Mekong

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

After staying out late the night before, the early morning bus trip into the Mekong Delta came far too early.

We were on the bus and ready to go at 7 a.m. When we got on the bus we realized we were part of a large tour group that would likely result in a highly regimented and overly touristy trip through the Mekong Delta and into Cambodia. While this was exactly what it turned out to be, there probably isn’t a better option to travel from Saigon to Phnom Penh via the Mekong Delta without a lot of additional transportation planning.

Our guide had terrible jokes, many if which he repeated over and over again throughout the journey.

One the first day we traveled from Saigon to Can Tho with stops along the way for short boat rides through narrow creeks, lunch on a small island and a short trek through a fruit plantation.

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Our day ended in the town of Can Tho, where we were left to our own devices to explore and find a place for dinner.

After dinner we browsed through a few of the town’s underwhelming markets, which we stocked full of cheaply made clothes and trinkets, before making our way back to the hotel excited to see the Mekong’s largest floating market the next morning.

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Once again our day started bright and early with breakfast at the hotel before we set out with the group for the river dock in the center of Can Tho. Our entire group quickly boarded into a long narrow boat and we set off down the river toward the much anticipated market.

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The market was promised as a significant part of the tour and we were expecting to spend quite some time cruising back and forth between the many boat stalls purchasing fruit and veggie snacks. Of course, like many of these organized tours we only took one quick lap around the market before they quickly hustled us on to the next scheduled group toilet break.

From the market our boat headed deeper into the delta and we stopped at two more destinations nestled back in some of the small canals connected to the larger river.

The first stop was at a small family workshop that produced rice paper. We were able to spend about 15 minutes watching this local family work during the mid-day heat over burning ovens. It was actually a really cool process to see in action.

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Our second, and last stop, before returning to tour buses was at a small riverside village. Upon arrival we were able to rent pedal bikes and take a quick ride along the banks of the various canals, peaking into the lives of small homes and shops lining the water’s edge.

At the conclusion of the bike ride, we all piled back into the boat and set our course back to Can Tho and the awaiting tour buses.

The early afternoon was spent sitting on the bus as we made our way toward Chau Doc near the Vietnam-Cambodia boarder. En route we stopped at Tra Chu Bird Sanctuary, a flooded forest and swampland that is home to a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.

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We toured the mangrove forest in a bunch of small row boats and saw countless storksand other birds as our boats slid through the still, quiet waters.

By the time we returned to the bus from the sanctuary dusk was already beginning to set in. It wasn’t too long before our bus pulled up to our hotel in Chau Doc for our last night in Vietnam.

It took us quite a while to find somewhere to eat, but we finally found somewhere amenable and then finished the evening walking along the river bank.

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

We woke up on Saturday morning ready for our slow boat ride to Phnom Penh.

The day started as expected. We boarded a boat and visited a small fishing village before heading up river toward to Cambodian boarder.

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It was when we arrived at the boarder control after only 30 minutes in the boat that things took a turn for the worst. After passing through immigration we learned despite the fact we purchased a “slow boat” ride from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh, the “slow boat” portion of the trip was only from Chau Doc to the boarder. From the boarder we were expected to ride in a tiny minivan the rest of the way to Phnom Penh.

Although the boat was not supposed to take us all the way to Phnom Penh, it was supposed to take us to Neak Leung, with a mini van ride the rest of the way.

After a massive argument with the captain of the boat and a phone call to TNK Travel, we were unable to resolve the issue.

“It’s not a slow boat then, is it? It’s more like a slow bus.”

Frustrated and annoyed we piled into the minivan and drove the rest of the way to Phnom Penh and the Funky Monkey Hostel.

 

 

Borneo – Orang Utans

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It was difficult, but we said goodbye to our beloved aLoft. Air Asia took us on a short hour and a half flight and dropped us in Kuching – the capital of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo.

Kuching is just like Grandma’s house. It’s cozy, smells a little different, it’s too warm, and is filled with unnecessary clutter, but yet you are attracted to the idea of staying longer than you should while you slowly take in the colors and quirkiness. Cat statues, figurines and street names that don’t let you forget this is the city of cats. The promenade is magical and the relative lack of tourists makes this place even more of a gem.

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The four of us wandered around the town before finding Bing! coffee shop. After a coffee and good conversation about James terrorizing his high school faculty, we continued to wander through the sleepy streets.

For lunch we found Magna Carta café. The open-air wrap porch was the perfect place to spend several hours of the afternoon hiding from the sun.

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It was a relatively early night for me, which allowed for James to enjoy time with his parents sans his sidekick on the rooftop of the Lime Tree.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

By 8 a.m. John, Jude and I were waiting for James to stroll into the lobby so we could head to Semenggoh Orang-Utan Nature Reserve.

Established in 1975, the Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Center is a place where injured, orphaned or handicap orangutans live. They are encouraged to forage for food and build nests all on their own so they can eventually be released into the wild.

The feeding time for the fruitarians was at 9 a.m. and the orangutans decided, unlike James and I are capable of doing, arriving on time. Before we even walked in, a grandma and a young orangutan were playing in the rafters of the viewing platform.

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We were also amused by one male swinging around on the ropes and collecting coconuts from the sanctuary guide.

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The two orangutans came down to the ground halfway through our viewing time. There in the middle of the dozens of visitors the two wrestled, tickled and played on the floor in the middle of the excited crowd as if nobody was watching.

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Just before 10 a.m. the two decided to make their grand exit, and they did so arm in arm as they walked away from the crowd.

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At 10 a.m. we were forcefully asked to leave the center, as the whole goal is to eventually send the orangutans back into the wild, they wanted to minimize viewing times and exposure to humans.

We headed back to the visitor center and as Jude was buying water, an overly excited guide ran in shouting for everyone to hide their water bottles. The orangutans are fed milk via plastic water bottles, so when they see visitors drinking out of or carrying water bottles, the orangutan rightfully believes that it belongs to them. You can imagine how that ends.

The two sociable orangutans were quickly coming to have a seat at the café. They sat around and posed for some photos before our driver reminded us it was past time to leave.

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That afternoon James and I spent a generous chunk of time back at the hotel while John and Jude enjoyed Kuching. James was productive doing his PR consulting and I took the opportunity to apply for a dream job back in Seattle.

For dinner we decided to go to Top Spot Seafood. A dozen neon-lit signs set the mood for seafood eateries that are permanently parked on the top of a massive parking garage.

Plastic tablecloths and chairs are heavily sprinkled on every available surface area, and you can’t tell where one food stand begins and another ends. The place is filled with locals and tourists and buzzing with excitement. We found a table and unable to understand the majority of the menu, had our waiter order for us. Minus the squid mixed into our chicken noodle dish, everything was incredibly good.

We had a fun evening sitting on the rooftop enjoying the food and laughing with one another.

Our first two days in Borneo couldn’t have been better!