Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thai'd up in Bangkok (Chestnuts roasting on an open wok)

The Christmases that Colin and I have spent on our own, we have tried to do something particular to the location where we live. For example, when we lived in L.A., we spent the day in Joshua Tree National Park hiking in the desert. In Canyon City, we went sledding at Star Ridge and had a fireside picnic lunch. This year, we did as the locals do, and...took a bus ride. Being that neither of us was really in a beach-y mood, we nixed the plan to spend the holiday in Sihanoukville and instead opted for the fourteen-hour bus trip to Bangkok from Phnom Penh. It started out as okay as an all-day bus ride can, in apparently the only two seats (they assign seats on the buses in Cambodia and get really grouchy when you try to switch) on board that didn't recline. Knowing it was going to be a long day, we had baguettes and fresh mandarins, Ipods, and reading material. It was actually an uneventful ride to the Cambodia/Thailand border and hop back into Thailand. Once all the passengers finished at immigrations and customs, the driver guided us to a "minibus" for the remainder of the journey. This turned out to be a 13-passenger van stuffed with 13 passengers, ALL of our luggage, and the driver for the last 3-4 hours. All was going reasonably well until we hit the outskirts of Bangkok, when traffic began to slow to a crawl. Our slow speed did allow me to mentally process the COW (really, the BOVINE version) trotting counter-race toward us along the jersey (and I always thought it was for New Jersey, not the cow variety) barrier on the superhighway into the city. While stopped for an hour and a half in city traffic, I heard the British guy in the last row of seats say, "I really could kill for a fag right now." Seeing as he was seated directly behind me, and not wanting to get between a desperate man and his nicotine habit, I opened the window and flung my seat forward so he could, literally, sit on the window ledge outside the van and smoke. The traffic finally did move, and we arrived in the Khao San Road district (the backpackers' ghetto) at about 9:00pm. Colin and I got to the guesthouse, dropped our packs, and ventured out to look for dinner. We found a middle-eastern restaurant and had chicken shwarma, falafel, and baba ganoush for Christmas dinner. It wasn't exactly traditional, but after a long, stressful day, it sure tasted GREAT. And, as a footnote, I realize that world peace ain't gonna happen in my lifetime, but I found a little glimmer of hope from the Israeli restaurant and the Lebanese restaurant coexisting harmoniously down a side alley in Bangkok!
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

New pictures!!!

Batteries dead in the new favorite toy? Run out of things to chitchat about with the relatives? If you're looking for something to fill your holiday time-glut, Colin loaded ALL of our photos on smugmug (colinandre.smugmug.com) before we left Phnom Penh. There are now over 400 new pictures in a variety of galleries, and I started labelling a bunch of them, but that's going to take some time to complete ( gotta go back through the notes and memory bank for some things ). We are in Kanchanaburi, Thailand and the surrounding area until after the new year. Happy viewing and a safe and happy new year to everyone! Rebekah


Sent from my iPhone

Monday, December 21, 2009

Taken for a ride (to Phnom Penh)




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

So, what did you do before you moved to Thailand?











Hi everyone, we're back in mainland Thailand after a week relaxing on the beaches of Ko Samet. Internet access on the island was very expensive and slowwwww, so I will try to summarize the past couple of weeks.
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

I'm confident it's either to the left or to the right...

We made it safely back to Chiang Mai from a four day, 750-mile motorcycle adventure on a decidedly secondhand bike with a very well-worn suspension (the left forkleg disgorged its entire oily contents in the first 30 miles of the journey) and seat (it did have good tires, though). Within the the initial hour of the trip we felt the first rain since Cat Ba Island in Vietnam. Fortunately, it was just a minor drizzle and ended shortly. Our trip took us northwest through the town of Pai, a bit of a hippie enclave, where Colin started channelling John Belushi's character in Animal House when he spied two separate dread-locked guys riding bicycles with guitars on their back. We made it through to Mae Hong Son, a scenic mountain city, without incident to anyone, to find that there were no rooms at the inns (at least the ones catering to miserly..er.. thrifty foreigners). We did find accomodations at a clean, quiet hotel after searching farther off the tourist track and referring to the phrasebook alot, since the nice, young woman behind the counter spoke no English, and in fact, wrote the room specifics on a piece of paper for me in Thai. I am actually rather proud of the whole transaction, because not only did I score us a decent room, but I also got us an extra sheet (many places here have fitted sheets and blanket but no top sheet) and a DISCOUNT!
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

Poetry???




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

Why does the thatched roof smell like cat poop?







After a two-day boat ride up the Mekong River, we made it to the city of Houay Xai, Laos. The guidebooks all say you should take the trip once in your lifetime, so we signed on (for quite a ride). The boat was about 60ft long, sat low in the water (you could drag your fingertips if you wanted) and had wooden bench seats that would make any church pew look absolutely deeee-luxe. We picked our seats (of course on the sunny side...again. Colin isn't allowed to select our seats anymore) and made ourselves comfortable (HA!). The scenery along the river is gorgeous; we saw tiny, isolated villages and long stretches with no signs of human habitation. If not for the discomfort felt in our ischial tuberosities (ie. butt bones), the sweltering heat, the fuel fumes, and the excessive decibels of the motor, it would have been a pleasant nine-hour trip. Plus, as an added bonus, I did not drink enough water (against Colin's sage advice) and found myself really sick when we stopped in Pakbeng for the night. While I was throwing up (and I didn't even realize I'd eaten all the ingredients of vomit), Colin found us the WORST guesthouse we've stayed in so far (and he swears it was the best of the four he looked at). They shut off the generators (there is no electricity in town otherwise), and thus, the fans, at midnight. Between the sounds of drunkards dry-heaving, wood furniture being rearranged overhead, and roosters crowing at all hours, we both had the worst night sleep of the trip. The morning of day two I found myself feeling much improved- it's amazing what a combination of focused, seething hatred of roosters and sufficient fluid consumption will do for the spirit! Things looked even brighter when we slid down the sand hill to see a different boat would carry us the rest of the way; this one had...VAN SEATS!!!!!!!!! Yes, we promptly laid claim to the last two cushioned seats and had much more comfortable journey: talking with several European travelers, taking pictures of the scenery, and staying adequately hydrated.
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

Heffalumps!







I had my day with the elephants today (thanks Mom and Dad, I spent my birthday gift on it), and what a day it was! I went to the Elephant Village, a "retirement home" of sorts for elephants rescued from the logging industry, where I learned the basic commands used by mahouts to direct an elephant. My gal for the day was Mae Cot, a younger elephant with food issues (don't KEEP those papayas from her). I said, "soeung," and she knelt for me to hoist my butt onto her neck (glad it wasn't the other way around). We first rode around the yard to get our "elephant legs" before we headed down the path through the woods, down the hill, and into the river. After lunch we rode back to the river for... a bath. They didn't really tell us how to wash our elephants, or where they like to be scrubbed, but I did discover that Mae Cot likes to be scrubbed gently behind her large, floppy ears. After bath time ended, we rode back up the path, where Mae Cot rubbed her side along the hillside and got herself dirty again... . It was a GREAT day!
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

Phonsavan







We've now been in Phonsavan, Laos for two full days; it's small, quiet, and very friendly. Yesterday we decided to take it easy after our two days of traveling to get here. We went to the markets (of course) and wandered the main streets of the town. Last night, we went to the cafe across the street for a delicious BeerLao and met a group from the Ministry of (I think) Economy and Tourism, who are in town "studying" from Vientiane (the capitol of Laos). Two of the gentlemen spoke quite fluent English and struck up a conversation. Somehow, I also found myself sampling a salad made with green papaya and LOTS of HOT peppers that the Lao tourist dudes had the chef make for them. They were apparently baiting her to add more peppers and were most impressed that we ate at least some of what they offered us. This was possibly the hottest thing I've ever put in my mouth, and after several minutes of the burn creeping down my esophagus AND up into my sinuses, I thought my eardrums were going to burst into flames!
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

C:"What are we eating?" R: "I don't know, it's filled with something..."


We left Cat Ba Island on Thursday for Vinh, which is supposedly a place to arrange a quicker bus ride to the Lao border than via Hanoi. And we'd both had about enough fun there the first time. After another rough ride on the night bus, we made it to Vinh at around 2:30am. The bus driver stopped at the far edge of town and booted us off rather unceremoniously after checking our tickets to make sure he was ejecting the right two foreigners. After watching him bless his bus, walking around it with incense sticks, we took off on foot in the direction he pointed when we asked where the bus station in Vinh is. We met probably the only honest motorcycle taxi rider in the entire nation, who stopped, asked where we were going, and motioned for us to put our bags in front of him and for us to both hop on behind. Two backpacks, two daypacks, and two good-sized westerners on the back of a 125cc scooter! He delivered us safely to the bus station at a very fair price, and I could only imagine what he told the other taxi drivers he spoke with when he dropped us off, but I heard a whole lot of laughter. We spent the rest of the morning sitting on the stoop under the lights at the bus station like real homeless people, er, adventurers... AND I peed in the parking lot like a real home...er...adventurer. We got a hotel around 7 after the town woke up and got a nap and shower and felt much better. We were apparently the ONLY westerners in this city of over 200,000 people, because people hung out of bus windows to stare as they passed us on the street, and we felt like celebrities everywhere we went. For a day we really weren't looking forward to, it was actually a lot of fun.
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

Cat Ba Island







The posts have been lacking, because we've been slacking on Cat Ba Island for the past 6 days. It's the only inhabited island in Halong Bay, with around 7,000 residents (same as all of Grant County!). We felt the need for a break after Hanoi and before we make the journey across the Laos border, so we extended our stay here for a few extra days. Unlike the hotels in all the other cities we've stayed, internet access is not available, so we are currently sitting in a cafe waiting for our ride back to the ferry dock.



The vistas from the island and on the bay are stunning! We took a bunch of photos and hope to post them sometime on smugmug, but we keep getting farther and farther behind. Google Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island for an idea why we stayed longer here than anywhere else thus far. We took an overnight boat trip into the bay on about a 50 foot boat with three other tourists, a honeymooning American couple from Lake Tahoe, and a 20-year old girl from New Zealand. We spent the days kayaking, swimming, and eating, and to sleep, we dragged our mattress onto the roof of the cabin and slept under the stars (serenaded by the dogs who guard each of the fish farms and the cellphones of our boat captain and cook- how can you get a cellular signal in the middle of Lanha Bay but not in Grant County?!?!?) Aside from this, we've spent our time reading on the beach, swimming, and eating lots of good seafood.



On to our first land border crossing into Laos now. Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things seen carried on a xe

The primary mode of transport in the cities of Vietnam is the xe, or 125-150cc motorbike (rather small). They're used to carry everything, apparently. We've seen on one xe:

a refrigerator

9 kegs of beer

5 people

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

Is that a sword in your pocket, or are you just happy to kill me?










We are in Hanoi. Times have obviously changed, for yes, there is in fact, a Hilton Hotel (quite swanky too). This is the most schizophrenic city I have even seen; more so than even Saigon. People everywhere try to creatively separate you from your money, which leaves a rather unpleasant taste on the palate. Many taxi drivers cannot be trusted to take you where you need to go, fruit vendors ensnare you in their baskets, try to get you to photograph your partner for a souvenir, buy overpriced bananas, and refuse to give you change, youths sell counterfeit books, shine shoes (uh, everyone wears sandals?!?!), claim to be students collecting money for the Red Cross and then yell at you when you don't donate 20 USD, while others just hold out their hats and beg. Yet, it is a wonderful city as well; much of the cityscape is gorgeous. The traditional Asian and French architecture combine beautifully with the lakes and occasional gardens. The old city retains much of its original character: each street was named for the craft or product sold, and many of them continue the same traditions. We found the streets of blacksmiths, silk, shoes, metalwork, herbs, red candles, and funerary supplies (joss paper and incense), among other things. We also visited the restored home of a wealthy merchant, where I spoke with a guide who gave me some insight into important items and symbols in Vietnamese homes. Of all things, the colorful, pieced silk placemats and tablerunners are quite significant in that the fabrics used include four symbols: the Chinese characters for happiness and longevity, bamboo for the father, and flowers for the mother. The guide explained to me that when people sit at the table, the mats are to remind them of the happy, strong family in the home. I've really enjoyed the cultural lessons I have received thus far. I just hope the touts and scam artists don't ruin the reputation for tourists in the future.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hue








After spending Friday morning in Hoi An, we took the bus to Hue. We rode through Danang, where we saw a couple of very large ships washed up on the beach, apparently the result of Typhoon Ketsana. The water level of the rivers is still quite high in this whole region. We made it to Hue, and to another very nice, quiet, and spotlessly clean hotel, the Amigo.

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).

Last evening we met Ngan and Ty and several of their friends, who took us to experience the local student hangouts, first a street cafe and then to a coffee shop on the Perfume River. We got to try che, or "sweet soup," which is a concoction of red beans, rice, sweet potato, banana, condensed milk, and what must be some kind of tapioca over ice. It sounds awful and looks as weird as it sounds, but it actually tasted GOOD! Colin and I sat around a table under an awning off the street at talked with these very genuine people, comparing Vietnamese and American life for about two and a half hours. They wanted to know about our holidays and asked us to sing, so we sang "God rest ye, merry gentlemen," and they sang a national song they have to sing every Monday at school. We talked about family life, school, the weather and seasons, our jobs, what US cities are like, and had an absolutely wonderful time. Thank you to Ty, Linh, Ngan, Thom, and Vanahn (from left to right in the photo), for making us feel so welcome!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hoi An

Hoi An is an ancient coastal city that's been an international trading center for centuries. The architecture is a mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese influences with a little European thrown in for good measure. It's a Unesco World Heritage Site and much preservation has been done to the buildings in the old town. It is truly beautiful. To make it more amazing, the town was under 6 feet of water two weeks ago from Typhoon Ketsana, and there's no sign it even happened! Hoi An is known for its tailors, it seems like every other storefront is a tailor shop offering customized suits, dresses, and even shoes. Give 'em a picture, you can have one like it in your size tomorrow! They also make Chinese silk lanterns several places here, and many businesses hang them in their storefronts along the water. At night, it makes for a spectacular sight.
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

Last Day in Nha Trang and the Night Bus to Hoi An

So our last day in Nha Trang, we took off on foot (all the locals look at us like we're nuts for walking everywhere) for the Cham Towers of Po Nagar, which are about 2 miles outside of town. These terra cotta brick towers are a religious site of the Cham people which were built around the 10th century and are still used for worship today. On the way, we passed the finish of the Nha Trang half-marathon (who knew?) and walked through the residential and commercial districts of town, which were interesting to see just because of the dramatic range from scrap corrugated shacks to luxury homes. That's what we've seen pretty much everywhere so far, though. Anyway, after a slow, hot walk, we arrived at the towers, paid our admission fees, and walked up the steps to the site. At the entrance to the first tower was a sign with the dresscode for entry stating, no short pants. Now, Colin and I both know shorts are inappropriate temple wear, and yet, neither of us managed to think about it before we left the hotel wearing them. You will all be happy to know that we were respectful of the cultural norms (unlike a lot of other tourists) and limited our visit to the outsides of the towers. It is a beautiful and really peaceful place.
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

Next stop: Nha Trang

So after four days in Saigon, we took the bus north to Nha Trang,
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!

Days 3 and 4 in HCMC



Tuesday morning we went to Ben Thanh market to try to find some pants for Rebekah as she only has two pairs of pants for the next six months. This was a short trip, however, as the sellers in this market are very high pressure. Both Re and I ended up fleeing for the exit within 10 minutes. We then walked the 2+ miles back to the lunch lady's pho stand. We were a little nervous when we saw that the soup
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

Day 2 in Saigon


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

Our first day in Saigon

We arrived in HCMC (Saigon) last night after a long, hitchless trip. After breezing through immigrations and customs, we got a taxi to the hotel. The taxi ride was quite an introduction to the cacophony of Saigon; I realized I had Colin's hand in a death grip at some point during the trip and had to let go so he could regain circulation in his fingers. There are thousands of people riding scooters in packs, buses and cars trying to make their way through the scooters, and pedestrians with tremendous faith in some higher power walking slowly out into traffic. And... it was raining. At several times, the taxi driver took us into oncoming traffic when the roads narrowed due to construction, but it was okay, everybody else was doing it too... . I believe people are supposed to drive on the right (same as in the US), but that may just be the suggested practice!
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

Waiting to take off!

We are sitting in the Portland airport waiting to take off for
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
terror.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Utah, who knew? Part III







After the Salt Flats, we headed south to Bryce Canyon National Park to continue our hiking and camping. We again had a great time and were totally gobsmacked by the scenery. The hoodoos and the red rocks are truly breathtaking. We also did some hiking, which was also breathtaking as the rim of the canyon is at about 8000 feet above sea level. The air is pretty thin and we were gasping for air at a couple of points on the ascents back up to the rim. The camping was a little chilly as well, due to the altitude. While the nighttime lows in Moab were in the 80s, the lows in Bryce were in the mid 40s!

Utah, who knew? Part II







After our quick trip home to stock up on supplies, we headed back to Utah via the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was the beginning of the Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials week! I have wanted to compete at the Speed Trials for the past several years and thought it would be a good chance to see what I might be in for. We had a blast walking around the pits and seeing the variety of bikes and competitors. The Salt Flats are an eerie sight that we recommend to eveyone, it truly is an otherwordly experience.

Utah, who knew?

On our way back from St. Louis, we decided to stop and do some camping and sightseeing in Moab, Utah.  We went to Arches National Park and couldn't believe how spectacular the scenery was.  We also got to do some great hiking and took some pictures, as well.  The only bummer about Moab was our trip to the local microbrewery, while the food was delicious we did encounter Utah's archaic liquor laws.  Even microbrews have to be 3.2 ABV...  I had a couple of delicious Porters, but they may as well have been root beers.  Sad.  But all in all we had such a good time that we decided to make a quick dash home and get some more appropriate camping gear (and some beer in the cooler). 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

St Louis, MO


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

Boog's Legacy


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....

Bojangles

Tuesday we went up to Raleigh to see some friends and do some more
shopping for our trip. But of course we had to stop at Bojangles for
the best fried chicken dinner around! Quarter white, dirty rice,
biscuit and tea. Yum!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Atlantic




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

Well, with one week remaining, I've already had to say goodbye to several friends at work. Although I am REALLY excited about our upcoming adventures, I am going to miss a lot of people I've worked with. We will celebrate my last work day, the 31st of July, with a department potluck - YUM (any excuse to eat, right?).

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

More preparartions

Re and I went to Portland last weekend to shop for more travel stuff. The REI staff is starting to know our names by now. Originally, we were going to get backpacks for the trip but since we will largely be using our packs to travel from one place to another (as opposed to living with them on our backs) we decided instead to go with travel packs. We got Eagle Creek "Thrive" packs, 75l for RE and 90l for me. They seem pretty slick and fit comfortably, the nice feature is that the straps can be zipped behind a panel when we aren't wearing them. We will see how they do on the road, hopefully we like them as well six months from now. We have also sent off for our Vietnamese visas and are awiting their return. We also wen't to Powell's and bought a couple new guidebooks and a map to Thailand, so we have been busy reading and planning for later in the trip.

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

Three more weeks of work to go...

Only three more weeks of work until my last day at the DA's office here. It was hard to give my notice (again) and realize that I'll be leaving some really great people behind. I work with a good bunch of people and I will really miss seeing many of them everyday. Re and I have lived kind of a nomadic life for the past 10 years or so and the hardest thing about it is leaving friends behind. Hopefully many of them can keep in touch with us through this blog for the next several months as we go a roving.

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

Our working itinerary so far...

So, our working itinerary so far is...

October

November

Mid-November

End of January

Mid-February

End of March

Monday, June 8, 2009

It's becoming real...

This trip is becoming more real with each passing day. We just made airline reservations for Portland to Ho Chi Minh City. October seems like a long way away, but there is so much to do between then and now. Visas, backpacks, and vaccinations, oh my!