Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Around Graskop

While driving from Joburg to Kruger we stopped for an evening outside the town of Graskop.  It wasn't necessary in terms of getting from point A to point B as it's only a 4 1/2 hours away, but it was nice to break up the drive and see some of the natural landscape outside of the park.  There were a lot of waterfalls, beautiful vistas, and some natural rock formations.  It'd be a pity to drive through the area without stopping to see them.




We stayed the night at a place called African Silks, which is a silk farm outside of Graskop that has guest suites on the premises.  It was relatively inexpensive and very secluded.  I could definitely picture staying more than one night.  The back balcony of each room looked like this:



Friday, January 27, 2012

South Africa


Over Christmas and New Year we visited a couple of friends of ours in South Africa.  The trip was originally supposed to include a week in Namibia, but when we moved from Geneva to KL Josh lost a week's worth of public holidays around Christmas and we had to cut a week from the planned trip.  I'm still disappointed that we didn't have the time for Namibia, but the next time we're in Southern Africa I will make sure we get there.

We flew into Johannesburg where we met our friends before going up to Kruger National Park.  We  spent four nights in Kruger, after which we went back to Joburg and flew to Cape Town.  We spent another four nights in Cape Town before going back to Joburg and heading back home.  

I've been to Malawi before, but this was my first trip to South Africa.  I didn't really have any expectations going in other than expecting to enjoy some time with friends we hadn't seen in a while, but I was blown away.  It was a laid back and an incredibly relaxing holiday.  There wasn't a single thing we did that I didn't like, and I can't wait to go back to see more of the country.


Outside Mzuzu, Malawi -- Summer 2006


Cape Point, South Africa -- Christmas 2011

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Going back

Sandwiched in between my trip to Vietnam and our Christmas and New Year trip to South Africa was a week during which I visited several friends in various parts of Europe.  During this week I went back to Prague for the first time since we moved to Geneva almost three years ago.  Most of our friends have long since moved on and I was expecting things to have completely changed.  I've been missing Prague a lot lately and was expecting, and possibly hoping, that it would have changed to the point where I couldn't recognize it anymore and I could relegate our time there to a place in my history that's gone forever.  I was hoping that this visit would help me more or less get over it so that I'd stop longing to be there.

It didn't work.  The Prague of today is pretty much the same as we left it.  It's still home to an amazingly fun group of expats.  The Christmas markets were up selling svařák and trdlo.  Saint Jan Nepomuk is still resting in the middle of Charles Bridge,


which is still packed with tourists.


And it's still one of the most gorgeous cities I have ever seen.




If anything this trip made me realize that I'll probably never get over Prague or stop missing it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hue

I think that this is my last post from the Vietnam trip, which means that I will finally be posting pictures from our trip to South Africa next.  We took the night train from Hanoi to Hue, which took about 12 hours and was comfortable enough.  We had planned to bicycle around to the monuments, but we met with the first rain of the trip and gave up with the sight seeing after trudging through the rain around the Citadel to pursue other forms of entertainment.  

I've heard the monuments surrounding Hue are worth a visit, so I'd like to go back and see them at some point when the weather isn't more conducive to sitting under a giant umbrella with a glass of wine.

After Hue we flew back to Saigon for the night and headed back to our respective homes in the morning.  Thus concludes my first trip to Vietnam.





Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Riding elephants

You know how something can sound like an amazing idea but the second you actually start doing it you have second thoughts and realize that it's one of the most stupid things you have ever come up with?  For me riding an elephant was such an endeavor.  

Since I really wanted to ride an elephant and we had guests in town, we went out to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, which is home to orphaned, handicapped, and general nuisance elephants from Malaysia and various countries around South East Asia.  It's about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of KL.  If you are one of the first 100 people there you can ride the elephants.  If not you can still feed them and bathe with the littler ones in the river.

You can buy peanuts from the center to feed the elephants, but since they get a lot of peanuts you'll be more popular if you stop along the way there and buy some fruit.  We brought a bunch of bananas and the elephants seemed pretty happy to have them--happy enough to try and steal them from each other.






In theory I still think riding an elephant sounds fun.  However, the way we did it would probably never be allowed in the US for liability reasons (the fact that this is the first thing that I thought about makes me kind of regret having gone to law school).  Just look at this:


In case you can't tell from the picture, there is one rope tied around the elephant's neck in the front, and everyone was just supposed to hold onto the waist of the person in front of them.  As far as Asian elephants go, the one above was pretty big.  Had it really acted up we would have been on the ground and smooshed in a hot second.  As you can somewhat see from the body-less arm in the bottom right hand corner of the picture, this was taken just after the elephant decided that balancing on two feet would be more fun that walking around with four people on its back.  Needless to say, the next time I get on an elephant it will have a howdah on its back.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Batu Caves

I'm taking a short break of my posts on recent holidays (I am almost finished with my Vietnam pictures and then I'll move on to those from South Africa) to talk about what I've been doing around KL.  A couple of days ago I finally made it out to the Batu Caves, which are only a few minutes drive from our house.  The caves are a massive Hindu shrine built into a natural cave at the top of 272 steps. 



The best part of the site are the hundreds of swarming monkeys.  They are aggressive and slightly scary, but they make for some excellent photo opportunities:




Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hanoi

I love Vietnam.  I can't wait to go back and am already planning a couple long weekends: one back to Saigon and another to the De Nang/ Hoi An area that we missed on this trip.  I do not dislike Vietnam.  I do dislike Hanoi.  I'm glad I've seen it but I have zero desire to go back.


I suppose that the reason I didn't particularly care for Hanoi has a lot to do with the fact that most of the attractions were entirely missable.  I was originally excited about Hanoi, but none of its attractions really lived up to the expectations I had of them.

We went to the Hanoi Hilton, otherwise known as the Hao Lo Prison.  I had read that it was skippable, but since it's been mentioned in many a modern history of the US class and a certain recent presidential election, I really wanted to see it.  

If you are interested in the prison from the colonialist era when it was a French prison holding Vietnamese inmates, it's definitely worth seeing.  It does a really good job of describing conditions within the prison during that time, some of the torture methods used, and the executions that took place within the walls.  Ninety percent of the space into which the public is allowed is dedicated to the prison's colonial history.  If you're interested in its more recent history, it's not really worth going to see.  There are two rooms dedicated to it.  One holds the flight suit and the other is dedicated to showing how humanely the prisoners were treated.  If you have to put multiple signs on the wall declaring the prison to be a glorified summer camp and stating that the prisoners were treated with the utmost decency, you are protesting too much.


If you click on the picture below it will open it in a larger window so that you can better read the text:


I was also pretty excited to see Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum.  I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but by the time we made it to the entrance I was over it.  This was mainly due to the fact that a soldier yelled at my sister in law for linking arms with another person in our group while in line--300 yards from the entrance.  Another soldier grabbed another person in our group by the arm and yanked him to the side because he wasn't walking in a straight enough line.  


Behind the mausoleum is a big park containing Ho Chi Minh's home for a number of years, Ho Chi Mihn's car collection, and the One Pillar Pagoda.  The pagoda is interesting, but it took a really long time to get to because there is a very specific path of the visit and everyone and their brother was there and walking at a snail's pace:  






Saturday, January 7, 2012

More Halong Bay

The cruise company provided transportation for us from Hanoi to Halong Bay.  In our van was a Canadian couple who were going on a one night group cruise.  I feel bad for them because I don't think one night would have been very much fun.  Once we got on the boat that evening we spent a couple of hours getting to the spot where we were going to stay for the night.  Then we kayaked and swam a bit before dinner.  The morning of the third day we only had breakfast and spent about an hour visiting a cave before we had to return back to the harbor.  Had the first evening and the last morning been all we had done I probably would have been very disappointed and unimpressed, especially since it tends to be hazy in the mornings and evenings.  

I'd definitely recommend going on a two night three day cruise.  The second day was what made the cruise spectacular.  The haze lifted at about nine and the rest of the day was beautiful.  We visited the fishing village of my previous post and then went to a little beach where we relaxed for a while before having a barbecue lunch.  After swimming back to the boat (because I wanted the exercise, not because it was the only way to get there) we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, kayaking, swimming, laying out, listening to music on a sound system from which the crew jerry-rigged to play our iPods, and thoroughly enjoying the views.









Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cong Dam, Halong Bay

After breakfast on the second day of our cruise we were picked up by three ladies in row boats and taken to visit their fishing village, which floated on the bay.



This was an entirely different experience from the fishing village we saw in Cambodia.  The cruise company we went through contracted with the village to bring us in.  It was much more of means to help the local economy than means to profit off of the misfortune of others.  In all it took about an hour and a half.  We went around an island, stopped in the village, and then headed back to the boat before spending the afternoon having lunch on a beach.