Morissa, why did you go on this particular tour?
My sister and her 19-year-old daughter and I are all interested in photography, so we were attracted to being guided by a professional photographer who would give us some pointers.
|Joanna on the left, next to Morissa|
(Claire second from right, Luisa not in photo)
Please sketch an overview of your trip.
The headline for the tour description reads: “Vietnam & Cambodia Discovery 17 Days/16 Nights: Hanoi – Sapa - Halong bay – Hoi An – Hue – Ho Chi Minh –Mekong Delta – Siem Reap– Phnom Penh.”
And the tour highlights listed:
- In Hanoi, Vietnam’s bustling capital. Spend a day venturing through the city, taking in museums, markets and other colorful sights.
- Cruising aboard a traditional junk amidst the majestic limestone cliffs and emerald green waters of magnificent Halong Bay.
- Wandering the charming streets of Hoi An town –lined with centuries old houses and quiet boutiques.
- Touring the former imperial capital Hue, home to successions of imperial dynasties.
- Next, take in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, where past meets modernity in this bustling neo-colonial city, before heading back out on the Mekong Delta to explore the surrounding floating markets and islands.
- In Cambodia, visit the capital city and experience the breathtaking splendor of the Angkor Complex, home to the ancient Khmer temples. From the preserved majesty of Angkor Wat to Ta Phrom’s rustic charm, the centuries-old religious monuments attract an abundance of tourists to the region every year thanks to their awe-inspiring beauty.
- Before departing Cambodia, travel to the great lake of Tonle Sap and visit the region’s finest artisans at work. The perfect place to stock up on souvenirs before your journey home.
|Most everyone has a moped|
How did the photography angle work into this?
The main thing was just being there and having such different subject matter to photograph. We were so much on the go that there simply wasn’t time for any detailed instruction in photography. But knowing what we were going to see any given day, Joanna would suggest that we might concentrate on “capturing reflections,” that sort of thing. And she would comment on our photos.
|In the Mekong Delta|
What cameras did you take?
I just took my Panasonic point-and-shoot. Digital, of course.
Well, another cheap camera that I gave to a guide who was nice to us.
You didn’t take a digital SLR?
I don’t even own one. What does “SLR” stand for?
|Morning market in Cambodia|
We believe you’ve said that the mountain people of Northern Vietnam have a lovely aura about them. Tell us more about that.
The Hmongs just seem so content with their simple lives. Our standard of living is so different here, I hadn’t imagined that people with such a lower standard could be happy. They are a beautiful, happy people. Quite an eye-opener.
|Hmong children, Sapa Vietnam|
|Hmong local selling in outdoor market|
You spent several days at an elephant conservatory?
Yes, six days, and that was a real highlight for me. I would LOVE to return to work with elephants with the Surin Project.
|Feeding elephants on the river after a long hot walk (100 degrees)|
Luisa facing lens
|Mahuts bathing elephants after a walk|
Elephants aren't mentioned in the highlights above. How did you end up there?
My sister and I, and my niece, just wanted to do it. I'm awfully glad we did.
|Large male elephant, not safe to be around on walks|
Tell us about a trip you took to a remote village in Cambodia to deliver water filters.
My sister met Joanna at a fund-raising meeting in Southern California for humanitarian activities, and they agreed we would deliver some water filters when we were in Cambodia. We were actually able to drive to the village, so it wasn’t particularly “remote” in that sense. It just seemed so removed in time. I mean, compared with the city we were staying in.
What about the village most impressed you?
I was shocked that the people looked happy, even living in extreme poverty compared to us in the U.S. I can’t stop thinking about that.
What about the Mekong Delta left a lasting impression on you?
Many lovely sights, including simple people living on the river with the changing tide. We visited Tonlé Sap, which is translated “Large Fresh Water River” or “Great Lake.” That was a place where Joanna said to concentrate on photographing reflections.
Did you make any friends in Vietnam or Cambodia that you expect to keep in touch with?
Yes, I made friends with the people at the Elephant conservatory, and a few of our tour guides are definitely people to keep in touch with—including our Cambodian guide, to whom I gave an old camera and a small netbook. He was just so kind-hearted, and I felt that he deserved these gifts.
|Sunrise in Vietnam|
Everyone who went with Joanna is American. Were references made to the Vietnam War? Did the fact that you were Americans seem to affect how you were treated?
No references were made that I heard, but sometimes the locals laughed when a crazy American woman would overpay for a souvenir. We were always treated very well.
|Temple at Angkor Wat|
When might you return?
Not sure. If I don’t go back to work with elephants, another thing I might do is teach English and spend a year abroad in Southeast Asia.
By the way, if you are interested in signing on to one of Joanna's tours, she's leading a “Southern Africa Adventurer Safari” to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe from August 24 to September 10.
Thanks! One of our contributing editors has spent considerable time in Africa. We're wondering whether he might be interested in learning more about how Joanna does business.
Would you return simply for some “rest & relaxation”?
Possibly. If I did, I might spend some time on beaches in Thailand. Thailand has great amenities.
What do you wish we'd asked but didn't?
Which area visited made the strongest impression on me?
The answer is, they all made quite an impression. There are many things about traveling in a third-world country that make you go “WOW!” The cultural traditions were what most impressed me. Becoming familiar with them made me wish I had more cultural traditions in my own life. The life-after-death part of Buddhism is super cool. They bury their dead in the ground and after three or four years—and a visit to the local witch doctor—they determine the right day to dig up the bones and put them in a new, smaller coffin which they place in a small temple that is usually on land they own.
So...you’re wishing that your own family followed the practice of digging up their dead ones’ bones after a few years...Interesting!
Well, of course not that, but there’s such a sense of…“family togetherness” in these cultures, and I wish I had more of that. With members of my family living all over the place, it’s hard to get them all together even once a year.