Tuesday, March 30, 2010


A few days--15 days--let's not mince words here; I've been busy! Anyway, let's get back to this blogging thing with the rest of my trip to SE Asia.
Cambodia was, without a doubt, my favorite country we visited. And I don't think I'm being presumptuous when I say that my traveling buddies feel the same way. There was something truly, genuinely charming about Cambodian people. And it wasn't just because we were in the tourist-friendly Siem Reap for most of it. People were kind and fun-loving everywhere we went. This is mostly remarkable because of how recently this country has been completely ravaged by civil war. It's estimated that the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed 1/5 of the population of Cambodia, or about 1.5 million people, though some claim the death toll is closer to 2.5 million.

Though Cambodia is currently seeing a renaissance of sorts with tourism booming and Phnom Penh looking more and more like any of the world's culture and business centers, you still cannot find a single person who did not have at least one parent, sibling, uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin, or friend who was killed by the Khmer Rouge. I harp on this point to show what a grand spirit the people of this little country have. They are happy, outgoing, friendly, and proud in the face of so much tragedy.

One of our first experiences in the country was checking into our hotel in Siem Reap, the small but luxurious Hotel 89, which had been highly recommended to us by an Australian couple in Vietnam. Hidden down a back alley just outside of downtown was this little gem of Cambodian hospitality, with a staff who all spoke English and rushed to our aid whenever we needed--quite literally--anything. Any time we came in from the heat after marching around town, they were ready with glasses of water or lemonade and cool towels.
The lobby and front desk clerk of Hotel 89.

They were so nice, in fact, that when Andrew left our bus tickets to Thailand in the hotel room on our way out, one of the staff members hopped on his moped and drove the 15 minute journey to our pickup spot to deliver them before our bus came. Service like this in Cambodia costs $19 per night.

So by now I'm sure all of you are wondering the same thing--"Enough about this hospitality crap--what about Ankor Wat?!"

In a word--spectacular. What is there to say about buildings as magnificent and ancient as these that have seen so much history? Since I can't accurately describe their history or grandeur myself, I'll let the few pictures I have speak for themselves.
You should have seen what this temple was like BEFORE I got there!
Ankor Thom--one of Ankor's more gorgeous and intricate temples.
Katie, terrifyingly climbing down the steps to the top of Ankor Wat, which had been closed for repairs since October of 2007. It opened up again the week before we got there.
The magnificent corridors of Ankor Wat.
Still recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis, I thought that the second image down on the right in this picture was telling me I couldn't cough in Ankor Wat. It was a rough hour or so before I figured it out.

The rest of Siem Reap was magnificent. It was a European city uprooted and transplanted into the middle of Cambodia. You could see heavy French influence in everything from the architecture to the way the cafes and bars all open their doors and spill out into the street in the evening. And we did visit the Red Piano, where Angelina Jolie hung out during the filming of Tomb Raider at Ankor Wat. I drank a "Tomb Raider," their signature cocktail.
We rode around town in tuk-tuks, moped powered carriages with very knowledgeable and friendly (but pushy) drivers.

Aside from ravaging the town, enjoying absolutely fantastic food, and temple hopping at Ankor, we visited an authentic silk farm just outside of town where we were given a guided tour of the process from raising the worms to the final finished, dyed, and weaved product.

When all was said and done, I never wanted to leave that place. I could have spent another week, month, or year there exploring every nook and cranny of the country. If the people we met in our 4 days left such a great impression, I can only imagine how a little more time there would affect me.

Though I don't want to spend my entire life going back to the same places I've already been over and over, I don't think I can resist another trip back to Cambodia some day.
And the tuk-tuk rides are pretty fun.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Returning Soon...

Come back here in the next few days for the glorious relaunching of my blog. Yes, I will finish up the trip to SE Asia, then move onto the start of my second year in Korea.

Prepare yourself for Blogfest 2010!

For more Blogfest, visit anythingbutsquid.blogspot.com

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


On January 16th, Sara, Katie, Andrew and I flew into Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Saigon was definitely the right place to start off a vacation. The pictures above are a perfect example of where Saigon is today: at a crossroads between troubled and ancient past and an increasingly modern future.

Bustling markets, tropical parks, and literally a billion motorbikes are what make up the once ravaged capital of southern Vietnam. Though remnants of the war still remain in the form of crushed sidewalks and occasional victims of agent orange begging for change, much of Saigon has been transformed into a modern-day metropolis. Buildings skyrocket out of the landscape, sometimes obtrusively as they dwarf everything else around them. And there is as much a focus on tourism as any other business in the city. It is a juxtaposition of old and new, forced to meet each other halfway. And it's quite charming.
Above: the new Saigon Opera House. Below: a beautiful tropical park near our hotel.
On our first day, we walked around the downtown area, found the biggest (and most touristy) market in town, and had drinks in a rooftop lounge overlooking the rest of the city. We had planned to merely start our trip here, but Saigon wouldn't let us leave without experiencing a good deal more.

On day two, we took bucket-seat bikes for two to China town (where I ate KFC). Andrew and Katie's driver hooked us into the ride by handing us a handwritten letter dated some time in 2000 from a very satisfied former customer from California. He handed it to us when we told him we were from America, as if maybe we somehow knew the mysterious letter's author.
Then we headed to the Saigon Institute for the Blind where a visually disabled masseuse gave me the worst massage of my life. But he was a super-nice guy, and the room was air conditioned, regardless of the fact that it looked like one of the rooms from the movie Hostel. Here is my masseuse:
We also sampled the local cuisine: (OK, I didn't really eat the monkey brains)
And traveled to Saigon's Notre Dame:
And the War Remnants Museum (also known as the "Museum of American War Crimes").

Inside the museum, where I dared not take pictures, were thousands of pictures of burned, mutilated bodies and agent orange victims from the past and present and hundreds of examples of Vietnam-era weapons from both sides. The focus of the museum was most certainly the hideous, grotesque, torturous war waged by the blood-hungry American capitalist pigs. Ironic, as Americans seemed to make up quite a large portion of their ticket sales, and Americans are actually treated quite well around the city.
WHEW! I'm tired just thinking about that day again. We also went back to the market, ate dinner and half coffee downtown, and got ANOTHER massage at a hotel to end our evening. The second massage was much improved over the first, and we ended our stay in Saigon feeling relaxed and ready for the road ahead.

Up the Mekong
The next morning, we hopped on a prearranged bus that took us to a Mekong Delta tour boat. It was a great deal (about 20 bucks a person) until the ticket seller ripped off Katie big time. Katie wanted to pay in Vietnamese currency, and since we hadn't quite gotten a handle on the exchange rate, we thought nothing of it when the woman asked for over 800,000. In the end, we all split the difference and the trip went on unscathed.

Our Mekong tour, which was made up of about 16 different modes of transportation, was supposed to wind up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the next day. In the meantime, we got a great taste of local Vietnamese life by visiting a coconut candy factory where the show you the process from coconut to finished candy in about 6 steps.

That night we stayed in a very run-down hotel because the hotel booked for the tour had no room for us. Everything was very well organized. The next morning, we were told by the hotel manager to explore the town we were in and come back to the hotel at 9:00 to join with our tour. We took the opportunity to have a photo shoot by the Mekong.Unfortunately, upon our return at 8:45, we were told that our tour group left over an hour ago and the hotel manager had us confused with another group of young tourists. We were put in a taxi that rushed us away to a private boat which sped us back up to our tour group, who we finally discovered eating pineapple in a floating market.
When we finally found them, the woman on the right, in the blue shirt, told us that the pineapple was so good that "it drips into your heart." I hope she doesn't mind that we took that phrase and ran with it for the next two weeks.

The floating market was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. I still don't know if it was a place where actual Vietnamese people come to shop for food, or merely a bunch of people hired by tour agencies for river tours such as ours, but either way it was beautiful and fascinating.
After we were finished with the market, we hopped back into the boat, where the median age was about 65 (brought down significantly by the four of us). How many white heads can you count?
Below: ships in Vietnam all have eyes painted on the front, in order to scare away sea monsters.
We were then shuttled to a rice noodle factory where we saw people making the noodles the same way they have for centuries. It made me feel good to be there because it was the first place we'd been where there was nothing to buy, and I knew that it was an authentic small business.
We ended our day in another market, where we found out that our guide had absolutely no idea that we were supposed to be headed to Cambodia. After a few phone calls and a little extra cash, he had us on a bus to Chau Doc, where we were hoping to finally cross into Cambodia a day late.
The next day on the way to Chau Doc, our bus accidentally took down a low-hanging banner. The bus driver and tour guide were a bit upset, but we on the bus were just amused. Once we finally got going again we made our first pit-stop at a crocodile farm, where we were reminded of some simple facts of life, such as:
After that short pit-stop, we were headed again to the border crossing. We got into town quite late, and only had enough daylight to go to a temple on the town's single, solitary mountain. From the west patio of the temple, we were able to see our goal in the distance. The mountains you see in this far off, left-hand side of this picture are Cambodia, the town below is part of Chau Doc:Chau Doc is little more than a border town, with not much tourism to speak of. But what we did find there was something that is essential on every vacation: travel buddies. The bus from our Mekong Delta tour to Chau Doc was filled with a whole new group, and we hit it off with them spectacularly that evening.

From left to right is Creepy Guy from Vietnam, Ana from Japan, Sara, Me, Katie, Nills from the Netherlands, Andrew, and Charlotte and Jay from England. (I can't remember the Vietnamese guy's name, but he kept trying to hit on Ana the entire time.)
They were a wonderful group, and after dinner we went on a mission to find Chau Doc's only open bar. And we succeeded in our mission. Katie and Sara especially enjoyed themselves.After keeping the bar open for several hours later than the bar staff probably wanted to, we all strolled (stumbled?) back to our hotel, and pounded on the front gate for the sleeping clerk to let us in. It was a night I will not soon forget.
Above, from left to right: Sara, Charlotte, Jay, Andrew, Katie, Nills, Ana.

Vietnam was almost lost on us. We had few plans there, and didn't know what we wanted to see, but we found a nation brimming with spirit and life, and some new friends to share the experience with. And though we left Jay, Charlotte, Ana and Nills in Vietnam that last night, Sara and I were lucky to be able to go on to Cambodia with the two best travel friends of all.

Come back in a few days for tales from Cambodia!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Scenes from Saigon

Over the next two weeks, while Sara and I are on vacation with our friends Andrew and Katie in southeast Asia, I'll only be posting small updates of our travels. Usually it will only be a picture or two. When we're back, I'll post updates on the entire trip. Today--we're in Saigon:
The view from our hotel.A barge on the Saigon River.

Tomorrow: the Mekong Delta.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Korea, The Snow Also Falls

On Monday, after months of suffering through useless cold, snow finally began to fall on my little Korean home. The kids nearly jumped out of their seats at the site of the big flakes falling from the sky. I've never seen people react so positively to a big snowfall. It was refreshing to be in a place where people love the snow, like Sara and I do.
Here you can see the snow falling down on the river. Save for a few trees and a wet ending, the mountain in the background looks like a great ski hill.
The snow-covered evergreens reminded me of Colorado. When I took this picture, it felt like I was driving into Winter Park or Breckenridge.
Snow falls so rarely in Andong that even the gas station attendants were excited. This little guy is wearing an SK Oil cap.

The next day, even though the snow stopped falling around 5:30 on Monday, my school declared a snow day.

To see a glimpse of Christmas in Andong, come back a little later.^^