Vietnam, 2008

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Vietnam: The Emerald Green Land in South East Asia

My trip to Vietnam began in the town of Chau Doc, near the Cambodian border. I arrived by boat from Phnom Pehn Cambodia.

It was incursions into and around Chau Doc by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime that led to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1979. The Khmer Rouge crossed the border several times to chase down and kill people who had fled Cambodia to escape their genocidal madness. Many Vietnamese were also murdered in these raids.

While in Chau Doc I went to see a fish farm on the Hau Giang River. I hired a small boat captained by a kid about 13 years old and he ferried me out to some houses anchored to the river bottom. These houses were on wooden stilts just above the river’s surface. Inside each house was a trap door in the floor. One of the home owners opened a trap door and I could see the river’s surface below. After he tossed a scoop of fish pellets into the water dozens of fish came roiling to the surface with their mouths agape. Under each of the houses in the river were nets crammed with fish.

Saigon can be nerve shattering. I’ve never seen a city so abuzz with motorcycle traffic. They’re everywhere and their riders have little regard for traffic regulations. It’s actually quite dangerous in Saigon because when you are walking anywhere motorcycles can seem to come out of nowhere bearing down on you fast enough that you really have no time to react. I came very close to getting hit by one a few times. I wasn’t distracted during these occasions. In fact in each case I was trying to detect as much around me as possible to avoid a collision and almost got run over anyway. Crossing a street, any street, in Saigon takes audacity. Sidewalks aren’t safe either. When they’re not clogged with parked motorcycles, people on motorcycles are using them for speedways. The only time I felt safe from motorcycles when I was outside is when I was on the back of one being taxied somewhere. In Saigon there’s always someone around who’s willing to take you where you want to go on their motorbike in exchange for a dollar or two.

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Cambodia, 2008

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Cambodia: From the Marvels of Angkor to the Horror of Toul Sleng

 

Cambodia was the second country I visited during my first trip to South East Asia. I entered the country from the Isaan region of Thailand. Isaan sees relatively few foreign visitors. I guess because of this, there were no onward buses to destinations further into the country after I crossed into Cambodia. The Thai people that had been on the bus from Surin with me were traveling to Cambodia to buy cheap goods for sale right on the border. The number of people crossing here that needed some public transportation to elsewhere was too small to warrant the presence of a bus station or even a bus stop. I hadn’t reckoned on that.

A Cambodian border guard told me that if I wanted to continue on right away I would have to take a taxi and he offered to call me one. And he did.

About 100 meters into Cambodia the asphalt surface came to an abrupt end and a very rutted dirt road began. The taxi driver had to go slowly as the car wallowed from side to side and up and down over the hillocks that were the road. Filthy shoe-less children with barely any clothes were playing in the fields. The houses – huts would be more accurate – were made of bamboo and straw and in a dilapidated state. One of these huts had been burnt to the ground. Thailand was the land of milk and honey compared to this. I certainly had not seen such depths of poverty there.

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Thailand, 2008

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Thailand: More Sinister Than I Had Imagined

 

Thailand is well known as a top global tourist destination. With fabulous beaches. plenty of sunshine, friendly people, wonderful food, and low prices how could it not be?

I had put off going to Thailand because of its popularity. I had become a travel snob, thinking it best to seek out only less traveled countries with more appeal to adventurous travelers. I like to imagine myself as someone willing to trade convenience for something more spirited.

Before flying into Bangkok I had believed that I would spend the lion’s share of my 10 week South East Asia vacation in neighbouring countries. Surely Thailand would be too commercial and tame to make me want to stay long. My preconceptions turned out to be only partially correct.

While Thailand is famous as a “Fun in the Sun” beach and sex-tourist honey pot, it offers more than hedonistic pleasures. There’s some first-rate historic sites to reward the sightseer as well.

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