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Vietnam / Cambodia

Trip Journal

The Spirit of Vietnam and The Road to Angkor
from Intrepid Tours (www.intrepidtravel.com)

November 15, 2001 to December 5, 2001
What an adventure.  3 weeks (in a carry-on bag) experiencing this beautiful country with such kind, forgiving people.

Click here for some trip pictures. 

DateDay / City
 Packing Tips
 Tips for this trip
 Interesting Facts Statistics - Education, Income, Jobs
 Getting there - Atlanta to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi
Sun Nov 18thDay 1 Hanoi
Mon 19thDay 2 Halong Bay
Tues 20th Day 3 Reunification Express  Overnight Train from Hanoi to Hue
Wed 21stDay 4 Hue
Thurs 22ndDay 5 Hue
Fri 23rdDay 6 Hoi An
Sat 24thDay 7 Hoi An
Sun 25thDay 8 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Mon 26thDay 9 Mekong Delta
Tues 27thDay 10 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Day 1 on the Road to Angkor Tour
Wed 28thDay 2 Bus ride from Vietnam to Cambodia
Thurs 29thDay 3 Phnom Penh
Fri 30thDay 4 Siem Reap
Sat 1stDay 5 Angkor Wat / Siem Reap
Sun 2ndDay 6 Siem Reap
Mon 3rdDay 7 Siem Reap to Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur to Taiwan to Los Angeles to Atlanta
 Wrap Up and Other things
Trip Dossiers

Packing Tips

Tips for this trip

Keep your feet on the posts to avoid motor bike burns on your legs.

There is an old woman by the hotel that doesn't want her picture taken because she doesn't want "bad" pictures portraying poor conditions in Vietnam going to other countries.

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Interesting Facts Statistics - Education, Income, Jobs

Population of Vietnam: 77 million

After the war in 1975, the government encouraged everyone to have children to increase the population after the war. Family size was 10 kids. Now they are limited to 2 children each. If you have a third child here, your wages are cut, and you are demoted.

In China, families are only allowed one child. Rich people have more children because if you are rich, you can afford the penalties of having more kids.

They go to school 6 days a week. 6:30 to 12:30. 1:30 to 7:30pm is the second group of kids at school. The government pays for school up to 12 years old.

They have assistance for people who have family member who lost a family member in the war, widow's pensions for some housing, food.

Teachers in rural areas get more money.

Getting into the university is very competitive. The side you father fought for may determine if you get in. Japan offers some scholarships to get into the university.

A first class honors degree at some universities equals to a BS at other universities.

In Hoi An, cost of school is about 500,000 dong a year. I was talking to a boy at a restaurant in Hoi An. He is 14 years old. He has to pay 300,000 (about $10) a month to go to his school. The government pays for schooling up to 11 years old, then you have to pay. So they sell post cards to try to get the money. We saw some parents carrying their kids on a bicycle. When there see tourists, they stop the bike, the child jumps off and tries to sell their wares. The parents keep an eye on them to make sure they’re OK. Usually they don’t bother you if you’re eating, but some are persistent. The younger they are, the easier it is to sell.

One month salary in Hanoi is about US$15 a month. In the country it is about $50!

In Hue, we were told they make about US$25-40 a month.

There are about 2.5 million motor bikes.

Six months ago helmets came to Vietnam. They are starting to encourage wearing them in the countryside. Some people are wearing them in the city.

When you see a sign of the name of the city with a slash through it, that means that you must put on your helmet. Not many people have helmets yet though. Some of the motor bike helmets look like construction helmets to me. In fact, Mary said there was a problem that a company imported some helmets and marked them a certified safe, but they we're safe so people are wary of buying them now.

18 people a day die in Vietnam. I bet it would be less if more people wore helmets.

The women wearing the traditional AoDai have to sit sideways on the motor bikes. Senior high school girls must wear the AoDai white dress. They look so elegant riding their bicycles.

Population of Cambodia is 13 million.

Population of Siem Reap is 695,000 people.

The average size of a family is 5.2 people. The population increases about 2.4% a year so the population will double in 30 years. [FYI - our Atlanta newspaper yesterday Dec 30, 2001 said the population of the United Statues is 284 million and it is increasing at a rate 1.2 percent per year.]

There is no industry to support the population. Only light industry and tourism. Tourism is not going to be enough to support the population. [And I observed that tourists are ruining the country too.] Tourists are mostly Japanese, and French. Not as many Americans now (because they are afraid to travel after the Sept 11 attacks on the World Trade Center).

Kids start school when they are six years old.

There are only private universities here. Students pay for their own schooling. 40% of kids do not go to school because they can’t afford it.

The boy at the hotel in Phnom Penh needs 100-400 Real a day to go to school.

Average income for a person in Phnom Penh is US$25 a month.

A worker makes about 30-50 cents a day sewing from 7 am to 4 p.m. Overtime to 9 p.m.

People live cheaper in the country. You can make US$1-$2 a day growing rice and you can fish for food.

Police earn about US$20 a month. They are expected to be corrupt so they can supplement their income.

Average income for a farmer around Siem Reap is about $286 a year ($24 a month).

In Phnom Penh jobs are scarce. You need to bribe someone to get an interview or a job here. Kate knows someone that gave US$100 for an interview and they didn’t get the job. Sometimes you get your bribe money back, sometimes you don’t. A computer job may cost you US$500-$1000. They tell you the cost of the job at the interview. It doesn’t matter if you are qualified. Jobs are so scarce; they pay a lot for the opportunity to earn more. The only way to get an interview is if you have connections. A computer job may pay about $150 a month. Tour guides must pay $140 to get a tour guide license. But you also need about $400 bribe to get the license.

Around Siem Reap, 80% of the people are farmers. During the growing season they do one crop of rice and one crop of vegetables. Agriculture is the most important economy in Khmer. They did have more crops, but land is getting worn out. People sell their dirt to fill places in the city. The sell the good top soil.

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Hotels

Hanoi

VietMy Hotel No. 9
34-36 Nguyen Khuyen Street
Hanoi Vietnam
email: victoryhotel@hotmail.com  Tel 84-4-8.232910 / .471763 / .471950

Halong Bay

Bai Chay, Vina Ly 1 Hotel

Hue

Thanh Noi Hotel
3 Dang DungSt
Hue City, Vietnam
email: thanhnoi@dng.vnn.vn
www.vietnamtourism.com/thanhnoihotel

Hoi An

Cua Dai Hotel
18A Cui Dai S.
Hoi An
Quang Nam, Vietnam
email: cuadaihotel@dng.vnn.vn

Saigon

Embassy Hotel
35 Nguyen Trung Truc Street
District 1 Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam
email: embassyh@netnam2.org.vn

Phnom Penh

Renakse Hotel
No 40 Blvd Samdach
Sothearos Phnom Pehn
Cambodia

email: renakse-htl@camnet.com.kh

My note: Great location and cheap, about $20.

Siam Reap

Freedom Hotel
Road No 6 near central market, just west of Psah Leu.
Siem Ream Cambodia
email: freedom@bigpond.com.kh   Tel: (63) 963473

price range: $15 to $50. Fulll room facilities. Wide range of rooms. Good reviews. Restaurant. Conference Room. Room phone. Traveler services.

Adventure Center -INTREPID

1311 63rd Street Suite 200
Emeryville CA  94608
(501) 654-1879


Getting there - Atlanta to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi

Tuesday November 13, 2001

Typhoon Lingling killed 20 people and injured 83 others as it rampaged through central Vietnam.  Last week the typhoon killed 184 and left 100 missing in the Philippines.  .... A provincial Red Cross official said local government was provided the victims' families with $66 each, and those who lost homes were given an equal amount.

 

Wednesday November 15, 2001

I'm packed. I'm ready to go! I do still not believe I got everything in a carry on bag! I honestly couldn’t think of anything else to pack so I couldn’t fill a 30-inch suitcase. It will be nice to expand it later. I even put my empty backpack in my suitcase. I didn't want to check any luggage so it's all in a carry-on bag. [After trip note - I was worried about the hassle of getting searched and having to re-pack everything in the airport, but I was very lucky. I never had to open the carry-on bag. The bag did get x-rayed many times. My film went through teh xrays evertime and all 14 rolls came out great - only two bad photos that I took].

Thursday November 15, 2001

Yeah! I'm on the plane now. Off on my big adventure trip! I am on vacation!!! No headache yet!

This airplane seat is like none I’ve ever been in. I am going to be spoiled now. I used frequent flier miles to go first class so I paid US$14 for my round-trip tickets. I am more relaxed because I know it will be a comfortable flight. Yup. I remember some tough coach seats going over seas. OK, so I am getting older and I didn't want to fold myself into a tiny space for 14 hours…..

What an ordeal to get to Hanoi:

3.5 hour flight to Los Angeles

I got an omelet for breakfast. I watched a movie: "Remember the Titans."

The United States is really a beautiful country - the landscape is so diverse. On the flight from Atlanta to LA, we flew right over my house! I recognized my subdivision and the east-west connector road. We flew over the Grand Canyon. Awesome. Looks a whole lot bigger up here than when you are down there. There are lots of desolate desert roads below. Except for one lonely golf community. The greens looked odd.

3 hour wait in LA.

10 hour flight to Narita in Tokyo (I had no idea we were stopping in Japan - I was lead to believe that it was a direct flight when I booked it!)

I'm on a Boeing 747-400 and I'm sitting upstairs! I had to carry my suitcase up stairs. Yes, It's another first. There are about 20 people up here with a flight crew of 3 to take care of us. There are two bathrooms - we're using the same bathrooms as the pilots.

About the stop in Narita - A girl in LA said she took this flight a month ago and they made everyone exit the plane and searched their carry on luggage. Before going on to KL. What a pain.

Great service on the plane. I had Beef Tenderloin (the menu said "from United States") with vegetables, bread, banana creme dessert chocolates. It was very difficult to cut the meat because they gave us a plastic knife! We had metal fork and spoon, but a plastic knife. Sure seems like the fork is just as deadly. I hope they count and make sure everyone returns their plastic knife!

They gave us a little bag of travel supplies. The Woman's bag had socks, eye mask, lotion, perfume, face spray, toothbrush and paste, lip balm. I could get used to this. I watched another movie "Legally Blond" very funny. Sleep for 5 hours, then they wake us up with more food. They are constantly asking us if we want anything. I have a constant supply of water. Every time the level of water is low, them come by and fill it.

After sleeping, there was a light meal. I had this great seafood lasagna and watched the end of the "Angel Eyes" movie with Jennifer Lopez I didn't like it. Then I watched the end of some other movie about Knights. The odd food has begun. I ate the rice with peas. Even the broccoli tasted funny. I would eat it if I were hungry. Like I said they are constantly feeding us on this flight.

I do have to say that the Delta first class seats were more comfortable than the Malaysian Air seats. They were a lot more adjustable.

4 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. I get on the airplane and it's Thursday. When I get off, it is Saturday because we arrived at 1:15 am.

Boy do they stuff you with food on these flights. I'm getting the chicken, but I'm really not hungry, but I guess I need to try to eat whenever I can. Eat what I like because I don't know what I'm getting next.

They go through tons of linens for us. Table cloth, napkins for 3 meals. And hot towels.

Check into pay-by the hour Transit Hotel in the KL airport.

Nice hotel right in the C concourse. I paid about US$40 for 1:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. When I was checking in there was a Muslim man - beard, turban, full white dress, looking at me. I looked at him and tried to smile. I wonder what he was thinking. I just looked down at the ground. I feel sorry for what is going on now. I wish it wasn't happening. I wish it didn't have to be. The Christian missionaries held in Afghanistan were released yesterday. More cities in Afghanistan are falling to the Northern Alliance. Taliban officials got captured in today paper. I feel so bad that we feel like we have to do all that bombing.

Friday morning I went to the Malaysian Air Golden Club room. Unlimited food and drink and all types of liquor. Anything that you can imagine that you would ever want to eat or do was there - eat, drink, shower, sleep, email, Internet, run your business, child's play room. Very Nice.

9:30 a.m. board plane for 4.5 hours flight to Hanoi.

Small airplane but my suitcase fit in the overhead fine.

Something interesting - they have Muslim prayer rooms everywhere.

 

There were prayer rooms in the airports in Narita and KL, and on the plane. Every six minutes on the air show, they show the direction and the distance to Mecca so they know which way to pray. The praying room on the plane was first come, first serve basis.

The women here in Malaysia absolutely beautiful. I can't stop staring at the stewardess. Light brown skin (and very thick hair). Beautiful green print long skirt and top.

Arrive in Hanoi (a day before the official tour starts). Taxi to the VietMy hotel. I think he charged me about $10.

What a city! Everything is so different. I am almost in shock but I'm still cognizant of my surroundings.  What an assault on your person! People, motor bikes, cars, bicycles everywhere. Honking CONSTANTLY.

Everything is different here:  the climate, the color of the sky.

This was going to take a little getting used to.

I checked into my room (which Intrepid had reserved). I rested during the afternoon then went to a Thai restaurant for dinner.

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Sun Nov 18th - Day 1 Hanoi

Breakfast at the hotel. The first of many small loaf of crusty bread. Very good.

I changed US$100. In 2001,15,000 dong = US$1 so I was a millionaire! (After 10 days in this country I still had some dong left over. Everthing is so cheap here.) I got a map at the reception desk and spent the day "roaming the tree-lined boulevards and relaxing by the city's lakes" as the itinerary says.

In 2017, the exchange rate is about the same!  15,038 dong = US$1

Walked around Hoan Kiem Lake ("Lake of the Restored Sword"). You can walk around it in 30 minutes. In the middle of the lake is a 3-tiered pavilion called the Tortoise Tower - the symbol of Hanoi. A red bridge in the middle is called the Huc Bridge. It takes you to an island where Den Ngnoc Son, the "Temple of the Jade Mound." Founded in the 14th Century. The principal altar is General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated  the Mongols in 1288. A room in the sanctuary hall has a 2-meter giant turtle.

Beside the bridge is a nine-metre high obelisk, the Writing Brush Tower. The 3 Chinese characters proclaim "a pen to write on the blue sky." I can relate to that!

Some young girls stopped us to talk by the lake.

 

The girls wanted to practice their English.

The second question was "how old are you?" I was a little taken aback, but have since learned that they ask that question to establish how they should address you.

They have more respect for elders. They even have different words (in their language) that are used to talk to and address young people versus older people.

Vietnamese is a very difficult language.

One word, "ma" can mean six different things depending on how you say (pronounce) it. Every word appears to be one syllable.

It was very difficult for them to say "Suzanna" (three syllables. By the middle of the trip, I had shortened my name to "Susan."

Once, I said my name was "Sue," but that sure got a laugh and a giggle from more than one person. I wonder what that means in their language. That's when I went to "Susan."

 

 

Took cyclos to the Army Museum.

 

Very interesting.

Lots of piles of awful American bombs and crashed planes.

I learned that The Ho Chi Minh trail started in N. Vietnam. It went through Laos and Cambodia to Saigon. It went around the DMZ.

All the tourist are from countries that were former enemies: China and Japan, France, and America.

From Conde Nast Traveler, September 2001.

"The present has the capacity, both soothing and disturbing, to obscure the past." Conde Nast

Vietnamese named "Dao" : "You can't forget the painful memries, but you can live in the present. If you live in peach, you can feel tranuillity."

 

By that afternoon I had my bearings and could make my way from the lake back to the hotel. I started to get sucked into the pandemonium occurring all around me in the street. I loved it. What a wonderful feeling to be able to experience this. No where else in the world can you hear and see so much going on everywhere you look. People selling, running their business, and living, all viewable from a walk down the street. I felt a part of it all.

Looking back, I do have a big regret about this day. I wish I had gone to the Perfume Pagoda. It was a day venture leaving at 8 and returning by 5:30 (in time for the 6 p.m. initial tour meeting). I was convinced that I should take it easy the day before the official trip starts. I had gotten plenty of sleep and I did feel rested. Oh well.

 

6 pm Pre- trip meeting to meet the other folks on the trip. We met Mary Scott our guide. She was very organized - she had maps and information on every city. A couple from the United States never arrived so there was only 10 people on the trip.

After the meeting, half the group went to dinner.

There were five people that met other friends (from the end of the Laos (don't pronounce the "s") portion of the Indo-China loop trip) at another restaurant. Our group went to a good local restaurant. It was our first dinner together.

I got beef noodles. Very very good. Then the beers started coming. I really really tried hard not to drink on this trip. I did not drink that first night, but every night after that. Most everyone in the group really bonded so it was great fun to sit and talk. Mary, Alex, Paul, Margaret (cute "husband and wife"), and I sat around getting to know each other and sharing some great travel stories. I really liked Mary. She is a true traveler and she's going to be a great tour leader.

Mary sure had some good stories. She told us about her travels through India. Kashmir is her favorite place in the world. It must be beautiful for two countries to war over it for so long (Dec. 2001 is the biggest troop build-up by India and Pakistan in the history of the region.)

She told us how the "Lemon Grass" restaurant in Saigon got in mentioned in the Lonely Planet book. After that the quality of the food and service went down because they didn't have to advertise any more. Sometimes it's not so good to be well known.

 

About Hanoi.

 

It has been the capitol for 1000 years in the 10th century under Li Dynasty. It is the social center of Vietnam.

Opera house was built by the French in 1954? when France left Vietnam. It's an ornate yellow building with white trim.

We paid a 5,000 dong toll for the bus to go over the Chuong Duong Bridge over the Red River. He said it's called that because the water red from a famous battle with the Chinese here.

The other bridge across the river, Long Bien Bridge, is used for walking bikes. Mary said it is very scary when the train goes by and you're walking on that bridge.

Around the city, there is lots of "political art" or "propaganda art" HIV Aids, 2 children policy, looking for Leprosy spots.

They have afternoon siestas (naps) here. Everything seems to close from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

 

 

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Mon 19th - Day 2 Halong Bay

7:15 am bags into storage.

We packed an overnight backpack for our trip to the Bay tonight.

 

We had to leave our suitcases stored in the hotel in Hanoi. I took all my food with me - I didn't want to leave any food in the suitcase in case it was a "Faulty Towers" hotel….. I can already tell that it doesn't look like I'll need the emergency supply of food that I brought. The food here is fabulous.

 

We walked to breakfast.

 

There were so many "tube houses." Thin homes - very long. Some are just 2 meters wide; the result of taxes levied on street frontages. They may by up to 60m long where they live. Really amazing.

We walked to KOTO and ate a great buffet breakfast at KOTO restaurant. Koto means "know one teach one."  At this restaurant they teach English, they learn how to take food orders, and they learn hospitality. Mary said that they do get great training here - one employee is now at a 5-star hotel.

Bill Clinton ate here. Bill was at the Institute of Literature across the street. It's the oldest university in Vietnam. Mandarins took their exams there. Bill was hungry, so they found this place across the street. The restaurant was about to go out of business, but since Bill Clinton ate here, it has got the publicity it needed, so it's still open.

Buffet breakfast had - cereal, yogurt, and lots of fruit, fresh milk, and coffee. They cooked something if you wanted it. I had eggs benedict. The eggs were perfect and the sauce was very good. I hope that Koto's doesn't get into Rough Guide book.

After breakfast, we rode a bus to the town of Bai Chay to see Halong Bay.

Our guide is Pham Quang Chien (Family name, Surname, First name). He majored in Tourism. He works at the Victory Hotel. It's around 164-km 3.5-hour ride today. We'll get there about noon.

We rode through the countryside. Chien said that we are traveling on the best road in Vietnam right now. It used to take 5 hours to get there. Now only 3 hours.

Gasoline costs 5,000 dong for a liter. I saw a Caltex station and a Mobil gas stations. I also saw a Heineken advertisement! [Every bottle of Heineken goes through our software!]

I saw a United Nations truck on the road. There are Lougan fruit stands along the road. It's in the Leechee family of food. There are many many Com Pho signs. Com is rice, Pho is noodles. They also serve a green bean cake - like marzipan. We saw many Vietnamese farmers. Everyone leases land here. Rice season is Jan to Oct. Now they are growing vegetables here.

You also see an occasional important-looking structure. In every city in Vietnam there is a war memorial / hero monument. Dec 10 is worship hero's day. The people of the city decide the type of memorial that they want to build. There is one town that a has a big cement chicken 9 meters tall standing out in the open for their memorial.

We are about 1.5 hours by road from China.

We arrived in the town of Bai Chay and checked into our hotel. Very very nice room with a beautiful view of the bay.

 

HANLONG BAY BOAT TOUR

Next was our 4-hour private boat ride on the boat named Thanh Nien. Halong Bay is definitely the most beautiful place in Vietnam. We cruised through "some of the 2000 limestone karsts of this World Heritage site."

Halong Bay means "Descending Dragon." A dragon descended from heaven and it was so big it decided to stay on earth. There is awesome beauty here. We're looking at "Hu" rock and stone mountains ahead of us. We parked the boat and got out to see a cave with incredible formations of stalactites and stalagmites.

"Suprising cave" was discovered in 1911. The cave was covered with plants. In 1983 a family was trying to avoid a sea storm and found it again. In 1994 the government recognized it. It is 900 square meters.

 

Meandering writings from my journal:

OK a minute to write. I'm on the boat and we are headed to the swimming hole. I'm remembering a perfectly wonderful day and similar trip on a boat like this with May in China. The cave that we just saw reminded me of the Reed Flute Caves in Guilin, China. But this cave was smaller. There are no colored lights in the cave here. I bet in 5 years that they will have colored lights. At Reed Flute caves when you lifted your camera up to take a picture, they turn the lights out until you pay. These caves are definitely worth seeing here. There is a loud motor making noise in the background of my dream state on this boat journey…..

We stopped the boat and couple people went swimming here in the bay's emerald waters. Paul was first to jump, then Arthur, Robert, then Margaret.

swimming.jpg (27340 bytes)

 

I've been learning a few new words from the Australian and New Zealand folks on the trip. "Cossies" as in a "swimming costume" and "Togs" for swimming trunks.

Jill said this trip would be over before I know it. Only eight more days. Eight days to enjoy this.

We had a very nice lunch on the boat. You had to eat with chopsticks. There was a lot a good food. Cucumber, tomato salad. A whole cooked fish which was fabulous, pork something, egg rolls, french fries ("chips" to the English people), fried Tofu (very good). They kept bringing out more and more plates of food.

There are small boats all around the bay. Houseboats where families live.

 

We saw the caves, had a swim, and now we are heading back. I have a very very nice view right now. The bright orange ball of a sun is setting. Great photo op for spectacular pictures.

The weather has been perfect!  Maybe 80 F, or a little cooler. Long pants and shirt are very comfortable. I did break a sweat going up those stairs to the cave. I am so glad that I'm getting to see all this now - before the thousands of tourists that will trash it. They had really done a lot of work putting in those steps and the stone paved concrete path around the cave. They are ready for the thousands that will be coming here.

There is construction everywhere in the city by the bay. Many, many hotels are being built. All of these are tall skinny, buildings. This place is already a big vacation resort town in the summer. It's getting even bigger. Like a small Valparaiso (in Chile). On the road here, we passed a huge vertical statue of three dolphins. They are constructing a road out to the island where Mary said they are building an amusement park. An island that we passed on the boat ride is going to be a zoo. This will be totally different place in couple years. A vacation destination. The new buildings are all so narrow. I wonder if they still pay taxes by the street front space that they occupy. Chien said that there are a lot of Korean businesses here.

We all went to dinner at a local restaurant. I had vegetable rice. This is such a heavenly place to experience, except for two things: the construction, and something that Mary warned us that we would see. A very scary, odd thing here - they drug a baby and hang it on their body to go begging. The small child is forced carry this dead-looking baby around tourists. It was very sad.

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Tues 20th - Day 3 Reunification Express - Overnight Train from Hanoi to Hue

We spent the night in Bai Chay. Breakfast, then ride back to Hanoi.

We stopped at Dong Trieu ceramic village. It was a government-sponsored business where handicapped people worked. I bought a few souvenirs.

Some notes on interesting things that I heard from the guide and Mary on the bus ride:

"Viet-Kieuw" (pronounced Viet-Q) are Vietnamese people that left, but are now coming back. Some locals are jealous, and some are angry that they left. Only in the last 6 months a Viet-Kieuw can buy a house. Things have changed. They want foreign money coming in now. Taiwan, Japan, U.S. money is coming in. Iraq is the second largest investor in rice production refining.

This is the first period of peace in 2000 years for Vietnam.

Taboo: Mary told us not to cross your fingers in this country. It means something bad.

Many of the women wear full scarves over their face. It may be necessary for the pollution, but they wear it for vanity reasons. Whiter skin is more desired. They also wear gloves all the way up their arms so they don't get sun on their arms.

There is no drinking age here. Drug is probably opium. Marijuana may be legal?

Family burial plots out in the fields are slowly being moved to cemeteries. They would bury out in the fields. Sometimes, bury the water buffalo with the body. The holy man of the family knows Feng Shui so the burials may face different directions. If a family has bad luck on year, they may dig up the grave and face it in another direction! They are buried for three years, then they dig up the bones, clean them, and put them in a box to bury them in a tomb.

We passed a Ford Motor factory on this road. They don't do cars there, only motor bikes.

The "Koh" people around the Delta - the woman dowry is 5 buffalo's (they must be rich!)  The woman always moves to the husband's family home.

I saw a "ISO 9002" certified sign. Yes, I guess it is worldwide. Our company sure spent thousands to get certified. Now, we've dropped it.

We're passing through a town where there are many gallons of yellow jugs for sale. They are full of soy sauce. This is the best region to buy soy sauce. They have a soil for soybeans.

We passed a funeral procession. You can determine who has passed away - the father, mother, grandmother, etc. - by how they wear a scarf.

Ten percent of the people are Catholic in this country. They celebrate Christmas. The Chinese New Year "Tet" is very big here.

The people do not seem to show any emotions here. They have a blank look until you smile at them, then they smile back.

Only one quarter of the land in this country is habitable. The rest is water or mountains.

We had the afternoon free so we decided to take a taxi to the Museum of Ethnology. It was a great museum on the past (and current) cultures in the country. Here are some of my notes:

87% of the National population is Viet (Kinh).

I saw a bicycle with what looked 800 fish traps on it! 

Hemp (cannabis satine) and Hemp cloth (dau ma). The Hmong people should be buried in this cloth so they can join ancestors in the other world. The Hmong people have been here since the 18th century. They live in the steep high mountains. They practice "marriage by capture" (?!?).

Behind the museum building, they had erected traditional-style houses and structures that you could enter. It’s interesting to see how they lived and what they lived in.

There was the "Long House." It is 425 meters long, 200 meters wide. The front faces the North.

The "Giarai Tomb." The statues around the tomb symbolize fertility and birth. Whoa, you gotta see this one! Very anatomically correct wood statues a couple feet high. However the male parts looked a little exaggerated to me (so men must have carved them?) Paul took a photo of me standing beside one a naked man statue. Paul, the photo came out great - you should see the smile on my face!

"The Grannary." A house on stilts. It has a bamboo floor on 4 columns. Bamboo roof with bunches of rice to call the Rice Spirit.

There was a boat from the Thanh Hoa Province. It is12 meters long, 2.25 meters wide. Weighs 12 tons. It had one captain, 2 crew, and transported 10-20 passengers.

After the museum we went for a walk around Hanoi again. I saw an Internet sign and stopped into the "Phuc Loi Hotel" on Hang Bong Street. Very nice hotel where I stopped to send some emails (Very cheap - 300 dong a minute). They displaced 6 family houses to build the lobby of this hotel.  They paid US$9000 for 4 square meters and the lobby is 200 square meters.  A room is only US$20. If I came back to Hanoi, I would stay here. [I have another travel friend, Ron, who I convinced to go to Vietnam. He is leaving on Jan. 5, 2001 and I told him to look up this hotel in Hanoi.]

My ramblings:

 

The people in this country a different that the people in Russia and Cuba. In Vietnam they seem so much more industrious and hard working. They have a very apparent, very admirable drive to succeed.

The general impression I got in Russia was that the (older) people were so accustomed to handouts. The people, in general, wanted to be hard working and succeed, but it was very difficult in the Russian economy. I went in 1998. I went to Cuba in December, 2001. The people there seemed frustrated to me. Our guide, Arturo and his wife had decent government jobs and were happy with the US$22 a month that he earned, until they learned about making money. They were just learning about means and schemes to make some money for their future.

 

Pizza for dinner tonight.  Arthur (fun guy from Poland on the trip) arranged to have pizza delivered to our hotel that night. I had a beer (a must with pizza!).

 

After dinner we're off to the Reunification Express train for an overnight ride from Hanoi to Hue.

 

Tina, Alex and I were in a four-berth sleeper compartment. Then they added a fourth girl who was traveling alone. She was very nice and joined in our party that night. Tina had bought some glass glasses and Johnny Walker Red, Robert had Scotch, Alex bought some Smirnoff. At one time, we had 9 people in that little compartment.

We were doing some serious drinking and partying. It was the second night of the trip so it was fun to start exchanging some stories.

I had brought a Readers Digest magazine. I read some jokes from the magazine and no one laughed. OK, so it was from the "Life in these United States" jokes. It had never occurred to me, but I guess some jokes are only funny to Americans. After some indulgence in the bottle of Scotch, I sure heard some things about how Americans are different from Europeans.

Yup, it was all true.

I slept great on the train.

 

It was a nice morning - beautiful scenery to look at. Rice fields, running water buffalo (there were about ten in the herd) and we saw a flock of white birds (about 30)! Very few birds in this country.

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Wed 21st - Day 4 Hue

9:40 am - the train arrives in Hue. 

Hue is the former Imperial Capital of Vietnam. Hue is also known as the center of Buddhism and education in Vietnam.

 

Mary told us the train only stops for a short time so you have to get off quickly. We moved all our bags near the door so we could pile off in a hurry. A bus met us at the train station. We checked into the Thanh Noi Hotel. Wow. The hotels just get better and better on this trip.

 

We had the afternoon free.

 

I wanted to walk to a couple museums nearby. The cyclo drivers sure don't want anyone to walk. They want the business, but I wanted the exercise!

We walked to the Antique Objects Museum, which is in Long An Palace, built in 1845. Maybe 10,000 dong entrance fee. Beautiful objects. mother-of-pearl inlayed furniture. It's hard to believe they sleep on a hard wood bed. Gorgeous clothing on display.

We also went to the other museum across the street. This was the Thuan Thien Hue (Bao Thag Thuan ) Provincial Museum. This one was definitely worth seeing. There are three buildings. I spent a lot of time in the Museum of the Resistance against US invaders (1954-75)" Many pictures about the "American War" as they call it. The information was presented to make America look bad, which is understandable. Here are some captions from pictures:

"The U.S. Imperialists used the chemical poison to mop-up into the regions crowded with people"

"Cleaning the land to grow vegetables after it was destroyed by the chemical poison in 1970"

"The Paris agreement signed January 27, 1973 ending wars in Vietnam"

"The puppet soldiers continually are carrying out gathering the people robbing to violate the Paris agreement"

"U.S. Marine soldier putting corpses of their companions into the plane"

"U.S. President Johnson declared to strengthen the aggressive war in Vietnam."

"The church. The pagoda destroyed by U.S. bombs in 1968"

"The students of Hue city are demonstrating to protest against the dictatorship of the government of the Republic of Vietnam in 1966."

"U.S. Vice President Johnson arrived in Saigon in June, 1961"

"The Lackey government of NGO Dinh Diem."

"The signing of the Geneva agreement in 1954."

Another building at this museum was "Finds in Paleolithic, Neolithic, and historic times in Thua Thien Hue."

"Tomb for Jayavarman About 2000-2500 years old"

"The Long Dress of Kinh women."

At this museum I bought two packs of postcards and four dog tags.

 

There is web site on the Internet that is compiling a list of the information of dog tags that people acquire in Vietnam. So I bought the four tags that he had displayed in the case.

When I got back to the hotel, I finally looked at what I purchased and it turns out that only one of the tags may be real. I wish I found out what US serviceman's serial number looked like – the number of characters, letter and/or numbers? I didn’t know.

One of the tags said "MAKE LOVE, MAKE LOVE". The others were all different in where the hole was punched, and what side the information is punched into. They have gotten very good at making fakes. 

Note: I have since found out that a serial number starts with two letters, for example "RA" for Regular Army, "NG" for National Guard, then it has at least eight numbers.

 

After the museum we decided to give the locals a little business and take a cyclo tour. This is a very nice place to go for a walk, but you have to take a cyclo to help the economy. The name of my cyclo driver is "Nguyen Van Hoa." I called him "Hoe."

 

GO ON A CYCLO RIDE WITH ME:

 

It is a beautiful, sunny with a couple clouds, not-too-hot day. Sit back in the cyclo seat and settle into a leisurely feeling that you get on vacations when you don't have a care in the world. You want to see it all, experience it all.

We ride toward the Citadel. I smell fresh-cut grass. They are cutting the field with gas weed-eater. [I wonder if they have lawn mowers?] They are wearing full-face motor bike helmets. There are women pulling weeds by hand. [I wonder if they ever use a chemical weed killer?]

We stop in front of the Ngo Mon Gate to the Citadel. There are about 40 school children playing soccer in the field.

As we ride along the roads and I smell wonderful smells from restaurants.

There are women picking up garbage on the street [I guess the government pays to keep the city clean?]

We are riding down this beautiful street. There are big trees on each side. The branches hang over the entire street and make green canopy [Reminds me of St. Simons Island off the Georgia coast.]

This is a very nice ride down the street. It is generally very quiet, but there is an occasional vehicle that honks to pass us. The other things we hear that make you feel so good are energetic school kids that wave at us yelling "Hello! Hello!" "Hi!" "Bye!". The people smile when they see us (foreigners).

There are beautiful homes all around the Citadel. French influence in the types of buildings.

We are passing by a bombed building that they are renovating. Lots of red bricks. They are making cement bricks.

Now we are passing by a school. I hear children singing in the big yellow building.

There are carts selling food along the street. Smells good.

This is beautiful, peaceful and relaxing.

We are passing by a very big pink house. The Viet-Kieuw people that left the country are coming back and bringing their money with them.

We passed motorbike washing and repair business.

We stopped the cyclos by a lake where Morning Glory flowers are blooming. So pretty, but …. if you look close in the lake there is garbage floating in the water. Uck. There are measuring poles in the water to see how deep is the water.

UNESCO United Nations Education and Social Council (?) Is helping to restore sites here.

We got out of the cyclos to walk across the bridge. There were some boys playing a game of soccer and the ball came directly to Jill, so she kicked it!

There were some cute kids on the bridge who posed so we could take their picture. It was a nice moment because they didn’t ask for money or expect anything in exchange for posing. [Foreigners are teaching kids to expect money in exchange for posing for pictures. I wish we didn’t teach them how to beg.]

They wanted to practice their English. Sure enough, we had to disclose our age.

We rode by a big bunch of gated buildings. It was an old Vietnamese Army compound. It was French, then American, and now Vietnamese again.

There are children frantically waving "Hello!" as we pass by. One girl did a peace sign with her fingers. I really do feel humbled by these effervescent people.

Hoe said the kids in the old city where we riding now are happier. They don’t see many tourists, so they get excited when they see foreigners.

There are two very old women looking at me coming towards them on this bike. I smiled and waved and big smile appeared on both their faces.

Hoe taught me to say "My" (pronounce "Mee") when people ask me where I am from. I say "America" some people don’t know what that means. So if I say "My" they know.

"Sin Chow" is hello.

We stopped at Tinh XA Ngoc Huong. It was a pagoda where saffron-robed monks lived. We stopped the cyclos and got out to walk across a cement bridge to a small island. Seems like a very quiet life. It is a library now too. The #1 monk and #2 monk passed away, so #3 and #4 live here now. Ten monks live here. They NEVER leave this place their whole life. They are vegetarians and never eat meat or fish. You can look across the water and see French army barracks. The place where we stopped the cyclos there was a child's grave. He was buried there (near the monks?) for good luck they said.

There are some very very cute children with big beaming smiley faces looking at us.

We stopped at Diem Tham Quan Xin Giu Ve Sinh Chung Cam On. (It’s not on the map.) It’s a gate between the old and new city. There are eleven gates. The gate is an entrance to the city so there is a road under each gate.

We walked up on top of the wall that surrounded the city, then up to the gate structure. We climbed all the way up to the top of the gate. The entire structure was full of bullet holes. Thousands of them pock marked the walls. There were some steep steps up to the top. It was really eerie to stand there and think about crouching in the corner while planes shot at you. About 100 yards away, the American had constructed an ugly cement bunker. They could shoot at people on the river, or in the gate. I took a picture from the top of the gate facing that ugly bunker. The bunker almost gets lost in the beauty of the surroundings. There were people on top of the wall taking care of their gardens. Beautiful vegetables. There were people in the river moat outside the wall tending to the "water spinach."

There was sign on the gate "No graffiti" it was in English and Vietnamese.

They rode us to another city gate, but the entire gate structure was gone here. I can only imagine the fighting and bombs and bullets that tore this place up. There was a memorial that was erected in 1998. There was 26 days of bombing and fighting in 1968. "Noi day Dem 31.1 Rang Ngay 1.2.1968" The Tet offensive. Hoe, our guide, was 4 years old when that happened. In 1968 his entire family walked to Da Nang. It took 4 days.

He was 14 in 1975 when the American left. He was in the Vietnamese Army from 18-21 years old (3 years). He fought the Chinese at the border. Now you are only required to spend 1 year in the Army. You must have a high school education to get into the Army. He is 37 now.

So after the wonderful cyclo ride – the discussion about how much money. Two big rules here that we broke – use a cyclo driver from the hotel (so they return you directly to the hotel after it is over) and get a price in writing for $1 for 1 hour. Jill and I walked to the museums (2 blocks away), then got a driver at the museum. He did a very good job selling his cyclo services. He had letters and post cards from other people who wrote let him know how much they enjoyed his tour.

Our wonderful afternoon lasted about 2.5 hours. They returned us as it was getting dark, one block away from the hotel where we bickered about money. They didn’t take us back to the hotel because the other cyclo drivers were there and he wanted to get as much money out of us as possible. He refused to take 3 dollars and kept demanding more. Whatever. I was getting uncomfortable arguing there on the street and it was dark and we still had to walk a block to the hotel. We ended up giving them US$9. I guess by giving them that much money we are teaching them how to rip us off.

 

 

So the impression that I"m experiencing is that the Vietnamese are more curious about Americans, than resentful of them.  There is not outward rancor, just felt like they desried to please to earn money..

 

At 7 p.m. tonight is a group dinner to a Latvian restaurant. There were 14 of us in the group. We all took individual cyclos. They tried to ride us together, but you get separated in the traffic. I looked back and did a double take when I saw Robert pedaling and the cyclo driver sitting down! Robert had convinced him to trade places. Too funny. Paul did the same thing. They learned that the brake is in the back. You lift a lever behind the seat to stop the cyclo. The cyclo drivers seemed a little humored by it also.

In Hanoi, Robert told me that he tried to lift a set of baskets that these ladies balance on their shoulders with a stick. The lady had a good laugh watching Robert struggle with the weight and awkwardness of their style of carrying. The women who carry them have a special shuffle so they only bear to weight of the load every other step. It really makes us admire their skill and appreciate more how they live when we can try to experience things first-hand.

I didn't realize it till now (when I'm typing this journal) that I NEVER saw a man carry those baskets hanging on the stick. Why is that?

I ordered the specialty food of Hue - banh khoai. It is a delicious small, crispy pancake with meat, shrimp, and egg. You eat it with salad and peanut sauce (nuoc leo). It was very very good. I wish I'd gotten two!

They gave all of us a souvenir from the restaurant - a bottle opener made of wood and a screw. Written on the wood is:

Lac Thien Banh Khoai Thuong Tu. Hue, Vietnam. 12-11-2001.

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Thurs 22nd - Day 5 Hue

Day of touring Hue via motor bikes. 8 am, everybody picked a driver. I think my driver picked me. He was very nice. First they took us to the Citadel - the Imperial City. Read in the Lonely Planet book about this place. It's very interesting!

Here are some of my notes that may not be in the tour books:

Many regulations are printed on a sign near the entrance. One sentence says: "No beggars. There are severe sanctions for fake handicapped" There are also signs that says "No lying, sitting on the balustrades."

There is a water moat all around. They are growing water spinach. The guide called it a "spinach moat system." People own areas of the spinach in the water and they must weed and harvest only in their area.

The Citadel is a military fort. It is ten square kilometers. The locals and the soldiers used to live inside the walls. The king lived inside the Imperial City in the Citadel. There are three walls inside the forbidden purple city. There are 10 gates to enter the Citadel and there are 2 water gates.

The Flag Pole was placed after studying Feng Shui of the Citadel. On each side are islands in the Perfume River the represent the Blue dragon's spirit on the left, and on the right is the aggressive white tiger. In the back, the mountain (for "back-leaning"), so the flag tower was strategically placed in it’s location.

It took 80,000 people 27 years (from 1805-32) to build the Citadel. It is 520 hectares, enclosed within 7-metre high, 20-metre thick brick and earth walls. It had 300 palaces, temples, tombs and other royal buildings.

Imperial city is where the king lived and where he ran the country. There are two stories. The upper level is for the king. There are a five entrances in the Ngo Mon Gate because there are five elements in the cosmos: fire, water, wood, metal, and soil. The center one is yellow, and the red one is for the king. One entrance is for horses, one for the mandarins, and one for the people. (My book says the royal elephants had one entrance.)

The Mandarins took their tests at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. Their diploma is a huge, big, heavy wood plaque that is very difficult to carry home. But they show it off during the trip home.

The (back of the )Flag Tower is across the street. It is three brick terraces built in 1807.

Entrance to the Imperial City through the Ngo Mon Gate ("the Noon Gate"), built in 1833 by Emperor Minh Mang. A masterpiece in Nguyen architecture. On top of it is the Five Phoenix Watchtower. It has nine roofs. It looks like they are doing construction on the building, but it is really just reinforcements for storms. The building almost looks Chinese. Our guide said the China and Vietnam a assimilated so similar in some ways. Same, same, but different" he says.

Walk through the gate to the Thai Hoa Palace, the Palace of Supreme Harmony. Very spectacular. There and 100 red and gold lacquered and guilded columns in the Kings Throne room. There is one original column left unrestored here so you can see the original state of the palace. You can see the mahogany wood. Four Mandarins and the Royal Eunuch and the king are allowed inside as part of the king's court. Ying and Yang are in action here to balance the harmony of the universe.

The throne faces the Esplanade of Great Salutation - a stone-paved courtyard where the mandarins stood. There are different levels of Mandarins: 1-3 stand on the highest level close to the building. Levels 4-10 stand down on the next level.

Unicorns (looks like a dragon to me) monitor the ceremony.

When you are in the thrown room, the flag pole lines up directly with the Throne.

In 1968, the Tet Offensive, the palace was partially destroyed. North Vietnamese army (NVA) held the city for 25 days. They killed over 3000 people. In the counter-assault 5000 NVA, 384 Southern troops and 142 American soldiers died. It is labeled at "the most bitter battle" of the entire American War. In 1993 UNESCO listed Hue as a World Heritage Site and sent architectural expert to totally restore it.

The Citadel is divided into many compounds:

Political

King worshipping temple

King ancestor worshipping temple

Educational

Royal garden

Sexist

Maternal family

King paternal family grandmother

Forbidden Purple City

King's Royal harem and his "physical plaza" (The king’s spirit ground for physical pleasure.)

King’s residence and honeymoon palace. (Honeymoon was 6 months with each new wife, then he’s completed exhausted)

King royal garden, royal island, royal theater.

The Can Chanh Palace – A very splendid building in the forbidden purple city. It was destroyed by war in 1947 by the French when they reoccupied Hue.

Ho Chi Men ruled in the North in 1945.

Royal Library (Royal Reading Pavilion) has a beautiful Japanese garden in the front.

We walked to the King’s mother’s residence. Dien Tho Palace.

There is lots of construction going on here. They hand-make every brick. The Fresh Air Pavilion is completely restored. There is a beautiful garden surrounded by water and small, calming water falls.

In the palace, there was a lot of furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay. When there are lighted candles all around, the furniture shimmers – very beautiful.

The palace was built in 1804? And restored in 1967, 1972, and 1983.

Mieu & Hung Mieu compound are where the women lived. There are a great display explaining all the past rulers. Our guide did a good job of keeping us interested by telling us a little about almost every one. I got some notes:

#12 emperor Khai Dinh raise the land tax 30% for two years to get money to build his tomb.

#14 emperor was poisoned after three months 1884

1841-1847 #3 ran the country. He was the "most moral" emperor. Thieu Tri. But he was anti-European. Kill Catholic priests.

Tu Duc. 114 wives. No kids because he was sterile, but he blamed it on the women.

"The Odd King" Dong Khanh. He was a transsexual!

At the Hien Lam Cac (Pavilion of Everlasting Clarity) we saw the Nine Dynastic Urns. 2600 kilos. The epitome of Hue craftsmanship. Big.

Then we went through the Mieu Gate built in 1821 by Minh Mang to worship his father.

Journal time out here for a "Tour Group Tip/Request": If you are in a group with guide who is talking, do not talk. This should be obvious. If someone in the group asks you to be quiet so the group can hear the guide, then you should stop talking instead of turning your back on the group and continuing to talk.

After the Citadel, we took the motor bikes to the Perfume River. The Emperor named it that when he was on a barge and smelled perfume – actually it was girls washing their hair using petals from a flower.

We took a dragon boat cruise on the river to the Thien Mu Pagoda. Founded in 1601. In June, 1963 a monk from here burned himself to death in Saigon. He was protesting the repression of Buddhists by President Diem, who was a Catholic. We saw the Austin car that they used to drive to Saigon . He took gas from the car and covered himself. He meditated for 30 minutes so he felt nothing when his reluctant, crying disciple put the match on him. His heart was "beating and bleeding." In November Diem was assassinated.

A pavilion to the side has a huge bell, cast in 1710, weighs 2 tons. During fighting, two monks hid under the bell and lived, so they were "saved by the bell". It’s also called the "kissing bell" because there are no public displays of affection (PDA’s), a couple can get under the bell to have a moment of passion.

There are seven levels in the 21 meter high pagoda tower with a Buddha statue on each level. Each level represents the seven stages of Buddha's life to nirvana (to want for nothing, an extinction of desires. It is the purest form of Buddhism. Nirvana is an attainment from whichone does not return.). It was gold, now it is bronze.

The next adventure was a long motor bike wild ride. We were on dirt roads and even zoomed through a stream and almost didn't make it up the other side.

We went to the Tu Hien pagoda. 80 monks live here. They are self-sufficient. They grow lots of food – gourds, bananas. We stayed to hear their chanting. That was amazing to experience. Their schedule is posted:

Up at 3:30 am, meditate
5:15 breakfast
7 walk and meditation
8:30 study and memorize bibles
11 lunch, chanting till 12 nap
1:30 wake up
2 to 4 study math, physics, chemistry from teachers at the university
4 is a second chanting
5:30 exercise
6 dinner
7 study
9:30 lights out to pray
10 sleep

We went to a nunnery for lunch. They parked the bikes out front, then walked up to the building, take shoes off. The tables were beautifully set with lots of food. It was vegetarian, but you wouldn’t know it until some told you that there was no meat. Very good. The "nuns" seems so young. Giggling a lot. They had shaved heads. They showed us how to mix up the dish of food.

They said Alex was "beautiful" and Arthur (the guy from Poland) was "handsome." I’m sure they liked his shaved head. They played with my hair and Stacy’s long hair.

I was sitting at the end of the table. They asked "Where you from?" I said "America." They got excited and ran off. They came back a short time later with a package. It was a sealed VCR tape. They said it was "Buddha's birthday." It was address to a Vietnamese man in Massachusetts with their return address. They wanted me to take it back to America and mail it. I was apprehensive. One person told me not to do it, but then Mary explained that when they ask me the question if anyone asked me to carry anything, just say "Yes." [I took the tape and sure enough, when I answered "yes" to that question, customs agents asked to look at the package. I think they x-rayed my suitcase again and it was fine. It only cost me $5 to mail it here in the US and it would have cost the nuns $20. I was glad to do it.]

The bathroom there was yuk, but tolerable. Amazing conditions that these people live in.

We rode the bikes to the edge of the river. They carefully walked the motor bikes onto a shaky, small boat to ferry all of us across the river. They put at least ten bikes and just as many people on that small boat. Mary said that costs about 3,000 dong for local to cross. We paid about 60,000 for all of use to ferry across.

After we got across, we rode through the construction of the huge bridge to get to Nguyen Emperors’ tombs - the Minh Mang Mausoleum. The only other way to get there is via a 4-hour boat ride so there were almost no other tourists. Seems like that bridge will put the ferry drivers out of business. There is a huge Lady Buddha Goddess of Mercy statue at the top of the hill near the bridge. It is cement, painted white. It is the largest lady Buddha statue in Vietnam. About 50 meters high.

On the road leading up to the entrance, there were concession stands, but no one was there to buy anything. They are restoring this place. Mary said they are timing it so the restoration of the tomb and the bridge will be finished at about the same time.

The sign said "Trich Quy Che" at the Minh Mang Tomb. He had 300 wives, 142 kids (80 are boys). It took 10,000 workmen 3 years (1840-43) to build it. There are 35 monuments along 700 meter axis.

Our guide pointed out a very large, old pine tree! [I thought, how odd. Geez, I have 10 like that in my back yard at home in Georgia. Old trees are very uncommon in this country.]

Nov 1840 he died. This was two years before his tomb was finished so the "moral king" finished it. The inscription on the Stele tells the story of the emperor.

I took a picture of Fresh Air Pavilion. The original yellow and green tile is still in good shape here. Beyond this is a beautiful crescent lake. It is 4 meters deep. A bridge goes across the lake to a large mound (hill). They slid the coffin through a tunnel under the mound to it’s final resting place.

 

After the tour of the tomb, we put the bikes back on the small ferry boat to cross the river again, then ride to a home industry where they make the Vietnamese conical hats. We rode right through town, along the rail road tracks to a small community of homes where they have home businesses.

We saw a family that made conical hats. They make these hats from Palm leaves. These are multi-function hats that the Vietnamese use to hide from the sun, use as a fan, or even carry water. The palm leaves must dry in the sun for 2 days, then they iron it flat. They whittle the bamboo to a thin wire to shape the form of the hat. Make 16 notches in normal hat, or 19 for a monks hat (bigger). A poem hat has a design that you can see when you hold the hat up to the sun. They cut newsprint into shapes and a poem, then nest it between 2 layers of palm leaves. They sew the hats with nylon thread. It takes about 3 hours to make one hat, so they can make two hats a day if supplies (palm and bamboo) are available .

We rode the motor bikes on cement paved roads about 6 feet wide, then the paving ended and we rode on dirt paths through the woods. The dirt was very red. It reminded of red Georgia clay that I have in my yard.

We were zipping around trees on the path. We also went through a stream, down to the water then a spinning wheel shove up the other side. That was so much fun. My driver was pretty aggressive which made it more fun. We were near the front of the pack most of the time.

We rode through the back yards and front yards of people's homes. At one point we had to cross a narrow bamboo bridge. It looked scary.  They let us go across first one at a time. There were many gaps in the bamboo so you could see below to the water about 10 feet down. But then they lead the bikes across one right behind the other. Mary said we had to pay 1,000 each to go across the bamboo bridge.

We rode a long way out to the country to the beautiful Thanh Toan Covered Bridge. Built in the 17th century. There is a altar inside the bridge where people can worship Tran Thi Dao, the woman who gave the money to build the bridge.

The bridge is not made with any nails. During the French and American war, they took the top off the bridge and hid it in tunnels. They paint the bridge every year. In 1999 a flood covered the bridge. 300 people were killed in Hue, but every family here has a boat (maybe even 2 boats).

When we arrived, there were no people, then school let out. Many, many energetic children came running across the bridge when they saw us. Waving and yelling "Hello!". I was sitting on the bridge just writing in my journal when two young girls walked up to me. I wrote "The girls are watching me write this right now. They are staring at the pen and paper as I scribble ink across the page. They came very close and reached out to touch me, then they turn to look at each other and laugh. Too cute. I need to keep writing so they can watch me do this."

I asked if they could write their name. No, they were too shy. They just stood there and watched. It was a very touching moment. Then Phil raised his camera and he sure learned that they did not want to have their picture taken. They ran away. (Alex and I can relate - we don't like to have our picture taken either.)

I got up and walked toward an older group of girls. A girl in that group did write her name. She wrote something like " Gy name Tri"

We were on and off the bikes touring from 8 am to 5 p.m. We went about 25 kilometers on the bikes today. It was such a fun, great day. Everywhere we rode, when people saw that foreigners were coming the small children would run up at start yelling "Hello!". Their face lit up with smiles. For the older people, you need to establish eye contact and smile, then they would break into a big smile too.

When we got back to the hotel, no one wanted the day to end, so we ordered beers and sat down in the lobby to share our fun day with each other a little longer. When we I got back to the room, I washed my face and dirt came rolling off. Yuck.

Intrepid definitely goes where no other travelers go. Getting the bikes and us on those ferry boats to cross the water was unbelievable.

That night we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. Very good

 

 

S.

 

T.

 

 

 

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Fri 23rd - Day 6 Hoi An

Bus ride from Hue through the Hai Van Pass to Hoi An may take about 3 hours. The drive today is about 83 miles. (100 km = 60 miles.)

There seems to be lots of public transportation here. We just passed bus loaded with people and it had motor bikes ON TOP of the bus. Unreal.

There are toll roads here. You must stop before the toll booth to pay and they record your vehicle and give you a ticket to give to the people in the toll booth. At the end of the day they match the records with the ticket stubs.

We stopped for coffee at Lang Co (a picturesque fishing village). There was a nice beach on the South China Sea. It feels like about 75 degree F. Stacy and Arthur actually went swimming. Phil and Jill got a massage. They used some of the Tiger Balm to massage their shoulders. That stuff is supposed to cure everything. I really do not care for the smell of it.

Hoi Van pass peak is about 1200 meters high. We are climbing from sea level up. It was built by the French. It was a one-way road so it was open at odd times. One day it was North to South, the next it was South to North. There are lots of natural waterfall through dense jungle all around.

We stopped at China Beach and the Marble Mountains

We rode through Da Nang. A five-star hotel just opened here. They recognize the tourist potential. They are making the harbor bigger for ships – I guess tourist ships. That will deteriorate the realness of the place. Many Americans were stationed here in the American war. This was a bawdy party place with bars and brothels during the war. Many "massage" parlors, drinking joints and prostitutes. Da Nang was the third largest city in the Vietnam.

[We just passed a Cosmos tour bus in Da Nang. ] There was a BP gas station. Our van stopped at a red light here in DaNang and they are trying to sell us pornography magazines!

There is a big statue here to commemorate the women’s role in the war years.

 

Arrive in Hoi An around 1 p.m. Hoi An was just declared World Heritage Site.

We checked into the hotel, then did a walking tour and stopped for lunch at the Mermaid restaurant. I had a great cheese sandwich. There are not many dairy products in this country so I was craving cheese. I also had a great vegetable soup.

Mary took us on a walking tour of this quaint town. There are very few cars here and many bicycles. We walked right down the middle of the road.

We went to some clothes shops that Mary could vouch for. She doesn’t get any commission, but she knows the reputation of the shops. You really seem to get sucked in to the culture here and end up buying a kimono and sarong. A Canadian woman was trying on her new AoDai (the traditional Vietnamese dress) that she had made. It was beautiful.

There a many very talented people here. We saw wood carving – it takes 3 days to do a carving 12 by 10 inches.

One shop had the silk cocoons to show how silk was made. It takes 7 kilos of cocoons to make 1 kilo of silk. They grow their own mulberry leaves here. 1 cocoon yields 5000 meters of silk.

The garment makers in Hoi An use (antique) pedal sewing machines – not electric. I did see one electric machine though. So if the electricity goes off, they can continue sewing by candle light.

Jill bought some nice clothes. Jacket, blouse, skirt. They measure you, then you have all your clothes the next day. Amazing. Arthur had two business suits made - hard to picture him in a suit - well, I guess we all need a way to earn money to pay for these fun adventures.

When you buy stuff here, you lack the heart to bargain downward.. just pay it to give them the money that they need...

What a great little town. You can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes. When we got back to hotel, it was raining. I realized that I’ve left my bag somewhere. It had my water bottle and black sweater in it. No great loss if it’s gone. I ventured back out and found it in the clothes shop where they had the silk worms. I walked back in the pouring rain – khaki jacket on, hood pulled tight over my head. People still asked me if I wanted a ride. Foreigners stick out everywhere. There is a big bus load of French people staying at the four-star hotel down the road.

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Sat 24th - Day 7 Hoi An

Hoi An – wake up on our free day and it’s pouring rain. It was the first time we’d seen rain on the trip. I'm glad that we didn't have anything planned. Some people did go on a tour of the Marble Mountain. We had a leisurely breakfast around 8:30 and it had stopped raining. It was turning into a beautiful day. Except that the electricity went out around 7 am.

Some folks walked down to the beach about 3 km down the road (past the new four-star hotel).

I did a little walking tour of my own around the town. There are only three streets, so it was very easy to get around and not get lost. We walked to the Tran Family Chapel. A 200-year old walled compound. 80 people in the Tran Family have a reunion here every year.

Bought some T-shirts for $2 each. The lady in the stand next door called me over and said her T-shirts were $1 each. I found one that I liked and gave her $2. I almost feel guilty paying so little.

Went back to the Mermaid for lunch. Got stuffed squid (yum) and WonTons (delish).

We walked around all day. We stopped into the Tran Duong House. The man was very interesting. He told us about the house. I took a picture of him laying on the bed - it looked like a low dining room table to me!

We walked right through the Central Market. What a fabulous array of colors and smells! Then over to the Japanese Covered Bridge - the emblem of the city. It sure looks like it could use some restoration. It existed in the 16th century and it has been reconstructed several times.

I got back to the hotel around 5. They said the electricity would come on around 6. But at 6:30 it was still off. Our group was partying by candlelight on the second floor lobby. Candles were everywhere. So romantic. Such a good mix of personalities of people to talk with.

For dinner that night in Hoi An, I got Cau Lau, the special dish they only make in this city. Thick rice-flour noodles, bean sprouts and pork-rind croutons, topped with pork. It was OK. They use water drawn from on e particular local well to make the dish. We talked with some very nice boys before dinner. They sell post cards and these nice cards that look hand-made. During dinner the lights went on, but after we ordered dessert, the lights went out again. Some hotels have generators but not ours. The pool hall across the street had generators.

We ate our dessert by candlelight then walked back to the hotel. I took a shower by candlelight. It wasn’t so bad after you get used to it.

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Sun 25th - Day 8 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Sunday morning. Up at 5:15 a.m., leave at 6:30 to drive from Hoi An to Da Nang. Arrive around 8:15 at the airport in DaNang. We brought breakfast with us from the hotel and ate it in the airport. Boiled egg, bread, cheese. I bought 2 small boxes of sweet milk for $1. I'm craving dairy products! I remember seeing any cows. I've seen one horse.

We had to take a bus to the plane waiting on the tarmac. Every seat was full on the plane to HCMC. It’s about a one hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Rob looked into taking the train, but ended up flying anyway. This tour company is very flexible to try to accommodate everyone on the tour.

We arrive at HCMC, get our luggage, then about a 30 minute drive to the Embassy hotel in Saigon. On the drive to the hotel I realized the difference from Hanoi – there was no honking here! The streets were very very wide and the sidewalks were very wide also. There was plenty of room to walk on the sidewalk and to park motor bikes and plenty of room on the streets to handle the traffic. The drivers are very good here (compared to Hanoi).

There is very clean manicured landscaping in the center of the street. There are big intersections and big round-abouts here. I wish I could get a picture of all the things they carry on bikes around here. I saw about a 120 pound pig laying in a long basket on the back of a motor bike. One guy had 260 soccer balls on his motor bike. The most I’ve seen is four people on a motor bike. Entire families travel on motor bikes. I wonder what they do when the kids get older.

There are 7 million people in Ho Chi Minh City. It is 229 square kilometers. Every family has 2-3 motor bikes.

The hotel is in a very central location. Right next to the Ben Thanh Market (the city's main shopping district) and I can see the Reunification Palace (formerly the Presidential Palace) from my bedroom window. This is the best hotel yet. Jill and I have a two rooms with a air conditioning in each room. We definitely need air conditioning here. It does seem a little warmer here, but still not unbearably hot. Relax an hour, then meet in the lobby at 12 noon.

Internet access is one block away at the business under the Lipton sign. Internet signs are everywhere in the town. 300 dong per minute – very cheap.

After we checked into the hotel, Mary walked us over to a fast food restaurant on Le Loi street - they serve Vietnamese food! It was great. I loved the beef noodle soup. There are no napkins in this country. They usually put down a plastic wrapped towel. You smash it between your hands so it makes a "pop" sound to open it. After lunch we took a cyclo tour of Saigon. Guide is Cuong (I think).

There is a statue of a waving man on a horse on Le Loi is Tran Nguyen Han.

War Remnants Museum notes:

A "sobering reminder of the effects of war"

About half of the total mangrove forest area in S. Vietnam about 300,000 acres were sprayed with herbicide. August 1970.

Sprayed Agent Orange from 1962 to 1970.

The United States spent US$925 billion (per US economist Professor RW Stevens)

The US mobilized 6.5 million soldiers:

70 Army
60 Marine
40 Navy
60 Air Force

Commission of investigation into war consequences initially determined:

3 million killed
4 million injured
2 million chemicals
500,000 infants malformed
170,000 had children that were killed in the war.

There was very touching "Statue of Mother" in the museum. It was made of bomb fragments.

In 1995 Vietnam joined ASEAN and normalized relations with the US.

There was a very good exhibit of the war through children's eyes.

The Tiger Cages really affected me. Oh my God.

The Guillotine. 4.5 meters high. The weight of the blade is 50 kg.

There were eleven nationalities represented among the dead: American, Australian, Austrian, British, German, French, Japanese, Singaporean, Swiss, Vietnamese, and Cambodian.

76 photographers were killed. The conquered their death through their immortal photographs.

This museum is really good. It has quite an effect on people who visit. What a shock to see that person in the Tiger Cage. Jesus Christ. How is that possible. Why was it necessary? I am taken aback. The horror.

There was a book that we could sign and leave our comments. An Australian woman wrote in the log book at museum "Haven’t we learned anything? George W. Bush should visit this place" I agree. [The US is still bombing Afghanistan…what a mess of situation that is.] This museum is very effective at showing how war can be such an awful awful thing. The Vietnamese people and how they suffered and the reasons. The unconscionable reasons for naught.

Continuing the cyclo tour:

Notre Dame church

Post office (designed by the man who designed the Eiffel tower), Opera House, City Hall.

The road in front of the Opera House was a water-way at one time. Saigon was negotiated by water ways.

The American Embassy: About the American evacuation 1975.

About 16 people dressed like embassy personnel got into the U.S. Embassy. There was a big fight inside the compound.

They had to use helicopters to evacuate about 2000 people because the airfield and the places were bombed. There was no room on the aircraft carrier for the people and the helicopters so they dumped the helicopters in the ocean.

We rode along the Saigon River

There is statue of Tran Hung Dao. He fought off the Mongols – this was the only nation that was able to do that.

Ton Duc Thang Road.

On the way back to the hotel, I closed my eyes. I tried to lock into my memory the smells, sounds, and feeling that I had during the cyclo ride. I wanted to be able to   sit in my chair at the office and be able to remember and recreate that moment and feeling.

That night we all met in the lobby for a before dinner drink (BDD) at 6:30. We waited for Mary to workout passing another Intrepid group to a different leader. "Trevor" was ill in Hoi An. Mary took his group on a walking tour in Hoi An. He was supposed to fly to HCMC, but Mary was so concerned about how he was going to get on the airplane. He couldn’t even move some of his limbs. It was probably something that he ate.  What a good tour company to have responsible leaders here to take over if necessary. . Anyway. No one is sick on our trip (so far…)

For dinner we walked to the restaurant right beside the hotel to these little blue chairs. They don’t have any adult chairs in this entire country! Always these tiny little chairs. So there we were on the sidewalk eating our dinner, huddled over our bowls of steaming noodles. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was neat to be trying to experience how these people live. The food was delicious. I had chicken with noodles. I’m eating safe food, but still trying to be a little adventurous. The dining atmosphere with our group was civil – as we tried to move past "the episode." Stacy, the China group leader who is traveling with us, is a good arbitrator.

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Mon 26th - Day 9 Mekong Delta

Today we went to the town of Ben Tre on the Mekong Delta. About 70 km drive. We were going to the Min Chan province. Our guide for the river tour is Tam.

On the way to Mekong we stopped at a Cao Dai Church. The sign out front said "Thanh That Ben Luc." Inside was a sign with "Truyen Ky Tuong Tam Thanh." It is a religion with the concept of a universal god. Cao Daism is entrenched in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, elements of Christianity, and Mohammedansim. God is in many places. It borrows structure and terminology from the Catholic Church. The Devine Eye is the tangible representation of the religion's existence. It was founded around 1926. Cao Daism - "Cao " means "high" and Dai means "place." It sure makes sense to me…

I think Tam said that over 60% of Vietnamese are Buddhist. 20% Christian. Some Muslim.

The main transport is by boat in this area – all families have a boat and all life is centered around the water.

On our boat trip on the Mekong, we went to Con Thoi Son Island, Phuno Island, An Khanh Village.

Tam is singing to us on the boat ride to the first island. This island is 3 km wide and 11 square km. The water is 1 km deep in this area. 6000 people live on this island. Farmers grow fruit.

On the other island –Dragon Island people are fishermen. It is 6 square km.

Cambodia is 70 km away. 100 km to Ho Chi Minh City. It is a 10 hour (cheap) boat ride from here.

There is one suspension bridge across the river. The ferry across the river takes 40 minutes.

There are lots of water palm (or was it coconuts) growing along the river. They cover the houses with the leaves. Mangrove grows to prevent erosion.

The river water looks "not clean" but that is not true he says. It has many soil deposits and runoff from farmer's fields. It is very fertile land here compared to North Vietnam. In fact they dig up mud from the bottom of the river and take is up to the land so they can plant in better soil. I saw a small boat loaded with the squares of mud. They were unloading them onto a wet plank. The slide the mud onto the land.

This is such a pleasant perfect day. I’m comfortable in long pants and sleeves so far. It ‘s a little cloudy so the sun is not bearing down. It’s only 11 am.

There is fresh fish in the Mekong river not salt water fish.

We went to a coconut candy-making place. It was so good.

Right now we are in a small boat going through waterways off the river. There is a loud engine which slows to let an occasional other boat to pass. We went under a bridge – there was a boy with a fishing pole walking over the bridge. Now the canal is getting narrow, I just got scraped with palm leaves.

We got out and saw a honey business – I took some honey from the wax.

We had a nice tropical fruit snack with tea. Sapodilla, Jack fruit. They had a drink of rice wine and honey kumquat cocktail.

They played some music for us. A six-string guitar, and two other instruments.

They put salt on pineapple here. I guess that’s no different than Southerners putting salt on watermelon.

The canal was not very wide, so we climbed into row boats. Four of us per boat. Our rower stood up like in Venice, but not quite like Venice. "Same, same, but different." On the canal, we transferred to motor boats.

During the war, the US and S. Vietnam controlled the river, but the Viet Cong always controls the canals.

We are 60 km from the sea so there are fresh water fish here.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the Mekong. There is dish call "amohk" a traditional dish of sweet coconut and fish served on banana leaves. 

A group ordered a fish called "elephant ear" fish. It was beautiful. It arrived decorated and standing up. The girl that served it helped them figured out how to eat it. Rice paper with some leaves and roll the fish up in it. It looked very good.

There were a couple very skinny dogs there. We fed them all our leftovers. Chicken, spring rolls. The dogs ate well.

After lunch, we went on a walk to a wood carving business. I can’t even begin to describe it. Very industrious, hard-working people. A saw a man trying to repair a hand saw. We walked past the business, then into their house to see the wood behind the house.

There was a very dirty kitchen area with new delta mud piled beside the cooking area. There were clothes hanging around behind the kitchen area. A woman was laying in a hammock. We all walked by and I looked back and saw that she was playing a hand-held computer –type game.

There was a television set in the front room. Also a VCR and stereo. The roof was metal with tarps filling in the holes.

There was a stream about 6 feet wide . Their bathroom was a shaky square wood structure over the river. You can pull the tarp closed for some privacy, then squat over the river to do your business.

On the ride back to the bus, we were on a very wide part of the Mekong river. We passed a family on boat along the shore. They had two children and all four of them were eating big slices of watermelon. As our boat slid by in the water, big smiles appear across their faces and they wave "Hello!"

Tonight was the farewell dinner for Vietnam portion of the trip. We met in the lobby for our BDD (before dinner drinks). There was a big scuffle in the alley next to the hotel. Many dogs barking and what could have a been a gun shot. Panic stricken Vietnamese men charged over to our hotel lobby as a safe refuge. Fear was written all over their faces. We have no idea what it was or what happened. Mary said that you NEVER call the police in this country. Maybe it was someone taking care of their own discipline. It was over pretty quick. We just sat there with our beers and watched.

At the restaurant, Robert and I got "sour soup." It arrived on gas burners that they set right on the table in front of us. His was better than mine.

Mary asked all of us what was our best moment on the trip. I had three:

Getting totally immersed in the hectic surroundings in Hanoi, riding the motor bikes in Hue up through the stream and up the bank of the other side, then in Saigon when I shut my eyes during the cyclo ride so I could feel, hear, and smell the city.

After dinner we went to get ice cream at Fanny’s. Yum. One scoop in a martini glass. I asked to buy the glass and the owner told me to take it as a souvenir. No one had asked to buy the glass before. That was nice. I took it back to the hotel and had some of Alex’s vodka so it was kinda like martini.

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Tues 27th - Day 10 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Day 1 on the Road to Angkor Tour

Free day on the Vietnam tour. We start the Cambodia tour tonight at 6 p.m. Six of us from this tour are going on that one. We’ll get five new people.

It was a relaxing day because I took off on my own to do a walking tour of the city. There were a few "must do and must see" things that I had to do and see. The Palace, the Embassy, the Rex, the Continental hotels.

Notes from my walk around Saigon.

I have not seen any fast food places in this country. No McDonalds, no KFC.

In Saigon there are hardly any traditional conical hats. There are lots of caps and other hats. A few helmets.

I saw a Toyota shop.

Everything seems to close from about 11 am to 2 p.m. I guess for lunch or siesta. I walked up to the American Embassy. There was three papers taped to the front door. One was a memo warning about a white powder found, another saying that the white powder was not anthrax. Then a third paper dated September 9, 2001 to warn people about increased crime around the embassy street area. Americans should be aware of their surroundings, hold onto all possessions, and do not talk to motor bike drivers. They may work in groups.

I walked to the Rex hotel. It’s one of those "must do" things in this city to have a drink on the top of the Rex. It was decorated with two big elephants. This is where you go to "get away from Vietnam" Mary said. It’s almost like I’m back in the US with selfish people who ilke to talk about money and show it off. It isn’t pretty. The "haves" and the "have nots".

I’m finally out of dong now, so I’m spending US dollars now. Geez, it had taken me 10 days to spend US$100 and I have bought most of my food and all my souvenirs!

I had a nice walk around the town. A television is 4,990,000 dong.

My lunch of beef noodle soup and iced coffee with milk is 22,000 (about $1.50).

I walked over the Reunification Palace (formerly the Presidential Palace).

It was built in 1868. In 1962-66 they built this new palace. It has 95 rooms and two basements.

On 4/29/75 the tank stormed through the gates. On 4/30 the American Ambassador left.

The cream colors in the cabinet meeting room make it a calm room.

They reunified the country in the conference hall.

Bamboo is the symbol of the noble men so the outside of the building design looks like bamboo from the inside.

The round carpet was made in 1966.

The unicorn is the symbol of the mandarin. The dragon is the symbol of authority, and the phoenix is the symbol of a nice couple.

I took a picture of the helicopter and the spot where the bomb was dropped.

The man that dropped the bomb is now the head of Vietnam Airlines! This was printed on the cement: "At 8:30 am April 8, 1975 First Lieutenant pilot Nguyen Thanh Trung flew FSE and threw down two bombs at the right target here."

There was a music room in the palace. They played some live music for us so we could see and hear the instruments. One was a xylophone made of bamboo. You can had to cup your hands together and clap them to make the musical note.

After we got to the top of the palace building, we took the stairs all the way down to the basement. There are actually two basements. A 2-ton bomb can’t destroy the basements. They could run the war from these basements. There was a map room, "computers," communications room, and lots of other rooms.

OK, one more huge regret about this trip. On this last free day in Saigon, I wish I had gone to Cu Chi to check out the underground tunnel network that served as an important hideout for the Viet Cong during the American ware. It would have been a day venture (like the Perfume Pagoda, my other trip regret). I was distracted that morning, so I didn't remember that I had to go on that excursion. Oh well. I did and saw a lot of other must-do things in the city instead.

 

Cu Chi Tunnels

Started digging in early 60's and by 1973 they had burrowed 200 miles of passageways.

Up to 5,000 guerrillas were stationed there, hiding like moles by day and slipping out at night to infiltrate and attach, US Air Force dropped half a milllion bombs on Cu Chi.  It is now national park.  They had to enlarge the tunnel entraces so the tourists could enter.

 

 

6 p.m. was the introduction meeting for the Cambodia trip. Kate is the trip leader. Looks like a fun nice group of new folks. I can already tell that this portion of my trip will be the best. After the meeting we had a big group dinner at a place like Koto. These are really fun people!

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Wed 28th - Day 2 Bus ride from Vietnam to Cambodia

7:30 am - board the bus to ride to Cambodia. Kate said it was about a two hour ride to the border, then we switch buses in Cambodia and it’s about 4 to 6 hours to Phnom Penh.

Beautiful scenery to look at here in S. Vietnam. I saw a couple row boats in the water and they were rowing with their feet! The man was laid back in the boat with his hands crossed over his chest, and his feet were operating the oars to row the boat.

This road is in pretty bad condition. Kate said it’s part of the construction for the Indo-China highway. It will be finish in about 5 years. It goes from Vietnam, through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand. In the mean time, here we are on the "dancing bus." "Dancing" because of the numerous pot holes. They had built huge cement drainage canals that will go under the road, but we were having to slow down and slowly make our way around them. At least we had room to maneuver around the hole. A month ago (November – rainy season) Kate said that the land was all flooded so every animal in the area was also on the road.

There are so few birds here. In Saigon I saw Mynah birds in cages when I was having my drink at the top of the Rex. I realized what a pleasure that was to hear birds singing, but they were caged. There are people that walk around with this big cages full of birds. They want you to buy one to set it free.

At Moc Bai we had to put the bus on a ferry to cross the river. We had about a ten minute wait before the ferry was ready to load. Children immediately circled our bus selling us things. Kate bought some toasted bugs. Someone dared her to eat one. They shouldn’t have done that, because she did! A couple other people tried them too. Mmm, crunchy. No thank you. We were passing our empty aluminum cans out the window of the bus. The kids get some money when they take the can to get recycled.

Everyone drives the vehicles right up on the ferry. It was packed in tight. Motor bikes filled all the space.

After we crossed we arrived at the border crossing. We piled out of the bus and took our luggage into the building on the Vietnam side of the border. They took their time to check our passport, then we had to walk about 100 yards over "no-man's land" to the Cambodian side.

As I wandered over this border I looked around and wondered if land mines had ever been placed around here. [I learned later that there are still 4-6 million land mines are still in Cambodia now.] I thought about the Afghan refugees, at this moment, fleeing their country to escape the American bombs. They had to get across (sometimes closed) borders into Pakistan. What a tough life.

And here I was. I had a bag with wheels, dragging it across this dirt and gravel. It was rough terrain but I think the wheels survived. I sure didn't want to carry all that on my back. [When we had to weigh our luggage for a flight, it happened that that my carry-on suitcase weighed 19 kilos and Chris's back pack weighed 20! He's young and strong so he can handle it.]

When you get to the Cambodian side, you go to this hut where you give your passport and immigration form to another person to check. It was a warm/hot day. Everyone in our group was sweating from the long walk with the luggage. There was a local man at the hut who was wearing with big, thick, winter coat! This was cold weather for them!

After we cleared the hut customs, we re-grouped and boarded a different (no so nice) bus. Air con worked a little. It was about another 2 hour ride. The road was a little better so we made great time. We arrived in the Phnom Penh at 4:30.

I saw a sign for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries right as we were coming into town. I guess that’s where Grampa worked when he was here back in 1960.

Check into hotel. Awesome location. Right across the street from the Grand Palace and Silver Pagoda. After I took my first refreshing cool shower, we learned how to press the button in the shower to get hot water.

I absolutely LOVE this city already. The feeling you get from the people, the view, the location of the hotel, everything. It seems like a relaxed pace. Big, wide streets.

There was big banner hanging over the road to welcome the Director of the World Trade Organization and the President of Vietnam. They are visiting Phnom Penh right now!

We went for a walk along the river (one block from the hotel) and ended up at the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC) of Cambodia. I’m sitting here having a drink, gazing out to the river.

There are lots of big cars in this city. The United Nations staff gets US$145 per day here. That’s a lot of money! They are many huge sport utility vehicles driving around here. They said there was an official memo put out to tell the UN staff not to park in front of the Houses of Prostitution, they should park a couple blocks away.

An example of the cost of an apartment: 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 2 living room, kitchen, furnished with garage is $300 a month.

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Thurs 29th - Day 3 Phnom Penh

8 am buffet breakfast, leave at 9 am for a day of touring. Our guide is "Vuthy."

Money in Cambodia: 3800 Real = US$1. I didn't change any USD because they accept US money everywhere and you get Real in change.

I get such a different feeling in this city. There are many more monks walking around. The traffic is calmer. Not much honking. Very wide streets.

Our first stop was about 15 km from Phnom Penh - the Killing fields. Choueng Ek Genocidal Center.

A month ago the road to this place was washed out. They had to take motor bike the that km to the killing fields.

From 1975-78 Pol Pot ruled by killing people. They eliminated all the intellectuals so he could achieve his socialism. They killed soldiers and educated people. The victims were peasants, workers, ministers, Khmer diplomats, foreigners, women, children were "liquidated" here.

There are about 200 killing fields all over this country. The people were forced to do hard work. They were killed and piles of victims were buried in the fields. They found any reason to kill. Out of a population of 7 million people, they killed 2 million.

They were killed by bamboo rods striking them, or steel ax blades. Some, but not many by bullets. The names were all sent to the leaders.

There are 40 to 450 victims per mass grave. There were about 8000 skulls in the place where we visited .

In 1980, 86 out of 129 mass graves were unearthed. In the extermination camp 8,985 corpses were found.

A sign marking a huge hole in the ground: "Mass grave of more than 100 victims, children and women whose majority were naked."

A sign on tree: "Chankiri tree against which executioners were beat children."

Another sign said that "This was more cruel than the genocidal act committed by the Hitler fascists"

The Khmer Rouge ruled only 5? Years. After his reign, Pol Pot lived until 1998 in the West with support from Western countries.

There are some very whiney children begging around here – you can hardly understand what they are saying. Kate bought pens for the ten kids around here. I’m not sure where they hid them, but they were back asking for more a little while later. I was sitting in the bus and one girl successfully communicated to Chris and she wanted him to take the barrette out of my hair and give it to her! "Cheeky" children!

I really wish they would learn how to say "Please", but Kate there isn’t really a word in their language that means the same thing, so they would not understand how to say Please"

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Everyone is quiet on the bus. Trying to fathom the horrors that surrounded us as we walked around that field. Next stop was even soberingly worse.

Tuol Sleng prison tour. Museum of Genocidal Crime.

This was "Security Office 21", a Khmer Rouge torture centre. Before that it was a High School.

From 1975 to 1978 over 10,000 people were killed here.

In the court yards are the tombs of the last 14 prisoners that were killed before they vacated the prison.

Tough thing to see.

After the tour – back to the hotel. We ate lunch at the restaurant right beside the hotel. I had some really good beef kabobs for $4.

After lunch, I went across the street to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Quite a spectacular place to see. Pristine and immaculately kept.

After wandering and admiring for 1.5 hours, they chased everyone out at 3:30. When I was in the Silver Pagoda they were very busy moving things around - it looked like they were hiding the tourist items and bringing out the most beautiful things to display in center front. They were getting ready for a private ceremony. Anyway, I tried to go back to the Royal Palace, but they wouldn't let me. I had to walk out on the Silver Pagoda side. I'm glad I got to see it!

[Note: Later that afternoon as I was walking to the river, I saw a couple police cars escorting some big vehicles into the center entrance of the grand palace. It looks like only the most important people get to use the front entrance. I’m guessing it was the President of Vietnam.]

At the shops near the exit I bought a framed picture of Angkor Wat. I could tell it had been then a very long, long time because it was covered with dirt. Vivid colors and perfect reflections appeared when I wiped the dirt off.

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It was such a beautiful afternoon so I decided to go for a walk along the river's famous Sisowath Quay. It was difficult to walk by the (cute) motor bike driver. The river is only a block away and I really did want to walk, so I didn't need his service.

There are people walking around here dragging big, tall scales.

Someone told me that there is a government campaign for people to weigh more. What a difference from America where 67% of the people are obese (fat).

So I was just sitting there watching this lonely person sit by his scales so I decided to get weighed!

I sure drew a crowd to see this tall blond girl getting measured.

The man couldn't speak any English so he called a young girl over.

I gave my pad of paper to her and scribbled some numbers - definitely metric number because I know that I have gained weight on this trip and I sure did not expect that!

The food is so good!

 

So right now, I’m sitting here by myself after a long walk along the river. I’m watching the people go by. I really do like this city.

People are starting to come by begging for money. They are so poor here. So sad.

Also so sad that they are learning how to be ambitious beggars. Tourists teach them how to beg by giving them money to go away.

I remember Mary explaining to us that it is not an Intrepid policy to throw money at people so you can take their picture. You should not do that. You should buy something from them. But these beggars. Geez, so sad.

Ok, so now I have three monks that wandered next to me and now they are sitting right beside me watching me write in this journal. This is very weird. One is about one foot away from me, staring at me.

OK, they can’t speak English, so I’ll keep writing. They do have "cheeky" monks here. At the palace, a monk was flirting with Karen. He wanted her address! I couldn’t believe it when I saw that. The tour book says that we (women) are not supposed to touch them. The monk next to me seemed to be asking the time.

I tried to let him see my watch, but it was so small that he couldn’t read it.

I took it off my wrist and handed it to him. He looked at it and read "six," then gave it back to me. It is starting to get dark so I need to get up and start walking back. It’s hard to communicate. A beggar came by and stood in front of me for a awhile. The monk took out his wallet and gave her some money. I felt obligated to do the same. SO then word got around that a foreigner was giving out money – more beggars come around.

I got up and started walking away. I saw a man in a wheel chair and gave him some money. Within 10 seconds, two more men in wheel chair appeared, so I gave them some too.

Then I did a quick walk to get away from the children. My pockets were totally empty. Nothing else to give.

 

7 p.m. dinner.

On the way to dinner, Kate told us a story about how they base their predictions on what cows eat! Once a year the area next to the Grand Palace they bring in three cows. There is a big pile of rice, fruit, and water. If they eat more rice, it will be a good rice harvest, If they drink lots of water, then there will be water problem that year.

We were very fortunate to have a very unique Intrepid experience to dine at a home in Cambodia. "Rahn" is our host.

He was a tour guide, but the government started enforcing the required license to be a guide, so he had to go to the university and pay before he can be a tour guide again.

Intrepid is supporting him with the dinner. We paid $5 each for best meal and the most fun experience of the entire trip. (see picture on my web site www.mytrips.com)

All 12 people in our group wanted to go.

We rode about 15 minutes and the last part was on a very bumpy, washed out dirt road. People were really looking at this van trying to drive down this bad road. We rode as far as we could, then had to get out and walk the last 2 blocks.

It was dark, so he kept the head lights on so I didn’t step in any big mud puddles.

The house was on stilts. We took our shoes off at the bottom of the stairs.

32 people live in the house, but you’d never know it. Very quiet, shy children, an 82 year old grandfather. The house is 100 years old. At one time, it was a hospital and an officer station for the war.

In 1918, when people were allowed back in the city (they were forced out for 3 years), the poor and rich came back and claimed what ever house was available.

No property records were kept. This is an "average" house Kate said. 13 of us sat on the floor on mats.

 

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First fried bananas, curry chicken, cuddle fish and mushrooms, beef and broccoli, beef and noodles, and good seafood soup served on hot pots so it was boiling the whole time. They always serve fruit at the end of each meal. They salt the pineapple. All the food was very very good. They said they started shopping at 4:30 this morning and cooked all day.

So that is how they live and eat. Only Intrepid could arrange something like that.

The typical house here in Phnom Penh is on stilts. The cost of a "typical" house is about US$2000 in the city.

The TV was on because they had to see their horoscope. There were commercials for skin whitening products. Stacy said could not find deodorant that didn’t have a whitening product in it. People are vain everywhere in the world. In the U.S. we sell skin tanning cremes! People do stare at my very white arms and pale legs. On one tour, I zipped my pant legs so I was wearing shorts and I actually felt self-conscious at the stares, so I zipped the long pants back on. Intrepid did tell us that in Asia, you should always have you thighs covered. Pant lengths anywhere from your knee to the ankles is the norm here. Women/girls should definitely not wear singlets (the thin strapped tops).

Other interesting things that I learned in Phnom Penh:

Phroh Penh is the name of the lady who found the Buddhist statues. Phnom means "the mountain" so the name of the city means "the mountain that belongs to the Lady Penh."

The government is building a sewer system to prevent flooding in the city.

4-5 percent Muslims here. Also Hindu and Buddhist.

FRUIT : Mangosteen – purple outside, white inside. Rambuton – red/yellow, globe grade size with hairs.

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Fri 30th - Day 4 Siem Reap

Leave at 5:45 am to fly to Siem Reap. 8:15 arrive in Siem Reap and meet our (cute) guide "Ung Savy." We called him "Saffy."

We flew, but if you drive it is about 10 hours from Phnom Penh. Half of our group (the true adventurers) took the boat! Intrepid is flexible to arrange and accommodate whatever people want to do. I opted not to do the boat thing when Kate mentioned that there is still a travel warning from the Australian government that someone shot at boat 18 months ago. Robert went on the boat so I carried his "for-the-safe" important items in my carry-on on the airplane. That was just in case the boat got robbed - I sure didn't mind doing it because I believe in being prepared.

 

From Gainesville Sun, March 10, 1996

 

Most opt for plane ride.  Only the adventurous or budget minded opt for the $25 river journey on the Tonle Sap.

It's a 150 mile journey and it takes 6 hours.

You get stuffed into a long ,marrow boat with throngs of Cambodians and their crates, cages animals and other baggage.

The "Capacity 52" sign is crossed out to read 76.  The actual number pushes 100.  Only a single life jacket can be seen.

On the top deck, there is a parade of bucolic scenes.

The next day a boat sprang a leak, another boat ran out of fuel.  On the trip by the journalist, Denis D. Gray (AP) a gove soldier in small motor boat fired a single shot in the direction of the boat.  Maybe he was after a bribe, or others "thought he was joking".

 

 

What wonderful weather! We're in the dry season now. In the hot season it can be 35-38 here, but now in Nov, Dec, and Jan winter months, it is 20-25.

We were driving on very new roads and some of it is still bumpy dirt roads. The roads will be all complete a couple weeks at the end of 2001. They pave the roads here with gravel that women carry in baskets. Unreal. Then they have trucks to lay down the asphalt. They are installing sewer systems so they don’t ever expect any more flooding.

The Siem Reap river never dries up. Even in the dry season. They are very lucky in their province to always have water.

"Seam Reap" means "Thailand defeated."

Savy said that Angkor Wat was the seventh most visited place in the world (behind the pyramids, Taj Mahal, great wall) [FYI - December, 2001 - India is covering the Taj Mahal now to camouflage it in case Pakistan starts air strikes in the fight for Kashmir. They are stitching over 400 yards of khaki, balck and green cloth.  The Taj shines as far as 40 km (24 miles) away and is especially visibleo on moonlit night so they even plan to hide the four minarets.]

We passed a four/five-star hotel - The Royal Hotel has rooms up to US$1900 a night!

The Angkor period is from 802 to 1432.

"Wat" is the Thai name for "temple."

The temples are the magnificent remains of the ancient Khmer Empire of Angkor. They were built between the 9th and 13th centuries. They are believed to represent the cosmic world; set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. They are scattered over an area of some 160 sq. km, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap.

Check into Freedom Hotel. Very nice, great same-day laundry service, and cheap. I think Robert's friends paid US$20 for their room.

There is lots of traffic here because of construction. We’re in a "Cambodian jam" now…

The tour usually goes to Angkor Wat first, but since half our group on the boat won't arrive till 1 p.m., we'll see other temples today and do the Big One tomorrow.

The temples are scattered over an area of 60 square miles (160 sq km)

 

Kate and Savy put together a great (adjusted) temple schedule:

Preah Khan this morning.

Ta Prohm in the afternoon . Jungle not cleared temple. Watch sun set (at 5:30) over Angkor Wat.

Saturday sunrise (at 6:20) over Angkor Wat and tour that morning.

Angkor Thom in the afternoon. Angkor Thom is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Vishnu is a savior who guides mankind.

Next day Banteay Srei Citadel of the Women about 1:15 away.

Swim and lunch.

Afternoon visit to school. This is only school in Cambodia where the children do not need to pay because Intrepid supports the school.

They have found 180 temples in Cambodia so far. Only 40 are accessible to visitors.

No one used mortar between the stones. They had to erect bamboo scaffolding to work on the high parts. Stones at most temples are falling apart. Some are being restored.

In 1636 Japanese discovered Angkor Wat and said it was Indian. In 1860 most other temples started being discovered.

 

There are no earthquakes here. The stones fall from lightening strikes.

There are no tombs for the kings because when a king dies, they are cremated.

Savy said that these temples are used for worship and education, not necessary for living.

Savy keeps saying that there are "cheeky" monkeys around here. They steal food if you aren’t looking. I didn’t see many monkeys at all. In my grandfather's pictures, there were monkeys everywhere!

The first stop for every tourist is the building purchase your pass to see temples. Your photo appears on the pass to no one else can use it. The cost is US$20 for one day, US$40 for 3-day, and US$60 for 1 week.

 

 

 

Preah Khan

Friday morning. Our first temple. Preah Khan means "the sacred sword."

Built in the late 12th century (1191).

It is 140 acres (56 hectares).

Set deep in it's own jungle, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) aims to present Preah Khan as a partial ruin [so it won't be totally restored.] So, Savy said "Preah Khan really is not a good quality temple," but that's part of it's charm.

The stones for this temple are volcanic rock. They were transported 45-57 km by elephants!

It is a Buddhist temple. A "Hinduisation of this Buddhist temple" occurred in the 13th century. Buddha statues lost their heads and small shrines dedicated to Hindu deities were placed in the temple. Some reliefs of Buddha's have been transformed into Hindu holy men.

The entrance has a huge Naga (the serpent-god of the waters with 5 heads) and the "churning the ocean of milk" to produce the immortality elixir.

You walk through a gopura (an elaborate gateway to the temple) and series of smaller gopura. Savy said the doorways get smaller because the king wanted respect so the smaller doorways made the people walk stooped over.

Finally to arrive at the Hall of Dancers. This is on the front of the popular Angkor Book that everyone was selling for 1-8 dollars. Savy took a picture of me "dancing" like they are posed on the front of the book.

I hear the sound of someone cutting a tree in the forest somewhere near. This is not a nice sound.

 

After Preah Khan we went back to the hotel for lunch and to wait for the rest of the adventurous boat people in the group to arrive. After a quick nap, we were off to the next awesome sight.

Ta Prohm

Built mid-12th to early 13th century (1186)

They used sandstone mixed with rock so it is not so strong.

It has 39 towers. It is one of the largest sites at Angkor. A wall that is 700 by 1,000 meters (2,297 by 3,281 feet) encloses the temple.

Ta Prohm owned 3,140 villages. It took about 80,000 people to maintain this temple!

There were evenly spaced holes in the walls. Savy said this where beautiful stones were put in the walls. The book says over 4,540 precious stones and 35 diamonds were used in the temple. The book also says the evenly spaced holes suggest they were originally covered with metal sheets.

There are fallen rocks everywhere. Archaeologists have only cleared a path and done some structural strengthening to stop further deterioration. It was fun crawling over this disarray, but I couldn't help thinking about how tourists are further displacing some of the stones when we climb over them.

"The temple is held in a stranglehold of trees. Stone and wood clasp each other in grim hostility; yet all is silent and still, without any visible movement to indicate their struggle - as if they were wrestlers suddenly petrified, struck motionless in the middle of a fight. The rounds in this battle were not measured by minutes, buy by centuries." ( RJ Casey, Four Faces of Siva: The Detective Story of a Vanished Race, p 181. )

This Savy’s story and theory:

When Pol Pot was young, he couldn’t even kill a chicken, then he went to Vietnam to study. When he turned communist, he started killing to force people to follow his ways. But Pol Pot killed his own people, usually leaders kill other people, not their own people.

Cambodian people "never forget, but we forgive, so there is never war."

Savy said that "The American war was good for Vietnam because now many many people know about the country and where it is because of the war."

There was 28 political parties, now there is only 3 parties.

Kate said this country has a "constitutional monarchy’. Savy seemed to think that is was more of a socialist system.

 

Readers Digest, May 1998 by Fergus M. Bordewich

 

World Monuments Funds sponsored a major restoration, which were brought to abrupt halt in the mid - 1970's by the murderous onslaught of the Khmer Rouge. In a few short years, the Communist zealots took control and killed more than 1 million of their own people.

Vietnamese forces ousted the Kymer Rouge in 1979. THen there was 10 years of looting.  In 1989 the conflicts shifted enough to enable foreigners to visit Angkor.

World Monuments Funds John Sanday began restoring again: prop up unsteady walls, stales stones together with steel clamps, reinforce other with fiberglas and stainless-steel rods.

 

Readers Digest, "Angkor - Lost City of the Jungle" by Clarance W. Hall

 

In 1907 the French govt began the long taks of releasing the lost city from the jungle's grasp under the direction of Bernard Groslier, who was first to point out

"The monuments, no longer protected by the vegetation which had held them for centuries, were bing erorded by the excessive heat and torrent of tropical rains. Worse, their fragile sandstone was beginning to diintegrate under the attack of a water-borne bacillus ("stone disease"). The only way to save them was to dismantle them stone by stone, and re-erect them on reinforced-concrete foundation surrounded by drainage pipes. Parts of the temple could then be treated against further damage by the application of antibiotics.

 

 

The next stop for the day was a climb up a very steep hill to watch the sun set over Angkor Wat. You could pay US$15 to ride an elephant up. I do want to ride an elephant some day, but I really wanted the exercise, so I climbed. About half way up was a man with one leg begging. Kate gave him some money. She has touching way of helping the people in this country.

On the trek down I was following a Japanese woman. Her husband let me go in-between them. At one point she reached out to help me down and we held hands for a steep, difficult part of the hill. That was a moment to remember.

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Sat 1st - Day 5 Angkor Wat / Siem Reap

Saturday morning.

It is 6:30 am and here I am sitting on a wall at Angkor Wat watching a spectacular sunrise over the temple. This is definitely a once-in-a lifetime experience to see this. Absolutely beautiful. Such a surreal feeling. The crickets and Sakata bugs are very loud. It’s really incredible to think that my grandmother, grandfather, and aunt were right here in 1960 (40 years ago).

After we saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat, we went across the street to eat breakfast. I got some good banana pancakes and iced white coffee (coffee with sweetened condensed milk). Yum. After breakfast Savy took us on a fabulous private tour of THE WAT that I had waited all my life to see.

 

1960 - My Aunt and Grandmother in front of Angkor Wat
  

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Me in 2001.

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1960 - My Aunt on the second level Anglor Wat

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2001 - Me sitting the same place.

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Angkor Wat

It is the largest religious monument ever constructed and it is and one of the most intact - it is an architectural masterpiece. "Its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, relief and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world."

Angkor Wat means "The City which is a Temple." It is 6 km from the Siem Reap to Angkor Wat.

Built in the early 12th century (1113-1150) for King Suryavarman II. It took 30 years to build this temple.

It is 213 feet (65 meters) high and some say 65 meters under ground too.

There is no damage to the foundation. No sandstone was used in the foundation so it is solid rock.

Stones, averaging more than a ton were transported from a quarry 25 miles away by a barge, moved overland on roller by elephants, then hoisted by some method not yet known.

 

It was built for worship. This was a Buddhist monastery, but then it changed to Hindu.

It was built to the West to face the capital (not to the East like the others)

Some places in the temple are white because Indian archaeologist used a chemical to clean the stone and it dissolved the stone carving and made it smooth in some places. That’s a shame.

It is 500 acres (210 hectares). Surrounded by a wall which the perimeter is 3.5 miles (5.5 km) long. The wall is surrounded by a moat that is 200 meters (660 feet) wide. (Savy said it was 190 meters wide and 1500 meters long. It was dug by hand.

The moat symbolizes the cosmic ocean of milk. Naga is the serpent-god of the waters. It always has an uneven number of heads. They are enemy of the garuda (a mythical bird). Naga, along with Gods and Demons "churning the ocean of milk" in a Hindu epic. You do this to obtain immortality water (the water in the moat). Churning this ocean seems like the fight between good and evil…

The moat is crossed by a huge sandstone causeway that is 250 meters (820 feet) long and 12 meters (39 feet) wide.

At the end of causeway is the entry tower. The roof of this tower fell because of lightening strikes (there are no earthquakes here). In 1960 (when my Grampa was here ) French archeologists rebuilt the entrance. They used mortar to hold the stones together.

In the entry tower there is a huge stone figure which was originally a Vishnu image, but it has been transformed into a Buddha by giving it a new head. It was dressed in orange silk.

After the entry tower is a raised walkway that is 350 meters ( 1,150 feet) long and 9 meters (30 feet) wide.

There is a water "basin" on each side of this walkway. They strategically placed to capture the reflection of the towers in the water.

Then you get to the Gallery of Bas-reliefs (walls of carved stone that teach and tell stories).

There are four that form a rectangle that is 215 by 187 meters (705 by 614 feet). The carvings are 2 meters (7 feet tall). That makes over 1,200 square meters (12,900 square feet) of sandstone carvings! 60 evenly-spaced columns provide light (and some protection) to the carved walls. The columns are about 10 feet away. Some walls are damaged by weather.

Each section of the bas-reliefs tell a story inspired by Indian epics, sacred books, or war in the Angkor period. WOW, and I thought the Sistine Chapel was impressive. This place is incredible.

They used the Bas Reliefs to educate the people in the country. When we visited, I saw a mother was there with her son. She was pointing to things on the wall, showing her son and trying to explain things to him. The son was looking quite bored like he didn’t want to be there.

Our guide, Savy, knew a lot about everything on every wall. He was very successfully at actually making it interesting. People in our group were actually asking questions about what we saw.

The East Gallery of the Bas-Reliefs is the most famous - it shows the gods and demons who have been "churning the ocean of milk" for 1,000 years to produce the elixir. – there is an apsaras on top, fish on the bottom. This is the only side of the Bas Reliefs that is not damaged by weather. There are open to the elements except to the pillars about 10 feet away.

There is one scene in hell of people "climbing the thorn tree" Savy said that if someone lusts after your wife today you tell them to "go climb the thorn tree." There is another scene at the end where cheaters are nailed all around their body. It shows how women who got abortions are forced to lie on a bed of fire.

Detail of East gallery Bas Relief. Victory of Vishnu of the Demons. Vishnu is mounted on the shoulders of the garuda (a mythical bird). He fights bravely and successfully slaughter the enemies. The leader of the demons is surrounded by marching soldiers.

Another scene shows the Judgement by Yama / Heaven and Hell.

The detail, quality, composition and execution give them an unequalled status in world art.

The second the third highest level are reserved for the king and high priest.

On the second level, there are over there are 1500 apsaras (celestial nymphs, or female divinities) carved into the stone here. They are "sensuous, graceful females which adorn the temple walls." Each one is different, in fact there are there are over 4500 apsaras dances. There is only one apsaras that is smiling with the teeth showing. The architects were having some fun. But this was done on purpose. In the 12th century when this was carved, everything had to be perfect. If you made a mistake carving, the king would have them killed. (This is not true in the 16th century, when the carving was not as good.)..

There four swimming pool in the "Preah Poan" Hall of 1000 Buddhas. There aren’t very many Buddha's left.

The platform on the third level supports five towers - four at the corners and one in the middle. There are 12 sets of stairs with 40 steps each. They ascend at a 70 degree angle - very steep. These steps 'are made to force a halt at beauteous obstructions that the mind may be prepared for the atmosphere of sanctity ( Churchill Candee 1920 , Angkor: The Magnificent, The Wonder City of Cambodia p.71.)

We climbed to the very top and OH WHAT A VIEW! And what in intricate area of covered galleries, four paved courts and pillars, double rows of pillars, windows, and balusters. There is one apsaras here at the top where you see the tongue - this is the only one in entire temple.

You could look out and see the place where we climbed last night to see the sun set over Angkor Wat. You also look further up 42 meters ( 137 feet) above the upper level to the top of the central sanctuary. The highest of the five towers is equal to the height of Notre Dame in Paris.

Here was some frightening excitement:   

There was a lady stuck at the top because she was spooked about something (the STEEP steps?) and she was too scared to go down.

She was stuck at the top!    It was really a big problem. Her husband and others were waiting at the bottom.

Adam (a ski instructor from our group) and Savy saw the problem and they climbed back up the steps so they could help talk her down.

They saved her vacation, and they gave me a thrilling story.

 

I found two places where my grandfather took photos. I had to jump over a rail to get to one place. I sat down where my Aunt sat 40 years ago and Arthur took three photos because he was worried about the angle of the sun. [By the way Arthur – all three photos came out perfectly!]

What a great tour and what an experience to see this wonder of the world. But the experience was tarnished. Yes, the souvenir sellers have given me a story to tell. This is the first time that this has happened. Damn tourists teaching these children awful things. So here's the story.

After we saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat, we went across the street to eat breakfast. A boy attached himself to me and seemed to make it a personal goal of his to get me buy something. In fact, we were accosted by these (rude) post card kids. OK, so they are poor, and they need the money, and maybe their parents beat them if don’t come home with the money. I don’t think they really know what they are saying.

First he asks "Where you from?"

I say "America."

Then he started impressing me by telling me everything that they know about my country. "Your country has 50 states" "Population is 300 million" and they badger you about buying something.

Kate warned us not to promise anything – do not promise to buy later or they will remember and really get mad at you if you don’t buy. Well, I did not promise anything. I kept saying "No" "No" "No" over and over again. I did not want to buy anything. Well, thank goodness Kate also warned us that some kids have really learned to say some very rude, bad things. I think I had the worst, rudest boy walking beside me. (I found out later that his name is "Peal") This boy had a lot of anger. He was horrible, but Kate told us that we may encounter something like that.

This boy started telling me "You, lie. You say you buy, then you no buy."

I told him that I never said I would buy. I told them that I was going to go back to the table to finish my coffee.

He starts in with "You lie. You go to hell. I hope your country get bombed again and you die and go to hell."

Yup, that’s a pretty bad thing to say. I think they’ve learned to say things like that to get a reaction out of people. I had no reaction. I just looked and said "I’ll pray for you. I know you’re a good boy, I know you have a good heart so I will pray for you." He did not like that at all.

He was very angry and yells out "you no pray for me or anybody".

So sad. These kids seem so very desperate. They force something in your hand, then they won't take it back - they want money instead. I wonder how they learn those awful words and things to say. Maybe they learned some of it from tourists. Yup, that’s a possibility. Other things they say:

You buy postcard?

If you buy, you buy from me

Madam, you want to buy a scarf?

OK, you buy from me Madam

OK, you need flute?

You buy souvenir, but don’t buy from me!

You say you buy from me!

You like this? Ok you buy one, one dollar.

You look, but you don’t buy!

I say "No, I don’t need one". He says "You don’t need one, you need two!"

Kate said that they don’t really have a word that equals "Please." Savy came up with one, but agreed that they don’t really ever use the word.

There is a half marathon that starts right here in front of Angkor Wat tomorrow to raise money for victims of land mines. The sign said " Ban the use of Anti-personal Land Mines. Siem Reap, December 2, 2001." And "Angkor Wat International Half Marathon 2001. To run for love, artificial limbs for victims of land mines."

It was US$20 to register. I told Adam that I would sponsor him if he wanted to run. So he was there in front of Angkor Wat at 6 am the next day, ready to run, but you couldn’t register the day of the race. You had to do the night before. Oh well, it was a nice thought.

 

Angkor Thom

Saturday afternoon we saw Angkor Thom. It means "Great City."

Built end-12th to early 13th century (1181)

Creator was Jayavarman VII, the greates of al Khmer kings, who died about 1220. Convinced he was a living Buddha, he developed a megalomania and build temple almost in a frenzy.

A four-sided wall encloses 145 hectares (360 acres). Each side of the wall is 3 km (1.9 miles long). A moat that is 100 meters (328 feet) wide surrounds the wall.

It may have supported a population of million people.

Stone figures lead you to the five gopuras (gates) to the city. The path leading to the south gate has a rows of 54 stone figures on each side - gods on the left and demons on the right. My grandfather's picture of this gate shows a dirt path about 10 feet wide. My picture shows a road as wide as possible between the stone figures.

Each of the five gates are 23 meters (75 feet) high and have four stone faces facing each direction (N, S, E, and W).

Angkor Thom major structures:

Bayon - a temple at the center of the city of Angkor Thom. Massive towers rise around a 16-sided central sanctuary with a small shrine on each side. When we were on the third level, I climbed up (about 12 feet of steep steps) to look inside a shrine. A quiet nun inside startled me. She invited me inside to light an incense stick and say a prayer. I hope Buddha didn't mind that I prayed to my Christian God.

Per Savy, there are 49 towers (book says 54 but Savy said the other five are the gates). Each tower has four faces carved into the stone so there are about 200 faces. The faces are the face of the king, charity, compassion, and sympathy, and equanimity, per Savy. The book says the iconography of the faces is widely debated. "The faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow by the lowered lids utter not a word and yet force you to guess much" (P Jennerat de Beerski in the 1920's). These faces reflect the famous "smile of Angkor."

Terrace of the Elephants - 300 meters (984 feet) long. We walked from Bayon to this terrace around 5:15 p.m.. The sun is lower in the sky and the temperature is pleasant. Incredible tri-level platforms which formed the base of wooden pavilions which were highlighted with gold. Life-size stone elephants adorn the facade. Savy said that on New Years Eve people sit all along here to watch Apsaras dancing.

Terrace of the Leper King - so named for the statue on the platform. There is much debate on how it got the name. The statue sits on a base 25 meters (92 feet) on each side and 6 meters (20 feet) high. There are bas-reliefs inside and outside the walls.

Baphuon - closed for restoration at a cost of US$10 million. Expected to be complete in 2004.

Across from the terrace are jails. People were put in there for 3 days. If they come out well, they are innocent.

The stone here is not good quality and they use smaller stones so they are likely to collapse.

The king promoted himself to be the God King Jayavarman VII wanted the people to worship him.

As I walk around this stupendous place, I am drawn into my own sense of awe trying to imagine life long ago of a million people living here in 1100. The loud hissing sound from the Sakata bugs snapped me back to the reality of life in 2001….

About our guide Savy:

He is by far the best guide. He knew the best time to visit each temple. We saw the sun rise over Angkor Wat from 6 to 7 am, then ate a wonderful breakfast, the toured the Wat from 8 till 11. There was maybe one other tour group at Angkor Wat at that time. We went back to the hotel for a rest, then around 3 ventured out again. We saw Angkor Thom in the shade (I saw many other tourists walking around the Elephant Terrace in the hot unbearable sun as we drove by to visit other temples.) When we saw it, it was warm but not intolerable. I was comfortable wearing long pants. The sun was low and it was maybe 25 (80 F) with 98% humidity.

I am very impressed with his knowledge and the way he presents the information. At one temple he was spouting off statistics. At he was talking, I matched every number that he said with the statistics that I was reading in the Angkor book. He added a lot to the information that was in the book. He does such a good job explaining these stone carvings that people in the group are really learning how to look at the stories and appreciate what we see. People are even asking questions about the things on the walls!

He knows how to lead the group to the best spots in the temples and how to take us on the side of the road where post card sellers are not allowed to go.

For dinner that night, I went with Chris, John, and Keith to a buffet dinner where we saw traditional dancing. The food was fabulous and the dancing beautiful.


Sun 2nd - Day 6 Siem Reap

9 am - bus ride to Banteay Srei, one of the finest examples of Classical Khmer Art. It means "Citadel of the Women."

It's about a 1 hour ride, but our bus broke down. The bus driver is a mechanic too so they started working on the brakes at the side of the road. Then the children start appearing. They come out of nowhere to sell you things.

Kate made a phone call and another bus arrived to take us to the temple. What can say about this one. WOW.

 

My Grandfather's picture in 1960.Banteay Srey.

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My picture 2001.

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Banteay Srei

"Intricate decoration carved in pinkish sandstone that covers the walls like tapestry."

Built in the late 10th century (967). It was discovered in 1914, but not cleared till 1924. My grandfather visited it in 1960 and here I was in 2001.

The east gopura (gate) has two triangular shaped frontons, which are framed with large scrolls. Grampa took a picture of the second one so I took the same picture. (This one is also featured in the Angkor book on page 250.) It shows elephants sprinkling holy water over the head of the Sheba God. I couldn't tell that there was any deterioration in the carving.

After the temple, we went to Baray Lake to swim.

Kate bought some BBQ chickens and fish at a road-side stand. We went down to the water. The lake is surrounded by cement, so you have to walk down steps along the slanted edge of the lake, then wade in water that is ankle deep, then balance along a 6-inch wide board that is about 3 inches above the water. There was about a 30 foot walk to the covered platform. Here we are carrying our most expensive cameras. No one fell in. About half the people in our group swam in the fresh water lake. The men can swim in anything – the smallest swim suit, but the women wear their clothes or a sarong. I hung out in a hammock until they delivered our food down at the water. The chicken was wrapped in big green leafs and there were hot hot bags of rice. Yum.

After swimming, go back to the hotel to change. I was feeling so tired I did not go to the children's orphanage to see the dancing. I felt like I was getting a cold, so I stayed in to take a nap.

7 p.m. the last night of the tour. Kate took us to a great restaurant for the farewell dinner. 5 folks were finishing the whole Indo-China loop trip. That is a five –week (I think) venture. These countries and food and people are so beautiful, but it does get to you after awhile. It’s been 3 weeks for me. I guess I have to say that I’m glad to be going home tomorrow. We were so lucky with weather on this trip. Virtually no rain, pleasant temperatures, but very humid in Cambodia.

Many beautiful temples. "One need never say good-bye to Angkor. For its magic will go with you wherever fate and the gods may take you to colour your thoughts and dreams to life's every end." (HW Ponder, Cambodian glory: The Mystery of the Deserted Khmer Cities and their Vanquished Splendour: and a Description of Life in Cambodia Today, London, Thornton Buttworth, 1936, p. 316.)


Mon 3rd - Day 7 Siem Reap to Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur to Taiwan to Los Angeles to Atlanta

OK, now I’m finally on my way home. I said good bye to Tina and Robert in the airport.  I flew from Siam Reap to Thailand. The arrival card says "WELCOME THE KINGDOM OF THAILAND". 

Then I flew to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a day of touring. The Petronal Twin Towers at a height of 451.9 meters (1,483 feet) above sea level are the (now) the tallest buildings in the world since the World Trade Center towers crashed down.

In Malaysia 3.7 = US$1. I stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel over night. Wow such luxury and it's right in the airport. You have to clear customs, then there are covered walkways to the hotel.

Paid RM 304 / 3.7 = $82 USD

The next day, fly from KL to Taipei, Taiwan, then on to Las Angeles and home to Atlanta at 5 a.m. What a wonderful trip.

Back to top

 

Wrap up and other things

About me:

I'm a single woman traveling to Asia. When I started the trip I wore a wedding ring on my left hand because sometimes it's just easier to say that I'm "meeting my husband at the hotel" or "my husband is already in Hanoi and I'm meeting him there." I do that because on a previous trip, a guy that was trying to talk to me really spooked me. I thought about how easy it is for men to take advantage of women. So now I pretend to make phone calls to "check in" with someone, and I lie and talk about "my husband." In Asia, most women are married (especially at my age) and usually don't travel alone. During the trip, we met Stacy. She is a tall (6 feet) long, blonde hair, single woman that leads the Intrepid trips through China. She told me that she loves to have fun with a person who asks "Why aren't you married?" In a very humorous way, she starts off on a spiel about "I'm too tall, I'm too fat, I'm not pretty enough, Nobody wants me." She ends up asking them if they know any man that is tall enough for her. Asian man are "small," so of course they can't think of anyone that nearly as tall as she is. I really admired her self-confidence and humor about the questions. I did that for the second half of the trip and it was fun. When we were traveling with the group, you do feel more secure. But when it comes to safety, I will say that I am married and someone is waiting for me.

About the people:

In Vietnam, when anyone asked me "where you from?" and I respond with "America (or "Mee")" their reaction is glee. They smile and seem to really get excited. Every single encounter that I had was like that. I guess they know that we bring money now instead of deadly poison and bombs. These people seem to have totally forgiven Americans for what we did in their country. Some are so young that they never knew about the war. But even older people, like my guide in Hue, spoke to me with a sense of proudness, but with respect to me. They are so forgiving. If they have any recollection of the war, it is very apparent that they have put it in their past. They have moved on, beyond it and they are getting on with their life. I can honestly say that I am humbled by these people. So many times I wanted hang my head and just say that I was sorry. I learned a lot by observing them and I respect them. In Cambodia our guide said that people "never forget, but we forgive, so there is never war" Why is it so hard for Americans to put things in the past and get on with our lives? We can hold a grudge to our death.

About the Far And Wide Intrepid way of travel:

The Intrepid way of traveling seemed to me to be more genuine way to learn, care for and experience the place, the culture, and the people. You learn to appreciate by being allowed and invited to be a part of their life. To see and experience for albeit a brief, but very touching moments that will change you forever. Go with an open mind, a forgiving spirit, and an inquiring mind to observe and you will be drawn in to the pandemonium of Hanoi, the beauty of Halong Bay, the quiet ere of Hue, the quaintness and skill of Hoi An, the majesty of Ho Chi Minh. Then there Phnom Penh, my favorite city on whole trip. It had the traffic of Saigon, beautiful, calm river like Hue, the Palace of Bangkok, FCC club to remind you of home, the friendliest beggars of any city. The most playful laughing children. Many Internet cafes and fabulous Khmer food that was very cheap. Very odd language.

Also go with a mind set to appreciate and learn other cultures instead of talking about your own. If people wanted to know about your cultures and practices, they would have visited your country instead the country that you are in.

 

Newspaper:   http://vietnamnews.vn/

 

Trip Dossiers

These dossiers are for the trips that I took in 2001.  In 2017, there are similar trips at  https://www.intrepidtravel.com/us/vietnam and https://www.intrepidtravel.com/us/cambodia

These trips in 2001 were also run by Adventure Center

1311 63rd Street, Suite 200 Emeryville, CA 94608      (510) 654-1879  (800) 227-8747

email: intrepid@adventurecenter.com

MY TRIP COSTs

$620  The Spririt of Vietnam

$490  The Road to Angkor

$45  one pre-trip night in Hanoi

$155 flight Siam Reap to Bangkok  3/Dec/2001  Thai Airways. I paid 155, in 1996 the cost (per Gainesville Sun March 10, 1996) was $55.

$180  Trip Insurance  from The Travelers Indemnity Company

$68 Visa Cambodia

$65 Visa Vietman

 

$14   First Calss flight Atlanta > Los Angeles > Kuala Lumpur > Hanoi  , Return Bangkok > Kuala Lumpur > Los Angels > Atlanta

For Vietnam, I sent $65 and Application for Vietnamese Entry Visa, one passport photo, my passport, to

Embassy of Vietnam

1233 20th St NW, Suite 400 Washington DC. 20036  Tel: 202-861-0737

For aCambodia, I used G3 Visa & Passport

3240 Wilson Rd, Suite 150, Arlington, VA 22201

(888) 883-8472    email: info@g3visas.com

The cost was $68 for the Visa. All Fed Ex mailing fees included.  I had to mail my passport to them. Along with 3 copies of the Visa application and 3 photos

The Spirit of Vietnam

Trip dossier:VSF

Validity:1/1/2002 - 31/12/2002.

Welcome to the Intrepid way of travel. As we travel through Vietnam, we look forward to sharing our passion for this beautiful destination with you. This whirlwind adventure has been carefully balanced to encompass some of Vietnam’s best highlights for you to enjoy, including; the faded colonial elegance of Hanoi, the natural wonders of Halong Bay, Hue’s rich history and majestic buildings, relaxation time in the magical town of Hoi An, the dynamic and vibrant city of Saigon and the waterways of the Mekong Delta.

Please refer to the Intrepid Booklet for further useful information on your trip and travelling in Asia.

Dossier updates are made from time to time to reflect changes to improve our trips. The dossier you are holding may therefore not be the latest available for your trip. For the latest updated dossier please visit our website at: <www.intrepidtravel.com/dossier/>

Itinerary

The itinerary attached is correct at time of printing. It may differ slightly to the one in the brochure. Occasionally our itineraries change as we make improvements that stem from past travellers’ comments and our own research. The group leader will advise you of any changes at the initial group meeting. Please note that our brochure is released in September each year. If you have booked from the previous brochure you may find there have been some changes to improve the itinerary.

Accom.

Hotels (8 nights), overnight sleeper train (1 night).

Transport

Train, minibus, boats, cyclo, plane.

Travel Style

This trip is an Intrepid Small Group Adventure.
Activities included  KOTO breakfast;Entrance to Halong Bay Caves; Halong Bay boat trip and lunch; Imperial Citadel and Tomb, Hue; Perfume River boat trip; Cyclo tour, Saigon; Entrance to the War Crimes Museum, Saigon; Boat trip in Mekong Delta.

Physical grading

This is an active trip but not particularly demanding. General sightseeing can be made a little strenuous due to humid and hot conditions. You are expected to carry your own bags on/off transport and up hotel steps etc. There are some more adventurous options for those with lots of energy.

Culture shock grading

Vietnam is a developing country. Facilities and infrastructure are often poor.

Notes

1. Allow US$80 cash for the internal flight to be purchased during the trip
2. During the months of October and November Vietnam is prone to heavy rains. While we continue to run successful trips during this period please note that our itinerary is subject to change as the conditions require.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance including emergency evacuation cover is compulsory. You will not be permitted to participate in the trip until evidence of travel insurance has been sighted by your group leader.

Health

There are no specific health requirements for entry into Vietnam. However, you should consult your doctor for up to date information and prescriptions for vaccinations, anti-malarial requirements and any reasonably foreseeable illnesses whilst travelling in Vietnam. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses). Please be aware that for legal reasons our leaders are prohibited from administering any type of drug including headache tablets, antibiotics, etc. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
Intrepid recommends the services of International SOS for all the medical requirements of our travellers and staff when travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia. International SOS's 24 hour clinics have expatriate doctors and specialists, and can be found at the following locations:

VIETNAM

Hanoi - 31 Hai Ba Trung, Clinic Tel: 84-4-9340 666, 24hr Alarm Centre: 84-4-934 0666
Ho Chi Minh City - 65 Nguyen Du, District 1, Clinic Tel: 84-8-829 8424, 24hr Alarm Centre:84-8-829 8520

CAMBODIA

Phnom Penh - House 161, Street 51, Sang-Kat, Boeung Pen, Khon Doun Penh, Clinic Tel: 855-23-216 911

Spending Money

You will need to allow enough money for meals, drinks, shopping and additional sightseeing. As a rough guide, if you allowed US$15 per day for food you would eat very well. Drinks extra.
Please also bring an additional US$60 as an "emergency" fund, to be used if circumstances outside Intrepid's control (eg. a natural disaster) necessitate a change to our planned route. This is a rare occurrence!
Tipping is not obligatory in Vietnam but it is appreciated.

Money Exchange

US currency (cash or travellers cheques) is the most convenient to carry when travelling in Vietnam. US$'s cash can be used to directly purchase goods and services along with the local currency, Vietnamese Dong. Other major international currencies may be exchanged in the main cities, where Visa and MasterCards may also be used for cash advances. The hotels we use offer exchange services at a reasonable rate. It is not possible to exchange Vietnamese Dong outside the country so convert or spend all your Dong before leaving. Black markets are reemerging in Vietnam but are considered a danger and best avoided.

Meals

8 breakfasts, 1 lunch included. Allow US$130 for meals not included.

Laundry

Facilities are offered by most hotels for a charge. There will be times when you may want to or have to do your own so we suggest you bring non-polluting / biodegradable soap.

Departure tax

From Ho Chi Minh City US$12. Domestic departure tax approximately 2 USD

Visas

It is your responsibility to arrange visas before you travel. Your travel agent can assist. Below are the visa requirements for Vietnam, at the time of printing.

Vietnam: Required for all nationalities. Please obtain a visa before arriving on the tour. You should allow 3 weeks for processing. The cost is US$60 to $100. Note that when your passport is returned to you or your travel agent from the Vietnamese embassy, one application form with photo may be returned along with it. If so please retain this form and hand it in at immigration on arrival in Vietnam. If by any chance you misplace this form don’t panic - you can complete a new form on arrival and there are photo facilities at the airport. Remember to keep the blue customs and immigration form you receive on arrival, as you need it to complete exit formalities.

What to take

You will be on the move a good deal, so pack as lightly as possible (try to stay under 10 kg). It is in your own interest as you are expected to carry your own luggage, though distances are never great. Most travellers carry their luggage in a pack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice. Suitcases are not recommended for Intrepid travellers! Mosquito nets are provided in most hotels.

Checklist

Travel documents: passport, visa, travel insurance, air tickets, travel voucher.
Health requirements arranged with your GP
Money: travellers cheques/cash/credit card
Money pouch
First Aid kit
Day pack to carry your personal needs during the day
Alarm clock and torch/flashlight
Hat, sun cream and sunglasses
Insect repellent
Ear plugs & eye mask (for light sleepers)
Inner sheet/sleeping sheet (silk sheets can be bought in Vietnam at reasonable prices).
Raincoat or umbrella in the wet season (May to Oct)
Tampons are not readily available in Vietnam.
Warm clothes for the winter months (Nov to Feb). The mean temperature in Hanoi in January is around 16 degrees Celsius - cool for South East Asia. Bring a winter weight sweater and trousers when traveling in these months, and a jacket too if you feel the cold

Local Dress

When packing be aware that dress standards are conservative throughout Asia. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in the predominantly hot Asian climate. In winter months the extra length will keep you warm! Generally speaking, neat and tidy clothing is also appreciated in Vietnam. Shorts should be knee length and singlets/ tanktops are also not recommended.

A couple of rules

Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on Intrepid trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of Asia, but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers.
Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of mutual respect towards everyone we deal with, and in particularly the local people who make the Asian region the special place it is. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy.
Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or they use prostitutes.

Joining Point

Viet My Hotel
34-36 Nguyen Khuyen st
Hanoi
Tel: (84 4) 823 2910 Fax: (84 4) 843 5803

 

Joining Instruction

As you emerge from the customs hall in Hanoi you can catch a taxi to the joining point hotel. Airport taxis cost around 12 USD. The hotel we use is easy to find, and is near the station, so catching a taxi is no drama.
If you have pre-booked an airport transfer your driver will be waiting for you as you leave the customs hall with an Intrepid sign bearing your name.

Our Joining Point Hotel

The Viet My Hotel, our base in Hanoi is in a great location, halfway between the Old Quarter and the French Quarter, close to the railway station. Rooms are well kept and breakfast and drinks are available all day from the "breakfast room" on the ground floor. There are private facilities, refrigerators, air conditioners and TV's in the rooms and the staff are very friendly and always willing to help. Check in time is 12 midday.

Finishing Point

Embassy Hotel
35 Nguyen Trung Truc St
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (84 8) 823 1981 Fax: (84 8) 823 1978

Please note:
After your travels, we want to hear from you! This is so important to us that we'll give you 5% off the price of your next trip if your feedback is completed on-line within 4 weeks of the finish of your trip. Go to: www.intrepidtravel.com/feedback/ Thanks!

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The information in this dossier has been compiled with care and is provided in good faith. However it is subject to change, and does not form part of the contract between the client and Intrepid Travel.


Trip dossier: VSF Updated: 30/11/2001

Itinerary

Day 1 Hanoi

Our adventure starts in Hanoi, the delightful capital of Vietnam. Roam the tree-lined boulevards and relax by the city's lakes. Your fellow travellers will be arriving at all times from around the world today, so there are no arranged activities for the daytime. We will however, hold a pre- trip meeting at 6 pm, followed by a group dinner. Your leader will leave a note for the group at reception explaining this. There are also Intrepid notice boards containing sightseeing information, and restaurants which you may like to visit prior to the pre-trip meeting. Free photocopied maps of Hanoi can be obtained at the hotel reception.

Day 2 Halong Bay

After a buffet breakfast at KOTO restaurant, we drive to Halong Bay and board our private boat. We enjoy lunch whilst cruising through some of the 2000 limestone karsts of this World Heritage site. There is opportunity to swim in the bay’s emerald waters, explore caves with incredible formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and generally enjoy the tranquility of this bay of wonders. We spend the night in the town of Bai Chay.

Day 3 Hanoi - Reunification Express

This morning we visit Dong Trieu ceramic village as we make our way back to the city. In Hanoi, there is ample time for sightseeing and shopping – lots of suggestions on our Intrepid notice board. In the evening we climb aboard the Reunification Express bound for Hue. We use four berth sleeper compartments for the overnight journey.

Days 4-5 Hue

Arriving in Hue – the former Imperial Capital of Vietnam, we have two full days to enjoy the many sights and slower pace of this tranquil city. We will have opportunity to visit the Imperial Citadel, one of the Nguyen Emperors’ tombs and also enjoy a dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River.

Hue, also known as the centre of Buddhism and education in Vietnam, has a wealth of pagodas and monasteries to discover. There is always a student willing to be you personal guide and show you the many secrets of this regal city. Bustling Dong Ba Market offers a plethora of goods and foods to see and sample, including some traditional Hue specialties.

Days 6-7 Hoi An

Leaving Hue, our bus journey takes us south through rural countryside and the picturesque fishing village of Lang Co before ascending the dramatic Hai Van Pass. After a brief visit to China Beach and the Marble Mountains we arrive at the newly declared World Heritage Site of Hoi An. Once a thriving river port, the town’s architecture has been preserved and restored. This small town is a favourite with Intrepid travellers and leaders alike, and wandering the streets and narrow alleyways brings hours of pleasure and discovery. Today’s trade is in ceramics, wood-ware, paintings and tailoring. There is something here for everyone and it is the perfect place to pick up the gifts for those at home.

Day 8 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

A morning flight brings us to the emerging economic hub of Ho Chi MInh City. On arrival we take an orientation cyclo tour of the main attractions including the very sobering War Remnants Museum. Our hotel is located close to Ben Thanh Market and the city’s main shopping district, so there is much for you to explore and discover during the afternoon.

Day 9 Mekong Delta

This morning we travel to the town of Ben Tre, for a glimpse of the unique life of the Mekong Delta. A boat across the mighty Mekong River is our first introduction to a different world where water is life and life depends on water. We chug down leafy canals, wave at smiling locals, visit fruit gardens where we can sample rice wine and tropical fruit before returning to Ho Chi Minh City for our farewell dinner.

Day 10 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

You are free to depart at any time today as no activities are planned. You may wish to book additional accommodation.

The Road to Angkor

Trip dossier:KSA

Validity:28/1/2002 - 31/12/2002.

Welcome to the Intrepid way of travel! As we travel through southern Vietnam and Cambodia we look forward to sharing our passion for these incredible destinations with you. There are so many contrasts to experience; the booming economic hub of Saigon with its impressive French colonial elegance; the incredible warmth and friendliness of the Cambodian people, surrounded by haunting reminders of torture and genocide; the magnificent remains of a once powerful ancient Khmer civilization and the mysteries surrounding its arrival and disappearance.

Please refer to the Intrepid Booklet for further useful information on your trip and travelling in Asia.

Dossier updates are made from time to time to reflect changes to improve our trips. The dossier you are holding may therefore not be the latest available for your trip. For the latest updated dossier please visit our website at: www.intrepidtravel.com/dossier/

Itinerary

The itinerary attached is correct at time of printing. It may differ slightly to the one in the brochure. Occasionally our itineraries change as we make improvements that stem from past travellers’ comments and our own research. The group leader will advise you of any changes at the initial group meeting. Please note that our brochure is released in September each year. If you have booked from the previous brochure you may find there have been some changes to improve the itinerary.

Accom.

Hotel (7 nights).

Transport

Bus, plane, walking.

Travel Style

This trip is an Intrepid Small Group Adventure.

Activities included

Entry to Tuol Sleng, entry to Choeung Ek and guide fee, entry and guide to Angkor Wat complex, Kbar Spien trek and picnic, boat trip Tonle Sap river, entrance to Black Lady Mountain, Entrance to Cu Chi tunnels

Physical grading

General sightseeing can be made a little strenuous due to humid and hot conditions. Steps to the temples of Angkor are very steep and uneven.

Culture shock grading

Cambodia is a developing country where many people are extremely poor. Facilities and infrastructure are often poor.

Notes

1. The operation of this trip is subject to the status of the Australian Dept. of Foreign Affairs' Travel Advisory for Cambodia. The itinerary of the trip may change at short notice to ensure the safety of our passengers, and the trip will be cancelled if we consider travel in Cambodia unsafe.
2. Allow US$75 cash for the Cambodian internal flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and domestic departure tax.
3. The land border from Vietnam to Cambodia is sometimes closed by flooding. In such cases we will need to alter the itinerary, and fly Saigon to Phnom Penh.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance including emergency evacuation cover is compulsory. You will not be permitted to participate in the trip until evidence of travel insurance has been sighted by your group leader.

Health

There are no specific health requirements for entry into Vietnam or Cambodia. However, you should consult your doctor for up to date information and prescriptions for vaccinations, anti-malarial requirements and any reasonably foreseeable illnesses whilst travelling in South East Asia. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses). Please be aware that during parts of this trip you will be in remote areas and away from medical facilities for a number days, and for legal reasons our leaders are prohibited from administering any type of drug including headache tablets, antibiotics, etc. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.

Intrepid recommends the services of International SOS for all the medical requirements of our travellers and staff when travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia. International SOS's 24 hour clinics have expatriate doctors and specialists, and can be found at the following locations:

VIETNAM

Hanoi - 31 Hai Ba Trung, Clinic Tel: 84-4-9340 666, 24hr Alarm Centre: 84-4-934 0666
Ho Chi Minh City - 65 Nguyen Du, District 1, Clinic Tel: 84-8-829 8424, 24hr Alarm Centre:84-8-829 8520

CAMBODIA

Phnom Penh - House 161, Street 51, Sang-Kat, Boeung Pen, Khon Doun Penh, Clinic Tel: 855-23-216 911

Web: www.internationalsos.com

Spending Money

You will need to allow enough money for meals, drinks, shopping and additional sightseeing. As a rough guide, if you allowed US$20 per day you would eat very well. Drinks extra.
Please also bring an additional US$100 as an "emergency" fund, to be used if circumstances outside Intrepid's control (eg. a natural disaster) necessitate a change to our planned route. This is a rare occurrence!

Money Exchange

Vietnam: US currency (cash) is the most convenient to carry when travelling in Vietnam. US currency can be used to directly purchase goods and services along with the local currency, Vietnamese Dong. Other major international currencies and travellers' cheques may be exchanged in the main cities, where Visa may also be used for cash advances. The hotels we use offer exchange services at a reasonable rate. It is not possible to exchange Vietnamese Dong outside the country so convert or spend all your Dong before leaving. Black markets are reemerging in Vietnam but are considered a danger and best avoided.

Cambodia: Officially the Cambodian Riel is the unit of currency. Unofficially, however US currency runs the country and is the currency you should bring, mostly in cash. Clean bills in small denominations are most useful. Travellers cheques can be difficult to change. The use of credit cards is very restricted, mainly to major hotels.

Meals

1 breakfast included. Allow US$120 for all other meals.

Laundry

Facilities are offered by all hotels for a small charge. There will be times when you may want to or have to do your own so we suggest you bring non-polluting / biodegradable soap.

Departure tax

From Siem Reap US$10 for international flights and US$4 for domestic flights.

Visas

It is your responsibility to arrange visas before you travel.

Vietnam: Required for all nationalities. Please obtain a visa before arriving on the tour. You should allow 3 weeks for processing. The cost is US$60 to $100. Note that when your passport is returned to you or your travel agent from the Vietnamese embassy, one application form with photo may be returned along with it. If so retain this form and hand it in at immigration on arrival in Vietnam. Please state that you will be leaving Vietnam from the Moc Bai Border crossing. Remember to keep the yellow customs and immigration form you receive on arrival, as you need it to complete exit formalities.

Cambodia: Required for all nationalities. While Cambodian visas are now issued at some land border points, it is not possible within the time constraints of this trip to process visas at the border. Therefore please obtain a visa before arriving on the tour. You should allow 5 - 10 working days for processing. If there is no Cambodian Embassy/Consulate in your home country please allow extra time (1 full working day) in Saigon to arrange your visa. Please state that you will be entering from the Ba Vet Border crossing, travelling by bus.
Details for those getting their Cambodian visa in Ho Chi Minh City (correct at time of writing but subject to change)

Consulate General of the Kingdom of Cambodia
41 Phung Khac Khoan
District 1
HCM City
PH: 8292751

- Opening hours are: Mon - Fri: 8.30 am to 11 am & 1.30 pm to 4.30 pm (Closed on weekends and some public holidays)

You will need to complete one application form, and attach 1 passport photo. The cost is 30 USD (cash only) and processing time is usually 1 day . Lodge the application in the morning and pick it up in the late afternoon or next morning.
Visa application forms are available from reception at the starting point hotel.

What to take

You will be on the move a good deal, so pack as lightly as possible (try to stay under 10 kg). It is in your own interest as you are expected to carry your own luggage, though distances are never great. Most travellers carry their luggage in a pack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice. Suitcases are not recommended for Intrepid travellers!

Checklist

Travel documents: passport, visa, travel insurance, air tickets, voucher.
Health requirements arranged with your doctor
Money: travellers cheques/cash/credit card
Money pouch
First Aid kit
Day pack to carry your personal needs during the day
Alarm clock and torch/flashlight
Mosquito Repellent
Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses
Vaccination certificate (if you have one)
Raincoat or umbrella in the wet season (May to Oct)
Ear plugs and eye masks are good for the light sleepers
Tampons are not readily available in Cambodia

Local Dress

When packing be aware that dress standards are conservative throughout Asia. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in the predominantly hot Asian climate. Shorts should be knee-length. Singlets and tank tops are not suitable when visiting temples and pagodas.

A couple of rules

Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on Intrepid trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of Asia, but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers.
Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of mutual respect towards everyone we deal with, and in particularly the local people who make the Asian region the special place it is. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy.
Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or they use prostitutes.

Joining Point

Embassy Hotel
35 Nguyen Trung Truc
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City
Ph (84 8) 823 1981 Fax (84 4) 823 1978


Joining Instructions

To arrive at the Intrepid joining point in Saigon take a public taxi. Taxis are cheap, safe and reliable. As you emerge from the customs hall in Saigon you can get a taxi. The quality you choose will dictate the price you pay - a modern air conditioned Japanese vehicle should cost around US$5.00 per vehicle. The hotel we use is easy to find and getting a taxi is no drama. The older taxis are fine.

If you have pre-booked an airport transfer your driver will be waiting for you as you leave the customs hall with an Intrepid sign bearing your name.

Our Joining Point Hotel

The Embassy Hotel, our base in Saigon, is located in 'District 1', just a two minute walk from Ben Thanh Market, the busy central city market. Also nearby is the Municipal Theatre and some of Saigon's old world hotels like the Continental and the Rex. The Embassy has a friendly staff, private facilities, air conditioning, phone, refrigerator and TV in all rooms. Check in time is 12 midday.

A Word of Warning!

As Saigon embraces capitalism with open arms it is also falling victim to some of the problems of the West. The city centre is now a favourite hangout for pickpockets. If doing some exploring on your own before your trip commences carry only the necessary minimum with you and use a well-hidden money belt. Valuables should be left in the hotel safe - organize this at reception. There is no need to get paranoid. Just cautious.

Finishing Point

Freedom Hotel
Route 6
Siem Reap
Cambodia
Ph. 85 5 063 963 473

Please note:
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The information in this dossier has been compiled with care and is provided in good faith. However it is subject to change, and does not form part of the contract between the client and Intrepid Travel.

Trip dossier: KSA Updated: 6/12/2001

Itinerary

Day 1 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

You and your fellow travellers will be arriving at all times from around the world today, so there are no arranged activities for the daytime. Your leader will organise a pre- trip meeting for 6 pm and this may be followed by a group dinner. Look for a welcome note at reception in the joining point hotel explaining where to meet. For those who arrive early, there is sightseeing information on the Intrepid notice board in reception.

Day 2 Tay Ninh

Departing early from Saigon we stop in Cu Chi to check out the underground tunnel network that served as an important hideout for the Viet Cong during war times. Continuing on to Tay Ninh town, we have the opportunity to climb up Black lady Mountain for spectacular views across Vietnam and Cambodia. In the early evening we visit the hypnotic 6 pm service at the Cao Dai Holy See - the temple itself is an eclectic extravaganza of colour - not to be missed!

Days 3-4 Phnom Penh

Leaving Vietnam, we cross the border and travel past rustic villages on route to Phnom Penh. We confront Cambodia's tragic past and pay a visit to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school at which served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre. We also drive out to Choueng Ek Memorial at the site of the 'killing fields'. For those not wishing to dwell on the past, Phnom Penh has many other attractions including the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, the Russian market and the National Museum. You could also take a stroll along the river's famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes while observing the bustling river traffic. We take an afternoon flight to Siem Reap on day 4.

Days 5-8 Angkor Wat / Siem Reap

Our local guide shows us around the magnificent remains of the ancient Khmer empire of Angkor, close to the town of Siem Reap. We explore the great archeological sites of Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Phrom. These temples were built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the Khmer Empire was the preeminent influence in South-East Asia. The temples are believed to represent the cosmic world; set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. They are scattered over an area of some 160 sq. km, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap. There is plenty of time to explore at our own leisure. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural design are mind blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at sunrise.

On day 7 we visit Banteay Srey Temple, one of the finest examples of Classical Khmer Art. From here, a short drive takes us to the base of some nearby mountains where we can embark on an easy jungle trek to Kbal Spien. Here you will see magnificent Hindu sculptures which were carved into the river's granite banks and bed more than a thousand years ago. The path can be challenging in the wet, but the more difficult sections have bamboo handrails and wooden steps. Cooling off with a dip under the cascading waterfall is a must!

We will also take a boat trip on the Ton Le Sap lake to observe life in the floating villages. You can depart Siem Reap at any time on day 8 as there are no activities planned.

 

 

Mark Twain about Phil


'The Gentle Reader will never, never know what a consumate ass he can become, until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the Gentle Reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consumate ass.'
Mark Twain 1835 - 1910     

more quotes at   http://www.outbackcrossing.com.au/Information/Famous_Travel_Quotes.shtml

From Conde Nast Traveler, September 2001.

 

Hanoi population 2.6 million, and about 2 million moto bikes.  There is saying in Hanoi "No motorbike, no girlfriend"

 


Hanoi history

The first capital was established by invading Chinese. It was call Annam (the pacified south". In 1010 and over the next 800 years a great commercial center was built.  Vietnamese repeatedly lost and regained their independence, fightting the Chinese.

1882 it was capital of French Tonkin, 1902 capital of all French Indochina.  1945 Ho Chi Minh uprising and they fought the French for 9 years before Hanoi finally became the captial of an independent Vietnam in 1954.  The Americn War followed (Americans call it Vietnam War).

1975 the country was finally both independent and unified.  They followed a Russian-style economy, but in

1986 government finally instigated "doi moi" - the open-dorr economic policy so the peace was matched with hope for prosperity.  "This is what people really desire is the freedom to get rich - never mind the freedom to choose their leaders."

 

"pho" pronouned something like fur.  beef or chicken soup with rice vermicelli, cilantro, lime, and chili sauce.

 

"tube house" is long and narrow because taxes were levied based on street frontage.  Income around $30 a month, and rent is $3 a month,

 

Good Communists are atheist, but since 1986, strictures against religion practice have eased, and many Viernamises are again worshipping openly.

 

 

Tulsa World, November 29, 2006

 

A 19-year old garbage sweeper at Ankor Wat earns $50 a month and loves the tourists.

One third of the population of Cambodia earn less than 56 cents a day.

2005 there were 1.4 million visitors to Angkor monuments.

Siam Reap population 120,000

 

Gainesville Sun, March 10, 1996

 

In 1995 there were 70,000 foreigners visited Angkor

In 1986, there were 565

 

 

 

Atlanta Journal Constitution, November 17, 18 , 2000   by Bob Deans

 

President Clinton visites Vietnam.

Clinton said "Yes, the history we leave behind is painful and hard. We must not forget it, but we must not be controlled by it."

"We never had any imperialist designs here. The conflict here was over what self-determinatin for the Vietnamese people really meant, and what freedon and indpendence really look like."

Population is 78 million.

In 1969 President Nixon visited Vietnam for 6 hours.  Clinton is the first president to visit since the long war that cost 58,200 American lives.

 

 

The first president to visit since 1969 and the long war that cost 58,200 American lives.

There are 1,500 Americans still missing from the war.

Vietnamese are still searching for about 300,000 unaccounted for people.  Clinton gave them a million pages of Pentagon battle reports of Vietnamese that died under US medicla care.

Americans killed as many as 3 million people during a decade of war.

American troops pull out in 1973 (or were driven out of the country in 1975?)

in 1975 US - Communist troops defeated the backed South Vietnamese govt, uniting the country.

Vietnam only allow political activity by the Communist party

 

 

 

 

Stillwater NewsPress, Wednesday June 16, 2004

 

Angkor was "dealt a dealt a blow by Siamese invaders with its final sacking in 1431. Or it could have been much earlier when the city was abandoned"

Angkorians created an elaborate system of reservoirs and canals for irrigatin, trade and travel.  THey mastered the science of hydraulic engineering. Diking and canalizing the flood plain fromt he Tonle Sap (a natural lake), the threaded the country with a spider web of reservoirs and cnalas, some of them 40 miles long.

As population grew, silt caused flooding and water shortages. People migrated south toward Phnom Penh.

Other reasons for the Khmers disapperance: devasting plaque, or a slave revolt

Angkor Thom is a 700 year old walled city that houses Angkor Wat, and was home to 750,000 people and covered 390 square miles (1,00 sql km).

A Khmer poem declared  "The legion of banners streaming in the breeze, the staring of music mounting to the sky, the grace of sancing girls - all made the shrines in image of paradise"  An inventory taken at the time recorded that in a single sanctuary, there wre

18 high priests,

2740 ordinary priests

2202 servers

615 dancing girls.

 

 

 

 

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