Monday, February 28, 2011

Vietnamese Cooking class

This morning we took a cooking class, I had been looking forward to this the whole trip. We debated about taking a Thai one as well but I am sure I can figure out pad thai on my own, since we like Vietnamese food more we thought it ould be a good choice. We were right on! White Lotus was the place, Ty who is the head chef was our teacher and t make things even better we were the only ones in the class. Also, White Lotus is a restaurant that is non-porfit and the proceeds benefit displaced adults in the area. It is part of Project Indochina, an organization founded by an Austrailian that helps people throughout Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos find work and a better way of living. We ate there 3 times already, hence the reason we chose to learn from that chef.
Our morning started at 8:30am, we got to the restaurant and had Vietnamese coffee. Then it was off to the maket to get our fresh veggies. Ty showed us around, it can be a bit overwhelming. He pointed out what we need but he also gave us a crash course on Vietnamese vegetables and fruit basics. There were so many that we had no idea about, some of the things we use in the states but did not look even close to what we are used to "same, same but different". Then it was a boat ride back to the restaurant to begin the preparation.
Next it was the first course complete with chef hats. I actually thought he would have aprons but chef hats are so much cooler!  Yesterday we got to choose 3 courses from about 12 dishes. Our first choice was papaya salad with shrimp and pork with prawn crackers. Not necessarily something I would pick off the menu but it's all about trying something new. Good choice!! He did make fun of me for being left-handed apparently that is not big in this country. Luckily there was a girl there who was as well and she showed me how she used the fancy gadget used to cut the onion juliene. It's backwars but it works, story of my life.... I told her in my country left-handed people were smarter, she laughed but I think she secretly believed me. Then we ate! Awesome salad!
Next course, what we have been waiting for Vietnamese soup otherwise known as Pho (fa). Pho Bo' (beef) tobe exact, pho ga (chicken) is for breakfast. Now eating with chopsticks is hard enough for me but cooking them is even harder. I had to boil the rice noodles while Eric chopped to ingredients for the broth, I had to use the chopsticks to get the noodles out of the water when they were ready. No strainer here.... Then bon appetit....
Lastly, it was the main course sweet and sour pork. This one threw me for a loop, who would have thought they used ketchup to make the sweet and sour sauce. Then, you guesses it, we ate. After that course they served us fresh fruit.
We left there with all 3 recipes printed out for us, a calander with picutres of the children in the villages that people in the program took and a memorible experience that will last a lifetime! Not to mention the homemade recipe for Pho for Eric's mom to add to the famly cookbook with an even better story to go along with it.

Hoi An

This is one of our favorite places so far! It has everything, a nice small colonial town where you can walk to everything and a beach a short bike ride away. It is also part of the South China Sea but calmer and whiter sand. This is the area you visit if you want any clothes or shoes made. Eric kept saying it was too bad he didn't wear suits..... We did however get shoes made, yep our feet were measued (both of us have 1 bigger that te other) and we picked out the style, the color and even the heel in my case. We pik them up tomorrow morning, I mean how cool these are shoes tailor made for or feet. Eric got leather boat shoes and a pair of sneakers that look like Vans and I got a pair of mid-calf red leather boots for a grand total of $73. Take that Nordstrom rack....

Nha Trang

We compared this to a mellower version of Daytona Beach minus the vomit or urine smell. If you have been to Daytona on Spring Break you know what I mean. It is nice and we stayed at a $10 a night hotel accross from the beach with a balcany, mini-fridge and actual bathtub. There are a ton of restuarants, we even broke down here and had pizza. The waves were a little crazy, I actually got pummeled by one but still enjoyed my body surfing experince on the South China Sea. As scary as it was to me at times, I still really want to learn to surf. We even decided to go all out one night and had a 5 course meal with pre-dinner cocktails and a bottle of wine and still only spent $24. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves but it was just missing that Viet Nam experience.
FYI, it is suppose to have the best diving in Viet Nam.

Buses, trains and automobiles.....

Transit from place to place throughout all the countries has actually been easier then I thought. Mainly because more people speak english in all 3 counties then I expected.The buses are sometimes double-decker, most with a bathroom and all with air-conditioning (not that all worked but it had it) and all made periodic stops for snacks or for me the occasional car sickness. Yes, leaving Da Lat was a gnarley bus ride down the mountain and a very frightening run in with a cloud and now visibility.
The trains however have been slower but a semi-smoother ride with a nice view of the coutryside. That is if you don't sit next to a woman with stinky fruit. Our biggest venture is yet to come, it is from Hue to Hanoi and it is about 16 hours and we have bunkbeds we share with another 2 people I just pray no one has fruit!
Taxis are needed a little more since things tend to be  bit spread out. We have left the land of the tuk-tuk and the cyclos ( man riding a bike with a small cart you sit in) is not really the best way to get to the bus or train station on time. As long as the meter works you are good, even better if the hotel calls them.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Da Lat

Da Lat, Viet Nam is a mountain town that Vietnamese people go to for holiday or honeymoon. It's a nice ride up the mountain, a quiet town that is significantly cooler than Saigon. It's actually funny getting off the bus and seeing people with Northface jackets and hats on, I mean it's still in the 70's. We did a nice little hike to a waterfall, otherwise we enjoyed a break from the heat and the craziness. Sometimes it just feels good to do nothing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Surgical Masks

I used to wonder why Asian people always wore those masks..... Were they germaphobic? Now I see how much air polution is around, mainly due to the large amount of motorcycles. What I don't get is if you are so concerned about breathing in bad air, why do you allow smoking everywhere? I'm not going to lie Eric and I almost got masks, they sell designer masks all over, since we got sick. Most of the buses are air-conditioned and there is no ventilation, germs fly around like crazy. We just couldn't do it....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

American War

The war remnants museum was a bit of history remembering the "American War" (Vietnam War to Americans). I would be curious to know what kinds of propaganda were floating around the states then because what we saw there was basially showing the world supporting Viet Nam. They specifically had one room dedicated to pictures of children that were either burned or born with deformities from napalm. I did like the room they had that was photos of photographers that were killed in the war. They photographers were from all over the world so the pictures were more objective. Most were just candid shots of the countryside and the locals.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Landmine Museum and The Killing Fields in Cambodia

I grouped these together because I got the same eerie feeling with these as I did when I visited Dacow, a concentrtion camp in Germany. That feeling of knowing you are standing on the same grounds that thousands of people were killed on. The landmine museum was a little diffrent since most of the landmine were not actually on those grounds. The founder of the museum is a man around 40 years old who was a child solider. He was recruited to join the Khmer Rouge after they killed his family. He held his first gun at age 10 and learned to build landmines. He know travels around Cambodia disarming landmines, there are roughly 3 to 7 million active landmines still in Cambodia. Most of which were put here by the U.S. He also has a sort of rehab center for children who have been injuried by these landmines, it is located behind the museum. What affected me most about this was seeing these kids who have lost an arm or a leg from these landmines or bombs that were dropped during the war that never exploded, knowing that someone I know could have been responsible for this.  I feel like people supportng the wars in the Middle-East should visit this place to see the long-term after affects it has on innocent people.
The Killing Fields got to me because it is so recent that you could still see bones and clothing in random spots walking around that has been washed up after the rainy season. It also is unbelivable to me that the Khmer Rouge killed their own people and not just adults, they killed the entire family so no one could come after them for revenge. We saw what was called the "killing tree" the actually banged babies heads against it to kill them. Most of the people were blungend to death so they did not waste bullets. They have detained they key people involved in this genocide except Pol Pot who was the leader and died in 1998. The first to go to trial was just sentenced in July 2010, the others are awaiting trial. Look it up if you don't know about it, there is so much I can not even write about. I will leave you with this during this nearly 5 year period 1974-79, the Khmer Rouge wiped out 20 percent of Cambodia's (their own country) population. I plan on watching "The Killing Fields" when I get home.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Angkor Wat

The temlples of Angkor Wat capital of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, the largest reigious building in the world, said to be the 8th wonder of the world but so was Andre the Giant so who really knows..... It is beautiful and amazing! We spent 3 days here and still did not see everything. We even watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat (the largest temple) which is a must do even if it is at 5:30am. Our hotel set us up with Tut our tuk-tuk driver for the 3 days. He showed us around and even took us to some more remote temples. He drove us from place to place then waited outside until we were done. He was awesome! He could spot us out of the crowds of people from anywhere. I couldn't believe how after thousands of years some of these temples looked so prestine. The carvings were amazing and so detailed, some of them even told stories. Most were shrines to the king and queen or Budha. At some point Hindus took over and defaced the Budhas in some temples, Budhists could not repair all the damage after they tok back control so some are just altered. It is very interesting. I mean they are stone carvings, it's not like you can just paint over it that easy.... They also had sacred "Lingas" they were phalic shaped sculptures that when water ran through them they believed they fertilized the land and that the water was magical. So basically we can blame budhists for men being so full of themselves.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chinese New Year!

2011 the year of the Rabbit who knew all of Asia celebrated it? This meant the Vietnamese Embassy was closed for a week. Seriousy, Americans are lucky if we get 1 day off..... This also meant our plans for getting our visas in Thailand had to be postponed. That was ok since we headed south for the week. Back in Bangkok, we had to venture to the embassy yesterday to hope to get them by Friday, otherwise we would be here for another 3 days.  You get a little nervous when you have to leave your passport for the day, maybe the weekend seeingas it is the only thing that can get you anything in another country. We said or prayers and headed to Siam Square by sky train to hang for the rest of the day.

Early this morning we visited the floating market, this was definiely a sight to see. It was amazing to see these woman cooking full meals in a tiny wood boat. A 2 hour bus ride from Bangkok but worth it! What we didn't plan was the ride back taking much longer. The embassy closed at 4:30 and traffic is worse here then in L.A. We got there at 4pm! It worked out and we are headed to Cambodia in the morning.

Snorkeling around Koh Tao

Monday morning we took a journey back to the other side of the island. The more populated and party side, the islanders have parties here based on the moon. They have the half moon, the full moon and the blue moon party which was Monday night. Techno music was on until 4am.... Still our main focus was finding the best snorkel trip for Tuesday morning. AC tours was what we found. Starting at 9:30am we met Charlotte our French guide and the 4 other people in our group ( a couple from Italy and 2 guys from Greece) and walked over to the Long Boat with our gear to be transported to the dive boat about 400 yards off shore. First stop Shark Bay to check the Black Tip Reef Sharks, I saw 6. The sharks were cool but it was sad to see all the coral was dead. Next stop Aow Luek, then Hin Wong Bay where we returned to the boat to find fresh fruit waiting. Here Charlotte gave us the warning about the Trigger fish, they can be aggressive so in case you happen to see one don't panic and swim away slowly. Sure that is always what they say, again I saw 2 and panicked. Then I quickly exited the water. Next we headed to Mango Bay where we had lunch. We were lucky that we had such a small group, most other boats we saw had large groups and it was very distracting and people were on top of each other. Lastly we stopped at Nangyuan Island. This is a private island and a national park. We had to pay 100 baht (about $3) each to enter but it was worth it. We hiked up to the top of the island for an incredible view, then took a dip in the water where at high tide the beach gets washed away separating the islands. After the trek back to the boat we headed back. This trip was 550 baht ($16 each). Not a bad day on the island. Tomorrow it's back to the mainland.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Day 6, Koh Tao, Thailand the first adventure.....

So the ride from Bangkok to Koh Tao was nothing less than interesting. Koh Tao is a small island located in southern Thailand off the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. We took an overnight train from Bangkok that took 8 hours! We heard it was slow and late but thought since we were traveling at night it would be okay, not to mention we got second class tickets in an air conditioned car. Sounds good right? Well the car was about 10 below 0 .... Freezing! We had to get our fleece jackets out and I wrapped the scarf I bought around my face and head. This wasn't so funny since we were traveling with muslim Thai women. After we arrived at the station, we had a bus ride, then took an almost 3 hour ferry to the island. After w stopped for breakfast we took a taxi (a four-wheel drive pick-up truck) through the jungle to the other side of the island to arrive at Posiden to check into our beach bungalow all before noon. Then we hit the beach which is all we plan to do for the next 2 days. A little snorkling, a few beers and food!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thai bathrooms

So I have noticed a trend here with the bathrooms, no one uses toilet paper and there is no separation between the shower and the actual bathroom. They have a small spray nozzle next to the toilet kind of like the one my mom had next to the sink. It's like the Thai version of a baday, what I don't get is wouldn't you still want to dry yourself off?
The shower is in the bathroom, sounds normal right? Not really, it is next to the toilet with the drain also next to the toilet. Basically the bathroom floor is wet all day long which means so are the bottom of your pants.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 2- Bangkok... Temples, temples, temples

Today we woke up super early, still trying to adjust to the time change. Good thing the restaurant at the place we are staying (My Guesthouse) opens at 6:30am.
The day started with temples, we saw the Emerald Budha, the Golden Budha and every Budha in between. The also visited the Golden Palace, the king doesn't actually live there but I think his people hang out there. We prayed at the temples which was interesting, every place had a dress code and there were no shoes allowed. No wonder they had so much insense.... After that we headed to the train station to buy our tickets for tomorrow night. We are taking an overnight train to the beaches. We rode our first tuk-tuk, which was fun and scary but something we had to experience. There is no rhyme or reason to traffic here and even crossing the road is an adventure. The people we are noticing are very nice and helpful. We have that mindset that everyone is trying to scam you and while you need to keep your eyes open, for the most part they are just trying to help. Now time for a Chang beer and off to a Thai boxing match, this should be interesting.....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We made it! Day 1 in Bangkok.....

We arrived at about 11pm last night, after a 11 hour flight from LAX to Tokyo, a 2 hour layoverm then a 6 hour and 45 minute flight from Tokyo to Bangkok, which was awesome! Got to love Japan Airlines! Free beer, sushi, green tea and ice cream. We went right to the hotel had a beer and crashed! We headed into the city this morning and today is a day for exploration. More to come....