I knew before heading out to Vietnam and Cambodia that this was going to be a very different trip than Thailand was. Thailand was all lighthearted and bomb diggity, but this trip was on a whole new level of amazingness, and was extremely educational. I’m the first one to say how unknowledgeable I am about most things concerning Asian history, so I was super excited for this trip. This trip had a major focus on life and death and everything in between, of course being in 2 3rd world countries and all. In addition, 2 of my best Asian princesses are part Vietnamese and Cambodian and I’ve heard stories here and there about the history or things that have happened to their parents/families, so I was really eager to experience their history first hand.
This was also overshadowed by some events that struck me from home. My first day in Phu Quoc I found out that the mom of one of my great friends from high school passed away after a very long battle with cancer. I really really loved her so much, and began thinking about the last time I saw her, and I think it was at a funeral for our friend’s younger brother who was killed in Afghanistan about 1.5 years ago. Before and after moving to Korea, she would Facebook message me just to say hi and give me recommendations when packing for the long haul. Sweet sweet lady that Iris Grant. Then, on my final night in Phnom Penh (which was already an emotionally draining city), I found out on Facebook that my ex-boyfriend, first love, whatever, welcomed his first baby boy. Crazy how life comes full circle like that.
ANYWAYS, moving on to the trip….
Katie and I flew out to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) on February 15th, had a 3 hour layover in the Shanghai airport (AKA the worst airport in the world), then landed in HCMC at the crack of dawn on the 16th. After feeling creeped out in the alley outside the hostel Abby found for us all, we rang the bell and were welcomed in. The next morning we all packed up and headed out to the airport for our little jaunt to Phu Quoc, which is a small island off of Southern Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand on your map. Well, for some this little getaway turned into a big hiccup. Our dear friend Matteu Pierre lost his passport somewhere in Saigon, therefore Katie stayed behind with him to sort it all out. While they freaked out, Abby and I flew off to what we would come to deem the Kingdom of Lesbia, with the boys, Mark, Gavin, Kenny and Scotty.
Phu Quoc is gorgeous and for the most part pretty remote and no one really speaks English. Basically it’s a lot of pointing to the item on the menu for what you want, big hand motions, and walking the person over to what you are trying to show them so they understand. But I can handle that for a couple days. Our first day there I got my first bowl of pho in Nam which SUCKED, and was cooked in a makeshift kitchen on the sand. It later started to pour rain, and after watching the “restauranteurs” poke holes in their thatched roof to prevent the water weight from collapsing their establishment, we made a mad dash and began dancing in the rain and singing Italian love songs. This is how we looked afterwards.
The next day Abby and I made a failed attempt at killing ourselves, meaning we lived, by trying to ride one of these:
After Abby had an anxiety attack, we traded these bad boys in for whimsical bicycles and frolicked around. Thank god we traded them in because that night while returning from the Duong Dong night market, it started raining and I don’t think I could hold onto my life on a motorbike, on a black as F road in the outbacks of Nam at night. You’re welcome life, and mom.
Our nights on Phu Quoc consisted of the boys coming to our resort to steal our aircon and drink their $1.50 bottle of Vietnamese Rum in our room while Abby and I laid in our beds in our PJs and Mark straightened his hair to look like an Eastern European grease ball. I’ll refrain from posting the video I took to maintain our friendship.
On my last day on the island, Abby and I booked a snorkeling/fishing half day trip which turned out to be absolutely amazing!! During the drive down to the South we stopped at a Pearl farm which was aight, but we got to see how pearls are farmed. We also got a chance to really see how the Vietnamese live. It’s really intense to see the shacks these people call home, and makes you appreciate everything that we are blessed with by just living in a 1st world country like American or Korea.
Onto the snorkelfishing! Turns out I’m a pretty good deep sea fisherwoman, and after being coached by one of the Lesbias on board I caught 3 fish! Here’s lucky numero uno! I think I named him Harold.
After fishing we were served a very delicious meal on board. It consisted of some type of Vietnamese/Thai fusion noodle, sauteed Morning Glory (long and green stuff that was bomb), some egg frittata type thing, white rice, potato and carrot soup, fried fish (later we were told it wasn’t the fish we caught), and a special surprise of sea urchin if we wanted to try, which I did. When in Rome! It actually turned out to be not so bad. They prepared it with onion and peanuts and soy sauce so I thought it was pretty tasty and kinda had a peanut buttery texture. That was an extra 20,000 dong more (~$1). Then we finally got to snorkel! And let me tell you, this was the most gorgeous snorkeling I have ever done, and I’ve snorkeled in a lot of beautiful places! We made 3 different stops and saw some of the most gorgeous corral and fish ever! One of the lesbias said she thought she saw something that looked like a Barricuda and kept telling herself to keep swimming lol. Abby has also never swam in the ocean like that before, due to her inability to tread water, so she was having a gay ‘ol time wandering off out in the open water in her florescent life jacket.
The next day I left Phu Quoc behind and flew back to Ho Chi Minh for a few days. Phu Quoc was beautiful and all, but I was so happy to be in a CITY with hustle bustle and historical sights to see. One thing is for sure, the hustle bustle is alive and kickin in HCMC. One finds that out instantly when crossing the street and seeing your whole life flash before you. The trick is to just walk slowly and the motorbikes with families of 5 on them will just go around you. I ended up enjoying this game of “trying not to get killed.”
On my first day there I met up with Katie, Matt and Kenny, who also ended up leaving the island early. Matt was still getting all his passport ish sorted, so he was a bit stressed but trying to have a good time. Katie and I ended up leaving the boys to go check out the War Remnants Museum, which was essentially a “We Hate America” museum. I don’t know why they allow us in the country after going there. Granted I’m not very knowledgeable on the Vietnam War, but from what I saw there we did some pretty nasty shit that is still affecting their people today physically and mentally. We drowned those horrid images in some shopping at Ben Thanh Market, the best coffee in the world and a bowl of delicious pho at the place there Clinton ate when he journeyed there. All better.
Abby arrived the next day and the 3 of us went to the Reunification Palace which was pretty boring actually. I almost stepped on a massive carpet which was poorly labeled. That was pretty much the only highlight. That night we met up with the boys to try and find a place where we could drink snake blood. This is apparently called a snake ceremony and is done all over Vietnam, but you wouldn’t think that given the looks of disgust we got whenever we asked a Vietnamese person. We found a place that did it, but it ended up being extremely expensive and none of us were down to pay $60 for taking the life out of a snake. I’ll just have to do it another time. Instead of a dinner of snake we got some Pho Hung which was bomb diggity and a nice trade off.
Our final day in Ho Chi Minh was my favorite I reckon. We got up early to go to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which were used by the Cu Chi Vietcong people during the war. The Cu Chi people live in the South, obviously, but fought for the Northern Vietcong. Shady Sheisters. So we took a tour about 2 hours outside of Ho Chi Minh, where we had the cutest tour guide named Slim Jim. Why you ask? Because he “eats like a bird, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish.” Once at the Cu Chi tunnels we got to see real life boobie traps, secret holes for hiding, crawl through the actual tunnels and shoot a gun! The 3 of us bought a round of 10 bullets and got our hardcore on with an AK47.
My first time shooting a gun!
They had to widen these tunnels to accommodate the fat westerners. The Cu Chi people crawled through these, where as I walked through hunched over with my butt slightly hitting the sides.
All in all, I enjoyed Nam, especially the pho and weasel poop coffee. Thank god I brought some coffee back with me because I ain’t getting THAT in koko. Next time I need to go visit the North, because I hear that’s where it’s at. Now onto Cambodia, which I absolutely fell.in.love.with.
The only things I didn’t like about Cambodia were my polka dotted legs from mosquito bites and the 13 hour bus ride that it took us to get there. This is how I looked on the bus ride because I couldn’t handle the heat, so the only thing to do was sleep, and bob. Compliments to Katie for this gem.
I LOVED Cambodia, but at the same time I just felt so awful seeing their quality of life, but I guess that is all they know so it’s just life for them. The people here were so warm and eager to help and talk to you and point you in the direction of what you should do next. Not to mention, the Cambodian people are freakin gorgeous. I think every man working at our hotel was attractive. Our first city was Siem Reap and we were staying at the same hotel as the boys this time. We got in pretty late after that bus ride from hell, so the 3 of us lassies indulged in some pool time, some vino and our first ever Cambodian dishes. Twas a lovely way to unwind and prep ourselves for Templing out the following day.
We were picked up by our sweet tuk tuk driver, Sovann (pronounced Sowan) at 9am the next morning and he had a list of temples on the agenda, all of which MayMay recommended to me 🙂 First we went to Angkor Wat, which is one of the Wonders of the World, and yes it is quite a wonder! It’s massive and beautiful and seemed never-ending in size. Inside there are several levels and smaller temples. We weren’t allowed up to the 3rd level though because we were too scantily clad. Good thing because we didn’t feel like waiting in the massive line anyways.
Next we went to Ta Prohm, or the Jungle temple. This temple was magnificent!! It had trees with the most insane roots growing out and over and on the sides of the structures. Some of the buildings had scafolding to preserve them from being crushed by the tree. Talk about a freakin miracle!
I think this tree looks like a dancing woman wearing bell bottoms 🙂
Next on the temple tour was Bayon Temple, or what I called the Faces temple. I love drawing faces and eyeballs, so you know I loved this one. There were literally faces everywhere!
Ajummas do Cambodia (old Korean women)
And the last of the day was a hike to the top of a temple/mountain to see the sunset. We actually thought we were going to see Angkor Wat at Sunset, but I think there was a bit of a mixup in communication. Nonetheless, it was really pretty from the top of the mountain, and tonssss of people were there. Including Juan (h-Juan as we like to pronounce it), the nice handsome man from Jersey we met in Blue Pumpkin outside of Angkor Wat. He gave me his bottle of deet to rid myself of the polka dotted leg syndrome and that towel shielding my sunburn from the sun.
That night we were so exhausted and completely templed out. Abby and I got massages at the hotel and then we just kinda vegged out for the night while the boys were out gettin’ all buck and ya know.
The next day we thought we were going to a floating market, but it turned out to be a floating village on the Tonle Sap River. We got our own boat and driver and were taken to a crocodile farm that was random, but cool to see, and a tiny little shopping area with nothing much aside from Pringles (our staple), coffee and some trinkets. After buying another can of Pringles we hopped back in the boat and were taken to another floating store. This was when it was dropped on us that we were going to an orphanage and we should buy something to give to the kids. Holy Jesus. This is what they meant by tourist trap. BUT, we ended up all chipping in $10 each and bought the kids a box of 25 packets of ramen and some notebooks for school. We were then taken to the orphanage where we got to meet the adorable freakin kids. Dear god Cambodian kids are ADORABLE. We gave our gifts to the teacher since we didn’t buy enough to hand out to every student, and then we just sat down and played with them.
One little girl named Jae came right up to me and sat down next to me. I swear she was a mini Wawa. She was so sweet and just kept wanting me to hug her and give her high fives. Before long kids were swarming around the 3 of us, and it was just one of those feel good 10-15 minutes of your life. I think it was a little difficult for Katie since she’s adopted, but it was cool to get to do that with her 🙂 Kids are just so damn cute anywhere you go. I swear I wanted to steal at least 5 babies a day, AT LEAST. When we left the orphanage Jae just stood in front of me and put her arms up for me to pick her up. Such a sweet heart. Now I know why Angelina keeps freakin adopting these kids.
That night we actually went out in Siem Reap which was so much fun! I had tried to meet up with my friend Matt’s friend who lives there (sorry Matt, I know you’re reading 😉 but due to my shitty wifi we missed each other. Oh well!
The next morning we were off, yet again on another bus ride. This time to Phnom Penh, and it was only 6 hours. ONLY. At least the bus was better this time, but I swear it stopped every 15 minutes to let some Cambodian family off at their house or to wash their babies poopy pants in the river. GET ME THERE ALREADY!
Well, we got there. And as I had anticipated, I dropped my shit and RAN to find me a tuk tuk to get me to the Killing Fields. I only had less than a day in the Capital city of Phnom Penh and I wanted to make sure I saw the Killing Fields and S-21 (the Genocide Museum). Both closed at 5pm so I hit the ground running.
I went to the Killing Fields by myself that day, and this began the most emotionally exhausting day ever. I was getting annoyed with some people who kept saying “oh it’s just a field I don’t need to see it.” But really, it is a big deal. If you don’t want to see it because it’s morbid that’s understandable, but to say because it’s just a field is f’ing ignorant. I think I really liked Cambodia because you’re literally living in the people’s history, given that this genocide by the Khmer Rouge happened in the late 70s, so anyone around 30 years old or older either was alive for it or has a parent or relative or friend who was. So when people were saying oh it’s just a field, I kept thinking how if someone had said that about the Holocaust “oh it’s just a camp” I’d be infuriated, because it’s not “just a camp,” those were people’s lives. Sorry, rant.
Anyways, I got there and got my headset and was on my way. Right when you get in you see a giant building that is 17 stories high. In it are skulls, bones and clothes of people who were killed there. It’s their way of paying tribute to those who were lost.
As you walk along the audio tells you where different buildings stood and have anecdotal stories to go along with some of them. I won’t get into detail because it really was so sad, but as you’re walking past the mass graves and killing trees, there are remnants of clothes and bones that have washed up with rain that are just laying right at your feet. It was so eerie but also fascinating at the same time to be just walking in history. It was really something to think that this happened a little over 30 years ago right there.
Next I hopped back in my tuk tuk and was taken to S-21 where I met Katie and Abby. S-21 was originally a high school and a middle school and was later turned into a torture facility by the Khmer Rouge. This was ever creepier than the Killing Fields. You can walk right up to the metal beds that victims were strapped to and see blood stains that were barely washed away. You could walk into the brick cells and the wooden cells if you wanted to. I was too creeped out, so I just poked my head in one of the brick ones. The wooden ones I literally snapped a photo and ran. All throughout the museum they have photos of the victims. Ranging from infants to elderly people. There were a couple of photos that made me cry and it was just awful, but I’m glad I went to see it.
Pardon the sad note.
The rest of my last day was spent being girly. We got a delicious dinner, some massages and then just wandered and shopped for a bit.
On my flights home I was with Scotty, and after being in the Kuala Lumpur airport for 3.5 hours, us and another EPIKer Thyla, still managed to almost miss our flight, or rather almost accidentally boarded a plane to Perth, Australia….oops.
Vietnam and Cambodia were definitely 2 countries I didn’t even think about going to before I came to Korea, let alone 3 of the first I’d travel to! It was such an educational trip and I loved it so much!! Sorry to end it on such a downer note, but I mean, I knew that was gonna be a bulk of what we saw.
So, to liven your spirits, enjoy the fruits of my creeper labors.
And finally…say CHEESE!
4 thoughts on “Back When I Was In Nam & Cambodia…”
Wonderful write-up D. I cannot wait to visit these places. Such great pictures and your writing is just perfect. Post more about your daily life in SK!
thanks for recapping it all, we have to catch up over chat or video chat. miss you. glad you’re having such a great time and seeing so many amazing things. so jeal.
This post made me cry!!! I would’ve ruined all the kids’ day at the orphanage crying. I’m completely ignorant because “orphanage” seems like such an outdated word… apparently that’s just in the U.S. 😦 sounds like a great, educational trip, though!!! I woulda gone to the field with you 🙂