The 'Mother' Mekong 

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY LISA TE SONNE
  • Photo by lisa TE Sonne

This week may not be the time to book a trip for this spring, but it can be great for thinking about what you do want to do when travel restrictions are lifted.

Would you like to kayak past Zebu (water buffalo) and bicycle past fields of banana plants and Buddhist temples? Would you like to eat tarantulas? Meditate at sunrise while on the Earth's "Mother Waters" Mekong River? See how silk is made?

Maybe you would rather meet people who are the descendants of a culture, which more than a thousand years ago created what is now considered to be the largest spiritual building on the planet? Or drink lots of wine with fascinating world travellers between spa treatments?

These were just some of my diverse choices last May, when I cruised for several days on the Mekong River from Vietnam to Cambodia. The Aqua Mekong is a beautiful, floating boutique and may have been the most luxurious cruising ship on the Mekong. We enjoyed comfortable views of local life, as well as the passing scenery from the 22 air-conditioned passenger suites with floor-to-ceiling windows. We also had moving vistas from the dining room while eating excellent fresh food and enjoying wonderful service.

During my few days on the Aqua Mekong, we took a skiff to diverse places including a small, anchored flotilla of boats with fruits and wares hanging from their masts. It was a floating market with aerial advertising. Onshore, we walked through village markets, bicycled past a wedding set-up, and waved back to friendly, smiling children as we pedalled through rural villages.

We glimpsed the culture by touring parts of a gleaming royal palace with fascinating architecture and art, and watched a dedicated group of talented youth dance outside a rural community centre. The boys performed the Unicorn Dance, which required a dancer to stand on the shoulders of another wearing an impressive giant mask. We also walked through the home of Marguerite Duras, the author of The Lover and many more creations.

I saw how the tilapia fish for sale in my market back home are farmed, and how the silk in our clothes is made and woven. At a beautiful temple that was a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime, I met young boys being trained as monks. My fellow travellers and I were each offered personal blessings from the head monk.

While visits ashore were colourful and intense with new experiences, life onboard was full of more restful choices. After each shore expedition, the English-speaking staff pampered us with cool, lemongrass-scented cloths.

With welcoming smiles, they collected our shoes to wash off any dirt or mud, then provided refreshing drinks. The hallways smelled of jasmine as we sauntered back in our socks to our rain-head showers or to the ample lounge chairs on our suite's deck or to the shallow dipping pool on the boat deck.

The comforting craft also offered massage and spa treatments, a small gym, a dedicated movie-watching room with reclining lounge chairs, and a creative bar.

Conversations ranged widely with English as the common language for the nine nationalities among our small group of passengers.

English was also the common language among the guides and crew, who were Cambodian and Vietnamese. The staff's engaging daily talks educated us about the flora, fauna, and history of their countries. From the cooks to the guides, they all made themselves available for informal talks.

Each morning on this specially designed boat, a small sunrise meditation/yoga session was followed with a different offering of fruit smoothie.

At one of the cocktail sunset gatherings in the same section of the boat, we were offered exotic appetizers in addition to local fruits and treats. Yes, I did crunch on baked tarantula and scorpion.

At home now with time to think about past travels, my mind recalls flowers being strung for a lei when I conjure the impressions of the Mekong trip. I think back to when a few of us climbed to a jagged point for panoramic views of bright green, sinewy rice terraces below, curving around the geography.

Now, as we all sit home waiting for the chance to travel again, we can each cull through our recollections of past voyages and make scented strings of memories, like those fragrant leis.

Lisa T.E. Sonne has travelled all seven continents and written travel books.


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