Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Dalat is a mountain village that was built by the French as a sort of vacation spot for the French occupationalist soldiers. It definitely has a french appeal with little chateaus and french architectural buildings everywhere. We decided to book a city tour here and covered the sites in one day. We went to a world famous meditation temple overlooking a very picturesque valley. From there we went to the old King's mountain cottage, which again looked more like some kind a pad straight out of the 60s. It was built in the 1930s, and our guide reminded us that when it was built the Vietnamese people were starving in the street. Also interesting is that the royal family left in 1946 and none of them have return, choosing instead to live in Paris.
After lunch we went to a hill tribe village where we met the chief. He spoke to us in incomprehensible English, and shared his stash of village hooch. Sarah wouldn't drink it because we were sharing the same straw, but it tasted pretty good, like a sweet after dinner wine.
From there we took the day bus to Nhe Trang, which took 6 hours to cover 200 kilometers. Also on this trip and in Dalat we met an Australian guy and his Taiwanese girlfriend--Cameron and Sherry. Cameron had been living in Taiwan for 2 1/2 years and was pretty fluent in Chinese, both reading and speaking, a fact that Sarah and I found fascinating--it's a pretty difficult language for westerners, the tones make it tricky.
The highlight of Nhe Trang was the mud bath and spa. We spent the day first soaking in some kind of mineral mud then bathing in natural spring water--it was very relaxing.
The next day we went on a four island cruise which was completely forgettable except when the ship guys sang us all songs. They sang a song for each nationality that was present on the boat. They didn't know an American song so they decided on one from the Beatles. They said "England and USA are same same". Also, on the one beach we went to we saw this extremely drunk English guy have a fight with a beach chair--the chair won. We caught up with the guy later and it looked like he had been canned across the back, he was also unable to walk straight, but the Vietnamese guides seemed to be taking care of him.
We flew from Nhe Trang to Hanoi due to typhoons and typhoon activity on the central coast. Cameron and Sherry were on our plane which was pretty cool and we ended up traveling with them for about two weeks altogether. We also found out that while in Nhe Trang, Cameron had been robbed. Someone took about USD$500 from out of his bag in his hotel room. He filed a police report, but the police seemed more interested in pinning the whole thing on Sherry and this made her very upset! They were very happy to get on the plane to Ha Noi.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The countryside looked pretty much the same after crossing the boarder into Vietnam except that most people that we saw really were wearing conical hats! Just like you see in the movies!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
There are also several areas that have been overtaken by the surrounding jungle. The trees have taken root on the walls of the temples and are pretty impressive themselves.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
We were staying in the 'tourist ghetto' in Phnom Penh so there were lots of hotels, restaurants and touts around. There were all these guys asking us if we wanted to buy pot, opium, heroin and just about anything else you could think of. Of course, we said no and went into a restaurant.
So, Sean orders a pizza and the waiter asks if he wants the happy pizza. We spent awhile trying to figure out what that was and eventually Sean just decides that whatever it is, he'll try it. Well, just about then, I remembered that another place that we had been in offered happy shakes. What are the chances that two places are going to serve something called happy? That's when I figured out that the happy part of the pizza wasn't going to be oregano! Sean quickly changed his order. Good thing too because we later heard about some tourists having unpleasant experiences with drugs in Cambodia.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
We went to the hotel that he suggested first. We walked into the 'lobby' which was really a bar full of half clothed girls. Fortunately, there was only one room so we figured that we'd let him have it and leave. But noooo! He didn't want to split up. We looked at several other hotel/brothels before insisting that we go over to the part of town that we wanted to go to in the first place.
We ended up on the lake and there were plenty of little guesthouses and restaurants all around- plenty to choose from. Jean Michel (yup, really his name) was all freaked out because some of the streets were a little dark. I pointed out that there were lots of families with their young children hanging out and eating and they all looked very relaxed. I figured that if it was safe enough for the locals to have their kids there, then it was fine. He said he didn't want families, he wanted women! We told him he could go back to the other side of town! What a perv!
Sarah is being nice about this guy. He was sickening. The girls in these brothels looked about 16 years old, and he was hitting on them and asking if they were going to be the lucky ones spending the night with him.
We spent the next afternoon checking out the city. We visited the Royal Palace and the National Museum. They both housed some pretty impressive artifacts but the real treasure here is the people. Everyone is amazingly nice and helpful. Cambodia went through some very tragic and bloody times in the late 1970's at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. A lot of people were killed and tortured but they've really managed to overcome it. This is one of the friendliest countries that we've ever been in despite also being one of the poorest. We are really enjoying ourselves here and would recommend it to any of you.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
What we didn't realize when we booked is that it's a hotel that caters primarily to the gay community! We really should have realized this after looking at their website but for some reason it just didn't click.
It actually turned out to be the best place for us! After the leers in India, we're very happy to be in a place where I could walk ad naked if I wanted to and no one would care. Not only that but it's everything that India is not- clean, quiet and we can eat all the fruit and dairy we want without fear of explosive diarrhea!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Our guidebook and the people we have talked to said that the train takes 8 hours to get from Gaya to Calcutta and our plane leaves at noon. We had a buffer of about 5 hours from the time the train was supposed to arrive in Calcutta, 7am, and the time our plane left, noon. That time has evaporated.
The train arrives at 2 am, and leaves at 2:15, three hours late. Our book also states that it takes between 1 and 2 hours to cross Calcutta to get to the airport. We have resigned ourselves that we are going to miss our flight. Which brings another problem, we have already paid for a connecting flight in Bangkok to Phuket at 9pm. So we think we are going to have to pay for another Bangkok flight, and hope that we still make our next flight.
After a sleepless night on the train we pull into the Calcutta station at exactly 10:30 am, 3 hours and 15 minutes late. We run through the station and find a taxi driver on the other side and ask him how much to the airport, he states 350 rupees, about 3 times the rate, I state, "Fine, but hurry we are late for our flight." He quickly runs us to his car, and takes off as fast as his old, clunky Ambassador taxi can take us. We fly across town, almost running over three people, two cows, a herd of goats, and a near head on collision with a bus. We arrive at the airport at 11:20. I hand the driver a 500 rupee note and ask for change, as a true Indian, he states, holding the note, "tip for fast driving" with a big grin. Whatever!
We dash through the airport, the airline manager quickly prints out our ticket. They waive us through to the front of the line for Immigration, and the customs Inspector shows us the escalator to our departure gate, with out even glancing at our bags. After a half-assed security check we are standing at our gate at 11:35, just before pre-boarding, wondering how in the hell we made it...
Good Bye India! Hello Thailand!
Monday, October 22, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The other odd thing is how affectionate the men are with one another. Sean and I think that this is because they can't show any affection towards women in public (or anywhere else for that matter). There are no girlfriends- a woman is either your sister or your wife. They literally hang all over one another, hold hands, hang on to one another's butts when on motorcycles, etc. Everything that a guy would normally do with his girlfriend, they do with one another. Except kiss- they don't do that. Very different from the Western world.
As terrible as the Indian men are the Indian women are totally the opposite. Every single one that we've met has been very helpful, nice and immaculately clean (something they should really teach the men how to do). It amazes me that they can keep their beautiful saris clean in all of the dust and grime but they do. Plus their hair and makeup are always perfect and they nearly all wear beautiful jewelry. It's a pretty stark contrast.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Last night Sean and the guys from the trek decided that they wanted to go see a Thai boxing fight. None of the girls wanted to go...
we went shopping instead! We all shared a tuk tuk over to the area where the match was to take place and were greeted by several Thai girls in short skirts and low cut tops. The girls were all a little put off by this until we realized that they were actually all men! The famous 'lady boys' of Thailand. The guys all stood around looking scared of the lady boys for awhile before relaxing and heading into the fight.
OK we weren't actually scared...it's just strange because you are told that you are going to a boxing match and you are greeted by men dressed up like women...we kept asking them "Fighting, right" "we want to see thai boxing" but everything was cool. They were really nice and even sat us by a table in front of their bar/dressing area which was well...interesting. The picture here was taken after we gave a donation for one of the "girls" to have her "operation".
Sunday, September 23, 2007
We are loving Thailand! The people here are really friendly and the landscape and food are fantastic. Our first day in Chiang Mai we checked out a couple of wats, rode in tuk tuks and looked at a couple of tours. We ended up booking a trek in the mountains to visit a hill tribe.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
We found a Tex-Mex restaurant listed in our guide and just couldn't resist going there for lunch. The inside was actually really great- felt like home. The food on the other hand... Hopefully, we won't have to break out the Imodium after this.
Today, we went to go see the giant Buddha. It's crazy tall (230 feet) and carved into the face of a cliff. This monk, hundreds of years ago decided to carve out the Buddha to pacify the river because people kept drowning in it. Amazingly, it worked and the river has been much calmer ever since. Of course, this also could have been because they threw tons of rock into the river after carving out the Buddha, but who are we to question?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Way back in 300 bc, China was divided into 7 warring states and this guy Qin (pronounced Chin) was put on the throne of his empire when he was 13. For 20 years he fought and conquered the other states and unified China for the first time. Right after being named Emporer Qin worked for the next 20 years on public works projects, like roads and aqueducts, but he also started building his Tomb. The area took another 30 years to complete, and he was put in 2 years after his death, and all the artisans, and workers who saw the final product were buried alive so that they could not betray its secrets. The actual tomb has never been excavated and is now just a giant (125 foot high) mound. His actual tomb is said to be encased with gold, jade and silver, but is surrounded by a river of mercury. Therefore if you opened it the mercury would poison and kill everything in the area.
Now the Terra-Cotta warriors. In 1976, a farmer was digging a well about 1 KM east of Qin's tomb and he uncovered a life sized warrior made out of Terra-cotta, or pottery. He gave it to the local museum and thousands of Archaeologists came to the area and started excavating. They have uncovered three rooms so far. An officers, or command area of about 1,200 warriors, a sacrificial area of about 70, and a vanguard force area of about 6,000. Two schools of thought here, one is that the warriors are to protect Qin in the afterlife from the people he had killed, the other is that he thought that this way he could lead his army in death as he did in life--the guy was a total megalomaniac. All the warriors are carved in meticoulious detail, every chink of armor, every shoe, even down to their faces--no two faces or soldiers heights are exactly the same. They say that they are representations of Qin's actal army.
Now as for the tour--our guides name was Lucky and she was a drill Sergeant. "You have 4-minutes rest, then I tell story!" "You wait 15 minutes more, then toilet break!" "Everyone go to toilet now!" Then she look at you with these huge eyes, very tensely. She even told us about a famous sculpture of one of China's emperors, in a chariot behind 6 "exquisitely" hand carved horses, but "two of the horses are not in China, they are in AMERICA!" then she glared at Sarah and I for like a full minute. Everyone else in the tour were Europeans, and they (just jokingly) started giving us a hard time. Finally I said that we didn't have them at our house.
On the way back from visiting the warriors, Lucky told us that we would be taking a tour of a silk factory. Well, we really didn't want to have a bunch of people try to sell us silk for 30 minutes so Sean started asking the other people on the tour with us if they wanted to go. Everyone said no. So, we nominated a spokesperson, the Canadian guy behind us, to broach the subject with Lucky. She totally didn't understand why we wouldn't want to go! After about 10 minutes of everyone saying that they didn't want to go, she finally told us that if they brought tourists to the factory, they would get a coupon for free gas. We could identify with the free gas and thus the coup was quashed!
On the way back Lucky told us that we had a forty minute drive back to the hostel and so in that time "EVERYONE" (full eye-glare) will sing a song. Nobody wanted to sing. She first told the Canadians that they had to sing and they argued for a really long time, then finally they sang their national anthem O'Canada. Everyone else did the same, the germans, the dutch and the swedes...again we refused...we really got a glare, but Lucky decided to let us go without singing. I believe this was so that she could sing two or three chinese opera songs...oh Lucky.
One last thing--I am not sure if any of you now this, but I am a Spaniard. According to the Chinese, all Americans have either light hair or light eyes--so, since I have dark hair and dark eyes I must be from Spain. I have had three vendors, in the street markets mind you, come up to me and speak Spanish. Very weird!