Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia (the non temple post)

Landing in Siem Reap was like a portal into the Twilight Zone, Ana couldn't have been more spot-on in her initial assessment. The first clue was when the ATM spit out US dollars. We took a tuk-tuk from the airport to our non-window hotel in the heart of the chaos. It didn't quite feel like Cambodia, at least the way we had imagined it, the town was more like a holding tank for foreigners with locals catering to our every need and desire. The markets were lined with teams of workers ready to massage your feet (or other parts of your body for a few dollars extra). There was even a ladyboy show in front of 50 or so massage chairs. If you have a taste for Mexican, Belgium, Austrian food or anything in-between, they had it. Need to fill up your terabyte hard drive with TV shows and movies, you could do that as well. The reason why everyone visits Siam Reap are for the temples, the tourists shift 5 miles north during the day towards Angkor and back to the center to indulge in their desires at night. If you're not careful, you can get lost in it all.     
Gluttony, check.  
There has been no shortage of 20th century conflicts in Cambodia; be it the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia-Vietnamese War, Nixon's Bombing campaign...
Leftover relics at the War Museum.
It was eerie looking at weapons knowing that they were mostly used by child soldiers for the sake of genocide.
Clearing mines. 
Signs in the countryside.
Our docent had a missing leg in addition to being shot three times. He showed us parts of his body where shrapnel from land mines are still lodged.
Phare The Cambodian Circus is not to be missed. Performance themes touch on social issues, our show centered around domestic violence. It's a tricky task blending serious issues entertainment.
The Circus is part of Phare Ponleu Selpak-a Cambodian non-profit association steers underprivileged children and youth towards a better quality of life through cultural, artistic, educational and social skills. We envision the arts as an instrument for human development and social change; a way of securing a brighter future for our community, gaining national and international recognition for Cambodian arts. To learn more, click here
If your Boston style pizza didn't quite cure your appetite, a tarantula snack might be in order...
...or perhaps a snake on a stick. 
A holiday in Cambodia isn't complete without an evening Apsara dance show.
The worst is when stoned hippy chicks invite themselves on stage and sit next the musicians and try to play their instruments. Where's the respect?  
The original Apsaras are supernatural beings from Hindu and Buddhist mythology, their images are carved on many of the temples. 
A land conflict billboard in the country.
Equally heavy, the Land Mine Museum.
Art depicting conflict in Siem Reap. 
One of the many child victims of land mines.
A collection of mines courtesy of China, Russia, United States, Germany, etc.; there are 5 million still buried countywide. People with missing limbs is a common site in Cambodia. Many of the victims are farmers and children. 
The Land Mine Museum and School was opened by Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge child soldier. He became know for his unconventional methods for removing mines. To learn more about his organization and facility you can click here.  
Palm sugar makers and vendors can be seen along the road in rural areas.  
The sensation of shoving sugar in your mouth. 
Another type of fishing.
Wat Thmey (Killing Field) memorial.
Afternoon bike adventure in the country.
Need a hubcap? 
Bridge to the artist market.
Farewell Cambodian Bar-b-que.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hoi An Vietnam-the sleepy town

Hoi An was a nice relief from the noisy and smoggy Hanoi. It was more laid back and the thought of getting hit by a motorbike eased up considerably. 

Well, so much for communism. 
Cao Lao for breakfast, lunch and dinner...if it were up to me. 
Hoi An has Japanese, Chinese and indigenous architecture from the days of being a major trading port. 

Dress conservative and not like western hoochie mamas-I think the sign say that. 
Bikes, the best way to explore the town and surrounding villages. On the way towards the beach we rode past a blind massage center, I researched it. A blind couple and two of their friends run it. To learn more about the couple's amazing story, click here. It reminded me of Zhang Yimou's film, Happy Times. 
Strangely, Hoi An was relatively untouched by the Vietnam/American war considering the proximity to Da Nang.
Can't have enough communist posters.
I wonder what the US version of this would look like, the people would probably be wearing Coca-Cola shirts and advertising some sort of product.
The market was a lively place to score great produce. I ate my fair share of dragon fruit. 
One of the complaints is traditional Hoi An is being swallowed up by tourism, and the landscape like above is being overtaken by hotels. On the upside, many traditional houses are converting into home stays.   

About an hour drive southwest are the My Son Hindu ruins from the 4th century. 

The impressive part of the original construction are the bricks are stacked without mortar. 
Bomb crater. Sadly much of the site was destroyed by B-52 carpet bombing in 1969. Like many areas in Southeast Asia including My Son, unexploded ordnances remain a danger.   
The market is the best place in Hoi An to sample the cuisine and eat with locals. 
In addition to national pride posters...
Sure, I took several boat photos. What does it mean? 
Bacon in a truck.
Well, if you must know we skipped the western New Year's party at  the town's center in lieu of sleeping. The girl at our home stay said that there was another celebration the following day. We observed what resembled something along the lines of a day of offering and remembrence. 
In addition to good food, pagodas, temples, and architecture, Hoi An boasts tailors on every corner. If you want something made or copied, bring it here. Ana and I had vintage bowling shirts made much to the tailor's dissatisfaction.