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Lagniappe 1, Riki’s Thoughts….Cambodia

(I have been hounding Riki for months about typing up his journal notes for me to post.  Now, as we are sitting in the Swiss Alps, it all comes together and all you guys who have been bugging me about this can all relax.  And check out the pictures too – some hand drawn maps included.)

The Journal (Just a bit larger than an index card)
The Journal (Just a bit larger than an index card)
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Cambodia Map

 

Border Crossing from Phu Quoc (Vietnam)

– 5 Buses, 1 Boat, & 1 Clueless Tuktuk

– Didn’t have luggage with us at one point, separated when driving to Bus Station, was not cool

– There was an immediate change in buildings and stores on the other side of the border (much poorer construction with far fewer supplies). There was also a crazy big casino right on the Cambodian side (many vices found in Cambodia are not allowed in Vietnam).

– Drive through the countryside was really cool – dried rice paddies, flat, pockets of palm trees with little wooden huts. Much more similar to Laos than Vietnam.

 

Phnom Penh

– Crazy Tuktuk guys introduced us to the city as 10 of them would run 30 meters alongside the minivans seeking any business they could (each time we let a person off as we wound our way through the city), absolute madness.

– Traffic in this city is like Vietnam, but more cars and absolutely no organization whatsoever. They have quite wide roads, which makes it far more difficult and dangerous to cross (nothing like the organized chaos of Hanoi & HCMC), and there are Toyota Camrys everywhere, likely 90% of all the cars, all different ages (probably some knockoffs too).

– Great to be able to get draught beer again, $0.50 for a glass, but I miss ripping off the labels from the bottles (to save for art projects at a later date).

– Back to seeing SexPats (far more than we saw in Bangkok). Granted the Khmer women are all beautiful, it’s very weird and off-putting to see 7 skinny women, dressed like they are out clubbing, hanging out in front of the bars, at ALL hours of the day trying to lure in tourists, as well as all the 18 year old Khmer girls (some likely younger) hanging out with 60 – 70 year old white men.

– Some of the SexPats are young (but really quite unfortunately ugly) men hanging out with these beautiful women.

– Saw, at a minimart, a short Khmer girl holding the crotch of the much taller white guy… from behind (through the legs)… at the cash register (while the cashier, her friend, Julie and I all look at each other trying to hold back our ?laughter?).

– Genocide/Prison Museum was very intense (especially the movie we saw where one of the few surviving prisoners was interviewing his former guards), you could still see the signs of it being used as a school before the Khmer Rouge took control.

– I noticed that all the faces of the KR leaders were completely scratched off by people (even some I didn’t recognize).

– I also noticed that the pictures they had of the prisoners, were awful and showed an obsessive/crazy rule (where everybody was always suspicious of all others), but there were a number of duplicates (saw this even though all prisoners had the same haircuts, women: short bob & men: even shorter).

– The City seemed a little more sketchy/rustic/poorer than all of the other major cities we visited, but it definitely wasn’t the shit hole that a bunch of people made it out to be before we got there.

– Once again, the men, like in the rest of SEAsia have these amazing mole hairs on their faces that grow out about 3 inches/8 cm, everything else they shave or can’t grow (I heard somewhere that they are good luck).

– One can definitely notice that there aren’t as many older Khmer people as there were older people in the other countries in the region (a still highly visible aspect of the genocide).

– We are convinced (especially Julie) that we need to buy these awesome PJ’s that all the ladies here are wearing (usually top and bottom matching) all day…

– It is really odd using US Dollars here (with Khmer Riel as the small change 4000=1). Got a $2 bill! (a couple we met didn’t realize that they are legal tender in the US, you just don’t see them much) But apparently they often don’t accept them at stores/food stalls in Cambodia (though they are more than willing to include them in your change).

 

North East Cambodia – Kratie & Banlung

– The red dirt/soil up here is amazing (much like Cuba), but it can be quite awful when it’s all dust

– In Kratie, just a couple of minutes up the road from the Irrawaddy dolphins was this amazing place with boardwalks, thatch roofs & hammocks everywhere over these small rapids (whish I could spend every weekend there forever…). There were some kids doing flips and posing for pictures after we went onto a sandbar past where the people use the toilet, pretty impressive acrobatics.

– All the kids in the northeast are really cute when you ask if you can take their pictures (they never ask for anything, candy or money, unlike all the other touristy places we go), and they are always very excited to see themselves in the picture.

– In the north especially, but really most places in Cambodia, the locals are all wearing soccer/football jerseys (literally half of all people, mostly young to middle age men and women, the older ladies all wear PJ’s).

 

Siem Reap & Angkor Park

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Angkor Map

– “Siem Reap is a tourist town that I like.” – Julie remark at the market

– The city is completely transformed at night, with ten times more people out and about (having all just left a long day at the temples).

– Was fun to go to Angkor Wat at sunset (instead of that hill where everybody else goes) and be slowly chased out by the guards at closing (like 20 other people doing this too). Was actually able to get a couple of photos of the temple with a few, if any people, ruining the view.

– Waking up in the morning and leaving the hostel by 5 and arriving at 6 at Bayon, all alone, was super frigging awesome! Walking around, losing your bearings, all dark, mysterious faces on the stones, etc…. We did the same thing at Ta Prohm the next day and it was equally as awesome, but two British girls beat us by half an hour (but they hadn’t entered yet because it was still too dark to see anything).

– It was so amazing climbing over the boulders and stones at the fallen temples (especially Ta Nei, Ta Prohm, Beng Mealea, etc.). Though it was awkward to be “contributing” to the slow destruction of the temples… but everybody else was way worse, and I was always very careful never to step on any of the carved stones.

– The temple being restored by the Chinese (every temple has different countries helping to restore them in their own unique ways: France, India, Japan, Germany, etc.) looks disappointingly fake, with new stones of different colors everywhere.

– Our guidebook ($10 in Phnom Penh with a week to read it vs. $5-8 in the Temple park) is obviously a rip-off used there for the last 15 years, but also awesome. I would read it twice before we visited a temple (so I could walk around a take pictures of the stuff I had learned about), while Julie studied it and used it as a guide at the temples (though sometimes it was quite hilariously out of date).

– Saw a gutter punk looking white guy without shoes on at least three occasions throughout the day… I dunno… I guess its relatively clean, but still, how does one climb over all those sharp rocks and steps?

– Its really interesting to see the legacy of when the region changed between the religions (Hinduism, two types of Buddhism). Lots of whole Buddhas scraped off walls, same with some of the faces of Hindu gods. Looked way different from the general looting that has taken place (& it’s vast).

 

Koh Ta Kiev

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Koh Ta Kiev Map

– Various thoughts while sitting on beach/patio: It’s so cool here with all the little beaches where you are alone and feel like you have the whole island to yourself. Perfect setup they have here at Coral Beach, right before the rocks start, and after all the other bungalows and day trippers, with 3/4 nice little beaches.

– What I’ve “accomplished” since I’ve been here (on the island): sewed on all of the flag patches I had, made a piece of “art” – an intense dream catcher thingy with stuff found on the beach, started working on my journal again, and learned a couple of new fun games.

– One of my favorite things to do on a vacation (or in life really): have a nice breakfast, with coffee, sitting on a small dock over the clear blue water with an amazing view of the gently lapping waves of the bay…

– Perfect situation #10 (I don’t remember all, they just happen…): sitting on the tree house level platform with the sun going down, with a group of people playing music and singing on the beach below (some of them had great voices).

– Different times at the Absinthe Distillery: First Night – with staff , had the green one, kittens playing all around me, guy (owner?) asleep in corner. Second Time – with Chilean couple, show up right as they are closing, kittens asleep, guy asleep in corner, tried the strongest one. Third Time – no drink, changed camera battery, guy asleep in corner.

– Funny moment when a group of Italian girls from Florence and Rome were arguing about who’s city had the greatest culture/legacy.

– Pretty sad when we had to leave the island. I had an amazing time doing nothing, but would not have made it much longer there… tummy issues, wanted a hot shower (had only washed with soap maybe two times), no more sand…

– … only to be stuck at a shithole place for two terrible nights with termite noises, Rat poo, and the giant accompanying Rat (who moved rocks and wasn’t afraid of us at all!).

Otres Beach One

– I imagine this to be what Phu Quoc (Vietnam) was like 5/10 years ago. But here there are more shacks (“bungalows”), a flat red dirt road, and a bunch of empty beach chairs.

– Said “Aokun” (Thank you) for the first time in a week (was a little weird how it was like a western peoples utopia on the island). I was also odd looking at some of these beach places (bar/restaurant/hostel things) where it looks like 5-10 western kids (“employees”) were doing nothing , one “working” at the bar while all the others took up all the bar chairs, while the one Khmer guy or girl does all the actual work.

– Ladies and Girls selling trinkets in Cambodia (at least the southern part) be like: “If you don’t buy now, you promise, if you buy later, you buy from me? Pinkie promise?”

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Stroll through the Himalayas….Pokhara, Nepal

Nepal has many options for trekking. We only had about a week before my parents arrived, so we chose a 5 day Poon Hill trek out of Pokhara that promised great views and easy trekking. Easy is a relative term. We found a great guide, Raju through an agency and decided to carry our own equipment rather than get a porter. For complete details on accommodations/food/guides/etc throughout the trek, see below.

We left Pokhara with our guide at 8 am Monday and took a taxi for about an hour and a half to Nayapul (elev. 1070 m / 3510′) .  The trek begins walking through a small town’s dirt road, across a flag engulfed bridge and up a rocky dirt road.  It was initially very hot and we probably brought too much stuff with us.  We climbed up a very steep dirt road for a few hours before stopping for lunch.  After lunch, the road stops and any jeeps that have made it up the steep slopes, load their goods onto donkeys for the rest of the journey along a rocky trail.  There were lots of people, porters and donkeys.  The donkeys carry anything from mattresses to rocks and propane.  The porters pretty much the same.  4 hours after we started, we reached Hille (elev. 1500 m / 4921′) where we stayed overnight at a teahouse.  They have these small lodges along the trail for trekkers.  Most are very simple, with very thin walls, shared bathrooms and luke warm showers.  They are very cheap and range from $3-6 a night per room.  You’d think camping would be cheaper, but its not because you have to hire a porter to carry the tent and any cooking supplies as well as sleeping bags and other gear.  Despite the warmth we encountered during the day, our first night was very cold and we were grateful for the thick blankets provided (though we still slept in two layers of clothes).

After breakfast, including delicious fried bread, we left Hille to climb 3,280+ steps.  And we’re not talking your normal house steps.  Some were tall, some were loose, and some were wet.  It took about 2 hours.  And then there were more steps.  We took it pretty slow though we even passed some groups.  After lunch, which is generally Dal Bhat (rice with lentil soup) we trekked through an oak and rhododendron forest, where it started to rain.  Luckily, we had our rain covers and jackets (though Riki’s leaks).  We took cover during the worst of it and after some more steps and 7.5 hours total, we arrived in Ghorepani (elev. 2874 m / 9429′).

On Wednesday, we left our bags in the teahouse and started climbing Poon Hill at 4:45 am.  It was pitch black, but we had lights and so did the 300 other people climbing up to see the sunrise.  There were more stairs and we arrived about an hour later at the top (elev. 3210 m / 10531′).  The view was incredible and we were luckily that it was very clear.  This was the highest elevation we encountered on our trek and it was frigid.  We each wore three pairs of pants and most of our other clothes.  After taking a ton of pictures, we descended the mountain back to Ghorepani to eat breakfast and pick up our bags.  Our trek continued up a steep ridge that was engulfed in clouds and pretty chilly.  There was a bit of snow too and the whole thing was pretty eerie.  After about 2 hours it starts raining as we trek through incredibly lush forests.  More Dal Bhat for lunch and more rain.  We tried to wait out the rain, but eventually gave up and headed through more forest and along a creek that lead to an incredible waterfall.  The rain let up following a very steep and wet descent through moss  and fern covered forests.  Our day wouldn’t have been complete without more steps and the final segment was a steep uphill out of a valley to Tadapani (elev. 2590 m / 8497′).  Only 6 hours trekking.  Tadapani is mostly just teahouses, not many people besides those running the trekking-related businesses.

The fourth day was a short one.  We began at 9 am and trekked through beautiful rhododendron forests, with light red flaky bark.  It was cool and moist and also covered in moss.  For a change, we went downhill the whole way and arrived 2.5 hours later in Ghandruk (elev. 1940 m / 6364′).  After eating lunch with great views of Annapurna South and Fishtail mountains, we headed to the Gurung Museum to see some local artifacts.  Ghandruk is a much larger town, as it is only an hours walk from the nearest real road.  They even have a small brightly painted monastery.  We played cards that evening with our guide and tried the local liquor made from millet seeds.

Our last day trekking started with a downhill walk out of the forest and into more open rice terraces and scattered houses.  Then we reached the dirt road where there is a bus that we could have taken back to the beginning of the trail.  We opted to walk and had great views of rice terraces and even saw some monkeys playing in an area that had a large landslide last year.  After 6 hours we reached Nayapul (elev. 1070 m / 3510′) where we picked up a car and drove back to Pokhara for 1.5 hours.

We spent Saturday resting our sore muscles (surprisingly we were more sore from the downhill than the uphill) and doing laundry.  The place we sent our laundry managed to lose 6 of our socks.  Notice I don’t say pairs of socks, because that’s not what happened.  When you only each have 4 pairs of socks, losing 6 socks is devastating.  The hotel reimbursed us for the socks (kind of) and now I have one set that just doesn’t match.  Oh well.  So we are down 10 socks so far as Riki left two pairs drying in the bathroom in Hanoi.  Otherwise, we haven’t lost anything else (that we’ve noticed).

Sunday we took the 7 hour tourist bus back to Kathmandu to meet up with my parents for the rest of our Nepal travels.

Check out our pictures below.

Trekking Info:

We had a great guide – Raju – who is based in Pokhara and does longer treks and day trips/tours in Pokhara.  Contact me for his info.  He was very knowledgeable and kept us at a perfect pace throughout our trek.

The teahouses seemed to be pretty similar and the rates were pretty fixed in the Annapurna region.  This is where we stayed:

Hille – Dipak Guest House (thin walls, but decent beds and thick blankets)

Ghorepani – Super View Guesthouse (good view, but gross toilets and very low ceilings)

Tadapani – Himalaya Tourist Guesthouse (pay shower, smoky common area, excellent view in the morning)

Ghandruk – Heaven View Lodge (warmish shower, VERY clean, private bath available)

Pokhara – New Annapurna Guest House ($20, very clean, but if you do laundry make sure they do it in house because if they are busy they send it out and that place is terrible – not clean and lost our socks)

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Deep thoughts by Riki….Vietnam

What cops are probably saying @ roadblocks to motorbikes/scooters: “sorry guys, road is closed, use the sidewalk.”

I’ve heard the Vietnamese national anthem so often here that I probably know the hymn better than the Swiss one…

American Aussie @ Bia Hoi place: “Hanoi is Bangkok 20 years ago and Myanmar is like what Hanoi was 20 years ago.” Conversation was about why we should definitely go to Myanmar.

Hanoi has the best tasting coffee I have ever had, honestly, just the simple Vietnamese coffee with milk (which is condensed and you don’t know it’s in there until you start stirring your coffee, then voila…) and it’s only 20,000 VND (just under $1).

Observation while eating at street food stalls: Vietnam may be the communist country, but they don’t use toilet paper for napkins like they do in Bangkok (they don’t always, but this place we really like does)…

Yes, there is a lot of propaganda, but mostly on billboards in the countryside/along the highways (in Hanoi, most were for the 60th anniversary celebration of kicking out the French) and they are all very positive (pro worker, school teachers & pupils, peace, and “Uncle Ho” is on almost all of them), quite cool looking, and less ubiquitous than other adverts.

Their chickens (in the city) and pigs, buffalos, goats (in the countryside) just roam around everywhere – free range for sure… Just hanging out on the curb, most likely aware of the crazy traffic (cause if they weren’t, they would go on about it so nonchalantly).

Wedding and graduation pictures are huge here. Always very professional, great attire, and everywhere all the time.

Two young schoolgirls from the country side practiced their English with me at the temple of literature, we talked about Hanoi, New Orleans, and what they were studying. The students here do this all the time, they just go to the popular tourist destinations, approach foreigners, ask if they know English and if they can practice for a short conversation, it’s great and they must do it a lot, because their English is quite good.

Families just hang out on the sidewalks, in front of their houses (like the whole family, three generations), especially if they sell stuff out of their homes. It’s all very communal, but with all the motorbikes on the sidewalks, you usually just end up walking in the street.

It seems like when they advertise meat here (cooked and ready to eat):
– Chicken – no head
– Pig – head is there, just not attached
– Duck – whole thing, including the beak, just hanging from a hook in its neck

It’s amazing how inventive/ingenious the sidewalk kitchens (or motorcycle repair shops) can be with so little space, and so few materials.

The kids (especially in the countryside/outside the busiest parts of the cities) are sooo cute. They wave and say “hello” to every foreigner that happens to pass by (the babies are taught early by their moms, helping them wave and pointing out the foreigners), and if it’s only you, they say hello as often as they can until you are out of sight. Of course, the teenagers say it ironically and giggle with their friends.

The Vietnamese are none to pleased with the Chinese right now.  China built an oil rig in their waters (which China says is theirs cause….). There’s even an exhibit in the revolution museum about it, showing old maps and stuff (from China) to discredit their claim. (It’s all very political and there are some other territorial water disputes in the region, involving China…, you should read up on it).

The ladies working in the train station, and the airport too apparently, have these great white and blue dresses/outfits on (Julie could describe them better I’m sure) but they look great.

The haze, from the smoke, from the rice harvest… makes strobe lights and fireworks look amazing at night.

Sales pitch @ every market or outdoor seller (not sure who it works with) – “buy something from me” or “you buy something from me” sometimes proceeded by “where you from” or “thank you”. There was a lady at a restaurant (I think she owned it) in Sapa making fun of them, “you buy from me not from her…” Wasn’t very nice cause they didn’t speak much English and were only trying to earn some money, but it seams like there is a bit of a rivalry up there with the ethnic minorities, who sell mostly handmade things and still live quite simply, and the Viet who have moved up there more recently to make money off the tourists.

Bikes of burden, let me tell you…. Actually, you can see it in a couple of pictures, but it’s amazing what they can fit on these bikes (there’s already a photo book with them… And we thought we were so clever when we came up with the idea).

 

Markets & Mountains….Northern Vietnam

For accompanying text, see other posts on Northern Vietnam.

Pictures from Bac Ha and Sa Pa.

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Train from Hanoi to Lao Cai
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Bac Ha market
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Flower Hmong women

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Ho Chi Minh in Bac Ha square
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Meat section

 

 

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Sacks of flour to be loaded on our bus
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Bus to Sa Pa with Korean lingerie DVD playing

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Cat Cat Village

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Sa Pa street

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