Chapter 7 – Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore
“Chhum reap suor”
It is terrible and unconscionable what has happened to this peaceful country in the recent past. Millions of Khmer (the proper name for the people of Cambodia) were murdered, starved, tortured, and abused under the Khmer Rouge and yet they were innocent. Add to this the bombing that occurred during the Vietnam War (more bombs were dropped on Cambodia than Vietnam) and this poor country lost millions of its citizens – most of whom were the educated middle class. Despite all these atrocities the people are still full of energy and hope for the future.
We had some very cool experiences – from donating a new fresh water well system for a rural community of families, to playing an impromptu volleyball game with a group of young boys in a rural village outside Siem Reap – (WOW were the kids awesome and a great time was had by all), to helping a rural family prepare food for 30 Monks at 5:00 a.m. We feel very fortunate to have had this cultural experience which has touched our hearts.
Over a packed 6 days in Cambodia we spent 4 days in Siem Reap and 2 in Phnom Penh. We toured 4 temples in Siem Reap – Angkor Wat (largest religious structure in the world), Angkor Thom (a thousand years ago it was the largest city in the world with over 1 million people), the Banyon Temple (mystical feel as its been taken over by trees that have grown through the rock structure), and Banteay Sri (called the “Citadel of Women”) —- each of which is unique and inspiring. We did one day of temple touring by bicycle (over 25km) some of which was thru jungle paths – what a blast!
In Phnom Penh we had a guided tour of the Palace and S21, which was one of several prisons used to contain, torture and then send Cambodians to the killing fields to be murdered by the Khmer Rouge – it was both impactful and emotional. Even though the entire population of Phnom Penh (2 million people) was driven out of the city in 1975 the city is now vibrant and growing.
- Downtown Siem Reap is a HOOT! PUB STREET (actual name) was our favorite hangout – are you surprised?!!
- Cambodia is the country; Khmer is the name of the people (from the ancient Khmer empire)
- Khmer Rouge was the name taken by the communist party controlled by the psycho Pol Pot who murdered over 3 million Khmer during his 3-year rein
- During the Vietnam/American war, Cambodia was the recipient of more bombs than Vietnam – over 8 million land mines have been found and removed!
- Being a Monk in Cambodia – You can be a monk for 2 months, 5 years, 20 years — whatever period of time you want. Being a monk is a personal commitment to learn a way of life and gain education. Many Khmer become monks, especially in rural areas, where it is difficult to go to school. One young fellow told us “being a monk for a few years is highly respected – a good way to get a girlfriend and wife!
- Khmer (Cambodians) are a very warm, respectful, gracious, and giving people – we could learn a lot from them (maybe Trump should pay a visit?)
- They are incredibly poor but resourceful – tourism is increasing which is helping
Similar to India, Vietnam is hard to describe in words, it is a country to be experienced. We spent a bursting 17 days (including Christmas and New Year’s) travelling across the south, central and north regions of Vietnam. Each region boasts different sights, scenery, climates, foods, and culture. We toured Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon – which is still called Saigon by everyone living there except the printed maps!), spent Christmas in the Mekong Delta (great celebration dinner with … you guessed it … celebrity type Karaoke singers — awesome! – brought in the New Year in Hoi An, cycled through Hue, had a blast in Hanoi, and marveled at Halong Bay.
Saigon is said to have 12 million people and 7 million scooters – not unusual to see mom, dad, 2 kids and multiple packages on a single scooter – similar to India, there is a great dance between vehicles!! We cycled, rode on bicycle rickshaws, kayaked, had boat rides, multiple cooking lessons, consistently ate 6 course meals (not sure we lost weight), toured a local market with a French chef and witnessed what the locals like to cook (live frogs, snakes, bugs, eels, anything the earth provides!), private dinner with a full-out kung fu demonstration, attended a Vietnamese style Cirque do Soleil, watched a water puppet show (not as exciting as it might sound), had a private lesson from one of the communist government’s chief publisher/editors on the history of Vietnam (which was very interesting and surprisingly not overly biased), toured the Cu Chi Tunnels (used by the Viet Cong in the “American war” that we call the “Vietnam “war” – scary but fascinating), visited a fruit farm to taste local fruits (very different than ours in Canada), visited multiple palaces, temples, and museums, but the highlight was Halong Bay now one of the 7 wonders of the world. Ha long Bay is mystical, beautiful, surreal and someplace everyone should try to see!
- There are over 90 million people in Vietnam and more than half are younger than 25 and an estimated 70% were born after the War in 1975 – a fascinating blend of communism and full out capitalism exists
- Vietnamese people are self-assured and determined people who after being occupied for most of the past thousand years still have a very strong cultural identity largely maintaining their own language
- They love their coffee, beer and rice wine (hooch by any other name) sitting on “kiddy like chairs”, and have a great sense of humor
- They called Steve, throughout Vietnam, after meals “Happy Buddha” hee hee
- Politically they know they are walking that fine balance of being on friendly terms with China, Russia, and America
Welcome to the city of the future – a blend of “Pleasantville and the Minority Report”! Although we were in Singapore for only 4 days we managed to pack it full of lots of fun stuff. We had a guided tour of the downtown, visited the Marina Bay Shore (this is the hotel with the ship on top), cruised down the river, crappy bike rickshaw ride, 2 minute experience in China Town, Night Safari night at the zoo (which was really cool), had drinks at Clarke Quay and went on the G-Max Reverse Bungy (throws you a height of 60M, at a speed of 120kmph, with a g-force of 5G —- what a rush!!!). We have never seen such a clean and well organized city. As our guide proudly explained to us “you can feel safe walking the streets at any hour because everyone knows if you cause trouble you will be jailed and caned (i.e. smacked with a bamboo stick)!!”.
- Great architecture – both modern and new
- One of the most expensive cities we have ever visited — a glass of beer or wine is $20 — needless to say we were very well behaved!
- It’s incredible what they have accomplished in only a few years — their success to date and vision for the future is based on providing services to the world in areas where they are the most knowledgeable such as water management and technology
- Strategically – they have had a consistent vision for 20 years they have held to – hard to find that in the western world!
As we like to continue to do, below is our ratings chart!
Onwards to Australia and New Zealand!
Making it So,
Fran and Steve