We had our last breakfast this morning at the Sofitel Angor at 8am. As yesterday, i was a huge buffet with lots of hot and cold items, fruits, and and fresh juices to chose from. After breakfast we gathered our hand carry on luggage and headed to the lobby, as we had already put our checked luggage out at 7:15am, which was picked up by AMA Waterways staff.
We left with our ‘Orange’ group (split up among four buses) and headed out on a six and half hour drive to our AMA Waterways embarkation port. Along the way, our local guide ‘Parrot’ gave us a history of Cambodia and it’s struggles with the war, and how it only recently opened up to tourism. He said Thailand is still 20 years behind Thailand, due to the in fracture and sanctions that were placed on them after the recent war. Quite a tragic history of killings, land mines, and attempted eradication of any people with educations – the doctors were reduced from over 2,000 to only 7 after the war ended in 1998.
Today the country struggles to rebuild its infrastructure and education. Only about 1/2 of the homes have a bathroom, and up to 40% of children don’t finish secondary education. While most go to primary school and it’s ‘free’, (it’s not compulsory for children to attend school), families must pay for the child’s uniform and school supplies, and later transportation to further away secondary schools, and unfortunately many cannot afford to do so. It is my hope that the country will regain it’s freedoms and rebuild its infrastructure and education in the coming years so today’s children will have a chance at success. One thing I thought was interesting was the fact that over half of the population is under 25, both from the war as well as the shorter life expectancy, now 64 up from 53 only several years ago due to better health care.
We stopped for a quick ‘box lunch’ at a nice ‘Happy House’ along the way, which had covered outdoor seating, and a gift shop of sorts. We had our box lunch overlooking a rice field outdoors. I was proud of DOS – he didn’t buy any cheap souvenirs; only some pringles, cookies and water for later.
As we continued on the drive, we napped a bit making another stop about an hour before we arrived at the ship. Once there we immediately realized this was going to be a fun and unique cruise! Unlike the European River Cruises, the dock here was literally a dirt path down a hill leading to the ship – not practical for elderly or people with walking difficulties, but it may for a quaint setting in this remote part of the world.
Once aboard, we were welcomed with a drink in the Saigon Lounge and had a quick orientation with the other passengers. The Saigon Lounge is large with comfortable chairs and sofas, and is the main entertainment area of the ship. There is a large bar at the back, and a piano player in the front of the lounge. While 74 people had taken the land tour, the ship was sailing with about 100 people, just shy of the 124 maximum capacity. There was a Swiss group of 10 now joining us, as well as a few other faces we hadn’t seen before. The ship is very elegant in keeping with the Asian theme, and definitely First Class in every detail.
After the orientation, we were assigned our room keys in the lounge (no need to go to the desk to ‘checkin’, and we went up to our room; Sadec Suite 316 on the third (top level). Compared to the other two AMA cruises we were on, we were pleasantly comfortable with the large size of the room. It had a sitting area, French Balcony, another walk out balcony with two chairs and a table, a king-sized bed, plenty of closet space, robes, and a large bathroom with separate jacuzzi tub and shower, along with high quality toiletry items – very nice!
We had a short time to relax and explore the ship before our welcome aboard party at six pm, followed by dinner at 7pm. Compared to the European cruises, this cruise is very casual due to the weather (hot and humid!) and the casual and relaxed dress of the country. The restaurant is open-seating, and most people wore shorts and shirts vs a more dressy attire in Europe. The food was good, but I wouldn’t say outstanding, but the service more than made up for the food. The wine was included, and definitely free flowing so no complaints here!
As it was a long travel day, most people went to bed shortly after dinner. Really glad to be on a cruise now and not having to pack up every day. Welcome aboard the AMA Dara!