cambodia

  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Vietnam: Chapter Four

    “We come to it at last, the great battle of our time.” – Gandalf the White

    I’m hoping that most of you just read that line in Ian McKellan’s voice but regardless, we do come to the end of the first installment of the “Global ArchaeoVentures” series. At this point, my travel companions have expanded to include 4 additional people for our beginning adventures in Vietnam!

    Vietnam started off slow as our journey out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia turned from an anticipated 4 hour journey into a delayed 6 hour journey, resulting in our missing the one(!) afternoon ferry from Ha Tien (a border town in Vietnam), thus having to spend Christmas Eve in an unplanned location. When you’re with beloved friends, you can even make a $12/night hotel a special holiday experience (the iced coffee really does make a huge difference)! We did end up making the early ferry which is delightfully called the Superdong VI (FYI Vietnamese money is called Dong), to Phu Quoc Island in south Vietnam.

    Bus/Sardine Ride to Ha Tien from Phnom Penh

    The Fastest Speedboat in Southern Vietnam

    The Fastest Speedboat in Southern Vietnam

    Sweet Condensed Milk and Coffee w/ Glass of Ice

    Sweet Condensed Milk and Coffee w/ Glass of Ice

    Deck the Halls w/ Boughs of Holly

    Deck the Halls w/ Boughs of Holly


    The style of this video is less interview-esque and more of a footage montage, owing to the fact that Vietnam had more of a vacation-feel, whereas at Angkor, everywhere I looked my archaeological radar went crazy.  I think you’ll gather from the video what I thought was most apparent about this small island in the south, known for its tourism and pearl industries, which is that there is this sharp contrast between the rapidly growing infrastructure and a traditional Vietnamese landscape. If you watch the footage of us just riding the motorbikes around the island, you already see a marked difference between what Cambodia looked like on that original drive in from the capital to Siem Reap. But on Phu Quoc itself, which has a booming tourist industry, you can see the remnants of what old Phu Quoc looks like, and then you see the amazing amount of road building going on all across the island. When I went scuba diving (which you can see footage from at the end of the video), my dive buddy who worked with
    Rainbow Divers, told me that there had been a 50% increase in hotel and road building in the last year alone! I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but it isn’t hard to see in the roadside landscapes, with new half-built roads and lots the size of a supersize Walmart complex. The problem it seems, and I know that Katie and I are going to do a further in-depth ArchaeoVenturers #AVProject episode on it, is the lack of communication and awareness between the local people and those invested in the tourist industry. Nothing is more apparent then on the beaches all around the island- in front of the resorts, perfect white sand beaches, but step 25ft to either side of the resort beach, and the whole beachfront is covered in trash, to the point where it’s impossible to walk sometimes. I’ll leave this discussion to our planned episode, but it is noteworthy to point out that I heard one of the scuba instructors also say that the dive industry in Phu Quoc could be easily gone within 10-15 years because of the serious overfishing problem, dying coral reefs, and unparalleled trash buildup- and if the dive industry goes, a serious chunk of foreign tourism goes with it…

    Did I Mention Vacation?

    Did I Mention Vacation?

    Para-para-paradise

    Para-para-paradise

    Tranquility

    Tranquility

    You will also see in bits throughout the montage, is when we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, and visited the Cu Chi Tunnels outside town. I have to be honest here, I had very mixed feelings going into this and even more so on the other end. The Cu Chi Tunnels were an elaborate network of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong. These were used for hiding, living, and guerrilla warfare, which is unfathomable if you realize how small they actually are, and how they’ve been widened for tourists (I barely fit and I’m only 5’3″!). I didn’t add more of the footage beyond my going into the tunnels, which they let you do at the end of the tour after they let you fire AK-47s at a makeshift gun range, and I really could say it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I was in an archaeological tomb in Egypt (I also felt that way in the Catacombs in Paris). It was very scary to realize that people lived and died in those tunnels, but at the same time, the entire tour consisted of basically bragging rights about all the ways they managed to kill Americans during the war. Not making this a political statement, but I came out feeling very queasy and eager to depart for the nighttime bars in the backpacking district of Ho Chi Minh.

    Descending into the Cu Chi Tunnels

    Descending into the Cu Chi Tunnels

    Hideout Spot

    Hideout Spot

    Torture Traps Used During Vietnam War

    Torture Traps Used During Vietnam War

    Lastly, and I already mentioned it, but you’ll see some footage from my two scuba dives with Rainbow Divers on Phu Quoc in the northern part of the island. I am told there aren’t any shipwrecks close enough to dive on with tourists, so that was slightly disappointing but I find it hard to be somewhere now and not take the opportunity to dive. The visibility wasn’t up to what I am used to, having most of my dives in the FL keys (and I know, my friends in the Gulf will laugh at me) but what was most apparent again was the lack of significant sea life- that, and also somehow in 15ft of water, my GoPro bit the dust. I managed to salvage the memory card but what a devastating (and pathetic) end to an illustrious camera companion *bows head*…

    Bright and Early on Dive Boat!

    Bright and Early on Dive Boat!

    That Leisure Boat Life Though

    That Leisure Boat Life Though

    Cutting Sea Urchins for Scuba Lunch Break

    Cutting Sea Urchins for Scuba Lunch Break

    GoPro Rice Fail

    GoPro Rice Fail

    Check out An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam: Chapter 4 on YouTube

    THANK YOU FOR STICKING AROUND FOR ALL FOUR CHAPTERS OF “An ArchaeoVenture to Southeast Asia” with me, The Diver of ArchaeoVenturers!

    WATCH AGAIN:
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 1 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 2 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 3 on YouTube

    THANKS FOR GETTING DIRTY WITH US!

     

    Leaving On a Jet Plane!

    Leaving On a Jet Plane!

    Grizzly Bears Are My Life- What?!

    Grizzly Bears Are My Life- What?!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Further Reading:

    CNNGo in Ho Chi Minh City: From secret wartime hideouts to vintage Vespas

    Hidden tunnels of the Vietnam War

  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia: Chapter Three

    Chapter 3 of “An ArchaeoVenture in Cambodia” begins just after our lunch stop with our guide, Mr. Raty. There were three distinct places that we visited after Angkor Wat that morning, in the order of Ta Prohm, Bayon Temple, and Phnom Bakheng:

    • Ta Prohm (1186 CE): Originally named, Rajavihara (Royal Temple), is one of the most visited temples in the religious complexes, most likely for its unique look of ruined beauty mixed with invasive natural elements (in this case, ever expanding jungle trees that thrive amidst the native temple architecture and encapsulate the historic remains). The word “Ta” means ancestors and “Prohm” originates from Brahma, Hindu god of creation. As an ode to inaccurate archaeological depictions, which Katie and I talk about in the #AVProject (), I must not forget to mention that the famous Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie was filmed here, one of the only Cambodian sites depicted with accuracy in the movie- and I must have heard at least 30 different tourists mention it in the hour we wandered around. Our guide said that after the movie came out, there was certainly a larger influx of questions about the temple’s role in the movie, how it was filmed, if Angelina Jolie had been there, etc…, and that many of these questions were still asked today. Because Ta Prohm’s beauty literally lays in ruin, there is a major restoration project being undertaken all over the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as you can see in the video. This restorative conservation is a partnership project of the Archaeological Survey of India and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) that has been ongoing since 2004. It is said to be a difficult task as the teams are avoiding vegetation removal, which is used to illustrate “how the trees and the complex coexist.” Oddly enough, Ta Prohm has also been at the center of creationist/evolutionary debate in recent years as a ‘stegosaurus’ has been discovered (see below image) amongst the depictions- judge for yourself!

     

    Stegosaurus? Rhino? Boar? Heffelump?

    Stegosaurus? Rhino? Boar? Heffelump?

    Restoration

    Restoration

    Temples for Days

    Temples for Days

    Jungle Overtaking Temple

    Jungle Overtaking Temple

    Mr. Raty with Hannah & Me at Ta Prohm

    Mr. Raty with Hannah & Me at Ta Prohm

    • Bayon Temple (dating from the 12th century CE): Bayon was the very center of Angkor Thom (Big City), which was the capital built by King Jayavarman VII. It’s position is the manifestation of the intersection between heaven and earth. The many faces of Buddha is how I recall this temple site- Mr. Raty said there are over 2000 large faces carved on the 54 towers! He mentioned that many people point out that the Buddha’s look as though they are smiling and that some have made comparisons to the Mona Lisa’s cryptic smile. There is a tourist stop here that no matter how hard thou doth protest, you must take a rubbing/kissing nose photo with this one Buddha, reminiscent of those timed photos taken at the leaning Tower of Pisa. Between 1995-2001, UNESCO and the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (JSA) conducted an extensive research and conservation project at this temple. The World Bank warns that Bayon, and other temple towers, are sinking into their sandy foundations as the hospitality industry drains underground water reservoirs- something to seriously consider as a foreign visitor.
    Hannah & I Trying to Read One of the Bas-Reliefs

    Hannah & I Trying to Read One of the Bas-Reliefs

    View of Heaven & Earth

    View of Heaven & Earth

    Bayon Central Tower

    Bayon Central Tower

    Perfect Positioning

    Perfect Positioning

    'Smile of Angkor'

    ‘Smile of Angkor’

    • Phnom Bakheng (Built at the end of the 9th century): Known as “sunset on the hill,” this is where to be when the day comes to a close- and you know you’re in the right spot as suddenly hundreds upon hundreds of people have the very same interest in watching dusk fall from the top of the temple mountain. And it’s certainly a hike up, and at the top you realize why- it has an unrivaled view of the valley of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. I’ve never seen more selfie sticks in my life until that moment waiting for the sunset- so many selfies to be had in the twilight of evening (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em)…. However this popularity comes at a steep price: the World Monuments Fund puts Phnom Bakheng is one of the most endangered of all the complexes. More than 3,000 tourists push their way to the top, up the narrow stone staircases every single evening (myself and friends included).
    The Art of Squeezing Into Tight Spaces

    The Art of Squeezing Into Tight Spaces

    Clambering for Elbow-Room at the Top

    Clambering for Elbow-Room at the Top

    At Dusk

    At Dusk

    What did I say? #sunsetselfie

    What did I say? #sunsetselfie

    A huge bonus at the end of our time in Siem Reap, was that I was able to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the temple complexes (although that morning the wind had a different plan in mind). While we were supposed to go over Angkor Wat, we ended up flying over several other smaller temples on the way, and after over an hour in the air, we overshot our landing site three times because of tall trees. While we flew over many little villages, the children and adults would yell from below (even before the sun was up) and our handlers would give us handfuls of candy to toss overboard. I still have mixed feelings about this because it seems like a very unnecessary practice to feed into, but then, what do I know anyway- when we finally landed in a random rice paddy field (complete with ankle-deep water and fire ants!), all those nearby children ran up begging for candy but then all whipped out their smartphones to take pictures of the balloon that many were claiming to never have seen before. Moral of the story- hot air balloons are always worth it, despite wet pants and bug bites on your toes…

    Unknown Temple From the Air

    Unknown Temple From the Air

    Unknown Temple Being Restored From the Air

    Unknown Temple Being Restored From the Air

    Giant Hot Air Balloon on the Exodus Across the Rice Paddy

    Giant Hot Air Balloon on the Exodus Across the Rice Paddy

    NEXT UP VIETNAM MONTAGE!!
    Please stay tuned for Chapter 4 and Final in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Vietnam” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam” where a montage of travel and scuba dive footage await.
    Please see Chapter Three on Youtube
    Further Reading:
  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia: Chapter One

    So Katie (The Digger) and I decided that if either of us ever have the chance to travel to interesting places with deep histories (which most places are and have), then we would not waste the opportunity and would share them as special ArchaeoVenturers episodes! It goes without saying that every country, city and historic site has a fascinating and complicated story to tell, and we only hope that you enjoy watching these special videos and reading our blogs as much as we love sharing them with YOU!

    ————–

    So this past holiday season, you may have seen on our ArchaeoVenturers social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), that I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit some friends of mine who had moved literally halfway around the world from good ole’ Washington D.C. (14, 392 km in fact!) to a part of the world that I had never visited before- Southeast Asia, specifically the capital of Cambodia- Phnom Penh. The Kingdom of Cambodia, once known as the Khmer Empire, saw independence from the French in 1953. Today, one of their largest sources of income has become the tourism industry. Who needs a better excuse to visit friends when you have a warm bed and Cambodian iced coffee on the other end!? If you want to visit a foreign land, my best advice would be to visit with people who are or have become locals- you meet and see things that tourists never get to experience, and luckily, such was the case here!

    My two friends and I packed our bags and spent the almost two days of traveling getting to the city of Siem Reap, in northwest Cambodia, where the temple complex of Angkor awaits eager tourists. Our friends in the capital had to wait a few days to see us, because as a history buff and archaeologist, Angkor was a place I could not miss out on, and also, they had already visited a month earlier. This first video in our special Global ArchaeoVentures series is about my friends and my journey traveling from JFK on Eva Air (yes, the Hello Kitty airline!) through Taiwan to Phnom Penh, and straight into a 6+ hour taxi ride with a driver who easily hit 90 mph on roads that had more potholes than all the potholes I’ve ever seen combined! And yet, we enjoyed (and were exhausted) every minute of it! Our driver stopped only once for petrol (which is sold on the sides of the roads in used cola bottles for convenience) and to grab us all bamboo shoots filled with rice and beans for a road snack.

    It’s hard to switch from light hearted travel/adventure mode in the videos to writing more about what I heard in this portion of the trip. The most enlightening part of our journey to Siem Reap, was learning more about the destruction of the Khmer Rouge from our driver, who’s family had luckily survived the massacres. Between 1975 and 1979, a genocide organized by the ruling Khmer Rouge government, killed roughly one fifth of the country’s population- from all walks of life and all echelons of their society, echoing memories of the Holocaust. Despite their ousting in 1979, the Khmer Rouge continued to exist until 1999, and the effects of their regime remain ever present in contemporary Cambodian society. Our driver told us that the bamboo with rice and beans snack we were eating, was a popular staple during the war because of its easy ingredients and simple preparation.  What I was truly inspired by, and I regrettably didn’t manage to catch this part on film, was how positive our driver spoke about Cambodia’s future despite all that had happened to his family and culture. The world is doomed to repeat atrocious acts of violence if we fail to learn from history, something happening at an alarming rate with ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East right now. Luckily, there are strong communities of people willing to fight back and save what is irreplaceable. That is what happened in Cambodia, and although it is still recovering, the positive and enduring attitudes of their countrymen bring hope for the future.

    Ending with that somber note of reflection, please stay tuned for Chapter 2 in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia” where the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat is highlighted.

    Please visit Youtube for Chapter One Episode! or View Below!

    For further reading:

    The Cambodian Tribunal: Khmer Rouge History
    Time Magazine: The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge (told through images)
    Hello Kitty phone at the Taipei airport!

    Hello Kitty phone at the Taipei airport!

    First SE Asia selfie! Running from the airport in Phnom Penh to a 6+hr taxi ride to Siem Reap aka Angkor!

    First SE Asia selfie! Running from the airport in Phnom Penh to a 6+hr taxi ride to Siem Reap aka Angkor!

    Half way stop on a local river to stretch our legs! Comfy travel fashion all the way!

    Half way stop on a local river to stretch our legs! Comfy travel fashion all the way!

    Hannah, Paul and I putting on our best fake smiles after almost two days of traveling!

    Hannah, Paul and I putting on our best fake smiles after almost two days of traveling!

    Bamboo with Rice and Beans snack

    Bamboo with Rice and Beans snack

     

  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia: Chapter Two

    Chapter Two of this special ArchaeoVenturers series begins in Siem Reap, with my friends and I joining up with our tour guide Mr. Raty (highly recommended services!), who was born in the province. Along the way to the temple complex, Mr. Raty told us that while being a local tour guide is one of the more profitable professions in the area, they must take many expensive tests in order to become certified and to stay licensed, year after year. He is the only one in his family to be a tour guide and was very proud of how hard his family, in particular his mother, works in the agricultural realm of area. He also had one of the most infectious smiles I have ever seen- this was apparent anytime he mentioned a fact or tidbit about Angkor or Cambodian culture, which clearly made him happy to speak about. Also, I am not sure if every guide is this way, but Mr. Raty had a memory for specifics and dates that rivaled any academic I’ve ever met- all while speaking 5 languages!

    You’ll hear some of the more interesting facts about Angkor Wat in the video, but since this is a syncing of hours of film footage and it has to be attention grabbing (thank you Tony Capelli!), I thought I wouldn’t make the video too audio heavy- the visuals of the temples tend to speak volumes more than I ever could. The interview with Mr. Raty however was important, and while I am still honing my interviewer skills, he was very eloquent while speaking about the affects of tourism and globalization on his community near Angkor. From his answers, we see that it’s a push-pull type relationship between the locals and foreigners- which I suppose is to be expected. The benefits of places with an abundance of tourist opportunities, like Angkor, means that the economy will grow from a natural resource (in this case, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the locals will see immediate benefit from a growth in labor, infrastructure, investments, resources etc because the presence of foreigners demand those things. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, as Mr. Raty pointed out, foreign influences come with baggage, like religious holidays (in this case it was Christmas) or out-of-place foods like Mexican taquerias, and even more serious is the pollution, a divide between those able to benefit from direct contact with tourists and those who are less monetarily affected, deforestation, wear and tear and safety of the tourist site for posterity, amongst other issues. In 2013, Angkor Wat experienced an excess of 2 million visitors (not Cambodia as a whole, just this site) with a steady nearly 20% yearly increase. I am certainly no economist, but there is an obvious constant struggle between maintaining massive historical sites like this temple complex for future generations of visitors, archaeologists, and other knowledge seekers, while still being able to reap the benefits of open access in the present day for millions of current visitors.

    As interesting as visiting this site was for me, it was more interesting hearing the perspectives of the local people that we encountered. Our tuk-tuk driver moonlighted as a tourist driver even though he has a full time job as a police officer. But they only get paid 90$ a month(!) for that, which isn’t enough to support his new wife and baby, he said that he gets 20$ a day to be a tuk-tuk driver around the site to supplement his income. Mr. Raty said he dreamed of traveling outside of Cambodia for the first time. Some people near the reflection pool (classic photo-op spot in Angkor Wat) who were visiting from another Cambodian province where there are no tourists, asked my friends to pose with them in photos in order to show their friends/family back home that they met ‘tourists’. Our guide said they wanted to pose with Hannah and Paul specifically because most visitors from other provinces were equating being fair skinned with being foreign, and those photos would prove they had the means to travel to places where tourists frequented.

    Just briefly, for Southeast Asia and Cambodia, the temple complex at Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1992. Cambodia is in fact the only country to have a building on their national flag- and it is an image of Angkor Wat. The temple complex stretches over some 400 square km, throughout northwest Cambodia and contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th century to the 15th century. Places that we were able to visit included the famous Temple of Angkor Wat (which translates to Temple City or City of Temples), and Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple (which will be featured in Chapter Three of the series). Words do not describe how magnificent these ruins of a long-lost Empire reveal themselves to visitors- calling it ‘stepping into the past’ could not be more literal. The imagination truly has the chance to run wild there, where tales of kings and gods of old become more real with each step up the stairway to heaven….

     

    Please stay tuned for Chapter 3 in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia” where the story at Angkor Wat continues.

    Please see Chapter Two on Youtube

     

    Further Reading:

    – UNESCO: World Heritage Site

    Tourism Cambodia

    – BBC News: Are there too many tourists at Angkor’s temples?

     

    Map of Angkor Temples (Credit: Tourism Cambodia)

    Ticket into Angkor Wat

    Ticket into Angkor Wat

    Obligatory entrance photo

    Obligatory entrance photo

    Reflecting Pool

    Reflecting Pool

    Part of the Temple

    Part of the Temple

    A rare moment captured without other tourists in background

    A rare moment captured without other tourists in background

    Heartbreaking graffiti on stone pillars

    Heartbreaking graffiti on stone pillars

    A view of one of the inner temple towers

    A view of one of the inner temple towers

    One of the libraries at Angkor Wat

    One of the libraries at Angkor Wat