Killing Fields/Genocide Museum/Vietnam & Cambodia border crossing

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Once in Saigon, our next step was to cross the border into Cambodia. From speaking to travelers and mentioned in the Lonely Planet book, there were two options: One, to get a visa on arrival or two, to get an e-visa.

We were told by other travelers that the evisa was the best choice since it was a much faster process at the border and faster processing. Additionally for the standard visa we were told we would need passport photos which I didn’t have so opted for the e visa route.

The evisa was super easy and off the Cambodian website there was even an app for the visa. How easy! The only catch is it would take 3 days to process.

When we arrived in Saigon, we were stuck a day as our visa was not ready yet. To make matters worst, we were told that there was no point in us getting the evisa since getting our visa at the border was a breeze. Ugh!

In fact, the evisa had cost us $5 more by doing it online. We were also restricted to one border crossing since only one border accepted it.

We crossed the border with a bus load of people of which we were the only ones with an evisa. If we had come on our own then we could have walked right through but with a bus load of people this would not have helped us any.

After crossing the border, we were crudely told to leave our new air conditioned, wifi bus to an old dirty shitty bus for the rest of the ride. Welcome to Cambodia.

Part of the 10+ hour (8 hours we were told) bus ride entailed taking the bus on a ferry.

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We arrived in the main city of Phnom Penn. I didn’t expect much of Phnom Penn; I expected it to be a big, dirty city but I was pleasantly surprised the area we were in was actually pretty nice.

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There were some immediately notable differences between Vietnam and Cambodia; Cambodia was far poorer.

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In Vietnam all the taxis are motorbikes, in Cambodia tuc tucs are the clear choice.

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In Phnom Penn there was a ton of prostitution. As soon as we got there we realized that something wasn’t normal but we couldn’t quite put a finger on what that was. Then we started to realize that in most places 60-70 year old white men do not walk around hand in hand with 16-20 year old Asian girls.

I got scammed in Phnom Penn; a woman approached me with a baby in her arms. There are many beggars so I didn’t think much of it. She had a half filled bottle in her hand and said milk for baby! So I said I would buy her milk. She leads me to a drug store and points to a $30 bottle of dried milk powder. I said no I’ll buy you this milk carton. She said no need powder! And points to a $13 bottle. Without thinking I say fine and after a cheap thank you! She is out the door. Something just didn’t feel right; it could have been the ungenuine thank you or the fact that baby powder cannot cost $30 in a place where people make less than $100 a month.

I asked a local about it and he confirmed my suspicion; there is a ring of this and it is very common. Usually the baby does not even belong to the woman, they rent them or buy them from the hospital. Sick. I felt betrayed and pissed they used my kindness against me. Next time I saw a woman with a baby asking for money I yelled at her.

Phnom Penn was the hub for the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum sites.

The Pol Pot Regime was a massacre that took place in the 70s in Cambodia. Similar to the holocaust, thousands of people were slaughtered under the rule of a dictator pursuing a “pure” race. Similar to the holocaust, there were killing fields established where mass murders were performed in inhumane ways just like holocaust concentration camps.

To visit the killing fields we hired a tuc tuc that drove us around for the day for 15 bucks. He would drop us off at each place then wait for us until we were ready to go to the next place.

Included in this “tour” was first a visit to a shooting range, then a visit to the killing fields, and lastly a visit to the genocide museum.

I can see why they bring you to the shooing range first to play with the weapons; it doesn’t feel quite right after visiting the other sites.

The shooting range was run by the government and they had basically a wall of guns you could shoot, anything you could dream of. You could throw a grenade for $100, or shoot a rocket launcher for $300. From there, guns started at $55 for 30 rounds with an AK 47 and went up from there.

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If you had $1000 bucks to burn I imagine you could have a ton of gun here. But we were working on a 5 week backpacker’s budget.

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There were rumors that you could shoot a cow if you paid for it, or rumors that you could shoot a car. Our guide says you shoot at a jug of gasoline but I am sure money talks.

From the shooting range we headed over to the killing fields. Here, we paid our $6 (?) entrance fee and were given a guided audio tour.

The tour was very informative and very sad. At this particular site, 20,000 people were killed. Everything was mostly left the way it was found, so there were bone fragments in the paths and shards of clothing sticking out as you walked. They clean up the bones and clothing once a month but with rain it continues to resurface.
 

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There were pits everywhere where mass graves had been dug and caved in.

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One of the saddest parts was a “killing tree” a farmer had discovered where soldiers would hold babies by the legs and hit them against a tree and toss them in a pit.

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At the end of the exhibit was the memorial which had a tower of bones which had been classified by age group and cause of death.

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The killing fields were definitely an emotional experience. When we left, we then headed to the genocide museum.

The genocide museum was held in an old school building that had been converted to a prison during the regime.

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Pol Pot and the communists did not support education so had most of the schools converted into prisons. Barb wire was put up and prison cells were created.

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The last 12 prisoners killed on the premises were buried at the site.

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Cu Chi tunnels/Ho Chi Mihn city (Saigon)

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The Cu Chi tunnels are tunnels that were used during the Vietnamese war by the Vietnamese soldiers. Cu Chi is a small town a two hour bus ride from the city.

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The tunnels were constructed over a period of 20 years and reminded me of an ant hill. The soldiers lived underground where they had meeting rooms, sleeping rooms, and kitchens.

For ventilation, the troops had to disguise the holes so the American soldiers would not know where they were hiding. They did this in the form of above ground dirt piles meant to look like ant holes.

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After time the American soldiers started realizing what the Vietnamese were up to, shooting the soldiers then disappearing into the ground only to pop up into a different location. So they started bringing in dogs trained to smell the scent of the Vietnamese soldiers.

Once the Americans found the source of the smell, they would send what were nicknamed “tunnel rats” into the holes to attack the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese set up booby traps underground to kill these tunnel rats.

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In these traps (the one above very popular) they would stick snake venom or feces on the tips of the bamboo spikes so that when the American soldiers fell in they would get poisoned or get an infection.

To counter the dogs giving away the location of the Vietnamese, they at first shot the dogs but the Americans would hear the gun shots which also gave away their location. So they started putting pieces of American soldier’s clothing in the ventilation holes to trick the dogs as well as pepper so when they sniffed it would send them scurrying away.

The entrances for the tunnels were intentionally made very small so the bigger boned American soldiers could not squeeze through.

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For the tour, these entrances and tunnels were widened so we could fit inside easily, however it was still very uncomfortable and gave you a sense of what these people went through living underground for years.

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The Vietnamese were very poor and did not have many weapons like the US did. So they had to be resourceful, taking American weapons after they were killed or cutting open bombs to use the gunpowder to make their own new weapons.

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They also practiced a lot of nasty guerilla warfare with their wide array of traps.

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This fish trap, for example, was stuck under a hidden hole that was covered with leaves or other natural brush. When the soldier would fall in, his leg would get stuck in this trap like a fish or lobster trap. Mines would be put under the trap, so when the solder’s comrades came to help him, they would detonate the mine and kill them both.

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This rolling trap was made so when a soldier would fall in, these spikes would rotate and pierce them all the way down their body.

At the end of the tour, they had a shooting range where you could shoot weapons used in the war for around 20 bucks for ten bullets.

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Overall the Cu Chi tunnels were a worthwhile experience. The drive was long and I didn’t like how touristy it was, but the information was very interesting. If I were to do it again, I was told there is a local kid who’s dad was in the war and they give a private tour of the tunnels which I think would be much more worthwhile. Since it was an exhibit, it was very staged and like I said the tunnels were not in their original condition but altered and made bigger, and many of the traps were reconstructions. The bus was $6 and the entrance was $4 so it was a good cheap thing to do while stuck in Saigon city.

Dalat

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We are starting to enter a time crunch since we have only a week and a half to make it to Bangkok but still have things we want to see in Vietnam and sites to see in Cambodia. For this reason we decided to high tail it to Ho Chi Mihn city. The bus was 20 hours straight there so I wanted to break it up with a stop over in Dalat. We were told it was the same amount of time from Hoi Ann to Ho Chi Mihn City through Dalat as it was through Mu Ne. However we just found out this is not the case and just extended our 20 hour journey by about 7 hours by stopping in Dalat. Oops.

Not all that torturous as the ride through the mountains is beautiful.

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We weren’t looking forward to Dalat since we were told it was cold here. During the day it was warm (70 degrees) but cooled down at night to maybe low 60s.

Only having one day in Dalat, we wanted to see what we could see in our short stay. From what I read in the book there are a lot of fun tours to do, but as usual, the tourist stuff is expensive. This wasn’t the place we wanted to splurge on a tour, so we opted for the usual motorbike rental.

Our hotel was pretty far from where the bus dropped us so it worked well that we used the scooters to bring our luggage to our hotel. We asked the hotel guy what we could do, if there was somewhere we could hike nearby,  and he sent us to Langbiang, which was about a 20 minute ride from our hotel.

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As usual, they nickel and dime you getting in, having to pay two dollars for entry, then 50 cents for parking, then once you hike up the mountain you have to pay again for access to the “better” view.

We were unpleasantly surprised to find out we would be hiking up a paved road that we could have easily taken our scooters up had they allowed it. Oh well exercise is good.

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Once at the top there were decent views nothing amazing.

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What was interesting was they were using old refurbished war jeeps to shuttle people up.

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The hike up was a strenuous hour each direction.

During the evening we walked around downtown Dalat.

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There weren’t many tourists here. Big bustling markets.

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What was interesting was the food. I read in the Lonely Planet that there is more diversity of food here since in the mountains they are able to grow a wider range of crops such as avocados and strawberries. And.. snails?

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While I was in the midst of negotiating with some guy for a pair of socks, everyone started scuffling about and quickly wrapping up all their goods into blankets and scurrying away. It was quite the scene. The cops showed up; I guess they obviously were selling where they weren’t allowed to.

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Mui Ne

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The bus from Dalat to Mui Ne was fairly miserable. Instead of riding on the already-too-small sleeper busses, we were on a regular shtutle bus. The bus ride was a windy 4 hours on windy dirt roads with the bus constantly shaking and random bumps almost knocking you out of your seat. Just when I decided that this was our worst bus ride we have had to go on, the driver stopped to pack in about 15 locals from some random village to ensure my knees had adequate contact with the seat in front of me.

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I guess my leg was gently touching this girls leg next to me and she smacked my leg then glared at me. After that this bitch was on my shit list. We exchange glares throughout the next hour until thank god they all unloaded a few towns town.

Arriving in Mui Ne, it just felt like home. I had heard this place was a nice beach town with kite surfing, but I thought we would be missing it. Lucky for our bus screw up, we were in Mui Ne. The only problem was we were supposed to be heading straight to Saigon and our bus was leaving in an hour.

This place was beautiful and cities are not my thing. I couldn’t bear the thought of skipping over this just to go sit in a noisy dirty loud city. I know Jose doesn’t like to change plans so would not be happy with my suggestion.

I had intended to kite surf sometime on the trip, and spending the hour skimming through my Thailand book it didn’t appear we were going to have any other good opportunities. This was the spot.

I told Jose I was gonna stay here and I would meet him in Saigon. Not surprisingly he was not pleased with me but complied. I was on my own.

Referencing my book, I checked out a couple backpacker places that were recommended but they were all full. Just as I was about to give in for a $30 bed, I stumbled across a place with beds for 8 bucks. Dead cockroach on the floor getting eaten by ants- my type of place!

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The place happened to by right by where I started, across from the bus stop. Settling in I checked out the beach. There were kite surfers everywhere.

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Kite surfing was not cheap; first place I asked wanted 50 bucks an hour. What do you know, the cheapest place ended up being only 20 stops from my room, good old Mr Lee!

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40 bucks an hour. I think when I was in Cartagena Columbia we paid about 350 for 8 hours, so about the same price here. One guy told me kite surfing is the same price all over the world.

I decided I would do two hours, one the first day and one the next morning before my bus (ended up pushing it to 1.5).

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Since I had already done it before, he started me right in the water with a review of dragging myself through the water with the kite. Kite boarding is not an easy sport but I am determined to become good at it!

The next day, we kite boarded again and he got me up on the board. I rode for maybe 20 seconds on the board until I crashed it and got it tangled up in the buoy lines. Lesson over! 😦

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It was different (in a good way) because the instructor here versus Columbia came in the water with me. He would hold on to my harness and drag with me in the water til I got the hang of it. When I was out by myself he put a walkie talkie in my helmet so could give instruction from the shore.

To kill the rest of the morning I walked around town. There was definitely a crocodile theme here but I never got around to trying it.

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There were crocodile wallets, shoes, you name it. There were also lots of pearls necklaces etc for sale. There was a big Russian population here as well.

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There were some pretty sweet beach bars I didn’t get around to checking out.

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Mui Ne was a pretty sweet place and you could definitely spend a few days here. I was tempted to stay another day but I gave Jose my word I was coming back the next day. We are planning to cross in to Cambodia tomorrow but I am fairly confident our visas won’t be ready yet so I will be wasting the day away in the city instead of on this beautiful beach town.

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I finished up the day with a couple mangoes on a beach chair. Perfect.

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