Visiting the East is always an adventure as it takes you out of your comfort zone. Travelling in Indochina is no exception; however, it is an experience you would not want to miss.
There are certain experiences that you expect – the amazing temples of Angkor Wat, the horror of the Killing Fields Museum, touring Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and imagining what it was like during the Vietnam War, vibrant Hanoi, the beautifully coloured temples. These are all wonderful experiences and well worth the trip to see them alone. To me, what made this trip really special was the cruise along the Mekong Delta.
The cruise ships are small – ours had 24 cabins. For its size the ship was very well appointed. It had a spotlessly clean cabin and bathroom, French doors looking out onto the river, a lovely dining room, an inside bar/lounge and a top deck with loungers, a bar and plenty of space to relax and watch the world go by. The food and service were wonderful.
Twice each day we stopped along the river and went exploring. There were tenders that took us ashore most times. There was usually no dock at our port, so there were various ways to disembark, temporary gangways made of wood, sandbag stairs, stairs cut into the bank. The crew were amazing and made the adventure of getting ashore fun. Once on shore our mode of transport varied – oxcart, horse and cart, cyclo, sampan, tuk tuk and walking were all new and different adventures in their own right.
We visited small villages. In Cambodia, the villages had no paved roads and in Vietnam there was usually only one paved road in the villages.
We would walk through lush jungle, pass fields and livestock, see houses on stilts, usually there was a small shop and always there were very friendly locals to greet us. It felt as if having us tourists coming to these small villages was unusual and the children were fascinated by us all. The villagers were very welcoming. We went into one house for tea and another for a lesson on how to make rice pancakes with shrimp. On our adventure, we were served fruit and a honey drink, watched coconut candy making and sampled produce. In some of the villages we were shown how to make clay pots, woven baskets, silk joss sticks and beautiful carved furniture. In a larger village we visited a school and a nursery. The people were incredible. One of the local teachers used his Sundays to teach his students English. His schoolroom was under his mother’s house. Seeing the countryside so intimately gives you a far greater understanding of the countries and the people that live there.
We were also fortunate and saw the Irawaddy dolphins. During a sampan ride through lush vegetation, we encountered many storks and other beautiful birds. It was quite a sight to behold.
This journey certainly provides further insight into these two countries with troubled histories and promising futures. I returned home with more understanding of the past, hope for the future and a desire to read even more about these fascinating destinations.