Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trekking Gunung Rinjani

From Bali, I took the slow 4 hour ferry to Lombok, an island east of Bali. I stayed in a pretty little beachside town called Senggigi. The next morning, I started a 3 day, 2 night trek on Gunung Rinjani, a 3700 meter high volcano. Inside of the volcano, there is a crater lake with another volcano inside. It really is gorgeous. As for the climb, there's a reason both trek and camp are four letter words. It is an intense climb, and people die every year attempting it. On the second night, the guide decided to tell us a story about a girl on one of his tours that lost her footing and fell to her death while her boyfriend looked on unable to catch her. I suspect this was a ploy to convince me to hold his hand the whole way down the volcano the next day.

I met some great people on the climb- an Aussie girl, a Dutch guy and an English guy. Our guide, a Hindu man, started to talk about reincarnation, and in an attempt to compliment the Aussie girl, he told her that she would be reincarnated as a man, since she was such a good climber. Compliment fail.

All in all, the trek was similar to law school- something I'm glad I did, but have no desire to repeat. There were some great parts and some brutal parts. There were annoyances- like a still burning brush fire on the way down- but nothing was nearly as annoying as HLS during the 2008 presidential campaign season.

I'm now on the Gilli Islands, which are between Lombok and Bali. I'm on the biggest island, Gilli T. It is very charming with white beaches and horse drawn carts instead of cars or motorcycles. I'm going diving tomorrow.

I've posted a ton of pictures!


Diving in Tulamben, Bali:

Diving in Padang Bay, Bali:

The trek:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


So I haven't posted in quite a while, but it was just because I was having such a good time in  Bali! Elisa and I bid Cambodia and our hotel room lizard (which we naturally named Gordon Gekko) a fond farewell and headed to Bali. We stayed in Sanur, which is a quiet town on the east side of the island.

We went diving and it was Elisa's first time ever diving. There is a US cargo ship called the USS Liberty that the Japanese sunk in 1940 right off the coast of Bali. You can shore dive to it. There were a lot of amazing fish and coral.

We also tried surfing. The surf lessons started with a group jog down the beach and stretching. This made sure I was nice and limber every time I fell off the board and had it hit me in the head when I surfaced. I prefer to watch surfers rather than actually to attempt surfing.

Bali really is paradise- beautiful beaches, lovely people, stunning rice paddies, and great food. I can't say enough good things about it. More to come later :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Off to Indonesia!

Elisa and I spent the morning going out to the Killing Fields. It was an eerie experience. There's a memorial stupa with the skulls of 8000 victims piled up. Some terrific parent brought his four year old who kept tryig to touch the skulls. We then visited the Toul Sleng torture prison used by the Khmer Rouge. Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge kept detailed records of their barbaric treatment of prisoners. This translated into some displays that are painful to look at- including pictures of everyone who passed through the prison. There were only 7 survivors out of 20000. An international tribunal recently sentenced the guy who ran the prison (Duch) to 35 years in prison. He's old,so it is essentially a life sentence, but for someone who was responsible for torturing children to death, it seems like the Toul Sleng water torture machines should be taken out of retirement.

In the afternoon, we visited the royal palace, which had a gorgeous golden throne room. We then went to the Silver Pagoda, which houses a life size gold Buddha decorated with nearly 10000 diamonds! I want one but my bag will already be in trouble tomorrow with Air Asia's 15 kg weight limit.

We're off to Bali in the morning!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Siem Reap and Phnom Penh

Elisa and I had a great three days of temple visiting around Siem Reap. We hired a jolly tuk tuk driver who took us around to all the temples. There was one temple with amazingly intricate carvings in pink stones that were over 1000 years old. Another temple was built with the same floor plan as Angkor Wat, but has been so destroyed that the only way to explore it is to crawl around the ruins. This was a bit of a challenge as Cambodia has been taking the whole monsoon season thing pretty seriously.

We took a six hour bus ride to Phnom Penh today. After that we opted for traditional Cambodian food by the hotel pool. The food in Cambodia has been terrific. Last night we got Khmer BBQ, where you grill the meet at your table. It is similar to Korean BBQ but at the side of the grill there is a place for broth and vegetables. We had a great time trying to cook the meat- chicken, pork, alligator, squid, and beef- without dropping the meat into the broth constantly. The waiter kept offering us help.

Tomorrow is shaping up to be a depressing day of sightseeing. In the morning, we're going to Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge torture prison. In the afternoon we're heading out to the Killing Fields where there is a memorial stupa displaying more than 8000 skulls of Khmer Rouge victims. We'll end the day on a happier note- a visit to the royal palace.

Then, the next day we are heading out to Bali!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Temples, Temples, Temples!

If you ever get a cold in a tropical country, avoid checking the health section of your guidebook for all the tropical diseases with the same symptoms as the common cold. I'll save you the time: Dengue fever, Leptospirosis, Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Typhoid, and Typhus. Luckily, most of the time, a cold is just a cold.

Elisa and I met up at Siem Reap airport. Siem Reap is the charming little Cambodian town that serves as a base for exploring the temples of Angkor. Aside from Angkor Wat, there are a ton of other surrounding temples that are also really impressive. It takes a few days to explore the area. The guidebook suggested seeing some of the less impressive temples first to get an idea of the progession of the building styles over the centuries. We ignored this advice and took the "eat dessert first" approach and headed straight to Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is incredibly impressive. It is the largest religious structure in the world. Although it was built nearly 1000 years ago, it is in considerably better shape than some of the hotels that I've stayed in this trip.

After Angkor Wat, we explored some of the other nearby temples. Every single temple looks like it should be a location for Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. One temple, Ta Prohm, had giant, centuries old trees growing on top of and around the temples.The roots were snaking around the buildings and the trees looking like some kind of alien monsters trying to choke the buildings. Really wild.

I'll post pictures soon. I just uploaded some from Vientiane:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I had a good day exploring Vientiane, the capital of laos. it is filled with lots of intricate temples. one entertaining highlight was patuxai, the city's knockoff of the arc de triomphe that is built entirely out of concrete that was donated by the usa for construction of a new airport. as a result, expats refer to it as the vertical runway. there's a sign in front of the entrance saying that they regret that it is even uglier up close than it is far away. at least theyre honest.

i'm at the airport waiting for my flight to siem reap, cambodia, so i can explore angkor wat with my friend elisa!

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang, Laos is one of the most magical cities I've ever seen. I stayed on the Unesco-protected peninsula which is filled with so many beautiful wat. I was there two days and still didn't see them all! I met some Californians on the plane over, so we explored together the next day. We went out to the Pak Ou caves, which are filled with over 4000 Buddha images that have been left by pilgrims over centuries. The Buddhas are packed on top of each other. It looks like an episode of Hoarders.

We then took a tuk tuk, which in Laos means a motorized bike looking thing towing a trailer with two benches facing each other, to a waterfall. In Vietnam, the tuk tuks were actually pedaled. I heard from a disgruntled traveler that the Vietnam tuk tuk drivers will charge overweight people more and will say "You fat so I have to pedal harder." Ouch.  

In the evening, we went to the Night Markets, which are filled with beautiful paper lanterns, jewelry, and embriodered blankets and aprons. I wanted to buy everything but didn't end up getting anything since my suitcase is already a fatty. The tuk tuk driver would definitely charge it more.

The next day, I woke up at 530 am to give alms to the monks. Hundreds of them walk by and you put some cooked rice in each of their baskets. That is their food for the day then. I swear they started speeding up at some point, and I felt like I was in that episode of I Love Lucy with the candy conveyor belt.

Then, I went out to an elephant sanctuary, where I got to go on an hour long elephant trail ride. I just love elephants. Apparently, they cry when they're upset or scared. How sad is that? Sorry left-leaning buddies, but the elephant is about 1000 times cooler than the donkey. I was able to ride on the elephant's neck, which is more comfortable for the elephant than the basket on its back. It was a glorious experience. I'm adding elephants to my adopt from Asia list.

I uploaded lots of pictures!

Luang Prabang:

And my favorite: Sapa

Monday, August 15, 2011

Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Laos!

I've made it to Laos! It's a shame that I had to leave Vietnam just when I was getting good at crossing the streets there. Crossing the street in Laos is like playing a real life game of Frogger. There are practically no crosswalks and even when there are red lights, they do not inspire cars and motorbikes to stop. The trick to crossing is to walk across at a slow steady pace so that the cars and motorbikes can swerve around you. This is harder than it sounds because when you get to the middle of the street and see a bunch of cars coming your way, all you want to do is sprint. I try to cross near older people who are also crossing because if theyve managed to stay alive for 80 years, then they're on to something.

On the flight to Luang Prabang, Laos, the in flight magazine had a page of Dos and Don'ts so that you do not inadvertently offend the locals. Some of the don't were expected: don't engage in public displays of affection, don't yell at the locals, don't dress like Christina Aguilera circa the Dirrrty music video. Other Don't were less obvious- women may never touch a monk; Touching anyone on the head, even a small child, is consideredv very rude; Anything involving feet is the ultimate evil. It is extremely offensive to prop your feet on anything, to motion with your feet towards anything, to touch someone with your foot, or to step over anyone who is seated on the ground. Naturally, my first day here, I managed to slice my toe on a rock. Good luck explaining to a pharmacist that your foot is bleeding without pointing to your feet.

When I got to customs, there was a sign requesting that women not go in with just bikini tops. I seriously want to know if this is a common problem. I've seen that sign all over Laos since then. I have so much to report on Luang Prabang, but I have to go catch a flight to Vientiane so it will have to wait. Until then, here are some pictures to tide you over.


Halong Bay:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cultural Anthropology in Hanoi

So spoke too soon about the train. I spent last night in a sleeper compartment above some part of the train that made a crashing sound like metal hitting metal at high speed, about every 30 seconds. Never a dull moment.

I arrived into Hanoi at 5am. 5am is rarely agood time to arrive in any city, but is especially undesirable when arriving in the middle of a downpour, the tavel agency where I was supposed to stash my bag was closed as were all nearby coffee shops. Eventually, the agency opened and I headed out to explore.

My first stop was Kinh Do Cafe for coffee. This little hole in the wall was a daily stop for Catherine Deneuve when she was here filming Indochine. Amazing coffee and croissants.

After that, it was time for the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. I was excited to visit it, because it completes my set of pickled commie leaders- Mao, Lenin and HCM. At first, I had no interest in these pickled fellows, but Dad dragged me along to visit Mao when we were in Beijing for the Olympics. In response to my protests, he told me to think of it as cultural anthropology. Plus, it was on the way to lunch. In the end, I am very glad that I went. The amount of ceremony and bureaucracy involved in visiting these places is pretty impressive.

HCM is only on view from 8-10am. the line can get quite long, so I arrived at 8 on the dot. From September until December, HCM is sent to Moscow for maintenance. (And you thought your job was bad...) I had to spent the 90+ degree day in pants and a baggy t-shirt because the people running the mausoleum consider shorts and tanks tops to be indecent. Who am I to ignore lessons on decency from the folks who pickled a guy who desperately wanted to be cremated and then  turned him into a tourist exhibit?

Now, with the trifecta complete, I can rank my favorites.

1. Mao
The highlight: Seeing vendors selling plastic flowers for visitors to leave at the entrance of the mausoleum and then scooping the flowers back up and reselling them to the next group. Capitalism literally being thrown on Mao's grave. Excellent.

The security guards were the scariest here. I was pretty sure that if I even thought about Madame Tussauds, they could send me to Mongolia.

2. Lenin
The setting of Red Square is really impressive. So he's missing an ear and a couple fingers- he is still looking real good for his age.

3. HCM
Still totally worth a visit, even if the side of his head looks like it is starting to melt. Plus, in the same complex is his old house on stilts, a propoganda museum (ok they call it a history museum), the presidential place, and a pagoda.

In the afternoon, I went to the first university in Vietnam. It is now a museum that focuses on literature. There is a sign from the old university in front, requesting that you dismount from your horse before entering.  Nice of them to keep the sign up, just in case.

Friday, August 12, 2011


If you are ever trying to get around Vietnam, TAKE THE TRAIN. It was glorious- no sandwiching between people, no techno, no weird smells. It left on time and arrived into Sapa on time as well. Imagine that.

Sapa is incredibly charming. It is a mountain town near the Chinese border. The clouds are always on the mountains. I spent today and yesterday trekking around the mountains with a guide who claimed to be 18 but looked about 12. She spent most of the time trying to convice me I should marry her brother. She introduced me to her sister and her sister's little baby. So cute! I wanted to pull an Angelina and take him home with me.

I was completely impressed by their ability to just trot down these slippery mountain road even carrying the baby! Meanwhile, I was trying to remember anything I'd ever heard about surviving a mud slide/ flashflood. Nothing came to mind, so it is a good thing the mountains stayed intact. The rain never stopped! I bought a cross body bag from the sister which will probably end up in the "seemed like a good idea at the time" drawer at home alongside with my llama legwarmers from Peru.

The people up here are so short! I must have been about a foot taller than my guide. It's pretty fun to feel tall for a few days (even if I realize in the back of my head that malnutrition is probably to blame). The food was fantastic. As a rooster had the nerve to wake me up at 5am, I'm eating as much chicken as possible.

I'm taking a night train back to Hanoi tonight and will then have from 5am (ouch) until late afternoon to explore Hanoi and visit pickled Ho Chi Minh. Then off to Laos! Perhaps I will even be able to figure out if the "s" in Laos is silent or not because I keep hearing it different ways. My favorite explanation so far is that it is pronounced when you're talking about the country but silent when you mean the people who live there.

I have super slow internet here but I managed to upload a few pictures from Hoi An:


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Halong Bay

From Hue, I took an overnight sleeper bus to Hanoi. Well, at least they advertised it as a sleeper. The buses have three rows of double bunk beds with two aisle separating them, but at the back there are three mats that are all touching because the restroom takes the space of the aisles. Naturally, I ended up sandwiched between two Vietnamese men. Luckily for me, the obesity epidemic has not yet caught on here. Unfortunately, neither has deodorant.

The guy next to me was compulsively texting. Each time he received a text, his phone would whistle loudly and a woman's voice would shout "taxi." As I was starting to accept that I was not going to be getting much sleep in my Vietnamese sleeping sandwich, the bus driver started to blast techno music. I at least figured it couldn't get any worse. Then the bus's built in laser light show began. The bus also arrived 2 hours late. The driver was a bit too busy jamming to house music and stopping for snacks to be bothered with anything so trivial as a schedule.

After zooming across Hanoi on a motorbike with my suitcase, I arrived to find that luckily my halong bay tour was also operating on vietnamese time. After a three hour drive, the tour arrived at halong bay. It really is breathtaking. My overnight boat, the Elizabeth sails, was beautiful. There were about 20 passengers on board. I opted against the cheaper boats for this trip because they have the nasty habit of sinking in the middle of the night and killing everyone on board. I'm a good swimmer but I'm not in the mood to find out how good.

After lunch, we went and explored a huge cave, went kayaking and then went for a swim. Swimming mostly involved jumping off the third floor of the boat into the water. So fun.
I was never lacking in for friends since the boat seemed to be full of couples who had been traveling for months and had run out of things to say to each other- kind of like those couples in restaurants who just comment occasionally about the food but largely sit in silence. Luckily for me, they had lots of terrific tips about Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

I'm taking an overnight train to Sapa tonight.  I'm really hoping it is not a techno laser bus. l'll then stay in sapa one night and then take a night train back the following night. Then, off to Laos!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Off to the north

I just had a great day exploring Hue. I took a day tour around the area which included the nearby tombs. The tombs were built in the 19th and 20th century by the nyguyen dynasty. The emperor would pick the site and then use it as a place for recreation during his life. The places were beautiful- large lakes, pine trees. Amazing. My favorite of the emperors had 104 wives but no children. What do you want to bet he still blamed them?

I checked out the citadel. It apparently looked better before American bombing. Oops. I got to feed an elephant there. In exchange the elephant got mud all over my shirt, which I will be wearing on another night bus today. Going to be looking awesome by tomorrow. Someone actually called me sir yesterday. I was pretty pumped about that. Generally, people are calling me Madame. I really love that. I feel like I should be wearing red velvet and running a brothel.

Tonight I'm taking an overnight bus to Hanoi and then immediately joining a trip out to halong bay. I'll be staying overnight in halong bay on a boat in the bay. So excited.

Then I will be returning to Hanoi and immediately taking a night train up to sapa in the very north of Vietnam, near the Chinese border. I've met so many people who have said that Sapa was the highlight for them in Vietnam, so I am really excited to be going. There are hill tribes and it will be a nice break from the oppressive heat. I'll stay in Sapa on night and then take an overnight train back to Hanoi. That will get me back to Hanoi in the early morning of the 13th. I'll have the day to explore there until I fly to Laos the evening of the 13th. I will certainly be paying pickled ho chi Minh a visit.

I will probably radio silent until the 13th, so no need to worry. I'll update when I can.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

So night buses are an adventure...

I made it to Hoi An. The night bus was a treat. The bus had 3 rows of double decker pods that were about 2 feet by 4 feet. It was a great day to be 5'4". The bus ride was 11 hours so I got here around 8am. Hoi An is a great place for shopping and to have clothes tailor made. I managed to fight the urge to have a suit custom made since I would have to carry it around for 7 more weeks, but I did have some sandals custom made. I'm picking them up in an hour, so we'll see how well that goes!

I'm taking a 4 hour bus ride to Hue, which Lonely Planet claims is the intellectual, cultural and spiritual heart of Vietnam. Lots of tombs and pagodas. Should be good!

Diving Nha Trang

I just finished a great day of diving in Nha Trang. First of all, the dive company (Sailing Club Divers) actually picked me up, so that was a good start. The weather was perfect and we took a 45 minute boat ride out to the dive site. My assigned dive buddy was a middle-aged Italian man who seemed to think his dive buddy duties consisted mainly of 1) prancing around in an impossibly small speedo 2) constantly calling me baby and 3) "helping" me pull off my wetsuit in between dives in a way that threatened to take the swimsuit too. Thanks, buddy.

The diving was terrific. I found Nemo! Plus I saw a bunch of other cool things- jellyfish, nudibranchs, beautiful colorful fish etc.

Pictures are up:
I'm taking an overnight bus to Hoi An tonight!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pictures are up!

I am currently in Nha Trang, the diving and party hotspot in Vietnam. I'm staying at this absolutely terrific little hotel (HQ Apartments) where I have my own desktop computer in the room with fast internet, so I have finally uploaded some pictures. If you havent already seen them on facebook you can find them at:


Phu Quoc:

Today, I'm heading out diving. Maybe the dive company will remember me this time!

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is paradise! Beautiful white sand beaches and bright blue water.

I arrived yesterday morning. The scuba diving company that was supposed to pick me up in the morning completely forgot me (cue the nasty online reviews!) but within 5 minutes of yelling at the owner, I was on the back of a local's motorbike chasing down a snorkeling trip that had already left. Zooming down the unpaved roads, I was seriously hoping the the man's pink helmet that said "lovey bear" would not be the last thing I'd ever see. Luckily, I arrived in one piece and headed out on the boat.

The visibility was terrible so it turned out to be a good thing I didn't spend the day diving. We stopped to fish and it turns out that I completely lack my grandfather's fishing skills (as if that wasn't clear from my failure to catch anything at a trout farm when iwas little). I did try the sea urchin that someone grabbed off the bottom. I maintain that sea urchin tastes like low tide. I also ate this water snail that someone found. I should probably book my appointment for a parasite check when I get back.

An Asian woman on the tour went swimming in full on shirt and shorts. The white t-shirt that said "dignity" did not hold up well in water with no swimsuit beneath it. Dignity fail.

I stayed at this fabulous little hotel (moon resort) in a beach bungalow right on the water. I spent the morning at the beach reading the hunger games (since I'm 14) which I'm totally loving. Thanks for the tip steph! I never wanted to leave, but I'm now at the airport headed to nha trang!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Good Morning Vietnam

So far, I'm loving Vietnam! It makes sense that I feel right at home in communist countries after spending three years at HLS (the Kremlin on the Charles). The food is really good and the people are friendly but not overly aggressive. This may also because my backpacking wardrobe suggests I'm an angry lesbian (convertible pants + birkenstocks + baseball cap= dreamy), but that never deterred the Bolivians or Chinese.

My first stop was the War Remnants Museum. There was an entire room dedicated to the evil US, featuring pictures of US soldiers shooting Vietnamese "civilians." There was an outdoor garden featuring american tanks, planes, and helicopters. I'm not sure if that was supposed to trigger white guilt, but it made me want to listen to "Brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue." (If you dont know it, youtube it immediately.)

In the afternoon, I went to the Reunification Palace. It was built as a palace for the French governor. There, instead of the US being the bad guy, the French were the evil ones. I managed to choke back the involuntary laugh when France and "great military power" pop up in the same sentence.When the communists invaded Saigon in 1975, this building was left just as it was. Just like the Churchill war rooms in London, all the old telephones, radio rooms, and war maps are still in place. It's a total timewarp.

I'll post pictures some time but the internet here is super slow. Off to Phu Quoc tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In Saigon

Location: Saigon
Hotel:Saigon mini hotel 5

After 24 hours of flying, I made it to Saigon! The locals seem to say Saigon not ho chi Minh city, so I'm going with that. In my usual fine form, within an hour of landing, I was in the rain on the street arguing with a taxi driver in the middle of Saigon who was trying to charge me twenty times the normal rate blaming increasing gas prices. Clearly that didn't work out well for him. But fear not, I claimed to be from Canada so i haven't given the Vietnamese another reason to hate Americans.

Now that I've figured out how to get my browser to display English, not Vietnamese, blogging should be much easier. Off to explore in the morning :)