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The Beautiful Paradoxes of Southeast Asia

The four of us have agreed: We’re going back to Southeast Asia. It’s a long way from Kentucky to the Mekong, but what’s 24 hours in aisle seats and airports when the other side of the world awaits?

Two couples spent two weeks in three countries in January, including a week on the Mekong River aboard the Avalon Siem Reap, and for every place we saw, another exists. For every dish we enjoyed, another awaits. For every gift we bought, another remains.

“I wasn’t prepared for the juxtapositions we found,” Elizabeth McCoy of Planters Bank in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, told me afterward. Elizabeth’s bank has a travel program: the Passport 50 Club.

“The ancient history that exists alongside those modern cities surprised me,” she said. “The opulence of Angkor Wat, of all those temples and Buddhas, is comparable to the opulence of the cathedrals in Europe.”

My wife, Kim, was drawn to the kids. Whether they were learning English in village classrooms or showing her silver in dusty streets, she embraced those interactions every day. She was also impressed by the resourcefulness we saw in these cultures.

“One thing that has struck me at every stop is how they use everything,” she said. “Whether it is brick-making or rice candy, nothing is wasted here.”

Even Elizabeth’s husband, Hal, who wondered often why we were going so far, was won over by this land and its people. He bought a gorgeous shirt in Phnom Penh and wore it to dinner that evening to the delight of our fellow passengers. He says we’re going to Mongolia next. I think he’s serious.

The Avalon Siem Reap and its staff earned everyone’s respect as our portal into this world.

“The staff greeted every person by name,” said Elizabeth. “When there are only 36 passengers onboard, I guess you can do that. That doesn’t even happen in restaurants at home where they know me.”

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Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.