A Travellerspoint blog

April 2008

Southern Vietnam

Mekong Delta, Saigon...

Joce: Getting Visas for Vietnam was a cinch and within 10 minutes we had our passports stamped and were on a bus to Saigon. What a busy place Saigon is! It is a good thing that Nathaniel and I have become experienced at crossing busy roads, because there are a million scooters and no stop lights or stop signs. Nathaniel says that it is a lot like "Frogger", (apparently that is some video game that was all the rage when he was a kid). You basically launch yourself into oncoming traffic and weave around the buses and scooters whizzing past you. If you wait for a pause in the traffic so that you can cross... you will be standing on the side of the road for a long time.

This is a common sight in the busy towns, scooters piled with rice, crates, pigs, ducks.. virtually everything that we would transport in a pickup truck they manage to do with a scooter.


It has been interesting travelling in a communist country. It is incredibly hard to find books and all written work is censored. Apparently there is "free speech" but if a magazine or newpaper prints something that the communist government does not like they will "temporarily" shut down the facility and then refuse to renew their printing lisence.

Comunisim seems to be working in Vietnam now, but it wasn't always so great.

Nate: The War Remnants Museum in Saigon has been by far the best war museum that we have seen. They had great well preserved machinery and weaponry outside, as well as detailed and sometimes graphic displays inside.

The museum went into a lot of detail explaining the after effects of war, especially from devices like landmines, and terrible chemicals such as “Agent Orange”(a chemical used in Vietnam by the Americans to make the trees lose their leaves. By doing this it made warfare in the dense jungle much easier for them.)

I love computer war games just as much as the next guy (and some times the ladies), but seeing this stuff in real life feels kinda surreal. To stand behind an anti aircraft gun and look through the sights, or amongst all the other tanks and canons, has a sobering effect that impresses on you how real war is. Playing games with AK-47’s and grenade launchers is one thing, seeing them on display and imagining lugging these things through the jungle with you is another.


What is just as crazy is that this thing called war isn’t just an idea, or a glimpse from the past, but a reality of today. That in another 20 or 30 years people will be able to go to museums in other countries just like this one and see the atrocities of war that are happening today as though they were the small happenings of bygone years. 40-50 years ago Vietnam was not a place for tourists much like Afghanistan, or Sudan are not places for tourists today. And much like Vietnam or Cambodia, it will be years before the full impact to these places is realized by the outside world. After seeing all these things for myself, I still have a hard time taking a position for or against war itself. Should they have left Vietnam alone? Or could we have done more to help stem the genocide of Cambodia. Those questions mirror similar questions that we have right now concerning places like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Sudan. I’m glad these choices are not mine to make.


Joce: After a couple days of sightseeing in Saigon we decided to take a two day trip to the Mekong Delta. It ended up being a one day trip after our bus broke down so I didn't get to see the floating market in Can Tho. In any case, we got to float down the Mekong river once again, as well explore some of the smaller rivers that lead to little villages built on islands. Everywhere you looked there were blue wooden boats with eyes painted on them. We were told that the Vietmanese fishermen did this to scare away crocodiles. In anycase there are kinda creepy and cool at the same time. They actually remind me a little of my favorite children's show- Theadore the tugboat.


On the islands we visited a factory where they make the most delicious coconut candy and I got another chance to hold a python. This snake was a lot nicer than the one I helped Nathaniel hold in Africa, so I didn't have to worry about it wrapping itself around my neck or trying to bite me.

In Vietnam there are hundreds of women walking around with bamboo yokes laden with fruit and everything else under the sun. They carry them effortlessly, but I found that it was quite a wobbly burden.

After a couple of days we headed to Mui Ne, a beach community where we heard there was a lot of windsurfing and kitesurfing. It took Nathaniel about 10 minutes of watching the action to decide that he wanted to join the fun.


Nate: So, once again I anteed up the cash for more pain and suffering, and I rented a wind surfer. Since attempting windsurfing in Costa Rica I have come to realize that if I am to continue in this sport there are a few necessary skills that I need to master. Namely “water starts” and “harnesses”. So I spent the better part of an hour trying to teach myself how to “water start” while Jocelyn amused herself by timing how long it took. I almost had it figured out, but then caught the wind wrong and was catapulted through the air and consequently broke the sail, maybe next time :0).

There are a lot of sand dunes and beautiful red conyons in Mui Ne. This is one of the streams that we hiked up one afternoon.


Southern Vietnam has the largest variety of beautiful orchid species we have ever encountered. In the market there were entire streets of them for sale. It is painful to pass up the opportunity to buy such exotic orchids at rock bottom prices, but I don't think they would have fared too well straped to our backpacks.


Posted by Seaurchins 20:47 Comments (2)

Cambodia.. only four weeks left!!!

Siem Riep, Phom Pean, & Shinoukville


Jocelyn: It feels as though it has been so long since I have written that I hardly know where to begin. We have been in Cambodia for about two weeks now and we are leaving on Tuesday for Vietnam. Our time in Cambodia has been bitter sweet. The ruins of Angkor Wat were impressive and awe inspiring while the killing fields and the prison museums of the Khmer Rouge were utterly horrifying. This country has been through so much.

Seventy percent of the population is under the age of twenty and only twenty percent of the population attends school. The rest are too poor to afford education and are forced to work from the age of five upwards. Crossing the border from Thailand into Cambodia was a real eye opener. In Thailand you see giggling children in their crisp school uniforms, while only a couple kilometers away skinny children in tattered clothes, collect bottles and sweep garbage at the border of Poipet.

A young boy paddling on the lake near the slums of Phon Pean

An old women in a rural village

Our tuk tuk ride around the dusty city, (Scalpel please....)

Nate: Less than 20 years ago a political communist group called the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia. The King fled the country, and over the next 10 years more than 1/2 of the population (Over 4 Million) were killed through genocide. They focused their killing on the educated and anyone who opposed them. The people of Cambodia have only started rebuilding their country within the last 10 years, and literacy and education are probably their biggest obstacles.

We also stopped at the Land-Mine Museum and learned how the war is still taking casualities to this day in the form of left over landmines. You see many people in town and around with missing limbs due to unexploded mines that are laying around in the bush. Normally I wander off the beaten track alot but this is one place that sticking to the path counts. I also learned that there are only 4 or 5 countries still using land mines. I bet you can guess one. Interestingly enough, it was Canada that spearheaded an international agreement against the use, production and storage of landmines. They actually have a Canadian flag hoisted in front of the Museum. Go Canada EH!

Nathaniel with some massive missiles at the Cambodian landmine museum.

Jocelyn: Our first stop in Cambodia was in Siem Riep, home of Angkor Wat. We arrived just before the sunrise so that we could watch it rise over the ancient city. We explored the ruins that were showcased in the movies Laura Croft: Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. In some parts the trees look as though they are strangeling the buildings.



We clambered up some seriously steep stairs and took pictures of majestic stone faces.


Nathaniel had to fight for elbow room in a horde of Japanese tourists for this shot.


Jocelyn: We are spending our remaining days on a beautiful streach of beach that is virtually deserted. We have a beautiful little bunglaow on stilts and have been doing a lot of reading, beachcombing, and generaly slothfull activities

Both: Dispite its remote location it has not been without drama. Last night, while we were sitting wth some friends in some cozy chairs, a fight of massive proportions developed between the Cambodian cook and the Spanish hut owner. She was screaming in Khmer while he visibly ignored her unable to understand a word she was screaming. Ironically one of the Australian girls sitting with us teaches English in Cambodia and understands Khmer. She explained to us why the woman was understandably angry. Eventually the cook lost it and starting throwing dishes and chairs but it wasn't until she picked up a butcher knife that I decided it was time to intervene. I basically had to wrestle the knife from her, sit her down and try and calm her while Nathaniel and a Danish guy talked to the owner. He eventually had to flee his own establishment, and sleep somewhere else for the night. What do you expect when you pay your staff next to nothing. I'd do the same.

When we were not keeping our Cambodian cook from killing our hotel owner we rented kyayks and paddled to a remote island that you can see if the above picture. Nathaniel also rented a windsurfer for a couple of bucks and ripped it up on the ocean. He said the massive jellyfish floating past him made a good argument for not falling down.


Nathaniel found some octopi close to the shore yesterday and true to "Nathaniel Nature" stuck one of them on his face. He was planning on eating it until I strongly encouraged him to "let it go for goodness sake"!


Some funky coral Nathaniel found on one of his forages

I have been very reflective this past month.. thinking about all that I have seen and experienced in our travels. We only have four weeks left, and although I am getting really excited about going home, I want to make my time here count.


Posted by Seaurchins 00:07 Comments (1)

Vang Vieng

My brothers would love this place!!!



Nate: After a couple of days chilling in La Prabang we thought we would get a little more rustic, so we hoped on a bus to Vang Vien, grabbed a couple of inner tubes and headed to the river for some tubing. This piece of river is supposed to be a mainstay of the South East Asian travel scene....a veritible rite of passage as the guidbooks say. It proved to be everything I was hoping and more.


It is a slow paced river, and every 50 feet or so there is a bar serving up cold beers, fruit shakes and cocktails. This would never go down in Canada: Tubes+Water+alot of Alcohol=trouble. But even with all the bad choices little seems to go wrong. What could go wrong with drunks flinging themselves off 20 foot tarzan swings? Well I did manage to catch a few bloopers of people too intoxicated to hold onto the rope and endo-ing right off the bat, they are pretty funny.


I really wished my brother Matt had been there. He would have been wooing the crowds like no one else can. I had my backflip down pat, even drummed up the courage to attempt a double back flip. Lets just say it was entertaining... for the crowd anyway, my back still hasn't forgiven me. There were 5 Tarzan swings ranging from 15 to 30 feet high, and 3 different zip lines. Tons of fun! We enjoyed it so much but the next day we just sat around and complained about how much our bodies hurt from all our fun. After a day of recuperation we headed back out to fly through the air once again and punish our bodies. Joce got into a game of beach volleyball and I just kept on swinging.



Jocelyn: During our recovery day, Nathaniel spent the afternoon reading a book in a hammock beside the river while I rented a bicyle and peddled over some very wobbly bamboo bridges to explore the more rural parts of Vang Vien.

In Vientine I indulged in in some last minute shopping before we left Laos, as it is famous for its silk and intricate weavings. I had considered taking a weaving and dying course here but I ran out of time.


I did, however, take the time to convince Nathaniel to have a sauna and massage with me on our last day iN Laos. Nathaniel generally avoids massages like the plague but this time he agreed to come along. Turns out he actually enjoyed it. Imagine that! He was quite fasinated with the boiler of all things...


Posted by Seaurchins 06:13 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Laos.. the land of relaxation

Floating down the great Mekong River

-17 °C


After leaving Chiang Mai, Nathaniel and I boarded a boat for a two day journey down the Mekong River to Luang Pra Bang, Loas. Our boat was filled with over a hundred packpackers and we passed the time by playing cards, eating food, sleeping and observing life along the river. By the time we reached our destination we had developed a lot of new friends.


Finally we have reached our destination! Now for the steep climb up the mountain to find someplace to sleep.


The river banks were dotted with tiny Loacian communities that consisted of houses built on stilts amoungst the jungle. Children splashed in the river as whole families bathed alongside their waterbuffalos.

Whenever our boat stopped to drop off passengers or deliver goods, little would girls run down from their villages to sell us silk scarves.

Lang Pra bang is a unique community and is a UNESCO world hertiage site

I can't get over how idylic it is. Charming streets lined with old french provicial homes, streams of monks carrying umbrellas, and girls riding home on their bicyles from school in their traditional Loas skirts. Everywhere you look there are vendors selling the most delicious sandwhiches made with homemade french bread, and tables are laden with banana bread and mango cakes.

The markets are full of homemade textiles and paper lanterns and umbrellas. The Loas and Mung people are incredible friendly dispite the fact that most of them are dirt poor and live in homes that would be blown over by a strong gust of wind.

We are in Vand Vien right now and we are planning to float lazily down the river in inner tubs tommorow. The drive here was absolutely stunning. Check out the view from the window of our bus.

Posted by Seaurchins 02:29 Comments (0)

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