrace the significance of the power and meaning for others living in lands foreign to us. 

Its not always about the popular tourist attraction and taking good photos to share.  Its about filling our hearts and minds with humility, awe and wonder of the world around us, its people, their culture and their way of life.

The reflection of Tom’s head in the plastic headliner in a taxi in Hanoi after purchasing his tennis shoes.  Its silly things like this that makes us laugh out loud.

We are eternally grateful for the time we spent in Cambodia and Vietnam and the wonderful people we met along the way; the gracious locals, our never faltering tour directors, Kong and Lee and of course, the many other passengers we met who, like us, had their own special reasons for embarking on this memorable journey.

May your life’s journey bring you joy and purpose.

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Photo from one year ago today, August 3, 2015:

We spotted this kilometer distance meter at a scenic overlook in Port Douglas, Australia which illustrates distances to various cities throughout the world.  For more photos, please click here.

Part 2…Most awe inspiring tour yet in Southeast Asia…Cu Chi Tunnel…Tom’s brave although short exposure to the tunnels…

Tom is sitting at the table in a meeting room bunker with several mannequins and two other passengers standing behind him.

As mentioned in a prior post, we’re continuing to include photos and stories (when applicable) from our cruise/tour to Vietnam.  Earlier we’d posted photos from Hanoi, Vietnam, and a few areas in Cambodia.

Two Russian MIGs which was used by the North Vietnam Air Force.

The bulk of the photos we have yet to share are from Vietnam during the roughly 11 days we spent in the exotic country.  We both agreed we could hardly jump to Phuket, Thailand now, leaving this important information behind.

US Huey helicopter.

As for Phuket, thus far we’re becoming adapted to yet another house in a foreign land.  Nuances such as finding outlets that work for our adapters, location of light switches which is very different from country to country (in other words, walk into a room and there’s no light switch nearby upon entering) figuring out TV systems and remotes, turning on the oven (never a simple turn of a dial or two) is all a part of the process.

Rocket launchers on helicopters.

This house has eight doors we need to lock at night.  Much to our delight and surprise, there are screens on the six sliding doors, causing free air to flow through the house each day. 

One can only imagine how dangerous it was flying these helicopters during the war.

Each area of the house has an air-con unit, but in an effort to be mindful of power usage, so far we’ve only used the one in the bedroom at night along with the overhead fan. It’s hot and humid here, so much so that in our old lives in the US we’d have had whole-house air-con on day and night. 

US artillery pieces and two jeeps.

Now. we sweat it out in 85% to 90% humidity which is uncomfortable at any higher temps.  With a floor fan that doesn’t quite reach us (due to lack of outlets), with an overhead fan in a vaulted ceiling, the breeze is minimal. 

Viet Cong hammock with a tarp.

Overall, we’re managing fine.  Last night we made our first meal in months, roasted chicken parts, green beans, and salad with a cheese plate for dessert.  We made enough chicken for two nights.  All we’ll need to prepare for tonight is the salad and green beans. 

US  rocket launchers and cluster bombs.

Tom will assist me in the chopping and dicing.  Bending over the short countertops in brutal at this point, but is often an issue when in most countries the population is much shorter than we are and countertops are made to accommodate their stature, not ours.

Above ground table and benches for dining or meeting.

The house is lovely, well maintained with nary a worn or old amenity.  There’s no dishwasher, clothes dryer, large pans, or mixing bowls, but we found a two-liter pitcher for our iced tea and there’s an electric drip coffee pot. 

Horrifying bamboo spikes in ground booby traps. 

There was no ground coffee at the market (only instant which we don’t like) with only ground espresso. Each day we’re testing using different amounts to correct the flavor to our taste.

Another view of a booby trap.

Included in the rent is a house cleaner every Wednesday and Saturday.  We passed on yesterday’s cleaning since we’d arrived the prior night and didn’t need it.  We’ll keep it tidy in the interim, as we always do.

Surgery bunker sign. Can we even imagine how dangerous surgery was at this location?

Today, it’s raining, which is expected to continue throughout the day.  We’ve yet to use the pool.  There are no steps leading into the water, only a ladder at the deep end.  I can’t imagine how I can manage the ladder at this point, fearful of twisting or turning the wrong way.  We’ll see how it goes.

Viet Cong surgery bunker.

We’d considered renting a car, but with my need to rest, a driver will be most logical over these remaining 39 days.  We can go shopping each week at a reasonable cost for the taxi and he’ll wait while we shop.

Notice the sweat on Tom’s shirt.  He was soaked after crawling through the narrow tunnels.  This larger opening was a welcome relief.  Some of the tunnels and openings were enlarged for the benefit of tourists.

Dining out will come once I’m feeling up to it.  In the interim, there are numerous “take away” delivery services that have roasted chickens and salads that may work for us a few times a week.

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Now, we continue with our tour of the Cu Chi Tunnel after Part 1 included photos of Tom tackling a few of the narrowest portions of the tunnel, entering at one narrow point and exiting 10 to 30 meters later at another opening.
If you missed that prior post, please click here.

Entrance to a narrow tunnel which was also enlarged.

The bus ride to the location was about an hour outside of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) requiring we backtrack to return to Saigon later in the day for the two-night hotel stay at another Sofitel Hotel, the least favorite of the three Sofitel Hotels included in the cruise tour. 

The trip from the ship to include the tour of the Cu Chi Tunnel, a stop for lunch, and the return drive extended over an eight hour period with about five hours riding on the bus.  It was a long hot day but we were excited to visit the tunnel which we entered in the Ben Dinh area.

Tom took this photo while climbing out of a narrow tunnel by turning around after he’d already crawled through this spot.

With the tunnel extending as follows:

“The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam,[3] and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. The tunnels are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. The Ben Duoc site contains part of the original tunnel system, while the Ben Dinh site, closer to Saigon, has tunnel reconstructions and some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists. In both sites low-power lights have been installed in the tunnels to make traveling through them easier, and both sites have displays of the different types of booby traps that were used. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tết Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten.”

Included today are some of the best remaining photos we’d taken during the tour of the tunnel.  Please check back tomorrow for the balance of the photos.

We’ll look forward to seeing you then!

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Photo from one year ago today, July 24, 2015:

Once inside the long, narrow Mangrove Boardwalk in Cairns, Australia we walked deeper and deeper into the marsh never encountering other visitors. For more details, please click here.

When we arrived at the airport in Bangkok…Final cruise expenses at end of post…More cruise/tour photos…

Tom pointed out this jumble of power lines at an intersection in Saigon.

Yesterday morning, we left the hotel in Saigon at 6:45 for the 30 minute drive to the airport amid rush hour traffic. The previous evening we had our final meal together as a group at a local restaurant after which we hugged goodbye to the many new friends we’d made on the Viking Mekong River Cruise.

 Vietnam is communist society resulting in the government owning all land regardless of its location.  As a result, most structures are narrow such as this property.

Most of all, it was hard to say goodbye to Kong.  He far exceeded any of our expectations as the finest tour manager we’ve worked with since beginning our travels so long ago. 

Based on our late departing flight out of Saigon after a mass of confusion at the overly busy and somewhat disorganized airport, it was unlikely we’d arrive in Phuket at a decent time to be up to be able to post.  As a result, our last post was short.

Kong pointed out the number of motorbikes in the roundabout.  There are over 6 motorbikes in Saigon (Ho Cho Ming City) for a population of 10 million.

At the airport in Bangkok Tom found an ATM getting enough Thai Baht to last a week.  For BHT $10,000, the exchange rate is US $286.  We stopped at McDonald’s for a quick bite to eat figuring it could be late until we have a meal. I had a boring meat-less salad without dressing and Tom had a burger and fries.

Another view of the roundabout.  These photos were taken during a quiet time of the day compared to busier rush hour.

On the way to the villa we made a stop at a market in the village.  We were both exhausted from the prior poor night’s sleep and the long trip, making finding items on our list difficult if not impossible.  

Without a single English speaking person to be found in the market we encountered a kindly young employee with a translation app on his phone with little success in the translation making sense to him.

One business after another in tight spaces.

As it turned out the largest market in the area has no beef for sale.  For protein, they carry fresh chicken, pork and fish sitting atop big chilled tables.  We usually have beef a few meals a week so we’ll have to come up with another plan for those meals.  Nor did we find any roasted chickens.

Many females wear masks and are fully covered.  One would think this was to prevent illness when in act Vietnamese women vehemently avoid darkening skin from the sun.  By their standards, the whiter the skin, the better, according to Kong.

We never had dinner last night. We were so tired, food was the last thing on our minds.  By 8:30 pm, we hunkered down in the air conditioned bedroom on the comfy bed determined to stay awake until 10 pm. 

Refreshed and renewed this morning, we unpacked what we’d use here as we became familiar with our new house in Rawai, Phuket, a cozy little town which appears to be a mix of the old and new. 

Temples are interspersed among more modern areas.

Soon, we’ll get out to see what’s around us. Unfortunately, I still need time to heal my injury with a little less activity.  With all the strenuous tours during the cruise, I never really had time to rest which seems to be the most helpful at this point. 

Amid the historical buildings are skyscrapers such as this newer building.

Yesterday, after the busy travel day at two airports with tons of walking I almost reached 10,000 steps on my FitBit which was way too much.  Today, will be a relaxing day other than preparing our first meal since April 14th. Tom literally waits on me, helping with everything I need.

The house?  Its a lovely as we’d anticipated.  Please free to check out the online listing by clicking here which has some excellent photos without the clutter of our stuff scattered around the house.

Many shops include products appealing to tourists.  Many travel to Vietnam from all over the world to shop.

We’ve yet to take our first Phuket photo.  With the tinted windows on the van on the drive from the airport to the villa, we had no opportunity to take photos.  Nor did we feel up to walking right now.  In the near future we’ll get out to visit points of interest and to share many new photos with our readers.

At an intersection.

For now, as mentioned in a prior post, with hundreds of photos remaining from the cruise in Cambodia and Vietnam, we’ll continue to include photos we hope you’ll find interesting.

These huge clocks could appeal to tourist shoppers.

Here are the expenses from the Viking Mekong cruise/tour:

Expense US Dollar Vietnamese Dong
Cruise fare  $          6,597.00  $  147,068,781.00
Airfare –Singapore to Hanoi  $              830.00  $    18,503,424.00
Hotel in Hanoi  $           2,029.70  $    45,248,674.00
Taxi   $                 98.00  $       2,184,742.00
Laundry  $               140.00  $       3,121,059.00
Wifi   $                      $                   
Groceries  $                      $                 –                        
Dining Out  $                12.00  $           267,519.00
Clothing  $                22.00  $           490,452.00
Tips  $              725.00  $      16,162,629.00
Total  $        10,453.70  $    233,047,280.00
Avg Daily Cost-17 days  $              614.88  $       13,708,664.00


Tomorrow, we continue with Part 2, Cu Chi Tunnel with many more fascinating and informative photos of this historical site.  Now that we’re settled we’ll be posting consistently around the same time each day. 

Kong explained that locals have tougher stomachs to tolerate street food while tourists often become ill.

We’d like to thank all of our loyal worldwide readers for “hanging in there” with us during periods of no Wi-Fi and during my continuing mention of my current condition.  We appreciate each and every one of you, no matter where you may be.

Have a fabulous day!

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Photo from one year ago today, July 23, 2015:

One year ago, in Cairns, Australia we had no trouble finding a shopping mall with only a few turns required off the main highway into town.  For more details, please click here.