August 25, 2006

Cambodia Visit


rice farmers taking a break
Greetings,

The Wednesday night before leaving for Cambodia I kept busy working on my web page, packing and getting all of the last minute details ready for traveling. It kept getting later and by the time 3am rolled around I decided to just stay up the whole night. I don't usually start 38 hour trips by skipping a night of sleep although it did help me start off on the right time zone since Cambodia is 13 hours ahead of Chattanooga. I finally got a little sleep on the shuttle van which I caught to the Atlanta airport at 6am and then slept several more hours on the planes. After a layover and terminal change in Tokyo I got through customs in Bangkok around 11pm local time and found a quiet corner of the airport to sleep a few more hours before catching my early morning flight to Phnom Penh.


road to mondulkiri
Upon arrival in Phnom Penh Sabbath morning I picked up my luggage and then caught a tuk-tuk to the ADRA office where my sister has an apartment. Sarah wasn't due to arrive until the next day though so she had arranged for one of the guards to let me in to her apartment. I enjoyed a refreshing shower and then caught a moto (scooter taxi) over to Cambodia Adventist School where the Sabbath Graduation service was underway. After the service I visited with several friends who I knew from when I lived in Cambodia and then a bunch of us went to visit Ross & Kamrang in their room at a local maternity clinic. Everyone brought along their potluck food so we enjoyed a good meal while meeting the newly arrived baby Pollika. After visiting with people for much of the afternoon I headed back to Sarah's apartment to repack a bit and check my email. I think most everyone else took naps but I somehow stayed awake, mainly because I wanted to be ready to sleep that night. In the evening a few of us got together back at the clinic and played a game of settlers. I did finally doze off while waiting for the other players to arrive and then slept straight through the night, waking up bright and early Sunday morning to take a tuk-tuk to the Mondulkiri taxi stand.


freshly grated coconut & avacado sandwich
I decided to ride on the back of the 4 wheel drive pickup taxi since the view is better and the price of $5 is lower than if you ride in the cab. Another bonus of riding on the back is that you avoid listening to the Khmer (Cambodian) music which typically is blasted from the tape deck for the length of the trip. The first part of the drive was along the route which I often traveled for work when I lived in Cambodia so it was fun to see the familiar roadside landmarks along the way. Even after we departed from my familiar route I still recognized quite a bit since this was actually my third visit to the Mondulkiri province. The biggest change since my last visit was in the road conditions as much of the section that used to be a rough, potholed mess has now been paved. The last part of the road was
avacados growing in the back yard
still dirt with plenty of potholes but it had been improved greatly. As we got closer to the provincial capital we started to climb the hills and the rain started coming as well. Those of us in the back had ponchos to help us stay dry although the rain turned the red clay roads into a muddy mess. At one point we took a section of the old road as a detour around a particularly steep and slippery section of the new route. The old road is much narrower and was also very slippery. For a few particularly challenging sections all of the passengers got out and walked, and we also helped push the truck a couple of times when it was spinning out in four wheel drive trying to get up a particularly slippery section. I did finally make it to Braden and Johanna's house where Brenda was waiting for me after about 12 hours on the back of the pickup. It was of course very good to see Brenda again after having been apart for over two weeks. After a good home cooked supper of vegetable soup and some fresh avocados I took a much needed shower. At Braden and Johanna's house they do have running water but only for the bathroom sink, toilets and for filling up a large holding tank to use for scoop showers. To get hot water for a shower you have to fill a large kettle and then heat it on the stove. Showers are then taken
fruit & vegetable vendor
using a smaller scoop to pour water over yourself to get wet, soaping and shampooing and then using the scoop to pour more water over yourself to rinse. I got pretty used to this kind of shower when I lived in Cambodia but I had forgotten how much I take for granted our showers here in the States with practically unlimited running hot water. Anyway, the shower felt great and I was glad to be clean again after a long dusty day on the road. Before heading to bed we spent a little more time visiting and I unpacked the goodies which I had brought from the US for Braden, Johanna and baby Keenan.

On Monday Brenda and I went to the market where we bought lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I especially had fun picking out some tropical fruit, most of which
4th of July picnic
I hadn't had since I left Cambodia. During our stay we enjoyed several kilos of mangosteens, rambutans, lychees, dragon fruit, pineapple, coconuts, custard apples, pomegranates, longans, pomelo and a couple of other fruits that I don't know the names for. We also bought and carried back to the house carrots, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. The produce availability in Mondulkiri is pretty unpredictable and varies from day to day as almost everything is hauled by truck from Phnom Penh, Vietnam or Thailand. Although we found a good variety on Monday, when we went back a couple of days later to get more fruit the selection was not nearly as good. We still got whatever we could find each time we went to the market and thoroughly enjoyed all the tropical fruit. We pretty much spent the rest of Monday visiting, playing with Keenan and getting a few things ready for a fourth of July picnic which we were planning for Tuesday.

sparklers

On Tuesday we watched a movie on Braden & Johanna's laptop and then loaded up their truck and drove to a nearby pine forest for our picnic. The menu included potato salad, veggie pigs in the blanket, Pringles potato chips and homemade chocolate chip cookies. In the evening we lit off some sparklers and a few small fireworks which we were able to purchase in the local market.

Wednesday Braden, Brenda and I rode out to a Pnong village on two motorbikes to make arrangements for Brenda and I to ride an elephant on Thursday. We had a beautiful ride out to the village over the rolling green hills as the sun shined down through the scattered clouds. In the village we sat around while Braden visited with some of the villagers and made arrangements for our elephant ride. After a while we went to a nearby field hut where we watched some of Braden's friends doing blacksmith work. They used a hand
working the bellows
operated bellows device to heat the coals so that they could slowly shape and sharpen the tool they were making. While visiting the field hut we also watched as an older lady shaved her freshly harvested tobacco leaves into small pieces before setting them out to dry in the sun. We also enjoyed watching puppies, chickens and a cat play and politely turned down a chance to sample some dried water buffalo meat. While we were visiting it started to rain and continued raining off and on. We kept hoping it would stop and finally headed back to our bikes when it did let up briefly. Unfortunately for us it had rained enough to turn the red dirt roads into a slippery mess. The type of dirt on the roads is kind of like clay so when it gets wet it is very much like trying to drive in the snow. The initial hill on the road leaving the village was probably the worst part of the road and we dropped the bikes several times. Brenda was riding behind me at first but she walked up the worst parts of the hill. Shortly after we made it up the initial hill it started to rain. It rained for pretty much the rest of our ride back making the roads very slippery. We fell a couple more times and the last time my leg came in contact with the hot exhaust pipe and I got a pretty bad burn. At the time it hurt a little but I didn't realize how
making a tool
bad it was until later. Meanwhile Brenda was getting lots of bruises from the falls so we decided to have her ride with Braden instead to see if it would be any better. Unfortunately Braden & Brenda then fell before long so we finally decided to let Brenda ride the smaller bike on her own. She still fell several more times but when you are the one driving you can usually avoid getting banged up as much, especially when traveling slowly like we were. I continued driving the larger bike with Braden riding on the back and thankfully we didn't fall down again although we came very close many times. By the time we finally got back to the house we were all glad to get cleaned up and eat the delicious supper that Johanna had prepared. Part of the cleanup process was the painful task of scrubbing and disinfecting my burned leg. It wasn't any fun at all but I was thankful for some good medical advice from a doctor and a nurse via cell
shaving tobacco leaves
phone. Braden & Johanna were also a very big help. Braden rode his bike across town to pick up some medicine and supplies and then Johanna helped bandage and wrap my leg. At first we weren't sure about our plans to ride elephants the next day although we knew that there was no way to cancel the arrangements we had made since we had no way of contacting the people in the village. I decided to get a good nights sleep and see how my leg felt in the morning.

By morning I was feeling rested and ready to go so we loaded our day packs and headed out to the village after breakfast. This time we decided to take the truck though which also slides around when the road gets bad, but at least you can't fall over and you don't get wet and muddy when it rains. We parked the truck at the top of the hill above the village since the last steep hill can become impassible even for the truck when it rains.
After we walked down into the village we waited for a bit and then the elephant arrived. Our guides for the day strapped our seat onto the elephant and then provided a bamboo ladder for us to climb up onto the elephant. I found the weakest rung on my way up and it snapped, although I didn't fall so just
climbed the rest of the way up onto the elephant. Brenda and I had both
pnong widow and her children
been on elephant rides in this village before so we asked them to take us to some new places instead of the main waterfall that we had been to before. Braden had been planning to spend the day in the village but when he realized that one of our two guides was going to walk along behind the elephant he decided to come with us on foot. Our first stop was a waterfall surrounded by deep jungle and on the way to it I spotted a snake coiled up on top of the foliage. As soon as I tried to point it out though it dropped down to the ground and out of sight. This was of course great news to Braden who was walking along behind us, but I guess the snake went the other way because he didn't see it. I didn't see the snake's head so I'm not sure what type it was. At
riding motorbikes in the rain
the waterfall our guide gave the command and our elephant layed down on her side so that we could climb out of our seat and onto the ground. We explored the area below the waterfall some although it was hard to get a good view of the top since the jungle was so thick. It was still fun to climb around on the rocks below the falls. We then got back on the elephant and rode out to a second waterfall. On the way out I spotted the same snake again in the same spot but it again disappeared into the jungle before the others saw it. As we neared the second waterfall we climbed a steep hill covered in bright green grass and enjoyed a view of the entire valley and surrounding area on our way up. Our elephant just walked right up or down whatever route our guide chose without any trouble. At the next waterfall stop we first had our picnic lunch and then climbed down a steep bank through the jungle to the waterfall. The waterfall was pretty small but the main attraction at this site was a cave
first waterfall
right next to the waterfall. It was really more of a large overhang but it was fun to explore inside and we even saw some bats. The damp jungle around the cave and waterfall made for an ideal leech habitat but we were able to pick most of them off of feet and legs before they latched on. On the way back to the village we again enjoyed sweeping views of the rolling green hills. We also followed an overgrown trail part of the way and in one section our guide instructed the elephant to pull down some bamboo and tree branches that were in our way. He would give the elephant a command to go forward another step or two and then have her stop and pull down more branches and brambles that were in our way. We also forded a small river which was fun since the elephant could just walk right down the middle of it while we stayed dry on her back. It really is amazing how such a large animal can be so sure footed. They can easily go places that would be impassible for any four wheel drive jeep.

Back in the village we visited with a few of Braden's friends on our way back up to the truck. The drive back into town was uneventful. I guess we got our days backwards because we rode motorbikes on the wet and slippery day and then
riding the elephant
took the truck when it didn't rain much. It was nice though to have a relatively dry elephant ride. Friday evening several other foreigner families came over and we visited, sang some songs and just enjoyed fellowshipping together. It's nice that Braden and Johanna have some good friends in their area.

Sabbath morning we went to church at the global mission worker's house. The church group is pretty small as they are just getting started. It was even small enough that they talked me into "telling the story" for church service. Braden translated while I read a mission story from the Middle East and that was our sermon for the day. The 7 adults and 3 children (counting all of us) seemed to enjoy the story.
After church we had a potluck lunch where the Khmer people got to try
exploring the cave

American food and we got to try Khmer food. It was fun and I helped by making some vegetable patties using a recipe that I mostly made up as I went. I used several local vegetables that we grated including carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage. We also put in some chopped cashews, peanut butter, spices, egg and a little flour. After forming and frying the patties we put about half of them in a casserole dish and topped them with mushroom soup. The rest of the patties we served plain and put some ketchup out for people to use. After lunch we visited a while and then in the evening we got packed up for our trip back to Phnom Penh the next day. We really enjoyed a good visit with Braden, Johanna and Keenan and it was hard to leave. It was great to spend time with them and especially to get out to a village where they have been working. We also got to meet some of their closest Pnong friends who they often write about in their letters home.

coming out of the river

Bright and early Sunday morning Braden and I went out to the back yard and picked enough avocados to fill one small box and one larger box to take to our friends in Phnom Penh. Although avocados are plentiful in Mondulkiri they are hard to find in Phnom Penh. Our taxi was right on time to pick us up and we loaded our stuff into the back of the pickup and then climbed into the cab for the long ride to Phnom Penh. We had arranged to share the entire cab with one other foreigner friend who was also going to Phnom Penh for $20 per person. It was still pretty cramped in the back of the cab for Brenda and I. The seats just had straight vertical backs and there wasn't much floor space for our legs but we managed to rotate through several different sitting positions along the way. The AC didn't work so by the time we got out of the truck in Phnom Penh around 9 hours later we were quite hot and dusty. At least the roads were relatively good and we didn't get rained on. Upon arrival in Phnom Penh we caught a
mangosteen fruit (you eat the white part)
tuk-tuk to Sarah's apartment at the ADRA office where we cooled off and got cleaned up. In the evening we went out to eat at Kiwi Bakery & Restaurant where most of us had pizza. In case you were wondering, the word kiwi in the business name refers to the founders who came from New Zealand, not to what is on the menu. A bunch of my friends from when I was in Cambodia came along so it was fun to catch up with everyone.

Monday I went to morning worship at the ADRA office where I saw more friends and then we went shopping at Central Market. We were a bit short on time but I was able to find a backpack, some pants and a couple of hammocks while Brenda found some nice clothes and a few souvenirs. After shopping we headed back to Sarah's apartment and then Sarah and I went to the fruit market where we got some fruit to share with the ADRA staff. By the time we got back to the office it was time to leave for the airport so we said goodbye to everyone and headed to the airport in a tuk-tuk to catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Sarah and her friend Melinda joined us for the rest of the trip so it was a pretty tight squeeze with the four of us and all of our backpacks in the tuk-tuk. We made it though and got checked in for our flight with time to spare. Sarah and Melinda stopped by the only Dairy Queen in Cambodia before we went through security and found seats near our gate to wait for our flight.

Well, this update is getting pretty long so I think I'll stop for now and get this posted. I'll write about the rest of our trip through Malaysia and Thailand in the next update.

Bye for now,

Andrew

More pictures are in the gallery. To learn more about Braden & Johanna and their work visit their AFM Page and their Collegedale Church page.

October 5, 2006

Malaysia & Thailand


malaysian school children filing into the petronas towers
Greetings,

When I ended my last update Brenda, Sarah, Melinda and I had just found seats in the Phnom Penh, Cambodia airport departure lounge to wait for our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Our departure was delayed somewhat but we did eventually board and we enjoyed a smooth flight. We flew on Air Asia which is a budget airline that recently started serving Phnom Penh. Our one way fare was $62.50 and the flight took about 2 hours and 15 minutes. We were surprised to learn that even though we were traveling west the time zone changed an hour forward which seemed backwards. Once we looked at a map a bit more closely we realized that even though Kuala Lumpur is west of Phnom Penh, much of Malaysia lies to the east which explains the time zone they use. Upon arrival at the Kuala Lumpur airport we collected our bags and proceeded through customs. We next exchanged money and then purchased bus tickets into town. The bus ride to town took a couple of hours so by the time we arrived at the central station it was getting pretty late. Upon arrival we went to the train ticket counter but it was closed for the night so we caught a taxi to a nearby hostel. We didn't have any reservations but the first place we tried (Pondok Lodge) had room for about $9 per person including breakfast so we checked in, took much needed showers and then went to sleep at about 1 am.

Bright and early the next morning we got up, ate a quick breakfast and then walked to the Petronas Towers ticket office. The lines were long but Sarah waited for tickets while the rest of us browsed in the nearby gift shop and explored the large mall on the lower floors of the towers. The mall was very nice and quite large with all kinds of stores and even a Cinnabon in the food court. Once we finally got our tower tickets we headed to the train station to purchase tickets for our overnight trip north. The train fare for the 12 hour journey was about $10 per person for very comfortable second class sleeper berths. After securing our train tickets we headed out to explore the city. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country so we first visited the national mosque. The grounds and
lunch at kuala lumpur central market
worship area are quite impressive with multiple fountains and good views of the surrounding city. I believe the main building can easily accommodate 500 people while the surrounding courtyards can hold at least 8000 worshipers. We were told that on big holidays the facility is often filled to overflowing. From the mosque we headed to the central market for some lunch and shopping. The market had lots of stalls selling boutiques, carvings and many other souvenirs. For lunch we enjoyed a nice variety of vegetarian Malaysian food, all of which was very good. We next walked through part of Chinatown including Petaling Street which is lined with shops selling everything from clothes to sunglasses to DVD movies. We also saw several Chinese temples before we caught the light rail back over to the Petronas Towers. The twin towers were the tallest buildings in the world until a taller building was completed in Taiwan in 2004. The towers are very unique however since there are two of them and they are connected by a two story sky bridge about half
rambutans, longans, mangos and dragonfruit
way up on floors 41 & 42. The observation deck which is open to visitors is located on the sky bridge where we enjoyed excellent views of the city. After our visit to the towers we hurried to our hostel to retrieve our bags before heading back to the train station. We were a little worried about catching our train since we hadn't taken into account rush hour traffic in our planning but in the end we made it with time to spare. We were even able to purchase some supper and a few snacks to take on the train before boarding at about 6 pm. On the train we ate supper, watched the scenery go by for a couple of hours and then climbed into our bunks to sleep for the rest of the night.

Before dawn and before my alarm went off I awoke to the sound of the conductor announcing our stop over the PA system. We were running about 15 minutes ahead of schedule so I quickly made sure everyone else was awake and we all climbed out of bed and grabbed our bags just as we were pulling in to the station. We were worried about
kuala lumpur lightrail
leaving things behind on the train since we got off in such a hurry but the only thing we ended up forgetting was a bottle of water. Upon arrival at the train station we hired a taxi to take us to a jetty where we could catch a ferry to the Perhentian Islands. The taxi ride took over an hour but we enjoyed watching the sunrise and napping on the way. At the Jetty we spent some time negotiating our ferry fare and then found a local restaurant for a traditional Malaysian breakfast of roti (similar to crepes) with eggs for about 25 cents per crepe. Just as we finished breakfast our ferry was ready to depart so we grabbed our bags and climbed aboard. The boat driver didn't seem to know anything about Bubbles Dive Center where we wanted to be dropped off so we settled on a second choice instead. The speed boat ride took about 45 minutes at the end of
petronas towers skybridge
which we were dropped off on a stretch of sand lined by several guesthouses and restaurants. The place we had originally wanted to stay was on it's own beach and cove with no other establishments nearby but we decided that this would do instead. After checking prices and looking at a room or two we were surprised to see a small boat from Bubbles Dive Center pull up to the beach just as we were trying to decide where to stay. After a quick conversation with the boat driver we loaded up our bags for a 10-15 minute boat ride around the island to the smaller, quieter beach that we had read about before our trip. The beach we went to is several kilometers away from any other establishments and is only accessibly by boat. We were told later that they don't even have any foot paths through the jungle from this beach. Luckily for us they still had room so we dropped off our bags and then changed into swimsuits and were swimming in the aqua blue water by about 11 am.

We were very thankful to have made it to our first choice place. We especially enjoyed the secluded beach and excellent snorkeling right off the beach. Over the course of our stay we saw a black tip reef shark, a turtle, a stingray and many colorful fish and coral. Besides snorkeling and swimming in the aqua blue water we pretty much just relaxed and enjoyed some down time on the beach. We ate all of our meals at Bubbles restaurant since that was our only choice. The food was very good though and we were able to try a variety of Malaysia dishes in addition to some more familiar western dishes. We also enjoyed ice based chocolate milkshakes fairly often
our private beach in the perhentian islands
which really hit the spot in the warm, humid weather. Our total cost per person on the island worked out to be about $14 per day including food and lodging.

After two days and two nights at the beach we got up early (before 8 am) on Friday morning to catch our boat back to the mainland. Upon arrival at the jetty we arranged for a taxi to the Thai border and ate some snacks for our breakfast on the way. Our taxi dropped us off at the border where we walked through the immigration and customs checkpoints and then walked about 15 minutes to the train station. Unfortunately the sleeper car tickets to Bangkok were all sold so we ended up sitting in the one air
clownfish
conditioned non-sleeper car on the train. Before we boarded the train I went to a nearby market and purchased some water, fruit, cookies and other snacks for our trip. The train left at 11:30 am and was scheduled to arrive in Bangkok just after 8 am the next day. The cool air on the train felt very good after walking from the border with our bags in the heat but we soon found that the straight backed seats were not the most comfortable for sleeping. At least we were able to spread out as we had nearly the entire train car to ourselves. We spent the afternoon and evening reading and watching the scenery go by and then tried to get some sleep in various uncomfortable positions overnight.

In the morning we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise and then finally arrived in Bangkok only about 40 minutes behind schedule. We then took the subway part of the way towards the church headquarters office and got a taxi for the second half of the trip. Upon arrival we weren't sure if Sarah & Melinda would have a place to stay or not since we had sent in a request by email but had not heard back yet. It turned out that the guestrooms were all full and the person we had emailed was on vacation. One of the church workers helped us find a guesthouse next door to the church office though where we were able to take much needed showers. We tried to make it in time for church but got there just as they were singing the closing song.
riding the train in thailand
Brenda and I were scheduled to fly out late that night so we decided to spend the afternoon exploring Bangkok a bit. First we ate some lunch and then we decided to try and get a boat tour of the floating markets. After asking for directions a time or two we ended up on a local water taxi which took us downtown. The water taxi is a high powered speed boat with wooden bench seats full of people plus more people standing. They also have tarps along the sides to block the spray of muddy water which made it difficult to really see out much. The taxi ride was an interesting experience though as they would just barely stop long enough for people to jump on and off the boat at each little jetty along the canal. At the end of the line we hired a tuk-tuk to take us the rest of the way to the palace area where we finally found a boat to take us on a scenic tour of the canals and "floating markets". As it turned out the real floating markets are outside the city but we did see some floating food stalls and a few vendors selling their wares from boats. The boat ride was lots of fun though as we got to see a unique side of Bangkok from the water. Along the way we saw people fishing, washing dishes and swimming in the dirty brown canal water. There were also some very nice houses and shops along the water. After our canal tour we caught a taxi back to our guesthouse where Brenda and I picked up our bags, said goodbye to Sarah and Melinda and then headed for the
arrival in bangkok
airport. On the way we stopped to pick up some Pad Thai (noodles), waffles and fresh pineapple from street vendors to eat for our supper. At the airport we checked in our luggage and then walked across the street to get a Thai massage. Unfortunately the massage place only had one person working but Brenda and I were still able to each get a 30 minute massage before heading back to the airport to catch our flight. The massage really helped to relax our muscles after spending the night on the uncomfortable train seats.

After sleeping through most of the flight we landed bright and early Sunday morning in
enjoying our canal tour in bangkok
Tokyo, Japan and made our way out through immigration & customs. Our layover was for several hours so we decided to use the time to explore the town of Narita which is just one stop by train from the airport. It was still pretty early when we got to Narita so not much was open yet. We ended up walking to a large department store where we bought some food for breakfast in the grocery section. It was fun to check out the different and interesting foods in the grocery store although we mostly got more familiar foods like cereal, milk, peaches, and yoghurt. We also got a sweet corn pastry which was quite good and some "almond butter" which turned out to be too oily for our tastes. After breakfast we walked to a large Buddhist temple complex. The weather was quite warm so we opted out of hiking on the trails through the woods but we did enjoy seeing a number of traditional gardens and buildings. It was also interesting to watch the worshipers going through their various rituals trying to gain good fortune. From the temple we headed back towards the train station. Along the way we stopped at a local pharmacy where we tried to find some medicine for Brenda's upset stomach which she probably got from the street food we had eaten the
temple entrance in narita
night before. After talking with a couple of nice ladies and explaining what we were looking for (charcoal) they produced an envelope of small beads. They explained in broken English that the beads are made there in their shop and contain a number of natural ingredients including charcoal and that they are most often prescribed to help when people have had too much to drink. We weren't sure what all the ingredients were but decided to give the beads a shot. One of the ladies provided a glass of water right there in the shop so that Brenda could take her first dose of 10 or so beads. We then paid for our purchase and caught the train back to the airport. The beads seemed to help as Brenda felt better for the flight on to Atlanta. Since we crossed the dateline on the way we actually made it back to our apartments in Chattanooga before dark on Sunday night. We sure slept well in our own beds after spending the previous 46 or so hours traveling on 4 boats, 4 trains, 4 taxis, 1 bus, 1 tuk-tuk, 1 car and 2 planes. It was a very good trip though and we had lots of fun along the way.

The next morning we both went back to work and it took a couple more nights to really get caught up on our sleep. On the plus side we didn't really have any trouble with jet lag since we were so tired that it was easy to sleep right through the night when we got home.

Well, I think I'll close for now and write more later about what we've been up to since we got back.

Bye for now,

Andrew