Mar 31 2010

Hue, Vietnam

Had an early breakfast, noodle with bread (20,000 Dong~US$1)

with the locals

Got on the 7.30am bus

towards Hue,

????
around 120km away and arrived at 11.30am.

Bought a bus ticket to Vientianne, Laos for this afternoon (42,000 Dong~USD$22). Met a Japanese guy, Yusuke and we rented a motorbike (70,000 Dong~USD$4)

and went around the city.

After having noodles almost everyday for the past few days, this time we had quite a sumptuous lunch of rice (50,000 Dong~USD$2.50)

Hue was the ancient capital of Vietnam. The imperial Nguyen dynasty ruled from Hue from 1802 until 1945.

Visited the former Imperial Palace (55,000 Dong~USD$3). It’s a big complex with many buildings, temples and gardens.

Inside the Imperial Palace

The palace was badly affected during the war.

Passed by a few places of worship, a buddhist pagoda

Church

Got on the 5.30pm bus towards Vientianne, Laos. (420,000 Dong~USD$22).

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Mar 30 2010

Hoi An, Vietnam

Arrived at Hoi An at 6.30am. Hoi An is a UNESCO heritage city. It’s old name is Faifo which was a major port in the 16th and 17th century. The city was the first site of Chinese settlement in Southern Vietnam. There are a few HuiGuan, (Assembly Hall/Chinese Congregation) which still play an important role for Vietnamese Chinese.

Walked west towards HaiBaTrung road with more accommodation options. Finally stayed at HopYen Hotel which is the only one with dormitory style room (USD$7).

There are 7 beds in a room and actually it’s not cheap relatively because there are USD$8-10 single rooms around.

Hoi An is a compact and small city. It’s easy to walk around the old city in just an hour.

FuJian association

Dropped by a local restaurant

Hoi An is famous for Cao Lau (30,000 Dong~USD$1.50), a local dish with a special kind of noodles.

Local Market

River

Japanese covered beach which was constructed in the 1590s by the Japanese to link them with the Chinese quarters.

Hoi An is famous for tailor made clothings, There are more than 100 tailor shops there.

and other handicrafts

Rented a motorbike (USD$4). Cua Dai beach is 5km east of the old city.

Then head north to Danang,

View Larger Map
which is the 4th largest city in Vietnam around 30km north of Hoi An. Danang succeeded Hoi An as the major port in central Vietnam in the 19th century. There aren’t a lot to see in Danang and is just a typical mid size city with tons of motorbikes roaming around.

Museum of Cham sculpture

Rode the bike back from Danang to Hoi An in the evening.
This is one of Hoi An local food called White Rose (30,000 Dong~USD$1.5).

Night view in Hoi An

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Mar 29 2010

Ho Chi Minh to Nharang, Vietnam

Took the 8am bus towards Hoi An.

The ticket I got was actually an open bus ticket all the way north towards Hue (USD$25). The bus stopped for half an hour at Mui Ne at around 12.30pm. Mui Ne is a small town beside the beach.

Some para sailing activities

The sleeper bus towards Nharang

Arrived at Nharang at 6.30pm and stopped for another half an hour before heading to Hoi An. Nharang is another town beside the beach but the town is bigger than Mui Ne.

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Mar 28 2010

Ho Chi Minh Day 2, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh downtown

Hair cut on the street (Hat Toc in Vietnamese)

Vietnam Museum of history (15,000 Dong~USD$0.80)

which has some exhibits about Vietnamese History.

A well preserved body

Opera House

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Mar 27 2010

Ho Chi Minh Day 1, Vietnam

Vietnam has a pretty big population of 85 million. The country has gone through many wars especially during the 20th century (with the French, Japan, civil war, US, China and Cambodia) and is governed by the communist government. In 1986, the country introduced market reform called Doi Moi (Renovation) which resulted in a socialist oriented market economy similar to China. The country has been growing at 7-8% rate for the past 20 years after the reform and is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. The country joined WTO in 2007 and things are looking to change for the better
Vietnam has some Chinese influences and was a vassal state under the Chinese rule for a thousand years until 938 Ad. Even the Vietnamese language incorporated some Chinese words.

Ho Chi Minh city is full of motorcycles.

Walked to a market nearby and had this (20,000 Doong~USD$1)

for breakfast. Lettuce and fish sauce are very popular among Vietnamese dish.

Rent a motorbike for the day USD$6.

Benh Thanh Market

Food section

City Museum

Notre Dame Cathedral

Central Post Office

Inside the post office

Reunification Palace/Independence Palace (15,000 Dong~USD$0.80).

This was the former South Vietnamese presidential palace and was preserved from the day Saigon fell to the North. The infamous picture of a Nothern Vietnamese tank crashing through the gate of the palace was took here symbolizing the defeat of the Americans and the South Vietnamese government.

The president’s office

First lady meeting room

Corridor

War Remnants Museum (15,000 Dong~USD$0.8) which is one of the best museum visited in Vietnam so far. It showed the other perspective of the war from the Northern Vietnamese view. It was formerly known as the exhibition of American war crimes and showed some of the cruelty that American soldiers did in the war. It might be a little bias because it didn’t mention about things that the North Vietnamese did but still an eye opening experience.
Tanks and weapons used

Aircrafts

Bullets of different sizes

American soldiers with a Vietnamese soldier skull

A sewer which was used by Vietnamese kids to hid inside but American soldiers found them and stabbed them to death.

Americans used a lot of Chemical weapons in the war

which destroyed the environment

as well as causing a lot of birth defects among the Vietnamese population even until today. Those batches of Agent Orange contained Dioxins and will cause long term cancer effects and genetic defects which leads to birth deformities.

In 1961 and 62 the Kennedy administration authorized the use of chemicals to destroy vegetation and food crops in South Vietnam. Between 1961 and 1967 the US Air Force sprayed 12 million US gallons of concentrated herbicides, mainly Agent Orange (containing dioxin as an impurity in the manufacturing process) over 6 million acres (24,000 km²) of foliage and trees, affecting an estimated 13% of South Vietnam’s land. In 1997, an article published by the Wall Street Journal reported that up to half a million children were born with dioxin related deformities. There were many pictures showing birth defects but I didn’t take those.

During the war, Americans dropped almost 7 million tons of bomb in Vietnam.

A sense of remorse from Senator McNamara

John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, APRIL 22, 1971

An excerpt from the interview

“We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.

We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.

We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Vietcong.

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.”

Pagoda

Just motorcycles on the road

Pho again for dinner (30,000 Dong~USD$1.50)

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Mar 26 2010

Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Breakfast (4000 Riel ~USD$1).

Noticed that there are a lot of Chinese characters on shops around and some Cambodians are able to speak Mandarin or some other Chinese dialects.

Visited the Tuol Sleng Museum (USD$2), also known as the security prison 21 and Genocide Museum.

This is a school converted to a prison by the Khmer Rouge to torture and kill those who were suspected to be anti government then. There are some gruesome pictures showing prisoners who were tortured and killed.

A frame used to torture prisoners.

When the Khmer Rouge came into power, they divided the population into the Old people and New people. The Old people were classified as people who lived in rural area before the Khmer Rouge came in 1975 and they have full right. The new people were those who were in the city, they were viewed to be unreliable and subjected to persecution.

After a hot day yesterday, it rained this morning. This made the visit to the museum a little more gloomy. Few months back when I was visiting the Auschwitz prison, it rained too.

The Khmer Rouge ruled the country from 1975 to 1979 and approximately around 2 million Cambodian were killed. Khmer Rouge imposed an extreme version of agrarian communism which sent the whole city population to the country side to work in farms. The wanted to end any dependency with foreign developed countries by being self sufficient on agriculture products. Many people were sent to work in collective farms and this caused starvations. They also introduced their own ideas in combination with communism.

The leaders of Khmer Rouge were actually very well educated and studied in Paris, some even have doctorate degrees. Somehow when they came into power, the Khmer Rouge murdered all the intellectuals and burned money and books.

In Dec 1978, the Khmer Rouge launched pre emptive strikes against Vietnam because of strained relations. After almost a 4 year rule, Vietnam attacked Cambodia and removed Khmer Rouge from power. Even though Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia brutally but they still retained a UN seat until 1982 and was backed by the western world.

They recruited mostly young soldiers,

brainwashed them and made them do some evil stuffs.

Prison

Bones and skulls of prisoners

I saw a few signs like this

not sure if it means do not smile.

Went south to the Russian Market which sells all kinds of stuffs from pirated DVDs to clothings, sovenirs and poultry.

Central Market

The last bus to Ho Chi Minh departs at 2pm (USD$12) and bought the ticket last minute at 1.30pm. Returned the motorcycle and managed to get back just in time for the bus.


View Larger Map

The bus got on a ferry to cross a river

Arrived at Ho Chi Minh around 8.30pm after a 7 hours bus ride. Ho Chi Minh is a pretty big city of around 7 million people. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh. There are many motorbikes on the street.
The bus dropped us at Pha Ngo Lao road which is sort of a backpacker’s area.
Had a bowl of Pho (30000 Dong~USD$1.50, USD$1~19,000 Dong)

for dinner and getting my bearings before searching for accommodation.
There are many budget hotels around the Pham Ngo Lau area. After asking at a couple of places, finally stayed at Dai Hoy Hotel (USD$10).

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Mar 25 2010

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Took the 7.30am bus (USD$6)

to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia with a population of around 1.5 million people. The city was a French colony during the middle of 19th century and became independent in 1953. The city population increased to 2 million refugrees during as the Vietnam War spread into Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge took over, the city population was evacuated to the country side. The city was divided into multiple zone and the different factions of Khmer Rouge was in charged of the different zones. The population in the city then was just 50,000.

The city was only repopulated when the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Arrived at the bus station around 1.30pm. Walked south on Monivong street to Lucky Lucky a motorcycle rental shop which I found on LP book.

Rented a motorcycle (USD$5) for the day,

gas here cost around USD$1 for a liter. Stayed at Sunday Guesthouse (USD$5)

a night around Psar O Russei area.

Street food for lunch (6000 Riel~USD$1.50)

I did a U turn right in front of a no turning sign and unfortunately the police was just waiting right beside. I didn’t realize they are wearing the light blue uniform. I heard that usually police wanted a lot of bribes from foreigners but locals just pay USD$2. I asked them to take me to the police station but the police gave an excuse that I have to wait here until 7pm. I knew that they wanted bribes, after walking around and negotiating, finally paid them USD$5 because by delaying, time will be more costly. The police seemed to be pretty useless because another tourist came and told them that someone just robbed him of USD$200 but they just pretended that they don’t get it.

It’s my mistake after all and this is a good reminder for me to be more careful on the motorbike.

Grand Assembly

Grand Palace (USD$6), which I didn’t go in, a picture outside is sufficient for me.

National museum (USD$3)

There aren’t a lot to see in the museum, just a few artifacts/statues

but there’s a nice garden in the museum.

Beside the Tonle Sap River.

View from Wat Pho

Biked around the city for the rest of the day.

Dinner, beef noodle soup (6000 Riel~USD$1.5)

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Mar 24 2010

Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Khmer empire was the greatest empire in South East Asia. The Khmer empire ruled a big territory around the Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam region from the 9th -13th century. Before then, were the Funan 1AD-6AD and ChenLa empire from 6AD – 13th century who ruled the areas.

Angkor Wat is actually just one of the many temples in the big Angkor Archaeological Park.

A loop around the Angkor Archaeological park is around 30km. A one day pass cost USD$20, 3 day pass cost USD$40 and one week pass cost USD$60.

Rented a bicycle (USD$2) and go around the park for the day.

Angkor Wat is surrounded by a river

Angkor Thom

Bayon

Since the economy of the city revolves around tourism, many people are trying to sell things and provide services to tourist. Many kids are trying to sell souvenir, food and drinks to tourist. This reminded me of Egypt with a lot of hassling at tourist but at least Cambodia is still not so bad yet.

Some talkative kids trying to sell stuffs.

Cycled for probably more than 40 km for the day and the hot weather doesn’t help.

View of Angkor Wat from the river

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Mar 23 2010

Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia

There are direct buses costing 450 Baht from Khao San road every morning at 7.30am from Bangkok to Siem Reap, however I read about some bad presses about the bus where they are trying to rip off tourist by delaying the trip.

Decided to cross the border on my own, took a public bus number 3 (20 Baht) at 8.15am to Mochit bus terminal at the north part of town. It took around an hour to get to the bus terminal and then got on a 10am bus to the border town of AranyaPathet.

Arrived at AranyaPathet around 2.30pm after a 4.5 hours bus ride. Since casinos are banned in Thailand, there are many casinos

at the border of Aranyapathet, Thailand and the border town of Poipet, Cambodia.

Welcome to Cambodia

Crossing the border was pretty easy and the whole process only took 30 minutes. Got on another bus towards Siem Reap at around 3pm. The ride to Siem Reap should cost USD$9 which is around 280 Baht but I paid 350 Baht to get on the departing bus so I don’t have to wait for the next bus.

Cambodia seems to be a pretty dry country

The bus arrived at Siem Reap at 7.20pm which was already dark and dropped everyone at Hilton Guest House. It seemed like the guest house paid the bus to do this on purpose because the bus stopped for a break for almost an hour.

The guest house is located at the east part of town which is a little far off away from the center. Walked west to Wat Bo road which has more guesthouses and closer to the city center. It’s around a 30 minutes walk. Finally stayed at Home Sweet Home guesthouse (USD$5).

3 main currencies are accepted in Siem Reap, USD, Cambodian Riel and Thai Baht. However, most things are quoted in US dollars here. However, most people quote 1USD to 4000 Riel and 1 Thai Baht to only 100 Riel, and the cross rate of USD to Thai Baht is 1 to 4 which is pretty bad for Thai money. The official exchange rates are actually 1USD to 4200 Riel and 1 Thai Baht to 130 Riel.

There are tons of hotels and guest houses. Tourism is the main industry in this city.

Noodles for dinner (USD$1.75)

Night market

Cambodian traditional dress

Bar Street

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Mar 22 2010

Bangkok Day 3, Thailand

After 2 days of being shown around, today will be my day to explore the city myself.

Chao Praya river.

Took the water subway

to Chinatown.

Market

Lunch (42 Baht~USD$1.5)

A roundabout

There is a big ethnic Chinese community in Bangkok. However, they are well integrated into the society with Thai names and practicing Thai culture. Thai is pretty accepting and doesn’t discriminate among different ethnicities. Thaksin is also an ethnic Chinese and was managed to be elected into office as well.

Got the day pass for the subway (120 Baht~USD$4).
Lumphini boxing stadium.

Thailand stock exchange.

There is a good business library

just beside the exchange and were quite a lot of English magazines like economist, businessweek… Spent a few hours there to update myself with current affairs.

Queen’s Conference Center

Rush hour on the subway

Sukhomvit. There are some gogo bars around Sukhomvit station.

The word Farang in Thai means foreigners with a Caucasian look and on Sukhomvit street, it’s not uncommon to see some fat, bald Farang with a thai lady or even thai lady boy.
I guess some of the Farang are on welfare back home and spent the government money in Thailand.

A Farang making his move

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