Tuesday, 30 August 2005

The Killing Fields

30 August - Woke up early today feeling quite awful - not sure what it is this time but perhaps it's a reaction to the food or a cold or something else quite unpleasant. Tried to go out to find a bicycle to hire so I could head out to the Killing Fields but had no luck and also found myself in the middle of the fresh produce section of the markets which sent my head and stomach spinning. Headed back to guesthouse in time to take the tour (the four remaining British girls were also doing it plus two other antisocial and very miserable looking brits).
We went in the same minibus that broke down twice yesterday over some of the worst roads i've ever had the pleasure of crossing. They were generally all dirt and with potholes everywhere (going through them was reminescent of the x-wings going through magnetic turbulence in star wars IV) and a huge pile of dirt as tall as me completely blocking the road at one point.
Eventually made it to the site of the fields at Choeng Eck - we took a guide who was quite knowledgeable and very nice - it was one of the strangest and most harrowing tours i've ever done - I suppose I could compare it to Dachau but after walking through the temple that was piled high with skulls (all smashed in signifying extremely violent and horrible deaths) and then through all of the excavated mass graves I was completely numb. On the ground there were patches where bones and teeth were coming up out of the ground (when it rains it brings them up) and there was often a pile of human bones marking the pits which hadn't been filled in. Our guide gave a very good account of the events that led to the fields and the history of the Khmer Rouge and also told us of his personal story, he was only a child and managed to survive but he lost two of his older sisters who died by starvation. After this we were taken to the S21 camp in town, where many of the prisoners were interred, tortured and executed. The site, now a museum, doesn't have the money to set the place up like a proper museum and therefore a lot of the documentation is aging but because there are no guards and few signs it appears as if they've the Khmer Rouge has just abandoned the place. Many of the torture implements are still in place and there is still blood spattering many of the walls - there were't a huge amount of people there but all of them were just walking through in silence, everyone contemplating the horrors to themselves, it was very sad.
I was struggling a bit near the end being quite upset and very uncomfortable in the heat and with my new mystery illness so when we returned I tried to pass out in bed, unsuccessfully. Not really feeling up to seeing much more today and will probably leave Phnom Penh tomorrow - still haven't worked out the next place but am sure it will come to me.

Hello Cambodia

29 August - Another day of non-stop travelling. Woke up pretty early and had an average breakfast - we were slightly delayed as one of the English girls was sick and she and a friend stayed on in Chau Doc, presumably going to leave tomorrow. Had a brief stopover at a fish farm and also a brief stop at a village comprised of the Cham ethnic group (mainly Muslim) and we watched some weaving (almost as much fun as slitting your wrists but not quite) before jumping on another boat and heading up the Mekong towards the border. Did see one of the most amazing looking human beings i've ever put my eyes on though. He was an old fisherman (couldn't guess his age, in Asia it's far too difficult due to exposure they're subjected to), he had beautiful dark, almoist negro, skin (from pretty much consistent tanning from birth I would say), he was extremely well muscled for someone of his age - didn't seem to smoke like everyone else on thr river, and he had completely bleached white, almost blond, hair. He was standng up and glaring at our boat as we passed, doing some work on his fishing nets. I gestured with my camera, asking to take a shot and he gave me a small smile and a nod. However, after I did it an old woman on the boat (probably his wife although she wasn't nearly the fine specimen he was) started yelling at me - perhaps she didn't want to share him with the world. On the boat we were given another opportunity to exchange our dong for US dollars at an increasingly ridiculous rate - which most of us declined - it was raining today so was stuck inside the boat (i've been doing a lot of reading on this leg of the journey) but we finally arrived at the border. We were processed reasonably quickly but I was kind of disappointed by the shabby walk to Cambodia. The little Vietnamese girls who were offering us even more ridiculous exchange rates were running back and forth between Vietnam and Cambodia and the guards weren't giving them a second glance. Got shifted to a second boat, which took about four hours to get to land and then had a two hour minibus ride to Central Phnom Penh (would have been quicker but we broke down twice). Have checked into a reasonably priced and reasonably nice guesthouse (it's very dark) and haven't had a chance to check out the city yet. First impressions ar that it is very modern, lots of cars, wide streets, lots of neon - much more like home than any of the cities i've been to thus far. However, these roads turn into dirt tracks straight away (my guesthouse is on one of those dirt tracks) that are currently flooded and also choked with garbage, which absolutely reeks. Certainly a place of contradictions right now but we'll see how it pans out. Will probably go and see the Killing Fields tomorrow (have to get that out of the way, not seeing it would be like visiting munich and not seeing dachau) before planning my next step. We shall

So Long Vietnam

28 August - Started my journey out of Vietnam today with the two day Mekong River tour exiting in Phnom Penh. When we got on the bus we were told by our friendly guide, Hai (or Hai Fatman as he asked us to call him) that we'd be stopping at the markets to see a dazzling variety of fruits, a honey making place and a special coconut candy factory. After about 2 hours we stopped and the one day tourists disembarked and then we carried on for another four or so hours. After this we stopped for luncheon. Then we got on a boat for another five hours until we came to Chao Doc. I'm still waiting for the honey. Slightly disappointing day in the fact that we have done nothing but travel all day but I did expand my epicurean explorations slightly and had a Cobra stir-fry for luncheon, which was okay (kind of like slimy chicken), apparently snake is supposed to be nature's viagra and if I eat it regularly I will have the ability to satisfy 3000 wives and as many concubines as I want.
A mainly English (and some French) crowd today including a travelling group of six very pretty very young British girls whom I'd met briefly on Cu Chi tunnel tour yesterday. I've forgotten their names already but i've already proved my manliness to them by removing a cockroach and a dead spider from one of their rooms.
Nothing really to do in Chau Doc except eat in the reasonably priced (but reasonably awful) restaurant and go to bed. The hotel that's provided on the ticket is 4k out of town and for once it appears that there are no excited moto taxi drivers desperately trying to take me somewhere (on the one day when i'd quite like to get out). However, a six am wakeup is going to mean I should at least attempt to get some sleep so I might just have to go to bed early.
Also, on the mammoth journeys today I finished off The Time Traveller's Wife, which i've been putting off for weeks. One of the better explorations into the paradox of time travel and a very nice, if somewhat twee, love story as well. I heartily recommnend it. Also struggling through The English Patient, which is reminescent of me falling asleep whilst watching the video. It gets better near the end though.

Saturday, 27 August 2005

Miss(d) Saigon

27 August - Bussed into Saigon last night, leaving Nha Trang at 8pm. Apart from an issue where they had to change a tire in the middle of the night it was probably the most pleasant overnight bus journey i've had on the trip. The bus didn't completely fill up and I had two seats to myself. Still couldn't stretch out probably, the two French girls in front of me (only other foreigners on bus) had their seats pushed right back, but, in the end got a little bit of sleep and woke up in Saigon without too bad a crick in the neck. My cold seems to have gotten a bit worse and my hearing is a bit crap but can't really complain. Had a bit of trouble finding a hotel this morning - all of them either full and/or super expensive. One of them (that i'd been recommended by my last hotel) said they had one for 40 us dollars - i'm sorry, do you see my butler carrying my rucksack??? Found a cheap place on the fifth floor - however, if i'd happened to walk the other way I would have found heaps of them bunched together. Bit far away from everything but I don't plan on staying long.
Went on a visit to Cu Chi tunnels this morning - full bus of tourists but one of the best guides i've had on the journey. The microphone he used on the bus to explain had some weird echo effect and I kept on thinking he was going to break into song. He was very informative and he shouted and bowed a lot. Very eager to tell of the American atrocities and the heroism and ingenuity of the Viet Cong. The tour was excellent although a bit too bloodthirsty - the documentary video we watched talked about the honour of 'American Killer Hero' and 'American Killer Heroine'. Also, there was the opportunity to shoot from a machine gun or M16 near the end, which I declined. The noise was far too annoying from a distance, let alone up close with my ears. Went through 90m of the tunnel network (three levels, all joined, this means it is a NETWORK!!!), which was very claustrophobic. Very interesting and worthwhile tour though.
Have also decided to kill two birds and head to Cambodia via the Mekong tomorrow morning. Time is slowly running out and I feel it's time to say goodbye to Vietnam. Whilst on the bus to Cu Chi this morning I was reading the Lonely Planet and I came upon a small titbit of information that had eluded me up until now. There are no ATMs in Cambodia at all - which means I had to sort out money today (which is a Saturday and therefore all the banks are closed). Found an ANZ ATM over here and withdrew the maximum amount (2,000,000 dong) then waited two minutes and did it again and then waited two minutes and did it again. The notes all came out in 50s so my wallet was so thick it couldn't even close. Very satisfying in a way but also made me a little bit nervous but I managed to get it changed into US dollars (Cambodia's first currency) and i'm hoping it will last me the full time while i'm there.
Found some pseudoephadrine this afternoon so i'm hoping i'll feel better later on - it's about to start raining so I think I have to go kill a few hours indoors somewhere.
Now that i'm heading into Cambodia i'll probably have much less access to the Internet so updates will be fewer and farther between.

Friday, 26 August 2005


Woke up with a bit of a sniffle - last night was quite worried as it seemed that I was getting something of a cold. In actuality, it's not that bad -- it just feels worse because my ears are a bit messed up from the diving. Anyway - another early start and another very nice breakfast from the Cheers Café of vietnamese coffee, morning bread with jam and the best fruit salad I can remember eating - and I was on my way to my final day of the open water course. Explained my predicament to Mr Giap and he seemed to think that it would be fine - we'd go slowly and we probably wouldn't do the full 18 metres today. If he was happy then I was happy. Had a few problems with my sinuses on the way down - a line of pain across my left forehead recurred a few times but by blowing my nose underwater (a little bit disgusting but necessary) I managed okay. Saw some more coral and fishes etc ... Not a hell of a lot that I didn't see the day before but it's the experience of being underwater that is what I was there for - and it was still infinitely better than seeing said fishes on tv. Second dive there was a moray eel (when you're swimming in the creek, and an eel bits your cheek, that's a moray ....) which I didn't see. Very fun - but very tiring day. My cold seemed a little bit better afterwards but my ears ar still completely crap - can't hear much at all, I think it's more than just the pressure because when I dug around in there (had to be done) I found a lot of very gooey wax. When I thought about it that would be the longest my head had ever been completely submerged ... It's quite likely that the act of immersion is going to mess around with them as well. Anywy - the advantage is that with my ear completely f**keds I might be able to get to sleep better in the evening when i'm on the overnight bus to Saigon tonight.
The other thing is that floating underwater for so long completely ruins my hair - i'm sure it looks beautiiful when it's under, waving around like the fronds of an anemone (and with fronds like these who needs them) but while their gracefully waving around they're also getting encrused with salt and they're twisting themselves around each other in some kind of knot unknown to any sailor - agonising to get out - my scalp was already scraped raw from the brush from yesterday - and is much worse today. Anyway - got back and had lunch at the dive shop (the same lunch three days in a row ... Quite nice but I don't know how the staff cope with the monotony) and did my exam. Didn't pass the theory with flying colours but good enough to get my certification - so now i'm an open water diver - hurrah!!!!

Thursday, 25 August 2005

Diving - Day 2

Had another early wake up call and dragged myself out to the dive shop this morning. I felt a bit blocked up in my ears last night and was worried that I might be coming down with a cold (the blocked up feeling was just from the diving it appears) but was assured that everything was okay.
Giap took another learner out for some lessons first and I snorkelled around the site for a while then we both went out for our first open water dive. It was the same site that i'd been to yesterday but this time I went down to 10 metres. Saw lots of colourful fish, coral and a few sea urchins (who are sure to grow up into sea thugs and sea muggers when they get bigger) - lots of fun ... If I had a complaint it would be the same complaint that most of the divers seem to have ... There's no mega-fauna in the water around here - the biggest predator seems to be the moray eel (which I haven't seen yet) - sometimes when one looks into the distance one will see a large, hulking animal but it invariably turns out to be another diver (there are lots of those around here). Rested for a little while and then went to the next site for another 10m dive and a few exercises. I had to flood my mask with water at 6m and then pump the water out, which was a little painful with the contacts but survived. I also ran out of air in one simulation and had to be rescued by my buddy.
Very fun day although now my ears are permanently blocked and I can't hear very much at all. i'm getting flashes of sound when they clear momentarily before losing it again, Once again, i've been assured that this normal. Tomorrow is my final dive, 18m, and i'll see if I pass the course.
After that it's off to Saigon, closely followed by Cambodia. Apart from the diving haven't really loved Nha Trang - the foreigners don't seem very nice - everybody seems very cliquey. Admittedly, have not been going out due to the diving requirements but will not be hugely sorry to see the back of this place.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Under The Sea

Thought that while I was here I might as well do a PAI dive course - much cheaper over here than in Oz and Vietnam is cheaper still than Thailand. Checked out a few options and went with one that seems fairly reputable (they're accredited anyway). Was given a book and made to watch a very long but probably useful video for all of the theory (although near the end the company sticks in a bit about having to buy equipment and plan a few diving trips - otherwise you'll lose interest in diving and it will be YOUR fault). Then, next day, met them at the shop and they took me and a bunch of others out to a boat and into the open water. I was lucky enough to have nobody else doing the course with me so it was just me and Yiap (who seems to be a consumate professional, I hope he really is) - we went over a few things with the equipment and then tested my swimming ability (i had a lot of difficulty swimming around the boat four times but managed to pass) and then we suited up and jumped in. First we snorkelled out to some shallows over a line of coral full of lots of colourful fish - got away from the others and then went over various skills and bits and pieces - how to use the regulator, floating, sinking, hovering, etc ... It wasn't too hard - didn't have any major issues although hovering was a bit hard - I tended to flap my arms around too much. Went back to the boat at an average depth of 2m so I was already doing it in the first hour or so.
The water was very clear and their were loads of fish swimming in and out of the coral - no big fauna unfortunately but i've been told you have to go to Thailand for that (moray eels seem to be the nastiest predators in these sites ) but absolutely beautiful nonetheless and the sensation of staying underneath the water for so long is very pleasant indeed.
After a brief break we headed to another site, a little bit less interesting (more sand, less coral) where we went over other skills and then I went for a snorkel - all in all, very fun day. I haven't paid for the course yet, which is kind of strange - most places are so adament about paying before they even confirm something - i've got their books and my free t-shirt and i've done a days lessons and they don't even have a deposit. I'm not planning on skipping town on them but they should be aware that if I wanted to ... I could.
Tomorrow i'm to go down to 12m, which will be my first proper dive - it's all a bit exciting.
Nha Trang, at least the area that i'm in, is a DIVE town, everywhere is selling dive trips and there ar dozens of operators and schools along the main street. Last night when I wandered around aimlessly for ages trying to find somewhere to eat I saw the bars full of people wearing company t-shirts and polo shirt - all like little armies - having not been to a dive town before it reminded me a lot of Queenstown in NZ - lots of instructors here for the season, lots of young people (many dressed far too trendily for my liking - we're supposed to be TRAVELLING, people!), lots of stupid adventure things on the beach (para-gliding, jetski, etc) and drinks priced way beyond what i've become accustomed to (not anywhere near oz prices but high for Vietnam).
PS - Also seemed to shred my feet doing a Nha Trang beach run today - half of it is sand (albeit disgustingly polluted with cigarette buts, beer bottle caps and plastic) and the other half seems to be gravel - - very painful.

Isle Of The Monkeys

23 August - Was a bit wrecked from the bus journey but couldn't sleep and i'd had enough of beaches for a while so I decided to head out to one of the islands. And not just any island, but the Monkey Island!!!
Eating breakfast had caused me to miss the tour so I got a motorbike taxi to take me out there - I could have borrowed a bike but it would have cost the same and I'm still not too keen about riding myself in 'Nam and then got the ferry out to the island. At first it seems like a deserted island with a bar and some deck chairs underneath umbrellas but all of a sudden a macaque monkey ran out to us closely followed by another and then dozens. The entire island is completely covered with thousands of them - there is one area that is fenced off with the 'King' and his harem of hundreds of wives. Quite a few of the females had babies clinging to them and they were absolutely adorable. We bought food to feed them and they would take it out of our hands - some would take it very politely and eat in front of you, others would grab it and run away, others would knock it out of your hand. Eventually one of the larger ones went for a grab at the bag in my hand and got the bottom, tearing it apart and spreading the food all over the ground and my feet were swearmed with them.
This was very entertaining but there's only so long that monkeys can amuse and I ended up having lunch with a Belgian-Vietnamese family with two young kids (only the father spoke any real English) and after this we went to see the performing animals ... The shows were as disturbing as the monkeys were delightful. There were two small bears who were dressed up and standing on their hind legs. They did some balancing and rolled a basketball around for a while and then rode on a bicycle and a moped. Kind of amusing in a sick kind of way but they were muzzled and strapped in and looked very unnatural - me and the Belgian guy thought they were fake at first but realised they were just in a very unnatural state. After this there was a dog show with the the dogs (also dressed in clothes and with wild openn probably drugged eyes) doing some bizarre schoolroom situation comedy followed by some acrobatics and then the monkeys (dressed up) doing acrobatics and then all of them riding bicycles as well. I think, to its credit, the crowd didn't seem to enjoy the acts very much either. They were amusing at points but it is really unnatural to see the animals dressed up and doing the acts and they didn't seem to be enjoying it at all. When I saw the elephhant show in Thailand they seemed okay - the Thai keepers of the elephants typically seem to love and respect the animals far more than their Vietnamese counterparts. I absolutely recommend anyone go to the island but then get away before it's ruined by the shows.

So Long Hoi An

23 August - Had a rather nice last day in Hoi An, woke up pretty early and went for a run out to the beach and back then met with Thijs and Sofea for breakfast before wandering the streets for a bit and heading back to the beach on bicycles. This bicycle was even worse than yesterday - just as uncomfortable, made some very strange noises and was four or five sizes too small. Later on in the afternoon i was riding it and the chain snapped - luckily, over here, there was no question of me being responsible for fixing it ... They know their bikes are crap and they accept these things as a matter of course. Very annoying having to push it back to the hotel like a scooter though. At the beach I did my version of the Cua Dai Soft Sand Classic, went as far south as I could then went back. Very good conditions for running and lots of fun - jumping in the water at the end was nice, not completely refreshing like Manly because the water was a bit under blood temperature but nice nonetheless.
Also said goodbye to my little friend, Thi, who I think i'm going to miss a bit. The other forty or fifty people who come and sit down next you every five minutes i'm not going to miss very much at all. Thijs really didn't cope with the begging and constant pushing to sell things - it's quite understandable, it is virtually impossible to have a conversation with somebody outside - we had a drink near my hotel before I got picked up and in fifteen minutes were approached by no less than ten people.
Knowing I was going to have another overnight bus journey I went for a massage and was given a bunch of treatments I didn't want or ask for and had a bit of an argument with the woman over what to pay - I think we both left angry at each other.
Said my goodbyes to my new friends and got on the bus to Nha Trang. Very squeezy, overcrowded bus again. Westerners ar given preferential treatment but it didn't help too much. There were not enough seats so two Vietnamese guys were forced to sit on plastic chairs in the aisles, would have been excruciating for them although these guys seem to be able to sleep anywhere, unfortunately their plastic seats were right in front of me so, once again, I was denied the aisle to stretch out one of my legs. There was also a very painful Australian woman who wouldn't stop complaining out loud to everyone who could understand her about how angry she was with the conditions, she tried to switch buses at one of the stops, but, surprise, surprise, they were all full too. In a way she was justified, the conditions are crap, as I have voiced many a time, but we're paying bottom dollar and it's to be expected. If you want five star transport you have to pay for it. Also, there was an Italian guy opposite the aisle from me who pushed his seat right back so that there was no room at all for a nice young English guy's legs, and he refused to move his seat forward at all. The English guy tried to get him to compromise a little by gesturing for him to move just a little bit but he just said, "Not my problem, not my problem" and started to yell in Italian when the English guy got fed up and put his feet on the back of his chair (nowhere else to put them). Would have been very amusing but I certainly felt for the English kid, having been pretzelled up by own seating arrangements.
Eventually got to Nha Trang, where I think might stay for a little while. Big crick in my neck again but i'm probably adjusting to it by now.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Ode To A Small Stool I Found In My Toilet One Mid-Monsoon Morning

21 August - Woke up today and almost had a normal bowel movement - hurrah! It seems that Nifuroxazide is just what I needed - I can not more highly praise the benefits of a diet high in fibre from something nutrious (and delicious) like Lowans Honey Bran - once I get to a civilised country I shall be breaking all my fasts with the closest Canadian equivalent.
Went to the My Son ruins today with the hotel tour - got chummy with a Thijs and Sofea, a Belgian couple (he's originally Dutch) who I briefly met when I arrived in Hoi An. She's a very sweet schoolteacher type and he's a rather sinister looking Death Metal loving bruiser - a match made in heaven. We got on very well and had a great time at the ruins - our guide was very knowledgeable about the site, if only he had been about the English language, but we certainly got the gist. Saw some very nice ruins that were scattered throughout with craters from American bombs during the war (the guide was very gracious about it) - I have to say while it is tragic that signficant archaeological sites were damaged by the American ordinance one can certainly argue that this is the best place for a bomb to fall. Hardly anyone here and when a bomb falls on a pile of ruins what does it leave ... Another pile of ruins - only more so!
At the site we also saw a local Vietnamese music and dance show - the music was led by a dear little old man, who looked ninety but could have been anywhere from 60 up - who played a mean flute and was accompanied by a percussion group. He was doing a little dance and seemed very spry for his apparent age. This was followed by a beautiful Hindu inspired dance by three stunning local women and two comely lads - the background Muzak was kind of bizarre, a combination of mystic Hindu music and one of the backbeats that an old Sony keyboard used to churn out but the dancing was incredible - a particularly impressive impression of Shiva (or Vishnu, the one with many arms) by the ladies was a bit cliched but incredible to watch. Afterwards a wander around and a boat (with a very nice lunch) back to town.
Rode out to the beach afterwards on the worst bike i've ever had the misfortune to ride on - seat wobbling and too wide, pedals about to fall off and no brakes, but had a very pleasant time and met up with Bernard and Ana (the South African and the Pole from last night) - watched Bernard awkwardly try to seduce Ana for a while before leaving them to it and was hijacked by Thi ("Open your heart ... And your wallet") again - he was a very sweet little boy and we chatted for a bit and went for a swim later on near sunset when the foreigners left (no sun for tanning) and the beach became packed full of locals. Said my goodbye to Thi and a few others before heading back into town for a very nice 5 course meal (at the princely sum of about 5 Australian dollars) at a restaurant with Thijs and Sofea before having a few drinks at one of the local cafes. Very nice day - very nice town, but probably time to move on.

Exploiting The Natives

After my awful night of last I couldn't really face up to doing anything. Felt signficantly better throughout the day but didn't want to be stuck on a tour so I decided to head out to the beach.
Got ridden over there by a motorcycle guy with terrible BO, at first it had been masked by the market but when we on the open roads I could really tell. All the way he was speaking really loudly and really fast in a language that bore some resemblance to English but I couldn't be sure - he was trying to sell me a tour to Mai Son; I wasn't up for it, certainly not with him - so I kept on telling him, "Maybe later!"; got to the beach - extremely tranquil at first - loads of restaurants on the edge, deck chairs half way then beautiful warm green waters. Mostly westerners enjoying the beach but almost matched in number by the plethora of women and children selling beads, chewing gum, pineapple, mangos, pedicures, manicures, massages and waxings. Everyone there could speak reasonable English but it was pretty much just, "You buy something?", "Maybe later" (would get rid of them but they would always come back), "Where you from?" (would sometimes result in a 'G'day mate'), "How old you?", "Married?", "Girlfriend?", "Boyfriend?", "You like Vietnamese girl?" (as I mentioned earlier, even the children selling postcards seem to have access to high class prostitutes). I got pressured by one woman into getting a foot and back massage (quite pleasant) but there were some on the beach who were getting simultaneous massage, pedi-manicures and waxings - it was far too debauched to be comfortable about. I know they are trying to sell to us but I find it very difficult to be waited on so obsequiously by anyone just by virtue of my very strong National currency - it's not exactly a sweatshop for these people but it still fits one of the seamier sides of globalisation in my mind. Also, when I was getting my back massage I had the woman doing it, a young boy named Thi who was very friendly but had tragic eyes ("Nobody will buy anything from me today ..."), another kid selling pineapples hanging around and to top it off I had my motorcycle taxi driver turn up and sit down next to me and try to sell me a tour in his incomprehensible way. Not very relaxing at all. Ride home was not great - eventually was shouting at the driver that I wasn't interested in his tours (didn't stop him chatting though).
Very interesting to see all the natives in the beach completely covered in clothes - not just slip slop slap but long sleeve shirts, pants, socks, gloves, hats and more often than not, fully face covering masks. I suppose when you're in the sun every day you have to be a bit more precautous but there are extremes.
All in all - mostly pleasant day though - it's fantastic to get wet at the beach and last night's 'problem' looks like it might only be a 24 hour (maybe 48) thing AND I managed to even out my tan a bit more.
Went to old town and saw a martial arts show held by the local children, most of them far too shy to remember the choreography but all very cute nonetheless and topped off by a very impressive sword routine between two of them.
Later in night I had a few drinks in town with an Australian, a South African and a Pole ... Actually, I can't remember the punchline to this.

Saturday, 20 August 2005

Hoi An Boy

19 August - After beach and shower and return of clean clothes decided to go for walk - got hijacked by Uyen, very nice Vietnamese tour guide who also owned a restaurant. Took me to his place, just 300m down the road!!!; read 2k at the least, and set me a place for dinner - duck and noodles (i told him i don't eat noodles prior); no, pho, com; no, these noodles just like rice; i don't want pho, i want com (see how proficient my Vietnamese has come); eventually he went next door for the rice and while giving me an ice infused warm Larue beer he proceeded to show me his books of commentary from satisfied tour customers (not all in the same handwriting but unconvincing nonetheless) and i was subjected to a Tel of woe about his dying father, four expensive chiller, lack of Vietnamese tourist economy anis willingness to take me to the Marble Mountains and Hoi An later on. I told him that I'd already arranged for someone to do that and he seemed a bit upset and started to quiz me on who they were (i couldn't recall; and he asked me, Do they have a book of recommendations like me???) and despite the fact that i couldn't take up his services pressed his phone number onto me and rode me to a nearby bar.
Very depressing having someone really sell themselves like that on you - the hardest thing is that despite its consistent annoyance the story of the hopeless life is typically true and they really are in a desperate state.
The Bamboo Bar was completely dead when i arrived - they had to open the bar up for me but i played a few games of pool with Tham, the lovely local owner, before a "gangster" local ad a strange German arrived - this eventually grew into a large group of American, English, Canadian English teacher ex-pats and a bunch of French (who kept to themselves) - the English teachers drank quite heavily and despite their enormous appeal i was forced to abandon them - way past my bedtime. I cadged a lift with a French Canadian UN worker who seemed slightly less drunk than the rest - wouldn't even dream of getting ona bike like that bavk at home bur ...this is Vietnam.

Traveller's Disease

20 August - When I arrived at Hoi An I knew something was wrong. Not the most pleasant topic of conservation but I felt that I just have not been getting enough fibre on this trip - so certain bodily functions are not as they might have been in Australia. However, yesterday I knew that I'd moved on to something that was not diet related. I was feeling a bit shivery and I found myself running to the toilet every 10m or so - I was supposed to meet Megan (the Australian girl from Hue) for dinner at 730 but I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not to be. Got directions to a pharmacy from the hotel and made my way down - the pharmacy's here (unlike home and even most places in Thailand) are not staffed by pharmacists it seems. I gave them a list of a few drugs recommended from LP and they eventually found some - they gave me the instructions so that I could decide which ones I needed. I prefer to have an expert tell me but I eventually settled on Nifuroxazide - I then struggled to the restaurant where I was to meet Megan and left a note for her before finding my way back to the hotel where I tried to go to sleep.
Certainly the worst night of my holiday thus far - I was exhausted but unable to sleep, sometimes I'd be up every 2m to go to the toilet, other times I'd go about an hour. Felt myself hallucinating about Narnia for a couple of hours - then having bizarre dreams about being at home and the clock moved so slowly ... My bed was completely soaked in sweat and despite drinking as much as I could throughout the night I feel completely dehydrated. I first had the symptoms yesterday morning so it's only been about 24 hours but already I can see myself looking a lot thinner - the only advantage is that it's making me look really ripped.
Not sure where I picked up the bug from - the other night at Uyen's place I had a beer with ice in it - he told me that he boiled the water first but you never know, it really could be anywhere though. Hygiene is not a priority in this country - I ordered a lemonade with ice yesterday and the woman took a hunk of ice, chopped off a smaller piece then washed it in a bucket of water (which didn't look like it had been sterilised) before putting it in my drink. If that happened once - it probably happens all the time and I obviously just got unlucky.
Am feeling really awful but I know I should eat something so am going to go for a wander in a bit - hopefully will not be out of commission too long. Do have to admit, i'm very glad that my illness happened here rather than in Ha Noi (despite it being packed full of foreigners and having a name that is an Anagram of Ha Noi, Hoi An seems much more pleasant from what I've seen thus far).

Easy Rider

19 August - got up from Da Nang feeling a little worse for wear from the night before and wandered down the street to find some food. I bumped into Ahn (the guy I’d organised to take me to Hoi An the previous day) and we had a bit of a chat ... And while we were talking who should turn up but Uyen, the guy i'd politely rejected the day before. Uyen asked me if this guy was taking me to Marble Mountains ... I told him yes and Hoi An and he looked very crestfallen but said that Ahn was a good rider so that was fine. I had a coffee on the street with Ahn and Uyen came and joined us - he started talking to Ahn in Vietnamese and then Ahn asked me - do you not know my name? I didn't. I explained to him that i've met so many people on my journey that all the names blur into one another - if I can't pronounce a name how am I expected to remember it? I don't know why Uyen was telling him that anyway - hope he wasn't beingspiteful.
Eventually we got on Ahn's bike (my massive backpack in front; me on the back) and headed off to Marble Mountains - a collection of pagodas and temples in natural caves - enormous set of steps up to the top and spectacular views from the top. I found the caves a bit much though - thousands of incense sticks burning and not enough ventilation was killing my eyes. After I politely rejected some marble souveneirs we headed to China Beach - I would have liked to have a swim but I wasn't feeling crash hot so we had a beer instead (i had a Fosters, apparently it's very big in Da Nang) before taking the final leg to Hoi An. Got stuck behind some a bus, petrol tanker and a Ford Escape for the majority of the journey over but it wasn't too long before we made town.

Thursday, 18 August 2005

Da Nang Boy

18 August - Now, I might admit to having stopped at Da Nang because of the asian gang from GTA but that would just be admitting how shallow I am - so i'll say that i'm stoppinng here because of fond memories of that TV show I never saw called China Beach.
Had a little bit of an issue last night wiuth the electricity in my room - everything went off at about 11 O'clock, I was about to go to bed so I didn’t need my light but I did need the fan so I had to stow downstairs and wake up the guy who slept on the floor of the reception (night relief) - him and a little boy were asleep and I was loathe to wake them, lluckily the house dog didn't like me very much so his barking soon had them up. I managed to explain what was wrong and he faffed around a bit and got nowhere so he went to wake up another guy. I thought he was just flickingthe fuse because the lights came on again and then promptly went off. This happened twice - I got a bit frustrated so went downstairs to see what was going on and it seemed that he was actually rewiring the circuit for my room - huge sparks where he was connectingthe wires with a pair of pliers - eventually he got it working, they certainly know their DIY over here.
Once again - the hotel forgot my wake up call but I’d set two alarms so managed to get up in time. When I went to check out the guy couldn't find my passport - he asked if I was sure if i'd left it with them and then him and his wife had a big shouting match before they asked if I could go to breakfast and they'd find it in the interim. It was eventuallyfound so all's well that ends well.
The bus for Hoi An was about an hour latt but was luckily not very crowded (and not very far, especially as I got off a little early for Da Nang) so it was quite comfortable (as buses go).
Found a cheapish hotel and then made my way to My Khe Beach - very tranquil and very long. It was quite a cloudy day but the water was very warm and it was wonderful to actuallyswim in the ocean again - there's a few more beaches on my way so i'm looking forward to them. Once again, got lost on my return and wandered the city for a while before eventuallyfindng the hotel. The people in Da Nang ar nicer still - I hope this is a pattern that continues as I go further south. one of the best things about Da Nang (thus far) is that as it's not reallya tourist town my white skin puts me really in the minority and thus far i've hardly met anyone who sepaks any English at all - ordering food and paying for it involves a lot of pointing and sing language.
If video games have taught me anything it's that city is host to some of the most diabolical gangsters ever seen in San Andreas but I feel quite safe. Apparently it's very safe for foreigners all across Vietnam as there is a no-toplerance policy of violence against tourists - according to the Lonely Planet the last time there was a fatal attack on a tourist the culprit (or a scapegoat who bore a facile resemblance to him) was quikly rounded up, arrested, tried and executed within a week. Now that's justice!!!

Attack Of The Clones

Have just come back from the DMZ bar in Hue where I was hit on by a delightful array of naationalities and genders and drank a fair quantity of the local beer (i ran past the brewery earlier today - the runs in Hue are much more like a good rocky run, most children know the word, "Hello", "Where you going?" and "What your name?" and some even run along for a few metres before laughing at my stupidity for running in the heat) - after getting beaten at the pool table (but putting up a respectible resistance of leaving two balls on the table) I met a young Brisbanite named Megan (spelled properly I might add) who is the genetic match of Sandy Kerswill. She's very nice and is passing through in my direction - although she's a day behind she's also moving a bit slower so we will probably catch up in Hoi An. She did tell me that she wanted to be in a big city on Sunday so she could watch the rugby - I told her that I want to be in a hole in the ground when the rugby was on.
As I wandered home I was accosted by several of the samlaw (??? Bicycle taxis) who were very persistent in trying to get me to take a lift with them - it's surprising how many of them seem to be high class pimps in their spare time, all of them have access to the most beautiful women in Vietnam and I only need to take a ride with themto find them. ..

Hue Boat Cruise

Went on another boat trip today - a visit to the THien Mu Pagoda and a couple of very impressive (read completely ostentatious) tombs; classic example of Vietnamese touring scam - lunch supposedly included then we get on the boat and are given menus with the most iinflattd prices i've seen since i've been here - 5 star hotel prices -I told the girl that I thought lunch was included ... Beans are included I was told. They better be magic beans I thought to myself. Also quite a few of the tombs were only accessible by motorbike, and the prices varied quite substnaitally for those (unless one decided to walk in which case it was onlyabout 10m). I was also subjected to one of the classic Lonely Planet scams again - not a big one, but one that rated a mention in the book anyway. The 5ooo and 2oooo notes ar the same colour and if you pay for something that requires 2 x 20s you're given a 5 and a 20. Basically a ripoff off a little over 1 australian dollar. I caught her, however, and was given a very loud apology plus a very sly glare.
Rather dull crowd this time - two lively italians made it slightly more interesting (you could tell they were italians by their stylish gear and excessive hand movements).
The Minh Mang tomb was incredible - about half a kilometre long and dozens of temples. The actual resting place was locked off but was a heavily jungled circle about 100 metres in diameter - completet waste of money if you ask me but it's history innit?
It was very amusing to see the various sacrifies being left for the gods at the temples - often it was incense or fruit, but brandy was left at one, an open can of beer at another, a packet of butter biscuits and my personal favourite was a packet of cigarettes (i was waiting for a disrespectful tourist to cadge a fag off the gods but alas it was not to be).
On my return I went bak via the Sagon Hotel where I stood around lookingvery suspicious for 45mby hijacking their wifi signal checking my email, getting the news and talking to M&D. Also found a sammich stand (i think it may have been one I went to yesterday) that did a very spicy roll with a lot of things i've never seen before - it comes in a couple of pieces of paper which appear to be from her child's maths or economics homework (very bizarre wrapping protocols in Asia, some places give you three plastic bags per item and others save microcents by giving it to you in their children;s homework) certainly not a bigass sammich in scale or taste but very delicious nonetheless. I've also started to get a taste for the vietnamese coffee, they have these tiny little one glass drip filters which are filled up and let to percolat tover a thicklayer of condensed milk - the milk is so thick that it doesn't mix at all until you use the spoon. It's very sweet but it's excellent - I don't really have the room for souveneirs at all but I think I might need to make an exception for these.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Faith In Vietnam

Well, i've been mostly overcharged today, given the wrong directions and have had attempts at theft of my belongings but I think i've gained some faith in the Vietnamese people. I think it was ust the ones in Hanoi that pissed me off so much - there's not nearly as much glaring and scowling down here in Hue as there was up north. Ha Long Bay was probably the worst - when we went to dinner there was a pretty big group of us so we pushed the three assigned tables together only to have them pulled apart again; we tried to explain by gestures and talking (and I KNOW they spoke some English) but they just shook their heads angrily and pulled them apart. And they made sure that there was an even number of people on each table to the point of forcefully seperating a lesbian Italian couple (one could tell by the overt PDAs displayed CONSTANTLY between them) - I'm sitting with her; NO! There!; No, I am sitting with HER!; and him violently pointing at another seat ...
Everyone seems very nice down here - the tour operator who may actually speak pretty good English but so LOUDLY and with such a strange accent that I just had to shake my head and tell her - I don't understand a word you're saying; repeat it S-L-O-W-L-Y ... I think i'm going on a boat trip tomorrow - I really can't be sure; the people in the shops; the guy in the Internet café was brilliant - when I couldn't connect my PDA to their old PC I googled a wi-fi spot in Hue (and let me tell you, they have been in every city i've been in) and he gave me directions to it (a new hotel in the city) - I was wandering in the vague direction and the guy came up to me on his motorbike and demanded that he take me there - unfortunattly it turned out to be still under construction but it was the thought that counts; I later found one outside one of the 5 star hotels and I didn't want to hang around too long in case one of the snooty car moving guys thought I was staking the place out.
Also, stopped at a little shop for a pepsi and was cornered by four of the cutest children i've seen on this trip ... one little girl, Dang, was obviously the ring leader and she had a little brother and two older sisters ... their mother and grandmother worked the shop and they annoyed tourists - they snatched my PDA off me and I managed to get it back by swapping it for my camera, which Dang drained the batteries thereof very promptly (photos will follow of these ones because they were certainly the highlight of the day). Despite most people over here being much nicer than up north (thus far) nearly all of the children ar super friendly - I think they must learn to despite westerners when they hit high school or something.
Also had a very strange Skype conversation with Robespiere this afternoon - he still hasn't got a microphone so it was like talking to a mute person - I would talk and he would message back - it seemed to work pretty well although I did get some pretty strange stares in the street by talking into my PDA like a star trek com unit.
And disaster struck when I dropped my vegemite jar and smashed the bottom of t - it's still there but it's not going to make any more journeys - I think i'm going to have to have a bit of a binge before I leave Hue.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Ha Lang Bay

14 August- Got woken up by alarm clock at 6:15 this morning and managed to croak out my good morning to the country. I had a quick shower before the phone rang - my wakeup call. I 'd received one yesterday as well, the guy who woke me up sounded more asleep than me ... Hhhheelllooo? Um ... Wak .. Mrmffmmup ... I think next time I ought to give him a wakeup call. After my morning bread and fruit I perched myself on the front step waiting for the tour bus to come and pick me up. One of the old bread sellers wandered up to me and offered me her wares - as I was still a little peckish I accepted a sugar encrusted doughnutty thing and I paid her 50000 dong (about 4 dollars, all I had) she smiled, took it and wandered off ... I grabbed her and demanded change ... She smiled and gave me 5000 and then wandered off again; I grabbed her again, 10000, not enough, another 5, eventually I managed to get 30000 change off her - I 'd still paid way too much and she had the temerity to be angry at me but I'd just had enough so I gave up. Eventually a girl came to take me to the bus for Ha Long Bay. Lots of milling around the street, nobody telling us where we were supposed to go - I was eventually told to get on a bus and was then promptly taken off it and put onto another. Very long drive to the handicapped childrens centre where we were offered trinkets and overpriced ice creams before moving on to Ha Long Bay. I'd met a very interesting English guy (from Cornwall) and we chatted the entire way to the bay. When we got to the lunch stop he was told to leave the group - me? Yes, just you ... Never saw him again, maybe we ate him. Lunch was like prison chow time - about 200 tables of eight all being servd the exact same food (squid, seaweed, fish, tofu, rice) with overpriced beer. Evntually escaped that and managed to find our guide (who, incidentally, had no idea who was in his group) and went down to the harbour to get in one of a hundred or so boats all called 'Tourist' to take us on cruise of the bay. Despite being harded around like cattle it was a rather nice day. The limestone islands are incredibly beautiful - they just spear themselves out of the water, there's hardly any beaches, no flat land at all, just virtually vertical pillars of rock scattered around as far as the eye can see. We stopped for a cave tour, also incredible, somewhat lessened by the dozens of boatloads of tourists traipising through in synchronous step (very reminscent of yesterday's visit to Ho chi minh's non-rotting corpse) and the mullti-coloured fluorescent mood lighting also didn't add to the effect. Also, like a sauna in there, very grateful to get back to the boat for a bt of a suntan and a chance to wring out my sodden t-shirt. The journey to Cat ba Island took about five hours and was, whilke very tranquil,m far too lkong for my liking. Met a golden skinned English flyboy (wannaba flyboy) and his dutch girlfriend who were very nice, and an incredibly irritating NZ family who thought I was english and recalled last night's rugby game results when they gound out where I was from. The rest of them either didn't speak a word of English (this included the guide) or didn't want to admit to speaking it to us.
Eventually made it back to the Cat Ba Island where we checked in to our hotel - I'm sharing a room with an Israeli guy whose name I can't pronounce - he seems okay though - and we went to a local restaurant for dinner (cpvered in tour ticket price) that served the exact same meal that we had for lunch.
I've been warned that touring in Vietnam involves always doing the package tours;it's very expensive and very difficult to do anything outside of this network - the Vietnamese like to know where the tourists in tcountry ar and what they are doing. It's great to see the sights if you're able to block out the peripheral images of thousands of other people doingthe exact same thing as you're doing. I remember seeing the busloads of Japanese tourists in Australia all being let off at one sight, taking photos, eating something, then piling back on to the bus for the next stop; closedly followed by the next tour. I always used to say to myself that it was a horrible way to see a country but it does make a bit more sense when i'm over here - the onlyway for all these people to see all these sights is to do it in the company of themselves - it's not that bad, still enjoying myself and it certainly doesn't make the views any less beautiful or

Goodbye Ha Noi Hellhole ... Hello ... Viet Nam???

15 or 16 August - Have just come off a rather excruciating 14 hour busride from Ha Noi to a new destination, somewhere south of Ha Noi ... The bus ride was rather uncomfortable - absolutely no leg room for anyone over five and a half feet tall and even though I thought i'd scored by getting an aisle seat the fact that there was somebody sleeping on the floor of the aisle beside me meant that I got no respite in that area. The second leg gave a bit more room after amy neighbour, a very British sounding Bonn girl, got off to switch buses to Laos but despite getting a bit of sleep I received some severe cricks in my neck and pains in my buttocks. I'd bought an open ticket to Saigon from my hotel and they told me i'd just be given my ticket at the agency - the agency put a few of us in a cab and told us we'd be given tickets on the bus, I didn't know what the first stop was going to be so I just said i'm going south in viet nam (which was a bit confusing when I was on the same bus as a girl going to another country) - had a bit of a stressful situation with the conductor who was asking for my receipt (didn';t have it) then what guest house I was stayingat (didn't know because they'd told me different names) but finally he gave me a ticket and asked me where iwas going - didn't know, rattled off the first major city south of ha noi, vinh, which is not on their route. I said, just drop me off with the others and it seemed to be okay. i'm still not sure what city i'm currently in but it seems a lot more rural than Ha Noi. Ha Noi was great but the pollution and the traffic were stressing me out a little - it was great to go to Ha Long Bay where a lot of the time was spent just crusing on a boat and a bit of a shock to return to the city.
I met a very nice, very French man from Tuluse named Pierre (hardly surprising) who was over here teaching French to the natives (exercise in futility??? Surely not) and we seemed to hit it off pretty well - I think i've been very lucky on most of my journeys to meet one or more people with similar interests or outlooks - a lot of the touring is spent on a bus or a train or a boat and if you're alone it can be rather dull (books ar well and good but I could be doing that at home), the fact that i've generally met non-Australians and mainly non-native English speakers (who tend to speak pretty good English regardless) is also quite refreshing as once we make it past the we are you from, where ar you going, how's your trip been part of the conversation (the quintessential opener around these parts) they've usually got something interesting to talk about. Pierre introduced me to green bean cakes and, upon our return to Ha Noi, the cheapest beer i've found anywhere (1500 dong or about 13c a glass; although it may be said, you get what you pay for).
We wandered the streets of the old quarter for ages looking for some place where we could sit down for dinner that wasn't western and finally found somewhere quite nice - however, the toilet was a new level of chaallenge that i'd not yet encountered. Asked where it was and she said upstairs, four flights up the tiniest staircase i've ever been (think of my spiral staircase, hobbit sized) I came to a shower room with no toilet, not even a hole in the ground. Just a shower head and a few plastic buckets and a drainpipe. I asked, toilet??? And the woman up there gestured me into the room - luckily it was just No1 because all I could think to do was aim for the drainpipe and then throw some water down to try to get the remnants to wash down. not very successfully I might add. Then I found that i'd locked myself in the room and had to bang for about 5m to be let out.
Pierre also told me about some nice places to get Thit Cho in Ha Noi but unfortunattly i've left the city, not to return for a while, so i'll have to see if I can find some in this town - wherever it is ... It might be Hue, don't reallywant to ask at the front desk of my hotel for sounding like an ignorant tourist (um, what city am I in???) buy i'm dutr iy eill be fine - it's quite cloudy outside so hopefully the day won't be too oppressive.
Also, finished Piers Anthony's blockbuster science fiction Cluster series last night (well, the first three anyway, 4 and 5 were merely addendums to the story) - not nearly as enjoyable as they were when I was 16 - still epic in scope and amazing in concept but very repetitive and kind of dull at times. can't really complain - I don't know why I was re-reading them anyway, it's not as if Andromeda wins if you read it for a second time. Now onto the Chornicles of Narnia - only reading the children's books because the movie is coming out later this year and I want it to be fresh in my mind ... I would read something a bit more high brow if only someone would email it to me .... Mr Johnston, hmm???
* * *
Have just been for a bit of a run around town (getting a bit lost on my return naturally) and i've confirmed that the city i'm in is Hue, i'll probably do a tour of sorts tomorrow and after that will make my way to Hoi An.

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Vietnamese Impressions

The Vietnamese that i've met thus far seem to be very different from the Thais. For one thing, they don't smile nearly as much as the Thai people- they always seem to be glaring at you - even when they're serving you they're giving you the impression that they don't love you and they don't really care whether you're taken in by them or not.
Maybe it's because they have stronger jawlines or are better dressed (many of the woman are wearing traditional dress and the men seem to wear immaculately tailored trousers, square toed shoes and dress shirts - unlike the Thai equivalent of rubber sandles, shorts and t-shirts [which is what I seem to be wearing more often than not)] but they just leave a far less personable impression on me. They are very beautiful people but only because they are so icy cold with their arrogant demeanour.
Maybe that's what happens when you kick out your colonial power and top it off by humiliating a superpower ... They know they're capable of so much but they're still stifled by such poverty - very interesting place.

Gooood Moorrrnniinnnggg Vietnam!

It was most amusing waking myself up with the subject line today - it will be less amusing when I do it tomorrow and may start to be annoying when I do it the next day and the day after that (i didn't even like the movie, really) but today was a bit stressful.
WOke up quite early to a breakfast, which left a bit to be desired, coffee (probably nescafe) and morning bread (although I brought my own Vegemite which was good) and very strange tasting bananas (i seem to have lost my taste for the wonder fruit over here) - after that avoided numerous taxi drivers to walk myself to the Temple of Literature, absolutely underwhelming but also brilliant to have a temple devoted to something of worth rather than to a figment of the imagination or an overrated historical figure. Lots of touritsts but that was to be expected (i am not denying my own status over here by any means); after that little sojourn was off to see Ho Chi Minh (the overrattd historical figure) and it was HELL. The queue was literally miles long; I was told that it would only take about half an hour so I decided to wait. First I had to hand over my bag and then about 20m later I had to hand over my PDA, camera and phone (which doesn’t workP - they told us not to leave valuables in the bag which they were minding. THe queue moved rather swiftly but this was because the immaculately dressed guards and queue ladies were moving us along by glaring, shouting and shoving. I'm very happy to be moved along by an authority figure but I do not like to be pushed. Several times, my automatic reaction was almost to push them back when they prodded me. The heat was rather horiffic and it was a big relief to actuallyget into HCM's mausalleum, shoved around a bit by the gawping tourists and the soldiers themselves but it was nice to see the embalimg work - kind of dull but I didn't really expect much more. It was quite interesting listening to the american toursits behind me with their private guide who was reciting verbatim the Lonely Planet history of Ho Chi Minh and how he came to be embalmed in this place. Got out and had to endure more phsysical shoving before managing to retrieve my things (my phone had managed to be disassociated from my other possessions and so I had to argue with the dude to get it back) - finally left the area and had a long hard wander back to the hotel where I was told I was being moved to one of their sister hotels and I had to vacate the room. Where was it/ It was close. No, what's the address/ Just 5m away. What's the name? Very close. F**k it, fine, packed up and wandered down to the Spotted Cow around the lake to see what the hanoi hash house harriers run was going tobe like. I got there a bit early and met two americans, vietnam vets, who were nice enough but were doing a different kind of travelling to me, getting drunk, staying at the hilton, playing golf (and screwingaround with the local prostitutes ast my guess) - they bought me a coke.
There were a few people at the pub who were going to the run and I chatted with some of them. It was a 100,000D and it was going to be a 1hr bus ride out past the airport to the site - I had no other plans and needed the exercise so I accepted. i'd never heard about these groups until I read about them in Lonely Planet (and even then it was very brief) but apparently it's a world wide phenom for expats (and others) to get together regularly for a semi-orienteering run trough the town and follow it with some drinking. There were about 30 of us and we set off following markers and getting lost and finding new markers and carrying on. It was quite tiring but I certainly kicked those ex-pat's collective asses. Some of them were pretty good runners but most were there for the post run drinking - there were lots of silly drinking songs and some really obnoxious commentary from some of them. I have to say the British and American guys I met on the run were not the kind of people I would like to hang out with ordinarily but do think the other chapters of the the HHH might offer some opportunity for training in coming weeks.
Finally made it back to mguesthouse in order to be directed to my new residence and I was informed that I would not need to change hotels, merely rooms, and i've been given one that is just about exactly the same as my old one -a tlhough it doesn't have a window onto the street (and in Hanoi, that is a good thing).

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Next Stop ... ???

11 August - Am currently in a train making my way to the next destination. Took a minibus from Pai back to Chang Mai and had a hamburger and chips for lunch (personally, I don't see the problem with this because I eat plenty of Thai food when I'm at home) before spending too much on a replacement set of sandles and too much on a tuk tuk to the train station. I'll probably end up paying too much for my meal on this train and too much for transport to my next leg but what are you going to do, it's still pretty cheap.
One of the attendants (waiter? Chef??? I don't know) is a fucking pest. He keeps on coming up to me trying to get me to buy beer. I said i'd have one with the meal and he brought the wrong one (a big one) it to me 10m later; he was just about to open it when I realised it was meant for me and I stopped him. He's come back about three times since and won't bugger off. He just brought me one now so I presume the food is coming; have seen some of it go past it looks a bit too much like hospital food for my liking ... Although the snack on the train last time was okay i'm still not looking forward to the culinary treats on this leg.
12 August - Very unpleassant night's sleep. The sleeping bed is actually quite cute - an attendant wearing a doctor's mask zooms through pulling the top bunkdown and converting the seats into beds. However, as I may have mentioned before my colossal frame is just too big for Thai sleeping accommodation and I was scrunched up into a ball. I would sleep for about 15m before I got uncomfortable and I would wake up and turn over, scrunch up again and sleep for another 15m.
Also, the food is terible - the soup with dinner was okay but they gladwrap all the food bfore bringing it to you making it really sweaty and it's just warm by the time it makes it. They definitely cook it on the train and I suppose it's necessary to prevent it from being thrown all over the place but my breakfast was just inedible. I miss my Adobaya Café in Pai so much ... real bread and fresh food and the cutest waitress on five continents. Now i've got sweaty eggs, rubber ham and a f**king pest who pretends not to understand what i'm saying.

Goooood Afffftttternoon Vietnam!!!

12 August - Am back on a jetplane after a very, very uncomfortable train ride (why can't Asian people be bigger???) but i've managed to score the emergency exit seat (which really doesn't have any additional space at all) so that's a small plus. I've met a dapper old Englishman émigré who gave me directions to getting to the old quarter where cheap(er) accommodation can be found. Also bumped into R(cannot remember his name to save my life) and Sussane, a dutch couple who I met through the other dutch groups back in Chang Mai. They were on their way home via Munich but it was nice to see a familiar face (not that I really get very far anywhere in Thailand without seeing someone or other from my trip).
Decided to change my route and go straight to Hanoi so I can head south from there and into Cambodia before hitting the Thai beaches at the end. Unfortunattly you can't get to Vietnam from Chang Mai so I had to go via Bangkok. I made a few phone calls before getting the announcement and having to rush off to the check in; a very large queue through the metal detectors meant I was one of the last ones on the plane but no big problem. The food on the plane was infinitely better than the train but still left a bit to be desired. The old English guy and a Kiwi traveller who was sitting across the aisle from me (he was kind of creepy actually) took the local bus into town and me and the kiwi shared a cab into town with a Vietnamese guy we met on the bus. We asked to go to a guesthouse listed in the lonely planet but were taken to a different street from the one in the Lonely P. We got there and I asked what the name of the GH was and they said, Mai Son, Mai Son (the same name) and the furniture inside seemed to be what the LP described and it was the same price. After I'd paid the card they gave Kim Tim Tim. The room seemed very nice at first, large bed, lots of antique furniture, westernish bathroom but after I got settled I realised that a spare single bed in the room was soaked with water from a leak in the ceilingnd the toilet was broken. Managed to get another room one floor up that is a little smaller but doesn't seem to have any glaring faults. First real culture shock i've had in a while - the streets make Bangkok seem like Burra. They're driving on the right side of the road for one thing and you have to walk straight into the traffic slowly and the cars and bikes will just move around you. I went for a bit of a wander, the shops don't seem to pester you that much but there are so many of them and they are all clustered together, about two blocks of shoe shops, two blocks of silk shops, three blocks of sunglass shops etc. However, the motorcycle taxis ar really pushy - the only way to avoid them is to ignore them.
I've also found a bar where they do a run from every Saturday at 230 (I've been told by a reliable source that today is Friday). Basically, turn up, pay $5 (everything is quoted in US dollars) and they take you in a minibus to an undisclosed location, you go for a run and come back and get drunk. Sounds like a plan to me.
I think i'm going to go get something to eat and then i've kind of planned to go for a drink with the creepy Kiwi (he's staying at the same GH as me). We'll see what happens next.
Just come back from a drink with the creepy NZ guy - we went to an Australian café to see if they would be showing the rugby tomorrow, met another Kiwi (slightly less irritating) and then went off to another Aussie pub before returning to the GH. Then, he decided we would go for another beer down the road. Matt (short for something Maori) is a rather strange man - big drinker, nice enough but likes the sound of his own voice too much and he gave me and a nice Danish couple a bit of a verbal assault on the conditions of minority groups in NZ and Australia - anyway, time to go to bed, i've got to see as much as I can of Hanoi before the run (and perhaps the rugby tomorrow night, ooohhhh).

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Facial Expressions Whilst Receiving Massage

What are the acceptable facial expressions one can use whilst receivinga massage. Are you allowed to laugh when it tickles, grimace when it hurts or, slightly more embarassing, show pleasure when it feels really good? Or are you just supposed to keep a stoic look of sereness at all times. Sometimes it feels really good and one has to stifle a groan because you're paranoid that the masseur will think you're getting off on it and demand that you leave the premises. Other times, more common, they grind their elbow down into your bum or your leg bone and it's pure agony and you can barely hide a grimace or even a yelp or scream of pain and then they either keep on going sadistically or, worse, they think you can't handle the pressure at all and they completely tone down the rest of the massage and it feels like he or she's just tickling you with a feather. It can be very confusing but serenity seems like the best option ... If only they'd let me be.


10 August - Today, the plan was to make my way to the Mae Peng waterfall. Didn't know much about it other than the fact that it was there and it was suppoedly 4 hours walk from town.
Took me a little while to find the right exit from town to get on the way to the waterfall. Very badly labeled streets with the English signs posted nowhere near the roads. Eventually found myself on the right path - a pretty steep track up the mountain. I was just wearing my sandles but they seemed mopre than adequate for the job. Eventually the path came to the river and stopped. A local farmer helped me to that the path went through the river and I removed said sandles and crossed. Finally found the path again and carried on. To another crossing of the river. Removed shoes and crossed. Another crossing. Eventually I got sick of taking my shoes on and off again so I went barefoot (the shoes were only imitation leather and unlikely to withstand the rigours of walking through water). I felt like a giant hobbit making my way through some very hardy terrain to complete an important mission. When the rain came bucketing down it only increased my sense of bravado. The path was very difficult to follow and it kept on disappearing completely and I would just have to follow the water until I came to a likely exit The path was also very rocky and very slippery and it started to become very painful on my feet. I had a walking s tck i'd found but I could only hold it in my right hand because my left was still lacerated from yesterday's bike crash. However, despite this it was abssolutely beautiful scernery. And there was absolutely no-one around me for miles. I couldn't hear a single person or even see evidence of a person for ages at a time. it was very reassuring to be walking on a path (and mujch easier on my feet) but the sensation of complete isolation was something i've not felt for an age and it was wonderful.
After a few hours I found myself at a completely dead end. I had to climb up some very slippery rocks and rapids to get to ... Another dead end. I checked my watch and realised that i'd ben going three hours and it was going to get dark before I returned if I didn't turn back at that point. Considering I could see no way of climbing out of the canyon edged river I gave a few coo-ees and started back. After about 20m I came across three Israeli treckers (who i'd briefly met last night) - can't remember names but when I told them it was adead end and the waterfall was not for a while they decided to return witme. Quite nice guys, but slightly irritating - they fave me some Oreos so I can't speak too badly about them. One of them questioned me about the current state of Big brother on Oz TV, unfotunatetly I couldn't oblige him.
They WERE wearing sandles and took a much quicker pace than me back - really strugglling with bare feet - I considered putting them on despite my concerns for their condition and found that i'd lost one so I couldn't put them on. Because we were taking a quicker pace back it became much harder to get careful footing and I found myself in a lot of pain. Howeverf, this did mean our return uld be before nightfall. Eventuialy made it back to town (about six hours walking in total) and I took leave of my companions and after eating something I went for a well deserved foot massage ... It hurt almost as much as the walk did but I think it probably did some good.
Found myself a pub trivia in one of the local bars and joined a team wioth some of the people i'd met the previous night (the SAME crowd seems to be following me around, or i'm following them) and we placed a respectible second (and I won't be remiss to point out that this was almost solely due to my contribution). Am thinking of heading off tomorrow - will see where my path takes me.

Back on the bike again (and lost in Thailand again)

9 August - The open mic nite at the local bar was actually very, very good. Lots of musos who took their music and personal talent way too seriously but lot's of fun anyway. A few really good singers and some pretty awful ones too but that's to be expected. Most of the songs were a bit too folksy for my tastes but that's what you get with acoustic instruments, I suppose. One lesson that might have been learned for any prospective open mic nite wannabee is 'play the song that everyone knows the words to and ye will be a god' ... Everyone singing along to 'wonder wall', there just aren't that many words in that song, was very nice.
Still a little sore from yesterday so hired a bike from the local man, they had one reasonably new mountain bike in my size, still wearing chafing pants, but much more comfortable than the last attempt.
Rode around a bit to get my bearings - past about two dozen elephants doing rides, a few babies as well. Have to admit i'm not that amazed by the rides but it's just amazing to see them walking across the roads, standing around, just like the thousands of dogs that litter all of the Thailand I've seen. Rode up to some hot springs (80 degrees) and tried to find a place where they mixed with the river for a swim but to no avail. Tried to find alterante springs but the maps are just too detachedfor the landscape to help. After that went down to Pai Canyon for lunch,very beautiful, very similar to the Australian landscape too. All very red, if you saw a photo (which i'll attach one of these days) you'd think it was the outback. After that tracked down another waterfall which was miles uphill - easier to ride than to run but really, really rough terrain and some very steep descents as well. Certainly the roughest off-rode riding i've ever done, almost went over the handlebars a few times and had to wheel it through very sticky mud at other times. Worth it when I came to the waterfall - huge pool about 2m deep being filled by a 25m fall - swam around for a bit and was joined by a few others after a while.
Now, after this rather nice if rather strenuous ride around Pai wasn't enough I decided to get a taaway coffee to drink at my leisure at the guesthouse. I may be an experienced cyclist of sorts but all my talent wasn't going to sttop me from falling to pieces on the arduous 50m ride between Abodaya Café and Kenter Guest House. I've got soeme awful gashes on my hand (which conmplement my feet scarss to a a very nice stigmatic cosztume) and my knee is a quite swollen and painful. Should be fine by morning, I hope. Somewhere along the way my umbilical jewel went missing, which will have to be replaced at some point.
Also went to the bamboo bar tonight and foiund a lot of the same people who were at lucky blaskos last night who happened to be, coincidentally, the same people from bebops the night before. A very pleasant night crowd, to be sure, but a bit repetitive.
ps- yesterday, I paid way too much for a jar of vegimeite but I broughjt it to my lucky rottee man and explained to him then benefits of merging vegemite and cheese and together we created a cheesymite rottee, hopefully our creation will catch on and usher in a brave new world of late night snacks but, more likely, it will be ignored and only ever seen on the occasions when an Australian is so sapped of vitamin B that he brings his own condiment to the rottee maker for creation into the life giving substance of cheesymite.

Lost In Thailand

Last night went out to an okay Thai fondue restaurant (very good value but just not that great - when I go out to eat I like to get them to cook for me, maybe i've just grown lazy thus far); after that checked out the Bebop bar, which, according to Lonely Planet, is the only bar in town worth going to but is one of the best places in Thailand. It took a while to get going and the band was mainly doing Bob Dylan covers (and i'm pretty ambivalent about Bob Dylan) but it livened up and the next band was better, if not terribly inspiring. A little later home meant we had to search a bit harder for banana pancakes but found them and afterwards I went to bed with my contact lenses in (@oke up at about 3 barely able to open my eyes). Got up a bit later than yesterday and after a frugal breakfast of below average coffee and above average bread I set off to find the waterfall. I was carrying my daypack on my back (which i've taken to doing for security reasons sometimes) but I loaded it up with a croissant, steamed bun and water and set off towards the mountain. The maps the tourist authority gives for this town are like the maps from Lord of the Rings. A vague approximation of what is where with lines drawn between sites that have no relation to the shape or direction of the road. I keep on expecting to see 'Here be Dragons' and an arrow pointiong to one of the more inhospitable areas. Satellite images that are not, gerard mercator would be spinning in his grave. Getting up there wasn't too bad although I kind of forgot that water falls downward which would indicate but not guarantee that a waterfall would be quite high up the hill. The road was quite smooth all of the way but there was a very gentle, but very noticable incline for the entire journey of 9 or so km. This did not make things much easier at all and I was struggling towards the end where the incline became pretty sharp. One amusing this was when I was nearing the end a young Thai woman drove up beside me and shouted at me. I stopped to better understand and it only dawned on me when she put two fingers to her lips and sucked, "Ganja? Ganja?" So that's where it's to be got.
I would have been runningthrough some breathtaking landscapes but I really couldn't tell because i'd left my contacts back at the bungalow and I couldn't run in my glasses (steamy) but the waterfall the other end was beautiful (i will get around to posting pictures on this site sometime). I guzzled my water and buns (a very unfortunate aspect of this town is that all the people who sell steamed buns are Muslim, which ordinarilymight not be so bad but it means that you can custard buns, red bean buns, coconut buns, black bean buns, chicken buns, chick and potato buns ... But no STEAMED PORK BUNS!!!! The only thing, as Ropespiere assures me, that recharges your energy to full, as it was, I couldn't have been operating on full capacity on my return). The water was very nice, I waited a bit too long before plunging in and i'd already cooled down a bit but it was still very nice and the water is like being pelted with stones). Eventually, I decided to head back down and this is where the problem started. Going down hill isn't much more pleasant than going up hill, it's very jarring on your knees and it's hard to keep balance, I found myself in a lot of discomfort after the first 30m and then the next 30m, I realised that it only had taken me 45m to get to the top so i'd obviously taken a wrong turn at some point and rather than choosing the path to Pai i'd chosethe path to PAIN!!! I kept on going for a while but eventually realised that I was totally lost, i'd asked people for vague directions a few times and had en pointed in a direction but it wasn;t long before I realised it was time to stop running. I can't remember being in as much pain as I was this on that journey. Eventually a farang on a bike approached and he gave me good directions to get back (well, mostly good) and I recognised him a guy i'd passed yestersterday morning on my run (his neighbour had a cute little dog who'd chased me and nipped at my ankles for about half a kilometer, vvery fastfor such little legs) and he invited me over for a coffee next time I passed (i may well take him up on that it does mean that i'll have to find his place again, not that easy for me). Eventually got back to my guest house about 4 hour after I left but feeling quite reieved. I had a Thai massage afterwards which helped somewhat although i'm still not feeling great.
Now stuck in a bar in town waitingfofr the storm to pass ...
Some aging hippie approached me in the markets and told me there's an open mic nite somewhere in town, great vibe, nice people, cool tunes (bobbing his head up and down as he explained) so I might wander to that later on tonight.

Sunday, 7 August 2005

Hippie Paradise

Woke up pretty early - it seems that daylight is becoming my alarm clock over here. I was convinced it was about 9 when I got up but it was only 7. SInce it wasn't too hot I decided to go for a run - and it was fantastic. The first proper one that i've had in the country where I wasn't choked down by fumes, heat and humidity. Chang Mai was better than Bangkok but this was almost pleasant. Still very hot and humid compard to home but there are long, quiet stretches of road through jungle, villages and farms. It feels a little bit like Rocky IV (the next world war) where I'm running through beautiful landscape with all the locals stopping their honest labour to watch me (except they're typically not stoppingwhat they're doing and i'm not being trailled by KGB agents). I went 45m out and then back (took me 50, not a good sign), which was a lot longer than i've done in the cities but the saruman level was a lot lower because of the much better conditions. I'd say it was only about 2.5 sarumans, 3 tops. It would be nice to be able to just do a training montage and have it all be over but unfortunately i'm not in a movie (at least I don't think I am). Got back with very sore nipples (the nylon has a habit of chafing them) but felt very good nonetheless. Also had a very nice breakfast with real bread (none of the sweetened stuff) which was very welcome. Had a bit of a wander through town, it's quite dead today, I think it's because it's a Sunday but it could just be that this is the way to the town is. It's very pretty and there seems to be quite a large Muslim population (quite a few women are wearing full burkhas), which might be why the ISraelis are trying to take over.
Also bumped into Avatal again at one of the local cafes and had a very nice chat - politics came up and it was very interesting to get an Israeli side of the situation. Very lucky that it's this Israeli that I met and not some of the others i've bumped into over the years. Apparently they have a very bad reputation in Thailand, there ar some shops that just won't serve Israelis, they don't want the business. Avatal presumes it's because of the behaviour of some of them, I haven't witnessed too much of it. A few load and annoying people in bars but that every nationality seems to have those types. One of the reasons they cause so much trouble, according to Avatal, is because most of them have just come out of two or three year service.in the army and I have to say that that makes a lot of sense. I remember when one of my friends came out of the army reserve he and his army friends were awful when they were out socialising. ALso, there's nothing worse than a sailor on shore leave. So I suppose it's not surprising, if not excusable, that the young Israelis have such a bad rep.
Apparently there's a very nice waterfall about 9k out of town so I might run out there in the morning. A lot of the things to do here are a little bit far out so i will probably have to hire a bike again. There are lots of signs saying that motorbikes are severe health hazards in this town, which is surprising as it seems a lot safer to ride around here than it is some of the major cities. Perhaps people just aren't as carful here as they are in town. I've tried out some of the mountain bikes here but they're just not built for my collosal frame - also, after last time in Ayathaya, i'm tempted not to get back on a bike again until I have padded lycra between me and the seat (which wouldn't look in place in this town).

Up in Little Israel

Arrived in Pai tonight after a brief adventure in Chang Mai. Rode around on the bike all morning, trying to get my money's worth beforfe it had to be returned. Definitely the best way to get around town I think. Afterwards had a late breakfast in a café (mango and sticky rice, very nice) and got chaatting with a brazilian guy who's up here studying thai massage. Got a bit distracted and realised that I had 10 minutes before the minivan was due to pick me up. Thus far, it's all veen very casual re: getting picked up and dropped off but I didn't want want to take any chances so I ran down the street in the vague direction I thought my guesthouse was in. Aman on a motorcycle asked me where I was going and I told him, i've got to be at my guesthouse in 10m, are you a taxi??? He shook his head but asked me whic one it was anyway. I managed to hail down a taxi who spoke no English and the motorcycle guy told me he'd take me there for 40b (more than you'd pay for a taxi but I as hardly in a position to negotiate). I got on the back and we took off. Wasn;t long before I realised he was going in the wrong direction (he had no idea where the Rose was) but, surprisingly, I managed to take us back to the house wher, obviously, it was a 30m wait before the minivan turned off.
Met a very nice young Israeli girl on the bus named Avatel, the first Israeli i've met on this trip. After that we went to pick up the next people, two more Israeli's ... After that, another Israeli. After that a bunch of Brits. The road to Pai was very long and quite annoying. We had to switch minivans on the way and I managed to get slightly more legroom on the second leg (of the journey that is, not my right one). The road was very windy and very foggy but we went through a lot of jungle, which was very pleasant compared to the dusty Chang Mai streets (which in turn, were very pleasant compared to the claustrophobic, smoggy Bangkok streets, which, in their turn were pleasant compared to the all too familiar Sydney streets). Eventually got to Pai, which, at least at early evening, was beautiful. Full of low wooden buildings that come right on to the street. Even less crowded than Chang Mai but still full of obvious tourists. Avatel (hope i'm spelling this right) knew of a nice guesthouse from a friend's recommendation and we tried that one. Easily the best place i've found since i've come here. Individual wooden bungalows with a little balcony, own bathroom (with a mostly western toilet) and a bamboo ceilings. However, upon arriving I went to unlock my bag only to find that the key to the padlockwhich is always in a zipped pocket in my travel pants had disappeared. Went back to the minivan place to see if it could be found (it couldn't) so went back to the guesthouse and had to borrow a hammer and chisel to smash it off - which was actuallyvery enjoyable. I haven't had nearly enough opportunities to smash things since i;ve got here.
Me and Avatel went to check out the eating options and it was then that I noticed that the people in the table next to us were speaking Hebrew. THe people behind them were also speaking Hebrew. Every tourist in this town seems to be from Israel. I mentioned it to Avatel who told me that this was where they all came - haven't met any in the past two weeks but now I realise why. They're all in Pai. Still haven’t met any Australans over here but I can't say that that s something that has bothered me thus far. Had a very nice chat with Avatel and desperately tried to keep the subject away from politics by sticking to asking for travel advice but inevitably it came up and it was a great relief to find out that she was a rabid leftie (very interesting to hear the liberal Israeli perspective of the 'situation').
Am looking forward to checking out the Pai scenery tomorrow - it's much cooler and has loads of walks and is much less crowded than everywhere else i've been so should be better for running around in ... Will see how tomorrow pans out.

Saturday, 6 August 2005

The simple things ...

Ah, the joys of wearing clean underwear. Not many things can compare to it. I'm sitting in my pokey guesthouse room wearing nothing but my underwear because I enjoy the sensation so much. Three days of hiking can really start to chafe on you but all is well thanks to the good washer woman of Rose Guest House. She even folded all my shirts and matched my socks. I have to say that I love having other people do things for me and in Thailand I can afford for them to do it.
Hired a motorcycle (well, moped) today to see some of the sites. I didn't want to tell the woman that it had been about 15 years since i'd actually ridden one before. As it was I asked how do I start it, how do I change gears? How do I stop it? How do I ride it? It didn't actually take too long to get the hang of it - the traffic in Chang Mai is nothing compard to Bangkok but still a damn sight more chaotic than Sydney. I suppose riding a real bike in Sydney gives me a slight advantage over a complete novice - at least I know how to stay upright on two wheels. It makes such a difference to be able to get to anywhere so quickly after trudging around for days - although as my map reading abilities aren't that great it still took quite a while after constantly finding myself on one way streets (that didn't seem to bother some of the other bike riders) and dead ends. Saw some very beautiful wats and statues but I am getting a bit of wat-fatigue.
Did really enjoy mucking around on the bike - after I recovered from my slight hangover from last night by eating an American breakfast (which I swore to myself on my second day that I would not touch again) I was in heaven.
Also went for another run around the park - it was a bit more crowded with runners this time - mostly older people as well - the heat was still very oppressive despite going at about 5pm but i'm kind of getting used to it - I am looking forward to Europe where it will be a lot more pleasant to run around in - but I really have no choice but to get used to it for the moment.
Peeling a little bit from my burns but looks like it's all going brown so I should be fitting in with the natives in no time. Tomorrow I think I might head out to Pai.

Friday, 5 August 2005

Unplanned night

After the trek, despite it not being very hard, I did just want to have a bit of a nap. Took me a few minutes to find a suitably cheap guesthouse and then I went to find something to eat. After eating something with way too much MSG in it I wandered back to the hotel and was accosted by a very nice woman who told me of her pub round the corner that had live music. Thinking that this would be a nice way to spend a few hours I headed in the vague direction of it (i think, i'm still getting lost around Chang Mai) but found myself walking past Marcel and Sander,s hotel (it's a small town) and Laura and Marlocs happened to be in the courtyard drinking beer with yet another Dutch couple, Susan and ... His name escapes me. They called me over and convinced me to come to 'Bubbles', one of the more respectable discotheques in Chang Mai, indeed in Thailand. Marcel and Sander turned up and we had a tearful reunion, at our last meeting having pledged to catch uo some time again in Amsterdam, sorry, Holland (apparently there's more than one city in that country). Eventually six of us took a single tuk tuk to the nightclub, undercarriage constantly scraping the road every time there was a bump. I was not exactly wearing proper clubbing attire. For one thing I didn't bring anything with me that would be suitable and most of my clothes were in the laundy anyway. However, jungle stained board shorts and sandles don't seem to bother the bouncers at Bubbles, and although it seemed quite an upmarket club I was probably (hopefully) not the worst dressed person there. We had an enjoyable night of dancing before the club closed at 2 or 3am. Frtunately i'd bumped into Gimi, a Liverpudlian from my old guest house who'd told me that 'Spicy' was the place to be after Bubble closed. Spicy turned out to be an absolutely claustrophobic hellhole close to Moon Muang Rd. Some brief attempts at a drink and dancing resulted in the Dutch deciding it would be a night with me n close pursuit. I also had a bit of a war to find some water to rinse my contacts from, had to buy it from a very snooty hotel and even after charging me not twice, not twce but four times the normnal price also decidsed that they wouldn't lelt me remove it from the premises. Eventually sorted out at great pain and expense (about a dollar). Saw one interesting thing tho, a gentle old man was going for his morning constitutional whilst it was still daRK (4am). Probably the only time that it's not going to melt you down to your base elements.
Am not looking forward to Wat seeking toimorrow.
Ps - at my new guesthouse it appears that somebody has left behind a copy of 'the time traveller's wife', 'the' book of 2004. I'd desperately been looking for an electronic version to no avail and had also searched the second hand bookshelves with a similar result. I've taken to reading it in the common area until someone comes and claims it but it looks like it might become a temporary possession of mine. I have to read it quick because i've started to have my piers anthony interest rekindled by the recent discovery of the electronic versions of his acclaimed Cluster series.
Pps - also had a banaka rottee after dinner tonight. Very, very nice. Tastes just like the pancakes mum used to make, back when she used to make pancakes for me. Which has been a while when you come to think of I. So, mum, if you't re reading this, you know what you need to get in place before my eventual return.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Not so bad

Justchecked out the guest house where I left my bag and while change is still at large my running shirt was dumped on floor.Hurrah!

Had to happen ...

I knew this would happen at some point and it appears that it had. I left my bag with the guest house while I went on the trip (the bag itself was locked) but i'd washed out my running shirt the night before it was still damp. I put it into the separate pocket at the top of the bag and didn't think anything of it. However, i'd also left the balance of my Australian coinage in that pocket and it must have jingled. Therefore you can probably guess what happened. Very, very annoyed (but relieved because it could have been a lot worse).

Jungle Trekking

Just come back from a rather enjoyable three day trek through the jungle.
It was a very interesting mix of people ... Lots of Dutch (including Marcel and Sander who I met in Bangkok), a slightly older French couple who were die hard walkers (even had their own walking sticks that they took with them around the world), also another Frenchman, Emmerich, who was travelling with a Bolivian guy named Sebastian and two girls (one Vietnamese and one Thai) whose names escape me. Also, by a spot of lucky coincidence, Julie, the French girl we met in Bangkok happened to choose the same tour we did (albeit only the two day version she left us after the first night). There was also a very young, very pretty, very ... Essex girl named Carla, who was actually very nice despite what they say about people who come from Essex.
After a fairly lengthy minibus trip to the foot of the mountains we took luncheon and then made our way up the first leg of the mountain. It was about 45 degrees up for a few hours and it was extremely hot and humid (what else is new???). However, as we had quite a few guides we could separate the wheat from the chaff and a few of us pushed on ahead. There were two guides who led the way, Pracak, a young mute hill triber, and another boy who couldn't have been more than eight years old. He would have to have been one of the meanest looking little men I've ever seen. Definitely a juvenile delinquent if ever i've seen one and probably a gangboss on layby to boot. The only times I saw him smile where when he threw a rock at a dog and when he shook a tree that I was walking under so that I was drenched in water. Interesting thing to note was that all of the guides went either barefoot or just wore thongs or sandals. Hardly the most appropriate footwear for such a steep and slippery climb you would expect. I was the firt one to the village and we must have arrived a bit earlier than expected because one of the village girls was sending an SMS from her mobile when I walked in (not a very traditional form of communication for such rustic conditions but that's probably more the real Thailand than the brochures).
Sleeping arrangements where very basic, just mats on the floor with mosquito nets to protect us from the more aggressive bugs.
We were given a very nice green curry for dinner and afterwards we had some beer (something I didn't expect would be provided in such tranquil surroundings) and we also drank the Tullamore Dew graciously provided to me by young Robespierre at the airport (also smoked some mountain weed, which I was hoping would be found on the mountain). There was the option of chasing the dragon while we were up there but it was declined by all. It got dark around about seven but when it gets dark on the mountain it gets DARK. We had candles but they weren't very good and the circadian rhythm seems to take over when one doesn't have enough electric light to keep one up. Some retired early and I struggled for while with a few others. We were trying to communicate with Pracak, the mute boy, he would half sign, half mutter, half gesture and write (he was a little bit literate in English and fully in Thai, but there were none of us who were). As the night wore on there were more and more elaborate interpretations as to what he was saying (you want us to come down to the village, you want to be a movie star, you want us to go to bed, you want us to do a handstand etc etc). When we finally got to bed at a very reasonable hour it wasn't too hard to nod off, there was no discernible difference between having my eyes closed or open, it was PITCH BLACK.
However, the fucking roosters (and there seemed to be hundreds of them) decided that daybreak should have been at 3am and proceeded to wake up the entire group. I can sleep through most things (ask anyone who's tried to get me up for work) but that combined with a full bladder (and a nightmarish walk to the 'traditional toilet') meant sleep wasn't too great and I was the first one up at dawn and therefore had a very long wait for the traditional western breakfast of a boiled egg, three pieces of cold toast (all Thai bread seems to be loaded up with sugar so is way too sweet for me) and instant coffee with powdered milk.
We said our goodbyes to the two day trekkers who had a slightly condensed version of the trek to go. The group was reduced to me, Jean-Paul and Annique (French) and the Dutch, Marcel and Sander, Marlocs and Laura (sisters), and Irene and Monica (friends). We just had one guide, Khan, who took us off up the mountain for more touristy goodies. Saw quite a few other tour groups trekking along (including the same group that I was originally going to go on from my old guesthouse) ... There has to be about thirty or forty tour groups at any one time wandering around the mountain, the guides timing themselves so there's minimal interaction to spoil the idea that you're the only ones up there.
First major stop was a beautiful waterfall where we had a quick swim. There was one of the cutest little kids you've ever seen and he was like a little Yoda, I was at my bag and he kept on putting his hands in it and trying t take things, I eventually gave him my pen (which I needed later on) to appease him. After we'd had a swim he ran up to a big rock and then jumped off it onto me catching me round my chest and then I put him on the ground. I thought this was very endearing ... At first. After I put him down he did it again. Then again. Then again. Eventually we wandered down to the hut and his mother tried to sell us some bracelets and necklaces. She was saying 20 baht and he was screaming, 50 baht,50 baht ... A tuk tuk driver in the making methinks.
Also had bit of a medical emergency, I stepped on a bamboo shoot in barefeet and got a pretty major splinter in it. Now, normally, I wouldn't attempt this kind of operation myself without a fully equipped medical team and a quart of whiskey to steel my nerves but it was a ery painful splinter. I asked one of the girls if she had tweezers and she shook her head, no. What about a needle? No. Oh well, i'd have to live with it. I have got pincers if you need them she said. Hurrah. Damn Dutch don't know what to call a pair of tweezers, mrmghmm mwhrmm ...
Second stop was another waterfall that was so strong it was like getting a Thai massage on your back. You couldn't stand up straight without being pushed right over, definitely the highlight of the day. The walking was very easy the second day. Hardly any hills although a lot of river crossing on very precarious bridges and rocks. This was also where I seemed to be clunk. At least I didn't fall in.
Came to camp which was just a small hut with a kiosk next to it (also selling beer ...) and we had a very nice dinner and then stayed up all night playing Shithead (i've got to find a more appropriate name for that game ... It's very hard to invite a very elegant adult Frenchman to a game with a name like that). Sing, one of the guides from the first day also joined us at camp and he didn't take too long to learn the game (it also didn't take him too long to learn how to cheat at the game either). Stayed up way too late with the Dutch guys that night, they were very polite and spoke English for my benefit for the most part but as the night wore on they started to slip a bit. It was nice to be a honarary dutch for a few days though I have to say./
Got a much better night's sleep that night (there was only one rooster at this place and he seemed to know when dawn was) and after a very nice Thai scrambled eggs breakfast we had a very brief walk to the tourist assembly line. It would have to be one of the most efficient operations i've seen in this country. Loads of tour groups all being dropped off at the site then put on an elephant (finally got my elephant ride, yay!) walked up a road and back (a few stops for cars on the road and for bananas to feed them) then taken back to the main site where we alighted the elephants and another group is put on their backs. We were then given helmets and lifejackets and put on the white water boats (the boats were dropped backup from down river at a pretty constant rate) where we had a rather tame but still quite exciting raft down the river. A few rapids but nothing too difficult then we get off at one spot , heave the boats on to a truck (so that they can be driven back for another group, not the next, the next few are already on their way, strategically spaced out so you don't have too much crossover) and then jump onto some waiting bamboo rafts for an idyllic float down some more calm river. Get to the end and there's a short wait before Sing, our guide, drove us back to the start of the trek where we have lunch and then had back to town. Very nice trip I thought ... Not enough walking and the highlights (ie elephants and rafting etc) were pushed at us a bit too quickly but definitely recommend it as a good way to spend a few days at chang Mai. Next stop will be pai, I think, the hippies paradise if Lonely Planet is tobe believed but I want to check out a bit more of Chang Mai before I go. Also thinking of doing another one day walk later on from Chang Mai because there are supposed to be some very good difficult walks in the south.
Photos will follow when I get my arse into gear.