I haven’t been a good blogger or typer whichever I do best. I’ve been back from my trip for 3 weeks now. I started the new semester last week and probably wouldn’t be typing this if it wasn’t for my a few of my classes today being cancelled……
Started out in Thailand just as a flying point because Bangkok is the cheapest airport. Another positive is Thailand issues visas on arrival that don’t cost anything! My traveling companion was Christina, a fellow ABC (American Born Chinese) teacher in the same program. We went to get our visas in Bangkok for Vietnam first thing. The city was unbelievably humid, and I’m very prone to sweating. I’ll let you connect the dots. We got our visas the same day but the price wasn’t the greatest $90 usd, I wasn’t happy. We made our way to the train station and were heading to the border of Thailand and Laos. The train was a sleeper, and had no problems, nice bed and clean and air-conditioning to top it off. Arriving in the morning the next day we were soon to arrive, and from a question asked by Christina we met a very nice Korean fellow named Richard. We hung out with him for the next day in a half in the capital of Laos. A very interesting man who was on the last leg of his journey before heading back to Korea. He had been traveling for 10 some odd years, only going home for a month or so then heading out again. He had a great sense of humor and even better stories. We also met an Australian who would accompany us for our time in Laos. We didn’t stay at the capital long and headed to Vang Vieng. It is a partier’s paradise. There is a river in which people drink beer and concoctions all day and float down. This didn’t sound too interesting to any of us so we opted in renting motor bikes and exploring the countryside. Definitely the highlight of my trip. Gorgeous views, bumby paths, watering holes cut out of a magazine, and one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. Backtracking a little to the bus ride from the Ventiane to Vang Vieng. We were last to get on and I took a seat in the back next to french man. I started reading a magazine 5 mins in and the man starts telling me, “Un pour tous, tous pour un!” Naturally I have never studied French and didn’t understand what he was saying. He became more excited and started fake waving a sword in the air. After 3 or so minutes of confusion I realized my magazine had a heading, “All for one, one for all.” This led to the next 5 hours of a mixture of English and French speaking about Laos and life and everything in between. The 2 best parts were, he lived in Corsica in a bunker made inside of rock. The second was he told me about a fantastic french restaurant in Vang Vieng, and by restaurant I mean home cooked meals. We ended up finding it and had a nice time chatting in French and English again into the night. For some odd reason, through his major hand movements and the Spanish background I have I understood a fair portion of the French he was speaking. Another French patron was watching and laughing and was very surprised (as I was) when I knew most of what he was ranting about.
Moving on. I’m realizing I can’t tell every story so I will summarize.
We headed to Luang Prabang a UNESCO World Heritage city. It was a very relaxed town with good food and beautiful views. We went to a waterfall 35km away that was absolutely stunning. Stayed for a few days, ate pastries, baguettes and headed toward the border. We parted ways with Ben and headed to Vietnam. *It is important to note that our previous buses were sold as ‘VIP’ and that they were not exactly. They weren’t bad but vip is an overstatement. We decided a ‘Local’ bus would do the trip going to Hue in Vietnam. Poor decision. We went to load the bus and there were 50-60ish Vietnamese eyes preyed on us with big grins. They were nice enough to ‘Let the white people through’ and get on first. The bus was packed with luggage and boxes, literally in the seats and aisles. People were hanging out of the doors and I couldn’t help but think this is going to be a 12 hour bus ride. Luckily we met up with another bus along the way and got on that one. This was nice, air-conditioned and clean of boxes and luggage. The only hiccup was falling asleep and waking up to someones feet next to my head, with another man’s head on my shoulder. After stopping at 3am and sitting in a cafe (or something like it) waiting until the border had opened at 6, we still had another 2 hours of border crossing and 4 hours of bussing in Vietnam. All together what was touted as a 12 hour trip took 17. No problem. Hue was rainy and more rainy, we lasted a day and headed south. Stopped in Nah Trang for another day at the beach. I ordered a fish (pointed to it swimming in a tank) from a restaurant the size of a notebook and ate most everything including an eyeball for good measure. The last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh city, formely Saigon. An absolute crazy place with thousands upon thousands of motor bikes. Crossing the street is literally like the game Frogger except you have better chances of living if you maintain a constant pace. Fantastic food and good nightlife. We saw the war museum and the Cu Chi tunnels which were interesting.
We stayed for 2 days and continued on to Cambodia. Christina and I parted ways because her trip was 2 weeks longer than mine and I was on the last leg of my journey. Got to the capital Phnom Penh and found a nice hotel. A little pricey, I think $15 per night, but clean and new. I set out to walk around and found a nice workout park. They had some monkey bars and other small equipment. A small young man was also working out and we started chatting about technique and pull-ups. I invited him to dinner with me because I was solo and he declined but I gave in after my repeated offers. The young man’s name was Vootie and he was from a poor city in Cambodia. It is important to know that Cambodia is very poor, so coming from a poor city means that you opportunities in life are extremely limited. He told me he was raised in a Christian school set up by some Singaporeans in Cambodia. He learned english and of course other basic subjects as well as house-keeping in hotels (tourism being a major industry). His mother worked in a factory, father sold ice-cream, and younger brother was 17 and didn’t go to the same school because only one child per family was allowed. He was extremely humble and kind and always had a smile on his face. He told me that he was currently training at the moment in house-keeping and hoped to find a job. If he was able to secure a job he informed me the salary would be $90 usd per month. This was money he hoped to help support himself and family with. Many people dropped out of training because it was hard, but he was previously a farmer so he could handle it. Vootie never had western food in his life (we had pizza) and was very thin and not over 5 foot 4. We parted ways but I don’t think I’ll forget his positivity even in light of no opportunity and extreme hardship.
I headed to the last part of my journey in Siem Reap, where I planned to spend 3 days in Angor Wat. I spent a full day there biking 37km around the ruins and with so many tourists snapping photos like cameras were soon to be extinct I had enough. I was heading back to my hostel and naturally, as happens often, I got lost. I ran into a Muslim Cambodian restaurant and sat down for a meal. *Note, anytime you don’t know what to eat and happen upon a muslim restaurant, seize the opportunity. You know the food quality will be of high standard compared with the surrounding areas. I sat down ordered a delicious plate of Loc Lak, meat with an egg on top, surrounded by vegetable and pepper and lemon sauce. I started talking with the owner telling him my plans to go back to Bangkok, which he suggested I stay some more time and he would take me to the countryside the next day. I obliged and the next day saw the ‘Real Cambodia’ without the constant “excuse me sir, buy a postcard, or flower for your girfriend.” The unfortunate side effect of being such a poor country is the constant flow of peddlers coming up to you selling things. This had none of that, only farmers and beautiful palm trees. I hung out with Yan that night and again the next day. We became good friends and he told me of his plans to buy a small lot of land for the minimal price of $2000 usd (it had been around $8000 a fews before the economic crisis) and build a small house to take tourists into the countryside. We went to a local bar at night with some friends, also a fellow foreigner had who lived in Cambodia for 5 years and owned a travel company. I headed out the next morning spent a day in a half walking miles upon miles in Bangkok and eating Persian food (yes persian) and Thai food and went back to Shenzhen.
That was my trip in a nutshell, all 20 tiring days. If I did it over I would relax in probably 1 or 2 countries. I met fantastic people, many not mentioned, and saw amazing things. From natural beauty to poverty it always opens your eyes for the better.