Category: SE Asia

Bangkok to start SEA trip and catch up with Frank

frankwork

In 2005 I got married in Thailand (to a girl from the Wirral before anyone asks 🙂

I had 3 fantastic weeks there and even visited Vietnam and Cambodia.

On the trip my oldest friend Frank came with me. On the last day of the trip, I told him we were going to get a taxi to the airport the next day and he was welcome to share it with us.

He said it was OK, and that he was going to hang around in Bangkok. I smiled and agreed. I remember saying why not its such a beautiful place, why not have another week or two here.

No said Frank, I’m actually going to stay here for good. And there with a bag on his shoulder smaller than the one I carry to work his only possessions, he set out to make a life for himself there.

I always promised to go out and see him (although it was never as frequent as I’d have liked and I really missed an adventure companion who was up for anything here in the UK).

Well, Myanmar (Burma) recently opened to the world after years of being closed to tourists due to its Dictatorship. We were flying into Bangkok to start the trip so I was determined to go there and catch up with him.

bkhotel

I left for the airport straight from work. A stopover in Abu Dhabi and after 25hrs of travelling, were finally in Bangkok.

Were here for 2 nights and we’ve got a lovely hotel Nikki has stayed in before, on the bank of the river.

streetfood

We decided to get out and stretch our legs.

My first exposure to Thailand, was a noodle bar in Manchester called Tampopo (which I believe is still there, 20 years later).

I remember reading on a menu, something called Pad Thai, described as a popular Bangkok street dish. I’ve been to Bangkok 6 times, eaten Pad Thai hundreds of times, but never actualy bought it from a street vendor.

So here we are, 20 years later buying Pad Thai, which was delicious.

nashop

We were going to meet Frank at his wife Na’s shop.

Won’t bore you all with the details, but I didn’t research it properly and instead of getting a taxi, decided to walk.

The map above showed our route across Bangkok on a Sunday.

acme

Along the way, we found this building where the road runner gets all of his revenge ordnance from.

mefrank

Ended up with Nikki and I finding a place in a shopping centre and messaging Frank on Facebook explaining that I couldn’t find where he was.

Turned out, he was just upstairs in the building and popped down to join us for a drink.

The people of Thailand were still in mourning over the death of the king and like many, Frank was wearing a black shirt out of respect.

nalekshop

We popped upstairs to see Na at her shop.

I had a really good shot lined up then an enormous African woman came over to buy something from the shop. Money is money, so I got out of the way and left them to conduct their business.

Also, Na’s lovely friend Lek wasn’t around either. For this reason I’ve used a picture from a previous trip.

walk1

From here, Frank took us out for a walk around Bangkok.

I’ve been here many times and I was looking forward to seeing what sort of “outdoor/adventure” walk we were going to have.

I shouldn’t have wondered, Frank took us to this spot where the UDD red shirts had an uprising against the military (I remember seeing it on TV and it was surreal to actually be standing there).

walk2

We head for a really nice place called Lumpini Park.

It’s name after Lumbini the birthplace of Buddha.

There were some awful swan shaped boats in the lake.

walk3

We carried on walking past the lake and through the length of the park.

walk4

We continued walking. After about 50 minutes, he showed us this cycle path he’d found.

walk5

It was raised above the houses and shops bellow.

It was really quiet and relaxing here and we were able to just walk along and catch up on old times.

walk6

At the end of the path, we cross this wobbly bridge and this “jungle with skyscrapers in the background” scene.

cheap_charlies

We find ourselves in a sports bar.

But instead of tv’s with sport on, it had dozens of pool tables. The regulars their seemed surprised that 3 people had just come in for a drink, but they were very pleasant and gave up their seats at the bar for us.

Wandering back into the “normal” Bangkok, we visit cheap Charlie’s, which is due to be demolished.

dinner

By now, its getting Dark.

Na has finished work and joins us all for a for a delicious meal at Zaks restaurant.

Two hours of fun and interesting conversation then sadly, it has to come to an end. We say goodbye to Frank and Na, Na negotiates the price of a taxi and we head for home.

aa2

In the morning, we have breakfast at the hotel, then head for the airport for a 4 day trip to Luang Prabang in Laos.

pool

Having completed our trip to Luang Prabang and Mayanmar, we’re back in Bangkok.

We arrive around 10am in the morning and were due to fly out at 8pm in the evening.

Nikki has cleverly booked us in at an airport hotel. We relax by the pool have a few drinks and something to eat.

Nikki decides to have a swim. A very relaxing way to prepare for the end of a holiday.

boxing

I leave the pool and go for a wander around.

I find a really smart bike shop, that sells coffee.

I have 2 cups of coffee, while I watch Thai Boxing on the TV.

Another 90m minutes by the pool, then 30 min lie down, shower and complimentary taxi to the airport 3 miles away (and all for £15).

whistle

Back home in the UK, I spend the morning on my own, have a nap then head out.

I head for the lock keeper where I take of my whistle and have a pint of beer.

My transition to normal life is complete.

harkers_roast

Nikki texts me and asks what I want to do that evening (I’m back at work in the morning).

There’s really only one thing I can think off…

After 2 weeks of oriental food, its off to Harkers for Sunday lunch, with gravy and Yorkshire puddings.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, so I’ve found a picture of this attractive woman eating the same meal that I ate (well not the “same” meal, but you know what I mean).

Another amazing trip complete.

Luang Prabang, adventure playground (1/2).

me_1

After flying into Bangkok (the main hub in the area) and catching up with Frank, we had a couple of days free before out organised tour to Myanmar (Burma).

The airport was quite small, and you needed to get a visa on arrival.

hotelroad

We got a truck from the airport (the main form of transport) and travelled to our hotel.

It was next to a road, and on the other side of the road they had a sort of cafe/bar where we had breakfast.

A beautiful teak building, the people there were really friendly and I was starting to get really excited about the trip.

construction

We’re here for 3 nights. Were interested in doing full day activities for the 2 days in the middle, but of the afternoon we decide to wander around the town and get a feel for the place.

As we wonder out, we see this half completed building that gives an idea of how traditional buildings are constructed using modern methods.

watsene

Although the place is great to spend time in, the actual town itself only has 3 “must see” sights according to the lonely planet.

Wat Xieng Thong – the temple of the Golden city is a Buddhist monastery.

stair1

“mount” Phosi has commanding views of the whole town (although to be honest at 100metres above sea level, its more hill than mountain).

There is a woman of the bottom of the steps, who sells birds in cages. The idea is that you can climb up to the temple and set the bird free.

But like Nikki said. The old lady only trapped that bird because she new someone would buy it. If you really want to help the birds, keep your money in your pocket.

stairs2

At the top of the main run of the stairs, a large tree, then you pay an entrance fee.

From here, the stairs go off to the right.

phosi1

Wat Chom Si is the Buddhist temple at the top of the hill.

phosi2

Around the back are some spectacular views of the peninsula.

rp1

Back down the stairs and right across the road is the Royal Palace.

A collection of regal buildings and a museum.

rp2

A wandered around the gardens which were kept in very good order.

rp3

The main building has a museum with fine art, a garage with Royal cars and stuff like that.

We wandered back onto the main road, had a few drinks and a delicious Pizza, cooked on a wood burning stove.

There were loads of shops open in the evening, advertising day trips. We decide that the following day we’d do the classic boat trip to caves and drive to waterfall.

The following day, we’d to a jungle trek to 2 villages and the Tad Sae.

breakfast

In the morning, were up first thing and we have breakfast by the river.

Property is quite expensive in Luang Prabang, so many of the people who work there, actually live on the the side of the river, and sail over first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

boat2

Were picked up by van, just outside our hotel, then driven around the blog and dropped off at the boat jetty (which interestingly is only 60 metres from the place we were picked up).

The “captain” of our boat pilots it from the front, it has a roof in case of rain and had been modified with really comfortable car seats.

We share the boat with a French couple who had 2 well behaved young children with them.

mekong1

A relaxing 2 hour journey up the Mekong. At one point it looked like our boat had engine problems, but our captain sorted this out pretty quick.

arrival

And we arrive at Pak Ou caves. There are actually 2 caves here, and we visit the lower one first.

cave1

There were all sorts of carved stone figures of Buddha here, but in the end, a caves a cave and there’s not much I can say about that.

cave2

I found a nice spot to take a picture of Nikki.

cavesteps

Further along, a stairway leads upto the other cave.

cave3

The other cave was a bit more “tomb raider and you could rent torches to explore it.

headinghome

Back to the jetty and we set off.

whiskyvillage

But we dont go straight back, we stop off at the whisky village.

They had whisky and dead scorpions in bottles. We decided not to buy anything.

jeeptowaterfall

Back to Luang Prabang, and we’ve got 90 minutes to have lunch in the alternative brew bar, a really nice coffee shop before jumping in a truck and heading to our next destination Kuang Si waterfall.

waterfall1_1

It’s about 40 minutes in a minibus, and once you get there, well, its a waterfall.

The most interesting thing I found was to wander around the top of the waterfall and explore.

waterfall1_2

You can’t actually swim around there, but a pool nearby is a better option.

I found somewhere in the shade and had a can of beer.

waterfall1_3

Our group had been allotted 2 hours for the trip. To be honest I was bored after 40 mins, so we wandered down the hill to the town and found a nice bar there to relax in.

Along the way, we passed this zoo where local bears live (but they’d hidden inside so we didn’t see them).

Luang Prabang, adventure playground (2/2).

street

Luang Prabang in the evening was a lovely place to hang out, drink some nice red wine and eat Asian or Western food.

nightmarket

A ubiquitous night market sold everything under the sun.

Therese always some sort of fashionable trinket, and this years was a bamboo thing that you put your mobile in.

When you played music, the bamboo enhanced the sound.

me_2

The following day were picked up and head off for our jungle trek.

Several different groups were in the truck, and the first group were dropped off to do mountain biking.

can

When we arrived at our destination, another couple were going canoeing.

river_crossing

They put to water in this river.

The start of our jungle trek was on the opposite bank.

river_crossing2

We were transferred across by traditional canoe.

 

trail1

Our walk begins through rugged tracks leading towards the first village on our trek.

rubberplant

The villagers main source of income is are rubber trees, and here you can see a tree being “piped” and some bags with rubber ready to be processed.

trail2

We leave the road and head through forests.

Our guide Lan was a really interesting guy who had worked as an adventure guide for several years.

trail3

From here we head into the jungle.

Lan (like many of the people we met on the trip) was very comfortable in the jungle

He demonstrated this technique of fashioning a large leaf and “sewing” it together to make it into a hat.

I was impressed.

hillside

The route takes us higher into the mountains and we are furnished with walking poles.

I wondered what kind of cutting tool our guide would have. A Parang, a Panga, perhaps a Kukri.

Interestingly, none of this. He had a kitchen cleaver. To my surprise it performed perfectly.

He explained he used it as he could use it for preparing chickens at home, being stainless steel it was easier to clean and held and edge for longer.

trail4

We reach the top of the col, and the view into the valley is spectacular.

shelter

At the bottom of the hill, were on the outskirts of another village.

They have constructed this simple shelter, so that travellers and people visiting relatives have somewhere to stay.

trail5

Much less dense, we wander through a wood towards the village.

village1

The village has a school, a rice store and loads of other cool things.

It was quite simple though, and most of the people we were introduced too, seemed reasonably happy though they didn’t have much in the way of possessions.

secretwar

In the middle of the picture is an artillery shell.

It had been repurposed as an anvil and was used making things and processing bamboo.

As it was a nice day, we visited the village shop.

The owner and a few friends were inside sitting around a fire (in baking heat) and drinking whisky.

It was too nice a day to miss an opportunity, so I bought a couple of bottles of beer and we sat outside in the shade for an hour and chatted.

It was one of the most relaxing moments in the whole trip. I opened the bottles with my Swiss army knife, Lan seemed as impressed with that, as I was with the cleaver.

trail6

Leaving the village, we wander through a clearing and back along the road.

trail7

We leave the road and follow a trail by the river.

waterfall2_1

And shortly afterwards, we arrive at the Tad Sae waterfall.

waterfall2_2

Around the front of the waterfall, there are loads of people relaxing and sunbathing.

Not like use hardened trekkers.

lunch

Tragically, we’ve now left the beautifully jungle and arrived at a tourist trap, with all the razzmatazz that entails…

But, we’ve also got lunch included with our trip and I have delicious Pad Thai with Chicken.

feet

I rest my weary feet in the cool water.

Whilst doing so, I admire my Rohan Jungle cargoes.

I bought them some years ago, and I always think its a wast to go to a jungle and not wear them for their intended purpose.

boathome

A boat takes us back across the river where the trick waits to take us back to our hotel.

Another lovely evening, red wine, and a nice peace of steak for dinner.

airporttruck

In the morning, after breakfast by the Mekong Delta, we load up another truck with our bags and head for the airport.

My first visit to Laos complete, I thought the place was fantastic and I’ll be going back.

Trip to Koh Samui, off the coast of Thailand.

ocean Thailand was a place I had heard rave reviews about.

It was the first time I was going to visit a non western country and I was looking forward to seeing the culture there.

As it was, the months previous to this had been extremely stressful and my x wife recommended going straight to an island and relaxing.

We found a nice beach resort, and had our own hut.

I spent much of the time relaxing on the chair outside the hut reading (I have never been a great fan of swimming, so didn’t often venture to the pool)

Here in my sandals, T-shirt and shorts I sit reading enterprise .com by Jeffrey Papows, the designer/inventor of Lotus Notes.

hut
 bar When I arrived at the airport, there were a number of signs saying smile country. What I quickly realised, is that the Thai’s are just about the happiest and friendliest people on the plant.

This chap ran the bar, with a girl called “A” (I am not joking she was literally called A)

In the 10 days I was there, I never saw either of them frowning !.

As mentioned elsewhere, I had always wanted to see real elephants in there natural habitat.

This elephant was helping a farmer move logs.

 elephant
 jungle Another first for me, was to visit the Jungle.

It was on 300 metres from a road, but it felt like a jungle to me !

 Nearby, another elephant was walking through my “jungle”, which completed the scene.  elephant2
 budha2 We decided to go walking, and visit Koh Samui most famous landmark, The Big Buddha.

The map we were using was not to scale and instead of the mile and a half walk we thought it would be, it was about 8 miles in stifling heat !.

Me in the forecourt next to the Buddha.

The Big Buddha is 15 meters tall was built in 1972 and located near the northern shore of Koh Samui.

 budha
 docks In the main village of Bo Phut, there were a number of nice restaurants and bars to relax in.

After having a 20oz Steak for only £2, I decided to walk along the docks next to the village.

We decided to go on a boat trip to the nearby Angthong National Marine Park.

We got of the boat, and walked up a hill, which gave a great view off the whole park.

 marine
 marine2 Sitting on a boat, drinking bear is something I could get used to doing.

I could see how this area was featured in the film, The Beach, with Leonardo DeCaprio.

The wild city of Bangkok, touching tigers and a visit to the bridge on the river Kwai.

boat1  Our guide Adam, takes the lead, as we speed across the Chao Phraya river, in our private boat, long tailed boat.
We visit the Royal palace and tour the grounds.

Completed in 1782, its magnificence cant be overstated.

rp1
 embud2 Wat Phrakaewhe – The temple of the emerald Buddha.

This is the most sacred temple in Thailand.

The Buddha is actually made of Jade or Jasper.

It was not possible to take pictures inside the temple, so I got this shot of it from outside the door.

The emerald Buddha has been the cause of many wars throughout the history of that region.

The robes on the Buddha, are changed 3 times a year by the King, personally.

 embud1
 painting The Royal palace is an astounding collection of 100 buildings, Golden spires and glittering Mosaics.

One of the many wall paintings, within the Royal Palace.

 Statue of a hermit, the traditional symbol of medicine.  doctor
 adw One of the most stunning sites of the whole trip.

An exact replica of the Angkor Wat (the oldest temple on earth) in miniature.

Wat Po, the temple of the reclining Buddha (actually, the largest reclining Buddha in the world).

Built in the 17th century, it is 48m long and 5m high and gold plated.

Due to the design of the building it is impossible to get a picture side on.

The feet, contain the traditional 108 Auspicious sights of a true Buddha.

 recb
 phraprang Wat Arun, the temple of dawn.

Covered in Chinese porcelain.

Chinese ships visiting the Siamese capital, would use porcelain as ballast.

As an ancient form of environmental friendliness, the ballast would be used for decoration, rather than just thrown in the River.

We were allowed to climb to the first level but the 2nd and 3rd were closed.

As we head back to our long tailed boat, our guide “accidentally” takes us into an alley full of souvenir shops and hawkers. We get out of there as quick as we can, and continue our journey.

Our tour continues through the waterways of Bangkok.

 boat2
 river1 We wanted to see a floating market.

Unfortunately, companies like Tesco, have largely destroyed this type of commerce.

This was the only trader that we could find when we visited one of the more famous areas.

This section of the river had hundreds of fish in it.

There was no need for a fishing rod, you could literally put your hand in the water and pull them out.

 fish
 tie We stayed around the Nana Plaza.

The traffic in Bangkok is horrendous, so staying at a hotel near the Sky train was essential.

In the evening, we go out to a local bar for some entertainment.

This local bar owner, had a superb Tie with a dollar bill on it.

A Thai wearing a Tie.

Next day, off to visit the bridge on the river kwai.

Had to get up at 6:am.

On the way we visit a sort of Safari park and see tiger cubs.

 zoo2
 zoo3  A horse and a cockerel “make friends”.
The highlight of the trip, we got to sit with some real Tigers and touch them.

This photo isn’t a fake, I am actually sat with 3 Tigers (there was no-one nearby with a gun or anything, if they “lost it”, I was dead).

A real trip out of the comfort zone.

 zoo1
 nbridge3 A trip to the world famous Bridge on the river kwai.

This is the bridge across the river, built later by the Thai Government.

 Kanchanaburi cemetery, where some of the 13,000 people, who died building the original railway, are laid to rest.

On the trip with me, were a brother and sister from Sweden. Together we found a grave, of someone from The Manchester Regiment.

The cemetery contains most of the people who died building the bridge, except for the Americans, who were repatriated.

There were Japanese tourists everywhere, who were smiling and taking pictures, without a hint of irony.

 cem1
 japtrain After this, we visited the JEATH museum.

This stands for Japanese, English, Australian, Thai and Holland.

The museum is designed in the shape of a hut, of the kind prisoners would sleep in.

There were many pictures and artefacts inside, including this train carriage, used for transporting prisoners.

Cholera was the main killer. It was said that a person that contracted this illness, would be unrecognisable to friends 2 hours later.

A section of the original bridge. Only around 50m long, its all that remains of the original, that cost so many lives.

In the book/film bridge on the River Kwai, the the bridge is made from bamboo, and other stuff like that. In reality it was built from concrete, wood and steel.

Not surprising really, considering as a fiction writer, he was also the Author of planet of the apes !

In reality, the bridge was destroyed by Allied bombers, and not by Commando’s.

 obridge2
 tower A replica of one of the Japanese watch towers, that overlooked the work camp.

Many of the people who built the bridge, were civilians, and forced local labourers.

The present day bridge, built by the Thai Government.

There was a tourist train that traversed the bridge every 10 minutes.

 nbridge1
 nbridge2 The modern day bridge, taken from a different angle.

I walked across the full length of the bridge, it was quite scary at times.

In certain places, if you miss your footing, there is nothing to stop you falling in the River.

We drove further up the railway, and then stopped for lunch, at a restaurant next to the line.

We had an amazing BBQ lunch and got to sit overlooking the Kwai river, with this view.

Its possible to do the trip over 2 days, and there are plenty of really good floating guest houses on the river to stay in.

 river
 rw2 Nearby, a section of the railway, runs next to a cliff.

We arranged for a driver to drive around, and meet us at the other end.

It was about a mile and a half to walk.

With the cliff on one side, and the river bellow, it was a pretty spectacularly experience.

Half way along, there was an enormous cave dug into the cliff face, where Japanese soldiers sheltered during bombing raids.

Having reached the other side.

Some quick refreshments, and then a 3 hour car journey back to Bangkok, with some fascinating conversation from Jenny, her brother and our polygamous driver.

A brilliant day out.

 rw3

Phnom Penh and the devastation of Pol Pot.

spalace Sarah and I visit the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

Our first stop is a visit to the Royal Palace.

The Throne hall.

The Silver Pagoda is so named, as the floor is made from 5329 silver tiles.

silvpag1
mur One of many beautifully painted wall Mural’s.
A house on the palace grounds, built in a French style, and reminiscent of Louisiana. house
palace The grounds were varied, and included museums showing exhibits of farming and house building techniques.

We wandered around for several hours, and then had a break in the coffee shop.

After this, we visit the Raung Damrei National Museum.

A traditional Hindu symbol is one of the many artifacts on the grounds outside the Museum.

hindu
museum1 The front of the museum.

It was not possible to take pictures inside the museum.

We had a specialist Museum guide, who talked us through the hundreds of different artifacts and Buddha statues throughout the ages.

In the middle of the museum was a beautiful and well maintained garden.

I never normally give to beggars, which is hard, as I know sometimes the money I pay for a newspaper in the UK, could feed them for 2 days.

This isn’t because I am tight. I contribute a lot to charity, but I believe we should help people so that they can help themselves, and encourage them to earn money instead.

As we left the museum, A street hawker was selling postcards. His hands had been blown off during the war.

After we bought some cards, he insisted on giving us our change, which we had to force him to accept as a tip.

On another occasion, we gave some small change to a child in the street, and were mobbed by around 20 children as we attempted to get into our car.

museum2
market Our guide took is to the central Market.

It was much more formal and organized than any of the markets we had visited in Vietnam.

He advised us there were better bargains at the Russian Market.

We wandered around for hours, and bought loads of nice things for our new house.

In the evening, we visited the internationally famous Foreign Correspondents club, next to Sisowath key on the Tonle Sap River.

Supposedly, everyone who is anyone in Cambodia, goes there. The food was excellent, and at one point the power to the building failed, which was exciting.

rmarket
ts1 Cambodia, was a contrast of some of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen, and some of the most horrible.

Here we visit the Toul Sleng museum of genocide used by S-21 to carry out the orders of Pol Pot, who came to power on the 17/4/75.

The “lucky” one’s were marched of to the fields and forced to work 12 – 14 hours per day. The rest ended up here.

It had once been a high school, it was used for interrogation and torture.

Some things there, I didn’t photograph, as they were frankly too horrible to be put on a public site.

Here a cell where “prisoners” would spend 3 days of torture and interrogation, before being executed as a matter of course.

The “prisoner” would be chained naked to the bed. They would sometimes be given an empty oil container as a water bottle, and an ammunition box to be used as a toilet.

There was dried blood on the floor from where several people had been executed.

ts3
ts7 Interrogation was conducted to find out if people were intellectuals or had committed crimes against the state.

In reality, whatever they said, they were executed after 3 days.

The Khmer Rouge routinely photographed each person before execution and in one of the rooms, their pictures had been put on display.

The cruelty of the interrogators new no bounds.

One picture showed a woman just before she was executed.

She had pleaded for her 2 month old babies life with no regard for herself.

In reply, they killed the baby first. In front of her.

As a backlog developed, more and more cells were created to house the enormous number of “criminals”.

Most of the “guards” and interrogators, were armed children aged between 10 and 15.

They had been taken away from their parents and indoctrinated.

ts4
ts5 The grounds were varied, and included museums showing exhibits of farming and house building techniques.

We wandered around for several hours, and then had a break in the coffee shop.

After having lunch at the foreign correspondents club, we cautiously headed 9 miles out of town to Choeung Ek.

There are actually thousands of sites like this in Cambodia, but this is the one that most people associate with the Killing Fields.

Our guide had been lucky enough to be educated in Europe (his English was superb.) and had avoided much of his countries tragedy’s.

His Grandfather had been killed by the Khmer rouge, and his father had been killed in the Vietnamese invasion.

guide
kf1 There were ditches everywhere, where bodies had been dumped.

If a person was found to be still alive, they would be hanged from one of the nearby tree’s to save ammunition.

Although a great effort had been made to remove the bodies, there were bone remnants, literally everywhere you walked.

On rainy days, bones are washed onto the path.

In this ditch, 166 bodies of people without heads, were retrieved.

Some years ago, I watched a documentary about the killing fields.

Children had been swung by their feet against a tree, and had there heads smashed in, to save ammunition.

At the site, I recognized the tree. astoundingly, a small child offered to be photographed next to it.

Its in the far background, I couldn’t bring myself to stand near it, let alone photograph it.

kf2
memorial The monument containing the remains of 20,000 victims next to the field.

People were executed because they spoke French, because they wore spectacles, because they looked “clever” and even if they showed remorse when loved ones were being taken away.

A third of the countries population were killed (figures vary between 2 and 3 million dead). Children killed their “criminal” parents with shovels.

In 1979, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. 10,000,000 land mines were left behind (there are still 1,000,000 to this day) and 600,000 people fled across the Thai Border.

In 1991 the UN launched the largest peacekeeping mission in history to restore democracy in Cambodia.

In 1998 Pol Pot died in his home under house arrest.

Cambodia has a long way to go to get back to normal, but hope exists everywhere.

One our way home, we passed the football stadium.

Our guide commented that in a friendly game against Vietnam, they had been beaten 8 – 0. I replied that wasn’t a great result.

He said the same football stadium had been a holding area for “criminals” before being moved to Toul Sleng.

Most Cambodians, were delighted just to see football actually being played there.

hope

Angkor Wat, lost city in the jungle (1/2).

aktgate The Angkor Thom elephant gate.

It’s possible, to actually rent an elephant and ride it through the gate.

On this occasion, only a coach of Japanese tourists is visible.

A base reflex of a mighty army heading into battle. basref2
ele The elephant wall.

Its about 100m long, and has elephants carved into it.

One of the many amazing 3d carvings of the face of Buddha.

Originally a Hindu temple, it was converted to a Buddhist temple and the faces were carved over the Hindu symbols.

bsrey2
pillars1 Angkor Thom, is not technically a temple, but is actually a city with temples contained in it.
Me sat enjoying the amazing atmosphere. jssteps
bsrey1 Another excellent find by our guide Mr Han.

Its possible in one obscure position, to see 3 contrasting faces, on 3 different monuments.

I could have walked around there for days, and not found this spot

The city had many spectacular walkways.

Here, the roof has collapsed/been destroyed and only the supporting pillars are visible.

pillars2
bsrey3 Two of best preserved serene faces of Buddha.

My guide book described it as “investigated with delight, and left with regret”.

The main walkway into At Prohm.

At the side of the path, some former beggars, had taken up playing music as a source of income.

Many of them had lost limbs due to land mines, but they hadn’t lost any of their enthusiasm for music.

ap1
ap2 This is what I really came to the Angkor Wat to see !.

Originally built in 1186, it was hidden in the jungle for nearly a thousand years.

Like the rest of Angkor Wat, it was discovered in the mid 19th century by Henry Mouhot a French explorer

Briefly featured in the film Tomb Raider, there’s something magical about exploring lost cities.

Seeds contained in bird droppings had been scattered all over the city.

In the thousand years since, entire trees have grown up and literally merged with the buildings.

Here a tree, has actually grown on top of one of the buildings.

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treetop Our guide Mr Han and I pictured next too one of the tree’s

The trees were Banyan, Kapok and Fig.

The roots in the background, illustrate the sheer size of the tree’s.

A picture of the main temple, with the reflection showing on the small lake in front.

Our guide Mr Han, was excellent, and knew all the best places for Photographs, and how to avoid crowds.

jguide
ogrown One of the most famous scenes of the At Prohm.

Exploring a city lost in the jungle, one off the most amazing experiences of my life.

We later went to see an Artisan centre. where deaf people are taught to make natural crafts.

The people in the country are desperately poor, and we bought as many presents as we could afford.

artisan

Angkor Wat, lost city in the jungle (1/2).

bsrei1 The Angkor Wat, is a bit like the Temple bar in Dublin.

There is a district called the Temple bar, and an actual pub in the district called Temple bar.

The area of Angkor Wat, is 400 square kilometres.

We visited the temple of Bante srey, much smaller than the temple of Angkor Wat, but has a moat.

Angkor Wat, literally means “City that is a temple”.

A base reflex of the white monkey army.

We later saw the ancient folktale acted out by Dancers.

wmonkey
bsrei2 Some of the buildings inside the temple.
The outer wall of the temple from inside.

As beautiful as the temple was, we were told not to venture beyond this wall, as the outside had not been cleared for mines.

I was surprised to hear that towards the end of the war, temples like this, had actually been mined by the authorities to protect them from Thieves.

minewall
shiva A base reflex of Shiva – the destroyer.

She destroyed the world, then it was re-created.

She is actually quite a positive figure in Hinduism, as she symbolises removing bad things, replacing bad habits etc. (a kind of ancient Hindu Anthony Robbins).

As we drove back, we visited some villagers, who lived in a hut at the side of the road.

They make their living boiling up the juice from cocoanuts and making a sort of sugar substitute, which can earn them up to 10 dollars a day.

This is the ladder they use to climb the tree’s.

Its a hard life. Statistically, off all the people doing this, that fall out of tree’s only 2% survive.

sug2
sug1 This is the hut they work in (there was another hut further back from the road which they share with their 4 children), out of the sun.

It has a kind of clay Yukon stove, with a sort of large wok on top, to boil up the juice.

The sugar is distributed in containers woven from grass (we bought 10 dollars worth, and told them to take a day off).

On our way back to lunch, we visit Pre Rup.

A really tall temple, with a large staircase.

uk1
uk2 A view from the top, shows the majestic steps bellow it.
Sarah and I have lunch at the amazingly authentic foreign correspondent club.

The food was excellent and we were made to feel like real international travellers.

fcclub
awmoat A picture of the Angkor Wat, the largest temple on earth, taken from across the moat which surrounds it.
We enter the Wat, through the east gate.

There are 3 gates into Angkor Wat, designed for Elephants.

gate
basref1 A base reflex from the eastern wall, which has only recently been decoded.
A picture of the main temple, with the reflection showing on the small lake in front.

Our guide Mr Han, was excellent, and knew all the best places for Photographs, and how to avoid crowds.

akw1
akw2 I climbed to the very top of the temple.

The angle of the stairs, was nearly 70 degree’s, so a head for heights was needed.

There was a euphoric feeling when stood in the central temple at the top.

Sarah and I photographed in front of one of the base reflex’s

This sculpture is more than 1000 years old.

sjbr
pool In a different time, this empty pool would have been filled with worshippers swimming and bathing.
Sarah relaxes next to the outer wall, as we make our way out of the front entrance.

Our guide had taken us in the side way, around the back and out through the front, which he advised was the quietest way to see it.

sfront
akwsteps A view from the entrance, down the walkway, and out across the moat bridge.
Angkor Wat from the front.

The handrails on the walkway, are carved from stone and more than 1000 years old.

akwfront
dancers1 In the evening, we visit the APSARA Restaurant-Theatre, enjoy delicious Cambodian food and watch traditional theatre.

We sat on the cushions on the floor, and ate from low tables.

As we arrived, I rolled up my jacket and placed it under the table.

I didn’t realise, there was a 1 metre deep trench underneath the table, for the comfort of westerners.

I had to climb under the table, and into the hole to retrieve my Jacket !.

There were many short performances, and then a multi scene story called The Reamker.

In this picture, are Neang Seda and Preah Ream (who are lovers).

In the background are Reap and hanuman.

The traditional legend, is that Reap kidnaps Neang Seda and Preah Ream goes out to find and rescue her.

He is assisted by Hanuman, white monkey and general of the monkey army.

Together, they kill the fearsome Reap and return Neang Seda to Safety.

The small characters in green, are the soldiers of the monkey army.

dancers2

Hanoi. Vietnam capital and resting place of Ho Chi Minh.

sjmaus Sarah and I arrive on the 2nd leg of our South East Asia tour, at Noi Bai airport, in Hanoi.

We are picked up by our guide and driver, and head across the red river, towards the city.

As we arrive in the evening, we stop on the way to enjoy a superb 8 course Vietnamese dinner.

I found Hanoi to be both modest and charming.

Here Sarah and I pose outside the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.

Next day, we set of, on a tour of the city.

The Quoc pagoda sits on an island in the West Lake.

Supposedly founded 1,400 years ago by King Ly Nam De (the famous warrior of Sword restored fame), it was virtually impossible to photograph in one shot.

tower
garden A garden near the Quan Thanh temple.
Sarah and I, photographed next to the Hoan Kiem Lake (the lake of the sword restored). lake1
fire Our guide showed us this fascinating arga.

Its possible to buy money for the dead (its costs about a fifth of the cost of normally money. You then burn the money in the arga, for the people you want to pray for.

I asked if people burned money, for Ho Chi Minh.

The reply was in the present tense “Uncle Ho is a simple man, he does not need money.”

The actual bridge of the lake of the sword restored.

An Arthurian-type legend is associated with this lake.

It’s about a sword provided by a golden turtle from the lake, in the 15 century and which was used in battles against Chinese invaders.

The sword was later returned to the lake (hence the name sword restored).

bridge
lake2 Its still possible to see turtles in the lake (although we didn’t see any unfortunately).

In the middle of the lake is a small island with a structure on it, which was previously the symbol of Hanoi.

Later we had a cyclo tour of the old quarter.

Although it was an interesting experience, I would have preferred to walk around, as they only go at 2 miles an hour.

cyclo
ctown One of the many streets in Chinatown.
A traditional Vietnamese house.

The bottom story, normally acts as a shop front, with the occupants living in the back of the shop.

They are very narrow, long, and built high.

At one time, houses were taxed on their width, hence why some of them are only 7 feet wide.

the length of the house also creates a larger, cooler shaded interior.

houses
hcmmause The Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.

Although it had a very “comedy Soviet” feel, it was imperative to remain respectful.

He had originally asked to be cremated, and his ashes scattered over the highest mountains in the North, South and Centre of Vietnam.

It is located on the spot in Ba Dihn square, when on September 2nd 1945, Ho Chi Minh read the declaration of independence, which he never lived to see.

The Presidential Palace.

When the French left Vietnam in 1954, Ho Chi Minh declined the offer to live there, preferring to live in a small cottage in the Palace grounds.

The venue was instead used for meeting visiting dignitaries and school children.

prespal
hcmhouse In 1958 he moved to his house on stilts, next to a small lake, given to him as a birthday gift.

His house is exactly as it was, when he died.

There were very few possessions, aside from a simple bed and desk.

There were banners around naming Ho Chi Minh, as the:

“Father of the modern state”

and:

“Liberator of the Vietnamese people”.

hcmdesk
gfish One of his favourite pastimes was feeding the fish in the lake beside his house.

We stood on the steps, but armed guards “discouraged” us from feeding them ourselves.

The single Pillared Pagoda.

It was originally built in the 11th century to look like a lotus flower, floating on the water.

Tragically, like many of the things we saw, it had been destroyed by the French and been rebuilt.

pagoda
statue We passed this statue as we walked to the puppet theatre.

It showed 3 figures, and said something like “Its okay to give your life in the war for independence.”

Basically, people carrying explosives could run towards tanks, and destroy them, but obviously, they would die also.

Since there were more people willing to die than tanks, the tanks lost battlefield superiority, and became redundant.

The Thang Long water puppet theatre.

The artists stand waist deep in water, and operate the puppets from behind a bamboo curtain.

They have demonstrated their art as guests in over 40 countries.

Its essential to read the program. Although impressive to watch, its practically impossible to tell what’s going on.

theatre
uni The Temple of literature, oldest university in Vietnam.

The modern symbol of Hanoi.

The previous symbol, had been the building on the Island of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Inside, there was a beautiful wooden staircase, reminiscent of Trinity College library in Dublin.

Again tragically, like the single pillared pagoda, it was destroyed by the French before leaving, and rebuilt after 1954.

stairs
barbers Some barbers had set up shop, next to the outer wall of the Temple.

I think that simple scenes like this, are as much a part of travelling, as visiting famous bridges and eating local food.

Saigon (now H Chi Minh City) famous of the Vietnam war.

plane We arrive at Tan Son Nhat Airfield. The American built Airport was first thing grunts would see upon arrival in Vietnam.We had a private tour throughout our visit (as we did during the all of our SEA trip) and were delighted to be driven around in a private car, with our own personal guide.

The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, hours after it was taken by the North in 1975, but practically everyone still calls it Saigon.

We visit the war remnants museum, which contains tanks, helicopters, planes and bombs from the American War (its isn’t called the Vietnam war in that country).

The museum had originally been named the museum of American war crimes.Not many American tourists wanted to visit a place like that. Its name had been changed.

This bicycle had been owned by a female supporter of Ho Chi Minh.

Although the name of the museum had changed, its content hadn’t.

She had been tortured horribly whilst in prison. The exhibit said simply that after she had been released she had been incapable of performing the role of wife or mother.

Sarah and I chose not to think about what that meant.

bike
shrap Bomb casings.The explosive inside ripped easily through the 2 inch thick steel casing.

During the war, the Americans had dropped 8,000,000 tons of bombs on the country – more bombs than the allies dropped in the whole of World War 2.

The shrapnel from this must have been devastating.

Various forms off the M79 grenade launch.It fires high explosive grenades, and in operation functions much like a pump action shotgun.

Although designed as a counter ambush weapon, it had on occasion been used as an interrogation tool.

There was a horrible picture of a person who had been shot with one (I’ve chosen not to show it, but you can Google and find it if you wish).

grenlaunch
ndcath Notre Dame Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in Vietnam.
The central post office a beautiful building.The Cathedral and the Post office are both in the main square in Saigon, which during the war was named the JFK square. po1
po2 Inside the post office.A person who had worked there for years and retired, worked freelance inside the Post office as a translator.

On the back wall is a picture of Ho Chi Minh.

People talk about him in the present tense even though he passed away some time ago.

He is practically worshipped in Vietnam.

Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown district.Mopeds are the main form of transport in Vietnam (for example, there are 3m people in Hanoi, and 2m motorbikes !).

During rush hour it can be terrifying as tens of thousands of them invade every part of the city.

chinatown
chinmark The Binh Tay Chinese Market.Originally built by a wealthy Chinese business man who started life as a homeless orphaned beggar.

He later amassed enough wealth to be able to give the Market to the city as a gift.

It was absolute mayhem in here.

They sold everything you could think of, and actually had dried sharks fins for making soup.

Thien Hau Pagoda.The largest Buddhist temple in Saigon.

There are so many things to see and do on a trip like this, Sometimes its nice to visit somewhere quiet and relax.

thienhau
music We stayed at the Rex Hotel on the main square.In the evening, we had a traditional 7 course Vietnamese meal.

Traditional music and dancing were performed while we ate.

The rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel is practically an institution in Saigon as it has amazing views of the city.During the war, the Rex hotel was used as officers quarters.

We took a small laptop with us, and were able to connect to the Internet in all of our hotels.

It was also useful to research the things we had seen/were going to see.

rtbar
pfield The next day, we head out in search of adventure.One of the many paddy fields that panorama’d our journey.

I found out on my trip why rice is grown this way. Rice can grow underwater, but weeds and other vegetation can’t.

Instead of using weed killer, just grow the rice underwater, and let nature do the work.

The image of the young girl fleeing a burning village, covered in napalm, immortalised the war.This is the section of Trang Bang Road (named after the bombed village) where that picture was taken.

Today, Kim Phuc lives in Canada and works for the United Nations. Her brother still lives here and sells burgers from a van a quarter of a mile away.

The reality of the story, is the Vietnamese Air force were responsible for the attack The Americans were not involved at all.

girlroad
cdtemple1 The famous Cai Dao temple.Cai Dao fuses Buddhist, Taoist, Confusionist and Catholic beliefs.

The 9 levels of enlightenment are symbolised by 9 steps within the temple.

Each level is guarded by 2 dragons and the top level features the symbolic eye of wisdom.

On the temple grounds are schools and hospitals for the followers of the religion.

Cai Dao is a multi faith religion, unique to Vietnam.Apprentices initially wear white robes, then progress to either red, blue or yellow robes dependent on the discipline of the religion that they pursue.

Sections of the temple are devoted to Victor Hugo !.

cdtemple2
tdoor1 We went to see the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, 90km from Saigon.During the war, the Vietcong had setup a series of tunnels, which they used to conduct covert warfare.

We met our guide (dressed in full revolutionary garb) and were led down a narrow trail, into the Jungle.

There were swimming pool sized craters one either side of the path, where B52 bombers had left their mark.

We stopped to look at a diagram of the tunnels, then watched a propaganda film.

Here we were shown a section of ground, and invited to try and find the tunnel entrance.

After spending a few minutes, and finding nothing, our revolutionary, finds the trapdoor easily, and climbs in to his waist.The tunnels went down 3 levels, and even the first level, 3 – 4 metres bellow the surface, could stand the weight of a 50 ton Tank driving over it.

During the war, the 25th Infantry division were based here (right on top of the tunnel network), didn’t know of the tunnels existence, and could never work out where the sniper fire was coming from.

Estimates at the length of the tunnels, vary from 75 – 200 miles.

tdoor2
broom We get a chance to go into one of the tunnelsThey were amazingly equipped, with mess halls, sleeping quarters, operating room, printing press and even a small cinema.

A briefing room, with replica people taking the role of wartime commanders.

On the surface, innocent looking termite mounds, were hollowed out to provide an air supply to the tunnels.

A similar technique, in reverse, took cooking fire smoke miles away from the actual tunnel network to prevent detection.

Many of the original tunnels, had booby traps to thwart any attempt at compromising them.We travelled down to a 2nd level tunnel. These could withstand direct overhead bombing from a B52.

They were cramped and hot, and the air was very thin.

I can only imagine the physical and mental toughness of the people who lived in them.

tunnel
hcmsand Our guide Long, demonstrating Ho Chi Minh Sandals, made from tyres (they were overly large for demonstration purposes).Ho Chi Minh wore a pair of these sandals throughout the war.

They were practical and tough, like the people who wore them !.

We were given a sample of food the tunnel dwellers would eat. It looked like banana, and tasted of sweet potato (grim!).

They only received rice once a week, as a treat.

Next we had a tour of various forms of traps. Some of them, looked absolutely terrifying.A tiger trap, is just a big hole with punji sticks in it, right through to small portable devices, which could be carried, and then deployed along a trail.

The most ingenious thing I saw, was how they had dismantled unexploded bombs and used them as booby traps. In this way, it was possible for lightly armed fighters to ambush an entire tank.

trap
m60 We were given a chance to fire authentic Vietnam war firearms.I got to fire an M60 heavy machine gun.

I have seen them on the television, but the power of one of those things is devastating.

You point it at the target, pull the trigger, and there isn’t much of the target left !.

We had more superb food at a restaurant near the fashionable Dong Khoi shopping area.The exchange rate for Dong, was such that £41 would purchase a million Dong.

Notes of less than 200 Dong, are worth less, than post-it notes and are frequently used for this purpose.

dinner
reuni The former presidential palace, now named re-unification hall.The presidential palace was very 60’s is in style, and had been the site of many parties and fashionable social gatherings.
A terrace on the roof was used for entertaining (JFK had attended parties here).Just underneath this, an American UH1 (huey) helicopter, on the rooftop helicopter landing pad. copter
presdesk Its maintained exactly as it was on the morning, in 1975 when the war ended.The presidential desk.
Our guide long, with Sarah in the basement tunnels underneath the palace.They lead to the telecom and war rooms.

It is rumoured that a secret tunnel allows people to leave the palace unnoticed but the government will not confirm or deny this.

bunker
radio The bunker reminded me of the building at the end of Terminator 3, with 30 year old computers.A “portable” radio system, for use when the palace was attacked/under siege.
America first sent troops to Vietnam on the 8/3/65. They left 10 years later.At 11:30am on the 30th of April, 1975, NV tanks crashed through those gates, and Saigon fell to NV forces.

The acting president (who had only been in office for 26 hours) surrendered.

gate
tank Many people remember the scene from TV pictures.This is the actual tank that arrived at the palace.
This is the view from inside the palace.It shows the view from the flagpole where the flag was hung.

It marked the end of a war for independence which had begun in 1945 with the French, and was finally over.

America lost 65,000 troops, Vietnam lost 3,000,000. Today, 2 out of 3 Vietnamese, are under 30.

flagpole
chicken On a lighter note, we had lunch afterwards, and the restaurant had made up a pineapple in the shape of a chicken, which was smart.