A Travellerspoint blog

Nepali Time

Internet Struggles

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Hello All,

Just a quick update... We are in Nepal, working in a medical clinic in Kathmandu, and loving it. However, the internet here is pretty poor, so it's difficult to update blogs (photos especially). We are hoping to find a good internet cafe in Thamel (the backpacker's district) tomorrow, and upload a blog or two with photos from Laos. So, stay tuned, and don't stop reading!

- Laura and Galen

Posted by galaurasia 00:25 Archived in Nepal Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

When It Rains, It Pours

Temples of Angkor – Day 2

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It’s supposed to be monsoon season in SE Asia right now. Other than getting dumped on our first day in Saigon, it hasn’t rained since. Until now…

Our second day of the Angkor tours started out with a long tuk-tuk ride into the countryside and the surrounding jungle. Our destination was Kbal Spean, where gods and animals are carved into the riverbed, and can be seen through the translucent water passing over them. To reach the carvings, it’s a short, but steep, 2 km hike through a jungle. Galen and I both were profusely sweating as we made our way up the mountain, clambering over boulders, and weaving through vines. The scenery was incredible – nothing like I have ever seen on my adventures in the Rockies and the Cascades. Some vines wound up like spirals, others curved, creating a hammock like bed for the locals. The openings in the trail boasted incredible views of the diversity of the rich, green plant-life.

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Once we reached the top, we were a little confused as to where the bulk of the carvings were, but were soon enough greeted by a young Cambodian girl who guided us along the river. She pointed out the carvings, explaining them as best as she could with the minimal English that she spoke. The carvings themselves, I must admit, were slightly disappointing – very much the “same same, but different” vibe that Galen wrote about previously. For both of us, I think the real treat of that hike was the breathtaking views of the jungle and countryside. And… the rain.

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As we were finishing up our tour of the riverbed carvings, rain started falling – gradually at first, but by the time we tipped our guide and headed down the trail, it was pouring. It rained like I have never seen before, streams rather than drops, relentless, with seemingly no end. The trail began to turn into a stream, winding its way down the mountainside, turning a murky orange as it mixed with the dirt. Galen and I figured it was best to just keep on going, as we didn’t know how long or how well the trail would hold up. Our shirts, pants, and shoes were quickly soaked through, but luckily we had rain jackets to protect our backpacks carrying our cameras. Parts of the trail were somewhat treacherous, and at one point, I took a pretty nasty fall that left we with a scraped up ankle and mud all over the seat of my shorts. I’ll let you imagine what it looked like.

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We stopped once under a gazebo, just long enough to wring out our clothes, devour some crackers, readjust our packs, and continue on. Westerners are typically greeted with a chorus of “sirrrrrrr, you want cold water?” and “lady, you buy scarf?” but as we descended from the trail, with the exception of one half-hearted attempt at selling us some water, it was silent. We climbed back in our tuk-tuk, exchanged some laughs with our driver, Sang, and headed back down the road, to Banteay Srei.

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Upon arrival, we were happy to find ourselves the only ones there, with the exception of a tour group, who left soon after we arrived. It was a peaceful escape from the typical “tourist conveyor belt” we experienced at the other temples. Banteay Srei, dedicated to the Hindu goddess, Shiva, was anything but “same same, but different.” Considered by many to be the “crown jewel” of the Angkor temples, it is the smallest and one of the most well preserved. Instead of the typical grey stone, Banteay Srei is carved out of pinkish sandstone, which was obviously appealing to me ☺

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The detail in the carvings is astonishing and impressive. Sanskrit messages and leaf-like patterns surround images of gods, sacred animals, and together they depict important scenes from the Hindu past. Beyond that, I’m not sure how to describe the grandeur of the temple, or the obvious attention it displays… The pictures still probably don’t do this incredible temple justice, but hopefully it will give you all a window into its amazing appeal. It’s safe to say that Banteay Srei, the final temple, was also our favorite.

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- Laura

Posted by galaurasia 00:55 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Same Same, but Different

Temples of Angkor - Day 1

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Well, Cambodia started off horribly, but has since redeemed itself. Crossing the border was a little problematic. The bus guide took everyone’s passport to presumably streamline the crossing, but once we got there it was very unclear where we were supposed to go and where our passports even were (we were especially concerned considering our past passport issues). When we finally where given our passports, we noticed our yellow fever vaccination certificates were missing.

Me: “Where are our vaccination certificates?”

Guide: “What certificates?”

Me: “We both had little yellow pieces of paper in our passports.”

Guide: “Oh, these?” as he pulls them out of his pocket.

Seriously? Anyway, after that, our eVisas, which we got through our hotel owner in Nha Trang, ended up causing some difficulties, but we were soon through and on our way to Phnom Penh. As soon as we got off the bus in Phnom Penh, my phone got pick-pocketed. Not only that, but when we got to our hotel, we were told they were full, but got us a room next door for the same rate. The room turned out to be pretty nice, but there was no wireless, which was the entire reason we booked the original place. I quickly proclaimed, “Cambodia sucks my balls.”

Since then, however, everything has been fantastic. That night we ate at a little restaurant with delicious food and refreshing Angkor beers (although we were visited mid-meal by a cockroach on the wall that sent Laura flying half-way across the restaurant in fear). Tuesday, we took a bus to Siem Reap and were greeted at the bus station by Sang, a tuk-tuk (see picture) driver who works for our hotel. Our hotel has turned out to be fantastic. It has a very cozy front garden with lounge chairs and hammocks and a delicious restaurant where we have had every meal so far (although that is going to change tonight!). Our room is nice, and they even covered our bed with flowers for our arrival!

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Wednesday, we booked a tuk-tuk to take us around Angkor, and Sang was once again our driver. I was very excited to finally see the temples that are the entire reason we came to this country. When we finally pulled up to Angkor Wat, the grand-daddy of Angkorian temples, I was pretty disappointed to see that there was scaffolding all over the front of it (I was particularly bitter because the only other time I’ve gone to see a world-famous ruin, the Parthenon in Athens, it was also covered in scaffolding). But that turned out to be a minor blip. The temple complex is astounding. It’s surrounded by a 190 meter wide moat that measures 1.5km by 1.3km. Inside the main walls is a massive area of grass and trees that by itself would be interesting to walk through. The temple itself was also a sight to behold, as the five lotus-bud towers reaching towards the sky are infinitely more impressive in person than in a picture or video. We started by walking around the outer wall to look at the bas-reliefs. They were mostly scenes of battle, but the detail and quality of the carvings were remarkable. When we reached the rear of the temple, we realized the scaffolding wasn’t visible from there, so that’s where we decided to take our iconic photos of the temple.

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From there, we finished looking at the bas-reliefs and entered the temple, which, although still cool to walk through, was kind of boring. There were very pretty views of the complex from the top level, not to mention a large set of very steep stairs.

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After Angkor Wat, we made our way to Angkor Thom, the famous walled city that holds the second most famous temple of Angkor, the Bayon. The Bayon turned out to be more interesting than Angkor Wat. Although less impressive from a distance, once you enter the temple you come quite literally face to face with the king who built it. Bayon is famous for its 54 towers; each with 4 faces of the god Avalokiteshvara, that bare more than a passing resemblance to the king who built them. After wandering around under the constant gaze of the god-king for a while we wandered over to some other temples in the city. These were fascinating to look at as well, and there were some very pretty trees and small pools to walk around between them. After visiting the next few temples, we started to get a “same same, but different” feeling.

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“Same same, but different” is a phrase we’ve come across a lot in Vietnam and Cambodia. It means that everywhere in this region (street vendors, markets, food, etc.) is basically the same, but a little different. After a few of the temples in Angkor, we started having trouble noticing the difference between them as they all were made from the same stone, were the same color, and in pretty much the same state of decay. On top of that, it was swelteringly hot (my shirt had been soaked completely through since before we were done with Angkor Wat). We also made the mistake of only bringing a few small bills so by midday we only had a $50 bill, which of course none of the vendors could break.

Thankfully, right when we had just about had enough, we reached Ta Prohm, which was actually different! This was due to the fact that the jungle hasn’t been as fully cleared from this temple as the others, so there were some very remarkable trees in the complex that are slowly swallowing up the temple.

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After Ta Prohm, we stopped at one more temple with a pretty lake next to it before heading back to our hotel for a much needed snack and shower. Despite being, for the most part, “same same, but different,” the temples of Angkor were some truly astounding and breathtaking ruins to climb on and through.

- Galen

Posted by galaurasia 10:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A Whole New World

Alone in Luxury

sunny 90 °F
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As we were saying our goodbyes and paying our bill at the Nha Trang hotel, the owner, Vicky, presented me with an awesome birthday cake! It was beautifully decorated, and as we found later, equally delicious. Galen made the mistake of not taking credit. He did however, make reservations for us at the swanky White Sand Doc Let Resort for the weekend. It's about 40 km north of Nha Trang, accessible by a winding coastal road that resembles the PCH. The place seemed pretty empty upon arrival, and sure enough, with the exception of a few guests, it was. We had the huge, infinity pool all to ourselves, as well as the beach and the restaurant. We stayed in a fancy bungalow, just a stones throw from the water. We had a lovely birthday dinner, reminiscing about the past year, and making plans for adventures to come over a bottle of Italian wine. The staff was incredible, full of smiles and wishes of good luck, and even set up a beautiful flower arrangement on our table. Once again, Galen didn't take credit. He claims, "I told them it was your birthday though!!"

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The real treat though, was the spa day. The spa was set towards the edge of the resort, bordering the ocean. It was a tranquil setting, with stone slabs on a water walkway -- like walking on floating rocks. We got a 2-hour treatment that included a steam room session, Swedish massage, facial treatment, and foot massage, complete with tea and a fruit salad. All I can really say is... wow. I hope each and every one of you gets to experience the awesomeness that we did. We opted for outdoor massages, just two beds, under a gazebo, with the sound of crashing waves, and running water. Add in a light breeze, and I have never been more relaxed in my entire life. Those of you who know me well should know that I am one of the most ticklish people you will ever meet... which was well evident when it came time for the foot massage. I was giggling uncontrollably, but I think the masseuse got a kick out of it. The experience as a whole was incredible, perfect in every way, and I can't wait to do it again! Hint, Hint ;)

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We have noticed that the Vietnamese either love the Backstreet Boys, or think that Westerners do. "As Long As You Love Me" seems to be playing on repeat everywhere that we go, the resort included. White Sand also included a lengthy multi-lingual Happy Birthday song as we were enjoying the cake, and some Elton John from The Lion King. This prompted an entire discussion on our favorite Disney movies over dinner, and after a game of pool, we returned to our bungalow to download our favorite Disney songs - from Aladdin's "A Whole New World" to Mulan's "I'll Make a Man Out of You."

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The resort in it's entirety was definitely 'A Whole New World' -- peaceful and relaxing, free of peddlers and mass amounts of tourists. It was a great "vacation" from the hustle and bustle of the cities. It was just what we needed to rejuvenate ourselves for the temple tours in Siem Reap.

Side note: We realized that we chose an inopportune flight time for our Laos -> Bangkok flight in order to make our Bangkok -> Kathmandu flight. After debating over whether to take our chances with the current time, or switch one of the flights, we decided to inquire with Lao Airlines about whether it was possible to switch to an earlier flight, and what the cost would be. We e-mailed them our confirmation number, and the flight we wanted. They responded less than an hour later with, "I change your flight ... Please check-in 2 hours before." Cost? Nothing. Take that United/Delta/Alaska/American!! Oh yeah, bags are free too.

- Laura

Posted by galaurasia 05:36 Archived in Vietnam Tagged luxury_travel Comments (2)

Sand, Sweat, and Tears

Overcoming Fears and Enjoying Beers

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The first time I ever went snorkeling, I was eleven years old. My brother, dad, and I took a quick trip down to the Florida Keys after visiting family in Palm Beach. I was about 4 feet tall, with a constant shit-eating grin. The first thing I saw when I jumped in the water was a barracuda, as big as me. The second thing I saw was another barracuda. I screamed and thrashed just as a big wave came by, and ended up with eyes full of tears and a mouth full of salt water. I haven’t been snorkeling since. Until now…

The owner of the hostel we are at now, Vicky, is amazing. She has gone above and beyond the call of duty – helping us in anyway that she can. Vicky knew when we checked in that we were interested in a boating trip, and when we didn’t get ourselves out of bed early enough, she came and knocked on our door, giving us options for boat trips that were leaving in a half hour. We opted for the more expensive, relaxing boat trip so that we would have more opportunities to snorkel. While the other boats were drinking beer and floating around the coves on inner tubes, we were lounging on chairs (that actually doubled as beds, benches, and tables) and making friends with the nice Australian family that accompanied us.

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Unfortunately it was an overcast day, so the views were not as astonishing as I’m sure they could have been – but it was still incredibly scenic. Nha Trang is surrounded by hundreds of islands, and we were able to boat by a few of them, as well as the communities of floating homes along the way.

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When I first jumped in the water I had a bit of a panic attack. I was fine breathing above water, and am a strong swimmer, but as soon as I submerged my head I began to hyperventilate, and couldn’t stay under for more than twenty seconds. Galen was extremely helpful in getting me to relax and breathe deeply. With each breath, I became more comfortable and eventually began enjoying myself. The vivid colors of the parrot and angel fishes were astonishing, and we even saw a purple sea star! Our snorkeling adventure ended when a group of jellyfish started moving in. After a delicious family-style Vietnamese meal, and a few jumps off of the boat, we headed home for a much needed nap.

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The hostel we are at now borders luxurious, with one (incredibly important) exception. There are frequent electricity cuts, often lasting for 12 hours at a time. No electricity = no air conditioning and no fan. In 90+ degree weather, opening doors and windows to create drafts does not do much. When we aren’t lounging by the beach, or enjoying food and drinks at the numerous restaurants and cafes, we are napping, often in a puddle of our own sweat ☹

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Our first night in Nha Trang, we had a lovely dinner at the “Louisiane Brew House” – a local brewpub owned by an Australian man. The food was amazing (some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had) and the beer was flavorful. They had about six on tap, and unfortunately we were both too tired to enjoy more than 1 each. I am hoping to go back tonight to try the rest. (John, sorry no bottles for labels ☹ )

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We haven’t met many Americans so far on our travels. With few exceptions, the majority of our new friends are Canadian or British. Last night, however, we were enjoying some drinks at a lounge waiting for the U.S. game to start when a young man in an American flag shirt walked by. Galen quickly made friends with him and his German travel partner, and we had a great evening watching the game, screaming with excitement, yelling out of frustration, biting our nails, and eventually, celebrating the win. For Galen, that meant almost crying out of sadness when it looked like the U.S. might not pull it off, and jumping up and down like a 5-year-old when they did. He was hugging strangers, throwing his arms in the air, and I wondered for the second time if he was going to cry, this time out of joy. I’ve never seen him happier.

Tomorrow we are heading to White Sand Doc Let Resort, about 20 km north of Nha Trang for my birthday weekend ☺ It should be a weekend full of relaxation, celebration, and, hopefully, air conditioning!

- Laura

P.S.: Passport Update! Got ‘em back a few days ago. The hostel owner in Can Tho sent them up here via bus, which is apparently more reliable than the postal service here. Phew!

Posted by galaurasia 04:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged boating Comments (2)

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