trip journal, travelling to exotic Viet Nam and Cambodia in 2011
First full day in Hanoi.
Flight was awful, except worse than usual for us, being
14 hours to Korea, then another 5 hours to Hanoi. Got some tasty
shrimp at the Korean airport in Incheon, at the "Food Capital" as
opposed to the "Food Square" across the hall. Both of the
restaurants looked identical, and both had an escalator up to the
ordering and eating area.
Our first outing of the day was to the Ho Chi Minh
Museum, which is in Hanoi here rather than in Ho Chi Minh City
(Saigon). It was an impressive building and we got to see the
embalmed Ho Chi Minh. He looked pretty peaceful and really
creepy. [sorry to those who worship the guy, it's just my natural
reaction to this kind of display of a long dead corpse.]
Afterwards, we took a walking tour through the old
quarter on a variety of streets named after products, like Candy
Road. [These streets used to be known for having many vendors and
shops offering that product, although this is not totally the case any
more.] We got to see a fried dog carcass, which they really do
eat here. The only dogs that don't look really nervous are ratty
little chihuahuas, which presumably have too little meat on them.
After lunch, we continued our trek, with the
indefatigable Tony leading us. We went to the fairly worthless
museum of ethnology, which had very few exhibits open. The most
interesting stuff was outside, where they had preserved several
different types of thatched huts, a longhouse and other wooden
buildings. Next to the museum is another incomplete museum which
is shaped like a kite. They apparently ran out of money before
completion. [I should note that inside the ethnology museum was a
toilet room, and that room had the worst, foulest odor of anywhere that
I had to smell something in Vietnam. Just a warning to future
Then, after we were already really tired, they took
us to the Temple of Literature, which was cool [looking] and had a topiary (with
animal shapes carved from the plants). This should have been the
big trip, rather than the ethnology museum. They had a huge
statue of Confucious near the end of the park/temple.
Dinner was at a forest-themed restaurant and it was
great. They gave me veggie equivalents for the meat dishes and
they were all quite tasty. Local beer is not so great and seems
modelled on Budweiser.
Hanoi day two
Travelled to Hoa Lo Prison in the morning, which is
also known as the Hanoi Hilton. Tony said the government claimed
that they never tortured John McCain, but conditions in the prison were
torture all by themselves. Trash food, continual restraint
positions [e.g. being stuck kneeling with your hands behind your back
for days at a time], etc... To me that equals torture.
[Just to be fair, I don't approve of Guantanomo either, and I'm a
believer in the importance of the Geneva Convention.]
Then a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. [Our
hotel has a] really nice and high quality buffet dinner and five dances
of Cambodia for us. Then much tiredness and sleep.
Supposedly wifi here is not free. Tersucken.
Siem Reap Cambodia (first full day)
Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom... Fascinating and
monumental works of art, many 3D carvings on the walls of Ramayana
events. Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple, and Angkor Thom
was a Buddhist and Hindu fusion. Really amazing relics.
Angkor Wat built around 1150, Angkor Thom around 1200. [Need some pictures inserted here...]
Dinner was at a Cambodian style restaurant and was
really tasty... Shrimp cakes, Siem Reap fish soup and sweet &
sour "bar" fish. Delicious. Now tired and still stuffed.
Siem Reap day 2
Trip to Angkor Artisans Center, where people were
learning how to make traditional crafts. They had a great number
of really nice items in the gift shop. Afterwards we went to a
market that was a bit of a letdown.
[Hmmm, not sure what else happened this day...]
Siem Reap day 3
Silk farm visit -- skipped.
Woke up when Dad did for his visit to the silk farm,
then tried to go back to sleep. Instead, got up and packed and
exercised. Four hour trip through Cambodian countryside (Holiday
in Cambodia...) seeing how rustics live... Not super well.
Much poverty, many small land holdings. This country needs a lot
of help. People here are wonderful and deserve assistance.
Got to Tonle Pandaw Mekong, our river boat.
It's a beautiful, mostly wood boat. Before dinner, a torrential
rain despite their promises. [Crew was apparently promising good weather.] I opened the cabin door to check out
the rain and was assaulted by a flying mass of little black beetles bent on
suicide. They came into the room but quickly bashed themselves to
death [against the walls and lights; it was bizarre].
Tasty supper, but it seemed that the fish was
wrapped in uncooked bacon. [I would not like that even if I still
[onboard boat, stops along way, where was this?]
300 steps up the mountain to the temple.
Hundreds of kids helped us [by holding our hands while we walked up],
two to each tourist (and there were about
60 of us tourists). At the top, many beautiful recent temples and
many people selling coloring books for the kids. I bought a bag
of gel candies for kids--piranhas swarmed. My two kids were a
at only getting one each of the candies. I gave them each a buck
though, before going back down. [One American dollar goes a long
way in Cambodia. Plus they were a pretty funny duo; I think the
sister was the older one, and the brother was fascinated by my digital
camera, which surprised me as I would have expected him to have seen a
lot of tourists before. But he was pretty young, maybe 5-6 and
his sister was probably 7-8. The kids in this village apparently
only get to do this "help the idiot tourists up the mountain" activity
on Sunday, since they're in school the other days (not sure about
In the afternoon, we went to Amica village.
Many water buffalo bathing at the entrance area. Kids there were
super polite. Many families (104? 140?) living in the same
area, some making crafts. Poverty conditions but people are
striving for something better. This is a good charity.
Sim's hvto.org also seems like a great one.
Phnom Penh first day
Travelled via cyclos to the Silver Pagoda and other
imperial buildings. This was a long dragon train of bikes with
one of us per bike, and a driver. Super hot though.
Afternoon trip was to 521, the school turned into a
torture and detention center by Pol Pot. Horrid conditions,
terrible tortures, hundreds killed there.
Then after that joy burst, we went to the killing
fields (choeung ek) and saw a stupa filled with skulls from Pol Pot's
genocide. Lots of depressions in the fields that had been mass
graves. Incredible sadness. What a scumbag dipsh*t redneck
madman animal Pol Pot was. What horrid fools and killers his
followers were. A low point in human history--one of too many.
Phnom Penh second day
Tripped to the National Museum, where we were not
allowed to take pictures. It was pretty cool though and had many
images of Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, and the Buddha.
Afterwards we travelled to Watt Phnom, another
temple. It was very beautiful inside, with painted walls and
differently composed Buddhas (e.g. stone, gold, emerald, etc.)
Afternoon gave us a trip to the central market,
where I splurged on a bunch of stuff, including a watch that was
supposed to be water resistant but which was not (as shower on the 16th
On the ship all day on the way to Chouh Dokh(sp?) in
Vietnam near the border... (aha, Chau Doc). Not much going
on this day.
[This day turned out to be the traditional day for
Dad and I to argue about something stupid. We have one somewhat
heated stupid argument per trip, but generally do well the rest of the
Morning in Chau Doc, a boat ride to the floating villages. To get to the village, we
had to cross a "monkey bridge" at the dock, which was quite
precarious. [It was a strong base rope and two somewhat usable
railing ropes, where one walks along on the base rope and hopes to
weigh less than the unknown weight limit.] Village was very poor,
with some 5 kid families living on the same very small boat.
After some boat trouble [and a few Keystone cop style boat switches
with the other tour group], we got back and took a rickshaw ride around
the city. Somewhat bouncy and dangerous, but very interesting.
In the late afternoon, we took another boat ride to
the island of Cu Lao Gien, where a nice Catholic church exists.
We walked around it and nearly melted. Not much going on there,
but we heard about the tumultuous past of the Roman Catholics in
Vietnam (killed en masse by some of the Viet kings).
[An aside] The boat... beautiful hardwood floors and
walls. Toilet doesn't work right--must hold flush handle
continuously. Shower water heat is nuts, water flow drops off randomly,
dining room cramped, saloon cannot hold everyone. [Beautiful but
not super functional.]
[Took] sampans to the Sa Dec market. Amazing
of fresh vegetables and still wiggling fish. Rat carcasses,
pre-cleaned. Also the house where "The Lovers" takes place.
[Forgot to mention that] on the morning tour, we saw a brick factory
with multiple huge
beehive ovens, including one still being constructed.
Afternoon trip to Ca`i Be` village. Cai Be has
many tasty treats being made: coconut milk candy, kind of like
toffee... Rice paper for spring rolls... Puffed rice cooked
with hot sand... Rice crisps, tasty crackers of rice...
Rice whiskey, very strong, some with snakes in it. Quite a fun
Last dinner on ship, farewell dinner. They
hosed me pretty well with a supposed vegetable spring roll that was
actually loaded with pork. I got pretty mad and spat it
out. ****ers. Do they not know that pork is not a ****ing
vegetable? Glad this is our last day on this veggie-unfriendly
Off Ship and Saigon
My Tho was where we were docked? [When,
yesterday? today? maybe both.] Then we travelled to
Saigon (or as it is known now, Ho Chi Minh City [many of the vietnamese
people who spoke English still called it Saigon]). Worthless
tours followed--Reunification palace (okay [but very humid and I was
stupid enough to carry my full backpack around through the whole
place]), Central Post Office (bleh), Notre Dame Cathedral (notably
lame, plus closed).
We ate lunch at Pho 2000, or Presidential Pho. Very
delicious, but the spring rolls had pork in them again. [Pho 2000
is so called because that's where President Bill Clinton visited and
ate Pho in the
year 2000. It was really good pho, plus they had an actually
vegetarian-seeming veggie pho. The place was plastered with
pictures of Clinton eating the soupy noodle dish and smiling.] We
basked in the sun and splashed in the pool at the hotel for the
afternoon. Dinner was at "The Deck" restaurant, which was tasty
as organized as a drunken spider's web.
Saigon second day
Toured Chinatown in Saigon, was interesting and I
bought a crappy, knock-off bag (supposedly North Face, but obviously
not actually that brand). Ate lunch at Saigon Bar, supposedly
where journalists gathered during the Vietnam War.
Then a tour to the War Remnants Museum, where we
were reminded what horrid beasts Americans are. Unfortunately
true to some extent, given the effects of Agent Orange and dioxins
America used on the jungles. [We were constantly reminded of
these by the many deformed people who sold souvenir materials around
the museums, and by the band playing music at the museum, which was
composed entirely of children with genetic deformities supposedly
caused by Agent Orange.]
After the war remnants museum and propaganda
festival, we went to Ben Thanh market. Another exposure to overly
aggressive sales people [of all ages; I got snagged to buy some
expensive bookmarks (two bucks?) by one persuasive little business person
(a girl of maybe 8). It was hard to turn them down, despite the
hard sell. But if you buy anything, a swarm of new sales people
gathers around you. Another little girl berated me for buying the
bookmarks, because she had offered me a better deal previously. I
sent her and others towards my brother and sister in a cowardly attempt
to hold onto some of my cash.] Conned into buying bookmarks and a
few fans and possibly some other things.
Dinner was at the Vietnam house [, which was a
slightly sad parting of the ways party. People who we hadn't
talked to all trip, because they were on the other of the two busses
for tours, pretended to care that we existed. Quite nice of them really. The food was pretty
great, although I didn't write anything about it at the time.]
This trip to Vietnam and Cambodia is the farthest
we've gone, and is the most different culture from our own that we've
visited. The theme continues that human beings can be great and
amazing anywhere, even if their folk patterns are entirely different
from what you're used to. The Cambodians we met were wonderful
people still recovering from a staggeringly bad governmental
oppression, but it was clear their spirits were not broken. The
Vietnamese we met were really nice to us, regardless of the bad history
we shared in the 60s and 70s.
The communist government in Vietnam was mostly out
of sight, except for their blocking of Facebook when we were in
Saigon. They did have smallish party buildings at regular
intervals throughout the cities and countryside, but seemed in no great
rush to do anything oppressive to us or their own people. The way
our guide told it, it seemed like the Vietnamese Communist Party
figured out that having no private property meant both that the shared
public property was not valued by people, so it was always trashed, and
that people also didn't strive towards anything, since they always made
the same amount of money regardless of their jobs. For a while
the party did try to totally equalize everyone, where Vietnamese people
had very small apartments, such that some in the family would sleep in
the kitchen, and the apartment would share a bathroom between 12
people, etc etc. The notable exception to this equalization was
the communist party member housing...
But this kind of lifestyle sucked, and the common areas
were not kept up, and things generally decayed, the economy stagnated,
etc. So, they reversed that trend and started allowing people to
own property, have different salaries for different jobs... In
essence, they reembraced capitalism. This did seem to lead to a
renewed burst of life in their economy and culture, so despite the
government still being communist in name, it's at least not the
reality-distorting type of communism of elsewhere... It's not the
type of Communism that led to massive collectization and starvation in
Russia, and certainly not the lowbrow anti-intellectual twaddle of Pol
Pot's Khmer Rouge. Given that the Vietnamese army invaded
Cambodia in 1979 and rescued the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge,
the world actually has a debt to Vietnam for halting a humanitarian
disaster that was still spiralling downwards at the time.