Cambodia, Vietnam

Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Cambodia!

Today was our first day in a new country, Cambodia!

Our last day and night in Vietnam was spent eating lots of pho, visiting a water puppet show (some cultural theater of Vietnam involving puppets on poles in a pool), and walking around markets. Now we’ve spent our first day in Cambodia, and it is already extremely different!

Rather than the bustling city that we left in Vietnam, we’re in the more spread out and dustier city of Siem Reap. We got in late, got lost on our way to the hotel, and discovered the widespread usefulness of the local transportation, the tuk-tuk. Our driver didn’t seem to understand us too well, but he got us to our hotel!

Our first day here was spent on a full day tour of various temples around Siem Reap. We first went to Angkor Wat, the big temple that everyone talks about. While it was a bit frustrating that it was so crowded, it was really an incredible sight and could have made a great day on its own.

After Angkor Wat we proceeded onto Angkor Thom, where we saw a jungle temple, a temple with 216 Buddha faces, and lots of gorgeous temples and ruins all around. It’s amazing to think that they have so many temples and ruins inside of Angkor Thom that they don’t even bother to restore or advertise many of them. Ruins just lie by the side of the road, looking beautiful and seemingly going unnoticed.

The day concluded with a trip up a large hill to yet another temple, where we went to watch the sun set over the country. As with the rest of the day, we were up there with 300 of our closest friends, which made it a bit difficult to get some good pictures but overall wasn’t too bad. The sun didn’t so much “set” as “disappear into haze”, but it still made for a good evening and a good end to a very exhausting and incredible day (I know there aren’t really any photos in this post, I just took way too many. If you want to see more then check out my Flickr album).

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More of Vietnam

Two more days in Vietnam and we’re now experts at crossing the street here. I realize I forgot to mention that in my last post, so I’ll quickly describe it: terrifying. There aren’t crosswalks, at least not any that are recognized, so you have to just step out into traffic and trust the scooters and taxis to weave around you. Remember the grandma who walked through traffic blindly in the beginning of Mulan ? That’s basically what you do.

We’ve managed to get used to crossing the street, had various Vietnamese foods (the pho is seriously amazing), and done plenty of exploration around Hanoi. We checked out the National History Museum, which was pretty standard as museums go and talked about the history of Vietnam (unfortunately it was largely in Vietnamese, and we didn’t take a lot away from it). We also went to a temple out on the lake in the city, which wasn’t that interesting on it’s own, but it was very interesting to see the pickpockets at work. They actually stand out quite a bit, they’re the only non-tourists in the area and look very suspicious as they patrol the bridge out to the temple. We had a couple follow us as we paced back and forth across the bridge, but with inside pockets on our jackets, we’re not the best of targets for pickpockets.

Today, we went off to the Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum, and to the temple of literature. The temple of literature is the ancient university, apparently founded in 1047 or something like that. However, most of it was apparently bombed in the 60s, so it’s all pretty recent construction in old architectural style. It was still cool to see, and we spent about an hour there before making our way up to the museum. Things around Hanoi close from 12-2, so we had to wait to see the museum, and we spent the time by walking around and seeing the exterior of the mausoleum and another unidentified government building. People aren’t allowed near the mausoleum itself, but the exterior fits in perfectly with the other buildings nearby (the museum and the unidentified government building). They look exactly you’d imagine the ministries of Peace, Love, and Truth from 1984 to look. With the exception that nothing in Hanoi appears to be above 10 stories.

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WAR IS PEACE — FREEDOM IS SLAVERY — IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Inside the museum, we again were presented with an exhibit which was both largely Vietnamese and largely propaganda. There actually was almost nothing inside the museum which told a story or reported on historical events, just lots of quotes from party leaders saying things like “It’s clear that Leninism is the purest and best economical and political ideology,” and a large statue of Ho Chi Minh.

We’ve started to examine buildings and infrastructure more in the past two days, and we’ve noticed that very little of the city appears newly constructed. The 1984 ministries were large marble buildings, but everything else looks like it was left behind by the French in that it is old, colonial style architecture.

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Good Morning, Vietnam!

After a couple of incredible weeks in Hong Kong, we now find ourselves in Hanoi, Vietnam! We arrived late last night, had a scare with our visas (they require payment in cash but don’t have an ATM before passing through customs. Who does that?!?), and made it to our hotel for the next four days.

Right away, our concierge was recommending places for us to go eat. I know that I like pho from around Atlanta, so I was particularly excited to try it out in Hanoi and see what it’s like from Vietnam. We got up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and set out to see some of the sights of Hanoi.

The first things we went to see were two national history museums. Because most of the city closes for midday, we actually only got to see one, and we opted for the museum of revolutionary history. It started with an entire floor dedicated to how terrible the French are, and ended with an entire floor dedicated to how terrible the Americans are. It was pretty cool to see the history of the country from ~1830 up until today, and most notable was the sudden jump in military technology. Prior to 1945, the only weapons on display for fighting French colonialists were sticks and swords. Suddenly, in 1946, heavy machine guns and artillery showed up. The entire museum was telling a very one-sided account of history, however, and decided not to mention how this massive leap in technology came about.

After the history museum, we went over to see the Hoa Lo prison. Again, we were presented with a rather one-sided view of history. The French built the prison to oppress political dissidents and living conditions were miserable and cruel, but the Vietnamese turned it into a very hospitable and comfortable environment for American POWs (who were even given resources to celebrate holidays that Vietnamese couldn’t afford to celebrate! How kind!). I kept expecting to find some sort of account of what actually transpired, but none was forthcoming.

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I don’t know what this says, but I’m guessing it translates to something like: “We definitely haven’t done anything morally questionable to anyone in the past 50 years.”

Finally, we rounded off the day of exploration by trying some pho from Hanoi, and I was not disappointed. It was absolutely incredible, and I can’t wait to try other types of Vietnamese food while we’re here. We did notice that our food smelled rather different than it tasted (it smelled awful), and have yet to find an explanation for that. Odd smells aside, I am excited to see what else the city has to offer, and try more amazing foods!

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