A Travellerspoint blog

A few thoughts....

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." ~Lao Tzu

sunny 90 °F

We had a nice time in the little village we stayed in but we were all ready to start back on our adventure of new countries and cities, new cultures, and meeting new people. We collectively agreed to add Cambodia to our list, so after a few days in Saigon we went to Siem Reap by bus, an adventure that has already made at least one blog by now I am sure. I really enjoyed Ankgor Wat, the orphanage, the markets and Siem Reap. The poverty and despair you could see in some peoples eyes in Cambodia made me pensive and I wanted to share some of my thoughts of the trip so far. Although it was the poorest country we have visited the people were all friendly, smiling and existing as best they could. It was refreshing to see people with so little seem so content with their lives.
First, I have been really proud of the girls and Julie. They have all shown resolve, flexibility, patience and really rolled with it. I knew Julie could do it, even though it is a new way to travel for her. But the girls, wow, they have been consistently great, adventurous, willing to try foods, talk to new people, learn and really embrace the cultures we are visiting. Of course there are the occasional challenges (usually involving schoolwork) , but overall they have done great.
Second, traveling is tiring. My usual motorcycle trips are 10 days or less, so this pace of moving and living out of a suitcase (actually backpack) for months is tough. One of the best things we did before we left is deciding to book flights, hotels, etc. at our own pace and not plan everything in advance. The last 2 times we have just chilled and caught up, in Bali and Mui Ne, all of our bodies told us it was time to relax. 5 more months, we will make it for sure, but we have learned to slow down a little and pace ourselves.
Third, the world is a smaller place than it seems. Not just literally, like the fact that we met a couple in New Zealand that lived 4 blocks form our old house, or a guy in Vietnam that lives in Laguna Beach, but also in the way we all live. We all have basic needs clothes, food, shelter, and we all try to provide the best for ourselves and family, but the means to that goal are different. In the Asian countries it has seemed to be more about taking care of family as a unit , in Bali it is not uncommon for 3 or 4 families to live together. Usually the parents move in with the son, as well as grandparents, uncles, etc. In China it was similar but it does seem to be changing a little, and in Vietnam there is a sense of large family, with more little kids than in other countries, and the appearance of many in one home. Vietnam had a population of 35 million after the war, currently 70 million, so it is a very young country more than half of the populationis under 30 years old.
It is smaller in the way that parents love their kids, people want to be happy, and that life is tough no matter where you live. Much tougher when freedoms are not respected, and poverty is rampant, life in all of the countries have not seemed as "easy" as in the US. The United States has some issues, but relative to the rest of the world's problems they seem pretty insignificant. We always have water, food, security, roof over our heads, electricity, transportation, a sense of everything is going to be OK.
It is just easier in the states than where we have been, it isn't just the language barriers, that has actually been less of a challenge than I expected, its the little things. The ability to move freely, have stores open 24 hours, restaurants that have good service, the general cleanliness of everything, the ease of just being. We are truly a consumer oriented society, we get what we want when we want! We expect and demand that our needs are met at all times. I appreciate that more now, but also wonder if it is necessary or if a little inconvenience in our lives once in a while wouldn't actual be that bad.
I am not supporting that America becomes more difficult, actually the opposite, that we as citizens become more grateful for the lifestyle we have, the support our government gives it's citizens, the opportunities we take for granted, and that we all appreciate what convenience costs. America is by far the easiest place to live that we have seen.

Ryan

Posted by ryanober1 04:20 Archived in Thailand Tagged ryan Comments (0)

Planning a city

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Our original plan for the trip was we would each plan a city or country, we haven’t stuck to the plan at all, but we decided that starting with 2 small cities would be a good idea. Riley was assigned Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was assigned Chiang Mai, Thailand. Siem Reap was a success, Riley stayed in budget and planned a great city. My city has been okay, after a few “minor” setbacks. I’ll start from the beginning, as I planned the city, I realized elephant rescues are a big thing, so I did my research and found an elephant rescue where you get your own elephant for the day. It seemed amazing until I discovered that it would wipe out the whole budget! Of course, I had to cross it off the list ☹ I found a much cheaper elephant rescue place, and decided to go with that one. Next step, hotel…. I found a hotel that was inexpensive but looked reasonable. As we arrived, we learned the brochure pictures don’t always match what the place really looks like, we learned that the hard way. We thought the hotel was fine, until I found daddy laying on the floor. The bathroom doorway was 2 inches taller than me, and daddy hit his head and fell backwards. He was fine, but we decided it wouldn’t be the best idea to stay there for 5 days. After a long day, we finally found a good hotel. Then, I threw some fun things to do in the agenda, and called it a city. Ignoring that I went over the budget, I made a power point on Chiang Mai. Mom and Dad said it looked fun, just that next time I should stay on the cheaper level. But it is me, and I’m a spender, not a saver! Chiang Mai has been fun so far, tomorrow we go to the elephant reserve, I’ll keep you updated.

P.S. check out the photos for everything we have done in chiang mai. there is even a picture of my dad hugging Jennifer Lopez... okay, she's a tiger with the name J-Lo because she has a big butt!

=)
~morgan~

Posted by ryanober1 10:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged morgan Comments (3)

Things We Miss

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Skittles, Milk Duds, a good cheeseburger, Mexican food, conditioner (its crazy how brittle hair can become with a few conditioner-less days), speaking English (besides to ourselves), washing machine, pearsonal space, electric toothbrush, tap water, ice, fountain drinks, french fries (french fries here are called french fried), convenience stores (the other day we found a circle K and we all ran to it, when we got inside the ladies at the counter were laughing at us because we kept saying "we have this in America" and "oh, remember these?"), Italian food, salad, and most of all a bonzai bowl (favorite laguna smoothie/fruit/deliciousnes bowl! These are things I miss while traveling. Meeting travelers, experiencing new things, trying new foods, eating delicious $5 meals (including drinks), learning about other countries, awesome ways of transportation (expecially going 60 mph rocking when you turn), doing amazing things that we would never be able to do in the U.S. (for example getting in a cage with tigers, zip lining 130 ft in the air, rolling down a hill in a giant ball, etc.) These are all the things I love about traveling. Although I miss a lot of things, there is also alot I love about traveling.

P.S. We all made a song about tuk tuks:
a Tuk Tuk here
a Tuk Tuk there
here a Tuk
there a Tuk
everywhere a Tuk Tuk

~morgan~
=)

Posted by ryanober1 09:28 Archived in Thailand Tagged morgan Comments (1)

Snakes, Tigers and feeling guilty.... oh my!

sunny 90 °F

We learn something new every day travelling, usually it’s something educational, spiritual, enlightening, or important. We learned a little of all of those today, and something new. We learned to "always research or know what it is you are supporting when paying to see something." We are in Chiang Mai in Thailand and heard about multiple tourist things to do and to go see. It is a town that is geared for the tourist of every age and culture. Every other corner has a massage parlor, bungee jump, "must-see" attraction, or other touristy type spot. So today we paid our 500 Thai Baht (about $25) for 2 tuk-tuk's and off we went to the area of town that has everything from elephant parks to 4x4 rentals. Our first stop I will get back to later, that is where the guilt and learning experience was.
The 2nd stop was the "tiger encounter", a highly recommended and heavily advertised tourist experience. Actually, well worth the money and a really neat way to be near and actually pet and snug with real tigers. It was great, the girls and Julie opted to be in the cage with the little guys. They said the seemed less threatening, however, upon entering they were the wild and crazy ones, running, jumping, playing like all 6 month old puppies and kittens would. They were super cute and jumped in the water and then would stay still for a few minutes and the girls would run over to pet them and then they would take off again. I think Moe and Riley were a little disappointed that their 15 minutes of play time was short and not as much touching the tigers as they had hoped. We got some pictures and then it was my turn. I had signed up for the BIG cat experience, my cats, yes there where 3 tigers in one cage with me, each weighing over 150 kilos (330 lbs.). They were named Lucky Day, Sophia, and Jennifer Lopez (because she has a big butt). I spent about 10 minutes with Lucky Day, he was just hangin at first and then he got up and walked around, I walked with him, petting him the entire time. He stood on a wall with his front paws and was almost eye level with me, we got some great pictures and then I went to meet Sophia and Jennifer, they were both tired and lazy and just laid around. I laid down with them and put my head on Sophia’s back and pet her for about 10 minutes, again got lots of pictures.
We went behind the scenes at the tiger encounter and saw other tigers and even the newest addition, a 6-week-old tiger cub. She was beyond cute, she had her own room to hang in, we couldn't pet her but could watch her jump around like a little kitten, only the size of a full cat all ready. The girls really seemed to enjoy the experience, as did I. They seemed to take really good care of the animals and the place was clean and well run.
After the Tigers we decided to stick with an animal theme so we went to the King Cobra charmer. This was a little less sophisticated of an operation, basically consisting of 5 or 6 yahoos that like to play with venomous animals and scare people. It started with them trying to get the girls to hold scorpions, they passed on the offer. Then Julie, to overcome her fear, bravely held a 5-foot Boa, and Riley even jumped in and held it too. Moe was not nearly as interested and was a little freaked out, as were we all. The show started with the crazies bringing out 2 Thai Cobras and kissing them on the head, playing etc... Then the big boy, a 9-foot King Cobra, a few water snakes, and a jumping snake came out to play. It kinda reminded me of a redneck BBQ with people playing with Crocs and water moccasins, different country same type of people. It was well worth the $5 but probably not worth the risk of getting bit when the snakes kept making it to the stands and everyone would freak out. Insurance policies either don't exist or Lawyers are really missing out on something here in South East Asia, we haven't signed a single liability form yet and have done some things you can’t even discuss in the US, seriously.
Back to the first thing we did today. Our driver told us that we should see the "long neck" people of Thailand in one of their villages. So we went to a village and saw the Karen or Kayan tribe of Northern Thailand, there were no signs or information, just a small hut at the entrance collecting money to enter and then about 20 makeshift storefronts where there were women selling beautiful, scarves, shawls and knickknacks that they had crafted. We talked about the fact they didn’t seem very happy and we felt like it was strange that we were walking around taking pictures of them like they were animals. They were beautiful women, but had really long necks because of the heavy brass rings that had been placed there since they were young. It was strange and I even asked the girls and Julie when we were leaving, “why would anyone do that in todays society unless it had significant religious or cultural importance.” I wondered why would someone do that to herself if not needed? Unfortunately I found out why when I returned to our hotel room and researched them.
Please see the article below-

http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/international/kayan-long-neck-thailand

Needless to say, I feel really guilty and had no idea we were supporting something like this. You assume when it is publicized and open to the public it is accepted by the people involved, apparently not in this case. We all learned a lesson today, look into what you are about to do, don’t do it just because everyone else does, there are consequences to our actions.

Ryan

ps. to the multiple family members that are going to receive the beautiful scarves upon our return, we were unaware of the background associated with the "longneck" women, we made the purchases thinking they were ethically acceptable. None the less enjoy the handicrafts, guilt free, as they were purchased prior to research.

Posted by ryanober1 11:36 Archived in Thailand Tagged ryan Comments (0)

Mama Bear

sunny 90 °F

Mama Bear
This I know for sure…traveling as a mother of two girls has proven to be challenging for me! Yes, I have always been up for an adventure, a thrill ride, a challenge, but to be responsible for two young ladies is quite another story. My “mama bear” instinct has roared several times on this trip. I seem to have this level of fear coupled with anxiety (no surprises there) knowing that I am responsible for the safety of Morgan and Riley. For me alone, it would have been no problem arriving in Siem Reap at midnight after our bus broke down in rural Cambodia, getting heckled by 20 tuk tuk drivers to take us to our hotel with only a scribbled address on a scrap piece of paper to give to our non English speaking drivers…..we had to split up because one tuk tuk could not handle the O’s and their packs. I was on high alert thinking that the driver could quickly take a quick turn into an alley with Riley and I in tow……I had my eyes on Ryan and Morgan the whole time crossing my fingers that the dark road we were heading down would house our hotel….and of course we made it unscathed. Riley mentioned that we toured the Chi Cu Tunnels in Saigon. I completely freaked out when I saw how small the entry holes were and how tight the tunnels were, not to mention the humidity and heat escaping from the underground maze. I made a fool out of myself running to each exit hole screaming down to Riley and Ryan to “get out” “don’t get stuck”…….again mama bear was frantic……after Ryan almost getting stuck in the ice cave at Franz Joseph, my mind was imagining him getting wedged in the tunnel with Riley behind him trying to push him loose to break the seal and escape the humid maze. I apologized after this embarrassing display of crazed behavior and spent a few hours late that night trying to figure out why I was so nervous. It is one thing to put yourself in unknown situations, to push your limits, to challenge your psyche, but it’s a whole other ball game when your children are right beside you. Ryan and I have taught the girls over the years that they have a “powerful voice”, so on a few occasions the girls have told us that they don’t feel comfortable or they are a bit nervous and we listen to their comments and try to alleviate their discomfort to the best of our ability and sometimes we just say “suck it up”…..I find it oddly unnerving that I am so cautious with the girls…is it my motherly instinct or perhaps is it a reflection of my age.? I hate to even say that out loud. Am I not the same gal that would try any rollercoaster, soar over the Royal Gorge in a super swing, parasail, zorb, black river raft? That gal is still breathing inside me but I guess I am just a worrywart when it comes to the girls’ safety.
We hiked up a steep trail yesterday to catch the sunset at Phnom Bakheng, one of the many temples near Siem Reap. It is famous for breathtaking sunset views of Angkor Wat. Lets just say we were not the only ones to get this memo. It was a mad dash up the mountain to the temple and then a death defying climb up extremely narrow steps that can only hold the tip of your foot as you climb 40 steep stone stairs to plop yourself down on a 800 plus year old crumbling temple ledge struggling to see the sunset as your sweat drips into your eyes because it is HOT, real HOT and muggy! Climbing up was intense, but I knew what comes up has to come down. All I could imagine was one person slipping and causing a human domino effect down the temple stairs. Again, I was anxious for the girls safety, worried that I had put them in a vulnerable position….yet out of the corner of my eye, I see some yahoo with a baby strapped to his chest climbing up the stairs of the temple…..now that is CRAZY! Everyone just held their breath as the dad descended down the stairs. The wife just smiled and held the baby’s head up so she wouldn’t get banged against the temple walls during the descent. I have to say, she made me feel better about bringing my girls up to the top of the temple. There is always someone else out there to make you feel a bit better about your parenting decisions!
I think I will always be the mama bear, but this trip is showing me that my worries can sometimes interfere with the experience at hand. “Live in the moment”, oh how I am trying!
Today, once again we faced our fears with the girls in tow. We hung out with tigers, literally…check out the photos…. and we held pythons and king cobras. I am so ready for Fear Factor….too bad it has been off the air for a few years. Do you think there is any chance Joe Rogan will leave his MMA announcer position to bring back Fear Factor??? I think it needs to make a comeback! Maybe Ryan and I and the girls can create our own version of Amazing Race/Survivor/Fear Factor. I think it has potential!

Posted by ryanober1 09:10 Archived in Thailand Tagged julie Comments (0)

Same Same But Different

sunny 90 °F

Same Same but Different

Since we have been traveling, we have heard the saying “same, same but different” over and over again….it’s like a travelers mantra, so much so, that many people buy t-shirts with this simple saying imprinted on their chests. I think this catchy phrase can be defined in many different ways depending on whom you ask. My experience thus far is that we really do have more similarities with one another no matter our race, our skin color, our culture or our religion. I am not denying that we as mankind and womankind do not have differences. This trip is just reminding me that our differences make us interesting, unique and special, yet our similarities are subtly noticed in our daily routines, our lifestyles. We all have basic needs, yet the means of how we provide food and shelter are varied dependent upon geographical location and economic stability. I promise I won’t get all sappy by quoting verses from “Kum Bah Ya, My Lord”, but I have been observing the relationship with parents and children in each town we visit and each culture we come across. Such a delicate relationship between parent and child, one that needs to be nurtured no matter if you tuck your child in at night in a warm bed or on a bamboo mat, or in a hammock hung between two banana trees, or on the wood plank floor of a floating village: we as parents do our best to protect and love our children. It has been heartbreaking to see the street kids forced to fend for themselves and to see the orphanages at full capacity struggling to keep their doors open due to the high demands of poverty stricken youth around the world, yet I see bright rays, not just glimmers, of hope in the forms of smiles, welcoming gestures (waving, saying hello), monetary donations, willingness to give time, lending a helpful hand, friendly conversations amongst strangers….refreshing to witness! I see mothers and fathers cuddling their babies, playing with their kids in the dirt roads, toting their little ones on their scooters with one arm wrapped around their child’s waist and the other steering, mother’s feeding their children in the street making sure that their tummies are full. At any given time, in any given city or village, you can find a child and parent spending time together, bonding, playing, teaching, disciplining. Same, same, but different!

Posted by ryanober1 09:05 Archived in Cambodia Tagged julie Comments (0)

Siem Reap

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We have now started doing more schoolwork, math, papers, and planning cities or countries. I was assigned Siem Reap. I planned everything including the hotel and the tours and had a budget, and booked the hotel, So far it has gone really well. Today was our first day in Siem Reap and it was a great one! We started with an unbelievable cooking class, taking a tour of the market (a lot different from ours). There were tons of chickens, skinned but with their feet and beetles, bugs and everything! Then we started cooking, we learned a lot (and now know how to cook a lot of Cambodian recipes!) Then we took a tuk-tuk ride to an orphanage I read about to take a tour and perhaps volunteer if they needed it. When we got there we were welcomed be all the kids, there are 69 kids living there. It was really hard to see all the children with no parents, when Morgan and I are so lucky to have great parents! There were ages from 2 to 18 years old. We took a tour and saw the room’s, kitchen and the stage for the dance show they put on every night. They staff said they didn’t need any volunteering for the next few hours, but to come see the show. We went back into town until the show. When we got back to the orphanage, there was one of the kids we connected with and she came running up to us and grabbed Morgan and I’s hand and took us to the back, and introduced us to her friends. All the kids are just grasping for attention, it is so sad! Everyone asked how old we are, and how we were. There was an 18 year old that bonded with my dad; I think it is important for him to talk to a male figure. Then we watched the show. It was so good! There were 3 dances, one of 3-5 year olds, one of 6-12 year olds and the last was 13-18 year olds. After the dances we talked and played with all the kids. My mom, Morgan and I taught them hand jives, and they taught us some too. It was neat to see how close all the kids are; they are a family! When it was time to say good-bye all the kids gave us big hugs and wanted to see us again tomorrow, it was heart breaking. We all cried and talked about it afterwards. I’m worried about our 1 week volunteering in India; we cried having to say goodbye after 2 hours. India is a week!! We are going to learn more songs and hand jives to teach the kids before India!

~riley

Posted by ryanober1 09:53 Archived in Cambodia Tagged riley Comments (0)

Taking a bus to Cambodia

not just the name of a bad song

sunny 85 °F

We spent 17 great days in Vietnam, and experienced everything from the beach, to artist towns, having custom clothing made, eating local fare, and even a little history learned and culture experienced along the way. We were in Vietnam the longest of any country yet and all agreed we really enjoyed it. Our last day we went to the War remnants museum and all of us were pretty shaken up by some of the images and stories. There was a section on the effects of Agent Orange on the population that was exceptionally difficult to view, the girls saw some of the images and then waited outside for Julie and I as we finished. As we left the museum I welled up with emotion, it was hard to imagine that we were being so graciously accepted by people in a country that we had fought against and had such lingering effects on. The museum was presented from a Vietnamese perspective, and not really pro-America, however, it is something every American should see to view the perspective another country has after a war. It was the most impactful museum we have experienced yet on the trip.
Now on a more positive note, we are stuck on a road in the middle of Cambodia after our bus broke down. We decided a few days ago we would go to Thailand through Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, there are no trains and we are watching budget, so the 2 options were “fast boat” up the Mekong to Siem Reap or bus. We had heard from several people that the “fast boat”, can get stuck at the border crossing and be a real pain if there are any problems. One thing that is really funny about the day that is about to unfold, is last night when I skyped my dad and told him we were taking a bus to Cambodia. He said, that sounds like the name of a bad song “taking a bus to Cambodia”??. A bus seemed like the more logical option, that is until we got on the first bus….
We got up at 5:45 this morning to catch the early bus, and after some seat rearranging and minor difficulties we were off, we made it to the Cambodia border after 3 hours and got off, loaded our backpacks on and then went through the Vietnamese exiting procedures, customs, immigration, and passport stamp. Then back on the bus for 100 meters and then off to go through the Cambodian procedures, fairly painless, especially considering we arrived with no visa and only had to pay $25 each and wait for 15 minutes to get our official documents, its our 7th country we have entered, and knock on wood, they have all gone pretty dang well.
After we got through we drove about 30 minutes when the Air Conditioner blew, it got warm quickly and became a big sweaty, smelly, bus fest. We were the only westerners, but the bus attendant spoke English and kept us in the loop, slide open windows, tie back the drapes, sweat a lot, etc. She appeared to have been through this drill more than once. After we got to Phnom Phen (the capital city of Cambodia), we were told to exchange buses and that we would leave in about 30 minutes. Awesome we figured we would have a newer bus with better AC.
The next bus was a little more tired and worn, but not bad, off we went again for the remaining 6 hours out of 12, we made it about 2 hours from Siem Reap and arghhhhhh, the transmission blew. We could all hear the driver trying to find gears, for a minute or 2 with no avail. SO we slowly coasted to the side of the road, in a rural area about 10km for any civilization the driver told us. We got out, took some pics and now are waiting for a replacement bus….. I will write more and complete the story as it unfolds.
We survived, actually not a lot more to say, we waited 2 hours, another bus showed up, we affectionately called it the disco bus, as the lighting and chairs were a combo of disco colors and prints, not pretty but it got us to the hotel. We arrived 4 hours later and got to ride our first tuk-tuk from the bus station to the hotel. A tuk-tuk is an oversized carrier of people that is attached to a scooter. It doesn’t seem like it could hold 4 people, but somehow it does. They are the only real mode of transportation in Siem Reap for tourists.

-Ryan

Posted by ryanober1 09:25 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ryan Comments (0)

Chu Chi Tunnels

sunny 85 °F

A few days ago we went to the Chu Chi tunnels in Saigon. We had a very informative tour guide that fought in the war, so we got lots of information. When we got there we walked around and then got to this secret hole in the ground that we could go into. It was about 5 feet deep, 3 feet wide, but the opening was about 1 foot by 1 foot! Morgan and I both went in and closed the top door, it was an interesting feeling. So was knowing that our soldiers were here 35 years ago fighting and we couldn’t defeat them and find out where they were. Then we got to the actual underground tunnels. We learned so much. There were 3 levels, one 9 feet under, one 18, and the last one was 21 feet. Some people lived under ground up to 24 years! We asked how the people could be so small to be able to run and live in the tunnels for so long. He said that their bodies adapted to their space to live, so they were smaller. We all walked down to the entrance to enter the tunnel. My mom looked in and said NO way, it is too small! Morgan decided the same. My dad and I went in. What made my dad want to do it even more was that the guide said that he is too big and needs to stay out, but of course he did it! When we first got in we went into a hole in the ground that was pitch black. Then we were crawling. I barely had 1 inch on every side of me. My dad had no space around him at all. There were a few spots that I felt claustrophobic, but I had to forget it or else I would have a panic attack. My dad got stuck once and had to go on his side and scoot him self out. But we were ok ☺. I couldn’t imagine living under ground for years at a time. We were only down for 20 minutes and it was so hot and hard to move around! The tunnels were basically an underground world, with 20 hospitals, 80 kitchens and tons of bedrooms. There were 18,000 soldiers living under ground! It was a great experience to see the Chu Chi tunnels.

~Riley

P.S.~ We are in a bus from Saigon to Siem Reap Cambodia, it was supposed to be 12 hours… but now we are stuck on the side of the road because the bus broke down, we are waiting for 2 hours for a different bus to come, then have 2 more hours… total it will be about 16 hours.

Posted by ryanober1 09:36 Archived in Vietnam Tagged riley Comments (0)

Ta Kou

Beautiful and "real" Vietnam

sunny 80 °F

We have been at the same resort for 3 days and relaxed and caught up on schoolwork, blogging, emails etc.. 3 days doing anything is about my limit, so I was itching to get going and do something today outside of the confines of our resort. When we woke up Riley wasn’t feeling well and actually threw up in the bushes on the way back from B-fast, for those of you who know Riles that wont surprise you as she throws up frequently and smiles through the whole experience and bounces back quickly. But she wanted to hang out low key and my ADD was kicking in hard so I needed to have some alone time. I checked the Internet for things to see around Mui ne (the closest town to our village) and found one reference to a Buddhist temple and the countries largest reclining Buddha statue at Ta Kou. With completely illiterate directions from the non-English speaking front desk person, I hopped on a scooter for the 45-kilometer adventure. I had no water, map, or fuel, just a 2-½ hour time limit from Julie.
So off I went and after filling the tank with 40,000 dong (about $1.85) I was on my second open road scooter adventure. It was not to hard to find my way, just headed towards Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and turned left at the sign about 40k later. I am apparently the first westerner to actually drive a scooter all the way from the city to the monument, because I received a hero’s welcome and got lots of waves and looks of amazement. The road was very sketchy, but I didn’t think everyone would be so impressed I survived the journey. A security guard at the gate waved me through with exuberance and pointed me to the front of the gate, where another guard showed me where to park. RIGHT IN FRONT. I was the only scooter in the area and apparently for $.05 I got to leave the scooter right by the guards for a watchful eye to be kept on it while I went trekking about.
The experience at first when I got there was much like the great wall, here is a serene beautiful and old place of worship and the only way up is on a modern day gondola? I am glad there was a gondola, because the shrine I was looking for was at the very top of a large mountain. I rode alone, as there were very few people around, and all those that I saw were Vietnamese. When I got off there were several small buildings, they looked like small prayer rooms, and 3 large white statues of Buddha (about 30 feet tall each). I hiked around the Statues and found the trail to go higher, there was a big temple being rebuilt that consisted of a main large pagoda, a side building on each wing, and a large 7 or 8 tiered structure with Buddha in different poses on each tier.
Then I went up a long staircase until it levels off and around the corner was a magnificent bright white reclining Buddha about 150 feet long. The contrast of the bright white against the forest green was magnificent, and the scope of the laying figure was incredible, the pictures don’t do it justice as to the scope and size. There was no information or signs, just a rustic place for people to pray and connect. So I do not know much about it, when it was made, material, etc…. But I will be researching and trying to find out.
There were about 15 monks in their robes praying and meditating, it was really quiet and felt very spiritual. I reflected on the western religions I am more familiar with, and how it seems a lot of the relationship people talk about is with “their” God. Western religions all have a higher power other than themselves that they pray to and look for guidance. But with Buddhism, because it is a philosophy rather than a religion, there is no formal God, outside of yourself that you are praying to. There is guidance from the Buddha’s teachings, like the bible, but when these monks are meditating they are internally reflecting without looking outside. These are my observations, and are in no way written to offend anyone, so hopefully they are taken as an observation and nothing more.
I was the only English speaker there so I really just observed the people around and sat for about 30 minutes in thought, it was a nice moment. I knew I had about an hour ride ahead and should be leaving so I slowly made my way back to the gondola, smiling at everyone as they smiled at me. The real Vietnam, the one where no one speaks English and isn’t trying to sell me something was here, an hour away from the cities and not a tourist spot. I LOVED IT! Everyone was smiling and the little kids would all say “hello”. The only word in English they probably know, and would look at me with a little excitement and a little bit of tepidness. It felt raw and real, I needed this after 3 days at a beautiful but sterile beach resort.
When I got to the Gondola is when the adventure began, it was shut down (I think due to high winds), no one could tell me anything except the engineer would say “10 minutes, 10 minutes”, that went on for almost an hour. Finally it started up and I was the first to board, the problem however was 2 fold, I had given Julie and the girls two promises before I left, I would be back in 2 ½ hours, and I wouldn’t ride in the dark. The hour delay was going to cause both of those to be broken. I was worried about the girls worrying about me, but without a phone, and no way to communicate with them, the only solution was to hop on my little motorbike and ride like the wind! I did, had it pegged at 80k, which is really scary on a tiny 50cc beater, but I knew I only had about 15 minutes until complete blackness. After about 20 minutes, I was forced to slow down to about 50 and take my sunglasses off, not good when you are driving into a dark headwind with no eye protection.
I think it is important to paint a visual picture for everyone who has not been to Vietnam, what it is like to drive a scooter at any time, let alone at night. There are literally thousand of other scooters around you, some fast, some slow, some swerving, some slamming on brakes, some cutting across traffic, some heading the wrong direction (that’s one of my favorites). Then there are cars, they don’t respect the scooters and basically ride right up behind you, honk and fly past. There are also trucks, carts, cows, bicycles, wheelbarrows, dogs, people, trash, small fires (usually burning trash), vendors, children and the occasional drop off. Then you need to add that there are only 2 lanes, one in each direction, and the cars and trucks pass with complete disregard to the scooters oncoming, so you drive in the shoulder at most times, with everything else listed above except the cars. It is a complete cluster of chaos and near death moments at all times. Here is the kicker, at night, all of these come at you very quickly, mainly because oxen drawn carts, children, dogs, bikes, etc. don’t have reflectors or lights. Unfortunately neither do about 96% of the other scooters, so as you are cruising along, on the shoulder, with thousands of variables around you everything comes fast and you have to react accordingly. I am thankful for 3 things tonight; 1. I survived, 2. Julie and the girl’s weren’t with me, 3. I don’t have to drive a scooter in Vietnam again.
What a Great day!

Ryan

Posted by ryanober1 07:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ryan Comments (0)

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