Cruising in Southeast Asia

If you are a western Baby Boomer who loves international travel, the images of Southeast Asia with which you grew up are mostly pretty grim. The Vietnam War is one of the defining experiences for our generation. No lilting melodies from The King and I (50th Anniversary Edition) can erase the Tet offensive, bombing Haiphong Harbor, My Lai, or the fall of Saigon. Add to that the Khmer Rouge, the Pathet Lao, Cold War politics, and military coups, and the impressions are still fairly dark.

There are a lot of haunting memories about the Vietnam War. Wikimedia Commons

Even more recently, we have had the Asian Contagion financial crisis, the mummified military junta of Myanmar, and the caning in Singapore. Are these places you really want to visit? In fact, yes. As the dynamics of world politics have moved on from the Cold War, and as marketplace economics have seeped into these countries, they are more welcoming than ever.

Think: Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore.

Overarching Themes: Though sandwiched between the two largest countries in the world, these nations have developed distinct histories, cultures and legacies. There has been, of course, the requisite amount of conquests and warfare, right down to the modern day. Thanks to European Colonialism, World War II and the Cold War, this particular corner of the continent has figured prominently in our lives. Now is the time to find out about the people of these fascinating cultures. From their point of view, they have been through a lot and today is a brighter day.

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You can never have enough Buddhas

The entire region is heavily Buddhist, with many Hindu influences, and a hint of Confucianism, as well. These philosophies are very different from our own. Yet, they have many basic similarities with the principles of a self-reliant society like ours. Perhaps, it is time to look at their teachings and see what we find that might be applicable to our own daily lives. The temples are fascinating for their sculptures, artwork and architecture. These are active congregations and you will be visiting while local people are worshiping. In a place like Singapore, you can visit shrines to four major belief systems in one afternoon. As you drive through the countrysides of these nations, you will notice that the temples are isolated patches of serenity among the disarray of daily existence.

Travel to Hanoi

These Yankees hats in the Hanoi Old Quarter market reflect the tilt towards Western pop culture

Most cruise itineraries through this area will give you a brief sampling of these countries. Chances are excellent you will come away thinking you will be back. Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are featured more than the others because of their extensive coastlines, major cities and accessibility. Cambodia and Malaysia appear on selected itineraries. Myanmar and Laos are still in the very early stages of tourism. A cruise is definitely a great way to introduce yourself to these exotic destinations.