Monday March 25, 2019

We bid a sad “Leah hai!” (goodbye) to the crew of the Avalon Siem Reap on Thursday morning … walked the gangplank for the last time … and got bussed to the airport for an Angkor Air flight to Siem Reap. This thriving touristy city sits on the northern edge of Tonle Sap – a vast shallow lake (more than 150km in length) renowned for its prolific birdlife and fascinating fishing villages. But the real fascination lies out of town …

Buried deep in the surrounding jungles are the spectacular, world-famous temples of ancient Angkor – comparable only (say some archaeologists) to Egypt’s Nile Valley. The ancient city of Angkor once served as the royal centre from which a dynasty of Khmer Kings (between 802AD and 1350AD) ruled one of the largest, most prosperous and sophisticated kingdoms in the history of Southeast Asia.

In short, the ancient Angkor Empire was BIG!

They reckon there are hundreds of temple ruins scattered over this vast area. But we had chosen four of the best. And we started with the best of the best …

ANGKOR WAT is the largest and most fabulous temple of all. A fleet of motorised tuk-tuks took us there from town, and before long we were hot-and-sweaty in the unseasonable 41 degrees. (Phew!) Angkor Wat is architecturally breathtaking – a massive three-tiered pyramid more than a kilometer square, ringed by a huge moat, and crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 metres into the air. Its endless walls are smothered in beautiful apsara carvings (dancing nymphs and goddesses) and extraordinary bas-reliefs, depicting stories and characters from Hindu and Buddhist mythology and the legendary wars of Suryavarman II …  

BAYON TEMPLE, second on our agenda with its Royal Enclosure, Elephants Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King, is unique for its 54 towers … decorated with over 200 huge smiling faces of the Hindu/Buddhist deity,  Avolokitesvara, facing all four corners of the compass, and designed to send a message of unity to all who came visiting.

Friday arrived, our final day of sightseeing, and two more temple-wonders were still on our must-see list:

TA PROHM, my personal favourite, has been left the way all these temples were when they were first rediscovered. Massive fig and silk-cotton trees spread from the broken ruins, towers and corridors, offering a weirdly overgrown atmosphere … which is why it is known as the ‘Jungle Temple’ and was chosen for Angelina Jolie’s blockbuster movie, ‘Tomb Raider’!

BANTEAY SREY, Robyn’s favourite, is older than the others, but in much better shape. A delicate, smaller-scale ‘Citadel of the Women’, it is truly beautiful, its deep and detailed decorations carved in glowing red sandstone.

On the way back to town, we stopped at a village that’s famous for making Khmer rice-noodles by hand – an eye-popping spectacle involving the entire family: soaking then grinding the rice to remove the liquid … pounding the gooey mush into a thick paste … squeezing that paste out through a pipe with spaghetti-sized holes at the end … then cooking the resulting noodles and eating them with fresh greens, herbs and chillies.


During our farewell dinner that evening, superbly outfitted Apsara Dancers brought the ancient Khmer culture to life one more time for us through their music, song, and dance – leaving our heads spinning long after we’d gone to bed!

The time had come (the walrus said) to pack our bags, check out of our hotel rooms, and make tracks to the airport for our home-bound flight. Which is what we did the following morning. And by now, of course, we’re back in Godzone … wondering how on earth our 21-day Mekong Adventure went by so fast.

We’ve seen more than we can possibly remember, met some of the loveliest people on earth, learnt more than I could ever put in a blog. And we’ve all come home with squillions of photos with which we’ll probably bore you to death!

But that’s what travel’s all about, eh …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Two more lucky-last Quackers are going home with new owners …

  • ROB added yet another duck to his duckery: ‘I-Can’t-Remember-Where-I-Left-Her, Award’ – for sitting on his own and eating his entire breakfast without realising that his wife had been waiting for him the whole time at a different table! They’re having counselling.
  • HEATHER easily won our ‘Is-My-English-Really-That-Bad? Award’ on the last day of our cruise. At breakfast, she asked for one poached egg and got four – then, at lunch, she asked for a Heineken and got an ice-cream sundae! Oh dear!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

PS: If you want to receive future Mad Midlife TRAVEL BLOGS in your Inbox, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!

PPS: And if you’d like to join us on one of our UPCOMING CRUISES OR TOURS, go to … phone Glen (our Bookings Manager) on 0800 323 333 … or email Glen

  • We’re off to SPAIN & PORTUGAL on May 2019 …
  • cruising ALASKA & THE ROCKIES in September 2019 …
  • touring JAPAN in cherry-blossom season, March 2020 …
  • enjoying a WILD AFRICAN SAFARI in August 2020 …
  • and lots more!
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About John Cooney

John Cooney and his wife Robyn have enjoyed more than their fair share of travel. They hesitate to call themselves ‘experts’ – but they’ve grabbed every chance that’s come their way to explore new countries, cultures and customs. They’ve had the privilege (both on their own and as the leaders of numerous successful group-tours) to sample many stunning destinations: Europe, the UK, Singapore, Vanuatu, the USA, Israel, Egypt, Africa, Dubai, China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And their recent (and most pleasant) memories are of the places ancient-and-modern that border the Mediterranean. John and Robyn are at-home in airports, hotels, cruise ships, and the like … and they know how to make the most of a unique travel opportunity. Travel, they reckon, is an all-five-senses experience – a chance to see, feel, smell, hear and taste the world. And they’ve done it often enough to know for sure: sightseeing with a group of laid-back Kiwis is DOUBLE the fun – lots of laughs, great company, and memories that last forever!


  1. Another wonderful trip so well lead by John & Robyn – great to see so many new sights, meet so many new people & experience so many new things – thanks to all who made the Mekong trip such a good one.

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