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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong-Il: Phnom Penh's Inconsolable Bereavement

Phnom Penh mourned today at news of the death of North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Il. Though there were no real outward signs detectable to the naked eye, there was presumably an unmistakable grief, deep in the cockles of every Khmer person's heart. Cambodia and the DPRK have had a history of good relations, the details of which we will not get into for fear of a late-night knock on the door... but needless to say, things are officially very friendly between the two countries.

The North Korean Embassy. The Flag isn't quite at half staff. It's kind of in that grey area where you aren't sure if they've really heard the terrible news, or perhaps they couldn't bare to face the reality and only got it down a few inches before bursting in tears.

There were no announcements of the death of the Dear Leader at the embassy gates. Just a few old sun-bleached photos of Kim looking at this or that, and a tattered old statement of The General's great deeds. "In the Late 1990s when the country experienced grueling hardships due to the vicious schemes of the imperialists, Kim Jong Il paid close attention to the problems related to the improvement of the people's standard of living. He personally provided on-site guidance to solve knotty problems." The last part really choked me up.

Restaurant Pyongyang is a not-so-secret North Korean government facility, designed to help finance the country's activities in Cambodia. Its a sort of dinner theatre serving Kim Jong-Il's culinary favorites with authentic song and dance numbers, rumored to be choreographed by our Dear Leader himself. Only US Dollars accepted.

Sadly the restaurant was closed today, apparently in mourning for The Supreme Leader. Only this small sign hung on the large locked, red gates. I haven't worked out what it says yet. Hopefully they will open again soon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Adventures of Adam Bray & The Sacred Waters of Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri Province is located in northeastern Cambodia, bordering Laos and Vietnam. It has some of the loveliest natural scenery in the country. Below are photos from my explorations this month.

Yeak Laom is a volcanic crater lake. The waters were considered sacred by Kreung and Tampuan villagers. Much of the geology in Ratanakiri is influenced by volcanos. This has resulted in large deposits of gem stones, including zircon, peridot, amethyst, gem-quality quartz and other things like gold and petrified wood. Extinct and dormant volcanos are located throughout the region. There are also volcanic crater lakes on the other side of the border, near Pleiku, Vietnam.

An orgy of daddy-long-legs (arachnids)

Bamboo forests at Yeak Laom

Gourds decorated by ethnic Tampuan villagers. After they are dried they are used to hold rice wine or water. Souvenir rice wine is often sold in ceramic jugs shaped like these gourds. The curves are also said to resemble a woman.

Cha Ong Waterfall

Kachang Waterfall

Jungle flowers

Jungle fungus

I arrived at the Ton Le San River, which flows from Kon Tum, Vietnam, all the way to the Mekong River. It is one of only a few rivers that flow west from the mountains to the Mekong. Tall mountains loomed in the distance at Virachey National Park, and small sampan boats lurked under water.

If he can do it, so can I... right? This is one of the longest wooden suspension bridges that I have encountered in my local travels. I did indeed cross it... twice. I was 'thrilled' to find several broken planks as I drove across.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Adventures of Adam Bray & The Lost City of Ratanakiri

Last year my guide and I discovered a lost temple city in the jungles of Ratanakiri, Cambodia. The city, constructed with an earthen wall and a tall, central temple mound, was built using baked red bricks on a foundation of laterite slabs. As is customary for Cham cities and temples, it was situated on a rise overlooking a river; the Ton Le San, which extends from Kontum, Vietnam, to the Mekong River.

I returned this month to Ratanakiri, in northeastern Cambodia, to relocate the temple on my own. Using only a single GPS point, I traveled alone several hours north of the town of Ban Lung, driving through old logging and poaching trails, then hiked through the jungle, and at last came upon the city once again.

Overtaken by the jungle, this ancient ruined city is covered by trees and vines, Most of the structures have eroded leaving only the earthen walls, temple mound, moat and piles of bricks and stone slabs. Undoubtedly there are valuable artifacts buried underneath the city as well.

A moat around the city connects to a jungle stream which leads to the Ton Le San. The Cham were renowned for their sailing abilities, as well as their ability to conduct warfare on the water.

From the bottom of the earthen rampart looking up. The wall is about 5-6 meters tall here and 4 meters wide.

A tiny jungle gecko. This variety hides under debris on the forest floor, lacking the large toe-pads of common house geckos.

Tree bark freshly scratched by an animal. Perhaps a bear?

Giant spiders are everywhere. It's impossible not to stumble into a web or two or three. This small specimen is a male. Females are many times larger. More terrifying are the ants however. Black armies are everywhere. Step on the ground about a colony and thousands boil out of the ground. They shake in unison, apparently as a warning, which causes the ground to vibrate and the loose soil on top to rattle.

Three red bricks, worn by centuries of worms eating through them.

This slab has a post hole on either side. There are several of these slabs with postholes in identical positions, sitting together. Apparently there was a building here held up by wooden posts.

A reservoir inside the city walls.

Click here to see my post on the city from last year. Included are more photos of the ruins themselves, including a section of brick wall. Or, view all of my archaeological adventures here. Then check out my story for CNN on how to find Cham temple ruins yourself.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Crossing That Bridge [Photos]

Crossing bridges has become a poignant metaphor for my life this year, as big changes have come along my path, none of which I've had much control over. The only choice has been to step across in faith (or perhaps to jump off). Some bridges are more challenging than others, especially when passing an opposing force, but each time new adventures await on the other side.

The wooden suspension bridge above is one of many still actively used in Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Update on the Situation in Quang Ngai

Sadly I must report that the situation in Quang Ngai still continues in the wrong direction. I’ve confirmed that in the days just prior to my latest post about my arrest there, more than one indigenous, Christian villager was tortured by police and sent to the hospital with serious injuries. It appears that they were beaten solely for refusing to give up their religious beliefs. These young victims were taken from the general vicinity where I was arrested, though I am withholding their identities, ethnicity and precise locations for their protection. Indigenous tribes and Christian families in Quang Ngai remain under intense surveillance.
            I have also confirmed that about 1 week ago, in neighbouring Quang Nam Province, police hired a group of approximately 20 thugs to attack church members in Phu Quy village. Several people were seriously injured. Church members called the police emergency hotline during the attack but received no response.
            In related news, The Guardian is reporting that freelance journalist Dustin Roasa was detained and expelled from Vietnam after interviewing pro-democracy activists for a January story and then recently attempting to re-enter Vietnam. The two interviewees have fled the country and are seeking political asylum. Roasa is at least the 3rd foreign journalist to be detained by the communist government and expelled from Vietnam this year over political and human rights issues.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Backstage at the Village Opera

I took these photos during a typical traditional Vietnamese opera performance last month at the whale temple in Phan Thiet. The performers graciously let me walk around 'backstage' and get a lot of great candid shots.

About to enter the stage

Just finished make-up

An audience fixated

Lights! Drums! Microphones! Action! 

Opera baby

Saturday, August 13, 2011

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' Reviewed by an Ape Expert: Me

In the late 90’s I worked as a chimpanzee caregiver (a bit like being a zookeeper) at the Primate Foundation of Arizona, where I worked with roughly 80 chimpanzees. Later I did a short stint at The Language Research Center, where I worked with half a dozen bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) and an orangutan. In my free time, I’ve also had some experience with various monkeys, gibbons and gorillas.

It was with great anticipation that I went to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes in Phnom Penh. Cambodia has 2 brand new cinemas; the first in the country. I went to the impressive Legend Cinemas in City Mall by the ‘Olympic Stadium.’

The basic premise is that a scientist named Will Rodman (James Franco) is trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, motivated by his father’s (John Lithgow) own illness. Rodman engineers a virus, which is tested on Chimpanzees with promising results. An accident at the lab occurs however, and the project is temporarily shut down, leaving Rodman to care for a remarkable infant chimp, Caesar (Andy Serkis), in his own home

First the visuals: The effects in the film are spectacular. The incredible attention to detail was in no way lost upon me. Weta Digital (Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Hobbit) worked their magic to create truly life-like creatures (its my understanding that almost every ape shot in the film is CG Animation). The effects crew accurately depicted the variation and individuality of natural apes, right down to their broken teeth, cataracts, torn ears and bald spots from excessive grooming in captivity.  The most impressive characters visually were the male orangutan, followed by Caesar’s chimp rival in the sanctuary, and the first chimp given the second viral trials at the lab. Caesar’s appearance was somewhat more human than a normal chimp, but this is acceptable given he is a bit of a mutant in the film.

Behaviour: As an ex-primatologist, this was the thing that I was most interested to observe and critique, and perhaps one of the most difficult to replicate with CG animation.

Caesar. His movements and behaviour were somewhere in between human and chimpanzee—which is again acceptable because he is the subject of a genetic experiment and raised by humans. He’s also much more nimble at times—particularly as an adolescent (when Andy Serkis obviously wasn’t modelling him)—than a true chimp.

The Orangutan. Spot on. The character was hilarious to me because everything about him, from his movements, gestures and attitude, was typically orang.

Chimps. In general, everything was very life-like. The facial expressions, vocalizations, gestures—all of these require specific contexts and carry meaning for chimps--and this was all well executed. One particular oversight I seemed to notice however, was that the chimps’ hair did not always bristle when they were aggressive, as it naturally should.

The ‘permission’ gesture. In the film, Caesar asks Rodman for ‘permission’ to go play in the forest by extending his hand upward. The gesture is then re-used over and over again in the film. This is indeed a real chimp gesture—more accurately used for ‘re-assurance’ of approval in a tense situation when a subordinate is unsure of himself in the presence of a dominant chimp.

Finger biting. In the labs and sanctuary the chimps would grab staff members and pull their arms inside the cages. In one scene, a protective Caesar bites the neighbour’s finger off. This brings back a lot of memories. This is a constant danger for care staff working with chimps. Countless times I’ve had chimps grab my clothing, boots or arm, and try to pull me up against the cage—sometimes even working as a team of 2 or 3 chimps. Most of the time this is just for their own amusement because they know this freaks the staff out and they enjoy the excitement. However, the danger is always that the chimp will get caught up in the excitement and bite the staff. Several colleagues of mine have lost fingers. It’s pretty common for chimps themselves to be missing a finger or toe or two from the same sorts of incidents.

Grabbing the knife. In one scene, Caesar pulls someone close to the cage, pretending to fool around, but secretly steals their pocket knife. Chimps don’t need an unnatural IQ boost to pull this off. On many occasions younger chimps would fool me be gesturing that they wanted the fruit in my hand, coax me closer to the cage, then use their other hand to snatch the keys out of my pocket. They didn’t do this because they wanted to use them to escape, per se, but rather because they know this was an object I desperately did not want them to have. They received endless enjoyment out of trying to keep the keys away from me, laughing all the while, much as a human child would do. Similarly, baby chimps loved to steal my eyeglasses. It was an endless source of joy to swing from the top of the cage, laughing, and knowing this was the one object Adam most didn’t want them to have. I had a secret weapon however: mommy. If their mother was in the cage too, I just showed here a piece of fruit then pointed to the baby. The mother always knew what I wanted. Immediately she would reach over to the baby and snatch the glasses, handing them to me in exchange for the fruit. Meanwhile baby drops to the floor screaming, flailing his arms and legs and having an infantile temper tantrum.

The sanctuary: This is the part of the film that I actually have the most quibbles with. The layout was odd. While the indoor cages were fairly true-to-life, the large group play-area was highly unusual. I’m not aware of any facility that would have such a large, indoor room. Those kinds of areas are always outdoors.  Perhaps an indoor enclosure was chosen because it was an easier environment to work with for computer effects. The electronic cattle prods in the film would never be used under any circumstances in such a facility. Not only is it cruel (and I believe it violates USDA regulations, if not the regulations of every facility that I am aware of), but it would also be resented by the chimps and reinforce negative behaviour (as seen in the film). Also, the food for the chimps would not be so poor. Chimpanzee diets in captivity are quite complex and varied. Of course, all of these things are devises used by the filmmakers to support the ultimate rebellion of the apes.

Caesar’s introduction to the group. No facility would just throw a new chimpanzee (Caesar) out into a large group of other chimps, as was done in the film. Introductions are done slowly with close monitoring, just one or two chimps at a time. There could be deadly consequences if what was done in the movie was carried out in real life.

Behaviour in the sanctuary. In real life, there would have been much more fighting with so many chimps in a small enclosure. There would also be a lot of what, in primatology, we call ‘stereotypes’. The chimps would have exhibited negative behaviours like rocking back and forth (much like mentally damaged human children), drinking urine and eating faeces—and most notably, there should have been faeces smeared all over the walls. In a real sanctuary, those pretty wall murals would never last—they’d be perpetually covered in shit, even if they were cleaned every day. Whether Weta Digital intentionally left this out so as not to gross-out the audience, or because they’ve never observed this behaviour (facilities never want the outside world to see these things—especially not on television), well, they’d have to answer that.

Sanctuary staff. The character of Dodge Landon, played by Tom Felton (Harry Potter), was very unusual for someone who works with primates. While Felton did  a fine job with the character that he was given, and his mean-spiritedness provided part of the motivation for the apes to rebel, in real life a chimp caregiver would never behave as such. These jobs are highly competitive, in short supply, and are paid very poorly. Someone has to truly want to be there—to love the animals and be entirely devoted to them—to be there in the first place. Perhaps this can be explained away in the film because the character is apparently the son of the sanctuary owner, rather than a willing employee.

Final Verdict: Overall this is a great film. The story was captivating, the actors were well-selected for their parts, and the apes were most endearing. I had a great time and enjoyed every minute. The compassion often showed by the apes to their human counterparts (who deserved a good thumping), as well as the limited blood and controlled level of violence makes this a suitable film for families.  I highly recommend it, and I’m likely to see it again at some point myself.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Adventures of Adam Bray & The Land of Nop: Pt 2

In case you missed it, view Part 1 of this adventure here.

Here we have a second ancient Cham temple ruin. The government found this one and excavated it about 2 years ago. It also likely dates from the 8th or 9th century. As usual, the government looted when they wanted from it, then left it fallow for the cows and farmers to run all over it. Surely it won't last long now.

This corn field is growing on what was tropical rainforest a few years ago. Slash and burn agriculture is taking villagers further into the jungle each season and destroying this precious habitat.

Obstacle 4: the road has gone from path to riverbed now. Soon I'll have to abandon the motorbike.

I enter a bamboo rainforest. The villagers tell me that in this area a man was just discovered, having been missing for a few days, eviscerated with his brain removed. I shudder a little. I hope I haven't entered the scene of the next Predator movie! Stories abound in the countryside of evil men who kill travelers and children, and sell their organs--to be used in magical rice wine brews by the wealthy and powerful.

A giant jungle millipede. These guys are everywhere and feed on dead and rottering plan matter. They are relatively harmless, though highly poisonous if a predator tried to eat them.

Giant spiders... these lovely ladies, with legs like chopsticks, have a very large range. I've seen them in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. if I'm not mistaken, I think they are bird-eaters.

Giant river crabs... I'm told they are edible but they taste like mud. They actually have very cute personalities. There were about 10 of these males (the females are relatively tiny and lack the giant  claw) in my swimming hole. I slept in the waterfall for about an hour. I woke up with this fellow poking me in the leg. I think he was trying to see what I was.

My swimming hole, taken from a little waterfall above. There were at least three kinds of fish in the pool--who were very inquisitive and loved to help me eat the bread that I brought for my picnic lunch.

This stretch of jungle was one of the most wild that I've encountered in Vietnam, actually. There were wild birds everywhere squawking, singing and fluttering about. Unfortunately most of the time that's not true--the jungles of Vietnam are usually completely silent because all of the birds and other animals have been hunted and removed from the forest wholesale. Its a worrying situation and villagers and authorities alike don't seem to care.

As I left the forest to return home, a villager stopped me and asked if I was there looking at the river for the government. I asked him why he thought that. He said that 5 years ago, the government announced that it planned to build a dam and flood the gorge, creating a reservoir, and destroying this unique jungle habitat--just as they have many of the valleys and gorges throughout the Central Highlands. One by one all of these spots are being lost--and so are the wild plants, animals, archaeological and cultural treasures of the people who live here.

Want more adventure and great photos? Read the whole adventure thread here.

The Adventures of Adam Bray & The Land of Nop: Pt 1

Last week after recovering from pneumonia I hopped on my motorbike and drove north to the land of Nop. As best as I can tell, the people of Nop, where are a clan of the K'ho tribe, only live in the mountain foothills of Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam. The K'ho tribe are Mon-Khmer, which basically means their language is related, long ago, to Khmer (Cambodian).

The purposes of this adventure were lighthearted--namely to check some ancient (more than 1000 years old) temples from the Champa Kingdom, and explore a gorge leading into the jungle and find a waterfall pool to swim.

My trusty steed for the adventure.

Obstacle #1, an old wooden suspension bridge. The Vietnam countryside is full of these, thankfully, because it makes road trips much more interesting. Clackity clackity clack all the way across...

A Nop woman with a heard of goats. Though they now live in what was once Cham territory, I don't believe Nop were actually wards of the old Champa Kingdom back in antiquity. Instead they were apparently friendly neighbors, who traded with the Cham were at least bilingual, speaking both K'ho and Cham.

Obstacle #2, sometimes pot holes in the road get out of control.

An ancient Cham temple that I discovered in Ham Tuan Bac district in 2009. If it's as old as other Cham temple ruins in Binh Thuan Province, it could date from the 8th or 9th Century. Cham were all Hindu at the time and worshipped Shiva and other hindu gods and goddesses. Sadly, the government recently found the temple too, and about 7-8 months ago it appears they conducted a very slopped excavation to loot any antiquities they could uncover, leaving the temple unprotected. If nothing is done to preserve it, it will collapse very soon and be lost forever.

On to the Nop villages where they are celebrating the rainy season and praying for a good harvest. This is done with joyous feating and offering to the spirits. This beautifully ornamented, woven object is a symbolic hut and offering to the house god of a Nop family.

Similar in form to the sacred trees made by highlands tribes, which they (but not the Nop) create for buffalo-stabbing festivals, this decorated pole is an offering to the spirits of the Nob ancestors. The fence is designed to keep animals out, rather than in.

The torch in the middle is lit with fire and then blood is poured into two small (and difficult to see) bamboo spouts near the ground. This blood offering is made to the earth gods of the Nop.

Continuing on we meet Obstacle #3, a bull guarding the path. Actually, he turned out to be a big sweetheart.

Stay tuned for part 2, which will be appearing above next. I visit another temple, charge through the jungle, run into some interesting critters, and encounter tales of gruesome murder...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Danang Hospital Recommends Goats

Below is a very rough translation of a rather outlandish article on the Danang Hospital website. A few sections were rather hard to understand, largely due to how poorly they were originally written, and so have been omitted. I think you'll get the general idea. So before you head to a Vietnamese hospital for any serious treatments, remember this, which you can try yourself at home first... hahaha.

Goats: Nutritious folk medicine & treatments
Goats are omnivorous animals, and as such parts of their digestive and reproductive organs are very strong. Each morning out of a barn, a male goat can have sex with many goats.  Females can live long and give birth many times; each litter can have many babies. So popular is the concept of goat dishes improving one’s health, and particularly sexual function. 

1.     Goat Meat.
According Mr. Hai Thuong Lan's  Medicine Series, goat meat is sweet, hot, and non-toxic. Goat meat puts the body in a positive direction, makes one warm and improves mental function. If you eat 30 - 40g/day of dishes made ​​from goat meat, it will make you stronger, eliminate back pain, cleanse the blood, and reduce excessive sweating. Goat meat is often quite good prepared with the ginger and garlic. Mr. Hai Thuong Lan advises eating goat meat with onion, garlic and shallots. Vegetables and warm pepper complete the prescription. Particularly, garlic and shallots with goat work to strengthen the kidneys; eating goat meat can also treated renal impairment, fatigue, and knee pain. The general effect is to nourish the blood with oxygen. 

2.     Goat Blood Wine.
Have the goat stand straight, shave the neck fur and disinfected the area with alcohol, Poke a knife into the neck artery (avoid poking into the esophagus). When the blood sprays like a faucet, remove the head, put some alcohol into a jar, and then fill it with all the blood. Drink it right away. Be sure the goat is not sick and is full grown. For an even better effect, add to the wine cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel. Another good remedy is to mix honey and blood wine. Blood wine is good for cleansing one’s blood. 

3.     Goat testicles.
Choose big males but avoid old goats. Eating goat testicles is good for the kidneys and curing impotence. People often use alcohol with testicles – Goat testicles make an interesting wine: take the testicles, the kidneys, the penis, cutting into thin pieces, marinated in garlic, mix in an earthen pot then simmer on a plate. The heat of the wine will mature the testicles. 

For goat testicle hot pot: stew lotus roots in a pot of water, add lotus seeds, and bulbs. When the water is boiling, add goat testicles, kidney, and bone marrow. Do not cook the meat too much, which will reduce the effect. Goat testicle hot pot is a very exciting drug and very strong. 

4.     Goat Kidney.
Cooking goat kidney is similar to cooking other kinds of kidney (such as pig). However, goat is usually baked or steamed with onions. The dishes are suitable for the treatment of depression, hearing loss, and sweating. 

5.     Many stomach.
Goat stomach is very salty like that of other omnivorous animals. However, gastric goat stew or porridge can treat poor digestion and nausea after meals. Note, those with stomach and duodenal ulcers should not use this item. 

6.     [Ommitted]
7.     Goat can be substituted with snake meat, minced, cooked in a pressure cooker and bones   crushed. Mix with heart and cleansing organs, finely shredded and dried. All can be pureed, mixed, and is good for the skin, Drink 5 - 10g/day.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Joshua Gates from Destination Truth, & Other Strange Beasts Lurking Vietnam

Earlier this week Joshua Gates, star and host of the Syfy Channel’s ‘Destination Truth’ tweeted that he was in Ho Chi Minh City.

The show, broadcast in the USA, and known as ‘The Monster Hunter’ in the UK, deals primarily with cryptozoology (the search for strange animals of rumour and legend, whose existence has not yet been proven) and the search for the paranormal. The show is a blend of adventure, international travel, entertainment, mystery investigation and ‘real life science fiction'. DT is well-done and enjoyable to watch as well as a chance to visit exotic locations in remote corners of the world.

Last month Syfy issued a press release stating they’d ordered a 5th season of Destination Truth, in which Gates would ‘descend into one of the world's biggest caves in the jungles of Vietnam to search for phantoms.’

Undoubtedly the cave reference is regarding the newly discovered Son Doong Cave at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Quang Binh Province. Whether the crew will actually get access to that cave is uncertain. There has been an onslaught of film crews visiting the cave since its announcement, including National Geographic and the BBC. Access to the cave may require considerable paperwork and a bit of waiting in line. The crew are more likely to have to substitute one of the better-known caves nearby, which are no less spectacular, if a little smaller.

As to hunting ‘phantoms,’ there’s some room to speculate on what Gates is looking for. He could be referring to ghosts or spirits of the ancient Champa kingdom that once used the caves. Indeed, there are Cham inscriptions in some of the caves, dating more than 1000 years. Vietnamese and Cham folklore is full or ghosts, monsters and spirits that haunt the jungles and caverns.

Another possibility, which Gates might be hunting for, is the nguoi rung, or forest person. The creature is Vietnam’s own version of Bigfoot. The stories most often come from Vu Quang nature reserve, a point of discovery for many amazing new animal discoveries, including the Saola (often called the Asian Unicorn, though it has two horns), and the Giant Muntjac. There are stories of similar hairy hominids lurking in the forests of Cambodia and Laos.

In my professional opinion as an ex-primatologist, it’s likely that this Vu Quang Beast is, or was, a real, living creature. There were species of now-extinct orangutans which once lived in Vietnam, and I think it’s possible that this creature is related.

More recently, tales of a new ferocious beast have come out of Quang Ngai. Many dogs have been found eviscerated and with their heads torn from the body. Nearby are large cat-like prints. Could the Beast of Quang Ngai simply be a rare tiger that’s wondered far from the jungles? Or is it a forest demon waiting for a visit from Joshua Gates?

There are a number of other rare, nearly extinct, and mysterious animals in Vietnam. Some are attributed mystical powers in folklore, but their existence seems to be grounded in reality. These include the Javan Rhino (the last individual may have been killed by poachers in 2010), the aforementioned Saola, the Hoan Kiem Lake Turtle (The remaining specimen in the lake was confirmed and captured in 2005. A total of 5 individuals are believed to still be living worldwide) and the Kting Voar. The latter is the Cambodian name for a mysterious ‘snake-eating cow’ with a spotted coat and long twisted horns, which lives in the jungle.

Additionally there is a pantheon of mythical beasts from Buddhism, Confucian legend and Taoism, such as the chimeric kylan, which often find their way into local lore. Likewise, the Cham and other minorities have their own list of mythical beasts, including the ferocious dragons of Champa, known as the makala. These however, will have to wait for another story.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Me, the Chubby Frog and an Iphone

Definitely one of my favorite critters, the Kaloula pulchra, otherwise known as a 'chubby frog' or 'Asian Painted Frog' only comes out locally during rainy season. Absolutely adorable, they prefer to crawl on all fours more than hop. Though chubby like a toad, this frog is an accomplished climber. Probably they need this ability because of how cluttered the forest floor is, where they spend most of their time. This gal climbed all up and down my arm and even up on top of my head, carefully and methodically, without ever making an attempt to jump. 

Their skin is smooth like porceline and beautifully colored with brown, tan, cream and black stripes.

Chubby frogs are voracious eaters and will swallow anything they can get in their little mouths. Unfortunately they are also popularly eaten by locals, and so beginning to disappear. Folks in Mui Ne catch all sizes and boil or steam them, cutting out only the stomach muscle, then gobbling the rest.