• Evelyn Roberts

Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam


Thailand, August, 2016


I always seem to be in such beautiful places, so finding myself in the noisiest, smoggiest place imaginable, is almost a novelty. 4-lane dual carriageway and 2 minutely sky-train, a stone's throw away out the window, and day-glow decor.


But there is a bathtub and wifi, so all is very well.

To say nothing of abundant Thai food, and Thai massage, about every 100 ft.


Made a visit today to my favourite hospital, Bumrungrad, for several check-ups. Best service, wonderful doctors, and for anyone from the US, insanely affordable.


Gem of the day from the optometrist: we don't blink nearly enough when on the computer. Consciously remembering to do so makes a big difference to those of us who spend hours on it.


There will probably be no pictures of me on this trip, as the "Ageing Celt in the Tropics", had a lot of pre-cancerous stuff zapped off her face. I look as though I have a severe case of chickenpox.


Thank heavens for that red hat.


The only problem with a fabulous $7 Thai massage is that it is highly tempting to just say: "can I have one more?", and that might seem really decadent and greedy.


Roughing it in SE Asia.


Countdown to Cambodia. 10 hour bus journey tomorrow, favourite way to travel, (2nd only to trains). Feeling like a kid on the way to Disneyland.


Cannot wait.


Cambodia

Floating village on Tonlé Sap, (75 mile long lake). One of those times you wish your camera were a little better. Primary school age children rowing home from class was a highlight.


What these people have lived through in recent history. The conservative estimate is that 2 million out of a population 7 million were massacred.


Beautiful, friendly, un-embittered, kind-hearted people.


Kampong Cham. Sunsets, sunrises, biking around a small rural island, ferry across the muddy Mekong. Warm and lovely people everywhere.


Spider Town... yes they call it that because apparently the place is full of them... like lemons and lemonade, they make the most of it and eat them, (and for added good measure, also grubs, locust, crickets and worms). And no, I didn't.


The Killing Tree. I don't even want to write what they, (the Pol Pot regime), did at this tree, enough to say that today was one of education, sorrow, new understanding, and further bewilderment at the brutality of my own species.


Chum Mey, is one of only 2 surviving prisoners of this prison, (the other has advanced dementia). Daily, he sits close by the cell in which he was held, signs his book and answers questions. Because, he says: "Today you are a tourist, but when you go back to your own country you will be a journalist. Please tell our story to the world."


The corruption continues, many of those who perpetrated these atrocities still hold power.


Currently only 5% of the population of Cambodia is over 65 years old. In 4 years (1975-79), the population went from 7 million to 4 million, through massacres and starvation. Now they have 15 million, mainly under 25 years old.


A truly skilled, focused and sensitive massage, (and this is one area where I can claim to be an authority). For some reason it was when this tiny, powerful blind woman said: "Please turn over now, sister." that the full impact of this country and its history hit me full force in the solar plexus. Because we are only one family.


My name is Evelyn, and I am a travel addict. Sitting in Cambodia, on a rather stormy day, making plans for Sri Lanka... and at last the Silk Road. I need to sleep in another ger.


Of course it's worldwide, but I've never seen quite so many extremely young, local women, with relatively ancient western men, as here in Cambodia. Yes, even more so than Bangkok. Apparently it is such an issue that the government has made it illegal for anyone over the age of 50 to marry someone under the age of 20.

And absolutely I believe love can cross any age barrier, just not convinced it could be crossing this many. It's very complex, I know, so just saying.


Local bus from Cambodia to Vietnam in a couple of hours. Both of these countries have always conjured up countless mixed imaginings for me. Pleased for the chance to finally be able to stamp them with a degree of present day reality.


Vietnam


Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City - a whopping 9 million people, (and it seems like they are all riding a scooter). I am not much of a city person, (major understatement), plus every single major attraction seems to be related to that darned "American War". Working on an attitude adjustment, and some kind of exotic cocktail (Saigon Sting?) sounds like the fastest (most fun) way to get there.


Some places are supposed to rattle us, and it certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't go there.


The war museum tomorrow: "In 1990, the name was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression, dropping both "U.S." and "Puppet." In 1995, following the normalisation of diplomatic relations with the United States and end of the US embargo a year before, the references to "war crimes" and "aggression" were dropped from the museum's title as well; it became the "War Remnants Museum""


How fickle (and manipulative) we can all be, with our titles.


Cocktail sacrilege... bloody mary with a maraschino cherry, but the drink itself was excellent.


Fell so in love with Cambodia that Vietnam, so far, is feeling a bit like a rebound relationship. Too slick, too brash and very loud. And it is of course very unfair to make such a judgement so soon, and I am in a huge city.


The deafening bass, from god knows where, rattling the hotel room windows, isn't helping my affections to blossom.

6 million scooters on the streets of Saigon, but very few high powered motor-bikes. To own anything over 150 CC apparently requires rather prohibitive special licensing and fees, plus permission from the police.


This is very smart of them, as it is, crossing the road is like trying to navigate through a swarm of bees, throwing a few killer ones on steroids into their midst would certainly make it even more deadly.


Feel like I finally arrived in Vietnam, out of the city, (huge sigh of relief), in a charming homestay on the banks of the Mekong Delta.


The people are so warm and welcoming, smiles abound.


And, oh how I love a hammock culture.


Finally enraptured by Vietnam.


Marvellous day and night on Coconut Island. Next a rickshaw through the old city in Saigon, then a night train to Hue.


Another night train tonight, and it is surely my favourite way to travel. This time north to Hoi An.


So far a million mixed feelings about Vietnam, because of course, like anywhere else, it has has a myriad different worlds and realities contained in one so called country, and we're just scratching the surface.


Spent a day on a boat yesterday, cruising a beautiful bay... except for the trash which has taken over everywhere, it lines the coastline, and the people snorkelling said it lines the ocean also. Went to a fishing village, which can only be described as a concrete village, barely a patch of green to be found. Probably more convenient for all living there, so who am I as a tourist to mourn what is probably their welcome loss of mud puddles and mess?


Then we went to a so-called private "beach"... which was also almost completely paved. Huge destination location for Chinese tourists, and apparently many of them prefer their sand tamed with a concrete cap, plus vey loud speakers with music to drown out the ocean.


Fascinating customs abound, and in their form of Buddhism there still remain a lot of animistic beliefs, strongly connected to the ancestors. The dead are buried somewhere else for 3 years, then the bones dug up by the eldest son, thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned by him, and then buried on the family land. The rice fields are dotted with burial plots and gravestones. 2 major problems can arise; if there is no son a daughter cannot substitute, so the ancestors are denied their rights, and if there is no land the ancestors cannot come home. I could rant a little here, but for what... like everywhere else, Asia has her own ways. But of course I can bang on about women's rights and class inequalities in my own little adopted corner, and I most definitely do.


In Hanoi, next to the "stolen market" are 3 huge luxury tower blocks, built 20 years ago and never inhabited, because they are supposedly full of spirits. Not even the homeless will stay in them. My living in the east western mind is not quite sure what to think.


The people are unfailingly warm and gracious, and the food divine.


Nha Trang. Home to another amazing 9th century Hindu temple, apparently dedicated to Uma, the wife of Shiva. Wonderful peaceful place, (goddesses tend to be that way).


Then onto an ancient pagoda, with a beautiful white Buddha on top, dedicated to one of their monks who immolated himself in protest of the American War, and built after the invasion ended.


Hoi An, charming town, (the Santa Barbara of Vietnam). And free wifi provided by the town itself (a 1st that I know of). The train arrived in Da Nang, just a few miles away but a different world, we drove by American bunkers (still standing) and China Beach.


Sometimes even the anti-shopper goes shopping. When in Vietnam, support the local tailor next door (fabulous woman called Mo), and in the process go a little Suzie Wong-ish.


135 km scooter ride from Hoi An to Hue tomorrow, part of it across this mountain pass.


Today, visited My Son Cham Temples, Vietnam's equivalent to Angkor Wat. Incredible Hindu temples, only even older than Angkor, primarily 7th century. Less impressive if only because out of 68 temples, only 20 remain, all the rest were bombed into desolation by the USA during the American (Vietnam) War, as the Viet Cong were based in the area. Cultural outcry is the only thing that saved what is left.


The area is pitted with bomb craters and bullets can be felt embedded in the walls. It is recommended not to wander off the paths, as about 3,000 land-mines are suspected to still be in the area.


Unfortunately the Vietnamese do not have the resources to restore much of it, but nonetheless a very pretty place with a remarkable history.


The trip to Hue was wonderful, scootering is such a glorious way to see places. We had torrential rain much of the way, but that didn't dampen (pun intended) our spirits a bit.


Mountains, coastline, rice fields, American bunkers... where ironically several people were having their wedding/engagement pictures taken... no idea what that could be about.


Truly a day to remember as we zipped through thunder and lightening in our bright plastic rain ponchos... of course I was quite bright even before the ponchos.


Hue: ancient Pagoda, Perfumed River, the Citadel, markets, koi, incense making, boats and countless beautiful roofs and ceilings :D


Last overnight train in Vietnam, Hue to Hanoi. Only 4 more days here and I don't want the journey to end, but I already have the next ticket in hand so no complaints really. Plus, I will have 5 days on a Thai beach before I head back to the rice fields.


Exploring Hanoi; cathedral, markets, Hoa Lo... the infamous prison coined the "Hanoi Hilton" where so many suffered, starting with the Vietnamese being persecuted in their own country by the French. A most ominous guillotine remains.


During the American War, John McCain and others were held here after being captured, the flight suit he was wearing when captured is on display, plus photos of when he revisited.


Not so buzzy and modern as Saigon, maybe because we are staying in the old city, but lovely lively backstreets entice, and if you look up now and then, (while keeping one eye on the endless scooters zig zagging everywhere), the reward is lots of crumbling, fascinating colonial buildings.


What stories this city could tell.


Tomorrow Halong Bay, apparently one of the 7 wonders of the natural world.


A beautiful day.


Notes I took while in a taxi on the way to the airport in Hanoi. It was one of those times when you really want to say something but words just don't cut it. They still don't, but I'm going to spill them anyway.


Saying Good-bye to Vietnam.


Driving by the lake at 6am this morning, it was surrounded by “oldies” doing aerobics, tai-chi, jogging, biking and stretching. Delightful to see.

One of the countless moving things for me on this trip has been the times I have locked eyes with someone my age or older. The message I always get from these eyes has been welcoming kindness, and behind the veil I have sensed something far deeper, a piercing recognition, and countless stories I cannot even imagine. We all carry the mark of the generation we grew up in, and I was always so angry and sorrowful in the face of what happened to the innocent people in this part of the world, but by comparison it all played out for me in such safe and benign circumstances. The acceptance and forgiveness to be found in the world is staggering, and I use the word "forgiveness" in the loosest sense, because there isn't another word I know of for the generosity of spirit that people can have towards those from the lands that once brought them such suffering.


And everywhere I look, there is Quan Yin, one of my favourite goddesses. Only she is not Quan Yin, (I have been told this quite firmly), that is a Chinese goddess and this one is Vietnamese (although she really could be QY’s twin). Her name is Phat Ba, Quan Yin is a goddess of compassion, whereas Phat Ba is the goddess of survivors.


Thailand


From Hanoi to Ko Samet in 13 hours; a taxi, a plane, a bus, a sky train, another bus, a boat, then the back of a tuk tuk truck on a rickety dirt road... finally arriving on an idyllic beach, on a gorgeous Thai island. This is exactly what I needed after 26 days of travel.


Gotta love a place where the sea is as warm as tepid tea, as calm as a bathtub, and a massage costs less than a small pizza.


Getting on that big boat in 10 minutes, heading back to Bangkok and then Bali-bound tomorrow. Home.


Bangkok Airport: amazingly the goddess of overweight luggage still blesses me, an espresso machine and an industrial sized blender thing are cosily on plane to Bali, at no added expense to moi. Let's see how they make it through in the other end.

The darnedest things amuse me, a monk and his duty free (I mean why not - but it still tickles me). And there's a little "shrine" to the long gone era of pay phones, that for some reason no-one has bothered to take down. One thing for sure, the easily amused are never, ever bored.