A Travellerspoint blog

It's time to see the Killing Fields :(

Killing Fields and the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, and now I really HATE Pol Pot!

sunny 80 °F

Who needs a wake up call when you have construction outside of your hotel window? Today is June 24th, 2010 and it is going to be a hard day. Lisa and I have hired a tuk tuk to take us to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (killing fields of Phnom Penh, Cambodia) and then to the Genocide Museum (S-21 prison that used to be a high school) that was used from 1975-1979 to hold the people and interrogate them before sending them on buses to the area killing fields to be beaten, killed and buried in mass grave sites. I learned a bit about this entire barbarous cruel crime committed by the Ultra Communist Khmer Rouge Regime from Lisa and also several travelers along the way. I must admit, I didn’t really know anything and then when I found realized the years this was going on I couldn’t help but feel for this people (I was living a happy 1 year old life in the US as other 1 year olds were being slammed against trees to their innocent deaths).

The 2 places were very sad and sickening really. They brought a sense of “wow! This really happened?” As we walked through the killing fields and read posted signs, saw bones and walked over teeth on the ground, well, it all became very real. For some group of people, heck 1 individual, to start this whole regime is just wrong. He went by the name of Pol Pot (Sa lut Sor) and I feel he showed no signs of remorse as he paid no consequences for his actions. I am glad he is dead now but that is only because he was sick, old and died at home in 1998. I only wish he could have been tortured and felt part of the pain he put an entire country through. That is my own personal opinion on the matter and sorry if that offends anyone.

Our first stop was at the killing fields and we did see a 17 tier “stupa” which in Buddhism is a sacred structure with remains of the deceased. They were arranged in order of ages and sex. Along with that, we saw many mass grave sites, the killing tree (used to kill babies by holding their feet and smashing them against it), and even a tree with a loud speaker in it. The sign said it was used to play loud noises to cover the sounds of agony the people would scream out as they were being killed. It was brought to my attention that Cambodia was liberated from the Khmer Rouge rule on 1/7/79 and soon after the fields were discovered. 129 mass graves were found, 86 excavated. In those, 8.985 corpses were removed.

The second stop of the day was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former security office 21 and created by the heartless Pol Pot on April 17, 1975 and on January 7, 1979 was no longer used for such inhuman torture. They opened the Museum on August 19, 1979. We were able to walk through many of the old classrooms which were turned into interrogation rooms and divided into tiny prison cells. They had many original torture tools for us to see, along with blood stains on the floors and old photographs of the victims. Many rooms had photographs of all the prisoners. Lisa and I noticed some of them had smiles on their faces and must have been nervous or unsure of what they were about to face. I couldn’t help but think of all the pain people endured on the very steps I would take as I walked through the halls of this torturous place. We watched a documentary but it wasn’t the best and didn’t really make it any more clear for us.

I discovered that the research into the prison records of S-21 showed over an estimated 20,000 prisoners, all of which were killed but 7 remained when they shut it down. They ranged from age 39-79. What an experience. I am glad Lisa made me see such a place even though it was so hard to stomach.

We had a long hard day and we got back to the hotel in time for a bit of a break. I walked around the Royal Palace but it was closed so just took a look from outside. Then, enjoyed a river run as I watched the local kids play ball made from bamboo and even saw a baby taking a nap on the cement. This is NOT the US that is fore sure. I find running allows me to take in and witness a lot of the every day life of the local people. I always get the looks as if I am doing something crazy but no one knows me and if I can amuse them that is quite alright.

As I ran I decided I must try once more to find an orphanage. I took down a few emails and names on a poster, tried to get the hotel to call one for me and the tuk tuk driver to bring me to one but I had no luck. I just want to give some time, see the children and bring them rice. If I could not get any answers by morning then I would head to Battambang and begin a new search. In the meantime, happy hour called and Lisa and I enjoyed a few beverages and some grub before she retired for the night and I emailed and did some orphanage research. I planted the seeds and now I must wait. Little did I know that the wait would be only 7 hours later with a wake up call at 7am from one of the guys from an orphanage-type place just 1 hour in the countryside. I am still unsure as to how he got my room number but I told him to meet me at noon. Is it a sign or a bit weird to have gotten suck a response and for him to say he would send a car to get me?

It’s 6/25/10 and I have decided to check out. Lisa moved to a single room and if the orphanage thing sounds good, I will go but if not, I am off to Battambang. I managed to do a run around some temples to clear my head and back to shower before speaking with the man on the school/orphanage. I felt a good vibe and decided on going with him and even wrote Lisa a note so someone would know my location. I ran into her though and she seemed it was alright. The next 45 minutes changed it all. I thought it was a private car but now we were taking a public taxi the size of a corolla and after myself and Samnon got in the car we waited for more. Next, a red eyed guy got in so that makes 3 guys to the 1 and not sure if I could take them all. Call me crazy or too cautious but once he said we were getting 4 more guys in this car because that is how they fill taxis in this country, well, I asked to be brought back to the hotel. I told him if I stay in town and find my own way down then I would help out. That or get a friend to join me. Looking back I was probably being too safe and jumping the gun a bit but the last thing I would want to happen is for my parents to get a call that I am lost and I was just trying to help the children.

Battambang here I come! I bought a bus ticket for the unknown and was set to leave in 1 hours time. I knew the couple from OZ that I met on night 1 were also going there and it was a stopping point in route to Siem Reap. I was in the middle of writing another letter to Lisa to update her as I found her again. I said a final goodbye as she headed for a blind massage and I for the bus stop. Wow! I am back to solo travel after a month’s time with a fellow traveler. It’s always scary and sad to leave new friends but the memories will last forever and saying goodbye isn’t always the case anymore. I see far too often how paths cross again and maybe we will meet again. One thing is for certain, it was a great time having a travel companion and taking on this part of the journey with another person. Thank you for that Lisa!

It’s 130pm and time for a 5 hour bus trip. I played the “sleeping” game with my leg on the other seat so I could get 2 seats to myself. This was the first bus trip that I can say I was the only traveler with all locals on the bus. I kept dozing off here and there and then woke as we made a pit stop for food. This was the place in which I will always remember because today, June 25, 2010 is when I was introduced to a new love of my life…BBQ BANANAS! Who knew 4 tiny bananas could taste so good with a bit of crispy brown on the outside and a nice warm center. Watch out chips and salsa because this girl as another favorite food!!!

Upon my arrival to Battambang I was attacked by tuk tuk drivers of course. I managed to snag a free one and he brought me to several hotels before I had to settle on one with no wifi in the room. I know, I am getting so spoiled in Cambodia that I need it in the room so I can be in bed on the internet. I forget so much that I am in a 3rd world country as wifi, cell phones and cable TV are all around. Life is good. Just as I set out for the market across the street, I decided to look at the Royal Hotel. Good thing I did because I was able to go back, get my things and check into this hotel with wifi in the room and less money. In the middle of my change who do you think I ran into in the lobby?? The guy from the couple in OZ! We chatted a bit and he told me to see the killing caves and do the bamboo train. They were heading to Siem Reap in the morning and I bet I will run into them again.

What better way to end my day of travel and celebrate my first night in Battambang than with 3 corns on the cob from the market! Yummy! I took in some westerner TV on the cable TV and called it a night. Tomorrow I will arrange a tuk tuk to take me to the killing caves and the bamboo train. After that, check out area orphanages and find a jogging route. I know my life just appears so difficult right now, doesn’t it?

Cheers!
Jk livin’

The Dish is out…

Posted by Dishtravel 05:53 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Good morning Vietnam! Let's hit the tunnels!

It's time for the big city. Hello Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam!

semi-overcast 80 °F

It’s June 19th, 2010 and we just arrived at T.M Brother’s travel shop after our last sleep on a night bus. I know we are ahead of the United States so much that it is technically still 6/18/10 there but I left LAX airport on 6/19/09. Wow, almost my 365 days away. Crazy thinking I was initially going for 66 days. That is the beauty of taking each day as it arises and never looking too far ahead. The time is just after 6am and I am so tired but left my backpack at the travel shop to grab a bit of grub and on to the bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels. My intention was to be in the city for just a few days. Reason being, this was a big city and stores all over the place, not to mention high-end stores that you would see on Rodeo Drive. I didn’t trust myself to stay here too long.

Lisa and I kept our things at the travel shop and hit the bus for a day of the tunnels outside of Saigon. Of course we did the touristy stops along the way but I refrained from buying anything. After a few hours of bus time we arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong hid and set traps for the American troops during the Vietnam War. We all know that I am not that big on the history but this was very interesting to me and I actually watched the short video. My mouth dropped when they made comments like “a school girl got an award for KILLING AMERICANS” and how some men were given “honorable awards for KILLING 16 AMERICANS!” There has been a great amount of time that has past and I would think they would word the video a bit differently now.

After the viewing, we hit the tunnels and were given the chance to hide out ourselves. It was crazy to see how they made all these tramps for us Americans. I got a photo of myself in an actual American tank used during the war as well as many in the tunnels themselves. I was proud of myself for going inside the tiny spaces. Once we were all done, we had tea and some tapioca. Loved it! It was like a potato and they lived off of it during war time as it was very cheap to grow. We ate it with a sugar/salt/peanut mixture and I just couldn’t get enough.

Back to the big city to find a place for our things. On the way, we hit the alley ways and I found a cheap fresh spring roll lady in which I visited everyday. We didn’t speak the same language but there goes the universal sign of a smile and laughter again. Can’t beat that. Van Trang was the name of the hotel and it was very central. Very close to the markets and to shopping. I was meaning to run but the rain stopped me. Lisa met up with a friend as I ventured around solo for the night.

As I mentioned, it was my 365 days away and I am not sure what came over me but I stumbled upon a tattoo shop. I asked on fixing my dolphin on my foot as it has been 14 years since I got that and it is very faded. The language barrier was a bit tough but I felt it would be okay as it was just going over what I already had done. I pondered the thought and went back to eat some spring rolls and googled tattoo places and headed back, thinking I was brave and strong. WOW! Was I wrong! The past week or so my feet would feel tingles, almost as if they were sleeping so I thought this would be okay as maybe my foot would be numb to it all.
Apparently, my senses were heightened because that was the only thing to explain the pain and agony I felt as he began to trace over the outline of the dolphin and black stuff around it. I can’t recall EVER feeling that much pain and part of me wondered at that very moment if I could ever had a child. There I was, laying on the table, one hand gripping the wall, the other gripping the bed and I couldn’t help but let out a scream and loud humming noise. I couldn’t even bring tears to my eyes as the pain was just too much. I swear I am not making this up and think it has to do with the crazy feelings I was having in my feet.

So much for being spontaneous and crazy on my 365 days away from US soil. A few Canadians even came into the shop and I apologized for my behavior. Long story short, who can say there were kicked out of a tattoo shop?? I can now!! They kicked me out and said it was too painful for me. I will keep my faded dolphin. The girl actually finished the outline as I had to draw it on with pen. Yep, they didn’t quite hit the same lines. I left frustrated and as I walked the rainy streets with one flip flop on and the other in my hand, well, I felt a bit like a bum. I couldn’t believe what just happened and ran into some girls from the tour earlier in the day that were from Singapore. They gave me a hug and I couldn’t help but laugh at getting kicked out. Thankfully, most of what they outlined has come off so I am left pretty much with what I had. Just another lesson learned in my travels. Even writing this now, I just had to chuckle at how I was “kicked out” of the tattoo place. Leave it to traveling Trish.

It’s a new day and I wanted to get a workout in the park so I dressed for it and then ventured with my computer to find the store to possibly fix it. I am getting so proud of my map reading and sense of direction. No luck on the speed but after 3 hours of deleting some files and fixing my facebook block (I couldn’t get on for 3 weeks), well, I jumped up and down and all the 5 Vietnamese boys helping me at the shop just laughed at me. I swear it is like I am a darn comedian or something.

Next up, the market place where I did a bit of shopping for family and sent a package back to WI via snail mail. Should be there in September. I also filled up on some dried fruit and then later made my way to a tailor shop where I guess I was in a self splurge mode and bought myself a few scarves (I think that brings my count to over 30 this year) and even got a dress made. Call it retail therapy that I missed for a year but this girl just wanted to treat herself a bit. I had to go back to the store a few times for a fitting and held back from buying any more scarves, okay that is a lie, I did buy one more but it was very cool. I got stuck in a down pour and made my way into a fancy department store where I found Lolita Lempicka. I miss perfume and showered myself with the fragrance. I actually returned for the for next few days spraying myself with that perfume. Parts of Saigon remind me of LA in that you have Gucci, Louis, all major expensive brands. No I did not buy any of that but did find the Singapore girls again on my way back to the room. What a small world.

It’s now the 20th and I am still in Saigon. Today Lisa and I did a 1 day Mekong Delta trip and I couldn’t get enough of coconut candy samples, fruit and even snake rice wine. Very strong and it burned going down. Thanks to all the samples to get rid of the taste. We went on a few boats and even took part in a bike ride before lunch and onto the tiny boats to get more fruit and watch the locals sing. I met some Canadians and an Australian girl that was headed to Africa. I kind of feel like going there now. Another time. We made it back to Saigon by 5pm and no rain so I was able to do my park run. I love doing this daily run and seeing so many people just hanging out and at night they have a women’s dance class in the park. I didn’t participate but enjoyed watching as I made laps around the park.

Basically, I spent the rest of my time roaming the city, doing my jogs, hitting the markets for cheap and good food. I managed to find my coconut rice lady and enjoyed some with her and several other locals as the markets were closed. We couldn’t communicate so much but I think they found me funny as they kept laughing at whatever I did or said. It rained quite a bit and I never got to the mass at
Notre Dame but did see it during the evening time and a ceremony going on in Vietnamese. I like to stay in one spot for a bit after traveling on the go for so long. Plus, it is neat when you recognize people on the street and you feel so welcomed. I spotted my coconut rice girl again and she just laughed at me.

The last night in Saigon I hit a bar and worked on some typing as I took in a few wines and let the mosquitoes eat my ankles. A good lesson to know in a big city like this is that the pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. Cars will run you down I swear. You can dodge the motor scooters but be careful of the cars. My time was almost up as the bus to Cambodia would pick us up at 1230pm on June 23rd, 2010 so a day park run was in order. Then, my last time of getting my fresh spring rolls for the alley girl. I had to take her photo. I will miss this place but it is time to take on another country.

Luxury bus is right! We scored on the 6 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Upon our arrival, we got in a tuk tuk and checked out some hotels before we settled on Hometown Hotel near the riverfront. Unfortunately, we did not see the construction right outside our window as it was dark when we arrived. However, we heard it loud and clear the next morning and moved to another room.
Something I should tell you about Cambodia is that they go on the American Dollar making prices a bit higher and harder to haggle with the locals. Don’t get me wrong, I miss the American money after a year but it also makes me aware of my spending and realize that it is not monopoly money that I am traveling on anymore. On the first night, Lisa roamed by herself and I met an Australian couple that almost moved to Port Hedland as Vets. Seeing I lived there for 7 months we started chatting and I joined them for dinner and a wine. They gave me some information on what to see while in Phnom Penh and I was excited for the next few days and to take on the adventure of another country.

Welcome to Cambodia!

Cheers!
Jk livin’

The Dish is out…

Posted by Dishtravel 01:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Let's finish this Advanced already!

Diving, mud baths and chilling in Nha Trang, Vietnam

sunny 92 °F

It’s 6am on 6/15/2010 and we arrived outside of the Hoang Ha Hotel in Nha Trang. Again, we played it easy and checked into that hotel because we were told he would never turn off the air con and use a generator when the power went out. We read that the power is on one day and off the next so we wanted to make sure we would have air con via a generator if they power was out. Our hotel friend also said we were close to the action but in actuality it took roughly 12-17minutes to walk to the center of town. I will look at the positive as an added work out for the day.

After I much needed nap again from the night bus, we ventured to the town to find some lunch with my laptop in tow. I wanted to sit down for hours and catch up on some thing while Lisa wanted to shop. We asked a few travelers where the town was and once I got there it was no problem getting back to our hotel. Just a straight shot really. I am amazed at myself with my sense of direction lately. Lisa was starving and hit one of the first restaurants while I roamed a bit and before I knew it, 2 hours have past by and I didn’t eat yet. However, I did get some information on diving for the next day.

On to lunch and must find air con. I was sweating like a person after a marathon. I found a sushi joint with air con and couldn’t pass up the expensive splurge and allowed my shirt to dry up again. Who doesn’t love a dried up sweaty shirt? Did I mention that I ran out of my deodorant over a month ago and decided to go all natural? All the products here contain aluminum so I refuse to use any. Once my belly was full (never really got full due to the small roll portions) I made my way back to the hotel but decided to hit the supermarket first. Again, my great sense of direction got me there and back no problem. I picked up a few snack items and actually found some canned tuna. Never thought I would see the day to crave that stuff again but I am in need of protein.

I took it easy for the night and finalized my scuba diving for the next day. I wanted to do 3 dives but it wasn’t possible due to the weather or something so 2 dives it is and with Scuba Zone at 7:30am. Mind you, I have thought of finishing my Advanced Open Water a few times now but never went through with it in the end. See, I am an Adventure diver meaning I can dive 30m and do all the same but a part of me felt I wasn’t complete just yet. Immediately after getting in the bus, the dive guy Spike said I should finish my 2 dives. He caught me in a giving mood because I decided to pay the extra and get my Advanced already. Met some cool peeps on the boat but I had to do my last 2 lessons. Being last minute, we did a boat dive and a navigation dive.

Basically, I did a short test about boat terms and had a free dive. Swim throughs and great clear waters again. I was a bit cold in the water and never fully warmed up on the boat again before dive number 2. Another lesson down and navigation dive was next. I was able to use my sense of direction and swim in a square and finished my Advanced. I loved the dives and felt great, great lunch on board and then headed back to shore where I began to feel a bit odd. Spike claimed it was me feeling relaxed and had to comment on my great air consumption also. I went down with 200 bars and after 52 minutes still had 110 bars left. Impressive, I know. We went back to get an awesome passport photo to use for my PADI card and then on to my free drink that Spike owed me. I couldn’t even finish it and needed to get a motor scooter back to the hotel as I felt ill. It was 4pm and I was in bed and never got back up, no run, no meeting Spike for dinner because this girl was sick. At least I never wasted the day but I honestly felt so sick that tears fled down my face because I was so hot. Lisa came back to the room and I was in pain. She gave me some rehydration pills and I took it easy in bed. I think it may have been dehydration of some sort as I never really drank any water because I was so excited to do the dives. All I do know is that I said a few prayers and spent the next 20 hrs in bed. By noon the next day I was able to get out of bed and pay for my dives for yesterday. Thank God! I spent the rest of the day just walking around and a bit of beach time and then rest again. No running on the beach for this girl just yet.

Rest is good because by the next day I was feeling even better and managed to do a beach jog before we checked out of the rooms and hit the mud baths for the day. No hot guys in my tub but a cute little family. We relaxed by the pool and then showered and hit the streets. I found another great obsession, mango cakes and also pineapple/coconut/banana cakes (like a fruit roll-up). I ate then constantly for the next 24 hours before I had to stop. I think Lisa thinks I am crazy on my food obsessions and how excited I get but I love my food. She eats just once a day but this girl needs a snack every few hours and when I find something I love and can travel with, well, I go crazy. I just remember, with all the food shopping I found an awesome little bar with hammocks all around. It made me think of how great that would be to open my own bar/tiki joint back in the states. Although I am traveling all the time, this girl does randomly think of ideas for my future when I return to US soil.

Our Nha Trang adventure is almost complete. We had our scooter guys come pick us back up and waited at the hotel for the night bus, our last sleeper bus EVER!!! I also decided to not waste any time once in Saigon and bought a ticket to the Chi Chu Tunnels for the next day at 8am. We were to arrive at 6am and figured why not jump on an adventure for the day. Let’s see how my last sleep on the night bus goes and how functional I will be at 6am in Saigon.

Cheers!
Jk livin’

The Dish is out…

Posted by Dishtravel 08:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Diving, great food and shopping. What a crazy combo :)

Hoi An, Vietnam

sunny 90 °F

It’s 6/12/10 and we only had to take a bus ride for 2 hours today to get to our next location as we travel south through Vietnam. Hoi An here we are and why not just stay where the bus dropped us off again. That way, when it came time for the night bus again (yes, funny how I forgot the agony of the other night and will try the night bus again) we would be the first stop and get good seats. The Sea Star Hotel seems central and we settled into our non-air con room but we had a fridge and TV. Remember I said I wanted to go diving? Well, I decided to sign up and go tomorrow. The lobby had a flyer for an overnight on the Cham Islands and 2 dives during the day. I called up the dive shop and they said only 3 blokes from New Zealand had signed up for the overnight. Hmm, this could be interesting…I will ponder that thought for the day and Lisa and I hit the Ancient Town for some grub and spotted a cheap happy hour place to hit later. I had the best fresh spring rolls and even got some vender selling dried coconut at our table. For once, I bought something a vender was selling. We shopped around for a bit and nearly puked walking through the market at the smell. I learned my lesson and every time I went through there again I practiced holding my breath.

It was back to the hotel and a jog to the beach for me. Did someone say Happy Hour? I first phoned the dive shop and walked there to pay for the next day before free peanuts and cheap drinks at Banana Split. I am amazed how the World Cup is so famous and everyone is into watching it all the time. To be honest, I didn’t even know we had a great soccer team in the states. We made our way back to the hotel and I got an overnight bag together for the dive trip.

Good morning Vietnam! I am regretting the homemade brewed vodka drinks but trying to focus on a good day of diving. Before I knew it, we were on Cham Islands for a great lunch and had 2 dives under our belts for the day. The first one, I saw heaps of blue starfish and felt a bit like I was flying at times through the strong current. The second dive was awesome in that we had a bunch of swim throughs which I loved. We had a great group but only 3 others and myself were planning to stay for the night in tents. After lunch I chatted with the 3 blokes (okay, so 1 of them was a girl but still 2 blokes isn’t bad) and they decided to go back to the city. I wasn’t about to stay alone so back to Hoi An for me and I got a refund for the night. I surprised Lisa and ended up spending that refund money on getting a dress and a few shirts made from a local tailor. Not to mention she had the cutest little boy that I wanted to sneak in my backpack and take him home. Another jog for me and then as much as I just wanted to go to the same restaurant from yesterday, Lisa wanted to try something new. We did and I was so unimpressed with the spring rolls. Live and learn. Tomorrow I will go back to my original spot. I had a tasty glass of local red wine (chilled actually) and wandered around a bit to find a mango for dessert and then back to the hotel.

Everyone deserves to sleep in now and again so I did. Then, I did the run route in the blazing heat and had those clothes washed as we were leaving until 6pm on the night bus to Nha Trang. We checked out at noon and hit the best spring roll restaurant and our coconut lady showed up again so we bought more for the road. After lunch I decided to find some historical bridge with Lisa for a photo and helped her buy some t-shirts (she needed my haggling skills). I popped into the tailor and had to get the clothes fixed up that I bought the day before. Back to the hotel to get my laundry and then walked back to the Ancient Town. Usually the bus is late but this time, early of course. I even made it to get some more spring rolls for the road and had to run back to see the bus waiting for me. Nothing beats getting on a night bus in sweaty clothes. Bring on the road trip to Nha Trang! At least I got a great seat and leg room. All the honking aside, I was able to get a decent amount of sleep as we ventured to Nha Trang.

Cheers!
Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 01:50 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Let's go trekking through the local villages.

Sapa, Vietnam

overcast 75 °F

To the Hanoi train station we go! Why not add another form of travel to our already busy travel day. We already used multiple boats & buses so let’s try out the train system. It’s June 7th, 2010 and time to go to Sapa for 2 days of trekking through local tribes. Sapa is the most heavily touristed place in northwestern Vietnam. Originally a hill station built by the French in 1922 it still feels like a mountain town. I was told great things about this place and can’t wait to check it out firsthand. It’s quite a distance from Hanoi so night train once again. We were given a cabin with a couple from England, Kate and Dave. They were on the beginning of a 3 week holiday and we chatted about “flash”packing and traveling when we were in college. I gathered the couple and I were about the same age. Dave even admitted to being an Orange County and 90210 TV fan. So much for watching a movie on the train because our conversations lasted until around midnight. Although we had very hard sleepers, I was able to sleep alright and woke up at the Sapa station before 6am and in time for our 1 hour bus ride to the Summit Hotel for check-in and a little snooze before our 9am trek through some villages. Great hotel but not so great that they are doing construction right next to our room. Ear plugs were a must!

After breakfast, we met our guide, Su, and began our ½ day of trekking where we would visit the Ca’t Ca’t tribe. We were very lucky because it had been raining heavily the day before but for us, just some overcast. Using the main roads was much less muddy also. I stayed near Su most the time and asked questions on their culture and beliefs as far as leaving the area. Turns out that unless you marry a tourist, you are unable to leave the tribe and can only go to Sapa. It is very hard to get a passport and travel outside of Vietnam but she does know people that married tourists and after a few years they were able to travel to their home countries. Su was 18, had a 6 month old daughter, Vou, and was married for 2 years. That is typical for their lifestyle. She married a man from a neighboring tribe. I was fascinated by their way of life and by seeing all the kids playing with one another. None of the children had Nintendo or Wii to play with rather they created play houses from bricks and even a horse with bricks. They were happy to be out in the fresh air and just being kids.

Today we spent roughly 4 hours walking from Sapa and to the area tribes visiting the people and interacting with them. I found it interesting to see the young kids carrying their siblings on their backs. The parents would be out in the fields working during the day and the young babies would be strapped to say a 3 year old. I don’t think that would fly in the United States but then again, much of what I’ve seen lately would not be allowed there. Seeing a mother working and a baby laying on the floor covered in a blanket next to her was very common also.

After our ½ day of trekking it was back to the hotel for some chill time after a great lunch (food is included in our package and great veggie dishes with heaps of food). I spent a bit of time on the computer and then got the strength to hit a hill jog for a good hour. I must say that jogging around you really feel like a local and get to see a lot more of the city than you would normally. I seem to find lakes all over the place and really enjoy people watching as I slowly jog by them. Yes, my speed isn’t up to par lately but I am out of my element and have no regular routine these days.

Sapa and the surrounding area is just beautiful. Tomorrow would be a full day of trekking and we would meet our guide, Su’s, daughter. Until then, it was a great dinner and some walking around the night markets for me. I really wanted a massage and after an hour of walking around I decided to get one. WOW! It was one of the best “worst” massages ever. I was doing only 30 minutes but after 15 I had to get up and refuse any more. There was no way this girl was certified in any way. I paid for the portion she did and left feeling more sore. My night got even more interesting as I trekked back up the hill to the hotel with my pepper spray in hand (yes, I travel smart). I noticed a guy off to the side of the road and wondered if he was doing what he appeared to be doing. Sure enough, he even assured me it was okay as he proceeded with his “activity” as I walked past him. There were a few people walking down around the same time but do not think they saw. It was back to the hotel to get some shut eye and ready for another long day tomorrow and night train back to Hanoi.

Today is 6/9/2010 and I am no where near Sydney to catch my return flight to LAX. I never would have expected this to happen as I left last June but that makes it all the more exciting. After over a month of contemplating going home or staying and buying a new ticket, I was sticking by my decision to stay. I’m in Sapa, in Vietnam and now have no return plans to the US yet. I feel pretty free at the moment. That and sore, which I think is a result from running hills yesterday. Love it though! It was time for more trekking and chatting with Su about their tribal cultures. She informed me of how some girls go missing and never return because they run into Chinese men saying they will give them a great life. Once they get inside the cars, their lives are over and they are sold as sex slaves to much older men in China. Su said sometimes the men come up from behind and grab them around the faces and shove them inside the cars and bring them over the border. She knew a friend that was taken and her parents cry all the time because they know they will never see their daughter again. It was so sad to hear her speak like this and that they must be very careful when walking from Sapa back to their tribes. It just goes to show that there is crime everywhere in the world and you just need to be very cautious where ever you go.

We did a total of 10-12km today and thank God no rain again. We also had some great people with us. I was fascinated by stories from Colin and Ruth, a retired 70 year old couple from New Zealand. Between their stories and the ones from Su, I was completely entertained for the day. I learned about the schooling and working in the villages today. Su said she would love to leave and see other parts of the world but yet she was content with staying in her village. Once you complete school, you go to work in the fields and the villages and that it just a given. I was a bit disturbed when I saw a very tiny boy crying on top of the hillside. Apparently, his mother was working in the fields below and that boy could see her. I was afraid he may fall but Su informed me that he would be okay. Just another thing you would NOT see in the US. Is it bad that I wanted to take the little boy home with me?

Our Sapa trip was nearly over and I was sad to see Su go. I gave her a tip and said I would remember this always. We were able to get a shower at the hotel and I tried some rice wine in town before our dinner and then off to the train again. This time I watched my movie and got some shut eye as we arrived back in Hanoi at 5am. Can’t beat some train station snoozing on the benches as we waited for 7am to come along when the city came alive again. Kangaroo Travel via scooter here we come once again. I got a great smoothie at the veggie place that made me miss my protein shakes back home. The bus picked us up at 830am for what we were told was a 2 hour ride Nnih Bnih where we would chill for the day and then grab the 10pm night bus to Hue.

Okay, so the 2 hour bus ride led us to some random temples and I did have a great conversation with a guy from Costa Rica. Not sure if it was a good thing or bad because now I really want to go there also. Will I ever have a home? We never got to our day location until 1pm and as we got dropped off on the side of the road with mass construction, I wondered what the heck we were doing there. It was like an ugly ghost town but they had wifi at the hotel where we kept our things for the day. We chilled there a bit then took on an adventurous bike ride through the busy and dirty city streets. It wasn’t until later that we learned of the great beauty outside of town but never made it there. I have to admit that the bike ride, although scary at times when buses were head on with us, was one to remember as a crazy adventure.

As nightfall drew near, we paid for a shower and I even got to experience a power outage as I showered. The rain was coming down hard and we had to make our way to the street again where we would take our very first night bus. I must admit that it wasn’t that great. Imagine getting on a packed bus in the rain and getting the seat above the toilet and the only seat with out foot space. It was a night of tossing and turning for me and contemplating on maybe not doing this night bus thing ever again. I was itchy too as I thought maybe the used blanket from the previous passenger had something to do with that. It’s all part of the experience, right? We can’t always “flash” pack.

It’s nearly 6am on June 11th and I noticed an empty seat below so I moved and got a few hours of sleep before our arrival to Hue. Being as tired as we were and knowing we were only staying a day, we just grabbed a room at the hotel where the bus stopped. All I knew about this town was some Imperial City and that we would only need a day here. I took a much needed nap, gave my laundry to the front desk and Lisa and I ventured off to the Imperial City. Not too crazy about it. I was much more excited about the mango I bought outside than the semi-demolished temples that were inside the city which was all enclosed by a huge wall. This is where it dawned on me, I would rather be diving than going to all these temples everywhere. If you had money and power back then, you lived like a queen but if not, life kind of sucked by the looks of it all. It is now midday and we got that Imperial City under our belts so lets venture on, shall we? Score! Found a grocery store and picked up some munchies before heading back to the hotel for some nap time. I intended to run but it was pouring rain so it was a lazy night in with some TV. Tomorrow we are off to Hoi An on a day bus at 9am. Bring it on!

Cheers!
jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 01:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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