6 Million Moto’s

11 05 2010

After a couple more days in Sihanoukville, where Jeff went diving for a day, I relaxed on the beach with a book and got a massage and we had a nice dinner of sea food on the beach, we arranged our visas for Vietnam and set off for Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). We caught the bus at 7:30 am and drove to Phenom Pehn. Everything was going smoothly until I realized that our wallet with our cash was missing. I must have left it on the bus or got pickpocket because we never did find it. I was pretty bummed out all the way to Saigon which took about another 6 hours from Cambodia capital. When we finally arrived pretty late we checked into a really cute guesthouse/home stay where we have a computer in our room and free water (oooh the luxury). We slept well that night despite the ever-increasing heat, I think it’s been 40 degrees minimum and rising daily. The following day we slept a bit late and had a late breakfast then headed out to the crazy busy streets of Saigon. Can you believe there are 11 million people in a city not much bigger than Calgary, and there are 6 million moto scooters…it’s insane how busy the streets are here. We decided to brave the streets and go for a walk down to the market to see if we could find some good shopping. On our way there we were stopped by a couple of moto drivers who wanted to take us on a 2 hour city tour and we agreed, as it was very hot and the walk was unbearable. They told us they would show us around then take us to the real market where locals buy their stuff. We drove around the busy city and stopped at a few tourist stops such as the city hall, post office center, opera house, Notre Dame cathedral and the War Remnants Museum. The museum was quite cool as it shows the other side of the story about the war here with the USA, you wouldn’t believe the damage they did here and the cruel things they did to innocent people here.  After that we did go to the market and picked up a couple of gifts.  When we returned to the guest house we were invited to join in on English Speaking Club, we were hesitant but thought “what the hell”. A couple of university students came and just talked with us and practiced their English, taught us a couple of things in Vietnamese then offered to take us out for our favorite Vietnamese dish back home “Bun”. You would think they have Bun in Vietnam, no such luck, we drove around the city with these students looking for a place but they were all closed or did not have what we wanted. Finally they dropped us off at the night market and we had some dinner there.  We were up late calling our momma’s and didn’t have a very long sleep since we had a big adventure ahead of us. 

The next morning we had planned to go on a 2 night trip with the moto drivers from the day before, Day and Diamond. We set off early around 8 am and hopped on the back of their bikes for a long haul to Cu Chi tunnels.  On the way we stopped at a hammock hang out (kind of like a truck stop for scooters) and enjoyed some delicious Vietnamese ice coffee.  As we drove through the country side we saw water buffalo, rice farmers, ladies in rice hats riding bikes and watched the Vietnamese rural life as we zoomed past.  We explored the tiny tunnels of Cu Chi, which was really funny because Jeff could barely fit down the hole. After that we cruised through a rubber tree plantation all the way to Day’s family home for a party. We were welcomed by a huge group of friends and family who were all very welcoming. We enjoyed some home cooked specialties, “a few” shots of rice wine and the great Asian pass time Karaoke. “Achy Breaky Heart” anyone?? 

The following day we had planned to go to the Mekong Delta but did not realize how far it really was.  On the way we stopped for a traditional Vietnamese lunch and another rest at a hammock chill out hut. Then we boarded our boat for a ride through the Delta. First we floated down the narrow canals amongst the water coconuts before we stopped at a couple of farms to see animals and plants and also to visit the coconut monk (kung fu master who invented his own religion). When the sun started to go down we headed over to this rickety jetty (dock) for a sunset BBQ. We had bought some huge live prawns and beer for the occasion and set up a little mini BBQ. While they were cooking Jeff and Day opted for a swim in the Mighty Mekong. We enjoyed the prawns very much and took tons of photos of the sunset. Once the sun went down we took off in the boat again. This time, as we pulled up to some trees in the dark we noticed they were twinkling in the trees. Fire Flies!!!! we caught a whole bunch and put them into a bottle. We brought them back to our room and watched them twinkle. It was really cool.

This morning we stopped at a coconut candy factory before we took our long ride back to Saigon. Tomorrow morning we catch a bus to Dalat which is in the mountains and is supposed to be alot cooler, from 45 degrees to 15, can’t wait to finally feel a bit cooler.



Sunny Sihanoukville

4 05 2010

We travelled 4 hours by bus to the south-western coast of Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand for some care free relaxing time.  We made it in the afternoon and everything was going to be great until Jeff got an upset stomach and was unable to do much for the day. We checked into a really cool guesthouse called Monkey Republic into a little blue bungalow and Jeff proceeded to have a long nap. As the evening rolled on the music in the guesthouse lounge got really mellow and the fairy lights came on outside so I relaxed with a fruit shake while Jeff slept it off. The next day was much better as Jeff was feeling a bit better, we got to the beach and just as we settled in, it began to rain. Instead we headed to the city market for some shopping then hung out on the hammocks on the 3rd level of our guesthouse as the rain poured and poured all night.  Day 3 was a lovely sunny day, perfect for a cocktail and pedicure on Serendipity Beach, that’s exactly what we did. We chose one of the many lounge chairs along the numerous beach shacks and settled in for the better part of the afternoon. The water here is probably 30 degrees and it doesn’t do much to cool you off when you sit in the sun all day. I eventually got a sunburn and got tired of being harassed by hawkers on the beach selling bracelets and fruit, but it was a peacefull day nonetheless.  The 4th day we took an all day trip to Koh Rong island on a luxurious 3 level yacht at Victory Beach Jetty. Our vessel was called “Sun” and I swear Keith Richards was one of the passengers (unfortunately no photos). We hung out on the roof top sun deck and even jumped from the 3rd level, about a 7 meter drop to go snorkelling. We tried our hands at some fishing and mostly just had a worry free, hassle free day with buffet lunch and all the perks.  It was a perfect day, beautiful beaches, clear blue water, shining sun, and not a care in the world. We love Cambodia!!!


Cambodia thus far

30 04 2010

The epic journey from Cairns to Cambodia began early on Sunday morning, we flew with Virgin Blue for 3 hours, followed by a 2 hour lay over, then a very enjoyable flight on Emirates airline to Bangkok which took 9.5 hours. The plane was very nice and the food way, dare I say, great! We arrived Bangkok airport at 1:00 and slept on a bench in the bus terminal until 7:00. We had a quick breakfast at the airport then boarded a bus to the Thai/Cambodia border town of Aranya Prathet. After 4 hours on the bus we arrived the border,waited in a line to leave Thailand then another line to get our Cambodian Visas then another line to enter Cambodia, this took at least 2 hours. THEN we boarded another bus from the Cambodian border town Poipet to Siem Reap. When we finally arrived we were starving, tired and homeless so we checked into the Popular Guesthouse and had some well needed food and a sleep.

The next morning we enjoyed the morning on the upstairs patio of our guesthouse while reading up on Cambodia and planning our trip, had coffee and noodles for breakfast. We went for a walk around the markets in the afternoon in the dead of the heat and dust and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. In the evening we booked  tuk tuk (scooter with trailer behind where you sit) to take us to the floating village Chong Kneas on the Tonle Sap lake. The boat we took down the river was ancient and the water was only a foot deep at best, which made for a slow and dragging ride.  The floating village was quite a sight however so that made it worth it. People live on boats and have a fully functioning village of 4000 people complete with schools, shops, churches etc and they all fish for a living. You do not need to pay for land on the water so most of the inhabitants are the most poor. On the way back our boat broke down (of course it wouldn’t be an epic adventure if it didn’t) and we did not get back until it was pretty dark.

The next morning we were up bright and early at 4:30 am to catch a tuk tuk to visit the temples of Angkor. Our first temple was Angkor Wat for the sunrise. This temple is HUGE and is believed to be the biggest religious monument on earth or the 8th wonder of the ancient word. There was coffee and baguette for breakfast as we watched the sun come up behind the clouds then wandered inside while it was still cool. There was a festival going on that day and there was over 4000 monks and maybe 30 thousand other people there so finding our tuk tuk took us almost an hour. When we finally located him amongst the sea of tuk tuks we went to the next temple Ta Kao which is a small bu very steep pyramid which you can climb to the top, Jeff was able to do it, I stubbed my toe on a stone nd ripped a chunk off my toe nail half way up.  Next we went to Bayon, our favorite temple which features 216 giant faces called Avalokiteshvara. We grabbed some coconut and mango slushies from the street vendor and ventured in to the massive glaring faces of Bayon. The next temple was Ta Prohm which is the location for some of the scenes from Tomb Raider. It is almost completely destroyed by the forces of nature, with huge trees growing right into and out of the stones.  Our last stop was Banteay Kdei and Sras Srang both of which we were too sweaty and tired to fully  enjoy. We slammed back 3 1.5 litre bottles of water and headed back to our guesthouse. We stopped  at a orphangae on the way back to town to give the children some pencils, which they greatly appreciated. We had a long nap from 1 om til 5 then went out on the town for some dinner and drinks. Hey, at 25 cents happy hour on beer, it’s hard to resist.

The following day we embarked on the journey to Phenom Pehn, a truly epic 6 hour bus ride on the bumpy roads of rural Cambodia, sitting at the back with  5 others, one of which was a car sick boy we bounced along  not even knowing if we were on the correct bus the entire time.  We arrived the city which is MUCH bigger than the one we departed and checked out a couple of guest houses, we found a cheap one near a nicer one we checked out and planted ourselves in the lobby for dinner and a cold pop. We spent the evening talking with other travellers and crashed early, though the Guest house staff were having a huge party with loud music. 

This morning we grabbed a tuk tuk for a day of Cambodian history. We grabbed 3 Danish girls to  come with us to share the cost of a ride and off we went. First we stopped at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which is the former Khmer Rouge S21 prison. There were thousands of people imprisoned, interrogated and tortured there under Pol Pot in 1975-1978  before they were taken to the killing fields for execution. The museum is an eery look at the tiny cells where prisoners were kept, the rooms where 50+ people slept all shackled together and mug shots of all the people who were imprisoned there.  There was displays of torture devices used and artistic renditions of how the devices were used, which were painted by one of only 7 survivors. It was alot to take in, but very informative. We watched a video about the history of the Khmer Rouge’s regime. On the way to the next site we stopped at a local street stall to grab some delicious baguette sandwiches . Next we went to the killing fields of Choeung Ek, about 17kms from town. There is a 17 level stupa built as a memorial and grave type structure with 9000 skulls and human bones of people who were killed there. They estimate that 2 million Cambodians were killed in the 3 years of Khmer Rouge only 3 decades ago. As you walk around the park there is a huge fenced off portion which has not yet been excavated among the 89 or so mass graves that have been dug up. There was a section where the children were put as the guy Duch who lead the prison thought that the children would grow up to seek revenge and needed to be eliminated also. We were shocked to read about the horrors of these places. We were supposed to go o see the Royal Palace but decided not to and headed to the river front for an evening stroll and some dinner. We saw an elephant walking down the street among cars and scooters and happy little children dancing on the street. It’s crazy that all of this horrible stuff happened to the Cambodians and they are so poor here but still have a smile on their faces. It makes us greedy north Americans look like spoiled brats compared the people here, who are always friendly to visitors and happy to be alive. It’s been a real eye opener.

Now we head to Sihanoukville to soak up some sun by the beach. Stay tuned


Let’s go to Bali

25 11 2009

We arrived at the Denpasar airport in Bali Indonesia on Thursday afternoon and were greeted by a wall of 36 degree heat with 100% humidity and our Balinese driver friend Jodie Foster. The heat/temperature change was something we had never felt before, after 2 minutes outdoors we were soaked. The aircon in the van was a great relief as we were taken to our hotel in Kuta called Kuta Beach Club. The drive was crowded with hundreds of scooters, kids on bicycles and more cabs than I have ever seen before all on a one lane in both directions. The drivers need to pass parked or stopped  cars by driving into the lane where cars are coming at you and quickly passing before you die. According to the driver there is a mutual understanding and rarely any motor vehicle accidents. We arrive the hotel which is quite peaceful in the court-yard compared to the busy busy streets and our room is descent enough for a 3 star, as long as the aircon is icy cold I’m good. After we unpacked our bags (you would be proud we only brought one small backpack for 5 days each) we went for a stroll down the main street with all the vendors and shops and to exchange our money and grab some food. The Balinese currency Rupiah is worth something like 8700:1 for Aus$, so we exchanged $420 and were given over 3.5 Million rupiah, and good news a beer costs 18,000 Rp, the equivalent of 2 dollars. We were excited to embark on some serious shopping and dining and adventuring. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering around,exploring, eating and checking out the sights and sounds (ugh and smells). Took a stroll on Kuta beach and tried these disgusting Nori Seaweed flavored Lays we picked up at Mini Mart, bleh.

The next day we had a 7:00 am alarm clock wake up for a long day of touring with our driver/tour guy I Wayan. He picked us up at 8:30 and took us to see the Barong and Kris Dance which is a traditional Balinese dance (Note: primary religion in Bali is Hindu) and it was quite interesting with the old school instruments and elaborate costumes. We had a hard time understanding the story despite being given a program but enjoyed the music and the costumes/dancing.  We made a quick stop at a Batik Factory and then we were off to see the Sacred Monkey Forest where the monkeys roam. Were they ever funny those monkeys, one tried to attack Jeff for his water bottle and was hanging from his t-shirt grabbing for it. There was old monkeys an babies and swinging from trees into water holes, eating bananas sooo cute. The jungle where Monkey forest is found is very lush and green with lots of really old carvings and a temple. Next we made a quick pit stop at the rice terraces which are incredible works of irrigation and something quite beautiful to see. As we embarked deeper into the jungle and higher up in elevation on our way to see the volcano it began to pour rain and the people on scooters were getting drenched and we kept driving up and up. We made it to the restaurant overlooking Mt. Batur volcano but the clouds had covered most of the view. We ate buffet lunch (not so good unless you like mystery meat fried in a variety of ways and plain rice). I ordered a coconut, also not great sort of tasted like room temperature dish water…mmm. The sky did eventually clear and we grabbed a couple of shots of the mountain before we were on our way again.

Now, I had to start a new paragraph because after the volcano we went to my favorite stop on the trip, the coffee plantation. We take a seat in at this tiny table in what appears to be a patio on looking the jungle and enjoy the sampler of coffee, ginseng coffee, lemon grass tea and ginger tea as well as real hot cocoa. We sit and relax and drink our fresh and chemical free beverages and look out onto cocoa, tobacco and coffee jungle. Best feeling ever, having a cup of coffee in the jungle of coffee plants…can’t beat that.

Our journey continues with a stop at a huge temple where we learn some interesting tidbits about Hindu culture, such as the calendar they have which tells you which days are good and which days are bad. The temple is about 1000 years old and has undergone a renovation in 1878, looks like something straight out of a movie. It’s pretty cool with all of the large and very old stone carvings, very very intricate carvings on the walls and very strict rules about when and how you can enter (notice Jeff wearing a sarong). Once we were done exploring the temple we made one final stop at a Balinese house where we saw how people in the lowest caste of Bali live. It’s about 500 square meters and the entire family occupies about 2 bedrooms and one tiny kitchen. There was approx 12 people living in the house we saw which was mostly outside and full of roosters, pigs and dirt. The big roosters, we learned, are used for ceremonious as well as gambling purposes in cock fights, however they do not talk about this because it is “illegal”. After a very long day we head back to our hotel, recharge and head out to the streets for some loitering. We enjoy a dragonfruit by the beach and head to bed for another big day the next morning.

Saturday morning we were up at 9, had breakfast at the hotel and were met by Jodie Foster and his friend Wi Wik and they took us on their scooters to Nusa Dua for some water sports and snorkeling. First up, Jeff tried some parasailing as I watched from the beach (of course). Next we went for a rip on jet skis before we headed out to sea for some snorkeling on the reef. We saw so many colorful fish and corals it was pretty neat, it was also great to get out of the heat and into some cold water. We headed back to the beach before getting back on the scooters. We stopped over at this place called “Water Blow” which was this rocky cliff that looked like old coral and had these crazy big crevasses in the rocks, when the waves hit the rocks the water came shooting up into the air along the wall. Wi Wik had to go to work so we went into the town of Nusa Dua and waited for a driver to pick us up, while we waited we played pool at the billiard hall where she worked. We got our asses kicked (as we learned this is a favorite pass time for the Balinese) and were on our way to check out Uluwatu Temple on the giant cliffs. The cliffs at Uluwatu were unbelievable, with monkeys walking the parameter and the 250 meter drop. We had to rush out of there because the sun was about to set and we had plans to have dinner in Jimbaran.

We arrived just in time, took our seats at the table in the sand and ordered a bunch of fresh seafood. As the sun was going down, we feasted on fresh red snapper, squid, mussels and prawns. We ate and ate and filled our tummies with rice and fruit and soup and seafood until we could no longer eat any more. Headed back to our hotel and crashed.

Sunday: Another early wake up for us, this time 7:30 for an 8:00 pickup, back to Nusa Dua to do some fishing. Not much to write here as we spent 5 hours fishing, cause one tiny tuna on the deep-sea and about 2 or 3 tropical fish in the coral reef. Not much action out there for fishing I guess so we did some more snorkeling and then headed to Turtle Island, where we took some photos of turtles, python etc.. hung out and made small talk with the guys at the island shop and headed back to shore.  At this point we are tired and sunburnt and pretty well Bali’ed out. We decide to take the last night in Bali to chill out on the beach, do some shopping and get a good sleep.

Monday: Slept in past breakfast time so we had to go out to eat breakfast. Spent the rest of the day at the beach. Jeff rented a surfboard for two hours and spent the entire time practicing. He did manage to get up on the big board but when he upgraded to a smaller board did not have the same luck. I tried surfing but was only able to get up on my knees. enjoyed a pineapple (which you just peel and eat like an ice cream holding the stem, yummy) and finished up our shopping. In the end Jeff ended up with 3 knock-off Billabong t-shirts, 2 shorts and 2 pairs of fake Oakleys. And to all you who know me will be shocked, I got a pair of fake Ray Ban’s, an anklet and a Bintang Beer Magnet….that’s all…can you believe it???

The sunset on the last night was the best one we got on our trip to Bali and then we headed back to the airport for our flight back to Perth. We had a great time in Bali, but by the time we left we were sick of the smell, the food and being hassled by the vendors, not to mention the heat and sweating, we were ready to head home. At least back to our home away from home.

Bye for now