Thursday, April 08, 2010

Vietnam & Cambodia (June 2009)

Winter break last year was spent with the hubbie and in-laws in Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a 14 day trip...and boy did I have FUN FUN FUN. This post will be primarily on Vietnam and Cambodia.
First impression of Ho Chi Minh city.... MAD TRAFFIC x 1000
For the first time in my life I witness more motorbikes than cars on the road.
They drive madly..have no sense of traffic rules...and trust me, when motorbike riders get knocked down (which is all the time) they just get up and continue their journey like nothing happened! AHHH!!

Tiger Cage Cell
Vietnam had a sad war history.... we went to the War Remnants Musuem which was quite a harrowing experience. It had depictions of the atrocities carried out by the US troops and the effects it had on the vietnamese people.
Plastered all over the walls were pictures showing torn corpses, severed heads and the most disturbing were the pictures of kids that had been born with defects as a result of the US use of chemicals (Agent Orange, Napalm etc etc).
Now lets move on to something more positive...Mystical Ha Noi
This place reminds me of GuiLin, China. I have never been there but it definitely looks like it from all the photos my parents took when they were there...and all those travel shows. But apparently GuiLin does not have so many mountains and is not as wide.... The sea water at Ha Noi is eerily green.....
(image from
I did not take a dip in the sea (unlike the hubbie). I'm scared of the great ocean..and yes JAWS. Too many movies...Jaws I, II, III

The Ben Thanh Market! This famous Saigon landmark has been present since the French occupation. They sell all sorts of things from food to counterfeit items. The most annoying thing about shopping in Vietnam is 'Getting Ripped Off'. Some old lady tried to sell me an orange for 1USD after realising that I wasn't local. So she thinks I can't do mental arithmetics huh?? I can convert Dong to USD!!!
My trip would be INCOMPLETE if I didn't taste a bowl of true Pho, Saigon style. So what's the verdict? Its not as salty, less MSG than those in Melbourne...and I like it that they use lime instead of lemon. But the rare beef slices are definitely not as tender. I mostly had the Chicken/Gai Pho. So I'd say Saigon Pho = Melb Pho. BUT one thing I know for sure.... Melbourne Pho is CLEANER!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was so unFortunate to have gastro problems after eating Pho and their Iced Coffee on the second last day of our trip. I think they left the milk out too long on the counter before serving it to patrons. I felt sick...was spewing, and made numerous toilet bowl visits.... The in-laws thought I was pregnant!!! Sorry I am not.

The Three Ballerinas
The best thing we bought in Vietnam was this painting by local artist Binh Nguyen.

I'm gonna be biased and say I prefer traveling in Cambodia. The people are genuinely nicer, and are not trying to rip you off at every opportunity. The 'tuk-tuk'/moped drivers would recommend restaurants that serve true Khmer food without the tourist prices (compared to those printed on hotel brochures). And even came back to pick us up after dinner! I guess he knew we'd tip him....and we did it gladly.

Even though Cambodia went through hell under Pol-Pot's regime, I'd say the people have moved on and this was reflected on the paintings the locals produce. Most of them have smiling running around... We bought one called Happy Cambodia! It is now sitting in my living room....will take a pic of it soon.

Our planned trip to Cambodia was only to visit Siam Reap and its mighty Angkor. The travel agent who booked our tickets accidently booked Phnom Phenh instead of Siam Reap. Our hotels were booked for Siam Reap!!! We checked in at the airport...was waiting to board the plane when I gazed unto my boarding pass 'Saigon' to 'Phnom Phenh'.

- I asked, "Hey are we going to Phnom Phenh or Siam Reap?" (I am usually the blur one).
- The hubbie replied,"Siam Reap...Angkor Wat is in Siam Reap".
-I replied," but the boarding pass says Phnom Phenh!!!!"

Frantic calls were made immediately....and we had to fly to Phnom Phenh and it was an eye opening experience. A mistake I'm glad the travel agent made.....

We didn't have enough time to visit the infamous killing fields. They say that bones and clothing jut from the grounds.....
But we managed to go to prison, S-21 (Tu0l Sleng Genoicide Museum). This is where Pol Pot housed victims before they were sent to the killing fields. This was a rather reflectful trip. Every single person that went into this prison was documented on photos. Pictures were taken upon entry and when they're dead. These pictures were plastered all over the place. I did not take much photos because I felt they needed respect...and also I had goosebumps throughout my time there.
The prison cells were erected in an old school building. Rooms were subdivided into little cells for 'upper class' prisoners and 'lower class' prisoners had their legs shackled onto the ground. They (50 at a time) were made to lie on the ground, side by side shackled up. It was painful to just see the empty shackles on the floor.....
They used Physical Ed bars as torture places, and all sorts of unimaginable tools. Prisoners were banned from talking, and even banned them from crying or making any sound when tortured....... it was so inhumane....
The guy in-charge of that the Khmer Rouge prison back then was Comrade Duch. He was charged for crimes against humanity.... and he pleaded guilty in 2009. He pleaded to be released!!!!! NO NO NO NO NO!!!!

Ok enough war stuff.... Please visit Cambodia if you have the chance....

Beautiful...breathtaking...majestic..... 12th Century Temple Angkor Wat at dawn.
Tourists (including us) wake up at 5am to get here to capture this shot.
A reflected image of Angkor Wat on the pond...
Inside, the walls are carved to perfection with the dancing 'Apsara'. These are supposedly beautiful, supernatural, elegant woman. Each Apsara is different... Many walls/carvings were destroyed during Pol Pot's regime because they used Angkor Wat as a fortress

When we were temple hopping, we realised that animals loved the temples too.....

Some other temple had carvings of Chinese troops battling the Cambodians! Woo Hoo!!

Ta Phrom Temple
Made even more famous after Lara Croft's Tomb Raider was shot here. Go Angelina Jolie!

This blog post is sooooo long.... You might get sick of I'm gonna stop here.