Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Goldring Travel's AMAWaterways' AmaLotus - Vietnam, Cambodia and The Mekong River Cruise- Part IX

Up, a good breakfast and then on the road to Prek Kdam to board the AmaLotus for our 8 day/7 night cruise down the Mekong River. 

For our group it was “old hat” as we now know the routine, have bonded with our guide and have been introduced both to Cambodia and the AmaWaterways’ way of doing things. So as we headed for Reception at the Sofitel Angkor Hotel, we noticed a line for check-in for those only doing the cruise portion of this trip.  The “newbies” are put into two other groups and then the now four groups board their respective busses for the drive. 

Our guide asks us if we mind being last.  Huh? 

And then he says he prefers the longer drive to Prek Kdam (required due to the low water level not allowing our ship to pass into Tonle Sap Lake) rather than a short one to the lake near Siem Reap.  What?

I mean doesn’t everyone want to be first?  Don’t you “win” if you come in first?  And why the heck would you want to be trapped on a bus for 5½ hours rather than 45 minutes?  Is this some sort of Cambodian cultural or philosophical approach?  Is Buddhist approach now affecting our journey? Seriously, could it just marketing trying to make a sitting on a bus sound better than it really is?

I can emphatically tell you,"NO!"

What he was saying is the journey is more important and more interesting than the trip.  He is talking about “travel”.  He explains that once you board the ship on the lake you don’t see much of anything because you are far from the shoreline, but driving on the road you have the opportunity to observe everyday Cambodian life.  He was, of course, correct and the drive was fascinating as was his discussion of Cambodian history, culture, present day issues and nature.

To be sure I will fondly remember our bus ride far more than some rather non-descript initial cruising on the AmaLotus.

Our first stop was unplanned. We found ourselves passing through a small town with a number of wooden contraptions along the road.  He stopped the bus after a couple of us asked what the things were.  They were a sort of mortar and pestle which crushes the rice into a cereal.  The people then sell the cereal to passersby who mix it with bananas, mangos or coconut milk. 


 

Our next stop was also a bit of a surprise, though planned.  It was not only a comfort stop, but for “Cambodian KFC”. Yes, it was time to try Fried Tarantula…and crickets…and silk worm larvae…and giant water beetles.  Yes, I tried them all. (Note:  I could not bring myself to eat the fried stuffed tadpoles, but mostly because I was thinking about the safety of eating an amphibian which has been lying out in 100 degree heat.) 



I can see why the tarantula is so popular…once you get past the “creepy factor”.  Not only are they inexpensive at two-for-a-dollar, they taste very similar to a food I love:  Soft-shelled crabs. 

On the other hand, the giant water beetles (you should remove the wings…in case you have any interest in trying them) were sort of dry and crunchy and, to be sure, had a much higher creepy factor for me.
 
My son, looking forward to the Fertilized Duck (Balut) Egg was disappointed there were none there, but he did give the silk worm larvae a try.  Our guide did inform him that the next day in  Kampong Chhang he will have his egg!

About another hour on the bus, traveling over a dirt road (under construction) we arrived at a small field where the AmaLotus has literally pulled up to the shore for us to board.  You are guided by smiles, past two oxen, through the grass and up a wooden gangplank to our luxury river cruise ship for then next eight days.