Exploring Cambodia and Viet Nam on the Mekong River

Exotic destinations are becoming more and more enticing to baby boomers as they start to check off their bucket list of things to see and do, China and the Great Wall, the Nile and The Pyramids, African game preserves and Victoria Falls, the Galapagos Islands and the evolution of species… But most intriguing of all might be Viet Nam and Cambodia. Both are on Trip Advisors top 10 destinations for 2017. For many who served in the war it’s a difficult decision to go back. Many veterans are curious to see the changes that have taken place in 50 years and others can’t get over the memories of their youth.  The recent television series by Ken Burns on the The Vietnam War puts this into a vivid perspective.

Recently, my husband Frank and I, with a group of 20 people, spent an amazing 14 days traveling from Siem Reap in Cambodia, along the Mekong River to Saigon and finished our journey in the ancient silk trade village of Hoi An.  On Ama Waterways new ship, the AmaDara, each stop along the way had its AHA moment. Angkor Wat, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, (so massive it can be seen from space) was simply awe-inspiring at sunrise. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia offered The Royal Palace, Tuk-Tuks (a $2 ride anywhere) alongside Lexus autos, and a Michelin star French restaurant.

Along the way, we took local boats and were dropped down into the everyday life of people living on the floating villages along the Mekong River harvesting the daily fish for the family.  The temples, local artisans,  exotic food shops, sunsets along the river – all magical.  Getting blessed by a monk in the largest temple in Oudong was a special event. Discovering a silk factory in Tan Chau by local Trishaw. Local musicians and dancers entertained in the evening  and the food was superb – offering both Western and local Asian choices (with food ingredients imported from Europe).

Finally, we arrived in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) and the Rex Hotel. The Rex was home to many journalists during the war. The daily updates broadcast by the Vietnamese government were made from the rooftop bar at the Rex, and the propaganda became known as the “Five O’Clock Follies”. We visited the Reunification Palace where the occupants tried to escape at the end of the war by helicopter (still on display).  The post office designed by Gustave Eiffel is now surrounded by upscale retail shops including Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry and Prada.

The journey concluded in Hoi An, the ancient silk trade village, which has now become a mecca for every person who would like custom-made silk clothing – within 24 hours. It’s truly amazing how fast these tailors work and how gorgeous their clothing is when you see the final product. The town is filled with lanterns all over the Old Town centered around a river and was a delightful way to end our trip to this part of the world.


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