Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia
The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:
Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby. Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.
We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive. Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere. Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building. Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river. The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.
The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived. Many wanted to become Doctors.
Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally. They are ridden by women, men and whole families. They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials. Sidewalks are scooter parking lots. Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of French Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market. French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.
The best part of the trip for me from an activity perspective was the downhill mountain biking. I always thought mountain biking was a technical thing – around rocks, over roots, through a stream – but this was totally different. Daredevil stuff in a beautiful setting. The speed and the scenery were great. If anyone thinks they have the guts, I highly recommend this activity in Ecuador or anywhere else.
I think our favorite location was Banos. There was a ton of stuff to do, and we could’ve easily spent another couple of days there without getting bored. Kind of a hippie, ski-village vibe without the snow. Lots of outdoor activities, decent nightlife. It’s obviously geared towards tourists without being tacky or “touristy.” Still hidden off the radar, so easy to take in on a limited budget.
Doing the sporting activities in a different country was interesting because of the risk element & because of the level of cultural immersion. I’ve never felt so far from the US or what I considered “normal” life. Plus, some of the activities were a little dangerous, and because of the language barrier (more on that later), the safety training was very different than you would get for similar activities in the US. I know we talked about it before, but if anyone is going on this trip, they will enjoy themselves a lot more if they have at least a little experience with whitewater rafting, canyoning, or fairly intense hiking. You don’t want to be a rookie at everything.
As far as advice for others looking at a trip to Ecuador, tourism seems pretty new to them. As a result, things there are cheap (since the money-grab hasn’t started yet), there aren’t many opportunities to buy souvenirs (let alone the t-shirts or hats most Americans expect), and the language barrier is VERY real. Even at a major hotel in the capital city, the desk clerks didn’t really speak English & were not very sympathetic if you didn’t speak Spanish. I kind of liked this (after all, I want to know I’m in Ecuador, not feel like I’m in Epcot), but people should know what they’re getting into.
As for the adventure aspect, G Adventures tells you just how physically challenging a trip will be. Travelers will be wise to listen to them. I think this trip rated a 4 out of 5 as far as how challenging it was & that was a very accurate rating. In pretty much every activity there was a real risk of harm and people experiencing minor injuries (twisted ankles/knees, minor falls, blisters, cuts, bruises) throughout the trip. In addition, because of the altitude & intensity, fitness should be taken into consideration. You don’t need to be an Ironman triathlete, but you need to do more than walk the dog to get ready to make it through this trip.
by Amanda Vallone
Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center
Once the travel ban was lifted we went onto one of the most historic sites in most recent travel memory – Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center or E15 for short. You may remember a ton of flights in 2010 being cancelled due to the black soot let off by a volcano in Iceland. Well E15 was the culprit. IATA estimates over 107,000 flights in an eight day period were cancelled, affecting nearly 10 million passengers. Working in the travel industry, this was a HUGE deal and a vivid memory.
The visit to Eyjafjallajokull was intriguing because it showcased one family’s struggle of life during and after the dramatic events of the explosion of this infamous volcano that brought European air travel to a halt. The family that ran the visitors center told us about running a farm and living under an active volcano, worrying about it exploding, and life when it was about to errupt. We learned of how they had to move all of their livestock and how they nearly lost their farm…. we also learned of how they overcame such a crazy event. Interestingly enough, tourists from all over the world would come and help them clean up the black dust, volcanic ash, so that they could have a part of E15 to bring home with them too. Most interesting to me was much unlike Hawaiian Volcanoes (that I had just seen in July of last year), the eruption of E15 occurred under a layer of glacial ice which chilled lava quickly. This is what caused the black ash to plume and turn the black cloud above for so long rather than hot flowing lava.
Reynisfjara is a black sand beach right outside of Vik. The sand is black due to volcanic ash and the beach is surrounded by basalt formations which is volcanic rock or lava exposed at the beaches surface.
There are also great cliffs and caves to take photos in and of where you will see many birds and of course rushing waves from the ocean.
Geysir & Stokkur
From boiling mudpits to geothermal fields, the exploding geysers the Geysir Hot Spring Area is a wonderful stop along the Golden Circle that will get your clicker finger going for your chance to catch Geysir or Stokkur Errupt.
The Reykjanes Peninsula is home to a rugged landscape, lava fields, numerous hot springs, and the world famous Blue Lagoon. Did you know the water in the Blue Lagoon is not really blue? It is actually clear to milky white. The blue hue is from the silica in the water.
Did you also know, you must have an appointment to go to Blue Lagoon?! You can even set up a layover appointment at Blue lagoon to save your luggage, get a spa service, then go back to the airport if you like. Well you can!
On that, it is a SPA! The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal heated pool that visitors may get massages, facials, enjoy fine dining, or just some time in the pleasantly warm bath. The mineral-rich waters of the geothermal pool are located in the middle of a lava field so it looks beautiful and natural – just the way any perfect spa should.
A few fine points for us Americans – you MUST shower naked prior to going in. (You do wear a swimsuit while in the lagoon.) I had a few people calling me on a weekly bases (you know who you are) worried that they were going to re-live their high school gym locker room days showering in public. Yes and No! You can if you want, and you will see many people unfazed by the human body, but if you are uneasy about showing off your fleshy parts, don’t worry, at the end of the locker room there are curtained showers.
Conditioner. Conditioner. CONDITIONER! Ladies, this mineral rich water wreaks havoc on your locks! The spa provides you some conditioning cream to use prior and after but be prepared – you will need more. OR you may bring a shower cap and put your hair up.
I would also recommend leaving your towel in your locker. I brought mine outside and because it was snowing my towel got wet sitting on the hook. You only get one towel at check in, so be careful with it!
Finally, bring a waterproof case for your phone or gopro for photos in the water. It is so beautiful; it is worth it.
I LOVED LOVED LOVED Blue Lagoon. It was so much fun and relaxing too. We got a few beers while floating around in the waters, and did a silica mask to help with age defying and make our faces look like a cute baby’s bottom and then we paid for the Algae Mask to cool the slight sting left behind from the Silica.
We stayed at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, a perfect location right in the center of the town and great for our evening of shenanigans.
Throughout Iceland you can enjoy some pretty amazing hotdogs, aka the Pylsa. I mean these things are gourmet! I am not much a fan of having hot dogs on a normal basis, but these were made of primarily Icelandic lamb with some pork and beef topped with fried onions, a creamy sweet mustard, bacon bits, and various other toppings.
The bun is steamed and the meat is actually cooked with some malt beer in the water. YUMMMM!
Have a Whale of a time!?! They Eat Whales too?
Yes, we did try some Whale while here. The concept that Icelanders serve you whale while at any restaurant was quite mind boggling to me. Before going on this trip I read that it was an Icelandic delicacy, but everything I always thought was that whales were endangered or that they were not food for the very least. It got me pretty curious. I would say do some research. I did try it. I didn’t think it tasted bad at all actually. But, I wouldn’t eat it on the regular.
They eat that too?
Nightlife in Reykjavik
George, Sherri, and I went out all night downtown Reykjabik. We started in the Drunken Rabbit which was super casual and has great live music. Loved this! You can spin the wheel and win up to 8 free drinks! Wahoo. The Drunken Rabbit was our “go to” every night.
We also went to the American Bar… which we felt was pretty hypocritical of all the things other people think “Americans” are. There were football helmets, jazz music, a picture of Jack Nicholson doing his the “here’s Johnny” face from the shining and it was pretty boring on this evening. We left pretty quickly.
Then onto a British bar- AMAZING!
And finally the “locals” bar- they sang Icelandic music, the menus were in Icelandic, and the vibe was dark & cool and super goth, yet great. Loved this one too!
Sherri and I felt like we could have stayed out all night long without George and we would have felt SAFE as two women bar hopping. We were so happy to have him with us, but we realized how safe we felt in ALL of Iceland.
All-in-all I LOVED Iceland. I would recommend going back in May to see the Puffins come in and to enjoy slightly warmer temperatures. But the views were extraordinary!
If the land of Fire and Ice is one you wish to see, feel free to e-mail me and I will be happy to share more with you.
Check Out Part 1 here.
by Amanda Vallone
Every year we plan a trip for the first quarter to go somewhere “big” as a group. In 2015, we went to China; 2016 it was Germany. For 2017 we decided to visit Iceland. Automatically people ask, “Why in the world did you go to Iceland in February? Wasn’t it cold?” Well the answer is “Yes!”
Iceland in February is very cold. It ranged anywhere from 0 to 32 degrees, depending on where we were located and the day. But the temperature was not really that bad. Being a native of Buffalo, New York, I grew up in cold weather; what got to me was the wind. The wind was freezing, bone-chilling cold. So, I suppose that make you want to stop reading and say, “ehhh Iceland isn’t for me!” Well WAIT ONE MORE MINUTE!!!
To answer your question, we chose February because of the Northern Lights. We were on an Aurora Borealis trekking expedition. If you have read a blog by me in the past you may know my daughter’s name is Aurora, and though she may be a princess in my book, Disney’s Briar Rose was not her namesake! Rather the beautiful greens, purples, and blues of the northern lights were the inspiration for my child’s name – Aurora and our quest for viewing these lights everywhere we can. Many people travel to Iceland on a journey to discover these beautiful lights during the winter because there are few hours of daylight. Actually, sunrise is somewhere around 10am and sunset is somewhere around 6pm, so you have the largest opportunity to see the auroras during the winter months. Also, Auroras go in cycles. Aurora flares go in 10-40 year cycles and this year was the last year in the cycle. Quite honestly, Aurora is a bit of a diva – even on the best of auroral flares you may not see her in all of her beauty because she will hide under cloud cover.
On our recent trip to Iceland we did not truly see the Aurora Borealis the way we thought we would. We did however have a heck of a great time experiencing everything else Iceland had to offer. One evening in Reykjavik, we sailed into the darkness of Faxafloi Bay in search of the northern lights. My hubby George and best friend Sherri both saw a slight streak of green dance through the sky for a moment. But the even better part of that excursion was getting into these crazy outfits. It was one size fits most and for a 6’4 “retired” football player (offensive lineman) squeezing into this tiny red suit was quite the entertaining event for all of us to watch. And it was a great show that George put on.
So besides Northern Lights, why else visit Iceland?
Well honestly, the rest of the trip was the icing on the cake, it was spectacular!
From waterfalls to glaciers, volcanos to fun food this trip was superb. So I will just go stop by stop.
The Golden Circle
This is a route that encompasses many of Iceland’s most renowned national wonders and some of the best stories.
We went to Thingvellir National Park – Iceland’s most historic area where in 930 A.D. Icelanders gathered and formed one of the world’s first parliaments.
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is where the North America and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The views were so magnificent here it was unbelievable. We walked along a very icy path to see each of these sights and the sun hitting the water and ice in the background was so worth the cold, wind, and walk. Simply stunning.
There was one section that was quite disturbing. Our guide told us a story that back in the 17th century public execution was part of Icelandic way of life. From beheading to hangings, there were multiple ways of punishment. But at Thingvellir there was one disturbing part in particular – the pool of shame. A stain on Icelandic history, it is now recognized by a plaque at “the drowning pool” where parents would bring their “loose moraled” daughters who got pregnant out of wedlock to this pool and tie them up and drown them L How Sad!
Gulfoss- aka the Golden Falls
Gulfoss is a spectacular double cascading waterfall that is simply stunning. You can view it from above and see the rush of the waters (as seen in the video clip here). OR view from below.
To view from below, be VERY careful! You must go down a very steep set of about 100 wooden steps. In the winter the mist from the waterfall creates ice on the stairs and makes it difficult.
*****Packing tip: This was the second place we noticed you really should have Yak Trax or something similar for traction. You will need them! ****
Gulfoss may be the most popular of all the falls in Iceland, but Seljalandfoss was my favorite. We could actually walk behind the waterfall! This is again a place that you must have the proper footwear and rain jackets/waterproof jackets or you will not be a happy camper. In order to protect my water “resistant” jacket I wore one of those cheapie ponchos and I was happy I did. I still got soaked! Was it worth it? TOTALLY! Seljalandfoss is a MUST for an Iceland trip.
From there we went onto the southwestern-most village in Iceland, Vik. We stayed at Hotel Katla Hofdabrekka, in the “new” side. From the outside pulling up it was slightly worrisome. I was told it was somewhat like a compound by others who had gone before me. When I pulled up, I thought – OH NO, the 22 others I brought with me will hate this. Oh boy was I wrong! This place was spectacular! Truly amazing! The outside of the hotel looked slightly like a “compound” sure. But the rooms inside were very stylish and “ikea” inspired. The breakfast and dinner we had daily at the hotel were wonderful! And if you can get a room at the very end of the hallway it is even bigger than all of the rest. SCORE!
While in VIK we experienced some very bad weather. All buses and drivers were grounded because there were gale-force winds in Southern Iceland and that same day 4 buses had been blown off of the road, as had a few cars. For our safety we actually missed some of our planned tour. So instead, we had a cocktail party. Because that is the way Roseborough Travel likes to make our clients happy. And honestly, the bar was the only thing that was open. The hotel brought in a speaker that told us the history of the area and land that Hotel Katla was built on. We also took a hike up the mountain in the background.
YOU EAT WHAT?!?!?!?!
Have you heard of the local delicacy and culinary tradition – Hakarl – fermented, putrefied, shark meat? It is Greenlandic Shark that is not only extremely ugly, but doesn’t have kidneys so it is toxic to humans to eat. So years ago the Vikings devised a technique to be able to eat this shark – squeeze out the toxins, burry it, dig it up, hang the meat, and let it rot. When it smells nice and ripe – like rotten cheese and turpentine – it’s ready. GROSS! And they eat this stuff! It is on buffets in restaurants and offered to guests as a kindness in tradition.
So did we eat it? Of course we did! I am not one to pass up any crazy food while traveling to a destination. And we washed it down with a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic liquor with the taste of caraway seeds.
Now the question is: How would you say cheers to that? Skal! In Icelandic!
Look out for Iceland Part 2!
People always seem to think when they go on a cruise the ship will wait for them if they are a few minutes late. Well it is time for you to decide if you want to chance it next time you are on a cruise.
Every travel agent should have a video to show their clients.
youtube video compliments of TravelGuyTravel.