Friday, January 21, 2011


Note: re-posting this entry due to some publishing issues involving Network Blogs and Google Reader. If you have received this entry on Cambodia already via email there have been no changes since the original post so you may ignore or delete this email. Thanks! -Greg

Time to take a few moments and highlight our visit to Cambodia. To start with we only spent time in Siem Reap which is known for the Angkor Wat temples. We spent a total of seven nights in Siem Reap at the Ta Som Guesthouse ( I'll highlight our time in Angkor Wat then review some of the activities we did in and around Siem Reap.

Words probably will not due Angkor Justice and my pictures probably will not either :-). Angkor Wat is a complex of several temples stretching out over several kilometers. They were mostly built between the 9th and 15th centuries making them older than most of churches found throughout Europe. We spent spent the better part of three days visiting at least 17 temples. We purchased a three day pass for $40 US. I think it was money well spent. A couple side notes on the ticket. When you purchase the ticket they take your photograph and print it out on the ticket to cut down on counterfeiting and scalping. They check for tickets constantly which is a good thing and you have to show it to use the bathroom for free which were in good condition to our surprise. We have visited numerous other significant landmarks on our trip that had poor facilities but I guess our $40 went to something. Anyway, back to the temples. Many of the temples are massive and some are quite a distance away from each other. Each day we rented the use of a tuk tuk from our hotel which cost us anywhere from $12 to $28. This was cheaper than a tour bus or car but not as cheap as riding on the back of a moped which would have been fine with me if I were traveling solo. The temples have numerous designs and are influenced by either Hinduism or Buddhism and sometimes both depending on what religion the king endorsed at the time. We spent a lot time climbing through the ruins including climbing up many that were quite steep. All in all it was very enjoyable and I would recommend a visit. The peak time of the year is from December to February due to the weather being the coolest and driest. It didn't rain on us and the temps were a bit hot with highs in the low 90's. For more about Angkor Wat I'd suggest the wiki travel article that I read before visiting (

Angkor Wat

The rest of our time was spent in or around Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a town with a little under 200,000 people depending on how you count. Its primary purpose is as a hub for the Angkor Wat traffic. It has numerous hotels and restaurants which is pretty good because there is plenty of competition which can keep prices down. Our hotel for instance only cost us $15 a night and that included a free breakfast, free wi-fi, free pick up from airport, and free rides into downtown which is only a mile away. We did enjoy walking around and eating downtown. The food was good and cheap. It took a lot of effort and multiple 50 cent draft beers for us to spend more than $8 or $10 for dinner for two people. One interesting note is that everything in Siem Reap and from what I've heard Cambodia in general is priced in US dollars and the ATM’s dispense money primarily in dollars. Their currency is called the Riel and ca be pretty unstable. Everyone prefers dollars. In Vietnam things would mostly be priced in their currency but you could pay for everything in dollars or euros.

Us getting fish feet massages on Pub Street in Siem Reap

The two main activities we did not related to the Angkor Wat temples were a visit to the Kompong Phluk village and we went horseback riding. We actually did the Kompong Phluk village on the third day of temple hopping. The village is actually a floating village about 30 plus minutes outside of Siem Reap that sits on a the Tonle Sap Lake. It is a very large lake. It has a population of around 3,000. The neat thing is that nearly all of the house are built on stilts since the water level of the lake changes so much from the dry to wet season. Most houses if you want to call them that are about 30 meters off the ground. Bad news is that most of these houses don't look to be in such good condition. We spent a hour on a motorized boat weaving around the outskirts of the village before switching to a canoe that a local paddled for about 30 minutes through some mangrove trees before switching back to our motor boat to go out to the lake. It was pretty neat and a little sobering to see people living like this but I am guessing they are living that way because they want to. Only bad part was that our driver was not that good. We banged in to other boats and houses among some tight turns and also got stuck once. When we docked he and his buddies suggested a tip for the driver but we kept walking and didn't tip. We had already paid a $15 entrance fee to the village and $5 for the paddle boat portion.

Kompong Phluk floating village

The other activity we did was much more enjoyable although a little painful. Alethea and I got up bright and early at 5 am in order to go on a 4 hour horse ride at sunrise. The place we went to is called the Happy Horse Ranch Farm. It was a 15 minute tuk tuk ride from our hotel. I had not ridden a horse since I was probably 6 or 7 years old and I barely remember it. It was at my cousins in Bluffton, Indiana. All I remember is hanging on to my cousin Elaine for dear life. I definitely enjoyed this horse experience. We rode out into the Cambodia countryside and even ate breakfast at an 11th century Hindu Temple that is off the beaten path. My horse's name was Astar and was 6 years old. I thought he was pretty well behaved although when we stopped he would occasionally start eating and I would have to give him a kick or yank the reins to get his attention. We spent most of our time walking but on the way back we did some trotting and even some galloping which is close to a full run. I liked the galloping part even though my rear end did not. Both Alethea and I were pretty sore and I even took a couple Tylenol once we got back to the hotel which is pretty rare for me. If anyone is reading this who plans to go to Siem Reap then I'd recommend the place we used. Here is their link ( I would say the only negative is that we went by a lot of houses with some being small three sided shacks. We saw several children running around either completely naked or naked from the waste down which was sad. We did have several children come running out and start waving at us saying hello or good bye. 

Us on our horses

Well that pretty much wraps up Cambodia. It was a somewhat brief but enjoyable experience. The people were nice and friendly and we didn't really encounter any problems outside of a minor problem purchasing our Angkor Wat tickets that I will not go into detail about since it wasn't that big of a deal. Only real negative as I alluded to a little bit in the previous paragraph was that once you get out of the town and temples you see a lot of poverty and people struggling to get by. I think Cambodia statistically is the poorest country we'll visit with the average yearly income being around $2,000 a year. If you spend enough time SE Asia outside of the tourist zones you'll should come away with a better feeling for your situation especially those living in the US. Cambodia also has just a terrible history if you spend any time reading about. One travel resources said that things have pretty much gone downhill in Cambodia since the 15th century until about 10 years ago which is probably not too far away from being accurate.

Next stop for us is Thailand. We are crossing by land starting from Siem Reap. We'll be taking a 3 hour taxi to the border (only $25) then picking up a Bangkok bound bus once we cross into Thailand. We already have our Thailand visa so we aren't anticipating too much of a problem. Hope everyone is doing well and being careful in all that snow for those in TN or wherever it may be snowing quite a bit. Take care!

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Friday January 15th
Despite leaving 20 minutes late we arrived on time in Siem Reap @ 4:55 pm.
Made through purchasing a visa, immigration, and customs by within 20 minutes.
Tuk Tuk driver from hotel met us outside of airport. Trip to hotel took about 15 minutes
Ate dinner @ hotel. Hotel Ta Som Guesthouse. Total for dinner was $6.

Saturday January 16th
Woke around 5 am to the call of Buddha. Loud music from nearby temple.
Woke up via alarm @ 8 am.
Spent most of day planning Siem Reap\Cambodia activities. We had spent a lot of time on Vietnam and then on Thailand and needed to re-read out Cambodia stuff so we spent a couple hours doing this. We then worked with the hotel staff on booking a guide and driver for the following day. We've also booked a day of horse riding. I've spent more time on elephants than I have horses in my life.
Decided to get out around 4 pm. Took tuk tuk downtown.
Walked around for about 1 hour. Very heavily tourist town. Felt like I was on spring break with all the cheap beer and westerns.
Ate dinner at Khmer restaurant. Had 4 50 cent beers and two entrees for $8
Got fish foot massages by sticking our feet in a fish tank and let fish nibble on our feet. They had small fish and large fish. Cost $3 per 15 minutes.
Walked home

Sunday January 17th
Woke up @ 6:45 am, ate breakfast @ 7:00.
Left for Angkor Wat @ 8 am.
Little snafu getting a ticket. We purchased a 3 day ticket for $40. Alethea noticed that the ticket was good for 3 consecutive days instead of what is advertised where you can use it any 3 days within 7 days. We tried to argue with the people at the window and they said that you can't change the ticket once it is bought. They wouldn't listened. They don't think outside the box and don't go out of their way to help the customer. Still have a lot to learn in the service industry.
We stopped at several Wat. I'll need to get the list from Alethea. We started with Angkor Thom and visited 3 or 4 other temples before finishing the day with Angkor Wat.
We had our driver drop off us downtown where we ate dinner. Dinner was only $3 a piece per entrees where at lunch it was $5. Total dinner bill was only $8 and that included 4 beers (.50 & two $3 entrees).
Walked back to hotel and got online. Had to email the horse riding people since we have to go to Angkor Wat over 3 consecutive days instead of being able to break it up.

Day one temples:
South Gate Ankor Thom
Central Angkor Thom (Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of Leper King)
Victory Gate
Chau Say Thevoda
Ta Keo
Ta Prahm
Ankor Wat

Monday January 18th
Woke up @ 6:45. breakfast and out the door by 8 am
Good day overall. Did the grand circuit of temples. Some were far out. 35 minutes away from town. Visited 7 or 8 temples. Temples today were mostly 10th to 12th century. They were flatter and somewhat different than yesterday's.
Arrived at scene of accident involving a moped and truck. Didn't look at bodies in the road. It wasn't pretty. Wreck just happened before we got there.
Finished sightseeing around 4:30 pm. Had tuk tuk driver drop us on Pub Street
Stayed on Pub Street drinking beer and eating pizza until 9 pm. Sat next to three Australian women who are sister that are our parents age and had a really good time.

Day two temples:
Pre Pup
Banteay Srey
Banteay Samre
East Mebon
Ta Som
Neak Pean
Phnom Bakheng

Tuesday January 18th
Visited the final group of three temples starting at 8 am this morning. We were essentially done by 10 am. Went to village that live on the water on houses that are on stilts. During the rainy the season the rain can get quit a bit higher. The villages has about 3000 people in it. We took a motorized boat through a part of the village then a boat where a woman paddled while her 2 kids were in the back. Our motor boat driver was not that good. When we docked he and his buddies wanted a $1 for a tip but we didn't tip. He got stuck and was banging in to the things. The boat itself wasn't in good condition. It was pieced together and was started with a jumper cable connection.
We were done with the village by around 1:30 pm.
Back @ hotel by about 2:15 pm. Washed up and ate lunch.
Spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel.

Day three temples:
(Rolous Group)
Preak Ko

Kompong Phluk village

Wednesday January 19th
Not sure why but we started to hear chants of monks or something coming from the temple starting around 4 am.
Woke up a little after 8 am.
Ate breakfast then spent the morning going over our task list of things to do. Alethea worked on Thailand train tickets, I worked on figuring out how to get to our hotel in Bangkok. We then re-worked the transport section of our cost spreadsheet. This helped us get an estimate for much we can spend for Thailand and give us ballpark estimated for how much we can spend in India and then in Europe.
Spent the afternoon editing and uploading pictures
Went toiletry supply shopping at grocery store pretty close to our hotel.
Ate dinner at nice restaurant real close to hotel. Had preset menu that was only $6 a piece plus the 75 cent draft beers. Service was good to so we left a $2 tip on a $15 meal. It is rare to tip in Cambodia.

Thursday January 20th
Woke up @ 5 am to go horse riding.
Left hotel @ 5:30 am. Funny note – Three of the hotel staff were asleep on the floor under a mosquito net in the lobby when we left.
Tuk Tuk ride took about 15 minutes to get to the Happy Ranch Horse Farm (
Started riding horses starting @ 6:00 am for 4 hours. Got back @ 10 am exactly. I really enjoyed it. We were out in the countryside. My horse was names Astar and is a 6 years old male. We mostly walked but we trotted and galloped a little bit. Pretty neat when the horse was moving pretty fast. My rear end is sore after the 4 hour ride. We stopped for about 30 minutes about 2 hours into the ride to have breakfast at a 11th century Hindu temple.
Was back at hotel by 11 am.
Took shower and edited pictures.
Ate lunch at hotel for $3 total.

Friday January 21st
Travel day to Thailand.
Took private car from hotel in Siem Reap to Thai border @ the Poipet crossing. It was very smooth. We actually had to walk across the border which is the 1st time I've walked across a border between to countries. In Israel we had to take a bus to cross into Jordan even though it was less than kilometer.
End of Cambodian blog :-)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Central and Southern Vietnam

Our second tour of duty in Vietnam was spent primarily in the central and southern sections of the country. We started off in Hue after an overnight train ride from Hanoi where we spent four nights. Our next stop took us about 3 hours down the road by bus to the city of Hoi An where we spent 3 nights. The last stop was for four nights in Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. I'll start my review with recapping Hue.

Hue is a city of about 300,000 in central Vietnam. It is primarily known for being the former seat of Vietnam kings before the last king abdicated in 1945. We arrived in Hue after taking an overnight train from Hanoi. The train ride wasn't bad and I slept pretty good but the quality of the train wasn't as good as the overnight trains we took in the north. One interesting thing that I noticed on a couple instrument panels were that the instruments were made in the USSR which means they were at least 20 years old. They were probably older than 20 years based on the way they looked.

Imperial Palace entrance in Hue

Hue was a nice city that had something different to offer than what we saw in the north. On our first day we explored the area south of the city where our hotel was just to orient ourselves to the city. Unfortunately, it was the only day that it did not rain. We spent our second day walking around the Imperial Palace and the Citadel area. The Citadel is an older area of Hue that is surrounded by a 10 km long wall where the bulk of the city's inhabitants live. Within the Citadel is the Imperial Palace. We first toured the Palace. The Palace has been heavily damaged over years including the Vietnam War. There were over 120 buildings with only about 20 that have been restored. Some of the buildings they count at being restored weren't in all that great of shape. It was still worth the visit. After the Palace we walked through some side streets within Citadel before hiking up top one of the gates to get a better view of the city. We then started to walk back to our hotel. After a stop for lunch it started to rain and we got completely soaked. Good news was that we our rain pants and jackets which helped but only so much. Due to the on and off rain we decided to go on a day tour to visit some of the other sites of the city. We had planned to rent bicycles and bike to each site. It only cost $1 or $2 a day per person to rent bikes. The tour was $10 which included transportation on a decent bus plus it included a buffet lunch. Good thing we signed up for it since it rained most of the day we took the tour. We did get to see a 400 year old pagoda and the tombs of two of the kings. The tombs are large structures that take a hour to visit a piece and were impressive for the most part.

Thien Mu Pagoda - built in 1601 AD & the tallest in Vietnam

We did enjoy our hotel in Hue. The staff and owner were really nice especially considering that I broke a glass window in our hotel room. I was trying to open a window in our room for ventilation after Alethea had washed our Teva sandals. The window popped off the track and fell into the hallway shattering the glass. I notified the hotel desk and we ended up having to switch rooms since they couldn't repair the window immediately. Even after I broke the window the staff of the hotel invited us to eat lunch with them which we did. The owner of the hotel joined us. The owner lives in Hanoi and comes down to visit his hotel every so often. He couldn't speak English but the women who worked at the hotel translated for us. He also likes to drink some local homemade rice liquor. He poured Alethea and I glassed and we took several shots over lunch. We also ate dinner again that evening with the hotel staff and the owner along with another older gentleman. Dinner was pretty good and we managed to finish off two more bottles of rice liquor between the four of us. The owner actually took a break at one point and came back downstairs in his pajamas. It was pretty funny. We were invited to dinner again the next night but passed since we were out all day in the rain and were worn out from all the rice liquor meals.

The next stop central in Vietnam was the city of Hoi An. We traveled to Hoi An by booking a bus at our hotel in Hue for $5 per person. It was a decent but somewhat cramped bus but it was only a 3 hour drive. Hoi An is a small town of around 100,000 that has mostly been preserved to look at is it did 1 to 2 centuries ago. Hoi An has a long history of commerce. It was a key trading port starting back in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Chinese and Japanese traded here for hundreds of years. Later on Spanish and Portuguese missionaries set up shop followed by the French. The city was spared during the Vietnam War with the US.

Phuc Kien Assembly Hall - Hoi An

I really liked Hoi An. The buildings in the old town area have either been preserved or restored to look as they did in the 18th or 19th century. They also ban cars, mopeds, and even bicycles from the central part of the old town area which makes it a good town to walk around in. There are several old houses, temples, and assembly halls to visit. To visit them you purchase a book of 5 tickets and you have one ticket taken at each of the structures that participate. Some temples are free and some houses do not participate and charge a separate fee. We spent quite a bit of time walking around Hoi An. One of the best things about Hoi An is the quality of the restaurants. We ate some really nice meals at Ly Cafe 22, Lighthouse, and at an Indian restaurant called Ganesh. I don't think any of the meals cost more than $15 for two people including drinks. We also took advantage of the inexpensive prices and both got massages one afternoon. I really enjoyed mine. It was called a Vietnamese Traditional Massage. My masseuse used a couple types of oils including one that was hot and felt like having tiger balm all over my body. After our massages we relaxed further by stopping to have some 15 cent draft beers at a bar on the way back to our hotel. It was a tough day :-). Only negative about Hoi An was that the weather in Hue followed us meaning that it rained quite a bit. It rained each day we were there but not as much on the last day.

petting a puppy at a bar of all places in Hoi An

The final stop on our Vietnam tour was the city of Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. Saigon as I will call it is a modern (by Vietnam standards) city that is compact, crowded, with literary millions of mopeds. It was definitely a contrast to Hanoi which has a similar population. In Hanoi the weather was cooler and it seemed a little more laid back and not as hectic as Saigon. Most of our activities included visiting museums, a pagoda, and a large market. Probably the most interesting museum was the War Remnants Museum. This museum focuses on the Vietnam War and had multiple exhibits demonstrating what the US did to the Vietnamese population through bombings and the use of chemicals such as the infamous agent orange. I've read all about it before but it was kind of sobering to view photos of all the carnage. I had a little trouble with some of the captions indicating that it was the US Army's policy to kill women and children which obviously wasn't true. The museum also didn't mention a lot of the atrocities committed by the North against their own citizens. Other museums that we visited were the former Presidential Palace now called the Reunification Palace where the leader of South Vietnam resided and the Vietnamese History Museum. Neither of these two museum were all that spectacular. I thought the Reunification Palace was OK since that is the place where a tank crashed the gates forcing the leader of South Vietnam to surrender which essentially ended the Vietnam War even though US troops had already left by then. We were able to go to the Thailand consulate in Saigon and get a free 60 day tourist visa which gives us more options and saves us $35 when we cross into Thailand. If you cross by bus you only get a 15 day exemption stamp but no visa and if you fly you can get an exemption stamp good for 30 days with both costing $35. We plan on staying for 31 days and would like to cross over land from Cambodia which will probably only cost us $30 versus flying which would cost $300 from Siem Reap.

Presidential or Reunification Palace in Saigon

This concludes our time in Vietnam. Like the north I really enjoyed our time in the central and southern sections. The town of Hoi An was my favorite with Hue being second and Saigon coming in third. Quite honestly I'd probably skip Saigon or only spend two days there. Hoi An was my favorite because it was small and easily walkable due to its size. The food there was probably the best in Vietnam too. There were probably only two types of things we didn't do. One item was visit the DMZ just north of Hue. I had read that it wasn't all that spectacular to look at and many former battle fields were overgrown and not much to see. The other thing we didn't do was visit any of the beach towns such as Nha Trang. We decided to skip the beach towns since we plan on spending 1-2 weeks on a beach in Thailand somewhere.

Vietnam overall was a pleasant surprise for me. We spent 22 nights in Vietnam all together which ties it with Australia as the country we have spent the most time in on our journey around the world. Originally we had only planned on spending probably 5 days here and all of that would have been in the Haio area. I am glad we quickly decided to extend our time here. The people that we encountered were very nice and helpful. It is easy to get around and the language barrier is not all that difficult. I really didn't know what to expect considering the history of the US with Vietnam. I definitely think that since a generation has passed since the war the country has moved on and doesn't really seem to care that much about what happened 40 years ago. I cannot really think of too many negatives. You still see some poverty stricken areas like you do in China and other parts of Asia but the people pretty much seem positive and happy to be alive versus in China where people were very serious and didn't pay attention to you. In Vietnam you can smile and say hello to people and they respond. In China they wouldn't even acknowledge you. One slight negative is that they do have internet censorship in Vietnam with it being virtually a one party communist state. We lost access to Facebook after visiting Hue. There is a big 5 year planning government meeting coming up and as they got closer they started to block Facebook. I didn't mind not being able to access Facebook especially since I like Twitter better but it is a reminder that the government is in charge and the Vietnamese people are not free. In summary, I'd recommend Vietnam more so than China which actually doesn't say too much. There is quite a variety of scenery and things to do. It's also a place to visit if you aren't too much of a world traveler or if haven't even been to Asia.

Next stop for us is Cambodia. Our current plan is to stay in the city of Siem Reap for 7 nights and visit the Angkor Wat complex of temples. We then head for Thailand for approximately a month before visiting the mother of all challenges.....India. Take care everyone!

Links to photo albums:

Daily Log

Tuesday January 2rd
Arrived in Hanoi back with no issue. Plant in Vientiane was about 30 minutes late leaving but we made up for it and landed 15 minutes later than scheduled.
Made it through Vietnamese immigration with no problems.
Rode into town with Danish couple we took a taxi into Vientiane with 4 days prior.
Boarded train around 6 pm.
Train left right on time @ 7 pm.
Chatted with two women traveling through Vietnam form Melbourne, Australia.
Ate a bowl of noodles and a beer for dinner.
Read my book on Buddhism until about 11 pm before falling asleep.

Wednesday January 3rd
Woke up around 7 am. Slept pretty good considering it was on a train in not to clean of an environment.
Greeter from hotel met us at train station. Took 10 minute taxi ride to hotel and checked in.
Ate breakfast
Came back to room and read Lonely Planet .pdf chapters on Hue in order to map our itinerary here.
Walked around our side of the river
Stopped and bought some food smell stuff
Walked around large department store called the Big C – bought mouth wash and two beers for under $3.
Ate Pho with beef and two large beers for less than $5.
Walked back to hotel.
Fixed computer network access issue on Alethea's computer
Dinner at local restaurant L'abergine. Had set menu. Pretty good

Thursday January 4th
Woke up @ 7 am. Slept so so
Breakfast at 7:30 am
Left hotel to walk to Imperial Palace @ 8:45 am. Took 45 minute to walk to it.
Stayed in Imperial Palace for a little over a hour. It was OK It has 140 some building only 20 or so have been restored much is in ruins.
Walked around the town for about a hour outside the palace. Walked up one of the gate entrances to get a better view of the city.
Walked back along the inside of the wall.
Exit the Citadel. Stopped by a corner restaurant to eat lunch. Waiter told us immediately it was a Amway salesman. One person tried to get us to buy pictures another made two attempts to get us to go riding on his motorbike to tour the pagodas and tombs. It started to rain so we had two beers.
Walked back in the rain. Stopped briefly at bookstore then grocery store. Got some beer, cheese, and nuts.
Walked back to hotel in rain. Immediately took showers once we got back. Back in by 3 pm
Took naps since we haven't been sleeping well recently.
Walked a few blocks down to Missy Rue's for dinner. Had bacon wrapped shrimp along with a chicken dish. Our total bill for 4 dishes 2 beer and a large water was $11.72.

Wednesday January 5th
Woke up at 8 am with alarm. Slept pretty good
Had pancakes for breakfast. Not bad
Came back to room to clean up.
Alethea washed Teva's thoroughly since they smelled and then put lavender oil we purchased on them to help with the smell.
I was trying to open a window to help with ventilation to help dry the shoes when the window popped off the track and fell breaking the glass. Told the hotel staff. We had to change rooms. Moved down to 2nd floor.
Discussed tours with hotel staff and booked tomb and pagoda tour for the next day.
Invited to lunch by hotel staff. Ate lunch with 4 workers plus owner of hotel. Had rice, pork, fish, eggs. Owner poured multiple shots of local homemade rice wine. We toasted by saying cheers and also something in Vietnamese which meant 100% meaning you drank your whole shot glass worth of wine. The owner then said I looked like David Beckam.
We had our picture taken with the owner of the hotel.
Then had tea with the owner. He then left.
He invited us to dinner @ 7 pm.
Came back to room and took a nap.
Walked to market across river. Bought pineapple, peanuts, and then went to super market to buy some chocolate.

Thursday January 6th
Took day long tour of Hue. Normally we don't do tours but there was a good chance of rain plus it wasn't that expensive. Tour only cost $10 and included lunch. Tour was OK except we were rushed at times plus we skipped one of the tombs. We had to pay entrance fees which were only $2.50 per person at three of the kings tombs. We visited Thien Mu Pagoda which was built in the early 1600's along with Minh Mang and Khai Dinh. We rode back on a boat down the Perfume River but it was raining. We also had to walk back to our hotel.
Ate dinner @ L'abergine where we ate the 1st night. I had the mixed garlic vegetables and squid stuffed with pork.
Came back to hotel and paid the bill.
Took showers and got on the internet.

Friday January 7th
Took bus from Hue to Hanoi – started to wait at 8 am, picked up @ 8:45. xfer to larger bus which didn't have much rooms between seats and not toilet as advertised but we did stop for 30 minutes. Arrived @ 12:30 pm. Hotel was supposed to have someone waiting for us but instead we had to call them.
Checked into hotel and ate lunch.
Walked around Hoi An for a couple hours. Nice small city with old building. They have no cars and moped zone downtown.
Visited bookstores. Tried to bargain with some over price couldn't agree. Will go to others tomorrow.
Stopped & had local homemade beer for 3000 VND per 12 oz glass.
Came back to hotel to research dining options
Walked 15 minutes to Ly Cafeteria 22. Very good, local, organic fresh ingredients.
Walked down to cooking school. Alethea signed up for a Sunday class. I skipped since it may be a little more advanced for me.
Walked back to hotel. Did visit Japanese bridge.

Saturday January 8th
Purchased a set of ticket that allowed entry to old houses, museums, and assembly halls in the old town section of Hoi An. Went to a cultural show @ 10:15 that lasted 30 minutes.
List places we visited – (Quan Cong Temple, Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, Hoi An Handicraft Workshop)
Went to Randy's Bookstore on Cam Nam island but didn't find anything.
Went to bar down the street and had one beer. Funny thing is that they brought us a shot of rum each even though we didn't ask for it.
Ate lunch @ Lighthouse which is the #1 rated Trip Advisor restaurant. Pretty good. I had sweet & sour chicken. Alethea had beef steak and fries. Her's was better.
Walked back in to town to our the one hall.
Went to bookstore and traded on book for a book about Vietnam plus 50 K.
Went to 2nd bookstore and we each bought two books for 180 K VND
Walked back to hotel
Decided to eat dinner at hotel since we had a big lunch and the food at our hotel is pretty good with good priced too.

Sunday January 9th
Alethea went to cooking class from 8:30to 1:pm
Called home @ 9 am for about 30 minutes
Re-organized my twitter account
Researched trip stuff
Got massage @ 3 pm – pretty good, better than Laos massage, used oils including a hot balm type oil
Drank .15 cent beers @ Lame Cafe afterward
Ate dinner @ Ganesh Indian food restaurant – good

Monday January 10th
Ate breakfast around 8 am
Checked out of hotel @ 10 am
Took taxi 27 km to Da Nang airport – took 45 minutes or so
Flew from Danang to Saigon – flight took a little over a hour and left about 30 minutes. No flight in SE Asia has left on time. Not a big deal as we don't have a certain time to be anywhere
Had to wait a little bit to get a taxi from the company our hotel recommend. They recommended only two companies since they are supposed to be more honest. Traffic was pretty think on way to hotel. Took a little over 30 minutes.
Checked right in to our hotel which is the Mini Saigon Sports 5 hotel which I booked online.
Walked around the block looking for a cheap restaurant to east dinner. Prices are a little more since we are in a big city and staying in the middle of tourist zone. We did find a cheap place down the street.
Came back to hotel to shower and rest. Power went out while taking shower.

Tuesday January 11th
Got up @ 7 am to eat breakfast.
Left hotel around 8:30 to walk to Thailand Embassy to get a tourist visa
Arrived at Thai embassy around 9:20. At embassy for about 20 minutes filling out forms. Told to pick up our passports at 3 pm tomorrow.
Visited War Remembrance Museum. Had a lot of US plane and tanks. Several exhibits including video of people who were injured or born with birth defects from Agent Orange. Very sad. The exhibits were one sided and said the US deliberately attacked women and children. Not true.
Walked over to Notre Dame Cathedral but it was closed from 10 am to 3 pm.
Walked over to Post Office. Neat building from outside. Nothing much on inside
After lunch we visited the Presidential Palace or Reunification Palace. Took 1 hour tour. Pretty neat. Living quarters for the President were sparse.
Walked back to hotel.
Stopped and drank beers and ate spring rolls for a couple hours. We people or moped watched at street corner. Funny story – tried to use bathroom at bar but the bathroom also has a shower in it and someone was taking a shower preventing me from using the bathroom. I've never had that problem in the US.
Ate dinner @ a Texas BBQ place. We splurge. Total for 2 people was $20 USD including 3 beers. Ran into Carl from Germany who we hiked with in Sapa. Hopefully we'll run into him again.

Wednesday January 12th
Slept in until 9 am. Ate breakfast & was done by 10 am
Dropped laundry off at place down the street. Weighed 4.5 kg between the both of us
Spent 3 hours researching Thailand options
Left hotel around 1:30 pm ish to walk to Thai Consulate
Arrived at Thai consulate and picked up visa. I'm relieved we did this since if we crossed by bus we could only stay for 15 days. If we flew which was very expensive then it would could stay for 30 days. Either way we would pay $35. We had planned to stay for 31 days. This way we can take a bus and stay for 31 days & not have to deal with the border hassled of getting a visa.
Walked over to Vietnamese History Museum & toured it for about 45 minutes.
Took taxi from museum to hotel area. Alethea hasn't been feeling to go with the heat so we spent $2.24 to go a few miles back to our hotel.
Ate dinner @ Cafe 333. There was some type of wreck outside the cafe and possible an altercation afterward which caused a scene.
Bought a pack of cigars from a girl who came into the restaurant for $5. Cheaper than at home.
Came back to hotel before 7 pm. Took showers. Got online. Went to bed.

Thursday January 13th
Slept all the way until 9 am and then I only woke up because I had set my alarm for 9 am so we wouldn't miss the free breakfast server by our hotel.
We left our hotel around 10:30 and spent a couple hours walking around a large market somewhat close to our hotel then walked a few block over to another street market before walking back to our hotel.
Came back in around 12:30 and washed up then went for lunch around 1:30. We were back in a our hotel by 3 pm.
We researched Thailand primarily Bangkok until 6 pm.
Picked up laundry. All pieces of laundry were present and it only cost $2.50.
Ate dinner.
Took showers and worked on this blog :-)

Friday January 14th
Slept in until 9 am
Ate breakfast
Arranged to check out @ 1 pm and confirmed what our bill would with all the different options of paying in US cash, Vietnamese, or by credit card
Booked hotel for 3 nights in Bangkok
Made inquiry about an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Checked out of hotel
Took taxi airport (cost $5 USD)
Checked in and made it through security with no problems.
Alethea went to a VIP lounge while listened to a Dave Ramsey podcast and edited some pictures.
Flight was delayed by about 20 minutes.
End of Vietnam blog

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lao People's Democratic Republic

Laos was another country that I was not too familiar with as we entered this part of the world. I knew it was next to Vietnam and that it wasn't too developed and that was about it. As we approached Laos I did some reading up on its history and found out some fascinating facts. It turns out that Laos is the most bombed country on the planet. In the Vietnam War the US dropped more bombs on Laos between the years of 1964 to 1973 than we did in all of World War II including both the European and Pacific theaters. We averaged dropping a B-52 bomber load of ordinance every 8 minutes 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 9 years. Twenty five percent of the villages in Laos still have unexploded bombs and over 50,000 people have been either killed or injured from unexploded bombs since the end of the war. I found these stats to be amazing since 1.) we weren't technically at war with Laos and 2). we still didn't win the war despite all the bombing. As a I read this I was thinking to myself, I hope they have a short memory. Fortunately for us they did because the people we've met have all been helpful and nice. I believe most locals knew we were Americans without us having to say so although I've been identified more as a Canadian, English, or German on our travels throughout the world than I have been as an American. Of course this is before I start talking.

Despite all the sobering war stats we enjoyed our time in Laos. We flew in Christmas Eve to Luang Prabang in the northern part of Laos. We spent 5 nights in this area before taking a very long and painful 11 hour bus ride down to the south to the capital of Vientiane where we spent the remaining 4 nights. I'll review our time in Laos by highlighting Luang Prabang, our two day trek adventure to the countryside, and our time in Vientiane.

I found Luang Prabang to be a very interesting and laid back town. Wikipedia says it has a population of 100,000 while a menu at a restaurant said it was only 30,000. I guess it depends on how you measure the cities population. The city has several Buddhist Temples and monks who dress in my favorite Any town with Buddhist monks is usually going to be a laid back town. We spent most of our time wandering around the town on foot. We checked out the National Museum which used to be a former royal palace until the king was overthrown in 1975 when the communist took over. The communist still run things. Laos is a single party state. We ate at multiple local restaurant enjoying local Laos cuisine. We also visited multiple Buddhist Temples. I don't know too much about the Buddhism but the temples were pretty. Unlike other temples I've visited these have monks living in some of them. We saw numerous walking around. One morning we woke up at 6 am and saw them as they walk through the city collecting alms from the locals. They do this every morning and from what we read the locals do this to connect with the spirit of deceased family members. One thing that surprised me was that we saw numerous young monks with some looking like they were young teenagers. Didn't realize they joined or could be become monks at such a young age. We even got to hear monks chanting before dinner on our last night in Luang Prabang.

Buddha at a temple in Luang Prabang

After our three nights in Luang Prabang proper we went on a one night two day trek as they call it through Tiger Trails which is a local fair trade tourist operator. During our trek we biked 15 km to a place called the Elephant Village and rode an elephant for a hour. We then took a boat down a river and hiked 3 km to a remote rural Khamu village where we spent the night. We then hiked back to river then kayaked for 20 kilometers down the Nam Khan river. I really enjoyed the whole trip. I had never ridden on an elephant. It bounces you around quite a bit but was fun. The village home stay was interesting because the village was very poor. They have no electricity and no roads that lead to it. There are three generators to power a couple lights but more importantly they power the three TVs in the village. The villagers gather together and watch Thai movies at night. It was a little sobering too because there were plenty of kids walking around with some barefoot in worn out clothes with pigs, chickens, goats, and dogs walking around. Hard to imagine how people live that way. We did get to interact with some of the locals which is why we have done two of these village home stays. We got to drink some local rice wine, play a bamboo instrument, and watch what Alethea called a longevity ceremony involving an old man who is sick and doesn't have too much longer to live. The only real negative was that some of the other tourists who were on the home stay had some of their belonging stolen. They left some t-shirts and towels out to dry overnight and they were taken. We were warned not to do this but they did it anyway. The next morning we hiked the 3 km back out to the river to kayak. It was the first kayaking experience for me. Paddling was a little awkward at first but I think I got the hang of it. I enjoyed it although I was sore after we got through with it. I am glad Alethea found the Tiger Trails company and planned this adventure. It is nice to balance out excursions to the more rural parts of countries along with the cities. I think we've done that pretty well throughout the trip.

Alethea petting our elephant

After our two day adventure trek we spent one more quick night in Luang Prabang before traveling to Vientiane. Good thing we rested up because the trip to Vientiane was long. We took a bus that was listed as a VIP bus. It was suppose to last 9 hours but took 11 hours. It was slow and through windy roads on a bus whose speedometer didn't work and with a bus driver who wasn't always 100% focused. We made minimal stops and only had 20 minutes for lunch which was included in the price of the ticket though which was only about $16 USD per person. Due to our experience with the long bus trip we decided to fly from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We were seriously considering taking a 12 hour bus but decided it was worth it to spend a little extra and fly.

Buddhist monks accepting morning alms in Luang Prabang

Our final stop in Laos was the capital city of Vientiane. There is not really that much to see in Vientiane despite the fact it is the capital and has a population of around 750,000. We spent the 1st half of the 1st full day working on trip planning for southern Vietnam and Cambodia before getting out to walk around our neighborhood. I did manage to get a haircut for only about $2.50 which is the cheapest haircut I've received on our journey. After the haircut was finished the woman who cut my hair gave me a simple head & neck massage which I thought was pretty cool once I figured out what was going on. We did get out and see more of the city on our second full day. We pretty much covered everything we wanted to see in about 2 hours. The city is compact and easily covered on foot. We walked down to LaneXang Avenue and walked up it to the Patuxay which looks similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. We hiked up to the top. After the Patuxay we walked back through the side streets to our hotel. We stopped at the US Embassy which was closed for New Year's Eve and a used book store. For New Year's we went out to eat at a nice local restaurant just down the street from our hotel. We then went back to our hotel room to take our malaria medication then walked about 5 blocks down to a New Year's Eve event sponsored by Tiger. The most interesting thing about the party was that they announced it was New Year's 5 minutes before it was actually New Year's without much warning so it was kind of anti-climatic. There were mostly Lao people at the party but quite a few westerners too. Laos doesn't actually celebrate New Year's until April.

celebrating New Year's in Vientiane

This wraps up our time in Laos. I really likes Laos. I really enjoyed our time here. Laos is a laid back peaceful country. It was pretty easy to get around except for the bus ride. You still have a little chaos which just seems part of life in Asia. You will also see a lot of poverty too but the people have all been friendly and helpful. There are some interesting sights such as the temples and the countryside to see that contrast with what we saw in northern Vietnam. It was pretty cheap for most items although some things were a little bit more expensive like our hotel & beer in Luang Prabang. I believe this can be attributed to Luang Prabang being somewhat more of a tourist town and we had fewer options to chose from since we booked our first hotel only a week or so out and it was over the Christmas holidays. I cannot really think of any real negatives. Fewer native Lao people are competently fluent in English than what we experienced in Hanoi but nearly all understand enough English to ask basic questions in order to conduct regular day to day business.

So far I'm enjoying our time in southeast Asia. I feel more relaxed traveling in this part of the world which makes it more enjoyable. I do not think I mentioned in detail that we have extended our time in southeast Asia. Originally we were going to be here from 12/14 to 1/12 before we go to India. We have pushed back our date that we fly to India to 2/20. It only cost us $100 per person to change our flights through AirTreks. The next part of our adventure has us flying from Vientiane to Hanoi where we will catch an overnight train down to the central part of Vietnam. We start with the city of Hue. We'll continue on to Hoi An then fly down to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We found some 1 way tickets on Jetstar Vietnam for only $45. The overnight train was going to cost $38 so we decided to fly :-). This will take us to the 14th of January when we have to leave Vietnam since as I mentioned previously our visas will expire. I'm glad we decided get multi-entry visas for Vietnam. This cost us $50 instead of $25 for the single entry visa. We probably should have chosen the three month one too versus the one month visa but then again we didn't think we would spend that much time in Vietnam! You can extend once you are in the country but we've herd it isn't easy. That is all from Laos. Hope everyone had a happy and safe New Year's!

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Friday December 24th
Arrived in Laos ~ 815 pm. Took 30 minutes to get visa then clear immigration. Many people didn't have cash or photos for their visa. Alethea and I were prepared.
Took shuttle van to hotel. Got King room for first night because of mix up from hotel. Have to change rooms for the second night.
Took showers.

Saturday December 25th
Slept in until about a quarter till 9.
Had breakfast outside our hotel.
Supposed to change rooms at 12 pm but when I went down to check on our new room they said it wouldn't be ready until 1 pm. They hadn't started cleaning it yet. Didn't change until 2 pm.
Walked around Luang Prabang to orient ourselves.
Found numerous places to do our laundry cheaper than our hotel. Will do it tomorrow.
Visited the Wat May temple. Cost 20,000 KIP. ~$2.46
Found ATM and withdrew 1,000,000 KIP or $126.82.
Purchases bus ticket from Luang Prabang to Vientiane.
Stopped and had a beer and fries. Ran into German couple from Halong Bay trip briefly.
Continued to walk around town. Found restaurant and book shop Alethea identified.
Ate a Lao plate which was good at Indochina Spirit Restaurant.
Walked back to hotel through a long night market.
Merry Christmas! Can't believe Nashville is getting snow for Christmas and I'm not there to enjoy it.

Sunday December 26th
Woke up around 8:15 ish. Had breakfast at hotel. Redeemed the one free drink coupon but it wasn't easy as staff had to call someone over to look at the coupon given to us by the hotel before getting my free espresso.
Took laundry to laundry service place. We had 4.5 kilos. It will cost 10 K KIP per kilo for machine wash and natural dry.
Visited National Museum which is the old palace. Simple but interesting. On the grounds also is a Buddha picture exhibit, car museum and Buddhist Temple. Cost 60,000 KIP or ~$8 USD
Walked up hill to That Phu Si & Wat Tham Phu Si. It was over 300 steps up. Saw some good views of Luang Prabang.
Had lunch at local place on main street of town.
Walked down to Wat Xieng Thong which are Buddhist Temples. Pretty neat. Very intricately designed.
Walked back to hotel to rest a little bit before going out for massages later. Alethea has headache so didn't want to overdue it.
Picked up snacks for treking\traveling over the next couple days.
Picked up laundry. Only cost $5. So nice to have someone else do the laundry and not have to wear clothes twice.
Ate dinner at nice local place.
Got massage. It was a Lao Mystic massage. My masseuse was a man. It was a deep tissue massage. Lasted over a hour. Pretty good for $7.33 USD.

Monday December 27th
Woke up at 6 am to watch the Buddhist monks walk through the streets collecting alms.
Picked up by Tiger Trails represented about minutes late @ 8:45 am
Went to Tiger Trails office.
Biked 15 km to Elephant Village. Little rough ride. Had to walk bike at times. Breaks were a little spotty and gear shifting wasn't too smooth\
Rode elephant for one hour. Neat experience
Took motorboat to waterfall
Stopped at waterfall for hour and drank beer with guide
Hiked 3 km to village for home stay. Village had no regular electricity, only 3 generators for 3 TVs. Participate in extended life ceremony. Ate dinner went to bed. Village was very poor. Hard to believe people live this way.

Tuesday December 28th
Woke up around 7 am for breakfast. Slept pretty good in our hut. Unfortunately our roommates towel and t-shirts they left outside were stolen during the night.
Hiked 3 km to Elephant Village
Kayaked 20 km back to office of Tiger Treks in Luang Prabang, Stopped 1 hour for lunch. Took 3.5 hours. Pretty neat but was soar by the time we were done. 1st time I ever kayak.
Checked in at hostel. Took Showers
Took laundry to express laundry service place.
Enjoyed the Tiger Tracks 2 day adventure although the village home stay part was sobering to say the least.

Wednesday December 29th
Woke up around 7 am
Breakfast @ 7:30am
Took prearranged Tuk Tuk to South Bus Station
Ticket @ bus station to Vientiane from LB was only 115,000. We paid 130,000 in town. Other people on the bus said they paid 140,000 or 135,000. We all paid different prices.
Bus ride was supposed to take 9 hours. It took 11 hours over mostly windy roads. No seat belts on the bus. Few guard rails on roads. Speedometer on bus didn't work so you didn't know how fast it was going. Didn't matter because we rarely got the speed limit of 30 km. Bus driver almost ran off the road once when he tried to take off his pullover jacket but it didn't come off and he had his hands off the wheel. We weaved over to the other lane but it was the side with the hill and not down the hill. There was no traffic in the other lane either. Not a good experience. We'll probably fly to Siem Reap in Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh versus bus. It's worth the extra $125 per person. Everything else is much cheaper than any other part of the world we've been too.
Got to bus station around 8 pm. Had to pay 2000 KIP to use bathroom. Only 25 cents USD.
Share taxi with a young couple from Copenhagen, Denmark (Daniel & Maria). Bus station was 10 km north of city. Didn't exist until a year ago. Google maps showed only 3 km from hotel. Hotel was going to charge us 100,000 KIP for an xfer. We paid 40,000 KIP on our own.
Checked in at hotel. Had to pull up email to show we had a reservation.
Went to restaurant across the street for dinner. Big Lao Beer was only 10,000 KIP versus 12 or 15 K KIP in Luang Prabang. We both had Turkish food to break up the routine of eating local Lao food.

Thursday December 30th
Woke up around 8:30. Had breakfast in hotel
Spent two hours doing trip planning until 1 pm. Booked flights to Cambodia, hotel in Ho Chi Minh, and have narrowed down Hoi An to two hotels
Walked around our neighborhood looking for a restaurant but couldn't find it.
Ate lunch at local place. I had the spicy beef stew. It was pretty good.
Got haircut for 20000 KIP ~ $2.45
Walked around back to our hotel. Bought beers for $2.30. Two half liter beers
Came back to hotel and took shower then got online.
Decided to eat Indian food for dinner. Ate at a pretty good Indian place.
Located Belgian restaurant that we may eat at for New Year's.

Friday December 31st
Didn't sleep too well due to loud music and mildly upset stomach probably from Indian food
Woke up around 9 am.
Departed hotel around 10:30.
Walked around Vientiane. Walked by Presidential Palace and to an Arch that was built in 1962 to resemble the Arch du Triumph in Paris. Meandered our way back to hotel. Walked by US Embassy. Stopped in book store. Walked to Mekong River and peaked over unto Thailand.
Back in hotel by 1:15 pm. Not much to see in Vientiane
Went to dinner at nice local place on the same street as our hotel. Had a chicken and bacon special with mash potatoes. It was good. Been a long time since I had mash potatoes.
Came back to hotel to take our malaria pills.
Walked down to New Year's party hosted by Tiger. At first they said it was full but then said we go in the back area but not sit at a table. Talked to a French Canadian couple for a couple hours. They actually got started for New Year's 5 minutes early according to everyone's watch making it a little anti-climatic.

Saturday January 1st
Woke up around 8:30 am
Took laundry out. Figured we would start fresh and clean especially since it is so cheap to do laundry here. Only cost 20,000 K KIP or $2.45 for a machine wash and line dry our clothes.
Spent some time online after breakfast.
Ate lunch @ place across the street
Made ATM withdrawal in order to pay hotel by cash to save the 3% charge.
bought snacks @ local grocery store
walked over to book store and bought a book
Ate dinner & watched most of an English Premier League Football match

Sunday January 2nd
Woke up around 7:30 am.
Ate breakfast
Plan is to eat around 11 then check out @ 12:30 and take a taxi to the airport.
Flight to Hanoi, Vietnam is scheduled to leave around 2:30 pm