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FlickR album of these photos Part 2. Cambodian Temples Part 3. Down the Mekong Part 4. South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City Part 5. Bangkok, Capital of Thailand

2024: South-East Asia

1. To Northern Vietnam

It was time to visit a part of the world that was completely new to us, so to escape England's February weather we contacted Viking Cruises again We had had an excellent French holiday with them in 2023, cruising on the rivers Rhone and Seine; this time we booked a trip on the river Mekong with visits to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

 

Doha Airport

 

After a 5am start on our anticipated 20-hour journey to North Vietnam, all was going well on our flight with the excellent Qatar Airways including our change of flights at Doha (where we encountered the amazing statue pictured above) until we were over Hanoi. At this point however, the plane began circling and continued to do so for over 2 hours. Apparently the airport was shrouded in mist - a very rare occurrence - and eventually the pilot announced that he could not risk waiting any longer but was going to have to turn and go back 650 miles to Bangkok (2 countries away in Thailand). After refuelling and then waiting on the runway there for 2 hours, in the hope that the mist in Hanoi would clear, they gave up and decided to take us all to a hotel in Bangkok until the next day; but to avoid paperwork complications they would take away our passports and send us to the hotel as a group of non-people. This disembarkation process took several hours, so it was 27 hours after our initial departure before we were settled into a hotel room for some proper rest. We were well fed and looked after at the hotel, but with Bangkok and Hanoi airports both being in turmoil it took us another 24 hours before we finally reached our intended hotel in Hanoi. No, not the 'Hanoi Hilton' which was the nickname given to the prison where captured American service-men were held during the 1960's conflict, but the amazing Pan-Pacific Hotel. What a fantastic hotel it was, and for some reason we even had a suite instead of a simple room; it was such a shame not to be staying there for a lot longer!

The delays meant that we had missed our day of free exploration in Hanoi, as well as several guided tours; but our Viking guide Cheung was very good in arranging a repeat of the tour that we most looked forwarded to, an exploration of the old quarter and market area by electric tuc-tuc. We were immediately amazed by just how many motorbikes there were, not just on the roads but also seemingly on every inch of pavement. It was explained to us that in the older parts of the city the houses were very narrow but were several stories high, being occupied by 3 or 4 generations of the same family with the oldest (who were least able to climb stairs) living on the 1st floor and with successively younger generations on each floor above. The ground floor however had several different purposes: overnight it provided storage for the many owners' motorbikes, but during the day these would be wheeled out onto the pavement so that it could serve not only as the living area and kitchen but also as a restaurant or as a shop and workshop area.

 

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A fleet of tuc-tucs took us on a tour of Old Hanoi market
The pavements were completely filled with market stalls and motorbikes
There were motor-bikes everywhere!

As well as the number of motor-bikes everywhere, it was amazing to see how many people and/or goods were carried on them. It was not uncommon to see 3 or 4 people on a bike (or even 5 if a couple of them were children), or else a great stack of goods.

 

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Two people on a motorbike?
No, actually there are 4 people on this one
Don't forget the family dog
Now this is just getting ridiculous*
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Just a few boxes to carry today
Taking bags of fruit and vegetables to the market
These little piggies went to market*
Words fail me !!!! *

After the tuc-tuc tour, our time in Hanoi was almost over. We visited an ethnological museum where we learned about the historical timeline of the many tribes who had populated the Vietnam area through the ages (it was rather confusing so I can't remember any of it now) and then we continued to a charitable institution that had been set up for victims of the American agent-orange deployment. They were producing the most beautiful silk embroidery there but it was very expensive so we did not buy any; we wondered if the idea was to guilt-trip the Americans on our tour into buying it. Above this establishment was a small restaurant with a beautiful view across the lake, where we had a delicious lunch of the traditional Vietnamese meal called Pho, which is a bowl of spicy soup with slow-simmered beef and noodles, plus a cup of Vietnamese egg coffee which was also surprisingly delicious. We then returned to the airport for our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia; this time there were no delays apart from the way the airport security staff seemed to need to check our passports over and over again, and soon we were in another country and on another coach.

The coach took us for an hour's journey up Cambodia's main highway - which was more like a country lane - and then we were comfortably settled in our hotel there. Again it was an excellent hotel (the Sofitel Angkor Golf and Spa Resort) and our room, although not a suite this time, was huge - even the bed, which was 9ft wide being two double-beds pushed together, seemed tiny in it. The view from the room was beautiful, looking out over the gardens to the swimming pool, and we were very happy to know that we would be spending 3 nights there.

 

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Our hotel room was huge ...
... with a lovely view towards the swimming pool.
The gardens had many beautiful flowers ...
... a peaceful lily-filled lake ...
... and some wonderful statues.

Dinner that night was taken in the hotel, to the accompaniment of a troupe of traditional exotic dancers who were very, very good, and we finished the day with a drink in the hotel's Champagne bar (claimed to be Cambodia's first) before gratefully settling down for a good night's sleep.

 

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Dinner was accompanied by a display of exotic dancing (you can watch them on video here: VIDEO#1  VIDEO#2  VIDEO#3
The hotel was beautifully decorated

Suitably refreshed, after breakfast we were ready to start our exploration of Cambodia. This once-great country had declined steadily since mediaeval times when it had rivalled China for the status of the World's top nation. In recent times it has suffered greatly from acts of war, particularly those resulting from the occupation by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, but it is now attempting to rebuild itself with the tourist industry as one of its main sources of income. To this end, several of the ancient temples have been rescued from the jungle and opened to the paying public.

The greatest of Cambodia's mediaeval temples is called Angkor Wat, and it was here that we would be spending our first morning in this fascinating country. So now let us go onwards to the temple ....

 

Angkor Wat

A model of Angkor Wat temple

 

 

FlickR album of these photos   Onwards to Cambodia   A page of Temple photos
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All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated.

Pictures captioned with * are our Viking program director Chung Nguyen

 

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