Monday, July 21, 2014

Spotted Along a Nearby Street

Apparently commemorating the shooting down of an American aircraft on October 26, 1967, this was permanently molded onto the side of a building. Outside of museums indications of "our" war are rare.

One Day in Hanoi

Went on walkabout around the Vietnamese capital. It was HOT and humid' but a very pleasant day nonetheless. Here are some of the things seen:
Sunbeam Bridge in the center of the city.
This was a big turtle. Inside a small temple, which name I never learned (not that it mattered anyway).
The entrance to Hoa Lo prison, better known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton.
It was originally a small trading village. The French turned it into a prison to house anti-colonial activists and fighters. Reminded me of Robben Island off Capetown, SA, where among others Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
Very moving displays demonstrate (again) the depths we humans sink to in our treatment of others.
Death Row for Vietnamese prisoners who fought against the rifle dropping French colonial regime.
And yes, these buggers actually used the guillotine!
Then came the American involvement. This is Sen. John McCain's flight suit.
Phot of McCain being "arrested" by villagers.
Changing of the guard in front of Ho Chi Minh's tomb.
I believe that's a MIG-15.
Street scene.
Lenin has his own park here.
One a lighter note, enjoyed a nice Hanoi beer with my Pho and spring rolls.
And topped off the day with a refreshing Gin and Tonic at the Sky Bar atop the Sofitel. I don't think Ho Chi Minh envisioned this.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Arrival in Hanoi

I'm proud to report I DID NOT exclaim "Good morning Vietnam!" Didn't even think of it. However at least half our group did.
To paraphrase Von Clauszewitz, "War is economics by other means."
Kind of surprised they have a drink called a B52 here. You know, what with the late unpleasantness and all...
Hanoi night market. Makes Bangkok look like a sleepy backwater village.

Last Day in Lao.


Smashed by Thai soldiers in war between Lao kingdom and what was then Siam in late 18th-early 19th century. Apparently there is more ill will between Thai and Lao people than between them and us. The Thai army used this temple as it's HQ during that war.

Celebrating independence from France. Cement was donated by the US. In an odd sort of twist it appears as an Asian version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
For the US equivalent of 37 cents and a climb of a couple hundred stairs you get these views of the city (plus a good sweat!).
Wonder how they repair a power outage?
Not sure who the guy was, but I liked his hat.
Some kind of Sunday morning bicycle event through the streets of Vientiane.

We bid adieu to Laos and fly to Hanoi. Roughly half the trip is complete. We'll be joined by a new tour guide and eight passengers (sadly saying "travel well" to three friends). I consider this first fortnight (all my life I've been trying to work that word into a sentence) a warmup. Vietnam awaits me. Better now than forty-five years ago!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I've Said it Before and I'm Saying it Again...

Hillary ain't inevitable.

What Was the Point?

Today we arrived in Vientiane, capital city of the Lao Republic. Along with viewing the Presidential Palace, the Victory Gate and the Srisaket Wat (temple) we paid a visit to the Cooperative Orthotics and Prosthetics Enterprise (COPE).

It was a gut clench moment. During the Indochina War we, the good old USA, proud defenders of freedom, liberty and all things good and righteous, dropped more bombs by tonnage on this poor, defenseless, NEUTRAL, no-threat-to-us country than was dropped by ALL sides during the entirety of World War II. I want you to think about that for a moment. Lao was never a threat to us or our vaunted American way of life. None. And we bombed the shit out of it.

Sure, ostensibly it was because the North Vietnamese Army was running supplies to the south of Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh trail which partially ran through Lao. But in the end what threat did Vietnam pose to us? It has been well established the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which propelled our military into that damned war was based on a lie. We allowed over 58,000 of our own sons and daughters plus no doubt millions of Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodians to be slaughtered based on a lie foisted on us by our leaders whom we put into office. Sound like anything recent? Has anything changed?

Today, forty-odd years onward, untold tons of UXO (Un-Exploded Ordnance) lie waiting in the countryside for the unsuspecting child, the laboring farmer, the wayward livestock. Over 20,000 people have died from these remnants of cluster bombs, frag grenades, mortars, artillery shells and more since 1975. Thousands more have been "lucky" to only lose arms, legs, hands, eyes or feet.

The COPE center is dedicated to providing orthotics, prosthetics, rehabilitation and job training to Lao people injured by the byproducts of the war.
 Sculpture created from Un-exploded ordnance.
Cluster Bomb representation

I did not walk away proud to be an American today. And yet the Lao people hold no animus towards me as an American. In fact I have been told "It was a long time ago. You are not to blame."

Wish I could accept that.

If you are so moved please donate to this worthy cause. The link provided below is through Intrepid Travel, the company I am presently travelling with and a corporate supporter of COPE:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chill Day in Vang Vieng

Nothing much going on today. It's a pretty area, but the town seems to exist solely for touring groups travelling between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, since it would be a grueling schlep all in one day. Lots of guest houses, restaurants and bars. Basically I laid around and read today. Walked about a bit, but nothing special. Tomorrow we finish the Lao bit by going to Vientiane, the capital of the country. 

The view from my hotel.
Breakfast of champions.
Not sure what this is telling me not to do.
Scorpion marinated moonshine. Not bad!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On the Road: Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (aka V V)

Five, thirty this morning we hopped out to the main road to see the monks heading to their respective temples. Tradition holds that these mendicants receive portions of sticky rice from the people for their daily subsistence. Of course, as can be seen by the second photo, life is life.

The scenery between the two cities was rural and quite frankly stunning.
The dog in the foreground must have been REALLY tired as he didn't move the entire time we were at the rest stop.
While I suspect this is further evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, the local explanation was they are bear paws. The fluid they're suspended in is essentially moonshine. No I didn't.
Rain surrounded us on this mountain top (4200 ft. elevation) stop. Beautiful.
Met a Swiss guy cycling through Southeast Asia. AND we was sporting a Surly Long Haul Trucker!