A Travellerspoint blog

Kickin' it in Cambodia

sunny 31 °C

We awoke early in the morning after a night of drinking and games with our Danish friends Martin and Emilie. We all caught the 6am bus to Phnom Penh. It was actually a fairly painless experience to be honest. The border crossing was easy as pie and the road conditions were good. We arrived in Phnom Penh on time and booked out onward ticket to Sihanoukville easily. Here we sadly parted ways with the Danes (to only meet them again down the road).
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Emilie and Monique with their matching burn wounds
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At the border crossing there was a market, people where literally everywhere

The ride to Sihanoukville was a little longer than we had expected, we arrived in the evening and as usual felt like we were being ripped off by the taxi drivers. We did only pay 2$ to get to our hotel, but that is expensive compared to what the locals pay. We spent the night in a recommended bungalow and enjoyed a few beers and kebabs on the beach. We strolled the streets but after the long day of traveling we were tired and called it a night. We were both looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure, heading out to a remote Island called Lazy Beach.

The following morning we awoke early to explore the city as we only had a short time here. We walked to the beach and had a breakfast with the sun rise. It was so hot already that we dipped into the beautiful waters of Serendipity beach. We realized that Sihanoukville had more to offer than we had previously thought. Nonetheless we were happy to be on our way to Lazy Beach. The boat came and picked us up around noon. They put our luggage in a little dingy and we hoped it didn’t get wet, while we waddled into the water with our small bags over our heads. The 2 hour boat ride was wavy and unstable and most of what we brought was getting wet. But all that slipped from our minds when we pulled up to a breath taking private beach. There was no one on the beach when we arrived except the co-owner Chris. He greeted us warmly and led us to the restaurant where we were served a complimentary drink.
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It all seemed so surreal, a whole beach to ourselves, only about 15 other people on the island at the same time as us. Chris even told us about another beach a 20 minute walk away on the other side that was just as beautiful, but more importantly a beach and hour away by foot that would be 100% to ourselves, not another soul around!
We quickly got into our swim suits and spent the rest of the time we had in the sun and reading in our hammocks on our private bungalow. The beachfront bungalows were really nice, 2 big double beds, private shower (heated by the sun) and toilet. As well the best part 2 hammocks to relax on. The same evening we made our way to the restaurant that is run by the other owners Cambodian family. To put it simple the food here was incredible. Michael and the 2 girls we had met on the boat, Anna and … shared a meal of FRESH squid that had just been caught. We continued the night with some drinks and games. Michael joined a poker game and came in third place, too bad only the first and second got a prize.
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The view from our bungalow
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Our beautiful bungalow
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Our private beach
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Michael relaxing and enjoying the view
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Monique taking a cat nap
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Chill out deck
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Sunset

We got up early to take advantage of the day. We had a delicious breakfast, Monique even got a meal personalized to her liking, pancakes with snickers chunks melted into it. She was in heaven. The day was spent lazing around (hence the name of the island, Lazy Beach). We soaked up all the rays we could and relaxed in our hammocks. The night was similar to the previous, it involved a lot of drinks and some more games. This time we got a little crazier and played some Jenga and Twister! After some of the other guest went to bed, Chris (owner) offered to take Michael, Monique and Anna snorkeling to see the phosfluorescence. This was one of the most interesting things we had seen. The phosfluorescence were like little glowing lights everywhere in the water. If you managed to pick one up, it stayed glowing on your skin. They light up the whole ocean, very beautiful and interesting experience.
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Monique's delicious breakfast
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Monique and Michael
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Serious Jenga game
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An even more serious Twister game

Unfortunately the next day it was time to leave lazy beach, but it was also a happy time because we were on our way to Phnom Penh to see Brent. After another very wet boat ride and this time long and uncomfortable bus ride we finally made it to Phnom Penh in the late afternoon.

Brent was eagerly waiting for us at Okay Guesthouse, he was actually waiting in the middle of the road and our tuk tuk almost ran him over. We spent the remainder of the evening chatting and catching up. We had a wonderful dinner at one of Brent’s favourite restaurants and celebrated with some drinks of course. Seeing family once again was exciting because despite all the wonderful things we have been seeing and doing, the experience is always more enjoyable with family.
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Independence Monument, one of the first sights we saw

The following day we set out with Brent on his structure itinerary for us, which was nice because for once we didn’t have to do any of the thinking or organizing. Right off the bat, Brent impressed us, he had an excellent grasp of the city layout even though he had only lived there 3 weeks and more importantly he had developed excellent bargaining skills with the tuk tuk drivers. He also spoke enough Khmer to communicate with them where we wanted to go.

The plan for the day was going to be intense. We were headed to the S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Understandably not the happiest places to visit. On our way out the door we met a Frenchman, Jean Luc who decided to accompany us on our journey. The first stop was S-21 the Genocide Museum.
To give a little history in 1975 Pol Pot’s security forces turned the Tuol Svay Prey High School into the Security Prison 21 (S-21), the largest centre of detention and torture in the country. Almost everyone held here was later executed at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Detainees who died during torture at S-21 were buried in mass graves inside the prison grounds. During the first part of 1977, S-21 claimed a terrifying average of 100 victims per day.
Cambodia has a very sad history as you can probably imagine, the Khmer Rouge takeover under Pol Pot’s leadership implemented one of the most heinous revolutions the world has ever seen. This began on 17th April 1975 and only ended in 1998. Two decades, thousands of death and no one to hold accountable as Pol Pot conveniently died in 1998.
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Brent and Monique reflecting on what they had just seen

While we toured the S-21 prison we watched a very informative documentary which ended with an elderly woman saying “I understand a lot of things in this world like love, family, and caring for one another, one thing I will never understand is the Khmer Rouge regime.” When you walk through the museum we felt very similar. You see one brutal vivid photo of torture after the next, you can physically touch the torture devices actually used by the Khmer Rouge and to top it off they have the photo of every victim and their life story. You see these people and how innocent they must have been and you try to understand why this happened, and your left believing the elderly woman’s words, “I will never understand the Khmer Rouge regime”
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One of the many torture devices
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A vivid photo of prisoners being detained with chains and little room to move
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There were countless pictures of victims, including women and children
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Jail cell, on the floor you could still see the blood stains
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The graves of the last 14 people in s-21
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One of the many torture rooms, some still had the tools in them

If touring the S-21 prison wasn’t depressing enough, we somberly continued our day to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The Killing Fields consist of 129 mass graves (43 of which have never been disinterred) and a massive white stupa that serves as a memorial to the approximately 17,000 men, women and children who were executed here by the Khmer Rouge between mid 1975 and 1978. Behind the stupa’s glass panels and rising upward shelf by shelf are over 8000 skulls found during excavation in 1980—some of the skulls still bear witness to the fact that victims were bludgeoned to death for the sake of saving bullets.
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The monument for the skulls
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Only a few of the skulls

Walking through the mass graves (on poorly labeled signs telling you where not to walk) you read information posts regarding the number of bodies found in each grave. They also point out specific areas where children were beaten to death, and where women and men were executed.
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One of the mass graves
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Left over bone fragements

Clearly most of the day was somber and unpleasant, but most say it is necessary to go to these sights to have a true understanding of what Cambodian’s have gone through. On our way out of the fields we happen to meet a couple that Monique and Michael had met in Xian China. That was the one bright note of the day. We agreed to meet up with them later and have some drinks. That evening we went to their neck of the woods for some Indian cuisine and drinks.

The following day we took it easy and relaxed before we made plans to head to Siem Reap the next day. Brent did some administrative work and Michael wandered about taking photos. It was a nice day after the previous somber one.
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Royal Palace

Early in the morning we headed on the uncomfortable 6 hour journey to Siem Reap. The roads are paved so it is not that bad of a ride, but it is painfully long when there is no toilet. We finally arrived in Siem Reap and settled at our Hotel the Golden Banana. The GB is one of Brent’s favourite hang outs in Siem Reap so he was very well known by the staff. We spent the rest of the day sipping on Mojitos and touring the bar street area.

The next day we decided to go on a sunset tour of the famous Floating Village. We conveniently booked the tour that provided dinner and all you can drink. The tour of Tonle Sap Lake began at an information post that described the village people. Sadly what it described was not all that great, the average life expectancy was only 54 years of age, 12% of all children die before the age of 5, and one of two are malnourished. The average annual income was 500USD per household and the literacy rate was only 46%. After reading this sign we felt prepared for the worst, but what you end up seeing is the friendliest faces smiling and waving at you. These people seem to have a love for life that many more advantage people will never find. They lived in their boat homes and operated their village just like one that would be on land. Even the pig pens were floating! The village was set up with a church, small school, and wedding hall.
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Right before we got on the boat, we watched this dog protect the house and not let the chickens in, cute
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Some kids hanging out
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Monique and Brent on the boat
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Banana ladies selling bananas
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The entrance to the village
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A child doing some chores
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The crocodile farm in the village

After touring the village we headed to the companies floating restaurant. Here we ate as much as we could and well, seeing as it was all you could drink, we wanted to get our monies worth. We started sneaking closed beer and other drinks into our bags. By the time we left our bags were so heavy it was obvious what we were up to. Brent and Michael wanted to have a competition to see who had stolen more beer, Michael won in the end because he was actually stealing beer as Brent was only taking water for some unknown reason. We had a good laugh about that along with the safe on the boat who drank with us, and even offered Michael some of their snake dinner.
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What we managed to smuggle out

Well on our way to being tipsy, we had plans that evening to meet Brent’s co-workers for a “Canada night Party’. We met at a bar called the Warehouse and got decked out in Canadian gear including a tattoo on Michael’s forehead ( one that was written in both French and English of course). We spent the night getting acquainted with Brent’s co-workers, dancing and playing Wii.
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Michael getting a tattoo
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Michael's new tattoo
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The Canada day gang

Although the next day was a struggle to get out of bed, we finally got our stuff together and decided to do a cooking class. The previous night we had met two Americans, father and son and invited them along to join us. The joined us eventually (they also had a rough start) and we got ready to cook. The first thing we did was go on a tour of the market to buy our ingredients fresh, and we mean fresh, some of the fish were still flopping while awaiting their heads to be chopped. At the market you could seriously buy anything, it was both interesting and stomach churning. After we had discussed all of our ingredients at the market, we headed to a private kitchen to start cooking.
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The market vendors
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Fresh Fish, so fresh some were still moving
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One big guy for someone special
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The boys watched this chicken get chopped and gutted
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Fresh veggies

We each had to prepare all of the ingredients by chopping, washing, dicing or what be. Then we were each shown how to prepare our dishes in a unique Cambodian style. Michael made Banana Flower Salad and fresh shrimp spring rolls. Monique made mango salad and fresh chicken spring rolls and Brent made pumpkin soup and chicken and cashews stir fry. All of the dishes turned out to be delicious, but Brent definitely won the contest with his amazing pumpkin soup.
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Michael with his serious cooking face
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Monique and Brent frying it up
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Brent making his delicious pumpkin soup
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Michael and Monique's spring rolls
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Monique's final dish, spring rolls and mango salad

Early the next morning we set out to see the infamous Angkor Wat. We had a driver booked for the whole day so we could enjoy the sunset on Angkor Wat. We started the day off at the first Wat which none of us can remember the name of. It was one of the smaller ones, but nonetheless it was still very beautiful. It was an eye opener for what was to come. It had small corridors leading everywhere and anywhere and giant trees growing in and around the structure. It also had detailed drawings of dancers performing traditional rituals.
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Brent and his cool friend with the shades

The second Wat is called Ta Prohm which is one of the most popular ones as it is the sight where they filmed parts of the Indiana Jones movie and the Tomb Raider movie. It is also covered in trees that look like they are strangling the Wat alive. This was one of our favourites, it was like walking through a maze and we kinda felt like Indian Jones. Another point to mention is that nothing is off limits in Angkor Wat, unlike the rest of the world that doesn’t let you get close to their wonders, Cambodia allows you to walk all over it!
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Michael getting back to his tree farming roots
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Entrance
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A tree taking over
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Lunch with our driver

The third Wat was everyone’s favourite. Preah Neak Pean was a very high structure. To climb all the way to the top you were literally climbing upright, it was hard to get up, but even harder to get down. The fourth Wat we visited was Preah Khan (Sacred Sword) which they think was the Buddhist University. It is also very intricate corridors and interesting carvings.
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Monique and Brent climbing up
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Brent making it to the top
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The trio
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A panoramic of the temples

The next two wats that we visited we kinda stumbled upon when Michael got lost. The first was Baphuon which is called the worlds largest jigsaw puzzle. Archeologist are here day in and day out restoring the remains. This wat was given so much attention because it had an extremely large buddha’s face carved into it. The other wat, the Bayon where Michael got lost, is home to over 216 gargantuan faces of Avalokiteshvara watching over you.
The final, but most important wat is of course Angkor Wat. It is the biggest ( I think) and surrounded by a moat. It was huge and and housed many different rooms and sculptures. Also there were many carcings throughout the whole wat that described different places such as heaven and hell, and different situations the Khmer people went through. Overall the day was incredible; we ended it with some beers and watched the sunset fall over Angkor Wat. It was a long but amazing day.
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Jigsaw puzzle
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The intricate detail of the carvings
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The trio before a Korean tour group ran us over
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Michael
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Michael and Monique in a tree
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If you look closely you can see Buddha's face
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The eyes watching over Angkor Wat
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Angkor Wat in all its glory
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Us at sunset
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Having a beer at Angkor Wat
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A panoramic of the Indiana Jones temple

After a long but wonderful day of visiting Angkor Wat we decided to take it easy. Also the following day was Michael’s birthday so we wanted to be ready to part. We spent Michael’s birthday relaxing by the pool and drinking some beer. Then we eventually headed out to the Pepy house for the American Thanksgiving dinner they were planning. We were in charge of deserts so we brought some delicious ice cream. It was a wonderful night filled with lots of dancing and drinking.
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Some much needed guidance for the Asian population
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The birthday boy helping to prepare dinner
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Monique's two favourite boys
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Brent looking sexy!

The fun didn’t stop there, Brent still had more planned for us. It was now Monday and Brent had to go back to work, however before he really got back into it he took us to the school he works for in rural Cambodia. We think the city name is Chandlidi ( sorry if that is not right Brent), to get there we took the company truck, which meant sitting in the back of a pick up truck for an almost 2 hour ride down the dustiest and bumpiest roads you could ever imagine. To make a long story short, when we arrived, we were all so covered in dust that our skin had turned a different colour.
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The dirt road
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The school
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The children's bicycles
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Brent working hard to help the children

Brent gave us a great tour of the school into the library and the classrooms. We didn’t want to be too disruptive so we stayed back a little. But we did get the chance to go into the XO laptop room, which is what Brent focused his attention on. It was really nice to see the children using the computers and having a lot of fun while learning. The school was great, but as Brent said, it is rural, you are living with the chickens, drinking swamp water and sleeping in mosquito nets, which doesn’t mean the mosquitoes won’t get you. It would take a special kind of person to live out there.

After being covered in mud from the previous day we felt we deserved a relaxing day at the pool. We met up with two Dutch guys we had met at Golden Banana and spent the day sipping cocktails and relaxing with them. Later on that evening we went for dinner and drinks with them, (Brent was feeling ill so he went home sick) . At dinner we happened to run into Anna, the German girl from Lazy Beach and caught up with her.
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Us with the Germans and Dutch friends

As we mentioned Brent was back to work, so the final day in Cambodia we were left to take care of some unfinished business. We did some shopping and bought our onward bus ticket to Koh Chang for the following day. We spent the night with Brent chatting and discussing our future rendezvous in Thailand.
The following day we left bright and early on the 7am bus to Koh Chang in Thailand. This was an event in itself. The bus was so overpacked you couldn’t move and inch, luggage was everywhere and people were even sitting on plastic chairs in the aisle. To top it off the journey was 3 hours longer than we had been told, there was no air conditioning and because it was so hot on the bus everyone had their windows open. But with the windows open we not only got cool air, but dust dust and more dust! Let’s just say it was a long bumpy , cramped and dusty ride, but we were happy we weren’t the ones on the plastic chairs!
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The cramped bus
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The improvised plastic seats
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Goodbye Cambodia

Posted by koreaeh 06:58 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Northern Thailand and Vietnam

rain 23 °C

- Change of plans, went from Loas to Thailand the city of Chiang Mai.
- Found out that Loas Kip (currency) was only exchangeable in Loas, which resulted in Michael renting a car and driving through the beautiful country side back to Loas to switch the money to Baht.
- Chaing Mai; beautiful city surrounded by moat and wall had classic Thai architecture and stunning temples on mountains which overlooked the city.
- From here flew to Hanoi, which just had some of the worst flooding in many years. Still went, and enjoyed this quaint city.
- Took off to Halong Bay for a ‘junk boat’ tour. Two nights on a bay full of volcanic islands and lush scenery
- Down to Hue which was a city of historic beauty with its city walls and moat, but the deeper one explored, the more the scars of the war were shown.
- Hoi An, a French influenced city full of small streets lined with cafes and tailors. A lovely full moon tradition of floating lanterns cast off during a night fair.
- Nha Trang, a beach city that we had to pass by in a day because the city had water up to our knees.
- Ho Chi Min city, the largest city had its pride, and pain from the Vietnamese War on display.
- Three day (680km) tour with two Vietnamese War Vets on motorcycles through the south, past the Mekong Delta, and many other remote parts.

Leaving Loas was a relatively painless process. We walked into what looked like a retrofitted house were we stamped out, crossed the Chiang Khong River on a tiny rice boat and within a minute we were on the Thai side of the river. Here we were greeted by a similar house, but a bit more developed process of filling out forms and lining up at tinted glass windows this time.
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Loas Side
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Thai side

Once past, we jumped into a tuck tuck-truck (joined by a girl from Loas who was seeking medical attention for her broken nose, and had to go to a hospital because there aren’t any in Loas) who took us to a minivan, which took us for a delightful trip on paved highways to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is a very beautiful city that is very different from its southern counterparts. It has a lovely historic square moat and wall surrounding a big part of it, and in and around the area are stunning temples (Wats).
Once there we quickly found out to our surprise that the Loas Kip is a completely useless currency outside of Loas. We went looking all over town to see if a bank or travel agent arranging the trips to Loas could convert it for us, but we were simply told it would remain a nice souvenir for us.

Since it totaled $500 USD, we had to go back, so just before Michael purchased a return minibus ticket to Loas (which he hated because of the likely possibility of being car sick the whole time), he inquired about a rental car. Since this was almost the same cost, we opted for some driving time through Northern Thailand. And once Owen, a friend we met in Loas who was still traveling with us heard about this, he wanted to come for the road trip as well (Monique chose to relax by the pool instead).

The next day with IPods charged, we picked up our brand new and sporty Toyota, and headed north. The drive was amazing because Michael loves to drive, so Thailand (on the left side of the road, 1st time) was a real treat. We navigated with a map all the way up to Chiang Rai, and then ended up on a really deserted and windy road to take us through cows and some remote towns. We stopped often and ate Pat Thai the entire way, since it was the only thing we could communicate since these towns rarely saw tourists.
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At Chiang Kang I crossed the border, tried to exchange money at the currency exchange in the immigration office to avoid the visa fee, was sent into Loas without a visa but just a promise that I would go to the bank and back, and then returned to Thailand. This was also a bit confusing because I didn’t receive a stamp from Loas, I had to go through a laborious process of canceling my exit from Thailand (which was cool because now I only had one entry).
Heading back down to Chiang Mai was a treat because we opted a different direction and saw some new towns and some of the most unique mountain formations bursting out of flat fields. We even had to pull and drive through a field and take a photo at sunset, they were that compelling.
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On our return we reunited with another Vang Vieng friend, Monica, which turned into a couple days of rest, drinking, exploring and good fun. The last day in Chiang Mai we headed up the nearby mountain to overlook the whole city and at the very top, a very beautiful temple called Wat U Mong.
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The following morning we were up early in the rain to catch a flight to Bangkok, and then over to Hanoi. This theme of rain would become a bit of an interruption because hours before our flight we caught a BBC report that said Vietnam was having some of the worst floods it has had in the last 15 years and that Hanoi was flooded and 88 people had already been killed.
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We decided to still go, and despite a big run around by our cab driver where we thought we were going down some of the sketchiest roads, and then past landmarks way out of the way, we arrived in a dry Hanoi.
Hanoi was nice, and quite accessible to walk from our hotel which had a three sided view overlooking the city and the Church of St. Joseph. We toured the old quarter, the very full Lake Hoan Kiem, and a beer and bike-tuck tuck ride around the city, with a water puppet show to wrap our days up. We wanted to do a motorbike tour of the north, but due to the resent and continuing downpours, we opted not to, and rather go to Halong Bay for a ‘junk boat’ tour.
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The crazy roads
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St. Joseph Chruch
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Lake Hoan Kiem
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Water Puppet Show
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We drove out, and boarded a junk boat which served us meals, toured us around the bays’ islands, and spent the night sleeping on the boat. We kayaked around volcanic mountains and even through caves leading to other bays. On the way back from our two night journey to once again ran into Martin and Emily, our Danish friends who we met in Loas, and then met for one night in Hanoi by random chance.
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Snake Wine
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After a bit more time in Hanoi and some last minute shopping, we headed by sleeping bus to Hue which was a lovely 11 hour drive, through some flooded sections of road from once again more showers. We had only anticipated to spend one day in Hue, and despite the rain, we set out to see this historic city. The city itself is split in half by the Song Huong or Perfume River (that name given by the French). On the south the cluster of foreign restaurants and guesthouses, and to the north the historic parts. We first went to a restaurant owed by Mr. Kim, a professional photographer who had a lovely display of photos of his city, and a walking map. We took his walking tour map and headed to the north, across the French built bridge called Trang Tien and towards to ancient city.
It is really nice to see because it’s all very quaint, and the actual ancient city is surrounded by a huge mote and massive wall. Once through, we saw the small streets with little yellow building which all remain intact from when they were used during the Vietnamese war where the original DMZ was established. Also within this city wall is another walled Palace called Hoa Palace. Entering through the main gate of Ngo Mon you can see the true beauty of the ancient rulers where they had impressive bridges spanning over pools of water towards the Forbidden Purple City. However the further you go within the palace, you begin to see the impact the war has had on the Vietnamese because a great deal of their history and historic structures including the Citadel, are buried under dirt and weeds decaying and disappearing.
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Once out of the walled city we decided to head back due to the fact that we were wet from head to toe and risked catching a cold. The visit was short, and the next day we headed to Hoi An, another lovely little city that was French inspired and generally speaking, mildly flooded from the rain and its close proximity to the river. Here we enjoyed the small streets, the cafes and the Japanese influenced section on the river. We also fitted to have a couple items of clothes made, and before we knew it, it was our last night. This particular evening was a full moon, which for Hoi An means having a street and river festival in the evening where merchants burn colourful paper and light firecrackers in the street, and the townspeople gather by the river an sing, dance and set off lit floating lanterns down the river.
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The next city we went out to see was Nha Trang, which was a bit of a struggle because our open bus ticket booking agent suggested that there were no busses available. After waiting and assuring them that this was unacceptable and a contradiction to their booking policy, we were allowed to book on a bus that was conveniently not completely full, but simple just “full”. Once in Nha Trang which was suppose to be our first real beach city, however when we got there it was generally overcast, and so we spent our time wandering the city. That night we wondered off to the sailing club on the beach and meet up with some Irish guys who we had been running into time and again. We had some drinks, but decided that we wanted to turn in early to get some sunshine that was denied to us the previous day. However almost the minute we put our heads down, the rain started pelting down on the roof, to the point where by morning the street in front of our hotel had half a meter of water over it.
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The calm beach
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Fed up with the water, we once again got on a bus, which once again was a problem because they said our sleeping bus ticket wasn’t going to get us a sleeping bus. This reoccurring theme that we were warned about by fellow travelers of the Vietnamese being about the money, has by now started to irritate us. After being denied to use the booking agents phone, we called the original travel agent, who called the bus company, who called the office, who without question issued the ticket we were entitled to. However this implication for most travelers is simply forfeited and a convenient $10 surcharge to a ticket is commonly added.

The night bus was ok, and it quickly became better when we once again stopped in a random town to pick up a bunch of travelers including Martin and Emily, our Danish friends on route to Ho Chi Min City (or Saigon). Once in the city we found a place and then talked about a motorbike tour that we had been recommended by Stephanie to take through the Mekong Delta. Since it was only two war vets that would randomly wait outside of Kim’s Café, we had a bit of a struggle finding them. However after some inquires, a 57 year old man who probably sounded drunk in his native language, told us he was the man, and proved it by somehow telling a story about our friend getting drunk and sleeping in the wrong hotel room. We later made all the arrangements, and then set off to see Ho Chi Min City. We made our way down to the city centre via a beautiful park called Cong Vien Van Hoa Park, and then to Reunification Palace, the city’s formal capital building. After which we went to the very somber War Remnants Museum, formally called the Museum of American War Crimes. This was a gruesome recount of the war in Vietnam and the lasting effects on its people, including the results of Agent Orange Gas. From here we continued down to the river, and had a drink on the very congested Saigon River nearby to Hung Sao Statue in Me Linh Square.
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Cong Vien Van Hoa Park
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Reunification Palace
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Early the next morning we were up and greeted by our two war vets, John 57 (drunk and hard to understand) and Chin Beir (54 and easier to understand), and 5 new motorbikes. Chin’s English comes from the fact that in the war, American soldiers would ask people if they fought for the Veit Cong, or the South, and in most cases the only thing they could reply would be “ok ok”, which consequently would result in an undesirable result. Thus to adapt, he learned English, which ended paying off because he was able to profit from the American support, including beers and bbq when at a camp, and rice bags for his family. The stories were amazing, but we would have to be patient because we had 680km to drive in the next three days, and they would come out in the days to come. We drove towards the Delta which was a very busy highway that consisted of pedestrians, bikes, carts pulled by ox, and the busses chasing you down with their air horns reminding you of the consequences of error.
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Our journey
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Lunch with Chin

Once in My Tho we rented a local boat which brought us through the harbour and then up into the Mekong Delta. When we arrived the small channel was rushing towards us as the tide pulled the water out along with the tourist, while we headed opposite towards Honey Bee Island for rice wine, and Coconut Island for a visit to a coconut candy factory. Back on the bikes we had our daylight fading and about 120kms left till Can Tho.
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The Mekong Delta
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All of us
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The next morning after a scary night drive we once again chartered a local boat and set out to the floating market, where we ate pineapples from the vendors and then up the Gy Yung River to a garden restaurant for an unexpected lunch. From here we biked to a small town called Long Xuen, where we were informed that we were likely the only tourists in the entire city. This seemed to be true because we sat at a little store on some plastic chairs by the big market, and locals simply stopped to watch us interact with our guides and the store owners. This proved to be even more thrilling to them, when we decided that a blister on Monique’s leg that she acquired from the bike’s muffler was going to be popped. By the time we got the needle, antibacterial cream, and had the camera to film it, we attracted no less than 35 spectators. From here we went to the market and purchased from meat and vegetables so that at the end of the night, we could cook our own meal (meals were becoming increasingly expensive, because slowly over the course of the trip our guides had guilt us, and now ungratefully and assumingly expected them to be purchased).
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Father & Son
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The bursting of Monique's blister
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The motor gang
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Us cooking, with beer and beers
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After a night of the four of us cooking, we woke up and went to Sam Mountain a mountain just outside of town, where we were able to ride up and see a panoramic view of Cambodia from Vietnam. It also happened to be a lookout point and base where Chin had served a bit of his time during the war, which was another amazing set of stories to associate with the history of the country. From here we set out for an epic 300kms back to Ho Chi Mihn City, were we arrived in the very hectic city at nighttime. We parted ways with our guides, after once again almost being brought to one of their friend’s places, where they wanted to have dinner and obligate ourselves to buy their beers and meals.
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Oh no! A day later, matching burns!!!
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Us on top of San Mountain
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Monique and Chin, standing by the fortified base built into a Vietnamese mountain overlooking Cambodia
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View of Cambodia

Exhausted we went out to eat and celebrate our journey with a ton of beers, only to get up the next day at 6am to board a bus onward to Cambodia. This journey was restful, until we got to the Neak Luong River Ferry, where the poverty of Cambodia was displayed as children knocked on the bus door, and vendors walked with baskets of goods on their heads, shaking anything through the window of the bus in every ones faces. We arrived in Phnom Penh with a new set of adventures.
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Posted by koreaeh 01:31 Archived in Vietnam Tagged motorcycle Comments (1)

Lovely Laos

One of our favourites!!!

sunny 30 °C

We arrived in Laos late in the evening after spending the day waiting for our connection flight at the Vietnam airport. At the airport we happened to meet another fellow Canadian, from Thunderbay of all places, named Monica who we instantly became friends with. We ended up sharing a taxi to our Hotel for a whopping 1$ with 5 other people. Once there we all decided to go for some dinner and drinks at one of the many local watering holes. We actually drank until they kicked us out then stumbled back to our hotel to accidentally wake the staff while we were “sneaking” over their makeshift beds in the lobby to get more beer. The night continued in this manner until we all couldn’t dance and laugh anymore.
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The gang we met at the airport and partied with
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Monica begging for more beer when we had clearly had enough

The next morning we were off to a slow start but we got going eventually. We spent the day touring around Vientiane. We saw some of the Wats (temples) and just walked around admiring the city itself. There really wasn’t that much to see in Vientiane so Michael decided to go exploring outside the city boundaries and Monica and I decided to get a body scrub and facial for a whopping 8$ (for over 2 hours of work) . Needless to say the scrub was interesting,, it was too young girls who pretty much kept comparing their skin colour to ours in amazement. Then the facial involved a straw like vacuum to suck the grossness out of your face. This was Monique’s first facial and she says maybe her last after the vacuum.
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In Laos (and other countries) they feed their Gods rice to keep them happy
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The traditional Tuk Tuk that is Asia's mode of transportation
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Monique at the temple
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The trio out for lunch
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The little guy I almost sat on before we ate
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MMM diet coke!
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Our little friend who hung out with us
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Rustic Laos
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The French Embassy where Laos was colonized

With not much to see or do in Vientiane we decided to keep on moving to a city called Vang Vieng. On the way to Vang Vieng which should have only been a 4 hour bus ride we had a flat tire and had to change it to the spare. Then 30 minutes later we had a flat spare. So we spent 2 hours at the shop (on the side of the road) fixing both tires. The 4 hour bus ride ended in about a 7 hour journey in total. We eventually made it there and settled in at a hotel on the river called Grand View. It was a great hotel with a beautiful view of the river. You could see the true magic of the city from our little hotel room. Even better next door was a restaurant with little huts and hammocks to sit at. We all had a good bite to eat and relaxed in the sun. It was here that we realized what a hard life we truly had.
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The view from our hotel
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View from the other side
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Monique relaxing
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Monique and Michael relaxing
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Our delicious Pad Thai dinner
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The view in colour

The night continued to get better, we went to a small local bar and partied (some of us too much). Monica ended up teaching the guy at the table across from us salsa dancing. This guy is Owen from New Zealand who ended up being an excellent friend. Everyone kept partying strong until all of a sudden Michael and Monica had had a bit more than they could handle. Monique had to take Michael home and babysit him, while Owen walked Monica around the block until she couldn’t walk anymore.
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The gang at the bar
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Monique and Asia's best beer, Beer Lao
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Monica's salsa lessons
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Monique's load of mosquito bites, you may have to look closely to see the damage

The next day was slow moving for some, but we had agreed to go tubing with Owen so we were all eager to get started! Vang Vieng is famous for its tubing down the Mekong River. You rent a tube for the day, get driven to a drop of point and set sail. Within 20 meters is the first bar where a Laos man is throwing out a bamboo stick to catch you. This continues down the river for what seems an endless amount of time. Each bar has something different to offer, some have high swing, low swings, mud pits, volleyball, giant slides, and most important Free shots of whiskey!!! After tubing for a few hours and only suffering minor injuries, we decided we best get back before dark and before anyone got too drunk. We headed back and night fell quickly, getting out of the river is the most difficult part as the rapids get much faster near the end. As a group we stuck together (literally) and eventually made it out.
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Owen, Monique, Monica, Michael and are tubes
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Michael taking the first big plunge from the highest swing
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His painful landing
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Monique's big jump!
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Monica's drop off the slide
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Michael's happy dance
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Monique and Michael
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Monique in her tube, clearly the wrong way
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Michael...
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The Free whiskey!

The next day we were nursing our wounds and relaxing. We didn’t do too much besides some shopping. That night we hit up the infamous “Bucket Bar” where all alcohol is served in buckets, no cups allowed! You can imagine where the night went from there.
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As you can tell the night did go odd places...

After a previous relaxing day we decided to do another round of tubing. This time only some of the soldiers made it, others were nursing hangovers in bed. Owen, Monique, Michael and Rosie set off to tube the day away. This day went much like the other, free whiskey shots, crazy swings and lots of fun. The most mentionable performance goes to Michael for his attempt to surf down the giant concrete slide, which of course ended as a disaster which he has the permanent scars to prove it!
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Owen and Rosie in tube land
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Michael and Rosie

After suffering some serious injuries the previous day we really decided to take it easy and sun tanned by the river all day. We also decided it was time to move on to the next location before anyone else got more injuries.
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Our sun tanning location by the river
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The next day we headed to Luang Pubrang. We arrived it what turned out to be a mini French community. With majority of menus and signs in French, Monique felt great. At one of the many fine restaurants in LP we happened to meet up with a couple that we had traveled with in China. Lauren a Canadian and Stefano an Italian, who were on their honeymoon for the past 3 months. So after some dinner and drinks with them we decided to check out the waterfall together the next day.
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Monique's silhouette
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Michael trying to pick Monique up and be romantic, but ends up dunking her
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The Lagoon, these pictures do not do it justice
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Michael slurping on our Laos style BBQ , which was much like Korean

Having explored LP to its fullest and wanting to head on because of the expensive nature of the city, we decided to head to Hoay Xi. This turned out to be an 18 hour bus ride from hell. The roads were incredible narrow, dusty, bumpy and windy. It actually seemed like it was illegal for the bus drivers to pass another vehicle on a straight lane. They constantly choose to pass when it seemed to us as the absolute most dangerous time. Later we also found out that this stretch of highway is the most high jacked section in all of South East Asia. It is notorious for having bandits block the road with their guns and get on the bus and take foreigners’ money and belongings. Luckily this didn’t happen to us, however it would not have been a shock as we were driving down roads with absolutely no lights or signs of humanity around us.

We were happy to arrive in Houay Xi, however once unpacked we realized there was nothing to do in this little town. We were only here because it was the jumping point for the Gibbon Experience we had eagerly been waiting to participate in. So we spent our time here catching up on internet duties (like blog writing) and drinking beer from our hotel patio, which offered an incredible view of neighboring Thailand.

The next day we headed out on the infamous Gibbon Experience. We departed early in the morning and arrived after a couple hours of driving through the jungle. Once we were in the middle of the jungle we geared up to trek from there. We had been told that the leaches would be really bad. So we all had high socks on up to our knees and covered ourselves as best as possible to prevent the little buggers from attaching to us. We had also been warned about the trek, but I think it was still a pretty good shock to most of us out of shape folk. After only a few minutes of hiking in the jungle most of us were huffing and puffing and struggling to go on. The Laos guide who wasn’t even wearing shoes was jumping and skipping along like it was nothing. He quickly realized we all needed a break, so we took a rest on a bamboo bench and ate some sandwiches wrapped in banana leaves. It was a great opportunity to catch our breath but we weren’t even a ¼ of the way done.
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The dirt road
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Us in our leach proof suits, you unfortunately can't see our high socks
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The hike
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Lunch break on the bamboo bench

We continued the trek with a short stop at the main camp to suit up into our zip lining costumes. Then the Tree house 3 group (Us and our friend Owen, and two people from Denmark, Emilie and Martin). We continued the long hike but this time we got to do a few zip lines here and there to make the journey much faster and a lot more fun. The first zip line experience is truly unforgettable, you are zipping in the air at an incredible speed, and when you look down you cannot see anything but the tops of the trees. It makes you feel like you’re flying through the clouds.
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Monique and Michael
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Monique zipping

Shortly after we arrived at our Tree house and were delighted. There was a big bed for each of us, a kitchen and a toilet and shower. All this, in the heart of the jungle. The shower actually was only covered by 3 walls; the other side was opened into the jungle. You could actually take a shower while looking out into the mountains and watching the monkeys jumping around.
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Our treehouse
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The view
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The view

The first night we were left in our tree house to cook some dinner and relax. We ended up teaching the others how to play Euchre and had a ball. The only thing was by 8pm it is pitch black and with no electricity it makes it hard to do anything. So by 9:00pm we were all passed out from the long day.
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Martin cooking us dinner
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Dinner is served

The next morning came early at 5:00am. Our guide woke us up and we set out on another trek and zip lining adventure. We went all the way to tree house # 5 and had breakfast. On the way we went on the longest zip line in the jungle, it was 480m long. Once again and incredible experience. After breakfast we spend the day zipping through the forest like monkeys. Michael even convinced Monique to go two people at a time on the zip line. Monique was hesitant but once it was over she realized it was loads of fun.
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Monique convinced the others toast and sweet milk is delicious!!
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Monique and Michael's joint zip
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Michael in a tree house
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The stairs to the tree house

After the day of zipping we returned for dinner and cards again. But very tired we all passed out early. Morning came quickly again and our guide showed up to take us on a hike. However Monique and Michael decided against it as they knew it had poured rain all night long and the forest ground would be incredible muddy and slippery, they were also just lazy. But it was good because the others went out only to return 15 minutes later covered in leeches and exhausted from slipping and sliding everywhere. Shortly after their return we headed out into the slip and slide for a long journey home.
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Some cute village children
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Safety first in Laos!
It was a tiring experience but an incredible one all the same. Once home we relaxed and had some beer to celebrate. Here we planned our next exciting journey with the others. We decided to make a bit of a detour to avoid a 4 day bus ride. We headed to Chang Mai Thailand to spend a few days. Were yet another adventure awaited us!
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Getting in the boat to cross the border
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THAILAND!

Posted by koreaeh 22:33 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

China

semi-overcast 23 °C

Well at this point we are three months into our travels, but with a bit more of a relaxing schedule we are able to write a bit more often about our journeys. At this stage we are only a month behind (I know…. ), however this upcoming blog covers China, Macau and Hong Kong which is 4 weeks of travel.

We left off rolling into Beijing via the Trans-Siberian train, which was still thawing from the cold Mongolian temperatures, however once we stopped we were pleasantly surprised that we had now caught up to warmer weather.
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This is in the warehouse where they lift the train and put new wheels on it

Beijing was quite a surprise to us, because we had been there about three-quarters of a year ago, however in our absence they had completed most of the ongoing construction projects, hosted the Olympic Games, and as we arrived had just had their first space walk.

Most of the sights were both comforting and familiar as we got onto the ultra-modern, ultra-foreign friendly subway to our hostel. However once out on the streets, the flowers were beautiful, but the weight of our packs were killing us as we searched for our hostel. After many broken attempts at asking for directions we did arrive and immediately set out to book our outbound tickets. We loved Beijing, however because we had already seen most of it in the previous trip we decided to spend just a bit of time in the City. That and as we forgot to mention, our arrival coincided with China’s biggest annual holiday. In this week citizens are encouraged to travel the country during the week vacation, which for us meant we were competing for tickets on a very exhausted train network. So our diligence with looking into tickets paid off because it was only going to take FOUR DAYS to get on a train, when we originally planned to spend one or two days in Beijing. Luckily, or just because of the nature of the holiday, tickets are sold on a black market , which we ended up getting into, which allowed us to purchase a ticket to Shanghai the following day.
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The area our hostel was located

This was an expected blessing because it did give us time the next day to go around Beijing once again to see the changes that the Olympics brought to this developing city. We headed up to Olympic Park which was a stunning and massive section of land that was likely extorted from many people who lived in this north central part of downtown. Today you would find a three stop subway line, which first stops at the “Bird Nest” Stadium, and ends at a very large natural park with a lake surrounded by forest, gardens and walking paths. Between this two ends is a series of large walking paths that join them together by large walking paths, gardens, a river which features a water jet show and other equally impressive displays of architecture which housed other Olympic games inside. The colours from the park and the flowers and the buildings were truly on display to the world, and on the day we arrive, on display for Chinese citizens who had yet had the opportunity to see inside this park. Luckily for us we were able to gain a ticket into the park and see all of things we hadn’t seen in our previous journey to Beijing.
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Olympic Tower
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Swimming Stadium
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We were also able to get some new prospective that we hadn’t seen in China during the winter months. The first was the alternative to dippers that came as a bit of a shock to us. There was one occasion where we had noticed a child with a tear on the ass seam of his pants, but thought nothing of it. Until we saw it reoccur time and time again. It wasn’t until we saw the utility of this tear, till we could fully understand its purpose. You see, China’s method of combating the waste associated with disposable dippers is to not use them; but rather hold the child (in this case over a garbage can) by its legs in a squatting position with their back against the parent, so the child dispose of any waste.

That night we made our way to the train station and boarded a very chic and streamlined (inside at least) train that took us overnight to Shanghai the following morning. The following morning we found ourselves in Shanghai which was too a very easy city to navigate, and were able to find out hostel which was located near the recently renovated Peoples’ Square. After refreshing and eating we set out to see this impressive city that was built on trade and foreign commerce. We set out to The Bund, which is the waterfront of the inner canal where more of the classic and contemporary buildings can be seen. On the main side of the canal we spent time people watching and looking at some of the classical examples of European influenced buildings built as a result of historic trade. This was proceeded with a walk up Nanjiing Road were we inundated by the shopping, traveling Chinese citizens, and annoying Chinese street vendors who would constantly ask you if you wanted to purchase bags, watches and t-shirts off of a catalogue they carried around.
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The view of the Bund
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Bank ok China Building
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The shopping streets
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Peoples Square
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The following day we headed to see Peoples Square which was a delightful park in the center-north end of the core. Here we spent a great deal of time chatting with some locals about their culture, looking at the park and its surrounding museums and theaters. That night we followed a similar circuit because Michael wanted to practice some night photograph with a tripod that he’d been hauling around for ages for cities with impressive nightscapes.
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The next morning we decided to make our way back to the Bund and then over the Island. We headed down to the canal and on our way Michael wanted to look at a series of gardens that were featured just out of the main core. This turned out to be a delightful experience because we were able to get away from the crowds (except outside where there was a monumentally huge market) and see some truly beautiful displays of Chinese landscaping. IMG_6261.jpg
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Once outside we stopped at a café, however this was cut short due to a growingly annoying trend of Chinese people wanting to take photos of us. In many places people would be taking a photo, but when you walked past them, you would notice that they turned to keep you in view. This turned into people putting their children beside of us, and asking for a photo (which arguably was ok because they were at least asking), and then finally to us at this café where we could see a couple standing off in the distance looking for a photo, however Monique seeing them getting ready for this blocked her face with a sweater. Inherently this would send a clear message, however the couple just remained ready until the chance of a photo came up – which ended up lasting 7 minutes while we quickly drank our coffees and left.
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Nearing the late afternoon we decided (not thinking of the alternative subway) to take a tunnel to the other side of the channel, which consisted of a overpriced lame light show that dropped us off at the base of the infamous Pearl Tower. We spent some time here, and then walked around the high rise construction sites to get to the World Financial Centre, which in itself is a very impressive 500 meter (second tallest, next to Taipei 101, which we saw 10 months ago) office tower. During our tour night fell upon us, and once again was able to get some impressive nightscape photos.
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The following day we relaxed a bit and found our way into China’s first Sex Cultural Museum which was quite interesting. We had also later on spent some time in the hostel pub and ran into a German who had just completed his second bike tour; this one starting in Europe, crossing Russia, Mongolia, China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and then back to China.

The following day we finally got some tickets to Xian (now that the holiday was coming to an end), and set out on an overnight train that was a cheap and undesirable option; but the only thing we had open to us. The two most notable items were that Michaels’ feet hung off that middle bunk (of a 54 person cabin), which meant that every time someone would walk by they would get a pair of stinky feet in their face, and naturally he didn’t sleep. The second was the inordinate amount of garbage that the Chinese throw out over their countryside. The best example of this was once when Michael was returning from the hot water tank, he witnessed a old man hunched over his cup of noodles, and just as he finished it, he pitched the cup, water, left over noodles, chop sticks, season packages and wrapping out of the window overhead of him. An ugly side to the country.

Once in Xian we headed to the hostel which was a great change from the train. Its cost was less than two dollars, and it included a fabulous restaurant and a bar with live band and pool tables. Feeling a second wind after an exhausting night train we set out to the town with a new friend, Richard (from England).

In the center of town we say the Bell Tower and the other attractions, but then we took off outside of the ancient city walls to the Small Goose Pagoda where we spent some time in the park and climbing to the top of this marvel of engineering. From an amazing hologram video (sarcasm added) we learned that this pagoda sat in a natural crater in the Earth’s surface, thus protecting it from earthquakes over the ages. This then brought us all the way across town to the Big Goose Pagoda, just after sunset which was also amazing timing because we able to see the light show. After unsuccessfully trying to get onto the bus home, we jumped in a cab and spent the night eating at a very spicy local restaurant and drinking with follow travelers (including Lauren and Stefano).
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Bell Tower
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Small Goose
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The next day we were again up early and off to the Terra Cotta Warriors just outside of the city. Set next to the beautiful Mount Li, this is where Qui Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China basically replicated his army so that in the afterlife he would have a army to protect him from things he did during his lifetime. This of course is a big spot for tourist, which is obvious when you get there and see what has been uncovered. This is a magnificent discovery by a peasant farmer who dug a well and found what turned out to be thousands of warriors (whose faces are never repeated), horses and ancient weapons which even have indentations from actual warfare. The sight was truly amazing, and we spent right till dusk at this attraction.
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The remainder of our time in Xian we spent in the city looking at smaller sights and spending a lot of sociable time with fellow backpackers. The last day before our departure we got up onto of the ancient wall that is about 4km in parameter, and rented bikes and saw the city from up above. This also was the first time Rich had ever been on a bike so Monique Michael and two other travelers spent it enjoying the ability to teach someone how to ride a bicycle for the first time. That night we were off once again on a sleeper train to Guangzhou, a small city located in the south of China – the typical stepping off point for journeys into Hong Kong or Macau.
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Guangzhou was unexpectedly a really nice city, and up to this point one of the nicest we have seen. The city slogan was “Civilized Guangzhou”, which was spot on. The horns muted, the cars respected pedestrians, garbage put into cans, and the city was truly covered with flowers and classic architecture. This is in part with the fact that Macau and Hong Kong are in stone throwing distance, and Guangzhou was the first true gateway into China, where most Western Embassies were first located. We first booked an onward ticket to Macau and then we wanted to see the city in the short amount of time we allotted ourselves. This involved some negotiations with a neighbouring Marriott to honor membership we had back home to check our luggage while we toured for a five hours before our bus left.
The Island of Shaimen was truly stunning with a wide road with flowers and gardens in the middle and old French buildings and large trees lining the edges. Every inch of this island was manicured and it was really nice sitting down or walking along the boardwalk to view the clam pace of this island. Later we headed up to the main garden in the center of the city were there was a series of large ponds and unique gardens landscaped all around the edges.
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It soon grew dark and we needed to catch our evening bus to Macau which was still going to be about a three hour drive and then a further ordeal to cross the border. For us it was actually a lot easier than anticipated and we casually walked into Macau and headed towards the buses which would take us to the affordable end of town. We started off with the right bus, and even had a kind woman after helping us offer to stay at her house for the night. Opting out, we ended on the bus and missing our stop altogether. Luckily for us, Macau being as small as it is, we were able to loop back around and then while Monique waited in a hotel lobby, Michael we off to find something affordable to stay in for the night. After walking around in some questionable back roads Michael found a place that would fit the bill for the night and once unpacked, we did what everyone comes to Macau for – gambling. This was fun because Macau is truly Asia’s Las Vegas, however being on a backpackers budget, Michael and Monique lost all of their gambling funds within 10 minutes. After this we spent some time in the bar and enjoyed some of the Casinos’ entertainment.
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The following day we woke up early given we only had a single day here, and headed south to the Island of Macau. After a cramped bus ride and passing through the large Casinos being built, we arrived in the original colonial region of the Portuguese, fittingly called Coloane. This town was home to Portuguese churches, homes and eateries, specifically the egg tarts from Lord Stow.

We toured this town and then headed back up to the peninsula where we walked the main streets of Macau. This is comprised of the main square where merchants and storefronts line the pedestrian street, which eventually leads uphill to a mountain, where the remains of the first Church stands (despite being burned down), and at the top lies the old fortress of Macau. After this we headed back to the hotel and picked up our packs, and then headed by bus to the harbor to catch a ferry to Hong Kong.
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Arriving in Hong Kong was especially nice by boat, because it allowed us to appreciate this truly amazing former Empires’ port city. We arrive and were very close to our hostel, which was situated in the very overdrawn Nathan Road. That night was the first time we were surrounded by camera shops so Michael decided to take a look and compare his camera lens to see if it were broken. Sure enough it was and the only person in this stretch who was able to fix it in time was a annoying, pushy and genially untrustworthy salesman. However left with little option before we set off into South Asia, Michael decided to pay to have it looked at.

The following day we set out to Victoria Mountain to see the whole city from up above. Hong Kong being as mountainous as it is was a fair hike for us, but we made our way leisurely up through the Botanical Gardens and then finally to the Cable Car which took us sharply up the mountain. At the top of one of the highest peaks in Hong Kong, we were able to see the whole main channel and the development on both the mainland side and stunning office structures built on the island. The panoramic photos are a bit limited, given the camera situation, but we did try.
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Later that day we headed back to the camera shop, and our dear friend the salesman gave Michael a crazy price to repair the lens. So opting to get more information he started wandering around town to look for options. Oddly enough he found a shop that would repair it, but needed to see the lens. And when he went back to get it, they told him some story about it not being ready till later. After waiting sometime, he went back to only find that the repair shop had his lens, and told him the price they were repairing it for. In the end, knowing the actual cost of the repair, and the fact that the work had already been done before he gave the go-ahead paid off, and Michael was able to repair the lens for a fair price and within the short time we had.

This however didn’t pay off for Monique, because while looking around she had become increasing interested in the cheaper electronics, especially a computer that we had seen many travelers carrying around with them. That night then we headed to the main computer market, and priced it out. However by the time we had confirmed what we wanted, each shop we went back to, had just sold out. In the end after a night of frustration and not finding it, we decided to go to another market the following day. This was located on Hong Kong Island, and coincidental was on the same day that the Somali communities in Hong Kong convene to have festivals in the park. In the end we spent a nice day in the park, and Monique was able to purchase a brand new computer. The one we type these new blogs on today! The remainder of our time in Hong Kong was spent sightseeing the amazingly multi-national city of Hong Kong, shopping and dining, doing administrative things that we needed to catch up on, and of course retrieving a repaired lens. The lack of photos is evident, but we will be sure to return in the future.
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Posted by koreaeh 23:21 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Mongolia

Our journey through the desert!

sunny 2 °C

After waiting patiently in Irkutsk for the train we were finally on the train and on our way to leaving Russia. Our bunk mates were a grandmother and her granddaughter. They were very nice but did not speak any English. The little girl took a liking to Michael and wanted to play “pony” with him all the time. That night we left to give them some alone time while she was being put to bed. We ended up meeting an Aussie and New Zealander and to have a few drinks with.
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Our backpacker friends.

After drinking and telling them our “Russia” story, they got us a little scared. We didn’t know that for every 3 days you are in Russia you need to register your visa. We had been there much longer and only registered once. So now Monique was freaking out that they were going to be screwed or detained again. The Aussie and New Zealander had over 6 registration papers just for the days they had been there. They also made us realize we were completely screwed for the train ride because we had not packed any provisions. So now we had no registration papers, no food, and what felt like no hope.

Feeling the way we did, we decided to go to bed and sleep on it. Michael was woken up with a pony walking all over his face. His new found friend was up bright and early and ready to play. Monique luckily had the top bunk and got a few more moments of sleep. Once awake, we sat in the room with nothing to do; we pondered how and where we could buy food. The grandmother kept looking at us worriedly. She then got up and got us cups and tea. We were so new to the train we didn’t even know we could have free tea. Things were looking up! As Michael continued to play pony, the grandmother left us to do some free babysitting, BUT it paid off because when she came back she took out the longest Russian sausage you have ever seen and literally a whole salmon. She busted out a knife out of nowhere and went to chopping. We sat and ate delicious meat and salmon on fresh buns. She gave us so much food we could barely move… then she gave us chocolate for dessert.

After the delicious lunch we realized our bunkmates were leaving us shortly, which was sad, but great when we realized we now had a 4 person berth to ourselves. We eventually arrived at the Russian border; this can only be described as painful and nerve-wracking. It was 11 hours, with no toilet, (we had to pay to pee in the hole in the ground) and waiting for immigration. When immigration finally came we waited in anticipation. The guards stood in our doorway looking at our “work visa extensions” discussing back and forth. Monique sat worrying about the stupid registration cards they didn’t have. The woman looked at the registration cards and threw it back at us saying No. It turns out she didn’t care at all about registration and even told the Aussi/New Zealander it was not necessary. After she discussed and looked at the passports for a while she said “Okay”. It was a word Monique was not soon to forget. It was freedom!

After knowing we were going to get through we now had time to kill while immigration sorted things out with everyone else on the train. We all (our whole train was foreigners, Swedish, Italian, Australian etc.) headed to the market which was dirty and sketchy. We notice a little further down the road a building, which happened to be a wedding reception hall. They had it all decorated, but it was also a restaurant. So having nothing to eat, we took the opportunity to eat some food. The Swedish girls had a “point and pick” picture menu book. We pointed at potatoes, salad and meat and that is exactly what we got. It was good enough. We bought some beer and water and got back on the train.

The train began to finally move, but not far before the drug search team and dog came on. For some reason they didn’t search the Swedes or the Aussies, but focused all their attention on us and the Italians. I guess we looked suspicious. Finally passing the drug test, we were allowed of the train. It was dark and sketchy area again. Monique being too scared stayed on the train, but Michael knew this would be our last opportunity to buy food. He set out and found a shop. Michael returned injured from falling in the store, BUT he did have bread, ramen, and vodka! Great success!

That night we ate our bread and drank our faces off in celebration of being out of Russia. The next morning came quickly as Michael didn’t arrive to bed until a few hours before we were getting off the train. We were picked up at the train station by our hostel and all they could comment on was Michael’s fragrant smell of vodka.
At the hostel we arrived to a very warm welcome. The owner Ogie who had been contacted by Michael’s family and the Canadian Embassy regarding our whereabouts was happy to know we were safe and sound. They provided us with free breakfast and as we sat Michael told everyone our story of Russia. There happened to be a Swedish couple there who had just been on the train and witnessed a Belgian girl being ripped of the train by the Russian police and thrown in jail for our exact same problem. This just made us even more grateful for getting out okay and being out of Russian in general.

We agreed to now go on a 4 day trip into the desert seeing as we didn’t make it on time to go on our 8 day trip. We met our new fellow desert trip friends. Mark and Catherine a married couple from Ireland and England respectively and once again two more Swedish girls, Mona and Leia. (We met a lot of Swedish people during this trip). We picked where we wanted to go, and figured out our plans.
After organizing we spent the day sightseeing Ulaanbaatar. You can easily walk to almost anywhere in the city and that is pretty much what we did. We started our journey at the Gandan Monastery the biggest Buddhist temple in Mongolia. We got to see some Monks and nomads doing their thing near the temple. It was quite nice, but much like all the other temples we have seen. Then we headed over to the famous Sukhbaatar square. The square is named after the country’s historic hero who has been said to save them. We saw the parliament building, the stock exchange and the cultural palace here.
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Monique happy to be in Mongolia, one of the first of her smiles after Russia
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The view of the Buddhist temple, ancient Mongolia
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The view of the modernized Mongolia
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Girls’ night out
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Entrance to the Monastery
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Cute little guys
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For some reason everyone but us wanted to feed and touch the pigeons
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Big Buddha
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Monique spinning the barrels for enlightenment
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Dragon
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The Monks University
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Mongolia is slowly being built up
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Sukhbaatar square
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Mongolia’s hero

There wasn’t much else to see in the capital so we called it an early night and got ready for out big trip out. In the morning we met our tour guide Bigbat and our driver Bira. The first thing the driver said to Michael was “wife change please”. Bira was a funny man who entertained us the whole journey. We could not have asked for a better guide or driver. Bira’s famous line throughout the journey was “Just a moment” as his English was not the best; he always had to consult the guide when he wanted to tell us something.
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Our wheels

And so our desert journey began. The first day we drove for quite a while. For lunch we stopped at a restaurant in the middle of the desert and this was the last time we were going to see civilization for a while. Although even the restaurants toilet was only a hole in the ground, so take it for what it is worth. We eventually arrived at our Ger (also known as a Yurt to the Russians). It was a 6 bed Ger that was nice and cozy. We picked our spots then headed out to explore the desert. We ended up arriving early enough to start our camel ride through the Semi Gobi desert. We rode for about 2 hours, it was interesting, and slow, but well worth it. The camels were just chill animals, none of them even spit on us, which was a little disappointing. When we returned, very cold and covered in sand from the sand dunes our dinner had been prepared for us. So we got a fire started in the Ger, poured some drinks and ate a great meal cooked by our guide. We spent the night telling stories but more discussing how damn cold it was and who was going to be in charge of waking up to put more camel poo on the fire when it went out.

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Our housemates and the toilet in the background
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Michael and I with the camels
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Camels
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Desert
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Sand dunes
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Our group
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Monique and her camel
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Mongolian Cowboy
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Our driver ( drinking with us)
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Our Swedish friends

As day 2 quickly rolled around we woke up to a nice cool morning. We ate a delicious breakfast and were on our way. We made a stop near a quiet river with wild horses all around for lunch. We did a short hike and saw a waterfall and decided to take some photos. After some more driving we arrive at our second nights Ger. This Ger belonged to a big family with many children (the first nights Ger belonged to one old woman). There were little girls running around everywhere checking us out and seeing what we were about. After some playing with the children we were invited in to the hosts’ Ger. She kindly offered us some traditional Mongolia treats. She prepared Milk tea for all of us. It was not our favourite but we all managed to force it down. Then the next interesting treat came along, it was dried and curdled milk in small little pieces. They ate this as candy. Monique is willing to admit that she didn’t even bother trying it; she pretended to eat it then slipped it in her jacket pocket for later. However the most interesting treat of all was the fermented horse milk that we were served. The milk is what the nomads drink to have a good time. It has supposedly quite a high percentage. The only people who tried it were Monique, Catherine, Mona, and Leia. The boys decided to pass on the alcohol. Monique claimed it wasn’t that bad, but she also didn’t ask for seconds. Then we went on a 2 hour horseback riding adventure, it was very beautiful scenery, but Monique’s horse kept on going crazy, so Michael had to lead it the whole way while also steering his horse. After 2 hours Monique was more than ready to get off, she admits she is not made for horse riding, her back; butt and bladder don’t like the constant galloping.

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Wild horses
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The river
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Our horses
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The cute children of the village
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Michael and Monique
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The road ahead
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That night we had another great meal; it was homemade bread (kind of like a pita) with interesting flavorings, and dumplings with Yak meat, and a hearty soup with goat meat. The meat in general was always interesting; it was either goat or mutton, very fatty and not very tender. Nonetheless most of us tried everything. Yak is tasty in Monique’s opinion. During the evening, we had some drinks, talked, and told some stories about our home countries. At this Ger we were supplied with a lot of fire wood so our Ger was HOT, very hot. This night we had nothing to complain when it came to the cold. We ended up talking and telling stupid riddles all night… here is one of them if anyone wants to try it “A man walks into a bar and asks for a glass of water. The bartender puts a gun to his head. The man says thank you and leaves the bar… what happened?”

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You can see the bread on the table from here
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Our group including our guide and driver
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Yak dumplings

On day 3 the others went horseback riding, Michael and Monique stayed in because he wasn’t feeling too well and her ass was still sore from the previous day. Then they headed out again and stopped at a beautiful river for lunch and a stroll. Then we visited a small village and got to go to a market. The market was a little sketchy to be honest. However it was where we were buying that nights meat so we had to suck it up. The market not only had meat for sale it also offered entertainment, in the middle of the market were random pool tables with a ton of locals getting rowdy, it was quite an interesting site to see. Another interesting find at this market was a tape that Mark and Catherine bought, we were all tired of listening to the same music so they took the initiative to buy a 2008 Hits tape. It was hilarious, but after listening to it 3 times, we decided it was best to switch back to the same 4 Mongolian songs.
After the market we made our way to the next Ger.

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They said if you walk around this you will get your wish
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The market
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The village school
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Michael and our crazy driver
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Local children fascinated by Michael’s camera
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Our group
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Our Ger at night with the stars

It was late so we had dinner right away and then the party finally began. This night we were going to watch a traditional Mongolian show. This included a nomad in his 60’s or so performing throat singing with different traditional instruments. He was quite talented; he showed us how to sing from not only his throat but nose, lungs, stomach etc. He also could play many different types of instruments. Along with the music performance two young girls (8 or 9 years old) came and did a contortionist act for us. It was truly incredible and they did such a good job. They also came back and did a traditional Mongolian ritual dance for us. It was a great performance in the end.

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The traditional folk singer
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The contortionists
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The performers

To continue the night, Bigbat taught us how to play a few different games with Sheep’s ankle bones. It was quite an interesting game and we all got quite rowdy. A guy from a different Ger came into join us; he was from Brazil and knew this game already so he ended up winning every game. Eventually we called it a night when we ran out of booze.
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Bigbat teaching us how to play
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Fixing Michael’s bed

The next morning we got up slowly and got ready for a long ride home to Ulaanbaatar. We stopped at a temple on the way home and saw some interesting things. Then we managed to make the ride go a little quicker by teaching everyone how to play the card game “asshole”. Eventually we arrived back we were able to have a much needed shower. We got some provisions for the upcoming train ride and then played some more cards. This is when we realized Marc and Catherine were going to be our bunkmates on the train. This was great news as the Swedes had some Mongolian gentlemen who kind of thought Mona was crazy. The train had left early in the morning, we spent the day napping and talking. In the evening we taught Marc and Catherine how to play Euchre, it made the time fly by and before we knew it we were in the enchanted land that is China!
Hopefully the next blog won’t take as long to post; China was a great journey we can’t wait to share with you.

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The winding road home
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Lunch stop
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There is a Buddhist inscription on this rock
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The bowl in this picture is made out of an 18 year old's skull
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Posted by koreaeh 20:17 Archived in Mongolia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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