John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Tuesday 14 February 2017

[Monday 13 February 2017]

Siem Reap, Cambodia–Mekong Cruise, Cambodia
Tara Angkor, Charles De Gaulle, Siem Reap, Cambodia
RV La Marguerite, Cambodia

We were scheduled to set off from the hotel at 7 o’clock this morning, so Janet had set the alarm clock for 5 o’clock. I was awake before this, though, so started up the computer and transferred the 118 photos from yesterday from the camera to the WD Elements HDD (04:56–05:01).… Rotated 38 photos (05:37–05:47), breaking to help strap up the cases. (Janet had packed one yesterday evening, and packed the other this morning.) Then we went for breakfast. There was a wide selection of English, continental and oriental items; but I stuck to my “staple” of juice, corn flakes, and bacon, sausages of sorts, and baked beans. We retrieved the cases from the room and went down to the lobby, where I checked out, a little before 7am. There was a gift shop there, which we visited; and we bought a little earthenware elephant for our souvenir cabinet.

Saturday 11 March 2017 — 23:12:42
Earthenware elephant on our souvenir cabinet

Sōk arrived; our luggage was loaded in the minibus; and we were taken through busy morning traffic with many mopeds in evidence, and deposited at another hotel, the Shinta Mani Resort.

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 07:05:22
Siem Reap, seen from the minibus

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 07:06:40
Siem Reap, seen from the minibus

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 07:07:32
Siem Reap, seen from the minibus

We said our goodbyes to Sōk and the driver, and entered. We were taken first to a restaurant some distance off, the most noticeable feature of which, to me, was a bright green “neon” (krypton?) sign; my first impression was that it said “grün”, but that left me looking in vain for the umlaut (“grun”); then I realised that it was “green”, badly written so that the “e’s” had hardly any loops. We were offered juice to drink.

Photo from the Shinta Mani Resort website

I have the impression that we were at this point being mistaken for new guests of the hotel, till, after we’d been sitting there a few minutes, we were taken back to the open covered area near where we’d entered, where quite a large number of other people were already gathered. There were a couple of people seated at desks with lists, so we reported to them, and our names were found. They took our passports from us — they would be needed by the crew for the formalities of border-crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam — and gave us each a form to fill in: a health declaration, with space for details of whom to contact in emergency. We were asked whether we had visas for Vietnam, but we replied that we were British so were covered by the 15-day visa exemption. For most of our fellow passengers were Australian, with one or two Canadians also in the mix, who did need visas.…

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 07:34:16
Waiting at the Shinta Mani Resort

The resort was a complex of buildings — guest-room blocks, conference rooms, restaurants, etc. — connected by corridors, roofed but open at the sides (as was the building we were in), in a relaxing tree-park setting. When Janet wanted the “happy room” — to “shoot the rabbit”, so to speak — she went off and was allowed to use the toilet in one of the unoccupied guest-rooms; when I did the same, I found a toilet in a corridor leading to the pool. Then I had to remember my way back! Eventually, each of us was allotted to a “family”; there were perhaps three such “families”, each designated by a colour (ours was “green”). Our “family” boarded its assigned coach. I’ve never sat in such spacious seats on a coach; there were only three to each row, two to the left of the aisle, one to the right. Above the windows, all around, was a fringed fabric pelmet.

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 08:28:50
Aboard the coach, shortly before departure

The “green family” guide was a very pleasant and affable young man — with a good sense of humour, too: e.g., for our benefit he called himself “Adam” (that was the name on his badge), though his Cambodian name was something like “Solidam”; we could call him “Solidam”, we could call him “Adam”, but he asked that we not call him “Saddam”! He had done a tourism degree, but in French; he only been learning English for some four years. He told us that Cambodia’s population is some 15.5 million people, 50% of whom are under 25, and 4% age 65 and over. During Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge régime, 1975–1979, 2–3 million people were killed, a third of the population. (Who was it who gave the etymology of Saloth Sar’s nom de guerre Pol Pot as an abbreviation of “political potential”? Perhaps Sōk; I heard it more than once, though — and it didn’t sound convincing on either or any of the occasions!) Cambodia was at war ca.1970–1988, which impoverished the country; and even now there remain land mines, with many losing limbs because of them, if indeed they survive. The monarchy, ousted in 1970 by a military coup, was restored in 1993. Our journey, of nearly 180 miles, took us through mainly flat terrain, with many trees, mostly with round or broad leafy crowns, but punctuated by palm trees and from time to time a tall “iconic” sugar palm; and where the trees had been cleared, there were rice fields and occasionally fields of lotuses. Most of the rural houses were small wooden structures built on stilts. We first saw houses like that on 21 January 2016, in Roatán, Honduras, where the reason told to us for building them this way was, not protection against flooding, but ventilation. Here, protection against flooding was given as a primary reason; also, protection against snakes and other nasty creatures. In the gardens of the houses were frequently seen fish-ponds and banana plants. Many also had small hay-stacks. From time to time we saw pairs or small groups of cattle by the roadside, mostly quite skinny, many of them humped and dewlapped. We passed through a number of one-street towns, with many single-storey, open-fronted roadside shops (how can they afford to keep them so well stocked?), and cafés, usually either with an Angkor beer sign outside or a Ganzberg one — “German premium beer,” the latter said: brewed in Phnom Penh! We passed a number of ornamental gates en route, sometimes with lanes beyond them which disappeared into the distance; but from time to time one was the entrance to an enclosure containing a pagoda: typically a colonnaded rectangular structure on a base, with a complex, multi-layered cross-gabled roof with the likeness of curved dragon-tails projecting from the apices and a pointed central tower. The journey would have taken a little over four hours, but we had a couple of “happy room” stops en route, so it was somewhat over five hours. At one of the stops, among the many market stalls, there were ones selling fried crickets, silkworm larvae, spiders, etc. — which tempted me not one whit! — on the way to the toilet block at the far end. Janet noted: “Adam thoughtfully provided toilet paper and gel.” The blurb mentions being taken “to the port of Prek K’dam”, but in fact the ship was moored alongside a steep grassy bank, and we had to go with care down several steps that had been dug into the soil, then cross, no more than two or three at a time, a somewhat springy gangplank.

Welcome Aboard

The Daily Cruiser

Vietnam and Cambodia
River Cruise Map

Deck plans

We were given welcome drinks before assembling in the Saigon Lounge, where we had a short briefing; then we went down to the restaurant on the deck below for lunch. There was a buffet with starters, etc., and a stir-fry counter on the other side, and there were courses available to order from a menu card. Janet and I sat at a table for two, because all the other tables with places available already had people sitting at them; we were not snubbing P and Y! I had items from the buffet, then stir-fried noodles with vegetables from the other counter. I declined any of the menu items. I think I had beer to drink. Our cabin (“108”) was on the same deck, beyond the stairwell, on the port side; and it was there that we went after that. It was wood-panelled in a chevron design, with twin beds to the left and a long desk/dressing table to the right, a windowed alcove with a settee on the far side to the right, and French windows to the left leading to a little balcony. …Janet unpacked the cases… We’d already cast off, heading upstream, when I heard an unlikely sound: the wail of an Islamic adhan! I went out onto the balcony to see the source of the sound.

We joined the ship at Prek K’dam, and were now heading upstream towards Kampong Chhnang.

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 15:43:26
Seen from RV La Marguerite: mosque

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 15:43:48
Seen from RV La Marguerite

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 15:43:48 (detail 1)
Seen from RV La Marguerite

Tuesday 14 February 2017 — 15:43:48 (detail 2)
Seen from RV La Marguerite

Then we went up to the Saigon Lounge. There was coffee available there, so we had some. I then had a beer or two from the bar, and Janet had her now-favoured crushed slices of lime with soda water. At 5.30pm, when the safety drill was announced, we returned to the cabin to pick up our life jackets, then went back for the muster. At last, life jackets that were easy to use! They didn’t go over the head, with a tangle of cords to unravel, wrap around, pass through loops and tie in a bow. They were just like “vests” or “waistcoats”; they fastened with rucksack-style buckles and sliders at the front. After the drill was over and we’d returned the life jackets to the cabin, we went back to the Saigon lounge for coffee. And at 6.45pm we were back there again for “the captain’s welcome cocktail reception”; the Cruise Director — who sounded for all the world as if he’d learned English from Stephen Hawking! — introduced the others, and told us about tomorrow’s itinerary. At 7.15pm we went down to the restaurant, and this time sat with P and Y at a table for four. I think I found something suitable to choose from all of the courses. I chose red wine to drink, and the wine-waiter filled my glass time and time again. Food and efficiency of service were excellent. “We were back in our cabin by 9pm,” Janet wrote. “[John] lay on the bed and fell asleep, snoring loudly.” This, I’m told, is typical of me when I’ve had a lot to drink. Janet continued: “I had a shower then woke [John] around 9.30pm, before I got into bed. It was ‘lights out’ around 10pm.”

[Wednesday 15 February 2017]

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