Friday, March 20, 2009

SE Asia Continued

After a couple amazing weeks of travel, we are about to begin our journey home. We are leaving Cambodia today, returning to Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) from which we fly out tomorrow 17+ hours back to LA. While there are plenty of memorable details that Ang will surely fill in, here are some general impressions…

Since it’s our first visit to SE Asia, it is truly remarkable, unlike anything we’ve seen other parts of the world. It is all that we had hoped it would be: a mix of adventure and much needed relaxation in a place that is visually stunning, authentic and rich culturally. There are many beautiful hotels in the cities and beaches, but the vast majority of the population (which is quite poor) seems to exist culturally the same as it did hundreds of years ago. It does not seem to be “spoiled” by tourism, but rather co-exist with it. Before coming here, we were cognizant of the challenge of this economic disparity and prayed about how we could have a positive impact on the population that has faced so much hardship, namely from wars. We’ve found that just our presence is greatly appreciated, as the artisans, tuk tuk drivers, etc are starving for work. In Siem Reap, tourism is one of the main industries, and we were told it is down roughly 50% from last year (due to the global financial crisis). It is amazing how much each person appreciates the business we give them and find it unexpected when we tip even a dollar or two. But more than our tourist dollars, I think our greatest benefits of our visit will play out over time as a result of having a greater understanding and affection for this population, caring more about what happens here, seeing the impacts of war, and realizing how blessed we are in so many ways, not the least of which, is having reliable employment.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Vietnam & Cambodia

We've been in Vietnam for about ten days and we have a little less than a week until we head home. Originally, we thought 16 days would be too short to truly experience Vietnam and Cambodia and we were right. We nixed Cambodia (for now, we have been planning this trip as we go and it's worked out relatively well). I'll try to give some highlights but not yabber too much about anything:

Day 1 - Flew into Hanoi, the Northern part of Vietnam and it was a culture shock. This was our first introduction to SE Asia and it was indeed eye-opening. Most of the population ride motorbikes, which makes for many interesting photos but can get a little taxing on the lungs. We stayed at the Golden Lotus Hotel II and walked around the markets. After about 40 hours of being awake and absorbing as much of Hanoi as we could handle, we headed back to the hotel to crash.

Day 2-3 - We took a beautiful tour of Halong Bay. This is a must if you are considering visiting Vietnam. Definitely a highlight. We stayed in a beautiful Junk boat and enjoyed delicious seafood, kayaking, and tours on the various islands. We were the only other couple on the boat and it was absolutely perfect.

Evening (3) - Upon returning to Hanoi, we went for a bite to eat at Bar 69 and then headed to the Water Puppet show. We liked this but it was very touristy. Nonetheless, it is worth going to enjoy the artistry of the puppets and the skills of the puppeteers.

Day 4 - Flew to Nha Trang, the beach baby. The northern part of Vietnam tends to be cooler than the south and so we were itching for some sunny beaches. On our way from the Da Nang airport into Nha Trang, we passed the Diamond Bay Resort and saw that last year they hosted the Miss Universe pageant. Of course, we took a photo because it was just too funny. We enjoyed the beach all day, got massages, and found a fantastic pool right on the beach where we rented a cabana for $2 and ordered drinks all day (Louisiane Cafe - order the Thai Mussels).

Day 5 - After waking up to the sunset, we rented a scooter and drove about 45 miles South to Doc Let (Yoc-Let) beach. If you are looking for seclusion, this is a great place. We swam a bit and walked the beach and then headed back to town for some dinner. Russ ordered a drink called "the bucket" and you can just imagine what is in this...lots of red bull and lots of alcohol - yuk but he liked it.

Day 6 - Hoi An. Truly one of the most picturesque towns we have ever visited. The French influence and architecture are stunning as are the hundreds of silk lanterns that line the river and are lit throughout town. We spent a good part of our day getting fitted for various clothes - -dresses, shirts and Russ got a nice suit. We were a little surprised that the prices were more than we thought but still, a custom made dress for $25 isn't bad at all. I am most excited about my Asian inspired dress and Russ' fancy suit. We stayed in the An Tuy Hotel in Old Town,which was great and near the action. But, if you have more time, we'd recommend also staying at the gorgeous Victoria Beach Resort.

Day 7 - Hoi An. Again, lots of final fittings for our clothes and we did some more shopping, ate delicious pineapple and got a drink at Brothers Cafe, a beautiful restuarant situated along the river - - it's something right out of the movies. Speaking of movies, The Quiet American was filmed in Hoi An.

Day 8-11 - Hoi An to Phu Quoc Island. This was the most random and unplanned part of our trip but was definitely a highlight! We stayed at the beautiful La Veranda Resort for our first night and it felt like a honeymoon. Truly one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed in. They were booked after the first day so we satyed at a little villa on the beach at the Saigon Phu Quoc Resort. We rented bikes, swam, laid out, hit golf balls, and went on an amazing snorkeling tour off of a couple different islands. We think it would be fun to get scuba certified but we'll see. We depart tomorrow for Ho Chi Minh City and we'll see if we feel up to traveling over to Cambodia once we have a day under our belts in HCMC.

Day 12 - We landed in Ho Chi Minh City and were at our hotel by 10:30 am. We spent the day at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, ate lunch and then visited the War Remnants Museum. This museum was compelling and contained many extremely graphic photos about the attrocities of war. We were both moved and walked away with a sick feeling in our stomachs and greater sense of compassion for the innocent victims of the war (on both sides). After walking shopping and exploring more, we decided that we definitely had time to make it to Cambodia. We purchased our plane tix and headed back to the hotel to get some rest.

Day 13 - We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia around noon and checked into our hotel, the beautiful Prince d'Angkor Hotel and then it was off to town o check out the Central Market and grab some gelato in the VERY hot and humid heat. We were most excited though to hire a tuk tuk driver and make it to Angkor Wat to watch the sunset. It was miraculous and is one of the seven man made wonders of the world. We then headed back to town to Pub Street to enjoy a couple of drinks and then ended our day getting massages.

Day 14 - Morning came too soon. The sunset over Angkor Wat was beautiful but we had heard that to truly experience all the Temples had to offer, we needed to arrive by sunrise. That's right, we woke up at 4:15 am and were en route by 4:45 am. We saw the sunrise and spent the next couple of hours walking around Angkor Wat. Then, it was back to our hotel to catch a couple hours of sleep and then more shopping! Around 3:00 we hired a guide named Sothea to take us back to the temples and he took us to Taparom Trees, Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple, Terrace of the Elephants and Leper Kings, Heavenly Jail, and ended with a hike to the top of Bakheng Temple/Moutain to watch the sunset. We then headed into town and watched some beautiful Apsara dancing and enjoyed some Amok, a Cambodian fish dish, and a couple drinks before heading back to the hotel.

Day 15 -We finally had a chance to catch up on our rest and spent the majority of the morning in the hotel and then headed out for a cappuccino and to finish up some shopping. We flew back to Ho Chi Minh City and had a great meal at the night market and headed back to catch some much needed rest.

Day 16 - We made it to the airport and took off for home! An awesome adventure and we are already looking forward to the next one. Maybe...Greece, New Zealand or Spain? - - let us know where we should go, we'd love to hear from you.

Ang n Russ

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Beginning of Great Things...(or the Continuation of)

I've (Angela) always considered myself relatively good at keeping in touch with our friends and family. We send the requisite Christmas cards, emails, make phone calls, send cards when appropriate and visit as often as possible. Russ, on the other hand, feels that he needs a little improvement in this area. In the past, our communication methods have served us relatively well. Today though, is different for a couple of reasons. We live in a technologically advanced world and we also moved to Los Angeles, a city roughly 1200 miles from our friends and family who live in Seattle and Oregon.

In addition, we are also pretty terrible about journaling. We have tried many times and many times have failed. Throughout our home, we have journals scattered about with only a few, good intentioned, pages written on. Perhaps blogging will be more conducive to our "style". So, we start this blog, again, with the best of intentions. One, to share our experiences with our friends and family and two, as a journal for ourselves to remember our journey through life with more vivid details.