Sunday, March 29, 2009

Siem Reap

Wow, what a place. Siem Reap has been more than just temples for me. Don't get me wrong, the temples of Angkor are awe-inspiring and are truly wonders of the world but on top of that I've really enjoyed my stay in the city of Siem Reap. I've been staying in this cute little old colonial house renovated to be a guesthouse (on the outside it has a poster saying, "Looks expensive but not!"). They are incredibly friendly, helpful, and truly service oriented. Siem Reap is jammed packed with all sorts of international I am more of a "when in Rome" type I stuck to the local cuisine which is as always amazing. The focus in Cambodia is often on the children in need and Siem Reap is no different. One of the nights I was here there was a Puppet Parade with a bunch of different NGOs (non-government organizations) and the children they support. It was amazing to see these children so enthusiastic about their creations and their organizations that help them survive (pics included). Each time I see children working hard to rise above their own poverty I am supremely inspired and proud of them.

Enjoy my pics of the glorious Temples of Angkor and don't laugh at my 5am sunrise pics...pre-coffee/tea!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Current Events

Upon heading back to a place with toilets that flush (rather than a hole in the ground or the scooping method) and TV in my room, I was quickly switched back into reality. These are a few of the interesting things that grabbed my attention:

1) People hate AIG executives (and let's face it, all of Wall Street) much more than when I left (I think I'm going to tell people I used to be a chef...people like chefs)

2) Barney Frank got MUCH greyer and grumpier while dealing with Geithner & Bernanke's testimonies (I wasn't sure it was possible)

3) Apparently there's a drug war going on with our dear neighbors to the south...who knew?!

4) Toyota has joined our American the crapper...nice work boys!

5) Crazy octuplet mother fired her nanny...brilliant!

Just arrived in Siem Reap and off to see Angkor Wat (one of the wonders of the world) tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sihanoukville/Bamboo Island

As if the chilling out in Kampot wasn't enough, I found myself in one of the best beach towns I've been in so far. Ah Sihanoukville, pronounced Si-nook-ville (local westerners call it snookie). It has been a great little vacation from the everyday sight seeing. The first day I was on the beach I met this girl, Eda from Sweden, who has been living here for 2 years. She taught me about the local culture, people, businesses, and the interesting stories about the children that roam the beach front trying to sell crafts all day long. As in many countries here, the parents must pay for their children to attend school so as a result lots of children do not attend school. There are a number of charity organizations that have come in after the Khmer Rouge regime fell to help with rebuilding the countries. Setting up schools for children to attend for free was one of their priorities. The countries needs a lot work but hopefully it will get there.

While Eda and I were out we bumped into her friend Kate who works for a tour group to go out to this remote island called Bamboo Island (1hr from Sihanoukville on a boat that could make anyone seasick). It was incredible. So peaceful, filled with a couple of bungalows, 1 outhouse, couple of hammocks, and a Bar/Restaurant/Reception area...that's it! At night we all went snorkeling to see the fluorescent plankton, pretty cool!


After the sights of PP and a broken down bus on the side of the road for about 4hrs, I finally arrived in Kampot. Some people might know it as an important place of black pepper exporting, I know it as a place to do some chilling out on a hammock...AWESOME. I rented a bicycle for the day and did some venturing out to the riverfront and down to some caves and concluded my day watching the beautiful sunset. The English guesthouse owner where I was staying (chef by trade) employs Khmer people so that he may teach them skills that they may use in the future. I think this is wonderful as some of the people of Cambodia have this mentality of who knows if I'll be alive tomorrow or if everything will be taken away from me again. He teaches them to cook both Western and Khmer cooking so that they may work anywhere. Best quote from him after I asked why all the staff are women..."Because if you want a job done efficiently and correctly you hire a woman!" Love it!

Phnom Penh

After various boats and buses coming from the Mekong Delta, I finally arrived in Phnom Penh (Cambodia). It was late at night so I was very interested in finding my guesthouse having some dinner and going to sleep. I found this interesting place called the Top Banana Guesthouse on one of the websites that reviews SE Asia. It worked out to be perfect, very chill vibe with a little meeting area for the visitors to come and chat with each other. Conversations usually revolve around where you've been where you are going and where you're from...and of course since I'm American, "Aren't you glad you have Obama now". As always, I like to rate a place on it's notch! I ended up staying up a bit longer than expected as I started talking to some really interesting people (and one of my first Americans along the way...sometimes it's nice to catch up with the fellow citizens). After a nice night of food, drinks, and some laughs, I woke up the next morning ready to see the sights. Off I went to see the capital city including sights of the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, a stroll down the riverfront, and I concluded my day with a documentary about Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge regime. I'm not much of a history buff so I needed to do a little preparation before my sights tomorrow of the Killing Fields and S-21 (Genocide Museum). It was informative but of course nothing can really prepare you to see locations where there were mass murders taking place. I couldn't help but draw comparisons to when I was in Poland visiting the concentration camp remains. Extremely moving and to think we still haven't learned as this continues to go on today.

Phnom Penh is an interesting city with complete extremes of rich and poor, ancient temples and modern cars (they love the Lexus SVU here and as if it wasn't clear it is a Lexus they put a huge decal on the side so you are well aware it is before it comes barreling into you).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mekong Delta

After spending a short visit in HCMC/Saigon, I went on to visit one of the most fertile and desired pieces of land/water in all of the region. The Mekong delta is the where the mighty Mekong River (which starts up in Tibet) empties into. The start of the trip was the usual take a bus to a boat to another boat to a bus and then wait. I know some of you are thinking, LT isn't very good at waiting, but I'll tell you after spending just over a month in SE Asia I've gotten really good at being patient. I stroll through the coconut, rice, fruit & fish farms. I learned about the annual life of the people who live in this area and their struggles during the rainy season to keep their house intacted while at sea for months at a time. As always, when the boat passes by the children you hear "HELLO" from the distance. They love to say hello and then of course we respond with hello and a wave and then they go off giggling because that's all they can communicate. It's super sweet!

Monday, March 16, 2009

South Coast Cambodia Preview

Fell upon this very recent article about where I'll be after Phnom Penh:

Thank you, Vietnam

The month in Vietnam definitely flew by. After I got the hang of it, I have to tell you, I really enjoyed my time here. There's something about the hardworking & mostly friendly people and the ability to go from rolling hills filled with rice paddies to the scenic beachfront to the madness of the city that made me really enjoy this country. Just a short list of things I've learned here:

1) In order to get married, the bride's family must exchange a water buffalo for the groom (OK then, guess I can't get married here)
2) Green is the color for Hope (can't go through a village without seeing all shades of it)
3) Mo, Tai, Bah...Joy -- Translation: 1, 2, 3...cheers! -- said when taking shots of rice spirits
4) Children are taught at a very young age to say hello to all strangers as it is a sign of respect (very different than in the USA)
5) Matriarchal society -- These women are extremely hardworking and dedicated to their land, people, & family.
6) The people of Vietnam are nicknamed "Bamboo" as bamboo is very tough and hard to break.
7) Mostly Buddhist & Catholic
8) Government discounts TV/Satellite to control population as well as educate the ethnic minorities and people in small villages.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

Well it's a quick visit to the big city. I'll tell you one thing, this is as close to NYC as I think I'm going to get while in Vietnam. Paved roads, stores that include price tags, and even a stop light once in awhile. I had a power tourist day -- Jade Emperor Pagoda, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral & the War Remnants Museum...all in about 200% Humidity & 90F. Although it was a short visit, I think I got the feel for it...Saigon, you're all right!

Off to the Mekong Delta tomorrow morning. Filled with boat rides, floating markets, and ethnic minority villages. After 3 days, I'll be in Cambodia. Catch you on the flip side.

Easy Riders Tour -- Dalat to Saigon

Gosh it's been so long and I have so much to tell. Well since we bought the open tour bus ticket in Hanoi (making stops throughout the country), we thought we should use them. Boy, did we figure out after 1 sleeper bus that things were gonna change. Trying to sleep on a bus that is weaving in and out of lanes at 65MPH while honking at a decibel that is inhumane we decided to take the advice of our frenchie friends and inquire about a special tour called Easy Riders ( Basically you hop on the back of a motorcycle for a set number of days with a set destination...the rest is in the hands of your guide. We told our guides we wanted to see the "real Vietnam" and that's just what we got! It was amazing (but my bum is still recovering from 4days worth of motorcycling through the countryside...the offical term is "monkey butt"!). My guide, Rocky, was incredible...his passion for his country and its people was so evident. I learned so much about the culture, history, ethnic minorities, and daily life. He even took us to his hometown and let us stay at his parents house with him. They are Catholic and were holding a special service for their village in their home that night. As we finished eating a fabulous meal, the rain began (they are coffee farmers and couldn't be happier that it was raining). They ended up not having enough people for their service so instead we all sat around and enjoyed some rice wine spirits and each others company. We were the first foreigners some of them had ever seen in person. When they found out I was "A Member of the Tribe", they were so excited to discuss the Old Testament with me (good thing I was a Bible major at JTS...knew that would come in handy someday). Anyway, it was so enjoyable and incredibly nice of them to welcome us into their home. There are so many stories to tell of this adventure but I will have to share when I return.

(For my own sake, I'm going to include a list of our stops)

Day 1 (Dalat):
Dragon Pagoda
Veggie Farm
Flower Farm
Coffee Plant
Silk Factory
Elephant Falls
Chil Village
Ma Village
Lak Lake

Day 2:
M'nong Village
Broken Church
War Veteran couple
Doay Sap Water Falls
Gia Long Water Falls
Rocky's Home

Day 3:
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Cashew Nut Factory
Bamboo Basket Making
Dog Xoai

Day 4 (HCMC/Saigon):
Broken bridge
Cu Chi Tower

If anyone is coming out to Vietnam, I would strongly suggest looking up the Easy Riders and most certainly use Rocky...he is the MAN!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hoi An

Well I haven't been to France (yet of course), but if I were to imagine what the old colonial towns looked like this would be it. Hoi An is packed with these little cafes serving the most delightful Banana Chocolate Pancakes (we know cause we've now tried them in almost every city we've been in so far!), little art galleries with incredible workmanship (from artists to woodcarvings to model ships), & rooftops with flowers & ivy growing all around. The temperture is stupidly hot so we figured the best way to spend the day is for a nice bike ride out to the beach. I lathered up in my SPF 50 got my long sleeves, hat, & sunglasses and off we went. As you would have to be completely insane to sit out in the sun for too long, they so generously provide little tiki umbrella things free of charge (of course you do get accosted by the touts every 5mins but when something is free in this country you take it!). The beach was followed by a delicious meal at a little cafe called Cafe Des Amies. Chef Mr. Kim asks if you want meat, seafood, or vegetarian (I opted for the last) and then he cooks up a 5 course meal with whatever is fresh in his kitchen...let me tell you it was amazing. Hoi An pretty much shuts down by 10pm which is fine with me as there is always another full day of touring coming my way tomorrow. Hoi An...C'est Magnific!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hue (pronounced: Hoo-A)

From the minute we got to this city I knew I liked it. There's just something about it. It's both Asian yet European, clean yet has a mysterious side, and most of all has the most magnificent food so far. I like to consider myself a bit of a foodie so I will try to describe to my foodie friends and family about this place. The food has a simple yet very enjoyable sensation. Hue local food includes a white noodle (rather than the yellow noodle served in the north, like the kind that comes in the ramen noodles packages at home), vegetables other than just cabbage/carrots/onions (I got to see mushrooms & I love mushrooms, cucumbers & something that looked like an apple but didn't taste like it and I wasn't allergic), and last but not least they have the ice cream man that comes around morning, noon, and night! I mean what could be bad about getting morning ice cream and it being totally socially acceptable (don't worry I wait until at least after 3pm to indulge!). He scoops the white almost coconut tasting ice cream into an ice cream cone pours some sort of sugary syrup and tops it off with some fried what seems to be caramel...MMM all for 5000 Dong/$0.28! With all that said, I've really enjoyed Hue for it's slower pace yet still urban environment. The riverfront is calm and that's where all the young kids hang out and socialize (definitely beats the mall). Good times in Hue and off to Hoi An tomorrow morning...gotta get my shopping on (Hoi An is known for it's tailor made clothing)