Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Days 2-5: Laos

The Kuang Si waterfalls near Luang Prabang were definitely one of the highlights. They had several layers of waterfalls and we wandered up above the falls, and then went swimming down below. I dove in (the depth was enough, although I was told that I probably wasn't very smart by doing that…Gavin redeemed me later by doing a backflop, and I have pictures to see the carnage in action…) I managed to also stub the daylights out of my toe, which definitely limit my mobility (still even back in Seoul). And for all of the dumb stuff I did, this happened while running up the stairs barefoot?!?

The next day (any nighttime activities from the previous night are censored) we took a 2.5 hour boat ride up the river to see the Pak Ou Caves. These caves have had old Buddhist statues in them for more than 5 centuries. There were hundreds of them, ranging from 2 centimeters tall to larger than life versions. We stopped by a whiskey village on the way there (part of the tour, although we decided to only have a small sip, it was too early to start that!) I also talked with a Buddhist monk on the way to the boat, who had a very cute dog, Toto. The monks were so friendly, it is such a different world to have someone talk with you without the usual pan-handling (yes, I have spent too much time in places that have jaded me perhaps). The English of many of the monks was surprisingly good! I wish I could speak any language (other than English) that well!

We saw a number of sights, from murals on temple walls, to kids selling birds in cages (so foreigners can release them, a very sustainable business model for them…) The food was excellent, and one of my favorite elements was the massages. The massages were anywhere between $5-10 for an hour, and similar to a Thai massage. Fantastic and much needed after our long days. I just needed more hours in a day to get more! All of us joked that we wanted to open a Samsung office in Luang Prabang. After all, it is the second biggest city in Laos (with 100,000 people to put that in perspective ;)

Each night from 5 to 10 pm, they have a night market that was great. Rows upon rows of scarves, tablecloths, shirts, and little trinkets. I made a beeline for the ATM, and proceeded to buy more paintings, scarves and random knick-knacks.

One of the things that surprised me was that the people here were so short. It makes me wonder if it was nutrition or genetics (or likely a certain combination of both). This led to some amusing comments, none of which I shall publish. Not that any of that mattered, the great thing about Laos was the friendliness of the people and the lack of a full-touristy feel. You can see the tourist elements of the area increasing, but it still retains a large portion of its charm. I can only imagine what it was like 20 years ago though!

The final day we just wandered around the town, hiked up the hill in the middle of the town and relaxed. It was far too short a visit, and I know that my compatriots are planning a return trip. The challenge is that it is not an easy place to get to! But there are plenty of more adventures to be had in Laos, and more unique sights to see. The only thing we need is more vacation time!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Next stop: Luang Prabang

We opened with a bang in Laos. No one had bothered to actually print out the hotel name or address (oops). After a few miscues and "discussions" with the cab driver, we arrived at our hotel. It turned out to be next to two of the best bars in town (although the town takes about 20-30 minutes to walk across the main areas, so nothing was much more than a stone's throw away. Dinner included some great local food (water buffalo), and a bottle of absinthe (not a great idea). Gavin very quickly earned the reputation of instigating without typically finishing his drinks (the vodka shots a couple of days later was another example of this).

The next stop: bowling? Yes, I was in shock for a while about the idea of bowling in Laos, add to that the alcohol/fatigue/etc and I reached new levels of productivity in my game (66? I hadn't scored that low since Candlepin, and for those of you that know what that means, you will understand…Candlepin actually happened to be one of the few activities at night in Peterborough growing up, but that is another story).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 1: Hanoi

The first night we spent in Hanoi, and toured around the city the next day for a few hours. I had heard great things about Hanoi, and I still love the energy and friendliness of the people. We stayed around the "Old Quarter" where there were a number of narrow streets representing different types of shops. We managed to find the painting street, and Gabriel and I bought some interesting paintings. I will need a lot of wall space that I currently don't have, but better to have options, right? (That only works in certain circumstances, do not take that out of context!)

We wandered around the lake, enjoyed some good local food, and just took in the craziness of some of the market streets and the bunches of mopeds. It was definitely calmer than Saigon, but not on the way to the airport. Our cab driver (I think the first female cab driver I ever had) turned around in the middle of a one-way street to get out of traffic. Needless to say, we decided that Hanoi was "too far" to visit on our return with our 5 hour layover back to Seoul. 2 hours to go 20 km (or so it felt) was just a little too much to ask!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Holiday season in Laos, doh!

A realization about 5 days for the trip to Laos was that rooms were surprisingly hard to come by. A few phone calls, and we managed to find a hotel, but man that was close! As it was, we weren't exactly prompt on booking the tickets (there were a few culprits on this, partially our travel agent, and partially a lot of talk by some members of the group). Needless to say though, even with our lack of planning, we still managed to get all of the main details in order and to the airport. On for the fun part of the trip!

I swear i don't get the heat in my place. The one day the temperature seems right, i discover the window is open...And let me tell you, that window issue is getting worse, coming home (i turned the heat off, given that 5 days out of the country, why not save money, right? or perhaps also save natural resources, since saving money does not seem to be something I have done very well...)

There is snow on the ground in suwon, it is very interesting since there is really none in seoul. Was quite a wake up call to come back to the cold, it was around 85-90 degrees in Laos! After a few days of walking around with t-shirts and shorts, Seoul was a brutal shock. Add to that the red-eye (3.5 hour red-eye), and none of us have been in very good shape today!

The weekend turned into quite a boys weekend, with drinking every night, stories of trouble we all caused as trips (Gabriel won with his stories of flaming soccer balls, paintball guns, etc). We ended up each night at the local bowling alley (all bars closed at midnight, the dance club at 1 am, and then the bowling alley at 3 am). Needless to say, the group made the most of the nights (I called in early at 1 am, 2 am, and 12 am respectively). The last night was due to a desire to see the monks receive alms from the villagers at 6 am. That was not an easy wakeup, especially given that it was still dark!

We had a few airline issues (not finding a name in the system, not giving back the paper ticket to one of our party), and then the usual sorts of negotiations with tuk-tuk drivers. But somehow we ended up getting to where we needed to go, more or less intact. We almost didn't make a few with Gavin climbing on top of the tuk-tuk (this was far more amusing to us than the driver…)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A bike ride (i am crazy, and likely sick now)

My weekends have been spent trying to accomplish a lot (and succeeding in about a quarter of what I set out to do). I saw an art show that one of my colleagues from GSG curated). The other weekend though I was set on going to the museum, and unfortunately I allowed myself to be sucked into some terrible TV shows. When I emerged from Cocoon Maclaurin at 4:30 pm, I realized it was surprisingly warm (aka the 40s likely). Time for a bike ride. Yes I am certifiably insane, but it was so nice to be working out outside! I may likely pay for that by being sick, but I enjoyed at least the first 30-40 minutes of the ride!

In general I am much lazier on the weekends, I wonder if I can blame this the daily commute to Suwon? I did go "bar hopping" with my friend's Tom and Claire (one of her good friends was in town) and we made it to a bar that played some old-school music videos (Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train", Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire"). It was great you pick a song that you haven't heard in ages, and you request it. They have a surprisingly good selection!

I have been bouncing far too much between Seoul and Suwon recently. Meetings in the middle of the day, dentist appointments, and conference calls at 8 pm...It has been busy from that perspective, but it was nice to have drinks with my team on Wednesday. Our kick-off dinner for the new project consisted of Quizznos for dinner, an 8 pm conference call, and then a bunch of beers afterwards. Very nice, and the level of tame that was necessary! (you have to be careful of the team dinners in Korea!)

2.5 month old Mac computer, already broken?!?!

I think that the title says it all. VERY frustrating. I lost my computer for 5 days (it had to happen on a weekend, to add insult to injury). Something with the hard-drive, which they claimed was scratched. Have you been using this on a corner or at any angle? Um, no, I am pretty sure I was sold a defective one....So was not very happy with Apple with this one, but it is back and running smoothly for now. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unnecessary in the steam room

Now i have friends that talk about Koreans being slightly rude with pushing in lines or spitting. But letting out gas in the steam room? That was a new low, and one that even caught me off guard...WOW