Perhaps no one has done more to associate themselves with the Mekong Delta than Duras. Born in Gia-Dinh, as Saigon was formerly known, because her parents had responded to a campaign by the French government encouraging people to work in the colony, Duras’ early life here in Sac Dec was one of extreme hardship. Her father fell ill soon after the family arrived here and returned to France where he died shortly thereafter. Her mother remained in Indochina with Marguerite and her two siblings, eking out a meager living as a schoolteacher. It was here in Sa Dec that the teenaged Duras and Huynh Thuy Le, a rich Sa Dec merchant began their affair that Duras wrote about in her most famous work The Lover.
Our time travel continues after lunch on board the Aqua Mekong. We cruise by skiff to a 40 square kilometer riverine island called Gieng Islet, to walk or cycle around this peaceful religious enclave on the Mekong Delta. Together we visit Cu Lao Gieng Church, built in 1875 with materials imported from France. It is impossible not to admire its imposing bell tower that appears to pierce the sky high above its low-rise neighbors. At the Convent of the Providence Order and Catholic Church, interact with Sisters or Father to learn of the religious influences on the surrounding communities, which we may visit to admire the indigenous pagodas and wooden houses built in the early twentieth century in traditional Vietnamese design and shaded by bonsai trees, as was the local custom.
Following your goodbyes and disembarkation from the Aqua Mekong, enjoy an urban adventure on two wheel motorized tuk-tuks while taking in this historic city’s most important sites including the 1866 Royal Palace that is still home to the reigning monarch and its Silver Pagoda, the royal compound’s most famous attraction, so called because in 1962 then Prince Sihanouk ordered the floor inlaid with 5,329 genuine silver tiles. Today the pavilion houses many jeweled statues and images, including the 17th century Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal, and a life size gold Maitreya Buddha adorned with 9,584 diamonds, the largest of which weighs 25 carats.
Just next door, the National Museum of Cambodia houses the world’s largest collection of Khmer art, much of it removed from Angkor Wat to prevent looting. Here we can linger among the linga, representations of the Hindu deity Shiva, and thousands of other artifacts including an imposing 11th century bronze sculpture of a reclining Vishnu that is considered a monumental example of Khmer statuary.
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