Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Great Indochina Loop

Welcome to IndochinaWelcome to Indochina: During our trip we visited Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

It seems that everyone I know on Saipan read my blog while I was on my trip. A typical conversation goes like this:

Friend: Hey, welcome back!

Angelo: Thanks!

Friend: How was your trip? Where did you go?

Angelo: Oh, well I went to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Friend: Yeah, I saw that on your blog.

Alright, so I didn’t really give a full recount of what we did on the trip…and I know you’re just dying to know every single last detail!

So, here it goes, 38 days in Southeast Asia in one paragraph or less per day:

DAY 1

This was a travel day. We left Saipan early, flew to Nagoya, flew to Narita, where we met up with Ian’s Mom, Cloe, and her husband David, then we flew to Bangkok. We got in late. We checked into our hotel, The Fenix, and then went for a walk in the area around our hotel. We saw an elephant walking down the sidewalk.

Turtle GuitarDo you know any Jack Johnson?: The Narita Airport has examples of things you shouldn't buy while abroad.

Bangkok Banana ClubMen Only: This fun club was right near the Fenix. We did not go in.

DAY 2

Ian and I went walking around town again. We went shopping at a department store called Central and had our first Tuk Tuk ride. We had dinner at the Oriental Hotel with David’s friend, Pooh, and afterwards we went out with Raj and Rupa to a nightclub called Bed Supperclub.

Thai Buddhist Monk RobesDirty Laundry: Even Buddhist monks have something to hide. This was taken at one of the temples in China town. It is the temple with the crocodiles. Anyone out there know the proper name?

DAY 3

After breakfast we moved to the hotel in China Town where our Intrepid tour was set to begin, Grandeville Hotel. Ian and I visited the different parks and temples near our hotel and had our first taste of street food. We met our Intrepid group later that night and we had dinner together for the first time just off of Khoa San Road. We did not go to the Ping Pong Show.

lotus blossomsI say we pray: We saw a lot of these over the course of 6 weeks.

1..2..3..Buddha!: I thought monks were supposed to take a vow of poverty? How did this guy get a digital camera?

DAY 4

We went for a long tail boat ride through the Bangkok Khlongs and then visited Wat Pho, the temple with Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha, and the Grand Palace, where I learned that my pants were broken. That evening we boarded an overnight train to Chiang Mai.

Wat RachakhrueworawihanSay that three times fast: Wat Rachakhrueworawihan was one of the temples we visited on our long tail boat tour of the khlongs. We fed a bunch of oversized catfish there. Yum!

Reclining Kitties: Sure, we're in a temple with Thailand's largest reclining Buddha, but I liked the reclining cats. Meow.

DAY 5

My 29th Birthday! We arrived at Chiang Mai at about 7:30 AM. None of us slept very well on the train. After breakfast at a restaurant facing the ancient city wall, Ian, Terry, Olivia, Ben, and I went on a four hour tour of the Chiang Mai countryside. We visited a local temple, a village crematorium, a leper village, had lunch at a roadside restaurant, and visited several ancient ruined temples. As the sun setting we drove a van up a mountain to visit Doi Suthep, where we watched monks chanting and saw a great night time view of the city below us. Afterwards we went out to a restaurant called Antique House to celebrate my birthday. Ian drank all of the beer in Chiang Mai that night.

Naga, King of the Snakes: All of the Buddhist temples we visited had Naga, King of the Snakes, on the roofs. The Nagas in Northern Thailand and Laos were more ornate than the other countries' Nagas. This temple was the local temple we visited on our bike tour.

Chiang Mai City LightsChiang Mai at night: It was kind of rainy when we went up to the temple, but we could still see the city lights below us.

DAY 6

Today we drove for 7 hours from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong. We had lunch in Chiang Rai across the street from a white and silver temple called Rong Khun. In Chiang Khong, Ian and I had dinner at a guest house facing the Mekong River. Afterwards we ran into Chiang Khong’s #1 Party Girl and drank beer with her and her friends until very late.

Rong Khun Chiang KhongLas Vegas Buddhism: Rong Khun in Chiang Khong was the most "ornate" temple we visited during our six week long tour.

DAY 7

In the morning we took a water taxi across the Mekong River to Huay Xai, Laos. Once on the other side we boarded a long boat for a two day journey down the Mekong. The boat stopped for the night at Pakbang, a village of about 1000 people. In Pakbang we visited the local temple and had dinner at an Indian restaurant. After dinner Ian and I had massages for $6.

Free Boat Parking: We weren't the only ones traveling down the Mekong River and spending the night in Pakbang. There were some foreigners and many locals renting boats. They all parked next to each other overnight.

DAY 8

We reboarded our boat in the morning and continued our journey down the Mekong. Before our arrival in Luang Prabang, we stopped at Pak Ou caves, where there are thousands of old Buddha statues. When we arrived in Luang Prabang we took a Tuk Tuk to our hotel, Thong Bay Guesthouse. Ian and I shared a small hut made out of natural materials. How romantic. We went into town for dinner at night. We ate street food and then walked through the night market. Afterwards, Ian and I had massages again. This time they were $5.

Pak Ou CavesBuddhas in a cave: I have nothing funny or witty to say about the thousands of Buddha statues housed in the Pak Ou Caves.

DAY 9

Breakfast was waiting for me outside my door when I woke up. I had preordered it the night before. After breakfast we visited a cultural museum and then took a Tuk Tuk up to Kouang Si Waterfall. We had lunch at a stall outside of the waterfall’s grounds. Ian and I asked to be dropped off in town after our tour. We walked up to the top of Mount Phousi to Wat Chom Si to watch the sunset. How romantic. When it got dark we took a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel and had an overpriced dinner with the group at the hotel’s restaurant.

Will this be enough?: We ordered breakfast the night before and it was waiting for us on the steps of our cabana when we woke up.

Getting our feet wet: There was so much water at the Kouang Si waterfall that we were trudging through streams washing over the pathway.

DAY 10

Today was our free day in Luang Prabang. Breakfast was delivered in the same manner as the day before. Ian and I took our time going into town. We used the Internet and then after having lunch at an Indian restaurant, went on a self guided tour of the city. We visited the most important temple in the city, called Wat Xieng Thong, and took a water taxi across the river to visit Wat Tham Cave, Wat Long Khoone, and Wat Chomphet (aka Wat Bud). That night we went to a Laos cultural show at the Grand Palace. After the show we had dinner with Terry and then went bar hopping. I had to pee really bad, so I made Ian duck into the closest bar. We ordered two beers to be polite. About half way through the beers we realized we were in a gay bar. How romantic.

Luang Prabang Temple CatProtector of the Faith: Temples seem to be a good place for cats to hang out. This guy was sitting on the offering table. Just like a cat to want to be worshiped.

Wat Chompet Luang PrabangWat Bud: The kid on the left is Bud. Bud was our tour guide for Wat Chomphet. He was hanging out at the table that sold tickets to the temple and followed us up the steps after we paid. He didn't say much during the tour, but when we were finished, he unceremoniously held out his hand and said, "money." We paid.

DAY 11

Today we flew to the capital city of Laos, Vientiane. Our hotel in Vientiane, the Riverside, was right on the Mekong River. Ian and I did a little exploring of the city, but we ended up back in the hotel room watching James Bond: License to Kill for most of the afternoon. In the evening we went with Cloe and David to meet their friends who live in Vientiane, Garrett and Joanne. They took us to a riverside restaurant for happy hour and then to a French restaurant near our hotel for dinner. Afterwards Ian and I went out for a few drinks. Somehow we ended up a nightclub in a big hotel. Good times.

Hungry at the disco: The bathroom in the nightclub had a rice cooker cooking rice. How often do you see that in Florida?

DAY 12

Today was another free day in Vientiane…and I use the term “free” very loosely. Ian and I walked around town all day. We found the American Embassy, several temples, a big concrete monument, and the Communist Propaganda Museum (it had another name, but my name is more descriptive.) Garrett took us on a driving tour of Vientiane late in the afternoon, finishing up with dinner at his house.

Vientiane FriendsVientiane Tour Guides: Joanne and Garrett took us to happy hour and out to dinner on one day and then took us on a tour of Vientiane the next.

DAY 13

We spent most of the day driving to a small village on the River Nam Theun called Thabak. Along the way we stopped at a roadside restaurant in Paksa Diem, a mountain road lookout, and a Mong Market (Mong is an ethnic minority in Laos). On two occasions we got out of the bus to walk. First, through a countryside village, and second, down a stretch of road along some very dramatic cliffs. In Thabak we went on a “B-52 Boat” ride and then our guide made us dinner. We slept on the floor of a villager's house underneath mosquito nets.

A walk in the countryside: I think these baskets are meant to carry rice.

Fill 'er up!: This is what a gas station in the Laos countryside looks like.

DAY 14

We left Thabak in the morning for the Vietnamese border. Getting out of Laos was no problem, but we spent 9 hours getting through Vietnamese Immigration. Fuck you, Vietnamese Immigration. We had a very late dinner in a city called Vinh and then arrived even later to our hotel in Nihn Binh.

dog eatersDog Eaters: This truck carried about 1000 dogs. The smell was horrible and the dogs sounded like screaming children. I hope I didn't eat any dog in Vietnam. My dinner usually tasted like chicken, but you never know.

DAY 15

Today we went to Halong Bay. We left Nihn Binh in the morning and arrived at the dock at about lunch time. We rented a Chinese Junk Boat for an overnight tour of the bay. We visited a limestone cave and an island called Titop and then spent the night on the boat. We spent the night playing cards.

Halong Bay KidsYou buy from me: No matter where we went, we couldn't get away from people hawking stuff. These kids were selling snacks.

Halong Bay Chinese Junk BoatKind of Gray: I was disappointed that our day on Halong Bay was so hazy, but it was still beautiful.

A nice boat: The Junk Boat served pretty good food, albeit it was mostly fried. We sat up on the second story of the boat to eat dinner.

DAY 16

We ate breakfast on the boat as we headed back towards the dock. When we got off, we drove four hours to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. That evening we went on a cyclo tour of the city and then went to a water puppet tour. After the show we all went out to dinner together. After dinner, Ian, Olivia, Ben, and I went out on the town. We all bought bootleg DVDs and Ian bought an Ipod.

Argh!: Driving around the streets of Hanoi is scary. Driving around at night...insane. Little did we know that Saigon would be worse.

DAY 17

Today we went on a tour of the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. I stayed in and watched Game 4 of the ALCS in the afternoon. After the game I had a massage. It was not a very exciting day.

Just going for a bike ride: Care to insert a joke?

Ho Chi Minh Museum: In need of some really good communist propaganda? The Ho Chi Minh museum was outstanding. I left hating America and wanting to join the revolution.

Bloody French: This is where the French dude in charge lived...until Ho Chi Minh gave him le boot.

Ho Chi Minh StatueHo Chi Minh Villagomez: I need to work on my signature pose.

DAY 18

I spent the day in the hotel. I was tired, what can I say? At 7 PM we boarded our second night train of the trip, headed for Hue.

DAY 19

We arrived in Hue right around 9 AM. In the afternoon we visited the tomb of one of the Nguyen emperors and then took a dragon boat back into town. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant and then went out for drinks at a place called DMZ.

Hue Incense SticksDid you fart?: Outside the tomb local vendors were rolling incense. The incense had the consistency of clay and they just rolled it onto little sticks. A small bundle of incense sticks went for about $1.

Hue Dragon BoatsDragon Boats: The Boat we took from the Tomb back into town doubled as a tourist shop. While the husband steered the boat down the river, the wife tried to get us to buy silk clothes, trinkets, and other stuff we didn't need or want.

DAY 20

We took a short cyclo tour of Hue in the morning and then visited the Old Hue Citadel, the walled fortress where the Nguyen emperors lived. We spent the afternoon in a van on our way to Hoi An. Once in Hoi An we were fitted for clothes, drank some beer, and had dinner at the Blue Dragon. We ended the night with karaoke.

Just a hole in the wall: The Hue Citadel is a World Heritage Site, one of six that we visited on our trip.

What do you want?: This is how we bring Freedom to developing countries. It brings a tear to my eye.

Hoi An Vietnam BeerHow much for a beer?: 3000 Dong are worth about 20 cents. That means that beers are five for a dollar in Hoi An. I love Vietnam.

Bleeding ears: What do you get when an Irish Bird and a portly lawyer get the microphone? You don't want to know.

DAY 21

Today we just walked around Hoi An and everyone got fitted for more clothes. We met a local girl named Oahn and had dinner at the Indian restaurant where she works. We ended the night with karaoke.

Does this make my butt look big?: I was fitted for two pairs of jeans. That was cool.

DAY 22

Ian, Ben, and I took a bus out to visit My Son, a World Heritage Site. On the way back we rode a boat instead of going by bus. Back in town we picked up some of the clothing we had ordered. Then we rented motorbikes and went on a tour of Oahn’s island off the coast of Hoi An. When we got back to the mainland we had dinner with the group at Mango Rooms.

Hoi An BicycleClassic Shot: Something about this picture makes me want to go back to Vietnam.

Vietnam Cone HatsFunny Hats: You have to admit that the cone shaped hats are cool. So is riding a bike instead of driving a car. Eating dogs is not so cool.

DAY 23

Today we flew from Hoi An to Saigon. We arrived late in the afternoon and after checking in went on a cyclo tour of the city. We visited some famous hotels in the center of the city, the Notre Dame cathedral, the post office, and the Reunification Palace. When we got back to the hotel we walked over to the touristy area of Saigon and had dinner at a sports bar.

Saigon Opera House at Night: Yeah, it was dark. Is there really anything else to say?

The Essence of MeatLet's eat here: Seriously, why don't they ask an native English speaker to read their signs before they put them up?

DAY 24

Today we visited the Cu Chi tunnels. They freaked me out. When we got back to the hotel we had lunch at Pho 2000 and then went walking around town. We had dinner with the group again, but left them pretty early to go to the top floor of a department store that had a KFC, a Pizza Hut, and a bowling alley. Ian made a friend there, Laurel.

Cu Chi TunnelAre you kidding me?: Right about now Ian is thanking God that it is 2007 and not 1973.

Fake Louis VuittonFaux Louis: The frickin' department store in Saigon sold knock off Louis Vuitton. What's up with that?

DAY 25

Today we drove to Cambodia. Getting through the border was no problem…except for that Irish girl. It took a little longer, but she eventually got through. The drive from Saigon to Phnom Penh took about 7 hours. Game 1 of the World Series was on when we got to the hotel, so Ian and I stayed in and watched the Red Sox beat up on the Rockies 13-1. After the game we had dinner at drinks at Riverside Bistro.

Riverside Bistro GirlsCambodian Party Girls: Ian and I really liked the Riverside Bistro because of the TVs.

DAY 26

I went back to Riverside Bistro at 7 AM to watch Game 2 of the World Series. This time the Red Sox beat up the Rockies 2-1. After the game I went on a walking tour of Phnom Penh. I saw the Grand Palace and the Silver Pagoda, the Independence Monument, the North Korean Embassy, the Central Market, and went to the top floor of the R2-D2 Shopping Center. In the afternoon we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. I had dinner at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club with Ian and Terry and then went back to Riverside Bistro.

Independence Monument: Bloody French. They suck. I'd build a monument to celebrate their defeat too if I had the funds...oh, but wait, aren't they our friends now? Dang it!

Temple Roofs: Notice how the roofs aren't as ornate as the roofs from Laos or Northern Thailand?

Phnom Penh Skyline: Some photos of the city taken from the shopping center that looks like a giant R2-D2.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: This was the most shocking tour of our trip. Out of the 17,000 prisoners that were held in this former high school, only 7 survived the Khmer Rouge regime. What the hell has to happen for a society to allow this to happen? Oh yeah, years of US bombing. Makes you wonder what will happen to Iraq when we pull out.

Faces of the Dead: Our guide was forced to work in the fields during the Khmer Rouge regime. Luckily he was too young to be a soldier. The faces in the pictures were all victims of the regime.

DAY 27

We took an early morning flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. The road between the airport and the city passes right by Angkor Wat. We spent most of the morning walking around town and then went to a temple to watch the sunset. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

View from the plane: This is one of the floating villages near Siem Reap, photographed from our airplane. We didn't go to this village, but we went to one like it.

One more step: Those ancient Khmer temples can be tough to climb!

Cut that mullet: The hair was beginning to get a bit unruly. In this picture I am only 3 days away from a haircut.

DAY 28

We got up at 4 AM to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Once the sun was up we were taken on a tour of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Some of us went on a hot air balloon ride (not me) and some of us went on an elephant ride (me!). After lunch we went to Ta Prohm, where scenes from Tomb Raider were filmed. We had dinner at the Red Piano Bar and had a few drinks afterwards at Sok San.

Angkor Wat SunriseNot so artistic: Most people were trying to get the reflection of the main temple off of the small pond inside the grounds. I went for the reflection off a puddle.

Turn around: Then I turned around and took some puddle reflection pictures of the front of the temple.

Angkor Wat Shots: Some more photos of Angkor Wat.

Rub for good luck: Saipan and Angkor Wat have something in common. There is a row of bare breasted devatas in Angkor Wat that visitors touch for good luck. Specifically, they rub their breasts. These breasts are rubbed so often, that they have been practically polished. In Saipan we have Chicago 2, where they do the same thing. You know, for luck.

Siem Reap Hot Air BalloonFull of Hot Air: Ben and Olivia were the only ones to go up in the hot air balloon. I got all excited because there were some coral trees near the launch site. It's the little things in life that matter.

Elephant trunks: Elephants are cool. I have nothing funny to say.

My favorite: I think Bayon Temple in the Angkor Wat complex was my favorite temple of the entire trip.

Bayon Faces: They don't make places like this. This temple is right out of a video game or a movie.

Magnum: This is so beautiful. Oh wait, I shouldn't even be talking about this.

La Tigra: These faces were so cool. I want to build a house like this.

Shouldn't you be in school?: Outside the Bayok Temple we were attacked by little kids selling trinkets. How could I say no? Simple. No.

DAY 29

Today the Red Sox won the World Series. I skipped the morning visit to a temple and an animal rehabilitation center to watch the game. In the afternoon we went on a tour of a floating village. Return of the Jedi was on TV when we got back to the hotel, so Ian and I stayed in for awhile. When the movie was over we went out to eat at Blue Pumpkin. After dinner we went to a nightclub.

Khmer Rouge cadets: So what do you think? Do we make the cut?

Do you got game?: This floating structure had a basketball court on top.

This looks familiar: We saw people fishing with cast nets in every country we visited.

DAY 30

We spent the entire day driving down the very bumpy road between Siem Reap and Bangkok. We had our final group dinner, went out for a few last beers, and went back to the hotel pretty early.

Cool Cambodian kids: The little boy in this picture said he spoke Thai, Khmer, English, and Japanese. I can vouch for the English and Japanese, but my Thai and Khmer is a bit rusty. He was trading American and Japanese coins for Baht. Cool kid. He gave me a friendship bracelet that I'm still wearing (as of November 20, 2007).

DAY 31

In the morning I met up with Kathy at the JW Marriott while Ian booked our trip to the beach. Ian met up with us later and Kathy took us to lunch, took us shopping, and got us haircuts. In the evening we had dinner on the 78th floor of the Baiyoke Tower in Bangkok. Afterwards, Ian and I went up to the 84th floor bar to celebrate Halloween. There was a Filipino band and Thai Go Go girls.

PoohDining in style: Pooh, David's friend from college, took us out to eat at a restaurant on the 78th floor of the tallest building in Bangkok. If you go there, try the sukiyaki.

Speed Racer: The 77th floor of the tower had a little museum.

DAY 32

We said goodbye to David and Cloe at 6 AM in the morning. We were picked up at our hotel at 8:30 and taken to the airport. The flight to Phuket lasted about an hour and a half, then the drive from the Phuket airport to our hotel on Patong Beach lasted about an hour. After checking in we walked around the beach and then had lunch at an Indian restaurant. Later that night we went out to a small bar and then found the bar with the Lady Boys. Good times.

You want to ride the jetski?: Um, no thanks. I'll walk.

You want that with fish sauce?: How awesome is this Ronald McDonald?

DAY 33

We spent the morning on the beach in Patong and then took a ferry to Phi Phi island. It was raining when we got there, so we stayed in and watched Jumanji. Yes, Jumanji. When it stopped raining we went out and had dinner at a BBQ buffet.

DAY 34

We spent the day on the beach.

Tsunami SignRun!: Phi Phi got worked by the 2004 Tsunami. One wave crashed onto the island from one side, then another washed over the island from the other side.

Nice boat: I really liked Phi Phi Island.

Phi Phi Island ThailandLounging: I only moved from this spot to eat, drink, and pee. I liked Phi Phi.

DAY 35

We rented a water taxi and spent the morning at Ma Ya Bay, where The Beach was filmed. Then we spent the rest of the day on the beach. We had dinner at a seafood restaurant and as we were eating two of the staff got into a knife fight over a girl. There was definitely a winner and a loser in that fight. Ew.

Have a safe trip: This is the name of the boat that we took to Ma Ya Bay. We paid 1000 Baht for a three hour tour.

Ma Ya Bay Phi Phi ThailandLeondardo was here: In the movie Leonardo only had to share The Beach with that hot French girl. Ian and I had to share it with hundreds of guys wearing banana hammocks.

Hidden no more: This picture does a better job of showing just how many people visit The Beach everyday.

Phi Phi BakeryTastes a bit nutty: Phi Phi is sometimes spelled Pee Pee. It is pronounced exactly the way you think it is pronounced. So do you think the people who made this sign asked an English speaker for advice?

DAY 36

Not very sunny today, still, we spent the morning at the beach. We took the ferry back to Phuket in the afternoon and after checking back into our hotel went out for dinner and beer.

DAY 37

Today we traveled back to Bangkok. I had Burger King in the Phuket airport. Back in Bangkok I had no money for phone, Internet, or even food. I just stayed in the room and waited for our flight back to Saipan while Ian took a taxi back to Grandville Hotel to get the bags we had left there.

DAY 38

We left Bangkok at 6 AM, spent several hours in Narita, and arrived in Saipan very late.

Going to SaipanNot so direct: There are no direct flights from Narita to Saipan. You either have to go Narita, Guam, Saipan or Narita, Nagoya, Saipan. Somebody should do something about that.

9 comments:

Rick MacPherson said...

LOVING the toilet rice!

Dave said...

Terrific report. You'll probably get lot's of traffic from folks doing research for their own travels.

Great photos as well.

Your hard work is appreciated.

Ian said...

I like how all of the embarrasing shots are of me . . .

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

What are you talking about? The only potentially embarrassing shot is the karaoke pic. The others are just candid.

Winter Park Fords said...

Alex and I looked at all your pictures last night. They are so good. Love you, and have a Happy Thanksgiving. Love, Mom

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Angelo.

Thanks for the great travelogue and the photos. Traveling makes us human. We learn respect for other cultures and find that people of other countries are typically wonderful folks.

G'ma said...

Very nice and interesting pictures, Angelo. Looks like a very fun and educational trip.

Lukerative said...

I am from Texas. And I am totally fascinated with this Blog site ....exp Saipan. Seems to me that you guys have a great time over there.

Red Sox seem to have fans over there. How bout them Cowboys??

Lukerative

Bob said...

I recently returned from Vietnam as well. I only spent a week there and that was definitely not enough.

Please view my blog at back2vietnam.blogspot.com

I am anxious to read all of your blog..