A Travellerspoint blog

Saigon behind me

it is done...goodbye saigon

sunny

I descended many thousands of feet on a bus from Dalat to Saigon so that when I emerged from the bus's belly I was once again digested in atmospheric humidity juice. Just off the bus I bumped into Trevor-small world- but we were off separate ways in no time due to pressing needs of lodging on my part and the lack of communication/opportunity rendered it our last time together in Vietnam!
But don't worry Trev, I'll see you at Burning man Next year!

I got a bed for ten bucks, which I decided soon that I could find better for the same price. So I moved the next day. Meanwhile I hired a cyclo-man for the day, and tootled around the city visiting the Vietnamese Notre dam and the China Town Market.
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That evening I visited my favorite restaurant for Indian curry. I walked around the backpacker district to people watch and enjoy my last days of this journey.

Next day Ried and Luke joined me and Katie arrived from the Mekong Delta. We spent all the next day visiting the markets and exploring the often frustratingly crazy, always entertaining downtown streets of Saigon. That afternoon we played DaCow in the park with the locals.

Katie Ried and I went to the Rooftop bar that evening.
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Afterwords Ried and I attended the best acoustic guitar session two floors below. These Philopenos could cover all the best voices.

My last night in Saigon, Luke, Ried, Katie, Samantha, and random German dude went out to eat at aforementioned fav. restaurent, and then we bought booze and went to the park to play DaGow. The street urchins were sneaky and tried to pickpocket us, but luckily, my cat like reflexes prevented this from happening. I really enjoyed just chillin in the park my last night in town.

Here Reid shows off his stuffed pepper
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Summations of Vietnam coming soon. Sorry to be so point to point to point on the last entry. Being home has been kinda a buzz kill...I'm just trying to summon the motivation to move.

Thanks everyone whose been following. For anyone who wants to do a trip in the future and seeks advice or whatever, please don't hesitate to email Seaspotrun@yahoo.com

Posted by LadyCroft 08:09 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Dabbles in Dalat

a cooling down...the end of the trip becomes a reality. i gel

sunny -17 °C
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Another night bus awaits. This time, Trevor my Abundantly Life Loving and Lucky friend, accompanied me on the long over night passage. armed with Clementines, I with a short novel (i cant even remember it now) and he with Harry Potter, we squeezed 5 abreast in the back row of the sleeper Bus. I slept somewhat less comfortably. Nha Trhang we took a walk in the early morning sun--She was actually rising out of the ocean in the only hue of orange that out shun even Trevor's vibrant spiked Crown. Geometrically trimmed bushes and trees formed a scene scape of leafy living cubes, cones, and pyramids.

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I remember this morning as being irritating: the pesky motos and hockers were really getting to us, more than usual. The coffee was confusing, (how do you--...oh now all the coffee grounds spilled in--) and I still wasn't understanding the sweet milk ratio, and we were tired and still had a long bus ride ahead. Things picked up as we left the Vietnamese coastline and headed into the highlands. We climbed into the foothills of the central highlands.

The land became deliciously hilly and the outside air tempature dropped to a lovely 70 something. My ears popped just before we hit the outskirts of Dalat, the San Fransisco of Vietnam.

The city is much larger than I expected, with houses and avenues built right into the hilly country side. thousands of terraced gardens are etched into the countryside around-growing dozens of types of vegetables, flowers, and coffee. The town was picturesque, with a large in town lake, a miniature Eiffel tower, and a bustling central market.

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Trevor and I stayed at Peace Cafe, which was alright for a few days, but I wouldn't stay there again. The ladies that run it are nice enough, but every penny will be haggled over and th
ey'll be trying to get you to use their motorbikes and tours and eat every meal in their cafe....

Otherwise, as said, place was nice enough. I talked with some easy riders and arranged a tour for the next day.

Trevor and my tour the next day was outstanding. Tue and Hung took us on the back of their bad-ass motorbikes around the countryside of Dalat.

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Flower plantations are everywhere, and Dalat's flowers are shipped all over the world, especially to Singapore. We stopped in at a flower plantation to smell the roses

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Dalat is also known for its coffee growing. And indeed, it was in this city that I finally learned the joys of Vietnamese coffee enjoyed properly. Here's me at a coffee growing plantation

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It was already coffee harvesting time and so people had spread huge tarps out in the sun on front of their houses and were drying the coffee in the sun. Almost every house had its own small coffee plot and varying sizes of coffee tarps laying out to dry.

The Trevor and I and our cool Easy Riders arrived at Elephant Falls. They were outstanding! The water just flew over a precipice that was very wide and the bottom was full of large vegetation covered boulders. Trevor and I got as close as we could, which meant a very wet slippery climb to the bottom. It was worth it though. The views were amazing. I didn't take too many pictures because the spray of the waterfalls might have ruined my camera...

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We were thoroughly soaked when we got back on our Easy Riders. The 45 Kms or so back to Dalat dryed us well off though. We did make a quick stop at a passion fruit growing farm. Here I took another TIMMMYYYY photo shoot

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We then came to another waterfall, Dantanla (or somesuch name). And we opted out of riding the rollarcoaster ride down, but we came to regret our decision later.

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The way up was steep and long, so Trev and I rode the roller coaster UP the hill.......

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And went to Passion Lake. The lake wasn't very exciting, to tell the truth, but the meditation retreat was beeeaaauuutiful! The gardens were just exquisite. Dalat really has the perfect weather for growing flowers. Monks walked around looking very pious in their robes, the scent of incense wafted on the air, and bells and chimes resonated from the temples.

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When we arrived back at Peace Cafe, who should we meet but Reid, fresh of his bike from the long climb from Nha Thrang himself. Luke, his cousin was with him, staying in a nearby hotel. That night we all got together for a mediocre pasta dinner and some good times at "the Hangout place". It was there that we found santa kinda ostrasized on a far off table.....

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and it didn't take a few infantile minds currupted with beer very long for this to happen

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I don't think they minded tho

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SOOOO, the next day Trevor left us and moved on to Saigon. Luke and Reid and I rented scooters and zoomed back to the Dantanla waterfalls I'd been to the day before. They were keen for the waterfalls. I was keen to do the roller coaster. The roller coaster was all that I hoped it would be. zooooooooooooooooooooom!

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There was a little vietnamse man dressed up in a big bear/ape costume, with his head off smoking a cigg. I wish I got a photo of it. I climbed to the top of the water falls also. Beautiful view!

Then we rode the rollar coaster up, and scooted hither and thither. I did a little off roading with the boys, and got stuck one time on a big hill. How was I supposed to know you had to go into first gear to climb a hill, no one ever told me that before. Fortunatly, I somehow figured it out and was on my way in no time:

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We then went to Stop and Go Cafe, which is in Dalat town and is run by a very interesting gardener/artist/poet by the name of Mr. Viet. I later went back and purchased several works of art from him. But at this time, we were simply treated to him delicious cherry tea and homemade sweet cakes, and invited to look in his gallery and sign his guestbook which had the names of many foreign dignitaries and diplomats. He also bestows all female guests with flowers for their hair....

Luke, Mr. Viet, and I

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Here's me in Mr. Viet's garden

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Then the boys and I had some serious hunger. So we went to 100 Roofs. I tell ya, there are some amazing architects in Vietnam. This place was like being in jungle but IN a cafe. There was so much detail and attention to detail that this place was in itself a work of art. We sat on tree trunks and peered down on the traffic below while enjoying delicious curries.

That evening we rested and then went to V Cafe, which also rocked our world. YUM YUM!

The next day we went to CRAZY HOUSE, which if you go to Dalat, you HAVE to go to Crazy House! Yet another kookie vietnamese archatecht built this insane house which is also a hotel you can stay in. All the rooms are themed and have mirrors all around the beds and fire places and their just full of character. Check it out, you'll see what I mean!!
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Then we three went to the market and bought a picnic lunch. It was fun! We were the only round-eyes in the market, and it was fun going around trying to get a bargen on cucumbers, tomatoes, and baguettes. We we happily basking in the sun by the lake, a few eggs hardboiling on our gas mini-cooker. It didn't take but 8 seconds before locals began showing up out of curiousity and pointing and grinning and pointing us out to passers-by. Soon we had about 5 locals, speaking no words of english, making themselves right at home.

The culture there doesn't really allow for "personal space" and so these people got right up in our picnic much to our chagrin. At first it was kinda funny but then it got to be a bit of a bother. One guy just took his shoes off and laid down on our blanket and took a nap. Another guy squatted so close to Ried that he was using him to balance, two hands placed tenderly on Reids thigh.

What's with people touching Ried? I might mention here a favorite story of mine, when Ried was "cupped" by a Vietnamese for apparently no reason other than he was wearing biker shorts, admittedly an oddity in Vietnam, but none-the-less, what the hell are they touching his family jewels for?

So now Ried has yet another Vietnamese getting too close for comfort and Ried just starts messing with him. He squeezes the man's earlobes. he unbutton the top buttons of the dudes shirt. The dude just smiles and laughs confusedly. I'm laughing so hard sandwich bits are flying out of my mouth at high speed. The ladies that sell sunglasses and Vietnamese pastries on bamboo poles have stopped by also, not so much to sell their wares (they did try), but just to watch these crazy round-eyes construct sandwiches and boil eggs by the lake. A child is with some of them with a toy cell phone that makes horrible toy cell phone noises.

Then, all at once, they leave us, and we munch along in peace, still laughing about the strangeness of it all.

Here's a photo of me in the dress I had made in Hoi An

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That evening we went to the market for some local stall food which was cheap and delicious. There is nothing more fun than to sit on teeny weeny chairs and order god-knows-what and sit with all the locals and have a laugh and a smile, since conversation is impossible. The full moon was high over head. They closed one of the busy intersections to traffic and children dressed as karate santas were flying around at breakneck speed on little wheeled carts. Infants toting balloons and chattering teenagers crowded the scene and at the night market vendors were selling clothing like sweaters, hats, and scarves by the kilo.

More to come...bet on it

Posted by LadyCroft 00:19 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

A-Hooooy An!!!!

its a Hoi-An Sandwich with Sleeper-Buses for Buns!

rain 22 °C
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My first sleeper bus...
I dont know what i was expecting, but i was delighted with my little nitch to bed down while the bus honked its merry way down vietnam's spinal cord, National Route 1.

It was like being on the harry potter magic bus, only it wasn't--but it did have your own little bed, shelves, and a crofty-sized bed. Well, almost...I was about one big toe too long for my bunk--but i wasn't complaning... i felt bad for what must have been the German's Basketball Olympic Team behind me. They didn't do any better fitting into their cubbyholes as giant squid might do making a home of a mailbox. They were all extremides and bent vertibray.

so i didn't complane about my numb big toes, or the cheesy movies they played all night long (because the first was Rush Hour 2 and listening to a Vietnamese dub of Chris Tucker is as amusing as Jackie Chan's cross culturally appealing talent that requires no sound...or special effects.

The horn beeped frequently, waking me up at times, but i slept pretty good. I nibbled on a half kilo of tiny oranges, sipped water, and figured out that i have no desire to try any more asian-adored outlandishly flavored potatoe chips; Double Cheese Burger Flavor? is that any different from Regular Cheese Flavor? or Seaweed Flavor, or Cat Fish and Squid Flavor???

Hoi An was still quite far when the sun finally roused the zombie like surreal rows of little happy sleepers and big cramped cloudy red eyed Olympic Basket Ball Athetes from German (or were they Rugby Players, from Austria?)

We boreded another bus around 7am, a regular one this time, and continued a few more hours to Hoi An. Hoi An said hello with a light drizzle of rain, that would continue on and off for the duration of my stay there. I met up with Trevor as arranged at Hop Yen YHA Hostel.

That evening, the 6 in my dorm made friends and went out. There was Sara from England, Andres from Australia, Trevor from US, and Jane also and Ken from Japan. At our restaurent the waitress sang a whole song for our table, just because we asked her too, and we started to get mean to the hockers constantly approaching our table and inturrupting conversations (we took to starting blankly at a few and saying 'no' in unison on a quick count of three from whoever had the best vantage point and timing) We sniffed out some amazing chocolate desserts!

Next day, Sara and Trevor and I rent scooters intending to ride to My Son. Navigation in vietnam is more difficult than ajacent countries i've visted, due in part I think to the lack of english on signs, the unusally unfamilar street/road names, and occasionally, a lack of any signage whatsoever. When my crew was stopped at an intersection peering through the drizzle for a sign indicating that we were still on the right road, a lady stopped and offered for us to follow her. She "lived in marble mountain, and My son is just beyond that" In turned out she took us in an entirly different direction than My Son, ruining our chances of visiting it that day. she owned a marble store of course, and asked us to look in her shop and buy things.

It was a good thing that marble mountain itself is pretty cool, and is, in fact an exceedingly worth spot. Rising straight up from the flat, wet, green earth, just a kilometer infrom the crashing sea a massive column on tree decked marble looms over the landscape. Tis riddled with caves and these caves are full of the mysteries of a deeply faithful buddist population.

Giant Buddah that greets visitors from the eastern enterance.
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Some of the roofs of the caves had long since fallen in, and their boulders cleared to great cool stony grottos where long vines mingled with shafts of dense sunlight to penetrate the dark gloamy depths where temples were carved from shear rocks, and buddahs and statues are activily worshiped by locals and pilgrims alike.

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A large temple looks out over yawning vistas.

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Eek! Don't eat me!

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One little cave we went into had the usual statues in the back, and behind those were a little opening up a steep narrow rocky ledge that opened into the air below. Up I climbed and crawled right up and through the center of the mountain til I came out on the very top and [b]here's the photo of the view I took from the top:

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That evening trevor showed me some cloths he had made. Hoi An is THE place to get shoes and cloths made. There are a million stores that can do this; it even gets a bit annoying to be pestered everywhere you go to have cloths made. I couldn't think of anything I wanted and wasn't really motivated to have something made "just cos"...but Trevor had such a good experience, and even invited his tailor to join us at dinner.

Queeny was an incredible girl. She spoke perfect english, and was a firecracker spirit in a tiny body. She was clearly too outspoken and opinionated for her vietnamese male counterparts, and she was decidedly in the market for a good western man who could handle and appreciate her wit and good nature. I liked her so much that I set my mind to thinking and soon sketched a diagrame of a dress I wanted, which I created myself. The next morning I gave her my ideas, picked the colors, and took the measurments.

Trevor was feeling less than energetic for the hour long ride out to My Son, so I went alone. It was great to be scootin along, free and clear of the busy city behind me, and finally get to see some vietnamese countryside and small town life. There's nothing like the wind in your hair and sunlight on the backs of your hands, feeling the power of the bike beneithe you, while watching vista after vista slip by like picturesque dream sequences. My Son took almost an hour and a half at the leisurely pace I took, and though I had to turn many times in less than adequate sign conditions, i still found my way with out getting lost.

My Son was practically empty, as most of the tours come in the early morning, and it was 1 pm by the time I arrived. My guide spoke fairly good english and showed me around the older-than-ankor ruins. Unfortunatly, many of them were severaly damaged in the "AMerican War" as its called here, and signs of bomb craters were everywhere, most of the temples reduced to rubble. What was left was beautiful none the less, and a testiment to the originality and creativity of the ancient vietnamese.

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[b]My Guide
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I hopped back on ze bike and zipped home before the sun went down. My dress was finished at at was beautiful: photos coming in another blog.

Next coming would be Dalat....can't wait to share it.
Croftee

Posted by LadyCroft 06:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Halong Bay, Vietnam

semi-overcast 22 °C
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Phenom Phen by boat to Chau Doc. Chau Doc by bus to Can Tho and again by bus to Saigon. Plane to Hanoi-5 nights moving and still no time to rest.

But I've still had time to slow down a look around a bit. Vietnamese culture is notably distinct from all other S.E.Asian cultures. You'd be surprised at how curious and inquisitive the adults, as well as the children of this nation can be. Their sence of owner-ship and personal space are practially nil, yet this creates heart-warming and sometimes hilarious interactions in the streets and markets and foodstalls. Yet the difference in culture also creates some barriers that take some patience and understanding to surmount. The Vietnamese are remarkably shrewed and cunning, and will frequently mount pointed attacks of minapulation, guilt, and trickery to part you from your hard earned dollars. It can be seriously fustraiting to be cut in line for the toilet, ATM, and store on a daily basis. Round-eyes are second-hand-citizens here. And while Cambodians will forthrightly laugh and point at the strange ways of visitors, the eyes of Vietnamese sometimes betray contempt and downright scorn. I ask you retorically, can one blame them considering their history? I'm not really sure one can or can't. All one can do is learn how to operate within the Vietnamse fishbowl.

Since everyone is trying to rip you off (except for the honest few (VERY few)) you get ripped off a lot. And each time you do, you learn what NOT to do next time. But the scams are so varied, that it takes a while on how to recognise and deal with each one accordingly. I can not now go into detail on how one has to speak and act in the market place, with hockers, with hotel proprietors, in order to ensure a fair deal. I shake my head nearly every day at how straight forward dealing with the same people in other countries has been, even when I thought they wern't at the time.

This is me on the junk boat in Halong Bay:
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Despite all that being said, I've still very much enjoyed travelling here, and I've met some truely wonderful and sweet Vietnamese people. I also beleive that I really havn't gotten off the beaten track much in this country, and had I been able to interact with villages that see less tourism, I might have exposure to a greater cross-section of society not driven by money and racism etc etc.

I arrived in Hanoi and was the last to load into the airport mini-bus that takes passengers to anywhere downtown for $3. I checked into Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, which had a vibe that left me tingling with regret that my trip wasn't longer to enjoy this super fun place for more than one night. The aussie-run joint was packed to the brim with travellers of every age and description, with a surprising skew of young female travellers. The bar down stairs couldn't contain that evenings festivities, and I was assured that the ample spillover into the street was a nightly occurance. The staff, both vietnamese and Aussies, were incredibly jovial and helpful. That evening I booked a tour for a two day, one night cruise at Halong Bay.

Here's me on the Junk, with the bay stretched out behind me
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I also noticed that the evening air was decidely cooler than that of Saigon, (I dew so prefer to call it that than Ho Chi Mihn City) I welcomed the refreshing cool air on my bare shoulders, for I sweated gallons in the previous hot days of travel. I was amused to see the Vietnamese working in the hotel, as well as the citizens on the street, wearing thick sweaters, jackets, scarfs, and hats.

Just after I checked in, who should I bump into but Trevor (aka, Javier), my partner in crime from Vang Vieng. He was literally walking out the door to go to the train station headed south. We greeted eachother, made promises to meet a few days on down the road, and exchanged hasty farewell-but-not-for-long hugs.

Halong Bay Junks:
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I slept heavily on the top bunk of my 8 person dorm, and was the first to wake. I planned to store my pack at the hostel, as I was only going to be away for one night, and took what I needed in a plastic bag. Bag stowed, breakfast street-stall noodles were consumed, and I loaded into a mini-bus with 8 other people and endured a long 4 hour jouney to the coast.

In S.E. Asia, honking the horn is just a normal part of everyday driving. But the Vietnamse take it to the extreme. They use their horns like samari swords (not an apt metaphore-- i know) literally bullying any vehicles smaller than them out of the way. Motos yeild to cars which yeild to Busses. Woe-betide the pedestrians because no one will ever yeild to you. There is no such thing as a quiet ride though the countryside. The vietnamese have no concept of the curtisy "beep-beep" which nicely alerts you that you might be baring down on them with no intention on moving over. They LAY ON THE HORN-"HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK" and don't let go...like ever. Sleeping on night buses???....good luck, because your driver will honk his loud-ass horn at everyone he passes, whether its neccessary or not. Furthermore, the Vietnamese LOVE to customise their horns. While Buses and trucks usually blare out the loudest airhorns you've ever conceived possible, vans, taxies, and motos produce an endless variety of tunes, jingles, and rhythems as their favorite offensive-driving mechinisms.

Anyhow, we stopped halfway at a ceramics factory for 20 minutes, at which we were clearly expected to buy something. Then we continued. The countryside here was, i'm sorry to say, not even close to impressive. The fields extended on in flat banality without the pristine beauty and form of, say, Cambodian Rice paddies. Towns were expanses of industrial factorys and powerlines and pollution. Gone were the stilted thatched huts of the Cambodians, the humble bamboo dwellings of the Laotians, and the by-gone archatecture integrated into modern life like the cities and towns of northern Thailand. Soon we reached a few hills, and beyond them Halong Bay reveiled itself.

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A world heritage site, there no denying that the trip here is abundantly worth it. Sure, the dock to the bay is a tourist trap, and the boats keep to a spacific part of Halong Bay that doesn't allow for much isolation or true exploration, but the bay itself is a geological wonder. The blue-green water is broken by massive limestone protrusions, many of which contain caves and provide a bird-watching paradise. The islands number in the thousands, enabling one to take innumerable pictures which can not do justice to the awsome and unique beauty of this place.

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Tis also note-worthy, that this time of year it's quite typical for the morning to start out clear and blue. By noon clouds and haze start forming that inhibit the water and air from appearing as truely spactacular as they could. No biggie, just being out there was as pleasureable as can be. My cruise got off to a great start.

Another Junk in the bay: ours was a little bigger and nicer >:)
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First of all, my boat was just beautiful. It was an entirely wooden teak boat that possessed as much character, as it did characters, as about 25 or so of the people on bored could attest and contribute. The bottom deck contained our living quarters: clean gorgeously soft beds, with private bathrooms fixed up with hotwater showers. The next level up, asended by a gracefully curving wooden staircase enamelled with carved dragons, contained a spacious, bright, and airy dining room and bar. Here, all our culunary needs would be provided by an enthousiastic staff. Those who lacked english skills could not be less proficent in smiles and intelligence and every need was asertained and provided for with little fuss. We ate our fill of 2 lunches and a dinner. Each meal consisting of fresh salads, squid, shrimp, chicken, beef, fish and veggie dishes, with no less than 6 courses per meal including fresh fruit for dessert.

our table piece for dinner: a boquet of flowers made from vegitables. And yummy shrimp to boot!
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The top deck had no shortage of sunchairs for basking, socializing, and taking in the remarkable views.

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I walked onto the junk boat knowing no one, but 10 minutes later I was seated for lunch with 3 vivacious and laughter-driven portuguese boys, who, since knowing eachother from childhood, pelted one another with joke after joke. I shared a room with one of them, and we spent the next 16 or so hours enjoying all the same persuits.

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While eating our first delicious lunch, our Junk boat began to motor its way into the heart (or well, one of the hearts) of Halong Bay. After a pleasent hour or so, we all disembarked and asended a rocky slope to explore a cave. The interior was massive. Although I might have scoffed at lighting the interior of a cave, it truely helped one appreciate the beauty and diversity of the caves walls, roof, and floor.

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Dont, our tour guide, and Croft, inside the Cave
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Dont, our primary tour guide, spoke perfect english and delivered an endless supply of understated humor with the expertiese of a seasoned comedian. His enormous and handomely toothy smile was contagious. He was a truely wonderful person, one of the many on this trip who I greatly wished to get to know better.

After the cave, Juao and I (one of my three wonderful Portugese friends) hopped in a kyack, along with the others and paddled our way furiously around some of the lovely rock formations in the bay. We then boarded our Junk as the haze-hidden sun sank, while being treated to complementery local wine and fruit on the top deck. The Portoguese and I had all wanted to swim, but we were behind schedual and the air was more than brisk now. When Juao asked if I still wanted a post-sun-set swim I answered him in the affirmative with a determined nod of the head. Him and I changed into our swim suits and padded, scantily clad through the dining room, much to the amusment and somewhat shocked countanances of our fellow passengers and boat crew. Dont was overjoyed to see us however, and led us to a little balcony specially designed for one to leap into the waters from a hight of 5 meters or so. He ordered the swim ladder lowered and I was the first to plunge into the dark watery brine.

Juao followed close behind, and we laughed and splashed and couldn't help but exlaim at how much warmer the water was than their air and how good it felt. Before we knew it, the other two portugese had joined us. We made several more trips through the dining room, now leaving dripping wet little footprints behind us, to the jumping ledge. One by one and two by two, other passengers joined in the fun, until easily more than half of us, Dont included, were leaping off various levels of the junk. At one point, we got 15 of us, aged 12-50 all up on the balcony at once, and on the count of three we all plunged in simotaniously. I'm sorry I'd not taken a photograph, but I was far too busy having fun (and too wet) to be dealing with my camera.

We then scambled to our rooms for a hot shower. Feeling utterly amazing we found ourselves tucking into a lovely meal, the aformentioned porportions and presentations feeding our hungry bellies and warming our hearts and souls. The TV, behind the bar began to blaring Karioke, to the obvious glee of the Vietnamese junk boat staff, who sang song after song. They tried to get the passengers in on it, but most of us were too sober, shy, or both to participate. One by one, and two by two people started going to bed, until it was just a few of us die hards, and the Portuguese and I drinking wine and beer and playing cards, while the crew sang cheesy vietnamese karoke. Soon we were tipsy enough to sing a few well known tunes, the silliest being the theme song to Sesame Street.

The next day was spent cursing amongst the beautiful limestone formations.

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Here is one of the many ladies shouting "BUY SOMESING! BUY SOMESING" who approach the junks frequently

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Here are my Junk Mates

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And Daniel and Diana-just the cutest couple EVER, from Malasyia.

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As noon approached, I said goodbye to most everyone who was staying on for another day of kyacking and rock climbing, and loaded back in the van for Hanoi. We stopped again at the Ceramic Factory, where they still expected us to by something, and around 4pm, were back in Hanoi. I had just enough time to find a bookshop, purchase water, a newspaper, a kilo of clementines, and an assortment of other snacks and provisions for the 16 hour overnight bus ride to Hoi An.

There, more adventures would await me. But you must wait to see!!

Posted by LadyCroft 20:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Phenom Phen-Mekong Delta Interlude-Saigon Cu Chi Tunnels

its been so long that its hard to get started....

overcast
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Once so much time goes by,its SO hard to get back on the ball!

I enjoyed Phenom Phen much more than I thought I would at first. The backpackers street by the lakeside is so totally cute. Its a narrow street that's on the whole is full of litter, scrappy looking dogs, and children dashing between swerving moto drivers. There are also loads of monkeys that paruse the powerlines above, something like squirrels do stateside, and survey the chaos below.

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There are millions of restaurents that serve damn good food and cheap beer. I had some pretty outstanding indian food. I had a not-so-outstanding veggie burger. Bars blasted music once the sun went down, free pool was being played by boisterious travellers, and bars sold joints for a $1 over the counter. I stayed at Number Nines Sister (thats the name) and it was a looovely place. My room was as clean as could be. I arrived with 3 french guys who I'd met on the bus from Siam Reap. We all shared a room for$6. The next day I moved in with my friend Amir, who I'd met all the way back in Pai, Thailand. It was easy to enjoy the good company in a place like Number Nine's Sister. A deck reached all the way out over the lake, and faced the western sky, so one could watch the sun set over the skyline. Big nest-like chairs and hammocks were everywhere, as well as a tv for watching movies and a pool table. The good times rolled.

CAUTION: THE FOLLOWING IS GRUSOME, READ AT OWN RISK!

Amir and I went to the killing fields the following day. It was a somber place, needless to say. Amir and I hired a guide, so we could get a good understanding of what we were looking at. Our guide told us, passionatly and articulatly, the atrocities that happened on this hallowed ground. First we approached the memorial, several stories high, which housed the thousands of skulls that were escavated from the mass graves. Most of them showed obvious sights of head tramas-bullets some-but mostly signs of bludgeoning, as the executioners did not care to waste precious bullets upon their victims. We learned that most of these people were well educated or outspoken against the kremer Rouge regiem.

Next we stepped in awed silence through the mass graves themselves. The field stretched on and on, with massive holes, now escavated that held sometimes hundreds of bodies stacked on top of one another. If someone wasn't dead from the wounds inflicted, they were drenched in fertilizer-like chemicals, and buried alive. One grave had over 900 bodies in it. Another was full of only women and children, without cloths. Another was full of headless bodies, presumably Kremer Rouge Soliders suspected of treachery, for this is how they were humiliatingly killed.
There were literally bones everywhere. You could see molars and other bone fragments sticking out of the ground. Victims cloths were emerging from the soil with the rains, you could see them everywhere too.
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Here is a tree that served two horrible purposes. A Large speaker was suspended from it and it played loud music during the executions in order to drown out the moaning of the dying. Also, babies were bashed to death against it.

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The follow photo is of a large tree/plant whose razor sharp serrated edge was used to...well, you can guess.

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All and all it was a terrible, soboring insight into the darkest depths of human potential. These atrocities happened only about 30 years ago, and in many ways were far worse than Hilters murder of the Jews, yet few people have an awareness of what happened in Cambodia during the 70s. Pol Pot died an old man, never to pay for his crimes.

This is why it is all the more remarkable that the spirit of the Cambodians lives on full of kindness, patience, and virtue.

Amir and I also went to the Russian Market ( I have NO idea why it's "russian") and I snapped this photo:
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and a dude crushing ice old school style!
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The following day it was time to embark on a journey to a whole new country!

I took a three day tour from Phenom Phen to Saigon. We took a boat on the Mekong from Phenom Phen to the border across from Chao Doc. Crossig the border was really easy here, no long lines, no chaos. The border officers were really nice too, which is a surprise from how most of officals behave: that is, gruff and growley.

Mike, who traveled on the tour with me, and whom I'd previously met in Siam Reap, for some reason did't have the proper stamp indicating he'd come in to Cambodia. This baffled the officials, but instead of a nightmare decending upon our heads-something like Mike getting hauled off to Cambodian prison on the assumption that he somehow smuggled himself in-the officals nicely asked him to sit down for a while, while they sorted it out.

After a few minutes Mike was stamped out of Cambodia and we were all on our way. We motored across the Mekong once again and hopped on a bus, and in no time we were in Chao Doc, Vietnam.

Chau Doc was a bustling little border town. The first thing we noticed were that buildings were all built very thin and long and tall. The Vietnamese also paint their buildings all sorts of outragious colors, pinks, greens and blues being quite prevalent.
Also, every building has not one, but several antennaes on top. This makes the top of the town look like a forrest of TV antennaes. There are litterally hundreds as far as the eye can see, stretching all the way to the horizen.

Mike and I still had time before it got dark, so we wandered to the market place. There was THIS MANY Bananas

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I asked Mike if he liked Bananas....he said THIS much

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While on the boat to Chao Doc, our guide asked me if I wanted to teach english that evening. I agreed, and Mike expressed interest also. After dinner, we climbed into a chair that held two people, that was propelled by a vietnamese man peddling a bicycle like contraption. In a few minutes I was in a classroom with Vietnamese aged 10-40, who began asking me questions like "what is your favorite ice cream" "what music do you like" and "do you like Vietnam." The room was hot, despite the fans whirlng away above us, and in the heat I answered their questions and asked them some in return. For an hour, the 30 of us made small talk, and then I joined Mike, in his own classroom downstairs. He had charmed is roomful, especially the ladies, who seemed to look at him with large glassy eyes of admiration. about 20 of us went out after class to sit upon little tiny chairs in the town square at eat frozen yogurt from little tiny cups. The laughter amplifed when we started drawing pictures of farm animals and imitating their sounds and names in vietnamese and english. It was fun!

Chau Doc Fish Statue:
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The next day we did a tour of a local cham village situated on the Mekong Delta. Here some of the most tenacious little girls I've yet encountered tried to sell us pancakes. I'll never forget their little voices, over and over, "banana, blueberry, pineapple pancake, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for ONE dollar!" over and over and over. and the followed us everywhere. We visited a mosk (the cham people are muslim, beleive it or not) and watched some of the local woman weaving intricate and beautiful textiles.

We moved again, bussed this time to Can Tho. Here is Uncle Ho!

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Mike and I wandered around this town, avoided getting run over by motorbikes, ate some yummy local dishes, and played cards. The next day we visited the largest floating villages on the Mekong. Boats were sitting very low in the water, so overloaded were they with fruits and vegitables.

Here is a lady with a little boat

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We also visited a rice noodle farm:
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And is was here that I took a photo of a very smart little piggie!

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After several long Hours on a bus, we made it to Saigon. I wasn't in Saigon long before meeting yet another crazy cat that I met back in Vang Vieng: Peter from South Africa! There wasn't too much time to catch up because I was on the move.

By the end of the evening in Saigon, I had a plane ticket for Hanoi the next day. Mike and I hit the sack early, bathed in the glow of the discovery channel (TV? whats TV? oooooh THATS TV!) and we had the first part of the day to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, just over an hour from downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

We were with a group of about 15, and were lead by a passionate and funny tour guide named Ky (pronounced Gee)The entire way to the Tunnels, he gave us a thorough history of early Vietnamese history, from successive chinese invasions on down.

The tunnels were really neat. After watching a short video, we were shown how the Vietcong lived and operated underground, under the radar, quite literally, of the americans.

The tunnels were TEEENY! check out this little secret opening to the tunnel below that Mike is kindly demonstrating:
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We were shown all sorts of horrible traps that the Vietcong used to wound and maim American forces. Although they looked really wicked, it also showed the resoursefulness and cleverness of the Vietcong. The guide spoke with a kind of pride and humor about the Vietcongs ability to make the crudest yet most effective traps imaginable. All that was going through my brain was...OUCH!

Me in a tunnel:
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The first tunnel they let us go down was about 10M long. It was artifically widened and reinforced with concrete for fat tourists. There was still a few in our group that couldn't fit.

After that, there was yet another section, which the tenacious, led by myself and Mike, continued down, for yet another 50 M. It was normal size, which is to say EXTREMELY NARROW AND LOW. Even few meters a dim, lowlevel light allowed one to see ahead. The tunnel branched, and daylight could be seen down a branch, Mike and the others went that way. Heart beating with the thrill, I continued on alone. For another 50M , the lights getting less and less frequent, I crept along in nearly total darkness. The tunnel curved several times, and sometimes dropped several meters where only a small dim light would show the dangerous drop in elevation. The hot tunnel bore down on all sides and coated me in decades old dirt and grime. My heart was literally pounding with the unearthly strangeness of it. Soon, a LIGHT! Up I climbed into a hut. I could hear my group calling my name. I climbed over a hill and my guide came over to me laughing and put his arms around me announcing to the group "She %100 Vietcong! She go All the Way!" My eyes were still dazzeled from the sunlight. I was covered in dirt. I felt like I'd been born, again. It felt good.

We were also shown a US tank that had been disabled by a land mine. Here's Crofty on da top!

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Finally, while touring the Cu Chi Tunnels, one can not ignore the gun fire that is growing louder and louder. After the tank we approched a shooting range and were offered the chance to fire live rounds of ammo from a variety of guns. Mike and I couldn't resist and we split 10 bullets between us. It was LOOOOOUD! But it was kinda cool too. The guns were mounted, so there was no kickback, and the aim was horrible. Never the less, it was a "nice" controlled enviornment to try shooting a gun for the first time.

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There is still sooooooo much to catch up on! That evening I flew to Hanoi and stayed in an AWSOME hostel which I wish I had more time in, Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. The rest will come soon. I've already uploaded some Halong Bay photos, which you can look up in my Photos here on Travellerspoint, or you can wait til tommrow, when I'll update you on Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Dalat, where I am now.

<3

Posted by LadyCroft 01:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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