South East Asia

March 4, 2010 - March 22, 2010

Joan and I went  on a trip to Southeast Asia this Spring.  We visited Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam on yet another Overseas Adventure Travel tour.  We were 15 people on tour and spent most of the time in Laos and Cambodia and just a smattering of Thailand (Bangkok and its environs) and Vietnam (Saigon and the Mekong delta).  It was a fabulous tour and we got to see quite a bit of the main sights as well as being able to drive through the countryside of places we never dreamed we would be able to visit.  We got a heavy dose of Buddhism here and we were just amazed to see how friendly the people were towards Americans, considering we bombed three of the four countries we visited!  It seems that traditional Buddhist philosophy makes these people look forward and not to the past and even in Vietnam, we were greeted with smiles and handshakes by almost everyone.     

Our first stop was Bangkok, where we spent two days in the beginning and a day at the end.  The Royal Palace complex was fantastic and the walks through the city streets and food markets were fascinating.  We also journeyed a bit upriver to Ayutthara, the capital of Thailand before Bangkok,  The palace and temples were fantastic.

The palace complex at Ayutthara, Thailand

We then flew on to Luang Prabang, a world heritage city on the Mekong river in Laos and a great change of pace from Bangkok.  It is peaceful and laid back and a great place to see a city that has quite a bit of French colonial charm as well as Lao life.  We participated in a wonderful event - giving food to the monks as they come down the city streets at dawn.  Tourists and locals together lined the streets to perform this ritual,  We were given some sticky rice in a basket and rolled it into small balls of rice and gave these to monks as they paraded past.  These offerings are what the monks live on.  From Luang Prabang, we had a fantastic journey by bus through the Lao countryside to the capital of Vientiane.  During this trip we climbed over the mountainous terrain past many small villages and stopped at two, where we witnessed how the locals live outside the tourist tracks of the city.  One stop was at a Khmu village and the second at a Hmong village.  Both are ethnic minorities and the Hmong were staunch allies of the Americans during the Vietnam war (or called the American war in this part of the world!).  Many Hmong emigrated to the US after the war and St. Paul, Minnesota has the largest concentration of Hmong anywhere in the world!  The living is primitive and the sanitation is definitely third world.


             Giving food to the monks in Luang Prabang, Laos                  Hmong village, Laos (note the sateillite dish!)

From Laos, we flew to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam.  Saigon is a bustling metropolis with crazy automobile, bike and motorcycle traffic.  It's almost impossible to cross a street unless you simply walk out and trust that no one will hit you.  There are no traffic lights to speak of and it reminded me of Rome - only much worse.  We visited the "War Remnants Museum" which  showed the Viernamese government's view of the Vietnam war.  Before Bill Clinton  and the Vietnamese government opened Vietnam to tourism in 1996, it was called the American War Crimes Museum.  This was the only propaganda we saw about the war.  Everywhere else people were gracious and friendly.

From Saigon, we took a tour of the Cu Chi tunnel complex, about 25 miles from Saigon, which the Viet Cong used to hide out and from which would launch attacks.  It's an amazing complex of hundreds of miles and several levels.  They made this an interesting tour and you can go down into the tunnels at various spots. 


Here's Joan going down into the tunnels through a spider hole

From Saigon, we took a bus down into the Mekong delta area and spent the night in Chau Doc, a city near the Cambodian border, where we embarked on a boat to go up the Mekong into Cambodia.  With scenes from Apocalypse Now in my mind and the music from Ride of the Valkyries in my ears, we had a great several hour boat ride, crossed the border into Cambodia on the river and went on to Phnom Penh, the capital.  Cambodia was a great country and after visiting the royal palace (yes, they have a king, but are run by the communists - very strange), we went to one of the killing fields, where thousands of Cambodians died during the brutal Pol Pot regime.  All totaled about 25% of the Cambodian people lost there lives in only 4 years.  We also visited a village where we went through "A day in the life", where we visited a school that OAT sponsors, went to a village and met the headman and had a home hosted lunch.

Here's Joan  with Moch, the student who was paired with us at the school

The highlight of the tour was our visit to Siem Reap, where the city of Angkor was built.  Angkor was the capital of the Khmer empire from the 10th through 14th centuries and many beautiful palaces and temples were built there with distinctive Khmer architectural style.  Most people know of Angkor Wat, but Angkor Thom and Banteay Srei, among at least 40 other temples are also beautiful. 

Angkor Wat


                                                     Banteay Srei                                                                                 The Bayon at Angkor Thom

From Siem Reap, we flew back to Bangkok and then home.  We learned much about the area and got a good appreciation of life in that part of the world. The temperature was above 100 most of the time, but we didn't let it interfere with our journey. What a delightful trip!