Vietnam, first impressions

Hi all, well my border crossing at Moc Bai was easy.. if not long winded (took about an hour and a half just to get stamped out in Cambodia and back in at Vietnam) - so I didn't end up in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City till about 4 in the afternoon (left Phnom Penh at about 7:30am).

First Impressions

First impressions of Vietnam are... well, great!  I wasn't really knowing what to expect.. but so far it seems like a fusion of everything I've seen in asia so far, but with a personality all of it's own.

There's a strong chinese influence, a bit of the pushy cambodian spirit for tourism and definitely a fading french colonial (like Laos) look to alot of the buildings - and so far the people themselves are lovely, the foods not too pricey and the digs are nice - I've set myself up in a swish $8/night room which has air-con, TV with cable, fridge, warm shower.. nice bed.. all the mod cons - I even indulged in watching TV in bed this morning (they had a 2 hour animated "star wars - the clone wars" on, it was tolerable... probably because I've had TV in so long).

Poverty seems less "in your face" here then anywhere else I've been except maybe Thailand, the streets are all very clean and though many still wear traditional clothes, carry baskets on their heads and ride bicycles there is a definite abundance of technology in any peoples hands - obviously this is a bustling city, with me in the heart of it (well the stomach probably) - so my first impressions are really of HCMC as opposed to Vietnam, but I feel strangely at home here - maybe it's just because it reminds me a little of China (Which has been my favourite country so far) - but I really don't feel any culture shock - I definitely think I'll enjoy my last 3 or so weeks of travel here, and my stomach is back on form so that will hopefully include loads of local cuisine :)

Rain and art museums

Well today I decided to go and check out the art museum... it was pretty cool - an interesting mix of war related art, with uncle Ho featuring in many aspects (I love his goatee)... ancient artifacts from the last 1800 years and some pretty cool pieces of porcelain, bronze work.. oh and some modern'ish artwork, of umm... varying qualities, but it was insightful to see how various techiques and styles have been adopted and changed/chanelled into truely vietnamese works.

The museum is set in a old french colonial building with stained glass windows, dusty tiled floors and poor lighting... but it's truely gorgeous it's own quaint way - I probably spent as much time looking at the bulding itself as the exhibits... which was enhanced by the amazing electrical storm taking place outside - mucho goodness - then again I'm always happy when it rains.

Fruit vendors

Oh.. and early this morning I bought some fruit (granny smith apples from NZ, and oranges from California.. apparently) - I'm not sure quite how, but the lady at the market somehow managed to sell me almost entirely bad fruit... but I would've sworn as I watched her pick them that they looked great, I'd even inspected them earlier.. which leads me to believe I was actually attacked by some harpy who hexed me into buying her foul and fetid produce... I'll have to be on my guard next time - maybe I should've taken a 20?

Oh and tomorrow I start my tour of Vietnam with intrepid, so that should be interesting - hopefully the group is as good as It was in China.

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Just a quick update...

I'm heading for vietnam tomorrow morning - fingers crossed it all goes smoothly. Apparently it's only an 8 hour bus ride, sounds piss easy.

At any rate, had a swell time in Cambodia the last few days - been relaxing, watching movies (Saw Kung Fu Hustle on DVD... not bad for a chinese comedy martial arts flick, though it aint not "Hero" either)...

...And... I'm getting used to the place (Cambodia), just as I'm about to leave... heh, cest la vie!

At any rate.. I went to the russian markets for some clothes. They have everything there... including a delightful semi-sweat shop setup in the middle of the clothes department (watch the nock off nike apparel appear before your very eyes!)... a cool engineering section with a surprisingly wide selection of precision tools - loads of acessories for lathes and milling machines... and of course parts for every 100cc motorbike ever built by asian hands.

All in all it's good fun - loads of weird smells and a lot of people manufacturing goods on site which kept me entertained (I get pretty bored wandering markets look at tat, being a lad 'n all)... so I got to watch jewelers working on custom pieces, a guy doing a valve grind, woman making clothes and carving/varnishing wood items - a smidgen of open air butchery... all the good stuff.

After that I wandered my way back, skirting past a load of engineering firms for a bit of a butchers hook (it's funny how the smell of dust and oil reminds me of my childhood) and generally letting my mind wander, eventually turning onto Molivong boulevard... which pretty much runs from one end of Phnom Penh to the other... half way along I stopped in an ptometrist to get my glasses fixed (I broke them back in Pakse a few weeks ago) which was free, a pleasant surprise!

After a bit more walking I decided I best get a haircut (been putting it off for weeks) - so I popped into a local barbers for a $2 cambodian special... I haven't got a mirror in my current room so I don't really remember what it looked like - nor did I care - I'm on holiday - all I know is it's now less hot.

Had to get some more reading material, decided for some fantasy to counter the rather depressing (and relevant) no-logo as I work my way through prime sweat shop country... but after searching one store only to discover they only had an almost complete set of L.Ron Hubbard books including his mission to earth bollix.. which though strictly you could call it "fantasy".. I wasn't really prepared to waste any more of my time (then I already have in the past ;o) plumbing the depths of scientological scat.  Long story short It took me a couple of stores till I bought a  Terry Goodkind book, "Wizardsv First Rule" - I'm sure Ben or Lyle will fill me on wether it's a series, and of course if it's shite or not, at some point in the future... for the first 300 pages it seems like a pleasant enough read.

The one advantage of a toilet/shower combination is that you can keep cool while on the can.

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More Temples, More Phnom Penh

Angkor Temples, round 2

On the 16th I had my second go at Angkor wat, with much greater sucess as my antibiotics seemed to be doing the trick.. so I went and saw the remaining temples I had missed the first time... mostly similar to what I'd seen already, I like east Mabon - had nice elephants - and Tah Prohm is a gorgeous temple that the surrounding jungle has overwhelmed.. they've (who ever "they" are... probably the "man") even filmed a scene in tomb raider there... but don't let that put you off.

I had fun with my driver who seemed to be obsessed with me eating "at the temple" - in particular where we ate on my first day - no doubt there's some kind of kick back in it for him - and he seemed annoyed when I denied him the pleasure, but by then I was kind of annoyed with him - too cocky and in your face, he tried to stop me even visiting one of the temples because it was "same same"... and it wasn't.

But I digress, so the temples were good... my visiting was rounded off by about 1pm, and then I headed back to Angkor wat after an extended lunch to catch sun down on the big one again - which afforded some nice people watching time - and a few conversations with the locals who seemed to find me curious - apparently Angkor wat has more stone in it then the great pyramids - I said "all of them?" - and they said "yes!" with chests that almost seemed puffed out. 

I haven't got a clue if it's true though ;o)

The unamed girl at Ta Keo

Though of course I couldn't visit Angkor without having a run in with the local street kids.. in this case a girl who I'd estimate at about 7 or 8 years old, with empeccable english considering she obviously wasn't attending school (though submersed in this archealogical pseudo amusement park for most of her life she was probably going to have a hard time not becoming multilingual). 

At any rate.. as I was skirting around Ta Keo the little girl approached almost on the verge of tears and asked for some food - I didn't have any food and she looked about to cry after I said as much, so I started chatting to her, as much to distract her as anything else. We headed around the base of the temple and suddenly her whole attitude changed and she ducked out of site from 3 children above, and signaled me to be quiet... I wandered up beside her and she said "bullies" - and wouldn't budge any further, and started sniffling - so I suggested to her that perhaps we could walk round the other side - her little face lit up and so we turned round.  On the way she played tour guide, as older boys in the area normally do to try and ensure you'll be guilted into giving them some money - but by this point I wasn't really sure of the little girls motivations... 

"This is limestone" she proclaimed, followed by "this is sandstone, it's better against rain" - she pointed to collapsed statues of nagas and snakes, she was pretty damn good actually. After a while we talked about her parents, mother dead (of course) and her father is a cripple from a mine accident and plays music at one of the other temples (mine victims play music for donations all around the angkor temples) - all a bit grim for a kid that should by all rights have been in school.

After a while we came to some steps, and she motioned up - "theres a buddah at the top, if you want to go have a look" - at which point she mumbled "money?" - and I replied "of course, when I come back down ok?"  (I find this is a good way to pick the greedy kids, as they wont trust you) and she smiled and seemed pretty happy at the thought and waved me goodbye.  So I clambered up and came back down 10 minutes later, she was hiding around another corner this time because the bullies had relocated.  I followed her along then she disappeared completely, so I fished my wallet out and starting grabbing all my low-order cambodian riel, till I had a fistfull, probably about $1 US - more then enough for some food and water - later on I caught site of her again and she walked up looking sheepish and whispered me to be quiet again, so I stood there and then casually tried to hand her the money I'd got out... and a wave of panic and anger flashed across her face, like I'd do her a mortal wound and she started weeping and pleading that riel was worth so little and that all she wanted was US dollars. 

At this point my charitable spirit left me and my critical re-evaluation of the situation kicked in, "are you sure you dont want it? I have no US dollars", she shook her head, so I started walking away.. after I had all but left the temple grounds I heard a whimpered "okay mister" from an alcove as she crouched out of site.. so I gave her the cash and tried to see what kind of facial expression she adopted - but it was just blank, like I no longer existed... as I got back on the tuk tuk I'm pretty sure I saw her chatting to all the "bullies".

And..

And this is why I like watching people from a distance - up close it's hard to get any kind of focus, and it's also why my time spent exploring these temples isn't how I'd imagined it to be in my head before coming here.

Back to Phnom Penh

And so today I jumped the bus back to Phnom Penh.. it wasn't bad, I was greatful for my faltering sense of smell and fully charged I-Pod as I was seated next to a mum with bub of about 6 months and another girl of probably about 3 years of age.. The problem with alot of asia is that nappies are non existent - so when a baby shits, it's potentially rather... exposed.. as it was today, thankfully I managed to dodge it :) and drowned out the horrendous Hang Meas Karaoke VCD volume 59 (I mean 59, I can't believe there are at least 58 more of these... ugh!) which was playing on the T.V up front. 

When the bus stopped briefly at some unknown village I got to watch one of the local kids wander round with an empty Tora air pellets box over his head.. he even bumped into things... umm... random?

And this afternoon I plowed through another 100 pages of "No Logo".. which is a good read, until finally retiring to my room for a quick freshen up before dinner only to get a call on my cellphone from Mum & Dad.. which has been only the second call I've got since leaving NZ (the first being from Mark Skinner while in the Beijing airport) - must say I was quite surprised!

I'd almost forgotten how it works (the phone that is) - in fact the only reason I keep it charged now is because it acts as my alarm clock.

At any rate, I'm kicking it for a few days here and then will make my 3rd and final border crossing in south east
asia...into vietnam no less.. first stop, Saigon! 

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And then it all went terribly wrong..

Phnom Penh

Well, lets see... where did I leave off.. ahh yes, having lunch in Phnom Penh on the 12th.. right so, after lunch I bought some books - namely "No Logo", which I've been meaning to read since I read the "fences and windows" also by Naomi Klein, "Ancestral Vices" by Tom Sharpe and finally the "Curious incident of the dog in the night time" by Mark Haddon.

So I headed back to my guesthouse and layed around reading the "Curious incident of the dog in the night time" - which is a very quick read, depressingly so, as I finished it later that same afternoon.. but I really liked the book - most good, and made for a nice break away from the reality of Cambodian street life that gets me down after a couple of hours.

At any rate, I was feeling antisocial that evening and decided to go find some dinner for myself at the quietest restuarant I could locate... found an indian joint that looked well abandoned and decided it was the ticket.. but after sitting down, ordering my
meal and reading my book while consuming an Angkor beer (which is shite, in fact I dont like any of the beers in south east Asia.. god I miss dark beer!) a mad kenyan woman sat at my table and just started talking to me... other then her name being Anna I
really didn't understand much of what she was saying.. apparently she was married, but was seeing a friend of a friend who she'd told everything yet never met and that africans open there hearts to other africans yet white people are always suspicious (at this
point I mumbled "and with good reason you mad wench" but she continued merrily on with her monologue) and eventually moved onto talking about someone named Lee Vuthy who she thought worked for the Cambodian daily.  It was all complete nonsense and
once my meal was finished I escaped. Incidentally the Cambodian daily seems to be the only English language paper here... and it has a great couple of pages called the 'police blotter' which lists all the major crimes for the last few days... talk about depressing, but I digress.

Off to Siem Reap

The next day I checked out and grabbed the bus up to Siem Reap... this was a thrilling trip, especially the stop in a town I think was called Stung sen, where there were so many street kids begging for food ... it really does your head in when your eating a packet of chips and kids are pulling at your shirt to have some, I cant even equate this to the greed exuded by most of the older street kids here (who only ever want cash) - it really does suck, and the local Cambodian adults are largely desensitized to it - in fact I guess they would have to be - but it does my head in.

At any rate, I met a girl named "sky" from the states who suggested a guesthouse to stay at (the garden village) - which is reasonably central and stocked with loads of boys, like every other guesthouse, who just wander around like they're A.D.D - fiddling and fidgeting, because other then the little bit of driving work they do, they have absoloutely zero stimulus.  Personally though I find most of the boys to be generally dishonest, full of shit (sob stories that don't line up with everyone elses sob stories) and greedy (average income is $20 US a month here, yet I would estimate that most of these boys earn that in a week or so) ... some people discribe tourism in Cambodia as a gold rush, and I think that's quite accurate - things will no doubt change over time, but at the moment it definitely seems a bit cheeky and ruthless.

So I grabbed one of the boys, "we", as a driver for Angkor wat and headed out to catch sun down from the hill... which was good, met a couple up there I'd hung out with in Savanaket in Laos, so that was amusing.. exchanged stories etc.  That night I had dinner at the Dead fish tower, which did a really nice thai meal (the restaurant has free live music and crocodiles.. *shrug*).. very tastey - and then headed to bed because I had to get up early (5am!) to catch the sun rise at Angkor wat.

Throwing up on Angkor temples

So I got up that morning (the 14th) and was feeling a bit dodgy... nothing out of the ordinary... and then headed out to Angkor Wat, got some nice pictures... felt a bit more dodgy... had some breakfast... complete loss of appetite... felt even more dodgy... had some water... and then had waves of Nausea and eventually threw up in the middle of the Bayon temples... thankfully nobody saw me do it, as it really does seem a little
disrespectful.. not to mention gross... And after that it was all down hill, I started overheating, couldn't keep water down and so around mid day I decided it was a bust and got my driver to head back to the guest house...

On the way back I stopped off at the chemist and got some electrolytes to help with dehydration, and some antibitoics (Ciprofloxacin, well Neocip-500 which appears to be the same thing) which seems to be doing the trick as I feel a lot better today... hopefully tomorrow everything will be back on form and I can continue my exploration of the Angkor wat temples.. on the down side, it means buying another $20 US ticket :(

Right, time for some lunch - hopefully I can keep it down!

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Picture time again..

Well seeing as I'm taking it "easy" today after my abortionary visit to the Angkor temples yesterday (read about it in my next post) and waiting for my Antibiotics to kick in I thought it was about time to post some more pictures.. so here goes:


The plain of Jars near Phonsavan, Laos - all I can say is It's more impressive in person ;o)


While leaning out the bus window we get to see one of the bus staff attending to a flat tire in Laos, obviously a gun is an important tool in this process...


The "arsenal" on display in a restaurant in Phonsavan, just about every establishment had a similar display... much like a New Zealand beach bach has 70's decor.


The faux Arche de triumphe made with misappropriated concrete for a new airport in Vientiane.  Compare it to the original structure here http://www.caingram.info/Worldwide/Pic_htm/paris_1.htm if you feel so inclined)


Looking down on the lower levels of Wat Phu Champasak, near Champasak/Pakse in Laos.  These structures are known to be older then Angkor Wat.


More Wat Phu Champasak goodness...


The vehicle ferrys in Laos - basically a narrow boat with two "outriggers" and vehicles moving on/off it side-on.


Though hard to see, the wheel just has rope wraped round it a couple of times that then travels inside the hull to the back rudder... rough as guts ;o)


One of the nicer examples of decaying colonial architecture in Phnom Penh.


Mmmm... what can you say? A sign at the killing fields.


Urns of bones, At the killing fields.


Some of the 'mug shots' of people brought to S-21 - there are walls and walls of these, a number of the people had minor birth defects or medical conditions which were evident in the pictures. People with spectacles were prime targets.. as was anyone of a high level of education.


More of the same, this time as profile shots.


The stupa holding the skulls of people killed and burried in the mass graves of the killing fields - they leave the bottom level open so people can touch them, personally I thought that was a tad disrespectful... and I saw one Khmer man standing by looking quite upset while a tourist tapped on one of the skulls.


The Stupa, as seen from the outside - it's quite big.


I shot of building 'C' at S-21, the entire building is shrowded in barbed wire and full of small bricked up cells created inside the original class rooms.


The monkeys at Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


My first glimpse of Angkor Wat, as seen from a near by hill.


Sunsets over ancient structures, always makes for a nice picture.

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