Cambodia / Vietnam

Embarking on a Cultural Odyssey: Vietnam and Cambodia with Olivia Travel

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Embarking on a journey through Vietnam and Cambodia with Olivia Travel is akin to stepping into a vibrant tapestry of history, culture, and resilience. From the bustling streets of Hanoi to the majestic temples of Angkor Wat, each destination unfolds like a chapter in a captivating story, revealing the rich heritage and profound spirit of these extraordinary lands.

Hanoi: A Tapestry of Tradition and Resilience

Our adventure commenced in Hanoi, the bustling capital of Vietnam, where we were greeted with warmth and hospitality at the Sofitel Legend Metropole. Arriving on Vietnam’s Independence Day, we were honored to witness the spirit of liberation and resilience that defines the nation. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, we listened to the poignant stories of a local woman, reflecting on the legacy of the American bombings and the enduring spirit of reconciliation.

Venturing into the heart of Hanoi’s Old French Quarter, we embarked on a journey through time, exploring the historic landmarks and hidden alleyways that bear witness to the city’s storied past. From the solemn corridors of Hòa Lò Prison, known to American POWs as the “Hanoi Hilton,” to the vibrant streets alive with the sounds of street vendors and bustling markets, we immersed ourselves in the rich tapestry of Vietnamese culture.

Our journey then led us to the ethereal beauty of Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its limestone cliffs and emerald waters. Cruising amidst the towering karsts and hidden caves, we marveled at the natural splendor of this mystical landscape, where golden monkeys frolicked amidst the floating villages, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit amidst the changing tides of history.

Siem Reap: Gateway to the Ancient Kingdom of Angkor

Crossing the border into Cambodia, we arrived in Siem Reap, the gateway to the ancient kingdom of Angkor. Steeped in history and mystique, this enchanting city beckoned us to explore its ancient temples and hidden treasures. From the haunting beauty of Ta Prohm Temple, reclaimed by the jungle’s embrace, to the exquisite carvings of Banteay Srei, we embarked on a journey through time, tracing the footsteps of ancient kings and gods.

Exploring the Mysteries of Ta Prohm: Nature’s Triumph Over Time

Among the many temples we visited during our journey through Cambodia, Ta Prohm stands out as a testament to the enduring power of nature and the passage of time. Nestled amidst the dense jungle of Siem Reap, this ancient temple is a haunting reminder of the inevitable cycle of growth and decay.

As we wandered through the crumbling corridors and labyrinthine passages of Ta Prohm, we were struck by the surreal sight of towering trees and creeping vines reclaiming their rightful place amidst the ancient stone ruins. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has woven its tendrils through the cracks and crevices of the temple, creating a mesmerizing tableau of beauty and decay.

Unlike many other temples in the Angkor complex, Ta Prohm has been left largely untouched by restoration efforts, allowing visitors to experience firsthand the awe-inspiring spectacle of nature’s inexorable march. Giant silk-cotton trees, with their gnarled roots and twisting branches, intertwine with the ancient stone walls, creating a scene straight out of a fairy tale.

Walking through the shadowy corridors of Ta Prohm, we felt a sense of reverence and wonder, as if stepping back in time to an era when gods and goddesses walked the earth. The serenity of the forest enveloped us, punctuated only by the sound of birdsong and the rustling of leaves in the breeze.

In the heart of Ta Prohm lies the central sanctuary, where intricately carved reliefs and bas-reliefs depict scenes from Hindu mythology and Khmer history. Here, amidst the dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy above, we paused to reflect on the ancient mysteries and enduring legacy of this remarkable temple.

Ankor Wat: Jewel of the Khmer Empire

Ankor Wat, the crown jewel of the Khmer Empire, stands as a testament to the architectural genius and spiritual devotion of the Khmer people. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this magnificent temple complex spans over 400 acres and is considered the largest religious monument in the world.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, Ankor Wat is renowned for its stunning architecture, intricate carvings, and profound symbolism. The temple is designed to represent Mount Meru, the mythical abode of the gods in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, with its five towering spires symbolizing the peaks of the mountain.

As we watched the sunrise over the majestic silhouette of Ankor Wat, we were transported to a realm of sublime beauty and spiritual transcendence. Exploring the vast complex of temples, shrines, and courtyards, we marveled at the intricacy of the bas-reliefs, which depict scenes from Hindu mythology, epic battles, and daily life in ancient Cambodia.

But Ankor Wat is more than just a masterpiece of architecture; it is a living testament to the enduring spirit of the Khmer people. Despite centuries of war, political upheaval, and natural disasters, the temple remains a symbol of Cambodia’s cultural heritage and resilience, inspiring awe and reverence in all who visit.

Phnom Penh: A Testament to Resilience and Remembrance

Our journey took us to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, where we confronted the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime at the S21 Genocide Museum. Standing amidst the silent corridors of the former prison, we bore witness to the unspeakable atrocities committed within its walls, honoring the memory of the countless lives lost to tyranny and oppression.

Meeting with survivors such as Chum Mey, whose indomitable spirit and resilience touched our hearts, we were reminded of the enduring power of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity. 

The Killing Fields: A Harrowing Reminder of Cambodia’s Dark Past

No journey through Cambodia would be complete without confronting the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime at the Killing Fields. Located just outside Phnom Penh, these fields bear witness to the atrocities committed during one of the darkest chapters in Cambodia’s history.

As we walked through the silent fields, marked by mass graves and haunting memorials, we were filled with a profound sense of sorrow and reverence for the victims whose lives were senselessly cut short. The Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, subjected millions of Cambodians to forced labor, starvation, and brutal executions in their quest to create a utopian agrarian society.

At the heart of the Killing Fields lies the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, where we paid homage to the victims and learned about the atrocities committed during the regime’s reign of terror. Standing amidst the silent testimonies of those who perished, we vowed to never forget the lessons of history and to strive for a world free from tyranny and oppression.

The Killing Fields serve as a somber reminder of the human capacity for cruelty and suffering, but also of the resilience and strength of the Cambodian people, who have endured unspeakable horrors with courage and dignity. As we left this hallowed ground, we carried with us a renewed sense of compassion and a commitment to honor the memory of the victims, ensuring that their voices will never be silenced.

Exploring Sa Dec and Ho Chi Minh City: A Journey of Discovery

Our journey concluded with explorations of Sa Dec and Ho Chi Minh City, where we delved into the vibrant tapestry of Vietnamese culture and tradition. From the bustling markets of Sa Dec to the serene temples of Ho Chi Minh City, we immersed ourselves in the sights, sounds, and flavors of this dynamic nation, savoring every moment of our unforgettable adventure.

As we bid farewell to Vietnam and Cambodia, we carried with us the memories of a journey filled with wonder, discovery, and reflection. From the ancient temples of Angkor to the bustling streets of Hanoi, each destination left an indelible imprint on our hearts and minds, reminding us of the enduring power of resilience, compassion, and hope in the face of adversity.

Write a long in in-depth blog about the travel adventure I went on through Vietnam and Cambodia. Break it up by location. 

Hanoi – We started in Hanoi, Vietnam and stayed at the Sofitel Legend Metropole where I was honored to arrive in Vietnam on their Independence Day. Had an impactful experience today listening to the stories from a lovely woman that works in our hotel of the American bombings here in Hanoi. Its incredible to hear the stories and see the Vietnamese people so open hearted and welcoming to Americans today. Joan Baez has a tape recording that she made while she was in Hanoi as a guest of the Committee for Solidarity with the American People. Other voices on the tape, recorded in the lobby of the Hoa Binh (Peace) Hotel, include the three other members of her party: the Reverend Michael Allen, anti-war vet Barry Romo, and Columbia law professor Telford Taylor, an ex-brigadier general and American prosecutor at the Nuremburg war crimes tribunal.

It was recorded at 7:30 on a cloudless Christmas eve. Reverend Allen begins the American’s personal Christmas services with an invocation. Joan Baez starts to sing the Lord’s Prayer in her familiar, soaring voice. Suddenly there is an immense concussion, the unmistakable sound of a bomb. The guitar falters, then Joan’s voice comes back strong and brave.

“Quiet,” someone shouts.

Another, louder voice yells, “No, sing on.” An air-raid siren screams nearby, cutting directly into the verse about for-giving trespasses.

(“They were Phantom Jets,” Joan said later in a San Francisco coffee shop. They had swept out of the cloudless skies just under radar range and dropped tons of Christmas surprises on the people of Hanoi.)

“Get your helmets,” a Vietnamese calls in English. The tape ends with the sounds of confusion: running, scuffling feet and the howl of the air-raid siren.

The next day, I Enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese foot massage, walked around the lake watching the Independence Day festivities and was brave and went to a local Vietnamese BBQ. Enjoying the culture of Hanoi tremendously. I even took a ride on the busy street in a cyclo. The scariest part was crossing the street! On day 2 we visited Hòa Lò prison was used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War. During this later period it was known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. This is where the late John McCain was held prisoner. Tour of Old French Quarter. We then went to Ha Long Bay. Started out with a 4 hour motor coach ride from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin. Nice chance to see the country-side of northern Vietnam, including lots of rice paddies. 

Ha Long Bay – At Ha Long Bay, we were supposed to board a modern junket, but actually turned out to be a small river-type boat. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with hundreds of limestone cliffs and islands. Once arriving on the boat, we had a welcome reception, met our crew and were entertained by a short dance number. After lunch we boarded a small transport boat and taken to smaller, pole boats. Our rowers rowed us through one of the limestone islands via a cave. In that inlet we found some adult and baby golden monkeys. This was Cua Van Floating Village in Ha Long Bay Vietnam, a fishing community, home to successive generations of self-sustaining villagers. The steep cliffs and rugged terrain precluded traditional land-based structures here. So anchored rafts, first with tents and then huts and then more rafts and more structures sprang up over the years, all moored securely in the bay. Full families lived here. Naked babies played with bait in buckets. Then, the communist regime believed it gave poor impressions to the Western tourists not long ago forbidden. Speaking as a tourist I found them interesting and charming: A quintessential fishing village full of warm and friendly people. When I heard they had been displaced and the rafts dismantled my heart BROKE! And just like that, POOF, the floating villages were no more. We overnighted in Ha Long Bay.

Siem Reap – On the way we stopped at a small village named Ve Xa that we stopped in on the way to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Once in Siem Reap we visited many temples. Ta Prohm Temple–once rediscovered–was left largely as it was found for “historical and picturesque” reasons. Located in Siem Reap, Cambodia it was singled out for NON-restoration because it “one of the most imposing temples and the one which had best merged with the jungle without becoming part of it” during the hundreds of years it stood abandoned. We also visited We were visiting the Banteay Srei (Shrine of Women). Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm Temple, floating village of Kampong Khleang. 

Ankor Wat – We got up at 4am to go to Angkor Wat and tour this beautiful UNESCO Site at sunrise. Angkor Wat covers over 400 acres and is the largest religious monument and temple complex in the world. I explored the grounds for three days and was fascinated by every turn and discovery. It, like so many other experiences beyond here, has been integrated into my soul. Write about the history of Ankor Wat. Write about the history of Ankor Wat and it’s extinct culture.

Phnom Penh  – We then headed to Phnom Penh. S21 Genocide Museum Phnom Penh. A special moment with one of the two remaining survivors of S-21 Chum Mey. Over 12,000 prisoners were tortured and killed here. He was rescued in 1975 2 weeks after the war ended. To see him smiling and laughing shows his spirit was unbreakable. We started our day at S21 Prison before going to the Killing Fields. The amount of people that had been kept and tortured was hard for me to wrap my brain around. The were so many picture inside the buildings, that we were not allowed to photograph, of men and women and children that didn’t survive. We did get to meet two survivors, pictured, that was more than happy to share their experiences with us. Hearing the man’s story that I am pictures with made me have so many tears and so much sadness. He is so matter of favored about it now but the effects of how he was tortured are so visible. The Cambodian people do not want anyone to forget what the Khmer Rouge did here, but they are a resilient people, so kind, so strong and so beautiful. Tell the story of Khmer Rouge. Visiting the Killing Fields was one of the most hard and profoundly sad things I’ve ever done in my life. 

We also visited the Royal Palace of Cambodia – “The Novice Monks” During my visit I was lucky enough to meet a monk that spoke English. Having a westernized idea of how one becomes a monk, I learned otherwise. I thought that all monks were serious practitioners who chose their path because they wanted to dedicate their lives to the teachings of Buddha. What I learned was many of the younger monks were there out of necessity. Their families couldn’t afford to provide for them, or they were orphans who came to the wat for the same reason, a means for survival. A lot of them were at the wat simply because it provided them with food, study and shelter. Buddhism in a way was initially secondary. Fun Fact – Interestingly, monks’ robes used to be made from discarded rags that no one wanted. They were boiled in dye to clean them and then stitched together. Today they must be made of natural fibers—wool, silk, or plant fibers and they will dye the cloth with plant matter. The plant matter they use includes roots, barks, and leaves of plants. The main ingredient used for the cloth dying is the spices turmeric or saffron. This is what gives the robe an orange-yellow color. 

Sa Dec, Vietnam – We then went on to Sa Dec, Vietnam. Took a small boat from our ship for our morning excursions. We started out at the Sa Dec farmers market, which was just incredible! 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam- The last city we visited was Ho Chi Minh City. Visited the largest Chinese temple in Ho Chi Minh City today. Incense burns in worship and remembrance as well as for prosperity, good health, and luck. We are off the Mekong River and are at the Ho Chi Minh Sheraton across the street from the Saigon Opera House.

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*All Photos taken of animals in their natural habitat undisturbed.