Saturday, August 19, 2006

Phnom Penh

This morning a mini-van picked us up for the boat ride to Phnom Penh and we were just packed in there like sardines. Imagine 19 people in a mini-van; that's how many Kheang counted. Luckily the ride to the boat wasn't long and soon we were going down the Mekong river.

It was a fun ride. We sat on the roof of the boat while our luggage was in the cabin. We passed by many villages and it was neat to see all the houses on stilts. Once you get near the river and away from Siem Reap you really notice the poverty. The people look so poor. They still put on a smile and waved as we passed them by.

In Phnom Penh it was a challenge getting off the boat and to the hotel as we were mobbed by tuk tuk drivers who were trying to get us over to the hotels that they would get commission from. They just don't take no for an answer. We pushed through and walked away from all the craziness. We got a hotel a block away from Kheang's relatives where we're having dinner tonight.

Kheang and I are parting ways. I think he wants to meet some ladies.

Actually he has decided to spend more time with his family in Cambodia as he doesn't think he'll be coming back here for a long time. He's decided to reschedule his flight to Ho Chi Minh city and we'll meet there right before our flight day back to Calgary.

I'll have about five days to myself and it should be interesting. I think I'll try to meet some other travellers on the plane and see if any are going to the Mekong Delta. It seems a lot of travellers hook up and travel together. I guess it's beneficial for a number of reasons.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hello Cambodia

We're in Cambodia, Siem Reap. I'm enjoying it here, but from what I hear and see, this isn't the real Cambodia. The city is set up for tourists, half of the people are tourists. Mostly Japanese and Korean. We're spending three nights here and tonight is our last one.

We've been doing the temples every day and getting lots of photos. The people that have been here told me I would get "templed out" but it hasn't happened. Even Kheang who has been here before thought he would only stay for two nights, but he's stayed for three. The last time he wasn't as into photography as he is now and I think that makes a difference. We've taken way too many photos, we've had to go back to the hotel just to unload and go back to the temples to take more.

The temples are defintely amazing and it makes our previous temple visits pretty mediocre. I think I could spend a few more days here, but at $40 dollars for three days maybe it's best to move on. Things here are much more expensive than in Viet Nam.

Tomorrow we're catching a boat ride to Phnom Penh. It's funny, everything for Kheang is either free or a fraction of the cost. They love to charge the tourists extra. He just walks through while I pull out my wallet. I think I'll have to sell some of these photos just to make this trip cost effective.

I'm looking forward to Phnom Penh to see some authentic Cambodian life styles. We're thinking of renting motorcycles and riding to Kheang's grandparent's house. It should be a five hour ride. Should be fun.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Goodbye Hanoi by Kheang

I haven't made any entry because Marko has been so efficient at narrating the trip. Today, I succumbed to his persistent urging. The same kind of gentle persuasion he uses to get us the best prices from pretty hotel receptionists and street vendors.

Vietnam by bus, by boat and train have been a slice: Ha Long Bay and Fansipan were my favorites. The girls are pretty too. And prettier by the day. The traditional dresses they wore in Hoi An with the vertical slits at the waist showing the "Mekong Delta" as they walk past you is very sexy.

Goodbye Hanoi! We are leaving today for Cambodia and I guess I will be in the homeland seeing relatives and photographing temples. I admit that I look forward to this leg of the trip very much as we did not get to tour the hills of northwestern Vietnam on a mighty minsk.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Extra day in Hanoi

After our trip in the jungle we returned to Hanoi thinking that we'd be flying to Cambodia right away, but it turns out we have an extra day here. I thought it'd be nice to not do anything and just relax. I came to use the internet here and found out that some of the photos I put on this computer were still here. I wasn't able to upload them before, but it turns out I can now. So here are some photos from Hanoi.

A house in Hanoi with the scooters parked in front.

A temple on Hoan Kiem lake

A very popular sight in Hanoi, this bridge leads to the temple in the photo above

The market place in the old quarter of the city

You see a lot of women carrying all sorts of things on their shoulder. Sometimes they'll approach you and ask you if you want to take their picture for some money. I got this one for free :)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

In the jungle

This is where we slept for two nights. Any more would have been too many. The jungle of North Viet Nam was quite fun, but it takes a toll on you, well it did on me. I think the humidity is at 100% at all times. The fog seems to occupy most of the forest and carries with it a lot of moisture. I washed my clothes and hung them up to dry, and I swear they were more wet in a few hours than they were when I put them in the creek. There is always something crawling or flying around, and it's never quiet. There are insects here that make noise that sounds like someone is forging metal. Our sleeping quarters can be seen in the background on the right hand side. Immediately to the left is where we ate and prepared food. It's all made of bamboo and wire. The only protection from the flies, snakes, mice and whatever else wants to crawl in is the sleeping bag.

We arrived here with a guide and a porter on our first day and met the keeper of this place, a 17 year old kid. He has been the keeper of this place for two years, on and off. He hunts for most of his food with what looks like a home-made gun. Most of the time his catch consists of mice, mice and more mice. He grilled six in the time we spent here. Our porter brought with us much more consumable food. We ate really well!

On our second day we climbed Mount Fansipan. I think it would have been much easier if we were used to the climate, but we weren't and it made it twice if not three times as challenging. Most of the way was covered in vegetation and often we'd be climbing from one tree to the next using roots and branches to lift ourselves up. Our guide didn't break a sweat! At the top we couldn't see much, which was disappointing, but hey at least we felt pretty accomplished. We climbed the highest mountain in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. We came down pretty fast and finished off the day with a good meal and some cards. We learned to play a Vietnamese card game and enjoyed the company of our porter and guide.

On the third day we climbed down, and it was quite slow going. I felt a little sick and I suspect it was the water. At such high elevation we may not have boiled it long enough. Kheang says he didn't know it was possible to walk so slow. Still we made our way down the mountain to a hill tribe village where we took two motorcycles back to Sapa, which is where I'm writing this post from. Two motorcycles for two of us, two motorcycle drivers and our porter and guide, making it three per motorcycle. These drivers and these 80 cc motorcycles are unbelievable. Even though I was on the motorcycle, I still can't believe we got here without a problem, dodging pot holes, water buffalo, villagers and going over rocks and ponds!

We're resting now and waiting for a bus to take us to the train station and back to Hanoi from where we'll fly to Cambodia.