Behind the Shroud 2

Cambodia and Vietnam Reveal Bucket List Secrets

Lots of globetrotters in search of vivid culture dream of a journey to the exciting destination of Southeast Asia. Known for its beautiful beaches, mesmerizing historical sights and a touch of adventure, this area of the world is often found on travel bucket lists.

While there are a variety of ways to experience this corner of the world, the increased popularity of river cruising has made a visit that much easier. A journey down the Mekong River is filled with fascinating sights, sounds, people, culture and cuisine unlike anything you have experienced before.

The journey begins in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap with a visit to the UNESCO heritage site Angkor Wat. The largest religious site in the world does not disappoint visitors with its sprawling acreage of ancient temples. Hidden to Western eyes until it was unearthed in the 1800’s, Angkor Wat is a must-see destination for any traveler.

Siem Reap, the city that developed because of its proximity to this popular tourist destination, is an interesting mix of old and new. Beautiful luxury hotels now dot the main street where traditional rickshaw drivers transport tourists. A young and bustling Pub Street boasts fun restaurants and shops with affordable eating, drinking and shopping!

Cambodians are lovely people that all have a personal story to tell about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. The country will clearly take many more years to recover, and tourism is an industry they are counting on to help build their tiny country’s economy.

Leaving Siem Riep, a Mekong river cruise sails toward Vietnam and illuminates a busy, commerce-filled waterway with a glimpse into life along its banks. The floating villages are common and yet, to Americans, they can look like movie sets with an unimaginable lifestyle.  The cruise also stops in isolated villages along the river’s banks. Here, visitors are greeted by children swarming around and selling the handicrafts created in their homes: silver jewelry in one small town, silk in another.

There are also visits to large monasteries to learn about Buddhism and Cambodian culture. Travelers tour the beautiful Royal Palace and impressive Silver Pagoda and can also spend a day in the large and bustling city of Phnom Penh, a city that has old and crumbling elements juxtaposed with a hip, youthful vibe.

Vietnam, while similar to Cambodia in many ways, is years ahead of its neighbor and the difference is evident during the drive through the countryside. Here, too, there is the feeling that these people and this country have been shaped by a recent war. Visitors have the option of visiting the place that once was a Viet Cong stronghold in the jungle and stands today as a strong reminder of the conflict.

In Vietnam, just like in Cambodia, a visit would not be complete without seeing small towns and markets with stalls overflowing with produce, live chickens and fish and exotic fruits. The sights, smells and sounds of these markets are strong and offer the best glimpse into this fascinating world.

A river cruise from Cambodia to Vietnam culminates in Ho Chi Minh City, the bustling metropolis formerly known as Saigon. It is a huge city with no apparent traffic rules and thousands of scooters flying by in every direction. This busy city, in contrast with the ox-cart filled roads and floating villages, puts a strong exclamation point on a remarkable journey.