A Travellerspoint blog

At the heart of Eco-tourism

Why money is killing Cambodia's ecotourism industry

Perhaps it was the schizophrenic nature of the city that meant we decided to head for the less complex charms of the east of the country. Whereas travelling and tourism in Phnom Penh is chaotic and frenzied and takes place in an area densely populated with travellers; to the east lies a vast area that is ying to the capitals yang.

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Eco-tourism

'Tourism with a conscience' is a concept that has hit many countries as much for its economic advantages as for its ethics. Travellers are usually well versed in coffee shop politics and many jump at an opportunity to indulge their conscience to support such ventures. The dichotomy at the heart of ecotourism, conscience and economy, is often hard to resolve and this was uncomfortably evident in Cambodia’s so called ‘green heart’.

Travel 150 miles to the east of Phnom Penh and you will reach a small town called Kratie, perched with a stunning vantage point over the Mekong River and home to one of the jewels in Cambodia’s eco-crown, the Irrawaddy River Dolphins. Once intended to be the lynch pin in the ‘Mekong Discovery Trail’ project, it has been left to survive on its own. The trail project had raised and set aside $4million for a 100km footpath and trail along the Mekong River, before realising that the annual wet season would flood much of the trail for 6 months of the year.

Dolphin Watching

Dolphin Watching

Dolphin watching

Dolphin watching

Despite being an example of poorly planned aid distribution the Kratie section of the plan went ahead. In the river close to the town there is a natural deep pool at the widest point of the vast river which is large enough to be home to one of the last remaining populations of river dolphins. Hunted, over fished and with increasing ecological demands further upstream the virbrant dolphin populations of yester year have largely been confined to this and a couple of other locations on the lower Mekong.

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However, kratie is pushing for their survival under the banner of Econ-tourism. Former fisherman have been re-trained in conservation and tourism and now use their boats to ferry visitors out to the centre of the pool where they expertly manoeuvre their boats to give tourists the best possible sight of these beautiful yet all too rare animals. It is a refreshingly simple act of conservation education and has the support of much of the community. However, the real test will come when tourists fully discover this place just 3 hours from the capital. Will the allure of increased money in such a poor area compromise the conservation? The signs here are good as the boatmen at least are fiercely protective of the dolphins and realize that their futures are intrinsically linked to those of the dolphins. However, more tourism means more money, means more disruption to dolphin breeding and habitat. Only time will tell is the success of this scheme is to be its undoing.

Into the Mekong

Into the Mekong

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After 2 days and a bout of the inevitable food poisoning (great time to be stuck with no air con in 35 degree heat) we arranged to go 6 hours further east to the tourism frontier town of Sen Monorom. Having arranged our transport through the hostel things looked good when a minibus arrived and 7 of us jumped on. An hour later with 28 people in a 15 seater minibus along with all of our luggage things were less good; in fact I would say things were decidedly awful for the ensuing 6 hours. After an hour or so a certain sanguine set in, and by the end the hilarity of the drivers trying to squeeze yet another body into the heat and chaos inside (and out) of the bus left us with an unmistakable joy in our heart. This after was Cambodia as the locals knew it not the tourists. Ironically the epic car share obviously qualified this journey for eco-friendly.

Sunset at Kratie

Sunset at Kratie

SEN MONOROM

Local Transport

Local Transport

Local Transport

Local Transport

There is one thing tourists go to Sen Monorom for…elephants. Sadly the allure of making money from these animals through ever-increasing exposure to tourism highlights the dichotomy at the heart of eco-tourism.

Touting itself as the home of responsible tourism in Cambodia; Sen Monorom is awash with various forest and elephant trips all eager to promote the benefit to local minority tribes, the wellbeing of the animals involved, and the protection of the natural environment.

As you arrive into the hillside town, everyone you meet is pushing their own guide/elephant service, and all are as you expect nice to their elephants. Originally not that interested, our curiosity grew, and on the advice of some friends in the hostel bar we booked for a trip the next day.

Elephant Trek

Elephant Trek

What no one tells you is that that day will rank among the least comfortable and least satisfying of your life. With massive bones and rough skin anytime spent on top of an elephant is uncomfortable and on top of that you see very little of the very thing you wanted to spend time with. The rainforest is captivating, the elephant enchanting yet strictly controleld by its mahout (guy that ensures you come back alive) and yetas the day went on there was an increasing feeling that something was not quite right, it all felt a bit wrong…

Cheated not really, misled maybe, naive certainly. Let me explain...

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The next day we headed 25 minutes outside of the town into the countryside to a place which had been recommended to us. The Elephant Valley project runs as a three pronged project all of which contribute heavily to the local populations and environment. Run by a young English guy, Jack, the project aims to...

1) Purchase and rehabilitate mal-treated elephants from the local tourism industry that are no longer able to make the treks into the forest due to extended abuse and overwork (guilt just increases for yesterdays trek from here on in)

2) Train the local mahouts (elephant handlers and owners) in the local tourism industry on how to care for their elephants and work them responsibly.

3) Secure as much land as possible to prevent further deforestation and provide an environment for the elephants to live a normal life in. (Logging is such an extensive problem in this area that the government now banns flights to the town’s small airport for fear that foreigners might see the true extent of the destruction.)

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The nature of Jack’s initiative is draws you in completely; visitors spend a day with the elephants in their natural environment, observing at a short distance the true beauty and intelligence of these creatures. What shone through in the day we spent there was the complete and unquestioned passion the whole team (100% local) had for the project and the local environment.

EVP

EVP

EVP

EVP

The EVP was such a clear contrast to the day before that night and day cliches don't do it justice. Jack's project shows how tourism can be run sustainably both economically and ecologically. The local mahouts are educated in the well being of their elephant and thus its use in the tourism industry is extended as is their income with it. The beauty of the area is preserved, and above all the animals that people flock to see are viewed in their natural habitat rather than being cajoulled up and down the side of a mountain with a sharp stick with two fat westerners up top.

Sadly the jack is the needle in the haystack. While a small proportion of tourists find out about the work of the EVP many more never find a way past the incessant propaganda of the hostels (happily taking a percentage of the booking) and are drawn to the unsustainable and unethical elephant treks.

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Worst still the area seems hell bent of destrying its greatest asset, its beauty. Whilst moving through the area the levels of deforestation were biblical. Mile upon mile of land stood with its trees uprooted and all that is left in its place was the dry straw coloured soil. Deforestation of the area runs right up to the government level, where corruption means that over 200 licences for hydro-electric dam projects have been issued, yet still no projects have been completed or indeed will be completed as it remains an elaborate rues for deforestation which reaps quicker rewards. In a few years the beauty that is Sen Monoroms ace card will be gone unless something is donw very soon.

The competition between money and environment is continuing unabated, and as more tourism comes flooding to Cambodia this will only intensify. While the Kratie project and the Elephant Valley projects are both shining examples of responsible and sustainable tourism and will continue to attract large support from the tourism sector, the sad truth remains that much of Cambodia’s ecology is being irreparably damaged; much of it ruining the chances of many to draw a life from what should be the country's greatest asset.

Money will always hold power in a country as impoverished as Cambodia yet the tragedy is that with the right investment the country has every competitive advantage to be a world leader in ecotourism which long term is much more sustainable.

Happily though none of this dampens the beauty of what is to be found in Cambodia, which is only enhanced by some of the friendliest people on earth. Eco-tourism or no eco-tourism that is one thing that money will struggle to dilute!

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Posted by Nomadlife 08:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged elephants dolphins kratie sen_monorom elephant_valley_project mekong_discovery_trail Comments (0)

Turning on the Light

Looking beyond the past in Phnom Penh

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Phnom Penh

Before you head into Cambodia very few people know or talk about much beyond the genocide of Pol Pot; upon leaving the country that incomparably dark moment of human history is one of the last things you associate with Cambodia.

Lets deal with it first; the scars of the aggressive social restructuring which took place here under Pol Pot are everywhere in Cambodia. If it is not the missing generation of 40-60 year olds that tips you off, then the numerous subsequent victims of history will; amputees from the
land-mines laid by the retreating Khmer Rouge; poverty in what should be a prosperous country, examples are never hard to find.

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It is true that many parts of Cambodia stir up unparalleled sadness and despair; child prostitution is rife; street kids are as much a part of the major cities here as postcards are in European cities, and they are exploited by adults and poverty alike, with many of them forced to sell various wares to tourists well into the night. Robbed of their childhood and innocence, there is a sadness about Cambodia that is haunting.

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Despite the apocalyptic images that greet you at the various genocide sites that dominate most visitor’s thoughts, Cambodia also leaves you with many images of hope as a counterbalance, that without you would begin to question all humanity.

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The stunningly good restaurant Friendswas set up as a training centre for the most vulnerable children to give them the chance to pull themselves out of poverty and give them a chance at life that many take for granted in the west. Not only does it arm the children with skills that will benefit them immeasurably as Cambodia’s tourist industry expands exponentially; but it also gives them confidence and humanity in a way few other things can bring. Best of all the food it delivers is some of the best I came across in the whole trip.

In truth I could spend the rest of this entry listing examples of hope and despair ad infinitum but that would be gross disservice to a destination that is as intriguing as it is intangible.

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Maybe it is because we only spent limited time here that pinning down what Phnom Penh really is, becomes such a challenge. It is a heady mix of trash and glamour with a hint of danger and excitement thrown in. The past, along with numerous scare-stories, ensure the element of unease is never too far away come nightfall, however during the day it is as trashy as it is glamourous.

Two massive markets dominate the centre of the city the Russian market and the northern market. Both sell unlimited tourist tat and are aimed specifically at the travellers looking for cut price SE Asian chic. Tiger Beer t-shirts, hammocks, cambodian shorts, i could go on all day...

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And then comes the glamour.

The Royal Palace, a complex of buildings that rival most on earth for architectural beauty stands in the middle of the city magestically hinting at the glories of centuries past. Added to some fantastic french colonial architecture and it is easy to see why this city was once know as the 'pearl of asia' amongst the travelling fraternity.

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Even to this day I don't know what Phnom Penh is. Is it sadness and unspeakable darkness; it is the hope and unspeakable humanity; i guess a was to sum it up would be schitzophrenic but prehaphs a more fitting way to describe Phnom Penh is ‘an experience’.

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Posted by Nomadlife 07:56 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel phnom_penh tourism genocide hope freinds_restaurant Comments (0)

Cruising through life

Mekong river and Phu Quoc island

And so it continued…

From the Mekong Delta we went back to Saigon where we delved into the American (Vietnam) War at the very moving museum in the centre of the city. Despite its evident bias against the USA, it provides several thought provoking displays on the war and offers a very useful counter reference to the perceived wisdom of the west.

After the museum the logical progression is to head the Cu Chi tunnels, which, after the HCM Trail, is the pre-eminent example of resistance to the USA forces in the south of Vietnam. Just 40km from the centre of Saigon these tunnels represent one of the greatest challenges to the US army during the war. A huge network of underground tunnels in which Viet Cong guerrillas along with normal members of the population lived and planned numerous guerrilla raids into Saigon.

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As you lower yourself into the entrance of one of the mechanically widened tunnels the heat and the darkness close in, forced to proceed one-by-one, your body quickly becomes contorted into a very uncomfortable squat-waddle. Forging into the darkness feels like you are dropping into another world whose door lies just beyond the silence. Having scrambled and crawled along in the utterly claustrophobic conditions for 10 minutes a slit of light hits the darkness and the exit is a welcome sight.

Pulling yourself from the calm dark abyss below into stunning sunlight you immediately look back to admire how far you have come expecting to be somewhere completely unrecognisable. However, the bag you shed to get into the tunnel entrance stares emphatically back at you not 20 meters from where you are. To think people lived for months at a time down in these tunnels is beyond the confines of what most can even imagine.

PHU QUOC

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After the first 2 and a half weeks well over 3000 miles had been racked up since we left Guangzhou. With Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, approaching the executive decision was made to head to the nearest beach paradise, in this case Phu Quoc Island.

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Now paradise islands tend to be much the same; beautiful beaches, tropical cocktails and a whole lot of doing nothing. This was how it transpired until we came to getting off the island. After 5 days it was time to get on the road again and that meant heading back to the mainland. Problem was that all transport was rammed due to the biggest public holiday of the year.

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So come 8am on a chilly morning (forgive me if 5 days on an island meant that my recollection of exactly which day remains a little off) we climbed aboard a small boat to take us on the 2 hours crossing back to the mainland. Designed for maybe 70 people (we were seat 56/57 and we were right at the back) this boat must have had closer to double that on board. Outside the cabin 20 people we perched (literally) on the prow of the boat, sat on small plastic chairs and clinging. The same was true of the isles. Every available piece of space was taken and marked accordingly. As we headed out to sea the seas had got up and were rough…despite the chaos I was just glad I was on the inside.

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For about 10 minutes it was ok, then it happened. Almost like an orchestra conducted in perfect harmony the unmistakeable sound of heaving and vomit screeched through the air. The smell was unbelievable; the Vietnamese it seems have very weak stomachs. For 2 hours this went on leaving me on the edge… determined to keep my dignity (insert sarky comment of your choice) I stood up to keep my eyes on the horizon. Stomach settled I turned around to sit back down, just in time to see the lady sat next to me holding her defecating baby over a bag… make your own conclusions of where I would have rather been.

Just glad to be out of what we affectionately named HELL, the ‘short’ 4 hour trip to the border town of Chau Doc in which I was destroyed by mosquitoes seemed the most joyous of all adventures.

Early next morning we set off on a 5 hour boat trip up the Mekong River into Cambodia and its capital Phnom Penh. As we slipped silently along the lifeline of millions of locals, there was ample time to reflect on Vietnam.

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As a destination it is fascinating; history, culture and beauty collide here like few other places on earth. The surge of energy as you hit the major cities of Hanoi and Saigon is addicting, as is the tranquillity and beauty of the Mekong and Ha Long Bay. Having said that the experience I will take away with me most from Vietnam was those 4 days in the highlands. Seeing Vietnam without the tourist gloss and seeing, albeit fleetingly, underneath the sheen into its heart was a special experience and one that comes with the highest of recommendations.
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Posted by Nomadlife 07:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beaches boats relaxing phu_quoc Comments (0)

Vietnams IV drip.

Mekong Dellta and Saigon

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SAIGON

In a shade under two weeks we hit Saigon, today known as Ho Chi Minh City after the revolutionary leader of the 1950s and 60s. What can you say about Saigon? Saigon is a city that when you’re travelling through Vietnam you hear a lot about. Some people rave about it, citing some stunning French architecture and a great atmosphere; others warn you about it, citing some of the rampant petty crime in the city; but most tell you it’s worth a visit, for no other reason than it is a great base for exploring the Mekong delta and surrounding area. All would be correct.

Stunning buildings are plentiful in Saigon (unfortunately so is the grey concrete); the bustling main evening drag also attests to many stories of pick pocketing and cons. However, despite the scare stories, I was thoroughly charmed by the metropolis.

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Like Hanoi there is a beat to which the city runs, mostly made up by the unending horns and revs of mopeds and scooters. It is energising and brings the city to life. On our first day there we met my friend Tommy who is teaching there and he acted as our guide for the day. Whizzing around on the back of his motorbike in the thick of the traffic was one of the moments in life where you suddenly become very religious in the knowledge that certain death awaits should it all go ‘tits up’.

In cities like this it is the quieter moments that provide the highlights as they stand out the most. Two immediately spring to mind, and unsurprisingly both involve food.

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Vietnamese food is legendary, fresh big flavours and at a great price. However, amongst the unbelievable choice, two dishes stand head and shoulders above the rest. ‘Pho’ a kind of noodle soup, and spring rolls!

Firstly let’s deal with the Pho. Credited as the national dish you will find it impossible to go anywhere in Vietnam without having Pho on the menu. Now many travellers tell you Pho is Pho is Pho, but trust me when I say the difference is huge especially when your Pho comes with a side of history too.

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In a quiet street in the middle of Saigon is a small family run restaurant, unpretentious and tucked away. Like any other place Pho is king here, except the Pho here has gone down in the annals of history. Close to what used to be a US Army base in the city American troops used to eat here on a regular basis. Now here is where it gets interesting. 3 floors above their heads lay a room frequented regularly by revolutionary Viet Cong hiding and plotting in the city. For years as the restaurant served up food to the USAs finest the very people they
were looking to catch were planning just yards away.

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The owner then is the owner now and when you done eating he will take you upstairs and in very broken English and much sign language will show you how it all happened. As a funny aside, the character of the owner is seen through the sums of money he rejects from the city museums every year as he wants his furniture to stay put thank you very much.

The second food related story is somewhat more of a ‘mainstream’ tale. Across the city various cookery schools vie for your attention each promising to open up the dark secrets of Vietnamese food to you for a princely sum. Slightly out of the way down a dusty alley or two lays the Vietnamese Cookery School.

With the restaurant’s chefs guiding you at every turn, somehow you can go from serial food butcher, to Michelin starred genius in one short afternoon. More than that you eat what you cook, add in a couple of beers and two rather hilarious Germans and you have yourself a right good time. Needless to say it was a pure winner.

Mekong Delta

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If Saigon represents Vietnam at its most manic then the delta offers the antithesis. Slow, relaxed and utterly quiet, you could almost believe life stops in a place like this. A visit here shows the Vietnam of decades ago, rural, agricultural and in the most stunning setting imaginable.

Despite the first appearances the Delta represents some of the most vibrant culture of Vietnam and is certainly one if its most important economic areas. Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of rice and the majority of this comes from this region providing Vietnam with its economic backbone. It is also one of the world’s richest areas for biodiversity, although in recent years huge arguments have been raging surrounding the water management of the river, which has its source in China and extends down the entire SE Asian peninsula. Any changes to the delicate flow patterns in the river threaten to destroy the entire ecosystem of the river putting numerous species of flora and fauna at risk.

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Despite the grandiose politics that threaten to encroach on the way of life in this area, a strong culture remains very much alive.

Much of the region’s food trade is done at one of the many floating markets in the area. Shortly before sunrise boats start to head out into a wide stretch of the river near Can Tho in the heart of the Delta. Some boats are already there, the permanent residents of the river, whilst many hundreds more are quick to join them at the first signs of light. By the time the sun has reached the horizon the river is teeming with life. Boats of all shapes and sizes begin to take part in one of the great markets of the world.

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Every boat has a wooden pole rising high above the chaos below. Tied to the pole is one example of every piece of produce the boat holds, as sort of prehistoric advertisement if you will. Some boats are specialist, potatoes and carrots, or tomatoes and mango; some boats are supermarkets, with more variety in their wares than the fruit and veg section of any British supermarket you care to mention; and finally you have the service boats, snacks, drinks and entertainment for the rest of the market. With such a vibrant atmosphere and colour combined with strong culture you are compelled to look in every direction and just soak up the spectacle evolving in front of you.

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By 9am the sun is rising and the temperature is soaring and the chaos of the wide channel begins to disperse and devolve back to the peaceful nature of the narrow shaded channels. As we left the market to its transformation we passed on of the most unique sights of our entire travels. Bobbing up and down in the wake of the boats that passed petrol station floated in the water awaiting the boats that frequent its facilities. It is a testament of the ingenuity of the people of the area, but also offers a refreshing example of how the strength of tradition has incorporated modernity into its daily routine, rather than the other way around.

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Once in the quiet channels that crisscross this vast wilderness time stands still, and the gentle lapping of the oars of the boat become the only evidence that life is passing by in this area at all. For all the chaos and noise of Saigon, it is impossible to imagine a more relaxing and yet more vibrant neighbour.

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Posted by Nomadlife 07:09 Archived in Vietnam Tagged travel saigon hcmc ho_chi_minh_city mekong_delta Comments (0)

Easy Rider

4 Days getting lost in 'real' Vietnam

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HOI AN to DALAT

Recommendations are one of those essentials of travelling. Everyone has them, ‘go here’, ‘don’t miss this’, ‘avoid this at all costs’ etc etc. The biggest problem is knowing which ones to follow and which to ignore. This situation occurred with metronomic regularity on our trip, and in Ninh Binh we received the mother of all recommendations, “whatever you do in Hoi An make sure you get an Easy Rider.” What the hell is an Easy Rider?

Tu and Thanh

Tu and Thanh

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As it turns out Easy Riders are a group of guides whose office is the front seat of a motorbike. For a pretty reasonable sum you can hire one of these guides (and their motorbikes) for the 4 day trip between Hoi An and Dalat through the highlands of Central Vietnam.

The route of this trip took us far away from the madding crowd, as the majority of tourists headed down the coast to Na Trang we were going to follow the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail trough the mountainous spine of the country.

HCM Trail

HCM Trail

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HCM Trail

Having met our guides, Tu and Thanh in Hoi An the evening before, 8am heralded our departure from the main gate of our hotel and after 15 minutes weaving through the traffic on the outskirts of town we were quickly on the open road headed off towards the mountains in the distance.

To describe every stop and every turn of the next four days would leave you fast asleep by the end of this and leave me with more words than I care to edit in my lifetime let alone lunch time; so for your sanity and mine I will keep to just the highlights from each day.

Anna and Thanh

Anna and Thanh

Boy in a minority village

Boy in a minority village

DAY 1 (HOI AN – DAK GLEI)
Stops – House that made rice paper; Pineapple plantation; Cinnamon tree (eating a leaf, sounds crazy but who knew cinnamon was a tree?); various waterfalls; Ancient Cham building (the Chams were the ancient civilisation of SE Asia); Ho Chi Minh Trail

DAY 2 (DAK GLEI – KON TUM)
Stops – Traditional Breakfast; Minority Hill Tribe Villages; Old Rope bridge; American War Memorial; More Minority Villages; Orphanage; Old French Church

DAY 3 (KON TUM - BUAN MA TOU)
Stops – Coffee plantation; Scrap Metal Yard (more on that later); Pepper and Rubber Plantations; Local Markets

DAY 4 (BUAN MA TOU – DALAT)
Stops – Mushroom farm; Silk worm Farm/factory; Snake!; More waterfalls and minority villages; Dalat

The old couple with the coffins

The old couple with the coffins

Coffins under the house

Coffins under the house

AMERICAN WAR

The most striking part of our four days with Tu and Thanh was their depth of knowledge about each place we went to, and the brilliant way they brought their country to life. It is a heavily used travelling cliché but it felt like each day with them brought us closer to seeing the ‘real’ Vietnam.

Bunong Village house

Bunong Village house

Swing Bridge

Swing Bridge

Through the stops and the stories of Tu and Thanh, Vietnam’s past came vividly to life. The first day took us to the head of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a man-made trail carved through the mountains to be used as a supply line for Viet Cong troops in the American (read Vietnam) war. Just to see the terrain through which the trail was forged is testament to the incredible sacrifices borne by those who travelled its length during the war. Despite years of bombardment and attack the trail was never successfully closed which is quite staggering, given that the might of the US army was intent on destroying it.

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Bomb crater

Bomb crater

Throughout the four days the scars from the war were visible everywhere; the infamous Agent Orange chemicals (defoliant chemicals – which have been tied to cancer and birth defects since) were used ad nausea in this area and still scar the landscape to this day. The most damning indictment comes when travelling through thick forest only to look up and see the hill across the way is as barren as a desert, testament to the fact that these chemicals continue to ravage the ecosystems they originally destroyed. Along with the bomb craters and the numerous war memorials there remains many signatures of war to provide a dark contrast to the beauty of the area.

Instructions

Instructions

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Despite all the graphic reminders of war, the most haunting came in the evenings when Tu or Thanh would let us a little further into their lives and talk about growing up during the war. The remaining psychological scares are just as raw as the ground we travelled over. The brutality of war was demonstrated repeatedly and whilst not wishing to leave you too depressed come the end of this blog I would like to share the story that sums it up in a tragically profetic way.

Drying Coffee

Drying Coffee

Rubber Plantation

Rubber Plantation

SCRAP YARD

We had pulled over on the third day; on the long run into Buan Ma Tho, as we jumped off the back of the bikes we wandered into what looked like a scrap yard. Strangely enough this was exactly what it was as pieces of twisted metal lay strewn around. Confused we turned to Tu to explain the significance, he had brought with him out of the dilapidated house a greying lady who seemed to be the owner. He simply told us to open our eyes and look around. As what before had just been scrap came into focus, the fragments of war became visible. Bomb and shell fragments lay all over twisted grotesquely into their deathly structures; hauntingly a rocket case lay just by the gate with the American instructions starkly highlighting its origin.

Pepper plantation

Pepper plantation

Market

Market

However, it wasn’t the physical remnants that were the most disturbing aspect of this place it was the story behind it. Following the war, poverty and famine ravaged the country leaving many to find their sole income in collecting the discarded scrap metal of bombs and shells (the war saw more bombs dropped than the total dropped by all sides in WW2). The woman’s husband had been one of these men trying to eek out a living. One day whilst collecting the scrap metal he stumbled upon an unexploded bomb. Desperation had driven him to pick up this bomb for its metal when it exploded killing him outright. Tragically he had become just another one of the thousands of victims of unexploded bombs in post –war Vietnam. The real tragedy is found in the fact that due to poverty and a lack of options the lady goes out each day looking for scrap on the same hills that claimed her husband.

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PLACES UNKNOWN

Although the war loomed with a presence through most aspects of the trip, was the people and places we saw every day were the real highlight. An old couple living in the mountains in a minority tribal village, who, in line with their customs, kept coffins under their house for when the time came. The children at the orphanage we visited in Kon Tum. The rubber collector in the plantation we stopped at. The family who had turned their front yard into an important cog in the booming coffee industry. The family who cultivated mushrooms and at the same time had a side business in snakes! The 78 year old woman who had never had her photo taken until I had the honour of photographing her for the first time. All of these people and many more made our 4 day adventure one of the most enthralling and intense travelling experiences I have ever had.

meal at Tu's

meal at Tu's

Dalat at night

Dalat at night

There are many stories to tell of our 4 days in the mountains, along the roads rarely travelled by foreigners but of all the stories this was the most striking and gripping. It is hard to describe in any detail what happened in those four days, we stopped at so many places and met so many people but what has remained with us both is the feeling that for these four days we were totally removed from any of the glossy veneer that exists in other parts of the country. The atmosphere and the people are so genuine and welcoming that for once the cliché of getting off the tourist trail has never rung more true.

DSC_0023.jpgReally not cool

Really not cool

Posted by Nomadlife 09:14 Archived in Vietnam Tagged travel adventure da_lat kon_tum dak_glei easy_riders Comments (1)

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