Southeast Asia has been a remarkable place and I have had some very memorable times. It was an incredible experience to learn about the unique cultures, foods, languages and lifestyles of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Three months ago, we flew into Bangkok from Chennai, India and were pleasantly welcomed by my parents’ old friends from Camp Mishawaka, Coleen and Graeme. They had a fifteen-year-old daughter who introduced us to a bunch of her friends and it was really fun to hang out with them. It had been quite a while since Markos, Tarn and I had hung out with friends so we enjoyed it very much. I continue to stay in contact with a couple of them and it’s nice to hear about how life in Bangkok is going every once in a while.
After a bit of business and a few exams, we departed Bangkok and made our way through Ayutthaya, Chanthabury and down to the island of Koh Chang. We spent about a week there and enjoyed the beach and a bit of relaxing. Koh Chang was the first time we had really been on the beach in Southeast Asia and it still remains to be one of the most beautiful and enjoyable beach locations of our entire trip. We treated ourselves to plenty of local food at the street markets and we enjoyed things such as BBQ chicken skewers, fresh fruit smoothies, Pad Thai, banana and chocolate pancakes and much more. After a wonderful week on Koh Chang, we headed back to Chanthabury so that I could take my English 20 final exam and then we headed towards the border of Cambodia. Thailand was special and I really liked the variety of delicious food such as BBQ chicken, Kao Neo (sticky rice), papaya salad, and large ice coffees.
In Cambodia many of the roads were not paved and we had a bit of rough riding on our way to Battembang. It was really interesting to cycle on the smaller back roads and get up and close with the lifestyles of the villagers. We passed through small Cambodian villages where we were able to camp at Buddhist Wat’s and primary schools. Battembang was our first main town of Cambodia where we spent a couple of days before taking a river boat to Seam Reap. Seam Reap was one of my favorite parts of Cambodia because we had the opportunity to visit a few of the temples of Angkor Wat. We purchased a three-day pass for Angkor Wat and visited the temples of Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, and of course, Angkor Wat. I was able to take some photos at Angkor Wat that I am really proud and a I plan to paint some of them when I get home. I highly recommend visiting the temples of Angkor Wat if you ever get the chance. Make sure to check out the cool hiking/biking trails that surround the several temple complexes. After exploring Angkor Wat, we biked south towards Phnom Penh where we spent a few days with another friend of my parents, Maria, and her roommate Keela.
Cambodia was really interesting because we started staying in Buddhist Wats a lot more and we met quite a few monks. I continue to stay in contact with one of the monks we met. It was really interesting to learn more about the Buddhist religion. The downside of staying at wats was having to listen to the loud loud-speakers amplifying the chants and music from the temples. Cambodia was well remembered for camping at Buddhist Wat’s and the incredible experience at Angkor Wat.
We started the first portion of Vietnam by biking to the coast in Southeast Vietnam and then along the coast for about 300 kilometers. The coast of south central Vietnam was one of the most amazing places that we have ridden through during this trip. (Other parts include the Western Ghats of India, the rubber-tree farms in Cambodia, and the karsts of central Laos). From the coast of Vietnam we headed west towards the border of Laos. Some of the things that we remember most from southern Vietnam include the unique architectural design of long, skinny, short houses; the cheaper prices of food; and overall a very laid back/relaxed way of life. There were hammocks wherever you looked and people definetely knew how to spend time relaxing.
The few days leading up to Laos were also quite pretty, but we definetely started to notice the increase in elevation as we were doing a lot more climbing than the coast. The difference between Laos and Vietnam hit us hard due to the fact that we immediately dropped 600 meters into a jungle valley. It was also extremely noticeable that Laos was quite undeveloped compared to the other countries we had visited in Southeast Asia. There were hills upon hills of dense jungle and we had a couple days of pretty intense climbing before the landscape flattened out a bit. Laos is a country that has a very low population. We noticed that they were also very relaxed and easy going like the people in southern Vietnam. We started to learn how to say the numbers and common phrases which made it a lot easier to shop in the markets. I also enjoyed my 17th birthday in Laos which was quite fun and I had an amazing day filled with delicious food and memorable experiences. We noticed that we didn’t experience as much variety in food in Laos as compared to Vietnam. We enjoyed Laap (meat salad) with sticky rice, and pho (noodle soup) quite a bit, but that was about it for lunches apart from the occasional rice dish.
We scheduled exams for Tarn and me in Savannakhet. On our way into town we met a family from Switzerland invited us to an Easter Sunday brunch and later to their house to stay for two nights. After an enjoyable time with them, we decided to biked through part of the Thakhek Loop, an amazing part of Laos which is covered in limestone rock formations and mountains called karsts. It was really cool to ride through karsts and these days were some of the most memorable riding days of Laos.
We were lucky to be in Laos at the time of Laos New Year called Pimai. The celebration of Pimai was super fun and it was exciting to learn about their traditions of soaking people with water. We left Laos not really knowing if Pimai had ended or not but it was overall really interesting to be able to experience the celebration and learn more about their culture.
Vietnam was my overall favorite country of Southeast Asia. The food was a large component, but the country itself is extremely beautiful and we were able to travel through both southern and northern Vietnam. Northern Vietnam was quite different from southern Vietnam. For one, it appeared that the people in northern Vietnam were noticeably louder, and the traffic was a bit more chaotic than the south. To add, the prices seemed to have increased quite a bit and there were different styles of food. Our favorite rice dishes had doubled in price, although we were still able to find Banh Mi (Banh My in the north) for the same price (10 000 VND – about $0.50). Northern Vietnam was also a bit more expensive for guest houses and hotels, although still relatively cheap compared to what we would pay in North America.
In north Vietnam we biked from the border of Laos to the coast. We then cycled north to Hanoi and had to bike along a few really busy roads, but fortunately we were able to find a pleasant route into the center of Hanoi. We had a few days in Hanoi before taking a three-day, five-star luxurious Ha Long Bay tour. We did a bit of shopping before the cruise and Markos and Tarn were also able to take a couple of their exams.
We used some money that my grandparents, Mormor and Granddad K.O., gave us to go on a Halong Bay trip. The cruise was much more luxurious than we could have ever imagined. I It was really fun and enjoyable to have a weekend where we didn’t need to worry about making our food, setting up tents, figuring out accommodation, or worrying about what we were going to do that day. The first day out on the boat was a little bit overcast, but it created a really cool effect on the ocean because the karsts slowly disappeared in the sky and it was great for photos. The meals were quite delicious and the cook was able to make many dishes that were well known in both southern Vietnam, northern Vietnam, and the Halong Bay area. I unfortunately forgot to take photos of the meals but they were quite high end and some of the meals had up to eight courses!
All of the rooms, including Mom and Dads, had a large window that looked out on the water and it was super cool to be in such a fancy room on a boat. They were also able to fit an extra bed into a twin room so that all three of us (Markos, Tarn and me) could have a bed to ourselves. The boat had a small pool that Markos and I enjoyed the two evenings while listening to music and enjoying our mini vacation. The second night we joined two other girls that were from New Zealand and it was fun to talk to them about their time in Vietnam and the differences and similarities of Canada and New Zealand.
Some of the cruise highlights for me were kayaking through the beautiful karsts and getting up and close with the unique rock formations. Markos and I shared a tandem kayak and so did Mom and Dad. Tarn quickly made a friend named Mikel and shared a kayak with him. We were able to kayak both the first and second day at different locations. They were both special in their own ways, but I enjoyed the second day more because it was a bit sunnier and we were also in a spot where part of the paddle opened up to a large open part of the ocean where you could see karsts that were really far away. On the second day, we visited a small floating fishing village by row boat. I was able to get some of my favorite pictures there. One of my favorite parts of the cruise was that a crew member had a full sized acoustic guitar and he let me borrow. The cruise was very enjoyable and I am glad that the weather decided to cooperate with us for most of the time before raining a bit during the cruise back to the harbor. I would highly recommend the Dragon Legend cruise that we took and it was definetely worth what we paid for.
The cruise was sort of like a vacation for us because we had the chance to relax a bit before flying to Japan. We spent last night in Hanoi at the same hotel as before the cruise and then packed up and biked to the airport earlier today. We enjoyed one of our favorite drinks of Southeast Asia called Nu’oc Mia (sugar cane juice squeezed into a cup of ice) and four delicious mangoes before heading into the airport. We have gotten very efficient with taking apart the bikes and managed to pack them all up and rearrange all of our bags so that they were evenly weighted within a couple of hours.
I am currently writing this blog while sitting at a food-court while we wait to check in for our flight which will depart at 1:30 AM later tonight. We will have a two-hour layover in Korea before flying to Fukuoka, Japan. Japan will be the last country we visit before returning to Canada to finish the trip by biking from Vancouver to Calgary. We are excited to learn and travel through a country that none of us have travelled to! Hopefully I will have access to wifi every week or so so that I am able to update the blog and catch up with friends and teachers for school. I encourage you to check out the photography page whenever you get the chance and hopefully you enjoyed the stories and photos from Southeast Asia!
Written in Hanoi, Vietnam and edited in Fukuoka, Japan before posting when I just now got access to wifi in Amakusa, Japan.