It started like a whirlwind – as it always does. Arriving in Asia is unlike any other place in the world. The action never stops, the people seemingly busy day and night, the hustle and bustle of the city life is never ending. My flight landed just after midnight and yet walking out of the airport, it could have been mid-day for all I knew. The commotion of thousands of locals waiting to pick up their loved ones just in time for the Lunar New Year festivals, it reminded me again of the intensity of living in Saigon, a city of 12 million people and still rapidly growing.
It was the first time I was greeted by staff holding a large sign with my name on it at the airport exit, waiting to shuttle me to the five star hotel the guests and I were scheduled to stay at. This felt in many ways like royal treatment considering the fact that when I travel on my own I find myself walking down dark side streets looking for the budget $5 hotels with any vacancy. And I must say… it sure was nice being greeted by the luxuries of Saigon’s finest hotel rather than the usual treatment of sharing my hotel room with a range of insects and/or rodents. It’s a whole other level of travel all together. Fruit baskets waiting for me on the bed, a full size swimming pool, 24 hour gym, room service, clean sheets…I could get used to this.
But the amenities of the fancy hotel were short lived, and within a day we were making our way to the Jahan, one of the finest river boats on the entire Mekong. Lindblad (my employer) is known for its luxury treatment, and they didn’t disappoint. Many of the guests have travelled all over the world with us, and they made it very clear that the Jahan is one of the most spacious and well-appointed ships they’d ever sailed on. Not bad for my first gig with the company.
The first three days on board were spent sailing up the Vietnamese portion of the river, with frequent stops to local villages and small cruises through floating fish farms. It brought back many memories of living in this amazing country and travelling by motorbike to as many towns as possible during my time in Nha Trang. The warmth of the people and their welcoming attitude is second to none, no matter where I go I am always greeted with smiles and cheerful ‘hello’s. It’s a beautiful country, but even more recognizable is the beauty of its people.
On the fourth day we crossed into Cambodia, and with that the pace of life changed dramatically. No longer were there fishing boats flying every which way, villages lining every inch of coastline, or the otherwise very busy activities of Vietnam. All of the sudden, everything went quiet. There were few boats, if any, and the coastline was as pristine as we’d seen on the entire trip. The cultural differences between the two countries were very evident at this point. While both countries are majority Buddhist, their influences come from different origins. The Chinese influenced Buddhism that reins over Vietnam emphasizes that importance of maximizing the quality of your life in this one lifetime, while Cambodian Buddhism on the other hand was largely influenced by India and focuses on building karma one life at a time. Cambodians therefore are not as concerned with wealth and prosperity in this life, as they will continue to build on these throughout their many lives.
I hadn’t spent much time in Cambodia when I was living in Vietnam, so it has been a wonderful experience getting to know more about the country and its people, especially with the very skilful experts we have on board. All in all it’s been a very educational trip for me so far, and I’ve really enjoyed learning more about these fantastic countries. It’s also been great being the ecology and fisheries expert on board, and I’ve been able to contribute to the guests and other staff members on board throughout the trip on all the different fishing activities we’ve been seeing along the river along with the ecology of the river system and how everything works biologically. Really fun stuff!
We’re dropping our first group off at Angkor Watt now, and picking up the next group to head back down the river on our way to Saigon again. I’m excited to meet all the new people and share all the wonderful experiences with them that we’ve just done with the first group! Should be a great trip, round two!