Cambodia, Siem Reap – Angkor Thom & Ta Prohm

February 17, 2018

Sunrise over Angkor Wat. We got up at 0400 and departed fpr theeast side of Angkor Wat and climbed a 700 meter path to a temple and the up 50 ladder like steps the the top, fortunately there was a hand rail.

Following the sunrise at 0626 we drove to the foot of Angkor Wat for a box breakfast at a local snakier like restaurant which consisted of Hard Boiler egg, Yogurt, sausage, bacon, juice, an apple and orange a Croissant, a ham sandwich, two slices of white bread, banana bread, butter and jellywater, coffe and Tea.

Then we went to the moat surrounding Angkor Thom and boarded a gondola for a ride up the moat and back down observing Water Hyacinth, Water Lily’s and other work being done to keep the moat clear.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is an almost square city surrounded by 8 meter high walls a little over 12 kilometers long with five impressive gopura gates providing access to the city. The city’s name translates to “large city” or “great city”.

King Jayavarman VII made Angkor Thom the new capital of the Khmer Kingdom after driving out the Chams , who destroyed the old capital Yasodharapura. He fortified the city by building a high wall around it, in turn enclosed by a 100 meter wide moat.

Older temples already at the grounds

At the site where the new city was built, a few older monuments were already in place, most noticeably the Baphuon temple (mid 11th century) and the Phimeanakas (10th or early 11th century).

Jayavarman VII’s new Royal Palace & state temple

King Jayavarman VII built his state temple, the Bayon, at the center of the city. Just to the North he built his Royal Palace. Since it was built of perishable materials, nothing of it remains today except for the Royal Terraces that were made of stone. The Elephant terrace and the Leper King terrace formed the Eastern boundary of the Palace enclosure. The city was inhabited by tens of thousands of common people who lived in wooden houses, that have long gone. The city was highly developed with a system of roads and waterways, as well as four hospitals.

Decline and late 19th century rediscovery

After the Khmer Kingdom went into decline, the city was at one point deserted and left to the jungle. In the 19th century, the site was rediscovered by French explorers, soon after which the EFEO (the École Française d’Extrême-Orient) began clearing works and restoration of the monuments overgrown by thick jungle.

Entrance gates to the city

The city is surrounded by high defensive walls, 3 kilometers long on each side. To the inside of the wall is an earth embankment, which allowed the Khmer good views of approaching enemy armies.

Access to the city was through five gopura gates, one at the center of each wall, an extra one (the Victory Gate) on the road from the Royal Palace to the East Baray. The gates were built between the end of the 12th century and early 13th century. The gopuras consist of a central tower, 23 meters in height, flanked by two smaller towers.

The giant faces on the towers

The towers, known as “face towers” similar to those at the Bayon, contain four very large heads on top of the gates facing each of the four cardinal directions. They are believed to represent Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The central tower contains 2 faces looking in opposite directions; each of the smaller towers have 1 face each looking in one of the remaining two directions.

A great deal of knowledge about the history and daily life in Angkor was gained from the accounts of Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat who lived in Angkor for a year until July 1297. According to him, there was a fifth head on the gopura’s top at the time, of which nothing remains today.

On the ground level of the gates on either sides of the entrance is a large sculpture of Airavata, the three headed mythological elephant with the God Indra sitting on his back. The opening of the gates are 7 meters high by 3½ meters wide in which there were originally massive wooden doors that were closed at night. Most visitors to Angkor Thom use the well preserved South gate, that was restored in the 1950’s.

Ta Prohm

One of the most famous temples in Angkor, the Ta Prohm is known for the huge trees and the massive roots growing out of its walls. The jungle temple also featured in the adventure movie “The tomb raider”; several shots were filmed in the Ta Prohm.

The temple was intentionally left in much the same way as it was when Henri Marchal, curator and conservator of the EFEO did some basic clearing work in 1920. Only the most necessary work to prevent further deterioration and collapse was done. The attractive jungle setting and the original state of the temple has made it one of the most visited Angkor temples.

Lately, things have changed at the Ta Prohm. The protect the temple from growing roots damaging the structure and from the danger of falling trees destroying the monument, a number of trees have been removed and restoration works have been carried out.

Buddhist temple

The Ta Prohm was build during the last decades of the 12thcentury by King Jayavarman VII. Where the older Angkor temples were Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, the Ta Prohm is a Buddhist temple, as King Jayavarman VII was a follower of Mahayana Buddhism. The King dedicated the temple to his mother.

The stele of the Ta Prohm

A lot of knowledge about the Ta Prohm is gained from the stone stele dated 1186 written in ancient Sanskrit language that was found in the temple. The stele praises King Jayavarman VII, Lokeshvara (a Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism), Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom) and the Three Jewels of Buddhism, namely the Buddha, the Dharma (the Buddhist teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist community).

It contains a list of all products used for religious ceremonies and lists the number of villages, priests and dancers that were to serve the temple. The stele also mentions that at the time there were 102 hospitals spread over the Khmer empire and a list of items that each hospital was to keep in stock. The stele then cites that there were 121 rest houses spread over the empire, along the major routes from Angkor to places as far away as Phimai in Thailand or the Kingdom of Champa in present day Vietnam.

Cambodia – Siem Reap

February 16, 2018

Up at 0600, breakfast and on the bus to Angkor Wat, brief stop at ticket office for photo for ticket.

We arrived Angkor Wat at 0800 and toured the UNESCO Heritage site and our guide Sakou shared the history and other information.

We the toured a family run noodle making business in a small Cambodian village, named Preach Da village. The entire process was done by hand from grinding the rice to the extrusion of the noodles.
The family make about 18-20 pound a day which sells for $.50 a pound.

At the Chanrey Tree Restaurant we had a traditional Khmer (pronounced Khmee) lunch consisting of: Bok svay “chicken salad”, crispy sticky rice with “Natang Sauce”, Beef Jungle soup, River filet fish, eggplant with pork ribs and Mango sticky rice with Jackfruit (this is where the flavor of Juicy-Fruit gum is derived), Mango and Langon dessert.

We back a the hotel for a shower, it was 93 degrees. We took quick showers and changed clothes and are headed out for a Tuk-Tuk tour of a school of dance. The school has 80 students. The instructor, who is a French Expat, shared that there are not enough teachers in the schools so students go a 1/2 day and the teacher teach a class in the morning and a second class in the evening. If you think this is easy try bending your hand backward they practice for years to be able to make these gestures.

After the dance school we went to the artisan village where students learn wood carving, stone carving the art of lacquering, silver smithing, and silk screening all very interesting skills, most of the items are also available in their gift shop.

Side note: After the artisan village we took the tuk-tuk to the Lucky Mall, my shoes were beginning to lose their soles so I figured that I should get a back up pair in case so I purchased a pair of walking sneakers, not very high quality but they should make it for the next 10 days.

Pat in the Gondola
Pick-nick breakfast

We have to get up at some un godly hour, 0400, tomorrow to go see the sun rise from Bakheng Hill, overlooking Angkor Wat, we depart the hotel at 0500, then we have a picknick breakfast and a gondola ride on the river and them the rest of the tour folks catch up with us and we then visit two temples . This was the site where Laura Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed in 2001.

Preparing for the trip

We have been busy preparing for our trip to Vietnam in February 2018. We have gone to Passport Health in Richmond for Hapititas A&B shots and Typhoid fever. We also have Malaria pills for our visit to Cambodia. We have researched the issue of mosquitos and will be using Duration to spray our clothes and a repellent with deet, while not ideal, it doest beat the alturnatives and it will only be for a short duration.

Now that were a few years older we have begun to take a bit more precautions with respect to health protection.

The Trip: Note: this is the itinerary for the Uniworld cruise, we have add time to both ends of the trip.  In Hanoi we will be touring Halong Bay via luxury Junk spend on night on board.  In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) we have added a market tour as well as a cooking class.

DAY 1: Hanoi, Vietnam

Arrive at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport. If your cruise/tour package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to your luxury hotel. You will be greeted with a private check-in, welcome drink and information packet at the hotel. An elegant flower arrangement and fruit platter await you in your room. The remainder or your time today is yours to spend at leisure in Vietnam’s charming capital city.

DAY 2: Hanoi

With its tree-lined streets and graceful old architecture, traditional culture and fabulous street food, multifaceted Hanoi is a heady mixture of old and new, timeless and trendy.   The capital of Vietnam, millennium-old Hanoi gracefully mixes the old and new. French Colonial mansions line handsome boulevards, lakes and parks invite lingering, and modern office buildings tell of economic revival.
Atmospheric Hanoi – Spend the day exploring a city some call Asia’s most beautiful. You’ll visit a complex honoring Ho Chi Minh, founder of modern Vietnam, that contains his residence, a museum devoted to his life, and the famous One Pillar Pagoda, which has been built and rebuilt since 1049. Also on the agenda: the Temple of Literature, originally built as a Confucian temple in 1070 AD. Six years later on the same grounds, Vietnam’s first university was founded to educate members of the nobility. Four hundred years later, the university opened its doors to gifted students from throughout the land, teaching them the principles of Confucianism for another 300 years. Today you can experience Confucian tranquility among its beautiful gardens and pavilions. You can see another aspect of Vietnam’s history if you step into one of the dank cells at the notorious “Hanoi Hilton,” as Hoa Lo, a French colonial–era prison, was known to the American pilots who were held there as prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Much of the original prison has been demolished, but the remnants are now a museum.   After an included lunch, it’s time to hop aboard an electric car for a tour of colonial Hanoi. The city’s elegant, tree-lined boulevards and weathered colonial buildings are sure to delight you, as are the affable street vendors selling everything from flowers to ice cream off the backs of their bicycles.
Tonight you’ll be treated to a special Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant, featuring live music and an authentic northern Vietnamese dining experience. It’s the perfect combination of delectable fare, warm atmosphere and traditional entertainment—a delightful start for your exciting Southeast Asian adventure.

DAY 3: Hanoi, Fly to Siem Reap

Spend the day exploring Hanoi on your own before flying to Siem Reap. Siem Reap is your base for exploring Angkor Wat, the heart of the ancient Khmer empire. The city has an allure all its own, with sprawling markets, a lively dining scene and enticing street food. The evening is at your leisure. You might want to go out and try some of the local Khmer cuisine or simply relax over dinner on your own at the hotel. Tomorrow you will be journeying deep into the heart of the Angkor temple complex.

DAY 4: Siem Reap

Today is a Bucket List Moment kind of day, as you unleash your inner Indiana Jones and explore the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, a gigantic religious complex that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Regarded as the pinnacle of the dazzling, inventive culture that flourished in medieval Cambodia, it is one of the most spectacular monuments you will ever lay eyes on.   The next two days are devoted to the astonishing Angkor Wat complex.
Angkor Wat and Khmer Noodle House at Preah Dak Village
Angkor Wat and Khmer Noodle House at Preah Dak Village – Put on your walking shoes and prepare to explore one of the wonders of the world: the vast, fascinating and stunning temple complex known as Angkor Wat. Every aspect of Angkor Wat had religious meaning to its builders 900 years ago: the great rectangular moat, the main gate facing the west, the towers topped with stone lotuses, the huge smiling stone heads, the layout of the lanes and buildings. The largest religious monument in the world, magnificent Angkor Wat is the single most recognizable landmark in Cambodia. It is simply breathtaking in both size and scope. Today you’ll get your passes to the site and take a tour of the broad outlines of the complex; tomorrow you’ll explore further.Following your introduction to Angkor Wat, you’ll head off to nearby Preah Dak, a village famous for its num banh chok, the traditional rice noodles that are Cambodia’s unofficial national dish. (Noodles are so intrinsic to Cambodian cuisine that the nation claims China got the recipe for noodles from a Cambodian exile.) Noodle stalls abound in Preah Dak, but the highlight for visitors may be the chance to see the traditional process by which these noodles are made at the Khmer Noodle House. Watch as the rice flour and water are hand-kneaded to form a dough, which is then laboriously pressed through a heavy mill to create the noodles. Preah Dak itself is as almost as traditional as the noodle-making process, as you’ll see as you stroll among the stilt houses: water buffalo graze nearby, water is drawn from wells, and meals are cooked over open fires.
Art School and Artisan Visit by Remork
Climb aboard a remork for a relaxing tour of the streets of Siem Reap, with stops at several artisans’ workshop that will introduce you to Siem Reap’s thriving arts scene. Your first stop is Tlai Tno, an art association where young performers learn the intricate moves of traditional Apsara dance. You’ll also visit Artisans Angkor’s workshops, which promote the resurrection of traditional Khmer crafts: hand-carved sculptures in wood or stone, lacquerwork, silk paintings and silk fabrics—all locally made by hand in the traditional way—are available at the shop.
Today’s lunch will be on your own.   NOTE: Order of sightseeing may change on Days 4 and 5. Temple visits are subject to change due to factors beyond our control.

DAY 5: Siem Reap

Today you will enter the spectacular remnants of Angkor Thom, the royal city. Prepare to be amazed! Built during the heyday of the Khmer dynasty in the 12th century, this extraordinary complex of Hindu and Buddhist monuments was once lost to the world for many years, hidden under dense jungle vines.
South gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm – Today you will enter the spectacular remnants of Angkor Thom, the royal city. Once a huge, square city, Angkor Thom was founded in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII after his people’s previous capital had been overrun by the Chams. You can still see the defensive measures that surrounded the city—in fact, you’ll enter through one, crossing over the moat and passing between the stone figures lining the lane leading to the intricately decorated south gate in the great wall around Angkor Thom. The king’s palace, made of wood, has long since vanished, but the ruins that remain are astonishing, including the pyramidal temple of Bayon, with the enormous carved heads that have become an iconic symbol of the Angkor archaeological area. You’ll also visit the temples of Bantey Srei and Bantey Samre. You’ll have some time for lunch on your own before heading to the amazing “jungle temple” of Ta Prohm. Unlike the other Angkor temples, which have been painstakingly excavated and restored, Ta Prohm has been left almost as it was found. Massive trees grow like magic out of stone walls and roofs, their tentacle-like roots pouring over doorways and stretching across courtyards. This manmade wonder has been reclaimed by the jungle over the course of many centuries, and exploring it is sure to bring out the adventurer in you. From Ta Prohm, you’ll move on to the unfinished temple of Ta Keo. Legend has it that construction on Ta Keo was suspended when the temple was struck by lightning—an event that was considered a bad omen.
Apsara show and dinner
After an exciting day of sightseeing, you’ll indulge in a lavish dinner with an Apsara dance show. Apsara is the traditional Khmer dance form that tells stories and conveys messages using ornate costumes, graceful movements, codified facial expressions, and distinctive hand and foot positions. The many Apsara figures that adorn Angkor and pre-Angkor temples you’ve just visited testify to the dance form’s long and esteemed history.
NOTE: Order of sightseeing may change on Days 5 and 4. Temple visits are subject to change due to factors beyond our control.

DAY 6: Siem Reap, Transfer to Kampong Cham (Embark)

Today, you’ll have free time to explore the Siem Reap, a place name that means, literally, “Defeat of Siam”—which tells you something of its history. It is the gateway to Angkor, the legendary archaeological site. Later check out and transfer via executive motorcoach to Kampong Cham, to embark on the beautiful Mekong Navigator—your elegant home for the next seven nights—and set sail on the beautiful Mekong.

DAY 7: Wat Hanchey, Angkor Ban

Today is a celebration of the Cambodia’s bright future. You’ll meet young children at a local school and friendly villagers in their homes, and have a rare opportunity to receive a special water blessing from Buddhist monks.   The mighty river carries you into the Cambodian countryside today, giving you an opportunity to meet and chat with locals.
Cambodias vibrant cultural life – Be ready to answer questions when you visit a local school—because the children love to practice their English—and deepen your understanding of Cambodia when you meet villagers in their homes. You may encounter more children when you stop at a beautifully situated temple complex on a hilltop. Wat Hanchey has incredible views of the Mekong River—you get a real sense of just how huge the river is as you see it stretch into the distance, looking more like a great lake than a river. The complex itself is a remarkable mixture of the ancient and the new: An eighth-century Angkor temple and a modern Buddhist temple share the area—along with playful gibbons and enormous, colorfully painted concrete statues. Before your departure you’ll receive a traditional water blessing from the local monks—one of the most personal and touching moments you’ll experience on this journey. To mark the end of this special day, and to commemorate your last evening onboard the ship, you’ll be treated to a decadent Cambodian-themed dinner. Take your place in the dining room and enjoy delectable dishes prepared in the style of those once served to Cambodian royalty.

DAY 8: Cruising the Mekong River, Phnom Penh

Once considered the loveliest of Indochina’s French-built cities, Phnom Penh has somehow retained much of its charm despite all the political and cultural turmoil of the 20th century. See how this fascinating city is rediscovering itself with an insightful panoramic tour and time to explore on your own.   Founded in the 15th century, Phnom Penh is the thriving capital of the kingdom of Cambodia. It stands at the juncture of three rivers and is divided into three distinct districts: the French colonial area, a handsome residential district and a rapidly changing Old Town.

DAY 9: Phnom Penh

Today’s featured excursion may be the most profound and memorable experience of your entire journey. You’ll learn about the infamous Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge and visit a former school-turned-prison that is now a genocide museum.
The Killing Fields—tragedy and reconciliation in Cambodia – It’s hard to reconcile the pastoral serenity of the orchards and rice fields surrounding Choeung Ek with the horrific mass executions that took place here during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge, yet the memorial stupa filled with the skulls of Pol Pot’s victims tells the tale. These were the Killing Fields, where more than 17,000 men, women and children were slaughtered and buried in mass graves. First, however, they were tortured in Security Prison 21 (also known as S-21), a former high school on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which you will also visit today. The guards and staff of the prison were mostly adolescent males—aged 15 to 19—among whom was a young photographer whose job was to document the prisoners. Though many of his photos were destroyed, 6,000 of them remain, displayed on the walls here; as you look at these portraits, you’ll see grief, fear and defiance—and you’ll be heartbroken to learn that out of the thousands held here, only seven survived. Those who were killed at Choeung Ek were just a small fraction of the almost two million Cambodians who died in a three-year period between 1975 and the beginning of 1979.

DAY 10: Cruising the Mekong River, Evergreen Island, Tan Chau

You leave Cambodia behind and cross into Vietnam today, delving into a region where traditional and modern lifestyle elements mingle: Agriculture may still reign supreme, but TV satellite dishes dot rooftops of houses built on stilts. Thousands of boats ply the waters of the Mekong—wooden cargo boats, water taxis, dredges, fishing craft. Traditional and modern elements mingle in this region, but the river rules everything.   More authentic encounters await you today, starting with a cruise through the canals to Evergreen Island, where village houses are built on stilts. Stop at a temple devoted to Vietnam’s homegrown religion, and hop aboard a rickshaw for a ride to a factory that makes handwoven reed baskets.  Later, take a sampan ride through the floating villages lining the banks of the great river.
Daily life on the great delta – In the Mekong Delta, hardworking residents live and labor on the water, harvesting what the delta gives them and turning it into products they can sell to earn a living or food they can eat, wasting nothing. Today you’ll get a taste of this way of life during a sampan tour that carries you through the floating villages that line the banks of the great river to the town of Tan Chau. Stop at a temple devoted to Vietnam’s homegrown religion Cao Dai (a faith that incorporates most major world religions, including Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, as well as a pantheon of saints that range from Joan of Arc to Thomas Jefferson and Victor Hugo); an image of the Divine Eye appears in every temple, and each color that decorates the temple has a specific meaning. Hop aboard a rickshaw for a ride to a factory where you can watch baskets and mats being handwoven from reeds grown on the delta, and check out a floating fish farm. The raising and harvesting of seafood is one of Vietnam’s fastest-growing industries, and you’ll be amazed by the efficiency and ingenuity on display. You may even get a chance to feed the fish. Embark your sampan to cruise through the canals to Evergreen Island, where a rickshaw ride through the village reveals traditional houses built on stilts, an essential precaution during the rainy season, when the Mekong rises and spills into all of the towns that line the river.

DAY 11: Cruising the Mekong River, Gieng Island, Sa Dec

Dip into Vietnam’s colorful and culturally eclectic past in Sac Dec—the former haunt of author Marguerite Duras—and the island of Gieng, which boasts a rather unexpected array of Catholic churches and monasteries.   Two very different destinations await you today: busy Sa Dec and peaceful Gieng Island. Both reflect Vietnam’s multicultural history.
Sampans and colonial romance – Take to Sa Dec’s narrow canals just as the locals do. Children frolic in the water, fishermen ply their trade, and women care for their families. From here, you’ll head into town, where you will walk through a crowded and colorful local market—stands sell everything from snake blood, fresh fish, clothing and flowers to mangosteens— on your way to the romantic, lacelike Huynh Thuy Le House, a late-19th-century home made famous by best-selling French novelist Marguerite Duras. Duras spent her teen years in Sa Dec, and her prize-winning novel, The Lover, is said to be based on her doomed love affair with Huynh Thuy Le, the son of a wealthy Chinese landowner. Sail from bustling Sa Dec to serene Gieng Island to dip into another aspect of Vietnam’s past: The triangle-shaped island is home to a surprising array of 19th-century Catholic churches and monasteries that date to an era when it was the largest Catholic parish in Vietnam. Though the Franciscan monastery and the Providence nunnery have been largely abandoned, stately Gieng Island Church is still in daily use. Some records indicate that the graceful French baroque-style church predates the famous basilica in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s more likely that it was built in the 1870s. Regardless of origin or the ups and downs the Catholic community has experienced over the years, the church remains a beautiful tribute to the faith of its founders.

DAY 12: Vinh Long, Cai Be

Get set for an authentic slice of daily life along the Mekong with visits to two quintessentially Vietnamese locales, Vinh Long and Cai Be, which you’ll see by trishaw and by sampan. Meet village elders, experience the lively floating market and visit workshops creating products made from rice.   Today’s itinerary features two towns that have been shaped by the Mekong in this agrarian but densely populated region, Vinh Long and Cai Be.
Village life on the Mekong – Chinese herbal-medicine shops, French Colonial houses and Buddhist temples mingle with modern offices on the streets of Vinh Long, the capital of Vinh Long province. The range of buildings hints at the changes that the region has seen. Hop into a trishaw for a ride through these streets, crossing over some of the many canals that lace through the town, on your way to meet some of the village elders, who will tell you about their experiences living life on the delta. Vinh Long is a gateway to some of the region’s most colorful destinations: Step aboard a sampan—the style of this vessel is traditional, but the one you’ll board is much more luxurious than those generally used on these waters—and join the locals thronging the harbor of Cai Be. At the floating market here, merchants advertise their wares by attaching a sample—such as a watermelon, a coconut or a bunch of bananas—to a tall bamboo pole so their potential customers can easily see what they’re selling. It’s a colorful and lively scene, typical of Mekong Delta towns, though few similar villages feature a handsome French Gothic–style cathedral as a background. You’ll sail into the town and land near the An Kiet House, built early in the 19th century for a member of the royal family. Its ornately carved antique screens and furnishings give you an idea of how wealthy Southern Vietnamese families lived. While you’re on solid ground, take a look at another aspect of life of the delta: Vietnam is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of rice, and the Mekong Delta is known as the country’s “rice bowl.” You’ll learn all about this staple food and its importance to the region as you visit a local establishment where workers make everything from rice paper and rice wine to traditional rice candy.

DAY 13: My Tho (Disembark), Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City

Ready for an adventure? Today’s featured excursion provides a fascinating glimpse of the Viet Cong’s vast network of incredibly narrow, booby-trapped tunnels dating from the Vietnam War. If you dare, you can even climb down inside for an up-close look.
Vestiges of war—Cú Chi Tunnels
Explore a fascinating aspect of Vietnam’s long struggle to free itself from Western control. Begun by the Viet Minh on the outskirts of Saigon in 1945, as shelter from French air raids, these tunnels were expanded in the 1960s by the Viet Cong, who extended them for many miles. A network of booby-trapped tunnels led to underground chambers where people lived—in considerable privation, generally—wounds were treated and children were taught. Only a small stretch of this network is open to the public, but if you’re venturesome, you may climb down into a tunnel for an up-close look (and we do mean close—don’t expect to stand upright).

DAY 14: Ho Chi Minh City

As Asia’s “comeback kid,” there’s something so invigorating about Ho Chi Minh City, a busting metropolis with a youthful and innovative energy—and no wonder, given that more than half the population is younger than 35. Embrace the dynamic spirit of the city formerly known as Saigon on today’s panoramic tour.   History melds with the boisterous present in Vietnam’s largest city, where skyscrapers tower over ancient temples and motorbikes putter along picturesque alleys. It was founded in 1690; became the capital of French Cochinchina in the 1860s, when it was known as Saigon; and acquired its modern moniker in 1976, when it was named for Communist leader Ho Chi Minh.
Dynamic Ho Chi Minh City – A landmark in Vietnamese history is the first destination on your panoramic city tour today, as you travel the city’s busy streets, passing elegant French Colonial buildings and bustling shopping centers. On April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the gates of the building now called the Reunification Palace, symbolizing the downfall of the South Vietnamese government and the end of the Vietnam War. It’s a modern structure, commissioned in 1962 by the president of South Vietnam after his own air force tried to kill him by bombing the 19th-century French palace that had stood on the site. As you will see when you step inside, he intended to enjoy living here: It has a cinema and a nightclub—and, not too surprisingly, a spacious bomb shelter. A few blocks away, two monuments from the colonial days still stand: the lofty General Post Office, designed by Gustav Eiffel (of tower fame), and, across the street, twin-towered Notre Dame Cathedral, built entirely with materials shipped from France. Your motorcoach will carry you past other remnants of French colonial glory—the Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theater (also known as the Saigon Opera House, built in 1901 and modeled on Paris’s Petit Palais) and the City Hall (based on the Hôtel de Ville in Paris)—as well as the contemporary American consulate. But the day includes more than sightseeing: Visit a lacquer showroom to learn a bit about the history and cultural significance of a craft that has been practiced in Vietnam for at least 700 years before enjoying lunch on your own. Ho Chi Minh City is famous for the excellence of its food, which reflects, inevitably, a certain French influence combined with the unique flavors of the region. Tonight, you’ll be treated to a special Farewell Dinner with complimentary wine at a local restaurant featuring an exquisitely presented traditional meal and complimentary wine —a fitting finale for such a remarkable adventure.

DAY 15: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

If your cruise/tour package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Tan Son Nhat International Airport for your flight home or continue your tour with an extraordinary Bangkok optional extension program.