Day 11 One of the boys was not so good this morning and has elected to stay at home. Must have been the spiders and crickets he ate the other day! Headed of the Angkor Wat. Tis temple was built about 900 years ago and took 0nly 37 years of labour. The moat is wide and you walk across a cause way through the outer buildings into a huge square. There are quite a few monkeys around this area and they seem quite aggressive and don’t like their photos taken. As we entered the middle area we saw bullet holes from battles between the Vietnamese and Cambodians. Angkor War was used as a base by both Pol Pot and the Vietnamese invasion. A lot of land mines were removed from the area before it could become a tourist site. The inner temple has a lot of Hindu and Buddhist stories carved into the walls And the carving is very detailed every face slightly different. We climbed up the very steep steps into the towers. This is a practicing Buddhist temple so there were a lot of shrines. The view was amazing and I can see why it would have been used as a base for armies as you could definitely see who was coming and you had areas to grow crops fish etc. Next we had lunch at a training school. This is like the skill centre but is sponsored by the Sofitel and we experienced very fine dining. This has been voted the best meal so far. Minestrone soup, Chicken and Macaroons with chocolate ice-cream. Yum! Back to the hotel for a short break. The sick boy was feeling much better and was ready to join us for the afternoon. This afternoon we visit one of the highlights. Ta Phrom This is the tomb raider temple and yes we did take the odd photo outside the doorway that Angelina Jollie comes out of. The rest of the temple is lovely it has 300 year old trees growing out of it as the jungle reclaims the area. Very picturesque. This temple was built to honour the kings mother and was original studied with precious gems. Surprise surprise only the holes are left to show where the gems had been, but suppose that OK as the temple is nearly 800 years old. This was a very civilised place and at the same time England was experiencing the Black Death. We went back to Angkor Wat to watch the sun set which was quite lovely. After a quick swim we went to a lovely restaurant for diner and afterwards half of us went to the night market and the other half heading back to the hotel for more swim time. Had a lovely time at the night market. So much easier than Vietnam, Only thing is they cater for smaller women than me. On arrival back at the hotel Steve was waiting to let us know that one of the girls was vomiting. This got worse and in the end Anne and I called an ambulance and accompanied her to the hospital. Anne returned to the hotel and after an overnight stay all was deemed fixed and we were released from the hospital early afternoon. Both of us very sad to have missed the elephant ride. The hospital was excellent, they seemed very thorough and quickly identified the issues and addressed them. It certainly emphasised the need for good insurance whilst overseas as an overnight stay comes in at a bit over $1000 American which must be paid before departing the hospital.
We woke up to the sound of monks at the local temple chanting. They were pretty constant from 5 am till 7 am. I wandered along the lane ways and saw the cattle being led down the th rice paddies to graze. A very rural scene. After breakfast we went to a local school this consisted of prep grade 1 to 4, 52 students to a class and all incredibly keen to learn. They sang a song we sang a song. We gave out some of the things that we had bought at the local market then we all went outside and played games together. This was fun. We are not looking forward to saying good bye to Kim. She is a very impressive person and has touched all of our hearts. The landscape that we are passing through is rural with rice paddies cattle water buffalo cricket traps lotus ponds and all sorts of vegetable and fruit being grown. The road is under improvement and is very bumpy. We arrived a little late in Siem Reap and said a sad goodbye to Kim and our driver Mr Dom.
We met our new guide Dy he took us for a lunch then onto the huge lake Tonle Sap. We floated along the water wys looking at some of the floating villages and getting of the boat to look at a crocodile farm. The lake triples in size when the Mekong reverses its flow due to the back up of water from the snow melt from the Himalayas. Time at the hotel and a welcome dip in the pool before dinner and an early night.
Day 9. Checked out of the hotel and headed off down the road Kim pointed out all sorts of things along the way. Fish traps, Weddings Different types of rice. She bought some Lotus flowers so that we could have a taste. They were really nice. She told us about the different types of foods people meet. The road was really bumpy and still under construction. We stopped at the spider village. We took photos of each other with spiders on us and some of us ate various parts of spiders. The legs were very crunchy and the bodies tasted a bit nutty. Maddy was the only one who ate the entire spider. I ate the legs and body but didn’t eat the head. Back on the bus Kim showed us a bag of delicacies that she had bought. Silk worms and crickets were really nice I had a couple of each. Preferred the taste to spiders. Then on the road to the home stay. A nice lunch then we were shown our accommodation. Girls upstairs on thin mattresses on the floor under mosquito netting ad boys had beds down stairs again covered by mosquito netting. The beds have to be off the ground because of the rats that come in from the field. We went to the market to buy good to give to the local school, this was fun and it enabled us to give back to the community. It wasn’t market day so we missed out on all the live fish and chunks of meat. We took a pony ride through the village and down to the rice fields. This was lovely as the rice was young and incredibly green. We had a lot of fun with a group of young children taking photos and then showing them what they looked like. Next an oxcart ride down to the paddy fields again but this time to watch the sun go down. Quite beautiful. The ox are quite majestic. A game of foot minton followed and then time for dinner. After dinner we were treated to local dancing and Ally,, Alice, Liam and Liam had the opportunity to learn the dance and were very good on their feet. A bit of western dancing followed then time to tuck our nets under our mattresses and sleep under the noise of the fans.
Sorry about the delay sending this there was no internet at our home stay. Day 8 We all benefited from the quieter day yesterday, so after breakfast we headed off to the Killing fields. On the way Kim told us her story. She lived in phnom penn and on the day the Pol Pot soldiers came through her street her parents were else where. They were told to leave the house and leave the front door open. Her neighbour was old and said she wanted to wait for her children to come home. The soldiers shot her. Kim followed others to the outskirts of the city and stayed there for a couple of months. She saw many people shot for wearing glasses for asking questions etc. With some others she made her way to Vietnam foraging for food along the way. After 7 months she made it to a refugee camp near the cuchi tunnels. She lived there for 12years and had most of her children there. She feels that the older two suffer from the effects of Agent Orange. At the camp she had many jobs and at one time she thought of killing herself and her children as there was no food. She came across a restaurant and offered to clean up there. She worked really hard and was allowed to take the left overs home. This saved her and her family. She worked there until the refugee camp was closed and she went back to Cambodia. to late to reclaim their home. The Killing Fields is a sobering place and we were all affected by what happened here. Kim took us through the area pointing out bones that are still coming to the surface and telling us about atrocities that had happened here. Kim feels that some of her family members are probably in the mass graves that are yet to be uncovered. There was one Australian from WA that was found in the mass burials. One of the pits contained only headless bodies. These were soldiers and officers that went against authority and the heads were sent elsewhere to prove their death. Babies were bashed against a tree and many of the mothers died of anguish when they witnessed this. A very sobering place. Next S 21. This was a school built by the French about the same time as the West Campus of school. When Phnom Penn was cleared out they used this school as a prison. They knocked holes through the ends of class rooms and on the bottom floor they built small cells where people were housed in shackles, the second floor had small dark cells made of wood and the top floor had room sized cells. We were shown the room where the some of the last 14 to die were killed. There were photos of what the room looked like when the Vietnamese came to the prison. We could still see the blood spray on the ceiling. On one of the upper floors there were photos of various confessions and I read the confession of the Australian. He had been near the This Cambodian border and had taken pictures of boats on the river. The boats had antennas he was going to delete the poor quality pictures but was caught before he could do so. The confession had his finger print and his signature. He was married with a young family. He ended up in the killing fields. S21 is an amazing documentation of mans inhumanity to man. We met one of the 7 survivors of the prison and then headed off to lunch. We had a lovely buffet lunch and then had a relaxing 2 hours At the central market. Back to the hotel Then off to dinner at the Titanic Restaurant by the river. Many of us enjoyed some Mocktails.
Day 7 A few sickies this morning but I am really impressed with how they are continuing to take part, despite having been sick. They are dealing with it in a very mature way and trying not to hold the whole group back. First stop today was the Silver Pagoda and Kings Palace. This is an amazing place. We saw the throne room and a few other public buildings. The Slver pagoda was fascinating it has a silver floor and a large budda made of an emerald. When Pol pot came to power he imprisoned the king and his family in their palace. Apparently they fed the monkeys and we saw some of the descendants climbing over the roof. It surprises me that Pol Pot did not take any of the wealth from the palace. He just left it to sit there and rot. We wandered around the rest of the silver pagoda area looking at all of the stupas where they place the cremated remains of the royal family and also a model of Ankor Wat. At this point six headed back to the hotel to rest up and make sure that they got over the tummy upsets. Next the National Museum which contains a chronological history of the Ankor nation. /The kids had fun feeding the fish. This was most entertaining. Lunch was a buffet and then the 11 healthy ones spent a delightful hour at a market making all sorts of purchases which we all believe are must haves and genuine bargains. Back to the hotel to find the rest of the crew much improved and then of to another meal this time with some wonderful traditional Dancing. All in all a great day.
Day 5 We had yet another early start today and checked out of our Can Tho hotel to go to the Can Tho River and visit the floating market. Everyone was greatly surprised by the river pollution and how different the lifestyle is of those who actually live on boats. When we first arrived at the market we were approached by many aggressive boat drivers trying to sell us drinks and fresh fruit. We treated ourselves to some freshly cut pineapple and then visited another local market. Much like the one we visited yesterday, this market had an array of disgusting fish and other meats. This market was not as bad as the first but still only an experience that Wardo could truly appreciate. By Georgia. We continued along the water ways back to Can Tho and onto our bus for a few hours journey through the countryside to our hotel at Chau doc. The country side is amazing rice paddies small towns the occasional wedding and the most amazing things being carried by on motor bikes. We had lunch at a crocodile farm and learnt about the crocodile farming business. At Chau Doc Mae took us to visit the Temple of the lady Su. This is a new religion where you wish for something good and if it happens you give gifts back. It must work as the hall where all the gifts were looked pretty good. We booked into the hotel and the male staff and the kids settled into some down time and the female staff wandered through the town looking at the local stores. We all headed off to bed as we have an early start in the morning. Day 6. 4.30am wakeup call and a quick and particularly yummy breakfast we headed off to catch the boat to Phnom Phen It was a sad good bye to Mai an excellent tour guide then onto the boat and up the Mekong river. After about an hour we arrived at the border and had to get our Vietnamese Visas stamped for exit and after changing some money onto the boat again for a couple of hundred metres to the Cambodian border and we had our visas stamped again. Back onto the boat and a leisurely four hour trip up the Mekong. The landscape was great sugar cane cattle people fishing ad lots and lots of little children waving to us. We had a lovely packed lunch on the boat and eventually arrived in Phnom Phen and met Kim our guide for the next part of the trip. Kim introduced us to Phnom Phen then onto our first Cambodian meal. The flavours are subtle and quite delightful. After lunch we headed out to Banteay Prieb. This is a place run by Jesuits that retrains people who have acquired a physical disability through birth or accident. They are trained to sew, sculpt fix engines etc. they also live in communities and learn life skills. This place was inspirational. Emma presented father Greg with a donation. We headed back into the city and rested up at the hotel before heading out to dinner at a place similar to our skill centre. Lots of teachers and students in training. It was a long day so it wasn’t long before we were all asleep. Huge thunderstorm and lots of rain which freshened up the neighbourhood.
Day 4 Today we all had a very early start with a wake-up call to all our rooms at 6:00am (Vietnamese time), so we had enough time to finalise our packing, have breakfast and then check out of the hotel at 8:00am. After check out we all got on the bus and made our way to the vast Mekong River. On the way there we stopped at a stunning Co Dai Temple and admired the beautiful carvings on the roof and walls. We all piled back on the bus and after a satisfying nap (on Georgia’s shoulder) we finally arrived at the Mekong and met our boat driver, whose name was unknown to us, so we affectionately referred to him as Dave. Dave took us for a spin in his Vietnamese boat. After an intriguing boat ride, Dave dropped us off at a place that manufactures traditional Vietnamese candy, such as coconut candy and popped rice, with both of those coming in many different varieties of flavours. After the candy demonstration we made our way through to a bee farm where they produced honey and royal jelly, which has many health benefits and after many panic attacks we finally discovered that the bees do not sting. Then we made our way back to Dave and were transported to four-man boats for a private boat tour along small canals in the Mekong. Yet again we made our way back to Dave and after a ride to the city, we said goodbye to our incorrectly named, yet greatly appreciated boat driver. In the village we went to check out a local market. The locals had fish eyes, live snakes and other delicacies on sale. This experience was an assault to the senses and with the exception of Wardo, nobody particularly enjoyed it. After a bus trip we arrived in Can Tho and checked into our hotel, where we were to have dinner. Afterwards we checked out a night market which was conveniently located next to our hotel and came back laden with cheap gifts. Written on the bus by Ally and Georgia.
Day 3. I am writing this on the bus coming back from our visit to Nui Dat and Long Tan. This was the day we learnt first-hand about our own history but from the viewpoint of the opposition. The statement that comes across so strongly here is that no one wins in a war; everyone hurts. We arrived in Bara and met our local guide, whose nickname was Wombat. First stop was a Vietnamese War Memorial at Lang Phou. This memorial lists the names of the Vietnamese killed in the area. Here we had the opportunity to pass through another set of tunnels, these ones had been enlarged for Westerners so we all got to the end. Wombat then took us to the site of Nui Dat. Using photos and stories he recreated the landscape around us so that we could imagine what it looked like when the Australians were here. We then drove around to the other side of the mountain to the remains of the airstrip, which is now a road. We then headed on to Lon Tan itself, where wombat described the fight and the numbers. I didn’t realise that there were so many more Viet Cong than Australians. He described what happened afterwards and then how Australians have come back and what he learns from them. When we were here last the cross was in the heart of a rubber plantation, much as it was when the fight happened. The rubber trees have matured and have been removed and replanted so now there are rows of rubber plants and tapioca. Wombat conducted a very moving ceremony we had the last post a minutes silence and finally each of us laid a rose on the site. This trip has given the students a new understanding of soldiers who fought (often against their will) in Vietnam. We then had the pleasure of eating at the best soup noodle shop in the region - at least that’s what our guide says. The food was great, sporting a unique combination of coriander, egg noodles, pork and bean sprouts. Back to ho Chi Min and time at a market. Ten of us went for a hot stone massage. This was a real experience. I would have loved to have seen what we all looked like lined up with cucumber on our faces and hot rocks being used to massage our legs. This was an experience that most of us would be happy to repeat well lasting well over an hour for $20. Dinner tonight was western so we enjoyed steak, fish and chips and even pizza. Did you know? Viet is a community of the Viet people. Nam means man from the south Cuchi tunnels are 250 Kilometres in length. Photos Nui dat Long Tan rubber plantation Long tan memorial The dresses the Tailor made.
Day 2 At about 8 am everyone started to appear for breakfast, again it was an opportunity to try something new. Quite a few people Mr C Anne and a few of the girls took the opportunity to have clothes made by a tailor. Then off to the Chu Chi tunnels. This was out in the countryside so we had the opportunity to see all sorts of strange things along the way. People sell everything here! The landscape has a grubby appearance quite a lot of rubbish around. Mai entertained us with some singing as did Steve and finally Celina sang. Steve was so delighted he gave her an extra 20 points in the quiz. We arrived at the Chu Chi tunnels. This area shows how the Viet Cong were able to live without being seen by the American Army. We watched a really interesting propaganda film from the time and then we were shown how they disappeared and lived under the ground the various types of traps used to maim Americans. We had the opportunity to go through the tunnels. I happened to be first being the guide. They are arranged in sections each one gets lower in height. There was an escape tunnel every 20 metres for those who decided to leave. I was very amused that every time we got past an escape tunnel the guide pointed it out and waited for me to go down it. We changed levels a couple of times and Tom Liam G Danial and myself who made it to the end had to crawl the last part. It gave you a sense of what it must have been like, but the life of the families who lived under ground was very precarious. Death could come in so many ways. Cave ins bombs dropped from above. If the upper tunnels collapsed then the people in the lower tunnels had no way out. Of to a scrumptious lunch, then back to Ho Chi Min City and a bit of retail therapy. Lots of bargains were made by every one. After we worked up an appetite we went to yet another venue and had another amazing meal. The food here is fabulous. The group is such fun everyone is getting along really well and enjoying the ride. Cant wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Day 1 Hi everyone. What a long long Day! · We departed Hamilton arriving at the airport by 9 for final farewell, then through the big double doors. The plane departed at 12.45 am and after a bite to eat we settled down to spasmodic sleeping. Kula Lumpa was next and a chance to walk around for a couple of hours then the final 2 hr flight to Ho Chi Min City. The visa on arrival took ages, paper was being pushed here and there all over the place. Then out into the humidity of the city. · Mai was there to greet us and the bus headed into the city. Mai pointing out things along the way, then onto lunch. Not that we needed food after all the meals on the planes! But we did our best and most of us were adventurous. Danial, Georgia, Alice, Celina and Maddy were seen eating snails. The look on their faces was priceless! Mr C was the only one that attempted eating the 100 Next year old egg, but I don’t think any of it actually reached his mouth. All the other food was great and it revived our spirits. · Mai took us to a Lacquer ware factory. We saw the process and there were quite a lot of really beautiful presents bought for the families back home. · Reunification Palace. This was once where the president lived and during the War it was the main command post of the South Vietnamese. Most of the planning was done in an underground bunker, with the maps still on the walls. Vietnam fell when Ho chi Min’s Tanks crashed through the gates. They are still in the grounds.. The palace is used now for tourism and official government functions. The Hungarian government were hosted there the morning that we arrived. · War Remnants Museum. This is a very confronting place. The grounds are full of equipment left behind by the Americans and there is the remains of a Vietnamese prison as well. The inside of the museum is full of photos telling a very different story of the Vietnamese war to what we in Australia know. The Vietnamese call it The American War of Aggression. The photos told of the pain and suffering of the Vietnamese and the photos showed the aggression of the American Soldiers. There were photos we recognised like the one with the Napalmed girl running down the road but it was the original photo before it was cropped showing Americans calmly reloading their film and just standing round watching. Same [picture different story. Everyone found this a fascinating place. · Finally we got to the hotel and put our luggage in our rooms. Only to come down stairs for our Cyclo ride. This was an hour long and took us through the streets of Ho Chi Min down back streets and main roads down to the river and past many of the iconic sites. We all got to experience the traffic close up. What an experience. · We finally had an hour off to have a shower! Bliss!!! We were all flagging a bit but we had to have another meal and surprisingly we were getting hungry again. We went down to the river and had a typical Vietnamese meal on a boat that eventually headed of down the river and gave us a great view of the traffic on the River. The river is best seen at night as it is pretty dirty, but the lights were really pretty. · At 9.30 pm with our eyes barely open, we staggered off to bed and a good night sleep and the promise of a slightly later start tomorrow of 9.30 am departure. So far I have been impressed with how everyone has mixed. New friendships are being made and are having fun!