Vietnam and Cambodia (Last chapter)

Here I go with the last part of this unforgettable trip that we were lucky to do in February of this so unusual 2020. When the cruise ended, we were taken by minibus to Siem Reap, a city which is in itself interesting but also the closest place to the ruins of Angkor Wat, the most famous ruins in the area, although not the only ones.

On the way there we made a stop at what they called the “happy room” which was nothing more or less than the bathroom 🙂 . There we took the opportunity to take a photo with our guides during the days that we were on the ship, Mr. Huyh from Vietnam and Mr. Smiley from Cambodia, two fantastic guys on all the excursions we took during the trip. I also don’t want to forget Mirko (who I don’t have a photo of) a super fun German who was the host during the cruise. Thanks for making our trip amazing.

These were our wonderful guides on the cruise:  Huyh from Vietnam and Smiley from Cambodia

Once in Siem Reap we separated from the group with whom we had spent the week and continued the journey on our own.
The experience on land was good; we settled in a hotel on the outskirts of the city whose rooms had a certain uniqueness… all the bathrooms were outdoors, not only the part of the shower but also the toilet … a different experience to be sitting “to meditate” and be surrounded by nature 🙂

Another interesting thing was that all the trips we took to the city center were in tuk tuk, so that was very fun and exotic, in fact even our suitcases traveled that way as you see in the photo.

On many turns I seriously thought that we would lose them 🙂

Those who visit the city of Siem Reap probably do so to see the temples such as Angkor Wat and the ones nearby such as Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Neak Poan, and Banteay Srei, among others.
The history of their construction (like their destruction) is very interesting and, as they were abandoned for many years until their reconstruction came, what struck me powerfully were the trees, as they made their way into the middle of the ruins. The force of nature, really impressive.

I was amazed with the trees

Maybe many years ago you saw the movie Tomb Raider (if you didn’t watch it, don’t waste your time, it’s really bad) but one of these famous trees appears in it … obviously I’m not the only one that caught your attention 😉

One of the must-do visits is to go see the sunrise at Angkor Wat; there we met again with the folks from the cruise, and unfortunately, perhaps because I was half asleep, I did not take any pictures with Eloise, Leyla or Sandie, but we gave each other many hugs, something that seems like a fiction now, since it’s no longer normal to do… How I miss hugs!!

And here are photos of the temples, of the sunrise and us with our guide whose name we can’t quite remember; what I can say is that he did a super professional job, he showed us hidden things inside the temples, he told us the history of the them and also some things about  the Cambodian culture.

Everyone waiting for the sunrise

And a little more of the temples. I loved this image, as I imagined it was a mom sharing a book with her daughter 🙂

And here I show you again the drawings of the temples made by Robyn Diener. Great, right? I’m still in love with her collection :). I also made a collage with one of her drawings and my photo. Yes, I am a big fan.

I see these drawings and I still get emotional
And here I put together the drawing of Robyn with my photo … beautiful, right?

After a few days in Siem Reap we took a plane back to Vietnam to visit the cities of Hoi An (which I loved) and Hue.
Many people told us that Hoi An was super touristy and that perhaps its authenticity has been diluted. For me it was one of my favorite cities: decorated with fabric lanterns of different colors that gave life to the streets, with a huge and chaotic market and with exquisite food.

What do you see? Chaos or a motorcycle and bicycle dance? 😉

Another of the fun things we did was go get custom-made clothes within a day, it was a different experience, very strange, but it is one of the typical things to do in the town.
After two days we decided to go to Hue, a city that I did not like at all. We arrived, and I don’t know if due to the contrast with Hoi An, but I felt overwhelmed and sad. We had a hard time finding a place to have a drink, and I also realized the importance of karaoke in Vietnam. I never thought that I would find karaoke spaces open to the street, side by side, competing for who can play the “music” louder and who could shout more while “singing”. If when reading this you think that I am an old lady because of this comment, you are absolutely right 🙂 . It was a painful experience for the ears.
Having traveled so much with Barnaby made us know just by looking at us that something was not right and that it was time to set course for a new plan. And so we did, we changed plane tickets and went a few more days to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and it was thanks to that that we had the culinary experiences that I told you of in another of my posts.

The trip from Hoi An to Hue, nice, isn’t it?

Our trip to Hanoi in the original plan was to be able to visit Ha Long Bay, where it is recommended to take a boat and spend a few days near those monumental rocks. This allowed us to do some activities such as kayaking, spending a day at the beach, visiting the interior of one of the rocks, which was an amazing experience, and enjoying a few days of relaxation. There we met Barbara and David, a very funny American couple that I hope we can see again when everything improves.

Back in the capital, we started to settle down for a long trip back home. In the taxi on the way to the airport, I took these photos of the traffic, which is still a curiosity for me.

Some photos are blurry but I wanted to show the city in full activity

This was a trip that I enjoyed doubly, as I had told you when I started writing about it, it was not a place that was on my list of favorite destinations, and I am still happy about Barnaby’s insistence to do so. It was very different from a cultural point of view and therefore of enormous learning, the greatest of all is that we should be more grateful for what we have. Remembering the kindness and smiles we had from Vietnamese and Cambodians make my heart happy. As well as the new friends we made around the world (Ilona, Alan, Brian, Sandie, Eloise, Leyla, Ed, Leeanne, David, Peree, Robyn, Chris, Barbara, Sue with whom I keep in virtual contact and who I hope we see again when the pandemic is over).

Returning home

Thank you for joining me once again on this wonderful adventure and again thanks to Barnaby for helping me in the English version.

See you soon

Camboya y Vietnam (Episodio final)

Acá voy con la última parte de este viaje inolvidable que tuvimos la suerte de hacer en febrero de este 2020 tan particular. Cuando terminó el crucero, nos llevaron en un micro hasta Siem Reap, una ciudad en si misma interesante pero que a la vez es el lugar más cercano a las ruinas de Ankor Wat, las más famosas del área, aunque no las únicas.

En camino hacia allí hicimos una parada a lo que ellos llamaban el “happy room” que no era ni más ni menos que el baño 🙂 . Ahí aprovechamos para sacarnos una foto con nuestros guías durante los días que estuvimos en el barco el Señor Huyh de Vietnam y el Señor Smiley de Camboya, dos cracks en todas las excursiones que hicimos durante el paseo. Tampoco quiero olvidarme de Mirko (de quien no tengo foto) un alemán súper divertido que era el anfitrión durante el crucero. Gracias por hacer que nuestro viaje fuera increíble.

Estos fueron nuestros maravillosos guías en el el crucero Huyh de Vietnam y Smiley de Camboya

Una vez en Siem Reap nos separamos del grupo con el que habíamos compartido una semana y continuamos el viaje por nuestra cuenta.

La experiencia en tierra fue buena, nos instalamos en un hotel en las afueras de la ciudad cuyas habitaciones tenían una particularidad … todos los baños estaban al aire libre, no solo la parte de la ducha sino también el inodoro… una experiencia distinta eso de sentarse “a meditar” y estar rodeado de naturaleza 🙂

Y este es el baño…

Otra cosa interesante fue que todos los paseos que realizamos hacia el centro de la ciudad fueron en tuk tuk, así que eso era muy divertido y ex´ótico, de hecho hasta nuestras valijas viajaron de esa manera como ves en la foto.

En varias curvas pensé seriamente que las perdíamos 🙂

Quienes visitaron la ciudad de Siem Reap probablemente lo hicieron para conocer los templos como Angkor Wat y sus alrededores como Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Banteay Srei, entre otros.

La historia de las construcciones (como sus destrucciones) son muy interesantes y como estuvieron muchos años abandonados hasta que llegó su reconstrucción, lo que me llamó poderosamente la atención fueron los árboles, como se abrieron paso en el medio de las ruinas. La fuerza de la naturaleza, realmente impresionante.

Quedé maravillada con los árboles

Quizás hace muchos años viste la película Tomb Raider (si no la viste no pierdas el tiempo, es malísima) pero en ella aparece uno de estos famosos árboles… evidentemente no soy la única a la que le llamó la atención 😉

Uno de los paseos obligados es ir a ver la salida del sol en Angkor Wat, allí nos volvimos a encontrar con gente del crucero y lamentablemente, quizás porque estaría medio dormida, no saqué ninguna foto con Eloise, Leyla o Sandie, pero nos dimos unos cuantos abrazos, algo que aunque parezca mentira dejó de ser normal en estos días… Cómo extraño los abrazos!!

Y aquí fotos de los templos, del amanecer y nosotros con nuestro guía del cual tenemos dudas con su nombre, lo que si puedo decir es que hizo un trabajo súper profesional, nos mostró cosas ocultas dentro de los templos, nos contó la historia de los mismos y además algunas cosas de la cultura camboyana.

Todos esperando la salida del sol

Y un poco más de los templos. Me encantó esta imagen que me imaginé que era una mamá compartiendo un libro con su hija 🙂

Y acá te vuelvo a mostrar los dibujos de los templos hechos por Robyn Diener. Geniales, no? Sigo enamorada de su colección 🙂 . Además hice un collage con uno de sus dibujos y mi foto. Si, si soy muy fan.

Veo estos dibujos y me sigo emocionando
Y acá puse juntos el dibujo de Robyn con mi foto… bello, no?

Luego de unos días en Siem Reap tomamos un avión de regreso a Vietnam para visitar las ciudades de Hoi An (la cual amé) y Hue.

Mucha gente nos dijo que Hoi An era súper turística y que quizás lo autóctono estaba diluído. Para mi fue una de mis ciudades preferidas: decorada con farolitos de tela de diferentes colores que le daban muchísima vida a las calles, con un mercado enorme y caótico y con una comida exquisita.

Qué ves? Caos o una danza de motos y bicicletas? 😉

Otra de las cosas divertidas que hicimos fue ir a que nos hagan ropa a medida en el día, fue una experiencia diferente, muy rara, pero era uno de los clásicos del lugar.

Luego de dos días decidimos ir a Hue, una ciudad que no me gustó para nada. Llegamos y no se si por el contraste con Hoi An, me sentí agobiada y triste. Nos costó muchísimo encontrar un lugar para tomar algo, además me di cuenta de la importancia que tiene el karaoke en Vietnam. Nunca pensé que iba a encontrar espacios de karaoke abiertos a la calle, uno al lado del otro, compitiendo por quien ponía la “música” más alta y quien gritaba más mientras “cantaba”. Si al leer esto pens´as que soy una señora mayor por este comentario, tenes toda la razón 🙂 . Fue una experiencia dolorosa para los oídos.

Haber viajado tanto con Barnaby hizo que con solo mirarnos supiéramos que algo no estaba bien y que era momento de poner rumbo hacia un nuevo plan. Y así lo hicimos cambiamos pasajes de avión y nos fuimos unos días más a Hanoi, la capital de Vietnam, y fue gracias a eso que hicimos las experiencias culinarias que te conté en otro de mis posteos.

El camino desde Hoi An a Hue, bonito,no?

Nuestro viaje a Hanoi en el plan original era para poder visitar Ha Long Bay lugar donde lo recomendable es tomar un barco y pasar unos días cerca de esas monumentales rocas. Eso nos permitió hacer algunas actividades como kayak, pasar un día en la playa, visitar el interior de una de las rocas que fue una experiencia alucinante y disfrutar de unos días de relax. Allí conocimos a Barbara y David una pareja americana muy divertida a la que espero que podamos volver a ver cuando todo mejore.

Ya de regreso a la capital, nos empezamos a acomodar para un largo viaje de regreso a casa. En el taxi camino al aeropuerto saqué estas fotos del tránsito que es algo que sigue siendo una curiosidad para mi.

Algunas fotos están movidas pero quería mostrar la ciudad en plena actividad

Este fue un viaje que disfruté doblemente, como te había comentado cuando empecé a escribirlo no era un lugar que estaba dentro de mis destinos preferidos y me sigo alegrando de la insistencia de Barnaby para hacerlo. Fue muy diferente desde lo cultural y por lo tanto de enorme aprendizaje, el mayor de todos es que debemos ser más agradecidos con lo que tenemos. Recordar la amabilidad y sonrisas que tuvimos de vietnamitas y camboyanos me alegran el corazón. Como así también los nuevos amigos que hicimos alrededor del mundo (Ilona, Alan, Brian, Sandie, Eloise, Leyla, Ed, Leeanne, David, Peree, Robyn, Chris, Barbara, Sue con los cuales sigo en contacto en forma virtual y que espero nos volvamos a encontrar cuando pase la pandemia.

Regreso a casa

Gracias por acompañarme nuevamente en esta maravillosa aventura.

Flavors of Southeast Asia

I have been and still am a fan of Anthony Bourdain and his programs, in which he travels the world trying out different foods, some of which had never crossed my mind to try.  His program was really entertaining because, in addition to the food, he talked about the history of each place he visited.  Bourdain was a great admirer of Vietnam and its food, and having been there I agree that some flavors are unique to Vietnam, as well as to Cambodia.  It’s a shame I can’t share my opinion with him on Instagram 😦

When we arrived at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) we first stayed in the Hotel Sofitel for one night.  That next morning we went for breakfast in the hotel, and I can assure you that never in my life have I seen a hotel with so many options for breakfast.  There were sections devoted to different cuisines, such as Asian, in which my favorite was the dim sum.  Also there was a French pastry section, Italian (were they’d make you a pizza to order), and American with bagels, french toast, and omelettes.  Really impressive!  If I had thought at that time to go on a diet, it would have been an impossible mission.

The breakfast at the Sofitel

During the eight days that we were on the cruise, we had a variety of meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The chef tried to keep the menu varied so that it was never monotonous.  One day he made a special meal dedicated to the street food of Cambodia, which as a trip highlight, but of course I did not try it.  Luckily there were many other nice foods to try instead.

Impressive, right¨?

Our last day on the boat we were at port where we needed to get to an ATM, and we were tempted to get a little snack, but looking at the signs we were a little discouraged (look at the photo) 🙂

I invite you to try to pronounce the food names, let alone know what they contain 🙂

Once off the boat, our itinerary took us to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where we needed to find some good eating, and of course we did.
One was the restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak run by the French chef Joannes Riviere who uses mostly products from Cambodian farms.  His menu is therefore ever changing as he prepares his dishes with seasonal produce.  He offers two tasting menus (I think we had one with 12 dishes) with small portions and impressive flavors.  In addition, the place was lovely:  a large house decorated in a minimalist style, with a large terrace and impeccable service.  At the end of the dinner Joannes stopped by our table and asked us what we thought of dinner.

Upon returning to Vietnam we went to Hoi An, a place that really fascinated me.  We arrived in the afternoon, and later went on a walk in the town (I’ll tell you more in another post), looking for a place for dinner, when we happened on Le Fe, a really pretty place that had a pond of koi in the middle of the restaurant, which you could feed if you dared.  Here’s my video of it.

Koi always get my attention;  they are delightful and I love it when I see them in the Japanese Garden in Buenos Aires.

The service in the restaurant was incredible.  Our waitress asked us if we knew how to eat each dish that we were served, and when we answered in the negative, we were given a mini-course on how to eat … of which we really took advantage.

I’ll tell you one thing that I learned.  In the following photo, you’ll see some leaves that seemed to me to be decoration (evidently I didn’t understand anything).  You take one of these leaves, add a little sauce and then one of the little round bites which were made of shrimp, wrap it up and into the mouth … it was incredibly delicious and I learned that no part of the meal was to be wasted.

Crab and chicken, which we ate with chopsticks

The next day we signed up for a food tour, in which we were to visit various places for food so that we could try different dishes.  Me met two very enthusiastic young women at 3:00 PM, figuring we would not eat lunch beforehand because we would be eating too much.  A big mistake!!
We started with a visit to the rice fields which are only 10 minutes outside of the city.  Then we went to a kind of factory where a guy was in charge of cleaning the rice and getting it ready for sale:  I cannot describe odor of shit, yes shit, excrement (whatever you want to call it) in that place.  It almost killed me, and our guide telling us things that were absolutely inconsequential to me because my focus was on not breathing through my nose.  That’s when my bad mood started, which when it starts is very difficult to stop.  Anyway, I bring this up because in every trip there is always a side of great enjoyment and a B side, which I also want to share because that is what my posts are about: what I liked very much and what I would rather forget, but that today makes me laugh because, ultimately, it was not so serious.

So that you can see I’m not exaggerating 🙂  What an “ass-face”!!!

As you may have noticed, this tour started poorly and the worst thing is that it continued to go downhill.  Our first food stop was a little cart in the street, with low chairs for seating, the specialty of which was a soup so dark that it looked like tar … I didn’t even try it.  My “asshole face” (this is the direct translation of the Argentine expression “cara de orto”, which is a ruder version of the more common Spanish expression “cara de culo”, or “butt face”, meaning a very displeased face) was even more evident because the soup worsened my mood even more… Now I look back and laugh, although at the time it was not in the least funny. 

The soup is called black sesame;  I love sesame but in this color, no :-).  The unusual thing is that people stopped by on their scooters, buying a little soup in a plastic bag to heat and eat at home.

Continuing with the tour things began to improve and there was a change of attitude on my part … well, I started to smell good things and my hunger passed, that easily 🙂
I am a bread fanatic and in Vietnam, due to the influence of the French, they make baguettes which, just in thinking about them right now, makes me drool like Pavlov’s dog, and no bell is ringing…

The place chosen by our guides was Madam Khahn Bahn My Queen.  It was a little stand on the street with a separate room to sit and enjoy your baguette.  Impressive!!  You can add pork, chicken or vegetables.  That warm bread and its ingredients evidently cooked slowly over open flame makes the bahn mi an unforgettable dish.

Our tour then stopped at a place where we ate bahn cuon, which is like a roll of a very thin rice pancake filled with different vegetables and pork or chicken, if you don’t want to be only a vegetarian.  Very delicious.

The end of the tour was in a really pretty place to have an egg coffee, which is coffee, sweetened condensed milk, and egg … although this seems a strange combination, it’s a delight. 

Thanks once again for coming with me on this adventure. And thanks to Barnaby for helping me with my travels (travails?) in English :).

In my next post I will tell you about my experiences with the food of Hanoi, this time without a B side 🙂