seeing red in south east asia

vietnamese monk on drumSo often you’ll hear people talk of the amazing colours of Asia – the lush greens of verdant rainforests, the bright pinks and yellows of incense sticks, the spectacular blues of warm tropical waters. It’s also the brilliant reds that stand out, and Sam Buck explains the colour’s significance…

“Red is a very powerful colour, in terms of human emotion it represents rage and anger and passion. Each of these emotions are incredibly strong and potentially dangerous. Red is also a colour that signals danger and warning. Just look in the animal kingdom, where the colour red warns off attacks from predators and symbolizes that the animal in question is toxic!

So red then is a colour of power and danger in some aspects of life. However in some parts of the world, especially South East Asia, red can be far more foreboding and more of a political symbol.

For me, after traveling and working in South East for a while I’ve come to link the colour red to many things and not all of them are good. Take for example the situation in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 60s and 70s, red was the colour of revolution as the communist factions in the respective countries gained strength to rise up and fight against the invading American army. In some instances here the colour red was one of political unity and the idea of a new beginning and hope, and in two of the countries the resulting victory of the communists was good for the people… for example now in Vietnam at the front of the imperial citadel in Hue the Vietnamese flag flies majestically, showing that the revolution was won and the decadent ways of the former imperial system is gone.

In Cambodia however the colour red is not always seen as such a symbol of revolutionary success… In the case of the Khmer Rouge (rouge meaning red in French), the association with the colour red is one of fear, cruelty and the blood of the millions of innocent people that they spilt during their reign of terror.

So as I mentioned earlier, not everything to do with the colour red is pleasant in South East Asia. However, I do have some things to mention about red that turns South East Asia into the beautiful part of the world that it is, these are:

- The colour of the Mekong as it makes its way through the region to the South China Sea.
- The robes of the old monks as they wander the streets in the mornings collecting alms
- The piles of red chillis drying in the sun in the Mekong Delta region
- The beautiful red flowers on the tamarind trees
- The colour of the sun rises and sun sets at Angkor Wat
- Finally the colour of the label on a bottle of Angkor beer ;-)

These are things that I like to remember when I think about the colour red in South East asia, even though the other things are important too, thinking of the more beautiful side just makes being here more of a joy!”

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* photo by Ian Jones – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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