Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Phnom Penh, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and Dalat

Standing Next to our Tuk Tuk in Phnom Phen (Links to more pictures)

We are doing really well, and are loving Vietnam so far! We are currently in Dalat, but spent the previous four days in Ho Chi Minh City, and looooooved it! It is really nice and beautiful with lots of parks and wide streets and modern architecture. Much more beautiful than we expected and my (Graham's) favorite Asian city so far. Our time in Vietnam thus far has also been heavy at times, as many of the sites we've seen have to do with the Vietnam war (or as they call it here, the American war). There has been more than one time that Natalie and I have teared up. One especially hard thing to see was an exhibit about Agent Orange, Napalm, and other chemical agents that were dropped out of planes over the county. The War remnants Museum had graphic, honest pictures of people whose bodies were badly burned, and what was perhaps even sadder was an exhibit about the long term effects of all these poisons that resulted in tons of stillbirths, and babies being born horribly deformed. In some areas there is still a much higher rate of that to this day.....
One of many entrance holes to hundreds of miles of underground tunnels that the
Vietnamese hid in during the Vietnam War.

On another note, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh from Phnom Phen, the epicenter of one of the world's most recent genocides, where we toured prisons that were run like Auschwitz, and torture chambers and mass grave sites. Their country is half the size of California and between 1975 and 1979 over 2 million people were killed there when the dictator Pol Pot took over control and started wiping people out. Needless to say, it has all been a very strong lesson about the evils of war, and how much everyday people who have no connection to the bigger ideologies at play, end up suffering. 
The mass graves when they were discovered. 
The remnants of the the mass graves. 
The 11 story building full of the bones that were uncovered
Some of the cloths, bones, teeth, etc. that have come up mostly during the rainy season, but
 not yet incorporated into the memorial. 

It was really heartening both in Cambodia and Vietnam though to meet people who are so friendly, and who seem to have a beautiful joy in being alive, and who don't seem angry or pained in the ways you would imagine they would be, after such recent, horrible wars. One of our guides here was about my age and his dad fought in the Vietnam war, and its just so beautiful and crazy that today he and I, whose fathers were from opposing sides in a war that ten of thousands died in, could have fun joking around, and connecting over our love of iphones.....
Some cool kids that wanted to be friends in Cambodia.
Some more at a museum in Vietnam. 

Next we made our way to Dalat, which is a beautiful, if random, little city in the hills (or as they call them in Vietnam, mountains). It was built by the French when they were the colonizing force in Vietnam in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The French left behind their beautiful villas and gardens and city planning. The Vietnamese then took over, and the result is a very eclectic mix to say the least. Natalie and I have had many discussions about whether it's relative poverty, culture, innate taste, or something beyond our comprehension that has propelled this city's development. Any way you crack it, I don't think the French would have gone in quite the same direction. Some examples of this are parks full of live horses tethered to inanimate carriages (including at least one horse spray painted to look like a zebra), garbage trucks that drive around blasting the theme of Disneyland's "It's a small world after all", waterfalls and ponds full of bubble-bath-bubbly brown get the point. We are really loving it here though where we found an awesome hotel with a balcony overlooking the city for $9 a night, and have been zooming around on our $4/day rented scooter, and repeatedly eating at the best vegan restaurant ever, each meal including a few courses, drinks, and dessert for not more than $6 total. Pretty awesome. 
Zebra Horse
Horse attached to an unmovable carriage :(
The (beautiful????) waterfall. 
A chained-up cat :(

We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, so I am going to end here. Love and most of all, PEACE to all. The world is a crazy mixed up place, but there is so much beauty and wonder and common ground in it all. I think we all reach toward the better angels of our nature when we look for commonality rather than differences. Or as Abraham Lincoln says it much more eloquently:

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." 

Cute horse I named wrench
Natalie coming out of one of the holes at the Cu Chi tunnels
Elephant reaching over electric fence for sugar cane 

Slumping guard
Delicious meal at cool cafe in Phnom Phen where you eat on couches. 
To travelers:

Not a ton of advise because of time limits, but definitely see the killing fields in Phnom Phen, even though it is a bit out of town. It is underwhelming when you are there, but we have found ourselves thinking about it a lot in days since. Spare yourself and don't watch the video, which is so badly filmed and edited that it takes away from your experience. City is nice, but 2 full days should be good.

In Ho Chi Minh we had great success finding a hotel through a tout that met our bus. We has hot water, wifi, aircon, and really sweet hosts for $12/night. There are a ton of places around where you get dropped off, so dont worry about booking ahead. For the time of your life, seriously way more thrilling than sky diving for me, rent a scooter for a day and tool around town. Makes it much easier to see all the sites, and ends up being way cheaper than taxi or even pub transport....if you dare.

In Dalat, the bus station is far from the center, would be probably an hour walking, so plan on taking a taxi. Easy riders will meet you and offer free rides. They are nice, but they will also be sweetly/forcefully persistent if you take them up. There is a hotel we found with great rooms from 8-10 per night called Quynh Tran at 5 Bui Thj Xuan St. Their number is 063-383-6888 and email is - very nice and central. We stayed at an Easy Rider recommended hotel the first night, but weren't too happy with it and looked around at many places, of which this was by far the best option.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I so love hearing all about your travels. Sounds like you guys are having an awesome time..I'm reliving it as you write..please keep it coming!! Stay safe our crazy animal-loving friends :P xx


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