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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
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!
Coolest thing I have found: definitely an AK-47 banana clip I found in the Namtha river is the coolest thing I’ve found
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!
2.Monkey in the middle of Phnom Penh!
3.A coke machine in the middle of the woods!
4.Playboy brand stuff
5. Thai Ronald McDonald
6. GIANT SPIDER!
7. Funny donation box (“Charity Box for Especially Difficult Children”)
That was all the weird stuff I’ve seen, but now it’s time for some weird food!
1.pig and pig feet!
3. Assorted bugs
5. Snake and Scorpion whiskey
6. Green airplane cake that probably wasn’t supposed to be green
(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!
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!
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 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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.