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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Things I May Have Forgotten to Share Along the Way

As the adventures in Asia are coming to a close. I noticed a few things I have failed to mention. Don’t worry, we’ll start with the good …

Hoi An, Vietnam. Beautiful even in the rain.

Hoi An, Vietnam. Beautiful even in the rain.

Cool boats, on the shores of Vietnam.

Great boats, on the shores of Vietnam.

Wonderful things happening, this store sells recycled goods hand crafted by the hearing impaired and all the profits go to those who need heart surgeries. Very cool.

Wonderful things happening, this store sells recycled goods hand crafted by the hearing impaired and all the profits go to those who need heart surgeries. Very cool.

Another great idea, a tea shop run by the hearing impaired. Customers point to the cubes with words to communicate.

Another great idea, a tea shop run by the hearing impaired. Customers point to the cubes with words to communicate.

Artisans of Angkor, a non-profit organization that trains Cambodians in art craft, creating jobs for thousands.

Artisans of Angkor, a non-profit organization that trains Cambodians in art craft, creating jobs for over a thousand people. They provide free tours to their workshops and out to their silk farm.

Dragon fruit, I love it. Someone said it tastes like a mix of a pear and a kiwi, yum!

Dragon fruit, I love it. Someone said it tastes like a mix of a pear and a kiwi, yum!

This is fun, it's called a hot pot. You cook your own food in it at your table.

This is fun, it’s called a hot pot. You cook your own food in it at your table.

This little tree frog was perched on my doorknob awaiting my arrival in Ko Lanta, Thailand.

This little tree frog was perched on my doorknob awaiting my arrival in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

Did I mention Hoi An is beautiful even in the rain?

Did I mention Hoi An is beautiful even in the rain?

Okay, on to the bad. First of all, these aren’t necessarily bad, they are experiences that make life interesting, or lead to a good story, or teach us something. I actually have little to report.

The buses in Vietnam were interesting. You climbed up into a seat and tried to sleep through the night. Some roads were worse than others, but this mode of transportation was tough on this light sleeper.

The buses in Vietnam were interesting. You climbed up into a seat and tried to sleep through the night. Some roads were worse than others, but this mode of transportation was tough on this light sleeper.

My next bus attempt was supposed to be a shorter  one, but you know you're in for a long haul when everyone is examining the tire that is no longer on the bus. I decided my time with buses was finished after this one.

My next bus attempt was supposed to be a shorter
one, but you know you’re in for a long haul when everyone is examining the tire that is no longer on the bus. I decided my time with buses was finished after this one.

Train travel was much better.

Train travel was much better.

Finally, the ugly. Now remember this is a matter of opinion …

I had to look closely to see that these were baskets full of eels for sale, maybe they are tasty? Maybe they are not so ugly after all.

I had to look closely to see that these were baskets full of eels for sale, maybe they are tasty? Maybe they are not so ugly after all.

Maybe you guessed it, but this is silk worm salad. And yes, I tried it. Just imagine the silk worms are like little potatoes, they taste similar.

Maybe you guessed it, but this is silk worm salad. And yes, I tried it. Just imagine the silk worms are like little potatoes, they taste similar.

You probably don't want to hear about this one, and yes I tried this too, you never know unless you try. Pig's brain, not that tasty (I'd rather eat bugs)

You probably don’t want to hear about this one, and yes I tried this too, you never know unless you try. Pig’s brain, not that tasty (I’d rather eat bugs)

So we can’t end on ugly, there was far too much beauty seen in the past three months, so let’s end on how I ended. In the tropics of Thailand …

Guest property bordering National Park, near Krabi, Thailand

Guest property bordering National Park, near Krabi, Thailand

Harvesting rubber in a rubber tree plantation, Krabi, Thailand.

Harvesting rubber in a rubber tree plantation, Krabi, Thailand.

Bird of Paradise, Krabi, Thailand

Bird of Paradise, Krabi, Thailand

Park on the island Ko Lanta

Park on the island Koh Lanta

Insert towel, Koh Lanta

Ko Lanta, Thailand

Koh Lanta, Thailand

 

 

 


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From Mulberry Bush to Woven Silk – The Silk Process in Cambodia

My final day in Cambodia, I took a tour of a silk farm with Artisans of Angkor in Cambodia. I had no idea how much work goes into a beautifully woven piece of silk. I was surprised by the work put into the pieces and the time it took, many took over a month to complete.

First comes the mulberry bush, the food source for silk worms.

Mulberry bushes

Mulberry bushes

The silk worms

The silk worms

The cocoons, they are drying in the sun to kill the worm inside, although this sounds cruel, once hatched the moths only live a few hours, just long enough to mate and lay eggs.

The cocoons, they are drying in the sun to kill the worm inside. If they developed into moths, once hatched, the moths only live a few hours, just long enough to mate and lay eggs.

The silk is spun from the cocoon

The silk is spun from the cocoon

The silk is called raw if it is more course, fine silk is smoother and takes more work to produce.

The silk is called raw if it is more course, fine silk is smoother and takes more work to produce.

It takes a lot of work to prepare the loom

It takes a lot of work to prepare the loom

The threads are counted and tied to prevent the dye from soaking in. This creates spools with patterns.

The threads are counted and tied to prevent the dye from soaking in. This creates spools with patterns.

Tying the pattern

Tying the pattern

The dye comes from natural sources, here she is preparing the dye from a plant

To hold the color, the silk is boiled

To hold the color, the silk is boiled

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The prepared spools are shown on the bench, the weaving is done very quickly as the pattern has already been prepared

The prepared spools are shown on the bench, the weaving is done very quickly as the pattern has already been prepared

The ends of another raw silk scarf are tied as shown.

The ends of another raw silk scarf are tied as shown.

Working the looms

Working the looms

 


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Highlights of a Far Too Short Visit in Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Most likely the most famous temple in all of Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat was on my must see list, but it wasn’t the only highlight of my time based out of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temples are stunning, but I’m thankful it brought me to a country I’d like to return to.

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I only had three days, and I decided to make the most of them. I spent a long day exploring the temples of Angkor Wat, meeting my tuktuk driver at 5 a.m. gave me an early enough start to see my fill of incredible temples.

On day two, I wanted to see the people and get out into the countryside. I found the perfect not too touristy tour with a wonderful guide. I learned so much. We started off biking along dirt roads in a small village. Here the children were excited to see tourists, something new to them. One baby even cried, as we looked unfamiliar. We continued biking to a daily fish market. Our bike tour was a great way to see smiling faces of the Cambodian people.

Afterwards, we drove out to Kampong Khleang, the less visited area of fishing villages. This area consists of ten villages and about 1,950 families. I was fasicinated by the people living there. Their houses were built on stilts reaching 10 meters high. There are two seasons, wet and dry. In the dry season, the people are able to farm a bit and access their home by land. In the wet season, the water reaches their porches and everything is done by boat. Even the chickens have their own coop on stilts!

I had lunch in one of these homes, it was lovely inside and I thought I could live in one, but I’m not sure how I’d feel when the rains begin. After lunch and a great discussion about the area, we took a boat ride out to the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, Tonle Sap. Along the way we saw a village that floats all year. It even had a floating school! How would you like to take a boat to school every morning? And what about recess?

This little one wanted to ride with us.

This little one wanted to ride with us.

Our curious followers

Our curious followers

Puppy love

Puppy love

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Daily fish market

Daily fish market, the fish are transported in bags of ice to keep them fresh

How about some freshwater snake?

How about some freshwater snake? Or fish paste? One way they keep fish around longer is to ground it up and store it in buckets. They also dry it in the sun.

 

Village home

Village home

 

Lotus flower field, the leaves have many uses: a waterproof hat, biodegradable plates and to go "boxes", and silk threads can be made from the stems.

Lotus flower field, the leaves have many uses: a waterproof hat, biodegradable plates and to go “boxes”, and silk threads can be made from the stems.

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

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Inside house on stilts

Inside house on stilts

Photos showing the two seasons, wet and dry (Our curious lunch chef in the background)

Photos showing the two seasons, wet and dry

Boat dock

Boat dock

A year round floating village

A floating village

A floating school

A floating school

Tonle Sap

Tonle Sap

 

 

 

 


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A Perfect Fairytale Setting – Hue, Vietnam

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Ancient tombs, a walled fortress, a forbidden city and a pagoda along the Perfume River, even in the misty days of drizzle, Hue seems magical.

I’m partial to the tomb of the emperor Tu Duc, he was one of the longest rulers in Vietnam.  According to my wonderful motorbike driver and personal tour guide Long (or Dragon), Tu Duc had 100 wives and was unable to have children due to a childhood illness. Known for his compassion and kindness, he was also a poet. He enjoyed the beauty of nature and his living quarters display his love of art and tranquility.

Perfume River pagoda

Perfume River pagoda

 

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A more elaborate tomb of emperor Khai Dihn

A more elaborate tomb of emperor Khai Dihn

Tu Duc

Tu Duc

 

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Tomb on the property of Tu Duc

 

 

An autobiography written by Tu Duc

An autobiography written by Tu Duc

 

Imperial City

Imperial City

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Motorbike guide Long (Dragon)

Motorbike guide Long (Dragon)

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Colors of Sapa

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Sapa is a beautiful town in the mountains of Northern Vietnam. Here the landscape is incredible with terraced rice fields set into the hillsides. Vietnam’s tallest mountain, Mt. Fan Si Pan, is the town’s backdrop. The rice that is grown here is harvested once a year in September, when the green stalks turn to gold. Most of the rice that is exported to other countries comes from the South of Vietnam, because of warmer weather, the South can grow three crops a year.

Giang taking a break during our gorgeous hike

Giang taking a break during our gorgeous hike

What makes Sapa unique is its five different indigenous groups living in the surrounding villages. About 50 percent of the population is Black H’mong and about 25% is Dao. The other groups include the Yao, Tay, Zay, and XaPho. Many of these beautiful people still wear their colorful traditional clothing.

While trekking with my new friend, Giang, who is Black H’mong, I learned many things about her culture. The H’mong are mostly farmers and each village has its own dialect of the H’mong language. Giang said that if someone is H’mong and lives in the village next door, she usually is unable to understand them. Families live together to help with the farm. If a woman marries, she lives with her husband’s family. The H’mong also naturally dye their clothes in indigo. Giang showed me how when I rubbed the leaves of the indigo plant in my hand, they turned a deep purple. Tourists also support the indigenous people by buying their handicrafts.

Every Sunday, in a town called Bac Ha, about 80 km from Sapa, there’s an amazing market. Here many people from villages in the hills gather to sell food and livestock. One of the largest groups at the market are the Flower H’mong. The women of the Flower H’mong have the most incredible outfits. I enjoyed watching them shop for colorful new skirts and leg wraps. As I sat next to them with a bowl of Vietnamese soup called pho, I felt dressed rather boring in comparison.

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Indigo dyed cloth drying in the sun

Indigo dyed cloth drying in the sun

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Village school, I love their garden!

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Girls learning to drive a motorbike, a popular form of transportation.

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Flower H’mong

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Time to shop

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Pho for lunch


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Nature’s Masterpieces – Caves of Vietnam

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Vietnam is home to some of the biggest caves in the world. After hearing that these caves were unlike most others, I headed to Dong Hoi to visit the UNESCO world heritage site, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. This park is incredibly beautiful, containing: tropical jungle, threatened animals such as tigers and Asian Elephants, a primate reserve for the endangered black langur, 400 million year old karst mountains and hundreds of caves.

These aren’t just any caves, but really big caves. I was amazed that some of these caves were discovered not too long ago and that caves are continually being discovered. The park is home to Son Doong Cave, thought to be the world’s largest until the “supercave” was found in China this year. It was found by a local hunter in 1990. This cave has only been open to the public for 1 year. It costs around 3,000 dollars to trek and sleep inside the cave, which has its own jungle and river.

I explored two other caves, Thien Durong or Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave. These caves were magnificent. The stalagmites (I remember these as rock formations that might reach the top) and the stalactites (I remember these as rock formations that hang tight from the top) looked like artistic sculptures. In Paradise cave you can walk 1 km along a well lit boardwalk and listen to the water drips echo. In Phong Nha cave you have to enter by a river in a small boat.

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In the Land of Motorbikes – Hanoi, Vietnam

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Welcome to Vietnam!

Hanoi is the 2nd largest city, its name means city between the rivers.

The currency here is called dong.

21,000 dong = 1 dollar

The cost of the amazing egg coffee = 20,000 dong

 

Coming from peaceful, bike friendly Luang Prabang and landing in Hanoi, capital city of Vietnam is a shock to the senses. I needed some time to adjust, just crossing the street was a challenge. The advice I received beforehand (when crossing just go for it and don’t stop, motorbikes will steer around you) came in handy. I had one, busy day here and retreated to nearby Halong Bay.

Upon returning, I thought it unfair to not give Hanoi the time it deserved and I stayed for a few more days. I’m so glad I did! I saw the ancient art of water puppetry, incredible. I took in the weekend night market. I visited a great museum about the women of Vietnam. This gave me great insight on Vietnam life. Some women wake at 4:30 am to buy goods from the wholesale market and then sell them on the streets until 7 pm!

I also dove into the street food scene, which can be daunting to some travelers, but with the help with Miss Moon, an excellent guide, this became a highlight of my travels. Miss Moon knew the amazing secrets of the city, where to find the unique, rare and original eats. This included a classic cafe with “egg coffee” and the thin stuffed Hanoi pancake made with rice powder.

One of my favorite memories was watching this city unfold. I had taken a tightly packed sleeper bus and arrived at 5:00 a.m. To my surprise, the city was actually quiet, but in a matter of an hour it picked up pace. It was amazing to see entire street side restaurants being carried in on baskets balanced by a bamboo stick. Oh, and I can’t forget to include the people I met. The people of Hanoi love to practice their English and the conversations are wonderful.

 

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Weekend night market, a walking street

You can find everything for sale on the streets of Hanoi.

You can find everything for sale on the streets of Hanoi.

 

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Foodie expert, Miss Moon

 

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Hanoi speciality, the pancake, rice powder steamed on silk, filled with mushrooms and eaten with sweet basil and cilantro.

There's a candy street! The streets in old Hanoi are named after what they sell, there's silk street, shoe street, coffee street and more.

There’s a candy street! The streets in old Hanoi are named after what they sell, there’s silk street, shoe street, coffee street and more.

 

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A speciality served only near the New Year (here they celebrate same date as Chinese New Year)

 

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Early morning noodle pick up.

 

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Street side food set-up, everything is carried in!

 

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Outdoor hair salon

 

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Egg coffee, this coffee only spot opened in 1949, so tasty!

 

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Water puppets, with live music and singing, the people controlling puppets are behind the screen standing in the water, such talent!

 

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My favorite Hanoi treat, stuffed with sweet custard, the kids line up every morning for this hard to find spot.

 

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One more favorite- tamarind broth soup, filled with tofu, noodles, greens, and crab.