We haven't had time to edit our photos, so you're getting ALL of our pics- good, bad and ugly.

If you'd like to download any of our photos, you should be able to get them from flickr.com You'll have to create an account though, if you don't have one already. (Let us know if that link does not take you directly to our photos)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Introduction to Ha Noi

We ended up flying directly from Nha Trang to Ha Noi because the entire central coast of Vietnam was flooded thanks to a couple of back to back typhoons. It was really too bad because we'd heard that that area of the country is really beautiful... and also has some great shopping! Too bad...

We ran into a couple from Australia/Taiwan in Da Lat and have kind of been traveling with them ever since. Not on purpose exactly, we just happen to be traveling the same route that we are. It's kind of nice to have a couple of travel buddies for awhile and we all ended up on the same flight to Ha Noi. We all checked into the same hotel in Ha Noi and after walking around for awhile, we went to see the water puppet show.

This show was really cool- nothing lame like we expected. The stage was a small pond and the puppet masters all worked from behind a curtain. I guess they must have worn wetsuits because the curtained off area was still about four feet underwater. They controlled the puppets with long sticks so that that danced and moved along the water's surface. There were people, fish, water buffalo, dogs and all kinds of other puppets all interacting with one another. It was all accompanied with traditional music and song- although we couldn't understand anything that they were saying.

The next day we wanted to go visit Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum but he was in Moscow for a cleaning so we went to the ethnography museum instead. We were able to see the crafts produced by and the types of housing used by all the different ethnic groups in Vietnam. There are lots of different types of tribes so we ended up spending pretty much the entire day there.

That evening, we went shopping and I filled up the rest of the space that we available in our extra suitcase :) Sean is just loving this!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dalat & Nhe Trang

We we rounded off our tour of Southern 'Nam with the two villages of Nhe Trang and Dalat.

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

The Mekong Delta

We couldn't visit Vietnam without taking a trip down the Mekong so we headed South from Saigon. We booked a tour and ended up seeing several people from our Cu Chi tunnels tour which was kind of fun. It took about two hours to drive the 75km from Saigon to the delta- fantastic roads! It was ok though because our guide was really entertaining. He told us all kinds of stories including one that was a bit disturbing...

When he was about 8 year old, the stream that ran in front of his house turned red. He walked upstream to investigate and found a dead American soldier laying in the water which was red with blood. He reached inside the soldier's pocket and took his lighter which had been engraved with hateful phrases about Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. He still has the lighter today.
Once we arrived at the Mekong, we boarded a small boat which took across the wide part of the river and into some of the canals that snake off into the delta. From there we made two stops. The first was at a village that makes coconut candy. They showed us how they crack open the coconuts and then grind up the meat. They then boiled it down into a thick paste. This is pounded and cooled into little strips of chewy candy. It was delicious and of course we bought some!

Next we rode bicycles down little paths through the jungle, passing through a couple of villages along the way. We ended in a village that raised honey bees. We had a delicious green tea with honey. They also had a huge boa constrictor for some reason so of course Sean wrapped him around his shoulders.

The next stop was lunch, which was supposed to be included but instead they handed us a bunch of menus with really high prices. Some people ordered entrees but others (us included) kept asking about the free lunch. Turns out they were keeping that hidden until after we ordered! Scams, scams everywhere! One guy had ordered a snake which he said was pretty good. When they brought it out they mentioned that it was 170 grams. Why would they mention that? Well, when it came time to pay they said the already high price on the menu was for 150 grams so he had to pay more!

After lunch we got into these little canoes and paddled downstream where a feast of fruit was laid out. We ate all we could while listening to traditional Vietnamese music.

We boarded our boat again and headed back to the river bank. After another two hours in the van, we were back in the hectic center of Saigon. Fantastic day- and all for $8 each!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cu Chi Tunnels

Our second day in Saigon we spent on a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels. These were a series of 250 miles of under ground tunnels built by the vietcong during the war. Absolutely amazing, they had kitchens, wells, traps, air holes, all in these hand dug tunnels. They were also so small. They did this on purpose, of course, because they are much smaller than us. They had a sample hidden entrance set us and I couldn't fit inside, not past my shoulders. A Swiss guy tried it and got in, but the park ranger started yelling at him so he got out. Seems a poisonous snake got into the tunnel the day before and they weren't sure if he had come out yet.

Before the tour they showed us a film about the tunnels and the war in general. They showed the villagers working in the rice fields during the day, then planting mines and traps for the Americans during the course of their field work, "just doing his part for independence." Showed women with AK-47s fighting along side the men. We would start bombing and they would run and hide in the tunnels, setting traps that they made for our patrols. I don't know... it was really hard to stomach being the bad guys.

Near the end they had a wider entrance leading down into the tunnels for tourists. Is was so claustrophobic in there. I had to duck walk with my chest down at my knees and my back still scraped the ceiling, and we only went 20 yards, those guys lived down there for weeks at a time.

At the end of the tour they had a shooting range where you could shoot an AK-47 or M-16. We decided to pass, but the shooting in the background during the tour did add to the experience. When someone was really going at it our guide would hold up his hands and yell, "Don't shoot, I'm not an American." Our guide was also really lame because he spent the night before drinking until 4 am. When we would reach an area he would tell us to just listen to the guy in front of us. We finally yelled at him so he went back and covered a few spots that we had missed and then actually started doing his job.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day in Saigon

We began our time in Vietnam with a visit to the war museum where we learned just how much the US sucked while we had troops in Vietnam. The museum went remarkably easy on the US invaders though you could still tell how much pain we caused the people here. Nearly all of the photos were from US and other non-Vietnamese journalists as were the articles. They did a great job of remaining pretty impartial.

Then we went to the section that detailed the results of using Agent Orange and other types of chemical warfare. It was disturbing and I truly cannot believe that our country did that. But we did.
Seriously, the whole time we were thinking, "what in the hell were we doing here?" It was really heart wrenching, pictures of hospitals and schools that were bombed, children and infants, dead, scarred, disfigured from Napalm, agent orange, other types of bombs, like a nail bomb that explodes thousands of nails everywhere, which were dropped in schools...what the hell???

From there we went to Independence Palace. This was the presidential palace during the war; also it was where the American Generals fought the war. The original was bombed by the French in the 1950s and this one was built in 1962. It hasn't been touched since the fall of Saigon in 1975. It is straight out of the 60s. I kept waiting for Austin Powers to jump out from behind a couch, "goovy baby, yeah!" They even had a rumpus room!
At the end of the tour we watched a film about the palace and the war. One of the guys being interviewed was a Vietcong spy during the war and actually infiltrated the south Vietnamese president's inner circle and was a ranking advisor. He was found out in 1969 and sent to life in prison. He said that after he was sentenced the president told him, that he was sad to see him go and he still trusted the spy more that the Americans.

The video also kept referring to the 'American Imperialist Invaders'. It was really interesting to hear about the war from the Vietnamese perspective and see some of their footage. The people here really love Ho Chi Minh (the pro-communism president during the war) and even renamed Saigon after him once the war was over.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

From Cambodia to Vietnam

We spent one very depressing day in Phnom Penh on our way from Siem Reap to Vietnam. We visited the killing fields and the prison used by the Khmer Rouge to torture and kill anyone who opposed them. It was very much like visiting the concentration camps. Terrible but we are glad that we went and learned a little more about what went on here during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The next morning we got on a bus headed for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (formerly Saigon). It takes forever to go even a short distance here because the roads are in such poor condition. Also, the drivers here are insane so they're always cutting each other off and swerving in and out of traffic- I think this slows things down more than speeds them up. Anyway, we spent the next 7-8 hours on the bus. We did get to see some beautiful scenery though.

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!

We got off of the bus and quickly settled into a hotel. Then we set off in search of pho- the national dish. It's a brothy noodle soup that you can get with beef, chicken or just veggies. They also give you a plate of sprouts, lime, onion, etc. that you can add to your soup along with a variety of sauces. The Vietnamese eat this all day long and we can see why- it's delicious! We've already eaten it at least a dozen times.
Tomorrow, we're up for another depressing day as we're visiting the war museum...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Mother of All Wats

Well we made the pilgrimage and saw it. The largest temple complex in the world. What's that Notre Dame Cathedral, Vatican City, you say? They got nothing on Angkor Wat. In Khmer it means Great Temple and boy is it. We spent three days seeing it and probably only saw about 40% of the temples...for some reason Sarah didn't want to see the ones with mines around them...go figure.

We saw the main one which is Angkor Wat, the actual temple built and added onto between 800 and 1200 AD. The whole temple complex is staggering in its size as well as its intricately carved stone works.

Next was Angkor Thom, which means Great City (yeah not creative with the names). This was where the Capital city, King's palace and plazas and that sort of things were. We then went to three of the larger temples in the area.

Some interesting sights within the temples:

In Angkor Thom there is a temple called Bayon and all the surrounding towers are covered with carved faces of the King all with this little smile like he knows something you don't know. The King was Jayavarman VII, and he was the guy who built the most during this period.

In the same area there is also a plaza dedicated to a King who they think suffered from Leprosy.

The French began restoring one of the largest of the temples in the city in the 60s, which involved taking it completely apart so that they could fix some of the broken pieces, etc. Then the civil war broke out and the Khmer Rouge reigned. Another one of the brilliant moves on the Khmer Rouge's part, was to destroy the plans for the temple- so now no one really knows how to put this building back together. They're figuring out the world's largest jigsaw puzzle then by looking at the one wall that hadn't been taken apart. By looking at that wall and studying other surrounding buildings, they've been able to work out how to put this thing back together again...for the most part.

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.

While we were in Siem Reap, Sarah got pretty sick. The hotel we were staying in everyone was really nice and helpful. They made us never ending tea and took great care of us. Of course, we were eating all of our meals in their restaurant, which I'm sure they didn't mid at all.
Also, we hired a Tuk Tuk driver to take us to all the temples for each day and the guy only charged us $10 a day (his price) and took us all over, and he was really nice as well. They Cambodian people were fantastic!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Happy Pizza, Anyone?

Well, Sean almost got drugged in Cambodia.

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

The French Man in Cambodia

We flew from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as soon as we got our bags this French guy came up to us. He told us that he was American and was really happy to hook up with other Americans even though he had this very strong French accent. Whatever. He was really paranoid about being in Cambodia and wanted to share a cab with us to the touristy part of the city. We didn't really care so we said ok. He said that he had done some research on the best part of the city to stay in and we hadn't so we went where he wanted to go. On the way there, he mentioned something about doing searches for the red light district and prostitutes to find his hotel... we thought he was joking. He wasn't.

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

Gay Thailand

We decided to splurge on a hotel in Phuket. We felt like we needed a vacation from our vacation after three weeks in India so we started looking for a place. We ended up booking a room at CC Bloom's in Karon which is right next to Phuket. It's absolutely beautiful and we love it!

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

Escape from India

We are standing on the Train platform in Gaya India at 1:00 in the morning, our train was supposed to leave at 11:15. It is dark, there are about 50 Indian men standing around us staring. The entire place smells like urine and feces, because in an Indian train station you just let your bladder go right there on the tracks.

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

Holy Shit!...and Cities

For our last stops in India we went to two very different holy cities. The first was Varanassi, the holy city of the Ganges. Hindus are expected to make a pilgrimage here at least once in their lives as to them the river is a living god. The other city was Bodhgaya. The MOST important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Here is where the prince Siddhartha found enlightenment under the bodhi tree and became the Buddha (or the enlightened one).

Varanassi was very beautiful, but absolutely disgusting at the same time. As soon as you leave the train you are assaulted by taxi wallahs, and rickshaw drivers to go with them to a "good hotel" "very cheap". The setting of the town along the Ganges lined with 80 ghats, or spiritual temples along the river. However, under the surface are two big problems, pollution and the never ending Indian torture of listening to touts hound you every step with:





One Ruppee


Smoke, Smoke, Hash

Take a look

Nice Price for you

Want to see temple

Just to name a few...

We did go on a very nice boat ride down the Ganges at sunrise. We did not see any of the body burning ghats, or any dead people in the water. We did see plenty of Indians and a few westerners swimming in the toxic cesspool...I mean water of the river.

The highlight was meeting a fantastic Spanish couple, Milena and Danny. We really enjoyed their company, and we were able to keep a conversation in Spanish, so I guess we aren't as rusty as we thought.

Bodhgaya is very nice and much smaller city. It is very interesting because this is the homeland of Buddha and it is crawling with Buddhists from other countries. In fact, if you want to see what Buddhism looks like in other countries, you can do a tour of all the temples here, pretty cool. We stayed in the monastery of Butan. It was wonderfully quiet, devoid of touts and very simple. We just had two plain beds in our minimalistic room but it was still lovely. Especially after the hoopla of Varanassi.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Was I In A Porno?

I think that I must have been in a porno and every guy in India has seen it. I don't remember ever being a porn star though...

It's amazing how many guys will stare at me (and every other Western girl around). This isn't the curious stare of women and children or even the hard stare of the Chinese, this is a lustful, mouth half open kind of stare. It's disgusting! They form large groups to stare which isn't to say that they won't stare when they're alone- they do that too. We had a group of about 35 of them staring at us in the train station the other day. It seems to start from about the age of 12 and gets worse from there.

At least I haven't been groped. We met a Spanish girl who was traveling alone and she had already been groped three times! She slapped each of them and screamed at them but they still didn't seem to think that there was anything wrong with grabbing her. According to our driver, Anil, the majority of Indian men believe that Western women are either prostitutes or will sleep with anyone just for the heck of it. And that's how they treat us.

It's given me a bit of an inferiority complex because I really can't raise my eyes from the ground. An Indian woman will not hold the gaze of a man unless she is a prostitute- that's how the men tell the difference. Well, of course Western women don't automatically look away and often hold their gaze to mean "stop looking at me!". This is another reason that Western women are thought of as prostitutes. Anyway, I've missed quite a few interesting things now because I have to keep looking down (I guess I would have to anyway though since the streets are covered in cow shit). Sean keeps asking me if I noticed something and I never do because I was looking down!

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

The Roadways of India

So, we just spent the last 11 days driving around India and we've noticed a few things along the way...

The Driving
I think that Indians might be some of the most insane drivers that I've ever come across. Now, this could be skewed because we normally travel be train or bus rather than car so maybe I haven't taken proper notice before. Here's basically how it works: You can drive on any part of the road that you can fit in. That could be the shoulder, your lane, the lane of oncoming traffic or right down the center line. It really doesn't matter as long as you LAY on your horn for at least a full 30 seconds whenever someone else is in the road. I say someone else rather than another car because this could be anything- anything.
There is also a hierarchy here, on the bottom are pedestrians, they just need to beware. Next bycicles and rickshaws, who just try and weave thru traffic. Next motorcycles and auto-rickshaws, who weave in and out of traffic. Then cars, drivers drive with one hand on the horn and the other up their nose. Finally, the trucks and buses, just drive all over the rode and stop for one thing and one thing only...cows, who rule the road.

The Motorcycles
There are three types of groups that you might find on motorcycles here:
Just the man- this isn't really notable except that they all seem to have a death wish so are constantly swerving in from of cars with out signaling or anything.
The man and woman- this is kind of odd because the men always wear helmets and the women never do. Our driver, Anil says that this is because the men are required by law to wear helmets and the women are not. They tried to make the women wear helmets too, but they protested because it would mess up their hair and makeup so now only the men wear helmets. Weird huh?

The entire family- this one is hilarious if somewhat frightening. There can be up to 6 people on a motorcycle, kids included. I'm still not quite sure how they all fit... but they manage to pull it off somehow.

The Roadblocks
These are sponsored by the local mafia and supported by the local police. We would come to one every once in a while and they would say that it was some kind of tourist fee. Our driver would have to pay because the mafia gives half of their profits to the local police so you won't get anywhere by refusing. Ah, India!

The Wrecks
Despite the horrific driving, we saw relatively few wrecks- only about 20 or so. We would see all kinds of things wrecked on the side of the road- cars, trucks, tractors, cars, you name it! We did pass by one really bad one though. A lorry (large truck) carrying something that smelled like paint thinner, had overturned on the side of the road and fluids were running everywhere. It totally scorched my nose and we had to drive right by it, through the highly flammable liquids! Good thing none of us smoked. We stopped to tell the local police about it (the driver had run away long ago) any they said that they had already set up a barricade. Apparently, the police guarding the spill were worried about it blowing up too so they just took off!

Traffic Crossings
I must admit, the traffic crossings here are hilarious! I guess not traffic crossings really, just whatever wanders into the road. Cows, carts, camels, monkeys, motorcycles, grain trucks, trucks full of cow shit, you name it!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rajasthan Safari

As Sarah said in the last post we decided to book an 11 day tour thru India's northwest state of Rajasthan. The state is really diverse with the northern part being plains, west part desert, and southern part jungle. We started our tour in the capital city of Jaipur, also called the Pink City because all the buildings in the old city are painted pink, the Indian color for welcoming. As all city's in this state, it has a Palace, a fort, and some mosques. One cool thing was we got to ride an Elephant up to fort. However, I do not think these elephants were that well taken care of--they had some sores and rub marks.

After Jaipur, we drove to Jodhpur. This is the blue city, and it has a palace and city fort...but this fort was really cool, and the entrance ticket came with a very good audio guide. One thing about all the cities in Rajasthan was that they didn't really put up a fight...here is the story of every city: they are fierce people living in a fierce land, they fought the invading Mohguls (Muslims) in the 16th century but eventually made an agreement with them. The when the British came in the 18th century, they didn't fight just signed a "peace promise".

After Jodhpur, our driver insisted that we change our plans and go to a small little town called Ranakpur. It was a little relaxing town. Our driver says that he wants to someday build a hotel in this area. It is very green with a pretty lake and lots of monkeys hanging around. It also has a really cool temple, with crazy intricate designs carved all over it. It has something like 1,444 columns and no two of them is carved alike.

After Ranakpur we went to the romantic city of Udaipur. Voted to be one of the most romantic cities in India. This city has a palace in the center of the lake, which was actually used in the James Bond movie Octopussy. We ended our stay at a very nice restaurant, having a candle-lite dinner overlooking the palace and the lake.
From Udaipur we went to the dusty little town of Pushkar. This town also has a lake in the middle but it is said to be holy. The god Brama is said to have charmed his second wife there, dropping a lotus flower to earth, which became the lake. Brama's first wife Pavarti became angry and declared that Pushkar would be the only place where he would be worshipped and there is a beautiful temple there dedicated to him. Other than temples and holy places this town is also full of touts selling everything to scammers trying to get you to book camel safari tours. They did have a cheap Bazaar where Sarah bought some stuff. After Pushkar we went back to Jaipur where Sarah and I bought another hand made carpet for ourselves as well as one for Jeff and Debbie.

Last stop on our tour was Agra and the Taj Mahal. Agra is very dirty and the people are not so nice. This is such a stark contrast because the Taj Mahal is so beautiful, but the city it is in is soooo ugly. The Taj was absolutely one of the highlights--it was so much better than any photograph. The symmetry is so detailed that if you look at a block of marble on one side the block is the same size on the other three...I think it may be the closest thing to perfection that I have ever seen. In contrast, after the Taj, we went to the Agra Fort and it was a disaster. Half the fort was closed, and there were these roving gangs of teenage boys aggressively hounding and leering at Sarah for a picture of her. At one point a group of boys surrounded us, all yelling at us for a photo, I seriously thought we were going to be assaulted. I put Sarah behind me and started yelling at them, "Back the fuck off! No fucking photo!" Of course no security personnel came to our rescue and I thought I was going to have to bust out the old Army moves. Thankfully I think I scared them with my hulking frame : ) Too bad I've lost 25 lbs or I could have threatened to sit on them ;)
Tonight we say goodbye to Anil, our trusty driver and board the night bus to Varanasi. Hopefully we have better luck on our way to Calcutta.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Week in Kashmir

We booked a trip to Kashmir at the last minute without really realizing the controversy that has been going on there. Turns out that it's been a hotbed of political unrest for the past 50 years or so. We found this out later that evening and began to question our decision to visit the region.

But we went. The airport was a full on military zone and we had to go through several security checks and fill out several forms to gain entry. Well Sean had to fill out several forms, I was just his +1. Turns out that women don't count for much there so I didn't have to fill out anything and none of the men would talk to me or really acknowledge my presence while Sean was around. If I was alone they would talk to me only grudgingly.

We went from the airport to a beautiful houseboat where we were to stay. The guy who ran the boat immediately tried to gouge us on tour prices (treks, boat rides, etc) so we said that we'd think about it. Turns out that it didn't matter though because we both immediately got sick and couldn't leave the boat. We think it was probably that nasty street in Delhi. Anyway, I got better and after a course of antibiotics, Sean got better too. It was a nice place to be sick too, clean, beautiful and we had an endless supply of tea. Unfortunately, we made a terrible discovery after all that flushing... it was going straight into the lake!

Our final day in Kashmir, we were well enough to ride around the lake on a boat and buy a Kashmir rug. The next morning we boarded a plane back to Delhi.

One thing--we met a guy from New Zealand who was also staying on our houseboat. He went on a four day three night trek in the Himalayas. On the last night one of his group's pony-horses was killed and eaten by a Snow Leopard!!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Welcome to India

So we made it into India. We touched down in Calcutta for about an hour before securing a flight to Delhi. That was the quickest flight that I've ever purchased! We walked over to the domestic terminal (they're separate) and went around trying to figure out which airline was leaving in the next couple of hours. We found one that was leaving in about 30 minutes so we said ok and hauled ass through the airport. Of course, in typical India style, the girl at the airline counter ripped me off for about 400 rupees ($10). Anyway, we made it to the flight about 20 minutes after it was to have taken off... it didn't actually leave for another 30 minutes or so though so we were ok.

Once we got to Delhi we caught a cab (which tried to drop us off at his preferred hotel) and walked over to the backpacker area of town- Main Bazaar. Turns out that this is the armpit of Delhi. Disgusting! There were a ton of people shoving for space in the street along with quite a few cows which meant that you had to be especially careful where you stepped. The sights, sounds and smells were total overload.

We were quickly rounded up by a friendly tout who took us to his hotel, all the while lying about the prices. When we said we would stay, he doubled the price! We left. We ended up in one of the worst hotels I've ever stayed in...

That evening, we ran across a tour operator who actually seemed pretty decent. We decided to take his tour around Delhi to try him out and go from there. Our driver and the car were both fantastic! We had a good time checking out the city and decided to book the next leg of our trip with him. When we went back to book Western India, he somehow talked us into booking a tour to Kashmir...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Lamest Scam Ever

In Bangkok one of the scams you run into is when a tuk-tuk driver (a motorcycle taxi), picks you up for a cheap fare but takes you to a jewelry or tailor shop on the way "just to look" because the shop gives him a gas coupon. The shop then uses high pressure techniques to get you to buy.

We were only in Bangkok a few days, waiting for a flight to Calcutta, so we wanted to see some sights and do some shopping. On our last day we decided to see the National Palace. We find what we think is the entry way, but a few policemen were standing inside and told us to go around. One guy runs out and stops us. He tells us that it is Sunday and the Palace is open in the afternoon and it was only 11 am. He also tells us that he can get us a Tuk-Tuk for very cheap to show us a few of the temples. One is a large reclining gold Buddha that is only open on Sundays, and the other is on the largest hill in Bangkok and has a great view of the city. We agree and he waves down a Tuk Tuk and talks to the guy in Thai and tells us that the fee will be 40 Baht, which is like $1.25. We decided we'd do it because even if this was a scam, $1.25 is pretty cheap and they were sights that we wanted to see anyway.

After the first sight the driver asks us to go into a jewlery shop along the way, just for 5 min. We go into the shop and they have some nice stuff, like a sapphire neclace with diamond studs for $150. We didn't buy anything, but it was nice to look at. The driver then takes us to the temple overlooking the city and after we are finished our driver has disappeared...and we haven't even payed him. We looked around for him for a little while but couldn't find him anywhere. We take a taxi back to the palace and it cost us 40 baht anyway...so we don't understand what exactly happened? This must have been some sort of scam between the guy at the palace and the driver, but why? Are they that hard up for gas coupons? We were too tired to see the palace, but we will be back anyway after India.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What's a Wat?...You Monkey

Our second stop in Northern Thailand is a place called Ayutthaya (don't worry if you can't pronounce it, neither can we). The main attraction here are some 500-600 year old Wats. A Wat is a Southeast Asia Buddhist Temple. Generally it has a large steeple with what look like tires surrounding it. There are about 27 of these things around Ayutthaya, which are in very good condition. Sarah and I spent a very hot afternoon on a couple of bikes cruising to several Wats. We even saw one where a Buddha's head had been separated from its body and the roots from a tree had over grown everything but the head, which they seemed to cradle very mysteriously...just chance or is it the spirit of the Buddha?
For our second day in Ayutthaya, we decided to take a day trip to Lopburi. The main attraction here are a band of mischievous monkeys who hang out by another of these Wats in the middle of the downtown area. They were absolutely hi-larious. It is pretty funny when you walk down into the middle of just seemingly ordinary town and then a monkey comes angling toward you; turn the corner and suddenly there are like 1,000 monkeys; climbing into cars, over buildings, just making a general nuisance out of themselves--right there in the middle of town, downtown, two blocks from the train station; we even saw a monkey climbing into the back of a truck while stopped at a red light. I also bought a pack of sunflower seeds that they sell in the temple, which I fed to them, a baby monkey even started swinging on the leg of my shorts to try and get a few more seeds. We saw several other tourists trying to hide their food from the monkeys only to have the little buggers crawl all over them--on monkey even punched this German guy in the face!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sean & the Lady Boys

After the trek we were really looking forward to a nice massage. We opted for the Thai massage and we weren't disappointed, although it was very different from the kinds of massages that we're familiar with. They seriously climb right on you and stretch you out! It looks kinds strange but feels really good. They also do some of the more traditional things that we associate with massage. All for 150 Bhat an hour or about $4.50!

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...
The Thai boxing matches were really cool. There were 9 fights on the card and the main event was a Norwegian guy fighting the local champ and the Norwegian guy won! He even posed for picture with us. Right after we took this picture the guy literally collapsed from exhaustion.

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

Treking in Thailand

Well, we've totally gone off of the planned itinerary and ended up in Thailand! We were planning on being in Nepal or India around now but we couldn't get in from China. The India/China boarder is closed to travelers so the flights were super expensive...but the flights into Thailand were pretty cheap. So, here we are in Chiang Mai!

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.

The trek ended up being really cool. Our group was pretty big but everyone was really nice. We were the only Americans- everyone else was European. We started the trek by cramming into a truck with our new friends for an hour or so and driving out to the trail head. Our trek was gorgeous and we were able to see a beautiful waterfall, amazing views and hike through rice paddies. Good thing we got those Japanese Encephalitis shots too as we ended up hiking through the dreaded combination of pigs, standing water and rice fields. Guess that was money well spent!

We spent the night at the hill tribe village and our guide managed to make us a really nice meal in a little hut with no electricity! We spent the evening around the fire in the middle of nowhere. One of the villagers joined us and although he didn't speak any English, he was proficient in magic tricks which he used to entertain everyone in exchange for beer.

We woke up early the next morning and hiked for another hour or so before coming to a gorgeous waterfall. It was one of the largest I've ever been in and you could even step behind the water so that you were in a cave of sorts. We could have easily spent all day there.

Our next stop was on a river where we 'rafted' on bamboo rafts. Our raft ended up breaking apart and Sean ended up in the river! We ended the day with a visit to an elephant camp where we were able to feed and ride on the elephants. Sean even got to ride on the elephant's head like a mahmout (elephant trainer)!

Friday, September 21, 2007

SouthWest China & A Bowl of Pig's Knuckles

We booked a plane ticket from Chengdu to Lijiang. We decided that a 1 hour plane ride beat a 22 hour train/bus journey. Lijiang is a beautiful canaled city, with picturesque cobble-stoned streets. It is also at the base of the Himalayas, called the "foothills", they are only around 15,000 to 16,000 feet tall. It also houses a large Tibetan population, so we felt it would give us a good "feel" for Tibet. However, the one thing we wanted to do there, Tiger Leaping Gorge, the deepest gorge in the world, was closed due to the rain. It had been raining for the past three weeks straight and someone had just died in the gorge due to a land slide, so it was closed. Despite the set back we did see some spectacular things, like the Black Dragon pool, and just walking thru the beautiful streets. Plus we did get to see a drunk Chinese guy fall into the canal when we were coming home from eating!

From Lijiang we wanted to get plane tickets to India, however, we ran into a snag. The borders are closed between China and India--they just don't like each other, so it is impossible to fly directly. We would either had to fly to Hong Kong, 800 miles in the opposite direction, then to Calcutta, or fly to Bangkok, 500 miles south, then fly to Calcutta. We ended up taking an all day bus ride thru some amazing views in the mountains to get to Kunming, a larger city, and Hub in hopes of getting a flight out from there... but the picture there was the same. In the end, we decided to fly to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, then work our way to Bangkok and catch a flight there to either Delhi or Calcutta--what a freaking mess.

OK so we make it to Kunming around dinner time and we are starving, we haven't eaten anything all day except some potato chips. We check into our hotel, which takes about three hours because of the language problem and then we head out to get something to eat. We are on the main thoroughfare in town, so we think we'll just walk up the street and stop at the first restaurant we see. Two miles and two hours later, still nothing--finally we see a hotel with a restaurant! We dash in and order the first thing on the menu that looks good-- a pork dish with some vegetables. It comes to our table and I swear I see a pig hoof in there or knuckle or whatever you call the foot of a pig. They are just large hunks of fat with toes, tendons, joints, bones, and maybe a little sliver of meat on each part. We quickly pay and leave the restaurant before we gag. Just when we think we are going to bed hungry I spot them, small at first, down the street, a couple blocks farther-- The Golden Arches!!!! I never thought I would be so happy to see a McDonald's in my life.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lazy Days & A Big Buddha

We took the train to Chengdu a couple of days ago and it was SO much better than the bus. It was actually pretty comfortable and we passed through some amazing scenery. The only downside was all of the snoring! I had an old man next to me snoring his head off, Sean above doing the same and two other guys in our bunk area contributing to the orchestra! Fortunately, I had a pair of earplugs (thanks dad!) which worked great.

We checked into a lovely hostel and settled in for a few days. That evening we went out to try "hotpot" a regional dish. We ended up going into some restaurant that was full of Chinese people- we figured that if it was so crowded it MUST be good. So we sat down and tried to order. We didn't speak any Chinese, she spoke very little English- it was a bit of a mess. We told her to decide everything for us which ended up being a pretty good move. It was delicious! They had a big tank of live fish swimming around and she chose our fish for us and then brought out our big bowl of bothy fish soup. The only down side was the big fish head that kept popping out of our broth to glare at us every once in awhile.

The next morning we got up early and went to go visit the giant panda research center/reserve. We were the first ones in the park and got there just in time for their feeding. The big ones were super cute but mostly just lazed around and ate bamboo. The young ones (1-2 years) were hilarious! They were roughhousing with each other, falling out of the trees and pushing each other off of their play scape! We were afraid that they would get hurt at first but they took it all in stride. One even ran into a pole at full speed! He just shook his head and went off to push someone else out of a tree!

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?

We were planning on entering Tibet from here but it looks like we're going to have to change our plans. Thanks to a demonstration to free Tibet on Mt. Everest by a few students, it's become really difficult to get in (I was going to post a photo here, but all images related to Tibet protests have been blocked by the government). We were looking at a 10 day wait plus about 6 permits which were going to cost quite a lot. We've decided to go further Southwest in China where we should still be able to get a pretty good taste of Tibetan culture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Terra-Cotta Warriors

I have been waiting to see these guys since we first started planning our trip. They didn't disappoint. First a little history lesson for those of you who don't know what I am talking about.

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!