Monday, March 29, 2010

Insane India

The Indian tourism board uses Incredible India, including a website, as a catch phrase to promote tourism. After a week here we think that Insane India would be more appropriate. Whether insane or incredible (or both), India so far has been pretty amazing, on many different levels.

First there are the people. With a population of over one billion, India is teeming with people. There are people everywhere, driving cars, riding motorcycles, riding buses, pedaling richshaws, herding goats, leading cows, drinking chai at little street side chai shops, peddling trinkets, selling flowers, or just hanging out with friends. Go out at night and the number of people in the streets doubles or triples. Whereas we noticed that more people came out at night in Southeast Asia, it is even more pronounced here (it's also a lot hotter, so the nocturnal behavior makes sense).

But unlike Southeast Asia where people seemed to be content to sit still (unless on a motorcycle), here people are on the move. I have no idea where everyone is going all the time, but it seems everyone is going somewhere, no matter what time of day.

Second, there are the sights. Everywhere we go there is something incredible to see. Today, I walked into a temple and after putting my shoes into the "chappel" rack I turned around and was face to face with an elephant being fed a bottle of orange fanta soda. Then, since it's supposed to be good luck, I let the elephant touch my head (sorry about the lady blocking me in the picture, but it's kind of hard to get a stranger-free picture around here):
After staying with the couchsurfer in Chennai we set out for Pondicherry (Puducherry). We stayed at a wonderful guest house that doubles as an ashram. We had a balcony room overlooking the ocean and it was far enough away from the street that we could even hear the waves crashing. The beach in Pondicherry wasn't really for swimming, it was all rocks, but there was a wonderful walking area where many locals strolled up and down enjoying the ocean breezes. The walkway is currently under construction, but I imagine when it's finished it will be even nicer:
We enjoyed Pondicherry quite a bit; for an Indian town it's really laid back, the French-influenced section of town was somewhat free of traffic so it was nice for strolling and we found a few nice restaurants. We even managed to catch a free outdoor music concert one of the nights. From Pondicherry we headed southwest and inland to the town of Trichy. We missed the direct bus that went there so we took two local buses connecting through a nearby town. Local buses in India are quite an experience. They are packed to standing room only and since we have our backpacks on one bus they charged us a ticket for our bags. (I'm not going to complain about this because buses are ridiculously cheap; the two local buses for the four hour journey from Pondy to Trichy was less than $4 for both of us, including paying extra for our bags.)

Accommodations in Trichy were pretty dumpy but we did pay extra for air conditioning which was nice considering it's averaging about 95 degrees with high humidity every day. We went out to the Rock Fort Temple (where Jaimee and I got blessed by the elephant) and climbed the 437 steps (barefoot, in the sun) to the top. The views were outstanding and we also chatted with a group of teenagers who were hanging out. Like most young men in India, they are studying computer science at the local university. Although sometimes the crowds of people can be seen as a liability for India, seeing the huge number of young people, many of them studying hard in schools, you can see the flip side of having a huge population. There is a very large (and growing) talent pool for new workers.
Now we are in Madurai (see previous post for a map), again staying at a not so nice place, this time without air conditioning, and no screens on the windows. We lathered up with bug spray before bed but considering how much I was sweating I had to reapply once in the middle of the night. The consolation is that it was very cheap (300 rupees, or about $6.50) and they have free filtered water. That's one thing that India does well - clean drinking water. All the restaurants, bus stations, many of the hotels, even the temples provide clean, filtered water free of charge. It's obvious that a lot of effort has gone into providing this on such a large scale. It's nice to fill up our water bottles; Jaimee and I both hated buying so much bottled water in SE Asia. Now if only India could do something about the mounds of garbage everywhere. Garbage really is a problem, and I've seen many people just toss things right in the street. On one bus, while sitting in a traffic jam caused by a ox-drawn cart with a broken wheel that was blocking one lane, a passenger got off the bus (easy since there are no doors), walked over to a street stall selling some sort of milky liquid, came back on the bus, drank his drink and then tossed the plastic cup into the street.

Anyway, take a look at our full set of pictures from our last few days on the road. Later today we're heading to the very southern tip of India at Kanyakumari. We're taking the train. I have no idea what it will be like as we booked an "open seat" which costs 32 rupees (about 75 cents) each for the five hour train ride. We stopped at a travel agency in town where they wanted to charge us 650 rupees (about $14.50) each for the same journey! We didn't know what it should cost, but that seemed high so we literally walked across the street to the train station and bought our 32 rupee tickets. We'll see how it goes.

Jaimee has already said that we need to treat ourselves to a nice place to stay pretty soon; we're not sure if that will be in Kanyakumari or later in Kerala or Goa. But no question, between the heat and crowds, we're already in need of a vacation from our vacation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Welcome to India

As it turns out, Vietnam was perfect preparation for our visit to India. As readers of our blog know, we didn't find things to be very easy in Vietnam. Buying bus or train tickets was difficult, it was impossible to not get ripped off by taxi drivers, even finding decent, non-touristy food, and getting what we ordered (or wanted) was not always possible. So, the bar of expectations was pretty low when we boarded our flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Chennai, India.

Our flight went through Singapore and we had a wonderful seven hour layover at the Singapore Airport. Wonderful because the airport was clean, we could drink the water from the water fountains, there was cheap food and free wifi. We also visited the post office in the terminal and mailed back 13 pounds of stuff we didn't need to carry around anymore.

We landed in Chennai and passed through customs without a problem (we lucked out being non-Indian as our flight was 90% Indian and "foreigners" had their own customs line at the airport). We had arranged to couchsurf in the southern part of Chennai and after a harrowing ride in an unregistered taxi (at one point I tried rolling the window down and found the door handle instead, but was able to hold on and not fall out) we arrived after midnight.

As usual with couchsurfing, our host is wonderful. She's an American from Connecticut, recently living in Vermont and Colorado before moving to Chennai with her three year old son last year to teach middle school at the American International School. We had fun playing with her son Elijah. Well, at least he had fun. I was mostly a prop (okay, I had fun too):
From Chennai
The reason we started our India tour in Chennai is because when I was working at Keynote Systems in Seattle, I worked closely with a development and support team in Chennai. I'd met two of the people from the Chennai team when they came to Seattle for a visit, but unfortunately one of them was in California for training and the other works in the Bangalore office now. However, I did meet the rest of the team, all of whom I had never met in person.
From Chennai
The office is located in an office park in southern Chennai and illustrates the incredible contrasts that have come to represent modern India. Inside the office park you'd think you were in any other corporate office park in America (complete with security that seems to exist more for show than for real security). Outside, however, is another story. The streets are lined with small shops and run-down buildings and are clogged with rickshaws, motorcycles, cars and buses. Even the train station right next to the office looked abandoned and as if it had been bombed.

About 40% of the people in India live on $1 a day, and wandering around Chennai there is evidence of poverty everywhere. Yesterday we took a walk down to the beach (supposedly the second longest beach in the world) and were amazed at the living conditions of people along the water:
From Chennai
During our three days here (be sure and look at all our pictures to see what we did while here), there have been moments when Chennai seems like a modern, cosmopolitan city, but then we'll pass piles of garbage in the streets or catch the strong whiff of urine to remind us that India is still quite a poor country. It will be interesting to see more of the country and visit some less urbanized areas (although even "small" towns here can have close to one million people). Our planned itinerary is to basically head south along the east coast until we get to the bottom of India, then head north along the west coast through Kerala and Goa until we reach Mumbai. We might also take a detour to Bangalore depending on our time and interest. From Mumbai we'll determine how much further north in India we want to go. Here is a map of southern India which we'll update with the places we stay as we go along:

View World Trip in a larger map
Tomorrow, we're catching a bus to the town of Pondicherry (Puducherry), a seaside town with a strong French influence. The bus station we leave from has its own wikipedia page (found while trying to figure out how to take the bus) which says that at 37 acres it's the largest bus terminal in Asia. In many areas it seems, India is all about extremes.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Things We Carry

Now that we've been on this trip for 220 days, we are doing a backpack cleanse.  I wish this meant that we were actually washing the packs, because that is one thing I have dreams about!  Every time we put them into the cargo hold of some South East Asian local bus, I cringe!  I remember the time we weren't allowed to put them in one, not knowing why, only to stop at a cattle/goat farm next and put twenty or so goats down there instead!  I also think about the overnight bus that left Asa eaten alive by bed bugs the next morning and cringe to think we might have stow away critters in our packs.  But, I'm not talking about that kind of cleanse...I'm talking about the kind of cleanse where we take everything out of our packs and decide once again if we really need to carry it from place to place.

We have a few categories of things that we've been carrying. There are the things we use often. This includes our summer weather clothing. Or at least much of it, since there are a couple of shirts that I don't really like to wear now that they fit pretty strangely in the arms/shoulders.  We wear our sandals almost every day and Asa is better about wearing his trail runners than I am (I like to just hang mine from a loop on the back of my pack). We've used our sleeping bag liners quite a lot too. They are perfect for overnight buses, guest houses without blankets, and places with suspect levels of "clean."  Also included in this list is the current guide book for the country or region we are in, the camera, the netbook, the iPod, the Kindle, and the chargers and cords for most of these things.

There are the things we know we will need again, but wish we could magically store them somewhere else for now.  This is where all of my socks would go.  I don't wear them and can't remember the last time I wore the right shoes for them.  Our sleeping bags have gone unused since New Zealand but we know we'll need them again in Europe, so they take up lots of space in our backpacks.  Our colder weather clothes are sitting right next to our sleeping bags too; except for the few days we wore them in North Vietnam, we hadn't worn them since Christchurch, NZ.  Our gloves and hats also have been taking up space for that day when we might wear them in Europe. We are also carrying around a woven beach mat that came in handy in Malaysia but we haven't used since.  I'm hoping for some beach time soon!

There are the things that we haven't used much, but I'm glad we have them, just in case.  There's the water purifier, which we used in Malaysia until Asa got sick (we don't know why he got sick, but aren't taking chances any more). Along with the water purifier and our SPOT goes 12 AA batteries, because the battery life is pretty low for the purifier and we still hadn't changed the original set in the SPOT.  But, we never used the purifier enough to run out of even one set. And the SPOT is still kicking it with the set it came with.  We have 13 AAA batteries, for our headlamps and after complaining about the low light in my headlamp since we went caving in NZ, Asa just changed them for me.  I also carry a sewing kit, which I've used a few times (and should use it on those shirts that are fitting weirdly). I carry my crochet stuff, but finding wool/yarn and space for my projects isn't a priority with my super full pack. I also carry a special card/poster that our friends Greg, Laura, Sara Anne, and Brendan made us as our going away card.  Its a print out of a globe adorned with photos of our summer trip and how to ask for the bathroom in many languages. I love it! Its getting flimsy now from being in my purse, and I don't look at it every day, but I'm glad that I do have it!

Then there are the things that we packed determined to use them, but haven't.  Our rain pants are the biggest example of this.  We knew, knew without a doubt, that after hiking so much all summer we would hike in whatever weather presented itself in New Zealand. But, when it came time to tramp in the "weather" we just didn't want it to be wet weather. Also in this category are the vitamins we drove all the way across the country, poured into a ziplock, and carried every day in a backpack since. Asa took about two of them. They are now discolored and smell worse than any vitamin I've ever smelled (Asa just threw them away).  There's the nasal spray that the pharmacist in New Zealand recommended. It made Asa sneeze worse than the allergy it was supposed to treat. But we've still got it, because it was expensive (also just tossed)! There is my knee brace. My knee was killing me whenever I hiked down hill, even slightly back in the summer and fall. But after a month of resting it in October and the beginning of November, I haven't even thought of it (not even when we climbed up and down Mt. Kozi in Australia). Our travel coffee mugs have fallen from daily use since we got to South East Asia and they are big and bulky and clang around. I worry that they will fall from the pack, yet we still carry them. We also carry around a few tea bags. They are very old now, but we didn't want to waste them and we might like some hot tea someday, won't we? I've also carried those two picture communication books that I made thinking they would help with any language barriers. They haven't proved too useful, as they food pictures don't really match up to what is on offer here.

We have used up or broken a few things in our 220 days.  I've worn through my only pair of jeans and had to replace them. I've also had to replace two bras since the ones I brought totally ripped apart.  Asa had to go out today to try and find a guy who could repair his sandal, though he came back without the repair done because the shoe shiner wanted to screw it back together and that would injure his foot badly.  The worst loss of the trip was when I got out of the camper van in Australia and ripped the iPod radio transmitter from the dash because it got caught in my shoe.  It was a weird freak accident, but it made our long Aussie road trip and the following three Kiwi road trips less musical! Asa's rain hat has seen better days. Our playing cards are sticky and difficult to use these days as well (we actually bought a replacement set tonight).

So, we've taken everything out of the packs. Its a wonder that everything fit in them in the first place! Here's a photo of the contents of Asa's pack:
We hope to be able to send this stuff home (sorry Dad!) tomorrow from Singapore. Sending packages from Vietnam isn't advised and we have a pretty long lay over in Singapore anyway.  We are sending home the two smallest pack towels since we usually just share the biggest one, as well as the water purifier with its filter topper and a few of the batteries for it.  We will no longer need the South East Asia Rough Guide or the Vietnam Lonely Planet. We'll send back the Cu Chi Tunnel book, since it's out of print now in the States. The rain pants are going home; who are we trying to kid? An extra hat that I made for Asa at Christmas time is shipping out. We're sending back a few of cords and adapters that we don't use anymore (like the camera cord that we never use since the netbook has a card reader and my iPod headphones since we only have one jack in the iPod and Asa's are better). My knee brace is going back. We are also shipping one of the picture communication books. Asa's rain hat isn't coming with us; the brim is broken and a wire sticks out of it.  My old sunglasses are scratched up, and I scored those new ones the other day during our adventures in Saigon.

We'll see how the packing and moving around goes now!

Update: We shipped a box of stuff from Singapore Airport today, weighing a little over 6 kg (13.25 lbs) and costing $88 SD ($63 USD) to send, which although a lot of money is totally worth it. Our bags feel so light now. Here's the box of stuff at the Post Office in the airport (which is really nice, by the way):

Cu Chi and Lai Khe

One of the reasons I wanted to come to Vietnam was to see some of the areas where my dad served during the Vietnam War. Although 70% of the Vietnamese population alive today was born after the end of the war in 1975, the landscape still bears the evidence of the war. One area where this is most apparent is the Cu Chi tunnel system about 30 miles outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

This elaborate underground system (at the peak of activity there were over 250 km (150 miles) of tunnels) enabled the Viet Cong to fight (and win) the war despite having fewer resources and firepower. In the beginning when the US came to Vietnam they didn't know about the tunnels and actually built a few bases right on top of the largest sections. Eventually they discovered the tunnels and developed methods of fighting and destroying them. However, because of how well they were built and the nature of the clay that they were burrowed in, many of the tunnels still survive.

The tour is somewhat surreal at times. For example there's a large section of primitive traps that the Viet Cong developed which our tour guide was a bit too enthusiastic about: "Look, here is a bamboo booby trap that plunges sharp bamboo right into the American's knee!" The "video" they show you is pure North Vietnamese propaganda from 1967 (literally, it was produced in 1967). And, there's a shooting range as part of the tour where you can shoot M-16s, AK-47s or one of at least 10 other types of guns (bullets were between 15,000 and 30,000 dong (75 cents to $1.50) each depending on the gun, with a 10 bullet minimum). In case you're wondering, we didn't try the guns out. Those who didn't want to shoot could buy ice-cream instead (and listen to the loud bang as others shot guns about 30 feet away).

We got to climb into and through the tunnels. Here's Jaimee poking her head out of a very small tunnel entrance:
And, here I am climbing around on a tank that acted like an adult jungle gym:
Today, we hired a private guide and car (which came with a driver in addition to the guide) to take us out to Lai Khe, the area where my dad was stationed from 1967 to 1968. When we booked the tour we were warned that there isn't much left of the American base, but to our surprise our guide Hung showed us several bunkers, and an old airstrip. Hung was also a veteran of the war, working for the North Vietnamese Army from age nine (!) to 19. He retired in 1975 as a 19-year old officer and was sent to Czechoslovakia to study for six years. He was really cool, and he even bought us our coffee when we stopped at a little road-side shack near the old base (the picture of him in the hammock was taken while getting coffee). Here Hung and I are on the old airstrip:
It was hard to imagine what the area was like during the war. Hung emphasized how much it's changed because of the war. He said that prior to building the base the Americans razed the area, both with bulldozers and with chemicals such as napalm and Agent Orange. And since the end of the war, farmers planted rubber trees, the Chinese built a couple steel factories and there are lots of industrial brick and ceramic kilns in the area. All that's left of the American base are a few bunkers and the crumbling asphalt from the airstrip (Hung pointed out that it was actually good quality asphalt). Be sure to check out all the photos from both Cu Chi and Lai Khe.

I won't say that it was completely anti-climactic to visit Lai Khe, but it is something that I've wanted to do for many years and it's kind of strange for it to now be over. I am sad that my dad is no longer living as seeing the area brings to mind many questions of what it was like when he was here. He didn't talk about the Vietnam war very much and, as he passed away when I was 16, I never really asked him too many questions about it. Now that I've visited his old base, I think the only quest left with regard to his Army stint would be to look up and find some of his fellow soldiers. But, as he never talked about any of them, I don't know how feasible this would be. In any event, this is a digression for another day...

Tomorrow we head to India! After two months in Southeast Asia, although we've loved it here, I think we are ready to move on. Plus, there will be Indian food!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

An adventure and what we've been reading

We arrived in Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976 but most people still seem to call it Saigon) yesterday night after an 11 hour train ride from Quy Nhon. We immediately noticed that Saigon is very different from anywhere else in Vietnam we've been so far. It's much more modern and fast paced with taller buildings and a lot more neon signs. And, although there are still hundreds of motorcycles, the city the streets (and sidewalks) are wider so it doesn't seem as crowded as Hanoi.

However, there are still loads of people trying to sell stuff on the street which leads to our latest adventure. As many of our readers know, we use a Spot Satellite GPS to update our position to a Google map in real-time (an embedded map used be on the side of the blog, but is now permanently located on this page instead). We attempt to "check-in" with the Spot device every time we change locations, but since it requires Satellite reception to work, it can sometimes be tricky to get a Satellite lock in the city because of tall buildings. Usually we scope out a flat area away from tall buildings to do a check-in.

So, this morning we found a park with a wide view of the sky, and set the Spot down while we rested in the shade a few feet away. Of course, as we already knew, once you stop moving you become a mark for people selling stuff. "Don't squint," I told Jaimee. "Why?" she said, but then looked up and saw not one, but two people approaching with sandwich boards made of sunglasses. The funny thing is, Jaimee actually wants new sunglasses so it wasn't completely annoying, although having two people at the same time was a bit much. Jaimee begins trying on sunglasses, and suddenly a shoe shine guy comes up and starts trying to shine my shoes. This is silly because they are trail running shoes, but he thinks they need cleaning so he takes a toothbrush to them. "No, no," I say getting up and trying to get him away. Meanwhile Jaimee is haggling over the price of a pair of sunglasses she likes. Eventually the shoe shine guy goes away but when he leaves we notice our Spot is gone!

Darnit! I think I'm more embarrassed by the irony of losing a device that displays its exact location to a map on the Internet, but Jaimee and I jump into action. The sunglass lady claims the shoe cleaner stole it and we can see him moving down the street and he seems to be moving a little fast to be an innocent shoe shiner. Jaimee is still haggling over the sunglasses so when she screams, "This is too much" referring to the entire situation and not the price, the lady immediately comes down in price to Jaimee's first counter-offer. Money is exchanged and we were off chasing the shoe shiner.

We bolt across two lanes of traffic and down several blocks never losing sight of the guy. We run past some tourist police and while I blow past them in pursuit, Jaimiee stops to talk to them. "I lost my GPS," she says, "and I think that guy up there stole it." The tourist policeman, clearly not understanding what a GPS is says, "Your my GPS is gone?" I reach the shoe shiner and inspect his box of shoe shine stuff. Nothing. Ditto for his pockets (although he did try and sell me some orthotics that were in there). We call off the police (who at this point were running down the street to meet me).

We run back to the park hoping that maybe we just mistook where the Spot was supposed to be, or that it was maybe thrown away as it was kind of close to a garbage can. As we're rifling through the garbage (not recommended in Vietnam, by the way) Jaimee notices some guy across the park pulling the Spot out of his pocket. Relieved, we approach him and tell him the Spot is ours. He hands it over and I immediately notice that he'd pressed the Help function which is supposed to put a Help icon on the Google map. Fortunately I could see that there was no satellite reception so I'm pretty sure the Help request didn't work. Luckily he didn't try the 911 function.

Anyway, he indicated he wanted some money for "returning" the device. We were happy to have the Spot back and even if he'd first stolen it, it seemed worth it to us to have it back so we decided giving him some money was okay. The only problem was that I only had 100,000 dong or 10,000 dong bills, worth $5 and 50 cents respectively (and there was no way we were giving him $5 for stealing our Spot). We saw that he was selling 5,000 dong lottery tickets so we thought as a compromise we'd buy two tickets for 10,000 dong. He thought this was a terrible idea and refused. He wanted more. Forget it, we thought and walked away. But he followed us, so we walked faster and he walked faster and began to pout. He was really upset. I offered to buy the two tickets again, but he said "no, more money" instead. No way, we thought and really began walking away fast from him. He followed us, screaming and yelling behind us for a good four or five blocks. Where are the tourist police when you really need them? Eventually, we lost him through some traffic. We went around a few corners, found a cafe and relaxed over some iced coffees. The only good to come of this is Jaimee's new sunglasses:

We spent the rest of the day going to two museums, The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City and The War Remnants Museum. Both were very interesting and contained your standard assortment of tanks, planes and exhibits. (See our photos for details.) The War Remnants museum is particularly good as it contains lots of great photographs from both American, Vietnamese and foreign photographers. It's highly recommended.

We also made our plans for the next two days. Tomorrow we're taking a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels (see book below), an area about 30 miles from Saigon that saw lots of fighting during the Vietnam War. And on Monday we hired a car with a guide for the day to take us out to the two different bases that my dad was stationed at during the war. Neither base sight is on a standard tour so we had to hire a private guide.

Lastly, I thought we'd mention three excellent books about Vietnam that we read recently:

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam, by Andrew X. Pham. This is half-memoir, half-travelogue. It follows Andrews on a solo bicycle trip throughout Vietnam. He was born in Vietnam, moved to Louisiana (and later California) when he was nine years old and took this bike trip in Vietnam when he was in his 20s. Reading the book makes Vietnam sound a little intimidating as he encounters no end of problems and issues during his time here (and he even speaks fluent Vietnamese). But the book offers some good insight into the mindset of a Vietnamese-American family and the nature of home.

The Tunnels of Cu Chi, by Tom Mangold and John Penycate. While possibly not appealing to everyone (it doesn't shirk from graphic descriptions of war) this book provided a lot of background about the tunnels that we'll see tomorrow. Essentially, the tunnels were a huge underground labyrinth right underneath some of the largest US military bases. The book describes the fighting that took place in the tunnels from both the US (including a few Australian tunnel "rats" as the fighters were called) and the Vietnamese side. Like many war stories, the waste of human life is very tragic.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram, translated by Andrew X. Pham (same author as above). Dang Thuy Tram was a North Vietnamese doctor from Hanoi, who traveled to the South of Vietnam to work in a medical clinic supporting the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. She was killed by Americans who found her trying to escape from her clinic that was being bombed. Her journal was discovered and saved from destruction and eventually even returned to her family in 1995 by the American soldier who saved the diary. It's a chilling view of how despised American were and how indoctrinated and idealistic many communists were at the time.

These are just three of the books we've read since we last talked about books on here. Here's a little widget that contains some of the other books we've read:

Most of the above books we read on our Kindle, although since we only have one Kindle we still scrounge around for paperbacks so that one of us can read that while the other uses the Kindle. If you're really interested in how a Kindle works for travelers, take a look at this detailed post from some other world-travelers (notice that they have two Kindles for the two of them). Overall, like us, they think the Kindle is pretty great, although there is definitely room for improvement (i.e., the wireless isn't very good internationally, graphics are horrible, and the web browser is atrociously bad) but as an e-reader it performs great.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Relaxing in the city of What Your Name?

The best recommendation someone can give a place is the phrase, "we were only going to spend one night but we ended up spending two." So when we were on our Ha Long Bay cruise and one of the Australian guys (who I thought was gay, but Jaimee didn't) used that phrase referring to the town of Quy Nhon in South Central Vietnam coast, we were intrigued. The town wasn't in our Budget Rough Guide to Southeast Asia but we wrote down the information about the town and hotel and decided to check it out. We've found that first-person recommendations are usually the best way to find cool and interesting places.

Of course, this is Vietnam, so it wasn't exactly easy to get here. As we mentioned last time, we'd decided to take the train instead of the bus and we had our difficult to purchase "Hard Sleep Air-Con Level 3" tickets. When we boarded the train we realized what this meant: the upper bunk of a three person bunk bed. The sleeper cars have no seats, just the bunks and if you're in the upper bunk you have about 15 inches of headroom. Just getting into the bunk was a struggle. (We were so traumatized when we saw the bunks that we forgot to take a photo of it, but we'll try and get one when we're on the train next. Update: it's not the best picture as it was hard to get because there were people milling around everywhere, but I tried to secretly snap a picture of the three level bunks.) It was not the ideal situation for a 21 hour ride. We tried to make the best of it and got up periodically to walk around.

Overall, the ride wasn't that comfortable but we made it to Quy Nhon only an hour late. We checked into the hotel recommended by the Australian and found our best hotel room yet: a huge room (it has a desk and two dressers), a bathtub, TV with HBO, air conditioning and a mini-fridge. All for just $10 a night!

The town itself is pretty low-key and laid back, especially compared to Hanoi or Hue. We took this photo in the middle of the day and were able to capture the street with NO motorcycles:
There is a beach here, but it's not exactly a beach for sunbathing or swimming. It's more of a launching point for these strange pod-like fishing boats.
The food here was incredibly cheap and quite tasty. We found this vegetarian place where we had steaming bowls of Pho for about 60 cents each. Also the people are super friendly. The lady at the store across the street from our hotel has a daughter who lives in San Antonio and she talked to us all about where we were going (and had been) in Vietnam. And the children here all yell "Hello" or "What your name?" even if flying by on the back of a motorcycle. A few times we stopped to try and have longer conversations with the kids but they didn't seem to know much more English than those phrases.

It's been a nice couple days here. Tomorrow we take the day train to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). It's supposed to take 11 hours, leaving at 9AM. We'll hang there until our flight to India on Tuesday. Speaking of India, we booked a couchsurfing host for when we arrive in Chennai. We're excited about that as we love staying with a local when we first arrive in a place. Our host is actually an American who's a teacher in Chennai.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ha Long Bay Tour

After eschewing group tours for the first six months of our trip (except for one snorkeling trip in Malaysia) we've now been on two tours in a week in Vietnam. This isn't because our preference for tours has increased - it's because Vietnam is a much more difficult country to navigate on your own. Or at least that's how our stay here has been so far. Even getting information about prices can be difficult. Yesterday, for example we went to the train station to book our train trip south out of Hanoi, and we had to talk to the ticket lady at least four times because every time we asked about a particular train and class of service, it was either full, or not available to "foreigners" or only one seat available, etc. But more on that in a sec.

We spent the last two days on a tour of Ha Long Bay, a huge bay of 1,969 islands (you can remember that number because, as our guide told us, that is the year Ho Chi Minh died). Many of the islands jut up sharply out of the water and combined with the fog, it gave the area a very other-worldly feel; at one point we motored through a swarm of dragon flies and I wondered if this place was inspiration for the movie Avatar (that is, if Avatar took place on water).
Despite the huge number of tour boats, it was an amazingly peaceful tour. All the boats are essentially the same design with very quiet engines that allowed us to move slowly around the bay. We went on the two-day one night tour, as opposed to the two-night, three day options. We also chose the "Good Tour" instead of the "Cheap Tour" and it turned out to be very nice. There were only nine of us on the boat and every room had its own bathroom (including cockroaches!). Our other travelers were three young kids from Sweden, a young British couple and two men from Australia. We also got to go kayaking for a bit, renting kayaks (well, our tour company rented them) from this fishing village that lives out in the bay:
Ha Long Bay is quite the contrast to the hustle and bustle and motorcycles that are everywhere else in Vietnam. Just not having to hear constant horns honking was worth the trip (and possibly a reason to book the longer tour if one is staying in Vietnam longer).

We got back to Hanoi last night and walked over to the train station to see about booking a train south of here. Eventually we booked a ticket to the city of Qui Nhon in South Central Vietnam. It's a 21 hour train ride, which might sound horrific, but the idea of getting on another "sleeper bus" had me itching phantom bug bites just thinking about it. Here's to hoping the train is nicer. We chose that town because one of the Australians recommended it as a relaxing, quiet place.

Take a look at all our pictures from Ha Long Bay. They're mostly gray because that's what the weather was doing the whole time we were there, but we found the area to be very beautiful and well worth the effort of booking the tour.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Our guidebook describes Hanoi, Vietnam's second largest city, as "small", "elegant", "surprisingly low-key" and "relatively laid-back". I wonder what city they visited because we found Hanoi to be the exact opposite. It's a crazy patchwork of narrow, crowded streets with hundreds of motorcycles and people trying to sell you thinks everywhere you walk. Even crossing the street is a harrowing experience. We found that the best strategy was to just keep moving. Using techniques learned from riding my bike in city traffic of Seattle, we'd try to keep a steady pace and just move into the road to cross amidst the motorcycles. Moving also protected us from the people selling items. At one point we made the mistake of stopping to consult our map. Suddenly one man is trying to put glue on my shoes (there is a flap coming loose on the front), another lady is putting a Vietnamese style hat on me to have Jaimee take my picture ("for no money," she says) and another lady is trying to sell me pineapple (actually, I think it's the same lady). It was a bit insane.

Which isn't to say we don't like it here; we like it quite a bit, but it is not an easy city. I think I liked it more than Jaimee as I'm intrigued by chaos, similar to how I viewed Los Angeles when we went there last September. I view it as a challenge to try and figure a city out, to see how it to make it work for us.

Unfortunately, being here only two nights has not been enough time to really get to know Hanoi. We arrived on the night "sleeping bus" from Hue - a ride that took a little over 12 hours, including a dinner stop. We thought we'd hit the jackpot when we got on the bus - it's wasn't very crowded and we each had our own "sleeping pod" to rest in. Here I am when we first got on the bus:
From Hanoi
However, we drove about six blocks and switched buses. We were jammed into a different bus where Jaimee and I had a "bed" in the very back of the bus, shared with three other people. Additionally, there were bugs in the bed that gave me lots and lots of bug bites. (To spare you from having to stare at the picture for too long I won't put it in the blog, but you can see the bites in this photo.)

The bus dropped us off a ways from the city center in Hanoi and as we didn't have a hotel arranged in advance we accepted a free taxi ride from a guy who said he worked for a hotel. Surprisingly, the taxi ride was actually free; when we got to the hotel someone met the taxi and paid the fare. Unsurprisingly, the hotel was overpriced (well, relatively - the room was $12) and kind of dumpy. We did decide to take it for one night though as we were tired and didn't feel like walking around the city with our backpacks. The next night we changed hotels to one recommended in our guide book. Which wasn't easy to find. Apparently whenever a hotel (or restaurant) gets a good reputation or is mentioned in Lonely Planet, copy cat businesses open up with the same name. Hence, there are several Hanoi Guest Houses, a few Little Darling Hotels (and variations thereof) and many Kangaroo Cafes. To know if you're at the original you have to make sure you're on the right street.

As mentioned above regarding traffic and crossing the street, Hanoi is not an easy city to get around either. There is no public transportation (apart from ubiquitous cyclo drivers offering "moto, moto" at every turn) and walking is nerve wracking at best and often downright dangerous. Despite this, we did manage to walk around and see the Old Quarter, the French Quarter and make our way out to the Military History Museum.
From Hanoi
It was fun reading the captions of the various exhibits. Somehow calling the enemy "thugs" and "hooligans" makes history seem so much more real. There was a huge section on the war with the French, and of course information about the American involvement, as well as several tanks, planes and helicopters.

Finally, tonight we went to a water puppet show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. This was a really cute show involving, well, puppets in water. The music was all done with traditional Vietnamese instruments. This picture, although blurry, was taken at the end of the performance when the puppet masters came out from behind the curtain.
From Hanoi
Tomorrow we're heading out to Ha Long Bay. We debated about doing a tour or going out on our own, but in the end we booked a two day, one night tour. The tour is all inclusive, including an overnight stay on the boat and excursions to islands and caves, including kayaking. Considering it's only $30 per person, we figured it was worth the "splurge" as long as we don't have to sleep with bugs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DMZ Tour

Yesterday we went on a tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) marking the area between North and South Vietnam. This was the most heavily bombed area of the entire Vietnam War (or, as our guide pointed out, the Vietnamese call it the American War). The tour was long, lasting from 6:30 am until 6 pm but it's highly recommended. As each stop on the tour charges "entrance fees" and the tour includes all these in the price, it's also an economical way to see a bunch of stuff all at once.

I won't bore the readers with too many details of the tour, as we've put comments on the pictures if you're interested in each stop. However, highlights were going to the battle site of Khe Sanh, a major turning point of the war (and where over 400 Americans lost their lives), as well as seeing the Vinh Moc Tunnels where hundreds of Vietnamese lived underground for two years while the area was bombed repeatedly.
Finally, the last stop was the Truong Son War Cemetery, where over 10,000 bodies lie, many of them unidentified. Our guide pointed out that while almost 60,000 Americans lost their lives in the Vietnam War, over 3,000,000 Vietnamese died, and many of the dead are still missing or unidentified.
For me, coming to Vietnam and seeing the impact and after effects of the war is especially poignant as my dad served in Vietnam from July 1967 to August 1968. He was not in the DMZ area, but down south closer to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). We hope to visit the area where he served later in our visit.

Today we're leaving Hue and heading North to Hanoi. After having so much fun on the overnight buses in Laos we're going to now try a Vietnamese overnight bus.

Update: While waiting for us bus we walked around Hue. Hue is an interesting and pretty city, but somewhat difficult to navigate. Traffic is insane and everything is pretty spread out so we had trouble just finding places to eat, for example. But we did walk around The Citadel, a walled section of the city where Emporer Gia Long lived back in the early nineteenth century. Most of the 148 original building were destroyed by heavy bombing during the Vietnam War, but there are still some beautiful temples and towers.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Good Afternoon, Vietnam

We've arrived in Vietnam, and I'm not sure if we should be surprised or not, but it's raining. It's the first real rain we've seen since we've been in Southeast Asia and it's quite the downpour. Luckily, we have our raincoats (and rainpants and packcovers at the ready if need be) although that hasn't stopped every shop vendor we walk by from trying to sell us ponchos. A motorcycle even pulled over while we were walking on the street and offered to sell us two purple ponchos. I guess the Vietnamese aren't used to seeing a lot of REI eVent jackets.

Our big plan from our last blog post was to head east from Savannakhet to the town of Sepon where we'd use this as a base to explore the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We headed down to the bus station and booked a ticket to Sepon. They didn't put our backpacks in the luggage compartment and we found out why about five minutes into our ride when we stopped to pick up a herd of goats! It's cliche to talk about the live chickens on a bus (yes, this bus had that too) but a herd of about 15 goats in the luggage compartment seems too ridiculous not to mention. Jaimee got a few shots of the goat herders in action:
Other than the goats, which we could hear bleating, the ride itself was fine. Except for the fact that we stayed on the bus about an hour too long. Our "ticket" (in quotes because it consisted of a verbal contract with the driver) was to Sepon, but somehow we missed the town and didn't figure this out until we'd reached the Laos/Vietnam border town of Daen Sawan. Instead of trying to backtrack (it was 3PM at this point), we took a room at a guest house in this town. Daen Sawan does not have much in the way of amenities, and we were novelties of some sort in that I don't think this town sees very many tourists. The town has hundreds of kids, all of who know a few English phrases (popular refrains: "Hello Thank you Good-bye" or "Give me money"), which they love to yell as we walked around. The were also lots of pigs, chickens, geese, dogs and cows roaming the streets.

The next day we set out for the town of Ban Dong which, according to our guide book had some old American tanks along the trail. Here's the description from our guide book:
The most tangible relics of Operation Lam Son 719 are two rusting American tanks that sit on the outskirts of Ban Dong, on Route 9. The easiest tank to find lies five minutes' walk off the road that cuts south out of town toward Taoy. Shaded by a grove of jack-fruit trees, it rests atop a small hill east of the road, partially dismantled for its valuable steel.
Given that we couldn't even find a major town along a major road while on a bus, what do you think our chances were of finding these tanks? This is assuming they're even still there. Also, what does a jack-fruit tree look like? We did find a tank though, in front of what we're guessing is a museum. The building wasn't open and the people in the area didn't speak much (any?) English so we couldn't find out much information about the tank or the building.
So, after wandering up and down a dirt road in the middle of the mid-day sun looking for tanks, we decided to call it quits, had a Pepsi at a little shack/store and went back to our guest house in Daen Sawan. Catching a ride back wasn't exactly easy. Public transport in this area of Laos consists of motorcycle taxis (not an option for two of us together) or flagging down passing vans. After waiting a while, a van did pass by and stop for us, agreeing to take us to town. After arriving in town, the driver wanted $5 USD, which I countered with 40,000 kip (a little less than $5) but when I gave him a 50,000 kip bill he tried to keep the whole thing. We went through a tugging match with the bill until finally he acquiesced to giving me change and to my surprise handed me 30,000 kip. I grabbed it and we jumped off the bus.

While we were having a late lunch back in town we were surprised when a young Dutch couple we saw on the bus (we found out they were Dutch by talking to them) came walking back into town, asking the restaurant owners about staying in their guest house. Apparently they had some issues with their Vietnamese visa (it wasn't valid until the next day) and were turned away at the border. We ran into that couple again the next day after crossing the border. We shared a van to the Vietnamese town of Hue, where we are now. I was mad though because we paid $20 US dollars (good thing we've been carrying these dollars around) for the van ride from the border to the town of Hue (it ended up being about a four hour ride), but the driver picked up the Dutch couple after us and they were able to bargain it down to $8 each! Our bargaining skills clearly need some work.

One other thing to note: we took our first motorcycle taxi. The bus depot in Hue is about 4km from the town center and being that it was rainy (and a little cold actually), walking didn't seem like a good option. Plus, it's impossible to look at a guide book without getting about five different opinions from all the various people hustling things. We gave in and each of us took a ride on the back of a motorcycle into town, which was sort of exhilarating, but also a little scary. At least they provide helmets for you. Here's Jaimee with her helmet:
We booked a very nice hotel room with free wifi and our bathroom even has a shower curtain! We also decided to to a real tour for tomorrow, this time of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) between North and South Vietnam. It's an all-day tour, which usually is not our cup of tea, but we figured it's a way to see a bunch of sights all at once. Plus, I don't think it will require us to identify any types of trees in order to find stuff. We'll be sure to report back how it goes.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Next stop, Vietnam

We are currently hanging out in the central Laos town of Savannakhet. We took a local bus from Vientiane, and it was a fairly uneventful and comfortable ride, although I did rip my shorts on a motorcycle that was in the aisle of the bus. Unfortunately, the shorts are pretty much beyond repair, as they'd already been stitched up twice before by Jaimee, but this time the rips are quite large:

If ripped clothes are the worst of our worries, we're in good shape. After feeling a little under the weather in Vientiane, we both recovered nicely and are having a nice time in Savannakhet. We've used this stop to determine our next few weeks of travel. Back in Luang Prabang, we thought we'd keep heading south in Laos, crossing through Cambodia and then into Vietnam. However, and this will come as no surprise to frequent readers, but we've changed our mind yet again. Being that Savannakhet is on a main highway between Thailand and Vietnam, it has a Vietnamese consulate. We stopped in there yesterday and got 15-day visas for Vietnam. We thought we couldn't get them until Phnom Penh in Cambodia, but they were able to issue them to us on the spot. So, now that we have our visas, and there's a major road from here to Vietnam, we've decided to go to Vietnam sooner.

Our plan now is to head East toward the Vietnam border, stopping for a night or two to see some remnants of Operation Lam Son 719, part of a US ordered, but South Vietnamese Army led attack on the North Vietnamese Army along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I'm not sure what there is to see exactly, but we plan on staying a night or two in Xepon (also spelled Sepon sometimes) and see if we can find someone who can show us around the old Ho Chi Minh Trail. Here is a map of the area:

View World Trip in a larger map

The only problem with this plan is we'll enter Vietnam in the middle of the country. We're not sure exactly what our itinerary will be, but we only have 15 days on our visa (getting a longer visa would have taken more time to process) and we would like to visit both the North and South of the country. Also, another big update is that we bought our tickets to India today. We are flying out of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Chennai, India (via Singapore) on March 23. We found relatively cheap flights on Tiger Airways and decided to go ahead and book the tickets.

Anyway, Savannakhet is a charming, albeit very poor town. There are some remnants of French colonialism here, including a beautiful Catholic Church built in 1930 in the main square.

The town is also along the river dividing Laos from Thailand and one night we had a sunset dinner along the river. We ate at this place where they server you claypot pull of broth and you heat it up over your own coal fire. Then you add whatever vegetables, meat or seafood you want into the broth. It reminded us of our meal in Melaka at Capitol Satay.

We also got a massage, and in all honesty have enjoyed watching movies on HBO at night (yes, our hotel, at only $8 US) includes air-conditioning and HBO. Unfortunately, the only other English channel is CNBC ("First in Business Worldwide!") and despite being an Econ major, I can only take for so long (Jaimee's tolerance is even less). But, HBO has been nice.

Here's the photo album link. We'll add more pictures as we work our way into Vietnam:
Laos to Vietnam

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vientiane, briefly

Sometimes when we visit a place we understand right away why it's popular. When we were in Luang Prabang or Chiang Mai, for example, we could tell why people visit there. Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on the other hand, is somewhat of a mystery. Maybe we're missing something, but we don't really see the appeal of this city. It's sort of like a tourist destination trying to become a tourist destination.

We survived our overnight bus from Luang Prabang, even coming in an hour early, but after taking a tuk tuk downtown we immediately found out that all the guest houses and hostels were full. This is the first place we've been where everything has been booked. And we're not the only ones who searched for a room. It's the opposite problem of Luang Prabang; there you couldn't walk 10 feet without encountering a guest house offering a room whereas here you can't walk 10 feet without encountering a tourist couple carrying their bags around looking for a place to stay.

We got lucky, sort of. The morning we arrived, we walked up and down the main street where most of the guest houses are, and although they were all full, we decided to wait at one of them for someone to check out and then grab their room. We only had to wait about two hours before we were able to check in. The price sheet said 45,000 kip (about $5 US) and I thought that was per person, but it turned out to be the total price! However, the room was about what you'd expect for $5...two very narrow metal beds with cigarette burned sheets, a plank floor covered with shoddy linoleum and a view out the window of a brick wall. Oh, and there were bugs. But being that we'd hardly slept on the bus and were both suffering from slight sickness (nothing a bit of Imodium couldn't fix) and every other place was full, we took the room.

Today we changed to a nicer place down the street (getting the last room in the place), which at 85,000 kip (about $9) is worth every penny. It's no Fairmont, but it's clean, there are no bugs and the wall does not have a drawing of a penis on it. And, there's running water! The first place didn't have any running water in the morning, which the people working there didn't seem too concerned about. By the way, here's a business idea for an aspiring entrepreneur: come to Laos and open a plumbing school. They need plumbers here. Everywhere we go the plumbing is shoddy: entire faucets turn when you turn them on, there are constant backwashes of toilets, drains don't drain, pipes drip, showers have no pressure and shoot in all directions but on your body, etc.

As for things to do here, we did take a walk down Lane Xang Avenue, which supposedly is modeled after Champs Elysees in Paris. There's even a Laotian version of the Arc de Triomphe, called Patouxai:
We climbed the stairs to the top of it and although there wasn't much of a view on account of the smog/haze, it was fun enough.
Tomorrow we're going to continue south to the town of Savannakhet in Southern Laos, which supposedly has lots of French colonial architecture with a Vietnamese influence as well. Although there is an overnight bus, we figured we'd take the day time local bus. Not only is it cheaper, but the overnight bus lands you in Savannakhet at 3AM which we thought would be an inconvenient time to arrive.

We didn't take too many photos here, on account of there not being too much to take photos of, but here are the few that we did take.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Relaxing in Luang Prabang

We've enjoyed our time immensely in Luang Prabang. The city (it's more of a town really) here has a very "up and coming" feel to it. There is a lot of construction going on, and the steady influx of tourists makes it a vibrant place to kick back for a few days, although it's definitely not typical Laos. On the bus ride through the country-side to get here we saw how poor Laos really is, but you wouldn't know in Luang Prabang. It acts like a sleepy village, but it has all the modern conveniences you'd need to have a comfortable stay.

If not for our desire to see more places, we could easily stay here longer. From what we've heard and read, Luang Prabang now is what Chiang Mai was maybe 10 or 15 years ago. It would be interesting to come back here in a few years and see how it changes. With so many new guest houses and touristy restaurants opening up, I wonder if it will be able to continue to retain it's charm and appeal. But, of course, I think that's why we travel - to see places and enjoy them in the moment, as they are.

In any event, as I mentioned, our stay here has been very relaxing. We took a day trip out to a huge cave, called Pak Ou Caves where there are hundreds of Buddha statues, which although interesting, was not really that impressive (maybe I should have been impressed?).
Pak Ou is sort of a resting ground for Buddha statues

Combined with that trip, we also went out to a beautiful waterfall called Kouang Si. This was totally worth it, and we weren't going to go out there since it's the dry season, until we ran into some people from our bus who said it was gushing.
There were multiple swimming areas, including a cool rope swing that we got to use to jump into the water. Doing either side trip was kind of fortuitous, because although tuk-tuk drivers ask you on every corner, "Hello sir, Cave/Waterfall?" we weren't exactly sure how to organize a group to get the best rate. The drivers charge a flat fee to go (they charge about $50 US for the entire trip of about 100km), so the more people you have the cheaper it is per person. On the street one morning we ran into a Canadian from Montreal who was on our bus and he said he had booked the tour with six people but two of his group were sick so he asked us if we wanted to go. He was leaving in about 10 minutes, but we thought, why not? We grabbed some coffee and banana cake, ran back to our guest house and put on our bathing suits. We had no idea that it would be an all-day tour (we left at 9AM and got back at 4PM) but we had fun. Plus, this guy Pierre is a hoot, as were his friends from France (who we continue to see all around town).

Apart from the cave/waterfall tour, we've spent a fair amount of time lounging at a very nice bookstore/cafe called L'Etranger Books and Tea, which although overpriced by Southeast Asia standards, has free wifi, draft beer and at 7PM they show free movies on their TV in the loft area on the second floor. We were lucky enough to catch Fantastic Mr. Fox (bootlegged DVD from China) one night.

Additionally, we caught up with the Canadian couple that we met in Chiang Mai and had dinner with them. We attempted to go to the highly recommended Tamarind restaurant, but apparently it's closed on Sunday. As a backup plan we had great food and beer at the market, and it was fun to talk smack (as much as we could having not really followed the Olympics) about the upcoming USA versus Canada gold medal hockey game that they were getting up at 3AM to watch. (Having not that much a vested interest either way, I'm glad Canada got their gold medal.)

We went to Tamarind for lunch today, and it's definitely worth checking out. We had their vegetarian sampler platter and some pumpkin-coconut soup. The restaurant also has cooking classes which would be worth doing if we were staying longer here.
Speaking of leaving, we decided to take another overnight bus tonight, down to the Laos capital of Vientiane. It's supposed to take 12 hours. We'll see. (Update: the bus actually came in an hour early, with no breakdowns or other issues. It was uncomfortable though, and the Laos music videos on the TV were interesting for the first 10 minutes, but annoying after that, especially while trying to catch some sleep.) We've also been trying to figure out when to leave Southeast Asia and head to India. We're having a great time here, it's pretty cheap (we're averaging about $35 US per day including transport costs from town to town) and there's still a lot to see (Southern Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam). Our tentative plan is to do an S-shaped itinerary down through Laos and Cambodia and then traverse south to north in Vietnam ending up in Hanoi in northern Vietnam. From there we'd fly to Bangkok and on to India. Nothing is booked yet, but we'll be sure to update the blog when know for sure.

We added more pictures to the photo album, and there were some tourists who took pictures of Jaimee jumping into the water at the waterfall. The one guy promised to e-mail us the pictures which we'll post to the album as soon as we get them.
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