A report told the discovery of life and beauty in Cambodia and Vietnam.
After docking in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) we immediately got on an airplane and flew to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We visited museums, palaces, and took a sunset boat trip on the Mekong. But the transforming moment for 60 of us (students, faculty and Lifelong Learners) was our visit to the Palm Tree Orphanage where 80 children ages 1-24 live as one big family, taking care of each other and getting more education than the government schools.
As we walked down a dark but crowded street on Friday night, we felt small hands in ours to take us to their home. The children were ready to show us where they have classes and go to sleep, play and eat. They know only a little English, but hugs and warm smiles went a very long way. We sang songs to each other and played silly games. We had met 14 of these students who are trained classical Cambodian dancers. They had come onto our ship in the morning and we were amazed at their dancing skills. No professional troop is any better.As we left Palm Tree there were tears in many a students' eyes as it really hit home how tough a life many, many people on Earth have. The war with the Khymer Rouge took almost half of the population and the lives of almost 100 percent of all teachers, professors and "cultured" people.
The continuing result is a country that struggles. There is 50 percent unemployment and more than 35 percent live on less than $1 a day. Corruption is widespread. Many (some guides said most) of the government is very corrupt and are left over from the leaders of the hated Khymer Rouge, who are associated with Chinese interests and ethnicity. There is no industry save tourism. Angkor Wat is their economic salvation. About 300,000 Cambodians are in tourist-related fields.
Monks at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
We got to experience knowledgeable guides and pesky, begging children at the World Heritage site, Angkor Wat — which was built up in my mind so much that I thought I would be disappointed. Not so. It is truly fantastic and covers a huge area of buildings and interior rooms. Pat and I both wished that we were there for a week with our bicycles. That would be a terrific way to see it.
Oh, but it was hot! And the humidity was in the 90s. We climbed and climbed, and drank and drank water. I would be surprised if anyone was a runner or tri-athlete here. But I did see an aerobics class going on during the weekend. I could never be that dedicated.
Our return to Vietnam gave us an exciting experience of traffic. It is more organized than in 1998 (we now know which side of the street people are supposed to ride on), and there are far less bicycles and rickshaws, but there are masses of people zipping in and out of each other's way.
We ended our travels in this part of Southeast Asia by visiting the Mekong Delta. In this part of South Vietnam the river is sometimes 2-3 kilometers (3-4 miles) wide. We spent the day on the water and on jungle walks. We were refreshed with Jackfruit, sapodilla, mango, and bright pink dragon fruit. The main meal of the day was one of the best meals of the trip.
We will be sailing before dawn in order to catch the tide and make it out of the Saigon River, which empties into the South China Sea. Then on to India. This will take more than a week and will give me time to catch my breath and reflect on what I have seen and learned. It is almost overwhelming.
Recommendation for travel in Cambodia: