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SE Asia, 2024

my favourite photos

What an exceptional experience! The Magnificent Mekong cruise is every bit of magnificent, and an up close view of a world that I could not have imagined. Reading the itinerary did not prepare me for the surprises we found along the way. A list of cities I have never heard of isn't usually how I would expect a riveting cruise to unfold.

The wars in SE Asia were just slightly before my time, and the stories of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot were mostly obscured by college studies and building a young family. Civil unrest throughout the 1980s and 90s made even the thoughts of travel in the region pretty much an impossibility. So, when this cruise appeared in an ad, it was, like, that sounds interesting. Little did I know...

We started out in Bangkok, flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam, cruised to Kampong Cham, Cambodia, traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia by motor coach, and flew to Hanoi, Vietnam. Overall impression - The people are wonderful and eager to introduce strangers to their culture. Severe air pollution continues to plague this part of the world.

Here are my visual impressions of the region. Let's start in Bangkok. Temperatures were very warm - 90° F, and above with very high humidity. More than adequately warm for Oregonians in February. We didn't realize it would only get worse.

  • Bangkok Rivers and Canals - the city is 20 miles from the ocean at an elevation of 10 feet. A network of canals allows access by water to large portions of the city. [video river taxi (00:42)] - [video river traffic time lapse (01:16)]
  • Wat Arun has existed since at least the 17th century. The distinctive spire was built during the early 19th century
  • Flower Market - The Thai are all about their flowers. The central flower market is where it all starts.
  • Jim Thompson was an American OSS operative during WW2. After the war he had a hand in revitalizing the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 60s. He traveled widely and amassed a significant collection of (among others) historic Thai, Chinese, Cambodian and Burmese artifacts. He mysteriously disappered in 1967 [video getting around by tuk-tuk (01:59)]
  • Temple of the Emerald Buddha houses the most sacred Buddha image in Thailand. Made of green jade and clothed in gold, the Emerald Buddha stands all of 26 inches tall. The buddha is dressed in one of three outfits, depending on the season. The grounds of this temple open into the Grand Palace, official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782, and still a venue for state functions and royal ceremonies each year.
  • Reclining Buddha represents Buddha during his last illness, about to enter the parinirvana. He is always depicted lying on his right side, supporting his head with his hand. This particular reclining Buddha in Wat Pho in Bangkok is one of the largest in the world, built in 1832 with a brick core is 46 meters (150 ft) long and 15 meters (49 ft) high. [video (00:10)]
Moving on to Ho Chi Minh city, we found it easier and quite accepable to refer to the city as Saigon.
  • The Independence Palace was the home and workplace of the president of the Republic of Vietnam. It presents the Asian interpretation of mid-century modern architecture, constructed in 1962.
  • Saigon is most properly defined as the main core of the original city. Ho Chi Minh City is the broader metropolitan district surrounding and including Saigon, if you really want to get technical. We visited the old french post office, a producer of fine laquer art, the city market, and the Lunar New Year celebration taking place near our hotel.
  • Ba Thien Hau is a Chinese-style temple of Mazuism. It's a long story. Look it up. With careful observance you will notice the image of Mazu, and elements of Taoism and Chinese Buddhism. I'm not certain all these elements are well represented in my pictures. [video (01:46)]
  • The Tunnels of Cu Chi are network of 75 miles of tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels were used during the war as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches.
  • We boarded our ship deep in the Mekong delta, with our first stop in Cai Be - a small village where we boarded a sampan and visited a small farm. We were treated to a presentation of traditional Vietnamese Music after dinner video(09:52)
  • Views of the Mekong Delta, the lifeblood of the region and principal highway. During the monsoon season the river swells to many times its dry season size. New dams on the upper Mekong in China are resulting in salt water intrusion in the lower delta, and sand mining in the main channels is resulting in increased erosion.
  • Sa Dec, a delta city with a population of more than 200,000 people, is a river port and agricultural and industrial trading center. We visited a pretty serious open air food market. That was a real eye-opener! [video (01:16)]
  • Tan Chau is about half the size of Sa Dec. Thánh thât Tân Châu is a very unusual temple of Caodaism [video (03:56)]
  • Vin Hoa, or Evergreen Island was an opportunity to visit a Vietnamese farming family and see what life is like in a home on stilts
And, just like that, we arrive in Cambodia!
  • Phnom Penh by rickshaw included the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and the National Museum. Speaking of the rickshaw - there are several different rickshaw designs. Some are an awkward little seat towed by a bicycle, one wheel on each side. Some are purpose built rickshaws with three wheels and the passenger seated low and ahead of the driver. In china, some are designed for two passengers, though the drivers get a little snippy about hauling around giant westerners. Then there's the 'tuk tuk', a motorcycle up front with (usually) covered seating for 2-4 passengers in the back. In any case they all seem efficient, and appear to be relatively safe, in spite of how you might feel as a passenger. [video (06:35)]
  • The National Museum of Cambodia houses the world's largest collection of Khmer art. There are some amazing relics, though the experience would probably benefit from greater knowledge and understanding of the subject to fully appreciate the significance of the collection.
  • Tuol Sleng is a terrible, horrifying place. Under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, 1.5 - 2 MILLION Cambodians were executed (21-24% of the population) between 1975 and 1979. We visited S-21, a former high school that was converted to a prision where Cambodians were tortured and ultimately shipped out of town for executions. We also visited a memorial on the site of one of the 'killing fields' where mass graves still yield bones of victims. Wikipedia states "It is not uncommon to run across the bones or teeth of the victims scattered on the surface as one tours the memorial park. If these are found, visitors are asked to notify a memorial park officer or guide." Warning - slide show includes images that most should find disturbing.
  • Miscellaneous - every now and then I end up with a bunch of pictures that are more incidental to our excursion activities, but are at least interesting enough to me to include in this, my personal scrapbook.
  • Udon Monastery - I am currently having difficulty locating english language information regarding this site. A more appropriate name might be Vipassana Dhurak Buddhist Centre of Kingdom of Cambodia. It is located close to the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong, but is a modern facility for instruction in Vipassana (Insight Meditation) and a busy buddhist monastery. [video Udon monestary chant (03:30)]
  • Oknha Tay, a silk weaving village along the Mekong. To compete with the huge silk output from China, this particular village focuses on high quality hand woven products [video (0:23)]
  • Cruise to Kampong Cham was a rare daytime relocation to a new port in Kampong Cham. It was an opportunity to see life along the middle Mekong river. The variation of river level between the wet and dry seasons is astonishing. In February the river is fairly narrow and shallow, with banks dozens of feet high. This variation of water level is crucial not only to agriculture along the river, but also to the cyclic replenishment of Tonle Sap, the great lake of Cambodia. During the rainy season the level of the Mekong rises enough to backfill this giant body of water, which then empties during the dry season, providing important natural flood control for the lower Mekong delta. Even though the lake is more than 200 miles from the ocean, its surface elevation of 1 foot 8 inches, means a rise in the Mekong produces a reverse flow of the 70 mile long Tonle Sap riever north into Tonle Sap. It's a complex hydrological environment and a unique ecosystem that supports a variety of unique fish and birds. [video sand mining (00:12)]
  • AMICA village is an example of community-based tourism in Cambodia and possibly one of the more authentic: the Cheung Kok village project. Over the years, this project has became a local social entreprise : profits generated from handicraft and tourism are used to provide free education to 30 students, to get a drinkable water access, to renovate the roads (after the rain season), to ensure micro-credits to the local famers and entrepreneurs and to invest on other projects (e.g. silk production, ...).
  • Sights around Kampong Cham includes local boat traffic, the seasonal but very large bamboo bridge (placed in storage during wet season), and the improvised dock we used for deboarding.
  • A quick visit to the Twin Holy Mountains Phnom Pros & Phnom Srey brought us our (thankfully) only contact with wild monkeys. There's a clever legend about the two hills, and a competition between the men and women of the village to see who could build the highest hill before dawn. Through a little deceit the women convinced the men dawn had arrived far earlier, prompting them to go to bed thinking they had won. The women continued working through the night and won the contest. The prize? Now men had to ask women for their hand in marriage instead of the previous custom of women asking the men. Not sure who the real winner was.
  • We traveled from Kampong Cham to Siem Reap via motorcoach. The five hour, 163 mile ride provided amazing views of the people and their everyday lives.
  • Apsara Dance was part of Cambodian culture as far back as the Khmer Empire (802-1431). The intricate hand gestures are captured in relief sculptures at Angkor Wat. We were treated to a performance of Apsara dancers at our hotel. [video (03:14)]
  • Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century, originally as a Hindu temple, and gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the century. The long history of Angkor Wat is a research project of its own.
  • Siem Reap Market and views around our hotel.
  • Angkor Thom, or, The Great City, is believed to have had a sustained population of 80,000 - 150,000 people, appears to have been abandoned sometime before the 1600s.
  • Ta Prohm, abandoned and neglected for centuries, giant trees have taken root, growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of the more popular temples in the area.
The trip ended abruptly there as my health deteriorated beyond what I could reasonably cover (pneumonia, conjunctivitis, covid - not all bad, I lost 10 pounds!). But, wow! What a journey! But wait, there's more! Our tour director Bob also shared some shots with us, I picked a few just to prove we were there!

And finally, very last and least, a small collection of 3D images. These are not technically the greatest because they require those red and blue glasses, and I align the shots by eye, and people won't hold still. Anyway, have a look if it's your thing. They're mostly duplicates of images contained elsewhere.

  • blue = motorcoach
  • pink = river boat