Can Tho and the Mekong Delta

Can Tho is a famous jumping off point to visit several of the largest floating markets in Vietnam. This is exactly what I did but I had actually intended to skip a lot of the Mekong Delta in favor of having more time in Cambodia. That was until I found out that my two good friends from Gimhae (yes, my little town back in Korea) would also be in Can Tho on this very day. Anyone remember Jake and Sarah from Noribang a about a month ago?

The first day we took it pretty easy and just rented some bicycles to explore the city away from the Mekong. We visited our first Khmer style temple and had a nice long chat with the local monk who was actually Thai but visiting because the local temple master had recently died.

I had already been in Can Tho for about half a day when Jake and Sarah finally arrived so I showed them the local market I had found. It was an especially nice market because it was the first I had been in where I was the only tourist. It was fairly out of the way so I guess the hordes of westerners like to stick by the river.

The next morning at 5am we left our hotels to catch a river taxi to the floating markets. It gets to hot during the day to sit on the river and sell fruit in the sun so you must get there early and we had a one hour boat ride ahead of us. Not a bad way to wake up really. The temperature out on the Mekong was cool and except for a sorely missed cup of coffee I was a pretty happy, though drowsy, passenger.

After eating way more fruit than could possibly be healthy for us, most of which names I haven’t the foggiest, our boat captain took us down a much smaller canal to have lunch. Again, she probably took us to one of her relatives restaurants, the prices were somewhat inflated, and it took us ages to get there as it was quite out of the way. This is typical in Vietnam and I have come to accept it. The food was fairly good though and the long boat ride game me plenty of time to catch up with my old friends and see some parts of the Mekong that might not get as much traffic.

Thats it for me in the delta. Tomorrow I head for cambodia via an extremely long boat ride!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ho Chi Minh City

We finally made it to HCMC and with two days to spare before Andrews flight out. Having not spent too much time in Hanoi, Vietnams second largest city, we really wanted to explore as much as possible. The first day was spent exploring the famous markets, eating more Pho than should be legal, and exploring the many many Buddhist temples in the older parts of the city.

If I were to live in Vietnam I think it would have to be in HCMC. Hanoi and HCMC are extremely different. While Hanoi hardly had a building over five stories, HCMC’s sky line looked much like many mid sized Western city. On the ground level though everything was entirely different. Again we were faced with incessant beeping, revving, and abuse from the local scooter drivers. I think eventually I could get used to it but after being spoiled for so long on the beaches of Nah Trang and Mui Ne it came as more than a bit of a shock, again.

The temples were amazing and quite a lot of exercise to get from one to another in the heat of the day. Luckily we had lots of sun block and cheap local beer to help us along. Sometimes we even found draft local brew for as little a 4,000 dong ($0.20) a glass! Most of the time it was closer to 10,000 dong.

The War Museum of American Atrocities was horrific and made me feel even less proud to be an American than at any other point in my life. The museum had some rather controversial subject matter that at times even I had a hard time swallowing. One such item I remember was a story about a young woman who was given a metal for destroying an American helicopter with a homemade bazooka. However, the hundreds of pictures of Agent Orange victims, their children, and their children’s children who are still suffering, would be quite difficult to discount. Some of the displays included deformed human fetuses, which I will spare you from seeing and I thought wholly inappropriate for photography.

Its also worth pointing out that this is essentially the second such museum that I had visited during my travels in Asia. The equivalent museum in Hiroshima had an entirely different feel. While the Japanese museum expressed regret, shame, and embarrassment for what happened to them, the Vietnamese museum gave the impression of anger, injustice, and vilification. Is it possible at all that history really is written by the victors of war?

Up next were the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. These are some of the few well preserved tunnels left from the Vietnamese war and a key factor in the Vietcong’s eventual victory against the US and its allies. Not many pictures because they were literally just tiny holes in the ground. The tunnels we went through were made slightly larger and concreted to make it easier for tourists. However, being such a claustrophobic mess I had to embarassingly back out of the tunnel after a few feet in. In my defense, the tunnels were, hot, completely without light, and I was being pushed from behind by other more eager tourists into the back of an over weight Australian woman. After the entire tour group of about thirty people finally made it through the one hundred or so yards of hands and knees crawling space a young couple, who had also wussed out, and I went through without the crowd and were much more relaxed. Other than the tunnels the place had a bunch on old military tanks, machine guns and the like. There was even a firing range where you could shoot an AK-47, sniper rifle, or any other Vietnam War era weapon of your choice. Andrew and I both opted out because each bullet went for about $1 and had a minimum purchase of 20 bullets. No thanks, I would rather buy drinks, eat good food, or upgrade my hotel for a few nights.

On our last day we visited the old presidential palace. A very interesting place but not much to see other than really expensive looking interior decorating from the 1970’s and some pictures of the former South Vietnamese President fleeing in a helicopter as the Vietcong crashed through the front gates with a battalion on tanks.

Early the next morning it was time for Andrew to finally return home to San Diego. It had been a great trip and its was amazing to see the guy again after over a year of living in Korea. While I was very sad to see him go a part of me was also quite excited to be set loose all alone in SE Asia. I have never considered myself much of a loner though I admit I do like to read and watch a lot of movies. However, when I am by myself I just seem entirely more social and outgoing. Maybe its out of necessity but I really like traveling alone for some reason. Too much time spent on the bike perhaps? In either case its going to be quite a long time before I see one of my best friends in this world again so we big fair-well in earnest with Andrew getting into a taxi bound for the airport and me hopping an autobike for the bus station to the southern delta region of Vietnam. Whatever happens from this point on will be interesting and with out my, admittedly, more leveled headed travel companion who knows what shenanigans lie ahead of me?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Tour Of My Home In Seoul

Everyone has been sending me emails about wanting to see what my new place looks like in Seoul. I guess all the recent pictures of white sandy beaches, thousand year old ruins, and Vietnamese markets places have just not been good enough for my readers. You are a demanding bunch ain’t you?

As I have said in past post, my new place is a bit bigger than the old one in Gimhae but much older. I am living in one of the oldest parts of Seoul that is left. The wave of redevelopment that has been radiating out of the downtown ever since the Olympics in 1988 has not quite reach Hoegi Station yet. Which is fine by me because it keeps the rent down and retains a lot of traditional charm. However, what it also retains is a little bit gritty and raw. Just two subway stops away and I would be surrounded by glitzy buildings, fancy high rises, and mega-shopping malls. Pass! As of right now I am still enjoying my areas shabbiness and can visit the fancier parts of Seoul at ease.

Another big improvement with the new place, other than its location in Seoul rather than B-Fing Gimhae, is that the kitchen is actually big enough to cook something in! In Gimhae the kitchen didn’t even have a countertop to chop vegetables on. All I had was a tiny sink with a two stove burner. Now I actually have a small counter top and a decent sink for washing dishes. I just bought a Korean style, folding floor-dinning table and cushions to sit on. Should work out nicely but not in here because it hasn’t been delivered yet.

Here is a quick video tour of my dorm…. I mean, apartment!

Since I just bought a new, used camera this made for a good excuse to take some test shots of the neighborhood while I was at it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Next Stop, Mui Ne

We only stayed in Mui Ne for a two days and one night though we could have easily stayed longer. Mui Ne’s tourist industry is still in its infancy so, though the coast line is completely covered by resorts both large and small, the rest of the land behind the beach strip is completely empty.

Sadly we were also witness to several huge developments projects right on the beach for huge, multi story condominium vacation homes for the wealthy. Its very sad that the Vietnamese people seem to be too poor to enjoy their countries most beautiful natural resources.

Out hotel in Mui Ne was the most expensive of the entire trip at $20 a night for the two of us. Still not too shabby for the luxury of being able to open your bedroom door and step out onto white sand. We briefly considered taking windsurfing lessons as it seemed to be the thing to do here but the extreme currents that day made us think better of it. I attempted to get Andrew to rent a motor cycling with me but since he had never ridden before, and we had met several other foreigners who had done the same and were currently in bandages, we decided against that too. In the end we simply decided to share the comfy hammock hanging near our bedrooms, read our books, and have a drink. I am a big fan of the simple pleasures.

On the bus into Mui Ne I was surprised to see sand dunes and an arid landscape spear out in front of me. It looked a lot like Southern California! I guess its a side of Vietnam that I never expected and that gets little mention in the guide books. Very pretty though it certainly was starting to get hot!

Tomorrow, Ho Chi Mihn City!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Nha Trang Adventures

Well after another long long bus ride, this one much newer and more comfortable than the last one, we arrive in Nha Trang about a half hour before sunrise. Our hotel was just across the main road from the beach and cost us a whopping $6 a night.

Nha Trang has a bad reputation as being a seedy, party-city since its heyday during the Vietnam War. Nha Trang was located a safe distance from the front lines but too far for America soldiers to travel to on their time off. Now a days it seems pretty tame. Mostly just a tourist destination with nice beaches. At this point we are still a bit ahead of the curve so the hordes of westerners have yet to descend on the beaches.

Besides spending several days simply sitting and reading on the beach, Nha Trang had several historical sights of interest. One of them was a famous Buddhist temple with very large reclining and seated Buddhas. Again, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the temples.

We met an enthusiastic young female “volunteer” at the temple but like so many of our encounters with the local Vietnamese, she was mostly just trying to get money out of us. She did take some time to show us around the temple and tell us a little bit about its history. She really liked my sunglasses, they were actually a pretty big hit all over SE Asia, was able to identify them as being Korea, and insisted that I take a picture of her wearing them. Shortly after that she tried to sell us a pack of post cards for 300,000 dong ($15). This same situation had been put on us several times already so we knew the drill. She said that the money was for a school that was on the temple grounds but several of our guide books explicitly warned us not to give money to these people as they are not always affiliated with anything. Maybe if she had started a little lower on the price I would not have been so insulted but as it was we simply walked away while she ran behind us for several hundred yards basically begging us for any amount of money. The gigantic seated Buddha at the top of the temple was well worth the hassle though. The picture do not do its massive size justice.

I am still not sure if this is a culture miscommunication or if its a personal thing that I feel so offended when someone blatantly tries to extract as much money out of me as possible on the basis of a hastily built friendship. Andrew seemed just as annoyed by it as me, tough, I seemed to take it more personally than him.

Andrew had been looking high and low for Jack Fruit. He had heard that it was abundant in Vietnam but we had not come across it yet until we found a local market that had some. He had been addicted to the stuff when he was backpacking through East Africa. I liked it though the texture was a bit more squishy that expected. Kind of like a banana, pineapple, peach mix.

On a different day we again rented bicycles and road out of town a ways to the Cham Towers that were built during the 7th century. Entrance fee was $0.50. Thats a lot of history for half a dollar I must say.

On yet a different day Andrew and I went scuba diving for both of our first times. Neither one of us had the proper certifications but apparently in Vietnam and Thailand you can take a “Paddy” course where the dive instructor stays really close to you the entire time incase there is a problem. It was $40 and was easily one of the most expensive things that I did in Vietnam which is not saying all that much. We didn’t get a chance to take any pictures of us in the diving gear because the tour company took them for us on their camera. Then at the end of the dive told us that copies would cost us another $10! Everyone is out to make a buck of stupid tourists like us in Vietnam and they will get you somehow. I decline on principle though some of the pictures they took of me swimming with the jelly fish and sea eels were pretty cool. Not that you could tell it was me under all that gear!

Almost forgot! The picture you see of me near the reclining Buddha with the little fearful looking Vietnamese girl in my arms might have you wondering how that came to be, right? Well this just seems to happen sometimes to westerners in Asia. I knows its happened several time to me in Korea at least. The parents saw a white face (with rugged good looks, perhaps?) and wanted a picture of their daughter with it. The little girl was unconvinced of the necessity of such a photo opportunity and took quite a bit of convincing from her large family. Still she does not look very happy to be in such close proximity to a sweaty foreigner, let alone being photographed in such a situation. Andrew managed to whip out his camera and snag an off angle shot during the process and that is how this came to be.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Son Ruins and Hoi An Beaches

On our second (or was it the third?) day in Hoi An we took a river ferry about 35k to see My Son, the oldest Cham Dynasty ruins in Vietnam. This was one one of our first REALLY hot days in SE Asia and would certainly not be our last. There is really not too much to say other than check out the awesome pictures. Pretty amazing stuff considering the time period and a testament to pre-colonial Siamese society.

After leaving the ruins, about three hours later, our river ferry dropped us off at the local boat building dock and “folk village.” Tourist rides such as ferries and express busses are notorious for doing this to you. One of the ways that they offer such cheap rates is that they stop off at these little villages where there is nothing to do but wander in and out of the shops that sell decorated chopsticks, T-shirts with the Vietnamese flag on it, jewelry boxes, and other useless stuff. I am guess the villages pay royalties to the bus companies while the tourists themselves have to endure a four hour trip for what should have taken two.

By the time we made it back to our hostel in Hoi An we were far and away ready for the beach. Rented a set of bikes for less than a dollar a piece and followed the river to the ocean. Wow. Makes me miss San Diego. Though, even SD has only one or two beaches this pristine. I have had to make due with the likes of Hayundai Beach in Busan or a few of the hidden beaches on Geoje Island for the last year. This was amazing and easily the best part about Hoi An.

We even had lunch right there on the beach. Andrew had crab, which looked mighty tasty I might add, while I decided on a yummy chow mien.

Since we were the only customers on that day I managed to get our waitress to take a break and help us eat our shrimp flavored Pringles. She then got all of her friends to come over and shared their… little boiled snail things with us. They actually tasted really good with a little salt but they took some practice to remove the shell.

We hopped another sleeper bus that night for a ten hour ride to Nha Trang. On board we bumped into an Aussie couple we had met on our last sleeper bus from Halong Bay to Hue and again on the beach in Hoi An. We would continue to see these guys all over Vietnam for the rest of our trip. What an awesome way to spend a honey moon by the way, right?!?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hoi An: Tourist Trap Central

I’ll say upfront that Hoi An was not my favorite city in Vietnam. However, I should not be overly harsh. The streets were beautiful, the shops quaint, and the beach immaculate. That was just the problem though, it was nothing like the rest of Vietnam! In-fact, with all the tourists lumbering along buying any little trinkets they could get their hands on, I believe the locals were far outnumbered.

It may not have even been that bad if I were not being yelled at from all corners with “BUY SOMETHING?!?” I guess in retrospect its kind of funny. Even at the time I remember thinking that you can hardly blame them for trying to make some sales. It sure was annoying a the. In short I guess I didn’t like the place because I was uncomfortable feeling like a tourist, which I was, so I should probably just get used to it in the future.

Andrew loved this place. I think recall him telling me later that it was his favorite city. Its easy to see why, just not my cup-a tea I guess.

By the way, I have no idea why cats in SE Asia are so attracted to me. Maybe its the other way around? I have been without a pet for so long, there are not too many pets in Korea, that I think I would just try and play with any animal that approached me. Maybe cats can just smell an animal lover? Anyways this is my disclaimer and explanation of all other random pictures of me with cats in the future of this blog.

Hoi An is famous for its density of excellent and cheap hand made clothing. There must have been hundreds of tailor shops. Andrew and I briefly thought about having some suits tailored for us. A modern all wool suit can be had for as little as $40 custom made! However, my journey had only begun and I hardly wanted to drag an entire wool suit around Cambodia and Thailand! Instead I had a nice pair of trekking pants and shirt made for me at the cost of about $20 dollars for the par. They turned out real nice!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized