A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia Itinerary

94 °F

While our stay in Cambodia has been short, it has also been very enjoyable and memorable. It's also been the first time I felt like we were really just vacationing.

We arrived around 1pm, toured our hotel and just loved everything about the place. It was recommended to us by Emilie, Conrad's older sister, and I am so glad we took her advice. We stayed at the Palm Village Resort, not really in Siem Reap center, but out in real life cambodia (the dirt road we are on is very bumpy, dark, and its otherwise a poor area). Upon check-in, the hotel gave us a packet of menu-like pieces of paper. A page for ordering drinks, a page for ordering breakfast, a page for lunch/dinner, a page for Angkor Wat tour guides and/or taxis or drivers for your trip to the temples, and a page for all the massage options. The food pages are extensive (with Khmer and Western food) and then we have the option of having the food delivered to our room, eating in the restaurant, taking it away, or eating by the pool. our first breakfast was take away since we left to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. tonights dinner was by the pool and tomorrow we have ordered pineapple pancakes for by the pool. We also had cocktails by the pool, and after a long day at Angkor we had hour long relaxation massages for $9/hr each.

We heard the guides through the hotel were good, so we booked through them. We left when it was pitch black at 5:15 and went to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. Unfortunately for us, the sunrise was not crisp and clean (too many clouds), but the colors were great, and it was just unreal to see so many people waiting to start their day on this incredible and powerful structure. After 5 mins of walking through Angkor Wat, I knew my expectations had been met. For those who don't know, I have wanted to visit Angkor Wat ever since 2003 (the first time I visited Thailand). I had such an amazing time exploring the similar styled Thai temples, and since angkor is bigger and older, I just had to visit the place. I finally have, and it was an amazing day. For those unaware, the Angkor Wat complex has hundreds of temples on it (all built by past Khmer kings in a style of a mix of hindu and buddhist). We visited all of the major ones (along the "short circuit"). Some tourists come and stay a whole week, most stay 3 days, but we only did one long exhausting day of the temples. You could easily fill 3 days with visiting them all, but since each one is in a different state of construction (some just rubble that you cant even walk through), I think we did just fine. We visited Angkor Wat (huge, immense and the "8th wonder of the world"), Angkor Thom and the Bayon (where Tomb Raider was filmed), Ta Proem (the one overtaken by trees). I enjoyed them all, but the Bayon was my favorite. I just loved it because I felt the most connected with it. Its been nicely restored but preserved in architecture, so we were able to walk up and down so many towers. Angkor Wat, on the other hand, is a bit more dangerous and less sound in structure, so you cant climb the stairs. We climbed our fair share of very scary stairs today, and Conrad did quite well for someone who is modestly afraid of heights.

Sorry to cut this short, but I have to run. I will continue this post tomorrow.

Posted by Kellrad 06:30 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

A Beautiful but Sad Day

sunny 90 °F

We made it safely to Cambodia yesterday, and after spending the rest of our day exploring the town of Siem Reap, we got up at 445 this morning to head to the temples of Angkor Wat to catch the sunrise. We then went on a whirlwind tour of the fascinating ancient temples with a guide that we hired.
Cambodia is quite different from Vietnam. The people are poorer, the terrain is quite arid, and there is a significantly different feel to it all. The people and the country are beautiful, but I just sensed this immense sadness throughout the day, starting before dawn when our guide told us that he is one of 11 children. 3 of his siblings and his mother were killed during the Khmer Rouge takeover and ensuing civil war. He was just 6 at the time. For those who know very little about Pol Pot and the atrocities he committed, need to google him or buy a book about it. I am reading a book about Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, all ruthless leaders with millions of people's blood on their hands. Pol Pot, I think, has outdone them all when he murdered nearly 2 million of his own people in about 4 years.
Vietnam has certainly seen its fair share of war and political unrest in the last 50+ years, but the Vietnamese, while fiercely remembering all the wounds of their past, are truly looking forward and don't seem to still be struggling with the issues. I have gotten the sense that this is not the case at all in Cambodia. While Vietnamese did fight each other, there was always another country also doing the fighting.
In Cambodia, it was one of their own who ruthlessly killed nearly one third of his fellow countrymen and I think this is one of the reason for the sadness I saw in the natives faces. Cambodia is a land with many natural resources and many years ago was quite wealthy. After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown the nation was in upheavel. THousand died of starvation and currently 85% of the country lives in poverty.
Cambodians, darker skinned than Vietnamese, are beautiful people. The children especially just melt your heart. The people have such kind eyes and are incredibly generous, shy and friendly. I could just see in their faces, however, an intense sorrow and incredible sadness borne of the terrors that are so fresh in their past.
Everywhere we went, the sweetest children would be selling trinkets for "one dollar, sir". Incessantly pleading with you to help them. It was so difficult for me to see that. On the way down the mountain from seeing the sunset, we passed a tiny girl of maybe 5, sitting in the dust, not making eye contact and just barely making a peep as we passed, begging. Not holding out her hands but just sitting there all alone on a jungle path. Really just broke my heart to see her.
We leave tomorrow for Thailand but this has been a memorable, yet haunting trip. Completely differen experience from Vietnam, but has made the trip even more memorable.

Posted by Kellrad 20:33 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Tam Biet, Vietnam

semi-overcast 80 °F

It is with a heavy heart that we leave the beautiful people and country of Vietnam. It has been a month that I will always remember in so many ways. Our medical experience was incredible, but that is only a part of what has made this such a memorable trip worth every penny I have spent. This is truly a fascinating place, and I have been enchanted since the day I arrived.
Now it is on to Siem Reap for a couple days and we head for Thailand on March 5th.

Posted by Kellrad 08:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Tour de Mekong, part 2

sunny 90 °F

So we woke up about 545, well really about 4 when the roosters started cock a doodle dooing, caught a beautiful river sunrise, had a quick, and mercifully light, breakfast then hopped on a small wooden boat to check out the floating market.
There are about 6 of these sactterd throughout the delta. Basically, families with farms in the delta load their harvest onto boats and travel to these markets, living on their boats while on the river. Some markets are wholesale, people come to buy a bunch and seel it on land and others are for individual purchases. Ours was a wholesale one and was fascintaing. They only sell fruits and vegetables, and boats put samples of what they are selling on a tall pole so people can find what they need. Most sold only one or two items but a few sold almost ten. We didn't spend much time there but it was truly a great experience. Not another tourist in sight and no one trying to sell us stuff. We saw local transactions going down and then headed for the land market at Tra On to put our Vietnamese skills to the test trying to buy items we needed for our lunch. The market was amazing, we saw the fruits and veggies first and had as delicious pineapple cut up before our eyes. My favorite section was the meats where I got to play my favorite market game of "guess the animal part" The meat section had every organ you could want (brain to bull's testicles) with beautiful cuts of meat. Each table put the head of the animal (pig or cow) on display as well. Certainly more than ornamental as I am sire this is eaten as well. Quite a sight and I will post pics soon I hope. I would maybe recommend that they clean the animal's head off, but who am I to tell these beautiful and amazing people what to do with their livestock. Chin, by the way, also was on the Vietnamese power walking team, as he sped through the market with us wandering somewhere behind.
We got our groceries and some flowers for our host lady, headed back to make spring rolls (both the guide and the lady of our home commented on how excellent my rolling technique was) and stuffed ourselves with food. The couple would constantly keep pur plates full even if we shook our head no. All delicious and totally stuffed.
We sadly said goodbye to our host family and the German couple who were travelling on the Can Tho, crossed the river and got a car back to Saigon. An amazing trip...

Posted by Kellrad 20:21 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Mekong Delta through Kelli's eyes

94 °F

I know Conrad is posting about his view of the trip as we speak, so I won't rehash the details of the trip, but rather tell you what I enjoyed most/least about the trip.

First off, I think it was the perfect way for us to end our time in Vietnam. I really couldn't imagine ending it on a more positive note. We spent two days living life as a Vietnamese person in the heart of the Mekong Delta. We did one of those "off the beaten path" trips to the delta, and we literally saw no other tourists the entire weekend, aside from the German couple who was part of our trip and the few tourists who took the same speedboat to the delta. The boat dropped us off on a handmade bamboo pier for our host family. We opted to do a homestay with a family that has two huge farms full of various delta fruits. We cooked with the family, walked with the family, ate with the family, drank with the family, etc. We slept under mosquito nets and used their same outhouse (although they did have an old wooden one that i think and hope they retired).

What I liked most: seeing no other tourists, having the many village kids run out of their houses to wave to us and say hello, eating the delicious food, learning how to prepare the delicious food (they use sugar in everything, salt minimally), cheers-ing with our host dad, touring the family's farmland and eating the fruits they grow and are so proud of, biking along the canals off the delta, seeing the action of the local floating market (again no other tourists there, no one harassing us to buy random stuff, they just did business as usual), the weather, shopping for goods to make our own lunch with at the land market and speaking in vietnamese with the sellers, buying one of my favorite flowers (stargazer lilies) to our host mom as a thank you gift and giving her a hug before we left.

What I liked least: our tour guide's hurried behavior throughout the entire trip (he was a speed racing biker and walker - and I walk fast so for me to say he walked too fast is a BIG deal), the fact that i was biking so fast to keep up with our tour guide i often didnt get to enjoy the landscape as much as i wanted or wave to as many kids as i wanted, the fact that we couldnt stay and play with all the kids i wanted, the fact that once the family went to bed they locked the doors and turned off the power so when I woke up at 11pm to go pee I couldn't see or even get out of the house to go to the outhouse and pee (It was HORRIBLE! my bladder was going to explode, so I had to get creative and basically peed in a thick plastic bag - lowlight of my entire trip, believe me! Conrad suggested I pee in a water bottle, but I do not have the skill to pee in a tiny opening in the pitch black), the fact that 4 of the family's roosters started non-stop crowing at 3:46am and continued through the whole morning, the 4.5 hr drive back to Ho Chi Minh through rush hour traffic

So here we are in Ho Chi Minh for our last night in Vietnam...I am sad to say good-bye to Vietnam. I really love this country and everything the Vietnamese people represent (hard work, determination for improvement in so many realms, and a developing country that is making strides little by little). I am so glad I got to experience parts of it. We are already planning our next trip in Vietnam, so I am certain I will get back sometime in life.

Now it's on to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I have been waiting to see Angkor Wat since 2003, so I couldn't be happier about this trip. Unfortunately we wont get to spend too much time there, since we have so little time left for this vacation.

Posted by Kellrad 05:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Random aside: Acute Otitis Media

94 °F

Before I tell y'all about the wonderful trip we had to the mekong Delta, I wanted to mention something about the hospital in Vinh.

In case anyone was wondering why I never mentioned us diagnosing kids with AOM (middle ear infection, one of the most commonly diagnosed pediatric problems in the States), the reason is clear and simple. Our hospital and most hospitals (per our doctors) do not have otoscopes. They have nothing to look into the ear canal besides a normal handheld flashlight, so they obviously cannot see if the tympanic membrane is red, inflamed, angry or dull. Since they cant see these, likely febrile, kids' ear drums, then it must be the lungs that are infected! Maybe that's why everyone gets diagnosed with pneumonia.

Anyway, I know this is a random post, but this weekend I was thinking about the overdiagnosing of pneumonias in kids in Vinh, and I was comparing it to AOM. In the states or at least the hospitals I have worked in, too many kids are put on antibiotics for AOM.

Posted by Kellrad 04:51 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Tour de Mekong Delta, Day 1

sunny 85 °F

So apparently Lance Armstrong has a long lost Vietnamese brother named Chin who works as a tour guide for Innoviet tours here in Saigon...Back to this later.

So we have returned from an amazing two days on the Delta. We originally planned to do this bike tour with a company we read about in our travel book. A two day deal for $35. It went to the more touristy places but since we only had two days we figured we would take what we could get. On the way to this place though we were lured into another tour compnay shop by signs of smiling faces riding bikes under banana trees. So we ducked in there and immediately knew we had what we wanted: a two day trip with a visit to a floating market, biking, and a homestay all in a place that saw few tourists.
This trip was considerably more but we quickly booked it. The next morning we met the two other people with us for the trip (a German couple about our age) and we headed to the pier nearby to catch our boat. The boat ride took a little over three hours, but it was great. The first part near Saigon was a massive port about the size of New Orleans (the whole trip was quite similar to the Mississippi) with huge tankers coming and going. In the midst of these massive ships though were many small wooden boats ferrying various goods up and down the river.
As we turned up one of the many fingers of the Mekong as it fans out in the delta, the tankers disappeared and it was our speedboat and hundreds of wooden boats, from tiny cigarette-like boats to large boats and barges carrying dirt and rocks. The river was alive with commerce, from the many piers actively loading or unloading goods and people to the many boats carrying everything from coconuts to sugar cane to dirt to bananas to rocks to pineapple. Everything. It was truly fascinating to see this all in action.
We pulled up to a random dock and hopped off on the land where the family we would be staying with lives. We met them (an older couple with one son who still lives with them). They work a farm right on the river that has been in their family for generations. They have over 2 hectares on which they grow Mangosteens, pomelos, oranges, bananas, pineapples, rhambutans, and coconuts. We settled into the house and began to help make our lunch. It was a vegetarian hotpot with tofu everything, much to my chagrin. I don't understand tofu and never will but most of the tofu we had was the best I have ever had, but that was only because it was cooked in all sorts of yummy spices and herbs. The tofu brought nothing to the table, we even had tofu shaped and colored like shrimp. Gross.
After that we hopped on a boat (our home was on an island in Vinh Long province) and went to the mainland. There we got bikes and this is where the trip got kind of crazy. It definitely felt like we were in the peloton in France. We had one American team and one German team and our fearless leader Chin "Armstrong" who would take off down the road without saying much. We would follow furiously pedalling behind him. Then he would slam his brakes and veer off into the place he wanted to show us without warning, leaving us screeching to a halt or wobbling into oncoming moto traffic.
We did see some cool things. A couple of beautiful Buddhist temples. We also visited a brick factory where they take sand from the river and clay from inland, throw it in a machine that pumps out raw bricks. They then load the bricks about 6000 at a time into huge brick ovens. The fires are fed with rice husks from harvested rice, they bake for 2 weeks, and then cool down for a week. The ashes leftover from burning the husks are then used as fertilizer for their fields. A pretty cool thing, I thought. I was astounded during the whole trip about just how "lived-in" the Delta felt. These people have been here for ages and just have it all down pat work it beautifully. We sped on passing some more farms and then turned down a narrow path along a small branch of the river and the trip got interesting. Kelli was bringing up the rear at this point as we took in the scenery, and I listened to her curse in Chinese as she hit bumps unexpectedly and motos flew by nearly touching our handlebars which would send us either into cacti or down into the river. Then she tells me she thinks her tire is going to fall off, so I tell her to ride past me and sure enough she has a flat tire.
So doing my best impersonation of a support rider in the tour, I quickly caught up with Chin and told him the news. We weren't able to fix the bike so he hired a local dude to drive him the rest of the way on a moto while he carried the bike. This made it even worse since the last thing he said before speeding off was "We go drive slow" and we didn't see him again for a while.
At this point, our German guy friend was bringing up the rear when suddenly we hard a loud crak and looked back to see him pulling his bike back on the road and apologizing to local family whose fence he just knocked down. Apparently, he got knocked from his bike when he took a bamboo pole to his shoulder, medieval joust style. After realizing he wasn't hurt, we commenced laughing hysterically and the locals got a kick out of it too. We made it back to our ferry point and awaited Chin while he got the bike fixed before heading back to the homestay for a shower and to begin helping to cook dinner.

Posted by Kellrad 19:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Wrapping up the medicine part of our trip

overcast 85 °F

Our month in Vinh truly was worthwhile. It was great to be immersed in a health care system tootally different from the one in which I have trained so far. Everything was such a memorable experience: from talking with the doctors in broken medical English to examining so many kids with pathologies that we rarely see in the U.S. because of the access to so much care back home. I also fell that the asthma survey will wind up doing much good. We had a final day meeting with the hospital director and we gave him suggestions as to how to implement a program to educate both children and parents about asthma. It was an incredible learning experience and I hope to return one day when my medical knowledge is so much better than it is now, and maybe my Vietnamese will be slightly better also.
An awesome experience and Kelli and I hope to set up a pipeline to Vinh for Tulane students to come every year or so. We would highly recommend it.
The country is amazing and the kindness, hospitality and generosity of the Vietnamese people is truly humbling. This has so far been a trip that will forever be on my mind and as soon as I return home, I will be trying to figure out when I can come back.

Posted by Kellrad 07:19 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

So many things...

92 °F

I know we have been MIA for the last two days, but it's only because our days have been jammed packed with fun. Our last day in Vinh went by so quickly. We went to the hospital, said bye to many cute kids and to most of the staff. Although many of them said "see you again soon" so I am not sure if they understood that we were leaving for good, or if they were just being optimistic for our return soon. Either way, it made the good bye easier. Conrad and I definitely would love to return to Vinh sometime in the future, whether it is to work in the hospital again (which we both would definitely do) or just stop bye and say hello to our friends. We had an excellent visit here and made so many memories. It was very sad to leave them all, especially when they said how much they would miss us. They stuffed us full of yummy food over the last few days, gave us some delicious candy from the region as a thank you, and gave me some (regifted and moldy...) flowers to say thanks. It's the thought that counts!

On our last day we sadly did not give English lecture. Everyone was too busy, since it was also national health professionals day (thanks to Uncle Ho who started the holiday in the 50s). Instead, we met with the medical director and vice medical director to talk about our month at the hospital. It was an excellent meeting. I thought it would be a few mins long since they dont speak English and our french is basic, but we had two of hospital friends as translators, and it was a really productive and optimistic meeting. They wanted to know how we enjoyed the hospital, Vinh and the doctors. They asked for our advice on improving health care at the hospital and within the local communities. They asked about asthma and future directions they can go to fight it in the community (of course I went on to several tangents about the role of public health, education and preventative medicine...). They asked about other possible projects medical students could do in the future. They asked about ways they can improve English skills among doctors. They truly just want to be better at everything, and their dedication will prove them far into the future, I hope. At the end of the meeting the medical director wanted to take us out to dinner, but it turned out we all already had fun plans, so we had to decline.

We went to an awesome dinner part with the entire Emergency department. It was an assortment of chicken with lots of beer. The table was segregated for "tradition." All the doctors (men) at one end, nurses at the other, and me at the cusp. It was great because they wanted me to drink beer with the men and cheers with them too, but since I was also a girl and on the cusp, I didnt have to do it all the time. Conrad had to drink with the big boys. The only bad thing was that all the nurses were talking about me, my weight and height. No idea why but they wanted to know. They were making guesses. One lady guessed I weighed 80 kilos!! I almost died. I know I am much fatter than I have ever been, but geez, 80 kilos (176 lbs!) no way. One of the nurses was right on with my weight and height, so we cheers-ed together.

Other highlights from our last day: we stopped for bia hoi at this place we always walk by en route home. it was alot of fun. One guy who worked there came up and wanted to take our order. He didnt speak any English but started off with "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" It was amazing (for me)! I got all excited! As we were leaving, some locals wanted to 100% with us, and we obliged. Also alot of fun. I think we have more than 10 pictures of us 100%-ing with people.
Also, we went down to Ho Chi Minh Square last night to celebrate national doctor day with many hospitals. More singing and dancing, and luckily we did not have to sing! Afterward, we went for coffee and this delicious frozen yogurt (it was literally a thing of breakfast yogurt that was put in a freezer). Then back to the house to crash.

Today, it was pouring and storming for a few hours. The first real rain of our whole trip. We couldnt believe it. Conrad and I were afraid the one and only flight out of Vinh (ours) would be cancelled, but luckily it stopped. One doctor and the head nurse took us to visit a war memorial 30 km outside of town today. It was in honor of 10 single women, who volunteered to rebuild the roads that were destroyed when the US bombed in the war. They were all killed with one bomb, which left a huge whole in the ground (still there today). We had an awesome lunch with our doctor friends and then were escorted in our hospital's ambulance to the airport.

Now it's on to the Mekong delta...

Posted by Kellrad 07:14 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Saigon Take 2

85 °F

So we arrived back in Saigon today after our send off from Vinh. We were brought to the airport via ambulance with 3 of the doctors we worked the most with as well as Nga and her two daughters. After spending much of the week eager to get our vacation started, it was certainly with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to the people we worked with and the few people in the community we came to know (even if not linguistically) during our time in Vinh. It truly was a memorable experience, culturally and medically.
We made it to Ho Chi Minh city safely, booked our flights to Siem Reap on Tuesday, got a METERED cab (this ride cost us less than 6bucks compared to the $16 or so we spent the first day) and made it to our hotel.
Coming from the quieter much less crowded city of Vinh back to the craziness of Saigon was a small shock. But I already have a much better feel for the life of Saigon. I think our first stop a month ago was so quick and I was in shock at how much different Vietnam was from the US. While I still think Hanoi is much better, Saigon is a vibrant place that really never sleeps.
Also, THEY HAVE PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE ME!!! Now I don't stick out like a sore thumb, but it is kind of weird to not have people staring at you and to come across so many natives who speak English.
We then set out and booked a two day Mekong Delta Tour. We will be leaving by boat tomorrow morning and will be exploring the area around Vinh Long by bike and boat with a couple of cooking classes and a stay overnight with a local family, then an early morning visit to a floating market, which I am most excited about. It seems that it will be similar to our one day trip in Hoi An, but not quite as rustic and certainly with not as much fun company as we had with the Canadian trio. But we are excited since Vinh Long sees much fewer tourists than other towns in the delta.
Excited about our two weeks of vacation and will keep updating although we won't lilely be back online until we return from the delta on March 2.

Posted by Kellrad 06:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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