April 2010 Archives


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Our next stop was more of a layover on our way to Arusha to split up the driving. To make it a little more interesting and keep with our culturally sensitive theme of the trip we had a two hour village hike planned over lunch. Melissa was not feeling well so she decided to opt out of the hike and hang out in the truck for a couple of hours.


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That night we stayed in Marangu, on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was so overcast that we couldn't see the mountain itself, and it rained fairly hard when we stopped the truck a ways away from the campsite and carried all our stuff over some slick dirt roads to where we would camp. The site made an incredible dinner for us (rice, beef stew, banana stew, some sort of beans) and we filled up before stumbling back to the cold tent for another night's fitful rest. The next morning, bleary and exhausted, we had cold showers in some stalls, toast for breakfast, and headed out for the planned activity, a village walk that would bring us to the sponsored project, an educational and vocational center. Our walk also brought us to a pretty waterfall, but we were too cold to strip down and jump in. Lunch was prepared by some villagers, and was quite a spread of local foods (again, beef stew, rice, beans, lentils, oranges, bananas). We packed up again, and headed out to Karatu, where we would spend the night.


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Melissa: After Zanzibar we had another night in Dar Es Salaam on the beach before finally boarding our truck and making our way overland to the Serengeti. I was pretty excited to be leaving a crowded city for more rural areas--India had been one city after another, and even our last few days in Southeast Asia were spent either in major cities or traveling to major cities. I was looking forward to a long, relaxing road trip and staying in wide open spaces.

Final Night in Zanzibar

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Our hotel in Zanzibar was very nice, located on a gorgeous beach with a huge bar. Our accommodations were in small little houses built just off the beach, each containing two rooms. The weather was not ideal as it stayed warm but pretty overcast for most of the day. I actually preferred this to the scorching heat that Melissa and I had endured for the last 5 weeks, and found Zanzibar a wonderful break from our travels.

Zanzibar day 2

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In the morning we set out by bus to the spice plantation about an hour from Stone Town. The spice plantation tour was very interesting as we were able to see some exotic fruits and spices and how they grow. We started by seeing some fruits like jackfruit, papaya, bananas, and star fruit. We then moved on to see a number of the spices which was pretty interesting. Our guide would pull a number of roots from the ground or bark from a tree and ask us to try to identify what it is. We started with a small root that looked like a bit like ginger, but would dye anything that it touched (turmeric). We then moved on to a root which we were asked to smell, we all immediately identified the very strong menthol smell but could not tell what type of tree the root belonged to. It turned out to be cinnamon which was very surprising. We then moved on to see young peppercorns that would eventually become pepper as well as a bunch of cloves (Zanzibar is the #1 producer of cloves in the world).


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The next day we woke up early to catch the ferry to the island of Zanzibar. We planned to spend three nights on the island, most of it spent relaxing on the beach. This was a welcome adventure after the very breakneck pace at which we toured India. The overland truck took us to the foot ferry, which in turn took to Dar Es Salaam proper. Then we had to walk about 45 minutes through the city to reach the ferry stop, which was interesting, but I felt much safer than when it was just Melissa and me. We made our way through the scorching sun and finally reached the stop for the hydrofoil, which is a high speed ferry that would take us to Zanzibar.

Finally Africa - Dar Es Salaam

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dar es salaam.jpg

After a very long wait at the Delhi airport (which we were not even allowed to enter until 3 hours before our flight), we finally arrived in Africa! It had been over 30 hours since we had slept so we were very much looking forward to the nice hotel room we booked at the Holiday Inn.

Last Day in India

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Melissa: The next morning, we had an incredible breakfast buffet that included specially made dhosa, which was a flat, crisp pancake served with several condiments. Then we lolled taking around the hotel, taking advantage of the internet and, on my part, the massage chair. Prem came to get us at around noon, and we began the drive back to Delhi. Because our flight didn't leave until five the next morning, and we expected to spend the night in the airport, we weren't in any hurry to get back to Delhi. We stopped by another dhaba for lunch, and the flies were just as numerous and the food still pretty mediocre. Rich told Prem that he would like to get a haircut before we left for Africa, so Prem found him a barber on the way to Delhi who apparently cut Rich's hair entirely with a pair of scissors.

Tigers and Taj Mahal

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Melissa: The next morning we got a call from the front desk, letting us know that our jeep was a bit early. We hustled outside to hop in the open jeep, which had two benches mounted in back. There was a German couple already there, and we stopped by another hotel to pick up an Indian couple and their two year old son. Everyone else on the jeep had already been on several safaris (there is one that leaves in the early morning, and one that leaves in the afternoon, and people usually go for three or more days, booking as many safaris as possible to increase their chances of seeing the elusive wild tigers).

Jaipur Day 2

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Melissa: We woke up early again, showered quickly, ate a filling meal at the guest house, and headed out with Prem to find our tour guide for the day. Fortunately, we didn't have loads of time because we had a long drive to Ranthambore that day, so the guide gave us a rushed tour of the Amber Fort and the City Palace. I prefer a shorter tour in general, as I get antsy standing around and admiring walls after a while.


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Melissa: The next morning Prem collected us early for the long drive to Jaipur. The road was interesting--part highway, part one-lane, two-way rural road. We were anxious at first, but quickly ran out of the energy required to be constantly scared of oncoming trucks barreling towards us. We were hit by two trucks during the five hour drive--the first truck took off our rear hub cab, which was quickly fixed, but the second truck left a fairly big dent on the right side of the car. Prem was a bit despondent, as this was the company car, he had never before had an accident in fourteen years of driving tourists, and the truck driver was drunk driving (at 10 a.m.!) but also poor and unable to pay him anything towards repairs.

Amritsar Day 2

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Today was really just a day of relaxation because we didn't have a train ride back until 5pm that night. I was happy to have the day though as it gave Melissa a chance to feel better which meant we could go to the Golden Temple one more time for her to see it.


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Many people fall in love with train travel in India, and India has the 3rd most railroad lines of any country in the world (behind US and USSR). Based on previous experience I would bet they have the most railway dedicated to transporting humans. I really wanted to take at least one train trip while we were in India, so we planned to take one about 450 kilometers to Amritsar. Our train left at 7AM, so we have to wake up quite early to make it from our guest house to the train station.

New Delhi Tour

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Although it was scorching hot in Delhi (high of 115 degrees) we only had one day to see the sites so we ventured out. Prem met us at our guest house around 9AM and we departed to see the sites. I had arranged to have a guide with us as well to explain a number of the sites - we find it much more rewarding to know some of the background on a particular place, and besides a guide for the day cost about $20.


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Rich- If you are curious yes that is a real and alive Cobra. They actually wanted me to touch it but I was feeling brave enough for just sitting near the damn thing, now on to the post. I spent countless hours during the last weeks of the Asian tour planning our trip through India. We decided to plan our own itinerary rather than go through a package tour. This allowed us more freedom, but was a risk because we only had about 7 days to explore India and we wanted to see a number of different places. I finalized my itinerary and contacted a website that a number of people had recommended, and they arranged a driver for us on a number of the days. We were thankful to have someone meet us at the airport late at night after a long flight.


With our last temple visits complete it was time for the long journey back to Thailand and the official end of the SE Asia portion of our trip. The journey north was pretty uneventful, and we made it back to Bangkok in about 7 hours. The drive along the highway was pretty interesting as it was the Songkran festival which commemorates the Thai New Year. All along the highway there were groups of Thai people of all ages throwing buckets of water on cars and shooting them with high powered water guns. They also appeared to have some sort of colored bubble concoction that added additional colors to all of the cars on the road.

Siem Reap Day 2 (More temples)

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Melissa: We woke up the next morning at 4:30 a.m. I was actually pretty jazzed as it was still dark when we got up and it was all a novelty. Rich was not as energetic, and sat in bed for a while, all but catatonic. We got a bus ride to the temples, which are unbelievable. Just an aside--I was not aware that Angkor Wat is not just one or two temples, but is a series of many temples, each with a completely different architectural design, and each located relatively far from the others. You generally will need transportation in the form of a tuk tuk or bus to get from one to the other. People usually spend a minimum of three days exploring the many, many different temples. They have been incredibly well preserved and lovingly restored in some places.

Siem Reap Day1

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Melissa: We woke up early again to make the drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, where we checked into a hotel owned by a surly American man and his Cambodian wife. The hotelier was not mean, but he was also very unfriendly and made us sort of feel as if we were imposing on him by staying at his hotel. However, the bright side about the hotel is that it was clean and nice, and we had WiFi access and could finally check our emails. We discovered that our friends that we had met in Laos were also in Siem Reap, checking out Angkor Wat, so we made plans to meet up with them for dinner. After a bit of difficulty locating their guest house, we found them, and they introduced us to other travelers that they had met on the way. We all headed down to the market and found a restaurant that had set up tables on the sidewalk, where we sat and enjoyed some beer before ordered our meals. I had the beef laklok, a Cambodian specialty, and Rich had a noodle soup. We had to leave right after dinner, as we were leaving the next morning at 5 a.m. to go visit the famous temples at Angkor Wat.

Phnom Penh Day 2 (Killing Fields)

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Today was planned to be a very heavy day in Phnom Penh, the Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields. Melissa decided that she didn't want to go to them due to the heavy nature of the presentations. I decided to go since I was here and although it's a tough topic I do find it interesting.

Welcome to Cambodia!

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Rich: On the picture, that was taken at a roadside market - I really love the proud look on the little girl's face. Yes that was a real (and very alive) tarantula. Later she took to rubbing it on people to see what they would do.

Melissa: The next morning we woke relatively early to begin the long drive across the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. The ride was long, but relatively uneventful, save for the border crossing itself. Rich slid easily through the visa process and customs check. Each official I spoke to would glance at my passport and ask me where I was *really* from, as I don't look American. I explained that my parents are Chinese, and the officials were delighted and wanted to converse with me in Mandarin. Even the doctor who was taking everyone's temperature stopped to chat with me in Mandarin. They really like Chinese people in Cambodia.

Day two in Saigon

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Melissa: The next day we headed out bright and early (to avoid the crowds and heat as much as possible) to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an extensive system of tunnels that the Vietnamese used to thwart Americans during what was described to us as "the American war". We bought tickets and were introduced to our guide, a sarcastic but friendly guy whose father lived for four years in the tunnels during the war.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

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Ho Chi Minh City is the official name for the city that was once called Saigon. Although the government has officially changed the name, because of its long history very few people actually call it by its official name and instead refer to the city as Saigon. Saigon was the primary base of operations for the American forces during the Vietnam War, although it has been an important city for southern Vietnam for centuries. We arrived mid-day and made our way from the airport to the hotel.

Final day in Hoi An

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Our final day in Hoi An was pretty uneventful. We had a 10AM appointment for my final suit fitting, so we lounged around in the morning checking email and relaxing. The final fitting was much better than I had anticipated; almost all of the clothes were finished and fit nicely. The one exception was the pants for my suit, which somehow seemed to get worse. They were tight in the wrong places and loose in others and overall felt extremely odd. This time the fix was more direct, I was instructed to hop on the motorbike with the shop girl and over to the "factory" myself. After Hanoi the last thing I wanted to do was hop on a motorbike, but I didn't really see another option so away we went.

Day trip to China Beach (Cua Dai)

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It turns out that Hoi An is in very close proximity to an extremely nice beach called China Beach. Some of you may remember the Television show (I remember it being on but nothing else about it). The beach is beautiful so we decided to spend the day there. The beach is famous because it served as the primary location for U.S. troops on R&R during the war. It was pretty mind blowing to think that 40 years ago this was the center of the Vietnam War.

On the road to Hoi An

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After another white knuckle drive down the Vietnamese highway we reached our next destination, Hoi An. This was about the halfway point of our SE Asian tour and we were excited to have four days without any sites to see or definite plans. We did manage to find a couple of things to keep the three days interesting, and Hoi An ended up being one of our favorite places so far.

Historic Hue

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Rich - We woke up a little disoriented after a long and bumpy night on the train at the train station in Hue (pronounced "hway"). We had only a single night in Hue so we departed immediately for a tour of the town. Most of the city of Hue resides inside the walls of the citadel built along the banks of the Perfume River. The town itself is really beautiful and has managed to retain its character even with the onslaught of tourism.

Last day in Hanoi

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Rich - We had some time before the train left so we walked over to the Museum of Fine Arts which was only about a five minutes from our hotel. The museum itself was set in two lovely buildings that used to be the French Ministry of Information. There were displays of textiles, ceramics, and modern art, but most impressive were the sculptures. They had many older ones of Buddha, and the centerpiece was an effigy to Guan Yin, the goddess of compassion. The goddess traditionally has 1000 arms and 1000 eyes, and the artist was true to this in the statue.

Hanoi day two

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Rich - This city really is an assault. From the second you walk out of the hotel, Hanoi is in your face. There are people everywhere and of course the ubiquitous motorbikes are constantly honking and screaming by. This city is also not easy; there is almost nowhere to walk except the street, as the sidewalks are generally cluttered with seating for restaurants, motorbikes (parked or being repaired), chickens, giant mud puddles, fences, parked cars, or other impediments . Walking in the street (generally with the flow of traffic) means that motorbikes are constantly whizzing close enough to you to physically feel them breeze by.