Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dalat and Hoi An

After I left Saigon, I went up inthe the mountains to a place called Dalat. It's a cute, tiny little town that is best known for its coffee farms and it's crazy house, which is a Gaudi-esque building, where you can actually stay over night! Also, I ate crickets. They were deep fried and served with some good sauce, so they weren't actually too bad!!!

My favorite part of Dalat, however, was going into one of the local villages and sitting in the home of some hill tribe women. They were five sisters, all living in the same house, along with their mother and various children. We sat with them for about an hour, introducing ourselves, and our guide, Mr. Rot, translated and told us stories about their lives. Apparently, when these women give birth, they go off on their own, deliver the babies themselves, and then stay alone for 7 days. People will come to give them food and water, but it's bad luck to touch the new baby, so they leave them alone for a week. Interesting, huh?

We rode around the countryside on motos...(me riding on the back of course), and by the end of the day my stoach was full with delicious food and fruit, and lots of good memories!

I then flew into Hoi An, an old fisihing city right on the water. It was such a quaint city, there are parts that no motos and cars are allowed to go, just walkers or bikers. At night the city is lit up with lanterns, and the streets are fillllled with tailors and shoe shops. I treated myself to a few things, and then a few more....and then a few more. And then I treated myself to a new bag to carry it all in! I stayed in a beautiful hotel near the beach, but it was unfortunately quite far from the city center. I either had to take a shuttle bus or ride a bike, which I did a few times. Here's a pic of me setting a lantern into the river while making a wish!

Hoi An was probably one of my favorite cities thus was so cute, not too much to do besides wander around, shop and people watch. There were lots of little old houses and museums that we could go into, but I found myself more interested in just walking around.

It was then off to Hue, which was kind of a wasted trip...not a lot to do there but see the citidel (ask me who lived there....) and see some tombs. It was a nice day yesterday, though...

And now I'm at my last stop before home! Tomorrow I'm going into Mai Chau, a city up in the mountains where we'll stay in a house on stilts and see some local people at work, and then Sunday I start my Halong Bay cruise for two nights before home! It's defnitely been an amazing and quick month...but I'm excited to get home and see the family before I take off again!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Good Morning Vietnam!!

(I'm sorry, but I couldn't NOT)

So, my two day tour down the Mekong delta was decent. My favorite part was the last day, where we went to one of the biggest floating markets in Vietnam. We spent the morning on a boat, passing by local merchants selling their goods. They show what they are selling by tying their produce to a flag-staff and waving it above their boats. I bought some amazing pineapple, an iced coffee, and a delicous rice/fig/banana thing wrapped in a banana leaf. We then went to a rice-noodle factory to see how the noodles are made.

I arrived in Saigon Thursday night. I got myself some delicous Pho (vietnamese noodle soup served with beef, pork or chicken, soy beans, onions, peppers...mmmm, to die for! I just had a bowl for dinner, and could go for another right now). I spent the night there, took a quick moto bike tour around the city (my new favorite thing to do), and then headed to Phu Quoc island, off the west of the country. I spent three nights in a beach side bungalow there. It was amazing! My first day I laid on the beach all day, but the second day I took an all day moto tour around the island. We visited a fish market, a pepper farm, the best beach on the island, and the Coconut Tree prison, which was used during the Vietnam war to house and torture prisoners. I was the only westerner there, and believe me...I felt those stares like daggars. I have so much more to learn about the war here...but I know enough that it makes me uncomfortable. I also found probably the only Mexican restaurant on the island, and treated myself to a margarita and a quesidilla after a long day.

After my marvelous beach weekend, I headed back to Saigon for a few nights. I visited the chu Chi tunnels outside of the city, where I learned a bit more about the war. We were able to crawl down through some of the original tunnels (widened for the westerners, thank you McDonalds) and watch a movie about the war. My favorite line from the movie? "Like a band of crazy devils..." is literally what was used to describe how the Americans invaded Vietnam. Awesome...

After that totally pro-American visit, I took a trip to the War Museum in Saigon. It was heartbreaking to see the pics of people who have suffered from side effects from Agent Orange, to see the pics the photographers took of the war (many of whom died in the war or after). Really eye I said, I need to learn more.

I met up that evening with Amanda, who I met in Siem Reap, for some dinner and drinks. We've been meeting up lots during my trip, it's nice to have a travel buddy! Hoping to see her in a few days here in Hoi An.

I left the next morning for Dalat, a mountain city in the middle of Vietnam, where the weather is cooler, the people are less pushy, and the scenery is amazing. I'll save that for another post, however, because 1) it's too incredible to describe in just one post and 2) I have an 8 dollar mani/pedi scheduled for the morning, and I'm just too darn tired to write anymore! Lots of tailor/shoe shops are callng my name here in Hoi An...thinking about getting a nice silk dress made for my lovely friend Sarah's wedding in September!! Good nite to you all....

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tatai Village

After the trek, I took a small boat across the river to visit the local village. I walked down through the rice paddies, ran into some water buffalo, and saw many locals in their homes. Thats my favorite part of vacations, I think, seeing the locals live their daily lives. It was incredible to walk among the small, colorful, houses (many with satellite dishes!) and see the many animals they hae and hear lots of "hellos! and bye byes!"

After about 20 min of walking, I came across a small group of children. Not sure what they were doing, I was invited to take a seat with them. Ironically enough, they were having a small Christian sermon being led by two Korean missionaries! We had a little chat, took some pics, and I went on my way up to the village school.

I saw a few boys playing at the school, talked to the English teacher, and headed down the road a bit to see the pagoda. All the monks were doing their wash, so their robes were hanging out to dry! Walked back to where the boat was coming to pick me up, watched some Khmer boys playing volleyball, and head with Won back to the lodge. Overall, an excellent village trip!

That evening we had another awesome meal, and I packed up to go back to PP. I arrived there yesterday evening, met Amanda again, had lots of fun chatting and eating with some Spanish guys, and went to bed only to get up and leave again this morning. I also ran into my favorite little street boy, who I had bought some bracelets from my second day in PP. Each time we saw each other he'd say, "Hey lady, I know you!" We played some rock scissors paper, he showed me some magic tricks, and took a few pics together. Super sad to see so many street kids, but it was nice meeting him and realizing that although he's trying to work, he's really just a 5 year old boy who wants to play.

It was honestly really sad to say bye to the hostel boys, they were adorable and super friendly, and I'm hoping to get back there some day!

Spent all this morning on a speed boat down the Mekong Delta on my way to Vietnam. Passed through passport check, checked into our floating hotel right on the river, and am currently overlooking the delta! Tomorrow we're going to see a fish farm, and the next day we'll head to the biggest floating market on the delta, before getting to HCM in the evening. Not too sure what I think of the country yet...not nearly as friendly as Cambodia, but it's just day one! Friday I'm off to Phu Quac, for my 3 day beachfront bungalow extravaganza! Can't wait to having nothing more to do than just sit on the beach and read. Weather's spose to be great too, 95+ and sunny!!

The mighty Jungle

So, after an uber depressing day in PP, I had a nice relaxing day on Thursday. Head breakfast, paid wayyy to much to a cute tuk tuk driver to drive me around the city, and then in the evening met up with Amanda, who I met in Siem Reap, for a boat cruise and some dinner. The next morning, I took a bus to Koh Kong, up in the mountains in mid-Cambodia.

This is where I stayed...

No big deal, right? I met some cool people, made some awesome connections for S. America, and enjoyed an amazing dinner before heading to bed in my own private bungalow, mosquito net included. The next morning I woke up feeling like a princess as I looked out the window at the jungle below.

I had signed up for a trek to the Tatai waterfalls. I knew there were going to be leeches, so that nearly stopped me from going, but I've decided to do one thing every day that scares me, and that was it. Two hours, lots of sweat and LOTS of leeches later, we made it to the falls. (you'd be proud dad, after the first 10 leeches or so I was flicking them off all by myself!)

We spent a good hour or so splashing about, having a few drinks, and eating lunch. we headed back to the lodge around 2 or so, took a quick dip in the river which was amazingly warm and clean, and headed back to our rooms. The other group went kayaking, but I decided to wanted to visit the Tatai village across the river.

All in all, Im so happy I did the trek! It was incredibly rewarding to make it there after the two sweaty, leechy hours. I'd definitely recommend the Rainbow Lodge for anyone heading to Koh Kong, great food, beautiful place, super helpful staff!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Phnom Penh-Killing Fields and S-21

arrived yesterday afternoon in PP. After a decent 4 hour ride from Siem Reap, and a quick tuk tuk ride, I was at my hostel, Velkommen Backpackers. I'm in a 6 person dorm room, which is actually really unfortunate for the boys in my room, as I'm quite the snorer. Actually, a roommate had to wake me up and tell me to roll over. Woops!!

This morning I headed off bright and early to the Killing Fields. I had actually never heard of the genocide here in Cambodia until living in Korea, where many teachers come to visit here. It's something that was left out of our American textbooks, I assume, just like lots of other important parts of history that we didn't learn.

The fields were incredible. Sad, but set in a beautiful orchard with birds chirping and flowers growing, that you would never suspect that thousands of people had been murdered there. You would never suspect, except for the hundreds of graves dug in the grounds, and the nearly 9000 skulls and various bones displayed in the Memorial at the front of the fields. I walked around to different areas, listening to a recording of what had happened at each specific place. The place where the trucks stopped to let people off, the place where nearly 450 bodies were found, the tree that women and children were killed at, and the class cases holding old clothing of the prisoners. At the end of the tour, I walked into the memorial that holds the skulls, and listened to a beautiful song about Phnom Penh. It was definitely a sad, sad visit.

After that, my driver took me to the Tuol Sleng Musem, perviously known as S-21. This is where more than 17000 people were held before being taken to the Killing fields. It's an old school, composed of 4 buildings that were used to house and torture the prisoners. One building now contains pictures of each of the victims that arrived at S-21, a very chilling experience to see their faces and actual pictures of victims after they had been tortured. I walked through all the buildings silently, and saw the cells where they were kept. Mostly 2x4 ft cells made of wood or brick. Terribly sad. After the liberation of S-21 in 1979, only 7 survivors remained at S-21. These men had all survived by using some of their skills such as painting or photography. Of those 7, only two remain, one of whom was actually at the musuem selling his book. His name is Bou Meng. I bought his book and took a picture with him. He is smaller than me, speaks little English, and gave me the biggest smile when I bought his book. Out of respect for the victims of the genocide, I will not be posting my pics of the Killing Fields or S-21, but I will post the picture of Bou Meng and I.

Overall, a very informative but depressing day. After meeting Bou Meng, and getting a small kiss on the cheek from him, I quietly walked away and cried for the first time that day. The tears that I had been wanting to cry all day had finally come, and it took me a few minutes to stop.

Currently reading "First They Killed My Father" by Loung Ung, a girl who lived in PP when the Khmer Rouge took over on April 17, 1975, and lived for several years being moved from camp to camp. Haven't finished it yet, but can't seem to put it down.

So, hopefully the toughest part of the trip is over. I'm glad I was able to go and see just a part of this heartbreaking history of this amazing country. The people have been recovering for years, but I doubt that the memories of what has happened here will ever disappear.

On a happy note, I'm getting a tan! Woo hoo!!! And am receiving emails from students back at SLP. Love love love. :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ragin' Asian Adventure-Days 1, 2 & 3

motos. naked babies. the skinniest cows i've ever seen. rice. colors-pink, blue, green. geckos. Lady, you wanna tuk tuk? lady, you wanna silk scarf? I make good price for you. smells-manure, burning wood, grilling meat, orange blossoms, lilacs. Palm trees. the best pineapples I've ever tasted. beer. temples. dirt. men in sarongs. monks. monks on motos. babies on bikes. hello, bye bye! dogs. everywhere. Cambodian weddings (it's wedding season). temples. beer. honking motos. cambodian music that i cant understand. toothless old women. more naked babies. more colors. more smells.

the past two days have been nothing less than incredible. Traveling alone is so empowering, and while I've met a few fun people already, I love not having to check with someone else on where to eat, sleep, what to do and what to see. Where to go. It's been awesome.

My first day here I went to see some of the smaller temples that are a bit farther away than Angkor Wat. I woke up early, hiked up a small mountain, had lunch with my tuk tuk driver, Piri, and then watched the sunset over Pre Rup. Not too much of a view, but a wonderful, HOTTT sweaty day.

The next morning I went to see some floating villages nearby. It took nearly an hour to get there, and on the way we went through some local villages. It was awesome to see the locals in their homes, going to/from the market, selling goods and cooking outside. Lots and lots of adorable babies too! Then I hopped on a boat with two brothers, both of whom were no older than 17, and we rode down the river past the "floating" villages. They're not really floating now, just on high stilts, but I believe during the rainy season the water raises really high so it seems as if they are floating. Stopped for a coffee and played with a few more babies, then rode out on a huge lake for a bit before heading back to the hostel.

I was picked up about 1/2 hour later for my cooking class. We made Cambodian curry, spring rolls, and a crispy dessert that reminded me quite a bit of fortune cookies. In the evening I went to dinner with a few other lone female travelers, one of whom I'm hoping to meet up with in Phnom Penh later this week.

This morning was my longest, albeit most incredible day. piri picked me up at 5, we rode to Angkor Wat, and I sat around for a bit until the sun rose. It was absolutely incredible!! the sky was pink all around, and the temple just rose out of the dark. I walked around that temple for a while, before hitting a few others (including the one where tomb raider was filmed!!!)

In the afternoon I took a quick nap, then headed into the town to do some shopping and bargaining. Got some nice gifts, then went out again for dinner and to see an Aspara show, a traditional Cambodian dance/show, It was lovely and the dancers were amazing. Going to bed super early tonite, as I'm leaving early in the morning for Phnom Penh. Sad to be leaving, as Siem Reap was incredible, and my hostel was absolutely amazing... Siem Reap Rooms in case anyone is interested! They're super accomodating, helpful, amazing staff, good food, and great advice/help with booking things.

So, Phnom Penh for a few days before going into the mountains on Friday. My trip thus far has been a blast, and I'm hoping the rest of the days will be just as great!!! Hope you're all doing well, wherever you are!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Graduation Day, Graduation Day!

Well, it's finally arrived. My last day at work/graduation day!! Mixed feelings...sad to leave but happy to be moving on. Yesterday was my last day teaching, and it was a tough one....but just had to share some of my favorite quotes from the day.

Me:"You're going to write goals for the next year, like 'I want to make good friends, or I want to have a nice teacher'".
Andrew: "We already have a nice teacher"

Heather: "Teacher, please don't cry tomorrow. If you cry, then I want to cry" She then puts her head down and sheds a few tears.

Andrew: "Teacher, I really, really miss you"

Me: "You guys are so sweet and smart!"
Sally P: "Teacher we are delicious?!"

It was a good last day. Managed not to cry too much. Charlie took a few pics of me on his phone then sent them to me on his cell. He's six. No big deal.

Love these kids. Love my life.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Its all coming back to me now...

So after my last post I went through all the posts for the past two years. It's so funny and nostalgic to go through the things I wrote about my job and students from when I first started. Most of my predictions were right!! My kids have turned into amazing speakers.

This past weekend was a fun and sad one. Had a going away party on sat night with friends from church, and Caroline who just arrived Friday!! We studied in Spain together four years ago and she just started her job today. I was so happy to introduce her to all my awesome friends!!

Sunday I wentto church for the last time and said bye to all the people there. Two guys who I met on my first day in 2010 were there and it was nice to have them with me, as we have hung out quite a bit.

So the goodbyes have begun... It's been hard and I know it will only get harder!! Pray that I make it through please. Hope you all had a nice weekend!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

And nearly 8 months later....

For any of you that may have read my blog before, I sincerely apologize! I'm sure you thought awhile back that you'd never hear from me again, but you're wrong, haha! 8 months have gone by since I last posted...and you know, life happens, you get busy...and I. AM. SORRY.

The past 8 months have been filled with many many ups! and a few downs. Shortly after my last post, my parents and cousin came to visit me in Korea. We took an amazing trip to China where we hit nearly all of the major tourist sites in Qingdao, Beijing, and Guilin. The highlights were the Great Wall of course, and the boat ride down the Li River that we took amongst mountains and amazing pinnacles. Absolutely breathtaking.

After vacation, school was back in full swing, and the family quickly went back to the US. Fall came, the leaves changed, I took a few hiking trips around Korea (this country is so amazingly beautiful in fall and spring!) And then winter came! My kids were learning faster than ever...amazing little English speakers they are!

The beginning of December brought much heartache. As I'm sure you all know, my wonderful grandma, Reba Mullis, passed away. We were so glad that she went peacefully in her sleep, but it was a tough time for all of us. I was heartbroken that I couldn't be at home during such a tough time. Luckily, technology is amazing and i was able to watch her funeral via skype at 1:30 am my time. It was an incredible tribute to my grandma. She was such an inspiration to us all, quiet, but very strong and had great values. It was a blessing to be able to go home for Christmas to spend the tough time with my family. We miss you Grandma, and love you forever! But we know now she's with Grandpa, David, and the others in her family who have gone before her, so along with the heartache we all feel, we're sooo happy for her.

As I said, I spent a quick, jetlagged, amazing week back home and then it was back to Korea! January was here then left, where the heck does time go? If anyone knows where the past two years of my life went, please let me know! It's now less than three weeks before I take off for my SE Asia adventure! I'll be traveling for a month through Cambodia and Vietnam, itinerary below!

Graduation is less than three weeks away. I look at my little babies every day, several of whom I have taught since I first got to Korea. Their first day was my first day, and we've gone on this journey together! They know I am leaving, but dont seem to understand that I won't be coming back. I try not to talk about it to much, as don't want any tears in class just yet (mine of course). I'm so damn proud of all of these kids. They can have complete conversations, and I had a big part in that! Amazing. That's all I can say about them. And adorable of course :)

The next three weekends are full of fun things planned, parties, parties, work (we're holding orientation classes this Sat and next, just for an hour each), parties, and lots and lots of Korean food! It's gonna fly. I'm thrilled to be moving on, but sad to be leaving. I've made incredible friends, learned what I want to be when I grow up, and had some awesome adventures. Thanks to all who helped me along the way!

And here's a brief itinerary of my trip next month...more details to be included later! I promise to post again before I leave! Happy Weekend!!!

March 2-Fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Explore the temples of Angkor Wat and the city for a few days. Head to Phenom Penh on the 6th.

March 6th-Hang out for a few days in PP. Learn some history about the Khmer Rouge, see all the tragic sites there. Probably cry. While I'm there gonna get a visa to vietnam, and try to plan a trip down the Mekong Delta.

March 9-10-Staying at the Rainbow Lodge in the Cardamom Mtns. It's an eco lodge in the middle of the forest, looks awesome! Google it!!

Back to PP then, to hopefully head down the Mekong Delta for a few days. Arrive in Ho Chi Minh. Hang out there, and then fly to Phu Quac, an island off the coast of Vietnam. I rented a beach side bungalow for a few nights...gonna relax on the beach and do some hiking!!

From there, heading up to Dalat, Vietnam. Its a city in the mountains, very quirky, has some crazy architecture. Very different vibe from the other areas of Vietnam. Also famous for the Easy Riders, guys who take you on moto tours around the area. Hoping to take a tour one day!

Then, heading to Hoi An, near the beach. It's a historic, quaint area, with lots and lots of tailor shops! Gonna get some amazing boots made for cheap, explore the area, and hit the beach some more.

Then off to Hanoi, I want to take a night trip into Sapa, where I can hopefully stay with a local family and see how they live.

After that, I have a tour booked around the Halong Bay. Its gonna be the end of my trip. I'll take a boat tour around the bay, do some kayaking, swimming, sleep on a "junk boat" one night, then the next day do some cycling and hiking on Cat Ba Island. Spend the night in a bungalow at a nature conservation place thingy...then head back to the boat and back to Hanoi. I arrive to Hanoi the 2nd, and fly out to Chicago the 3! Will arrive back about 10 am on April 4th.

I know that much will change! Traveling is always an adventure. I havemost of Cambodia booked, and then gonna wait to book a few places in Vietnam. Can't wait!! I'm doing it alone, and could not be more excited about it. Sorry Dad, but I will have a cell phone! Lots of pics to come.