Orchha, India

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After a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, we made our way to the town of Orchha. While it was still hot, arid, and dusty, it was smaller and less crowded than the larger cities of Delhi and Jaipur. It reminded me much more of Southeast Asia.

There were six beautiful palaces in Orchha, as well as a number of temples. We went to a Hindu temple (Ram Raja, I believe) and observed a ceremony/blessing. It is interesting to see how much religions have in common with one another. This blessing, in which the priest blessed sweets brought by the followers, reminded me very much of catholic communion. Hinduism also has the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.

After the ceremony, we participated in a cooking class, where we learned to make curries and various other dishes. I literally wrote “I give up” on my recipe notes after too many complicated steps! We all know, cooking is not a talent of mine, although, I certainly enjoyed eating the results! I think I’ll work on fine tuning my toaster oven skills before I tackle curry!

~ LiAnn

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A Passage to India

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Arriving in Delhi was a shock to to senses. The air was hot, thick, and smelled of burning wood. The streets were bustling with cars, tuk-tuks, pedestrians, cows, and trucks overflowing with unidentifiable cargo. The electrical wiring hung twisted and dangerous over the walkways. Chickens lay ill and stacked in their cages, and merchants sold spoiled meat in the 105 degree heat.

Intertwined with this madness was an indescribable beauty. Women clad in brightly colored saris walked arm-in-arm down the streets; an overjoyed man shouted praise to Shiva in a Hindu temple; the smell of spices permeated the air as locals shared a samosa prepared on the street in front of us.

Here, I am an obvious foreigner. My strangely pale skin and red hair attract many stares and more than a few requests to pose with local tourists for photos – which I gladly do! Just as we grew up with tales of a far away and exotic India – here, I am a peculiar stranger from a far away western land.

Our second stop, Jaipur, was equally chaotic, but had its own individual personality and charm. Glorious palaces were set between street upon street of markets. The smell of urine, burning garbage, cow, and elephant was interspersed with pepper, ginger, fried potatoes, and roasting melons in the hot sun.

At one point, we stumbled across a wedding ceremony – and we foreigners were fascinated by the tradition. As we watched, the locals watched us too, and we all started taking pictures of each other and then posed together for photos. It was great!

My favorite part was when a little girl rode up to me on her bicycle and very slowly and determinedly said, “Hellloo. How are yooou?” I replied, “I’m good! How are you?” And she covered her mouth, giggling, and ran away!

I have travelled to approximately 40 countries, and I can truly say that I’ve never experienced anything quite like India.

~ LiAnn, 2013

From British Columbia to Bangkok to Bali

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One of the most magical things to me is standing in the international terminal of an airport and looking at all the departures on the screen, knowing the world is at my fingertips. Some of the cities I’ve been to, and others are on my list. I watch each name sparkle and think of the memories I earned there or will perhaps acquire in the future.

I started this trip two months ago in Vancouver, and I just departed Bali–what a perfect way to end my adventure through Asia. After countless planes, trains, and boats, it was nice to relax on a beautiful island. Ubud was fantastic, from the crazy pathway to our villa with the 100 foot drop into the river to the $30, 3-hour spa treatments. In one day in Bali, I saw my dad feed a live chicken to a Komodo Dragon, drank coffee made from cat poo, explored temples and rice terraces, had lunch by a volcano, and watched good battle evil over fire light and ancient chants. Amazing!

Our villa in Lovina was absolutely beautiful, but a little too remote (and the beach was dirty – complete with roaming chickens and dogs…hahaha), so I was forced to pass the time reading trashy vampire books by the pool, going into town for massages and enjoying wine in our little hut while watching the sunset over the Bali Sea.

As I sit in the Hong Kong airport, ready to embark on my journey home, a part of me just wants to run out the exit door and stay in Hong Kong forever. Still, another part of me is ready for home. Perhaps I will compromise and hide out in Chinatown for a while when I get to San Francisco 🙂

I’ve already been on the road for 11 hours, and I have at least 16 more before I get to my hotel room in California. My bones ache and my internal clock is trying to figure out if it’s night or day. Travel is tough. But the truth is, when you look back on the adventure, you don’t remember how cold it was in Beijing or how unbearably hot it was in Bangkok. You don’t remember nearly peeing your pants on the bumpy bus ride to the temple in Chiang Mai or having the flu in Yangshou.

You remember clinking glasses with your new friends while overlooking the Hong Kong skyline from the highest bar in the world. You remember having your “wow moment” at the Great Wall of China. You remember learning important lessons from history and paying respects to fallen soldiers and the victims of massacre. You remember absorbing culture, meeting new people from all over the world, becoming an expert bargainer in the markets, and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Most importantly, you remember the amazing journey. Thanks to everyone who was a part of my journey. I will remember it always.

Good Night Vietnam

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Vietnam is absolutely beautiful. I have enjoyed parts of it immensely. It is more expensive than the other SE Asian countries, but it is still about half U.S. prices, and there are much more luxurious options than in Laos or Cambodia for spas, dining, etc.

Veitnam has a strange contrast. Its beautiful beaches and wonderfully quaint towns are mixed with dirty, crime-ridden, and crowded cities. I didn’t take many pictures, because we were told not to take a handbag out. Bags are frequently sliced or grabbed and cameras and phones are often snatched from tourists’ hands in the larger cities. Yet, the average Vietnamese person was friendly and kind.

Crossing the street in Saigon and Hanoi was one the the scariest things I’ve every done. Everyone rides scooters. There are no traffic lights and no pedestrian lights. You just walk out into traffic at a slow and steady pace and the scooters judge how to maneuver around you. Don’t speed up or stop or you’ll splat like frogger!

The City of Nah Trang was beautiful but quite confusing to me, as I felt like I crossed space and time back to Miami. The beach bars and restaurants were trendy, with cabanas, pools, electronic music playing in the background, and great ocean-view dining.

Hoi An is famous for its tailors. I aspire to one day have a lifestyle where I can fly to Hoi An on occasion to have my wardrobe designed! The city itself is perfectly Vietnamese with a western flare. I enjoyed the markets (minus the rats), the cuisine, the French pastries, and my newly tailored dress!

By far my favorite day in Vietnam was yesterday. Last night we stayed on a Chinese Junk Boat on Halong Bay. We kayaked through the gorgeous limestone islets. Before dinner we jumped into the bay from the rooftop of the boat, then enjoyed a great (nearly) final evening of the trip together.

It has been an amazing adventure through China and Southeast Asia. I am so glad I had the opportunity to take this journey, meet new friends, experience cultures beyond anything I’ve previously encountered, and create memories that will last a life time.

Rolling on the River: A Journey through Laos

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We crossed the border into Laos a few days ago. The border crossing was really interesting. First, we received our departure stamp from a little booth in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Next, we took a canoe across the river and receive our visas through the window of another small booth on the Laos side.

We spent the next two days cruising down the Mekong River via long boat and stopping at guest houses along the way. The long boat is really cool. The front 2/3 is for the passengers. The back 1/3 is where the family who owns the boat lives. Their livelihood revolves around transporting and feeding their customers on the river.

Yesterday, we left our long boat when we arrived in the cute little town of Luang Prabang. We took a bike ride around the city and explored a Buddhist temple as well as the various shops and cafes. We ended our ride by stopping for a taste of the local version of moonshine. I’m not joking, it was rice wine fermenting reptiles. I literally drank snake juice. Yuck!

This morning we went for an elephant ride, and tomorrow we will get up very early to participate in the morning alms for the local monks. I’m really looking forward to this, since it reminds me of the book Siddhartha, which first piqued my interest in Buddhism over a decade ago.

Laos is hot and buggy (insert girlie scream from finding cockroach in bathroom here) (additional girlie scream from awaking to beetle crawling across face) – yet still, Laos has amazing character and the people are very incredibly kind and hospitable. The Mekong River and the rolling hills leading into the thick jungle have their own unique beauty.

Interesting observation: Lay’s potato chip flavors here include: seaweed, squid, prawn, and duck. I like the seaweed flavor.

Luang Prabang, Laos

I heart shanghai

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Shanghai has been my favorite city so far on the trip. The bright lights, high fashion, and metropolitan feel make this a wonderfully international city. In some ways it reminds me of Vegas with lots of neon lights illuminating the roadways and high-rises. The streets are full of sightseers and partygoers at night. It is vibrant and filled with energy.

We went to a Chinese acrobatic show last night. It was very Cirque. However, I liked it a bit more than Cirque in some ways. Cirque has a great deal of stage effects and set detail, the absence of which, here, better showcased the performers’ talent. The performances were not flawless, but only because they absolutely pushed the limits of human capability. They made the nearly impossible look simple. It was really amazing!

We are now leaving Shanghai and heading to Yangshou in Southern China.

9-April-12 3:45 PM