Siam Reap

Trip Start Nov 02, 2005
Trip End Apr 30, 2006

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Monday, December 5, 2005

Over a month in to the trip now and we have covered quite a lot of distance and sights.

Travelling south through Vietnam we hopped off the train at Hue to visit the Demiliterized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ was a five km stretch of land either side of the Ben Hai river and it was supposed to serve as a neutral no-war area, splitting North and South Vietnam. Ironically, when the Americans decided to "liberate" North Vietnam it became one of the heaviest militarized zones in the world.

Just south of the DMZ lies the (in)famous areas of Khe Sanh and Hamburger Hill, the scenes of some of the bloodiest battles of the "American War" as it is known here. One of the most interesting part of our trip so far was visiting the Vinh Moc tunnels. This quaint little fishing village was wiped out by heavy artillery and chemical bombings (Agent Orange) in 1966, so the villagers decided to literally go underground. The original tunnels still stand as they were back then, and it was an experience going down the network of nearly three kilometers over three levels (8, 15 and 23 meters deep). It is difficult to imagine that 400 people lived in these tunnels over five years, but they did, and facilities included hospital (17 babies were born here!), conference rooms, one kitchen, wells, latrines etc.

We were lucky enough to be taken through the tunnels by one of the locals who actually lived there during the war. Down in the tunnels it was wet, hot, smelly and claustrophobic and Lotta was panicking after only 30 seconds and nearly didn't't go in.

A 10 hour train journey south of Hue took us to Hoi An, which turned out to be the "eating capital" of Vietnam. The city has a Unesco protected old quarter and and amazing beach like Colva in Goa. Sadly, it was out of season and the weather was not great so we spent our time eating in the huge array of really cool restaurants. French, Italian, Asian fusion and we even managed to find at Swedish place that served home made meatballs and mash!

Sevral temples, beaches and pagodas later we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) where we got a further insight in to what happened during the war and spent a few days sight seeing (more churches, markets, palaces, temples....).

A visit to the War remnants museum left us speechless after seeing in graphic detail some of the horrific damage to the Vietnames people and it's country caused by the Americans. (And yet, 30 years on, the U.S still keep "liberating" countries that haven't asked for its help).

After all the depressing war stuff we'd seen, we decided to take a trip down the Mekong Delta to cheer us up. Floating down little waterways in various shaped boats, we chilled out for the day, visiting lots of different villages that sprawled along the Mekong river.

Time to say good bye to Vietnam and catch the seven hour bus over the border to Cambodia.

Our first stop was Phnom Phen, which is a fairly small capital city set on the banks of the Thonle Sap lake. PP feels like a quite laid-back, modernized city in places, but it also seems a lot poorer than Vietnam with quite a lot of beggars.

Went to the Killing Fields which is now a picturesque place in the lush countryside and it is difficult to imagine that 17 000 men, women and kids were murdered here and dumped in mass graves only 25 years ago. This was the execution ground for the prisoners that were held in the Tuol Sleng prison (S21) which we visited next. The Khmer Rouge took this old school over and made it in to a prison, turning ordinary class rooms in to torture chambers and cells. It's now a genocide museum which explains in detail through stories and haunting pictures the atrocities that went on until 1979 under Pol Pot's evil regime. During this time, it is thought that around three million people were killed and many more tortured.

Once all the usual must sees in the guide book were ticked off, we headed to Siem Reap to visit the Mother of all Temples- Angkor Wat, which is believed to be the largest religious structure in the world. There are hundreds of temples scattered across a huge area and most people spend three to five days checking them out, but we decided to organize our own; "Scouse and Lotta 12 hour sun-up to sun-down express tour" and even after this short time we do not want to see another temple again for at least another five years! What we did see was very impressive, the highlights being sunrise over Angkor Wat and the overgrown Tomb raider temple Ta Prohm.

We thought it would be much more beneficial to spend the extra days relaxing in Siem Reap, stuffing our faces, so this is what we did.

So that brings us to the end of your history lesson.... We expect your homework to be handed in before Christmas and the exam will take place when we get back. Sorry this has been a bit boring and gloomy, but when you spend time in countries so deeply scarred by unimaginable horrors, you can't help thinking that we were really lucky when we were kids. Just walking around on the streets, you are constantly reminded of the history: beggars with no arms or legs blown away by land mines and people deformed from the effects of the war.

On a more cheerful note, we can guarantee that the next installment will be full of happy sunshine, as the next two months will be spent under a palm tree on the beach our second home, Colva, Goa, so see you then!


9th Brollan- 30 years old and the best brother in the world
21st Benedicte- Get your e-mail sorted out!
28th Matt Simmo- Gave up on you a long time ago.....

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