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Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
Life in the Southern Cone

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The Temples of Angkor

Siem Reap, Cambodia

This part of the trip was really indescribable for me. Rachel has been talking up Angkor Wat since we have been planning this trip and it did not disappoint.
Most of the temples were constructed at least 600 years ago by various Angkor Kings. Much like the Egyptian Pharoahs, the kings would try to best other past kings temples to prove that they were the most exemplary. Jayvarman VII is most respected in Khmer culture since he is responsible for some of the finest works including Bayon. Unfortunately, this expansion is thought to be the downfall of the civilization due to the manpower and resources that the building of the temples demanded.
The whole place had a majical feel to it. We were lucky to get a nice couple of days to see the temples. We hired a tuk-tuk driver at the bus station where we were dropped off. We ended up keeping him for the full 3 days. He kept trying to sell us stuff but he was cool, except that the tuk-tuk got 2 flat tires in 3 days while we were arriving first at Bayon and then at Angkor Wat.
This was one of the most mind-blowing structures that have to be seen to be believed. The hours and mastery of art was amazing. We'll try to post some pictures soon.


permalink written by  zachel on April 25, 2009 from Siem Reap, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged SiemReap and AngkorWat

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Sihanokville, reunion with Sean and Kia

Sihanokville, Cambodia

We made it on a bus from Phnom Penh to Sihoukville and found Sean and Kia! Zack and I are staying in an awesome beach bungalow. It has a little private front porch with two chairs, a table, and a hammock! It's fun seeing old friends from Korea here at the beach in Cambodia. We went and had lunch together then went swimming for about an hour.

Sean is building partnerships with orphanages. The idea is for TEFL International teachers in training to do their volunteer work at orphanages. The problem is with the orphanages. A lot of them aren't hurting for money and already have paid teachers. When volunteers come in, they fire the paid teachers and someone loses a job. So, Sean is really trying to avoid that. He's going and checking out the places.

We loved being beach bums here for a few days!


permalink written by  zachel on April 22, 2009 from Sihanokville, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Gecko

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Sunset in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I guess we've been in Cambodia for a week now. We spent the first night and two following days, exploring the ""pearl of Asia" as the city was known before the Khmer Rouge revolution that started on April 17, 1975. We actually missed this horrifying anniversary by only one day arriving on the 18th.
The first night that we got to the city we tried to check out the Riverfront and around the Royal Palace area. We were famished after the river trek, so we ate a pizza, then had a drink at the foreign corresspondents club, tragically immortalized in the movie the Killing Fields.
The next morning we wanted to switch to a hotel closer to the city center. The place our tuk-tuk driver recommended, the Her Royal Highness hotel, was a bit dodgy,but was nice because of the short distance to the Royal Palace.
After we got settled, we took off in the morning to find a city without basic sanitation services. Trash was littered everywhere and worst of all, composting on the sidewalks. At first we weren't that impressed, but once we reached the Royal Palace we couldn't get over how majestic the palace was. Best of all, there were huge cumulonimbus clouds over the palace, making it look like a piece from the game, Candyland.
Unfortunately, the palace takes a ciesta from 11:30-2 so we just missed going into the Royal palace. We got something to eat and went to an internet cafe down the street to pass the time.
Traditional Khmer architecture differentiates itself from other Southeast Asian architecture with ornate spires and a unique decoration that looks like a stick and juts from the corners of the buildings. The weather started clouding up but the weather held. There were stone monuments were almost as impressive as the palace itself.

2nd Day

The 2nd day took a turn for the worse since any part of a trip to Phnom Penh now makes a stop to the Killing Fields and S-21, a prison that could be compared to Auschwitz in the amount of mass killings that happened at the prison.
We made it to the Killing Fields which was a couple of km out of town. We ended up getting an English speaking guide to show us around. The first sight, is a monument with a glass area to show skulls of victims killed on the site. Next, we walked around the mass graves and were shown sugar cane plants that the Khmer Rouge used to decapitate their victims.
S-21 prison, was similarly gruesome. It was originally used as a high-school. The classrooms were converted into prison cells. The Khmer Rouge would execute prisoners, simply to make room for the new ones. Part of the museum was dedicated to first hand experiences told by Cambodians. Here people talked about reasons they joined the Khmer Rouge. It was interesting to read that some Cambodians didn't feel that the individual soldiers should be punished for the genocide.
Right now a trial is taken place to punish as many as 5 former Khmer Rouge low level leaders are being judged. We didn't really talk to anyone about the killings. I got the feeling that they wanted to move on from the past. We both tried broaching the subject with our tour guide at the Killing Fields but he seemed aloof and did not want to go into details. It could have been that his English was not very advanced.
The next day we took off and went to Sihoukville on the Southern Coast of Thailand. More to come.


permalink written by  zachel on April 18, 2009 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged KillingFields, Phnompenh and RoyalPalace

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Sweet Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

After the relatively mountain cool weather in Da Lat and pretty laid back atmosphere, Saigon felt quite hot and bustling. They don't lie about the motorbike traffic. The trick is that no one drives terribly fast, so it's really not as dangerous as it might look. Zack would still have to hold my hand as we crossed the busy side streets in the backpacker district, full of a bunch of hotels and restaurants. When we first arrived in Saigon, we were tired from the long bus ride and just wanted to find a room to stay at. We were surprised to discover that the hotels generally had higher prices than Hanoi. We were also surprised that so many of the hotels didn't have any vacancies. We finally settled on a rather dumpy looking place for 10 dollars, telling ourselves that it was only for one night. It was a place that just felt dirty and I didn't want to take a shower there. At 9pm, we lost electricity, but luckily Zack found his flashlight and we made our way out of our room, down three flights of stairs to the street. No other building on the street had lost power. Their was a disgruntled guest, a man of about 40, grumbling "This happened last night! They said there would be power and then this again!" We agreed with the man up to the point where he said "And there's a mosquito in my room and this hotel did NOTHING!" Hmm, so the hotel was supposed to go into this guy's room and catch one mosquito?

The next morning we promptly checked out and moved into a lovely little hotel down a quiet street, strategically positioned next to several vegetarian restaurants (Zack loves fake meat) and a Mexican restaurant. We walked the street and visited the Reunification Palace, the palace that would have been the "White House" Presidential house had the south Vietnamese won the war. We got a thorough tour from an "English speaking guide" (She had a script memorized, but could not answer simple additional questions). We saw the banquet halls, bedrooms, a movie theater, the kitchen, and even the bomb shelter where the president's drab bedroom was located. A 19 year old Vietnamese girl came up to me and asked to practice her English. She looked like she was 14. Women tend to look really young here. We walked back to our hotel from the palace, and discovered that Saigon has some lovely parks with big old trees. Propaganda billboards are also abundant.

We booked a tour for 7 dollars through our hotel to see the Cu Chi tunnels, used by the Viet Cong, early the next morning. The tour was to leave at 7am and return around 2pm. After the tunnels, we were going to visit the War Museum in Saigon. Unfortunately, there was a mix up and we ended up on the WRONG tour in the morning. This tour visited not only the Cu Chi tunnels, but first a Cao Dai "church/temple/mosque," a weird fusion of religions. Somehow this strange religion has 2 million followers. The outside of their church is decorated with what looks like the pyramid eye from the back of a one dollar US bill. Victor Hugo is considered one of the three main saints of this religion. Very strange. The church service, which we observed 30 minutes of, was followed by another long bus ride, lunch, and another long bus ride. We were relieved when we finally arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels.

After buying an entrance ticket for about 5 dollars a person, we were shuffled into a covered wooden pavilion to watch a vide before seeing the tunnels. They had us watch an "educational" video. The television screen was completely too small for an audience of 50 people, so it was a bit difficult to see, but it was quite easy to hear, "The Americans, from thousands of miles away, came and stuck their foot in here....This young girl received an honor for killing 3 Americans..." I'm not a big fan of America, but this was a bit uncomfortable. After the video, we were shuffled along past down a path in the woods. We stopped an looked at life sized models of the Viet Cong, sitting in their hammocks, scarf around their neck. Our tour guide revealed a hidden door entrance to a tunnel buried beneath a pile of leaves, invisible. We saw fantastically elaborate booby traps, designed to kill the enemy, America. We passed US tank, severely damaged from having gone over a bomb. Five Americans were gunned down as they exited the flaming vehicle. Some tourists then proceeded to climb onto the tank for smiling pictures. It was all a big circus. Next, we were paraded to an area where for a little over a dollar tourists can choose from a variety of guns, machine guns and AK47s included, to go shoot. Zack and I doubted the safety of these things, so we stood a safe distance away from the booming sound of gun fire. Finally, it was time for us to crawl down into the portion of the Cu Chi tunnel that our tour guide referred to as "king sized." About 100 meters had been doubled in size to accommodate the growing throngs of tourists. We went down into the tunnel. Zack had to crawl on hands and knees, but I was able to crouch. 30 meters were enough for us. It was terribly claustrophobic!

Next day, we went to the Vietnamese History Museum which is located next to the botanical garden and zoo. As soon as we got into the museum, torrential rain began to beat down from the sky. The storm was so bad that the museum shut down the power, so there was no light to see the exhibit! The museum houses a pretty creepy looking mummy of a woman, hair still attached. Next we check out the botanical gardens and zoo, which turned out to be pretty sad.

The following morning we set out through Vietnam's famed travel bus company, the Sinh Cafe, toward the mighty Mekong river delta. Here we spent a day going around on a boat. We stayed a night close to the border and then set out on our boat ride over the Vietnamese border into Cambodia.


permalink written by  zachel on April 14, 2009 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Cuchitunnels

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16 km hike

Da Lat, Vietnam

Again our bus ride was a bit of an adventure. When we got to the bus stop at the Hahn Cafe in Nha Trang, we were told that the bus was delayed because of a problem with the clutch. A fellow passenger with car experience told us that they were really having problems with the brakes after monitoring their work. Not what you want to hear when the bus is heading into the mountain highlands. The ride went off without a hitch besides there being no air-conditioning for the 7 hour journey.
We took it easy that night and ended up booking a 16 km trek with a local travel company for Sunday. The next day we decided to rent a motorbike and cruise the surroundings.
Da lat is situated in the mountains in the southwest part of the country. The French used the city for a vacation get-away up until their departure in the early 60's. The result was the towns architecture is filled with chalets. The area is beautiful, reminiscent of the Appalachian mountains. Best of all, the temperature hovers between 15-24 degrees celsius all year round, so no one needs air conditioning.
After we got the motobike, we started to cruise around and went into a local tourist trap called the Camly waterfalls. This place was so terrible it was great. It had weird statues of elephants and one of a man making love to a tiger. When we got to the bottom of the "waterfall," we came across a man selling 3 shots with a bow and arrow. I couldn't resist. There was even a prize if you hit the bullseye all three times. Unfortunately, I failed to win the grand prize; a sketchy looking bottle of Da lat's own strawberry wine that no one in thier right mind would even consider drinking. After Rachel and I both tried our luck, the man talked us into playing a game involving a freaky clown mask and a pole. The idea was to put on the mask, making you unable to see and then walking about 15 ft. to try to hit an in-ground pole with a stick. The guide said Rachel came closer to hitting it but I disagree. Plus, she cheated by counting out the paces it took to reach the pole without her mask on. Cheater!
Then we went looking for this architectual wonder called the crazy house, but instead found a cemetery overlooking a valley. The cemetery was the most interesting one either of us had ever seen. Vietnamese have an unusual superstition of washing the family member's skeleton 3 years after the person has been buried. According to our guide from Halong Bay, it's best for the family members to do this morbid act but they sometimes hire people to complete the task for them. Since they have to wash the bones, the Vietnamese bury the persons body in an above-ground tomb. Another interesting thing about the cemetary was that both Christians and Buddhists are buried beside each other, so you see both the Buddhist and Christian symbols intermingled in the cemetery.
Next, we went in search of a cable car that traversed 2.3 km over a mountain. I was a bit scared so Rachel tormented me the entire time. We were able to see all of Da Lat from the scenic point.
Today, it was time for the hike that we signed up for the first day we arrived. Our day started by being awakened by a rooster that is lodging right outside of our hotel. The last two days we've been awoken close to 5:30 in the morning with a cock-a-doodle-doo.
An suv picked us up and drove us to a pine forest outside of the city with our two guides. They were both quite friendly though their English wasn't the greatest.
We embarked on the trek at 9 am. The trek led us through coffee plantations and over two suspension bridges that crossed over a muddy river. When we got to the second bridge we found that it was broken. One side of this treachorous looking bridge was hanging down towards the river. We only had two options, to turn back or cross it. We chose the latter. While I was walking across this bridge you would see in an Indiana Jones movie, one of the planks broke. I deftly scrambled to the next plank before I could plunge into the river 20 ft. below.
The next part led us up a big hill overlooking the valley. Before we reached the top, we noticed that smoke was nearby. Our guide told us that locals start forest fires just for fun and that's all it was. Another custom in the forest was for locals to burn and scar the trees so they can extract the sap from them for glue, make-up, and gunpowder. It was sad to see that a good portion of the trees in the forest had been burned at their trunks.
Right after the we passed the fire, we saw a local carrying an object strangely behind his back. As we passed we saw that it was an AK-47. Just up the way his friend was coming along with a machete. The guide told us that they were illegaly poaching animals in the forest. Great, now all we had to be worried about were poachers mistaking us for the wildlife. It didn't help that Rachel was wearing her deer antlers.
Just up the way the guides layed out our lunch. All of my favorites were spread out on the tarp for us, peanut butter, bananas, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It was really interesting talking to the guides. One of them was an English major in college and had a fair grasp of the language. This was the first chance we had to really dig for information from a fairly reliable source. He opened up a little bit about politics and Vietnamese history. After we had our fill, we kept along the path and kept on trekking.
This led to more amazing views and coffee plantations. After some more uphill hiking, we found ourselves in a small minority village where about 100 villagers resided according to our guide. We didn't see many of them though. They must of been out poaching for wildlife. We were pretty tired by this time and kept pushing on to the end of the journey.
We are now resting in an internet cafe down the street from our hotel. There are torrential downpours outside so who knows how long we're going to be pent up here. One things for sure, we'll be waking up early tomorrow. Happy Easter.


permalink written by  zachel on April 10, 2009 from Da Lat, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Hike, CableCar and DaLat

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Day at the Beach

Nha Trang, Vietnam

We arrived at after a pretty uneventful bus ride in Nha-Trang. We did have to tell a 13 year old salesperson no less than 24 times (I counted) to leave us alone. When we woke up on our sleeper bus we saw the sun rising over the sea in Nha-Trang. Fortunately, there were alot of decent budget hotels (our hotel boasted a 1 star rating) just down the street from where our bus dropped us off. We settled in and after breakfast got an early start at the beach.
The setting was beautiful besides a vinpearl sign in the island across from the beach, ala Hollywood. The waves were heavy duty. We managed to wade out of harms way and enjoyed the beach for about an hour before the morning showers started.
After the rain we came back to the beach to soak up some more sun. The beach was filled with you guessed it, vendors. Women in masks and long sleeved clothing served up everything from massages to sTrange vietnamese chips packed with msg. A family happened to be next to us that ate up everything that these people were selling. The woman bought chips, bracelets, massages, you name it. After we had enough swimming we got back on shore to find no less than 4 vendors hovering around their chairs and umbrellas. It was Christmas time for the hawkers.
All in all the beach was a lot of fun. We needed to relax after the 12 hour bus ride. We headed off to lunch to find a tex-mex restaurant lonely planet recommended only to be thwarted by an inaccurate map. After we ate, we ended up taking a long nap and awoke to find it pitch black outside.
We stumbled off to find a micro-brewery that was recommended. The beer was the best we've had since coming to Asia. This place had their stuff together. Both the red ale and the Belgium wit-bier were top notch.
Those are the highlights of our day in Nha-Trang. Keep reading to hear our Dalat experience. Parents be warned.....


permalink written by  zachel on April 9, 2009 from Nha Trang, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Nhatrang

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Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam

After our day in Hue, we took a 6 hour bus ride south to a quiet little city called Hoi An.

In Hanoi, for the bargain price of 48 dollars, we each purchased what's called an open bus ticket to Saigon with four stops along the way-- Hue, Hoi An, Nha-Trang, and Dalat. With an open ticket you can get off the bus at any of these cities and stay for as long as you'd like. When you want to continue on, you just call the local office a day ahead of time to confirm. These buses are supposed to be more luxurious than public transportation. Supposed to be. From Hanoi to Hue can only be described as a ride from hell. This was a 14 hour overnight journey on an old smelly sleeper bus--a bus with beds, not chairs. We were crammed into the very back with 3 other people. First the air conditioning was freezing but then it became terribly hot. The driver seemed to have a death wish, passing in the oncoming traffic lane, swirving, and honking needlessly. Needless to say, we were both pretty pleased when we saw the prestine condition of the next bus we got on to take us from Hue to Hoi An. It was new and clean and the air conditioning worked properly. Hurray!

Hoi An is a little town only 5km from the beach. The downtown is built up around a little river and its narrow cobble stone streets are decked with cute little shops. Hoi An is famous for two things-- custom tailored clothing and local food. We delighted in both of these luxuries. I had a pair of linen pants and shorts made and Zack had a pair of pants and a button up shirt made. We picked out the design, color, material, and had our bodies measured around noon. Our clothes were ready to pick up at 6pm. We hit the town in our new clothes to taste the food. The fried wanton dish was delicious! (Sorry, Duke, I know you are sick of us writing about how delicious the food is in every entry). We are also really enjoying all the fruity shakes. I love mango!

Tragedy struck our next day in Hoi An. We planned a day trip 50km west to the My Son (pronounced Mee Sun) temple ruins. A minivan picked us up at our hotel at 8am and then stopped to pick up about 8 other tourists. Before leaving town, we pulled up next to a large bus filled with tourists. A man came off the bus over to our van and introduced himself as our tour guide. Those of us in the minivan would rendevous with the rest of the people on the bus at the My Son ruins. Immediately, the bus took off speeding ahead of us. As we drove down the two lane back country road, we were both engrossed in our books. Since being in China, we'd grown used to the crazy traffic. Tons of motorbikes, bicycles, and a handful of cars and buses fill the streets in a crazy dance of death, buses passing in the oncoming lane of traffic. We were bound to see the scene of an accident at some point. This was the day. As our van slowed, I looked up from my book and gasped to see that the bus with our guide and fellow tourists had stopped after hitting a woman on a motorbike. She was sprawled out in the middle of the rode, arms and legs in awkward postions, dead. It was a terrible sight. There were two kids in the van with us, about 12 or 13 years old. Our minivan stopped and the driver got out and went over to the accident to see if there was anything he could do. It was too late. Two women were dead and another person was taken to the hospital. This definitely put a damper on the day, but we still saw the ruins. The ruins, though built by the same civilization as Cambodia's Angkor Wat, were not overly impressive. Sadly, a chunk of them were destroyed in a bombing during the Vietnam War. Forgoing the roads, we took a leisurely boat ride down a river back to Hoi An.

Our last day in Hoi An we rented bicycles and rode to the beach. It was much nicer than either of us had imagined. We layed on some benches and sipped some drinks before heading back to town to catch our next to Nha Trang.


permalink written by  zachel on April 5, 2009 from Hoi An, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Hoian and MySon

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Hue, Vietnam

We have a lot of updating to do on the blog tonight. This was the first time that we have been on a computer in the last week or so that has been even capable of updating a blog....It seems that the farther south we travel in Nam' the worse the internet connections get.
Hue was what you would call uneventful. It had a particular charm to it. It was a laid back city, outside of the touts harassing us, but all in all it was a place to skip over.
After a grueling 14 hour bus ride from Hanoi to Hue we shleped off the bus into the early morning air only to be surrounded by some crazy "businessmen" looking to corral us into their hotels. These people were some of the most desperate, insane, people we had come across. They wouldn't take "no, thank you" for an answer. After trying to avoid them unsuccessfully, we ducked into a hotel and settled in.
Hue is touted as a tourist attraction for their citadel, which is an enclosure around an emperor's palace. The city also boasts Vietnam's largest flag. The palace was occupied by royalty through the 1950's, but is nonetheless in disrepair. After visiting so many incredible temples on this trip like the Forbidden City, Hue's Forbidden Purple City was underwhelming. The highlight could have been the renovated tennis court that the emperor used during his tenure at the palace. Why the curators rebuilt the tennis court rather than focusing on the palace which is in disrepair confused me and Rachel.
Hungry after a long trip we found an Indian restaurant for our next meal and liked it so much that we ate there for both lunch and dinner. Mmmm vegetable curry.
After a rest we went down to the riverfront to see what nightlife Hue had to offer. We both agreed that the vibe at night along the riverfront was the highlight of our day in Hue. A bridge that connected the two parts of the city was lit brightly with an ever-changing array of colors. Lots of the city's locals were seen drinking beers and sipping fruit shakes by the river. On to Hoi An!

permalink written by  zachel on April 4, 2009 from Hue, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Hue and ForbiddenPurpleCity

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Lao Cai, Vietnam

Sapa is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam for a reason. The city is nestled in the northwest mountainside region. It's views of the largest mountains in Vietnam and its terraced rice patties that descend down the mountain make it a premier spot.
Getting here, we took an overnight train to Sapa on the friendly express. After our debacle of a train ride from Beijing to Zhengzhou, we now only travel in style. Soft sleepers all the way.... There is still a danger though. A soft sleeper holds 4 people so you never know who your going to get along the way. Luckily, a great couple that were English teachers in Japan landed in the cabin.
After a bumpy ride throughout the night, we arrived in Lao Cai, a sleepy border town connecting China and Vietnam. Here we were accosted by overeager van drivers wanting to overcharge us for the hour ride it would take to get to Sapa. If we had read our bible (Lonely Planet) we would have known that the cost of a ride was only 25,000. (just over a dollar) Luckily, a westerner helped us out by letting us get on a bus that was leaving just a few minutes later. After he told us about the real price we should be paying one of the hecklers shoved him violently in his shoulder. The ride from Lao Cai to Sapa was stunning. We could get a glimpse of the terraced rice fields coming down the mountain as the fog started to roll away.
Once we arrived we had to find accomodations. Of course we soon had people shoving cards advertising their hotels in our faces. We ducked into a hotel the lonely planet recommended. The place is called Mountain View Hotel for a reason. When fog hasn't enveloped the city you have a front row view of the breathtaking landscape.
After we rested for awhile, we ventured out and started to walk towards one of the villages. Scattered throughout the city are the indigenous Indian women and children, the H'mong people, hawking their goods. A nice thing to say about these children is that they are persistant. You can use your imagination for other words that would describe the children. We ran into what had to be the spunkiest tribal member selling her goods. Here is an excerpt of the exchange:

Indian: You buy from me?
Me: No thanks.
Indian: Why not?
Me: (Tries to avoid her)
Indian: Why not?
Me: I don't have any money.
Indian: If you have no money how you get to Vietnam? I'll take you to ATM, You think I'm stupid, Never forever we be friends. Liar liar pants on fire!!

We really admired her spunk but still didn't support her abrasive selling style.
After we had lunch we started towards one of the villages. Once we began to descend down the mountain the fog began to lift and we feasted our eyes on some stunning vistas. As far as the eye could see were mountains with terraced rice patties. In some of the rice patties water had flooded the areas which gave off beautiful reflections while glancing down.
I have to say that the tribal people were much more friendly as we passed down the mountains. Most didn't even ask us if we wanted to buy something. All of the female indians wore traditional indian garments. They are black with vibrant colors in a reocurring pattern. We're not sure if the reason that they wear these outfits is because of a desire to keep their traditions intact or if it's because of the tourism boom.
After a 5km walk down a mountain we opted to have a couple of the villagers drive us to town on the back of their motorbikes for just a little money.
Today we decided to get a motorbike to cover larger distances. It was so much fun driving throughout the countryside. We toured one of the traditional villages called Cat Cat. Water buffalo were walking all around us, along with boars and chickens everywhere. After the village, we retraced our steps and took the same path as yesterday determined to make it farther. Again, just as yesterday, once we descended, we started to get great views of the valley. Part of the road was a little treacherous but we managed to drive through the base of a small waterfall unscathed. I think we're going to stick around for another couple of days here before heading south. We love it here!

permalink written by  zachel on March 31, 2009 from Lao Cai, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Sapa

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Hanoi Value Menu

Hanoi, Vietnam

Ahhh, Hanoi. This is the Asia everyone dreams about when they think of modern Asia. Motorbikes everywhere, dodging traffic, jumping over heaping piles of trash, and swerving from spitballs, Hanoi has it all. Residents of Hanoi were smart to leave intact the remnants of the French colonization period. The French architecture clashed in a beautiful way against the tropical climate. Everywhere people have plants in their apartments that adds a tropical vibe to the city. Another thing to mention are the power lines that blanket the city. Apparently, North Vietnam has not been introduced to underground fiber-optic cable.
After arriving in Hanoi last Monday we decided to get out of the city and trek to the Gulf of Tonkin and visit Halong Bay. There are close to 2,000 islands in this archipelago. It's a UNESCO world heritage site for a reason. It's easily one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Hopefully, we can get some pictures up in the next couple of days. The first night we cruised through the islands on a boat complete with a dining area and cabins on the lower level. We went to a cave, went kayaking, then anchored nearby to stay the night.
The next day we went to an island where we set off biking. Shortly after we started I helped push a broken down truck filled with sand along with maybe 8 other Vietnamese people to the side of the road. The island we stayed at had been a popular target for aerial bombing campaigns during the Vietnam war. We climbed to an area where North Vietnamese kept watch for bombing raids that were flying to Hanoi. There we had great views of the bay. Unfortunately, the top was infested with mosquitoes so we didn't stay long. Our guide that led us to the top of the mountain might have been a Viet Cong soldier himself. He was genuinely nice to us and the rest of the group. Our other tour guide told us that the North Vietnamese like Americans and don't hold the war against us because of all the protests they saw during the war. That could be true but he might have just been angling for a tip.
After the strenuous hike with our Swedish companions we biked back to the boat. The group that was on the tour with us ended up being very nice. There were 3 Swedish people that were extremely nice. Two of them were a couple in their 60's that were retired teachers. Even at their age they were able to hike a mountain that was difficult for Rachel and I. I hope were in that good of shape when I'm that age.
Then we went to a beach bungalow where we would spend the night. We went kayaking again for a bit but we were too tired to spend much time on the water after the exhausting hike. After a low key evening we retired but not before putting up a mosquito net.
Early the next morning, we rode on a rickety boat a good distance away to meet up with the rest of our tour group. They welcomed us back and we crept back to Halong City. I didn't expect much since we went on a tour group but I'm sure it will be a highlight of our trip.
Yesterday we got shutout of the museums since it was a Monday so we bummed around, took a walk by one of the lakes and caught up on the internet. I almost got burned by flying sparks from a welder on the sidewalk and then we had some great pizza at an Italian restaurant next to Hoam Kiem lake in the Old Quarter.
Last night we hopped on a night train to Sapa and arrived here a couple of hours ago. The touts that were waiting outside were some of the pushiest, nastiest salespeople we've encountered so far. One nice foreigner told us the right price to pay for a bus to Sapa and one of the people slammed his shoulder and yelled at him. We got a hotel room with a balcony and an amazing view. It's not called Mountain View hotel for nothing. It was raining here but the sun is starting to shine so were going to go tour the city. Peace.


permalink written by  zachel on March 30, 2009 from Hanoi, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged HalongBay, Hanoi and Sapa

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