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After retiring from my long time career as a public interest advocate, I started my next career as world traveler and amateur photographer with a cruise up the Mekong River. We visited various cities in Vietnam before boarding our river cruise near Ho Chi Minh City (called Saigon by almost everyone) traveling across Vietnam and into Cambodia, stopping in Phnom Penh and ending in Siem Reap. We traveled with Aqua Expeditions (as we had in the Amazon) and had beautiful accommodations, food, and explorations along the way.
Most people head to Cambodia to see the temple complexes at Angkor Wat, and find that to be the highlight of their trip. But for Richard and me it was different. We loved – most of all – the river life along the Mekong: floating villages where every aspect of life takes place on the river; people living in houses above their fish farms; the silk weaving factories and silversmiths where we left some American dollars; and floating schools where the grade school-age children delighted in us as much as they we were delighted by them.
One of the highlights of the trip was learning about Cambodia's history, talking with everyone about the politics of Cambodia today and the destabilizing role that the US played in its recent history. We heard the stories of people who lived through (under horrifying circumstances) the Pol Pot era, and their struggles – even today – to move toward a full-fledged democracy. We found it fascinating to compare Vietnam today with Cambodia today. Vietnam has made enormous strides while in some ways Cambodia seems stuck in the past.
Of course, the temples at Angkor Wat and the experience of walking through, around, and among them spoke to a time in the country’s history when it was a powerful country. It was moving to see them at sunrise or sunset and have the opportunity to take a sweeping look at a country still in transition.
Updated from an earlier version.