A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam cont'd & Cambodia

Hello all! We've been so busy & haven't had a chance to send a new update for a while, so here it is!

We spent some more time in our favourite place Hoi An where we did some more shopping & eating plenty of the great food! You'll be pleased to know Logan is now fully recovered & back to his energetic self! As the city is a UNESCO protected site you must buy a pass for 3 days to enter. This also allows you to visit museums, old houses & temples within the city walls, which are all beautiful. It's so nice to see how proud the people are of their city & how well preserved & clean it all is. We shipped some things home then flew to Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City.

The locals call it Saigon as in the south of Vietnam they did not want communism (hence the Vietnam War), they were capitalists, however when the Americans withdrew from the war the communist armies in the north took over the country & sent the capitalists to 're-education camps' aka jails, to teach them communism. Sorry for the history lesson, I'm sure you all know this anyway- we were just really confused at the start of the trip not knowing why some call it Saigon & some say Ho Chi Minh City!
Saigon was okay, just a big city, not much to see in the way of culture. It was about 10 degrees warmer here than Hanoi! It's very organised & developed, seems like there's alot more money here. We went to the posh Sheraton hotel for happy hour which was ridiculously pricey! $12 for a small bottle of water!! Great views over the city though.

We had a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels which were incredible- they had 'western- sized' tunnels so we could see what it was like down there, they were tiny! Logan was rolled into a ball squeezing through! I couldn't do it- especially with the 30 Japanese tourists herding behind us! Our tour guide was brilliant, he was in the Vietnam war so we were lucky to be able to hear a first hand account of his experiences. The tunnels went on forever, criss- crossing everywhere underneath us. There was a shooting range here with loads of different guns to choose from, Logan tried a semi automatic, so loud! It felt very authentic walking through the jungle with booby traps along the path and tunnels underneath whilst shots were going off everywhere! Really set the scene!

We visited the war museum later on which was extremely upsetting. They had huge tanks & planes out the front of the museum, a massive collection. Inside there was lots of information about the war & different recounts from those affected & involved. Like most of the information in south east asia regarding the war it was all very one sided with alot of false information & images. For example, there was a picture where an American tank was dragging some Vietnamese men behind it and the caption stated this was one of the ways Americans tortured their victims, by dragging them alive. In the same museum they had a section where they had collected photos that foreign media had taken during the war. This picture was taken by a foreigner & was in fact to show how many dead bodies were left in the villages & they had to take them away to bury them- this was also confirmed from other sources. The most tragic part of the museum was seeing images of all the Vietnamese people who were affected by Agent Orange either during the war or generations after. To give you an idea of some of the effects- people's eyes were on their chins, hands on their bottoms, lips on their cheeks. It was truly devastating. People can be born with so many different disabilities, cancers or deformities. As if seeing all of this wasn't harrowing enough, they actually had the bodies of babies that had died in the womb because of Agent Orange preserved in tanks.
On a lighter note.. We had a tour along the Mekong to see the floating markets and to go to the local factories where they make honey, coconut candy & rice crispies! Very good! This was our last night in Vietnam so to celebrate a great past 10 days we had KFC..! It's really good here! (We're so cultured right?!)

We travelled overland to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, transfixed by the amazing scenery outside! It was very green & undeveloped, a nice change from the ugly tall grey buildings covering Vietnam. It was boiling hot here, everyone stripping off their thermals & jumpers! Noone could believe how developed it was, more so than anywhere in Vietnam, loads of banks, electrical stores & investment companies lining the streets. We had a cyclo tour around the city where men pedal bikes behind you whilst you're attached in a buggy- so relaxing! The palaces, parks, monuments & temples are so beautiful, covered in gold in the middle of busy roads. The sunsets in Cambodia are the best we've seen. Huge, red suns & pink skies. We all immediately liked it here, it had a great, friendly atmosphere. We went on a dinner cruise which was good fun- Cambodian cuisine is delicious! Coconut curries are the best here! The markets are huge, we got quite lost & I got too excited buying lots of clothes!

The next day was another depressing day. We visited the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot's regime) and the S21 prison where people were interrogated & tortured before being taken away to the fields & killed. Approx 3 million people were killed. They had thousands of images of all of the victims & documents describing what atrocities took place at this time which were all found here when the army raided the prison. It was chilling walking through the rooms where prisoners were held captive in tiny cells & rooms where the steel beds & torture devices were still in place where they were found. The prison was formerly a school, which makes the situation even more messed up. We went to one of the Killing Fields where 129 huge mass graves had been uncovered. Throughout Cambodia there are many killing fields, lots of them are bigger than this one. Some were graves of thousands of people. There are still 32 graves where we visited which have not been excavated, as the government does not wish to disturb any more souls. They estimate there are still hundreds of bodies missing. Very eerie. They had a memorial which was made of glass & had 17 levels of victims skulls, bones & clothes, all in categories e.g women 15- 25 years old. There was a huge tree in the middle of the fields which they used to kill babies by smashing their heads. It is such a huge tragedy, one which is hard to even fathom. When the Cambodians tell us about it, it brings tears to their eyes, they will never stop hurting, so many of them were witness to it & had family killed. Although it's a difficult place to go we're so glad we did.

Our tour guide is Cambodian & so to show us his hometown & the people he took us to his friend's daughter's 13th birthday party. It was so much fun! They setup a huge table for us & cooked us great food & showed us traditional Cambodian dancing! The little kids were gorgeous, they were dancing with us & jumping up on our shoulders! We had the best night, it was really cool to be part of a local celebration & to feel so welcomed! The Cambodian people sure know how to party!

On our way to Siem Reap- which is supposed to be a 6 hour drive but took us 10 & a half (the excuse was there were too many cows on the road which slowed us down, but we actually only passed one herd!) we stopped off at a silk factory to learn how it is made. The business was owned by an American & his Cambodian wife who haved lived there for 20 years. He was an amazing guy. He fought in the Vietnam war & when it ended he wanted to go back to help the people in Cambodia who suffered and so he worked for an American company which provided prosthetic arms & legs for those injured in the war. Many of the people who received prosthetics would hide them & continue to beg or would sell them. The company eventually ran out of funding so they had to withdraw their services, however Bud (American man) still wanted to help so he started up a small silk weaving business employing disabled people. He began to find out that parents were actually deliberately maiming their children so that they could bring money home for the family. Due to this he started to employ both disabled & able bodied people. This balance seemed to work and so grew his business which now employs about 45 people. The process of producing silk requires ALOT of patience & time! Basically the worm has to be protected from predators while it's growing, it changes colour when it's ready to weave a cocoon which it stays in, you must put the cocoons in the sun to kill the worm inside then you put the cocoons in boling water to separate the strands and unwind the raw silk from the cocoon. A single strand of silk is so strong- although it takes 20 strands to make one usable thread & one cocoon produces about 1500 metres of silk. There are huge manual machines which the women in the factory work on to make silk scarves, it's a really complex machine! The scarves were quite expensive but the women in the factory were paid really well plus they have maternity leave & some holiday leave (which is unheard of in southeast Asia!) so it goes to a great cause.

A speciality around Cambodia is tarantulas & bugs. Eugh. We stopped at a tarantula farm & Logan had 3 walking on his chest! I had one put on my bare arm & anyone who knows me knows that I freak when it comes to spiders, can imagine my reaction! This huge bloody spider started crawling across my skin & noone would get it off me & I just burst into tears! Needless to say facing ones fears does not always work..! Women at the farm were walking around with huge piles of fried tarantulas on plates! Our guide wanted us to have a good 'experience' & bought a mixed bag of tarantulas, sparrows, frogs, crickets & cockroaches! Only the boys were brave enough! Logan had a cricket & it continued to scratch inside of his throat the rest of the day! Not a delicacy for the Western diet!

On our first day in Siem Reap we went to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It was 5 am & we could not believe how packed it was! The sun finally came up at 7 am which was so worth the early start. The tempe is just breath taking. We got some fantastic shots which we must upload soon! We had a tour around Angkor which is massive! It is a magical place to go. Many of the inscriptions were broken away but the murals on the walls were completely intact. It is amazing seeing stories carved by people from thousands of years ago, almost as if they are communicating with you all these years later. Angkor Wat is made up of many temples at different sites. We visited a few more which were great, full of nooks & crannies leading to small shrines or statues. You could explore in these all day. They are so cleverly built. By this stage the temperature had reached 37 degrees so everyone was pretty keen to go to the hotel for a swim!! Eventually so many temples begin to resemble each other! We also visited the Tomb Raider temple the next day, where the movie is fimed. It is incredible! The ancient temple has gigantic trees entwined around the stone & the doorways. It looks like the trees are reclaiming their land! This was our favourite temple.

The town of Siem Reap is cool, not much to it but there are loads of small restaurants, bars & shops along Pub St. The massages are the cheapest ever- $2 for a one hour foot massage, $3 for a full body massage for an hour! They do a good job too! I always feel sorry for the ladies who do Logan's feet because it's actually double the work!! For dinner we went to a cabaret style restaurant where there was traditional Cambodian dancing. The costumes are fantastic. They have a famous restaurant in town where Angelina Jolie always goes, they had her picture everywhere! She came here alot whilst filming Tomb Raider. We tuk tukked home which is the most popular mode of transport- like an open cart attached to a motorbike- good fun and cheap- as long as you negotiate the price beforehand!

We visited a floating village just out of Siem Reap. 3000 people live here & their houses, as well as schools, churches, basketball courts, shops, restaurants, alligator & snake farms are all literally floating in the middle of this enormous lake which looks just like an ocean. It's very odd. These people are some of the poorest people we have seen. It was pretty confronting actually. People would ride around on crappy little boats with their babies & small children & try to pull up onto tourist boats. The babies in their arms would be so dehydrated & sick from the heat, it was just awful. The guide told us that many of the women purposely do this to their children as it's the only way they can get money which is so sad. We gave the women bottles of water trying to get them to give it to their babies but they just put it in their boat & kept begging. It was frustrating but it is really a tough call. If you give them money then the cycle continues where the children are at risk of illness or death because the parents know they can earn an income from this or if you don't give them money you worry that they will have no food to feed their families. Often we would try to give them meals or bottles of clean water. The lake they live on is absolutely filthy. They wash clothes in it, bathe in it, swim in it, put their sewage waste & rubbish in it & drink from it. Of course illness is rife. The children on the boats carry huge pythons on their necks which is a very strange sight. They rip out their fangs. There are tiny babies on the little boats with big snakes crawling all over them & children swinging them around their heads. They gave me one to put around my neck for a dollar, I can do snakes! Was a bit scary when it started to constrict though!
The thing that really touches you in these kinds of places where it is just pure poverty, is the fact that children can still smile & laugh. It makes you wonder how they can still find happiness when their situation is so awful. It is a type of innocence which is truly admirable.

On our last night in Cambodia our guide took us to his auntie's house in a small village where she made us dinner. She owns a restaurant in town & the food was delicious! They went to so much effort for us, they set up a buffet table with lots of local specialities & decorated the tables outside with flowers, lights & pretty tablecloths. They showed us a popular style of dance which is sort of like the macarena, so fun, we were dancing for ages! The Cambodian people are so sweet & very generous. We like it alot here & will definitely be back!

We returned to Bangkok where the tour ended. I had not been sick at all the entire month then at both of the border crossings on the way back to Bangkok I was sick- both times when they were stamping my passport! Such bad timing! It was just so humid, it got the better of me. We said goodbye to our group, some of them on the tour had been with us the entire month (the tour is made up of 4 different legs of the trip, we picked up & left people along the way), so this was strange. We'll be keeping in touch with the few people we became close with, they're really great. We got an early flight from Bangkok to Singapore where we hung around the airport for 5 hours waiting for our flight to Beijing, at least it's a nice airport to be stuck in! The next instalment of our trip will be backpacking through China! Hope you enjoyed this! Lots of love Logan & Clare XXX

Posted by cdiblmull 04:54

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