Since we really enjoyed our trip to Hanoi and Halong Bay in February, we decided to pay Vietnam another visit, this time with our friends Emma and Mark from London in tow. Starting off in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, as it is officially called), we made our way on several boats up the Mekong River, to Can Tho, Chau Doc, over the Vietnam-Cambodian boarder and to Pnom Phen. From there we went overland by buses and tuk-tuks to Siem Reap and Angkor.
Compared to Hanoi, Saigon, with its French colonial achitecture, wide boulevards and larger population is the more modern, affluent and cosmopolitan of the two. But it is still quintessentially SE Asian, with life (and motorbike chaos) happening in the streets and all the buzz and joie de vivre that is Vietnam.
Travelling a country on its waterways gives you a completely different point of view, even more so in an area where the river is an integral part of life and history. From the boat you get a glimpse into how people live, what they do, how they make a living. And you realize, the Mekong Delta is populated, farmed and shipped all along. One of the most fascinating features of life on the river are the floating markets. They start before sunrise when boats laden with produce converge, like here at Cai Rang, the biggest one in the Mekong Delta. In a traditional 2-person, wooden barge, expertly hand-rowed by women, you can become part of the hussle and bussle and see everything close up and personal.
After crossing the border into Cambodia on the river, we arrived in Pnom Penh, a very pleasant city with splendid palatial and temple buildings, and some decidedly weird culinary delicacies.
Onwards to Siem Reap, where we based ourselves at the Villa Loti. With the help of 2 tuk-tuks, we spent 2 very full days exloring Angkor. We didn’t even scrape the surface of this vast Khmer temple complex, but were awed by its size, cultural complexity, artistic beauty and spiritual power.