A Travellerspoint blog

Ho Chi Minh - Saigon, 40 years later


View Around the world ın 8 months on chrisvasil's travel map.

We crossed into Vietnam and settled into the backpacker district, which is like Bangkok's Khao San Rd only without the endless supply of cheap and delicious food stands. Every building on a couple of the streets is a 'minihotel', which are generally pretty nice 5-storey buildings with 2 rooms per floor and standardized pricing ($12 per night almost everywhere when we were there). Had we known that there are more than one such street we could probably have saved a couple dollars and perhaps had better quality by going to a different street and avoiding the Lonely Planet Recommended premium, but we had no qualms with the place we stayed.

The next day we hit the sights: the market, presidential palace, and war museum.

The market had a blend of wierd stuff and tourist shops, with raw goat (?) hearts, intestines and brains among the more exotic meat items.
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Sue! How could you?! And with Ho Chi Minh?!?! Well, I guess she is from China...
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Here's the presidential palace, looking like a university library.
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At the War Remnants Museum, which is probably the best (most terrible?) war/genocide museum we've seen. Inside are mostly pictures of the effects of Agent Orange and napalm and the like, and some (mostly American) weapons. The hippies had good reason to protest.
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Here are 'tiger cages' used for storing VC prisoners, encased in barbed wire. Seeing them, the first thought is - that's a really small cell. Then we see the display saying they were shared - 6 x 2.5x 1.3 ft for 2-3 ppl and 6 x 2.5 x 3 ft for 5-7 prisoners.
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A jeans brand that probably wouldn't be popular in North America
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Making up for the unimpressive Presidential Palace, HCMC has some excellent parks, big and well manicured. The jungle gyms are similar to the West's, but have a wider range of activities, and look safer (in person).
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On the way home we happenned across a Christmas village, which was great to see a few days before Christmas. There were also random displays here and there in front of bars and shops.
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Typical street in Vietnam - lots and lots of motorbikes. Once you get used to it, being a pedestrian in a motorbike city is really easy - it is safe to cross any street anywhere at any time (in daylight), as long as you walk slowly and always look at oncoming traffic
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Our last day in town we took a day trip, a boating tour along the Mekong Delta with stops in a farm, a candy factory, smaller canal boats, and a small music performance.

Rickety waterfront houses
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Gravel mined from the Mekong for use in concrete and construction. Singapore got much of its landfill from the Mekong in Vietnam, and now in some parts the river is too deep for nativ aquatic life or is changing shape. Vietnam has now outlawed the export of sand and gravel from the Mekong, though it is still used for domestic construction.
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Lazily drifting along
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The farm was very cool, with irrigation canals everywhere, a lot of frogs, and a cockfight! Actually the cockfight was more like rooster wrestling than pecking, and there was no clear winner nor apparent injury. The roosters didn't have the metal spikes that are used in real cockfights.
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Me handling a snake. A guy a few minutes before me angered it by (inadvertantly) choking it, gripping much harder than he was supposed to. But it was calmed back down when I got there. The skin was scalier than I was expecting, being not fully fluid when it moves.
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We're on a boat!
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Some singing as our day and our Saigon adventure come to an end.
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On our way out of Saigon we got an open-end bus ticket: for $35 we get a sleeper bus ticket all the way up to Hanoi, with 4 stops along the way where we can stay as long as we want. The sleeper bus wasn't great, but probably worth the extra $10 instead of having a regular bus for the 3 overnight buses. The company we booked with, TM Brothers, was terrible - the people working there were worse than useless, the time on the ticket for one of the buses didn't match the brochure (which said there were muliple departures available daily), one of the buses had roaches, the onboard washrooms on all buses were permenantly broken ("Broken" was written in marker on the door), and the sleeper compartments were just not very comfortable.

Posted by chrisvasil 22:23 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Phnom Penh - Pol Pot did some bad things


View Around the world ın 8 months on chrisvasil's travel map.

Back in the capital, we picked up my visa and did some walking around.

There are international schools every 2 blocks, it seems, though at some points it gets ridiculous. Here is the very fancy Hello American Kindergarten, in a nicer building than any school I know of in North America (granted, I only know public schools).
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Here's a random temple.
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An asian cartoon cat from hell, I think Hell Kitty is the next big thing.
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We went to the S-21 war museum, at a former school that was turned into a torture building and prison under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. It was a stark reminder of what men can do, and the notion that some must be stopped. Under this particular version of communism, original farmers became landowners and people from the cities (including those that had recently moved from the countryside in search of opportunity) were legally second-class citizens, without the same rights or legal protections. After the world said "never again" after WWII, we let it happen again, and it would likely have been completely unchecked if communism hadn't been the enemy at the time (as fascism might have a generation earlier if Germany hadn't attacked so many of its neighbors, and as it apparently is in Darfur). This is still a step less than what we saw in the war remnants museum in Saigon, but that's another post for another day.

Here is a typical room in the first building, which housed high-ranking officials from the prior government.
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There are many, many pictures of prisoners.
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Pictures of what was dug up from mass graves
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The next building was another residence complex for prisoners of the regimes, but with much smaller cells and barbed wire preventing escape into the courtyard (or suicide by jumping from a 4-th story window)
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Drawings of the conditions of the time
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Actual skulls from the mass graves.
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On to less aggreiving sights, we walked past the independence monument and Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument en route to the Royal Residence and Silver Pagoda (which had unfortunately reached capacity for the day, so we couldn't enter).
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More temple
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Big hot pot dinner, though a bit overpriced at $10 for two.
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Posted by chrisvasil 07:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Update Dec 4-20 Laos, Cambodia

Published Jan 2
Since then we spent 10 days in Vietnam, and have been in China since Dec 28.
We spent Christmas in Vietnam in a hotel with Internet. I had coffee and didn't sleep the night of the 25th...
We spent New Years in Kunming, and fell asleep before midnight.
Now travelling with Sue's mom for most of the month, then we'll be living with her family until after Chinese New Year, at which point I go back home (she probably follows a bit later).

Posted by chrisvasil 07:16 Comments (0)

Siam Reap - The temples of Angkor Wat


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Our hotel in Siam Reap was the best ever - $5 a night for a really fancy room in a hotel that offers free laundry just as we were running out of clothes. Victory Guest House. Awesome.
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Siam Reap itself is mostly pleasant, a modern city with several old markets but not many sights to be seen. We were a bit tired for a lot of our time in the city because we had tried some 'happy' pizza with traditional Cambodian ingredients that have that effect. Not very happy though, and we won't be having any of that again. Here are a market, Univeristy of South East Asia, and happy Sue.
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We used bicycles to go around Angkor Wat and the surrounding area, which is a few kilometers out of town and has dozens of thousand-year old temples. We biked about 30 kilometers, about 5 of which were because the site is very poorly laid out - there is only one ticket issuing booth for the entire complex (which is the size of a city), and that booth is 4km away from Angkor Wat. So after getting to Angkor Wat we had to turn around, go down a different road, and get tickets. I started by myself to get 2 tickets, but after 5 minutes of cycling one of the site officials tracked me down and told me to wait because they need to take our pictures, and another official told Sue to also go to the ticket booth. I saw her coming down the street a few minutes after that, and we went to get the tickets together. As usual my attempt at gallantry failed, but at least I didn't have to go and come back emptyhanded.

Here's us at Angkor Wat. It's a nice temple complex, though more impressive from the outside than the inside.
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Off we go to the next stop. This is Angkor Thom, the next temple complex, a few kilometers past Angkor Wat. Within the walls are a half-dozen temples.
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Finally we went to Ta Prohm - certainly the coolest of the temples. It was left to jungle while most others were restored, so trees grow improbably on rooftops and have roots straddling walls. This is where Tomb Raider and some other similar movies were shot, and really captures much of what the imagination conjures up when thinking of 'ruins'.
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Posted by chrisvasil 07:23 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Phnom Penh - Floating Island Guesthouse sucks sucks sucks


View Around the world ın 8 months on chrisvasil's travel map.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is a big city with some charm but not too much to do. We spent 2 short sejourns in the city, as I had to get my China visa. We were meaning to do 2 days then 2 days, but cut the first stay short short because of a bad experience with the guest house we stayed at. That ended up being for the best, as it allowed it an extra day in Siam Reap (I needed to be back Friday to pick up the passport from the consulate, otherwise we'd have stayed at the fancy hotel even more than 3 days).

Basically it was an ok budget place, but the staff was extremely rude. When we were looking at the place we were told there was wireless internet and hot showers. There was no internet (he told us that night that it's available until 8pm, and the next morning he said it's at a place down the street), and I took a cold shower - Sue only got hot water after asking reception to turn it on. Later on I asked how to get to the China embassy. The guy that runs the place said it's about 5km away. I asked how much transport should cost. He said another guy working there can take me there for $5. I asked if it's available for cheaper, he said no. I then consulted my guide book, as of 2006 it was 50 cents. I asked him about that, he got mad and screamed "you walk then!". One of the guests, a Frenchman, joined in and said there's no way I'll pay less than $5. We left, and after a bit of negociation we paid $1 to someone outside. When we came back, we filled our water bottle at the water cooler, and the same guy says something like "What? You can't afford to buy water??". So we check out after 1 night instead of 2, and go to Siam Reap. Part of the reason this was so upsetting was that people running guest houses are generally extremely friendly (this is our first negative experience in 6 months of budget travel), and this place was recommended by our travel guide. Also this place cost $3.50/night, so the amount he wanted to overcharge on taxi was more than one night's stay.

Anyway, the bus from Laos broke down a couple times (blew a tire), allowing us get out and see the landscape a bit better. The bus was pretty good, a karaoke bus with 20 white people and 2 Lao people. A quarter of the time they were showing a Michael Jackson DVD, and the rest of the time one of the Laos guys was singing along to Lao music.
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Posted by chrisvasil 07:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged lodging Comments (0)

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