The Magnificent Mekong Day 14

This morning we disembarked from the Viking Saigon and boarded our coach to take us to Siem Reap. Viking provided a brown bag with juice, chips, an apple, and a protein bar as a snack to have for our ride.

As we rode along you could see rice drying out on tarps. They do this near the roads because it usually doesn’t flood there.

Our coach made several “comfort” stops along the way and another stop was for our bus driver could have lunch and have a break.

Have you ever seen furniture moved on a flat bed pulled by a tractor?

A clothing store that travels from village to village selling merchandise!

We made a stop at a rubber tree plantation where we saw resin dropping from the trees.

These ants would bite so we stayed away from them!

Another stop was to see an elephant! The elephant made a trek into town once a year for its owner to sell his medicine that we were told helped arthritis!

Before reaching our hotel we made a stop at the entrance of Angkor Wat to get our picture taken for our three day pass.

Angkor Wat Entrance

When we reached our destination we checked into our hotel. We were greeted by some musicians.

The hotel was beautiful! Below are pictures from the lobby and some of the outdoors.

We visited the pool which was refreshing but didn’t cool you off. The water was quite warm from the sun not from any pool heater! At 6:00 AM the water temperature was posted as being 86˚ F!

Our room had a balcony and a beautiful view of the grounds.

The hotel gifted each of us a Cambodian made scarf when they came to do the evening bed turn down and at dinner we had a Cambodian dance team perform.

Tomorrow we visited Angkor Wat!

The Magnificent Mekong Day 13

This morning we visited a village outside of Kampong Cham.

Some of the children followed us as we walked through the village. They would take turns holding our hands.

Each family had their own rice paddy field.

Rice paddy fields

We visited one village family who supplemented their income by making beaded necklaces, bracelets, sewing small bags, carving wooden utensils. They also let us visit their home upstairs.

In the village was the local store or as our guide called it, “7 Eleven”!

There also was a traveling market going through the village.

We visited the Twin Holy mountains, “Phnom Pros and Phnom Srey”. They really are hills but because the area around it is so flat they seem like mountains. We were told the story of the local folklore about how the hills got their names. It was said that a mountain-building competition was organized between men and women to determine who of the two should propose marriage. One mountain was made by men, and the other by women. They had a day to build their hill and whoever built the highest hill would become the winner. The loser would be the one to ask the for the opposite side’s hand in marriage. The competition would end when the Sirius Star rose which was very early in the morning. The women had placed a lantern high so that when the men saw the light, they mistook it for Sirius and stopped working. So the women won. Their mountain is taller and named Phnom Srei (Women’s Hill). The man’s mountain was called Phnom Pros (Men’s Hill). Thus the men still had to ask the woman’s parents for permission to marry.

Phnom Srey (woman hill) and Phnom Pros (man hill) both have pagodas on them but the Phnom Pros was more ostentatious.

In between the two hills was another killing field by the Khmer Rouge. Thousands were massacred here. Phnom Pros from 1975-1979 was used as a detention place for torturing Cambodian people in the Kampong Cham province.

The temple was used as a detention center during the Khmer Rouge.

We spent our time at Phnom Pros. Here we visited the Temple and the Buddha Garden.

Steps up the hill to Phnom Pros.

The library was located at the base of the hill. The library had four smiling faces.


There were many Macaques monkeys running around. We were told to leave our water bottles on the bus because they would steal them and you don’t want a chance of a scratch or bite.

As we left the hills we saw statues in roundabouts as we were heading back to the riverboat.

This afternoon we had free time so we walked over to the Pagoda and walked all through the grounds. There were some lavish stupas and we also saw the decorated dragon boat that they use for the Dragon Boat Festival.

Afterward we walked into the local market and looked around.

This evening was the Captain’s Cocktail Party that included a farewell toast because this was our last night on the Viking Saigon. It was hard to believe that we would be disembarking tomorrow.

The Magnificent Mekong Day 12

This morning we moved upstream to Oknha Tey.

When we arrived we got off the riverboat and walked into town. As we walked along the road we passed many stupas. A stupa was a place of burial and there were many of various sizes and colors as we went by.

We also passed by a school and the students were interested in us just as much as we were with what they were doing.

In town we got on a tuk-tuk for a ride that was sometimes bumpy, to the Oknha Tey weaving village and it was also known as Silk Island.

Our tuk-tuk and our adorable driver! She didn’t realize we could hear her singing as she drove along!

We saw the silkworms and the process it took to raise cocoons and make silk by using traditional worms. It was a very interesting process.

The silkworms with mulberry leaves

The silkworms lay their eggs in the mulberry trees. The silkworms lived in man-made habitats.

The worms eat a lot of mulberry leaves for a little over a month.

Minea showing us mulberry leaves and its fruit.

Then they begin making a silk fiber to wrap around themselves making a cocoon.

The workers unwrapped the silk fibers from the cocoons by boiling them to loosen the thread.

The threads were then wrapped onto a large spindle. They used natural dyes for most of their silk threads.

Each family had their own foot pedal loom in their home. These villagers also were farmers and fishermen.

The weavers sat at handmade wooden looms. We watched them weave some intricate patterns.

Below was a quick video showing the process of weaving.

Also, we had time for shopping to help the local economy! I think our group did a great job helping their finances.

One of the village stores.

Back on the riverboat we watched a local take his horses into the river to cool them off and he also washed himself at the same time!

The road that just stopped!

The road just ends.

Late this afternoon we attended a lecture and the topic was “Life at the Mekong River”.

Mammals in Cambodia

Today wasn’t as busy so we enjoyed some time in the afternoon to sit up on the sky deck and read.

The Magnificent Mekong Day 11

This morning we were awake at 4:30 AM and watched ESPN’s game cast of the Ohio State VS Indiana football game. It was their first game of the season. Ohio State won 23-3.

This morning we tried another tropical fruit, longan. The fruit was similar to the lychee. It was native to Asia.

Today we had about an hour drive to the Udon Monastery. We passed the fish market which was busiest at 3:00 AM and 4 PM but we still saw individuals doing business. As we drove along it was so interesting watching the sites.

The Vipassana Dhurak Buddhist Center or Udon Monastery complex was huge. The main purpose of the center was to teach Vipassana meditation techniques. Vipassana meant to see things as they really are and came from India’s ancient teachings for meditation. Proper temple dress was required and no hats on the grounds at all so many of our group used umbrellas because the sun was intense today.

Entrance sign

The architecture of the buildings and gardens was beautiful.

We climbed the steps up to the temple and removed our shoes before going inside.

This was the temple we climbed up the stairs for our blessing with the Buddhist monks.

The inside walls and ceiling was covered with colorful panals that told of the Buddha’s life.

We went into the Pagoda for a blessing service from two Buddhist Monks. Instead of water being thrown the monks threw jasmine and lotus petals. When the monks started the blessing chant their voices were so calming even though we had no idea what they were saying.

Tony, our program director, took this picture during our blessing.

After the blessing we walked around the area. The monks and the laypeople were getting ready for their meal. The monks eat first in order of their age and then the laypeople.

In part of the wooded area were homes of the laypeople who live here. Below were just some of the homes we saw as we walked around. Our local guide told us her grandfather lived in a home like this at a different temple complex and when he passed the family left it for another family to have a place of shelter.

We left the Buddhist Center for a drive to a small village. On our way we crossed the Tonie Sap Lake which was part of the Mekong river system and were on a modern bridge.

Our next stop was Koh Chern which was famous for silver smith and jewelry and was an island in the Tonie Sap Lake. As you cross the bridge the first sight you see was a sitting Buddha!

Sitting Buddha on Koh Chern.

Once we crossed the bridge our bus was too big to go into town so we transferred onto tuk-tuks for the rest of the ride.

The village of Koh Chern silver craft was passed from generation to generation. None of these artisans attended art schools, they learned from family members. Their craft was almost lost during the Khmer Rouge regime. We visited one of the many family-run workshops in the village. The workshop was also part of the family’s home. The family did a demonstration for us.

This afternoon we took a tuk-tuk to the Harvest Square shopping area to visit the Hard Rock Cafe to pick up a guitar pin for Cambodia.

The same tuk-tuk driver picked us up and on our way back to the riverboat our driver stopped and pointed out sights around the city and then a torrential rain fell and blew in on us. Our driver stopped and put down the clear plastic sides but he was drenched!

Before dinner we went to a presentation on Cambodia’s modern history by Stephanie. She was a linguist and anthropologist.

After her presentation we had a port talk so we would know the schedule and have time to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures!

The Magnificent Mekong Day 10

Today we were in Phnomh Penh, Cambodia.

View of Phnomh Penh, Cambodia from our riverboat.

We met our Cambodian guide, Minea. She had a great sense of humor and was very informative.

Tony, our program director, and Minea, our Cambodian guide

When we got off the riverboat we were met by cyclos and their drivers. We each rode in a cyclo through the city where our first stop was the Royal Palace.

The traffic as we traveled on the cyclo was busy and sometimes scary.

Walking up to the Royal Palace
One of the entrance gates to the Royal Palace

The Buddhist monks were walking from their school as we were walking up to the palace entrance.

The Royal Palace was a complex of buildings and many of the buildings did not allow photos inside. One of those buildings was the King’s residence. The flag wasn’t flying so he wasn’t there.

Map of the Royal Palace
Our entry ticket

The Silver Pagoda or Temple of the Emerald Buddha was located in the Royal Palace. In 1962 it was rebuilt out of concrete and Italian marble. It was formerly made from wood. It was one of the few buildings that wasn’t destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge regime lasted for four years, 1975-1979 and took the power away from the Cambodian people. We learned more about what happened during that time period this afternoon.

Silver Pagoda

It was called the Silver Pagoda because of its floor which was covered with 5000 tiles but when we went in most were covered for protection. No photos were allowed inside.

On the Royal Palace grounds was a mini model of Angkor Wat. We visited it later on in our trip. Our guide told us this was a great model to see the full depth of Angkor Wat.

The funeral stupa of King Suramant was located on the grounds as were other deceased royalty. A stupa was a monument that housed the ashes of the person.

Stupa of King Suramant

Walls around the complex contained a mural that depicted the Indian epic poem called Ramayana, or Reamker in Cambodia. The story was too long to retell here. Feel free to look it up online because it was interesting to read about. The mural was created in 1900 and parts had been restored.

Have you ever seen a cannonball tree? We did at the Royal Palace. A cannonball tree’s flowers and fruits grow directly from the tree’s trunk. Their name cannonball came from their brown and round fruits.

Each of our cyclo drivers picked us up and took us to the National Museum which was made out of red sandstone. It was the largest museum of cultural history and the finest collection of Khmer sculptures.

The museum suffered a lot of damage during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Australian government and other patrons helped undertake a major remodeling during the 1990s. The Cambodians want to maintain the exhibits in the museum and one was the largest collections of Khmer artifacts in the world.

Near the Royal Palace was the Wat Ounalom. It was one of five original monastries in Phonm Penh. It was damaged during the Khmer Rouge period but had been restored. It was established in 1443 and consisted of 44 structures.

Wat Ounalom

Our cyclos took us back to the boat around lunch time. We saw some more interesting sights as we headed back.

After lunch we had a somber visit to the Tuol Sleng Detention Center Memorial. In 1975 Tuol Svey Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and it was turned into a prison and was known as S-21 (Security Prison 21). It was the largest center for detention and torture in Cambodia and the most famous.

Pol Pot was the dictator who ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979 and his regime, Khmer Rouge, was responsible for the killing of between 1.5 and 3 million people. They created 189 prisons.

Between 1975 and 1978 over 20,000 people from S-21 were taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records of their torture. Each prisoner was photographed when they arrived to S-21 and sometimes after they were tortured! The museum had these photos displayed.

Only 7 prisoners were alive when Phnom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese army. Two of those survivors, Chum Mey and Bou Meng were still alive and they were at S-21 promoting their first-hand accounts of their prison time!

Our last stop was to one of the Killing Fields, Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.

It was here that the Khmer Rouge regime killed thousands of people.

We purchased a lotus flower to place in the memorial urn.

They saved bullets by doing it in the fields and most were hit in the back of the head or swords were used and the victims were then mass buried in shallow graves. We walked through the memorial.

At least 20,000 Cambodians were killed here! Our guide explained that the tree with all the bracelets was where the Khmer Rouge killed small children by beating them against the tree. She visited here on a school field trip and she was very emotional telling us about what happened at this tree.

It was a somber ride back to our riverboat and everyone needed time to process the atrocities of what we heard and saw this afternoon. We were warned it would be an emotional excursion.

We ended the evening on a high with a performance by Cambodian children of traditional folk dances. The youngest performer was four years old. He was a monkey!

It was quite a day full of many emotions.

The Magnificent Mekong Day 9

This morning at breakfast we tried another local fruit, mangosteen or queen fruit. You peel the rind and enjoy the juicy segments inside. We didn’t take a picture of one peeled open.

Queen fruit

The picture below showed what a mangosteen peel and inside fruit looked like.

Photo credit: kwanchai.c/shutterstock

Today we took the sampan boat to Tân Châu.

When we got off the boat we got on a rickshaw for a 15-20 minute ride to the temple, Thánh Thãt Tân Châu.

Some of our rickshaws and drivers
An actual local taking a rickshaw!

When we got on the rickshaw it was raining for part of our ride. We felt sorry for our drivers. We tipped them well when we got off at the temple.

Sights as we rode around the busy town.

We got off the rickshaws at the Thánh Thãt Tân Châu.

We took off our shoes and entered the temple, women entered on the left and men on the right. It was ornate and beautiful inside.

Looking out from the temple to its entrance and the river behind.

Another boat on one of the canals off the Mekong.

We got back on our sampan for a ride to Vinh Hoa, known as “Evergreen Island”. It was one of the islands in the Makong Delta. We climbed out of our boat and walked up a path for an interesting walk on the island. It was a rural community with traditional houses up on stilts.

Traditional homes on “Evergreen Island”

The island was luscious with all kinds of vegetables growing.

Some of the neighborhood children walked with us because they didn’t have school today because tomorrow was a national Vietnam holiday. We enjoyed their company.

We visited one of the local homes and our guide translated with the mother. She was very gracious and after our question and answer time she let us visit inside her home. To get to the home there was a ramp up the front of the home. The family needed that because they keep their motorbike(s) on the porch! The home had a back staircase also.

Local family home we visited.

Her youngest was so sweet. He wove a palm leave into a beautiful butterfly and gave it to me!

Their home was made of corrugated iron and the floor in the living area was bamboo slats. This home had electricity and a small television. The home was very clean and they made good use of their limited space.

Leaving down the back staircase of the home

When our visit was finished we got back on the sampan to visit one of the many floating fish farms on the Mekong. The fish we fed were about three months old. The fish were in cages and fed once a day. The river current helped to keep the cages clean. It was a smelly place.

The video demonstrated the fish going being fed food.

After our visit to the floating fish farm we went back to the riverboat because we were crossing the Border from Vietnam to Cambodia! As were cruised along the river the Sous chef, Chef Sophors and his assistant did a demonstration on how to make fresh spring rolls. He also gave us his recipe!

Tony, our program director gave a talk about the history of Vietnam. It was an interesting talk.

Our cabin neighbor came and told us to look out our window. We did and saw a reclining Buddha up on stilts in Cambodia.

Reclining Buddha

Tomorrow we would have a busy day in Phonmh Penh, Cambodia!

The Magnificent Mekong Day 8

After breakfast we boarded a sampan boat. A sampan was a wooden boat that took us to Cái Bè Village and along the Mekong Delta. Boats were the main form of transportation in this region.

Looking back at our riverboat.

We visited a local family where we tried various locally grown fruits with some tea. We had rambutan, watermelon, mangos, pomelo and jackfruit.

We also walked around their property.