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Debbie Sharp Loeb, teacher by training but full-time mom to a disabled son, craftsperson, bead artist, great cook, creative homemaker & terrific spotter of cool new products for everything under the sun, presents Hodgepodge: recipes, household hints, stories about children, friends & relatives, cool stuff, music, & much more.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Honeymoon In Southeast Asia

Hello everyone. This is Matt the Web Dude borrowing a little space on Hodgepodge to tell you about my honeymoon last year in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Debbie has been trying to get me to post this ever since we returned just before Christmas. Here it is 5 months later and I'm finally getting around to it! I still haven't completely organized the 1400 digital photos I took but I'll be sure to include a bunch here just for you Hodgepodge readers!

As you may know, my wife Jenn and I were married by Deacon Joanna Depue on June 3rd, 2006 at the Ram's Head Inn on Shelter Island, NY. You can check out DJ's writeup about our wedding on her blog and there's also a picture of us.

We spent a post-wedding week together on Shelter Island but didn't go on our actual honeymoon until December 1st. The plan was to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and return on December 22nd, 3 weeks later. I sent 2 separate emails to all my friends and family during the trip. The first was after Day 10 and the next was on Day 20. Each email detailed our activities for every single day of the trip. Each email took about 2 hours to write. And I know they took a long time to read as well, but everyone I spoke to afterwards told me how much they enjoyed them. But they were written more for myself than for anyone else. These emails, along with my 1400 pictures, serve as a digital journal of the events of the most incredible trip of my life...

Dear Family & Friends,

Below contains the update previously sent which hopefully you've already received but I've included it again as I've added a few more email addresses to the list. So if you've already read the first update, continue at 12/12, where the new update begins. Hope you are doing well.

Jenn and I have had quite a trip so far. After the 22 hour flight from JFK to Anchorage to TaiPei, we took our last leg and landed in the capital city of Hanoi on the morning of Dec. 3rd - we are 12 hours ahead of you here so for you we landed on the night of the 2nd. Anyway, we headed for a travel booth in the airport because we hadn't been able to book a hotel in Hanoi (I personally called or emailed about 20 hotels the previous week and even had AMEX travel services call their 24 hotels - all were booked for the 4 nights we needed). The travel booth was able to get us a decent place for the nights of the 3rd, 4th and 6th, but not the 5th - so we took it and figured we'd find something later for the 5th. It's called the Hoa Binh Palace but it sounds a lot more plush than it is - but we were comfortable. When we got to the hotel we basically crashed for 19 hours or so.

On the 4th we went over to Handspan travel just around the block and booked a 2-day trek/bike/boat tour of the National Park called Cuc Phuong - and surrouding areas for the 5th and 6th - that took care of our accomodations for the night of the 5th as we'd be staying in a guest house at the park overnight. Afterwards we took a self-guided walking tour of a large part of Hanoi, visiting the pagoda in Hoan Kiem lake, ate at a local cafe, checked out the Temple of Literature, walked by the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum (both were closed on Mondays unfortunately), another large Pagoda on the West Lake, sat down in a street cafe for a brew and then made our way back through the bustling market section of the Old Quarter to our hotel. By the way, traffic is crazy here - not that many cars but the amount of scooters is intense and there seem to be few if any traffic laws - not that anyone really follows them anyway. If you want to cross a street you basically need to wade through oncoming scooters like the video game Frogger. Some say the best way to do it is to close your eyes and go! I don't know how many miles we walked but it took about 9 hours. Needless to say we weer both pretty bushed that night and went to bed early.

On the 5th we met our guide, a small 25 y.o. Vietnamese girl named Tuan, at Handspan at 7 a.m. for our trip to Cuc Phoung. After a 2 hour drive with a quick stop at a local souvenir shop, we arrived at Cuc Phoung and immediately took a tour of the Endangered Primate Rescue Center - where we got a close look at monkeys they are rescuing, breeding, studying and releasing - these included mostly gibbons and langurs - very interesting and their crys and calls are something you have to hear to believe. Then we headed to the Park itself. There we took a 3 hour trek through the rainforest and visited the Cave of the Prehistoric Man - a deep dark cave that we needed flashlights to get through - some tight spaces too! We also encountered the 1,000 year old tree, stick bugs, and a vine that stretches literally for miles horizontally through the forest. That night we stayed in average accomodations with mosquito nets over our beds. The food was excellent.

On the 6th we got up and headed to nearby Ninh Binh province, site of the ancient capital city, Hoa Lu where we visited the old pagodas of former kings. Then we hopped on bikes and cycled several miles through the local towns and rice fields where almost everyone we passed enthusiastically smiled and said "hello" as we passed - especially the children. We finally arrived in the area called Tam Coc, known as the "inland Ha Long Bay" - because it mirrors the dramatic rising mountains of the coastal region of Ha Long Bay. There we boarded a sampan boat and were rowed through the wetlands of this area by a 50 y.o. local woman for 2 hours. At one point we entered a cave and came out through the other side to a lagoon with another pagoda dedicated to the mountain god. I took some GREAT photos here at Tam Coc! When we arrived back on the boat we jumped back on the bikes and pedaled to another village for lunch and some local beers. Very good. After that we took a 3 hour car ride back to Hanoi and checked back in to the hotel. From there we got in touch with Jenn's friends Merideth and Kerri who had arrived in Hanoi that day - we met them out for dinner and drinks. Tomorrow we would all be going on a boat trip to Ha Long Bay.

The 7th. We all meet at Handspan at approximately 8:30 a.m. 9 of us board a van with our tour guide, Son, and travel to Ha Long Bay - about 3.5 hours away - for our Ha Long Bay Ultimate Getaway tour. The ride wasn't too painful though because I plugged my iTrip into my iPod and we all took turns playing DJ through the van's radio. The group of 9 of us took to each other very quickly because we were all approximately the same age with similar interests. There were the 4 of us, 1 British girl from NYC (Annabelle), a dating couple from Seattle (Terin and Chatam) and a dating couple from Australia (Paul and Marteen). When we arrived we boarded a big beautiful junk boat called the Dragon Pearl and checked into our cabins - very nice by the way - and headed into the bay. Some of the most fantastic scenery any of us had ever seen. Can't wait to show you the photos of this! The food on the boat was top notch too, including squid balls (not what you think) and Praying Mantis Prawn which literally looks like a huge praying mantis but the meat is like a very tender lobster and very tasty! We partied late that night with our group and had a lot of laughs due especially in part to Paul "Blarry" Blaire from Australia who is hilarious. He gave us all Aussie nicknames.

Got up early on the 8th for a 3 hour kayaking tour of Ha Long Bay - with an hour long BBQ on a secluded beach in the middle. The kayaking tour took us through local floating villages where they do fishing and pearl and mussel farming - these villages sometimes have upwards of 200 people living together in rafted up floating houses. We also at one point ducked under an overhang and found ourselves in a protected grotto. Great photos from this too! Afterwards we headed back to the Dragon Pearl for dinner and sleep.

On the 9th we motored to an area of Ha Long Bay where there is an enormous cave called the Cave of Awe (Hang Sung Sot) and spent an hour inside literally in awe. After that we boarded the boat again and headed to a swimming spot where our guide and myself jumped several times off the very top of the Dragon Pearl - I'd say at least 25 feet up - gets the juices flowing! Then we headed back to port and hopped the bus back to Hanoi. However our group was so tight we all decided to go out for dinner and drinks when we arrived back in Hanoi. Near the end of dinner we had to say goodbye to Meredith and Kerri - they had to catch a train as they were breaking off and heading up to the northern area of SaPa. We exchanged emails and numbers with Annabelle and Paul and Marteen (Marty) - funny enough Paul and Marty were going to be in Hoi An (our next destination) a day after we arrived there so we made plans to meet. We headed to the airport hotel to crash for the night - very meager accomodations knowing that'd we'd need to be up at 5 a.m. for our flight to Da Nang.

12/10 - 06:35 flight to Da Nang - arrived at 07:35 and a driver from the Victoria Hoi An resort was waiting with our names on a sign. On the way to the resort town of Hoi An we drove past the famed China Beach area where many American troops were stationed for a large part of the war. Left behind are many large helicoptor hangars and buildings. The Victoria Hoi An is a really nice place - we checked in and were greeted with a welcome drink - and the room is really nice. After checkin we headed to the restaurant for a late breakfast which was awesome. Then we took a taxi to the center of Hoi An to shop for locally made tailored suits and shirts. I ordered 2 silk-lined wool suits and a dress shirt - Jenn got 3 silk-lined wool suits, 5 shirts and 3 matching skirts - grand total $399 - no tax. We pick them up in 24 hours. From there we headed to a local bar, got some local beers and shot pool before getting a taxi back to the resort for a nice dinner.

12/11 - Oddly enough it's 12:11 p.m. as I write this (remember we're 12 hours ahead). Jenn and I woke up early, got breakfast and headed to the spa for side by side 2 hour full body coffee scrubs and Asian blend oil massages - I've never done that before but it was ah-NICE. At 5pm we headed into town to meet up with our Aussie friends Paul and Marty who had arrived in Hoi An earlier that afternoon from a 16 hour train ride from Hanoi! We met for drinks, then we all took a Vietnamese cooking class at a local restaurant where we learned hands-on how to make vegetarian spring rolls, grilled mackeral in banana leaves, a squid slaw appetizer, and some other stuff, which we then sat down together and feasted on - damn we're good cooks! The class, the meal and a couple of beers was about $12 each. After class, we went out for a few more brewskies, or "schooners" as the aussies call them - and caught scooter rides back to the resort from some locals.

12/12 - We checked out early and took the flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, which made 2 stops in Vietnam before arriving there, including 1 in Ho Chi Minh City - but no time to visit. We were picked up at the Siem Reap airport at around 7pm from a driver from the hotel we stayed at - the Shinta Mani. This particular hotel is a hospitality training ground for orphaned young adults (their parents died during the war, or of disease, or land mines) where they learn skills related to hospitality - hotel services, wait staff, and many are trained to be chefs as well. A portion of our bill goes to this Institute of Hospitality (we also made a separate donation before we left). Anyway, after dinner in their restaurant we crashed early that night knowing we'd have a long day at the temples ahead of us on the 13th.

12/13 - After a leisurely breakfast we headed to the temples around 10am with the same driver from last night and an English speaking guide. We kicked it off with a visit to Angkor Wat, the largest of the temples in this area built in the early 12th century - and is now featured on the Cambodian flag. The magnitude and artistry of this incredible architecture is simply awesome - it truly is a wonder of the world. Next we checked out the Bayon temple of Angkor Thom, as well as the Terrace of Elephants nearby. Again, amazing stuff. From there we headed back near Angkor Wat for a Cambodian lunch and a semi-cold Angkor beer. After lunch we quickly checked out another temple called Prah Khan. The last tour of the day was to the floating villages, where we boarded a long boat with our guide and motored down the river past scores of floating homes on the water - a very poor area but very very interesting to see. There are Vietnamese and Cambodian families living together here - and the Vietnamese especially near the mouth of the river, who wait in their boats for the tourist boats and paddle furiously to us in an attempt to get to us first before the other competition - they were selling sodas and beer - we got one of each from the first boat to reach us. On the way back up river, we stopped at a floating restaurant which had a catfish cage and an alligator cage built into the dock we were on that contained about 100 alligators. After this, back to the hotel for dinner, a swim and sleep.

12/14 - Awoke at 5:00am for our preplanned trip to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. We arrived at Angkor and followed the people with flashlights through the first gate and got a nice spot on a 900 year old ledge of the building's facade. Soon enough the place was teaming with Japanese and Korean tourists. I had to place my camera on the ledge to steady it for the long exposure night shots of the main temple's 5 towers in the distance. After the sun rose we headed to the reflecting pool for some reflection shots. Then, since we'd already seen the temple, we went back to the hotel for a long nap and then lunch. After lunch we drove about an hour and visited "the women's citadel" Banteay Srei which has incredibly intricate detail in its carvings and bas reliefs, Neak Pean, Ta Som, the "Tomb Raider temple" - Ta Prohm - where parts of that movie was filmed, and finished off the day at Pre Rup, a temple built of brick, sandstone and laterite in 961 AD, for the sunset. We headed back and that night went out for a buffet dinner and traditional dancing show - both were a bit of a let down, but oh well.

12/15 - Took a morning flight to Ko Samui, Thailand ("Ko" means Island in Thai) with a brief stop in Bangkok. We got picked up at the airport by the driver from our hotel - Rocky Resort - drove there and checked in. Nice place! Immediately we jumped in the pounding surf to check it out - like bath water temperature wise - ah-nice. Then we went to the bar and I embarked on a quest to have all 7 of the cocktails listed under "Bartender's Favorites" on the menu (we took a picture of it). Quest completed. Then we had a nice dinner at the resort, tried to play Scrabble (not very successfully), and turned in.

12/16 - We had a booking to do some jungle canopy gliding but it was raining all day so we canceled that, had a swim, some lunch, borrowed some DVDs from reception and had a nice relaxing day inside - we watched "Match Point" (all you guys out there - very boring) and "Green Street Hooligans" (all you guys out there - check it out - lots of fist fighting - loved it).

12/17 - We checked out a day early because the weather wasn't cooperating and boarded a van filled with 7 other people at 5:40am for the beginning of what we expected to be a fairly simple 8 hour trip to Ko Lanta in southern Thailand. This was the beginning of the madness. This van drove us 30 minutes to the bus stop, where we boarded a large bus, which then took us to a large ferry, which ferried us about 80 minutes across the ocean to the mainland of Thailand, where we reboarded the bus which drove us about 40 minutes to another bus stop/restaurant, where we unloaded our bags and waited an hour for the next van which drove us an hour and a half to another bus stop/convenience store where we waited for another 40 minutes (during which it downpoured) - then a canopy covered pickup took us 30 minutes to Krabi town (during which it downpoured and we got pretty wet) and we got out and waited 20 minutes for another van which took us about 40 minutes to another ferry which took us to Ko Lanta Noi (Noi means small), then we drove about 20 minutes to another ferry which took us across to Ko Lanta Yai (Yai means big) and then we drove to another bus stop/bodega, dropped 1 person off, then to another bungalow place and dropped off 3 more, then finally arrived at our resort, called Sri Lanta, at around 7:45 pm. So basically 7 vehicles, 3 ferries and 14 hours later we made it to our destiantion! Incredibly, we enough left in us to go to a nearby club, get some shish kebobs and drinks, including a bucket of vodka tonic (literally a small bucket with about 7 straws). Then we walked down the beach to a local rasta bar where we played Connect 4, some cards and exchanged magic tricks with the guys working the bar - this was a very laid back place where you sit on pillows/mats on the floor or choose a hammock to chill out in. Needless to say we got back to our room very late and very inebriated - case in point, I grabbed the wrong room key from the rack and Jenn had to go back and get the right one. Good times.

12/18 - Today we spent some time on the beach, snorkeled a little bit, walked down the beach both ways and later had drinks and lunch on chaise lounches near the beach. We also set up a day trip for the 19th and booked scuba diving for the 20th. Nice relaxing, do nothing day. Oh yeah - for those who don't know - Dawn gave birth to Collin Joseph Zipay at 1 in the morning today! Congrats Dawn and Mike!

12/19 - Got up at 7, had breakfast and boarded a van which took us to a large speedboat with 3 200hp Yamaha engines. There were about 20 people with us on this 1 day tour to the Phi Phi Islands. The boat was quick but we all got soaked. The boat made brief stops at a few places for us - sometimes we got off onto land - sometimes just jumped off the boat to snorkel. Highlights include the Viking Cave, Monkey Island where there actually were monkeys that people were feeding bananas and cans of ice tea and pepsi and Maya Bay where parts of the movie "The Beach" was filmed. I took some good photos and video of the monkeys and also while snorkeling using the new underwater housing that Jenn gave me for Christmas. Later that night we walked down the beach a bit to a place called "Miami Beach Bar" for drinks and a great cheap dinner. Shot some video of two guys sparring at Muy Thai on the beach - they had a fire show there too. Turned in early - diving tomorrow.

12/20 - Today we got up at 5:45 am and met the driver from Blue Planet Divers at 6:20 at our resort. We picked up a few more on the way, then boarded their big boat and headed out. The plan was to try to encounter Manta Rays, giant Whale Sharks and/or Leopard Sharks at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang ("Hin" means Rock) but after 90 minutes of motoring it was decided that the seas were too rough in that area so we headed to Koh Haa for some scenic diving. Our dives were nice but turned out to be some pretty advanced diving due to unpredictable current - strong lefts and rights as well as ups and downs due to thermoclines - even at a depth of 95 feet. Highlights include a large turtle, school of squid, large cuttlefish, venomous sea snakes and scorpionfish, triggerfish, nudibranches, a school of barracuda, amazing starfish and coral, and an ascent into an underwater cave where we surfaced, removed our regulators and breathed the air in the cave. I took photos of most of this too. Good stuff, but no mantas or sharks. Boo. After getting back from the dives today we cleaned up and went out for a few hours to soak in our last night here. And I figured now would be a good time to finish up this Part II email of our trip. So there it is.

Tomorrow we will have some more time here before flying to Bangkok for a one night stay and then the day after we start our journey back home - we land at 8:30pm on the 22nd. Hope to see or talk to you soon! Regardless, Happy Holidays!

Matt & Jenn

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Blogger First Choice said...

The Dragon Pearl Junk that you were on is not available any more as it hit the rock. We had to sell it and build new one

2:59 AM  

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