Day #123 in lockdown Mumbai, India hotel…Remembering Vietnam in summer 2016…Mekong River Cruise…

It’s hard to believe that Tom managed to climb out of the tiny opening at Cu Chi Tunnel in Vietnam. I was concerned he’d be stuck after all the carbs he’d eaten on the two-week cruise.

Note: To all of our readers visiting our site via a smartphone, please click the “View web version” tab under the word, “Home” at the bottom of the page to access the web version enabling you to access all of our archives on the right side of the page. We’ll be updating our site shortly, making these extra steps unnecessary. Thank you. 
Today’s photos are from July 21 and July 24, 2016, while in Vietnam, visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels. See the links here and here for more photos.

It’s amazing a human could fit down this tiny hole especially Tom who’s considerably larger than Vietnamese people.

In recalling our Viking Mekong River cruise and land tour in July of 2016, it seems like a lifetime ago. Then again, many of our outstanding experiences seemed to have occurred so long ago, as we remain in lockdown at the Courtyard by Marriott Mumbai Airport on day #123.

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

As mentioned earlier, we had started a self-imposed lockdown during our 55-day tour of India on March 12th or thereabouts, when we received an email that our cruise out of Mumbai on April 3, 2020, was canceled. 

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

It was at that point that we knew we needed to hunker down and avoid any touring that resulted in getting out of the car. In total, we have been in lockdown in hotel rooms for approximately 132 days.

US Huey helicopter.

The recent tours in India seem a distant memory, let alone the tours in Vietnam and Cambodia in 2016 which we’re highlighting in today’s photos. Good grief! It was only four years ago! 

US artillery pieces and two jeeps.

Details, photos, and stories of the amazing 15-night cruise and tour may be found in our archives for July 2016, including the above-mentioned link referencing the source of today’s repeated photos of the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. 

US  rocket launchers and cluster bombs.

In any case, it was an extraordinary experience, one we’ll always treasure as our own personal tribute to all the soldiers and civilians that lost their lives in the horrific battle in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and surrounding areas.

Horrifying bamboo spikes in ground booby traps. 

Now, in this horrific battle with COVID-19 in countries throughout the world, we have plenty of time to think about the loss of life, the illness, and the sorrow experienced by millions of people as their lives are touched by this outrageously contagious virus.

Viet Cong surgery bunker.

With no end in sight, we can only wonder how much longer the world will be impacted by this pandemic and how many more lives will be lost or impacted by its path of destruction.

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.

Yesterday afternoon, our friends Linda and Ken, living in Johannesburg, also currently in lockdown, sent us this article as to when international flights may resume in South Africa. It appears we may not be able to travel to the country until January 2021. Of course, this is subject to when India has also resumed international travel.

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

We are grateful to be safe. Yes, the routine is mundane and repetitive, as is the food and the surroundings. But, we don’t forget for one moment the gift of safety, we’ve been blessed to experience during this difficult time.

Occasionally, certain areas were lighted as shown in this taller section.

There’s no room in our lives for “whinging” or complaining. Each day, we strive for cheerfulness and optimism as we continue to research our options when the time will be right. We’re well-informed as to what’s transpiring in the US and many countries throughout the world. We’ll know the moment we can make a move.

The next day, he’s a little stiff and sore, having used muscles he hadn’t used in years but suffered no ill effects. The passengers in our group were cheering him as he entered and exited when few others dared to attempt the challenge.

Please don’t take risks. I listen to podcast news on my phone when I walk the corridors and over and over again I hear stories where COVID-19 patients took only one risk after which they acquired the virus; only one time at a  bar, restaurant, or gathering while not wearing a mask.


May you and your family stay safe and healthy.

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Photo from one year ago today, July 24, 2019:

One year ago today, we posted five-year ago photos when we hadn’t been out for a few days while in Connemara, Ireland. There are a few sandy beaches on the island of Madeira.  Most are rocky such as this. For more, please click here.

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.

Scenes from a rainy day in Phuket…Story and visit to a location of a romantic movie viewed aboard the Viking Mekong River Cruise…



Kong encouraged kissing in front of the Huynh Thuy Le Ancient House where the movie, The Lover, was filmed in Sa Dec, Vietnam in 1992.  We had no trouble cooperating!

 As I continue to improve a little each day after spending more time resting and less time bending and walking, I’m anxious to get out to take photos.  Traveling on the bumpy road from the house in the less-than-stellar rental car is an athletic event in itself, requiring I hang on for dear life even if my stability weren’t at risk.


There are numerous open air type markets and shops along the highway.  I was having a hard time in the rain taking good photos with the window open.  Thus, the rear view mirror was in the photos.

It has nothing to do with Tom’s driving skills.  He’s as careful as he can be driving the old car on the rough roads.  Once we reach the main highway the roads improve tremendously although seeing out the scratchy windows is its own challenge. 

We feel badly that we’ve yet to post many local photos hoping that today, after posting, if there’s a little sunshine, we just might give it a try and make an effort to find our way to the beach to take some photos to share.

A church or temple along the highway.

In the interim, we only have a few photos from our last trip, our on a rainy day that hardly meet the standards of what we prefer to post.  Surely, our long term readers understand the dilemma and for those of our newer readers, please bear with us…better is yet to come.

Finally, I’m beginning to feel hopeful that this injury is temporary.  Given another month of recovering and I expect to be as good as I was before the occurrence around June 1st in Bali.  No words can describe how excited I am to return to my “old self” being able to do the simplest of tasks without Tom’s help. 

Watch out!  There’s a tire in the road!

Oh, don’t get me wrong…he’s been amazing, never once complaining about waiting on me; pouring my coffee, iced tea, setting my computer on my lap atop the stack of pillows I use to keep the screen at eye level and so much more.  I’ve appreciated every bit of assistance saying thank you each and every time. 

Not once in these past two months since the injury has he been “overly grumpy” regarding my situation.  That’s not to say he doesn’t do a minute or two of “overly grumpy” for some other often peculiar reason, having absolutely nothing to do with me. 

Yikes! The less-than-stellar rental car’s windshield wipes don’t work well.

I must admit I haven’t been my usual “overly bubbly” self during these months of pain and discomfort.  Although my optimism did kick in when Tom was having angst when he was unable to find a gas station while worrying about running out of gas. 

Ms O.B. kicked in with cheerful encouragement and optimism while he fussed while driving in the rain, terrified of running out of gas and barely able to see out the windows of the less-than-stellar rental car.  Some things never change. For him, grumpiness seems to revolve around driving, traffic and transportation.


Lots of tuk tuks and motorbikes were on the highway in the rain.
Hopefully, tomorrow, we’ll be back with new photos of Rawai Beach in Phuket.  We’re hoping to head out shortly now that we have a sunny day.

Kong suggested we’d find a “happy room” (restroom) down this passageway between the house and the building next door.

In the interim, as we wind down the final few photos from the Vietnam and Cambodia cruise/tour, we’re particularly excited to share today’s story about a movie we watched during the cruise.

Interesting design in the 121 year old Huynh Thuy Le Ancient House house in Sa Dec.  See here for more details.

There was a meeting/video room in the lowest level in the Viking Mekong  where the cruise staff held meetings, cocktail parties on rainy days evenings and conducted a variety of lectures and seminars, most of which we attended.

Each room contained original furnishings.

The seating was relatively comfortable with rows of similarly heavily padded sofas and chairs grouped together.  I was able to sit for extended periods amid a bit of squirming and repositioning once I maneuvered down the steep stairway.

We were offered hot tea and a rest while inside the house.

With no elevators on the boat we had a series of three stairways, some steeper than others, to navigate during the cruise which never kept us from attending any activities on other levels such as the two levels up to the sundeck where the nightly cocktail party was held.  Our cabin was located on the same level as the dining hall and disembarking ramp which proved helpful with my injury.

View of the street and the river from inside the house.

We’d read some online reviews for this cruise/tour where a few passengers complained about the stairs aboard the ship.  During the cruise, we came to the conclusion that this cruise/tour may not be ideal for those with mobility issues which was my case due to the injury. 

Ornate ceiling and lighting fixture design.

We had no other place to be during this period and had no choice but to continue on.  Had we a permanent residence we may have decided to forego the cruise and stayed “home” to recuperate, perhaps losing the entire cruise fare.  But, that’s wasn’t us.  The small ship and three hotels were our “home” during that 17 day period.

Over a period of several days, Kong mentioned a movie he suggested we watch that was to be held after dinner on July 18th at 8:45 pm since the following day we’d be visiting the location in Sa Dec, Vietnam where the movie had been filmed and was the basis of the story. 

Elaborate Buddhist shrine in the house.

This concept particularly appealed to us when we usually make an attempt to watch a movie made in a country in which we’re living at a particular time such as when we watched (as an example) such films as “Casablanca” while living in Morocco in 2014 and “The Descendants” while living in Kauai, Hawaii in 2015. (Please click links as included here).

Watching a highly acclaimed Academy Award nominated movie made in Vietnam was especially appealing when we’d be able to experience the actual location  where the movie was made in Sa Dec, Vietnam the following day.  Watching the movie which was inspired by a true story at the location of the house, made the tour all the more exciting. 

Bedroom in the house with some updating.  The house is used as a B &B for certain events explaining the flat screen TV.

Kong had warned the passengers that the movie, The Lover, was “racy” with explicit sex scenes.  None of that phased us a bit. We’ve always enjoyed a well done sexy movie and this would be no exception.

By 8:45 pm, we made our way down the steps to the meeting room on the lowest level of the ship.  After yet another big meal, I wondered if we’d be able to stay awake for the two hour movie but as it turned out, neither of us dozed for a moment during the movie. 

Artistic design on dining table.

However, the “packed house” dwindled down throughout the movie to a total of eight of us by the end. As passengers exited as the scenes became racier, we heard some grumbling over the movie being “too explicit,” “too racy for public viewing” as many couples got up to leave during the viewing.  We looked at each other giggling as the room almost completed cleared out.  This made for interesting conversation the next day.

Table décor in main living room, most likely a modern day addition.

The movie, beautifully filmed in 1992, included excellent acting by its equally beautiful and exceptional Asian actors, cinematography (for which it won awards), an appealing musical score and an interesting story line.  Yes, it was racy which may have been daring for Vietnam at the time but the sexy scenes were done tastefully.

The next day, we embarked on an action packed tour as we’ve described in past posts with photos, a portion of the tour to Sa Dec included the tour of the historical aristocratic home for which the story, The Lover, was inspired.

A popular tourist attraction, Huynh Thuy Le Ancient House  is easily visible from the main road in Sa Dec.

Visiting the historic aristocratic house left us feeling happy we’d watched the movie in it entirety the previous evening.  Enjoy today’s photos from that visit.  We’ll be back with more tomorrow!

Have a restful and pleasant weekend!

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Photo from one year ago today, July 30, 2015:

Many of the restaurants in Port Douglas, Australia (Queensland) are huge and elaborate attracting the most finicky of diners and tourists.  For more details, please click here.
 

Car delivery today in Phuket…Continuation of the ox cart rides for Viking Mekong River cruise passengers…Two videos and photos!

Tom’s video of the oxen along the bank of the river early in the morning.  Second video below.
 

This morning at 10 am an employee of Gregory’s (our Phuket property owner), brought us the rental car.  For the excellent price of THB $9000, US $258 for our entire stay we’re pleased with the older car.  We’re hoping the pouring rain will stop and we can end our six day stint indoors.

Tomorrow, we’ll include photos of the “used” car and photos we’ve taken while out and about proving the weather improves enough to get out.  At the moment, there’s thunder and lightening. 

The second bedroom in the Phuket house which we haven’t used.  The en suite bathroom contain the Jacuzzi tub.

We’re anxious to head across the island to purchase beef and groceries.  Beef is not popular in some parts of the world that hold the “cow” as holy based on religious beliefs and is not fit for human consumption. 

Many religions and cultures throughout the world consume a vegetarian diet.  However, many Thai people include beef in their diet although it many not be readily available in some of the local grocery stores and markets.  

Yesterday, four housecleaners appeared at the electronic gate at 9 am to clean the house.  Letting them in via a wall switch that slides the electronic security gate open, they all entered sharing their names as they graciously bowed to greet us. 

The Jacuzzi tub in the second bedroom’s en suite bathroom.

All we remember of their names as they hurriedly entered is that two of the four had the same name, not unlike the two Katuks in Bali, whom we’ll see again soon. 

Only one of the four cleaners spoke a little English but they had no trouble knowing what to do and required little coaching from us.  They maneuvered  efficiently and quickly through each room obviously with a familiar routine they’ve implemented in the past. 

Today’s pouring rain.  As soon as it stops, we’ll head out.  If it continues throughout the day, we’ll wait until tomorrow.

When the Jacuzzi tub’s water supply wasn’t working correctly they immediately contacted the maintenance guy. I believe his name is Bo. Within minutes he arrived to make the repairs and an hour later he was out the door with the task completed. 

Although using the Jacuzzi may be an excellent idea at this time, its been so hot in the past 24 hour I haven’t been motivated to use it.  With the amount of water and energy required to use the tub, I may only use it once in awhile providing I notice some added improvement from doing so.

The opening for the wide electronic sliding security gate.

We’re still remaining mindful over excess use of air con and continue to only use it only at night in the master bedroom.  During the day we’re doing fine without AC.  After becoming accustomed to heat and humidity in Bali and living in hot climates throughout the world over these past years its not different here in Phuket.

We can’t help but giggle over how, in our old lives, we’d never have tolerated this heat and humidity without turning on the whole house AC.  How much we’ve changed over this period of time!

Occasionally during the day, I rest for a few minutes in the bedroom using only the overhead fan to keep me comfortable.  We keep the bedroom door shut at all times to keep out the mozzies and flies for better comfort at night.

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Now on to our continuing Mekong River cruise posts with today’s story, a continuation of the ox cart rides.  We’d yet to share today’s two videos we are now able to post with a strong Wi-Fi signal here in Phuket.

I’d have loved to join in on the ox cart ride under different circumstances.  But after seeing the carts and the sitting positions required of the riders, we both knew there was no way I could have participated.  

I encouraged Tom to join the others but he decided to stay behind with me when the carts were intended for two passengers and he’d have to ride alone.  That wouldn’t have been that much fun for him.  Its the idle chatter and shared experiences that make such an activity memorable. 

They reminded us of the buffalos in Bali although oxen are smaller with shorter horns.
Instead, we stayed behind attempting to get online to post the day’s story and photos.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the Wi-Fi signal on the boat was extremely poor, worse than we’d experienced on any cruise in the past. 

It was only with the assistance of thoughtful cruise director Enrico who encouraged me to sit at his desk using his computer, connected to a wired network, that made it possible to upload any posts at all while on the ship.  We realized how frustrating this must have been for our worldwide readers who, at times, didn’t see a new post for days.
 
As the ox cart participants piled into the carts, many seniors older than us, we were thrilled to be able to take today’s included videos.  Of course, it would have been more exciting to be able to do a video while in a cart, but we did the best we could under the circumstances.

The staff shoveled this path the prior night to ensure passengers could make it up the river bank.

Later, many passengers explained the bumpy nature of the ride making us feel grateful we’d made the decision to stay behind.  Adding the extreme heat and humidity to my already difficult condition, always made the tours more challenging regardless of their general difficulty.

We enjoyed watching the white oxen hanging out on the bank of the river on the prior evening, early in the morning and again when they were hooked to the wagons seemingly content with their occasionally required tourist trek. 

Off they went on a 40 minute ride..

As we watched the oxen for quite awhile, we noticed the gentle interaction between the handlers and the oxen, as they were rubbed and petted as one would lovingly pet a dog or cat.  It was comforting to see.  With a cart driver for each cart carrying a pair of passengers we didn’t see any rough treatment used to get them moving.

By 11:45 am, the passengers were back on board and by noon, the ship’s anchor was raised and we cast off for Phnom Penh, Cambodia, another historically interesting stop in our journey along the Mekong River which we’ve already included in prior posts.

With more stories to share, we’ll continue along this path with a few more cruise posts as we add more and more on Phuket as soon as we get out.

Have a beautiful day!

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Photo from one year ago today, July 28, 2015:

One year ago we spotted this package of crocodile meat in Australia priced at AUD $15, USD $10.91.  Next time we’re in Australia, we need to try this.  For more details, please click here.

Part 3…final photos of Cu Chi Tunnel and more amazing Vietnam photos…

Our current private vacation home in Rawai, Phuket, Thailand.

Over these past few days since our arrival, I’ve since discovered that rest seems to be the best treatment to improve my condition.  This doesn’t mean lying in bed immobile.  But it does mean two things; one, not a lot of walking and two, not bending at the waist over short countertops and sinks. 

We’ve yet to use the pool with rain these past few days but will soon.   Interior photos will follow over the next few days.

As a result, there’s been no point in sightseeing or even taking a walk in the neighborhood. As yet, we haven’t taken any photos in Phuket or, in the house. We’ll make every effort to take photos soon. 

We’d love to be able to dine outdoors but the mozzies are fierce at dusk.

Unpacking in a less tidy manner than usual, the house in now a little cluttered with our stuff since I can’t bend over to organize and it doesn’t make sense for Tom to move everything to enable me to take the photos.  

Examples of clothing worn by the Viet Cong.

As a result, today we’ve added a few photos of the property from the listing as shown and we’ll add more as we go along.  In several days, we’ll be getting out to take photos of the area and a few of exquisite beaches in this area.  Phuket is known for its beautiful beaches, clear blue waters with hundreds of smaller islands.

Map of the vast coverage of the Cu Chi Tunnel.  In the basket in front of the map is a hand tool used to dig the miles of tunnels.

Actually, we’re enjoying it here considering our circumstances.  We’ve figured out which fans to use to keep us comfortable in the rooms where we don’t use the air con.  Plus, having screens has made a huge difference in keeping us from feeling closed in.

Booby trap. Scary.

With two English speaking news channels we’re able to remain up-to-date on US and world affairs and with a flat screen TV we can plug in the HDMI cable to watch a movie or favorite TV show at night after dinner, not unlike evening activities of many citizens throughout the world.


Tom tasted a ration used by the Viet Cong made of coconut, seeds and sugar, compressed into a crispy stick.  He said it was surprisingly palatable.

Sure, I’m chomping at the bit to get out but having angst or frustration over our current circumstances would only add stress.  As always, we’re making the best of our situation, smiling and laughing throughout the day in our usual playful lighthearted manner. 

The vent for the underground kitchen within the tunnel emitting smoke a distance from the location of the kitchen to prevent enemy attack.

We have no doubt that within a month, I’ll be fully recovered as it improves a little each day, especially now with this new less active plan.  Tom helps me with chopping, dicing and cooking along with all household tasks.

This was actually a live person in a slightly below ground bunker making uniforms and other gear used in the tourist center which also served as an example of how clothing and gear was made during the war.

We’d hope to process the Indonesian passport while here sending our passport to the US by registered mail for processing and return.  It was a flippant thought.  There’s no way we’re willing to be a foreign country without our passports in our possession, even if only for a week.  If we had an emergency and had to leave suddenly, we’d be in big trouble.

At first glance we wondered why these tired were cut into piece.  Kong explained how the old tires were used to make sandals for the Viet Cong.  See photo below.

Instead, once in Bali after the 24th day, again we’ll do the three day Lovina run (two hours of driving each way, each day) to the immigration office.  There’s simply no other option than this bothersome task other than to leave the country and re-enter.  That would require airfare for two and a round trip of the four or five hour harrowing drive to Denpasar and back. The Lovina option is the more logical decision.


These are the sandals that were made from old tires worn by the Viet Cong.

Underground area for making bombs and booby traps.
With hundreds of photos we’ve yet to share from Vietnam, our photos and stories continue.  I deliberated over posting three days of photos from Cu Chi Tunnel but based on the huge number of hits we’ve had, one more day of the remaining photos may be of interest to some readers. 
Kong illustrated a booby traps that targeted a soldier opening a door in two ways.  Horrible.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue with all new Vietnam photos, many locations we visited but have yet to describe.  We look forward to seeing you visit us here again.

More items used in booby traps, made on site by the Viet Cong.
Have a healthful and meaningful day!
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Photo from one year ago today, July 25, 2015:
The Australian Brushturkey, also called the Scrub Turkey or Bush Turkey freely roamed the Cairns Botanical Garden which we visited one year ago today. These turkeys are not closely related to American turkeys.  Click here for more details.  For more of our photos from the botanical garden tour, 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.

_____________________________________________________
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!

_____________________________________


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.

Part 1…Most awe inspiring tour yet in Southeast Asia…Cu Chi Tunnel…Tom’s brave although short exposure to the tunnels…

It’s hard to believe that Tom managed to climb out of the tiny opening at Cu Chi Tunnel in Vietnam.  I was scared he’d be stuck after all the carbs he ate on the two-week cruise.

Yesterday was a long day with many hours spent riding on the air-conditioned bus that even had a weak Wi-Fi signal from time to time.  Sitting or walking for extended periods is not easy for me, but with a few stops on the way to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), I managed fine.

The sign at the entrance to the Cu Chi Tunnel.

Actually, the distance from the ship to Saigon is only about 2 1/2 hours drive.  However, with the planned stop at Cu Chi Tunnels we ended up going far out of the way beyond Saigon and back again to our hotel, yet another Sofitel Hotel, arriving by 4 pm which accounted for the extra time.

Rules for visiting the Tunnel in both Vietnamese and English at the entrance to the dense jungle.

Tom and I always sit in the bus’s last few rows, each taking two seats across the aisle from one another, allowing for more squirming about (in my case) and more legroom, especially with our bulky carry-on bags which we keep with us.

The luggage for the 54 passengers went ahead to Saigon on a truck with our three bags awaiting us in our hotel room when we arrived.  This particular Sofitel in Saigon is newer and less appealing than the past two, especially compared to our new favorite Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, which was superb.

All of these tunnel photos were taken by Tom as he crawled through the narrow spaces on his hands and knees to exit on the other side, quite a distance away from the entrances.

Those of us who are old enough to recall the constant news reports during the Vietnam War certainly remember the commonly mentioned Cu Chi Tunnel.  But young and caught up in our own lives at the time, disheartened by the loss of life, we may not have focused much attention on such sites as used by the “gorillas/Viet Cong” during the war.

Occasionally, certain areas were lighted as shown in this taller section.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are described as from this site:

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.

The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.

Life in the tunnels

American soldiers used the term “Black Echo” to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food, and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders, and vermin. Most of the time, soldiers would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops, or engage the enemy in battle.

This guide, a former Viet Cong, who was 10 years old during the war, showed us how entrances to the tunnel was camouflaged by leaves atop a small wood door such as this.  Tom actually went down this small opening.

Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second-largest cause of death next to battle wounds. A captured Viet Cong report suggests that at any given time half of a PLAF unit had malaria and that “one-hundred percent had intestinal parasites of significance”
The tunnels of Củ Chi did not go unnoticed by U.S. officials. They recognized the advantages that the Viet Cong held with the tunnels and accordingly launched several major campaigns to search out and destroy the tunnel system. Among the most important of these were Operation Crimp and Operation Cedar Falls.

Operation Crimp began on January 7, 1966, with Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers dropping 30-ton loads of high explosive onto the region of Củ Chi, effectively turning the once lush jungle into a pockmarked moonscape. Eight thousand troops from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment combed the region looking for any clues of PLAF activity.

It’s amazing a human could fit down this tiny hole especially Tom, who’s considerably larger than the Vietnamese people.

The operation did not bring about the desired success; for instance, on occasions when troops found a tunnel, they would often underestimate its size. Rarely would anyone be sent in to search the tunnels, as it was so hazardous? The tunnels were often rigged with explosive booby traps or punji stick pits. The two main responses in dealing with a tunnel opening were to flush the entrance with gas, water or hot tar to force the Viet Cong soldiers into the open, or to toss a few grenades down the hole and “crimp” off the opening. This approach proved ineffective due to the design of the tunnels and the strategic use of trap doors and air filtration systems.

However, an Australian specialist engineering troop, 3 Field Troop, under the command of Captain Sandy MacGregor did venture into the tunnels which they searched exhaustively for four days, finding ammunition, radio equipment, medical supplies, and food as well as signs of considerable Viet Cong presence. One of their numbers, Corporal Bob Bowtell died when he became trapped in a tunnel that turned out to be a dead end. However, the Australians pressed on and revealed, for the first time, the immense military significance of the tunnels. At an International Press Conference in Saigon shortly after Operation Crimp, MacGregor referred to his men as Tunnel Ferrets. An American journalist, having never heard of ferrets, used the term Tunnel Rats and it stuck. Following his troop’s discoveries in Cu Chi, Sandy MacGregor was awarded a Military Cross.

I sighed in relief when I saw his white head pop up, but worried he’d be unable to get out.  The guide told him to extend both arms above his head first which would stretch him to more easily squeeze out of the tiny opening.  This is not for the faint of heart or anyone claustrophobic!  I was impressed by his obvious lack of fear. 

From its mistakes and the Australians’ discoveries, U.S. Command realized that they needed a new way to approach the dilemma of the tunnels. A general order was issued by General Williamson, the Allied Forces Commander in South Vietnam, to all Allied forces that tunnels had to be properly searched whenever they were discovered. They began training an elite group of volunteers in the art of tunnel warfare, armed only with a gun, a knife, a flashlight and a piece of string.

These specialists, commonly known as “tunnel rats”, would enter a tunnel by themselves and travel inch-by-inch cautiously looking ahead for booby traps or cornered PLAF. There was no real doctrine for this approach and despite some very hard work in some sectors of the Army and MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) to provide some sort of training and resources, this was primarily a new approach that the units trained, equipped and planned for themselves.

Despite this revamped effort at fighting the enemy on its own terms, U.S. operations remained insufficient at eliminating the tunnels completely. In 1967, General William Westmoreland tried launching a larger assault on Củ Chi and the Iron Triangle. Called Operation Cedar Falls, it was similar to the previous Operation Crimp, however on a larger scale with 30,000 troops instead of the 8,000.

On January 18, tunnel rats from the 1st BN, 5th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division uncovered the Viet Cong district headquarters of Củ Chi, containing half a million documents concerning all types of military strategy. Among the documents were maps of U.S. bases, detailed accounts of PLAF movement from Cambodia into Vietnam, lists of political sympathizers, and even plans for a failed assassination attempt on Robert McNamara.

By 1969, B-52s were freed from bombing North Vietnam and started “carpet bombing” Củ Chi and the rest of the Iron Triangle. Ultimately, it proved successful. Towards the end of the war, the tunnels at this were so heavily bombed that some portions actually caved in, and other sections were exposed. But by that time, they had succeeded in protecting the local North Vietnamese units and letting them “survive to fight another day”.

Throughout the course of the war, the tunnels in and around Củ Chi proved to be a source of frustration for the U.S. Military in Saigon. The Viet Cong had been so well entrenched in the area by 1965 that they were in the unique position of locally being able to control where and when battles would take place. By helping to covertly move supplies and house troops, the tunnels of Củ Chi allowed North Vietnamese fighters in their area of South Vietnam to survive, help prolong the war and increase American costs and casualties until their eventual withdrawal in 1972, and the final defeat of South Vietnam in 1975.”

To continue reading from this site, please click this link.

Today, he’s a little stiff and sore, having used muscles he hadn’t used in years but suffered no ill effects.  The passengers in our group were cheering him as he entered and exited.

Cu Chi Tunnels have become a major tourist destination for travelers from many parts of the world as described here:

The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, 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.”

To find ourselves at this profound historic location was awe-inspiring. With a fairly long distance to walk through the jungle, all of us were well coated in insect repellent and insect repellent clothing which only made us realize the struggle of the soldiers during this horrific period in time.

How they suffered in the humid heat with insect bites, contracting malaria, dengue fever, and other diseases wrought in the toxic environment due to a lack of with a lack of decent food, clean water, and appropriate medical care. 

We could only imagine how hard life was for the soldiers who spent months in the tunnel during the war.

Being in this place in the jungle made us all the more aware of the strife they endured while continuing to fight, day after day, month after month, and year after year.


As Kong toured us through the thick brush on the lengthy uneven dirt path over roots, rocks, and vegetation, we finally arrived at the entrances to some of the tunnels.

Tom, emerging from a larger opening after entering this section of the tunnel from a small opening.  His clothes were wet with sweat and covered in dirt.

When Kong asked for volunteers for the tightest of tunnels, Tom jumped in saying he would try it, even with the weight he’d gained over these past two weeks on the cruise/tour.  The Vietnamese people are tiny and easily fit through the narrow miles and miles of tunnels.

When we saw the size of many of the narrow entrances to the tunnel, Tom had decided to tackle I cringed hoping he wouldn’t get stuck.  Our group watched in anticipation of him making his way from the tight entrances and out the equally tight exits, crouched down through the narrow underground passageways to surface some distance away.

He had to literally crawl up these steps when there was no headroom to do otherwise.

Many others in our group partook in the wider tunnels, although one petite woman in our group followed Tom’s example in one area a short time later.  When he’d finally managed to maneuver the tight spaces to enter and subsequently exit the tiny tunnel, he was soaked in sweat and covered in dirt and mud.

Everyone cheered his bravery while he dismissed his attempt at trying to understand how it was for the soldiers in this difficult place for extended periods of time. I was proud of him for his bravery but fully understood, amid his joking and dismissal of his experience as “nothing” compared to the real lives of the soldiers.

The guide was as limber as a monkey making his way through the tunnel. No doubt, given more time and fewer doughnuts, Tom would have become equally adept.

Back on the bus, we went to lunch at an exquisite restaurant, dining outdoors under cover during a massive downpour. Tom dined in his dirty sweat-soaked clothes never giving it a thought.

It was quite a day, to say the least, and by the time we checked in to the hotel, a shower was imminent for him with a soak in a hot tub for me following.  We dressed for dinner, heading down to a fabulous buffet dinner in the hotel’s restaurant with mostly Vietnamese foods.  More on that later.

Our guide at one of the larger tunnel entrances.

This afternoon, after we’re done here, Kong will arrange a taxi to take us to the “shoe district” where Tom will purchase a new pair of tennis shoes. He’s wearing the same pair since we left the US 45 months ago and it’s definitely time for something new when they’re literally falling apart.  We’ll report back on the results of this shopping trip later.

This is the type of tool used to make the tunnel by hand.  The tunnel is 250 km, 155 miles long weaving through the jungle floor over a massive area.

Today, I’m wearing a shirt with a hole in the sleeve, less obvious when I roll up the sleeves. Gee, traveling the world has certainly changed us in so many ways, most of which we’ve found to be liberating.

Early tomorrow morning, we’ll leave the hotel for the airport in Saigon known as the Ho Chi Minh City Airport (SGN) Vietnam, where at 9:45 am we’ll fly to Bangkok with a few hour layover and then on to Phuket.  A driver will meet us at the airport for the hour-long drive to the villa where we’ll stop for some groceries along the way. 

Tom explained how he crawled into one of these air vents, large enough in which to stand on the inside for both ventilation and firing weapons.

Most likely we won’t arrive at the villa until 6 pm.  Once we’re settled, we’ll prepare a short post with our final expenses for the Viking Mekong River Cruise including the extra three nights we spent in Hanoi. 

In a few days, we’ll continue with Parts 2 and 3 of the Cu Chi Tunnels since this tour is deserving that more of these important photos be shared with our worldwide readers.  Back to you soon!


Have a joyful day!

______________________________________

Photo from one year ago today, July 21, 2015:

It’s amazing how quickly Tom’s hair grows as he prepared for another haircut in Trinity Beach, Australia.  For more photos, please click here.

The Mekong River crossing from Cambodia back into Vietnam…Wheelhouse tour…More Phnom Penh photos…

Tom, me, Captain Han and new friend Bob in the wheelhouse.

The remainder of the cruise will take place in Vietnam.  Yesterday, as I began to write this post, we were crossing into Vietnam with immigration officers were boarding our ship to stamp our passports.  First the Cambodian immigration officer boarded to stamp our passports and exit visas.

Sign above the wheelhouse entrance.  We’d signed up for the wheelhouse tour.

Shortly thereafter the Vietnamese immigration officer boarded to stamp our passports for the second of the multiple entry visas we obtained in Singapore at the embassy two weeks ago. 

Our ship captain, Bui Huu Han.

There’s nothing we had to do other than relax and enjoy the view while the ship was anchored in the Mekong River.  Yesterday, was a full day “at sea” so to speak, without any excursions.

Today we decided to avoid going on the day’s excursions based on my condition and the strenuous nature of the tours.   I was hoping to attend but after seeing the boats, called sampan, we both agreed boarding would be difficult as well as riding in the tilted backs of the low to the floor seats.  No good for me at this point.

Ship’s control panel on the bridge.

There’s no doubt the less I do the better I feel.  As much as this concept of “taking it easy” drives me nuts, I’ve seen over and over these past six weeks that rest is my friend.

We’re still having a great time, loving the interaction with the other passengers and staff.  Getting to know 54 passengers and their names is a daunting task as we’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the process. 

Buddhist shrine in the wheelhouse.

Obviously, we knew there would be favorites and we’ve had no trouble narrowing it down to a handful of guests.  As for the remainder, there hasn’t been one person we haven’t enjoyed one way or another. 

Border monument between Cambodia and Vietnam as we crossed back into Vietnam yesterday afternoon.

Mostly, the ship’s manifest consists of Americans and British passengers with everyone speaking English.  Then there’s the very special staff from Kong and Lee, our two guides, to Enrico, the cruise director and manager, to the wait staff in the dining room to the support staff in boarding and disembarking…they all clearly exhibit joy in working for this company.

Part of the Silver Temple.

When asked how they feel about working for Viking Cruises, their eyes light up.  They exhibit pride and appreciation to be working for this company which we don’t always see on some of the larger cruise ships.

The city had numerous shrines and temples mixed among modern buildings.

Sure, the cabins are small but over these past five nights, we’ve become used to the tiny space easily able to maneuver about to accomplish everything we’ve needed to do during the short periods we stay in the cabin.

Traffic was busy in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, but no as busy as in Vietnam.

Yesterday afternoon, we attended a tour of the ship’s wheelhouse which on such a small ship is compact and efficient.  After the tour we settled into the cool cabin for a short rest and to prepare for yet another fine dinner and evening with all of our new friends and hopefully soon, to be many new readers. 

Bridge over a park area.  Note the cobra statues on either end of the bridge.

We’re so grateful for the warm reception we’ve received from other passengers when inquiring about our lives.  We freely share our story with them as we relish every moment in hearing about their adventures as well.


Stairway to a temple in Wat Phnom Penh.

Have a beautiful day!

______________________________________


Photo from one year ago today, July 18, 2015:
 

 Location or Ship  Days  Address or Ship  Dates
 Sydney Hotel   1   9/7/2015 – 9/8/2015
 Fiji Rental  88    9/8/2015 – 12/6/2015 
 Fiji Rental #2  29    12/6/2015 – 1/4/2016 
 Sydney Hotel  1    1/4/2016 – 1/5/2016 
 Sydney to Auckland – Cruise  14  Celebrity Solstice   1/5/2016 – 1/19/2016 
 New Zealand Farm  87    1/19/2016 – 4/15/2016 
 Sydney Hotel  1    4/15/2016 – 4/16/2016 
 Sydney to Singapore – Cruise  14  RC Voyager of Seas   4/16/2016 – 4/30/2016 
 Bali House  59    4/30/2016 – 6/28/2016 
 Hanoi Hotel – to be booked  10    6/28/2016 – 7/8/2016 
 Hanoi to Ho Chi Min City – Cruise  15  Viking Mekong    7/8/2016 – 7/22/2016 
 Phuket House  41    7/22/2016 – 9/1/2016 
 Bali House  59    9/1/2016 – 10/30/2016 
 Sydney Hotel  1    10/30/2016 – 10/31/2016 
 Sydney to Perth – Cruise  16  RC Radiance of the Seas   10/31/2016 – 11/16/2016 
 Perth to Sydney – Cruise  17  RC Radiance of the Seas   11/16/2016 – 12/3/2016 
 GAP 12/3/2016 – 3/1/2017  88    12/3/2016 – 3/1/2017 
 Sydney to Sydney – Cruise  12  Celebrity Solstice   3/1/2017 – 3/13/2017 
 GAP 3/13/2017 – 4/22/1017  40    3/13/2017 – 4/22/2017 
 Sydney to Seattle – Cruise  24  RC Explorer of the Seas   4/22/2017 – 5/15/2017 
Total number of days 617

One year ago today, we posted our itinerary which has since changed with more bookings.  For photos from this past date, please click here.

WiFi issues in Phnom Penh…Using the cruise director’s computer to upload a short post…A painful story to tell…

Tom, situated in his rickshaw as we meandered down the busy street in Phnom Penh.
We expected wifi issues with this Viking Mekong River cruise.  However, Cruise Director Enrico Schiappapietra has gone overboard (no pun intended) to assist us in getting a post, however small, uploaded today while we are docked in the capital city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.



Still nursing my wounded spine, we continue to curtail our activities to a level that I can manage without further injury.  This morning at 8:30 am we’d committed to trying the tuk-tuk for a tour of the city.  

There was lots of traffic on the street we wove our way through motorbikes, cars and trucks.

As it turned out two one-person rickshaws were awaiting us as opposed to a motorized tuk-tuk.  Simply put a rickshaw is a  bicycle with a riding seat in the front of the driver.


When we spotted our mode of transportation, I hesitated, especially when noticing the back portion of the passenger seat was reclined as shown in today’s photo. The incline placed me in a position disastrous for my current condition.


Realizing our ride through the busy city of Phnom Penh was only scheduled for only an hour, I figured I could tough it out.  After all, in these past six weeks, I’ve endured some difficult sitting and walking that surely exacerbated my condition.

The entrance to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

With all the other passengers, including Tom, situated in their one-person rickshaws, I didn’t want to make a  fuss and decided to forge ahead.  It was odd for Tom and I not to be side by side.  He’s my spotter with an innate skill of spotting great photo ops.  On my own, I can hardly match his fine skills.


As a result, today’s photos may not be as good as others, these past days when he wasn’t with me and, I was wriggling around in the seat in a dire attempt to get comfortable.  After the first 10 minutes, I yelled out to Tom’s rickshaw, “We have to go back to the ship.  This is torture.”


Our regular readers know I’m not a  wimp and will tough it out in most situations. I could have withstood the discomfort if I wasn’t concerned I was doing damage to an already precarious situation.

Views along the streets of Phnom Penh.
Then, the “fun” began when neither of our rickshaw drivers understood, we wanted to “return to the Mekong River.”  There were no hand signals or manner of speech that could communicate to these two kindly gentlemen who so much wanted to please us that we needed to return to the boat on the Mekong. 


They did understand that we wanted to go to an ATM, something surely many tourists request.  On a side, not much to our surprise ATMs in Cambodia only dispense US currency.  Everywhere in Cambodia purchases can be made using US dollars.



We needed cash for tips we’d proffer at the end of the cruise and today was our last option to get US currency for quite some time.  We carried only small amounts of US currency with us over these past 45 months, using the currency available in each country.


We stopped at a little market in the center of town when I spotted an ATM inside, also hoping to purchase toothpaste which we’re almost out of at this point.  We don’t pack the runny homemade toothpaste when we’re traveling since it could easily spill in the luggage.


It felt great to get out of the rickshaw, again trying to find an English speaking person to explain to the two rickshaw drivers that we wanted to return to the ship as soon as possible.  Our efforts were to no avail.  Not a single person understood our message.


Finally, the hour began to wind down and we were hopeful they’d head back to the pier.  Alas, they wanted to give us a “bang for the buck” and they took off in yet another direction.


At that point, I resigned myself that we could possibly be riding around Phnom Penh for several more hours while I squirmed in an effort to find a comfortable position.


An hour and 40 minutes later, the two rickshaw drivers peddled toward the pier to our awaiting ship.  I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see the boat nor could I maneuver out of the cumbersome vehicle more quickly.


As we made our way down the steep steps to the gangplank we sighed with relief that the day’s outing was over.  Had we taken a tuk-tuk we’d have had no problem.


To distract myself, I took plenty of photos, some of which we’re sharing here today as soon as we get a better signal.  With the poor wifi signal, I’m currently using Enrico’s laptop which is wired to the only working Internet signal on the ship.  We didn’t ask for this, he offered, insisting we take advantage of his offer.  How’d we become privy to such outrageous customer service we’ve experienced on this cruise.


Last night, when we went to our cabin after the evening ended, we noticed a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice with two flutes and a thoughtful note from Enrico thanking us for sharing our worldwide travel story with him and posting all the genuine and positive comments we’ve made about Viking Cruises over these past many days.


Even with my limitations and a continuing degree of discomfort during the last week of this cruise/tour, we couldn’t be more pleased with Viking’s Magnificent Mekong river cruise and the attention and care provided by this extraordinary company.  Now, we see first hand why Viking is rated with five stars over and over again.

If you don’t see us here by 3 pm tomorrow, it is due to the poor signal aboard the ship, as we’ve discovered is no fault of the cruise line and is due to the lack of a good signal at various points along the river.  Keep an eye out.  We’ll be back as soon as we can get back online.


Happy day to all!

________________________________



Photo from one year ago, July 16, 2015:

Tom in front of a restored tank outside the Australian Armour and Artillery in Cairnes, Australia. For more photos, please click here.

An emotional visit to an orphanage in Cambodia as we cruise along the Mekong River…Arrived in Phnom Penh!



This young girl’s smile took our breathe away.
This Mekong River cruise is unlike any cruise we’ve experienced in the past. 
The authenticity of the small ship and its rustic teak/mahogany design, the small spaces
and cabins, the added requirements for organization and planning make it special
in many ways.
 
The entrance to the orphanage.

The daily tours offer a wide array of options appealing to the interests of
most cruise passengers with each containing a few activities in which to
participate. 



This adorable girl greeted us at the main entrance.


Today, we’re sharing the story of yesterday’s visit to the Orphanage Center of the Kampong Cham
Province when our boat was docked along the river and we boarded the
buses for a short drive through the village and on to the orphanage.
 

Handsome young man.

Having anticipated that visiting an orphanage would be disheartening it
proved to be a positive experience when we saw the smiling faces of the children
and the loving care they are provided in the environment steeped in education, learning a craft or trade and eventually becoming independent and self sufficient.



It was hard not to instantly feel attached to these children, their plight in life while hoping and praying for their future.

Through help from the government, private donations, cruise lines including Viking,  as well as visits by many
tourist groups, funds are available to ensure the children are provided for.  Although not a perfect environment, it appeared evident they are well cared for and treated well.


Most of the stories of the reasons why these children are living in an orphanage
revolve around poverty, parental drug abuse and crime, neglect and abuse in one form or
another leaving each precious soul with memories and images they may never
forget. 

The boys obviously had other things on their minds that catering to a group of tourists.  We didn’t blame them.

Good care, loving attentiveness and education are the emphasis of the
facility, as the best means of steering the children in the right direction for a
fulfilling future. 



The children had probably been through these presentations more times than they could count.  We certainly understood.

The director of the school, 16 years in residence, described through our guide’s interpretation how the ultimate goal is to educate the
children to eventually be able to attend college. 

They all waved to us at the end of their sweet performance.

The director quoted many instances of young residents going on to fulfilling lives
having learned a craft through both the orphanage, public school, trade schools
and college.  He emphasized that the children aren’t sent off on their own until
they’ve acquired a job with a wage commensurate with the ability to live a
suitable life.



This wheelchair bound young man deserved some attention too.
We realize that a part of these explanations could easily be propaganda to
elicit donations from the visitors but somehow we felt a strong
commitment based on who the Cambodia people are; spiritual, honest, loving and
kind.

Another building on the property.

All the children learn a handicraft and make a variety of items which are
sold in the onsite shops.  The children “man” their stations when the tourists walk through to inspect their work.  The children receive 50% of the revenue from
the sale of the items with the balance for the facility to cover costs
of materials.



The small bathroom in the sleeping quarters.

This way the children are taught the value of entrepreneurship with the joy of
success and a keen sense of responsibility providing them the tools for a
fulfilling and successful life.  

The director of the orphanage, 16 years in residence.

If smiles on little faces is any indication of
the children feeling safe in this environment, we were left with a good feeling.


(Preferring not to “toot our own horn regarding donations, we remain mum on this topic. To us, the greatest donation is one that doesn’t seek any personal recognition or accolades from others).

Groups A and B during the presentation by the director and songs sung by the children.
Today, we didn’t attend the morning tour when part of it included a ride on
an ox cart (video to follow in future post as we stood by watching the
procession) which would have been unsuitable with my current condition. 
Another table of handicrafts made by the children for sale in the tiny shops on the grounds of the orphanage.

After the ox cart ride, the passengers headed to the Udon Monastery which
required walking uphill, up many steps and over long distances, again not
suitable for me at this time. 

Bedroom for the children.  It was sad to see the not-so-well-equipped space.

This morning, for the first time in six weeks,
I’ve felt relatively pain free for a few hours, only escalating later in the day. 

The ship’s director, Enrico, arranged for us to be able to prepare our posts
while sitting in the empty dining room as the staff prepares for the next meal. 

Bracelets, ribbons and various crafts the children made to learn the value of the entrepreneurial spirit.

The chairs offer good support and with my laptop on the table I can
sit in an ergonomic manner to avoid becoming too uncomfortable.
We were among about six other passengers who remained on the ship until the
two groups returned to the ship at 11:45 am. 

Crafts for sale, all handmade by the children.

Do we feel badly about this?  I would
have loved the ride in the ox cart but Kong warned it was very bumpy. Tom and I
agreed its not worth the risk nor was the tough walk at the monastery.



The living quarters for girls and boys are separate.

At 3 pm today we arrived in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh where
we’ll stay docked for a few days where we plan to get off the ship to tour the
interesting city by tuk tuk. 

Sewing machines, although quite old are available for the kids to learn to make handicrafts.

Many older folks like us will recall the
significance of Phnom Penh in the Vietnam war.

Here’s a little information about Phnom Penh from this site but much more will
follow over the next few days:

Classroom on the property.

“During the Vietnam War,
Cambodia was used as a base by the
North Vietnamese
Army
and the Viet Cong, and
thousands of refugees from across the country flooded the city to escape the
fighting between their own government troops, the NVA/NLF, the
South
Vietnamese
and its allies, and the Khmer Rouge.
By 1975, the population was 2-3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the
fighting.”




These bikes are available for the kids to use.

In any case, we’re still having an excellent time aboard the Viking Mekong River
cruise getting to know the many passengers and crew, especially as I continue to
improve without too much overextending.

After the tour, we returned to our ship.

We’ll be back again tomorrow with more stories and photos!  Have a great day!

_____________________________________
 
Photo from one year ago today, July 15, 2015:

This shell we found in the sand in the Trinity Beach area of Australia had a rough exterior.  For more shell photos, please click here.