Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From Monsoon to Typhoon

What started out as continuous rain has turned into something of a typhoon.  Even the locals are blown away by the weather.  The rain hasn't stopped in four days and the whole place is getting flooded.  Streams that were just a trickle a week ago are now raging torrents.  Boats to and from the island have been cancelled which means that food  isn't making it to the island right now.  The shelves of 7-11 are getting pretty bare.

Our trio stocked up on munchies to help us weather the storm.  So far, the rain hasn't been much more than an inconvenience for us and, as long as we don't get hit by a falling coconut, we should be pretty safe.  Our main challenge is staying entertained.  Flooding has made travel outside of our village difficult and the electricity to our area has been down for two days.  Basically, we've been playing cards and eating three meals a day at 'Good Time Restaurant'.  Fortunately, the kitchen uses gas to cook so they can still serve most of their menu.  There is one light which is attached by a long cable to the owner's motorbike battery.  Apart from that, every meal is candlelit.

To send this message, we had to rent a scooter and drive to the main town.  It doesn't seem like the outage has affected this area too badly as people are merrily eating, drinking, and internetting in every shop.

Today, the navy has begun to service the island with their robust boats, bringing supplies and ferrying travelers  who are sick or have planes to catch.  Robyn and I are going to avoid boat travel until the wind subsides.  We had enough issues with sea sickness on the way here and the water at that time was incredibly calm compared to how it is now.  We've heard that there have been 4 to 5 meter waves out on the sea.

I'm very sorry to all of the momma's and poppa's out there who are reading this and feeling nervous about our travels.  We do feel pretty safe and are going to wait until it's absolutely safe to head out on the sea.  This island is quite sheltered and is not prone to hurricanes, tsunamis, or any other storms that can make it unsafe to be on land.

That being said, here are some pictures of the flooding and a little video showing one of our favorite restaurants.

Mama Pooh's Restaurant... or what's left of it 
The owners are living here and can often be seen sitting on the tables as the water runs by their feet.

This is the beach in front of our bungalow.  It is incredibly well-drained sand so the fact that water is pooling is testament to the intensity of the rainfall.

Another view from our balcony.

The main road down from out of our village heading north.

Robyn getting cholera
We've been stuck in our little area for days but haven't succumbed to cabin fever yet.  We'll see how it goes though.  We might not get off the island for another five days or so.

So that's that.  Like I said, we have to electricity so I might not be able to update this for a little while.  We'll see how things go.

David J Parker

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Life in the Monsoon

I wrote yesterday that we were in the middle of a monsoon and, at that time, I thought I was exaggerating.  Apparently I wasn't.

In the past week, scattered downpours have turned into unyielding torrents.  The past 48 hours hasn't seen more than 5 minutes of continuous sun or moon and, while it's interesting to experience different sorts of weather, the humidity is taking its toll.  Dry clothes are becoming more difficult to come by so I end up wearing my least damp shirt under my totally drenched not-so-waterproof rainjacket.  Since it never dries, it's all starting to smell of mildew.  On Saturday I made the mistake of wearing shoes, jumping over puddles, walking the winding paths of high ground.  I was doing a pretty good job of staying dry until my scooter stalled out right in the middle of a big puddle.  I let out a girlish yelp as I sunk ankle deep into the stagnant pool.  I set my shoes out to dry on the deck overnight.  During the night, it seems, the wind blew at the specific velocity and direction required to completely saturate them with rainwater.  Alright, stinky wet shoes.  I guess that means sandals from now on.

To add to the chaos, the wind has picked up dramatically.  You may be surprised to hear that falling coconuts and palm branches are actually really dangerous.  We didn't notice until now just how many ripe coconuts and dead branches there were on the kazillion or so palm trees of Ko Phangan.

The view from our beach hut has changed from clean sand and calm blue waters to grey white-capped seas backing a debris-strewn shore and the soundtrack every night is the beating of rain and the thud of falling branches.

There's a little pond by our bungalow that used to be nearly empty and is now overflowing.  Somehow, there's still life in there because an ugly catfish-eel hybrid flopped out of it just in front of our steps.  Robyn implored me to save it and I, being the epitome of masculinity, decided to pick it up with my hands.  I had barley touched it when it started to wriggle around.  I jumped up with a screech waving my hands in the air.  It was the most pathetic attempt at machoism you've ever seen.  Naturally, Robyn found it very amusing.

The strangest thing about the weather is that even the locals are confused by it.  Monsoon season occurs from June to October and this wet spell has been ongoing from December to now.  It's usually a tropical paradise but now ferries have been cancelled, the power has been spotty, and people are just hanging out, waiting for a sun that may never come (Too dramatic?).

First sunny day, we're getting outta here.  I'm actually supposed to be researching our next destination now so maybe I'll get back to it... maybe

David J Parker

Permaculture Finale

Last day of class.  So sad to see it all go.

Two weeks have passed in which we've been challenged to change the way we see the world and to organize our fragments of understanding about the natural world into cohesion. In the last three days, we split into groups, touring the site trying to reconcile the tenants' needs with the land's potential.  In the end, each team came up with a rudimentary design and presented it to the class.  It was a fun little exercise and made it abundantly clear that we have a lot of work to do before we start telling people what to do with their property.

The focus of the final lecture shifted from physical structures to invisible ones:  personal connections, communities, governments, businesses, etc.  It is important to remember that we're aren't starting with blank minds and social structures waiting to happen.  We operate within existing structures and have to understand them in order to be successful.  More importantly, the only way we can be successful is by building communities based on sustainable principles and that remember that life can be, should be joy.

Joy is what I am most impressed by.  That evening we had our certificate ceremony and windup party.  Joy was the word.  Everyone turned into such a bunch of hippies.  The certificates were handed out with hugs instead of handshakes and the word love was used without restraint.

And then, the party!  On the first day of the course, each attendant was told that they would be required to perform at the party and everyone answered the call splendidly.  Because we were given no guidance as to what should be performed, the show varied widely.  On the more ridiculous side, Robyn sang a song about a cow being impregnated by a rooster, Jevin hosted a failed social experiment in which he laughed like a fool in front of everyone (he hoped people would join in but they just stared awkwardly), Ikut predicted what the world would look like in 100 years if Permaculture was widely adopted (it involved several short-lived cults who confused the observation of passionfruit with the path to enlightenment), and Adam sang Candy Mountain reworked with Permaculture-inspired lyrics.  Alternatively, we were guided through a meditation by Natalie, read a spiritual poem regarding awareness by Louis, and Nathan composed a somber reflective poem using key phrases from the lectures.  I left Permaculture entirely out of the mix and read some descriptive prose about some of our travels.

After the performances, the party was officially wrapped up.  But instead of leaving we all turned into a bunch of hippies.  A few people had brought hand drums and starting playing some simple rhythms.  It wasn't long before it escalated to the whole group banging away at anything they could get their hands on:  pots and pans, stools, cushions, the broom, didgeredoo, empty skulls.  People (Jevins) were literally swinging from the ceiling and making all sorts of strange noises, all adding to the miraculous and spontaneous cacophony.  There were about two people in the group who had rhythm so the whole thing sounded dreadful but, in a different way, it was the greatest thing I'd heard all day.  Everyone was losing their inhibitions, swallowing their ego to serve the community.  In other words, it was all a lot of good fun and it was enhanced by the state of mind we shared.  No drugs, no alcohol.  Just us like we are everyday.

That's it.  Done Permaculture.  Time for the real world.

But wait!  That's not it.  Today is another day and we learned something today as well.  Hooray!!!

Today we went to a lady's house to learn all about the whys and hows of raw food.  We made a coconut milk soup, vegan mayo sushi, and a host of other dishes that don't have names because they were improvised.  

Tomorrow, Jevin and I are attending a yoga class that may prove to be very dangerous.  Everyone and their dog is a yogi in this village and most of them have studied in this school.  A common phrase is "I was on my way to go diving in Koh Tao when I decided to attend the free day of yoga.  That was five years ago and I've yet to go diving."  I truly am only planning to go to the free day but we'll have to see how effective the brainwashing is.

David J Parker

Friday, March 25, 2011

Greetings from the world's newest Permaculture experts

For the past two weeks we've been hiding under the thatched roof of a mountainside bamboo hut trying to focus on the future of our planet and all its residents.  It's a lot of work!  So many angles!

Since tomorrow is the last day of our Permaculture Design Course (PDC), now seems like a good time to reflect on our experience in the classroom and on the island.

When we signed up for the course way back in the fall we didn't know what we were getting into.  We went to the bank, deposited a large sum of money into a Thai account, and hoped for the best.  Would we show up to an empty lot on a Thai island?  Would we get there and be forced to dig trenches and haul rocks in name of practical experience?  I feared the former and expected the latter.  Reality, of course, was neither.

Instead of explaining the best way to hold a shovel when you dig a ditch, Permaculture instructs you to put down the shovel, open your eyes, and think about the big picture.  It's about design.

Conventional wisdom would tell us to look at the newest technology, what others in the field are doing, and then to put our heads down and get to work.  Pull out the weeds.  Plant one crop.  Apply the fertilizers.  Smile every time you see soil between your rows of veggies/cereals/trees/whatever.  Instead, we now ask why the weeds are there?  What is their role in nature?  Instead of using energy to get rid of them, can we use them to our advantage?  As we have learned, weeds are often pioneering species that help rehabilitate the soil after it's been damaged.  They can replace missing nutrients and break up compacted earth among other things.  We don't have to use that plant though.  We can identify other species that perform similar functions but have additional uses and are easier to control.  I imagine that it will be difficult to convince any Saskatchewan gardener or farmer to befriend weeds.  I risk being labelled a starry-eyed hippy whose lost his sense while away from reality.

The process is the same in the case of monocrops, synthetic fertilizer, and barren soil.  These things are never observed in nature and nature has perpetuated itself since the dawn of time, feeding all of Earth's species with no intensive cultivation or petroleum inputs.  The key is to look at how nature does what it does and mimic it for our benefit.  I don't want to eat every tree in a Saskatchewan forest, but I can increase the instances of Saskatoon berries, raspberries, strawberries, root vegetables, herbs, nuts, and all sorts of wonderful foods that you can find once you start looking.

This talk is all well and good, but it doesn't seem like we can change our worlds when you get back to 'reality' at the end of next month.  Well... we're working on that.  We're hatching up schemes for our yard and garden.  I'm thinking of ways to integrate permaculture with environmental engineering which shouldn't been too difficult.  Jevin's got a property out of town he can play with.  And we would all relish the opportunity to visit friends' properties outside of town just to discuss possibilities and share our enthusiasm and knowledge.

Good good.

So, I haven't said too much about basking in the sun or drinking coconut milk but the truth is that we've been stuck in a monsoon for the past week.  It's just as well though since it would be very difficult to pay attention in class with a nice cool beach staring back at us on a sunny day.

David J Parker

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Images from the Island

I wanted to post some proof of how idyllic our current setting is so I decided to post some photos.

Permaculturalists never rest.  Everyone is busy reading on our tea break.  This is Hubert's house and our classroom.

Everyone is paying attention except for Robyn who appears to be sleeping.

Hubert's place is an open-air loft on the side of a mountain with a view of the Gulf of Thailand.  Pretty sweet.

Our view.  It's hard to see, but there are islands sticking out of the water in a few directions.
It's been raining every day here monsoon-style.  To prove that we haven't left the winter wasteland for the totally ideal beach life I have to include a picture of what we are biking through every day.

The rain is a good excuse to cuddle up with a coffee and the interweb.

But sometimes the rain can't be avoided and we have limited ways of keeping our clothes dry.  Don't worry.  Robyn and I are more likely to get wet than get naked.  Jevin's a wild animal.
Today was our one and only day off and we spent it scootering up and down the island only to find that we've got the best patch of land around.  This is hippy-central.  Walk in any direction and you'll end up at either a yoga studio or a health-food cafe.

Last night was the full moon which means that the infamous full moon party was in full swing with two beaches full of intoxicated youth using the ocean as their urinal.  Even though the event is one of the most famous monthly goings-on in the country, we opted instead for an enlightened discussion on the Integral Psychology theories proposed by Ken Wilbur.  It was a very good choice and I feel that the path towards enlightenment is beginning to unfold in front of me.  Really, I do.

We spent the rest of our day swimming on the beach by our bungalow, narrowly avoiding terrifying interactions with seaweed and tiny crabs.  We had lots of fun splashing around and soaking up the sun.

David J Parker

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Permaculture Design Course on Ko Phangan

From the early days of planning this trip, we knew that we wanted it to be more than a sightseeing tour through some novel landscapes.  Along the way, we've tried to soak in as much of the culture and history of the regions we've visited, exploring ways to make our trip practical and relevant to our lives back home.  The connections weren't always obvious, but we had one plan that was sure to help us grow as we traveled.  We signed up for a Permaculture Design Course (PDC).

Permaculture is a difficult concept to get across in a short time so I've asked Wikipedia to help me describe it.  It speaks of an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that are modeled on the relationships found in natural ecologies.  It is an ethical, practical, and sustainable design science.

Perhaps I can give some examples of Permaculture in action.  If we applied the concepts to our yard, we would in time replace our lawn with food trees and shrubs, herbs and berries, and vegetable gardens.  We'd have a living plant and animal system that helped maximize the capture of solar energy on the site, retain water, and largely maintain itself.  The idea is to combine human ingenuity with the best practices of traditional systems and nature to replace the current system which is bound to collapse as fossil fuels and mineral resources diminish.  

The whole thing seems very common sense but when you look at what is being done by the mainstream it is obvious that there needs to be a revolution.  

Don't worry mom, I'm not a revolutionary yet.  I just want to plant a good garden.  I want to be able to pick fresh herbs for my morning tea without getting out of my pajamas and be able to make raspberry jam from the fruits in my yard.    I want the knowledge of a thousand grandmas!  

We've only been on this island for a few days.  It looks like it would have been a real paradise before it was demolished by the influx of tourist infrastructure and we managed to find a spot that still has most of its charm.     Our little chunk of tourist infrastructure is a bungalow on the beach where Robyn swings back and forth on our deck hammock while I chase my tail inside.  Sometimes I settle down enough to read The Beach aloud to her and any of our neighbors who care to listen.  

The PDC course is inland, up a mountain on a piece of ground owned by some idealistic young travelers-turned-locals.  The whole thing is covered in jungle except for some small areas that have been cleared by the aforementioned occupants.  There are three of them who each built living spaces around the site.  The most impressive is Julian's house.  It is on the side of a rocky hill and each wall is actually made of massive boulders covered in by a grass and bamboo roof.  It's part hobbit-hole, part 5-star resort loft.  I should sneak a picture of it when Julian isn't looking because it seems like the perfect home.  Everything that can be outside is:  kitchen, shower, bathroom, stairways.  It's always warm so the well-designed houses always have a cool breeze blowing through them.  Because the house follows the natural contours of the land, there are interesting shapes and spaces throughout.  

The 'classroom' is Hubert's loft.  It is a wood-floor bungalow with only two walls.  To the west we can see over the jungle canopy all the way to the Gulf of Thailand.  Three points of a neighboring island point up from the water, perfectly in view while we discuss concepts of design that glorify natural patterns.  

It all seems pretty ideal and it really is.  We're at the point where the weather, food, culture, and even the toilets are familiar and are beginning to see more deeply into the spaces we inhabit.  Hooray for adventure!

If you are intrigued by the concepts of Permaculture, check out to find out more.  There are many resources and courses in Canada and would love to have good company on our journey to reclaim the earth!

David J Parker

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dusty Smiles at Angkor Wat

Plastered in a mixture of red dust and sweat with my attention temporarily drawn to the gritty crunch of the foot pedal. Its rotation impeded by years of neglect and bearings worn flat by explorers seeking to reveal for themselves an ancient wonder. Clickety-clang-clang, clickety-clang-clang, I ride between Wats on a rickety old single geared bike rented for a dollar from the guesthouse. Every subtle nuance of the scoured and pitted road reverberates through the twanging metal frame into my spine. My ass is sore and feels bruised by day three as I shift from left cheek to right. Driven by curiosity and the marvel of the Khmer empire I move onward with the sense of discomfort subsiding as I make my way to a new eastern entrance.

Images of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Buddha, Hunuman, Rama, and a myriad assortment of dancers, demons, warriors, animals and beasts of all sorts are preserved in fine detail as eternal carvings along long corridors, pillars and thresholds. Stories of epic battles and great victories are vividly depicted by skillful craftsmanship in stone.

Indulging in childlike delight I climbed block after block tooled by long forgotten hands. A sense of wonder overtakes me as I spring from step to step, darting over piles of crumbled rock and climbing clambering bricks of sandstone that are hot to the touch from the baking afternoon sun.

At a remote temple, free of tourists and hawkers, a young girl approaches me while humming a childish tune. She is carrying a few coconut bowls but does not seem all that interested in trying to force a sales pitch on me. Instead, I say hello and we have a few soft spoken words. She follows me humming as I climb through bamboo scaffolding to a central tower. Smei, her name, I ask for assistance. I brought some paper and charcoal and want to capture an image of the carved Sanskrit text. I hold the sheet against the threshold wall and rub some charcoal onto its blank page. Here, I instruct Smei how to rub a crumpled piece of paper over the sheet as phantom symbols make their ghostly appearance. She is amazed and delighted and thoroughly pushes the soft dusty charcoal over the entire sheet. I thank her and take a photo as she proudly holds the sheet for me. Paying Smei 2000 reil for her efforts and leaving her with a charcoal rubbing of her own with a few additional sheets of paper and a chunk of charcoal I smile and say goodbye. Departing down the dusty road on my bicycle, Smei calls out Goodbye one last time while skipping, humming and grinning a broad smile. Elated by the encounter I wave and round a bend in the road.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On the Road to Sustainability, Koh Phangan

The three of us have covered a lot of ground in the last 24 hours.  Last night we boarded a plane for Bangkok and felt spoiled rotten as we watched the tuk-tuks and moto drivers turn into ants below us.  After a short hour in the air, we grabbed another set of wheels: a taxi to the bus station.  

Yesterday was our first experience revisiting a country and it kind of came as a shock how familiar it was.  In our few spare hours we headed towards the street vendors who had, as we remembered, done a very fine job of filling our bellies in the past.  I rejoiced at the no-longer-mystery-meat on a stick and Robyn ordered the noodle soup she'd been missing for so long.  It was exhilarating to be able to order food properly and actually end up with what we wanted. 

The return to Thailand heralded an even greater return to normalcy: 7-11.  We hadn't seen one in over a month and we were only too glad cross the green and red threshold into a world of plastic wrap, air conditioning, and posted prices.  It's one of the few places you can buy things at a fair price without a great deal of effort. 

Our time in Bangkok was to be shortlived.  We only had two hours to spare before our Koh Phangan-bound bus came to pick us up.  The vehicle approached and things looked promising: double decker, toilet on board, no locals sleeping in the aisle.  We climbed aboard and at once realized that this night bus had no beds.  Shucks.  That's ok, I bet the seats recline fairly low.  Ahh, they do, excellent.  Wait... no, mine doesn't.  It's going to be a long night.  I spent 9 hours in the most bizarre positions trying to get a moment's rest.  Failure!

I've been told that I've been looking a little crazy lately.  I don't suppose the distinctive bus lighting helped any.  The color of my face in this picture is an omen of things to come.

The bus dropped us off at a ferry port with about 3 hours to spare.  Everyone on the bus was exhausted.  We laid a thin airport blanket on the concrete floor and crashed out, awoken at 6:30 am by the boat captain who wanted to get us on the boat and get moving.

The sun rises just as we climb aboard the boat to Ko Phangan

We weren't on the water long before Robyn, Jevin, and I all started turning a little green.  Sleep-deprived and sea-sick, we made our way to the upper deck over the sprawling bodies of our fellow travelers.  Maybe a cool breeze and some fresh air would do the trick.  It seemed that we weren't the only one with the same idea.  The top deck was littered with bodies, some sleeping, some too tired to sleep.  Squeezing into a space between bodies and bags, Robyn and I released our bodies and minds to the will of the elements, mouths gaping open towards the sun.  The sun, that wretched sun.  It turned our tired faces from golden brown to lobster red while we were helpless to defend ourselves. 

After almost 24 hours in transit, we finally arrived on Ko Phangan.  This island and those surrounding it are the setting for Alex Garland's book The Beach which I have just started reading.  If you have or plan on reading the book, it makes a pretty good sketch of the region. 

We found a dingy little beach bungalow and rented some scooters.  Tomorrow morning we start our Permaculture Course.  Work!?!  I don't know if I'm ready to start learning at this point in the trip.  I was just getting used to not doing anything.

David J Parker

Every bungalow has a hammock.  Major perk!
Beach out front of our bungalow.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Earthquake

The earthquake and tsunamis in the Pacific have not affected us and we don't anticipate them to.

Lunch Stop

The heat is dramatic.

Two hours on a bus where the A/C serves only to push around clouds of recently evaporated sweat brings us to our lunch stop.

The long blue and white bus is left running, engine panel removed, blasting noise, smoke, and waves of thermal energy into the parking lot.  It is the only vehicle on a wide stretch of dry red earth dotted with plastic bags and empty beverage containers.

The W.C. (water closet, toilet) is a short walk across this desert.  By the time I reach it, my sweat-soaked shirt has dried everywhere except the crevices where new batches of the salty liquid are constantly replenished.

From a photo, the place might not look like it feels, palm and mango trees dotting the horizon.  But closer inspection reveals starved saplings, their stocky trunks valiantly supporting a few wilted leaves.

David J Parker

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Battambang, Cambodia

We pulled into Battambang yesterday afternoon, escaping the worst of the heat in our air-conditioned bus.  It was a short ride from Siem Reap and mostly uneventful.  We've hit some of the most touristy spots in Cambodia but, unlike many places we've been, the locals still vastly outnumber the tourists almost everywhere.  The bus ride was no exception.  There were about 10 white faces and the rest of the travelers were Cambodians.  The bus was packed with the most beautiful children and their mothers, some sleeping, some playing.  No one on that bus was afraid to make noise.

Our lunch stop was a stinky and sweltering dirt field in some nowhere town.  The women lined up for the toilet while the men went anywhere in the back corner of the lot to relieve themselves.  I found found myself standing on a stinking pile of rotting meat and peeing into a decomposed coconut.  Too much detail?  Robyn was saved by having a bladder of steel.  She can always pass on the nasty bathrooms. 

The menu was about as attractive as the toilets.  Included were battered and deep fried whole snakes.  Entire young chickens had been simply defeathered, battered, and fried.  Beaks, feet, everything. 

We skipped lunch.  I decided to drown out the bus chatter by listening to the iPod we brought along.  This is the first time in over two months that I've had headphones in and it felt a bit weird.  The music I was listening to was so polished, so clean.  It spoke of things that seemed so far away from where I am now.  In this place, everything has rough edges.  I turned off the music, instead opting for a recorded lecture given by philosopher Alan Watts.  He was an American that studied Easter philosophy.  He came back to the west in an attempt to describe it all to us in a way that we could understand and I think that he's done a fine job.  By the end of the lecture I had nearly attained satori and had come to terms with my own mortality.  A fairly productive bus ride I must say!

So we drove into Battambang and wandered around, trying to decide what to spend our one day in town doing. We found a nice coffee shop on street 1 1/2 that was run by a bunch of foreigners who split their time between making lattes and working for NGOs.  They they ran bike tours in the morning that took travelers out to the countryside and into various home-scale industries.  Sounds sweet, sign us up.

If this person was riding down the street in Saskatoon, I'd be worried.  Here, this outfit is just a way to avoid the sun and the bike is just a way to bring your wares from place to place.

These things are like the front halves of tractors that can be hooked up to a cart.  They haul anything you can imagine from concrete cylinders to multiple families.

We got up at 6:30 am the next morning and hopped on our bikes.  It was a very nice morning, the perfect temperature and humidity.  First stop, a rice paper shop.  One family runs this business and sells a day's production for around $5.

Thin circles of rice paste are put on bamboo sheets to dry.
I tried my hand at making rice paper and the results are predictable.
  We kept biking down to a rice field where we learned the process of planting, transplanting, and harvesting rice.  It seems like a lot of work but the country is built on the rice industry.

A bit down the road, we got to a fish paste factory.  I don't know who could eat this stuff.  It is made by letting fish rot for four months with flies all over it.  The farmers love it.

Pile of fish bits on the floor of the fish paste factory. 
This vat of fish bits will sit for months with flies all over it and then be sold at market.

Here's a video of some fish guts with maggots crawling all over them.  Yummy!

The last thing we saw was a big monument to the victims of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.  It was filled with human bones that had been collected from all over the region.  Their skulls were visible through the windows and on the outside of the building, there were bas releifs telling stories of that period.

We've heard a lot about the history of Cambodia and everything is starting to cement itself in our minds.  I thought that I had enough pictures of torture instruments and human skulls so I opted instead to take a picture of a very skinny cow that was grazing nearby.  You'll never find a steak in this country and it's probably because all the cows look like this:

This is where low-fat ice cream comes from.  Wha wha.
Tomorrow we're heading back to Phnom Penh for a day and then we're flying into Bangkok and jumping right on a bus for the south of the country to start our permaculture course.  It may be a busy couple of days and we might not have much to say so if you don't hear from us we're not dead, we're just very boring.

David J Parker

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Goodbye Vietnam


Some people said they couldn't find Robyn's post and since it's such a special even, I decided to repost it at the top of the pile.  I've also added some pictures of Cambodia at the bottom.  We've done a lot of posting in the last couple of days so scroll down and see them all!



My first thoughts when crossing the border from Laos to Vietnam were 'Why did we leave Laos? and why did we leave Laos for this?' For a long time after that, nothing I saw could change my opinion of Vietnam. To sum it up, it was smelly, dirty and polluted, the people were mean, and the weather was bad. If I were to give out a couple lessons for those planning on traveling to north vietnam, they would be:

1. Nobody likes you. It's probably better that you know this going in.

2. Everybody is after your money, all of it. This could be through crime, or overcharging. It is expected in North Vietnam that tourists pay 4-10 times as much as locals for transportation (this stat from our guide book)

3. Ho Chi Minh is god. If you would like to see his dead body, go early, there is a big line up. this was the north, but to give Vietnam some credit, the more south we got, the nicer the people were, the sun came out, and the food even became edible. Jevin heard someone describe North and South Vietnam as the North being like the States and the south being like Canada, they're alot alike, but one is waaay nicer.

We spent most of Feb in Vietnam, and when we made it to our last destination, Saigon, I was sad to see Vietnam go.

I was afriad to cross into Cambodia. I had heard that touring through Cambodia, people cry everyday, the poverty is intense and there are landmines everywhere. Maybe thats why I was sad to see Vietnam go...they may be assholes, but there's no landmines!

Our bus taking us to Phnom Penh (our first stop in Cambodia) was the most comforatible yet. An easy 6 our trip later, and we find our self and the most helpful and friendly guesthouse yet. I was waiting for Cambodia to get scary...thinking just around the corner would be something that would make me cry. But after a full day of touring around the next day, with a super nice tuk tuk driver, I decided that I love Cambodia!

I know its early to say, but I think we have a winner!!

Reasons why I love Cambodia:

1. a very big #1, the people. The people are amazing. they're like the people in Laos, but with way more awesome. The english is really good here too, so it's easy to talk to the local people and feel a bit more connected.

2. The food. So far, everything has been awesome. It's so hard to get used to, because in Vietnam you had to mentally prepare yourself before eating.

3. The history and culture. If you have time, research the last 40 years or so in Cambodia. These people have been dragged through hell and back over and over again, but somehow are still the most amazing people around. The tragedies here are recent, so the people you talk to share stories of genocide and war, but in the next breath smile and talk about how proud they are of their big strong son and daughter who is going to university. Beyond the tragic history here, Cambodia also holds the oldest most amazing temples around, including Ankor wat. Google some pictures. amazing

4. The tourists. I've noticed that people get stuck here. They come, maybe for a short work exchange, or to see Ankor wat, and they never leave. They set up hospitals, charities, and guest houses. They all love this country as much as the locals.

There's more..but thats enough for now.

Story time!

Today we were totally exhausted from touring temples in plus 10000 heat, with humidity of 1000%, so we stoped for lunch. We were on our bikes when a lady chased me down to go to her restaurant. She promised to give us discounted food and free fruit. deal! As we were sitting in her ourdoor resaurant, with flee ridden dogs by my feet, and a monkey eating a bag of peanuts over my head, a little girl, 10 yrs old, pulled up a chair. She was selling post cards. 10 for $2 (a little steep I thought). People are always trying to sell you things, so you get used to just saying 'no,no,no,no', which is what we did. They she says 'where you from?'. Cute... 'Canada' we all say, in our little kid voices. 'what province?' she asks, we tell her, laughing. For anyone who has travelled (even to the states), when someone asks you where your from, you stop at Canada, no one knows what or where Saskatchewan is. We have not met one adult who has heard of Saskatchewan in two months of travelling. 'ok' she says, 'If I can tell you the population of Canada, your prime ministers name, the capitol of Canada, and the capitol of Saskatchewan..then you buy my post cards' Alright...I thought...its on! I dont even know the answers to all those questions. So, with two bucks on the table, I told her to give it a shot. And sure enough, this ten year old Cambodian girl, working at her mothers restuarant, says with confidence 'The population of Canada is 34 million, your prime minister is Steven Harper, the Capitol of Canada is Ottowa and the capitol of Saskatchewan is Regina.'

Bam! Smartest girl alive! and now, I am the proud owner of 10 new post cards. Who wants one?

When Jevin asked her if she will ever go to Canada, she said 'Maybe, but I don't have enough money yet'

hahaha, see?? awesome. I love this place.

Sitting on the top of a 1000 year old temple watching the sun set and listening to Cambodian children sing, I realized that I have found my reason for travelling. This is why I left on this adventure. I might just have to come back!

Love love love,


Robyn's sharing some of her pumpkin seeds with the local children
We are Tomb Raiders!
Tomb Raiding is hard work and nothing is as refreshing as a giant coconut!
Jevin and myself messing up the view of Angkor Wat's bas relief walls

Robyn's new favorite treat, sugarcane!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Last day of Templing

It's our last day in Siem Reap, home of the amazing Angkor temples and, believe it or not, we still enjoy looking at temples.  I don't imagine that any of the other religious structures we'll see in the next two months will be very exciting after trekking through the jungle over top of ancient ruins. 

Today has been similar to the last two days: get up, eat, hop in a tuk-tuk, and tour the sites.  The difference has been that we have spent less time looking at the structures, and more time on top of them looking out at the beautiful stretches of forest, rice fields, and wetlands. 

For the first time in weeks we've felt rain and, unlike in North Vietnam, is was a welcome relief from the heat.  The soft sprinkling really added to the atmosphere as we walked down long wide paths between sites.  The air was thick and full of ever-changing smells, all good ones too (In the big cities we're always afraid to breathe deep.  Even if something smells great, the next whiff could be so terrible).

Tomorrow we're off to Battambang which I know basically nothing about except that it is surrounded in more landmines than anywhere else in Cambodia.  Don't worry moms and Megans, we'll won't stray from the path.

David J Parker

Cute couple

Carvings above a doorway.  Every inch of every temple is covered in bas reliefs like this.
A nice place for reflections

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Temples of Angkor

** We've done a number of posts in the last two days including one by Robyn (a very rare event indeed) so make sure to check them all out. **

The last two days have been spent meandering through ancient temples and towns. At home we hear only of Angkor Wat but the reality is that this area is littered with thousand-year-old temples, many of which are just as impressive and historically important. It would probably be quite boring for me to go into the details of what we saw so I'll just relate a few of the impressions I recorded at various times during our tour.

Angkor Wat

We're sitting on the top tier of Angkor Wat looking over a small sandstone courtyard and chatting about travel experiences with an older German couple.  This is the largest religious structure in the world and it definitely impresses with its multiple wats, large courtyards, extensive bas reliefs, elaborate gates, and wide moat.  Adding to the atmosphere is the thick jungle on all sides, alive with the aggressive mating calls of beetles and the prettier songs of birds.

I am constantly in awe as I walk around the highest pavilion.  Or I am in awe whenever I can get out from behind my camera.  It's been a challenge deciding what to photograph and what to simply experience as it comes, using not only my eyes but ears, nose, touch.  

The central tower, like the other structures, is carved from sandstone blocks.  And like every other structure on this site, it is covered in carvings, bas relief figures looking in every direction.  On each of its 6 or more ledges stand the remnants of ruined statues.

From my vantage point, the backdrop to the structure is a pale blue sky with bright cotton-ball clouds which serve to block some of the solar intensity.

I've heard that Angkor Wat is always crawling with tourist, but from up here the pace is slow and the most dominant sound is a bird squawking from the highest peak.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Back gatehouse at Angkor Wat

Robyn and Jevin on the top tier of Angkor Wat
Bayon Temple

How can I describe our second stop? Block and blocks of carved stones all piled up on one another.  Tunnels and passageways lead over and under giant sandstone edifices.  There are literally thousands of faces carved into the rocks and each bears a resemblance to the king who commissioned the temple.  He was watching his subjects and they knew it.  The place occupies four dimensions, climbing on top of itself and perpetuating its cause through time.  Ancient trees grow right out of the rock.  Two hundred years ago, they were seeds in a crack and now they've pried stones apart and toppled towers.  Some trees have become organic supports for failing archways.  Moss and lichens lend their color to the sunbaked rock; dots of white on grey-green, a reminder of the resilience of life.

Bayon Temple and one of its many faces

Passageway of Bayon

Angkor Thom, Baphuon, and beyond

After lunch, we passed through a ruined gate to discover huge stretches of tamed jungle spotted with guess what, more temples!  After two days of seeing temple after temple, I'm still looking forward to a third.  They are all created in different styles and are in different states of repair.

Time and again I am impressed by the trees.  They are so immense and sometimes swallow entire walls and building in their roots.

I climbed some very steep steps and felt quite proud of myself until I found an old lady on top burning incense.  She implored me to take some and, after a few awkward bows which probably saved me from the wrath of my ancestors, I deposited the sticks in the an urn and some money in the lady's offering plate.

I took another set of stairs down which had been roped off due to large missing sections and poorly balanced blocks of rock.  When I was a child, my friend and I spend long afternoons climbing trees and rooftops, anywhere we probably shouldn't be.  If that child knew that he would be doing the same thing on ancient ruins on the other side of the world I think he would be very impressed with himself.

I got down safely to both Robyn's and my  relief.  We continued our trek into the jungle through dilapidated archways and fallen Buddhas until the ruins thinned out and the sounds and smells of the jungle came alive.  After twenty minutes, we found a clearing and an accompanying sense of calm.  It's at times like these that we realize how elusive silence and stillness has been.  The sun sat low in the sky, barely visible above the tree line.

The day had to end, but we wouldn't let it go easily.  Climbing a hill, we marched towards the setting sun, steadily upwards and to the west until we found a temple at the very top.  We were three of a thousand people that had come here to bid that ball of fire goodnight, but we managed to find a spot to sit and watch the cosmological drama play out.  As it sank, a group of Cambodian girls began singing all together and they continued until the sun was gone.  What a perfect way to end a glorious day.

Sunset on day two
Temple-eating tree

Day Two

At the beginning stages of planning this trip, we had only our destination planned.  In fact, that's pretty much all we had planned right up until we landed in Bangkok.  But there was one thing I knew I wanted to see.  I found an image on the internet and posted on my computer as a backdrop.  I said to Robyn, "This is what we're going to see".  Today we saw it and it was awesome.

Robyn, this is what we're going to see.

Cambodia is the best.  We've only been here a few days but it feels so much more genuine that anywhere we've been yet.  Even the people chasing you down the street with 15 hats, "ice cold drinks", and pineapple-filled plastic bags seem warm and good-humored.  

That's it for now and tomorrow, yes tomorrow will bring.... more temples!  Can't get enough!

David J Parker

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Phnom Penh and the Horrors of the Khmer Rouge

** Warning **  The following post is rated 18A and is for mature audiences.  Reader discretion is advised.

Alright, before you read this I should note that we really enjoyed our time in Phnom Penh.  It is a beautiful and modern city.  We only spent one day there and it was dominated by tours of prisons and death camps so that is going to be the main subject of this post.  If you don't want to hear about torture and see pictures of dead people's heads, maybe skip down to Robyn's post which is a lot more lighthearted.

We started our day with a tuk-tuk ride to the killing fields.  Nice way to start a morning.  Perhaps I should mention why the killing fields exist.  Some history:

For thousands of years, Cambodian people, the Khmers, have been a powerful and advanced civilization.  United under powerful kings, some of the most impressive structures in the world have been created here culminating in the world famous Angkor Wat.  That structure alone required the labor of 300,000 men and 8,000 elephants.  In recent history, they have suffered war with numerous prospective conquerors, the Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc, but have held their own pretty well.  Up until 1969 they had the most modern medical facilities in Southeast Asia.  All of that changed in the 70's.  Due to some political corruption and some complications induced be the Vietnamese-American war, a political party called the Khmer Rouge was able to come to power.  They were an anti-American idealist party and gained many followers during the Vietnam war when America secretly carpet bombed much of Cambodia killing countless civilians.

On the day the Khmer Rouge came to power, they marched into the capital city, Phnom Penh, with weapons drawn and forced all citizens to leave their homes.  The people were brought to rural areas and put in forced labor camps where they worked 10-15 hours/day everyday and often were fed only two meals a day of watered down rice porridge.  The idea was to build a currency-less agrarian society where loyalty to family, deities, or community was replaced by loyalty to the party.  Very 1984.  For three years, people worked and died in these camps.  Many were subject to random executions or had to see their family members die.  It is strange that with so many people working on farms that starvation was so rampant.

During this time, the Khmer Rouge created numerous prisons where they would torture and interrogate all types of people: peasants, factory workers, intellectuals, political members, suspects dissidents, and even Rouge members.

That about brings us up to speed.  So... we woke up and drove out to the killing fields.  Good morning Cambodia.  Here we saw where all types of people came to be executed after spending time at a prison where they would've have been tortured until confessing to crimes that they never committed.  For many of them, I imagine death came as a relief.

Methods of execution at the killing fields:  hoe to head, hammer and nail to head, head sawed of with palm tree leaf, plastic bag over the head, other types of bludgeoning, anything to kill people and save bullets.  In order to avoid the possibility of revenge, entire families were murdered.  **Don't read this**  Babies were murdered by being held by their feet and swung against a tree.

Bodies were dumped into mass graves which have now largely been dug up for evidence.  Here's some lovely photos.

Victims of the Khmer Rouge.  Notice how many are missing teeth or have cracked skulls.

Victims' teeth.  Many fragments are revealed by the monsoon rains.

Mass graves
Our next significant stop was S-21, the main prison and torture center in Phnom Penh.  This site saw 20,000 prisoners pass through its doors, most ending up at the killing fields.  Of all those, only 7 survived.  Pictures of the victims have been posted all over the walls of the former cells.  In many cases, you could see a mug shot and then another photo after the person had been tortured to death.  The whole thing was so brutal and we learned that most of the interrogators working there were young recruits, boys from age 10 to 18, most younger than 15.  When the site was finally shut down, the authorities found 14 rotting corpses chained to bed frames.  We walked through the rooms.  The furniture had been left inside:  bed frame, metal box used as a bedpan, metal braces to secure the victim to the bed, various instruments of torture.  The only thing added to each room was a photo of its victim, exactly as he was found.  You could see pools of blood beneath each bed and in some photos, large sections the victim's flesh had been removed. 

In other rooms, photos and paintings depicted the various methods of torture:  tearing flesh with red-hot tongs, dunking under water, hanging upside down, beatings, and so many more.

Bed that held a rotting, tortured corpse when it was discovered

S-21.  A high school turned torture prison.

For our tour of S-21, we hired a guide.  She was a mild-mannered middle aged woman who spoke acceptable english and knew the history of the site thoroughly.  We were well into the tour when we found out that she had first hand experience of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge.  She lived in Phnom Penh when the party came to power and was taken to a forced labor camp where she watched her father and daughter die of starvation.   Her husband was killed by the party as was her brother and his five children.  Everyone was starving during this time and one day, she and a friend happened upon a cow that had died and was being eaten by maggots.  Desperate, they took some of the skin, cooked it, and ate it.  Their supervisor found out about that and sentenced her to dig a 50 m long trench by herself with a hoe in one day, an impossible task.  This was a typical punishment and was guaranteed to result in failure.  Failure usually meant execution.  Our guide told us that she worked until dark, until the skin on her palms was literally shredded off.  She had dug 30 m.  Fortunately for her, the supervisor recognized her hard work and let her live.

It was pretty amazing to hear this woman's story.  This tragedy happened so recently that it affects everyone.

We are piecing together the histories of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.  Each country has gone through so much and everything is connected.  The Vietnam-American war changed life for everybody in this part of the world and I feel like there is a lot of value in learning about it.

OK.  Doom and gloom.  I promise, no more doom and gloom for at least a couple of days.  Today we toured some amazing temples and had a really wonderful time but I'll save all that for tomorrow.

David J Parker

Friday, March 4, 2011

In Transit

Greetings and salutations,

  With our memories of Vietnam fading from color to sepia, we embark on our journey through Cambodia which is the poorest country that we will visit.  Our first day has been spent in the capital, Phnom Penh, and has been action-packed. Unfortunately, I don't have time to talk about it right now.  I just wanted to let our family and friends know that we are alive and well and very happy albeit very hot and sweaty (better than frozen, I suppose).  Tomorrow we are going to Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat which we are all very excited about.  When we get the time, there will be many stories to tell and pictures to share.  Until then, love love love.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Last few stops in Vietnam: Nha Trang and Saigon

As March begins, we find ourselves at the end of our time in Vietnam.  We've spent about 3 weeks in a country cursed by perpetual war and substanceless noodle bowls.  How the people have survived such a history is unknown to me. 

Our first impression of the country was of the people and climate in the north, both cold.  The attitude towards foriegners seemed to be 'get in, buy something, get out and don't complain'.  We felt anonymous (which was a little comforting after Laos where we were stared at everywhere) and unwanted.  The cities were harsh and the countryside was cold and dirty.

I must admit that our experience of the north was extremely limited and that, in our recollections, we seem to naturally focus on the few challenges rather than the exciting new frontiers.  For example, in Hanoi we were nearly run over by scooters, caked in air pollution, and harassed by street merchants, but we really enjoyed the big city vibe: traffic, malls, movies, nice bars, high-speed internet.  On Cat Ba we were soaked to the bone and got kicked out of our hotel room because we wouldn't book a tour, but we got to see incredible and unique limestone cliffsides jutting out of the ocean all throughout the bay. 

As we moved south, we began to warm up to the country.  By central Vietnam, the merchants were saying hello and smiling before they tried to take all of our money.  Hotels didn't kick us out or even threaten to and the landscape really smartened up.  Tourists and locals interacted more freely and it was easy to see the Vietnamese as they lived.  This is especially true because they often live behind their shops and eat outside.  Their living rooms are clearly visible from street.  Their private lives are on display for whoever would care to watch.  Some of the more touristy spots were set up really nicely with lamp lighting, good restaurants, and street performances.

Now that we are on our way out of Vietnam, it feels like there is so much left unexplored.

But this is not what I'm here to talk about! There's so much more to say!

Hoi An --> Nha Trang --> Saigon

The last destination we wrote about was Hoi An, a lovely little tourist town with access to empty beaches and a popular river.  We left the city on a night bus, our second attempt at this mode of transportation.  The first time we took a night bus, Jevin was cramped in a bed about 1 foot too short for him and spent 9 hours tossing and turning while the local sleeping on the floor next to him snored and coughed up nasty bits.  Robyn and I assured him that he just had a bad spot and things would be better this time.  Not so.

When we got on the bus, a stalky Vietnamese man immediately started yelling at us, pointing randomly to beds and kicking up quite a fuss when Robyn and I, husband and wife, attempted to locate ourselves within talking distance of eachother.  He got into a yelling match with a 6'4" tourist that he stuck in a 4'11" bed when there were plenty of longer ones available and he did a lot of throwing things around.  It was all very entertaining, but I tried to stay out of his way. 

It turned out that this crazy man was also the bus driver.... the crazy bus driver.  I'm glad I wasn't able to see much during the trip because I would've been stressed out and the only thing worse than being dead is being stressed out and dead... or so I've heard.

There was no sleep to be had that night.  In the heat, my skin stuck to the hard vinyl bed making readjustment difficult but necessary.  Like the last bus, this one was stuffed to over capacity with locals curled up in on the aisle floors.  Turned one way, I stared right in the face of a timid young girl but turned the other way, my evening flatulence became the nightmare of an unfortunate man.  I dripped sweat all night but would not drink water.  Navigation to the bathroom over piles of bodies would be difficult enough, but I could imagine what the toilet in a cramped, bumpy bus would look like at three in the morning. 

Come morning, we were dropped off on a street in Nha Trang, Vietnam's most famous party town.  Our trio wandered towards the beach in search of cheap digs.  After about an hour of searching and a breakfast stop, we were lured into an alley by a young girl who, as fate would have it, managed a clean, out-of-the-way hotel for which we would pay $7/night.  Exhausted from the sleepless night, we crashed.  When we awoke, each of us felt like we had spent the night drinking or had heat stoke.  We must have been dehydrated after the bus ride.  The rest of the day was a write-off.  We did manage to find the beach though.  We sat before it that night and allowed the crashing of the waves to fill the tired silence between us. 

For the next day, we followed our guide book's advice and joined a boat trip.  For $5, we thought we were getting a great deal.  Nha Trang is a resort town.  It has a beautiful 6 km stretch of beach set against the South China Sea from which you can see numerous islands poking out of the ocean mist and the boat trip promised to take us to four of those islands. 

It turns out that you get what you pay for.  We hopped on a rickety old boat with 37 other people and headed out on the sea.  The first stop was a small aquarium.  There were some reef environments set up, not much we hadn't seen while snorkeling except for some small sharks, sea turtles, a giant fish with eyes poking out of its head, and moray eels (think Little Mermaid).  We got back on the boat and went to a snorkeling spot which turned out to be kind of a joke.  The equipment could be bought at the Dollar Store and the reef was tiny.  Our company ran two boats. One was billed as the 'party boat' and was filled with people that like to get drunk and do stupid things.  The company thought that it would be a good idea to rent seadoos to the people on this boat which made snorkeling in the region all the sudden very risky business. 

The third stop was a little more stange.  Our boat and the party boat were tied together and the crew set up a little stage.  They grabbed instruments and put on a little concert for us which was very interesting but very bad.  The first song was about the singer's day job as a bicycle taxi driver and how difficult it was for him because he always had to drive around his obese girlfriend.  The whole thing was so bizarre and so poorly done that it became entertainment enough.  After the show, the crew set up an impromptu floating bar which was very effective in getting everyone off the boat.

The last stop, and our only true island stop was to a tiny beach which we had to pay for access to.  Robyn and I chilled out in beach chairs while Jevin tried to stand on his head.  This got the locals at the beach very excited.  The had tons of fun trying to stand on their head and failed quite miserably.

Jevin showing off his yoga moves on the beach
While the boat trip wasn't of the highest quality, it was nice to get out into the water.  It was enough to convince us that the next day should be spent on the big, beautiful, free beach.

Beach babe!!!!!!!
The crashing waves are absolutely mesmerizing.  They are so powerful and each crash is different.  Jevin and I found playing in them irresistable, almost as irresistable as Robyn found her beach towel and novel. 

It is quite something to be faced with a turbulent wall of water as high as one's self and to have nowhere to go.  Can't go under it.  Can't go around it.  And there's definitely no outrunning it.  It's so powerful.

Jevin and I attempted body surfing, riding the wave crests into shore.  Sometimes, before you caught the wave, you could feel all the water from around you get sucked into it.  Where you were once waist deep, you were now down to your ankles. This, you realize, is not a wave you want to be pushed around by, but it's too late.

One moment, I would be on top of the wave, two meters from the sea floor and suddenly the sea floor would get a lot more familiar.  I'd be trapped under swirling sand and water, unable to resist the downward drag.  Eventually, it would loosen its grip and I would run for the shore to escape the next crash.

We survived the beach and went to check out the National Oceanographic Museum.  This was a pretty cool place where we saw pools of starfish, octopi, sharks, angelfish, eels, rays, sea urchins, sea horses, and a whole bunch of other sea creatures. 

Coral Exhibit at National Oceanographic Museum, Nha Trang

Humpback Whale Skeleton
In another room, there were over 60,000 pickled specimens.  Some small as sea horses, or as large as sea cows.

National Oceanographic Museum's Collection of Pickled Sea Creatures
That night, having learned from our previous experience on the bus, we opted for the night train.  As it turned out, this was a very good choice.  We had comfortable bunks and Robyn and I shared a cabin with two local women.  We all slept pretty well considering that our cabin-mates played music from their cellphone's tinny loudspeaker all night. 

We arrived in Saigon just before 8 in the morning and decided that instead of getting right into the city, we should start with a coffee.... or two.  We spent the next hour slowly coming back to life in the train station and I discovered (too little too late) the extraordinary beverage that is Vietnamese Coffee.  Hot water is slow-dripped through fine-grained roasted beans right into your cup.  It is kind of like esspreso except that the water flows by gravity instead of by force.  The liquid is thick and rich.  The flavor and texture are in your face right away and it is wonderful.  There's nothing subtle about it.

The slow process of waking up after the train ride.  My coffee apparatus is in the foreground.
Having no idea where to look for accomodations, we hopped into a taxi and basically just pointed to the map.  We ended up in a district full of 3-star hotels and booked the cheapest room we could find, $30 for the three of us. This is the most we've spent so far this trip.  The room is nice, but it seems like you have to shell out a lot of cash for minor improvement in aesthetic and service.

Thanks to our good sleep on the train, we were able to spent the day exploring the city.  We discovered a new food and then the Reunification Palace.  The latter is the site of the last stand in the Vietnam-American War.  We wandered the halls of this great structure soaking in all of the Vietnamese-side war history that we could.  The following shots are from the palace:

Our trip through Vietnam has taken us to some interesting war sites and has definitely expanded my knowledge of the conflict.  It has been good to get the official Vietnamese perspective of the war and we've even been able to see some of the war-time propaghanda posters used to gain support and boost morale. 

Action!  Adventure!  It's all here but there's more to come.  It's time for bed and tomorrow we'll close the chapter on the war by visiting our last Vietnamese museum.

Good night,
  David J Parker