Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cambodian Outtakes

Here are some out takes from our Cambodia portion of the trip:

On our first day in Cambodia, our amazing hosts took us too a discoclub.  Which was this giant space that had a huge stage and live singers.  The singers also had some back up dancers.  Im having trouble finding the correct words to describe the dancers and their dancing methods.  Basically, if you can lift your arm up in the air and twirl it around, you can be hired as a back up dancer at this place.  The dances were choreographed, so they obviously put some effort in, but they were just really bad.

In addition, Nick got on the dance floor.  The dancing at this place by its patrons was interesting.

Take you to the next day, we're driving from Phnom Phen to Siam Reap.  We get off the road quick to check out an ancient Cambodian bridge.  Its in great shape, really big, and overall, pretty amazing.  Lucky for us, someone who lives next to the bridge has the loudest soundsystem in Cambodia.  So to take in the scenery and enjoy the moment, this is what happened:  (watch the video's in order)

video


video

video

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 18: Siagon

We hit the city today and accomplished the few things we didn't get done last week.  The "bikes" have been returned and we all somehow survived the driving without any injuries. 

As of now, Charlie and Nick are at the airport and I'm all alone in Saigon.  You'd think I'd be happy to get away from them by now, but that isn't the case at all.  It's not much fun here without them.

I guess the trip is pretty much over. 

:(

(some new posts below and there will hopefully be some more when we get back to the states)

Day 16: Cat Tien National Park to Saigon

We ended up forming two groups today.  Nick hit the road and headed to HCMC in the morning to get ready for his big night of salsa.  Charlie and Danny took a guided tour to Crocidile Lake in Cat Tien National Park then headed to HCMC. 

The tour was pretty great.  This national park is mainly jungle, so we saw many amazing things that we would never see in the states. (more to come later)



Day 15: lunch (continuation of Nicks previous post)

We stopped in a small town to get some lunch before we headed to Cat Tien National Park.  Finding places to eat in these towns is rediculously difficult.  No restaurant signs, people dressed up as hamburgers trying to get you to come in or drive throughs.  So after a couple stops, we ended up sitting in front of a place that looked like a store.

After trying to communicate to the people, they ended up bring us eight warm beers and some ice.  They were definitely great to have, but we were starving.  So I got out the guidebook and rambled some Vietnamese to them and eventually got them to understand that we wanted some food.  So the four older people there talked for a bit and next thing we knew, one of them grabbed her bike and biked down the road.

Ten minutes later, she came back with two kinds of soup, three chicken legs, some delicious pork, and some steamed veggies (not to gloat, but I mentioned all of these things to the lady in Vietnamese, among many others).  All in all, the meal was just ok, but the service was exceptional.  Here is a pick of a couple of our amazing hosts.

And here is a couple picks of some of the men across the street who wouldn't stop staring at us (we had this happen everywhere we went)



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 14: Da Lat to Bao Lac

As Nick said in the post earlier, I got the most kicks out of today. Da Lat is about 1500 meters high, kind of a little (150,000 people) mountain town, minus the snow and slopes. It felt like the Vietnamese version of Switzerland to me.

The day started with a delicious breakfast in the kitchen of the hotel. Lots of fresh fruit and the typical baguette with omelette. After breakfast, we decided to check out a few of the sights around Da Lat. The first stop was the Crazy House. The place was half Dali-esque and half completely random, it definitely lived up to its name. I'm really not sure of the background of the place, so I will just let the pics speak for themselves.

After that, we checked out the local market. The market was far and beyond the best market we've been to on this trip (every town has one). It had a crazy butcher section, amazing veggies everywhere, live animals, shops offering 30 different kinds of rice, etc. It had everything. Best part about it was that there were few Westerners there and people generally were not trying to sell us a bunch of cheap knick knacks. It was great.

After the market, we packed our "bikes" up and headed towards Bao Loc with the plan of stopping by a few waterfalls on the way there. The first one offered a "roller coaster" down to the falls. It also offered a ride back up the 1 km trail afterward, so we decided to take it. The waterfalls were pretty nice, but we are all pretty distracted by the various objects the Vietnamese placed around the falls. They were really out of place. Here is a pick of Nick, Charlie and some Vietnamese man wouldn't get out of the way, but ended up doing a great job of participating in the photo:



A few km's down the road, we stopped by another place. We didn't last long at this place. The waterfalls look pretty meek and and ladies hawking cheap shit were relentless, so we got back on our "bikes" and headed towards the next stop.

Nick enjoying a road sign.


Charlie showing Vietnam what he thinks of Di Linh.


About 50 km later, we couldn't find the next place, which has become a routine for us here because there basically are no signs and we do not have a suitable map. So we backtracked about 4 times and finally took a road that led us to our last and by far the most impressive waterfalls of the day. Really big, pretty, and very few people there. I would have been nice to spend some time there, but darkness was coming and we had 60 km to go.



I'm guessing we've given this impression already, but driving on the roads here is crazy. Buses fly at you from both directions, motorbikes are everywhere, animals are all over the side of the road, people light fires everywhere. Its nuts. So a 60 km drive in the dark is pretty scary. Unfortunately for us, Charlies "motorbike" was the only one with working headlights and taillights (my headlights were out and Nicks taillights were out). So Charlie led the pack, Nick followed him, and I took up the rear.

Charlie decided that the best way to blend into this country is by honking at everything that comes his way, he was especially horn happy on this drive. I'm guessing he hit his horn about 300 times. The best honk he had though was when he mistook a road side fire for something that could have been of danger. Yes, Charlie honked at a fire.

We all made it to Bao Loc, a town of 200,000, tired and hungry. Found a hotel and walked around the empty town to find some food. We ended up a Vietnamese Hot Pot restaurant and ate some pretty sketchy food. Fortunately, 6 hours later we felt fine, so we dodged a bullet on that one. Dinner was followed by some treats, then some well needed rest.

All in all, a pretty good day.

Day 16: Food

We all just ate duck fetus.  (better known as balut)

Yum.

(Charlie also ate a fish eye)

Day 15: Close calls

Day 15 started as most days have: behind schedule. We ate some sort of pork tenderloin + egg + rice concoction for breakfast and packed up our things.

Close call #1: Lost keys
As is common practice in Vietnam, we parked our bikes inside the hotel lobby the previous evening. When I got down to the hotel lobby to pack up my motobike, I noticed that I didn't have my key. To make a long story short, only after fifteen minutes of searching and trying to pry the under-seat compartment open with my bare hands did the lady at the front desk inform me that I left my keys in the ignition the previous night. She had them in her desk.

Close call #2: Cops
Somewhere in between Bao Loc and Cat Tien National Park Danny and I got pulled over by the police. The cop signaled me to pull over and whacked me in the arm with his baton as I slowed down. I quickly recalled post number 3: "If the police stop you, just keep talking English or whatever you want and they'll soon give up and let you go in less than five minutes." He pulled out a driver's license and indicated that he wanted to see our Vietnam license. I just said "I don't understand" a few times and he told us to just go away.

Close call #3: Snake
Despite me being stupid (keys) and acting stupid (cops), we managed to get to Cat Tien National Park before sunset. Charlie and I went for a 20k run through the jungle in search of bat caves. We didn't find them, but we did run across a snake on the trail. The part we could see was at least 6 feet long. Luckily, that was the tail end and he didn't see us. We didn't try to examine its total length. But as actuaries, we feel qualified to estimate the total length as 12 feet.

Close call #4: Spider
Just before we hit the sack for the evening, I heard a little girl scream. Actually it was Charlie in the bathroom. A "giant" spider had just crawled across his foot. And it had "huge spindly legs." I went in for the kill because Charlie couldn't handle it.

We also went for a late night wildlife tour in Cat Tien National Park. The three of us and a tour guide sat in the back of a pickup truck while the driver slowly drove through the main trail. The tour guide tried to spot wildlife with a spotlight. We saw a couple deer and some birds. Danny was disappointed that we didn't encounter any rabid monkeys. It was actually a very cool tour even though we didn't spot much wildlife. It was very peaceful and we had a great view of the night sky.

We stayed overnight in a cabin inside the National Park. We all slept in mosquito nets.

Day 14: Da Lat

Coming soon: details about the Crazy House, Da Lat market, water falls, and a roller coaster. I'll let Danny do this post since he got the biggest kick out of day 14.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 13: Mui Ne to De Lat (continued)

Yesterday was amazing. We traveled over 100 miles from Mui Ne to De Lat today on our mopeds. If you look at a map, we took the most direct route, winding through the mountains and the jungle on a poorly maintained road from Soung Luy to Phi Nom. The road varied between pavement and dirt, and was pretty much impassable for four wheeled vehicles. Bend after bend opened up to majestic views, each more impressive than the previous.



It's hard to due the area justice with a few pictures, so we'll try and upload some video.



Interesting things that happened yesterday:
  • Went jogging on the beach at Mui Ne in the morning and helped some old fishermen pull their boat out of the surf. Snaggletooth grins followed.
  • Were escorted through the mountains south of Phi Nom by two Vietnamese men on a moped.
  • Navigated through numerous puddles, mud pits, and breaks in the pavement.
  • Had awesome Pho Boc and coffee in Phi Nom. (Pictured below with the coffee shots.) The coffee was grown just south of town. We drove by a number of orchards and bean drying operations.

  • Saw a Vietnamese man fall off his motorcycle in Phi Nom, just as he was starting out. Not sure what happened, but he did a cartwheel and landed on his head. No helmet. He was still dazed after we drove away.

Here is a brief video of the drive.

video

Day 13: Mui Ne to Da Lat

We had a weird start today.  Packed our bags, loaded the bikes, then got into a conversation with a moto driver.  We've all quickly learned that the moto drivers have two jobs.  They give people rides for basically nothing and they also claim to have beautiful Boom Boom girls.  So they're basically pimps.

So we got into a conversation with the local pimp and ended up getting some directions from him to Da Lat.  After a three man pow wow, we ended up deciding to take his route.  He was kind enough to draw a little map and wrote some things out in Vietnamese for us in case we need to ask for directions.  This map came in handy.

The route began along the gorgeous coastline, then turned off towards some sand dunes.  All was great, until we came upon a random wedding party, then right after some kids decided to play chicken with us for some reason.  Here is the video (it was much better live):

video


About an hour later, we stopped on the side of the road for some directions.  I approached an elderly lady who looked at our map and said something to me in Vietnamese.  I clearly had no clue what she was saying.  Instead of trying a different word, giving me hand signals, or just walking away, she decided to repeat the two words.  Over and over again, each time saying it louder and louder.  In the end, she was practically yelling at me.  I still have no idea what she was saying.

See Charlies post for the rest of the amazing day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 12: Mui Ne

Some highlights of today (in addition to Charlies post):
  • Finally had our first illness today, Nick was slowed down for a bit, but he's recovered already.
  • The beach here is spectacular.
  • Charlie and I got some good windsurfing in.
  • The Russians have taken over Vietnam (at least this part of it). This town is 95% Russian tourists. All the signs are in Russian, menus have Russion, etc. The front desk at our 4 star resort even has Moscow time on its clock.
  • What do three grown men do when its 7 pm and they don't have anything to do? We go and get a massage of course. Charlie decided to bargain with the lady so we all got manicures and pedicures in addition to our $19 massage! My nails have never looked better. (I'm being serious; Nick opted out of the manicure)
  • Nick hasn't been the same ever since his pedicure.
We're headed for a coastal ride today, then up into the Central Highlands to a city named Dalat.

(Kudos to my sister Michelle and brother in law Kenny, it sounds like my puppy Grace is raising hell back in Seattle. I can't wait to deal with all of her bad habits when I return.)

Farewell Cambodia

Some last pictures from and thoughts on Cambodia:

People

All the people we met in Cambodia were incredibly genuine and welcoming. There was no hint of distrust towards strangers.


Driving

Driving in Cambodia is crazy. People, bicycles, animals, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and all sorts of other objects constantly enter and exit the road way. People, vehicles, and animals regularly park themselves in the middle of the road. (Grain is dried in the road, but towards the side.) Tour buses pass anything and everything at will - and at high speeds. We were all forced off of the road by tour buses passing other vehicles and barreling straight at us.

Below is a typical scene in the country side.


Carts drawn by water buffalo were always cool to see.



Air

Cambodia has gorgeous sunsets. However, the smell of smoke permeates the day in Cambodia. Trash is burned in the morning and evening. Also, slash and burn agriculture is still employed to clear fields for planting. The consequence is that Cambodia smells like it's burning.



Temples and Load Speakers

I have some unanswered questions about how the monks living in the many temples throughout Cambodia subsist and what was being broadcast through PA systems in many of the rural towns we passed through.

Scenes from a temple located outside of Battambang.




Monkeys

There are plenty of monkeys in Cambodia, but the lady at the travel clinic scared the piss out of me when she described getting bit by a rabid monkey. The pictures below were taken with a zoom.



Khmer Rouge

It is difficult to comprehend the scars and set backs caused by the Khmer Rouge. Mass graves exist all over Cambodia. The photo below is of a cave outside of Battambang used by the Khmer Rouge as a mass grave. Not pictured are numerous bone piles and murals depicting the execution methods used.


Bye

In Vietnam. Traded the Dual Sports for ...

This quote from Dumb and Dumber sums it up. (Substitute "dual sport" for "van".)

Harry: Where did you find that?

Lloyd: Some kid back in town, traded the van for it, straight up. I can get 70 miles to the gallon on this hog.

Harry: You know, Lloyd, just when I think that you can't get any dumber, you go and do something like this...AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!


Our mopeds, parked off of highway 1A, just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.


We're now at Mui Ne beach in Vietnam. Here are few pictures from today.

Kite surfers. (Those things that look like bats flying on the horizon are more kite surfers.) Danny and I did some wind surfing today. The combination of 3-5ft waves and strong winds made it a bit challenging, but very fun.


The man in the pictures below is paddeling out to his fishing boat, in a half sphere that is like a giant wicker basket.




The couple below is preparing to launch a similar vessel.


Danny, right before he got hit by a moped (at a very slow speed). His responce: "They should have honked." A newly minted expert in SE Asia driving rules.


Fishing boats moored on a river in Phan Thiet.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 11: To the coast

We left Saigon this morning en route to Mui Ne. Danny and I felt like we should really embrace the whole moped thing, so we ditched our motorcycle helmets for some matching Saigon-style motorbike helmets.

Charlie wore the helmet cam to document the madness that is Saigon traffic.  The traffic was definitely a little light, but still pretty imposing.  Nevertheless, vve all made it out unscathed.  Here is a link to the video of us getting out of Saigon.


The 200k ride to Mui Ne was pretty disappointing. We were hoping to see some of the famed Vietnam countryside, but instead saw a lot of old buildings, trucks, mopeds, and pollution. Highway driving is almost as nuts as Cambodia. We all had a couple close calls with busses and I almost ran over a girl that decided not to look before she walked out into the road.

The scooters cruised pretty easily at 70km/hr, but they're no Honda Bahas. Trading the dual sport motorcyles for mopeds is like switching from a manual transmission BMW to an automatic transmission Saturn. You will get you where you need to go, but it's not as fun, not as fast, and you don't want your friends to see you driving it.

Around 175k, we turned toward the coast and finally caught a glimpse of the Pacific - it's just as beautiful from this side of the globe, but not quite as rough. We arrived at our hotel right around nightfall, went for a quick run, and had a disappointing dinner. All in all, not a terribly exciting day. But we're in Mui Ne now and have high hopes for tomorrow. Dune buggies and wind surfing are possibilities.

video

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 10: Still in Ho Chi Minh City

Last night after arriving the 6-hour bus trip from Phnom Penh to Saigon, we checked out the local salsa club per Nick's request. We ended up hanging out with the salsa group and going to dinner with them. They took us to a seafood restaurant where we had some amazing food. They ordered three different kind of snails, some clams, scallaps, noodles, and some other delicious food. Definitely our best meal yet. We ended up picking up the tab. For 13 people, food and drinks, it cost us 1,000,000 Dong! Nick couldn't count all the zeros up, so he just paid the bill. Fortunately, that amount is approximately $50. Not bad.

We had a little twist in our "plans" today. We got up fairly early looking a little staggard. After breakfast, we went out to get our motorcycles. Unfortunately, our motorbike connection in HCMC turned out to be a moped connection. After some scrambling and some research, we basically figured out that they do not rent anything more than 125 cc moped. So we went out to talk to a travel agency, this led to us talking to a moto driver, which led us to get into this situation:

The moto's took us to District 7, in search of a "good" moped to buy for our trip. We all tested a moped out and bargained a bit. The deal was $380 per bike and they'd buy it back when we return for $360. Needless to say, we were pretty damn close to becoming moped owners in Vietnam. Last minute though, we decided that the situation was too sketchy and we'd come back later after we talked to some more people.

After some debate, we ended up renting three moped's for $60 for the week. While these are nice, its kind of deflating to go from our Honda Baja Dual Sports to these dinky things, but they will do.

In HCMC, we checked out the war museum, which was pretty amazing. Lots of really cool photos, info, and weapons. Here is a pic of Charlie at the museum:

HCMC is a crazy place. Very crazy. Its beyond any other city I've ever been to before. Oddly enought though, it kind of reminds me of Las Vegas in the sense that if you stay there for two days ,its just the right amount of time, but if you stay longer you want to get the heck out of there. Additionally, in Vegas you hear the constant sound of "ding ding ding ding ding" from the slot machines. Here it is "honk honk" or "honk honk honk" or sometimes if the moto's or taxi's palms are sore from hitting the horn, they just go "honk".
Tomorrow, we're getting on our "motorcycles" and heading to Mui Ne for some beach action. We'll make sure to think of everyone back in Seattle while we're laying on the beach or bobbing in the ocean, soaking up the 85 degree weather.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 9: Headed to Vietnam!

We stopped off about 100 km from Phnom Penh last night.  Headed to PP to drop off the bikes, then off top Vietnam!

Well be in Ho Chi Minh City tonight around 8 pm.  Got some great footage on the trip into the city today.