A Travellerspoint blog

Images of Japan

Hello. This is Dave.

Japan has been wonderful. Its extremely clean, organized, and safe here. One of the great things bout Japan is their Japanese gardens. We visited several and even though this isn't the most popular time of the year for them (when the cherry blossoms are blooming,) they were still absolutely beautiful. Peaceful pathways, koi filled and lilly pad covered ponds. Babbling brooks with stone foot bridges, trickling waterfalls, and a variety of extraordinary trees. All with the line of hazy mountains in the distance. Well, here take a look for yourselves:

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We were blown away at one garden when we rounded a bend and were struck with the view of this spectacular bamboo forest. It was just like the one in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," Minus the battling swordsman balancing above.

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English is not very prominent in Japan. The language barrier has actually been the hardest here out of all the places we've been so far, which was surprising with how modern it is. Our friend living here taught us a few phrases that have helped a lot, and we've used the guide book for a few interactions. The train system, especially in Tokyo is massive and complex, with so many different lines. Sometimes it can be stressful trying to find your train, with not all the signs also being in English. Especially during the chaos of rush hour. Then trying to find a worker to help who speaks a bit of English can be difficult. But it always works out somehow, even if we look a bit foolish at times.

Here are some shots from our trip up the Tokyo Tower. As I said in the last blog it was built to resemble the Eiffel Tower, except painted bright orange. I'm sure you can see the resemblance.

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We also went up the Kyoto tower while we were there. We spent a little time viewing the city from the top then came down to a lower level for a few drinks at the lounge. We both decided to try sake for the first time. We each selected a different brand, and we didn't know what to expect. I had thought sake was like a liquor that would come as a shot, but they brought us each a bottle the size of an average beer. Mine tasted a lot like straight vodka but was not as high of alcohol content. The harsh taste made it hard to finish, but I managed. Lynette was pleased that hers actually tasted more like bubbly champagne. It was amazing to sit back and relax while watching the sun set over the city.

If you are ever planning to go to Japan you should take enough cash to last your whole trip. Even though they are very modern here it is very hard for foreigners to find places to get money out. The other day we were in Kyoto and were trying to find an ATM. It was getting late and we only had a few Yen left. We went to several Japanese banks but their machines only take cards made specifically for Japan. Besides the machines only display text in Japanese so we couldn't read them. Finally we were lucky to find a tourist info office open late and they told us to go to the 7-11 down the street and use the ATM machine there. They said its the only place in town where foreigners can use their cards. It was kind of funny because we had unknowingly gotten money out at the 7-11 when we were in Tokyo. We didn't realize at the time that those stores were the only places you could get money out in Japan. Thank heaven for 7-11.

We've had some great food here in Japan. I'm actually surprised that I like it so much. I like a lot of different types of Asian food but all I knew of Japan's was sushi which I don't like. But there is so much more. Here's some shots of Lynette enjoying her noodles:

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Almost all of the restaurants here have plastic displays of the food out front so you know what you are getting. It was quite helpful for us. Sometimes a woman stands outside and you point to what you want. Another place had a machine outside where you put in your money and push the button of the item you want, like a vending machine. It gives you a ticket that you then present inside to get your food.
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We've also discovered green tea ice cream which is everywhere here. I was a little freaked out about the green color and hesitant to try it. But it was actually mild tasting and very good. We had it several times:

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We've seen a lot of Buddhist temples on the trip, but some of them still amaze. Here are some shots from some of the several we visited here.

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The Sofie Star in Japan:
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This temple is the largest wooden structure in the world:
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In Nara they have hundreds of tame deer roaming the streets and parks. You can walk up to them and pet and feed them. They are just considered part of the community.
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I swear to God this one waited for a green light to cross the street. We couldn't believe our eyes.
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Harajaku park in Tokyo is a fun place to hang out and relax on the weekends. On Sunday morning young people gather there dressed in all sorts of costumes. There's a fifties greaser look, cutsie baby doll and Lolita look, and of course the whole goth thing is popular - and much more.
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Here's the famous intersection at Shabuya in Tokyo with the hordes of people that cross in every direction when the light changes.
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I loved hitting all the shops with vintage and modern toys and action figures. They've got tons of Power Ranger type shows here from the 50s up until now with the most unique super heroes, villains, and monsters. I couldn't resist and picked up a few for my collection. The stores are filled with display cases like this one:
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Mr. Bagman:
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There have been so many things we've wanted to buy on this trip, but its tough. Not only because we are on a tight budget but because we have to carry everything we buy. But at the end of each country we ship a package home full of the small things we do actually purchase. So it will be nice to have at least a few souvenirs to remind us of our journies.

Until next time.....

Posted by schuckley 02:47 Archived in Japan Comments (3)

Japan

We have been in Japan for a little over a week. We started out in Tokyo where a friend of ours who lives there was amazing to let us stay with him for a few days and was our tour guide for the city. Thankfully he also helped us figure out the complex subway/train system. Our days were packed from morning til night with exploring the city. We saw the area of town where the young people hang out and dress up in outrageous outfits and the famous intersection in Shibuya where all traffic stops to let the massive amount of people to cross in every direction. We visited tons of shops that sell everything from funky clothes to Manga and Anime toys (where I bought two cool Japanese action figures.) Our friend also took us to some great restaurants, including one where everything was cooked with garlic. The food there was amazing. One night we went up in the Tokyo tower to see the sun set over the huge expansive city. The Tokyo tower was built to mimic the Eiffel Tower, but is painted a bright red color and is several meters taller. We also enjoyed touring an outdoor museum where traditional homes were taken from various parts of Japan and rebuilt on the site. We did a lot more in Tokyo but we only have five minutes left on this computer so we will move on to Kyoto, where we are now.

One of the coolest things about coming to Kyoto is getting to ride here on the Nozomi Bullet train which reaches speeds up to three hundred miles per hour. Seeing the countryside along the way was quite a sight. Kyoto is a big modern city but has countless ancient temples and gardens throughout, which we have visited a few of in our short time here.

Our time is up so we must log off now. We will try to write again soon with more on Japan, and post some photos.

-Dave and Lynette

Posted by schuckley 19:23 Archived in Japan Comments (3)

Final days in Hong Kong

Hello. Dave here. Our month in Hong Kong is coming to an end. We will shortly be moving onto Japan. We are excited about the road ahead.

The service apartment we've been staying in has been quite nice. Good location, close to city escalator, library, stores, restaurants etc. No internet cafes nearby that we know of though. But the library has 2 hours free internet per day so we've been going there quite frequently. The apartment has a small kitchenette area so we've been making small meals to save money. But we still go out to eat on occasion, usually some place cheap. We hadn't been around western food for a long time so here we've been making up for it. I know its not healthy but I can't tell you how many times we've gone to McDonalds. Its a different experience because there are so many people here and the fast food places are so packed that we usually end up sharing a table with strangers. The food is the same though, and oh so tasty. I don't know if they have this in the states now but here they have a burger called the McPepper. I suppose it is a bit on the spicy side for the Asian palette, but we didn't try it. We've also been enjoying pork and rice which is a common and cheap dish found at most Chinese restaurants here. Our apartment is on the fourth floor and with no escalator the hike up the stairs gets us winded. But at least its helping counteract some of those cheeseburgers and fries.

The only real problem with our apartment is this loud and annoying deep buzzing sound coming from upstairs. It goes off at random throughout the day, sometimes starting early in the morning and going late into the night. It was an immediate wakeup call and prevented any possibility of falling back to sleep. During the day it goes off sometimes about every 20 minutes or so and lasts anywhere from 5 seconds to maybe 2 minutes. It sounded to us like the sound bad pipes make when turned on, but man it was loud. I tried to ask the folks that live above us about it once early on, and even though it was a challenging discussion due to the language barrier I determined that it in fact did have something to do with the pipes, but that they didn't know what caused it. I can't understand why they haven't looked into having it fixed. Not that it would make any difference to them but I don't think they realize how loud it is down in our place. The other thing is that the bed is rather small. Its supposed to be a double bed but we think maybe for smaller people. Its a tad bigger than a US twin bed. To have more wiggle room Lynette switched ends so her head is at the foot of the bed. I've forgotten a few times and turned to kiss her in the morning and gotten a mouthful of toe.

The place has a strong smell of incense. Everyone else in the building are long term residents and I think all Buddhists. They pretty much all have a pot of sand in the hall next to their door which they put lit incense sticks into. The scent permeates the stairs and creeps into our room. Its not a bad smell, just very distinct. If we ever smell that particular type of incense back home we will definitely have flash backs of Asia. They also on occasion play very loud Buddhist ceremonial music, and without closing their doors. A few times they've had some type of celebration with lots of people and loud music. I didn't know Buddhists were such partiers. If this was our permanent residence we might have found the loud music annoying, but we actually enjoyed the unique and surreal experience.

Since we were staying here at one address for a whole month Lynette's sister had asked if we needed anything she could send us. At first we couldn't think of anything we needed that we couldn't get here in Hong Kong. But then I remembered I needed underwear. I came on the trip with 3 pair of $15 per pair travel underwear. They are really durable and quick drying. They've held up spectacularly, but I can't find myself able to wash them frequently enough for them to be enough. I bought some in Malaysia and some in Vietnam. Both were supposedly X-large, the largest they had, but that must have been in Asian man standards because they felt like little girl panties on me and cut into my waist something awful. The same was true with the ones I found here in Hong Kong. So I asked Angie if she could send me some Hanes underpants in my size which I will keep confidential. (Don't tell, Angie) We got her package the other day and I can't tell you how happy I was when I slipped them on and they didn't dig into my waist. They were so soft and comfy and fit like a dream. Now that I think of it this might make a good Hanes commercial.

A big tropical storm was headed for Hong Kong yesterday. What we didn't realize is how seriously they take the storm warnings here because of the past experiences they've had with wind and flooding damage. We had a few packages that we had intended to ship out from the post office yesterday. We leave the country tomorrow so we only had yesterday and today to do this. So we got the stuff together and headed out. But we were stunned to find the streets completely baren. There were no cars on the streets and maybe one or two people within site down the street, which was really strange compared to the usual hustle and bustle in the city. It was literally like a ghost town. As we walked we noticed all the stores and restaurants gated up. Supposedly the city had been told to stay home in case of the storm, which we found strange since it was barely drizzling. Of course the post office ended up also being closed, and we worried that it would be closed today as well because that would be the last chance to ship it out before our flight. But that ended up being the least of our worries when we remembered that we had taken our clothes to the laundry the day before and we were supposed to pick them up. At least we could take our packages with us on the plane and mail them from Japan. But there would be no way to pick up our clothes if they were shut down both days. All of Lynette's underwear and socks were there as well as an extra pair of North Face pants I just bought that I'd been needing for the past 6 months. We tried to stay lighthearted about it realizing that it was just clothes and that it could be replaced, but we still felt pretty anxious throughout the night wondering if the place would be open in the morning. Thank goodness it turns out the storm veered to the west and missed a direct hit with Hong Kong. So the weather was not that bad and we were really happy to find the laundry open the next day and we got our clothes. I feel bad for those pour buggers to the west though.

We've done some more sightseeing and here are a few photos from those ventures.
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My camera's stealth mode is working perfectly:
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Here's a better shot of the city escalator:
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We finally made our way over to Lantau island to visit Hong Kong Disneyland. We took a subway then transferred over to the Disney rail which takes you a short distance over to the park. Of course they do it up Disney style with Mickey shaped windows and handles inside the train cars. The park is smaller than the US ones but still a full day of fun. We got there pretty early and stayed until close and still didn't get to ride everything. The rides are all pretty much taken from the US parks but with smome twists to make it different. Which was nice so we weren't just seeing the same old thing. Some of the lands seemed kind of sparce. Especially Adventureland. They only had the Lion King show and Jungle Cruise, oh and the Tarzan tree house. No tiki birds show or even Pirates of the Caribbean! My favorite ride was actually the Small World attraction which was recently added. The twist here was that in the Hong Kong version they've added Disney characters in with all the other figures. I thought this might be a little obnoxious but it was actually rather subtle and we enjoyed trying to pick out the characters. The design of the scenes was spectacular as always.

The Sofie Star enjoys its visit to Disneyland on the other side of the world:
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Here's Stitch on the Small World ride.
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This is where the Disney rail line drops you off at the front of the park.
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They had some beautiful signs and graphics throughout the park, some of which designed by a good friend of mine I might add. Check out this dentist sign with the tooth and the drill. Pretty cool.
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Its strange to see a mountain range behind the castle.
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Next time we'll be in Japan!

Dave and Lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@cfl.rr.com

Posted by schuckley 22:46 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Images of Hong Kong

We've been in Hong Kong a few weeks now and really enjoying it. It is a big city and there is a lot to see and do so its nice to have over a month to take it slow instead of rushing around. It also gives us a chance to see a little more what its like to live here and not just see it as a tourist. Figuring out the transit systems, going grocery shopping, finding places for laundry, haircuts, and miscellaneous supplies. Which can be challenging because these places can often be on the third floor of some random building somewhere, never seen from the street. So its not a matter of just walking around until you find what you are looking for. Luckily, with Lynette's wonderful abilities and experience in the research industry she has been awesome at finding everything we need so far online.

Lynette also has this passion for figuring out maps and transit systems and city layouts. I unfortunately am lacking this particular passion. And when she is looking for something she's got a one track mind, with an ability to block out all other sensory input until she finds the place. So I know to just leave her alone when her radar is in high gear. And as she is navigating us through the city to find the destinations I'm aimlessly looking around and taking pictues of hundreds of things that strike my fancy. As she is reading the street signs I am looking at the interesting design of the street signs. I'm constantly thinking, "Wow that looks cool" or "Ooh, I might need that as a reference for a design someday" or "I bet the folks at home would be interested in that when we get back." So I end up having thousands of photos. Some of which I may someday think, "Why the heck did I photograph that?" But I figure its better to have too many photos than not enough. I will probably never be in these places again. Lynette and I will be walking down the street and I will say "Wow, hold on Lynette." and I'll stop to look up and photograph something. And Lynette will kindly wait for me even though she is thinking "Does he really need ANOTHER photgraph of a rickety old bamboo scaffolding?" or "Doesn't he have enough shots of blank rusty billboards?" I don't know, some things just look cool to me. But we understand eachother and our own personal passions. That's one of the reasons we make good travel buddies.

One of the things I like to photograph which might seem strange is people doing mundane things. Like sitting on a subway. I think its good to have shots of people doing everyday things and not just of skyscrapers and landmarks and things. The tricky part is trying to get these shots without people seeing you and possibly being offended. I'll casually position the camera down at my waist like I'm just holding it and will snap the photo. Pretty simple in a case like this:
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I turned off the sound the camera used to make when a photo was snapped which made it silent. But there was still this little red light that would go on whenever I focus on something which brought attention to me. Such as was the case with this guy. He doesn't look too happy. I've since figured out how to also turn off the red light. Now I'm in complete stealth mode.
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The subway system here is state of the art. Its really fast and easy to figure out. The subways are crowded but the trains are running all the time and never late so you always easily get to where you are going. Another form of transporation that is huge here oddly enough is the escalator. They are everywhere. No doubt because the city is in the middle of the hills. They even have the longest escalator in the world outside in the middle of the city. Its covered from the rain so this is a main form of transportation for daily commuters to get to and from work. It sure is a thigh saver let me tell you.
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Right now the country is Olympics crazy. I didn't figure this would be the case until mainland China, but its pretty big here as well.

An Olympic countdown clock in the subway:
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They've developed these really cute Olympics characters that are everywhere.
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There was even a small Olympics street carnival the other night right outside our place. They had a street set up with some dancers and walk around characters and a couple tents set up with free carnival games where we won a couple Olympics souvenirs.

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And we each got our official 2008 Olympics temporary tattoos!
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The sky scrapers here are lit up to the hilt. The electric bills must be off the charts. And they also have countless amazing neon signs throughout the streets. Here's some shots for Tim and the guys back at WDI. Go graphics department!

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The other night we went across the river to watch the nightly city lights show. The city looks pretty amazing before the show even starts as you can see here. But then as the music starts the lights on the buildings start to flash and dance in sinc with the music. Prety cool.

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A few shots from around the city:

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I thought it was cool how the sunlight bounces off the glass buldings creating some neat effects on others.
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This building is a big mall.
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They are pretty germ careful here. In many public places they have these signs posted informing that they disinfect the place every hour, such as with this library elevator button.
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A few times we've been walking around the city we've caught sight of this guy who walks around dressed as Batman. I could not resist getting a photo with the superhero.
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There are so many people here. Its maddenning just trying to walk around the city streets. Constantly having to bob and weave to get around the hords. And good luck trying to get a table at lunch time. We walked around for a long time the other day trying to find a place to sit down and eat. But the lines were really long and the tables all full. We finally found a KFC and while I was in line to order the buildings power went out (which is not common here as it has been in previous countries.) So we had to continue our search for lunch. HK_city_crowd.jpg
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We visited a Buddhist temple where they have tons of spiral incense hanging from the ceiling. Its a pretty cool sight. Each one lasts for 10 days. There are trays underneath them to catch the falling ashes as well as signs to watch out. I'd hate to look up and get a burning cinder in the eye.
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These pigs were not in the temple. I just put it here at random. Thought they were cute.
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We still have not visited Hong Kong Disneyland which I'm really looking forward to doing, but we have made it over to the the Hong Kong OceanPark which is an amusement park with a few rollercoasters and such. You actually ride more escalators than anything because the park is built into the hillside. You take about 3 slow escalators to get up to each level where there's one or two rides. I thought it sure was a good way to build excitement for the next ride.

Hard to get a photo alone with so many people.
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Unfortunately the one big coaster was out of commission. The one that was running was just okay from a ride standpoint, but just the view from it alone was awesome.
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There were two animals I wanted to get to see while on this trip. One was the koala which we were fortunate to get to see in Australia. The other was the panda. So when we heard that OceanPark had some pandas I had to go. And it was a pretty cool experience. They were so cute. Here's a few photos. I love the way the one on the left is reclined back while he's eating the bamboo.

Here they are talking about which one of them has eaten the most bamboo today:
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All they do is eat, poo and sleep....eat, poo and sleep. And we got to see them do all three!

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Lynette and a baby seal. (Not a real one) Her sister Kirstine should appreciate this one.
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We got to see the movie Kung Fu panda recently which is big here. We really enjoyed it. So we thought it was cool to see these photo-ops at the OceanPark.

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With all the heights we've been experiencing I'm actually getting over my vertigo and extreme fear of heights. I would not have been able to ride this ferris wheel without freaking out before the trip. Now it was a piece of cake.

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They had some pretty neat "streetmosphere" characters (as we call it in the biz.)
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Except for this one:
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The park is divided into to parks which are not within walking distance of eachother. We were surprised how far apart they actually were. You had to take this amazing cable car ride across the hillside to get there. It was a great ride with some great views of the ocean. And again, not afraid of the heights!
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A few days ago we went up to the viewing tower on one of the hills behind the city. The view was breathtaking.

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Another movie we've just seen here is the new Batman Flick. Pretty awesome. If you haven't seen it I recommend you go. I don't think its a spoiler, but one of the things we thought was really cool about the movie is that in it Batman goes to Hong Kong. And what made it even more surreal was that Batman even jumps off the very skyscraper that the theater is inside where we were watching the movie. Its the tallest building on the left in the photo above. And there were a few other spots around town we recognized in the movie. Pretty neat. The weird thing about the movie was that it was at 10:00 AM. I've never before had to set my alarm clock to see a movie. Now I can say I have. Movies are pretty expensive here but the early ones are cheaper.

-Dave

Posted by schuckley 23:42 Comments (2)

Living in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great city. It is compact, packed with people, friendly, clean, modern yet parts are ancient, has gigantic buildings and skyscrapers next to hiking trails and mountains. It is an unusual place indeed! Oh, and did I mention English is like a second language here? So getting around is a breeze since there is almost always an English translation from everything from street signs to announcements on the mass transit system. They even have an ultra modern library system which I'm using right now! We like it so much we decided to live here (for a month) before heading on to mainland China.

We are having a great time. It is nice to just chill out a bit and just explore one place for awhile versus hurrying through the sights before rushing off to the next place like we did in Vietnam. We are renting a small service apartment for a month which has a kitchenette where we can actually cook some of our own meals. This is nice not only because we get to eat some of the things we have been craving from back home but also allows us to save some money. HK is not exactly the cheapest city in Asia in fact it is one of the more expensive cities but as we have found, if you are willing to eat local food compared to western food then you can still dine rather cheaply. The exception here is McDonalds. You can get a value meal for $4 here just like in the states. We have dined at McDonalds twice already.

Here are some of the things we have done in Hong Kong...

We went to a movie. OK, that may not sound like a big deal to you but to Dave and me - big movie goers back home - it was AWESOME! The thing about seeing a movie in HK is that you get an assigned seat so you don't have to arrive early. Just walk in a minute before start time and your seat is waiting for you. The experience was not five star like what we experienced in Bangkok but was extremely nice. We saw the movie Hancock and agree with every critic and probably most people who saw this movie - the first half is great.

We dined on some delicious authentic Chinese food, which was surprisingly light and fresh. It wasn't heavy, deep fried, thick or saucy like much of the Chinese food we are used to back home.

On Wednesdays in HK, a bunch of museums offer free admission so this past Wednesday we made our way to the Hong Kong Museum of Fine Arts. They had ceramics dating back to 2000 BC - just gives you an idea on how ancient this civilization is. We walked around the waterfront taking in the views and enjoying the sites. There are a lot of Olympic decorations everywhere from the huge Olympic ring symbol on the museum to the Olympic mascot statues. There are also stickers throughout the city promoting the Olympics.

I got a much needed hair cut. It’s been six long months since my last. I went to this place I found recommended on an "expats in Hong Kong" website. It wasn't very fancy but the price was right. I had a shampoo, cut, and style for about $20 which is excellent in this town and also excellent compared to what I paid back home. The shampoo I had at this place was like no other shampoo I have ever had in my life. The woman scrubbed my head over and over to where I thought my scalp would start bleeding. When I thought she was done she scrubbed it all again. She would take her fingers and scrape up and down on all parts of my head fast and hard. I didn't say anything to her since I wasn't sure how much English she knew and I figured she must know what she is doing. After that shampooing I don't think my hair has ever been cleaner. I won't have to wash it for days. Of course, the first thing the hair dresser said to me after touching my hair was that he needed to thin it out - "too much hair." Boy did he ever thin it out - he went at my hair with scissors of fury. I ended up with a great cut and he took a massive amount of weight off my head. After he was finished he said "much better" and he was "glad he could help me out." It is a cool experience to get this sort of mundane task done in a foreign country.

We saw the Hong Kong Festival of lights. Someone came up with the great idea to do a light show every night to music using the massive amount of skyscrapers and buildings on Hong Kong Island. To see it you have to go to the other side of the bay - Kowloon - and just hang out at the harbor. It is a must see in HK.

We went to the HK botanical gardens and zoo and saw lots of primates and birds. This patch of green is definitely needed in the middle of this concrete jungle.

We still continue doing things every day - like today I'm in the HK Central Library which is the big daddy library. Since Dave isn't with me to remember to take pictures. I don't have any pictures but it is big and open. I also have been to several temples which are dwarfed in between the huge skyscrapers.

Here is a bit more info on HK...

Hong Kong is made up of islands and a tip of the mainland. Dave and I are on Hong Kong Island which is where the banking center is and is considered the center of Hong Kong. The service apartment we rented is on the 4th floor in an old Chinese Tenement building located in the happening Lan Kwai Fong area. We literally walk out of our building onto the street where there are hundreds of restaurants, bars, pubs, stores and people bustling about. There is both a Haagen Dazs and a Ben Jerry's within 30 seconds of our front door. Our apartment does not face the street so we hear very little street noise - thank goodness. We are only a 5 minute walk to the central transportation hub as well as hundreds of shops, several major malls, and on and on - it is really fun. Kowloon is a major part of Hong Kong and is located just across the bay from Hong Kong Island and is where most of the museums are located. To get to Kowloon it is short ride on the MTR which is the mass transit system here (subway). We bought Octopus cards (like the locals) which allow us a discount and to easily hop on and off most of the public transportation. You can take the MTR or you can also ride the Star Ferry across the bay which we did once. Hong Kong Disneyland, which we will visiting at some point, is actually on another island called Lantau. There are several more islands also. I hope to get to some of these other areas before we leave Hong Kong.

One unexpected thing about Hong Kong is the number of Philippine women who live and work here. Hong Kong has over 130,000 Philippines. A lot of the women are house keepers, care takers, and baby sitters. They work for extremely low wages so pretty much everyone in Hong Kong has at least someone who comes over once or twice a week to clean. These mostly women have one day off a week and it is Sunday. Since most live with the family they work for in a very small room, they head to the streets and parks of Hong Kong on Sundays to enjoy their day off. They are everywhere on Sunday. They spread out on blankets and eat, drink, sing, paint each others nails, play cards, just basically enjoy their day off. There will be rows and rows and rows of women along the sidewalks just relaxing and having a good time. It is quite a sight.

Dave will be uploading some photos soon. Hopefully sometime this week.

Till next time,
Lynette & Dave

lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 23:36 Comments (0)

Vietnam photos

We're half way through the trip. Lynette and I arrived in Hong Kong two nights ago. Its a beautiful and wonderfully modern city. I've got to say its nice to be somewhere more developed again for a change. We are staying with a friend who lives here for a few days and he's got a great internet connection. So I finally have time to upload some photos from our month in Vietnam. Its nice and cozy here and I had all day so I posted a lot of shots. If you fade off half way through feel free to take a break in between. Even still, I had a tough time deciding what to post and what not to. There are so many things we want to share but only so much time.

Saigon
We started in Saigon. Here is a view of the skyline:
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Having fun on a rickshaw:
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South East Asia is full of galleries selling copies of famous classic or modern artist's work, and even movie posters. You can walk inside and see the artists painting a Van Gogh, Klimt, Warhol etc. You can even purchase a Mona Lisa for your wall back home.
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As Lynette mentioned before, the scooters rule the streets here.
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The starting line:
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Here are some photos of the Cao Dai temple. Its a religion combining, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. I was blown away by the psychedelic color scheme and fantastic design of the place.
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After Buddhism there is a large percentage of Catholics in Vietnam. We visited this prominent cathedral.
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There's not as many bicycles in Nam as there used to be because motor bikes have taken over but there's still a fair share.
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When doing construction on a building they wrap the building with these tarps that look like huge blankets.
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We took a day trip to the cuchi village where I nearly blew out my thighs trying to navigate the tunnels. It was surreal and strange to visit this place as a tourist attraction knowing the history behind it. Remember these tunnels have been widened a good deal to accommodate tourists. Here I've stopped for a subterranean photo shoot.
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Here is a demonstration of the hidden entrance to the smaller tunnels:
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Mekong
We took a boat tour on the Mekong Delta. We stopped at a fish farm and a coconut candy factory along the river.
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At the candy factory, which consisted of about 5 people making candy in a large bamboo hut, Lynette tried her hand at making the rice paper that they use to wrap the candy. It takes a skilled hand to pull the thin layer of cooked rice liquid off the cooker without tearing it.
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A house on the river:
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We stopped at a village and had some fine fish for lunch:
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Nhatrang
From Saigon we headed up to Nhatrang where we went on another boat trip. This one was to some of the surrounding islands. We also did some snorkeling where we were freaked out by some jellyfish.

At one point when the boat was stopped they floated this guy out into the water in an inner-tube who served free wine.
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Needless to say it didn't take long for everyone to jump in. The white dude to the right is me. This is the slow season in Vietnam for foreign tourism, but high season for the domestic traveling so the boat was primarily filled with Vietnamese guests. It was a cool experience to see the locals at play because we usually only see them at work. Everybody was bobbing around drinking the wine and hooting and hollaring. We were all laughing and high fiving eachother like we were all pals. All at once the Vietnamese folks would yell "Yo!" and the few westerners would join in. It was crazy and a lot of fun.
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After lunch on the boat some of the crew members put on a show. They pulled out this makeshift drum set made from bamboo and buckets. They even had an electric guitar. The front man was a real ham, singing and dancing and joking around. They sang a bunch of Vietnamese songs then they would pull one of the western tourists up on stage to join in on a song, luckily one in english.
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I got to sing along to Yellow Submarine,. Lynette was fortunate enough to not have to do this.
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Back in town I got my hair cut from a street barber. He did an OK job but he mainly concentrated on the sides and back and barely touched the top. And he didn't speak enough english for me to explain what I wanted. It was good enough though, I didn't expect to nor do I need to have a perfect doo on this trip. The guy was really adamant though about cleaning out my ears which is a big thing in Vietnam. He strapped a light to his head and shined it in my ear to show Lynette how much wax I had built up in my ear. He pulled out these long metal sticks with fuzzy brushlike things on the ends and was about to go digging in my ear. I kept trying to tell him I didn't want it done but he kept insisting. I'm sure they do this all the time and its quite safe but I just couldn't get over the fear of possibly having my eardrum punctured by this crazy guy. Luckily we were running late for a tour pick-up so we paid for the cut and high-tailed it out of there.
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We visited a Buddhist temple with a huge buddha statue. Its amazing how different the likeness of Buddha differs from one country to the next. They each have their own rendition.
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And a Catholic church with a great view of the city.
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Hoi An
Our next stop was Hoi An which is definitely one of both mine and Lynette's favorite towns that we visited in Vietnam. It was small and quaint, and there's just a real laid back and easy paced feel about the place. No large buildings just a grid of streets with a combination of Asian and French architecture. Lots of shops and art galleries. And tons of tailor shops. I had a shirt made because I'd worn out one that I brought with me. Lynette had a dress and two pairs of shoes made. It only took one day and we had clothes made that were fitted specifically for us. Really cheap too. Pretty neat.

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View of boats from a bridge:
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What are the chances of catching a photo in mid-sneeze:
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Finally, a place that sells shoes big enough for Lynette's feet. Hey, Lynette told me to say that!
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A gas station:
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Hue
After Hoi An we made our way up to the city of Hue. Here are a few of the sights:
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Hanoi
Then it was off to the capitol city of Hanoi where we had the treat of seeing Ho Chi Min's preserved body on display at his Mausoleum. We couldn't take pictures inside but we were given time to pose out front:
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Here's some shots of the city:
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As you would imagine the countryside is filled with rice fields.
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Check out this bright pink dragonfly. Never seen anything like it.
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We visited the oldest pagoda in Hanoi:
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No, this kid is not reenacting a scene from Apocalypse Now. He's actually fishing around for money in the water.
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No, this guy is not reenacting a scene from Apocalypse Now either. He's washing the bottom of the boat. Its just weird to look over and see a head poking out of the water. Creepy.
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Halong Bay
From Hanoi we went out for a three day, two night boat tour of Halong bay. (I've had my fill of boat tours for a while....unless Lynette wants to do another one :-)

The boat was very cramped. Danger lurked everywhere. It had very narrow passage ways with low ceilings along the outside of the boat to get to your cabin. Only one person could get by at a time. Only about an 8 inch tall rail surrounded the top deck, creating a great trip hazard from which you'd fall right into the water. I gashed my finger on the rough wood climbing up the ladder after swimming. Luckily we've brought our own first aid kit because there wasn't one on board. When I showed a crew member my bleeding cut he just handed me about 4 kleenex. And you have to go down these steps to get to your cabin where you have to make an extreme left at the bottom otherwise you fall off the two feet of deck at the front. And no railing! Was scary at night.
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But the views were great.
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Sapa
From Hanoi we took the overnight train up to Sapa. This was a beautiful area where we did some trekking. The temperature was perfect, much lower than the rest of sweltering Vietnam. We wished we could have stayed there longer, and tried to change our train ticket to a later day, but the later trains back to Hanoi were already all booked up.

Check out this amazing view from our hotel:
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Leaving the hotel to start our trek we just walked through town and into the hills. This was a neat change from the usual. We normally have to hop on a bus for a while. Our tour guide was a young Vietnamese woman from the H'mong tribe dressed in traditional garb. There's only 800 H'mong tribe people. As soon as we left the hotel to start our walk there was a group of other H'mong women gathered around us. They were dressed just like the guide (sometimes I'd get them confused) and they followed us the whole way. From the start they were asking each of us questions like, "What's your name, how old are you, and how many brothers and sisters do you have?" I could tell they were buttering us up for something. When locals ask you questions that usually means they want to sell you something. Just before our lunch stop their questions changed to, "You buy from me?" They spent the rest of the day bugging us to buy the hand stitched products like purses, blankets, and hats that they make. It was quite annoying. But all in all the people were really nice and there were some cool interactions with them as well. And even though their friendly banter was not without ulterior motive it was still a unique experience to talk and spend the day with these native people.

Here's Lynette with the gang of followers:
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We stopped and spent the night at a homestay which is basically a big house where you stay with the people that live there. Here we are at dinner. There were two tour groups staying there that night, about 14 people, and so many countries represented. There were people from Canada, England, Norway, France, Israel, Holland, Germany, and Peru all at this one table. We had some great discussions.
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The "toilet" was outside, and rather primitive as you can see. At night we were shocked to find that we were locked inside the house and had to slip out a window to use the facilities.
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The Sofie Star meets up with the H'mong tribe in the Sapa Valley of Vietnam!
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Lynette balances her way through the corn fields:
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When the ladies weren't selling they were very sweet.
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I'll end with this panoramic view from our friend's apartment in Hong Kong. He said its hardly ever this clear, that you usually can't see the river, mountains in the distance, or even some of the closer buildings because of the smog and pollution. But its been beautiful the two days we've been here so far. So I guess we are blessed to have such a treat.
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Posted by schuckley 02:37 Archived in Vietnam Comments (5)

Sweltering Vietnam

Hello everyone. It has been awhile since our last blog entry. We have been busy doing the travel thing and also have had some issues with slow internet connections. Besides, the internet cafes are not air conditioned and we haven't felt much like sitting in the sweltering heat long enough to write a blog. This entry has taken a few sittings to complete.

Dave and I took a bus from Phnom Phen, Cambodia to Sai Gon, Vietnam earlier this month. The bus trip was going well - air conditioning was working, seats were big enough, etc. All was well until we stopped at the mid point for lunch and when they tried to start the bus up again it wouldn't go into gear. We had to wait over an hour for a smaller bus to do two trips to drop us off at the Vietnam/Cambodia border which thankfully was only about 15 minutes away. The border crossing was a bit of a hassle with a lot of us standing around not knowing what to do but eventually we made it through (although this seems to be a common occurrence while traveling here). Then we were all jammed onto a smaller bus that had no air conditioning and not enough seats for everyone for the remaining 3 hours to Sai Gon. 3 people actually had to sit on Corona Beer boxes in the isle. We were thrilled when we finally made it to the city and into our hotel room. The no air conditioning thing wasn't too bad since we could open the windows and the breeze cooled us off enough. I also was dealing with a digestive issue in that I must have eaten something with bad bacteria in Cambodia and had spent the day before the bus trip just laying on the bed in the hotel room. I still wasn't feeling that great when we arrived in Sai Gon so for 2 days we really didn't do much except stay in the air con watching T.V. and eating at one of the many near by restaurants.

Sai Gon is a big city but instead of cars packing the roads here the scooter is king. So, pile up the kids, grab the kitchen sink or dog or whatever because they transport EVERYTHING by scooter! 5 people on a scooter is the most I have come across. For babies, we have actually seen high chairs strapped to the front of the seat behind the handle bars, but often we just see women holding their infants in one arm while driving with the other. Crossing the roads is a crazy experience here. You have to walk slowly and cautiously across the street and people will drive around you (hopefully). There are few lights and people hardly obey the traffic laws. This scares the living day lights out of me but I'm getting better with Dave's Cleveland city-boy help.

In Sai Gon there isn't a ton to see. We walked around a bit and went to the disturbing War Remants Museum which has a significantly different take on the "American War." Yep, that is what the war is called here in Vietnam. Seeing this perspective as an American is extremely strange to say the least. The museum has actual American tanks, planes, cannons as well as lots of pictures including pictures of victims of Agent Orange and other extremely disturbing war pictures. We also visited the Cu Chi tunnels which is about an hour or so outside of Sai Gon. The Cu Chi people used tunnels to fight against first the French and then against America. These tunnels were small but they widened one tunnel two times the size for westerners. Dave was brave and went through a portion of it but I opted out. He had to walk crouched over with bent knees though it - yikes can you say clausterphobia! His thighs were sore for 2 days after going through the tunnels. Before going into the forest where the tunnels are we were shown a video about the Cu Chi people and how they fought and killed many Americans. The video said that the Americans came to Vietnam "like a crazy batch of devils." They showed us the various guerrilla warfare traps that were used to hurt and kill their enemies. I can't imagine what it would be like for a Vietnam Veteran to return to this site where tourist are walking around talking and laughing looking at bomb craters and the devices used in battle and to be shown through the tunnel by an actual Cu Chi person. It was weird for me it must be flat out surreal for a Vet.

A non war related thing we did was visit a service at the Cao Dai temple. This religion is a combo of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. Victor Hugo is considered a saint! The temple is outrageously beautiful with tons of colors and decorative features like nothing we have seen and we have seen a lot of temples. All the worshippers walk in to the main temple area and they are all in white except for the chosen few representing the colors of Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism so it visually is stunning. Another thing we did in South Vietnam was take a two day one night trip to the Mekong Delta area. People here are extremely friendly. We spent the night and a day on the a boat and all along the river kids yelled hello to us and waived and smiled. The Mekong area was full of people who still depend completely on the river. Markets are on boats, people live either on boats or very near the river. It kind of feels like you are stepping back into time.

After returning to Sai Gon after our Mekong Trip we started heading north and flew to Nha Trang. This is a beach town and oddly enough is the location for the next Miss Universe pageant. They created a new road from the airport to downtown for "The Donald." I guess Mr. Trump will be staying at a 5 star cruise liner instead of a hotel in Nha Trang. All went well on the flight from Sai Gon to Nha Trang although we couldn't find our hotel and were hot and tired so we got on a bicycle taxi who didn't know where our hotel was either, even though he said he did, and kept trying to drop us off at other hotels so he could get a commission from the hotel for getting them business. He ended up dropping us off exactly where he picked us up. We eventually asked some women who were working for a restaurant for directions to our hotel and they were able to point us in the right direction. As we walked to our hotel this bicycle taxi guy walked right next to us saying something we couldn't understand. When we get to our correct hotel, the bicycle taxi guy tries to get a commission off our reserved hotel. Our hotel told him to basically buzz off. We know this because the receptionist who told him to buzz off spoke great English and told us what he wanted.

After Nha Trang we flew to Hoi An which so far is mine and Dave's favorite town we have visited. The town itself is a Unesco World Heritage sight due to its architecture. It was great just walking around the town and looking at the old buildings. Hoi An is also known for tailoring so Dave had a shirt made for him and I had a dress made. This took exactly one day and was pretty inexpensive when you consider that it was custom made for us. We also went to another Unesco world heritage sight nearby called My Son. These are ancient ruins of the Cham people. They actually were more intact before the Vietnam War but according to our guide, the VC used them to hide in and so therefore they were bombed by the Americans. There were several bomb craters and several bombs on display in this area.

After Hoi An we took a bus to Hue. Hue was ok but really not much more than a day is needed. It was the capital of the Nyguyen Dynasty until there was no more Vietnam royalty. It also is the site of the Tet Offensive. This took place in an area called the citadel that you can visit. The citadel used to have lots of buildings from the royalty days of Vietnam but unfortunately again war destroyed a lot of it. But, the ornate gates are still there along with several temples and buildings. Not far from Hue is where a lot of fighting took place during the Vietnam War. You can take a DMZ tour that will take you to the various war sites but we opted not to do this since we figured it will be a grassy hill where they would say - this is where a bloody battle took place. We talked with a man who actually did the DMZ tour and he said a lot of the bomb craters have been turned into rice fields.

After Hue we flew to Hanoi. We thought it would be cooler here since it is in the north of Vietnam but we could not have been more wrong. It is sooooo hot here. The heat is oppressive and draining. We really have to force ourselves sometimes to do things because all we want to do is sit in the air conditioned hotel room. And the stifling heat makes putting up with the little inconveniences and discomforts much more difficult, which there are a good amount of here in this very foreign country. But we keep stocked with bottled water and bought 2 of those fold-out Asian fans and went out to see the Hanoi sights. We took a city tour of Hanoi and visited "Uncle Ho's" mausoleum, various pagoda's, Vietnam's first university, etc. Ho Chi Minh's final will asked that they cremate his remains and spread them across Vietnam. However, because he was so revered by some they decided to ignore his wishes and embalm his body and put him on display for all to see. There was a massive line that we were in for about 45 minutes and when you go into the mausoleum you are sort of man handled along so as not to slow up the line. I know Lenin is also on display in Russia but this was just strange. What is it with communist leaders being embalmed and put on display?

One thing about Vietnam is that its beautiful country. Ha Long Bay is the perfect example of its beauty. We just took a 3 day 2 night trip through Ha Long Bay and to Cat Ba Island. There are hundreds of rocks jutting out from the water and it is stunning. We cruised around the bay and spent the first night on the boat. We were extremely hot during all of this as there was no air-con on the boat but thankfully there was a fan and I spent a few hours that night sleeping on the boat's top deck under the stars. The second night we spent in an air con hotel so we were in heaven and actually had a nice sleep. We slowly cruised back from Ha Long to the mainland earlier today and took a bus from the port to Hanoi.

Tonight our adventure continues with an overnight train ride to the hill station of Sapa. Our train leaves at 10:30 p.m. tonight and gets to Sapa around 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Not sure how much sleep we will get since we heard it was a bumpy ride but Sapa gets rave reviews from all the people we have spoken to that have been there.

We'll try to post some Vietnam photos when we get to Hong Kong in a week or so where they have air conditioning! We can't wait.

Till next time,

Lynette & Dave

lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 03:39 Comments (3)

More from Cambodia

Dave here, coming to you from Phnom Phen. Our time in Cambodia is almost up. I had some spare time before our bus trip to Vietnam tomorrow so I thought I'd upload a few more photos of interest.

Here's a few more from the remarkable ancient temples:
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There are hundreds of statues throughout all the temples, but they are all headless. Sadly, people with nothing better to spend their money on love to illegally buy up these ancient artifacts. Its too hard to sneak out and transport the whole body so they pay someone to sneak in and break off and steal the heads. This has gone on for a long time. If you do see any heads still there then they are most likely modern replacements. But those even often get stolen. You can see one headless statue here at this temple entrance:
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Yesterday we spent much of the day browsing the Central Market here in Phnom Phen. It is a huge, yellow, domed, Art Deco building that looks like an old train station inside. There are counters and kiosks set up all throughout the inside and all around the outside of the building selling everything from clothes, jewelry, and electronics to fresh vegetables, meats and kitchen supplies. The place is mostly for the locals but there's a few touristy T-shirt shops as well. We loved just walking around and watching the locals go about they daily business.

This shot shows the center and just one of the four wings of the building:
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This woman must have had a rough night. Actually this is not an uncommon sight. We saw many people napping in their kiosks. They must spend so much time there, with seemingly few customers, that sometimes they just need to get a few Zs.
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There were so many stands with meats just haning out in the hot air with flies buzzing around. This rack doesn't look too bad but a lot of it looked really dried out. I can't believe they can let it sit out for so long unrefrigerated. It was gross to think about how long it might hang there collecting bacteria before someone buys it. Then we realized we are probably eating this stuff every time we go to a restaurant here. Yuk! It makes me think that since we haven't gotten sick and since they probably have done this for a long time with little or no problems, that maybe we are a little too germ crazy back in America. I don't know. And this woman looks like she just woke up from her nap and is still wearing her pajamas. But this is actually a fashion trend that Lynette noticed. Many of the woman wear these matching patterned outfits that look like PJs.
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You always see these shrines outside the modern Buddhist temples where the locals go to "worship." (for lack of a better term). Sometimes there are several and they are very big and elaborate and sometimes they are smaller like this one.
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This buidling across from our hotel looks pretty rough. It is not representative of the majority of the city. Most places are in better shape. I just thought these shots looked cool:
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These photos give a better idea of what we've seen of the city:

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Again, most massage places here are much nicer than this one. I just thought this was an interesting shot. I can't imagine going in there for a relaxing massage. Seems you might get a nice deep tissue massage in the gut with a rusty prison shiv instead.
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We took a 6 hour bus ride from Siem Reap back to Phnom Phen the other day. I was horrified when I got on the bus and saw the seats. There was only about six inches of leg room. Obviously not built with the comfort of larger foreigners in mind. I could not imagine being able to fit in there, let alone be able to sit there for 6 hours. But somehow Lynette and I wedged ourselves in. I could not move my legs one bit. They were wedged in one uncomfortable position, and my body was stuck in a very erect posture the entire way. When a leg went numb from lack of blood flow or my back got sore I'd stand for a bit. From the photo it may look like I could just swivel to the side and put my legs in the aisle, but there is a very solid, immoble armrest pressed against my right leg. The seats backs were very tall also. So I could not see over them to look out the front window. And looking out the side windows made me nausious. So I had a view of the back of the seat for the 6 hours. I don't know what it is about the buses in Cambodia but they have not figured out how to keep the ear wrenching noise of the horn blast on the outside of the bus. The driver blows the horn constantly as he passes the slower traffic, and it sounds like I'm standing outside with the horn up to my ear. That, along with my inability to recline meant no napping. So needless to say it was a long ride.

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Here's a few shots from the bus of the countryside:

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It is the rainy season here now, but it actually hasn't rained all that much yet. A few times in the evening we got a downpour. Like yesterday while we were sitting at this street cafe and I got these cool shots:

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That's all for now. Next time we should be writing from Vietnam. Wow, Vietnam!!!

Dave & Lynette

dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 01:52 Comments (3)

We can't believe we are in Cambodia

We can't believe we are in Cambodia. Dave and I have uttered that phrase numerous times since arriving here a week ago. It is just an odd place to be able to visit due to its turbulent history. It really only opened its doors to tourism in 1998 so this whole foreigner business is still a relatively new concept here. It has been full of surprises and destroyed assumptions for us. The cities of Phnom Phen and Siem Reap are full of hotels and restaurants and bars that cater to tourists. Dave and I ended up on our first day in Phnom Phen eating at the Freebird Bar and Restaurant. When we first walked into this place we immediately commented on how it looked like any bar and restaurant in the states and on further observation we realized it was completely decked out in American flags, pictures, and other memorabilia from the states. We had the nachos and they tasted just like back home. It is just a bit strange to eat at a place like this in a country where you would think wouldn't have restaurants like this.

The other thing about Cambodia is that they use the US dollar for pretty much all transactions. Their currency is called the Riel but we have hardly used it. Only for small transactions and tips here and there. The price for almost everything is quoted in US dollar - food, hotels, taxi service, merchandise, and on and on. This is the first country that we have visited that doesn't want to use their own currency (even in Nepal, the 2nd poorest nation in the world, uses their own currency). Cambodia also is not the cheapest place we have been either - maybe due to the use of the American dollar for everything!

Cambodia is a more conservative country than Thailand and clothing is of major concern here. It is all over the guide books, in the information supplied at hotels and even in restaurant menus that westerners need to dress appropriately. This means you should not wear shorts or short skirts or tank tops or spaghetti string tops. The guide books will tell you that Cambodians are way too polite to say anything to westerners if they are not dressed appropriately but you can count on maybe a prolonged stare or maybe a dirty glance. It is just considered disrespectful to show a lot of skin especially in sacred and ancient temples and religious structures. Can you imagine going to church wearing daisy dukes and a tank top? Well, that is basically the inappropriate equivalent of wearing a short skirt in Cambodia. Yet, everyday we see western women and men wearing the clothing that they specifically ask them not to. This really bothers me because here you are in a completely different culture that has a completely different set of values and you are a visitor yet you do not adhere to a simple request to cover up. I understand that it is really hot and humid here around 100 degrees but still, you are a guest so put on some pants!

We flew from Bangkok to Phnom Phen about a week ago and spent 3 days in Phnom Phen. This is the capital of Cambodia and the largest city. It doesn't take you long after arriving in Cambodia to learn about the Killing Fields, Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. The effects of this time still resignate throughout the country. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia in the mid to late 1970's. He declared it year 0 and was determined to build some sort of utopian society. At one point he announced in Phnom Phen that the US was going to bomb it and that everyone needed to immediately evacuate the city. So everyone packed a few things and left the city and ended up being forced to work in the rice fields only getting 2 spoon fulls of rice to eat a day. As you can imagine many people died of starvation. He had some idea that formal education was not needed only hard work was valuable and that the poor and uneducated peasants were the only viable citizens needed in Cambodia. With this philosophy he went about killing anyone who was educated, looked educated (meaning wore glasses), he didn't like, thought was against him, and on and on AND their families, children included. Him and his regime took children away from their parents to receive approved education by illiterate peasants. It gets worse. He created the notorious S-21 prison (in Phnom Phen) out of an old school where only 7 people out of 21,000 came out alive. Unspeakable acts of torture and murder were committed here. Then there was the Killing Fields (about 13 km outside of Phnom Phen). This is where people were brought to be executed and then tossed into mass graves. Both the S-21 prison called Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields can be visited. Dave and I went to both of these and to describe it as horrifying and unsettling would be an understatement. Although it is allowed, taking pictures of what we saw at both of these places just seemed completely inappropriate and disrespectful to those that died there so we have few photos. It was emotionally hard to visit these places and makes me emotional just thinking about it and writing about it, but I'm glad we did it so we could show our respect to those who suffered so greatly.

We are currently in Siem Reap. We took the "Mekong Express" from Phnom Phen 4 days ago. Unfortunately the "express" part didn't really apply because the air conditioning on the bus broke down about an hour into the trip and since it is brutally hot right now aircon is a must. So the bus pulled over on the side of the road in rural Cambodia and we waited for about an hour for another bus to arrive.

We just spent the past 3 days exploring all the ancient temples they have here including the most famous one - Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat gets all the attention and it is definitely the most well preserved out of the Wat's but there is this Wat in Angkor Thom called Bayon which is incredible. It is falling apart like all the temples but it has these pillars that have faces carved on all sides. It is beyond magnificient. All of the Wats were incredible - you could spend forever wondering through them and looking at the carvings. The whole experience of visiting these ancient buildings was one of the most magnificient things we have seen on this trip. Dave and I were blown away by what we saw. It was overwhelming looking at these temples, palaces, and buildings from an era so ancient, that are still full of intricate details and carvings. When we see things like this we truly feel blessed. This is the reason why we travel and seeing this is worth every effort we put into this trip.

The first day we went to the temples we had a guide who explained to us the meanings of the various carvings and architecture. He actually was pretty funny and made jokes about everyone from the King of Cambodia to Buddhist monks (What do you call more than one monk? Answer - monkeys) and he even had a joke about hunchbacks (how does a person with a hunchback sleep? Answer - Just like us, with their eyes closed. Here is another - Why does this deer carving only have one eye? Answer - I have no I dear. It was a fun day listening to our guide and his really silly jokes. He also was extremely informative not only about Angkor Wat but also gave us a run down on Cambodian history to its involvement in the Vietnam War to communism and of course about the Khmer Rouge. We liked Siem Reap so much we decided to stay another 3 days here.

After Cambodia we will head to Vietnam and then on to Laos. We are not sure of our exact day of departure to Vietnam but will be around the first week of June.

Dave has got some photos for you below.

-------Hey gang, Dave here. Once again I've got way too many awesome photos than I do time to post them so here's a small selection. The ancient Cambodia temples are absolutely extraordinary and I took hundreds of pictures. I picked several scattered below that I thought you would enjoy plus some photos of some other things we've been up to lately.

Here is one of the gateways to Angkor Thom (an ancient walled city)
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The sculpted tower faces of Bayon were awesome. This temple complex was one of our favorites.
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The Sofie Star rises above Angkor Wat.
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Since Taj Mahal we've notice that the Japanese touritsts enjoy jumping in front of mounuments for photos. This is the first time we tried it and its actually fun. Here you can see that Lynette has still not lost her acrobatic skills from when she was a highschool cheerleader. Look at that perfect form! I did not include mine because I need to work on my flexibility a bit.

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Here's the USA themed restaurant Lynette wrote about. It was like walking through a portal into a TGI Friday's. We felt at home for about an hour...
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...Until I went to the bathroom. I've never seen pineapple slices used as urinal cakes in the states.
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Here's two shots from the temple that they used in the movie Tomb Raider. Recognize?
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Don't ask me how those trees grew so large without soil for the roots. I have no idea but it looks cool.
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We went to a badly produced 41 minute movie last night that explained some of the Cambodia history. As you can see its a far cry from the theater we experienced in Bangkok.
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Another exotic culinary experience to share. Last night at the Night Market a woman was selling bottles of liquor that had a dead scorpion and snake fermenting inside, and she offered me a taste. Well I couldn't refuse such an offer. I took a shot. It was about as harsh as a shot of tequila, so nothing I couldn't handle. But there was a distinct and foul aftertaste I had trouble with because it distinctly tasted reptilian.
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You can see that the saleswoman was enjoying watching me cringe from the taste. When we asked if she liked the drink she winced and said,'''Eeeew, no, this is for men." I expected the next day to wake up with a fuller goatee or more hair on my chest or something. But it was not to be.
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In case any of you are curious what the internet cafes look like in places like this here's a shot. I'd say the most primitive internet cafe we've been to was India. And one in Nepal is a close second. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of either.
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The hotels here are really nice and very affordable. Here's what ours looks like.
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More temple shots. We can't believe the complexity and quantity of all the intricate carvings.

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Some shots from the Grand Palace in Phnom Phen, Cambodia.
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It sure is nice to get off a plane or bus and have your hotel pick-up driver waiting for you so you don't have to worry about dealing with the taxis or tuk tuks. We've enjoyed this a few times but this has to have been the nicest sign yet. Usually they are typed very small or handwritten (and misspelled.) There is a huge crowd of men pushing and shouting with signs you can't read. You have to walk by slowly while they stare at you and look closely at all the signs to try and find your name. This one stood out in the crowd.
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We've experienced something about the people here that we find unusual and refreshing compared to the previous places we've been in Asia. We've seen two different tuk tuk drivers and one waitress giving their own money to street beggars or crippled children. This was definitely not something we saw in India, Nepal or Thailand. It is usually an act left for us "rich" tourists. Cambodia has had a rough history and the people have been through a lot. You really get the feeling that the people have a strong sense of unity from this, and care for their fellow Cambodians. Even though they themselves may not have a lot they give to those who have less.

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Thanks again to everyone for all your blog comments and emails.

Till next time,

Lynette & Dave

lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 20:33 Comments (1)

1 Month in Thailand

Dave and I are back in Bangkok. The big city. It is like an Asian New York City. It is big, loud, rude taxi drivers, and iffy service. I definitely enjoy the smaller towns more, especially the beach towns! Thailand overall has been wonderful and amazing. It is easy to travel in and you can eat almost all of the food without worrying about contracting some kind of bacteria. This is a really enjoyable country if you can get used to some of its quirks. It is very clear here in Thailand that the Asian culture values certain mannerisms and behaviour that are not valued in the west. Keeping your temper is an absolute must here, even in situations where you may feel justified in getting angry. Another one is being indirect. In the states you say what you mean and you are clear about what you want. That makes sense right? Well, the lines are a bit foggy in that regard here. Keeping an open mind is imperative when you travel and that is especially clear to us now that we are in Southeast Asia. We have, however, discovered some keys to successful travellng in Thailand. Maybe THE most important key...SMILE. It doesn't matter what you are doing or saying - just keep smiling. Smiling like a complete lunatic works wonders.

We just spent the last week and a half on the island of Koh Samui (pronounced Kah Sah-moo-ee). It is an island paradise with miles of white sand and clear water. We stayed at a nice little resort in the quieter area of the busy Chaweng Beach. We did a lot of nothing. We sat by the pool, swam, ate, drank, looked at the water, walked to the internet cafe, then sat by the pool some more. The most adventurous thing we did on the island was take a day trip to the nearby marine park - Angthong Marine Park. This was a 2 hour boat trip over rocky seas from Koh Samui. The marine park is a series of small islands and rock formations. We kayaked around the rock formations and through some short caves. There was this really cool area where we kayaked through a small cave and found ourselves enclosed by rocks all around. This marine park is credited for inspiring A. Garland to write the book "The Beach." Leonardo DiCaprio was in the movie version several years ago and several scenes in the movie were filmed at the marine park. The marine park also has an enclosed very large green lake that we hiked up and over rocks to see. You can't swim or even kayak in it but it was really pretty from the high view point. We also did some snorkeling and practiced our fancy jumps and dives off the back of the boat into the water - lots of fun and definitely worth the bahts we paid to experience it. The weather is really unpredictable right now because it is monsoon season so we lucked out that it was a clear day and didn't rain or storm on us.

We have been in Thailand for almost a month and so it is time for us to move on. We fly to Phnom Phen, Cambodia on the May 22nd. At this time we are unsure of how long we will be there - maybe a week, maybe two. I just realized that Dave and I will celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary in Phnom Phen (May 23rd). We will have to go to a nice little Cambodian restaurant to celebrate.

Dave has posted some photos below of our time in Koh Samui.

Hey gang. Dave here. Below are some photos from our last Thailand batch that I thought were cool.

Here are several from our kayaking excursion. They were all taken from the boat or from land, none from an actual kayak. I was too paranoid I'd drop the camera in the ocean. So I have no record to share of the absolutely awe inspiring views that we saw from the water as we paddled the base of these amazing ancient rock formations. But the beauty of the place is still evident from these takes.

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These two shots show the main tourist drag on Koh Samui island near our hotel. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and shops. You can get great cheap brand knock-offs here. I got a fake Giorgio Armani cap, and Ray Ban sunglasses. And if you are in the market for a cheap suit this is the place to go. Every time we walked down here I got at least 4 different guys asking me if I wanted to buy a suit. I always politely just smiled, shook my head and said "no thanks," even though I really wanted to scream, "NO, FOR THE THOUSANDTH TIME, NOOOO." One guy even asked me "Why not?" The gull!! I didn't stop to explain why.
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You've probably seen ice cream or soda hawkers on the beaches back home, but have you ever seen a corn cob vendor? This guy walks around with this mini fire stove slung over his back on a long pole and cooks up nice fresh corn on a stick for the hungry beach-goers.
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The beach is strewn with little shacks offering massage or hair braiding, each with a sign out front similar to this. Its an odd sight to see the long row of decapitated heads on sticks (with beautifully braided hair mind you) fading off into the distance.
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There is various night entertainment on the beach. Launched fireworks, or 3 foot tall candle-fueled paper balloons drifting into the dark sky were a common sight. And at a primitive little beach bar we sat and enjoyed this talented fire performer.
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(shield your eyes from the light)
Back home I take my shirt off in public once a year to scare the children at Halloween. Now I'm scaring lifeguards around the world by baring my lifeless skin tone and floating limp in the pools.
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This makes for a good segway. Street touts are always calling out, "Where you from?" in order to get you to stop and hopefully buy something. Sometimes they guess where you are from, and upon seeing my ghost-like white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes most call out to me, "Where you from, Finland?" And the other day our kayaking guide, who was himself a very Arian looking German dude, asked the same. FINLAND!! Isn't that a hoot? Its happened numerous times. Its a running joke between me and Lynette.

Now for all you geology lovers out there, here's a series of shots with rocks that I thought were cool.

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That's all for now. Take care everyone,

Lynette & Dave

lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 02:24 Comments (0)

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