Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Luang Prabang

After a night in Vientienne, we hopped on an eleven hour bus ride to our most anticipated Laos destination, Luang Prabang.  It was a really really long bus ride with lots of mountain curves, but amazing scenery.  Thankfully, we arrived safe and sound and exhausted. 
This city has an amazing night market with tons of beautiful embroidered pieces, silver jewlery, and elephant souvenirs.  The city is located along two rivers, and there is a beautiful road with cute cafes aligning the mighty Mekong River.  

Mekong River

Man building a bamboo bridge

 Stacey and I rented bikes for the day and explored more of the city. 

Wat/temple at the old presidential palace

Inside a Wat

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bangkok to Vientienne

 After a day of rest, we were off again!  This time to go see the much anticipated Laos.  I had heard that it was the least developed SouthEast Asian country and worth a visit.  In the next ten years it will probably change drastically.  After a wonderful 12 hour night train to the border, Stacey and I arrived in Vientienne, in good spirits.  According to the traveler's who we talked to, Vientienne didn't really have that much to offer in terms of sites and activities.  I found it to be a cute charming little city, that had an amazing park next to a beautiful river and was very walkable.
Seat by day

Sleeper by night

I ventured out on my own, as Stacey was still not well, and ended up at a center that was designed to support people affected by landmines.  The U.S. dropped an enormous amount of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam war.  It is estimated that a cluster bomb every 8 minutes for over 10 years was dropped on Lao, trying to cut off supply routes down the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Many of the bombs and landmines that were dropped were unexploded and still are embedded in the ground today.  Children going out to play in the countryside have to stay on the path.  If not they risk exploding some of the mines, and possible losing their lives.  Unfortunately there are a number of people who have had this happen to them, so you see people walking around missing limbs.  The Cope center was developed to support them.  Cousin Michael had told me about this problem in Laos, but I wanted to learn more about it so I went to the visitor center museum.

When Michael came to The Philippines to visit, after working in Laos for a year on a fellowship, he used my computer to make a video to present at his closing interview.  On it was a interview with an exceptional young man who as a child had been playing in the countryside of his village, and stepped on a landmine, losing both of forearms, and his sight.  He aspires to be a dancer, so much of the film was showing him doing amazing break dancing moves.  When I went to the center I was reading about the effects left over here from the war, and I look over at this man sitting behind the desk and I think, "he looks exactly like Michael's friend in the video".  At first I dismissed it, thinking, "what are the chances, that this is the same guy.  I'm probably just being racist and thinking that all Laotian people look alike."  So I kept reading, I looked over again, and I thought, "what the heck I'll just go ask", so I went over and touched his arm disturbing him from his music.  I asked him if he knew Michael Machala, and a big smile came over his face.  "Michael is my good friend he says to me."  Small world huh?  So we chatted for a while and took this picture to send to Michael.
Peterkim and I 

Presidential palace

Beautiful river boardwalk

Famous Laotian

Vientienne Tuk-Tuks

Two nights in Bangkok....

Hopping on a bus ride across the "Poipet" border, Stacey and I encountered our first surprise of the day.  A rude foreigner yelling at a Cambodian worker on our bus.  Why foreigners go to other countries drink all night and then act entitled without concern for anybody else, I will never understand.  So it wasn't the best way to start off the day, but we were off to Bangkok,Thailand for a night and then to Laos.  Our second surprise of the day was the three hour wait in hot muggy sun trying to cross into Thailand.  I had heard that the border crossing was horrible, but I just dismissed it, not believing that it was true.  Turns out it was the worst border crossing I have ever done!  So inefficient, especially for being the most used border crossing from Cambodia to Thailand.
Three hours later we crossed the border and boarded some air-com vans to take us at a very high speed into Bangkok.

We made it though, thank goodness.  Bangkok is a huge city and quite overwhelming if one is not familiar with it.  Stacey ended up getting sick and hunkering into our dorm beds for the day and I decided to do some exploring of the city.  I walked to the reclining Buddha, Royal Palace and another Wat.   I got to eat Pad Thai at the best eatery in town, although it was no competition got Josh's Pad Thai!  

First Wat I visited

City street of Bangkok

Famous Reclining Buddha

Monday, November 19, 2012

Phenom Penh, Cambodia

Our bus to Cambodia

Border crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia
We took a six hour limousine bus from Ho Chi Minh to Phenom Penh.  Our bus included lovely Cambodian music videos, a hostess handing out towels, sandwiches and water, and comfy seats.  Stacey and I arrived in Phenom Penh and settled into a coffee shop to wait for Stacey's friend who lives in the city and would be housing us for a few days.

Jane is a USAID worker in Phenom Penh who opened her house to us and gave us some great dining advice.  Our first night out we went a noodle house where they had fresh pulled noodles that the man was making right in front of our eyes.  They were the best noodles I have ever eaten (no exaggeration) and I am not sure if I will ever eat noodles again, unless they are fresh.

Our first Tuk Tuk driver

Monk walking the street barefoot.

The next morning we went to the killing fields, one of many fields where The Pol Pot regime committed mass murder.  Under his command 3 million out of 7 million Cambodians were killed.  Teachers, doctors, actors and actresses, entertainers, artists were specifically targeted.  It was a humbling experience that I would highly recommend to anyone coming to the area.  It makes you question humanity and why people inflict so much pain on others.

Memorial to the victims of the genocide

Bracelets in front of mass grave

Tree where executioners would bash babies heads in

Former mass grave site, hundreds and humdred's of bones where unearthed where the holes are.

 We spent the rest of the day exploring the city.
Beautiful palace

Independence monument

Yummy shakes from Blue Pumpkin

More monks

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh

After a quick stop over in Hue, we hopped on another 12 hour train ride (no sleeper car this time) to Nha Trang, known for its beaches.  If there was anything that we were in the mood for, it was beach therapy.  The train ride was excruciatingly long, but we arrived at our hostel safely.  We spent the whole next day eating at yummy restaurants and sitting on the beach.  Couldn't have asked for anything more.  The next morning we hopped on another train, this time 9 hours and went to Ho Chi Minh City where Hanna was flying out from. 
Ho Chi Minh had Hosien sauce with the Pho, and we were instantly in love with this place.  Hanna got on her jet plane back to the States and Stacey and I were alone.  We explored the city yesterday. hitting up the War Remanants Museum on our way.  This museum was about the Vietnam war and was scary to say the least.  The amount of information and artifacts in the museum was amazing.  There was a whole room dedicated to Agent Orange and the damage that it did and is still doing today.  There were tons and tons of pictures documenting aerial bombings, burning villages, letters from Ho Chi Minh, world protests in solidarity with Vietnam, deformed children from Agent Orange and anything else having to do with the war.  It was the most informed I have ever been regarding the Vietnam War.  I think all Americans should see this museum at some point in their lives. 

Our fellow Peace Corps batchmate Paj and her fiance are also in Ho Chi Minh the same time as us and so we met up for more Pho and a few cheap beers last night. 
Beach of Nha Trang

Hanna excited about the beach

Pho with Hoisen.

Goodbye picture

Motorcycles are always good places to sleep

Bahn Ga sandwich.

Museum poster
Tomorrow we head to Penom Penh for a few days and then Angkor Wat.