Thursday, February 25, 2010

Goodbye Vietnam and up the Mekong River to Cambodia

Well, it has been a while since my last post, so please accept my apologies for the delay.  Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand have all taken up so much time that I haven't been able to sit down and compose my thoughts.  I have been able to add new experiences though which is the primary reason for embarking on this adventure.  So, here we go....

Last time we left off, I was in Saigon.  I took a bus ride to head off on a two-day boat ride up the Mekong River from outside of Saigon to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Along the bus route, people were preparing for the Vietnam's Tet holiday. Apparently, melons are a big part of that.  Maybe some of my Vietnamese friends back home can explain.

The bicycle is still a major mode of transportation in the smaller cities and in the countryside.  Check out this restaurant being transported by bicycle.

Police ride bicycles.
Even highly flammable explosives are  transported by bicycle.
So, making it to our dock, we boarded our boat for Phnom Penh.

The trip brochure highlighted the floating markets as something not to miss.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  Maybe my expectations were too high, but nonetheless, nothing to call home about.  It was amazing to see all the life and industry that the Mekong supports for its people.  The Mekong is Asia's longest river and, as such, is used for transport and food.

The boat stopped at a few "authentic" villages along the way.  Yeah, right!  Buy this!  Watch how we make that!  Again, blame it on my high expectations.  But, the day ended with a ferry and beautiful sunset to end my first day on the Mekong.

Day Two on the Mekong started with a rowboat to a fish farm and another "authentic" Vietnamese village.  The rowers line up to take visitors to the village.  Most are women which surprised me.

Uneventful, except that the boat that an irish guy named Keeran and I were in was almost broadsided by another boat.

We were taken by what vaguely resembled the houseboat community of Sausalito.

Once aboard the boat that was to take the 6 hour trip to Phnom Penh, I settled in.  Though much slower and more crowded, the ride was wonderful.  There is something about sittng on the deck of a boat, listening to the Doors on my iPod (think Apocalypse Now) and enjoying the fact that I, and about twenty others, were at the mercy of the sputtering engine of this barely seaworthy vessel.

The lack of space invites interaction with others.  I met a wonderful couple from the UK, Ben and Sami, who had quit their jobs and were on a one year journey to end in America where I hope to be able to be their tour guide.

Exhausted, both physically and mentally from the long boat trip (and a few cans of beer), I decided to tail along with Ben and Sami and got a nice room in Phnom Penh for a whopping $13 USD a night.

Next blog post...soon, I promise...Phnom Penh,Cambodia, my favorite big Asian city.
I am safe, happy and hope you all are too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Map (updated as time allows)

View Mike in Asia in a larger map

Color coding ...

Red = plane
Green = bus
Blue = ferry

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vietnamese Coffee, Taxi Girls and Long Bus Rides

Good Morning, Vietnam!  Well, I've spent the past week in Vietnam.  Saigon is a bustling capitol city of 7,000,000 people and.......3,000,000 motorbikes!  (Hsan - You'd fit right in.)
The street food is wonderfully fresh and incredibly inexpensive.  The room  I have in Saigon is $10 USD per night.  Clean, hot shower, satellite TV and WiFi.  I've met some interesting people, expats and locals, who have showed me around and helped me get situated.  The people are kind and friendly though the language is just not attractive sounding and fairly intimidating.

I was taken to the Saigon amusement park and must say that using the word amusement for this park is a stretch the definition of the word.
This ride is definitely "Under Construction".
The "highlight" of the park is the "Coldest Place in Vietnam" attraction where you don a silly coat supposedly for warmth, and walk around in a giant freezer with ice sculptures of many architectural and cultural sights.

After several nights in the sometimes-too-busy city of Saigon, I decided to take to the beach of Nha Trang, a ten-hour bus ride.  Certainly not the most pleasant way to go, but for $8 USD, I figured I'd give it a shot.  Many bus stops and one sore back later, I arrived in the beautiful town of Nha Trang.

I spent on morning at the local market where motorbikes not-so-peacefully coexist with bicycles and pedestrians.
But the colors, smells and sounds of the market are truly remarkable and unbelievable.

I am a sucker for Vietnamese popcorn.  They make it here with some sort of delicious sugar that makes the mouth water at the mere smell of it.  I happen to stumble upon a popcorn cart and loaded up on my provisions for the trip back to Saigon.

Saying goodbye to Nha Trang, I vowed to come back one more time.  Can you see why?
Other thoughts thus far:
I love Vietnamese coffee!
I am intrigued by (not partaking in) the "taxi girls" who circle the streets on their motorbikes at night like vultures offering, and I quote, "one hour massage and boom boom", right down to the "I love you long time!".  Too funny!

At midnight, you can see entire families on stools on the sidewalk sharing a late dinner together.  Apparently, the Vietnamese don't believe in getting their kids to bed at a reasonable hour.

I have started reading the Twilight series of books which I bought for $2 USD each.   Opening up the front cover of the first one, I realized that it was not an "official" book (shocker!), but instead a photocopied version.  Alas, technology is still caching up here.

Well friends, it is 8 am on 5 February.  I will stay in Saigon a little bit more, then back to Nha Trang, then on a three day, two night boat ride up the Mekong Delta where I will move on to Cambodia and Laos before heading back to Thailand to get my TEFL accreditation.

Time now though to go take in the sights and sounds of Saigon and have some coffee at Sozu Cafe which uses its proceeds to hire underprivileged Vietnamese children and provide them with a means of supporting themselves.  Some are deaf.  Some are blind.  But, all are very nice, sweet people.

I hope all is well in the States and that you don't miss me too much.