Day 8 – Wednesday September 21st : Phnom Penh – Jahan MehKong River
Mike is looking forward to this day since we started this trip.
Our guide drops us off at the River bank of the Mekong River to board the Jahan, our “home” for the next 4 days. We are very anxious on what to expect when boarding the ship. You never know how your room will be on a boat as well as who your “travelling” companions will be. We got greeted by Smey who already visited us a day prior at our hotel to collect our passport to work on the immigration process to Vietnam, which I very unwillingly gave away. Being in a foreign country and handing over your passport to a stranger does not come easy. But Smey was convincingly nice and we also had a copy as a backup so that I let go of our passports, much to Smey’s delight. Smey gave us a tour of the Jahan and introduced us to Bora our “private butler” – wow I didn’t know we would have our own butler- clearly the travel agency made this trip very special for us. Bora showed us our room, which was just sheer amazing. The outside of the Jahan is not impressive at all, but the inside of the ship is a completely different story. If you have ever seen the movie the Orient Express, that’s how the Jahan looks from the inside, very oriental, plush and pure luxury! Mike and I scored an entire suite with living room, bedroom, balcony, big bathroom and our own Jacuzzi tub on the balcony – Bora is quick at hand to fetch an ice bucket and opens a bottle of champagne for us – its safe to say we will enjoy this trip a lot and are in heaven
After we settled in, we tour the boat including dining room, large outdoor bar, hang out/play/TV room, Spa and pool – yes this boat has its own spa facility and pool. Then we were introduced to our traveling companions – 2 couples from Germany and 3 couples from Australia. So here we are 11 European’s plus Mike and a 40 people crew!
First order for the day was a very interesting lecture from a French professor about the last 50 years of Cambodian history The “professor” Jean Michelle, told us everything there is to know about how King Norodom Sihanouk got into power, was overthrown and fled to China, went on to form a government-in-exile and resistance movement known as the Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea, then the Khmer Rouge got into power, after a gruesome regime got kicked out by the Vietnamese and King Norodom Sihanouk got re-elected back into power and then died in 2012.
After so much history relaxation was waiting in form of a Thai massage followed by an amazing lunch buffet, then a little bit of light reading and a dip in the pool. In the afternoon we attend a quick demonstration on how to make authentic Cambodian spring rolls and while immigration was happening into Vietnam on the Mekong River, we sat back at the outdoor bar and enjoyed tea, cookies and happy hour on the deck of the Jahan.
For dinner we joined the “German table” and Mike could practice some of his German while I was indulging myself into the 5 course Gourmet meal of Cream cheese Macaron Amuse Bouche, followed by pork salad, pumpkin soup and snapper.
We concluded the night trying to learn our crews names but had to give up pretty soon – Vietnamese and Cambodian names are way too hard to learn. I drifted off into sweet dreams on the Jahan, looking forward to the next 3 days of relaxation and deep immersion into the Vietnamese history and culture.
Day 9: Thursday September 22nd Tan Chau – My An Hun
After an amazing breakfast including Pho – a Vietnamese noodle soup – actually eaten for breakfast – we started the day with a tour to a local town called Tan Chau. For that we boarded a small wooden boat and arrived in Tan Chau 15 minutes later. We were greeted by 12 rickshaw drivers who pedaled us through town and dropped us off at the Central market.
The variety and presentation of the goods in these markets was amazing – noteworthy though to say that I think from a “Westerner” perspective also somewhat shocking. The smell in the animal and fish area was nauseating and sanitary standards don’t seem to apply, but with that being said, everything looked really fresh and you could see that the sellers took a lot of pride in the products they were selling.
We walked back from the market to the river bank, were picked up by the small wooden “shuttle boat” and on the way back to the Jahan, we stopped at a traditional floating fish farm and learned quite a bit about “fish farming. The fish this particular family farmed were Tilapia and catfish and we learned how families run this type of business and the profit they can earn with this business. These fish get raised from babies until they are approximately 9 months old, the average farm has around 150,000 fish to take care of and they feed them approx. 1600 pounds of fish food a day, which costs quite a bit of money to raise these fish and if the prices for fish are low depending on the market situation, these farmers sometimes might even lose money. It’s a hard and risky business and a little bit smelly too ;-).
In the afternoon the Jahan docked right at the river bank and we walked through a couple rice fields and visited (tiny) “My An Hung” village, and met the Lam Family.
They showed us their traditional Vietnamese house including house altar, sung us a song while the husband was playing a traditional Vietnamese string instrument, let us try various local fruits – Mangostreen being my absolute favorite one followed by Dragon fruit. None of us like the Durian fruit which is a very smelly big spiky fruit which to us smelled like raw sewage and actually partially gets banned in Asian hotels and public transportation.
The kids in the house performed a traditional Unicorn dance for us, which usually gets performed at the New Year’s celebration as well as business openings and other celebrations where these type of performances promote prosperity and good luck.
Lastly we also gave it a try to walk on a “monkey bridge”, which pretty much is a made shift bridge consisting of some very flimsy wooden tiny boards. Now this was true Vietnamese culture immersion!
When we returned to the Jahan the crew greeted us with drinks and appetizers, we chatted with one of the Australian couples on the boat about US politics trying to explain how a country can end up with two presidential candidates like Trump and Clinton. It’s pretty clear to me that the rest of the world is shaking their heads about what is going on in the US and so Mike and I are trying to do our best in waving the American flag explaining the political climate in the US. The evening ended as always with a lovely 5 course dinner. We attempted to watch a movie in our room but I fell asleep within a minute.