Friday, June 25, 2010

This is it!

So the time has come for me to write my final travel blog post. I know I haven't really been posting for the last 3 weeks or so and that is because I've just been on the islands not really doing much. I guess I'll start there. I traveled from Cambodia back to Bangkok and then took an overnight train and then a boat to Koh Phangnan. I was supposed to arrive there for the 'Dark moon party' but it turns out the travel agency where I booked my accommodation through had the dates wrong and I showed up one day too late. I have to admit this wasn't such a big deal to me, I like big parties but I knew that there was a party to be had every night so I wasn't too worried about it. After a short nap I woke up and went to the bar where I met some great guys, 2 from Pakistan and 2 from Ireland, not to mention the proprietor of the guesthouse Nong, (I thought his name was actually Long, but turns out I was wrong). We had some fun and went down to the full moon beach for a beach party. Maybe because its low season and not the full moon party, but the party was just whatever. Vang Vieng in Laos was way more fun. The best part of the night was the ride home when I met some great people that were staying next door to my guesthouse in a place with a great pool. The next 4 days consisted of pretty much sitting in the pool all day and all night. It was truly one of the highlights of my trip so far.

After Koh Phangan was Koh Tao, a great little island with some amazing snorkeling and the start of the World Cup. Met some friends from Bangkok and Koh Phangan there so that was great and other than that really didn't do very much.

Next was Koh Samui, my least favorite of the islands I think. Mostly older people and less travelers, didn't really meet anyone worth writing about and didn't do anything worth writing about.

Then was Ao Nang, which is not an island but the coast of the Andaman Sea. Took my first long tail boat trip there in rough water, that was the first time I thought I was going to go over board. I also didn't do a whole lot there but ate some great wood fired pizza for 5 bucks a pie. The guesthouse I stayed was really nice and had some good people in it too.

Finally where I'm currently writing you from is Koh Phi Phi, everyone's favorite island. This place is great. No cars, everything is within walking distance and there are lots of good places to eat and drink and be merry. Beach parties aplenty, and general great times. I've been hanging out with an international group that is now breaking up as some head to the full moon party and others are heading back to Bangkok and I'm on my way to Hong Kong.

Some Final Thoughts

So now that I'm at the end of my trip it seems like a good time to reflect on the past 3 months. When I first arrived in Bangkok I was thinking to myself why am I here, I'm all alone and how am I going to meet anyone in this strange country. I was totally wrong. I've met so many great people and had so many unreal experiences that all my fears were quickly silenced. The days I spent alone ended up being my choice when I needed some time alone. These past few months have been some of the best of my life and I'm both sad and excited for it to be ending. I feel now that my trip is ending that I could keep traveling for more months like I was scheduled to but at the same time there are many things that I'm really looking forward to when I get home. I've met a fair number of people that have said that they couldn't travel alone and thought I was really brave for doing so. The fact of the matter is, you're never alone. There is always someone else to meet and somewhere else to go. That is really the beauty of traveling in a place like Southeast Asia. At home you wouldn't just go up to a table at a pub and sit down where here that is almost expected. When you go out at night there is no telling who you're going to meet and what will happen.

There are obviously too many stories to tell here so I hope that anyone that is reading this and interested in my stories will be able to hear them first hand starting next week. I want to thank everyone who has been reading the blog for without you this would have just been for my parents.

I would urge anyone who is thinking about traveling to do it. It has been one of those experiences in my life that I don't think I'll ever be able to forget. Thanks to all the friends I've met, hopefully we can meet again sometime.

Thats all for me,
Talk to you soon,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Splendor of Angkor

So the last I spoke to you I told you about Phnom Penh. Now I'll tell you about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world and ranks up there with the pyramids as one of the world's great architectural wonders. I got up for the sunrise over the temple so it was an early morning. The sunrise was totally worth it, it was great for pictures and the tour buses of Japanese and Chinese tourists hadn't arrived yet. Angkor Wat is just one temple in this area, and there are actually a huge number of them. They were all pretty amazing. This was definitely one of the most interesting places I've ever been. All the temple structures that I had seen prior to this pale in comparison.

The next day I went out to the Bantay Srei also known as the lady temple. This temple was farther out from the complex that most other temples are situated. The best part about it was that the carvings on it have been so well preserved that they are unbelievably beautiful, a must see if you're ever going to be in Siem Reap. On the way back from this temple I stopped at the Land Mine Museum. This was a really interesting little museum that is actually registered as a Canadian non-profit organization. The museum is basically the work of one former Khmer Rouge child soldier who used to plant mines, and then defected to the Vietnam. While fighting against the Khmer Rouge he started to be a mine defuser and continued even when the Vietnamese were no longer concerned with their removal. He started this museum as a way to raise awareness of the enormous number of land mines that are sitting on Cambodian soil. Great museum and really interesting.

Then it was off to Bangkok. Bangkok was much different compared to when I was there 2 months ago. After the riots it seems that people are really staying away from there. It felt like a ghost town compared to the insanity that was there before the Red Shirts rioted. It was actually pretty sad and a bit boring just because one of the best parts about Bangkok the first time was just people watching, so many people everywhere. This time not so much.

I just got to Koh Tao from Koh Phangan which was amazing. I actually did nothing for days and had a great time doing it. Great pool, great people all around. Its going to be hard to top that but I'm excited for what Koh Tao has to offer. Tomorrow I'm going snorkeling and taking a boat trip around the island so I'll let you know how it goes!

Talk to you soon.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Democratic Kampuchea

Currently I'm sitting in Bangkok after about 6 days in Cambodia. I was only in two cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap but it seems that this is the tour that most people do. I first arrived in Phnom Penh and realized I was in a much different city than Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi or Bangkok. First it was much dustier than the other cities and as I traveled around it I quickly realized that was because many streets there are not paved. So its a capital city with dirt roads everywhere. In the other bigger cities there are poor people but everyone seems to be within a similar social strata. In Phnom Penh the disparity between rich and poor seemed much more pronounced. There were expensive stores and nice villas but then there were also shacks and slums. You could tell that part of the city was just for the rich and the poor were left to toil in other areas.

My main reason for traveling to Phnom Penh was to see the Killing Fields and S-21 prison. These are the two most famous sights of the horrors that took place during the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cambodian Genocide. I first visited the Killing Fields which is the place where the prisoners that were housed in the S-21 prison were taken to be killed. This is a sight with mass graves and had a very eerie feel to it because you could tell that it was no ordinary place. There is also a traditional Cambodian stupa, which is a temple looking building, that has hundreds of skulls and bones that were unearthed from the mass graves. This was one of the hardest things to see on my day but worth it because it is important for everyone to see what happened there in order to prevent it from happening again. Perhaps one of the most jarring things that I learned that day was just how brutal the Khmer Rouge was. Because they didn't want to waste bullets on killing people they would use blunt objects like hammers in order to kill their perceived enemies. The prisoners would be blindfolded and kneeling so that way they had no idea when they would be bludgeoned and once they were killed they would fall into the grave that they had just dug. The Khemer Rouge also had a policy of killing entire families. That way when kids grew up they couldn't take revenge on the regime that killed their parents. There is one tree on the ground of the Killing Fields that was used to kill babies. They would take the babies by their feet and smash their heads against this one tree. Realizing what had gone one there was pretty horrifying. Once I had seen the small museum there I walked out to my waiting motorbike driver. He must have been younger than me, probably 23-24, and he explained to me that he had two brothers that were older than him that had been killed during the genocide. The Khmer Rouge wanted more Cambodians so his parents were put together in order to start making Khmer babies. He said that one of his brothers was killing by the soldiers because he cried too much.

Next I went to the S-21 torture prison. This was truly a weird place. A former school that had been transformed into one of the worst places on earth. There are still jungle gym bars on the grounds and one of them was next to a makeshift gallows that were used to execute prisoners. The complex was pretty large although nothing compared to the size of the concentration and death camps that I saw when I was in Poland. There are a series of four buildings each with three stories and every room in these buildings were used to house and torture prisoners. In some of the buildings you can still see the shackles and beds that prisoners were attached to and in others there were hundreds of pictures of the people that perished there. One of the most shocking parts was how many pictures of kids there were. All these kids were tortured and killed there at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. There was one building that was wrapped in barbed wire. This was in order to prevent prisoners from jumping off the balconies and committing suicide. This place was one of the saddest and most horrific places that I've ever seen. To think that the Khmer Rouge were hellbent on killing anyone with glasses and an education is crazy. They killed over two million of their own people just because they thought that they were too smart to agree to the harsh treatment of their countrymen and others for no reason. Famine was widespread during this time and that also contributed to the death of thousand. The regime's rule ended in January of 1979 when the Vietnamese was able to take control of Phnom Penh and show the world what had gone on there. Another disturbing aspect of the end of this regime was that the UN, and the Americans more importantly, continued to recognize Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as the rightful leaders of Cambodia until 1990.

I saw some other things in the capital as well but nothing to really write about. I was off to Siam Reap to see the splendor that is the Angkor Wat complex. Unfortunately my internet is running out right now so I'll have to tell you about it next time I get to post.

I've been in Bangkok for the past couple days and tonight I head to the islands for about three week of sun and surf. So I'll talk to you from there!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Motorbike? Motorbike Man?

So tomorrow I end my journey in Vietnam and venture to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat as well as the atrocities that took place in the S-21 prison and the killing fields. Before I get there though I want to sum up Vietnam and what I've been doing for the past few days.

Last we spoke I was in the beautiful Hoi An. Got a wicked coat made and could have really bought so much more custom made clothes but I held back in the interest of my wallet. The food in Hoi An was really good, I had an unreal black bean soup with bacon and sour cream (I know not very Vietnamese, but it was delicious!) and spent a few nights in a really nice bar/pub. When I was in Hoi An I was getting the 6th week travel blahs (much like the 5th week camp blahs) so instead of more touring and sightseeing in Dalat, I headed to the beach town of Nha Trang. I made the right decision. While I'm sure Dalat would have been great, the beach was awesome. I really didn't do much, just sat on the beach during the day, and sat in the pubs at night. I was exactly what I needed.

Nha Trang reminded me alot of Tel Aviv, everything centered around the beach with a large beach front boardwalk and boulevard. The sand was soft and white and the water blue-green and so warm. On the beach there are several upper scale restaurants and one great micro brew. I spent most of my days renting a chair and a towel at one of these places. It was great, reading in the sun, going for a swim and eating some great food. In Nha Trang there is an overabundance of Italian restaurants. I'm not exactly sure why, maybe the Veitnamese think that all Westerners like Italian food (they're probably right). So I had some great pizzas a few nights and a great vodka cream penne, my first real Italian meal on the trip. The one Vietnamese dinner I had actually wasn't even all that great, I've certainly had better in other cities around this country. I of course had Pho for breakfast one morning, also not as good as Hanoi. I wanted to leave Nha Trang on the 24th, but apparently the bus was full so I obliged and spent another day on the beach and then came to Saigon yesterday the 25th.

Saigon. I'm disappointed that I didn't get to spend more time here. The city is crazy busy with 3 million motorbikes and counting on the roads. You actually see so many more motorbikes than cars on the roads. Because of this people have to transport all sorts of things on bikes that we would normally put in cars or trucks. When I was in Hanoi I saw a book that was just a collection of pictures of huge things on the backs of motorbikes. Since then I've wanted to make an album that was just that, but I never had my camera out in time or even with me at all when I would see some funny things on bikes. In Hanoi I saw two different bikes carrying refrigerators. My plan was to sit on a corner once I got to Saigon and see what would come about. Today that is what I did, but its not like I spent alot of time doing it. All the museums close here between 12-130 so I had to leave the War Remnants museum (more on that later) so after walking around for a bit I figured now's my chance to see what pics I can get. Honestly I sat at one corner for just 20 minutes and took about 24 pics. There are a few more that I got along the way to this one corner. Its important to note that the intersection I was standing at was busy, but I wasn't really on one of the major routes. This was two one way streets with probably 3 lanes each. The real major streets here probably have 6 lanes each way. You can check them out here.

The rest of my day consisted of eating some great street stall pho this morning for breakfast and then I headed to the War Remnants museum. This was one of the best museums that I've been to in Vietnam. Once I realized the order that I'm supposed to be viewing this museum I headed for the top floor and was moved by the exhibit there. So this museum is really a wars of Vietnam museum and really just a Vietnam war museum. The first exhibit was a tribute to the war photographers, many who lost their lives for their craft on the battlefield. The pictures in this exhibit showed the suffering of the Vietnamese at the hands of the Americans and South Vietnamese army but also the realities of war from the American side as well. The photos on display are from Life magazine as well as other such as Newsweek. I really found this part to be quite moving and partly horrifying also. To think that these journalists lost their lives just doing their jobs makes them so much braver than I could ever be. And thats not to mention all of the soldiers on both sides that died or were wounded at the hands of the war machine. I had to leave in the middle of looking around this museum because they were closing for lunch so I actually found a Yogun Fruz and munched down (too bad its not next to the theater in Grant Park anymore). Then I returned to the museum to keep looking around. The other exhibits were more along the lines of some of the other museums that I saw in Hanoi. Lots of Ho Chi Minh, lots of photos without much explanation. There were some interesting things though, like a comparison of the casualties and ammunition used in WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. On the main floor was an exhibit of actual guns and ammunition used by the Americans on the Vietnamese as well as an exhibit about the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical weapons on the Vietnamese population during and after the war. This part was really sad and was punctuated by pictures of people suffering the effects from this horrible chemical.

After that I walked over to the Independence Palace. This was a big 60s palace where you could see places that the current government uses to receive guests, but I think it is more of a shrine to the South Vietnamese government pre-1975 when they fled after losing the war. You can see the decadence that the president lived and worked in while so many people were dying outside his door. One of the most interesting parts was the underground network of rooms that was used for various things during the war. Big radios and tons of maps lined the rooms. There was supposed to be a war room but I couldn't find it. On the top floor you can see a replica of the helicopter that was used by the president when he went out to survey the damage from the war around Saigon.

And then because its just so hot here, I had to come back to my room to sit under the fan and cool off a bit.

So now that I'm leaving Vietnam I want to reflect on a few things. Vietnam has been great and definitely a place that I would come back to. The things to see are beautiful and the people are great. The food is the best I've had on this trip and am not yet sick of Vietnamese food.

There is a bad side though, people here are quite aggressive when they're trying to get something from you. On absolutely every street corner and in the middle of the block too, guys on motorbikes are trying to get you to get on their motorbikes so that they can give you a ride somewhere, where they want to take you is still a mystery to me. These guys apparently sell you any number of illegal drugs and are constantly trying to get you some 'lady boom-boom'. Its hard to be nice to these guys all the time because you know that if you stop and talk they're just trying to get you on their bike, so I've started ignoring them but then I feel like I'm being rude. But they must realize how many motorbike guys are badgering you in a day. When I was standing on that street corner taking pics, I had two different guys drive over to me to see if I needed a motorbike. Another downside of the aggressiveness is when you're eating at a restaurant and peddlers come in trying to sell you photocopied books, toys and cigarettes. These guys are on the street too badgering you to buy something. At this point after almost three weeks of being in Vietnam, it is getting very annoying to walk around. I'm trying hard not to make this taint my views of Vietnam and I still think this place is great. If anyone is planning a trip to South-East Asia I would saw Vietnam is a must.

Cambodia tomorrow - Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vietnam So Far

I know its been a little while since my last post but I've been busy! I'll start from Hanoi, a crazy big city with so many motorbikes that when you first get there you wonder how you'll ever cross the street. The traffic in most of the cities that I've been to so far in Asia have been pretty nuts, but nothing compared to Hanoi. The streets are packed full of bikes and cars and there don't seem to be any stop signs and very few lights. This means that everyone just goes. When a driver gets to an intersection they just keep going and weave through the traffic going in the other directions. Its like nothing I've ever seen before. A Vietnamese guy told us that in Hanoi there is one bike for every 2 people. Not sure if that is totally true but there are 6.5 million people in Hanoi and it seemed like everyone was on a bike. Crossing the street is an adventure all its own. Just like the cars you just have to go. I took a couple days to get used to the fact that pedestrians don't have the right of way. When you do cross the traffic just weaves its way around you and you find yourself on the other side of the street totally unharmed.

After my adventures in Bangkok left a pretty bad taste in my mouth I thought that I wasn't the city boy that I thought I was. That changed in Hanoi. After spending about 5 days there it really grew on me. It was such a fun place. Nice streets, good things to see, great food and even better beer. Mondays all the museums are closed so we didn't really have much to do so we just started walking. We walked out of the old quarter where we were staying and into the part of town that seemed much more European. Wide streets big sidewalks, lots of parks and green space along the way. We weren't really walking anywhere in particular but Brent had read online about a place that was supposed to have some good beer. When we finally came upon it we were in awe. The story is that a few Vietnamese guys moved to the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia not sure the time frame here) to learn how to make real Czech beer and then came back to Hanoi and opened their own Brauhaus. Basically a micro brew bar and restaurant. We were the only ones there (it was 3 in the afternoon) but this place was unreal. The room was huge and it was all wood paneled with German style tables and chairs there. Now I really felt like I was in Europe. We ordered a couple dark beers and were amazed and how great they tasted. 95% of the beer that you can get in Southeast Asia are light lagers, so it was so nice to have a dark beer and one that was so tasty. Actually one of the best beers I've ever had. It was very similar to Fort Garry Dark.

Still in Hanoi we checked out a few museums. Most of them were pretty bad, except for the fine art museum, which was just Vietnamese art, but it was all really nice and the museum was also just a nice museum so it was a pleasure to walk around in. The Ho Chi Minh museum was probably the craziest museum I've ever been to. It was mostly just pictures of Ho doing different things and then the rest was symbolic displays that were supposed to represent parts of Ho's life. Its worth going to this museum just because I can't imagine a weirder museum. I didn't learn anything there and for that reason it wasn't very good. The highlight of the sights that we saw in Hanoi was the Hoa Lo Prison or as the American POWs interred there during the Vietnam war called it, the 'Hanoi Hilton'. This prison was first used by the French against Vietnamese revolutionaries and then by the Vietnamese against American POWs. John McCain is the most famous POW that spent time there. Most of the prison was torn down in 1993 in order to build a high rise apartment building, but there was still some really interesting exhibits. One of the weirder parts of the prison was the fact that the Vietnamese have never admitted to torturing the American prisoners. So knowing that they were tortured but reading through the exhibits and them failing to mention this rather large part of the history of the Vietnam war was a bit off putting. One of the other weird parts was the eerie horror music that they were playing through the prison. Lastly one of the most gruesome parts was the guillotine used by the French thats on display. I'd never seen one of these before and I'm not sure I want to see one again.

A word about the food in Hanoi. Pho for breakfast is just about the best thing ever. I asked my hostel where there was good pho and they told me just down the street so off I went to seek my first bowl of real pho. When I got to the place I realized I was the only white guy there and that it was packed so it must be good. It was basically a street stall with an indoor seating area. Everyone just there to eat breakfast and then start their days. Everything was made fresh and it was just delicious. There are also places that sell fresh beer for really cheap. The beer is delivered every day and while its not the strongest beer out there, its cheap and cold and thats all that matters. These beer halls also have some great food. Pork ribs, duck meatballs with dill, goat with lemongrass and garlic, fried rice and deep fried squid is what I was fortunate enough to taste over my two visits there. The ribs were the best part.

After Hanoi it was off to Ha Long Bay on a 2 night 3 day trip. The first day consisted of hanging out on the boat, eating some good seafood, caving and kayaking. The cave was a really giant cave with stalagmites and stalactites. And the kayaking was just around our boat and a few houses on the water. It was really fun. Ha Long is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Limestone cliffs rising from the green-blue water, junk boats quietly sailing from place to place, it was really somewhere that I could stay forever. That night we slept on the boat, and after a great night of karaoke it was off to bed. The next day we were taken to Cat Ba island where we did a hike and then just chilled out around the town. It was cool, but not so much going on. The next day was back to Hanoi to catch an overnight bus to Hue.

Now I know what you're thinking, he took another over night bus? I couldn't believe it either but this one was actually much better. It wasn't packed full of people, no one in the aisles and here were even a few empty seats. I actually managed to get some sleep and was ready to go when I got to Hue. Hue is a cool city with a nice backpackers area. The thing to see there is the ancient citadel that was partly destroys during the wars here but still retains some really impressive building. I spent a couple days walking around there and rented a bike one day to see the city a little more. It was a pretty good time. The highlight had to be meeting an almost Winnipegger from Calgary (He lived in Winnipeg and has a cottage at Victoria Beach). Turns out we know lots of the same people which was really nice. Felt a little bit like home in Vietnam.

Now I'm in Hoi An which is the place to get clothes custom made. I already got a suit made in Thailand so I'm not going to get one here but I am getting a really nice fall jacket and I picked up four ties for about 2 bucks each. I'll be here for a few more days and then off to Dalat I think.

My Birthday was great. Spent it with some good friends and it was certainly memorable. Thanks for all the Facebook messages, it means a lot to read them from this side of the world.

Here is the link to my facebook pics if anyone who isn't friends with me wants to see them.

Thats all for now. Talk to you soon.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The 24 Hour Bus aka 'The Death Bus'

So I am currently writing from my hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam and I just have to tell you what my last few days have been like.

So after Vang Vieng I traveled south to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. I was only expecting to spend a couple days in Vientiane and I arrived on a Sunday and was leaving on Tuesday. Monday was a national holiday so when I went to the national museum it was closed. Instead I went for a haircut and a massage. Tuesday was supposed to be the day that I left Laos, so I checked out the rather disappointing museum and just waited until I was being picked up to go to the bus station at 5. Once 5 came around I got in the van and headed to the station. The van picked up about 10 other people and we all had the same ticket for the 24 hour ride to Hanoi, Vietnam. I was under the impression that I was on the sleeper bus. This was not true. We were told that we were all on the regular a/c bus which was just a regular bus which may or may not have had a/c. We were not immediately allowed on the bus and all the westerners who already had tickets were told to wait off to the side. There was a young Vietnamese guy that spoke a little English so he went and asked why were weren't being allowed on the bus. He returned to tell us that they were letting all of the Vietnamese people on the bus first and if there was room then maybe we would get on. At this point I was preparing for the possibility that I might not make it onto the bus, but I was optimistic none the less. He also told us that if we wanted to get on the bus right away then we could buy a ticket there and get on. We all decided that the ticket we had already bought should get us on instead and opted not to buy the ticket again. Finally after all the Vietnamese got on they let the westerners find seats. I happened to be the last one on the bus and realized that there were no more seats left. I still could have gone but I would have had to sit on the floor of the bus for 24 hours. I got off and headed back to Vientiane and was going to make sure that I was on the sleeper bus two days later.

I didn't really do all the much for the next couple days in Vientiane. As it happens my friends Brent and Ally from Pai were also in Vientiane so we hung out and went to the gym one day. The gym was great, I worked out had an hour long massage and chilled by the pool all for 55,000 kip or about 6 bucks. I bought the ticket for the sleeper bus and was assured that I had a seat.

Thursday 5 o'clock rolls around and now after 5 days of being in Vientiane I'm more then ready to get moving to Vietnam. The tuk tuk picks Ally, Brent and I up and we head to the bus station. when we get there we show our tickets and are assured a spot on the bus. After waiting around for them to let us on we finally get on and hope to start this long journey. The sleeper bus must only be made for Asian people because the seats/beds didn't really fit any of the westerners. I thought that the sleeper bus meant that everyone got a bed like a sleeper train, this wasn't really the case. Everyone had a reclining chair instead. the chair didn't go all the way down but it was pretty close. There wasn't enough leg room so I had to prepare myself for a not so comfortable ride. I figured it wouldn't be such a big deal, I can just put my legs in aisle once we start moving. What happened next was the totally opposite of the other day when I tried to get on the regular bus. They let all the westerners on the bus first and made sure everyone had a seat, and then they let all the Vietnamese people on to fill the rest of the bus, so any empty seat or space. There are two aisles on these buses and both aisles were totally crammed with Vietnamese people. You couldn't even walk around on the bus without having to climb over people. Now I don't mean to judge but these people did not seem the cleanest. They all had the dirtiest feet and they didn't hesitate to put these feet wherever they wanted. On my legs, on my feet, in my space. I realized that there wasn't much to do about it so I just tried to go with the flow. The bus wasn't so bad at this point, most people sleeping, it was nice and cool in there. Then the bus stopped. I figured we'd get going pretty soon again so I didn't think much of it. Because the bus was turned off I could only last so long before I had to get up and see what was going on. Turns out that the border doesn't open until 6 and it being 1 in the morning we had to wait until it opened. Everyone else on the bus eventually realizes what's going on and makes their way into the rest stop that we were at. We watched a couple movies to pass the time, others tried to sleep, and others just hung out. Finally we hear the horn and everyone gets back on. After another hour of traveling the bus stops again and we realize that we're at the border. After 2 hours at the border and having to pay an extra American Dollar because it was between 6 and 9 we were on the bus again. After another stop just a couple hours later we were finally on the last leg of the bus journey. We arrived in Hanoi at about 730 yesterday and it was great to get here.

I have to mention a few things about being on the bus. One of the funniest parts of the bus ride were the videos that the Vietnamese guys put on for everyone. The Jackie Chan movie was somewhat enjoyable just for the kung fu. But the best part was that every role was dubbed by the same guy, so it didn't matter if a male or female was talking in the movie it was all the same Vietnamese voice. The other videos, which seem to be ubiquitous in Southeast Asia, were recordings of stage shows of totally uncharismatic man boys singing songs while traditional musicians play traditional instruments. Then they played the straight to dvd Steven Segal film Ruslan aka Driven to Kill. I couldn't hear any of the dialogue for this one and there weren't any subtitles like there were for the Jackie Chan one, but that didn't matter. When I read the Wikipedia synopsis I realized that I understood the entire movie without hearing a word.

One of the things about Vietnam that I didn't understand was why everyone was always yelling on the bus. I couldn't figure out if it was like Russians that sound like they're angry but not or if these Vietnamese were were actually yelling. So what I've figured out is that they aren't angry but they love to yell. These guys would get on their cell phone and actually scream in the middle of the bus ride to whomever was on the other end. Twice on the ride I had to tell them to be quiet. I'm a loud guy, I can admit it, and if you know me, you know I can get loud. Imagine me on a bus with you, while you were trying to sleep and screaming into my cell phone. That is what this was like.

Thank god that ride if over. Next time I would take a plane.

Hanoi is a crazy place, but I'll blog about it later when I see more of it. Hope things are well with whomever is reading the blog. Let me know if you want me to write about other things, or if its boring, or if you like it. I don't really know who is reading or not so let me know what you think!

Talk to you soon.

Friday, April 30, 2010


So I realize that it has been a while since I last posted and I'm waiting for the sun to come out before I go to the river again in Vang Vieng so I figure now would be a good time to tell you what's been going on over here.

Slow Boat
Last week I traveled from Chiang Rai in northern Thailand to Chiang Kong where I took the slow boat to Luang Prabang. I had heard that the slow boat was a great time and that it is a must do when traveling in Laos, and everyone was right. The boat was a big long boat that travels down the Mekong with probably about 50 people on board. The trip takes a full two days about 8 hours a day on the boat but the time really flies by. Most of the people on the boat were other travelers which was great. Everyone got to meet each other and just hang out. I met a great group of 8 other people and we've been traveling together ever since. Four Americans, two Swedes, a Brit and a Dutch. Not to mention all the other people that were on the boat that were around Luang Prabang and now Vang Vieng.

Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang was a great little city with some great food. I had my first real bagel lox cream cheese in about a month. It was delicious! There were some great little bakeries and restaurants there. The western food was good, I had a great pesto and tomato wood fired pizza and also some good curry and noodles. The highlight of Luang Prabang had to be the waterfall. The 9 of us hopped in a tuk tuk (southeast asian open cab type thing) and headed to the famed waterfall. Once there we were truly amazed at how beautiful nature can be. The waterfall consisted of many different swimming areas and blue pristine water. The best part had to be at the very top of the waterfall though. After trekking through a stream and climbing up a couple rocks the top had a natural infinity pool. You could sit and see the entire valley with all the mountains around while the water flows past you and down to the other pools. When I came on this trip and was excited to see natural beauty, I couldn't have imagined that it would actually be this nice. The next day we were off the Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng
This place is actually a dreamland. For the most part you only see travelers here and they seem to all have been here for a while. Everyone stays a week or more and just parties as hard as they can. The main attraction here is the river. I was told you rent a tube and just float down the river and you'll stop at a few bars along the way. Well I didn't make it to the end of the river. After spending the first 5 hours at just the first three bars you realize that no one is going all the way down the river. It was like spring break Vang Vieng. For a conservative country like Laos it is an odd juxtaposition to have a bunch of inebriated westerners in bikinis and bathing suits partying on the river and then partying in town once the sun goes down. It is a really fun place but I'm not sure I could really stay here longer than the three days that I have. Tomorrow I head to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Haven't heard the best things about it but I'm sure I'll find some fun around. I'm only there for two days and then its a thirty hour bus ride to Hanoi, Vietnam.

The sun looks like its coming out so its time to hit the river. Talk to you from Vietnam!