Chany's 2012 Trip

Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan

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In 2012 November/December, I travelled to South East Asia, visiting Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), Cambodia (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh), and Taiwan (Taipei).

Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City)(2012 November 19 - 23)

We visited the Reunification Palace (formerly known as the Presidential Palace) in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). Here is an American UH-1 "Huey" Helicopter on the roof of the palace. Palace staff that evacuated by helicopter during the fall of Saigon left from this spot.

I am standing next to a replica of Tank number 843, which crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace on April 30, 1975, shortly after the United States had evacuated Saigon. This is one of the symbols of the Fall of Saigon.

This is the Banquet Room in the Presidential Palace. The Vietnamese authorities have preserved the look of the Palace from the day of the Fall of Saigon, so this is like looking back in time.

This is the Cabinet Meeting Room in the Presidential Palace, where the South Vietnamese government would meet.

This is the Reception Area in the Presidential Palace.

Looking North-East from the Reunification Palace, with the Palace fountain and lawn in the foreground.

On our way to the Mekong River, we stopped at the Vinh Trang Pagoda (located approximately 50 km south west of Ho Chi Minh City). Greeting us was this Giant Happy Buddha.

The Vinh Trang Pagoda is a Buddhist Temple built in 1849 in the Mekong River Delta Region. The architecture of the pagoda is "a harmonious combination of Asian and European types of architecture, creating the splendid, but simple features of this Buddhist pagoda".

No visit to Vietnam would be complete without taking a boat cruise on the Mekong River. Here I am hanging on as we travel down the Mekong River, which is lined with palms. It was a neat experience.

Originating in the high plateaus of Tibet, the Mekong River is approximately 4400 km in length as it winds it's way through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

I went to visit the Cao Dai Temple, located in Tay Ninh (80 km north west of Ho Chi Minh City). From the outside, the temple looked colourful with an interesting mix of eastern and western architectural styles.

The inside of the Cao Dai Temple was filled with even more vivid colours. On the main altar is a large ball representing the world with the all seeing Divine Eye (representing God) looking out upon the worshippers. The decore of the inside of the temple was ornate.

There are four masses a day at the Cao Dai Temple, at 00:00, 06:00, 12:00, and 18:00. I observed the 12:00 mass.

Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism. Its pantheon of saints includes such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat-sen.

I visited the Cu Chi Tunnels (located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City). The tunnels were built, beginning in the late 1940's, during the war against the French.

Here is a Diorama showing the structure and components of the Cu Chi Tunnels, including entrances, meeting rooms, sleeping facilities, vents, river access, and booby traps.

The entrances to the tunnels themselves were small and well camouflaged.

Here, our petit Vietnamese guide demonstrates the effectiveness of the camouflaged entry to a tunnel. Once the hatch was closed, it was hard to spot the entrance.

During the Vietnam War, this allowed the Viet Cong (VC) to engage the Americans in a firefight, then suddenly "disappear" into the tunnels. Some of these tunnel entrances were within the American Base perimeter, allowing the VC to attack the base from the inside!

I crawled through approximately 100 meters of a tunnel; it was a claustraphobic experience, and I was soaked in sweat by the time I got to the end. The tunnels for the tourists to crawl through were enlarged to accomodate the larger western tourist's girth!

The VC had booby traps set up, designed to kill or seriously injure and demoralize the enemy. Here is camouflaged trapdoor that leads to a floor of spikes.

Captured US munitions were used by the VC to produce improvised weapons and booby traps against the American forces. Shown here are examples of such munitions, the largest being a 250 kg bomb.

The Ben Thanh Market is a large marketplace located in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City. Here is where you can find almost anything you'll need sold, but one has to be ready bargain hard to get the items at a decent price. I can still hear the vendors barking at me, "You buy now! You buy now!".

Here's a view down Bui Vien Road, on which our hotel was located. A typical road in Ho Chi Minh City, it is narrow and dominated by scooters, motorcycles, and people. Scooters and motorcycles are all over the place, even on the sidewalks.

Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Pehn)(2012 November 24 - December 3)

A view of the street in Siem Reap.
My visit to Cambodia began with a visit to Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu Temple Complex in the 12th Century. It is the world's largest religious monument, occupying 1,626,000 square meters.

This picture is my first view of Angkor Wat, shortly before sunset.

Angkor Wat is located approximately 6 km north of the town of Siem Reap, from which most tourists use as a base for visiting the site. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II as his state temple and eventual mausoleum.

Here I am standing next to a pond by the outside walls of Angkor Wat.

The outer gallery walls of Angkor Wat are covered in bas-reliefs depicting historical and mythological stories. Here is a relief depicting the historical Battle Of Kurukshetra.

Angkor Wat is located in the jungles of Cambodia. Here, monkeys are making themselves at home at the temple.

There are carvings and reliefs on most surfaces thoughout the site.

The stairs into the temples were very steep! In many places, to preserve the stairs, wooden "less steep' stairs were built so tourists can access the temples.

The steep stairs that entered this temple is approximately 45 degrees in slope. One can see the weathering the temple has endured in the tropical jungle environment of Cambodia.

This is Balsei Chamkrong, a Hindu temple in the Angkor area. The climb up the stairs was steep, and there were stinging ants on the sides if you decided to put your hands there! In the sanctum, there was apparently once a statue of Shiva, but it is now occupied by a reclining Buddha .

Entrance to Prasat Bayon, in Angkor Thom.

Prasat Bayon has many towers with faces on them. There are close to 200 faces at this site. It is believed the faces are either that of the Hindu god Brahma, or the Bhuddist God Lokeshvara, or that of the King that had the temple constructed, Jayavarman VII.

Preah Khan ("Royal Sword") is a temple located northeast of Angkor Thom. Preah Khan was built on the site of Jayavarman VII's victory over the invading Chams in 1191.

This is a tree at Preah Khan that has been growing on the temple's ruins.

Neak Poan (or Neak Pean) is an artificial island with a Buddhist temple on a circular island in Jayatataka Baray, which was associated with Preah Khan temple, built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII

Ta Som is a small temple built at the end of the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII. It is located north east of Angkor Thom and just east of Neak Pean.

Downtown Phnom Penh - Independance Monument

Downtown Phnom Penh - Looking north on Preah Monivong Blvd at Street 294.

Downtown Phnom Penh - Looking north on Preah Sisowath Quay. The portrait is that of former king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, who had passed away 2012 October 15 (one and a half months before this picture was taken). Note the black and white ribbon at the bottom of the portrait.

Tuol Sleng - View of the courtyard

Tuol Sleng - Prisoner cells in Building C

Tuol Sleng - Bed frame that prisoners were chained to and tortured.

Tuol Sleng - Graves of the 14 prisoners found dead when the prison was abondoned by the Khmer Rouge.

Choeung Ek - the "Killing Fields": the depressions in the ground were mass graves for which the bodies have since been exhumed.

Choeung Ek - the "Killing Fields": from time to time, after heavy rains, human remains such as bones continue to surface. They are collected in this box; other remains found by visitors were placed on top of the box.

Choeung Ek - the "Killing Fields": this memorial stupa contains the bones of many of the victims. Designed in the style of a Buddhist stupa, the Choeung Ek memorial has glass sides, and is comprised of multiple layers of human skulls. Totaling 5,000 of those executed at the site, the skulls are a harsh reminder of the genocide.

Choeung Ek - the "Killing Fields": the skulls of the victims can be seen through the glass.

Taiwan (Taipei)(2012 December 4)

Tapei 101 was the tallest building in the world until 2010. It has 101 floors and has an architectural height of 509.2 meters.

Construction on the 101-story tower started in 1999 and finished in 2004. The tower is designed to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. A multi-level shopping mall adjoining the tower houses hundreds of stores, restaurants and clubs.

Tapei 101 was designed to withstand typhoon winds and earthquakes that are common in the Taipei area. Suspended from the 92nd to the 87th floor is a 660-tonne steel pendulum that serves as a tuned mass damper. Here is the damper, along with the the damper's mascot, "Damper Baby"

Here is a view of Taipei, from the top of Tapei 101.

View looking south on Keelung Road at Xinyi Road, downtown Taipei.

An interesting flavour of Lays potato chip in Taiwan: Kyushu Seaweed. It tasted OK.

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