Archive for January, 2010


Jan 28-31: Hanoi – Halong Bay (and back again)

On Thursday, I was awake from 4AM until about 10PM, so I went directly to bed after the water puppet show. In Vietnam they like to charge for absolutely EVERY experience they possibly can, so I don’t have any photos of the show because I didn’t want to pay an extra 15,000 Dong (really, only about $1, but hey, I’m being cheap right now) to take photos.

Limestone karst of Halong Bay

Friday we left early for the three hour drive to Halong City, where we caught our private boat to Cat Ba island, via Halong Bay. I had been looking forward to this part of Vietnam for months, so I was a bit bummed that it was overcast and hazy on Friday. But the weather was relatively warm, and our tour leader Dat said that the conditions were actually pretty good for this time of year, so we made the best of our journey and still took plenty of photos. Unfortunately the computer I am at does not have the proper connection, so yet again you will have to wait to see them :p

During the boat ride we had the opportunity to explore some of the limestone

Me outside the caves at Halong Bay

caves in the bay, and were served lunch on the boat. We passed by many villages on the bay, where people literally live in a boat the size of our bathroom at home!

Yesterday seven of us went for a kayak trip around the bay. It was still hazy, and the rain was pouring when we woke up, but by the time we set out the sky was clearing up and the rain had stopped. I was definitely happy I went, despite getting all my clothes wet (and having aching arms afterward!) because we got to see some very cool sights. The coolest part was when we stopped at a beach and our guide took out a bag of bananas.


Can you guess what these were for? The MONKEYS! There were about seven monkeys sitting on top of a hut on the beach, and they came running when we beached our kayaks! Some of them were a bit aggressive, so we took to throwing the bananas at them, but a few of them allowed us to venture closer (armed with a paddle for defense, of course!) The photos of them gorging themselves on banana peels are adorable (too bad you have to wait to see them 🙂

Me and my Bun Cha

When we arrived back in Hanoi yesterday evening, after a long day of travel (it looks close on the map, but it actually takes close to three hours to get to Halong Bay from the city), we had our “last supper” together as a group, and with Dat, our fantastic amazing tour leader. We sat in a private room and had a scrumptious Vietnamese dinner (I had a traditional Hanoi meal called Bun Cha) followed by not-so traditional ice cream (mint chocolate, finally!) We then headed to a local club for some hookah before heading back for a good nights sleep.

Today Court and I are having a lazy day, walking around the city, taking photos, and buying baguettes for the bus trip to Vinh. Tonight we will meet our new tour leader and group for the Laos portion of our tour. I’m looking forward to Laos, and I’m hoping our group will be just the eleven of us that have been together since Day 1 in Bangkok. Since I put all my photos on a CD, I don’t have them with me, but I hope to put some up when I make my next post.

Until Laos,



Jan 25-28: Hoi An to Hanoi

Finally! A hotel that has free internet and photo uploading! This morning we arrived at 4.30AM in Hanoi, but unfortunately our rooms weren’t ready until noon, so we spent the time sitting in the hotel lobby (ugh). But first, let me fill you in on how we got here…

Where my last post left off, on Monday, we were departing from Hoi An for the fou-hour bus ride to Hue. Although southern Vietnam only has two seasons, northern Vietnam has four, like the northern hemisphere. Once we crossed the mountains, the weather was noticeably cooler and wetter, and it was pouring when we arrived in Hue.

Us dressed up in traditional Vietnamese Court costumes. Can you spot me? (Hint: I'm on the left side)

Monday night we went to a restaurant that serves a traditional Royal dinner, complete with authentic costumes! Each of us got to dress up as a member of the Vietnamese royal court, and was served dinner by servers in costumes, while listening to a traditional Vietnamese band. The food was bland, as it was traditionally, to avoid the court being poisoned, but was served in intricate designs and shapes. Anyone who knows me knows I love Halloween, so I had a lot of fun. It was pretty entertaining just to watch everyone dressed up in the costumes!

Tuesday was an early day, I think I mentioned before that we were scheduled to do a motorbike tour, but it was raining

The view from the back of a motorbike. Don't worry, I'm still holding on with one hand.

all day on Monday, so we were a little apprehensive about getting on the back of a motorbike in the rain. But have no fear! The bike guides arrived in the morning with ponchos! The ponchos are really funny looking, they have little windows in front of the crotch area – no, it’s not a peep show, they are there so the drivers can put their ponchos over the handlebars and still see their dashboard! HA HA! All thirteen of us climbed on the backs of the motorbikes, and were treated to the highlight of my trip so far. Even though we were wet, wearing ridiculous looking ponchos, muddy, and helmet head, it all added to the experience! The guides took us through the town to see the traditional Vietnamese “conical hat” being made, to get amazing views of the perfume river, and to a pagoda where we were served lunch by female monks. We even got a nap afterward! Amazing!

Aussie Day!

Since Tuesday was Australia day, we all went out at night to a local bar to party like an Aussie! Too bad the Aussies were out-drank by two Canadians, two Brits, and an American. LOL. We all had a great night, evidenced by the fact that only one Aussie got up for our citadel tour the day after (plus two Brits and one Canadian – me!). I’m pretty proud that I managed to get up bright eyed and bushy tailed after a bucket (1 bucket = 7 shots) of vodka pineapple, 1 beer, and five free shooters 🙂 I rock!

Wednesday we were set to leave Hue for Hanoi at 2.30PM, but there were still sights to see. Our tour leader, Dat, took four of us (the only four that managed to wake up un-hungover) to the old King’s residence, which was heavily bombed during the American/Vietnam war. Only three of the buildings remain today, and although restoration work is well underway, it will be a long time before it is restored to it’s former glory.

The overnight train for Hanoi took about twelve hours, and we passed the time by eating a dinner of makeshift

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

sandwiches (baguette, salami, and laughing cow cheese), playing games (I’m going to a picnic and I’m bringing…) and sleeping (Zzz..). This morning we went to see Ho Chi Minh, who the Vietnamese affectionately refer to as “Uncle Ho”. Ho Chi Minh established independence for Vietnam in 1945, so he is the national hero. Although his wish was to be cremated upon his death in 1969, the Vietnamese people (read: government) decided that this wasn’t good enough for their beloved leader, so they had him embalmed instead, and placed in a glass box inside a mausoleum. To this day, Ho Chi Minh receives thousands of visitors each day, who troop past, double file, no cameras, phones, or camcorders allowed.

Well that brings me up to date (finally), although I’m taking bets on how long it will take me to fall behind again. Tonight we will go to see a water puppet show, which originated in Hanoi over 1000 years ago. Tomorrow we will depart for Halong Bay (yay!) and spend one night on Cat Ba island, the only inhabited island in the Bay. It is wet and quite cool in Hanoi, so it is doubtful we will be swimming, but the forecast calls for sun so I have my fingers crossed.

Before I forget, some people are asking why I’m not posting anything on Facebook or doing notifications about the blog on there. Vietnam is a communist country and as such has blocked the use of Facebook. I’m using a proxy server to creep around on occasion, but I can’t post to my wall or anyone elses, look at photos, or read messages. I promise I’ll get back to civilization when I get to Laos. I also look forward to posting some photos to a gallery on the blog in the next week so I can show off some more of the amazing places we have been and things we have been doing. There just isn’t enough room in each post! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience, as always I’m having a blast, but missing home all the same.



Custom Clothing Chaos

Hello again!

We just arrived in Hanoi on the overnight train and are waiting in the lobby of our hotel for our rooms to be opened up at 12PM. Oh, did I mention that it’s only just past 5AM right now? We have to wait in the lobby until noon, or else pay $15 to use a room for four hours… anyway, I figured I’d use this time to catch up on our travels from Hoi An onward…

Clothing Shop in Hoi An

Last Friday we arrived in Danang, and were taken by bus to Hoi An, for four days of mayhem! Hoi An is the premier place in Vietnam to get custom-tailored clothing made, and I’d been looking forward to this stop on our trip for months. Since we arrived before 6AM, we caught a quick nap before going into town for a tour of the shops, where custom clothing, shoes, and jewelery can be made.

Friday afternoon was spent looking through catalogues of dresses, suits, skirts, shirts, shorts, shoes, necklaces, rings, bracelets, and anything else one can wear. Initially, I had pictures of two dresses from a magazine that I wanted made, but I finally ended up with three more dresses, a pair of shorts, two coats, a suit (including pants, skirt, and blazer), shoes, two necklaces, a pair of earrings, and a charm for my anklet.

The process in Hoi An goes like this:

Me getting measured for my blazer

  • First visit: show the tailors what you want made by pointing it out in the catalogue, or one of the designs on display in their shop.
  • Second visit: usually a day after the initial order, go in for the first fitting. THE ITEM WILL NOT FIT. GUARANTEED. You and the tailor will work out what needs to be looser, what needs to be tighter, what needs to be tucked, pinned, undone, etc. They will not, under any circumstances, decide that the design is too difficult for them to do, or that it won’t work, even if they know it is and it won’t. They will just keep re-sewing until it looks somewhat wearable.
  • Third visit: usually a few hours after the first fitting, you go in for what you hope will be the last fitting. But it never is. It took an average of four visits for the five shops I visited to get the items fitted right. This got very frustrating, especially when an item fits too loose, and then it fits too tight, and then the tailor has to go and try and make it somewhere in between, which usually requires more fittings.
  • Fourth visit: more fittings. This should be the final nips and tucks, as the item should fit pretty well by now. The salesperson marks the item with chalk, to signal to the tailor what to do and where (i.e. take in, let out, shorten, lengthen, etc.)
  • Fifth visit: final fitting and pay for the items.

Now, multiply this by five, or four, or whatever the number of shops you have ordered items from, and there you have a relaxing (NOT!) trip to Hoi An. I tell you, at least twelve hours, and probably more, were spent running around the town from shop to shop, trying on clothing. There is a reason they give you four days here, and only two on the beach in Nha Trang – you need it!

On a Bike Ride

Besides the clothing, we had time for some activities, which included a bike ride through the countryside. I really love the bike rides. The rural children always run out from their houses, waving and screaming “hello!” and sometimes they will hold their hands out for a high five as we ride by! Even the parents get into it, and they will bring their babies out to wave at us. It’s really quite special, and entertaining, as they get such a kick out of seeing westerners!

Other activities included a sunset bbq dinner on an island, a trip to Cham ruins, and lunch at a local house. All the home cooked meals are nothing short of amazing! A typical Vietnamese meal will have many courses, and many dishes are shared between the people who are dining, and they always include soup and rice, tofu, two veggies, beef or pork, and chicken or fish. For example, our meal for twelve people included soup, rice, stir fried noodles, grilled veggies, pork, tofu, and fish. Even though there are always many of us eating together, we can never finish everything! Dat, our leader, reassured us that the food doesn’t go to waste – whatever the family doesn’t eat at lunchtime, they will pack up and eat for dinner. Since most houses don’t have freezers, the food is bought fresh every single morning.

In Vietnam, the motorbike is a way of life. EVERYBODY over the age of 16 has one, and I’m pretty sure that babies are born knowing how to drive one (this fact has yet to be confirmed 🙂 So it pretty much goes without saying that when in Vietnam, one must at least try driving one. I think most of you know where this is going… Sunday night I finally got a chance to ride a motorbike, and what fun it was! The bike was surprisingly heavy, but easy to handle once you get the hang of it.


It was slow going at first, but by the time we got back to the hotel I was flying! (well really only 40kmph, but it feels like more when you’re on a bike!) It was such a thrill, and I can’t wait to get behind the handlebars again!

I think that’s enough excitement for one morning, I’m off to eat a coconut bun and I’ll be back again soon!



Jan 19-22: Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An

Blogging from Vietnam is an exercise in persistence, patience, and sometimes, futility. It seems that each computer only performs one or two out of four necessary functions, and never all at the same time. When I can type, I cannot upload photos. When I can get the photos, my site is blocked. Facebook is permanently blocked by the Vietnamese government (gotta love Communism) and occasionally my email server is blocked as well. This leaves me to post when I can, save as drafts, and then go walking around town in search of a decent computer terminal to upload photos. As you can see, I am seriously lacking in the photo department because I lack the time necessary to perform such a search! I am learning more about patience on this trip than ever before!! Right now we’re in Hue, former imperial capital, and political capital until the 1940’s.

Now let’s see, where did I leave off? I think we were just boarding the night train from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang…

The girls! All of us crammed into one cabin, which has four beds, for this photo.

Tuesday night was spent on my first overnight train! The trip took about 7 hours, and of course we squandered three of these hours crammed ten of us in a cabin drinking and playing games. After about four hours of sleep on a freezing cold top bunk, I was ready for bed (again) when we arrived at our hotel around 6.30AM Wednesday. We were granted a nap, before meeting for lunch and a visit to the hot springs and mineral mud baths!

On Thursday, we signed up for a boat trip around the islands near the town. Nha Trang is the premier holiday destination for Vietnamese people (unlike Cambodians, Vietnamese people actually take holidays), so the town is very touristy and has a few resorts, a beach, and many decent restaurants. They also know how to show tourists a good time, and our boat trip didn’t disappoint.

First we visited a fishing village, where we were followed around by a couple super cute children. Then we went to a

Fishing Village

reef to swim and snorkel. Visibility wasn’t very good, as this time of year is not the best for snorkelling or diving. We were served a bbq lunch on the boat, which was amazing, but was not the best part. The best part was… wait for it… you’re going to hate me… we had our very own private masseuse, and three girls who gave the girls on the trip manicures, pedicures, and eyebrow threading! It was super cool having our own personal aestethicians!

After a quick hot shower and a bbq dinner, we headed back to the train station for the overnight ride to Danang, where we would be met by a bus and taken to Hoi An. Being weary of the coldness of the first train, I packed my warmest clothing for the night, but it was unnecessary since the cabins were boiling hot on this train! The bathrooms were different also, and I had my first experience using a squat “toilet” (really, just a hole) while in a moving train… when you have to choose between holding your pants up and holding onto the walls, you know you’ve made it in life! LOL.

We rose early Friday morning to get off the train at 4.30AM (yuck) and caught the bus to Hoi An. I had been waiting for this part of the tour since early on in the booking process, as I heard that Hoi An is the place in Vietnam to get custom-made clothing. This in itself is an experience, and not an easy one at that, so I think I’ll stop there for now, and continue next time with the rest of the Hoi An story.

It’s starting to get cold as we move up the coast, so I’ve got to go dig my warmer clothing out of my pack. So long, farewell, goodnight… well, you get the picture.



Jan 15-19: Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City

Phnom Penh along the beach

I haven’t had a chance to post in a while, so I’m going to try and go back (quite) a few days and recap the events between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the next few posts. Bear with me over the next week, we are very busy and good internet is difficult to find apparently! Right now we are in Hoi An, halfway up the coast of Vietnam, but let me tell you how we got here…

Our last night in Phnom Penh was one of the most hellish nights I have ever had, and definitely the worst so far on the tour. A few of us went to a Thai boxing match during the evening last Friday, and I started to feel ill. Since we were about 60km outside of the city, I couldn’t easily get a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, so I decided to wait it out. By the time I got home two hours later, there was liquid coming out of both ends of my body (EW!) and I had the worst stomach cramps known to any woman. I spent most of the evening and the night on or hovering over the toilet, wishing for my life to end (well, not really, but you know I’m a big fat drama queen :). Luckily by Saturday morning I was feeling sufficiently better to be able to board the bus for a 6.5hr bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City, although I ate nothing for three meals, and nothing but baguette and rice for the next three.

Our group having our welcome to Vietnam dinner at the market in Ho Chi Minh City

Things in Vietnam are much better than they were in Cambodia, and the difference is obvious as soon as you cross the border. The two countries, although bordering, are like night and day. Ho Chi Minh City is a busy, hot city, but it is clean, and doesn’t have the same smell as Phnom Penh. The people seem cleaner and happier, and it seems that life is easier here, despite the fact that Vietnam is still gaining it’s own independence and establishing itself as an economic force. While the Cambodian people are still recovering from the past, Vietnam seems to be moving steadily toward the future.

Our hotel in Saigon was interesting. I spotted a gecko on the wall after arriving in our room, and proceeded to ignore it; however, it was much more difficult to ignore the three-inch brown cockroach crawling down the wall immediately following my shower! Our solution was to leave the light on in the bathroom, close the door, and shove copious amounts of toilet paper  in the crack it disappeared into. Luckily we only had to spend one more night in our room before leaving for our Mekong River homestay.

Court disappearing into one of the Cu Chi Tunnel entrances. This is how the Viet Cong got into the tunnel network.

On Sunday a group of us went to the Cu Chi tunnels, outisde of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels were used as an underground network by the Viet Cong during the American War (what the Vietnamese people call the “Vietnam War”). The tunnels include bunkers,  barracks, hospitals, and kitchens, and were cleverly disguised. They were also surrounded by a number of nasty looking booby traps, which made me cringe. It makes me wonder how one human being can want to inflict so much pain, torture, and slow death on another human being. I mean, I know it’s war but still.  We all got a chance to walk in the tunnels, but I could barely fit through while crouching, and the walls were barely wider than my own hips. Turning around would have been a nightmare!

Me going into the Cu Chi tunnels through a more "comfortable" method.

During the afternoon we went to the War Remnants Museum, which is honestly one of the most captivating museums I have ever seen. The photos were necessarily graphic and moving, and really helped to illustrate the stories, quotations, and timelines documented in the museum. I never realized the extent to which the Americans destroyed Vietnam and it’s people during the war, and for what now seems such a senseless reason. Where Cambodia seems to still be recovering from the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese people are all too happy to put the past behind them and start looking toward the future. Our local guide said that many Vietnamese prefer to live in the present, instead of being haunted by the war, and it seems to me that Vietnam is rebuilding itself beautifully.

On Sunday evening we met our new, Vietnamese tour leader, Dat. It seems that the tour we are on is a combination of smaller, one-country tours, so we have a new leader for each leg. We also said goodbye to five members of our Cambodian leg, and pciked up tow more, sisters from Australia. We had a welcome dinner in the market, which was some of the best bbq ribs I have ever had.

Traditional Vietnamese "conical hats"! That's me on the right, by the way 🙂

Monday morning brought a new and unexpected twist: our private bus was huge! After being squished and cramped in a small, non-air conditioned bus in Cambodia, we were all overjoyed at the sight of leg room and circulating air! We drove to the mouth of the Mekong Delta, where we boarded a boat to take us to our homestay.

After the homestay in Cambodia, we were all apprehensive of our accommodation, but again, Vietnam did not disappoint! We were greeted by our own cots with mosquito nets, tables and chairs, hammocks, a cooler full of drinks, toilets, showers, electricity, and fantastic hospitality from our local family! Dinner was delicious, all fresh and prepared and served by the family, and then they treated us to  some traditional south Vietnam music and singing! IT was one of the best nights so far, in my opinion, because all of us had a chance to relax, chat, play games, and connect with locals.

Along the Mekong River

On Tuesday we awoke well rested and well fed, to a western breakfast before boarding our boat to go back to Ho Chi Minh. We had free time to explore the city before our night train to Nha Trang, but it was raining so we opted to visit Reunification Palace.To be honest, it was pretty boring, but every trip to Ho Chi MinhCity must include a visit to the famous gates which were crashed through by a tank during the War, so we went.

Tuesday night we boarded a night train for Nha Trang, and that is where this story ends. Here’s hoping I will get to fill in the remaining gaps before we get too much further up the coast.

Until next time,



Vietnam Itinerary

I thought it might be useful (for you, but also for me 🙂 to post the itinerary of where I will be on the Vietnam leg of the tour.

           Day      Date                 Location

  • 13        Jan 17              Ho Chi Minh City
  • 14        Jan 18              Ho Chi Minh City – Mekong Homestay (Ben Tre)
  • 15        Jan 19              Ho Chi Minh City – Overnight to Nha Trang
  • 16        Jan 20              Nha Trang
  • 17        Jan 21              Nha Trang – Overnight to Hoi An
  • 18        Jan 22              Hoi An
  • 19        Jan 23              Hoi An
  • 20        Jan 24              Hoi An
  • 21        Jan 25              Hoi An – Hue
  • 22        Jan 26              Hue
  • 23        Jan 27              Hue – Overnight to Hanoi
  • 24        Jan 28              Hanoi
  • 25        Jan 29              Hanoi – Halong Bay (Cat Ba Island)
  • 26        Jan 30              Halong Bay
  • 27        Jan 31              Hanoi

Bye Bye, Cambodia

Tomorrow will be day 12 of the tour, even though it seems like we have done twice that many. Tomorrow will also mark our journey out of Cambodia and into Vietnam, which I am very much looking forward to. Since it is my last day in this country, I thought I would reflect a little bit on the experience of travelling through a developing nation for the first time.

When I left for this trip my only expectation was to have a good time and see as much and do as much as I could. I tried not to think about the bugs, the accommodations or the food, because I wasn’t sure what to expect, and while the experiences were definitely new and different, I’m not as shocked by everything as I thought I would be.

Sure, using a squat toilet for the first time was a bit strange, but it’s really not so bad, and while the food has wreaked havoc on my body, meals have been tasty and filling. I haven’t seen a cockroach in my room yet, knock on wood, and the accommodation has been comfortable, although in varying degrees of cleanliness (seriously though, it’s not bad at all). The only comfort I really miss from home is my soft bed and a warm shower – somehow Court and I have gotten stuck with the broken water heater twice!

It is hot, dirty, busy, loud, and all around chaotic, however, the Cambodian people are friendly and for the most part non-threatening. Although it’s a simpler life here, with less rules and regulations than the west (just look at their driving!), it’s not an easy life. Cambodia is still recovering economically and socially, and there are many who are still suffering. There are many people who have been injured by land mines, and many children are forced by their families to sell things to tourists. I have seen many western men with Cambodian women on their arms, listening and watching and just being  a silent companion, and I wonder about the situation that forces these women to sell themselves to foreign men just to feed themselves and their families. Foreign people are targets for people selling all manner of things along the road, as well as moto and tuk-tuk drivers, restauranteurs, and even beggars.

The landscape is marred by piles and piles of garbage along the sides of roads, on sidewalks, and in the gutters, especially in cities. Even in rural areas you will see plastic bags, bottles, and other garbage half buried under the dust. It is clear that Cambodia has a long was to go towards developing, but it has the beginnings of a beautiful and thriving nation.

It’s been a great visit, but I’m happy to leave tomorrow to continue my journey and the great adventure of a lifetime. Thank you all for continuing to read my blog and support Courtney and myself as we make our way through Asia. Being able to share this little part of the world with everyone back home has helped stave off the homesickness a little bit, knowing that all of you are with me every step of the way.

Until Ho Chi Minh,



Jan 14-15: Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh

Hi All,

We’ve finally reached the final days of our time in Cambodia, and while I had a great time being here, I think I’ll be happy to leave tomorrow.

The Silver Pagoda

Yesterday we left the lazy beach town of Sihanoukville early and travelled back the way we came, to Phnom Penh, thecapital of Cambodia. Last night we visited the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. The grounds and buildings were beautiful, but I thought the Silver Pagoda was over-hyped, as the majority of the silver tiles on the floor are in poor repair and are covered by carpets. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was the Silver Pagoda until I stepped out and said “okay, now where’s the Silver Pagoda” and some guy told me “Uh, that was it”. D’oh

Today we took a tour of the Tuol Sleng (or S-21) Prison where there is a genocide museum dedicated to the victims of

Tuol Sleng (S-21) Museum. These rooms have been left exactly as found when the prison was liberated, minus the corpse that was found in the room. Shackles, torture instruments, and blood stains are evident in many of the rooms.

torture and imprisonment carried out by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, and the Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek. While it was very sad to see the photos and hear the stories, this is a very important part of Cambodian history and many Cambodians are happy to share their stories with foreigners.

For me, it was extremely hard to imagine the horrors that took place at Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, especially when the day is hot and the sun is shining. However, the crimes of the Khmer Rouge live on in these places. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview one of only seven survivors of the S-21 Prison, and it was a humbling experience. I cannot fathom what those people went through, not only the ones who ended up at S-21 or the killing fields, but regular, middle-class people. I had no idea when I signed up for this trip, that Cambodia had such a horrid history. In school we are taught about the conflicts we were involved in – mainly WW1 and WW2 – but nobody teaches us about the other wars been fought around the world. We were told in school that by being taught about the atrocities of genocide it would make sure history does not repeat itself, yet it has.

More than 5,000 human skulls are on display in the commemorative stupa at the Killing Fields, where more than 17,000 people were killed and buried in mass graves. Skulls are arranged according to age, with the youngest being 15 years old.

WW2 sounded like such a long time ago, and I never believed that someone could do such a thing again, yet less than a decade before I was born, only 30 some-odd years ago, the Khmer Rouge left a scar on Cambodian history, and I never knew about it until now. In fact, I’m sure many westerners will never know about this little fact of history, and I encourage everyone to read the book I am in the process of reading, called “First they Killed my Father”. It is a very well-written memoir written from a young girl’s point of view, about her experience during the Khmer Rouge regime. She grew up in a middle-class home, similar to myself, although in another country, decade, and culture, but I still cannot imagine having to do what she did to survive. Although a few months ago  I may not have known much about Cambodia except that Angelina Jolie’s oldest son was born there, but I now feel closer to the country and it’s people than I could have imagined.

Right now we have an afternoon off before heading to a Thai Boxing match just outside the city. Our guesthouse is located on a side street about three blocks from the river, where there are many restaurants, shops, and bars, so the location is excellent. We were all worried we would be stuck in the middle of the city by the bus stop, which is hot, loud, chaotic, and a bit scary to be honest!

Tomorrow we will have a long day of driving, leaving Cambodia behind and arriving in the afternoon in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), which is the largest city in Vietnam. There we will get a new tour leader, say goodbye to some friends, and likely say hello to new ones.

I will attempt to post some photos later, or perhaps from Vietnam, as my USB cord is currently back at the hotel.

Bye for now,


Beaches, BBQs, and Banana Pancakes

Serendipity Beach at Sunset

Today we had our very first day with absolutely nothing to do and no transportation involved, besides a tuk-tuk. Since I left Toronto nine days ago (which actually feels like nineTEEN days ago) we have been constantly on the go. Even when we had three nights in Siem Reap, we were doing excursions which required bus rides everyday. The hustle and bustle of being on tour is taxing, especially for someone like me who has been a relatively idle student for the past three years. I’m slowly getting used to the early mornings, lots of sunlight, and three meals per day, which I rarely got while studying.

Yesterday we went on a boat trip to a nearby island, where we snorkeled, swam, and had a chance to just lay on the beach. The visibility for snorkeling wasn’t very good, but the beach was private and our group was the only one there. The water in the Gulf of Thailand is very warm, and anyone who knows me knows I’m happiest when I’m by the water, preferably on a beach someplace, so I was in paradise. We followed it up with a yummy dinner of seafood barbecue, which is a local specialty, followed by some drinks and dancing at a local (read:tourist) bar. Food and drinks here are cheap – a vodka mixed drink costs $1.50 USD and a dinner costs between $2 and $3.50 USD. Not bad, not bad at all. I’m going to be a total money snob when I come home… “you want me to pay HOW MUCH for that drink!?”

Picture Perfect

Today, as I mentioned before, we had a day where we didn’t have to go anyplace or do anything if we didn’t want to. Courtney and I chose to sleep in, have banana pancakes (the staple Cambodian tourist breakfast!), and then get a $5 full-body massage. Then we went to a private beach with two girls from our tour, did some shopping at the market, and finished with a sunset bbq dinner on the beach. My life sucks.

Tomorrow we leave at 7.15AM for Phnom Penh. We are all looking forward to travelling by public bus, as the private bus is not our friend after the last sweaty, dusty trip. I finally got a watch, so now I don’t have to harass people by asking what time it is. I’ve attempted to keep track of how long it takes to get from each place to the next, but as everything here runs on “Asian time”, it’s quite impossible. Three hours can easily mean four. Or three and a half. You really never know. For someone like me who runs by a schedule (anyone who knows me knows I’m lost without my agenda) it’s oddly comforting to be able to let go of time and just let things happen. Except when you’re on a bus and you have to pee…

Anyway, the next time I post I may well be in another country. I didn’t get a chance to write all I wanted to about Cambodia, so I’ll save my thoughts for another post. Be well, and feel free to send me an email anytime. I still want to know what’s going on at home!



SE Asia Travel Tip #1

When travelling in Cambodia, always opt for a public bus over a private one! The public busses have airconditioning, sometimes serve food and drinks, and have reclining seats!

January 2010

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