Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We have now entered Vietnam

March 7th we entered our 42 country. A rainy crossing of the border on a very muddy road makes it memorable. Vietnam is different as compared to Laos. The people are more outward and so quiet and laid back. We met up with a German that we had met 2 weeks earlier. He joined us as we headed for Hue.

Our goal in Hue was to visit the school and orphanage that Jacky's cousin Phil and Hung sponsor. Great to see the work that is done.

Threee young men who had been at the orphanage gave a superb tour of Hue.

It was fun to spend the day with them.

Passing through the Secret War

As we travelled in eastern Laos we noticed alot of bomb shells along the way. The area was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war and Laos was not even involved in the war. We saw the bomb squad locating unexploded bombs in the fields. We did not even go off the road to answer the call of nature for fear that the metal of our bicycle cleats would explode a bomb.

Kids have grown up with bomb casings around them their entire lives.

Big Cities and Small Villages in Laos

As we biked through Laos we experienced both the bigger touristy cities like Ventiene, Vang Viene, Luang Prabang, and Phosavan as well as the very small villages that only had one sketchy guesthouse.

While in the bigger cities we would stock up on supplies and food. Bread, cheese and peanut butter are pretty scarce as well as deodorant, etc. We would also try to use the ATM and obtain as much money as we thought we would need until we got to the next large city with an ATM. When we reached Luang Prabang, which is the largest tourist city in Laos, we were sure they would have an ATM. They had 4 actually but none of them had been working for the past 4 days. Tourists were lined up trying to get any kind of money since they also found themselves in a pickle. We traded in the US dollars that we had. That bought us a little time but they had no idea how long the ATMs would be down. We couldn't leave the city without money because the next ATM might not be until we reached Vietnam since we were crossing over the northern Laos mountains on bicycle. We downgraded our hotel and ate rice and bread. We were ready to sleep on a tarp if we had to. After a total of 7 days being down the ATMs finally worked. Hurray! We can now head down the road.

We did visit Don Det Island in southern Cambodia. Everyone said you had to go see it so we went and stayed for 2 nights. Again, we stayed in bungalows but this island was like a little village. Our bungalow was only $3.00 total a night. Food was just as cheap. We met alot of other travelers on the island and had a nice relaxing time.

Photo with the girl eating at the table: the clay pot is full of hot coals and sitting in a hole in the middle of the table. You cook your food yourself over the pan that sits on top of the clay pot. This is very traditional way of eating.

Other typical grilled street foods were rat, snake and dog.

Hot and Humid Days Ahead in Laos

We had gotten used to the 100+ degrees that we had in Cambodia. But, in Laos it was a whole different ball game. Not only did we have extreme heat, we had extreme humidity. This caused us to change our routine and be on the bikes between 6:00-7:00am with hopes of being in the overnight town early afternoon to beat the real intense sun. Drinking 4-6 liters of water (each) per day was not enough to keep us hydrated.

We didn't know what to expect from Laos. What we found was a Communist country that opened up its borders to tourists over the last 10-15 years and has the foresight to see how valuable tourism is for their economy. The people are genuinely kind and courteous and very willing to help you if you have a question. Laos is a very poor country but you feel safe. They don't want any bad press so they have strict laws against asaulting, etc a tourist.

It is a very bicycle friendly country with wide roads and very few cars. Many days we were forced to bike 130-160km to get to a town that had a place to sleep. We don't have a tent with us at this time, but, that wasn't really an option anyways as we did not want to camp in fields for fear of setting off a cluster bomb.

Yes, the war is real here.

A Small Cultural Spattering: View our Photo Gallery and Egroups to learn more about Cambodia

These pictures are just a very small spattering of what we all encountered in Cambodia. A brief explanation of each is as follows:

1) Live ducks are hanging upside down from the scooter. They are going to the market.

2) They sell petro for the scooters in these old pop bottles.

3) Road hazards come in all forms...even water buffalo.

4) Typical scaffolding made out of bamboo. I don't think I would climb upon it.

5) Most villages didnot have electricity. They had coolers vs. refrigerators. A truck would deliver ice to the people.

We had such a fantastic and cultural experience in Cambodia that I cannot include all the stories and pictures in the blog. Please see our photo gallery and egroup write-ups for more information.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - the Killing Fields

Ward and I biked up to Phnom Penh where we waited to obtain our Laos visas for 2 days. While we were there we visited "the Killing Fields" and "Toul Sleng" also known as "SR 21".

The Killing Fields is a place where more than 17,000 civilians were killed and buried in mass graves. Many of them were transported here after detention and torture in Toul Sleng. This place is a reminder of the brutalities of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. In the center of the area is a 17 story glass stupa which contains 8000 skulls exhumed from mass graves.

Its mind boggling to think that these things occured during our lifetime.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beaches of Cambodia...time for some R&R

We arrived in Sihanoukville, which is a beach town in southeastern Cambodia. As soon as we got settled in our hotel rooms we hit the beach. Time for some beach action which included beer/wine, music, ocean breeze, sunset and sand everywhere.

The next morning we took a small boat to Bamboo Island where we spent the night. Currently this island is very basic with some rustic bungalows, a few food stands, and electricity that only comes on between the hours of 5:00pm and 11:00pm. We feel very fortunate to have been able to enjoy this island in this state. The island has been purchased by foreigners and the construction of 5 star resorts is scheduled to start this coming May.

While on the island we had no option but to lay in our hammocks and relax. Ward actually did okay with this. We also passed the time by reading, swimming, walking around the island and taking a sunset fishing cruise. The little restaurant on the island was out of fish so they told us whatever we caught would be on the menu. Needless to say...we didn't eat fish for supper. Instead, we had rice. Imagine that. We did have a great time on the fishing cruise. Instead of reeling in the fish we were singing to Frank's harmonica.

We returned to the mainland the following day. Bad luck hit us. Ward got sick, then Frank and then Anna Marie. By the time all 3 had recovered 5 days had slipped by and now Frank and Anna Marie had a tight schedule. We ended up parting ways as they took planes, trains and automobiles to get to Hanoi, Vietnam and Ward and I headed north through Cambodia on our bikes.

Cambodia - Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom (Seim Reap)

On our way to the southern beach we stopped in Seim Reap to see Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. They are as astonishing as we were told.

Here is a little history about them from wikipedia. You can do further research on your own if you would like.

"Angkor Wat (or Angkor Vat), is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation—first Hindu, dedicated to Vishnu, then Buddhist. The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors."

Angkor Thom
was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII."

These were the mecca of Wats.

The Canadians are coming, the Canadians are coming.

On January 20th, Frank Pollari and Anna Marie from ThunderBay, Canada joined us for 3 weeks of bicycling and touring through Asia. This was Anna Marie's first bicycle adventure and she was psyched. What she wasn't prepared for was the toll that 5 hours on a bicycle seat takes on your bum when you are not wearing bike shorts. Through it all she was a good sport.

We biked through Thailand to Cambodia. We endured temperatures up to 108 degrees F and direct intense sun. The heat was bad enough for Ward and I but we have been in warm weather for quite some time now. These poor northerners came from temperatures of 40 below F. Yes, quite a shock to their system. Adjusting to these new conditions involved many Fanta (orange soda) stops and Thai and Cambodia massages. $5.00 US for 1-2 hours.

Once we hit Cambodia they were anxious to reach the Cambodian beach so we jumped on a bus and high tailed it to southeast Cambodia. (Bus picture above is of the beautiful buses in Thailand.)

Welcome to Asia and its Challenges

On January 16, 2009 we flew to Bangkok, Thailand. We were looking forward to the challenges that a new language brings but we plum forgot about their different alphabet. Not only do we typically struggle to learn the necessary words of a country but we also battle through trying to phonetically pronounce them in any recognizable way. However, Thailand's beautiful ornamental alphabet faced us with another problem. We couldn't read the signs, maps, menus...nothing.

As we biked through Bangkok we encountered traffic of mass quanities. We were encased by trucks, buses, cars, scooters, 3 wheeled bicycles carrying stacks 4 feet high, and animals coming from every direction (even though its suppose to be a one-way). This chaos totally overwelmed us and tested our nerves. Once we made it to our hostel we parked our bikes and made our way through the city by foot, metro, and river taxis. Yes, welcome to Asia. The land of scooters and chaos! Unfortunetely we don't have any pictures of all the scooters and choitic traffic in Bangkok. That's because we had to keep moving so we wouldn't get hit.

Above are some photos of Bangkok. We visited the market and not only saw where they have cock fights but also where they have fish fights. Yes, its quite humorous to see grown men staring at a small fish bowl watching 2 fish go at each other. Money was flying across the table.