A Travellerspoint blog

The Russians are coming....

Interesting dining experience

sunny 80 °F

We are staying in a small resort in a small beach town outside of Mui Ne, Vietnam. We all agreed we had had enough of the resort food, its good food, just last 4 meals were at the same place, so we hopped in a cab and drove the 30 k to downtown Mui Ne. We kept seeing signs in Vietnamese and Russian??? The signs that would normally say restaurant or karaoke in English, were all in Russian. So we stopped and decided to have Italian food and asked the restaurant owner why the menu and everything else is in Russian, he told us that about 7 years ago, the Russians started coming to Mui Ne to kitesurf and have been buying up the town and compromise over 70% of all tourism in the town. We all agreed it was a really starnge concept, the whole night actually was very surreal. On the drive home, our cab driver, who stalked us all night by following us in his cab as we walked from place to place, wanted to stop at the CCCP super market (seriously, a hugh Russian super market in the middle of Vietnam).

To sum it up, we ate Italian food on a Vietnam beach , while listening to Cuban music, surrounded by Russians, and served by Vietnamese. I dont know if it sounds as strange as it was, but just wanted to share the night.

Posted by ryanober1 07:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ryan Comments (0)

There are Strangers Under my Bed!

85 °F

You have heard about our 2 other long train rides so far, and we thought those ones were bad! When we bought these tickets they were sold out except for 2 bunks on top, but in two different cabins. The lady said we could ask 2 people to move to the other room, and we could all sleep in the same cabin. We thought it would work out fine and we would all stay together. When we got to the train station we asked the worker if she could help us trade with someone else, she simply told us that we have to wait until we get on the train. We waited for 2 hours in the train station and then got food for the 14 hour train and went to the bathroom, Morgan and I found out you have to pay for the bathroom ~ weird~ it was only 1,000 dong (about 5 cents) but you did get toilet paper ☺. When it was time to board, my Dad and I went in to ask them to switch, so it would be less hectic… When we got to the first set of bunks, the people were asleep and were Vietnamese and did not speak English, so we went to the other cabin and it was the same situation. We told Morgan and my Mom, we didn’t have any time to do anything because the train was about to leave. We made it on just in time and my Dad and I went to one and Morgan and my Mom went to the other. After we put our bags in the 3 by 5 foot room, we brought snacks over to Morgan and my Mom. Morgan was crying and my Mom said, I am not doing this again! We all agreed! We went to bed in our cocoons, thank you REI! This train was just as dirty as the last, but that wasn’t the bad part! We got up to pasteurized cheese and Ritz crackers for breakfast. We checked on Morgan and my Mom, they told us that the people under them smoked in the room; the Vicks under the nose did not cover all the smell! I really had to go to the bathroom, but the train bathroom was absolutely disgusting! We kept walking down the train to see if there is a better one, after passing ones you cant even go into because of the stench, and other ones that are clogged and there is urine all the way to the rim! After 5 or 6 bathrooms we finally found one that is ok to use. When we got to our room and climbed to the top we saw desert on one side of the train and ocean on the other! It was so beautiful! Then we watched TV on our computer. Now we have 1 hour left and I have my earphones in and am trying not to get motion sick.
What is funny is that we joked earlier about the odds of having 2 sets of people that don’t speak English. What are the odds of that?
We have learned our lesson about now we are going to book earlier~ or FLY! We met a nice woman at dinner the other night from London, and she told us that she flew from Hanoi to Hoi An for less money that our train and for 1 hour when ours was 12!!! That is what we our going to do!
~Riley

Posted by ryanober1 21:14 Archived in Vietnam Tagged riley Comments (1)

My best day yet!

On the open road with a 50cc scooter and my girls

sunny 72 °F

Today was the best day yet for me. We woke up in our very nice, clean, large room that cost $22 a night (seriously, it would be a $175-$200 a night room in the US). We had a free buffet breakfast, which is standard in SE Asia and took warm showers and got ready for the day in Hoi An. It is a beautiful little city that is charming and feels like what we all expected Vietnam to be, little busy streets, people selling their wares everywhere you look, scooters like you could never imagine, and beauty amongst all the people and places you see.
The girls have been pushing to ride scooters since we first landed in Bali and saw how many people ride them as a means of transportation, commerce, transport and business (upcoming blog on things you can carry on a scooter), and they saw this slower paced area as the opportunity they had been waiting for. They hit us hard and begged Julie from the moment we woke to at least see how much they were, where we could get one, if the had any available, if we needed a license, etc….. we walked downstairs and of course the hotel rents them (it seems that every hotel in Vietnam rents everything, books everything, and sets up everything that they can make money at).
So the scooter adventure begins…. Julie who wont allow me to take the girls on a fully insured and state approved motorcycle ride to Starbucks in Laguna on the weekends without putting up a fight, said OK to the 4 of us renting old rusty, high mileage scooters in Vietnam and drive around a 3rd world country with nothing but a plastic helmet the size of yamaka. Our safety briefing consisted of, “here is key, six dollars for day”. I don’t know what is more shocking, no safety waiver to sign, no interest in insurance, or that it is only $six dollars for the entire day? I love this country.
Julie was very clear that she would do this as long as we stayed on quiet streets and didn’t go into the city, so we headed out to the beach, about a 7km drive through beautiful rice fields, small villages, and dirt roads, it felt great to be on the open road, with Morgan on the back laughing and smiling and enjoying every minute.
I felt at home with the wind on my face and smell of fresh air. Granted the 50cc hum is a little different than the rumble of my chopper, the barely able to start moving is different than the breakneck start of my Harley, and the off road capabilities are not quite that of the BMW GS, it still felt good, it felt like we were on an adventure that would only end when our ¾ of a gallon tank ran out of petrol, we could make it at least 75 miles on the open road……AWESOME……..
We rode to the beach, everyone smiling and enjoying the moment, it was great to hear everyone laugh after the tough train ride and mental meltdowns we had just experienced 2 days before. After hanging on a deserted beach (we were literally the only people on the beach), we decided to the let the girls ride the scooters by themselves, we found a deserted stretch of open road and after explaining how they work and safety off they went. Morgan rode a little faster than Riley, but both rode well and made turns and rode back and forth 3 or 4 times, Morgan posing each pass with a smile and hand wave. The final pass ended with her taking the pose more seriously than the actual scooter and down it went, she managed to jump off and avoid injury, the scooter did as well. It was hopefully Morgan’s first and only incident with a motorcycle, but it is Moe we are talking about!
We found a really neat little restaurant on the side of the road, that was placed out over the local river on stilts. We had local food and drinks and relaxed. It had great little Buddhist sayings on chalkboards that caused us all to reflect on the moments we were experiencing on this journey. As the water slowly passed by it eased a lot of the tension we had from the previous weeks of travel and felt like a deep breath we all needed to take. The people here are all so friendly and love to try English, because of how many Aussie’s travel here, some of the locals speak English with an Australian accent. It still cracks me up every time I hear it. Last night a 10 year old was trying to sell me something and when we started to negotiate price, he said “C’mon mate, how ‘bout given me a little break here!”, I don’t know why it seems so funny to hear a Vietnamese local speak with a British accent and sound so formal.
After riding around the town for another hour we went back to the tailor shop we had visited the night before, Hoi An is know in Vietnam as the place to get custom clothes and have anything you can think of made for you within 24 hours. Yesterday I ordered a beautiful wool/cashmere suit, custom fitted for $95 (it was a little more than usual because it would “take extra fabric”, because of my height), I also got high quality fabric custom shirts for $20 each. Julie got a great dress for travelling and a really pretty more formal dress, all custom made for about $90, and the girls each got a sundress for travelling (which turned out super cute), and formal dresses for their 13 birthday in Paris for about $25 each. Crazy cheap and great quality, we would have paid 7 to 8 times as much in the states.
After the pick up of the clothes, we headed to a local coffee shop, had great French press coffee and beer and talked about the Vietnam war and the implications that the United states foreign policy has on other countries as well as our own. The trip so far has caused all of to look at how and why the rest of the world looks at us. Both the positive and negative aspects. There are plenty of both. We seem to be where many want to live for opportunity and wealth, but also where many resent and don’t understand because of our past policies and current decisions. Its interesting to look at your own country when you are outside of it, it has been a refreshing take for me, and I believe Julie and the girls as well.
Anyways, I’ll get off of my political soapbox and back to the story at hand. So we drive around again and I ask Julie is she is doing OK, she says “yes, but about done and don’t want any traffic”, that was an open chance for us to head back into the city center, it got a little crazy, and quickly, hundreds of scooters and thousands of people. Swerving, stopping, cutting us off, on off the curbs, just crazy. Pictures can’t explain it. Unless you have been to South East Asia and witnessed it for yourself, you cant really imagine the controlled chaos that people live in here. I ask Morgan, who is on the back of my scooter to check on Julie, she looks back and says “dad, she doesn’t look real happy, I don’t see her teeth”, up until now her big pearly whites have been out in force, apparently the chaos was not going well with her. Fortunately I lucked out and made the right turn and got us back to the hotel just before Julie lost it.
Before we checked in our scooters we stopped by the closest local stand to grab some water and snacks. That was when the discussion started “was that a huge rat or a small dog”? We all saw it, except Julie only saw the very back of it as it ran to hide in the store, the answer was “yes, that was a gigantic rat” a little bigger than my sisters wiener dog Ellie. It was a big one, and a great way to end the afternoon, it was a great day filled with beach time, scooters, shopping, adventure, and wild animal sightings.
Today was my best day yet, it just felt great to hear laughs, be on the open road, enjoy each other, and exist.

Ryan

Posted by ryanober1 19:13 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ryan Comments (0)

There's hair in my bed

and its not mine

sunny 74 °F

Yesterday, we came to Hoi An from Hanoi. Our train left at 10:00 p.m. and we were told to be back at our hotel at 8:30 to catch a cab. Our hotel manager told us 9:00. So we waited for 30 minutes until he walked us out to a cab by the street (as we were lugging our 50 pound backpacks around.) As we all shove ourselves into the 4 passenger taxi, the manager says his collegue will be going with us to the train. Now, I'm on my mom's lap trying to even out my weight. Eventually we get out of the car after what seems like 30 minutes (it was only 10 min.) So, the manger's "english speaking" collegue helps us get in the train station. Then, h walks ahead and a random guy (with a hidden badge) takes our tickets and gives us other ones...we are so confused we look for anyone who might be able to help translate...no one. Everyone is saying switch, so we do. We get walked up to our room, literally exceding the maximum width in the hallway. We squeeze ourselves into the room and take a deep breath. We look around a realize our train from Beijing to Xian is much much nicer than this. On both Riley's and my bed there is hair...and not ours, someone else's. The beds are a little smaller than the other train, but not too bad. As Daddy walks to every cart from the outside looking to see if there is a food cart, he notices all the viatnamese are already asleep in their rooms and the westerners are all in the small hallway. Eventually we got in our cacoons (a sleeping bag-shaped piece of thin insect repellent silk) very helpful in this circumstance. We all slept ok except Daddy didn't sleep at all and Mommy and Riley only slept 2-3 hours, so i guess I slept ok. We woke up and Riley and I both felt motion sick. Riley had to stand by a window and get air. I just fell asleep again and when i woke up I felt better.
When we got off the train, it wasn't pretty. Riley was in front and I was behind her. People started running on, it was practicaslly impossible to get through. I'm not very proud of this, but I did have to give some elbows here and there. Mommy made it out ok, but we couldn't find Daddy for 30 seconds. He later tells us there were 3 people in our room trapping him so he couldn't get out. He says he had to push the three guys out of the way. Our 14 hour train ride wasn't the best, but we lived through it and accepted it as it was. We all agreed that we won't take a train in India :)

~morgan~

Posted by ryanober1 20:01 Archived in Vietnam Tagged morgan Comments (0)

Meltdown

overcast 64 °F

We knew it was inevitable, yet we ignored the warning signs, but it officially happened yesterday. We hit the wall. We all had a mini meltdown in our $22/night Hanoi Hotel. Each one of us had our own reasons as to why we officially broke down, we all display our emotions in different ways (yelling, shutting down, giving dirty looks, crying, acting oblivious, can you guess who does what in our family ☺?) After our communal meltdown reached its peak, my counseling skills kicked in. Again this can be a curse, because the girls and Ryan sometimes would rather me be the mom and wife instead of the counselor. What can I say, I must practice my craft even if I drive my family nuts!
I gathered the troops and opened up a dialogue for everyone to share their true feelings. I used the tried and true “I feel statements”. We all had to express and own our feelings without being interrupted or judged by other family members. Such an easy tactic but so hard to tap into when you have reached your limit of accepting the fact that hotel rooms are your "home away from home" and your daily routine is so unpredictable. The beauty of travel can cause some discomfort. I applaud our family for working through the “bad day” in Hanoi. It’s amazing how the sun rises each day bringing a fresh start with its light. Actually today is the first day we have seen the sun for over 9 days. We needed a little sunshine, you ask and you shall receive!
We are now in a train heading to Da Nang, Vietnam. This 12 hour train ride was not as pleasant as our china train experience. More to follow on our train conditions……
Julie

Posted by ryanober1 00:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged julie Comments (3)

Leaving China!

rain 34 °F

We are leaving china today (written four days ago, just posting), on route to Hanoi Vietnam. In typical whirl wind style, we saw many of the spectacular sights of this country, but hope to come back one day to explore rural China and spend time in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
We hiked the Great Wall of China, ok…..to be honest, we rode a chairlift up to the wall, walked ON the wall for about an hour and then rode an alpine slide down. Seemed a bit ironic to mix an amusement ride with the ancient history and architectural marvel of several Chinese dynasties, but the O’s aren’t too proud to take advantage of modern convenience with a quick thrill ride. We also toured the Forbidden City (so vast and so opulent) and took a try at the squat toilet. We had avoided them for the first 24 hours, but didn’t have a choice within the walls of the Forbidden City. I myself was a bit puzzled as to why there was a hose next to the “squat hole”, was I suppose to use it to wash myself off?? Was the hose like a do-it your-self bidet? I was perplexed … so I took it upon myself to ask our sweet guide Susi exactly why there was a hose in the stall. Much to the girls chagrin and Ryan’s “oh my god, I can’t believe Julie just asked that question” I kindly asked Suzi if I could ask her a personal question (not too sure why I prefaced it as a “personal” question, but I assumed that toilet etiquette deserved such) and she politely obliged. I simply asked what exactly is the “hose” used for??? Her answer was swift but delivered with a smile and soft giggle…she said that the hose is used to clean the floor of the stall, of course. This sent me into hysterics; again embarrassing the girls with my loud laugh…thank goodness I didn’t use the hose for personal hygiene!

Even though we try to be polite travelers, for some reason we seem to attract unwanted attention. Case in point….we arrived in Beijing wearing shorts and flip lops thinking we could change our clothes in the airport. Our flight didn’t leave Bali until the evening and we toured all day in 85 degree weather. This seemed to be a good plan, use all of our time in Bali, then board the overnight plane and change into our warm clothes in the am at the Beijing airport. Well, our luggage didn’t make it to Beijing, so there we were in the airport dressed for the tropics and Beijing just welcomed their first snow storm the day before and the temperature was a bit below freezing. Of course we knew we looked a bit ridiculous, so we expected to be gawked at, laughed at, pointed at, but we literally were stopping people in their tracks at the airport and in the mall (we were forced to buy some pants because our bags were not going to be delivered until the following day). We found out later that the Chinese believe if you show your feet when its cold outside then you are presumed to be “crazy” because your head is warm and your feet are exposed to the cold and therefore the body isn’t balanced. Oops ☺!
We all were desperately craving some western food after a week of authentic chinese cuisine. This craving sent us into a feeding frenzy one rainy, cold day in Xi’an. We filled our bellies with Pizza Hut, a fine dining establishment in China with escargot on the menu and a extensive wine list, then warmed up with a Starbuck’s latte mixing company with other westerners (we were all so happy to speak English without using our “point it” book) and no, we weren’t quite full yet, so we ended our day with a dunkin donut (and we ordered a dozen to have some spares in the am before catching our flight to Hanoi)! Oh, it feels good to purge this glutinous behavior….so once again, we seemed to fit the mold of the American tourist by seeking out our fast food, the same Western fast food that Chinese people blame for the increase in their obesity rate. So yes, we fell off the wagon a few times and enjoyed the tantalizing taste of the west, but we enjoyed the local fare daily. Riley and Ryan were the bravest while ordering authentic meals, Morgan and I were a bit leery of some of the cuisine. All and all the food was good, very spicy in the Szechuan province, so most of our orders included “no spicy please” because we are all wimps.
Our backpacks and our REI gear are dead give a ways that we are westerners. When our backpacks are strapped to our backs, we become walking hazards. One quick turn to check on each other can send an unsuspecting passerby to the ground. Its like we are playing hockey, “checking” our opponents using our packs as an extension of our bodies as we stomp through the ports of call. A few days ago, Ryan turned to say something to me at the train station and literally knocked a man down to the ground with his backpack. Ryan bent down to help him up and the guy had the look of fear in his eyes….in Ryan’s words, he didn’t know if I was going to help him or eat him! (Ryan is a giant in this country.:)
We did however recognize that in China, personal space doesn’t really exist. In a country of 1.3 billion, it is survival of the fittest. You must make sure that if you are standing in line at an ATM or the check in counter at the airport or really in any public venue, then you must not leave even an inch of room between you and the person in front of you because if there is any space to be taken, someone will cut in front of you. We have learned not to take this aggressive behavior personally, it’s the way of life here in China. We are,however, becoming a bit more assertive ☺
Off to Vietnam! One month down, five to go!
Julie

Posted by ryanober1 02:28 Archived in China Tagged julie Comments (1)

Terrecotta Warriors

overcast 25 °F

I’ll try to make a 2,200 year old life size clay figure as interesting as possible. So hang in there with me ☺. The Terracotta Warriors are clay soldiers that protect Emperor Qin in his after life. The warriors are modeled after a real soldier; therefore each warrior has a different palm and different shaped fingernails. The warriors are hollow, because being hollow is sturdier than being solid. There are different types of warriors, which includes: kneeling archers, standing archers, average warriors, middle class warriors, a few cooks, and 8 generals. The emperor also included horses in his army; the horses carried the chariots (the chariots rotted away because they were made of wood.) Archeologists have pieced together 2,000 warriors, and know there are 6,000 more to be put back together again. The area is broke into 3 pits: pit 1 has the majority of the warriors, pit 2 has all the weapons, and pit 3 is the newest addition with the upper class warriors (closest to emperors tomb.) Emperor Qin was titled the First Emperor, because he was the first emperor to connect China. In the previous years, the emperors killed an entire army to protect them in the afterlife. Emperor Qin thought of the terracotta warriors instead. He started the production as soon as he began his reign: he was 13 years old. He also was the emperor to start the Great Wall. The terracotta warriors were a cool experience.

~morgan~

Posted by ryanober1 06:28 Archived in China Tagged morgan Comments (0)

11 hour Train Ride

snow 15 °F

Last week we took a train ride from Beijing to Xi ‘an, it was 11 and a half HOURS! We thought it would be a fun experience to take a train ride instead of a flight. We got a soft sleeper cabin that holds 4 people. When we got to the train station it was so hectic and crazy! We were the only westerners in the whole train station, there were probably 3,000 other people, all Chinese. We felt so out of place, and we got more stares than anywhere else we had gone to, and of course our gigantic backpacks didn’t help ☺. When we ate diner we felt like we had to eat elegantly because of everyone staring at the way we ate. After diner we walked down the stairs, barely fitting, and my dad turned around knocked over a man and sent him flying! When my dad tried to help him up but he looked scared still. After we finally got into the train and our cabin, we realized how tiny it was. There were 4 beds out of the walls and when we laid down, we barely had enough room to lay out fully. After catching up on all of our TV shows on the laptop we got in our cocoons and went to bed. Thank you REI for the bug protector cocoons! ☺ We didn’t sleep that well but we made it out and had a good experience.

~Riley

We made it to Vietnam and blogs are coming soon

Posted by ryanober1 06:20 Archived in China Tagged riley Comments (1)

Beijing

snow 20 °F

Beijing is as big as Belgium, yes the country! Since there are so many cars in Beijing, there are many restrictions. For example on certain days license plates that end on a certain number can’t drive or they will be issued a ticket. For example on Mondays if your license plate ends in 9 or 1 you cant drive unless you are a taxi or government official. On average, every week about 5,000 new cars start driving. The government allows only 20,000 new cars to be bought a month. Public transportation is how people get around when their license plate is “off-duty.” We tried the subway… it didn’t work as well as planned. Thank goodness we had our tour guide to help us squeeze in, without her we would have waited for hours thinking that the subways were too packed. When the subway came by, people’s faces where literally smashed up against the glass. When it stopped, our guide said time to hop on so, she helped push us in as dad’s arm practically got snapped off. As the subway pulled away from the station mom almost went down, but there were so many people around her they acted as a human cushion.
Most people know about the one child rule for population control, but there are some exceptions: if your kids are born 6 years apart, if both spouses have PHDs or are government officials, and thankfully twins are ok ☺. The penalty for an additional child is $50,000.
China is much different than the U.S. I am so thankful we have as many freedoms as we do.

Posted by ryanober1 22:12 Archived in China Tagged morgan Comments (1)

The Sleeping Giant

"Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world." -Napolean

overcast 25 °F

Napoleon had once said about China, that when the giant dragon awakes, the earth will tremble. I agree with him, and I think the giant is waking from its slumber and starting to rub the sleep from its eyes. I am writing this after 4 days in Beijing, one of the more Westernized cities in China, and we are staying in the CBD, so my impression might be different after we get on the train to Xi’an tomorrow night and spend a few days in the rural areas, but I wanted to share my first impressions….
China is a spectacular nation, rich in history, determined in its focus, and populated for growth. We have been thoroughly impressed with the amount of people in Beijing that speak English, are willing to “try” to communicate, and that are interested in listening or asking questions. There are not as many unexpected smiles from people as in previous countries we have visited and many of the people seem more serious. However, with this being the greatest communication challenge for us yet, it is hard to know if it is a personality trait or more of a non-understanding of the people and ourselves.
One of our guides had a very powerful line when I asked him what he though the differences between America and China are, he said “Two things, freedom and privilege”, I thought this would be when he said all Americans are spoiled and born with an easy life, but he didn’t, he continued “ In America you can do, say, believe, practice what you want, that is your freedom. You can travel, come and go, experience, and learn what you want, that is your privilege”. Powerful and accurate words from someone who has never been to the states. “Ryan, in America you can get a passport and come here, if you can afford it, I can not go to Hong Kong or Macua, provinces in my own country, if I don’t know the right people.”
It reinforced the notion that “freedom is not free” to me ( a quick shout out to Jim), we live in a very special place, and it made me proud for someone else to give me a little reality check that we do have 2 things different from most places, freedom and privilege (or at least the privilege to be free)!
Ryan

Posted by ryanober1 08:22 Archived in China Tagged ryan Comments (1)

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