Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Our last night in Vang Vieng was less than what we had hoped for. We all got to bed fairly early knowing it might be the last time we could sleep in a comfortable bed for several days. Around midnight, we heard a lot of loud talking that aroused us from our sleep. We soon realized that just outside our room, where there was a nice little balcony, several people were having a party. It wouldn't have been so bad had not there voices filtered directly into our room making it difficult for us to sleep. We decided, though, that it was still early for most people and tried to sleep despite the constant rattling of stupid conversations that people have when they're drinking and socializing on Valentine's Day. Around one o'clock, Tommy got up and asked them to hold it down a bit. There were maybe a dozen or so people outside, but this one particular British girl was the loudest and most annoying. They continued despite our request for "quiet voices". A little later, Tommy went downstairs to see if the owners could do something about this. No one was at the front desk, however, and no one responded to Tommy's attempts to wake them up. Finally, Derek got up and talked reason with them explaining how we had several days of traveling ahead of us and just wanted a little sleep. The guys of the group were really nice and understanding. The girls were still loud. It wasn't long, though, before the group disintegrated and we had some peace. In the morning, the balcony looked like a wreck, dotted with beer cans and white with cigarette butts.

Derek and I left mildly early for breakfast. Our bus was to leave at ten so we had about three hours before we needed to be ready. Not many people were out yet (the result of a party town mentality) so Derek and I found an empty restaurant that had just opened. In the restaurant next door, the song Home by Michael Buble was playing. I thought it fitting since we would soon be heading home. Immediately after thinking this, the song Take Me to Your Heart by Michael Learns to Rock, which quickly became the anthem of China when we first arrived and will forever remind me of this country just because I heard it for two months straight on every street corner in Shiyan, came on. Then I knew it was time to come back. (-: Sitting in the other restaurant about a table away from us (we were sitting outside) was a young lady who is also an English teacher in China. We've met more people on this trip who are teaching in China! It's always fun talking to them and discussing our similar experiences.

The bus ride from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang took maybe six hours, but it seemed much longer. The road was not good and it twisted through lots of mountains so we were able only to move at a snail's pace. There really were not places to stop along the way - only tiny make-shift villages that consisted of maybe four or five huts which we saw rather infrequently - and we probably wouldn't have stopped at all had three quarters of the people on the bus not threatened to riot. The bus driver wisely pulled over on the side of the road to allow these anguished people to find a nice tree to serve as their WC (I've certainly used worse places which were actually supposed to serve as bathrooms AND had to pay money for them!). Anyway, the experience reminded me of old family roadtrips...

We arrived in Luang Prabang around six and quickly (and surprisingly easily) found where we needed to buy bus tickets to Kunming, China. The bus would leave that evening at 10 pm. We originally had wanted to spend a day in Luang Prabang, but at this point, I think we were all ready just to continue heading back. We booked the tickets and then set off to find food. We did have one manner of business to take care of in this town before we left, however. Earlier, in Cambodia, we met an older French woman. She was really eccentric but very friendly, and we found ourselves repeatedly meeting up with her in Phnom Penh, Kratie and southern Laos. During one of our bus rides together, she gave us a letter and a picture of her family with a guesthouse owner in Luang Prabang that they had taken when she stayed at that guesthouse some time before. She asked us to deliver the letter and picture to this particular guesthouse owner, and we could do nothing but comply with this request. We searched for quite awhile to find the guesthouse, and it wasn't until after dinner, when we tried again, that we found it. It was kind of a neat thing to do, I guess, and we got bananas out of the deal which came in handy a day later.

Luang Prabang seemed to be a nice town. We decided to splurge on dinner that night since we had some kip to burn, but even when we bought everything we wanted - nice dinner, dessert, drinks - we still only paid about four dollars! There was a night market filled with all sorts of tourist goods - jewelry, bags, shirts, coffee - and we spent a little time there before going to wait for our night bus.


We had a sleeper bus so each of us got a really narrow bed - all top bunks - on the 30 hour roller coaster ride we were about to endure to Kunming. We were still winding through mountains, but this driver took the turns much faster than the previous driver. So the entire night we were being tossed to and fro in our little beds, getting slammed against the window and the bar that was the only thing that kept me from being thrown out of my bed (and it only slightly helped!). Somehow we did get some sleep (through the aid of Derek's limitless supply of sleeping pills).

The next day we decided to switch beds. At the back of the bus, there was one large bed that stretched from one side of the bus to the other. We had avoided it previously because we could imagine them overbooking the bus and us getting sandwiched between several greasy men for the remainder of the trip. But on the second day, we decided to go for it, and Derek, Tommy and I moved to this gianormous bed which was supposed to hold five people, but we more than used all the space - selfishly sprawling ourselves comfortably out like spread eagles. It turned out to be a good move since, for the first time since I've ridden any kind of transportation in China, the bus didn't get overbooked, AND since we lost several people at the border crossing (not really sure what happened to them), there were more than enough empty beds for any late comers who hitched rides along the way. The second night was much more comfortable than the first night, though we were still being thrown about and this time with no bars to prevent us from rolling all over the place. When we weren't trying to sleep, it was actually a fun ride.

I wish I could say that after we arrived in Kunming, we were almost home, but that would be a lie. We arrived at seven in the morning to a very cold China. We quickly found the train station, bought our tickets home and then found a small restaurant to eat a breakfast of baozi. Tommy's train to Beijing would not leave until 10 pm, but ours to Wuhan was leaving at 10 am. So we parted around 8:30 - him to find a hotel and us to buy some snacks for another long train ride. We got hard sleepers on the train which was a necessity for what was about to be another 29 hour ride.

It's surprising how much we slept during the thirty hour bus ride and the 29 hour train ride, but when there's nothing else to do, there's nothing else to do. Janice, who had kept herself hopped up on coffee and sugar during the previous week, finally crashed on the train ride to Wuhan. We were traveling on the 17th, and the Chinese New Year would begin on the 18th. We heard that it's practically impossible to travel three days after the new year because all the Chinese who had traveled to visit their families would be traveling during this time. We thought we would be wise and travel DURING the new year since most Chinese people celebrate this time at home. As we were traveling across the country side, we could see fireworks being shot off everywhere. I went to bed early, but at midnight, I heard lots of explosions. I was too tired to watch the celebration, but I heard the next day that we had stopped in a town and a lot of people got off the train to watch the display of fireworks.

We traveled all day on the 18th so we didn't really celebrate the new year. No one my age that I talk to really enjoys the new year anyway because they think it's boring; they just spend three days visiting family. I've been told that the Chinese New Year is like our Christmas, but the more I talk to people about it, the less I think it is. It is about family, that's the same, but level of celebration and the enjoyment factor is just not equal to what we feel, or I feel anyway, during Christmas.

Andrew and Jaime were also traveling back to Shiyan from another city in southern China. They arrived in Wuhan first and bought beds on the 5:15 train to Shiyan. We asked them later to procure tickets for us too, but they were only able to get standing tickets. Our idea that it would be easy to travel on new year's day was wrong! We arrived in Wuhan at 4 and had just enough time to get some Muslim noodles before boarding the next train home. It took about 6 hours, and fortunately, Janice was able to find a seat which she kept for the entire trip. Derek and I stood for several hours and alternated accepting the kindness of strangers who really went out of their way to allow us to sit in their seats or tripled up in some cases to allow us a little section of a seat to rest on. They were so nice to us.

We arrived at 10:45 to a Shiyan which was surprisingly warmer than we were expecting. There were a lot of taxis available since so many other people were arriving too, but since it was a holiday, they had turned off their meters, and we had to pay much more than we normally would of had to. It was really nice to get home. After several days of solid traveling and no shower, however, it was disappointing to miss our hot water time slot, though since we've arrived, we've yet to have hot water despite the fact we're supposed to have it twice a day. Maybe they don't turn it on when no one is here, and they just don't know we're here yet.

Yesterday we had planned to relax, but we actually were more productive than anyone should be when they've just spent a month traveling. Since the Chinese celebrate the new year for three days (though it's supposed to be 15 days, but apparently a little thing called work gets in the way of what used to be a two week celebration), all the shops and restaurants on our street were closed. Many people, including Happy Guy and his family, have gone to visit their families so their restaurants are closed. The streets were really quiet too, and there was hardly any traffic. We went into town where we found a few places to eat noodles and then proceeded to a supermarket to buy groceries. Besides the supermarket and a few restaurants, there were several stands throughout the city where one could buy oil, liquor and fireworks. Those three things must be the staples during this time of the year because everyone we came into contact with was carrying at least one, if not all, of these items. Fireworks are especially popular, and the town sounds like a war zone with loud explosions frequently startling us. Since none of the restaurants near us were open, we bought supplies to cook dinner. Derek and I also were able to buy external hard drives which we'll really need with all the pictures taken during this trip, and I even mailed a couple letters which is a huge accomplishment for me as I often write letters but don't mail them for a couple weeks later. When we got back home, we began what would be a full evening of watching sitcoms and shows. It was a good day!

So through all my travels in Southeast Asia, the one thing I learned is just how unique China is in the Asian sector. I really thought there would be a lot of similarities between the eastern cultures, but I was wrong. When we took the Chinese bus from Laos to Kunming, it was abundantly clear to me just how different the Chinese culture is. We were quickly reintroduced to China at the border crossing where we often saw lots of spitting on the streets, children in split pants and 15 layers of clothing, horrible bathroom conditions with no toilet paper or soap, drive by hellos by people like security check guards, good food (dishes and rice), fast bus drivers in dangerous conditions, and a host of other random bits of cultural things that are "so China". It's weird that many of these things are becoming a part of my identity whether I ever understand them or not!


For lunch today Derek, Janice and I visited Janice's aunt and uncle who prepared a traditional New Year's feast. The food was especially delicious, and as is custom anytime we eat dinner in someone's home, we were forced to gorge ourselves. Even Janice, who was supposed to be our buffer and communicative liason, continued to feed us long after we should have stopped. But it was a lot of fun, and it's always cool to meet our friends' families.

This evening we went to Andrew and Jaime's to cook pizza and play a game called Settlers. It's a fun, strategic game that I'm not very good at but is easy enough to play. It's nice settling back into a routine that feels regular. Things are still really quiet around here since most of the students have not returned. The city actually woke up today, and it seemed to be more like it's old self instead of the ghost town it was yesterday. School is supposed to begin next week, but I'm not sure when or what I'll be teaching yet. No worries, though.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Okay, I am way too tired to write, and this internet cafe charges an arm and a leg to use their computers so this entry is likely to be filled with all sorts of mistakes. That's my disclaimer, now onto the fun.

We got a "VIP" bus out of Pakse to Vientiane, which was like ten hours away. It was an overnight trip which is really the only way to travel, I think, if you have such a distance to cover. The VIP bus was surprisingly, well, VIP. I say "surprisingly" because I've learned to not attach western meanings to western phrases in eastern countries. But the bus was a double decker with plenty of leg room, a nice blanket, and a wonderful meal of fried rice with three pieces of candy for dessert. We even were given an American movie to watch, but it was dubbed in Laotian so it was of no use to us. I did, however, prefer the movie to the blaring Laotian music videos that look like they were made in the 80s on a shoe-string budget.

In Vientiane we killed time at a Scandinavian pastry shop (which was amazing) with a young British couple. We've been on a Rummy kick lately, though we really should go back to Spades. Janice somehow always pulls out the most frustrating straights on us. We were all in a better humor when we played Spades.

Anyway, sorry for the tangent. We arrived in Vang Vieng yesterday afternoon. So far all the towns in Laos have been so quiet and relaxed. In Vang Vieng, all the restaurants have lay down benches covered in pillows with tables in the center. They all have TVs too where you can catch an episode of Friends, the Simpsons or any number of movies. A lot of tourists relax for hours watching TV. I know it sounds like a waste of time, but after you've been traveling hard for several weeks (or months in the cases of every Westerner EXCEPT Americans), it's nice to lay down for an hour or two and watch TV. Yesterday we didn't do much but play cards, eat some terrible Indian food, and drink lots of strawberry shakes. I was pretty tired so I crashed at 6:30 (I wish I were kidding) and didn't get up this morning until after seven.

Around nine o'clock today, we rented inner tubes and were taken by tuk-tuk up the river a little ways. We spent about five hours tubing down the river, swimming some, and exploring a really cool cave. The river was pretty slow for most of the ways so we were all ready to be done long before we ever saw the "Tubers Stop Here" sign. We all got a little toasted too. But it was definitely fun and relaxing.

This afternoon we ate some more Indian food, which was good this time, and then became those lazy tourists camped out in the restaurants watching movies - the very ones we criticized yesterday!

Tomorrow we leave for Luang Prabang. I don't know what we'll do there, if anything. It's really time for us to head back to China. It's going to be a long trip home, and the only thing that would make it worse is if we caught the trains going back during the peak traveling time for the Chinese (which is a few days after the Chinese New Year). We're going to attempt to travel on the day of their new year since everyone will be spending this time with their families, and hopefully we will be back home before all the tickets get bought up. Otherwise, it could be a REALLY long trip home!

Monday, February 12, 2007


Well the Northens, the missionary couple we met the night before, showed us the boat (and I use that word lightly as it is more like an incredibly awesome ship!) our last day in Phnom Penh. This fully furnished medical boat is amazing. I wasn't expecting much, but my mind was blown away to see the living quarters and the well designed doctor's examination rooms. It even has an X-ray room and a room specifically designed for lab work. The Northens and all involved will be doing some good work before too much longer (as soon as all the paperwork goes through which can take a long time when you try to do things honestly). The remainder of our day in Phnom Penh was spent walking around and seeing the Imperial Palace and visiting the Central Market, which is by far the largest maze of a market I've ever seen.


The next morning we left for Kratie, a city in northern Cambodia. It took about six hours after stopping for the worst lunch I've ever had in Asia. I ordered beef noodle soup - a staple around here - but whatever I got contained two types of mystery meat. It was pretty bad. I should have been tipped off, though, when, as soon as we stepped off the bus, a basket of large, fried spiders was thrust in my face. Before we left, Derek and I, in a desire to be open-minded, purchased one of the spiders. We only at the legs because we couldn't bring ourselves to eat the body. It wasn't half bad, actually, though my mind wouldn't let forget the image of spiders crawling down my throat!

In Kratie we got a room, unloaded our stuff, and then got motorcycles to the Mekong River where you can see dolphins swimming in the fresh water. The motorcycle ride was really nice as we road through little villages with the cool air swishing across us. At the entrance to the seeing area, we were told we would have to pay twice as much as what our hotel told us we would have to pay to see the dolphins. We had already decided not to take the boat to see them but to stay on the shore and view them from a distance. At the entrance, they told us we HAD to take the boat and pay for it. After much arguing, we were finally permitted to not take (or pay) for the boat and try to spot the dolphins from the distance. We got good pictures, though, of little black dots making little splashes in the water... So we didn't really have a very good view, especially since neither Janice nor I were wearing our glasses, but we showed them by not paying two extra dollars... Okay, so maybe we didn't, but it wasn't really worth it for me to pay extra money just to see dolphins up close anyway. I don't know how the others felt, but the motorcycle ride was definitely the highlight of that little expedition.

Kratie is a really small town so there was nothing to do other than play cards and watch TV. In the evening, a crew of French tourists put in The Killing Fields, and as it seemed an appropriate movie given where we were, we all joined in watching it. I didn't finish because I was tired, but this particular version of the movie was totally edited. I was surprised at how poor of a job of editing they did too. There were complete scenes missing.


The next morning we left on a mini-bus to Laos. We could also have taken a boat trip, but it was a little more expensive. The mini-bus wasn't so bad though. The roads are notoriously bad going to (and through) Laos, but this road was pretty good until right before we came to the exit point for Cambodia. Then the road got really bumpy and dusty. It seemed like we were on some backwoods trail rather than a road that connects two countries. After a small fee, the Cambodian officials let us exit their country, after which, we, along with several others who had taken the boat trip, loaded up into a small van (there were 15 of us in all plus all our baggage piled into this little vehicle) for a short trip to the Lao border. Again, after a small fee (which was a little higher than normal because it was Saturday and we were charged a weekend "overtime" fee), our visas were stamped and we were on our way to Don Det, one of the 4000 islands in southern Laos.


We were taken by boat to Don Det, one of the smaller islands, where, for the first time since we've been traveling, we were not hounded by hotel workers or taxi/tuk-tuk/motorbike drivers to "have a look" at their guesthouses. Instead, we just started walking down this little dirt trail which had some guesthouses on either side (all of which were full) and several huts where Lao families were going about their daily business. We walked for quite awhile, carrying all our things, until we lucked out at what turned out to be a perfect place to stay for a couple nights. We stayed in little huts, complete with mosquito netting over the bed, a hammock on the front porch and no electricity. Our guesthouse had a nice little deck over the Mekong River with the most spectacular view which was so nice, it's really unexplainable. We only had about two hours of sunlight left so we ordered our food (which took a good hour to prepare) and played cards until it was too dark to see. We were given little lanterns to light our way so we could see to take showers, and then we just hung out on the porch in the dark, enjoying the countless stars (which I haven't seen in a long time) and talking.

The next day was just as relaxing. The roosters began their noise around four in the morning, but I didn't get up until 6:30. I spent the next hour watching the sun come up over the trees and river and color the surrounding area. The others slept a little later, but everyone was up by eight which is really early for a day when we had no plans but to relax. Derek rented a bike and went across a little bridge to a larger island, but the rest of us decided to stay in our little area. Tommy and I went swimming in the river. Actually, the current was too strong to swim so we just sat in the water to be cooled off from the strong sun. Janice, who is neither a fan of heat nor of cold, was pretty miserable for about four or five hours, but when that sun began to go down, the temperature cooled off to a perfect degree, and I was quite comfortable.


This morning after a fantastic, and not so healthy, breakfast of chocolate banana pancakes, we left on a boat to catch our early morning bus to Pakse. There's really nothing in Pakse for us except a ticket to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The boat ride was really relaxing. The Mekong has quickly found its place in my heart, and I look forward to visiting it again in about two days. The bus ride we had was a little different. It was less like a bus and more like a truck that had benches along both sides of the bed and one bench in the middle. It was covered, fortunately, but it was quite crowded with both foreigners and locals making it difficult to find a comfortable position. We did make it to Pakse, though, and now are waiting for our bus to leave for Vientiane, which doesn't happen until this evening at 8:30. It's an overnight bus, obviously, and I think it takes about 10 or so hours from here to the capital. Once in Vientiane, we're going to immediately try to get a bus to Van Vieng, a town about four hours away, where we can tube all day down the river. After the terribly long and uncomfortable bus rides we are about to endure, I am really looking forward to the tubing!

I kept hearing from everyone who had been to Laos that it's "totally chill", and they were absolutely right. Already, and we've only been here for two days, it's one of my favorite places we've visited. It possesses so much natural beauty, so if you enjoy the "great outdoors", it's the country to see.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Phnom Penh - The Killing Fields

Tuesday morning Yve departed for Malaysia with Danny. We only briefly said goodbye because she was busily preparing to leave, and I was taking care of other things. I was missing her before she was even gone, mostly because I have the sneaky feeling she won't be returning to Shiyan. I may be wrong, but I think she's finally doing what she initially started out to do - travel the world - and I don't think she'd be happy returning. But it was fun while it lasted, and I have no doubt we'll meet up again, probably somewhere in Australia which seems to be her target destination for now.

Anyway, we left Tuesday morning for Phnom Penh too. The bus ride back was defnitely more pleasant for me than the bus ride to Siem Reap, though I can't say the same for Tommy. As we were being taken from our hotel to the bus station, he realized he didn't have his camera. Usually, he keeps it in my backpack that I carry with me everywhere for safe and convenient storage, but I checked my back a couple times and couldn't find it. So he jumped off the mini-bus, grabbed a motorbike back to the hotel while we continued on to catch our bus. Just as we were about to leave, eagle-eyes Janice spots Tommy on the motorbike, and Derek jumps off the bus to catch him. He just barely made it before we left! But he didn't find his camera so he was really bummed the entire bus ride back and all evening too.

When we got back to Phnom Penh, we took a tuk-tuk to a guesthouse we read about in Lonely Planet, and, lo and behold, the Lewises had just sat down for dinner at the same guesthouse! So while Derek and Tommy went to find a place for us to stay (this guesthouse was full), I sat down with the Lewises, and we caught up on each others adventures.

Not far from this guesthouse, the boys found a cheap hotel with an empty room so we booked it even though it looked really shady. We soon realized just how shady it was when we entered our rooms and saw the pink light bulb above our beds! I don't think I've ever been so uncomfortable in my life!! (-: But we fared the night well and left the next morning for the first guesthouse where the Lewises were staying. The Lewises left that morning for Siem Reap so we really just missed each other.

Oh, and while we were paying for the red light hotel, I reached in my bag and pulled out Tommy's camera. I don't know how I could have checked that bag so many times and missed it each time, but I did. Tommy was so happy to have it back that instead of killing me (like he had jokingly threatened to do earlier had I found it in my bag after he had raced back to the hotel and almost missed the bus to PP because of it), he gave me a big hug and turned back into the fun-loving Tommy we hadn't heard from since before the missing camera experience. But I felt bad and rather stupid for about 5 minutes afterwards, anyway!

Yesterday we went to the Museum of War Crimes. It's a museum set up in the old S-21 prison used during the Khmer Rouge regime. It's a really haunting place to visit, but I feel it's necessary, for me anyway, to see and acknowledge the horrible crimes that were committed during this time. After the museum, we went to the killing fields. It's not quite what I expected. There must be a school very near by because as we walked among the mass grave sites (large holes in the ground where hundreds of bodies have been dug up), we could hear children laughing and playing. It was eerie, but strangely comforting.

Yesterday evening we met with the Family here in Phnom Penh for their mid-week meeting. Derek went to school at Harding with the children of a missionary family here so we were able to arrange meeting with them. There were about 14 Americans, almost all older than sixty or maybe even seventy, who are here mostly on a short term basis to teach English and the Book. They were so welcoming, and it was so awesome to be able to sing and fellowship with them. It was really inspiring to hear their stories too because most have been working in missions around the world for a big portion of their lives. Spending time with them was like finding a piece of home in a really strange land - but I guess it's always like that with the Family.

Today we're meeting back up with the missionary couple Derek had connections with. We're going to have lunch together, and then they're going to take us to see their boat. They've recently acquired a boat that they're turning into a medical missions boat. They're going to travel to three different provinces along the Mekong River and visit poor villages offering free medical assistance (since they have no way of obtaining it themselves). Right now they're trying to get through all the governmental red tape to be able to sail the boat, and they're also in the process of interviewing and hiring Khmer doctors for the job of assisting the villagers. It's a really exciting endeavor, I think.

Tomorrow we plan to leave for Laos. At first, we had decided against going through Laos back to China, but everyone we meet who has been to Laos thinks it's one of the greatest places to see. So now we're really excited about the different things we'll see and do there. We don't have too much time before we have to be back for school so we're trying to make the most of the time we have left!

Monday, February 05, 2007


Yesterday evening we finally met back up with Derek, Yve, and Janice. Derek and Yve were heading off with two new replacements (I mean friends...) to have dinner as Tommy and I were leaving the Internet bar. They met these two guys, one Canadian named Danny and an Aussie whose name I didn't catch, while touring the temples and had yet to be separated from them. Tommy and I met up with Janice at our hotel and spent the rest of the evening playing Spades. Just as we finished and headed for our room to read quietly before going to sleep, the prodigal friends, Derek and Yve, returned with Danny and the other kid for a jam session in our room. Yve had guitar, Aussie had vocals, Danny had drums (well sticks and mattresses), and I, well, I had a vibrating bed from all the jumping around Danny did. Needless to say, we slept in this morning.

After we finally got around, we rented bikes and headed for Angkor Wat. Yve is really sick again today, but she didn't want to miss the most famous temple and like a trooper, biked out with the rest of us. Along the way, she mentioned that Danny invited her to go to Malaysia with him to meet up with some of his friends. She's rather smitten with this fellow and since she doesn't have to return as early as the rest of us to Shiyan (it's still questionable whether she will be able to or not anyway - long story), she decided she really wants to travel with him. He's leaving tomorrow, and if all works out, she'll be heading out too. Crazy!

Anyway, Angkor Wat was amazing. I have been constantly surprised at how few tourists there are here. It seems like I see them in the city, but when we go to the temples, there's usually only a small clump of tour groups near the main entrances, and everywhere else is more or less empty of them. It's so nice! And there's so much freedom to wander about. There aren't a lot of protected areas to prevent self-injuries which is strange to see coming from the West where we have to put warnings on everything. The architecture and ornately detailed carvings and bas reliefs within the temples at Angkor are breathtaking, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to see them. But, in the end, our bodies gave out. After biking such a distance and climbing several steep stairways and hiking around in the heat, we decided to head back (after realizing we had seen all the other temples yesterday and after playing for a short time with the monkeys, yet again). We have a three day pass to the temples, but two days were enough for me and so tomorrow we will probably head back to Phnom Penh in the afternoon.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Yesterday we slept so late. It was really nice. Around 10:30 we decided to eat brunch and leaving Yve behind to recover from days of fast traveling, the rest of us set out to find this Butterfly Restaurant. I didn't know much about it, but it's basically a nature preserve where you can order terribly expensive and terribly disgusting drinks while communing with a variety of beautiful butterflies. It was pretty cool. All of us enjoyed having butterflies land on us except Derek who could only manage to attract flies...

After the butterfly experience, we began walking down the road to find some landmine museum. It took such a long time walking down dusty roads and through little villages to find it. The museum was created by a Cambodian man named Aki Ra who fought with the Khmer Rouge as a child where he learned how to use all sorts of weapons and handle mines, etc. He then was captured by the Vietnamese and was forced to fight for them until finally, after the war, he was given the job of clearing the fields of mines. Since then he has made it his life's career to clear the mines in Cambodia and has cleared hundreds of thousands of them. In addition, he fosters a lot of children who have been affected by landmine incidents and helps pay for their education through the funds raised by the museum (which is free and only makes money through donations and souvenir profits). The museum is really interesting as it houses tons of landmines that he and his wife have cleared over the years. It's heartbreaking reading the statistics of landmine victims in Cambodia (and around the world).


This morning we rose early (thanks to Yve's 5 o'clock suggested wake-up call!) and had a fantastic breakfast at the new hotel we've decided to stay at. We're paying 11 dollars less a night for a currently mosquito infested room, but the owner is this really cool British guy who has been super helpful and totally up front - a trait I'm really growing to admire of late. Anyway, after breakfast (and waiting 45 minutes for our tuk-tuk drivers to show up), we left for a dusty road trip to explore several temples. Tommy and I had one tuk-tuk, and Derek, Yve, and Janice were in another. After an hour of traveling, we came to the first temple. It was quite impressive. It's hard to explain how beautifully ornate these ancient structures are.

After an extra early lunch, we were on our way to the next temple when our driver pulled over. Something was wrong with the tuk-tuk so while we waited, surrounded by children begging us to buy their scarves or any number of things, the other tuk-tuk driver took the rest of our crew to what I assume (and hope) was the next stop on their tour. Unfortunately, Tommy and I never met up with the others the rest of the day and still have not heard from them though there's suspicion that they went on to see the sunset at Angkor Wat. Anyhoo, Tommy and I had a really fun and exhausting day exploring several temples. They were surprisingly not overrun by tourists, and in many places, we felt as if we were the only ones exploring the ruins at all. It was nice, but around four we were tired and decided to head back. We did force our driver to stop at one point so that we might buy some bananas and feed some monkeys that were on the side of the road. No worries, though! They weren't just random monkeys we spotted; they were there to be fed and were actually quite tame. A couple of them climbed up our legs to grab the bananas. They were adorable.

Since we've been home (and have recovered from a not so nice confrontation with our tuk-tuk driver who tried to scam us), we've enjoyed a gluttonous meal of burritos (for me) and cheeseburger and fries (for Tommy). Oh, and a doughnut for dessert! I figured we deserved some major nourishment after hiking all day up and down stairs and through the woods.

Tomorrow we're going to rent some bicycles and bike out to Angkor Wat and hit the other temples we didn't see today. It will be another long, dusty day, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Well, I have lost total and complete track of time since traveling, and I'm not quite sure what today is so forgive my following vagueness. Several days ago we were in Saigon for one day. Since we arrived so early in the morning, we didn't actually begin the day of sightseeing until afternoon (several of us needed a long power nap to be able to continue the day). There are a few things to see in Saigon (probably more than we realized), but we didn't have any particular agenda. We did tour the Reunification Palace which is the old capitol building for South Vietnam that was captured by the North Vietnamese when they "reunified" the entire country. It was pretty interesting, and the propaganda video they showed was not so much eye-opening as it was frustrating. We met up with a couple young Australians as we (and they) were trying to find the Palace and ended up hanging out with them the rest of the day. One cool thing about backpacking across countries is meeting the other backpackers, and we've met some really interesting people since we've been here.

After the Reunification Palace, we checked out a Fine Arts Museum which housed a lot of ancient works as well as modern propaganda paintings. It was pretty interesting. They had one little building of modern art which was really good, actually, and fills one with hope that the modern Vietnamese artists have quite original thoughts.

For dinner that night we actually found a Mexican Restaurant (with the help of a British couple staying in our hotel. The couple is traveling the world and volunteering at orphanages and schools along the way. What a cool way to travel the world!). Anyway, the Mexican food was so amazing after a five month dry spell, and Derek even found Dr. Pepper which even though terribly overpriced didn't keep him from purchasing two or three of them!


The next morning we loaded up with a lot of other tourists for a bus ride that took us to the Mekong Delta. Here we piled into a boat and began our tour of the Mekong Delta. We first stopped at a little village where they make coconut candy. You can watch the entire coconut candy-making process beginning with the chopping up of the coconut meat into tiny pieces and ending with several ladies cutting and packaging the candy. It's pretty amazing considering how quickly they can make the candy by hand. Janice was in heaven and quickly put a dent in the candy she bought from there. I don't know how such a small person can eat so much sugar!

Our next stop was a honey making village where we were served honey sweetened tea and were given the opportunity to carry a huge snake around our necks. I'm still not sure what the snake had to do with the honey village, but we tourists loved it... (-:

After traveling the river for awhile, we took a bus to our hotel for the night. The next morning we toured a fish hatchery and then a "traditional Cham minority village". It was really just an opportunity for the Cham children to beg for money and for the Cham women to sell their woven scarves. This was probably the most disappointing part of the tour just seeing how tourism has so negatively affected this minority village.

The rest of the afternoon we were on a boat. It was a really pleasant way to travel - much better than by bus. Yve brought her guitar along, and she and Tommy played a little while the rest of the crew joined in singing. We met several other teachers in China, including a group of five Americans who are teaching in Harbin. It's fun talking with them since their experiences are so similar to our own.

Our tour guide took care of getting our Cambodian visas in our passports so all we had to do was get off our boat, get our visas stamped, get back on the boat and sail towards Phnom Penh. It was so simple.


Once we arrived in Cambodia, we were taken to the other five Americans' hotel (which they had already booked). It took over an hour to get there. We rode in a large van across a not so decent road (which I understand is like most of the roads here in Cambodia). It's amazing how different the landscape is in Cambodia compared to what we saw in Vietnam. It's much dryer and more unkempt. But it's still beautiful.

We ate dinner at a restaurant not far from our hotel. The food is more expensive here, but the portions much bigger. The people are much bigger as well. When we got back to our hotel, Yve got really sick. She was in the bathroom for about half an hour and then was 100 percent better almost immediately after. It was strange.

Our bus for Siem Reap left the next day at noon (yesterday this was). Derek, Yve and I ate a quick breakfast, and as we were heading back to our hotel to catch the bus, my stomach began to feel really ill. It got bad fast, and we had a six hour bus ride to look forward to. That was one of the most horrible bus rides I have ever taken. I slept a little which was the only time I had relief. About two hours outside of Siem Reap, we made a pit stop, and I lost all of my breakfast right in front of this worker guy who I'm sure hates me now. I made it back to the bus right before it left and felt WORSE after all this so I just laid back in my seat and threw a self-pity party. I also started sweating really bad. It was horrible! Then I fell asleep for maybe thirty minutes, and when I woke up, my fever had broke, and I felt perfectly fine. It was the weirdest thing. Since then I've felt normal.

Last night we got a hotel and found a decent place to eat. We wanted to get our visa stuff for Laos taken care of today, but it's a little expensive here as opposed to Phnom Penh so we may just wait till we go back to PP to get all that taken care of. Today we're just going to hang out in town, and tomorrow we'll begin our three day tour of Angkor Wat. It's rather expensive here compared to what we're used to spending, and the mosquitoes are ridiculous, but the weather's nice and the people friendly so I think we'll have a good time.