|Battambang, Cambodia is the country's second largest city, I'm told. You wouldn't think it, though. The main streets in town are named No. 1, 2, and 3, and there is hardly a building over 3 stories. As far as "cities" go, I'll take it.
The downside to a small, off-the-beaten path city is that diversions are few and far between. (I've been spending an inordinate amount of time in internet cafes here, both keeping cool, and filling up the time.) But one thing that is unique to this area is the bamboo trains. These are cobbled together bamboo platforms balanced atop train axels hooked up to an engine. They can be easily disassembled in the case of an oncoming real train or to pass each other en route. It is really a great use of the otherwise seldom used tracks.
Having heard so much about these, I had to see them. I hired a moto driver from my hotel to take me. We meandered through villages and rice fields with him providing helpful tidbits along the way (Battambang rice is supposed to be the best in the country!). When we got to the "station", they built us a car, and me, my driver, and the taxi all loaded up. The ride took 20 minutes over some pretty rusticrailway lines. It was great. Halfway through the trip, we had to stop because there was another "train" on the tracks. It turns out, they were filming a movie. So I sat and ate some fresh coconut ice cream as they finished up their shot and carried their train from the tracks. It was really a great way to see something unique and to see the wonderful Cambodian countryside.
|Friday December 1 2006||File under: travel, Cambodia|
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If I ever wrote a book about automotive transportation in southeast Asia, I think I might call it Following the Horn. I thought up this title as my bus was barrelling through morning Phnom Phen traffic with the horn blaring about 80% of the time. I've spent a lot of time listening to how the driviers (whether bus, taxi, or moto) use their horn. They use it to say "move!", "I'm right behind you", "It's safe to pass me", "It's not safe to pass me", "You're going too slow", "Thank you", and just about anything else. Different drivers use it to different degrees, but enivitably, you feel like you are truly being led through traffic by your vehicle's horn.
The more I think about it, the more fun it would be to write a book like this. You could have a chapter named Hello Moto about the prevalence of motos, esp. moto taxis and their overaggressive drivers. Now that's what I call carpooling would be a chapter containing images of some of the most overloaded cars, trucks, and motorbikes that you have ever seen. The pictures for the chapter called The 100cc Family Car would be great, yet somewhat disturbing to mothers of young children. Necessary Daredevil would recount how transportation in SE Asia is often an at-your-own-risk type affair. Even crossing the street is a stunt worthy of Superdave.
Maybe it would have to be mostly a picture book. Which means this post shouldn't be a pictureless post. But it is, because I ain't no Ansel Adams. (Heck, I ain't even a Josh Root.)
|Thursday November 30 2006||File under: travel, transportation|
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|Cambodia, so far, has been a refreshing change from Thailand. Many things are the same (the climate, the prices (more or less), and the disregard of traffic "laws"), but many things are different, both for good and bad.
On the good side, things are less touristy here. I hate to say that, because it sounds so elitist, but it truly enhances my experience of the place. It is easy to find places that are like I imagine they would be if Sihanoukville wasn't a main tourist destination for Cambodia (which isn't saying much, as Cambodia isn't quite the tourist destination). Take for example this: Ryan and I were walking back from the beach, me with my juggling clubs in hand. Street kids are always pointing to the clubs with a questioning look on their face, and when I toss them up a time or two, their faces light up. Anyway, this time, I was doing just that when a rather jolly (read:drunk) looking fellow comes out of a back yard and beckons (read:drags) us into his back yard to put on a show for his friends. We oblige, naturally (for what juggler can turn down a captive, appreciative audience). Needless to say, they are extremely excited. The main guy comes out with drinks for us, which we beg off, but we do position him between us while we pass clubs around him. So fun. Things like this seem like it would happen less frequently in Thailand, or at least the touristy parts.
On the downside, Cambodia, or at least the parts I have seen so far, are poor. There are beggers everywhere, and the business people are a bit more aggressive, esp. the moto drivers. It is sad to come out of a store to 10 kids with their hands outstrecthed and a desperate look on their face. We had dinner the other evening at an outdoor place, and there was a kid that sat watching us eat the whole time. We've had many a discussion on this topic. We can never come to conclusions on what to do, how to feel, etc. etc. But whatever the case, it sure is a bring down.
Both the good and the bad is what makes it the experience that it is, and for that I am greatful. I'm looking forward to much more of each in the coming weeks.
|Monday November 27 2006||File under: Cambodia, travel|
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One of the curiosities about travel - sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is maddening - is the money. Conversion rates, deciphering the value of a bill, making sure you have enough to get you to the next country, but not too much, so you don't lose money on the transfer back, etc. etc. And then there is the actual notes; I'm just totally enamored by just about all paper money I see, not because of its value, but because of what it says about the culture.
This money-aspect of travel was really punctuation while crossing the Cambodian border yesterday morning. The Cambodian currency unit is the riel, with an approximate conversion rate of 4,000 to the US dollar. The US dollar is widely accepted, though, and often prices are even quoted in it. Well, in anticipation of this, I converted the remainder of my Thai baht (except a few choice bills for my collection) into US dollars. When we got to the border, the border police refused to accept dollars for the [exorbitant] visa fee. So it was back to an ATM to get out baht.
The motos that met us off the ferry to give us a ride into town (Sihanoukville) quotes prices in baht. We then tried to covert that to dollars, because we had no baht. Since we didn't have correct change in dollars, we converted the amount to riels, which we picked up at a roadside money changer. All in all, it makes for some interesting commerce.
So having traveled for the past 10 weeks, I'm getting quite the stack of foriegn currency. In my wallet, currently, I have 6 different currencies: US dollar, Thai baht, Cambodian riel, Chinese yuan, Hong Kong dollar, and Macau pataca. But don't get any ideas. The sum total of all these is prolly no more than $50.
Yes, I realize this is a very pertainent post, it coming on the heels of National Buy Nothing Day and all.
|Sunday November 26 2006||File under: travel, Cambodia|
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|Thanksgiving: a time to give thanks, and a time to eat. We'll start in reverse order here, with the food.
We invited some Canadians to join us for the big feast, being as Americans are few and far between over this way. It was a most enjoyable dinner. The menu included spring rolls, vietnamese "summer" rolls, red coconut curry with chicken, pineapple curry with seafood, fried veggies with chicken, lots of rice, pineapple chicken kebabs, fried rice with seafood, a coconut fruit shake, and a mixed fruit shake. There might have been some other stuff in there too. I don't exactly remember. (Oh and all for about $4 a person.) I'll miss the post-feast burritos with the stuffing and potatoes and such from home, but I can't complain.
And now for the thanks: Every moment I look around me, I realize how much I have to be thankful for. But for the purposes of this blog, I will be brief. On my trip, I have had the pleasure of traveling with so many good friends from home; Andrew, Per, Myke, Shane, Trista, Andy, Jodie, and Ryan. Throughout my travels, I've met some great people, as well; Racheal, Mark, Andrea, the Dutch Girls (whose name I could never pronounce, couldn't even begin to spell, so I immediately forgot), Esther and Paul, Aussie Dave, Abi, Michelle and Brenda, Pingping, Bruce and Betsy, and Kathy. So to all that have helped make this trip so great, I offer a heartfelt thanks.
I would also like to offer my utmost appreciation to you, the readers of BdW. Being able to share my adventures with you has made everything I've done that much better. Getting your comments, questions, suggestions, experiences, and encouragement has made it almost like you were all here with me.
So, file this Thanksgiving under "Awesome". (Oh, I also kayaked out to a nearby island and got an elite geocache!) Anyway, I hope you and yours have a wonderful day with lots of food, friends, and family.
|Thursday November 23 2006||File under: Thailand, holidays|
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|So perhaps I spoke too soon (and perhaps a bit generalized) in my last post re:traveling vs. vacationing. Where have I been the last 4 days? The beach. How do I pass my days? Chess, juggling, swimming, and reading. What are my plans for tomorrow? Kayaking to a geocache, chess, juggling, and swimming. How many of these endeavors involve local culture or any sort of worthy pursuit? None. But that's okay.
Ryan and I have lucked out on places to stay out here on Ko Chang. Our first hut was a great little one on the beach about a 20 minute walk down a dirt road. There was a huge lawn for juggling, a great beach for swimming, and hammocks all around for reading and chillin'. The downside was the surly dude that owned the place took an immediate disliking to us. And while we can't prove anything, a large number of fleas and ants did end up in our beds. Perhaps coincidence. Anyway, after a scratchy and sleepless night, we've moved down to the Lonely Planet-recommended Treehouse bungalows. Pictured to the right is my current digs, a tiny hut that will prolly have the porch over the water at high tide. Good times!
|Tuesday November 21 2006||File under: Thailand, pics|
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|There is a subtle difference between travelling and vacationing, but it seems to come up a lot. Every traveller you meet has a different balance of taking in a new culture, geography, etc. and comforts and pleasure. For some, exemplified by those who choose all inclucive resorts in the Caribbean, the balance is towards comforts and pleasure. For others, the balanace is extremely the other way. Think of hauling a big backpack through the heat of the jungle and the chaos of local buses to see the ruins of some religious something or other.
For me, the balance is usually towards the less comforts, more culture side, (although I don't dis the resort life at all (case in point)) This eye opening and sometimes back-breaking pursuit is what I call "travelling". Well, travelling can wear on you. It takes a lot to wade through the challenges that throw themselves at you in a typical traveller's day. So I decided to take a vacation from my travels. Yes, I know. Right now you are saying, "your whole trip has been a vacation". Well, I assure you that there are definitely trials and tribulations that I've been omitting in this blog.
Anyhoo, the vacation: Ryan and I found ourselves in Pattaya, Thailand, a beach resort of some disrepute. (We found out the reason for the disrepute after visiting, and it is safe to say that I will never go back there again. Long story.) Anyway, what the town did have going for it is that it was geared towards vacationers. So for my vacation, I chose a movie in the cinema (James Bond in Casino Royal), a couple of rounds of minigolf, an air conditioned room, and an all you can eat breakfast buffet. Needless to say, it was great! Although I lost 300 baht on the golfing (10 baht per stroke. I'm far off my best), and prolly gained 15 pounds or so (I also upped my daily icecream limit from 1 to 3 for my vacation), it was a much needed recharge with western comforts after my time in China and before tackling Cambodia and Vietnam.
So now we are back in travel mode. We are in Trat, with plans to head out to Ko Chang tomorrow. Today, we took 3 local buses totalling 6 hours, part of which was so hot the sweat just poured off, another part of which was done standing in an oversold bus. Culture at its finest, I guess.
|Friday November 17 2006||File under: Thailand, pics|
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|Back on the beach
Sand between my toes
Crashing waves to frolic in
It's good to be back
Okay folks, there's my haiku. I don't think it will win any awards or move anyone to tears, but writing in such a structured way can be fun from time to time. Now have your go at it. Any comments to this post should be posted in haiku format (5/7/5). Have fun!
|Wednesday November 15 2006||File under: poetry, travel|
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|What would you do with 3 hours in Macau, a city that is unique in its combination of European and Asian cultures? Maybe take a cultural tour of the city, or at least get a cab to drive you to the major sites? Well, I got off the ferry and went straight for the only geocache...by foot. You laugh, but I think I might have a serious problem. In Hong Hong, I tried for 4 caches but only found 2. But I suppose, in its(/my) defense, it is a good way to see some of the off-the-beaten-path sights. And it is a way to make Saxtor jealous.
Luckily, after some huffing and puffing to get up the hill (with my heavy backpack), I found the cache quickly so I had enough time to stroll through a few of the narrow streets and see a few of the gorgeous building facades. I didn't, however, get a chance to check out any of the casinos. But for a traveller on a budget, maybe casinos aren't the best idea.
Anyway, my time in both Macau and Hong Kong were way way too short, but there might be a revisit in the near future. Stay tuned for details.
|Monday November 13 2006||File under: Macau, travel|
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|HK: Welcome to Hong Kong.
me: You speak English! I'm so glad to be here. That bus ride was a bear. Those beds were not made for 6' Westerners. It really makes you appreciate train travel.
HK: Technically, you're not there yet. You first must fill out this form and go stand in that line.
me: No problem.
HK: And then this form and that line...and then that line over there.
me: What's the deal with the customs. Aren't you still part of China?
HK: Yes and no. It's complicated.
HK: Oh, and you need different money. My dollar is far superior to the RMB.
me: (yeah, but .01%)
HK: What was that?
me: Nothing. So how much should I get out of the ATM? I'm only here for 2 days. This ought to be more than enough.
me: We're not all here to shop for Gucci, you know.
HK: Have it your way. Where are you staying?
me: I was hoping you could help me out with that. Any particular district you recommend?
HK: You mean you don't have a guide book?!? Well, all my districts are nice.
me: Alrighty then. Thanks for the help. I'll just roam around in the heat with my big bag until I find something.
HK: Well, enjoy your stay. (And maybe you should stop by to see one of my many tailors, grubby)
|Sunday November 12 2006||File under: China, travel|
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