Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Day in Ben Tre**

**and how it turned into 3. 

About 4 seconds after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, I knew I had to get out. Not that it's a bad city or anything, I've just come to realize that I hate cities. They are so crowded, expensive, and really g-d hot. So, I headed down south to Ben Tre, the homeland of the coconut (says anyone you ask in Vietnam). 

Ben Tre is a bit unknown on the tourist trail. If tourists visit any town in the Mekong Delta, it's usually Can Tho. But I met this fabulous lady:

who said Ben Tre is where it's at. A few hours later, I was on my way. Oh, that lady above is Van. She let me crash with her and her family in Ben Tre. I will gush and fawn over these people in just a bit. So anyway, Van and fam live above the shop that they own, selling various pieces of shrine-ery. Buddhas, incense, prayer beads, etc. It's delightfully small and every last corner of her house is filled with the shop's over flow. 

So, on my arrival, I was introduced to Van's mother and father, who wasted no time making me feel at home. Within minutes, I had a glass of water, a pair of slippers, and a request to be home in thirty minutes for a home-made lunch. 

Before lunch, Van and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Van: Do you enjoy all food?
Me: Heck ye. 
Van: Pork?
Me: Not mutton! Yes!
Van: Vegetables?
Me: Not mutton! Yes!
Van: Shrimp?
Me: Not mutton! Yes!
Van: Dog?
Me: Not mu... WHAT??

Yes, friends and family, I am in a place where some people (not all, in fact not many) enjoy the fine delicacy of DOG. 

Our chef and a delicious dog-free meal. 

Words cannot describe this meal. The best I can do is to tell you to come to Vietnam, to Ben Tre, stay with this family. We had soup, pork, vegetables and a shrimp stir-fry in COCONUT. They cook EVERYTHING in coconut! Good GOD it's amazing. After this meal, the family told me they wouldn't make it again to ensure I would return to Ben Tre someday. Well played. 

Later, Van took me out for a tour (and to find me a bicycle) of Ben Tre. She showed me the "downtown-y" area, as well as where I could take my bike into the countryside the next day. 

"Smashed Bananas" - aptly named. Then you grill 'em and dip 'em in coconut  sauce! 

And we got our nails did. This cost me just over 1 dollar. After a half hour of work, I felt like I  robbed the lady. 

Night Market. They sold avocados AS BIG AS MY HEAD. This place is a paradise. 
Me and the fam! A little blurry, but such is life. 
A wee-bit treacherous, eh?
The next morning, I was awaken at a quarter to 6. I was going to exercise with Van's mom. We drove over to the museum in town, where many Vietnamese were already playing badminton, jogging, stretching, etc. 

My work-out crew
We started with some badminton, which was great because I know, at the very least, how to hit a ball with a racket. When we moved into Tai Chi, I suddenly felt very large and cumbersome - you have to move slowly and be completely aware of your body. And considering no one spoke enough English to tell me where my body was supposed to be, I looked like an awkward elephant trying to balance on one foot. The Vietnamese had a hoot laughing at me though.

[Sidenote: I thought I was tall in Mongolia... I'm a MONSTER here]

Anyway, onto the next activity where she pulled out A SWORD!

Then, we did a little dance like thing while holding a sword. 
After this, I hopped on my bike and rode around town and the back countryside. It was beautiful. I took some pictures, but I'm really unhappy with them because it really doesn't do the area justice. Do you know how many shades of green there are? A lot. Anyway, I got to see many a cool thing - like people shelling TRILLIONS of coconut... by hand, folks fishing out of the delta waters (oh, did I mention Ben Tre is technically an island?), and groves and groves of all sorts of fruit. Stunning. Completely stunning.

Then it got insufferably hot and I went home and passed out here:

I ::heart:: hammocks
Later, we spent the day chillin with the fam, eating a ton of delicious food, and havin a good time. At one point we visited Vans' grandmother, who insisted on taking a series of photos with me. I show you this only to prove about HUGE I am:

She is standing! I am sitting!
The next day, I had to leave in order to make it to Dalat by the22nd. But, man, I did not want to. After 2 full days of the most amazing food I've ever eaten, the warmest hospitality I've ever known, and the most gorgeous scenery I've seen on my trip, getting on that bus was real hard.

On a sidenote- Ben Tre was also cheap. Like, real cheap. Over the course of three days, including transportation there and food (and I ate A LOT) and drinks, I spent a grand total of $22. Hoo boy, I want to go back.

Oh crap, the market! I totally went to the market to where they sell fish! and shrimp! and crab! and squid! and eel! and snake! and frog! and bird! and duck! and just about anything you could ever want. Oh, and it's all still alive, too. 

Moral of my story is I love the Luu family for welcoming me in as their own. I had such an amazing time and am completely convinced that our paths with cross again. I'll make sure of it. Thank you for everything Van and Mom and Dad for giving me everything in Ben Tre!

Monday, August 20, 2012



Over the last 2 weeks, I've been in Cambodia, taking in the sights and eating what there is to eat (which is a lot). Cambodia is a remarkably beautiful place and, oddly enough, often reminded me of Mongolia. The people are so friendly, the roads are sparse and chaotic, and the nationals are still doing the hard back breaking work they've been doing for centuries. Only instead of grasslands, there are rice paddies. Instead of slaughtering sheep, they are collecting coconuts. And instead of it being cold, it is very hot.

We took a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, which DESPITE THE TRAVEL BLOGS IS REALLY EASY AND NOT STRESSFUL AT ALL. I hope future travellers will read that and relax because after I read a billion horror stories on the interweb, I thought the trip was going to be hell. It was fine, people. Totally fine. 
Anyhow, onto Siemp Reap, the hometown of Angkor Wat. The town itself was quite nice, but it clearly only existed for tourists. There were so many foreigners there, it was challenging to find a local whose job didn't consist of accommodating tourists in some fashion. But, the temples were sweet. Check it out:

Most of the temples were covered in really detailed reliefs. You could spend hours just looking at one (and I suspect many have)

In some of the temples, the ruins are being overtaken by trees. It looks pretty gol-darn awesome except that the trees are wreaking havoc on the integrity of the structures. 

                                  Bayon - A large temple with faces carved into the pillars. One facing each directions. 
We rented bikes to explore the area!

Some call Angkor "the largest jigsaw puzzle on Earth." After  finding all the ruins, archaeologists are now in the process of puttin it back together.  

And then we ran into an elephant!

We saw a really beautiful traditional dance performance and when they were finished, they just stood there so stupid tourists could take pictures with them. 

And then we ran into a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer from  Mongolia! How about that! And, Molly Cook, my college roommate was there too!
After the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap, We took a nice relaxing Jungle Cruise to Battambang (and yes, the whole time I kept thinking, this is just like DisneyWorld). 

The Tonle Sap. Depending on the season, the river system created form this lake changes direction!

A floating village. Literally everything floats. People don't walk. They have boats that take them to the store or to their friends house. It's quite neat. 

Rice field!

View from a top a mountain. This mountain is very depressing. I only took one picture because  out of respect. During the '70s, Cambodia was taken over by the Khmer Rouge, who, like the Nazis, systematically killed their people. This mountain housed what the Cambodians call "the killing caves," 100 feet deep caves, where parents were forced to witness as their children were pushed in. A similar cave nearby was then waiting for the parents. The atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime are on par, and in some cases even worse than those of the Nazis. 
Whew, depressing. Sorry to leave you on that note, but that's what I saw and did in Cambodia! After that I hopped over to Phnom Penh and now I'm in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Catch ya on the flip side, people. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

From UB to BKK

Sa-wa-dee-ka folks! That's Thai for hello and how I'm greeting all these lovely Thai nationals in BANGKOK! 

Good God, it's hot here. I kind of miss the cold. 

But not that much. Bangkok is hot and crowded and lively and fantastic. Bangkok was intended to be a stop over point on our way to Siem Reap, Cambodia, but we ended up staying a few extra days (waiting for a visa) and checkin out the sites. We ate. We went to markets. We saw AWESOME thai boxing (see pic from previous post) We sweated more in 20 minutes than we did in the last 2 years. 

We also visited a few temples, which I have some pictures of:

(sidenote: my camera totally revived itself after taking a little swim in the eg river! Huzzah! But, in typical sarah fashion, I have misplaced the charger. urgh.)

Now I'm in Cambodia at Angkor Wat for a few days before headed on off to Phomn Pehn. Catch ya later folks!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


 Welcome to Thailand!

More to come later!

(Oh, I changed my blog! But I'm not pleased with the new name. I'm taking/pleading for suggestions! Whatcha got people?)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Least Densely Populated Country on the Planet

Hey everyone!

I'm back from my AWESOME 3 week canoe trip through northern Mongolia and, man, what an experience. We started at Lake Khovsgol and followed it's only connecting river, the Eg River. 295 miles later, we connected with the (much) larger Selenge River which we paddled for a few days until we ended our trip just north of Erdenet. 


So we embarked on July 1st, with our boats, our gear, and three weeks worth of food crammed in the backseat of out Japanese minivan. We spent the previous day packing/waterproofing:

I wish I could say that the scotch tape worked. RIP watch. 
It took us 2 days to reach Lake Khovsgol, which was a little longer than it should have been. Because what trip through Mongolia is complete until you break down?

The lake is famous for many a thing, including the Reindeer People! We stopped to have a looksie at these poor reindeer whose life had come to posing for pictures for stupid tourists. 

If possible, enlarge this photo. The reindeer is totally peeing!
Then, finally, the lake! We camped one night on the lake before setting off the next morning towards the river. Khovsgol is THE most beautiful lake I have ever seen. It's water is impossibly blue and crystal clear. It would have been PERFECT swimming conditions if the lake hadn't melted only 3 weeks earlier. 

The crew. Eric, Carolyn, and Pico

Not edited at all!
And onto the Eg River!

No camels here. Only yaks!
Like my hat, dad?


Eric brought with him some fishing poles, so everyday, we attempted to fish. None of us had any luck, except for Eric, who kept us well fed throughout the trip. He taught me how to clean a fish! Oh, and these are just little trouty guys, but check out what ELSE was swimming in those waters: TAIMEN

Takin a rest in an abandoned summer house. 
I should go ahead and say here, that it was around this time, the river turned on us - fast currents, narrow turns, flooded banks, and overhanging trees. It was a scary two days. We did overturn on of the boats (we recovered everything minus a paddle), but (and if you know me at ALL, you will not be surprised by this), my camera, despite being inside 2 garbage bags AND a dry bag, got wet. For the remainder of the trip, I was camera-less and so these pics coming up are taken on Carolyn's camera and usually by Carolyn.

Eric's Counterpart's Family. We stopped in Tishig, a nearby soum and they fed us and housed us for a night!

When it rained, we put up a shanty, played cards, and attempted to eat some of our melted snack food. 
Oh, the title of this post. Mongolia is the least densely populated country ON THE PLANET. And yet, apart from the few times we camped on islands, we were never not in sight of a ger or within earshot of a motorcycle. But that is one of the greatest things about this country. You could be in the middle of nowhere (which we were) and still find a couch to crash on. We usually were visited by the nearby Mongolian family when they noticed our presence, which 9 times out of 10 was a wonderful experience. They would bring us milk, aral (sour milk product), airag (Mongolian homemade vodka), and usually a 2 liter of fresh milk. What a wonderfully generous and kind culture this is.

(oh, the 1 in 10 bad experience was usually a Mongolian who came to watch us. Just watch us. Like we were tigers in a zoo).

The nicest family we met. The little girl is trying on our lifevest.

How Mongolian we've become! Makin huushuur for dinner (and breakfast)
Our final campsite. 
Boy howdy, Northern Mongolia is pretty.