Friday, October 31, 2014

Cambodia part2: Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and other temples

Sad times, last stop on my journey: charming town Siem Reap and beautiful huge complex of temples on top with majestic Angkor Wat:

River floating through the centre of Siem Reap

The Pub street

Siem Reap was flooded with night markets

Few local guys showing off their fancy footwork by shuttlecock kicking

On a beautiful day I rented out a bicycle and did a ride around the temples.. I was totally amazed. This picture is from the first temple I visited - Ta Prohm (famous for appearance in Tomb Raider)

The east gate to the Angkor Thom village

The royal palace temple in Angkor Thom

And the view from the top of it...

The Bayon temple

Detail on one of the plenty smiling buddha faces inside Bayon

The south gate. On my way to Angkor Wat...

Three young monks heading for a prayer to Angkor Wat

And the best for last: majestic Angkor Wat at sunset

So, after few problems (missing my connection flight or losing my baggage in Oslo) I got back home.. After few days it already feels like I've never left... It definitely is a very strange feeling. Currently I'm lying with terrible flu in my bed 3 days in a row and trying to get back to life. Wish me luck ;)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cambodia part1: Phnom Penh - Killing fields & S-21 prison

As written in previous post, this one won't be very cheerful either. In Cambodia I chose to do 2 stops only (not that I could do more anyways because of the time pressure). The first stop after Vietnam was the capital of Cambodia - Phnom Penh. Btw. I must say that Cambodia is definitely the dirtiest country out of all SE asian countries, probably the poorest as well (with Laos) and definitely most unfortunate when it comes to the history. Cambodia was a french colony, after liberation they were involved in Vietnam war and heavily struck by US bombing, but the worst part was still to come... In 1975 a radical communist party Khmer Rouge with its leader Pol Pot took over the country and started the worst nightmare on their fellow countrymen. At first, all people living in towns were forced to leave and join the work on rice fields, and later they started (basically randomly - it started with intellectuals and educated people (the ones who was Pol Pot most afraid of), but later it was basically all people - farmers, children, women, foreigners, even his own soldiers...) send people to torture them in prisons and afterwards kill them in the 'killing fields'. Between 1975 and 1979 Khmer Rouge killed 3 out of 8 million Cambodians!!! I stopped in Phnom Penh to visit one of many killing fields and the most cruel prison - S-21.

The monument in the killing fields built in honor of the victims of the genocide

The monument is full of skulls, bones, teeth and clothes of the victims.

There were 85 mass graves discovered in this one killing field (there are plenty of them all over Cambodia). The biggest one contained more than 450 corpses. The one on the picture was full of naked (most probably raped before killing) women and kids on top of them. The tree on the picture was used to kill the children - they grabbed them by their feet and smashed their heads against the tree and threw the body into the grave... Khmer Rouge did not use guns to kill the people (the bullets were too expensive). There were evidence of people being killed by bamboo sticks, axes, hammers, digging hoes, machetes etc. Some of the people were buried alive and then they would pour chemicals over the graves to finish them off... All of this was happening just 25 years ago!!!

After getting the shivers from the killing fields off, I went to see the S-21 prison where thousands of people were imprisoned and most of the time tortured to death (once there was no more capacity in the prison they started to deport the people to kill them in the killing fields). This prison was set up in a former school right in the capital Phnom Penh.

The entrance to the cells

The wooden cells (approx. 0,5 x 2m)

The room for torturing - mainly used for political prisoners - they used all kind of torturing and wouldn't stop until the prisoner confessed to some crime that he didn't do, so they had a reason to kill him...

Faces of few prisoners after arrival to S-21.

After seeing these two horrific places I had some time to relax and come to nicer thoughts by walking around Phnom Penh. On picture is the central market.

Big square in the middle of the town full of athletes of all ages :)

Temple with giant clock

City fishermen on Mekong river

And here a countryside fisherman outside the town.

Next post will be my last stop in Cambodia and also on this trip :( and I promise there will be no more depressive stuff there ;)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vietnam part2: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh's city)

After I was forced to cut down on my plans radically, my whole Vietnam journey shrank to only two parts - Hanoi and Saigon (I know, that sucks!). Anyway, I flew from Hanoi to Saigon on Monday night and planned my activities there for whole 1 and a half day ;)

Saigon (the correct current official name is Ho Chi Minh's city, but I will keep calling it Saigon (imagine writing Ho Chi Minh's city all the time..) did not impress me at all as city. Unlike Hanoi it doesn't have any charming old part - only ugly, hot streets like the one on picture with crazy traffic.

...with crazy traffic! and super annoying tuk-tuk and motorbike drivers (and I thought nothing can top Bangkok)

Skyline of Saigon's modern part

Saigon's central post-office with omnipresent "uncle Ho"

I had 2 main goals in Saigon: visit war remnants museum and the Cu Chi tunnels. I managed to do both and both of them were very interesting and impressive experiences.

Apart from few US fighter jets and tanks from the Vietnam war that I wasn't too excited about, the exhibitions inside of the museum were shocking! There were hundreds of horrific pictures and stories about the acts of american cruelty during war in Vietnam. I know that it is not easy to look at pictures like these, but I find it quite important to share how inhuman did (can??) people act towards other human beings...

This was the most depressing part of the museum for me... It showed vietnamese people of all ages with all kind of disabilities and deformations caused by the use of chemical weapons (mainly Agent Orange) by US army.. There are people still being born without arms or legs, or not able to talk or think, even after 40 years after the war... I was trying to think of any possible fucked up reason, why would somebody spray chemicals on innocent people all over the country, but I'm sorry - I just couldn't find any... This is double that sick and fucked up if you realize that USA didn't have nothing to do with the problems going on in Vietnam - and therefore no right to intervene there anyhow - not talking about intervening this way... (I'm getting the shakes even now as I'm writing this, so you can imagine what it felt like going through the hundreds of pictures and stories in the museum)

There was used a nice contrasting linkage of the Vietnam war facts, figures and pictures to the part of the US Declaration of Independence.. No comments needed, as written above - it is self-evident...

My second goal in Saigon was to visit the nearby Cu Chi tunnels. Cu Chi is a part of Vietnam, which was heavily bombarded (like any other part) by US during the Vietnam war.. The difference between Cu Chi and any other parts was, that the people of Cu Chi found a way how to resist and fight the american army (even heavily outnumbered and under-armed). They dug up huge network (250 km in 3 levels) of underground tunnels where the Viet Cong guerillas were hiding and preparing all kinds of tricky traps for the US soldiers.. Smart motherfuckers ;) I tried to walk in there for 40 meters and I must say that they were really not done for my size of body :))

Demonstration of how to make a vietcong soldier disappear..

And he's gone... somewhere in the tunnels..

Few of the very tricky vietcong traps... One example for all: the fish trap (the little cage placed outside). It didn't necessarily needed to kill the enemy (not even hurt him if he was lucky enough to step next to the spike and not on it), but they placed a land-mine under that cage which meant that if his fellows came to help him out of the hole, it blew up all of them...

So much for my short, a bit depressing and sad, but very educational Saigon stay... Currently I'm already in Phnom Penh - the capital of Cambodia - and I have to get you ready for more depressing and fucked up stories... More on that in the next post. Peace 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Vietnam part1: Hanoi, Halong bay

Due to my great planning I found myself in situation where I was stuck in Laos, still wanted to do Vietnam and Cambodia and my flight home was in less than 2 weeks... What should I say? Challenge accepted :) After flying from Laos to Hanoi, we met the crazy Swedes (one day there was 4 of them - ufff) and did a bit of city sightseeing and 3 day trip to the beautiful Halong bay:

Hanoi is a big city with more than 6 million (40 in the swedish books ;)) people living in it, but I really liked it. Especially the old town. It is a maze of small narrow streets full of shops and bikes and street businessmen selling all kind of stuff. Very nice atmosphere.. and a lot of green! (despite the fact that it is just building next to building)

Early morning in Hanoi old town

The traffic in Hanoi is mental! No rules whatsoever, just you and your car/motorbike and its horn and FIGHT! Crossing the street here gives you a proper adrenaline experience...

Apart from the old town, Hanoi has also less busy and crowded parts. Like this one where all the government and presidential buildings are located. Finally got to see some good old communist architecture :)

The guards marching in front of the Ho Chi MInh's mausoleum. We experienced a real grotesque situation here when from one side they were dead serious about not letting us in the area, but it was easily accessible from the other side and we could easily get right to the same point where they didn't allow us before... 

These kind of communist posters are to be found all around the town. Gotta love it.

One day we went to a local amusement park. Us 6 and hundreds of vietnamese kids. For once in my life I felt like a celebrity :)

Crazy swedes on the swinging ship

View over Hanoi (well, not really due to the smog) from the ferris wheel

Apart from Hanoi I managed (with my veery tight schedule) do a 3 day boat trip to Halong bay. And  it was amazing!

Local guy selling goodies from his boat

Sunset in Halong bay. We have spent one night on this kind of ship in the middle of Halong bay...

...and one night on beautiful quiet island. This was the morning view from our bungalow.

Apart from partying on the boat and island we stopped at few nice spots, like this beach for a bit of swimming and chilling, another spot for kayaking...

...and crazy drunk jumping from the boat :)

And we also did some easy rock climbing with following cliff-jump. Almost shat my pants!

So, after beautiful 5 days in Hanoi and Halong bay, sad moment of saying goodbye to Ben, Caroline, Ella and Nevin, I jumped on a plane to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) to quickly see something from South Vietnam as well and then rush through Cambodia back to Bangkok to catch my flight home..