Tom's Trip to South East Asia

Out of the 'Boat for a few months of tropical travel. No lease, No Dog, No work, No snow, might be the best time of my life to do something extreme. Watch from your office as I soak in sun and culture in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam this mud season.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I'm back and finally letting you all know I did survive my last day and journey. Been getting myself settled in Steamboat where internet is harder to come by than any town I was in on my trip. (I actually have internet at my house but I couldn't get it to work till today. ) It has been a wierd adjustment coming back to town. I moved into my first solo apartment high on the ski area. It is kinda lonely up here, and kinda far away from everyone else. The seclusion might take some getting used to, although it was all I ever wanted after a long run of shared apartments in Steamboat. The palce is sweet though. I have gorgeous views of the whole valley out the front door and a backyard backing onto national forest mountains. I have a fireplace, my own kitchen with no one grubing the fridge, a washer dryer, huge closets, and soon to be wireless internet. Anyone looking to come visit should hit me up and give me some company in my clean and spacious home this winter, please. Before I left I was nervous that I would be lonely traveling alone, a laughable concern in retrospect. Cause now that I am "home" I feel a bit out of place and alone. But I am still happy and just going through some adjustments as a lot has changed in a short amount of time. 2006 has been a momentus year for me. Be interesting to see how it carries me into 2007.
I was really hoping to be able to see many of you at Christmas this year. I am still trying to figure out what my work schedule will be for the winter. I need to get that settled soon as the biggest adjustment to returning home has been switching back to our cost of living with a budget suitable for Vietnam. So getting back to work is a huge priority, that will dictate any sort of holiday visit. I really wish I could make it but I don't think it is going to happen.
I have gone snowboarding twice since I got back with pretty decent snow fall earlier this week. Steamboat needs a lot more snow though to get enough snowpack to bury everything. El nino is supposedly going to route storms away from normal currents that bring them here for the next few months. Certainly not gonna be the epic winter we had last year but it might be better than than the gloom and doom forecasts, hopefully.
Well that brings you up to where I am now. I might get around to writing more about the trip is summation. I might keep goign with this and update from time to time on the more routine life I lead in steamboat, but I might not. Thanks for reading this far as you must care or be sort of psychotic to have followed me on my trip.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The final day of my trip has arrived. I'm ready to return to ski season but will definately miss the adventure of this trip. Money has run more than thin, haggling prices has become second nature, and sleeping whenever and wherever a neccesity. I'll be back in the boat early in the morning on the 4th after travelling all day from Hanoi through Taipai, Seattle and Denver. See some of you soon.
My last few days I got back to Hanoi to leave on an overnight train to Sapa Near the China border. Sapa is amazing. I wish I had left myself more time to explore the mountains and culture of this place. Dave and I met up with Robbye at the guest house early on thursday morning and made plans to find an adventure that afternoon. Robbye had made friends with a South African named Rory and all four of us went to twon looking for mountian bikes to rent for the afternoon. Mtn Bikes were a bit expensive so we opted for motorcycles for about a fifth the price. I had avoided getting one of my own to this point out of fear of injury. But with only a few days left and less risk of ruining my whole trip I agreed to join in. Robbye gave me a bit of advice on how to operate it and off we went. What a rush. I totally loved it. We took a road out of town to a pass at about 6000 ft and over into the next valley. A really fun and exciting adventure. That evening we called it an early one as Dave and I had not had much sleep coming up that morning on the train and made plans to hike the next morning. Weather was pretty horrible the next day but we still ventured out for a hike through a hill tribe village and past a waterfall. I got sick about an hour into the trip and turned back since I was uncertain where the trail would take us and how much longer we would be out. After resting through the afternoon we got on a mini bus to the train station where I was promptly sick again. Not wanting to have further trouble on the train I didn't eat or drink anything before getting on the train. It made for an exhausting trip but I made it through and this mornings breakfast seems to be settling just fine. I will be touring Hanoi this afternoon and celebrating the end of all 3 of our trips tonight. Robbye is back to Australia tommorrow, Dave goes to Hong Kong for a brief stop before returning to Birmingham, and I'll be back with you.
See you soon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I am on Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay for the land overnight portion of my Bay tour. Hanoi was busy and big with rip off scams on every corner. We were kicked out of our guest house for not booking or cruise through them, a good sign that they were probably not going to deliver what their tour purported. After finding a new room in a dingy mini hotel we headed to Beer Hoi junction were half pints of fresh brewed beer are served on the side walk to customers seated haphazardly in tiny plastic lawn chairs for about ten cents. This is a north vietnamese institution that we were happy to throw ourselves into. After a couple rounds we had dinner with some other friends we met on the corner and called it a night to get up for a our trip the following morning. Yesterday Dave, Ellen, Louise (all of whom I have been with since Siem Reap) and I joined some new friends from Australia and New Zealand for a trip through a reputable tour agency to Beautiful Halong Bay. The trip starts with a 3 hour bus ride out to the harbour and where we get on a really nice big boat with capacity for 16 overnight berths. The boat cruise was pretty and included a stop at Amazing Cave, which was more average than the name would lead you to expect. Unfortunately the only cool and cloudy weather of my trip has come this week so the beauty of the bay is a bit lessened. But I wont complain too much as I am having tons of fun. This morning we got off our luxury liner and have been exploring Cat Ba Island with a stop at a less developed cave that was more interesting and a ride to a remote island beach where there are supposedly monkeys living but we didn't see any. Tonight we are staying in town and headed off to dinner shortly. Tomorrow we cruise back to the mainland and will be in hanoi around five. Louise and Ellen fly out as soon as we get back so tonight is a farewell celebration. Dave and I will probably go to sapa for a few quick days before both of us leave on the 3rd.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Well Im in Hue now after spending a few days more in Nha Trang and a few in Hoi An. Nha Trang was one of the most fun stops on my trip so far but was badly marred by having my camera pickpocketed. I have my photos through my first day at Siem Reap backed up and will be getting photos from those I started traveling with the day after that so no major gaps, but no more personal photos. Boo. In Nha trang my day by day was hanging on the beach, taking a boat trip to three islands and two more days hanging out at a beach club with a pool and home brews. Pretty lazy but I have made some good friends and we had a relaxing time. We took an overnight bus trip from hell up to Hoi An. The bus overheated at about 130 in the morning and we waited for about an hour to try to cool it down, then limped on for another two hours to a service station. After waiting two hours there we drove ten minutes up the road to switch to a new bus and arrived at about 10:30. I was well rested although a little stiff, having had two seats to myself and plenty of sleep. That afternoon we rented bikes and rode out to the beach where the surf was fun and nearly everyone had some pampering from the attentive traveling sales ladies, including me getting a pleasant back massage to work out the kinks from the bus. That night we had a wonderful meal overlooking the river from a second story balcony, and realized that Hoi An does not have the night life we had enjoyed in Nha Trang. The next afternoon we took a quick private tour that was mostly riding in a mini bus with brief stops at My Son, a cham temple ruin similar to Angkor but smaller and slightly differnt building material, Marble Mountain, a weird limestone and marble mountain with confusing recent multifaith temples and shrines, and a look at China Beach. After returning to Hoi An I participated in the towns claim to fame and got myself fitted for some high quality tailored clothes. Mostly stuff for working mambos and a few casual shirts, no suits although they really tried to sell me on it. Afterwards we got together for another dinner and the group tried to satisfy my desire for a thanksgiving feast but turkey and all the fixings are not available in Viet Nam. So I settled for a three courses of vietnamese and good company. The next morning everyone collected there clothes and ran various errands before getting on the afternoon bus to Hue. At Hue we split ways with about half the group heading to the Laos border to get in some tubing before finishing the southeast asian portion of their trip and the rest of us finding accomodations for a night and day in Hue before moving to Hanoi and halong bay tonight. I spent the day today on the perfume river (honestly the cleanest and best smelling river I have seen around here) seeing tombs from the Nguyen Dynasty of the mid nineteenth century. Emperors of Viet Nam would build themselves garden retreats along the river during their reign and hae themselves buried there after. Pretty cool trip with nice but not too spectacular gardens and some intersting architecture. And now i am waiting around for an overnight train to Ha Noi with four others from my travel group. They will come on a halong bay cruise with me in a day or so and that will bring me back to Hanoi for the end of my trip with a possible trip to sapa before flying home on the 3rd. See some of you soon and hope everyone had a wonderful thanksgiving. Make sure there is plenty of snow for me in Steamboat when I get there.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I've made my way up to Nah Trang on the coast. It is quite lovely here with beautiful beaches and fun night life. But it is being developed at a rapid pace and I think in 5 years It will look a bit like florida with high rise hotels all along the beach. This is the case all over Vietnam. Since 95 when US embargos were lifted and tourism began this country has seen a lot of changes. It seems mostly for the better of the people, but it is nice to be here before the transition is complete. I've been traveling with a group of 8 since siem reap. The itinerary for Vietnam is pretty set for everyone with open bus tickets that stop you off in Nah Trang, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi for as long as you care to stay. So we are all together and heading in the same direction. Yesterday we took a boat trip to see some of the islands off the coast. A nice ride but nothing too eventful. Today was lazy with a late morning and an afternoon by the pool next to the sea. My trip is winding down and I will be unhappy to see it finish in a few weeks. Counting down the days. I'm heading to dinner now and friends are waiting. Hope all is well.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I made my way to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, Saigon) yesterday afternoon. Phnom Penh was a good city but not very much to do or see there. I was pretty tired last night so just go some rest after the bus ride. Today I will tour some of the sites in HCMC and might stay here again tomorrow if it is interesting. The way to travel in Viet Nam seems to be the open bus ticket itinerary. 17$ gets me from HCMC to Hanoi, with six stops along the way, and make my own schedule for how long I stay in each stop. Next stop after HCMC is either Dalat in land along the Mekong Delta and into the hills, or skipping that and heading up to the mid coast in Na Trang. Na Trang seems like it will be my choice but I am hoping to make some connections that have done Viet Nam north to south and find out whats what. Off for a hot day of sight seeing. Thanks to everyone for birthday wishes.

Photos from Angkor.
The big face tower is of Bayon Temple.

The tree covered temple is Ta Prom

And the three pointed temple is the biggie Angkor Wat where millions of people lived in the 11th century.

Photos from Vang Vieng

Monday, November 13, 2006

Happy birthday to me, in Phnom Penh. I don't have much time for a post because I have to met some friends, but thought I would check in. Thanks to those who have sent me good wishes. Phnom Penh has been interesting, and kinda lazy. There is backpaker ghetto over on the lake shore so everyone congragtes over here and the deck is breezy and nice to lounge on. Yesterday I went to S21 and the killing fields seeinf khmer rouge genocide sites. Pretty depressing. The cambodian people are my favorite yet, so it is hard to see the conditions of there past and present. Hard lives but wonderfully kind and friendly people. Tonight I went with one of the employees at my guest house ona an errand and on the way back we stopped to visit his family. The spoke no eglish but were happy to welcome me into the modest apartment shared by at least five people. My man borai's mom is getting over an illness and has been staying with his uncle here in the city but will return to the farm he grew up on in a few days. Hard lives with little visible hope for much improvement but they have a strong spirit and no bitternes. I will try to get back soon with photos. I must have taken 400 at angkor, so there might be good one somewhere in there.