Monthly Archives: September 2013

PHNOM PENH to TAIWAN, Protests to Typhoon! Sept 19/21

So we said our good byes to Cambodia and headed to Taipei, Taiwan. We arrived in the late evening and seemed to arrive in the future! The airport shone it was so clean, we walked through a special corridor that points out anyone with a fever, then stood in line at passport control. On the plane neither of us could remember whether a visa was needed, and if so, if it could be purchased on arrival. We noticed everyone in front of us had printed visa forms (similar to the single entry reciprocity fee for Argentina). The lined moved too quickly to get too worried about it and the man we had must be an ambassador to Taiwan. He was so smiley and friendly. A visa wasn’t required or he just let us in.Our luggage and car was there …. We were probably driving 15 minutes after landing.

We stayed at a small Boutique hotel….we definitely have arrived to the future! There were at least 10 different remote controls in the room. The curtains opened when you touched them. There was a remote for the tv, for the music system, for the bathroom tv, for the blind in the shower, and a remote for the toilet. ( honest! And the toilet had music, heated seat, built in bidet, deodorizer, flush, lid up and down switch, fan, but most interesting was the sparkly pearl colour – the same pearl that Lexus used to come in). Now don’t think Taipei isn’t interesting just because all I have written about is the toilets!

The next morning, we grabbed our umbrellas and headed to Taipei 101, which used to be the tallest building in the world. We were impressed by how clean the city is and were shocked how quiet things were. Bevan renamed the city “Hong Kong Lite”! We later found out two reasons for the quietness 1) it was a holiday and many city folk head south
2) the largest typhoon in the world for 2013 was heading towards Taiwan…it actually got upgraded to “super-typhoon”!

We later visited a traditional tea house. We sat on the floor and had to be shown what to do (no tea bag thrown into a microwaved mug of water). We skipped the famous night market because we were tired, have seen many markets, didn’t want to see all the cobras, we were both feeling a little under the weather and didn’t know if we could tolerate all the market smells….and our hotel had a nice wine bar. We had a terrible sleep as the wind and rain was hitting the windows so hard. The one window, luckily the one in the shower, was leaking and every so often the drain would really giggle.

We luckily were able to leave on our flight as planned. We flew home on Japan’s airline. All of the Asian airlines had very attentive and friendly staff. Actually all people we ran across on our trip were friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. We are now in the U.S. and just spent the last 40 mins listening to the US customs and security folk abuse people. Short, loud, rude. We went to the expedited lane which was for Nexus card holders, Star Alliance Gold members, or people flying business or first class. The lady said we were in the wrong line and herded ( almost with a cattle prong) to the long line….despite us qualifying for all 3 of the expedited lane criteria. Welcome to America….and I won’t even start on how they were treating an Indian lady in a wheelchair.

Really looking forward to getting the Seattle to Calgary flight over with! I have missed Biscuit and missed my own bed….although I must say the beds and pillows in Luang Prabang were probably the most comfy I have ever experienced!

Until next trip….
( will chat in person or by phone)

Love Tanya

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It is very difficult for me to keep a secret, or surprise, from Bevan. However, I did a great job of keeping our anniversary surprise a secret….since Janaury! From Laos, we flew to Siem Reap. It felt really wonderful to be there again- we definitely have a connection to this place…although it has grown tremendously. This time, we, which means me- seeing as it was a surprise- decided to stay at “La Residence de Angkor”…which is a hotel we saw in a book of hip hotels, I believe gifted to us by Tonya 14 years ago….and have always wanted to stay at. The 14 year wait was worth it. Beautiful hotel with a sense of place with wood, plants, and local art and carvings. Speaking of carvings, we bought one from the gallery in our hotel. Being low season we negotiated a good price…so we thought…when we said we would buy it the stone faced, solemn salesgirl literally broke into a big smile, clapped and jumped up and down thanking us. I am thinking there may have been a little bit more wiggle room on the price!!!

We actually chose this time of year to travel, as it is rainy season and things things are very green. We only saw it rain only a couple of times in Laos. However it poured in SR and it was wonderful! Not the one hour rain in the afternoon, but full on rain for days! One of the people we admire most on the planet, David Shoemaker, flew in to SR to see us. He was instrumental in the success of the Angkor Hospital for Children and now is helping other projects in Shinoukville. He is still an advisor and ambassador for AHC. Anyways, we had a wonderful dinner and visit with David, and the new administrator of the hospital and his wife (Bill and Lorri). After supper, David took us to show us the changes at the hospital. I was somewhat quiet for once, being overwhelmed at the advances made. I imagine this is what it feels like when in the presence of somebody totally inspirational and powerful…like the Dali Lama, Nelson Mandela, or Jon Bon Jovi ( I will have to confer with my dear friend who has met them all) I failed to mention it was around 10:30 pm when we toured the hospital. The triage area was filled with families sleeping under mosquito nets, parents sleeping on benches where Marilee spent her first day volunteering with the children, in the hallways and even in the garden. AHC has a policy of 1 patient per bed. Each bed, in addition to the child, usually had at least Mom, and maybe Dad and a sibling or two. We also saw 2 things we would NOT see in a Canadian hospital:
1)family members sleeping on the floor by their children ( no private rooms, all beds are in open area, no walls, no curtains)
2) a gaggle of nurses sitting at the nurses station…wait for it…..not a coffee cup or snack in sight, just one of the more senior nurses taking the opportunity to share knowledge with colleagues, the colleagues totally engaged in the process.

I could type on and on about the wonderful advances ( such as a neonatal unit opening the day before we arrived) ….but will hold off for now. I do need to thank all of you who have kindly donated to AHC and to my fundraisers, you all would be so happy to know that your money has been used wisely and to the maximum. Okay, one more thing, the staff have come up with an incredible way to make a CPAP machine….nasal prongs, tube stuck into a bottle of saline, hooked up to a big old rusty canister of oxygen…..had REDUCED MORTALITY RATE of these patients by 50%!!!! This isn’t a $50,000 machine, cost is $35!!!!! Inspiring!

As you can tell, visiting AHC was a highlight of our trip.

The next morning we got on our river boat. The meeting place was the Victoria Hotel, where we usually stay. Felt a little odd not to have Marilee with us at the poolside patio with us – our spot for our afterwork cocktail hour!

I had been concerned that the boat would be like our gullet in Turkey but it was awesome. We were the only Canadians on a boat full of Aussies. We enjoyed meeting some great people. The River Boat cruised Tonle Sap river (highest density of fish of any body of water in world….and ONLY river in the world to change direction of flow!!….my nieces and nephews should remember this for when they are told by their school teachers that rivers always flow in one direction). We then toodled along the mighty Mekong and arrived back in PP harbour while having a romantic, private dinner at the front of the boat. We over nighted at the harbour, missed the PP day trips as there were protests there ( only one death…protests over outcome of last election. Winning party in this democracy has been in power for over 30 years….just saying….) we relaxed at Raffles for 2 nights and had a great Italian meal near the National Museum. Saw a rat when we were about to leave….waitor said it was more like a mouse because it was small….it was almost the size of Biscuit for frickity sake!

Cheers from Tanya’s iPad

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LUANG PRABANG, LAOS. Sept.7-13, 2013.

We left the hustle and bustle of PP and landed in the sleepy little town of Luang Prabang. We were shuttled to our small Colonial hotel in an old fashioned Mercedes. LP is a Unesco World Heritage site so is protected from large multinationals – no Starbucks even! (the coffee here is fabulous!) LP truly has a sense of place, and a unique quaintness that the travel magazines and websites describe.

The chocolate covered Mekong and the vibrant green trees and shrubs make a beautiful back drop for the thousands of saffron clad monks that walk about all day long. Every morning, around 6am, the monks and townsfolk line the streets. The monks receive their alms. This is a religious ceremony for Buddists. (the way I see it, it is much like Halloween…..except it is daily, they are all dressed the same, it isn’t scary, it is quiet, and rice replaces candy!)

Our small resort was wonderful. We ended up spending a lot of time just hanging around there. Although this colonial resort has 20 rooms, we rarely saw anybody else there. Most days only two other rooms were filled. Our suite was the “Henri Mouhot” suite- named after the explorer who discovered Angkor Wat covered in the jungle. (view from our terrace)

During cocktail hour we thought we would play some cards we were in the library and found a strange deck with 72 cards. We spent quite awhile making up what we would consider a full deck. Bevan asked, “what shall we play?” and we both started laughing as the ONLY game we know with one deck is “fish”! So we taught ourselves how to play “Gin”, but accidentally shouted out “Jim”!

We did end up doing a couple of touristy things. We climbed to the top of the tallest mountain in town (about 270 steps) which was very difficult in 35 degree weather and full on humidity.

We went on a private tour to a village that makes whiskey from rice and weaves beautiful scarves. We visited a cave where for hundreds of years Buddhists come to pray, many leaving statues and ornaments of the Buddha in position of the day of the week that they were born. The cave was amazing but the further in we went, the fewer Buddhas and the more bat poop. Another day we hired a tuk tuk to drive us all around the town and the outskirts.

Other than that we rode bikes around town and relaxed!

We asked some of the staff at the resort if they swam in the chocolatey river. They said that is why their skin is so brown! They loved the paleness of our skin. We asked if there were any dangerous fish or snakes in the river. They thought that was quite funny, so we asked about hippos and crocodiles. We stumped them on hippo, until one lady, who maybe weighs 80-85 pounds said that the Loatian word is “water elephant”- which is her nick name! Bevan and I must have looked shocked, because her helpful friends explained that she is called that because she is fat!

Because we had the resort to ourselves I decided to join Bevan in the beautiful pool- edged by Lilly ponds and palm trees. I am pretty certain I heard the staff giggling and taking photos…just as I did when I spotted the hippos in the Zambezi River.

( cannot add more photos as computer keeps crashing!)

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The first day in Phnom Penh, which I will abbreviate as PP partly because it is shorter and partly due to the big city smell, we met our tour guide, Sophea, from Mango Cambodia tour company. (We bought a one night hotel with one day tour at a fund raiser for a Cambodian school that a couple from Calgary supports- basically the impetus for this trip). We ate at a restaurant that trains street kids and orphans to be waiters and chefs. The food was absolutely delicious although Sophea ordered us a house specialty for laughs. Tarantulas!

I know this is a horrible picture of me but I wasn’t thinking about my hair while sticking a giant spider leg into my mouth. Sadly my hair has not looked better yet…darned 40 degrees with humidity! Bevan did not partake…but I didn’t want to be rude. Bevan says I worry about hurting people’s feelings too much. He cites our conversation with one highly educated ex-pat who lives in PP as an example. Me: so, what do you do here for work?
Ex-pat: I write gay erotica.
Me: good for you! ( with the enthusiasm as if he had started an orphanage) you can do that anywhere you want to travel!

After lunch we had a tour of PP. We were surprised to see more luxury SUV’s than we see in Calgary. Most had military or police plates – most definitely some government corruption…although we did see a very large beautiful building with a very large placard reading “Phnom Penh Anti-Corruption Office”. Coincidentally it was right across from a very large car dealership selling Lexus, Range Rover, and Rolls Royce!

PP has quite a modern riverfront that bustles in the evenings, and a new development for the rich called Diamond Island. The rich and poor really do live side by side, although Diamond Island developers are trying to push the slums out. Three percent of Cambodians are Muslim, and most live on the water in small narrow boats. An entire family will live and work (fish) from here. This one had much more belongings than the others.

The next day we went to the countryside and visited some Buddhist temples. This was not a very spiritual experience as we were swarmed by women selling stuff inside the temple. They literally were grabbing things out of my hand. It was 10 degrees hotter than the sun in there so we didn’t have much patience and we left. On the way back to the van there were some young beggars in training. How can you say no to these little faces?

I gave the big guy money to buy a new shirt! Smelly!

The next day was a highlight. We travelled with Sophea, a lovely man who laughs continuously, and his brother to the village they grew up in. We stopped and had a close up view of the rice fields and water buffalo. We then had a tour of the village in an ox cart! Almost every person we passed, young or old, waved or hollered hello from their home! We felt like celebrities. We even had a small following!

We finished our day off with dinner at an amazing little wine bar close to our hotel. We had to leave our hotel at 4:30am to catch our 6:30 flight to Laos. The hotel must have asked staff to be ready to help us with our bags because there were 2 staff members sleeping outside our room. They didn’t stir at all! The security guard was fast asleep at the entry. He didn’t wake when we opened up the main gate for our driver who had pulled up. We must be very quiet people!

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