Cai Be and Sa Dec, South Vietnam
By Don Johnson
Santa Paula News
Published: February 22, 2013
By Don Johnson
Santa Paula Times
We finished our stay in Saigon and were now headed out to the highlight of our trip, through Vietnam and into Cambodia along the Mekong River.
We woke up early and had a free morning. About noon our group, Debbie and I along with 30 shipmates, our Cruise Director Mark Nicholls and our Vietnamese guide Long were picked up and transported to our cruise ship, the Avalon Angkor, waiting for us in the Saigon harbor. The Avalon Angkor is the only cruise ship that can navigate the shallow waters surrounding the Saigon harbor. Other cruise ships required a four to five hour bus ride to meet up with their ship. So boarding the Avalon Angkor was an easy task and was done quickly.
No sooner had everyone gotten on board, a life jacket and safety drill was given to all passengers. Soon after, the captain pulled away from the dock and made his way through the harbor to our next destination.
The Avalon Angkor was specifically designed to cruise where other ships are unable to go, without sacrificing any of the comforts. The Avalon Angkor design allowed the ship to be the first in the industry to cruise all the way from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Siem Reap (or vice versa). The design was to eliminate a motor coach ride to Siem Reap. (We still had to take the motor coach to Siem Reap and will talk about why this happened in a future story.)
The design lends itself to a more intimate experience, so you were truly immersed in the culture, people, and sights along the Mekong River. Built by traditional craftsmen, the Avalon Angkor had a colonial charm and is hand finished in brass and teak. Time on board delivered a refreshing outdoor experience, as all cabins were open to the outside and the large open-air lounge.
While the ship was small, only 16 cabins, 32 passengers, it was very efficient. Cabins were well stocked with supplies, especially bottled water. Water from the taps and shower came from the Mekong River, thus it was not recommended for drinking.
The common area for passengers was located on the upper deck in the center of the ship. This was our meeting location and areas where we could sit and watch the sites along the Mekong River. This area was also where the bar was located. The Mekong River cruise with Avalon has an open bar with all the beer, soft drinks and local spirits available 24 hours a day at no cost to passengers. From the common area you also entered the dining room, where breakfast, lunch and dinner were served.
Our ship was headed through the Saigon Harbor, reaching the Mekong River late in the afternoon with a destination the next morning at Cai Be and Sa Dec. The ship arrived at our destination about 11 p.m. and tied up along the riverbank.
In the morning, our entire group boarded a sampan for a scenic cruise though Cai Be Harbor, passing the citys beautiful French Gothic cathedral. Once on land, we took a tour of the AN KIET HOUSE and its surrounding gardens, which featured several types of fruit indigenous to the area. Next, we stopped at a local establishment to see how rice paper, rice wine, and traditional candy were made. We then visited the beautiful cathedral on the waterfront before returning to the ship for lunch.
After lunch, we again boarded a sampan and enjoyed scenes of daily life along the river en route to Sa Dec. We stopped at a brick factory to see workers forming the clay bricks that fill the local landscape. We then stopped at the adjacent rice factory for insight into the various types of rice produced in the region and to learn about the importance of the rice husk in fueling the brick kilns. Next, we went through the local market to absorb the atmosphere. Locals were busy buying and selling fish, meat, and produce.
The final stop of the day was the ancient HOUSE OF MR. HYUNH THUY LE, the lover of French novelist Marguerite Duras and inspiration for the film LAmant - The Lover, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. The day ended with dinner and the showing of the movie The Lover.