Friday, 20 February 2009
The Killing Fields
If I had been told in the 1970s that one day I'd be travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia on a luxury river boat I would have said this was madness. May as well tell me I'd be holidaying on the moon. So throughout this trip I had to keep telling myself this was real. I was there. Although I have titled this The Killing Fields I don't feel ready to write about this experience yet. I've been to Auschwitz and Birchenau death camps and thought I was prepared for the horrors the gentle, warm and friendly Cambodian people went through- but I wasn't. Instead, here's a picture of me resting under a palm tree near Phnom Penh, shading myself from the intense heat and humidity. The Killing Fields must wait.
This is the boat, the RV Tonle Pandaw, that was our home for eight days on the Mekong Delta. This was the best river boat we've ever been on as it was a replica of the colonial steamers developed in Scotland by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in the early part of the last century, yet all built in the last ten years in Rangoon and Saigon. There were just thirty cabins on two decks with a mixture of passengers of all nationalities including Australians, Dutch, French, German, Canadians and Americans. Over half of the forty passengers were from the UK. We all seemed to be intent on spending what we've got and enjoying it rather than saving for that rainy day. We journeyed 565 miles upstream from Saigon in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia, making side trips in small boats through back-waters and wetlands, where we disembarked and spent three days visiting the temples at Angkor Wat.
The boat was superbly fitted out in varnished teak and brass. The cabins were very comfortable with divine air conditioning as well as perfect showers. The upper observation sun-deck served tea, coffee, soft drinks, local beer and gin, whiskey, rum and brandy from six in the morning until whenever. All free. This was a very pleasant surprise as we usually run up a hefty bar bill at the end of our river cruises so it was a first for us - drinks included. I was a bit wary of the Local Gin until I tasted my first one and it was as good as a Gordons.
More to come.