Third World Wonders by Day, First World Delights by Night
By Don Farmer
We climbed, admired and photographed thousand-year-old temples, were charmed by eight-year-old children and ate aged (OK deep-fried) tarantulas on our visit to Southeast Asia. And that was just one day of the trip through Vietnam and Cambodia planned by HCI Travel and executed with finesse and fun by AMA Waterways.
On other days we saw the sunrise over the Mekong River, strolled through a maze of markets in riverside villages, passed large floating villages full of people who lived not by the river but on it, literally.
We were whisked, wobbled and waved at on a variety of vehicles, sometimes exhilarating, occasionally terrifying, always interesting. We were in what seemed a slow speed chase down a village path in oxcarts and an even slower-speed trek up a large hill or a small mountain on the back of a bored but reliable elephant.
The elephant, we were told, was 29 years old, its driver about the same. The temple that clung to the hillside was eight or nine centuries old. The cell phone in the hand of the elephant pilot was made in China 20 minutes ago.
These are a few of the contrasts on our tour, land and water, boat, plane, cyclo, rickshaw, junk, motor coach, rickety walking bridge, skiff, tender, rowboat, taxi, jetliner, sampan and, the best of all, the AMA Waterways river-cruising ship, Le Marguerite.
After two nights in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, one night on a luxury junk cruising Ha Long Bay and three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the city nearest the Angkor Wat ancient wonderland, we boarded the AMA ship.
Small in size, just 46 staterooms, Le Marguerite is roomy and comfortable, some king beds, excellent bathrooms, two good bars, a first-rate dining room, gift shop, workout room, pool, etc. The all English-speaking crew is first rate.
Buffets at breakfast and lunch always include well-prepared western food as well as Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes. Dinners are free-style seating, served at table. House wines and spirits and beer are free.
The ship trip ends in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, which is what most people still call it.
Two of us on board had been in Vietnam and Cambodia during the war. There are many tours designed specifically for men and woman “going back”, so to speak. This is not one of them, but our guides talked freely when asked, as long as we were not within earshot of strangers.
In public, don’t ask them about politics, past or present. Vietnam has a thriving mostly-free-market economy, but politically it remains a Communist dictatorship.
The people as a whole love Americans and are kind and hospitable. The same is true in Cambodia, but talking current politics there also is best avoided in public.
The travel professionals at HCI can create an AMA Waterways or other travel excitement for you. Thanks to them, this was an unforgettable experience.