Early tomorrow morning I'll get on the plane and start this adventure. After a 12-hour layover in Bangkok, I'll arrive in Siem Reap, Cambodia at 1:00 Sunday afternoon. I'm just about finished packing and worrying about packing so I'll take a few minutes to give you a preview of my itinerary. I think I've got everything: passport, visa, malaria pills, uncharacteristically demure long skirts, insect repellent, money belt, camera, ibuprofen, traveler's checks, and a big stack of crisp American one and five dollar bills because that's apparently the preferred currency in Cambodia.
I'll be meeting the other people in my seminar (13 of them) in Seam Reap, which means, according to the Lonely Planet, "Siamese Defeated," certainly a less than tactful name for a city so close to Thailand. In the northwestern quadrant of Cambodia, it's the nearest city to the temples at Angkor, which we'll spend a couple of days touring. We'll also visit the floating villages on the Tonle Sap. On July 5 we'll fly to Phnom Penh, which is apparently a lovely city with lots of French architecture and very good food. There, however, our activities take a more somber turn as we have lectures and films on the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, and then visit the notorious Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields themselves.
On July 9, we leave Cambodia behind and fly to Ho Chi Minh City, where we'll be for the next 5 days. I'm particularly thrilled about cocktails on the roof of the Rex Hotel, where it'll be hard not to succumb to the dreamy idylls of "Indochine" or "Nam-stalgia," as British journalist Robert Templer calls the two most common misperceptions of Vietnam. Other highlights include visits to the former National Liberation Front guerrilla base in Sac Forest and a wildlife preserve.
The last phase of the trip begins when the seminar ends on the morning of July 13. I'll fly to the old imperial capital of Hue and will stay there for a couple of days. I've arranged a guide and driver to take me to military sites in and around the DMZ, and I may also take a trip to the town of Hoi An, which is famous for its textiles and its cooking. On Jul7 15 I'll continue north to Hanoi by plane. Why not take the train? Because despite its glorious name, The Reunification Express, the thing travels at an average speed of 48 mph! I'm all for authenticity and traveling like a local, but that's just too much to ask. I have a side trip planned from Hanoi to the village of Sapa, close to the Chinese border and Vietnam's highest peak, the 10,000 ft. hilariously named Mt. Fan Si Pan(ts). Okay, so I added those last two letters. I'll get to visit small villages of at least three different hill tribes, the peoples that the French lumped into one category and called Montegnards.
My trip wraps up with a day tour of Ha Long Bay, a place we've seen in countless movies, no doubt, with its limestone karsts rising out of the ocean and topped with mist. I wish I had time to do a kayak trip, but I don't think I will. I'll be back in Austin late on 20th of July.
So, that's the outline. I have no idea how closely things will hew to this plan, but that's the whole point of travel, after all. Next post will be from Cambodia.