Archive for January 2008




Happy Haggis Day!

I hope everyone had a great Burns night on Friday. Yes, it was the 25th of January when we celebrate that famous Scot Robert Burns and generally all things Scottish.

To that end, I hosted a Burns supper with about 12 friends here. I even managed to have some haggis shipped over! Thank you MacSweens!

The menu that night was roast chicken, haggis, neeps, tatties and whisky cream sauce over the lot. Followed by cranachan (more whisky cream with strawberries and honeyoat cakes), homemade shortbread (yes, I made it myself) and of course lots and lots of whisky.

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But don’t think this was all for free. Oh no, I made my guests work for their dinner. The first challenge of the night was to read Burns’ “Ode to the Haggis” in their best Scottish accent. While wearing a Jimmy Hat. (notice the Saltire flag in the background please)

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Don’t worry, I let them listen to Robin Williams’ great rendition of how the Scots created golf.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2zcgieFVtE

The next event after dinner and many shots of whisky celebrating the great haggis, was ‘Dress The Scot”. Each team had parts of a traditional Scottish outfit and had 2 minutes to place them on the body in the right place. Nae bad eh?

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2 comments January 28, 2008

Pics

I did it! I finally got the photos!

So, here they are to illustrate the story of my vacation.

Ah, the glorious sights of Hanoi –vietnam-winter-2007-141.jpgvietnam-winter-2007-146.jpgPho - best food in the world

The Temple of Literature:

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Let’s see…….

Cat Ba island and climbing!

vietnam-winter-2007-070.jpgThis is Butterfly valley and that strip of white is what we climb.

vietnam-winter-2007-093.jpgCan you find Marshall?

vietnam-winter-2007-097.jpgRock Star!  vietnam-winter-2007-099.jpg

This is how they bolt the routes. See how much gear he’s pulling? He has to find a good hold and just hang off his own strength while he drills, cleans, glues, bolts and tests. Each bolt takes about 25 minutes. Think of the strength!

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Here’s one of the beaches we kayaked to for climbing.vietnam-winter-2007-089.jpg

Resting while we get things set up. vietnam-winter-2007-105.jpg

This is Onslo, talking us through a climb.vietnam-winter-2007-108.jpgvietnam-winter-2007-112.jpg

This is where our lunch was waiting for us.vietnam-winter-2007-109.jpg

I love this photo because it looks like Marshall is hanging out on some giant dinosaur skull.vietnam-winter-2007-129.jpg

Touring around Cat Ba on our bikes. vietnam-winter-2007-084.jpgvietnam-winter-2007-082.jpgvietnam-winter-2007-080.jpgThis is where we ate lunch most days.vietnam-winter-2007-132.jpg

Here’s us enjoying Bia Hoi – a local beer that has no preservatives or additives. It’s really good and refreshing, but the best part is that it costs about 15cents. vietnam-winter-2007-122.jpg

My final week I hung out in Hong Kong. I’m getting pretty good at knowing my around now but one thing I hadn’t done was visit the Buddha on Lantau Island. You get there by cable car which is pretty cool and the Buddha really is enormous!

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But no Buddha is complete without a monastery and lots of incense.vietnam-winter-2007-188.jpg

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Add comment January 28, 2008

I know!

I’m sorry I haven’t been on here to update sooner! Still trying to make sure I have all the photos from all the cameras and even trying to figure out a way to put a video on here. All in good time.

Until I get to all that, I can at least tell you about Christmas. A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. At least in Asia I’m not late yet – Lunar New Year is in 2 weeks.

I was in Vietnam for 2 weeks of the vacation and Hong Kong for the last one. I met Marshall in Hanoi and I had made sure we had a great hotel right next to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. We stayed near here last time I came and I remembered loving the area. Our first full day was Christmas Eve and we didn’t really achieve much! But it was a good starting point for the holiday. Christmas Day was our big travel day. We had decided to try and get out to Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay (a UNESCO world heritage sight that is gorgeous). We had been told that Hanoi to Cat Ba Town could be done in 4 hours. We had also booked a bus/boat ticket through a travel agent who had promised we could do it in 6 and get lunch as well. Sounds good eh?

Not true. The whole trip took 12 hours, we had to pay extra for a bad lunch, pay extra for a cave tour that we had no say about and no option to miss and at least 4 of those hours were spent just sitting – either at the dock or on the bus once we had docked.

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Oh yeah, and our captain was too drunk from rice wine to dock the boat so we had to be ferried on these little tug boats and then climb up a ladder to reach the dock. We were just thankful that as soon as we got to the town, we were able to say goodbye to the operators and figure our own things out.

The whole point of this excursion was to check out a new climbing area. Most people climb in Thailand but these 2 American guys (Eric and Onslo) have just started a climbing business in Cat Ba called SloPony and are bolting all new routes trying to get this area up and running to rival Krabi in Thailand. So far there are only around 70 climbs up (compared to over 300 in Krabi) but it’s a work in progress. We stayed at the guest house where they have their base of operations and started to plan some great days. We decided to hire them as guides so that we could try climbing harder stuff than we normally do and it was absolutely worth it! It was awesome. There is one area called Butterfly Valley that you ride moto’s to and has water buffalo roaming around. They also have a deal with a family that farms in the area that you can eat lunch at their house. Authentic Vietnamese food. It was so good and I think a few days we rode out there just to eat!

They also have routes on some of the tiny islands around the Bay. You take a boat out then kayak to the beaches to climb and kayak back to the boat for lunch.

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It was gorgeous. The weather was cool – mid 60’s each day but that’s perfect for climbing. And because it was low season and the climbing is so new, there was no one else around. That never happens in Krabi! Some days we just rented our own moto’s and cruised around Cat Ba island. Over half of the island is a national park so it’s really green and forested.  One day SloPony arranged for a local farmer to take us on a hike through the forest. This was absolutely unforgettable. It was a hike that in the states would require you to have on harnesses and ropes. One slip and you were tumbling a long way down! The rock is also extremely sharp and shreds your skin. Every step was nerve wracking but it was easier to keep going up than turn around and come down. And the view from the top was absolutely worth every heart pounding moment.

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I can’t even mention the descent without breaking out in a sweat!!

We ended up spending 6 days in Cat Ba climbing. It was so great and Eric and Onslo are amazing climbers who really taught us a lot. We got to see them bolting new routes and plans for new places to climb. When we left, we gave a ‘bolt donation’ (basically money to help buy equipment for putting up new routes) and to say thank you, they bolted a brand new route and called it Team Ling Ling after us! (in case you’re wondering, Team Ling Ling is the name of our climbing group in Korea that Marshall started). So now, we have our very own route!!!!

New Year’s Eve day we returned to Hanoi to meet up with some SIS friends. We took SloPony’s recommendation on returning and the trip only took 4 hours, no hassles. So much easier! So we met up with our friends Mitch and Elissa, Bryan and Alana, and Allison. We started our New Years Celebrations with Champagne at our hotel (don’t think that just because I’m abroad, I’m going without Champers on New Year!). Then we managed to get into a little Italian Bistro near our place for some great homemade food. Then…….well, we weren’t sure what to do. What are the celebrations in a country that doesn’t celebrate the same new year? Turns out – nothing. The bars closed at 10:30 and we were left standing on the street with one can of beer each. We headed towards the lake and ended up standing around and talking until someone yelled “Happy New Year”. At that point we managed to find some cheap sparklers but that was the extent of our midnight celebration.

The next few days were pretty lowkey. We checked out the Temple of Literature in Hanoi which is gorgeous. It was the first University-like institution in Hanoi and the students (all men) had oral examinations given by the King! The photos certainly look intimidating.

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I do have a lot more photos of this but they are on my computer at home. Sorry!

We also ate lunch that day at a great place called KOTO. It stands for Know One, Teach One and it is an organization that brings in homeless children, teaches them how to work in a restaurant either as chefs, or as waiters, and then finds them jobs in the tourism industry. During their training they get a place to sleep, a bike to get around, and free schooling including English language lessons. The restaurant serves great food and all profits go back into maintaining this organization. Certainly one to check out if you’re there.

At this point we realized we had just enough days left for one more small trip. So we decided to check out Cuc Phuong National Park and Tam Coc. We booked our trip through Handspan Travel which is more expensive than other tour companies but worth every penny and it’s never a scam. There were only the two of us booked for this trip so we had a car with a driver, a bilingual tour guide and great hospitality the whole way.

Cuc Phuong Park is southwest of Hanoi and is a huge rainforest. Here, they have an Endangered Primate Reserve where they rescue monkeys (primarily Gibbons and Langurs) from markets and try to rehabilitate them before releasing them back into the wild. The monkeys are hilarious to watch (as most monkeys are) and when we slept in the park that night, we could hear them all night!

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We trekked for about 4 hours through the rainforest and again, as it was winter, we were the only people around. We got to see a 1000 year old Banyan tree, lots of tropical birds and a cave where they have found the oldest prehistoric human remains in southeast Asia.

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The cave was especially cool – no lights, no walkway. Our guide had a flash light and led us in, winding through tunnels. It was so fun, something you’ve always wanted to try, right up until she mentioned that there are frequently snakes, scorpions and centipedes in the cave. Now snakes and scorpions I can handle but centipedes?? Aaaaggggghhhhhh!

Sure enough she shone her light up and there were 3 fat, long centipedes with long, hairy legs. They were about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide including their legs. My legs turned to jello at the sight. If one of them had moved even an inch, I probably would have melted into a jibbering mess. Once the guide saw my reaction, she decided we had gone deep enough into the cave and started to lead us out.

We had a really nice dinner at the park and spent the night in one of their guesthouses there. Pretty basic but can’t be beat for a view.

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The next day we left the park to visit some temples (I’m completely templed out now by the way). They were pretty amazing to look at, but you can only spend so much time in one.

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From there, we picked up our bikes (yes, little Vietnamese, old school, basket on the front, bikes) and started a 2 hour ride into Tam Coc. This area is known as the inland Halong Bay. The same giant limestone karsts sticking up, but instead of beautiful ocean water, they are surrounded by rice paddies. The ride was beautiful and we went through lots of little villages along the way. Finally, we got to a tiny house on the banks of one of the rice paddies. Eight wizened old women came out. They are guides through the rice paddies! We jumped into one of the flat bottom boats and she took us for a 2 hour ride through the rice fields and islands. The paddies were full of women working and our guide would yell out to them or pick things up out of the water to show us.

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At the end, she took us through a river running through a mountain. We had to duck down in the boat to get through and I had to shine a flashlight to guide us. It was really eerie and beautiful.

After all this fun, we returned to Hanoi and packed up for our flight the next morning. Marshall had work on Monday and I had ……. hanging out to do. I did visit a huge buddha but that will have to wait until the next time I have time to write, or at least until I get more photos loaded on here.

Add comment January 23, 2008

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