Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trip in Review: Part 2B- Southeast Asia

After our excellent time in Thailand, Kris and I made our way (via bus and taxi on very bumpy roads) to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was there that we met up with my friend Debbie, who was on her own whirlwind trip around Asia. We had plans to meet at the WLS volunteer house, but happened to run into each other on the busy streets of Siem Reap. Here's Kris and Debbie, standing on the corner outside the house where we stayed. Our neighborhood took a little getting used to, but after a few days it began to feel like home. A weird temporary home. But home.

There were five of us staying at the WLS house. Debbie, Kris and I, along with Michelle from England (and NY) and Annabelle from Sydney, Australia. We all had trials and tribulations when it came to adjusting to life in Cambodia and the poverty and difficulties we witnessed through our volunteer work, but we all shared many amazing experiences and laughed a lot. Here we are at dinner in downtown Siem Reap. Me, Annabelle, Debbie, Michelle and Kristen:

Most of our time in Siem Reap was spent volunteering at the ACODO Orphanage. We taught English to the children who lived there (67 in all) and also taught English classes for teenagers who came in the afternoons. Here's Kristen with some of the kids:

Here I am getting beaten at thumb wrestling by Chai:

This is the bedroom for all 67 of the orphans:

A bunch of the ACODO crew, including Sobean, an awesome staff member who is amazing with the kids:

After some lessons on body parts, clothing and colors, we traced this little guy and the kids colored and labeled him.

I swear I don't play favorites.

The kids line up every day for a lunch of rice and some soup.

We were lucky to be there for the premiere of the kids' dance performance. They practiced every day for the big show and planned to perform a couple times a week as a fundraiser for ACODO. We were beaming with pride for those guys. They did so well!

Our bracelet making craft project was such a hit that even the security guards wanted one. Here's Kris presenting one of the guys with his bracelet.

At the end of our time at ACODO, we were each presented with an "Expression of Appreciation" from the ACODO President.

Vanna, the director of SOID (Another group we volunteered with while in Siem Reap) invited us to his son's first birthday party. A great time was had by all.

I'm a party animal.

Traveling around Siem Reap usually happened via tuk tuk because Debbie, Kris and I were too chicken to ride on motorbikes. Here I am with Sokun, one of our favorite tuk tuk drivers.

The gas station in Siem Reap was a shelf on the side of the road stacked with some old bottles filled with gas.

And a trip to Siem Reap wouldn't be a trip without a visit to Angkor Wat. Impressive and awe-inspiring is an understatement.

Here we are on our last night in Siem Reap, with Bob and Meriam (great folks from Holland that were also volunteering) and Tom and Maureen, the couple that coordinates WLS in Cambodia.

Following our time in Cambodia, Debbie, Kris and I made our way to Vietnam. We took in the sights and sounds of Saigon which included the motorbikes filling the streets, a Water Puppet show and a very educational yet disturbing visit to the War Remnants Museum. From Saigon we traveled north through Na Trang, and then to the small town of Hoi An. Hoi An is known for tailoring clothes. We had a bit of a field day with that, and also enjoyed the quaint surroundings and delicious food (might I recommend the White Rose and the Cao Lau). Here's Kris and Debbie in the streets of Hoi An.

Here's Debbie and I biking back to town from the beach.

Our cooking class...

An adorable mother/son duo we met at the market:

From Hoi An, we went to the nearby city of Hue for a couple days, and then we headed north to the Hanoi airport. After a bizarre interaction with an airport security guard who really wanted to take our passports, we finally flew out of Hanoi and arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos. I love that place so very much. Rivers, mountains, smiley monks, a great market, delicious food, and friendly people in Luang Prabang was grand.

Debbie and Me in LP:

The place we stayed was right next to a big Temple, so we'd often stop in and chat with the monks there. It probably goes without saying that monks are nice people but, good grief, were these guys nice. This sums it up:

Every morning the monks get up bright and early (or still dark and early), and then collect alms. They eat and live on whatever they collect from alms. But no eating after 11am. We got up one morning to see what the alms collection was all about. This picture is the result of some fiddling with the color adjustment feature on my camera.

While in Luang Prabang, we took a boat trip to some nearby villages. The poverty there was really extreme. I believe this family has 15 children.

Our boat driver, Mr. Thungdy, is awesome. Our trip was fantastic and educational. We got back, and Mr. Thungdy invited us in and served up peanuts and beer. That turned into more beer, and then fried seaweed (best stuff ever). We chatted with Mr. Thungdy for hours and laughed hysterically. Mr. Thungdy summed it up well with, "You funny! I funny! We friends!"

Bars in Luang Prabang close at 11:30pm. If the clock strikes 11:30 and you're still in the mood to hang out, then there are two options. The bowling alley and the dance club. On one of our first nights in town, we went to the bowling alley and met Grant the American butcher and Tim the English farmer. We became fast friends, and pretty much hung out non-stop for the rest of the week.

It was very sad to say goodbye to Luang Prabang, but it's definitely a place I plan to return to someday.

Next stop: Central America.

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