If you've ever been to Vietnam, you know crossing the street is a terrifying and stressful task for visitors to the country. Now take that initial stress and add in the fact that Vietnam just ousted Qatar in football semi-finals. Celebrations flood the streets on motorbikes and trucks, and meanwhile, hapless pedestrians (mainly tourists who don't have bikes like myself) carefully wade through the crowd.
Ho Chi Minh City - you're crazy. I have some video clips of this mess so if anyone is curious of how this is live, feel free to comment below. Cue the chaos.
Some blurry selfies that turned out terribly.
To put this into perspective - here is a "normal" day.
It's been a long while since my trip to Cambodia and I've held off on writing about my experience for several reasons. Particularly because this was one of the most terrifying yet amazing trips I took this year. Another being that this was my first time visiting the country in which my parents were born. I had been promised by my dad that we'd go as a family when I was younger but those dreams always fell through so that being said, I was already in Hong Kong and Cambodia was a short $60 flight away.
As a lot of my close friends know, I got a high fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit during my Cambodia excursion which lasted 4 days of the (~) 12 that I planned on exploring my parent's home country. Andrew and I started off Cambodia in the south in Sihanoukville and the island of Koh Rong. Sihanoukville was hyper-touristy and I was frequently asked if I needed my underarms plucked. (Hey, some things just don't matter when you are traveling on a budget and schedule!) Koh Rong was glorious - we kayaked, snorkeled and roasted mini crabs that Andrew caught over a bonfire on the beach. Amid all of our fun, we paid little attention to the awful sand flies that kept attacking us in hordes and feeding on our blood. Thinking about it now still gives me shivers. Any bare flesh we had ended up being covered by these sand flies while each smack we'd deliver to the demons wold leave skinny trails of blood down our bodies. There were so many sand flies, I became slightly traumatized by mass flocks of tiny insects and had mini-nightmares when I returned to Hong Kong...but that is another story!
After our little honeymoon-like escapade, we returned to Phnomh Penh, the capital of Cambodia with intentions to see S21 and the killing fields during the Khmer Rouge reign. I really wanted to see and learn about this because this is what my parents experienced as children in Cambodia and then refugees. However, that night we came back I just became exhausted and knocked out early in the evening fully dressed in my dirty clothes. I woke up at around 3-4 am to shower because I felt sticky and dirty and returned to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I was even more exhausted and fatigued. I felt extremely hot and dizzy which I attributed the humidity of the country and assumed would go away after breakfast. Breakfast came and went with none going into my stomach because I lacked appetite and I told Andrew that I needed to lay down for a bit. An hour past and my fever just got worse and worse. Andrew hesitated to take me to the hospital because I didn't want to go to a third world hospital and I am slightly apprehensive of the idea of hospitals in general. Another hour past and I knew I had to go somewhere for help because my fever and fatigue were not improving.
We took a trike to the nearest hospital which ended up being the French Cambodia Calmette Hospital. To my dismay, no one spoke English and only spoke French and Khmer. I understand Khmer a decent amount but I cannot speak it and I became more than nervous as I could understand them expressing how awful of a position I was in without being able to communicate effectively. I had an IV put in and it was one of the most painful medical experiences of my life and I cried. I tried so hard to not cry but I was terrified and there were nurses around me in flip flops and no gloves in the hospital. I thought that if I wasn't going to die from the fever, I would die from the lack of sanitation.
4 days and 4 nights came and went with lots of drugs, care and rest. There were a lot of things I wish I could have foreseen or done about what happened but these are lessons for the future. I am glad I wasn't alone during this all because the rare times I was alone were the times I was most afraid.
If you're reading this, thank you Andrew.
We picked up some bikes for the day and took a cruise through the dusty roads that flow between temples upon temples. Andrew was left at the hostel for the day to rest and sleep in. I promised him I'd go and take some photos because he did the same courtesy while I was bedridden.
Some of the very old temples now under increasing regulation by the Burmese tourist authorities. We found this out the more difficult way...
The next day or so we took a taxi to Mount Popa, or should I say Mount Poopa.
Mount Popa mandates that guests only walk up barefoot amid monkeys, monkey urine, monkey blood, and the other excretions that come from the bodies of monkeys. It was suggested that we carry large sticks to frighten them from coming too close to us, especially if any of us were more nervous than usual. I encountered a young Burmese boy who took pleasure in his duty of shooing monkeys away from tourists. These monkeys could get quite feisty and were obviously carrying some level of intelligence.
I'm not sure what day it is but I'm now in Myanmar - it's a seemingly long while since China. I'm waiting for food at the Golden Emperor Restaurant in Bagan just doors from Winner Guesthouse where we are staying with some friends we met up with in Yangon. Andrew has a severe high fever which we speculate and fear is dengue fever. I just got out of the Calmette Hospital in Phnomh Penh, KH, where I stayed for 4 days bedridden with a 40 degree Celsius fever. Unfortunately, it is Andrew's turn for the fever which is terrible for him since he's looked forward to Myanmar the most between us both. It hasn't been the best of luck for the two of us in our three week mini-adventure across SEA. I really hope he does not get as ill as I did. He's currently in bed back at the guesthouse as I wait for takeaway food to bring him. We are considering flying to Bangkok to seek more western and serious medical attention.
To continue, I'm very concerned. I don't have that many days left and I cannot leave Andrew alone in the hospital. If we do go, hopefully Andrew recovers quickly, but as I said, we haven't been the luckiest. Burma may well be the nicest Southeast Asian country thus far. The people are kind and do not (yet) hound you for money nor do they harass you for tours. There are very few tourists since the country just recently opened in 2010. The number of pagodas and temples is just astounding as well - literally every corner you turn! The roads are great for bicycling and our friends said its the best before/during sunrise when were is absolutely no one else on the road. I imagine its just you, your bike and the cool morning air. I hope Andrew gets to experience some of this.
The day immediately after amazing relaxation on Ha Long Bay, my friends and I set off to northern Vietnam and to the rice terraces of Sa Pa. We planned a 2 day trek with 10 miles of hiking the first day and 5-6 miles the second day with a comfortable home stay the night in between.
We walked through so much natural beauty, I almost forgot that places like Los Angeles (aka Home) existed. I was so taken aback about how nimble and agile the (ridiculously) young H'mong women were. These women all wore simple rubber slippers and were able to climb slippery hills and march through brush without any difficulty. Meanwhile, all of us westerners in our expensive hiking boots and gear were slipping and sliding all over the terraces.
I think one person I will always remember is our 19 year old H'mong tour guide who was very sweet but sometimes moved too quickly for some people in our party. I was interested in her lifestyle so I asked about what she did in her youth and what she did for fun. The first surprise was finding out that she was 19 when she really looked 13 or 14 (Bless the youthful Asian genes!). The second was that she was married to her 16 year old husband and had no children. She explained to me that she was got married relatively late compared to her peers as the normal age was around 14-16. She also mentioned that most of her younger friends already had babies while she was just trying to work. I learned a lot about traditional H'mong customs including the general acceptance that if you are a woman and not married by 21 or 22, you are considered lazy and unfit for marriage. In this world, men stayed at home and tended to the farm while women worked in tourism mainly because women are more marketable for tourists.
Before I go off into more detail about my interactions with H'mong women, here are some great shots of the two days!
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