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 its 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 rebuild, 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. 

It’s not always about the popular tourist attraction and taking good photos to share. It’s 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.

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.

More new Phuket photos…Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam…

Tuk tuks come in all shapes, sizes and colors in Thailand and are commonly used by tourists and locals as opposed to a more expensive car or van taxis.

Some vacation homes don’t have items we may need for preparing meals. We fully understand this when most tourists stay less than a week seldom preparing meals other than a light breakfast or a sandwich and a bag of chips for lunch.

Colorful water toys with a variety of beach equipment and gear at a shop near the beach.

Today, I wrote to the owner asking if a staff member could deliver a can opener, making it possible for us to make homemade ketchup to use with tonight’s dinner of lettuce wrapped bacon cheeseburgers, salad and veggies. We just received a reply and a can opener will be delivered soon.

We have all the ingredients, but needed the opener for a can of tomato sauce used in making the ketchup. (Store bought brands of ketchup are loaded with sugar and our recipe is not). 

Pillars at entrance to the pier.

If it was affordable to eat out every day it wouldn’t be much fun in this heat and humidity to be getting dressed to head out for dinner each evening. At this point, we shower in the morning, put on our swimsuits which we wear all day through dinner, rinsing them out at night before going to bed. 

Many types of boats are moored in Chalong Bay.

This way, we have almost no laundry other than the sweaty tee shirts, shorts and underwear we’ve worn when heading out. The thought of getting changed into street clothes to go to dinner isn’t particularly appealing right now. 

High speed and luxury boats anchored at the shoreline.

Once a week, using a washer we found in an outdoor closet, we do a small load hanging it indoors to dry on the rack with most items taking a few days to dry in the humidity. The house cleaners replace all the bath towels, hand towels and bedding twice a week, so there’s no need for us to wash anything more than our few personal items.

View of Chalong Bay in Phuket.

Overall, living in this house in Rawai, Phuket is relatively easy. Surely, if I was fully recovered, it would be considerably easier. Not feeling 100% makes the hot and humid weather more noticeable and the simplest of household tasks more challenging. Also it’s had a huge impact on my desire to get out sightseeing. Hopefully, soon, this will change as I continue to recover.

Back view of the popular lighthouse from Chalong Beach in Phuket.

We’re now at a point where we’ve almost completed posting the photos and stories of the tours we attended during the cruise/tour to Cambodia and Vietnam from July 8, 2016, to July 22, 2016. 

The Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City.

Tomorrow, we’ll include some remaining photos not necessarily related to one another, but worthy of sharing with our readers who’d like one final peek at the amazing cruise/tour that included a total of seven nights in three luxury hotels and seven nights aboard the Viking Mekong. (In addition to the three nights we’d booked on our own in Hanoi before the cruise/tour began).

Meeting room in the palace.

Today, we’ve included photos of one of the final tours we attended in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (either name is acceptable to use). On July 21st we boarded the bus for the tour of the former Presidential Palace, now known and the Reunification Palace. 

View from upper level of palace toward the congested street.

Had I been looking for sites to visit in Saigon, this venue may not have been on my radar. But once inside the huge building, we were both fascinated. Tom, of course, as a history buff, always seems to enjoy visiting historical buildings where my interest may lie in the opportunity to take photos when possible.

The ambassador’s/dignitary’s room (pre 1975).

The Reunification Palace provided such an opportunity and thus, we couldn’t resist posting this last round of photos from this historic site. From this site, we gleaned the following information where those of you interested can find more details:

Tourists gathered at each of the room’s entryways.

“The iconic Reunification Palace made its name in global history when in 1975 a tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate – thus signifying the end of the Vietnam War.

View through second story decorative stone pillars to the gardens below.

The palace is like a time capsule frozen in 1975 with two of the original tanks used in the capture of the palace parked in the grounds. Originally the site of the Nordom Palace also known as the Governor’s Palace its first role was as a home and workplace for the then French Governor of Cochinchina.

The Reunification Palace is a landmark not to be missed by any tourist visiting Ho Chi Minh City.Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, the palace hides secret rooms, antique furniture and a command bunker within its eerie corridors. The Reunification Palace is still in use to host occasions including APEC summits and national events of significant importance.

Reunification Palace Highlights                

Desks in the lowest level bunker.

The Reunification Palace is a five-story building with the basement housing a warren of tunnels, a war room and telecommunications centre.The war command room still has maps on its walls and period telecommunications equipment on display, whilst adjoining basement rooms feature war propaganda materials.

 Other areas of interest are the third floor featuring a card playing room, a fourth floor which once had a casino and was used for entertaining guests and a rooftop terrace with a heliport.

Old computer systems in bunker.

The Reunification Palace entered the world history books in 1975 when a Vietnamese Air Force pilot (who was also a communist spy) flew an aircraft over the palace with an attempt to bomb it. Although no real damage was caused this was a significant step towards the fall of Saigon and the ending of the Vietnamese War.

Communication equipment in bunker.

On 30th April in 1975 at 10:45 a North Vietnamese Army Tank rammed the main gates and entered the palace grounds before hanging its flag on the balcony to declare victory for the communist party and thus ending the Vietnam War. 

More radio equipment in bunker.

Meanwhile staff escaped from the rooftop minutes before the palace was overrun, known as Operation Frequent Wind this was part of history’s biggest ever helicopter evacuation and included the departure of General Thieu.”

We’ll be back with more tomorrow. Please stop by! Have a great day!

Photo from one year ago today, August 2, 2015:

In Port Douglas, we visited the Four Mile Beach. For more photos, please click here.

Vietnam never fails to amaze and inspire…Out on tours…More photos than we can possibly share…Evening view Phnon Penh…

View as the day turned to dusk on the river as we lounged on the Sundown Deck on the Viking Mekong River boat.
At 4:00 pm today we arrived by bus in Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam. It was a full day on the bus, onto an amazing tour we’ll share tomorrow and dining at an exquisite Vietnamese restaurant in the countryside. More on all of this soon. 
Lighted front of the Royal Palace.

We were disappointed to be unable to post yesterday due to an entire lack of Wi-Fi signal as the boat made its way through more remote areas as we’d left Phnom Pehn to head toward Saigon where we’re spending two nights in our third Sofitel Hotel during this lengthy and vast experience.

With over 1000 photos in our “photos to post” file on my desktop, we’re in a quandary on how we’ll possibly share the huge batch. Even making a determination which will be most appealing to our worldwide audience based on comments and email we’ve received in email, on our site and in Facebook, in itself is a daunting task.

Tourist boat.
In two days, we’ll arrive in Phuket, Thailand for a six week stay. In discussing our options, we’ve decided to continue posting stories and photos for Vietnam well into the time were staying in Phuket in the following manner:
  • The first half of each day’s post will include photos and information about Phuket, Thailand.
  • The second half of each day’s post will be a section with more Vietnam  photos with captions and our comments/observations as the photos were taken.
  • The “one year ago photo” will continue as always at the bottom of each post.
  • Feel free to post personal or anonymous comments at the end of any post.
Many types of boats, carrying tourists tours along the Mekong River.

With this plan, we’ll happily share these photos while keeping our readers p-to-date on our current location. At this point, we aren’t certain how long it will take to catch up only anticipating a few weeks.

At sundown, the views were beautiful.
This is not unlike how we included the many photos from our first safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya October, 2013.  If you’d like to see those continuing photos, please select the “archives” beginning on October 5, 2013, continuing well into the month, all of which are located on the right the right side of the page.

As for Vietnam, we continue to be enraptured by the magnificence of this majestic country, its people and its never ending charm. How the Vietnamese people have embraced tourists throughout the world and the USA has been a joy to behold.

Sampans are small, low-to-the-water-boats we used to go ashore on tours.

They’ve welcomed us with open arms, generosity of spirit and gracefully sharing their personal stories and family history in their ever changing, growing culture and society.  They are proud of that they’ve accomplished over these past four decades while never losing sight of their ancestors and spiritual beliefs.

Ninety percent of the Vietnamese people practice the Buddhist religion and its gentle ways, evident in everyone we’ve met to date. Their strong attachment to family members from generations past plays a significant role in their daily lives.

Phnom Penh, the capital city is a diverse area of old and new.

We have many more photos and experiences to share. Yesterday, morning we participated in number of tours after we traveled by sanpan (boat) to the shore from our anchored position in the center of the Mekong River to the along the river, dependent upon its resources for a living.

It felt good to get off the ship on a tour after spending a few days unable to walk the long distances required for venues. After the difficult rickshaw rid a few days ago  I had to hunker  down and nurse my wounds after the over-bumpy ride set me back a few weeks in my recovery.

More modern building have been added to the shoreline.

After the extra day’s time spent taking it easy, I’m feeling a little better on a renewed path toward putting an end to this constant painful condition. I can’t wait until this difficulty is over and I’ve returned to my usual energetic, pain free self.

Last night was the last night onboard the Viking Mekong River Cruise with a special evening and party planned for the event.  We sat with some of our favorites at dinner and had a terrific  time together.

It was hard to determine what type of boat this was.

As we made the all day bus trip to Saigon, our group of 54 passengers happily maintained
our high degree of entertaining interaction while sharing the last segments of the cruise/tour together. 

On Friday, July 22nd we’ll be on our way to Thailand.  Please stay with us. We so look forward to posting many more aspects of this memorable occasion in Southeast Asia.

Happy day to all!
Photo from one year ago today, July 20, 2015:

Tom’s first photo of sunrise over the Coral Sea in Australia at 6 am this morning. For more photos please click here.