Sunday, July 29, 2007

Thailand, Bangkok and Tiger Temple: June 11-14

Bangkok: We found Asha Guesthouse on the internet and it turned out to be a decent place with nice surroundings. The only drawback was that it was in an inconvenient location. Despite that, we still stayed at Asha’s for all three days that we were in Bangkok.

On the day that we arrived, we saw everyone wearing yellow shirts in honour of the king’s 80th birthday so on our way to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar we picked up some for ourselves. Somehow, the moment that we put on the shirts we instantly felt happier. Maybe because our shirts were bright yellow or maybe it was because we fit in so well.

Some of the sightseeing things we did: Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, Reclining Buddha, Dusit Palace (because we got free tickets from our Grand Palace tickets), Wat Arun Wararam and Chinatown. And of course, people tried to con us. Outside the Grand Palace, someone tried to tell us that it was closed and that he could get a tuk tuk for us to take us to the “Lucky Buddha” which, lucky for us, is open only once a month and that day happened to be that day. We stuck with our plan and then as we were walking into the Grand Palace, we saw a sign that warned us not to listen to strangers who talk about the “Lucky Buddha” and that the Palace was open everyday. Another time, we tried to take a tuk tuk to the train station so that we could buy tickets to Chiang Mai but the driver took us to a travel agent even though we kept arguing that we wanted to go to the train station. We ended up getting off and walking the rest of the way.

A friend told Liz and I about how in the movie theatres in Thailand you have to stand for the king’s anthem. Out of curiosity, we went to watch Shrek 3 and as a treat we got popcorn and some Bacardi Breezers. We wanted to try the first class tickets but opted for the regular priced tickets. Apparently though, you get to go into a VIP room before the movie and you get unlimited popcorn and drinks.


Tiger Temple: One of the things that I really wanted to do during our trip was to visit the tiger temple and pet some tigers. My aunt had a picture with one when she was younger and I always wanted to do the same since I was a kid. Who thought I’d actually get the chance to! We took a bus to Kanchanaburi and then we got on another bus to get closer to the temple. From the main road, it was about a 15 minute walk on a dirt road. Once you get to the place where the tigers are, there are lots of staff that will take your camera and your hand and walk you to each of the tigers so that you can take pictures with them. You can take as many pictures as you want. You can also get a picture with the tiger’s head in your lap but you have to pay a little bit of money and wait until the tiger falls asleep. If you stay till around 4:30pm, you can watch the tiger feeding but we left before that time. I think the tigers are vegetarian too.
Back in Kanchanaburi, we also visited the Bridge over the River Kwai. There’s a whole history behind this bridge and how the Japanese used prisoners of war to build it. Google it for the whole story because I’m not even sure myself.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vietnam coast: June 4-11

Mekone Delta: We did a day trip to the Mekone Delta hoping to do something active but we were a little bit disappointed. We booked a tour and ended up spending most of the day sitting on a slow moving boat with a really loud motor. We went through the Cai Bai Market, which I thought would be more interesting based on the description given by our tour guide on the bus. It’s a market were you need a boat to go through and you buy item off of boats. The way you can tell what each boat is selling is by what they hang on their bamboo stick lifted into the air. I thought there would be more activity and we would actually get to go shopping but we just drove through it quickly. After that, we went to see how rice paper, coconut candy and popped rice are made and do some taste testing. The tour also included a lunch and a little bit of live Vietnamese music for entertainment. At least this tour was cheap ($7USD including bus to get there and back to Ho Chi Minh)

Nga Trang: After our day trip to the Mekone, we hopped on an overnight but to Nga Trang. Not exactly the most comfortable ride in the world but again it was cheap (a few dollars). We stayed at a place called Truc Linh, which wasn’t too bad but I wished we had picked the room with the balcony instead of the one with a tiny seaview.

There was a lot to do in Nga Trang and my cousin Ly Ly would say that it’s the best place to go for the beach in Vietnam. On our first day we decided to go to the spa to rejuvenate. Hot weather also makes us pretty lethargic. We took a taxi to the Thap Ba Hot Springs and enjoyed a pretty unappealing mud bath, soaking in mineral water, and then swimming in mineral water. Yes, we paid money to sit a tub full of mud, mud that is normally associated with dirtiness and we were neck deep in it. I really hope that our bodies got some benefit from it, otherwise it’s pretty gross.

The next day, we went snorkeling around Mun Island with Vinadive. We had a decent lunch on the boat and we got to go into the water twice. It was my first time snorkeling and it was so much fun. I used a lifejacket because I’m not a very good swimmer and it felt like I was flying above the sea world. By the end though, the current was getting too strong and I almost got seasick. After that, we looked for a place to shower because we hadn’t booked a room for the night. We ended up going to a beauty salon and Liz got a massage while I got my hair washed and the shower came free. Liz’s massage was only $5USD but when it came to tipping, the girls were expecting $5 but we would only give the percentage that we were used to. The service really wasn’t that good, otherwise there’d be no disagreement.

Hoi An: After another overnight bus, we arrived in Hoi An and actually let a guy convince us to stay at the hotel he was trying to market. It turned out to be a great place, called Phuoc An Hotel. There was a swimming pool, free breakfast, free bicycle rentals and the rooms are great. The only downfall is that all the staff are desperate to make commission so they are always trying to get you to go to their sister tailor store or get you to book a tour through them.

Hoi An is known for its tailors who custom make clothes and even shoes. We tried to get some things made but it takes a bit of effort because you have to keep going back so that they can make adjustments. Also, the things we had made weren’t really spectacular. I think next time, we’d have to go prepared with the right pictures and think through what we really want.

Aside from shopping, we also signed up for a cooking class and learned how to make pho, tofu and vegetables and lemon grass chicken. Our food was delicious and it was nice to have someone prepare all the things for us and then clean up after us. I can’t remember what the restaurant was called but the woman was really really nice. We made sure to leave a really good tip. Also, two famous dishes in Hoi An are Cao Lao and White Rose. Make sure to give it a try if you’re in town because I haven’t really seen it around in other places.

We went on a My Son tour of the Chum Ruins one day and it was absolutely baking that day. It was kind of a substitute for missing Ankor Wat this time around. I know it doesn’t compare but it was still pretty neat to see. I think restoration is in place but it’s difficult because the technique for building the structures have been lost. Nothing is used as mortar to hold the pieces together.

It seems like we did a lot in Hoi An but we actually had a lot of free time, mostly to hide from the heat of the day. Liz took mid-afternoon naps and I swam in the pool and actually read a book. It felt like how a relaxing vacation should feel like.

Hanoi: After a painful night bus to get to Hue and then transfer to get to Hanoi, we discovered that our plane ticket out of Vietnam was for June 11 and not June 10 so we had to stay a day in Hanoi. It was just our luck to check into Joy Hotel were our hotel room flooded and we ended up in an argument with the employees. I came down in the morning to let someone know that our room flooded and a guy had the nerve to hand me a mop. Mop or no mop, there was really too much water for me to try to clean up on my own. The guy told me someone would come and after a few hours, no one came and we had to check out to rush to the airport. I left a backpack on the floor so some of my things were wet. I asked to borrow a hairdryer from front desk to blowdry my documents and that was later used against me saying that I used a high power consumption device. I still think the staff was being unfair and irresponsible and it really makes to mad to think about it. So spread the word and warm people about the Joy Hotel in Hanoi in the Old Quarters.

Before our bad luck with the hotel, we visited the Museum of Ethnology. There are sooo many different tribes in Vietnam to read about that eventually my mind glazed over until we got to the part about the stamps being used when things were rationed. I can’t imagine life were consumption was controlled beyond the point were your needs are not met.

More Pictures to Come