Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore


We stopped in Bangkok on our way to Vietnam and had just enough time to go downtown and have some great Thai food.  Our hotel (that we had booked months ago) was within a few miles of where all of the political unrest is going on in Bangkok, so we stayed close to our hotel and had a very satisfying meal.


Our hotel room (from reward points) was much nicer than our Cambodia lodging.  We enjoyed every minute…




Unfortunately our stay in Vietnam was very short, in fact, we only had a few days in Hanoi. Instead of trying to see it all, we decided to sit down at a street corner and watch people go by. Watching people and life going on around us brought Hanoi to us (see below).



We liked Hanoi very much. It has a very pleasant feel to it, with a mixture of French with Vietnamese, modern and traditional and a carefree approach to life versus the remains of burdened past. 


We thought it would be a good idea to invest in a tailored suit for Tal.


Stage two of the fitting. He already looks nice in it. I (Tal) look huge in this picture…


The nice tailor didn’t even make Tal pay extra for all of the extra material (because of his height) and Tal was able to get him to throw in a free tie with the purchase. 

While the suit was made, we went to Halong Bay to see some of the 3000+ limestone islands around Halong Bay…




We got to do some kayaking in the bay…



Were able to see a cave (sadly, it was along with about 100 other tourists)



At this point, we felt like we were more at Disney World than in Vietnam because there were so many boats and tourists around… but it was still beautiful.



Halong Bay turned quite romantic at night with all of the boat lights reflecting off of the water.  It was relatively quiet with an occasional party boat doing karaoke.


The next day we went to a more remote part of Halong bay (which was nice to get away from all of our fellow tourists). We went on a bike ride to a nearby village on Cat Ba Island.


A little rain didn’t stop us…


We also went to Monkey Island which lived up to its name.  This aggressive monkey accosted us (without getting close enough to hurt us) on our trail which made us turn back to the beach pretty fast. 


The beach was nice though…


The boat ride back the next morning was a favorite part of the trip because the water was placid and the birds were chirping on all of the cliffs as we floated past.  Truly beautiful…




We had a great time with our fellow passengers. We especially enjoyed the company of a family from Canada and look forward to keeping in touch with them.  We also had a nice chat with a French family and an Australian couple. 

The suit was finished when we got back to Hanoi and we packed for Singapore.


In Singapore, we decided to go to the highly recommended Botanical Gardens.  It was a perfect place to spend a few hours before we boarded the plane for Switzerland.

Red Bamboo?  Who Knew?




Wow, Singapore is clean and organized.  We think it was a good preparation for Switzerland.  Yes, we were careful to not jaywalk and yes, we ate some crackers on the subway only to find out that we could have been fined over $500 for doing that!  To put it mildly, Singapore is serious about cleanliness and order. 

Here are all of the options for throwing something away…


Then clean metro system…


On to Switzerland.  It was so great to see the snow-capped Alps from the plane…


We arrived in Zurich to a beautiful spring day.  The leaves had just come out and it was about 75 degrees…


We spent a few days at Anita’s brother’s place.  He and his wife took such good care of us and it was really fun for me [Tal] to get to know them and their children. 


Eating the wonderful food has been one of my [Tal’s] favorite things about being in Switzerland… I really missed salads, lasagna and tomatoes with mozzarella cheese while traveling.


We went into Zurich for a day…





I [Tal] got to see where Anita used to live, work, study etc.…


On to Flims… On the way to Anita’s childhood home, we were telling her parents about how we had missed the snow while traveling…   We didn’t have to wait long to see it because the next morning, May 3rd, we got some…



The view from Anita’s room…


Flims Dorf



It is fun to see how happy Anita is to be back home.  The below picture, she is looking out the window of her childhood room…


We’ve spent the last few days resting, eating lovely Swiss food, and catching up with Anita’s parents in their home in Flims.  Anita went through her old room and we found some true treasures from her childhood while Tal started his European job hunt. 

Below Anita is not just holding a purchased US flag - she painted it herself when she was about 13. 


And she found her old glasses… now these are a real treasure!


Ski passes going back all the way to 1981. As you can see, the same hat was a favorite for years! If you look hard, you can see the the same red rimmed glasses on the bottom pass. 


Malaysia and Cambodia


Between India and going home, we decided to see a few more places. We started with a layover of a day in Kuala Lumpur to see the sights. It was quite a change from India, as we were stepping back into western culture again. We were sort of shocked to see the Prada and Gucci stores and to be honest, we were not quite ready for it. It was interesting for us to notice how much India and its culture and customs had changed us during the past 4 months. We were not too happy to be bombarded by all the commercialism and materialism again.

The climate, however, was really pleasant and it reminded us of a combination of Hawaii, Southern California, Florida, and Cape Town. It was still hot, but not nearly has hot as India had been. 

Of course, we had to see the KL Towers…


These massive structures are quite impressive from close up…


The fellow we asked to take a picture got the following shot…


This shot is for Eli.  He has one that is similar…



We enjoyed some local food…


We also liked to see how people eat “family style” in Malaysia.  We enjoyed some really good noodles from this same restaurant.


Cambodia – Siem Reap

Then our next stop was Cambodia. We only had a few days so we focused on the two main places – Angkor Wat (near Siem Reap) and Phnom Penh.
The temples of Angkor Wat truly live up to the hype.  We can now see why they are considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.  We were struck by the lure of this very powerful ancient empire. It reached its peak in the 10th and 11th centuries when nearly 1 million people lived in the Angkor area.  There were so many temple sites in the Angkor area that we couldn’t see them all in 2 days, but here are some of the highlights…

Angkor Wat:


Angkor Wat is considered the biggest religious complex in the world…




Impressive bas reliefs surround the temple with pictures depicting war stories.  Angkor Wat has both Hindu (from its early history) and Buddhist (from its later history) influences.



I [Anita] tried to pull an “Eva” right here and catch the lighting in just the right way. I know I don’t get near to Eva’s talent, but I can be inspired by her, right?



This is Taol, our Tuk Tuk driver, who drove us around Siem Reap for two days. He was a funny guy who would drop us off at a temple that should take about 1 hour to see and would say, “see you tomorrow” as a joke… 


We had our best meal in Cambodia at this place right in front of Angkor Wat. Fish curry in a coconut. I [Tal] had the BEST coconut juice of my life at this place as well.  It tasted like a bit of heaven and this type of fresh, cold coconut juice is now my favorite drink.


One more look at Angkor Wat…


Bayon Temple


Because of the color contrast, Anita loves getting pictures of Buddhist Monks in their orange robes. Whenever a monk was within picture range, she would get our her camera and try to sneak in a few shots. I’ve got to say, they do add to the aesthetics of the shot.


This temple had 36 towers with large smiling faces. Walking amongst those faces made us happy!





This temple was one of our favorites.  The forest had grown over the whole area. The movie Tomb Raider was filmed here…





Below are some really beautiful carvings done at one of the temples. It is assumed that women have carved the images and writings in the following pictures, as they are extremely delicate.




A Cambodian lady that we met outside the temple.  She gave us an idea of what life is like in Cambodia.


Anita snuck this shot in…




 Phnom Penh

Visiting Phnom Penh’s historical sights was difficult in very much the same way it was difficult to go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.  The atrocities that happened here in the mid to late 1970s were very difficult to see and it was nearly impossible to comprehend that kind of cruel, brutal behavior. We first visited the “Killing Fields” where some 30’000 people were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime. Sadly, that is only a portion of all the people killed under Pol Pot’s regime; it is believed that around 2 million Cambodians were brutally tortured and killed during a period of less than three years. It was all done in an effort to “ethnically cleanse” the people of Cambodia.  It was almost too much for us to read and see that men, small children and innocent women were brutally murdered and thrown into mass graves  - and it was so recent! The regime set up incredibly strict rules within the country so they could control the people and give them no sense of belonging other than the regime. There was a poem written after this genocide that helps understand the the conditions the Cambodians had to endure during that time.  Here are some parts of that poem:

No education. No training. No school. No learning. No books. No library. No science. No technology. No pens. No paper.

No currency. No bartering. No buying. No selling. No begging. No giving. No purses. No wallets.

No human rights. No liberty. No courts. No judges. No laws. No attorneys.

No kites. No marbles. No rubber bands. No cookies. No popsicle. No candy. No playing. No toys. No lullabies. No rest. No vacation. No holidays. No weekends. No games. No sports. No staying up late. No newspapers.

No radio. No TV. No drawing. No painting. No pets. No pictures. No electricity. No lamp oil. No clocks. No watches.

No hope. No life. A third of the people did not survive. The regime died.

-Sarith Pou from the book Corpse Watching

Below is the recently built pagoda to remember the people killed and tortured at the Killing Fields.


It is full of the remains of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.


The photos of the victims were especially hard to see.  Their faces say so much…



To brighten things up a bit, our first night in Phnom Penh we randomly sat next to a lovely Cambodian couple at a local restaurant.  We found out that they were getting married on May 8th and had only known each other for one week!  We still wonder if we heard incorrectly because they seemed so comfortable around each other.


It was beautiful to see two well educated people (he was born in 1979, which was the end of the Khmer Rouge era) and that they are a good example of the Cambodian people rising up after such a sad era of their history. 

After dinner this couple took us to a Buddhist Temple where we all gave flowers and incense to the Buddha.  It was a really fun night.