Saturday, September 12, 2009

Photo links

I finally got more photos uploaded from this summer



Alaska (belated, but still true!)

In early August, 2009, I traveled to Alaska with my mom . The excuse was a friend's wedding, but we had both been wanting to go for a long time.
As most flights arrive in Anchorage late at night, we left on the train for Denali after a short night. It was a very overcast day which made for a quiet ride on the way up. And a very long 8 hours. It did clear a bit, but not much. We also realized once we got to Denali that what was clouds had changed to smoke: there were many fires in the area. Our first night there, we went on a horse-drawn carriage ride that included a family style dinner. It was nice and relaxing and a great meal.
The next morning was slightly clearer as it had rained. We slept in, did a little shopping, then headed out the the park mid-afternoon. Although the clouds were low hanging because of the rain (so we didn't seen any mountains, let alone Denali), it was still gorgeous. We saw some wildlife, including some male caribou several miles below us and some Dall sheep on the mountain. However, the highlight was seeing several grizzly bears. First was a mother with her two year-old cubs napping on the side of the road on the way in. Then, on the way out, we saw the same three bears plus another mom and cub eating berries. The groups got a little too close for comfort so we got to see a bit of a confrontation between the moms, which was amazing. Our driver said it was rare to see that sort of thing so close to the road.
Next day we headed back to Anchorage. It was a beautiful day which made for a much nicer ride on the way home (train again). Once back in Anchorage, we were picked up by a friend of mine for dinner. We went to the Bear Tooth Grill which was very good. While waiting for dinner, we stopped at Earthquake Park and did get a view of Denali, even if it was from that far away!
The next day we headed to Matanuska Glacier, where the wedding was held. A friend of mine, who also knows the bride, picked us up and we drove out. The reception was at a lodge nearby, but the wedding was actually out on the glacier, about a 40 minute hike. And yes, the bride wore a traditional wedding dress, although she did wear mukluks. We spent the night at the lodge where the reception was to enjoy our evening.
Next stop was Seward (via Anchorage of course). We picked up a rental car in Anchorage and headed south. It was another gorgeous day for the drive. We stopped along the way to take some pictures and just enjoy the day. After a relaxing evening, we went on a glacier cruise the next morning. We saw lots of wildlife, such as whales, Dall porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, and lots and lots of puffins. We spent quite a bit of time at the Holgate Glacier, watching the birds and the ice fall.
After spending the morning at the Sealife Center (funded by money from the Exxon Valdez settlement) and shopping again, we headed back to Anchorage. We had dinner at the Moose's Tooth, a good pizza place and the sister of the Bear's Tooth. We spent the next morning at Potter Marsh, where we finally saw salmon running (and more birds). After wondering around a bit more in Anchorage, we left for home.

Overall it was a great trip. Beautiful state. Friendly people. Relaxed atmosphere. I can't wait to go again and see even more!

To see a few pics, check out my Picasa album

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Last Days in SE Asia

Sorry about the long delay on this. I wanted to add pictures and had limited internet access in Alaska (which you can read about in another post).
Day 13

Not a very exciting day. We flew from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. On the way to the hotel we did get our first glimpse of Angkor Wat but that was it for temples today. After checking in we took a little walking tour or the town and got some lunch. I then headed back to the hotel with a few others for an afternoon of relaxation. Sat by the pool and did nothing. I was truly on vacation. Then headed into town to have dinner at Dead Fish Pub. It was built over an old crocodile pit so the crocs are still there and quite alive. It was interesting. There were also some traditional Khmer dancers performing throughout the evening. Early bed because we were leaving at 4:15 the next morning for sunrise.

Day 14

The early morning was so worth it. Both our tour coordinator and our local guide said it was the best sunrise over Angkor Wat they had seen. It didn't look too exciting and then all of a sudden the sky just lit up. Breathtaking is about all I can say about it. We then toured Angkor Wat and several other temples that day. The architecture and carving skills from these buildings built between 900 and about 1400 were amazing. We spent the entire day out. For those who are curious, we went to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (including Bayon, the elephant terrace, the royal palace, and the leper king's terrace), Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed), and several smaller temples. We watched sunrise from on top of Ta Keo. After, we went to dinner at a Korean BBQ place which was fun. Then headed to the bar to drink buckets. Literally, alcohol filled sand buckets. I felt like I was 21 again, but it was fun. I left much earlier than the others as I was getting up for an optional trip. It was a fun night.

Day 15

A few of us left early (although not as early as the day before) to go to Banteay Srei, a temple built for the Hindu god Vishnu. I had wanted to see it before arriving in the country so I was excited. The carving there is even better than at the other temples. And it is very well preserved. It was gorgeous and well worth the early morning after a late night. After that we saw Preah Kahn and Neak Pean. Back into town for a relaxing afternoon (I napped) before our last night in town. We went to a presentation at a local pediatric hospital given by it's founder, a Swiss doctor. It was interesting to see the work being done and the success they have. They have build 4 hospitals in Cambodia and do amazing work. Plus, the only non-Cambodians there are the physician we heard speak and the head of the lab and blood bank. Several of my group members even donated blood to help out. We had a late dinner at a traditional Khmer place then went to the night market. I got a few last minute souviners and then got an interesting pedicure. Small fish eat the dead skin off your feet. It was interesting and actually felt pretty good.

Day 16

Today was my last full day. We drove the the Thai border and then beyond to Bangkok. By the time we got there the royal palace and other sights were closed, so I just went to the backpacker area and wandered, checkmy my flights, etc. We had a farewell dinner at a very good Thai place in the same area. It was a nice way to end the trip.

It was overall a fantastic trip. I had a few injuries and the heat and humidity were dreadful, but I'd consider doing it again. I met some great people that will remain friends for a long time.

For those on Facebook, I have many more pictures there.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The truth about Cambodia

Day 11
Today we crossed into Cambodia by public bus. However, the bus was nothing I would have imagined when thinking about a public bus in Vietnam. It was really nice with AC, reclining seats, even a bathroom that I hear wasn't very bad. It picked us up at our hotel then stopped to pick up the rest of the passengers and we were on our way. It took a few hours to get to the boarder. Didn't take us to long to get through the Vietnamese side then we took the bus about a half a kilometer to the Cambodian side. Thanks to a few extra dollars, that side didn't take long either. Our luggage next even left the bus. After a quick lunch of what seemed like mostly bones but tasted good, we got back on the road. I slept most of the way, but do remember crossing a river on a ferry at some point. Once we got into Phnom Penh and checked into our hotel, we went on a cyclo tour. Cyclos are an interesting contraption. They are basically a high bicycle with a compartment in front for people to sit. It was a good way to get around town and see some of the sights. Also, we used an organization that helps cyclo drivers try to have a better life. Teaching them English, giving them a place to shower and eat. Cyclo drivers are some of the poorest people, similar to homeless in the US as they often use the cyclo for business during the day and sleep in it at night. We stopped at Independence Monument (built to celebrate independence from the French), drove down Embassy Row where I tried to take a forbidden picture of the US Embassy (oops), Wat Phnom, and the Royal Palace. The biggest excitment was at Wat Phnom and it wasn't the monkeys playing everywhere. People kept pointing and making fun of me, I'm assuming for my weight, as they would say things to my driver. I got sick of it and was trying to rush away from one lady when I was getting of the cyclo. Instead I tripped and had a wonderful fall. Hit my knee pretty hard and got a nice scratch on my hand in addition to having my ego bruised. (I had encountered what a local had called teasing in Vietnam, but for some reason it hadn't affected me as much. I had a few other isolated encouters about the same issue, but overall the people of Cambodia were very nice and I enjoyed my time there.) Right as we finished the tour, it started to pour so we enjoyed happy hour at the FCC. We continued out good work of the day at dinner. We ate at a place called Friends that trains street kids in a profession so they can make something of themselves. So all of our servers were part of the organization and I think the cooks, etc, were, too. In addition to culinary education they also get a general education. And the food was amazing. It was early to bed after a long day.

Day 12
This is the day I referred to in the title of this entry. Today we spent a lot of time discussing the recent civil war and Khmer Rouge and touring a couple of relevant sites. We first want to Tuol Sleng, or Security Prison 21 (S21). It formerly was a school, as were most of the prisions in that time. It was a place people thought to be a threat (anyone with an education or thought to be a spy) were taken for torture and to confess their "crimes" before being killed. It was said once someone was sent there they were already dead. The only people who survived were 4 individuals who were somehow missed on the final day. In many ways, it felt like being back at Auschwitz only there at least some survived. After our visit there where we saw the cells, torutre devices, and pictures of a lot of the victims (both alive and dead as the Khmer Rouge was very good at documenting everything), we went to the killing fields. This is were the prisoners who didn't die of starvation or disease were taken to be killed. They were transported in the middle of the night and killed in the countryside where they were dumped into mass graves. To conserve bullets, most were killed with bamboo canes or other "ingenious" ways. Again, it was good to see but a downer. On the way back into town, we stopped at a local market for some lunch. Then we went to a public school to meet some kids. It was a nice ending to a depressing day. We gave out some basic supplies and just played a bit. One of our guys brought a frisbee which the kids loved until it got broken. I spent the afternoon at the National Museum with a few other tour members. We tried to go the Royal Palace but found out it was closed early for a Buddhist holiday. We didn't believe the people on the street at first as in Thailand this can be a scam. However, we finally found the ticket office and were told the same thing. We also then walked a bit and found a small pagoda that people were flocking to and giving flowers, etc, to Buddha. It was cool to see. It of course started raining soon after so myself and the other Arizonan on the trip, Flora, went for a blind massage. $6/hour, amazing massage. Then dinner at a place to supports an orphanage and then bed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


So, I didn't get many good pics, but wanted to share a few more. Motorbikes in SE Asia, and Vietnam specifically, are like SUVs in the US. I saw people carrying pigs, stacks of eggs, luggage doors, even a fridge. You can even transport an entire family on one motorbike. These are just a few things I saw, usually I didn't have time to grab my camera.

Final Days in Vietnam

Internet access in Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia was hard to find, so I'll finish the trip with a few more posts.

Day 9
We left this morning to go to the Cu Chi Tunnels. They are a tunnel system used during the Vietnam War that stretched about 200 km. It was an interesting day, lots of war propaganda. We watched a video that kept mentioning people getting awards for being an American Killer Hero. I know we gave out medals for the opposite, it was just the way it was discussed. Anyway, the tunnels themselves were interesting. The small openings were amazing, as you can see in the picture.
We got back to the city a little after noon. After lunch, a few of us went to the War Remnants Museum, which told the Vietnamese side of the "American War." It was interesting to say the least. Lots of pictures. Again, was very one-sided, but good to see.
This was the first night for 6 people joining us for the next leg and the last night for 6 others. We went to a group dinner at the night market. Many of us cooked our own beef on heated roof tiles on the table. It was yummy.

Day 10
Today was a beautiful day, which was perfect for our trip to the Mekong Delta. Visited a floating market, saw how rice paper was made. Floated down some smaller canals. Even took a short trip in a traditional row boat. It rained (as it did just about every day) but luckily only while we were off the boat looking at other things under cover. After we got back to town, I went for a walk with a friend to the market, bought a few souvenirs. Dinner tonight was supposed to be a recommended restaurant. Instead it ended up being a bit of a tourist trap. A bit of an issue between a group member and the staff about some shrimp, but ended up being an OK meal. Then a few of us went to a saloon. Literally, a western themed bar in the middle of Saigon. Funny.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

2 days of relaxation in Vietnam

Day 7
I had a nice day in Hoi An. Slept in a bit, then went to the tailor the have my first fitting. Over the course of the day, I went back several times to get the dress right, but the pants and shirt were great the first time I put them on. All that needed fixing was the hem on the pants. And the dress did get to be what I wanted in about 36 hours, so no complaints about several fittings. In between fittings, I explored (and shopped) a bit and went to a cooking class. As part of the class, we went to the market and were told about the native fruits, vegetables, and herbs. It was a good education. Then we went down the river about 4 km to the place the class was held. It was a nice trip and I got to see some of the local techniques for fishing. The class itself was fun, the most interesting part was learning how to make rice paper which was easier than I expected it to be. On the way back we got caught in a heavy rainstorm, but by the time the boat got back to town it was done. And it meant it cooled down a bit which was nice. After a drink with some of the group and then dinner, I called it a night. I had my laundry done so had completely repack everything for our trip to Ho Chi Minh.

Day 8
Not too exciting today. Relaxing morning. We drove to Danang to catch our flight to Ho Chi Minh City. We did almost have an accident at a round-about: a truck didn't want to yield to us and we stopped about a yard away. No one was hurt but there was a good staredown between the drivers. Flight was without incident. I was afraid I was going to miss it though as they called me back to check my luggage. I am bringing back some chili sauce and they wanted to know what it was. Unlike in the US, they made me open the bag. At home, they would have just searched it. I think I ate something that disagreed with me so I am just relaxing until dinner. By the time we got to town, most of the museums, etc, were closing soon anyway. So I can explore tomorrow.