Monday, January 21, 2008
From Pai we done a trek out to some villages around Sappong, staying with a family in a homestay . This area has many different ethnic groups which have kept much of their individual cultures, the largest of which is the Karen people. Our guide was an amazing cook! and whipped an amazing feast. After dinner, washed down with local rice wine, we were 'invited' to an impromptu market that had been set up for us, right out side the house. It was all clothing and crafts made by the village women and most of it was lovely. We brought some gifts including a cute hat for Maisie and Mum brought more Elephant themed goods.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Ko Tao was beautiful we had a day out on a boat going around the small island, stopping for some amazing snorkeling along the way. The nightlife was more relaxed than Ko Pha Ngan but there were some great bars along the beach front where we were staying.
There wasn't many sights as such in Battambang, but it was one of my favourite places in Cambodia. Laid back and friendly. Jamie and Ellie done a cooking course at Smokin' Pot Restaurant. But the highlight for all of us must be the trip on the Bamboo Train or 'Norry' as it is known in Khmer.
Friday, January 18, 2008
We took a boat from Siem Reap to Battambang it was a beautiful if not a little hair raising trip. When we crossed the huge lake, which looked more like an ocean, it look as if it was going to be 50/50 chance that we survived it. The crew bailing out the water that was filling up the deck. To make things worse Jamie was suffering bad with diarrhea. Our guide book said the journey took between 4 - 8 hours, it took nearer 12 hours!
The Killing fields memorial near Phnom Penh is a chilling reminder of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and how the world largely ignored it. It makes you sick. How can we let the same mistakes keep happening, be it Auschwitz, Cambodia, Srebrenica, Darfur, Iraq...
America and 'The West's' responsibility for this attrocity is highlighted in YEAR ZERO - A Film by JOHN PILGER . Watch below on YouTube introduced by an American Viewer.
Links to Parts 2-6 Below
Also see John Pilger-Cambodia, The Betrayal (in 5 parts, part 1 below)
Read: War in Vietnam - Invasion of Cambodia
We hooked up with our friends Tim & Michelle in Saigon. We met Tim and Michelle years ago in Hvar, Croatia, we got on really well and had kept in touch. They both lived and worked in Kyrgyzstan, for a while and we had hoped to meet them there, even planning a film project, but this was cancelled due to the Tulip Revolution. Tim and Michelle are now living here in Vietnam and have a beautiful daughter Amelia.
We stayed with them in their huge snazzy house, on the edge of Saigon. It was beautiful place on a sprawling new luxury estate. But they said it was a bit isolated, with little community spirit, they were moving next week to an older house in a friendlier neighbourhood.
Michelle recommended we take our camera to ‘The Camera Doctor’, it was playing up again, this time it was the mirror. Jamie and I headed there. The ‘Doctor’ was great. “If you’re not in a rush, I can have it fixed in about an hour” he said. He done a great job and only charged a couple of pounds! We then headed to some Museums the girls went shopping and to visit a temple.
The War Museum was intensely shocking and heart breaking. I’ve seen many images of the American War, as it is called here, but not as graphic as the images on show here. The most disgusting and disturbing of the photos were those taken by American Soldiers themselves, as souvenirs. There are photos of soldiers posing with decapitated heads of Vietnamese people, the soldiers pose as if it’s a football team photo, they smile as if it’s a game.
Other images on display had a shocking resemblance to the images we see coming out of Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan. The similarities between the conflicts are too much to bare.
As John Pilger writes, "It was a lie from the beginning, throughout the war, and even today." When US troops landed in Vietnam in 1965, they believed their cause to be a noble one, but it was a sham.”
In another article, 'Torture is news but it's not new', he recalls how American atrocities and torture were not considered newsworthy.
John Pilger is perhaps one of the greatest investigative journalists, click here to read more of his articles from Vietnam.
That night we met Tim and headed to a fantastic Restaurant, in an old French Colonial building near Reunification Palace. The next night we had dinner at Tim & Michelle’s before hitting HCMC / Saigon, hard, on a pub n club crawl from the latest trendy Vietnamese hotspot to backpacker/ expat favourites - including 'Apocalypse Now', to local dives. It was a great night, from what we can remember.
John Pilger articles on Vietnam
We got to Hue later that evening after our tour of the DMZ, and went out for dinner and some drinks with the Ozzie girl, her daughter staying in, chatting to mates on t’internet.
The next day we had a walk around the Old Citadel and Royal Palaces. From 1802 to 1945 Hue was the Capital of Vietnam during Nguyen dynasty.
Later, we took a boat out on the river, although it was getting dark so we didn’t get too far.
We drove along a modern highway towards the DMZ, the road follows one of the many paths of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was the major supply route for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong (VC), during ‘The American War’. Whilst most of the west refers to the war here as ‘The Vietnam war’, the Vietnamese, call it The American War.
We walked, sticking close to the path, through the jungle, past Rubber Plantations and black pepper trees, towards a high strategic point and a former US bunker. On the walls of the bunker, alongside the bullet holes, was the word CALIFORNIA, probably carved by a young conscript, sent to fight a war in a land he knew little of and for what?
‘For more than three decades four armies expended untold energy and resources mining, booby-trapping, rocketing, strafing, mortaring and bombarding wide areas of Vietnam… It’s estimated that as much as 20% of Vietnam remains uncleared, with more than three million mines and 350,000 to 800,000 tonnes of unexploded ordnance (UXO)… Between 1975 and 2000 it resulted in the deaths of 38,849 people and 65,852 injuries nationwide. Around 1200 to 3000 people are injured every year.’*
We were told that many of the people that are injured or killed each year are collecting debris to sell as scrap. Children are often killed whilst playing in their fields attracted by fatal shining objects.
What’s even more sickening is when you think, people still manufacture and use these ‘weapons’!!! Lady Diana was perhaps one of the most famous ‘activists’ against Landmines, and it is argued that:
‘Due to the amount of influence she had, her death in August 1997 sparked the Government of the United Kingdom and other nations to ratify and sign the Ottawa Treaty.’
Introducing the Second Reading of the Landmines Bill 1998 to the British House of Commons, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, paid tribute to Diana's work on landmines:
“ All Honourable Members will be aware from their postbags of the immense contribution made by Diana, Princess of Wales to bringing home to many of our constituents the human costs of landmines. The best way in which to record our appreciation of her work, and the work of NGOs that have campaigned against landmines, is to pass the Bill, and to pave the way towards a global ban on landmines.” —Robin Cook
A much more fitting tribute than the Elton John Songs, fountains and celebrity concerts.
Thankfully the UK did sign the treaty, however China, India, Russia and the United States are amongst the 37 countries which haven’t. *
Cambodia also has a major problem with landmines today. At Beng Mealea, a major tourist destination near Siem Reap, I saw a sign saying that this area was cleared of mines by CMAC, started 08/06/2006, completed 12/09/2007, funded by The Federal Republic of Germany. Large areas still remain in danger.
Lets not forget about the ‘collateral damage’ in Iraq, Afghanistan... where UXO from cluster bombs are killing and maiming innocents today, funded by us nice British and US taxpayers. Many of these are Uranium enriched mounting to Nuclear Warfare.
We then headed ontoen Luong bridge on the Ben Hai river, which served as the demarcation line between the Republic of Vietnam (RVN; South Vietnam) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV; North Vietnam). On the southern side of the bridge there is a Monument to women and children of Vietnam. The sculpture depicts mother and children looking north over the river from South Vietnam, waiting for their husbands to return, of course many didn't.
The speaker stacks that blasted out propaganda, from each side, were still standing.
We headed to the Vinh Moc Tunnels.
‘In 1966 the USA began a massive aerial and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam. Just north of the DMZ, the villagers of Vinh Moc found themselves living in one of the most heavily bombed and shelled strips of land on the planet. Small family shelters could not withstand this onslaught and villagers either fled or began tunnelling by hand into the red-clay earth.’*
The Vinh Moc Tunnels are an amazing 2.8km network of tunnels, built on the coast, just north of the Ben Hai River. Whole families lived here and 17 babies were born in the underground delivery room.
‘Later, the civilians and VC were joined by North Vietnamese soldiers, whose mission was to keep communications and supply lines to nearby Con Co Island open.’*
It’s impossible to imagine how people could live and grow up here, underground in the dark and damp with little supplies and under aerial bombardment and gunfire from US naval ships.
For more history and background on 'The American War' Read John Pilger's articles on Vietnam
Links and Sources
Support International Campaign to Ban Landmines http://www.icbl.org/
Read Robert Fisk on Cluster Bombs and US terrorism - http://www.robert-fisk.com/american_terrorism.htm
Mines Advisory Group http://www.mag.org/
Cluster Bombs Petition http://www.minesactioncanada.org/home/index.cfm?fuse=Home.Petition
Read Articles on Vietnam by John Pilger
* Lonely Planet, Vietnam (2007) pg 476, 203, 204.
. We had a sleeper bus booked for our trip from Hanoi to Hue. A mini bus picked us up from our Hotel, it was packed! A German guy huffed and puffed. We squeezed on, managing to pile our bags in, somewhere. We drove around the busy city at rush hour, then stopped at another hotel, an Australian woman and her teenage daughter were waiting with their bags. “This is ridiculous!!!” shouted the German, bursting in a fit of rage. The Aussies somehow squeezed in, with bags on their laps, “Allrrrrright”.
The mini bus took us to the edge of town where we changed onto a big modern sleeper bus. The bus had three strips of beds running down it, top and bottom bunks. Ellie got the front middle bed and was convinced she’d be fired straight out the windscreen come the first sharp brake. The back beds were cosy, four beds all together, romantic. The drivers mate was at the back, the bus was no smoking, he lit up a fag, Kaz asked him to please put it out, he pretended to not understand, Kaz took the cigarette and stubbed it out on the wall, the embers almost setting the day-glo carpeted walls alight. The drivers mate was shocked but said nothing, he looked a little scared.
There was quite a good buzz onboard, we chatted with the Aussies and some Kiwi’s. The German guy was still fuming about something. Listened to some tunes and watched the random collection of videos on the TV, downloads of funny adverts, Internet clips (including that great George Bush & Tony Blair Endless Love song), music… Then got some sleep amongst the crazy driving and non-stop horn blasts.
In the morning we could hear the German guy panicking again. We were supposed to arrive in Hue at 9am, he had booked another bus from there for 10am!??! It was now nearly 9am and we were a long way from Hue. “Why, What’s the problem, it’s a perfectly good bus, why so slow, this is ridiculous!” The driver looked lost, we thought he stopped to ask for directions at least once. We pulled up alongside a café near Danang, “OK 30 minutes, Breakfast stop” announced the driver. The German guy erupted “NO STOPPING !!!!” “NO!!!”, “This is ridiculous!!!!” We couldn’t help pissing ourselves laughing.
We got breakfast, I had Pho – Noodle Soup, a surprisingly great breakfast! The guy serving us asked us where we heading, what were our plans etc. We told him we were heading to Hue, and also wanted to visit the De Militarized Zone (DMZ) and Vinh Moc Tunnels. Excitedly he told us he ran tours from here (never!) and gave us the pitch. It worked out perfect, we could do the tour with him then get a minibus, ‘in-coo-ded’, to Hue after.
The German guy was pacing up and down outside the bus, Jamie went to talk to him, and it looked like he had calmed down a little. After some consolatory ‘you have to go with flow mate, don’t you, can’t plan to much…’ Jamie then added ‘I think they only stop here to get people on tours’, they both laughed, but he didn’t seem too amused.
We walked over the friendship bridge from The People's Republic of China to The Socialist Republic of Vietnam. We met our friends Jamie and Ellie from home, in nearby Sapa.
Beautiful place, home to many hill tribes. We went trekking and met up with Mae, who was from the Black Mong Tribe. She invited us to her home where we had a lovely meal and too much homemade rice wine. We stopped the night in a Homestay in the next village with a Zao (Dzao/ Dao) family, where we drank more rice wine and Tiger beers whilst learning some Kung Fu moves from an 'old master'.
We had a few days in Kunming before we headed south to Vietnam and meet our friends from back home. Kunming was a nice relaxed city, great parks, bursting with life. Musicians would gather and soon attract a large crowd. People stepped out of crowd to join them and sing a song. Meanwhile there was some serious kite flying action going on.