A bike tour in Vietnam – day 6

After the visit to the My Lai Massacre Museum, the visit to the Heroic Mother Statue was a more uplifting exposure to the Vietnamese experience of the war. The statue and accompanying museum opened in 2015 to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. It honors Nguyen Thi Thu, whose 11 children and grandchildren all died fighting against the U.S., as well as the other “heroic mothers” of the war who fought in the war or otherwise contributed to the Vietnamese effort.

A bike tour in Vietnam – a sad day 5

When news of the massacre, investigation, and cover-up broke, it was a major turning point in galvanizing opposition to the war.

Note: Some of the photographs below are disturbing.
Leaving Tam Quan, we biked a few miles to what was in some respects the most significant stop on our tour: Son My, the district that was the site of the My Lai massacre. (Click on this link for a detailed Wikipedia history.) On March 16, 1968, soldiers from two U.S. Army battalions attacked a number of hamlets in pursuit of Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas with orders. Colonel Oran Henderson of the 11th Brigade told his officers to “go in there aggressively, close with the enemy and wipe them out for good.”  The orders, as transmitted downward, resulted in the command to consider anyone in the villages as VC members or sympathizers. Over the course of the next few hours, soldiers destroyed everything in the villages—homes, livestock, food supplies; killed somewhere between 347 and 504 civilians, including women, children and the elderly; and conducted an unknown number of sexual assaults.

The following are photographs from the memorial museum and the surrounding area.

The museum’s heroes:

Ronald Ridenhour, who reported the incident to Congressional members; Lawrence Colburn and Hugh Thompson, Jr. who rescued civilians by helicopter; Herbert Carter, who shot himself in the foot, allegedly to avoid taking part in the attack.

The museum’s villains:

Colonel Oran Henderson, Captain Ernest Medina, Lt. Colonel Frank Barker and Lieutenant William Calley, the chain of command for the attacks; to the right is Sergeant Ronald Haeberle, who took the photographs of the attacks. Also the American and South Vietnamese politicians responsible for the war, and South Korean “mercenaries.”

Some actions, some victims, and some survivors:

Outside the museum and in nearby fields, there are mass graves, as well as the foundations some of the houses that the soldiers destroyed.

A bike tour in Vietnam – day 4

Today was about rice and boats.

Our trip coincided with one of the rice harvesting periods in central Vietnam, so we saw lots of ripe fields and harvested rice being dried.

The Vietnamese typically dry their rice in the road, which is flat and warm—even, if that means having the occasional car or bicycle ride through it.

In case you want to see what a sea of rice plants looks like, watch this:

Other things we saw: a shrimp farm; boats; water plants; propaganda.

We ended the day in a village called Tam Quan, which is known for its fishing boat repair yard.

A bike tour in Vietnam – day 1 (and 2)

Recently, we rode through the highlands and central coast of Vietnam on a Grasshopper Adventures bicycle tour.

Our first day was spent cycling around the highlands town of Dalat and getting used to riding on the e-bikes we’d rented.

Our trip was only a few miles, during which we realized that if we hadn’t settled on using e-bikes, we would never have made it through the highlands: some of those hills were ridiculous.

Also, thank god for padded bike shorts. If I’d had those in Greece, my trip would have been a lot easier.

On the second day, we awoke to gray skies that turned to heavy rain about an hour after we started biking. We ducked into a coffee stand for a break, but we knew we had to continue, rain (and cold) or no. We reached the high point of our route at about midday, and then descended 1,500 meters to the coast through some occasionally intense winds; despite the buffeting, I broke 50 km/hour at one point and Abby, daredevil that she is, reached nearly 60 km/hour. (She also drives faster than I do.) Because of the rain on top of the hill, I didn’t take any photos in the morning or on the way down; and then I was so engaged in biking that I forgot to take any photos along the coastal road; so it was 50 miles without a single photo to show for it. Oh well.

Next: day 3, which involved no biking.

More Brunique Brunei

One of the main attractions of Brunei is Ulu Temburong National Park. Brunei has preserved its rainforest, and to get there, one must take a commuter boat upriver to a car, drive to another river, and then take a longboat.

Inside the park, the thing to do is to view the sunrise from atop the canopy walk, which rises 164 feet above the rainforest floor. This means getting up at 4:30 am for a quick breakfast and then about an hour’s walk steeply up the hills.

A warning at the end:

Brunique Brunei

Recently, we visited Brunei. It wasn’t my first trip to Borneo, yet—because Brunei is a gas- and oil-rich country—I’d expected to see a miniature version of Dubai. It wasn’t Dubai.

The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is about as low-key a capital as I’ve ever seen. Vientiane is bustling by comparison. Granted, we weren’t there during the height of tourist season, but it was midday, and the city felt largely deserted. I’m told that most of the commerce takes place in malls and shopping centers outside the city center.

So what does one do as a tourist in Bandar Seri Begawan? One option is to visit the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, built by (and named for) the 28th Sultan of Brunei.

The mosque is a prominent landmark in town, with a dome covered in pure gold. It was designed by an Italian architect, Rudolfo Nolli, and completed in 1958. Like everything else, the mosque was empty when I arrived, save for the staff. Non-Muslims are allowed only in through one entrance, and not allowed onto the main floor. Supposedly, there is an elevator to the top of the minaret, but I didn’t feel like hanging around to look for it.

The really big deal in Bandar Seri Begawan is the Floating Village, Kampung Ayer. All of the buildings—houses, shops, schools, even the fire station—are on stilts and people get around either by crossing narrow boardwalks or by taking water taxis. There are many boatmen hanging around who will take the tourists on a tour for a fee.

Before I took the tour, I visited the part of Kampung Ayer that is on the near side of the river—that part that the tours don’t include. As far as I’m concerned, this was the interesting part of the village, or at least the more picturesque.

Next: it gets bruniquer.


Scenes from the Ghost Festival

We were in Penang, Malaysia, during the Ghost Festival. The Ghost Festival is a Chinese holiday during which, it is believed, the gates of Heaven and Hell open and the dead return to earth in search of food and entertainment. Clans erect tents and set out enormous banquets for the dead, families offer food to their deceased ancestors, and they also burn piles of “hell bank notes,” money which has value in the afterlife.

A few more shots:

In addition to family offerings, community groups stage performances in the street for the week. Some of the shows are flashy and well-attended, and some of them aren’t. The visible audience size doesn’t matter, however, since the performances aren’t held for the enjoyment of the living.

The Buddha Park

About 25 km outside of Vientiane is the Buddha Park. The Buddha Park was started—for devotional reasons, probably—in 1958 by a shaman, Bunleua Sulilat, who fused Hinduism and Buddhism into his own syncretic cult. The statues, which look like they were collected from ancient temples across Laos, are actually modern creations of reinforced concrete.

The site made me think of a 1970s lawn ornament store, complete with a sales pitch:

Come on down to Buddy’s Buddha Barn!

We got Buddhas that are small—Buddhas that are tall—

Buddhas lying down—Buddhas on the ground!

A three-headed Buddha? A six-armed Buddha? You know we got it!

And for you Hindus—this weekend, we’re running a special on Durgas!

So don’t get stupa’d—Come on down to Buddy’s Buddha Barn!*
*(Right next to Gary’s Ganesha Garden on Highway 1.)

Odds are I’m going to some kind of Buddhist hell for this.