Ho Chi Minh City: Confronting the War

History is like a multi-faceted gemstone that reflects and refracts the light brilliantly from the many directions in which it faces. All too often, we are taught the story that shines the brightest from the direction we’re looking, and forget that from the other side, the view is dull and dark. We have a tendency to admire its brilliance from our own side, ignoring the other sides to the same story. But turn the gem a just a little and it shines again. This was never more apparent to me than in Saigon or as it’s now called, Ho Chi […]

Saigon: the city with two names

You sense it the moment you arrive in this city with two names. Ho Chi Minh City pulsates, its arteries flowing with the choreographed chaos of its streets, streaming with motorbikes who flow without hesitation through every free space, even if that’s the sidewalks. Saigon is in constant motion, a hive of activity. The air filled with beeps, bells and horns from bikes, cars, buses and carts that say “look out or get flattened”. Crossing this city may seem impossible – crossing the street is daunting enough, but it is possible. In a ballet, everyone has their space, their moves, […]

Cambodia perspectives

I didn’t know if I’d write about this, but as a lay on a gurney at the side of a crowded Cambodian ER, I knew I had to. What I saw in that fluorescent lit room told the story of these people, and their history in a way that reading a book, watching a documentary, or touring around never could. The legs of an elderly man showed the scars of torture, his emaciated frame reflecting the years of starvation, disease and hard labour in intolerable conditions, and the “good years” of subsistence living. Lovingly cared for and made as comfortable […]

Hospitalised in Cambodia: the worst week

Medical inequality exists everywhere in the world, and I experienced it first hand in the Hopital Calmette in Phnom Penh.  Nothing against the hospital.  The staff were wonderful, but our experience proved that money can buy health — and we bought it. What just happened? I went from having an annoying little gastrointestinal issue to not being able to pick myself up from the bathroom floor, and falling further downhill rapidly, in just a matter of hours. I woke Mark at midnight to let him in on what had been occurring for the last two hours, and the look of […]

The Human Gallery: Finding a life’s passion in Battambang

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the resilient, beautiful humans of Cambodia. They are thriving, often through intensely creative outlets. Whether in spite of, or inspired by, their horrid modern history, and their rich and vibrant long term history, the result is is a profound statement of humanity. Angkor boasted more 1 million people when London was still a settlement of 50,000 on a moody river. They’ve been here a long time, fighting for their turf and their way of life. It shows in their eyes and on their faces. And we met one man who is capturing it […]

“I do” in Cambodia: Cultural lessons on the edge of sanity

The music started sometime around sundown in the little space between buildings. A marquee, brightly decorated with fairy lights, billowy silks, and an abundance of flowers was the scene for the nuptials and the raucous celebration that surrounded it. A massive set of mega-amplifiers generously shared the happy couple’s joy through music to all within at least a 1km radius. They partied until midnight on the first night, and started up again at dawn the next day. The Cambodian wedding was in full swing by 6:30 am, with more music, chanting, perhaps a sermon and more music. Then the auction […]

Going Local in Rural Cambodia

There are few places that give you a sense of a people and their culture than a local market. The sights and smells may be familiar or foreign, but from a market, you know what a community eats, how they flavour their food, the resources that are in abundance, the things they need for daily life, and the things they covet. Sellers attractively display their produce, vying to catch the eye of their next buyer. We visited the local market in Chameroun village early in the morning to get a glimpse into the heartbeat of this bustling community. The market […]

Volunteering in Cambodia: A mind-opening experience with JB School

We were privileged to be able to volunteer at JB School, an English language school in a farming village in Cambodia. We wanted to understand more about what life is like for the “regular” Cambodian away from the tourist trail, and felt that giving something that was within our gift to give – our time and our language – would be an opportunity to give back to the communities we visit. We found JB School on AirBnB. It offered a homestay and guided experience of village life, and the opportunity to volunteer at their school. It was an interesting find for […]

Anzac Day: From Gallipoli to Pearl Harbour

Growing up in Australia in the 70s, we learned the story of the Anzacs, like Simpson and the Donkey. As a young boy, Anzac day was a public holiday much like any other – a day off school. The holiday didn’t always fall on the 25th April back then, Instead, the Anzacs were memorialised with a long weekend, and the holiday was on the nearest Monday to the 25th. History was not a big deal in our schools or family, it was just the way I grew up. Fast forward some 40 years and | felt it was time to […]

Angkor Wat: The mother of all wats

They say that Angkor Wat is the mother of all wats – not because she came first (and apparently it’s a “she”), but because she’s so vast, that she gave birth to all the other wats. Angkor Wat is so important to Cambodia that it’s on the flag, and even the Khmer Rouge left her standing during their rampage of destruction across this landlocked nation. Cambodia is one of only four countries in the world to feature a building on their flag (bonus points for guessing the other three). Angkor Wat is located just outside Siem Reap, a busy town, […]