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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dueling Mudskippers

Above are a pair of dueling mudskippers from the Ca Ty River, Phan Thiet. The male fish crawl out of the water and defend their tiny territories on top of the exposed mudflats, while looking for a mate. They stay out of water for most of the low tide, cavorting on top of the much. Normally they stay equidistant from each other on the crowded flats, but when two males of the same size meet, a kissing-fight ensues. Really cute.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Expat Know-It-Alls

It would be unfair of me to say that Expats living in Saigon or Hanoi Don't know Vietnam. It would be untruthful. Those cities are embodiments of certain aspects of Vietnamese culture just like New York and LA are of American culture. However, for an expat living in Saigon or Hanoi to say they know the rest of the country and all its cultural intricacies because they know those cities, well, it is laughable. They know one city. Every province and each city operates differently with its own set of rules and distinct culture. Likewise, I can claim to know Phan Thiet, I can claim to know Binh Thuan Province (better than most locals I might add), and I can even claim to know a lot about Central Vietnam... but can I claim that by knowing these places I then truly understand all of Vietnam? Absolutely not. Nobody can--not even the people born here, whole live their entire lives in Vietnam and are buried in its soils. The totality of Vietnam is unknowable for one person in their lifetime. So, you Saigon & Hanoi know-it-all city-slicker expats, get off your high horse and go learn some more (or something) about Vietnam, and I'll do likewise.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pleiku, A Poacher's Wildlife Trafficking Paradise

I recently visited Pleiku in the Central Highlands. Its a nice enough town--some great shops with authentic hilltribes handicrafts (actually Pleiku & Buon Ma Thuat are really the only cities in Vietnam where you can buy authentic crafts from CH tribes in shops), a great museum, and plenty of modern conveniences. Its a big city. The province has great potential if the powers that be would actually open it up to tourism. Unfortunately foreign tourists aren't allowed to venture outside the city & major highways on their own.

One thing that was rather appalling however, were all the shops selling endangered species products opening... and these aren't just any old endangered species products like you'd find in well-touristed cities, as you'll see below.

An unfortunately common site in Vietnam--a stuffed Leopard or Marbled Cat.

Above are the teeth extracted from Asian Black Bears and Moon Bears. Scrupulous Vietnamese poachers catch wild bears to "milk" them for their bile (used in "Chinese" medicine). The process involves boring a hole into their stomach and inserting a tube. The wound never heals.  Their teeth and claws are ripped from their bodies while alive, both to make them less dangerous to keep, and to sell the parts as souvenir & luck charms. The bears are kept in tiny cages and live in constant pain and torment. Most captive bears can never be rehabilitated. They go insane from the torture. Unfortunately the Vietnam government has legalized bear "farming." While it is illegal to take bears from the wild for this purpose, this is nonetheless where most farmed bears come from.

In the center are bear claws. Normally polished claws like this are fakes, but (though difficult to see in this photo), the claws here demonstrate natural groves, and discolorations not present in fakes (which are made from plastic or buffalo horn). The rings above each contain a black elephant tail hair visible from the sides but not the top here. These rings are not technically illegal--elephants don't need to be killed to extract their tail hair. But it is nonetheless cruel and unpleasant for the elephant to have these thick wire-like hair pulled from his tail--and he's left with nothing to swat the flies on his ass either.

These reddish-brown brick-like cakes are particularly disgusting. They are a shame and blight on the local culture. There are several kinds depending upon what kind of animal are used, but essentially they are made from grinding the bones and marrow of primates (monkeys like macaques or langurs and gibbons). Others are made from Asian Black Bears and Sun Bears (their bones).

Rhino skin. This was certainly the most shocking--the skin (two pieces visible--large upright on the right, and small horizontal on the left) of a Javan Rhino--one of the rarest mammals in the world. A Javan Rhino--one of the last in Vietnam--was recently killed in Cat Tien National Park by poachers. Notice how thick the skin is.

The dried stomachs of "forest cows" which are either highly endangered Gaur or Gayal.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ratanakiri, Cambodia

I'm on my way to Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia. It's the far NE of the country, bordering Laos & the Vietnam Central Highlands (Dak Lak & Gia Lai provinces). It's my first time there. I'm on a couple of assignments. One is for DK Eyewitness, and the other is a yet-to-be-named magazine. I've posted a few interesting videos so you can see the sorts of things I'll be encountering.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Phan Thiet Wild Bird Market Continues

Phan Thiet continues to allow an almost weekly Sunday “wild bird market.” The sellers strap a dozen or so cages to motorbikes and congregate at the Phan Thiet Water Tower near the People’s Committee building on the Ca Ty River. The birds are trapped in mountain forests to the north, including national parks like Nui Ong and Kalong Song Mao. Sadly, this is one of the reasons why wild birds (other than common brown finches) are becoming so rare in the area, as well as the rest of the country. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Iron Age Relics Discovered (2006) NW Binh Thuan Province

I'm going to do something unusual and just reprint this story from 2006 verbatim since the original source no longer exists:

Iron Age relics found in central coastal province

Vietnamese archaeologists have recently unearthed several ancient stone and clay artefacts at an excavation site in Da Kai commune, Duc Linh district of central coastal Binh Thuan province. According to the archaeologists, the relics - a clay tomb, a stone musical instrument and mostly remnants of hoes, axes, and chisels - date back to the late Iron Age about 3,000 years ago. Vestiges of the province's rich history have also been uncovered in nearby Ham Thuan Bac district, where part of the Phu Truong kiln's foundation dating back around 570 years was discovered. Both relic sites were jointly excavated in late 2005 by the Viet Nam History Museum and the Binh Thuan Provincial Culture and Information Service.

I remember something about this when it was first announced. I believe the instrument was one of the large stone xylophones often associated with the Don Song culture. It is significant because it is the oldest archaeological discovery in Binh Thuan Province that I am aware of, and would pre-date both Cham and Funan cultures. Actually I'm not aware of any other archaeological sites more than 1500 years old in Binh Thuan. If you know of something else, please comment.