New as of December 25th, 2005 (Hoi An, Vietnam)
New as of January 6th, 2006 (Nah Trang, Vietnam)
New as of January 22nd, 2006 (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
December 2, 2005
On the bus to Hanoi, Vietnam
Well this is Vietnam. Well I still don't have really any impression. This morning I got up in Lao and hopped a sawangthrew to thee border at Na Meo. It was a stunning two hour ride thru rice paddies with the karst cliffs. At one point we were into a deciduous forest that reminded me of being back in the US. All along the roads they were harvesting bamboo and making there half bamboo segments of precise lengths. I haven't been able to figure out what they are for. What ever they are for they were hauling them out by the truck load.
Either way it is a lovely drive with little villages along the way. Several of the villages had electricity from solar panels or from generators in the streams. I like it, environmentally sensitive and it keeps money in the community.
The border crossing wasn't bad. The Lao side was the normal stamping of the passport with a cursory search of my bag to make sure I wasn't carrying out any great gold Buddhas (or they were just curious.)
A short walk along the valley brought me to the Vietnam. A bit more bureaucratic but not too bad. The first page of my passport is starting to delaminate a bit and they didn't like it. I may visit the US Embassy and see if there is anything they can do. I don't think there is much they can, short of reissuing the passport which would be expensive and probably problematic as this one has the Vietnam visa in it. I've half been considering seeing if I can get more pages sewn in it as I only have four blank pages and some countries get antsy if you don't have several blank pages. (Also I think it would be cool to have to have more pages sewn in.)
The other problem at the Vietnam side of the border was with customs. We did a more thorough but still surface search of my bags. This time they ran across my collection of jingle bells I have been making as I go along. I found some in Thailand and again in Lao to add to the ones I found in Mexico. The problem was the ones from Lao. They wanted to look at them twice and said I may have a problem taking them from the country without a receipt. Oh well we will hope. I will say they didn't even hit at a bribe helping things so they my be a bit officious, but they are honest.
While I was repacking my bag one of the guys chatted with me. He told me the prices for all the transportation from there to Hanoi and a couple other little bits. He was nice and was hopping I had a two dollar bill. He had a collection of the rest but didn't have a two. I wish I had one, but I didn't. I'm not sure he understood when I explained that even in the U.S. two dollar bills are uncommon and I have even read of them being refused by teenaged clerks (at fast food restaurants) because they thought they were fake. Nice border official though.
Then the less fun part of the day began. The motorcycle taxi driver started asking ten dollars for a ride the border guard said should be five. We (I have been hanging out with a couple from Southern California) got them down to eight dollars but could go no further. 62 Kilometers, an hour and a half on the back of a speeding motorcycle and one winding (but beautiful) valley road later we arrive in the town that has bus service.
We had been told by the border guard that this trip should cost us five dollars to Hanoi. The driver started asking at thirty. We eventually and painfully got him down to ten dollars each but it wasn't peaty in the least. Tears were shed.
I can understand some bargaining and haggling but this is ridiculous. If we had been able to keep it good humored it wouldn't have been so bad but this was bad. I know this is a 'save face' country and much face was lost. There were threats to throw us off the bus, all sorts of stuff. Even in the end the driver was being deceitful as we had bargained for fifteen dollars all the way to Hanoi but the bus only went as far as a cross road town before we had to get off and pay another bus. (Having been warned of this kind of scam we had only paid for as far as the cross road town with the agreement that we would pay the rest on the way to Hanoi.)
We arrived in Hanoi a little tired but ready to move on. The taxi drivers and motorcycle taxi (motos) are peaty aggressive. Even while we were getting out stuff together on the bus they were clamoring at the windows to get our attention. Clearly there is an agreement that they can't get on the bus. As I stepped off the bus they literally grabbed me to start to drag me towards their form of transit. I decided that this was a little too much even considering I was in a different culture and gave the hand gripping my arm a good slap. They let go. Actually I don't think I took it too far either as they didn't recoil but just started to treat me more like a person rather than a pile of money. I waited for the other couple to get off the bus and we packed into a taxi and were off to the old district.
My first impression of Hanoi was a sea of motorbikes. Entire multi-land roadways with nothing but motorcycles; almost more of a school of fish as anything on land. As we moved into the heart of the city the road was getting more and more crowded and the people were waving flags. Soon we were barely moving and the crowd pressed in around the taxi. The feeling was of fun and celebration rather than a riot so I wasn't worried about it. As people were outside our windows, we tried to find an English speaker to tell us what was up. Some Vietnam sports team had won something. The SE Asian games are going on so it must be something to do that.
Eventually the taxi wasn't moving at all and the driver gave up. He kicked us out and told us to walk. It wasn't far so we didn't mind. Not to mention it was fun to be out in the crowd although I would rather not be dragging my pack along with me. On the way I found an ATM and got the first new money in over a month. It's like being rich after days of looking at every Baht.
The walk up to the hostel was fun with the party atmosphere. The hostel is really a hotel that has a four bed dormitory stuck in a odd room. It's not bad but it won't win any awards. It does have a hot water shower with scalding hot water and lots of it. Although, I am looking forward to a bathroom where the sink drain doesn't just dump on the floor to go down the shower drain.
December 4, 2005
Well I have spent a day here in Hanoi. It is a bit overwhelming. When I arrived at the hostel last night it was dark and the shops were all closed and dark. This morning the view out the front door had entirely changed. It was a riot of color and activity. The sidewalks had become parking for the motorbikes, each store overflowed onto the street with silks, papers, musical instruments, and red painted ritual stuff. Women in conical hats really do carry loads balance front and back on a bamboo pole. There was one woman who had a charcoal stove in the front and all the ingredients for what she was cooking in the back.
Traffic is crazy. It makes Bangkok look orderly. You are walking in the street as the sidewalks are full of parked motos and people making things or eating or cooking or chatting. Crossing the street is simply an act of faith. There is no traffic control so you just start walking across the street and let the traffic flow around you. It's a bit creepy. I have found I do better if I don't watch the traffic coming towards me as I tend to panic and start to run and then nearly get run over. It's about trusting and just walking. Ay!
I didn't do much, mostly eating a bit of wandering along with three hours at the internet uploading photos and getting some banking stuff cleared up. I am also running into some problems reading some people's on-line journals as the sights are blocked. It isn't consistent between internet cafes so one place I can get to Ian's journal, others I can't. All of the Blogspot sights are unavailable. I shall see if this is a consistent problem.
Tomorrow I hope to get something done, maybe it will be Ho Chi Min day.
December 12, 2005
On a train (hard seat) from Sapa to Hanoi, Vietnam
Well I am finally getting a bit more of a hang of Vietnam. I have gotten into face saving bargaining and gotten over lousing what little language skills I had. I am up to 'hi', but I'm not sure how formal / informal it is, and am working on 'thank you'. Learning the numbers are just a pain because every time I try I keep coming up with it in Lao or Chinese rather than Vietnamese. I wonder what Cambodian will be like?
I spent a few more days in Hanoi before I headed off to Sapa for a few cold days. I made it to the Ethnology Museum which is very well done, and I saw the Ho Chi Min Mausoleum and old dead Ho Chi Min himself.
After going through the mausoleum I thought I should have gotten some kind of trading card so I could collect all three dead-and-on-display communist leaders. I just need to get to Beijing to see Mao and Moscow to see Lenin.
I followed along with the very touristy but fun water puppets show. It's a local form of puppetry where the puppets float on the water and are controlled by puppeteers behind a screen using a pole under the water. What really surprised me was that although the puppet company puts on a show about five times a day six days a week, the orchestra and the puppeteers still seamed to be enjoying themselves. How ever their artistic management handles there staff, it is well done. (The few longish run shows I have worked on the company is not anywhere this happy at the beginning of the second show, let alone the forth.)
I keep hoping to go off and do something uniquely me to get my feet under me, like going to that play in Bangkok did. In the end it has been much more gradual. I have gotten to know my way around Hanoi's old quarter well and although I'm not good at it yet the public busses aren｡ｦt a mystery. I did make it to the National Library and visited the cathedral just to keep up the theme. (Now if only I could find more graveyards｡K)
The last couple days I headed up to Sapa know for it's hill tribes and trekking among stunning scenery. It is a beautiful place, but it is firkin' cold! OK I know for many of you back home 7 deg Celsius (45 deg Faringheight) would probably be a nice day, but you have a good winter coat, hat and gloves. Also central heat exists and even if you aren｡ｦt using it, you know to close the door and windows to keep the heat in. I would walk down the street looking for some place that looked warm to have dinner and restaurant after restaurant would have everybody huddling in big coats looking cold and miserable and the front door wide open. If the locals were used to the cold and didn't look miserable I could understand everything being wide open, but this was silly. A couple evenings I decided to take refuge in a British run pub that had a heater. A bit expensive place but warm and a nice atmosphere. The evening I ordered food there it was just like British cooking. Probably about as authentic pub as can be found in SE Asia.
This morning I took a local bus from Sapa to Lao Cai where the train to Hanoi leaves from. The road is pretty windy and on my trip to Sapa I found myself feeling a bit car sick On this trip back we had a young child on board. Everybody knew how this was going to go, so even before we started they found a plastic bag to give the child's father to be ready with. When the inevitable upchucking came, the woman sitting next to father and child helped and held the bag and I tried not to watch and get sick myself. At one point the kid must have missed the bag and gotten the woman as I saw her stand up and scotch away from the kid. I wasn't too surprised as having spent a lot of time around parents of young children you learn that barf on parents clothing is why we have washing machines. The woman's reaction as she scooted across the bus seamed a little over done until I realized that she was scrabbling for a window as she was about to louse her lunch. So here we are on a bus with the kid retching in one row and a friendly helper with her head out the window a row forward and the bus filling with the smell of barf and the full plastic bag of barf being passed out to the window. You start to wonder who will be next.
The poor guy (and after she quit barfing, the woman) had to clean up the best they could. It made me think of those baby bags that all new parents in the US carry that have plastic bags, baby wipes, changes of clothes for kid and possibly parents, more formula, snacks and practically anything that might possibly be useful. Here if you are going to take a baby or young child somewhere, you just take the kid sans accoutrements. I suspect that a thing of baby wipes would have been like manna from heaven for these people.
When I made it to the city of the train station I was dropped off at the public market. I hadn't gotten going soon enough so I thought I had missed my 10:10am train and was going to have to wait for the afternoon. I figured I would go by the station and buy my ticket and see if they had any sort of 'left luggage' facility before wandering the town for the day. On my way there a guy with very good English pulled up on a motor bike and after he convinced me that he really wasn't wanting to be a motor bike taxi and really was just on his way to the station and wanted to give me a free lift. He also told me the train didn't leave until 10:30am so I still had a chance. Well low and behold he really did give me a free ride to the station and the train did leave at 10:30 and I just made it. He is currently my favorite Vietnamese. It almost makes up for the run from the Lao border, almost.
December 21-24, 2005
OK, I have been real bad about writing in this. This is partly because I have been doing stuff and partly because I got a cold and have been feeling a bit drippy and would rather not impart that to my journal. (Also since it seams that the US media has been turning bird flu into the next thing to be mindlessly afraid of, I figured it would be good to tell you after I survived it. And don't worry, if I had gotten really sick I would have gone and seen a doctor and dropped my parents a line.)
So I guess this is as good as anywhere to catch back up from. First off Bird Flu. I figure I am in one of the safest places I could be. Why? Because there aren｡ｦt any chickens in Vietnam, more or less. If you try to order any of the chicken dishes off the menu there isn't any chicken. Eggs are also hard to come by. Apparently one of the street food soups that you are always eating is supposed to come with an egg floating on top, but have yet to see it. Also the health care system, what there is of it, is all ready tuned into bird flu and based on how Vietnam handled SARs a few years ago they should handle this well. (I believe the Australian embassy referred to the response as rapid and professional which is better than I think Canada faired.) Anyway, between the lack of poultry (I haven't heard a roster crow in since I got here.) and general awareness I think I am in a good spot.
Thinking of the end of the year and dangers lets look at nice 'safe' places I could have been｡K A resort in Southern Thailand, nope tsunami. Paris, no riots destroying thousands of cars a night - same goes for parts of Australia. Maybe London would be good, unless you want to get shot in the subway by the police. I guess that means the Miami airport is also right out. New Orleans had dead bodies in the street, something I haven't seen in ten months in the '3rd world.' Humm I've spent the last couple months or so in communist countries but I am pretty sure I haven't had the government doing illegal wire taps on any of my phone calls. Let's see, I haven't had my governor or his brother the president, get involved in my personal health care decisions concerning life and death. All in all, looking back to last X-mass I think I have had a pretty safe year here with the active volcanoes and paddling down unfamiliar rivers in the land of H5N1 flu.
Let's see some old stories I haven't told yet｡K
On the train ride that I just barely made back from Sapa I had a couple of other fun things. When I went to braid my hair some of the girls on the train decided it was too silly to watch me braid my own hair and braided it for me. We really couldn't talk or say anything except smile a lot at each other but they laughed a lot and I think enjoyed it. Also later in the train ride I got out my cat's cradle string and was playing around and the people across the isle ended up showing me a new figure of a five pointed star in a five pointed star. Now the goal is not to forget it. Fun exchanges sans language.
Actually back when I was in Sapa on my little day trip out to one of the hill tribe villages I had another sting surprise. I did this trip on my own and ended up taking a motorcycle taxi out to a village that was listed in my guide book. As I arrived I was surrounded by a bunch of local ladies trying to sell me stuff or become my guide. I tried to say no but I don't think they had much else to do so they all kept a tight cluster around me. So to show them I really wasn't going to pay attention to them I pulled out my cat's cradle string and started to do Jacob's Ladder. Just as I started one woman reached in as if I was playing the two person cat's cradle. I quick redid my string and sure enough she knew cat's cradle all the way through. It wasn't what I was expecting from a woman in all traditional clothing. In keeping with my practice of giving string loops to people I have played cat's cradle with, I gave her a yellow and green (Ramsey's Braggarts Morris Men colours) cat's cradle string. She looped it around her neck where it looked both in place and out of place with her traditional silver adornments and embroidered blouse. Just not quite what I was expecting｡K
Another odd little bit of cultural exchange was back on my boat trip to Halong Bay. One of this trio of girls from England offered me a cookie (biscuit) and said, "Have you tried one of these? They're quite nice." The cookie was an Oreo. Now it's not odd that it was an Oreo; I had seen them for sale along with the Pringles and Mars Bars along with the Coca-Cola; it was that the English girl had never had an Oreo until she came to Vietnam. I figured if thye had penetrated to Vietnam they would be as well know in England as McDonald's. How wrong can these assumptions be. Apparently Oreo's have yet to hit the British Isles.
I should probably talk about my boat trip in Halong Bay now. I had half considered skipping Halong Bay as the weather has been so cold and all reports was that it would be hazy and you wouldn't get the great views. Then I looked at my guide book and remembered that half the pictures in it are of Halong bay and that a lot of travelers around here are here for just the bay trip, and more importantly I would regret it if I didn't
The two day trip cost about 18 USD which being cheaper that an hostel bed in San Francisco, isn't a bad deal. I was picked up at my hotel in the morning on the back of a motorcycle to where I left my big bag and transferred to the tourist van for the ride to the Bay. It was a three hour break with one stop at a place to buy 'local' handicrafts made by victims of Agent Orange. After we arrived and our handler found our captain and then the boat we were off for the afternoon cruse and lunch on board. (At first we though it was funny that it took some looking to find the boat, but when we got down to the docks we saw they were crowded three boats deep and packed solid. To board you ended up climing across several boats to get where you were going.)
Our boat wasn't the nicest one around, but I don't really expect that for a two day trip, including food for 18 USD. They bay is studding, even with the mist. My photos don't do it justice, of course. After a while we stopped at an artificial beach and went kayaking among the outcroppings. Given my last boat sunk and prior to that my small boating was overturning John F.'s dugout, I am glad to report that we did not dump the boat. Ben and I paddled around a couple islands and headed back in. We also stopped at a couple big caves that were all lit up with colored florescent lights and little red lights for the eyes of the 'dragon'. I mostly took pictures of the dolphin and penguin shaped trash cans they had around the cave.
Dinner was aboard and afterwards Ben and I helped an Englishman work out his Lao trip. He was only going to have eight days before he needed to meet up with his girlfriends in Thailand. We ended up plotting out a trip for him including what to do in each place.
We slept aboard and were even lucky enough that a second boat tided to our stern and they ran a power cord and they shut off the generator on our boat.
There wasn't much to the second day. We cruised over to Cat Ba island where the people taking the three day tour were dropped off and the rest of us headed back to Hanoi. On the way back we picked up the people who had been on the three day tour the day before. It was fun as I met a neat retired British couple who are out backpacking. They have just started their trip and are a blast to talk to. I have been running into them from time to time as I head south.
December 25, 2005
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An is a lovely town. The old town is closed to motorized traffic for parts of the day and is a UNESCO world heritage sight so the buildings are being restored rather than being torn down. The tout to tourist ratio isn't too bad, although still a bit more than I would prefer. It is rather touristy though. Most of the shops in the old quarter are either restaurants or sell things that only tourists want. They do have a sense of what too much is so it's not overwhelming, comparatively speaking.
This is also a place know for the made-to-measure clothing. If you want something made or copied this is the place. I getting a custom shirt made for about 6 USD and I didn't really shop around much. By reports I could get an entire suite made for about 25 USD. I am half tempted just because I can. I don't have a suit, and don't really need one, but it might come in handy for scaring people who know me very well. I think a bit of Corry Hildleburger who shaved and got a hair cut once a year and then put on his suit and confused everybody. (Or as John F. said, "Who are you? And what have you done with Mr Hildeburger?")
Actually X-mass in Asia has been a bit odd. Last year I was in the Caribbean and I have had X-mass down there enough times with my parents that it seamed normal. But there I was still in predominately Christian countries. It's not as if X-mass hasn't penetrated here, last night it seamed as if half the people where wearing red and white Santa hats. But there is something different. For example today everything is still open and running just like any other day, whereas in Belize it was hard to find a restaurant open to have breakfast at. I think it may be just how they are picking and choosing what they are copying. They have carolers and Santa hats, x-mass music on the sound system, and decorated trees in all the restaurants but they are still working and somehow it is clearly different. (And not just because the carolers can't pronounce the 'r's in merry.)
It's not a bad place to be, and I like the town. (I even got a x-mass present from my hotel. I hope they aren｡ｦt expecting a tip｡K) But it is relatively free from con artists and pestering touts, so I am enjoying it.
January 1, 2006
Nah Trang, Vietnam
Well another year has come and gone. It's even a full calendar year on the road, and not too surprisingly New Years here is nothing like it was in Guatemala. I think I would still rather be back home with my friends either playing games or surprising people with random acts of kindness, but I had fun none the less.
Nah Trang is a bit of a beach party town so there were several choices to choose from for the night's festivities. I headed out with a couple of people from the hostel I am staying at. (It's three dollars a night and for only four dollars I could have had my own room, but this way I meet people.) There is a guy from Australia and a woman from Canada. We ended up at "Krazy Kim's" bar and spend most of the night there. I re-met a couple from Holland I had met on the bus ride down. I got a game of pool out of the way before the places started to pick up, which was good because I'm not good at pool and the game takes forever. But most of the night was shouting at each other over the music. For the actual stroke of midnight I went with a British guy to a different bar that was packed solid. They did all the confetti and glitter stuff so I have a new saying about glitter, "Glitter is like a tattoo, except that you can have a tattoo removed." My former co-workers at Ted Mann will fully understand the sentiment behind that statement. As it was the bar was too packed and loud so after a bit I headed back to Kim's and hung out with the Dutch couple and the guy from the hostel.
As a side note, the British guy has actually been a morris dancer, so that I think is a first, a real Briton who admits to morris dancing.
Last year in Antigua, Guatemala was my first big 'times square' New Years, and this year is my first 'bar party' New Years. Albeit fun, I hope New Years 2007 will be back to the few friends playing games type thing, or at least something smaller and more personal.
My current challenge is trying to figure when to come home. I have the return ticket to L.A. from Bangkok on the 18th of January. I can change the date for 100 USD so if I do that I want to know I will be using it. It sounds nice going home, after all, by then I will have been gone a year and a half, but there is still more in this side of the world I want to see. I will see how I feel after sleeping on it tonight, but today I decided I may stop here get my Open Water Diving certificate. I checked today and it's pretty cheap (not as cheap as it would have been in Honduras, but・ and I have been wanting a bit of a change. Last year this time I stopped and studied Spanish for two weeks so four days doing a PADI course doesn't sound bad. Anyway I haven't come up with an X-mass present for myself yet. Though with time running out stopping here will to some extent decide if I take the return ticket on the 18th without having to rush through Cambodia like an American on a seven day vacation. Soon a decision will be made and I will be much happier for having it done with.
January 5, 2006
Nah Trang, Vietnam
Well today was day three of the four day Open Water Course and the first day in the actual water. But everything is OK because there were Italians on board.
The first day of the course starts with work in the classroom going over theory and then the afternoon in a swimming pool actually doing stuff. Day two is the same basic schedule with Day three is two dives off a boat.
Well I have now spent 1 hour and 47 minuets under water. Cool! A bit unsettling, but cool.
Actually the cool statement is partially literal as one thing we have been fighting is how cold I can get. I am wearing two wet suits and still getting cold. Actually my instructor seems to be more worried most of the time about how cold I am getting, than I am. He is worried about hypothermia, but he isn't from a cold climate. I know the difference from being cold and being too cold and am not afraid to tell him when it is time for me to get out and warm up. Oh well I am not going to complain about someone else looking after my well being: it's kind of nice, actually.
I actually get two people who are worrying about me as I am the only one in my session I have the instructor and an instructor's helper (it has a job title that I can't remember) all to myself. (Come to think of it I haven't had this good of student to teacher ratio since I was home schooled.) I like my instructor but I think his is a little board with teaching first level divers. He is there and all but there isn't that spark of excitement to teach. The helper we have, when we are in the water, is in training for a higher class of license and is really great. I think some of it is he still remembers what it is like for this all to be new.
Today's dives went well. I have snorkeled on better reefs (boy! Have I done some great snorkeling with my parents) but it was probably just fine as I was concentrating so much on things like buoyancy control and keeping my ears equalized I wasn't paying too much attention to the actual fish. Except to try not to run into them or anything bad.
I think this slightly annoyed my instructor as I was just as interested is just being down there as actually looking at anything. Maybe it is a bit like enjoying the view having someone point out all the little flowers to you. Just a note, the first Open Water dive isn't really any kind of skills testing, just a bit of practice and a chance to really see what it is like, with the second dive being more of an working dive. I just apparently wasn't appreciating it quite enough.
I have generally gotten peaty calm in the water, but by the same effect I don't express a lot of excitement either. No smiling like a maniac babbling how great it was. (Not that a couple of my dorm mates have had to deal with a bit of Andy style babbling, but・
That doesn't mean that I don't still get nervous from time to time. As we pulled out of the dock I was getting a bit apprehensive but as they went over the pre-dive briefing I learned one of the other couples on the boat were from Italy, and for some reason it made me feel calm. I suspect it was mostly because the last time I went snorkeling, back in Honduras, I was out in a boat where I was the only non-Italian. Some how it just made things feel more normal because there were a couple Italians on board. Don't worry, everything will be OK, there are Italians on board.
January 6, 2006
Well today I finished my Open Water Dive Course. I am certified. My permanent card will be winging it's way to my P.O. box and my temporary card will be ready as soon as they get toner for their printer. By the forth dive (the second dive today) I was actually starting to enjoy myself. (I know myself well enough that for totally new environments I generally don't like it at all until the third or forth time, so this was no surprise.) I made it through all my skills and although it takes me the world's longest time to clear my ears and get to the bottom, I still have a good time looking around.
On the parts of the dives where we just go around and look at stuff rather than work on skills, I think my instructor was sort of working hard to find 'interesting' things to show me, while I was just fascinated at being able to be underwater. Also he liked to point out all the animals while I was just as interested in the coral. I have always been as much interested in the coral as the animals anyway. (Not that coral aren't animals too, but you know what I mean.)
Although the final dive was fun, somehow the ending was a bit anticlimactic. A quick photo for my card, a tee-shirt and that was it. I'm hopping to run into Tobias, the instructors helper, before I leave to thank him and tell him I really enjoyed having him along. (I would have on the boat, but we had a Swedish girl on board and he was having a good time with her. I understand how nice and relaxing it is to get a chance to speak in your native tong with someone with the same cultural background so I let him enjoy it.) I also think part of the problem is that I don't have anyone to celebrate with. The people I spent New Years with have moved on and I haven't seen my dorm mate for a bit. I feel a bit like a big celebratory meal, but not like eating it alone. I guess that is why I am planning on going home now rather than just keeping on wandering.
I am going to take a free day here to sleep in (I had to be ready to get on the boat at 7:00pm the last two days, but still couldn't get to sleep the night before.) and just rest. I would sort of like to do a "fun dive", meaning just a dive where you aren't trying to learn anything new, but I think my ears would like the rest. I may do a dive after than but it is a bit more likely that I will head south and either dive again in Cambodia or Thailand. It is best to dive again soon to cement and build on my skills, but I think rest would be good as well.
Tomorrow's project is to put together some kind of 'plan' like object as to what I will do for the next three months. So much to see and so little time. Maybe while I am posting this I will update my fare watcher for new plane ticket ideas・
(Oh and as for the title of this entry, there weren't any Italians on board the boat today, but having about half the people being Russian seams to be just as effective at keeping me calm.)
January 10, 2006
Bus from Nha Trang to Da Lat, Vietnam
Well, a bit to my surprise I really enjoyed my time in Nha Trang. It's mostly a beach town without much I would normally be looking forward to. (It's a beach town, but not a laid back, muy tranquillo, beach town.) I nearly took the next bus out of town the day I arrived, and here I spent eleven days there.
In some ways I even have an especially good reason for not liking Nah Trang as it was also the first place someone tried to rob me. On New Years at about one in the morning I was with a group of people going from one party to the next and a 'taxi girl' pulled up in a motorbike right in front of us and came over and tried to hug / pick my pockets. In seventeen months this was the first pick pocketing. (If there were others either they didn't get away with anything or it was so little I didn't notice.)
I noticed her hands going for my pockets and whapped her away and kept on walking. Half the interesting thing was how the other three people reacted. Having expected this for sometime I sort of just got rid of her and went on as if this was normal. Two people in our group didn't see what had happened and were trying to figure out my extreme response to an unwanted come-on. Meanwhile one guy who had seen hands heading for my pockets wanted to go back and slug the pickpocket out cold. As is I was just as well ready to go on with the night. It was a scam that was listed in the guide book so I was just waiting for it to happen, not to mention my decision on my first night in the country in Hanoi, worked out; if you touch me I can 'touch' you back.
So in spite of that incident I still liked Nah Trang. With the diving stuff there were a bunch of people who knew me and I would occasionally run into and at least share a friendly wave if not a little chat. There was a restaurant I had become a bit of a regular at and knew the staff and owner. When I told them I was leaving they said they would be sad and wondered if I would be back next year. All in all, I made some connection to the people and the place. Not bad.
Yesterday I did my first 'fun' dive. (Although it has taken me some time to learn this, a 'fun dive' is just a plain old dive noted that you aren稚 trying to learn something new as in an ''adventure' dive.) I decided that I really needed to do one more dive before I left or I might be too chicken to sign up for a dive later on. I figured here at the place I took my class I would be as comfortable as I could get. I would know the crew, boat, equipment, and just how stuff went. I think to some extent everybody thought I was a bit crazy to dive of my own free will yesterday because the underwater visibility was awful. As it was I was the only person on the boat doing a fun dive, all the other were working on some course or another. (Actually there were also four snorklers along as well which I felt a bit sorry for as they were going to have it worse than I was since they can't get in close on things.)
Although you could only see 1-2 meters and half the challenge was to make sure you didn't louse sight of your buddy, I had a great dive. This great dive was all due to my dive instructor, Dan.
Dan wasn't actually part of my dive. He and Tobias were doing a dive of their own as part of Tobias's class. But the guy who was diving with me was also the group wrangler and so didn't have to go to the shop in the morning to pull gear, so I think Dan pulled the stuff for me. He borrowed one of the other dive instructor's wet suit for me. It was thicker than the shop's and as the owner was Vietnamese it was nice and tight. With this borrowed wet suit and then the second normal wet suit I stayed warm the entire dive! It was great! I don't care if I didn't see anything, I stayed warm! I think this may be the first time I ever stayed warm after going out for a swim, ever.
(A wet suite keeps you warm two ways, one is by the insulating value, but the more important way is by trapping a layer of water near your skin. With the trapped water your body warms it up once and it stays with you rather than flowing away and you having to warm more water up, again, and again. Much the same idea as an insinuated windbreaker keeps the wind chill down. My problem has been that since I am so skinny the wet suits aren稚 tight enough and the warm water keeps flowing out.)
It was hard getting into the borrowed wet suit as the owner is a foot and a half shorter than me, but the warmth was great. Dan has suggested that I should consider getting a wet suit custom made in Bangkok. I agree with him, but I want to make sure I will use it and right now I don't want to carry it around. It would take up more than half my pack if I was to put carry it around. Maybe after southern Thailand I will be interested in more of a diving investment.
January 19, 2006
Chau Doc (Mekong Delta), Vietnam
Well I am about to leave. Finally. I will have spent a little over a month and a half here in Vietnam and I would say it was my least favorite SE Asia country. Not that it was that bad. Nha Trang will have a soft spot in my heart and I loved wandering around the old city of Hoi An, but some how I never got it. I think part of it may be that I used an open bus ticket for most of my travel and that fixed me a bit more to the tourist trail than I like. Also that trail was very much a tourist trail rather than the more backpacker style. Or maybe it was that I loved Lao so much and there were so few people (frang or locals) there and this is just too much of a big pond.
After Nha Trang I went to Dalat. Dalat was a bit of a disappointment. It was a bit big and dirty. I think part of it is it is a famous place for Vietnamese to go Honeymoon and take a package tour, and for me, not on the tour the city wasn't appealing. There were some neat sights like the Crazy House where an artist is building a Dr. Seuss like hotel and a nice Cathedral. The best part for me was the day I got a moto driver to take me around the country side.
It was great to get out of town and into the fresh air. (I had hoped that Dalat would have been a place where in town the air was fresh.) The 'Easyridder' as the motodriver/tour guides are called, had a son living in Minneapolis on Bryant Avenue North. Normally when I local tries to tell me that they have family living in where I just said I was from I don't really believe him, but he pulled out a piece of mail with the address. Too bad it wasn't Bryant Avenue South because I know that street peaty well. Small world.
Anyway, the trip was pretty basic stuff, a pretty waterfall here, a pagoda, a villager's house, how they make rice wine, fields where they grow cut flowers. Same Same, but Different. The fun part for me was the silk production. There had been a shop in Hoi An showing the stages of silk production, but here I got to see it in the scale they really do it. From the growing to the mulberry leaves, farming of the silk worms and the spinning of the thread. They had a couple of the neat automatic looms running that I could see up close as well. But the coolest part was that they had a Jacquard loom running and I got to see how it worked. I have heard so much about how these looms were the start of the industrial revolution, how the punch cards were one of the models for the input of early computers, and now I have seen one in use. It's one of those things like a line-o-type machine that back home would only be found sitting unused and unworkable in a museum, and I have gotten to see one operate. I am just kicking myself that I didn't buy some of the fabric coming off of it. Anyway a cool bit of history alive today.
After Dalat was the trip into Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. (Actually it is sill know by everybody as Saigon, except when they are filling out official paperwork.)
I had been hearing about Saigon since I got here. About the noise, the pollution, the crime. When talking about Hanoi the guidebook would always say it wasn't as bad as Saigon. (REALY helpful if you haven't been to Saigon yet・) As is, I thought it was actually a bit better than Hanoi, although it may be that my first impression of Hanoi was just after I left Lao.
HCMC (as Ho Chi Minh City is often abbreviated even though my brain kept thinking of Hennepin County Medical Center instead) has a lot in the way of museums and political agenda. As much as Hanoi is the capital of the country, it seams that Saigon is where all the political and rhetorical flag waving is centered. It may also be that most of the sights I went and saw were about the Liberation (or Fall depending on your point of view) of Saigon.
To some extent a lot of the things I went and saw were the sights of historic photos. The gates that the tank crashed through to get to the presidential palace (and the tank that did the crashing) the palace itself.
One of the most dramatic museums is the War Remnants Museum. It's mostly as war museum as viewed by the winners, the Communists. Let's just say that the Americans don't look very good. On the other had most of the displays are based on American information. One wall is more or less dedicated to Life magazine's covering of the war. It also included jars containing deformed fetuses from Agent Orange, life-sized recreations of the 'tiger cages' used to keep prisoners and the like. There was also a guliteen that was left over from the French control of the area.
Actually the guliteen did show a bit of what I think was over doing it a bit. It had a label that after telling of its use under the French (believable) and then it said the Americans took it and dragged it all over the country to execute people as well. This I doubt. The American army, although pretty stupid and doing atrocious things during the war, probably didn't have they style to do anything as fantastic as dragging a guilteen around. For execution only the French would bother with something that awkward. On the other hand I have now seen a real guilteen. Either way it was one of those museums where it was very quiet. (Also thinking of the recent debate on American involvement with torture made me want to have Bush visit it. He probably wouldn't get it.)
On a lighter note I did finally make it to the Circus. A girl I met at the hostel happened to run across one not far from the backpacker ally and we went my last night in town. It was pretty good. I tend to forget that traditionally circuses have animal acts so I could have done without the trained monkies, dogs, and the elephant act. They had good people stacking, and not a bad contortionist and a couple of clowns with some of the best balancing act I have seen. It was fun and only about three USD. I'm not sure I could even buy a bag of popcorn at the amateur circus in Saint Paul for that. (The amateur circus in Saint Paul does have much fancier lighting on the other hand.)
January 20, 2006
Phnom Pen, Cambodia
Well, that's the end of Vietnam. There were some great times but I'm glad to be moving on. The last couple days I have been on an organized tour of the Mekong Delta. It was an OK tour. I had nice people along and I did go and see things I wouldn't have on my own. (I also missed a couple of things I would have visited, but・ Of the things I would have not gone out of my way to see included the alligator farm, one of the minority villages, and probably a couple of other places. We did get spend a good deal of time off on boats.
The trip was structured so that you could take an option and instead of returning to Saigon you would continue on to Phnom Penh by boat.
I did the onward trip. It was a bit odd to be herded along as part of a group to cross the boarder. On the other hand it is easy. I also found some entertainment from an Australian family of five who were traveling with us who just traveled differently. It was like that hadn't traveled before, but I think they had, maybe just not in this kind of backpacker-light kind of way. I don't know, they were good sports and had fun, but somehow they just seamed to be too worried about stuff. I suspect that the kids maybe future backpackers now.
I never even had to present my luggage for inspection. In fact it was sort of funny as for the exit from Vietnam I didn't have to go at all. Our guide got off the boat with everyone's passports about three quarters of the way there and took a taxi ahead to do all of the exit paperwork for us and by the time we landed at the boarder, she returned our passports with us already checked out. So much for having problems getting stuff out of the country.
We swapped boats at that point to a yellow one that looked like it might have once been an airplane or a submarine and continued on to the Cambodian check in. All went well there and for the next four hours it was just sitting back and being lazy on the boat. There was plenty of room and the roof and bow were nice to hangout on. Between time on the roof in the morning and then again on the yellow boat in the afternoon I might be getting back a bit of the tan I lost in northern Vietnam. Anyway it was a very tranquillo was to enter the country.
I haven't seen much of town yet as we didn't get into Phnom Penh until after dark so it was mostly find a room and dinner. That will be tomorrow. (Also the quest for the mythical ATM will be on as well. Some people says it exists some people says it doesn't, who knows?) Any way, new country, new currency, new language, will it never end?
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