Saturday, May 30, 2009

Laos Photos

Laos photos are now up.  Click on the link on the right.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Welcome to Thailand!

Chiang Mai, Thailand - After two 10 hour  days on a boat running rapids up the Mekong River followed by a 6 hour minibus ride from the border we've finally arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We were here on our honeymoon 5.5 years ago so it is nice to be back in a city we really enjoyed and have some familiarity with.

We left Luang Prabang on Wednesday morning and spent 1o hours on our boat the Luang Say cruising upstream to  Pak Beng where we overnighted.  The cruise was quite nice as we were on a boat that held 40 and there  was only 7 of us so plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the scenery. We made a couple of stops along the way to see some caves and visit a couple of villages. 

One of the villages is famous for its Lao Lao which is the local moonshine aka rice whiskey.  After being told the fine points of how the whiskey is distilled we were invited to sample some of the firewater.

It wasn''t too bad though probably would have tasted better if it wasn't 100F+ outside and the bottles hadn't been sitting in the sun all day.

The scenery along the river was spectacular, very mountainous with many rocky outcrops in the river exposed by how low the river was at this time of year.  The boat even had to run the rapids upsteam quite a few times.  For such a large boat it apparently only drew about a meter of water so didn't need much water to avoid running aground.

We spent a night in Pak Beng actually about a mile upstream of PakBeng at the Luang Say Lodge which was quite nice with great vistas of the mountains and the Mekong River from our windows.

Unfortunately it was quite warm and since there were no screen on the windows we had to keep them closed to keep the bugs out (we did have a mosquito net over the bed as well).

Neither of us slept great as it was so warm though the lodge was very comfortable and the dinner was excellent.

After breakfast it was back on the boat by 7am for another 10 hour  trip.  We stopped at one more village (I feel like I've seen enough villages for awhile) and arrived at Houay Xai on the Lao side of the border around 5pm.  We took a tuk-tuk to the Lao border and got our exit stamps then hopped in a small boat that took us across the Mekong to the Thai side.  After having our temperature taken to make sure we didn't have swine flu (we didn't!) and a couple of forms and stamps later we were officially allowed into Thailand.

We had decided to spend the night  at the border and head to Chiang Mai the  next day as it was 6 more hours to get to Chiang Mai.  We threw our backpacks on and headed down the main road paralleling the Mekong to find a hotel.

After a few hundred meters we were sweating like crazy as it was quite warm and very humid out (Surprise!).  We stopped at the first hotel that said they had AC, I looked at a room and while it wasn't anything special it was reasonably clean, cheap and had AC.

After cooling down for a few minutes we headed out to organize our transport to Chiang Mai the next day and booked a mini-bus.

The next day we had an uneventful minibus ride from Chiang Kong to Chiang Mai followed by a short walk to our hotel and we had arrived.

Twenty hours on a boat, 2 nights and a 6 hour minibus ride was all it had taken!  I think we'll stay in Chiang Mai a few days to recuperate.  The weather is much nicer here, the food is great and we have a few things we need to get done with me needing a hair cut and Betsy needing a spa treatment being the top 2 on the list!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monks on Parade

Today I managed to get Betsy out of bed bright and early to see the monks receiving their alms from the locals.  Every morning between 530am and 6am (except Sunday's it seems) the monks walk through the streets where the locals give them sticky rice for their bowls.

Today is also our last day in Luang Prabang.  We were here for 6 days the longest we've been anywhere and honestly we were ready to leave a couple of days ago but we had to wait for our boat which isn't leaving until tomorrow.  We haven't done as much sightseeing as we'd have liked in Luang Prabang as it has just been too hot! currently shows the "realfeel" temperature in Luang Prabang to currently be 135F!  Ouch!

We have a 2 day boat trip up the Mekong tomorrow morning and on Thursday night will cross the border into Thailand.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cambodia Photos

I've uploaded some photos from the Cambodia part of our trip (other than the Angkor Temples) to the website.  Click on the link to the  right or here

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Where to Next??

Luang Prabang, Laos - As I mentioned in the last post we are almost at the mid point of our trip and are trying to figure out where to go next.

We had both really wanted to go to Myanmar but with the onset of the wet season and blistering temperatures their at the moment coupled with intermittent electricity we are not sure how comfortable it would be traveling.  No AC or even a fan in 100F(40C) weather is pretty tough to do for long and with the wet season approaching some of the areas we really wanted to go would be inaccessible.

So Myanmar is out for this trip. 

What we have decided to do is spend June in Thailand and July and August in Indonesia.  We will cross into Thailand next week after taking a 2 day boat up the Mekong River to the Lao-Thai border.

From there we will work our way south through Thailand all the way to the Thai Islands down into Malaysia probably to Kuala Lumpur. 

From there we will fly to Indonesia for two months.  At this point we are thinking of spending 1 month on the island of Sulawesi and another month in Nusa Tenggara which are the group of islands east of Bali including Lombok & Flores.

Finally we'll end up in Bali for a week before flying back to Singapore and heading home.

All of the above are subject to change!

2 Months on the Road

Luang Prabang, Laos - Last week we passed our two month mark on the road.  At times it seems like it is going by quickly but at other times it still feels like we have a long ways to go.

Some observations from the first couple of months:

Favorite Cities/Towns:
  • Halong Bay, Vietnam - Beautiful Scenery, lovely boat, fun co-passengers
  • Hoi An, Vietnam - Cheap Happy Hours! Lots of restaurant choices and nice town
  • Saigon, Vietnam - Vibrant cosmopolitan city, great food choices, huge improvement over Hanoi!
  • Luang Prabang, Laos - Similiar to Hoi An, very nice town, great food, shopping, tours. World Heritage site
Least Favorite Cities/Towns:
  • Hanoi, Vietnam - Big, dirty, loud, Hoan Kiem Lake was nice but that was about it.  Saigon was much better!
  • Chau Doc, Vietnam - Mekong Border town, spent 1 night which was plenty.
  • Battambang, Cambodia - Countryside tour made it worthwhile but the actual town had little redeeming features.
Favorite Restaurants:
  • Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh - Cheap Happy Hour, good food if a little expensive but great atmosphere, very colonial feel.
  • El Camino - Siem Reap, Cambodia - Authentic tasting Mexican food and great margaritas reminded us  of home
  • Texas BBQ - Nha Trang, Vietnam - Some of the best BBQ we've ever had, another reminder of home
  • Plenty of great little local restaurants that we've since forgotten the name of throughout Vietnam and to a lesser extent Cambodia & Laos.
  • JOMA Cafe in Vientiane & Luang Prabang - Good Sandwiches and great Lemon-Mint "Smoothies" for those HOT days.
  • Friends Cafe in Phnom Penh - Cafe trains former street children how to work in the restaurant industry and in the process serves some of the best food we've had anywhere in Asia.
Favorite Activities:
  • "Mahout for a Day" - Elephant Park Project, Luang Prabang, Laos - We each had our own elephant that we got to take down to the river and bathe, quite the experience!
  • Halong Bay 3 day/2 night tour on the Prince II.  Stunning scenery, great food and other travelers made this a highlight.
  • Red Bridge Cooking School in Hoi An - Great Food, nice riverside location.
  • Tuk-Tuk Tour through the countryside of Battambang, Cambodia, seeing villages, ruins and talking to our Tuk Tuk driver a survivor of the Khmer Rouge.
  • Killing Fields in Phnom Penh while not a "favorite" definitely the most moving.
Favorite Things:
  • Great Fruit Shakes/Juices
  • Cheap Beer (Beer Lao, Tiger Beer, Angkor, Singha etc), big bottles for a $1
  • Hotels with Air conditioning and wifi!
  • So many great eating options in most towns and cheap!
  • Not having to go to work every day!
  • Seeing interesting things and meeting interesting people

Least Favorite Things:
  • Expensive cocktails (Betsy - Can only drink so much beer!)
  • Having to figure out accomodation in each new town.
  • Staying near bodies of water (Mekong River) that you can't swim in and it is 100+F
  • Tuk Tuk drivers constantly asking you if you need a tuk tuk
  • Vietnamese trains - expensive and dirty, the buses are much better value

Even our least favorite places had some redeeming features they just aren't places we would rush back to or tell anyone they had to see.

Two months down and three and a half to go at this point we are in no hurry to head home...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mae Pua & Mae Cot...Our Elephants

LUANG PRABANG, Laos - The experience at the Elephant Park Project was amazing.  We were part of a 5 person group that headed about 30 minutes outside of the town center to have a day with the elephants.  When we arrived at the park our guide explained the conservation efforts of the park, the rules we needed to follow when we were around the elephants and interesting elephant facts.  At this park there were 7 females of varying ages.

Then we climbed a small tower so that we could get onto the bench-like seat that is on the elephant.  Stacy and I both climbed onto Mae Pua along with her mahout (the elephant's keeper for life) and we were off into the jungle.  There were parts of the path that were very steep but the elephant handled it gracefully; unlike her passengers!!  We soon reached the river and made our way across.  As we were going along, our mahout asked if I would like to take the drivers  seat.  As I climbed down from the safety of the chair onto the elephants neck, I was thinking, "how do you stop this thing."  All of a sudden, there I was with my legs tucked behind the elephants ears, sitting on her head & walking through the water.....what a thrill!  Soon we came to a sand bar in the middle of river and our mahout took our camera and jumped OFF!!!  Yes, I was still driving and there was no mahout on-board....he was taking our picture as we were walking along.  Stacy took a turn also and chauffeured me around on the elephant.

We returned to the station were we had begun our elephant ride.  Next we then attended "mahout school" where we learned the different commands & how to get on and off the elephant as a mahout.  The bench-like chairs were removed from the elephants backs and we each climbed onto our own elephant as a mahout. 

 Stacy's elephant, Mae Cot, is the leader of all the other elephants and the oldest one at the park at 60 years old.  I stayed with Mae Pua as my elephant.  She is the youngster of the group at 17.  Her mother died when she was 3 and her current mahout quit school to be the one to take care of her.

We rode our elephants  back to the river for their bath.  Once we made it to the middle of the river I saw Stacy with Mae Cot partly submerged and getting a nice bath.  As soon as Mae Pua and I reached them Mae Pua completely submerged her entire body into the river and me with her.  Mae Cot never did this while Stacy was bathing her but Mae Pua was very playful and decided this was fun....continuing to do this 3 or 4 more times.  Even though there was elephant dung floating around a bit, this was still the most amazing experience!  You can tell the elephants love to be in the water and be scrubbed with a brush.  They are flapping their ears and moving their trunks all around.  So much fun!!!

We then went to the other side of the river and a short way into the jungle where we said goodbye to our new elephant & mahout friends.  Our guide explained that the mahouts will continue taking the elephants up into the mountains to eat and sleep.

The remainder of the day we were served a lovely lunch and given massages in huts overlooking the river.  The end to a day I will never forget!


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

VIP = Vomit Inducing Potential

Luang Prabang, Laos - VIP was stamped in big letters on the front of our bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and while the bus was decent I think it was more an inference of the twisty trip to be expected from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.

We arrived in Luang Prabang last night after a 10 hour bus ride. Now it is only 380km (~230 miles) from Vientiane to LP but it takes 10 hours as the road twists and turns through the mountains most of the 10 hours (see the sat photo above of part of the route).  We reached an altitude of almost 1500m and then back down to 450m and then back up to 1200m and finally reached LP at 340m above sea level.

At times we could have walked up the hill faster but our bus driver was more than willing to make up time going down the hill.  He took the twists and turns faster than I would want to take them in my BMW!

Luckily neither Betsy nor I have a predilection to motion sickness but the bus ride did claim a couple of victims.

It was a beautiful (if long) ride through the mountains though and our first impressions of Luang Prabang are that it is a very nice town and we are looking forward to spending a few days here.

Tomorrow we get to spend a day with the elephants learning to be Mahouts (elephant trainers). This is probably the thing Betsy is most looking forward to on the trip so I am sure she will provide a detailed post of the experience.

Quietest Capital City in the World?

Vientiane, Laos - That would in fact be Vientiane the capital of Laos.  We spent the last 4 days in the capital and actually didn't do too much.  We saw a couple of wats, walked along the Mekong but mostly just spent two days getting our Thai visas.  Vientiane is a pleasant enough place and very quiet especially compared to other SouthEast Asian capital cities but then there are only 250,000 people in  Vientiane.

As I mentioned we had to get visas for Thailand as the Thai governmennt in their infinite wisdom decided to crack down on people living illegally in Thailand by changing the visa rules a couple of months ago.  Previously if arriving overland into Thailand you were automatically granted a 30 day visas (most western/asian countries) however a lot of guys were staying in Thailand for months if not years and just doing runs to the border with Laos, turning around and getting a new 30 day visa.  Thailand decided to combat this by changing the visa rules so that you can only get a 15 day "visa on arrival" when crossing overland. This would frustrate the guys living in Thailand and force them to leave.  What is has done instead is inconvenience every traveler crossing overland and forced them to get  a visa ahead of time and waste at least 2 days doing it.

Maybe a better solution would have been to limit the number of visas a person could get in a year?  That would stop the perennial overstayers yet not impact tourism.  Better be careful, we don't want logic to get in the way of any decisions.

Anyhow Monday morning we lined up to get a visa took about 3.5 hours, then came back the next day and waited another couple of hours andpicked up our passport.

Painless process, didn't cost any money just was a waste of time. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

So tired....

VIENTIANE, Laos - We are sitting in the restaurant of our hotel waiting for the people who are currently in "our" room to checkout so that it can be cleaned and we can check in.

We took the overnight bus from Pakse to Vientiane a 10 hour trip.  We were "lucky" enough to have booked a "sleeping" bus for this trip.  

Our worst travel experience to date was the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue.  Neither of us are really fans of overnight trips as we don't sleep that well when traveling overnight and last night was no exception.

Walking around Pakse we saw the sleeping bus in a parking lot near our hotel and were quite impressed by it.  It looked very clean,  the pillows looked nice, and it even had a fullsize bathroom (i.e. the door was normal sized not 4 feet high like our bus from Siem  Reap to Phnom Penh)

Anyhow we walked back the next day to book the bus for the following night but the guy in front of us in the queue was taking forever so being to impatient to wait we just decided to walk over to a travel agent to book the bus instead.  

That was a mistake!  When we were dropped of at the bus station the next night there were a bunch of travelers waiting to get on a bus only they weren't getting on our bus they were getting on a nice looking bus parked next to ours!

The tuk tuk that had picked us up at our hotel along with 2 other backpackers had already unloaded our luggage from the top rack into the hold of the bus before we could get out, at least we hoped our luggage was on the bus.

Our bus once again turned out to be completely populated with locals with the exception of two french girls that were backpacking.  We stepped on board and our hearts sank, the bus we were on was nowhere near as nice as the one we had seen the day before and in fact it looked nothing like the other bus which had had cubbyholes and double beds that would sit up like a chaise lounge and curtains for privacy.

Once we had stepped over all the flip flops in the aisle and hopped up to our "bunk" we knew we were in trouble.  The bed measured probably 3' x 5' and was designed for two?  Also the 5' was a bit generous as at about 3 feet we had a rack over the top of the bed for our day packs and from 4 to 5 feet the bed in front sloped downward on an angle such that it was impossible to even lay on your back.  All you could do was lie on your side and wedge your feet under the bed in front!

The mattress was also flat, there was no adjusting the sitting position all you could do was lean your pillow against the luggage rack behind you to sit up.  So we did just that and sat up for the first two hours watching some tv shows on our laptop.  The rest of the bus was completely dark and after two hours we put away the laptop, turned on the ipods and attempted to get to sleep.

Neither one of us could get comfortable and we basically spent the whole night just lying there listening to our Ipod's.  The time actually went fairly quickly and we only made one stop the whole night.

Ten hours later we were in the Lao capital of Vientiane and in a Tuk Tuk headed to our hotel.  Unfortunately we were at our hotel before 7am and the current occupants of our room didn't check out until 12 pm so we had breakfast at the hotel restaurant (very good!), walked around for a couple of hours and then napped on the sofa in the restaurant before finally about 1230 pm we were able to check into our room!

So here we sit in our room trying to stay awake (its 4pm) until a decent hour.  I think tonight we'll just go next door to the hotel restaurant as the food is very good and we are too lazy to head out anywhere.

On Monday we need to head to the Thai Consulate to get a 30 day visa for Thailand as the Thai's in their infinite wisdom have decided to only hand out 15 day visas at the border instead of the usual 30 day visas that until recently they had always granted.  Fifteen days isn't much time to see a country as large as Thailand!

Off to happy hour, some food and then some sleep!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Village Life

PAKSE, Laos - Our tour yesterday included two villages.  The first village was Bane Kokphoung. As we walked up there was a couple of ladies surrounded by several children of varying ages. The women and 2 older girls where smoking on a "communal" pipe of local tobacco.  The village people don't speak Lao but rather their own language so our guide could not even communicate with them. Even with no words spoken, they still made us feel welcome. 

Our guide explained that their lives have improved since they are getting more money for the coffee that they grow and from the tours that come through. Our guide also told us that they don't give the village money but they do give school supplies, clothes, medicine, etc. for allowing us to come into the village.  The second village we went to was known for their weaving (that is where this picture was taken).  The children here and in the previous village have a way of melting your heart.  Most of the children in the villages have big smiles to greet you and a very playful way about them.  Makes you wish you could do something more to improve their situation....can be difficult at times.

Bumping Around the Bolaven Plateau

Pakse, Laos - Bumping down a dusty road high in the mountains of Laos is how I imagined traveling the Bolaven Plateau would be. However like much of our trip most of the road that we traveled was in fact paved.  All through Cambodia and so far Laos many of the roads that until  only recently were dusty (or muddy in the rainy season), potholed, tracks have now been paved making travel along them a breeze.

Yesterday we spent the day exploring the Bolaven Plateau.  This high altitude area (~1000m above sea level) is known for its coffee plantations, rich soil, lush jungles and stunning waterfalls.   It was much cooler up on the plateau than in Pakse with temperatures in the low 80's compared to low 90's.

We visited a coffee/tea plantation, a minority village where people make their own coffins before they die and store them under their homes until passing.  We also visted 4 waterfalls of varying size and intensity.  The picture above was of the Tad Yuang waterfall (waterfall #2) which was probably our favorite.  By waterfall #4 we were suffering from waterfall fatigue!

The main negative of the trip was our guide's severe lack of enthusiasm.  He didn't say much didn't offer much and provided very little insight into what it was we were seeing. It was pretty funny when the indian woman on our trip suggested we all pool some money together and tip him because he was such a nice guy and the rest of us just laughed and said she was welcome to tip him but none of us would be.

We are off to Vientiane the capital of Laos tomorrow.  We are catching the night bus that leaves at 8pm and arrives at 6am Saturday morning.  It is a sleeping bus which means you have what look like chaise lounges to sleep on. They can go flat like a bed or sit up like a seat.  We'll see how it goes but should be more comfortable than a regular bus.

We'll probably be in Vientianne for a few days as we need to get a Burmese visa if we plan to go there or a Thai visa if we decide to skip Burma.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Part III - Getting out of the 4000 islands!

Pakse, Laos - So the 4000 islands is described as idyllic, quiet, timeless etc etc. I would agree with quiet. There is no electricity on the islands except for a few hours a night when the generators kick in.

The 4000 islands is the widest part of the Mekong River and depending on the water level it is said there is up to 4000 islands in the river. Only a few of these are actually inhabited

This wouldn't be so bad if the temperatures weren't so oppressive. Lonely Planet describes March-May as hellishly hot in the 4000 islands and they are right.

We had planned on spending several nights on the islands but it was so hot and uncomfortable that we only stayed one night. It was 100F (35C) during the day with probably 80-90% humidity. Trying to sleep under a mosquito net in those conditions without a fan (or AC) was impossible.

We did enjoy our one afternoon though. We rented bikes and biked around the island stopping at some impressive waterfalls where the Mekong narrows into a gorge and drops several hundred feet and also stopping to see an abandoned French locomotive.

The French had built a short railway track the only one ever built in Laos but abandoned it almost immediately.

Lunch at a restaurant along the Mekong, dinner at our guest house and a sleepless night and it was back to the mainland for our 2.5 hour bus ride to Pakse.

We arrived in Pakse around 2pm and quickly found a nice hotel, with AC, Wifi and a few english tv channels. We could stay here forever!

Pakse is a large (by Laotian standards) town of about 36000. We will probably be here a few days as there are a few interesting day trips and Pakse seems like a nice town.

We had a good meal of Lao Style Noodles, pork in chili paste and a couple of cold Beer Lao's on our hotel's rooftop restaurant overlooking the Mekong.

The 4000 islands were nice but way too hot for us to stay long. We actually ran into a couple that had been on our boat from Vietnam to Cambodia and they too had left the 4000 Islands after only 1 night because it was too hot.

Part II - Onward to Laos

Don Khone, Laos - In the last post I talked about our trip from Phnom Penh to the border town of Stung Treng.

We were up at 6am, as we had to get breakfast and packed up and ready for the bus to pick us up at 730am.

There was a bit of confusion as to what bus we were supposed to get on, first a big bus then a small bus and finally a minibus.

Finally by 8am we were off to the border about 50 miles away. Our minibus consisted of a couple of Lao guys, a Vietnamese woman, a Japanese girl and ourselves.

The roads in Cambodia have been surprisingly good, many seem like they were recently paved in the past couple of years and the road to the border was no exception. It will be interesting to see if they are maintained going forward.

We reached the "border" in an hour. I say "border" because all it consisted of was a little hut on the Cambodian side with a gate across the road, followed by a walk of 500m down the road to the Lao hut and accompanying gate.

We got our passports stamped to get out of Cambodia (with the requested $1 to the border guard to "stamp" our passport). No dollar no stamp was how it was politely explained to us.

Same thing with the Lao side, a $1 contribution to the border guard got your passport stamped into Laos and given back to you. A few people grumbled a bit but what are you going to do, these guys are out in the middle of nowhere getting paid nothing I have no problem giving them a dollar if it gets me through the border quickly and painlessly.

The funny thing was that in the 90 minutes we were at the border we saw one person (a buddhist monk) on the back of a moto come through the border. This is the only border crossing between Cambodia & Laos and it doesn't seem to be a busy one.

Anyhow now into Laos we waited about 45 minutes for our Lao minibus to arrive. Out scrambled a half dozen Aussie backpackers going the other direction, we got into their minibus and were off to the 4000 Islands. A few stops (some for no apparent reason??) and an hour later we were at the boat landing to go to our island in the Mekong Don Khone.

We went down to the boatmen and handed one our ticket we had purchased in Cambodia he motioned us towards one of the boats in we hopped with the Japanese girl from our minibus and 20 minutes later we were being dropped on the beach.

We stumbled up the hill with our packs to the main road (dirt road about 10 feet wide) and went in search of a guesthouse, we looked at one that was too expensive and found another that was right on the Mekong River with a nice veranda for only $12/night.

After a day and a half of traveling we were in Laos and settled into our guest house.

Part I - Goodbye Cambodia

Stung Treng, Cambodia - We have made it to Laos and it was definitely an adventure getting here. We left Phnom Penh at 645am on Saturday morning and hopped in a minibus to where our big bus was supposed to leave at 7am.

We were underway by 730am (not too bad) and on our way to Stung Treng which is the last major town before you hit the Lao-Cambodian border. Once again we were the only non-locals on the bus which was completely full. This was also our first bus with chickens on board. We were in our usual first row seats (the Oh Sh*t! seats) but could hear baby chicks in the back of the bus chirping off and on.

We had a 10 hour ride ahead of us and had bought some supplies (i.e. food) for the journey not knowing what kind of stops we would have along the way.

Our first stop was only two hours in and was again in the town of Skuon (aka Spiderville, see earlier post).

We made a few stops along the way picking up and dropping off people but didn't stop for an extended period until we made our lunch stop about 130pm in the town of Snuol only a few kilometers from the Cambodia/Vietnam border.

Lonely Planet describes Snuol as a dirty, dusty town that time has forgotten and I think they are being kind. We weren't about to partake in the gruel they were serving as lunch so we pulled out the cheese and crackers we had with us and Betsy went to buy a coke, only they didn't have coke, all they had was something called Winter Melon Tea. What it tasted like was maple syrup juice! Blech!

Fortified by our granola bars, cheese and crackers Betsy decided to hit the loo before the bus left. What she wasn't prepared for was her first squat toilet and the lineup to use it!

The bus started honking its horn while she was still inside, lets just say by the way she was running her ankle is feeling much better!

Four hours later we arrived in the dusty outpost of Stung Treng. We were immediately accosted by several guys who said we had to come with them to get tickets to Laos or see their guest house but we just ignored them and headed to a guest house we had researched before we got there.

After getting into our room and settling in we organized our bus tickets to Laos and headed over to a little restaurant right on the Mekong where we had a quick meal, a couple of beers and called it a night.

Up Next Part II - Welcome to Laos

Friday, May 8, 2009

Holiday in Cambodia!

The post title is in reference to the classic Dead Kennedy's song (1980) of the same name. In our case our Holiday in Cambodia is about to end.

Tomorrow we have a 10 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to the border town of Stung Treng (one horse town from the sounds of it). From there we'll try and organize transport across the Cambodia/Lao border and onwards to our first destination in Laos the 4000 Islands.

These are a group of islands in the middle of the Mekong that people pretty much just go to chill at. There isn't even electricity on most of the islands...not sure how long we'll be there without AC!

Needless to say we will probably be without internet for a few days until we get further into Laos and get to the southern capital of Pakse.

Wish us luck!

Thursday, May 7, 2009


We took the bus today from Siem Reap back to Phnom Penh today. It was a pretty uneventful bus ride though on this bus we weren't the only non-locals.

We made one pit-stop along the way in the town of Skuon (aka Spiderville). Skuon is known for its spiders,specifically tarantula's that the locals like to catch, fry and eat! There were women walking around with platters of these things trying to sell them. We might be adventurous but we aren't THAT adventurous!

Betsy almost had a heart attack when I told her to turn around and look at the girl selling pineapple behind her. The girl had a live tarantula crawling on the front of her shirt like it was a pet. Needless to say Betsy hightailed it out of there pretty quick!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cinco de Mayo Cambodian Style

Siem Reap, Cambodia - Stacy and I celebrated Cinco de Mayo by going to a Mexican restaurant in downtown Siem Reap. The El Camino served up wonderful margarita's and excellent Mexican food. Our dinner was definitely an improvement compared to our breakfast this morning which contained all sorts of pieces of "meat"(or "un-usable bits" as Stacy calls it) in our pho soup that we could not identify.

Finally Some Photos

I've finally gotten a somewhat stable internet connection and managed to post some of our remaining Vietnam pictures.  Click on the link on the right side for "Central & Southern Vietnam"

I've also uploaded some of our Angkor Temple pictures as well.  Click on the link on the right side.

I've also created a map "Our Route So Far..." that shows the route we've taken up to this point. You can access this on the right menu as well.

I've also turned on the comments for the blog so you can leave a note at the bottom of a post by clicking on the "Comments" link.

Ruminations on Temples, Touts & Tourists!

We've spent the last couple of days whipping around Cambodia in a Tuk-Tuk revisiting many of the temples we saw last time we were here (5.5 years ago) as well as a few we missed.  The weather hasn't been too bad.  Hot but not unbearably so but still very humid.

The temples were great to see again but didn't seem as spectacular as the first time we visited.  I suppose that is always the case when you go back somewhere you've been before.  The first time you are there everything is new and exciting and unexpected whereas subsequent visits you know what to expect.

One of the things that made the temples not as interesting was the amount of reconstruction being done to many of them including Angkor Wat.  It is hard to be as impressed when there is scaffolding all over a temple.

Angkor feels much less adventurous this time around.  All the roads in town and all the roads to the temples are nicely paved as opposed to the dusty, dirty, potholed roads that we traveled before.  There are ticket checks at all the temples and it feels much more organized now.  You used to be able to clamber all over many of the temples whereas now many areas are roped off and inaccessible now.  The temples are still impressive but it feels more like visiting Disneyland than it does some far off remote part of the world.

There are also many, many more tourists than there were 5.5 years ago which takes away a little of the uniqueness of the experience.  One of the upsides of so many more tourists is the plethora of great restaurants around Siem Reap now.  Last time we were here there wasn't nearly the selection of great restaurants there is now.  That part of the increased tourist traffic we are very much enjoying.  That and the 50 cent draft beers for happy hour!

Finally the touts in Siem Reap are much worse than they were.  They aren't overbearing but they are annoying.  When you walk a few hundred meters down the street and 15 tuk-tuk drivers ask if you need a ride it can get a bit annoying.  Did they not see you saying "No thanks" to the first 14 guys??  I understand they are just trying to make a buck but it still gets annoying pretty quickly.

We are off to Phnom Penh on Thursday and then have a day there and on Saturday will begin the long slog to Laos.  That should be fun!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cambodia Update

Well we arrived in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) today from Battambang.  We only spent two days in Battambang but it was probably one of our least favorite places so far, very dusty, dirty town with not a heck of a lot to see.

The  best part of Battambang was organizing a tuk-tuk for the day and going for a tour of the countryside.  We saw a couple of neat Wat's (Temples) and an ancient ruins site that was supposedly a model for Angkor Wat.  It was a long hike up 338 stairs to reach the ancient ruins but we made it!

A lot of our time was spent getting to these sites and we were COVERED in dust by the end of the day.  We also looked at going on the bamboo train  which is a gas powered "train which is really just two axles and a platform over the top with a gas engine attached that go careening along the abandoned railroad track.   When two trains meet the one with less cargo is taken apart and pulled off the track then reassembled once the other train goes by.

The other strange thing about Battambang is there were NO tourists there.  We saw about 6 other westerners in our 3 days and 2 nights there.  Our hotel had about 50 rooms and I swear a couple of nights we were the only guests.

Today we took the bus from Battambang to Siem Reap.  This used to be considered the worst road in Asia but it has only recently been paved and we made the 200km trip in 3hours.

Siem Reap has changed greatly since Betsy and I were here on our honeymoon 5.5 years ago. Most of the roads are paved and not dirt, they have proper ticket offices now to get your Angkor tickets and they are building new hotels, restaurants and shopping like crazy.  You can't even recognize the place anymore.  It feels more like Las Vegas or Disneyland than the eighth wonder of the world!

Internet is horrible in Cambodia, I have pictures from the south of Vietnam waiting to upload but can't get a good enough connection to upload them so one of these days there will be more pictures.