BootsnAll Travel Network

Vietnam (July 7 – August 7, 2006)

December 5th, 2006

Flew over from Singapore on Tiger Air, a discounter. Met by two young Vietnamese women, one of whom is a sister-in-law to our East Meets West coordinator, Min. They took us to breakfast at the airport restaurant, the best airport food we’d ever eaten; wouldn’t let us pay. The young lady translator was very eager to converse, not at all shy. They put us in a taxi and directed it to take us to the Ho Chi Minh train station, where we waited for our overnight train to Danang.

The train ride was long but we saw a bit of the countryside and several locals came into our compartment and made themselves comfortable practicing their English. No one spoke very well but we all made ourselves understood. Many just passed by and checked us out. There was a door we could shut and lock, which we did later, after dinner, which a waiter brought. At around 11 pm there was a knock and the door was opened by the porter and 2 people came in.

We thought we were home free, that the upper berths were going to remain empty for the whole ride, but no. The two were part of a group of 19 high school kids and one leader from Scotland. We showed them where to step to ascend to the top bunks and all went to sleep. The kids were all Glaswegian and the leader was from Edinburgh. They fund-raised for the trip and were doing some community work as well as having a holiday. Everyone got off in Danang.

Once again, we were met at the station by two women, Min and Ha. Min is the coordinator at the clinic and Ha is a dentist. They got us to our hotel, where I sat on the bed in a large room connected to the world through wifi: very plush for $23 a day. They told us to relax and not help with the setup at the village school where the group was doing dental outreach for a week. So we had breakfast together and wandered up the street 5 blocks until we came to the river, where the locals stroll on Sundays and take their evening exercise walks.

We found Danang to be quite built up. Not much old stuff left. I suppose much of it was destroyed during the American war. Buildings are very narrow, some tall and narrow, which harkens back to the days when houses were built long with a small courtyard in the middle and no windows on the sides (for another long house would be on either side). Later I found out that they are taxed by the width of their property. Danang bustled with commerce all around. Unfortunately, foreigners are charged 2x the regular rates when shops/vendors can get away with it. Most people do not understand English but can say hello when they see us walking by. Those who study English, try to converse.

That evening the whole staff at the clinic took us out to dinner. The crew of volunteers included Amanda and Jocelyn from Manitoba (starting their 3rd year in dental school), Heather, from Scotland (going into her 5th and final year of dental school), Jenna, a 20-year old dental assistant from Brisbane, and the two of us. There were 8 from the clinic. It was a 7-course meal and delicious — a great way to get to know everyone.

The next five days were spent working on school children from a village 45 minutes away from Danang. A majority (99%) of the kids had never seen a dentist and came from very humble homes. Most were patient patients, well-behaved and compliant. A handful gave us a hard time and we had to send them off without care. All came back later in the day after a talking-to by a parent and sat through treatment. Some were as young as 3 or 4 and they were not necessarily the difficult ones. A few were in their teens.

Dr. Hoa examined each child and I (K) would show them to where they were to wait to be administered anesthetic. Then I would show them where to wait to be either prepped for filling or for an extraction. Most of the kid required both, so they would get the filling first then the extraction. Afterwards I would direct them where to sit until the bleeding was under control, then release them. All Howie did was to cut cavity preparations, drilling all day long – on an awful chair that hurt his bum, which his assistant, Hien, kept mentioning. The two Canadians were allowed to fill cavities. Heather could fill and do extractions. Sometimes Dr. Hoa would prep, if Howie’s line got too long. Dr. Long, who mostly administered the anesthesia, would also do extractions and sometimes fillings.

We saw over 500 children in a week. Everyone worked very hard. Three assistants (dental nurses here) helped the practitioners, running around getting liners, amalgam, whatever the docs called for. I assisted Howie will a filling, sucking saliva and retracting the cheek. We all helped clean up at the end of each day, usually not leaving the place until after 6.

East Meets West Foundation [] has a dental clinic in Danang where they see disadvantaged children. The foundation accepts the help of volunteers but provides no lodging support. I suppose most volunteers have on-going practices and can write off their trip expenses. I’m sure they don’t get a lot of dentists who have no income (like us) so they are not set up to provide housing, like other volunteer situations where we have worked (ie. St. Luke’s hospital in St. Lucia or the orphanage in Mindanao).

Howie decided to stay and work an extra week here, as there is a need. We have also been invited to join the whole EMWF crew in Vietnam at their annual retreat in China Beach on the 29th, which was fun and we met more people involved in development work.

Went to Hoi An after the week of outreach. That’s where all the tourist go – don’t see many in Danang at all. So many Vietnamese in that town speak English. Many speak to you to try and lure you into their shops or restaurants. We did a tour of the old village one day, a tour of My Son, an old Cham ruin where we could do a bit of birding another day and sat on a beautiful white beach on the third. The kids selling fruits on the beach were a kick and spoke the best English, picking up all the slang from the visitors. Water was refreshing. Sunday noon was empty but by the late afternoon it was a mob scene, filled with locals who know better than to be in the sun during the heat of the day. The sand was scorching and one had to dash in and out of the water.

Another outing was to the local beach here in Danang. The clinic had no patients on Thursday so we spent the day at My Keh, a 4 k hike from our hotel and across the river. Hot walk. Sat under an umbrella and read our books. Water was warmer than at Hoi An but the breezes were cooling once we got wet. Got really brown just sitting in the shade. Had a nice lunch of fresh grilled prawns and a huge cuttlefish salad.

Rode with 2 easy riders to Bach Ma NP. Quite a racket getting up into the park – had to use the park van, which cost an arm and a leg. We stayed at the bottom of the park, by the gate the first night and birded around there. It was hot and all uphill. At the top was a different story. There were several lodging options and all seemed to be booked for the weekend with mostly Vietnamese. Come Monday, everyone left but a handful of foreigners. They fed us too well, meaning too much food, albeit not very imaginative dishes. Upon entering the restaurant the first night, we had to share a table, as the place was packed and jumping. As I (H) made my way across the room, I was requested to join in a toast of rice wine at a table of noisy locals. Easy enough. Then the next guy wanted to toast. Eight shots later, I had worked my way around the table and could join K. Good buzz that night.

We had the trails to ourselves. Yes, there were leeches there too. And it rained every afternoon. But mornings are when you find the best birds anyway. In the jungle, no matter what, the birds are hard to find. Prizes included short-tailed scimitar-babbler, rufous-throated partridge, silver-eared mesia, and loads of slaty-backed forktails.

And there were ruins from when the French used Bach Ma as a hill station, old villas and old hotels. Signs of the American war abounded, where the site was used as a helicopter base. I (K)enjoyed exploring the side trails and got a bit of exercise in walking to the summit and back a few times a day. Views of the coast from up in the mountain were spectacular!

Our bikers came to pick us up and take us back to Danang. We had to stop at the pass because the rain caught us. There were some remnants of the war, which we checked out.

The last week in Danang was work for Howie at the clinic. There we met Loan and Luan, the former a Viet Kiew dentist who just finished dental school, the latter her husband. Loan’s little brother Ut was with them. They love to travel and have been all over Asia: they come every other summer. We had a great dinner by the beach; Danang is famous for its seafood.

We partied and said our good-byes, heading for the central highland town of Da Lat, Vietnam’s honeymoon capital. Travel by bus is easy and cheap here, as are the hotels. We were referred to a great little place, Dreams, run by a stereotypical Vietnamese woman, Dung (no, it’s pronounced Yung) – she was cany, ambitious and able to arrange everything. I asked about birding and she had a fellow in the lobby 20 minutes later. We quickly made plans to visit sites renowned for endemic birds.

Our first site, the Ta Nung valley held only a small remnant patch of hill forest, but in it resides one of SE Asia’s rarest birds, the grey-crowned crocias. It was disheartening to realize how little forest remains, but once in the forest, perspective changes and you are once again engulfed by the verdant growth, the chatter of bird flocks and a dripping humidity. Our moto guides knew the area, but rainy season had blocked the forest entrance with 10 foot high elephant grass. So, we thrashed around in that a while before entering the forest. The trail we found was quickly abandoned when we heard a group of crocias upslope. The next hour was spent trying to glimpse the crocias, as they fed in the canopy. They had us slogging up and down the hillside, through leech infested thickets and thorny tangles. Rain was intermittent. I was having a blast, but looking at K, I knew I was testing her limits. Beside the brief flashes of crocia, we saw hardly any other birds.

We had 2 bikes and 2 drivers, so in a flash of inspiration, I suggested K bail out. Governor’s pardon and off she went. I remained in the clearing, where we parked the bikes and started seeing birds. In the half hour after K’s departure (I wouldn’t have minded birding on the road!), I found over 2 dozen species. The kicker was finding crocias feeding in lantana bushes along the road, giving luxurious, point-blank views. These are the moments one searches for, and sadly I was unable to share them with Karen. I returned a few days later and failed to find them and sent a Dutch couple there with no success either. The clearing also produced 4 Vietnamese greenfinch, another endemic.

The following day rain kept us in town touristing. We spent a good portion of a rainy afternoon at this bizarre hotel/art project, Hang Nga guest house, built by the daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s successor,Truong Chinh. Reminiscent of Gaudi’s projects in Barcelona, this place could only have escaped the western-decadent label by the creator’s political connection’s during the austerities of Vietnam’s recent past. It is a hoot, with each room built around a different theme: ants, peacock, tiger. No right angles or flat walls or ceilings. Given Vietnam’s struggles over the last 50 years, it comes as a nice surprise to find something so quirky and unexpected.

I arranged an early start for Lang Bian NP for the next morning. Weather threatened again and given the last outing’s challenges, K opted for more rack time and a day in town. A five am start had me leaving town on the back of a motorcycle in a steady drizzle in the dark. My target for the day: collared laughingthrush, another VN endemic and perhaps the most beautiful of this family. My driver told the park gatekeeper we would pay fees upon returning and negotiating permission to take the bike up vs the expensive park transport that would not start running for a couple hours.

Much of the park is under assault from local woodcutters, with harvesting altering the forest canopy height and density. How long this can continue without completely ruining the woods can’t be debated much longer. The mountain’s lower level is degraded pine forest. We needed to reach the ecotone between the pines and the temperate evergreen forest above. As we approached the desired elevation, we hiked our way into clouds, mist and wind. Shit conditions for seeing oncoming traffic let alone birds. But birds there were, ghosts flitting in and out of the greyness. Things are tamer under these conditions, but you have to get very close to identify anything. Although the laughing thrush eluded us, we accepted the conditions and enjoyed what the forest revealed, including my first red crossbills for Asia and a lifer brown-throated creeper. Heavy rain chased us off the mountain by 10 am.

A noontime bus to Cat Tien NP kept the adventure rolling along, getting dumped on the highway at the junction for the park, 24 kms away. Our hostess in Da Lat arranged our park stay, as well as a taxi to the park. Would be much cheaper on a moto, but we were lugging too much crap, including computer, telescope, dental gear, bird books and tape recorder. Fear of rain an issue as well.

At road’s end, one pays entrance fees and arranges a launch to ferry you across. Park HQ is quite developed with a variety of lodgings, a couple of restaurants, empty pool, weed- covered tennis court, Karaoke bar and massage parlour. Needless to say, I spent all my time elsewhere, as there are some nice forest trails to disappear onto. I hired a guide on the first morning, to help suss out the place. He knew many vocalizations and we quickly were on to bar-bellied pittas. Subsequent walks were done alone or with Karen.

Our final night in the park was spent at Crocodile Lake. This required a three-mile walk thru primary lowland forest, which gave us sightings of black-shanked langurs, Siamese fireback, scaly-breasted partridge and more pittas. We stayed at a ranger/research station on the lake’s edge. Spending the remainder of the day scanning, this lush rainy season vista. Winter would yield many migrants, but it was still alive with avian life, not to mention Siamese crocs and Sambar deer.

The star of the show was the green peafowl, commonly called peacock. Seeing these huge, elaborately plumaged pheasants strolling through the grassland at lake’s edge transported me to an earlier time: one where man had not come to dominate, eliminating and reducing numbers of wild creatures from virtually every habitat on the face of the earth. Jacanas, swamphens and water hens, all with young, kept themselves busy gleaning thru the marsh grasses below us. Herons, bitterns and egrets were always in sight at water’s edge. Cotton pygmy geese and lesser whistling-duck would lift off the water, make a few circles, then land in a new patch. A couple endangered lesser adjutant storks surveyed the scene from the top of upland trees. At dusk the patrolling of harrier-like great-eared nightjars would begin, huge insectivores gliding silently about.

A word of warning: Cat Tien has leeches in the rainy season. My knee length leech socks no doubt helped, but I was finding them continually. Sustaining 30 or so bites during our stay. Worst are the under-watchband sneakers, as I never noticed them until they had there fill. Twice I felt the urge to scratch my privates, only to find uninvited companions already gorging themselves. Living in the Maine woods has hardened me to things that bite, so I actually prefer leeches to black flies.

Our trip to Saigon was of note. We were able to find a van across the river. Due to our size, we were put in the front seat with the driver. The next hour was a slow crawl through all the towns and hamlets in search of passengers. Within 45 minutes, the vehicle was full, no crammed, as they fit and contorted people into every available space. Then things got interesting. With a full load, the driver was free to go. Vietnamese taxi drivers have a reputation as maniacs and from our ride it is well deserved. Reckless speed, blind passing and endless chicken with oncoming traffic had our stomachs in knots. And this is on a road with heavy lories, bicycles, cattle, old crones balancing their wares on their shoulder carriers, and with no rules of the road. After an hour of this flirtation with death and destruction, one of the passengers called out his stop. Our driver resumed his crawl for fares and fortunately never again had a full load, so the breakneck rush to town was never resumed. Enjoyed a night of wandering Saigon streets and returned to Cambodia the following day via plane.

Karen has now started her year-long project developing sustainable, community based ecotourism and I will be working for 2 months in Phnom Penh, before heading up to Siem Reap to train bird guides for K’s project. I’ll be working a few days a week at Ankor Children’s hospital as well.

Stay tuned… (this was lost when bootsnall crashed so photos will have to be reuploaded one day)

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July 19th, 2006

June 15 – July 8, 2006

Kota Kinabalu was bigger than expected and definitely more developed. It was drizzling when we arrived with no reservations for Mt. Kinabalu NP. But we had our ripped-off Lonely Planet (picked that up in Kolkata) which directed us to a particular building for the reservations office. The building was right but the office had changed names: no wonder we could not reach them via internet or by phone. That’ll teach us. There must be a more updated version of the Malaysia guide, as none of the phone numbers have worked so far.


Luckily for us the office merely changed names, not addresses and soon we were off, trudging down the road to the share mini bus stop, where we caught the bus to the park, no trouble. At Mt. Kinabalu NP we stayed at the Hill Lodge #5 and ate at the dining room in the Visitors’ Center, half a km away. The park had numerous trails off the main road up to the gate and power station. The trails ran along streams or the river, or climbed hills to a view. The temperate forests on the mountain were lush, subtly lit due to the canopy cover and held more species of oak than any other forest in the world.


The top of the mountain was visible only in the mornings until about 9 or 10, then it would cloud up. We experienced rain each afternoon. Kinabalu might peek out again in the evenings, after the rain, but all you could see of it would be the lights at Laban Rata, the hostel where all the climbers are required to stay on the first night of their ascent. We did not have reservations for that hostel so were not able to climb to the top, despite getting on the cancellation list. On the third day we climbed 3.5 km past the gate, almost up to Layang Layang, before the rain started, which made birding difficult. That’s when we started down.

forest Kinabalu

Howie should have a bird list for the mountain. We tried staying an extra day but it was such a rigamarol that we decided to move on to Poring Hot Springs, which is also a part of the Mt. Kinabalu Park complex. Instead of 3 nights here we ended up staying 5. Howie says the forests here in Borneo are as interesting as the Amazon because of the variety and ease of observation of critters, not to mention the birds. We have to check out the light bulbs at night because the moth varieties are museum quality. Then there are the beetles, butterflies and many little mammals which we call squirrels, tree shrews and other rodents.

lizzard spider

One day we took a walk outside the park and for RM 20 ($6+) a little boy led us through a private scrubby bamboo thicket and showed us a rafflesia in its 3rd day, already starting to blacken. These parasitic blooms last about a week and smell of putrescent flesh to attract pollinating flies. It wasn’t the largest specimen on record (2 ft in diameter) but it is the largest flower in the world.


The hot springs are Japanese style, in groups of 4 tubs with a hot and cold tap each. Two people fit well in each tub. These are open 24/7. There are tubs in cottages that one can rent by the hour and there is a water slide area for the children. The Rock Pool is supplied by water from the falls nearby and very refreshingly cold. At first we thought we’d just do the trails as the hot tubs were always busy but once we felt the temperature of the water in the pool, we decided that a warm soak would be a good idea. This is where all the climbers end up after coming down from Kinabalu. They are awakened at 3 a.m. to climb to the peak in the dark and usually get down by 1 pm. Busloads show up around 2 so that’s when we avoid the tubs.

Poring pool

Kipungit Waterfall is a 10 minute walk from the hot springs area but from there it’s an hour and a half climb to Langanan Falls. Of course it took us about 5 hours, birding along the way. To add an element of delay, we discovered leaches half-way there, so we needed to stop and check for the bloodsucking hitchhikers every time we looked for birds. Later in the soaking tub we found that I had 4 pricks and only one that bled on to my sock. Howie had 3 but no bleeders. There must have been at least 10 varieties of leaches. But the climb was worth it. We saw a beautiful trogon family bathing in the creek and the falls were majestic. We had the trail all to ourselves (wonder why).

falls rhino beatle

We worried about getting the bus from Ranau to Lahad Datu, knowing that the shuttle we needed to catch left LD at 3:30. We caught the express bus for Tawau and after lunch switched to another bus that got us to the Danum Valley Field Center office in Lahad Datu by 2 pm, time enough to cash travelers checks and pick up batteries for the tape deck. On the way to the forest I saw an Orang Utang in a tree, about 2 miles from the compound.

K & tree

We stay at the Resthouse (shouldn’t it be Guesthouse?) and there has been only one other birding couple here, from England, the Eatons (I think). The researchers and their students/assistants have their own quarters or stay at the hostel, where we could have bunked, too. We took a night drive with Sarah and Allan; saw mammals but no birds. Haven’t really birded together, which is okay as on our evening walk together, it turns out she was quite the chatterbox. Keen birders, though.

caterpillar liz

The trails have been jungly to the max: crawling w/ leeches, muddy from the frequent rains, quite hilly and most frustratingly, dense with lianas and trees that birds are difficult to see. Climbing up and down the hills, trying to avoid touching anything that might support a leech, getting clammy w/ sweat and Howie’s in heaven. On day one I had about 38 suckers, the next day almost 60. The forth day I had single numbers: it didn’t rain at all the day before. Got great looks at the pitta (black headed, I think) but didn’t have the scope, so alas no photos. Food’s plain and there’s plenty of it. Some of the time I opt to leave the hunt and take a proper hike, get the heart pumping. Getting extra pounds not working out enough (slow walking does not get my metabolism going).

orang bug K climbing tree H in tree

A 45 minute drive away in the same forest complex brought us to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, our big splurge (part of the silver anniversary celebration). It is still in the Danum Valley but in a different sector of the primary forest that has never been logged. There is research being done here, too, but it’s mostly for tourists. Saw Ron and DollyAnn’s name in the guest book: they were here at the end of May.


Birders will love the place and Howie would like to return with a bunch of his birding friends. We ran into the Tropical Birding group led by Sam Wood. They were a great bunch and we traded information. (We went with TB to Cameroon on a recce trip about 5 years ago.) There are canopy walkways and many trails. We saw the endemic bristlehead twice already. (This is the bird we were looking for 115 ft off the ground, in a tree at DVFC – Howie tried for 3 mornings and had no success.)

boids canopy walkway

We have our own little unit, which is connected to the others by elevated boardwalks. We were supplies with a guide (whom we ditched after a day) and thrown in are morning walks, evening drives and tubing on the Danum River, which flows rapidly by the lodge. Did I say it is a 5-star resort? (Not at the level where they supply you with wifi and your own plush bathrobe, but great buffets and we have had our first g&t in weeks.) Everyone we know would love this place. I’d even suggest it for any of our numerous family or high school reunions! We actually saw a flying squirrel fly last night on our night drive.

kingfisher flower &

Extreme weather made it impossible for the next connection to be made so our plans were up in the air for access to the Kinabatangan River basin. Fortunately, Howie bumped into Ian Sinclair while birding at Poring; he suggested we contact Robert Chong, who runs the Kinabatangan Jungle Lodge on the river. He’s the guy who can deliver the Bornean ground cuckoo. We successfully made contact with RC and stayed with him for 4 days (one at their Sepilok Labuk B&B) and Robert, who is a master of bird mimicry, and was able to call in the cuckoo, hooded pitta and rufous kingfisher, using a variety of hoots and whistles. (Jalscha Meisen Passant – cuckoo photo) I swear he was having more fun than we were.

H&K on the river primates stork

This was a great area for primate observation. We twice found orangs in their nocturnal nest that is built fresh daily. Another prize was our first proboscis monkeys, a mature male sports a nose Jimmy Durante would have coveted. Gibbons, macaques and langurs were seen as well. A night float had us watching a hunting flat-headed cat on the river bank. We missed the elephant movement, but their signs were everywhere, including the electric fence needed around the camp.

rhino hornbill Rhinocerous hb

While at at the KJL we ran into the Savage brothers from Vancouver; we had met them earlier at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge where they sent over a bottle of red when they found out we were still celebrating our anniversary (by going to the fancy lodge). They were 2 of the five people who floated down the river on innertubes at the lodge and Richard the Younger was the alligator boy: he connected 2 plastic garbage bags with duct tape and wore them as a sack so as not to get wet on the float. Naturally it didn’t work – he’s too tall (6’4”?) and it only succeeded in making him so unmaneuverable that he was capsized by the first little riffle and had to be ‘saved’ by their guide, Donny. Ian the Elder laughed so hard and so the rest of us (two guys from Holland and me) joined in; we were sorry no one brought a camera.

eagle Ian and Richard

At KJL, the Savage bros were with us for the first day and as soon as they left it rained. They were a ray of sunshine, those two. After that, though, it was clear sailing. They missed THE cuckoo but saw a lot of birds (most birders would kill for) and maybe caught the bug (Ian, anyway).


Howie would walk in the surrounding secondary forest during lunch, which was always so hot, even thought it was right on the river. Mostly, we took the little motor boat to find the birds, crocks, primates and other wildlife. The water was café au lait brown and crocodiles would sometimes be sunning themselves on the shore but would slip into the drink as soon as we approached. Robert told stories about some Japanese tourists he had who witnesses a crock attack a bearded pig foraging on the shore – cut it in half. They didn’t understand why they could not collect the pig pieces to be roasted. A few days before we got there a man from the village was killed by a crocodile while fishing on the banks.

river scene

Flew back to Kota Kinabalu (business class for the first time and were treated royally – the cheap seats were sold out and we did not want to wait for the next flight and it was only RM 35 more anyway). Once we arrived we booked ourselves into the resort on Manukan Island and once again got the plushest accommodations there but what the hey, we were still celebrating the silver.


Our ‘room’ was like an apartment unit without a kitchen. The first floor had a sitting room, dining room and bathroom. The upstairs was the bedroom with a balcony. We watched Italy beat Germany in that room. The water of the South China Sea is easily 40 degrees warmer than the Gulf of Maine. Snorkeling didn’t require body suits, unless one needed sun protection. We swam around for a couple of hours in the morning after a quick walk (bird walk for Howie, which brought his trip list up to 200+ or -) on the jogging path.

lodge downstairs

That same day found us on a plane with Tony Fernandez, head of Air Asia, the budget airline we have been using whenever possible. Tony (we are on a first-name basis, yes) made his way down the aisle, talking to everyone, listening to complaints, accepting complements and trying to answer everyone’s questions. When he heard that we are living in Cambodia, he informed us that soon there will be a Cambodia Air Asia (they already fly to Phnom Penh), which can only mean cheap (like the $10 from PP to Bangkok) flights to many Asian cities.

 chinatown 2 towers

Took a cab to the train station when we got to KL (though Tony suggested the bus: we were pressed for time). The train had comfortable berths and we slept through the night and woke up in Singapore, where Annie from the Backpacker Hotel approached us with a brochure. Her place was in Little Italy and convenient for the metro. We recommend her place but make sure you have earplugs.


We found Singapore to be the least Asian city, aside from the people all around. In the one day we spent there we visited the botanical gardens and shopped at our friend Bee Choo’s bookstore, Nature’s Niche. We were sad that she and Morten were out of town. Other friends we would have visited were away too, so we played tourist and walked all over Orchard Road and Chinatown. Found the Art Museum, which is free from 6 pm on Fridays. Early the next morning (July 8th) we flew Tiger Air to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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May – BKK/Thailand & PP&SR/Cambodia

June 5th, 2006

Bangkok (1 week in May)

Howie finally got to see a bit of Bangkok. We got back to Sam’s and were treated to some of the best meals of the trip. The food in Thailand is special. For a few days we moved out of Sam’s and stayed on Soi 2 off Sukhumvit, down in the heart of the city.

lobby at the Atlanta Atlanta reception

We were fortunate to know (from my Bangkok high school days) Charles, the owner of the Atlanta Hotel. That place was special. I would recommend it to anyone lucky enough to find an opening. The place is beautiful. And I forgot to take photos of the pool area. It was the first hotel pool in the city, I believe.

Gretchen's brunch Gretchen's yard

We got together with the friendly folks we met on our trek, Gretchen and Vikrom. Gretchen’s place was fabulous. We got there and all round on the skytrain. Checked out Tanya’s new lunch spot, too. Specialties are hot pots.

Tanya & H Tanya's shop

The one day dedicated to seeing the palace and temples was when I came down with a bit of a 24 hour flu so Howie went out on his own. Some of the photos he took are shown here.

BKK temples BKK temples 1

BKK temples 2 BKK temples 3

A Month in Cambodia

Phnom Penh (14 May to 14 June 2006)

Hot, but not as bad as anticipated.

New living arrangements: apart. Howie in Phnom Penh, working locum for SOS Int’l and living in an apartment provided by the company right across the street, replete w/ meals and swimming pool. We already have a handful of friends in the capitol city, so he’ll be all set. Even has his own email account now: Karen in Siem Reap, working for WCS and living in a guesthouse (Shadow of Angkor 855 063 964 774) hoping to find a pool now and then for some exercise and to cool off. Also looking for housing for a year, starting in mid-August 2006.

When we got to PP we met with WCS folks and Brian from Int’l SOS. Howie started working that very same week. He’s found it to be very interesting, especially meeting patients from all over the globe. He’s bought a guitar and is getting his calluses back. His yoga practice is revved up again after he found a yoga practitioner who studied under the same master, Manju, from Puna.

I went down to visit last weekend and spent a lot of the time in the pool at the residence across from the clinic. I was wined and dined. We rode all over PP on bikes. Met some new people and then parted on Monday morning.

Siem Reap (16 May to 9 June)
K&B's SR house

Siem Reap the third time around. What’s new? I stayed at Kristen’s (with whom I am working) Cambodian house for a few days. I am biking around on a one-speed with basket in front

.Kris's gate

I later moved in w/ the Haas (Berkeley mba students here for a summer project) gang of four, for 3 weeks. We are working on a proposal for a local NGO in this area. It centers around ecotourism and sustainability. More on this later in the year.

Finally bought a mask to keep some of the red dust out of my nose while on the streets (trying to pass for a Khmer). Still getting panhandled, though. The ultimate test is to walk into the ancient temples without having to pay.

Kristen & Julie birding Julie & Kristen

weaver nests

Went birding Saturday morning with four other women. First time on the trip to bird without Howie. Blind leading the sighted. Actually, we had a master birder with us, a volunteer from Seattle, Julie, who will work with Kristen and SVC to put together a video about SVC for fundraising purposes.

working at the BP

Jackie, Ismael, Scott and Helen, hard at work at the Blue Pumpkin.

The group is hard working but, as you can see from the photos below, we know how to have fun on the weekends.

Zone1 tuk tuk

Ismael dancing Scott dancing

Planning our next trip: Datum Valley, Borneo and Mt. Kinabalu. On the 14th of June – Leave for KL, Malaysia; 15th June – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Those looking to come to the Far East, plan on it this winter. Best season for the birds in the area is Nov through April.


Lava & Samthar (end of India)

May 20th, 2006

12 – Lava and Samthar; train to Kolkata

share jeep from Gangtok to Lava front seat of jeep

Crowded share-jeep from Gangtok to Lava (5 in front..driver is on far right)

May 1 – 3 were spent in Lava. We made arrangements to visit Neora, the NP nearby, which required a jeep and a forest guide. Lava was small and everywhere hotels and guesthouses were springing up in rather cramped locations. There was a large and spacious gompa in the village and that was alsoexpanded.

Lava view from Neora view from Neora looking down on Lava

We hiked the road leading up to the national park on the second day. No new birds but it was high and we got great views. In Neora the next day, Howie saw two lifers. The guide turned out to be a botanist and was interested in photographing the plant life, so we saw little of him. At the end, though, he showed us a nesting kalij pheasant.

Kalij on nest

The Unique (our guesthouse) found us a taxi that took us to Samthar, a small village at the end of a road. The Samthar Farm House is run by Gurudongma Tours and Treks. This is the firm Catherine, our guide in Assam, works for. Our host at the farmhouse was Gen. Jimmy, the co-owner/founder of Gurudongma. We had heard so much about him and it was a pleasure to finally meet him.farmhouse at SamtharGeneral Jimmy in front of Samthar Farmhouse

grounds at farmhouse

The farmhouse is actually a compound with several outbuildings, three of which are cabins, all on different levels. Did I forget to mention that we are still in hill country? It turned out that after leaving Siliguri for Darjeeling, we would be in hill country the rest of our stay in India, except for the last two days. That means winding, narrow and some rather precarious roads that snake around the terrain. Often landslides would narrow the roadway even further, so I would always opt for the middle seat.road to Samthar road from Lava to Samthar

(In N. Sikkim we waited for about an hour as a large bulldozer cleared huge boulders from the road where there was a recent slide. Somehow we were the first vehicle in the line that grew and grew. Horns started honking as the people behind us grew impatient to get on their way. Naturally, as soon as the dozer was done, the other vehicles jumped ahead of us in the line and roared off.)dozer

We had a very pleasant respite in Samthar. There was another couple there and we all had meals together. They had a bird guide so we tagged along on walks. The general held court and was just a fount of information. He even invited the local children to perform for us on our last evening. The food at the farm house was the best.dining al fresco Dining al frescolunchLunch w/ local vegetables, chicken curry

On the 6th of May we were booked on the Darjeeling Mail, which was to take us from Siliguri to Kolkata. So, that morning Gen. Jimmy found us two porters who carried our bags and we walked for four hours down the mountain to catch public transportation to Siliguri.

Scenes from around Samthar:

child - Samthar Samthar kids Samthar mom & child

around Samthar

Hiking downhill was easy except for the strain on the knees. Howie birded a little; I tried to keep up with my 15-yr old porter, who practically jogged downhill. When we got to the Teesta River we were confronted with the dam construction. Didn’t realize we had to walk across the construction site. By then it was hot. The ground was thick with a fine white powdery dust that stuck to our sweaty-ness.Teesta dam

But the farmhouse had packed us a lunch so when we got to the seats in the shaded bus stop, we ate while trying to flag down a bus, jeep or taxi. Nothing going to Siliguri would stop, as each vehicle was brimming with passengers. A bus stopped to let about 4 people out but still would not take us on as there were still 3 people on the roof.

Finally, a jeep that looked as if it was just in an accident, which a shattered windshield and a wobbly front left tire, stopped (by then we were hailing everything going by). There was ample room for the two of us and our bags, so we gladly got in.

That marked the start of our journey ‘home’ to Bangkok. Because the jeep was in such poor condition, we had a slow and uneventful ride to town. It even cost us less than we had anticipated. When we got out one of the riders hailed us a rickshaw (bicycle powered) and that’s how we got to the train station. For a little over $2, he worked very hard chauffering us across Siliguri in the heat of the day. Whenever he lost momentum due to the traffic around us, he’d have to get out and push the bike along.

While killing time at the station we befriended a fellow ex-pat, Aimee, who is traveling alone in India for a year. We were very impressed with her. She answered all our questions about train travel. She assured us that our AC3 seats were going to be fine. She’s on her way to Nepal then home. She wanted to visit Maine, so we encouraged it. B&T, Chris, make sure you get her to play v-ball (she’s tall and strong).

India’s railway system is the largest in the world and employs the greatest number of people. Trains run on time, for the most part. Our AC3 ticket put us in an airconditioned car which had 3 bunks to a side and we faced another 3 bunks. They provided bottom and top sheets plus pillows, blankets and a hand towel. We slept the whole way to Kolkata, after chaining our bags to the area below the bottom bunk.

Calcutta bldg

Arrived in Kolkata on the morning of the 6th and took a cab to the Sikkim House, which we heard about in Gangtok and had made arrangements for lodging there through the Sikkim Tourism agency (best deal in town). The hotel is very centrally located and we spent the day walking around and not much to the airport

Giving ourselves an hour and a half to get to the airport proved wise, as our taxi encountered a detour when we were 13 km from the airport. We wound around tiny lanes and crowded streets that jammed up with bicycle rickshaws and huge busses. I was getting worried when we ran into gridlock as we approached the urban areas. (Thanks to St. Anthony, we survived that ordeal.) Ultimately, we got to the airport 2 hours before our flight. To our delight, Geoff, our pal from N. Sikkim, was on the same flight to Bangkok. Small world.

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Gangtok and N Sikkim jaunt

May 20th, 2006

Gangtok Gangtok main road

April 22nd – return to Gangtok. Road a shared jeep with Matt Raue, whose schoolmate is a friend of Lianna’s from Maine. He directed us to the Modern Central Lodge, which is somewhat modern and very central. Beneath the lodge is Modern Treks and Tours, where we eventually put together an excursion to North Sikkim with four other travelers.

Noodle dish for Tom; palak paneer (spinach & cheese) (nothing to do w/ story, really)noodle dish for tom spinach & cheese

Our jeep took us up to Lachen for a night then over to Lachung in the Yumthang Valley for two. The hotel in Lachung was very elaborate on the outside but quite usual inside. A double is 2 single beds with a heavy comforter and blanket but no top sheet. One always has to ask for two towels and toilet paper. The bathrooms have no shower stalls so everything gets wet in the bathroom when one showers. You have to make sure they turn on the water heater, if there is one, when you first arrive, because one never knows when the power will go off. We learned this early in our travels. Blackouts occurred almost daily in almost all the places we visited.

7 sisters wf

The hotel had five stories but no real dining room, so each group took turns eating in the lobby. The other occupants were large W. Bengali families, friendly and nice. All the kids took Geoff (from England) for a famous cricket player and he obliged them by signing their tee shirts.

Ran & Uly Randall & Ulrike

Lachung hotel

The group got on famously and Randall and Ulrike, who live in England but are going around the world, may visit Maine, which we encouraged them to do. Don’t be surprised if they call on you. The other group member was Richard, a practicing Buddhist from Toronto, who was also a professional photographer. Later on Howie started taking more arty shots (none shown in this section, though).

Geoff and Richard are on the ends

group shot

There had been snow in the higher elevations in the Yumthang Valley (probably happened at the same time we were being snowed out in Tanshing), and we, as foreigners, we allowed to go only as far as the road and snow conditions would allow. There we got out and started climbing up beyond the snow but our guide would have gotten in trouble with the authorities if we were caught that close to the Tibet border, so we yelled for Howie, Geoff and Randall to refrain. Indian military presence was ubiquitous.

The end of the road, Lachen. (scroll over)panorama of the mts in Lachen

Yumthang valley

Yumthang road

The waning days in Sikkim were spent walking around Gangtok, making plans for the next part of the trip and visiting a few more gompas (monasteries). Detail photos:

dragon head

lion head

flags & Mt K

door of gompah

prayer wheels interior

The final shot is of the young monks. The one with long hair is the reincarnation of the former karmapa (head of the monastery).young monks3

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April 24th, 2006

Cathy gave us a travel agent to contact once in Gangtok. We arrived at one in the afternoon and by the end of the day, Mr. T. Dorji had put a trek together for us, starting the following morning.


We drove up with Bhaichung, our 27 year-old guide and Suresh, our 31-year old chef. The rest of the crew was found in Yuksom, our first destination and the end of riding in the jeep.

2nd bridge

Early the next morning we started our trek. Six porter accompanied us; not yaks – they were all spoken for. We birded up the trail, getting passed by all the pack animals and most of the people trekking.

going up - yaks

A hot lunch was prepared for us along the way. The first of many delicious and amazing meals by Suresh(on the right) and his helper.

1st lunch

Trongsa was our fist camp. To acclimate, we stayed 3 nights. Also, to bird. Reaching the camp gave us our first glimpse of the snowcapped peaks.


First real views of the peaks.

first views

Friends we made from Bangkok provided us with essentials we were rumming low on (very important: batteries for our camera).

BKK sams

What follows are photos of the rest of the trek.

A meal (for Tom) papadums, wonton soup, apple pie for dessert (there is no oven)

papadums wonton apple pie

close up rhodo

o-h gf orange-headed bfold chorten

On the way to Dzongri; old chorten made of rough rocks in back.

Dzongri view

View from 4300 meters (Kanchenzonga, the 3rd highest peak in the world, at over 8,000 meters, is in there). Dzongri view


Views as we hiked toward Thansing; we hiked down to the river. The field was our destination and was to be the base for hiking to the highest pass, Goechala (over 17,000 ft.).
views on the way to Tanshing

After an evening of thunder and lightning in the distance, we awoke to a changed world.


Throughout the day the storm gave hints of breaking, so we waited optimistically. That is our tent in the foreground. The porters kept brushing the snow off.
1st snows

The view downvalley during a break in the snow.

storm views

Rosy pipits were our camp companions.r pipit


We bundled up (I wrapped my feet in plastic bags inside my hiking boots) and all trudged down, on the 3rd day, in driving snow and wind.

We gradually left the bad weather, slipping on the melting snow which turned the trail into something like a mini-Maine-mudseason. We turned around when we got back to Trongsa and saw this.
looking back up

The next day we hiked down to Yuksom a couple of days ahead of schedule. Found out later it was a good decision as the snows did not let up for another two days.

On our last big hike before leaving this area we almost lost Howie on a short cut down to the road. He was on the narrow trail behind Bai Chung, the guide and I was behind him when all of a sudden he went off the trail to the right, head first. Before I could react I saw his feet go over his head and it looked like he was starting to gain momentum. When he realized that he was not just going to land but tumble, he grabbed the vegitation and came to an abrupt halt. Bai Chung jumped down to save him, not even looking to see what was below. Luckily no one was hurt. It happend so fast! The steepness of the dropoff was hidden by the growth, which also hid the hole Howie stepped in.

Other than that, the trip was uneventful.

the crew

On our last night we showed the gang the photos of our trek and they made us a cake we shared sll around.


India: Assam & W Bengal

April 24th, 2006


We entered India on the 29th of March. The last week of the birding tour was spent in Assam. We were joined by Bee Choo and Piqua (sorry P, I’m not sure this is spelled correctly), who were keen birders and a great addition to the group.


We stayed at Bon Hami, a resort in Kohora, just outside Kaziranga N.P. The guides took us on safaris in open jeeps. We saw the big 4 (elephant, one-horned rhino, wild water buffalo and TIGER!–on the last day, after Kenny, Bee Choo and Piqua left) along with many birds. Until the tiger came along, the other big animals were merely fun to see. We also went into nearby forests and tea plantations.

Tea pickers

tea pickers

Some mammals: elephant, rhino, swamp deer, Assamese macque, Bengal tiger

elephant rhino


The weather has been surprisingly pleasant. We were expecting it to be hot and it’s been cool in the mornings and evenings and very pleasant during the day, with cooling breezes. It’s rained the last three evenings but the days have been dry.

Some big birds:(guess)

gr hb

rr p

gr adjutant

a b owlett

Our guide, Dirien, invited us into his home to meet the family and see his handiwork (mud and dung over bamboo beams and woven walls); we were served the world-famous Assam tea. His mud daubed house was as neat as a pin, the walls curving into the floors and even the kitchen stove.

D's kitchen

kitchen toolstool collection

d's familyDhiren & familysilk mothssilk moths

They keep the cows in a stall in the back yard and the silk moths in the bedroom. We bought a shawl of raw silk fabric she wove from the silk thread she made from the cocoons.


The group stayed in Guwahati at the end of the trip where we had a sumptuous dinner at the Dynasty Hotel.We spent the next 2 nights in Guwahati with Dana. The first night was at the Sweet Home Hotel: not to be recommended. We hired a cab to take us from the top notch Dynasty to the Tibet, which was full. Then we tried 2 more to no avail. When we got to SH we took it out of desperation more than anything else.It was the kind of place where you are afraid to touch anything; we slept in our sleepsacks over their sheets.

In the hustle of unloading the cab, I forgot my laptop and discovered it missing only after the driver, who stuck around to see if we needed him the next day, left. Luckily he wrote down his name and a phone number, which I called right away, but the person on the other end of the line hung up on me. For about five minutes I could have cried. What a sinking feeling that was, to lose the computer as well as the RAP folio that had Howie’s credit cards.

Ever since we started our travels we have hired our own vehicles or were taken care of by folks we knew. The first time we get into a cab, I pull this stupid feat. While I was trying to call for the second time Rahman, the cabbie was back with the backpack. Whew!! Needless to say, I gave him a reward and we used him again the next day and for our ride to the airport. We switched to the Hotel Nova, a few blocks away; the extra cost was worth it.Aside from that, we found not much to keep us there and we left for the airport early the next morning.


We flew to Bagdogra; Dana flew to Kolkata. A taxi took us to Siligouri, where we picked up our permits for Sikkim (no charge!). Continued on to Darjeeling, a 6-hour ride up steep, winding roads. This part of the world is full of such thoroughfares. The harrowing part of that journey was our lack of a horn. All the way up there are signs alongside the road warning drivers to go slow, pay attention, honk at each curve. It was a definite liability, as many drivers don’t have side-view mirrors and we had trouble passing the big trucks that like to hog the middle of the road, until the cars behind us honked loud enough.

We found Darjeeling interesting. There were more tourists there than any of the other places we have visited so far. There are a few old colonial places that are still standing from when this hill station was used to escape the heat of the lowlands during the colonial era. We walked around and ended up at the zoo, which is by the Himalayan Mountain Institute. The red pandas were captivating; hope to see them in the wild when we go to Sikkim. Got to check out the pheasants, which are the reason for our plans to trek in higher elevations.


Took a taxi down the mountain from Darjeeling, crossed the River Teesta and went up to Kalimpong. Our friend and travel agent (Gurudongma Travels and Treks), Cathy Lobo invited us to visit her at her hilltop home.

It was a time to consider our options, which Cathy helped us do. We walked up to the top and took in the monastery there. There was also an impossible golf course.

The day before we left, the clouds broke and we saw the mountains, our next destination.

(More photos to come.)

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April 8th, 2006

Bhutan images.
breeze Prayer flags on walking bridge in Paro…went in search of ibisbill.

b-ibisbill 01.jpg And there we found it.



Chortens at the first pass. It was snowing but not too cold. We stopped at a funky teahouse.


The people are friendly, beautiful, and ruddy-cheeked from the altitude.




Students in Thimpu, the capitol, in traditional garb.

man in do0rway

Young Trongsa man
The houses followed the traditional style, too, and differed in materials or flourishes. Buddhist iconography was painted on most walls and trim of the most homes. This is a newly build house and devoid of any paintings.
house in country

Window detail below:
painted window

Detail of iconography:

b-house painting.jpg

The male myth–this protects the household from evil spiritsb-house painting 2.jpg:

Dragon is the symbol for Bhutan and is often found on buildings.

dragon on house

The first level is used as storage and for animals. The second level is living quarters and the top is left open and used for stoage, drying and animal fodder. The upper level also acts as a chimney.


They also embellish the vehicles.


Monastery eyes (see the eyes on the truck, too?)

young monks2

Sitting in on evening chants. These young monkettes were staying near our campsite and were very interested in the scope.

monks and scope

The dzongs were regional fortresses now used as government seats.


This is a detail of a dzong tower.

dzong top


Roads were scary for me. I read there averages 17 curves to the km. in Bhutan. The main (read: only) road is the east-west highway, which is where we birded.

b-road & fog.jpg

b-road stretch.jpg

winding road

Prayer wheels are found in town squares, house-fronts and often along running streams. This one was at our first campsite.

p wheel

Center of town, Trashigang.

b-prayer wheel  Tashigang.jpg

Arts and crafts of Bhutan were everpresent.

old thanka

Old thanka, which we could not afford.


Young weaver


One-stop shopping.
And, of course, there were the birds.

large-billed crows Large-billed crows on huge rhododendron trees.


blood pheasant

Blood pheasants


Cuddling cutias

b-wallcreeper.jpgWall creeper

barbet Golden-throated barbet
tawny fishowl

Tawny fish owl behind

b-black bulbul.jpgBlack bulbul

kf Crested kf


Mountain hawk-eagle

bf redstart

Blue-fronted redstart


And, for Oen, the Darjeeling wp

We saw mammals, too.

deer Muntjak

baby macaque

There were many monkeys. This is a baby Assamese macaque.

langur Langur

The beauty of the countryside in Bhutan cannot be captured by my little camera.

camp view

Our first campsite gave us glimpses of the high country that we never could access because of our focus on maximizing our time in the most bio-diverse zones of the country.

Flat areas were at a premium and this campsite was shared with a cow-herding family who had reached it first but agreed to share. The ground cover was interesting.

green stuff

We found this cow tucked in for the night. Know not how he got there without upsetting our tents. In the middle of the night, he left and all we felt was the wind.


This valley was where we saw the wintering black-necked cranes, one of the rarest in the world.

valley of the cranes


The crane — we were very lucky as only 3 remained from the wintering flock.

Bhutan is 80% forested, which you can’t really see in this photo but the ranges of mountains in the background are totally covered.


The mountains were divided by deep valleys and there were riversof all sizes and waterfalls around most bends.


Shallow gorge.


Very high waterfall.

windy bridge

Another windy bridge with prayers flying.

Enough yakkin for now.


Smiles from Howie and Karen


Assam photos are coming next.

We are in India and on the way to Sikkim until the end of April.


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Siem Reap, Angkor, and the birds

March 8th, 2006

Siem Reap

The last third of our stay in Cambodia was focused on visiting Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) bird conservation sites. Our first priority was to see some of the rarest birds in Asia; our other goal was to evaluate the sites in anticipation of working with WCS’s ecotourism project. We visited a wetland, grasslands/rice paddies and deciduous dry forests.

Angkor Thom

Before all that, we snuck a peek at the birds and the temples at Angkor. Shades of Africa – Howie looking at the oxpeckers rather than the rhino. We visited the wall at Angkor Thom, with the famous churning of the sea of milk along the gate.

sea of milk

Bayon. This has the quintessential Cambodian poster ruin. You’ll recognize it in the photos.



Ta Prom: where Tomb Raiders was filmed. Howie took the photos and wandered off without me.

Ta Prom1 Ta Prom face

Angkor Wat


Tuesday, February 28th, we went to Ang Trapeang Thmor to see the sarus cranes and other birds. There were 4 lifers for Howie. A trapeang is an inland body of water, as far as I can tell. This one was a joint Cambodian/Japanese project (not man-made but man-enhanced). The dike we drove there on was Angkorian and Pol Pot attempted to expand on it but that project failed.

s crane

Lunch, fresh fish cooked over coals with a green mango dressing over rice, was had along the water, at a roadside setup. The dust from the dike blew into our food every time a vehicle went by. Luckily, not many went by. As we ate we watched the children play in the water on inner-tubes. Brought back memories of childhood. What I found interesting is that there were girls playing alongside the boys. Usually, in Cambodia, the girls work while boys play. (And speaking about playing, every town we’ve driven through has a volleyball court; some quite innovative nets, too. I have yet to see a girl/woman playing.)

Took a boat on the trapeang after lunch. It was very hot on the boat – and the boatman poled. Towards the end he jumped in, clothes and all. We all wished we could, too. Really, we’d dry completely in half an hour.

stuck pickup

March 1: off to see giant ibis in Tbeng Meanchey. Drove for 5 hours and ran into a detour. It rained lightly all morning, our first since we arrived, actually. The detour took us over rice paddies, which were rather muddy and formidable for a little Camry. Then we had to ford the stream for which a bridge was being constructed – already vehicles were piling up, waiting on a stuck pickup.

chain gang

It was a very interesting situation and showed us that the Cambodians, as a community, are very cooperative and resourceful. When it was our turn to get stuck, everyone shared their cables and ropes and the guys lined up to manually pull the car up the hill. Our driver was talented. Howie was ready to call the whole thing off: that’s how dire it seemed to us. Even after we got out we stayed behind to get the first vehicle out and others stuck around to see that everyone got across.


We met our guide, Hong in Tbeng at the WCS office and loaded up two little motorbikes with our gear and 4 days worth of food. H got his own bike and found the roads, paths and trails an obstacle course replete with sand traps and mud holes. Two hours of riding had his hands in spasm, but with a sense of victory upon arriving in one piece. It was enough of an ordeal that no one had the wherewithall to get any photographs.

We stayed in a village house in Tmatboey, and one of the families cooked our meals, which were all delicious: lots of fresh produce. A ranger whose job it is to protect the ibis accompanied us on our forays into the field. He drove Howie on the moto; Hong was my bikeman. The most harrowing part of this trip was driving out on the red, sandy cart tracks; I mean doing a barely controlled skid a most of the way to the forest and back. We actually went down and I hit my knee. Howie was thrown off his bike twice: not hurt.

house & folks

Each day we would travel out of the village on the tracks of ox carts, taking us across the paddy fields and into progressively more intact forest. We saw no area that didn’t suffer from some degree of degradation and the villagers continue to hack away. The community was full of young children, which would seem to indicate increasing pressure on one of the best tracts of deciduous dipterocarp forests remaining. All visitors to the area pay a user fee into a village development fund used for projects such as wells, school construction and fish ponds. This is a very poor area and all they have are the natural resources to exploit. They need to see benefits in order to change long-standing cultural behaviors.

ox cart howie & hong

The effort was well worth it, with 92 species seen and the opportunity to visit a remote village that has seen little change over the years.

blossom-headed parakeetblossom-headed parakeet

wooly-necked stork wooly-necked stork

On Saturday, March 4, we returned to Siem Reap (Home Sweet Home Guesthouse @$10/day). The next day we went to Stung to find the Bengal floricans, pratincole (see pix below) and spent half a day out in the sun and in the afternoon we took a dip in a neighboring hotel’s pool for $3. That was our first swim – the water was quite warm. Good though.



Today, March 6, Monday we leave for Bangkok. I have found the free wireless café and have finished my taxes except for the filing (didn’t have the credit card on me). There is another one at the airport, so I will have it done today. FINALLY! (Correction: we’re at the airport and there is no wireless, so it’ll be done tomorrow, the lord willing.)

Howie went back to Angkor Thom to bird along the wall. Had to pay the temple fees anyway, just to access the birding site. I believe he plans to put a bird list on the blog for all the sites visited in Cambodia. Now that I’m done with the taxes, he’ll have access to the laptop.

Next: Chiang Mai on the 8th of March until the 13th. Bhutan on the 15th until the 29th, then Assam until…..? This is one of the volunteer opportunities for Howie when we return to Cambodia: More on that when we know the specifics.

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Lia Suhn Hao-y Phnom Penh

February 24th, 2006

Good Bye Phnom Penh


This afternoon we leave town on a big air-conditioned bus. We had not expected to stay this long in Phnom (you do pronounce the ‘p,’ ‘h’ indicates an expulsion of air and is never pronounced unless it stands alone as a consonant, as in the 3rd word above: howie) Penh but circumstances dictated a change in plans.


We had one more outing: a visit to the National Museum, a short walk away. We never got to the killing fields or the zoo, which were recommended by several friends. There is a possibility we will return, either in April, for another week in the Cardamoms with CI or May, to work with WCS. Also, Howie’s CV is being passed around by a health concern which has offices all over Asia.

museum courtyardelephant

Some of the sights in Phnom Penh:


Ubiquitous phone booths: sometimes land lines, sometimes mobile phones are used. The booths are not used—they’re more like advertising signs. The numbers indicate the prefixes served. This is around the corner from our apt. and we also buy our water there.

Read the rest of this entry »

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