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.

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.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Angchor temples have been incredible for the past few days. I dont have my camera with me at the moment so I will wait till tommorrow to put up a full post. Just checking in to keep mom comfortable. I will be in siem reap for one more day then off to the capitol before heading on to viet nam.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I have safely arrived in Cambodia, after a long two days of travel from Vientiane. The first day I took a while to decide to seperate from my Loas friends and got a late start for the Thai Border. After taking my first truly public bus to the Thai Laos Friendship bridge, I crosed the border and headed for the bus station in Nom Khai. I had few hours to wait for the next bus towards Khorat and wasted them away in the midday heat. The bus was an experience. Blaring Thai folk pop videos played over the entertainment system and the bus was standing room only at times. I was the only westerner on the bus, a theme for the whole two days of travel. My Ipod batteries had died in Laos and I had lost my charger in a hurry to leave Chang Mai, so I had only sleep and my book for entertainment. Many of you know how good I am at sleeping but 9 hours of it on a crowded bus is beyond my talents. I arrived late at night in Khorat tired and a bit disoriented as it is not a tourist/ backpacker stop and no one was waiting to point me to a cheap room and friendly bar. I found a real hotel room with my first tv of the trip for about 10$ and settled in for some rest. The next day I woke up realizing I didn't have much cash and needed to cash in travelers checks, a difficult task on a Sunday coinciding with a major buddhist festival. I found a an open bank after about an hour of searching, missing the first bus of the day to the cambodian border and catching a noon bus. Again blaring thai folk videos and no white faces, but at least it wasn't crowded. Four hours later I was crossing the border into Cambodia. Poipet, the entrance into Cambodia, is sketchy. I felt quiet uncomfortable and just wanted to get back to a tourist destination. But I was being run around and ripped off on prices for the next leg and it took untill six before I could secure a ride. I paid 15$ for a shared taxi in an ageing camry that ended up holding 7 passengers and a driver as we headed east on the worst road in the world. Imagine a forest service road that was a major artery and had been flooded three weeks ago, or the Waterway off Glen Rd, then drive down it at 80Kmh crammed in a jacked up Camry. Not much fun but we did the trip in thre hours and I was here, whew. Town was seething with Khmer (Cambodians) celebrating the water festival launching candle lit flower boats on the river. The first white face I saw in two days was wearing a red sox t-shirt so I screamed at him from our passing taxi. He heard "you suck" not my hoarse "Go Sox". I found a nice room, nice enough that mom and dad might stay here, for 5$, and watched a bit of English Premiership on my second tv, cleaned up and made my way out into the dwindling festivities. As I walked the streets I bumped into the guy with sox shirt sitting at street corner table and introduced myself. He filled me in on his puzzled look from my cheer, and I found out he was from northfield Ma. Turns out he owns the restaurant, knows people I went to highschool with and his cooks wife graduated from Bates in 98, small world. I hung out with him for a while and agreed to meet up for the Pats game this morning. Brady looked horrible, that first drive and interception I knew were a bad sign. We should have been blown out but somehow stayed in it to keep it interesting. That pretty much brings me to now. Tomorrow I will start exploring the awesome ruins of Ankor just outside of town. The were built beginning 1000 years ago and include the largest religous building on earth. Should be very cool. Hope you enjoy the picture update. These last two are from Vang Vieng. Or not, now they wont upload, next time I guess. I will have more after hitting Ankor.

Pics from Luang Prabang. A very picturesque place, with shots taken by a very bad photographer.

Pictures from trekking in Chang Mai

Friday, November 03, 2006

I have made a little progress getting to Siem Reap. My friends who I have been traveling Laos with proposed a kayak trip between Vang Vieng and Vientiane, and I joined on. It was fun in the boats with some class 2-3 rapids and great scenery. However the majority of the day was spent in an uncomfortable tuk-tuk with 90 minute rides before and after the kayaking. Sort of an exhausting day. We found accomodations in center of Vientiane, and had a nice mexican dinner after crappy food in Vang Vieng for the last four nights. Afterwards we went to the grounds around Pha that Luang, a 42 meter golden stupa, where the early november full moon festival of light is centered. There were tens of thousands of Laos families milling about participating in something of a carnival atmosphere. It was interesting but not that entertaining to our tired group so we made it an early night. Today I cross the border to Thailand and make my way from Nom Khai to Poipet and the Cambodian border. The festival peaks on the night of the fifth so I will try to be somewhere with a major celebration that night. Might be anywere along the way or in Siem Reap. I'm parting ways wth my Laos group as they continue through Laos to cross into Cambodia next week. We'll see who I meet up with next.