While Echo spent last winter in the south of England we enjoyed lots of family time in Washington State with Brian, Katie, Sarah, Kristi and Fia. So much fun time together, including the holidays. We enjoyed every minute!
In early March we wrapped up family time with 10 days skiing in Whistler, British Columbia with the whole gang. Even Fia hit the slopes.
It was hard to say goodbye but we left Washington mid March. After a quick stop in England to visit Echo in Gosport we flew off for some land travel to a part of the world we’ve never been.
First stop was Doha Qatar. Rachel and her husband Sam live in Doha so we planned a stopover there en route to Vietnam. Rachel’s parents, Mary and Bill Ryan were there as well and we spent 4 fun filled days together. Would have been perfect if Rachel’s sister Kaitlyn had been there too, we’ll catch up with her another time.
Doha is a very modern, vibrant city surrounded by desert. The skyline is dramatic with so many interesting buildings. Our visit was during Ramadan which was quite interesting as there are very strict customs which the predominantly Muslim population follow. The largest impact to us was with regard to eating and drinking as restaurants were closed until late in the day because fasting is required from dawn to sunset. We did have some amazing dinners after sunset. In addition to just visiting with one another and getting to know Sam we visited several museums, markets and took an amazing dune ride. We also met many of Rachel and Sam’s very interesting friends and colleagues, it is an incredibly diverse group of people from all around the world. So happy to have had this opportunity to visit with such good friends in a very interesting place!
On to Saigon Vietnam. What a city! It’s so busy and so much to see. Just crossing the street is an adventure, dodging the motor bikes along with cars, buses and trucks can be quite a challenge. The Vietnamese are busy industrious people and it was quickly apparent in this city. All along the streets there are vendors cooking and selling food with small tables and stools occupied with customers. It’s a colorful, busy place with so much history!
After a few days acclimating to Saigon we boarded the Emerald Cruises river boat Harmony to tour the Mekong and make our way to Cambodia. The ship was purpose built for traveling this water and it was very comfortable. The food, staff and amenities were great along with the tours organized along the journey.
There were about 60 guests on board, several from the UK, and several from Australia, along with a few Canadians and Americans. It was fun and interesting to spend time with many of the group on the ship and during the outings.
Along the journey we visited with several local people to learn about their lives. We saw pottery and candy being made in addition to fabric weaving. We also visited musicians, dancers, markets, temples and historical sites.
We learned a bit of history and visited sites from the war. Our guide was born in the mid 70’s and his perspective was from that of South Vietnam. In Saigon he took us Independence Palace and spoke of the events during the fall of Saigon. Almost 50 years later there has been time for memories be shared and discussed from both the south and north perspective. For us, the entire experience was educational, interesting, heartfelt, heart wrenching and so worthwhile.
Note. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975 after the North Vietnamese captured the city and united the country. It’s population is about 9 million people and its estimated to have about 2 million scooters. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_Chi_Minh_City
We entered Cambodia in Phnom Pen and docked the boat for the first time since leaving Saigon. All previous stops had been at anchor and we were transported to shore on Sampans. As we began to explore the city on our own we found ourselves in the midst of a very festive New Year celebration.
The Khmer New Year marks the end of the harvest season and is celebrated by gathering as a family from all parts of the country to participate in religious and community events. We arranged for a tour of the city in a tuk tuk and rode through the streets where the Cambodian people celebrated by soaking each other with water using super soaker water guns, hoses, buckets and what ever manner to propel water they could find. Everyone was smiling and happy. They would hold back somewhat as it was clear we were not Cambodian, but were happy to include us if it appeared that we were ok with it. They also would powder your face with talcum powder. This celebration went on for 3 days and we never saw any animosity, or bad behavior; everyone of every age was just out enjoying themselves.
The temples of Cambodia were incredible. We visited several including the sunrise visit to Angkor Wat along with many other tourists but it was still moving. We received a traditional blessing from the monks at one temple and wandered through the ruins of a few other temples. We also visited a memorial site of the Killing Fields, a horrific period of Cambodian history from 1975 to 1979.
The Cambodian people are predominantly Buddhist and we found them to be incredibly kind and friendly.
We were finished with our tour and next was the event around which this entire trip had been planned. Sam and Ben, very good friends of Sarah and Kristi had planned their wedding to be held at a resort near Nha Trang in Vietnam. Both are from the US but Ben’s parents and two sisters had escaped from Vietnam following the war. So thankful to them for including us in their celebration and introducing us to this wonderful country.
The wedding was beautiful! During the time at the resort we enjoyed reconnecting with many people we had met previously and meeting many new people. About 80 people traveled to attend the wedding. Such an adventuresome group of people! It was incredibly interesting to have Ben’s mother tell us her story of having escaped Vietnam following the war and wonderful that Sam and Ben chose to have their wedding in Vietnam and honor that heritage.
Following the wedding about 45 of us flew to Hanoi for more exploring and merriment. Lots more delicious meals, interesting Vietnamese coffees and an overnight boat cruise on Halong Bay. From here we said goodbye and everyone traveled to various points. Several including Sarah, Kristi, Fia, Sam, Ben and Willie continued on to Bali for more adventure at a surf camp for a week.
We spent our final day in Vietnam doing a bit more exploring in Hanoi with Alex who was introduced to us by a mutual American friend. It was a wonderful end to our Vietnam experience.
Such an incredible month!
Thanks to Rachel and Sam for showing us Qatar and thanks to Sam and Ben for encouraging us to travel to Vietnam! Congratulations and best wishes to both couples!
~ Mary and Jeff~