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The Real Reason I Went to Thailand...

ok, really! elephants!

My second day, I relived a childhood experience (which might not have happened...a 3-year-old's memory is shoddy at best) and booked a jungle trek. With an elephant! Exciting!


When we pulled up (there was a couple doing it as well), the size of the elephants alone was enough to make me gasp. No, really. I gasped. Then, once you get over that these things could crush you with one fell swoop, you start to realize how incredibly beautiful they are. I really can't describe it with words, so the rest of this two-part blog will be pictures. See for yourself.




















It was amazing, something I won't ever forget.

The rest of my island stay was spent hanging out with people I met, Chea May and Canaan from Germany and Inbar from Israel. The island is so beautiful and relaxed. I'm already starting to think about when I can go back. I left the day I flew back to Korea and saw some stuff on the way.

Waiting for the ferry.


The most beautiful Thai baby on the ferry. She was a very happy baby.


Skyscraper, Bangkok.

Hanging out ON the train tracks.

Kao San Road, THE backpacker hotspot.

Mounds and mounds of Pad Thai.

I love Thailand. I shall return.

Posted by lrbergen 07:02 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Real Reason I Went to Thailand...


-17 °C

Ahem. As the title suggests, I went to Thailand for the elephants. This is partially true. I also went to get away from Korea, to go for a SCUBA, to meet people from around the world, see some beautiful beaches, and eat Thai food for authentic, believe-it-or-not prices. Since being in Korea, Thailand has been my ...own private Xanadu, if you will.

All in 5 days?

Mission accomplished.

(I love these maps!)

I arrived in Bangkok, where I literally stayed for the "One Night in Bangkok" that the pop group Murray Head sang about in the 80's. Let me....let me just share some of those lyrics with you (wow, we can all tell already that this is going to be a long one...)

"One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free
You'll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you're lucky then the god's a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me"

So yeah...pretty much. Just from one night, you can get the sense that ANYTHING is possible in Bangkok. Anything.

But I had other goals in mind, so I headed to Koh Chang, which is about 5 hours east, close to the Cambodian border. Well...5 hours by bus to Trat. Then about a 20 minute ride to the ferry. Then about a 30 minute ferry ride. Then another 20-30 minutes to the hotel. So really, about a day's worth of being herded like cattle. But I digress.

The name "Koh Chang" means "Elephant Island". It also has some pretty nice scuba. My first night, I stayed at the "Tree House Lodge," which was about as basic as you could get. Straw huts with a light, a bed and a mosquito net for 80 baht, or roughly $2.50. The bathrooms were shared, with squatter toilets and no running water. Freezing cold water, but a fantastic view overlooking the ocean.
There was also a really great restaurant, also looking over the ocean, with cheap, delicious Pad Thai (noodles) and Tom Yam (sour spicy soup).

My first full day, I went for a SCUBA at Koh Yak and another small island, uninhabited, but with great coral and marine life. That day, the water was particularly rough and the boat TOSSED, 45-degree angle to 45-degree angle, back and forth. I was unfortunately the only one to get violently seasick. It was a bummer, needless to say.
My first dive was a refresher course with the instructor, and it was nice. The second was a bit more nerve-racking because we had a really strong current to work with, and it was maybe my second time diving with more than one other person. Several times I kicked another girl with my fins because she was behind me and we couldn't see each other. I got really low on air really quickly for whatever reason so I had to use the other regulator on my dive master's BCD (there are two, for such an emergency). It was actually quite good because he was able to make me get closer to the coral and fish than I normally would have. And I saw a stingray. It was great.

It rained the night I stayed at the Tree House, with the waves crashing right outside my door and scaring the bejezus out of me, and the roof leaked all over my bed with me in it (and I normally don't complain about that sort of thing too much), so I quickly moved to Nature Beach, where I at least had a real roof over my head, for only 250 baht per night. It was well worth it for running water and real walls. They also had a good restaurant, with barbecue every night, and a fire twirler show. The beach was also pristine, just beautiful.

The sky looked like this every day.

This is my bathroom. It seems weird, but it looks like this during the day. Naturally.

One of my meals, fat Thai noodles with pork.

The sunsets looked like this every day.

From the restaurant.





To be continued (it's a two-parter!)....

What about the elephants? You were promised elephants!

Hold your horses! Or...elephants, in this case...

Posted by lrbergen 06:15 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The People You Meet

day 20: quy nhon

sunny 40 °C

Sad to say, but I had to leave all the friends I've been with for much of my time here. They had to go to Saigon, while i have 10 days or so left here. Ten days that I am NOT ready to spend in Saigon.

So, to Sini, Juki, and Danika: farewell my friends. You have truly enriched my experiences here in Vietnam. I wish you nothing but good things in the future and a continuation of your travels. And I will also say that you had better keep in touch!

Now I am alone again in Quy Nhon (pronounced we-nyun). I am staying at a backpacker's hotel, a downgrade from my 2-star luxury hotel in Hoi An, which is run by a Kiwi who knows EVERYTHING. She has already helped me so much. Today I will go the Qui Hoa (pronounced we-wa) beach, which is actually a community where people with leprosy live with their families. The highlight of this: I will get to ride my bike a long way and be left to my own devices, without having to worry about the beach-hawkers. Yes, this is good. I am hoping tomorrow to go to Jungle Beach to sleep under the stars with nothing but a mattress and a mosquito net.

After that, I will head down to Nha Trang, which is a very beach-y place. There are scuba trips you can take for uncertified, first-time divers (which I am) and Surfing 101. For this I say, as has been the mentality of my entire trip, why not? I would like to also go down to Mui Ne, where I could possibly go sand-sledding. And I would also like to go to Dalat, further inland, to see the "Crazy House," which is described as something out of Alice in Wonderland. Then I will end my trip in Saigon and fly out at 1am on the 21st. So there you have it, in a nutshell.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but the computers here are so slow and my pictures so big, that I fear you will have to wait until I am settled again in Korea. Whenever it is that I move into my apartment.

PS - It is SO HOT here. If it weren't so beautiful, I would say that it was July. In hell. In an oven. Seriously.

Posted by lrbergen 22:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Zao 4 LIFE!

day 4-5: sapa

sunny 36 °C

Sapa has the most beautiful and breathtaking sceneries I have ever seen. Imagine if you will huge mountains, surrounded by the step-like rice paddies. Add a river in the valley and orange clay roads and there you have Sapa. Scattered here and there are small wooden houses, bamboo forests, and the occasional goat, pig, or cow.

Yes, my friends, this is truly paradise on Earth. It could not be any more different than Ha Noi.

I "slept" on the train Wednesday night, which was nearly impossible. Imagine you are being shaken awake by your mother or whoever. Then imagine they are shaking you during an earthquake. This is the train in Vietnam. Every once in awhile it would jerk to a stop sending you and your belongings flying. Good times.

So I arrived Thursday very early, exhausted, sweaty, and dirty. I was given a nice breakfast at the hotel and introduced to my guide, Vinh. I feared that I would be doing this trekking and homestay alone, but fortunately, two lovely people from Finland, Sini and Juki, were to come with us. It rained.


Oh how it rained. Visibility was limited - we went down the narrow roads through the mountains and when you looked to the right for a nice mountain view, all you saw was white. And then I got wet. Really wet. Drenched, even through my cheap poncho. Two beautiful little girls tagged along with us, one whose name was Chi, and her friend. I believe they were Zao. Chi's English was beautiful; I'm sorry to say more beautiful than most of my students' in Korea, who pay a hefty price to have the same skills as this little girl. She would follow us all the way to her village of Ta Van where we would be spending the night.

(Chi, right, and her friend)

We started our descent down maybe 3km of slippery yellow clay. You would look around you and see the different local people, with about 50 kilos of corn strapped to their back, looking at you strangely as you struggled not to fall. They would merely shrug and go around you, because they take this road nearly every day, rain or shine. We stopped for a nice lunch of cheese, boiled egg, cucumber, and tomato sandwiches on fresh baguettes. It sounds maybe a little strange, but it was definitely delicious.

We continued on, passing some of the local schools and many of the local women and little girls, all shouting, "You buy from me? You buy from me?" I didn't keep track of how much I spent, but I came away with numerous embroidered bracelets, a few silver ones, three pairs of earrings, and a red zao headscarf. If you bought from one, you could expect at least four more women to crowd around you. These women are relentless. Not mean-spirited, but definitely relentless. The women make all of these items and sell them while the men stay at home and raise the boy-children, if there are any. The smallest girls are carried on their mothers' backs, but around the age they learn to walk, they begin selling.

So we visited the villages of Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai, which I believe are both home to the Black H'Mong people. Thank you in their language is "O Cho." In Ta Van, where we spent the night, they say "Cho Bayoooooo!" in a very sing-song voice. We arrived around 2 or 3, cleaned up a bit, and generally relaxed. The house we stayed in was very nice, and as Sini said, very similar to a traditional home in her town of Lapland. They had a big living room/dining room area with a stone floor, a little area where they and other people from the village would watch their satellite TV, a nice big kitchen area, a bamboo outhouse complete with running rainwater through a bamboo pipe, and an upstairs with about 10 beds for their houseguests. It was a very lovely home, and it was amazing to see their ingenuity.

The man of the house is 31, and his wife is 27. They have been married for 10 years and have two sons, the oldest of which is 8 years old. They have guests such as us about 3-4 times a week. For dinner, they prepared us a veritable feast of pork, beef, tofu, egg, rice, spring rolls, and vegetables, all locally grown or otherwise acquired. It was DELICIOUS. The whole time Juki, Sini and I made yummy noises, which I think might have amused them. Then they broke out the rice liquor, which is very similar to vodka, and I believe is actually the same as the soju in Korea. To toast in Zao, you yell "ONE! TWO! THREE! ZOOOE!!!!" I didn't last very long with this liquor and quickly switched to shots of Tiger beer. The boys both seemed irritated that we were being so loud and they couldn't join in, especially when it was bedtime.

After a while of this, naturally came the portion of the evening where we sing. Sini actually enjoyed this bit and sang some beautiful Finnish songs. The husband sang one in Zao and Vinh, our guide, sang in both Vietnamese and French. When it came to my turn, for lack of a better typical "American" song, I sang the Penguin song, which I learned when I was a Girl Scout camp counselor. It's the most ridiculous of songs, complete with dancing like a penguin. As all of the different cultures I have taught this to, they enjoyed it as well. We stayed up talking, drinking, and singing until around 10pm. Sini, Juki and I went up to our beds upstairs and contented ourselves with the fact that all we could hear was the river nearby and crickets. It was also pitch black. If this experience was not authentically Sapa, then I don't know what is.

The next day we were given banana pancakes and coffee for breakfast, which we ate on the front porch facing the mountain. We headed out around 10:30, after saying goodbye to our Zao friends. We climbed up, then we climbed down. Repeat. Repeat some more. Slip a bit, fall a bit, get your shoes caked FULL of mud. Look around, sweat, breathe, and enjoy the experience. We went through a bamboo forest, then stopped to rest at a very nice waterfall. I was wearing my Red Zao headscarf, which was met by many a surprised Sapa face. We visited a Red Zao home, then we ate a lunch of the Vietnamese style ramen, which was very tasty. We hiked up some more to where the bus took us back to the town of Sapa. I have no idea how far we hiked, but in the tour booking it said something like 30 km.

So now I'm back in Ha Noi, waiting to pick up my friend Mikey from the airport. It's a completely different world, and I am again used to the sounds of honking horns and "Madam, cyclo?" "Madam, taxi?" "Madam, moto?" But for two days I lived in a clean, simple, and beautiful area of Vietnam, one that I will never forget.

  • *A personal note: when I got back to Sapa, I received an e-mail informing me that my cousin's husband lost his battle with cystic fibrosis on Sunday. Beppe was one of the sweetest, funniest men I have ever met, and he was Italian to boot. He leaves behind his wife, my cousin, Kristi, and their two twin daughters, Sofia and Asia. He will be greatly missed and it is with a heavy heart that I write this. Please keep the Parri family in your thoughts.

Posted by lrbergen 19:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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