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Archive for the ‘Post-Korea trip’ Category

I figure I should finish tell the story of my trip back to Canada. It’s been dragging on for long enough.

We (my new friend Nicole and I) took the bus from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap. It was set up at our guest house and we were told that there would be a tuk-tuk driver waiting for us there, waiting to take us to whatever place we wanted. Apparently this free transportation service was included with the bus ticket. Great deal, we figured. Sure enough, there was a guy with our name on a sign. We got on his tuk-tuk and I asked him to drive us to this place (Yellow Guest house) someone in Singapore recommended. Our driver told me it was too far, so he’d bring us to another place and if it wasn’t good, then we could go to the place I wanted. I don’t remember the name of the place he brought us, that’s one of the disadvantages of writing the blog post 5 months after the fact, but I remember being extremely disappointed with it.

We checked for available rooms, but they were booked for the night. Perfect, right? I can go to that other place. Wrong. Here’s what they did have. Mats on the ground outside with bug nets. Seriously.

Here’s the thing about traveling in South East Asia for extended periods of time. You get cheap. I’m cheap by nature, but traveling there makes you cheaper. With this said, I’ll continue with the story.

So we asked how much the mats cost, Nicole was totally digging the idea of sleeping outside. I thought it was ridiculous because they were clearly catering to a demographic would wouldn’t see how they were exploiting the perceived romanticism of “sleeping outside” (I have no problem with sleeping outside, just don’t try to make mats lying outside into something they’re not). I didn’t want to stay there at all since I felt like I had gotten conned. The mats were $1. You’re obviously thinking, that’s an outrageous deal. No matter how cheap you are, you can’t say no to that! Well sir or madam, I can. For $1, I could get a cot outside in the hall under a bug net near room of people who were partying all night or I could pay $3 and get my own room with a tv and my own washroom in a quiet area of town. Obviously, to me, that’s a great deal. Since it was late and we were getting up at 5am, I gave in to the $1 cots (not happy about it, mind you). I made my way to the Yellow Guest House (a 10 minute walk from where I was) later that evening and reserved a room there for the next few nights.

What’s more, the guy (our tuk-tuk driver) offered to drive us around Ankor Wat the next day for a set price. Since we didn’t know what reasonable rates were, we agreed at a slightly discounted price. When I walked to the Yellow Guest House, I asked them about going rates for tuk-tuks. Turns out were were paying way too much. So not only did this guy rip us off (in my opinion) by bringing us to that lame guest house, but he was also charging us way too much for the tuk-tuk. We found another guy around town who would do it for cheaper, as I didn’t want to haggle with the original guy to get a reasonable rate, and I left him a note at the guest house explaining my frustrations since no one knew his phone number and I couldn’t get in touch with him.

It seems really petty now that I think about it, but it really angered me when it happened.

The next day, we went to Ankor Wat for the sunrise (which was pretty epic) and we wandered around the temples all day until sunset. It was a long day of temples, but it was worth it. To be honest, I was a bit templed out after that 12 hours.

My second day in Siam Reap was spent sleeping in, walking around town and taking a cooking class (at a place called Tigre de Papier. Highly recommended). Overall, it was a successful day.

On my third and last full day in Siam Reap, I rented a bike and biked around Ankor Wat, no specific plans in mind, just checking things out as I passed them. I didn’t really see any new temples, but I enjoyed cruising around and checking stuff out, chewing the fat with some local kids and generally relaxing.

The morning after my bike trip around Ankor Wat, I took a flight to Kuala Lumpur in order to catch a night flight to Abu Dhabi for the last section of my trip.

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Back to the travel bloggin’.

In Phnom Penh, we went to the S-21 prison museum. This converted high-school was used as a prison and torture center by the Khmer Rouge regime. It was an incredibly depressing place. You can’t even start to imagine how such atrocities were committed by man on his fellow countryman. There’s one part of the museum with pictures of all the victims (they were methodically cataloged). I couldn’t take it, so I just walked outside. At the exit, I saw a woman throwing up. Seeing the victims, helpless and worn-down, and knowing what they went through is an extremely jarring experience. At the exit of the museum, they had a guestbook. Loads of people from all over the world had signed and commented. One struck me as exceptionally naive. A guest had written (I’m paraphrasing) “The Cambodian people have a great strength of spirit to lift themselves up from such a tragedy. We must learn from this and make sure it never happens again.”

It is happening again. And again. And again.

If some day North Korea and South Korea are united, there will no doubt be a Peace Museum in Pyongyang where people will be able to read about all the human rights violations, shudder and pass their judgments. And you can be sure that at the exit, there will be a guest book where people will write “The Korean people have a great strength of spirit to lift themselves up from such a tragedy. We must learn from this and make sure it never happens again.” It seems we don’t really learn from our (humanity’s)  mistakes.

I’ll be way less cynical in the next post. I promise!

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Ok, back to the regular programing.We’re only about 3 weeks off from “real time”…

I crossed into Cambodia by bus from Saigon. According to my friend Greg (the guy I went to Japan and Jeju with), it was better to into Cambodia by road than boat just because you get to see the difference between the countries so clearly. I think he was right. The second we went through the border, things changed. Immigration was a pretty unique. We just lined up, the bus guy brought our passports with visas to the stamp man, they called our group across the boarder and we waited to retrieve our passport. It was so unorganized and so fly-by-night. It was great (added bonus, I got my passport back! Though there was a minute or so when that was doubtful). We crossed into Cambodia and life slowed down immediately. It was amazing. Just like that, the scooters of Saigon disappeared and things just got really mellow.

I teamed up with a Dutch girl I met on the bus for my time in the capital. After a bit of looking, we found a really great place to call home for a few nights. Get this. For 15$ (7.5$ each), we got this giant apartment with two giant rooms, a tv and hot water! My room had a double bed (and a bunk bed, just for good measure). Nicole’s room had a fold-out bed, a closet and the bathroom. For 15$. Amazing.

I’ll go over what we did next time. I don’t want to run out of “interesting” things to talk about too quickly.

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About 12 years ago, my parents surprised me with a trip to Disney World. I had no idea it was going down, they had planned everything perfectly. My teachers were in on it (they had given me homework) and so was my best friend. To this day, I’m still impressed at how well they pulled it off.

In mid-October, I started planning for a surprise of my own. Mid-October’s about the time I figured I couldn’t travel around for too long. I got tired and I could see that I’d get homesick soon. I needed home for a rest. So I bought a ticket to go home for December 20th, at that point, two months down the road. A few days later, I bought a ticket to go visit my friend in Abu Dhabi a week before the flight home (Air Asia fly there cheap from KL). I knew that if my dad saw I was in the middle east around Christmas, he’d figure I was heading back home, so I slowed down the blog a bit. After Thailand and Myanmar, backed up by about 2 weeks, the blog was set just right. I had it so that as my visa expired for Vietnam (in blog time), I’d be a few hours from their door.

There were a couple close calls where I thought they figured out my plan (you can see those in the comments). Luckily, they didn’t.

So last Sunday, after some 30-ish hours of travelling, I showed up at my parent’s house without them knowing. My biggest fear was that they wouldn’t be home. I didn’t have pants with me, so I figure it would be super cold to wait for them in short during winter. As my cab got towards the house, I saw that the lights were on. Perfect. But then we got closer and I saw people walking up to the door. Nuts. My parents had company. I waited in the cab in the neighbor’s driveway for a few minutes and then walked up to the door. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but it had to be done. I rang and my (Moncton) mom answered the door. She looked at me for a few seconds in silence and I eventually said (in French) “you don’t recognize you’re own son anymore?”. She screamed and cried. Apparently, from upstairs, my dad told the guests “I think that’s my son down there!”.

You can pretty much figure out the rest yourself.

I only posted this on Christmas because we wanted to surprise the rest of my family at the Christmas eve get-together. Now I’m off to Quebec for New Year’s eve. I’ll talk about the “lost” two weeks over the next little while since I doubt things will be as exciting as they were now that I’m settling down for a bit.

Anyway, I’m happy I pulled it off and I hope you too have wonderful surprised this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

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Here I am again. Back in Ho Chi Minh City.

The bike trip went well, but I don’t think I’d recommend it. I saw some pretty nice waterfalls and a few cool factories, but I think it’s more a thing someone would do if they’re new to Asia. Many of the things we saw I had seen in other places. Granted, they were slightly different, but not enough to justify the cost of the trip.

One really neat thing did happen though. I took a walk after supper (an evening constitutional) and I got hailed by these people hanging outside their house. Usually people who hail me are tuk tuk drivers, pimps, dealers or massage staff. These were just normal people hanging out by they house. They didnt’ speak English, but we had a little “chat” for about 2 hours. One of the kids brought his English book from school, and I used it to communicate. Sure, it was tough, but it was fun. Smiling and a bit of body language goes a long way here. So now, I have friends in the highlands of Vietnam. That’s pretty neat, right? The man who hailed me was getting a kick out of our time together. We took a picture together (he was standing on a chair) and he set it as his cellphone background. Nice people.

This was probably the highlight of my Vietnam bike trip. The rest was just ok (but not 150$ US of ok). Coming in second in terms of highlights, would have to be driving in the Saigon traffic. It’s just so congested and crazy. I’d describe the traffic as an old Hanna Barbera cartoon, only one where the background stays the same and the foreground (cars and scooters) keeps on repeating itself. It’s just so silly.

I’ve got one more night here. I’ll be spending it at the same guest house as before. It’s cheap and the lady is nice (though it’s crazy noisy) and I’ll be heading off to Cambodia tomorrow in the morning. I wonder how that place is.

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Sure enough, I’m really digging Dalat. It’s way cooler (temperature wise) and people seem more relaxed. The city has a really nice vibe to it too. This being said, I’m not really sure what to do here. Things seems a bit spread out. One of the ways to see the area, according to most touristic sources (Lonely Planet and travel agents), is getting a guide from a group called the Easy Riders. These guys have bikes and experience and cruise around with tourists, showing them “The Real Vietnam”.

While lounging about near the central square, I was approached by one such rider. He showed me his reference book (a common practice. Clients leave reviews in whatever language they want. Tour guides can then use this to prove they’re good) and he seems legit (he also showed me his driver’s licence, insurance, membership card and gave me his home address since I need to give him a deposit. He’s got me sold on a 2 day one night trip back to Saigon. This trip is extremely expensive for me (150$), but all the review rave about it. Since I’m not really digging Vietnam at the moment, I figure I’ll give it a shot. Though it’s my budget for about 4 days (it’ll come to about 190$ with accommodation and food), it’ll be worth it if I can really enjoy Vietnam and want to see more of it. As I stand now, I’m not too impressed. I find the scenery to be the same as Myanmar and the people to be extremely greedy.

Stay tuned.

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I’m pretty happy I joined up with these guys. Though they travel differently, they’re fun to be around. Their rugby buddies are down in Vietnam for a few weeks and they’ve joined up with us for the time being. The weather’s not as sunny as I would have hoped for (since it’s a beach town), but it’s not bad.

A few days ago, we all (me and the two original guys) went diving. I really wasn’t expecting to have a great time since (as you may remember), I don’t feel too strongly about diving. Well, to my great surprise, I really enjoyed myself! The diving was really nice (though the water was a bit cold and the visibility was a bit bad at 5 to 10m) and the people on the boat were super fun. We had two dives and then we had lunch at a restaurant. A steal for 32$!

The next day (now the other guys were with us), we took a boat to four of the local islands. This boat is a sort of party boat, where you’ve got a guide and drinks and everyone has a grand old day. At first, we went to a pretty lame aquarium, so I feared for the worst. Maybe this was going to end up being super lame. After that, a band on the boat started up and they made up sing songs from our countries (I did Alouette). It was really fun and a great way to loosen up. After that, we had, well, honestly I’m not sure what came first, either lunch or open sea bar with wine. The rest, as you can imagine lacks detail. At the end of the day, my nose was quiet red and my cheeks quite rosy. We had gone to the aquarium, done a bit of snorkeling, had our sea bar and checked out a beach (4 islands, 4 activities). It was a great day.

Now, I’m planning on heading to the highlands and checking out a place called Dalat. I’m told it’s a bit of a bore and mostly frequented by honeymooners, but I want to see it for myself and there is apparently some pretty good trekking. I dig highland towns. Cooler weather, a bit more laid back, no mosquitoes. Generally more pleasant.

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