Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Travels: Saigon & Mui Ne, Vietnam

Vietnam was the country that I was the most excited for before we began our journey. Unfortunately, it was the biggest disappointment of our trip.
After the warm and friendly people of Cambodia and Laos we felt harassed and bullied by taxi drivers, street hawkers and hotel staff upon our arrival in HCMC (Saigon).
The traffic in Saigon was crazy and overwhelming, but also really amazing (for the first hour anyways). Crossing the road there required you to just walk out into a sea of moving motorbikes, who just parted, and flowed around you. It was terrifying but also really cool.
We took a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, a place where communist soldiers lived during the war. It was shocking to hear all of the comments about "crazy devil evil Americans" or the communist fighters who won special awards for killing the most Americans. I quickly realized that we would only be getting one side of the story! Interestingly enough, the Southern Vietnamese who fought alongside the Americans were not mentioned.
After leaving Saigon we went to Mui Ne, famed for it's beach and sand dunes. After a run-in with an extremely rude hotel/restaurant worker, we settled into a decent room and went out to erplore the town. The beach was not great ... at all, but the sand dunes were awesome. We went on a tour to the Fairy Stream, a fishing village and the red sand dunes. Well worth the time, money and the trip to Mui Ne.
From Mui Ne we took our first sleeper bus ... and that's when we really started to regret our decision to visit Vietnam.
To be continued ... I have a flight to catch!

Travels: Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

After an amazing time in Siem Reap we went to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Pehn.
Bigger, louder, dirtier and more confusing than Siem Reap, but still full of really lovely people.
We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. Both very upsetting, but informative and important to understanding Cambodia's recent history. They gave me a better understanding of the atrocities suffered, and of the amazing growth that has been made since the genocide occurred.
After 2 nights in Phnom Pehn we were ready for our next destination - Vietnam!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Travels: Internet Issues

Sometimes I cannot wait to get home ... for the decent internet connection!

I have tried uploading photos to facebook, blogger and emails so many times, wasted countless hours, and have not managed to have any luck doing so in weeks. I'm getting very frustrated.

Now, I am in Vietnam, and Facebook seems to be blocked.
It was working in Saigon, the southern part of the country, but now in Mui Ne I am having no luck. Even proxy sites aren't working. Very frustrating.
Any tips on getting around this?

Things are still going well, but not being able to stay in touch with friends and family is very frustrating. At least I have more time for blogging...

On the menu for today: A bus ride from Mui Ne to Nha Trang (5 hours) and then immediately get on a bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An (11 hours). It's not going to be a fun day!

Oh- and my bug bite allergy has returned (it was suprisingly dormant in Laos and Cambodia). Usually my huge swollen bites only get bad around my ankles and lower legs, but I woke up last night realizing my biggest fear since I discovered this allergy to southeast asian mosquitos - facial bites!
Thats right, 2 big bites on the left side of my forehead, and one where my right eyebrow stops. They hurt, and I look like a monster. So far no pus, but they are soooo swollen. My corticosteriod cream + allergy meds regime isn't working. Cross your fingers for me.
The only positive? They are better than Botox - I've tried wrinkling my forehead, and no luck. Yay for the anti-aging properties of giagantic allergic reactions!
Clearly I am not a happy camper today.

More updates from Hoi An ... I need to go ice my face.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Travels: Siem Reap, Cambodia

We left Southern Laos bright and early in the morning, and were ferried to the mainland. After an hour and a half wait for our bus to show up we boarded to find that all of the large reclining seats were full and we were stuck in small seats at the back of the bus.
We quickly arrived at the Laos/Cambodia border, and were in for an interesting experience. There was a "stamping fee", and fee to pass the health check, and an inflated visa processing fee. After being scammed and ripped off for an hour we were back on the bus, on our way into Cambodia.
We were supposed to arrive in Siem Reap at 9pm .. making it a 13 hour bus ride. We arrived at 1am. 17 hours. Worst bus ride ever!
We then set out to find a room, checking at 4 guest houses before finding one with available rooms. By 2am we were settled and ready for some sleep.

The next morning we woke up, and after a nice breakfast decided to head to the temples of Angkor. After buying the $40 pass we were ready to go!

On our first day we saw the complex of Angkor Thom, and we very impressed.

Our second day included sunrise at Angkor Wat, a midday break by our pool, then Ta Phrom (filming location of Tomb Raider) and a few other tmeples in the afternoon.

On the third day we made the best decision of our trip, visiting Beng Mealea, a temple about 75km from Siem Reap. It was described as the "big sister" to Ta Phrom, and it did not disappoint. It was set out in the jungle, and was totally overgrown with trees and vines, and falling apart. The guide led us through the crumbling ruins, and it was actually strenuous to climb over the fallen stones. It was one of my favourite parts of our trip so far. So so cool!

The temples near Siem Reap were incredible, and I'd love to return someday. Another great part of the city is the food. We ate really well in Siem Reap. One of the really cool things was that many of the restaurants we visited were in place to fund charities for disadvantaged families, people with disabilities, and children involved in street begging. Good food and good causes - a win-win!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Travels: Southern Laos

We decided to spend our first day in the Si Phan Don (4000 Island) area of southern Laos on Don Khong, the "city" island. Lonely Planet introduced it as being laid back. That is the understatement of the year.
The island was almost too quiet. The only activity was sitting at a restaurant and enjoying the gorgeous view. We decided that we were looking for a bit more adventure so decided to rent a motor bike for the day. Luckily George had a bike in Korea, so I trusted him on the near empty roads of Don Khong!
We drove around for a few hours, enjoying the views of palm trees, fields, small villages, cows and water buffalos.
Unfortunately I suffered yet another accident, and badly burnt the inside of my calf on the boiling hot exhaust pipe when getting off the bike at one of our spots. It's still healing - almost 2 weeks later!
Upon trying to find internet we ended up at an internet cafe - which turned out to be in a family's living room.

Finding things a little too relaxed, we took a boat the next day to the more lively islands of Don Det and Don Khon which are further south.
We stayed for 3 nights on Don Det and really enjoyed our time there.
Although it was also quite low-key, there were great biking trails criss-crossing both islands, many restaurants and convenience stores, and even a few internet cafes that weren't in anyone's living room. Overall, just more convenient for tourists.

In our time there we rode bikes around the islands, stopping at a waterfall, and swimming with some locals, sampled some good food, sat on hammocks drinking Beer Laos and floated around the islands on inner tubes.
I also spent some time nursing my 2nd degree burn from the stupid motorbike. By day 2 the whole area turned black and I had some nasty scabbing, bistering and peeling. Attempts to put gauze over top to protect from the dusty streets and bike chain just made things worse!

We finally decided to tear ourselves away from Southern Laos in order to go to Cambodia, but it wasn't easy.

Our 2 weeks in Laos were amazing, much in part to the warm and friendly people there. I would reccommend it to anyone, and I would love to go back someday!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I've been bad at keeping my blog up to date lately - sorry!

Updates to come on Southern Laos and Cambodia soon.

Tomorrow we head to Vietnam ... and apparently Facebook is blocked there - on no!

Hopefully I'll be able to access Blogger ... but if not I'll be back at it by May 8th :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Travels: Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos. Although it's beautiful, there isn't a whole lot to do!
We arrived with our friends Kailey and Ethan mid-day, and after finding all guesthouses to be dirty and overpriced, we decided to treat ourselves for the night and checked into a new hotel ... for the low price of $20 (not exactly fitting our budget, but in comparison to home, a really good price).
On our first evening we went to Patouxai, Vientiane's version of the Arc de Triomphe and walked around the surrounding park.
The next day we took a local bus (hot, sweaty and crowded) out to Buddha Park. The park was smaller than I expected, but had some neat statues, mixing Hinduism and Buddhism. Not sure if it was worth the long trip, but there wasn't much else to do in Vientiane.

That night we said goodbye to our awesome travels buddies and boarded a sleeper bus (a bus with twin beds instead of seats) to Southern Laos.

For me the highlight of Vientiane was the food. It was especially welcome after Vang Vieng, where I don't think we had any quality meals! There wasn't a lot to do, but it was a relaxing place with a nice, laid back vibe, and I enjoyed our short visit.