Posts Tagged With: minded travellers

Awe and Wonder: Ta Prohm

Have you ever watched the movie Laura Croft: Tomb Raider? If you have then a must stop is the Tomb Raider Temple, as it is often referred to, within the Angkor Wat area in Cambodia. Its official name is Ta Phohm, but due to the movie’s success and popularity rarely is it referred to in that way. I think I had seen the movie years ago and all memories and expectations from it were lost. Others come because it is one of the temples where the large trees still cover the walls and give it a lost/explorer type atmosphere as you wander through the combination of recently preserved walkways and parts that still lay in ruins.

Just inside the main entrance our first glimpse of the incredible man vs nature in Ta Prohm

Just inside the main entrance our first glimpse of the incredible man vs nature in Ta Prohm

This was the one temple I was most looking forward to. The photos and stories I had seen and heard made it sound mystical and magical. As we approached the temple along a wide sandy path I wasn’t disappointed. The small stone temple complex with some crumbling stone masonry around gave it an incredible atmosphere. Unfortunately it was under restoration and over run by tourists, so the atmosphere was quickly lost.

Close up of the massive trees that have over taken and caused some of distruction to the ancient temples

Close up of the massive trees that have over taken and caused some of destruction to the ancient temples

Soon as you enter the main area a large cloud of dust greets you. A main temple is surrounded by scaffolds and small cranes as workers reconstruct the fallen. Stone masons carve and add designs into the stone by hand to recover the lost motifs and images. Restoration is important since the large trees that reach up high have taken their toll on the delicate stones balanced to form walls, paths and pillars. The tongue and grove and indents that fit each piece together like a puzzle is no match for the large roots that snake under the foundations, over walls and through roof tops. Ta Prohm has many areas that have collapsed and fallen over time. I found it surprising how piles of stone were casually strewn about and covered with mosses. The fallen walls, arches and columns a result of time and nature.

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We came here after a morning of the elusive sunrise at Angkor Wat. It is a short drive around the Angkor complex. It was getting close to noon, so the sun was bright and high in the sky. It is recommended, to make the most of your photos, as the best time to visit due to the thick foliage that causes darkness and shadow at other times of the day. Numerous tourists and tour groups swarmed the most photogenic areas.  I patiently had to wait to get a photo in numerous areas only to be frustrated as I was jostled by the crowds or someone would walk into your shot without as much as an apology when it was finally my turn. The crowds made the temple less enjoyable and it certainly lost its mystique.

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I wandered the many passages and paths that were like a maze within the complex itself. Many passages were narrow and shallow making me wonder how small the former Khmer people were. I got lost as I went inside and out from darkness to light, only to find my way when I encountered the small Buddha statues dressed in a variety of ways. Each Buddha was decorated slightly different helping me recall my route. The smell of intense in the air would tell me I was getting close to such a small altar with a local person passing you incense sticks for good luck, but then requesting a donation after doing so.

I found John again after getting separated in the large crowd earlier and we retraced our steps to leave. Outside the inner passages we walked along part of corridor one which was recently restored the other still crumbled and fallen. Few people ventured this way and it was much more enjoyable and serene. From here we could see the many walls that were set like mazes making me wonder what other secrets and passages we left unexplored. I wished to return to Ta Prohm again, hopefully without the crowds.

Luckily after long waits or hidden areas within the large temple maze I was able to get some incredible shots I was hoping for.

Luckily after long waits or hidden areas within the large temple maze I was able to get some incredible shots I was hoping for.

Stay tuned…. more temples from Cambodia

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Categories: Photography, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Travel Etiquette

I just returned to Shanghai with a 14+ hour flight and before we left the ground I almost blew a gasket! It had to be the worst flight ever. Travelling on a small piece of metal hurtling through space which is already cramped and crowded you need to think about fellow passengers and not to mention customer service.

I have learned travelling with Chinese is just like trying to get on the subway metro. It becomes survival of the fittest. Push, shove and why wait for others to get off before getting on? If you are polite and orderly then you will miss the train. Before the attendants are even at the gate they line up waiting to get on the plane. Umm has anyone told them the little piece of paper called the boarding pass is guaranteeing them a seat and place on the plane? I don’t understand the logic of lining up when seats are called by row to help ease the flow of boarding. I have started to do the same now only because if you wait for your seat chances are there is no room for your carryon luggage. A few times it has to be stored 5-10 rows away from where I am sitting which is fine until you try to retrieve it. Soon as the plane stops moving they are up out of their seats pushing to get off the plane. What is the hurry? You can’t go anywhere until the doors are open! So basically I end up waiting until the flight is almost empty to get my things. Patience is not in their vocabulary 😉

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This flight I was caught a little off guard and they started to board soon as the attendants arrived. I was also leaving from Toronto and last flight in January anyone who tried to board ahead of their called rows was turned away, so I didn’t feel the urgency to get on just yet. Lesson learned; never assume things will be like last time! I thought we were on a larger plane with over 60 rows of seating, so I got in line when they called my row in the 40s. Once on the plane I realised I was sitting at the back and ¾ of the plane was already on board! While still waiting in line the last rows were called and the remaining passengers tried to push and cut into line ahead of the other passengers who were already waiting. Common courtesy is just not observed.

As I tried to fight my way upstream to my seat, through the many people blocking the aisles who seat rows had not yet been called, the people behind me were close enough I could feel them breathing down my neck. As I stopped and waited patiently for the blockers to rummage through their carry on the people behind me began to push. Really where do you want me to go? Should I trample the other passengers? After about the third time I said out loud ‘Really? You need to push me? People are in the way’. The people behind me backed off ever so slightly.

overhead bin cartoonI got to my seat to see all the overhead compartments stuffed full. No one put anything under their seats and large carryons (most people had 2 plus a large bag of duty free). Obviously the carry on luggage rule was not carefully monitored. I asked the flight attendant to help me find space and she said go back and look closer to the front of the plane. I said ‘No I don’t think I need to put my luggage near the front when there should be space here. I boarded when I was suppose to and all the others came on early and took up all the space. That isn’t right.’ She just walked away. Great customer service… thanks for your help. Did she come back later to see if I found space? No of course not.

Thank you to the kind gentleman who tried to help me squeeze my bags into an overhead bin, but there was just no room. He also had an unfortunate situation where his wife and small baby were near the front of the plane and he was near the back. The flight attendants said there was nothing they could do since the flight was pretty well full. I doubt they asked anyone to move. I am sure if someone knew the situation they would have helped. I also had asked for an aisle seat hoping they could do something at check in. After explaining I was travelling alone, needed to get up and move around and needed close access to a bathroom I was told I had a window and that was a good seat. Again thanks for your understanding and good customer service.

Now just add a small wheelie bag and purse to the picture and you will have my view.

Now just add a small wheelie bag and purse to the picture and you will have my view.

With no other option and I wasn’t about to try to swim back downstream I shoved my small wheelie bag under the seat in front of me along with my purse. In an already small environment I now had no leg room. Good thing I am short and I am not claustrophobic because this would have put me over the edge. My seatmates came along and luckily didn’t have large bags. They settled in and it started to snow, so the long flight was about to get longer as we had to go to de-icing. Luckily it was a light snow and hadn’t had time to accumulate so the icing process only took a few minutes.

Soon as we were in the air the fellow in front of me reclined his seat and immediately started to snore. Could this get any worse? As it would have it yes. I had difficulty sleeping due to my cramped positions and my body just ached and was all tingly from pins and needles. My body was finally tired enough to sleep through the pain. Not long after I got some sleep my snoring friend kept opening the window to see outside even though the night lights were on. The blinding light woke me up from the 2 hours of sleep I managed to get. He had to have opened the blinds at least 3 times. Hey buddy yes it is still sunny… just like it was 15 minutes ago. I guess he already slept 7 or 8 hours and didn’t notice the other sleeping passengers around him.

This is how I felt only more confined being at the window and having my carryon underfoot.

This is how I felt only more confined being at the window and having my carryon underfoot.

In my already cramped position I noticed my middle seat mate had the legs propped up on my luggage which as you recall was under my seat. She had lots of space on her side, but I guess thought I needed less. At the end of the flight an announcement was made to stay in your seat if you needed assistance and a flight attendant would happily help you. Well sitting at the back of the plane I couldn’t get out and I had to wait for my seat mates to leave so I could pry my things from under the seat. Did any attendants come to see if I needed assistance? No of course not. They were all too busy gathering their things and leaving the plane. I left BEHIND some of the flight crew. I guess the announcement is not put into practice, but sounds like good customer service. I have done a lot of travelling in my life and this had to have been the worst flight with common courtesy and customer service I have ever had. Maybe if I put it out there in the universe people will stop and think about travel etiquette… Here are a few things for travellers to think about.

1. Carryon luggage – if you have more than 1 bag stow one under your seat so others have room for their things.
2. Think about packing light and not carrying all your belongings on the flight with you.
3. If you want people to fly your airline again acknowledge them and be kind, don’t ignore them and walk away. Maybe they wouldn’t be so grumpy with you if you treated them like a valued customer and wanted their repeat service.
4. Wait for your seat row to be called before lining up to get on the plane and the airlines should reinforce this.
5. Personal space… in an already cramped environment need I say more?

Now this may not be the worst travel horror story, but having back trouble and requiring to move every 2 hours or less, leaving my husband in Canada (and hopefully seeing him before July) and dealing with family illness back home I was sensitive and emotional as it was. All the small things built up and made the trip back here alone difficult. (And I didn’t even get into the taxi situation once I arrived in Shanghai…).

All images from Google Images.

What is your worst travel story? Or what can you add to the travel etiquette list?

Categories: Chinese Adventures, post a week, social graces, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Viva La Cuba: By Invitation Only

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in the small village of  Caibarién  after a long taxi ride from the resort and across the causeway. It was like we were transported somewhere else, or back in time. Horses and carts filled the streets and the few cars that were around were older models. I don’t know my cars, but I recognised some from the 50’s and maybe others were from the 60’s-70’s. Streets were generally unpaved, or in need of repair. Brightly coloured houses with peeling paint, or bleached from the sun lined the streets. The houses were all connected and few had a yard. One thing each house did have was a front porch where many people gathered and chatted whether sitting on the steps, or in rocking chairs. A real sense of community, friendship and togetherness emanated from each doorway.

The doors and windows to most houses were open. It seemed to welcome visitors and to announce someone was home. We were invited to go to one of the hotel staff’s house and Y told the driver where to stop and we were left off at a meager dwelling with a weathered and greying facade. Y announced this was his place and shared with the driver what time to return to pick us up. We exited the taxi and Y’s wife greeted us with open arms and hugs and cheek kisses like we were family. They ushered us inside and I looked around a scantily furnished room that was their home. One room with a bed, wardrobe, 2 dressers and a few chairs is all I saw. A small rice cooker, TV and DVD player that also played music through a USB were their only appliances. Chairs and a corner of the bed were quickly offered for us to get comfortable while Y went to change and have a quick shower. The bathroom didn’t have any plumbing, but a tank that would be filled every few days provided running water for a shower. Y quickly was ready and proudly displayed a t-shirt with Niagara Falls New York to honour where we come from. We are Canadian, but he knew Niagara Falls and had the shirt to prove it!

Outside we went to Y’s mother in law’s house which was slightly bigger and her sister, brother-in-law and baby also lived. Food was cooking on the stove and a small cat was curled up in the corner. They welcomed us and said hellos before we went off to explore the town. It was hot and we tried to stay to the shade. At the corner we flagged down a horse and cart taxi to take us to our next destination. When we got close Y told the driver to stop and we got off and walked along the street. Small chickens and goats ran free in the grass along the road. People stared at us as we went by. Small shops were located in houses. So many people were out and around busy going about their day. Most houses were simple wooden structures while others were older colonial style stone that was slowly crumbling and decaying. In places you could see rusted steel supports. It was clear that most people living here had little income and survival was probably more important than frills and upkeep of their houses. Most people, 40%, work at the few resorts on the Key and earn local currency and a small fraction of the coveted CUC which, is the currency tourists use. It is on par with the American dollar. Everyday needs are scarce at times, but available using the local dollars. Imported items and larger luxury items are bought with CUC. Jobs in tourism are very important since it brings them into contact with CUC. Some earn them in tips, but our resort collected the tips and shared it with all the staff. Y said he was earning about 100 CUC a month and the remainder of his salary in local currency. It takes a long time to save at that rate. Luxuries seem inflated, but necessities are much cheaper than home.

Man working at a Furniture Shop

We walked to  a government shop for a cold water to cool down in the heat. You could also buy other food items, ice cream, beer, and rum. Prices here were much cheaper than the resort, but a luxury for them. From here we went to a local restaurant for lunch. We lucked out since it was air-conditioned. We walked down a narrow corridor to an unmarked door. Inside was a few tables. It appears to also be a house and this would have been a front living room at one time. Lunch was very good with rice, pork, fried banana and homemade banana chips. Fully stuffed we went back into the heat and walked around the streets and down towards the shore. I enjoyed watching the people gather just spending time together. Children played soccer in the streets and dogs barked from a shady spot.

Government Shop – Order from the Counter

Items for Sale

My camera was busy snapping all the sights. The interesting doors caught my eye with the intricate metal patterns. As we walked by houses we could see inside other people’s lives as their home was open to view. I felt like I was intruding, but at the same time I was so curious I could not help but stare or dare to take a peek. Each corner brough a new site and I had to stop to soak it up. More than once John would stop to see me a block behind and hurry me along. We wandered into the centre of town and Y wanted to show us the grandstand where music would play for everyone on occasion. He noticed the town museum was open and instead took us inside. We were admitted and lead up a stair case to a dusty long room filled with numerous display cases. Birds occasionally flew past since many of the windows were broken and the only protection was from the spider webs. The museum employee was very excited to show us around and told us about each display case, all in Spanish. Y would translate a few key points before we moved on to the next item. Old faded photos, a town plan and model, school desk, skeletons and stuffed local animals were a few of the items on display.

Eggs for Sale – Yellow Egg Tray Signifies Eggs are Sold Here

 

 

After our museum tour we needed to return to Y’s house because the taxi would soon be there waiting to take us back to the resort. We said our good byes and entered the car to be transported back to our life, culture and time. The town was not flashy and exciting with well know landmarks, museums and monuments. It was dusty, grimy and the smell of animals wafted through the air made only more pungent by the heat. To most people they will have never heard of Caibarién, or put it on their traveller’s bucket list. To me it will always be a memory of  a life time because I was invited in to have a peek of something few will ever experience.

Categories: post a week, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Viva La Cuba: Off the Tourist Track

It has been busy since I came back to China. We got right back to work with full days. This year my workload will be even heavier since I am the only returning teacher in my year level, which means I have 3 new staff to help support and teach them the ropes. I also have a brand new co-teacher who is new to the school.  I don’t mind helping out since I was new once too and asked a lot of questions. This is my payback 😉 In addition to that I am also part of a committee to help learn a new computer system. I am supposed to be the master and show others how to use it and then trouble shoot any problems. This is going to be fun since we have had an intensive training session and SO much was covered I can’t remember everything. Fingers crossed it is easy or no one has any questions.

I have been trying to catch up on blogs, but I apologize I have been very bad. I haven’t been able to catch up as I would like. Posting and responding is the most I have been able to do most days and weekends. I promised I would write more about our holidays and I keep running out of time, so without further ado… more on Cuba!

Sun, Surf & Sand – Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

This was our third trip to Cuba. In 2008 we made the trip twice within a few months. The second trip was spur of the moment since there was a great sell off. We loved the beaches, people and music. We explored the small craft markets in Varadero and did a few fun tourist trips off the resort where we swam with dolphins, snorkeled in a cave, rode a jeep, went to a traditional farm and had lunch on the softest, powdery beach I ever saw. This trip was taking us to Cayo Santa Maria which is relatively new to the tourist racket. The travel agents sold it as ‘quiet with little to do’. In comparison Varadero had night life at the many hotels, a bus into town for the craft markets and a variety of tours to take. Conversely, Cayo Santa Maria was a handful of resorts with few optional excursions and no one went into town. The closest town was across the 45KM causeway and wasn’t really equipt for tourists. People stayed at the resort. A few excursions were available and set up close by just for something to do. Some may ask what are you going to do for 2 weeks? Won’t you get bored? Well maybe, but it sounded like heaven after a busy school year. No schedules, a good book and a beautiful beach… R&R… this is just what the doctor ordered for this holiday.

After the excitement on day one with John’s adventure and trip to the local clinic we settled in to lounging by the pool each day. We avoided the beach since the trees were in full pollination and were a little worried about a repeat performance to the emergency. Near the end of the two weeks we did venture to the sea, but jellyfish kept us out of the water. John sailed a few times and went fishing.

Not a fish story… it was really this big! John’s catch a barracuda.

John is on the white sailboat.

 

 

 

 

 

I enjoyed watching the small fish that came close to shore and the occasional larger ones that came to feed. Some barracuda and long thin needle nose looking fish were most interesting. Mostly John enjoyed chatting to a few other tourists and I read. I finished book 2 and 3 of the Hunger Games. Luckily I tucked a third book in my bag; a mystery novel by Elizabeth Peters. Reading is something I really enjoy and don’t always get time to do, so this was perfect. Reading 3 books in 2 weeks was heavenly. It was funny as I looked around the most popular choice for reading just happened to be the Hunger Games series or Shades of Grey. When I wasn’t reading I was swimming or chatting to other vacationers. Everything was peaceful and not a shred of boredom crept in.

We didn’t make any plans to do any day trips since one was a flight into Havana (it was expensive and we had been already) and the other was to go and see a dolphin show. We were content with just hanging out and spending our days by the pool. John made friends with one of the hotel staff  (Y) and he offered to get some Cuban cigars cheap. The locals always have the connections and get the best prices no matter where you are. The catch was he couldn’t bring them to work. Y offered to show us around his town,  Caibarién, and we could have lunch before heading back to the resort. John went to inquire about renting a car or hiring a taxi for the day. For about the same price we could rent a car, so John thought that would allow us some more freedom and we would do that. When asked if we should book the car the answer was no problem, come back tomorrow. Of course if you know us, or been following our blog this is not going to go smoothly 😉

The next day we woke early and had breakfast. We went to the car rental booth and it was closed. Someone thought it was opening soon, so we hung around. The time came and went and no one showed up. Front desk thought he was in another location so the bell boy drove us in the golf cart there. No car rental guy. Next we went to their sister resort and found him. All the cars were rented until tomorrow. This was Y’s only day off before we went home so we had to go today. We also discovered they do NOT accept credit cards for car rentals, only cash for the large deposit. There are no ATMs so that would have also proved difficult. Back to the resort we negotiated a price for a taxi for a few hours. Finally, with a few hours delay, we were on the road.

The long causeway was very narrow and the only link to the main land. Cayo means key in Spanish and Cayo Santa Maria is a large sand key off the main land. Castro himself thought about developing this area for tourism and so the causeway was built in the narrowest stretch from mainland to key. A 50 minutes drive from the resort brought us to the small

The causeway into town

village of Caibarién. After we drove across the causeway we saw the locals on small horse carts loaded with items to be sold in town. The town itself is more of a village with no chain shops, restaurants or supermarkets. It appeared most things to buy were sold directly from someone’s home. People sat on porches while others were on horse-drawn taxi’s to get from place to place. A few cars were parked along streets  or driving the narrow, bumpy roads. What a difference from the flash cars in Shanghai, or even the modern newer models in Canada. Old Ladas and 1950 style cars faded with peeling paint were the luxury here. My eyes scanned every detail as I tried to commit it all to memory. This is the place where tourists don’t come, we were definitely off the tourist track. Fear didn’t enter my mind, but a sense of wonder and how lucky I was to be invited in to see something that few people ever get to experience. It was a strange sensation and the honour to be picked to see this first hand was overwhelming. My new camera was about to get a work out, but not before I asked if it was OK to take photos. I didn’t want to offend anyone or look like we were showing off or flaunting wealth. We exited the taxi and I knew this was going to be a day to remember… a chance of a lifetime.

Back in time?

Stay tuned for more….

Categories: post a week, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Travel Theme Photo Challenge: Oceans

Ailsa over at Where’s My Backpack has come up with another great challenge and this time it is also meant to educate. World Ocean Day was June 8th. Learn more here at  worldoceansday.org . With so much knowledge about the environment we sometimes forget about the oceans. A few disturbing things I have recently learned about the ocean… I think it was on Discovery Channel or National Geographic that I learned about this problem with our oceans. Due to ocean currents there is a ‘garbage island’ floating about our earth. Water bottles, containers, drums, plastic rings and other human materials that have been lost at sea or discarded get picked up by currents and then have joined each other in one massive swirling unbiodegrable heap. How sad is that? It pollutes or waters and harms the wildlife that eat it or get entangled in it. You can read about it on Wikipedia under the Great Garbage Patch.

Another problem I have heard about is fishing nets. They are meant to catch fish, but due to their size and invisible nature under water boats, people and wildlife get caught in them. Just this weekend I was watching an episode of Ellen that aired in March about a whale that had a long net tangled on its tail. It took over 8 hours to free the whale. The net also contained other wildlife like sharks, seals and fish. It is a shame that in this day and age we cannot come up with a more humane way of catching fish. I guess it comes down to time and money; work the least amount of time and get the most product in the time you spend. I spoke before how my uncle and grandfather were fishermen. They had small boats and used lobster and crab traps for shellfish and simple hook and lines for larger fish. There were many hooks on a simple frame and within minutes, in a good fishing ground, the boat would be full and they would return to shore. Now big trawlers, mainly from other countries, come in with their large nets and over fish. The Grandbanks of Canada is no longer teeming with fish as it once was. The Canadian Government now puts quotas on our fishermen and licences are no longer available, only current ones can be bought and sold for big dollars. Is it fair that other countries are overfishing our waters and not thinking about the future and consequences of their actions? Is it fair that some Canadian lively hood is lost because someone else thinks they do not have to follow the laws? Doesn’t seem fair does it?

Well time to get off the soap box and share a photo! I have recently been to the China Sea and Gulf of Mexico, but no oceans… In the past I  have been to the Atlantic and Pacific, but those photos I always seem to want are in the pesky storage. I guess this summer I should start scanning some old images and making them digital! However, I did find this one of the Atlantic Ocean as we flew along the US coast on our way to Cuba. No waves or turquoise blues here, but a god’s eye view from above… enjoy 🙂

If you want to see more ocean pics, or participate check out this link for Where’sMyBackpack. We can always make room for one more 🙂

Categories: Photography, post a week, travel, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Weekly Photo Challenge: TODAY

OK so I was disappointed yesterday that I did not have a cool or interesting photo for the weekly challenge: TODAY. I got a lot of comments on the flowers and it seemed to be well liked 🙂 Thanks so much for all the comments and likes.

Jo Bryant commented that is nice to see that China is somewhat the same as home. Thanks Jo, and yes that is true and they are people, live and love just like us (westerners) and I believe no matter who you are or where you live we are all people and deserve to be loved, cared for and treated with dignity and respect. However, living in China (for me) is nothing ordinary! Coming from a small town and country of 30 + million to a city of 25+ million (my whole country could live in Shanghai!) things have been different. Here there have been so many weird sights, sounds and customs that greet us almost everyday. Many I don’t even notice anymore. All of these wonderful events have become a part of my blog and a reason to blog… it keeps me sane, all these posts will make wonderful memories and it makes people back at home wonder or laugh. Really I DON”T make this stuff up!

Please don’t get me wrong… I was disappointed because I couldn’t share with you something that makes China unique and interesting… one of the few reasons I signed on for another year, even though I fulfilled my 2 year contract, I wasn’t ready to leave yet. China has that effect on some people.  Today camera in hand (well bike basket) I rode along to work hoping to see the bird lady or the ducks/chickens. Some old world traditions still hang on in this city of growth and modernization… Imagine my delight and chance to share with you all when I saw them on the path along the river. I quickly went down the path and bravely asked to take a photo (although he thought I was weird from the stares I got and his comments in Chinese. I don’t understand a lot of Chinese but  I got the gist of this one ;))  On the way back to the road I also got a view of today’s catch.

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Enjoy! Here is part of my world today…. what did you see today? Bet you can’t beat this 😉

Stay tuned for more…

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, Photography, post a week, strange adventures, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Cooking & Final Thoughts: More on Vietnam

Can you tell we really loved Vietnam? Who knew such a short vacation that was mainly spent lazing by the pool would amount to 4 posts! God help me if we ever go away for a month… you would never hear the end of it 😉

The last full day in Mui Ne was an unexpected adventure and my favourite. It was not what I wanted to do, but I am so glad I did because it made the trip so much more enjoyable. John inquired about cooking classes and they were offered at the hotel. He wanted to sign up, but for some reason we could not at that time and had to come back the next day. It was nearing the end of the trip and panic was setting in that soon I would be back at work and up to my eyeballs in things as the school year was winding down. I wanted to savour every last minute of relaxation and sunshine that I could. We didn’t go out to the dunes as we had hoped -couldn’t give up an entire day of R’n’R for an early morning and long day in the oppressive heat. The last day I planned to go to the spa for a massage and read and John would do a cooking class. That was until they signed us both up. Quickly I jumped in and said NO I am not interested… just John. They informed him the class either couldn’t go ahead as planned with only 1 student, or he would have to pay double (for 2 people). He was going to pass on things since he knew getting away was a much needed escape for me. I didn’t want him to miss out, so I agreed to join. The happy employee signed us up and gave us the details in where to meet and what time the next day. I was very touched that John was willing to so easily give up what he wanted for me 🙂 He is such a keeper!

The next morning we finished our breakfast (more pho -yum) and went off to the lobby to start our cooking adventure. We waited for the cook to arrive and then we would be off. First they would take us into town to buy the ingredients and then return and cook. We had a private car with driver to take us, the cook and a tour guide. I felt like royalty with all the attention… Our tour guide pointed out things along the drive and answered questions about what we saw. She informed us of the building going on at a large development on a hill overlooking the sea just before getting into the beach area (in which a cemetery had to be moved to a new location!), pointed out some places of interest and asked us about our home country. Soon we were in town and left to walk in to the wet market. Our guide told us to watch our belongings and they helped us cross the chaotic street as we entered the crowded market area. Vietnam is a very safe place, but like anywhere pickpockets are always on the lookout for an easy target and foreigners are viewed as rich and good prey.

Buying the Pork

Immediately we saw fluffy little yellow chicks for sale at the entrance. I was falling behind and didn’t want to get lost in the maze of stalls, so I missed a great photo-op. Inside the dimly lit market stalls were crowded in every available space with produce, meats, cloth and other necessities. The ground was stained and soiled from years of debris. We squeezed through the narrow aisles and followed our cook who knew where to get each ingredient. As she went our guide kept a look out around us to keep us safe and explained things as we went. Locals often sat on their table tops squeezed in with their wares since there was just no space to spare and allow them to stand. It was hot and humid outside and inside the tarps and thin roof the heat was oppressive, but they didn’t seem to notice with their long sleeves and pants. Before going I had read that they are modest and don’t dress in tank tops and low-cut outer wear and frown against those who do. Many of the locals wore brightly coloured patterns of matching pant outfits (t-shirt like top with short or long sleeves and pants) in the same pattern/colour or sometimes mismatched pattern or colour. Younger Vietnamese wore jeans and more modern t-shirts.

 

This is what I imagined the Chinese Wet Market to be like but wasn’t. This one was crowded, smelly and somewhat dirty with scattered bits of produce, blood and guts tracked into the floor. I was SO glad I opted for the running shoes today and not the flip flops! The market was a hive of activity where people were buying and selling their daily needs and moving goods in and out. When we stopped to buy some meat and shrimp. As the cook asked for what she wanted, as the guide told us she knew this stand was of good quality. The seller pulledout a large knife and quickly slammed it into the meat and cut off the requested amount. I was glad to move on from the meats and into the spices and vegetable section.

This one grandma?

The colours were so vibrant and the smells much more pleasing. Actually the smell wasn’t as bad as the fish market I went to in Granada, Spain if memory serves me correctly. That stench was unbearable and lingering everywhere, and this was just a bit unpleasant as you went by the meats. As the cook bought some carrots, cucumbers, taro, mint and other items I snapped up pictures and took it all in. We became the tourist attraction as we did not fit; I felt like an example of ‘what is wrong with this picture?’as people did a double take on us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our whirlwind tour through the market we were back outside in the sunshine. Our driver had to drive around to meet us, so they took us to a temple to get out of the hot sun and see all the worshipers. It so happened this was a Chinese temple, or many Chinese worship there. Our guide told us today was busy because it happened to be a full moon, a day for them to pray for good fortune. Later I remembered it was also Qing Ming Festival and this may have also been areason it was busy. Many people were inside the temple with incense which they held near the middle of their foreheads and rocked their heads back and forth as they prayed. Certain statues were spread throughout and people gathered near them and touched them, which was a ritual we didn’t understand. You could see the worn areas from many hands caressing the statues. I felt like we were intruding and I didn’t venture far past the door and took a few pictures before our air conditioned comfort was waiting for us.

Little girl waiting for her parents as they worship

The temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the hotel we were given a break while cook prepared the ingredients. We sat by the pool for a few minutes before heading into the restaurant. To our surprise everything was cut and ready for us, we just had to do the assembly! We were making 2 style of Vietnamese Spring Rolls (yum!) Cook cut some large rice paper into triangle shapes and we added our ingredients and rolled the spring rolls up like little cigars. We made some with pork (for me) and others with

Making the Cold Spring Rolls

shrimp(for John). These would be deep-fried slowly in a warm oil. When we used that up we turned to cold spring rolls which were more vegetable with cucumber and mint and would not be cooked. As time went on I got better at rolling – cook who did not know English laughed at my first attempts and even made me do a few again. John on the other hand did well first try -show off! As we worked on the cold uncooked rolls our guide fried up the first batch and by the time we were done we had our meal! They treated us to a table for 2, an amazing cold iced tea (chamomile maybe?) and we ate our creations. Oh they were delicious! As I write this my mouth waters. I really enjoyed the cold ones, so refreshing on a hot day. Fully stuffed we enjoyed the rest of our day by the pool.

 

The next day we were checking out and heading back to Ho Chi Minh City. We spent our last hours by the pool catching the last rays before a long drive. Back in Ho Chi Mihn we wandered the streets and alleys near our hotel and bought a few souvenirs. We learned that many things are made locally and provide people with work and much-needed income. I bought a lovely woven yarn scarf, John a few t-shirts and an interesting purse with embroidery. There was other handicrafts and art work, but we packed light and had nowhere to put it without the purchase of another suitcase, so we had to pass.

The next day we had to leave early so we turned in for the night. The next morning we checked out of the Liberty hotel, the same place where we stayed when we arrived. It was a simple hotel, cheap, without frills and good enough. Breakfast was included and we had to check out before breakfast began so we thought we would have to forgo our free meal. They were kind enough to offer and pack us a little meal to go! Loaded into the taxi we wove through the dark early morning streets as the city began to come alive. Motorbikes loaded down with supplies and materials were being transported to the local markets before opening time and large blocks of ice sat on doorsteps to help keep meats and other items cold. As the sun started to rise we reached the airport and it was time to say goodbye to Vietnam.

Vietnam is considered third world, and doesn’t have all the frills that other international big cities may have, she certainly isn’t as sophisticated and rich as Shanghai… but there is a hidden beauty, an inner light that shines through that made me fall in love with Vietnam and definitely want to go back and see more…. the terraced rice patties, historical tunnels from the war, the floating markets and revisit the beautiful beaches.

Stay tuned for more next time…

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Surf, Sand and Swim -More on Vietnam

Mui Ne is a sleepy beach. If you are looking for night life, rocking bars and clubs you won’t find it here. The shops and restaurants tempt you to stay awhile and relax. Everything is so friendly and welcoming from the restaurant greeters calling hello, the taxis slowing down to see if you want a ride and even the soft and soothing sounds of the Vietnamese language which is not as harsh, loud and abrupt as Mandarin. People don’t seem to be arguing all the time and speaking loudly so you can’t help but overhear their conversations.

If you get bored there is a little adventure to be found with kite boarding (very expensive about $150 US/ hour) and motorbikes (cheap $10/day) for rent. The sand dunes are a short day trip where many people go and explore. We really wanted to see the dunes, but didn’t make it. Missing out makes us want to return. Long ago some good travel advice I learned was to take things as they come and enjoy the journey…. leaving things undone, or 1 more thing to see and do is OK because it is a good reason to make you want to return.

So what did we do? You must be thinking oh yawn… 3 days of nothing… do I have to read about this? Well even in quiet times interesting things happen. I did spend 3 days by the pool reading and having the occasional happy hour cocktail. John and I always cooled off in the pool and got a little bit of a tan. The days were hot with a slight ocean breeze, so we didn’t want to venture too far… besides within minutes you would be drenched with sweat. This reason alone kept us close to the pool. Evenings were cooler, so we strolled the street and enjoyed great food for cheap! We ate at Good Morning Vietnam Pizza twice because it was so yummy. We also found this German place that was part of Charm Villas. They had great schnitzel and the best French Onion Soup I ever had outside of France. We were OK with this pace since we wanted an escape from the cold drab wet winter we were just coming out of. Work had been more hectic than usual and I needed the R and R to recharge me to get through the last few months before school was finished.

I woke up early in the mornings just as the sun was rising and wanted to go out and get some sunrise pictures. A few

Sunrise Sparkles on the Surf

people were out strolling along the edge of the waves and even swimming. It was so peaceful and relaxing as the surf gently rolled in. I snapped lots of shots as the sun rose into the sky and left its shimmery hues of yellow and orange behind before the heat and brightness set in. In between shots I looked around for crabs, the beach was littered with holes and escape routes with evidence of little claw marks that left interesting patterns scattered about. Occasionally the clear coloured crustaceans would skitter like a flash into a ready hole, so it was hard to snap a photo of the camouflaged little critters. Out on the water fishermen were already returning with the daily catch. Small blue boats bobbed in the waves. Smaller ‘teacup’ boats were scattered on the horizon a few hundred meters from shore. They reminded me of an episode of the Amazing Race when a task was to row one of these small round boats to a point and back. One of the contestants found it hard and complained about the ‘teacup boats’ and the image stuck in my mind.I watched the single fishermen, or occasionally a pair, expertly guide these perfectly circular boats by oar across the waves. The sea was still a bit rough, so this was not an easy task. I took some shots, but my little point and shoot camera couldn’t zoom in as much as I would have liked. Down the beach some were being pulled out so I went to investigate. Once the teacup boat was close enough to shore someone was there to help them carry the boat away from the waves. Quickly they got to work and once in position a tarp was placed on the sand and the nets were laid out. Then by hand  they (I assume it was the fishermen’s wife and sons) began to pluck the fish out of the tangle of the nets. It seemed so primitive compared to the large fishing trawlers and nets that over fish most of our waters today, but it was simple and effective. It brought me back to my childhood when I went out with my Grandfather and later my Uncle who were commercial fishermen in Eastern Canada. They too didn’t have a lot of fancy equipment, often homemade, but what they

Carrying the Teacup Boats

Today’s Catch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

had was very  effective. I remember my uncle having a simple wooden frame  with fishing line wrapped around it with numerous hooks. He would lower into the water and when he pulled it back up minutes later with an expert flick of the wrist the fish were flung into the boat. Soon we were ankle-deep in fish and I was covered in scales (yuck!).

I enjoyed the morning exploration and got up early again to watch the sun rise and the fishermen with their daily catch. The resort was quiet as the workers watered the gardens and cleaned everything  before their sleepy guests awoke. In the morning sun the colours were more vivid which made it great for taking pictures of the beautiful gardens and flowers. The resort was almost full with guests, but still felt peaceful and relaxed. This morning time was even more special as I had it all to myself.

Traditional Boat Made from Woven Reeds or Wood. Today’s Version is Fiberglass.

Stay tuned for 1 more post of Vietnam…

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Paradise at Last -More on Vietnam

We quickly put our packs down and headed outdoors and explored our new playground for the next few days. The grounds were covered with gardens that held many types of flowers, trees and even a small rice patty! There was a nice pool in the centre of the resort and it was steps away from a deep sandy beach. The beach stretched for maybe 100 meters before you reached the water. The surf was rough and waves pounded in on a steady beat and the red warning flags were  straight out flapping and snapping in the wind. After the typhoon things were still unsteady and there was slight chance of rain and thunderstorms in the forecast, but the beautiful clear blue sky didn’t show any warning signs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mui Ne is very cleverly designed with all the resorts on the beach side and most shops and restaurants on the opposite side. The area we were in is nestled behind a hill and appears to only be one long road along the coast. We ventured along the street looking for a place for dinner as the sun was setting.

Again most vehicles along the roads were bikes and motorcycles with a few buses and cars sprinkled in. Taxis would slow down and honk to see if you wanted a ride as we walked along. I didn’t think a taxi was all that practical and how busy would they be in such a small place? We soon realised how long this little village was and to save your feet or escape the heat a taxi would be a good idea. There were enough restaurants in our end of town that we  checked each menu for something to tempt us. Most places were seafood restaurants, especially since this still is a fishing village. I am not a seafood eater and John was in search of a pizza place that was recommended to us, so we kept walking. Some restaurants hire ‘greeters’ and they call out “Hello” and wave to people passing by… just added to the friendly atmosphere that seems to be “Vietnam”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many signs were in Vietnamese, English and Russian. Many Russians tend to flock to this area for a much deserved break from winter. As English speakers we are very lucky travelling. Many signs will be in English and often you can find someone who can speak or understand you. To see things in Russian was certainly the unusual. We finally saw the sign in the distance “Good Morning Vietnam Pizza”. A transplanted Italian runs the restaurant and uses a wood fire oven for cooking. YUM! Nice thin crust with so much cheese. Almost as good as we had in Rome a few years ago! A good meal here is cheap! Much cheaper than home and Shanghai, for maybe $8.00 we each had a medium size pizza and a drink. Bellies full we headed back to the resort. Along the way we peeked in a few of the tacky tourist shops loaded with the usual souvenirs that you would see anywhere. We passed a few corn vendors set up along the road. Steaming boiling pots of water were ready for hot corn on the cob. If you were lucky they even had a tub of margarine to slather your street treat. Back at the hotel we turned in for an early night so we could make the most of the next sunshiny day.

The next morning we awoke and headed off to our breakfast buffet, which was included in the room price. Seems most resorts in Asia include breakfasts, and are not all inclusivelike the Caribbean resorts we are used to back home. I am a picky eater, but in a new place I attempt to eat some of the local foods. Most foods were a mix of local dishes and western choices. I tried the pho (fahh) from a soup cart that they had set up to look like one you may see in the streets. The cook took some rice noodles and bean sprouts and quickly cooked them in some boiling water for a few seconds.

Pho -my new fav food

Next she added some broth, spring onions, flavoured pork, basil and a few hot chillies. She put a wedge of lime on the side as well. The enormous steaming bowl seemed a bit odd to be eating not only for breakfast, but in such heat. Chopsticks in hand I sat down with my new food adventure. After getting the hang of holding onto the flat slippery noodles I had my first taste. It was delicious! I found my new favourite food that I could eat everyday. It was very filling, and good for you too!

After breakfast we staked out our claim by the pool and sat and relaxed for the day. I read half a book in a few hours, what a treat! The weather was fantastic and not a cloud in the sky. Seeing some very red and burned people the night before we knew the sun was not forgiving and we stayed under the beach umbrella for the day and slathered on tons of sunscreen. The surf was still rough and the wind was strong, so you felt cool even in the hot sun. This is always the most dangerous since you do not realise you are burned until it is too late. The pool was  a bit cool, so I just dangled my feet in a few times. I was glad I was so careful to cover up as I had missed a spot and my knee had an interesting heart shape burn where it didn’t have enough sunscreen. The burn was like nothing I had before and the sting was very uncomfortable; even more painful than the time I burned my back and blistered. I pity those poor people who looked like cooked lobster with bright red bodies.

The hotel (Seahorse Resort) had a spa and it was much cheaper than in Shanghai so I waited until we arrived to get a pedicure and make my toes beach worthy. The spa was closed that morning, so I had an afternoon appointment. I must say I was a little disappointed with the pedicure, even though I had paid extra for the ‘deluxe’. I am used to a little massage and creams as well as the top quality polishes. This was OK, but at times awkward as the woman positioned my feet for her to work on; my leg didn’t always bend where she wanted it to! She was a bit rough with the scrub and pulling off the nasty winter skin. Finally it was time for the polish and she quickly applied the colour, with a cheap brand, and no top coat. She left and never came back. After about 15 minutes I attempted to check my nails and the manager came over and helped me. A pedicure is expensive and something I occasionally treat myself to. In Shanghai they are cheaper than home and I usually have had a few in the summer months. They are relaxing and it is nice to feel pampered. This left me feeling awkward and rushed… so much for coming back for another spa treatment. A fellow teacher told us about the Seahorse and comparing notes since we came home she said the massages were fantastic… duly noted for next time.

The next few days we had to decide what to do next? Go out to the dunes (red and white sand dunes), relax by the pool, or go into town? Stay tuned to find out more…

As always play nice:) and words and images are property of ME and cannot be used witout permission from CTB.

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Long Road to Paradise – more on Vietnam

After a short few hours wandering the streets in Ho Chi Minh city we were off to the beaches of Mui Ne (Me-you Nay) which used to be a fishing village before someone decided the great silky white sands would be a haven for tourists to relax and sun themselves. We hired a car for the 4-5 hour journey through one of the many travel agents that lined the streets in District One. Luckily our car had air conditioning and the promise was made if the A/C broke down our trip would be free… how is that for a deal?

We returned to the travel agents with our backpacks and we loaded into the car and were off. Looking out the windows the world passed us by. Houses that were small thin buildings with corrugated tin rooves, or fancier ones with balconies and large gates lined the streets. Every available space was filled with a sign of life… bikes, houses, laundry or bits and pieces of things that were salvaged and could be reused elsewhere.

Ho Chi Mihn City

Not to mention all the motorbikes loaded down with wares or families sped past. The hydro wires were big bunches of tangled webs that were rolled into a spiral at corner on small towers… very much like we saw in the Philippines only much neater and organised.

Soon we were heading out of the city and things were less crowded. We got on a small stretch of highway but before long the highway ended and we were driving through small towns and villages on a 2 lane road. On each side of the street there were numerous shops. Each shop was a small 3 wall cement building and inside it was full of items, many recycled car parts. There were axles, tires, motor parts… then beside this was a furniture shop with wood furniture, chairs, tables and beds, or a place that made coffins and wedding dress shops. Amongst all this dirt and unpaved store fronts to see a white (even blue, red and pink) wedding dresses looked a little out-of-place. The one thing that was missing was animals. For some reason my mind assumed animals should be wandering among all this… no longer the thought crossed my mind I saw a few dogs, cats and chickens.

Once we left some of the towns we passed numerous plain houses and rest stops amongst open spaces. Cows were tethered to yards and chicken ran wild. Some houses were large 2 story building with a large gate with a high fence and maybe a car or motorbike in the drive. Other houses were simple narrow long rectangular buildings that looked to be 1 or 2 rooms. Most of these places the doors were left open wide and you could steal a peek inside their lives as we raced by. The houses were simply furnished with a wooden frame sofa with a large cushion. Maybe a table and few chairs were also off to the side. Many had no electricity, but a few had a static-y TV left on with no viewers. Families sat on door steps or worked in the yards. On our return trip many places also had various nuts and items spread out on tarps drying in the sun. With so many family members home during a work day I wondered what these people did to earn a living. I can only guess they sell some of their farming wares or provided a few dollars by setting up a food stand at the side of the road. Many places had a few tables and chairs set up under a tarp. Smoke billowed out from open fire grills and a drink cart displayed all the soft drinks available. This reminded us of the country side and houses we saw in Cuba when we did a day trip to Havana. It was all so familiar like we had been here before.

The best thing about the drive was the rest stops. Numerous rest areas were along the roads and they were like nothing I had  ever seen before. These rest stops were not like what we see in North America or even Europe; large chain restaurants, gas stations and souvenir shops. These were simple stops with trees providing shade, tables and chairs, and hammocks! Now that is a rest area! Some were nicer than others and had places to use the restroom or get food, the rest area may have a thatched roof to provide shade. Others were a corrugated tin roof or tarp. Some had been weathered and the tarps were ripped and set up on small A frame sticks tied together. People used them and took a break from their long travels between point A to point B.

Some of the typhoon still left some rain in its wake. The skies darkened and we drove through some heavy rain. Fields were flooded and in some places water went up to the front doors of houses. This area is prone to flooding and after the typhoon the night before a lot of water had not had

Flooding left over from the typhoon

a the chance to drain away. In one place the road was flooded and I thought we may have to turn back. This was nothing and people just slowed down and kept on driving.

We arrived into Mui Ne village and saw many bright blue fishing boats as we wound our way through the town and passed by the water. We got to the top of a hill and saw the sparking South China sea to our right and a huge building development on our left. Soon a golf course, condos and shopping centre will grace the hill-top and be a draw to more travellers. We arrived at our hotel, The Seahorse Resort and quickly jumped out of the car and into the warm sunshine and cool breeze. The front desk was an open air lobby with a few cushioned benches. Quickly they booked us in and took us down a path to our room. Everything was green and lush… like we were in a garden. Our room was fantastic. We

Entrance to our room... fancier than we expected!

entered into a small sitting room and then through a door way we entered a large bedroom complete with comfortable bed, flat screen TV and small balcony. The bathroom was a room with a view! Large windows overlooked the gardens and palm trees outside. To shower a blind was drawn to give you privacy.

Stay tuned for more…. next time our R & R in Mui Ne.

Play nice all photos belong to ME and cannot be used without permission!

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