Thursday, March 4, 2010

The End!

Hello all - if there is anyone still reading this blog.

I have heard tell that I am a bit on the wordy end of the spectrum & it can be more than a little daunting to undertake the reading of my life story!! Who knew?!

Nevertheless it has been a busy last couple of weeks. We did find a replacement to the Nature Park. We went to Mahout Training instead. We got to feed, learn commands, learn to get onto & ride the elephants, walk through a mud pit (and yes we did wear the mud), and bathe the elephant in the river. We had the added bonus that our particular elephant was a mommy & her 6 month old elephant baby was following us around, his name was James Bond (because he can't stay out of trouble!!). The experience was hilarious, exhilarating & so worth it! We both would still like to do the nature park, but that will have to be next time. 

We parted ways with Teresa & Terence in Chiang Mai. They had to fly out to South Africa & we had a little more time. It was so awesome meeting them both & here's hoping we stay in touch!

We left Chiang Mai via train. The ride was uneventful - really humid & warm, but comfortable. A nice change after the bus rides from hell. Although I must say, being too rather short ladies it was a much easier & more comfortable traveling experience than for our 5'9" + friends!!! We took a night bus & got into Bangkok fairly early. We took a tuk tuk to McDonalds. Always open! Had breakfast & then went in search of a room. It was quite busy, it was around Chinese New Year so places were booked up. But we found a dodgy little cheap cheap place with a shared bathroom. Good enough for one night! We got settled, had a little rest...and then we got busy.

It was a whirlwind of last minute adventures. Last minute grabbing of gifts we had wanted from Day 1, but left to the last few days so that we wouldn't have to haul them around for months. Last minute selfish purchases. Last minute trip to a gigantic shopping complex called MBK that we had heard about & that had a great movie theatre. Spent an afternoon/early evening watching a couple movies back to back. We ate at the places we loved, and the places we hadn't tried yet. We took a day tour out to the Floating Market, Bridge over the River Kwai, and the Tiger Temple. In that order "could have been better", "pretty cool, felt rickety, checked out the war museum next door too", "Pretty cool, got some photos with tigers, sad to see them chained up & drugged up". We went to a weekend market that was insane, so big & crazy we lost one another & spent the shopping day alone. We got some waxing done. A facial done. Clothes & household items, extra bags to carry it all!!! We didn't spend much time online, too many things to do. We did laundry so that we were set for Sydney & we finally got our tattoos. We got "matchy" tattoos, that are a little different on our feet. Mine is on the left foot & Crystal's is on the right foot. They say "Thailand - Cambodia - Vietnam - Laos" in Thai writing & each country name is separated by footprints (and one of mine is a flower). They are lovely...we are happy with them.

So we barely had time to catch our breath, sleep or relax in Bangkok. It was all about crossing the 'gotta do it, gotta get it" off the list. And we were pretty darn successful. Literally combing the streets until about 3 hours after we had to leave for the airport. We got back to the hotel room at around 1am. We packed all our stuff, we showered & then we went to grab a cab to the airport. No sleep for us...

We flew direct from Bangkok to Sydney. 9 hours. Didn't get a whole lot of sleep - but we arrived at about 8pm or so?! Spyros & Jerry picked us up & we went straight to Spyros place. The rest of the week was pretty mellow, pretty lovely. Sleeping in. Eating loads. Getting chauffeured around the suburbs & different areas near Sydney. Checking out beaches, seeing new places, spending time with the family. All of whom are excellent. Younger brother George gave up his room for Crystal, what a sweetie! Older sister Ev & her family were a laugh a minute. Gorgeous kids, great fun & big hearts abound in this family. Loving that I'm getting to be a part of it! So happy that I was able to go to Sydney & spend the week. I think we all felt that it wasn't enough time, but we're all glad we got some time. I'm sure my next trip to Sydney will be a little longer. Also met cousins for briefer periods of time, but they were great fun too, and Spyros dad was awesome too. Letting us stay in their home & eat their food & do whatever we liked. I felt very welcomed. We also went out for dinner & drinks in our "fancy dresses" that we had made in Vietnam. We went downtown for Mardi Gras & saw a bit of the parade & had a few drinks. Big family BBQ on the Sunday with loads of food & much hilarity. Needless to say --- Sydney was great & the family, immediate & extended were just beautiful. Very lucky to have spent some time with them, thanks to Crystal for suggesting it!! 

But the week flew by...and soon we found ourselves being carted off to the airport, having to say goodbye for another fairly lengthy period of time...and flying back to Bangkok. Yes. We had to go all the way back!!! We weren't able to change our flight. So the return home was...3.5 hrs flight, switch in Brisbane, 9 hrs to Bangkok. Sat in the airport from 7am - 5pm or so. Slept (crashed out!), ate, wandered, called home, stared at the time, eventually got on another plane. About 3 hours to Taipei, a switch...and finally - 10 hours to Vancouver. Customs was a quick & easy process. I love it when they don't give a person a lot of attitude!! Michelle picked us up at the airport with hugs & flowers. Very sweet!!! We got back to the Stask/Arsenault home & started unpacking. Showing gifts & regaling the family with stories. A couple of friends showed up, Krystina & Laura & the stories & the showing off of purchases began again. We ended up on the bed downstairs looking through the plethora of photos. At around 1am we finally were showered & going to sleep...

Today we woke up at 5am. Damn jet lag!!! And the day was spent unpacked, doing laundry, napping, planning. My dad was in town and he came to pick me up for dinner. We got my car back on the road, so tomorrow there are a few things left to do regarding the car & the cell phone...and then I'm officially back in business in Canada.

Thailand & Southeast Asia in general were beautiful. It was an amazing trip. Crystal & I are still on speaking terms. I got to see Spyros again & meet his family. It's been a top 3 months!!! Now I'm home. I'm finding a job & going to get some money happening. It's time. Soon Spyros will be here & things will be changing again! Exciting!

Love Shelle

Friday, February 12, 2010

Back in Thailand, feels like Home

So the last blog we were about to hop a slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand.


Well that is just what we did! It was a 3 step process. First step, go to the slow boat, buy a ticket, get settled, ride the boat to the first stop. It was an uneventful, fairly smooth, beautiful scenery kinda ride. I read, I listened to music & gazed at the hills. My friends read, napped, and Teresa & Crystal played some cards too. It was about a 9 hour ride upstream to the place we parked it for the night. We found a guesthouse & we moved our stuff in. Got some dinner, had a drink, went to bed at a reasonable hour to repeat the whole process again the following day! And we did!


This time though the journey was much more eventful. Not sure what it was, but I got something. Started feeling ick, ate something to help the tummy...didn't help. A few hours into the trip I was spewing. Then it was coming the right way, but the wrong consistancy. And I felt like death that night when we finally rolled in. Many trips to the toilet later I was just laying in bed praying for sleep. Now some of you might not understand, but I literally have a cast iron stomache. I cannot remember the last time I had to vomit or had diarhea! It just doesn't happen to me. So a whole day of it, and now...6 days's still not right!!! It's crazy! And I'm really tired of it! LOL But it's all controllable now..just unpleasant. Still not sure what it is, because that night as I was trying to sleep both Terence & Teresa started to suffer a similar malady. Everyone but Crystal, but she's the only one of us that took the Ducoral vaccine (plus she had a hole in her head, so I thought God might be feeling some sympathy).


Life in Chiang Mai is good. There are loads of markets to wander, the people are all friendly, Crystal got her stitches out & her head seems to be healing up pretty good. I know she is very happy to be rid of the strange gauge bobble she had going on, and she's happy to be able to shower with her head under the water too! We went on a 2 day eco adventure thing. First day was white water much fun. The river was pretty low, but it was still a lot of fun. Different types of stuff to do because we kept getting stuck, so there was a lot of jumping up and down & jumping from one side to the other. Good times! Plus the views were amazing! Then we spent the night at a homestay in a village in the jungle. Sweet people, didn't really speak any English, but it was great. They cooked for us, we got massages, a comfy bed & breakfast in the morning. The woman of the house also makes these little animals out of Bamboo & she gave us each a frog keychain. So sweet! Yesterday we spend the day strapped in & ziplining around the jungle canopy with a group called Flight of the Gibbon. So exciting, so beautiful, so fun!!! We were with all Canadians, and one Austrian couple. But it was funny, there are usually more Aussies than anything! Two couples from Ontario, and a couple from Saskatchewan. We ended the day at a waterfall & then ate lunch together & headed back to Chiang Mai city. We made plans with the younger couple from Sask. Tim & Sheila & we met them for dinner & went to a Muay Thai boxing match last night. That was pretty cool too! Very different & not knowing the rules it was sometimes hard for us to tell who was winning, but it was pretty intense stuff!


We wanted to go to the Elephant Nature Park, but it's all booked we're looking into alternatives!


Will keep you updated! Not long now!


Love Shelle

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lazy in Laos

Hello all!


Well I haven't updated in awhile because I wasn't sure what to say about a few things!


We called it an early night & met up with Teresa & Terrence at about 6:30am to walk to the bus station in Vientienne where we purchased tickets for the local bus to Vang Vieng...and what a local bus it was! Dodgy as all get out...the seat Crystal & I were in was rusted thru the floor and if we leaned back the whole seat went back! Yikes! So we tried not to lean. There was plenty of fresh produce on the bus as it was being transported to a backwoods little town. No A/C, but the windows opened. All locals, the 4 of us were the only westerners on the bus, save one older gentleman who seemed to have done it all before. It was an experience. The back door at the back of the bus kept swinging open & I kept getting up to shut it, we stopped a couple of times, so that people could pee on the side of the road & to unload the bounty of goods at a market type place. We arrived in Vang Vieng & followed the older gentleman to what seemed like town. Terrence & Teresa had met a couple of people who recommended a guesthouse with cheap rates. So we went on a hunt & it was successful. Quite nice rooms even! We got settled & then set out for lunch.


On the road we were accosted by a guy giving out free coffee in order to advertise this one restaurant, so we ate there. Pretty good food, we ate there quite a few times during our stay in Vang Vieng. After lunch we wandered the tiny town. Got some ideas & made some plans.

1) tubing

2) cycle to the caves & waterfalls, stop in at a volunteer project & see if we could help out

3) there are loads of places where a person can work/volunteer & get food, drink & accom for free - we were interested, thinking about spending a fair amount of time in VV.


So the plan was to go tubing in the morning. We ended up at this pub across from our hotel. Short tables & loads of pillows so that a person can lay down after eating & enjoy conversation, TV or movies. We ordered a couple of beer towers, because they are so fun looking & we all wanted to get one. But it was to be a mellow night in preparation for tubing. Then Terrence was enlisted to help carry in some boxes & our table received 3 free buckets. Literally - buckets of booze, soft drink & ice. Then we moved to a different table to watch a movie, had some onion rings & more drinks...we were all a little "happy". Then we moved bars - went back to the restaurant that we had lunch at & had pizza & more drinks, as well as inviting over a guy that was sitting on his own. This is where things get a bit spotty for me. Fun was had, interesting pictures were taken, too much alcohol was imbibed. And I was pretty hung over when I woke up the next morning.


It was a big brekky of carbs & grease & lots & lots of water & I was feeling able to walk around. We made our way down to the tubing shop & paid our way. Took the tuk tuk to the beginning of the ride & also the first bar. Everyone had a free shot & a beer - except for yours truly, I was on the water. Thru the day I had 2 beers & mostly water, also, I was the only one who ordered a meal instead of just having a couple of free fries. Everyone else was a beer & shot per bar & we went to a few bars. Very cool set up tho, ziplines & trapeze swings into deep spots in the river. Each bar throws a line out to you as you float by to pull you into their bar. There are slides into the river, really high platforms to jump from ( we jumped & swung into the river), and there are loads & loads of bars. Different music all over the place & a general good feeling about the place. We went to one bar that does mud volleyball...a giant mupit with a net in the middle, and all these dodgy holes in the ground so even if you could stand up thru the slippage, you can stay upright when you are trying to move & slip into a hole. We were all delightfully & disgustingly muddy & dirty. Mud in places one might think mud should not go! But man oh man was it fun! Then we went to a couple more places, and it was getting late, about 5:30pm, stopped off at a final bar before we were going to begin our final lazy drift down the river (we thought we were half way or so, but it turns out we had only made it about 100metres down the 4km stretch). I was a bit worried about my friends, they were all pretty boozy...and then Crystal went to climb up a ladder to get to the slide & she slipped off, fell backwards & hit her head on a sharp rock. I ran over & she told me that she was fine, but I had seen the rock & was worried. Sure enough, I got her sitting up & she was bleeding. I know head wounds bleed a lot, plus we were all wet from our journey down the river. So I got Terrence to help me get her over to the bar so that I could mop up the blood & try to see what we were dealing with. I couldn't really tell, but I didn't think it was good, so we crossed the river on a bridge & took a tuk-tuk back to town. We went to the hospital, showed them the wound & when they got ahold of it I was glad we had come, it was bigger than I had been able to tell. So she got 4 or 5 stitches, a course of antibiotics & some painkillers & we were told to get them checked in 7 days. This Friday, the 5th, will be 7 days. Needless to say, amazing day, scary evening. I watched her like a hawk that night, worried about concussion etc, but she seems to be doing pretty good. She's well enough to be lipping me off for worrying about her too much. (But I'm afraid of Denise!!!)


So, after that our time in Vang Vieng was more mellow. Crystal had a sore head & we couldn't do anything involving water because the wound can't get wet. So it's been a mellow time, which is good - a holiday should have some mellow times! It was fortunate that we were in a town with all these nice places that you can lay around & watch movies in! We were there for another 3 or 4 days & then we hopped a bus with Terrence & Teresa up to Luang Prabang.


It's a much more quiet place, a lot of older couples & tour groups. A heritage town, but again, most of the activities involve water. So we've been sleeping in & eating & wandering around shops etc. It's a beautiful little town & Terrence & Teresa go & do activities & tell us what we missed or did not miss & we spend our evenings chatting with them. Last night we went to this great Lao BBQ place where they set this BBQ type thing in front of you & you  boil veggies & BBQ your meat & it was tasty & fun!


I've been trying to make some calls using Skype, but the mic isn't working & I'm afraid I'm annoying Spyros's family by calling & not saying anything. LOL So I'm putting that whole idea on hold for a bit. I will make calls when I'm back in Thailand.


The plan right now is to take a slow boat from here to Thailand, starting tomorrow morning, it will take a couple days, but will be a new way to travel! :) We will be in Chang Mai with Teresa & Terrence, and after that we will part ways, as they head home earlier than we do.


Laos has been a fabulous country & definitely want to come back with more money & time to see all the things that there are to see!


It think that catches you up on what has happened the last little bit!


Love Shelle

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out of the rain & into the sun! Ninh Binh was a bit lame. Mostly because it was pouring with rain. But it's a tiny place with not much to do except outdoorsy things, and when it's raining & cold & the idea of having to put on wet clothes or pack them into a backpack makes a person cringe...not much to do! We arrived at 5am or some ridiculous hour. Decided to just park it at the hotel we arrived at because everything was dark & closed & raining. We went straight to bed & slept until 11 or so. Then we got ready & went on a wander. Not much to see, found some food, and then we asked the front desk about the Halong Bay tour. We then went out on a boat ride down the river to see some caves. One of the things to do. It started off ok, but started raining while we were out there & we came back drenched. The ladies didn't speak much English, they swarm you at the far end & want you to buy things from floating shops & to buy embroidered things on the boat & then they ask over & over for tips. It was frustrating, but the ride was pretty cool, saw some people rowing the boats with their feet instead of their hands.

We decided that it was just too crap to stay in town, so we went to hang our wet stuff up & crawl into the covers to warm up & we read for hours. Then we booked our trip out for the following morning to go straight to Halong Bay for 2 days & 1 night on a boat. We were waiting at 6am, breakfast was 2 bottles of water & a box of crackers & then we got picked up by a red sports car, transferred into a local bus & were the only tourists on it. It was quite the journey & we really had no idea where we were going or what was happening. Several hours later we got transferred to a taxi that brought us to a restaurant where we were to wait for a tour group to meet us. We asked a couple of times & finally a guy came & walked us down to the docks. Then we waited for another couple hours for them to get it all organized. While we waited we met a girl from Switzerland. Nice girl, had a crappy few days & was feeling really bitter about Vietnam in general. So the conversation was a bit of a downer -- and everyone on the bus commented on it when she left us to stay on Cat Ba Island for the night. We got on the boat & had lunch, then we went to some caves & wandered thru those. And it dumped on us again & we changed our clothes because we were soaked thru. After that we anchored for the night, had dinner & there were kayaks & swimming. It was about 5pm & raining & chilly. But we decided "what the hell!!!" we were there, so we went swimming. We thought at least that way we would be out of the wind. A Parissian named Theo, and an American from Nevada, named Addie came with us & we had a lot of fun. Two aussie blokes - Matt & Guy from Adelaide stayed in & played cards with a Dutch couple, Lues (Luce) & Eric. When we got back out of the water  & all dried off we joined the group in the main area & had some conversation, some beers & then...KAREOKE!!! Really Theo was the only one with the balls to go to it without a few beers under his belt, but by the end of the night we were all singing...badly most of us - but it was a lot of fun. The next morning we got up & ready & had a pitiful breakfast, stopped to check out a floating village & some caves, but most of us stayed on board because it was really chilly out. We played cards & they brought us back to the dock & we had lunch. Then we caught a bus into Hanoi & said our goodbyes. It was kinda lousy weather (but most of our time in Vietnam was that way) but the view of the bay was still incredible & we had loads of fun.

We got our room squared away in Hanoi & then went out to find some food. Success came quickly & the meal was incredible. Then we tried to find our way back (not an easy feat - Hanoi is a maze!) and wandered thru a night market & we both found hoodies that would suit our purposes & were warm & comfy!! It was bliss...2 weeks of being cold & we finally found something warm! We went back to our hotel, booked a bus out to Laos for the next afternoon. We decided to risk the crazy bus ride even though the horror stories abound - because a flight was just more than we were willing to spend.

Got up in the morning & packed up. Stored our bags & went for breakfast - another amazing meal. Then we went for a wander, I got a new book to read, we ran into Theo, Lues & Eric, so funny..and we made our way back to our hotel to meet the 5pm bus. We followed a moto to another travel place with a few people in front of it & were told to wait for our mini bus. We started chatting with the two people there, English gal, Teresa & her South African boyfriend Terrence. Over 2 hours later we were finally squared away & on a big bus heading for Laos. It was about 7:15pm. We stopped fairly often & at about 3am we stopped dead. They set up a couple hammocks hung from the bars along the roof of the bus (in the middle of the aisle) and there were a couple of Vietnamese guys that slept there. We were there until about 6:30am, when the border opened. Of course in all that time we didn't know where we were or why we were stopped. LOL Craziness.  We had also, on one of our stops, loaded up like crazy with random stuff & so when we did go thru the border they took forever looking over our bus. It was uneventful, but took about 2 hours. Then we were on our way. A quick stop for some breakfast...and we arrived in Vientienne at around 5pm. What a journey - but nowhere near as bad as some people have had it. And we made new friends! Spent the next couple hours wandering around a seemingly dead town..that had no available rooms...trying to find a place to rest our heads! Finally we found one & after we were all showered up - the 4 of us went out for some dinner & beer on the beach at around 9pm. Just ace! We were back at the hotel at around 11 & we all just went straight to bed & crashed out.

The next day we all woke up at around 11:30am. I had been up earlier, but was trying to sleep because I had barely slept on the bus. Crystal & I brought our laundry to a place, got some breakfast, asked about the options & what to see in Laos to try & decided how best to spend our time here. It has a great feeling...definitely want to come back..and Vientienne isn't even the most loved city! It's just the capital! We took it pretty easy, walked to find out where the post office was & saw the Arc de Triumphe that they have here. It's unfinished, but massive & kinda cool because it's got lotus flowers & buddhas & very asian things on something I have only seen in Europe. Pretty cool. But it was night so the pictures were crap. We went out for dinner on the beach again, and met up with our mates on the way back. We bought some beers & settled in at the hotel on the balcony for an evening of getting to know one another, drinking some Beer Laos & listening to Crystal's Iphone. it was awesome & we talked & drank until 3am...then one of the other patrons came out & yelled at us, and we realized it was ridiculously late & hit the bed.

Today...we woke up at around the same time. We had made plans last night for our days today...some of that was changed because of our late awakening. But we still went to breakfast/brunch this amazing place we had found...avocado...YUM!!! Then we rented bicycles, gathered up a bunch of stuff we wanted to send home, rode to the post office - shipped it off (much cheaper than my parcel from England!), went to see the Arc de Triumphe in the day, rode 3km out to Wat Sok Pluang (?) except we missed the road & it took a little longer. But we found it & we went to the traditional Laos sauna & massage. It was so awesome! Climbed up into a tree hut, got naked & wrapped in a sheet thingy, went into this hut that you couldn't see 3 inches in front of you there was so much steam...and it was so hot (and hot outside too LOL) And we sweat & breathed & loved it. It was an herbal sauna so there was basil & oregano & a bunch of other herbs in the air too. Reminded me of the raindrop massage that Pure Oasis had. It was stellar. We had 12 minutes of sauna, came out to cool down, had some tea. Met 2 french Canadians, Anthony & Sabrina from Montreal. Got to talking & they were really cool, his cousins own a bakery & ice cream parlour in Port Moody - so we are going to check it out when we get home. Then we hopped back in the sauna for a bit more. Cooled off afterwards, more tea, changed into a dry sheet, then got an hour long Laos massage. Similar to a Thai massage, but a little less rough, yet more joint popping & cracking. It was great...and then we rode back into town. Dropped off the bikes, ate some dinner, picked up our laundry...and now we're headed back to the room. If all has gone according to plan, our new friends bought us bus tickets & tomorrow morning we all head to Vang Vieng to get our tubing on!

We are having plenty of ideas about how to spend our last month...nothing concrete yet - so I guess you will be informed as it happens!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Good Morning Vietnam!

Yes, everytime we take a tour or a bus the tour guide will shout out "Good Morning Vietnam". Since we have been in this country we have been to Saigon, Hoi An & Hue. We only spent one evening in Saigon. Just enough to nearly be killed by the motos, as they drive even more crazily here than in the other two countries we have visted. And to go to a market, try some new fruit & see if what the Vietnamese offer is a lot different than what the Cambodian & Thai people have in their markets. Only a few new things to see. We also took a cyclo - a bicycle rickshaw. So now we have done the tuk tuk, bus, train, ferry, long tailed boat, cylco, moto, sleeper bus, truck with a bench in the back, taxi & most recently a dragon boat (not the kind they race with, just a covered boat for tourists).


We left Saigon for Hoi An the following day. And that was a 22 hour bus ride on a sleeper bus. Which sounds fun, but it is more odd. There are chairs on the bottom & a level up higher. You are seated with your legs stretched out in front of you & you can lay back the chair to about a 30 degree angle...for sleeping. However, they smoke while driving, they play music or movies as loud as they want, they yell at one another & pump the a/c. And it's nearly the height of a double decker bus & the roads in Vietnam are it's a bumpy wobbly ride. And the bus creaks & makes all sorts of noises as well, in the end, I didn't sleep more than 20 minutes. Crystal had better luck though. At one stop (which were at random and bizarre intervals I was alternately praying that I wouldn't wet my pants & feeling like I might die of hunger) we had to change busses & we met 2 Canadian ladies from Halifax. Janice & Alison. We had dinner with them & shot the sh*t. Then we piled back onto the bus for the final leg of the jouney. We ended up arriving at 7am or so & then we all went to the same hotel & ended up sharing a room with 4 beds. Made it cheaper & there were new stories to be heard. We discovered that Hoi An is basically a town of tailors & everywhere you go each shop wants to make you a whole new wardrobe. Nice! So we spent a bit of money. There were also people making shoes, the most gorgeous fresh food & herb market that we have seen yet & lots of really friendly people. We wandered around a bit like zombies wondering when it would be bed time lol. We went to the hotel & met up with the girls. We went down to the restaurant for Happy Hour - 1 hour of free drinks. We weere sharing our stories & getting to know one another and "Corner Gas" was mentioned. So another Canadian gal wandered over, she is from the island, her name is Paige. We talked about where she had been because she was travelling the opposite direction from us, and she invited us to dinner. So we went with her & her friends. 2 English gals & an Irish fella. We went to this place that one of the girls had heard about & it was so amazing! They just started bringing food out & then rolling it all up & showing us how to prep it & eat it & what to dip it in. It was the best freaking experience & the staff was uber friendly & loved the night. After that, very full - but stoked about the experience we had just had, we went to a pub & spent a few more hours chatting. Ended up arriving back at the hotel at around 2am, crawled into bed & had a lazy morning. Unfortunately the sleeping in wasn't so doable because there was a mini farm next to our window & a couple of roosters wake up at 5am & never shut up, and there were pigs rooting & it was just the best. LOL Crystal & I got roused at about 9am, had breakfast & sent our laundry to get cleaned up. Got some goodies & went to mellow for the morning. In the late afternoon we went to pick up our orders, ate some dinner & booked our tour for MySon for the following morning. Then we read until bed.


Went to MySon & saw the former temples & all the craters & destruction from the American bombs, it was still very cool though - it's in the middle of a veritable rain forest & it seems the forest is intent on taking it back. There is moss & plants growing all over the temples & they are starting to look more like they grew there than were made by man. It was alternately rainy & sunny. Apparently this while Vietnam leg of the trip is going to be rainy. Kinda crappy because there's not really time for things to dry before we move on & we didn't bring much in the way of warm clothing! LOL So we're dirty traveling scrubs wearing our clothes for several days in a row. On the way back from MySon we stopped in a little village & watched some local artisans doing some wood carving & pearl inlay work. We got back & went for a wander & had some dinner. Then we met up with the girls for cocktail hour & then they went out to dinner with some new friends & we went online for a bit & then to pack up our stuff & read until we hit the sack.


Took the bus to Hue, only about 5 hours. Found a room & moved our stuff in. We watched a movie on HBO & then we headed out for some dinner & to get some more cash. We booked a tour for the next morning & then went to bed. We did the city tour of Hue. So much to see here, but the things we wanted to see were all on this one tour. The Citadel & forbidden city (from when Vietnam was a monarchy), and the tombs of former Emperors, a pagoda that is quite famous, some village shops where we saw them making incense, and a dragon boat ride along the river. It was raining all day, but it was still pretty great stuff. Long day, decided to be abslutely mellow. Watching movies all night long, until 1:30am. And then slept in really late yesterday morning & didn't leave the room until dinner! Went to this bar that had been giving out flyers, Brown Eyes bar. Had burgers & then cocktails & then played Jenga with one of the staff & then pool with several of the staff & then we had a few more drinks...and people started arriving & we danced & we met an English bloke named Eddie & an Aussie bloke (from Sydney) named Jeff. Danced with a bunch of the staff, went online a couple times, had some more drinks, it was a really great night we left the bar at 4am. The staff was great & we made a lot of friends, but the only name we can remember is Lucky, he is the manager & a pool shark & a great dancer & a man of many talents, cool guy, and because he told everyone to call him Lucky, his name was pretty easy to remember. Got up this morning at around 10 & slowly got ready. Went to ask about a bus to Ninh Binh & got out of our room by noon & went to get some breakfast/lunch & some cash. Ate brekky, ran into Jeff again at his hostel, grabbed some snacks for the bus ride & I found a new book to read. We came back to the hotel & paid our bill & now we're killing time waiting for the 5pm bus to arrive and take us to our next destination! And yes...yes it is raining again/still. lol


I think that catches you up!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My thoughts on Southeast Asia & the Mekong Region...

This is my thoughts thus far, there is still more to go - the rest of Vietnam, Laos & Northern Thailand. And for those of you reading to see about Crystal & my journey so far - this bit is purely my thoughts & feelings. Crystal, I am sure - has many different thoughts & ideas about her time here.


Wow. If ever there was a place to experience culture shock - this is it! It's been a great time so far & part of that is just how we traveled! Winging it, seeing what we want, where & when we want. A lot different than a fully planned schedule that my whirlwind Contiki experience was. Here, if we miss something, it's our faults & if we find something...somewhere or someone amazing, that is all on us! It's pretty incredible. Especially given the language barrier. It makes me feel guilty when everyone we meet can speak better English than I can Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese or Lao. And most of them want to, they try so hard to communicate. It makes me feel so narrow minded & ridiculous. I come from a bilingual country & even my understanding of french is practically negligable these days, so long has it been since I used it with any regularity!


However, amongst the rickshaws, temples, rice fields, tiny babies on the back of motorcycles & exotic fruits - a person still sees North American (namely U.S.) influence everywhere. From the clothing brands they wear, the television programming they watch & the music they listen to, there is also the plethora of North American & European food available to please tourists. Also - establishments owned by foreigners who thought they would come to escape, live simpler, make loads of money, or even because they fell in love with a country or a local!


Thailand - from our first moments on the ground I was feeling joyous & safe. Everyone truly has been so friendly. In some areas you can really see the lack of money, but you are always seeing smiles as well. I loved the country & the people & I think that every city we have been to so far has been a wonderful experience & can honestly say I cannot wait to get back to Thailand & see even more!


Cambodia - this country was the hardest to be on a holiday in. The people were not as happy, their poverty & desperation so obvious & impossible to ignore. They would get angry if we didn't buy something from them, fed up & believing us all to be rich. And yet there is so much in place to help. To train young & impoverished people, to teach a trade, to teach better healthcare, to raise money to helping end prostitution & child labour (aka beggin, selling jewellery or books on the street). And the people that we met who wanted & were able to talk to us were hungry for change & betterment. So excited to talk to us, hear our ideas, practice English, always wanting to learn to advance to a better job for a better life for themselves & their families. It was heartwarming to see the opportunities that they as a people are creating, being given & that we could have used (if we went through the right channels) to help out as well. The Friends Without A Border program & hospital is a miracle, and there were many other foundations we saw & heard about. The history & amazing accomplishments in Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom, surviving wars & their desire to share with us the beauty that their country does yet hold - it was beautiful. This is a place that I would love to come back to, but I would want it to be ain a charitable capacity; a role where I am teaching, building, volunteering - giving back.


Vietnam - we haven't been here long, but the differences are vast. Saigon was a crazy busy city with so many vehicles on the road & people everywhere; the kind of city you can find anything & have any kind of experience in. So far there have been no tuk tuks - only cylcos (which are bicycle rickshaws). The children are mostly chubby little things, which to me says that there is a lot more money here, as in Thailand & Cambodia the children (and adults) never had any extra body fat so meagre was their diet & so hard were their working lives. This is not to say that the Vietnamese don't work hard - for I have hardly seen anyone taking any kind of break. But definitely in the cities they have more food on the table. There have not been any begging children, or adults, and one thing so different the gardens/parks/greenery! In the city there are parks & not just grass but beautiful multicoloured patterns & bushes carved into giant serpentine dragons & other creatures. And not just in Saigon, but in random round abouts & meridians. It's a very different thing that they have the money to upkeep such a non-essential thing. And still we have just begun, Northern Vietnam might be entirely different, it is a divided country much like Ireland. And there is still Laos & Northern Thailand!


But there are some things that I will never forget -

*The driving, crazy & seemingly without rules or order as people drive wherever & on whichever side of the road they want. Horns honking regularly as acknowledgement & as warnings. Turning & driving into oncoming traffic because it gets them more quickly to their destination. Each journey in a vehicle or on foot has left me thankful to be alive & exhilarated from the adreniline pumping through my system. When crossing a street you need to look both ways, until you have reached the other side. And crosswalks (zebra stripes) & traffic lights, mean virtually nothing. No one slows or stops at a crosswalk, they just honk if you are in their way & they run red lights with frightening regularity - it just depends on how much of a hurry they are in.

*The markets, especially the ones with all the handmade & local goods & food. The smells are alternately glorious & horrific as I smell fruit & noodles, rice & spring rolls, so many tasty items on sticks. And then I walk past a fish stall without enough ice, and it's more than a bit smelly - or I encounter a mongrel dog stopping to scratch it's fleas in my general direction or licking at a scabby spot that is oozing some liquid...and I send up a little prayer that it won't rub up against my leg because I am sure that will result in a third foot, a growth of some kind will be birthed from said gooey, manky dog. But the beauty of the items, the bargains to be had, the texture of smooth coconut shell or rough hand woven silk - gorgeous things that are not easily found at home. The smiles, the bartering, the calls of "Laidee, you wanna buy a bracelet?" or "A scarf, I have many colour for you - for your friends at home?!". The tight cramped quarters as I feel the sweat trickle down my back because there is no airflow, thousands of people & we are all shoulder to shoulder. Nowhere to try on items, so over the clothes it goes, or thru some tricky rearranging or clever use of a sarong I get it on, only to discover - I am in Asia & with a butt & thighs like mine & yes, even breasts (over here I am fairly well endowed), I am more of a L or XL. Which folks, I gotta tell you - doesn't do much for the self esteem!!

*The children & the love, these people are ridiculous about children. They have no rules, they can be little devils & all they get is laughs & kisses & cuddles! And if you bring your child over here it will be grabbed from your hands & kissed & cuddled in much the same way. They cannot get enough of children. They light up their lives & bring smiles & joy to everyone in all of these countries. It's amazing to watch how the family unit works together through everything. You buy a dress in one shop, and they run you over to their cousins shop for shoes. It's great & hilarious. And the kids are more than a little bit adorable, and watching everyone together is beautiful.


It's all an experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I am glad that Crystal wanted to come & I am glad that I came with her. What incredible places we have seen & incredible people we have met. What an incredible experience to have had at an age where I can take more from it than I would have been able to had I been younger.


And we're only half way through it!!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Leaving Cambodia

Hello All!

So the riverbed place was a place called Kbal Sprean. It's a long tuk-tuk ride & a 2km hike up a hill, and some boulders - to a place they carved religious icons into the stone in the bank. Pretty incredible.The waterfall itself was a bit lame & we didn't see anywhere to swim (as was advertised),but the carvings & the place were cool. We stopped at another temple on our way back. Also very famous - and well worth it because the carvings were more intricate & deep than any of the other temples we saw. We were planning to head back to town, but instead we went to the Floating Village just outside of Siem Reap & we took a boat down the Mekong river past all the floating homes & schools & the police department all the way out to Tongle Sap, which is the famous huge lake in Cambodia. And then back. We bought some school supplies & donated to the school. Then back to our hotel. It made for a long day, a lot of back & forth in the tuk tuk. Which isn't so bad for us on our cushioned seats - but Boi our tuk-tuk driver had the hitch digging into his back for all those hours!
That evening was our last in Siem Reap and we went for dinner & then on a shopping spree. Which was mostly successful & on which we met this great Cambodian fellow who is making his own purses & wallets out of Krama- which is the traditional Cambodian scarf that they use for a million things. They are very cool & we each bought one, but we also had a very interesting 20minute conversation with him! Very cool end to our time in Siem Reap.

Then we hopped a bus in the morning & headed for Phnom Pen. The bus was pretty good. Air-con & all that. But we did blow a tyre out- conveniently right in front of a tyre shop! Which of course made a few people who are big on conspiracy theories throw about a few ideas. We just chilled out, I kept reading, it was fixed within 20 minutes & we were on our way. We stopped once for food, and saw our first crickets & spiders all fried up & spiced up. Haven't tried any yet. Just saw them. lol Then we actually arrived in Phnom Pen a bit early. Hopped into a Tuk Tuk & ended up at Okay Guesthouse. And it's been OK so far! lol After we moved in, we looked into the Lonely Planet guide for a restaurant that gives back. We ended up walking to Friends, which is a place that teaches former street kids how to do many things, one of which is the service industry & working in the restaurant. It was great. I had a traditional Khmer fish dish & a glass of orange & beetroot juice! Pretty good. After that Crystal had noticed a place that had showings of traditional Cambodian dances, music & shadow puppet shows, so we grabbed a tuk tuk & made our way out there. Our driver was hopelessly lost, but there are many nice Cambodians about, so he just kept asking directions until we got there. It was a really great show, we saw many dances & heard some awesome music. An awesome start to Phnom Pen & a great night out. We did find that it's definitely a bigger city, and we don't feel as safe at night here if we get off the beaten track at all. So tuk tuks & motos are key. But our second day had us feeling better about it, but not in love with Phnom Pen. I think the thing about Cambodia is that they have been thru so much. They are so much more desperate in their poverty & it makes both Crystal & I eager to help out & do something about it. I hope that if I come back here it is with an NPO, Unicef, or something like that where I can feel like I'm really helping to make a difference in their lives.
Anyway, yesterday we wandered around a fair bit. Wandered down a street with some cool shops, slowly, and we had slept in pretty good. So we missed the day markets, spent a bit of time in one of the big western style shopping malls & then ended up at the night market. Pretty crazy, there was a band & a whole lot of people. We got some food & sat down on these big mats with everyone. Had babies staring at us & their parents thinking it was hilarious, and this great woman named Alice beside us. She was born in Cambodia, but has been living in California for nearly 30 years. After the real estate market crashed, her real estate career was a mess, so she decided to go for simple instead & she came back here & is teaching. She was really great to talk to, being the she has been in North America for so long & yet she has Cambodia in her blood. After our evening there we went back to our room & mellowed out.
Today we got up a bit earlier & grabbed some breakfast & went to the Russian Market, pretty cool, but really hot & tight. Then to the Orussey Market, which was insane & strange, but also kinda like a wholesale place, not much for Khmer things, just everyday stuff that they need to buy. And finally the Central market, and by then we were hot & marketed out. And it was the same, not so much Khmer handmade we weren't as interested. We took Motos all day back and forth - which are what it sounds like. A motorbike with the two of us & a driver on it. They are cheaper than the tuk tuks & it was another experience to add to the list! :) We went in search of a specific place & at the address we had, it was not there. So who knows. Ended up at a place we knew & liked. Went for a wander for some Chuppa Chups (because I am more than a little obsessed with the mango ones) and I was let down. Then back to our room, I read, Crystal read & napped. We had a snack & now this! I felt it was probably time for an update as tomorrow we are on a bus at 8:30am to Vietnam! I think we'll be travelling up the country, seeing what there is to see for about 15 days - and then Laos!!!!

Hope everyone is super!


Monday, January 4, 2010

Cambodian Adventures

Yesterday we left our hotel in Bangkok at about 6:50am and took a lengthy bus ride to the border, then got the visa
thing sorted & then did some nutty trekking to the border. It wasn't that long, but when it's 30 degrees, humid & you have a 40lb pack on, it feels like miles. Went
thru the Thai border, and walked to the Cambodia health check where a camera checked our body temperature &
then to the border. Then onto a bus, 4 hrs to a roadside diner thingy
& ate dinner, and arrived in Siem Reap at 7:30pm. Went to the
guesthouse I had booked, but got screwed...they hadn't saved a room for
me. So our tuk-tuk driver took us to a hotel called Sydney Angkor Hotel. It's pretty good.
Hung out in our room. Did some laundry, had a shower,watched a movie.

I got a sunburn on the ferry from Ko Phangan - Surat Thani on our way
back to Bangkok...and now my forehead is peeling & it is SICK! So
I'm wearing a hat. lol I feel like a leper!

Today we slept in. got up & Crystal reorganized her bag & i
read the Mekong Lonely Planet guide. (there is a large portion of southeast asia that surrounds the Mekong river, Cambodia, Northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, part of China make up the Mekong Region) Then we went into town to get some
eats. Had a pumpkin dish that was so damn good. Do you understand
how AMAZING the food in these countries is?!??! it's ridiculous. I love
it.  I just want to eat all the time! Then we wandered around to see
the town a bit, found some shops, checked it out to see what is
different here & in Thailand. Then found some eco-friendly places
& a quilt shop (Thought of you Auntie Fay!) (, a shop that uses recycled materials ( & a couple
more that get disabled or women in rough spots to make things & the
Non profit organizations helping them sell the goods. Very cool. Lots
of stuff we would like to get because they are amazing & because it
helps out. It's just hard when we still have so much time left to
travel & carry around our packs. That's the crappy thing about
these long adventures! After that we headed back to our hotel & stopped off at the Friends Without a Border ( centre, it's an amazing NPO that specializes in pediatric care throughout cambodia. We went in & read all about it, watched the informational video, donated some money & learned a lot.

Feels like a pretty full day & it's only dinner time. We're planning to go to a place called Red Piano, where they have some fun music & the hecklers from the muppets are a key part of the marketing scheme - and that worked for Crystal! :) Then we are going to wander the night market & check it all out! Tomorrow we are planning to go & check out the temples at Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom. also, we might stop by the Friends Without a Border to see if we are able to give blood...not sure if we can or not, but if they will allow us we would like to help in whatever ways we can. And the day after another special spot where there are carvings in the riverbed & a waterfall to swim in. I can't remember the name of it right now though.

Later alligators! Thanks for your comments! I love when you comment!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Back in Bangkok

So post turning 28 what a wild ride Crystal has had haha. She says that each day brings an adventure, even if we don't do anything, something strange or noteworthy seems to happen!

On the 29th we spent a fair amount of money! The one thing that I wanted to do while we were here was to buy a hammock. And we saw an ad for this Mr. Moon and his Hammock place. It was on the way to Haad Rin and we wanted to check Haad Rin out pre-Full Moon Party anyway. So we got up & ready & started to walk. It is 11km to Haad Rin from our hotel. We walked about 5 or 6 to Mr. Moon's and then we hung out with him trying all the different hammocks. I wanted to buy from him because they are made by a Thai tribe to make money for the tribe. Plus they were really great & came in loads of colours, which I haven't found other places. Crystal got a sitting hammock & I got an Family Size one, so that once it's set up I dont' have to lie in it alone . :) hahaha But the silly thing was that we then had to carry them around all day! We stopped for lunch nearby Mr. Moon's and then we walked another 3 or so kms. But by then it was about 1:30pm and hella hot, and the road went up a mountain, so we were dripping with sweat and decided to hop into the next taxi that drove by. Haad Rin was a lot more upscale touristy, everything was more expensive & people weren't willing to barter. It is just a tiny little place that is party central all the time. But loads of dive shops, so Crystal found one that she liked the vibe of & booked her dive for the next day out to Sail Rock, which is supposed to have some of the best diving in Thailand. After a little shopping, we hightailed it back to Thongsala (via taxi) to get some cheap grub and have a quiet night thinking about all the money that was gone. After that it was bed time because Crystal had an early morning!

Got up at 6:30 & Crystal got ready. I roused myself enough to braid her hair & to eat some brekky with her, and then she left for the day & I sacked out for another couple hours. When I finally got up at 9ish I got ready & hit the beach for a serious tanning day. I was there for about 4 hours. Then I went to eat so I didn't pass out, and dropped off my laundry to be washed. After I ate, I headed back to the beach & that is where Crystal found me when she returned from her day! Her say was great, I was a bit sad I had to miss out, but I wasn't willing to pay to get my certification at this time & you had to be certified. But she met some cool people, got some confidence in her diving & saw some really cool things. Almost everything that the brochure said she might see, she did!! I was tired from laying baking in the sun & she was tired from her 2 dives. So we went to have some dinner, looked in a couple of shops for items we were debating & decided yes, no, or it was already gone. While we were eating dinner, well right after I finished, a gecko wandered by on the ceiling above us & pooped on me. Kinda like a little hamster pellet - a bit smaller than that, but it was like a little gecko bullet! So now I am wondering if it is good luck, like when a bird craps on your head - or if he just didn't like me! :) Then we had dessert, and then we found about about getting out to Haad Rin for New Years the following evening & crashed out in bed

New Years Eve we went into town to search for some cheap clothes to wear to the Full Moon Party b/c if you get the glow in the dark paint on you then you can't get it off the clothing. I bought some shorts & Crystal bought a tank. We found a couple more things & then hit the beach for a couple hours. I went & picked up my laundry. Then we lay in the room for a bit, we were a little reddish. And then dinner time. Then we went to 7/11 to get Red Bull & Beer to start off our evening. Hung out on the beach drinking our beer & watching a fireshow & then went to jump in the taxi. The Full Moon Party was EFFING AWESOME! It was funny, I was telling Crystal how we would probably get attention from drinking the beer because in most other countries chicks don't drink beer & one of the first people to talk to us once we hit the beach was a guy who said, "Are you Canadian? Girls who drink beer are awesome". It was funny. When we got to Haad Rin we bought some body paint & some wrist bands, paid our way onto the beach, grabbed another beer & walked the length of the beach to check it out. Went up to this bar/hostel built into a mountainside, went pee. Crystal nearly got taken out by a drunk 40+ man who was stumbling about (10pm and already couldn't walk!), a guy walking behind me moved his hands up & down my waist & told me that I had a beautiful shape. There was a guy who had "Kiss Me Full Moon 2010" or something on his back so I kissed his cheek for a photo op & then he told me to that I was the first & last who would do it. I just laughed & walked away. We went down to the beach to paint each other up. We were worried it was going to be insanely busy, but we were loving it. Not too crowded at all. Crystal got "Canadian Girls Love Aussies" on her arms & I got "I heart Thailand". And then an aussie bloke came up to us & wanted some paint, then intro'd us to his friends (we are pretty sure their names were Travis, Scott, Chris, Jay & Cat). And we spent the rest of the night hanging out with them. Drinking buckets, eating food at the buffet, sending off wish lanterns, getting hit by a stray firework, Crystal & Travis built a sand castle. Scott & Chris were both fun & chatty. They had hats on & we got a few photos of Crystal & I wearing them. All 3 of the guys did pretty well handling what a mouthpiece I can be. I don't think I offended anyone ;) We danced a bit, talked a was pretty good times. All in all - for two girls who were worried they wouldn't make it thru the night or even enjoy it - it was amazing. The beach wasn't as crowded as we were worried it might be, everyone was in really great spirits, I didn't get tired at all. Crystal had fun, even tho she didn't even want to go at the beginning of the night. We lost two of the guys at the end of the night, but walked Travis back to his ferry. Then we caught the taxi home. Crystal lost a flip flop again, but had found one that was the same size as hers on the beach. On the way back I realized that I had lost our room key. So we waited in the restaurant/lounge area with some other people at the hotel. One guy & I tried to break into our room, but had no luck. Then I went to go & check something & my thongs were gone! Someone had jacked them..and they were fully on their last legs, so I was choked. So he went with me looking on everyone's decks/porches to see if I could find them - but no luck there either. Waited until 8:30am or so when the ladies showed up for work & got let into our room. Crystal passed out, I had a shower and at 8:44am I closed my eyes. Slept for about 4.5 hrs & then tackled the day. LOL We feel fully that we are machines hahaha

New Years Day we got up & ready. Went to get some food into our bellies. Feeling a little boozy & a lot tired we went to get pedicures. $5 pedicures. A little dodgy, a lot different, but our toes are pretty & it was a couple of hours laying around in air-con being pampered! Then I walked into town barefoot. All I had were my new Keen's & they have toe protection & I didn't want to wreck my toes. So I bought some havaianas & was having a pretty good night! Stopped at the food market & loaded up for dinner, and we walked back to our room. Spent a bit of time online & then had an early night because we were leaving the next morning to go to Bangkok. As we were falling asleep I was hearing noises!! It was some kind of rodent. I think a rat, but Crystal thinks mouse for her piece of mind. But it was nibbling on the top of her pringles I think rat. But when I turned the light on it scared it. I started jumping on the beds & moving them around, but couldn't find a rat, a hole or anything. So we but all the food up high & tried to sleep. We heard it a couple more times, but slept a bit. The next morning, up & ready & packed & I opened the door...someone had stolen Crystal's mismatched thongs & my new ones! We found one of Crystal's and another one that she fit. So she wore those & I wore me Keen's. So we've decided the thongs are coming indoors with us, too bad about customs! I don't want to buy anymore!

Then we got the taxi to the pier where it was a complete gong show. Loaded onto the ferry. Got to sit outside on the deck. Sore butt & pretty major sunburn. Yuck! And then 4 hours later we pulled into Surat Thani. Waited there for a couple of hours, ate some of the buffet & chilled out until the bus came. Loaded onto the bus & from 6pm - 3:30am we were on the bus. We had one stop along the way to pee & stretch & eat, that was around 10pm. It was good. Met a couple of really cool Irish guys, Collum & Paddy. They are headed the same direction as us, so we might see them again here in Bangkok, or later in Siem Reap. Either way they gave us a hook up with a guy they did the trekking with up in Chang Mai, so that was awesome. Crystal got about 4 hrs of sleep on the bus, I didn't get any. I was feeling pretty rugged when we rolled up into town & piled into a taxi. Took the taxi to our hotel, who of course said "um, check in isn't until 10am". We said "that's ok, we'll sleep on your couch". So after about half an hour he located a room & we went up. I washed my face & applied aloe because I was a bit sore & then we crawled into bed. It was about 4:30am & we got up today at 9am because we had things to do before heading out tomorrow to Cambodia!

So now we're back in Bangkok, running errands & getting things we need. Bought new thongs & are catching everyone up online :) Photos to come soon on Facebook for sure, and hopefully some on here for those of you who don't check Facebook --- B!!!

Love you all!