Honey, I'm Home: Angela & Her Trip To Asia

So, last week I returned from a 17 day trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I know, many of you probably didn't even know I was gone, because I don't usually say much when I go on a trip. Paranoid or not, I feel like it's a big welcome sign to Internet creepers saying, "Swing on by! I'm not home!" Besides, Becca was here through it all, keeping the cogs greased and the posts posting. I am so lucky to have her for a blog partner/friend/mentor/co-author/occasional psychiatrist!

The trip was, in a word, fabulous. We went with a group and tour guide through G Adventures, and saw a ton in our 17 days. The only bummer was that right as we were leaving Vietnam to go to Cambodia, out camera's memory card died on us. Our whole time in Vietnam was on that card!

We have taken it to a data guru, hoping he can rescue our pictures. Luckily my son had his camera as well, so at least we have something to fall back on if the card is nuked (and I have some pictures to show you!). I'm sure I can ask for pictures from other people in the group, too. Still, I am praying we'll get our own pictures back!

When we arrived at Hanoi, I thought I was going to die. Seriously. The traffic was insane. Imagine if you will, if every car you see during rush hour was replaced by 50 scooters. Oh, and all of them beep their horns constantly. Then, think about what it would be like if there were no stop signs, no lights, no right of way--if every direction of traffic all went at the same time. Now, imagine that you, Joe Pedestrian, must cross these streets to get around.

Crossing the street. No one stops--they just drive around you!
Amazingly, I didn't die in some spectacular scooter vs crazy tourist accident. In fact, I actually got pretty adept at crossing the street, and knowing that the cars and buses and scooters would just whizz around me.

Of course, the .25 cent beer and social nature of the Vietnamese helped ease my nerves a bit! It's quite incredible. Every night the streets transform as people drag out hundreds of low stools, claim a piece of sidewalk, and roll out a keg of freshly brewed beer. Vendors are everywhere, serving all kinds of local street food. DELISH.

Ha Long Bay was incredible--all these misty mounds jutting out of the sea like a host of mossed-over grave markers. We slept overnight on a Junk boat, did some hiking, waved at fisherman and children at the floating villages (you can see one in the picture--some of these villages had schools, grocery stores and banks!) and explored some cave systems.

It was very eerie floating along in our boat, surrounded by these giant limestone rocks. Ha Long Bay is one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature.
Thien Mu Pagoda

After we got back on the mainland, we took a rickety sleeper train to Hue (Hway) which was an adventure in itself, one that taught me one very important acronym for travel in Asia: ACTP (Always Carry Toilet Paper!)

 In Hue, we did this awesome all day scooter trip, touring the Imperial Citadel, Royal Tomb and Thien Mu Pagoda.

I was in a constant state of grin, riding behind a savvy yet half-crazy motorbike driver as we zipped from historic site to site, through the countryside, alongside rice paddies and down back alleys to see how the people lived.

By far, this was my favorite 'adventure' part of the trip. It was exhilarating to be part of that massive flow of traffic inside the city too, but safely perched on the back while someone else drove!

This is me with Lisa, a fellow Canadian & member of our tour group. She took a video of what it was like to ride 'in' the traffic--I'll have to see if I can snag it off of her!

From Hue we moved on to Hoi An, which was a shopper's dream. This city is known for their tailoring, and you could get anything you wanted made for you within a day or two. Suits, dresses, blouses, skirts, jackets...you name it, and everything was runway gorgeous and good quality. Inexpensive too--an evening dress might cost 30-50 dollars, a suit 80. One person had a beautiful wool coat made for 60.

I have to say that I let down TEAM FEMALE and didn't get myself something made, but my son Darian did get a pair of shoes designed!

Darian and I also went to a cooking school there as well. At the Blue Dragon we learned how to make Vietnamese spring rolls, BBQ pork and stuffed fish in banana leaves. The best part? Eating it all once it was cooked!

Darian fitting himself in a hidden tunnel entrance!
From Hoi An we flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). There we visited the War Remnants Museum, which was a very hard trip because it gave a very graphic and terrible account of the Vietnam war. Let's just say that in North America, we hear a watered down version of what happened, and the aftermath of Agent Orange and other chemicals dropped by the US. It was horrific to see the chemical burns, mass graves and terrible birth defects as a result of exposure to Agent Orange.

Hubs in the tunnels
We also took a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. Southern Vietnamese people lived and fought in these tunnels during the war, and after seeing them with my own eyes, it's hard to fathom. We had an opportunity to go in some, which were widened twice from their original size to accommodate tourists.

I went into the tunnels via a different entrance built for the *cough* North American body type, and as I crawled through, claustrophobia started to take hold. All I could think was, These tunnels were widened TWICE and they are still so narrow? How the heck did people LIVE down here?

After crawling around in the pitch dark and wondering what sort of crazy I'd been drinking to do such a thing, we took a boat cruise in the Mekong Delta and visited a Coconut Candy factory. Aaaaah. MUCH more my speed!

Finally it was time to head over to Cambodia and Phnom Pehn. It was an all day bus ride, mainly due to a two hour traffic jam we encountered. At the roadside stops we were exposed to lots of local eats that included spiders, cockroaches, locusts, grubs and tiny birds. My gift to you all is to NOT post pictures of these creepy crawly sauteed delicacies (but if you are curious, head over to my FB page, where I did post a shot!) And no, I didn't eat any of it!

Silk being harvested--look closely!

Phnom Pehn has a terrible history, and out of respect for Cambodia, I won't post pictures from
Tuol Sleng Prison and Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields), a mass grave site.

In the 1970's, the Khmer Rouge came into power and killed over 3 million people through torture and starvation. They turned a school into a prison (one of dozens) and systematically murdered almost every educated person in Cambodia.

When they were finally driven out, the entire country had only 2 doctors and four teachers among the population. The Khmer Rouge wanted to make a single class of people--farmers--and so even sought out people who wore glasses, believing they wore them to read, and therefore had education.

It takes at least 1 day to make a silk scarf

Cambodia has high poverty and low education, and is still recovering from the KR regime. We did meet people who are working to bring education into the country however, and creating opportunities for women to learn a trade so they do not have to turn to prostitution, which is widespread.

One place was a silk farm, and so we actually got to see how silk is formed and how it is harvested. The farm imports most of its raw silk because the bushes silk worms eat do not grow well in Cambodia, but they produced scarves and teach local women how to weave.

Moving on to Siem Reap, we got ready for our sunrise tour of Ankor Wat, the world's largest religious monument. For me, this is why I wanted to come on this trip--to explore Ankor Wat. And let me tell you, it didn't disappoint!

We were led to the lake in the dark, with no idea of what we would see once dawn came. It was such an experience to see the darkness lift bit by bit, and silhouettes of far off buildings form.

Soldiers would touch the goddess for luck before battle...3 guesses where

After sunrise, we headed back to our hotel for breakfast and to pick up the kids (they opted to NOT get up at 4:45 am, lol). Then it was back for a full, hot day at Ankor Wat. The Hindu temple complex is massive beyond imagining and would take days (or weeks!) to explore it all.

The carvings were so intricate and detailed. Amazingly we were able to walk through much of the area, although I don't imagine it will always be this way, as so many tourists will wear down the stone and ruin the site.

It was fascinating to learn the history of this lost city and those that ruled here. The walls were full of carvings depicting their religious beliefs, the cultures of the time and their dealings with each other.

They were renovating many parts of the complex, trying to restore what they could, but the jungle has taken hold in many places and I think it will not release it's grip too easily.

And okay, yeah, so maybe I goofed around a bit with this headless Buddha statue I discovered...
It was quite hot there--creeping into the 40's Id say (Celsius). A person got used to sweating all the time and drinking gallons of water to stay hydrated. It was a very fulfilling, yet exhausting day.

Despite the heat, we managed to climb up to the upper level of the Wat (temple). You'll see me here with my fan. I swear, that fan was the best $2.50 I ever spent. Darian grabbed one too, and we noticed whenever we had it out, people in our tour group would stand closer to us, rotf...

So after our big, long day at Ankor Wat, we decided to just bum around the city a bit. Everywhere we looked, we saw these fish tanks. They were for fish massages!

This one had a sign that said, "Fish Massage: No Piranhas, We Promise."  Now if that isn't sound advertising, I don't know what is!

Well, we figured while in Cambodia, do as the Cambodians do... (it helped that each massage session came with a free beer!)

I'm not going to lie...this FREAKED me out at first! But then after 5 minutes, it sort of felt good. And my feet were so soft afterwards, too!

(RIP any fish I killed from my nasty foot sweat!)

Our time ended all too soon, and off we went to Bankok, Thailand. Unfortunately by the time we arrived it was about 4 pm, and we flew out the next day at 5 am. We were able to swing past the Palace, and did get one night in Thailand.

 After dinner, we went to the Night Market, and let me tell you, anything goes! We passed a lot of bars that offered things that I can't mention on this school friendly blog, and more than one booth that offered to make just about any type of ID a person could ever need or want. The streets were alive with activity and energy.

I would love to go back and spend more time there, and check out the rest of Thailand. I think I'll end this snippet of my trip with this beautiful street lamp I discovered as the sun went down...

I loved the trip, but it's good to be back. Please let me know if any cool things happened while I was away! Share your news, your goals or anything else! 


JeffO said...

Wow, what a great trip! I'm glad you had such a good time!

I am curious, though: how much does the North Korea situation seem to be affecting folks down there?

Becca Puglisi said...

Ange, I'm so glad you had a great time. You deserved a nice long vacation. Kudos to you for getting in those tunnels. I'm pretty sure that would've been a resounding NO for me, lol. Thanks for coming home safe and sound!

Kristen Wixted said...

Wow, sounds like a fantastic adventure. Now I want to go. *adds to bucket list*

Traci Kenworth said...

SO good to have you back, Angela!! I enjoyed reading about your trip and the history behind places we don't normally hear about!! And the bugfest--ech!! Not on my meal plans anytime soon. Lol.

Vijaya said...

Sounds like you had a blast!!! Thanks for writing up such a lovely post with pictures. The fish massage cracked me up. I'm glad you're home with all your toes intact.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Wow! Sounds like such an amazing adventure. I know what you mean about the traffic after being in India once and China twice. Even my husband, who's a pretty brave driver, was scared of the traffic and lack of traffic rules.

Yolanda said...

What an incredible trip. Thanks for sharing.

Angela Ackerman said...

Jeff, no one seems to care much down there, but it could be a part of that is that the countries are Communist, meaning the flow of information in and out of the country is monitored. Social media is banned there, but I found some places a person could get to FB and twitter if you happened to find an 'unblocked' wi-fi.

Interesting enough, one of the people on my trip was heading to South Korea right after to visit family. I asked her the same question--how did her brother feel about all the happenings, and she told me that he's not really concerned, and many people there are not overly worried. I was surprised by this to say the least, but I'm not sure where in SK he's located, either. It could be different attitudes are in place depending on where you are, and how close you are to the border.

@Natalie, he was super brave for driving there! Wow, I don't think i could have done that--I would have gotten in an accident for sure

Donna K. Weaver said...

What a trip. One of these days I'm going to get back to Asia. Would love to view some of the sights with adult eyes.

C. Lee McKenzie said...

Southeast Asia is one of my favorite parts of the world. Your pictures make me itch to return. They are so wonderful!

Glad you had such a great trip.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've been lucky to go to Thailand several times when my parents were living there. It's an amazing place. You're so lucky to have visited all those countries, Angela.

And for the record, you would never get me into a tunnel like that.

I feel the same away about announcing I'm away on the Internet. That's just asking for trouble.

ED Martin said...

That sounds like so much fun - and your pictures look great!

Karlee said...

Your trip looks amazing! Glad you had such an incredible time.

Beth said...

What an amazing opportunity! I've never been to any of those countries, and I'd love to go. Angkor Wat in particular has always appealed to me. Thanks for all the great photos and stories!

Kelly Polark said...

Wow! That looks amazing!! I especially love the photo of Ha Long Bay. So beautiful and mysterious looking. Sounds like a wonderful adventure into a different culture. I love that you were brave and let the fishies soften your feet!

kittyb78 said...

Sounds like you had a fun and educational vacation. I'm glad you're all home safe.

kittyb78 said...

And... ick! Seriously? I adore massages, but I don't cotton to smelling of fish. :P

Wild About Words said...

Angela, that was the best travelogue I've ever read. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us. The fish massage was, ahem, interesting.

Jenni Gate said...

What a great trip! I've been to Bangkok, but not the other places, and I have always wanted to go. Terrific photos! Driving in the 3rd World is always an adventure. :)

Super interesting hearing about the War Remnants Museum and those tunnels. Beyond imagining.

I would love to see the silk farm. And the fish massage is hilarious! We had fish nibbling on our feet in a Cenote (underground pool) in Mexico. It looks just the same, and it tickled, unless they got too aggressive. :D

Thanks for sharing. Glad you had a great time.

Tracy Campbell said...

I really enjoyed reading about your amazing vacation. I liked the foot massage pic. :-)

Teresa Robeson said...

Welcome home, Angela!! Glad you survived the Asian traffic/driving. I grew up in Hong Kong and miss the street vendors and their food, but not the crazy traffic. :)

It's so sad that we're not taught more about the horrors of war. It's also sad how a country can be taken over by blood-thirsty sociopaths like the Khmer Rouge, and that it keeps happening over and over again. :(

What a once in a lifetime experience this trip is though! Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences with us.

Rebecca Ryals Russell said...

We adopted our youngest son from Vietnam nearly 14 years ago. I was nearly hit by scooters in Hanoi 3 times! And after spending 2 weeks there and in Ho Chi Min City, the horns literally drove me nuts. I couldn't sleep and all I thought about was peace and quiet. We got plenty of that once we got home (Christmas Eve!) because hubby and I caught a really nasty flu virus and spread it around so the entire family (except the baby) were deathly sick for over a week. We spread out cushions and blankets in the livingroom. What a home-coming. But I wouldn't change my experience or my son for the world.

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Laura Pauling said...

Sounds like you had a fantastic time! :)

Gutsy Living said...

I am so envious Angela. I really want to teach English in Cambodia for 6 months. What were the people like there? Did you feel safe on your trip. What prompted you to pick that part of the world.

ladyfi said...

Oh, what lovely shots of your travels! I wouldn't like to go down those tunnels, but the fish spa is something I've always wanted to try.

Angela Ackerman said...

Haha, there seems to be two camps here--those that are freaked out by the fish, and those who want to try it. I was a bit of both, but I am glad I tried it, I swear. So if you get the chance...why not?

Thanks everyone for sharing my trip with me. This is the best part--getting to show you all a bit of what I saw and did. I feel so blessed to have experienced a different culture and part of the world.

Sonia, the people there were friendly, but reserved, and you could understand why because of their history. They have been hurt by so many--both those in other countries (Vietnam and Thailand have played tug-o-war with Cambodia's lands all throughout history) and of course the terrible genocide they suffered at the hands of their own government. There is very little education as a result of what the KR did, but it is slowly coming back. The big issue is that parents keep their kids out of school to help raise money by begging or selling trinkets, which doesn't allow for the country to grow or evolve because you end up with the newest generation no more educated than the last. We did meet some organizations working to change that, though, which was really great to see.

Angela Ackerman said...

Our reason for choosing Cambodia was to see Ankor Wat. What an amazing (and old!) complex. It was a pleasure to see the ruins.

Matthew MacNish said...

OMG I am equal parts jealous and happy for you, Angela! I'm a huge Asian-o-phile, and it sounds like you had so much fun. Angkor Wat is on my bucket list without question.

Marcia said...

Sounds like a completely awesome trip, Angela! :)

Marcia said...
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Sharon Lippincott said...

"Constant state of grin." Yes! I get it. All of it. My bucket list has a new destination.

I hope you rescue the card -- you've reminded me why we schlep along our tiny old netbook and portable hard drive and back up each evening, even with huge cards.

BTW, I'm with you on not publicizing trips to the world before and during.

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