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November 15, 2004

Phnom Pehn to Ho Chi Minh

NOTE: A guy at a lousy net cafe in Vietnam messed up the memory card with pics for the blog on it! I'm hoping to salvage them when Amanda gets back to the US of A.

It looks like I've been falling behind on my blogs. That last one on Angkor really took the steam out of my sails when it comes to sitting in front of the computer for several hours. At least it gives me a chance to keep in touch and at least think that I still have a life somewhere out there.

From Siem Reap and the stair climbing at Angkor Wat we decided to head east to Battambang where we discovered yet again that Lonely Planet doesn't really know how to describe some places very accurately. Battambang was definitely NOT a well preserved example of colonial French architecture. I don't care what it says! It might have been French at one time in the past but it wasn't quite what we had in mind. The upside is that we finally got to see how Cambodians lived without a million tourists walking the streets. Besides the constant stares, we enjoyed observing Cambodians - well, observe us!! We passed a Chinese Boy's school where a few kids were playing basketball. I couldn't resist the opportunity to show these kids some mad skills. I'll have to admit - they were impressed. Ok, ok, so that was the only decent picture (when I get it) of me playing. After I missed the next 10 jumpers their boyish cheers died down once they realized white men really can't jump!! After that the only cheer I got was when I pointed to the MVP on my team and shout N-B-A, N-B-A!! That must have been the only thing in English they really understood.

After the night in Battambang we added 7 hours to our "We HATE the Bus" column and found ourselves in the mad rush of Phnom Penh. It wasn't the biggest capital towns we'd visited but it was alive. Two days before we arrived in Cambodia a new king was put on the throne and the major parts of the city seemed to have a sqeaky clean shine. I guess they figured it might be nice to tidy the place up for all the media attention it was going to get. The Royal Palace was in especially good shape. I thought the Thai had it good but the Cambodian palace is in a class of its own. Immaculate murals adorned every square inch of the treasure room that wasn't already painted with gold leaf and Cambodia's national treasures, the royal crown, sword and throne, were all on display though pictures were strictly forbidden. In a moment of stupidity I thought it might be ok to snag a quick pic from the outside looking in. Right before I started clicking away an old hand reached out from behind the door and tried to grab my camera. After a brief struggle I had to show that I did NOT indeed take any pictures and there was no reason to call the palace guards! A nerve wracking expereince to say the least. Before running out of there we visited the famous Silver Pagoda (again, pictures were not allowed - and this time I knew better!)

The next day we decided to scope out the whole genocidal history of Cambodia by visiting Tuol Sleng. Also known as S-21, this holocaust style torture prison housed any Cambodians that may have posed a threat to the Khmer Rouge after the Americans withdrew in 1975. In a bizarre act of self-destruction between 1975-1979 the Khmer Rouge killed any and all Cambodians who were skilled or educated. If you wore glasses it meant you could read and that meant you were off to the chopping block (they sometimes used the guillotine so kindly left behind by the French). If your hands were soft it meant you were wealthy enough not to farm and off you went. Most of the killing was done in nearby fields across the country at an estimated loss of some 2 million lives, 1/3 of the total population. Bullets were too valuable so you were either buried alive or bludgeoned to death by some sharp tool. For some reason we felt the need to see where the people of Phnom Penh were taken for their execution and rode out to the famous killing fields of Choeung Ek. There are still several mass graves yet to be disinterred but the few that were unearthed produced skulls that are kept in a memorial pagoda at the center of the grounds. Several skulls showed obvious signs of a hoe to the head or spike through the eye. Genocide is never fun. Still, it happens and the world watches. Currently, Darfur seems to be the center of attention where the death count is already reported at almost a million, not to mention some 40,000 or more raped women and children.

We followed our day of death with a less depressing tour of the city. We scoped out the sites and did the tourist thing but were really looking to hit Vietnam as soon as we could. After a brief hassle at the Vietnamese embassy we changed our visas, booked a bus, and were off to Ho Chi Minh City the next morning at 5 am! Ahhh, you just haven't lived until you've spent countless hours on Asian buses! The only upside is that, at least, you get to see the countryside roll past as you try to find a comfortable spot in the barely working A/C. After crossing the border in sweltering heat we got on another bus and started pulling into Ho Chi Minh about 3 hours later though you couldn't tell. The urban sprawl is unbelieveable! And talk about busy!! HCM (formerly Saigon) is a mass of motorcycles and people that deafens the most honk- honk hardy of travellers!

We didn't stay too long in Saigon with only a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels and a cheesy little city tour that took us around to a few obscure temples or slightly touristy sites. Somehow, for some reson we decided to book an open bus tour up the coast of Vietnam. It was alot cheaper than the train but did I mention how much we hate the bus? After yet another sleepless night counting the motorbikes go by we got up early and hit the road again...

Posted by Josh on November 15, 2004 04:31 PM
Category: Where are we?

Hi. Just read this entry. I guess we can cross SPY off your list of possible future ways to make a living! Looking forward to next post! Love, Dad

Posted by: Steven on November 30, 2004 05:15 PM
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