Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Final Photos (IV) of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (October 18-21, 2008)

The very colorful Cao Dai Holy See temple outside of Saigon; the Cao Dai faith combines elements of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucionism and Taoism, among other religions
Worshippers gather four times daily for prayers at the temple
Cao Dai followers kneel in prayer during a noontime serviceTraditional Vietnamese musical instruments on display at the History MuseumWorkers prepare pieces for lacquering at a factory outside of Saigon A crocodile eyes visitors at the Saigon Zoo

More Photos (III) of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (October 18-21, 2008)

Reunification Palace was built as the home of former president Ngo Dinh Diem. In April 1975, North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the palace, declaring victory over the Republic of Vietnam.An underground war room beneath the palace; there are two complete underground bombproof levels where the president and his staff could remain while under attack
The view from the palace down Saigon's tree-lined Le Duan street
A man demonstrates how Cu Chi guerillas would enter their network of tunnels and cover their tracks. The Cu Chi tunnels stretched for miles from Saigon to Cambodia (with meeting rooms, kitchens, storage and triage areas) and played an important role in the war.A U.S. Army tank on display at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon
Cheerful paintings by Vietnamese schoolchildren contrast the horrifying photos of the war at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon

More Photos (II) of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (October 18-21, 2008)

A bicycle laden with baskets, on a side street in Saigon
Motorcyclists prepare for a rush at the green light; in the background, a poster of Ho Chi Minh adorns a city park
These look like hats, but they're actually motorcycle helmets cleverly disguised as hats. Saigon residents take motorcycle riding to new heights of fashion!
I was constantly amazed by what people were able to carry on a bicycle or motorcycle. Equally amazing was where people rode them - in every lane of traffic, between cars and even up on the sidewalk!
Cars and trucks, left two lanes; motorcycles and cyclos, right laneStreet vendors tote large coolers with drinks around the city

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (October 18-21, 2008)

Ho Chi Minh City, often still called Saigon by the locals, is Vietnam's main port and largest city. It's a place that assaults the senses: the relentless swirl of traffic (on the road AND sidewalks), the pungent smell of street food (and waste) and the constant reminders of the bloody past are at first overwhelming. But the sheer energy of the city, the impressive French colonial architecture, the quiet residential alleys and the large peaceful parks soon captivate visitors. After a few days exploring Saigon, it's easy to see why the city is so crowded.
Notre Dame Cathedral was constructed in the late 19th century, using bricks and stained glass imported from France
Bonsai trees in the downtown botanical garden and zoo; the garden offers a welcome escape from the city's chaotic streets
The ornate central post office, next door to Notre Dame Cathedral
Good luck statues and bills for sale at Saigon's bustling Ben Thanh market
The People's Committee Building, constructed in the early 20th century, is one of the city's major landmarksThe Caravelle Hotel was once a popular hangout for journalists during the war; today it's one of the city's finest hotels...with a delicious and unbelievably inexpensive afternoon tea

Final Photos (III) of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (October 16-18, 2008)

Phnom Penh from above
In addition to the tuk-tuk and motorcycle taxi popular elsewhere in Cambodia, Phnom Penh has the "cyclo" - a kind of bicycle-rickshaw that braves the crowded city streets alongside buses and trucks
Phnom Penh is lcoated at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. Families gather on the riverbank at dusk to play soccer or watch the sunset.
All sorts of creepy crawlies to munch; I could only recognize about half of the things for sale!
The National Museum of Phnom Penh, opened in 1920 by King Sisowath, holds historical artifacts from across the country, including some of the best statuary from Angkor Wat Young monks pause to feed the fish in the courtyard of the National Museum

More Photos (II) of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (October 16-18, 2008)

Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, was used by the Khmer Rouge as a prison and interrogation center from 1975 to 1979. The complex was originally built as a local high school, and the sunny courtyard with flowering trees and the checkered school room floors contrast perversely with the torture that took place inside.
Many of the school rooms were divided into tiny cells; other rooms were used for torture and interrogation Photos of Tuol Sleng victims; it's estimated that up to 20,000 people were imprisoned and tortured at Tuol Sleng before being executed at the nearby Choeng Ek killing fields
A giant memorial stupa in the center of the Choeng Ek killing fields holds thousands of unearthed skulls and bones of the people who were brutally killed by the Khmer Rouge; to the left of the photo is one of the marked mass graves
Although a number of the mass graves are marked, new fragments of bone are revealed throughout the site each year after heavy rainsSkulls in the memorial stupa at Choeung Ek

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (October 16-18, 2008)

Phnom Penh has seen both the best and worst of times over its nearly six centuries as Cambodia's capital city. The serene beauty of the Royal Palace and the National Museum is contrasted by the horrifying brutality that took place at the nearby Tuol Sleng (S-21 Prison) and Choeung Ek killing fields only a few decades ago.

Despite their tragic past, the people of Phnom Penh exude the amazingly positive and genuinely friendly attitude that seems to pervade the entire country. From families on motorbikes, to orange-clad monks of all ages, to countless children in school uniform, everyone seem ready with a smile.
The Royal Palace was built in 1866 for King Norodom and his family; the building in the foreground is the dancing hall The buildings within the palace compound are ornately decorated with wood carvings and paintings; the yellow color represents Buddhism
The floor of Wat Preah Keo Morokot, also known as the Silver Pagoda, is covered with 5329 silver tiles, each weighing 1.125 kg
A series of Ramaketi frescoes lines the inner wall of one of the palace courtyards
The Royal Palace is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. This young monk, who was visiting with a group from his monastery, asked to have his photo taken with me.
A Buddha statue at the top of "Kailassa Mountain," a small garden hill within the palace

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Final Photos (III) of Sihanoukville, Cambodia (October 13-16, 2008)

Palm trees tower over a group of fishing boats and a small shelter in Ream National Park
The warm waters of Cambodia's south coast are lovely for swimming
A colorful butterfly rests its wings on the sand
Just one of Ream National Park's many deserted beaches
Bright flowers carpet the jungle floor at Ream National Park

More Photos (II) of Sihanoukville, Cambodia (October 13-16, 2008)

I spent one day at Sihanoukville learning traditional Khmer cooking from a friendly local chef. Cambodian cuisine is typically less spicy than that of its neighboring countries, but it relies on many of the same flavorings: coconut, lemongrass, ginger, basil, mint, lemon/lime, turmeric, chili, garlic, shallots, and the ever-present fish sauce. Over the course of the day, we made four popular and very tasty dishes: beef lok lak, banana flower salad with steamed chicken, fish amok and pumpkin custard.
My friendly - and very patient - teacher prepares banana flower for a salad
Beef lok lak is cooked in a modified oyster sauce and served with a salt, pepper and lime juice dressing. It is typically accompanied by steamed rice.
Banana flower salad with steamed chicken, served in a banana flower petal. The sweet, salty and tart dressing can also used for green papaya or green mango salads.
Fish amok, steamed in banana leaf, is a Cambodian specialty, often served with rice. It doesn't look like much here, but the combination of ginger, turmeric, shallots, chili and coconut milk can't be beat. Amok can also be made with chicken, prawns or tofu.
Custard steamed in a pumpkin shell makes a nice end to a meal, although my favorite Cambodian dessert is sticky rice with mango