Recommend November 2015 - (Page 16)

CARLA HUNT onboardreview AU G U S T 2 015 Monks file to prayer in Oudong, Cambodia. Through the Mekong Delta AmaWaterways Goes With the Flow carla hunt Sailing on the inaugural cruise of the AmaDara on the often bucolic, totally exotic Mekong River meant passing paddy fields of shimmering rice stretching to the horizon, golden Khmer pagodas and Buddhist stupas, floating villages built on stilts, floating markets whose wares are sold from colorfully painted boats, and conehatted fishermen silhouetted against dazzling sunset skies. Cruising along with us, AmaWaterways' owner and CEO Rudi Schreiner, who, with years of designing riverboats and charting their itineraries, reminds us that "while this newest ship in the fleet now provides the highest luxury on the river, the actual key to memorable river cruising is the destination itself." And on this, the 124-passenger AmaDara delivers the most fascinating river cruise this lucky-to-be-aboard guest has ever taken. Consider a handful of favorite excursions and onboard cultural activities that capture the specialness of the 16-day Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong cruise. Highlights in Cambodia's corner of the Mekong Delta include Oudong, the royal capital of Cambodia in the 17th century. It's a miraculous place, home to the nation's largest Buddhist Monastery complex, where relics of Buddha lie in a silver-covered stupa, while saffron-robed monks glide among sacred temples and provide the chanting chorus for our very special blessing ceremony. Cambodia's modern-day capital is Phnom Penh, where we anchored overnight, leaving time by day to gape at the walledin Royal Palace, whose dazzling monuments include the Silver Pagoda, paved with 5,000 silver floor tiles-that's five tons of the precious metal-and a gold Buddha decorated with 2,086 diamonds. I visited the National Museum, home to an outstanding collection of Khmer sculptures, while most passengers opted to visit the Killing Fields, a grim reminder of a recent atrocity-filled past. On crossing into Vietnam, it doesn't take long to realize we're in a very different country. Our cruise manager Trieu Son describes the national differences this way: The Vietnamese like to grow rice, the Cambodians like to watch rice grow, and the Laotians like to listen to the wind blow through the rice as it grows. Here, the roads 16 november 2015 are good, tractors join buffaloes in working the rice fields, women dress in the form-fitting ao dai, and everyone wears the iconic conical hat to shield the sun. The Mekong here is swifter and wider, the riverside villages bustling. We travel by small skiff to Sa Dec, which during the Vietnam War housed an American Swift Boat base. Today's riverfront villas betray a French influence, particularly where we take tea-in the Huynh Thuy Le house of the wealthy Chinese lover of French teenager Marguerite Duras (her novel "The Lover" tells all about that affair). The markets here overflow with produce, including snake wine that is simply wine in which a cobra has been macerating; ditto scorpion wine. We small-boat on to Cai Be, where floating markets have been a way of commerce since the 19th century, and all transactions are conducted on the water. Particularly luscious tropical fruits-melon, durian, sapodilla and bananas- are piled high on wooden sampans with painted eyes on the front prow to scare away attacking sea monsters. people-to-people People experiences are well integrated into AmaWaterways' planning, in part because the Cambodians and Vietnamese are warm and open, and also due to the smart and caring direction of Hanoi-born cruise leader Son, who shared with us his story of growing up and living in Hanoi. Ditto kudos to the guides who explain their lifestyles and political views fairly freely. Super fine are the folklore troupes who come aboard, performing traditional dances based on each country's legends, accompanied by musicians playing extraordinary handcrafted instruments. And AmaDara's native-son chef Pheara coached us through a cooking lesson starring the traditional Vietnamese pho bo (rice noodles and beef) and goi cuon (Vietnamese hand roll). On one excursion, students at the ODA Free Village English School, supported by AmaWaterways, showed us how to write the script of their Khmer language. In Cambodia, in the village of

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recommend November 2015

Editor’s Notes
Hotel Desk: Hilton
Tour Talk: What’s New
Cuba for Everyone
Cruising Asia’s Waterways
AmaWaterways’ AmaDara
Why Vietnam Now!
Canada: Road Tripping Through Ontario
Cool Patagonia is a Hot Ticket
Manchester, England
The Art of Cooking

Recommend November 2015