Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Our plan for Bangkok was to spend a few of days seeing the sights and arranging our train travel (much more civilized than the bus!) to Malaysia. We did spend some time wandering through Chinatown (it smelled soooo good from all the spices!) and the market and did see several people cooking chestnuts in giant woks. ((And speaking of nuts, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WHY DID THAT GUY HAVE TO SEAR HIS DANGLY BITS IN THE NAME OF ALLAH IN HIS P.E.T. MANTIES ON THE AIRPLANE? DOESN'T HE KNOW THAT ALL HE'S GOING TO ACCOMPLISH IS TO GET UNIVERSAL FEEL-UPS FOR ALL AIRLINE PASSENGERS?!?!?! sorry, I digress, but it really doesn't make me want to hurry on home))
Unfortunately for us, everyone in Thailand is apparently trying to get elsewhere, and the southern trains are full. After spending a good chunk of two days at the train station, where the attendants seem to lack any curiosity about why the Thai Railway e-ticketing website shows sleeper berths available (but won't accept our credit cards online), yet they have none to sell us in person, we said, "screw it, let's get outta here," and took a bus to Kanchanaburi. We arrived here yesterday afternoon and found a lovely guesthouse right on the River Kwai to rest our heads. Today we went to the Death Railway Museum and the Cemetery where many of the Allied POWs are buried and to see the bridge itself. What a heartbreaking piece of history it all is. The museum does a really good job explaining the whos, hows, and whys of the period with a level of respect the people deserve.
Monday, December 28, 2009
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Monday, December 21, 2009
To catch everyone up, we've been in Cambodia since December 9th. We felt relatively confident in our ability to cross the border from southern Thailand without too much trouble having gotten visas in advance to avoid the extra fee the Cambodian border officials reputedly try to collect. We did have to pay our "helpers,"" who got the arrival forms and filled them out for us and the doctor who took our temperatures (to make sure we weren't going to infect the nation with H1N1), and then went off in search of the bus to Phnom Penh. We arrived at the bus station (after being told we needed to hurry because the last bus was at 9:00am by the taxi driver) to be told that the last bus to Phnom Penh (P-P hereafter) for the day had already left, and we would either need to stay overnight in town or hire a taxi (mind you, it was 8:30am, the town of Krong Koh Khong looked like the set from a spaghetti western and has a reputation for smuggling and prostitution, and P-P was about 180 miles away). Two bus tickets the following day would cost the equivalent of $30, and the taxi drivers told us they could take us to P-P for $70 (way more than our entire daily budget for this whole trip). We opted for the private taxi ride ("very comfortable, air conditioned, whole backseat to yourself," said the driver). So off we headed in a mid-90s Toyota Camry with the a/c blowing and the stereo blasting music that sounded like go go music from a Flint movie soundtrack with Khmer lyrics. Roughly halfway into the ride, we pulled off to the side of the road and were ushered out of the car and into another Camry, this one with three people across the front seat and one already in the rear. The driver made the woman in the back seat get up front also (FOUR adults in two bucket seats) since we paid to have the back to ourselves. I kept saying, "it's okay, sit back here," and patting the seat next to me, but no one would move (I did bathe with soap that morning). We arrived in P-P safely and got ourselves situated for the night and had dinner (having already totally blown the daily budget anyway, we figured we deserved at least one meal for the day). Later, after some further reading online, we learned that the buses don't actually leave from the bus station, the last one each day leaves at 8:30am from the bus company terminal in Krong Ko Khong, oops... and we thought the taxi driver was being helpful...
The next morning, we went out for a walk to orient ourselves and figure out what we wanted to see and do here. Unfortunately though, Colin wasn't over whatever he had in Ko Samet, so he stayed in the room and I went sightseeing for a couple of days. The Royal Palace is on many people's must see list, so I started there one morning. It was the king's residence and is actually where he was held, basically under house arrest, by the Khmer Rouge. Much of the grounds is off limits because he still spends time at the palace. The manicured gardens are just gorgeous, as are the buildings themselves. The Silver Pagoda, which is floored with pure silver tiles (the ones where you walk are covered with rugs, but you can still see many of them), has a solid gold Buddha statue that's about three feet tall (if the floor wasn't decadent enough on its own, but as Colin says, it must be good to be king).
The next afternoon, I went to Tuol Sleng, or S-21, a school that the Khmer Rouge took over to use for interrogation and torture. Only 7 people were found alive at Tuol Sleng when the regime was toppled. I can't adequately describe the feelings I had standing in the buildings looking at row upon row of "mugshot"photos of prisoners of all ages. To see a classroom with only a metal bedframe, leg shackles, a munitions box (used as a toilet by the prisoners), and a solitary photograph of a torture victim, knowing that was just one of many who died horribly, makes me wonder if people are inherently good or if most of us just try REALLY hard to overcome our evil tendencies. Anyway, it was a saddening and sickening experience. After that, I needed to see pretty things, so I went to Psar I Russei, one of several markets in the city. It's a dark, cramped, rabbit warren of stands selling foodstuffs, electronics, and housewares on the first floor and new clothes on the second. They save the best for last though, because the third floor is a drag queen and beauty pageant HEAVEN of silk, satin, lace, beads, sequins, push-up panties and shapers, shoes, and hair salons. I was obviously in the very wrong place to be shopping for myself, but it was really fun to see.
Once Colin felt better, we took the bus to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat. The first day we did a walking tour of the town and plotted our 3-day visit to the temples. Siem Reap itself is built around the temple tourism industry, so there are lots of hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops, but not much of substance. We did manage to find a guesthouse with a pool (yay), which was a welcome respite after tromping through the temples each day playing Lara Croft. Angkor Wat was one of the big highlights of our whole journey, and to see it in person was truly amazing. Every wall is decorated with carvings, inside and out. The craftspeople did some fine work a thousand years ago! We walked around tripping over stones because we were looking up at every surface around us saying, "Wow." We took a bazillion photos there, but they don't do it justice, Angkor needs to be seen in person.
We are back in P-P (it seems that all roads in Cambodia lead here!) and will be heading to Sihanoukville, which is on the coast, for a few days before going back to Thailand (Bangkok specifically). I can't believe it's almost Christmas. We have seen fake trees and Santas around here, but no snow (HA!). I hope you all have a very happy holiday, stay safe and warm, and be thankful for all that's good in life! Rebekah
Monday, December 7, 2009
The trip from Chiang Mai to Lopburi was our inaugural train ride on the Royal Thai Railway. Even second-class express is pretty darned civilized, I must say. On a ten-hour trip, they fed us a breakfast and a lunch snack, and the car had a/c and reclining seats. Colin's favorite part of the journey was the hostess, whom he christened , "the rear admiral," because of her fancy uniform and her nice caboose. When she walked the aisle facing toward us, we noticed she bore a rather unfortunate resemblance to a Pekingese. Once we arrived in Lopburi, we found a guesthouse for the night and headed to the market to locate some dinner. We each had an interesting bowl of duck-part soup, which was tasty but had some unidentifiable and grisly bits. Colin did manage to eat all of his congealed blood this time, though I did not. The next morning, we ventured out to visit Wat Phra Prang Sam Yot, which is the 11th century ruins of a Khmer Buddist temple, famous for its community of monkeys. We paid our admission and entered unarmed, noticing that a number of people (who had obviously been there before) had monkey-hitting sticks and slingshots to fend off hungry monkeys. Fortunately for us, the annual celebratory monkey feast was held the previous evening, so most of them sat lazily munching on leftovers and left those of us without food in hand alone. After a wander about town, we got our bags and hopped on the bus to Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya was once the capital of Thailand, which is reflected in the beautiful ruins and temples throughout the city. We rented a motorbike for the day and rode out to see several of the wats that are a distance from town. We went to one working temple that has been partially restored and where a community of Buddhist nuns live, as well as to the ruins of a 17th century temple. Both were beautiful, and in fact, we rode back to the ruins that evening to view them alit. My favorite spot in the city was the elephant kraal (of course). This is where the royal army elephants were trained but is now a home for rescued ones. At the kraal, you can buy baskets of vegetables to feed the elephants. As you can imagine, I went through several. They loooove cucumbers especially well (one of the big females took the basket out of my hands and wouldn't return it). We saw some of the huge bull elephants in town later in the day being bathed by their mahouts (one looked like he was only about 11 or 12 years old and, without a doubt, was in control) after giving rides. All in all, it was a good day of sightseeing.
The next day, we took the bus to the monorail above Bangkok (now we are excited about visiting Bangkok when we come back from Cambodia! It looks like a neat city from above!) to another bus to the ferry to Ko Samet, an island off the coast in the Gulf of Thailand. We struck up a conversation on the ferry with an American guy who lives in Pattaya (on the coast) and owns a burger shack on the beach. After finding out we were practically neighbors (he's from Tacoma, WA), he asked what we do for a living. We told him I was an xray tech and Colin was a prosecutor, and I in return, asked him what he did in the US of A, and how he managed to move to Thailand. He replied, "I was a professional marijuana grower, got caught, and spent two years in federal prison, after which, I went home, dug up my money from the yard, and moved here." That was a new one for me. He gave us his card and the location of his burger joint if we end up in Pattaya and was also kind enough to let us use his phone to find a guesthouse on the island. We spent the week reading (if anyone is looking for a really good read, A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Tolz, is a fabulously hilarious book- contains some f-bombs and pretty heavy philosophical concepts, so maybe not appropriate yet, Judith Ann!!), swimming, and relaxing.
We are now in Trat, and tomorrow will cross into Cambodia for some amount of time. Will update when we have something to write about, probably when we get to Phnom Penh.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Day two, we got up, had a delicious breakfast of rice noodle soup with pork and headed onward. The first stop was Tham Plaa, aka the fish cave. It's basically a crevice in the rocks where thousands of fish swim up an underground stream. The people who look after fish believe the mountain's spirit protects the fish, so they never catch them (there are some BIG ones). The park is really beautifully landscaped and peaceful (except when you feed the fish- then the river roils). We got back on the incredibly twisty road (literally thousands of turns) with huge elevation changes and pavement that resembles either I-80 through Youngstown after the spring thaw or the moon's surface. The scenery is spectacular; we rode through fields of wild sunflowers in bloom, tons of fruit plantantions and rice fields, past mountains that reminded me of the islands in Halong Bay. We also passed probably two hundred saffron-robed monks of all ages walking along the roadside in one several mile stretch. I don't have a clue where they were going, but it was a long walk from anywhere. Our last sightseeing stop of the day was a calcite cave with at least five chambers, each different and more impressive than the previous one (no photos allowed, so sorry, no pictures of the "farkling" walls).
Day three involved more road twisties, tall, lush mountain scenery along the Thai-Burmese border and a whole lot of butt-burn (we're both out of long-distance riding shape). As we neared our destination for the night, Mae Sot, we saw what looked like a remote village of bamboo houses, but it kept going and going up the mountain from the road, and along the road for a couple of miles. From the signs we gathered that it is a camp for Karen tribe refugees from Burma. They cross into Thailand to escape their options at home: forced labor or persecution for rebellion against the government. They live in limbo, since they can't get ID cards from the Thai government so they can't travel beyond the immediate area or hold regular jobs, and they can't go home. Mae Sot was full of westerners who work for the NGOs helping refugees, and it had an interesting energy about it. We both would have liked to stay there longer, but we had to return the motorcycle the following day.
The next morning we got up and left Thailand and crossed into Burma (it's unfortunately the easiest way to extend one's stay in Thailand). We nervously left our passports in the hands of the Burmese officials and wandered into the city of Myawaddy. While we felt safe enough, it was really a different world, between the men in sarongs, betel nut spit all over everywhere, scabby looking dogs, and whirling dust clouds. Our impression from our brief, 30-minute stay is that it is much wilder than Thailand. We reentered Thailand and got back on the motorcycle and returned to Chiang Mai, unscathed but with really sore bottoms.
We took the train to Lopburi yesterday and are planning our next moves. Our new visas expire on December 9, after which we'll be heading for Cambodia for awhile. Hopefully the next week will involve a trip to an island somewhere along the Gulf of Thailand. Colin uploaded a bunch more photos to smugmug. Happy trails!
Friday, November 20, 2009
We've been in Thailand for a week now. We spent several days in Chiang Rai, which is a fairly large city in the northern part of the country. It was kind of strange to be in a city after spending time in Laos. They actually have real stores (including a Boots drugstore) and traffic! We visited the most important temple, Wat Phra Kaew, while we were there- the grounds are beautiful and calm. Colin agreed and commented that becoming a monk might not be too bad if he could hang out there for his three-month stint. We also went to the Hill Tribe Museum, which had rather interesting exhibits on the opium trade in the Golden Triangle and also on the infinite uses for bamboo. I want to grow a bamboo forest when we get home- it's so pretty growing in the wild, and it makes really nice walls and drinkware!
At the museum, we read about the hill tribe village where they allow visitors to watch what they do but without the rampant commercialism of so many villages in the region. It sounded like a good place to go, so we rented a motorbike the following day and headed north out of town. The ride was spectacular, passing pineapple plantations (the smelled sooooo good!!!!), rice paddies, waterfalls, and beautiful, lush mountains. The village, when we arrived, was, well... a disappointment (an understatement). The point of the village was to give tourists an opportunity to see a traditional village where people actually live and work, not simply selling handicrafts to busloads of tourists. Unfortunately, within moments of our arrival, five jeeps pulled up and disgorged their tourist contents. They were the worst kind of tourists- the literature at the entrance all said to be respectful of the people, not to give candy to the children, not to be loud, to ask before taking photos, and on and on. We apparently missed the message that it was opposite day, so we left in disgust and rode to see one of the large waterfalls in the area. The waterfall was supposed to be a good spot to admire the sunset, and we got to the parking lot at around 4 o'clock. A sign said the waterfall was 1400 metres away, and we thought, "not a problem," for the first 200 metres. Then, we crossed the woven bamboo bridge over the river and started to gain elevation. The path was packed, slick mud steps, up and around tree roots, under toppled stands of bamboo, and through REAL JUNGLE. It started getting dark before we got to the "waterfall 800 metres" sign, so we (the royal version) figured we needed to pick up the pace a bit. Colin started panting too hard to whistle the "Bridge on the River Kwai" theme, but we made it to the waterfall in time to see it before the sun set. It really was a gorgeous sight and definitely worth the trip.
We're now in Chiang Mai until tomorrow morning, when we rent a big motorcycle and head out for four days of riding in the countryside. Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand, with nearly as many temples as Bangkok. Cities here seem much more relaxed than in Vietnam- they're much quieter (no blaring horns, no crowing chickens) and more orderly. The people are very polite, and all the women want to give Colin a massage...hmm... .
Although we enjoy our time in cities, we really want to get out and see more of the country on our own schedule. We will be out of web range for the next few days, so look for the next adventure post in about a week. Colin has uploaded a bunch more photos to smugmug, finishing the images from Luang Prabang, our Mekong boat trip, and has started adding images from Chiang Rai. Later taters, until next time!
Sunday, November 15, 2009
We got to Houay Xai on Thursday evening, found a much nicer guesthouse and some dinner, and relaxed. Friday, we wandered around town, ate ice cream, and I got a massage at the Lao Red Cross (gotta do my part to support a good cause). Saturday morning we packed and prepared to cross into Thailand. The border crossing was uneventful, although the Lao border agents seemed quite amused when the saw where we entered the country. Apparently we were correct in our assumption that they don''t see many westerners at that particular station.
We are now in Chiang Rai, after spending one day in Chiang Khong, which is the Thai city across the Mekong from Houay Xai. Our initial impression is that Thailand is a much more affluent country than Vietnam or especially, Laos. Colin commented that not only do people have cars here, but they have rims on their cars. I noticed for the first time in Asia, there are pet stores, with pet food. I take it for granted that we have enough money to actually buy special food for our animals and can get preventative and necessary veterinary care for them, but when you can hardly afford to feed your children and live in a boat under a tarp roof, animals' comforts are probably a pretty low priority. Colin and I both realize how truly fortunate we are to have been born where we were.
Our current plan is to stay in Chiang Rai for the next few days to see the sights in and around town (maybe rent a motorbike for a day). The food is spectacular, and our guesthouse's garden is a comfortable place to read, so we're in no hurry to move. Plus, the guesthouse has wifi, so I'm back to being an iPhone widow, sigh... (although I must admit, it is really nice to have it to call home). Colin is putting my elephant adventure photos on smugmug as I write this. After that, we'll be adding pictures to our previous blog posts, so scroll through them again for pics.
PS- About the blog title: while sitting at an outdoor cafe, we noticed a cat scamper across from a metal roof to the thatched roof directly across the street from us. We thought at first it was chasing something when it started scratching in the thatch, but then,...oh.
Monday, November 9, 2009
This morning at 6, we walked to the town center to view the daily alms giving, where saffron-robed monks of all ages (some of the "monkins" as Colin says, appeared as young as 10) receive sticky rice from the faithful who lined the street. It was a solemn, peaceful experience.
Saturday morning we volunteered with an organization, Big Brother Mouse, to help Lao students learn English pronunciation. We sat and chatted with a dozen or so high school and college students for several hours about anything and everything. Somehow, I ended up in the street with a drawing of a truck and a motorbike naming all the parts, including lugnuts (who draws lugnuts on a truck?!?!). Three of the students didn't want to stop when the session officially ended, so we took them to the patio of our guesthouse and talked for another couple hours. Later that night, we met them again and helped them with their English homework. The students were Hmong from very rural villages who are studying at the teachers' college, with a goal of returning to their home villages to teach English. We both were surprised when the homework lesson referred to a refrigerator, and neither knew what it was. Since their villages don't have electricity, who needs a refrigerator? We were really impressed by their eagerness to learn and excitement over having someone to speak with, as well as their obvious love of their homes.
With the rest of our time in Luang Prabang, we've visited many wats (Buddhist temples), including one that was a cave that extended several hundred (I thought it was thousands) feet into the mountainside. A guide unlocked the gate and led us through the cave with flashlights. It was hot, damp, slippery, and darker than the darkest closet corner you've ever been locked in. Needless to say, I wasn't a fan. But Colin, who is usually claustrophobic, thought it was a picnic.
Other than all of this, we also were witness to a slice of "the circle of life" pie yesterday afternoon. During a beverage stop at an open air cafe along the Mekong River, a cat caught a rat, but was in no hurry to kill it (since it's fun to play with our food, no matter what you say, MOM). The proprietress attempted to shoo the cat away, which only led to the cat dragging the rat under our table and then under another couple's table. More staff appeared with sticks and tried to shoo the cat away. But...the cat came back...with the rat, who was looking worse for the experience. Colin told me to look away, and keep looking away, when the proprietress reappeared with a small club. When the scene ended, Colin told me that the woman was trying to whack the rat with the club, but the rat was still in the cat's mouth. Every time she tried to whack the rat, the cat pulled it away. She resorted to holding the cat by the scruff so it would hold still while she put the rat out of its misery. What started as macabre became rather hilarious by the end of the scene.
Tomorrow we are heading to a local waterfall for a picnic and some swimming, and the day after, we leave for a two-day slooooowwww boat trip to the Thai border. We'll post again when we get to Thailand.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Today we got a map and walked to Mulberries silk farm, where we learned about the silk-making process start to finish. They do everything from growing the mulberry trees to weaving gorgeous fabrics. Our guide showed us the building where the silkworms eat and grow for many days before they begin spinning their cocoons. You can actually hear them munching on the mulberry leaves- it sounded like a low sizzling noise. While in this building, we also saw the cocoons, and depending on the species of worm, they are either pure white or a beautiful golden color. When I pulled on the edge of one (yes, the man told me I could) it looked like spun gold in the light. This facility brings people from the surrounding villages to teach them how to raise silkworms and process their own silk. We spoke with the woman who founded the organization 16 years ago, and her goal is to give people an avenue to earn a fair wage. They sell some of their finished goods through 10,000 Villages shops in the US and at their own stores in Vientiane and Louang Prabang. They are a certified fair trade organization, and her goal is to be certified organic soon. We took some cool photos of the farm and some year, we will upload them!
This afternoon, we went to the MAG office and watched the flim, Bombies, about the covert war in Laos and the ongoing effort to remove the millions of pieces of unexploded ordinance that the US dropped over 9 years. It was a sobering experience that made me ashamed of what our country did to the Lao people. People still die every year as a result of the cluster bombs we dropped 40 years ago. Huge sections of the countryside still cannot be used because of the danger of UXOs.
Tomorrow we go on a tour of the Plain of Jars and then on to Louang Prabang the next day (and we're paying the extra dollar each for the VIP bus!)
Saturday, October 31, 2009
That evening we headed back to the bus station and arranged transportation through Mr Hai, who has a bus that runs periodically to Phonsavan, Laos. Saturday morning we boarded along with a handful of other people and took off for what turned out to be an eventful trip. First, we made a detour to a small town to pick up mattresses, bags of rice, and metal pots (which all got loaded onto the roof), then we picked up more passengers along the way. Stopping for lunch in an unknown small town, we noticed that there was brake fluid all over the front wheel. The bus crew worked on it while we ate lunch (we really have no idea what it was, maybe eel? Colin hopes the ribs were pork...all I can say is, whatever it was, the meat and the green things were tasty). Repairs made, the crew purchased two large jugs of brake fluid and we continued to the border. The ride was beautiful, through mountains, traditional villages with bamboo and stilt homes; I'm glad we didn't fly instead as many people do. We got to the border and were a bit nervous, not knowing the languages or the process. This border crossing isn't commonly used by westerners, and we were a novelty on both sides. Exiting Vietnam was uneventful, we changed currency and the guards made a quick glance through our bags (the one man took my sun hat out of the bag and put it on my head- they are serious about skin safety here). It was less formal on the Laos side, after crossing the bridge, we had to climb a steep, muddy hill, passing clucking chickens, to the border station. The officers took our passports and accompanying photos for our visas on arrival and got out the manual on how to issue the appropriate visa to Americans. After sweating for twenty minutes, our passports were stamped and visas were issued, and we were on our way once again. The celebration was short-lived, since we stopped about 10km inside the Laos border with a flat tire on the bus. Fortunately, we were in one of the few towns along the way, and after an hour and a half, the tube was patched, and we were once again, on our way. We finally arrived in Phonsavan at about 9pm (approximately 375km in 15 hours). We were glad to have brought crackers, fruit, and water with us on the bus. Even though the trip was long, we managed to keep our senses of humor about the situation and enjoyed the journey a lot.
Phonsavan, and Laos in general, is literally a breath of fresh air compared to Vietnam. It is blissfully quiet, the air is clear, noone hassles the few tourists here, and of course, the food is good. Tomorrow we are going to the Plain of Jars and then on to Louang Prabang in a couple of days.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
9 kegs of beer
a very large flat-screen television (twice)
12ft pieces of PVC pipe
bales of straw
a wire cage full to the top of puppies (really didn't want to know their destiny)
two adults, the driver balancing a large tray of donuts
baskets and flats of hundreds of eggs
a double mattress
a large, square mirror between the driver and passenger
various windows and doors
a glass cabinet
a mountain of fishtraps
a driver, two big westerners, and all their luggage (that would be us)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Saturday we went walking through the Citadel to the Imperial Enclosure, which was the monarchs' residence. We stopped along the way to see the Military Museum, which was closed, as looked at the tanks used by the US and their "puppet" forces. While we were there, we met some medical students, Ty and Ngan, from the local university and spoke with them for quite awhile. They invited us to meet them later for coffee , which we did (more on this in a minute). The Imperial Enclosure is basically a walled city within the Citadel walls that was built in the early 19th century. There were originally 148 buildings, and only about 20 of them survived the French and the American wars. What remains is impressive (Colin thinks being king wouldn't be too bad), and restoration/rebuilding is ongoing. The grounds with all the gardens and pools must have been breathtaking in their heyday; even now, they're beautiful. We also went to two pagodas, Bao Quoc and Dieu De, and to the central market (overwhelming, we didn't stay long).
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Hoi An is also known throughtout Vietnam for some of its culinary specialties, including Cau Lao, fried wontons (not anything like you'd find at home), and wonderfully fresh seafood. I am officially addicted to squid, having had it for both lunch and dinner on Tuesday. Everything we have eaten here, from restaurants and street vendors, has been delicious, and I could happily stay here just to eat. And to drink- many small restaurants that cater to the locals have bia hoi (fresh beer) on the menu. It's brewed daily, is extremely light in flavor and alcohol...and is roughly 17 cents per 12 oz mug. It's easy to have several with dinner, especially considering the heat and humidity.
Fortunately, our hotel, the Phuoc An, has a pool. We have taken to returning to the hotel in the late afternoon for a soak in the pool before cleaning up for dinner. This is a lovely hotel: helpful and friendly staff, great breakfast including cooked to order omelets and banana pancakes (different from Colin's but good nonetheless), laundry for 50 cents/kilogram, and comfy, air conditioned rooms all for the low low price of.... 25 bucks a night. They also lend bicycles to their guests, and even though Colin said he'd never ride AND enjoy riding a bicycle, he did...TWICE. One day, we rode to the local beach, rented beach chairs, and had a great surfside lunch of squid and spring rolls. The waves were huge and rough, but the water was warm. On the return ride, Colin had a flat tire and pulled over to a scooter repair stand for air. The elderly man didn't speak any English, but he did speak French fluently (I don't), but we were able to get the tire fixed and I got to practice my French a little.
Today we took a trip to My Son, another holy place of the Cham. Much of it was destroyed during the American War, which is how the Vietnamese refer to the Vietnam War. There are brick towers that were built between the 7th and 14th century. It's amazing to me that any brick structure made without using any kind of mortar still exists. They were monuments to the Cham deities and obviously meant to stand the test of time. For part of the return trip, we traveled by boat past rice paddies and small villages. It was a great day!
Tomorrow we leave for Hue. We have posted photos of Nha Trang on the smugmug site and will upload Hoi An when we get a chance.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
That evening, we took the night bus to Hoi An. The night bus is a sleeper bus with verrryyy short bunks up and down. You get in your seat, stow your shoes in a cubby under your head, and try to relax. It was an eleven-hour bus ride over a variety of road surfaces ranging from rough to "oh my GOD are we crossing the country via goat path or WHAT?!?!?!?" Needless to say, we've both had sounder nights of sleep, but we got to Hoi An safely, and what a lovely place it is!
We are adding more photos to colinandre.smugmug.com as we can, but the internet situation is less than reliable, and uploads creep at a snail's pace. Keep checking for new photos.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
which is a coastal resort about 450km from Saigon. The trip took ten
hours and was absolutely beautiful. Saigon sprawls for what seems
like forever, and the road system is pallid compared to our highways.
Sharing a two-lane road with oxcarts, scooters, bicycles, and semi
rigs is an interesting experience. We hugged the coast for miles,
riding past mountains and rice paddies, and yes, the women do wear
conical hats while working in the fields! It looks like an
exceedingly tough way of life to me. Nha Trang, though, is a great
place. Yesterday, we spent the morning lounging on chaises on the
beach, and in the afternoon walked the two miles to the National
Oceanographic Museum in the nice, warm rain. It's a pretty
interesting place because they have all sorts of live specimens of
indigenous species AND something like 80,000 aquatic "pickled punks" lined up on shelves for research. It would be a great movie set.
They also had a complete humpback whale skeleton that was found when digging drainage ditch several miles inland and a whole bunch of super sad taxidermized critters (they really do need to be kept in a climate controlled environment).
Today we took a boat trip to several of the islands off the
coast here. We got to do some snorkelling, sat on another beach, had
a great lunch on the boat, and we were entertained by our guides, the
musicians. The boat crew got out their instruments and dragged
members of the tour onto the tabletops to sing with them; I
participated as best I could, but I don't know the words to "Yellow
Submarine." Colin actually got up on the table with them and ....
danced. It really was a great time, and to top it off, we met some
funloving Aussie tourists who have offered their hospitality to us if
we get to their homeland. More to come!
of the day included some odd sausage(?) and cubes of congealed pig's blood! We both decided that we aren't fans of congealed blood. While the taste isn't bad, the texture is. Other than that, the pho was delicious.
Later, we went to the History Museum. We both thoroughly enjoyed it, I especially liked the Cham relics. The Cham are an ethnic minority in Vietnam and have a unique style to their stone carvings. Re was impressed by stellae that contained both Sanskrit and Khmer writing,
apparently the subject matter concerned taxes, but it was beautifully written. We also were excited to see some portions of stonework from Angkor Wat, it made us even more excited about visiting there later this year.
Wednesday we went on a bus and boat tour to the Mekong Delta. After a two hour bus ride south to the town of My Tho, we got on a boat for a trip to some of the islands in the Mekong River. We saw the homes of some fish farmers that float in the river with their fish pens and visited an island where bee keeping is a popular vocation. We sampled
some honey tea and some banana wine and Re got to wear a boa made of a
real boa constrictor! The snake was about six feet long and looked
very stylish around Re's neck. (I promise we will upload more photos
to our Smugmug site soon). Next we took another boat to an island
where coconuts are the business. We toured a small coconut candy
manufacturer and sampled some delicious candy. Later we had lunch and
walked around a small village on that same island. Finally we took another boat back
to our bus and headed back to HCMC. It was a good day, especially
since our guide was a very fun and nice person.
Monday, October 5, 2009
We woke up to a hot and steamy day on Monday. Sweating while eating breakfast is going to take some getting used to. We did a walking tour in the morning and ended up at the Lunch Lady's Pho stand! This stop was on our can't miss list and was worth the trip. There is a different soup every day and we had the bun Thai, and it was unbelievably good. From the broth to the miniature squid and fish balls, truly delicious! Even more amazing is that a bowl of this goodness is less than $1. We may go back today!
Later we went to the zoo and the botanical gardens. We had a good time but were a little sad at the conditions at the zoo. After the zoo, we toured the Reunification Palace. It is a strange slice of the sixties, the architecture and furniture is very retro. We took some pictures and will be adding them to our Smugmug page when we get a faster connection. (Michael will love them!) It was a good day all-in-all, but we are still acclimating to the heat, noise, and constant sensory input. Crossing the street in HCMC is an adventure every time!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
We made it safely to our hotel, which is a peaceful and cool respite from the steaminess. After a good night's sleep, Colin and I started the morning with a walk to Ben Thanh Market and learned along the way that if you stop to sit and rest, someone will convincingly suggest a riding tour of the city on one of the deathscooters. Yes, we took them up on their offer, suckers for adventure that we are. It was actually a lot of fun and not nearly so frightening as you'd think (we DID wear helmets). Saigon provides a sensory overload that I have never experienced anywhere else. The continuous noises, sights, and smells were a bit overwhelming to our tired brains midday, so we went back to the hotel for an hour nap and felt MUCH better afterward. Since there can't be a post without talking about food, we ate dinner at Banh Xeo 46A. Banh Xeo are Vietnamese crepes made with rice flour and coconut milk that are filled with shrimp, pork, onions, and mung bean sprouts. We've eaten them in the US before, and I make them at home, but these were absolutely SPECTACULAR! And, I provided great amusement for some of the other customers with my method of eating them. I'm sorry to say, I tried to eat the shrimp in their shells, and I did manage to down a few of them, but I ended up picking them out of my crepe in order to peel about half of them. The young woman and her male companion sitting across from us apparently found it funny. Always glad to be able to entertain!
We are adding our photos to colinandre.smugmug.com as computer access allows.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Vietnam. We have spent the week packing up the house and moving all
of our stuff into storage. We were only able to get a 750 cubic foot
storage space, and surprisingly enough, all our worldly possessions
fit into it. We are now officially homeless! What a strange and
oddly freeing feeling it is, kind of a combination of excitement and
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
After a trip to Ohio to visit my folks, we headed for St Louis, MO (one of our many former stomping grounds) to see our longtime friend, Michael. We filled our time with good conversation and food (including a "Cardinal Sin" sundae at Ted Drewes, which is worth a two thousand mile drive in itself, see picture). Colin and I had to swing through the St Louis zoo for old time's sake and spent quite a long time at the new stingray exhibit. It was a great experience, since you hold out a clean hand, flat in the water, and the stingrays rise up as they swim past to be petted (and fed, since they like to eat as much as I do). We also walked along the muddy Mississippi and under the Arch, which is a truly amazing feat of engineering. All in all a good few days.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
On Saturday, I taught our nieces and nephews to make the BEST ugly face ever. Left to right: Lillian, Colin, me, Judith, and John (Rachel was MUCH too dignified to participate) Just remember: eyelid, nose, eyelid with one hand, two fingers in the lower lip with the other. This is my legacy....
Sunday, August 9, 2009
We finally made it to NC. 2835 miles in a Scion xB, with an unhappy cat, in three and a half days, but we made it. Our first stop was Andy's Cheesesteaks for (obviously) a cheesesteak. Our second stop was to drop off the cat and our stuff at the folk's house and then we went right to the beach! The water was near 80 degrees, quite a change from the Oregon coast. We also had a good time with the cousins, nieces, and other family. John made his famous "dog poop" cupcakes for the cookout after the Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival on Saturday. It was nice to see everyone before we leave and eat some delicious food. The fireworks at the Shrimp Festival were great, the best we have seen in years.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Our plans and preparations are coming together pretty well. We purchased a bunch of our gear at REI (it is a terrific, nearly one-stop shopping experience for the traveler) when we were in Portland last weekend. I also sent our passports to the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, DC last week, so our visas should arrive in a couple of weeks.
August 3rd, we leave for NC for the beginning of our USA roadtrip. Our fuzzy orange boy, Tatie, will be spending the next several months with his grandparents (we haven't broken the news to him yet; hopefully he will catch on somewhere on the interstate system) at the coast. I will miss him, but I know he'll be in loving hands.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Only one more week of work and then the US portion of our trip begins, we'll see you all soon.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
We are still trying to figure out what to do about the malaria prophylaxis situation. There are several possible drugs, all with pros and cons and large price differences. Right now it looks like we may swap off between two different drugs depending on where we are. Between vaccinations and medications, this trip has required more planning than we anticipated!
We are slowly accumulating the rest of our trip supplies, we are still shopping for backpacks and the camera that we want to take on our trip is back-ordered everywhere. We have a couple months yet before we take off, so I am confident we will get the rest of the stuff soon.
Friday, July 3, 2009
So, our working itinerary so far is...
- Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Then, north to Hoi An
- Continue to Hue
- Then to Hanoi
- Into Thailand
- Visit Chiang Rai
- Then Chiang Mai
- South to Bangkok
- Then south to some islands off of peninsular Thailand
End of January
- Into Malaysia
- Visit Kota Bharu
- Swing through the Cameron Highlands
- Then to George Town and the island of Penang
- Ferry ride to Medan, Indonesia and the island of Sumatra
- Over to Danau Toba
- Maybe to Bukit Lawang
- Then to the island of Java and a stop in Jakarta
- Over to Yogyakarta
- Then to the islands of Bali and Lombok
End of March
- Fly out of Denpasar