Best of Cambodia
pictures at http://www.dotphoto.com/go.asp?l=jostravels
Jo does Bangkok (& the end of the road!)
12/15/2006 - 12/16/2006
I find it a bit surreal sitting here in a Bangkok guest house, at a coin-operated computer, on my last day of traveling. I've always thought of this day as so far in the future- and now I’m actually here, about to go home!
Bangkok...where to start... After coming from Cambodia, and then Vietnam and Laos, Bangkok is quite the place to be dropped at 10 o'clock at night! I have to admit, I was a bit overwhelmed! I suppose I've been to a couple cities (in Vietnam) since I've left Cambodia, but even Hanoi, the bustling capital of Vietnam is like "city-light" compared to Bangkok -I'm talking Miller Light to Guinness, seriously...
After wandering around for quite some time, I ended up in a crappy guesthouse with bugs and cold water. I was also tired from my travels and, overall, couldn't be bothered with navigating the city for a day- I even thought about seeing if I could move my flights up.
Well, I woke up this morning and decided I was being a wuss and ended up actually having a pretty good day! I started out wandering all over the city, visiting various Wats and some other random sights. I ended up getting a really cheap tuk tuk fare- except that every so often, I had to stop and look at gems at various stores so the driver could get gas coupons. I ended up (not quite sure how) at a giant shopping mall -actually more like 4 shopping malls connected by giant walkways across various streets. It was like nothing I've seen in a LONG time! I found myself walking around with my eyes wide open like I was from some remote tribe and this was my first time in the "big" city! I did get a bit lost for a while but then I realized- how lost can you get in a city that actually has Starbucks! I ended up getting a ride in a van with a bunch of school kids heading home (still not quite sure how that worked out.) I've also broken my record for the most time waited to cross a street, EVER.
Later, I walked over to the Grand Palace and temple of the Emerald Buddha. By chance, I managed to slide right into the temple just as it was closing and a huge celebration for Buddha day was starting, which was quite cool. After that it was back to Khao San road for some exploring...
I'm excited to be going home -if not a bit exhausted from my travels as well. It's going to be weird coming back to the "real world." What do I say to people when they ask the inevitable: "how was Cambodia?" How do I explain the things I've seen? What's the best way to explain the feeling you get when a mother in the slums offers to give you her son because she knows anything you could offer would be a better life? Actually, there's a better question: how do you fix the things that I've seen?
On a lighter note, I feel like I've definitely come a long way, literally AND figuratively. It's been one hell of a ride...
12/09/2006 - 12/14/2006
Laos is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!! It is much more similar to Cambodia than Vietnam. I spent Saturday exploring the capital, Vientiane, which is a small but cute city (if you can call it that). It reminded me a lot of Cambodia- except with a lot less motos and these weird things called jumbos, which look a bit like tuk tuks but have the front part of a moto built in...hard to explain! I had a long walk around town to see most of the sights including several really beautiful Wats. I also went to see the national monument of Laos, Pha That Luang, which is the symbol of the Buddhist religion in Laos. It is a giant stupa, covered in gold, which, on a clear sunny day like the day I was there, look very impressive!
On Sunday, I took a bus to Veng Vieng, a small town north of Vientiane, about 1/3 of the way to Luang Prabang. This was arguably one of the most beautiful places I've been in my travels. The town runs along a river and is surrounded by giant limestone karsts (like a mountain). I rented a bike and rode across the river and through dried up rice field to the base of one of the karsts and then hiked up to a couple caves that weren't too hard to reach. The caves were really cool- and there was an amazing view from up there! I would've liked to stay longer and do some trekking, etc... but I had to move on to Luang Prabang the next day, which is where I a now!
The bus ride from Vang Vieng was the most amazing bus ride I've ever taken. It goes way up into the mountains along a narrow road and around very sharp corners! It was a bit unnerving to come around a sharp corner with a sheer drop on one side, but on the other hand, the view was absolutely amazing the whole time! We drove by small villages that reminded me a lot of the Cambodian countryside (except with mountains!)
Luang Prabang, a designated UNESCO world heritage site (as they won't soon let you forget!), deserves its reputation. It has a very prevalent French influence -so much that, walking down some of the side streets to the river, you feel as if you could really be in France! -then you pass a Wat or a monk! As I sit here writing this, I can here the heavy drum beat from the Wat across the street, where a group of monks are calling for prayer.
Yesterday, I climbed up the slopes of Phu Si the temples at the top and the ancient footprint of the Buddha (and not to mention the stunning view of the city from the top).
Today, after spending most of the day walking all over town, I went out of town to a huge waterfall, which was really cool (literally). All in all, Laos has been amazing- but I have to admit, that might be in part because it reminds me a bit of Cambodia! Tomorrow I've got most of the day to explore Luang Prabang some more before I head off to Bangkok (my final stop!!)
I had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong They're still there, he's all gone -Bruce Springsteen, 1984
12/04/2006 - 12/08/2006
I feel like i've been traveling FORVER!!! From Hoi An, I took an afternoon bus (nice change!) to Hue, the old intellectual capital of Vietnam. It's a cute city that runs along the perfume river. (note: river does NOT actualy smell like perfume- actually, quite far from it!) The weather hasn't been so great since we've headed north- it's rained almost every day. It's weird to think that Cambodia and Vietnam have such different weather (completely different monsoon seasons.)
The first day I was in Hue, I wasn't actually in Hue! I went up to see the DMZ (de-militarized zone, khe sahn, and a couple other war sites.) It was pretty eerie to wander around sites that had been such household names during the war (even though I wasn't around then!) I was also the only American (that I knew of) that went along w/ any of the tours, which felt a bit weird. I tried to imagine what it would be like to come back to those places as a veteran. Listening to 60's & 70's anti-war music as we drove around to all of these sites gave me an uncanny sense of nostalgia for something that I wasn't even alive for...
After a day exploring Hui itself, I was back on another night train to Hanoi! This train was a LOT more crowded than the last one and a bit more...well...disgusting. I'm not quite sure why people insist on spitting on the floor or can't ever pee without hitting the seat!
Anyway, I liked Hanoi a lot. I stayed in old town which has all these really neat winding streets (w/ more travel companies than you could ever imagine!) After spending a day cruising around Hanoi, I went to Halong Bay and stayed overnight on a boat. It was cool, except the weather wasn't ideal -it rained a lot and since it was misty, you couldn't see the karsts that well. It was still beautiful though...
Well, then it was back to Hanoi before heading off to Laos for 6 days! I'm pretty tired of doing the tourist "thing" so i'm looking forward to carving my own path in Laos!
There's battle lines being drawn Nobody's right if everybody's wrong Young people speaking their minds Getting so much resistance from behind -Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield), 1966
11/25/2006 - 12/04/2006
After a slight delay in Saigon (waiting for Sonja and being sick), I've continued up the coast of Vietnam. I decided the basic itinerary early on, but in terms of a time frame, things have been a bit on the fly. I have to admit, I didn't love Saigon- but to be fair, I'm not sure if that's Saigon itself of the fact that I was (am) missing Cambodia and a bit sick for most of my time there.
I took a bus from Saigon to Mui Ne, which is a really awesome beach town with the most amazing sand dunes I have ever seen. They call it the Sahara of Vietnam- several km's of HUGE sand dunes, to the point where you could walk a bit and feel like you're in the middle of the desert! Mui Ne was also a nice stop because it's a beautiful beach w/out the hassels and crowds of Nha Trang.
After a couple nights in Mui Ne, I took another bus to Nha Trang and immediately got on the overnight train to Hoi An. It actually sounds a lot worse that it was. There was a bit of confusion when we walked out to where you wait for the train in the dark and there were 4 tracks and no signs about which was which (even the locals were confused!) Luckily, we worked it out and were pleased to find a fairly empty car so we could sleep on two seats!
Arriving in Hoi An at 5am was quite the experience. It was still dark and I was quite tired from the...well, lets just call it the "less than perfect sleeping accomodation" of the previous night. Anyway, with a bit of wandering and a lot of haggling, we actually ended up at a really nice hotel (for our standards!). The town of Hoi An is quite cute- a small vietnamese city mixed in with a quintessential french town!
I can't get over how different Vietnam is from Cambodia. I remember leaning out the window as we crossed the border, trying to get a first look at the country. Immediately, I laughed at myself, thinking: "jo, do you REALLY think it's going to be THAT different just across the border?!" But it WAS!! It was almost as if people traded in their Kramas for triangle hats as they crossed! There are also drastic differences in terms of the poverty and development...Cambodia has a long way to go. On the other hand, momentos of war are impossible to miss. I find myself constantly reminded as an American (through signs, museums, memorials, etc...) of the atrocities caused by the "American War" (a lot of countries refer to it as this- but the vietnamese do quite fervently.) The "American War", the "Vietnam War"- neither of us seem to want to claim it...