Archive for April, 2010
I’ve uploaded my photos of Ayutthaya.
This is one of the ancient capitals of Thailand, active from 1351 to 1767. There are some great ruins, including a chedi (pointy mound found at some temples) with a tree growing right through its middle! Some of the structures have decayed in a way that shows that they were made… of brick and concrete, 500 years ago! Concrete has been around for a lot longer than I realized!
Ayutthaya is a great place to visit for the day. There’s no restoration work happening. Some of the temples are active and therefore being maintained, but most have been crumbling since 1767.
These photos actually cover 2 trips to Ayutthaya; one in 2008 and one on March 31 of this year with Robin. I saw a lot more on the second trip because we started earlier in the day, rented a motorbike instead of bicycles, and we had a better map.
Oh yeah, I have a blog :)
Vietnam so far has been great. People are really friendly, even when they’re not trying to sell you something! Even arriving in the country on a canal in the Mekong Delta, there were kids on the banks waving at us and yelling "Hello! Hello!"
The trip so far in brief:
- A couple of nights in the Mekong Delta – visited a fish farm and a floating market.
- Up to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), saw some sights in town, the Cu Chi tunnels, and a really strange church.
- Train north to Hoi An, a nice quiet place with some neat historical merchant shops and hundreds of custom tailors (Robin got 2 pairs of pants made.)
- North again to Huế (yes, there are two accents on that), took a motorcycle tour around some really neat sights, including the root temple of Thich Nhat Hanh’s order (kind of a personal thing…)
- North (where else?) to Hanoi and its wonderful twisty market streets.
- Over to Cát Bà Island in Ha Long Bay… beautiful limestone cliffs rising out of the ocean. Of course, we climbed some of them :)
- West and UP to the beautiful Sa Pa valley – we arrived early this morning & we’re probably going to hike around for a couple of days before heading to China.
I’ll post more stories from the places above once I’ve had a chance to sort the photos. I’m quite behind… still haven’t finished Ayutthaya, which we visited almost a month ago :/
OK, time for a quiz:
Phở is available at:
- All of the above
Phở is pronounced:
- "Noodle Soup"
The answers are of course d and d :)
My life is a stereo…
I found these biscuits in Cambodia. They taste just like Oreos.
…kinda cheaply made though
About 1/4 of the cookies had one side backwards, in other words the textured side of the biscuit was smushed into the filling. One cookie was completely backwards: smooth side out on both sides! Julie, have you ever seen these in Thailand? You could give them to your friends and tell them you own a biscuit company! (You might want to pick out the deformed ones first.)
A few days ago in Saigon (nobody calls it Ho Chi Minh City), we were on a bus for a day tour, the kind of bus that drives around and picks everyone up at their hotel. The tour guide checked his list, and then:
Tour guide: "Does anyone stay at the Riverside Hotel?"
Tour guide: "Is anyone here from the Riverside Hotel?"
Tour guide: "OK, nobody here is from the Riverside Hotel?"
British woman: "Yes."
Tour guide: "Yes nobody here is from the Riverside Hotel, or yes you’re here from the Riverside Hotel?"
British woman: "Yes."
Tour guide, exasperated: "What hotel are you staying at?"
British woman: "The Riverside Hotel."
Tour guide: "Thank you."
(It’s sad when a Vietnamese tour guide who’s never been outside Southeast Asia speaks your native language better than you.)
Boun! The beast standing before me opened her mouth and hooked her tongue forward, ready for some food. I fed her a banana which she ate in one gulp. Boun and this time a tamarind ball, salted to make her drink more water later. Boun and a stick of sugarcane – she really liked the sugarcane, flapping her ears and tail appreciatively. Like this, we worked our way to the bottom of the food basket and Boonthong and I got to know each other. It turns out elephants and I are a lot alike – feeding us a good breakfast is a sure way to our hearts.
Then it was time for a quick health check. Ben, our guide, explained the things to check every morning to make sure the elephant is healthy, including a stool inspection. After that, bath time. I led Boonthong down to the river…
Nan Lang! With that command, Boonthong lowered her immense bulk into the river, allowing her trainer and I to wash her with buckets of water and a scrubbing brush. It’s important to wash elephants before riding, so that dirt and rocks on their skin don’t get ground in and cause irritation or cuts. I also helped Robin wash her elephant’s tusks, since mine had none.
Look means "up" in Elephant. Boonthong was ready to leave the river and go for a ride! I led her out by her ear, and we learned the basics of riding.
Tan Lang! This is the most fun way to mount an elephant. It means "trunk down." You can then climb up her trunk, step over her enormous head, and place your feet on either side of her neck. Then you just have to turn around and you’re ready to ride!
Pai means go… and we were off!
Riding Boonthong took a bit of getting used to. Despite the breakfast, she was still hungry and repeatedly demonstrated her ability to uproot and eat an entire sapling, or haul off large tree branches. Yana means "stop that!" but I didn’t know what she could and couldn’t eat, and I didn’t want to upset her too much, so I left most of the yanaing to the trainer.
We rode to a river, ate lunch (us first, then the elephants got the leftovers and the papaya leaf tablecloth), and went swimming together. Swimming with elephants is more like surfing – you have to stay on top while the elephants roll around, usually submerged apart from the tips of their trunks. Incidentally, kapow means "spray with your trunk!"
After lunch, more riding: back along a different path and the side of a highway. I was getting the hang of things, patting Boonthong and saying deedee: good elephant. Boonthong flapped her ears appreciatively.
For our last ride of the day, Robin and I rode double on her elephant, and then sadly parted ways with our huge grey friends. We bought them a basket of bananas though as a final treat… more boun, more deedee, then we said goodbye. The trainers rode the elephants home and we got a ride back to Chiang Mai.
Yay elephants! They’re so nice.
(We rode elephants on Robin’s birthday, March 28th.)
Robin and I are on a boat to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
We passed a couple of days in Siem Reap, visiting the temples of Angkor. We visited Angkor Wat last and found it somewhat anticlimactic, mostly because it’s bandaged up with scaffolds for restoration and packed with tourists. Bayon, with its hundreds of huge stone faces, lived up to its reputation, and many other temples were amazing as well. My favourites were the ones where you could just wander the ruins, and especially the ones where trees had taken up residence in the stonework. To me that’s more interesting than temples artificially restored (at great expense) to an earlier state.. nature reclaiming her own.
After Siem Reap, onto Phnom Penh. It felt small and laid back for a capital, though traffic was crazy. We visited some relics of the brutal Khmer Rouge era: the killing fields and a former secret prison. It was sobering to see how brutal and self-defeating this regime got within just a few years in power. Wow.
And now, onto Vietnam. We’ll probably spend a few days in the Mekong Delta region before heading north to Saigon and eventually China.
(Written April 9, 2010)
…take a good hard look…
- Cambodia is a dual-currency country. Anything even remotely touristy prices its offerings in US dollars. Coins are not used though. Any change under 1 USD is given back in the local currency, Riel, usually at a 4000:1 exchange rate, which exists in bills as low as 100 Riel (well under 1¢.)
- A tuktuk, southeast Asia’s favourite onomatopoeia, is a different thing in different places. In Thailand and Laos, they’re 3-wheeled (delta) vehicles with 2-stroke engines and a platform behind the driver for passengers. Lao tuktuks are usually much bigger than Thai ones. In Cambodia, a tuktuk is a regular motorcycle towing a 2-wheeled trailer for passengers.
- Streetside stands selling a greenish-yellow liquid in old liquor bottles are a common sight in Cambodia. It’s fuel for motorcycles and tuktuks, priced at just over 1 USD per litre.
- In Phnom Penh, many tuktuks have a refuelling system consisting of an old water jug that fills the main tank via IV tubing. I wonder if they buy it new or if it’s medical waste.
- Touts are annoying wherever you go, but they’re the worst in Cambodia. Among other things, you can count on getting offered a ride several times a minute, and "no" won’t always make them go away: they often also try to get you to book a tour for tomorrow.
- In tout-English, the gender opposite of "Sir" is "Lady", as in "Hello, Lady, tuktuk?"
Robin and I took the "VIP" bus to Louang Prabang a few days ago. It wasn’t a great ride – no aircon, twisty roads, an unscheduled stop when the bus in front of us hit someone in the middle of the road and waited (blocking both directions of the road) until the police photographed its skid marks. The ride was interesting though. We got some nice views of the mountains of Laos, and passed through lots of little villages: sometimes a poor one with school children lined up behind a tap marked "World Vision" or "UNICEF" and sometimes a richer one with big C-band satellite dishes outside every house.
Yesterday, we wandered around Louang Prabang, visiting temples and climbing Phou Si, the hill in the middle of town. We also took a boat across the Mekong to visit an abandoned temple and get a good view of the city. The air everywhere was thick with smoke and we would learn the reason for this later.
Today we went on a trek through the jungle – a great experience! We started out in a Hmong village and the first thing we saw was men forging knife blades in a hut at the side of the road. This wasn’t a tourist attraction but how they still live. The next village over was a different ethnic group with a different language, and between the villages was a school teaching the Lao language to children from both villages. It looked well equipped and staffed for this part of the world – I wonder if all Lao schools are like that, or just when they’re trying to teach different groups the language of the majority.
From the second village, we trekked through the jungle, past small plantations of rubber trees and teak trees and burned fields. Our guide Tim explained that since the new year was approaching, it was burning season: time to burn off all the weeds and old growth in the fields in preparation for planting in the new year. I also reached a life goal of mine, which was to see pineapple fields. Now I know how they’re grown! I’ve always wanted to know, but didn’t want to ruin the surprise by researching it.
On the way up the trail, we met an old woman who was gathering, in the "hunter gatherer" sense. She was collecting wild nuts, and borke one open for us to try – it was tasty and moist. Along the way, Tim showed us a few more things: a tree with small berries that are bitter or sweet depending on the exact species of tree, and a spiky branch that can be used to tell if you have malaria. He cracked the branch and tasted the pulp inside and prononuced it bitter. Robin and I did the same with the same result… but about a year ago, he had malaria and the pulp tasted sweet! He then drank 5 pots of water boiled with the same branch, and when the fifth tasted bitter he knew the malaria had gone.
We stopped for lunch outside a cave. The lunch was amazing – a spread of fresh, traditional Lao dishes served with sticky rice. Then we went into the cave. It was huge! Not quite as big as Akiyoshi-dai in Japan but impressive, especially since it was spooky and undeveloped (we explored it with a flashlight.) There were a few Buddha statues scattered throughout the cave, apparently dating from when the cave was used as an air raid shelter, but otherwise the only sign of life was one bat sleeping on the ceiling.
After the cave, we saw the fresh, clear spring that acts as the source of the waterfall we were hiking to. It was full of fish. Local superstition says that a spirit protects the stream and misfortune will befall you if you even touch the water at this point, so we didn’t.
And onto the Kouang Si waterfall… we first saw it from above, then walked down the sides to see it from below and swim in it. There are three pools that you ARE allowed to bathe in, and one includes a rope swing and a small waterfall that Robin jumped off!
After that, back to Louang Prabang for some food and a sauna… what a great day!
(Entry written March 25, 2010)
From Louang Prabang: a chance to fly a new (to me) airline and aircraft: Lao Airlines and an ATR 72.
The airport was small and security was poor. A photocopied sign, strangely from CATSA (Canadian air security) advertised the usual liquid ban, but they xrayed all our bags when we entered the airport, with no idea which was carryon and which was to be checked in. They didn’t even mention the almost full 500ml water bottle in my carryon. If I believed the liquid ban was even remotely useful, I’d be worried about Lao security.
The ATR 72 is a weird plane. Boarding is by the rear left door. The area where the passenger door would noramlly be is a large cargo door. The galley and washrooms are in the rear as well, and the front of the cabin is just a wall with a door (that was never opened while I was in the cabin.) Also, the aircraft lacks an APU – there’s a beacon at the rear point of the tail, where the APU exhaust would normally be.
The flight to Chiang Mai was uneventful and short… they even fed us a snack :)
(We flew to Chiang Mai on March 26th.)
- Happy Herb’s Pizza
- Happy Angkor Pizza
- Ecstacic Pizza
- Happy Special Pizza
(We were in Siem Reap Apr 4-7, 2010)