Thailand and Cambodia

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sorry for the delay everyone! We had some difficulties with internet connections in India, so I’m just getting this post up now.

On April 14th we got up and headed to the Luang Prabang airport to fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 but instead left at 1:00, which was the first time that’s happened to me with an international flight. I guess such a small airport can do that! We arrived in Chiang Mai at 2:00 and were greeted by Ted. He took us to his apartment where we unloaded our things and prepared for Songkran.

We took a songtao, basically a pickup truck with a covered bed and benches in the back, downtown with Ted and Kate and headed toward a moat in the center of town. People use buckets to bring water up from the moat to fill their trash cans that they put ice into. The ice water didn’t feel nearly as good as slightly cool water in Luang Prabang, immediately causing anyone who gets hit to tense all muscles and gasp for air. Across the street from the moat there were several stages blasting music and spraying water on people with areas to dance which was a blast. We spent that day and the next dancing in the street soaking wet celebrating the new year with tons of people having a blast. I would love to experience it all again.

The next few days in Chiang Mai we spent meeting some of Ted’s friends who were also teaching English in Thailand hearing about their experiences. It was nice to hang out with and meet new people again. Ted showed us around Chiang Mai University where he taught and also took us to his favorite local restaurants and street vendors for food. I had the best Pad Thai I’d ever eaten, and it was only $1.50. I wish I could get it that cheap in the States! It was nice to relax for a few days after all of the dancing in the street as I’d somehow managed to hurt my neck and back by jumping around so much.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

On April 22nd we took a bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and it was by far the nicest bus I’ve ever been on. The seats were wide, three to a row and all could recline with a footrest. The seats were also massage chairs that we could turn on whenever we liked. We arrived in Bangkok around 8:30 pm and got a hotel for one night as we were catching another bus to Siem Reap, Cambodia the next day.

The ride to the Thailand/Cambodia border was uneventful. We met a nice guy named Jonathan also from Illinois who decided to join us during our time in Siem Reap. When we got to the boarder bus stop we had to take a tuk tuk to the actual border crossing and we’d read about the scams that they have going on there. Tuk tuks will take you to what they say is the boarder, you’ll go into a building to buy your Cambodian visa and end up paying four times the cost that you would at the real boarder crossing. We were taken with Jonathan to a fake boarder crossing about a kilometer away from the real boarder crossing and walked around a parking lot confused for a bit before we figured out the direction we had to go. They weren’t going to scam us! We walked through and got our passports stamped by Thailand before getting our Cambodian Visa on Arrival which is what you’re supposed to do.

Thailand/Cambodia Boarder

We got through the boarder into Cambodia and shared a cab ride to Siem Reap. We found the hotel we’d booked online and arranged for a tuk tuk to pick us up the next morning at 5:00 am so we could see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. The rest of the night we walked around Siem Reap which has a really cool downtown area and found good places to eat and drink. We got $0.50 beers with Jonathan and got to know him a bit better before finding a fish “foot massage” place that are everywhere in the touristy area. For the foot massage you put your feet in a tank filled with fish and sit while they eat the dead skin off of your feet. It tickles a lot at first, but once you get used to it it’s bearable. It’s was always fun watching the first few minutes of someone’s massage as they tried to keep their composure.

Me, Will, and Jonathan at the fish massage

The massaging fish on Will’s feet

The next day we got up incredibly early, not the most fun, but it was definitely worth it. We took our tuk tuk to Angkor Wat and got there with about 15 minutes to spare before sunrise. It was incredible seeing watching the temple gradually light up as the sun rose as it was mostly a silhouette when we got there. We stayed at Angkor Wat until 7:40 am when the top of the temple was opened so we could climb up. The intricate carvings on every wall were awe inspiring even though they were fading with time and made you wonder what it looked like when it was first built.

From Angkor Wat our tuk tuk took us to several different temples including Bayon and Angkor Tam. Many of the temples are close to each other so it didn’t take long to get there.

By 8:30 am it was already getting incredibly hot, especially with the stone temples absorbing the heat. We managed to last until noon when it was easily over 100 degrees out before heading back to the hotel. Will and I slept until 4:00 pm after being out wandering around the temples. Definitely necessary. We wandered around for a bit while Jonathan napped and got some food before coming back to meet some German girls also staying at the hotel. We invited them to join us exploring Siem Reap and headed to the night markets and Bar Street where many tourists are.

A few days later Jonathan Will and I signed up to take a Khmer cooking class at a local restaurant. We each got to pick an appetizer, entree, and then as a group we picked a dessert. I chose to make fresh shrimp spring rolls, seafood amok, and the dessert was mangoes and sticky rice. The amok had squid and shrimp in it and was very much like a curry at the end. We spent the day learning the dishes and eating delicious food which was quite enjoyable. When we sat down to enjoy our main courses, Will and I noticed that they had Kingdom Beer on the menu which is from a new brewery in Phnom Penh. I read about it back in Chicago several months before planning this trip and had almost forgotten about it until we saw they had it. It was definitely the best light beer I had on this trip. It uses the best Czech and German hops, German malt and quality water making a delicious beer.

Jonathan, me, and Will at our cooking class

My shrimp spring rolls

Seafood Amok

Our mangoes and sticky rice

Bangkok, Thailand

On April 27th we got up and caught a bus to Bangkok. The boarder crossing going into Thailand was much busier and more stressful than the boarder going into Cambodia. We ended up sitting in the sun for several hours waiting to get our passports stamped which made us late for our arrival at Mae and Ken Mays’ home, one of my dad’s college room mates. When we finally arrived in Bangkok we called the Mays to let them know we were alive and caught a cab to their home.

The next day we got up and went with Uncle Ken to get measured for a suit by Jesse and Sam Gulati, another connection of my Grandpa Swede’s. Maybe 10 years ago Jesse Gulati came to Chicago and measured me for one of the first suits I ever had and I had no idea he was based out of Bangkok. Incredibly random, but it was funny seeing him again and updating him on my family. Will and I both were measured and picked out our fabric for our suits and shirts. I wish I could wear the finished product now, but it has to wait until I get home!

Me, Jesse Gulati, Will, and Uncle Ken

After going to the Gulati’s, we headed to a movie theater to get out of the heat. The theater was in a new mall called Terminal 21 that is themed like an airport and different cities. Kind of a cool idea and it must have taken an incredible amount of work to put together.

Will in front of the San Francisco floor of Terminal 21

After the movie Uncle Ken took us to see Thai Craft which was started by their international church. The idea was to make sure that the people putting the work into the arts and crafts were getting paid fairly for their time and efforts, so prices are set and there was no bargaining. That was also kind of nice, because haggling all the time can get a little frustrating. It was nice to know that if we bought anything there everything was done fairly.

Before dinner we joined up with Auntie Mae again and then went to House of Beers for good Belgian beers and french fries. We’ve been told by several people that Belgians make the best fries, so hopefully I’ll get to try them in Belgium! Someone said that their trick is to fry them two times in order to get them extra crispy. It was great having a few good beers and fries before going out for dinner.

Belgian french fries served with all sorts of dipping sauces. Delicious!

The Mays then took us to an Italian restaurant, knowing that we were missing more familiar spices and flavors. It was phenomenal due to being owned by an Italian who married a Thai woman and moved to Bangkok. I didn’t get to look in the kitchen, but the chefs did a great job with the pizza and pasta. Everything was made in house, so the fettucini was to die for.

Auntie Mae and me at the Italian restaurant

On Sunday the Mays took us to the non-denominational International Church of Bangkok. It was cool to see people from so many different backgrounds in one place with similar beliefs. Quite different from churches I’ve gone to back home. When the congregation was to recite the Lord’s Prayer in the bulletin it said that people were welcome to say it in their native languages, making for a very different sound than I was used to.

After church we headed to Amphawa floating market south of Bangkok. It was a more popular floating market that ran on a river with many shops along the way. There were many boats that would pick a spot near steps going down to the river so people could walk down to buy food. We got a delicious Thai lunch on the river and then explored the floating market a bit before the heat drained our energy and we headed back to Bangkok.

The next day Auntie Mae picked up many fruits native to Southeast Asia that Will and I had never seen before. Most of them had similar consistencies and sizes but they tasted very different. I don’t remember the names of all of the fruits, but we got some pictures so we should be able to figure it out.

Auntie Mae had also brought home a beetle leaf appetizer that was phenomenal. What you would do is take a beetle leaf and put cut ginger, lime, dried coconut meat, peanuts, dried mini shrimp, a slice of a spicy pepper, shallots, and a coconut sauce inside before wrapping it up and eating it in one bite. I wonder if I could find all of the ingredients back home!

Auntie Mae’s Thai appetizer

When Uncle Ken got home we had dinner and were then told that they had both picked up the notorious durian fruit for us to try. We had been told that it smells terrible and has a gooey, chunky consistency, and outside several hotels you’ll see signs saying they don’t allow durian inside. Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical about trying it but knew I had to. Uncle Ken and Auntie Mae both love it and told us that people pretty much love it or hate it. When they brought it out, I breathed through my mouth to give it a fair chance because I didn’t want my view of the fruit to be tainted by a bad smell. Unfortunately, that didn’t help very much. Will and I fell into the latter category and didn’t like it that much. Afterwards, the dining room reeked of durian so much that Uncle Ken lit candles to get rid of the smell.

One of the nights Will and I went to check out Khao San Road, a popular place for backpackers and tourists to check out in Bangkok. It was very crowded and had plenty of bars and shops, which was kind of fun to look around. It wasn’t exactly our scene, so we picked one bar to have a drink at and people watched for a while. At one point I had to use the bathroom, so I went inside the fancier looking club we were sitting outside of and told the guy sitting at the front, “bathroom,” to which he nodded his head. I thought there was some sort of cover charge, so I was followed into the bathroom by a worker who I assumed was just going to make sure I didn’t try to skip out on the entrance fee. I was wrong. I started getting a massage from him while peeing, which was very nice but quite unexpected. He cracked my neck and lower back and then went to get paper towels for me for after I washed my hands. I was wearing my “Bia Hoi” shirt from Vietnam and when I turned to face him he tilted his head, pointed, and asked, “Vietnam?” I said, “yes!” and he looked excited as he pulled out his Vietnamese passport. I showed him my Vietnam visa so he could see when we were there and said that I liked Vietnam very much. He smiled, understanding despite the language barrier and showed me his Thailand work visa. It was fun communicating with him with gestures and passports and when I was heading back out of the club I tipped him with the smallest bill I had, 100 Baht, around $3. His eyes got incredibly wide and jaw dropped a little bit before he gave me a huge hug. Definitely the highlight my night and possibly his.

Our last full day in Bangkok we went to see the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple. To get there we took the BTS train to the river and got on a boat bus. When we got to our stop, we hopped off and walked through a market to get to the temple. We toured the temple, taking many pictures of the ornate designs and structures everywhere. The Emerald Buddha Temple is where the King goes to pray to Buddha and there are two rooms near the front of the temple that are hidden from view to maintain the King’s privacy. The history of the Emerald Buddha is interesting with it having been covered in some plaster when it was discovered to hide its value. It floated between Laos and Thailand during wars and ended up in Bangkok where it is today. It is made entirely of Jade and there are different outfits for it depending on the season in Thailand. The King changes its outfits three times a year.

A funny sign outside the palace

After the Emerald Buddha Temple we went to the Grand Palace and took some pictures outside. The King doesn’t live in it anymore, but there are many areas within the Grand Palace grounds that are fenced off for royal use.

Will outside the Palace

After exploring the Grand Palace, we headed to find some Pad Thai as it was our last day in Thailand. Auntie Mae didn’t want to get it with us as it’s Thai street food, but we ate it very frequently in Chiang Mai with Ted and were going through some withdrawal. We found a street restaurant that served it and then headed back to the Mays.

The next morning we got up early to go to a wet market with Auntie Mae. Will and I had said we were going to eat bugs in Thailand and we weren’t going to wimp out. We arrived at the wet market and after Auntie Mae asked around, we found out that the shop that fried bugs to eat was no longer in business. Bummer! I’m not sure how well bugs would’ve sat in my stomach that early in the morning anyway, but I would’ve done it. Some other time! We explored the wet market which was pretty gross at times with live fish and frogs being skinned. PETA would’ve flipped, but when the Thai people want something fresh they mean it.

Auntie Mae then took us to a mall that sold bootleg DVDs and other electronics. Pretty wild that it was housed in a mall! Copyright means something completely different in Southeast Asia if it exists at all. Finally we grabbed lunch at a nicer mall food court before going back to the Mays to get our things together to head to India. We had a phenomenal time in Southeast Asia and I know I’m going to miss it immensely. I hope to go back for a longer period of time if it’s ever possible to see more things, eat more delicious food, and meet more great people.

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Laos

On April 6th we flew from Hanoi to Luang Prabang with Ted and Kate. After landing at 11:00 am and getting our visas, we walked out of the airport to find transportation into town. The taxis and tuk-tuks allowed in the parking lot were charging more than we had read it should cost, so we walked out and found a tuk-tuk for a quarter of the price we were initially given.

After finding a hotel and dropping off our bags, we began to wander along the peninsula. The change of pace from Hanoi was very welcome, not having to dodge motorcycles wherever we went. It was much quieter and the people seemed happier to see tourists than in the bigger cities of Vietnam. As we weren’t used to the heat yet, we grabbed some fruit smoothies and relaxed while deciding what to do.

The first thing we saw in Luang Prabang was Mount Phou Si. There were a few shops selling incense and flowers on the 100 m climb up to the top where there were several temples. Will and I decided to buy a few sticks of incense to put in front of the Buddhas at the top. When we got to the top and were looking out over the city, a monk asked me why I had incense. I explained that we wanted to properly put the incense in front of Buddha but we didn’t want to be disrespectful. At this the monk smiled and walked us through the steps of lighting a candle first, then the incense, and then placing the incense in sand at the feet of Buddha. We discussed Buddhism and Christianity a bit, but it was difficult with the language barrier. I also learned a little about what being a Laotian monk was like versus Thai monks Ted had met during his time in Chiang Mai.

Steps climbing Mount Phou Si

Friendly monk explaining how to properly light the incense

After our fruitful conversation with the monk we headed down Mount Phou Si and began to look for dinner. We crossed the Mae Kok river by a bamboo bridge and found a lounge style restaurant run by a French woman who fell in love with Luang Prabang years ago and has been raising her family there since then. I don’t blame her. It’s a gorgeous place and the people are genuinely interested in talking to tourists and learning.

A bamboo bride that is rebuilt every few years.

From dinner we headed to the Hmong markets that start around 5:00 pm. There were over 100 stalls selling a wide variety of crafts making the main street look completely different than it did earlier in the day. As we were going to be there for a few nights I decided to only look on that first night and get an idea of the cost of the crafts.

Hmong market from above

The next day we got up with the intention of taking a cooking class at 10:00 am. The main reason we didn’t do it was that it was more expensive than we had anticipated so we didn’t have enough money on us. At least we saved some money! Instead we went to the Royal Palace at the base of Mount Phou Si. The buildings were impressively decorated with carvings that were highlighted with red and gold paint. They also had the royal cars on display that were gifts from the US and Japan.

The next day we all split up for the day to do our own thing.┬áThe day before we’d found several buffets in an alley off of the Hmong markets, so we agreed to meet up there at some point for dinner. It was a much better deal than we’d been getting in restaurants in the more touristy areas of town. I hung out at a cafe updating my blog while Will went around taking pictures of the locals. When we met up again we figured out how and when we were getting to Chiang Mai, Thailand through a small travel agency that we were at first a little skeptical of. We decided to go with it as the people working there were very friendly and asked to hold on to one of our passports when we went to get money to pay them after they had already booked our plane tickets.

A few of Will's shots around town

A few relaxing days went by before Ted and Kate headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand for Songkran, the new year here. Will and I decided we wanted to spend the first day of the new year in Luang Prabang before heading to Chiang Mai so we could compare the two celebrations, which was definitely a great idea. On Friday the 13th the new year officially began, which is celebrated with a big water fight. As a result, we were unable to take pictures. Didn’t want our cameras to get soaked! Anyway, people of all ages have water guns or buckets filled with water spraying anyone and everyone who passes by. It’s a pretty brilliant idea considering the heat. I bought a water gun to join in the water fight as opposed to only being a moving target and we continued to roam around Luang Prabang.

These kids started a few days early, so this is the best example we can give of what the new year is like!

We walked around and were stopped by several people who would fill up a glass of beer for us to drink as quickly as possible so the next person could get the glass. Definitely not the most sanitary, but you only live once and I didn’t want to be rude. When we walked by our travel agency that booked our tickets for the next day, the agency was closed but a large crowd of people were out front with a trash can filled with water splashing motorcycles, cars, and pedestrians that went by. One of our travel agents was incredibly excited to see us and invited us to join their dance/water party in the street. We were flattered and ended up spending most of the day there joining in the festivities. At one point we were given food coloring to paint on other people that went by and at another I was spray-painted on the cheek. That burned a bit, but fortunately as there was water all around I rinsed it off quickly.

Eventually, our travel agent introduced us to his wife and invited us to go to “the island” in the Mekong River with them. They each had one mini flag they had decorated with pictures important to their families they carried with them to the island. We took a small boat taxi to get to this island that was packed with people building medium sized cones of sand that they would decorate with their flags tapioca starch. We helped our friends build and decorate their cone and asked them questions afterwards. The cone building is a tradition done every year on the first day of the new year by each family to bring their family good luck the following year. Afterwards we sat with our travel agent and his wife and found out that they had only been married for a few months. They wanted us to join them as they felt strange with only two people after doing it with their families for their entire lives before that. Incredibly flattering that they invited us. The travel agent said he was sorry that we had to leave the next day and invited us to stay in with his family on their farm just outside of Luang Prabang if we ever return. Told you they were friendly!

At the end of the day we were exhausted from being in the sun all day despite being covered in water. I think I got heat exhaustion, so after packing we rested in our air conditioned room, hydrated, and went to bed. On the 14th we headed to the airport and caught our flight to Chiang Mai. I got on the plane knowing I would return eventually and hopefully I’ll be able to find our friendly travel agent again.

Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

On March 24th we took our plane from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We had a layover in Guangzhou, China, getting us into Vietnam around 11:00 pm. We didn’t plan too far ahead and hadn’t booked a place to stay our first night, so we were a bit nervous and went off of Will’s Lonely Planet book. We arrived late at a hotel recommended by Lonely Planet and were accepted with open arms. I had good feelings about Southeast Asia right away. We went to bed and slept in a little after our long day of traveling.

The next day we got up and wandered around our hotel a little bit getting our bearings. It was quite different being on our own again after having hosts for three weeks prior to our arrival in Vietnam. Due to the crowded nature of Ho Chi Minh, we were a little overwhelmed and didn’t get far before we were confronted by cyclo drivers who offered to take us around the city to different sights. We decided to go for it as it would familiarize us with where we were and we would get to sight see.

Riding in my cyclo

The first place the cyclo drivers took us was a pagoda in the middle of the city. Getting there was a bit frightening as we were on the front of the bikes that they would push into traffic. For the most part you ignore motorcycles with the thought process with the thought process that they’ll avoid you. Kind of crazy, but it works surprisingly well there. Didn’t see any accidents and the mopeds and motorcycles went at reasonable speeds. Anyway, when we got to the pagoda, it was pretty, but we’re definitely getting spoiled with how much we’ve gotten to see. At this point, pagodas and temples aren’t as appealing as they used to be with similar decorations and colors on a fair amount of the buildings throughout Asia. I wish I knew more about the history so I could pick out more differences between all of them.

From the pagoda we headed to a Chinese market. It was incredibly crowded and gave a whole new meaning to efficient use of space. Getting through some of the aisles was a squeeze and there were plenty of people grabbing Will and I saying, “Handsome man! Handsome man! This shirt is for you!” We got out of the main area of the market and grabbed some lunch at a small vendor on the first floor that had incredibly good food for the amount we paid. The cyclo drivers were waiting for us and charging us by the hour, so we decided to head out.

Finally the drivers took us to the Vietnam War Museum. It was incredibly interesting getting such a wildly different perspective on the war from the little I’ve heard about it in America. I’m not sure how I went through all of my high school and college education without learning very much about that war, but I definitely would not have been shown images of North Vietnamese soldiers being painted as patriots dying for their country with guns pointed to their heads by American soldiers. It’s sad to me how much money is spent on figuring out ways to harm other people.

After the war museum we called it a day and headed back to our hotel. Across the street there was a bar that had decent looking pizzas so we headed there for dinner as we’ve been craving cheese and something more familiar for a while. It hit the spot and several bartenders came over to practice their English with and get to know us.

The next day we signed up to take a Vietnamese cooking class nearby. We had some time to kill before heading to the class, so we went to a church nearby. It was interesting how they burned incense for Mary and their crucifix in a very similar manner to how incense is burned in front of Buddhas at temples and pagodas.

After the church, we went to our class at the Mai Home Saigon Culinary Art Center. There was one couple from the UK who joined us who wanted to learn how to cook pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup dish. As a result we had to cough up a few more dollars for ingredients, but it was definitely worth it. If enough of you are interested, I’ll post the recipe on the blog. We paid about as much for the class and the food as we would’ve in Australia for just the meal. It’s really nice to be in Southeast Asia.

Will preparing spices for the Pho broth

The delicious banana flower salad we learned to make

Our last day in Saigon we were shown around by one of the waitresses from the bar we got pizza from. She took us to a large market in a warehouse that we hadn’t been to yet and insisted we see it. It was similar to the Chinese market in how crowded it was and how people would grab Will and I telling us we wanted something. There was plenty to buy and again I wished my bag was bigger. I’m still not willing to carry all of that on my back for the next three months.

From the market we asked the waitress to take us to a Vietnamese restaurant she considered good. We went to a pancake restaurant where the pancakes were thin, crispy, and filled with shrimp, potatoes, and bean sprouts. We were instructed to break apart the large pancake and wrap it in lettuce before dipping it in fish sauce. Quite different from anything I’ve tasted, especially considering the shrimp shells were left on inside the pancakes. Despite that it was a really enjoyable meal!

Hue

That night we took the overnight train to Hue. We got in at about 3:30 pm and took a cab to the Green Bamboo Hotel, another Lonely Planet suggestion. We got settled and then went out for noodle soup, which ended up making me sick for the first time on the trip. It was a pretty good run so far though! It could’ve been a result of drinking all of the broth so quickly because I was famished. Needless to say, that night ended pretty early.

The next day we got up earlier and walked to see the Imperial City in Hue. As a large festival was being held there for the New Year in April there was a fair amount of construction going on, setting up stages and getting other things ready. The last emperor of Vietnam lived inside the Imperial City before transferring power to the Vietnam Liberation Party. It has taken a significant amount of damage from the French and American wars that is clearly visible further inside the Imperial City, but they’re currently renovating it and hope to fully repair it in the next decade.

A courtyard nside the citadel

After the Imperial City we went to the river to find out how much a boat ride would cost. We were planning on going on a boat in Halong Bay anyway, so we didn’t end up hiring one for a river tour of Hue. Instead we sat on a bench and people watched for a while, being approached occasionally by people trying to sell us things. Eventually a Vietnamese guy about our age came up and started speaking in broken English to us, telling us he wanted to practice speaking. He was taking classes and asked us for tips on how to improve his English. We talked for about an hour before he pulled out post cards and told us he sold them to help pay for his education. I asked him how much he wanted for one and when he said, “pay what you want,” I wanted to help him at least a little. Usually we’ve been told prices right away! We exchanged contact information and parted ways.

On the 30th we got up early to go on a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) tour. Our tour guide was a South Vietnam war veteran who had been captured as a POW by the North 6 months before the end of the war. He was a little difficult to understand so it was more sightseeing and picking up little things here and there than I’d hoped, but it was incredible to see nonetheless.

Me with our DMZ tour guide on a bridge connecting the former North and South Vietnam

Our first stop on the tour was the Horrible Highway. From what I understood, a standoff occurred on the Horrible Highway between the Viet Cong and South Vietnamese troops, but there were many innocent civilians present who lost their lives as well. After the war, the Vietnam government built a monument to pay respect to those who died.

Our next stop was a bullet riddled church further inside the DMZ. I didn’t understand our guide at all at this point, but it was incredible to see how much damage the church had taken in a battle. When we got there a cow was standing inside looking out as the land is now used for farming, which was an interesting juxtaposition. Inside there was still an “INRI” plaque where a crucifix must have hung underneath.

Our final stop on the tour was a visit to clay tunnels dug by a village over a seven year time span. The tunnels were three levels deep, the deepest being 23 m for protection from bombings. There were 15 different entrances all covered by bamboo to shield them from the sky, some of which went out to the South China Sea. Gorgeous view. It was impressive how small the tunnels were considering people would have to rush down during an air raid. The tunnels have never collapsed and now there are areas that tourists can walk through.

Bamboo covered entrance to the tunnels

Our last full day in Hue we spent catching up with emails and figuring out Hanoi. We discovered a few days before that two friends from St. Olaf, Ted and Kate Hagen, were also traveling through Southeast Asia and were arriving in Hanoi on April 3, so we coordinated with them a bit. Small world! We let them know where we were staying and then hopped on our night train to Hanoi.

Hanoi

At 11:00 am we arrived in Hanoi and were picked up by our hotel. We’d done some research and discovered that a big scam in Hanoi is fake hotels having fake taxis to take you there, so we arranged before our arrival to be taken there. We got into the hotel and I checked my email to discover that Ted and Kate had gotten the same online deal we did and were staying in the same hotel. We waited a few minutes for them to arrive and then went to get lunch.

After lunch we walked around checking out the Old Quarter, where we were staying in Hanoi. We decided that we wanted to see the Ethnography Museum where there were many authentic homes built by different groups of people living in Vietnam. It was fascinating to see how many people lived and continue to do so even now.

While at the museum we saw a water puppet show. We made it in perfect time to catch the full act that involved incredibly intricate puppets that moved in all sorts of ways and fireworks. Whoever first thought it was very clever.

One of the many intricate water puppets

The puppeteers for the show

After the museum we headed back to town and tried to find bia hoi, or fresh beer. It’s a beer made with rice and as a result it goes bad quickly and is made daily. We heard that it was a Vietnam staple and we had to try it. We asked some locals about it and they pointed in the direction to go. After wandering around the streets for a bit, we found a small outdoor “bar” on a street corner with small plastic chairs and tables and sat down. The size of the place very much added to the experience, forcing us to converse with the people sitting at the table next to us as so many people wanting bia hoi. Each glass of bia hoi was sold for 5,000 dong or about $0.25. No wonder it’s so popular! We ended up meeting a couple from Alaska that had been traveling in Vietnam for three or four months with their two year old son. I have to find some job that lets me do something similar!

A few days later we went to see Ho Chi Minh’s corpse in the mausoleum in Hanoi. It was impressive how organized they make people walk through the mausoleum and everyone walks through in silence to respect Ho Chi Minh. After the mausoleum you walk through his former palace and the house on stilts he preferred to the palace. The fact that he chose to live in a two room home instead of the palace made him well liked by the people as they viewed him as one of them rather than just a ruler.

After walking around the city for a significant portion of the day, we couldn’t resist the urge to go back to get a refreshing bia hoi and sit. It was a blast because we ended up sitting with different groups and talking with locals, trying our best to communicate with the people. They were all very friendly and one man I was talking to was getting married at the end of the week so he was out with his friends for the night. When I was about to start asking him about his wedding, two motorcycles flew down the street blasting their horns which got everyone’s attention immediately. I saw a police truck following the motorcycles and it stopped in front of our bia hoi restaurant. I know I looked confused as the man getting married shouted in my ear, “Grab your chair and run!” which I saw many people doing, so I picked up my chair and ran with a crowd into an alley. I found some foreigners who explained to me that the place we were at wasn’t legally allowed to serve food even though countless similar shops do, so occasionally the police will come and either extort the restaurants for money or take their equipment. Such a different world.

Halong Bay

The next day the four of us headed to Halong Bay for a two day, one night stay on a boat. On our arrival on our boat we got settled in our rooms and were then served lunch. The boat took us into Halong Bay during the meal and I think any trip to Vietnam is incomplete without seeing it, regardless of how touristy it is. The views were incredible and as usual it’s impossible to do them justice with pictures. The fog made it even more surreal with these large rocks slowly forming in the distance and clearing up as we got closer.

That day we went to see the Amazing Cave that was much larger than I’d expected. Our guide from the boat took us through the caves and told us stories of the discovery of the caves and pointed out the names of different rock formations. After the Amazing Cave we went to a floating village to get kayaks to get closer to the isles of Halong and look in an unlit cave.

The next day we got up early for breakfast and then were taken on a rowboat through a floating village. We saw their school and homes up close that were both fascinating. I can’t imagine growing up in a floating village and that being all I knew, but I would like to try living in one for a little while just to see what it was like.

A floating village we passed by on our boat

On the 6th we left for Luang Prabang, Laos, deciding to join Ted and Kate there. Going there wasn’t even in our initial plans when we left the states, but as we knew people were going and it was recommended to us, we bought some plane tickets to avoid the hassle of crossing the boarder by land. When we were leaving Vietnam it was the first time I’ve felt sad to leave a country since we started the trip. I had a phenomenal time meeting people, seeing as much as we could see during our stay and meeting up with some Oles…again!

Oles in Vietnam! Kate Hagen, Will, Ted Hagen, and I

Seoul

Sorry for the long delay everyone! Vietnam was busier than expected and I couldn’t access the internet as easily, so here’s the update on Seoul. I’ll get a post on Vietnam up ASAP, so get ready for a lot of reading.

Early on March 16th CC Chen took Will and I to a bus stop so we could get to the airport in Taipei on time. We got to the airport at 6:30am for our flight around 8:00. The airport was incredibly crowded due to the amount of construction going on but we still managed to get to our gate with time to spare.

After the two hour flight to Seoul we were picked up by Avery Jeong, another St. Olaf grad. We caught up over lunch before heading to the Jeong’s home where we stayed for the duration of our time in South Korea. Avery had to go to teach hockey so Will and I rested and got in touch with Mike Perich, another Ole who moved here to teach English and study Korean. As it was a Friday night, after work he took us to a bar where we met some of his coworkers and reminisced about our time at St. Olaf. Seems to be a trend for all of our interactions with friends from school.

Avery Jeong

Mr. Jeong, Mike, me, and Will

The next day Mr. Jeong took us out to a grill your own meat place, which I think I like more than hot pots. He ordered Soju, a rice vodka-like liquor, and beer. You mix the two, which at first I thought was pretty gross, but it was actually surprisingly good. We didn’t really have the option of saying no to our host. For the grill he got pork belly that was served with a ton of side dishes, which are a big deal in Korea. Kimchi, spiced, pickled vegetables, usually cabbage, is served at every meal. Every restaurant and home has their own recipe that they take pride in.

Mr. Jeong pouring our drinks

Pork belly on the grill

Pickled radishes and kimchi

On the 19th we went to see Gyongbok Palace before heading to Insadong, an art market in the same area. It was our first time taking the subway and we didn’t anticipate it taking as long as it did, so we got to Gyongbok a little too late to go in. After quickly taking some pictures of the courtyard we headed to the market.

A majority of the things there are hand made crafts, so we weren’t allowed to take many pictures. It was about two city blocks long lined with art and it made me wish I had more space in my bag. While walking down Insadong, we were called over by a group of guys making a pastry out of honey. They took a ball of honey, covered it in corn flour and then stretched it out like pasta until it was very fine before wrapping it around a filling of nuts and chocolate. They were quite entertaining and we figured we had to try it. They were pretty tasty, but really dry due to the flour.

On the 19th, Jake Jeong, yet another close Ole friend got his first break from the military. As a South Korean man, he is required to do two years of mandatory service. It was strange seeing him in full uniform decked out in cammo when I last saw him at St. Olaf. Very different environment. He told us about the military and how different his life is now that he’s back in South Korea and we told him about our trip. Mrs. Jeong cooked us a feast in Jake’s honor that we grilled in the center of the table. Definitely want to do that at home for a fun dinner party!

Jake and I

The next day Jake took us to a pork cutlet restaurant across Seoul. At this particular restaurant, they have a “death sauce” that if you order it, they first test you with one bite of it and decide whether you can eat it or not based on your reaction. They also hand out bites of the death sauce pork if you want to just try it. If you’re able to eat the two large death sauce pork cutlets in under 10 minutes the restaurant gives you free food for 6 months. Of course, we had to try a bite. The woman came by offering the death sauce pork and she said that we weren’t allowed to try it until after our meal as it would “ruin our stomach.” Intimidating. We finished our meals and then Jake, Will, and I each got a bite and took them one at a time, filming each other’s reactions. The woman was right and my definition of spicy will never be the same. At first it tasted sweet and a little smokey, but you could tell it was going to get bad. As soon as I swallowed, I got dizzy and started sweating. Intense! I think they put capsaicin extract in the sauce.

Afterwards, we headed to Itaewon, a younger, more touristy area of Seoul. We sat and grabbed coffees because we were all drained from the heat of the death sauce. From the cafe we headed to the Samsung Art Museum and first went through the ancient art section with Jake. It was pretty helpful having him there because he was able to teach us things about the Korean dynasties that we’d never learned about in the States. One of the things I took away from that was that if a dragon has three fingers, it was made for the lower class, four fingers, royalty, and five fingers was for the king.

The next day we went to meet up with a foreign exchange student who studied at St. Olaf for one semester, Colin Wong. We walked around his university and looked around before going to one of the other four universities in a small area. When Colin got out of class at 5:30, we went to grab dinner and catch up. It was a great time and afterwards we went to meet up with Mike again.

Overall our time in Seoul was spent catching up with good friends and seeing what they were up to. It was colder than any other place that we’re going to be on our trip which made going out less appealing, but we were able to see a fair amount at least. It was a nice change of pace after the more intense sightseeing we had been doing in the few weeks prior to our visit and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to go back when it’s warmer there in the future.

Taiwan

Taipei

On March 9th we got up early to fly to Taipei. All flights from Hong Kong are international, so we didn’t need to worry about stumbling into the domestic terminal and getting lost. We flew into Taipei around 11:30 am and although we were aware of the fact that we weren’t going to be able to read anything, we weren’t quite mentally prepared for it. We didn’t know exactly where we were staying that night, so we went to the travel information desk at the airport and asked them about hostels, going with the first one they suggested. We hopped on a bus and headed to the city center, and the first thing I noticed was how many mopeds they have here. It’s kind of nuts, especially since it seemed like rules don’t really apply to them. They drove on the side of roads, weaving through traffic, into oncoming traffic on less busy roads, and even on sidewalks, granted it was slower when they had to avoid pedestrians.

After getting into downtown and getting checked into our hostel, we were hungry for something familiar. We’d seen a Subway around the block and decided to go there for lunch. Not the best idea, but it hit the spot at the time. We spent about $7 each on food that we found out a few hours later would have fed us for twice as many meals had we just looked a bit more. At least we found that out relatively quickly. We then wandered around for a bit before calling another St. Olaf grad, Zach Hylton, who has been living in Taipei for a while studying Mandarin.

After grabbing a more reasonably priced dinner compliments of our wonderful friend, we took the subway to his area of Taipei and headed to night markets near his house with a few of his friends. I really wish they had night markets in the States. It was pretty sweet seeing all the things they had on sale there, ranging from clothes, to food, to live rabbits…maybe also considered food! Zach’s friends started to get hungry, so they took us to a traditional Taiwanese restaurant where we had pork fat on top of rice, pig head skin, and fried pork. The straight fat was a little much, but definitely worth a try. While we were eating a cat kept on wandering in and out of the restaurant and the woman who prepared our food would pet him. Health codes are just a little different here.

The next day we explored a lot of the area we were staying in on foot and saw that there were probably around 30 camera shops in a 1 mile radius of our hostel. After passing so many camera stores, we pulled out a map to see what was in the area and I saw “Modern Toilet Restaurant.” I’d remembered seeing it on an episode of some strange restaurants around the world show on the Travel Channel, so we decided we had to go. We got to the restaurant and were guided to our table where we sat on toilets, lids down of course. We ordered our food and tea that both came in miniature toilets.

Chairs at the Modern Toilet Restaurant

Later that night we met up with Zach and his friends again and they took us to an all you can eat hot pot restaurant where you cooked your own meat on a grill or in a boiling pot of broth in the middle of the table. It was awesome, minus the fact that we had one grill and one pot for six people, so there was a lot of waiting, which was hard for six hungry people to do. Despite the waiting, everyone was stuffed at the end of the meal.

Aftermath of the hot pot meal

The 11th was a relatively uneventful, relaxing day with more exploring and taking pictures before we met up with Zach again. You can see some of the pictures on Will’s shutterfly. We decided to get a fancier meal compliments of my amazing parents (Thanks again!) to celebrate Zach’s and my birthdays, on the 9th and 13th respectively. Zach took us to a steak house where the staff loved practicing speaking their English with us. It was a blast and weird how we now reminisce about college life. If studying’s the worst part of the day, life is pretty great.

On our last day in Taipei, our goal was to get to Din Tai Fung, a dumpling restaurant recommended to me by Gracey. It was a little tough finding it since we weren’t used to the section numbers or side streets with the same name. After a little bit of searching, we found the original restaurant and waited for about 45 minutes to get a seat. While we were waiting, we filled out a sheet with our orders and got half orders of a variety of dumplings, wontons, and pot stickers. When we finally got in, we immediately realized it was worth the wait. After trying spicy shrimp wontons, pork and shrimp dumplings, pot stickers, and pork buns, we were still a little hungry and decided to get the truffle and pork dumpling. It was incredible! It was the first time that I’d actually had a real truffle as opposed to truffle oil, and it might have been worth the price. A little bit of a splurge with our budget, but it was life changing.

Outside Din Tai Fung

Truffle dumpling play by play:

Excitement for truffle pork dumpling

First bite of truffle pork dumpling

Discovery of the real truffle in the dumpling

We spent the afternoon exploring more and taking pictures, soaking in the fact that we were in Taipei. When we started to get hungry, we headed back to the area our hostel was in as there were plenty of restaurants and street vendors to choose from. We were exploring our options when hunger hit us like a ton of bricks so we saw a small authentic Taiwanese restaurant with pictures of the food we decided to try. I ordered ground pork on top of some noodles and didn’t think that we had anything to worry about. I was wrong. When my food came there were cubes of liver on top of the noodles in some sort of broth that rubbed Will and I the wrong way. We felt bad not eating it though due to the owners being so helpful with trying to translate things for us and take care of us, so we sucked it up and at 2/3 of it. After that we grabbed some bubble milk teas, iced tea with milk, sugar, and large tapioca balls that are delicious and cheap, to get rid of the taste.

At the end of the 12th we took the 9:30 pm high speed rail train to Taichung. The train goes about 180 mph, so it only took an hour to get there. Gracey met us at the train station and we called CC Chen, another business friend of my grandpa, who came and brought us to his home.

Taichung

On March 13th, Gracey, Will, and I spent most of the day relaxing and catching up. It was nice after not having much space to relax in Taipei. For my birthday dinner, CC took us to a nice teppanyaki restaurant in Taichung. It was an incredible meal where we picked several things from the menu to be prepared in front of us on a griddle. I had a hot crab salad, duck soup, lamb chops with a mint sauce, shrimp fried rice, and mini cake for dessert. Jane and CC were very generous with their food as well so I was able to try their beef, which was phenomenal with a little bit of garlic salt. The chef was definitely able to cook things to perfection.

Crab salad

Diced lamb chops and mint sauce

Shrimp fried rice

After dinner, we were moved from the griddle side seats to another area for dessert. Jane informed the staff that it was my birthday, so they brought me a small chocolate mousse cake for dessert and sung a traditional Taiwanese birthday song.

Will's creme brulee

The girls who sang happy birthday to me in Taiwanese

CC, Jane, Nancy, Gracey, Me, and Will

The next day CC had one of his research assistants, Mina, come pick us up and take us to a trail near the top of a mountain. We walked for about 1.5 km downhill to the largest footbridge I’ve ever been on. It was pretty cool and crazy to feel how much it moved with every step despite being significantly fortified. On the walk we also saw a wild monkey that was hanging out eating. I tried to avoid eye contact with it because they can see it as a threat, but when others on the trail made eye contact it went into a defensive looking position and then got bored and kept eating.

We decided to stop walking because it was really humid and we had gone pretty far downhill, so we knew the walk back up would be a challenge. After we got back to the car we drove a bit to a 7-11 where we stopped to get a snack. I wasn’t expecting the snack to be hot noodles or the 7-11 to have a place for us to sit down. Just a little different from the 7-11s I’m used to! Afterwards we met up with another research assistant of CCs, Louise, who we were traded off to. We got dinner at another Din Tai Fung again because it’s so delicious and headed to the biggest night market in Taichung. We were about to call it a night when we found a place that served snake, so we obviously had to cross that off the bucket list. It was served in a soup, kind of chewy, and reminded me of crocodile. Not too bad!

Our last full day near Taichung Louise took us to a nearby village where we rented an electric, 4-person cart that we drove around the town, stopping to look at things we thought were interesting. It was relaxing and nice to drive around and talk for most of the day looking at parks, temples, and getting snacks. You can see pictures on Will’s shutterfly linked to the right of this blog. We met up with Jane, her Aunt, and several of CCs research assistants for dinner at a hot pot restaurant where we each had our own pot to cook in, making it so we didn’t have to worry about who put what in the pot. Pretty nice. I’m a big fan of the hot pot meals and look forward to trying different foods at our next stop: South Korea!

Hong Kong: Part 2

On March 4th we got up early to head to the Big Buddha, a giant metal statue of Buddha on top of a massive hill. It was a bit foggy out, so I was worried that we wouldn’t see too well, but it turned out to not be a problem. When we got to the top, we walked around a plaza while Mr. Wong took plenty of pictures for us. As usual, they turned out great. You can see more of his pictures on his Picasa site with the albums from March 3rd to 7th. Will also has a shutterfly account where he’s posted many pictures from our trip which you can see here.

While we were at the top of the Big Buddha, I couldn’t help but notice a group of girls speaking another language who seemed to be sneaking pictures of Will and I. After doing that for a while, two came up and asked to take a picture with us. A short while later, a different woman went up to Will and told him that her friend was in love with him and wanted to marry him. We started laughing, not sure how to respond, and then we noticed that behind her all of the girls were pointing to me and trying to get her attention. I was flattered and not quite sure how to react! They asked for a picture of the two of us, so I obliged and then 10 cameras popped out snapping pictures of us. Pretty hilarious. After that it was funny seeing her around as I would wave and all of her friends would go “oooooooooo!”

After the Big Buddha, we went to lunch with the Wongs and a friend of thiers. We had chicken feet there, which were surprisingly tasty and chewy. There were also pork dumplings, meatballs, sweet and sour pork, goose, BBQ pork rolls, rice noodles, goji berry jello desert and an egg custard sweet roll. I love the family style way of eating, sharing many smaller platters of food. It’s fun and you get to try so many things!

Chicken foot

After lunch we headed to the peak to get a view of Hong Kong. It was still pretty foggy, but we were able to see a medium distance away. Some of the buildings stuck out over the clouds and looked like they came out of nowhere. The skyline of Hong Kong is pretty crazy with everything built straight up due to the 7 million people living in 400 square miles.

From the peak we headed to Hong Kong island where we took the double decker tram across town. We got on at the first stop so Will and I could sit at the very front of the top deck and get a great view of the city. It’s less than $0.50 to ride for as long as you want, so if I lived here I’d take it as frequently as possible. It’s just not that fast and it stops often. We didn’t pick the best time to ride as it took us about an hour and a half to get close to where we wanted to go and it took less than 15 minutes by subway to get back. Pretty funny.

At the end of the day we went to the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, the longest outdoor covered chain of escalators in the world. It took about 15 minutes to cover the distance, 800 m, and ascend 135 m. It only goes one way at a time, towards the city in the morning and away from it at night. A nice idea. Also on the route you can get a $2 HK refund for not using the public transportation on your octopus card. Almost a full double decker tram ride! We got back that night at 11pm, a full 16 hours after we’d left that morning.

The 5th was a more laid back day, sticking around Sha Tin near the Wongs’ home. We went to the mall and Mrs. Wong pointed out to me how many workers there are at stores that are the equivalent to Best Buy relative to how many workers there are in the States. It was pretty crazy seeing so many! It looked like a smaller store in a mall had just about as many workers as your average sized Best Buy back home. People helped you out the second you stepped in, which was pretty nice.

After the mall we went to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin that Mr. Wong had never been to before. It’s a but tucked away, so it was understandable. Mrs. Wong knew where it was and led us to the steps winding up a ways to get there. The pathway was lined with gold statues of Buddhas, which is what I thought the 10,000 Buddhas were going to be. Due to the size and the length of the pathway, I doubted there were 10,000, but I was proven wrong as soon as I got to the top. Inside the monastery, the walls are lined with six inch tall Buddhas and there are easily 10,000 if not more.

Outside the monastery there were Buddhist statues made of gold surrounding the courtyard. It made me wish I could remember more of my Asian Literature course because the history and stories behind Buddhism are incredibly interesting.

At the end of the day we took the bus back to the Wongs and Mrs. Wong taught me how to tell the driver where we needed to go. I know how to say one thing in Cantonese and it was useful…at least that one time!

The next day my cousin Gracey was getting in from Singapore. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year, so I was pretty excited to hang out and catch up with her. Her flight was getting in around 1:00, so Mrs. Wong took Will and I to see A Separation, the Iranian film that won best foreign film at the Oscars. It gave a lot of insight into the culture and I highly recommend seeing it. After the movie, Mrs. Wong, Will, and I met up with Gracey and Mr. Wong at a restaurant in the Sha Tin mall. It was great seeing her and hearing about her life over the past year as she’s been living in Taiwan learning Mandarin and teaching English.

After lunch we headed to Temple Street and checked out the street market and jade market there. It’s a bit harder haggling with people in Hong Kong than when I was in Beijing a few years ago. There were some cool leather bound journals that they had, but they had tacky Chinese characters on them like “Dragon” and things like that, so I didn’t end up getting one. We left the markets and headed back to the Wongs’ to catch up some more with Gracey and relax. For dinner we went to a local restaurant that served pigeon, which was surprisingly juicy and flavorful. Much better than I’d expected pigeon to be and better than the gelatinized duck blood cubes that we had for an appetizer.

Jade market

Temple street market

Eating pigeon with our hands!

On the 7th we took the train from Fo Tan to Tsim Sha Tsui and then walked along the waterfront where they have the Star Walk. The Star Walk has the names of many famous Chinese entertainers in the ground next to their hand prints, so we found the ones we knew like Jackie Chan and Jet Li to compare hand sizes. Jet Li’s hands are the same size as mine! Kind of cool. Will’s hands dwarfed the hand prints that he tried to put his in which was kind of funny.

Putting our hands in Jackie Chan's handprints

We continued to walk along the water to catch the Star Ferry across and get a cool view of the city. From the other side we walked around a bit more before Mr. Wong’s driver picked us up and drove us to a hole in the wall restaurant to get noodles for lunch. After lunch, we walked to the double decker tram so Gracey could ride it and get the cool views of the city we did a few days before. She also wanted to see the peak, so instead of driving up there like we did the other day we took the tram up to the top, which was much quicker. And very steep. Will’s bag slid from under his bench to some people two rows back, so there was a moment of slight panic.

When we got to the peak it was incredibly foggy and kind of a disappointment. I felt bad that Gracey didn’t get as good of a view as we did, but she can look at our pictures. We decided to walk along a 45 minute trail around the peak and take pictures with Mr. Wong. He taught us a bit about apertures on cameras and how to use them, which was pretty sweet. Makes me want to get a better camera than the one I have! Fortunately Will has a nicer, newer camera than I do so he’s been taking more pictures.

By the time we got to the end of the path, it was getting darker and foggier. It looked really cool with the light hitting the fog in the dark. The crickets started clicking when it started to get darker also and they sound completely different from the crickets I’m used to. They sounded more like clicks and pops than chirping. Another moment that made me realize how far away from home I was.

We got to the end of the path and then headed to dinner at a peking duck restaurant. It was incredibly tasty, especially the skin that melted in your mouth and was bursting with flavor. We wrapped the duck in thin tortilla like pancakes and dipped them in hoisin sauce. Incredible.

After dinner we went on the double decker tram again to get to the Central-Mid-levels escalator to show Gracey. We took the escalator near the top and decided we wanted to grab a drink at Lan Kwai Fong before heading back to the Wongs as a celebration for being in Hong Kong and seeing each other for the first time in a while.

Tomorrow we head to Taiwan where we’ll see an old friend from St. Olaf and Gracey who will be returning there in a few days. My time in Hong Kong was amazing and I really could not have had better hosts here. I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am for the Wongs hospitality and massive change in our accommodations.

An awesome picture Mr. Wong took

Hong Kong: Part 1

On March 2nd, Will and I flew from Cairns to Hong Kong. When we arrived we began to look for Edwin Wong, a business friend of my grandfather’s we were meeting and staying with. We met up with Mr. Wong, his wife and son, Cindy and Damian, and they immediately took us to an authentic Chinese dinner. After eating mostly PB & Js and pasta, it all tasted amazing. We ate roast goose, pig cheek, tofu, Chinese broccoli and calamari. I probably overate a bit, but I couldn’t help myself. It was a feast! Mrs. Wong told us that the food in Hong Kong was delicious and they were going to be more than happy to take us around to their favorite places to eat. Pretty great deal for us! After finishing dinner we got settled at the Wongs’ apartment and prepared for the first full day.

Me, Will, Edwin Wong

Cindy Wong, Damian Wong, me, Will

We got up on the 3rd and had a relaxing morning before going out with the Wongs and a friend of theirs to a smaller fishing town in Hong Kong. We walked through the open markets looking at all of the seafood they had for sale and saw a ton of oysters, which is apparently what the area is known for. Many were being dried out on screens in the sun to be eaten later. Mr. Wong brought his nice camera along and loves taking pictures, so I decided not to take too many with a smaller, cheaper camera. It’s pretty great having someone good at photography with the right equipment with you while you travel!

Walking through the seafood market

Big pile of oyster shells

Oysters being dried

After walking through to the end of the market near the water and seeing mainland China, we headed back to a restaurant near the beginning of the shops. The Wongs have been coming to the restaurant we went to for many years and said it had better seafood than any of the restaurants in the downtown area. Makes sense to me with it being right next to the markets and fresh off the boat!

There were many things we had to try according to the Wongs after we told them we’d try anything, so the meal started with “century old eggs” that I don’t have to try again. They were different shades of brown, dark green, and black when they came out, served on a platter with pickled ginger and sugar. Traditionally, duck eggs are taken and plastered with a mixture of clay, wood ash, quicklime, and salt before being wrapped in rice husks and left for several months. Good thing I didn’t know that before I ate it. The flavor lingered for a bit but I was able to make it go away by eating some pickled garlic.

Century eggs with pickled ginger

At least that’s how we started the meal and not how we ended it. After the eggs we had several platters of delicious seafood and a roasted chicken. When the fried oysters came, I wasn’t sure what they were because they were so massive. They were about the size of half of my fist as opposed to the oysters on the half shell I’ve gotten used to seeing. Those we dipped in salt, wrapped in lettuce, and enjoyed. They were much juicier than I’d anticipated and were delicious. The meal ended with Chinese broccoli, which I’ve found I like more than broccoli in the States, served with ginger.

Scallop served in an oyster shell

Fried oysters

After lunch we went to an old village in Hong Kong to look at the architecture and check out some ancestral halls there. For some reason there were two identical halls built next to each other. It was nice seeing things that old after being in Australia in more modern areas. Very different kind of sight seeing.

Ancestral Hall

At the end of the first full day, we picked up some Octopus cards that are used for public transportation here. You preload the card with money and then you scan it each time you get on the bus, train, or ferry, and you can even use it in convenience stores and at vending machines. It’s quite handy!

Due to the incredible hospitality and generosity of our hosts, there’s no way I can fit Hong Kong in to one post, so I’ll have another one up in a few days! The Wongs are amazing people and have taken so much time to show us around that it’s hilarious to compare this to how we were living just a few days ago.