Halong Bay, on the Vietnam coast, is a popular tourist destination. Perhaps a bit too popular. The distinctive limestone island formations have made it a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. All this attention has made it more popular than ever. The bay has nearly 2,000 small islands, or more correctly, islets. Some are large enough to have inhabitants, but most are too small, too steep, and too overgrown to easily live on them. There are many islets with small beaches on them. Some have caverns formed over 20 million years of geological evolution, hot wet climate, and slow erosion and tectonic processes. Continue reading
This large lake is a prominent feature on maps of Cambodia. Its water levels and volume change dramatically from the wet to dry seasons, filled and drained by the ebb and flow of the Tonle Sap River and its confluence with the mighty Mekong. The size of the lake swells to nearly 5 times its dry season size during the rainy season. We went here based on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, Thony, and it’s unique ecosystem and water culture were a complete surprise to Sheri and me. The lake is only 15 km. from Siem Reap, but the roads are only partially paved and took 45 minutes to get there in our tuk-tuk. Our driver brought us to a harbor late in the afternoon where we bought our $20 tickets per person and proceeded to our boat. We later found out that this price is negotiable depending on the boat operator. The boat launch reminded me of our trip up the Little Yangtze River in China; lots of boats trying to dock somewhere that could barely accommodate them all. Continue reading
If you’ve been following my Facebook posts, you know I collect Hard Rock Cafe pins. I have pins from 33 Hard Rock Cafes from around the world that I have personally visited. The last one was at Hard Rock Angkor in Cambodia which I wasn’t even aware of its existence. It isn’t a criteria for visiting a place, but if there’s one where I’m going, I try to get to it and pick up a couple of pins.
I usually have internet access available on my phone, but Vietnam is one of the place that my cellular plan doesn’t include in their coverage. Since we’re on a budget, I don’t feel the need to pay extra just to have that connectivity. I just use the WiFi in the hotel. Normally, I would look up the Hard Rock when I have internet access, but somehow it slipped my mind (old age) and I didn’t think of it until we saw a Starbucks in the expensive part of town. I couldn’t get a Hanoi coffee mug (too difficult to pack or ship), but it reminded Sheri that we should see if there’s a Hard Rock in Hanoi. Continue reading
Cambodia was our first destination in Southeast Asia. At the time, when I made the flight arrangements, I didn’t see any compelling reason to go to Phnom Penh. I figured we would see more than enough temples throughout Asia and the experience would be similar to Siem Reap, the town closest to the Angkor complex of temples. We only scheduled two nights and three days for Cambodia, and in hindsight, we could easily have afforded to stay longer. Cambodia was probably the least expensive place we have visited so far in Southeast Asia. Tourist who used to flock to Thailand for the travel bargains are now going to Cambodia instead. For me, it seems to offer more of the underdeveloped rural experience than some of the more modern Asian countries.
After reading horror stories about people crossing the border from Thailand, we decided to fly directly to Siem Reap. And although flying into the major airports allows you the convenience of getting a visa upon arrival, we opted to get our visa online while we were in Australia. We waited until just 4 days before our scheduled arrival to get our visa, but they were very fast processing it, so I had it within 2 days of applying for it. Although they are fast, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute. We printed two copies as instructed and when we arrived, having our visas beforehand saved us from waiting in a long queue to get one on arrival. Continue reading
Continued from Outback Adventure: State Route 19
Our new friends at the local hotel (we discovered that hotels are actually taverns and motels are places to sleep) eagerly welcomed us like long lost cousins to the family. Pretty soon, Shona, behind the bar, and her daughter, Kalani, were trying to get us to sing karaoke and everyone was telling us off-color jokes. It was all good-natured fun and felt like we had stepped onto the set of a Crocodile Dundee movie. Some people went by a nickname and they’ve had the nickname so long, people don’t even remember their real name. There was Shakespeare, Winky (Peter), and Grub (Grub). Sheri became besties with Ona (Fiona), who owned the store and petrol station next door. Soon she was joking with Sheri and urging us to go see a sheep shearing, because that’s where Grub was working tomorrow. Everyone was fairly drunk, so we took it all as pleasant banter brought about by alcohol. Continue reading
When we left the coast of Queensland, I had no idea that we would be going on the most memorable part of our road trip in Australia. You might want to read about the driving challenges we faced, as that would be a good preface to this story. Our road trip was fairly uneventful until we left Townsville after returning from Magnetic Island. Google maps had been taking us on scenic routes, often taking us on circuitous secondary or residential streets when a more direct route existed. More often than not, this resulted in more traffic congestion and longer travel times. Sometimes, it would be costly when Google would direct me onto a tollway. Continue reading