Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’
Every day so far we’ve visited the temples of Angkor in the morning and attended presentations at the Angkor Photography Festival in the afternoon. We’ve hired a pair of moto drivers for $8 a day, and they taken us to stuff on and off the beaten track.
This part of Cambodia is definitely touristy – Angkor draws a phenomenal number of tourists from all over the world. The scale is overwhelming, and it’s hard to find a lot of peace in the monuments, but nonetheless, they are phenomenal. The entire Angkor complex covers around 2000 square kilometres, and there is temple after temple after palace, all built between the 9th and 13th century. Interestingly, there is not much else – anything organic is long gone, and in fact, no written records, other than inscriptions on rock, have survived.
The ruins are stunning. Angkor Wat itself is the crown jewel. It is absolutely vast, I think around 2kms on each side, and the central temple towers high above the plain. It is covered in reliefs of stories from the Indian epics, with massive armies fighting, monkeys, elephants, demons, and so on. Saffron-robed monks wandering the wat add splashes of colour.
The other temples, even the more minor ones, would be renowned even on their own terms. We’ve seen ones with massive trees growing through the rocks, ones covered with faces of the Buddha (the Bayon), one with the most ornate and elegant carvings, and ones that are islands floating in the water. Some are absolutely mobbed (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom), and some are much more peaceful. The morning scenes of tour buses, tuk tuks, motos and bikes all streaming toward the ruins is something to behold. Army manoeuvres would pale in comparison.
I’m shooting an astounding amount of film. Jeremy’s already running low and I may adopt him as a charity case if I can spare some film.
The photography festival has been very inspiring too. Every night, we convene in an elegant hotel to view exhibitions, hear talks, and watch slideshows from the best photographers working in Asia. On the first night, Phillip Jones Griffiths of Magnum presented his brilliant work on the Vietnam War (Vietnam Inc.), post-war Vietnam, and the impacts of Agent Orange. On sunday, there was an exhibition of photographs of Khmer boxing and a presentation by Gary Knight of a retrospective of the work of his agency, VII: stunning images of 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq and the US. Yesterday’s emphasis was on Japan, with presentations by contemporary and famous Japanese photographers, plus a very moving documentary about a young Japanese photographer – Taizo Ichinose – who spent a lot of time in Siem Reap during the war, and who disappeared – killed by the Khmer Rouge – when he tried to make it to Angkor Wat to be the first photographer to reach there during the war. There were also presentations by a dozen young Asian photographers of their work in Siem Reap as part of a workshop prior to the festival. We’ve been able to meet some very interesting folks and to brush shoulders with fame. Two nights ago, we sat at a table and chatted with Ian Berry, a famous photographer from Magnum who shot the Vietnam War as well as apartheid in South Africa. Now he’s working on a book about some of the major rivers of the world. He’s off to the Mekong Delta today.
Food here is good. Not quite as tasty as the stuff in Malaysia, but lots of basil, peanuts and crunchy things, kind of like Vietnamese food. Jeremy ate a cricket on a skewer. He said it tasted like sewer, which did not sound like a strong endorsement. Our moto drivers like them, but say they have to be had with beer.
Khmer massage is very good. We went for one yesterday and were subject to two hours of vigorous kneading by women who could crush bricks with their bare hands. We were squeezed, bent, stretched and walked on, all for $10 for two hours. We were slightly jelly-like afterwards.
Today is a rest day. I’ll stroll around the town, probably head to a market this morning, then I’m not sure what I’ll do this afternoon. This evening’s theme at the festival is Korea.
Me and my sweaty back can’t believe that I’ll soon be heading to snowy Vancouver soon!
I am in an internet cafe in Hue, in the middle of Vietnam. The woman at the station next to me is internet chatting with someone in Vietnamese. I don’t know how they make Vietnamese come out of a keyboard.
We flew in to Hue yesterday afternoon, and the flight was painless. It immediately feels different here: it’s lusher, greener and has even rained a few times. The city has a much more provincial feel to it, with quieter streets and a more traditional way of life. The conical hats are ubiquitous, and cyclos are the way to move everything from granny to large piece of furniture and pigs. It’s monday, and all the school girls are wearing the traditional Vietnamese outfits, the name of which I’ve forgotten. When a gaggle rides by on bicycles, it seems like something from a painting.
Hue is full of history. It was the site of a major battle during the Tet Offensive, of course, and there are still scars. There are many newer buildings from the 1970s that probably replaced those destroyed, there are pill boxes, and there is a park will about 10 rusting American tanks in it. We’re only a short trip from the DMZ and places like Khe Sanh as well. Hue was also the centre of the last dynasty in the country, and there are numerous palaces in the imperial city dating from the 19th century that we visited this morning. There are many temples and pagodas to visit as well.
We’ll stay here tonight and head to Hoi An tomorrow, where we may spend the night, or we might just come back. We fly back to Hanoi at 8:30pm the day after tomorrow.
I’ve booked a trip to Halong Bay for when I get back. I’ll spend three days there, one night being on a boat. I’ll be part of an all-inclusive tour, which is the standard way to do it. It was $60 for everything. I’m a little anxious that the trip will be full of young yahoos, but who knows. I’ve had great luck meeting people so far. Helen – I would have booked a trip through your old friend Huong at Handspan, but his company is really upscale, and seems to charge about double for the same trip. I did go into their shop and it was very swanky.
Poor Jeremy is back at the hotel recovering from some bad pho. We had a choice for breakfast this morning – eggs or pho. I chose eggs, he chose wrong.
We did have a fantastic meal last night of the famous Hue cuisine. We had a cripy omelet with shrimp smothered in peanut sauce and greens, and amazing spring rolls that you wrap yourselves using fried shimp, greens including mint, star fruit and greens figs, all dipped in zesty peanut sauce. We also had another dish of sticky rice flour and shrimp paste all cooked in a banana leaf. There was more, and I also had hot lemon juice while Jeremy had two beers. It came to all of 67,000 dong, or $5 for everything! We had delightful service from the deaf mute owner. When you don’t speak Vietnamese, I don’t think that language really matters.
Damn, I didn’t bring enough film! I’m on my last roll of the good stuff, so I’ll have to switch to something else soon. I’ve shot 8 rolls of 36 exp colour print film, plus a couple of black and white. That doesn’t include all the digital (many short video clips too).
I’m still enjoying Hanoi very much. I continue to be amazed at the organic mass of honking scooters that flow through the streets, weaving around me as I cross the street. I’m still amazed that there are no disasters, but there is some method to the madness.
I’ve explored many of the sites here, although many more remain. On wednesday I visited the Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple that served as a university to train scholar officials. The architecture was very attractive, and there were a series of large stone tablets resting on the back of enormous turtles celebrating the graduation of either individuals or groups of scholars. This temple was first founded in around 1072, I think.
I also visited the Army Museum, which is largely dedicated to 20th century military history in Vietnam. It was quite sobering, particularly the display of American warplane wreakage in a courtyard. There were shattered pieces of B-52s, F-111s, F4s and so on, often with insignias evident. Also on display was the NVA tank that crashed through the gates of the presidential palace Saigon, marking a key point in the end of what is known as the American War. There are several very famous photographs of this event that I have seen.
The food is fantastic, whether it’s pho eating at a streetside stall as you sit on teeny stools at teeny tables, or a fancier meal in a restaurant. I’ve had delicious spring rolls, fish, juices and even creme caramel here. The prices are fanastic. A full meal with drinks and dessert runs about $4 at most.
Yesterday I signed up for a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda, about 70kms south of Hanoi. The trip was $12 all inclusive, and about 16 people came along. The bus trip was quite interesting. I got to see a lot more of Hanoi as we drove out of the city. The architecture is distinctive – tall, skinny ornate buildings are the norm. Scooter chaos was everywhere. The countryside is gorgeous, with lush patties and fields, and locals working them in their conical hats. The villages that we passed frequently had dogs in cages, and there is no doubt that they were destined for the table.
After 2 hours, we arrived in a village where in fours we got in small rowboats and were paddled by a local one hour down a placid river, past karst hills, shrinesm fields and even the odd lily just growing wild. We docked our boats, then hiked about 45 minutes up a steep stone path worn smooth by years of feet. At the top, we dropped down a set of stone steps into a massive cave which, while not deep, had an astounding mouth all surrounded by lush vegetation. The cave was a Buddhist temple, although I saw a number of Taoist deities as well. I hope that my photos do justice.
Descending was less sweaty. It’s not terribly hot here, but it is sticky. After a lunch at the bottom, we had some time to explore another ‘pagoda’, a gorgeous temple complex with a series of courtyards and towers, all hung with colours banners and flags.
We rode the boats back into down, then boarded our bus for the trip back into town as the sun went down.
Jeremy Tan arrived last night from Kuching and is delighted by the chaos, I’ve enjoyed meeting new folks, and have managed to meet up with Rory and Jenny from Ireland everyday, but it will be good to have a dedicated travelling companion, particularly one with Jeremy’s character. We’ll visit more sights in Hanoi today, with the highlights being a meal of cha ca grilled fish and a trip to the water puppet theatre this evening. Tomorrow we’ll probably head down to Hue. The original plan was to take the train, but I heard from Rory that you can actually fly for around $60, and fortunately they’ve retired all of their Tupelov jets, so that’s not such a scary proposition. A 45 minute flight is preferable to an overnight train ride, I think.