- 01. To The Rescue
- 02. Last Minute Minutia
- 03. Spiritual Me
- 04. A New Approach
- 05. Cruising Cambodia
- 06. Ox Cart Aerobics and Buddhist Blessing Yoga
- 07. My Great Cambodian Depression
- 08. A Day on the River Limbo
- 09. Lies, Damned Statistics, and Tourism
- 10. Saigon Reunification
- 11. The Way to Huế
- 12. A Hot Time in the Old Town
- 13. An Hanoi-ing Experience
- 14. Southeast Asian Rescue
Cruise Director Gaby made it clear that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the ship in the morning since the Cambodian border officials had already stamped our passports as having left the country. We’d have to take her word for it since none of us had seen our passports since we gave them to the purser before leaving Siem Reap some days back. We were some hours from the Vietnamese border yet, and had been forewarned that the border formalities for a shipload of passengers could take another four hours once we got there. Hence, we would spend Monday in limbo, a day at sea, or at river, as it was.
It was something of a relief, as they had kept us quite busy, and a rest day seemed just the ticket. As it happened, they intended to continue to keep us quite busy doing stuff on board.
“On board” the Mekong Prestige II are were four decks. The top deck had a bar lounge that doubled as something of a theatre towards the stern, and a large sun deck with a small plunge pool (about 4 meters by two) towards the bow. On first inspection, the plunge pool seemed a bit silly, but it proved to be handy, a good alternative for cooling off in a hurry.
At one point when on the sun deck I spotted a five-meter crocodile in the river. The only other person around was the lone youth on board, a ten-year-old boy who spoke as much English as I do French. He pointed excitedly, gasping “Crocodeel!” He and I would spend the rest of the cruise trying to convince the others we weren’t lying.
Below the top deck was a series of staterooms in the front, with the reception desk in the centre, and the restaurant to the rear. Next deck down was ours, a series of staterooms in the front, the crew quarters aft. The staterooms on the upper deck were somewhat more costly than ours below, presumably for being closer to the lounge, restaurant and reception, and having a slightly higher view over the water. I was pleased to have chosen the lower deck, not just for the price, but because we were nearly alone down there, several rooms being unoccupied. Very quiet, even being closer to the engine room.
Otherwise the staterooms were virtually identical, reasonably spacious and fully equipped, although there was no refrigerator in the space designed for it. There with a small balcony more suitable for photo-taking than for sun-baking, a nice amenity nonetheless. All the furnishings were brand new, and the room well looked after by the housekeeping crew.
One of the activities for our day at river was a tour of all the inner workings of the ship on the bottom deck. Most impressive was the water purification system, which pumped 20,000 litres of water daily from the Mekong. The system filtered it, treated it chemically, filtered it again to un-treat it chemically, then ran it through ultra-violet radiation in case some lifeform from Alpha Centauri survived the meteorite crash.
Despite all that, we were sternly warned not to let a drop of it pass our lips, not for so much as brushing our teeth. The treated river water was strictly for laundry, showering, washing hands and flushing the toilets. Infinite bottled water was provided for drinking, and we were assured the kitchen used the same for washing and preparing the food, including ice cubes.
The dirtied “grey water” was filtered once again before dumped back into the Mekong, still much cleaner than when it came out, or so it was claimed. I made a mental note that I would not be swimming in the Mekong.
The engine room had two huge, extraordinarily loud engines doing enginy things, engining along, as engines do. You may detect I am not an engineer. There was an engineer there who served without benefit of hearing protection, answering all questions with the smile and nod of a seventy-year-old rock-and-roller.
The bridge was surprisingly simple: a joy stick, a depth sounder, a GPS, an air conditioner, and an uncompromised view of the river ahead. A lone officer manned the helm as Gaby explained there were always two on the bridge. The six of us on the tour looked at each other blankly, one or two uttering “but…” Before the question could be asked, Gaby was off to explain the laundry adjacent. It was a laundry.
The day’s other diversions included a napkin folding demonstration, and a cooking lesson. Frank partook in the napkin folding exercise, so I look forward to some stunning linen sculpture at our next dinner party. We both took part in the cooking class, preparing then eating our own rice paper spring rolls.
It isn’t as if we needed another occasion to eat. The food has been remarkably good, really, stunningly good, the French influence in Southeast Asia still very much evident. Every morning offers a multi-cultural breakfast buffet of bacons from around the world, leaving me to start each day with a caloricly intense struggle for unattainable satisfaction. Every lunch offers two delicious soups, three excellent salads, an “Action Station” where a chef fulfils your personal fantasy dujour, a choice of three main courses, and a top notch desert. Any one of these courses is better prepared and more food than I normally eat in an entire lunch. They save the fancy, rich dishes for dinner. Decadence isn’t decadent enough a word for the decadence of this decadence.
The dirty trick of our day at river was the announcement that the crew and passengers would be expected to entertain each other that evening. Excuse me, what do you think I’ve been doing for the past four nights? The crew would have skits and songs, but so, too, would the eight Aussies be expected to prepare and perform something, as well as the twenty-odd French passengers.
Thus we spent several hours over the course of the day working together to concoct some form of entertainment. Eventually we decided a trivia contest would be fun, so pulled together some questions and answers from the painfully slow internet connection, forming them into a Powerpoint presentation, which Gaby offered to translate.
Just before the show Gaby informed us that our trivia contest was way too long, but we could use it later in the week. Tonight though, we’d have to come up with something else. We were provided a set of lyrics to Waltzing Matilda, that, near as any of us Aussies could tell, had been translated from ancient Greek into English by Chaucer. Two ladies amongst us came to the rescue, editing it into something Banjo Patterson might recognise.
While many of the crew were happy to participate and some had talent, I got the sense others would rather have shot themselves had they been given the opportunity. In particular, the kitchen staff doing an all-to-faithful re-creation of the Village People performing YMCA left one or two of the gentlemen on stage with their hands and other body parts in rather bawdy circumstances to their apparent dislike.
The French entertainment that followed consisted of determining each person’s “porn star name” by following a certain formula. It occurred to me that I hadn’t enjoyed entertainment of this calibre since attending a drag show on San Francisco’s Polk Street in the early 1980’s. The material had made it into the mainstream.
Our performance of Waltzing Matilda was absolutely gruesome. Happily for everyone, it ended, as did the show.
Not a soul from Vietnamese Customs ever stepped aboard the ship.