This is a continuation (trip) from SE Asia: Part 1
Vietnam: Ok. Here is the agenda for Vietnam: 3 nights in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh). See as much as possible, then take a bus to Cambodia. My first adventure in Vietnam went like this: I get out to the taxi stand and give my address to the cabby. He tells me it’ll be $17 US. I quickly take my paper back and walk away. The hostel I booked posted that it would cost $7-8 US. I go to the second cabby. He agrees to take me for $8 (US) and I must pay the toll to get out of the parking lot (as also indicated on signs outside and inside the taxi). Not having change, nor knowing how much it would cost, I give the driver a 100,000 dong ($10 US) note. It was the smallest I had. I watched as he (started talking and trying to distract me) exchanged my bill to an orange-ish bill (I later discover it was a 10,000 note– about $1 US) and tried to cover it with his hand. The toll booth operator gave the cabby back a 5,000 dong coin (about 50 cents). He gave me my change– as if the toll cost 190,000 dong! REALLY, joker!?! [Thanks, once again, Corrections, for the sleuth investigation skills!] I begin arguing with the guy, he acts all shocked and even “busts a reverse” in the middle of the road, as if he will go back and deal with the guy for cheating me. I told him that I watched him switch the money. He denies. I repeat and then say, “No- TAKE ME TO MY HOSTEL! and I am NOT paying you any more money!” Now, admittedly, that probably wasn’t the smartest move for a woman traveling alone, in a country she had never stepped foot in before, who doesn’t speak the language…. I realize that he could’ve taken me to the middle of nowhere, dropped me off and said “good luck,” or a million other horrible things, but–yes, that’s me– I have nerve!
I take out my camera, start taking photos of his car and ID badge. He starts apologizing and takes me to my hostel. When we arrive, he apologizes, I pay him a TOTAL of $8 US (yes, he returned my original note) and I am on my way. Great hostel and amazing host! I made a new friend and I HIGHLY recommend this place! The rooms are cheap, clean, have air conditioning and privacy. More than that, though, She exchanges money for you, books tours and is just an all-around super convenient place. Now, it’s in a side alley, with lots of great street photography ops. I was only around the hostel at night (tours all day) so I wasn’t able to get too many shots, but there were a few.
On to the tours!
I went on a tour of the a Cao Daoist prayer ceremony and the CuChi Tunnels. Cao Daoist is a religion specific to Vietnam. Basically, it is a “mix” of worshipping Jesus, Confusious, Buddha, and a Chinese revered prophet. Everyday, worshippers come to pray for an hour, twice a day.
They wear different colored robes to represent different religions. White: Cao Daoist;Blue: Hindu; Red: Catholic; Yellow: Buddhist…. interesting….
The CuChi Tunnels are tunnels used by the Vietnamese to hide from and protect themselves against the American bombs during the Vietnam War. Obviously, it was quite an anti-American place, but it was a very interesting place to visit. The tunnels were VERY small, yet intricate. The people had different bunkers for various activities such as eating, cooking, meetings for planning, etc. One set of tunnels were doubled in size so that Westerners could fit in them and experience the tunnels. We were even allowed to crawl 100 meters through some of the tunnels. They were quite small! I couldn’t stand at all and many places, they only way to get through was to crawl. 100 meters seemed like a half marathon in dark, damp, close quarters like that!
After the first tour, I walked down to the night market about half a mile away, and shopped. You know I love to haggle so I shopped just for the sake of haggling! What a hoot! I needed to get a good night’s rest, though, for the next day, I was off on yet another tour!
The Mekong Delta runs through several countries in SE Asia, ending in Vietnam. This tour was a mix of boat rides, bus rides and tour stops. I got to eat freshly made honey and try various honey candy, went to a coconut farm and watch coconut candy being made, held a 50 lb python, wait– what!? Yes, random! Here’s another random: a water buffalo chillin in the lake!
I also met a cool American lady who was around my age, happened to be in Vietnam on business and was leaving to go back to India (her current work location) the next day. Unfortunately, we didn’t exchange contact info and the tour group was suddenly split (due to another boat breaking down). We didn’t see one another again. I guess it wasn’t our destiny to remain friends. It was cool meeting her, nonetheless.
Cambodia: I took a long 12 hr bus ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia (from Vietnam) next to a young guy who decided that he wanted ALL his stuff in his lap for the entire 12 hr ride. WOW! This is what adventures are made of! I stayed at a great hostel in Siem Reap. I booked all my activities/tuk tuk drivers from the hostel so it was super convenient to see the city without a lot of hassle.
One of the “must see” spots in Cambodia is Ankor Wat. If you are not familiar with this wonderous place, they are basically a bunch of ancient temples with intricate carvings in the walls, pilars and structures. It’s estimated that a tourist should take 3 days to explore all that Ankor Wat has to offer. Since I didn’t have that kind of time, I hit as much as I could (with an English speaking guide) in one day. I woke up early to watch the sunrise, but it was too foggy, so no sunrise could be taken in. Oh well, I needed an early start to that day. There was SO much to see. Sadly, due to the heat, my lack of appreciation for super historical things, and the pressure of finishing the spot, I became bored with Ankor Wat. Don’t get me wrong, as you can see from the photos, it’s a gorgeous and awe-inspiring place. I was just over it after about 5 hrs. What I did see, though, was amazing. I also got to have a great (albeit disturbing, however) conversation with my guide about women, their roles in Cambodia and the marriage dowries. I can’t go into all that here, but as you know, anti-human trafficking is one of my passions…. it was an eye-opening conversation. We’ll leave it at that.
I took in a traditional Cambodian dance (show) and buffet, which was quite interesting and relaxing. Nice food and fun to watch all the foreigners in this restaurant. (Since it was a tourist attraction, logically 95% of the people in there were foreigners.) Afterwards, I got to meet up with a newly wed couple I met on my last trip abroad (to Taiwan). They were honeymooning and it was such a great thing to be able to sit and chat with them for an hour or so. “Small world”
In Cambodia, you can get a massage super cheap! I had a massage (or two) every day I was there. There was a bit of an “odd” experience though. To keep this family friendly, I will just say that you should refer to the paragraph above (about trafficking). Since I am a trained massage therapist, I wondered if some of the massage workers (I can hardly call them therapists) were doing other things on the side. Sad, sad reality of a desperately poor, southeast Asian country. Anyway, on to happier memories…..
I took an overnight/sleeper bus into Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Another adventure in that it was one of those (6 hr) moments when I wondered where the hidden cameras were and when they were going to pop out and tell me I was being punked. My bed/seat was above the “Piss Only Please” toilet with no running water and no toilet paper. Yea. To add to the hilarity, there were random wires hanging from the ceiling, just inches from my head– so that when I sat up, I was sure to avoid them– not sure if they were live or not, but didn’t want to experiment to find out. We made one pit stop in the middle of nowhere. When I say middle of nowhere, I mean: pitch black fields, one shack/building poorly lit with one vendor selling some random food, holes in the ground– they called a toilet area– with NO lighting— hoping not to fall in/ slip in. I couldn’t help but think about the trafficked girls, describing some of the locations they stop at, not knowing WHERE to run if they even had the nerve to do so. Crazy!!
Next day, I meet up with an acquaintance whom I met in Korea just before he and his girlfriend moved to Cambodia to work with anti-human trafficking agencies there. We had breakfast, talked shop and then after an hour or so, I got on with my tours for the day– had no clue I was in for such a heavy day. I visited the genocide/killing fields and the former prison.
THE FOLLOWING PHOTOS COULD BE CONSIDERED GRAPHIC.
I will not attempt to explain these places… Rather, I will let the photos speak for me…..just tragic.
Each person who died in these prisons and killing fields had a name. Visiting these locations sparked a renewed appreciation for life. I vowed to live each day, being grateful. I am usually a “glass half full” kinda gal, but this place made me want to live out loud even more… if nothing else, but to honor those who didn’t get that choice/freedom.
Go and see for yourself… and let your life be changed!
On a lighter note: I did also get some other great snapshots while out and about in Phnom Penh. Here are some photos around the temples in Phmom Penh.
I headed back home the next day. My flight was from Phnom Penh back to KL, Malaysia. I had a 9 hr layover in that airport. So, I found a waterfall, got a massage, and watched a lot of the community TV.
I was sad to see snow on the ground when I arrived in Seoul, (but happy to watch this sunrise from the plane). Especially because I was in a thin T-shirt and capri beach pants. Nothing a little costume change couldn’t resolve, though! It was good to be back home!