Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Floating Village Kids

No, Jane, I am not ready for kids. I make a much better Uncle Angelo than a Daddy. Even so, I have to admit that we've seen some really cute kids on this trip.


I took the picture of these kids while having lunch in Siem Reap. Throughout Southeast Asia, little kids hawk little trinkets. These kids were selling bamboo bracelets and travel books. When you don't buy right away, they resort to whining. The whining usually works.

I don't think the little girl in the middle appreciated me not buying bracelets from her, what do you think?

Floating Village CambodiaWhen we were visiting the floating village near Siem Reap, we were accosted by kids in boats selling drinks. Our boat stopped for about 5 minutes on the edge of the lake and we were instantly surrounded by kids on boats selling stuff. It is very difficult to say no when your boat isn't moving and they are sitting right in front of you saying, "You buy from me?"

This little girl boarded our boat while it was moving. She was like a little pirate. Pirates of the Floating Village or something. Her boat came abreast of ours and she pointed at her beer and said, "two dollars." When I said two dollars was too much, she replied, "two dollars." She was such a good salesperson that I bought two.

This little girl was peaking out from her boat. A lot of kids are fascinated when they see foreigners. Most of them want to sell us stuff, but she was happy to just peak out from behind her curtain and smile.

Alright, that's enough of the kids. Here are a few more pictures of the floating village:

Gotta run...I'll get more pictures up later!

Visiting with Kathy and Planning the Next Trip

Katherine AphaivongsI met up with Kathy at the Bangkok JW Marriott this morning. We had coffee in the lobby and then we went for a walk.

Ian joined us about an hour later and we went to a Chinese restaurant that Kathy and her family have been going to since she was a little girl. We had dim sum, noodle soup, and duck. After lunch we ended up going to a large shopping mall...a shopping mall that had this tasty delight:

Mos Burger BangkokThere was a Mos Burger near my apartment in Takaoka. It brought me back. We had just eaten, so I couldn't eat right away. I got a Mos Burger To Go as we were leaving the mall.

EJ will be happy to know that I got my haircut. It cost 300 Baht, plus a 40 Baht tip to the stylist and a 30 Baht tip to the shampoo girl.

Angelo VillagomezSo what do you think? Fat but handsome?

******

Ian was an hour late because he was finishing up the booking of our next adventure. Thanks for the suggestions to go to Samui, but the tour guide said that Samui is flooded right now and that it is not a good time to go.

We decided to go to Phuket and Phi Phi. We leave for Phuket tomorrow, spend the night in Phuket, then the next day we take a ferry to Phi Phi (where the Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed), spend three days there, then go back to Phuket on the ferry, spend one more night in Phuket, then back to Bangkok for a night, and then we finally leave for home early the next morning.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Intrepid No More

I'm not sure what the best part of our trip has been, but Angkor Wat is in the top 5. Here I am standing atop the second level, with one of the five central stupas behind me:

Angelo at Angkor WatWe're back in the Bangkok.

If you ever have the opportunity to ride the bus from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand, my suggestion is don't. Fly. Trust me.

Our tour is unofficially over. We are going out to dinner as a group one more time and then we are through. We've been joking that we'll go see a ping pong show tonight, but I think that we're all so tired that we'll go straight to bed after dinner.

I called my college girlfriend, who lives in Bangkok, when I got into the hotel. Kathy grew up here, but has lived in Kentucky since graduating in 2001. She just moved back to Thailand last Monday with her 11 month old daughter.

We've got a lunch date tomorrow at 11 AM. We have only seen each other once in the last 7 years, so it will be nice to catch up.

So that's it. The Intrepid trip is over.

Here is the only group picture I took during our 28 day trip:

Intrepid Tour GroupIntrepid group (from left to right): Ben from Germany, Olivia from Ireland, Terry our tour leader, Me, David, Cloe, and Ian.

We took this photo while watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat. If you haven't had the chance to do that yet, I suggest you get out to Cambodia before you die.

Angkor Wat at SunriseIt is worth every penny.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Yankees are Cursed

We just swept the Rockies, a team that never should have been in the World Series, Joe Torre got canned, and A-Rod just opted out of the final years of his undeserving, underperforming $251 million contract. I predict that the Yankees are about to enter a period of mediocrity unseen since Don Mattingly donned his mullet in the 1980's.

Life as a Red Sox fan is good.

I watched game 4 from the comfort of my hotel room in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat and the other ancient Khmer temples are right up the street. How cool is that? I skipped this morning's activity, a visit to a nature preserve, to watch the game.

******

I took over 200 pictures at yesterday's visit to Angkor Wat. We were literally the first people inside the temple to watch the sun rise. It was pouring rain at 4 AM when we got up to leave, but by the time the sun came up the clouds had cleared away.

They stayed away all day. All of my pictures of the 1000 year old temples have a bright blue sky in them. I'm looking forward to posting them. It has been cloudy and raining on all but a few days on this trip. We were extremely blessed to get sun and blue skies yesterday.

Today is pretty much the last day of our Intrepid tour. Tomorrow morning we take a bus into Thailand and Bangkok, then we spend one more night in Bangkok before the tour officially ends. We've promised Olivia that we'll take her to a ping pong show back in Bangkok. We'll part ways on the 31st.

David's college buddy has invited us to dinner on the night of the 31st. He is taking us to a place on the 78th floor (or something like that) of a building overlooking the whole city of Bangkok. I'm going to wear the new gecko shirt I had specially made in Hoi An, Vietnam.

******

Last night, Ian, Olivia, and I went to a crazy bar called Sok San. Sok San advertises itself as a night club with karaoke and massages. Yeah, sketchy, I know, but it looked like fun. The three of us went in thinking it was a "lady bar."

The inside didn't appear like a lady bar. There was a "girl" dancing on stage. "She" looked like a stripper, but she didn't have a pole and never took her clothes off. It looked like a regular night club.

I say "she" because we suspected them and most of the women in the bar of being men, although I have no proof other than Adam's apples and big feet. We sat there drinking our beers, soaking in the whole experience, when suddenly we were subjected to a Khmer cultural show...in drag.

WTF?

After we finished our beers and before leaving we decided to check out the massage rooms, not to have massages, just to check to see if we were really in a girly bar. We were led into a large room with a glass wall. Behind the wall, sitting on some bleachers and wearing lots of makeup, were several girls with numbers pinned to their chests, like cattle at an auction.

We were told that all the massage rooms were full and that we'd have to wait. The cost for a "massage," was $5. We told them we didn't really want a massage, we were just checking the price.

I did not expect to see a bar like this in Siem Reap.

Good times.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Security Prison 21 (S-21)

Our itinerary had something on it called the Killing Fields. I didn't know what it was. I was shocked when I found out.

Freedom FenceInterrogation RoomPrison ShacklesTuol Sleng Prison CellBuddhist Monks in CambodiaTuol Sleng Waterboard

Choeung Ek Killing Fields

17,000 Cambodians were killed here. The pagoda near the entrance holds the skulls of over 8000 victims. As you walk through the mass graves, the area of which is smaller than a baseball diamond, there are bones and bits of clothing sticking out of the ground. Broken teeth litter the ground. They are very easy to find, just look down. Every rainy season more remains, bits of teeth, bone, and clothing, are exposed as the soil erodes away.

PagodaChoeung Ek Killing FieldsChoeung Ek Killing FieldsChoeung Ek Killing FieldsChoeung Ek Killing FieldsChoeung Ek Killing Fields

Saving the Best for Last

This is it. We are in our last city, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is right down the street. We are here for three nights and then we take a bus back to Bangkok. The last day of the tour is October 30, but Ian and I don't return to Saipan until November 7.

Any ideas on where we should go?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Watching the Game

Curt SchillingI am sitting in a restaurant called the Riverside Bistro along the Mekong River in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. We arrived here last night.

I got up at 7 AM local time and walked here from our hotel to have breakfast and watch Game 2 of the World Series.

Where are you watching the game?

Ian and I found this restaurant while walking around town last night. We decided to come back to this place because of the cheap prices and the wide screen TVs.

Cambodia Bar GirlsOur decision had nothing to do with the bar girls.

Nothing.

Last Chance for Postcards

Has anyone received their postcards yet? I got off about 10 in Laos and about 25 in Vietnam. I'll get the Cambodia batch going tomorrow morning.

If you want one, just send me your address. My email is angelovillagomez at gmail dot com.

...and if you are reading this, why not send me a postcard?

My address is:

Angelo Villagomez
MINA Executive Director
PO BOX 506645
Saipan, MP 96950
USA

I will scan the front of your postcard and post it on this blog when I get it. I'll send my favorite postcard a Beautify CNMI prize pack.

No Time to Blog

We're in Cambodia now.

There probably won't be much blogging in the next two weeks.

I'll do some massive updating when I get back to Saipan.

...and I really miss Saipan.

(Hi, EJ)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chu Chi Tunnels

Chu Chi VietnamChu Chi is the most disturbing place I have visited in Vietnam. This is where the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam built over 200 kilometers of underground tunnels to fight against South Vietnam...and us.

Chu Chi Tunnel Fox holeWe were able to crawl through the tunnels, pop in and out of one of the foxholes (I looked a bit like Winnie the Pooh crawling out of Rabbit's House), eat the food they ate in the tunnels, drink the tea they made from Pandus that they drank, and see how thousands of Communist soldiers lived through the war.

The most disturbing part of the tour (for me) was the part where they showed us the different boobie traps used to kill and wound American soldiers. I never knew you could do such horrible things with bamboo.

We also had the chance to get our picture taken with an American tank blown up by a land mine. Our guide told us that Jane Fonda had her picture taken with this tank...but I couldn't find it online. Any help would be appreciated.

******

For lunch we ate at a place called Pho 2000. It is famous for serving lunch to Bill and Chelsea Clinton in November 2000. As the name implies, it serves Pho, which is a kind of noodle soup.

Our guide, Tiger, recommended it. He went on and on and on about how great Bill Clinton was. He was really impressed that Bill was a simple man, not afraid to eat in a Pho shop. He also mentioned about three different times how Bill once told a Vietnamese audience that he was not a VIP and that VIP usually stood for Very Impolite Person.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Duy Nghia and Oanh

We've met some pretty amazing people on this trip. For example, one of our guides in Laos was a Buddhist monk for 17 years and our guide in Hue fought against the Khmer Rouge.

In Hoi An we met another really cool person.

Ian and I were just walking down the street...

OahnLet me take a step back.

When you walk down the street in Hoi An almost every single shop shopkeeper calls out to you with, "you buy?" or "you buy something?" or "you come inside?" You smile nicely, but usually just keep on walking.

That's how we met Oanh (pronounced like the number "one"). She works at an Indian restaurant called Tandoori, which is down the street from our hotel. She managed to get us to stop and the next thing we knew we were invited to a birthday party on an island just off the coast.

Sounded cool to us.

We came back to the Indian restaurant for dinner, but we never made it to the birthday party on the island. We did, however, manage to make it to two hours of karaoke at a local place.

...and I will not comment on Ian's beer consumption.

At the end of the night she told us to come back to the restaurant after our morning tour of My Son and she'd take us to see her island, Duy Nghia, and her village, Duy Hai. She told us to show up at the restaurant at 3:30 PM with two motorbikes and Ian's sister (we've started calling Olivia Ian's sister).

We were kind of nervous about the motorbikes. In our first hour in Vietnam we saw a lifeless body sprawled out on the road from a motorbike accident. We didn't want to be like that lifeless body. We kind of enjoy, you know, being alive and stuff.

We showed up at the restaurant (without Olivia) that afternoon and told Oanh that we just wanted to take a taxi to the boat. She shot back, "but you can't take the taxi on the boat." Then it dawned on us. She wanted to take the motorbikes over to the island so that we could ride around.

How cool is that?

So we rented two motorbikes for about $3 each and bought $3 worth of gasoline and then without helmets, rode through side streets and rice paddies to the dock.

Along the way I saw a lot of betel nut trees. I asked Oanh about them and she explained that old people, and only old people, chew because they like the way it stains their teeth. I didn't tell her that I had some in my pocket.

It wasn't for me to chew. There was a lady in the Hoi An market with betel nut stains on her teeth and I wanted to take a picture of her. I bought some betel nut and then asked if I could take her picture. She proudly displayed her pearly black and reds for me.

At the dock, Oahn paid for our fare across the river to Duy Nghia. Along with about 15 other people, we loaded our bikes up onto the boat then sat in the back as we crossed.

As we crossed over to the island, I couldn't help but think how cool this was.

When we got to the other side we unloaded the bikes and she took us on a tour of her home. We saw schools, a communist cemetary, rice paddies, cows, chickens and not a single other foreign face. Almost every person we passed yelled a big "HELLOOOOO!!!"

Oahn then led us down a very small path bordered on both sides by rice. We came to a small bridge and she said, "OK, let's get off. That's my home," as she pointed to a small house near by.

We met her Mom, Dad, and younger brother and sister...and almost every single one of the neighbors. An old lady showed up and I asked, "Is that Grandma?"

"No, she's a neighbor."

Then another old lady showed up and I again asked, "Is that Grandma?"

Wrong again.

It could have been really uncomfortable, sitting in a room with 15 people where only one person could serve as translator, but it wasn't. I ate one of the hot chilis growing in their backyard for some entertainment and they all decided that I was crazy. They also thought that Ian would make a good match for their oldest daughter.

We set up a date for later that night (that's a whole other story).

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Hoi An. Before we left, I gave one of the old ladies the betel nut in my pocket. They all thought that was hilarious and they couldn't understand why a foreigner would have betel nut.

I guess some things are just better left unexplained.

We took a different route to get back to the dock, loaded our bikes back on, and as we sat on the back of the boat heading towards Hoi An, Ian and I discussed whether this was our best field trip yet.

I think it was.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Shopping Spree

I haven't bought much stuff on this trip...

That's changed.

Since arriving in Hoi An, I've been fitted for two pairs of jeans (effectively increasing my total number of jeans from one to three) and three shirts and I've bought incense, a T-shirt, a new back pack, and coffee. Lot's of coffee.

Today I am going to visit My Son, a World Heritage Site just outside of Hoi An. This is the fourth World Heritage Site we have visited on this trip.

I'm going to have a lot to say about World Heritage Sites when I get back to Saipan. Stay tuned.

...tomorrow we are flying to Ho Chi Minh. You old people (Yes, I'm talking to you) might know Ho Chi Minh as Saigon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Half Way Through

I just completed day 19 of my 28 day trip. That means I am half way through. In the last 19 days I have visited 12 cities in 3 countries, not to mention stopping over in the Nagoya and Narita airports.

We are spending the next two days in Hoi An, Vietnam, a city right on the ocean. This city is known for its tailors, so I might get some clothes made.

At first I was really happy to be away from work and Saipan...but I'll be ready to go back home in 19 days.

Especially because I really want to see this girl...

EJ Lee Club 200

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vietnam Rocks My Socks Off

The day that we spent in No Man's Land between Vietnam and Laos was rainy. We were way up in the mountains, so it was also very cold. It warmed up as we descended into the valley, but it only barely cleared up.

Our first full day in Vietnam started in Ninh Binh. We arrived there the night before after a seven hour drive...after our nine hour immigration fiasco. We woke up very early and drove to Halong Bay. It was no longer rainy, but there was a very thick haze in the air. It could have almost been smoke, but it didn't smell like smoke.

As we got closer to the Bay, we started passing limestone formations rising 500 feet straight out of the rice paddies. I was horrified to see that some of them were being crushed to make concrete.

Why would you destroy something that took millions of years to make only to build a concrete structure lucky to survive 100 years?

Thank God for Halong Bay's World Heritage Status.

Halong BayHalong Bay is a textbook example of Karst topography (Florida has Karst Topography, too). The only other place I've seen it as dramatic as this is in Guilin, China.

The mountains in Guilin occur along the Li River. Halong Bay is in the ocean. Up until this trip I thought that the Li River was the most beautiful place in the world. This isn't a close second; it ties for first. I would have a hard time deciding which one was more beautiful.

There are a few things in Halong Bay that I found that we didn't get to see in China.

Well, let me start with the similarities. Both have unbelievable scenery, have a long history and have been depicted in art for centuries. You have to take a boat to visit both places. In Guilin, we took a one way boat down the river. It took a whole day and we had dinner on the boat. In Halong, we spent two days on the Bay and we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the boat.

Halong Bay Floating MarketHalong Bay has floating markets. Ladies and children in row boats come up to your boat and try to get you to buy beer, water, chips, Oreos(!), and other snacks.

HalongThey yell up to you, "Excuse me, you want beer?" Then you run down to the lower deck and start negotiating. I didn't really want anything, but I bought stuff from the ladies to keep the tradition alive. I hope that in 10 years tourists can be continued to be hassled by locals selling stuff the tourist doesn't really need.

:)

Halong BayHalong Bay also has Junk Boats, which I have never seen in person before. They always make me think of James Bond or other movies that take place in Asia. I got to sleep on one! How cool is that?

Halong BayAlright, well I'm going to officially withhold judgement on Angelo's Most Beautiful Place in the World. There are still a lot of places I haven't seen.

******

Halong BayThe sky cleared up the next day and it has been blue ever since. If only we had come one day later! Oh well, maybe next time.

EJ?

******

We've just spent the last three days in Hanoi. Tonight we travel via overnight train to Hue (pronounced kind of like "Way").

Hanoi is a shopper's paradise. As such, we've stocked up on electronics and DVDs. Ben got a 160 GB external hard drive for only $100 and both Olivia and Ian bought Ipods. I've got my eye on a Canon S5. It is about $400 here. What do you think, should I get it?

Microsoft VistaMicrosoft will be happy to know that they are selling bootleg copies of Windows Vista for 28,000 Dong...that is, unless you can negotiate a better price. 28,000 Dong might sound like a lot of money...but at 16,000 Dong to the dollar, it is barely over $1.50.

Ouch!

...and no, I didn't buy it.

Ho Chi MinhIn addition to shopping we've also seen the sites and gone to the museums. Hanoi is quite an incredible city. If you can get through immigration, I would highly recommend coming here for a short stay.

Vietnamese Flag in front of Ho Chi Minh GraveViva Vietnam!