Thursday, 25 April 2013

Sihanokville & Koh Rong


We're thinking of renting bikes and going around Cambodia. But to go to Sihanokville is just one way there and 1 way back, maybe we'll rent bikes later. We took a bus, and thank god we did that, as this is the most dangerous highway in SE Asia. It's only 1 lane and oncoming trucks/buses don't really care for motorcycles, chasing them out of the way.
We paid $4 for the tuk-tuk when it should've been $1, again, it's very hard to know where we are when we just arrive. I thought that we're close, because I saw road signs pointing to the city center, but it was really hard to bargain with them, we barely negotiated $4 instead of $5. Oh well ... We had the most awesome shake for the dinner ... another "the most awesome!". How can you compare when they all score 10+?? Then had mixed seafood plate with 2 big shrimps, squid, fish, grilled potato  garlic bread and salad for $3. I love this place! Sometimes you come to a place where for some reason everything's cheap, like Vang Vieng in Laos. Sihanokville is the party place of Cambodia, Vang Vieng is the party place of Laos, are all party places cheap?
On the beach there are tons of restaurants with satellite chairs, all pretty much serving the same thing. It's relaxing and nice to sit there right on the sand with water splashing a few feet from you, but during the day, the beach is lost. They don't remove these chairs, and all the rubbish of plastic bags, bottles, cigarette butts dominate the beach. The water looks ok, just I don't feel like going in. It's also not relaxing to walk along the beach because every restaurant will stop you and will tell you to look at their menu sometimes blocking your way or walking very slowly in front of you to intentionally slow you down. Very annoying!
On the way back stopped when 2 guys gave us a flier for "buy 1 get 1 free" drinks. It was still early and we just talked to them instead. A lot of restaurants and mostly bars hire Western staff to work for a few hours a night for free booze, food and accommodation.  The Western people scare the other Westerners less and actually know what it takes to sell us anything, instead of surrounding us and shoving all the products in our faces without a chance to escape. They also know English and don't have the need of things to be repeated to them 10 times. We started talking to these guys who ended up giving us free drinks. Things that I learned from them is that in Vegas if you have big boobs you can earn $100K/year just by serving drinks :) and the other guy worked in Iraq for an American company in their base for 3 years. He said that he couldn't get out of the the base. Isn't it boring I asked him. He said that the base is huge. To drive around the perimeter takes about 4 hours! Holy ***! And there are a few bases in there. Did they just come to Iraq and declared the whole country to be an American base?
We stuck around and got free shots all night long. I couldn't even count how many, 6, 7, 8? No idea! I even practiced my pole dancing moves ... sadly I forgot most of them :)
Next day did nothing ... well, it's not entirely true. I read "The alchemist". It's about time! I've heard so much about this book for years and never got a chance. What a surprise was it that the guy from Iraq said that it's his favourite book, and the next day Penny pulled it out of her backpack. The book is filled with ideas that make you think and think some more. Simple ideas that make you stop and re-evaluate all your life, remembering experiences and thinking if I've made right decisions, thinking how my life would've been different if I had been more courageous back then. It talks about following and listening to your heart, that you can learn everything from the simplest things, you should open your eyes, trust in yourself, learn the unspoken language between people and animals, that love has no limits and that you should fulfill your live's purpose above all else.
It's Sunday, and all bars decide to have free drinks for happy hour. I don't think they thought it through though because there are 4 main bars all having happy hour at different times. One is from 10-11, another one from 10:30-11:30, another one from 11-12, another one from 12-2. So none of them are keeping any customers or make any money cause people come for a free drink and go to the next bar. With all the free drinks, and others not costing more than a dollar and heaps of workers, it makes me think if they make any money at all.
Next day woke up early to go to an island and scuba dive. High season is coming. 2 weeks ago the boat to the island was $10, now it's $20. 2 weeks ago 2 dives were $30, now they're $65. It's supposed to be a very good diving location because Cambodian reefs are mostly untouched due to lack of tourism. We don't know anything about the island and when we arrived, we were happy to see that it only has 6 guest houses. There are no tuk tuks, there is no hassle. The beaches are long, white, clean and puffy, and the only sound that disturbs peace are playing children. In the evenings all the restaurants put candles out and bbq the catch of the day, and there are more stars in the sky that you can count through the night.
The dive was alright. It was the longest time we've stayed under water. First time was 72 minutes, next dive was an hour. The reef was shallow, only maximum of 6 meters. I was a bit disappointed. What's the point of diving? You can snorkel here no problem. Last time I dove when I did my open water in Mozambique, and since then 1.5 years have passed. Wow, time flies! I forgot how to connect the BCD, how to wear it, how to jump in the water, pretty much I forgot everything except that when you go down, you should equalize, and how to find the breathing thingi if it accidentally falls out. So I remember the most important stuff, the rest I'll figure out once I'm under. I almost was making my big stride into the water when the instructor in the last second inflates my BCD, otherwise I would've just started sinking which would've led to a little bit of confusion :S The reef was ok. Mozambique was of course so much better. But to see the reef you have to fly hell knows where, then take a 10 hour chicken bus and risk the chance of getting malaria. But then you'll see one of the best reefs in the world. To get here is easy, it's cheap, so the reef won't be as good. It only makes sense! :) However, I did see huge vase like corals, cuttlefish protecting it's babies waving it's mustache thingis at us. Cattle fish is so cool, it's like a chameleon  At first I didn't even see it, it looked so much like a rock, then it started swimming and in a second it turned into the color of the sand. I found 2 crabs living in the big shells, and blue spotted rays digging themselves into the sand. The visibility was very bad though, maybe only 5 meters. When we were supposed to go up, I saw a ray swimming near me, I turned around and zoomed in it's direction, hovering right above him when he chilled on the sand. I turned around and saw no one. Oh oh, but I swam in the opposite direction and soon found them not too far away. Sucks to dive with low visibility.
Back on the island, Penny wasn't in the room and she didn't leave the key. I started walking along the beach hoping to find her. I walked into the bars on the way but she was no where. Walking and walking, I decided to use the language of the earth (from "the secret" and from "the alchemist") and send her a signal that I'm looking for her. At that moment a girl in front of me stopped and took a picture of the sun going down which was behind me. Weird I thought, that would be a very dark shot, but nevertheless I stopped and turned around to see what she's taking a picture of, and there was Penny walking maybe 100 meters behind me waving her arms. Coooooooool :) Maybe it was her who sent me the signal ...
In the night when it was dark and all the stars came out, we were walking along the beach and then I noticed sparkles. What is it sparkling? Apparently it's the krill, sparkling for an unknown reason when they're getting disturbed. With each wave or with each splash that I made in the water yellowish-green dots would light up. When I was looking up at the shooting star, a bigger wave collapsed (the ocean is flat like a lake now) and Penny was screaming. She said that the whole wave just turned luminous rotating green. Best sparkles I've ever seen in my life. Today I'm thinking to go swim with them :)
In the morning in the guest house someone pointed out the big black cloud in the water, and suddenly there was a huge excitement and havoc around. Within a minute a net was found and 4 people were in the water surrounding the black cloud. When they took the net out, I went over for a look. It was a pinkish mass of something. Are these weeds? I couldn't figure out what it was. I took a little bit of it, and it was hundreds of thousands of these little plankton  The ones that illuminate the waters. That's why the visibility is so low! Does that mean there are wale sharks around?? They washed it, and laid it in the sun to dry out. I wonder what they'll do with it and if it will be on tonight's dinner menu :)
We're almost a week here, and we don't want to go anywhere. The day goes pretty much like that: wake up around 10, have a fruit salad or a fruit shake for breakfast, go to the monkey island bar to chat with other people, read and surf the internet and have lunch, lie on the beach, talk to more people, play volleyball, work out a little bit, have dinner, play cards, find new people to talk to, have happy hour cocktails and go to sleep between 12-2. And nope, we don't feel bored. After one week my black circles under the eyes have disappeared, and I finally look like myself again. This is paradise, except for the sand flies. I have about 30 bites and they itch like crazy, so now I'm scared to sit on the beach. There are only 6 guest houses in here, so you constantly bump into the same people and it's very easy to strike a conversation. One day we went hiking, we hired a guide, an Israeli guy who lives here for 4 years already, and went to the other side of the island up the mountain through the jungle. So many times I go to the jungle, and every time I promise myself that it will be the last time. I just don't like jungles. I love the roads that go between them, and you just sit and watch all the greenery around you, but to be inside one is no fun ... at least for me. Maybe if there were any animals in it, it would be funner, but all you see is green green and more green, you have to watch out for bugs and snakes, see that the branches don't poke your eyes out, look out for plants with thorns, and most of the time you look down anyways so you won't trip and fall. In short, it's long, hard, slippery, muddy, humid, with usually a bunch of mosquitoes and leeches and I hate it! I didn't like the guide either, he had the "know it all" attitude which pissed me off. I didn't even talk, let Penny do all the talking. Anything she said would be finished with "no, it's not this way", "the other way is better", "no, it won't grow in here", "you have to do it this way", grrrr! I was so tired when we got back, but we still had dinner and drinks. I went to sleep around 12, but Penny went out. At 3am, she woke up the whole guesthouse knocking on the door and yelling "Yana, Yana, wake up!!!", everybody woke up except me, and only when flash lights were shining through the window I jumped off the bed in panic thinking someone is invading the room :)
Penny and I have fun nights together. I started reading "First they killed my father" book, which is HIGHLY recommended, a real story told by a girl who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, and for a few days while I was reading it, I had nightmares. Once I woke up (inside the dream) and saw the room and a whistle floating through the air. In an instant I took my pillow and threw it with all my strength at Penny to wake her up (that was in real life :) ) who got freaked out, and didn't really care about my ghost stories. Also we have a rat living somewhere on the roof. I'm feeling a bit uneasy falling asleep, what if it will chew through the mosquito net and bite me. In the middle of the night something soft brushes my arm, right away I wake up, and I'm thinking that I need to know if it's Penny or the rat. I extend my hand to see if Penny got too close to me, and it was her hair that brushed against my arm. I touch Penny's head, satisfied that it was indeed her, and at the same second Penny jumps off the bed, takes a flash light and crazy-ly starts to shine all over the room while I'm laughing and telling her to calm down :)
We're leaving the island :( Nooooooo!!!! An hour before our departure we go into our favourite monkey island restaurant to have breakfast. The restaurant was busy, and 40 minutes later we were served. I look at my watch, we have 20 minutes to eat it, check out and get to the boat. I don't think we'll make it I tell Penny. We don't tell the waiters to serve us quicker, we do not ask for a doggy bag, we calmly eat the breakfast, no one stressed ... ok, I guess we'll leave tomorrow then :)
I came back to Phnom Phen because I have to apply for Thailand visa. I went to the embassy, and I didn't have any documents that they require. They ask for the flight ticket in and out, I tell them that I'll go in and out by the bus. They tell me to show them hotel reservations, I tell them that I'll be in Thailand for 2 months, what do they want reservations for Bangkok, Chang Mai, Chang Rai, Pai, Kho Tao, Puket, that's just unreal. They tell me to show a bank statement. I go to an internet cafe, and for some reason my account doesn't have statements. I just printed out account balance without my name on it. Hopefully it will work! Fingers crossed! :)
When I went to book a bus ticket, the agent was very helpful and nice, and we ended up chatting for an hour or so. She said that before she used to do business with India but no more. They're so rude she said. I send them to 5 star resorts and nothing is good enough for them. All they do is complain and treat people like shit. Once it was raining, they came back with their muddy shoes, threw them down and told the bellboy to clean them. The agent tells me, this is not India, they cannot treat people like that in here!
I had the whole day with nothing to do and to escape from the midday heat I went to the mall to watch a movie. Hotel Transylvania in 3D. It's very cute, but not really interesting. I bought popcorn and they escorted me to my seat. Then I went to a supermarket, and could not believe my eyes. Quite a lot of people buying products with outrageous Western prices. I mean, it's ok for foreign food and you can buy everything at once, but fresh produce? It's bad quality, it's expensive, why why why won't they just go to the market?? I just bought a shampoo, and they gave me a bag for it. SE Asia is very bad for waste. They don't understand what plastic does to environment. Every time they do it, I tell them, "No bag, it's bad for the environment". They would serve a drink in a plastic cup with a plastic lid with a plastic straw with a plastic cover and would put it in a plastic bag. Whenever I see that my heart is crying. They give you a small ticket in an envelope. On the bus they served a small water bottle each in a plastic bag. I don't get it!

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/SihanoukvilleKohRong

Monday, 22 April 2013

Phnom Penh



Phnom Penh

First impression: people are honest, very friendly, and speak English! LP says that education is valued and it definitely shows!
I don't want to do anything, and the rain helps. It rains from the bucket non stop for 2 days now. I'm just happy to sit in the nice lounge area in my guesthouse, look at the rain, read a book about Cu Chi tunnels, Cambodia LP and write my blog. I also did 40 minutes of yoga and was very happy with the whole day of doing nothing. On the 3rd day I finally got out at 3pm to see the world beyond my little street. Who knew that just around the corner there is a whole street serving very good street food. I am shocked by the prices in here. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet the prices are similar to Thailand or Vietnam. Lets hope that it's only in the capital that way. I was out for 3 hours, and I've heard at least 100 "tuk-tuk", "tuk-tuk miss", "where you go?", accompanied by frantic hand waving, whistling and hitting objects to attract my attention. Traffic is just as crazy as in Vietnam, and I have no idea how Penny and I will be able to ride motorcycles in here, with these traffic, roads and weather.
Got a Japanese massage from the blind clinic. Blind people are supposed to give the best massages because their senses are heightened  And it was a good massage, better than my foot massage the day before :) Went to watch a documentary movie about the Khmer Rouge regime, but didn't understand much ... need to find something that will explain it to me in a greater detail. For that reason I bought a book "First they killed my father", but it's lying in the guest house, I'm looking at it, and can't get the courage to finally pick it up.
I'm feeling very down these past few days, but today I'm the most grumpy and irritated as ever! 100s of "tuk-tuk, tuk-tuk!" don't help even a bit. Went to a national museum which is ok. It contains 100s of very beautifully carved statues, most of them from the Angkor wat, so this museum is very skip-able as I'll be at the wats anyway. Then I went to a Palace that has a silver pagoda. Again, it's ok, and gave me something to do during the day, but after Bangkok's royal palace, this is nothing ... I think I'm getting spoiled! :) There is actually not that much to see in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge regime destroyed almost everything.
Went to a shopping mall with a hope of finding capri pants. I think they went out of style since I can't find them anywhere, not in markets, not in malls. Wanted to see a movie, well, more to have popcorn, and this mall has the best movie cinema in Cambodia. Didn't see anything because all movies were either horror or violence movies :(
Got tired of being in a bad mood, and since Penny might be arriving tomorrow, I need to snap out of it. Cause fine if it's just me, but I don't want to reflect my mood on anybody else, unless it's energetic, positive and cheerful! Internet was working well in the room, and I brainwashed myself with motivational phrases and youtube videos. Did some yoga, and some empowering guided meditation before going to sleep and I woke up early in the morning, happy and cheerful! :)
I'm tired of walking in the streets, more so to cross the streets which every time seems like a suicide mission, and took motorcycle taxis everywhere. 1st went to the central market. In there had the best mango/passion fruit fruit shake EVER! Then I had market food which is always an experience of pretty much pointing to whatever someone else is eating and digging into the unknown. Next was the Russian market so called because earlier in the days Russians used to shop here. Along the regular assortment of $2 products for which you'd pay $20 in Canada, there are also brand name items, Gap, Levi's, Nike, Adidas for 10% of the price. Of course one never knows the ethnicity of these items. From my experience though, who cares if they're original or not, as long as they're done well. I bought 2 Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts in Ecuador for $4, 2 years later after very extensive use and after the beatings of India, they're still in my suitcase making me happy :)
In the guesthouse I'm practicing pool, and after a few games with an imaginary partner, I'm becoming pretty good :) So good, that I actually beat someone who was reaaaaaly good! ... and not imaginary :)
I've played a few games with Jonathan who also stays in the guesthouse. Jonathan is a ex soldier, and of course after I heard that, I gave him a lecture about what I think of army. He surprisingly agrees with me on everything! But when he signed up, he was 18 and didn't know any better. I told him how the US army treats soldiers as guinea pigs by testing vaccines on them, and he said yeah, his friend went blind after one vaccine. He was discharged and given life time disability payments of $1400/month.
He got stopped by a policeman for an "illegal" left turn. Trust me if you saw the traffic in here, you'd know that there is nothing illegal about doing anything! Bikes drive pretty fast on pavements, in the wrong direction, speed past red lights, especially big cars (the bigger the car, the more money, the more you don't have to give a shit about anybody else). It's crazy in here! He started with a $40 "fine". Jonathan negotiated it down to $10. I told him that if he was reading lonely planet, he wouldn't pay more than a dollar or two. They can charge foreigners with having the lights on during the day, when they don't stop Cambodians who go with the lights off during the night! After Jonathan gave him $10, the police thanked him!
This is kinda a personal issue, but I'm so excited that I just have to write about it. For all my adult life I've suffered from terrible and the most painful pms pain ever! I think it's genetic. If I don't take 2 extra strong pain killers in time, the pain is definitely killing me. I'm white, I can't breath, I can't move, and once the pain has started, I need to take 3 or 4 extra strong pills, lying paralyzed for hours waiting for the pills to kick in. In these cases, not only I'm trying to tolerate the pain, but also the nausea caused by the pills. As you probably guess, I'm against pills. When I have a flu, I heal myself with positive thoughts, if that doesn't help (which in 80% it does!), I eat garlic, honey, and propolis. I didn't do reiki in a while, and I thought to practice it. Taking a huge risk, cause if that won't work, I'll be in unbearable pain for hours. I did 10 minute reiki before I went to sleep, and 10 minutes when I woke up (just in case). There is no pain. I'm feeling excellent, full of energy, I'm even not pale ... awweeeeesome!!! :))
Had the best cheese cake! Yuuuuuuuum!
Penny came from Saigon and we went to the S21 museum and the killing fields. Between 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge (the communist party) came to power. The leader Pol Pot had an absurd idea of making Cambodia communist with only one class of people and making Cambodia self sufficient country far away from American influences. He went to villages whose people he considered to be pure, talked to the poor and uneducated youth, and said that the reason they're poor (at that time 80% of Cambodia was in extreme poverty) is because the evil cities and it's residents. He made an army out of these villagers  and arrived in trucks to all the cities evacuating them in hours. When they arrived, they said that the cities need to be left for 3 days because the Americans are coming to bomb it. Everybody had to leave, the elderly and patients in the hospitals, people who refused to leave were shot on the spot. People walked for days into villages. On the way there were checks. They asked all the politicians, intellectuals, teachers, people who wore glasses, whose hands were too soft, who is too white, who spoke foreign languages, to sign up for jobs, those people were taken to the fields and got executed. So it's very interesting that people are not scared to get educated right now after such a recent and dark past. City people didn't know how to farm and thousands died from starvation. Families were separated, husbands, wives, children, all were separate and sent to different villages. Pol Pot wanted to triple the rice production immediately. This was an impossible task, with people working from dusk well into the night without barely any food. Innocent people who were thought to resist the communist regime were sent to prisons where they were tortured and later killed. Everybody who was sent to prison was tortured and killed. S21 museum, a former school converted into prison shows pictures of 20,000 people who were held in it, with photographs of arrival and after torture. No one talked in that "museum", and most tourists wore sunglasses to hide their tears. People were told to admit to things which they never did, even to admit that they work for CIA or KGB, they had to admit to their crimes on tape, and even said that their families and friends are involved. The tapes were sent to the center, and the command came for their execution. They were transported by trucks to the killing fields. In there they put them in the shed, played loud communist music to cover the screams of the people who were being killed. Bullets were expensive. The prisoners knelt on their knees near the mass graves and were bitten in the neck with bamboo sticks, axes, their throats were cut with palm leaves, and were pushed into the graves. They put DDT on the bodies to prevent the stench and to finish the job in case the people were still being alive in the graves. Pol Pot's theory was "It's better to kill and innocent person than to spare an enemy". They killed young children too. They held them by the feet and smashed their heads against the tree. The mass grave for the children was found later on because there was hair and brain tissue stuck to the tree. 4 years later Vietnamese came in to save the country. Vietnamese were the only ones who came for help. The country that was still struggling after it's own war. It was the only country that sent food into Cambodia. My question is, where was the UN? Where was the US who is so against communism, who fought in Vietnam because of it? In 4 years 3 million people have died. 3 million out of 8. Cambodians killed by their own people. Pol Pot died peacefully in his house at the age of 82, 4 other high ranking officials are only now being charged. It's hard for me to imagine how people let that happen to themselves. I know that guns are scary, but if you get organised you can defeat them. They are only thousands, you are millions. History repeats itself again and again, and people still think they have a chance. There is a saying that you can change your future by learning your past, but people don't learn. What happened with the 9/11. They didn't have any bombs or guns or even proper knives. They were 300 passengers and 4 terrorists. How did it happen??

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGP0xk5nn_c - killing fields
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH4kIqlGSiQ - Cambodia - year 0

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/PhnomPenh


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Saigon/HCMC

Arrived in Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) after South Vietnam collapsed). The bus stopped right in the busy center of  backpackerville which was awesome, but it still took me a long time to find the guesthouse in which Penny and me agreed to meet up. There are so many alleys, which make me very confused, as I have no idea if the alley is shown on the map or not. Ended up walking in circles, and by the time I found the guest house I thought that Penny got tired of waiting for me. Nope, she arrived 20 minutes later, her bus was an hour late.
When Penny arrived, she said that the tuk-tuk driver wanted to take her for a ride, said that the hotel is 7 kms away! In fact it's about 100 meters away. The alley was full of hotels, and negotiated a price was not a problem. We just kept walking repeating our price ($10) until someone agreed. Can't believe they even try to negotiate! All their rooms are empty, at least get someone in!
(LP) Ho Chi Minh might seem like a modern city but it's one that's grown higgledy-piggledy over many years. Every scrap of land is precious and most people live in the fine lacework of alleys that connect the main streets. These alleys don't have names but rather take the street number of the main street that they are closest to. i.e. 175 Pham Ngu Lao is the name of the alley running off Pham Ngu Lao at number 175. If the alley runs between two main streets, the two ends often take different names. Hence the properties at the southern end of 175 Pham Ngu Lao have the address 28 Bui Vien.
I had only 1 day in Saigon as I was running out of my stupid 1 month visa. There is so much to see, and so much to do, but I only had time for 1 thing, and I chose to devote the day to the history of Vietnam and so we took a tour of the famous Cu Chi tunnels.
Cu Chi tunnels - The underground tunnels of Cu Chi were the most complex part of a network that stretched from the gates of Saigon to the border of Cambodia. The 250 kms of tunnels held living areas, storage depots, ordnance factories, hospitals, headquarters, and almost every other facility that was necessary to the pursuit of the war. No single military engineer designed this vast labyrinth nor did any one commander order it to be built. The tunnels evolved as the natural response of a poorly equipped and mainly local guerrilla army to mid-twentieth-century technological warfare  Aircraft, bombs, artillery, and chemicals obliged the Viet Cong ("Vietnames communists", people in South Vietnam who support the communist North) to live and fight underground. Ironically, by becoming an army of moles pitched against armies winged into battle by helicopter, the VC pro-traced the war to the point of persuading the US that it was unwinnable. The district of Cu Chi became the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare. For years, most the Cu Chi suffered the fate of being a "free strike zone". That meant that random artillery fire, known as harassment and interdiction rained upon it by night. Bomber pilots were encouraged to offload unused explosives and napalm over Cu Chi before returning to base.
The tunnels facilitated communication and coordination between the VC-controlled enclaves, isolated from each other by South Vietnamese and American land and air operations. They also allowed the VC to mount surprise attacks wherever the tunnels went, even within the perimeters of the US military base - and to disappear suddenly into hidden trapdoors without a trace. Over the years the VC developed simple but effective techniques to make their tunnels difficult to detect or disable. Wooden trapdoors were camouflaged with earth and branches; some were booby-trapped. Hidden underwater entrances from rivers were constructed. To cook they used kitchens which exhausted the smoke through vents many meters away from the cooking site. Trapdoors were installed throughout the network to prevent tear gas, smoke or water from moving from one part of the system to another. The US and Australian troops tried a variety of methods to pacify the area around Cu Chi, which come to be known as the Iron Triangle. They launched large scale ground operations involving tens of thousands of troops but failed to locate the tunnels. To deny the VC cover and supplies, rice paddies were defoliated, huge swathes of jungle bulldozed, and villages evacuated and razed. The Americans also sprayed chemical defoliants on the area aerially and a few months later ignited the tinder-dry vegetation with gasoline and napalm. Unable to win the battle with chemicals, the US army began sending men down into the tunnels. These "tunnel rats" who were often involved in underground fire fights, sustained appallingly high casualty rates. When the Americans began using German Shepherd dogs, trained to use their keen sense of smell to locate trapdoors and guerrillas, the VC began washing with American soap, which gave off a scent the canines identified as friendly. Captured US uniforms were put out to confuse the dogs further. Most importantly  the dogs were not able to spot booby traps. So many dogs were killed or maimed that their horrified handlers then refused to send them into the tunnels.
We've been told that jungles were burnt off, not only because of the tunnels, but to expose the HCM trail as well. Nothing grew for years. They put chemicals in water to poison the people. Then they said that the orange chemicals are good to eat, they're not harmful at all. Probably kind of what government tells us right now. Pesticide-d food raptures the stomachs of bugs that eat it, but it's certainly safe for human consumption! But driving through the country side of Vietnam, I haven't noticed much distruction, all Vietnam looks pretty green to me. That's until I noticed that these are not native forests. All the trees grow in lines, clearly planted by people.
Some of us went to the tunnels, most of us didn't. These tunnels were even enlarged for tourists. One tunnel was left original, with no light, no cleaning of leaves. 3 people went in. It was fun! At least they gave us flashlights :) I even found a bat in there :) It's hot and sweaty and dirty, and you have to crawl on all fours, otherwise you won't fit in. A bit spooky for fun, I'm sure it wasn't much fun living in there for 10 years though :(
After the tunnels went into a war museum. The guide said that half an hour would be enough, but an hour later, we only covered not more than half of the museum and then it closed :( Again, a war museum, and again I'm in disbelief about causes of wars and about cruelty. Ok you as a soldier were sent to a war, but why do you have to ruthlessly torture innocent people? Even if they're not innocent, they're just protecting their families, their country, which YOU invaded?! I believe the army is good for it's own protection, not for invasion. The whole world had demonstrations and protests against Vietnam war, and the only reason US pulled out almost 10 years later was because they were running out of money. Where did their "noble" cause go? After the South fell, what happened? Nothing really. The country is in piece and is independant living "flexible" communism. People are generally happy, economy is booming! 10 years, millions of lives was aaaaaall worth it! US was blamed for using illegal weapons, chemicals which destroyed most of the jungle, gave cancer to population, 3rd generation is still born handicapped. After all that, we still think of noble reasons to go to war, lets support the war in Iraq and Afganistan, we're there to free the people! (Ssshhh about the oil, don't tell anyone!) ("President Bush's Cabinet agreed in April 2001 that 'Iraq remains a destabilising influence to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East' and because this is an unacceptable risk to the US 'military intervention' is necessary.")
Iraq war has cost the US 50-60 times more than the Bush administration predicted and was a central cause of the sub-prime banking crisis threatening the world economy. The former World Bank vice-president yesterday said the war had, so far, cost the US something like $US 3 trillion compared with the $US50-$US60-billion predicted in 2003. The spending on Iraq was a hidden cause of the current credit crunch because the US central bank responded to the massive financial drain of the war by flooding the American economy with cheap credit. The money being spent on the war each week would be enough to wipe out illiteracy around the world. Just a few days' funding would be enough to provide health insurance for US children who were not covered.
Afganistan - energy, natural resources, trans-Afgan pipe line (America has wanted a new government in Afghanistan since at least 1998, three years before the attacks on 11 September 2001. The official report from a meeting of the U.S. Government's foreign policy committee on 12 February 1998, available on the U.S. Government website, confirms that the need for a West-friendly government was recognised long before the War on Terror that followed September 11th), strategic position against Iran and China should conflict arise. It's no mystery that the boom in production of opium and heroin in the 1970s within the so-called Golden Triangle (Laos, Burma and Cambodia) was largely the work of the CIA, who used the profits to finance anti-communist operations in South-East Asia. Mullah Omar, in search of wider international acceptance for his regime, decided to forbid opium cultivation, which in 2001 dropped to practically zero. But once Afghanistan had been "freed" and had returned under the control of US armed forces and intelligence services, opium cultivation went back into top gear immediately. Right from 2002 (before the Taliban began their return), it beat all previous records and in the space of a few years transforming the country into the world's biggest heroin producer (93% of global production). Afghan heroin is transported out of the country on US military cargo planes. it is hidden inside military coffins filled with drugs instead of corpses.
Lets go to Iraq and Afganitstan to free the people! Can't believe there are still people out there stupid enough to believe that! Why won't they go to Tibet instead??
(LP) The end of war: "In January 1975 the North Vietnamese launched a massive ground attack across the 17th parallel using tanks and heavy artillery. The invasion provoked panic in the South Vietnamese army, which has always depended on US support. Whole brigades of soldiers disintegrated and fled southwards, joining hundreds of thousands of civilians clogging Hwy 1. City after city - Hue, Danang, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang - were simply abandoned with hardly a shot fired. The ARVN troops were fleeing so quickly that the North Vietnamese army could barely keep up. The North Vietnamese pushed on to Saigon and on the morning of 30 April 1975 their tanks smashed through the gates of Saigon's Independance Palace (now called Reunification Palace). General Duong Van Minh, president for just 42 hours, formally surrendered, marking the end of the war.".
All this war is like a chess game to me. Send your own people to get killed and get life-time trauma without adequate post-war support, defending your stupid ideas. We need to be independant! Fight for our freedom! After the tank crashed into the palace and puts his life in danger (1 life as opposed to thousands of your own people), oh forget independance and all that bullshit, we surrender! The chess pieces never win, they're just pieces in the game of 2 people who play the game.
(LP) The cost of war - In total 3.14 million Americans served in Vietnam. Officially 58,183 Americans were killed in action or are listed as missing in action. By the end of 1973, 223,748 South Vietnamese soldiers had been killed. North Vietnamese and VC fatalities have been estimated at one million. Approximately four million civilians (or 10% of the Vietnamese population) were injured or killed during the war. At least 300,000 Vietnamese and 2200 Americans are still listed as MIA.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Saigon

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dalat & Mui Ne


Woke up at 6 to go to Dalat, the romantic hill station of Vietnam. Everywhere we sweat, in Dalat we need a coat, it's cold and it's raining. We stopped at the hotel where the bus dropped us off, got settled in and went to a restaurant. We had dinner, I had coke and a coffee - I need to wake up! chatted for a while, only to see 2 girls from the bus still walking with their backpacks. I don't get it! They were probably looking for a recommended hotel from the LP. It's so much easier to go with a fast choice as long as it's in the center. It's also usually cheaper, because it's not mentioned in the LP. I only go with LP choices when we're in a non touristic area, where it's impossible to find a hotel, or anyone who speaks English in it.
That day we went to a crazy house, as one of the not too many tourist attractions in Dalat. I wouldn't call it architecture though, just everything mixed together. Now it tries to be a hotel, but rooms are expensive and they all look alike with some clay animal in it and a bed somewhere in the round space. It seemed to me like the architect has imagination without much creativity. It has tall bridges connecting the buildings, but even I was a bit scared walking on them because the side walls were about knee high. Some places were still unfinished and had holes in the floor, wires sticking out, no fences, but some ok views :)
Next day I went to a canyoning trip. The best trip ever! It was cold, it rained on the way to the river, but luckily the river was warmer than the air. We did a bunch of test abseils to learn to control the rope and yourself on the vertical surface, it was the best training out of all the canyoning trips I've done so far. We ubseiled twice just on the wall. Then came a water slide  Are you kidding me? I was sure they were laughing at us. Ok, who goes first?! What??? They're not kidding??? They lie you down and you slide down somehow without breaking all your teeth and bones to the pool below. It was so much fun! :) Ok, now we're gonna slide backwards!!! Then we did some jumps, and then came to a big waterfall. Are you kidding me? I was sure they were laughing at us. Ok, who goes first?! What??? They're not kidding??? The current was too strong, and they said if we fall on the first part, not to bother getting up, just slide yourself down. I went last because it looked a bit dangerous, and I wanted to learn from the mistake that other people made. Most of them were robot like, and lowered themselves at a rate of 1 meter a minute ... kinda boring. My turn!! I slipped on the first part, the surface grew with some algae and the strong current that swept me off my feet didn't help. I sat in the harness, held the wall with the left hand and with the right lowered myself down. It was so much better and much easier, I think they should tell everyone to do it. Then came the 2nd part. They saw a look of excitement rather fear in my eyes, and told me to go right in the middle of all that water, lower your head so that the water will hit the hamlet ... yep, I forgot to do that :S Then you get to a 5 meter height  1, 2, 3 push off the wall, let go off the rope and fly backwards into the pool :) The next waterfall was a washing machine. There is too much water going into a very small space, so you lower yourself down into that pool, then let go off the rope, and in that pool you'll be like in a washing machine, until it spits you out somewhere in an open space. You have no idea what's happening to you, and where you are. Some people didn't let go off the rope and go stuck under water. Needless to say, most of them popped out quite freaked out ... I loved it! :))
When we went to find the office for the open bus ticket - since I'm not using local buses anymore!, we got pretty lost. Numbers don't make sense, there are 3 streets with the same name, we passed few houses with the same numbers (located on the same street). Finally we took someone by the hand and told her to take us there. We got the ticket for the next day, and with them booked a motorcycle trip of the surrounding area. Went to a flower farm, as always, the best flowers are for export. I didn't even see flowers sold locally. Then we went to a coffee plantation and had weasel coffee. They feed weasels coffee beans, they poop it out. It's very famous, very gourmet, considered to be the world's best. It was really good coffee, I liked it, I don't even know how to describe the flavour, but definitely something unique. Then we went to a place where they feed weasels the coffee. Omg, poor weasels. They're kept in tiny cages, walk 2 steps, then turn around and walk these 2 steps back, the smell is disgusting  it's impossible to stay there without covering the nose. That's it! No more weasel coffee!! Then we went to a silk factory. They showed us the whole process how they make silk. From growing the mulberry plants which the silk warms eat. It's possible to gather silk from different animals such as bees, wasps, and ants, silverfish, mayflies, beetles, lacewings, fleas, flies, midges and spiders. But the best silk is considered to be from mulberry eating worms.
When silkworms are born, they eat mulberry leaves without stop. After about a month they're ready to be cocooned  and in 2 days the "egg" is made. The outside of the egg has some fibers, and this is silk. The eggs are collected, dropped into boiling water to soften the silk, so that the spinning machines could easily pick it up and make silk threads. I was upset and asked them if at least they eat the worms? They said that some locals do, but I haven't seen it. That's it, no more silk! The machines that make the fabric are so complicated and interesting has a music like or old computer sheets with a bunch of holes which somehow make the patterns. Very cool!
On the way back it got windy and rainy, so co-co-cold!! Not much scenery, too much fog, and besides all the green natural scenery is changed by plastic green houses which probably make everything for export anyway.
I haven't noticed much romanticism, and if it wasn't for the awesome canyoning trip, I would've happily missed Dalat.
I got a virus on my computer :( It deleted absolutely everything on drive C ... all blog notes are gone, thank god I had a 3 week backup on my usb stick. Annoying!
Woke up at 6 to go to Mui Ne.
When the bus stopped for a lunch break, there was a cat and a dog snuggling together, that was very cute :) Also all the people from China took pictures of dogs, no wonder, they probably ate them all in there.
Mui Ne is very nice and small, very relaxing place, exactly what I need right now! Too bad though that the hotel people built the buildings very close to the water, or there was beach erosion, in any case, there is no beach left. From our hostel, there are steps going down to the "beach" which you see for a second before the next wave breaks. I didn't make it to the water, as I unknowingly fell asleep in a second when I laid on the "beach" chair (standing on a terrace, not on the beach). Next day I took a tour. We walked in a beautiful stream along red and white sand formations. Then we drove along the coast line to sand dunes where me and a girl (Penny didn't go because of her leg) rented an ATV. It was so much fun! First she was driving and we got stuck on our way up the hill. We went backwards, forwards, but just dug ourselves deeper and deeper. I think they have a "save the stupid drivers" help, because someone came right away and saved the ATV. It was my turn to drive down the hill. I love adrenaline, so I gave it some gas, we were both screaming going kinda sideways, tilted down the hill, but it was so much fun! Then we returned it accidentally to the wrong agency, but the "save the stupid drivers" help, came to rescue once more and showed us the way to the correct agency. We went through a very narrow path between the trees, with 2 very deep paths were the tires go. While I tried to maneuver the ATV so that it won't flip, we instead drove into a tree :) There was lots of screaming involved :)) Thank god nobody saw it :) We finished the day on red sand dunes, so peaceful after the ATV adrenaline rush. I love deserts. I (and apparently not only I) get a feeling there, like you get nowhere else in the world. I'm not sure why is that so. I'm thinking because there is absolutely nothing to concentrate your mind on, no people, no trees, no bushes, no animals, no sounds, the mind turns inwards and you feel eternal peace with some life's major obstacles and problems suddenly mystically solved.
I loved the tour so much that the next day we rented a bike and did the same thing with Penny, except that it was much more fun :)
Mui Ne is famous for not even fresh, but live seafood. I got so excited, we dressed up and went to the street which is full of aquariums selling all kinds of seafood. My excitement was short lived. When I saw this beautiful seafood, my appetite was gone. Sharks, sting rays, turtles, beautiful colorful lobsters and crabs, puffy fish they should be in the sea, not in the aquarium slowly grilling to death. I wanted to eat nothing and to get out of there as quickly as possible. At the end I ordered already dead shrimps, not that I enjoyed them much either.
I really wanted to go board peddling the next day before the bus, but I slept instead :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/DalatMuiNe