Rose Gray’s Adventure: Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong

Rose Gray traveled on a once-in-a-lifetime journey exploring Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong River.  This was a lifelong dream of hers and she was able to share it with a group of our travelers as they experienced this area together.

Traveling March 1-17, 2014, this group experienced a 7 day tour and 7 days aboard the River Orchid on a river cruise with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

Rose shared parts of their journey through social media and had the following to share:  (We updated this blog daily as they traveled, on behalf of Rose)

Wednesday, March 5:  Climbed to the top of Bakheng Hill at 5:30am to see sunrise, rode elephants, breakfast at Angkor Cafe, spent the morning at Angkor Watt, had lunch at a local restaurant, interacted with kids at a primary school where we also distributed school supplies and then went to a technical school for under privileged secondary students. The group is exhausted but so happy to have been able to give back. PS- temperature at 10:30am was 93 degrees with 100% humidity.

Angkor – so many temples, so little time. On Wednesday we visited Angkor Wat, the most well known. These photos are from yesterday when we visited Banteay Samre, Banteay Srey, Ta Keo, and Ta Prohm, one of the locations where Tomb Raiders starring Angelina Jolie was filmed. 

We now leave for Kampong Cham to board Uniworld’s River Orchid. Internet might be a bit tricky as the ship is not equipped with WiFi but I will do my best to keep you posted!!

Saturday, March 8 – Started with a visit to the home of a local family. On to Wat Hanchey where our group received a traditional water blessing. In the afternoon we visited Phnom Pros and Phnom Srey (Man Hill and Woman Hill). Careful of the monkeys!! Then on to Nokor Bachey built during the same time as the Angkor Temples. A very full day. It’s time to relax and enjoy the ship and all of the amenities while we sail on to our next stop.

Sunday, March 9 – We sailed on the Tonle Sap River today where we enjoyed beautiful scenery and saw everyday life in Kampong Chhang. After a morning lecture on Cambodian geography and weddings (there are many during this season as it is their “lucky season”) from our wonderful Uniworld guides, we took a boat tour and visited the Floating Village of Kampong Chhang. I think everybody in the group was happy for a little bit of a “down day”.

Group photo at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh - March 10, 2014
Group photo at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh – March 10, 2014

Monday, March 10:  Today was very emotional. We visited one of the 389 “Killing Fields” in Cambodia (Choeung Ek) where mass executions took place during the violent reign of the Khmer Rouge. Here we saw the memorial stupa (we would call it a mausoleum) filled with the skulls of Pol Pot’s victims. Then we went on to Tuoi Sieng Genocide Museum (once called Security Prison 21 or S-21) a former high school transformed by the Khmer Rouge into a torture and interrogation center. Also, our Uniworld guides who have been with us for eight days bid us farewell. They shared with us their very sad story of growing up during this time in Cambodia and how they actually were reunited years later as tour guides (I will save that story for another post as I am still shaken by it).

March 12: Yesterday we crossed back into Vietnam. Our port was Chau Doc. We traveled by Sampan to floating village.

March 13 – This morning we traveled by Sampan to a local market. It was a very interesting selection.  After our trip to the market, our Sampan took us to a brick factory. You see Liem, our guide since we returned to Vietnam, holding up the brick and tile that are made from the Mekong mud. Rice husks from the rice-processing facility next door are used to fuel the brick factory’s kilns. Then the ashes from the husks are used for fertilizer in the rice fields. It was about 95 degrees and you can only imagine how hot it was where these ladies were working. They work during the dry season only to supplement their families’ incomes and make about $2.50 per day for seven to eight hours of work. There was a little treat waiting for us when we returned to the Sampan.

March 14 – This morning we bid farewell to Uniworld’s River Orchid and traveled by motor coach to Ho Chi Minh City (more commonly called Saigon by the locals). We visited Notre Dame Cathedral (yes, the city does have a significant Catholic population) and then the Central Post Office which was built by Gustave Eiffel (yes, the same guy who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris). I found it quite odd that there were many souvenir shops inside. Then we had a guided tour of the Reunification Palace, once a symbol of the South Vietnamese government. On April 30, 1975 Communist tanks crashed through the wrought iron gates. A solider ran to the 4th floor and unfurled the Viet Cong flag from the balcony and that was the end of South Vietnam. Next we visited a lacquer workshop where we saw artisans producing beautiful pieces of art and had a chance to purchase some. We have checked in to our hotel – the Park Hyatt Saigon. It is absolutely five star.

March 15 – Today we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. This tunnel network became legendary during the 1960’s for its role in facilitating Viet Cong control of a large rural area only 18 – 20 miles from Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels were started by the Viet Minh in 1948 and expanded by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. You see here photos of some tunnel entrances. A couple of brave folks from our group actually entered one of the tunnels and emerged at an exit about 20 meters away after crouching and maneuvering through the 1 meter x 1.4 meter tunnel. The tunnels were clearly not designed for the typical American. Our guide, Liem had a better time of it as you see him in the photos lower his small frame into one of the “hole with cover” entrances. We then went to lunch at the Ly Club. Can you guess what is in the bowl? No….it’s ox tail soup. Isn’t that an interesting way to present it?? Night was Farewell Dinner at Xu Restaurant and then the A O Show

-Rose Gray

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