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 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 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 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.

The kitchen. Most homes do not have refrigerators.

Our next stop was to visit a pop rice factory where we saw the production of rice paper, coconut candy and pop rice sweets and savory snacks!

The workers demonstrated for us how whole grains of rice with their husks were put into a large pot that had black sand from the Mekong River. It was poured over the fire. The first video below showed the rice popping!

They sifted out the black sand and a second time to remove the rice husks. Then the crispy rice was put into another wok-shaped pot and mixed with a syrup of sugar and water. This video shows the mixing to make a savory crispy rice treat.

This last video showed adding the popped rice to the mixture.

Then they poured the rice mixture into the frame, press it and let it cool.

We tried the savory crispy rice treat and the sweet rice treat and both were delicious!

Our group did a shot of banana wine. It was strong!

They also had snake wine that you could try. The bottle had dead snakes in it! A few of our group members did try it but none of them liked it.

Snake wine

The Vietnamese coconut candy was very popular in Vietnam. It was the most popular candy.

A worker was making rice papers. She showed us the process and the pictures below illustrate the steps.

After our morning excursions, our riverboat left Cái Bè and we were headed to Sa Déc. As we were cruising along we watched the sights along the river.

This afternoon we visited the Sa Déc open air market that was incredibly busy. Click on the slide show to see some of the unusual and interesting items that were being sold at the market!

We also saw Marguerite Duras’ lover’s home, Mr. Huynh Thuy Le. Marguerite, a French writer, wrote an autobiographical novel called The Lover. Only the outside of the home was available because the inside of the home is in disrepair. They had an affair but his family didn’t approve of it and his family forced him to marry a Chinese woman but we were told he never stopped loving Marguerite.

We cruised along the Mekong river. We saw homes along the river and some were pretty modern looking and others were barely standing.

Before dinner Captain Hiep invited all of us to the lounge for a toast to welcome us on board. Besides the captain, the hotel manager, our program directors, the head housekeeper, maître d’ and the executive chef were introduced. We found everyone to be so kind and helpful.

“In Search of the Northern Lights” with Viking Cruises Day 14, 15, & 16

Thursday, February 3rd, 2022, Friday, February 4th, 2022 & Saturday, February 5th, 2022

Today we slept in because we weren’t going to Lerwick, Shetland Islands. The nasty weather that hit the east coast of the United States was now coming across the ocean.

We went to the front of the ship to read and also walked around the ship. When we look out the windows we can only see water and fog, no more beautiful mountains.

Nothing but water!

Late afternoon the ship began crossing the North Sea and heading toward London. The wind was blowing about 31 mph and the ship was swaying a little bit. We enjoyed visiting different places so we were rather bored with sailing today and then tomorrow too!

We also were given instructions for filling out the Passenger Locator Form for our arrival in Tilbury (London). We also would gain one hour, from six hours ahead to five hours ahead!

This evening was the farewell celebration even though we have one more day of sailing. They felt that if they did it tomorrow night people would be busy packing and wouldn’t attend the celebration. The captain spoke and champagne was served and refills were given! Tonight’s entertainment was “Stage & Screen- A Viking Venus Variety Show”.

A song from Hamilton

Day 15, Friday, February 4th

This morning was our last time to do a saliva COVID test, health survey and temperature check! From this test, we would be given our results on an official paper so that we could enter England and fly home tomorrow!

Today was another day at sea heading toward England. Sunrise was at 7:51 AM and sunset was 4:37 PM. It was our longest day so far.

This afternoon Mr. Terence Murtagh, a guest lecturer on this cruise, gave a talk entitled, “Your Aurora, Your Experience”. He shared some of his photos and time-lapse photography of the Aurora Borealis that occurred during our cruise. He also shared some of the passenger photos that were sent to him. It was fun as he discussed the techniques of the photography and reviewed what causes the northern lights. He also shared a great site for those interested in aurora alerts, you can submit photos, and up to date information on the science related to the sun. It was

Katie Healy, our cruise director, entertained us tonight with a variety of swing songs.

Day 16, Saturday, February 5th

We docked in Tilbury (London), England around 4:30 AM. For our disembarkation from the Viking Venus we were to meet in the atrium at 6:30 AM. When our color tag was called we disembarked from the ship and boarded our bus for Heathrow Airport. The sky was beautiful as we rode along.

As we checked in our luggage at Heathrow airport, the agent from United asked us if we wanted to fly on an earlier flight to Chicago. Our original itinerary had us flying from Heathrow to Washington, DC, then from there to Chicago, and then Chicago to Columbus. This change would eliminate one flight and get us in to Columbus about an hour earlier. We were happy to change our flights. The flight from London to Chicago left about two hours earlier! We had time to get through security and get to our gate and then it was time to board!

Leaving Heathrow

Snow was on the ground again as our flight got close to Chicago.

Snow covered land outside Chicago

We arrived in Chicago on time. We went to Global Entry, claimed our luggage and went through security again to get to the gate for our flight to Columbus. We had time to catch a late lunch before boarding our last plane!

Our time in Norway was marvelous. Every port we visited we learned more about Norway and its people, customs, traditions, and history. And our highlight was seeing the Aurora Borealis! It was another memorable adventure!

We can’t wait for our next adventure!

“In Search of the Northern Lights” with Viking Cruises Day 12 & 13

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022 and Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022

The sun was rising, 9:10 AM as we headed to Bodø!

It was beautiful scenery as we sailed this morning.

Today we were to dock in Bodø, Norway around noon. Unfortunately the captain decided the wind gusts at the pier were 20-30 mph and it wasn’t safe to dock! We could see the town but didn’t get to visit.

So the ship turned around and we headed south and we were at sea the rest of the day. The captain said they were looking for another port for tomorrow. We will be refunded for our excursions from Bodø. So the rest of the day we walked around the ship, enjoyed the views, and did a lot of reading!

The fjords were majestic and covered with snow. The day was a little longer. Sunset was at 3:22 PM.

This evening the Viking Singers did a show called “The Beatles Songbook”. It was fun to hear many of the Beatles’ hits. We also found out that the Excursion desk did find a port for tomorrow. We would be visiting Trondheim, Norway. The only excursion would be a tour of the town.

Day 13, Wednesday, February 2nd, we docked in Trondheim around 8:30 AM. Sunrise this morning was at 8:51 AM.

Since the ship anchored in the harbor we were tendered into Trondheim for our tour. This port replaces Bodø which we couldn’t dock at yesterday.

Tender Boat

We were on the first tender to Trondheim. This was also the first time the Viking Venus had been to this city. Trondheim was located in the Trondheim fjord and at the mouth of the River Nidelva.

Our ship anchored in the distance!

On our tour we stopped for a photo-op that looked over the city.

The population of Trondheim was 210,000. It was the 3rd largest municipality in Norway and the 4th largest urban area. The Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU) with 40,000 students was located in Trondheim.

The Old Town Bridge (Gamie Bybro) crossed over the Nidelva River and was originally constructed of wood and supported on three stone piers and was reconstructed in 1861. The bridge, Gamie Bybro, was also known as the Gate of Happiness!

Gamie Bybro, Old Town Bridge

We passed by the Royal Residence. It was the largest wooden palace in Scandinavia and was built during 1774-1778 by the widow and privy counsellor Cecilie Christine Schøller. Today it served as the official royal residence of Trondheim.

The oldest wharves along the River Nidelva dated back to the 18th century.

The island of Munkholmen was near our ship. It was originally named Nidarholm. It had many uses. During the Viking Age this island was where public executions here held, then it was a Benedictine monastery. Later it was reconstructed as a fort and then used as a prison. During WWII it was again used as a fort by the Germans. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction and recreation place for the residents of Trondheim.

Out last stop was the Nidaros Cathedral. The church was built over the grave of St. Olav, Norway’s patron saint. Most of the cathedral was in a Gothic style and was completed about 1300. In 1869 there was extensive renovations. Then a century later it was restored to its original state. The stained glass dated from the early 1900s.

Because Trondheim is a university town we saw their student society (Studentersamfundet). It was owned and run by its members, almost 9,000 students. It was their hub. Our guide told us their were plans to expand the student center.

Some sights as we toured Trondheim!

After our tour we read in the Explorer’s Lounge and our ship departed Trondheim around 4:00 PM.

Leaving Trondheim

The captain came on and said the weather was bad in the Shetland Islands which was our next port. Tomorrow instead of visiting Lerwick, Shetland Islands we will sail southerly along the Inside Passage of Norway. This evening’s entertainment was another show by Harry the Piano!

“In Search of the Northern Lights” with Viking Cruises Day 10

Sunday, January 30th, 2022

Overnight we sailed toward Tromsø and docked before 8:00 AM.

Looking out over Balsfjorden, a fjord that is over 35 miles in length.

Tromsø has been called the “Paris of the North”! This is because of its lively atmosphere, varied nightlife, cultural activities, and restaurants abound. It is also the largest city within the Arctic Circle and is also considered to be another great location to view the Northern Lights.

This morning we had an included tour of Tromsø.

Our first stop was the planetarium on the Tromsø campus of the Arctic University of Norway and it was the first Norwegian planetarium open to the public. We went in and watched in the dome a movie from a photographer’s clips from his trips to watch and photograph the Northern Lights.

We passed by the Arctic Cathedral which was a Norway parish church and not actually a cathedral. Its construction was from concrete and metal.

The city also had an underground road system called the Tromsøysund Tunnel. It was an undersea highway tunnel and even had a roundabout! This road system connected the island of Tromsøya with the main suburb of Tromsdalen. Our bus driver took us in the tunnel and through the roundabout several times! The residents of the area have two ways to cross the water: the bridge and the tunnel.

Up a hill we stopped at a school where we had a great view of the town and surrounding area!

Even though it was dark, it was just a little after 3:00 PM, when we took a shuttle into Tromsø. There was snow all around but the sidewalks were perfectly dry and clear and that was because the sidewalks were heated.

In town we were able to visit two stores. The ship wanted to keep us in a bubble so the shops were closed to everyone except Viking passengers. We were given about 45 minutes to look around.

As we left the ship we saw a masked snowman created by some of the Viking Venus crew. There were many members of the crew that had never experienced snow!

Viking Venus Snowman

This evening we went on an excursion called “Chasing the Northern Lights”. At first the aurora borealis was faint but given time it danced across the sky and put on a show for us. We were lucky to see them three nights in a row! We got back to the ship very early the next morning.

Watch the three videos below to see how the Northern Lights danced, changed and filled the night sky!

Northern Lights Movie 1
Northern Lights Movie 2
Northern Lights Movie 3

Below are some of our favorite pictures from tonight’s views of the aurora borealis!