THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

VIETNAM AND CAMBODIA

Bangkok

It seems that all travel to SouthEast Asia must pass through Bangkok. Here we are with some of the Royal Palace’'s Apsaras.

Mausoleum

Uncle Ho was a simple man, and he requested a normal grave. Naturally, he got a Lenin-style Mausoleum.

Indiana Jones

Amid the mysterious Cambodian temples, an Indiana Jones moment.

Monks

A pair of Buddhist monks resting in one of the Angor Wat temples.

Angkor Wat

The fabled Angkor Wat temple.

Ha Long Bay

Spectacular limestone formations rising out of Ha Long Bay.

Fishermen Home

The fishermen of Ha Long Bay live on scattered houseboats, like this one.

Vietnamese Fishermen

These look like they are running errands, rther than fishing.

Stupa

This Stupa by one of the Killing Fields is filled with 10,000 skulls, arrayed by age and gender.

Cambodian Temple

Angor Wat is surrounded by dozens of temples, such as this fine example.

It seemed advantageous to plan a trip to Indochina following our cruise down the Yangtze gorges… we told ourselves "as long as we’re there, with airfare paid and all"… this is how we wound up in Vietnam and Cambodia in October 2002.

Abercrombie & Kent are known for having a first-class travel infrastructure in Asia, and we asked them to arrange for a private tour for the two of us. We hopscotched to Bangkok, Hanoi, Da Nang, Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap; at each location we were met by a local guide and a car and driver, and it was first cabin all the way.

While in Bangkok, we focused on the Royal Palace, since we were just blowing through on our way to the main event. Tukkie, our beautiful and, charming guide gave us the graceful Thai joined palm salutation and then proceeded to guide through this most teeming of Asian cities.

In Hanoi I was delighted to get a whiff of the French Colonial atmosphere, which was always for me one the great charms of my visits to North and West African countries (nothing imperialistic in that, as many locals also have a nostalgia for the French days). The Hotel Metropole preserves the feeling, ensconced in the heart of what could be an old provincial town in France. Apparently everyone who stays there is given the Graham Greene room – so that’s where we stayed.

We saw the monument to John McCain, the preserved corner of the old "Hanoi Hilton" prison, sat through an unusual performance of the water puppet show, gaped at Ho Chi Minh’s ascetic little house which contrasts with the great Mausoleum in which he is buried.

A clattering Russian-made helicopter ride took us to "Ha Long Bay of the Descending Dragon" where we had a private boat tour of the unusual limestone formations, caves, and floating fishermen villages. During our "cyclo" (pedicab) tour of the old city, Kathryn bought a traditional "ao dai" silk pantsuit before our departure to Hue and Da Nang. There we relaxed on China Beach after visiting the Imperial Citadel.

Then it was onward to Saigon (now officially Ho Chi Minh City, but more often still Saigon). A sunset cruise on the Saigon River started our visit, and our guide Nguyen (who preferred the moniker Tom) took us to the sobering War Crimes Museum (the "American War" is what it is called there - the phrase stopped me dead the first time I heard it, but then it is perfectly logical and correct from the local vantage point) and on an excursion to the Cu Chi tunnel network, so useful to the Viet Cong.

We flew to Phnom Penh where we started our Cambodian tour with a grim visit to the school used as torture central by the Khmer Rouge during their genocidal rampage, and also went out to one of killing fields, marked by a stupa with a stack of 10,000 skulls.

The three days we spent at the wide collection of temples at Angkor Wat and in the surrounding countryside constituted a cycle of repeated astonishment, but also I couldn’t help but think of the adventures of Indiana Jones.

We were both quite taken by the quiet courtesy and gentleness of the various people we encountered on this trip. Two weeks proved to be much too short a period to do justice to this small corner of the world. We have the firm intention of making a return visit at some future date.