Page 9 of mbrown Travel Blog Posts


Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » Cu Chi May 18th 2009

I took a tour out of Saigon to the main Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh and to the Cu Chi Tunnels. OK, Cao Dai is an amalgam of Buddhist, Hindu and Catholic religions. They have three saints: Ton Dat Tien (Chinese revolutionary), Nyguyen Binh Khiem (Vietnamese poet) and Victor Hugo. Very strange. The temple was gorgeous and the service was interesting. The ritual, clothing, music and oddity of the whole thing was worthwhile. The Cu Chi tunnels were an amazing network of passages and shelters used by the Viet Cong outside of Saigon. They could protect themselves from the intense American bombing and organize counter attacks without being seen. The tunnels were incredibly narrow andair was very limited. The conditions they were able to live in and how effective this primitive method was at combating ... read more
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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City May 11th 2009

Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975 when the North Vietnamese took the city and reunified Vietnam. Almost everyone still refers to it as Saigon, however. It is not the capital, but is the largest city and the commercial capital of Vietnam. Coming from Cambodia, I was shocked by how clean and modern it was. My image of Saigon came from Vietnam movies. It no longer looks like Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket version. They say there are over 10 million motorbikes in Saigon (more than the population). I can believe it. In any direction, it looks like a motorbike army attacking. I did not rent a bike here. The traffic is the craziest I have seen yet. There are almost not traffic lights; the intersections are just every man for himself. I am ... read more
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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh May 10th 2009

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is a large compound containing some extrodinarily beautiful buildings. It was built in 1866 by King Norodom. I got there late in the day after a rain storm and had to rush through some of it. In one of the sections they had some Cambodian cultural displays, crafts and a group of four musicians playing traditional Cambodian music. The main guy was playing a roneat, a Cambodian (Khmer) xylophone in the shape of a boat. There was another roneat next to him that some of the visitors would sit behind to have their picture taken. He gestured to me to sit and showed me the scale they were playing and I joined in. The music is hypnotic and chaotic. I am sure I hit a few bad notes, but it ... read more
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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh May 9th 2009

Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge regime terrorized the people of Cambodia, torturing and murdering hundreds of thousands of people (some say they are responsible for up to 2.5 millions deaths). In 1975 the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh, took over a central high school building and turned it into an interrogation/torture camp. Today it is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Much of the prison is left as it was found with torture devices and all. An estimated 17,000 people were held, photographed, tortured and interrogated here. Most were then taken to Choeung Ek, the most notorious of the Killing Fields. Several rooms of the school now have the thousands of prisoner photographs on display. It is a terrifying place. The Choeung Ek Kiling Fields are about 15km outside of Phnom Penh. 8,895 bodies were ... read more
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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh May 7th 2009

Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city in Cambodia, took a couple days to really grow on me. It seemed far dirtier and sketchier than calm, peaceful Laos, but after a few days I began to really take to it. Its chaos makes it seem like the entire city is barely holding together. In the main section of the city that lines the river and contains many of the tourist attractions, you can't walk two feet without being hassled or offered any number of tours, drugs or prostitutes. The hardest thing to get used to is the tons of street kids that are begging or trying to sell pirated books. Most of these kids work for an adult that takes the money, so giving money only encourages the use of children as begging tools. There is ... read more
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Asia » Cambodia » East » KratiĆ© May 5th 2009

I had picked up a Cambodian visa at the embassy in Vientiane as to not get overcharged at the border, a very common story. The borders are usually a bit sketchy. From the border I went to Kratie in central-east Cambodia. The town was littered with trash which is common in Cambodia, but the ouskirts were beautiful. Kratie is on the banks of the Mekong River and is known for a colony of the endangered Irawaddy Dolphins. I took a boat out to see the dolphins and although they only come up briefly for air you could see their characteristically round nose pop out of the water before the dorsal fin, then tail. There were about six or seven that were around the boat, but never closer than 30ft or so. They were too quick to ... read more
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Asia » Laos » South » Si Phan Don May 3rd 2009

Si Phan Don (4000 Islands) is an area in southern Laos near the Cambodian border where the Mekong River splits up creating a group (I am assuming around 4000) islands. I stayed on the big island where there is one paved road and a few guesthouses and restaurants. When I left Chapasak, I took a ferry across the river and was going to walk out to the main road and try to flag down a bus or songtaew (a truck with two benches in the back) that was headed south. Instead I met a guy on the ferry that spoke a little english and he told me he I could join the truck he and 20 other people were taking to the bus station. From there I could get a bus to Si Phan Don. I ... read more
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Asia » Laos » South » Champasak May 2nd 2009

Champasak, Laos has the ruins of Vat Phu Champasak. These date back a ways and were built upon by the Khmer empire 900 years ago. The town was basically one road that led to the site. The ruins led up a hill with steep steps and it was hot as hell. Once on top the view was spectacular and weel worth the climb. There were several groups of Lao people that had come to visit including a family that wanted a picture with me. They were very nice and we spent 10 minutes trading cameras and taking pictures with each other. Afterwards I rode around the back dirt roads listening to Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding until the sky opened up and I was completely soaked. ... read more
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Asia » Laos » South » Pakxe May 1st 2009

After one night back in Vientiane I took an overnight bus to Pakxe, Laos. I was told that the bus was a sleeper. In South America that would mean that the seats recline all the way and the legs lift up. Not so in Laos. There were upper and lower bunk beds on the bus, singles on the left and doubles (not much bigger than singles) on the right. Unfortunately the truck that pickedme and a few others up to go to the bus station was late and I had to share a double bunk with an old Lao man. He was nice enough, but didn't understand the 50/50 split very well. Nine hours trying to sleep next to this guy. Not very restful. Pakxe was a small city, not the most interesting place I have ... read more
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Asia » Laos » West » Vang Vieng April 29th 2009

To begin heading to southern Laos I had to go back through Vang Vieng and Vientiane. I decided to stop off in Vang Vieng to take a motorbike trip through the region. The town of Vang Vieng is like a backpacker's ghetto, but the area around is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I set out early in the morning and rode 80 km north through amazing karst scenery. Once you get 5 minutes outside the town, it becomes a very traditional Laos setting. The rainy season had just begun and I almost turned back as the rain intensified, but thankfully I kept on. The rain let up and the ride was one of the best days I have had so far. Words can't do justice to the scenery.... read more
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