January 27, 2013

OAT Ancient Kingdoms: Culinary Adventures

You can still enjoy fine authentic French cuisine in Vietnam and Laos along with plenty of tasty traditional Asian meals - but some culinary experiences are just more memorable than others!
After a LONG flight from Houston to Bangkok, a few hours sleep, back to the airport and onto Yangon (Rangoon) Myanmar (Burma), our guide checked us in and then excitedly hurried us to our first adventure - a street fair!  First stop was at the quail egg vendor and we sampled a few at our guides urging.  Next we tried a huge dosa.  Then Teresa and I looked at each other and said "What are we doing?  We NEVER eat street food in a developing country and shouldn't start in a country that only recently opened its doors to tourism and certainly not on the first day of a grueling three-week tour through five countries."  We waited anxiously for the "skitters" (my new vocabulary word from John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath") or worse but miraculously we were fine!
Little did we know a little street food was just a warm up.  In American bars, we eat peanuts but in Vientiane Laos, they prefer the savory crunch of beetles and crickets.  
Those who live on the Mekong River find comfort in a steaming bowl of snake broth with vegetables.

  And the final "pièce de résistance "  -- TARANTULAS!!
 Or Maybe NOT

January 26, 2013

OAT Ancient Kingdoms: Fish Pedicure

 One of the weirdest but effective experiences was a fish pedicure.  We were assured that these fish would stop nibbling when there was no more dead skin to consume - no going deeper!  It was a creepy feeling - especially between the toes - but our feet did feel smoother.

January 23, 2013

OAT Ancient Kingdoms: Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The Khmer Rouge turned a school into Tuol Sleng Prison, a place of torture for over 17,000 men, women and children - many of whom would be sent to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.  Below are the faces of the main instigators of this cruelty.

 A few survived this ordeal to write their story but most perished.

This serene tower is filled with thousands of skulls from the men, women and children executed here.  Babies were smashed against a tree.  Adults were lined up in front of an open pit, their heads smashed from behind, and they would topple into the pit.  When the executions were complete, the open pit would be sprayed with DDT and filled with dirt.  
 Music was played on a loudspeaker hanging from this tree to drown out screams during the executions.

During the regime of Pol Pot, over 1 million people perished from 1975 to 1979 - either by execution in one of many of the Killing Fields or from starvation and overwork.  Our local guide talked about being forced to walk with her family for days to a farm where her parents (teachers) were forced to work the land.  She was only 5 at the time.

January 20, 2013

OAT Ancient Kingdoms: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Cu Chi Tunnels

 Who can forget this dramatic evacuation of Saigon from the rooftop of an apartment building (NOT the American Embassy as many believe) late April, 1975? Once one of the tallest buildings, it is now dwarfed by modern edifices in Ho Chi Minh City.

 Can you imagine being a soldier walking through the forest knowing the extensive Cu Chi tunnels lay beneath? These tunnels were hand-dug from 1948-1975 and are the most extensive in the world - estimated to be 250 km including numerous networks and levels.  

 Our guide demonstrated how well hidden tunnel entrances and shooting turrets were.

 Some entrances and tunnels have been enlarged to accommodate larger visitors.  We saw how hospitals worked and people lived in these tunnels - and the occasional bat.