Bangkok and Farewell Dinner

From Cambodia, we flew back to Bangkok for our final evening and farewell dinner.  Pat, while a bit better, was not up to dinner on a traditional rice barge.  She missed a lovely final dinner with our group and a twilight view of Bangkok.  The night lights of Bangkok were truly spectacular, as was our adventure to all the sights, sounds, and tastes of Southeast Asia.  Nonetheless, we were ready to head home the next morning and return to our warm and welcoming homes in Vermont and Maine.

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Cambodia – Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

We reached Siem Reap late in the afternoon and went straight to our hotel, the Angkor Paradise Hotel.  By now, it was very hot and humid. We were delighted to know that we would be able to stay in Siem Reap for three nights.  However, by the beginning of second day, Pat began to feel quite ill, having a fever, chills, and nausea.   Unfortunately, this sickness lasted for the entire visit to Siem Reap, causing Pat to spend the entire visit in bed.

Sandy spent one day catching up with Julie and Jeremy, with a much needed rest at the hotel, enjoying the pool and then later visiting the night markets and going out for dinner.   Julie posted about this reunion in her blog — http://howtocatchagoatbyitstail.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/a-weekend-with-mom-in-siem-reap/ — so we won’t repeat it here.

Sandy visited Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom with the group on the final day in Cambodia.  It was fun, but just not the same without Pat to enjoy it.

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Sandy, Jessica and Margaret

Sandy, Jessica and Margaret

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So many possibilities!

So many possibilities!

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Sandy, Jessica, and Margaret

Sandy, Jessica, and Margaret

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These photos just don’t depict the incredible architecture of the Angkor Temples.   For a more complete description and additional photos, please visit Julie’s blog at — http://howtocatchagoatbyitstail.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/the-amazing-temples-of-angkor/.

Cambodia – On Our Way to Siem Reap

From Phnom Penh, we traveled by bus to the city of Siem Reap.  Along the way, we stopped at various places, even crashed a wedding ceremony (which the family, bride and groom did not seem to mind!).  Our new guide, Jack, joins our group and we learn how tarantulas are caught and cooked.  Sandy even ate one to the surprise of everyone, including herself!

Leaving Phnom Penh

Leaving Phnom Penh

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Demonstration of hammering brass pots

Demonstration of hammering brass pots

The pieces are dipped in a chemical solution and scrubbed to look like silver

The pieces are dipped in a chemical solution and scrubbed to look like silver

These finished pieces are sold as silver

These finished pieces are sold as silver

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Spirit House

Spirit House

Lotus pond

Lotus pond

Gathering lotus flowers for sale

Gathering lotus flowers for sale

Lotus pods

Lotus pods

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Jack with the woman who sells fried tarantulas

Jack with the woman who sells fried tarantulas

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Live tarantulas before being fried

Live tarantulas before being fried

Jack about to eat a tarantula

Jack about to eat a tarantula

Sandy - just about to eat a fried tarantula!

Sandy – just about to eat a fried tarantula!

Margaret takes a small bite!

Margaret takes a small bite!

Village children play nearby and also try to sell us things

Village children play nearby and also try to sell us things

We spot a wedding along the way and stop to pay a visit.

We spot a wedding along the way and stop to pay a visit.

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We stop for lunch by the Tonle Sap Lake

We stop for lunch by the Tonle Sap Lake

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Ancient bridge of Kampong Kdei

Ancient bridge of Kampong Kdei

Just arriving in Siem Reap

Just arriving in Siem Reap

Cambodia – Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

We visited the Royal Palace, where the King and former King live today.  The Palace contains the Royal Residence, the Throne hall, and the Silver Pagoda.  This visit provided us with a sense of progress and hope for Phnom Penh.

Entrance to the Royal Palace

Entrance to the Royal Palace

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Silver Pagoda

Silver Pagoda

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Pat and Theany at a cocktail party at our hotel. We say goodbye to Theany this night.

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Cambodia — The Killing Fields

The history of Phnom Penh and the devastation that occurred here became the focus of our visit here.

Walking through the peaceful countryside of Choeung Ek it is almost inconceivable to confront the nature of true evil.  Most of the 17,000 detainees held at Security Prison 21 were executed here, 14 km southwest of Phnom Penh, in a place now known as The Killing Fields.  Prisoners were often bludgeoned to death so as to avoid wasting bullets.  As we wandered through this shady land it was hard to imagine the brutality that unfolded here.  But the Buddhist memorial displaying more than 8000 skulls brings it home.  More than 1.7 million people were victims of the Pol Pot genocide.  Choeung Ek is one of many execution sites throughout Cambodia.

Our local guide, Theany, described the horrific story of Pol Pot and the Killing Fields

Our local guide, Theany, described the horrific story of Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. Theany’s family suffered from this brutal regime.

The Buddhist Memorial at Choeung Ek

The Buddhist Memorial at Choeung Ek

Remains of the excavated mass grave sites

Remains of the excavated mass grave sites

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Clothing collected from the sites

Clothing collected from the sites

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This tree was the killing tree where many children were slammed against its trunk until dead.  Bracelet adorn this tree in memory of this atrocity.

This tree was the killing tree where many children were slammed against its trunk until dead. Bracelet adorn this tree in memory of this atrocity.

Bracelets are left at fences that surround some of the mass grave sites.  Sandy left her bracelet (white centered) that she received as a blessing from a local monk.

Bracelets are left at fences that surround some of the mass grave sites. Sandy left her bracelet (white centered) that she received as a blessing from a local monk.

Bone fragments collected from the graves

Bone fragments collected from the graves

The Buddhist Memorial houses the skulls of those killed here.

The Buddhist Memorial houses the skulls of those killed here.

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Haunting memories - not to be forgotten

Haunting memories – not to be forgotten

The Toul Sleng Prison Museum is a grim reminder of Cambodia’s bloody past under Pol Pot.  Once a school, it was taken over by Pol Pot’s forces in 1975 and transformed into torture chambers and renamed Security Prison 21.  At the height of its activity some 100 victims were killed every day.  The Khmer Rouge  were meticulous in keeping records of their victims so each prisoner who passed through was photographed.  Today haunting photographs of the victims are displayed down the long corridors of the museum.  We were fortunate to meet Chum Mey, one of  only a handful of survivors who is frequently available at the museum to greet visitors and answer questions.  He is in is 80’s.  To this day he wonders why he survived.

Prison 21 - Toul Sleng Prison Museum (once a school, it served as a torture chamber)

Prison 21 – Toul Sleng Prison Museum (once a school, it served as a torture chamber)

Theany describes the system of torture conducted here

Theany describes the system of torture conducted here

Meticulous records were kept of all tortured.

Meticulous records were kept of all tortured.

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Metal shackles

Metal shackles

Prison cell #22. Chum Mey's cell.

Prison cell #22. Chum Mey’s cell.

Chum Mey, one of the few survivors from Pol Pot's reign of terror.

Chum Mey, one of the few survivors from Pol Pot’s reign of terror.

Leaders of the Khmer Rouge

Leaders of the Khmer Rouge

Julie and Jeremy also visited these sites separately from us.  To read Julie’s blog, see:

http://howtocatchagoatbyitstail.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/phnom-penh-a-city-of-timeless-remembrance/

On to Cambodia and Phnom Penh

We leave our hotel and began our journey toward Cambodia. Before leaving the Village of Chau Doc, we took a boat ride to observe the floating markets on the Mekong.  Here we observed once again, daily life on the water, and the system of trade of the people.

KC and Henry round us up for our excursion to Cambodia

KC and Henry round us up for our excursion to Cambodia

Leaving Chau Doc.

Leaving Chau Doc.

We begin from Chau Doc harbor

We begin from Chau Doc harbor

Loading boats

Loading boats

Living on the water

Living on the water

Car ferry shuttles people to work from across the river

Car ferry shuttles people to work from across the river

Ferry carries motorbikes, bicycles, cars and pedestrians

Ferry carries motorbikes, bicycles, cars and pedestrians

Working on the water

Working on the water

Floating market

Floating market

Bananas for sale

Bananas for sale

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The whole family is involved

The whole family is involved

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Henry takes us to a local fish farm

Henry takes us to a local fish farm

We visit a fish market on the river's edge.

We visit a fish market on the river’s edge.

After the visit to the floating market, we board a speed boat which took us five hours up river to the Cambodia border and then on to Phnom Penh.  We had to disembark the boat to go through customs at the Cambodian border.  We observed many things along the river, but noticed much new construction as we approached the city of Phnom Penh.

Sandy’s daughter, Julie, and her son-in-law(Jeremy) were already in Cambodia, doing volunteer work for the Trailblazer Foundation. We were able to meet up with Jeremy and Julie at our hotel (Almond Hotel). They were staying in Siem Reap but had came to Phnom Penh to get their visas renewed.

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The captain of our boat.

The captain of our boat.

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The get off the boat for Cambodia customs.

The get off the boat for Cambodia customs.

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Nearing Phnom Penh

Nearing Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace from our bus.

The Royal Palace from our bus.

Truck repair happens wherever needed on these busy streets

Truck repair happens wherever needed on these busy streets

Signs of prosperity amidst the working poor

Signs of prosperity amidst the working poor

Multiple ways to travel

Multiple ways to travel

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Ho Chi Minh City and Chau Doc – Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is a place we never dreamed we would be. It is Vietnam’s largest city.  While many locals still call the city Saigon it was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976.  Vietnam remains a communist country but capitalism seems to be full steam ahead and the country is consistently one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.  With a population of 5.38 million HCNC is on the move with a world of constantly flowing motorcycle traffic you can never imagine.  Rules of the road:  small yields to big (always) and vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road (usually). Bus drivers rely on the horn as a defensive driving technique.  Pedestrian survival rules when crossing the street include starting across slowly, very slowly, giving the motorbike drivers sufficient time to judge their position so they can pass on either side.  They won’t stop or even slow down but will try to avoid hitting you.  Don’t make any sudden moves!

Our tour of the city included the beautiful French Quarter and the Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame which looks like a miniature of the Paris Notre Dame.  The Cathedral was built between 1877 and 1883 and stands regally in the heart of the Government Quarter.  It is said to stand on the site of an old pagoda.  Dating from the same time period is the majestic Post Office featuring two enormous murals depicting maps of Vietnam as it was many years ago.  We also visited the Ben Thanh Market.  Everything anyone could ever need is available and when night falls the market moves outside and even more food and necessities stands sprout up.

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We meet Henry -- our local guide for Vietnam

We meet Henry — our local guide for Vietnam

Notre Dame Cathedral and signs of Christianity provided a strange contrast to our many visits to Buddhist temples.

Notre Dame Cathedral and signs of Christianity provided a strange contrast to our many visits to Buddhist temples.

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Post Office built in 1880s

Post Office built in 1880s

Our "Uncle" Ho is ever watchful

Our “Uncle” Ho is ever watchful

This building is famous for its rooftop on which helicopters landed and evacuated Americans and others during the fall of Saigon.  It is due to be destroyed soon.

This building is famous for its rooftop on which helicopters landed and evacuated Americans and others during the fall of Saigon. It is due to be destroyed soon.

This square is surrounded by well-known stores and could have passed for NYC

This square is surrounded by well-known stores and could have passed for NYC

Rex Hotel - famous for housing reporters during the war.

Rex Hotel – famous for housing reporters during the war.

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We visited a lacquer factory and shop where we bought beautiful lacquerware

We visited a lacquer factory and shop where we bought beautiful lacquerware

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Our hotel for two nights.

Our hotel for two nights.

Margaret takes a turn at making rice paper.

Margaret takes a turn at making rice paper.

The War Remnants Museum documents the atrocities of war.  It is a strange experience, of course from the Vietnamese point of view, and very sobering.  On display are retired artillery pieces and an array of photographs of the victims of war–those who suffered torture as well as those who were born with birth defects caused by the use of defoliants.  Also displayed are photos of the numerous journalists of many nationalities who lost their lives documenting the war.

Visit to the War Remnants Museum - Vietnam's take on the war.

Visit to the War Remnants Museum – Vietnam’s take on the war.

Captured US planes

Captured US planes

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Equally as troubling and fascinating are the Cu Chi Tunnels which facilitated the Viet Cong control of a large area.  At its height the tunnel system stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border.  In the district of Cu Chi alone there were over 125 miles of tunnels where thousands of fighters and villagers hid and fought during the Vietnam War, referred to by locals as the “American War.” The multi-level network includes mess halls, meeting rooms, an operating theater, a tiny cinema, small factories, vast ammunition stores and even a birthing room allowing the Viet Cong to control large areas near Saigon.  The tunnels actually went down three stories.  Parts of this remarkable tunnel network have been reconstructed and it is possible to descend into the tunnels themselves.  Along with some of the others Sandy was brave enough to explore some of the open tunnels gaining an idea of the living conditions.

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Captured helicopter

Captured helicopter

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Collection of dropped bombs and missles

Collection of dropped bombs and missles

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Henry describes how the Viet Cong used the tunnels to their advantage

Henry describes how the Viet Cong used the tunnels to their advantage

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Ingenious system of tunnels and underground spaces.

Ingenious system of tunnels and underground spaces.

The tunnel system has been re-purposed to show visitors how the system worked

The tunnel system has been re-purposed to show visitors how the system worked

Small vents allow air into the tunnels

Small vents allow air into the tunnels

Openings are camouflaged by dirt and leaves

Openings are camouflaged by dirt and leaves

Soldier slips down into hole

Soldier slips down into hole

The soldier slides the lid back in place

The soldier slides the lid back in place

He reappears in a different location, many feet away from his entry

He reappears in a different location, many feet away from his entry

In addition, many camouflaged traps were set in the jungle

In addition, many camouflaged traps were set in the jungle

The unlucky soldier who steps on the trap fall into a pit full of spikes.

The unlucky soldier who steps on the trap fall into a pit full of spikes.

Every resources was used to support the war effort.  Tires from abandoned jeeps were cut into soles for shoes

Every resources was used to support the war effort. Tires from abandoned jeeps were cut into soles for shoes

On our last evening in HCMC we had the opportunity to ride the city’s busy, narrow streets in a cyclo-rickshaw, a very fun adventure.  Our destination was a local theatre to see a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show.  Vietnam’s ancient art of Mua Roi Nouc (water puppetry) originated at least 1000 years ago.  Developed by rice farmers, the wooden puppets were manipulated by puppeteers using water-flooded rice paddies as their stage.  The performance is accompanied by traditional music.

Cyclo-richshaws pick us up at our hotel and take us through heavy traffic to the theatre.

Cyclo-richshaws pick us up at our hotel and take us through heavy traffic to the theatre.

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Here are a few short clips taken at the water puppet show.


We had a day long drive to Chau Doc with many interesting stops and sights of life along the way. En route to Chau Doc we visited Cao Dai Temple.  It stands nine stories high and wildy mixes styles and colors and designs of every Asian religion and culture.

From our bus window, we observe daily life on the Mekong River.

From our bus window, we observe daily life on the Mekong River.

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Pat gets ready to enter the Cao Dai Temple.

Pat gets ready to enter the Cao Dai Temple.

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And a note about eating.  Ranging from cheap, tasty meals at street stalls to upscale epicurean experiences, we have had it all.  Food has been abundant at every meal, fresh and varied.  It is said there are nearly 500 traditional Vietnamese dishes.  Pho is the Vietnamese name for the noodle soup that is eaten at all hours of the day, but especially breakfast.  Every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner starts with soup.  For the brave there are many things to try, like Hot Vit Lon, steamed fertilized duck egg in varying stages of development, all the way up to recognizable duckling, eaten with coarse salt and bitter herb.  Duck blood salad was enjoyed by some too.  Sandy ate a fried tarantula but that is a story for another post!