Most people I know have a list of destinations to visit. For decades - Vietnam was in my bucket and I finally planned the trip! A cruise on the Mekong River seemed apropos – and in addition to Vietnam, I would experience Cambodia as a bonus.
My Cambodian “bonus” was life-changing and a destination that everyone should visit. To see the temples of the Angkor region, including (of course) Angkor Wat - is breathtaking, mind-boggling, spirit-enhancing and perspective-changing. Visiting the Killing Fields and associated S-21 prison and Tuol Sleng genocide museum was gut-wrenching albeit highly necessary in order to understand the Khmer (Cambodian) people. Everyone we met in Cambodia had a story of survival, loss, sadness and triumph.
The RV Amadara, along with the Sofitel Hotels in Saigon and Siem Reap were our hosts. Without exception, the staff – a Vietnamese and Cambodian mix - was professional, kind, warm and welcoming. They radiated goodness, appreciation and respect. They made me rethink the way I interact with people both professionally and personally and I am grateful for their overwhelming hospitality.
All of our local guides were incredibly knowledgeable and graceful. I appreciated their personalities and subtle humor – even when recounting devastating events. Buntha, a 48-year old Cambodian was orphaned at five, sent to a Khmer Rouge military camp where he was taught to use weapons. At seven, he was sent to the S-21 prison where he cleaned “toilet boxes”. Other than a cousin who was 11 years his elder – he lost his entire family. After the war, he lived in an orphanage until adulthood. He went on to pursue higher education, practiced as a monk for two years, became a tour guide and spent four days of this trip guiding and educating us. I can equate this to visiting a concentration camp with a Holocaust survivor. Not only do you receive the facts – but all of the emotions and personal memories that accompany them. I am grateful for Buntha’s words and his friendship. He will never be forgotten and I hope to see him again.
The 124-passenger Amadara was the perfect way to experience the Mekong. Competitors operate in the region, however most of their ships are significantly smaller. Having a larger vessel provided the opportunity to meet dozens of interesting and well-traveled passengers. The Amadara has a sizeable sundeck and a main lounge/bar for relaxing and socializing, three massage cabins, a small fitness center and TWO restaurants – the main dining room and an alternative one, (the chef’s table) which served an elegant and delicious dinner. My favorite spot for lunch in the main dining room was the Asian action station serving Pho or stir-fried noodles daily.
Cabins on the Amadara are spacious and comfortable, each with a small outdoor balcony. There was plenty of room and storage for two guests. I was very happy with the accommodations. 😊
Kudos to Amadara for presenting and operating a fine-tuned program from start to finish. As an aside, I will tell you that the rare December typhoon kept us in Saigon for an extra night, slicing one day off of our cruise. AmaWaterways took care of the one extra night in the hotel, as well as all of our meals. Remarkably, they were able to take us to every port over the course of six days that we were supposed to visit in seven! Their operation was extremely buttoned-up and I impressed with how they communicated with us and treated us.
I know I am changed (for good) following this journey. I encourage everyone to visit southeast Asia, especially those “been there done that” incentive groups looking for something exotic and meaningful. To shorten the trip, I suggest one night in Saigon, followed by six-seven nights on the Mekong and three nights in Siem Reap. Although you don’t need much time in Saigon – you absolutely cannot miss Angkor Wat!
I wish you peace, light and kindness as we enter 2018. We have much to look forward to!