Monday, March 26, 2007

Banana Pancakes

Well I'm back in the land of Banana Pancakes, otherwise known as Thailand.
It's been so long since I have posted anything and I hardly know were to start in filling you in. I am still traveling with Katy; although we do go our separate ways in just 5 days :( I know being on my own again will take some getting used to, especially eating alone, but I'm looking forward to a change in scenery and I think Indonesia is exactly what I need.

Ok, now where did I leave off...

We left for Hoi An, a city known only for it's tailors, and needless to say by the time we left my previously almost empty backpack was bursting at it's seems and I was forced to buy a second bag. Thank goodness we stayed for only 48 hours. Next we bused to Nha Trang where I originally planned to stay for 4 days and then made it 8. We dove, tanned, joined a booze cruise and generally just chilled out. It was absolutely the most relaxing place I have ever been to and it took all we had to get in that bus and drive away. In Nha Trang I heard some rumors of a town that had some freak swell action and had some ridable waves, I begged Katy and she agreed that we should detour to Mui Ne. Unfortunately when we arrived the ocean was glass. I sat on the beach transfixed by the kite boarders though; if we had enough time to spend a few more days there I would have forked out the $200 to take lessons. We did join a half day tour though; saw the sun rise, went to see some sand dunes, a fishing village and strange red rock formations (if only I'd paid attention in Geography!!!) I loved the sand dunes and gave a go at sand sledding, it's fun going down but not so much getting back up again. After Mui Ne we finally made it to Ho Chi Minh City. We were running out of time at this point so we fired through the main attraction, the Cu Chi tunnels, and made a break for the Cambodian boarder. [The CuChi tunnels were used during the war by local rebel fighters] Leaving Vietnam was tough; I loved everything about the place, the crazy motorcyclists, the food, the people, the accommodations with the world's most comfortable beds and the quickly changing countryside.

We crossed the Cambodian boarder and I was immediately overwhelmed by the poverty. I'd seen thousands of shacks along the roads of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam but the image in Cambodia was the first to make me sick with sadness. Driving along you could see into the homes, you saw how little they live with, in the fields you noticed how anorexic the cattle look and the heaps of garbage gathered everywhere. I was riveted to these images when I noticed something that completely changed my view on poverty. As we passed a small pond I saw children playing in the water, they were jumping off a rickety dock onto a black inner tube, they looked happy and oblivious to the filth around them. After seeing them I started noticing details I couldn't see before, pink curtains in some of the houses, people everywhere building and adding onto their homes, kids playing jump rope with elastic bands. I wonder what that stretch of road will look like in 10 years, or even 5, everywhere you look people are building. I kept having to remind myself this area was surrounded by war until the 1980's. I also kept thinking about poverty vs. happiness, we all know that wealth does not ensure happiness and I've seen that poverty does not sentence you to misery; so what is the secret?
We headed straight for Northern Cambodia to the city Siem Reap. Siem Reap boasts one of the most famous religious structures in the world, the Angkor Temples. People say they loose themselves in the temples and spend weeks, even months, wondering the massive site. At $20/day in 40 degree weather while surrounded by thousands of pushy tourists Katy and I did it all in under 6 hours. It was amazing and if it was a little cooler I would have wanted to stay and explore every nook and cranny. March 17th, St Patrick's Day, found us in Siem Reap where I was more than a little surprised to find an Irish bar and even more surprised to find myself drinking green beer while in Cambodia. It's a strange world. The next day we were caught in a freak (thats what the hostel owner called it) thunder shower. This storm followed us from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and finally to Koh Chang, Thailand. I blame myself for bragging about our 40+ weather to the people back home, I am sorry. We arrived in Phnom Penh and hired a tuk tuk diver to take us to the top 4 'must sees' in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately the area has a sad and gruesome past and the sites we went to were related to the Khmer Rouge's genocidal 1975-79 rule. The Lonely Planet says is perfectly in their travel guide "Your heart will race at Angkor Wat, one of the world's greatest achievements, only to haltingly derail when faced with the impact of humankind's darkest moments...A visit to sites commemorating their[the Khmer Rouge] atrocities will paralyse your soul and enlighten your'll never look at the world the same again." Before starting us out on our day of depression our driver took us to a driving range were, while in Cambodia, I fired my first gun which of course was an AK47. Katy and I each fired 7 rounds and our target showed 5 hits, sadly we do not know who actually hit the target. Once the fun was over we made our way to the 'Killing Fields' a place were, for over 3 years, the Khmer Rouge brought people to be executed and their bodies left in large pits. I'm still reading up on the history behind it all and I'm still reeling from the fact that I did not learn about this when I was home, or in school for that matter. After the Killing Fields we went to the prison that held the prisoners before sending them to the fields. The prison was originally a secondary school before it was shut down and reopened by the Khmer. The prisoners were anyone who appeared to not follow the Khmer; they were teachers, monks, peasants, children, doctors, politicians, mothers... they have only uncovered 30% of the graves at the Killing Fields and recovered nearly 9000 bodies. We walked the fields and caught up with a couple who had hired a guide, eaves dropping on his explanations I found out that all the scraps of cloth we could see in the ground are the actual clothes of the victims, he also said that because the graves were so poorly filled in you could see bone fragments sticking out for the soil. At the entrance of the fields a monument was built to hold the skulls recovered from the 160 pits they uncovered. Luckily I heard, from other backpackers, of a school you could visit that was just behind the fields. I walked over and while I watched the students play soccer I spoke to one of the teachers about differences in Canadian and Cambodian education systems, the conversation and the sounds of the children playing helped ease some of the weight of the fields. After visiting the prison we went to another pagoda, I don't remember much of it, all the pagodas are molding into one. The next morning we headed to Sihanoukville, a small beach town in Southern Cambodia, and spent the next 2 days chilling out. We originally planned to stay there for 4 or 5 days but the storm caught up to us again and we decided to head for Thailand, and hopefully better weather.
Right now I'm on Koh Chang, and Island in the Eastern Gulf of Thailand. I heard so many amazing things about this Island and one of the hostels, The Treehouse Lodge, that I set aside an entire week to be here. Katy and I could not handle the Treehouse, so we escaped the 24hour party and settled in a different area. Today we rented a motorbike and explored a bit of the island, it is nothing like I expected, after much disappointment we booked our tickets to take us back to the mainland to the very urban town of Pattaya. I don't think I will fall in love with the place, but Katy has friends there and I'll be in Indonesia in 5 days, so I'll go along.
Well now that you're all caught up I'll give you my 2 reasons for not writing sooner; 1-I have no money and can't afford to use the computers, and 2-I had no idea how to even begin to put into words everything I saw, so I waited till I had more time to reflect on what I was writing.
Oh and when I say I have no money, I have money, just no working bank cards to get to the money. Ahhh I love how these things seem to happen. It's a funny story, remember to ask me about it when I get home:) (Rachel, there's a whole second part to it:)but you knew that would happen, why wouldn't it?)
Well enough chatting, here's some pics to fill in the visual gaps.
Love you all
I'll be home in 90 days :)

Halong Bay

Ninh Binh

Traffic in Vietnam...

One of the many peddlers who were Vietnam war victims

Nha Trang; booze cruise and beaches,

Miu Ne

Ho Chi Minh City

SiemReap; Angkor Temples

Keeping the hostels clean is hard work... Especially when you're 6.

Phnom Penh

Sihanoukville, oh so beautiful.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Heading South

After a month of rambling through the hills, seeing countless temples, small villages and having small children chase after my motorbike, I've decided to beeline for the beach so I can do some maintenance on my much faded tan.

I landed in Hanoi, Vietnam 10 days ago. I spent 2 days in Hanoi where it was busy, loud, dirty and I loved it. There is an energy in Vietnam that Thailand and Laos are missing. Katy and I signed up for a 3 day tour through Halong Bay. We spent 2 full days sailing through the 3000 islands only stopping twice, once to hike 3 hours to a beautiful look out, and also to jump into Kayaks and spend 3 hours kayaking around some of the islands. We spent the last night on one of the islands, cant remember the name, but it was bizarre. Since I'm here during the slow tourist season all the towns are eerily quiet; the island we stayed at had crazy lights everywhere like a carnival and all pubs/clubs were blaring music, but there was NO one in the clubs and the streets were empty. I felt like I was at the carnival a day too early.
I've decided, against my better judgment, to stick to buses in Vietnam. In Vietnam they have the best system for backpackers, open ended bus tickets. I've purchased a ticket for Saigon, I have a month to get there and I can get on and off the bus anytime I want. Our first stop was Ninh Binh, a quiet town which boasts the Tam Coc and a floating village. The Tam Coc is a river surrounded by beautiful rice fields and mountains. The locals are out working in the fields as you paddle by, the workers are men and women of all ages, working in a foot of mud and 6 inches of water. We hopped on a canoe styled boat to paddle along the Tam Coc with two local women as our guides, I grabbed a paddle and started helping out, every local we passed laughed, shouting things to our guides; I guess the tourists don't usually paddle but, as I tried to explain to our guides, if I'm alright with paying $5 to get in a gym at home I should be happy to help paddle during a 5 hour canoe ride that was costing me only 2.50$. The next day Katy and I rented a motorbike and tried to find the floating village. Luckily we got amazingly lost and, instead of reaching the tourist-ridden village, we rode for 4 hours through dozens of villages and rice fields. Later that night we hopped on a, supposed, 10 hour bus ride to Hue. The bus left Ninh Binh at 10pm and arrived in Hue at 6:00am; we arrived 2 hours early because the driver had no apparent desire to live and drove like an absolute madman; there was no chance to sleep because the bus was shaking violently from the speed. 6am we arrived safely in Hue. Not wanting to waste any time we joined a river tour that left at 8am, stopped at 4 different sights and returned us, exhausted, to our hotel at 5pm. It was a long day.
The next day brings me to today, it was wonderful, we'd originally planned to visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) but after listening to another backpacker describe the 10 hour bus tour we decided against it. Instead we rented a motorbike and got lost in the hills. Another amazing day filled with beautiful sights and friendly people. I love Vietnam.
Tomorrow morning I board the bus again, this time only for 4 hours, to Hoi An. We will spend only 2 days there and then head to Nha Trang, where I have no intentions of doing anything but suntan, swim, dive, and surf(if the timing is right) for 4 relaxing days. We are calling it our 'vacation for our vacation'.
I hope life is treating you all well.
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miss you all.