Alright, I promise this is going to be a good one!!!
Since the last entry I have done a lot of cool stuff, and am really excited to be telling you about it all!!!
But before I get into all that, I would like to start by congratulating Matt Hwalek and his Fiancee Meghan for having a wonderful healthy baby boy. On November 27th, Caiden Mathew Hwalek was born. Congradulations Matt, and good luck entering this new journey they call fatherhood!
Holler Jim Cullen, whoever you are. If you are the guy who thought I was on drugs that morning I was hungover from drinking a bottle of whiskey the night before, then read up!!! Thanks for subscribing to the post bud!
Hit meter is at 8,932 guys.... Lets make 10,000!!!!
This one is a long one. A special holiday edition, because I am sure a lot of you will be sitting around looking for something to do - so here goes.
I left off at Siem Riep, Cambodia, and this entry takes us through Phenom Phen, Cambodia, into the south of Vietnam, and up to Hanoi in the north.
Phenom Phen, Cambodia
Ho Chi Minh City (AKA HCMC, AKA Saigon), Vietnam
So, after going to Angkor Wat in Siem Riep, me and Kylie (travel buddy from New Zealand), headed out to Phenom Phen. The main draw there is to go see all the remnances of Pol Pot's regime, and all the destruction that occurred to the country under the Khmer Rouge.
The first place we hit up was S-21. This was originally a high school which was later converted for use by the secret police from 1975-79. Tuol Svay Prey High School, later renamed S-21 (security prison 21) was a real shithole in its day. Of the 20,000 prisoners held here during its heyday, only 7 survived.
Conditions were terrible, and as you go through the place you get a real eerie feeling. There are seperate cells where inmates were chained at the legs to the floor, and if they moved, spit, made a noise, etc. were beaten. Upstairs were large rooms where 40 people or so were shackled at the feet next to one another in a large room, and were not allowed to move or would be beaten.
Entrance to Toulslang Gang
Shit is no laughing matter...
Birdie in barbed wire
A lot of different torture techniques were used, and of the seven victims that survived, one was an artist, and painted these pictures.
Weekly (and sometimes daily) prisoners were shipped from here to the killing fields where they were murdered. Most of the time the murder was by bludgeoning in order to save precious bullets that were needed to crush the enemies of the revolution.
At the killing fields there is a really nice memorial for all the victims of the Khmer regime. Inside is 9,000 skulls that were found during excavations of the mass graves at the killing fields. If you take a close look at the skulls, you can see that many have large fractures, or dents (dont know the medical term???) from being bashed to death.
On the outside you can see indented areas in the ground where excavations occurred, and signs indicate what is in those areas. Some of the most disturbing is the one grave with 163 bodies who were decapatated, and the one for children and mothers. If you look closely at the ground you will notice that there are areas where the rains have washed away the soil to reveal the clothing of those who have been murdered. Its super eerie.
I have to say that once you go to S-21, and the killing fields you wont be in the happiest of moods. It will leave you feeling disturbed. You know you are fucking around with bad karma by going to those places. It really makes you wonder how normal people can turn into such vicious monsters.
After such a terrible morning, me and Kylie went to a shooting range and shot some machine guns to lift our spirits!!! They had a bunch of options on the menu, and coming from the gun thirsty US of A, I had shot most of their options, so I went for a Russian K57 fully automatic belt fed machine gun. The other option was an M60 (7.62mm US machine gun from the Vietnam era), but they said that it jammed a lot, so I went with the Russian option. For $20 more you can shoot a duck or a chicken. For a couple hundred dollars you can shoot an RPG (rocket), and blow something up or throw a hand grenade. If you pay a bit extra, you can blow up a cow. I really really wanted the RPG, but heard it was cheaper in Vietnam, so I waited. It turns out that its not cheaper, so I really missed out.... Oh well – put it on the list. I hear you can do that kind of stuff in some of the ex-Soviet states that nobody remembers their names.
And then there was this guy who didnt use earplugs, but instead preferred to use empty shell casings as ear protection...
Kylie wasn't so impressed by my half hour lesson on the history of the Klashnikov...
From Phenom Phen, we headed out to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon in Vietnam. Saigon was renamed when North Vietnam captured the south, and reunited the country in 1975. In honor of their esteemed leader the city was renamed after Uncle Ho. HCMC is a nuthouse. It has something like 6 million motorbikes, and sometimes you will be at an intersection and will see motorbikes going for 5 minutes, nonstop through the intersection with no stopping. Its a sea of motorbikes.
First introduction to HCMC. They love motorbikes so much, they never want to leave them. Not even to sleep!!!
We did kind of a lot in HCMC, and started by going to the Reunification Palace. This was the house of the South Vietnamese president up until the invasion by the north. It has been preserved in its original state, and is cool to see. The offices, and meeting halls were ok, but for me I thought the war planning rooms, and the underground bunkers were the best. Sitting in the map room, I could imagine that bastard Defense Secretary Robert Macnamara, or General Westmoreland giving all their shit statistics and feeding a load of garbage to South Vietnamese president Diem.
There was a bunch of quick escape routes from different areas of the house, and in the basement was a concrete bunker with radio and command equipment. There also was a helicopter that was always on alert in order to fly the president away in an emergency.
Ramdomly, these hollowed out elephants feet were gifts that the president left behind
From there we went to the War Remembrance Museum, which was interesting to see the Vietnamese viewpoint on the war. First of all, they refer to the war as the “American War”, and the way they portray it is that the US came in, and fought this war all by themselves. They would never portray the South Vietnamese as being in bed with the US, let alone fight against the North. They highlight all the VC who fought hard and were successful as “American Killer Heroes” - thats the name of the medals they were given. They then went into the disastrous effects of agent orange, and how the US knew how bad it was but still used it. After that they rubbed in the My Lai Massacre, where US troops murdered 500 innocent civilians, and some of the other unknown massacres that occurred on a smaller scale. Its basically communist slander at the US, and portrays the South Vietnamese as innocent bystanders, while the powerful North through all its determination was able to defeat the US war machine. It didn't talk much about the French occupation, or the battles of Dien Bien Phu, General Giap's massacre at Hue, or the Chinese occupation either. Strictly US bashing, and I can understand why. The US raped and pillaged South East Asia, and they have every reason to be pissed at us. We fucked them hard and I really feel for them.
Wow, shes sexy......... haha - talking about the jet.
I was taught to fear these people...
Piece of a B-52 wing shot down during the 1972 christmas bombings
When I was there, they had an exhibition on some of the prisons in South Vietnam, but of particular interest was this 18th century guillotine used by the French on some 200 prisoners during their occupation. Creepie!!!
From HCMC, I went on a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels. In the Cu Chi district of South Vietnam, they were the staging point for operations within the Saigon area during 1968 Tet Offensive. They are a massive tunnel complex that was used by the VC (South Vietnamese communist sympathizers who fought against the US). There were armament bunkers, bomb shelters, a hospital, kitchens, etc. all underground, hidden from sight. The US soldiers who operated in the Cu Chi area were under constant observation from hidden posts that were the most clever of designs. If the soldiers were able to make it around the area without coming under attack, then they had to make it through all the hidden traps that were in the area. A majority came from pungee sticks (sharpened bamboo spikes hidden below false ground). The people who worked there showed the 30 or so different ways that a pungee stick trap could be made, and what it would do to you if you got caught in it.
I heart VC!
Of course hanging out on the end of a tank barrel makes sense!!! Why Not!!! Give me a beer!!!
When I was younger, I was so inspired by the Cu Chi tunnels that I made a small underground room in my backyard with a similar construction to the VC just like this one.
From HCMC, we went to Nha Trang which is a nice beach town. Unfortunately, when we were there we had nothing but cloudy weather but it was still good nonetheless.
I was so proud that I was able to become a millionaire!!!
Me with one million dongs...... (not what your thinking sicko – their currency is Vietnamese Dong)
And then Kylie laughing at me because its really only worth like $50.
It was in Nha Trang that I had my first encounter with snake wine. When I was working in Binghamton, we had a guy from Vietnam in our department, and after he got back from a three week vacation there he told us about snake wine, and I was hooked. I knew I needed to have some. Snake wine isnt that complicated, and is basically wine that has a big ass snake in it. There are a lot of variations on it though. I have seen snake wine with birds, geckos, snakes, starfish, alligators, etc. in it. So when I found it in a restaurant for the first time I gave it a go.
Other snake wines I found along my journey
Then we went to this cool monastery.
And Kylie found her favorite plant in the whole wide world...
And there were these cool Buddhas.
This was my favorite, the sitting Buddha
The next day we had to wait for the bus, and it was cloudy so we took a gondola to an amusement park island and rode these funny shitty Vietnamese rides.
View from amusement island
Nha Trang port
From Nha Trang we headed out to Hoi An, where we literally didnt do anything because we got sick from our food. Hoi An is the best place in the world to get a suit. For as little as $20 you can get a handmade suit to your body size and type in a matter of 24 hours. I would have liked to pick up some joke suits, but I was saving my cash to shoot a rocket so I turned it down.
From Hoi An we headed to Hue, which was the capital of Vietnam from 1800 to 1945. We went to a cool temple there (Thien Mu Pagoda), which is really important for the Vietnamese, is a symbol for the city, and overlooks the water so its really beautiful there.
Then it was off to the Citadel, which was the historic city. With gigantic walls, it was the home of the emperor, and was filled with a secret community of concubines, emporers, and their buddies where they partied it up.
Me and my ten foot cock...
Then the next day I went on a DMZ (demilitarized zone) tour, which was cool, but only if you are a military buff like me. When I was a senior in high school we were asked to write a thesis paper on a topic of choice. The guidelines were that the paper had to be between 7 and 9 pages and the topic had to be approved by the teacher.
I chose the war in Vietnam, and in the end I was told that my paper was the best the teacher had seen in his whole career, and would be used as an example for classes to come, but was chewed out and received an A- for the solely because my 31 page paper didnt fit the length guidelines. Needless to say, I was more educated on the war than most of my Vietnamese tour guides, but it was still good fun.
We started by visiting this monument to women fighters, and those who worked in telecommunications during the war.
From there we went to the Vinh Moc tunnels, which were just north of the DMZ. They were used by the local people to hide and carry on with their lives during long term bombing operations by the US. It was once used to shelter 250 people, and 17 babies were born underground. The tunnels were a bit more spatious than in Cu Chi (they were in the North, so the tunnels were more used as an underground village than to fight the US), and they even had a meeting room/movie theatre.
This was a really nice memorial to the war in the museum
Then I had to get my hands on this Russian AAA gun
This was the conditions the families lived under while above ground B-52s were dropping massive loads all over the place
Cool lantern found underground
Then my favorite part of the tour was to head to Khe Sanh. The famous Marine base was the sight of the four month seige by NVA and VC forces in 1968. With 6,000 combined Marines and ARVN troops vs. a staggering 30,000 NVC and VC the Marines were surrounded, cut off, and had no logistical supply. For four months it was like hell living there, and in the end the VC pulled out sustaining heavy losses on the order of 15,000 troops. The place has a lot of history, and holds a special place in all Marines hearts (next to Chosin, Iwo Jima, Belleau Wood, etc.).
Today, the base has been taken over by coffee plantations, and there is little more than a museum as a reminder of all the shit that went down here.
Various parts of aircraft that were destroyed and left behind
Unexploded ordinance that was retrieved from the nearby areas. Twenty four hour a day large scale bombings by B-52s dessimated the North Vietnamese forces, and have left a lot of damage to the area.
Lone bunker that has been left behind as a reminder
From Hue, we then headed up to Hanoi. The capital of North Vietnam, this place was the center of the communist war machine. With all the Russian munitions coming in through Haiphong harbor, just a few hours away, they were brought in by rail to Hanoi, then down to the south on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Hanoi was really pretty, and I think we unanimously liked it more than any other city in Vietnam. If you ever make it out there, the area to stay in is the old quarter. It has a heavy French influence, and is really amazing. Just a few blocks away is a really nice lake, where you can walk around and see people doing all sorts of crazy exercises.
Night pics of the lake in Hanoi
I was super pumped about it, but I'm not so sure if Kylie was, but the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum was really cool. In the spirit of all good communists (Stalin, Lennin, & Mao), we hit up the mausoleum. Unfortunately, 15 armed soldiers ensure you don't take a picture, but it was something to be seen. I never thought I would be interested in seeing a dude who's been dead for 50 years...
Uncle Ho's resting place
Just next door is the Indochina governmental palace. This is where the French ruled from.
So, I know all this military shit is getting to be a bit much for you all, so I will keep it short. From there, we went to the Hoa Lo prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton”, so affectionately known by US airmen who spent countless years rotting there.
Service medal awarded to those who served
The “central house”, was the most elaborate jail in indochina, and the French made heavy use of it until 1954. They also had a guillotine here that removed the head of some 200 odd people.
The old layout of the prison until a majority of it was knocked down in 1999 to make room for a 20 story hotel. Who won the war now commies???
The first half of the prison explains how torterous the French were (not at all how almost all the jail staff was Vietnamese), and how the leaders of the revolution were punished here. The second half shows what a good life the US airmen had when being in jail there. They showed the cigarettes, mail, gifts, guitars, etc. that they had. All the pictures were of them smiling, and of the ones who were healthy. They then showed how humanely they were when they gave them first class clothes, and allowed them to return back home at the end of the war. It was a fat load of commie propoganda, but was funny more than anything else.
McCains flight suit and gear. He was shot down flying his Navy A-4 Skyhawk on a bombing mission of an electrical power plant that was really a decoy for a surface to air missile site. He spent the better part of 6 years in the Hanoi Hilton, and no longer can lift his arms above his head because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of the NVA.
These next photos are of of random Hanoi street life...
Cant get away from the rickshaws!!!
Me ghostriding the rickshaw. Told you Id do it!
Cool lantern store
So Kylie went to look for a jumper, and the man who owned the store was smoking this bong looking thing, and I asked if I could smoke with him so I did. I wasn't sure what he was smoking at first, but he was doing it on the street so it couldn't be bad. Anyways, I hit it and immediately the whole block started cracking up at me. They thought it was absolutely hilarious, and we all laughed about it for ages.
Then there was Ha Long Bay.... This place is amazing. You really have to go. Its a series of islands that are just a few hours from Hanoi. The best way to do it is to take a junk. Maybe a piece of junk, if you go for budget, but a junk is one of those ancient asian boats thats really cool looking. Im running short on available text so I will allow the pictures to do the talking...
I would have to say this is maybe one of the best pictures I have ever taken...
Thats all for now. Gotta run. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! I will be writing my next post from Iran, so till then...