Monday, November 19, 2007

Ha Long Bay

Yesterday we drove 4 hours from Hanoi to Ha Long bay and hopped on the boat for our overnight cruise. Since we've been pretty go-go-go for most of the trip, it was nice to relax for a change. Ha Long Bay is really interesting because it's pretty much mountain tops rising out of the water. They're really cool looking, even in the hazy weather we had. On the ship, there was this playful little kitten roaming around. Apparently she's part of the crew and her job is the mouser. She's probably spolied rotten (or at least was during our overnight cruise) because I played with her a bit and she got some of the fish we had for dinner. She then thought she had the go-ahead to climb on the table but we quickly put a stop to that.
Tonight we're going to see a traditional water puppet show. Then tomorrow I'll walk around the old part of Hanoi and fly out the following day! It feels like it was so long ago that I was back in the states and at work. I'm looking forward to that Thanksgiving dinner!!
No photos today because this computer doesn't like my camera. It's also probably my last post -so I'll see you all state-side!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

wet motos and Hanoi

Today we arrived in Hanoi at some incredibly early hour. Although - it wasn't as early as it was supposed to be. The 12-hour train from Hue to Hanoi was supposed to depart at 4:30 and actually left around 7:30. But we managed to kill the time in the train station just fine (see the photo below). Our guide (the Vietnamese guy in the photo) even taught us the Vietnamese version of Gin Rummi. To pass the time on the train - we proceeded to drink many small bottles of vodka and our group managed to consume all of the Coke available for sale on the train :) All that liquor made sleeping on the train rather easy! After eating, resting and showering once we were in town, I walked around Hanoi a little and saw the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex. Below is a photo of me in front of the One Pillar Pagoda.

Yesterday, we took moto rides through the countryside around Hue - certinally a highlight of the trip, despite the rain and flooded roads. I have many amusing stories from this journey. We stopped to see a woman who makes the connical hats, how incense is made (I'm giving it a go in the photo below) and one of the tomb complex's of a former King of Vietnam (last photo). On this journey I learned that when plowing through flooded roads deeper than the tailpipe, one must go fast enough to keep the water out of the moto. My driver was kind enough to push our bike to higher land with me perched on top so my boots didn't have to get submerged (most of us wore the wrong shoes for the adventure). I also learned that it's not all that uncomfortable to be middle of the three on a moto after one of the other girls bike's wouldn't start up again after cutting out in the flooded road. It was really awesome seeing the coutryside, towns, and alleyways from the back of a bike.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

tasty treats

Last night in Hoi An, an number of us went for a cooking class. We learned to make pumpkin soup, deep fried spring rolls, green papya salad, fish (or eggplant) in banana leaf, and spinach fried in garlic (made a little differently than I'm used to). Then we ate it all! Yummy!!! I can't wait to try it all out on you guys. Our chef in charge (on the left in the photo) was quite good. She normally does the class at the resturant she works at by the river, but it's currently flooded so we were in a house farther back from the river. In the photo, you see Daniel grating the papya for our salad. The Lonely Planet (my travel guide) says Hoi An is a gastronomic treat - and they're quite right!

Today we traveled to Hue and toured around here for the afternoon. Tomorrow morning we take a boat ride on the Perfume River and visit one of the tombs of the former kings. Then we hop on an overnight train to Hanoi for more adventures!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

a bit wet

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Hoi An - which is currently a bit flooded. We're here after much of the water has gone away, but there's parts of the town that are still inaccessible. When we got here, the street to our hotel was ankle deep with water, but it was chest deep in the morning. The streets have really high curbs because of the flooding that happens every year. The flooding this year is the worst they've seen in something like 10 or 15 years. What's truly amazing is the locals seem to make the best of it. They put most of their stuff up on the second floor when the rains come, so less gets damaged. Now they're working on washing the icky mud out of their brick/cement homes - and are still smiling. The photo below shows some of the flooded streets. These houses shoudl be about a block and a half from the river. Lucily the flooding hasn't stopped us from shopping! Hoi An is known for its tailors so last night a few of us went to one of them and ordered up some clothes to be made. I'm getting a wool jacket (like one to wear with jeans or trousers) - a copy of one from J Crew, a top, and a skirt. If they don't turn out well, I can always not purchase them. But I hope it works out! There are so many shops here and the buildings are really interesting - so we've all fallen in love with Hoi An. Throughout Vietnam you can see the large Chinese influence in the style of the buildings and the temples. It's a bit different than Cambodia and Thailand.

Oh - and the coffee in SE Asia - sensational!! I have to limit myself so I'm not buzzing around everywhere. The coffee is a bit strong and has this beautiful smooth, rich flavor to it. I've purchased some beans to bring back and hopefully it tastes as good at home as it does here.
I've gotta run - off for my first fitting with the tailor!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sidewalks and hair styles

I've been in Saigon for three nights - and it's a rather interesting city. I'm enjoying the sidewalk cafe's. Literally - sidewalk cafe's. The are these small, kid-size plastic chairs and tables you sit in on the sidewalk and there's a woman with a little cart who will bring you fresh juice, coffee, a smoothie, beer, soda. It's really quite nice because you can sit and watch the world go by. It's also interesting because the sidewalks are not really for walking. They're for the motobike shops to do their repairs, the sidewalk cafes, parking motos and cars, people to lay out whatever they're trying to sell, etc. So you end up walking down the side of the street. It's fine though, because cars drive toward the middle of the road and the motos toward the edges and motos are very good at dodging pedestrians. I haven't had any motos come close to me. It's this crazy kind of chaos that works. You just have to get used to it. The motos go pretty slow so the one time I did see 2 of them bump into each other, the people laughed about it and didn't even lose their balance.

I've been in desperate need of a fresh coat of polish on my toes so I finally got my pedicure the day before yesterday. I went to the salon next to my hotel with another gal in my group, Rachel. While we were there - there was an asian woman from the US getting her hair done. She reccomended the shampoo so highly that we decided to stick around for some more beauty treatments. I got a deep condition, shampoo and my hair blew straight. Rachel also got her hair cut. But let me tell you - this was no ordinary shampoo. It was a 1/2 hour head massage. Quite lovely. I could get used to this. And the cost of my hour plus of beauty? $20. That's the cost of getting the stylist to blow my hair straight at home. So here's a photo of Rachel and I with straigt hair, enjoing a beverage at the sidewalk cafe.
Next up - adventures on Hoi An. We're departing Saigon in an hour. Just a warning - I've been having trouble with internet in Vietnam, so posts might not come as often.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sin Jow

After my third boarder crossing, I've made it to Vietnam. Yesterday we took something like a 4 hour ferry ride from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc. We stayed in that town for the evening and it was rather interesting. This route - ferry & bus - isn't the most direct way to Saigon, so not too many Westerners go through the town. And Intrepid only runs the tour like this, using the ferry, at certain times of the year. So needless to say the locals were very interested in us. In Cambodia, I learned a little bit of Khmer went a long way so I've picked up some Vietnamese. So far, I can say hello, goodbye, no thank you, I love you, and Oh my God (good for bargaining).

Last night we took a moto ride to the top of Sam Mountain, next to Chau Doc, to watch the sunset. It wasn't very clear because the locals were burning the rice patties - which the do after harvesting the rice. We then hopped back on our motos and visited the local temple. There were a few little boys who had a dung beetle on a string and were playing with it. I picked up the beetle and righted it. The boys probably thought I was some strange Westerner for not being frightened by the bug. The one was munching on the seeds from a lotus pod, so he decide to share them with me. You peel the green coating off each seed to reveal the white inside. It isn't wasn't bad, but I've eaten better things here. It was pretty cool none the less - everyone is so friendly.

Now after an 8hr bus ride today we're in Saigon - and it's raining. Not too hard, but the first rain we've seen. This computer doesn't see to want to talk to my camera, so I'll have to try and post photos at another time.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Some photos

Hello from Phnom Penh! I'm here in the capital for 2 nights. This morning was rather depressing where we visited S-21 and the Killing Fields. I'll leave those stories for when I get back but I'll sum it up with the entire time we were at both places - hardly a word was spoken by anyone in my group and I only took two photos.

On a lighter note- last night we ate at a restaurant called Romdeng. There's a lot of street children in Cambodia and there are several restaurants that teach the children and give them experience to work in hospitality. It's a really nice restaurant with traditional dishes from all over Cambodia - including tarantula (no one in our group would eat the hairy thing :). For the children too young to work in the restaurant, they just get an education for starters.

And here's some photos from Siem Reap. The first is a group shot in front of Angkor Wat. Some monks asked to take a photo with us (there was a third monk with their digital camera!). How cool is that? We see monks all over the temples and tourist sites - we wonder if it's to spread good will. The next photo is from the dinner we had in Siem Reap at a local family's house - sensational! Not the normal tourist experience!! It was set up because of our guide's relationship with the family. (and of course we compensated them for the meal). After we finished eating (the family ate earlier) the kids were excited to hang out with us and some music was put on - Cambodian pop! So we all boogied down together until bedtime. They're all so sweet!