A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia

Here & There

After leaving Vietnam, we decided to make a stop-over in Malaysia on our way back to Thailand. Once again, I knew little about the place I was going to visit, so we found a Lonely Planet book, and started reading. We knew it would be hot and beautiful (we would still be in SE Asia after all), but we didn't know it would be so 'Western' Among the first things we noticed after landing in Kuala Lumpur, were the modern road system, and the lush green foliage. Mike said he could just as easily have landed in California. We headed to a mall to get the computer fixed, and ended up eating sushi, bowling, and window shopping in actual stores where the staff is made up of bored teenagers who could care less if you bought anything; they certainly weren't going to talk you into it. Meg was in heaven. Even Mac was happy.

We didn't waste too much time in the city, however, because my beautiful resort was waiting. It was called "The Golden Palm Tree Iconic Resort" - so fancy. It was a palm tree shaped cluster of villas, built on stilts over the ocean. It was total luxury!
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The kids were able to windsurf, paddle board,
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cart surf, play ping pong ...
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It was such a nice treat. A 5-star holiday in the middle of our 2-star travels.

Another quick stop in Kuala Lumpur gave us just enough time for another mall fix, and a visit to China Town. The taxi ride alone was worth the trip. Our driver wasn't really a taxi driver, he was some sort of consultant with a master's degree in something or other, who was just helping out his brother. Despite it being Sunday, he was determined to avoid the traffic jams. It didn't take long for him to get lost, and turn a 7 minute ride into a 60 minute one. I still burst out in a fit of giggles when I think of him saying (in his Indian accent) "Oh my god, this road goes somewhere else!", "Oh no, now we're on a toll road", and chanting "KL KL just follow the signs that say KL and we will get back to Kuala Lumpur".
The theme in China Town seemed to be - food on a stick.
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We then headed to the Vegas/Disneyland of Malaysia. Genting Highlands is a mountain top themepark-casino. One of the best things about this resort is the uber-cool gondola ride up to it. If you look hard in the background, you can just make out one of the hotels at the top of the mountain.
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So, for three days, we rode roller coasters, ate fast food, bowled, and gazed out our window at the lights of Kuala Lumpur miles and miles away.
Mac on the "Flying Coaster"
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I'm not sure why I let Meg talk me into this drop-of-death at every theme park we visit, but here we are again.
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They even had something Mike's speed
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Our last stop was at the island of Langkawi. We didn't stay long, but managed to sneak in a boat ride through the many gorgeous islands that this area is famous for.
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We also hiked up to an alpine lake known for it's fertility powers, where we all swam with our mouths firmly closed.
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And remember, whenever traveling in Malaysia, be mindful of the signs...
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and check to see who's hanging out in the kitchen :)
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And we're off to Thailand.

Posted by wilsonprawdzik 05:27 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Memories of Vietnam

Random snapshots

Mike takes so darned many good photos, I always have trouble narrowing them down. I thought I'd post a random selection for anyone interested in looking. Most are self explanatory, so I won't make comments unless I think it'll be helpful.
Enjoy!
This is Jerry, she lived at the guest house where we stayed in Da Lat.
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Note how rich we are in Vietnam! Of course the access fees are pretty steep...
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Coffee beans
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bamboo bicycle
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Posted by wilsonprawdzik 22:59 Comments (0)

Vietnam, 2nd Installment

Beaches, Mountains, and Rain

sunny 28 °C

We were able to travel from Saigon to an awesome little beach town called Mui Ne by Sleeper bus. Too cool. Mike wishes you get could seats like that on airplanes. (Please don't tell him that for the price of his right arm, he could).
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Mui Ne is the "adrenaline capital of Vietnam". They have crazy wind and surf there. When the tide was high, the waves would crash over the 10 ft retaining wall at our resort.
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The sky was full of Kite Surfers - very entertaining to watch. Mac was in awe, and vowed to return one day to partake in the fun.
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This time around however, he was satisfied with wind surfing, and managed to get out for a couple of lessons.
Now, of course, he needs one for Tagish.
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We also went sliding on the sand dunes,
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where Megan made a couple of friends. This is how tall 12 year olds are in Vietnam - they thought Meg was a giant!
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We also got our kicks swimming in the tremendous surf. The day before we were leaving, I finally worked up the courage to try boogey boarding. I waited for the biggest wave of the year, 40 ft high at least, and went for it. Within seconds, I was turning summersaults in the water, and eating sand off the ocean floor. When flow of blood from my nose finally ebbed, I was grateful for two things: 1) My neck wasn't broken, and 2) Bobbi wasn't watching!

I was a little hesitant to leave the beach for the cooler mountains, but was drawn by the promise of "Little Paris of Vietnam". Da Lat certainly delivered on that promise. Sadly, rather than a sleeper bus to take us up into the mountains, there was an overcrowded, rust bucket to travel the winding, bumpy, dusty road. I think it took us 5 or 6 hours to travel about 265 kms NOT including the stop to fix the transmission. ( It's amazing what a Vietnamese bus driver can do with a single wrench.) We all loved Dalat immediately. Mac because of the pine trees that reminded him of home, Meg because she was put in charge of Christmas decorations at our guest house, and Mike because of the community breakfast table at our guest house, that enabled him to lounge for hours over breakfast visiting with the other guests. As for myself, I got to bake Christmas cookies!
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The kids were relieved that Santa managed to find them among the Buddhists of Vietnam. Mac didn't even mind that Santa stuffed his gifts into his dad's smelly old sock.
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Aside from the cookies, we all helped cook Christmas dinner, which we shared with the other hotel guests at the Christmas party. It was the next best thing to Christmas at home.
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Da Lat is also the home of the "Crazy House", which is technically a hotel, but in reality giant playground filled with narrow winding staircases, hidden passages, and secret themed rooms. It's like being in Alice's Wonderland. It was designed by a local architect with a wild imagination. Pictures can't begin to capture the whimsical feel to this place (but I'll put a couple in nonetheless)
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Speaking of whimsical, we found a gravity fed roller coaster to play on as well. The rider controlled the brake release, and gravity did the rest. No loopdy-loops, but well worth the $2 fee.
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The fun didn't stop there either. At the bottom of the roller coaster, was a lovely waterfall. And, as if that wasn't enough, there was a cable car and a funky outdoor glass elevator to take you through a canyon to yet another waterfall. The icing on the cake was that you merely had to hop back on the roller coaster to be pulled back up to where you started. I gotta tell ya, Mike was in heaven - it was best 'hiking' day of his life. I believe he called it 'hiking for gimps'.
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We took yet another cable car (didn't I tell you this place was great?), to the most beautifully landscaped monastery that I've ever seen. It was set on a mountain side overlooking a lake. I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking...
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Mac and I also managed to get away for a mountain bike ride. I think we were both relieved that there were two of us and two guides, because one of us just couldn't keep up. It was beautiful riding along old dirt roads and mountain trails that overlooked both wilderness and farm land. In this part of Vietnam, they farm everything from broccoli to rice to roses to strawberries. I thought of the Duelings the entire time, and was happy that Derek wasn't there to put me to shame climbing some of the hills.
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OMG, I almost forgot to tell you about the kids trying to kill me by taking me canyoning. We abseiled down cliffs, repelled through waterfalls, jumped off other cliffs, and slid down natural rock water slides. I've never been so terrified in my life! Thank the lord Megan was there, as I thought it would be poor form to have an emotional meltdown knowing that she was as scared as I was. It makes me laugh (now that it's over) to think that they actually take novices, young and old, to places like this. We did it with a young couple from our hotel, and at one point everyone was to chicken to go first, so I sucked it up and volunteered. The guide said, and I quote "oh sure, let the old lady go first"! He also said (afterwards of course), that sometimes when people get partway down a cliff/waterfall, they start crying and cursing him, but there's nothing for them to do but continue down! I'm happy to say that I did it all, and happier to say that I'll never do it again:)
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Our time in Da Lat came to an end all too soon. There was so much to do there, we just couldn't fit it all in. In a last ditch effort to see a bit more, we turned our ride to the airport into a mini tour, and stopped at a silk farm,
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another waterfall/cave
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and a grimy old brewery where they were trying to pass off pure rubbing alcohol as rice wine. If I seem a bit brain damaged next time you see me, you'll know why.
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Our final stop in Vietnam was the much anticipated tailor capitol of the world - Hoi An. I thought I'd have to reign Meg in, but I was the one who lost control. Once we found a tailor shop we liked, I just couldn't stop myself. I'm going to look so good next year! The weather was pretty rainy, so aside from tailoring and a couple of bike rides between the showers, there wasn't much to do, so hang in there, I'm almost done!
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So that's about it for Vietnam - whew!

Oh goody, now I get to tell you about my Malaysian resort...

Posted by wilsonprawdzik 22:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam

Phu Quoc

sunny 30 °C

Yay! We've been reunited with our favourite traveling companion. I don't know how we survived 5 weeks without our computer. The funny part? When we finally took it to a Mac dealer in Kuala Lumpur, he turned it on and it worked! He couldn't explain it, but then again nothing makes sense to me when it comes to computers, so we're just grateful to have something bigger than an ipod to type on.

So here we are in Malayasia in a to-die-for resort, with a villa sitting on stilts over the ocean, and I just want to brag about it, but there are the 5 weeks in Vietnam that I haven't told you about yet….so I guess I'll have to contain my resort induced excitement and tell you about the charm, beauty, and fabulous tailors in Vietnam.

We started out in the south, and worked our way about half way up the country.

Our first stop was on the island Phu Quoc where we hung out at the beach,
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went on a snorkel trip,
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watched the fishermen,
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and visited a pearl farm.
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This lady was like a 7-eleven in a boat. She seemed to travel among the fishing boats in the harbour selling her wares.
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We also enjoyed marveling at the creative wiring. Coincidentally, this is the island where my computer stopped working …. maybe it was in self preservation mode….
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I needn't have worried, when they have highly trained pro's with high tech equipment in charge of maintenance.
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Mac got his first taste of windsurfing,
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while Meg got yet another taste of icecream:)
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After leaving Phu Quoc, we stayed for several days in Mac's worst nightmare - SAIGON. I think they should rename it Scooter City. You know all of those pictures that fly around the internet showing the different things people carry on their scooters? If we didn't see them in Cambodia, we definitely saw them here….by the thousands. They have taken over the city, and when there isn't enough room on the roads, they just drive on the sidewalks. One guy pushed Megan out of his way, because she dared walk on the sidewalk where he was trying to drive! I thought she was going to haul off and punch him. Lucky for him his scooter was faster than her reaction time:)
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Meg and I did a day tour of the Mekong Delta where we visited a coconut candy factory, and were paddled down a little river by two old women in a little dug out canoe. We fell behind our group somehow, so these women poured it on until we were skimming along at about 90mph, passing all of the other little old women's boats like they were standing still. At the end, as they were panting and gasping for air, they held out their hands and said "tip-tip".
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The four of us went on a Cu Chi Tunnel tour as well. Does anyone aside from Jud, Paul, and my brother Jim know what the Cu Chi Tunnels are? It's unbelievable how much I've learned so far on this trip, I mean seriously, did I sleep through 4 years of high school and another 5 of university? Anyway, the Cu Chi tunnels are an amazing network of hand dug underground tunnels that were used by the Cu Chi people and the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War (or American War, as it's known in Vietnam). There were miles of these tunnels, and the people both traveled and lived in them. The kids and I even crawled around in them for a bit.
Some on the entrances were pretty darned small. Definitely not made for full sized American soldiers.
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For a fuller Vietnam war experience, we got to climb on tanks
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and shoot AK 47s, or maybe they were M16s....
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For both our sakes, I think I'll stop here for today.

Coming up next, Mui Ne - stay tuned...

Posted by wilsonprawdzik 01:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

No thank you! No massage! No tuk tuk!

A week in Cambodia

sunny -30 °C

When we left on this adventure, I had given a bit of thought to visiting Cambodia, but admittedly, knew very little about it. Thoughts of Cambodia were accompanied by visions of poverty, jungles, and general disorganization. Guess what? I was right! What I didn't count on however, were smiling, friendly people, remarkable ruins, and a country struggling to overcome it's past in order to build a future.

After a dodgy start (the usual rip off schemes found in border towns, designed to prey on unsuspecting, naive, tourists), we settled in to our hotel in Siem Reap, and had a great week haggling with the locals. Highlights included a visit to Angkor Wat, a tuk tuk ride through the country, visits to the market, and of course...spa treatments! Even Mac, our country bumpkin, thought that as far as cities go, Siem Reap was OK.

Once we got the money figured out ($1=400 000 riel), we hardly ever got ripped off - at least not that we know of. Strangely, they mainly use US dollars, but to keep you on your toes they give you part of your change in riel and part in dollars. In the end, everything was so cheap, and we were so (relatively) rich, that we tended to just pay people whatever they wanted and tell them to keep the change.

Here's our Cambodian Top 10:

  1. 1 The Children.
The kids were so smiley and friendly. Many times we'd hear "Hello Goodbye!" from across the street, from in a shop, or biking by. Big, big smiles. One day as some kids were piling out of the school across the street, two little boys ran straight for Mac with their hands out. They just wanted to shake his hand.
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  1. 2 The Temples
Angkor Wat in its incredible state of preservation was remarkable to see. Much of the relief carving done in sandstone is clearly visible, except where people would have touched it. Hard to believe it's 1000 years old. For now, you are still allowed to crawl all over the ruins with or without a guide. We got a guide which made it way more enriching, and his stories about life under the Kmer Rouge were a real eye opener.
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There can never be too many Buddhas carved in stone. This one is watching the gate.
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Social Studies at it's best. A lesson from our guide.
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It's difficult to say what's more amazing; the amount of work that must have gone into creating the relief carvings that cover the walls around Angkor Thom OR the fact that they remain in such remarkable condition today.
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By far the coolest temple of all was Ta Prohm. The jungle trees are intertwined with the temple and make for stunning photos.
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  1. 3 The Transport Vehicles
Watching these guys became our favorite past time. They hauled everything on or behind their bikes; from families of 4, to full grown pigs, to loads the size of a small shed, to 100lb propane tanks. Nothing was too big or awkward for these guys!
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  1. 4 The Countryside
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  1. 5 The resilience of the people.
This group of men are victims of post war land mine explosions. Their band raises money for other victims.
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Our Angkor Wat guide told us that his father was killed by the Kmer Rouge when he was a very young child. He was raised by his grandmother, and didn't start school until he was about 10. He would take trays of cakes to school every day to sell to the other children in order to earn money so that he could to pay for school. After finishing school, he struggled as a tuk tuk driver for many years, until at age 37 he began learning English so that he could work as a tour guide. He is now learning french so that he can earn even more money as a french guide. In the mean time, he sends most of his money to his pregnant wife who lives and teaches school in the country. She earns $45/month. Despite it all, he keeps smiling because he says life will be much easier for his own children.
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  1. 6 The Markets.
We all found the old market near the river to be amazing and overwhelming. There was so much unusual stuff we had to go in to the crowded, dark, smelly chaos, but were overwhelmed by the agressive sales styles of the locals. They just don't like it when you don't buy anything.
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  1. 7 The street vendors.
So many people seem to have this job. Some sell from little wagons, off tuk tuks, or even a wheelbarrow/tray. Fresh fruit, coconuts, stuff like that was common, roasted clams or bugs were less common but apparently popular with some people. In this picture the closest bowl was full of smoked, honey coated crickets. I was told they taste like roasted nuts a bit, but couldn't say. Other bowls had grasshoppers and beetles. The lady with the machine was pressing sugar cane and collecting the juice in a jug. I watcher her for a while but no one tried to buy any off her so I don't know what the deal was.
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  1. 8 The tuk tuks (and the drivers who never, ever, give up on asking you if you need one)
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  1. 9 The spas. Hmmm, I think I'll have a manicure with pain today.
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  1. 10 The food
What's on the menu?
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Let's start with the crocodile, and save the snake for later.
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The silver lining to the French occupation? The pastry legacy of course.
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Jane's pineapple-coconut fruit shake. It's like having a pina-colada every day.
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Megan, of course, finds icecream everywhere we go :)
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Posted by wilsonprawdzik 08:51 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

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