March 16, 2015

Taking' a Break.

For the next week, if all goes according to plan, I'll be stuck on an island with no electricity, internet, or running water. That's what I've heard, anyway.

So you're going to have to wait for my next you mean it.

Write you in a bit,


March 14, 2015

World-Class Banana Pancake, a Frog, and Angkor Why?

One of the things I've been told a few times as I've traveled is that you must see Angkor Wat. People online, a few I've met while traveling...yeah. They pretty much love the place. I didn't.

I got up early this morning, at 5 AM, in order to arrive before the sunrise. I intended to go by foot initially, but was convinced by a tuk tuk driver to exchange money for his services. It's not that he necessarily overcharged me, or his service was bad (neither are really true), but I'm on a pretty strict budget, and spending money on tuk tuks will probably mean I can't afford one or more of the things/trips I'd like to in the next few months.

But as I was saying, I got up early, went out there, and on top of the fee for the tuk tuk ($10 for both ways), the price for entry into Angkor Park (where the various temples and ruins are located) is $20 for one day, or $40 for three days out of a week.

I know, I know. I'm sort of being an entitled little twerp by griping about this, but to top it all off, I get into the park, start walking around, and realize that it's actually not so rare to get up this bloody early.

At this point, I'm kind of wishing I'd just bought the one-day entry ticket.

But...I hadn't even been there for ten minutes. It does get better. That said, I am still not a fan of this site. I expect I'd spend less and enjoy it more if I were to go to some random temple in Myanmar or Thailand. My Son in Vietnam, maybe. But, I spent the $40, so I'll probably be back tomorrow afternoon. The weird thing is the park is only open between 5:30 AM and 5:30 PM. Sunset is at six, so...I don't know. Maybe it's already mostly down by 5:30.

So I continued on. I really didn't want my $40 to be in vain. I walked up the main path toward the temple. It's arranged a bit like a castle, with an outer wall, and then a square made of four towers, with a single, taller tower in the center. There's a little under a hundred feet between the outer wall and the inner temple.

The inner temple is quite large (compared to most pagodas in Vietnam, and most religious places I've seen thus far.

I've largely shown the less famous sort of perspectives on Angkor Wat. The most famous view is straight on from one of the sides (don't really know which), making it seem like there are but three towers, when in reality, there are five.

I keep wondering why I'm so unimpressed with the place. Everyone seems to love it (as evidenced by the number of tourists in the previous photo).

I guess it has to do with the kind of person I am. I get up early in the morning most of the time to sort of encounter with nature, to be on my own in the beauty of God's creation, but in this case, I got up early in the morning and ended up being among a great multitude of people probably much more enamored by this site. It's a pretty impressive architecture, and it makes you wonder where the inspiration comes from. The very steep steps seem to be something shared between Aztec and Cambodian architecture, which is weird, because they're basically on the other side of the world from each other. And I wouldn't say tall stairs are everything that seems similar.

But I should move on, as I know almost nothing about Aztec history, Cambodian history, and especially the comparisons of their respective architecture.
I continued on through the temple, taking the occasional photo (the light wasn't particularly good that early, as it was overcast), and was handed one of these sort of incense sticks. They're a bit like a sparkler (that's what I initially thought they were, back in Hanoi, when I first arrived), but they don't spark or flare or anything. They just smolder. It's a bit like a very thin, long cigarette. Regardless, these are used to pay respects or something. 

I was handed on while inside the temple, and decided not to follow the example of the man demonstrating in front of the shrine. I may be misunderstanding ritual and everything, but as I don't know what the ritual means, I won't participate in it. If I did know what it meant, I'd know whether I should participate or not, as a Christian. Anyway, he seemed a bit miffed, but I'm not worried about it.

As I continued on, I got a few more interesting shots, but sooner than I'd planned, I ended up heading out from the park. I had gotten a few good pictures, but it was difficult to do so in part because of trees, and in part because of other tourists. The quantity of people trying to get selfies in the most absurd positions was ridiculous.

Anyway, I went back, spent a bit of time in the room watching a livestream of a Youtuber playing Battlefield 4 (yes, I kind of miss it out here), then went out to have lunch. I had a pizza, which was merely alright, and an appetizer, which was much better. It was a sort of long triangular crackerish breadish thing. A bit like a breadstick, but also kind of a biscuit. Also included was a small bowl of mashed potatoes, which didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but I ate it anyway. That part of the meal was better than the pizza, but it's ok.

My expectations for pizza in Southeast Asia have remained low for most of my stay here. I expect you can go into a proper, expensive restaurant and come out having eaten a good-tasting western-style pizza, but I don't really care for spending more on food than I already do.

My Japanese host seems to get a lot of Japanese guests to stay with him, which should be no surprise, as his knowledge even of the language eases the stay for anyone not familiar with English.

In the last several weeks, I've slowly realized how invaluable English is abroad; it's not just that it's helpful to learn it as someone in Vietnam or Cambodia or wherever, but as a traveler, it's important to learn English, because it's far more common to encounter a native (particularly in Cambodia) who speaks English than one who speaks, for instance, French.

This is a peculiar position. I find myself enabled by my knowledge of English to travel with greater ease, but at the same time, being American and knowing very little of other languages, I'm also sort of crippled in my ability to communicate while abroad. We have an advantage in that our language is common and desirable, but the fact that it is means that it's far easier to travel as an English-speaker than with solely French, German, or any other language.

This evening, I once again returned to my beloved banana pancake, and this particular rendition was actually pretty excellent. It was a soft, fluffy, sweet pancake with straight slices of banana fried in. I've had rather thin banana pancakes, thick ones, ones with long strips, ones with no cut banana inlaid, and this one is probably in my top two. Anna's were so big, and the banana pieces so good, that its bread part being somewhat odd wasn't really a problem.

This one had an unfavorable sort of texture thing to it, which I can't really describe, but the taste and the sweetness was excellent. I really hope I make it back there.

Ecstatic Pizza is the name of the place. The logo is a bit hilarious. Maybe a tad scary.

Anyway, I enjoyed both of my visits there (had lunch there this afternoon...or was it yesterday...I can't remember).

I remain well, and my guesthouse here in Siem Reap is actually kind of nice. I ended up paying another $1 for breakfast (boo hoo) and $2 for a bike for the day. I'll probably go to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom again tomorrow, but I've already booked my ticket back to Phnom Penh on the 16th, from which I'll hopefully find my way to Phu Quoc and a quiet beach.

Oh, and a lizard accompanied me while I showered.

Thanks for reading!


March 13, 2015

Pigeons, an Island Paradise, and Eggs on a Bike

Tonight I bunk with some young Japanese travelers, and having seen Cambodians and Vietnamese before them, the differences become more obvious. I'd probably still confuse one out of every two, even in a multiple-choice, but Cambodians are definitely different than Vietnamese, and the Japanese I'm looking at now are different yet again.

What's more, the language throws me off in a really weird way. They're jabbering away in Japanese, and I'm used to Vietnamese and (to a degree) Cambodian. Japanese, weirdly enough, actually sounds sort of normal. Almost English. I really don't get it, but the contrast doubtless has something to do with the perspective I have now. I can't adequately explain it, but, being the writer, I can start a new paragraph and talk about something else entirely and you can do nothing about it.

You thought I avoided tuk tuk drivers this morning? YOU WERE WRONG.
So this morning, I went out to the river bank to take photos of the sunrise and the pigeons. Again. I got a lot more photos this time, because I'd had the night to charge up two of my three batteries. A number of the photos from this morning should be included in this post. I felt a little bad when I was scaring a hundred pigeons away from the food strewn on the ground for them just then.

I've mentioned that I wanted to go to a beach and just sit around for a while in a couple posts, and I posted to reddit just this afternoon to see if I could get any ideas for places to go.

Someone responded rather quickly, referencing a place he'd visited about five years ago in Vietnam. It's an island actually closer to Cambodia than Vietnam, but part of Vietnam. Anyway, he'd visited a place there near the beach where the prices ranged from $12 to $18 per night, and were adjacent the beach. I asked for further information, and he produced a fairly exact location. My plan is to go there and hopefully find the place I'm looking for. I should find backup plans, but I really hope I can find this place.

 The bus on the way over here was terrifying. I'm not kidding; the buses I've taken before have been on better roads...and occasionally in the morning. The roads we ended up taking between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap were bumpy, dusty, and dark. Thus, visibility is terrible without brights, and with brights, you're a hazard to all other drivers. The more light you're shedding on the night, the less they can see where they're going.

So take typical Southeast Asian driving (which usually just means driving anything and everything like it's a motorcycle), put it in the dark, on a bumpy road, with bikes, motorcycles, tuk tuks, trucks, buses, and construction. Do you get the picture now? I might not have been in as much danger as I thought, but it was scary sometimes. And it turns out you can get between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap by boat. Boats go on water, which doesn't have bumps. Ok, it has bumps, but a giant barge warding off waves is far more stable than a bus going over the highways I just went over. I think I'll probably book a boat on my way south, for variety's sake, if nothing else.

I called home just outside the hostel. It worked fairly well, on both mobile data and on Wi-Fi. We talked a bit about what I'd been up to, and what was going on, and then I took a tuk tuk to the bus station. I'd sort of been unwilling to take tuk tuks since a day or two ago, when I'd been charged $5 for a ride of less than two kilometers. I tried to bargain him down to $4, and it was probably worth $2 or $3, but I ended up paying $5. Thus, I was sort of sour and just walked around for a day or two.

My hostel for the night was an absurdly cheap $2 per night. I decided to take three nights, and so far, I don't have reason to regret it. The bed is soft, there's soap and toilet paper, and Angkor Wat is a (slightly long) walk away from the hostel. I kind of need to finish this blog post if I want to get there early tomorrow morning...anyway.

The Japanese people bunking with me tonight are actually fairly good with English, and I explained to them where I've been so far in Vietnam and Cambodia, and I think they actually knew the name of my home state. I guess I think this because I've heard one Asian race or another to be especially fond of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that might be the Koreans.

They seemed very interested in where I'd been, and when I mentioned the places I'd loved, they seemed enamored for my joy. It's kind of a wonderful thing, sharing joy.

Being that my birthday didn't actually happen until morning on the 13th (time zones, yo), I decided to buy a smoothie thing on the street, mixing pineapple and banana yet again. I think she went a little light on the pineapple, but it was still delicious, and it was priced very well (maybe 20 oz for a dollar). I walked back to the hostel, and had enough left over to drink with my breakfast.

It's not uncommon in Vietnam and Cambodia to see motorcycle taxi drivers laying on their motorcycles. I guess this guy is getting some early-life practice.

This is a mobile mobile shop. That is, you can buy mobile phones, and it's capable of moving.

If it doesn't fit on a motorcycle, you can tow it with a motorcycle. If you can't tow it with a motorcycle, put it on a trailer and tow that. If you can't tow it with a motorcycle, I guess you'd better put it in a truck, stacked two stories high with a couple pals on top.

One thing I once saw on a motorcycle in Vietnam was a large quantity of eggs. They were in the 2 1/2 dozen egg cardboard carriers, but there were probably a dozen of them lashed together on the back of a motorcycle. Will they crack if he goes over a pothole deep enough?

I also saw a motorcycle with a cage full of chicks, and I wouldn't be surprised if Vietnamese frequently put cages of full-grown chickens on their motorcycles, too. The circle of life.

Anyway, I really do want to get up early tomorrow, catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, and have some breakfast. Did I mention my $2 accommodation comes with free breakfast?

Livin' the dream, baby.


March 12, 2015

I Don't Know About You, But I'm Feelin' Twenty-Two

Today was a good day, despite being largely alone in a foreign country on my birthday. It's okay, really. I had some ice cream, which I've heard is almost as good as human company. Sometimes better.

Anyway, I was pretty tried from last night, and hadn't really slept very well at all, so I ended up staying in bed possibly until noon, and then finally left because the cleaning crew was coming through. I'm finding it very hard to keep active and actually do things while I'm here...and I've yet to find a place where I actually want to just sit around and feel the breeze, read a book, and maybe sleep in the shade or something.

If sometime I find a bungalow on a beach or something (Sihanookville?), I might stay there for...I hate to say a week when I've got just a bit over three left, but I'd like to relax that long. Maybe I could finish Crime and Punishment. And not blog for a whole week.

It's kind of an accomplishment, finding yourself blogging so constantly that you just want a break. Not a break given to you simply for your laziness and thus lack of content, but a proper break...

And all this in the context of a two-month vacation in Southeast Asia, which has been, in general, either slightly chilly (which comes to just fine for a Minnesotan such as myself) or rather hot. In other words, pretty spectacular vacationing weather. Beaches? Go. Eating ice cream? Great idea!

But that's part of why I went on this whole thing; for a chance to relax and be absurdly lazy for a week or so. I think at some point I'd get some idea for photography, and it'd be more exciting and energizing for the lethargy surrounding it. I guess.

Anyway, when I got out of the hostel this afternoon, I had no idea where I wanted to go. I looked at my phone and decided to check ou tthe Royal Palace and Wat Ounalom, a temple near the river. I took a few photos there, but I wasn't sure if entering into the temple was one of those occasions they prefer you remove your shoes for. It's pretty typical, here in Southeast Asia, for shoes to be left at the doorstep, even of houses. I guess the logic behind this could be that even your house acts as a temple (Hung might know a few things about this), which is an idea almost translatable to Christianity.

I wandered around, lost my way a bit, but finally found about a thousand pigeons on a lawn. There were the occasional child or old lady trying to sell corn to tourists, but I would not budge. A young fellow followed me around for a good few minutes trying to get me to buy his stuff, even using one of the small bags up to attract the pigeons, but I remained stoic.

I managed to take some good photos of the pigeons, stationary and sometimes flying, which was quite satisfying. The afternoon sunlight allowed me to keep my shutter speed very high, and thus freeze the fast-moving birds in the frame. I'm having ideas of what to do in darker situations even now, but I don't know if the pigeons are out on the lawn after the sun goes down.

One thing that was particularly fun was dramatically taking off my hat while close to a large crowd of pigeons. Without fail, the nearest hundred or so pigeons would flutter into the air and find safer pastures.

I'm just too stylish for the suckers.

Unfortunately, I'd been a bit overconfident in my batteries' state, thinking at least one of them was still mostly charged. My battery died, preventing me from taking spectacular shots of the nearby palace (and maybe some more pigeons) while the sun set. I headed back to the hostel, took a shower, and charged up a couple batteries partially before heading back out for supper.

I wanted to do something sort of special, at least for the desert part of today's last meal, so after I ate at yet another restaurant helping impoverished street children gain skills and knowledge for a better life...I headed back into town, checking out the restaurants' dessert menus as I went. Unfortunately, I wasn't really impressed. A quality banana pancake would have sufficed, but being that it was so hot, I eventually settled for a homemade ice cream parlour rather close to the hostel.

Toto is its name, and most of the flavors are completely unfamiliar to me, so when I tasted five of the flavors, I felt a little bit less like a jerk for trying them out. I settled eventually on blueberry muffin-ish one, and one called M & M, which was actually made out of fresh cream and then M & Ms were sparsely placed on top. The M & M was the better of the two, but I enjoyed the lot regardless. The staff there were very welcoming and kind, and the price for two (medium-ish) scoops was $2.40.

I headed back for the night, and called it an okay birthday. I hope I'll be able to Hangout with my family tomorrow morning, but I'm also hoping to take advantage of the sunset on the lawn in front of the palace.

I don't think I've ever been in the same country with a legitimate, honest-to-goodness palace before. Didn't give much thought to it at the time, but that's pretty heavy.

I'm well...perhaps a bit over full, and I have yet to show signs of food poisoning. Thanks for reading and praying. Good night!


March 11, 2015

Food, Faces, and a Blind Woman's Hands

Today, I didn't have much touristing to do; I had decided to leave for Siem Reap pretty soon, and needed to refill my data account. If you simply buy a SIM and put $5 on it, it remains in a balance pool which I believe you can use for anything, but at far worse rates than if you set it up properly. So I went to the market this morning, found an actual Smart store (a bit like a T-mobile store, except much more convenient), bought five dollars' credit, and activated it on my account. The attendant ended up doing it for me, as I was in a bit of a hurry. In several minutes, my data reactivated and I was on my way.

One of the wats (temples, I believe) nearby had this clock on the lawn in front of it. I'd expected something much more out in the open and everything, but it ended up being a rather tree-filled, which restricted the angles I could take photos from a distance. I ended up getting up closer before taking many shots.

The design of this wat in particular illustrates the gradual transition from far-eastern aesthetics and design to more Indian and even Middle-Eastern. The market above reminds me somewhat of both the Grand Bazaar (which I've seen only in a video game) and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It's a bit of a far relation, but I really appreciate the sort of connectedness of all the style and architecture of the world. The difference between Vietnam and Cambodia is somewhat subtle, but if you pay attention, it's both intriguing and obvious the differences between them.

A cat was licking either his wounds, or his butt. I don't know which. I think he was purring, but he might have been irritated how close I got my camera to him when I took this shot.

After visiting the wat above, I found my way to the Mekong Express station here in Phnom Penh, where I bought a ticket to Siem Reap for $13 on the 13th. There were tickets available elsewhere for $8, but probably not with Mekong, so I went to them and I'll doubtless be satisfied with my purchase.

After I bough the bus ticket, I walked around, trying to find the Seeing Hands Massage center. This organization trains blind people with little or no chance of another profession (at least in this country) in massage therapy. The proceeds of my session go to their business, which furthers the lives of the blind men and women working there.

I wasn't wildly impressed with the massage I received there; perhaps my expectations were high, or perhaps I don't know what a good massage is, but it was a very heavy massage (despite the fact that my masseuse was a woman).

I paid $7 for the hour, and if nothing else, my body feels sort of shaken up. I'd like to try a massage back home to see if I enjoy it more, or it feels better afterwards, or something. It wasn't something good enough to do over at the same place again...but what do I know about how my body's supposed to feel?

One very interesting subject for photography is the sparks created when welding. I really wanted to get closer (a few feet or less) but that wouldn't be particularly safe, and the fellow probably would have stopped me. It's not uncommon to see Vietnamese or Cambodians welding without hand or eye protection.

I don't know exactly what the purpose of this display is, but I guess it's probably advertising the skills of a mechanic. The fellow behind the display would probably be said mechanic.

This is how you buy gasoline in Vietnam. Most people ride motorcycles, and there aren't really that many gas stations around, but every other block (or less), there's someone with a stall, selling normal tourist things, food, or something else, with liter bottles of gasoline on the side. I think the price is better than at the gas station, but I wouldn't know if the quality is better or worse, or if that's a proper liter...but this is how people refill their motorcycles at least some of the time here in Cambodia.

Case in point; it's somewhat full-service, actually; the attendant of the stall will just grab a bottle and a funnel, you open up the seat, and he starts pouring it in. Money is exchanged, and you're on your way.

Tuk tuks are everywhere. I sort of attempted to make it seem like these guys were racing, but they actually weren't.

Before I went home tonight, I went to a rather expensive restaurant near the river, which you can also see in the above picture. I ended up getting some sushi, a bit of some sort of raw fish on the side, a salad, some other sea-creature or plant, and a steak, served raw, which I then was tasked to cooking on a stone delivered to my table very hot. I had no idea what I was doing, so I basically tried to sear all six sides of the cut; I don't know if the meat was intended to stick to the stone, but that's not really my problem. My problem is eating (I presume) a rare steak for the first time.

I was unfortunately too worried about the possibility of getting food poisoning to really think about the taste much. I think it was good, but then again, I'm no meat freak. I'll have to go out with a certain young fellow back home to be educated in the ways of the steak.

I intentionally brought only a prime lens with me to take shots like this. The subject-background separation is much better with a wide aperture like that of my Sigma lens. Exposing the shots properly with such a wide aperture, though, is a little difficult in such bright settings.

I got a little brave and asked this couple for their photo less than a minute later. It turned out well.

Continuing down the road, this fellow was helping someone exit their parking space, and my initial shot wasn't particularly interesting. This one was a bit better.

Friends nearby wanted their photo taken too, so I obliged. I enjoy this part of photography a ton, as people are eager to have their photos taken. A lot of the time back home people are very unwilling, which really grinds my gears. These experiences are somewhat heartening by comparison.

All in all, today has been good. I remain well, despite the sushi, raw fish, and rare steak. I'll be heading to Siem Reap on the 13th, and...tomorrow is my birthday.

I haven't planned anything very impressive, and to be honest, today I went into the red a bit with my budget. I'll have to figure out somewhere to get a cake for cheap. It's possible that someone's waiting to surprise me here given the scanned my passport, but I'm pretty accustomed to people giving my birthday no more attention than my unassuming admission allows. Today was a bit of a splurge day, though. Maybe I won't treat myself tomorrow. We'll see.


March 09, 2015

Mass Murder, the Human Spirit, and Deep Fried Frogs

I wrote yesterday's post just now as well, if you haven't read it, you can do so here.
Warning: I've included images of the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge and a couple shots of the remians.

Today was one of the best-spent days I've had during my journey thusfar. For this reason, this post will most likely be long.  I'll start by saying I didn't really know what I was going to do today, or even what I was getting into once I did know what I wanted to do. But naturally, I have to start at the beginning.

(The album included below includes 45 photos from yesterday and today. Some of them are also inline throughout the text. You can also view the album here.)

Today started out well mostly because the Sla Boutique Hostel provides breakfast. That breakfast is somewhat simple; by choice, you were offered two eggs of three types; hard boiled, easy fried eggs, or scrambled. On the side, two pieces of white bread. For my first breakfast, I ordered a scrambled and a fried. I would be ecstatic if they offered a more complete breakfast, even if it cost me. But the price they ask for the room is pretty low, so I'm happy to have breakfast at all. It was a delicious change (this is another reason I feel Cambodia is more western than Vietnam; that said, this is but one place offering simple eggs and toast for breakfast.

After breakfast and a little dilly-dally, I got ready to go out and see things. I really didn't know what I was doing at all. I'd researched the sights in Phnom Penh a little, but I had no plan at all. It's not admirable, either, I think, to be so uncoordinated and spastic as I am. I end up playing games far more of the free time I get than researching or reading. I haven't even touched Tintin in a while.

But today was time for a history lesson, and because my tuk tuk driver suggested it, I chose to go and see the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. I unfortunately wouldn't remember their Cambodian names very well, but what I saw there won't be forgotten.

Our first stop was about twenty kilometers south of the city; when I arrived and went in, they charged me five or seven dollars (can't remember which), they handed me an English version of a sort of guide audiobook thing, and I started walking. The audio was long enough that I had time to sit down a number of times. The narration told of the things that happened at Choeung Ek.

The process of what was done here is probably fairly familiar, as dictators and psychopaths have been doing these things for centuries. This case is unique, however, in that (at least from what learned today) there was so little different between those killed and those killing. The dividing line was drawn rather arbitrarily, which is probably true of more genocides than this.

Pol Pot was a Cambodian with an idea of a new world. He wanted to make Cambodia into a socialist utopia, where all were treated equally and everyone had everything they needed. Perhaps at a time the people were enamored of this idea, but as time progressed, he and his soldiers would arrest more and more citizens simply for having things or having money. Being a socialist, Pol Pot chose to outlaw both money and personal possessions, which he thought justified the arrest of anyone with anything that belonged to them.

I listened to the one audio guide, and before today, didn't even know who Pol Pot was, so don't quote me if you can help it. There's plenty of thorough and accurate research and writing on this genocide.

A Buddhist stupa stands tall in a field away from the dusty graves. It houses the skulls and bones of the victims who have been unearthed since the genocide.

Far sadder, though, is a tree earlier on in the tour. On this tree today are mounted hundreds of bracelets (or I think they're bracelets) to commemorate the children and infants whose heads were bashed against the tree.

Later on, as I walked the halls and rooms of the prison back in Phnom Penh, there was a painting depicting the kind of cruelty practiced by those loyal to Pol Pot. It was supposedly rare for the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot's regime) to use bullets to kill their enemies, as they were expensive, but apparently in some cases they chose to do so anyway.

There was another tree in the killing fields, a palm of some sort, which looked innocent enough and normal enough, but unfortunately had jagged-edged growths which served, in the time of the Khmer Rouge, to cut the throats of the prisoners. As cutting the throat prevents you from crying out, it was an effective way to kill a batch of prisoners without the rest realizing their fate for certain. This is another example of how they used tools and blunt instruments instead of bullets.

To say they didn't know thye were going to die, though, would be incorrect; they were fearful for their lives. The soldiers lied to them, naturally, but few fools ushered into trucks together by soldiers wouldn't at least guess their lives might end soon.

In the Museum were hundreds of photos of Cambodians imprisoned and/or killed during the Khmer Rouge. It struck me that there was someone with my same interest, photography, who spent his time documenting the faces of those to be imprisoned, mistreated, and even killed. It strikes me as odd that murderers would document their murder, but I suppose if a murderer thinks he does justice, he would make a record of his work. Whether this is the truth of the matter or not, I do not know.

Some Cambodians chose to join the Khmer Rouge, others refused and never knew the crimes they were accused of. The stories and faces of a couple of them are included in the album.

I didn't realize what I was looking at when I first saw this, but a picture I saw later cleared it up for me. This ammo box is located inside one of the prison cells. On the top is written "Case For Excrement." The treatment for prisoners was such that you would be required to urinate into gas cans, and defecate into these ammo boxes. These were included in at least some of the cells, along with chains and shackles.

If you ever visit Cambodia, I recommend you visit both of these places. This is a very dark time in history, and it serves us well to know the horrors in our past, such that they may be averted in the future.

After I returned to the hostel, I went out for some Cambodian street food. It's still roughly as cheap as Vietnamese street food (thankfully), but instead of pork and rice or some such thing, I ate a trio of deep fried frogs. They tasted largely like chicken, to this pathetic tongue's best estimation, and I enjoyed them. I'll be curious to see if this causes my stomach any problems, but I think it should not.

I am well; the visits to the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum were sobering. I find Cambodia interchangeably easier and harder to navigate than Vietnam, and apparently there's some reason to fear pick-pockets and robbers. I'll be careful. You can pray for me. Thanks for reading.


Cleanliness, Breakfast, and Tuk Tuks

Today's going to be hard to write, because there's so much to say. Also, I'm including an album of photos in the next post to let yo usee more of what I've seen today.

Heck, I have to start yesterday, when I arrived here. Two posts. Yesterday and today.

So the bus was cool, but it wasn't a sleeping bus, which I quickly realized wasn't the best thing ever. I'd imagined for a while that a sitting bus would be far better than the sleeping ones, comfort-wise, but I was wrong. This isn't a critique of Mekong Express, as their service and bus remind me somewhat of a certain Singapore Airlines.

The bus attendant (who was pretty well-dressed) has a brother here in Phnom Penh who drives a tuk tuk, and he recommended I meet up with him when I got off the bus. I was confused, initially, which one was his brother, as taxis, motorcycles, and tuk tuks have a habit of showing up wherever buses are going to stop. I ended up in his tuk tuk, and went off to the hostel I'd booked for the night on the ride over.

The hostel I booked is excellent in almost all respects. My first and foremost preference with a night's stay is to have free breakfast. The Sla Boutique Hostel and Restaurant does this. Beyond this, however, the facility is just really nice. It's modern and stylish, has good beds, ample power outlets near the's a backpacker's dream at just under $10 a night.

But...the WiFi. It's sad, but I have to complain. The access point in the lobby works great (most of the time), but the rest of the routers (of which there are several) I have never been able to connect to. Part of me would really like to fix the whole problem for them by myself, but...I'm on vacation.

I should tell you more about motorcycles in Southeast Asia. Oddly enough, Cambodia seems to have less than Vietnam. It's kind of annoying, as the space is occupied instead by cars, trucks, and buses. There's probably half of Cambodia's traffic on motorcycles, but the rest is in a car, truck, or long-distance bus. Oh. And tuk tuks. Yes.

Motorcycles, though. The prevailing attitude among Cambodians and Vietnamese seems to be that they can be used to transport anything. Also, when you happen to be driving something other than a motorcycle, you drive it pretty much the same way. You pass anyone and everything you desire, honk your heart out, and obey just as many rules as you want.

Also, beyond simply putting whatever you want on the back of a motorcycle, quite often the women ride side-saddle on the backs of the motorcycles. It's probably not that rare around the world, but perhaps one in ten female passengers rides like this. I've gotten comfortable riding on the back of motorcycles, but this would be a bit crazier, in my mind.

I should say, though, that Cambodia seems a bit more civilized. I guess that's a broad claim and I've been here one day, and I've seen little more than Phnom Penh...but the traffic is different. It seems like they obey traffic lights more frequently, they aren't quite as insane when it comes to weaving motorcycles into as compact a pack as possible at intersections...

Also, they accept dollars about as much as they do their own riel.

Another thing I noticed as I passed from Vietnam to Cambodia was that their architecture and design was slightly more...Indian-ish. I don't really know how to describe it, but everything looks fancy in a slightly more Eastern way, as opposed to far-eastern. I think "more Indian-ish" is actually the best way to describe it that I can muster.

Thanks for reading. Next post is for's gonna be a doozy.


March 07, 2015

As Ice Cream Drips

So today in Saigon, I decided to move on to Cambodia. I left the homestay somewhat late this afternoon, went to downtown-area, and at the first travel agency I could find, I booked a ticket with Mekong Express to Phnom Penh.

"Why Mekong Express?" you might ask. Well, because someone on the internet said it was good.

I think I need not explain more.

Anyway, so I'm here again at a Baskin Robbins in Ho Chi Minh City again. There seem to be an extraordinary number of these places here; I searched on Google and I think there were ten results, and tonight I'm eating at one which doesn't even show up in those results.

Soo...I'm eating enough ice cream for two people. By myself. In Saigon. Before heading to Phnom Penh.

Oh, and I'm staying one more night in Saigon, as my bus leaves tomorrow afternoon. I don't want to speak badly of my previous host, as he was kind and helpful, and would doubtless have continued to be a great host to me if I'd stayed longer, but I really need to keep moving, keep close to where I want to see things, and his place unfortunately wasn't close to the majority of the interesting things in Saigon. It took a 30-60 minute bus ride to get to the city center, at which point you could get to most of the places by foot pretty easily. I'm now staying basically in the city center, at about double the price...but that's not really the point. I'm heading out tomorrow at 1 PM.

My ice cream continues to melt as I type, but it gives me motivation to type fast, and the cool of the ice cream shop and the ice cream itself hurries me on. I got Gold Medal Ribbon again tonight, as well as mint chocolate chip and strawberry cheese cake.

Story time: I met this guy today, who I hopefully will meet again on my way back through Vietnam. I hope I'll have plenty of time/money to dedicate to traveling with him as my guide. He had the ingenious idea sometime in the last several years to have his customers write down their experience and unless he left out the bad ones, I'm eager to have him guide me at least through some of southern Vietnam on my way back. He seems like a great guy, and I'd love to see the things he offers to show.

There's one of those capsule hotels here in Saigon, which I considered (although the capsules didn't look all that attractive, despite their $7 price), but did not ultimately choose. I searched on TripAdvisor for a bit for a hotel to stay the night at, turned up empty at a couple places, a few others I decided to turn down because of the price, and then I ended up going to a similar place, whose real-world price was higher by several dollars than that shown online.

This seems to be a trend, at least in my experience; I'll see a good or great price online, and going to the place in person will get me a few dollars markup on that price. To me, this makes absolutely no sense. Are there things offered to walk-in customers which aren't offered to online bookers? I don't know. Anna's Hotel charged me noticably more than TripAdvisor's options offered. Airbnb, though, has only gotten me worse prices because of their fees; that said, I haven't tried emailing the host separately from Airbnb and asking for a price, so I don't know if that'd be better or worse.

I've read up a little on how to wash clothes by hand and I'll probably try it within the next week or so. It seems easy enough, and hopefully it'll work well and my clothes can dry overnight. Maybe when I get good enough, I'll just wash my clothes at the same time as I take my shower and never really have dirty clothes. I hope I can manage that.

If you were to travel to Vietnam in the next few months or within the next year, my recommendation would be to get a motorcycle license both in your state and for international riding. There are a couple other things I've thought of previously, but they completely escape me right now.

I don't think I've mentioned this before, and it's kind of funny, so here goes. While I was in Hoi An, every now and then, as I was walking or biking places, I'd hear this sound, which most closely resembles the ice cream trucks that run around Minneapolis back home. The tunes aren't the tunes we hear at home, maybe they're based on more familiar Vietnamese music or something.

What's making music and going down the street in Hoi An? A garbage truck. Yep, that's how they do it. At home we basically have our garbage/recycling out at a given time, and it's taken whenever the truck comes by.

In Vietnam (or at least in Hoi An), the trucks drive around town playing music, and those tasked with taking out the garbage (I saw a few young Vietnamese kids holding garbage bags on the street as I was biking by once) stand with garbage next to the curb. The truck drives by and picks everything up.

On the back of the truck, which is slightly smaller than back home, but shaped largely the same, there are two or three, maybe four guys, all of whom are working to sort all the things they pick up.

And that, my friends, is how garbage works in Hoi An.

Just realized something. In much the same way that I think women and girls ought to take initiative in relationships and show their interest clearly, with words, because it's hard, I and other foreigners really ought to try to speak Vietnamese, not necessarily because we intend to gain any level of fluency, but because then we're both trying, and it's hard for both of us. It's difficult for them to speak English (even those with pretty good fluency have pretty bad accents), and it's difficult for me to speak Vietnamese. I could say how and why it's so difficult, but the same is true of English. It's foreign and unfamiliar and different, and even pronouncing simple words can seem as difficult as growing a new limb.

The fact is that they'll only get better if they practice, but how much would you practice if it seemed like you only failed? Probably not a whole lot. The amount of determination the Vietnamese have to learn English is impressive...or at least the evidence of said determination is impressive.

I am well, my stay at Quang's place was too short and not as happy as it could have been, and Saigon will hopefully be a return visit, like so many places before it. I wonder if I should return to the places I've seen and loved or go on to places I have neither seen nor loved yet, if for nothing but the possibility of loving them. It'd be sad not to see Anna and Hung again, as well as all the others I've seen on this trip. I would justify not seeing them again by saying I might never again, but it does no good to give up before I've even tried.

That said, I may or may not return to Vietnam. This not because it hasn't been fun (it's enormously fun and worth it), but rather because I hope to see somewhere else, maybe even make a living out of travel and teaching English.

Tomorrow I head out to Cambodia. With any luck, I'll have pictures of Angkor Wat and myself firing an RPG (separate locations, fortunately) within the week. Thanks for reading!

Edit: After I left Baskin Robbins tonight, I was offered marijuana again. Classy, Saigon.