A Journey of Discovery in SE Asia

After 9 weeks of travel in Europe, Indonesia and PNG I returned to one of my favorite destinations, SE Asia, for an additional two weeks, adding up to 11 countries in 80 days. I guess there is still some adventure left in this geezer.P1100724

Unlike the other trips, which were writing projects, I led the SE Asia trip for the tour operator Explorer-X. It was one of my all time best trips to the region. I will give you just a taste with photos illustrating some of the highlights.

The trip started in Hanoi with two days in the Old Quarter.

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Our early morning walk to Hoan Kiem Lake for a Tai Chi lesson was the highlight for me. On the way we had a chance to observe some of the locals engaging in a daily ritual, ballroom dancing in a public square near the lake.
IMG_0698Two of our group, Cris and Mandy, decided to give it a whirl, to the delight of the locals.IMG_0701IMG_0702From there we headed to Tam Coc for a slow boat down the river to the luxurious Tam Coc Garden, a resort surrounded by rice fields, ponds, and karst (limestone) mountains.P1100699P1100743 P1100727 P1100725 P1100724IMG_0725While the others lounged by the pool the next morning, Many and I spent a half day visiting a nearby village where a local woman showed Mandy how to make a basket.P1100780From there we headed to Lan Ha Bay, a remote section of the way too popular Halong Bay. For two days we cruised slowly and silently through the karst towers jutting out of the bay.P1100812 P1100848 P1100837 P1100835 P1100830 P1100815On the way back from Lan Ha Bay to the Hanoi airport for our flight to Luang Prabang in Laos, we stopped by Nom Village and a too brief visit to the sprawling grounds and impressive structures of the Nom Pagoda.P1100945P1100952 P1100909 P1100905 P1100900Our next stop was Luang Prabang, the clear favorite of the entire trip. I could have filled this blog with favorites from our three days in Luang Prabang, so I’ll just give you a sampling:

the daily early morning procession of the monks receiving donations of rice from devoted Buddhists; P1110065 P1110071the beautiful temples on what seems like every street and hidden pathway;P1110001 P1100990

P1100974the excellent National Museum, formerly the Royal Palace;

P1100964Khouang Si Waterfalls, an hour drive from the town;P1110099 P1110098the butterfly park near the falls;P1110114 P1110111

the lunch cruise on the Mekong that took us from the falls back to Luang Prabang;P1110166 P1110164 P1110154 P1110146 P1110145and sunset over the Mekong as viewed from the Wat Pha Badd Tai temple. IMG_0755 IMG_0751 IMG_0745 IMG_0731Maybe the best of all was meeting the famous artist, Prince Tiao Nithakhong Somsanith, one of the last surviving members of the royal family who returned to Laos a few years ago to help restore and preserve Laotian art, music, dance and culture. His work, which includes silver and gold embroidery on leaves, is pretty impressive,P1110011 P1110009but what moved me the most was a delicately seductive performance of traditional music and dance by several of his students. P1110051 P1110038 P1110032 P1110027 P1110020 P1110017The hotel in Luang Prabang, the Maison Dalabua, was also a treat, with the second most beautiful grounds of the trip (Tam Coc Garden came in first). P1110181 P1110179Our next stop was Siem Reap, the closest city to the site for the temples and ruins of the mighty Angkor Empire which ruled the region from the 9th through the 15th Century. Most people refer to the site as “Angkor Wat,” but that is only one of the many temples that comprise the overall site. The first set of photos are of, from or within the main temple, Angkor Wat.Quebec 351

P1110226P1110222 P1110217 P1110204 P1110195 P1110196 P1110194 P1110190 P1110189 My favorite stop was the Bayon, noted for the enigmatic faces carved into the stones of the towers.P1110300 P1110298 P1110296 P1110291 P1110290 P1110287 P1110282The following shots are from the bridge that links Angkor Wat and the Bayon.P1110269 P1110266The last visit for the day was to Ta Phrom, noted for the ancient trees growing out of the walls and roots wrapping around the stones.P1110313 P1110312 P1110310 P1110308 P1110304

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The next day we headed into the countryside to visit Banteay Srey. While the other Angkor sites are large, sprawling and marked by majestic structures, Banteay Srey is noted for its fine, intricate carvings. Its a very different kind of experience as the following photos demonstrate.

P1110369 P1110361 P1110349 P1110342 P1110336 P1110335 P1110333 P1110329Despite the majesty and mystery of the Angkor sites, the highlight of our three days in Cambodia may have been the cooking class and the two meals we had in the restaurant Pou, run by one of the hottest young chefs in SE Asia, Mork Mengly. The class was great, the food we prepared was even better, and the tasting menu meal we had two days later, the farewell meal of the trip, was one of the best I’ve ever had. IMG_0760IMG_0767IMG_0764IMG_0768Almost as impressive as the meal was the young staff at the restaurant. One of Chef Mork’s goals is to provide training and career opportunities for local youth. It was clear from the warm and attentive service of the bartenders, wait staff and kitchen help, that he has succeeded.

After the trip ended, a few of us went on our own to Phnom Penh for a few days, stopping at Sambor Prei Kuk, ruins that predate the Angkor Empire by several hundred years (6th to 9th Century), Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia, and the flooded village and forest adjoining the lake.P1110576 P1110564 P1110561 P1110559 P1110502 P1110484 P1110483 P1110476 P1110471 P1110468 P1110457 P1110436 P1110415 P1110414 P1110413After touring the Royal Palace, Central Market and other sites in Phnom Penh, P1110627 P1110633P1110591 P1110588 P1110580 P1110578the trip ended on a somber note at two sites memorializing the horrors of the Khmer Rouge — the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school which served as a prison and torture center before prisoners were sent to the Killing Fields to be slaughtered. The slaughtered included many children, even infants, who were killed to insure that the descendants of the executed would not seek revenge when they eventually grew up.P1110618 P1110609 P1110608Admittedly, this is a helluva note to finish the trip and this blog, but it is a reminder that travel is not always fun and that we are often more affected by the horrors of a civilization than by its beautiful scenery, artifacts and rituals. On a positive note, Cambodia has come a long way from its dark days under the Khmer Rouge, demonstrating once again that wonder and hope can emerge from the ashes of even the most evil history.

6 thoughts on “A Journey of Discovery in SE Asia

  1. Just curious about the fall ’21 Laos trip–enjoyed the recent HC Beacon article. We had a terrific trip to visit friends in Chiang Mai in 2001. Would love to explore this region more.

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