Archive for ◊ May, 2009 ◊

30 May 2009 Six Hours in Singapore
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On our way to India we had a layover in Singapore. Being the go getter’s that we are, we decided that was enough time for a quick glimpse of the city. Plus we had met a really cool girl, Audrey (at Suk 11 our hostel in Bangkok) that lived in Singapore and she had offered to show us around. We’ve met so many nice people on this trip. It’s always great to see a city through the eyes of a local, as it makes the experience that much better.

Audrey met us at the airport and we hopped on the Skytrain to the city. We strolled around checking out all the cool buildings and ate some really good dim sum for lunch. The afternoon flew by, but before heading back to the airport Audrey took us to one of the best little chicken places so we could try a signature Singapore dish – roast chicken over fragrant white rice with cilantro and cucumbers. The man working at the shop was hilarious…joking around with us & mimicking our high pitched laughter. We took it to go for the plane ride and I must say it was delicious! Our time in Singapore was short, but thanks to Audrey it was great! This is definitely a city I wouldn’t mind returning to and spending some time in.

xo, Rana

29 May 2009 The Great Wall of China
 |  Category: China, Our Trip  | Tags:  | One Comment

The #1 thing Sherri & I wanted to do while in China was visit the Great Wall. From Beijing the closest place to see the Great Wall is Badaling, about an hour or so from the city, however this portion of the wall is known for being overcrowded and has been restored, not making for a very authentic experience. The 10K hike from Jinshanling to Simatai was supposed to be a lot more remote, with less people and amazing views as you trek up and down the steep ridges of the crumbling wall. We found a tour company that guided small groups (max of 10 people) for the 10K hike and included spending the night on the Great Wall. We were so excited!

Our guide, Jack, picked us up at 8am. Jinshanling, where we would start the hike, was about 3 1/2 hours drive from Beijing. Along the way we stopped at the Ming Tombs which is the burial site of the 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. A path called the “Sacred Way” leads into the sprawling complex, lined with larger than life stone statues of guardian animals and officials. The Ding Ling tomb is the only Ming Dynasty tomb that has been excavated, in which they found valuables, as well as the bodies of the Wanli Emperor and his two empresses. After the tombs we visited an amazing jade factory where we got a short tour which included seeing the artists in action carving their intricate pieces of work.

We arrived at Jinshanling in the late afternoon where we met Mr. Wong, a local farmer, who took us up for our first glimpse of the wall. It was raining as we walked up the steep hill but even in the rain the views were breathtaking. We spent about 2 hours hiking, exploring and taking tons of photos along this section of wall that we practically had all to ourselves. It was awesome!

Dinner was served back down the hill in Mr. Wong’s family shop. There we were joined by a couple from the East Coast & their guide Jen. We all sat down to an amazing meal prepared by Mr. Wong’s sister. It was delicious! Some of the best Chinese food we had while in China and so much variety! It was a really fun meal, as we sat around telling stories, eating way too much food and drinking ice cold beers. Mr. Wong even showed us how to open beers with wooden chopsticks! Soon it was time to set-up camp on the wall. We grabbed flashlights and hiked back up the hill to the watchtower where we would spend the night. Since we had a small group (just 4 of us) only Jen stayed on as our guide for the overnight and 10K trek. They supplied pillows, sleeping bags & padded mats so we were quite comfortable. There was even a small building where they stored the supplies that you could sleep in to shelter you from the rain and cold. The sky was clear, so Sherri & I opted for sleeping out in the open under the stars. Everyone else had gone to bed while we stayed up talking, laughing and admiring the view. Even in the dark you could see far out into the night. The clouds had cleared, the moon was a tiny sliver and stars filled the sky. It was gorgeous! As we sat there pinching ourselves (we were spending the night on the Great Wall of China!!!) a low fog rolled in…it was so cool watching it pour over the steep ridges and into the valleys. It was magical! I only wish we could have captured it in a photo but that image is one that will always remain in our memories.

We awoke early to a group of about 6 Chinese tourists snapping photos of us in our sleeping bags. As I opened my eyes I was greeted by big smiles and them giving us the thumbs up. Shortly after they left Mr. Wong arrived with coffee, tea and a simple breakfast of muesli and bananas. We ate quickly and started moving around to keep warm…the fog had rolled in thick overnight and it was chilly! As we set out hiking towards Simatai the fog was so thick you could barely see from one watchtower to the next…it was still really cool as it gave the hike an eerie feeling (plus it saved us from hiking in the hot sun!). Eventually the fog cleared and the views were amazing as we hiked up and down the steep mountain ridges of The Great Wall. Even though it was only 10K, it was challenging due to the terrain but we took our time and stopped for lots of photos. By midday we were almost there…good thing too, because the sun was out, it was hot and we were getting hungry. Arriving at Simatai you first have to cross a large bridge over a beautiful river and then climb a bunch more stairs. From there you can walk down the path about 20 minutes or for an additional $5 you can zip line down over the river and then take a little boat to the Simatai entrance. We of course opted for the zip line, as it looked like way too much fun to pass up! And it was!

Jack (our guide & driver) met back up with us in Simatai and we all sat down to a great lunch. In the car ride back to the city Sherri & I both fell fast asleep…we were a little tired! Back in Beijing we stopped at the Olympic Stadium for a quick look at the Birds Nest and Water Cube which housed the 2008 Olympics. The day ended with a tea tasting ceremony in a traditional courtyard tea house! The entire tour was such an amazing experience! We would definitely recommend it! You can reach the tour company at pooooppppy@gmail.com

28 May 2009 Beijing, China
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We only gave ourselves 4 days in Beijing as our main goals were to hike on the Great Wall and go to the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City is one of China’s most venerated monuments.  It was built during the 15th Century, involving up to 10,000 artisans and about a million laborers.  The halls were laid out according to geomantic theories, which is the balance between yin and yang (or negative and positive energy).  It’s also similar to a labyrinth, there are long halls and tall walls with large doors everywhere…some that open and some that don’t.  Soon after we arrived, we had already gotten lost and kept wandering until we found ourselves back in the Imperial Garden where we had started.

The good thing about winding up where we started is that we got to explore the Imperial Garden more and were invited into a tea shop for a free tea tasting.  We tried several different kinds of tea and Paul, who spoke great English, told us a lot of interesting facts about tea.  He also showed us some very cool tea mugs that were black with red Chinese symbols on them, but when you poured hot water in them they would magically change to a scene of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or the Summer Palace.  We loved them and since we are both avid tea drinkers we had to buy some.  He didn’t have all of the ones we wanted and we didn’t want to carry them around all day, so he said he would deliver them to our hotel that night…now that’s service with a smile!

After that we wondered around the rest of the Forbidden City and took a zillion pictures…we also posed in several pictures for Chinese tourists.  Then we set off to find The Emperor Hotel that we had read about that had a roof top bar with a view overlooking the Forbidden City.  When we left we had the hardest time getting a taxi to take us back to our hotel since none of the cab drivers could speak any English or even read a map.  We would get in each cab, tell them where we wanted to go, and would receive blank stares in return. So then we would point to where we wanted to go on a map and they would just look confused, shake their head and motion for us to get out.  We must have gotten in and out of 6 cabs before we finally showed a cab driver a picture of a hot pot from our guide book of a restaurant we wanted to go to..finally we got a nod and were on our way.  We’re not sure if it was the same as the one in the guide book, but it was a hot pot restaurant.

The menu at the restaurant was a little overwhelming as much of it was things like cows tongue, chicken feet, sea urchin, intestines, etc.  We settled on cows brain beef (which we think means it was near the brain, not actual brain), and several vegetables…it was so delicious.  We cooked everything in a huge sizzling hot pot on our table, which is a traditional Beijing Meal.

When we left the restaurant we only had 30 minutes left to get back to our hotel to meet Paul and get our new tea mugs.  Unfortunately, we had just as hard a time as before getting a cab that would take us where we wanted to go.  Some of them even got out a magnifying glass, and scary enough, one of them even pointed at his eyes and shook his head to tell us that he couldn’t see well enough to read our map (don’t they give taxi drivers eye exams?)  Finally, some very nice people who worked at the restaurant and must have seen us repeatedly getting in and out of several cabs, came to our rescue.  About 5 people had joined our mission to get us in a cab that would take us to our hotel.   Even their first attempt failed and the cab sped away.  But luckily the 2nd cab they gave directions to in Chinese, agreed to take us.  In all of the countries we’ve traveled to, we’ve never experienced one where so few people spoke any English…and Beijing is the largest tourist destination in China and it hosted the 2008 Olympics.  We read in our guide book that all taxi drivers were supposed to learn English before the Olympics, but that the most of them didn’t.  But at least the staff at our hotel, the Hutongren Culture Hotel, (www.ccthome.com) spoke English and were super sweet and helpful.  Although they wanted to charge us three times the amount than was listed in the guidebook, but we were able to negotiate them down to a way better rate.  And we did really like it there…it was very homey and cozy with different little private living room areas, waterfalls with fish ponds, and a roof top patio.  The best part about it was the laptop computer in our room.  The hotel is located in the district of Hutongs, where the bustling alleys behind Houhai Lake reveals the city’s real side that is vanishing in Beijing.  We fell in love with Houhai Lake.  The scenery is beautiful and it offers great people watching and is a great drinking and dining hot spot.

The morning we left we had to leave for the airport at 6:00a.m.  When we walked out to the street in front of the hotel there was a cab sitting there.  We told the driver that we wanted to go to the airport, he shot us a blank look (which we had been getting use to seeing) and started rambling to us in Chinese.  Since we were in a hurry and we knew this could lead into jumping in and out of several cabs, Rana got out the Lonely Planet book and luckily in the language section it had the word “airport” written in Chinese.  We pointed to that and 30 minutes later we arrived at the airport.  Thank God we had our Lonely Planet book…we’ve never used it more than we did in Beijing.

27 May 2009 Say “Cheese”
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While on the subway with Aaron in Hong Kong, Sherri & I were stared down by a Chinese man and woman. They kept looking us up & down, up & down, and even when you looked back at them they still continued to stare. Aaron noticed, laughed and told us that they were probably from a remote area in China and probably had never seen two white girls in person before. This was just a warm-up for what was in store for us in China.

Posing for photos inside the Forbidden City

Posing for photos inside the Forbidden City

While wandering through the Imperial Garden inside the Forbidden City we were approached by a Chinese tour group. Their guide asked if they could take a photo with us. Being total hams & loving to have our picture taken we of course said yes. We posed for pic after pic with each individual tourist. It was hilarious…some even motioned for us to take our sunglasses off because they wanted to be able to see our eyes in the photos…random passersby were even stopping to take photos. We posed for so many pics (seriously 25 or more) that my cheeks started to hurt from smiling so much! This continued to happen to us as we explored the Forbidden City…people would just come up and motion (most did not speak English) for us to pose for a photo with them. A few would even try to be discreet about it…walking in front of us & then turning around to snap a quick pic. We couldn’t help but laugh.

Cocktails on the roof of the Emperor Hotel

After the Forbidden City we went for a sunset cocktail on the rooftop bar of The Emperor Hotel. They happened to be doing an editorial photoshoot for an Australian magazine and the photographer came over and asked if he could snap a couple pics of us enjoying our martinis. If they end up being published in a magazine we’ll let you know!

We also awoke after camping overnight on The Great Wall of China, to a group of about 6 Chinese tourists snapping pictures of us in our sleeping bags. They were clicking away as we just barely opened our eyes…it was 5am! They gave us the thumbs up, smiled, took a couple more pics and continued on their way. Again you just had to laugh…

23 May 2009 Hong Kong
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Hong Kong is an amazing city…it’s so clean and incredibly efficient! Our friend Aaron, who use to be my roommate and worked at Billabong in Irvine with Rana, has been living in Hong Kong for the past 3 years. We’ve always had a blast hanging out with him and were super excited to visit him as we have been saying we would ever since he moved there.

As Aaron instructed, when we arrived at the airport we took the Airport Express train to Hong Kong Island. The train drops you off in a beautiful mall. From there we took a short taxi ride to the trendy Soho area, where Aaron lives with his girlfriend Li Ting. When we arrived, Li Ting was waiting for us on the sidewalk by their building. She is very sweet and was a wonderful hostess…she even gave us a little bag complete with an extra cell phone that we could use, 2 rechargeable subway cards, tissues (since a lot of public restrooms don’t have toilet paper) and she even lent us her Lonely Planet book on Hong Kong. Their apartment was super nice and we loved their rooftop patio…it had an amazing view. We thought we were going to be crashing at their pad, but they surprised us and arranged for us to stay in a vacant furnished studio apartment across the hall from them. We were so stoked! It was cute and modern and had an incredible view of the city. We seriously couldn’t have asked for a better host and hostess! They took us out to some great restaurants…we ate at Sushi, Chinese (of course), Mexican (surprisingly great), a steakhouse, Japanese and a tasty dim sum restaurant by Aaron’s work. We let Aaron order for us at each place so we could try his favorites and we absolutely loved everything, especially since were were starting to get burnt out of Thai food.

In addition to eating good, we also had a wonderful time exploring the city. We road on the world’s largest escalator (which goes up the steep city hills), took a cable car ride over the bay and mountains to the world’s largest bronze Buddha, and had dinner at The Peak overlooking the entire city…the view was breathtaking! We even fit in a great workout when Li Ting took us to her yoga class. And of course Aaron took us out for a fun night of bar hopping and we weren’t planning on going out that night…but several pitchers of margaritas later we found ourselves out on the town until the wee hours of the morning. We got lucky at Club Volar and got to dance the night away to the music of turntable prodigy DJ A-Track. It was such a fun night…which we ended with 90 minute massages at 3:00am…thats right, their spas are open 24 hours!

Another thing we loved about Hong Kong is that

21 May 2009 The Big Buddha, Hong Kong
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Sherri and I took the cable car up from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping to visit the Tian Tan Buddha (aka “The Big Buddha”). The views from the cable car were amazing as we climbed higher and higher, away from the towering buildings of the city, over the beautiful ocean and into the lush green mountains of Lantau Island. At the top you walk through Ngong Ping village which is very commercialized and sort of feels like you’re at Disneyland with all the gift shops. Past the village and up 268 steps you stand below one of the world’s largest Bronze Buddha’s, towering over 110 feet tall. It was huge! There were lots of hiking trails in the surrounding area and we walked out to the Wisdom Path which has 38 large wooden beams, ranging from 8 to 10 feet tall, inscribed in Chinese calligraphy the Heart Sutra, one of the world’s best known Buddhist prayers. We also explored the Po Lin Monastery which had some very beautiful buildings, views of the Big Buddha and gardens. To return to the cable car we had to walk back through Ngong Ping village where we stopped for lunch and checked out the Tea House. Our cable car tickets also included the multimedia “Walking with Buddha” exhibit, which explains the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha and his path to enlightenment. It was quite entertaining and educational. The funny thing was you exit the exhibit right into the Ngong Ping Buddha gift shop (so Disneyland but definitely worth visiting).

18 May 2009 Tiger Temple, Thailand
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While in Ubud, Bali, we met a nice girl from Thailand sitting next to us in a cafe.  Since Thailand was our next stop we asked her what she recommended as the number one thing we should do while there. She told us of a place about 2 hours from Bangkok where there is a temple with tigers. Some of the best things we’ve done on this trip has been because of the advice of other travelers or locals, so when we passed through Bangkok for the third time, we told our friend Richie (who lives there) that we wanted to go to the Tiger Temple.  He told us about a special program where you go early in the morning and get to spend 4 hours with the tigers, instead of the afternoon program where you go with a huge tour group on a bus and only spend a little bit of time with the tigers. At the suggestion of the girl we met in Bali, we rented a private car to take us to the Tiger Temple. We left at 5:00am and got there a little after 7:00am.  We stopped along the way to pick up food to bring to the monks. The private morning sessions can have up to a maximum of 10 people, but we were lucky because it was just us and a nice older couple from Utah.

We started the day with breakfast in the temple with the monks, followed by bottle feeding the tigers.  First we fed the older tigers who sucked on the bottles vigorously. Then they brought out the 8 week old babies who were seriously the cutest things I’ve ever seen!  Some of them still had blue eyes and some of them were big time cry babies…one of them wouldn’t stop screaming crying while the monks were saying their prayer.  After they were done being bottle fed they all passed out in a cuddled up pile for nap time.  Next we each walked our own tiger to the waterfall play area.  The trainers told us to make sure to walk behind the tigers head because they are known for taking playful bites out of peoples hind legs.  One of them bit the lady from Utah and the back of her leg was bleeding a little bit.  Once we were in the enclosed area by the waterfall they took the leashes off the 8 tigers for playtime.  You could tell they were happy to play as they jumped in the water and tackled each other.  So that we could interact and play with them, the trainers gave us toys that consisted of some type of toy or water bottle tied to a rope which dangled from a long stick.  The tigers would jump up to get the toys we dangled in front of them.  After play time it was bath time.  We each got to bathe our own tiger, which was like bathing a large dog.  After the bath it was snack time and we got to feed them cooked chicken from the palm of our hands.  We didn’t think it could get any better, but then we got to feed them chicken from our mouth!  The couple from Utah did it first, so we figured if they could do it then so could we. It was a bit unnerving, kneeling down, face to face with this big tiger with a small piece of chicken in my mouth…but they took it so gently.

Next we got to take a really big tiger on a walk…or more like the tiger took Rana and I on a walk. These guys were so big that the two of us had to walk one together, although if at anytime he wanted to take off running he would’ve easily dragged us behind him.  After walking them down to a canyon, the trainers put us in a small caged area so we could observe the big tigers playing without being in danger.  Although they could have easily jumped over the front fence (it was only 4 feet tall), but there were about 10 trainers there to make sure that the 9 tigers didn’t jump in the cage with us.  It was amazing to watch the tigers play and especially to see how the trainers interacted with them.  One of the trainers even sat on a tigers backs like he was riding a pony, and another trainer stood on a tigers back while he was in the water.  There seemed to be a mutual respect between the tigers and the trainers and you could tell that the trainers were not scared of the massive friendly tigers.  One of the bigger tigers broke an empty milk jug off of a toy and refused to let any of the other tigers or even the trainers take it from him.  Finally, when play time was over, one of the trainers splashed water in the tigers face to try to get him to drop the milk jug, but that stubborn tiger took the water torture for several minutes and then ran to the other side and finally dropped it.  Our experience ended with us getting our picture taken next to the biggest tiger.  It was such an awesome day!  We couldn’t stop smiling the entire time.  The staff was so nice and they were really good about taking pictures and video for us.  They also had a lot of other animals there as well.  We saw peacocks, a cheetah, water buffalo, a huge turtle and several different types of deer.  This experience is definitely at the top of our list of highlights of the trip so far!

16 May 2009 Back to Bangkok
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We were very happy to finally arrive back in Bangkok after our bus fiasco from Cambodia. We wanted to stay in a different part of the city this time (away from the hustle & bustle of backpacker central Khao San Road) so our friend, Richard suggested Suk 11, a really cool hostel located in a trendy part of town off Sukhumvit. We were surrounded by great restaurants, bars and conveniently located close to the Skytrain. Suk 11 has tons of character…you sort of feel like you’re on the set of a movie as you walk down the dimly lit wood paneled narrow halls with occasional exposed brick walls and an eclectic mix of furniture and decorations hanging from the walls and ceiling. The staff are really friendly and helpful.  As you climb the stairs the walls are covered in signatures and comments from previous guests from around the world that rave about how much they enjoyed their stay at Suk 11. If you’re looking for a great place to stay in Bangkok check it out at www.suk11.com

Sherri getting comfortable at the movies

Sherri getting comfortable at the movies

We only had a few days in Bangkok this time around, but since we’d already visited the tourist attractions we were taking it easy. We were happy to wake up to a rainy day…perfect time to hit the movies, as we had been told how amazing the theaters were in Bangkok. Angels and Demons had just been released and was playing in one of the deluxe theaters. It was the best movie experience ever! You check in and are shown to a lounge where you can order drinks and food before you go to your seat. The seats are very deluxe! Super soft leather that fully recline and you even get a blanket & pillow to keep you warm. The waitress shows up with your snacks and cocktails (yes, you can order cocktails as well!) and then you can have her return with another round as often as you like…it was awesome & we were so comfortable that we didn’t want to leave the theater after the movie had ended. To top it off, it was not much more expensive then going to a regular movie in California and you get so much more!  Just before the movie started they played the King’s Anthem and showed a short video of the King and of work he’s done to improve the country. During this everyone in the theatre stood up…I guess it’s similar to how we have the National Anthem at sporting events. It’s interesting that they do it before every movie. They really take pride in their King as you can see pictures of him just about everywhere you look in Thailand.

We ate some really great food while in Bangkok…from nice restaurants to yummy street food at the weekend market where Richard took us to one of his favorite places for some amazing grilled pork that was so flavorful and tender it makes my mouth water just to think about it. One restaurant that really stood out was Cabbages & Condoms. Besides serving great Thai food they have a very unique concept in which the restaurant is creatively decorated with condoms. Cabbages and Condoms is run by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), which was founded in 1974 by Mechai Viravaidya as an organization to promote family planning. PDA established community based distribution networks throughout Thailand, providing villagers access to birth control pills and condoms. The name “Cabbages and Condoms” comes from Mechai’s belief that for the program to be successful, birth control should be as accessible and easy to buy as vegetables in the market. PDA has grown over the years and has multiple locations of the Cabbages and Condoms restaurants located throughout Thailand. PDA’s basic philosophy is that villagers have the ability to manage development projects in their communities if given the opportunity to do so, making local participation essential to all programs. PDA has expanded to not only help with family planning but also water resource development, environmental conservation, environmental sanitation, AIDS education and prevention. The Cabbages and Condoms restaurants also feature a handicraft shop where they sell crafts handmade from the villages they are working to help in Thailand. If you are ever in Thailand this is definitely a place worth checking out.

We had a couple great nights out! We danced one night away at a Bed Supper Club, a very modern club decorated all in white with plush beds and pillows for guests to lounge around on while taking a break from dancing or to relax while sipping cocktails. We had only planned to go there for a drink after dinner but we ended up having so much fun that we didn’t leave until nearly 3am. We walked back to our hostel, Suk 11, to find a party going on in the lobby. The staff and some of the guests were dancing up a storm, so we joined the party & didn’t make it to bed until 4:30 in the morning!! Richard also took us out for a night on the town…we visited a ladyboy bar (part of the Bangkok, Thailand tourist experience) which was crazy…some of the “guys” really did look like “girls”. He also took us a really cool club that had a DJ playing great techno music along with a guy that was playing the drums! Richard got up and played the bongos…it was awesome as the live drumming just enhanced the beat.

Our trip back to Bangkok was awesome! It is a great city with lots to do and see.

15 May 2009 Don’t be a dumb tourist…
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…because they will take advantage of you.  Here are a few examples:

1. In Hanoi, Vietnam we purchased our train tickets from our hotel.  The man who sold us the tickets told us that transportation from the hotel to the train station was included.  When we left the hotel he put us in a cab and we saw him give cash to the driver and then he waved goodbye to us and told us that he had paid for the cab.  A few minutes later we pulled up to the train station, which we thought was rather fast, so we asked someone on the curb if we were at the same train station that was on our ticket and they said “yes”.  So we grabbed our bags from the taxi and started making our way towards the train station, then all of a sudden the taxi driver started yelling at us in Vietnamese and pointing towards his cab.  We said “no, you’ve already been paid” and kept walking.  Well he started screaming more and pulling on one of my bags, which really pissed me off because it was the bag that had my silky pillow in it.  I told Rana to take my other bag so I could use both hands to pull on my other bags and to chase him down and beat him if he got my bag away from me.  We kept yelling back and forth and playing tug-a-war with my bag…since we didn’t speak each others language, we were getting nowhere fast.  Because we were causing such a scene, soon about 20 people were crowded around us.  Luckily, a nice girl who spoke good English came over and said that the taxi driver was saying that we didn’t pay.  I told her that he was lying because we saw the taxi driver get paid by the guy at our hotel.  So she offered to call the hotel for us and as soon as Rana pulled our hotel’s business card out the taxi driver bolted.  We think he was hoping that we would go ahead and pay him again just to avoid the scene he was causing, but he’d obviously picked on the wrong girls!

2. When they say “yes”, they usually mean “no”, but for some reason if they don’t understand what you said, they’ll pretend like they do and tell you “yes” when they really have no idea what you are talking about.  For example, we’ve gotten into several cabs and we’ve asked the driver if they know how to get to such and such a place and they repeat the name of the place and say “yes, I know”.  Well after they drive us around for a while and run up the meter, we realize that they actually have no clue where they are going…it gets very frustrating.

3. Always negotiate the cab fare before you get in or make sure they turn on the meter, but even then be careful because in Ho Chi Minh City we got in a cab whose meter was about 4 times more expensive than the other cabs in the same city.  When we noticed how fast the meter was going up we asked hime to pull over and we walked the rest of the way.

4. Ask around and get the going rate of the Cyclos (they kind of look like a wheel chair that you sit in with a bike attached to the backand a guy drives you around in it).  Even though the drivers are cute little old men, they’ll still try to get as much as possible from you.  In Hanoi we agreed to pay a guy $5 USD for one hour (which later we found out is double the going rate).  We told him to go around the lake and end at our hotel, which we showed him on a map.  He said okay and that he knew where it was, but when the hour was up he kept circling around and couldn’t find the hotel and he had driven us around so much we had no idea where we were.   When we finally got to our hotel he tried to charge us $10 USD.  I smiled at him and said “no, we only agreed to one hour so we are paying for one hour”.  He smiled back since he knew I was right, but he must have figured that it was worth a shot.

12 May 2009 Siem Reap, Cambodia
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If you like ruins and temples or ever wanted to be an archaeologist, then you would love Siem Reap!  There are so many ancient temples that it could take well over a week to see them all, but since we only had two full days we just went to some of the best ones.  All of the ruins were constructed from the late 9th century to the early 13th century.  We rented a tuk tuk for the day and explored the ruins of Baphuon, Bayon, Phnom Bakheng, Prasat Suor Prat, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Ta Keo, and Ta Prohm, which is where a scene from the movie “Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie was filmed.  Just before sundown we rode an elephant up the mountain to the Phnom Bakhengtemple.  From the top you could see for miles around and watch the sunset over a lake…it was beautiful!  We even got to take a picture with some monks, which was funny since they’re not allowed to touch women, so when we sat next to them they scooted and leaned away from us.  That night we had dinner at the Cambodia BBQ and I ate a well rounded meal of squid, beef, snake, chicken, and crocodile.  It was delicious and I got to cook it all myself in a hot pot on our table.

The next day we went to check out the famous Anchor Wat Temple, which was huge!  We also saw Angkor Thom and then had our driver take us to a lake to watch the sunset, but when we got there it was pouring rain, so we headed back into town and had dinner at the Temple Balcony restaurant where they had a free Apsara dancing performance while we ate.  The dancers costumes were beautiful!

We hit the hay early that night so that we could get up the next day before dawn to watch the sunrise over the Srah Srang lake by the Banteay Kdei temple.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy morning so there wasn’t much of a sunrise, but it was still beautiful.  Then we headed back to town to get on the bus from hell to Bangkok.  It was supposed to be a VIP bus, which usually just meant that the seats recline, there’s AC and a movie, but it ended up being more like a school bus with bench seats, no AC, no movie, and the driver blared music from the radio, which mostly consisted of commercials.  We were not happy as it was supposed to be a 10 hour trip.  When we got to the Thai border it took us over an hour and a half to get across because we had to wait in line to depart Cambodia, carry all of our bags almost a mile to the health check point, where they take your temperature in your ear before they let you pass (which the guy tried to stick in Rana’s ear without a sanitary cover until I scolded him), and then we had to wait in the arrivals line on the Thai side.  We were afraid to see what kind of bus waited for us on the other side, but luckily (or so we thought) it was a nice AC van, but that’s where our luck ran out as they stuck us in the far back corner in a space big enough for one person and next to a tower of baggage that went to the ceiling of the van and constantly kept falling on us as our driver was flying down the road like a bat out of hell.  The only good part was that we did arrive a few hours early.  We were so happy to make it to Bangkok!