Month: February 2004

Phnom Penh and the devastation of Pol Pot.

spalace Sarah and I visit the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

Our first stop is a visit to the Royal Palace.

The Throne hall.

The Silver Pagoda is so named, as the floor is made from 5329 silver tiles.

mur One of many beautifully painted wall Mural’s.
A house on the palace grounds, built in a French style, and reminiscent of Louisiana. house
palace The grounds were varied, and included museums showing exhibits of farming and house building techniques.

We wandered around for several hours, and then had a break in the coffee shop.

After this, we visit the Raung Damrei National Museum.

A traditional Hindu symbol is one of the many artifacts on the grounds outside the Museum.

museum1 The front of the museum.

It was not possible to take pictures inside the museum.

We had a specialist Museum guide, who talked us through the hundreds of different artifacts and Buddha statues throughout the ages.

In the middle of the museum was a beautiful and well maintained garden.

I never normally give to beggars, which is hard, as I know sometimes the money I pay for a newspaper in the UK, could feed them for 2 days.

This isn’t because I am tight. I contribute a lot to charity, but I believe we should help people so that they can help themselves, and encourage them to earn money instead.

As we left the museum, A street hawker was selling postcards. His hands had been blown off during the war.

After we bought some cards, he insisted on giving us our change, which we had to force him to accept as a tip.

On another occasion, we gave some small change to a child in the street, and were mobbed by around 20 children as we attempted to get into our car.

market Our guide took is to the central Market.

It was much more formal and organized than any of the markets we had visited in Vietnam.

He advised us there were better bargains at the Russian Market.

We wandered around for hours, and bought loads of nice things for our new house.

In the evening, we visited the internationally famous Foreign Correspondents club, next to Sisowath key on the Tonle Sap River.

Supposedly, everyone who is anyone in Cambodia, goes there. The food was excellent, and at one point the power to the building failed, which was exciting.

ts1 Cambodia, was a contrast of some of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen, and some of the most horrible.

Here we visit the Toul Sleng museum of genocide used by S-21 to carry out the orders of Pol Pot, who came to power on the 17/4/75.

The “lucky” one’s were marched of to the fields and forced to work 12 – 14 hours per day. The rest ended up here.

It had once been a high school, it was used for interrogation and torture.

Some things there, I didn’t photograph, as they were frankly too horrible to be put on a public site.

Here a cell where “prisoners” would spend 3 days of torture and interrogation, before being executed as a matter of course.

The “prisoner” would be chained naked to the bed. They would sometimes be given an empty oil container as a water bottle, and an ammunition box to be used as a toilet.

There was dried blood on the floor from where several people had been executed.

ts7 Interrogation was conducted to find out if people were intellectuals or had committed crimes against the state.

In reality, whatever they said, they were executed after 3 days.

The Khmer Rouge routinely photographed each person before execution and in one of the rooms, their pictures had been put on display.

The cruelty of the interrogators new no bounds.

One picture showed a woman just before she was executed.

She had pleaded for her 2 month old babies life with no regard for herself.

In reply, they killed the baby first. In front of her.

As a backlog developed, more and more cells were created to house the enormous number of “criminals”.

Most of the “guards” and interrogators, were armed children aged between 10 and 15.

They had been taken away from their parents and indoctrinated.

ts5 The grounds were varied, and included museums showing exhibits of farming and house building techniques.

We wandered around for several hours, and then had a break in the coffee shop.

After having lunch at the foreign correspondents club, we cautiously headed 9 miles out of town to Choeung Ek.

There are actually thousands of sites like this in Cambodia, but this is the one that most people associate with the Killing Fields.

Our guide had been lucky enough to be educated in Europe (his English was superb.) and had avoided much of his countries tragedy’s.

His Grandfather had been killed by the Khmer rouge, and his father had been killed in the Vietnamese invasion.

kf1 There were ditches everywhere, where bodies had been dumped.

If a person was found to be still alive, they would be hanged from one of the nearby tree’s to save ammunition.

Although a great effort had been made to remove the bodies, there were bone remnants, literally everywhere you walked.

On rainy days, bones are washed onto the path.

In this ditch, 166 bodies of people without heads, were retrieved.

Some years ago, I watched a documentary about the killing fields.

Children had been swung by their feet against a tree, and had there heads smashed in, to save ammunition.

At the site, I recognized the tree. astoundingly, a small child offered to be photographed next to it.

Its in the far background, I couldn’t bring myself to stand near it, let alone photograph it.

memorial The monument containing the remains of 20,000 victims next to the field.

People were executed because they spoke French, because they wore spectacles, because they looked “clever” and even if they showed remorse when loved ones were being taken away.

A third of the countries population were killed (figures vary between 2 and 3 million dead). Children killed their “criminal” parents with shovels.

In 1979, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. 10,000,000 land mines were left behind (there are still 1,000,000 to this day) and 600,000 people fled across the Thai Border.

In 1991 the UN launched the largest peacekeeping mission in history to restore democracy in Cambodia.

In 1998 Pol Pot died in his home under house arrest.

Cambodia has a long way to go to get back to normal, but hope exists everywhere.

One our way home, we passed the football stadium.

Our guide commented that in a friendly game against Vietnam, they had been beaten 8 – 0. I replied that wasn’t a great result.

He said the same football stadium had been a holding area for “criminals” before being moved to Toul Sleng.

Most Cambodians, were delighted just to see football actually being played there.


Angkor Wat, lost city in the jungle (1/2).

aktgate The Angkor Thom elephant gate.

It’s possible, to actually rent an elephant and ride it through the gate.

On this occasion, only a coach of Japanese tourists is visible.

A base reflex of a mighty army heading into battle. basref2
ele The elephant wall.

Its about 100m long, and has elephants carved into it.

One of the many amazing 3d carvings of the face of Buddha.

Originally a Hindu temple, it was converted to a Buddhist temple and the faces were carved over the Hindu symbols.

pillars1 Angkor Thom, is not technically a temple, but is actually a city with temples contained in it.
Me sat enjoying the amazing atmosphere. jssteps
bsrey1 Another excellent find by our guide Mr Han.

Its possible in one obscure position, to see 3 contrasting faces, on 3 different monuments.

I could have walked around there for days, and not found this spot

The city had many spectacular walkways.

Here, the roof has collapsed/been destroyed and only the supporting pillars are visible.

bsrey3 Two of best preserved serene faces of Buddha.

My guide book described it as “investigated with delight, and left with regret”.

The main walkway into At Prohm.

At the side of the path, some former beggars, had taken up playing music as a source of income.

Many of them had lost limbs due to land mines, but they hadn’t lost any of their enthusiasm for music.

ap2 This is what I really came to the Angkor Wat to see !.

Originally built in 1186, it was hidden in the jungle for nearly a thousand years.

Like the rest of Angkor Wat, it was discovered in the mid 19th century by Henry Mouhot a French explorer

Briefly featured in the film Tomb Raider, there’s something magical about exploring lost cities.

Seeds contained in bird droppings had been scattered all over the city.

In the thousand years since, entire trees have grown up and literally merged with the buildings.

Here a tree, has actually grown on top of one of the buildings.

treetop Our guide Mr Han and I pictured next too one of the tree’s

The trees were Banyan, Kapok and Fig.

The roots in the background, illustrate the sheer size of the tree’s.

A picture of the main temple, with the reflection showing on the small lake in front.

Our guide Mr Han, was excellent, and knew all the best places for Photographs, and how to avoid crowds.

ogrown One of the most famous scenes of the At Prohm.

Exploring a city lost in the jungle, one off the most amazing experiences of my life.

We later went to see an Artisan centre. where deaf people are taught to make natural crafts.

The people in the country are desperately poor, and we bought as many presents as we could afford.


Angkor Wat, lost city in the jungle (1/2).

bsrei1 The Angkor Wat, is a bit like the Temple bar in Dublin.

There is a district called the Temple bar, and an actual pub in the district called Temple bar.

The area of Angkor Wat, is 400 square kilometres.

We visited the temple of Bante srey, much smaller than the temple of Angkor Wat, but has a moat.

Angkor Wat, literally means “City that is a temple”.

A base reflex of the white monkey army.

We later saw the ancient folktale acted out by Dancers.

bsrei2 Some of the buildings inside the temple.
The outer wall of the temple from inside.

As beautiful as the temple was, we were told not to venture beyond this wall, as the outside had not been cleared for mines.

I was surprised to hear that towards the end of the war, temples like this, had actually been mined by the authorities to protect them from Thieves.

shiva A base reflex of Shiva – the destroyer.

She destroyed the world, then it was re-created.

She is actually quite a positive figure in Hinduism, as she symbolises removing bad things, replacing bad habits etc. (a kind of ancient Hindu Anthony Robbins).

As we drove back, we visited some villagers, who lived in a hut at the side of the road.

They make their living boiling up the juice from cocoanuts and making a sort of sugar substitute, which can earn them up to 10 dollars a day.

This is the ladder they use to climb the tree’s.

Its a hard life. Statistically, off all the people doing this, that fall out of tree’s only 2% survive.

sug1 This is the hut they work in (there was another hut further back from the road which they share with their 4 children), out of the sun.

It has a kind of clay Yukon stove, with a sort of large wok on top, to boil up the juice.

The sugar is distributed in containers woven from grass (we bought 10 dollars worth, and told them to take a day off).

On our way back to lunch, we visit Pre Rup.

A really tall temple, with a large staircase.

uk2 A view from the top, shows the majestic steps bellow it.
Sarah and I have lunch at the amazingly authentic foreign correspondent club.

The food was excellent and we were made to feel like real international travellers.

awmoat A picture of the Angkor Wat, the largest temple on earth, taken from across the moat which surrounds it.
We enter the Wat, through the east gate.

There are 3 gates into Angkor Wat, designed for Elephants.

basref1 A base reflex from the eastern wall, which has only recently been decoded.
A picture of the main temple, with the reflection showing on the small lake in front.

Our guide Mr Han, was excellent, and knew all the best places for Photographs, and how to avoid crowds.

akw2 I climbed to the very top of the temple.

The angle of the stairs, was nearly 70 degree’s, so a head for heights was needed.

There was a euphoric feeling when stood in the central temple at the top.

Sarah and I photographed in front of one of the base reflex’s

This sculpture is more than 1000 years old.

pool In a different time, this empty pool would have been filled with worshippers swimming and bathing.
Sarah relaxes next to the outer wall, as we make our way out of the front entrance.

Our guide had taken us in the side way, around the back and out through the front, which he advised was the quietest way to see it.

akwsteps A view from the entrance, down the walkway, and out across the moat bridge.
Angkor Wat from the front.

The handrails on the walkway, are carved from stone and more than 1000 years old.

dancers1 In the evening, we visit the APSARA Restaurant-Theatre, enjoy delicious Cambodian food and watch traditional theatre.

We sat on the cushions on the floor, and ate from low tables.

As we arrived, I rolled up my jacket and placed it under the table.

I didn’t realise, there was a 1 metre deep trench underneath the table, for the comfort of westerners.

I had to climb under the table, and into the hole to retrieve my Jacket !.

There were many short performances, and then a multi scene story called The Reamker.

In this picture, are Neang Seda and Preah Ream (who are lovers).

In the background are Reap and hanuman.

The traditional legend, is that Reap kidnaps Neang Seda and Preah Ream goes out to find and rescue her.

He is assisted by Hanuman, white monkey and general of the monkey army.

Together, they kill the fearsome Reap and return Neang Seda to Safety.

The small characters in green, are the soldiers of the monkey army.


Hanoi. Vietnam capital and resting place of Ho Chi Minh.

sjmaus Sarah and I arrive on the 2nd leg of our South East Asia tour, at Noi Bai airport, in Hanoi.

We are picked up by our guide and driver, and head across the red river, towards the city.

As we arrive in the evening, we stop on the way to enjoy a superb 8 course Vietnamese dinner.

I found Hanoi to be both modest and charming.

Here Sarah and I pose outside the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.

Next day, we set of, on a tour of the city.

The Quoc pagoda sits on an island in the West Lake.

Supposedly founded 1,400 years ago by King Ly Nam De (the famous warrior of Sword restored fame), it was virtually impossible to photograph in one shot.

garden A garden near the Quan Thanh temple.
Sarah and I, photographed next to the Hoan Kiem Lake (the lake of the sword restored). lake1
fire Our guide showed us this fascinating arga.

Its possible to buy money for the dead (its costs about a fifth of the cost of normally money. You then burn the money in the arga, for the people you want to pray for.

I asked if people burned money, for Ho Chi Minh.

The reply was in the present tense “Uncle Ho is a simple man, he does not need money.”

The actual bridge of the lake of the sword restored.

An Arthurian-type legend is associated with this lake.

It’s about a sword provided by a golden turtle from the lake, in the 15 century and which was used in battles against Chinese invaders.

The sword was later returned to the lake (hence the name sword restored).

lake2 Its still possible to see turtles in the lake (although we didn’t see any unfortunately).

In the middle of the lake is a small island with a structure on it, which was previously the symbol of Hanoi.

Later we had a cyclo tour of the old quarter.

Although it was an interesting experience, I would have preferred to walk around, as they only go at 2 miles an hour.

ctown One of the many streets in Chinatown.
A traditional Vietnamese house.

The bottom story, normally acts as a shop front, with the occupants living in the back of the shop.

They are very narrow, long, and built high.

At one time, houses were taxed on their width, hence why some of them are only 7 feet wide.

the length of the house also creates a larger, cooler shaded interior.

hcmmause The Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.

Although it had a very “comedy Soviet” feel, it was imperative to remain respectful.

He had originally asked to be cremated, and his ashes scattered over the highest mountains in the North, South and Centre of Vietnam.

It is located on the spot in Ba Dihn square, when on September 2nd 1945, Ho Chi Minh read the declaration of independence, which he never lived to see.

The Presidential Palace.

When the French left Vietnam in 1954, Ho Chi Minh declined the offer to live there, preferring to live in a small cottage in the Palace grounds.

The venue was instead used for meeting visiting dignitaries and school children.

hcmhouse In 1958 he moved to his house on stilts, next to a small lake, given to him as a birthday gift.

His house is exactly as it was, when he died.

There were very few possessions, aside from a simple bed and desk.

There were banners around naming Ho Chi Minh, as the:

“Father of the modern state”


“Liberator of the Vietnamese people”.

gfish One of his favourite pastimes was feeding the fish in the lake beside his house.

We stood on the steps, but armed guards “discouraged” us from feeding them ourselves.

The single Pillared Pagoda.

It was originally built in the 11th century to look like a lotus flower, floating on the water.

Tragically, like many of the things we saw, it had been destroyed by the French and been rebuilt.

statue We passed this statue as we walked to the puppet theatre.

It showed 3 figures, and said something like “Its okay to give your life in the war for independence.”

Basically, people carrying explosives could run towards tanks, and destroy them, but obviously, they would die also.

Since there were more people willing to die than tanks, the tanks lost battlefield superiority, and became redundant.

The Thang Long water puppet theatre.

The artists stand waist deep in water, and operate the puppets from behind a bamboo curtain.

They have demonstrated their art as guests in over 40 countries.

Its essential to read the program. Although impressive to watch, its practically impossible to tell what’s going on.

uni The Temple of literature, oldest university in Vietnam.

The modern symbol of Hanoi.

The previous symbol, had been the building on the Island of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Inside, there was a beautiful wooden staircase, reminiscent of Trinity College library in Dublin.

Again tragically, like the single pillared pagoda, it was destroyed by the French before leaving, and rebuilt after 1954.

barbers Some barbers had set up shop, next to the outer wall of the Temple.

I think that simple scenes like this, are as much a part of travelling, as visiting famous bridges and eating local food.

Singapore and drinks in Raffles hotel.

boats I walked along the river bank and saw these junkets.

I find Singapore to be very clean and well run. It was certainly the safest place I visited while travelling.

A statue of Raffles, which says he came upon a small fishing village, and changed the course of its destiny forever. statue
me_rain Me standing outside a government building. The guidebook had 3 walking tours, which Frank and I did.

I wore my go anywhere Rohan shirt, it was warm and soaking all day.

I was born in Oldham in Manchester, so when I saw this sign, I took a picture of it. oldham
lousyfish I saw this cafe. They certainly were to the point. I don’t know if you can read it, but the sign says “no lousy fish” and “no good don’t pay”
The Swissotel. 70 stories high. Awesome. 70floorhotel
bar Frank and I in Raffles hotel, where there are peanuts on the floor. Whilst there, the Norwegian king and queen came into the bar with an entourage of 40 people. We liked it that much, that we had 4 pints.
The original billiard room in Raffles hotel. Its said that a tiger was shot underneath the billiard table. In reality, the tiger was underneath the floorboards. billiardroom
hotel1 The entrance to Raffles hotel. They actually had a guy in traditional dress greeting guests.
The forecourt inside Raffles hotel. hotel2
umberella A sculpture of people with umbrellas. If you look closely, you can see that Frank is in the picture amongst them.

Kuala Lumpur and the Petronas towers.

pt2 A few people I know, had talked about a program on the National Geographic Channel called MegaStructures.I decided to record a couple of episodes and watch them when I wasn’t doing anything. The episode I watched first was about the building of the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

I wont spoil the contents of the program, but suffice to say I was astounded and inspired and I decided I would travel to Kuala Lumpur and stand in front of the Petronas towers.

Since I was already doing a trip to Borneo, it made sense to stop off for a day and a half on the way back.

I fly back from Borneo, land at KL airport and then store my large rucksack at the airport (I only needed a day sack, as I was staying in a pretty plush hotel, and during the day would just need something to carry water and a guidebook around in.Its 40km from the Airport to the city, so I jumped on this spotlessly clean and efficient train.

I was really looking forward to it. I was sorry to leave the Jungle and the Ocean behind me, but sometimes the city can be just as exciting.

firstlook I get a taxi to my hotel the Crown Princess Kuala Lumpur (booked through Expedia).As I head for my room, I get my first glimpse of the Petronas towers.

The Petronas towers are said to symbolise Kuala Lumpur’s self belief and focus, along with its slogan “KL can do it”.

I am a bit tired from my time in the Jungle, and having just got of a plane, I decide the best thing to do, is the 3b’s. Beer, bath and bed (I relax in the bath with a bottle of beer, then get some sleep).While in the bath, I have another quick read of my guidebook.

There is no clear protocol on mobile phones and its perfectly normal to hear a phone ringing in the cinema.

I had heard before, that a Muslim man can divorce his wife by saying “I divorce you” 3 times. I was astounded to read that Sharia law has extended this to text message.

Malaysian law also permits use of the Rattan cane, which civil rights groups are fighting.

Kuala Lumpur has a 100% Literacy rate and expects to be a fully developed City like London or New York by 2020.

curry I decide to spend the evening relaxing. The hotel featured an Indian restaurant called the Taj. Sounded a bit cheesy to me, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt.In reality, it had won the Malaysian tourist board award for best Indian restaurant, 4 times running.

The food was so good, that I ate a main course, than asked for the same 1 a 2nd time !.

Along with cold beer and this amazing view, it made for an absolutely fantastic evening.

On the ground floor was a Sports bar, with a few Japanese businessmen where I had a quick drink.

I surprised myself by spending the rest of the evening in the Piano bar, listening to a singer they had there. Off to bed, loads to do in the morning.

I wake at 7:30am. My bag is already packed for the day and my guidebook has scotch tabs so I can find maps and relevant pages quickly (preparation is key, when your trying to see a place and you don’t have a lot of time).I head for the Petronas towers and see a McDonalds (okay, a lot of people don’t like Macdonalds, but its ideal as a travel breakfast, it fills you up, is cheap and you can eat it in 6 minutes).

Kuala Lumpur had absolutely loads of cool electrical and computer goods. I saw this sign for Acer. You just wouldn’t see 30 foot high laptops in the UK, would you.

garden3 The Petronas towers are, as you would imagine, right in the middle of the commercial district, known as the “Golden Triangle”.The KLCC park (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) is amazingly well landscaped, and I found this small sitting area with a fountain where I stopped to rest.

There were people nearby practising Thai Chi, I decided not to photograph them without there agreement.

I arrive at the towers and wander around the entrance.I was struck by the elegance of its design when examined up close.

Running up to the entrance, on the right is a road and on the left a pavement. They have obvious boundaries for pedestrian and driver alike but when viewed like this, appear to merge into one.

pt1 The sign and entrance to no 1 Petronas Tower.Behind you can see some of the façades form corners and some form curves.

This is what gives the tower its unique shape.

Standing up close and staring at the base, you basically see a lot of glass and steel.

Staring up at one of the Petronas towers, tells a different story.Its traditional Islamic Geometric design is made up of two interlocking squares onset with small circles which form an eight pointed star.

Eight is homophonous with the word for prosperity in Chinese) and this is also reflected in the number of floors (88).

Built by Cesar Pelli, it took 3 years to build and is 452 meters high (it held the record for the worlds tallest building from April 1996 until October 2003 when the Taipei 101 was created which is 56 metres taller).

The main problem while building it, was the soft soil of its foundations. They got around this by digging deep into the ground, and pumping millions of tons of concrete, and then running steel rods into them.

There were also rumours that the Government ran out of money halfway through the project, but this is unconfirmed (its final completion cost was $1.2 billion).

One controversial decision, was to award the contract for construction of each tower to 2 different company’s, offering a bonus for the one that completed first.

Whilst this doubtlessly increased the fury with which each tower was built, its often argued that if they had both been able to work together and solve common problems, the whole thing would have been completed even sooner. We’ll never know.

klcc1 I wander further around Kuala Lumpur City Centre.A man made Garden, it features lakes fields tropical plants and even a zoo and aquarium.
The towers were so enormous, it took ages to find a place where I could be photographed in front of them.Its only from a distance that you can see the physical beauty of this monument as well as the architectural and engineering feat that it is.

I met 2 young girls, who didn’t speak a word of English (although were very friendly and helpful).

After 7 shots, they finally take this one.

kltower Having seen the Petronas towers, I decided to explore the rest of Kuala Lumpur. It was very warm and humid throughout the day and I had to keep drinking water constantly.

Menara Kuala Lumpur (popularly known as the KL Tower).

This telecommunications tower rises above the Bukit Nanas.

I didn’t have enough time to go up in the tower, but I read that it has one of the fastest lifts in the world.

Many people think it is taller than the Petronas Towers.

This is a natural illusion that occurs because the KL Tower was built on a hill.

Whilst wandering around the tower I spent some time in the Bukit Nanas forest recreational Park.

I thought it was cool the way there was a rainforest and jungle you could walk around, right in the middle of a city centre.

I followed the 3 short educational walks there, which show all kinds of plants and animals.

I was really looking forward to it. I was sorry to leave the Jungle and the Ocean behind me, but sometimes the city can be just as exciting.

colbuilding Right next door to the Bukit Nana were 2 very old and distinguished Schools, the Convent Bukit Nanas and St John’s institution.

I continued walking and found this row of old Colonial houses.

I head for Merdeka (Independence) Square.

On the left is the Royal Selangor club founded for colonials to drink stengah (whisky soda in the long bar). Times have changed and today it is frequented mostly by lawyers although women are still forbidden from entering the long bar.

The Field in the centre of the picture is the Padang (it means field in Malaysian).

In 1892 when administrators recruited based on skill at Cricket, Ernest Birch was stationed in Kuala Lumpur.

He dried out the field outside the Selangor club and started organising matches. Cricket on the Padang has been an institution ever since.

flagpole Also in Merdeka square, is this flagpole.

At 95 metres, it is the 2nd tallest flagpole in the world (the tallest flagpole is one I saw in Aqaba, Jordan.

Still in Dataran Merdeka on the other side of Jalan Raja is the Sultan Abdul Samad building.

Prior to the building of the Petronas towers, this was the “must see” sight of Kuala Lumpur.

Built in 1897 as the supreme court (a role it still performs today) and built over 3 years, an entire factory had to be built, to supply to bricks to construct it.

2rivers The Klang/Gombak river convergence. It was here that Chinese coolies originally began prospecting for tin and arguably where the City of Kuala Lumpur Began.

It forms one “point” of the Golden Triangle.

In the background, is the Jamek Mosque.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a very good picture of the Mosque.

Built in 1909 by Arthur Benison Hubback (also responsible for the Old KL Railways station, featured later).

It was the City’s first brick mosque and the first in the Federal Territory to sport an onion-shaped dome.

clock The old Clock tower at old market square.

Built to commemorate the coronation of King GEorge VI in 1937, it features an art deco “sunburst” at its base.

I head into Chinatown. The Chinese community makes up %40 of the residents of Kuala Lumpur.

The famous Petaling Street.

Inside is one of the city’s oldest traditional “wet” produce markets.

As with all Chinese shops, the sales staff were very dignified and polite and didn’t mither or hassle me as is common in other parts of the world.

petaling2 I headed towards the Petaling Street Bazaar and bought a couple of presents and stuff like that (and the ubiquitous miniature of the Petronas towers).
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple on Jalan Tun HS Lee.

This street has temples from many different faiths represented on it.

My favourite was this, the Sri Maha Mariamman, the most famous Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur.

The Gopuram (gateway tower) rises 23 metres above the ground and has hundreds of carvings of Hindu Deities on it.

yal The story of Kuala Lumpur is never complete without the mention of Yap Ah Loy, a Hakka immigrant who arrived in Malaysia aged only 17.

Nominated community leader of the Coolies (Kapitan Cina) he rebuilt the City at least 3 times.

He was mayor, police chief, property developer, judge, tax collector, opium den operator, casino owner and brothel keeper (he also ran a hospital and prison) all rolled into one.

A Chinese account of him said “He was not very big or tall but when he spoke his voice was sonorous. His temper was like fire and he had the strength of an elephant”.

He was said to have been able to lift 60kg with his hands stretched forwards.

This small street, is all that remains of his empire (its the shortest road in town, only 80m long).

The old railway station. Designed in the Mughal style, its as photogenic today as in 1911 when it was completed.

Inside there are loads of old trains and stuff like that to look at, but sadly it just looks rundown.

The only trains that stop here now are luxurious trains travelling to Singapore and Bangkok.

Inside the Railway hotel which would have once housed kings and prime ministers is now a backpacker hostel.

maj Rundown and derelict, the once proud Majestic hotel across the road from the station, was the largest hotel in the City and comparable to Raffles in Singapore.

Whilst I had to admire the amazing new buildings and parks in Kuala Lumpur, I couldn’t help feeling the its heritage was being “let go”.

Bangunan KTM Berhad (the headquarters of the Malaysian Railway) across the road from the station.

It features various architectural motifs such as Mughal minarets, large Gothic windows and ancient Greek column.

Unlike the station the inside has been completely refurbished. It survived a bombing in WW2 and a fire in 1969.

sm Merdeka Stadium where Malaysian Independence was declared on the 30th August 1957 (it was especially built for the occasion).

The image of the country’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, punching the air and shouting “Merdeka” seven times is one that is familiar to every Malaysian

It was also the place where Muhammad Ali and Joe Bugner fought for 27 rounds during their 1975 boxing match.

Visiting and exploring Hong Kong.

mntvictoria The view of Hong Kong from the top of Mount Victoria. I walked down, several different paths on the way down the hill. It was really relaxing.
A busy street in Hong Kong. I found the people a little impolite, but since I used to work in Chinatown in Manchester, I was more than used to their culture. I found the pace of life in this city to be exhilarating. busystreet
bigtv A forecourt in the banking sector, where people could sit and watch television. You can see Yasser Arafat here, as It was reported he wasn’t well (he has since died).
On the star ferry, travelling to Hong Kong Island (I stayed at the Marco Polo Hong Kong hotel, in Kowloon Harbour. starferry
tram One of the original trams, That still run in Hong Kong.
A waterfall, in the beautiful Hong Kong park. It even has a zoo. waterfall
boctower Bank of China tower, one off the newest and grandest buildings in Hong Kong.
I found the place to be very status orientated and flash. As I passed a jewellers shop, I was 2 mobile phones, one made of gold, and the other platinum. The gold phone, cost the equivalent of £35000 !. goldphone
climber This was a brilliantly drawn picture on the side of a building, which caught my eye.
The two Lippo towers. I personally thought they were the best looking architecture on the Island. lippotow
hsbc The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) Head office, designed in 1984 by Sir Norman Foster.
The modern building is located on the same site as the original, and has a Lion on each side of the entrance. When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong they actually used the Lions for target practice, and you can still see the bullet holes. lion
bowlleaves In the Hong Kong Zoo, I was an amazing underwater plant which has leaves the same shape as bowls (Victoria cruziana).

More than 20 inches in diameter, a small child can sit on one, and it will float.

A cave like walkway in the Hong Kong Park. You can probably guess that I like the park, I spent quite a lot of time there. cave
govhouse The original governors mansion, in the middle of the banking sector.
The entrance to Kowloon park, which was just near my hotel. kowpark1
kowpark2 This is a public swimming pool, in the centre of Kowloon park. I could hardly believe how clear the water was.
I was getting a drink in Hong Kong Airport. A few girls came up to me, and asked me for directions. One of them is Miss South Africa, who agreed to pose for a picture. miss_sa

Visit to Beijing and walk on the Great Wall (2/2).

meridiangate Meridian Gate (Wumen).

The emperor would pass through this gate when traveling to the courtyard.

The emperor was the only living person who could pass through the middle entrance.

The beautiful man made river Jinshui He (Golden water stream) which runs through the centre of the City.

Five marble bridges cross it.

Its said that Chairman Mao in his later years, filled this pool with Naked young girls from all across China.

park1 After visiting the Forbidden city, most people visit Jingshan Imperial Garden.

Its a lovely park, and is famous for 2 things.

The hill in the centre, with spectacular views of Beijing (the hill is made from the soil leftover from the forbidden city moat).

The 2nd is a tree, where the last Ming emperor committed suicide in 1644.

The suicide note on his lapel said:

“My own insufficient virtue and wretched nature has caused me to sin against heaven above. I die knowing I am wholly unworthy to stand before my sacred ancestors.”

“Let the rebels tear my miserable body to pieces but let them touch not a single hair on the head of the least of my subjects.”

Afterwards the tree was considered an accessory to the emperors death and was placed in irons.

cmgate The Tiananman gate at the top of Tiananman square featuring the face of Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao).

At 400,000 square meters, is the largest public square on earth (bigger than Newton Heath where I grew up).

The idea was to create a place where people could congregate. That backfired on the government in 1989.

Mao’s Memorial Hall (Mausoleum) in Tiananman Square.

The so called “chain smoking poet rebel”.

Born the Son of a wealthy farmer, the long march where 8000 men walked 10,000 kilometres in one year marked the peak of his military/leadership achievements.

His flaw, was said to be a need for constant revolution, and his incompetent agricultural policy is reckoned to have caused the deaths of 38 million Chinese.

Paranoid and eccentric towards the end, he is still revered by the common folk, who weep openly as they look at his embalmed body.

ol The Chinese have gone Olympic crazy, and an Olympic countdown timer in the square shows the minutes, hours etc until the games begin. This display seemed to have a “Japanese” look to it.

While here I saw lads larking about, and a bottle accidentally dropped, break on the floor.

A young police officer barked orders at them and they stood bolt upright, the fear obvious on their faces.

I presume he ordered the broken glass to be placed in the bin, which they did. They returned to the police officer and waited nervously for him to let them go. After checking the pavement, he shouted at them for a few minutes and ordered them on their way.

A Chinese police officer can decide guilt and punishment for Crimes up to Rape and Murder on the spot. Most people seem more frightened of the Police, than they are of criminals.

As I wandered around Tiananman square, I met lots of friendly people. This chap asked to be photographed with me.

Visiting Beijing for the first time, from his far away village, he had never met anyone with Blond hair.

They actually offered me money to be photographed. I know how hard they work for the bit of money they earn in this country and I obviously refused.

I had known it meant that much to them, I would have lost some weight for this picture :).

southgate The imposing Zhengyangmen (South) gate.

Once the gateway between the imperial city and the commoners outside. Its ironic really:

In the 1500’s there were the common people, and the godlike emperor and his dignitaries.

Today there are the common people, and the godlike party members and their assistants.

I can’t see the difference and wonder what the “revolution” was actually for (but then I would, I have always lived in a free country !)

In the daytime, the square is packed.

Visiting it, the day after the 57th anniversary of the revolution didn’t help.

I came back in the evening when it was a little quieter, and was rewarded with this superb shot.

The whole square is lit up during the evening, and is a delight to see, but the Great Hall of the People, was easily the best.

mewall1 I contacted the downtown backpackers who I can completely recommend.Although I wasn’t staying with them, I asked if they had any trips organized to the great wall.

The were doing a day trip to Jinshanling and Simatai (walking between the 2). It was just the trip I was looking for, and only about £11.

We set off 7am in the morning. I was euphoric with enthusiasm.

Walking along the wall was the thing I had traveled all the way to China to do, and I had waited 30 years of my life to do it !.

The pictures I have seen of the wall, show it shopping-street flat.

The reality is very different, it was very steep, and at some of the towers, you had to jump out of “windows” onto the wall bellow.

wt3 Some of the towers were in very good condition.

My German friend David, told me that Drum and Base parties were quite common on some sections of the wall.

Whilst walking, he realized although thousands of miles from home, a German girl in our party was the sister of his best friend.

I wont bother trying to calculate the odds of that happening, but its the kind of strange and exciting thing that happens when travelling.

wall1 The rugged terrain all around the wall.

It was pointed out, that military value off the wall, was not just as a barrier.

Horsemen and Chariots could travel along the top of the wall much more quickly than raiders could trek through woodland and undergrowth.

This gave significant strategic advantage to people fighting from the wall.

The Royal seal on one of the Bricks.

When some 1960’s buildings were knocked down recently, in anticipation of the Olympics, dozens of the bricks, contained this seal and must have been stolen from the wall.

wt2 A view from one of the watchtower “windows” showing a section of the wall we had walked along.

The trip was made all the better by superb weather.

Due to layout, certain sections of the wall, were vulnerable to archers.

Here a series of buildings along one side of the wall, provides protection from arrows and spears.

wall2 The view from the wall, and the sheer length, of what you can see, let alone its total length, is staggering.
I had been told to prepare a packed lunch.

I couldn’t seem to find anywhere that sold sandwiches or anything like that.

I bought a Kentucky fried Chicken meal, kept it in my hotel fridge, and brought it along in a plastic bag.

wall4 The final section of the wall, was a very steep downhill walk.There were several people selling cans, bottled water and t-shirts along the wall.

I was glad that I had visited the more authentic part of the wall.

Most people visit Badaling which is about 30 minutes from Beijing.

I was told that Badaling was completely rebuilt in 1957 and is a tourist circus.

The Chain Bridge at Simatai.

It wobbled so much, I had to take 4 pictures before I got one that wasn’t blurred.

This was the end of the walk, and like climbing a peak and then walking back down a mountain, was a little sad.

dinner1 I went out for the evening, with the people I met while walking the wall.They were all staying at the downtown backpackers hostel and were a great bunch, who between them had travelled to nearly every part of the globe.

We had a sit down banquet in a private room, which the hardy travellers negotiated down to £3, including 2 bottles of beer each.

After the meal we went for a drink in a few of the waterside bars next to Houhai Lake.

It was a pretty groovy place, and although I had been walking all day, I had a great time.

waterbars3 We found a rooftop bar, and drank some Chinese beer.

Charlotte is Canadian and during the day, I had wondered for several hours, who she reminded me of.

In the end I realized it was Donna Moss from the West Wing.

We rounded of the evening by visiting a Cafe/Bar called Salud in the Hutong next to the Downtown backpackers hostel.

It had a great atmosphere and the staff were friendly even though it was late. They played some great music, and actually put the TV on for a customer who wanted to watch football.

The customer (Chinese) had heard I was from Manchester, and immediately started to ask me about United. I hope he believed me when I told him I had no idea.

The picture on the wall, is of the proprietor as a child.

At the end of the night, the bill for 4 people drinking pints for 3 hours was £10 !.

head On the way home.

The story ends as it began, with me in Beijing airport at night.

As I wander around the airport waiting for my flight, I step onto an escalator, and see this sign in now familiar chinglish.

I remained alert, but the implied service was never offered !.

Visit to Beijing and walk on the Great Wall (1/2).

mewall2 China has always been near the top of my list of places to see and to stand on the great wall would be one of the greatest achievements of my life.I was told the country was in transition and about to change forever. I didn’t want the same thing as happened in Prague, so I booked with Emirates and off I went.
I arrived at the Red Wall hotel at 11pm and immediately setup my laptop.The room had fast (well fast for China) internet connectivity so I was able to keep in touch with my friends and upload my digital pictures each night.The room was spotlessly clean, but in every other respect the hotel was awful, and prompted me to write a letter of complaint.

This is what I look like after 22 hours of travelling !.

beijlights The following day I decided to go out exploring.The first things I noticed, was that the crossing light’s in Beijing are largely for show, and nobody takes any notice of them.The trick, is to wait until a local crosses, and match them step for step, across the road. Its also important to look inconspicuous, otherwise you will be accused of stalking :).
Although there are some spectacular buildings and stuff like that in Beijing, small alleyways called Hutongs are the place where most of the interesting stuff is (after all, a department store, is a department store, anywhere in the world, I was looking for the essence of China).Small close knit communities exist in these alley ways, a camaraderie and a help/protect one another attitude, which my Grandma used to speak of in England exists here. hut1
hut3 Its quite amazing, that entire societies exist just a few yards from the main roads.The most authentic shops and restaurants are in these alleyways.You can see from this picture, that someone has painted the tree’s white, to avoid accidents at night (there are no street lights here, and most people travel by bicycle !).
As I followed a few wandering people, I came to this small park.It was obviously the place where the locals go to relax (and these were after all, the people I travelled here to find out about).People stood chatting, a few played cards, and there was the usual throng of Thai Chi practitioners. localspark
hut5 I enjoyed an evening meal, in a family run Hutong Tea House.The whole family were sat mesmerized by the soap opera , which featured a very famous chinese actor they all seemed to like.Once I ordered, the whole family seemed to leap into action, and served me the 3 course meal you can see here, including beer, for £1.50.

The food was superb, although I decided to pass on fried Bee’s !.

Across the street from the restaurant, just to the left of this picture, was a public lavatory.I watched with amazement as an elderly couple, waked across the Hutong in their pyjamas, carrying towels and toothbrushes.I learned from the owner of the cafe that many homes, don’t actually have toilets or running water, and people use the public lavatory as a bathroom. hut4
beijpave Although public transport was pretty good in Beijing, I have always enjoyed walking and decided to go out for a long walk.You can see from this picture, how long some of the streets are in Beijing.
I decided to Visit the military museum as recommended by the rough guide.There were lots of School trips, and outside, children queued to stand on the deck of a Navy missile launcher. milboat
miltank The museum held the largest collection of military ordinance I had ever seen.The tanks and other vehicles were from all over the world (including Britain) they had the same model of tank I had seen outside reunification hall in Saigon.
The Museum showed the real iron fist of communism.This spectacular room, is filled with Jets and Tanks, and in the centre a decommissioned nuclear missile. milrocket
motcycle Its amazing to see how some cultures solve problems common to the whole world.In the UK, if a person suffers from mobility problems, they are normally given a car, retired from work and paid an allowance.In China, a person is issued with one of these vehicles (a kind of one person taxi) and he/she can earn their own living.

Equally, homeless people and the very poor, are paid a small bounty for plastic bottles, aluminium cans and other rubbish.

By making these things a commodity street rubbish is virtually non existent. On one day, I walked for 19 miles, and I didn’t see a single can or bottle.

When I was a youngster, me and mum used to watch Blue Peter.I remember we watched it, when the famous Chinese Panda’s were on it.I decided to visit Beijing Zoo and see them first hand.

I had read criticisms of the Zoo, but I found it to be superb.

zooboat One exhibit that surprised me, was an enclosure for Alsatian Dogs, which I have never seen in a Western Zoo.A river runs through the centre of the Zoo, and its possible to take a boat tour.It was near here, that I tried to find the Panda enclosure. As nobody spoke English, I removed a soft toy Panda I had purchased as a gift, and started to waive it around to attract attention.

They dismissed me, and I realized they thought I was trying to sell it to them. I found 2 Americans, who were able to help.

China has exported Panda’s to Zoos all over the world. They are considered a symbol of pride and a national treasure in that country.Considering they weren’t actually in the wild, I was delighted to see how happy and playful they were.Each of the Panda’s has an enormous enclosure, and I was extremely lucky to get this picture, just before the Panda got out of the chair. panda
bjduck Its said the 2 things to do when visiting Beijing, are stand on the Great Wall, and eat Beijing Duck.Considering I was going to eat such a delicacy, I took some time and chose an appropriate restaurant. The food was superb.One thing I especially liked about Beijing was the delight people showed, when they received a tip.

My £1 tip, was treated with the elation of a marriage proposal 🙂

I visited the Tiantan Park, to see the Temple of heaven.I was glad I had chosen 8 days for my trip, as it meant I could spend the whole day here.It was one of the most amazing sight’s in Beijing.

Although this picture doesn’t capture its splendour very well, I was trying to show the scale, like most things in Beijing, is massive.

brothertrees The Brother Trees – a Cypress tree embracing a Pagoda tree in the par.Both trees are symbols of Beijing and are seen as a symbol of friendship and brotherhood, among the Beijing people
The Temple of heaven.Because I had visited on a working day, it was a lot quieter than normal.Everything about the temple relates to numbers and its alignment with energy.

The 3 dome shaped roofs, symbolize Heaven, Earth and Man.

beijcycle I had expected to see many thousands of bicycles in Beijing, but the scale beggared belief.I had the option to rent one and ride around, but I decided instead to walk, as I find it more relaxing, and I was after all, on holiday.
Yonghe Gong.Bold and Brash, the largest Buddhist temple in Beijing, built in the 1700’s.It was closed for 30 years, and was lucky to escape destruction during the communist revolution.

Not massively authentic, most of the monks here are pro government.

It was here that China’s choice for the Panchen Lama (2nd only to the Dalai Lama) was sworn in, in 1995.

Just prior to this, the Dalai Lama’s own choice 6 year old Gedhum Choekyi Nyima “disappeared”.

He remains the worlds youngest political prisoner.

chinglish My first sighting of “chinglish” (short for Chinese English) while walking around the temple.The problem is, some Chinese people learn English and then translate it literally. This can have hilarious consequences, when these fraises are put onto street signs.A sign saying “please don’t disrespect the grass” was my favorite of the whole trip.
Near the Wavu Pavilion, which features an 18 meter high wooden Buddha carved from one Sandlewood tree.It took 3 years just to transport it from Tibet. For reasons not explained, we weren’t allowed to photograph it.Trust me, I have carved spoons, and this thing was spectacular !. yg2
fcmoat Forbidden City also known as the Gugon or Imperial Palace.I took this picture, from across the moat just before dusk.
The formidable outer wall.The city was built in the 1500’s and for 5 centuries was the home of 24 ming and quang emperors.Ordinary chinese were forbidden from even approaching its outer walls, hence its name. fcow
fc1 The Large courtyard where the emperor would address his courtiers.100,000 people would sit here, at the Emperors pleasure.It’s next to the chambers which hold the 11,099 volume encyclopaedia commissioned by Yongle.
A rare occasion when I found someone who spoke English and got them to photograph me.I originally thought the Chinese, quite impolite, as they constantly pushed in.I realized from my guide book, that in a city this size, “British” style queuing just doesn’t exist.

When I started to push in myself (which felt quite uncomfortable at first) I found the people I “bumped” didn’t seem to mind.

fchouse2 This was the home of a concubine, with its own courtyard. Her servants and guards would live in buildings nearby.The large iron bowl outside the door, was used for storing water, in the event of a fire.During winter, quilts would be used to keep the water from freezing.
The Forbidden city has Eight hundred buildings and nine thousand chambers.They are mostly connected through chambers and corridors like this one.Its normally difficult to take a picture at a popular tourist site, without getting some people in the picture somewhere.

Here, it was so busy, it was difficult to take a picture without getting a photographer in it.

fchouse1 A house that belongs to one of the emperors advisers.Much more elaborate than the residence of the concubine.Residences like this one, next to the imperial garden, were much sought after by courtiers.

Saigon (now H Chi Minh City) famous of the Vietnam war.

plane We arrive at Tan Son Nhat Airfield. The American built Airport was first thing grunts would see upon arrival in Vietnam.We had a private tour throughout our visit (as we did during the all of our SEA trip) and were delighted to be driven around in a private car, with our own personal guide.

The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, hours after it was taken by the North in 1975, but practically everyone still calls it Saigon.

We visit the war remnants museum, which contains tanks, helicopters, planes and bombs from the American War (its isn’t called the Vietnam war in that country).

The museum had originally been named the museum of American war crimes.Not many American tourists wanted to visit a place like that. Its name had been changed.

This bicycle had been owned by a female supporter of Ho Chi Minh.

Although the name of the museum had changed, its content hadn’t.

She had been tortured horribly whilst in prison. The exhibit said simply that after she had been released she had been incapable of performing the role of wife or mother.

Sarah and I chose not to think about what that meant.

shrap Bomb casings.The explosive inside ripped easily through the 2 inch thick steel casing.

During the war, the Americans had dropped 8,000,000 tons of bombs on the country – more bombs than the allies dropped in the whole of World War 2.

The shrapnel from this must have been devastating.

Various forms off the M79 grenade launch.It fires high explosive grenades, and in operation functions much like a pump action shotgun.

Although designed as a counter ambush weapon, it had on occasion been used as an interrogation tool.

There was a horrible picture of a person who had been shot with one (I’ve chosen not to show it, but you can Google and find it if you wish).

ndcath Notre Dame Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in Vietnam.
The central post office a beautiful building.The Cathedral and the Post office are both in the main square in Saigon, which during the war was named the JFK square. po1
po2 Inside the post office.A person who had worked there for years and retired, worked freelance inside the Post office as a translator.

On the back wall is a picture of Ho Chi Minh.

People talk about him in the present tense even though he passed away some time ago.

He is practically worshipped in Vietnam.

Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown district.Mopeds are the main form of transport in Vietnam (for example, there are 3m people in Hanoi, and 2m motorbikes !).

During rush hour it can be terrifying as tens of thousands of them invade every part of the city.

chinmark The Binh Tay Chinese Market.Originally built by a wealthy Chinese business man who started life as a homeless orphaned beggar.

He later amassed enough wealth to be able to give the Market to the city as a gift.

It was absolute mayhem in here.

They sold everything you could think of, and actually had dried sharks fins for making soup.

Thien Hau Pagoda.The largest Buddhist temple in Saigon.

There are so many things to see and do on a trip like this, Sometimes its nice to visit somewhere quiet and relax.

music We stayed at the Rex Hotel on the main square.In the evening, we had a traditional 7 course Vietnamese meal.

Traditional music and dancing were performed while we ate.

The rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel is practically an institution in Saigon as it has amazing views of the city.During the war, the Rex hotel was used as officers quarters.

We took a small laptop with us, and were able to connect to the Internet in all of our hotels.

It was also useful to research the things we had seen/were going to see.

pfield The next day, we head out in search of adventure.One of the many paddy fields that panorama’d our journey.

I found out on my trip why rice is grown this way. Rice can grow underwater, but weeds and other vegetation can’t.

Instead of using weed killer, just grow the rice underwater, and let nature do the work.

The image of the young girl fleeing a burning village, covered in napalm, immortalised the war.This is the section of Trang Bang Road (named after the bombed village) where that picture was taken.

Today, Kim Phuc lives in Canada and works for the United Nations. Her brother still lives here and sells burgers from a van a quarter of a mile away.

The reality of the story, is the Vietnamese Air force were responsible for the attack The Americans were not involved at all.

cdtemple1 The famous Cai Dao temple.Cai Dao fuses Buddhist, Taoist, Confusionist and Catholic beliefs.

The 9 levels of enlightenment are symbolised by 9 steps within the temple.

Each level is guarded by 2 dragons and the top level features the symbolic eye of wisdom.

On the temple grounds are schools and hospitals for the followers of the religion.

Cai Dao is a multi faith religion, unique to Vietnam.Apprentices initially wear white robes, then progress to either red, blue or yellow robes dependent on the discipline of the religion that they pursue.

Sections of the temple are devoted to Victor Hugo !.

tdoor1 We went to see the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, 90km from Saigon.During the war, the Vietcong had setup a series of tunnels, which they used to conduct covert warfare.

We met our guide (dressed in full revolutionary garb) and were led down a narrow trail, into the Jungle.

There were swimming pool sized craters one either side of the path, where B52 bombers had left their mark.

We stopped to look at a diagram of the tunnels, then watched a propaganda film.

Here we were shown a section of ground, and invited to try and find the tunnel entrance.

After spending a few minutes, and finding nothing, our revolutionary, finds the trapdoor easily, and climbs in to his waist.The tunnels went down 3 levels, and even the first level, 3 – 4 metres bellow the surface, could stand the weight of a 50 ton Tank driving over it.

During the war, the 25th Infantry division were based here (right on top of the tunnel network), didn’t know of the tunnels existence, and could never work out where the sniper fire was coming from.

Estimates at the length of the tunnels, vary from 75 – 200 miles.

broom We get a chance to go into one of the tunnelsThey were amazingly equipped, with mess halls, sleeping quarters, operating room, printing press and even a small cinema.

A briefing room, with replica people taking the role of wartime commanders.

On the surface, innocent looking termite mounds, were hollowed out to provide an air supply to the tunnels.

A similar technique, in reverse, took cooking fire smoke miles away from the actual tunnel network to prevent detection.

Many of the original tunnels, had booby traps to thwart any attempt at compromising them.We travelled down to a 2nd level tunnel. These could withstand direct overhead bombing from a B52.

They were cramped and hot, and the air was very thin.

I can only imagine the physical and mental toughness of the people who lived in them.

hcmsand Our guide Long, demonstrating Ho Chi Minh Sandals, made from tyres (they were overly large for demonstration purposes).Ho Chi Minh wore a pair of these sandals throughout the war.

They were practical and tough, like the people who wore them !.

We were given a sample of food the tunnel dwellers would eat. It looked like banana, and tasted of sweet potato (grim!).

They only received rice once a week, as a treat.

Next we had a tour of various forms of traps. Some of them, looked absolutely terrifying.A tiger trap, is just a big hole with punji sticks in it, right through to small portable devices, which could be carried, and then deployed along a trail.

The most ingenious thing I saw, was how they had dismantled unexploded bombs and used them as booby traps. In this way, it was possible for lightly armed fighters to ambush an entire tank.

m60 We were given a chance to fire authentic Vietnam war firearms.I got to fire an M60 heavy machine gun.

I have seen them on the television, but the power of one of those things is devastating.

You point it at the target, pull the trigger, and there isn’t much of the target left !.

We had more superb food at a restaurant near the fashionable Dong Khoi shopping area.The exchange rate for Dong, was such that £41 would purchase a million Dong.

Notes of less than 200 Dong, are worth less, than post-it notes and are frequently used for this purpose.

reuni The former presidential palace, now named re-unification hall.The presidential palace was very 60’s is in style, and had been the site of many parties and fashionable social gatherings.
A terrace on the roof was used for entertaining (JFK had attended parties here).Just underneath this, an American UH1 (huey) helicopter, on the rooftop helicopter landing pad. copter
presdesk Its maintained exactly as it was on the morning, in 1975 when the war ended.The presidential desk.
Our guide long, with Sarah in the basement tunnels underneath the palace.They lead to the telecom and war rooms.

It is rumoured that a secret tunnel allows people to leave the palace unnoticed but the government will not confirm or deny this.

radio The bunker reminded me of the building at the end of Terminator 3, with 30 year old computers.A “portable” radio system, for use when the palace was attacked/under siege.
America first sent troops to Vietnam on the 8/3/65. They left 10 years later.At 11:30am on the 30th of April, 1975, NV tanks crashed through those gates, and Saigon fell to NV forces.

The acting president (who had only been in office for 26 hours) surrendered.

tank Many people remember the scene from TV pictures.This is the actual tank that arrived at the palace.
This is the view from inside the palace.It shows the view from the flagpole where the flag was hung.

It marked the end of a war for independence which had begun in 1945 with the French, and was finally over.

America lost 65,000 troops, Vietnam lost 3,000,000. Today, 2 out of 3 Vietnamese, are under 30.

chicken On a lighter note, we had lunch afterwards, and the restaurant had made up a pineapple in the shape of a chicken, which was smart.