Seoul Searching

Yes yes. You're eyes aren't deceiving you. That is snow you are seeing in the picture. I feel bad continually posting anecdotes on hot days, beaches, and relief at finding a room with A/C while all ya'll at home are dealing with wind storms, snow, and gloomy winter weather, so I thought I would make ya'll feel better by pointing out that travellers also hit runs of cold weather.

But global warming isn't bad enough that it all of the sudden snowed in Ho Chi Minh City. This picture was taken at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea. As I understand it, it is Korea's version of an imperial palace which I have seen so many other places. Beautiful architecture, grounds, and gardens made for a great place to meander around while enjoying the gorgeous winter day. (And yes, it was cold enough to warrant the long pants.)

Other Korean activities? Well, I got a geocache, of course. And following my love of public transportation, I rode the Seoul train. (Okay, that was the last bad "Seoul" pun)
Thursday December 21 2006File under: travel, Korea

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History Lesson

Everywhere you go, there are new bits of history to learn. Most of it is completely new to me, as Mr. Burnett's World History class somewhat glossed over the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia in 1970 by semi-US-supported (US-semi-supported?) troops, for example. But here in Vietnam, history is a little more real. Place names ring a bell (Danang, Dien Bien Phu, etc.) and when the tour guide talks of history, I can place what he says in context.

Yesterday, I visited the Cu Chi tunnel system that doubled as a kind of museum of how Viet cong(?) guerillas lived and fought. (There was a geocache there too!) It was, from a technical standpoint, really interesting how they engineered the tunnels, how to cover smoke from their cooking fires, etc. On the other hand, all the evidence of the bombing, agent orange, etc. made me pretty ashamed to be an American. Then, to top it off, I stopped at the war remnants museum on the way back. Sufficive to say, it didn't make me feel any better.

I will hold off on making any comments on my feelings on America's actions then (and how they possibly correlate to U.S. actions of today) because 1)I imagine the information presented can't help but have a bias (just as the textbooks I learned from had their own [opposite] bias and 2)I don't want the comments for this post to explode. But being surrounded by the history that I have only learned about in books and the Discovery Channel has been quite an experience.

(Oh, and I took some pictures, but forgot my transfer cable at the hotel, so you'll have to use your imagination. Or wait until the slideshow when I return. Or imagine me hunched over in a 3 feet tall tunnel holding my camera out in front of me so as to take a misdirected, out of focus shot.)
Tuesday December 19 2006File under: travel, Vietnam

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UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Throughout my trip, I've had the opportunity to visit some great places. Being able to be there and wonder in amazement at them has been an opportunity I know I won't forget. Part of the reason that they are still around for me and everyone else to wonder at is because of the efforts of UNESCO. Initially, I didn't really make the connection between all the wonderful places I've been and theWolrd Heritage List. On checking it out, I found almost all the cool places I've been listed on it.

The last Heritage Site was the Complex of Hue Monuments in Hue, Vietnam. It was a rainy rainy day so I pretty much had the place to myself. Very chinese in all the decorations. I also got to catch a "traditional" dance/music affair. Here are some pictures I took. (Sorry, I don't feel like writing up a fancy javascript bit for image swapping.)
Sunday December 17 2006File under: travel, Vietnam

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Fruit Shakes Anonymous

My name is Wren and I'm addicted to fruit shakes. It all started very innocently: "Maybe I will try a mixed fruit shake instead of a fanta", I told myself. Then it became having one with every meal, if it was convenient. They are a healthy alternative to soda, right? Well, that may be the case, but it has gotten out of hand.

Fruit shakes vary by country and even by restaurant. (Believe me. I've become an expert.) In Thailand, they were mostly just fruit, occasionally a vegetable or two, and ice. It all goes into a blender and comes out a slurpie-like consistency and is delicious. Cambodian fruit shakes tended to have less ice and were more like a pulpy juice, but still not bad. Here in Vietnam, occasionally they will add milk or yogurt to form a more creamy mixture.

So now I am averaging about 4 fruit shakes a day (with the occaional 6-a-day binges). Ask anyone that has travelled with me and they will tell you: if a fruit shake ain't on the menu, we ain't eating there. I prefer a good mixed fruit shake because you never get the same thing twice. My favorite place in Thailand put tomatoes and carrots in theirs. I'm pretty sure one I had yesterday had avacado and dragon fruit in it. If mixed fruit isn't available, I occasionally go with a coconut, pineapple, or watermelon (thanks for the tip, Nate).

I don't know what I will do back in the states where quality fruits aren't available at ridiculously low prices. Turn back to fanta, I guess.
Friday December 15 2006File under: travel, food

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A long search is over

For almost as long as I can remember, gramicci shorts have been my uniform. They are comfortable, durable, and even stylish enough for the likes of a slob like me. But in the past couple years, I've had a hard time finding the right size, color, style combination (not to mention recent inconsistencies in fit).

Enter Hoi An, Vietnam. This place, which was one a major trading hub with the Portugese(?), has clothes shops on every corner with quite persistant sales women. Wearing my ragged gramiccis through the market yesterday, I got talked into having a replacement pair made for me. I was skeptical of the whole endeavor. But lo and behold, I return today and was knocked off my feet. My new pair is so like the old ones, it is uncanny (minus the tears and holes, of course). I commissioned another pair on the spot.

On top of the satisfaction of getting such a great pair of shorts, the transaction felt good because I knew wearing my clothes were coming from. Over at his blog, Saxtor mentions his concerns on globalization, esp. as it affects the clothing industry. While I don't share his point of view entirely, bypassing all the middlemen and corporations that are usually involved did give me a sense of everyone involved getting a fair deal.

Time will tell on the quality and durability of the purchase, but in the mean time, I've made a friend in the seamstress and I've got a great story to tell.
Wednesday December 13 2006File under: travel, Vietnam

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Sledding

Some years ago, Jule and I were in New Zealand and had the opportunity to try out a little thing called sand sledding. Being the stingy young 'un that I was (yes, folks, I say was. You got a problem with that?), I opted to watch instead of joining the masses hucking themselves down the hill looking like they were really enjoying themselves. Ever since, I have kind of regretted not joining the fun.

Well, Vietnam has given me a do-over. The white sand dunes outside of Mui Ne aren't quite the same as those at 90 mile beach in NZ, but they were nonetheless spectacular. And while I ended up with pockets full of sand and completely out of breath from trudging up the dune, the sledding was totally worth it.
Tuesday December 12 2006File under: travel, Vietnam

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Good Morning Vietnam

For you food lovers out there, I've got a doozy. But first, a quick note.

I'd like to apologize about the negative tone of my previous couple posts. They aren't necessarily a reflection on a change of attitude towards traveling, as some have suggested. It is more just that travelling isn't always sunny. I have tried to do my best to keep this blog that way, but I must have let a couple slide. (Actually, just that one, because the Christmas lights one was actually a happy one that was just poorly phrased.)

After a long day of travel yesterday, I woke up this morning on the beach in Mui Ne, Vietnam. (Okay, not technically on the beach, because the sand fleas would have gotten me, but close enough.) To celebrate a new country, currency, and culture, I went out for a big breakfast. I ordered a tomato omelette, fresh orange juice (no ice), and a pineapple pancake. (I was hungry). The omlette turned out to be huge and come with prolly 3 sliced tomatoes and 2 baguettes. Then came the "pancake", which was actually breaded, deep-friend pineapple slices, served with sweetened condensed frosting of some sort. So good, yet so unexpected. Tea was thrown in as a freebie, with the total bill coming to 37,000 dongs (quit that snickering), which is about $2.50. After nearly 3 months of traveling, this is the first real cultural breakfast I've experienced, and I loved it.
Saturday December 9 2006File under: travel, Vietnam

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Holiday in Cambodia



Leave it up to the Americans (in this case, at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh) to bring in that special Christmas cheer. And to top it all off? Why Alvin and the Chipmunks singing "Please Christmas Don't Be Late", of course.
Friday December 8 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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An Open Letter to My Fellow Travellers

Dear Fellow Traveller,

It sure is amazing that we're here, eh? To be in Phnom Phen, halfway around the world, getting to experience this totally different culture: We really are so lucky. I hope you share that sense of amazement with me. In addition to seeing this oh so different culture, it has been great meeting you, my fellow travellers. For sharing your travel histories, as well as information about your home countries and lives, I want to say thank you.

I do, however, have some beef. I share it with you not only to get it off my chest, but also in hopes that you will listen and consider what I have to say. After all, my experience travelling is affected by what you do, both from direct interactions, and in indirect ways (how a community welcomes travellers greatly depends on how previous travellers have acted in the past).

For starters, the Lonely Planet is a guide book, not a rule book. The next time I hear "but the Book says...", I think I might go insane. I have nothing against Lonely Planet. Its information about schedules, activities, accommodations, and maps has been helpful in the past. But it has also been dead wrong. So do me a favor, dear traveller: pass a day (or two or three) without carrying around the Book. Choose an accommodation based on the look and feel of the place, rather than words written by someone else over a year ago. Take a chance on a place that wasn't included in the "things to do" list. But most of all, please stop quoting the suggestions and cautions from the LP as ones of your own or those of your friends. If it is in the LP, it is not insider information.

Secondly, if you choose to take advantage of nothing else of the culture here but the cheap beer prices, please keep quiet and try not to do anything stupid. Since we keep exactly opposite schedules, I suspect I will never meet you, which is all for the best, I guess. But please have the courtesy to realize that some people are here for more than the $.50 Anchors or the $3.00 buckets, and act accordingly. Cultural exchange is a two way street, and please don't litter it with your vomit and curse words.

That said, I know I speak to only a percentage of you travellers. We all have our own reasons for being here and our own agendas. I will do my best to respect yours if you return the favor.

Cordially,
Wren
Thursday December 7 2006File under: open letter, travel

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The Big Old Angkor Post

So I've spent the last few days exploring the ancient area I am calling Angkor. You would think after a couple days exposed to loads of information on the place, I would at least know what it is called. Well, there are a bunch of temples (Angkor Wat, Bayon, etc.) that are organized into cities (Angkor Thom, etc.) But for the purposes of this, we will call it all Angkor.

I decided to do Angkor slowly, rather than rush through it like many tourists who seem to all follow the same itenerary from some book. I bought a three day pass (for $40) with plans of not necessarily doing 3 full days, but having that option. It turned out to be a great plan. I went up at around 9:00 each morning, and spent the day looking at various temples, enjoying lunch, and reading.

One day, I rented a bicyle and rode the 12 or so kilometers up to the temples. After heading out to some of the less visited, less restored temples and trying (but failing) for
a geocache, I'd say I rode a good 20 miles at least. (Probably a good thing to burn off all those calories from my ice cream habit.)

Needless to say, the experience was awesome. There was so much to see, from the completely restored temples to awesome carvings to long undisturbed temples. Yet again, something so long looked forward to doesn't disappoint in the least. Yeehaw!
Tuesday December 5 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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