It was already at least 80 degrees at 6:15 the morning we caught the overhead train from our hostel in Bangkok out to the airport. Our Norwegian airlines flight actually departed a few minutes early and arrived in Oslo just short of an hour ahead of schedule. It was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. Everyone said how much they were enjoying the warm fall they had been having. The next day it dropped to freezing and started to snow. By the next day – it looked like this:
We spent the last days of our time in Cambodia in Battambang (pronounced roughly: bat-dam-bong) which translates to “loss of stick”. The name comes from an intricate, regional story involving the fellow in the picture above, rice that turned black, and a misplaced stick. We learned of the tale from a tuk tuk driver we spent a whirlwind day with who showed us all around the area and did a great job helping us understand what we were seeing. We spent the whole day seeing all of the kinds of things a person goes traveling to see.
If you have ever dreamed of exploring the exotic places of the world or having adventures in the manner of Indiana Jones, the temples near Siem Reap Cambodia are a must-see! The temples were built between the 9th and 13th centuries by the kings of the Khmer Empire. The most famous is Angkor Wat, pictured here, whose outline graces the Cambodian flag. Amber and I spent one whole day exploring just five of the one thousand possible sights to see in the area.
We caught an in-country flight from Hanoi down to the city, formally known as Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. It was an evening trip and we were headed just about due south so we were able to watch the sunset right off our right-wing – beautiful! We only spent a few days in the city before catching our bus to Phnom Penh but we were able to see a few sites. Our walking tour took us past the French built city hall which now stands as the backdrop for this statue of the city’s namesake striking a very familiar pose.
I would not say that getting to the island of Cat Ba is precisely like trying to reach that island in the Pirates of the Caribbean (that can only be reached by people who have been there before using a magic compass) but I will say that one does not reach it… simply. Our trip there from Hanoi required two bus rides separated by passage on a small, rusty, clanking, ferry, packed so tight from stem to stern with tourists, motor bikes, bundles and backpacks that it rode, obviously, well below the little craft’s recommended minimum free-board – it was awesome! We had a nice place in the open air, mid-deck, between the motor bikes and the actual passenger compartment, sitting on little plastic stools the crew provided.
As we were making our final approach for landing, music began to play over the plane’s loudspeaker system. It was a song I had never heard before, performed gently by a female singer – surprisingly I thought, in English.
“Tell me all about this name that is difficult to say. It was given me the day I was born. Want to know about the stories of the empire of old. My eyes say more of me than what you dare to say. All I know of you is all the sights of war. A film by Coppola, the helicopter’s roar. One day I’ll touch your soil. One day I’ll finally know your soul. One day I’ll come to you. To say hello – Vietnam.”
There is a Korean proverb that says: Aneun gildo muleogara – which translates something like: Even if you know the way, ask one more time – which means don’t be arrogant in thinking you know everything. Visiting Seoul, even for a few days, is an excellent reminder of this. We hear so much about the Eastern area of Asia in the news of late and almost daily about North Korea that it would be easy to think that we have some idea of what it is like in this region of the world. I suggest that one visit to Seoul will probably change whatever notions you have accumulated.
It happened to be the Korean Chuseok holiday when our ferry docked at Donghae and we spent our first few days in country enjoying very quiet streets as most people were spending time with family. But with the arrival of the weekend and after a couple of hours bus ride north to the coastal city of Sokcho, things picked up a bit.
We boarded a Korean ferry named Panama and sailed out of Vladivostok under mild skies the evening of the last day our Russian visas were valid. This is of course where we started our Russian tour – flying in just a month earlier. We had taken the train back here and were grateful to get the chance to spend our last three days in Russia in this charming city. It was sad to say “do svidaniya.”