Friday, January 29, 2010

Ubud, Bali: Livin the Island Life

Wow, Bali is amazing. It’s kind of hard to explain, but somewhere between the laidback island feel, the beautiful scenery, the traditional dress and customs everywhere, and the friendliness of the people, it’s really hard not to love. Bali has a lot of places to go for being a relatively small island. The main attraction is Kuta beach, which has great surfing and white sand beaches and also now has a plethora of bars, malls and stores as well as sun burnt tourists. Another popular place to visit on the island is called Ubud, and is more of a cultural center with a lot of Hindu temples and kind of a small town feel, although it’s also clearly been changed by tourism. Tara and I decided we’d skip the beach scene and spend our time in Ubud, which is up in the hills near the center of the island, about an hour drive from Denpasar and Kuta. I was so excited to see her walk out of the airport and catch up, that we talked for an hour standing in the receiving area and barely noticed that the guy picking us up from the hotel was very late. When I was booking hotels for this part of the trip, I was looking for budget places, and we were expecting to be in kind of a dirty, slightly uncomfortable place, so the brand new, leather seated car that picked us up was a bit confusing. When we pulled up at the hotel itself (called Taman Harum) we were sure that there had been some mistake. The outside was beautiful traditional stonework and carving. We were led through a pathway lined with hibiscus flowers and overflowing greenery, passing a beautiful infinity pool that overlooked rice paddies, to a covered check in area where they fed us tropical juice. After we checked in, we were led further down the pathway, past little cottages, to a slightly larger building, where up the stairs we were faced with a huge, intricately carved and painted, Balinese style wooden door. Our room was huge, with two twin beds, air conditioning, free bottles of water, and a large bathroom with a western style toilet and hot shower. It also included a nice American breakfast of eggs, ham, toast, fruit, and coffee every morning and free rides into Ubud (about 10 mintues away) whenever we wanted. We really hit the jackpot. This place was 40 US dollars per night.

We decided we didn’t want to waste any time, so after checking in we asked to be taken into Ubud to grab dinner and see a dance show. We had a nice meal at a place near Ubud Palace, which is where the dance was to be performed, that included the famous “Gado-gado,” a vegetable dish with peanut sauce and rice. Bali has a lot of traditional dance forms, and the one we saw was called “Legong.” It was very interesting and completely different from anything either of us had seen before. The music accompanying it is kind of a repetitive, metallic/xylophone pattern, with a quiet flute melody. The dancing is very other worldly, with quick, flipping of the hands, shimmying of the shoulders, and shuffling of the feet. One of the things that stands out the most is the facial expressions and eye movements of the dancers. The female dancers keep their eyes very wide open, and quickly switch the direction they’re looking along with the beat of the music (picture one of those cat clocks where the tail and the eyes tick back and forth). The best description we could come up with for the facial expression that they very impressively held for the whole dance was kind of a gangster “She said WHATTTT?!” face. They wore beautiful traditional costumes and hats. We didn’t really get the story, but it seemed to go something like this: A beautiful princess dances with her two attendants. A large dragon dog comes out and plays with some monkeys and a banana. Four large kings come out and look very concerned and dance around with each other. Then, four comical men come out and have some sort of dialog, after which the princess appears again with many more attendants. Later there are two larger kings who come out and argue about who gets to have the princess. She dances some more after they leave, and then the dog comes back out, along with the comical men and they all dance together. Clearly I missed the point, but it was very nice to watch anyway.

The next morning, we got up and went into Ubud to walk around and have lunch. It’s very pretty, with Hindu temples on almost every block, and little artsy stores lining narrow roads that wind up towards the center of the town. The people are very friendly and relaxed, mostly wearing traditional style clothes like sarongs, and head scarves. We were surprised to find that almost everyone we met spoke English very well. Apparently they start learning it in elementary school, and continue up through secondary school and some in university. People walk up and down the streets, carrying their loads on their heads, cushioned by their headscarves and sometimes small towels. Along every sidewalk and ledge there are little offerings that they put out periodically throughout the day with fruit, flowers, incense, and little grass woven holders. We shopped for a while and had a nice lunch, brownie, and “detox” smoothie, and then headed back to the hotel. As soon as we got back, it promptly started torrential down pouring - flooding the walkways with huge fat raindrops that would soak you immediately if you stood outside. We decided to stay in that night, have dinner at our hotel, and go for a warm swim when the rain stopped.

The next morning, we woke up early and hired a local guide to take us on an advertised “Nature Walk.” He took us first on about a two hour walk through nearby rice paddies. Although it was a bit muddy, and the “path” often involved scooting over tiny bridges and jumping over ditches, it was cool because our guide had grown up in the area and his father was still a farmer there. He pointed out birds and snakes to us, and explained just about every plant we passed, telling us to smell their leaves and saying what they were used for in medicine, food, or tradition. It was beautiful and green, and we could see Bali’s big volcano in the distance. It was also extremely hot, and we were relieved to come to the end of the walk at his father’s hut with fresh coconuts to drink. After that he took us to see a pretty black sand beach, a waterfall, and a few little local craftsman stores selling batik, silver, and paintings. He was a very interesting character – extremely forward - and had apparently met Obama when he came to Indonesia. By the end we were pretty worn out, so we went back to shower and eat lunch. We had made friends with one of the drivers at our hotel named Balik, who had offered to take us to see Kuta for a cheaper price than the hotel charged, so we agreed to go with him around 5, and decided to make a last run to Ubud to get some souvenirs. As soon as we got into town, it started down pouring again turning the streets into rivers. Although we bought an umbrella, by the time we got picked up we were pretty drenched. Despite that, we got back and quickly got ready to go check out Kuta. Balik was a very interesting person. He has a car and two motorcycles and lives nearby with his parents. He said he went to university to study Tourism, and has been to Japan to visit his sister, who married a Japanese man and now does Indonesian dance in Tokyo. He drove us down to Kuta, proudly playing his top 40 hits American music CD and teaching us some Balinese words. When we got there, he took us to a mall that faces the ocean, where we were able to catch the last part of the sunset. He ended up hanging out with us there, and going to dinner with us at an Indonesian food place in the mall. We walked around and shopped a little afterwards, and then he drove us back. We paid him for the rides even though he insisted that we shouldn’t, but we figured we got a good deal – a cheap door to door ride, nice dinner, and new friend. He told us next time we come to Bali he’ll show us all the amazing things we missed this time. Kuta was nice, and we’re glad we saw it, but also glad we didn’t stay there. It almost felt like it could be in Florida.

This morning we sadly packed up after our delicious breakfast and left our paradise, promising them all we’d be back someday. Luckily our flight did not fall out of the sky, and we got into Yogyakarta around noon. It’s very hot here and the vibe is definitely different from Bali, so it’ll be exciting to see other ways in which it is different. Our hotel is called Setia Kawan, and we decided to upgrade from 15$ per night to 25 so we can have hot water showers and AC. Tough life . Anyway, now that we’re all cooled off, we should probably go explore the city. Talk soon!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lion City

(this picture was in a cab we took in singapore. luckily I had left my Durian at home so it wasn't a problem) (for those of you who don't know, Durian is a large, spikey, extremly smelly fruit)

This morning I said goodbye to my Mom at 3 am when she left for the airport to fly home, and then a few hours later I got on a plane to Denpasar airport in Bali, Indonesia. The airport is a little old, but I was happy to find that it was air conditioned. After going through customs, however, I was immediately ejected, first into a huge line of money changers waving and yelling at me, and then straight outside where I was bombarded by taxi drivers. This posed a bit of a problem since I’m waiting here for 4 hours for Tara’s plane to come in, so I awkwardly pushed through them and darted towards a little café that I saw a few yards away. Seeing that most of the customers were airport workers and locals, I tried to quietly buy a bottle of water, ended up knocking over a chair with my backpack and scaring the crap out of everyone else, and then finally sitting down a bit flustered. So here I am, slightly roasting outside, but happily hydrated at least, and ready to tell you about Singapore.

I have to start out by saying, that if you are afraid of traveling in Asia and want the most cushioned, Western introduction possible, Singapore is your place. Not only are the bathrooms mostly western style and generally clean, pretty much everyone speaks English, and most shocking of all: the tap water is drinkable! The name Singapore comes from a story of a Sumatran king who came to the island and saw a Lion. SInga means Lion, so he named it Lion city -> Singapura and thus now we have Singapore. Although it was involved in some China and India trade through the centuries, it was mostly a smallish fishing village until Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived in 1819 and decided it would be a great coastal city to help British trade in SE Asia. The British planned out the Island and developed it, and many people moved in from Southern China. After WWII, it was part of the Malay Federation, until it was kicked out in 1965. At this point, most people thought there was no way the little island city could make it as its own country, but a Chinese guy named Lee Kuan Yew, leader of the socialist People’s Action Party, took over and set strict regulations on social behavior and started an intense industrialization plan. He’s why Singapore is known for having tons of ridiculous rules and fines for things like chewing gum, spitting, smoking, drugs (for smaller offenses you get flogged), etc. On the upside, the government has done a lot of things like building tons of condos and subsidizing them such that pretty much everyone owns their own property. It is very rare to see an extremely poor person in Singapore. There aren’t really people selling cheapy trinkets or fruit on the street (except for in little shops), and you don’t see beggars, and unlike China, it’s not because they bus them out to the countryside periodically to clean up. Anyway, now Lee Kuan Yew’s son is in charge, and he’s apparently much more tolerant and a little less strict with his policies. The population is mostly Chinese (~75%) and the rest are mostly Malay or Indian. The country has four national languages, one of which is English, and children are encouraged to maintain the language and culture of their family, as well as learn English from an early age and take university classes in English. When you’re walking around you hear a lot of different languages and dialects, but pretty much anyone you stop on the street will be able to speak to you in accented, but fluent English.

Singapore is basically a huge city on a little island, with a little sub island that has casinos and beaches on it for the tourists, and a bit of fringe forest and less populated area. We stayed in a hotel right in the heart of the city. It’s a great walking city, with huge clean sidewalks, orderly street crossing (gasp, in Asia??), and lots of greenery. Also, there are still a lot of colonial style old buildings mixed in with the modern skyscrapers. We arrived in the morning, so after hitting up an AMAZING Indian lunch buffet we walked around the old colonial parts of town. We ended up walking into the Asian Civilizations Museum, which was really interesting and in depth. It covered SE Asian artifacts, culture and history in detail, along with China and West Asia. It has so many floors and displays that we only ended up scratching the surface before we got tired and decided to head out early. After that we walked a bit more, but it was so hot that we decided to head over to the famous Raffles Hotel for their signature drink the “Singapore Sling.” They have a lot of places to eat and drink there, but the famous one is called the Long Bar, which is kind of an old fashioned setting, where you crack peanuts and throw their shells on the ground as you enjoy your drinks. We had eaten so much for lunch at the buffet, and then so many peanuts that we decided to skip dinner and take a swim instead that night. The air is so thick and hot and humid that constantly being close to air conditioning or a pool is important.

When my mom graduated from college, she came straight out to Singapore to live for two years, study Chinese and teach English. The school where she taught was called Nanyang University, and has since been almost completely reconstructed and renamed Nanyang Technical University. It’s a little ways outside the city, and the next morning we hired a cab to take us there and drive around a bit. My mom didn’t really recognize much except the old administration building, but she found the hill where her old apartment had been. Coincidentally, in its place is now a massive Computer Engineering building. After that, we headed over to the zoo, which sounds hokey, but it was actually really cool. It uses this new “open concept” layout, where basically it mostly feels like you’re walking on a pathway through the jungle, and you look over the railings and see the animals. They are actually enclosed in their areas somehow, but the settings are very natural and large. The most impressive display is that of the Orang-tans, which is a system of trees, ropes, and ledges where they can freely swing and wander over the heads of the people watching them. The zoo also has public feeding times for each of the animals, where they either bring the animals close to the windows or fences to feed them, or actually allow people to pay and feed them themselves. Obviously that doesn’t work for animals with sharp teeth, but for white rhinos and the Orang-utans its fine. The sign there said that the local people had originally thought the Orang-utans were another tribe of people in the jungle, so the name literally means “Man of the Jungle.” It must have been surprising to try to trade or communicate with them and figure out they were much smaller, hairier, and oranger than expected.

That night we went to this newish, classy bar and restaurant scene called Clark Quay for dinner. The river that runs through the city used to be filled with little boats and waste and was extremely dirty, but also part of the sea trade personality of the city. In the late 70s, they decided to start a ten year clean-up program and have the river be clean enough to swim in by the end of the time. They cleared out all the boats and waste from the river, and lined it with walls, walkways, and a food and nightlife area. I guess people were pretty upset, but it is really nice now (for tourists at least). The future plan is to turn it into a fresh water supply that will make it so Singapore is no longer dependent on Malaysia for their water.
The next day we walked along Orchard Road, which is the main shopping street in the city. It’s mostly designer now, with huge malls and Gucci, Prada, D&G etc. I swear each mall has the same stores, and none of them are really even worth going into. As you get down the street, it gets a little more reasonable with stores like Aldo and Banana Republic, and then way down it turns into cheap souvenir shops (more my budget). For lunch we went to Din Tai Feng, which is an amazing Taiwanese soup dumpling restaurant (they actually have one in LA), and for dinner we went to this cool little complex called “Chijmes” that looks like it used to be some sort of Church with a school or something attached. It’s all nice restaurants now though.

So that was Singapore. There’s also a Chinatown and Little India that are recommended that I didn’t check out. On the plane ride here I was reading my Southeast Asia on a Shoestring book and it kept talking about how there’s bird flu in Indonesia and how recently the local airlines have had planes falling out of the sky, so I’m feeling a little nervous about this, but I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I’m very excited for Tara to get here, mostly to see her, but also because there’s sweat dripping down my back and I’m kind of missing that nice cool hotel in Singapore. We’re getting picked up by someone from our hotel, which is called Taman Harum and is in Ubud, up in the hills of Bali. Ubud is known for being kind of a cultural center of Bali, which is the only Hindu island left in Indonesia (the rest are Muslim). Kuta beach is where most tourists come for clubs and surfing, and I didn’t really plan that into the schedule at all, but now I’m kind of wishing there was time to check it out and see what all the hype is about. Maybe in the next few days we’ll find time. Well, I guess I’m kind of rambling now to avoid the stares I’m getting for furiously typing on a tiny computer, but maybe a better answer is to put it away.

As always, I love to get comments and email updates! Talk soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Goodbye Bangkok, Hello Singapore!

Well, we’ve just said goodbye (or Sawasdee rather...) to Thailand and are on our way to Singapore. It’s much further than I thought – about a 2 hour flight, but it gives me a good break to write about the past few days we spent in Bangkok. Honestly, my opinion of Bangkok is not very high, which may be because I was pretty tired from the trekking days in Chiang Mai, or because it was generally overcast (or smoggy...) the whole time, but we did do some interesting things. Luckily our hotel (called Tenface Hotel) was great, had amazingly soft beds in modern suite style rooms and, best of all, delicious breakfasts which included dim sum every morning.

The train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was comfortable as far as trains go – there were two levels of beds that folded out from the chairs. Unfortunately, although they require that everyone be quiet at 10 pm, they leave the lights on all night, so being in the top bunk was kind of like sleeping in a dentist chair with the lights blaring in your face. I guess it’s okay though, because we saw some little cockroaches and Tony told us that if we killed them, all their friends would come looking for them and we would be swarmed. Luckily they don’t like the light very much, so they mostly stayed away and we didn’t have to kill any. Tony kept us company most of the afternoon, explaining some Thai customs, telling us about his fiancé named Golf, and telling us our horoscopes based on our days and years of birth. He told me it is best if I marry a man born on a Sunday, and that the small Thai Buddha that I bought is actually my Buddha (because its pose signifies that it’s a Thursday Buddha) and it will be good luck. Who knew. He also told us some funny translation stories, about Thai names that don’t translate well to English. He said that the word “Fuk” means “pumpkin”, and that “uman” (pronounced “You Man”) means something like “strong man” (you can probably see where this is going).. anyway he has a friend named “Fuk Uman” who will most likely have to change his name if he ever chooses to move to an English speaking country. Also, the word “porn” means wishes, so many people have names with “porn” in them, like … “Siriporn” which means “good wishes,” and also “Tittiporn” which means “fulfilled wishes.” He said that some English names sound really funny in Thai… but he wouldn’t tell us which ones so we suspected that maybe someone in our group has one of them.

Everyone in our group got off at the train station before ours, so we had to say goodbye sleepily at around 6:30 am when we arrived in Bangkok. It was definitely fun traveling in a group. Hopefully we’ll keep in touch.

After that, we went to our hotel, and sat in the café until we were allowed to check in and pass out in the huge bed. Needless to say, we didn’t do much that day. That night, we met up with a friend named Siriporn, who was introduced to us by the Welkes when she worked for Microsoft in Redmond. She has since moved back to Bangkok, and now works as a Microsoft evangelist there. She took us to a wonderful Thai seafood dinner on the river and told us all about her encounters with the princess.

It’s so cute how much the Thai people love their royal family. The king’s pictures are seriously EVERYWHERE. As you drive down most major streets you’re bombarded with pictures of him doing various things – standing in his royal garb, talking to little school children, visiting remote villages. His wife is in most of them as well. We learned that he has four children, three daughters and one son. The first daughter married an American and renounced her royalness. She has since divorced, so instead of being addressed as “Her Royal Highness” she is just “princess.” The second child is the son, who is the Crown Prince and is set to take over the throne from his father (who is now 82 and has been in the hospital for 3 months). The third is the princess that most people seem to love the most. She’s remained single, but has followed in her father’s footsteps, taking great concern for the Thai people, traveling to remote areas to hear their requests, etc. We didn’t hear much about the fourth daughter, but I think she’s married in Thailand and kind of lays low. Anyway, they’re the local celebrities, and saying anything negative about the king is punishable by law. My guidebook says that someone once referred to him as the “skipper” and was arrested because people weren’t sure what it meant. Also, since his picture is printed on every bill and imprinted on every coin, it is illegal to step on money. So I guess I’ve strayed a bit from dinner… but the point is that it was great food and company.

(a sticker in one of our taxis)

We’re landing in Singapore now, so I’ll have to write the rest of this later. Also there’s a man hacking out his lungs three seats away that’s making everyone nervous. Poor guy. Everyone’s holding napkins to their faces and glaring at him. Hopefully we don’t all get the swine.

.. Okay, where was I... oh yes, Bangkok. So the city itself is very depressing from what I could tell. There is no city planning or zoning work to speak of, so it’s kind of just a jumbled mass of grey concrete, some of which is tall office buildings, and some of which is probably the gloomiest slum-like apartments I’ve ever seen. There is very little greenery, and there also seem to be very few sidewalks, and thus not many pedestrians. It’s PACKED with cars though, and during rush hour it’s literally at a standstill. The one upside is that many of the taxis are hot pink. So there you have it.

While in Bangkok, we heard the major must-see site is the Grand Palace, so we checked that out on the second morning. It is, indeed, very impressive. Although it’s made up of a lot of beautiful things that are tightly packed together and pretty confusing to navigate through, each building is a masterpiece. Especially the temple area that houses the “Emerald Buddha” (remember Tony told us the lightning story earlier?) has amazing detail. All the buildings are either completely covered with gold encasing, or completely covered with the most intricate mosaic designs and patterns. The Emerald Buddha himself has three different gold outfits to go with the changing weather (rainy seasons, summer, winter) that they swap out ceremonially three times a year. The rest of the grand palace area has an interesting mix of European and Thai style buildings, including living areas, throne rooms, and weapon displays. There is also a Haagen Dasz that serves amazing caramel brownie ice cream - definitely an important part of the experience.

Later that day we checked out the big famous shopping area called MBK. It’s basically six floors packed with knockoff stuff. The tech area was actually pretty crazy. They have iPhones and every camera you can think of. It’s strange because it’s a lot like the silk road shopping area in Beijing, but the stuff seems like much better quality. It’s also much more expensive. I figure if you’re going to buy knockoff stuff, it might as well be cheap right? I’ll wait for China.

The next morning we went to the famous “Floating Market” which is about an hour and a half outside Bangkok. I think at one point, it was a local market where people went to buy their veggies and other goods for daily life from merchants who fill little boats with things to sell and float around. Now the experience goes something like this: pay a guy to take you out in his little narrow boat -> get stuck in something that resembles Bangkok car traffic, but is on the water and involves boat exhaust spewing at you from odd angles -> get pulled from every direction by boat merchants selling the exact same souvenirs as each other and as every other land market merchant -> get back to the dock and have them attempt to sell you an awkward picture of you printed on a bowl. I guess after the Cambodia floating village, it just seems insincere and overly populated with tourists. Honestly, it’s not horrible, but you should only go if you really want to buy souvenirs and fruit and are sick of the normal market scene.

That night we went to a dinner and traditional Thai dancing show. The dinner was great – they gave us little bowls of a lot of different things – curries, veggies, spring rolls etc. The dancing was also good, although I think I don’t quite understand the technique enough to appreciate it. They had beautiful sparkly traditional costumes, and the dancing involved a lot of kind of “move and pose, move and pose” type thing – with really subtle head and hip movements. The most striking thing is that the dancers curled their fingers back at what seemed like a very unnatural angle as they dance.

Anyway, that just about brings us up to date – to Singapore. Landing here was like a breath of fresh air – the lawns are all perfectly manicured, there’s green everywhere, everything is orderly - the palm trees are even strategically placed. We landed over beautiful blue, tropical water and islands, and the sky has been blue and clear all day. It’s definitely a large contrast to the chaos and grit of Bangkok. Maybe I just went at the wrong time and saw the wrong things. We did miss the two biggest temples because I was a bit templed out. I guess I won’t meet the large reclining Buddha until next time. So, I’ll update again after we see some exciting things here. Also, I posted a lot of my pictures from Cambodia and Thailand here:



I still have more to add, but there are probably already more up than any of you will have time to look through, haha. If you’re interested though, I’ll write again when I add the rest. Talk soon!
P.S. comment! Because it makes me happy! and I can never tell if anyone is reading this Cop Koon Kaa (Thank you) <3

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


In Thailand, Sawasdee (Kaa/Kup for Female/Male) is kind of like Aloha, and serves as a polite hello and goodbye. It’s pretty much the only Thai that I’ve learned that I remember.. except that Mai Pai means bamboo… But anyhow, it’s a good one to know.
Well, now we’re on a train, heading from Chiang Mai to Bangkok after a crazy trekking adventure through the hills. It all started three days ago, when we packed up our rented day packs with rented sleeping bags and all our stuff for 3 days, loaded up into one of those pickup trucks, like bench taxis, and headed off into the wilds. And by wilds, I mean that a lot of people live there but the bathrooms have no running water, the roads are not paved, and most electricity comes from solar panels.

After stopping to check out a pretty waterfall in the woods and grabbing some fried rice lunch in a bamboo hut, we were left off at a trailhead that led into the jungle, about 2 hours out of Chiang Mai. It was hot, and immediately required a steep uphill climb that got most of us panting. I was kind of expecting a nice little nature walk, but it ended up being mostly dramatic up-hills and down-hills with a sprinkling of level ground, much of it through what seemed like never- or relatively infrequently-trekked through areas. The jungle was beautiful, very green and lush and a fairly cool temperature in the shade. Every now and then I got a buzz in my ear, but other than that the bugs were minimal. The first part was through mostly pine tree forest, with huge rubbery vines hanging down that some people tried swinging and climbing on a bit. Our Thai tour guide, Tony, is apparently a budding archeologist, and he showed us a few foundations of old structures, mostly made out of brick remnants, that he claims were temples about 400 years ago. They both had large pits in a certain area, where he said there used to be gold Buddhas, but that someone must have tried to come dig them up and steal them. Everywhere you looked, there were green rolling hills, and sometimes if you got low enough there were rice paddies visible at the bottoms of the hills. The trek was about two and a half hours, but seemed much longer because of the strenuous ups and downs. My mom took a dramatic fall on one of the down hills, which was scary but she was pretty much completely fine (a little shaken) afterwards, so we trekked on.

Finally, after a particularly steep downhill stretch, we saw a little village appear beyond the bright red, long stemmed poinsettias. It was a village of about 200 people, and most of the structures were made out of bamboo with either thatched or metal roofs, raised above the ground. Chickens, dogs, and water buffalo wandered around, and the people watched us walk through, pretty unphased and uninterested, except for a few little giggling girls who kept peeping over the ledges at us. Most of the women were dressed in shirts and sarongs, and we watched one of them sift through some rice to separate the hulls. Tony led us to a larger structure, also made of bamboo, right next to a stream, which was our home for the night. In the stream they had set up a bamboo log that ran the same way the water flowed. The log stuck straight out over a small drop off in the stream, so we went and stood on the flat lower area and the water that ran through the log and shot out, serving as an extremely cold but also refreshing shower. The boys chose, instead, to grab beers and go chill in a waterfall area a little further downstream.

Our local guide, whom we called Mr. G, had bought a lot of food at the local market for us and served as our chef (among other things) for the whole trip. On the first night he made some delicious spring rolls and curry. There were two outhouse-type bathrooms, one with a western toilet and one with a squattie, and two large bedrooms, one for girls and one for boys. After dinner it was actually pretty cold, so we all sat around the fire for a while and enjoyed Tony’s baffling magic tricks (he’s a jack of many trades), which used strings and coins and cards, for a few hours. Then we passed out early to the loud sound of water running right by the cottage. There was no electricity, so we used little flashlights, which made for scary treks to the outhouse in the dark.

The next day my mom decided that her trekking days were over, so she hired a local guy to take her to the next village on his motorbike. After a few hardboiled eggs and some toast, the rest of us set out on our second trek. At first we trekked through some hills in a bamboo forest, which led to a lower area with rice paddies. We stopped for lunch in an empty raised hut by a rice paddy and Mr. G pulled out our lunches – noodles wrapped in big beautiful banana leaves, with grilled chicken and fresh-cut pineapple, which was really delicious. On the way, he had carved chopsticks for us out of bamboo. He and Tony never ceased to surprise us with their talents. The water buffalo around us made funny little noises that sounded like “hmm?” as we passed them and trekked on through more rice paddies, and then back into a bamboo forest, and over multiple little streams. The trek ended up being about 4 and a half hours total, including lunch, but it went by quickly and painlessly and was pretty fun and pleasant.

The second village we stopped at was about twice as big as the first, 400-500 people. The bathrooms were also like outhouses, but much closer to the raised hut where we were sleeping. They had Southeast Asian-style baths, which are huge tubs of water and a small bucket in a little outhouse, where you stand and repeatedly fill the little bucket and pour it over yourself. The water was very cold, but it was nice to be able to at least control it and brace yourself before each splash. This hut was bigger, so we got to sleep about two people per room, but the beds were the same type of thin pad on the bamboo floor. After arriving, they called in a group of elephants to take us for an hour ride. It was really fun! We sat in little boxes on their backs, while their trainers sat on their heads and directed them. They took us on a path through some fields and woods, and then back through the river. One of the elephants had a 6-month-old baby that tagged along, weaving in and out between its mother’s feet.

When we got back, we washed and freshened up a bit, and then took a walk into town to visit the local school. Since this was one of the largest villages in the area, it was where all the surrounding villages’ children came to school. Most of them lived there Monday through Friday, going home to their parents only on the weekends. Tony explained to us how they learned to cook and clean there, along with their other lessons. Some of the boys on our trip joined a large game of soccer with the kids after they finished dinner. Later, we enjoyed another wonderful Mr. G meal, which included banana spring rolls and a sweet pumpkin dish.

We stayed up a little later talking and listening to Tony tell us about the king and queen and princesses of Thailand to candlelight for a while after dinner. Apparently the king hand-picked his third child, a princess, to succeed him. It seems that although the government has changed hands multiple times in recent history, the royal family as served as kind of a stable form of leadership. They are highly respected throughout Thailand, and most businesses have their pictures up, and sometimes a large, elaborate shrine for them. Tony told us about how he encourages the kids in the villages to write to the princess to ask for improvements in their roads and other more modern accommodations. Unfortunately, it ended up being very hard to sleep that night because the roosters decided to have some sort of crowing festival under our hut.

In the morning, we woke up early, had breakfast, and then loaded ourselves and all our stuff onto two bamboo rafts that had just been built by the local people. They each were basically made of about 15 long bamboo trunks tied together, with a little tee-pee type structure at the front to hold our bags above water. We put 5-6 people on each raft, and Mr. G and Tony served as rowers along with two local guys (2 rowers on each boat, one front and one back) each rowing with a long bamboo pole. We all mostly stood on the rafts, since the bamboo floated just below the water and a lot of water came through the cracks. The morning was a bit chilly and overcast, and sometimes we would go over small rapids and have to kneel down, so we ended up getting kind of wet (except Kate and Bill were talented enough to stay dry through the whole thing). Jim, Marc, Mr. G and Tony all went for a swim when it got a little warmer and the river was deep enough. We rafted for about 3 and a half hours, through peaceful jungle scenery, listening to Tony and Mr. G sing random popular American music (you know:.. “hey jude”, the Titanic song(!), the typical ones..) and some Thai ones. We ended up at another little bamboo hut, where we were served great phad thai, and then loaded back into our truck taxi and drove for 2 hours back to the city.

I have to say, as fun as the trek was, it was so amazing to have a hot shower and a soft bed back in Chiang Mai. Our 2 star hotel seemed like the most luxurious 5 star possible and I think we all slept very well.

This morning we woke up, and my mom, Kate and I went to an Elephant Training Camp that Tony recommended. It was really awesome, and there were tons of elephants with their trainers walking around. We got there just in time to see them get washed in the river that runs through the camp. As they walked past us they reached out their trunks to us, hoping to find some bananas or sugar cane. They didn’t find any, but we got to pet them, which was cool. They went down into the river and rolled around and sprayed themselves as their trainers scrubbed them down with brushes. Then we bought some bananas and headed over to the nursery to feed them to a baby elephant. The elephant mom was jealous, I think, because she kept blasting me with air.. and snot and other things.. with her nose.. so that was gross. But the baby was cute. After that we watched the main show, where the elephants played soccer, darts, harmonicas, and even painted pictures. It’s shocking how smart they are. One of the elephants painted a whole landscape, while another painted pretty little flowers growing out of a pot, and another drew a tree.

In the afternoon, Tony took us to look around the old part of Chiang Mai town, which included a few temples, one of which was about 600 years old called Wat Chedi Luang and used to house the “emerald” Buddha. Tony told us a story about how the emerald Buddha didn’t want to be in Chiang Mai, and its temple kept getting hit by lightning and then collapsed during an earthquake in 1545, so the king took a hint and moved it, and himself, just in time before Chiang Mai got attacked and overrun by the Burmese.

This afternoon we packed up our stuff and loaded up on to a train, which we’ll spend about 14 hours on, and wake up in Bangkok tomorrow morning. Phew.. it’s been a packed couple of days. Sorry I had to save it all up again and pack it into one entry, but needless to say the villages didn’t have internet access.

So far, I love Thailand. The people are very friendly, and not super aggressive (not as much as in China anyway). It has a very pretty and respectful culture, and the people are very proud of their culture and history and love to share it with visitors. My one complaint is a problem that I suppose I’m contributing to, which is that there are SO MANY tourists here. I swear in some parts there are more European -looking people than Thai. Anyhow, I can’t blame any of them for wanting to visit or live here. It’s beautiful, warm and the food is amazing. The temples are very intricately designed, often using either gold encasing or trim. It is very rude to point the sole of your foot at someone, and just like in Cambodia, the sign for thank you is to put your palms together under your chin with your elbows out and bow slightly. The people here definitely look more East Asian than those in Cambodia. Cambodians have generally darker skin and rounder eyes than the Thais or Vietnamese. It’s interesting how Cambodia got so much more Indian influence than the countries around it. It makes me wonder what Laos is like.

We had to say Goodbye to Mr. G yesterday, which was very sad, and will soon have to part from Tony and his many skills, which will also be unfortunate. Luckily we have a long train ride to rack his brain for ideas of how to spend our next few days in Bangkok…. Till next time.

PS. I didn't realize that my small camera uses an XD card, and I don't have a card reader yet, so I can't put some of my awesome bamboo rafting and other pictures up until later. These ones are from my mom's camera

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cambodia to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ahhhh I have so much to write about and only an hour of internet time so I'm going to have to try to practice a bit of restraint and not write as much detail. (I know some of you are sighing with relief :) )

After I posted last time, we ended up going into Siem Reap's market area for dinner where we had a great meal at a place called Khmer Kitchen. Khmer food has a lot of Indian flavoring, with curry and other spices that aren't so much East Asian. The night market area was really crowded, mostly with foreigners from all over the place. From what I gathered, it consists mostly of three streets: one market street that has cars and bikes driving on it, one ally way that's fully pedestrian, and one bar street. They sell cool little silver trinkets, pirated DVDs, pretty little dress/sarongs, jewelery, and pretty much any other random thing you can think of.

The next morning we woke up early and had Mr. Lai take us to a place called the "Floating Village." I guess after the Khmer Rouge killed so many Cambodians, some Vietnamese people took advantage of the shortage of fishers on the Tongle Sap (the largest lake in southeast Asia) and moved in.. not on land, though, on the water. All the people live in boats or house boats that are tied to trees that grow out of the marshlands around the lake. They have little paddle or motor boats that they use to get around, and slightly larger retail boats often circulate around selling groceries and goods. The markets, basketball court, clinic, and even the school are all also floating and only accessible by boat. When we got to near the Tongle Sap we hired a boat to take us out with a guide named Mr. Tao. Mr. Tao had gone to university in Siem Reap and studied English and how to be a tour guide, so we really had the pros on our side. He took us to a large, multilevel floating marketplace to show us how they held fish and crocodiles there for sale (live! ahh!). He said the crocs go for about 3000 US dollars each and are really good for their meat and for shoes. We went to visit the school, where we distributed pencils (fresh from costco) to the kids. The teacher was Vietamese, but he said that in the afternoon they learn Cambodian. A Korean tour group who went before us had just handed out toys and candy so they were a little more popular, but we got some good pictures.

After that we packed up and left Cambodia. It was pretty hard to go. The people are just so nice and the whole atmosphere is so pleasant and relaxed. It's hard to believe there was ever war there.

We flew through Bangkok and ended up in Chiang Mai by late afternoon, where we checked into the Tapae Place hotel and went to the riverside to find a place for Dinner. Compared to Cambodia, Chiang Mai is shockingly developed. It's packed with cars and feels kind of like a typical Asian city. There are still Tuk Tuks that serve as the cheapest form of Taxi, but the motorbikes are built into the whole structure so its a bit different. The other popular form of taxi (other than a car) is a pickup truck, with two benches on the inside along either wall, and a roof over the top. The back of it is open, and there are two long windows that run along the sides. They drive on the left side of the road here, and very fast, so its kind of a startling ride as you're jostled around in the back of one of these vehicles.

Today we woke up and met up with our tour group in the morning, which consists of four Australians and one American girl. They all seem about mid to late range 20s, except a father and son pair. Our tour guide is a very enthusiastic Thai man named Tony, who adviced us not to wear tall leather boots as we trek, and told us that we shouldn't swim in G string bikinis (so we don't offend the locals). He's really funny and animated. He set us up to go to a cooking class for the afternoon, which ended up being out in the countryside in a really pretty, idyllic little place. Only 5 of us went, and we ended up cooking 4 dishes each: Phad Thai, Tom Yam Gong, Spring Rolls, and Green/Red Curry. Our instructur, named Golf, was great and there were helpers who prepped everything for us. Naturally because of our phenomenal cooking skills, the food was delicious and very artistic looking.

Tonight we went to a vegitarian Thai place that donates money to help preserve elephant habitats. It was also very good (although nothing can really beat our cooking from earlier). Later we checked out a local night weekend market that had all sorts of clothes, shoes, arts and crafts mostly selling to local people. I bought a cool lamp that's probably not at all practical. It's pretty though and is made out of leaves. Hopefully that doesn't count for veggitation in customs.. haha.

Anyway, I'm going to try to put some pictures on and post this before my internet time runs out (this hotel is a little less accomodating than Villa Kiara unfortunately.) We leave tomorrow for a 3 day trek into the hills! I'll write after that and hopefully have some pretty awesome pictures to post. Hope everything is going well!!! Miss you!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Siem Reap, Cambodia

well, I want to be upset that I wasted two out of my four days in Cambodia in bed with a high fever and in a clinic hooked up to an IV, but at this point I'm really just so relieved to be out of bed and moving around that I can't complain. Instead I'll tell you about the two days (day one and day four) that I did have in this amazing country and just claim that the illness is a good excuse to come back again when I come to see Vietnam.

Although it is the dry season here, Cambodia is very lush and green. Instead of dirt, there is orange tinted sand lining the roads and under the palm, banana, and banyan trees. There is a lot of water around, whether it be just little puddles, the river that runs through town, or the huge moat around Angkor Wat. Skinny looking white and brown cows chill out on the sides (or sometimes in the middle..) of the roads, usually in large fields of tall grass. There are also a lot of very slim black roosters, and tired, scruffy looking dogs scattered around. The air is very hot and thick, but not humid. Even in the hottest parts of the day, walking into the shade makes it feel at least ten degrees cooler. Especially in town, the air often smells like incense because most businesses burn it in small pagoda podiums setup outside their shops. Once you escape from the motor noises of the busier areas, your ears are filled with jungle sounds, probably birds, maybe bugs, its hard to say really. There's an odd chirp that sounds like it's coming from inside our room sometimes... let's hope that one's small and doesn't bite.

Most of the roads are paved, although some are just bumpy orange sand and gravel. There are some cars, (oddly enough mostly toyota camrys with a sprinkling of sketchy mercedes mini buses, and also a good number of Lexus RX300s) but most people get around on fairly modern looking little motor bikes, or just normal manual bicycles. It is not uncommon to see a family of 4 on one motor bike, with dad driving, and then two kids squashed between him and mom, who hangs on at the end. Every now and then there is a "gas station" on the side of the road for these motor bikes, which usually consists of a man dozing in a hammock next to a large barrel with a long, plastic tube coming out of it. There are not many stop lights, and it seems the general rule for crossing an intersection is "just keep driving unless it looks like someone's going to hit you", while the rule for turning left is "drive into the oncoming traffic lane-> stay in that lane and dodge oncoming traffic as you turn into new oncomming traffic lane-> slowly weave back into your lane".

Lining the busier streets are large new looking hotels and restaraunts, and most of them are labeled both with the beautiful khmer language, which is very swirly and not at all like asian characters (probably derived from sanskrit?), as well as English. There are also lots of open markets with fruit and veggies, and other goods. I've seen a good number of stores with every style of accesorized, flowered flip flop you can imagine. Probably my favorite was a store called "modern laundry" where the clothes are all hanging out on racks by the side of the dusty road (I saw that in Beijing a lot.. maybe that was the Chinese influence?). There are also a scattering of small houses and other more run down looking buildings. Most buildings that aren't new looking are made out of some patchwork combination of tarp, ridged scraps of metal, scraps of wood, and palm/banana leaves all strapped to a wooden or metal frame. The houses seem to mostly be on stilts, probably to avoid flooding problems during the wet season.

The people here are very sweet and friendly and often eager to chat. They are not shy about using what English they know, and many of them can actually speak very well. It's actually pretty crazy how multilingual everyone is. Even the small children who sell postcards at the temples will switch off languages until they find one you understand, repeating their whole schpeal in the language of your choice. Today, a girl was trying to sell me a guidebook, and when I said "No Thank you" and tried to move on, she asked where I was from. I told her "America" and she asked "what state?" I said Washington, sure that she'd be confused and think I meant Washington DC (as do most people.. even in America..) when she said "Oh! Washington. Capital is Olympia! President of America is Obama. Alaska is the biggest state and capital of Hawaii is Honolulu!" I figure she probably knows more about America than most American children. Another little girl, probably about 3 years old, followed my mom around counting to 10 in seriously, at least 10 to 15 different languages. If you buy something, or donate a dollar to someone, they will often wish you "Good Luck!" or even "Good luck for your WHOLE life!!!" Which makes you feel as though you've really tallied up the Karma points (although I got sick after that.. so I guess I need more..). The sales people at the temple, though very persistent, will stop at the entrance to the temple and say, "I remember your name Emily! You don't have to buy, but if you buy coconut, you buy from me okay! You remember my clothes look like this!! okay?!" and then smile and wave you in. People are always quick to smile at you. Even a few people who we pulled up next to on the road would pull up their helmets and smile.

The students of all ages wear white button-up shirts and navy pants or skirts to school, and at certain hours you can see hordes of them biking along the side of the road, probably on their way home after class, or for lunch. You often also see Orange draped clad monks walking around with buzz cuts and flip flops. I've seen them with everything from cell phones, to laptops which seems unlikely, but I hear that many men will dedicate a few months of their lives to being a monk rather than living their whole life that way. The rest of the people dress in pretty much the average jeans and T-shirt style that you can see anywhere else, occasionally sporting the "Armani Jeans" or other knock off brand name logo. The city and area around the temples is very alive, and there are tons of people lounging by their carts or stands, sleeping in hammocks, or walking around with their families. The general population is very young, I think a huge percent is under 30, and it's pretty obvious just by the massive amounts of little children you see everywhere.

Instead of taxis, most tourists will hire a "Tuk tuk", which is a little wheeled seating carriage attached to a motor bike. On the first day, our Tuk Tuk driver was Mr. Lai, a 25 year old Khmer, who lives with his mother and two of his siblings. He said that after his father passed away, his mother sent him to a Buddhist monestary for a while, where he learned some English, and a little bit about the history of the Angkor Temples.

At the suggestion of our guidebook, we asked Mr. Lai to show us 10 or 12 of the smaller, older temples on the first day. This included the Roluos Group (Preah Ko, Bakong, and Lolei), which were built around 800 AD, as well as Prasat Kravan, Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, and Preah Khan (all part of the "large circuit"). So.. to be honest, I still can't pronounce most of their names, and probably couldn't tell most of them apart even after seeing them, but I'll try to describe them as a whole in a way that will hopefully at least hint at their grandeur. Apparently this whole area, around and between the temples, used to be a highly populated city, with many wooden structures and houses that are now long gone. The Stone temples still stand remarkably in place, and although they are over 1000 years old, you can still tell how intricately designed they were. The general structure is a sort of rectangular base, with a rounded terraced roof that goes up and ends in a point. Each temple usually has one large one of these, surrounded by at least four smaller ones, all sitting on a raised platform area, sometimes requiring a hike up extremely steep steps reach. The structures themselves are all intricately carved with buddhas, dancing ladies, or ornate designs, usually with a fake door carved on each side, and a real door facing East. On the inside, there is a central platform where it seems there used to be a Buddha, but I think, unfortunately, most of them have been destroyed or looted. If you go inside, and look up, you can see that the whole structure is hollow, and then open at the very tip, like a skylight. Some of the local people have put little buddha statues in the corners of them, with incense and other religious objects. At most of the temples, it seems that there is always music in the air, and as corny as it sounds, it's often actually true, sadly though, because it comes from troups of land-mine victims who play traditional cambodian instruments on the sidewalks leading to the temples. They take donations, and also sell their CDs, and if you give them a dollar they will wish you "Good luck!" and wave, although many cannot see. Many of the temples also have long hallways, with doorway after doorway, so that when you look down them you see each one framed by the one before it and then the little bit of green at the end. Because they are usually at least partly destroyed, there are many freestanding pillars and doorways, and platforms and stairs that were probably once inside, but now have no cover. Many of the temples have piles and piles of blocks of carved stone, that were clearly part of something important once. I guess they couldn't be placed but were too precious to throw away, so now they're just stacked up for people to see. Some of the temples like Bayon (one of the ones we saw today) look as though they were sliced up into cubes and then pieced back together. It's really odd, and I'm not really sure how they're still standing, but it looks very interesting. Sometimes the pieces will be from one bas relief, with each block being a slightly different color, and the pieces slightly mismatched but generally contributing to the same picture. The textures and colors of the stones are really dramatic and different from place to place too. Sometimes it looks a lot like lava rock. Other times its colored with green, white, or red tints, or looks like it's black from being burned. A few of the temples had been so overtaken by the jungle, that huge trees were growing in, around, and even out of the structres, giving it a very lost world, Indiana Jones feel.

Today we went out and saw the famous Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, which includes Bayon, The Terrace of the Elephants, and The Terrace of the Leper King. On the roads between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, there are a lot of monkeys just sitting around and waiting for you to buy them bananas and feed them. I didn't buy any bananas, but I got some freebee pictures. Angkor Wat is surrounded by a huge, thick moat and to get there you walk across a big bridge, railed on either side by men holding a large snake (probably a naga?). The inside is much like the temples I described above, but perhaps a little more intact and orderly. Bayon, as I mentioned is crazy because of how pieced together it is. It's almost like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The terraces are intricately carved, raised platforms that you can walk along. I think there was more to see, but I started fading at that point, so I never got my Angkor Wat sunset. Next time.

We are staying at a charming boutique hotel called Villa Kiara, owned by a French husband and Cambodian/French wife. They moved here in 2007, after spending three years in Seattle, where they lived in Issaquah and he ran Le Petit Bistro, a French restaurant in Belltown. He is quite a chef. we enjoyed his scampi and duck specials on the first night. They have a three-year-old son, born in Seattle, and an 18-month old daughter, Kiara. The hotel has only 17 rooms. Ours is furnished simply, with two beds on a wooden platform and a semi-open bathroom. The Internet is free, but you have to displace the hotel receptionist to use it. There is a nice swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees, and if you order a coconut shake, they will climb a palm tree to pick a coconut for you. The dining area is open-air, underneath an older wooden building on stilts, built in the traditional style. At night little white geckos run across the ceiling. The people who work here are very friendly and helpful.

Well, I'm sorry that this has turned into such a long entry, I guess my excuse will be that it covers 4 days. I'm feeling much better now, which is good, because we have to be trekking in the hills in 2 days... haha. Thankfully I had my mommy here to feed me french pain killers, electrolytes (not french), and good old TLC. Anyway, we're flying to Chiang Mai tomorrow, hopefully with enough time to check out the floating village here before we go. I'll write more often from now on hopefully, so long as I don't get ridiculously ill.

miss you all! hope everything is goign well! email me updates or comment!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And it begins...

Well, the adventure has begun. My mom and I left Seattle around noon on the 8th for Hong Kong via Tokyo. 18 hours, 4 suspicous looking airplane meals, 3 movies, and one box of pocky sticks later we arrived in Hong Kong and checked in to our space age "sky city" hotel around midnight. This morning we got up for an awesome continental breakfast, which included dim sum (now I remember why I love Hong Kong) and headed to the airport again for a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, and then another one to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I'm writing now from our plane to Hanoi, as the questionable smells of our 5th airplane meal in two days waft down the aisle (It ended up being spagetti with meatsauce, which they called "beef with noodles". I guess that's actually a better description..). Interestingly enough, at least half the people on the plane are caucasian and I've heard a few people mention that they're "going home." There must be a big expat community there, but I guess I'll have to wait for my next Asia trip to find out. Also, the flight attendants have been trying to speak to me in Vietnamese, which is strange because even in China people usually assume I'm foreign. Unfortunately, Vietnam Air does not have wifi on their planes yet so I'll post this later, but I thought I'd take the time to write a little bit about Cambodia for those of you who don't know much, and also briefly talk about what this blog will cover over the next 7 weeks or so.

So, I'll start off by admitting that the little that I do know about Cambodia is all from my Lonely Planet "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" travel book. Basically they jammed all of Cambodian History into 4 or 5 pages, and now I'm going to further condense it into one paragraph, but I figure it's better than nothing. For those of you with no interest in history, skip the next paragraph.

From the 1st to 6th centuries AD, Cambodia was part of the Funan kingdom, which prospered due to the trade route between China and India which was part of the famous silk road (you know, Marco Polo and all that). As part of this large cultural exchange network, Cambodia adopted many aspects of Indian culture and tradition, including Hinduism and Buddhism. In 802 AD Cambodia, as well as much of Vietnam and Thailand, were part of the Khmer Empire, which ended up being the largest and most powerful empire in Southeast Asian history, known for its amazing architecture and sculpture. To this day, the Cambodians are known as the Khmer people, and much of their national pride is centered around Angkor, the ancient capital and home of the largest religious structure in the world, Angkor Wat. In 1432 the Thais sacked Angkor and the capital was moved to Phnom Penh, which remains the capital today. The French controlled Cambodia from 1864 to 1953, but were more interested in Vietnam and did not do much in Cambodia. Still, there is apparently some French influence left over, and in fact we're staying in a French style hotel run by a French man and his Cambodian wife who just moved there recently from Seattle (go figure..). King Norodom Sihanouk ruled from 1953 to 1970 when he was overthrown and fled to Beijing, where he was pressured to support a small communist rebel group, the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia was sucked into the Vietnam conflict, bombed by the US and fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, ruled by Pol Pot (not a popular character). During this rule, about 2 million people a third of the population) died from famine, warfare, execution.. lots of bad stuff. This included most of the educated people and also people who spoke foreign languages, who were gathered and executed. In 1978 Vietnam invaded, which spurred famine and guerrilla warfare throughout the 1980s, during which China, Thailand and the US (you'd think we'd have learned by now..) funded the khmer rouge. In 1991 a peace accord was signed, and in 1993 UN-facilitated elections were held and Norodom
Sihanouk was installed as king again. Since then, Hun Sen, leader of the Cambodian Peoples' Party (actually he was originally installed as the leader by the Vietnamese) has essentially ruled Cambodia. In 1998 the Khmer Rouge was finally ended officially and some of its leaders are being brought to trial. Unfortunately Pol Pot died already so he escaped any punishment. The Cambodian people suffered a lot over the last few decades, but right now everything seems stable and (fortunately for me, and them) the tourism business is booming.

Today we will fly into Siem Reap, which has gotten kind of a reputation as the hub city for visiting the temples of Angkor. Although Angkor Wat is the biggest temple both there and in the world, there are many others scattered throughout the area that used to make up the city of Angkor, each with its own character and artistic differences. We will spend the next four days touring the temples. I'll be sure to take a lot of pictures and write more as we see them so keep checking in. After that we're heading to Chiang mai, Thailand to meet up with intrepid travel's Trekking Thailand tour (we're trekking up into the hills to stay in a village). Then we'll hit up Bangkok, and then Singapore for a few days. Mommy dear will fly home after that and I'll meet up with the lovely Tara Singh in Bali, where we'll stay in Ubud for a few days and then fly to Yogyakarta (Pronounced Jogjakarta, or just Jogja) for a few. That brings us to early February when we'll fly back to Hong Kong to meet up with homegirl Carly Schlosberg, and then to my favorite Chinese city, Beijing, for a week. Tara will then leave us :( and Carly and I will continue on to Xi'an, and Shanghai, and then fly to Tokyo. After a few days there, we'll train down to Kyoto and Nara, and then take the "Beetle" hydrofoil boat from Hakata to Busan in Korea. We'll then jump on a train and go up to Gyeong ju, and then up to our last city Seoul. Hopefully by that time, my backpack and small bag won't have multiplied into multiple bags of souvenirs and piles of knock off clothes and bags, but you just never know.. better just be prepared for the worst.

Speaking of souvenirs, I just bought my first one in the Hanoi airport. We flew in over the fields and colorful clusters of houses and I'm kind of jealous of the other kids who got to stay there. The airport had a lot of little vendors with Vietnamese junk food (Pringles?) and little trinkets (Jason, I doubt you'll read this but I got you a keychain from the motherland). The airport was small, but pretty modern and the magazines and ads around boast of tall modern office space and condos for rent and sale, and international standard malls. It seems amazing that just a few decades ago Vietnam and Cambodia were being torn apart by war (largely with the US) and there was no way to travel there (unless you were a soldier..). When my mom graduated from college she traveled through Southeast Asia and also in the Middle East. She couldn't visit Vietnam or Cambodia, but she was able to go through Afghanistan and Iran just 6 months before they were closed to the US. Maybe when our generation's kids graduate from college we'll be able to take them on trips through Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be nice to someday explore their rich culture and history, rather than just associate them with war, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Well, I guess the moral of the story is travel all you can, cause you never know who we'll be at war with next.. haha.. sigh. On that cheerful note, I think I'll put away the netbook and enjoy the bright orange sunset as we land in Cambodia. Till next time.

PS (I'll post pictures with this post soon but i'm using the front desk computer at our hotel and its super awkward...) <3