This is the only photo I am going to post of the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Originally, this was a school. Under the Khmer Rouge, it was turned into a prison where many many Cambodians were tortured and murdered to fulfill Pol Pot’s demented fantasy of an agrarian socialist state. People were brought here for a myriad of reasons: they were educated, spoke French, or even wore glasses.
I was very conflicted about bringing my camera here. But, in the end, my new Canadian friend is right, it is a piece of Cambodia and a piece of history that should be visited, documented, and always remembered.
Somehow, I survived the three day, boat-bus-boat-bus-boat trip up the Mekong and into the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. I really like this city so far, friendly people, smiles, new friends, and I’m also smitten with the city’s name meaning “Penh’s Hill”. But before I get to Cambodia, there is a huge chunk of Vietnam I need to address…
I left Saigon on a bus four days ago. As an architecture and planning buff, watching the city fade away was amazing. Mostly because it didn’t. The Vietnamese have taken up the development practice of building up each side of the highway like it is in the middle of a city. Never mind that this density only stretches back one or two rows of buildings. If you leave Saigon by bus it is nearly impossible to see you have left Saigon.
However, we eventually made our way out into relative countryside and visited a coconut candy factory. Now. I hate coconuts. I also hate snakes. So, naturally, what could be better than a coconut factory with a pet giant python? Well, for this guy, a flaming slice of hell sounds a bit better… somehow, I made it through snake land and had a great time making new friends and getting drenched in the daily tropical downpour.
Perhaps the greatest concept of solo travel is the process of making new friends while you’re out there, drenched in sweat, ass killing you from the steel bench you’ve been sitting on for the last four hours. So far this has been the best trip I’ve taken for meeting new folks… Back in Chau Doc, two nights ago, the entire english speaking world was gathered around one small, moist, noodle and fish laden table. Excellent.
This of course stands in stark contrast to the phenomenon of the Bitch Backpacker. Relatively new to the scene (I don’t remember these people on my last solo trip) the bitch backpacker is a thing of wonder. Almost always traveling with their significant other, these people pride themselves on how far and how cheaply they can go. They’re easy to spot: look for the towering, $500 backpack and a smattering of cliche souvenirs they bought on their…. journey. These people will not speak to you. They’re too busy plotting how to get that street vendor to sell them a conical shaped hat for 50 cents not the 75 cent asking price… thus humiliating the already desperate person who’s country they are a guest in. Such precious assholes.
I hate to admit it, but I am rather rather relieved to be leaving saigon tomorrow. Not to say this is a terrible city, quite the contrary – it’s dynamic, lively, filled with architecture gems, but… If one does not have specific business here, 6 days is waaaay too long.
Early tomorrow morning, I’m going to be picked up and slowly transported up the Mekong river into Cambodia. I’m hitting the point where I want someone else to make a few decisions for me. So, I have booked a place with a random tour, by boat, of the Mekong delta region.
I’m not really sure what to expect. I’ve geared up for traveling solo, but being surrounded by other, equally clueless tourists sounds…. refreshing.
Until we meet again (I may not have Internet access until Phnom Penh, 3 days from now)….
, originally uploaded by schro440.
I was walking away from a Turkish kebab joint in central Saigon when I looked across the street to see this. I know, I know, another photograph of accumulated layers of architecture. However I couldn’t resist.
Also, it’s been a good day for me and for Saigon. The rain has blown in some cooler temperatures, and I’m finally feeling like I’ve got the hang of a tiny part of this city.
As I look out the window of my hotel room on the ninth floor, I’m greeted with a far stretching view of the city. Although not as prominent as in say, shanghai, the landscape is being rapidly infiltrated by construction cranes. The old giving way for… the boring. What is it about the spread of capitalism that requires such generic architecture?