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

Sunday, April 18, 2010

HK Graffiti

Hong Kong (day 29)

Last day in Hong Kong. Got up and headed back to the soho area for some brunch. Then i set out to find the gardens near the peak, but got side tracked and didn't quite make it. I did get to witness the strange phenomena pictured above, which consisted of hundreds, if not thousands, of women hanging out along walkways and roadsides, playing cards and eating snacks and having a grand old time. It made me smile. I took a shitload of pictures, including a bunch of grafitti shots. Happened to glance up at one point and find I/O, which had a show by Lu Yang; it was fascinating in a horrible car accident kind of way. Glad i saw it though. Hit the ferry back to Kowloon, which was cheaper than a subway, and more fun. Wish i had known that sooner. Laying low again tonight, for tomorrow it's off to Hanoi for another dose of culture shock.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 27-28

Friday i hit the Museum of Science, which i must say puts every other science museum i've ever been to to shame. It was packed full with about six bus loads of kids, which was entertaining in itself. Wandered the streets, which is what i seem to do best. Revisited my bartender friends from monday and made some new friends.
Saturday was mostly uneventful, but i did go see Kick Ass, because i just couldn't help myself. Taking it easy tonight, because tomorrow i'm hitting a park or two, as well as taking a night ferry for some photo time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Random Roadside Weirdness

More Yummy Things

Hong Kong (day 25-26)

Hong Kong. If NYC and Tokyo mated and had a child, this would be it. People from all over the planet are wandering the streets here, wheeling and dealing and living large. It somehow reminds me of a giant shopping center, each part interconnected by subways, underground malls, escalators, elevated walkways, and a maze of streets. It's a sensory overload 24 hours a day.
I finally made it out of Kowloon to Hong Kong proper on wednesday, and i walked till i could walk no more. Wandered to the convention center, where they are currently hosting the electronics fair, but it was such a madhouse i couldn't bring myself to go in. Instead i wandered the waterfront a bit, then made my way east to the Causeway Bay area, a multitude of highrises and chaos. Then it was back to Kowloon and the Space Museum, which i got into for free. Obviously, i enjoyed that immensely. Then, feeling some Japan withdrawal, i went for sushi. Then i wandered the streets of Kowloon, hitting pedestrian markets and food streets galore. Completely at random i ran into Johanna and Andreas, a couple from Sweden i met on the train.
Spent thursday wandering Soho with them. This is home to the great pedestrian escalator, which i had heard of and had to see for myself. Due to the craptastic weather here today, it made much more sense, as does the fact that with a little effort you can get all over the place with rarely ever venturing outside. Ate some tasty food. Sleepy time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hong Kong (day 23-24)

Finally hit Hong Kong after a long night on the train. Right away i could tell i was going to like it here, and that was before i found out the space museum is only blocks from my hostel. Speaking of which, my new room is only slightly larger than the cabin i had on the train. By which i mean it is small, really, really small. But hey, i am just using it for sleeping and internet access anyway. It is also located in a shopping area where every five feet someone tries to sell me a watch, a suit, some illicit substance, or themselves. The entertainment value is huge. I rested up for a bit, then headed out on a quest for fried chicken, which lead me to Ocean Terminal, which is a mall of massive proportions. No fried chicken was found. But their free wifi led me to my second craving, mexican food. Found my way to that place with no trouble, and ate some tasty fajitas. Further back in the place was a bar with polynesian themes where i met a few folks and had a few beverages. The bartenders took a liking to me and kept sending me shots. Took a taxi the six blocks home. Woke up a bit late and took my hangover to the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Shots From The Train

Shanghai (Day 14-22)

First impression: What the hell have i gotten myself into? Walking with Joe and Claire through a neighborhood that looked like it had been hit by an air raid, sidewalks destroyed and buildings gutted. What appeared to be fog from the boat was actually just what the air looks like most of the time. Found my hostel, the Naza, with no trouble, and attempted to get settled.
While waiting for Jo from the boat to arrive to go and get some food, i was accosted by a disheveled man with open sores on his mouth; he either thought i was a prostitute or wanted to take me to one. Not a good start. But then i met Dan, and through him Neil, Alice, and Yanyan. They took me to a place called Latina, an all you can eat Brazillian joint. I stuffed myself full of delicious food, and watched Dan eat more than i thought humanly possible.
 Spent the next couple of days wandering the city with Yanyan, who is one of the sweetest people i have met. We hit the MOCA and the Urban Planning Exhibition Center, and walked People's Square, Nanjing Road, and The Bund. She took me to some hole in the wall eateries that i could never have navigated on my own, and in turn i took her to the first two clubs she has ever been to, Logo and Shelter. Saw some decent drum and bass and dubstep dj sets. Met Ian of Heatwolves. Had a good time wednesday with Joe and Claire for Joe's birthday. Yanyan left thursday, which made me a bit sad. Friday i spent with Claire at Yuyuan Garden and the surrounding marketplace, where i located the dumpling place from No Reservations completely by accident. Sadly, the line was a mile long, so i did not get to sample them. Then it was off to the Shanghai Aquarium, which i quite enjoyed. Saturday i spent walking around the French Concession area, which was fairly calm compared to some of the other sights i had seen. Sampled some beers at Boxing Cat brewery; the stout was tasty. Met a fellow there named Steve from Denver, who i bequethed my Chinese phrasebook to. One less thing to carry around!
Sunday i paid a final visit to Best Choice coffee shop, my daily starting point. Then it was off to figure out the train station, which was quite confusing. Thinking i was in the right area, i waited with the locals, ony to find that i needed to be on the other side of the station and cleared through passport control. Only a tiny sign well past the main entrance was the indicator of this, but i made my train anyway.

On The Boat (Day 12-13)

The ferry from Osaka to Shanghai, the Su Zhuo Hao, was a good period of downtime for me. Leaving Japan saddened me, though the sights from the boat were quite beautiful, for I had come to love it in my short time there.
The boat served another purpose as well. It broke me out of the shell I had been building around me since parting with Lucas. I had been purposely avoiding other foreigners, preferring to go it alone, but during the first night's meal a Londoner named Arsan invited me to sit with him. Speaking with him on his travels through India, I realized I had been missing out  on opportunities to interact and aquire new perspectives, which is somewhat the purpose of this journey in the first place. I met a lot of good folks that night; Martyn, Benny, John, Jimmy, Joe and Claire, all from the U.K., as well as Jo and Joe, both from China. I found myself wanting to journey with them for a bit, even though it was not meant to be.

Hello Shanghai

Goodbye Japan

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 11

Last day in osaka. Got a late start due to last night's festivities, or maybe i'm just tired from walking this city from end to end. Anyway, went to Osaka Castle today.
Wandered the grounds for a few hours taking in the beauty and magnitude of the place. I'm really going to miss this city. It is comfortable, even if i can't speak the language. I definitely will come back here again, no doubt about it.
Tomorrow, it's off to Shanghai by ferry. That gives me two days to learn Shanghainese. Wish me luck!

Day 10

Today was museum day. Hit the Osaka Museum of Science, which reminded me of the Pacific Science Center, except in kanji. Then it was off to The National Museum of Art,which was amazing. Discovered a variety of contemporary Japanese artists, including Mikoto Aida, whose painting "Blender" is one of the most powerful images i have ever seen. Other highlights included Machida Kumi and Nara Yoshimoto.
Then it was off to find Junkudo, a bookstore with an english language section, where i succesfully scored phrasebooks for china and vietnam to help me get by a little easier. To celebrate, i stopped off for a beverage, where i met alex, who has been living in japan for seven years teaching english. He gave me his contact info in case i decide to flee the states on a permanent basis.We shared a few pints, played some darts, and witnessed a bodybag being offloaded from an elevator and into a van. All in all, a full day with a weird twist at the end.

Dontonbori

Takarazuka

Day 9

Woke up early and headed out of osaka to see Takarazuka, which was quite beautiful, and the calmest place i've visited so far. It is home to the Takarazuka Revue, an all female performance group which i sadly did not get to see. It was also the boyhood home of Osamu Tezuka, who was something of a genius, and what drew me there in the first place. Wandered through his museum for a bit, than it was back to osaka to seek out culinary adventure in Dontonbori, where i sought out some places i saw on "no reservations."