that said, not everything was perfect. the tchaikovsky family wasn't there because their grandfather was in the hospital after a hear attack. also after calling her family to with them a happy new year, ronda found out that her grandfather was also in the hospital after a heart attack. obviously this was not a good new years to be a grandfather.
here's some pictures from the evening.
December 31, 2005
that said, not everything was perfect. the tchaikovsky family wasn't there because their grandfather was in the hospital after a hear attack. also after calling her family to with them a happy new year, ronda found out that her grandfather was also in the hospital after a heart attack. obviously this was not a good new years to be a grandfather.
December 24, 2005
December 23, 2005
December 18, 2005
December 10, 2005
December 9, 2005
December 5, 2005
i had a great time and was staying at my grandmothers place. it was cold and lightly snowy most the time there. i flew out there on the wed before thanksgiving and i was working remotely from the sun microsystems offices in poland for the week after thanksgiving. my dad was out there with me at the same time and our social schedule was packed. most days consisted of waking up early, taking a tram to work around 8am, leaving the office around 5:30pm (when it was already pitch black outside), taking a tram home, and meeting up with family or friends to eat and drink into late hours of the night. by the end of this trip i was exhausted. but it was a great time and i really enjoyed staying in warsaw. (a city i've never really enjoyed hanging out in before.) here's some pictures from the trip.
November 20, 2005
November 13, 2005
October 23, 2005
October 22, 2005
we started the cooking friday night and it wasn't looking good. we found a few recipies online, combined them, and doubled them (since we were making enough for 10 people.) unfortunatly at the end of the night the stock still tasted really watery. so sat morning we went out and bought lots more stuff and doubled the spice contents again. eventually we got something that tasted pretty good.
everyone seemed to enjoy the food and had a pretty good time.
October 16, 2005
October 9, 2005
ok. so i'm only on my second gin'n'tonic, but that still enough such that it's time to stop reading the captive mind, by czeslaw milosz. (this book is closer to a philosopy book that anything i've read lately and demands full attention, ie no music and not much liquer. actually these types of books frustrate me a bit because i feel kinda dumb and doubtfull about how much information i'll be able to successfully digest and retain.)
that said, i'll talk quickly about two other books i read recently.
just yesterday i finished economics in one lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. i'm glad i got this book from the library instead of buying it. i didn't like it very much. i was looking for a book which covered general economic theories. i wanted to get a better understaning of implications of the current international trade deficit and china's huge trade surpluss, etc. instead i got a refutation of most the policies of the new deal and a long winded and super simplified lecture about the obvious benifits of unregulated capatilism. putting aside that fact that the book didn't cover what i was looking for, i didn't wholly agree with the author. (who by the way has no formal background in economics, but simply puts forth the theory that it's all simple as long as you make sure to look at the effects of policy upon all parties and not just interested parties who create the policy.) he seems to take a very simplistic view of capatilism and market self regulation with no acknowledgement of the fact that capital begets capital, and that captail (for better or for worse) translates to power in both the political and free market sectors. (which in turn can cause imbalances in a compleatly unregulated market economy.) enough rambling about that.
the other book i recently finished was Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin, by Gray Brechin. i discovered this book in the footnotes of cadillac desert and it basically covers more of the history of san francisco presented in the context of manifest destiny and the continious imperial westward growth of the US up to and past the coast of california. it covers interesting (to me) historical aspects such as war the us phillipines (which i knew nothing about), interactions with japan and the japanese (both here, in hawii, and abroad), interactions with mexico, and other historical investments and involvements all over the pacific rim that were based out of the growing metropolis of san francisco. it also covered interesting local aspects related to the growth of san francisco and the outlying cities. (describing the impact of mining, logging, municipal water supply, the evolution of electrical utilities, etc.) through out all this it discussed the people driving all of this evolution and change. (from politicians to mining moguls to buisness men to newspaper publishers turned philathropists, etc.) overall the book has quite a negative outlook on the power and development that shaped the entire bay area but it was still an interesting read and it provides me with much more background to think about current events and life in san francisco. (like the tap water that comes from hetch hetcy reservoir, or how PGE came to be our power company, or the re-opening of the new de-young musem and how that is linked to the san francisco newspaper scene, etc.) ahh, the joys of useless half remembered historical contexts. ;)
ok. so i'm done with the sensless commentary. hope you don't feel robbed of your time.
September 11, 2005
friday, me and ronda headed north for one night of camping trip at salt point state park (just off highway 1 about 100 miles north of sf.) anup invited us up on thrursday for two nights of camping but we could only make it for one due to prior commitments. we left town around 4pm and swung by the polish deli to pick up kielbasa and bigos. we hit really crappy traffic on the 101 and we didn't get to the campsite till after 8pm. once there we started a campfire, setup our tent, cooked food, and proceeded to drink through about two and a quarter bottles of vodka for six people. (two of anups friends who we had never met before were also there with their two year old child.) the night ended around midnight when a park ranger came over and told us he had gotten multiple complaints about us making too much noise and that we needed to go to bed. the genius then saw the empty bottles and asked us if we had been drinking and if we all were of legal drinking age. he told us that if we didn't go to bed we'd be arrested. well, getting threatened with arrest by a park ranger was a first for me and this was a great way to end the night.
the next morning we got up, had some breakfast, and wandered down to the coast for a short walk. (needless to say, everyone was a little tired from the night before.) we then headed back to camp and me and ronda left for home at around 2pm. we got back home just in time to unpacked our stuff, shower, and leave for jan's birthday party at the bambuddha lounge. (jan is a co-worker of mine.) there was sixteen of us there and we had a really good time. (about half the people there were sun employees and the other half were friends of jan who all went to together.) after dinner we headed over to olive for a final drink before heading home.
this morning me and ronda got up and headed down to the tomatofest in carmel. (another 120 mile drive.) it was a slightly pricy event but me and ronda had a really good time there. we basically ate interesting tomato inspired sample sized dishes from local resturants until we were so full we were in physical pain, at which point i realized that there was another entire food tent that i had yet to go to. there was lots of sample foods (three large tents worth), bbq (which we didn't waste any space on), all the wine you could sample/drink (4 medium sized tents worth), and even a few beer tents. we ended up staying for about four hours before dragging our tired and sunburnt bodies back home. (if you like tomatoes, wine, and eating then i'd strongly recommend going to this festival. it's a yummy and well organized feast.)
after all this driving, eating, and drinking i'm really wiped out, but before heading to bed i manage to write this drivel and uploaded pics from salt point and the tomatofest. you can see them here and here. now it's finally time to pass out.
September 6, 2005
lassen is located about 45 miles east of redding, ca. for a detailed map of the park look here.
we drove up on saturday morning to the south west entrance of the park and got a campsite at southwest camp just inside the park. after setting up our tent we went to the "bumpass hell" trail. (pronounced bump-ass, bum-pass, or bumpus depending on who you ask.) the bumpass trail is pretty stinky since it leads to a bunch of steam vents, boiling springs, sulfur pits, and mud pits. we also hiked a little ways past bumpass towards cold boiling lake. after returning to the trailhead we drove the sulphur works to take in more boiling mud and fumes. after returning to our camp site ronda gathered up a bunch of firewood, we had dinner, started up a good fire, enjoyed a six pack, admired the stars, and went to bed.
sunday, after fixing some breakfast and packing up camp, we headed over to lassen peak and hiked to the top. it's a short trail (only about 5 miles) but it goes winding a mountain up the whole way, starting at an elevation of about 8,500 ft and ending at 10,457 ft. once at the top we wandered around the peaks and crater for about an hour and a half. the view was pretty gorgeous and we could even see mt. shasta off in the distance. after snacking some we headed back down the mountain. the climb up took us about 1.5 hours and the goung down only took us an hour. after taking some advil to ease our sore legs we decided to go to butte lake (pronounced butt or bute, depending on who you ask.) since there are no roads going across the park this meant we had to drive along the 89 out the north west entrance of the park and then take the 89 east to the 44 east and to reenter the park from the north east side. while driving the 89 north through the park we saw great views of lassen peak from almost every side. eventually we found the turnoff for butte lake, which was 7 mile long dirt road with a camp ground at the end. we pitched our tent here and headed down to the lake for the sunset. after sunset we fixed some dinner, started up a fire, polished off another six-pack, and went to sleep.
monday morning we fixed up some scrambled eggs and got swarmed by bees, so we ended up eating breakfast in the car. after packing up our camp site we went to hike up the cinder cone trail. it was a pretty short trail (only 4 miles), the first 1.5 miles of the trail was flat but very fine and sandy, so it took some self discipline to stay on the trail and not wander off between the trees where the ground looked more solid. then the last 0.5 miles was a brutal 800 ft climb strait up (as in no switchbacks) the cinder cone. to make the final climb a little extra difficult, the entire cinder cone is basically composed of sand, gravel, and small rocks. so for every two steps up that you take you slide one down. needless to say it was a long and painful walk up, and a short and fun run down. the view from the top was great and we could see butte lake, the fantastic lava beds, the painted dunes, lots of forest, and lassen peak off in the distance.
our drive home went surprisingly well. we were expecting to hit traffic from people returning from camping and burningman, but we never did and we made it back home by 8pm. i'll try to get the pictures from the trip online soon.
September 2, 2005
here's some of the other (non-south-east asia vacation) albums i've created:
September 1, 2005
i looked at three different online photo gallery packages:
of these three my favorite was coppermine. both gallery and coppermine seem to be under active development, which is good. but the real deciding factor was that in coppermine, when you're viewing an albums and going through pictures one by one, there is a film strip below the pictures that show's you thumbnails for the adjacent pictures in the album. this is a really important feature since people can skip ahead and not have to view every single picture.
i also looked at the online service smugmug. this is a really great online photo site that has great service. some of my friends use it and it's really easy to navigate. the UI is just great. also there are no annoying ads.
course, in the end, i decided to host my pictures on my own site because i'm a control freak. if it turns out that i can't handle the maintainence or my website suddenly become super popular and the bandwidth usage kills my connection, then i'll probably move over to smugmug. i'll just have to wait and see.
August 28, 2005
why? well, it turns out my initial assumptions about bathroom scales were wrong. i shouldn't be trying to find a scale that looks good. i should be trying to find a scale that tells me my weight accurately, doesn't lie about it, and is easy to use.
i realized some of this after talking to my roommate, blake. he has a digital bathroom scale made by taylor. it sucks. not only does it suck. it lies. here's how. if you get on the scale it will tell you one weight. then if you get on it again, it will tell you the same weight. seems ok up till this point. but then, he showed me that if you turn the scale on, don't weight anything, wait for it to turn off, and then weight yourself again, you'll get a compleatly different reading (off by a few pounds.) and if you weight yourself again, you'll get the same second reading value. so the basic conclusion to draw from this observed behavior is that the scale is remembering the last weight it weighed, and if it sees something close to that, it just displays the old number again. so to sum up. the scale is crappy (since it tells you multiple different weights) and it also lies (since it just re-displays previous weight values.)
given the high crap factor of blakes scale, his normal procedure for using it in the morning is: weigh himself, turn the scale on and wait till it turns off, then weight himself again and use this last measurement. i adapted this procedure to test new scales in an attempt to find one that doesn't suck. here's what i did:
1) weigh myself, call this W1
2) pickup some heavy object(s) and weigh myself again - W2
3) put down the heavy object(s) and weigh myself again - W1'
4) pick up the same heavy object(s) and weigh myself again - W2'
then check, does W1 == W1' and W2 == W2'.
with this testing procedure in mind i headed over to my local bb&b and proceeded to try out almost all of their scales on display, i tried about 11 in total. first off, across all the scales my weight varied across a 10 pound range. seems pretty poor. also, most the scales failed my tests miserably. the interesting part was that it seemed to be broken down by manafacturer/brand. if one scale from a manafacturer/brand sucked, then all their other scales did too, and if one scale worked well, all the scales from that manufacturer/brand worked well.
so here were my findings. scales from the following manufacturers/brands suck and should be avoided:
- Thinner (made by ConAir)
- Weight Watchers (made by ConAir)
The following manufacturers/brands seem to have good scales:
- Soehnle (made by Leifheit)
what's also interesting, is that while my weight varied wildly across all the scales, the two good brands of scales seemed to match up in their measurements of my weight. a good sign.
having finally found some accurate scales i was pretty happy. then i had to choose between the remaining four scales (one Soehnle and three Tanitas) and i discovered an additional important selection criteria i wouldn't have thought of before hand. ease of use.
it's worth mentioning that all the scales by these two manufacturers are "fancy". by this i mean that not only do they measure your weight, but they also measure your body fat, and to do this they need to know your sex/height/age. so each of the scales is programmable and has multiple buttons. i decided that if i had to read a manual to figure out how to use a bathroom scale, the scale is too complicated.
as it turns out the Soehnle and the high end Tanita are a little too complicated for their own good. the high end Tanita verges on silly. i couldn't even turn the scale on to get a weight reading without bending down and randomly pressing multiple small buttons. with the Soehnle, getting my weight was easy enough but i couldn't figure out how to use any of the other features without the manual.
in the end, i went with the cheapest Tanita model. for getting weight it was really easy. kick a button and stand on the scale. for the more advanced features, i was able to figure out how to program the scale in a couple minutes and then once again it was kick a button and stand on the scale.
whew... so that's it. in the end i'd say i wasted about two hours at bb&b. i also wasted a bunch of time online before going to bb&b looking at scales. what a way to spend my time. course the icing on the cake is this blog entry. well, i guess i'm finally done wasting time on this.
August 27, 2005
the gulag, by Anne Applebaum. this was a book my parents got me for my birthday and i took it with me on the trip. an excellent book. i learned a lot about russian and comunist history and culture from this book. the book was really well written and presented a LOT of information. it covered every possible aspect of the russian forced labor camps and gave you just enough related background information and history to understad the information presented. also (aside from the subject matter) the book itself was pretty easy reading. you didn't have to keep flipping back to the footnotes in the end, and it wasn't a dry history book since it pulled so much from archives and writings of personal accounts of experiences with the gulag. the book is a pretty imposing tome (i was never able to get ronda to read it), but you should not let this discourage you. i would strongly recommend this book to anyone since it coveres very recent aspects of little known, little discussed, and relevant history that has had a large impact on our world today.
Catfish and Mandala, by Andrew X. Pham. this book is required reading for anyone even thinking of going to vietnam. actually, you could probably read this book, go to a travellers cafe, and talk like a real vietnam tourist vet by retelling the authors experiences from this book. all that said, i haven't actually read this book. ronda read it. and while reading it she stopped every ten pages to tell me "holy shit, the same thing happened to this guy" and then she read me his recounting of our experiences. (which is weird since he published them before we had our experiences... creepy.)
the book is about a young man, a viet cue (someone who left vietnam at a young age for the US and then returns to vietnam), and his experiences after returning to vietnam to discover his native country/heritage and bike from saigon to hanoi. me and ronda though that we got bad treatment at times because we're "rich westerners", but the way that the author gets treated is amazingly worse, bordering on appaling. the book is well written and a easy quick read. (bear in mind, i've only heard the "books recited by ronda" version. fyi, i do actually plan to read this book myself.) the book also coveres different aspecty of vietnames culture and history, and talks about the different areas that the author visits while there. also, his experiences sync up with what we learned talking to some viet cue we met while travling threre.
First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung. this is a personal story of a young girl who survived the labor camps and genocide inflicted by the khmer rouge in cambodia. the author starts out as a young spoiled upper class child living phnom penh, cambodia at the time the khmer rouge came to power and documents her (and her families') struggle for survival. aside from the topic matter, the book is easy to read since it's written mostly from a childs perspective. the labor camps in cambodia differed from the ones in russia since in cambodia since they affected all of society, instead of individuals accued of crimes against society. in cambodia, if someone was though to have commited crimes against society (or was discovered to be educated or have come from any type of middle or upper class) they were simply killed. the book goes all the way to the present, covering the vietnamese invasion of cambodia and the fall of the khmer rouge, the authors escape/emigration from cambodia to the US, and her eventual return to cambodia to see other surviving family members. it's a good book but it's also depressing to read about more horrible atrocities that were commited recently (and continue to be commited) while the world community sits around and continues to do nothing.
Voices from S-21, by David Chandler. this book was about another horrible aspect of the khmer rouge regime. aside from the forced labor camps there was S-21 and the choeung ek killing fields. S-21 was a school that was convered to a prision. everyone who was ever sent to S-21 was killed and burried at choeung ek. this amounted to thousands of people. this book documents what how S-21 evolved, who worked there, and what went on there. it's an amazing and tragic history, but unfortunatly the book doesn't do it justince since it's so horribly written, it's a very dry and boring read. information is scattered all over the place without a real structure. i couldn't help but compare this book to the gulag, since they are both about prisions, and the difference in the quality of writing is striking. what's also unfortunate, is that if you search for other books about cambodian history or books about the khmer rouge you find that most of them were written by the same author, and after reading this book i'm really not interested in reading any more of his books.
Angkor (Fourth Edition), by Dawn Rooney. while visiting angrok we really wanted to have more than our lonely planet to guide us through the temples, and at $4 USD in cambodia, this book was a great deal. first published in 1994 and now on it's 4th edition (from 2005) it's already pretty out of date. but regardless it was a great book to have along. it's devided into two major sections. the first half of the book covers lots of background information that is helpfull for visiting the temples. if like me, you don't know much about hinduism or buddhism, this book will introduce you to the basics. you'll get to know the names of the gods and people that you'll see over and over again. you'll also get to know the names of the epic stories that you'll see depicted at the temples again and again. it'll tell you about the history of the area and the different kings that spanned the centuries that it took to build all the ankgor temples. it also covers some of the different architectural aspect of the temples themselves. finally it coveres the discovery of ankor and attempt in more recent years to perserve and restore the temples amidst the political turmoils of cambodian history. the second half of the book is a guide to the temples. we used this half to help plan which temples to visit and what order to visit them in. it also includes descriptions of each of the temples and gives you advice about how to approach and what to look for when visiting each temple. of course this half was the most out of date half. it warned about potential robbers at "remote" temples that are no longer considered "remote" and get a lot of visitors these days. in certain temples it also described areas that have now been roped of and you can't walk through anymore. the only main thing that the book didn't cover that i wish it did was more information about the restoration processes. there are different techniques being used by different organizations and it would have been interesting to learn about the different approaches being used.
In Retrospect, by Robert S. McNamara. since we had just visited vietnam this seemed like a good book to read, and it really was. this book came out in 1995 and a lot of the issues and mistakes that mcnamara talks about are still relevant and being repeated today. it provides a great historical presentation of events in vietnam and at home, and our constanty increasing involvement in south east asia. the book presents the past linearly and allows you to see how basic mistakes and problems were compounded on each other without people stopping to ask basic questions and look at the realities surrounding the conflict. one interesting thing that jumped out at me was that early on in the conflict almost every time vietnam is mentioned laos is mentioned as well. our involvement in south east asia spanned three countries but somehow in the end only vietnam is remembered. this was a great read.
Another Quiet American, by Brett Dakin. If your thinking of going to Laos you really should read this book. it's an easy quick read about a young princeton graduate who goes to work at the tourism board in laos for two years. each chapter covers a different aspect of laos life, culture, and the authors interractions with others. the book provides thoughtfull insights into life for both locals and forigners in a current day communist country. (and might change some of your opinions, if you have any, on international aid mondy and how it is spent.)
this is the story of Ken Wells rambling down the mississippi in search of the "perfect beer joint". he's also searching for anyone who's willing to talk to him about beer and tiny bits of beer arcana. (for instance, did elvis drink beer? if so, what was his favorite beer?) it consists of one half re-tellings of his beer related encounters with people, one quarter of insights into those encounters and different aspects of beer culture, and one quarter of random beer culture and personal history. it also includes quite a few detour chapters where he discusses different aspects of beer drinking, beer brewing, and beer culture in the US. (chapters about yeast rustlers, mico/home beer brewing, SAB Miller hop farming, beer festivals, the evolution of the current US corporate beer juggernauts, etc.)
the book is a really easy and quick read that never gets too serious. unless you're the ultimate beer guru then this book definitely includes interesting information about beer history and culture that you didn't know, and if you are a guru then the you probably love beer drinking and that's what this book is about.
if you do read it you'll probalby want to have a beer handy and in the end you'll probably be jealous of Ken since he just got paid to wander around for a year and drink beer. (and scratch down enough notes while doing it to write a book, unless of course his next novel turns out to be fiction...)
August 16, 2005
little did i know he would find two of them so facinating that he would want to keep them. (the sicko probably has a mole collection in back of his office.)
he was particularly excited by the irregularly shaped mole on my back. he gave me two shots of a local anesthetic and the proceeded to cut it off. he then cauterized the newly minted hole in my back with some chemicals. after that one he moved onto another mole on my chest. this one was much larger, but at the same time much less interesting since it was nice and round. regardless he thought it would make a good addition to his collection so he gave me about 5 more shots of anesthetic and continued to cut and cauterize away.
after all this fun he managed to inspire me with confidence by telling me that i should start applying spf 15 every morning. even though i take a train to work and sit in an office building without a window all day long, i'm still exposed to uv radiation for short periods of time during the day, and research has shown it's the cumulative effects of these short exposures that can lead to cancer. how come now one ever warned me about this earlier? unfortunately i hate sunscreen, but i also don't think i'd enjoy cancer, so after thinking about it for a bit i've decided to never leave my house again... and to stay away from all the windows. i blame ronda.
August 14, 2005
August 13, 2005
i had actually tapped the porter earlier, before leaving on vacation two months ago, and back then i thought it was a really tasty and smooth brew. the good news is that it didn't go bad during my time away and it's still a tasty brew that has only improved with age. it's also the strongest beers i've ever brewed, my current calculations put it at 7.3% ABV. (OG: 1.069, FG: 1.013, 38.27 IBU)
the younger keg was a stout and it was supposed to be a "double chocolate" stout, inspired by a stout or the same name from Youngs. (see and here.) unfortunatly this one is a bit of a disappointment. the beer itself isn't actually bad... it's just no where near as good as youngs, which is excellent. today i actually did a side by side tasting comparison of the two.
Youngs has a slightly smoky smell with a definite chocolate and burnt malt taste to it. it has a slight bite, but it goes down smooth and doesn't leave much of an after taste. my stoute on the other hand has a mild smell that actually reminds me of pine and/or citrus. thinking about it further, it smells a little like hops. while this might be ok in an IPA, it's not a great feature in a stout. the taste is a bit more harsh than youngs. it's has a bit more of a bite, but it's not really a burnt or smoked malt type of bite, it's a bit more of an acidic bite that lingers after you swallow. (mind you it's not too strong bite, but it is there.) also, i really should have used more chocolate. (actually, i used baking coco since prepared chocolate has oil in it which doesn't mix so well with beer.) lastly, it has a bit of a thin mouth feel. ie, it feels watery compared to youngs. (of course i should mention that i think most the beers i brewed are too watery and i keep upping the amount of barley in them to fix this. i guess eventually i'll hit a point where it's just right or too much.) well, regardless of all the flaws i've listed above it's still very drinkable beer and i wont be pouring it out. actually, i'm drinking a pint of it right now.
August 12, 2005
i dropped ronda off at the airport yesterday. she was heading back to her parents house to spend some time visiting her child hood romping grounds. (her parents will be moving to florida soon and so she wanted to got back before they sell the house she grew up in.)
so today i bought tickets to come out and join her there. i'll be heading out there thursday morning and returning sunday night. i've never been to upstae ny. should be interesting. (but i have to wonder, why oh why do i keep going to these hot and humid places climates when i hate hot and humid weather?!? the cool summers in san francisco are so perfect....)
August 7, 2005
August 4, 2005
since our flight from tokyo to san francisco was delayed a day we got to fly on a mostly empty plane back home. also, since ronda has premier status with united, they bumped us up to buisness class. i've never flown buisness class before and i have to say it was pretty nice. with seats that reclined like lazy boys, enough footspace to have brought along a couple dogs, and ungodly amounts of food and drink, we somehow survived our flight back home.
when we arrived in narita tokyo (from bangkok) we discovered that our connecting flight to san francisco was delayed a day. we went to the united service desk and they set us up in the tokyo bay hilton for the night.
after spending a while trying to find the bus to the hotel and getting to know some of the other travellers who were stranded with us, we passed disneyland tokyo on our way to our hotel. the hotel itself was pretty fancy for one that seems to cater to families who are taking their kids to disneyland.
our bathroom was pretty over the top. normally in the shower you have one or two dials that control the temperature and preasure of the water and then another switch (or dial) that controls if the water goes to a shower head or the bath faucet. in the bathroom here there were four dials. one to control the temperature, and then one each to control the flow for the bath faucet, the main showerhead, and the secondary showerhead (which was on a hose so you could spray water where ever you want.)
hell, you could run all three at the same time. i think it was actually designed for this because the water preassure here was so high that it was painfull to have the shower on full blast. also, the toilet seat was a number.. it had a scent neutralizer and a bunch of options for shooting heated water up your ass. (a "bidet" and "spray" mode, each of which could be augmented with an "oscillation" option.) i don't like heated toilet seats because whenever you sit down it seems like someone else has just finished up an extended stay on the can right before you. also, i didn't like the fact that whenever you sat down the toilet seat started humming.
for food, united (the airline we were flying) provided with coupons for the hotel resturant. initially we were really upset about this because most the time hotel food sucks. but in this case it wasn't too bad. dinner consisted of a large buffet with a resonable selection of decent food. i pigged out on the sushi and it was pretty good. (MUCH better than i was expecting.) the one thing not covered by the coupons was drinks. boy were they expensive. a bottle of beer was going for about 10 bucks. (The buffet itself cost about $45 USD.) we decided to stkip on the beer with dinner and hit the bar after dinner for a martini.
well, the hotel bar decour (which was really just an extension of the resturant) was great and we ordered two bombay saphire martinis. the going rate for one of these babies was about $18 USD and unfortunatly it was THE SMALLEST martini i have ever seen. i know that the japanese can be small people but this was ridiculous. it was served in a tiny martini glass (probably about a 2.5 oz glass) and it was only 2/3 full, if that. a real disapointment. my normal two martini limit could have easily been raised here to a four of five martini limit... but of course that would have done some serious damage to my wallet.
August 3, 2005
we were supposed to have two full days in bangkok but after flying out of pakse we missed our connecting flight in vientiane, so we ended up spending one night in vientiane instead of bangkok. ah the joys of international travel.
but bangkok itself seems like a pretty cool town and i wish we had spent some more time here.
it's a really huge city and since it was the end of our trip ronda decided we should live it up a bit and we rented a "nice" hotel (for just under $100 USD a night.) well, as it turned out our hotel was really more of a corporate apartment. we had a mini-kitchen, living room, and office. the bedroom was really small and had a large walk in closet. needless to say we were disapointed, but what made up for it all was the giant jacuzzi bath. ronda even had to find a drug store to but some bath bubbles/oils/whatever to put the thing to good use.
for eating in the city, we tried two interesting places for dinner. the second night we went to anna's cafe (a moderatly expensive resturant, despite the cafe name) and it was a huge dissapointment. the food was all pretty greasy and the curries (we ordered two) weren't even that tasty.
dinner the first night we were there was much better. we went to a place called Le Lys and the food was great. we had two curries, both of which were super tasty. the green curry was actually a little sweet and had what looked like large green peas in it that tasted sour (but not too strong.) they contrasted really nicely with the sweetness in the curry. also, since we were the only ones there when we arrived (we got there early) we got to talk with the owners a bit (a thai woman and a french man.) we told them we were a little surprised by the sweet green curry. they informed us that classic thai green curry is supposed to be sweet. we had no idea. (we also asked them what the little green peas were but the best english explanation they could come up with was "little eggplant", which really didn't seem to fit.)
after our dinner at Le Lys, we took an excursion on the sky train to a bar called the Londoner Brew Pub. the attraction here was that they brew their own "Londoner's Pride Cream Bitter", and let me tell you... it was mighty fine.
as for the actual touristy stuff, we did some of that as well. we spent a day at the royal palace, Wat Phra Kaeo, and Wat Pho. (oh yeah. all the guidebooks say you need to wear shoes that cover your toes and heels. this is wrong. sandals are now ok. i made the mistake of believing the guide books and roasting my feet for the day.) Most these sights are golden, sparkly, and somwhat impressive stuff. one of the hilights for me was the reclinig 47 meter long budda at Wat Pho... that's a whole lot of budda.
one funny bit was all the signs around this area that said: "don't trust strangers. the palace is open every day of the week." etc. apparently strangers around here may lie and try to scam you. (our guide books also repeated this warning a lot as well.)
there is also a thai massage school in Wat Pho and we decided to try half an hour of massage. we wanted the foot massage, but they were all busy so we went for the regular massage, and well... the students got some practice. it was definatly amature. they masseuses/masseurs don't really pay that much attention to you. they don't realize when their hurting you, or even take much care to check that your body is in a safe position for certain streches. most of the things they did felt ok, but some of the moves left me a bit achy. luckily i don't think there was any permanent damage.
two more interesting things we checked out in town were the night market and the red light district.
the night market was like the biggest swap meet i've ever seen. they had an unbelievable amout of stuff. millions of small booths with tons of crap. you could buy furniture, lamps, vases, clothes... anything really. you could compleatly decorate a house from this place, or clothe a family. and since most the stuff is made near by it's all pretty cheap. (a lot of the stuff reminded me of things you might see at urban outfitters.) i of course bought nothing there.
as for the red light district, it wasn't as crazy as i was expecting. i dragged ronda here because i wanted to see it. it was closer to north beach (in sf) than amsterdam. well, ok, it was a _little_ more explicit than north beach. there were lots of buildings with dressed up girls all standing in _front_ waiting for buisness. i even had someone ask me if i wanted to see a "ping pong show." but the stranges thing i noticed was that there were an amazing number of japanese resturants.
July 31, 2005
this is a country i'll have to go back to. we spent a really short time here, most of it sick in pakse, but i still really liked it.
the capital city, vientiane, is really more of an overgrown town than a city. when we got there on sunday afternoon it was dead. we went wandering to find a resturant to have dinner and everyone was out on siesta (or something.) we eventually found a beer garden where we killed time till one of the resturants we were interested in trying opened up again. it seems this way with most the "cities" in laos.
the people in laos are really friendly and helpfull. in general people didn't lie to us to try and make a buck, or grosly overcharge us for things.
since we were there in the beginning of the rainy season the country was really lush and green. it seems they have an infinate number of waterfalls around. in vientiane there are some tour companies that can arrange for hiking, kayaking, or rock climbing trips to different areas of the country. (the only problem with laos is that you can't really explore the back country on your own since like cambodia they have a large problem with UXO, aka Unexploded Ordinace. seems the US dropped LOTS of bombs on laos and about 1/3 of them didn't explode. the country was also mined pretty heavily and you really don't wouldn't want to stuble over some of this stuff.)
i think it'd be really great to go back there sometime after the rainy season (when it's cool) for two to four weeks to explore the country further.
July 30, 2005
we had a really laid back time at tad lo falls. we stayed at sayse's guesthouse in a huge room that was situated almost right above tad hung falls. (which are a little down river from tad lo falls.) our room was really nice and my only complaint was that the bed was rock hard. we had a small balcony on the back from which we could see the top of the falls. we spent almost an entire day hanging out there and just reading.
we also did a bunch of reading at tim's guesthouse. they had decent food and outdoor seating so we sat around there quite a bit, eating, drinking beer and tea, chatting with people, petting the local cat and dogs, and reading.
tad lo itself is a really small "town." it consists of one dirt road with a small bridge over the river. on the dirt road there are about 5 guesthouses and there's not a whole lot to do... so aside from reading and meeting people we also went for an elephant ride since neither of us had ever done that before. our elephant was a senior citizen at 65 years old, but somehow she still managed to drag us around. the exciting part of the slow elephant ride was when we came out of the forest at a bend in the main road. at this point a local guy on his moto was driving by, he looked at us, waved to us, said hi, and drove right off the edge of the road. luckily he was unhurt.
also, there was some other low key excitement during our stay. it's the start of the rainy season in laos and the first night we got there it rained A LOT. enough rain to flood out the dirt road in a couple places, cause a huge tree to fall over at tim's guesthouse, and force them to close the bridge for auto traffic since one of it's supports got knocked down.
on our last night there we met up with a bunch of other travelers for a lot of drinking and debating about a random different issues. (international aid, third world development, education and industry, physics/mathamatics/computers, etc.)
to get to and from tad lo we took a tour via the sabiday 2 guest house. on the way out to tad lo we got to see a tea plantation and two waterfalls, on the way back we saw a couple more waterfalls. this means that insetead of getting the public bus experience in laos (which i hear is actually pretty good, unlike vietnam) we got the sawngthaew experience (a standard for transport in laos.) basically a sawngthaew is a pickup truck with two benches installed in back and a metal post frame around the back area which you can stretch a tarp over for protection from the rain and sun. a little bumpy, but we did manage to squeeze 12 people into the back today.
July 26, 2005
both me and ronda started to get sick in siem reap. i got a low fever there one night and felt pretty crappy for the following two days.
ronda got a low fever the night before we left siem reap. then after getting into pakse and checking into our hotel her fever really took off. by 10pm on friday night her fever peaked at 103 F. she also had really bad stomach cramps, was puking, and had diarrhea. i was really worried since ibuproffen didn't seem to be doing anything to kill the fever. both of us didn't sleep much that night. i was taking her temperature every 20 mins, freezing rags to try to cool her down, and dragging her to the shower every hour to try and cool her off. needless to say, i was probably over-reacting but i was really worried. (we are really in a small town in the middle of nowhere.)
from this experience i learned that pakse does have a very large nice new hospital, which was built three years ago with japanese money. i went there during the night to the emerengcy clinic but couldn't find anyone who spoke english. the next morning me and ronda went down to the clinic with someone from our hotel to help us translate. first they told us she wasn't in a coma, which was a relief to me. then they told us that she didn't have dengue fever. after that they took a blood sample and told us it wasn't malaria either. all good news. eventually they said it was just bad food poisioning. (which was strange since we had been eating all the same food recently.)
after that they gave us "prescriptions" for a bunch of different drugs. (i put prescriptions in quotes because you don't need any to buy drugs from pharmacies here, so it was more just advice.) the drugs they recommeded seemed to be: paracetamol (for fever), amoxicillin (for i don't know what), buscopan? (or some type of antispasmodic to stop the stomach cramps and allow her to keep food down), and an antacid.
well, the fever hung around all day saturday and ranged from 100 to 102 F, sunday it was down further to the range of 99 to 100 F, and finally on monday it got down to 98 and ronda actually left the hotel room again to go get some food. while she was sick i went to the local market to buy some bananas and bread, but she really had no appetite and didn't eat anything. (which also had me worried.)
since then things have been looking better. she's been eating progresivly more and the stomach cramps have been occuring less and less. a welcome relief for both of us. my take away from this? being really sick in a small town on the far side of the world where few people speak the same language as you is a really really crappy situation for all the parties involved.
July 22, 2005
as soon as we crossed the border (by boat) you could see interesting temples on the banks of the river with architectures unlike anything in vietnam. in phnom penh the temples, museum, and monuments have pointy spires, nagas (large snakes with 9 heads), apsaras (dancing nymphs), and other mythical creatures that we never saw in vietnam. the architecture here seems much closer to thailand than to vietnam.
the food is also much closer to thai food than vietnamese food. i've had lots of soups (sometimes made with coconut milk and spices) and curries here that remind me of thai food and have no connection with vietnam. we've stepped into a compleatly different culinary universe.
when you walk around phnom penh it has a very different feel from any city in vietnam. the streets are not as crowded with vendors and many shop fronts are permanently closed. (presumably from the lack luster economic situation?) walking around phnom penh you see that many of the streets in the city center aren't even paved and are simply very bumpy dirt roads.
the road situation in cambodia is much worse than in vietnam. cambodia supposedly has one of the worst road systems in all of asia. this becomes immediatly apparent when you take a taxi almost anywhere. (for example, going to the killing fields or any of the temples outside of siem reap.) most times you are driving very slowly and weaving all over the road trying to find the best path to avoid the REALLY big holes in the dirt.
there are also much fewer motos, but many many more cars, trucks, and SUVs here. for cars you see toyota, honda, lexsus, infinity, and mercedes. for SUVs and trucks you see the same brands as well as subaru and ford. some of these vehicles belong to NGOs, but not as many as you'd think. to me this seems indicative of a much smaller middle class in cambodia. the gap here between those who can't afford a moto and those who can afford an SUV is much greater here than in vietnam. right now in cambodia corruption in the government and misuse of internation aid and money brought in by NGOs is apparently pretty rampant. (hell, i even saw a toyota with chrome spinner hub caps in phnom penh... truly amazing.) in siem reap there was a bookstore where the owner had a Harly Davidson motorcycle, a really big hog, at least 1000cc. in vietnam, it's not legal for anyone other than the police to have a bike bigger than 150cc.
the poverty situation here also seems much worse than in vietnam. there are many more beggers on the streets (both in phnom penh and siem reap.) children following you for a couple blocks with their hands out either mumbling incoherently or saying "money, money" over and over again. children and mothers carrying babies are asking you for money. old toothless and cripple people are asking you for money. people with their legs and arms missing loaded onto carts are asking you for money while their friends push their carts along side you while walking down the street. when ronda handed a half empty plastic bottle of water to one begging girl, another begging boy standing next to her immediatly knocked her down and took the bottle. when i got off the boat in siem reap i was immediately swarmed by children all asking me for the pen that was clipped to the outside of my backpack. there really wasn't much of this in vietnam and here it's pretty continuous and very much in your face.
there are a some exceptions though. most of the rampant begging occurs in the tourist areas. when you leave the center of town (in siem reap) you don't see as much of it. also, the authorities seem to put a stop to it in certain areas of phnom penh. in phnom penh we stayed in a hotel on the river front and at night we pretty much only walked up and down the waterfront to resturants and bars there. (cambodia is a well armed country and armed robbery is not uncommon here, so we were playing it safe.) all along this strip there were multiple police officers on every block and the only people who would hassle you were tuk-tuk drivers who would ask once if you wanted a ride and if you said no they would back off.
another issue when traveling here is the pollution. in phnom penh itself the situation wasn't too bad, but once you get outside of town the amount of dust and dirt in the air is very high. while in siem reap the amout of dust and exhaust in the air left me and ronda with soar throats and stuffed irritated noses for the extent of our stay.
in general, people here seemed more congenial that in vietnam. social and financial interactions seemed to go easier and people seemed more strait forward and honest. initial prices for things seemed more resonable and the haggling process was much easier here than in vietnam. (on many occasions in vietnam people would try to sell us things at extravagent prices and then be compleatly unwilling to bargin, even if i knew what the price should be and was willing to offer them something reasonable. that never happened here.) with one exception, tuk-tuk drivers seemed less pushy and persistant that moto drivers in vietnam.
in all, i really liked it here and i wish that i'd had more time to explore some more. some other interesting areas to see around the country would be battambang, the coastal areas, and the nothern mekong delta region.
July 21, 2005
siem reap is a dusty dusty town. and i've been told that it is actually much worse in the middle of the dry season. (it's the start of the rainy season now, but on the news we were hearing that there is currently a drought.)
the first night we got here i took a shower and the water going down the drain was brown. the next morning i took another shower and it was still brown. even the tap water here has dirt in it. the amount of dirt on the ground and dust i the air here makes the area of beijing i was living in last year look very very clean. the air quality here is pretty horrible. me and ronda both got sore throats and stuffed noses on our second day here and the situatin hasn't improved any with time. just walking around town you feel like you've accumulated a layer of filth on you.
it probably doesn't help that the amount of construction and big expensive hotels/resorts that are currently being built here is amazing. they are really banking on a HUGE future tourist industry here. (there are already lots of large hotels.)
there is a royal palace in town but you can't tour it. there are also some royal gardens which don't feel very royal. (there was construction going on in them as well.) the best part about the royal gardens is that you can see thousands of bats hanging from the trees in the gardens. and these aren't small bats, when they take off you realize that they have a wing span of at least two feet.
the center of town is actually pretty small and has a high concentration of "fancy" resturants, bars, and cafes geared torward tourists. one place we spent a lot of time at was the blue pumpkin cafe. i spent almost an entire day here reading since upstairs they have a giant 4 foot deep futon cushion that spans the length of the entire wall and you can sit on it burried in pillows while ordering drinks and food on smal tray tables. needless to say it was a pretty comfy place to relax and read. (it really seemed surreal and kinda outta place in this small town, but somehow i got over that.)
we also had some pretty tasty soup here at a place called the Soup Dragon. we had pho ($0.75 USD) and cambodian beef stew ($0.90 USD) for breakfast here twice. we also had some good thai soups for dinner at a place called In Touch. Finally, our favorite resturant here (that we went to three times) was a small down to earth place called Little India. the resturant has been around for a long time (supposedly the first indian resturant in siem reap) and the current owner is an indian nurse from sri lanka who came here to work at the local hospital in 1999 (and she still works there during the day.) we had some really tasty samosas, chana marsala, chicken tikka marsala, raita, and other bits here.
well, with all the time we've had to kill here i have had a chance to catch up on a little of my overly detailed and verbose blogging.
July 19, 2005
walking around the temples today the sheer number and size of them is mind boggling and awe inspiring, not to mention the amazing number of detailed carvings and statues adorning the temples that have managed to survive for hundreds of years. all the signs of a prolific and powerfull civilization that has disappeared from the face of the earth.
pretty dramatic introduction, eh? so we decided to spend three days exploring these monuments (you can get a one day, three day, or six day pass) that took centuries to build.
you can check out some maps of the central temple areas here and here.
there is also an interactive map of some of the central temples here.
the first day we were very ambitious. we got up at 4:30am and headed out to see the sunrise at the Bayon (the central temple in Angkor Thom.) it was gorgeous. we were the only ones there (since most people/tours go to angkor wat for sunrise.) the bayon has 54 towers each with 4 faces, and during sunrise the light plays off of them. when we got there it was still very dark and we used a flashlight to start climbing around. once it started to light up it was really great. you could hear bats calling from the dark corners and you would see human shapes and shadows in hallways from all the buddha statues. (the bayon is a budhist temple.) sunrise here was one of the hilights for me.
after that we had a long long day of exploring. we proceeded to see the Baphuon (which is under extensive restoration), the Phimeanakas, the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, and Angkor Wat... all before lunch.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world and it's pretty damn impressive. five central towers that are over 60m high. the entire complex is surrounded by multiple walls and there are extensive carvings covering almost every inch of the complex. we spent a good two hours wandering around here.
actually, this was already our second time at Angkor Wat. we had already gone to Angkor Wat the evening before. after 5pm you don't need a pass to visit the temples, so the day we arrived in siem reap we headed out to Angkor Wat after checking into our hotel. we wanted to see the sunset from the top of Angkor Wat, but it was not to be. by the time we got to the center of the temple they were starting to close it up and kick people out. as it turns out there was a big thunder storm heading in from the east. so we got a chance to sit in Angkor Wat (not at the top though) with the sun setting on one side and a very active lightning storm and lots of thunder comming from the other. the lighting was great and it was an awesome scene. while leaving the temple complex the rain clouds finally reached us and a real downpour started.
after taking a break to relax and get some overpriced lunch and coffee at the angkor cafe (the only air conditioned resturant near Angkor Wat) we took off again to see: Ta Promh (a temple that has been overgrown by the jungle) Sra Srang, Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, and Phnom Bakheng. Phnom Bakheng is on a hill near Angkor Wat and is pretty much the sunset spot. there was a huge crowd there but that didn't make the sunset any less attractive.
so after exploring temples for 14 hours (5am till 7pm) we were dead tired and headed home. our tuk-tuk ride back was hell. we got stuck in traffic (ie, we were sucking on vehicle exhaust) and the dust level seemed unusually high. by the time we got back to our hotel our throats were killing. i got a slight fever that night and felt really crappy the next couple days. (coughing up happy green things, etc.) unfortunatly the three day pass is only good for three *consecutive* days, so i felt compelled to go out and see more temples. but we took it much easier for the second two days (which were really just half days.) we also took taxis instead of tuk-tuks to try and avoid the dust and exhaust.
the second day we went to temples that were outside the central area. Banteay Seri and Banteay Samre to the north, and Bakong and Preah Ko (both part of the Roluos group) to the south east. Banteay Seri was pretty impressive. it's a really small temple made of pink sandstone that looks like a miniature Angkor Wat and the quality of the carvings is really great.
our last day was spent finishing up the temples around Angkor Thom. we saw the Eastern Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Preah Khan, and Ta Keo.
while touring the temples we had one really bad experience. on the first day there we had one teenager come up to us while walking around and start following us and telling us about the temples and the history of cambodia (all stuff i had read from my guide books and history books.) after a while of this i told him we weren't interested in a tour guide. at this point he started asking for money, saying he had shown us around and told us about some history. i told him that he had just followed us to places we were already planning on going to and he hadn't told me anything that was not mentioned in my book. at this point he started demanding some money and calling me lots of foul names. (his engish was surprisingly good in this regard.) eventually we started waking near some security guards and he left, but i remainded a little worried for the rest of our time touring the temples since sling shots are popular around here and i thought he might come back after us. (since he had been talking about how i would have "bad luck" because of this.)
our real guide to the temples was the book Angkor (Fourth Edition), by Dawn Rooney. the first half of the book talks about the history, religion, and other background for seeing the temples. ronda read some of the first half of the book (which i still plan to read) so she was explaining some of the religious history and significance of different carvings that we saw. the second half is information about each of the temples (including maps for many of the temples) and hints about what to look for and how to see each of the temples. the book was informative but a bit out of date. the book was last updated in 2005 but it was probably only to fix typos since it still talks about walking through areas in temples that are now roped off and other things inside the temples that don't match up to reality. that said, it was still much better than having no guide.
well, after three days of wandering around wats there wasn't much left to impress us since we were pretty templed out and ready to move on.
July 16, 2005
not only did it take them an hour to debug engine problems after leaving so that we could go faster than a crawl, but once we got going it sounded like the boat was going to vibrate to pieces. you either had to sit outside on top of the boat (where you could get rained on first and then sunburned later) or you could sit inside with earplugs. of course this still seemed better than 9 hours on a bus. (since cambodia supposedly has one of the worst road systems in all of asia.)
July 15, 2005
i feel bad admitting it, but we ate dinner and drank at the FCC (Foreign Corrospondents Club) every night. course the food was pretty good there. they even had a wood fired brick oven where they made the best pizza i've had this whole trip.
we also ate lunch at an interesting little place called the boddhi tree. it's a resturant and guesthouse right across from S-21. (not a place i would want to stay.) but the food there was really good. i had some "cambodian" soup, which reminded me a lot of thai soups (like tom ka gai.) they also had some tasty rolls that consisted of a slice of grilled eggplant with a slice of prosciutto wrapped around some blue cheese. the roll was served warm with a bit of parmesan shredded and then melted on top. mmmm.
another interesting note is that there are tons of "happy pizza" resturants here. i saw the pizzas being served in most these resturants and while they aren't the best looking pizzas (imho), butyou can order them with fresh marijuana as a topping (since it's legal here.)
we started or sighseeing by going to the Choeung Ek killing fields. this is an area 14 km outside of town where the khmer rouge killed everyone from the S-21 prision (and others) and threw them into mass graves. some of the mass graves have been exhumed, but most have not. a large monument has been created which contains a large number of skulls from some of the exhumed graves. when you walk around the site and look down you realize that in many areas you walking on bits of clothes and bones that are slowly being exposed from the ground. not exactly a happy place.
after this we went to S-21, aka the Tuol Sleng Museum. this was a high school that was converted by the khmer rouge into a prision. it was used to processes counter revolutionaries and usually extract "confessions" from them. once someone was sent to the prision, that was it. there are only seven known survivors from this prision. anyone that went there was killed to keep the location and even the existence of the prision a secret.
for more info about S-21 and the Choeung Ek killing fields go read rondas blog entry about these places.
after S-21 the mood lightened a bit. we went to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. this palace blew away any we had seen in vietnam and would have made any french king proud. (actually, in the grounds there was a building donated by Napolean III. architecturally it stood out quite a bit.) the silver pagoda got it's name because the entire floor is made of pure silver tiles. it also has a bunch of gold buddhas studded with diamonds and other precious stones to match. while we were there, the old king (a new one was crowned last year) stepped out of the royal residence and gave a wave to a large crowd of people.
lastly we went to were the National Museum (which was pretty nice and had a large amount of carvings from angkor and some other items of national heritage) and the central market. (i like to try to go the main markets of every town i visit here.)
the one interesting thing i didn't do was go out to shoot guns. i've read stories about cafes outside of town here where you can shoot AK-47s, M16s, and grenade launchers for fun. in my tour guide it said that recently the government was trying to shut these places down. it seems like this is probably a half hearted effort since i got my first offer from a tuk-tuk driver to go to one of these cafes within an hour of arriving.
July 13, 2005
there was a couple from san francisco and a group of four siblings from the san diego and la areas. it was kinda strange. we all got along pretty well, ended up checked into the same hotel, and hung out for a night of chatting and drinking at the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) in phnom penh. it was a good time.
July 11, 2005
but as of right now, we're spending the night in can tho on a three day tour of the mekong delta. the day after tommorow we should be heading into cambodia. there we'll go to phenom penh and siam reap.
after that we've changed our plans. we were planning to head to thailand, but all the people we've met on this trip have raved about laos, so instead we're heading there. we're planning to fly from siam reap to pakse. from there we'll head south into the delta, and when we're done make our way back to vientien and then bankcock to fly back.
of course this current plan is all still subject to change as well. ;)
July 10, 2005
we did a very basic and quick tour our first day here checking out things like the reunification palace, the ho chi minh city museum, the fine art museum, and the war remenants museum. one of my favorite points was the notre dame cathedral. we didn't go inside because there was what looked to be a funeral going on, but looking in from outside, i did see that jesus had a neon halo, which is pretty funny.
aside from that, saigon has a pretty big internation city feel that hanoi didn't have. the streets are bigger, the hotels are bigger and fancier. there are more international resturants. etc.
on busses, the tourists are always at the back of the bus. most tourist busses will also take locals on them when they're not full, and i've seen the people running the busses ask tourists to move back in the bus so that locals can sit up front. kinda funny.
it also happens on trains, but for a compleatly different reason. most tourists book trains through their hotels. all the hotels but their tickets through the same company in each town that goes to the train station and buys up entire cars. so normally when you book your ticket in your hotel, your pretty much guaranteed to get a seat next to other tourists. your other option is booking at an official train office. we did this once and we got seated with some locals. but this is a bit difficult because getting to the booking offices is a pain, and there may not be anyone that speaks english there. also the trains fill up earlier, and when the official office tells you there is no space, there may actually still be a space that you could get through the hotel, since they have essentially reserved a bunch of tickets by buying in bulk.
July 9, 2005
another great place we went to was hoavien. man after a month of travel this place was a godsend. they brew all their own beer and they have a really really yummy dark lager on tap. they also have a unique system of serving it that i've never seen before. aside from ordering different sized glasses (i had two half liter glasses, each only $1.66 USD) you can order one to five liters of beer. then they fill a 3 foot tall thick glass cylinder with a brass base that has a beer spout on it and bring it to your table so you and your friends can refill your own glasses at will. while here we also snacked on deep fried cheese served with boiled potatoes, sliced tomatoes, and sour cream.... mmmm....
after drinking at hoavener we got dinner at bo tung xeo (where we had a tasty beef dish that we grilled at our table) and commenced to do a small pub crawl
that didn't go as planned. one of the bars on the crawl we couldn't find, another really really sucked, and we ended up spending all our time at sheridans irish pub. it's a really small joint but it has a good irish pub feel and some really good beers on tap. apparently it's been around for over 12 years. there was also a large band of locals playing and singing classic irish and americana songs, and doing a suprisingly good job at it. needless to say, we went home pretty happy from here.
July 8, 2005
once we quickly checked into a place, we went for a walk on the beach. we ended up going to jibes where i rented a surfboard for half an hour while ronda sipped some drinks. the waves were really small when i started and the rain and wind only got heavier untill it was all blown out and i gave up.
after that we wandered around mui ne to look for some dinner. mui ne is basically a long beach, with a bunch of small hotels spread out on it. past the hotels is a single road that parallels the beach, and past that are a few resturants and not much else. we walked around till we found sheridans irish pub, which turned out to be a bad hotel bar blasting vietnamese pop music, so we left there quickly. we ended up having a decent dinner at the forest resturant. mui ne is not known for its food.
we called it an early night and got up the next morning to get some ocean time before leaving. the rain had passed during the night, but the waves weren't any good for surfing so i just played around for an hour in the water trying to body surf. all i managed to do was get tossed around and get a sunburn. after that we cleaned up and hopped on another tourist bus heading to saigon at around 2pm.
July 7, 2005
first the bad... we asked around and managed to find a bia hoi. they served a locally brewed lager beer for which i can't remember the name. well, regardless of it's real name me and ronda nicknamed it bia ass. the reason is that it smelled like sewer. literally. i was really excited when we found the place and i immediatly ordered a pitcher of beer. we got it and started drinking, and then we realized that it smelled really really bad. at first i thought that the cup and/or pitcher had been washed in sewer water. (not an uncommon practice.) or even that a joke had been played on us by the staff. but the staff was not laughing and the serving ware was not being washed in the gutter. we ended up leaving the rest of the pitcher on the table and going to dinner with the hope that we wouldn't be sick. then the next day, we were on a day trip and went to a small resturant. i ordered a beer with lunch, and low and behold, they brought out a bottle of the same beer. this time i smelled my glass first and realized that it was just the beer that was stinky. it was funny because the beer tasted fine. (most lagers don't have much of a taste in my opinion anyway.) but the damn thing still smelled like rotting shit, which makes it a bit hard to drink.
now onto the good drinking. there's a bar called saigon nite in dalat, and if you're in town you should drop by. the drinks are resonably priced (not bia hoi prices, but resonable) and the owner rocks. i got my ass kicked repeatedly at connect four. i was trying really hard to win and he wasn't even paying attention. i lost about 95 games and tied about 5. (he was actually a few pieces short of a complete connect 4 set and this really helped me tie a few games.) we also played a bunch of connect five, which is completly unlike connect four, and i fared a little better at this. while i was busy getting my ass kicked, ronda discovered his guest book in which many people warned of his "mad connect four skills." a really friendly guy in a pretty low key bar. we stopped by there three times for night caps and ass woopins.
when we got there we went to the central market, which had indoor, outdoor, and covered sections. the upstairs of the indoor section was all food stalls, and here i had some ok pho. (but not great.) eventually, i found some really good pho at a little place on the walk from our hotel to the market. it was great shop and i went there once a day. the pho was really good. all the right spices, and a mixture of raw and cooked beef. interestingly enough, the pho resturant also had really tasty coffee. unlike other places, here when they served the coffee, they also provided a plastic glass of hot water that you could place your coffee glass into to keep it warm.
this was also the first place i found some banh mi that i really liked. the rolls were fresh and light and i had them filled with some butter, cilantro, shredded carrot and some white stuff (also shreadded and i'm not sure what it was) cooked pork or chicked, and pork crack (i'm not sure what the stuff is really named, but this is the nick name my roomate gave it, it's pork that has been made into a really light, almost crystaline, hair like structure.) this was finished off with some really spicy chili sauce. the banh mi were different from the ones back home in that the amount of fillings was really small and the rolls were very light, so i would usually eat at least two during the day. but this was ok since they were only about $0.25 USD a piece. the banh mi shops where also pastry shops that had both sweet and savory pastries that we also picked up. ronda really liked the small, light angel food cake pastries that were an excellent coffee snack.
lastly we decided to splurge and go to the most expensive resturant in dalat that we knww of, Le Rabelais in the sophitel hotel. we had the place to ourselves most the night with our own personal piano player (who i assumed was actually tape until i saw him at the end of the night.) there were two fixed menu's for the evening, ronda got the one for $19 USD and i got the one for $32. the reason i got the more expensive one was because it had cheese course. the cheese course was a bit of a sad joke. i had some tasteless brie, a piece of a slice of roquefort from a plastic container, some munster, some boursin, and (the best cheese on the plate) some ok reblochon. i felt a small tremor when the served it to me... i think it was caused by every dead frenchman in the world rolling over in their graves. but the cheese plate aside the dinner wasn't all horrible. the deserts and apetizers were just ok, and the main courses were actually pretty good. i had duck (and it was served pratically rare) with lots of fresh vegetables, mashed potates, and an interesting pepper sauce. ronda had some pork in a mustard sauce with veggies and potatoes as well. dalat is known for growing vegetables and the ones we got were great. a nice variety, very fresh, and not over prepared.
July 6, 2005
we got a couple drivers, recommended by the woman who runs our hotel, who spoke really good english to take us to some of the villigaes outside dalat.
by far, the most interesting part of the trip was seeing how silk is produced. starting at a farm where they raise larva up to the cucoon stage and then sell them to a factory where they take apart the cucoons and spin them into silk threads.
past that, we got to see two really nice waterfalls. one of them we had to hike to, and of course the hike was on the same slippery clay as our previous hikes, so of course i bailed really good and smeared brown clay all over my rear end. needless to say, it looked like i soiled my pants horribly and i was getting good laughs from random strangers for the rest of the day.
we also went to a mushroom farm where we saw how they grew wood ear mushrooms for market.
the ride back got interesting because we managed to kill two bikes. ronda's driver had a chinese motor bike. these bikes are known for being cheap, in all sensed of the word. well, as it happens, the bike overheated while climbing back up the mountain to dalat. so our drivers flagged some random stranger down and got him to take ronda. this was going fine until his rear tire blew out. after that, my driver took ronda back to our hotel while i started to hoof it back. after a short while, the driver with the chinese bike caught up with me (since he had gotten a bottle of water which he used to cool down his bike) and gave me a ride back to the hotel.
another interesting thing i learned here is that the goverment doesn't allow anyone to have bikes bigger than 150cc. only the police can have bigger bikes. earlier i was suprised by how small some of the bikes i've seen here are. (i think the smallest i've seen here is 50cc, which is unbelievably tiny.)
July 4, 2005
it was an organized tour done via phat tire ventures. the hike we did was called jungle fever. it was a two day, one night hike that went through some varried terrain. we went through pine forests, jungle, and pushed our way through lots of tall ferns and reeds.
one of the difficult parts of the hike was that when you weren't in the jungle the trail you were hiking on was mostly hard damp clay, so there was a lot of slipping going on. i took a couple really good bails and a lot of close calls.
to make a bad situation worse, it also seems that they are compleatly unfamiliar with the concept of switchbacks here, so when there was a serious hill to climb you would simply go strait up it on the slippery clay trail. good luck. for the second day they gave us walking sticks since they could see we were struggeling.
another interesting thing we learned was that there are leecehs in the jungles. they're not like leeches i'm familiar with from movies and novels. they look like little worms, about an inch long, and pretty narrow. (about 1/16 of an inch.) they gave us some extra large "socks" to protect us from the leeches. we put these new "socks" over our hiking socks and into our boots. they came up to our knees and after putting them on we smeared the exposed outside of these "socks" with some ointment that would stop the leeches from crawling up past the top of the "socks."
the night was supposed to be spent "camping", and it was... kinda. we spent the night in a tent, on a concrete slab, under a large thatch umbrella. we were staying at a lakeside "resort" where there were lots of concrete slabs for people to sleep on. each of the slabs was protected by a large thatch umbrella, which was handy since it was raining most the night. the resort also had a large central building with no walls, just a really big thatch roof, that served as a dining area. we had dinner and breakfast here. they also (thank god) had a small store where we could buy over priced canned beer.
lastly, the resort had a bunch of "pets." their "pets" were a couple elephants which you could pay to ride. instead me and ronda bought a couple bunches of bananas and fed them instead. i've never been that close to an animal that big. the larger of the two was almost twice as tall as me. it was pretty cool. they also had a couple cages with monkeys in them that looked pretty sad. we tried to feed the monkeys bananas only to discover they weren't interested and all they really wanted was grass. they had already eaten all the grass they could reach so ronda went around ripping up grass else where and feeding it to them. the last entry to the "pets" collection was a couple horses that ronda of course said "hi" too.
we also had a pretty good hiking guide that spoke resonable english. we spent a good bit of time talking to him about vietnam and we had some good conversations.
we got done with the hike just in time since it started ito rain really heavily on our drive back to dalat. needless to say we were quite tired afterwards. (we spent the day before the hike biking around dalat, which is a pretty hilly town, so we were already tired and sore when we got started.)