Sunday, 31 July 2011

Battambang, Killing Caves, 19 April 2011

It's early morning and yet again I'm holding on tight to the frame either side of the tuk-tuk as the driver swings the vehicle around the corners in a mad dash to the bus station. The air is fresh as result of the electrical storm earlier in the morning that woke us up from our sleep. I personally thought it was someone trying to break in and as the room had no windows I couldn't see outside. Then the rain started and got heavier and heavier until the streets were flowing like a shallow stream and the roof was banging like a steel pan. Tom didn't wake, but Nicky and I left our prison cell like room and found a window to watch the storm through. It was big. The lightning strikes lit up the sky all around and an eerie atmosphere descended and hovered above Phnom Penh for well over an hour. Of course, we didn't watch the whole show as I had to get up and get into this tuk-tuk early to catch my bus to Battambang in Western Cambodia.

The horns began blowing as we neared the bus terminal in the heart of the city. It's now just after eight o'clock and the busy morning commute to the markets are in full swing. It's a completely different Phnom Penh to the one I arrived in. A few days ago the city was deserted as the majority of the population had left to spend the new year holiday with their families. The bus station is tiny and resembles more of a small roadside petrol station, buses squeeze in wherever they can and a constant movement of people avoiding arriving and departing buses. My driver called out to a man and asked him to show me where my bus was. I climbed out of the tuk-tuk and before I got a chance to say thank you and goodbye, he was gone, back into the early morning madness and on his way back to hostel.

I checked my watch and it told me that I had twenty minutes until my bus was scheduled to depart, and of scheduled doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to leave at that time in Asia. I walked around the tiny bus station to have entertain myself, it was chaos but strangely organised, people shouting, running and moving boxes of goods from one side of the forecourt to the other. An engine fired up and with that, my gaze located the source and I was shocked to see my intended bus pull out of the space and onto the road. I ran after it and asked a man in a hurried voice, “Battambang? BATTAMBANG!!??”. He looked back at me unconcerned and told me to wait. Wait? What does he mean, wait!? My bus is leaving!!! As soon as these thoughts processed through my brain, the bus slammed into reverse and headed straight for me. I was relieved to see the bus coming back, but concerned that the bus was on a collision course with me and the group of people standing behind me. A man came over and waved his hands signalling for us to move out of the way. People were gathering all their belongings, some taking two or three trips to collect it all.

The bus miraculously reversed through some unthinkable tight squeezes and finally came to rest between a bus and the bus 'terminal'. I hung back for a while and watched on as a flock of locals encroached on the bus and crammed all their belongings in the luggage compartments. Finally, people began to move onto the bus and so I took my cue and approached the bus and a man who looked as though he worked for the bus company. I pointed at my bag and then the luggage compartment, to which the man shook his head and pointed inside the bus. Tentatively, I walked away and onto the bus being careful not to hit anyone with my bag as I negotiated the narrow aisle to my allocated seat towards the back of the bus, by the window, on the left. I tried to push my bag onto the luggage shelf above but my bag was far too wide, so I placed it under my seat. It was either that, or in the aisle where everybody would walk over it.

I was pleased to sit by the window as I was in charge of the curtain. Asians have the habit of closing all the curtains on buses denying you of seeing the outside world. This was a small victory, I was the boss of the view, I wanted to see Cambodia and the land passing by my window, that's why I travel! As I stared out of the window onto the bustling crowd buzzing around the bus, I felt the seat jerk, a youngish Cambodian man sat himself down next to me. Ha Ha! I thought, the window is mine!

The journey was simple and painless, it took six hours and most of that, I slept. Every now and again I would wake up, turn on my eBook reader and continue reading First They Killed My Father until falling asleep again. I was enticed by the book, it had me captivated, unable to believe what horror people were subjected to during 1975-79. Loung Ung was only five years old when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized power and forced her family out of Phnom Penh and into the country side where they changed their identities and pretended to be peasants. If their true identities were discovered, they would be killed with no questions. By 1978, two of her siblings and both parents had been killed. Before her mothers death, Loung and her siblings were forced to disappear, separate from each other and create new identities as the Khmer Rouge would kill them too. Despite her parents wishes for them to separate, Loung and her sister stayed together and were forced to become child soldiers. At every step of the tragic story, your heart sinks deeper and deeper. Tears well up in your eyes as her family are subjected to starvation, torture and ultimately death. It is important to remember that Loung Ung's story is only one of seven million tortured Cambodian soles that suffered throughout this devastating period and are still suffering today. She was one of the lucky ones to have escaped to Thailand by boat where she stayed briefly with her brother until they got adopted by a family in Vermont, USA. If you get a chance, read the book as my words cannot do it justice. Loung Ung's website,, provides you with full details of her work and what you can do to help Cambodia.

The bus jolted sharply and woke me up again. We were approaching a city and looking down at my watch, I figured that it was about time we got to Battambang. Outside the window, colonial stylised buildings passed by and a feeling of excitement swept through me as it usually does when I arrive in a new place, especially if it's a place less touristy. Damn! As the bus slowed, I spotted one of my hates. I grabbed my bags and grudgingly made my way down the front of the bus, I took a big intake of air into my lungs in preparation for the impending onslaught of touts with clipboards in their hands...“My friend, my friend, where you stay?”...“Tuk-Tuk my friend?”... I put on my blinkers and politely walked past them, until one caught my eye who was holding an advertisement for Chhaya Hotel. “You're my man!”, I proclaimed to the stunned faced Cambodian. You could see he was taken aback by my forwardness and it took him a few seconds to process it. Eventually he came to terms with his luck and beaconed my towards his tuk-tuk. A few seconds later we were storming through the streets of a the second largest Cambodian city that is home to 250,000 people.

Lush, green Battambang
The tuk-tuk journey only took a couple of minutes and we soon pulled into the hotel's tiny parking area outside the rear. I had no idea what I would have done if I didn't find that tuk-tuk driver as I had no map of Battambang and I had no idea what address the hotel was. Usually it wouldn't be an issue as I normally just turn up and see what's available but this time I needed to find the Chhaya as I was heading to meet Kate who travelled up there before me on the night bus.

The tuk-tuk driver initiated his sales pitch as soon as I jumped off. It was inevitable. They always do, it's just a question of when. “You can do this or that and you can do it now.” Trying to remain polite, I refuse his offer and continue on to the reception desk in hope for a vacant room. The man behind reception was a person not to waste any words. Yes, no, OK, money. These four words in his vocabulary seemed to allow him to run a hotel. Having failed to summon a slight whiff of a conversation with the man, I turned around a began the ascent to the second floor where my room was supposed to be. I opened the door to find a triangular shaped room with a queen sized bed squeezed in under the window. At the end of the bed was a TV and a door through to the shower and toilet. I immediately grabbed my wash bag from my rucksack and submerged myself under the ice cool water that spurted erratically out of the shower head.

Lookout over Battambang Province
Feeling refreshed and having reunited with Kate whose room was directly above mine, we were sitting back in the tuk-tuk heading out of Battambang and towards the killing caves about 15km away from the centre. The road was dusty and stung the eyes without sunglasses and I was thankful when we pulled off the main road and onto a smaller dirtier track between an outcrop and a modern temple lined with a few shacks selling drinks and snacks. The driver pulled up next to one of these shacks and a young man greeted us. His clothes were quite scruffy but he spoke very good English and offered to be our guide for a few dollars. My defensive system immediately switched on as has become usual when people approach me and money is involved. But Kate and I conferred and decided that it wasn't that much money and it would be nice to have someone show us around and tell us something about the caves.

Entrance down into the cave, now a Buddhist sanctuary
After paying the police an entrance fee, we began walking up the slope that led up the side of the massive rock outcrop. It was around 4pm already, yet the heat was relentless and slight exertion resulted in me loosing two litres of fluid almost immediately. I had become used to it and had got into the habit of carrying around a two litre bottle of water, finishing it off within an hour and magically not needing to go to the toilet. We climbed the slope whilst chatting to our guide who was a student at university but who came back to Battambang to see his family over new year and earn enough money to pay his next set of fees. He was a nice chap, who was had a very soft and considerate voice. A small temple stood at the end of the ascent where a few monks were sitting around talking and guarding their collection boxes. The view from the temple was amazing. Looking out over the flat land of Battambang province which stretched out for miles only interrupted by a few rock outcrops. After taking in the view, we continued our walk towards the caves.

At the bottom of the cave
The caves were used by the Khmer Rouge to murder and dispose of individuals that were a threat to Pol Pot's regime. Hundreds of people died in these deep caves, some were lucky enough to be killed quickly by the strike of a spade or the impact at the bottom, others were unfortunate enough to survive both and died slowly from starvation or suffocation as the new bodies piled on top. Another cave nearby was to kill children, babies and mothers. If a woman was pregnant, they pinned her against the wall, sliced her open and took the baby foetus out. They would then throw the baby down the cave and behead the mother. They would torture people until they died by removing their organs and behead children. As you descend into the caves, you can feel the air is dead and unpleasant. It has been cleaned up by the Buddhist monks who removed most of the remains and placed them in storage elsewhere. There is still a cage of skulls and bones remaining as a reminder to all those that brutally lost their lives for nothing. There is a series of trials going on in Phnom Penh at the moment with some of the senior Khmer Rouge members but I asked our guide what about those people who carried out the killing, the people who were lower down in the chain of command, where are they? What is being done about brining those to justice? The response was upsetting, he told me that there is no way of knowing who those people were as they all wore the trademark Khmer Rouge black clothing and wore masks to cover their faces. Some have disappeared abroad, yet some remain in Cambodia and live a normal life amongst the innocent victims of their torturous reign. It's horrible to think about it as these people didn't 'just do their job', they enjoyed what they were doing and tortured people for entertainment. It's not just here and Phnom Penh that it happened, it happened across Cambodia and killed 1.7 million people out of a population of only 7 million.

The Bat Cave
Going down a hill is always easier than going up and this hill was of no exception, although instead of taking the long road round, we took a set of stairs that weaved down to the beginning. At the bottom our guide told us about another cave here, the Bat Cave. The cave was in the same outcrop and was just a little further down the track where thousands upon thousands of bats live and at dusk leave and all head out to scavenge for food. It was getting towards dusk and our guide enthusiastically took us to a view point by the temple where we sat on the wall and waited for the first bat to leave for the night. As we waited listening to the bats squeaks we were joined by other tourists that were passing through and watched as truck loads of people in the back passed by on their way home. Suddenly a Cambodian man shouted “SNAKE SNAKE SNAKE!!!”. He was immediately accompanied by another man and they began to hit it with a stick and flicked it away. I'm not sure what kind of snake it was but it must have been of concern to them due to the way they reacted. After this entertainment was finished with, it was time for the main event. Bat time! A few bats flew out tentatively into the setting sun and then followed a massive exodus. Thousands of them turned a line in the sky black as they followed one another out and away from their cave. It was an amazing site to see, we watched on for five to ten minutes and the flow did not cease or wither.

Kate and our guide
Watching the bats leave was a nice relief to the torture of the caves. The sun was now deep into the horizon and our shadows were long on the ground so we walked back to our tuk-tuk driver, paid our guide with the socially obligatory tip and hopped aboard for our journey home. The stream of bats from the cave was still going strong and were heading in the same direction as us. As we were riding along the road back to Battambang quite peacefully, another tuk-tuk came up from behind us, beeped his horn and overtook us. Not wanting to be left behind in his smoke, our tuk-tuk drivers ego took over and his hand twisted the throttle hard and we slowly but surely gained speed. The other tuk-tuk was carrying two German tourists whom we had spoken to as we waited for the bats. We shook our fists in jest and let out a joyous cheer as we overtook them. Our chariot was of no match to theirs however and they overtook us again. The three of us were in stitches of laughter by that point and did not catch up with them again. We dubbed our driver James Bond and his tuk-tuk the 007 Tuk.

Literally, truck load of people...
We arrived back at our hotel safely, paid the driver, shook his hand and disappeared to get some food. The sun had now disappeared and so we found a restaurant next door to our hotel where we ordered some food and drink to end the long day.  As we were eating however, the electricity in the whole town went out. Darkness fell upon Battambang, a feeling I hadn't had since Cat Ba Island in Northern Vietnam. This would cause great commotion in the west, but here it's an everyday occurrence to them, they just turn the mood romantic with candles and everybody continues what they were doing.

Next Time; Siem Reap, Boat Trip and Blue Pumpkins

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Phnom Penh, S-21 and Killing Fields - 16-19 April 2011

It's early, yet the heat still oppresses my brain as I sit there eating my simple and overpriced breakfast that the manager had thrown in front of me during one of his 'moments'. The manager is British and moved to Cambodia several years ago, married and bought this hostel, although he's a nice enough chap, he has got one hell of a temperamental mood. If, heaven forbid, something didn't go his way the manager would throw a temper tantrum alike a three year old child. By mistake, an extra breakfast was produced and was only discovered once the manager had reached our table, he was livid at the poor girl in the kitchen and began to shout and say 'That's it, kitchen's closed. I've had enough, there's no more food...'. He even threatened to throw the girl out. Highly unacceptable behaviour in any work setting. Alan, acting as a UN peace keeping force, very kindly paid for the extra meal and equilibrium returned to the hostel once more.

Tom broke my new sun glasses!
The previous day we had arrived in a very quiet, almost dead Phnom Penh. It was Sunday and it was the Khmer New Year holiday so most people who have migrated to the capital to work had been allowed to return home to their families and celebrate their biggest festival of the year. The hostel was no different, we arrived to be greeted by the owner who had informed us that the majority of his staff had gone home for the holiday and we would have to forgive him for any delays in service as it was just him and another, I presumed to be his wife, looking after the place. On the bus, Alan, Nicky, Tom and I had met a Russian/Danish girl that went by the name of Ekaterina who was on a quick trip around South East Asia. We made friends quickly and as she didn't know where she was going to be staying on the first night, we invited her to stay with us. I had been the wise one and booked a room with air-conditioning. I know it was around a pound more expensive but there is a line where you decide having a decent, sweat-less night is far more desirable than having a little extra in the diminishing pot of gold. I can assure you that I was glad I did when I heard how the others slept in their heat filled room.

Nicky was still upstairs in bed as he wasn't feeling too well, Ekaterina had moved her stuff over to another hotel that she had booked with her friends and so that left, Tom, Alan and I to wonder the streets of Phnom Penh and discover what the city was all about. It took a lot of effort, and after putting it off and off, we finally pushed ourselves out of our seats and began walking away from the hostel. The sun seemed to be strong still despite it being past what is deemed to be the hottest part of the day. We struggled on, dodging the sun where we could and Tom was still suffering from his Sihanoukville sunburn. Finally, we decided enough was enough and retired in a small café, whose fans were strategically placed to cool the patrons down where we spent the remainder of the day drinking Ice Lemon Tea (highly recommended!) and played 'Shithead' and Black Jack.

There's not much that really draws tourist into Phnom Penh itself, it's not a very pleasant city to stroll around, not many tourist attractions or things to look at. It's purely a working city with a bloody history that is still felt amongst all people of Cambodia. The once magnificent colonial buildings are now dilapidated, damaged and have no signs of improvement. If you look behind the row of bars and restaurants that line the river, you see the gruesome reality that Cambodia is still direly poor. Most people visit Phnom Penh to visit S-21 Prison and the killing fields to pay their respects to the innocently culled people.

In the early twentieth century, Phnom Penh and Cambodia was a flourishing French colonial state and people of the country had their liberty and opportunities. As the was across the border in Vietnam raged after the second world war, things began to change and in the late 60s, Prince Sihanouk, The King and Cambodia's Head of State, secretly made a pact with the North Vietnamese to supply them with overpriced rice and in return Sihanoukville was opened up to shipments of supplies and weapons for the Viet Cong. The then Prime Minister and known anti-communist, Lon Nol became increasingly frustrated and concerned with Vietnamese operations taking place on their land. Lon Nol eventually approached the United States CIA for assistance in overthrowing the King and in 1970, a successful coup was staged and Prince Sihanouk was removed as Head of State. Following this coup, Prime Minister Lon Nol took full control of the Government and Cambodia was renamed the Khmer Republic.

April 1975, Khmer Rouge soldiers enter Phnom Penh
The newly founded Khmer Republic withdraw all agreements with the North Vietnamese and ordered all Vietnamese off their soil. This may have been done purely for the Americans but it cannot be 100% confirmed. The Vietnamese continued to use the land and as conditions in The Khmer Republic deteriorated and American bombs began falling heavily over the Eastern borders, civilian tensions grew and support for the opposition grew. The opposition were the Khmer Communists under leadership of Pol Pot, famously dubbed The Khmer Rouge and following a term of civil war, the Khmer Rouge ruthlessly and forgivingly took control of the country in April 1975. The country was renamed again, this time it was Democratic Kampuchea... Not really sure how 'Democratic' came into it!?

Deserted streets of Phnom Penh
In the following days after the Khmer Rouge took over, thousands of people were expelled from their homes in all major cities around the country. The promise was that the Khmer Rouge were going to clear up and allow the people back into their homes. This of course never happened, it was never going to happen, it was the first step for the communist's radical plan to wipe Cambodia clean of capitalism and revert all people back to an equal playing field. The Chinese communist officials pleaded with the Khmer Rouge to take the revolution step by step as it's impossible to just clean the slate and start a fresh. The Khmer Rouge didn't listen and stubbornly continued with their original plan. It didn't work and resulted in the death of over 2 million Cambodian people in the period from 1975 to the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

S-21 Teung Sleng Prison
Tuol Sleng Prison, more commonly referred to as S-21, used to be a school within Phnom Penh but when the Khmer Rouge took over and shut down all schools, hospitals etc, they turned this building into a prison. Tom, Nicky, Kate, Alan and I squeezed ourselves into a tuk-tuk and headed through the streets of Phnom Penh to the prison. It was stinking hot as usual and the breeze blowing through the moving vehicle was thoroughly welcomed by all of us. The prison is now a genocide museum to remind people of what happened and hopefully prevent it from happening again. The tuk-tuk driver didn't hang about and through it around the corners seemingly careless of his human cargo and pulled up with a screech outside the dull concrete walls of Security Prison 21. We all walked inside, paid for our entrance and immediately the once joyous mood became solemn and pensive. Despite the lush green grass and trees flourishing full of life in the middle, the surrounding three blocks that make up the prison reek of painful and torturous death.

Cells within S-21
It didn't take long for the colour of my t-shirt to completely darken with sweat that flowed from my pores and my hopes that I would get used to the heat diminished. On days like this, it's disturbing to think of how the inmates coped, crammed into their small dark cells, shackled at the ankles to the wall or, if they were lucky, to their beds whilst their toilet bowl at their feet was full of their rotting waste. All this, and constantly wondering when the guards were going to come and take them away for questioning. Every foot step they heard walking up and down outside their cells was a torturous, heart thumping moment that could be their last. S-21 was initially turned into a prison for members of the Lol Nol government but was extended to teachers, policemen, soldiers, doctors, nurses and anyone who had any standing in society. Eventually the prison began holding members of the Khmer Rouge who were thought to be dissidents to the party. Inmates were beaten to an inch of their lives each day, tortured using a series of techniques including water-boarding, suffocation, hanging, cutting, electric shocks, pulling out fingernails and even bleeding them to death. Females were raped by interrogators but if discovered were in turn executed as sexual abuse was against Kampuchea's policy. Killing the inmates was discouraged as the confessions were important to the Khmer Rouge, although how can such confessions under torture be guaranteed truth? Once they had signed their confessions, they would either be allowed to die there or more commonly be marched with hundreds of other people to the killing fields outside Phnom Penh.

The passageways of S-21
After walking around the prison complex in astonished silence, all five of us reconvened and headed back to our tuk-tuk driver who was going to take us to our next destination, the killing fields. It was such a relief to be squeezed back on the tuk-tuk and having the wind blow through our hair once again. The cars behind us had to turn their windscreen wipers on as our sweat was swept from our hair. The Killing Fields are several kilometres from the city and it tool us around twenty minutes to get there. Again, could you imagine being marched out there in the hot sun after days or months of torture and beatings?

The memorial Buddhist Stupa in Choeung Ek
As you pass through the entrance gate of Choeung Ek killing field, you are greeted with a tall Buddhist Stupa that holds a collection of the victims' shattered skulls, clothing and personal artefacts. We took our shoes off and walk up and around the spire. Memories of my visit to Auschwitz popped into my head as I saw clothing that belonged to a child. It suddenly becomes real and emotions of sadness, remorse and hatred flush through your veins. How can people be so cruel to another human being? Once the 'traitors' reached the fields, dug their own graves, they were ordered to kneel down in a row. Women cried as they held onto their children and comforting them, men begged for their lives and were beaten back down to their knees with the butts of the guards guns. Ammunition was in short supply and guards were under strict orders not to use bullets unless absolutely necessary. The killing began, butts of guns slammed down repeatedly of skulls, bayonets and sharpened bamboo sticks were thrust into chests, spades penetrated skulls and poisons were forced down throats. The most shocking deaths were those of the children who were torn from the mothers hands by the ankles, lifted into the air and swung against tree trunks, bashing their heads until they died. There were also reports of babies thrown into the air like clay pigeons and fatally caught by a guard's bayonet as an entertaining sport. The Khmer Rouge took the initiative to kill who families including children and babies to reduce the risk of them rising up and taking revenge for their parents murder.

These used to be people....
Walking around the mass graves, you become aware of the reality of genocide and the floors in human nature. Although the sun shone on us, it felt like the middle of the night and I didn't notice one bird chirping in the trees. It's important that these places exist to remind us what happened and to prevent it from happening again. Choeung Ek is maybe more shocking than Auschwitz due to its recency. The five of us walked silently out of the complex and climbed back into our tuk-tuk that headed back to Phnom Penh and present day Cambodia.

Next Time: Phnom Penh to Battambang

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sihanoukville, Beaches, Peaches and Abuse, 12-16 April 2011

Sihanoukville - (c) N Prince

For the first time on my trip, I felt as though I was truly on holiday. Sihanoukville is the seaside paradise resort of Cambodia, the beach fills with local and foreign visitors relaxing in the sunshine and swimming in the lukewarm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Tom and Nicky arrived one day before me and thus already spent a day on the beach. Tom had certainly discovered the full brute force of the sun and was suffering from severe sunburn over his entire body. Despite applying sunscreen, Tom's antimalarials made him extremely photosensitive and his skin turned red roar.

On my first night, I went back up to Monkey Republic and joined Nicky, Tom, Alan and some other people that Alan had met travelling for drinks. It became routine, first Monkey Republic for their happy hour, then across the road to Utopia for 25c beer and finishing up at JJ's Beach Bar. Alex, whom I met in Nanning, China and travelled to Hanoi with was working at JJ's and had been for a month before I arrived so it was good to catch up with him, although he was busy pouring customers and himself beer all night!

Sitting on the beach the next day with Nicky, Alan and the other guys, I resigned myself to the shade as I didn't want to end up like Tom, who decided to spend the whole day inside, out of the sun and catch up on the script that he was writing. I have never been a person who wants a tan as it goes within a couple of weeks anyway and all it does is increase your risk of getting skin cancer. No, I'm quite content to sit in the shade on the beach and watch the world go by without being roasted alive. Alan, Nicky, Tom and I had previously joked that a fitting song for Sihanoukville would be The Strangler's 'Peaches'...

Cool Banana, where I may or may not have had 'special' cake
I got up especially early on my last day because I had arranged with Alan to move into his room at Monkey republic as it would be cheaper and I would be with them all. So I packed my bags, had breakfast and by this point in time, Nicky had realised that the breakfast at my place was far superior to that of Monkey Republic's overpriced poor excuse for a breaky and had begun to join me for breakfast. After breakfast, I grabbed my bags and walked up the hill towards my new lodgings. I got there and checked in with the manager who was a little confused as to why I was moving in but after I explained, he showed me Alan's room, but he wouldn't answer the door and was obviously recovering from the previous night's drinking. Instead of waking him, I dumped my bags and Nicky and I headed to the beach but on the way down we bumped into a couple of people and to my surprise told us that another bloke had moved into Alan's room early that morning. Despite out agreement, the cheeky bugger had given away my bed whilst drunk! Luckily Monkey Republic had one free bed in the dorm left, so I took it and resumed our journey down to the beach.

Campaign to stop sex tourists.
Cambodia has a big problem of child abuse and child labour and Sihanoukville in particular has a big problem. Children roam the streets and walk up and down the street all day long making any money they can by either collecting empty bottles and cans, making and selling bracelets, performing pedicures and even hair removal on foreigners. Unfortunately when tourists see poor children, we want to help them as much as we can but children's charities discourage you from giving them anything at all as the more successful they are the less they attend school and become increasingly susceptible to abuse from adults. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and ripe with corruption and organised crime. It is unfortunately a haven for paedophiles and sex tourists that come to Cambodia primarily for the child prostitution. In 2005, an undercover investigator went into a brothel and was introduced to two girls, one was seven and the other one nine and both had been drugged to keep them cooperative. He recalls opening a door and being confronted by a European man raping an eight year old girl and the sad fact is that nothing is ever done because of the deep corruption in the police force. You can read his full report for the BBC here. At day the kids roam the streets and beaches and at night you can easily point out the young prostitutes hanging around the bars and clubs looking for their next dollar.

As Nicky and I sat on the beach, we were constantly being approached by children offering us bracelets or services and you get very tired with constantly telling them 'No!'. You continually think 'I'm helping them by being here and my money should eventually get to them through the benefit system.' but unfortunately this is never the case in a country that is as corrupt as Cambodia. Money disappears and the poor children remain at risk. It's frustration as there is no easy way to help them without hurting them.

Yeah, She LOVES Norwich!!
Beside us were two girls and a man, and when we exchanged the pleasantries of 'where do you come from?' etc I was confronted by a girl with an I love Norwich bag. It made my day seeing somebody that loved Norwich enough to have a bag! It turned out that she used to be a student at the University of East Anglia not long back. After many hours of turning the children away, Tom joined us in his sweat pants and hoody. He was still suffering with severe sun burn and was leaping from shade to shade to avoid the sun. He sat down with us and we enjoyed a late afternoon beer. As we got up to leave and head back to Monkey Republic, I was shocked to find out that somebody stole my flip flops. I had only had them for a few hours! It must have been one of the kids that kept crawling around beside me! So I had to hobble back up the rocky, unfinished road to the guesthouse.

I haven't got much more to add about Sihanoukville. It was fun and enjoyable to spend a few days by the beach with some new friends. I even bumped into the Canadian people that I had travelled with to Hué in Vietnam again.  I may have had a magic cake that I may have thought it was MJ but turned out to be mushrooms which may have caused me to have an interesting evening with a yellow Barack Obama jumping out of the TV talking about the US deficit....  That story remains unknown to many....  Including me....

Finish the day with a beer... Can't beat it!
Tom, Nicky, Alan and I decided to move onto Phnom Penh together and had booked a bus through the guesthouse. We had all checked out at a respectable time and waited for the bus to collect us. After waiting for thirty minutes, a minibus pulled up and we were thrust inside by the driver who had absolutely no time to waste. It was incredibly hot on board as the air conditioning didn't work and the windows were only slightly ajar. The bus did a u-turn and headed back down the hill. After 200 yards and thirty seconds we got to the roundabout at the bottom and pulled up beside a bigger bus. The driver opened the door, threw our bags onto the ground and sped off into the distance. It was incredible and absolutely unbelievable that they actually bothered to pick us up, when we could have walked down there in a couple of minutes. Oh well, Asian ways never cease to amaze me! We all got on board and the bus moved off out of Sihanoukville as the rain clouds thickened above us.

Next Time, Phnom Penh, S-21 and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Cambodia, 9-10 April 2011

Finally, the motorbike with me and my bags pulled up outside Monkey Republic in Sihanoukville late afternoon, just as the sun was lowering through the sky above. I got off and went into the bar area to see if they had any room for me. They didn't and the motorbike driver who brought me to the place was lingering outside to take me to a place he recommends if my first choice was fully booked. I had no intention of going back out there and spending more money to take me anywhere else as I could decide and walk myself, so I grabbed a well deserved beer and sat down. As I sat down I heard some familiar voices behind me and it was Tom, Nicky and Alan who were staying there and had been there for a couple of nights already. I joined them for a bit before I left with Tom to find me a place to stay. I finally settled on a place further towards the beach that had a good rate for a private room. I settled into my room, unpacked and went to the restaurant to relax and have some decent food that was well overdue. As I sat there, I looked back over my the last 24 hours.

Welcome to the Central Post Office
I was still in Ho Chi Minh City the previous night where Jonas had finally arrived after parting from his new passion for kite surfing in Mui Ne and made the journey to Ho Chi Minh city. Jonas only had a few days left on his trip before he needed to fly back home, so he only had a flying visit to Ho Chi Minh city and had bought a ticket to Siem Reap via Phnom Penh which was the same bus that I was taking to Sihanoukville at 11pm. My number one task for my final day in Vietnam was to post all of my winter clothes onto Australia where I would hopefully pick them up when/if I arrived in Perth. There was no use carrying them around any longer as the sun had finally come out and was relentlessly pounding my sweat pores into seepage!

Inside the Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office
I left Jonas after our lunch and headed for the post office where I had been with Marianne et al earlier in the week as she needed to post back some cuddly toy she had acquired along the way. However, when I arrived, I was informed by a notice on the door that it was closed on that day for one reason or another. This concerned me as I thought that I may have to continue to carry all my winter gear around with me further. I quickly headed into the shopping centre behind the post office to gain some respite from the heat and to have a look at the guide book to see where another post office was. The only other on was further in the centre of town and was the central post office which I thought was just a tourist attraction now. I decided that I should go and check it out regardless. If it was operational, then great but if not, at least I saw the great central post office of Ho Chi Minh City. After finally reaching the post office, I was pleased to see that it was completely operational and also cool inside, so I headed over to a counter to see what I needed to do. The man behind the counter immediately grabbed my bag of items, looked through it, put it inside a box and in return handed me several forms that I needed to complete. As I was completing the form, the parcel was being wrapped in many layers of sticky tape and passed from one person to the next. I finally managed to complete all the forms to the best of my ability and handed them back to the man who initially served me. He passed me and the forms onto a lady further down the line who I paid, I never saw my parcel again and wasn't sure whether it was ever going to get to its destination in the estimated three months, but I was thankful that I had offloaded some more weight from my bag.

Notre Dame Cathedral
I reluctantly removed myself from the cool building colonial styled building and reinstated myself to the sun's mercy. Outside of the front of the post office stands the Notre Dame Cathedral, a leftover from French colonial days and its insurgence of Catholicism in Vietnam. The building stands out from amongst the surrounding building tall and mighty. I couldn't go in as it was closed to the public but walked around the perimeter towards the park that spread out behind the church. I took the opportunity to sit down in the shade and have a look at my guide book for any inspiration on what I should do next. No inspiration came immediately, so I just got up and walked through the annoying men offering me a motorcycle tour around the city. After walking around for a while I found another park to rest in and pull out the newspaper to catch up on some European current affairs. As I sat there, I saw a roughly dressed man in the distance carrying a small wooden tool box, he looked as though he had oily hands and I just knew that he was going to head over to me and ask me for something. Of course he did, he came over and kind offered to clean my trainers. I politely turned his offer down and tried to explain that my Gortex trainers needed special cleaning that he couldn't do. He wouldn't take no for an answer and knelt down in front of me and rummaged through his box and pulled out a brush with black shoe polish on it and begun to rub my shoes. I was outraged and swiftly pulled my shoes away from him and firmly told him no, but of course he refused to listen and began to rub my shoes again. I told him no again but he continued, so the only option left was to stand up and walk away from him. It's so annoying when you can't enjoy some time relaxing in the park without these people trying to take the shirt off your back. I admire his persistence but do not like people pressuring me into any service they offer. They should have learnt by now, Andy doesn't part with his cash easily! After my failure to relax in the park, I headed back towards the hotel where I had planned to meet Jonas again for dinner before our bus journey.

Jonas and I decided to head to an Italian restaurant where a group of us had been a few nights ago but I hoped for a more comfortable meal this time. Last time Alan got into a confrontation with a Scottish girl who accused him of purposefully leaving her behind in the hotel and once she found us, she was so outraged that she demanded the Cambodian sim card she gave to Alan earlier back. There was a big group of us there and there was no way Alan could've checked that everyone in the hotel was with us. Plus, it's not his responsibility but she wouldn't see reason and continually berated him all night long and then started on other people. She even resorted to sitting there with her MP3 played plugged into her ears and ignoring us all. I was thankful that our meal was a lot more relaxed this time and the 'all you can eat' buffet went down like a treat and set us up for our journey. After our meal and before we left to go to the bus stop, Jonas and I had to finish our little pool competition that we had going ever since Hué, so we headed to the sports bar where I had become a regular over my time in the city and racked up the balls. We finished on a draw, so that was nicer than Jonas completely annihilating me as he usually does.

Beautiful colonial architecture left over
Following our final pool match together and stupidly telling the waitress that I loved her, which she wrongly took completely seriously and said “But....but....Andy, we're just friends....!” as she fell back into a chair, we quickly gathered our bags and headed to the tour office to board our bus. We arrived early and were ordered to sit down on a few plastic seats on the side of the street where we were handed our immigration and visa application forms to complete and hand to the bus driver before we got on board. We quickly finished the forms which have now become second nature to me and my passport details are stored inside my head. The bus was parked across the road and I was looking forward to getting on board as Alan and I had been taken aboard the bus a few days ago to see what they were like and we were pleasantly surprised. On the bus we checked out, there were no beds but very spacious chairs that reclined to a decent angle with lots of leg room. Needless to say, when we got onto the bus that evening we were confronted with a completely different scene. Small chairs, with barely any cushion or leg room and the chairs that were assigned to us were at the front of the bus and were near enough at floor level. I shouldn't have expected more when it came to the Vietnamese and their embellishment of the truth. With a tut and a sigh we round two different seats and resigned ourselves to yet another uncomfortable journey.

The journey should only take 14 hours from Ho Chi Ming to Sihanoukville, seven of those hours was to include getting from Ho Chi Minh to the border, a 3 hour wait at the border until it opened and then the remaining hours to Sihanoukville. At the time I was still confused that Jonas and I were going to different places in Cambodia and yet I was told that I didn't need to change buses. Part of travelling is to just get on with it, roll with the punches and adapt your plans regularly to suit your ever changing circumstances. I plugged in my MP3 player and packed my ebook reader away as I couldn't continue to read as they immediately turned the lights off. I had just started a new book, 'First They Killed My Father' by Loung Ung which records her experience during the Khmer Rouge era of Cambodia. I will tell you more about this in a later blog. I soon managed to fall asleep and was incredibly thankful that nobody claimed the seat next to me so I could spread out across the seats. It always takes a while to find your most comfortable position when you're sleeping on a bus or a train and that position isn't exactly the comfortable but it will do. The journey was arduous, I kept waking up every now and again but as soon as we reached the border and parked up I fell asleep for a decent few hours. When I got woken up, the sun had emerged and the tedious border routine awaited us. Luckily the tour company were very organised and the whole crossing process went seamlessly and with our new Cambodian visas and entrance stamps in our passports we were back on the bus and speeding off towards our destinations.

A few hours later we arrived at the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, and were all instructed to grab our bags and change buses despite my travel agents assurances that I was not going to change buses. I was informed that my bus to Sihanoukville was leaving in an hours time from another location in the city but they would organise a minibus to the bus station at no extra charge so I relaxed a bit and forgot the irritation of being lied to yet again. In the waiting time I went to the currency exchange place to investigate the new rates for Cambodian currency. I asked how much Cambodian money was to the Great British Pound and was informed there was $1.6 to the £. I was confused and repeated my question in a different fashion. She replied that if I gave her £100 I'd get US$160. This made me a little frustrated as I had got annoyed with the constant demand for US Dollars when I was in Vietnam. I kept saying, I'm British and I'm in Vietnam, why am I going to have or give you US Dollars when I've got Vietnamese Dong. I soon gathered that the De Facto currency for Cambodia is US$ and is more widely used than their legal currency of Reil as it's worth much more. Although when you pay in Dollars, you usually get Reil in return especially if your change comes under $1. Having cleared up the issue of the currency, Jonas and I quickly found an Irish restaurant to eat at, sat down and ordered a full English breakfast but at that time I had only thirty minutes before I needed to return to the bus stop and catch my minibus to the bus station. I quickly ate my meal when it came and had to bid my final farewell to Jonas as he would be on a very short visit to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat and then back to Ho Chi Minh to catch his flight home.

As I stood on the corner where the bus from Ho Chi Minh dropped me off, I was immediately aware that the temperature here was a lot hotter. The minibus turned up and I was ushered onto the bus which was one hell of a sweat box. There was a couple of people on there already and I was hoping that no other people would join us as the rickety old bus had no air conditioning or fans, just slightly open windows that barely let any air in. After a few hundred metres we stop and pick up some more people. Too many people for the space available in the minibus, so we all get very familiar, very quickly and the journey becomes increasingly unbearable. Once we reached the bus station around five minutes later, we all jump off the bus as soon as we can to grab fresh air. The next bus was scheduled to take a further two hours to Sihanoukville. But the bus was comfortable enough for the last leg of the journey. By this time, however, it was already early afternoon and not surprisingly had already passed its estimated time of arrival in Sihanoukville.

The bus finally pulled into Sihanoukville bus station that seemed to be a few kilometres away from where I needed to be. I'm sure they do this on purpose so you have to pay for a motorcycle taxi or a Tuk Tuk to your hotel. Anyway, by that point in time, I had had enough and grabbed the first motorbike man I saw and negotiated a price, of course not paying the full asking price but also knowingly paying too much. He got $2 out of me. However, I did have my huge backpack on which is equivalent to another person! The motorbike journey was refreshing as we zoomed through the streets of Sihanoukville town as the sun was getting low, so the air was cooling every minute. Only two months previous to this I was petrified of getting on the back of a crazy Asian man's motorbike with all my gear and without a helmet, but at this very moment I didn't care at all. I even wished that I could have had this man take me from Ho Chi Minh to Sihanoukville instead of the bus. I felt refreshed and excited, I was finally out of Vietnam and in Cambodia, a land that I knew absolutely nothing about.

Next Time, Sihanoukville, Beaches, Peaches and Mushrooms

Monday, 4 July 2011

Ho Chi Minh City, Cu Chi Tunnels and Hurtful Massage, 5-9 April 2011

As I was sitting eating my breakfast, I suddenly felt as though I was staying in Fawlty Towers being served by the poor small Vietnamese man being rudely bossed around by the owner, who is somewhat reminiscent of a female Basil Fawlty. She is incredibly nice to you when you check in, if you act the way she wants you to act and abide by her rules but as soon as you cross the line, whether it's on the price of something or if you have an issue with your room, she bites and begins to shout. I witnessed several occasions where she became the epitome of an ill-behavioured, bad tempered manager where customer service became non-existent. A man walked into the hotel and asked for a room, she told him the price and showed him up to the room and when they returned it was obvious that he decided to stay as he left his luggage upstairs. They moved over to reception where he was about to pay and hand his passport over when a new and higher price suddenly materialised. Quite rightly the man queried this sudden inflation, but the lady didn't take too kindly to the accusation of her lying and told him to get his bags and get out of the hotel. She also evicted a girl on the same day for a reason I wasn't aware of. Quite a loose wire indeed! Luckily I never had any issues with her apart from her chaotic laundry service where everybody's clothes are mixed together and you have to fish through a mountain of washing to find yours. That is how to lose a sock!

My back was still recovering from the previous evening when Andy One (as we called him as Kathy met him before me) very kindly decided to treat us all to a massage from a man who walked the streets shaking his bell looking for business. There are many of this men walking and cycling the streets ringing their bells and I would advise you to decline their offers as it was the most painful massage any of us have ever had. I thought my neck was going to snap. I believe that he works on making you feel really uncomfortable and in pain for five minutes so that when he finishes, you are so relieved and feel so much better that you think he's actually done some good, not just inflicted you to copious amounts of pain.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Going down.. Thanks Kathy for the photo!
Saigon is hot and humid, even in the morning the heat beats you into a sweltering blob of flesh and bones making it hard for you to get motivated. It is especially hard when you've got a room with fantastic air-conditioning and the thought of leaving it makes you quiver with fear. Nevertheless we got up early one morning and made our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. There was a nice big group of us sitting on the cool bus including Kathy, Dan, Alan, Marianne, Victoria, Nicky and Tom as we made our way towards the complex that is outside of the Saigon. Alan was struggling to find a comfortable position as he's unfortunate to have long legs in Asia, which is definitely not built for tall people and I thank my lucky stars that I'm only 5'8” in this squashed situations. We arrived at the tunnels and were immediately ushered into a long open wooden hut where a film was being played that introduced the history of the tunnels and other interesting details but we never got to see all of it as we were moved off again before it finished it's loop. There was a lot of information on the rather long film so perhaps it was a good thing to be moved on as I never concentrate well in the heat to remember anything anyway.

The original sized entrances into the tunnel
The Cu Chi Tunnels were an extensive underground network under the ground of the Cu Chi suburban district of Ho Chi Minh City. During the Vietnam-American war, the Viet Cong built these tunnels as a base for their insurgency of the southern capital, most notably was used as the main base for the Tet Offensive. The tunnels lead to the river and also stretch as far as the Cambodian border where the Viet Cong could enter the region unseen. To enter the tunnels, you have to squeeze you way through tiny entrances that are concealed amongst foliage. The tunnel network is protected by a deadly traps positioned around the tunnel entrances. Despite the construction bigger tourist entrances into the tunnels, we all had our chance of squeezing our way down through the original sized entrances and it was extremely tight fit even for a slim western person. Once we got down through the wider, more Western accessible entrances, the tunnel shrunk to a claustrophobic hot passage way that forced us to crawl near enough on our hands and knees. It's small, and I cannot imagine what it is like too live, eat and travel further than a few hundred feet through these sweltering tunnels. These men were dedicated to their cause and with the help of these tunnels they were able to slip under the very noses of the South Vietnamese and American forces, gathering information and attacking with surprise. After a hundred feet or so, we took a left and headed back up towards sunlight, as if we continued on our present path we would have ended up in Cambodia (according to our guide). The heat was even more intense outside and we couldn't wait to get back onto the air conditioned bus and make our way back to Ho Chi Minh City. As we got back onto the bus Alan secured us two seats at the front of the bus where there was a little more leg room for him, but the middle aged couple that sat there before boarded the bus, stared at us and ordered out removal from their seats. We think we offended them with and quickly moved as we obviously broke the 'bus trip rules and regulations' that they were accustomed to.

Mekong Delta

Through the Mekong
Another day, another early start. This time Marianne, Victoria, Louis and I were heading of for a one day cruise through the Mekong Delta. I had been in a quandary whether to do the one day tour or buy a three day cruise up the Mekong that passes into Cambodia and ends in Phnom Penh but had been talked into doing the one day tour by the girls. We got picked up from near our hotel by a medium sized bus and a crazy tour guide who would not stop talking all the way to the boat which was around two hours drive away. Once we finally got to the jetty where we were going to get on our boat that was going to take us around several islands in the delta, the midday heat had grown into a massive oppressive beast beating down from above us which made me buy a sun hat from one of the hawker stands selling clothing and tack to tourists. The hat, which was not very aesthetically pleasing to others, was one of my best purchases and kept the sun off my head. I wore it with extreme pride as the others mocked it. As we got back onto the boat I bumped into Regina whom I had met in Mui Ne a few days previous. We exchanged a few words before our guide impatiently pushed us aboard our boat and headed off into the flow of the Mekong Delta.

Steaming through the Delta
Out first stop on the tour was a small island where we got to taste a few local delicacies. The Mekong, which begins in the mountains of Tibet and winds it's way through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and enters the South China see through Vietnam, the Delta is a vital area in Vietnam as it provides perfect conditions for growing all different kinds of crops. The area produces over half of Vietnam's rice output and it is the second largest exporter of rice behind Thailand. That is why the north struggled to feed their citizens when the country was divided during the war. After tasting the local peanut brittle and being careful not to harm my teeth in any way, we walked through the small village towards the small river bank where we clambered into a small wooden boat that would take us through the mangroves back and back to our boat that was waiting to take us to our next stop. The boat drifted effortlessly and silently through the small channels with our driver taking care not to collide with any oncoming vessel, trees or moored boats.

Aboard our boat again, the engine fired up and the skipper opened the throttle and we steamed off toward another island where we were going to hop aboard another smaller boat and taste a few more delights. It is unfortunate though that these cruises around the Mekong Delta are actually just a trip around different tourist traps. This one was a toffee shop where we were quickly and carelessly shown how they produce the candy by an unenthusiastic girl who was just interested in getting us to the checkout. I did actually get some as it was nice stuff although a little dangerous with my teeth and the thought of my crown coming off was plaguing me with every chew! It didn't and the sweets were nice, so it's a win there. As I pocketed the sweets and turned around I was confronted with a large snake. People were holding it and passing it between each other and I had my go with the heavy thing that would keep still and was slipping off my shoulders before someone came along and took their turn. Despite our guides best efforts to get us back into the shop and buy some useless tack, we powered off back towards the boat without separating from any more of our Dong.

Bye bye sunglasses!  Sorry no photo of Victoria's crash!
Back on our big boat again and all feeling hungry we headed off to yet another island where we were going to get our included lunch and take a quick bicycle ride around the island. We got to the island and were ushered into the restaurant where we were given an option of sticking with our basic lunch which was included in the price of the trip OR pay some small amount more and get a proper meal that is a local dish. Yet again, another Vietnamese tourist trap by offering you an included lunch that is barely edible but giving you the option to pay more to get the lunch we expected. Needless to say, we stuck with our included lunch as there is no way we were going to pay more. After lunch we headed round the building to collect our bicycles to have a little ride around the island. The bicycles were an absolute joke, rusty, non-functioning gears, non-existent braking system and handle bars that were barely attached to the frame. Regardless of the complete unsafe conditions of the bikes we headed off full of laughter. BANG CRASH WALLOP WHAT A PHOTOGRAPH! Victoria, inexplicably leaves the path and very slowly slices through some branches and collides with a tree. It later turns out that she was trying to take a photo with her camera and lost her balance, which is very easy to do on those bikes that weigh nothing. Marianne stops behind me and immediately pulls out her camera to take some photos as I get off and pull the bike off Victoria who was too busy worrying about the state of her camera than herself. She was fine, thankfully but this ended our bike trip before it really had a chance of getting going. We walked back to return the bikes and wash the oil of my hands, but as I leant over the toilet to put some paper into the bin, my sunglasses slipped from my head and ended up down the toilet. A day full of disappointments! Luckily I still had my hat!

We soon got back onto the boat and headed to our final stop, an island where we were going to taste a selection of fruit, including dragon fruit, jack fruit and mango whist sipping on some local tea and listening to some local musicians play and sing for us. After they finished playing, I couldn't help myself but go up and have a go on the Dan Bau which had become quite a fascination ever since I first saw it play in the water puppet theatre in Hanoi. I didn't know how it was playing until the musician gave me a quick lesson. Holding a toothpick, whether it had been used or not was another question, between my right thumb and index finger as a plectrum as well as creating a false harmonic with the heal of my right hand and adjusting the pitch of the string with my left hand I produced a sound, not an attractive one, but a sound nevertheless. The musician made me try and play Auld Lang Syne, but it didn't really come out like that, although it was reminiscent of a drunk Scottish man on new years eve so I think I was OK there.

This time we got back onto a different boat, a fast speed boat that was to take us swiftly back to Ho Chi Minh City. After sitting below for a while, I decided that I had had quite enough as everyone was sitting there peacefully with their MP3 players on, so I jumped up and headed out of the boat. As I left the rear door the wind immediately stole my hat from my head and took it to its new owner... The Mekong. It had a short tenure with me, and I was devastated when we parted company. Two sun protection losses in one day, how unlucky can one man be!!! Out of stubbornness, I remained outside at the rear of the boat in the sun, getting absolutely drenched by the spray from the boat and everytime I tried to move to the other side the man who worked on the boat, told me off and ordered me to move back across. Not sure why, but I followed his orders. Marianne, Lois and Victoria soon joined me in the sunshine and we began to sing songs as loud as we could. We thought nobody could hear us as the boat was making to much noise but as we disembarked onto the jetty in Ho Chi Minh some fellow passengers congratulated us on our rendition of the British National Anthem. Oops, I take it they heard everything!!!! The boat journey through the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh highlighted the distinct gap between the rich and poor in the country as we passed some run down shacks that clung onto the shores of the Mekong and landed within the new sky high financial centre of the city with it's rich hotels, shops and banks.

Saigon Zoo

The temperature seemed to get higher and higher, sweat used to be constantly running from my forehead and walking was an exercise in jumping from shade to shade to avoid the blistering sun pounding down from above. The room in the hostel was fantastically air-conditioned which made it extremely hard to leave because the heat hits you hard and without remorse as soon as you pass through the architrave. That morning, however, I got up early to say goodbye to Victoria and Marianne who were flying off to Borneo. I had been travelling with them on and off since Hué. It's always sad to say goodbyes but travelling is constantly full of them. I knew that I would also be saying goodbye to Lois as well who was heading into Cambodia later on too. On the other hand I understood that Jonas was coming to Ho Chi Minh later in the day, so that would be a hello again.

Despite the heat and the sweat, I agreed to go along with Tom and Nicky to Saigon Zoo. As I predicted, it was a long and uncomfortable walk there, made even more uncomfortable by not having my sunglasses to stop the sun's glare blinding me every few yards as the buildings parted leaving a line of fire. I had to stop and buy some sun glasses from a street seller. It's choosing the right street seller to do business with, personally I don't condone any of the pushy sellers on the streets and avidly avoid them. I came across one man who didn't say anything to me as I passed, so I turned around and handed over my cash after a little bit of haggling. My eyes were now secure from the evil sun rays.

Saigon Zoo is nothing spectacular, it has the usual animals that usual zoos have, so we walked around looking at the lizards, elephants, crocodiles and lions. I was surprised by the standard of care that the animals seemed to be getting in the zoo. It actually wasn't too bad, it could be a hell of a lot better but they weren't being purposefully mistreated. I don't go to zoos normally as I don't totally agree with keeping animals in captivity unless they have been rescued or are unable to survive in the wild. Having covered the zoo in under an hour, the heat had just become unbearable and we needed to leave and find some well needed sustenance and air conditioning, so we left and found ourselves a nice Thai restaurant and grabbed ourselves some food and relief from the sunshine and humidity of the Saigon.

Next Time, Cambodia, Magic and The Beach