Sunday, January 31, 2010

Angkor What?!

So we are experiencing some technical difficulties today. We are unable to copy and past the pictures into their right location. Please read the blog first and then look at the pictures that go along with our stay in Siem Reap. There are big spaces too...keep reading til you get to the bottom...where you are supposed to leave comments. It is pathetic how excited we get to read comments from you people!

Neither of us were big fans of the fish pedis!

However we were fans of the rock and roll tuk tuk.

A lot easier going up than going down. One of our scary descents.

A temple all to ourselves!!

The Ladies temple- a favorite!!

Ta Phrom- Another favorite!

What the Kates and Angkor Wat look like at sunrise!

Cool stone face in a temple

The gate going into Angkor Thom

Cambodia BBQ!

Barginign with the tuk tuk drivers. Kate had the flashlight and the map out. Lyn (middle) won!!

We are coming at you from the bus. Little Mermaid is painted on the side with all of her underwater friends. We wish we could tell you that the a/c is working,,,but we cannot. However we are probably only a few hours outside of Bangkok where we have a hotel with a/c AND a rooftop pool! We’ve got our fingers crossed.

On the bus today we have counted that in three weeks we have stayed in ten different hotels in 6 different cities- we are sick of packing and repacking!!

Okay we spent the last five days in Siem Reap. It is Cambodia’s most touristy city, however we enjoyed it very much. Our hotel was right by the market where we bargained away a lot of the stresses we would develop thorough the day. Our bags are getting bigger-and heavier. A few of the shop keeps would regonize us in our twice daily trips…however each time we only would spend about $5. Everywhere you walked people would yell “HELLO LADY! Buy something.” When you left the market the tuk tuk drivers would yell “Hello Lady! Tuk tuk?” or “Hello Madame, tuk tuk?” our favorite was “Hello sister. Buy something?”

Our first full day in Siem Reap was spent at the market, walking around a little, and at a very relaxing spa where we had pedicures and facials. We each had different experiences during the facial. Caitlin would calls hers one of the most relaxing facials ever, while Kate enjoyed the facial part of the deal the massage at the end was pretty painful. In Siem Reap there is the main street with lots of bars and restaurants called Pub Street (bet you cant guess where we liked to hang out). Every other restaurant seemed to be called the Khmer Kitchen or the Khmer Family Kitchen, or the Khmer Village Kitchen, or the Khmer Family Village Kitchen. We bar hopped our way down the street on $.50 beers- it’s a rough life we lead.

Wondering how we were going to get to the temples the next day, we decided to ask one of the ever-present tuk tuk drivers what their daily rate was. Before we knew it we had created a bidding war among a group of drivers and were escorted to the tuk tuks where each was showing off his tuk tuk. The drivers were offering us everything from free wifi and massages to air conditioning and free water. We made a deal with Lyn..the first driver we had approached. We didn’t know the name of our hotel so we hopped in and showed him where to pick us up in the morning. Then he drove us back to Pub Street for us to continue our bar hopping- Lyn soon learned if he ever needed to find the Kates he need only look as far as Pub Street. We should note Pub Street, the market and the Mexican restaurant witht hey best margaritas as Mexican food in all Asia were less that a block apart creating the perfect trifecta for us!!

So back on Pub Street- It was hot and none of the food seemed appetizing, so we settled a Cambodian BBQ restaurant where all the customers were cooking the meat fondue style on a little grill placed on the table. It was sooo good. We has chicken and beef and there is a broth around the edge where you cook the noodles and vegetables. We enjoyed it so much we returned the next evening to have it again. We sat in the same table and had the same waiters even. We suggest Cambodian BBQ to all who go to Siem Reap.

The next morning after a morning stop at the market, we headed out to Angkor Wat around noon. We had actually run into Lyn randomly on the street (Pub Street) and we were off. We bought the three day tickets that have your picture on it. It’s funny because in both of our pictures we have a “what the heck is happening” look on our faces. We got to Angkor Wat and after we pushed our way through the children selling cold drinks, guidebooks, scarves, and bracelets we were in! "Cold drinks lady!!"

Angkor Wat temple is the most intricate and biggest of all the temples and one of the best restored. It was much easier to access than most. Caitlin had downloaded a travel app onto the iphone and we followed that most of the time in the temples. It was really interesting. There were bas reliefs on all the walls that told stories of mythology and the king-gods lives. It was soooo hot there but we spent about an hour and a half wondering up and down staircases, through rooms, and outside the walls just taking it all in. As we got to the less famous wats, little restoration had been done, they were less accessible and we were constantly hoping over rubbles, climbing steep foot and a half steps and looking at piles of rocks.

Next we visited Ankgor Thom, which is really just kind of a village of smaller temples close to each other. Our guide books try to describe what it used to look like when there were millions of residents in the wat areas but we had trouble invisioning the wooden structures and homes they spoke of. We spent about another two hours climbing up and over and around that day…taking lots of pictures in the late afternoon heat. We ended up calling it a day and made plans with Lyn to pick us up for sunrise the next morning. Hello 5am!

That evening, while strolling around pub street we noticed these fish pedicure places set up. After a few beers we decided to check it out. You basically put your feet into a fish tank of little grey fish for 15 minutes and the little suckers eat the dead skin off your feet. We gave it a whirl and think we collectively lasted 1 minute 30 seconds . Other customers sat calmly and let their feet just soak in the fish infested water while we seemed to be the only two who squirmed and squeeled and actually felt fish biting their toes. After two quick pics we got out of there, paid the man $1 for our photo op and returned our feet to under a table at a happy hour.

We arrived at the temple with the massive groups of people just before sunrise. We had not seen that many tourists yet in our trip. We watched the sunrise over the iconic Angkor Wat.

It was pretty cool however not the super colorful or bright rise we had imagined. Once the sun was up we piled back into the tuk tuk and Lyn took us off for the further of temples. Within 5 minutes we were the only people in the Wat again. At the first temple we were literally the only people there. We had it to ourselves to climb up and down and over. (Going up is a lot easier than going back down.) Our next stop was at the Ta Phrom, which was in the movie Tomb-raider. The trees had kind of overtaken the temple, they were growing out of the stone walls with the roots wrapped all over. Next up were a few of the further off temples, and just as we were getting templed out for the day, Lyn returned us to the city for our night Pub Street crawl, schoolwork, and dinner. While Angelina Jolie and Cambodia kind of go hand and hand at home, not many people know her over here. However we did find a bar that had Laura Croft’s drink of choice and we found it to be very delicious. Cointriou, lime, and tonic…so good and refreshing. We have plans for stepping it up a little with some stronger liqiour and making a signature summer drink- watch out Dockside!!

As two rather clusmy people, we only had one spill the whole three days in the temples. Can you all guess who it was?? Going down a normal five step stone staircase, (not the crazy steep or high ones) Kate just wiped out. Caitlin remained standing! We don’t know how and she didn’t even know what was happening until she was on her side on the ground covered in dirt. It really seemed like there should have been in injury but so far so good. We bet the poor Cambodian grounds keepers are still talking about it.

It was really neat to see these huge wats build with such intricacies and no mortar or concrete holding them up. All of the temples were built over hundreds of years…some as far back ad the 9th century and the latest was in the 18th century. The Angkor period was when Cambodia was the leading empire in all of South East Asia and the kings were considered gods so they build these hugh wats to show their power, as mausoleums, and for other god-king reasons.
Our third day, we headed out late in the afternoon to visit the furthest temple Bantraey Siea. It is the smallest temple but has the deepest carving and is a different color than the rest- almost a pinky color. They have nicknamed it the ladies temple because it was so intricately built they presumed ladies must have built it because no man could have carved something so pretty.

Next up Lyn took us to a temple to watch the sun set….however there was still over three hours to go. We got bored waiting and envisioned what the sunset would have looked like and had Lyn take us back to the hotel.
The temples that day were about an hour drive outside of Siem Reap. It was pretty cool to drive through the country side and see the water buffalo in the fields. Lyn kept telling us how fast we were in the temples. But after a bit stone carvings start to run together. Althoguh we enjoyed each temple, the woman and the Ta Phram especially, we were quick. The majority of our time was usually spent waiting for Kate to climb back down the steps granny-style. To any future travellers outhere we would recommend buying the three day pass and going templeing for a few hours each day rather than cramming it all into one. You spend 3x the money on tuk tuks however its more enjoyable, and you can avoid the crowds and work around the worst of the heat.
A funny thing happened after we said goodbye to Lyn. We went to pub street. (We will continue writing when you get off the floor and back into your chair.) We hopped some bars, discovered skype calling, and had some Mexican for dinner again. Mid-Margarita the most intesting tuk tuk we have seen yet showed up….the rock and roll tuk tuk. Complete with a fan, picture slide show on a portable dvd player, and rock music we loved the rock and roll tuk utk. We jumped in with the owner and took some pictures and tried to convince some passerbys to book the Rock and Roll tuk tuk the next day to no avail. While we loved the rock and roll tuk tuk, Lyn will always be our number one tuk tuk driver.

Next we went to the local bakery to get some snacks for the road. 50% discount after 8 combined with the aforementioned pub hopping resulted in a feast for the long bus ride the next morning.

We haphazardly packed our bags and we were ready to set off for Bangkok. The bus was tiny and cramped but we made it to the border crossing nonetheless. It was hot, stressful and confusing getting through…but the biggest disappointment is that we left our boxed bakery goods on the bus! We almost cried. There were chocolate filled croissants, chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate chocolate cookies and all kinds of discounted deliciousness that we will never know. We walked across the Thai-Cambodian Friendship bridge and about 6 blocks to the Thai immigration statation and had about an hour wait to clear customs and then we were into Thialand!
Now we are still sweating our way into Bangkok where we will spend a few days before heading north to Chaing Mai and onto Laos. (Which the rest of the world calls Lao not Laos…fyi.) Until then leave the love!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It seems like everywhere I go the more I see the less I know..

Tonight we are writing you from Siem Reap…let’s catch up

Title Count: Elephants sightings- zero. Unless you count stone ones…then we have seen quite a few
Tangs- none but we saw some lemur looking ones by Ankor Wat
Mosquitoes- don’t see them too much but judging by the 20 plus bites on both our legs..check! woo woo for malaria pill Tuesday!

We posted our last update from The Lazy Gekco,a super cool backpacker bar in PP run by a cute Australian couple. They had a funny menu with witty comments about the town, not feeding their pug, and being a foreigner in a strange land. It was exactly what we needed in that moment. Traveler talk with native English speakers can never be underestimated. Although we came in second to last in quizzo (in our defense the three teams ahead of us had like 8 and 10 people a piece) we talked with the owners, got some good travel tips, and met Dale from rural Australian. He was on our quizzo team…we were the “two kates from jersey and dale from rural Australia” team. He was good on the indie movie trivia and we totally had the American history and pop music down (Riahanna and Justin Timberlake hello!!)…don’t know how we lost really…
We hired a tuk tuk driver on our full day in PP the next day. We started out at a market…we got lots of good stuff at pretty good deals. We are looking into shipping home from Bangkok if our shopping keeps at this rate! Next we headed to the Killing Fields about 30 minutes outside of town.
It has only been since 1996 that Cambodia has been able to start rebuilding from the genocide of the Khmer Rouge that started in 1974 and the killings lasted til Vietnam forces invaded in 78. With the head guy Pol Pot killed in 96, the rouge was divided and rebuilding could begin. During the killings the goal was to bring the country back to the Stone Age. All intellectuals, academics, doctors, writers, educated people and their families were killed and the rest were moved to the country. There is a genocide museum in PP that describes the atrocities with details, but we chose just the visit the fields where most were taken to be killed and buried. There was a huge excavation project in 1980 and now a memorial and small outdoor museum pays tribute and details the killings, the Khmer rouge, and the excavation. A tall stupa is the center point, inside there are skulls of many victims arranged by age and sex. Pretty gruesome. Throughout the grounds are different graves with signs telling who was found in them. (numbers of victims, gender, or type of killing…we won’t go into detail but its amazing what people are capable of. ) Inside a small museum were biographies of victims and the Khmer Rouge leaders who have gone on trial in 2007 by a special UN tribunal hearing. It was a very disturbing that reminded us of the feelings we had visiting the concentration camps in Poland, but felt it’s something you have to pay your respects to. You like to think the world has learned so much from things like the Khmer Rouge but it’s really disheartening to think it is still going on in places like Sudan. But we felt like it was something we should visit even though neither of us really wanted to (or else they died in vain right?) as well as get perspective as to what this hectic, beautiful country has been through in the past decades.
We exited to fields expecting to find Hoi, our tuk tuk driver right where he left us. (As we had at the market…oh the market. We have started shopping! So many good deals here! We can’t help ourselves. We go a few times a day just to visit our favorite vendors and they can say “hello LADY! Buy something.”) However we found a sea of tuk tuks driven by men who all looked like Hoi in tuk tuk’s that looked like Hoi’s. But no actual Hoi. Kicking ourselves for not tying string or something to distinguish our tuk tuk from the rest Hansel and Gretal style- we walked around calling for Hoi to no avail. We finally sat against a tree and wrote a song we like to call the tuk tuk blues about losing our tuk tuk driver. (Grammy’s 2010 look out.) Somewhere in our second verse, Hoi popped up and pulled up next to our tree…he had said he’d been there the whole time..we aren’t so sure though. We got some gas and were back into the city. We visited Phenom Wat next, a Buddhist temple atop the only hill in PP. Here is a shot of the inside of the temple:

Then we got dropped off by the Royal Palace. We had some delicious ice cream for lunch (should we talk about how the food isn’t good here now? Great and so cheap in Vietnam. Not so good here..we have not had an appetite. Even western food doesn’t do it for us…wtf?) Next we visited the Royal Palace and the Pagoda…this is what they looked like:

Very pretty and different. Worth the trip…it was cloudy and rained a little while we were there but the architecture was nothing like we have seen before. We didn’t see the blue flag flying that King Sihanouk was in residence though.
We walked around and had a drink at the Foreign Correspondence Club (Amazing Race followers we really feel like an episode was filmed there -- the young guy who won didn’t ask the question right and kept having to ask. Dark wood chairs and fans? Anyone? Bueller?) Hopped another tuk tuk to the hotel (We left Hoi earlier…good man that Hoi even though he lost us) (en route we bought the 5th season of greys for $4 and glee for $2…thanks mom for the dvd thingey!) We refreshed then headed to the aforementioned quizzo night. The next day we were once again on the road…
We woke up early the next morning for a 730 pick up for a bus to Kratie. Kratie is a down in the western central part of Cambodia that is close to a rare freshwater group of Irrawaddy Dolphins in a town on the Mekong called Kampie. There used to be many of these dolphins all over the Mekong River but the group of 100 or so in Kampie is all that is thought to be left. Almost extinct dolphins?? We are there!!
It was a 7 hour bus ride that wasn’t awful. (that’s us trying to be cheerful about it.) We got to Kratie in the late afternoon and checked in a hotel. Looking around we realized that the “indolent delight” of a town with “hotchpotch of colonial terraces and traditional khemer buildings” that the guide book promised was more of a rundown town with the most interesting activities a day’s motor bike ride away on the way into Laos, where we have not yet secured visas to. We quickly adjusted the plan. One night in Kratie and the bus to Siem Reap the next morning. We quickly hopped a tuk tuk to see the dolphins so the 7 hour journey had a little bit of purpose. The tuk tuk took us 30 minutes from Kratie past lots of schools, little farming villages and stilt homes…the children would run out to the road wave and yell hello. We felt like we were in parade. We got to the really small rapids where the dolphins most like to swim and it turns out that the dolphins have to be seen from a $9 per person (that’s a lot of money here!) boat ride…monolopy. We were super low on cash but struck a deal by throwing a polish couple on our boat and got a $4 discount. The boats set out to look for the dolphins just as the sun was setting. The captains did a really good job of looking for them. We didn’t get a sea world or flipper appearance. But we saw them come up for air and lots of dorsal fin action. They weren’t as energetic or active as the dolphins you see off the jersey shore but it was really cool to see the snub-nosed breed before they die off (Can’t go wrong with dolphins and sun set on the river!)…although we believe that if more conservation was put in place the dolphins would survive. Its about $30 for a two people to get out there…major money in this part of the world. We don’t quite understand why they are still going extinct with that kind of money but how could ecological concerns ever be a big issue here with all the poverty? (However many of the solutions to both issues could be one and the same…but no one has asked us yet.)
Our ride back to town was a little unnerving because the of the darkness but uneventful…well unless you want to count the time that we noticed our driver was on the phone as we left a village and rounded a bend by a steep ravine. As we got to the further part of the end, next to a steep embankment, our driver slowed to a stop. At this point each Kate was nervous and silently preparing for an attack, robbery, or ambush. (not wanting to panic and scare the other Kate) We each clutched our bags and were trying to think what we could offer this man not to kill us and how fast we could run to the next home as our driver slipped his phone back into his pocket and stepped into the road. We both gasped as the driver walked up to us and reached over our heads….to turn on the little disco light above our heads. There were also rope lights around the top part of the tuk tuk and clinking lights on each corner. So we discoed our way back into town. We got to town; tracked down an atm, got some dinner, booked “direct” tickets to siem reap for the morning and went to bed. Dolphins? Check! (you can barely see it..but they were there.)

So our 9 hour direct bus turned into a 5 hour really nice bus ride…a 90 minute wait at a lean-to in the direct sun in the middle of nowhere where a Cambodian family with a staring problem and a grandmom who points and yells at western girls,oh and a random German guy, followed by a 4 hour bouncy bus ride to 10k outside the city where we were dumped in a gated lot of grass. There was a man there holding a sign with our names on it and free ride under them. His free ride was contingent on that we book him for our driver to ankor wat we soon learned. We hopped on anyway, despite all the shadyness of the situation (especially the locked gate we had to wait to get out of) we hopped in and were whisked into town. Our apprehension was eased as we made it closer to the center of town and saw some tourist looking people. Our driver took us to four different hotels we found in our research that were all booked, we finally allowed him to take us to one of friends hotels. Its clean, its cheap, there is hot water AND wifi! Jackpot!
(We need to go back to clarify our day…we brushed over it like it was nothing. However it was not. We were dumped at this lean-to and were told a bus would come. We were under the impression it was a direct bus when we bought our ticket, but were told we needed to change buses half way there. Assuming it would be a quick transfer bus station or at the company depot it seemed okay. Then we were dumped at a wood lean to in the absolute middle of nowhere. It was terrible. As our really nice bus drove off Caitlin was only able to get a "one hour" out of the driver and we were abandoned to wait. It was not fun, frustrating, and hard not to view the situation with western standards.)
So so so stressed and frustrated we noticed a margarita bar in our final pass through the main part of town, we dropped the bags quick and headed over there. $1 taco and margarita night!! Jackpot again! We spent $24. Opps! It was soo good though…best Mexican in Asia the sign said. Delish!
A funny thing happened after 5 margaritas on the walk through the market back to the hotel….we started shopping. In the matter of 5 minutes we bought an dress, tea, key chains and change purses for the kids, paintings, and pepper. We did a good job of haggling and spent like $15 and we only bought the dress cause Kate tried on about 5 different ones and haggled her heart out and was compelled to buy it. A great end to a long and exhausting day! We are now pumped to be in Siem Reap and are excited to explore tomorrow and to get to Ankor Wat the day after!!

Until then…lots of love!!

Stay tuned for our next update on Ankor Wat and Siem Reap and in two days we are taking a 10 bus to Bangkok!

Just so you know...these darn pictures too us the better part of 2 hours to upload...we had more to share but this is all your getting for now. you people better comment!! Also they are from Caitlin's camera...good stuff right??

Also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!! Love Caitlin
Also: Happy Birthday Mrs. Mizanin!! Love Kate!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


It’s a long one!!

We last left you in Phu Quo, Vietnam or was it Saigon?? Tonight we are writing from Phnom Penh(PP) Cambodia. We flew back to Saigon and spent the night there before boarding a 12 hour (12 HOUR!!) bus to Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a beach town in the south. Our “direct bus” there turned out to actually be by way of PP and every town with more than 5 chickens along the way. We had a few tense moments at the border crossing where we got separated and rule number one of never leaving a wedding crasher behind was almost in violation (woo woo laura), and changing buses where some Kate (the Curry kind) lost our transfer bus tickets (no worries it was found and we apologized to the bus driver who we accused of cheating us and taking our ticket. In our defense we were already mad at the bus because it never picked us up, we had to run to it and board last as the 60 people onboard blamed us for the 30 minute delay) but we made it to Sihanoukville by 7pm.

After we crossed the border we immediately noticed a difference. Where the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh seemed to go on for hours…10 minutes passed and we were in rural Cambodia. All of the houses were on stilts with children and dogs running between them. We were on the lookout for Angelina and Brad and their UN of children but haven’t spotted them yet. The villages we passed didn’t seem to have much in the way of material possessions, but the houses looked stable and the fields around them were green.

As the bus pulled into Sihanoukville, we noticed all of these men chasing after the bus, but we were too confused trying to figure out if we were there or not to notice. However once we disembarked, we were bombarded with tuk tuk drivers, taxi drivers, and moto drivers. While this was happening our bags were being thrown from the bus into a mass of people. We quickly regained our composure, told a tuk tuk driver if he backed off for a second for us to get our bags we would go in his tuk tuk. He defended our honor while we once again regained our composure and were ready to face Cambodia.

Our first night we just pointed to a hotel in the guide book and were lucky enough to stay in a nice room with one tiny bed and no hot water for $7 a night. It actually was very nice and we had the best night’s sleep yet..dont worry Amanda it was nothing like sharing a bed after a hard night at Dockside. The next morning we had to find a new hotel because ours had no availability, but we decided to get breakfast first- a girl has to have priorities!! As we were walking along the beach looking for a place to eat we were joined by a young Cambodian girl trying to sell us bracelets. Caitlin thought she looked harmless so she engaged her in conversation while we was about 5 minutes later when we realized this girl was relentless. In Vietnam most people spoke no English, and those who could speak English spoke only broken English. Well this girl spoke fluent teenager English. For the duration of our breakfast she pestered us to buy a bracelet and asked about our lives back home all the while saying “if you buy a bracelet you buy from me”. She kept trying to make us free bracelets but we refused to take them because we didn’t want to get scammed by a kid. (Keep reading…) We even broke out the nanny voices and said “now we are going to eat you need to go away”. Finally she found someone who looked dumber than us and she left us alone. After breakfast we went in search of a hotel and wound up booking 2 nights at the Motel 7…one step above the Motel 6 back home yet not quite a Super 8.

With our accommodations set we headed back to the beach and found loungers to park ourselves in for the day. The beach is filled with all kinds of sellers hustling everything from fruit to bracelets to sunglasse to shrimp/lobters- we did make a deal with one girl with plaid earrings that we would but a pineapple off her later in the day but otherwise we tried to avoid these people like the plague. In Vietnam when you said no, these sellers would leave you alone for the rest of the day, but here you are approached by new sellers continuously. We are not quite sure how we got scammed by a 7 year old but it went something like this:

2 British guys were sitting next to us on loungers, Tony and his friend. These guys got approached by every seller out there- it must have been their pale British skin (we have developed a nice tan from our time in ‘Nam). What started out as an innocent game of tic tac toe where Tony would have to buy a bracelet if he lost to the seven year old Cambodian boy who spoke English like a used car salesman. (note: the rest of the English speaking world calls it knots and crosses. Strange.) Well guess what- Tony lost and had to buy the bracelet and when he tried to get out of the deal (which he never really agreed to) the little Fendi wearing scammer broke out the integrity card and bullied a man 5 times his age into buying a braclet for $2. We watched this whole spectacle with amusement commenting along with tony and the boy. Then the boy tried to get us to play a game with him but we told him we knew he was smart and had tricks and that we weren’t buying anything from him. Then sweet little scammer boy made us free bracelets- Cambodian friendship bracelets. When we tried to refuse the bracelets he told us if you refuse them then you don’t like Cambodia. He even made them open and close for us so that we could take them off if we wanted. Kate’s is pink and blue and Caitlin’s is green and black which the boy made to complement her eyes. Once he made the bracelets he told us to “open our hearts” we told him we didn’t want any more bracelets but that we would give him $1 for our friendship bracelets and he told us that was bad karma. But as soon as we told him it would be $1 or nothing he realized the gig was up and he took our dollar and moved on to the next sucker.

For the rest of the day we were bombarded with kids trying to sell us bracelets and when we told them we already had one, they took one look at our wrist and said that’s the free one- who gave that to you. Kids!

After laying on the beach all day we relaxed at a beach bar and drank 50 cent drafts while we watched the sunset. We could have stayed longer and drank 25 cent drafts but the students in us had to leave the beach to do school work.

The next day we had a trip planned on a boat which would bring us to the islands. We paid a bit more for the boat that advertised it “would make our dreams come true”. Who wouldn’t book that trp? I must admit it was a pretty nice boat with a sundeck on top and two levels of bars and seating. It was a strange mix of people on the boat- some people like us who occupied the sundeck the whole trip and then a nice Swedish family, an adorable Mexican family with the cutest little baby named Kenya who was one of the cutest babies ever, a group of sex tourists with their little Cambodian chicas ( we will post a comment on sex tourism later because we have many thoughts) and some German ex-pats with their Cambodian wives. Ohhh yes and then there was the group of Cambodian men who LLLLLLOOOOOOVVVVEEEEDDDD the Kates. The boat was run by a great German ex-pat named Robert who was determined to make the trip a good time- and let me tell you the bar level of that ship was packed by 9:15AM. The trip had a snorkel stop at which Kate jumped off the 3rd level of the boat into the water. A scared Caitlin was going to follow until Kate informed her that the landing hurt and that she had felt a major shift in her intestines. After snorkeling we decided 11AM was the perfect time for a cocktail which the Cambodian men bought for us. Well we should have bought them ourselves because these men were CREEPERS- in our defense we did try to buy them but the British bartender told us to let the men buy them. Well we are not fluent in broken English but we do believe these men were trying to proposition us and they told us that while they are Cambodian they love white women- that my friend was not worth the price of a mojito. The rest of the trip we stayed off the bar deck and away from the bar deck and the creepers, but we did enjoy the stops at the rainforest and the hot water spring which was similar to ceder water and Caitlin did not want to swim in nor was she keen on swimming with the leech type spermy shaped creatures.

The boat brought us back to the port just after sunset- and as we were paying our bill for the 2 Mirindas (which is the most amazing orange soda ever) and getting made fun of by the Bavarian owner who referred to us as the American Girl Party Animals we realized our tickets were apparently bogus and the owner told us we would have to wait on the ship and he would drive us in his Mercedes to where we bought the tickets. It took forever for the boat to clear off, but the owner felt bad we had to wait so he sent us free jagermeister shots. Well for those of you who know us well you know the Kates and jager do not mix so those shots went right over the shoulder and into the Gulf of Thailand.

After the shots Robert, the owner invited us up to the bar for a drink. We agreed to have a beer with him, but told him we were eager to get to the 25cent drafts on the beach to which he responded “ I am from Bavaria if you cannot afford beer I will give you beer for free!!”. Robert is our kind of man!! Sitting at the boat bar an hour after it docked reminded us a bit of being at Dockside after closing- a motley crew of bartender friends and drunks! But you couldn't beat the view:

Robert drove us, his Cambodian girlfriend, and a rottie named Lucy. (A we thought of you!) Lucy was quite the character. On the islands she would race up and down the beach and would climb up to the sundeck to check things out but would be scared to go back down. Robert said it happens everyday and he eventually just left her up there with us for her to learn a lesson. We showed Robert the shack where we booked our ticket and left his as he fought for our money. If you find yourself in Sihanoukville, the dream yacht run by sun tours is a great deal. $10 more than the other offerings, however you get so much more, a better boat, food, drinks, and a great experience. They also support people in the town as well as a private orphanage for 20 children in PP.

After some drinks and school work that evening we headed to bed to catch early bus to PP. But not before we started to talk to more bracelet seller children. This time it was 15 year old girls. They were in school during the day, well dressed, and totally adolescent and too cool for us. We figured that the older children come down to try to earn some cash at night. The Cambodian version of loitering at the mall. At first we adamantly said no. But in the course of our conversations we bonded, and after another beer (for us not the kids) we decided that we just couldn’t live without two headbands. We’re suckers. Later that evening we were talking with a couple from Scotland and we developed the international sign of “I’ve been had by a Cambodian kid’s slick talking ways” Similar to a fist pump you just have to hold up your wrist showing off the handcrafted Cambodian goods with an embarrassed smirk on your face. The future of Cambodia is bright and prosperous with such happy/talkative youth! Let us also take a moment to share how the Cambodian boys loved us! On waiter was smitten and asked us to come back so he could practice English. And a boy at our hotel was very concerned with our bookings and scheduling and general well being. He would ask how we slept and if we dreamed and if he was in them. Very cute!

Our bus ride to PP was boring yet uneventful except for the 500 stops we had to make to drop off people and goods and pick up diapers and passengers. It was pouring as we got to PP and as we got off the bus we saw one of our bags run by us. Not sure what was happening one Kate followed that bag as the other was on the lookout for the other. It turns out our bus company had a terminal they were getting everything out the rain in. We found a tuk tuk and agreed to a $2 price and were off to a hotel we picked from our book. It was pouring!! We noticed our tuk tuk was going slow and just going tuk. We weren’t sure what was happening and before we knew it our tuk tuk tuckered out and we were stalled in the middle of the road. Ut-oh is a universal word. And we found it pretty funny sitting there in the middle of the flooded road. Somehow we made it to a corner where gas was added out of a glass 2 liter coke bottle.

WE cheered and we once again on our way. We got all settled at the hotel. $5 a night. What what!! We’ve gotten good at checking out the room first…true backpackers. Although we kind of wish in our inspection we noticed the lack of a flushing toilet, hot water, towels, bed linens (Thanks Moms for the sleep sacks!!), and the bar ten feet from our door which plays the same three Bob Marley songs over and over and over til 3am but what can you do. And as we write we are noticing a certain sway to the room…our hotel is right on the lake here in PP and we are hoping like hell right now that the building is stable. No worries we are tri-athletes we will survive and for $5 a night we aren’t complaining. We are actually kind of glad our western standards are adapting because that is not in our budget.

Since it was pouring in PP, we booked our bus to Kratie, a town with rare dolphins on the Mekong Delta and then decided to hit up a few of the happy hours we saw in our backpacker hotel district. We ended up at a backpackers bar called the Lazy Gekco and drank about $8 worth of 75 cent drinks. We hope to return tomorrow for quiz night that raises money for local orphanages.

Hope everyone is well! Leave us comments!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful

So when we last left you I believe we had just finished a snorkeling trip off Phu Quoc Island….well we are still here. We had planned to stay for 4 nights, but all of the flights were booked until Saturday, so we decided to spend another two nights rather than taking the ferry back to the mainland.
We woke up to rain on our third day here. We were a little worried as to how we would occupy ourselves in this town with a full day of rain- but luckily by about 11am the clouds disappeared and it turned into a lovely day. We had planned to rent a motorbike and explore the town, but our plan soon changed when they dropped the bike off. With no lesson or instruction whatsoever the man put Kate on the bike, showed her where the gas was and was ready to send her on her way. Well Kate having never driven a motorbike gave it a little too much gas and almost sent the both of us careening into a wall. This apparently scared the rental man who suggested maybe we should rent 2 bikes since the roads were a little messy from the morning rain. We were both a little too nervous to drive these ourselves especially with the rental man’s lack of confidence so we decided to forego the motorbike and just find a taxi to bring us around for the day.
Our first order of business for the day was to find a new hotel. We decided if we were going to spend another 2 nights on the island we should do it at a place that we liked rather than at MJ’s old pad. We trekked up and down a seemily uninhabited dirt road and hit the hotel jackpot. After going and seeing various bungalows we settled on a small hotel set in a mangrove with cute spacious bungalows! Now this was what we had imagined a hotel here to look like. With our hotel settled we decided to reward ourselves with a beach day at one of the prettiest beaches on the island. We grabbed a taxi and headed to Star beach where out tour had briefly brought us the day before. The taxi driver who brought us offered to come back and pick us up later that day- and thinking this would be easier than having to find another taxi we agreed. Once we got to the beach we had a quick lunch and then set ourselves up on lounge chairs for the remainder of the day. We didn’t do much besides watch the cute puppies play, drink our coconut drinks and venture out to the sandbar to cool off. It was lovely!!

When it was time to leave we found our taxi man and set off back to Neverland. When we got in the taxi Kate realized that the meter wasn’t set to 0 and she asked the driver to fix it. He nodded his head and waved us off so we made a mental note to subtract that from the meter at the end. About 15 minutes into the drive we realized that we were going a different way back to the hotel. About 25 minutes into the drive we realized that this way was much longer and our meter was getting much higher than it had been on the way there. We tried to ask the driver a few times how much farther our hotel was and why it was taking so much longer but he kept shooing us off saying it was 2k back at the hotel. Much later when we finally pulled into the hotel our meter was about 100.000 dong more than it had been on the way there! Knowing we were getting taken advantage of we used a little trick we had learned from our Aussie friends on the snorkeling trip. We handed the driver the same amount of money it had cost us to get to the beach- 100.000 less than what the meter read. He gave us a funny look and pointed to the meter- we replied that the meter hadn’t been set correctly from the beginning and that we knew he had taken us a much longer way and that we were only willing to pay the price we had paid on the way there. He shook his head and got into his car and drove off!! He knew he had been scamming us and that we had caught onto him so he took his fair share and left!! We were so excited to have avoided another transportation scam! We fist bumped our accomplishment.

The last 3 days have been pretty uneventful. We spent each day laying on different loungers at different spots on the beach- it’s a hard life we lead. To break up the day we would order fresh fruit from the “fruit lady” who would carry a whole bunch of fruit on baskets over her shoulder and for $2US she would cut up a whole pineapple and watermelon for us. We tried all different fruits- watermelon, pineapple, dragon fruit, baby oranges that are juicier and sweeter than clementines and some kind of cross between an orange and a grapefruit that is delicious but whose name we don’t know. (Lyss-we kept debating which fruits you would be able to eat) fanother $2 US we both got pedicures on the beach which was very relaxing. The days basically consisted of us laying on the beach, eating and drinking.

One evening we took a sunset boat ride out to go squid fishing. We watched the sunset and were then given Cuban yo-yo lines and hooks. Our boat was not as luck as our last trip. But Kate did manage to catch on by herself this time. It was some sort of puffer fish and it was “no yum yum” (poisonous) so it was thrown back into the gulf. For dinner the boat crew cooked us up some squid porridge. It isn’t as gross as it sounds although not our favorite meal…it was basically overcooked rice stew with bits of squid chopped up in it. The crew grilled up some fish and squid we had caught and after a while our guide reached into the water with his bare hands and pulled up an octopus!! It was crazy!! So they threw it on the grill too! There was one character on the boat trip that was more interesting than the rest. He was some sort of Asian nationality and he was the happiest man you ever met. He caught the first fish of this lifetime and then tucked up to the table and spent about 2 hours eating everything in sight. After he consumed about 6 Tiger Beers--he started eating again. We don’t know where he was putting all the food. Our boat rafted up next to a cargo ship loaded with everything from a Mercedes mini van to empty water jugs…we jumped from our boat and walked across the cargo ship to the dock. We had a personal driver, his wife, and cute baby waiting for us…the whole family came out to see us pull up and the family smiled at us the whole way to the hotel. It was very sweet!

Speaking of meals…Last Night we might have indulged in some western favorites. And let us tell you it was AMAZING!! The lemon rum drink was buy on get one…never the girls to refuse a deal we gave it a try. Kate did not care for hers so Caitlin was glad to pick up the slack. (We might have hand dug the ice out of the glass and thrown into a bush before trying it…no dysentery here!) So THEN we ordered a deluxe cheeseburger and a croque monsieur. Delicious!!! We finished it off with an ice cream Sunday…it was one of the all type best meals! After dinner we went to pay for our bungalow and were told to come back in 15 minutes. Our passports were at the police station apparently! How crazy is that?! So we went and had a Saigon Beer before picked out our passports after their return from the po-po station.

Our first night in the new bungalow…Kate had one of the best nights sleep. Meanwhile Caitlin was awake listening to the things that go bump in the night the whole time. (with only a mosquito net to protect herself)
Our second night we broke out the reading lights that were a Christmas Present from Aunt Peggy. (Thanks AP!) In addition to being very convenient for reading in bed…we developed a very intricate flashlight language to communicate with each other on the dark South East Asian nights.. We call it Flashlight Language. A code of on-high-low-high means “Are you awake?” A response of nothing means “no“. On-Off means “yes, I am awake“. A rapid onoffonoffonoff means “what the heck is that wild animal and is it in the bungalow??”. Unless of course it is a Tiger…in which case you can speak up and say “Kate. Kate. Excuse me, other Kate, there is a Tiger in the bungalow.” We do not want any jungle cats in the bathroom. You, dear reader, might not see the hilarity of this flashlight language because you have not had your Saigon beers today. Its still funny to us though. Our second night was a terrible night sleep for both, although we managed not to have to communicate in flashlight code.

Side note: the water here is nice and warm and pretty clear but you cant stay in it for too long because these little things sting you all over your body. LA do you know anything about sea lice??? The Aussie family told us that was what they were called. Odd.

Today we took an early flight back to Saigon, rested and relaxed we were ready to face this crazy city again. We explored the town a bit and did some shopping at the big market where Kate did some expert haggling. Tomorrow morning we head to Cambodia on a 12 hour bus ride- don’t worry we stopped today and got road trip necessities- gummy bears and Pringles!! See you in Cambodia!!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy Monday!!

Thought you all would like to see how we spent our Monday!

Disclaimer: We are staying at a hotel where we have free internet. This hotel is on an island where there is not much to do before 9pm let alone after. We hope to keep this blog up to date however no promises we will be updating as often.

That said…how about them pictures of this place?! Crazy right??

Today we had an all day snorkel tour with a fishing stop. The bus picked us up at 830 and we didn’t return til 5…we did more today than we have done the whole trip so far! The bus took us to a port town on the other side of the island. The roads are a dark red sand color…with paved strips every so often. The books really mean it when they say the island is undeveloped. We pictured undeveloped as not many tourists but still a town…not so much. Nothing is developed. But not for long because the beaches are beautiful!! And undiscovered.

We got on the boat and set sail…it was a little cloudy but still lovely none the less. The port has a fishy smell to it. This island is famous for its fish sauce…which is made from the boat loads of tiny fish floating around everywhere you looked.

TIME OUT!!! Back the boats in a minute. We must tell you about this pepper we had at dinner last night. It is AMAZING! It tastes like really freshly ground pepper corns but not like any we have tasted before. There must be sea salt mixed in and we know it sounds weird…but we practically lick the place. Apparently somewhere on island is pepper farms…we are going to investigate this. Back to your regularly scheduled program.

It was a little cloudy when we started but the sun came out as we passed boat after boat of fishermen. Some huge barges rafted up. Some tiny outboard motors driven by women in the traditional hats. Other loaded up with tiny silver fish…which provides for a nice aromatic sea breeze. We stopped for a little fishing. The fishing poles were actually plastic circular things with fishing line, a weight, and a bit of bait. We threw ours in and hoped for the best…we are not the best or most patient fisherwomen however we both reeled on me. (Kate with the help of a deck hand who handed her a new line with a fish already on it.)

Next stop was a snorkel stop and it was GORGEOUS. It was in a little cove. The sun has come out by now so the water twinkled a pretty turquoise/emerald color. The most surprising thing is the fact that the tour operators do not give warnings about the fragility of the coral or about breaking the reefs…it’s a jump in and do what you want kind of place. We were shocked, with the rapid development here we worry what the cost will be to the local reefs and environment. The reefs here are nothing like we have seen before. What the coral lacks in color it is made up in the sheer size of some of the coral, the number of fish, and how close you are able to view it. We literally swam with schools of fish. Discovered sea lice. Were less that a foot away from sea anemones…and at times inches away from the coral. The only way to get through some areas was our development of the superman/Spiderman swim move. (You suck in the stomach, put the butt out of the water, arms straight ahead, back arches, tiny kicks and pray not to hit a sea urchins or coral.) We had a few close calls and aborted missions but are proud we never had to touch the delicate ecosystem.

Our second snorkel stop (We were first two in the water!) had less fish than the first but we were amazed by the sheer size of the coral rocks…huge boulders. There were little clammy things in the coral that would open and shut. WE got back on the boats and had a delicious family style lunch. We were serves rice, a soup with carrot and potato, fresh caught tuna, our catches from earlier, a noodle dish, and tofu. SO much food!! WE were sitting by a couple from Boston, a family from Darwin, Australia, and a couple from Barcelona who live in NYC and were supposed to be on our exact same flight out of New York. It was the girl’s birthday and they brought cake aboard for everyone…there was a mini impromptu international birthday party out there in the gulf of Thailand.

Our third snorkel trip the water was much deeper and cloudy at first…but the further you swam in the coral came up so high. We had a very close call that involved a flipper to the head, frantic underwater arm movements, and two Kates almost beached on the coral and laughing through the snorkels. We also discovered at this stop that there are some of those little clam-ey things on coral boulders that have feathery tentacle things that almost resemble a flower. If you flail a little in front of it, it draws in back in real quick. We should have paid closer attention to Finding Nemo or biology class and we would know what they are called. But we do know that they are really cool. (Lizz-what are they called?)

At each stop we had noticed the captain would get into the water and collect sea urchins. He would cut them and throw them right into a pot floating along next to him. On the boat we were served sea urchins two different ways. One was BBQ, with a wasabi, sugar, vinegar, and peanut sauce. And the other was fresh. The sharp points were cut off and we ate them right out of the shell. We were hesitation but they were pretty good! It was a mushy consistency, orangey, and tasted like a fresh fish. It sounds weird but it was good.

Back on the boat we had a nice ride back to the port talking in the English speaking section. We were give a name for a guide in Cambodia we are going to look up, talked Spain with the Barcelona couple, and had a good time.

Our last stop was Sao Beach. The sand was so white and fine, and the water was a perfect turquoise color!! We walked out to a tiny sand bar and took it all in. There was a super cute black puppy that Caitlin chased down the beach trying to get a picture of, jet ski rentals, and two restaurants and beach chairs…we might make an afternoon trip down there later in our stay on the island. To get to it, you go down the dirt road and turn onto an even smaller one and just drive for about ten minutes past tiny houses and huts and then out of nowhere is this beautiful beach bam right in front of you. We mention the lack of development here??

Now we are off to dinner…where we will order everything on the menu that comes with pepper! Love to all!