Saturday, January 29, 2011

Entry To Hanoi-Facebook Free

I just arrived in a Facebook free zone. Hanoi, Vietnam. I had heard from an Aussie friend that this might happen. She lives in Saigon and says it comes and goes depending upon the government. Ha! What will I do? (Answer) I will get a social media holiday that I look forward to! This is such an exciting city. It is chilly and gray here but this beautiful place with so many layers of history just beckons to be explored and always puts a smile on my face.

This next week is the beginning of Tet - Vietnamese and Chinese Lunar New Year, it is the most important Festival of Vietnamese people. It is a scared Festival and falls sometime between late January or early February (depend on Lunar Calendar). Although officially a three-day affair, festivities may continue for a week or more with every effort made to indulge in eating, drinking, and enjoyable social activities. It is also a time for family reunions, and for paying respect to ancestors and the elders. Gifts of food are made to friends, neighbors and relatives in the days before Tet.

While driving in from the airport I saw many motor bikes carrying trees.  I have been to Vietnam several times, never during Tet: I can only assume that this army of tree carrying has something to do with the traditions of celebrating this holiday.
(Photo's by The Loaded Trunk)

I can't wait to discover more...I am staying at, I kid you not, The Amazing Hotel. No, not glamorous, but already I have a time to "listen" as the manager Thom said: to his many stories about why he loves Americans. I sense adventure for these last 7 days of my trip.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Deja Vu:China Town, Bangkok

I spent 2 months last year in India traveling and buying with my daughter for The Loaded Trunk. For much of the time it was a wonderful experience though it was filled with lots of learning curves. We wrote a blog together and one of them included a day at the Jodphur market: not long after we had begun our trip. I clearly remember being so overwhelmed at exactly 4pm (there is a huge clock) in the market area. I remember standing in the center of the square with cows, goats, rats, rickshaws, motor bikes, cars with their horns continually honking, rancid smells: and what seemed like thousands of people. I had reached a state of sensory overload. We retreated to our hotel and treated ourselves to a Kingfisher beer. From that day on we used 4 pm as our timetable for ending our day of shopping.
A travel photo with just clock tower showing. Quite peaceful and beautiful hey?
Me around 4 PM and our pictures of the Jodphur market as it really is. (photo's by The Loaded Trunk)

Today in Bangkok I had deja vu in China Town. I should know better, but someone I met here suggested I head there for old textiles. Unfortunately I listened and after feeling like a rat in a crowded maze found my way out: but not after catching some shots of a place I would save to see only if you have nothing else to do and have never been to a China town anywhere else in the world.
King of Thailand. The Royal family is revered and pictures of the family are everywhere. Even old videos of the royal family play on the Sky Train.
Chinese medicine store. Did not want to know what those antlers cure.
Sizing up my day.
 Tomorrow is another day. Off to Chatuchak market!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spirit Houses

I fell in love with these symbolic Thai mainstays of everyday life on my very first trip to Thailand. They are called spirit houses and building one (SaanPhraPhum) is an ancient Hinduism/Brahmanism practice that still exists throughout Thailand. They are everywhere and the Thais believe that these spirits or guardian angels inhabit every piece of land and need to be appeased when disturbed. By providing the spirit with a home of its own, serenity and harmony is supposed to be assured within the property. If properly respected and cared for, the spirit will provide protection and ensure wealth and prosperity to the owner (if only). The guardian spirit, or "PhraPhum" of the residence and business, is "PhraChaiMongKol".

A site selection for the spirit house, and an invitation to the spirit to take up residence, must be made. Traditionally, these are overseen by a Brahman priest or someone who specializes in conducting such ceremonies. The  time and place for it to be held is determined by astrological calculations.
Chiang Mai Spirit House.


Phuket Spirit House, my favorite so far.

Can you smell the white Jasmine flowers?
They are like grown up doll houses with a soul that I can't help but be drawn to over and over.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Phuket, Beaches, Caves + Karsts

There are so many things about traveling that I love. Each country has it's own balance no matter how hectic or different it may seem.  The diversity of cultures living side by side is always mind boggling to me. I love being the one who stands out and yet I am constantly trying to fit in between the cultures surrounding me.

Usually I spend less time vacationing and more time working or "shopping" for The Loaded Trunk. This trip I have had time to explore. On a side trip to Phuket I spent time with family in the Andaman Sea kayaking through breathtaking caves, gliding by limestone karsts and sliding into caves that are only  able to be entered when the tide is at a certain level and often lying down in the kayak to squeeze through. 

If there is a single feature of south Thailand's landscape which commands ones attention right from the start it is these dramatic karsts which rise from the waters edge and valley floors to sheer vertical heights in excess of 900 meters. These butte-like crags were formed 260 million years ago when a shallow sea running the entire length of south Asia, slowly built up deep deposits of shells and corals which were later buried under sediments washing in from land. They are brilliant and the waters all around the karsts area are free of trash and an excess of tourist boats. It was a perfect day. The man who organized this expedition for us has made preserving this area his life's work.
Bat dark and had to get on our bellies to go through it. Yikes!

Michael and nephew Jonah who live in beautiful Phuket

Entering one of the caves.
Sunset then more night cave kayaking with head lamps.
(photo's by Michael, Roni and Rachel)
What a day!