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This website chronicles our trip around the world in 2006. It has lots of photos, videos and stories. We invite you to come in, relax and enjoy the scenery.

~Lee and Sachi LeFever

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A Dispatch is a report from our trip. Browse via keywords or global map.

Sachi Says Goodbye to Her 20's

By: leelefever on July 26, 2006 - 1:08am

Today, Sachi makes the faithful transition to her 30's.  That's right, as of today, Sachi is 30 years old! She is all growns up.

Today also marks the end of what we've been calling the Annual July Birthday Jubilee.  My birthday was on the 17th (I turned 33) and her's is today on the 26th, creating a 10 day window of gratuitous non-stop birthday celebration.  What does that mean?  We're not sure really.  Maybe dessert with dinner, a cocktail before noon or a massage on the beach.  The jubilee takes many forms and we make it up as we go along. Mutual special treatment is a theme for sure.  

While we're talking about getting old and fragile, I must also remind us of the follies of youth.  Last night we met a puppy that couldn't have been more than 9 weeks old.  As soon as I stopped to take a picture, he stepped off a 4 inch step to say hello and promptly fell directly on his face. No harm was done of course, but it reminded us of what not to do tonight as we celebrate.

Anyway, please join me in wishing Sachi a happy (and fall free) 30th, far from home!

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Lee, Why Do You Hate Ducks?

By: leelefever on July 24, 2006 - 1:54am

 I don't hate ducks, I promise - it just seems that the world thinks that they taste delicious and in some cases, I just take the pictures.  The other day we were traveling from Nha Trang to Hoi An, Vietnam via a rented car (and driver- US$120 10 hours). Along the way we were sure to tell the driver when a picture needed to be taken and before long, he was pointing things our for us.  Looking up ahead, he turned to us and smiled and said "good picture coming up".  We saw a motorcycle and a mass of something hanging off it.  A bit like this...

Then, as we got a bit closer, it became clear what was hanging off the motocycle: live ducks who seem to be somewhat calm considering the circumstances.

 On a more more scenic note, the trip offered a few chances to see the Vietnamese countryside.  The Vietnamese really do wear the conical hats, called a "nang".

 The farming, in some places, is more traditional than I expected.

 A village decided to create a salt farm about 10 years ago and it is now a success story in rural Vietnam.

 And the boats in Vietnam seem to be painted the same everywhere - perhaps from the communist/collectivist days?

 So, I don't hate ducks, but I do think they taste good and for those of you who have told me to stop eating them- it aint gonna happen soon as China is coming up and they serve ducks-a-plenty. 

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Street Hawkers and Young Love

By: leelefever on July 24, 2006 - 1:44am

 Anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes on the streets of SE Asia knows the street hawkers – the people selling goods and services on the street.  The most dominant and tenacious of the hawkers are the drivers- people offering rides on their tuk-tuk or motorcycle.  Others include people selling sunglasses, drinks or any other tourist consumable.  I would guarantee with absolute certainty that the two phrases I’ve heard most over the last two months are “Sir! Where you go?” and “Sir! You buy something?”  This morning over breakfast we denied no fewer than 6 offers for the Saigon Times newspaper.

We’ve gotten used to it, but sometimes we just want to throw all of our stuff on the ground and pitch a fit in the middle of the street screaming “I have had ENOUGH!  NO! I DO NOT want a RIDE or a DRINK or a T-SHIRT and if I do, I WILL FIND YOU!!!! Most of the time though we just offer a polite “no thanks” and walk away.

The situation is not unlike the story we all know of the boy that really, really likes a girl. The girl is not so into him, but politely talks to him and smiles at him politely.  The smitten boy of course perceives any interaction as a move in the right direction and pursues the girl with tenacity.  He asks her out on a date every time they meet and over time, the girl tires of his advances to the point of becoming annoyed. Little does he know it, but with each interaction he drives her further and further away. Eventually the girl learns that the only way to deal with the boy is to ignore him completely and be leery of other boys like him. 

Such is our situation with the street hawkers. With each offer, we find ourselves less and less likely to deal with them or even acknowledge that they exist. Like the smitten boy, they don’t realize it, but their tenacity is actually preventing more business than promoting it.

See also:  10 Reasons Why Street Hawkers are Like Email Spam 

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The Hammer and Sickle

By: leelefever on July 22, 2006 - 1:28am

Growing up in a time when the fall of the Soviet Union came in my formative years (born:1973), I saw the Hammer and Sickle as a relic of a bygone era of Communism. I had assumed that with the end of the Cold War, the Hammer and Sickle would have its place next to the more sinister swastika in the Hall of Retired Political Iconography.  Upon visiting Vietnam, I found that this is not true.  The Hammer and Sickle is alive and well in Vietnam and bandied about with all the glory of a flower display on a parade float.  While completely normal for the Vietnamese, I find it interesting and a bit strange.

The locals I’ve spoken with tell a consistent story.  Ho Chi Minh’s revolution was a good thing because it gave Vietnam independence and freedom from foreign powers (mostly France).  However, the Communist government that took over the country made life very hard for the Vietnamese. After Communism failed to produce results, the country became Socialist in the 80’s and started to open the country to a free market economy.  However, today the Communist Party is still operating and has significant power in the Vietnamese government.  So, I imagine this has something to do with the prevalence of the hammer and sickle.

I asked a tour guide about the difference it made to have a free market economy and I may never for get his response.  He said “For 10 years in Communist government, I have only one shirt and wear it every day.  Now, I wear different shirt every day.  That example said volumes to me.  I'll be interested to see how it is China and Russia, both coming up on the itinerary soon.

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Da Lat, Vietnam: A Strange Sort of Tourism

By: leelefever on July 22, 2006 - 1:15am

We are suckers for cool places in the mountains.  Da Lat, Vietnam lured us with temperatures in the 60's and the promise of experiencing Vietnam's vacation and honeymoon capital.  What we found was an intersting look at Vietnamese vacation culture that perplexed us a bit.

In the last 50 years, Da Lat has grown from a sleepy hill station to a full blown tourist destination.  In that growth, it seems that it's reputation may have preceded its progress by a few years.  From our perspective, Da Lat is a place with a perfect climate that is desparately searching for something to keep the tourists busy.  In these efforts, the city has grown into a mess of modern buildings, neon and crowds of people.  It does have a nice golf course. 

Yesterday we rented a motorbike and went to a ski-lift style gandola that descended to a lake just out of town.  Our hopes were high.  Though the gandola ride was nice, it's end left us wondering why it had been built- a gandola to what exactly?  We found a garden variety pagoda and a trail down to a red clay beach surrounding a half-full lake. The trail to the lake ended by a sickly looking and very sad monkey on a chain. Not a highlight. 

On the way back we realized that most Vietnamese never get a chance to ride in a gandola, so it is not only transportation, but an attraction itself. It may be no matter that the destination is an anti-climax. 

The restaurant situation in Da Lat was also a bit strange to us.  First, there are very few actual restaurants in Da Lat.  Instead, there are cafes that have a very consistent menu consisting of eight pages of drinks and ice cream and one page of food, including, invariably, six kinds of spaghetti.  Of course, there are also many street stalls offering baguettes, three varieties of snails, meat on sticks and pho.  What we didn't find were any up-market Vietnamese restaurants.  We found very few places to go out and get a nice Vietnamese dinner.  The restaurants on offer focused mainly on western food with some Asian foods in the mix.

 Being the honeymoon capital of Vietnam, we were left wondering if we were missing something.  Where do the Vietnamese vacationers eat?  In the end, we realized that Da Lat is not for us- it is not built around the needs and expectations of the Western traveler. The Vietnemese may not go out to eat Vietnamese food in nice restaurants to celebrate (or the places are well hidden). It is a Vietnamese place that serves the Vietnamese people first, as it should.  While Da Lat may not have lived up to what we imagined, it offered a quirky, strange, cool and interesting look at Vietnamese vacation culture and for that we are thankful.

Wei vs. The Monsoon

By: leelefever on July 18, 2006 - 1:06am

It's safe to say that we have a love/hate relationship with tuk-tuk drivers. They are the most annoying part of being in public in Asia, but they can sometimes offer a good time and a good laugh.  When we arrived in Siem Reap Cambodia, we happened to meet a young guy named Wei that ended up being our tuk-tuk driver for three days- and boy did he end up earning his money.

On the third day, we wanted to get off the tourist trail a bit and asked about some ruins called Beng Mealea that are about 2 hours outside of Siem Reap.  Wei told that he had never driven a tuk-tuk there, but he would do it for us.  We left at 7:30am the next morning. 

Wei is a handsome guy and every time we would leave him to do some sight seeing, we'd come back to see a pack of Cambodian girls around his tuk-tuk.  He said "all they want is my money", with a coy smile.  His English skills and good nature made us like him too and we felt a little bad to put him through so much.

The Beng Mealea ruins have only been open to tourists since about 2001 because of land mines.  The attraction is that they are mostly untouched- viewed in the condition that nature left them for some 800 years. Like most things in Angkor- an incredible sight.


Within about one minute of arriving back at the entrance and waking up Wei, it began to rain.  It rained very hard for a while and then let up, so we decided to make a move toward Siem Reap.  At first, Wei refused a rain coat, perhaps wishfully thinking that it would not be needed. We choose to close ourselves into the tuk-tuk and stay dry. Along the way it rained a bit more, but there was an ominous could hanging on the horizon in the direction of home.  It did not look good.

About an hour from Siem Reap, Wei decided to put on his poncho and braved some fierce winds and rain without a whimper.  I stuck my head out a couple of times and told him it would be OK to take a break.  He told me not to worry about it and continued to power on, holding one hand over his eyes to see. It just rained harder and harder and we could only wonder what it must be like on the front of the tuk-tuk.  Wei was showing his determination in the face of adversity.

Just minutes from home, it seemed like a hurricane had come ashore in Siem Reap.  I have never seen rain come down harder- it was as if the wind was blowing directly downward onto the ground, splattering the drops into mist upon impact. The Cambodians are used to monsoon rains, but the ones around us were visibly shaken by the force of this rain and wind.  

Wei had had enough.  He stopped and came around to the open back end of the tuk tuk with a smile- letting us know that he had given up for a while.  We laughed until we felt the tuk-tuk convulse a couple of times.  It was being shaken by Wei's shivering. The water had sucked every bit of warmth out of him and he was miserable.  He finally climbed into the warm and dry cab of the tuk-tuk with us to recover before finally making it home.  

We had to hand it to him- he tried his best to get through the worst that nature could offer and he did with a smile.  We tipped him well and told him to spend it on a party with his friends, where he could tell stories about being his battles with the monsoon.

Impressions of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

By: leelefever on July 18, 2006 - 12:58am

Even at a first glance, Saigon (officially named Ho Chi Minh City) reveals a striking difference in transportation. We knew that SE Asia is very fond of the motorcycle, but Saigon takes the use of the motorcycle to a new level.  At any major intersection on a weekday, you might find 100 motorcycles waiting for the light to change.  Outside of nearly every place of business is a group of motorcycles parked and likely blocking the sidewalk. 

 Notice the woman riding side-saddle below- very common.

While there are more motorcycles, there seem to be fewer people per motorcycle than we saw in Cambodia or India.  I wonder if a measure of economic prosperity could be the average number of people (and/or animals) piled onto a single motorcycle on any given workday? 

We’ve learned that if you wait for a chance to cross the street in Vietnam, you will never cross because the motos fill up everything.  The key is to take the courageous step into the traffic and let the traffic move around you. Once you start walking, keep up a steady pace so the traffic can predict your movement.  Look into traffic for a diagonal line between the motos that leads you across the street. It also helps to find a blocker (a local who crosses with you).  See Andy's excellent guide to crossing the street.

Other than the motorcycles, Saigon doesn’t seem to be striking in any particular way form a tourist perspective.  It is a big city (7 million people) and is quite a bit nicer than we expected.  We found it to be cleaner than Bangkok in terms of air quality and street trash. Staying in the Dong Khoi area of district one, we found a built-for-westerners feel that mixed Vietnamese kitsch with real culture and modern convenience.  We stayed in the Kim Long Hotel for US$30 per night, including in-room Internet access and breakfast.

Any American visiting Saigon should visit the War Remnants Museum, which was formerly called “The Museum of American War Crimes”. Remembering that Vietnam was a Communist country and is still Socialist, it should not be surprising that the museum is factual but decidedly one-sided.  It offers a look at the Vietnamese perspective of the war and does a thorough job of outlining American atrocities, including the use and ongoing effects of Agent Orange and napalm.  Being used to a more balanced perspective in most museums, it was interesting to us both to experience a state-run organization that accepted no responsibility to tell any other sides of the story. It left us both shaking our heads at the horrors of war and with a perspective on how the war was perceived by Vietnam, albeit from a propagandist perspective. 

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Sporting the Blake Carrington Look

By: sachilefever on July 13, 2006 - 9:37pm

 This is for those die-hard Dynasty fans hoping for the second-coming of football-style shoulder pads for women, characters  killed off by falling down a flight of stairs, and permed "big hair" (the bigger the hair, the more evil the character!). Recently, Lee has been sporting the Blake Carrington look with the swept feathered 'do. 

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He almost has enough grey to perfect it! 

However, his locks keep him too warm in this humidity, so he's having a haircut as I write. What was that country song about getting a haircut outside of your hometown? Apparently there's a guy where Lee's headed specializing in foreigner hair - we'll see how it turns out from Saigon.

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One Day: Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, Cambodia by Bus

By: leelefever on July 13, 2006 - 9:07am

3AM: Lee wakes up to watch last half of World Cup finals.  Goes back to sleep happy for Italy and wishing bad, bad things for Zidane.

Wake up and pack.
7:05AM: Go to front desk to check out and order breakfast to go.  Find only one worker- a bar keep.  Order is placed as kitchen shows no signs of life.
7:15AM: Take bags to front desk... Food is being cooked slowly, checkout process begins, slowly.  Feel anxiety about catching 7:45am bus.
7:35AM:  Breakfast is done, but no takeaway containers. Must wait for someone to run next door. tick-tock tic-tock.  Finally board the backs of two motorcycles (motos) for the bus station.  Board bus with little fanfare.

8:15AM: Cambodian karaoke plays on the bus TV and sound system.
11:15AM: While arriving in Phnom Penh, Sachi notices a large stream of ants traveling up and down the window on her left as the woman beside me utilizes a third bus-supplied barf bag.  Sachi feels thankful for motion patch.
11:55AM:  Arrive at first bus station in Phnom Penh only to reboard same bus to go to main terminal to catch new bus for 6 hour ride to Siem Reap. Our bus to Siem Reap is full.  Walk to other bus companies, find another 12:30 bus to Siem Reap for US$7 per person.
12:48PM:  Depart Phnom Penh for Siem Reap with an ETA of 5:30pm.  We'll see.
1:48PM: This bus smells like urine and the AC doesn't keep the sweat away.
Lee commences all out assault on bus toilet door, which swings open incessantly just feet from his seat.  After closing it for the 12th time, resolves to find a solution.  The urine smell will be defeated!
4:17PM: Lee breaks a new sweat with each close of the toilet door.  No one seems to appreciate the effort.
5:43PM:  Lee continues to be mocked by the bathroom door and it's rank smells.  Despite fastening a canvas strap supplied by the bus people (a victorious solution), a steady flow of fellow passengers fail to recognize our plight and the door remains open for most of the time.  Grrrrr.  Lee admits defeat in the final moments.
Arrive in Siem Reap and into the typical SE Asian madhouse of tuk-tuk drivers, bags emerging from the belly of the bus and astounding inefficiency.  We take a tuk-tuk to our hotel and retire for the evening after spending 10 hours on Cambodian busses.

Angkor What?

By: leelefever on July 13, 2006 - 8:06am

The reviews of Angkor Wat are invariably the same.  The words "stunning", "amazing", "incredible" abound, as do comparisons to the levels of human achievement that produced the Pyramids at Giza of Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India. Our hopes and expectations were high, perhaps too high, because Angkor Wat was not all that we thought it would be.  Perhaps we have temple fatigue.

Angkor Wat is a site that should not be missed on any trip to Cambodia and I do not mean to diminish it's reputation.  It is huge, it is impressive and it is very old. However, it just didn't measure up to the sky-high expectations. The towers, when you are standing next to them, didn't seem as big or ornate as I expected. I also didn't expect that the corner rooms at the base of two of the towers would be used a toilets. Your milage may vary, but we enjoyed the other ruins at Angkor much more than Angkor Wat itself. 

Our favorite of the temples near Siem Reap was Ta Phrom, where the ravages of nature have been left for our enjoyment.  Much of Angkor was overtaken by jungle in the 1000+ years since the temples were built and most have been cleared of organic matter. The trees and roots of Ta Phrom are still very much a part of the scene and make for a magical experience that seems like something out of a movie. There is something special about seeing life overtake these structures over so much time.  It reminds me of candle wax dripping over the stones.



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