Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We had a great time in Phnom Penh.  It is a vibrant, bustling city demonstrating the extremes of both poverty and excess.  You see it all…from a picturesque promenade along the riverfront, the magnificent Royal Palace, exciting street food (including fried bugs, frogs, birds, snakes and tarantulas – and we did watch a British woman eat a tarantula)…. to small child vendors wandering the streets alone at night, seedy tourists plying the sex trade, and widespread begging.  We learned a great deal in this city.  We were introduced to the glories of the ancient Khmer civilization at the National Museum and Royal Palace, as well as to the horrors perpetrated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.

On grounds of Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
On grounds of Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Braxton at the Royal Palace
Braxton at the Royal Palace
Along the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh
Along the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh
At the National Museum, Phnom Penh
At the National Museum, Phnom Penh

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From Braxton’s journal entry on the National Museum and Palace:

Vishnu is the Preserver of the Earth.  Shiva is the Destroyer.  Brahma is the Creator.  They are all Hindu deities.  Vishnu has four arms that are usually holding a conch shell, a ball, a mace, and a wheel.  Shiva is usually holding a trident.  Brahma has four faces looking in the cardinal directions.  We quizzed our dad on what Vishnu is usually holding.  He got three wrong, two right, and we had to tell him the last two.

At the Palace we went into a room that had what the royal people wore.  They had a different outfit each day.  The other room that we went to had an emerald Buddha.  In the emerald Buddha room the floor was made of real silver tiles but they were covered with rugs.  There was a life sized gold Buddha encrusted with diamonds (almost 10,000) but I couldn’t see the diamonds.

Crossing Borders

We love crossing borders, especially the international boundary experts among us.  Here we are about to cross the Mekong River from Laos to Thailand.  Mostly we have flown across borders (as in the airport photo below) with the exception of the crossing from Nanning, China to Hanoi, Vietnam by night train when we were awakened twice in two hours to exit the train with all of our luggage and deal with customs and immigration on both sides of the border.  Needless to say, the daytime crossing of the Mekong by boat was much easier.

Crossing the river between Laos and Thailand
Crossing the river between Laos and Thailand
Thailand to Cambodia, in the airport
Thailand to Cambodia, in the airport

Addendum Nam Ha NPA Jungle Trek

OK, OK, since so many people want to know… we did not actually eat the rats.  They were not offered to us and were instead eaten by the guides and village women who were cooking. Unfortunately, they are probably used to westerners squealing and then photographing their dinner, one of their only sources of protein. Honestly, it just did not seem that gross in the middle of the jungle.  Several claim that they were fully prepared to eat them…

Here are a few more photos of this lovely trek.

Boys explore hut in abandoned village
Boys explore hut in abandoned village

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Hiking through the next village, day 3
Hiking through the next village, day 3
Dinner night two, Lanten Village
Dinner night two, Lanten Village
Handcrafted Lanten textiles
Handcrafted Lanten textiles

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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!

Yangshuo, China

Next stop, back to the countryside, this time in southern China in the Guillin province.  This area is known for its amazing karst limestone outcroppings that look like huge gumdrops, and its dreamy, almost surreal landscape.  Again, we found ourselves there off-season, but in a way this added to the appeal… being socked in by fog and mist with these huge lush gumdrops emerging from the rivers.  We arrived in the night so did not witness the splendor until we opened our curtains in the morning.  See following photo taken from our hotel.  One of the kids, “This is what I thought China was going to look like.”  This was a fabulous week spent biking, hiking, sitting by the fire, meeting fellow travelers, scrabble, reading, home school, ping pong and badminton ( I do count this as PE in our home school as my boys are actually able to turn ping pong and badminton into full contact sports).

View from Hotel in Yangshuo
View from Hotel in Yangshuo
Amy and Boys in Yangshuo
Amy and Boys in Yangshuo
Tandem Bike Riding
Tandem Bike Riding

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Crossing the River
Crossing the River
Getting Bikes Across the River via Bamboo Raft
Getting Bikes Across the River via Bamboo Raft
Chillin' By the Fire
Chillin’ By the Fire
Taking a Walk
Taking a Walk

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Having our fill of China, we next turned our sites south on Vietnam in search of sunshine and Pho.