Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya is the site of the former capital of Siam.  The city was founded in 1350 and in 1767 it was destroyed by the Burmese.

Our first stop was to Bang-Pa In  Royal Palace, which is the summer palace of the royal family of Thailand. It was built in the 1600's but most of the current building were constructed in the 1800's.
It is now only used by the royal family for banquets and special occasions.

Next we went to a couple of the temples of Ayutthaya.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of the best perserved of the temples in the area.

One of the interesting sights we saw was at Wat Mahathat.  It is the head of the buddha in the tree roots.
When the city was fell to the Burmese it was destroyed.  And also many temples were also destroyed, including cutting off the heads of the bhudda statues.  This head was placed near the wall of the temple, and over the hundreds of years the tree grew around it.

Our final stop was an elephant ride.  This was a pretty popular stop so we had to wait in line for a bit.
But it gave me a chance to get my picture taken with one of the elephants.

The ride was interesting.  We went around the area of one of the old temples.
A fun way to end the day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a large network of tunnels located north of Ho Chi Minh City, were the location of many campaigns and was the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tet Offensive.

The tunnels were just one of many similar sites that used a large network of connected tunnels to hide troops and military equipment, and also civilians who were hiding from the Americans during the war.

It is now a tourist site and it gives a good insight to the life during the war, and what it would have been like to fight in and around the tunnels.

Tanks were hard to use in the dense jungle, and this one was destroyed in the area by a landmine, and it still shows impact of RPG's and bullets.

The Tunnels used hidden entrances that were very tiny, and when closed could be very hard to find.

Also on display were various methods used to protect the tunnels from American troops who would try to flush out the North Vietnamese.

There were many kinds of hidden traps both used outside and inside the tunnels.

The traps used metal spikes or bamboo poles for the unfortunate victim to fall upon.
Another simple method that kept the tunnels from being taken was that they were just too small for a normal sized American troop to fit through.

Specialised American troops called Tunnel Rats were used to explore and attack inside of the tunnels.

The tunnels setup for tourists to go through have been enlarged by 30%, and still they are barely big enough to crawl in.

Some sections were larger bunkers used for resting and cooking etc.

We went through about 30 meters of tunnel, but the total length of tunnels at this site was over 150km.

The tunnels were also extensively bombarded by American artillery which surrounded the tunnels. An American  base was even built on top of an area of the tunnels and they only realized this after a night attack by the Vietnamese troops inside the base.
B-52 bombers were also used to bomb the tunnels and huge craters can be seen around the site.

Despite the extensive attempts to destroy the tunnels and kill the people within they withstood everything thrown at them and it was a major reason for the eventual victory of the North Vietnamese.

One of the highlights of the tour is being able to shoot a variety of Vietnam War era weapons.
The sound of gunfire can be heard throughout the cu chi tunnels, and it makes for a more authentic experience hearing gunfire in the distance as you enter the tunnels, and look at the other parts of the tour.

I decided to shoot a AK-47 and an M60.  I don't have any pictures of me with the AK-47 but you can see me with an M60.

They charged by the bullet so I only shot 10 for each gun.  But it was really interesting to fire the famous AK-47, and a larger machine gun in the M60.

The tour was among the most interesting I have done in Vietnam, and I am very happy I was able to experience it.

Ho Chi Minh City

Also known as Saigon when it was the capital of the French colony of the area, and later as the capital of South Vietnam.

The French ran the colony from this city for about 100 years.  Many buildings in the area have a french influence including the Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the Saigon Central Post Office.

 Reunification Palace, formally Independence Palace was the home of the president of South Vietnam,  and was central to the co-ordination of the Vietnam war.
In the basement you can see remnants of equipment and charts used during the war.

This chart details troop movements in the south.
This chart shows the total death toll of the USA and its allies.

 On April 30 1975 a North Vietnamese tank broke through the gates of the palace during the Fall of Saigon, and marked the end of the war.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hoi An Merchant Town

Hoi An is a small town in Vietnam that is known for its tailors. There are 1 for every 200 people who live there.
You can get a custom tailored silk suit for $150. 
Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to do that so I had to settle for a couple of t-shirts.

Our tour took us through various parts of the town past the many shops.

 This covered bridge is the symbol of Hoi An, and inside is a small temple.

During lunch it started to rain really hard, I am glad I wasn't stuck in a small fishing boat at that time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Short Day In Hanoi

 I endured the long, 3 hour bus ride into Hanoi, just because I had to buy a Visa, so I may as well get my money's worth.

The long ride in made it so we didn't have a lot of time in the city.

Our first stop was at the first university in Vietnam, at around 1000 years old.  It is half temple and half old teaching area.  

Next stop was the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.  We just passed by the outside, we didn't go in.  But all you see is Ho Chi Minh's body.  Every year he goes on a trip to Russia to get re-embalmed.

Next we saw the residences of Ho Chi Minh during the years he lived in Hanoi.

 He lived in very simple houses, not even a mattress on the bed, and just a simple dining room and desk for work.

Small temple on the lake.

After lunch we did a walk through the old town. All the way dodging cars motorbikes rickshaws, and other people.  I was amazed we didn't lost anybody on the way.

After that it was back in the bus for the ride back to Halong Bay.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

3 Days In Hong Kong

My 3 days in Hong Kong began with a trip to the top of the city on the Peak Tram.

The tram is over 100 years old. Built in 1888 it takes you to one of the highest points in the city, and gives you an amazing view of the skyline.

They day started very foggy in the morning, but by the time we got to the tram it was getting a lot clearer.

The view from the top was really cool, I would have liked to be up there at night as well.

After that we went down the back of the city into an area that was a lot less populated then the other side.
Far less building and some actual houses, even though if you wanted to buy one you better be among the richest in the city.
This side aslo has a lot of beaches.
We also stopped at Stanley Market, where you can buy souvenirs and other local items.

After that we went for lunch at a large floating restaurant, called Jumbo.  The food was good, and it was an interesting setting.

One of the days I took the Star Ferry into Hong Kong.  The ferry was also founded in 1888 carries 26 million people a year from the Mainland to Hong Kong island.

We walked from the New convention center towards central where the largest skyscrapers are found.

The Golden Bauhinia is the symbol of Hong Kong, and is found on its flag 

 We walked to the Bank Of China building, one of my favorite buildings in the city, at night it lights up in a cool way, with various patterns.

The Hong Kong light show is a fun thing to watch, and the place our ship docked gave a perfect viewing angle for watching it.

The light show is set to music, and it uses several buildings lights, spotlights, and lasers.

I left Hong Kong having seen as much as I could in the 3 days but still only scratching the surface.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Halong Bay Boat Cruise

Halong Bay is an amazing place, that consists of around 3000 limestone islands and rock formations over a few hundred square km.

The sail in to the area we anchored was one of the top sail ins of all the places I have been.
The towering rock formations started miles out of the bay, starting with just a few smaller scattered ones then becoming more and more numerous and larger as we got closer and closer to the main part of the city.

Unfortunately we didn't have a clear or sunny day as we entered the port so it obscured the view a little bit.

I was scheduled to do a boat cruise around the bay on the second day.  But I decided to do it on the first day as I hear that the weather was not going to get better tomorrow and might be worse.

The traditional boats that take tourists around the bay are small junk boats, that hold about 30 people each.
We sailed across the bay towards a section of the bay.  We passed one of the more well known rock formations the Fighting Cocks (Roosters).  Which appears in many of the painting and other art work showing the area.

As luck would have it as we drew close to the section of the rocks we would sail through the sun made an appearance, making the view all the more amazing.

The bay has 4 floating fishing villages, where around 1600 people live on small floating docks near the islands.

There are also many caves within the limestone islands.
We stopped at one of the larger ones.

The cave we entered was huge over 100 meters long, and very high, as you can by comparing the people at the bottom of the picture.

After the cave we returned back to the ship.

I wish I was able to take a longer cruise and cover more of the bay and see different areas.  Many people will book a junk for a overnight cruise, but I will have to leave that for another time.

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