Friday, July 28, 2006

Angkor Wat?!?!

We woke up that morning before dawn and got to the temple at around 20 after five. There were lots of people there (particularly lots of Koreans - speaking of which, "Be the Reds" shirts can be seen all around Southeast Asia though no one reacts to the clapping). Too bad it was so cloudy that there was no sunrise to be seen over Angkor Wat.

It was really incredible anyway and I particularly liked Angkor Thom's Bayon Temple, if that's what it's called. It was full of Buddha images that take your breath away. Really, they do!

At the temple we were taking pictures with monks and D'Arcy suggested I put my arms around them, so I did, and they jumped back in horror. Apparently it's a sin to touch a monk. My mistake. They seemed to kind of like it.

We booked tickets that night (last night) to take a bus from Siem Reap to the border of Thailand. This bus ride is notoriously the worst road in all the land, kept that way because of corruption between the Cambodian government and the airlines. We got on the bus this morning and heard horror stories from people who had previously taken the trip. So at the last minute we jumped ship and took a taxi for 35 dollars which allowed us to sit slightly more comfortably in good air con and to avoid the gaping potholes and speed past cows and ducks littering the road. I saw a man cycling with a stack of eggs - unbelievable.

Once at the border we made the mistake of paying for a private bus to Khoa San Rd. It was two o'clock and the bus man said the bus would leave at 3 or 3:30. We rolled out of there at about 5 after placating our angry selves with ice cream. Then the bus from the border to Bangkok took only 4 hours instead of the anticipated 6 so all's fine.

I met up with Wendy when I arrived after a year of separation, which was great! It feels like no time has passed. The only problem is that she's sick and not sure why. I hope it's just a combination of lack of sleep/jetlag/culture shock or something like that. Hopefully she'll get some sleep tonight and be fine tomorrow or we'll be checking out the Bangkok medical facilities!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


this keyboard sucks so im going to make it quick. cambodia has been great! we spent yesterday doing all the touristy things in phnom penh like seeing the palace and silver pagoda and going to the tuol sleng (spelling wrong i know) and killing fields.

Highlights included:

1. having a tour guide to explain the palace - cambodia is a kingdom
2. buying five dollar birks from the russian market and two dollar polo shirts from the central market
3. sharing one motorcycle between a driver, me and darcy - tight fit!
4. getting a private tour from our quebecois friend's new cambodia tuk tuk driver boyfriend
5. pushing his tuk tuk along the road when it stopped running due to bad gasoline
6. teaching beggar children to play limbo
7. eating at happy herb's pizza - getting happy

Today we splurged on a nice hotel with a pool after a long trip by bus to siem reap. getting off the bus was the worst moment of the trip thus far. we were harassed by a more intense swarm of tuk tuk drivers than i've ever seen! We survived and swam off the stress. i just ate a delecious coconut chicken dish called chicken amok. a national delicacy though more often made with fish.

tomorrow we will meet our tuk tuk driver at five in the morning to see the sun rise over angkor wat. we'll pay him five dollars each to take us around for the day.

dad, thanks for letting me know about the car insurance.

Mom, thanks for the email - i'll write again sooner than later!

Monday, July 24, 2006

The last few days

I've been away on the worst boat tour ever! I'll get to it in just a minute.

On whatever day it was (in Saigon) I went to the Cu Chi tunnels in the morning which were interesting, and then to a part of town called Cholon in the late afternoon. Cholon is known for being the Chinese area of town. We took a nice, modern city bus for 13 cents and weren't quite sure where to go so we just walked around aimlessly amongst the people packing up for the evening. We ended up sitting in a Chinese temple of some kind playing with a group of kids who were hanging out there. They showed us their hip hop moves and crawled all over us. That night we ate an expensive dinner (ELEVEN dollars for a steak!) at a quaint French restaurant and a few drinks near our hotel before calling it a night.

So, everyone recommended that we book a tour along the Mekong Delta to get into Cambodia. Do it in three days if you can, they said. We couldn't spare that much time so instead booked for three and it was so bad! We were left in the dark about what was happening, the tour guide didn't give good information about the things we were seeing, we spent more time on a bus than a boat, the hotel was like a bug-ridden jail cell, and the delta itself was nothing I hadn't seen before. Luckily I was in a good mood, we met some interesting people, and so I had a good time.

We just got to Phnom Penh, Cambodia tonight at 630 instead of 4:00, (seems like Southeast Asians have a unique sense of time) found a place to stay near the river and the main attractions in the city, and have a date to meet our two Quebecois friends Paulina and Katrine at 8:30am for some serious sight seeing.

So far in the couple of hours I've been here Cambodia is great! It's cool and breezy (so I judge cities by their weather, I'll admit) with much less crazy honking and traffic than in Vietnam. There are even cars on the roads, and sidewalks! And traffic lights!!! The food seems slightly more expensive, they operate with US dollars, and the beggars are as persistent as ever.

We'll see what other impressions I have after tomorrow.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hello Saigon

We arrived in Saigon yesterday afternoon after a very long bus ride from Dalat. Ahh, Dalat. People traveling North instead of South had told us that Saigon is very, very hot but I am here to report that Hanoi is much hotter. I have to admit that I'm really sweating for serious right now.

Saigon is pretty cool! There's a nice feeling in the streets that's somehow less hostile or serious than the North. At least I felt that way yesterday.

Today we went to a big market and within seconds people were literally harassing us; calling out, holding up items in our faces, and touching our arms as we walked by. I used to love markets but I can say I wouldn't bother in this country.

We went to the War Remnants Museum today which showed all kinds of things about the Vietnam war, which I used to know nothing about and now know a thing or two. I'm glad for that. The museum showed only a little history of why the war happened and who supported it and who demonstrated against it. It also focused heavily on the photo-journalists who lost their lives documenting it and the effects of Agent Orange, 80 million litres (I think it was litres...) was dumped on the country.

For the curious and uneducated (like myself), Vietnam was divided into North and South and in the sixtiesthe North was communsit and the South and America and a bunch of other countries joined forces to fight that. The museum made it seem like America just bombed the shit out of Vietnam, which may well be true but I don't know because of the one-sidedness of the museum. Anyway, for ten years the war raged on in Vietnam until in 1975 America withdrew and North Vietnam defeated the south, unifying the country and turning it communist. I should really just become a history teacher.

After the museum we went to Pho 2000 where Bill Clinton once ate. Yeah, America!!! The pho was alright. I saved some room for vegetable rolls that I really loved in the vietnamese restaurants in Korea so we went back into the hellish market to find some.

I found a food stall with some on display so I sat down and tried to order just one. On the menu is said 3,000 dong beside vegetable roll. The proprietor lady said some jibber jabber I didn't understand but didn't seem to want me to buy just one. I only wanted one. We had a moment of frustration and she called over another lady to help. I could have sworn the lady said that it costs 3,000 for two rolls. Fine, two it is. I ate the alright veggie rolls and handed her my 3,000 dong. She wanted 6,000. We had a fight. I was so pissed. She probably was pissed. Really it is only pennies but the conversation had been clear and the situation just sucked.

I miss Canada where the price is the price and that's that. I miss the sidewalks and the traffic lights and the order. I miss the public bathrooms. I'll be home in a month.

Overall I'm having a good time traveling. I don't have many bad moments and sometimes the bad moments are the ones that make it interesting. Today we were sitting having a drink at a bar and a guy just sat down and said "what's your name, where you from, where've you been?" I like that kind of friendly confidence. Alternatively, two nights ago and guy sat down and said "I like you, when can I see you again?" That's bullshit, I hate it, never do that guys out there.

Along that line I've been getting a lot of funny comments these days. The sun is showing on my skin and people don't know what to do with me. In the last few weeks I've been told I look Italian, Brazilian, Indian, Vietnamese, Scottish (?), and probably more but I can't remember now. I'm nothing but Canadian, sorry to say.

Tomorrow we're heading to the town of Cu Chi to see the Cu Chi tunnels that the Viet Cong used to ambush the Americans.

The next day we're taking a two day boat tour of the Mekong Delta, ending up in Phnom Phen, Cambodia.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I think I've found paradise

If you're ever in Vietnam during the heat of the summer (or anytime, I'd say) you MUST go to Dalat for refuge. At around 1500 meters above sea level, it's a cool oasis from the stifling heat of all the other places we've been. Hallelujah.

In Dalat there is a gang of motorcyclists called "Easy Riders" who speak English (and sometimes French and German) and take travellers on private tours on the back of their hogs. We took Thien and Phuong up on their offer and met them this morning bright at early, ready to ride.

Before Vietnam I had never ridden a motorcycle not did I ever really expect to. The first few times I held on for dear life but speeding through the mountains today with my hair whipping in the wind I felt free. We passed by people working in the fields, cows hanging out on the road side and water buffalo. Who ever heard of really seeing water buffalo?

During the day we checked out the old train station built by the French during their 100 year rule of Vietnam which ended in 1945, we saw a coffee orchard (it doesn't smell like coffee for those who are curious), we vistited a minority village which is much like a Native reserve would be in Canada, I imagine. We went to a waterfall, Thein's house and farm, a Crazy House, and then called it a day. My favourite part was looking out at the lush landscape while dodging oncoming vehicles. Mother would not approve. But really, the sky was so blue, the clouds so white, the grass and trees so green and the earth so red. It was truly an amazing contrast and we felt so lucky to be here. It's amazing what normal temperatures can do.

These "Easy Riders" really specialise in taking people on longer trips to nearby cities that allow you to get a better feel for Vietnam and its people. They offered to take us to Ho Chi Minh City but it would take three days and unfortunately we just don't have the time. I'm sure I would have loved it. Someone else, you should do it.

Instead, tomorrow we're jumping on the uncomfortable, stuffy bus to HCMC (formerly known as Saigon). We'll see what we see there.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Still kicking

Here I am in sunny, beachy Nha Trang. It's lovely.

I don't seem to have the energy to write a meaningful post today.

Tomorrow I head to the mountains where life should be cool and easy. Sigh.

We met some friends and it added spice to our life. Maybe we'll see the Irish Jills again in Saigon.

Bye for now.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hoi An

What day is it today? Saturday? I'm not so sure. There is a little boy and girl sitting beside me staring with big brown eyes. Oh, they just smiled and walked away.

Yesterday we spent a day at the beach, swimming and "no thank-youing" the throngs of people selling pineapples and jewellery under their conical hats. Children and women, mostly. We came with intentions of giving to the poor but have learned that it's better not to, especially with children who should be attending school which is provided by the socialist state. By purchasing from these children we would only be encouraging whoever is in charge of their employment to continue sending them out. So we don't give and we send them away. "Maybe later??" they ask. "Nope, not today," we say. "Never say never," they say.

D'Arcy got burned like a tomato.

I have had two items of clothing made in this tailoring haven. People come specifically to this town to have clothes made and it's supposed to be dirt cheap. I had all these dreams of building new, well-fitting wardrobes here. But once I got here and saw all the shops (we decided one every three shops is a tailor) I didn't know where to begin. Instead of having pants and shirts crafted for me I brought in a favourite but ratty black zippy and jean skirt that are ready for the garbage and had them remake them. They both turned out well. Amazing!

Today we filled ourselves with greek salad (ahhh, feta!) and pizza (ahhh, pizza!!) as well as a french pastry. Mine was called Chocolate Louver. Maybe it was an error on either Louvre or Lover. Maybe it's a play on words.

Both D'Arcy and my bowels are misbehaving these days.

The Vietnamese food we've been eating (apart from today's splurge) is cheap and delicious. There is a specialty noodle dish from this city that was fantastic, and a great little restaurant called "Cafe des Amis" that is a huge hit. I like the way the Vietnamese eat in stages with dish after dish arrived for our tasting pleasure. Mmm. Fantastique. There is a lot of French and Chinese influence here thanks to the rule of those two countries.

Due to the train tickets being all sold out we are taking a hellishly long bus ride (with a private bus company this time) to the next stop on our journey which is Nha Trang. It is a beach town with pristine waters and good snorkeling. That's all I really know about it. We leave at 6pm tonight and arrive there at 5am tomorrow. Should be a ball o' fun.

Did I mention the incessant honking on the streets of Vietnam?? It's like there's a quota one must fill when operating any sort of vehicle. Really. I can't wait to be in a place where sidewalks are straight and meant for straight walking, and streets have rules that people obey. It's been far too long.

In other news, I have an apartment for next year with my good pal (thanks Jord) on Lippincot street in Toronto. And another good pal is meeting me in on the road when D'Arcy boots outta here. And I've just received my second offer of Research Assistantship. Things are going swell.

I just gave the little boy and girl some Trident gum. They took it shyly.

Well, time to go meet Darce and get ready for our journey to the beach. From there we're heading to the mountains where it will be cool and lovely. Can't beat that.

Hope all is well with the likes of you.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

By the way

By the way, I cannot access my own blog to reply to your comments but I do receive them in my inbox so keep 'em coming! I like to hear from you!

Thanks Dan, hope you're enjoying your holiday despite the heat and the stuff.

Whew, someone just walked by with nice cologne.


Safe and sound with lots of stories to tell

Where did I last leave you? Ahh yes, a sweaty day in Hanoi. Let's see if I've got what it takes to pick up where I left off. We're waiting for hunger to kick in so we can eat - I've got all the time in the world.

My mother arrived in Hanoi happy and full of energy, which I was happy to see after leaving her all by her lonesome in Bangkok. She made friends, saw shows, and went to a market by herself. Right on Mom. She lifted our melted spirits tenfold when she walked up to us by the lake in the Old Quarter where we'd planned to meet.

After one night in the guesthouse and a daytour of Hanoi (Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and house, pagoda something-or-other, the museum of ethnology, the temple of literature) my mom had had it and checked herself into the Hilton. So much for backpacking. We relished in the air-conditioned life of a person who can enjoy happy hour for free. We felt happy. Then we ate ourselves silly at a restaurant when we weren't even hungry. We said our goodbyes, mom went her way and we went back to the little guesthouse (which was fine, really).

The next morning we departed on a three day trip to Halong Bay which is a beautiful bay with 1000s of high, rocky islands. We met some great people (all couples except for one family of four - the kids loved us!) and a friendly solo traveler named Pat. So much for meeting some singles in the bay. They were an interesting crew and we had a good time swimming, exchanging stories, kayaking, and eating with them. Except for that time I was stung (rather badly) by a jellyfish. It hurt like crazy and I blistered up like a freak. I still have marks.

Let's move this along. On Wednesday evening we returned to Hanoi at 5 to catch our pre-booked sleeper train to Hue, a city 13 hours by train South of the capital. The ticket situation was sketchy - we booked it on Sunday with our guesthouse and they kind of flip flopped on us and then told us they'd meet us at the cafe where we were returning from our Halong Bay boat trip. I didn't think the ticket would materialize but it did.

So we boarded the train and half past six and found our berth. Our berth!!! We chose a hard sleeper (we figured we were used to rock hard and wouldn't splurge on the soft) and we were sharing this choice with four others; a father and son, a man, and a young woman. D'Arcy and I were on the bottom bunks, the father and son were above us, and the man and woman were above them. Yep, it was a three level bunk system in a tiny room about eight by ten feet. I may be exaggerating. It was the craziest thing, really. During the night the father and son played tunes on their cell phone (cell phone music makes me want to stab myself in the eye), talked loudly, and generally were disruptive. The young woman decided she would go ahead and sit herself down on D'Arcy's bed whenever the urge struck her.

We were lulled to sleep by the jerking and rocking of the train.

Hooray, horray, we arrived in Hue at 8:30 this morning. We have limited time though so we decided to cut Hue out of our itinerary and head straight to Hoi An which everyone has said is the greatest. Coming out of the station we were ACCOSTED by taxi and moto drivers. I couldn't quite believe it. We took the walking option for a while and then felt the heat and jumped in a taxi to the bus station. At the station it turned out there were only buses to Danag which is on the way so we took it.

The bus pulled away and a few minutes later the crazy-money-collector lady began her collecting. She made her way down the aisle and we were careful to note how much the other passengers were paying: 30,000 dong. When it came our time to pay we handed her 60,000 dong for both of us. She refused and wanted to make us pay 50,000. All heads turned to look at the foreigner freak-show at the back of the bus and we fought for our rights. She gestured that our bags cost extra. Other people had bags and didn't pay extra. She gestured that we have big noses and thus have to pay more. We shook our heads and couldn't believe her. This went on for a good five minutes or more until she got a nun to come speak to us, in French. Luckily D'Arcy is fluent (I can understand and speak well enough but not great) and we talked the situation over with the nun. Everyone was still watching. In the end we payed the bi-atch 40,000 dong and got a healthy tongue waggle and angry face from her. Ugh.

30,000 dong is worth 2 USD, 40,000 is worth 2.75 USD, and 50,000 dong is worth 3.25 USD. (Give or take a few.) It's the principle, people, the principle.

An old woman vomited twice on that ride.

We got to Danang and took a bus that had more sweating people stuffed into it than is really humanly possible. There were bicycles strapped to the roof. I wouldn't be surprised if there were chickens and pigs riding with us but there weren't.

We arrived in Hoi An at around half past noon today. Phewf. It had been a really crazy way. We found a place to stay (and caught a ride on our first motos - yikes!) with air con, a pool, and a cheap minibar and collapsed.

Did you know this is the cheap tailoring capital of all the land?? I'm having them remake a favourite black cardigan so that it's new and fits better. I had intentions of having more things made but can't seem to get myself to do it. I'm too lazy, you see. Any advice about tailoring?

Tomorrow we're going to the beach. Yeah, the beach! I hope there are no jelly fish.

So, things are going well, we're holding out fine, and feeling pretty good. Though it's cooler in Hoi An I can feel sweat pooling in my 'knee pits' and dripping down my calves. Hot, baby, hot.

I think I'm getting hungry.

Miss y'all. See ya when I see ya!

Friday, July 07, 2006

I am sitting still and sweat is still rolling off me. I just ate a mini pineapple and so did D'Arcy. Now her stomach is in knots. We planned to spend the morning at the big market in the old quarter but it not at all what we were hoping it would be. I think I'll go buy a baguette; they're being sold on the street in huge piles balanced precariously. Mmm.

It's so damn hot.

I thought Hong Kong was hot...

I'm sitting in an open-to-the-air travel agent type office which is attached to a small restaurant which is on the bottom floor of my hostel. This hostel is narrow and tall with a windy staircase leading up to the very few rooms. I'm in room 2 and it's air conditioned - thank god.

D'Arcy and I had a great time dodging kamikaze moto drivers through the streets of the old city. My mom is still in Bangkok, all by her lonesome. Why is she all alone, you ask?

We thought we were all set with her Vietnam visa, having dropped it off on Tuesday to be processed in two days and picked up on Thursday evening in time for her Friday morning flight. Our Friday morning flight. We skipped into the travel agent's office to get the visa last night and disaster struck. Loas visa, right? My mom fumbled for her receipt: Laos Visa. So the girl at the disk misheard and my mom never read her receipt and it was all a sad, sad shame. Thousands of baht later my mom is scheduled to arrive in Hanoi tomorrow night. She'll have only one full day in Hanoi and then she'll be on her way home.

Maybe that's for the better. Hanoi is HOT. So damn hot. And it's also a jaywalker's (AKA D'Arcy's) paradise. For those of us who like to obey traffic lights and rules (AKA me) it's rather frightening. Exhilerating perhaps, but frightening.

The countryside from the airport to the city is lush and green with rice paddies, small and lovely communities, and people who really wear those wide-brimmed, pointed hats. I thought it was all a lie. On the way we learned Vietnamese from a friendly couple sharing our airport minibus and exclaimed at the various sights along the way including a gaggle of geese, a horse and cow, and stall after stall of sunglasses vendors.

The hostel seems nice which a little bit of charm (hopefully better than D & D which actually turned out to be okay), and friendly staff. Things are going well.

To those who have emailed and haven't received a proper response, I'm sorry! I've been almost liberated of my internet addiction just when people at home need to contact me.

Hey, this just in: internet is free for guests!!! Internet addiction re-instated!!!

Tonight we're heading out to a bar recommended by Lonely Planet. Hopefully it's still in existence.

Peace out, kids.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Random things

It's pouring rain so you're getting two posts in one day! Today we got a lot accomplished with a tuk tuk ride to random tuk tuk driver places, a cruise along the river (again), and walks through some big palaces.

Then we came back to our road and ate deliciousness - papaya salad, green curry, and mixed vegetables.

Gotta run. Bye bye

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

First night in Thailand

The flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok was nothing to write home about and we finally arrived by airport bus in the city at about 7pm. From here we took Cara's recommendation to stay at D and D Inn on Khao San Road instead of the Cozy Thai that we rather liked in December. D & D has a pool and is slightly more expensive at 9 CAD each a night.

We booked and then took care of some necessary business. Got a Vietnam visa in progress for my mom, photos for D'Arcy and my Cambodia visa's, dinner (mmm...pineapple, rice, cashews, chicken, etc. etc. etc.) and bought ourselves tickets for the Calypso Cabaret at the Asia Hotel. Yee Haw.

That left us with an hour to relax before jumping in a cab and speeding along unseatbelted to our destination. My mom's knuckles turned white as she gripped the handle over the door. She didn't look pleased. D'Arcy and I sang along to the cabbie's BSB tunes.

The show was a sight to be seen. A large cast of transvestites in beautiful costumes dancing and lip synching to cabaret hits, it was. Many had serious plastic surgery and wouldn't be recognizable on the street. I felt like their dancing moves, lack of hips, and a few other oddities gave them away but only because I was looking closely. It was crizazy! My mom fell asleep.

Back at the Inn we hit the sack relatively early only to have one of the worst nights ever. We had gone from the most comfortable down-draped beds in Hong Kong to beds that might as well have been stone slabs with an old blanket laid over them. There was incessant talking and door slamming most of the night and I wasn't happy. My mom isn't used to this kind of window-less room and for not much more we can probably find a nice place somewhere. Throughout the night I dreamt about what I can say to the concierge to get them to refund our next two nights.

Lesson of the day: Never book in advance at a hostel until you've slept one night comfortably there already. Gah!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hot Hong Kong

In the blink of an eye Korea has become a thing of the past and the material for many stories that nobody really wants to hear about.

I've been in hot and steamy Hong Kong since Saturday and it's really quite beautiful. The buildings and lights, the water and islands, and most of all the blue sky, have made a real impression on me. We've done a lot of the typical tourist things like walking around the streets, eating Chinese food, taking the Star Ferry to Hong Kong island and riding the tram to the Peak, checking out Stanley market and riding a small boat around the harbour at Aberdeen.

Today we took an hour long boat ride to Macau. Despite the rocky ride and seasick people surrouding us we made it in one piece and had a good day checking out some sights and adding another few stamps to our passports. Nice. That's my only goal in life.

By the way, I love Peking Duck, especially the sweet sauce that accompanies it.

Tomorrow we're taking off for Bangkok and hopefully the same cute steward is on board Thai airways. I can't wait to get back there to eat the food and see the loveliness. Apparently it's hotter than it is in Hong Kong so I don't know how I'll ever survive.

As for traveling with the parents, it's very nice to seem them (to see you, mom and dad). Sometimes it's a little bit awkward when D'Arcy and my budget and my mother and father's budget don't exactly mesh, but we're working it out well. I've got to savour this soft and beautiful bed while I can before I'm slumming it up in cheap hostels.

Time is a tickin'. Say hello!