Cruise Review - Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia and The Mekong River
Posted December 20th, 2013
Cruise Specialist, Michelle Spataro, from Cruiseabout Canterbury in Victoria, shares with us her experience of cruising the Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong River with Avalon Waterways.
"We didn't know what to expect when disembarking the plane in Siem Reap. Vietnam was always on my list of places to visit, but I'd never really thought about Cambodia, until we decided to join an Avalon Waterways cruise, very last minute.
From the second we got off the plane, everything was seamless. We met Phiem, our tour director, as well as our other 6 accompanying passengers.
Stepping onto our ship was like stepping into another world. From the perfectly polished wooden walls and floors, to the modern, yet traditional furnishings, the Avalon Angkor exceeded all expectations. The staff onboard did everything they possibly could to make us feel welcome and comfortable on board, as well as on land, and the places that we visited along the Mekong, on our voyage from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam were beyond amazing.
We saw and learnt so much on this fascinating cruise. From Kampong Trolach... where we were lucky enough to ride an Ox cart through the village and were overwhelmed by the friendly local children following our cart, serenading us and giving us flowers and handmade gifts as we made our way to a beautiful monastery and learnt all about Buddhism... to enchanting villages like Wat Hanchey, Kampong Cham, and Angkor Ban, where we were welcomed with open arms by all of the friendly locals.... and sadly, even to places like Phnom Penh, where we learnt all about the destruction that the Khmer Rouge set upon the Cambodian people. We even had the opportunity to walk through the killing fields, where so many innocent people lost their lives and loved ones. Walking through the Genocide museum, we got to meet one of the 7 survivors of the s21 concentration camp, and learn, first hand about how that impacted his life and his country.
We saw the struggles in their everyday lives, the way they lived, their clothes, their food, but looking at these peoples' faces, you’d never know it. They were always smiling, always welcoming, and always happy to make a new friend, even if they’d never see us again.
After saying goodbye to Cambodia, we made our way to Vietnam, where we visited places such as Sa Dec, Cai Be; and journeyed through the small canals, and viewed the floating markets, and houses that lined the canals. We had our own little 'amazing race' where we had to find ingredients for our cooking class at a local Vietnamese market. Knowing only the name of the vegetables in Vietnamese, we found the language barrier to be quite a struggle, but a rewarding one.
With Avalon Waterways, we never felt out of place and we were always given the opportunity, and even encouraged, to go above and beyond any 'normal tour' inclusion. We visited a local school, offering them school supplies, and teaching them English. We were even welcomed into the teachers home. These are the memories that will stay with us forever.
Every night, on board, we met for cocktails and canapés on the main deck, and discussed the day that was, and the day ahead. The food on board was plentiful and nothing short of 5 star, and we were always spoiled for choice. From traditional Vietnamese Pho Beef soup for breakfast, to crocodile fillets for dinner, they covered everything, and they were more than accommodating to our many food allergies.
Some nights after dinner, we would have an info session on our destination, or we would watch a movie, that explained the history of our destination, like the Quiet American, or the Killing Fields. This was a great way to show us the intricate details of their history, to understand and take in our surroundings.
Every destination was chosen carefully, to give us not only an enjoyable holiday, but an educational one that crossed all borders, all cultures.
Our Tour Director, Phiem always made sure that everyone was happy, and got involved and in amongst all of the passengers. We did only have 8 passengers, a much smaller group than the usual 32, but he always spent his time up on the deck with us, and made us feel at home, as did all of the staff.
This trip has opened my eyes up to so many wonderful things, yet at the same time, so many tragedies. Learning of the Khmer Rouge, and seeing the killing fields and Genocide museum in Phnom Penh will haunt me forever. Discovering the history of Cambodia and Vietnam has sparked something in me, and since I have been back, I am in the midst of sponsoring a child, and have researched as much as I can, to educate people of the tragedy that Pol Pot brought upon this country, and the beauty that is Cambodia and Vietnam."
Michelle is the Assistant Store Manager at Cruiseabout Canterbury, and she is available to answer any questions you may have about cruising the Mekong, cruising with Avalon Waterways, or river cruising in general. You can call her on 1300 641 423, or visit her in store at 107 Maling Road, Canterbury, Victoria.