Henry’s best and worst list!

Hello everybody!
It’s Henry and I’m going to do my best and worst list along with cool, strange, and funky things! Hope you enjoy!

BEST AND WORST OF ASIA TRIP
Food: Best food was cooked with Chef Huang in Hanoi, and the worst was noodles for breakfast in Moganshan.

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Transportation: The best was probably the 17 hr plane ride to Shanghai from NY and the worst was definitely the 8 hr minivan drive to Luang Namtha from Luang Prabang! 😦

Hottest city: Phnom Penh

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Best bathroom: The bathroom in our ecolodge on Catba island in Vietnam is by far the best! Comes fully equipped with urinal, sink, shower, and toilet!

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Coolest thing I have found: definitely an AK-47 banana clip I found in the Namtha river is the coolest thing I’ve found

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The weirdest things I’ve seen: I have seen alot of weird things so, starting from weirdest and getting less weird, here they are!
1.dogs wearing clothes!

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2.Monkey in the middle of Phnom Penh!

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3.A coke machine in the middle of the woods!

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4.Playboy brand stuff

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5. Thai Ronald McDonald

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6. GIANT SPIDER!

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7. Funny donation box (“Charity Box for Especially Difficult Children”)

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That was all the weird stuff I’ve seen, but now it’s time for some weird food!

1.pig and pig feet!

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2.rat

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3. Assorted bugs

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4.eel

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5. Snake and Scorpion whiskey

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6. Green airplane cake that probably wasn’t supposed to be green

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(ps we also saw cat and dog but those photos were pretty nasty!)

My favorite mode of transportation is either a tandem bike or an elephant!

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There have been lots of fun things like $4 manicure/pedicures, elephants, and badminton, but there’s also the homework, no friends, and the candy here is terrible. Still, I’m having a good time and I hope you guys are too!
Bye!

Jungle trek to Lanten village

From Luang Prabang we traveled eight windy, bumpy (and for some team members, barfy) hours by minibus to the town of Luang Namtha — one of the jumping off points for exploring the Nam Ha National Protected Area — for a three-day guided jungle trek.  The highlights of this adventure on the eastern edge of the Golden Triangle were not found in the hiking itself or in the flora and fauna, but in the people.

On the hiking: it was steep up and down, at times treacherously slick, jungle trekking with few views through the dense foliage (despite relatively high ridge and summit trails) in what an Ashevillian (not to mention a Vermonter) would consider extreme heat and humidity.  (Nonetheless, our guide, Tom, referred to this time of year as the “cool dry season”.)  On the fauna: we saw little of it but heard some pretty “jungley” noises probably produced by birds and frogs (interspersed with some mysterious nighttime shrieks and crashes).  On the flora: we saw a lot of it, but, with no expert botanist with good English language skills on the team, we did not learn much about it.

The boys enter the Nam Ha NPA via the Nam Tha River on a tippy canoe
The boys enter the Nam Ha NPA via the Nam Tha River on a tippy canoe

The people made the trip.  Our guide Tom was a gentle, knowledgeable young man who, along with his sidekick Zhuan, could fashion almost everything you would need out of the raw materials around them (mostly bamboo).  These items included strong, light weight rattan walking sticks; bamboo picnic tables, shot glasses, chopsticks, spring loaded pea shooters; and banana leaf food wrappers.  Our fellow trekkers Pawel and Goshe provided good stories of previous treks in Ethiopia and important insight into their recent trekking experiences in Nepal (where we hope to trek next month).  Pawel’s camera size (large) and shooting frequency (often) indicate that he will produce some great images (which we hope to receive by email someday).  Our other fellow trekker, Ian, was a mechanical engineer with the Mars Curiosity mission, responsible, among other things, for the percussive part of the rock drill the rover has recently started using to take samples of Mars’ rock layers.  The drilling had just started when Ian left on the trek, so he was anxious during the trek to find out whether the drill (specifically the percussive element) actually worked.  (It did.)  Ian’s knowledge of things galactic came in handy when answering the boys’ many questions about life on Mars and etc.  We’re calling those Q & A sessions homeschool science class for the week.

Lunch with Tom
Lunch with Tom
Science class to go: discussing life on Mars with Ian
Science class to go: discussing life on Mars with Ian

Night one was spent in a rustic jungle camp.  Among the practical issues faced by residents of a jungle camp is protecting food (here sticky rice grains) from rodents.  Snakes take care of part of this problem, but the complete solution involves trapping, roasting and eating the critters, specifically jungle rats.  Sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and served with a variety of meat, vegetables and spicy sauces was the order of the day at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Day one: “I love sticky rice!”  Day three: “Oh no!  No more sticky rice!”

Henry on jungle camp group sleeping platform
Henry on jungle camp group sleeping platform
Dinner is served
Dinner is served
Setting out from jungle camp
Setting out from jungle camp

Night two was spent in a Lanten village.  The Lanten (variably known as the Lantien, Landian, and Yao Mun) may have originated in the Yangtse River Valley of China but migrated south into southern China and the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia during the last centuries.  They are closely related to the better-known Hmong (better known in the US for their role as our allies during the Vietnam War).  Walking into this village, accessible only by footpath, was a highlight of the three days.  Chickens, pigs, dogs, and cows roamed unfettered through this community of 113 souls (down from 115 a month earlier).  The effects of poverty (and possibly the shallow depth of the Lanten gene pool in this region (the tribes apparently do not intermarry very frequently)) were apparent on their faces.  The first three grades of schooling are offered in the village, after which ambitious young scholars who choose to continue their formal education must hike 3 to 4 difficult hours to a school on the main road where they spend the school week before returning home for the weekend.  Having hiked that route out of the village on Day 3, I can attest that those students do hike uphill to school, both ways.

Braxton and some Lanten piglets
Braxton and some Lanten piglets
Henry negotiating a price on handmade Lanten satchels
Henry negotiating a price on handmade Lanten satchels
Braxton testing the bridge
Braxton testing the bridge

Elephant bath

In addition to the events Amy described, our visit to Luang Prabang also included an elephant ride.  The corny and uncomfortable first half hour sitting on a platform seat strapped to an Asiatic elephant riding through degraded forest was followed by a much more exciting barebacked ride into the Mekong River for an afternoon bath.  Coco’s mahout (elephant wrangler) got a big kick out of getting her elephant to fully submerge itself starting with its head in an attempt to throw Coco off the front into the muddy Mekong.  The scene reminded me of a mechanical bull riding contest in the middle of a very large river.  Her core strength and sense of balance along with a firm determination to keep her hair dry allowed Coco to stay seated throughout.  Amy’s elephant refused to engage in such antics, instead preferring to spray her through its trunk.  Unfortunately, the spraying behavior started before they reached the river resulting in a dust and elephant saliva bath, later to be rinsed with sprays of Mekong murk.  The boys’ elephant was well behaved on all fronts much to their disappointment.  Dad was happy to record the events from the bank.

Ride 'em Coco!
Ride ’em Coco!
Lean back on the downhill
Lean back on the downhill
The boys on their trusty steed
The boys on their trusty steed
Elephant bath in the Mekong River
Elephant bath in the Mekong River

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang has become very touristy over the past ten years and it is easy to see why.  It is a charming town nestled along the lazy Mekong River full of temples, golden Buddhas, young Buddhist monks strolling in their bright orange robes, cafes, flowering trees, great food.  We spent the day strolling and visiting the temples, eating dinner in the food stalls of their famous night market.

Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang

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Strolling Monks
Strolling Monks
Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

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Eating at the Night Market
Eating at the Night Market
Night Market Selections
Night Market Selections
Eating at the Night Market
Eating at the Night Market

Laos

There are two ways to get to Luang Prabang, Laos from Hanoi.  Thirty hour bus ride through mountainous terrain, or one hour international flight.  While we most certainly would have chosen the former 15 years ago, time and wisdom (and a little extra cash) steered us to the latter.  We had an uneventful flight over the beautiful and extensive mountains of northern Laos.  We landed to nice, balmy tropical weather.  The boys loved Laos from the moment we exited the plane and walked across the runway.  Our hotel pick-up was in an old Land Rover….they could not possibly have been more excited!  We piled our bags in, crammed into two benches facing each-other in the back, and off we went, scooting past all the nice hotel limos and air conditioned minivans.  Past the luxury digs in town, down a long, bumpy dirt road to our little huts.  We were greeted by the delightful Lao owners, ordered some Lao beers, and watched the boys play soccer with their new Lao friends.  I think we are going to like Laos.

Our Bungalows in Luang Prabang
Our Bungalows in Luang Prabang

Our Ride

Our Ride
Temporary HQ Sovereign Geographic
Temporary HQ Sovereign Geographic

Highlights of Hanoi

Well, our time in Hanoi has come to an end after using it as a home base for a little over a week.  We loved Hanoi!  We stayed in the colorful, labyrinthine Old Quarter of town, full of narrow winding streets packed full of shops, vendors, markets, food stalls, etc.  There are amazing smells wafting around, delicious street food to sample on every corner.  And motorbikes!!!  Motorbikes rule here.  Every street contains a sea full of bikes going in every direction.  While surely there are some traffic rules, we cannot ascertain what they might be.  Crossing the street is not for the faint of heart as the traffic never seems to stop, and the crosswalks I think are just for decoration.  You have to slowly inch your way into the onslaught and move with steady, gentle fluid motion, and voila, the sea amazingly parts around you.  The key is staying calm and steady, which is sometimes difficult with my mother-in-law Nanny-Co (and I mean this lovingly) going “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…”  See video below which was taken on our street, gives at least an idea of the chaos.

Our favorite activity in Hanoi, aside from eating amazing food, was simply strolling around this vibrant city.  Other highlights included walking through the many markets, visiting the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” which Coalter has already mentioned, touring a temple in the middle of a lake which had an embalmed sea turtle.  We also visited the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and saw an embalmed Ho Chi Minh.  This was a very solemn event in which we had to march two by two escorted by Vietnamese military in full military regalia carrying bayonets.  “Uncle Ho” as he is affectionately known in Vietnam looked pretty good but apparently he goes to Russia once a year for some “touch up work.”   Below are some photos of our favorite activity, eating, and a few market scenes.  For more gruesome market pictures, contact Henry and Braxton directly.

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Coco and Boys
Coco and Boys
Braxton Gets a Lesson
Braxton Gets a Lesson
Enjoying More Street Food
Best bun cha in Hanoi

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The boys have been learning a lot about the Vietnam war (or the “American War” is it is called here), the events that led up to it, and the US involvement.  Prisons, guillotines, soldiers, bayonets and embalmed military leaders really help with the education process of young boys!

We visited a wonderful exhibit at the National Women’s Museum.  We saw a traditional water puppet show.  We went to a performance of traditional Vietnamese music and dance featuring a long dance of the Mother Goddess, who is worshiped by many here.   Coco had a Thai massage and was pounded, slapped, pulled and contorted like a pretzel.  Sounded a lot like assault to me, but she loved it.

While we had intended to see more of Vietnam, we opted to cut it short as we were advised to get out of the country during Tet (Chinese New Year).  During this time the country all but shuts down in celebration.  I think it would be fun to see.  You can feel the excitement build as the preparations are under way… lights, flags, lanterns and banners are being hung, trees are being planted, flowers everywhere.  I’m sure it will be quite a site!

Coco has landed

My mom touched down in Hanoi this evening to join us for a month of traveling in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  Coco is a seasoned traveler having joined both of her kids on their adventures starting with me in China in 1989 and followed by Ecuador, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Haiti and etc with Eva over the years.  We’re looking forward to sharing the adventures across three generation.  They started today with a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.

Coco and the boys at Uncle Ho's mausoleum
Coco and the boys at Uncle Ho’s mausoleum