26 Mar

Place I Stayed in Siem Reap

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Jasmine Guest House in Siem Reap was one of my favorite 20160226_085321hostels of this trip.  It had everything a good hostel should have – clean rooms, good wifi, a great free breakfast, a pool,  outstanding staff, and my room was cleaned every day – who could ask for anything more?  Siem Reap was clean, and nice big sidewalks made exploring so pleasant.  Everyone comes to see Ankor Wat and Jasmine House arranged a reasonably priced tuktuk  driver/guide for me for a day.  He spoke good English, and was very adept at avoiding the biggest crowds.  This was a large hostel and it was fun to hang out at the pool or common area and meet other travelers.   There is an excellent cafe and make sure you try Amok.  It is one of the national dishes of Cambodia, and here they serve it in a coconut.

Jasmine Guest House

www.jasminelodge.com

National Road #6, 307 Taphul Village

Svay Dongkum Commune, Siem Reap

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19 Mar

Place I Stayed in Phnom Phen

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Image 3-19-16 at 12.13 PMAs usual I had booked my first night in Phnom Phen.  When our boat arrived at the dock there was the usual onslaught of tuktuk drivers.  One asked where I was staying, and then told me it was full of young people doing drugs.  One of the gals traveling with me did not have a reservation, but decided to come with me and see if she could get a room there too.  Tuktuk drivers told us there were no other guesthouses near there at all.  Not believing things you are told by tuktuk drivers is one of the first rules of travel of S. E. Asia.  We caught a ride to #10 Guesthouse.  We drove past a large Mosque and I was thrilled at the thought of being once again able to hear the Call to Prayer.  The guesthouse was great -aside from the stairs.  Treads were 4 inches wide, risers were 1 foot high….. scary! Fortunately the young men working took everyone’s pack up and down for them. It was not full of people doing drugs, and there were 4 other guesthouses within half a block.    There was a cafe and lounge area, so a good place to meet others.   Mango lassi was on the menu – mango and yogurt drink.  I had not seen lassi on a menu here so was anxious to try it – it was great.  I also tried chicken amok, a local dish of chicken cooked with veggies in coconut milk, served with rice.    One day my friend decided she was going to watch them make our lassi so she could do it at home……no yogurt…..mango, shaved ice, and sweetened condensed milk….not so healthy.  Owner arranged a good tuktuk driver for us to see the Killing Fields and famous prison.  I did not get to hear the Call to Prayer – locals had protested, so they no longer did it.  Once again I am amazed at the price and cleanliness of hostels in S.E. Asia.  I did get a kick out of the rules posted on the door of my room – 20160216_074156

18 Mar

Cambodia Contrasts

20160218_085723Cambodia is a country of contrasts.  I arrived in Phnom Phen by20160218_094423 boat and took a tuktuk to my hostel.  This was by far the dirtiest city I had visited on this trip.  We passed a huge Mosque just before my hostel and I looked forward to hearing the Call to Prayer – one of my favorite sounds.  No such luck, no Call to Prayer as the neighbors had complained.  Phnom Phen is home of the killing fields and what a sad place it is.  Pol Pot and his regime slaughtered one quarter of the population of their own country.  The memorial site is so well done, and I found it amazing the detail and accuracy of the records that were kept.  My other stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap.  This city was one of the cleanest and I loved the fact you could smell incense almost everywhere.  Here is Ankor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world.  Endless huge temples, so old that huge trees have grown up over some of the walls.  I could not believe the intricate detailed carvings that covered almost every flat surface.  I saw one wall 20 feet high, 300 feet long, and every inch of it was beautifully carved.  Millions and millions of man hours of work to build. I did not get to spent a lot of time in Cambodia.  I had planned 10 days at an island, but everyone I met that had gone there had got food poisoning – so I changed my plans.  I would have like to see in as it is where the current Survivor was filmed – oh well, next time.20160223_110356

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09 Mar

War – Two Sides to Every Story

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20160129_140840We call it the Vietnam War, they call it the American War.  As I remember so much about this war it was interesting to see it from the other side.   My first stop was Hao Lo Prison in Hanoi – often referred to as the Hanoi Hilton.  This was a prison built by the French for Vietnamese prisoners and a large part of it is dedicated to showing the atrocities toward the Vietnamese.  There is a small section showing how it was used by the Vietnamese for POWs .   John McCain was a prisoner here.  This is a direct quote from the brochure.  “During wartime when local people faced numerous difficulties and shortages in their lives US POWs were humanely treated and were given the best possible living conditions.”  It goes on to talk about their entertainment, medical care etc. and there are photos of them playing ball, decorating a Christmas tree, opening gifts from home etc. NOTHING true.  The War Remembrance Museum was unbiased, and factual, showing brutalities from both sides. I then moved to Ho Chi Minh City.  i remember watching the “Fall of Saigon” to end the war.  Near here are the famous Cu Chi tunnels.  This was an incredible underground network that stretched for over 120 kms.   I got claustrophobia just looking at the entrances. The tunnels here have been enlarged to accommodate western tourists. The tunnels  were built by the N. Vietnamese as a defense against the S. Vietnamese, and also used against the Americans.  Now the government runs this as a very anti American  information attraction.  You can even shoot guns from that war at the shooting range.    In the end, the Communist North Vietnamese won, and renamed Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City.  I found it interesting locals still refer to it as Saigon.  Everyone I asked had the same reply.  Ho Chi Minh City is a political name – they can call it what they want – to us, it will always be Saigon.  The north may have won the war, and the Hammer and Sickle flags may fly here,  but Vietnam is still a divided country  in the hearts of those in the South.20160212_15234220160212_160417

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03 Mar

Places I Stayed, and Didn’t, in Hanoi, and Saigon

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I have a friend I meet for lunch once a month in Vancouver.  When we met in Sept. she told me she was going to be in Hanoi in Feb. so we decided we would meet for lunch. She sent me her dates and told me she would be staying in the Old Quarter.  I would be meeting her during Tet – the big Lunar New Year festival in Vietnam, so I thought I better book my hostel  early.  I usually just show up, or book something one or two days ahead.  I booked a hostel, but arrived in Hanoi  early, so decided to stay somewhere else for a few days. I stayed at A Dong Hotel – lovely place, great staff, in the heart of the old city.  It was very cold when I arrived so the manager got a heater for my room for me.  Wifi worked very well here.  I found my friend’s hotel and to my surprise, the hostel I had booked was right next door.  On the day I was to move I went to      hostel, I took one look at the room and left.  For the first time on this trip I was shown a dirty room.  When I went to meet my friend I went to the hotel next door to this hostel, but she was at another hotel, with the same name, two blocks away.  I found another place to stay  Fantasea Hotel that was lovely and clean.  Wifi worked well. My room was on the 5th floor – and no elevator, so I got my exercise every day. The staff there were also great.   I was disappointed when I went to leave, I had booked a taxi to the airport – every tour place advertises it for $11.  I had told them I wanted to book the $11 taxi, but that morning it became $15, and then because it was their New Years Day it was suddenly $20.  I refused to pay that amount – and agreed to pay $15 – but was not happy about it.  There was no traffic at all, so I could not understand the higher rate.  Ongoing scams in Vietnam were starting to bother me.  I booked a hotel along the river in Ho Chi Minh as I thought it would be interesting.  It was, but the river was just floating garbage, and something about the area did not feel right, so I only stayed 2 nights at  Nguo Tung Hotel.    It was a nice enough hotel, but when I went to check out they tried to shortchange me.  Moved to the funky backpacker area and stayed a few days at  Thien Hong Hostel.     It was basic, but clean and cheap.  Hostels in Asia have been cleaner and cheaper than Central America.  Some of you have asked me the difference between a hostel room and a hotel room.  Since I always book a private room with private bath – there is no difference at all in my room.  Hostel rooms are pretty basic.  The big difference is most hostels have dorms where 4 – 20 people share a room, and most have a big common area to share and meet others.  Many hostels offer breakfast included in their rate.  Paying more would not have given me anything more I needed – and I would estimate my rooms have cost me an average of less than $15 U.S/ night.

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