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Elvis…Far From The Mississippi

It’s 1974. You’re Elvis Presley — many wished that for almost two decades. You’re not at the height of your career, but you’re still packing them in wherever you go. Some people actually are “Elvis Presley”…as impersonators are beginning to pop up. Your country is in an awful war (like there are any other kind), in Vietnam.

Fast forward 42 years.

Elvis is long gone. The impersonators are not. In fact, there are more Elvis look-a-likes than ever. Some of them are even pretty good performers, not just in Vegas and assorted venues ranging from small theaters to street corners.

One is doing it in Vietnam.

His real name is Damian Mullin and he’s an Australian…crikey! He’s the best of Australia’s Elvis impElvis impersonators, having won the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest and he has the seal of approval from Elvis Presley Enterprises, which means The King’s company has a financial interest in the performances in…Vietnam.

The event will take place over eight days in September, on board La Marguerite, a river cruise ship that sails under the flag of AmaWaterways through its Australian partners, on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam.

“It’s an opportunity to present something different with a more intimate atmosphere,” said Jodie Quick, director of The Cruise Gallery, the Australian agency that’s selling the tour. “Most music cruises are on larger ships…[this one] gives passengers the chance to travel somewhere more adventurous and exotic with the comfort of Elvis’ crooning!”

The cruise is called Rockin’ the Mekong.

You can only imagine what Elvis would be thinking.

Today at portsandbows.comCelebrity Solstice back to Australia for 2017-18

Carnival Magic
7 nights
January 31, 2016
Galveston (return): Key West, Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

Southeast Asia Tourist Visas 

It’s likely that more North American cruisers will be visiting Southeast Asia, if not this winter then certainly in the foreseeable future, because more cruise lines from both genres are establishing a stronger presence.

As first-timers to that part of the world this year, we had to be educated about the coming and going to countries we’d never come to or gone from before 2015.

That would be tourist visas.

In our case, we were going on the new AmaWaterways river cruiser, the AmaDara, and it goes up and down the Mekong River in both Cambodia and Vietnam. In terms of customs, that meant coming to Cambodia and going from Vietnam. If you’re particularly nervous about this, the cruise lines will make it as easy as possible for you — through a third party, at a price we didn’t want to pay.

So we decided to go it alone, and here’s what we discovered…

Cambodia: This can be done online at the Embassy of the King of Cambodia. All you Cambodia visaneed is a passport, some time and a credit card. One cautionary note…your passport must be valid for six months from the date you enter Cambodia. The process took about a week. We printed the e-Visas at home. The cost: about $40 US.

Vietnam: Perhaps because it’s a Communist country, this was slightly more complicated, Visa-Bob copybut it’s still an online process and your passport only needs to be valid for one month from when the Vietnam visa expires. Again, the process from submission to receipt of the visas took about a week, and came by mail. The cost: $110.

For both, we paid $300 US. The process was not at all intimidating, contrary to what we’d anticipated.

Had we gone through the third party to get our tourist visas, the cost would have been $412 each…$824 for both.

In the news…

• Financing in place for Royal Caribbean’s fourth and fifth Quantum Class ships
• Fake doctor treated passengers on Aida ships for five years arrested in Berlin
• Contrary to reports, Star Cruises won’t be deploying ships to the Mediterranean

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise news and views you can use

Enchantment of the Seas
3 nights
May 16, 2016
Miami (return): CocoCay, Nassau
Inside: $201
Cost per day: $67

Friday File: A Taste Of Southeast Asia

When you go to a foreign land and eat local food, sometimes you’re never quite sure what you’re eating, or if you are indeed eating what the locals say. It is a culinary adventure, to say the least, and after visiting Southeast Asia for the first time we better understood why locals eat what they do, we shared many of their dishes and we came home raving about the food of Cambodia and Vietnam, especially Vietnam. Some of the servings surprised as, as they probably will you…


When you visit a cricket farm, as we did in Vietnam, you naturally expect to see crickets and you anticipate being invited to eat them. We were — and did…okay, one of us did.

Cambodian soup

The most popular dish on the AmaDara river cruiser was, without question, Cambodian soup and while it was often available throughout the day it was a breakfast specialty.

Version 2

Vietnamese spring rolls are available on this side of the Pacific but the ones at our favourite Saigon restaurant, Quan Bui, were better than any in North America.


This is not what you think, it’s just the work of a creative pastry chef on the ship, and it definitely tasted better than it looked, although Cambodian crocs are a delicacy.


This is what it you think, a man eating a tarantula. It was at a stop called Spidertown, the tour guide’s is Nyphea and the tarantula wasn’t wiggling…except when he crunched it.

banana, mango, dragon fruit

Dessert is always a welcome respite when you’re eating in adventureland, and this delectable trilogy of dragon fruit (red), mango and banana really hit the spot.

In the news…

• Legends In Concert move from Norwegian Epic to the Pearl
• Royal Caribbean's new catchphrase for marketing — 'Come Seek'
• Carnival latest cruise line to relax carry-on policy for beverages

Today at portsandbows.com: Preview of the new Carnival Vista 

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
7 nights
November 29, 2015
Galveston (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $430
Cost per day: $61

Angkor Wat: Compelling In Cambodia

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — We’d only walked a few hundred yards into Angkor Wat, the city of temples that everybody visiting Cambodia makes a point of seeing, when we were approached by a young man who wanted to sell us a book. There aren’t many street vendors in this city, but there are some, so this was our lucky day.

“Only twenty dollars,” he said.

We negotiated, because that’s what you do in countries like Cambodia. It’s a game, we’re Angkor Wat-3told. We bought the book for ten bucks. As he walked away in pursuit of his next client, we looked inside the front cover and discovered the book was 12 years old.

Oh well, if nothing about Angkor Wat had changed in 900 years, what could have changed in the last 12?

While it’s all so old, it’s new to first-time tourists. It’s also intimidating. There’s no place like it, although in India the government is building a quasi-replica after seeing how many tourists this one attracts. Only the devout students of architecture and/or history would Angkor Wat-7make the trek to Cambodia just to see Angkor Wat but anybody who happens to be here would feel compelled to see what the fuss was about, since it’s the country’s No. 1 tourist attraction.

We happen to be here because we’re en route to taking our first river cruise, on the AmaDara, the new AmaWaterways ship making its first trip south on the Mekong River from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Because we’re here, Angkor Wat becomes a must.

What is it?

We’ve visited old temples in many places and even to our uneducated eyes, this is unique. It’s Templeland, which means — like Disneyland — you have to consider a three-day pass Angkor Wat-8that costs $40. Since we only have two days, we opt for the one-day pass of $20. For that, you get a taste of Angkor Wat, a 200-square tract of land in the Cambodian countryside that has more temples than even a marathoner could see in 72 hours.

It opens at 5:30 every morning, 365 days a year, and many people go that early to catch the sunrise behind the signature temple, called (surprise, surprise) Angkor Wat. Estimating Angkor Wat-2the size of crowds is impossible but it’s safe to say there are many, many thousands of visitors every day. Many of those are first-timers, like us.

The main temple is a healthy walk from the entrance, made healthier if you climb its 47 steps to the third (top) level. But since most of us only go this way once, who’s going to stay at the bottom?

You will see paths leading off to the surrounding forest…the one we took introduced us to young monks that we playfully called Little Monkees, plus some interesting buildings that Angkor Wat-6couldn’t rival the temples, plus some peace and quiet. You will also likely see elephants at work, giving tourists rides. And, unfortunately, you will see fellow tourists who don’t respect the “rules” of solitude, of removing hats in the temples, of covering shoulders and knees, and of leaving their luggage at home.

Cambodian officials tolerate the offenders.

“If you don’t come,” said one, “I don’t have a job.”

The photos of this and other temples tell you more about them than our words can. What we can tell you is that the preferred mode of travel, in our opinion, is by tuk-tuk. The Angkor Wat-4Cambodian version of the taxi will take you to the park (or city) from Siem Reap (about seven miles away), and from one temple to the next, in some cases a mile or more apart.

Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Nary, spoke passable English but not enough to be a tour guide. Each temple has people who do that, for a fee of course, but we didn’t feel inclined, since we were there for more of an overview than for specific facts about temples.

Besides, for that, we had our book.

In the news…

• Costa Luminosa to kick off Panama Canal cruise season October 3
• Grammy Award winner Gregory Porter on Queen Mary 2 in October
• MSC raises $4.5 million for UNICEF with 'Get On Board For Children'

Today at portsandbows.com: What's happening with Silversea in  2017

Norwegian Escape
10 nights
October 29, 2015
London to Miami
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $64

Killing Fields A Chilling Experience

S-21-10PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — It’s hard to imagine this place was a prison, until you experience its contents. Once, it was a school. Then came the Khmer Rouge. Classrooms became cells and torture chambers. Fencing installed for the safety of students was replaced by electrified barbed wire to keep “prisoners” from escaping. In its lifetime, this collection of five buildings has had three names. Tuol Svay Pray High School…then S-21 (Security Prison 21)…and today the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the first two words mean “Hill [of] Strychnine.”

We’d been prepared for this venture, as much as you can be prepared for seeing tiny skulls, shocking and graphic photographs and confined spaces that strain the bounds of humanity. One of the owners of AmaWaterways, Kristin Karst, is a perpetually happy person who goes everywhere with her customers. She tells us she’s taking a pass on this shore excursion from the new AmaDara.

Chum Mey copy“I have been there before,” she says. “Once is enough.”

She is right.

What happened here in the late ‘70s is indefensible. All prisoners were photographed — many photographs of the victims are part of the museum today — and interrogated while being tortured. They were forced to name family members and close associates, who then became part of the cycle of torture and ultimate death.

We are told there were nine survivors. Some reports say the number may have been as many as 12. Of thousands…between 17,000 and 20,000. Whatever the number, they survived because they had skills useful to the Khmer Rouge. Three are still alive. Two are here, Chum Mey (right) and Bou Meng, selling books that tell their stories and to warn future generations. They remain the public faces of this sad part of human history.

S-21 was one of 150 Cambodian prisons where these evil deeds were committed. Neighbourhood buildings were places soldiers raped prisoners. Those who didn’t die in the prison were taken to The Killing Fields, which today is an historical site about 30 minutes from S-21. 

It’s just as moving as the prison, but less gut-wrenching, perhaps because of the initial shock. There are more skulls — “They find more all the time,” says our guide, “but they S-21-6have enough.” There are mass graves. The monsoons each year continue to unearth more evidence of what happened, more fragments of clothing, more human remains.

There are 127 such burial sites in Cambodia.

How can something so sad be so compelling? How can people like us suggest to people like you that going there is a good idea because, as “shore excursions” go, these are obviously not pleasant experiences? But they serve a purpose. They are “Cambodia.” They aren’t Disneyland.

As the survivors say, preserving this part of history may prevent its recurrence. It’s also a testament to the Cambodian people, who live in peace and with forgiveness for what happened. And charging entrance fees to the museums is one small way to contribute to the economy of this impoverished land of now 15 million people.

It is worth the trip.

But once is enough.

In the news…

• Carnival Corporation committed to 2020 sustainability goals
• Vancouver launches underwater listening device to protect whales
• Tropical Storm Erika no threat (yet) to ports of Dominica

Today at portsandbows.com: Major changes to the Queen Mary 2

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
January 3, 2016
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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