Rena and Wade Around the World

Our first Round the World trip from Jan 2006 - July 2006.

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Location: Regina/Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

The adventures of living and working abroad. From Cayman to Europe, a break year and side adventure travels, this is our story.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Shanghai (China)

On April 21 we flew from Saigon to Beijing via Hong Kong. After a few fairly uneventful days getting acquainted with Beijing we boarded a train for Shanghai, the Paris of the East. Shanghai is a massive and modern “western” city of over 13 million people, 18 million in “greater Shanghai”

This is a picture of one of the many skyscrapers in Shanghai. As we learned from a trip to the Urban Planning Museum, the building in the foreground, the majority of these skyscrapers were constructed in the last 15 years. I guess this explains why so much of the city looks brand new. Apparently they just decided this was to be a major, modern city and simply made it happen. The motto, Build and They Will Come, seems to have worked as Shanghai is now rivaling Hong Kong and Singapore for Companies' Asia Pacific headquarters.

Yes these people have an entire museum devoted to planning their city…and it is impressive. You can fly through the city on a 360 degree simulator with buildings and highways planned to be built by 2010 (just in time for World Expo which is being hosted in Shanghai). It is like déjà vu when you walk through the streets thinking you’ve been there before and then remember that it was the simulator in the museum! I’m pretty sure the Jettsons was modeled after this city. Here is a look at The Bund area at night.

Here’s a look down Jiujang Lu, a shopping street near the river. Best guess is that there are 785 McDonalds and KFCs along this road. Although strangely enough, unlike Hong Kong, there are no 7 Elevens.

There are a large number of urban parks throughout the city. Here’s a picture of two people we don’t know playing some game we don’t understand in Renmin Park.

We spent half a day wandering around the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar in the “Old Town”. There were trees and buildings and water. This picture has all three.

(Rena says: If you haven’t guessed by this overly poetic description, Wade wrote most of this blog posting.)

And probably the coolest thing we have ever seen in our lives was the acrobatic show at the Yun Feng theater. Absolutely crazy. I don’t know how they even think of these things to do never mind actually doing them. Here’s some ladies twirling plates on the end of sticks. To make it a bit more challenging, one lady is standing on another’s shoulders while balancing a third lady on her head, who happens to be upside down.

I don’t know how you realize you can do this. They call it Air Ballet and told us not to try it at home. We won’t.

For a grand finale they put 5 people on motorcycles in this sphere of insanity. Rena had to cover her face a few times as she was convinced they were all going to die. As for me, I’m getting a motorcycle.

And finally, as expected, Rena continues to get herself into trouble.

Friday, April 14, 2006


After hearing the horrible stories of overland travel into Cambodia, we opted to fly. Although, I would have to say that flying Vietnam Airlines has on all 3 occasions that we used them, been a tad bit frightening. On the one flight the luggage door flew open and a stewardess ran up the aisle to prevent people from getting hurt. On our last flight the landing was so shaky that Wade and I were concerned the plane was going to skid off the runway on its side. Everyone on the plane was holding on for dear life and there was a huge sigh of relief when everything had come to a stop. I think we will be sticking to One World Alliance partners from now on.

We only spent 4 days in Cambodia and specifically Siem Reap. The main attraction in Siem Reap is to visit the Angkor group of temples and in particular the most famous one - Angkor Wat. Nothing can prepare you for the grandeur of these temples. There are hundreds of them throughout the countryside with a large amount of them grouped around Siem Reap. We purchased a 3 day pass and couldn’t visit all of them and so had to pick and choose where we wanted to go. Here is a picture of part of Angkor Wat.

Most of the temples were built in the 12th or 13th century….each King adding to previous temples and usually building some of his own as well. Angkor Wat in itself is almost 200 hectares and is the largest religious monument in the world. Some of the temples have a Buddhist theme to them, while others are Hindu. The theme depends on the whim of the King who built them and of course the religious environment at the time of construction. Here is a look further back at Angkor Wat to give you a perspective of its size.

And here is a close up of Angkor Wat so that you can appreciate some of its detail. However, the most impressive details lay within the Wat itself. There are massive bas reliefs covering the walls of the temples inside. Not an inch of the temples are without detailed carvings. Some depict everyday life, others provide a historical record of the battles that took place and others yet tell of heaven and hell and myths of the people. Hard to believe that people could build this without modern equipment.

Here is a look at one of the bas reliefs in the Bayon temple. There are rectangular pieces cut out of the walls in the Angkor Wat temple and experts think that jewels or other precious items may have been part of the wall but have since been removed by thieves.

Here is a look at one of the pinnacles of the Bayon temple, which is quite different from Angkor Wat. Buddha faces are embedded within the pinnacles throughout the temple. Although impressive in its own right, it does not contain the detail that exists in some of the other temples mainly due to the fact that its King was in a hurry to erect many temples and in doing so had to sacrifice the details.

This is a look at the Preah Khan temple. This one and the Ta Prohm temple have not been cleared of trees and foliage like the other temples. One reason is to allow visitors to see how the jungle has claimed these temples and what they looked like before restoration. Another reason is that these two temples have been so overtaken by trees that to remove them now would result in the temples collapsing, as they have come to rely on the support of the trees. At any rate, it makes for a very cool experience. If it wasn’t for the throngs of tourists you would think you were an archaeologist on a great find! It’s easy to lose track of time exploring the many nooks and crannies of these temples and only the oppressive 40 degree celsius heat snaps you back to reality.

Here is a picture of some Cambodian children in the Preah Khan temple. It was the strangest experience. I had lagged behind Wade and just at that point there were no other tourists in this section of the temple. The next thing I knew I was hearing the whisperings of children and when I looked I could see them darting in and about the pillars. Soon after the little boy appeared very close to me and held out a bunch of flowers…I believe they were Jasmine. It was like the scene out of Tombraider. Of course the children posed perfectly for a picture which they invited me to take. When they asked for a US $1 each, I was reminded that I was not in Tombraider and rather a tourist trap. But how could I begrudge these perfect little capitalists their US $1? I’d say someone showed them Tombraider and they studied it well because they flawlessly imitated the little girl that appears to Angelina Jolie.

Ta Prohm was used to film Tombraider and our driver told us that he thinks the filmmakers paid around $50,000 US a day for the privilege. Unfortunately for us we did not get to see Angelina Jolie or better yet Brad Pitt, but at least the temple was open for us to explore.

So much work is being done on these temples by various European organizations in conjunction with the Cambodian government in order to preserve as much as possible. Even so, some of the temples are severely collapsed. This one is in relatively good shape in comparison to some of the others. Imagine trying to fit all of these blocks back together. It’s like a current day Humpty Dumpty puzzle.

Lastly, here is a picture of the Banteay Srei temple which is considered a jewel by archeological standards. Although very small in size in comparison to some of the other temples, the immense detail that is almost perfectly intact makes it so spectacular. Archaeologists apparently marvel over this temple. We found it breathtaking due to its colour as well. It is the only temple made of pink sandstone instead of black. Here is a picture of one of the sections of Banteay Srei.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Monkey Trouble

One the way back to Saigon from the Mekong Delta our bus made a pit stop so everyone could stretch their legs and use the "Happy Room" where needed. Luckily for us this particular stop had caged various monkeys for our amusement. Rena was pretty excited that this little guy would stick his foot out to say hello.

The problem with shaking hands with monkeys (aside from them being dirty little monsters) is that it gives you a false sense of security. Which causes you to get a little closer to the cages than you should.

Hey what's that in monkey's hand?

I know, it's Rena's sunglasses! They don't seem to fit though...or taste very good.

After a few entertaining moments, and with the help of a large bamboo stick, the glasses were returned to the appropriate monkey, who has now learned to stay a few feet away from her cousin's cages.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mekong Delta (Vietnam)

After a couple of days in Saigon we headed further south for a 2 day tour of the Mekong Delta. It was much more relaxed and quiet than most of the other Vietnamese cities we visited and we very much enjoyed the laid back attitude. One of the attractions was to visit the many “floating markets”. Yes picture the farmers market with boats instead of booths and you will get the idea. Little canoe type boats meander through the vendor boats of produce picking and choosing what they wish to buy. Sometimes you can see watermelons or sacks of onions being thrown out the portholes of the boats to the awaiting purchaser. All of the scraps were thrown in the surrounding water which made it a little nasty, but I’m sure the fish enjoyed the good eats. Yes there are fish in these murky waters.

After the hustle and bustle of the floating markets we enjoyed a paddle through the mangroves. Perhaps we enjoyed the paddle more as we were not the ones paddling. Once again, the women were paddling the boats. I wonder where all the men are?

Rumour has it that monsters roam the waters in this area. Naturally this scared timid Kenny. Who wouldn’t be scared with just a little straw conical hat for protection? Many of the boats in this area have massive eyes painted on them to ward off the sea monsters. Unfortunately our boat did not have such defenses.

And we thought the bridges in Laos were bad. I really don’t think they can get much smaller than this. Luckily all of us crossed this “Monkey Bridge” without incident.

We were also able to visit a coconut candy making factory, a banana whiskey distillery (even the Irish and the Canadians had to admit it was good whiskey…of course after a few taste tests), a rice factory and a rice paper factory. Here is a picture of the rice paper factory. These sheets are being pulled off the griddle and being placed on bamboo slats to be transferred outdoors to dry in the sun. You can imagine what a hot job this is particularly as there is no A/C in this factory!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Saigon (Vietnam)

After a 17 hour train ride south of Hoi An, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). We spent a few days in Saigon and then went to the Mekong Delta for a couple of days before returning to Saigon again. This time we were all able to get seats in first class on the train. The scenery was fantastic but the facilities were not exactly "Western". Check it out.

The most impressive and saddening experience in Saigon was visiting the War Remnants Museum. There were 8 halls of exhibits inside the museum documenting the Vietnam war, complete with tanks and empty artillery outside of the museum. The devastation to the people and the country is unforgettable and made us all very grateful that we have not had to experience the direct effect of war so far in our lives. Most grotesque is the continuing effect that Agent Orange is playing in the population due to debilitating birth defects. Many of the American Soldiers received compensation for their exposure to this chemical. The Vietnamese people have been appealing to the US government for years to also receive compensation, particularly as infants continue to be born with defects as a result of their parents exposure to the chemical and the very contaminated soil. The next few pictures are all from the War Remnants Museum. Some of them are quite graphic and disturbing.

These two pictures are a couple of many similar pictures lining the walls of the museum. I think they speak for themselves.

Here is a picture of a Blu - 82 Seismic Bomb. This bomb was dropped containing 5,700 kgs of explosives. It destroyed an area within a 100 meter radius and caused severe damage within 3.2 kms. These bombs were used in Vietnam from 1970 onwards. Their size is staggering.

Lastly, here is a picture of Wade and I in front of a beast I would never want to see rolling down city streets. Imagine the terror.

Apart from the War Remnants Museum, we spent a lot of time just wandering around the streets of Saigon. They are an experience in themselves. Here is a picture of what the roadways are like. Crossing the street is always a frightening adventure.

We also visited another market (because of course we needed to do more shopping!), called the Ben Thanh Market. It was our most “intense” market experience to date. It was a massive indoor market with stalls and isles hardly wide enough to walk though single file in places. Of course, all of this was without A/C. Best was that you dare not make eye contact or look at any item without women grabbing your arm and literally dragging you into their stall. “ No Thank You” (no matter how loud or forcefully you say it) does not register here and it gets to the point where you have to be rude. Naturally we did succumb to some of the high pressure sales tactics. That being said, we were pretty careful in what we purchased given that red flags went up when you see Chanel sunglasses, Rolex watches, Gucci handbags, etc. in the same market where they are selling dried fish and flowers! Perhaps it is not authentic…..

Lastly, we had to say goodbye to the Travelling Dossers on April 10, 2006. We had a fabulous time with our English/Irish friends for the last 6 weeks and we were very sorry to see them leave. Wade and I are now officially on our own and hopefully we can stay out of trouble. Dossers, look out, one day we’ll be showing up on your doorstep in Dublin. Cheers guys! By the way Eamon…how do you think your Irish friends would feel if they knew you couldn’t remember the words to Molly Malone? You didn’t think we’d forget that did you?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hoi An (Vietnam)

Our longest stay in any one place was the river side town of Hoi An. We arrived on the 30th of March and didn’t leave for 7 days. Why, you may ask? Because there is a ridiculous amount of shopping.

We hit them, and we hit them HARD! Custom tailored suits, dresses, shirts and pretty well anything else you can imagine. Many hours were spent on the internet and thumbing through fashion catalogues. After a design was decided on all you had to do was pick the fabric and within hours it was done. Amazing. Here we are leaving one of the tailors, Adong Silk.

After our little shopping binge it seems we are officially no longer “back-packing”. Luckily for us Hoi An has an abundance of luggage stores.

After we got the shopping out of our system it was time to see the sites. Hoi An is one of the oldest civilizations in all of South East Asia. Recently excavated sites indicate there was human habitation around 2,200 years ago. From the 2nd to the 10th centuries this region was home to the kingdom of Champa. This is a picture of one of their temples, the temple of My Son. One of the most astounding things is how these people were able to get the bricks to stick together. Evidence suggests that they came up with some local botanical concoction that provided them with a mortar like substance. Experts have been unable to recreate their recipe.

Although fun to watch eat and swing from trees, the local monkeys continue to ruin our photos by posing in the background ...sometimes with their disgusting tongues sticking out. Filthy animals!

And that concluded the educational portion of this trip…time for the beach! We rented motorbikes, got lost, nearly ran out of fuel, but eventually found the ocean. Damn we’re good.

In an effort to stimulate the local economy Wade graciously allowed a Vietnamese masseuse to massage his feet while sipping a refreshing drink. There’s a sense of satisfaction in knowing you are helping people.

Here is a look down Cua Dai Beach (30 km of white sand) and the South China Sea . Further north up this beach is where the famed “China Beach” is located. It is said that the American military would hang out at this beach for some R&R in between their missions.

And finally, sometimes when you misbehave in Vietnam…you get a “time out”.