A Travellerspoint blog

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Six counties in six months...

sunny 93 °F

Today is the bittersweet last day of our journey...we're going to miss the travel lifestyle but we are also anxious to get home and see friends and family. But first, we have to fill you in on our last month on the road!

We traveled from Vietnam to Cambodia and landed in Phnom Penh the nation's capital...Luckily we were able to avoid things like this on the road and made it safely!
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We stayed on the riverside and spent a day exploring the country's recent bloody past with the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975. We went to the killing fields where we visited mass graves that held 400 men, women, and children (over a quarter of the population was killed under the Khmer Rouge). It was surreal and haunting to imagine the atrocities that occurred there. Afterwords we visited the S.21 Museum which was an old school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison and torture facility. We saw photos of the victims and instruments of execution...It was a rough day.
IMG_5306.jpg Skulls from the killing fields
IMG_5315.jpg Mug Shots of victims

Next we traveled to Siem Reap to see the famous Angkor Wat temples. We arrived before sunrise and had an incredible day feeling like we were Indiana Jones exploring the Temple of Doom. Words cannot describe so here are some photos...
IMG_5371.jpg Sunrise at Angkor Wat
IMG_5396.jpg Angkor Wat
IMG_5425.jpg Tower at sunrise
IMG_5446.jpg Morning Light
IMG_5524.jpg The Bayon
IMG_5596.jpg Nature is incredible
IMG_5604.jpg Jungle taking over
IMG_5633.jpg Tomb Raider

We escaped the heat and traveled south to Sihanoukville, Cambodia's coastal getaway. We spent 3 nights on secluded Bamboo Island which has only a few bungalows and a restaurant. The beach was perfection and most days we only saw a couple other people. Every night we would watch the tropical storms from our porch and swim in the phosphorescence. We were sad to leave!
IMG_5714.jpg Storm Watch
IMG_5746.jpg Bliss
IMG_5787.jpg A beach to ourselves
IMG_5819.jpg Clear waters
IMG_5838.jpgSunset with storm clouds
IMG_5843.jpg Lounging at our bungalow

We said goodbye to Cambodia and traveled to Koh Chang in Thailand to get some more sun before our return. Koh Chang is a beautiful lush island with quiet beaches and a funky night life...it was perfect for the end.
IMG_5861.jpg Sunset, Koh Chang
IMG_5895.jpg Full moon
IMG_5926.jpg Our bungalow
IMG_5928.jpg A message to Jon who's leaving for Afghanistan
IMG_5939.jpg White sands
IMG_5944.jpg Working on a tan
IMG_6033.jpg Last night in paradise

We are now in Bangkok where we've spent our last days getting last minute shopping and massages in. Right now it's Songkran (Thai New Year) and the streets are filled with water fights and face paint...it's impossible to go anywhere without getting soaked and you need to bring some super-soaker protection! A state of emergency was declared because there have been huge government protests but all has been safe in the traveler's ghetto. Tonight we make our journey home!
IMG_6053.jpg Protesters storming the city
IMG_6064.jpg Happy New Year!

We appreciate all of you that have taken the time to follow our travels. It has been a life-changing experience and we are so lucky to be able to share it with you all. Looking forward to seeing familiar faces (and hearing English) soon! Love,

Matt and Erin

Posted by matterin 22:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Suits, Sandunes, and Saigon

sunny 90 °F

Hello from incredible Vietnam! We are leaving this country tomorrow and are sad to say goodbye...we've had amazing experiences and have loved the tasty food, iced beer (cheapest in the world!), and all the things that make this place so unique.

We started in Hoi An, a city we fell in love with. There are over 500 tailors there all wanting to make you the perfect suit, dress, or even shoes! Needless to say our packs have doubled in size...Matt even got a suit made for our wedding!
IMG_4592.jpg Getting sized up

We spent our days riding bikes to the local beach, wandering the markets, going to fittings at our tailors, and eating local specialties. One day we visited some 7th century Cham ruins at My Son. We also stumbled upon their once monthly full moon festival where all of the streets are lit by lanterns and there's a cultural show on every street corner including games and musical acts....we even took a gondola ride, good times!
IMG_4584.jpg Boating man at sunset
IMG_4668.jpg Japanese bridge at night
IMG_4696.jpg My Son ruins
IMG_4579.jpg Chinese lanterns
IMG_4558.jpg Traditional Hoi An building

After Hoi An we headed to the beautiful but touristy beach town of Nha Trang. We went to a mud bath for some relaxation (which was much needed after a night bus!), and one day we went on an island hopping boat tour which offered live music and a floating bar. We should have done the mud bath AFTER the floating bar!
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We travelled south to Mui Ne, a quiet resort town known for its kite surfing schools. It was beautiful (though windy!) and we enjoyed our time on the beach. We went on a sunrise jeep tour in the sand dunes and it was like we were in Aladdin...
IMG_4787.jpg Mui Ne beach
IMG_4800.jpg Washed up
IMG_4835.jpg Sunrise on the sandunes
IMG_4898.jpg Don't JUMP!
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IMG_4944.jpg Fairy Stream

Saigon was next and we were quickly immersed in history (and motorbikes).
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We went to the Cu Chi tunnels where we crawled through spaces that the Viet Cong lived for 30 years (they had to enlarge them for us tourists). It was slightly terrifying, especially since it was pitch black, there were dead ends, and bats flapping past our heads. We also went to the war remnants museum which was haunting. It's sad to think of what war can bring out in people.
IMG_5014.jpg Going in
IMG_5035.jpg War Remnants Museum
We celebrated Erin's 26th birthday with a day of massages and an italian dinner (though we wish it was an Irish one)!
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We then headed to the Mekong Delta, where life is a little slower and the people are very warm. We spent most of our time in boats...we did an evening boat ride past houses where people live right on the river. On Matt's 29th birthday we awoke at 5:30 to go to the largest floating market in the area. It was full of vendors with boats loaded with fruits and veggies. To advertise they hang their produce on long bamboo poles high above the boat, very clever. We were able to get some iced coffee, fresh bread, and some purple sweet sticky rice with peanuts all from the comfort of our boat. After the market we went up a small stream where Matt tested his skills with the oars. We went upstream in circles and the locals loved it.
IMG_5184.jpg Cleanup on isle 9
IMG_5202.jpg Going shopping
IMG_5207.jpg Do you take VISA?
IMG_5222.jpg It took 2 days to get back!
That night we celebrated Matt's 29th with some fresh beer that came in dingy old soda bottles...only the best!! True homebrew!
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Tomorrow we'll be in Cambodia and then before we know it we'll be home! Can't wait to see family and friends again.

Posted by matterin 03:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Laos to Vietnam

overcast 60 °F

Xin Chao from Hanoi. We have entered another world from that of Laos-- one filled with very different sights, sounds, and tastes.

Our last few weeks in Laos were scorching! We left beautiful Luang Prabang and traveled to Vang Vieng which is a gorgeous limestone landscape offering everything from caving to drunken tubing down the river. We did one day of the tubing and it was an insane scene of western tourists swinging from trapezes, bars 'fishing' for you as you float by, and lots of free snake whisky shots (actual snake in the bottle).
IMG_4153.jpg Vang Vieng

We decided to escape the tourist scene and spend a few days upriver from the madness at a very cute organic mulberry farm. There we volunteered at a youth center helping out with their social studies classes and painted a mud coat on their straw-bale building. It was fun to get to know the people there and to see the amazing opportunities they give to the local youth.
IMG_4179.jpg Getting our hands dirty
IMG_4212.jpg Teacher and student
IMG_4206.jpg Cool little dude...spidey

After the Organic Farm we escaped to the quiet capital of Laos, Vientiane. We took a vacation from our vacation and relaxed in the comfort of aircon. One night we had a bowling tournament with some friends from Canada...British Columbia vs. Alaska...sadly Erin's bowling score of 23 doesn't really help the team out!
IMG_4227.jpg Nice form!
IMG_4234.jpg Gorgeous Laos silk

We flew to Hanoi and immediately noticed a change from the relaxed pace of Laos. Hanoi is a crazy city filled with motorbikes, constant honking, eateries on the pavement, fancy shops, markets, and the world's cheapest beer! We have enjoyed exploring its crammed walkways and have learned that to cross the street you just need to defy your instincts and walk forward into traffic slowly...so far so good!
IMG_4264.jpg Typical Hanoi street
IMG_4263.jpg Cornered for a photo op, and pineapple purchase

While in Hanoi we went to a water puppet show, checked out a thousand year old Chinese temple, and eaten at a restaurant that trains and employs street kids. It's been fun.

We did a three day tour to picturesque Ha Long Bay. It was chilly and damp but still incredibly beautiful. While there we went kayaking through sea caves, walked through a 300 million year old cave, hiked to a stunning lookout over what could be Jurassic Park, and ate lots of fresh shrimp, squid, and fish.
IMG_4329.jpg The start of our voyage
IMG_4380.jpg Stalactites
IMG_4407.jpg Our boat
IMG_4414.jpg Cat Ba National Park aka Jurassic Park

We left the coast and headed high into the mountains to Sapa. The area has lots of minority hill-tribe villages to hike to and gorgeous rice paddies everywhere. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and it's nice to have aching legs for a change (though the tough women there make the treks daily)!
IMG_4495.jpg View from our hotel, Sapa
IMG_4468.jpg Cat Cat village
IMG_4503.jpg Red Dzao women in traditional dress
IMG_4521.jpg Matt and Xao, our unofficial Hmong tour guide
IMG_4523.jpg Rice paddies, Lao Chai village

We're back in Hanoi and tomorrow we are going to head south to explore the rest of Vietnam. We hope all is well at home and can't believe our trip will be coming to an end in about a month!

Posted by matterin 22:13 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Where you from?...Beerlao?

80 °F

Hello from lovely Laos. We are thoroughly in love with every aspect of this country. If you haven't been, you must come here...but soon!

We started our journey by boating down the Mekong River from Thailand. It was a cramped boat, but the scenery was beautiful and the company was good.
IMG_3628.jpg View from our boat
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We arrived in beautiful Luang Prabang where we spent a lot of time wandering the streets. We visited a great non-profit called Big Brother Mouse where you can buy books for Laos children that are made here in Laos. Most are in English and Lao, and for many kids in the rural areas these are the first books they have received. We also went to a performance at the Children's Cultural Centre, which is an afterschool program that teaches the kids art, music, traditional dance, and puppetry. It was a great night.
IMG_3731.jpg Good luck Baaci Ceremony
IMG_3766.jpg Traditional Laos Dance

Check out the video!! This dance was a Hmong dance performed once a year

One morning we awoke early to see the hundreds of monks walk the streets and get offerings from locals (and lots of tourists)
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We then rented bikes with our friend from Holland, Josine. We headed to the Tat Se waterfall, 17 km up some steep terrain (being passed by trucks and honking buses!). A waterfall has never felt so good.
IMG_3812.jpg Biking
IMG_3843.jpg Tat Se
IMG_3883.jpg Celebrating with a cold Beerlao

That afternoon we rested on the banks of a river by this bamboo bridge watching the local kids float down in tubes
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We decided to head north so we went by bus and boat to the small village of Muang Ngoi. It is an idyllic spot, surrounded by karst cliffs and green water.
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We did a great one day tour that included trekking, fishing, and tubing. Our guide Jay first took us to some villages where they make silk scarves.
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We then cooled off in the river by tubing for 2+ hours...we think our guides got caught up in fishing and forgot about us for a while, but they made it up to us by having a feast waiting for us on the riverside complete with lao-lao (rice whiskey), grilled fish, ferns and other random plants, and sticky rice. The lao-lao warmed us right up. Good times.
IMG_4034.jpg The crew
IMG_4047.jpg Matt and Jay

After Muang Ngoi, we travelled south of Luang Prabang to the town of Sayabouri for the 2009 Elephant Festival! We were expecting a lot of people, but not 50,000! It was an incredible experience. We stayed in a homestay with a sweet Laos family with two kids but there were a lot of relatives staying there as well--it seemed their door was always open. Though our family couldn't speak much English and we couldn't speak much Laos, we spent a lot of our time teaching each other common phrases from the back of our Lonely Planet book (which gets easier with lao-lao). Their 16 year old neighbor Tou gave us a little bike tour around the town.
IMG_4063.jpg Bike tour with Tou
IMG_4069.jpg Beautiful rice fields
IMG_4109.jpg Our family: Mr. Khan, Bocki, and Don
IMG_4107.jpg A Lao writing lesson...hilarious

The festival itself was impressive, it was organized to show respect and teach the youth about the declining numbers of elephants in Laos. Lucky for us all of the elephants got ready right in front of our house so we got to see them up close. Neither of us have been in crowds of that many, and what was great was that there were very few tourists. We often had people pointing at us, and women would even bring their babies over and make them look at us while saying "Falang" = white person. One woman even touched Matt's leg hair because she thought it was so hilarious! We knew the opening ceremony was priceless when they started blasting the Star Wars theme song! In true Laos fashion nothing on the program happened, but the people watching was excellent. We feel very fourtunate to have this experience, it was one of the best of our trip!
IMG_4087.jpg Matt with the elephants
IMG_4094.jpg Festival madness
IMG_4118.jpg Elephants in front of our homestay

Elephants getting ready (VIDEO!)

We love hearing from everyone back home and hope that this finds everyone well. Cheers and warm wishes!

Matt and Erin

Posted by matterin 23:23 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Phad Thai to Muay Thai

sunny 87 °F

Hello! We can't believe it's already February...time is flying by. We've been busy exploring northern Thailand.

We started out in Bangkok where we braved the polluted streets to check out some Wats (buddhist temples) and eat some cheap excellent street food.
IMG_3069.jpg Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho

We were desperate to escape the city so we headed to Khao Yai National Park which was highly recommended. It's a huge national park that has elephants, tigers, monkeys, tons of bird species, and lots of fresh air. We camped two nights and enjoyed the sounds of the jungle while watching monkeys steal food from fellow campers. We did some hikes to some lovely waterfalls, and had to watch for crocs on the trail.
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On the way north we stopped in the ancient city of Ayuthaya where we took an evening boat trip to check out some amazing ruins
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After an overnight train journey, we made it to Chiang Mai which has been the highlight of our trip to Thailand. It's an exciting city with lots of beautiful temples, bustling markets, and excellent food. We took a cooking course and learned how to make most of the delicious dishes we've been enjoying...Phad thai, Phad See Ew, curries, mango and sticky rice, chicken and cashews, sweet and sour veggies, spring rolls, and coconut soup! The best part was eating our creations.
IMG_3249.jpg Chiang Mai Sunday Market
IMG_3278.jpg The Chef
IMG_3301.jpg We survived! Eyebrows intact
IMG_3309.jpg Our feast

We did a three day/two night trek to stay with some hill tribes in far northern Thailand. We stayed in traditional bamboo huts, danced around the fire, rode elephants, enjoyed some waterfalls, and went bamboo and white water rafting. It was a very touristy activity, but it was very fun to see how people are living and to meet a lot of fellow travelers.
IMG_3372.jpg Ready for the trek
IMG_3418.jpg Accommodation with the Lisu tribe
IMG_3425.jpg Lisu woman selling her crafts
IMG_3443.jpg Dancing around the fire
IMG_3509.jpg Erin made a friend
IMG_3470.jpg Baby elephants!
IMG_3541.jpg Refreshing waterfall
IMG_3523.jpg Long-neck woman weaving a scarf

After our adventure we returned to Chiang Mai where we went to a Muay Thai (Thai kick boxing) match with some friends we met on our trip. It was intense! They are able to do basically everything except head butting, and we saw a knockout...they are all very tough. The crowd varied in age and took pride in their sport, allowing us to easily get caught up in the action.
IMG_3581.jpg Muay Thai championship boxers
IMG_3588.jpg Us practicing our Muay Thai skills

We're heading to Laos next, more adventures to come.

We hope all is well back home, we miss it all.

Matt & Erin

Posted by matterin 21:55 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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