Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia)

On Cruise Control with Culture Club; Ann Rickard Learns a Great Deal about Vietnam and Cambodia on Board the Pandaw

Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia)

On Cruise Control with Culture Club; Ann Rickard Learns a Great Deal about Vietnam and Cambodia on Board the Pandaw

Article excerpt

A CRUISE is a cruise is a cruise.

But when it comes with great cultural insight, it takes enjoyment to a new thrilling level.

On board the colonial-style Pandaw ship with its wide promenades and enormous sun/observation deck, it might be about comfort and being thoroughly spoilt. But on the mighty Mekong River, the activity on the banks is powerfully distracting.

Our cruise, from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia, has taken us past villages, floating markets, cat fish farms, vast wetlands, monasteries, rice mills, factories, and stilt houses by the hundreds.

It's been fascinating and, fortunately, Pandaw River Cruises includes daily shore excursions in the cruise price: a chance to get into the villages, watch the locals at work, to experience traditions, customs and river life as no amount of land touring could manage.

Each time Pandaw anchored, we transferred into traditional sampan boats and sailed busy canals to peek into the lives of locals. There was poverty, yes, but there was also simple splendour, especially in the children who lined the banks to wave.

We trawled food markets and wondered how the locals might cook the skinned rats for sale next to the cage of live snakes and the buckets of frogs. The markets are tumultuous and offer a privileged glance into the lifestyle of locals.

Motorcycles loaded with produce push their way through the crowds.

Vendors sit on the ground selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cutting up chickens, killing and gutting snakes.

We rumbled along in ox carts through tranquil rice fields to Kampong Tralach Pieu Pagoda where local guides informed and enlightened.

In Phnom Penh, we were driven by cyclos to the Royal Palace: a place where the silver floor tiles total five tonnes of gleaming silver.

Phnom Penh also gave us another insightful opportunity: to visit the terrible S21 building Co the school turned detention centre by the Khmer Rouge where so many were tortured and killed during a four-year rule.

So into the dreadful S21 building in the centre of Phnom Penh to see the rooms where innocent souls were taken, photographed and tortured. …

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