The lure of the Far East!
By Dorothy Leone
On November 3, 2012 eight FIC members Pat Michalski, Carole Biblo, Dottie Leone, Marc O’Brien, Margy Matthews, Mary Spradlin and Sally and Peter Pawlik left for an adventurous tour to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The trip began in Luang Prabang in the mountainous kingdom of Laos. We visited temples, traveled on a long-tailed boat on the Mekong to the Pac Ou Caves, filled with thousands of Buddha images of all sizes and shapes. On the way back to the city, we stopped at a rural “Whiskey Village” to sample their rice “white lightning,” if you dared.
Our next stop was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Our hotel was the old Raffles Grand Hotel, very updated, except for the original wire cage elevator that was operated by an elevator man. The next morning, we had a quick tour of Ta Prohm, which has been untouched because over the centuries, the roots of the fig, banyon and kapok trees have spread their gigantic roots over the stones and hold the buildings in place. We left the city for the Siem Reap Port to board the RV Bassac Pandaw for our cruise along the Mekong River.
At our last stop in Cambodia, we docked at Phnom Penh for our individual cyclo ride through rush hour traffic on the main road to the Royal Palace. We visited the Silver Pagoda which has a floor covering of 5000 silver tiles and a glass-enclosed life-sized gold Buddha decorated with over 9500 diamonds. Our cyclos got us all back safe and sound to the Pandaw.
After lunch, we drove out the the Killing Fields. Our first sight was a stupa with glass windows filled with skulls of the victims. We followed a path that led to places where other events occurred. On the way back to town, we stopped at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The Khmer Rouge had taken over a high school to use as the Security Prison 21. Behind windows of class rooms were photos of the people that were held there and were never found again. Not one had a smiling face.
We crossed the border into Vietnam, made a few excursions into local villages and disembarked the Pandaw at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Here we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, a system of underground tunnels built by the Viet Cong guerrillas. The rest of the day was spent doing our own thing in the city.
The trip was a great learning experience in a very different part of the world. We met enjoyable people, saw how they lived in their villages and along the river banks and how they used the rivers. The Pandaw crew members were ever ready to assist you. The meals were made from local ingredients, always with a scoop of rice. Some experiences were grim, but should be part of your learning experience. All in all it was truly an adventurous trip!