Cruising the Mekong River

Jan 08, 2020 - The Jahan


In the early morning, Mike Greenfelder took a group for a pleasant photo walk to see the Phnom Penh waterfront and fruit bats in a tree. The whole of the day we spent leisurely cruising the Mekong River to the border with Vietnam, where we anchored after lunch. After two hours with customs and immigration procedures, we traveled down the man-made Tan Chau Canal connecting the upper river to the lower Bassac River and eventually anchored near the Vietnamese fishing port of Chau Doc for the night.

The first of our day’s lecture began at 9:15. Very enthusiastic and equally informing, the presentation entitled "A Shorty History of Modern Cambodia (1953-1993)" was led by Royal University of Phnom Penh Professor Dr. Jean-Michel Filippi. Jean-Michel in his 90-minute lecture brought those attending through Cambodia’s complex and troubled history that lead to the rise and eventual fall of the Khmer Rouge. Following a short break, Jean-Michel stayed around for another hour to take audience questions. In the afternoon, Ezra King gave her wonderful signature talk of the voyage, "Unbound Land and Water People.”

Other fun activities for the day included a tour of our ship with the cruise manager and a hands-on cooking demonstration and food preparation by the restaurant kitchen staff.

In the evening, we met with our Vietnamese guides and were given a warm welcome and a slide presentation.

The border crossing represents a major cultural change. Cambodia houses a population of 17 million and has throughout much of the country’s history been influenced by India in terms of religion (Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism). Cambodia soon gives way to Vietnam (population of 97 million) who throughout much of its own history, who has been influenced greatly by Chinese lifestyle, language and religious custom (Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and ancestor worship). The contrast between these neighboring countries is nothing short of astonishing.

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About the Author

Barry Till

National Geographic Staff

Barry Till is a curator of Asian art with a wide knowledge on culture, history and archaeology. He has travelled extensively throughout Asia and lectured on numerous expeditions—including trips to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar—for more than thirty years. He has published more than 100 catalogues (including The Buddhist Arts of Asia), books, and articles on various Asian art topics, and is an enthusiastic and engaging speaker.

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