Horrors of War in Vietnam and Cambodia

Trip Start Sep 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 14, 2004

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Such a tragic past this place has suffered. Since we left Danang - after our last update - we have pumped full of the most heart wrenching history you can imagine. I'll get to that in just a moment.

We somehow ended up on the wrong train to Saigon which arrived at 4AM! The most obnoxious music blared through the speakers in every sleeper cabin at 3:00, and trust me, there was no sleeping through that! It was an interesting experience trying to find a hotel that is doesn't have its iron gates tightly locked at that time of the morning. Seems everywhere you go here though there is always someone willing to help you (for a small fee of course. This guy told us he could get us a room for 10$ so we followed him down several dark allies. Pretty unnerving! He then proceeded to ring door bells, rattle iron gates, and yell to each guesthouse that he had found some customers for them!! We couldn't believe our eyes! He woke up the entire neighborhood! We did get our room though.

From Saigon we visited the Chu Chi Tunnels used by the brilliant Vietnamese and later the Viet Cong during the French and American wars. It was a brilliant tour and became more real as our guide was an ex-interpreter who fought with the US against Ho Chi Minhs communist regime. As most are aware the wars fought in Vietnam were long and horrifying for both sides. The War Remnant Museum was almost too much to handle. The photos were so graphic they physically make some people ill. Most could not see the images without choking back tears. Men, women, children...bloodsoaked lifeless bodies, some in pieces. Terrified people at the last moments of their life with rifles at their heads. Horrifying images of shrapnel wounds, agent orange birth defects, napalm burns, and impalement on poisoned bamboo pit traps. We witnessed the destructive power of the B52 bomb which was designed to penetrate the tunnels. The Viet Cong adapted quickly and simply dug deeper into the earth. These people lived underground by day, and farmed by night. Eventually communist persistence triumphed and Saigon was captured.

We then began a 3 day adventure on the Mekong en route for Cambodia. We stopped in at minority villages, watched the production of coconut candy, sampled honey tea...and sat for a very very long time on our wooden benches!! Suddenly we were in country I hardly knew existed before planning this trip! No less we were at the side of the road with a flat tire in the rain! It took only moments to spot some of the things we had been told were typically Cambodian - like live pigs strapped to the back of motorcycles and people washing dogs in the river...(not necessarily for the dogs hygiene; if you get my drift)

Our first night in Phenom Penh, the Cambodian Capital, was spent watching the film The Killing Fields. I have only been here a night and can tell you that it is an incredibly accurate representation of the way the horror death of more than 2 million innocent people began. If you have not seen it...please rent it tonight. Its terrible, and you will need Kleenex, but this is the harsh reality of the place we are in. I am also reading a book called 'First they killed my father', a story of 5 year old who lost half her family to appalling beatings and starvation under the regime of the Khmer Rouge during 1975-79. She lived here, in Phenom Penh...which was entirely evacuated during the Rouge's reign - and this was all just a quarter century ago. To make everything all the more real, Paul and I visited the fields and mass graves where over 17,000 corpses lay - some exhumed, some still unearthed. We kicked earth and bones would surface. Deteriorating blood stained clothing still remains at the site...and my knees felt weak as the reality of what I was witnessing sunk in. We then visited Prison 21 - a holding camp for those en route to the fields. Those who spent less time there were the lucky ones...as the interrogation and torture techniques were beyond my comprehension. We walked in horrified silence, shaking our heads at the insanity of war.

So its been a very sobering experience this part of our trip. I have been gathering historical information and feel I've learned far more being here than I ever did in history class. We head to Siam Reap tomorrow and visit the infamous Temples of Ankor Wat the following day. As we haven't visited many temples thus far, I'm really looking forward to starting with the ones of World Class standing! Soon we will be back to Bangkok, and before we know it our final month will be up.

Can't wait to share stories in person!
Love and miss you all...
Paul and Bonnie
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