Randy and I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on December 20th. After some filling out 7 different forms for our Visas, we were allowed to enter the country and begin our journey.
Nothing could have prepared us for this city buzzing and criss-crossing with motorcycles.
To cross the road you simply have to walk at a steady pace and the motorcycles will flow around you….just like Frogger.
As we wandered around the city, Randy got stopped by 3 Vietnamese teenagers. They just took off his sandals and started applying gluing to the sole and putting on new paddings. Needless to say they tried to gouge us for their handiwork.
“It’s all about the leg, you just have to lift it a little”
There are no fat people in Vietnam, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to fit into their narrow houses!
Street vendor selling sticky rice with fried duck. 15,000 Dong (~1 USD)
We ventured on a boat tour in Can Thou in the Mekong Delta, one of the largest rice production regions in the world.
The Mekong river provides a mean of transportation and source of food and water to the local people.
Trading near the docks in the early morning. Many trucks await for the freshly caught seafood to distribute to inland markets and restaurants.
Traveling along the Mekong River.
At the floating markets wooden boats rub past each other to trade and bargain.
They can peel the fruits on the spot. BEST Pinapple ever!
Traveling along the smaller inlets, it reminded me of scenes from the movie “Apocalypse Now”.
On a local mini-bus for 4hrs with our backpacks on our laps. Our only entertainment was seeing who could kill more mosquitoes.
Overlooking the night market at Chau Doc, a city near the Vietnam/Cambodia border.
The next day, we woke up at 5am to meet our moto-driver to go up Sam Mountain for the sunrise. However, the driver never turned up and after 15 minutes of waiting we decided to just flag down 2 random drivers to hit the road. Turns out they had no idea where they were going and had to stop several times to ask for directions. And their motorcycles barely made it up the steep hill climb without stalling and falling over!
Nonetheless we made it to the top and it was quite a sight overlooking the rice fields and the sun breaking through the clouds.
Farmers work on their fields…doesn’t look like dry season to me with all the lush green everywhere!
Sam Mountain is filled with philgrams near Tết, the Vietnamese New Year. Legend has it that 40 virgins were needed to move a Buddha and when they couldn’t move it anymore they just built a temple around it as a permanent resting place.
Our moto-drivers, good times!
Next we hired another boat to visit the fishing villages, floating market near Chau Doc.
Large banana boats.
And we couldn’t resist it and hopped on to check it out!
The children on a small island known for their silk weavings.
Randy’s recollection of the border crossing:
So, we were having a perfectly easy “rest day” going to a floating market, checking out some fishing villages, seeing an interesting ethnic community and then chilling out in the afternoon. After the morning’s events, we ran into two nice Dutch girls who asked us if we wanted to leave a day early to go to Cambodia with them on a special journey instead of the regular route. After some intense haggling over price and logistics we took off on a van/boat/car trip across the border. At Vietnam customs, things were so disorganized they sent us unsupervised outside from building to building to get our documents checked and bags scanned. It could not have been easier to smuggle goods if we wanted to. We then boarded a sketchy little boat and went on our way to the border. At one point, the man who spoke very little English pulled off to the side, asked for all of our passports and ran out of sight on shore with them. It was at this point we realized we were no longer in Vietnam, hadn’t yet entered Cambodia, and no longer have our passports.
Luckily, the man came back with a border guard who waved us on to Cambodian customs where we slowly filled out the paperwork and skipped over making any “suggestions” as the suggestion box was a clear container full of money. We then continued flying our way up a beautiful river on this little boat getting great pictures along the way. After a short swap to a car with an insane driver who worked the horn while his son worked the gas pedals, we made it to Phnom Phen without a scratch.
The houses along the river as we sped toward Phnom Phen in the speedboat.
En route to Phnom Phen, Truck transporting pottery to the city.
Short distance transporation for the locals between their farms and the towns.
We decided to keep moving and arrived in Battenbang.
In the afternoon we visited a local temple and reveived a lot of background and traditions by a monk
Elaborate carvings within the temple.
On Christmas Day we hired two motorcycle drivers to show us all the attractions near Battanbong, a small town West of Siem Reap.
On the road, where we were showered by “Cambodian Snow”, we made the mistake of wearing white outfits….
This is the gas station. The bottles are pre-measured amount amount of fuel for different types of engines.
A child going home after half day of school.
On the Bamboo Train with Randy and Edith, a fellow Canadian we met on the bus. The tracks were laid down by the French colonist in the 1900s, a little bumpy but surprisingly intact!
The locals actually use the bamboo trains to transport goods to and from the city.
However, when 2 trains are going in opposite directions, the one with less cargo will have to be taken apart to the side, wait for the other cart to pass and then get back on the track.
The next morning we took a boat ride to Siem Reap, the nearest city to Angkor Wat temples.
Our slow journey gave us an opportunity to see the lives of the people along the river.
A woman selling breakfast to the fishermen.
Not sure if these are used for fishing or storing food.
A house on stilts with the thatched roof. You can see the receded water level during the dry season.
The crude setup for our boat. Now I understand it was the cables for the rudder that was rubbing against my legs…
We finally arrived in Siem Reap, the nearest city to the Angkor Temple Complex, and started exploring these amazing temples built during the 12th century.
To catch the sunrise over the main temples, we woke up at 5am and hired a tuk tuk driver to guide us, lo and behold, we weren’t alone.
After being repeated blocked by several inconsiderate photographers we gave up on the idea and started to explore the temple.
There are sculptures and carvings in every corner of the temple, the amount of detail is astounding!
The Central Structure within the complex. The central tower is over 65m tall, considering it was built almost 1000 years ago that is quite impressive!
The steep stairs common in all the temples. This region has been closed off since last year when a Korean tour guide fell down and died.
One of the four wall carvings that span over a hundred meters depicting mythological battles and celebrations.
The trees that took root in between the sandstone blocks.
A young monk reciting prayer in the East Gate.
There are even elephant rides to take tourist to different temple sites.
Next we visited Ta Prohm, one of the temples left untouched after being re-discovered.
The temple was built as a monastery and university, it was once home to more than 12,500 people and was was abandoned in the 15th century.
It is awe-inspiring to see the force of nature at work over time to even those resilient structures.
The engineers approve.
The smaller structures scattered inside the outer walls.
The massive trees entwined into the building facades.
Watching the sunset over the dusty landscape while sitting atop of the ruins.
Entering the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the capital city of the Khmer empire during the reign of king Jayavarman VII.
Mr. Phann, our tuk tuk driver that took us to the different temples as well as provide some background information.
One of my favorite temples was the Bayon (1181-1218), it stands in the center of Angkor Thom and has 54 towers and 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara – Lord who looks down.
We were speechless standing in the presence of the towering faces and the muti-level temple designs.
We hired a 4×4 TIGER to venture out to more remote temples from Angkor Thom.
Our first stop was Banteay Srei (consecrated in 967 A.D.), basically means “citadel of the women”.
Banteay Srei has some of the best carvings of all the temples.
The temple is constructed out of deep red sandstone and some claimed that the carvings were done by women due to the intrique details.
Visitors can buy incense and offered them at the shrines inside the temple.
Next we arrived at Kbal Spean and began a hike up the mountain. I thought it was really funny they have people sweeping the dirt path.
Kbal Spean is also known as ‘Valley of 1000 Lingas’ for the sculptures carved into the riverbed.
Since it was the dry season we were able to observe all the fine details and other carvings along the river banks. It is amazing that the details have not been worn away by flowing water over the years.
The Lingas were believed to fertilize the water of the East Baray and irrigate the rice fields in Cambodia.
Beng Mealea, 77km from Siem Reap on bumpy roads is another temple left mostly untouched after re-discovery. The main gate has collapsed and visitors have to go around to the side opening.
There are many children there which can be hired for a few USD as guides. It is amazing to see them move so freely on these fallen ruins.
The trees have established their hold on every crack and facade in Beng Meala.
Inside one of the main corridors.
Traditional Cambodian puppet.
A shadow puppet performance in the evening. It was performed in Khmer so we had no idea what was going on, but it was entertaining nonetheless with all the elaborate figures!
We left Siem Reap and returned to Phnom Phen. On the outskirt of the city we stumbled upon some beautiful farmlands separated by many channels.
A lizard that was nearby, it was about 9″ long.
We visited the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek 15km from the city core where more than 17,000 civilians were killed and buried in mass graves during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Next we visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). Inside they have documentation of the torture devices, those that were detained at the camp, the prison cells, and stories from both the prison guards as well as the detainees. It was information overload.
Children playing outside the wall of the Royal Palace.
The elaborate structures inside the Royal Palace. A lot of the buildings were sealed off due to preparation for the
The children we started chatting with while waiting for the bats. The bats never showed up. Randy did trade his ‘military’ hat for a pink shiny hat with a tuk tuk driver though!
Celebrating 2010 with the Cambodians. We didn’t understand a thing for 3hrs.
Central Market in Phnom Phen.
Humongous shrimps, we had to document that!
After another rather sketchy border crossing we were back in Ho Chi Minh City. The traffic circle outside the Ben Thanh Market at night.
We just wandered around the city on the last day, trying not to get hit while crossing the road.
I don’t think you can fix anything at this point, you can only run add replacement wires…
That summed up our 12day journey in Vietnam and Cambodia. Until next time!