Showing posts with label Overseas Adventure Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Overseas Adventure Travel. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ancient Kingdoms -Vietnam

This is the final installment of Ann’s wonderful account of her “Ancient Kingdoms” trip to SE Asia.  For the first entry covering Thailand, click here, for Laos, click here, and for Cambodia, click here.

When we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Feb. 12th, we were met at the airport by an adorable, loquacious and high spirited young woman, Anna, who was to be our local guide.  There were also about 3 million Vietnamese at the arrivals gate picking up about 1 million family members arriving for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year beginning Feb. 19th, which is the most celebrated festival of the year.  This holiday usually lasts about 7 days with families traveling from all over to be together. Since Tet occupies an important role in Vietnamese’s religious beliefs, they will begin their preparations well in advance of the upcoming New Year. In an effort to get rid of the bad luck of the old year, people will spend a few days cleaning their homes, polishing every utensil, or even repaint and decorate the house.  The ancestral altar is given special attention, decorated with five kinds of fruits and votive papers, along with many religious rituals. Everybody, especially children, buy new clothes and shoes to wear on the first days of the New Year. People also try to pay all their debts and resolve all the arguments among colleagues, friends or family.  Sounds like a wonderful idea to me!   
I was fortunate to be in India during Diwali, one of the biggest festivals of Hindus, celebrated with great enthusiasm and joyfulness. This festival is observed for five continuous days in a very similar way with scrubbing the house, an exchange of gifts, lots of cooking, buying new clothes and firecrackers being set off day and night!   

So one of the first things we learned is that most Vietnamese, especially in the south, continue to refer to Ho Chi Minh City as Saigon.  Why?  We were told Saigon sounds so much more romantic! And I certainly agree.  And thanks to arriving just before Tet, the streets were exquisitely adorned with vibrant street decorations and there was certainly a buzz of happy anticipation in the air.  What a contrast to the sad days we had just spent in Laos and Cambodia.

We were driven directly to the heart of the city and the bustling square in front of the most famous landmark, the Notre Dame Cathedral, completed in 1880 to establish religious services for the French Colonialists.  Notre-Dame Basilica to be exact is a magnificent building attracting not only Catholics but also many tourists for its neo-Romanesque style architecture and sacred atmosphere.  Just next to it, also facing the square is the grand Central Post Office, not what you usually think of as a post office.  This is another of Saigon’s most popular attractions, being the largest post office in Vietnam. Built between 1886 and 1891 by renowned architect Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty fame), the vaulted roof and arched windows are reminiscent of early European railway stations. You don’t need to have postcards to send back home to enjoy the magnificent interior with its lineup of old fashioned working phone booths and hand painted maps on the walls that depict Saigon from 1892.  I bought a beautiful paper fan here that is decorating one of my glass credenzas.

Shortly after this stop, we were driven to our hotel, finally, to check in and relax a little before meeting for dinner where we enjoyed our first bowls of Pho!  We were one of the luckiest groups on this particular tour to actually stay at the glorious Hotel Continental.  Although OAT has tried for years to book rooms here, it is only recently that the Hotel finally released some for our use!  This was the first Hotel built in 1880 in Vietnam in the French style of luxury and has been refurbished and remodeled on numerous occasions, but still exudes that old world charm that so captivated Graham Greene who used to stay in room 214, just down the hall from my own room in fact. The hotel features prominently in Greene’s novel, The Quiet American and in the two film adaptations.  During our three night stay, Margaret and I arranged to sit outside those evenings and enjoy a glass of wine or beer in or near the very seats which both Michael Caine and Michael Redgrave occupied in their movies!  And as others in our group drifted down before dinner, they all ended up joining us as well.

The next day, we drove off for a two hour bus ride out to the countryside.  Under normal circumstances, this drive should have taken us approximately 45 minutes!  Ole tried to warn us about the madness of the traffic:  thousands (and this is no exaggeration) of people on motorbikes whizzing past, three deep and packed from front end to rear, reminiscent of Deli but not nearly as insane.

We were off to the Historic Relics and Cu Chi Tunnel Complex where we are going to see the Ben Duoc Tunnel, a unique architectural structure, a system of deep underground tunnels having several floors and alleys and branches like a spider web.  These tunnels extend more than 157 miles underground with dining, living, and meeting rooms plus kitchens so it was possible to stay hidden for months at a time.  The Official Brochure states that this tunnel system embodies the strong will, intelligence and pride of the Cu Chi people in resistance to the American enemy.  Several of us, including myself, actually squeezed down (in my case very carefully) the very narrow entrances to one of these tunnels, and crawled on our hands and knees in the dark on hard packed dirt for several minutes coming up at another opening.   I was covered in dirt from head to toe when I was finally helped out of the tunnel.  It was a very claustrophobic experience, the ceilings so low that you couldn’t lift your head, although other rooms were large enough to comfortably sit military personnel around a large table during strategic war talk meetings. One tunnel had a fully equipped hospital.

Traffic is so horrendous that a normal 45 minute drive again took over two hours to return to city center which is sophisticated and teeming with young people enjoying life, full of beautiful parks & stunning flowers everywhere you look.  Saigon is a marvelous city, with magnificent French Colonial buildings including the stately Opera House directly across the street from my hotel.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, we took a bus to the 45 minute Vietnamese Water Puppet Show, really for children, but with all the seats being filled primarily by adults.  There was a lot of splashing around by a gazillion wooden puppets, colorfully painted, with wonderful Vietnamese music and singing accompanying all the theatrics.  After the show, Ole escorted us back behind the theatre and there we saw how it was actually done because up until then I had been really trying to puzzle it out.  Boy was I relieved to see that no one actually drowned executing all those ballet maneuvers with the puppets!

Little did I know we were about to literally take our lives in our hands as each of us hopped up on a seat on the single passenger rickshaw bicycle with one gentlemen pedaling behind us as we headed into the crush of traffic just as dusk was approaching.  With motorbikes, buses, taxis & cars whizzing all around us, riding in the front of the bike, unlike in Varanasi where our driver biked in front, felt far more dangerous from my perspective.  It was hair-raising as we drove what felt like an hour clear across Saigon, but was probably more on the order of 20 minutes.  I became deeply religious in those few moments when I thought someone was surely going to crash into me.  We were finally dropped off on a street teeming with people, shops, food, and motorbikes again; here they are simply referred to as Hondas!

We made our way into an alleyway and stepped into a restaurant where the owner was waiting for us.  I don't think Tauck Tours takes their 5 star clients into places like this.  There several of us took turns chopping & measuring ingredients for the chicken marinade which was one dish of many being prepared for our dinner.  We also had a very excellent soup, a salad with indescribable vegetables and a stir fry platter of vegetables along with our chicken. Everything was very delicious.

As soon as our bus dropped us back at the hotel, I went to the front desk and ordered a Hotel car to take me to the airport on Sunday – my last day, very reasonably priced, with tax in US dollars: $11:55.  Everyone will be leaving at the crack of dawn; I'm the last to check out.  That gives me a leisurely morning to pack and then stroll around a little as I haven't had a spare moment to even stand in front of the Opera House or walk around the block. Diagonally across from my hotel and the big square is a Louis Vuitton & up the street all the boutique stores you see on Rodeo Drive or Worth Avenue, a very "tony" neighborhood for sure.

Our last day began with an interminable bus ride but as always, we pulled off the highway to visit “The Happy Room” as Ole always called our restroom stops, as well as sampling a delicious Vietnamese coffee.  Who could resist, I had to bring back a small bag. We finally arrived at a local market where we took a 2 minute ferry ride so we could board our boat for a cruise on the Mekong Delta River, stopping after half an hour for a lunch in a private home built in 1883, the fourth generation still living there, now a guest house which also caters to small groups for lunch.  Lunch was served al fresco and featured a huge whole deep-fried fish and lots of side dishes.
We continued the afternoon cruising on the Mekong, passing an enormous wholesale market floating on the water in full swing where retailers were loading up their boats to take back all kinds of food, fruit and other items to sell in their local areas.

It’s a surprise where we're going for our Farewell Dinner, but after a glorious 10 minute hot shower, and a fast change of clothes, I ran down to meet Margaret for a drink in front of the hotel, before we meet the others.  Ole presented each of us with a fully illustrated diary in detail of every day of our trip with his very own remarkable pen & ink drawings!! His colorful map of our four countries begins and ends this write up.  We had a private room for our last dinner together where we all remarked on what a wonderful time we had and how much we appreciated Ole for all of his hard work.

Afterwards, back in my hotel room, it felt bittersweet to realize it is all over.  I am certainly relieved on the one hand as I am so ready to return home and see my husband and get back in the routine of my life.   I have met some really wonderful people on this trip and hope to keep in touch.  I just found out that Hiroko and I are the only two spending a good part of the day in the hotel the next day, so we have made plans to meet for breakfast, do a little sightseeing and shopping and have a bite of lunch before my car arrives.  Her flight to Tokyo doesn’t leave until much later that evening.  It was terrific meeting Margaret, my beer partner who said the nicest thing to me, “thank goodness you were on this trip as I really enjoyed your company”.  I fell in love with Joan and Frank, lovebirds from California who had the most remarkable story to tell and exemplify how wonderful love is the second time around!  Margie also said something so sweet to me, that it was fun being on this trip with me because I added such liveliness to the group.  Others like Anne and Kevin and Dr. Frank and Hiroko, extended invitations to visit and I did in return.  I enjoyed getting to know Ed and Silvia as well as Karl and Patty.  What a pleasure it was to be on this journey with such kind and engaging fellow travelers!

Just before I left on this trip, I was suffering from my Vertigo and had undergone some draconian spinning to help relieve it which really didn’t, and had a shot in my knee so I could walk.  My poor Chiropractor was working so hard to help my back stay in shape before this trip knowing how strenuous it was going to be.   Amazingly, for the dizziness I just needed an arm to go up or down steps and the old knee held up remarkably well as did my back.  I actually flew home in good shape, no pain anywhere.   That’s what I call a successful adventure!


Monday, March 16, 2015

Ancient Kingdoms -- Cambodia

This is a continuation of Ann’s description of her “Ancient Kingdoms” trip to SE Asia.  For the first entry covering Thailand, click here, and for the second entry covering Laos, click here

Feb. 7th to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The next day we were on a one hour flight to Phnom Penh, the largest city as well as the political, economic, and cultural center of Cambodia. The kingdom is a constitutional monarchy but now under a sort of democracy but according to our extremely forthright new guide, Leng, elections are rigged so that the ruling power still retain corrupt people from the original Khmer Rouge, which Leng referred to as the period of the Cambodian Holocaust.  It was in Phnom Penh where almost every single person, a teacher or a tailor, were rounded up and marched to the countryside, and there they were worked or starved to death.  The city's small class of skilled or educated professionals was systematically murdered by Pol Pot's henchmen, or fled into exile. All money, homes, and possessions were confiscated and often burned and family members dispersed. Even our guide, who was 4 at the time, said his father left the house & never returned. 

Despite being liberated from the homicidal Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese back in 1979, Phnom Penh hasn’t fully recovered. However, things are slowly improving, although roads remain shabby, traffic appeared chaotic and poverty was very evident many places we went. It appears that this institutionalized government corruption has put wealth into the hands of a new rich class who can afford the upscale restaurants and fancy hotels and naturally the increasing numbers of tourists are helping to improve the infrastructure as well as the developing economy.  And it certainly seemed as if the young men and women were grabbing life in bucketfuls to live as fast and furiously as they could.

After checking into our hotel, we enjoyed a visit to the Champey Academy of Arts, a sort of makeshift school where children ages 5 and up can attend classes in music, dance and painting for free.  The school was established to reintroduce Cambodian’s songs and movement and instruments to the next generation since all of this was totally destroyed under Pol Pot. We were treated to a dance demonstration by a group of adorable youngsters and even participated in one of their dances.

Today, February 8th, we entered into a very dark period seeing for ourselves the results of a madman let loose. It was 40 years ago that the dictator Pol Pot murdered his own countrymen in Cambodia, killing all the doctors, teachers, Buddhist monks, nuns, engineers and anyone with a degree or wealth.  His idea was to create a revolution to turn Cambodia into an agrarian style socialistic society.  He literally forced these men, women and children to relocate to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects. The combined effects of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population. In all, an estimated 1.7 to 3 million people, of approximately a population of 7 million, died due to the policies of his three-year premiership. In 1979, after the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, Pol Pot fled to the jungles of southwest Cambodia, and the Khmer Rouge government collapsed. From 1979 to 1997, he and a remnant of the old Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia and Thailand, where they clung to power, with nominal United Nations recognition as the rightful government of Cambodia.

We were told that the war nickname “Pol Pot” was chosen from the following two words: Politique Potentielle or political potential!  The man was a pathological egomaniac, xenophobic, and determined to show up the other communist countries by his single minded goal of a pure communism on the fastest track ever achieved!  To do this, his power had to be absolute & all means justified the ends.  He slaughtered in the cruelest imaginable way to achieve his goal!  Hard to believe such a despot existed and in our recent lifetime.  If you wore eyeglasses you were jailed & killed.  He was determined to eliminate anyone he suspected of having an education!! Neighbors were tortured to expose neighbors, mostly with fabrications and lies.  Women and children ended up in one of the hundreds of killing fields.  To achieve his goal of a utopian farm nation, all private property was confiscated; there were no books, money, prayers or music and definitely no expression of love or sex which was strictly forbidden.  His was a paranoid drive to rid the country in the service of his anti intellectual policies so that he would have only an uneducated rural peasantry left to be indoctrinated with his "ideal" ideology.

There is so much more, but it is impossible to relate it all.  We met this morning with one of the last two survivors of the Tuol Sleng Prison where only seven people of the 16,000 imprisoned there came out alive after being repeatedly tortured, starved and shackled in their cells. Mr. Chum Mey, a man 85 years old who lived through the Khmer Rouge, the darkest time in his country was blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back and accused of being a CIA operative, a lie told by a neighbor.  He spent only four months in prison cell #22 but during that time suffered a broken finger from attempting to defend himself during beatings.  He had his toenails pulled out and was tortured with electric shocks placed in his ears.  His wife & two children were murdered, but because he was a farmer and mechanic who could repair tractors and sewing machines, he proved useful in being able to fix typewriters in the prison where coerced confessions were recorded.  He lost six of his siblings, only his youngest brother survives. In 1979 he remarried and had six more children and now has four grandchildren.  He retired in 1993 and has written a book about his experiences called simply, Survivor.
I have a photo of the jail cell he was locked in for four months, shackled to the floor, before this prison was liberated by the Vietnamese.

As you can imagine, walking through Choeung Ek, one of the many killing fields used to exterminate men, women and children was extremely painful.  The murders took place in the dead of night, people having been bused to the site, digging their own graves and then being bludgeoned to death. To cover up the screams loud speakers were strategically placed in tree tops blasting music so any neighbors were unsuspecting of the crimes being committed. After walking through both the prison and killing fields, everyone had very heavy hearts, but eventually even the Cambodians are looking toward a brighter future.  This city now has a vibrant urgency to make up for the horrors & nightmare of the past. They recently built a huge casino and  are driving nice cars or riding on their motorbikes, eating out & apparently enjoying themselves.  Life is returning to Phnom Penh because it is a city of young people who have only read about or heard from their families what happened in their country but are personally untouched by it.  It is only their parents and especially their elderly relatives whose memories are still strong.  I personally will never forget seeing bones and bits of cloth rising up from the sandy floor of the killing fields and especially the killing tree, so called because that is where children were bashed to death.  The inhumanity that can exist in this world with a Hitler or a Pol Pot must never be forgotten.

Of course it was a very sad and somber group who left behind these horrific images to continue touring that day and attempt to enjoy our typical Cambodian lunch.  Afterwards we drove by air conditioned bus to the King's Palace, a very large compound which was exquisitely kept & beautifully landscaped.  The Cambodian King, King Norodom Sihamoni is a figure head only, with no power at all, a man who was a dancer & dance teacher in France, he is 62 years of age and unmarried, but currently residing in the residential portion of the Palace grounds. Here we also marveled at the extravagant Silver Pagoda, a structure with a floor which is covered with five tons of gleaming silver!  All of this manicured beauty helped lighten a most sobering day.

Now back in the hotel, I'm enjoying my cool room and trying to rest and regroup a little before joining everyone on our rooftop bar for a drink before dinner.  Several of us are having a little tourist tummy, I’ve heard the words Pepto Bismol mentioned more than once today. The temperature was over 90 degrees too, extremely hot & uncomfortable.  Not to mention such an overwhelmingly sad day, we are all feeling the effects of witnessing so much horror inflicted by one single madman.

We’re on our own for dinner again, but a group of us are crossing the street for a bite and surprisingly, it turned out that even Ole and Leng, our local guide, joined us as well and they were even more surprised when our entire group insisted on treating them to their dinners!  It was our trip leader Ole’s birthday yesterday, so we were happy to do it.  This little restaurant is run by a charitable group called Friends who take homeless boys & girls off the street & train them to be kitchen workers or waiters!  Their shirts say student or trainer on the back.  I had a grilled piece of Mekong fish with steamed white rice.  But first, fried tarantula was served as an appetizer!!  I have a great shot of it. Dinner turned out to be a really light and fun evening, but by 8:45, we were all ready to cross back over & head to our rooms or beds.  I still had to pack.

Feb. 9th, Siem Reap
We had an incredible flight, on time & smooth, landing just before lunch in Siem Reap where we will visit Angkor Wat tomorrow.  After lunch at a local Tropical restaurant, we spent over two hours in the impressive, archeological Angkor Wat Museum, which is dedicated to the collection, preservation and presentation of Angkorian artifacts. This very modern building, built just 8 years ago, houses many of the antiquities from that historic period.  Most beneficial was being able to walk around the large scale model of the Angkor temple area which provided a very useful reference prior to seeing the real thing the next day. Here we could easily observe the overwhelming size of this immense complex.  Plus, I had to admire the bountiful gift shop which was so filled with tempting items for purchase; I could have spent another two hours here just browsing and shopping!

Feb. 10th, Siem Reap

Over a million travelers visit Siem Reap every year to explore the Khmer heritage with the primary attraction being Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temple Region, which is the largest ancient religious site in the world.  Understandably, this holy city has turned into one of the world’s premier travel destinations.  The Angkor Temple Complex has been designated a UN Heritage Site and consists of hundreds of structures from the 9th to the 14th century that tell the story of the rise and fall of the Khmer empire. This vast collection of historical structures are decorated with intricately carved, priceless Khmer artwork that provides an archaeological and a pictorial history of an empire that ruled much of southeast Asia for five centuries.  And it spreads over approximately 96 square miles! These structures consist of partially renovated temples, pagoda and imperial residences including recently discovered ruins which have been virtually untouched for the past 500 years.

Basically it is impossible to do justice to the Angkor complex in the short time OAT has allotted to us and no photo can do justice to the Khmer temples or carvings.  And in fact, it is all so sprawling and breathtaking in its size and scope that no attempt to capture it properly could ever be achieved by me, that I am sure.

But here is where OAT shines and our Leader, Ole, really knows his business!  We were up again at 5:45 and had a 7:15 departure from the hotel.  Believe me when I say this wasn’t a vacation.  We needed to stop at a checkpoint, be photographed and carry a personal Angkor Pass entrance card made to be prominently worn for any inspector to see. Then we drove on to the East Gate of Angkor Wat and began our exploration there walking toward the West Gate for our departure a couple of hours later.  The best part is that we arrived there so extremely early, not only beating the hordes of people who began arriving by the droves as we were leaving, but there was still a bit of the cooling morning breeze before the heat became oppressive and nearly impossible to bear. From there, we passed through the South gate of Angkor Thom, the capital city of Khmer rulers and saw the Bayon Temple.  But don’t worry; we were still far from finished with temples that day.

Before we could barely catch our breath, we were dropped off in a nearby village, Srah Srong , very poor, but boasting a few homes recently constructed and in fairly good shape for this was where we were having our home-hosted lunch.  Many of us brought little gifts to present to our hostess who was to prepare our meal.  Here we were divided into three small groups and I ended up with Margaret, Dr. Frank, Ed, a gentlemen from VA and the artist, Hiroko.  We later found out that all three meals were identical but I believe in my heart that ours was the best!

We were lucky to have the daughter of the house assist us in communicating with her mother.  Her English was very good and so all of us were able to enjoy a lively conversation.  Prior to eating, I helped her mother prepare our dessert, Plai Ai, very traditional and sweet.  I began by placing a tiny lump of palm sugar into a small patty of glutinous rice flour and rolling it into balls for boiling in a pot of water.  They are ready when the balls float to the surface.  We began with a shredded chicken soup, followed by three stir fried dishes, a vegetable dish, a fried fish & lastly, a stir fried beef, tender & delicious. This was followed by the sweet rice balls.  We could not stop complimenting both of these very gracious women on their delicious lunch.

So now a brief return to our Angkor Paradise Hotel for a quick rest which should go without saying was sorely needed by one and all. I could hardly believe that we were shortly boarding our bus and about to see yet, another temple.  This time it was a most unusual one and although I was happy to wander through this archeological treasure, we walked and walked around and around until I thought I would fall down.  This was Ta Prohm or the Jungle Temple, so named because the ruins are buried in a dense jungle of trees and roots, discovered by the French in the 1800s, and today almost exactly as it was first unearthed.   Afterwards we found an embankment to sit on just opposite Angkor Wat to watch the sun set around it, although that evening was very overcast.  Ole and our Cambodian guide brought all of us some local snacks to enjoy (like snake and frog legs) and local wine to share in a toast.

On the long bus ride back to the hotel, a few of us decided we would attempt to go to dinner if we could still stand.  One of the choices was the Raffles Hotel, a taxi ride away or the Foreign Correspondents Club which sounded so exotic.  However, an hour later, when we were meeting downstairs for a drink, we all looked at one another and threw our hands in the air in surrender! After getting up at the crack of dawn, walking around three ancient temples in the broiling heat, miles and miles of walking, climbing and straddling over treacherous rocks and boulders, root strewn paths, up and down uneven steps every five feet, it was a miracle that no one fell down and broke their head or twisted an ankle or slipped on the rocks.  I especially felt very lucky to have escaped that day uninjured.  But we were all so beat that six of us ended up crowding around a table for four and ordering dinner in the hotel and shortly after, totally collapsing.
Feb. 11, Siem Reap

Still reeling from our prior exhausting day, we nevertheless were awakened at 6:30 as we were about to embark on a cruise on the Tonle Sap Lake, roughly translating to “Great Fresh Water Lake”.  This took us on a part of the Lake that eventually empties into the Mekong.  Here we went past a floating village, the inhabitants so terribly poor, (approximately 80,000 people live on the water permanently, spread over 170 floating villages) with many hundreds of families in this village, living in shack-like structures bobbing on the water, eking out a subsistence living solely by fishing.  These floating huts have no doors, no electricity, and no plumbing, only rudimentary apparatus for cooking their family meals.

Although this is the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia, it creates severe hardship for families to live in one place all year round.  The water levels drastically change in size all through the year, in the rainy season between June and October; the lake is massive, flooded with water from the Mekong River. In the dry season, from November to May, the lake shrinks to such a degree that its flow reverses to deposit water back into the Mekong.  So the poor villagers we saw actually have to move their floating “homes” four times a year, they hitch their flimsy makeshift shacks to their small fishing boats & tow their houses away so they won’t be swamped by flooding waters.  They are used to their hard lives as this is a multi generational way of life going back hundreds of years.  The little children go by boat every morning to school but only through elementary.  After that, they have to travel much farther for more schooling depending on the ambition of the child & parents, but mostly if the parents can afford it.

Unlike much of the Cambodian job opportunities, the income is also reliable, but life on the water is difficult.  Among these families, there is a high infant mortality rate and many children are orphaned or malnourished from lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. Fishermen sometimes travel two days to reach the middle of the lake and spend up to a week at a time out fishing.  Large waves, limited food and dangerous conditions take their toll. The life expectancy of a fisherman is 54 years. Still it is one of the world’s biggest inland fisheries, producing over 400,000 tons of fish and feeding over 3 million people!
Of course we couldn’t miss one more temple, this one still beautifully preserved and very ancient, called Banteay Srei, or Citadel of Women.  It was build in AD 967.  The temple's modern name, citadel of beauty—is probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings found on the walls and the tiny dimensions of the buildings themselves.

Later, I sat in an original handmade oxcart (with totally no suspension, believe me) driven by two snorting harnessed oxen for about a fifteen minute ride on a bumpy cart path abutting a narrow canal.  At first I thought I can't do that, and as I was the last still on the bus Ole yelled over to me, "come on Ann you'll have your own wagon!"

Today, those of us who didn’t already own pants with an “elephant” design on them hurried to catch up as we all decided tonight was the night we would wear them to dinner.  And indeed that is exactly what we did, as you can see from the photo and a shot of all the women, minus one.

So tomorrow we are leaving Cambodia behind after many days of intense experiences.  It appears to me as if, as I mentioned earlier, the people are running to catch up with the pleasures denied their parents and grandparents, they are rushing as fast as their motorbikes and cars will take them, setting up roadside picnics where food is prepared all along huge stretches of highway with carpets strewn about replacing tablecloths, eating out and celebrating a renewal of life.  Although still a horribly poor country, with a life expectancy of 65, you can see construction going on all over the city and countryside with the wealth still concentrated in the hands of a very few.

Well I’m almost packed once again for our last flight tomorrow to Ho Chi Minh City, no need to put suitcases into the hall at break of dawn, and blessedly for the first time there is no need to set my clock.  We are not leaving the hotel for the airport until 11:30!  Looking forward to the last leg of the trip, Vietnam.