Last Blog Post for Our Travel Year

Mom, Dad and I have made it back to the USA safe and sound. I am glad to be back home, but I could have traveled longer. I’ve learned so much this year and one of the big things is how much stuff I don’t need. In Africa, people had almost nothing and still were smiling everywhere they went. People didn’t need to have something in their hands, like a toy or a phone. All they needed was each other. I’m coming back here and am going to really think hard before I buy something. I’m going to say to myself, “Do I need this?” or “How much do I want this?” I’ve also learned that I need to get outside in nature much more. On a beautiful night, instead of watching tv in my dark basement, I could go to the park with some friends and play night games.

In Asia, people sometimes would just walk right up to us and start talking. Some people even stopped us and started to take selfies with us! At first I thought that it was very weird and maybe something was wrong with them. Maybe it was because we looked so different than the Asian people and they were curious. In America, people might smile at you and maybe say hello, but hardly anybody will start a conversation if they see you in the street. I think it is so hard to get out of the box we are all in, to get out of our own little world and go talk with someone that we do not know.

Another thing I noticed on our Asian trip was that in Thailand, people were very respectful. They clasped their hands together and bowed to each other and to older people. Also, some people in Asia had only a basket with lemons in it and were selling the lemons. That was all they did for a living. They go out and sit on the street and hope that someone will want to buy a lemon. I can’t imagine my parents making a living selling lemons day after day.

In the eight months of my travels, my four favorite places were: Tanzania on the safari; South Africa doing mission work; Hanoi, Vietnam just walking around the city; and the cruise boat in Halong Bay with my new friends. I want to thank everyone who is taking the time to read my blog. I hope you enjoyed it!

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Last Stop – Bangkok, Thailand

Mom, Dad and I made it to Bangkok, Thailand. This is the last city in  our travel year. Bangkok is a huge city and is the capital of Thailand. There are over 8 million people living in Bangkok. King Rama IX died over a year and a half ago at age 88. Everyday, 45 thousand people dress in black and go to the Grand Palace and sit in mourning for him. Most people loved King Rama IX – there are huge pictures of him everywhere! The soon-to-be new king (his son, Rama X)  will step onto the throne this October. If you publicly criticize the king, you can be thrown in jail!

We went to many temples in Bangkok and one of my favorites was called Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha. It is a giant gold Buddha lying on its side and is about half a football field long! We also went to the Grand Palace where the kings of Thailand lived until the mid-1900s. The palace is a popular tourist attraction. I loved all the detail put into every part of the palace. It was so colorful! Inside one of the temples near the palace there was a small emerald Buddha on top of a huge pile of carved stone.

On the last night of our trip we took a small dinner boat cruise down the river that cuts through the middle of Bangkok. The food was amazing! The boat was very nice and there was a nice breeze while we floated down the river. There were about ten other tables and the cruise lasted two hours. The cruise was at night so we could see the city lights from the water. It was a magical way to end our adventure year!

Stay tuned for my final blog post in the next few days.

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Angkor Wat and Surrounding Temples in Cambodia

Mom, Dad and I left Hanoi, Vietnam and arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We went to see the Angkor Wat temple complex. The complex included temples, libraries, towers, dance halls, terraces and a moat. The Angkor Wat temple was built in 1100 AD by King Suryavarman II. It is a huge area of land that covers 402 acres! It is Cambodia’s number one tourist attraction (it’s even pictured on the Cambodian flag) and is the largest religious monument in the world! Now everywhere you look, many parts are in ruins. In nearby temples, there were trees growing out of the temples and huge faces carved on rock towers.

I think it would be so cool to see the temples when they were first built, because all the engravings and colors would have been intact. You can still make out the carvings on the stone walls but in many places you have to really look hard. You have to use your imagination a lot to think what it would have been like back then.

 

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Life in Hanoi, Vietnam

Lots of people in Hanoi, Vietnam exercise in the morning. They go down to the central lake and exercise by doing tai chi, lifting weights, running or line dancing. Mom, Dad and I went down one morning to work out with people. We did a tai chi class and a massage train. The tai chi was very slow and relaxing and the massage train was very interesting. About 30+ people (including us) were standing in a line. We all stood facing one way, giving a massage to the person in front of us. The Asian lady behind me was very strong and was hurting my back! She was digging her nails into my skin and slapping my back like she wanted to kill me! After that my back felt great, but it hurt so much while she was doing it.

Along the streets of Hanoi there are lots of markets, coffee shops and restaurants. There are also lots of people who are behind carts selling fried foods, fruit, and anything else you can imagine! Also there are very tiny stores as big as queen-sized beds. In those stores there are tons of light, baggy, genie pants with crazy prints, chop sticks, bowls, hats, silk scarves and silver plaques. The store owners sit in tiny chairs in the back of the store all day waiting for customers. You never pay full price, because you bargain it down (100,000 Vietnamese dong is almost 5 US dollars).

In Hanoi the traffic is unbelievable. There is a huge amount of motorcycles, buses, taxis and cars. Pedestrians do not have the right of way here, so if a vehicle hits you, it’s your fault. No one in cars or motorcycles care about the stop lights and stop signs, so when you cross the street, you have to look right, left, behind and in front of you. To get to the other side, you just walk into the street and the motorcycles will drive around you. If you try to avoid them, you will make them confused and they will hit you because they can’t anticipate your next move. All of the locals just walk right into the traffic and don’t get hit.

It’s crazy busy and it’s very hard to find a place where it is not bumper to bumper traffic. There are sometimes five people on one motorcycle – father, mother, two kids and a baby – nobody with helmets.  Also, when there is a lot of traffic, people drive on the sidewalk! You cannot get away from the motorcycles anywhere!

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Buddhist Temples

Mom, Dad and I have seen so many temples in Southeast Asia. Religion is a very big part of the Asian culture. Most people in Thailand and Vietnam are Buddhist, so they have tons of Buddhist temples. Buddha’s real name is Siddhartha Gautama. He was born around 500 B.C. and became enlightened under a Bodhi tree.

There are many diffferent sizes of temples and you can see them everywhere – off the highway, on the side of buildings, on street corners and in the middle of fields. All the temples are incredibly detailed and carved so precisely. Some are huge buildings and others are as small as a microwave and fit in a corner of a store or restaurant.

When you go inside a big temple, women have to have their knees and shoulders covered and everyone has to take their shoes off. There are no pews or chairs inside, so you just sit on the floor. You cannot have your feet facing the altar, so you have to sit cross-legged or on your heels.

In the big temples there are huge statues of Buddha on the altar with tons of small Buddhas around the big one. Every temple we went into the color scheme was gold and red. Sometimes people were very quiet in the temple and other times people would chant together. People would also bow their head to the ground while praying.

 

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Dragon Legend Cruise in Vietnam

Mom, Dad and I went on a 3 day cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam. Halong Bay has over 2000 small islands that used to be the ocean floor. Tectonic plates pushed them up 510 million years ago! Only 700 out of 2000 islands are named. The people who live in Halong Bay do not live on the islands, they live in floating villages on house boats. Their houses are as big as a small sail boat and have about five people living in them. Everyone also has a dog on the boat to keep watch in the night. The kids don’t go to school. They help their parents catch fish for a living.

The ship we were on was gorgeous and had four decks. There were 50 guests and about 30 staff. At the top of the ship there were sun chairs where you could relax in the sun. There were two dinning rooms – one inside and one outside. My room was gorgeous! My bed was so comfortable! In the day, we stopped at caves and walked around being careful not to hit our heads on stalactites. We took day trips to shore and swam in the water. Swimming was so fun because when you were playing in the water, you had an amazing view of lots of islands in the distance.

I made three new friends – two are from Sydney, Australia. They are named Archie and Annabel. They are both super fun and unbelievably kind. Archie is in 6th grade and Annabel is in 10th. I also made a new friend from Mauritius, an island near Madagascar, Africa. Her name is Noa. She is sweet and very friendly. I loved spending time with all of them and really hope to see them all again.

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Elephant Day with Dad

Dad and I went to an elephant sanctuary named The Elephant Nature Park (ENP). It was near Chiang Mai, Thailand. This elephant park is unlike any other park here because the ENP rescues elephants from places where they are treated badly. Right now the ENP has over 40 elephants and are still helping more.

The ENP saves elephants from companies that have them in circuses. In the circuses the elephants look so cool and everyone is in awe of what they can do. But the elephants are suffering. The circus trainers keep the elephants months before the show in chains and force them to walk around poles or trees while tied up. The trainer has hooks that they jab into the elephant during training or during the show if they do something wrong. The elephants suffer greatly until they are brought to the ENP where the staff heals their wounds and provides a place to be free and safe.

When Dad and I arrived, we were on a big platform that elephants walked up to and we fed them watermelons! There was a huge bucket filled with watermelons and one elephant ate the whole bucket in about five minutes! After that, our guide walked us around the ENP. There were ten people in our group and I liked all of them! On the walk we stopped by some elephants and we watched them about five feet away. Then we got to touch them! I walked up to an elephant and placed my hand on it and thought, “Wow, this is not what I was expecting!” The elephant’s skin felt very rough, prickly and hairy. When I pressed on it, about one inch beneath it was so hard! Their skin was very wrinkly and I was so glad I got to touch one!

We got to a river where about ten elephants were bathing in the water. We watched them for awhile and then they came out of the water with a baby elephant. The baby was so adorable and small. I just wanted to hug it! One of my favorite moments was at the end when my whole group got into a river with one elephant. We all were in waist high water and had buckets. We filled our buckets with water and then threw the water onto the elephant! We all were in a circle around the elephant so we could splash everywhere on it. I loved washing the elephant and being with them all day.

 

 

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