The Treasures of Southeast Asia

My blogs are written as I experience my adventure, but there has never been as much after-the-fact reflection as in  this journey. There is so much to process. After I saw the classic "We Were Soldiers" the other night,  my most recent experience in Vietnam and Cambodia seemed to crystallize. The processing will continue.

I truly feel that to understand the struggles, complexities and opportunities of Southeast Asia one needs to experience this itinerary starting in Hanoi, cruising the Mekong River and ending in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). 

Asia, in this case Southeast Asia,  is a part of the world that I definitely want to explore.... and most importantly I need to  be able to handle the physical challenges.  Therefore advance preparation is critical. Drinking plenty of coconut water the week before departure and being armed with  a bottle of Airborne are the prerequisites. I am confident that the AMAZING   Vietnamese massage my first night in Hanoi was one of the reasons that jet lag seemed to escape me. (I am on the hunt for a Ytsara Head to Toe Pampering Massage in the Chicagoland area.) The fact that I had a row of three seats to myself on the flight from Chicago to Korea definitely was a highlight in my storied flying career.

Highlights in Hanoi: The Old Quarter is a maze of streets dating back to the 13th century.  We visited  Hanoi Hilton, where John McCain was captured on October 26, 1967 after his Navy plane was shot down while on a bombing run over Hanoi. He was imprisoned here for 5 1/2 years. Hoan Kiem Lake is where locals begin their day performing tai chi. It's hard to have a bad meal in Hanoi!

Unbelievable fact: An estimated 3 million motorbikes crowd the streets of Hanoi, small numbers compared to Ho Chi Minh City's (Saigon) 6.5 million.

Highly recommended: a one or two night cruise on Ha Long Bay.

Highly recommended: a one or two night cruise on Halong Bay.
Every traveler's visit to Southeast Asia must include an overnight in Halong Bay. The jewel in the crown of Vietnam’s travel destinations. The bay is a magical blend of land and sea with thousands of limestone islands in varying shapes and sizes.  Halong Bay is one hundred miles from Hanoi in Northeastern Vietnam.

A short flight from Hanoi, Vietnam to Siem Riep, Cambodia brought us to a much anticipated part of our journey to the ancient city of Angkor,  the former capital of the Khmer Empire now known as CambodiaAngkor is a vast and mysterious complex of soaring towers, mysterious faces and intricate sculptures   representing  the largest religious monument in the world, dating as far back as the ninth century. There are more than 30 temples and ancient buildings in the Angkor area, with more yet to be discovered.

The granddaddy of all temples, Angkor Wat

    Elephant ride outside of Angkor Thom, in present day Cambodia.
               Tip:  Biking around Angkor is a great way to get around. I hired a tuk tuk (bicycle taxi)  for several hours and the ride was exhilarating.

To begin what I would consider to be the second part of the journey, I will be cruising through one of the world's most fascinating and exotic regions on the Mekong River stopping at select villages to experience a vast array of "moments" which create a perfect itinerary.  I visit a Buddhist monastery, am treated to an oxcart ride in Kampong Tralach, take a tour through a silk weaving village in Chong Koh, visit floating villages and local town markets, and experience an excursion to Cambodia's infamous Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh.  In this way I am able to experience the Cambodian culture up close and find the Cambodians to be the most gentle and kind of all the people that I have met in my travels.

Phnom Phen, Cambodia is a shoppers delight, with thousands of street stalls and shops. Central Market and Russian Market are the two that you do not want to miss.

Our journey ends in Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon.  With a rapidly growing population, new hotels, chic bars and trendy clubs, Ho Chi Minh City is enjoying its climate of prosperity and growth. Silk is so popular throughout Vietnam. Why? Perhaps it's because silk has been produced in Asia for centuries. Possibly it's because you can't beat Asian silk when it comes to making the finest clothing in the world.  Many on tour with me had silk dresses made to bring back home to the states  as the quality was superb and the prices inexpensive.

  I would highly recommend  a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels which  were used by the Viet Cong in their wars against the French and the Americans. The tunnels are located 31 miles from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) City and have an interconnected network spanning 217 miles. I also visited Xeo Quyt,  a former military base for the Viet Cong in the Cajuput Jungle.

Here I am crawling out of the Cu Chi Tunnels. I now  understand how difficult it must have been  to spot the Viet Cong as they moved underground.

Kathy's Reflections:
Do be ready for extreme poverty. Many people live in floating villages on the water and they move up or downstream several times a year.  I am humbled by their resilience as they smile and always extend  a friendly wave. I particularly loved the people of Cambodia. 

Recommended movies to enhance your experience: The Quiet American, The Killing Fields,    We Were Soldiers, The documentary of Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge - Cambodia, Marguerite Duras' The Lover.

Our guides were tremendous and added so much. I couldn't imagine doing this independently or booking with an unknown operator. The personal experiences relayed from the guides added so much depth. These cultural moments would be impossible to arrange on my own.I do have ideas for extensions and enriching experiences outside of what I have outlined. One of the benefits that I most enjoy is that I learn from the experiences of my fellow travelers. Often they have been to places that are on my bucket list!

My experience in this industry as well as my connections, make travel so much more than a trip. Your adventure will be unforgettable. Please call me if I can help to make your travel dreams a reality. 630.267.3054,

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