Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Journal from August 16th

(Happy Birthday Bear-Man)

I fly out of Bangkok tomorrow morning to go to Europe!! I am both very excited about Europe but also highly disappointed about leaving Asia. I've had a remarkable time here, even with all the hospital visits!! I think its been so fantastic for two reasons - one being that I came with no expectations. Literally, none. I had no idea at all what to expect so I couldn't visualize things going one way or anything. The second would be the people I've met along the way. I hope that some of them will be friends for life. Traveling is such a unique experience - the whole process matters, not just the 'tourist-y' things to do. Its the train delays or the boat rides that last two days, the person you had one conversation with, then see them passing by in a new town and act as if you're long lost friends! It's honestly another culture and world while traveling, which is ionic since we've all come to see these 'other' cultures, yet in the process we've formed our own.

I think that's why travelers form such great bonds with one another, because we're all kind of similar - us long term travelers. You have to be a little crazy (leaving the routine and comforts of home), a little free spirited, a little daring and very laid back to do this. We all share that in common. You can easily spot the two week vacationer from the five-month traveler.

Getting back to Asia though...

Southeast Asia has this amazing balance of absolute craziness to being extremely care free. My mind immediately goes to how they drive -- it's nuts, to say the least! I'm talking about no obeying red lights, barely and rarely staying within their respected lane, no speed limit (at least that I'm aware of), and with how absurd they ALL are at driving, they somehow make it work. It's like this beautiful little intricate dance they do silently, and only the locals that have grown up watching it know how to truly make it work. (I shouldn't say silently there because they really use their horns, all. the. time. And I think the 'dance' works by whoevers' horn is the loudest gets the right of way - but I'm not a local so I don't know how this work of art is performed). So, they weave in between each other, through a very crowded intersection, on their mopeds while carrying various items on the bike. I've seen families of 5 on a moped, a 50 inch plasma screen with either edge dangling off the sides, a cage full of at least 15 chickens and so much more! The best part is that this happens in every country I visited!! I'd say, hands down, Vietnam was the most scary, followed by Thailand then Cambodia and Laos. (Laos gets last place because 1) I was on a boat for half of it and 2) I was never in super populated areas.)

**I have a video of myself and a couple of friends crossing the road in Hanoi, Vietnam. I haven't been able to figure out how to upload it to this website, so if any bloggers out there know how to - please leave me a note! Its a perfect shot of how crazy it is over there so I can't wait to upload it for all to see and actually grasp what I'm trying to explain! **

After spending two and a half months in S.E. Asia, I'm lucky enough to say I was only in ONE car accident, as seen below. I was in the white van, in the back left seat, and we got re-ended by that semi pictured on the right. It was quite a shock, but luckily no one was hurt!

Monday, August 17, 2009

I think Asia is out to get me...

Sorry about the slow blogs... I see that my last blog is about hospitals... well I got to visit a few more after the Vietnam incident.

I headed out to Cambodia which was absolutely incredible!! Possibly my favorite country. Such a unique place, but the people, culture and surroundings are all beautiful! I read a book while there called 'First they killed my father', one a great read and two it was eye opening to hear a first hand account of someone that went through the Pol Pot era (for those non-history buffs, which I fully admit to being one, go google it). Pretty remarkable what these people went through and how fresh it still is amongst them. I've never seen so many blind/deaf/amputee people in my life. And to know that it isn't their fault (not that those things normally are...) but that this happened to them because of some evil government in the late 70s and the current government does absolutely nothing for them. They are reduced to being beggars or selling random goods (photo copied books, sunglasses, postcards, etc.). Its really a shame... the country has come so far from where it was but it still has tons more to do to help the people. I hope to return someday and see a major difference but from the locals I spoke to, it sounds like their president will be around for a while (he doesn't get a 4 year term - thank you America for establishing that!), so they have very little hope for how or when things will be different.

My tuk-tuk driver for when I visited Angkor Wat was something else. 18 year old kid, has taught himself English in the past 6 months - and was really good at it! His father is blind from a landmine, his mother is too old to work, so he drives tourists out to Angkor Wat, reads the English dictionary while we wonder around, works on his conversational skills with us and gets paid around $10/day to help care for his family (4 siblings and parents) and then it starts all over again. Incredible.

Well, I wasn't planning on saying much about Cambodia... but I think I'll just need to do an individual blog on it. (I wish I could put the world on pause every few days to just write all this stuff down that I get to see and hear about... but its sooooo tough!! While I'm sitting here writing, I want to be outside exploring!! But its raining in Bangkok right now and I've been here enough I don't need to see to much...)

But anyway! Here's actually what I wanted to say:
left Vietnam, to go to Cambodia, still on some antibiotics for my fake swine flu encounter. I went to a fantastic beach town called Sihanoukville and swam the days away in the ocean and in the pool at my hotel (for $5/night!). And what do you know, I get two gnarly ear infections... ugh... so then I go on a search for a good doctor in Cambodia to help with my ears. Tough to come by, considering what I just explained about the government.

I got to Siem Reap, saw 3 different doctors and finally got a good one to help with my ears! Got set up with more antibiotics and headed off to Thailand for the islands! (Although I was super bummed because I knew I wouldn't be able to swim due to the ears... and I was hoping to get a first time scuba dive in... guess I'll just have to come back here soon enough!)

Four days in Thailand and what do ya know!? Back in the hospital! Broken wrist this time so a bit more extreme than the other ones, but not the worst thing to have happen. Although the worst part was the first doctor I saw... he spoke no English, his x-ray machine was probably from the mid-80s and when he came over to 'explain' to me that my wrist was indeed broken, he took out his ball point pen and drew a picture of a wrist with a squiggly line at the end, then another squiggly line at the start of the hand. I laughed hysterically and now wish I had kept that piece of paper.

So I've been in Thailand for 10 days with a broken wrist and it hasn't been too bad. I met a Canadian girl that broke hers and she goes 'Yeah, I booked my flight for tomorrow, when are you heading home?' And I said, 'oh, i'm going to Bangkok and then up to Europe so I won't be heading home for another 6 weeks or so' And she looked shocked!! Utterly shocked. 'What?! You're not going home now??' (At that point I started to question myself.) "Uh... no, I mean its just a broken wrist.' Her response, in a very snooty voice, 'Well, six weeks is a really long time to be miserable.' Ouch. But I did a slow gaze out from behind her head and looked at how beautiful the surroundings were (I was on a Thai Island at the time) and I thought to myself about how dumb she was for going home! I know I'd be kicking myself in the butt if I got home and sat around thinking about all the stuff I had missed out on!! Dumb Canadian.

That was about a week ago, and I still feel great about my decision. I haven't been miserable at all! Off to Europe now and hopefully all these hospital visits will stop!!! Wish me luck!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hospital Stay? Sure!

A few weeks ago I had a little health scare... here are the dates and my thoughts on the issue....

July 17, 2009
I believe most of you know I'm sick in Hoi An, Vietnam... in a hospital with a fever, sore throat, achy muscles. Came in this morning around 7am because I couldn't sleep and figured I should get checked by a doc, get some antibiotics and be on my way. But oh no. They thought that I could have swine flu and didn't want me lurking around their country without staying a night in their hospital. So, here I am. It's now 11pm, the doctor left me his laptop, which connects to wireless Internet, I have a big flat screen TV, Air Con, private bathroom, and room service!! Compared to some of the places I've stayed, this is essentially a really nice hotel!! Plus, and more importantly, I'm feeling a ton better than when I was this morning so that's a good thing! I'm hoping to get checked by the doctor again tomorrow morning and get cleared to move out.

Check out those sweet hospital pants... I took them as a souvenir

July 18, 2009
It's Friday night here in Nam and I'm still stuck in the hospital. The attached photos are from my adventures today. The small vial next to the teapot is what I needed to 'urine water' in. This was a very entertaining conversation between the male nurse and myself. He handed me the bottle and said something in Vietnamese. I looked at him very confused and he mumbled something (with his swine flu mask on so I couldn't read lips), and then his little eyes widen and he cocked his head to the side when he was done like 'You understand?' And I shook my head. He then went on to make somewhat of a peeing sound and said urine water a few times until understood him. As soon as I did, I started laughing extremely hard and said 'You want me to pee in THIS tiny thing!?' He laughed back, probably not understanding anything and said 'yes, yes'. I couldn't believe it but did my best. Pretty sure that bottle used to be filled with some drug beforehand and now they are reusing it for my tinkle... but, I guess they're being eco-friendly??? Or just cheap.
The evidence of what happened... that teapot is only for one serving of tea... so its small.

Afterward, the doctor that speaks the best English, which isn't saying much, came in to tell me that people were being flown in from the government to take information from me... sweet. In come these people in the full body blue suits to take my blood, a throat swab and a nose swab. None of them spoke English, and all of their goggles were getting fogged up by their breath. I couldn't help but laugh at them... and then the leader of the pack, a Nazi woman came at me with her Q-tip to take a nose swab, which I assume is just a nice little graze in my nostril... but oh no, again I am tricked and she friggin' dug that thing so far up my nose I thought she was poking my brain!!! Stupid lady. I flailed my legs around, said a few curse words, which the man in the blue suit started laughing at. (Sorry Mom, I thought I could get away with it since they didn’t speak English.) I then grabbed the woman’s arm and pulled her stupid Q-tip out of my skull!

But now all those have been flown to the medical center in another town that has the capabilities to test it for Swine, and the results should be in within 24 hours. Which means, I'm here til tomorrow evening. If they come up clear of swine (which I think they will), then I'll get outta here right then, and if not, I could be in here for a whole week!! AH! let's hope not...

No comment needed.

July 19, 2009
The results have yet to come back…. I’m staying another night here and the doctor said he would call my room directly at 9am when the results are in. For some odd reason, I feel like they have my results but enjoy getting another couple hundred bucks for me to stay overnight again. Ugh….

July 20, 2009
Results are in and I’m FREE!!! No swine flu. They actually didn’t tell me what I had… I assume it was strep throat or something along those lines. Nothing like staying three nights in a hospital in Vietnam. I actually lucked out though; in my opinion… it was almost like a few days in a hotel – room service, movie channels, wi-fi internet. Best part: my insurance pays for it!!! Glad that little bill will get some use to it. The only real downfall was not being able to leave, but I’m back to being healthy now and off to do more traveling!

If anyone ever gets sick in Hoi An, Vietnam, go to the Pacific Hospital in town!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Monkey Mountain

I've heard of a place in Vietnam called 'Monkey Mountain' for most of my life. My dad would tell all of us kids his stories about being in 'Nam and going through Monkey Mountain. He said that when they'd go through, he's whole company would pick up rocks and get into these full blown rock fights with all the monkeys in the trees. It was quite the story to hear as little kids and we were always entertained.

Since I came to Vietnam, I knew one of my 'must-do's' was to try and find Monkey Mountain. I figured it'd be a long shot because it was probably just nicknamed this during the war and no one would actually know what the mountain was that I'd be asking for. But, to my surprise, I really lucked out. Here is an email I sent home to my family, as I'm too lazy to re-type the story out:

I did find Monkey Mountain! Dad told me that he was stationed in Danang, about 20 minutes north of the city. Danang isn't a common tourist stop, so I figured I'd do that part on my own and catch up with my friends down the coast, but two of them decided to come with me...which was a great decision. We get to Danang and had heard of a guesthouse called Hoa's Place (pronounced Whaa), that he was a Marine in the war, ran a great business and was located 300 meters off a beautiful beach. We thought this sounded pretty fantastic, but knew that when things sound great in SE Asia, they usually tend to be far worse than the beautiful picture you had in your mind. Luckily when we got to Hoa's Place is was BETTER than we imagined!! As soon as we arrived, all 5 foot 3 of him jumped up, came out to greet us, thanked us for coming to see him and offered us drinks. He sat down with us and we started to chat away. (The main part of the guesthouse is an open air restaurant, which everyone goes there throughout the day, so its easy to meet people, share traveling stories, etc. Plus, Hoa has an honesty policy, so the fridge is open for guests at all times, you just write down what you take, which I love because then you just feel more welcome.) Anyway, we had a nice first day. Hung by the beach, swam in the bath water temperature ocean, played catch in the water with some Vietnamese boys, and then had a 'family style' dinner that Hoa puts on every night.

Photo of Hoa, myself and his wife. Sitting in their kitchen.

The next morning, I got up to have breakfast and started talking to Hoa again. At this point, I knew I had to say Dad was a Vet and stationed in this area. I hadn't done it the day before because I wasn't sure on the response I'd get. But as soon as I said 'My dad was here in 1966', Hoa jumped out of his chair, came around the table and gave me a hug, then said 'Now Molly, you no make me cry, ok?'. I laughed and said OK. I told him all I knew about Dad's time here and he said he wanted to call his friend Bill and get him down here. Thirty minutes later, a bald man on a motorbike heads in. Bill is from Colorado, was also a Marine but stationed in Vietnam in 1969. In 1994, Bill decided it was time to come back to Vietnam to see what the country that had scarred him so many years before looked like now. He's a photography and with the pictures he took throughout the country, he published a booked called "Vietnam: A Second Look". I had a quick glance at the book and it is very good!! Think I may order one for Dad when I get back to the States.

I asked the two Vets about 'Monkey Mountain', 'Red Beach' and 'Dog Patch', and they knew exactly where they all were! Much to my surprise. I thought all of these names were just made up within Dad's company because he said they called it Monkey Mountain because of all the monkeys, red beach because the sand was red, and dog patch because the villagers cooked so many dogs. I honestly thought it would be a long shot to have anyone know where these places were, but luckily I was chatting with two Vets. Bill then asked me if I'd want to go for a cruise up to Monkey Mountain. About 30 minutes away from where we were. Obviously I said yes, and off we went for our adventure!

Bill and I after our adventure to Monkey Mountain, having lunch at China Beach.

Strangely enough, the mountain that was in the midst of a war 40 years ago, now is home to a Buddhist temple and monastery. In the photos, you can see the Female Buddha that is the protector of the harbor.

The enterance to the Buddhist Monastary.

Side view of the Buddha, and she is still under construction.

When I got back to Hoa's place, he kept going on and on about 'your dad is my brother, he see things that only we know, he my brother, and that mean, you my kid, you queen of this house while you here. i take care of you'. (He probably said that to me a good 15 times, which then made me question his mental stability, but overall, one of the sweetest men I've met while here, even if he's a little crazy.)

The old Marine Base

This is the view from Hoa's Place, on the beach. The entire first day I had no idea I was looking over to Monkey Mountain the entire time. (You can see the Buddha in the middle, the large white dot.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Updates

I'm in Vietnam now, but I'll update from the past couple of weeks. I traveled through Laos for about 10 days and it was VERY nice, though I didn't do as much as I would have liked.... I traveled through Laos with the 5 Irish guys that I met in Chaing Mai while with Kel and J. To get into Laos you travel by a slow boat that takes two days to get to the city of Luang Prabang. It was actually a really nice journey, with tons of beautiful scenery along the way! Once in LP I was shocked to find that the Lao people being so aggressive when it came to offering us things (rides, hotels, food, etc) because in the guide books it says that the people are VERY laid back and you'd have to approach them... well, not the case for me. But little did I know what lay ahead in my travels....

While in Luang Prabang we went to an gorgeous waterfall!! Definitely the highlight of my trip in that country! I did my very first cliff jump!! It was a huge feat for me because I am so scared of heights. Luckily, some of the Irish guys talked me into doing it and I went for it! It was pretty fun but I was more grateful for the sense of accomplishment I left the waterfall with!

Here are a few photos of the waterfall:

This is from the bottom looking up to the top of the fall, where you can do the cliff jumping and swim.
This part was fantastic - its the swimming area and the edge to the right is where the waterfall goes, so you can literally swim up to it and look over the crashing fall!!!

Next, we headed to Vang Veing, which is known for the party scene that the town offers. I had heard of 'tubing' in V.V. and that it was a must-do while there. I didn't ask too many more questions of it, just figured it was a casual float down the river with a few beers trailing behind us in a cooler, just as we do at home. Well, little did I know that this was not the case!

I head out for the day of tubing with my Irish friends, we get dropped off at the 'start' of the tubing portion, with no tubes in hand. And, oddly enough we're dropped at a bar that has a deck overlooking the river... as well as the 40 foot swing/zip line platform looming over everyone. All the boys were SO excited about doing the swing, so I became their mom, holding all their belongings while they scurried off to the ladder.

I ordered drinks and wondered out to the deck to watch the guys plunge to their deaths (not really). I watched them all go through and to describe the scene a bit better so you can visualize it .....

You walk onto the deck, which is about 5 feet back from the river (which is a murky, muddy, rushing river), you look to the left to see a bar on the side of the river every 100 yards or so. You see half naked people (read: swimsuits) jumping into the quickly moving waters with no tube and half floating/swimming to the next bar. You look above you to see the forty foot platform poking out from the tree that its built up against. You watch these people jump off the platform while holding onto a bar connected to a rope that hangs above them. They leap off the platform, holding onto the bar, and when the rope catches, all of the persons weight is dropped into their arms. The swing out about 50 feet, straight in front if the crowd watching on the deck. After the person swings back and forth a few times they let go and drop into the river. (The extreme people try to do flips or dives off the highest point of the swing.) A few of the audience members have cards to hold up and rate the jumped. After watching this, if you turn to look upstream you will see a beautiful limestone mountain, more of the river, and a rice paddy off in the distance. Its a crazy mix of things to take in all at once, but I completely know why it is so talked about and a 'must do' while in Laos!

So... it's my first day of tubing (I went 3 days) and oddly enough I find myself being talking into doing the swing... ugh... I hear 'remember how easy the cliff jump was? And how great you felt after it?" Yeah, yeah, yeah.... as I slowly walk to the ladder. Step by step I'm thinking 'Don't look down. You can do this. You'll be fine.' Once I get to the top though, I look down. Crap. This is a lot more extreme then the cliff jump! Forty feet up, over a raging river, on some crappy make shift platform! Oh hell no.... I turn around to walk back down. "Molly, no. You can do this. You'll be fine", says my oh so nice friend Peter. I counter with, I believe, a solid flow of curse words and yet again am convinced I can do this.... I step to the edge, grab onto the bar and close my eyes. I jump off to immediately open my eyes and realize what I've just done and instantly let go of the bar! Oops... big mistake. I hadn't even fully swing out yet so my jump essentially turned into a free fall from 40 feet with a slight angle to it. I hit the water somewhat awkwardly but not a full belly flop, luckily!! I popped up out of the water to see all the looks of pity coming toward me, and slowly swim over to the edge of the water and slump my shoulders while walking out... I then go through the crowd, get some encouraging comments to go give it another shot, but at that point I was adamant about never do that again!!

Here is a picture of the group of us at an Irish bar in Vang Vieng. The boys I was with know the owner because he was traveling a year ago, met and fell in love with the daughter of the owner and now he lives here and owns it himself!

Another shot of something you don't see too often -- novice monks walking to get on a boat and a group of kids bathing in the river.

If you want to see more waterfall pictures you can go to my album online:

And more random Laos photos:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Updates updates updates

First off, I apologize for the lack of posting since I've been in Asia. It's a bit more difficult to find a good internet cafe and I still haven't found a good enough one to upload photos!!!

I'm currently in Laos and going to make my way to Vietnam soon, but updates from the past couple of weeks.

Kel, J and I had to say our goodbyes in Chiang Mai, Thailand two weekends ago. We had a great time together and Chaing Mai is a very cute town. Lots of good restaurants, plenty of temples to look at and a few different activities to get into.

While the girls were still teaching their classes, I headed up to the city first and went for a day long trek, which involved hiking through the rain forest, riding an elephant and going bamboo rafting down a river!!! It was a fun day and I think the highlight was when the guide on my elephant jumped off, told me to scoot closer and sit ON the elephants head, and then my guide just wandered off to the back of the pack. So there I was sitting on an elephant that weighed nearly 10,000 pounds (!!!) leading a group of 5 more elephants with 2 people sitting on each of them!!! Absolutely crazy, and surreal!! From there we crossed through a river (while I was still leading the pack) and made it to our send off on the bamboo rafts. That wasn't quite as exciting as I thought it'd be, but still a fun adventure to be had!

The next day I signed up for a cooking class which I absolutely loved!!! I learned 10 different Thai dishes - pad thai, curry, spring rolls, mixed veggies - but the BEST dish was the sweet sticky rice with mango. It's a dessert they have and is SO delicious!! I can't wait to try to make it when I get home!! (That's actually one downfall of traveling in Asia, there isn't any chance to cook your own meals which is something I love to do...)

Kel and J came in the next day and we all had a good time together for the weekend. I'm hoping to meet back up with them in Bangkok at the end of my trip here, around mid-August. Hopefully they can sneak away from school for a day or two to meet me!!

Over the weekend in Chiang Mai we made friends with a group of guys from Ireland. They were heading out for the same route as me, so I've been hanging with them for the passed two weeks now!! It's been very, very fun... though the stereotype is true about the Irish and drinking....

Long enough post for now... I'll try to update again soon and get some pictures up for everyone to see.

Hope home is treating you all well!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I've made it to Thailand!!!

I spent one night in Bangkok and then hit the road to get to Lampang where Kel and J are teaching. Bangkok was NUTS from as much as I saw. My plane landed at 1am, I headed out of the airport a bit concerned about how to get to my hostel with it so late at night. But, being the naive person that I am, I didn't realize that Bangkok never sleeps... honestly. On the 30 minute drive from the airport to Kho San Road (famous travelers destination), there was traffic, there were people all over the streets, I saw a full fledged farmers market going on -- it put Pike Place to shame (not really, but kind of)-- I got to Kho San to find the street packed with travelers and street vendors selling tons of food... And this continues all night and all the next day!!! I got up the next morning, strolled around town, got a Thai Massage....very interesting... ate some bomb food for like 2 bucks and then decided I'd catch the overnight train up north to Lampang that evening so I could meet up with Kel and J!! (The photo above is on the train, and my friend Karina, the other girl in the Kayak story, met up with me in Bangkok and then took the train with me up north).

I got to go to the girls school where they are teaching English. Here are some photos of them in action:
Kel says 'Yes, you Joe'

Jbo played Hangman with the kids and wrote my name in as the word... so obviously I made the kids start chanting Molly, Molly, Molly....which sounded more like Morry, Morry, Morry.

It was very entertaining to go to the school for the day, though extremely exhausting and I didn't even have to teach!! The classes usually have 50 students in them, and very, very few speak any English. It's actually really funny too because the kids will come up to you and chat away in Thai and tell you some random story and you just have to stare at them blankly, shrug your shoulders and then...they keep going!!! (I had an old Thai woman do this to me too in a taxi and when I said I didn't speak Thai, she just kept chatting away. She was pointing at my knees and then hers and making an 'ouch' face, so I think she was saying that her knees hurt and my knees were young and strong... maybe?? Only so much you can pick up on from gestures!)
AND THEN......
I got to go to an Elephant Conservatory!!!

Here I am riding an Elephant through some water.... trying to take a candid photo of myself....
The elephants have learned how to paint.
His final product, which went for 500 baht. (Less than $15... I thought about buying it, but didn't want to lug it around for the next three months.)

It seemed that the Elephants were treated pretty well here and I was OK about visiting. I've heard horror stories of how they train these elephants to do certain things, and since I'm an animal lover, I try not to encourage those situations. Part of this conservatory was an Elephant Hospital that I went down to see. They bring in any Elephant that is injuried and do their best to help it recover. It was pretty legit overall, so that made me feel good about visiting!
I left Lampang today and just got up to Chiang Mai. The girls will meet me in a couple of days for the weekend. In the mean time, I've signed up for a trek to the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon. Sounds like we'll hike for the morning, get toward the top, stop at a waterfall for lunch and a swim, hang out a bit, then take a bamboo raft back down to the bottom!! Should be cool and I'll update as soon as possible!!
Hope everyone is doing well at home!!