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Tuesday, 27 March 2007 Most Excellent Indochina Adventures with Jen, Emily, Marjorie and Lynette and Dan (Feb 24 - Mar 15)
We've had a lot of visitors lately, so we wanted to post some photos we took when they were here. Please see photos below this text entry by Andrew:
Jen, Emily and Marjorie flew into Phnom Penh from the US late morning Saturday Feb 24. They were excited to start their Indochina adventure in SE Asia so after hugs and catch up with Jen, meeting our new travel companions, and introductions with our warm landlord family we headed downtown for food, a swim and to mosey along the busy waterfront. The next day they toured the markets, Royal Palace and genocide museum.
On Monday am we said "So long!" to our friends as they set off on the fast boat for Siem Reap. They were treated to wonderful views of the fishing villages and people along the Tonle Sap River and Lake. Our friends found the trip an excellent precursor to Angkor and other temples which lie next to the Siem Reap River and the great lake. They (as well as Lynette and Dan a week and a half later) learned about the historical role of the lake as the life source for the many communities near it and (presently) apx. 70% of the country's protein. At the temples, in addition to amazing architecture, our two groups of visitors found carved into the walls of the temples many illustrations of various fish, water birds and other wildlife which have made up the diet of the local people. Jen, Emily and Marjorie hiked to the top of sacred Mount Kulen where they found ancient religious symbols and images of deities carved into the stream bed. Here, it is said the passing water forever carries the life-giving spiritual energy as well as deities' blessings and protection down to the Tonle Sap ensuring its vitality as the "heart" of Cambodia.
After 4 days, Jen, Marjorie and Emily returned to Phnom Penh for an overnight to say good bye to us until our rendezvous the following weekend in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon to include incoming Dan and Lynette. Getting off the bus in HCM City, Jen, Marjorie and Emily immediately set about soaking up the immense variety of sights, sounds, and (mostly good) smells of the city. The following weekend Dan and Lynette would meet all of us for a similar experience.
Everybody prefers to minimize their reliance on the guide book in developing their own sense of place for destinations but we could not resist quoting from the Lonely Planet Intro to Vietnam in this blog for description: "There is no volume control on the soundtrack to Vietnam - it is the story of a people on the move, the bustle of the cities as they rush towards the future. The buzz of bikes, the cries of sellers, the hum of voices and the clink of beer glasses collide head-on with the twinkle of the past in the pagodas, the swish of the scythe or the haunting music that accompanies sadness or success. Vietnam's cuisine is a cracker, a wonderful world of pungent herbs and secret spices, a treasure chest of 500 different dishes. Over-stimulating perhaps is the smell of nuoc mam, a fish sauce that is as compulsory for the Vietnamese as ketchup. And don't forget the xeo (rice wine), which is as varied as Scotch."
With both of our groups we viewed and walked amongst the old but well-preserved and maintained stylish Vietnamese and French Colonial architecture and the big shady trees of Saigon. Despite the hum and buzz of current day traffic and activity we shared a feeling of the history of this great City and could partly imagine things as they had been in past decades and the last century. We generally felt well attended to and appreciated by the locals in the many shops and restaurants. Just as the previous generations were determined in their campaigns for national independence, the current generation seems intensely focused on achieving in the modern world of business, constant learning and change.
With Dan and Lynette we also visited the Mekong Delta by boat and bicycle and the Cu Chi tunnel complex north west of HCM City/Saigon. Amazing to think that the Vietcong lived underground here for years as they harassed the largest US air base just kilometers away. We scampered around underground and saw elaborate communication, support, and defence systems with a variety of nasty spike traps. (The tunnels have been enlarged for tourists). It is said that the Vietcong ruled the area at night before returning underground each morning. Ingenious and tough people.
Our five friends would travel north in their two groups apx. one week apart to visit the following: the historical Hue city with its ancient Forbidden City and temples, markets and unique regional cuisine; Hanoi and its old architecture, cultural performances and art galleries; Hoi An with beautiful sand beaches, fresh food, and excellent fabric and tailor shops for men and women; and (Dan and Lynette only) a boat tour through amazing Halong Bay, dotted with giant limestone islands and columns, and rimmed by dramatic cliffs all in hues of grey and green. According to them, a beautiful place with enough breaks in tourist boat traffic to sense its wonder and serenity.
Throughout their trips our two groups of friends moved quickly and efficiently around the region while getting to the most significant (for travelers) places. We (Julie and Andrew) were excited to live vicariously through them re. these places we have not seen and in watching them visit the great lake and temples for the first time.
We will also tell you that all of our friends learned some Vietnamese and Khmer language so if you are planning a trip to Indochina or just curious don't forget to quiz them, especially Dan. Fast Dan can whip a pocket-size Vietnamese or Khmer language book out of his pocket faster than you can say delicious fresh spring rolls with chili peanut sauce'. He even has the body language, movements and facial expressions which are a close imitation! That is as long as Dan has not embarked on a spiritual journey to the temples with an extra strong (extra happy) happy shake. You will have to ask brother monk Dan what that means. Just joking, we love you Dan! Paired with Lynette and with both of their limitless senses of curiosity and Lynnette's super logistical skills (like Jen, Emily and Marjorie too!) and her conical Vietnamese hat they made a dynamic traveling duo.
On Sat March 3rd we sadly said goodbye to Jen, Emily and Marjorie in HCM City as they left for the airport to catch their plane home. The end of vacation is always sad. But they told us it felt as if they had been away for a month - and that it is how a holiday is supposedly to be! And who knows maybe they will be back to visit before we leave SE Asia!? We think yes!
The next day we (Julie and Andrew) took the bus back to Phnom Penh and on Mar 11th Lynette and Dan would fly to join us in Siem Reap. Besides visiting the temples (see above) D and L took a boat tour with Julie to the floating village of Chong K'neas, and then saw (with both of us) an evening shadow puppet theatre performance. The theatre is put on by the Krousa Th'may organization which takes in children who are homeless or from poor families and trains them in music, dancing and shadow puppets. We were moved by the genuine joy and pride these kids show when they perform and are appreciated. An excellent cause and fun too!
On the morning of the 15th Lynette and Dan said goodbye. Another sad and tearful goodbye darn it! But it was happy too as theirs' had been an excellent trip like we had all expected. Our friends arrived in Bangkok to tour the Grand Palace and other sites before starting the long flight home the next day. We hope the jet lag has worn off now and that your memories stay fresh for a long time. Don't forget to say "Hello!/Hola!" to everybody in Santa Fe for us!
Thank you all for getting everything together to come so far to visit us and for the new memories from our wonderful shared life experiences. It means a lot to us and makes our time away from home easier. We miss you all and talk about you much!
Julie and Andrew
Julie and Emily at FCC, Phnom Penh. February 2007.
Jennifer and VSO pal Sarah at FCC, Phnom Penh. February 2007.
Andrew and Jennifer, Phnom Penh. Feb 2007.
Jennifer, Marjorie and Emily, Phnom Penh. Feb 2007.
Last lunch with returning Irish VSO VP Aran (far right). Andrew, Jan Simon, Julie, Carolina and Aran. February 2007.
Tonle Sap Initiative Meeting, Phnom Penh. VSO VPs and Staff at VSO booth. March 2007.
Fisheries Administration booth, Tonle Sap Initiative Meeting. VSO VP Rachel at the booth.
Andrew and his Ministry of Environment co-workers at Tonle Sap Initiative Meeting. March 2007.
Julie and Rachel with Reth (VSO staff) at Tonle Sap Initiative Meeting. March 2007.
VSO booth, Tonle Sap Initiative Meeting. March 2007.
Julie and co-workers, Tonle Sap Initiative Meeting. March 2007.
Lunch with Marjorie, Emily and Jennifer. Ho Chi Minh City, March 2007.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. March 2007.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. March 2007.
French architecture, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. March 2007.
Night scene, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. March 2007.
Chinese New Year, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Lynette, Dan and Julie. March 2007.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City, March 2007.
Mekong River Delta, Vietnam. March 2007.
Lynette and Dan, Mekong River Delta. March 2007.
Julie and Andrew, Mekong River Delta. March 2007.
Dan, Lynette, Julie and Andrew. Mekong River Delta. March 2007.
Mekong River Delta, Vietnam. March 2007.
Chu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam. March 2007.
Julie at Chu Chi Tunnels. March 2007.
Andrew, Lynette, Dan and Julie at dinner in Siem Reap Cambodia. March 2007.
Julie and Lynette in a tuk tuk, Siem Reap Cambodia. March 2007. 3:11 AM 2 comments Send entry Posted by: jules Modified on March 29, 2007 at 2:25 AM Wednesday, 07 March 2007 Photos
Community Fisheries Meeting With VSOs
Community Fisheries Meeting with VSOs
Buses in Cambodia, Fun Wow!!
VSO Pals--Burt, Biru and Jan Simon
Mekong River, near Kratie, Cambodia
Irrawady Dolphins, Mekong River near Kratie
Mekong River Sunset, near Kratie
Cambodian Friends with Jan Simon and Andrew, near Kampong Cham
Dry Season, Mekong River, Kampong Cham
Mekong River, Kampong Cham
Veranda Cottages, Kep
Andrew and Charlotte, Kep
Mango Island, near Kep
Kids, Mango Island near Kep
Mango Island near Kep
Rabbit Island, near Kep
Community Fisheries Village, Snake Island near Kep
Charlotte and Andrew, Kep
Our Khmer Family and Charlotte
Our Khmer Family with Charlotte and Andy Pants
Fellow VSO Pals Olivia, Jan Simon and Louise on Mekong River Cruise
Jules and Andy, Mekong River Cruise
VSO Pals Tristan and Jan Simon, Mekong River Cruise
Thats all for Now Folks!!!
4:14 AM 1 comments Send entry Posted by: jules Modified on March 12, 2007 at 2:45 AM Tuesday, 27 February 2007 Charlotte's Visit!
Hello again. How are you all? Good? Allright then, drop us a line in our comment section won't you!? We want to hear how you are and what you're up to, eh!
We're excited to tell you about Andrew's mom Charlotte's fun visit with us in the first half of Feb. Right now Jen Wellman (New Mexico) and her friends Emily and Marjorie (San Francisco) are visiting us. As we speak they are exploring the sites around Angkor Wat. Weekend after next (Mar 8) Dan and Lynette land in Saigon, Vietnam where we will visit with them before the four of us travel back to Phnom Penh. And, Julie's twin brother Phil comes in April to include an exciting jaunt into more remote Laos. Yah!
Mom (Charlotte) came off the plane Feb 5 evening full of pep and vigor. After many big hugs we arrived home with mom meeting our landlord 'adopted' Khmer family and settling into our wooden house. Mom, like all our overseas visitors, despite having travelled for over 24 hrs straight was energized and stayed up late to catch up and talk about our lives in Cambodia. Every long flight deserves a day of rest by the pool so we headed to the Himawari Hotel for a swim beside the mighty Mekong and good eats - Mom's treat like many other good things during her visit! Mom even dispensed small Canadian gifts for our host family which were a novelty.
The next day, mom and I boarded the morning bus for the 6-hr trip to Siem Reap where I would work in the local Environment Office and mom would tour the sites. Over the next few days mom visited the floating village of Chong Kneas, Angkor Wat, a silk garment co-operative for local people, and various shops. I could barely keep up with her demand to change money for one dollar bills and other small change to give to the many people -a large number with disabilities from land mine accidents- on the street asking for a little help. Mom was very curious about Khmer culture and developed a concern re. the challenges facing this society today. In fact, she may be somewhat of an expert on Cambodia now so I invite you to ask her many questions! She advised many of us to support small local businesses because wealth is not equally shared in this country.
On Saturday Feb 9th mom and I said goodbye to the nice guest house staff and to Kay, a remarkable and friendly Aussie lady traveller whom mom had befriended and got on the bus for the 6-hr ride back to P Penh. The next morning mom, Julie and our friend Carolina and I taxied down to scenic seaside Kep stopping in Kampot to drop off Carolina and meet her dad visiting from Portugal. We arrived at the Veranda lodge, a wonderful hillside resort with great views of the Bay of Thailand, cosy wood and stone bungalows and crisscrossing raised wood boardwalks. Absolutely brilliant my dear fellow (but not wanting to sound colonial of course)! And we are not colonizers considering mom's generous tips for the hotel staff! (the custom in Asia is to not tip).
The following morning we hopped on moped taxis and rode along the shore to the docks for our boat tour to 3 islands. On Rabbit Island we munched on fresh crab and shrimp and walked to the other side. There we walked along the quiet sand beach and watched the fishing routine and techniques of local families. From this side of the island we could see the enormous and mountainous Vietnamese island of Phu Houc rising out of the sea less than 20km to the southeast. We should note here that it was part of Cambodia not many decades ago (and we have been reminded a number of times!).
The next morning we hiked along the hill behind our resort to the nun's staircase trail. After 20 challenging minutes of steep hiking we reached the top and were in the small national park. Three elderly nuns came out to greet us. We had been told that the nuns only decend from their small hilltop pagoda once every 5 years. They were quite energetic and chatty ladies and offered us tea and packages of herbs for colds and stomach. They particularly took to mom while massaging her and giving her health advice. They said that in her 70th year she was a very strong "Geay" (grandma) to make it to their hilltop! No doubt mom enjoyed herself with her new friends. We made the long and slippery walk down, had lunch and took our taxi back to Phnom Penh along country roads and through villages.
To make the most of her remaining days in Cambodia while Julie and I were at work mom went on foot and by tuk tuk (motorcycle carriage taxi) around town to see the sights of Phnom Penh including: The Royal Palace, French Cultural Centre, Foreign Correspondents Club, Mekong riverside boardwalk, Central market, and a local crafts co-op. During the evenings she shared stories with our co-volunteers, got to know our downstairs Khmer family and taught them English, and eagerly read up on local news. A large group of us went one evening to see traditional Khmer dancing at the local theatre. A must for any visitor we will tell you. Skillfull performance in grand, detailed colorful costumes to a live traditional band. Each dance typically recounts a tale either true or folk. Excellent!
We are lucky to have a mom (and soon to be mother-in-law) that takes such a keen interest in our lives and work here. We regretted during our sad goodbyes that she could not stay longer. We know she has obligations to her University Women's Club's projects and has committments to various other activities and family and friends. But we will see you (mom) when we come back to visit this summer (and the rest of you too)! P.S. Carolina, Aran, Jan Simon, Rachel, Wanda, Olivia, Tristan, Sitah, Arien, Ritsmey, Kowti, Wat Thai, Rada, Tria and Chantouen asked me say "Hello/Soosdey!" to you for them. We'll post some photos soon.
Love you mom! XXXOOO
Andrew and Julie 12:08 PM 1 comments Send entry Posted by: jules Modified on February 27, 2007 at 3:12 PM Thursday, 08 February 2007 February 2007
Everybody back home under all that snow! Can you hear us? What a wacky winter huh? Sudden temperature and precipation changes oh boy. Julie and I were on a 6-hr bus ride from Phom Penh to Siem Reap a few weeks ago with a broken air con system. We found ourselves daydreaming of all that wonderful fresh snow back home. Ahhhhhh. And to think this is the cool season eh!? We are dreading the approach of April, Cambodia's hottest month. Julie expects she will join a fitness club in Phnom Penh with an outdoor pool for cooooool relief.
So do we miss you? Yes! Sounds like most of you are healthy and well. Julie's nana Mary successfully underwent surgery on each of her eyes the past few months and is fighting gout. We know she will beat it with her Irish spirit and fortitude! Andrew's niece Julia is getting over a month of walking pneumonia. Now Julia and family can all be be happy and sleep through the night too.
Sounds like many of you got a good glimpse of the posted photos from Ken and Ellen's visit. Their travel from New Mexico to Cambodia was an unexpected adventure and brings up images of TV's "Amazing Race!". With snowstorms at the Albuquerque airport showing no sign of stopping, and fearing that their air miles-purchased tickets would expire, they decided to drive through the night and storms to Tucson while attempting to get flight info from the cell phone. This was a challenge with limited reception on Arizona's canyon and mountain roads. The next day they flew from Phoenix to LA and then flew LA to Cambodia. This involved phoning and emailing in the airports to get flight changes finalized. And they actually got on the plane and arrived here on the 3rd just one day late!!! Our amazing race champions!! (Applause).
The temples were first on K and E's visit agenda. They arrived evening of Wed Jan 3rd. Early the next morning we caught the 7-hr boat ride to Siem Reap. Sitting on the roof we chatted about the riverside scenery and busy fishing communities for the first few hours before the loud diesel engines and hot sun insisted that we give up. Fortunately, our hearing came back the next day.
We would spend three days viewing the temples. It was my second visit and I enjoyed them even more. Of course we all had our favourite sites. It is impossible to fully describe the temple experience in a brief weblog. The temples are so varied from each other in their height, scale, carving details and themes, surrounding forest, history and stories, atmosphere etc. Accordingly, one reacts with different thoughts and feelings for each site. Regardless, they are very special and awe inspiring and provide great insight into what life may have been like in the great ancient Khmer Kingdoms. We feel lucky to view these places with our good friends who come so far to visit and appreciate such things. We encourage any visitors to the temples to put their comments on this blog - Ken? Ellen? Janet? Chris? Dana?
K and E returned to Phnom Penh with Julie while I remained to work a few days at lakeside. Our visitors toured the Royal Palace and National museum with some good English speaking guides while going out for yummy Khmer food in the evenings. Ken felt his tour should include something of the Khmer Rouge era and chose to brave the Toul Sleng genocide museum.
On the morning of the 10th K and E took a taxi to historic small riverside town Kampot. Following our suggestion they climbed into a shared 4WD taxi for the infamous ride up to old abandoned Bokor Hill Station. Perhaps K and E would agree with me that an analogy for describing Khmer rural roads is to imagine oneself as a boxer. Each hour driving a bumpy Cambodian road is like a few rounds with a professional boxer - maybe even a Khmer kick boxer? "Ooh! Ah! Oh! Umph! Ouch!" After several hours of the equivalent of punches to the stomach, obliques and lower back you feel like you have endured a marathon bout. Still standing anybody? Unfortunately, overcast skies made for limited viewing from Bokor and K and E had to get back in the 4WD for a few more hours of body punches. "Ooh, ouch! Upfh!... .(Sorry guys but it looked good in the Lonely Planet!). Nothing a good Khmer massage can't cure!
On Friday am Julie and I joined K and E in Kampot and taxied down to small seaside town Kep. A day trip to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) included fresh seafood, swiming and shore hiking. The image of our Kep oceanside evening dinner table of whole barracuda, paela and shrimp is fresh in our minds. And there must be many tastebuds in heaven! Our taxi ride the next day was through scenic country side and villages, across narrow bridges, and past large volcanic rock monoliths - beautiful!
K and E we miss you and await some blog comments! Maybe re. the temples?
Andrew and Julie 5:20 AM 3 comments Send entry Posted by: jules Sunday, 14 January 2007 New Photos (from Ken and Ellen's visit January 2007)
Bayton Temple in Angkor Thom
Bayon Temple (close-up) in Angkor Thom
Bayon Temple (even closer!) in Angkor Thom
A temple in Angkor Thom. Can you identify it? (cause we haven't, eh)
Ta Phrom Temple, Andrew and Ellen
Lingas (carved), Kbal Spien
Pre Rup Temple (pray you don't fall!)
Pre Rup Temple, Andrew, Ellen and Ken
Pre Rup Temple
Nick Butler, VSO ecotourism volunteer in Prek Toal Protected Area and our guide. Jolly good show Nick!
View of Floating Village from Prek Toal Core Area Management Center
Painted storks and black headed Ibises through viewing platform telescope, Prek Toal Protected Area
Floating House in Prek Toal
Temple, Prek Toal
Tour of PrekToal Floating Village
Prek Toal Floating Village
Flooded Forest, Tonle Sap Lake
Ken, Ellen and Andrew on way to Rabbit Island, near Kep
Bamboo Island, near Kep
You guessed it, another photo of Bamboo Island!!
Andrew and Ellen at the Champey Inn, Kep
Champey Inn, Kep
Andrew, Ken and Ellen hiking in Kep
Countryside on ride back to Phnom Penh from Kep 12:07 PM Send entry Posted by: jules Modified on January 14, 2007 at 12:42 PM RSS-Feed For all categories For this category only Archive April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006