Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Exploring Ho Chi Minh City and the Cu Chi Tunnels

I've been sick and stuck on the couch all day, so I figured I would put the time to good use and give you a (drumroll, please...) DOUBLE BLOG POST! Here's a peak at my time exploring Ho Chi Minh City and the Cu Chi Tunnels...

Communism in Vietnam is advertised all over the streets...

... and all of the history museums.

I wonder who the few lucky people to get postcards are... =)

Red, red, red!

As one of the only cathedrals in Southeast Asia, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica was a nice reminder of Western life.

Ho Chi Minh City is basically just a sea of motorbikes!

A Vietnamese man selling lottery tickets on the side of the road.

The streets of Saigon...

A police officer's hat sitting on top of a vendor's stand. I got yelled at for taking a picture of a police car, so this is as close as I could get...

So much history, so little time.

I spent a few hours feeling sick to my stomach at the war museum in Ho Chi Minh. It was definitely eye opening to get such a different perspective on the Vietnam War and to be exposed to all of the things they'd never show in America. I'll spare you the rest of the horrible, graphic images, but just so you can get an idea (yes, that's what's left of a person after being hit by a bomb)...

On our way to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, we made a pit stop at a Handicapped Handcraft Factory. All of the workers there are handicapped and they make beautiful, handmade handicrafts including dishes, paintings, and statues. It was pretty interesting to see the crafts go down the assembly line and then to see the finished product.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are the underground tunnel system used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Before going through the actual tunnels (which are about 3 feet tall, a foot and half wide, and pitch black) we were able to see the Viet Cong's weapons, bunkers, etc. Here's Erin in a (teeny tiny) sniper hole!

They also have a shooting range where you can try your hand at any of the guns used in the war...

... when else would I get the chance to shoot an AK 47 in the exact spot so many soldiers fired their own guns during a war??

We may have saved the best day for last, exploring Vietnam and the Mekong Delta by boat. It was absolutely beautiful, and you can see for yourself tomorrow!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After spending two days in Siem Reap we hopped on a bus and moved on to Phnom Penh, where we visited the Killing Fields and the genocide museum. I'll admit it was a rather depressing time considering the subject matter, but everything was so interesting and eye opening that it was well worth it.

The bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh took us through very rural Cambodia, which was awesome. It was so picturesque and exactly how I've always pictured typical Southeast Asia.

Houses like this lined the streets on the way to Phnom Penh.

The Killing Fields are where the Khmer Rouge brought their prisoners to be killed. Mass graves dot the fields and you can still see bones, teeth, and clothes coming out from underground. There's a memorial built to honor the victims of the massacre. It's filled with skulls, clothes, and other bones. I still can't comprehend the fact that I could reach out and touch the skulls of real people who were brutally murdered.

It was nauseating to see so many skulls and to be able to tell exactly how each person was killed. This one was beaten with a pointed weapon...

Some of the prisoners did not die right away...

Barbed wire still lines the fences surrounding the fields.

Picture perfect Cambodia...

As if the killing fields weren't depressing enough, our next stop was the genocide museum. It's been converted from one of the main prisons used by the Khmer Rouge. 17,000 innocent Cambodians went through the prison, and only 7 survived.

We were able to explore the cells and get an idea of the harsh conditions the prisoners were forced to live in. Those who were held in the large mass cells (like this one) were collectively shackled to long pieces of iron bar. The shackles were fixed to alternating bars; the prisoners slept with their heads in opposite directions.

Prisoners were tortured in ways I would never have been able to imagine.

6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.

Each person who went through the prison was photographed upon entering. An artist has re-interpreted these photos and his work is on display in a few of the empty cells.

I promise the next post will be a happier one! Up next is my first day in Vietnam.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Angkor Wat... again!

On our second day, we biked about 40km through Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. I'm tempted to say it was my favorite day in Southeast Asia so far!

We rented bikes from our guesthouse for the day.

We took a wrong turn on our way to Angkor Wat, and ended up riding through a very 'Cambodian' village... I love happy accidents!

I don't want to brag, but I'd say I'm pretty good at taking photos while bike riding with one hand...

Being a local (kind of). You know how the old saying goes, "when at a Buddhist temple..." oh wait. That's not right...

Erin and KJ, enjoying the view of Angkor Wat.

Talk about an awesome place for a wedding!

Walking up to this sort of "off the beaten path" temple, I couldn't help but think my life might turn into a horror movie.

Erin, making a new friend. She traded this woman her watch for this... umm... beautiful scarf.

We stopped to hang out with some monkeys on the side of the road.

How can baby monkeys be SO cute and SO ugly at the same time??

Inside one of the temples... there was doorway after doorway and they got smaller and smaller as they got further in. I was too cheap to hire a guide to explain why it was built like this, but I thought it was pretty cool just the same.

I realized all of my pictures were starting to look the same so I played around with my camera to spice things up a bit...

With our bikes, we almost looked exactly like the locals. Almost.

I'm still amazed by the intricacy in the carvings!

I don't think I could ever get tired of how beautiful this place is!

After two days in Siem Reap, we headed to Phnom Penh for an education on the Cambodian Genocide. Pictures of that in the next post!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Too busy getting stamps in my passport to blog!

After a 2 month hiatus, I'm blogging again! I just got home (Thailand home.. don't get too excited!) from a quick trip to Cambodia and Vietnam with two of my friends. The school term just finished and we had time to squeeze in a bit of traveling before they head back home to America! Our first stop was Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we spent two days exploring Angkor Wat. From there, we went on to Phnom Penh to see some of the (rather nauseating) sites involved in the Cambodian genocide. We then spent three days in Vietnam exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels, boating through the Mekong Delta, biking through a rural island town, educating ourselves about the Viet Cong and the Vietnam War, exploring Ho Chi Minh City, and of course eating lots of amazing food! The entire trip was absolutely amazing. Nothing I could say would do it justice, but maybe some pictures will do the job...

Our first morning in Siem Reap, we woke up nice and early and got to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. It was cloudy, but still beautiful!

A rather appropriate depiction of how my eyes were working when we woke up at 4 in the morning...

The sunrise from inside of Angkor Wat.

Beautiful is an understatement...

KJ and I at one of the temples. We're tiny, but this makes us look even smaller than we really are!

This isn't an illusion... these stairs really do go straight up! This particular section was closed off, but we climbed more than our fair share of steep steps.

One of maybe 50 statues lining the path to a temple.

Siem Reap!

Almost every inch of every temple is adorned by intricate carvings like this. I can't even imagine how much work went into it all!

Temples, temples, TEMPLES!

I'm not sure why, but this was my favorite part of the entire temple complex. There's something about the way all of the stones fit together that I think is so beautiful.

A shot of me for the folks back home...

There's nothing like frolicking through ancient ruins!

Me and Domo: same same!

I spy an elephant...

Our tuk tuk driver for the day.

My happy travel buddies, KJ and Erin.

Just hanging out, flying through Angkor Wat...

Erin, taking it all in!

I told you these stairs were steep! I had to mentally prepare myself to start down the "staircase", so I took some photos as an excuse to wait a bit longer to go down.

We almost look like we're part of the carvings, right??

These temples blow my mind!

One last photo for the fans at home...

The perfect photo to end with... happy travelers at the end of a great day =) I stole this one from KJ but it's just too cute not to post!

After going through all of these photos, I'm almost as exhausted as I was that day! Check back tomorrow for photos from day 2 at Angkor Wat!