Friday, April 30, 2010
Last night Viet Nam celebrated the Reunification of the country or Liberation of Saigon OR as my hotel receptionist eloquently put it "Tonight we celebrate the kick-out of the Americans war" I hadn't planned it out particularly to be here in Hanoi for it, but apparently this place has the biggest celebration and I believe it! I have NEVER in my life experienced such crowds and noise and firework shows all over the city that seriously made any 4th of July fireworks I've ever seen at home look really sad.
I met up with some foreigners who have been living here teaching English at the Bia Ha Noi Junction - a corner in the Old Quarter where you can sit on a stool on the sidewalk and sample a fresh brew of the local beer Bia Ha Noi. It was interesting to hear the perspective of people living in this mad city for 5 months and nice to hear that even after that long you don't get used to the traffic and the crazy motobikers honking at you.
We were lucky to find a balcony cafe to escape the street and wait out the mass exodus after the fireworks. on street level all the motos are just honking like crazy with a wall of people in front of them and you wonder - WHY are you honking?? You are not going to get anywhere! Total madness and quite the experience.
I have slacked on my posts on my trek from Southern to Northern Viet Nam and have so much to catch up on. First of all, I LOVE this country. Aside from how beautiful the landscape is, it never ceases to be interesting from one town to the next, each vastly different than the last.
I was lucky to catch really clean water and beautiful days on the beaches of Mui Ni and Nha Trang in central Vietnam- pictured here is the bizarre over-sea gondola from Nha Trang to VinPearl Island just off the coast where I spent a day of childlike leisure at the water-park. Warning: theme parks in Vietnam DO NOT have the same standards as home. At the end of the slide you may crash into the not so soft barrier!
Just of the coast, the green mountains climb perilously high making for spectacular views. Particularly from the train rides, with tracks wedged at the bottom of the mountains snaking up the coast. The inland hills in Da Lat were just as spectacular and with some of the best hiking I've ever experienced. And when the humidity becomes too much you rent a motorbike and see the country side that way. I'm looking very forward to more trekking in the Northern hill station of Sapa, perched on a steep slope it is know for its plunging views over the valley and rice terraces in the Northwest. But today I'm enjoying the bustling city life of Hanoi and planning a trip out to Halong Bay for the weekend.
I've definitely settled into life as a woman of leisure while here in Vietnam. Most days my schedule consists of an early wake up to see whatever sights are on the agenda in the early morning while the temperatures are cool and tourists are scarce. After the morning excursion an afternoon spa treatment is usually in order. Sounds extravagant, but at $6 for an hour back and foot massage or facial and some aroma therapy I reason I could spend the same kicking about town and on drinks and meal, right?!
Most of the photos here were taken in Ho Ain which I totally fell in love with. The shops and the custom tailoring that the town is known for is a major tourist trap (though, having a dress custom fitted to you for a few dollars was great fun) the streets and buildings were so quaint and romantic and the mood very mellow. I was lucky to be there on the night of the full moon when no lights are allowed and the whole town is lit up only by lanterns. That setting plus a delicious bowl of the Ho Ain specialty, Cau Lau, on the river after an afternoon at a great Vietnamese cooking class was hard to beat!
List of some random/fun travel points:
- I don't think I will EVER get the sounds and images of Vietnamese music videos that are BLARRING on every bus and/or train in this country out of my head. Think Vietnamese karaoke tunes coupled with the worst soap opera you can imagine. They are truly priceless.
- I still can't believe I don't see more motorbike accidents AND that I have not yet been run over by one. Try as I might not to, I know I still look like a deer in the headlights every time I cross any street.
- The sleeper buses are great, 3 rows across and 2 levels of beds squeezed onto a bus, which would actually be quite comfortable on a 12-hour overnight drive IF the only traffic rule of thumb here was NOT to just lay on the extremely loud horn ALL the way. Seriously. There are no rules of the road that I can see, its just honk like crazy as you drive on any and all sides of the road and the motos or pedestrians better move it!!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
From Cambodia I decided to take the slow route into Saigon via the Mekong Delta - a maze of waterways and canals and tons of greenery. I'd like to say I planned it all out, but mostly the idea of slow boat upriver rather than a bus that I might be sick on yet again (Naturally, I go on raving about the food in Sihanouk Ville and end up ill the last day enroute to the border.)
The delta towns were a much appreciated break from the gringo trail I was following in Cambodia. There is no one set path or way through and in each town I never felt like it was overrun with western tourists. The floating markets in the mornings were great - mostly farmers selling fruits. I could not get enough of the Mangoes!! Also had fun testing my balancing skills (which are pretty suspect given my clumsy nature) on all the "monkey bridges" that connect little waterways around the towns.
While planning this trip I had heard the Delta was not to be missed and I would definitely recommend at least 3 days ferrying around the towns. A beautiful and peaceful introduction to Viet Nam. A nice calm before the complete INSANITY that is Saigon. I will have to take a picture to post on the traffic circles here. So many motorbikes going every possible direction. And nobody EVER stops so to cross any street in this city you just have to take a breath, stare the traffic in the face, and GO. As long as you keep your pace and keep going they will all zoom around you. Its unreal. Friends who have been here before me warmed me of this; But it's a whole other thing to experience first hand. Terrifying. Puts New York taxi drivers to shame.
Friday, April 16, 2010
This afternoon made the list as my first truly memorable travel moment. But first to preface: I have been spending the past three days in the coastal cambodian town, Sihanoukville. Usually a slow beach town it is all a buzz this week as Cambodia celebrates its Khmer New Year. A festivity that lasts the better part of a week from what I can tell. The sky is lit up by fireworks nightly. Or more accurately I should say the beach is lit up by terrifying fireworks flying in every possible direction!
The best part, and most surprising, about the place is the EXCELLENT food to be had! I have never eaten so well or so cheaply in my life! The best Barbecue EVER. I have discovered a new found affinity for BBQ Barracuda. Delicious!! I ordered a Tuna sandwich on the beach, and expecting a measly tuna out of the can meal for $2.00 I was amazed to see and entire grilled tuna fillet. Unreal! One evening, in an effort to take a break from the loud party scene that this place attracts, myself and two lovely girls I met here; one English the other Irish, decided to splash out on the "expensive" restaurant in town and ordered sizable Duck, Lamb and Seabass dinners that would have easily cost upwards of $25 at home for $6 a piece. Best dinner ever. Tommy, if you are reading this, I keep wishing you could taste all these things that I am eating because half the time I have NO clue what it is other than it tastes really good. OK, enough about the food. Even though I could go on forever. One could easily keep a travel blog solely dedicated to the culinary adventures and have more than enough to say!
Getting back to today...For my last day here, I decided to sign myself up for the boat trip out to three islands off the coast and do some snorkeling. From other travelers that have already been down to the Thai islands I'd heard this trip paled in comparison. But I for one have been loving the beach and the warm water so figured I'd give it a go. The snorkeling wasn't great, saw some MASSIVE sea urchins, which of course I rammed my foot into and have a lovely battle wound from that. After 6 hours of calm, perfectly undisturbed waters our sad little boat began the hour or so journey back to Sihanoukville. about 10 minutes in we hear what sounded like thunder and some extremely dark clouds looming in the distance. Within 20minutes we are barraged by a thunderstorm, crazy rain and wind and a long way to go yet. For the first time since I stepped off the plane over two weeks ago I was actually full-blown cold! Joking with the Canadians next to me to savor that moment. Most of the boat, including myself, were laughing hysterically as we rocked and swayed and clung to any flimsy piece of the boat we could. Though, a few people appeared to be looking death in the face. Finally reaching shore we run through the rain, soaked, back to our guest house. It reminded me of the tropical storms you get in Hawaii that are so awesome and refreshing. Safely back to my guesthouse I enjoyed a welcome shower until the electricity went out in my room for a full 10 minutes :) Hands down the most unexpected and memorable travel moment yet.
Off for one last yummy Cambodian meal before the journey to the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam tomorrow.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Phnom Penh is Cambodia's capitol city and its definitely a hectic place. You can't walk two feet without "helllo, lady, tuk tuk??" the minute you say no..."hello, ladyy"...The city is interesting because you can definitely see the mark of colonialism left-over. many of the streets and building have french building facades and design.
Yesterday was a sobering day going out to the site of the Khmer Rouge killing fields and the horrific S21 Prison from Pol Pots genocide here 1975-1979. The photos taken at the prison turning the khmer rouge occupation were horrific. You can see the skulls and bones are just laid out on display, and at the prison the beds and torture equipment is just sort of strewn about. The history and museum experiences here are so interesting for how differently they are handled than going to say, a holocaust museum in Europe where what you can and cant touch and see and walk is clearly marked. In some ways I think its better, because it looks just as it does and you can walk right into the cell and feel what that must have been like; there are no ropes or directions. But it is definitely odd.
In a few days Cambodia will celebrate their Khmer New Year. Will travel down to the Cambodia coastal town Sihanoukville for that before crossing the border to Vietnam.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Took the bus out to Cambodia, quite a long day's journey! Though, the road that I hear was once lengendary for its lack of pavement and was a long, hot and bumpy ride is no more. The road from the border to Siem Reap is an easy 2.5 hour drive complete with Air Con :)
On the way into Cambodia I met 3 English friends and have been traveling with them while here. Its great meeting people on the road. Hearing where they've been and where they're going. These guys have been traveling for 7 months. Im jealous! Picture here of my new friends on our trip out to Angkor Wat this morning.
We woke up early at a ghastly 4:30am to take a Tuk Tuk out to the temples. Definitely the way to go! Though, if I were to do it again I would rent a bike in town and ride around the temples. Until of course you start to melt on your bike. In the early morning it was not crowded and was pretty spectacular to watch the sunrise over the Ankor walls. There are MANY temples in the area and I had no idea how spread out and expansive the temples were. Temple Ta Phrom was my favorite, where you can see the jungle just taking over the ruins. Its so funny too how you can just climb all over the ruins, up and down dangerously steep and slick steps. That would never be allowed in the West, you'd be fenced off miles away.
In Siem Reap its pretty heartwrenching to see all the amputees hanging around the tourist areas begging and all the little children that just will not leave you alone. I've never seen so many kids that are so aggressive. Hard not to get you down witnessing the poverty here.
South to Phenom Phen tomorrow...
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Major day of relaxation poolside today. I was able to sneak into the Bangkok Marriott for some relaxation and wayyy to much sun. Okay, so its not exactly authentic Thailand...or Bangkok. But I don't care. After 4 days of trekking around this city, it was glorious!! Now if the flaming streaks of magenta (uneven thanks to my skilled hand at sunscreen application) fade into a tan it will be a successful day.
Also included a photo of my first Tuk Tuk ride the other day. I won't lie and say i was not slightly terrified and didn't have a death-grip on the handle bar. But all in all an exhilarating experience haggling with the driver and swinging around the city on three wheels.
Now off for my standard dinner of 20 Baht pad thai from the Kao San food stand. Mmmm
Friday, April 2, 2010
Haging out in Bangkok a few days more than planned while waiting for Vietnam/Burma visas. I have a pretty comfortable guesthouse room off the Kao San road, Rambuttri its called. The evenings are the best when the heat finally dies down and you can sit outside and watch ALL kinds of people walk by while sipping a $2 giant Tiger (beer) and a huge plate of cheap noodles :)
Today I did all the tourist stops -the giant reclining buddha, the grand palace. Woke up early and watched the monks at Wat Pho. Took the Express boat. While taking a sit in the shade outside the grand palace, peacefully trying to figure out my bus route a woman approaches me and literally throws kernels all over me, after which a TON of pigeons flock to me and THEN she wants to be paid for doing this bc apparently the pigeons are good luck. Gotta love it.
Off to the big weekend market tomorrow. Hopefully have m Visas in orderby Monday and off to Cambodia Tuesday...