Mar 9, 2015

Cruising to Saigon

There is something sublime and magical about a river trip. I feel like I am part of a “National Geographic” special as I cruise pass one vignette after another.  The Mekong is the 12th longest river in the world and borders many countries. John and I have taken a river cruise on the Mekong between Laos and
Thailand.  This time we boarded the RV Mekong Pandaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the Tonle Sap, a branch of the Mekong.  The cruise vessel is a teak and brass replica of a colonial steamer.  The Pandaw Company can trace its origins to the famed Irrawaddy Flotilla Company making it 150 years in operation.  The 200-foot RV Mekong Pandaw can carry 48 passengers but there were only 18 on board.  Our cabin was roomy, a fairly large bathroom and, best of all we could sit on the walkway in front of our cabin enjoying one “Kodak Moment” after another.  All the shore trips, Wi-fi, meals (which were wonderful and varied), libations, and tips were included in the price.

There were already some passengers on board as the cruise had started in Siem Reap, near historic Angkor Wat. The first evening we were treated to a wonderful Cambodia folkloric show. Some of the dances were beautiful, others playful, and they included the traditional bamboo dance. From Phnom Penh we cruised to the Mekong and the
Cambodian-Vietnamese boarder.  The staff took care of formalities at the border crossing. The vessel idled in the river while small boats transported documents from one onshore official to another and then we were on our way. There was a fruit carving demonstration and the chef showed us how to put together Vietnamese spring rolls. 

The Mekong Delta is a huge area and the rice basket of Vietnam. It is where the Mekong divides into many
branches. One day we visited Chau Don Town via a sampan tour boat. It is a fishing village where the riverside houses are on stills.  There were stalls selling local handicrafts, a lady weaving, a group of males playing marbles, a lady selling lunch, and up near the road there was a fresh food roadside
market and their mosque.  We also visited a fish farm. That evening we watched (yes, there is an onboard movie theater) “The Lover,” a story based on a book by a French woman and her first love.  It was a bit risqué to say the least.  The next day, in Sa Dec, we walked along the huge fresh market to the house featured in the movie.  John and I were interviewed by a TV crew about our views of Vietnam.  (I think we looked the most foreign!)  That afternoon, in Cat Be, we passed by the floating
market but most of the marketing is done in the morning.  We visited a place where they were making all kinds of sweets, rice paper, rice whiskey (the more adventurous travelers had a drink of wine that had a snake soaking in it!), popped rice and other treats.  All – save the snake wine – were quite good.  That evening we were treated with a Vietnamese folkloric show. 

Too soon our cruise was over and on the last morning we were bused to Saigon leaving us to yearning to do more river cruising. The scenes along the river are fascinating as people go about their daily routine.