Archives for posts with tag: From Camille

Even my Dad, who has used us as guinea pigs for his newest Indian recipes every other Sunday night, was uttering the words “anything but Indian” (shortened to ABI) when we reached Mahalibalipuram.  Luckily we were in the right place at the right time, a bona fide Western (and Indian) tourist hangout.  How could it not be, with its rich history and beach proximity.  First things first: Nicoise salad prepared by a French woman.  Ah, to eat fresh vegetables again.  We were lucky to be in area during a month-long arts festival, and after a lazy day joined the audience of a local dance exhibition.  Indian dance is thoroughly entertaining, and it was easy to see the influences of this ancient dance to Bollywood-style dancing today (which dominates 99% of the TV channels here).  Only in India – the Tourism Minister’s face taking up 1/3 of the stage backdrop front and center.

Despite our ABI attitude, we had dinner plans at a local restaurant which we kept.  As you’ve read so many times on the blog, it truly is a small world after all.  The name, L’Attitude 49, lit up the driveway, which we were sure couldn’t be referencing the 49th parallel which separates (somewhat) Canada and the US, marked in Vancouver by the Peace Arch.  However, greeting us was the former owner of Chutney Villa, a Vancouver Indian-food restaurant institution where we have been many times.  Her new place has some distinct Vancouver touches like beams that look of natural wood and clean, white lines.  We enjoyed one of our favourite meals of modern Indian food.

The Eastern coast of India was also affected by the 2004 tsunami that ravaged Khao Lak, Thailand (where we were two weeks ago).  When the water receded 2 kilometers offshore, it uncovered a chain six ancient temples linked to the one left above ground, known as the Shore Temple.  The attempt to re-build these on land by having scuba divers move the materials was scrapped, and the temples remain underwater for curious fishes.  The Shore Temple is one large piece of rock carved into 5 separate buildings and including an elephant and a bull, built by Pallava kings in the 7th century.  We jumped on the back of a bull for a family photo, and were later joined by 15 new friends eager to be immortalized with some silly Westerners.

Also in Mahalibalipuram is the world’s second largest bas-relief, depicting god Shiva and scenes of Hindu myths and a cat performing penance.   Claudia and I have now seen the largest two bas-reliefs in the world after seeing the largest at Angkor Wat in Cambodia earlier in our trip.  We should get a star in our passport or something.

The town is also host to the Butterball: a massive, round rock balancing precariously on a rock slope.  It has not budged since it was first discovered the 7th century, despite the effort of earthquakes and the strength of 6 British-employed elephants.  Coming up with no rational explanation, you just have to chalk it up to Vishnu as the locals do.

After a morning of ancient Indian art and architecture by bike, we were tempted to take the afternoon off to relax out of the hot Indian sun.  But we happened to be in Tamil Nadu for the Pongal festival, and a local village (and Tourism India) was inviting foreign tourists to join in on the fun.  Pongal celebrates the harvest over three days, and it is marked by locals by painting bulls’ horns and decorating the sidewalk in front of their respective homes with colorfully-died rice flour (I think someone could make a lot of money by introducing coloured chalk).  As a part of the festival agenda, the village included Musical Chairs, I think to get some entertainment from the visiting foreigners (we understand this isn’t traditionally part of Pongal celebrations).  Claudia convinced me this was a good idea, so I joined 12 others at the front of the assembly.  Soon enough, the 12 dwindled to 1, and my opponent could not match my lightning fast reflexes (or my extreme competitiveness), and I was crowned Musical Chairs Champion.  They did not mention winning included addressing the entire festival, but giving a speech is not as difficult when your audience enthusiastically cheers everything you say.  Next up was clay pot throwing, an Indian version of the Mexican piñata.  Claudia was not left out of the limelight – everyone wanted to know how we liked the festival, including a local TV station.  After ceremoniously stirring the festival dish, a rice pudding cooked in clay pots on cow pies, I returned to find her swarmed by reporters and cameras.  At the conclusion of the festival, I was happy to accept a carved elephant which I have named Pongal and pose for photographs with about 40 local politicians (after all, this is India).

-from Camille

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Misty rain hung over Ninh Binh for the entirety of our visit. Instead of dampening our experience, we found we felt at home and loved what it added to the atmosphere of the steep limestone cliffs and caves of Trang An, just outside of Ninh Binh.  To experience this area, we were rowed on a boat through the waterways and caves, the only noise being the paddles being pushed through the water, birds chirping, and me flubbing along in French to try to communicate with the lovely French couple we shared a car over with.  We were treated to a beautiful impromptu bamboo flute concert which harmonized with the peace and quiet of nature.  We captured all of this on video just for you – check it out below.

I gave the flute a shot as well, and despite finding it very different to the concert instrument, I gave a rousing rendition of Mary had a little lamb. 20111207-194446.jpg20111207-194438.jpg

Not so pleasant a noise was the thud of my head against a stalactite whilst touring a cave on our boat, which kept Claudia laughing for a good two minutes after a fleeting second of concern. Thanks, Claudia.  It doesnt appear any serious damage was done (yet).

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-from Camille

…you decide on a whim to bicycle to the next city 260 kilometers away instead of taking a bus.

We were in the beautiful central highlands city of Dalat, a former French hill town now known as the honeymoon spot for Vietnamese couples, and we were looking to head back down to the coast of Vietnam.  Given the number of bus hours we have logged so far (check out our tracking page for the latest number), biking just seemed like much more fun!  We were rewarded with soaring mountain roads overlooking rich, fluffy forests and manicured rice fields. We passed by coffee plantations, local villages with countless kids leaping and screaming “hello” from their stoops, and too many cow herds to count. On the ride, we were also able to see local industry first hand, ranging from growing roses, harvesting coffee, raising grasshoppers, making rice wine, weaving silk, and firing bricks – our very own live edition of “How Its Made”!  This broke up the 6 hours or so of biking on the two-day trip, as did short rides in our support vehicle to make up the extra distance.  The ride was not easy, but it was well worth it for the spectacular scenery and the fabulous descent we were rewarded with at the end. Our bike ride ended in Nha Trang, where we promptly booked onward travel to Hoi An,Vietnam. You’ll hear more on that in our next post. Hopefully we’ll get our video up of the ride shortly so you can experience it, too.

So how exactly did we get to Dalat?  We left off in Kampot, where we alluded to our less than smooth journey to Vietnam. As a general rule, multiple any given bus time by 1.5 and you have your actual arrival time. Double is a little extreme. Our 9 hour ride from Kampot to Saigon somehow became 19; luckily we were in great company and made the most of the situation with a lovely 65-year old couple backpacking for four months and our good friend Daniel.

What was most interesting to me in Saigon was the history of the Vietnam War (or, as they call it, the American War). The pictures and stories were not easy to digest.  I found that some exhibits  were filled with emotion, like the photos of the effects of Agent Orange, while others demonstrated an apparent lack of emotion, for example, when our guide described the variety of vicious bamboo traps used against the American soldiers demonstrated at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

After dinner at Pho 2000 and a night of dancing at an expat bar in Saigon, we headed to Mui Ne, where we spent two days checking out the Egypt of Southeast Asia (the Mui Ne sand dunes) and learning how to windsurf. A short bus ride later, and we had arrived in Dalat.

In Dalat, it was wonderful to wake up to cool mountain air. Cafes are filled with men “chewing the fat” over a cup of local coffee or tea, and streets steeply wind in circles like San Francisco. Since the city is catered towards Vietnamese tourists and not Western tourists, we had a welcome break from touts selling sunglasses and could more easily participate in local life. We enjoyed some of the best Vietnamese food so far in our visit – a delicious pork bahn bao, pho, rice pancakes, and deep-fried sesame buns. We spent our time in Dalat with a local guide who took us up to the top of Liang Bian Mountain, named after a Vietnamese Romeo and Juliet story.  He proudly showed off his village from the top where we enjoyed 360 degree views. The tough climb was well worth it.

Vietnam (well, all of Southeast Asia) has somewhat of a reputation for trying to take money at every opportunity, so it’s become a habit to say no to everything. For example, in one night drinking a beer over the space of 2 hours, we had about 20 vendors try to peddle their fake Ray Bans or cigarettes on us. It was always no, until someone offered to fix and polish my broken and dirty Birkenstocks while I sat in a Saigon park for one dollar – I definitely can’t complain about that (until he tried to charge me double after he was done. Don’t think so, buddy!)

-from Camille

To my American friends – Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you enjoyed the company of fiends and family and ate well.

On American Thanksgiving, I had the best pumpkin pancakes I’ve ever had.  It may sound strange to eat pumpkin pancakes in Cambodia, but funnily enough it’s not that big of a stretch.  For one, pumpkin is on a lot of the menus here in soup and curries – we even saw some growing on our hike in Thailand. Second, the “sisters” who run the cafe learned to bake American recipes at the same America run orphanage together.  One of the sisters shared with us her amazing story. She was from Vietnam living with her grandparents.  When she was 12 she was told her mother was in Cambodia, and en route there to find her discovered she was actually to be sold in Sihanoukville. However, a bad motorbike crash left her with an amputated leg and this twist of fate saved her life. She then found herself in an orphanage with a new “family”.  Today her and her husband work at the local orphanage and have both a biological and adopted child.  Sadly this story isn’t as unusual as one would hope – we picked up a book I’m just starting by NY times columnist Kristof called Half the Sky documenting the human trafficking trend in SE Asia and other regions of the world.

Dinner that day was equally as indulgent as our pancake feast. We took the beautiful ride out to Kep, what Claudia and I figured was the White Rock equivalent of Cambodia.  After a hike through the national park, we found a shack overlooking the ocean and had a feast fit for kings. Crab with local green peppercorns, prawns in local spices, fish in fresh coconut milk, shark in lemongrass and a nice cold bottle of white wine.  A bit nicer than our usual backpacker fare, it was a dinner to be remembered.

We returned back to our favourite pancake spot the next day for more and stocked up on treats for the next leg of our journey (which was a good thing considering it was much longer than anticipated). Needless to say, we have eaten very well in Kampot and Kep.   It was farewell to our friend Chris for a few weeks as Claudia and I continue on to Vietnam joined by our friend Daniel.  In Vietnam, we’ll be spending a few days in Saigon / HCMC, on the coast in Mui Ne, then moving into the Central Highlands.

We’ll miss the beef luk lak, seeing volleyball courts everywhere, and much more about Cambodia; I’m already planning the trip back in my head, which will, of course, include more pumpkin pancakes.

-from Camille

It’s the sensation that suddenly you’re not feeling so hot. Then suddenly you’re “talking to dinosaurs” or “praying to the porcelain gods” all night long. So what’s the best thing to do when you’ve got food poisoning?

Get on a bus for 6 hours on the steepest, curviest, bumpiest road you’ve ever been on dodging cows, stray dogs and cats, kids biking to school, entire families on motorbikes, ducks, and chickens. By far the worst road I have ever traveled on. Luckily we have some great travel buddies that looked after our bags and let us sprawl on the floor of the van.

On a positive note –
1. Sick on a travel day means we weren’t missing out on the fun
2. The drive was actually quite pretty when I managed to squeeze my eyes open and remove my head from my knees
3. Since this hit both me and Claudia we can take care of each other

In Vang Vieng now after a good 13 hr nap here, taking tomorrow off to rest and rehydrate and then will be back at it to tube down the river and kayak through some limestone caves.

– from Camille