La Marguerite Postcard #11 – Siem Reap

This morning was a very relaxed affair, breakfast out by the pool followed by some time actually in it and also sat round it. Just perfect after the last few days activities.
After lunch it was time for the tour that we had come here for, at 1:30 our blue group set off from the hotel to visit the two main temples at the park. A 20 minute drive saw us parked up gazing up at Bayon Temple. Our guide gave us a 45 minute tour pointing out many of the best photo opportunities along the way. It is an amazing place to visit and here are some photos of the visit.

After another 20 minute drive which included a toilet stop, we reached the outer perimeter of the temple of Angkor Wat. It is the largest religious monument in the world and was the one we had waited for. It didn’t disappoint, there was lots of walking involved in the sweltering heat but it was worth every second. It’s a huge complex and our guide told us we were very blessed today as it wasn’t very busy. The tour lasted until 5:15 and again we were advised when the best photo opportunities were coming up. Our tour included climbing a steep staircase to an upper level on one of the corner towers which a bit daunting for Nicole but she did it.

I have loads of photos to choose from today and it was difficult to select which ones to post so please enjoy what I have selected.

Back at the hotel there was just enough time for a shower and change of clothes before we attended the farewell dinner. Prior to eating we were given a Apsara dance performance by some local teenagers.

Most of our travel companions depart tomorrow but we still have 2 more nights to enjoy Siem Reap.
I am tired tonight but feel very blessed to have seen Angkor Wat at last. It’s the end of our tour with APT and we will be doing our own thing for the next 2 days. We still have a days entry for the park so will go back via tuktuk to see some of the temples we have not seen. Some of it will be round the pool just chilling, so I until the next time………..

La Marguerite Postcard #10 – Disembarking & Siem Reap

We put our case’s out before going to breakfast which started at 6:00, once we had consumed sufficient quantities to help see us through the trip and then said our goodbyes to the serving staff it was up to the lounge to wait for our departure.
We left Kampong Cham at 7:40 and drove until 9:20 where we took our first of two toilet stops. 15 minutes was just sufficient to stretch legs and in Nicole’s case grab a coffee.
The coach itself was very comfortable, only 3 seat’s wide (2+1) not the more traditional set up. There was lots of extra elbow and leg room which certainly made the journey more bearable.

Our second stop was at 10:30 and was made because it was the last place where the conditions were favourable before we got to Siem Reap.
In the end I actually really enjoyed the journey, seeing all the Cambodian countryside, different types of house’s and the locals all out doing their own thing made it quite an interesting trip.

We arrived at Siem Reap at 12:45 and our first stop was to pick up our 3 day tickets to enter Angkor Wat park. You have to be there in person to get your ticket as they take your photo which is then printed on the ticket itself. There were no queues and the whole process was over within 10 minutes so it was then on to the hotel to check in and get some lunch.
The hotel is really lovely, but as has been the norm the last week or so, you get so little time at some stages to appreciate things, that is a bit criticism of this itinerary. A hour and half for lunch and to check in all became a little bit hectic.

The first stop on our afternoon tour was to one of the eight ODA centres in the area where we meet some of the children living there. ODA stands for Opportunities of Development thru Art and was set up to educate and provide homes for orphaned or disadvantaged children. After a brief talk by the founder (Leng Touch) the children gave a short Apsara dance performance, we were then shown around the centre by a young 14 year old boy. One of the aims of the centre is to teach the children English in order to give the kids a kickstart to better job opportunities. Our little man spoke very good English and was able to explain what his daily life was like.
The centre also encourages them to do art and we bought one of his pictures with the proceeds going to help fund the project. A percentage of the sale goes into a special pot to help send them to university when they are older. Before I finish on this subject, just to mention Leng Touch came from a similar background having at the age of 9 witnessed his own father being killed by the Khmer Rouge.

It was then on to our first temple, and today we started with the Ta Prohm made famous by the Tomb raider film. It is quite an incredible experience and a lot more intimate than I was expecting. Our guide was well versed in letting us know the best photo opportunities so I will just let some of my pictures tell you the story.

From there it was back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes before we took a Tuktuk ride to Pub Street to get our evening meal. A very busy and popular area with loads of bars, restaurants and only a $2 ride from the hotel.

A great day and more to come tomorrow.

La Marguerite Postcard #9 – Peam Chi Kang & Kampong Cham

Much fun was had last night while watching La Marguerite’s got talent, which was the crew show, even though they must do it every week they all seemed to be really enjoying performing it. It was basically a talent show with 3 judges made up from a passenger from each of the coloured groups.
The acts were all team affairs made up from different areas of the ship such as, bar staff, waiting staff, stewards and finally last night’s winner’s the cooks.

This morning it was back to normal for us with another village tour, this time a walking tour of Peam Chi Kang. The boat tied up just before 8:15 and we were off not long after. Fortunately our walk only lasted for about 1¼ hours. On a circular tour, we viewed some of the older timber houses which are typical of this region but now slowly disappearing being replaced by newer concrete versions. The locals were very friendly and appeared happy to see us and more than happy for us to take photos of them. Also a quick look at the market to see what the traders were selling before heading back to the boat.

At 10:00 we set off to our next and final stop Kampong Cham which took us just under 5 hours. This was the last time we would be cruising as we get off the ship tomorrow morning. As far as scenery goes, this last section was probably the most scenic with more people on the side of the river.

We were pretty much straight off the boat after arriving and this process was a little unique for this cruise as we were tied up alongside Amadara and had to pass through her to get to the bank.

The tour was was a Tuktuk ride around Kampong Cham and then out to the island of Koh Pen to visit another house. I actually enjoyed this trip more than I thought I would and the breeze from the speed of the tuktuk was also very welcome.

Back to the ship for our last dinner onboard and the Captain’s Cocktail Party and crew presentation. It’s remarkable how few of them there are when you see them all together.

We have a early start and a long drive ahead of us tomorrow, I’m not really looking forward to sitting on a bus for 5 hours but it’s a case of needs must.

La Marguerite Postcard #8 – Oknhatay & Peam Chi Kang

Early this morning the boat moved a short distance further up river to a place known as Silk Island, on the agenda was a tour to a village and silk factory. However, on this occasion we decided to stay onboard with a dozen or so others, we felt like the last 3 or 4 days has been wall to wall tours and we didn’t feel any great desire to see another village or silk factory. It has felt like there has been one thing rolling into another from the moment you wake until you go to bed.
The weather was overcast but it was lovely and warm and we even spent some time in the pool, it felt great to kick back a bit.

With the tour groups back on board at 11:30am we set off for our next destination which according to the daily program is Peam Chi Kang which if my suspicions are correct is a substitute for Angkor Ban.

The only interruption being a break for lunch where I was treated to an amazing Cambodia Red Curry. Very nice indeed.
The afternoon was just spent up on the Sundeck watching Cambodia as we passed through. Lots of fisherman and plenty of small children always smiling and waving at us. Very heart-warming after the morning we had a couple of days ago.

At 5:00pm we were treated to a fruit tasting on the Sundeck, 10 different types of fruit all native to Cambodia.

It’s just a short post today as there really hasn’t been much else going on to share.

La Marguerite Postcard #7 – Oudong, Kampong Tralach & Phnom Penh

Before dinner last night we were entertained by a small group of school children who gave us a performance of traditional dance which lasted for about 30 minutes. Different people like different things, I’ll say no more.

Once we had eaten dinner we took a quick stroll into Phnom Penh to purchase a new Cambodian SIM card for the rest of the trip. $8 for 30GB which lasts for 30 days. Bargain!!

On the way back we passed through the night market which was extremely busy and very popular with the locals. There were lots of stores selling just about anything from clothing to street food.

This morning was our earliest start yet, we had just over a hours drive to the Oudong Buddhist Monastery where we all received a blessing from a Buddhist monk.
The temple was a very impressive structure both inside and out. The blessing itself took about 10 minutes and involved a lot of chanting.

With a brief walk through the gardens we then set off for Kampong Tralach where we had opted for a 15 minute oxen cart ride. It should have taken 40 minutes to get there but due to some really poorly managed roadworks and the locals completely ignoring the traffic controls it took twice as long to get there.

No sooner had we arrived we were sat on the back of a cart and on the way. Not the most comfortable scenario but still a brief interlude into local life. Was it worth the extra coach ride? Not really but if the dark ages are your thing then this is right up your street.

The return journey to the ship took about 1 hour and 40 minutes and instead of getting back at 1:00pm we eventually returned at 1:50pm . It put us way behind schedule for our tuktuk tour of the city, so they adjusted the departure time by a whole 15 minutes giving us just an hour to get lunch and freshen up a bit.

Because of our haste to eat and get ready for the afternoon tour we neglected to keep an eye on the approaching storm. While it was dry when we set off we had but stepped out of the tuktuk and the skies opened. Boy did it rain! So much so they called the tuktuks back for us to take refuge in. We sat waiting for 15 minutes in the hope it would ease off but when it didn’t we set off for the Central Market where we spent 45 minutes.

From then on it was pretty much a tour around the sites in the tuktuk, eventually getting back to the boat at 5:45.

A hot shower and some dry clothes and it was just time to go to dinner.
We spent the evening onboard and enjoyed taking part in a trivia quiz which was then followed by karaoke. It was a very entertaining evening with many getting involved.

La Marguerite Postcard #6 – Phnom Penh

After crossing the border yesterday afternoon, we cruised through the night so that we would be at Phnom Penh first thing in the morning. I was awake early this morning so decided to go to the forward observation deck to watch the sail in. I was surprised at how modern the city looked, it’s certainly not the metropolis I had been expecting.

Following breakfast we had to visit the lounge for a face to face check with the Cambodian immigration. Once that was completed we set off for the mornings tour to the Killing Field and S21 prison.
Today we have new Cambodian guides onboard, they will see us through the rest of the cruise and then on to Siam Reap at the end of the trip.
The drive to the Killing Field took around an hour, if I am honest it’s not something I felt comfortable going to see but to get a sense of how Cambodia has flourished since those dark days it is important to know what happened and pay our respects to those who were brutally murdered. Both venues reveal a very chilling history and it was an emotional and sobering experience. I didn’t take too many photos this morning, I felt it wasn’t really the appropriate place to do so, all I have are basically just some images of the memorials within each venue.

As fortune would have it, we were able to meet two survivors of the S21 prison. It’s a very humbling experience being as only 14 people survived from over 12,000 people who passed through its doors.

Does dark tourism get much darker than this? It was then back to the boat for some lunch and an opportunity to put our feet up for a bit.
The afternoon’s tour started at 2:45 and took us to something more uplifting than this morning. It was a 3 hour tour of the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Very picturesque setting and the tour was very informative. It was also very humid and sticky but at least it didn’t rain.

It was nice to get back onboard and have a shower in readiness for tonight’s proceedings. More about that tomorrow.
We will be staying at Phnom Penh for the next two nights so it will be nice to be able to get off and do something again for ourselves, it’s nice having stuff laid on but it can also be very time restricting and tiring.
We don’t feel as much in control as we would do on an ocean cruise which gives you much more freedom to do as you please.

La Marguerite Postcard #5 – Tan Chau & Border Crossing

Another early start this morning, breakfast opened 15 minutes earlier to compensate for the staggered starts of the three groups.
Our blue group was second off and our first stop was to Evergreen Island to visit a typical local home in this region. Much of the island is flooded at this time of the year and we were told that it was 700mm lower than this time last year.

The home we visited belonged to a man called Mr Nahm who lives there with several generations of his family. Interesting as it was I have my suspicions that Mr Nahm is not all as he seems because he does seem to appear on other cruise line itineraries as well.

We stayed for around 45 minutes before getting back into the boat and heading off to visit a mat weaving factory, again interesting as it appeared, it all appeared to be a bit of a front. There were machines working but not every section of the manufacturing process was being manned.

Next was the highlight of the day, we were taken by Rickshaw to a Silk weaving factory. The journey took around 10-15 minutes and it was quite a strange feeling being peddled along by a man who was at least 70 years old. Fair play to him because I doubt I will be able to do that if I reach that age.

The Silk Factory was once again not what was seemed. Three machines and a gift shop hardly constitutes a factory. It was however interesting to see and hear about the process.

Once we were finished there it was another Rickshaw ride to meet the tender boat back to the ship.
Back onboard we were almost immediately into lunch. The food has been first class and drinks fast flowing. It’s very difficult to gauge the quantity of wine you are consuming when your glass is constantly being topped up. Every meal time with the exception of breakfast I have come away feeling very happy!!
No tours in the afternoon as we crossed the border into Cambodia and there were certain formalities to be taken care of, thankfully APT were taking care of this for us.
So for the first time in days we had the opportunity to take it easy, Nicole decided it was a great chance to to go and have a deep tissue massage while I just lounged around enjoying some more beers.
The SIM card I purchased in Saigon will soon stop working so for a day or so it will be the ships Wi-Fi I will need to rely on. Fingers crossed it’s up to the job.

Border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia

La Marguerite Postcard #4 – Cai Be & Sa Dec

Finding your feet on a new boat always takes time whatever the size and this trip is no exception. The boat interiors are very dark and it makes everything seem very small especially after the huge space we enjoyed at the hotel.
In the dining room we have joined up with another couple and thus far managed to get the same table. The same staff cover the same areas and we have very quickly built a relationship with our waiting staff.
Breakfast started at 7:00 and was buffet style. We have a good selection available plus an egg station for my occasional omelette.
This morning we had our first tour which was to the village of Cai Be, getting there involved a boat trip.

Enroute we passed through a floating market which is a wholesale one for local traders. It was then on to visit the Cai Be Catholic Church which has the tallest bell tower of the Tien Giang Province, South Vietnam.

Next a local sweet making factory where everything is hand made and we given demonstrations how things were made such as coconut toffee, puffed rice sweets, rice paper, rice wine with added snake and we were able to sample these along the way. I declined the opportunity to try the rice wine, it just doesn’t seem right to me!!!

Then back to the boat for lunch and talk about life on the Mekong.

It’s middle of the rainy season here which is why the water looks so muddy. In fact we received a letter in the cabin after lunch to say that we would not now be disembarking at Angkor Ban due to high water levels. Alternative arrangements are being made and we are to be updated once confirmed.

In the afternoon another boat trip to Sa Dec where we visited a Cao Dai Temple and produce market for the local people. There were all kinds of produce, vegetables, fish and meat some of which I wasn’t happy to see.
Would I visit again, I think not, we are all aware of this type of thing but is there a need to walk us through the length of it, Nicole really struggled with some of items on display such as frogs being skinned alive or animals or fish being killed on demand, even skinned rats for sale for those who favour that sort of thing.
The temple wasn’t the most enthralling either and what with the heavy showers of rain it didn’t make for a memorable afternoon.

I was happy to get back onboard and have a shower and I’m looking forward to dinner tonight, I’m absolutely starving.

La Marguerite Postcard #3 – My Tho and Embarking La Marguerite

After a good night’s sleep and a small lie in this morning we eventually went down to breakfast. The food has been very good at the hotel and the breakfast is no exception.
A walk round the block proceeded where we picked up a data SIM for the WiFi dongle, 178,000 Dong (£6.41) for 9GB. It lasts for 30 days and will prove very useful if the boats WiFi isn’t up to much.

Our case’s needed to be outside the room by 10:00am so they could be collected in readiness for our trip to My Tho port. We have been separated into 3 groups for the duration of the trip and each has been named after a colour, orange, blue and green. We are in blue group and were given blue ribbons to attach to our case’s so that they could travel with us on the same bus. We have 25 in our group which is mainly British but there are a few Aussies to make up the numbers.
We also completed our health questionnaire which was handed in along with our passports. These will be returned to is at the end of the cruise with APT taking care of all the formalities on our behalf, such as the Cambodian visas when we cross the border.

We departed from the hotel at midday and reached the port of My Tho at a little after 1:40. Embarkation was swift to say the least and we were straight into a welcome aboard buffet lunch. A good choice was available and Nicole was able to eat reasonable well once the initial understanding of her diet was explained.
From there we were able to get into our cabin which is really cosy, a lot more compact than the hotel but still very comfortable. Here are some photos of the cabin for you to peruse.

We set sail at about 3:30 but were busy unpacking to go up and experience it from the upper deck.

5:00pm was the muster drill and that’s where we are are this time. Dinner is at 7:00 and tomorrow is another day.

La Marguerite Postcard #2 – Cu Chi Tunnels & Reunification Palace

Last night we were all bused to nearby restaurant called The Chopsticks for a welcome meal, the evening was great fun, food was good and it was nice to finally meet all our travel companions for the next week or so. Back at the hotel it was bliss to get back into a comfortable bed again.
We booked a 5:30 alarm call for the morning so we could get up for an early breakfast, reason being we had to be on the road for 7:30 for our morning trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The drive from the hotel took about an hour and 45 minutes and it was astonishing to see all the scooters out during the Monday morning rush hour, there are approximately 8½ million of them in Ho Chi Minh City alone and they certainly slowed our journey up this morning.

A young lady by the name of Tang was our specialist guide, she was provided by APT to show us around the tunnel site and travelled with us from the hotel, the journey time gave her ample time to fill in all the background information concerning the history from around the time the tunnels were constructed and in use.
Some of it being quite dark and it just highlights how hideous war can make people behave. I didn’t take too many photos as all the time I was there I kept thinking this sort of thing should not be endorsed or glorified in any way.

It’s good we should know about it and maybe do our best to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. The tour lasted about 1¾ hours and the return journey taking slightly less time due to the improved traffic conditions.

Back at the hotel we immediately indulged ourselves in a spot of lunch and soon afterwards we set off on foot to visit the Reunification Palace, it was only a ten minute walk and it provided another impression of a different element of the same time frame of this mornings tour.

The palace is virtually untouched since the day the North Vietnamese tanks entered the grounds signalling the end of the war. We spent a good two hours wandering around the palace and grounds, absolutely fascinating and well worth the effort.

Today’s activities have been really thought provoking and upon reflection it does make you wonder how an earth these things are allowed to escalate to the stage where peoples lives are changed and not always for the better. The Vietnamese people were basically used as pawns by the USSR and USA. So sad because we have discovered some amazing people in the two days we been here and it is plain to see how the results of the conflict have made an impact on their lives even today. They are now moving forward and are proving to be very successful at it too.

Back at the hotel we decided to take some time out and relax a bit tonight. After all, it’s only day two and it feels a hell of a lot longer.

Tomorrow we set off to join the boat, it will be sad to leave Saigon but at the same time we feel enriched having had the chance to come here and meet the people.