Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting started (again)

Hello dear friends and family.

I have been considering revamping my blog... scary. I have a few blogger friends who have been urging me to start a daily blog, and the idea has been flitting around in my brain for a few months. While I was reading through my daily blogs a couple days ago, I ran across this post on one of my all-time favs, Hostess with the Mostess. Needless to say, I think it was the kick in my pants that I needed to get started.

I have long admired Tiny Prints and their gorgeous holiday cards. Who wouldn't? We used Tiny Prints last year, and couldn't have been happier! I can hardly wait to get going on my cards again this year. I look forward to spending an afternoon curled up on the couch, chai in hand, addressing envelopes. So, after much toddling around on their website, I think I have finally settled on this card. I'm digging the retro vibe.

Although, I'm quite positive Jake and I won't be half as cute as those boys. Stiff competition.

Happy card shopping, all! See you much more frequently in blog land! (Hopefully you won't even recognize this blog next time you check back... we are getting a makeover.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hi everyone... so there has been a slight change in plans. I'm coming home early because I am still sick and still fainting. I went to the emergency room a couple of days ago, but the doctor couldn't figure anything out. He just gave me some rehydration salts and electrolytes hoping that would help... but I'm not dehydrated I don't think. And I'm continuing to get faint even though I'm taking them. I can't figure it out, but it will come on really quickly and intensely, so I am following my gut... I think it's best to come home where I feel much safter and I'm in better hands. Please pray that the Bangkok airport opens up again so that I can fly out of here. Right now there are protests going on, and the main airport is closed (BOO). So I'm set to fly out of Bangkok on December 1st at 6am... and get in to Portland December 1st at 7:10am (weird huh haha). I'll see you all very soon.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A couple near death experiences, no big deal.

Ok, so I might be exaggerating a little bit, but it's been an interesting past few days to say the least! Vang Vieng was an absolutely amazing place, it was a really small town tucked away between giant mountains. The most popular thing to do there is tube down the river. You basically float down the river, and all along there are bars everywhere with giant rope swings, slides, mud volleyball pits... etc. I liked the floating and swinging parts... but it got a bit intense with hundreds of drunk 20-29 year old surrounding me. There was a group of about 8 Irish guys that decided it would be a good idea to wear dresses down the river, so they were prancing around the bars the whole time. It was... interesting! The bars are just giant decks that hang over the water. There are mats set out all over the deck, and people just lay out and drink beer or buckets. A bucket is literally a pail (like the ones you use to build sand castles with at the beach) fill halfway full with (most commonly) whiskey and red bull. There were definitely more than a few people who had their fair share of buckets that day. Floating the river in itself was really nice, I'd just link up with a few other people from the group and we'd make our way down the river. It was pretty slow moving, so it was an easy ride.

The same day that we floated the river, we also went to a water cave. As you can probably guess, this is just a cave that is filled with water. We jumped on tubes (the water was freezing!) and had to grab onto a rope that led us through the cave. It was pitch black, so we could only see as much as the headlamps would show us... and only about 4 of us had headlamps, so it was an adventure! There was a point where we ran out of rope, so we had to walk against the current up towards the next part of the cave. Then, at the point we had to link all of our tubes together by putting our feet under the tube in front of us. We snaked our way up the cave, paddling our arms, looking like a giant centipede I'm sure. It was so much fun, though. We had no idea what was next, and we were all starting to psych each other out.

The next day, I rented a bike and rode out to another cave with a few members in my group. We just wanted to see a bit of the country side, and had no idea what would be out there. When we came across this cave, we thought it would be good to check it out. So we made the turn, and ended up biking for about half a mile on a dried up river filled with giant river rocks. Needless to say, our bikes couldn't handle it very well and we were slipping all over the place. After what seemed like hours we finally made it to the point where we paid for the cave. We still couldn't see the cave... all we knew was that it was a "great adventure", according to the sign out front. We were all given flashlights and headed up towards the cave, with our 12 year old guide in front of us. The climb to the opening of the cave wasn't too bad, and when we got there we were dissappointed, thinking that all there was was a giant opening with Buddah statue inside. It was completely dark, so we had to turn on our flashlights to see anything... but there wasn't much to see. We were all pretty dissappointed, until our guide went down this random side pathway, and asked us to follow. Basically we ended up literally crawling in spaces that were barely bigger than our bodies. I'm not kidding you, there was a stretch of about 150 feet where we had to lay on our bellies and use our elbows to scoot us forward... and our backs were touching the top as well. There was also water running through the cave that we couldn't see, so all of the sudden our toes would get soaked with mystery water. This wasn't so bad, and I would have really enjoyed it, if there hadn't have been giant spiders everywhere in the cave. I'm not kidding... they were literally the size of your hand. Spread your fingers out in front of you and that's how big they were. And we were stuck in these confined spaces, unable to move quickly in any way, with these beasts creeping all around us. At one point, we were making our way down this tiny ladder, and we had to put our hands on the way to stabilize ourselves. Tash touched something "soft" she said, and I was right behind her. As soon as she said that, I put my flashlight on the wall, and the spider jumped out from under her hand and scuttled right past my shoulder. I freaked out and screamed and flew down the ladder. Also at this point in time, one girl in the group was hysterical. She was bawling saying "I need to get out of here, I need to get out of here!" I knew that I was scared of spiders, but I didn't know I was that scared. The worst part was that we couldn't move away from them even if we wanted to. We were just stuck with them chilling out next to us or above us. I'm not going to lie... I had a tear or two trickle down my cheek. How embarassing! haha.

The next day, we had a 9 hour drive through the hills to Luang Prabang. Last time we drove those hills I got really carsick, so I took some medicine for carsickness that basically made me really drowsy, but I didn't get carsick, yay! As soon as we got into Luang Prabang, though, I stared to feel really strange. I thought I just had a stomach ache or some type of stomach bug, because it really hurt. I couldn't really distinguish what it was, though. So I went to dinner with a few other girls, and got something little to settle my stomach. As soon as I was done with dinner, I felt terrible. I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew that I needed to get to the bathroom right away, thinking I was going to be sick. I got up, started walking to the bathroom, and all the sudden I felt my face go stark white and cold. The room started spinning and fading in and out. I tried to turn right, to get to the bathroom, but I was so dizzy that I could turn and just kept walking towards the left. I finally ended up making it into the bathroom, and all the sudden I woke up laying on the bathroom floor under the sink in a puddle of water (lets hope it was water, at least). My pants and arm were soaked, and I had no idea what happened. I still felt really nausious, so I remember thinking I need to get to the toilet. I don't know if I tried to crawl of stand up, but I think it was the latter. Then all the sudden I woke up and I was completely sprawled out in the corner of the bathroom. I had fallen over with the trashcan right under my stomach, my arm wedged between the toilet and the wall, and my face was pressed up against the tile wall. I had no idea how I got there. I remember laying there thinking "I can't get up, I have to wait for someone to find me". Then I finally decided I needed to call for help, so I mustered all the voice I could and let out a pitiful "help." My friend Jenny was right outside the door making sure I was ok, but she didn't get there to hear me fall... but she came right in and helped me up. I felt absolutely fine after I fainted, other than the fact I was in shock and couldn't stop crying/shaking. Once the shock wore off I realized I hit my shins really badly, and one of them was pretty gashed up. The next day I woke up to find all sorts of bruises on my body... a few on my head, one above my eye, all over both arms, and of course my legs. Ever since then I keep waking up to find more, too. I'm so lucky that I only got as hurt as I did. It would have been really easy to get seriously hurt, considering I hit the wall, toilet, sink, and trash can. Thank goodness everything is ok. I have no idea what caused it, but I'm hoping it won't happen again.

Anyways! So that has been my exciting past few days. Tomorrow we are leaving for our 2-day boat trip down the Mekong... then we end up and Chaing Mai, and the tour is over! Then I'm on to Southern Thailand to relax and enjoy the sunshine in paradise with Christy! If I don't get on here beforehand, happy Thanksgiving everyone! I wish that I could be there to celebrate, but I'll be thinking about you guys while I'm here. Take care!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm in Love with Laos!

Honestly... I can't even begin to tell you how amazing Loas is. It's like breathing in a breath of fresh air after leaving Vietnam. I didn't realize it then, but in Vietnam my blood pressure must have been through the roof! Haha. I was constantly stressing out about trying the cross the road, avoid people trying to sell me cigarettes and postcards constantly, and say no to a ride from moto drivers. Ah! But Laos is a whole different story. Even as we ascended higher into the mountains over the pass, I could feel the difference. It was just quieter. The honking subsided, and the scenery changed. We drove along side a gorgeous little river with giant waterfalls spilling into it, and huge trees wrapped in vines all the way to the tops. It was stunning!

Once we passed over the boarder, we got a new bus driver and a guide for our first few days in Laos. His name is Tue (pronounced "Twee"). After giving us a brief introduction to Laos... Tue started to tell us that he really enjoys singing... and that we were all going to sing his favorite song together. Before we knew it, Tue busted out in "My Heart Will Go On"- yes... the theme song to Titanic. We were cracking up... but Tue persisted and low and behold, the entire bus was singing Celine Dion by the time the chorus hit. Tue gave me a good taste of what Lao people are like... relaxed, fun-loving, and warm. He never stops smiling. And that's how everyone here is! I get smiles from the locals everywhere I go... and motorbikes actually slow down for pedestrians! I went on a quick run a couple of mornings ago, and as I was crossing the road I didn't see a motorbike behind me... but he just slowed down, waved and yelled "hello!" I was shocked. I got used to getting one giant honk if I ever got in anyone's way. But that's not the case in Laos.

Our first stop in Laos was Vientiane, the capitol city. I can't believe it was the capital... it was so quiet and peaceful compared to Saigon. I probably should just forget about Vietnam and comparing the two, though, because they are just radically different. So I'll stop haha. But anyways, it was great! We went on a walking tour of the city to see an old temple filled with thousands and thousands of Buddha statues- they covered the walls everywhere. It was gorgeous. Then we went to the Victory Monument which is smack dab in the middle of the city, and it's comparable to the Arc De Triumph (spelling?!) in France. It looks really similar. I climbed to the top of the monument where I could see an incredible view of the city... I could even see the Mekong River in the distance (on the other side of which is Thailand). I also visited the day market... it is really similar to all of the other day markets, so there isn't anything special to tell there.

Vientiane was just a quick stop on our trip... now we're in Vang Vieng, which is incredible! It's settled in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. The mountains are indescribable... they are giant. And Vang Vieng is a tiny little city with one main street, but it's absolutely fantastic! All along that street are a bunch of restaurants, but for some reason they are all set up to watch "Friends". The tables are all facing TV's, and you sit on giant benches covered in pillows so that you can just lay down with your food on your lap and watch Friends. How funny! I don't know what it is about that show, or why they play it, but it's everywhere. We also visited the "Blue Lagoon", which is a little swimming hole about a half an hour outside of the city. The 17 of us piled into the back of a truck that had benches in the truck bed, and endured the bumpy ride out there... but it was so fun! We just wound our way through tiny little towns and by simple local homes. Then it opened up to the swimming hole (which is actually a river now that I think about it). The water was such an amazing color of turqouise and there were hundreds of bright orange fish swimming around. There were rope swings and a tree that we could climb up and jump off of... it was a treaturous climb up (giant fire ants everwhere!), but worth it for sure. There was also a cave tucked away in the mountains that we climbed to... it was a steep climb... and flip flops were definitely not the ideal shoe choice haha, but I made it in once piece. Whew. It was well worth the climb, too.

I'm just so enchanted with everything about Laos. I can't get over how relaxing it is here, how gorgeous the landscape is, and how beautiful the people are. It feels good to go somewhere and have a conversation with a local, knowing that they are just as excited to talk to me as I am to talk to them. It seems like they smile brigher here and laugh louder... they are just an incredible group of people. Everywhere I go people say "subaydee! subaydee!"- "hello". And I can't get over how relaxed they are... lines don't bother them, traffic doesn't bother them... if someone is in their way they will just wait for them to move without saying a thing. And eventually they get to where they're going... I could learn that lesson. It's just not worth the stress, is it? You'll get there eventually. So to make a long story short, I love it here and I can't wait to see the rest of the country! We have a big day on tap for tomorrow... so I need to get some sleep. I love you guys!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On and on we go...

Today we begin our 19 hour journey into Laos! We have a quick stop in Vinh... as far as I've heard there's not much there, so I think it's just to break up the trip so we're not on a bus for so long. And then we'll be in Vientiane... finally Laos! I'm so excited to get up there... I've only heard amazing things. It's a lot quieter and laid back, which I'm definitely in need of a dose of that. Vietnam is busy and pretty tiring... you always have to be on your toes or else you may get lost in a sea of motos. 

We took a quick trip a few days ago to Halong Bay... it's completely opposite of Hanoi. It's a tiny little beach resort town with hardly any traffic and gorgeous harbors. We watched the sun set over the harbor... there are no words to describe the shade of red that illuminated the sky. It was beautiful! The water was calm, and there were hundreds of little fishing boats all anchored for the night. It was a good break from all the chaos in Hanoi.

Halong Bay is also famous for the incredible cliffs that jet out from the bay. There are probably thousands... they surround you on all sides no matter where you go. It looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park. They are just massive rock formations with a ton of lush greenery covering the tops and the sides. We took a kayaking trip for half a day, where we had the chance to get out and see more of the formations up close. We kayaked through miniscule gaps between giant rocks, and through natural archways carved into the rocks... it was amazing. At one point there was a school of hundreds of tiny fish jumping all around us. I wish you all could have been there, it was breathtaking. 

We eventually had to leave paradise behind and go back to Hanoi. There, we met our new tour leader for Laos, her name is Nok. She's a Thai woman, and she's great! She has "8 rules to be happy"... and her favorite is to "chill... out..." and she loves to remind us of that. She seems like she's really excited to be our tour leader, and also seems like she has a wealth of information to share with us. The group left the meeting with high hopes for a good trip through Laos. Now it's time for me to get ready to get going... somehow it always ends up being a rush, haha. I hope you are enjoying the fall weather... oh, and I've been keeping up with football as best as I can here... GO BEAVS!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I'm sorry for not updating my  blog for so long, I can't believe it's been a week since I last posted! Time flies. In Hue I had one of the best adventures so far on the trip. Each of us in the group got to hop on the back of a motorbike for the day, and the driver took us all over Hue and the surrounding areas. It was such a big day, that by the end of it we couldn't remember everything we saw. My heart started pounding pretty hard as soon as my driver pulled our bike out into traffic... it's not as if they wait for an opening between cars, they just blare the horn and pull out, hoping that the other drivers stop for them. And amazingly, it worked! But I definitely had my knees curled up nearly to my chin a couple of times, thinking that a passing biker would take a limb off. But we all survived! We stopped at a local market first to see the ever-suprising items for sale... I cease to be amazed. There was also a "fortune teller" there... a few of the group members got roped in to hearing their future... but it seemed like the entire time she'd ask them questions about their life and then say "ah yes... when you are 23-27 you will get married... I never know..." Hmmm.

After that, we hopped back onto the motorbikes and drove through some of the most beautiful jungles and forest that I have ever seen. It was so lush and green, and the road was this teeny little thing that would fit only one bike, barely. Just winding left and right through the hills of Hue. It was exciting not knowing what was coming up ahead... and I think my driver started to understand that he could freak me out by speeding up suddenly, so he would punch it and wait to hear me screaming/laughing. After visiting a tomb and a pagoda, we went for lunch at a nunnery. This is a home for female monks, and they live there permanently. It looks like they get quite a few visitors, though, because they had a room that had a giant table in it, and on it was one of the largest feasts I've ever seen. It was all vegetarian, too. And it was delicious! We had every type of tofu imaginable, veggie patties, rice cakes... ok, it all sounds a little bland when I try and explain it, but it was anything but! It's customary in Vietnam to have a nap for about an hour after eating lunch... so the nuns rolled out straw mats on the floor for us, and we were supposed to lay down for a nap! I have to admit, it was pretty nice after stuffing myself to the brim.

We had a few more hours after the nunnery where our motorbike drivers took us to see a few more sites. We saw a couple more pagodas (they were beautiful, but very hard to describe... they're very ornate structures built to honor people of importance). It's all becoming foggy to me (thank goodness I wrote it all down right after we got back) because we've packed so much activity into the last few days. 

We took another night train from Hue to Hanoi... and this time I knew what to expect. We were prepared with sleep sheets and plenty of hand sanitizer. There was only one suprise on this trip... the toilet was not a western one, but a "squatter". I don't think I've mentioned squatters yet, but it's basically a hole in the ground that you, um, squat over. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be on a night train through the Vietnamese countryside, trying to hover over a squatter toilet. And trust me, it's not easy on a train that's jolting left and right! I'll leave it at that. 

We arrived in Hanoi early in the morning, so we had that entire day to wander around and get a feel or the city. It's a far cry from the quieter cities, like Hoi An. This has more of the feel of Saigon... people EVERYWHERE. I think trying to cross a street here is even more dangerous than Siagon... motorbikes are absolutely everywhere, streaming out of every alley way, shop, and crevace that exists in Hanoi. In the center of the city, though, there is a gorgeous lake with people exercising and doing yoga all around it. It's a nice escape from the hustle of the main roads. There was a cute little coffee shop that overlooks a good portion of the city and the lake (and the local KFC haha), so a friend and I went up there just to relax, read our books, and take in the scenery. 

I still have so much to catch you up on... Halong Bay and the rest of Hanoi (we're now onto the third and final portion of the tour... we get a new tour leader tomorrow who will take us up into Laos!) but I'm exhausted! So it will have to wait for another day... until then, I'm thinking about you all!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rain, rain go away...

Hi everyone! It's been a crazy past week... I've been on and off of night trains, in and out of rain, and up and down the coast of Vietnam. We took a night train from Saigon to Nha Trang.n The night train was amazing! We all had bedding (which is apparently rare), and personal lights, and even a mini tv in the room. I slept like a baby. Nha Trang is a small-ish city with amazing beaches... (or so we have been told). We didn't have the chance to really experience what Nha Trang had to offer, because we were stuck in one, continuous torrential downpour! You wouldn't believe the amount of rain they got in just two days! I was sitting in a cafe having dinner with Sarah, and the rain started... 5 minutes later the entire street was flooded to the point that the sidewalk was flooded with 5 inches of water. There was no way that we could get back to our hotel without going for a nice little swim, so we waited for a break in the clouds, and sprinted our way back when we got the chance.

The food in vietnam is fantastic! Especially the baguettes... it's all I eat. I'm starting to think that's a real good idea too, because 5 or 6 of the people in our group came down with a horrible stomach flu... not pretty. A few other people had bad stomach issues too, but nothing to that extent. So I think the baguettes are safe... excellent!

We took a night train out of Nha Trang... and this time we weren't so lucky. I think that train came straight from the depths of hades. It was so disgusting! One girl in the group refused to touch anything, and got dubbed the name "princess". But I couldn't blame her. I tried to bundle up in my sleep sheet and pass the night sleeping... but we couldn't figure out how to turn out the lights in our cabin... so we spent the entire night blocking light from our eyes. Needless to say, we were pretty exausted by the time we reached Hoi An the next morning. We got there at 6am... so we had the whole day to kill. Most people were able to get a nap in, but I wandered around town with Nancy. It was so nice to be up that early and see everyone opening shop and getting ready for the day. The people in Hoi An are wonderful! They definitely know how to spot a tourist, too... they know exactly what to say... "You very beautiful! Buy something from my shop?" Hahaha. But I've found them to be really helpful... if I'm looking for anything, or even appear to be lost, multiple people will pull their mopeds over and ask me if they can help.

Hoi An is a really quaint town, with a ton of character and old world charm. Each building has a different architectural style and color. It's nice to be in a smaller city, where you don't have to dodge traffic to cross the street. There's still the occassional horn or crazy moped driver, but it's so much more peaceful here than in Saigon. We took a walking tour of the old city yesterday afternoon, and we were able to see all of the Chinese influence in their architecture and art. There is a beautiful bridge here, called the Japanese bridge, that crosses over a little river that runs through town. The riverfront is also really cute... there are a ton of little shops and cafes that line it, and make for the perfect tourist destination.

This morning we got up at 5:30am and took a bike ride to the early morning fish market. It was unbelieveable! Honestly, things that I have never seen before, and probably won't ever see again. And they eat them. They had toads, alive, crammed in all sorts of netted bags... and a man was cutting them open right there. All sorts of fish and sea creatures flopping everywhere. And thousands of people. The people just push their way around, trying to get to where they need to go. They carry fish on the head, trown over their shoulder, under their arms, on the back of mopeds, on carts... it's everywhere. At one point I stepped ankle-deep in a murky puddle of who-knows-what... and there was definitely a fish head floating in it. There is a girl in my group who lives in Australia, Catherine, but her family is Vietnamese. I followed her through the market and she was telling me all about the fish, eggs that still had birds inside (which apparently are delicious according to her), and all sorts of interesting looking fruits. It was nice to learn from her!

After the leaving the fish market, we went on a bike ride around the country side and along the river... it was absolutely gorgeous! There were palm trees and vegitation everywhere. We rode along a quite side-road, where villagers were just starting to wake up and make breakfast. It looked so peaceful. Then, before we could see it coming, the rain started dumping! We sped back on our bikes as fast as we could back to the hotel to seek shelter from the rain. Hopefully it clearns up by this afternoon! Out of all the places we've been so far, I'd have to say Hoi An is my favorite, or one of them. The people are wonderful and the town is great... I'm glad that we have a couple more days here. After this... we're on to Hue! Apparently there has been horrible flooding further north, especially in Hanoi... so I'm hoping that will clear up and we'll be able to get out and see what northern Vietnam has to offer! Cross your fingers. I'm always thinking of you all, and wishing that you could be here to see this with me. I hope you are all well!