Category Archives: Asia

Cambodia

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

By Mary Jo Plouf

The Kingdom of Cambodia, recently known as the Khamer Empire is bordered by Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia is one of the most populous countries in the world and one of the poorest. The current head of the government, Hun Sen, has ruled the country for twenty-five years. Although still a relatively low income country, it has enjoyed the largest economic growth in Asia, with a 6 percent growth for the last ten years in textiles, agriculture, construction and tourism.

The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh but the most famous tourist attraction is located near the small village of Siem Reap. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thon are known throughout the world as World Heritage Sites and the number of tourists is increasing by almost a million a year. This has insured that the relatively small area has a large number of new hotels and good restaurants. The city also features a number of museums, the French quarter market and the Apsara dancers.

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Vietnam, An Exotic Destination

By Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

The majority of the time with my Gateway1 Travel in the Far East was spent in Vietnam. Vietnam is bounded by China, Laos and Cambodia. We also visited Thailand and Cambodia, but for me Vietnam was by far, the most interesting, diverse and culturally stimulating. I found that Vietnam had it all, including beaches, mountains, dynamic cities, interesting culture and fantastic cuisine. Our trip in Vietnam started in Ho Chi Minh City and ended in Hanoi 9 days later. In between we visited Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, and Halong Bay. Much of our travel was by bus and we were able to get a pretty good idea of how rural life in Vietnam was conducted. It can be pretty much summed up by saying “rice farming.” The small farming villages are the backbone of Vietnamese culture and most of the residents return to the village where they were born when they are ready to retire or die. Many of the rice fields contain family tombs, although in recent years it has become illegal to bury farmers in their fields. Small cemeteries are located nearby.

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Shopping in Vietnam 101

By Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

Of all the many places in the world I have travelled, Vietnam has by far been my favourite country to shop! I personally preferred to use US dollars, so I knew what I am paying. The Vietnamese dong (VND) was very confusing to me. Believe it or not, you are NOT rich when you have a fistful of $4,230,019.40 VND; it equals approximately $200 US! If you decide to use US dollars, its best to have a lot of small currency, so you can give exact change for your purchases. The shop keepers will mostly give you VND as your change.

The fun of the shopping sport in Vietnam is the bargaining! The price starts high, you bid low and you meet somewhere closer to your bid. For example, I wanted to buy a purse; I asked how much? She said $600,000.00 VND which is approximately $29 US, I say no…. $15 US, she says no $25 US, after we went back and forth a few times, I got my purse for $15 US! Bargaining is expected and acceptable. They do have a limit, and if they let you walk away without reaching a deal, your bid was too low.

Another fun shopping experience was getting clothes made by one of the many tailors in Vietnam. Hoi An was my personal favourite town for visiting tailors. I settled a deal with a tailor by the name of Mr. Xe. I wanted to have some shirts made for my husband, so I brought one of his shirts for them to replicate. Two linen and one dress shirt made of cotton cost me $20 each, at home in Toronto they would have cost me at over $100 each! On the flight over, I was browsing through a Vogue magazine, I saw a beautiful pantsuit at some extraordinarily expensive price, I showed the tailor the picture of the pantsuit, my measurements were taken and that same evening I had my final fitting! The pants and jacket cost me a whopping $75 US. A girl can have a really extensive wardrobe at these prices!

We did a lot of awesome sightseeing while in Vietnam besides shopping, but for this gal Vietnam was a shopper’s paradise!

Exotic Thailand

By Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand for until 1939 known as Siam, is a country in Southeast Asia bordering Myanmar (Burma) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysis to the south. With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture, vibrant cities and golden beaches it is a great destination for tourists from all over the world.

I recently traveled to Thailand with Gate1 Travel where we spent three days in Bangkok. We stayed in a hotel quite far removed from the city center but that was not a disadvantage. The Chaophya Park hotel was located very near the subway system which got us to wherever we wanted to go. Gate 1 provided most of our transportation into the city which was crowded with traffic which was often out of control. We spent time on the Chao Phraya River which carried about 50,000 passengers a day, the Grand Palace, Wat Po, the largest temple in the city and Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha. We had a chance to visit the Indian and Chinese market and by late afternoon we were more than content to return to our very comfortable hotel away from the noise, traffic and chaos of the city. We traveled at a time when there was supposedly some political unrest in the city, but we saw no signs of it.

Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand and covers over 600 square miles. The tourism industry in the country has grown very quickly and because Thailand is the starting point for most tourists, the infra-structure is struggling to keep up the influx of visitors.

Part of our hotel complex included an excellent Thai Massage Spa. The Thai massage is quite different from our usual relaxing gentle massage. It can be a bit painful and may take a little getting used-to, but our masseurs were well trained and we found the experience to be stress releasing at the end of a busy day. There is also an excellent restaurant in the hotel and a breakfast buffet which spans the range from noodle – soup to eggs. The typical Thai food contains a lot of lime, lemon grass, fresh corriender and dill. The Thai consume very little meat, but their vegetarian dishes are not always completely vegetarian either, since they are often made with “fish sauce” which is their substitute for soy sauce. Almost every meal is combined with either noodles or rice.

thailandBangkok is a shoppers paradise and usually the first opportunity visitors have to become acquainted with the local wares. There are many markets, usually crowded and noisy, but they are great places to buy local clothing, knock-off purses, Thai silk and a variety of handicrafts.

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