its been so long that its hard to get started....
03.12.2008 - 08.12.2008
Once so much time goes by,its SO hard to get back on the ball!
I enjoyed Phenom Phen much more than I thought I would at first. The backpackers street by the lakeside is so totally cute. Its a narrow street that's on the whole is full of litter, scrappy looking dogs, and children dashing between swerving moto drivers. There are also loads of monkeys that paruse the powerlines above, something like squirrels do stateside, and survey the chaos below.
There are millions of restaurents that serve damn good food and cheap beer. I had some pretty outstanding indian food. I had a not-so-outstanding veggie burger. Bars blasted music once the sun went down, free pool was being played by boisterious travellers, and bars sold joints for a $1 over the counter. I stayed at Number Nines Sister (thats the name) and it was a looovely place. My room was as clean as could be. I arrived with 3 french guys who I'd met on the bus from Siam Reap. We all shared a room for$6. The next day I moved in with my friend Amir, who I'd met all the way back in Pai, Thailand. It was easy to enjoy the good company in a place like Number Nine's Sister. A deck reached all the way out over the lake, and faced the western sky, so one could watch the sun set over the skyline. Big nest-like chairs and hammocks were everywhere, as well as a tv for watching movies and a pool table. The good times rolled.
CAUTION: THE FOLLOWING IS GRUSOME, READ AT OWN RISK!
Amir and I went to the killing fields the following day. It was a somber place, needless to say. Amir and I hired a guide, so we could get a good understanding of what we were looking at. Our guide told us, passionatly and articulatly, the atrocities that happened on this hallowed ground. First we approached the memorial, several stories high, which housed the thousands of skulls that were escavated from the mass graves. Most of them showed obvious sights of head tramas-bullets some-but mostly signs of bludgeoning, as the executioners did not care to waste precious bullets upon their victims. We learned that most of these people were well educated or outspoken against the kremer Rouge regiem.
Next we stepped in awed silence through the mass graves themselves. The field stretched on and on, with massive holes, now escavated that held sometimes hundreds of bodies stacked on top of one another. If someone wasn't dead from the wounds inflicted, they were drenched in fertilizer-like chemicals, and buried alive. One grave had over 900 bodies in it. Another was full of only women and children, without cloths. Another was full of headless bodies, presumably Kremer Rouge Soliders suspected of treachery, for this is how they were humiliatingly killed.
There were literally bones everywhere. You could see molars and other bone fragments sticking out of the ground. Victims cloths were emerging from the soil with the rains, you could see them everywhere too.
Here is a tree that served two horrible purposes. A Large speaker was suspended from it and it played loud music during the executions in order to drown out the moaning of the dying. Also, babies were bashed to death against it.
The follow photo is of a large tree/plant whose razor sharp serrated edge was used to...well, you can guess.
All and all it was a terrible, soboring insight into the darkest depths of human potential. These atrocities happened only about 30 years ago, and in many ways were far worse than Hilters murder of the Jews, yet few people have an awareness of what happened in Cambodia during the 70s. Pol Pot died an old man, never to pay for his crimes.
This is why it is all the more remarkable that the spirit of the Cambodians lives on full of kindness, patience, and virtue.
Amir and I also went to the Russian Market ( I have NO idea why it's "russian") and I snapped this photo:
and a dude crushing ice old school style!
The following day it was time to embark on a journey to a whole new country!
I took a three day tour from Phenom Phen to Saigon. We took a boat on the Mekong from Phenom Phen to the border across from Chao Doc. Crossig the border was really easy here, no long lines, no chaos. The border officers were really nice too, which is a surprise from how most of officals behave: that is, gruff and growley.
Mike, who traveled on the tour with me, and whom I'd previously met in Siam Reap, for some reason did't have the proper stamp indicating he'd come in to Cambodia. This baffled the officials, but instead of a nightmare decending upon our heads-something like Mike getting hauled off to Cambodian prison on the assumption that he somehow smuggled himself in-the officals nicely asked him to sit down for a while, while they sorted it out.
After a few minutes Mike was stamped out of Cambodia and we were all on our way. We motored across the Mekong once again and hopped on a bus, and in no time we were in Chao Doc, Vietnam.
Chau Doc was a bustling little border town. The first thing we noticed were that buildings were all built very thin and long and tall. The Vietnamese also paint their buildings all sorts of outragious colors, pinks, greens and blues being quite prevalent.
Also, every building has not one, but several antennaes on top. This makes the top of the town look like a forrest of TV antennaes. There are litterally hundreds as far as the eye can see, stretching all the way to the horizen.
Mike and I still had time before it got dark, so we wandered to the market place. There was THIS MANY Bananas
I asked Mike if he liked Bananas....he said THIS much
While on the boat to Chao Doc, our guide asked me if I wanted to teach english that evening. I agreed, and Mike expressed interest also. After dinner, we climbed into a chair that held two people, that was propelled by a vietnamese man peddling a bicycle like contraption. In a few minutes I was in a classroom with Vietnamese aged 10-40, who began asking me questions like "what is your favorite ice cream" "what music do you like" and "do you like Vietnam." The room was hot, despite the fans whirlng away above us, and in the heat I answered their questions and asked them some in return. For an hour, the 30 of us made small talk, and then I joined Mike, in his own classroom downstairs. He had charmed is roomful, especially the ladies, who seemed to look at him with large glassy eyes of admiration. about 20 of us went out after class to sit upon little tiny chairs in the town square at eat frozen yogurt from little tiny cups. The laughter amplifed when we started drawing pictures of farm animals and imitating their sounds and names in vietnamese and english. It was fun!
Chau Doc Fish Statue:
The next day we did a tour of a local cham village situated on the Mekong Delta. Here some of the most tenacious little girls I've yet encountered tried to sell us pancakes. I'll never forget their little voices, over and over, "banana, blueberry, pineapple pancake, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for ONE dollar!" over and over and over. and the followed us everywhere. We visited a mosk (the cham people are muslim, beleive it or not) and watched some of the local woman weaving intricate and beautiful textiles.
We moved again, bussed this time to Can Tho. Here is Uncle Ho!
Mike and I wandered around this town, avoided getting run over by motorbikes, ate some yummy local dishes, and played cards. The next day we visited the largest floating villages on the Mekong. Boats were sitting very low in the water, so overloaded were they with fruits and vegitables.
Here is a lady with a little boat
We also visited a rice noodle farm:
And is was here that I took a photo of a very smart little piggie!
After several long Hours on a bus, we made it to Saigon. I wasn't in Saigon long before meeting yet another crazy cat that I met back in Vang Vieng: Peter from South Africa! There wasn't too much time to catch up because I was on the move.
By the end of the evening in Saigon, I had a plane ticket for Hanoi the next day. Mike and I hit the sack early, bathed in the glow of the discovery channel (TV? whats TV? oooooh THATS TV!) and we had the first part of the day to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, just over an hour from downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
We were with a group of about 15, and were lead by a passionate and funny tour guide named Ky (pronounced Gee)The entire way to the Tunnels, he gave us a thorough history of early Vietnamese history, from successive chinese invasions on down.
The tunnels were really neat. After watching a short video, we were shown how the Vietcong lived and operated underground, under the radar, quite literally, of the americans.
The tunnels were TEEENY! check out this little secret opening to the tunnel below that Mike is kindly demonstrating:
We were shown all sorts of horrible traps that the Vietcong used to wound and maim American forces. Although they looked really wicked, it also showed the resoursefulness and cleverness of the Vietcong. The guide spoke with a kind of pride and humor about the Vietcongs ability to make the crudest yet most effective traps imaginable. All that was going through my brain was...OUCH!
Me in a tunnel:
The first tunnel they let us go down was about 10M long. It was artifically widened and reinforced with concrete for fat tourists. There was still a few in our group that couldn't fit.
After that, there was yet another section, which the tenacious, led by myself and Mike, continued down, for yet another 50 M. It was normal size, which is to say EXTREMELY NARROW AND LOW. Even few meters a dim, lowlevel light allowed one to see ahead. The tunnel branched, and daylight could be seen down a branch, Mike and the others went that way. Heart beating with the thrill, I continued on alone. For another 50M , the lights getting less and less frequent, I crept along in nearly total darkness. The tunnel curved several times, and sometimes dropped several meters where only a small dim light would show the dangerous drop in elevation. The hot tunnel bore down on all sides and coated me in decades old dirt and grime. My heart was literally pounding with the unearthly strangeness of it. Soon, a LIGHT! Up I climbed into a hut. I could hear my group calling my name. I climbed over a hill and my guide came over to me laughing and put his arms around me announcing to the group "She %100 Vietcong! She go All the Way!" My eyes were still dazzeled from the sunlight. I was covered in dirt. I felt like I'd been born, again. It felt good.
We were also shown a US tank that had been disabled by a land mine. Here's Crofty on da top!
Finally, while touring the Cu Chi Tunnels, one can not ignore the gun fire that is growing louder and louder. After the tank we approched a shooting range and were offered the chance to fire live rounds of ammo from a variety of guns. Mike and I couldn't resist and we split 10 bullets between us. It was LOOOOOUD! But it was kinda cool too. The guns were mounted, so there was no kickback, and the aim was horrible. Never the less, it was a "nice" controlled enviornment to try shooting a gun for the first time.
There is still sooooooo much to catch up on! That evening I flew to Hanoi and stayed in an AWSOME hostel which I wish I had more time in, Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. The rest will come soon. I've already uploaded some Halong Bay photos, which you can look up in my Photos here on Travellerspoint, or you can wait til tommrow, when I'll update you on Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Dalat, where I am now.