phu quoc and the mekong delta

bai sao beach

well, vietnam quickly redeemed itself once we reached the island of phu quoc. we stayed in another bamboo hut but this one had a comfy spring mattress...something we haven't experienced through all of south-east asia. the highlight of our island experience was spending the day touring the island and spending a few blissful hours on bai sao beach. the sand was a fine white sand and the ocean a turquoise blue. the beach that we stayed at wasn´t quite as beautiful but it was a few steps from our hut. we didn´t swim much at our beach as there were little stinger things in the water. we aren´t sure what they were...jellyfish stingers floating in limbo or sea lice aka jellyfish larvae. but what ever they were they stung and itched and kept us on the beach. the water at bai sao was free of stingers but after a few minutes of frolicking in the waves i spotted two small jellyfish and i was outta there too.

sunset at our beach hut resort

our next stop was a city in the mekong delta called can tho. we opted to take a boat tour that was arranged through our guesthouse. we had a great time even though we probably paid far too much. many touts were wandering near the ferry port offering boat tours for $5 for 3 hours...we paid $45 for 7 hours. i wonder how much of that actually was passed to the tour guide and how much the guesthouse owner pocketed.

our tour guide for the day

the boat tour started on the mekong river at 7am. our first stop was a floating market about an hour away. it was already late when we arrived as most vendors start their day at 5 am but we still got stuck in a couple of traffic jams. by the time we got to the 2nd floating market at 9am the traffic had already dissipated.

crazy traffic at the floating market

the boats weighed down with loads of fruits, veggies and other pantry items surrounded us as we made our way through the market. our guide stopped along the way purchasing fruits for us to sample. she pointed out that most of the boats had the item they were selling hanging high on a pole so buyers could find them easily.

the sandwich lady

rice for sale

coming through!

the second part of our boat tour took us through the mekong canals. these smaller waterways slowed our pace and we wandered through spotting water coconut fruit, mangroves, lychee trees, banana blossoms, papayas and mango trees.

corina on a monkey bridge

one of our stops was at a rice noodle factory. we were given a tour around the small home-based business but luckily were not asked to sample their wares.

rice husks are used to feed the fire that cooks the rice to a pulp

rice pulp being squeezed to get rid of excess liquid before forming into shells

after being dried in the sun the rice shells are fed through the noodle maker

sitting in a rice paddy

our final scheduled stop was lunch at a riverside restaurant. we were slightly guilted into buying a drink and lunch for our tour guide by the server. still jay went all out and got the coconut steamed shrimp. i wasn´t really a fan of all those eyeballs peering at me as i ate my tofu veggie stirfry.

jay and his creepy coconut shrimps with big black staring eyeballs

our tour guide driving with her leg as she formed a flower bouquet from a palm frond

on our way back down the mekong river to can tho i scooted to the back of our boat where our tour guide was making things out of palm stems (apparently called fronds). she taught me how to make flowers and grasshoppers...all while keeping her eye on the `road´and steering with her elbow.



Olympic Cities

(For us) Planning an around the world trip meant going to a bunch of world class cities. I mean who plans a trip around the world and does not plan to go to Paris or Istanbul, Rio de Janerio and the like? It sorta comes with the territory. You might be wondering why I bring this up. Two reasons: The 2010 Olympics are on right now in Vancouver, and I am nothing if but a patriotic Canadian. And we are in a former, and a candidate city, for the 2016 Olympics as we speak... (Tokyo) (is that 3 or 4 reasons now? ...ooops)

My home and native land!

All in all I think these cities have something in common... a vitality... a joie de vivre... an electricity. Certainly they are amongst our favorites. I think if you are going to play host to the world you need to have world wide appeal.

All in all we will have visited 11* past and future Olympic cities

In the order we have visited them they are:

1) Vancouver 2010

2010 opening ceremonies, Vancouver

2) London 1908, 1948 & 2012
3) Berlin 1936

1938 Berlin games

4) Amsterdam 1928
5) Paris 1900, 1924
6) Barcelona 1992

Linford Cristie wins gold for
the U.K. in 1992, Barcelona.

7) Rome 1960
8) Athens 1896 & 2004

The first modern games 1896, Athens.

9) Tokyo 1964

now here is what is on the agenda
10) Rio de Janeiro 2016

I wonder if Rio is the first city to have an Olympic beach?

11) Los Angeles 1932 & 1984

Out of this list we have yet to get to Rio and L. A. and having previously been to the later can only assume the former has these qualities in mass quantities. (try saying that 3 times fast)




oops...we did it again

our canadian-ness has done it to us again. we were too trusting...too willing to believe the friendly, helpful guy...and we were scammed in vietnam.

the thai-cambodia border at poipet is well-known in travel circles as a difficult border to cross. it is difficult because it is unlikely that you will get across without having to bribe at least one person. well...we did! we did our research. we stuck to the plan. we met a forceful couple on the train to the border with the same mindset. we made it across with paying only the posted fee of 20USD while people in front and behind us paid at least 5USD more.

the cambodia-vietnam border was a breeze in comparison. we took a minibus from kampot to the border and the driver arranged a moto driver to drive us and our bags across to the vietnam town of ha tien. (ok ok...a little aside here...yes we took a moto aka scooter after we said we never would again. however, there was NO other option AND it wasn't like we were driving the scooter...we had a driver, a helmut and a scooter each.) we got to the cambodian border guard station and saw an officer asleep on a table in the back room. eventually another officer came to the window to stamp our exit from cambodia and we were waved on to vietnam. at the vietnam border we met 3 guards. the first looked at our passports and visas and waved us onto the next guy, who stamped our passports. the final guy looked at our stamped passports and let us through the gate into vietnam. all the while our moto drivers walked their scooters through the borders with our large backpacks perched behind the handle bars.

our plan once we reached ha tien, vietnam was to try to get a ferry to the island of phu quoc. phu quoc has become a big tourist destination for vietnamese people both local and those living abroad, as well as, foreigners. the border at ha tien has only recently become passable for foreigners. because of this opening the town of ha tien has seen huge growth in hospitality businesses and an addition of a hydrofoil ferry to the island was created. the other option is to get a ferry from rach gia which is a two hour bus ride further into vietnam only to add one hour to the ferry ride. we were keen on catching the ferry from ha tien figuring it to be the cheaper and faster option.

our moto drivers were khmer with cambodian licences on their bikes so they were not allowed to go much further than the town center of ha tien. jason had told them we wanted to go to phu quoc so they brought us to a tourist information center. a guy met us out front right on the sidewalk while another moto driver was also trying to get us on his bike to our next destination. we explained to the guy claiming to be with the tourism center that we wanted to catch the ferry to the island either that day or the next. he told us that the ferry was broken and would not be fixed until the following week. he said we may still be able to catch the ferry from rach gia if we caught a minibus right away. he went to ask his boss if he could take us on his moto with the other driver to the bus station. he saw us pay our other drivers with american money so he asked if we had vietnam dong because you cannot use USD in vietnam like you can in cambodia. so far we are thinking this guy is so nice, so helpful and making really great suggestions. they drove us to an atm and this was the first red flag that i felt. i said to jason, "do you think this is really smart of us to be taking out money in front of these guys?"

on the drive to the bus station my driver is making small talk like "where you from?", "are you married?", "how old are you?", "do you have children?"...all the questions we've grown accustom to in the last few weeks. they pull the bikes into a roadside shack that sells drinks and snacks and my driver announces to me, "bus stop". i am expecting to have to buy a bus ticket from the shop owner but they just tell us to have a seat and the bus will be by in about 10 minutes. aren't we lucky! the bus had to stop for gas so we will catch it! a few minibuses with rach gia written across their windshields drive by on the highway and jay and i look at each other. our helpful guy notices and mentions that those are tour buses and we are waiting for a local bus. as we wait we are quizzed about our life and we reciprocate and learn that our helpful guy learned english three years ago, has a wife and child and thinks vietnam is superior to cambodia. he taught us how to say, "i'm vegetarian" in vietnamese, which is "on chay". still thinking...nice guy...but...

finally after about half an hour the bus pulls up. a man hurries over and puts his hand on my bag to take it to the minibus. we ask how much the fare is and he says, "600, 000 dong each". well, jay only withdrew a million dong at the atm and we had to pay our moto drivers so we don't have enough. in my head i'm trying to figure out what 1,200,000 dong is in canadian dollars. jay tells the guy we don't have that much so he then says, "how much you have?". well, jay opens his wallet and he has 900,000 dong, a 20 and a 10 dollar bill, forgetting the change in his pocket from the moto drivers' pay. the guy says, "ok. 900,000 dong plus $20 will be ok". by this time jay has realized that 900,000 dong is $54 cdn which is way more than we have ever paid for a 2 hour bus ride anywhere else in southeast asia. he tells me this and i'm saying, "too much, too much". the moto driver butts in and says "ok $10". both jay and i are shaking our heads and the bus guy is trying to rush us onto the bus. in the end we didn't give them any american money but they did get all 900,000 dong.

after an hour of stewing on the bus we asked the vietnamese guy beside us how much the ride should have been and he said 100,000 dong. jay started taking pictures of the driver and steward (or is it more p.c. to say bus attendant?). but really what are pictures going to do. we have no idea what company they work for or how to find out. the guy that took our 900,000 dong didn't get on the bus. he stayed behind to split the profits of our stupidity with his new best buddies...our helpful guy and the moto driver.

the moral of this story for all you current or future travelers out there is...keep your wallet in your pants until you have agreed upon a price. another tip that we hope to remember from now on is to speak to people behind desks when asking travel advice and preferably a representative from a reputable company...not a guy in front of tourist office. still...after all this newly gained wisdom...we almost got ripped off by our guesthouse owner when we were in can tho...but that's another town...another post.

xin chao,


cambodia...a country of contrasts

we arrived in phnom penh after a harrowing bus journey from siem reap. in north america there is road rage, in s.e. asia there is road brave. you have to be really brave (or incredibly insane) to drive here. it must be innate and then through conditioning as a child (ie. riding with all four of your siblings and your father on a moto scooter) you become immune to the fear of dying via vehicular accident. to learn the nuances of when to ebb and when to flow would be overwhelming to the average canadian. the chaos that is traffic in cambodia makes no sense to those that were raised to abide by traffic lights and lane markers.
anyway...we arrived safely in phnom penh and went straight to our couchsurfer host's place. this was our first couch experience in s.e. asia so we were super stoked (did i really just type 'stoked'?) about it. usually our couch has consisted of a: a soft couch or b: a soft bed or c: a softish blow up mattress in a room separate from our host. we've stayed in home offices, living rooms, guest rooms and my favourite to date...a laundry room with it's own balcony! i'll just say our experience with mariam in p.p. was unique. we are always grateful for a place to stay and a new person to chat up. that her place was steps away from the national museum and a few more steps away from the royal palace was a huge bonus.
our 'couch' - a traditional khmer bamboo platform bed on a covered terrace

we had 4 days in p.p. which was actually more than enough. we only really did one touristy thing a day and the rest of the time we read our travel guide, walked along the river or sat in internet cafes planning our next destination. since the royal palace was literally across the park from mariam's place we couldn't NOT go...and anyway, we had to see the silver pagoda with the solid gold buddha. at the end of our tour of the palace grounds we came to the outer wall where we could hear music playing. we followed wooden stairs up to an open balcony where some musicians were seated. we were encouraged to join them and try out one of the khmer-style xylophones.

corina attempting to the roneat with the royal palace band
we wandered through the national museum one cloudy afternoon and eavesdropped on a tour guide that was quizzing his followers on their recognition of buddhist gods. the museum houses one of the largest collections of khmer art but i was quickly drawn outside to the courtyard. it was lush and green with great perspectives of the museum buildings, which are based on khmer temple architecture.

national museum courtyard

the weather in p.p. was drizzly and humid so we opted not to go to the killing fields but to stay in the city and go to the tuol sleng genocide museum a.k.a. S-21. the former security office 21 was created on orders of pol pot and was "designed for detention, interrogation, inhuman torture and killing after confession from the detainees were received and documented". while visiting this museum is difficult and depressing i think it is important to view. it's important because tragedies like this (ie. genocide) are still going on in the world today. and how is that possible? how can we let this continue? what are we doing to stop it? i'm not saying that a visit to tuol sleng will make you an activist but it has made me start to wonder about myself. how can i have been so apathetic for so long?

ironic footboard for a prison

photo documentation of just a few faces of the thousands killed at S-21

prison cells in building B

and then...just like that...you are thrown head first into paradise.

our oceanside hut on bamboo island

the beach at sunset

we headed from p.p. to sihanoukville on the gulf of thailand. we spent a day at the beach here and decided we should get out of there asap. the beach was crowded with restaurants and bars and many, many people trying to sell you stuff. an hour and a half boat ride over a choppy ocean brought us to ko russei a.k.a ko ruh or bamboo island. the hut was basic and the menu limited but it was just what we needed to recover from the hustle and bustle of mainland cambodia.
leah sen heuy,