Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Home

So. I've been back for two weeks. In this time i have reunited with a bunch of friends, been to a concert and a wedding, and worked exactly three shifts so far. It is good to see the people i love and care about in the flesh. I missed them more than i thought i did.
Work is work, just a way to pay the bills while i figure out what i want to do when i grow up. Speaking of which, i have signed on to Ambassador of Beer, where some friends and i will be babbling about, well, beer. So, if you like beer, give it a look see. A monthly beer club is in the works.
In other news, i am posting the last installment of photos from my trip. Kind of lost internet access for a bit there in Thailand, or at least the free kind where time means nothing and you can upload to your heart's content.
Overall, it's good to be home. I feel rejuvenated. My soul feels cleaner. The things that were bothering me before i left just don't seem to matter as much.
And i am feeling motivated to learn new things, to grow and change and not sink back into the rut i climbed out of when i left to wander strange lands and clear my head. Thanks to everyone who followed along, i hope you enjoyed the ride.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Last Days On Lanta (day 60-63)

Spent the last few days doing very little. Much swimming, hammock sitting, and beer drinking. Read two books. Walked a long way and bought a third, a book called Matter, by one of my favorite authors Ian Banks, which is off to a very good start.
Was going to leave on a bus for Bangkok today. Decided to stay one more night and fly from Krabi instead. Just don't have it in me to waste an entire day sitting on a bus when i can sit in a hammock instead. It cost me about twice as much, but the peace of mind is worth it.
So, off to Bangkok tomorrow for about a day of trinket shopping, and hopefully a reunion with my friend Dang. Hopefully the curfew is lifted by the time i arrive.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hanging Out With Old Friends

Oh My God!

This used to be a half-rack of ribs (including the short ribs), two pieces of corn on the cob, and a stack of wedge fries. I did my best. i got it at Lanta Tavern, where the food is good and the service is friendly. And if you follow the link and hit the middle Songkran photo the big guy on the right was my dive instructor. I think i am going to pass out now.

Lanta (day 57-59)

Spent a chunk of Sunday learning stuff. A lot of stuff. By way of videos and a series of quizzes. I aced all the written stuff no problem. Duh. Then it was off to the pool to put the theory into practice. Had very little difficulty here either. I mean, come on, it's a pool.
Monday, slightly different story. First dive went pretty smooth, saw some neat fish and a sea turtle eating a jellyfish. Good stuff. Then it was time for my 200 meter swim around the boat. Made it about a quarter of the way. Swallowed some sea water, almost puked, swam back and got out. Opted for a longer snorkel and fin swim of 300 meters and a ten minute survival float the next day. Second dive i was flustered and had trouble staying down in the proper depth i was supposed to be in. Breathing too hard and fast = to much air in the body = a tendency to float. Weird.
Tuesday started poorly for dive three. Bad mind set about the failed swim. When i jumped in the current kept pushing me back towards the boat. This had me winded from the get go. Then i had a brief mishap with switching from snorkel to air supply. We descended for some navigation by compass, after which i sort of had a moment of panic. A long moment. Claus, my instructor, got me calmed down and squared away enough to finish the dive. Gave some thought to packing it in. Then i went ahead and did my 300 meters and float instead. Got it done with no trouble, just looked at it as some extra snorkeling time. Dive four was great. I was calm and relaxed for the first time yet. I saw some amazing sights. I didn't drown. Passed my final exam. Officialy able to SCUBA dive. Man am i tired!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lanta (Day 55-56)

Pretty much did very little. Walked on the beach, swam in the ocean. Hung out with Ching and Nit, who run the bar next door to my new place of residence. I know them from my last visit here, and though they had to be refreshed on my name, they definitely remembered me. It's weird being back here, not quite the same yet vaguely familiar.
Friday, after four days of being complacent and doing nothing, i began to feel antsy. So i signed up for a three day course for open water diving certification. It's cheaper than at home, and the water is a hell of a lot warmer. So that will keep me occupied for a few days.
The only thing of note on Saturday was taking a trip to market with Nit to stock up on supplies and get stuff for their late night barbecue. Last nights was grouper and some garlic and chili salsa that numbed my mouth. So tasty. The market was fun, got some popsicles made out of Fanta that were quite good. Tonight, more late night grub with the locals, then up early for my first lesson.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Snack Food Of The Day

The Night Of The 53rd Day (And Day 54)

Ok, so i lied. Interesting things do sometimes happen when you are sitting around doing nothing. I got to watch a very small cat, also known as a kitten, eat what appeared to be a cockroach. Not entirely sure, but whatever it was it was sneaking up on my foot and this cat appears out of nowhere to pounce on it. It was crunchy. Then it stalked off into the night in search of further prey.
Next day, i rented this little gem. It was my first time driving a scooter this trip. Well, actually, ever. Pretty easy, but having my feet out in front of me seemed weird. Rolled up to see the people who run Lanta Pearl guesthouses, who were influential in my having a great time here last visit. They seemed genuinely pleased to see me again. And he offered me a place for 200 Baht a night, which is the equivalent of $6. And there is a dive place right next door. Needless to say, i am moving there in the morning. Then it started to rain, so my driving adventure came to an early close. Tomorrow i will try again and see some more of the island.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Greetings From Kho Lanta (day 52-53)

Hi kids!
Spent an extra day at Karon Beach in Phuket. There was practicaly nobody there, which is what i was looking for. This feeling does not last long. Desire for different scenery drive me to buy a ticket to Koh Lanta. I must say the shuttle boat system has improved scince i was last here. The first one even had airconditioning. I slept through that bit and switched boats at Phi Phi, which i left immediately even though i had an open ticket. Just can't bring myself to hang out there, even though watching tourists beat the shit out of each other in the Reggae Bar boxing ring was quite entertaining last time. So, it was off to Lanta, where i have found a cheap bungalo with a pool. The beach here is non-existant, so i may have to move again soon. Going to look in to getting my SCUBA certification and go say hi to some friends tomorrow.
This may be my last missive for a few days. Writing about laying around doing nothing just isn't that exciting, for me or anybody else. Plus i am in Thailand, where free wifi must be hunted down and exploited like a rare and wily resource. This place is the biggest cash seperating mechanism ever wielded upon tourists on the planet, as far as i know. God, how i've missed it!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Phuket (day 51)

Today's adventure: i slept in. Late. Then i went to the beach, where i swam. And read from my book, First They Killed My Father, written by Loung Ung, a survivor of the Khemer Rouge and a good human being. Then i swam some more. And ate some good Thai food. And played pool with some extremely bored bar girls. And now it's sleepy time.

Saigon/Phuket (day 50)

Again attempted to go and eat food provided by the Lunch Lady. Sadly, as it was sunday, she sells out even earlier than normal, and this time she wasn't even in evidence when i arrived. So sad. Then i headed out to the War Remnants Museum. I actually had to go outside for a second at one point so no one could see that i was crying. Granted, the V.C. did some horrible things as well, but the displays here were very matter of fact (propaganda was minimal here), and it made me ashamed of where i come from.
Then, it was off to Thailand! A quick flight landed me in Phuket, and as soon as i walked out the door of the airport i felt the familiar sensation of folks trying to relieve me of my cash. Payed a bit too much for my cab into town, but he drove like a racecar driver, blasted some tunes, and let me smoke in the car, so what the hell.

Saigon (day 49)

Today i woke early and headed out to Cu Chi tunnel complex. On the way we stopped at Hanicapped Handicrafts, an establishment employing some of the unfortunate souls poisoned by Agent Orange, one of the most toxic substances ever created by man and produced by the folks at Monsanto (currently attempting to crush every independant farmer in the U.S.) and Dow (creators of nuclear weaponry and faulty breast implants). After that it was time for the tunnels proper, where our guide took great pleasure in demonstrating the various and horrible booby traps used in the American War.
After some crawling about in tunnels not meant for tall westerners to be crawling about in, it was finally time to shoot my AK.
Easily the highlight of the day. Handed the fellow a crisp $50 dollar bill and said let's do this. Much semi-auto, and ten shots full-auto. Next time i am in Southeast Asia i am definitely going to Cambodia, where you can shoot a rocket launcher, and pretty much anything else you want. Finished off my day with beers at Lien's Cafe, watching the insanity of the street unfold.
Lien is a no nonsense type of lady who works eighteen hour days seven days a week. If i had even a quarter of the drive she does, i would be a rich man. And she is also quite sweet if she likes you, but i definitely would not want to be on her bad side.

Saigon (day 48)

 I set out to find the Lunch Lady, and i did, but she was done for the day. It being ridiculously hot out, i headed to the museum of history in an attempt to find shelter. And see some history and stuff. No air conditioning there by the way, but some good stuff to look at. Wandered about District One for a while, found the Barbecue Garden, ate some killer grub. Later i met up with Adam at Crazy Buffalo, a sucktastic tourist joint with overpriced everything and bad tunes. We hit some other spots, and parted ways for the third time this trip. Then it was sleepy time, as i had to get up early to head out to Cu Chi.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Holy Shit!

I just ate enough food to feed a small army. By myself. Five spice deer meat, four giant salt and chili prawns, a spicy chicken skewer, various grilled veggies, lemon grass and chili beef, and garlic fried rice. Grilled up right in front of me. If you are ever in Ho Chi Minh city, or Saigon as pretty much everyone here calls it, go to Barbecue Garden. It is awesome.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nha Trang to Saigon(day 46)

Woke up a little late and checked out of my digs. Stowed my luggage and headed out to find something to read. Payed too much for Nam Au Go Go, written by a vet who lives in Nha Trang now. Headed to Louisiane for some lunch poolside, but sadly it was closed for repairs. Sat in the shade and read for a few hours instead, then headed to the Grill House for some dinner before my train. They have a good selection of tasty beef dishes at reasonable prices. Chatted with Tram the bartender there to help her practice English a bit before her classes start up. Realized that i don't really want to leave Vietnam just yet, but got on my train to Saigon just the same. Had a couple of beers with the fellow sharing my cabin, then he tried to hit on me. Didn't sleep too good for some reason. Finally arrived at 4 a.m. My taxi driver didn't know where he was going, had to stop for directions no less than four times. Then he deposited me in an alley about two blocks from where i'm actually staying, but another cabbie sorted me out with walking directions. Fended off the early morning dregs of humanity who wander this tourist ghetto i once again find myself in. I love living in the city!

Nha Trang (day 46)

Got up and headed out to meet Adam at Loc Cahn restaurant. One of my best eating experiences yet. Spicy beef grilled up right at your table with sides of rice and garlic greens. So good!
We then headed up to the Cham towers to check them out. There was some sort of holy festival going on, the place was packed. Needless to say, we got some strange looks by the locals.
After a bit, we decided to walk across town and back to the beach. Wandered the back streets for a while, and suddenly we were in the market near his hotel.
 It being one of the hottest days ever, we set out to find some air conditioning. Found it in the form of a five star hotel, residence of the stuffed shirt crowd whose only experience of Vietnam is bound to be their resort and the beach across the street. Boring of this rather quickly, we wandered up to the sheraton. Here we proceeded to head to the penthouse area, which was still in the process of being built. Pretty sure this area was off limits, but we walked in like we owned the place and nobody said a word. Took some good shots of Nha Trang from the deck, hit the pool area, and bailed to get sushi before anyone knew any better. Pretty fun adventure all in all.
Adam and i parted ways after that, he was off to Saigon, where i will meet him for one last evening out on the town. Went and chilled out for a bit, then headed to the Sailor Club to watch some fire dancers and listen to mediocre dance tunes. Found that i really can't stand tourists, and amused the bartenders with the fact that i know how to say "fucking tourists" in Vietnamese. Then i met Phuong. She gave me a bunch of shit about my toenails, then dragged my ass onto the dance floor. Hit it off pretty good until she found out i was leaving the next day, then she bailed and i headed homeward. A pretty good day all told.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Communism Doesn't Work

This girl danced like a maniac for a multitude of hours. Boring rhetoric can not compare to dance music. Period. Even if said dance music is the most banal shit ever. But that, obviously, is just my opinion.

Nha Trang (day 45)

Saw some beautiful things today. Also realized that i am a mark, as far as being able to say no goes. The postcard girls got me, even though i knew what was going on. Need to toughen my skin before i get to Thailand, or i will become broke due to my own empathy. Wandered about the town for a bit, till i couldn't take the heat of the day anymore, then i hid out till it got cooler. Eventually i headed out to find Adam, who i met in Hoi An, and we went to a brewery he had found, and then to Sailor Club, where we watched some fire dancers and some tourists behave like tourists.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Travel Lesson Number Two (day 44)

Having gone to a place called Beach Club the night before (which wasn't that good, should have gone on saturday i think) i was feeling a bit delirious. was still up by 7:30 a.m. and on my way to the train by 9.
Upon arrival, my lesson began. When travelling for an extended period it becomes hard to remember what day of the week it is, let alone what the actual date is. Which is why i was an entire day late for my train to Nha Trang. I procured a ticket for the next train with no problem, so it worked out okay, i arrived a couple hours later than i would have on the original train. Took a much needed nap on the first leg, then gave my middle bunk to an older lady and took her top bunk (they were stacked three high, and she looked a little bummed that she might have to risk her neck to get up to it). Got in and headed to my new home for two nights. Luckily it's a monday and they still had a room for me. They had a good chuckle when i told them my story. The beach is about four blocks away. Tomorrow i head there and get some swimming in, after i scope some sights around town. Sleepy time!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Not So Good.

Ingredients: water, sugar, bird's nest, white fungus. Tasted ok till i hit the chunky bits at the end. Not sure if they were fungus or nest.

So Good!

My Son (day 42)

Woke up at 6:48 am, before my wake up call from the front desk at 7 (which is necessary due to the fact that my beloved G1 phone has died the death). Scarfed a quick breakfast and hopped on the tour bus to My Son.
This area is the remains of a Hindu temple complex left over from the Champa people. Quite beautiful, even if we bombed the shit out of it. Had a good time wandering the ruins, trying to take decent photos without including the truckloads of tourists. Succeded about 90% of the time, which is pretty amazing. Saw ants that make the ones in florida look like sissys. Also had the fun experience of being photographed as a tourist attraction myself. I was standing looking up at a ruin when a lady came running up and said "now you!" She and her friends took turns standing next to me and getting their picture taken. Then they told me i was very handsome and ran away giggling. Good times. Next up was a boat trip down the river back to Hoi An. This was something of an anti-climax after the earlier sights, but we did get to experience getting towed to shore after our boat died.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Tastiest Bowl Of Noodles Yet

Instant noodles from the first stall on the right at Vinh Moc Tunnel complex. Very, very tasty.

Hoi An (day 41)

Got up early. Again. Stomach better but head cold trying to make a comeback. Had a quick breakfast, and then Duc picked me up and drove me to the train station. Rolled south to Danang, then hopped a taxi to Hoi An, where i will stay the next few nights. Wandered around a bit looking for a bridge the Japanese built here long ago. Got lost. Got found by a woman on a bicycle who is currently making me a suit, two shirts and a tie for $139 total, whichn i've been wanting to do for a bit now anyway. Bought some souvenir t-shirts as well, figuring if i don't do it soon it isn't going to happen. Taking it easy tonight, because tomorrow: getting up early.

Hue (day 38-40)

Got picked up bright and early at the train station and taken to my hotel. Took a nap. When i got up i realized that my previous stomach issues were nothing. Went out front and watch it rain so hard it flooded the streets ankle deep, then met a fellow named Ni who has relatives in the states. He bought me lunch and i bought him some liquor for his trip to the temple. He got the better end of the deal, but he did take me to a pharmacy for some stomach meds that worked like magic. Spent the rest of the day rolling around on a cyclo cab seeing the sights around the Citadel and the Black Tower.

Got up the next day and set out to find the museum of contemporary art. Met Duc, a member of the Easy Rider group in Vietnam, who insisted on driving me around for free (or, as it turned out, for gas money). He took me to a cultural museum that was pretty nice. Then we went to where i was really trying to go, but there was no museum there, only a school. I never did find the place. Next up, the interior of the Citadel. An amazing place that must have been even more so before first the French and then the U.S. showed up. Hit the DMZ bar that evening and got my ass handed to me by a girl who worked there. Never caught her name, but she was very, very good at eight-ball.

Got up early and met up with Duc. We hit the road on his Honda, first stop Long Hung Church, which had been bombed to smithereens. Then we headed out to the DMZ. Not much to look at there, other than people setting up for tomorrow's festivities for the 35th anniversary of the end of the American War. And a giant monument and a tiny bunker. Then we headed out along a scenic drive up the coast to the Vinh Moc tunnel complex. The fact that people lived in these things at all, let alone for years at a time, was a bit overwhelming. There are still plenty of craters all along the coast from the shelling it took. Next up, Quang Tri Citadel, where a battle lasting 81 days took place. There were many veterans there, burning incense and paying their respects to their fallen comrades. I didn't take many pictures there, it just didn't feel right to me. Finished out our ride with more countryside scenery. A good day, one of the best so far.

Last Day Hanoi (day 37)

Spent the day with Ines and Alex showing them what i know of Hanoi. We hit the Hanoi Hilton, which was first used by the French to torture the Vietnamese and later by the Vietnamese to torture U.S. pilots. It was depressing on a variety of levels, even if they painted a fairly rosy picture of the pilots' life there. Got some ice cream, coffee, and noodles with the ladies. Went to say goodbye to my friend Van at Funky Monkey. Got sad when i parted ways with Ines to head to the train. Only met her three days before, but felt like leaving an old friend.
Made it to the overnight train to Hue with moments to spare. Automobiles and the streets of Hanoi do not mix. The nice family i shared a cabin with kept feeding me until it was time to sleep, so i didn't have to suffer through train food.

Halong Bay (day 34-36)

Got up ridiculously to hop on the short bus to the bay. Tried to sleep, but sadly i was in the very back seat; this basically entails being thrown into the air everytime there is a bump. There were a lot of bumps. Eventually we made it to the harbour, which was a madhouse of tourists being shuffled on and off boats. Then it was our turn, and we were whisked away to the Black Pearl (which looks nothing like any of these pictures) to begin our journey.
I must say, organized tour or not, that Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful places i have ever seen, hands down.
First stop was "Amazing Cave", which really wasn't all that amazing. Then it was time for some kayaking near Van Chai Floating Village with my cabin mate Djeh, a nice fellow from France. We rowed a bit, then stopped by to hang with some of the boat people. They gave us rice liqour and a bunch of crab. For free. Unheard of. Thank you tattoo and your power over strangers.
Back on the boat it was time for dinner. Tasty seafood. Then time for bonding with my shipmates, folks from Australia, the States, Argentina, China, and Vietnam.
Up early and off to Cat Ba island. Climbed a mountain by noon. Sandals are not good climbing shoes, but still better than my other pair which have no tread left. Made it up and most of the down no problem, only to eat it five steps from the bottom. Bruising ensued, but better than the impalement that i narrowly avoided.
Then off to the hotel for lunch, which also looked nothing like the one in the brochure. Seafood again. Then onto a different boat to Monkey Island for a bit of swimming. And monkeys. Then back to the hotel for dinner. Seafood.
Hit the town with our guide Tu' for some drinks. He bailed after a bit to meet some ladies, but his buddy Hao looked after us. Much rice whiskey later, it was off to Disco Bar, where i met Ines and Alex from Austria. Late noodles and drunkeness followed.
Woke 15 minutes before time to leave with my first, and so far only, Vietnamese hangover. Hopped on the bus bound for Hanoi, where again sleep was not to be had. Had the fold down seat in the aisle this time, but at least our driver wasn't bat shit crazy like the first one.
Shared some farewell beers with Djeh and Tu' back in Hanoi, hit the Night Market with Ines and Alex. Went to bed early.

Sorry For The Delay! (Hanoi day 32-33)

Wednesday: Called my new friend Tom, but it went straight to what i assumed was a message saying this number no longer in service in Vietnamese. Thought to myself "shit, Tom has ripped me off." Shrugged and went for a walk to return my not needed plane ticket. Found that with no trouble, and they mailed it back to Hong Kong, so most of my money should be refunded. For shits and giggles i tried Tom again, and he answered first ring. Turns out he was in some sort of accident after we parted ways and had spent the night in jail. The police confiscated his bike until he could pay damages and fines, so no rip off, just bad luck. Spent the rest of the day wandering Old Town seeing the sights, smelling the smells, and being bombarded by the sound of horns. Finished the day with "model night" at Funky Monkey Bar, which i was seriously underdressed for.
Thursday: Woke to my first real "Traveler's Stomach" experience. Felt pretty shitty most of the day. Decided to take it easy. Spent a bit of the afternoon planning my next few destinations in The 'Nam.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking Pictures In Restaurants Makes Me Feel Weird

Hanoi (day 31)

Great day today. Got up relatively early (for me) and had a ridiculously strong cup of coffee for breakfast. Hit the streets and headed to Hoan Kiem lake. Relearned how to walk across streets in southeast asia, which is easier than you would think in a city with few stoplights and a million scooters. You just kind of go, and they beep, and everybody wins. About halfway around the lake i met a fellow named Tom who flagged me down due to my tattoo (a full arm sleeve is quite handy for meeting new people, as well as being pointed and stared at). We talked for a bit, went for tea, and then he proceeded to drive me all over the place on his scooter. Saw a huge chunk of the city, including such sights as the Temple of Literature, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the remains of a B-52 bomber in the middle of the city, a statue where John McCain was shot down, a local noodle shop, and a bia stall. Then i learned the joy of living in a maze; never quite lost, never quite found (which pretty much sums up my existence).
Stay tuned. Videos to follow (or follow the linky).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some Thoughts On Travel (day 30)

Holy Shit! I haven't worked in a month! And i don't miss it a bit!
Ok, now that that's out of my system, today's lesson. If you are headed somewhere and you have a multiple entry visa for said place, you do not, i repeat, do not need proof of exit. No matter what anyone at the airline ticket counter might tell you. Assuming i can refund said proof, it will only have cost me roughly $33 dollars U.S. to learn said lesson.
Next tidbit: if you happen to find yourself in Hong Kong, don't stay in the Mirador Mansions in Kowloon. Unless you want to live in a place packed with drug dealers and con artists, and hey, you can do that at home.
If you find yourself in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, however, do stay at the Gecko Motel. The people here are super nice, my laundry is getting done for about $1.50, and i've had my first hot shower in about four days. And they picked me up at the airport, carried my shit the block we had to walk from the drop off point, and fed me strange fruit that was really tasty. They seem to think i will get sick of Hanoi quickly, so tomorrow we talk side trips in the north. I wandered the neighborhood a bit, but calling it an early night.

Oh, and the book of face is inaccessible here as well, but i can hit up my blog and post my photos. I may be able to find a way around this issue, but if not, oh well.

Greetings From Hanoi