The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Images of Genocide

Nearly thirty years after the Khmer Rouge waged its ultra-communist genocide against the people of Cambodia, a few of the senior members of regime are finally being brought to trial. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch," was the Chief of Security and commanding officer at S21. He returns to trail this week, Duch is the first high-ranking Khmer Rouge Officer to be tried in a hybrid United-Nations and Cambodian court under the “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia”. Duch, now an Evangelical Christian, voluntarily surrendered to authorities. He is the only Khmer Rouge official to not only admit his crimes, but also express remorse and agree to cooperate with the tribunal.

Below is a photo essay illustrating the Cambodia genocide, as it is memorialized at S21 and the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Bone fragments and clothing shreds stick out of the ground at the killing fields

The Khmer Rouge, like the Nazis, kept meticulous records of their crimes, including photographs of their victims

A bed in a cell where prisoners were tortured to death

Children playing at the killing fields

USA to North Korea

“...don’t you do it, Oh, don’t you do it!... You naughty boy, you did it! You are a bad, naughty little boy! Don’t you do it again... you're a naughty boy!”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Coverage SUCKS

I’ve been reading the “updates” on news sites for the last 3 days as the khmer rouge trial starts up again. It is exactly the same story they ran a dozen times last month. There is no news or summary of what’s actually going on in the trial. It’s simply the same background story with the paragraphs re-ordered, summarizing who Duch is and what he is charged with. It underscores the fact that CNN, FOX, BBC and others don't have a reporter actually covering the momentous event. Instead, like most important events, the news for the entire world is written by only one or two biased reporters, when then sell their stories to thousands of media outlets around the world that in turn add their own bias on top of it. Investigative journalism is dead because media outlets simply dish out what was already served to them on a platter.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sinking Ship

As I come out of seven weeks of cold, respiratory infection and pneumonia, I'm horrified to read about what is going on back in my native land of the USA. I try to stray away from politics on this blog to stay out of trouble, but as this is really about the USA and not a criticism of Vietnam, I'll include my thoughts:

While I enjoy my life here as a freelance writer in this communist country, I like to know that if things go sour some day, I can always come back and resume life in the freedom and prosperity God has blessed us with in America. Increasingly with each day however, I worry--and deep down I know--that America is not the same country I left before Obama took over. In fact, as Vietnam becomes increasingly capitalism and the people here gain new freedoms, America is degrading into a socialist state--perhaps worse.

As I read the headlines today on Fox, that Obama intends to regulate executive salaries across Wall Street, regardless of whether they received a government bailout or not, it sends cold shivers up my spine. Is this the beginning of the end? Are they actually putting a cap on the American dream? Mark my words--in months, maybe weeks, we will soon receive a list from this administration, mandating salary ranges for any number of industries and professions. Eventually they will come after all of us.

As a writer, my income is a pittance. But I accept this. I chose to trade I high salary for a unique lifestyle in an exotic location. As a freelancer and entrepreneur, regardless of my income, I recognize and appreciate the hard work these executives put in to get where they are. God bless them. I don't want to take away what they have. In fact, I hope that if one day I choose to move into another field or I higher paying position, that I might attain a comparable level of financial success. With todays news however, I can't help but wonder if it would be much easier to do it here in a communist country than my own native land.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Golf World

Kiteboarding may be the current dominant theme in Mui Ne, but it may soon be eclipsed by Golf. While a lot of the initial hullabaloo from the Sea Links opening is now subsided, residents are beginning to move into their newly-finished villas on the property, which is re-igniting interest in the sport.

The new course has undoubtedly been the primary inspiration for no less than THREE unrelated mini golf (put-put) courses under development along the main road between CoCo Beach Resort and the Hoa Vien Brewery. Like the spa fad the last few years, with spas popping up all up and down the beach, the mini golf fad is sure to follow.

Rang Dong, the "powers that be" in Binh Thuan Province, doesn't plan to stop with Sea Links though. Another course is planned at the old "red canyon" erosion area north of Mui Ne Village as soon as the dust settles at Sea links. Reportedly, a Korean investment company has their eyes on a plot of land near the white sand dunes where they will build a golf resort of their own. Of course we also have the excellent Ocean Dunes Golf Course in Phan Thiet too.

Police Initiative Against Tourist Drivers Continues

Nha Trang police just announced a crack-down on tourist drivers there. As in Saigon, drivers are required to have:

1. Vietnamese driving licence
2. motor vehicle registration
3. motor vehicle insurance
4. passport or valid ID card

Drivers without these items may have their motorbikes confiscated.

The word on the street in Mui Ne is that local moto drivers (those that are friendly with the police) have come to an arrangement with police. They can retrieve their confiscated, rented motorbikes after 24hrs for an under-the-table fee of 200,000VND. Everyone else must wait 37 days and pay 500,000VND.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fake News

Through my investigation of a variety of news items, including the recent tourist bus crash and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia, I've noted a troubling trend for "journalists" to fake their news stories. Perhaps its should be no surprise, given how little journalists are paid any more--if anything at all. It seems like all the "real investigative journalism" is done by amateurs posting on websites now. I think its safe to say professional investigative journalism is dead.

As I check the web to find updates on the bus crash, I've been troubled to find all of the fake photos accompanying stories. All are stock photos from other landscapes far outside the area--or even Vietnam. Likewise, the busses shown are certainly not the bus involved in the accident.

Similarly, it has been interesting seeing the articles giving "updates" on the Khmer Rouge Trial this month (like this one here). The problem is, there are no trial proceedings this month--at least not until March 30. It's easy to understand then, that writers don't get all the details right about the mood or scene in the "audience" at the courtroom, or their assessment of spectators outside.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saigon Players Show at Snow and Joe's Cafe

See for an explanation.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tourist Bus Plunges Off Cliff Between Mui Ne and Dalat, Killing 10 People

A speeding bus fell off a cliff near Dai Ninh in Binh Thuan Province early Friday evening, killing at least ten people, including nine Russian tourists and their translators.

Eight people were killed in the fall, and two reportedly died later in the hospital. Fourteen others remain hospitalized, some in critical condition. Among the survivors are several young Russian students and the driver.

The bus left 5am Friday morning from the coastal resort town of Mui Ne, heading to the mountain resort town of Da Lat for a day trip. Both locations are popular tourist destinations. On the return trip some time between 5 and 7pm, the bus plunged some 100 meters over a cliff on the windy mountain road.

There were at least 26 people on the bus owned by the Lanta Tourist Company, most of whom were Russian tourists.

The area of the crash at Dai Ninh

Click here to view the story on CNN

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Modern Snake Oil

A modern snake oil salesman. He catches the busses as they pass in and out of his town, touting the benefits of his near-magical concoctions. The drivers take a cut of any sales before he hops off and catches the bus going the opposite direction. Back and forth he goes all day long. This is common on most small country busses.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Phan Thiet Scorpion Farm

Visit to the scorpion farm, "Quan De Ong Gio" in Phu Thuy, Phan Thiet. Scorpions, as well as enormous crickets are raised here as a food source.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Vietnam's Economy is Still Floating Along

Inflation in Vietnam is certainly better than last summer, but many things are still very over-priced. Vietnam needs a market correction in this regard. Even without the "world economic crisis" Vietnam would have a big problem this year over inflation. There were talks last summer that businessmen in Hanoi and HCMC would start jumping out windows by the end of the year--things didn't look good with or without a world economy problem.

I've been to Hanoi and HCMC recently and rooms were reasonable but I didn't see desperation. Mui ne continues to be full. Some say it's less than last year, but many resorts say they are booked full for the next few months. I was just all over Cambodia, and all the hotels were full. If you came to town in the afternoon without a reservation, you might have to go to several hotels before you found a room.

I admit I don't fully understand why it isn't worse than it is. I expected a near collapse by now. Perhaps it is because VN and Cambodia (presumably Laos as well) are more affordable than other countries in SE Asia and so tourists will come here instead? Maybe we'll be hit the least?

Sinh Cafe and Vietnam Immigration Office Scam on the Slow Boat from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc

I just took the slow boat (from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Chau Doc, Vietnam a week ago, and was very displeased to find that Vietnam's Sinh Cafe seems to have a monopoly on the service. It was OK, but a bit of a gimmick as it involves a 2-hour bus ride (1-hr around town and then 1-hr to the boat), which seems to be the main time difference between the slow boat and the express boat times.

I did realize a scam between Sinh Cafe and the Vietnam Immigration office however--and I wonder whether the express boat customers have to put up with the same thing.

When you get to the Vietnam immigration office, instead of waiting in the building, the immigration officers march you out back to a restaurant and tell you that you have to wait there for an hour while your passports are processed. They then of course demand you must order something. All of us at the time refused and marched back into the office and waited there.

The next portion of the scam was a "passport processing fee" of 2000VND. Tiny fee, albeit probably a fake one. Obviously, having just arrived from Phnom Penh, no one (except us expats) will have VND in our pockets--so the Sinh Cafe employees demand 1r Cambodian instead, on behalf of the immigration officers. Of course, 1r is worth more than 4000VND. THus, the Sinh Cafe employee pockets 2000VND, as does the immigration officer. CHump change, except that when you tally up all the tourists moving through the border, then the Sinh Cafe man and the Border guard can each make a whole week's salary in a single day from this little fraud.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Communist Youth Day"

Today there is a militaristic communist youth day. I could draw historical parallels to other similar youth organizations and displays, but I don't want to get myself in trouble. Just know it's coming to your towns soon under Obama, my dear countrymen. These things don’t happen very often, but it’s a little intimidating when you are driving along side of thousands of students, and along come soldiers in military fatigues waving high-powered rifles in front of tanks and anti-aircraft guns, with communist flags and golden stars on red banners flying.