SAIGON TO PHNOM PHEN AND BEYOND

18 05 2010

We have spent the past week making our way from the city of Saigon to the shores of Cambodia. We have travelled by boat, bus and tuk tuk to get here. We started this journey by taking a tour of the Mekong River Delta which is some of the most productive and fertile land in all of Asia. We departed Saigon on Wednesday morning by bus bound for a town two hours away located along the mighty Mekong. Once there we boarded a boat and toured the river for several hours stopping at several villages along the way before stopping for lunch on a little island located in the river. After lunch we continued again by boat for a while before finally coming back to shore in mid-afternoon. From there we again boarded a bus and continued for a couple of hours to the city of Can Tho, the largest in the Mekong Delta. We settled into our hotel room before taking a walk around the city. One thing we noticed fairly quickly was that Can Tho was not nearly as developed as far as tourism as most of the other places we had been to so far. What this means is that although there are no touts asking you to buy something, visit their shop or if you need a taxi or moto ride but that there is also very little written in english which makes things a bit more interesting when trying to find someplace to eat. We finally settled on a place we believe was called the Saigon Beer Room, how can you go wrong with a name like that. After many surprised smiles we found a seat and ordered a few beers and some dinner. After receiving our beers a few gentleman from a table nearby came over to say hello and offered us some fruit as well as share a beer with us. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and several more toasts before making our way back to our hotel. On Thursday we again travelled by boat to a floating market which was quite interesting. Every morning over a hundred boats of all sizes gather to trade and sell all varieties of goods from fruits and vegetables to fish and livestock. After the market we again visited a couple of small villages and an orchard where we sampled many of the local varieties of fruit. We then enjoyed a leisurely journey through one of the many small tributaries of the delta before taking a bus to small city near the border of Vietnam and Cambodia. On Friday we began our day by taking a row-boat ride to a floating village along the banks of the Mekong. The entire village consists of shacks and houses built on bamboo rafts. The families who live there spend their entire life living on the river. From there we continued up river to a small village of Stilt houses occupied by one of the ethnic minority groups of the region. From that village we began the long journey to Phnom Phen in Cambodia by boarding another boat. We travelled for about an hour before arriving at the Vietnamese border checkpoint where we had to wait for about an hour as our visas were organized and we were checked out of the country. We boarded a new boat and continued on for about five minutes before arriving at the Cambodian  border post. Once again we got our passports stamped and our Visas checked and continued on our way. This was our first real border crossing and although it was interesting because it was by boat it turned out to be very straight forward which is not always the case especially in SE Asia. Once in Cambodia we continued for four more long hot hours by boat before finally catching a bus for the final hour to Phnom Phen. One thing I wanted to mention was that there was a slight but distinct change in the people as we crossed the boarder. The Cambodians appear to be poorer people but also offer up the most wonderful smiles. We saw so many people laughing, smiling and just having fun along the river, it was quite enlightening to see considering the tough conditions most of them live in.     

Boat On The Mekong

 

A House Along The Mekong

 

Fisherman

 

Dinner In Can Tho

 

The Floating Market

 

Fruit Vendor

 

Life Along The Mekong

 

We decided to spend Saturday around Phnom Phen and began the day by visiting the Choeung Ek Killing Fields (click on link to learn more)  just outside of town. We then continued on to the Toul Sleng Museum (click on link to learn more)back in the city after making a brief stop at the Russian Market. These two sites are devastating reminders of the genocidal atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge during the its reign from 1975 to 1979. Between two and three million are believed to have been killed during this time. Pol Pot the leader of the Khmer Rouge had set the date as year Zero and abolished money and had the cities abandoned as he formed the country into a Maoist, peasant dominated, agrarian cooperative. During the next four years hundreds of thousands of the counties educated where tortured and murdered at places like Toul Sleng and Chaoung Ek. Speaking another language or even wearing glasses was grounds for this treatment. Hundreds of thousands more died from malnutrition and mistreatment as the cities were evacuated and the residents were forced to make what can only be called a death march to the country side. I do not want to go on too much about these places as they where quite devastating to visit and have made an impression on me that will I will not soon forget, but I do encourage anyone reading this to learn more about the events that transpired here.    

Part Of The Monument At The Killing Fields

 

Monument Containing Over 9000 Skulls

 

The Sign Says It All

 

Toul Sleng Prison

 

A Few Of The Toul Sleng Prisoners

 

 Needless to say this was probably not the best way to start our time in Cambodia but one thing that has made it a bit easier is the lighthearted and positive spirit of the Cambodians. Much like the Vietnamese they are very forward thinking and as the economy and the country as a whole is improving they are mostly focused on moving ahead. We  had spent the morning with a couple we had met from France, Cedric and Virginie, while we where on our trip up the Mekong. We then all took a Tuk Tuk to the center of the city where we had some lunch before visiting the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda.  The palace was beautiful with ornate temples and buildings located throughout the walled compound. After the palace we strolled along the river where Cedric and I tried playing a local game similar to hacky sack but with an object similar to a birdie used in badminton. We were joined by a local who thankfully was as bad as us and fumbled around for a while before heading off to a night market. We strolled through the stalls at the market enjoying some type of fruit smoothie before settling down on a mat in a square surrounded by food stalls where we had some dinner. Our meal consisted of several types of foods on sticks some more readily identifiable than others. What ever we had was quite tasty with the exception of the egg Cedric decided to try which was a fertilised  chicken egg with a partially formed chick inside. He tried one bite of the stuff surrounding the chick before deciding it was not for him. We then all walked the 40 minutes back to our hotel before settling in for the night.    

Riding In A Tuk Tuk

 

At The Royal Palace

 

Part Of The Royal Palace

 

Roofs Of The Palace

 

Justyna Below One Of Many Temples

 

The Palace's Resident Monkey

 

More Of The Monkey

 

Another Temple

 

Playing Along The River

 

Dinner At The Night Market

 

 On Sunday Justyna and I decided we wanted to go back to the beach to hopefully get away from they ever present heat. We boarded a bus to the little seaside community of Sihanoukville. The five hour trip was accompanied but blaring distorted karaoke music videos being played the whole way. We arrived around two and made our way to the beach where we got ourselves a hotel and then quickly headed down to the water to cool off. Well much to our disappointment the water was warmer than the air which is something considering that the air was already in the mid nineties. We only spent a few minutes in the water before retreating to the shelter of the shade under the palms on the beach. Later we walked through town and visited a few shops before signing up for a dive trip for the following day. We finished off the day at a BBQ place right on the water. There is something wonderful about eating with your feet in the sand and the waves lapping at the shore only ten feet away.   

On Monday we checked out of our hotel and walked to the dive shop before taking a ride down to the pier. We then boarded a boat before making the two hour journey out to the remote island of Koh Roun Somolen. We met our dive master at the Island before heading out to make the first of two dives for the day. Overall the visibility in the water was not all that great due to the fact that it had rained heavily the night before but the corals where plentiful and spectacular. We headed back to shore for lunch before making our second dive. After diving we got back and settled into our bungalow where we would spend the night. We spent the rest of the day lounging in hammocks and reading followed by some snorkeling. Around sunset we took a walk through the little village of around fifty people who lived on the island. It was really an amazing place and I found myself having difficulty realizing that this place was real and not just a corporate devised destination for tourists. After a stormy night we woke to another hot but beautiful day. We took another walk through the village and out to a desolate beach on the opposite side of the cove where we took a swim. We then headed back and got packed up before heading out to make a few more dives. The dives again had limited visibility due to the rains over night but we got to see a lot of beautiful fish and sea life. After our second dive we headed straight back to the main land. One thing we learned on the way was that a large development company had purchased the rights to the land on the island and that they where going to build a large resort complex. We also learned that the bungalows we stayed in and indeed the entire village was slated for removal to make room for this resort. This deeply saddened me as this little unknown corner of paradise has probably survived for generations in the same place with very little support from the outside and now is going to be cleared right off the map so visitors to this island can have a nice clean open stretch of beach to themselves. This village is a part of Cambodian Culture and much like many other areas of Asian culture is being too quickly disposed of to make way for progress and profit.      

Our Private Bungalow

 

The Bungalow

 

Sunset From The Island

 

A Storm Coming

 

The Village

 

The Village

 

Getting Ready To Dive

 

In The Water

 

Today we are just hanging around the beach. The heat wave that has been affecting all of the SE has abated a bit and it is a little overcast making for a much more tolerable day. Justyna just had a pedicure done right on the beach and I am relaxing in a cabana overlooking the water. We will probably spend another day or two here before moving on to the Temples of Angkor Wat in the north-west.

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One response

19 05 2010
adam

Hello the both of you,

I was wondering where you had been. Thought for a minute you took a wrong turn and ended up on some sort of Jarassic Park type island.
Cambodia looks fantastic but the heat is something I could probably do without… I guess also the killing fields. That sort of social experiment ideal is world wide assholery localized.

Looks like you two are still having a great time. Keep it up!

Wish I could be there with you. Am trying to make it up to Mom and Dads next weekend and stay at your place (clean up some fly bodies maybe) if I can but sure would like it if you were around. But you have a good excuse for not being around.

fermented snake eggs,
Adam

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