Friday, July 30, 2010

homeward bound

Gate outside a cafe that serves delicious fruit shakes, Hanoi

Pho, Hanoi

My Pho is gone

sometimes travel bring things into focus, sometimes it complicates things. this trip has done a bit of both for me, in a variety of ways.

we're coming home soon and things will be different. in some ways i'm really looking forward to returning, but in other ways i'm really sad because many things will not be the same as before we both set out on this adventure together.

packing up, putting memories away, and picking things up -- just not where they left off.

i look forward to seeing many of you soon, and i know that some things will have stayed the same. for that i am grateful.

i think this will be my last post and i thank you for reading. i hope you've enjoyed the stories and photos.

much love,

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ho Chi Minh Museum

okaaaaaaay! i visited the ho chi minh museum today... and i'm kind of lost about what to say about it. i have no photographs because for one i forgot my camera battery charging in the wall at our old guesthouse (but luckily they still had it and they're just a step away from where we are staying now). but even if i had my camera it didn't seem like any photographs of the exhibits were allowed (i can't even find any online). which is unfortunate because the museum is exceptionally modern and extraordinarily artsy.

the first floor is a pretty straightforward exhibit, showing how 'uncle ho' has shaped current vietnam, and also includes some old artifacts and books, along with modern day photos showing how the country has progressed.

the second floor is where things get funky. it's basically a piece of art that you walk through... sort of maze-like and difficult to explain or understand. there are lot's of historical facts embedded in what i can only describe as a historical art installment. most of it is really quite beautiful although i don't think i totally got the point of all of it. much of it was war-related (like recreations of cave bunkers and conference rooms, etc.) but what stood out to me the most were the recreations of Picasso-like illustrations expressing anti-fascist messages. and probably my favourite part was a larger than life display of fruit on a table with off-kilter chairs surrounding it, framed by photos of the natural world. the basic message there was that uncle ho wanted his children to enjoy the beauty and peace of nature rather than cultivate war. a good vision for the future. anyhow, it was a confusing museum but also extremely quirky and fun, despite its serious nature.

xo Hil

Monday, July 26, 2010

took film photos on my holga today, i hope they work out. here are some more images from phonsavan, laos.

another shrine, laos

buddha, laos

moss on jar, plain of jars, laos

view from restaurant on plain of jars tour, laos


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hanoi on a Sunday

Went for a walk around the city....

Crazy intersection... especially during rush hour... which seems to be almost all the hours in the day.

A baby riding a motorbike? No, she's just sitting on her mother's lap.

One of Erik's favourite restaurants in Hanoi. Cheap and delicious.

A woman's market stall. I bought coffee and the contraption used to make a proper Vietnamese-style coffee.

A man selling flowers nearby the market.

xo Hil

Friday, July 23, 2010

back in Hanoi, some photos from Plain of Jars/Laos

We just arrived back in Hanoi after some long bus rides. Here's some photographs from Phonsavan, Laos.

Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world, per capita. More bombs were dropped in Laos during America's secret para-military CIA mission there than were bombs dropped on Nazi Germany in WWII. This bombing of Laos is directly related to the Vietnam War/the war against communism. I was pretty shocked and disturbed by a lot of the information we learned when we did a tour of the area. It's not easy to explain, but the Americans set up an air base and sent in a force called The Ravens who had to completely give up their identifies to be involved in this mission. They then trained the (still) highly persecuted H'mong ethic group to fight against the Vietnamese communist forces in Laos. That's really simplifying things...... but no one knew about what went on in Laos until recently. And A LOT happened. It's not just Lao propaganda or some conspiracy theory, it's real and not just the leftover bombs prove it. This video clip is a pretty fair intro... we watched a documentary from the American perspective and it isn't much different:

Now there are literally millions of unexploded ordinance in the area, many of them cluster bombs or bombis. Agent Orange and Napalm were also extensively used in the area, and combined with the unexploded ordinances this makes farming difficult in addition to being extremely unsafe. Residents who can't support themselves in farming often have to resort to the scrap metal trade -- essentially finding ordinance or other military components and taking them apart to sell them -- a risky business. There is even a village nearby the old American landing strip/secret base where villagers have pillaged all the remaining munitions and war scraps to build their houses (for example, they use the tail end of bombs to prop up their houses). It's very innovative, but retrieving the materials is always a risk.

The whole countryside is littered with unexploded ordinance, which are very slowly being cleared. Because many of the bombis are plastic, metal detectors can't identify them -- most of it has to be done manually. One of the most heavily bombed places in Laos is the Plain of Jars, a vast set of 2-4 meter high rock jar carvings constructed during the megalithic area. Three of these sites have been cleared of bombs to allow for archeological study and preservation, as well as to allow tourists to visit the sites. However, even here you can't stray off of the main path because thus far it has only been possible to visually clear certain areas. Markings indicate where it is safe to walk and you can still see giant bomb craters here and all throughout the region.

To say more about the jars, they are very mysterious and it is now believed that they were constructed as giant urns to keep cremated remains - one individual per jar and grouped by family. Alternatively, local legend says that giants created them and used them to store their LoaLoa (Lao rice whisky). In addition to seeing the Plain of Jars, Erik and I got the chance to visit one of the jar quarries, where it is believed that the jars were constructed and hollowed out, created from rocks dragged from the rivers. These jars are pretty huge, and it is unclear what kind of tools were used to carve them out - but the theory is that elephants were used to drag the completed jars to the main sites where the cremations took place.

Nearby, we also got to see a two cave used during the Vietnam War. One was a big complex where villagers hid and lived during bombing raids. It was not discovered by the American forces and was therefore not destroyed. A large Buddha statue and a collection of many tiny and very old Buddha figures are now in the cave, which acts as a site of worship. The second cave we visited was used by the Viet Cong army to hide from American forces and it was used predominantly as a medical base. There are still literally thousands of old morphine bottles littering the cave. I even found an old bullet, which our guide said was from an old Russian gun.

The Russians (and I think also the Chinese) supplied weapons and medicine to the Communist Vietnamese forces. It's all pretty complicated and I want to know more about it - - but the war in Vietnam really affected much more than Vietnam and America... it created a huge mess in Laos (with America's so-called 'secret war' against communism in Laos and the bombings of  Communist Vietnamese forces on the Ho Chi Minh trail are still having devastating affects) as well as in Cambodia (where the Ho Chi Minh trail also passed through and where the tension between communism and democracy led to the Khmer Rouge's regime and the genocide). Now, after everything, Laos is communist. Vietnam is communist. Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy dealing with the aftermath of a genocide. And America lost many young soldiers and their war against communism in southeast Asia. The mass hysteria against communism is not something I understand, but I guess it's because I grew up in another time. BUT the fact that weapons so disgusting such as cluster bombs and Agent Orange were created and used without thought of their long-term consequences is something I will never understand. If the long-term consequences are in fact considered, then that makes the whole thing even more disgusting.

MAG is the organization doing a lot of work in Laos to detect and disarm unexploded ordinance. They are also doing work in Sudan, Colombia, DR Congo, Congo, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Angola, Lebanon, Burundi, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chad, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
Here is their website:

Old Pagoda, Xieng Khouang Province, Laos

Old Russian Tank, Xieng Khouang Province, Laos

Plain of Jars

One more week in Hanoi! See you soon
Love, Hil

Monday, July 19, 2010

Photo Update!

From Hilary:

 Erik in Hammock, Don Det, Laos

Erik (salt lick) and Cowie (Erik's new love), Don Det, Laos

Erik climbing under a waterfall, Ban Lung, Cambodia 

Erik's chicken meal, Luang Prabang, Laos

Khmer etchings on leaves, Kampong Cham, Cambodia

Rice paddies, Kampong Cham, Cambodia

Close-up of a Buddhist shrine, Kampong Cham, Cambodia

Waterfall, Ban Lung, Cambodia

Wat Phou Houak, Luang Prabang, Laos

Missing one's from Erik:

Big Ears, Kampong Cham, Cambodia

Deep Fried Pork Ribs (for James), Ban Lung, Cambodia

Sunset in Don Det, Laos (auto colour balance, so you can see lines... oops!)

Takin' it easy at the temple, Kampong Cham, Cambodia

Man contemplating in the market, Luang Prabang, Laos

This is where our bus happened to stop but there were so many more beautiful places along the way. On the way from Vang Viang to Luang Prabang, Laos.

Soup Lady Mrs. Sun, who served us soup in the Luang Prabang night market, Laos

Somebody lives here, Luang Prabang, Laos

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Laos... don det... tomorrow Vientiane

Hi... we haven't updated in a while but internet is scarce here. We've been in Laos on the island of Don Det for a few days now. It's a lovely place where we've biked around, eaten some good food, seen some amazing sunsets and lazed about in hammocks. Tomorrow we head noth to Vientiane... it's a days worth of traveling at least but we've decided to skip the central area to see a bit more of the hilly north and to give ourselves enough time to get back to Vietnam for our flight home. So far we're loving Laos... more to come in updates when we can.

We miss you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Take 2 (E)

Street performer Siem Reap

Monkey grooming

A Cham man

A truck drove off the bridge. The cranes blocked our path on the bus from Kampong Cham to Stung Treng. but it was an entertaining stop.

A monkey yelling at Hilary.

Apsara dancing in siem reap

A Quick post

a horsie at sunrise at ankor wat. i couldn't see a thing to focus :)

Temple Monk

Fishies eating my feet for $2 (beer included)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Siem Reap / Angkor

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Preah Khan

What can I say? The temples and palaces are magnificently beautiful relics. Photos can't really capture it. Massive trees are growing on top of some of the structures, with the roots crawling down the rocks searching for the ground. These enormous trees are ancient, which gives you an even better understanding of how old the temples are. The sheer amount of structures that can be visited is also overwhelming, and it's really amazing how large and widespread the system is (and even more so, was).

Visiting the outer temples, which are less touristy, is even better than visiting the major temples like Angkor Wat. At the less-visited temples there were certain times when it felt like Erik and I were literally the only two people around. 

We spent 2 days exploring the ruins and soon we will be making our way north and east from Siem Reap into Laos.

love H