Friday, August 25, 2006


I used to keep a regular blog and this recent trip has inspired me to continue. I think when I get back home I might start up again, maybe I'll just change this one around.

Another inspiriation came yesterday, as I was looking for things to buy for people. I passed through a street where shops were dedicated to oil painting. These shops sold replicas and originals and the painters were quite talented. I used to paint quite a bit but I haven't in a long time. When I get home I might pick up some oil paints and brushes and start up again. Maybe I'll post some in the general blog I might start up. :)

An eight hour stop over in Korea

I met up with Kheang at the airport and we exchanged stories of what we've been up to. It sounds like he had a lot of fun in Cambodia, that is after he recovered from the night of hard partying. He said it was really hard for him to leave. I can imagine, I found it hard to leave and I'm not even from there.

I didn't realize that we had such a long stop over in Korea, eight hours! We've been killing time in and around the airport for the last few hours. It's pretty ironic coming here, to a brand new ultra modern air port, from ruined temples and jungles of Cambodia and Vietnam. This airport is quite interesting in design. I can't decide if I like it or hate it. It's brand new, I think they finished it in 2004 and it looks like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel. It looks more neat from the outside, but I wasn't able to upload those as I moved them over to my mp3 player as soon as I got a chance. The guards here don't like people taking photos of the airport and we had to be pretty discreet. I'd hate to have my camera confiscated, but more so I'd hate to lose any of my photos. ;)

I'm quite tired, I didn't get a lot of sleep on the flight to Korea. Mostly due to the interactive screens that they have on the back of each seat on these new planes. You can choose the movies, games or music you want to play or go on the internet. I tried to cram two movies into the flight, which was just over four hours. I fell asleep during the first one and watched most of the second one. They were pretty cheesy.

We don't have much longer to go for our next flight. Kheang is passed out on a nearby bench and I'm playing on the internet. Our next stop over is in Seattle and I'm hoping we'll have the same sort of interactive seats on that plane. It might be better for me not to, as I'm not able to resist the free movies and I won't get any sleep. I might need that sleep to get passed the U.S. customs security. They give me a hard time as is, and with all the sun I got in Cambodia and with the longer beard, I might not be allowed through to Calgary. :)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Last Pagoda Run

This morning I set out to see a little more of Ho Chi Minh City, and having a whole bunch of Viet Nam money in my wallet I decided to take a cyclo tour. The cyclo driver that offered me a ride, talked about the regular tour which included war museums and couple of pagodas. I wasn't too keen on seeing museums, but I wanted to see as many pagodas as possible and my cyclo driver was okay with that.

He took me from pagoda to pagoda and I quickly discovered that people here really pack into pagodas on Fridays. It was pretty crazy, having to push through the crowds and wait to get photos with as few people as possible. A lot of people go and light incense and say a few prayers for good luck and more money. It's all about the money, after Buddha I think money is the most sacred thing. In the photo incense can be seen smoking from the table and also from the roofs. They hang spiral incense up on the roofs and it really smokes up the place. It was pretty hard to breath in some of these pagodas.

The cyclo was a great way to see some of the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. We passed through a few street markets and my cyclo driver gave me tips on where to buy cheap fruits and clothing. We passed by a place that sold pets too. I can get a monkey for a pet for pretty cheap here. I'd love a pet monkey, though I don't think I could get it across the border. :)

As my tour of the city ended, my cyclo driver asked for a little extra money for being so helpful. You always have to be skeptical of people here if they offer you more than you ask for. Originally he quoted me 50,000 dong per hour, which works out to about a $1.75 USD, at the end of a 4 hour trip he wanted 350,000 dong. I offered him a 150,000 and after much debate we settled at 250,000. He was a nice guy, but I think I gave him too much, as far as pricing goes here.

I got a brief email from Kheang and we're meeting up tonight to fly back to Canada.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Second day in the Mekong Delta

Today was quite fun. The boats you see to the left are the ones we used to get through the floating market. Unfortunately we got there just as it was slowing down, and didn't get to see it for what it really is. Still it was fun and I've got a number of photos from it that I'll save for when I come back.

The people that shared this tour with me were great. There were a lot of Italians and Germans on this one and it's fun to share stories from people from different countries. I've given a few of them my website and a link to the Calgary Outdoor Club, should they ever want to visit Calgary and go for a hike.

The city that we were staying in had a lot of different food to offer. I mentioned in my last post that I tried snake, so here's a photo of me playing with my food. I also tried eel for lunch today, I can't say I liked it, it was pretty plain. I wanted frog legs, but they would only serve the whole frog and I didn't feel up for that. With one day to go, maybe I'll save frog legs for another trip. :)

Listening to other people's stories of their trip through Viet Nam, I think we've been pretty lucky, with the timing and the weather, to see all that we saw. We've been going at it at a pretty quick pace and taking lots of photos along the way. I think I'm close to, if not over 3,000 photos. I really hope my mp3 player doesn't break, that's where they're all stored.

It's hard to believe that it's all coming to an end; it's been so fun. I've been thinking of what other countries I can visit next. We've made some friends along the way here and maybe I'll go visit them. Maybe that's something to think about later.

Tomorrow is my last day in Viet Nam. I'm back in Ho Chi Minh City and I'm thinking I'll go around the city, maybe visit the market and take some more photos. I also have a whole bunch of Dong (Vietnamese currency) in my wallet and I'd like to use it up before we leave. If anyone wants anything, now is your last chance. If you'd like something send me an email or put your request in the comments below. Otherwise I'll be spending a whole lot money on myself, and that would just be terrible. :)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mekong Delta

Just finished my first day in the Mekong Delta. I'm part of a tour so the experience isn't as good as it would be without all the tourists. Still, it's fun.

I'm on my own now so I've been making friends with the tourists. I made a friend with a French Vietnamese girl who took me around the town that we're staying in tonight. She speaks fluent Vietnamese and it's nice to have her help.

We went to a restaurant where I tried fried snake meat with onion. It was delicious! Afterwards we got some fruits that I haven't tried before and we ate those while deciding what to do. I thought I'd find an internet cafe and do an update.

I haven't taken too many photos here, but that ought to change tomorrow. We're going to a floating market, a market on the river. That should be interesting.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Almost time to come back

It's almost time to come back, and I can't say I'm looking foward to it. I've been enjoying the travel life style. I've made a few resolutions for myself that I hope to put in effect when I come back.

Tomorrow I'm catching a bus to the Mekong Delta and I'll be there for two days. If anybody would like anything from Viet Nam, let me know in the comments and I'll see about getting it before we leave. I haven't done any shopping, aside from a couple of shirts. I figured the quick dry shirts I brought, though they dry quickly don't retain freshness for too long. Cotton is the way to go in that department.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Exploring the surrounding area

We rented motorcycles today to go to a near by village. The traffic here is worse than in Viet Nam. For those that haven't read about my traffic comments in Viet Nam, plainly put there are no rules - you just go with the flow. There are a lot more cars here, making that more difficult.

We had no idea where the village was, and we would constantly stop to ask for directions. It's lucky for me that Kheang speaks Cambodian. Still we managed to miss our turn by about eight kilometers. There's little accuracy here for distance. Depending on who you ask a place could be anywhere from three to ten kilometers away. Their estimates can be pretty funny. The best is to ask for landmarks. We were told our turn was three "wats" (temples) down. There we caught a ferry over to the island on which the village was located. Going through the village we encountered monks collecting alms. I took their picture and was going to contribute some money but they took off pretty quickly as they were running late for dinner.

The entire village is dedicated to weaving, and they're quite eager to take you to their shop. This lady in the picture met us on the ferry and insisted that we see her shop, even though we told her five times that we weren't going to buy anything. Still she said she had to at least get us to come over. She had lots of nice scarfs, one that's hanging around my neck, but I had no use for it. She suggested I get one for my girlfriend. I told her when I get a girlfriend I'll make sure to bring her to Cambodia for some silk scarfs and blankets. I asked her if I could get a photo with her as to let my friends know who to go to if they need anything silk.

We spent some time looking around the village and interacting with the locals. The best was a mob of children, at first quite shy, who were intrigued by our digital cameras. They had a blast looking at photos of themselves after we (Kheang for the most part) had taken them.

We headed back to Phnom Penh and I got a flat tire. That was an experience. Going over a long bridge my motorcycle started to wobble and I looked back to see the back tire completely flat. Kheang suggested that we back track and look for a place to repair it. As coincidence would have it, there was a place to repair flat tires just where we started to cross the bridge. Thirty minutes and four patched holes later, we were back on our way.

A street named after Yugoslavia?

Back in Phnom Penh, in front of our hotel there is a map of the city. Looking at it I noticed a street called "Josep Broz Tito Yougoslavie." The spelling was a little off, but it's obvious what it's named after. I thought it was funny and asked a nearby tuk tuk driver how long it's been called that. He said as long as he can remember. Apparently Yugoslavia used to have a big embassy here, and helped out the government. I don't think there's any embassy here now. We walked down to the street just for kicks. I thought it would be just like all the other streets, dirty and unmaintained, but surprisingly it was one of the nicer streets in Phnom Penh.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Phnom Penh

This morning a mini-van picked us up for the boat ride to Phnom Penh and we were just packed in there like sardines. Imagine 19 people in a mini-van; that's how many Kheang counted. Luckily the ride to the boat wasn't long and soon we were going down the Mekong river.

It was a fun ride. We sat on the roof of the boat while our luggage was in the cabin. We passed by many villages and it was neat to see all the houses on stilts. Once you get near the river and away from Siem Reap you really notice the poverty. The people look so poor. They still put on a smile and waved as we passed them by.

In Phnom Penh it was a challenge getting off the boat and to the hotel as we were mobbed by tuk tuk drivers who were trying to get us over to the hotels that they would get commission from. They just don't take no for an answer. We pushed through and walked away from all the craziness. We got a hotel a block away from Kheang's relatives where we're having dinner tonight.

Kheang and I are parting ways. I think he wants to meet some ladies.

Actually he has decided to spend more time with his family in Cambodia as he doesn't think he'll be coming back here for a long time. He's decided to reschedule his flight to Ho Chi Minh city and we'll meet there right before our flight day back to Calgary.

I'll have about five days to myself and it should be interesting. I think I'll try to meet some other travellers on the plane and see if any are going to the Mekong Delta. It seems a lot of travellers hook up and travel together. I guess it's beneficial for a number of reasons.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hello Cambodia

We're in Cambodia, Siem Reap. I'm enjoying it here, but from what I hear and see, this isn't the real Cambodia. The city is set up for tourists, half of the people are tourists. Mostly Japanese and Korean. We're spending three nights here and tonight is our last one.

We've been doing the temples every day and getting lots of photos. The people that have been here told me I would get "templed out" but it hasn't happened. Even Kheang who has been here before thought he would only stay for two nights, but he's stayed for three. The last time he wasn't as into photography as he is now and I think that makes a difference. We've taken way too many photos, we've had to go back to the hotel just to unload and go back to the temples to take more.

The temples are defintely amazing and it makes our previous temple visits pretty mediocre. I think I could spend a few more days here, but at $40 dollars for three days maybe it's best to move on. Things here are much more expensive than in Viet Nam.

Tomorrow we're catching a boat ride to Phnom Penh. It's funny, everything for Kheang is either free or a fraction of the cost. They love to charge the tourists extra. He just walks through while I pull out my wallet. I think I'll have to sell some of these photos just to make this trip cost effective.

I'm looking forward to Phnom Penh to see some authentic Cambodian life styles. We're thinking of renting motorcycles and riding to Kheang's grandparent's house. It should be a five hour ride. Should be fun.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Goodbye Hanoi by Kheang

I haven't made any entry because Marko has been so efficient at narrating the trip. Today, I succumbed to his persistent urging. The same kind of gentle persuasion he uses to get us the best prices from pretty hotel receptionists and street vendors.

Vietnam by bus, by boat and train have been a slice: Ha Long Bay and Fansipan were my favorites. The girls are pretty too. And prettier by the day. The traditional dresses they wore in Hoi An with the vertical slits at the waist showing the "Mekong Delta" as they walk past you is very sexy.

Goodbye Hanoi! We are leaving today for Cambodia and I guess I will be in the homeland seeing relatives and photographing temples. I admit that I look forward to this leg of the trip very much as we did not get to tour the hills of northwestern Vietnam on a mighty minsk.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Extra day in Hanoi

After our trip in the jungle we returned to Hanoi thinking that we'd be flying to Cambodia right away, but it turns out we have an extra day here. I thought it'd be nice to not do anything and just relax. I came to use the internet here and found out that some of the photos I put on this computer were still here. I wasn't able to upload them before, but it turns out I can now. So here are some photos from Hanoi.

A house in Hanoi with the scooters parked in front.

A temple on Hoan Kiem lake

A very popular sight in Hanoi, this bridge leads to the temple in the photo above

The market place in the old quarter of the city

You see a lot of women carrying all sorts of things on their shoulder. Sometimes they'll approach you and ask you if you want to take their picture for some money. I got this one for free :)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

In the jungle

This is where we slept for two nights. Any more would have been too many. The jungle of North Viet Nam was quite fun, but it takes a toll on you, well it did on me. I think the humidity is at 100% at all times. The fog seems to occupy most of the forest and carries with it a lot of moisture. I washed my clothes and hung them up to dry, and I swear they were more wet in a few hours than they were when I put them in the creek. There is always something crawling or flying around, and it's never quiet. There are insects here that make noise that sounds like someone is forging metal. Our sleeping quarters can be seen in the background on the right hand side. Immediately to the left is where we ate and prepared food. It's all made of bamboo and wire. The only protection from the flies, snakes, mice and whatever else wants to crawl in is the sleeping bag.

We arrived here with a guide and a porter on our first day and met the keeper of this place, a 17 year old kid. He has been the keeper of this place for two years, on and off. He hunts for most of his food with what looks like a home-made gun. Most of the time his catch consists of mice, mice and more mice. He grilled six in the time we spent here. Our porter brought with us much more consumable food. We ate really well!

On our second day we climbed Mount Fansipan. I think it would have been much easier if we were used to the climate, but we weren't and it made it twice if not three times as challenging. Most of the way was covered in vegetation and often we'd be climbing from one tree to the next using roots and branches to lift ourselves up. Our guide didn't break a sweat! At the top we couldn't see much, which was disappointing, but hey at least we felt pretty accomplished. We climbed the highest mountain in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. We came down pretty fast and finished off the day with a good meal and some cards. We learned to play a Vietnamese card game and enjoyed the company of our porter and guide.

On the third day we climbed down, and it was quite slow going. I felt a little sick and I suspect it was the water. At such high elevation we may not have boiled it long enough. Kheang says he didn't know it was possible to walk so slow. Still we made our way down the mountain to a hill tribe village where we took two motorcycles back to Sapa, which is where I'm writing this post from. Two motorcycles for two of us, two motorcycle drivers and our porter and guide, making it three per motorcycle. These drivers and these 80 cc motorcycles are unbelievable. Even though I was on the motorcycle, I still can't believe we got here without a problem, dodging pot holes, water buffalo, villagers and going over rocks and ponds!

We're resting now and waiting for a bus to take us to the train station and back to Hanoi from where we'll fly to Cambodia.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Marko gets hair cut by the Hanoi highway

Marko gets haircutAfter my last post, Kheang and I decided to go to a near by park and rest for a bit, before our long trip to Sapa and Fan Si Pan. We sat in the park for only a short while before I got bored. Kheang was reading a book that he bought for 70,000 dong ($5), an illegal photocopy of "The Quiet American" and thinks he got ripped off. I think he was just being nice to the guy who kept complaining about having no money and living in a village far away, hoping to one day be a cook.

We decided we were going to head over to a nearby lake that provided us with great sunset photos the night before. Kheang said he would try a "short-cut". Note-to-self and others who may in the future travel with Kheang, bring a map just in case. We must have crossed Hanoi three times and at one point took a street that took us right out of town in some farm/swamp land. Hanoi is no small city, it was quite a walk! But no worries, we're back, safe and sound.

The walking tour wasn't a disaster. We did get to see Hanoi like no other tourist has (maybe not even the locals) and I did manage to get my hair cut for 14,000 dong (not even $1). I found myself a friendly hair stylist situated right next to a busy highway. Kheang took a photo and I thought it'd be worthwhile sharing this one.

Photos in Hanoi

Hoan KiemWe’re in Hanoi and we’re leaving tonight to do Fan Si Pan; at 3,150 meters, it is the highest mountain Viet Nam. It’s a funny name, Mount Fancypants. It’s located in North Viet Nam and it’ll take us through Sapa, a very popular place that many say is a must to visit. Should be interesting. We’ll be there for three days, and then we’ll return to Hanoi to catch a flight to Cambodia. Finally, I have a chance to upload some photos. Unfortunately I don’t have the connector to my mp3 player (my photo storage device) so I can only upload the ones that I’ve taken this morning, in Hanoi.

Correction, it looks like I can only upload one for now. These one is taken at Hoan Kiem Lake. Legend has it that a sword was given to Le Loi, emperor of Viet Nam I can’t remember at what year, but guessing I think it was 1045, with which he successfully fouth off invaders, the Chinese I believe. He believed that god gave it to him and when he came across this lake, a golden tortuise surfaced and took the sword from him. He believed it was god taking his sword back and called the lake “Lake of Restored Sword” or “Hoan Kiem”. The red bridge leads to a temple called Ngoc Son Temple.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I think I’ve taken 1500 photos so far. I’m not sure that this information in this post is totally accurate, but no time to check now. Maybe later. :)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ha Long Bay

Today we got back from Ha Long Bay, and it was amazing! We spent three days there, and not all went according to plan. The first was pretty crazy and we got to experience the monsoon for the first time. We were on the boat for most of the day and at the end of the day were dropped off at the Cat Ba island harbour where we waited for a bus to take us to a nearby hotel. We waited two hours because the road was flooded. Finally we got taken to the hotel by “the most powerful bus in Vietnam”. It really was. We drove through a part of the road that made the Bow River seem like creek. We were very wet, but it was an interesting experience.

Our second and third days at Ha Long Bay were amazing. The weather was perfect and for the first time we saw blue skies, a sunset and a sunrise. We got some great photos! But the photos will not do it justice. At night we sat at the top of the ship where we watched the sunset, followed by a full bright moon reflected in the ocean with the stars out. We spent a night on the boat. We also did some kayaking and swimming. It was a lot of fun. Kheang described Ha Long Bay as the most beautiful place on Earth.

We’ve been meeting a lot of tourists along the way. Tonight we spent with Max and Grady, an Australian couple. They invited us out to celebrate Max’s birthday. We didn’t stay too long as we’ll try and get up early tomorrow to explore and figure out where we’re going next. We might head back south to check out some of the places we might have overlooked.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hanoi Day 2

We're waiting for our bus to Ha Long bay. We had a little bit of a problem with our first hotel an had to move to another. I guess we bargained too well and they didn't want to give us the second night for the same price. Oh well. We went to a better one.

We parted ways with a couple of our English friends. It's too bad, it was quite fun hanging out and getting to know them. They said they might visit us in Canada. Who knows, maybe we'll go see them in England. :)

We didn't take too many pictures in Hanoi. We've been going out for drinks and food to much.

Oh bus is

Friday, August 04, 2006

Keeping it short

I'll keep this short because our bus is about to come and take us to Hanoi. In Hoi an we made some friends who we've been travelling and hanging out with. We had a blast in Hoi An and we just finished hanging out in Hue. It would have been nice to spend more time here, but we're having a good time with our new friends so we'll go with them up to Hanoi. We figure we'll either spend more time in the north, or go back down to Ho Chi Minh City at the end of the trip and check out the Meakong Delta.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nha Trang Day 2

The next day in Nha Trang was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. We woke up quite early, around 3:45 in the morning, to go look for sunrise photos on the beach. Unfortunately the sun was hid behind the cloud. We continued walking along the beach and came across an area of town that was quite poor. It was the size of Airdrie, and it was all shanties. Quite sad. We didn't want our morning to be a complete waste so we took some photos of boats and houses from the beach and headed back.

While we were walking back they we thought about doing some more sight seeing, as we still had a few hours there. We walked to all the sights this time. The first one on our list the Long Thanh gallery. Long Thanh is a resident of Nha Trang and a world famous photographer. We were quite impressed with his photos, and Kheang looked into buying one, but it was too expensive. It was 42USD just to ship the print alone. We did get quite inspired though.

Our second stop was the Long Son Pagoda and the Giant Seated Buddha. Both were quite beautiful. The downside of going to these places is that they're swarming with people who are trying to get every penny out of you. Whether it be kids looking to give you a tour, or people pretending to be monks trying to sell you insence to burn at the altar.

We weren't going to see anything else after that but it looked like it would rain so we hid in the Nha Trang Cathedral. A beautiful church where we sat for a while and were approached by Anna (who would later tell us that her name was really Kim Loan). She wanted a chance to practice her English. People here see an advantage of knowing a few words of English, and if they can't sell you their goods, they seem quite eager to run a few sentences by you. Usually it goes something like "Hi, where are you from?" followed by "When did you arrive?" and "Where are you going?" Normally that would have been the end of the conversation, but I pulled out the English to Vietnamese dictionary and had a long conversation with Anna. It was pretty slow going, but we managed to have a semi-intelligent conversation. She asked for my email and I didn't see any harm in that. Should be interesting.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nha Trang Day 1

The bus ride to Nha Trang was a long one! Buses aren't the most comfortable way of transportation for taller people. Though I'm not the tallest person in North America, I do tend to tower over most people here, who the buses are for. We caught the bus at 8:00 pm and arrived in Nha Trang at 6:00 am. With the cramped space, the honking and the bumps I was very happy to get about three hours of sleep.

The bus dropped us off infront of a mini-hotel and being quite tired we decided to check into their pricing. It was a little overpriced, but being tired we didn't give it too much thought. We even got free coffee with ice to help us make up our mind. But agreeing to a room turned out to be easier than actually getting one. More on that another time.

While at the hotel we were looking at what nearby sites we could visit and how to go about. We decided to check out a tour offered by a place called TM Brother. We were to see Monkey Island, Baho waterfalls, the Cham towers and Doclech beach.

Monkey Island was fun, and like the name suggests, full of monkeys.

At Baho falls we met up with some people who looked Vietnamese, but didn't seem to speak Vietnamese. We guessed they were from a hill tribe. We hiked with them to the falls and tried to communicate using hand signals, it was quite fun. While hiking I came across a snake, quite close to my leg. I didn't think it was poisonous and it wasn't doing anything but resting, so I took some pictures of it. When the hill tribes people passed it they tried to kill it at first, then they put it in a bottle and tried to tell us with hand gestures that they were going to make snake wine out of it, which was to make them strong.

Cham towers was a very beautiful. It's a ruins site that overlooks Nha Trang. When we finished taking pictures of the ruins, we spent some time looking out over the city. There we met a girl named "Vee" who was trying to learn English. She claimed she was 18 but she looked much younger than that. She also claimed she spoke five languages, all that she learned from toursits. If she could speak those five as well as she spoke English, it's quite impressive. She told us that every day she comes to this site to speak with foreigners in order to learn other languages and become a tour guide someday.

The best thing about these sites we saw was that we went to them on scooters. We were going to rent them and ride them ourselves, but instead rode on the back. Our drivers, Dee and Dang, were very friendly and excellent drivers. We rode through some nasty weather, at times it felt like we were swimming rather than riding. Dang was quite curious about Canada and said it was on his list to visit. I gave him a Calgary Outdoor Club card and invited him out to hike, should he ever come.

When we got back to our hotel we were to go out for some food, but Kheang passed out and I was out on the streets on my own. I looked for Vietnamese subs and tried to bargain for a good price. I walked around trying to get one for 18 cents (USD) rather than the 30 cents that they usually sell them to the tourists for. I was successful! It was a very good 18 cent sub!

Ho Chi Minh Day 2

Shortly after my last post I joined Kheang at a cafe next door where we planned out what we were going to do with the remainder of our time in HCMC. We had about six or seven hours before the bus we booked would come to take us to Nha Trang.

We looked through the lonely planet guide and decided to do a walking tour of all the closest sites. Both of us are avid hiker and thought that the required seven hours to complete the walking tour would be more like four for us. I can't recall all the names of the places that we went to, but some were quite interesting. The best was the Jade pagoda. It was located in a real shanty kind of neighborhood and a number of times on the way there we thought maybe we were lost and looked at the map to reaffirm our route. We got to it just as it started to pour and sheltered under it's roof. Being in the pagoda as it was raining quite hard, with the smell of incense and out of the ordinary architecture, it was quite a pleasant feeling. Aside from the pagoda, another worthy mention was the history museum, which had a number of artifacts dating back to the cave man days. While trying to get into the museum, we accidentally purchased tickets to the HCMC zoo. It was quite funny, a zoo is really not something we wanted to see in Vietnam. Both are located with in the same gates so when we asked for tickets, they gave us the wrong ones. We decided to take advantage of the zoo passes and spent some time checking out the Asian elephants.

After our tour we went to the Cyclo bar where we spent the rest of our time in HCMC. There we met Non, a friend of my friend from Calgary, and her mom, Lam (I could be off on that one). They were quite friendly and tried to teach us some Vietnamese but it didn't go too well. Luckily they spoke English quite well and we had a fun night just chatting away, eating and having drinks.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ho Chi Minh City Day 2

I should first explain that all the time stamps (the time of the posts located at the bottom of each posting) are in Vietnamese time. Even the ones I posted before we got here.

The flight from LA to Souel, Korea was soo long, easily the longest flight I've ever been on. We flew with Asiana Airlines, who left us quite impressed. They worked so hard on attending to our every need. Lots of food and drinks, we were quite full by the time we landed in Korea.

The airport in Souel was easily the cleanest airport I've seen. It looks like Chinook Mall on the inside. Koreans were also seemed to be very friendly. Kheang's head was turning every time a Asiana stewardess/flight attendant passed by. In Souel we transfered flights and were on our way to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was exciting flying over Japan and seeing Mt. Fuji. It reall stands out from a distance! As we got closer to Vietnam we flew through a storm. There was quite a bit of turbulence and lightning, which didn't seem to bother Kheang who slept during the entire flight. The airplane on the way to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) had built in screens in the back of the seat that allowed you to pick from a dozen movies/tv shows/comedy sketches like "just for laughs" and it was great. It really made the time pass by. I watched Ice Age 2 and Fun with Dick and Jane. I figured I'd watch some humorous movies to put me in a good mood. Kheang tried to watch King Kong but fell asleep within five minutes of it starting. I'm quite envious of how easily he can fall asleep.

Landing at the airport of HCMC was pretty exciting and a little intimidating too. Every person that worked there was in army like uniform. This is the first place where we started running into language barriers. Immediately you could feel the humidity. We got our baggage and went outside where we looked for a person to pick us up from the guest house that we booked at the LA airport. While we waited a dozen people tried to get us into their cab instead. It took a while to find our pick up guy, but we found him (or rather he found us) and we were on our way. We got to experience Vietnam traffic, which is quite different from anything I've seen. There are street signs but there might as well not be there. When approaching a corner simply honk and listen if anyone honks back. If you think the honking indicates a smaller vehicle, proceed. If you think it indicates a bigger vehicle, yield. That's pretty much all you need to know.

We were driven to the guest house and shown to our room. It was quite clean and western-like. Two bedroom with a bathroom and a desk for $13USD/night and free internet access. This is why I can write such a long post. Our guest house is located in Pham Ngu Lao, a neighborhood for backpackers.

The next day (today) we set out to find a place to eat, exchange some currency and look around. Crossing the street was fun, you pretty much go whenever you want to and people will drive around you. Kheang says I put him to shame as I made my way across while he was about to show me how it's done. ;) We ate at Pho 2000, which is where Bill Clinton ate when he was here. We ate some pho (which was so good) and had some milkshakes. Hopefully the milkshakes won't make me sick. Kheang, I think, has some immunities to the native bacteria. It was about $5 total for our drinks and meals. While exchanging money at the bank one of the locals was quite eager to practice her English speaking skills. It made her quite happy that I spoke with her. She's pretty good! We decided that we are not staying long. We figure we can always fly here when we're old (although Kheang is pretty much there) and check it out then. We got a bus ticket that will take us from HCMC to Nha Trang to Hoi An and then Hue. At each of those places we'll look to rent motorcycles at each of those places and ride around. We still haven't given up at the idea of buying a motorcycle. We'll look to do that at Hue and ride to Hanoi.

The bus to take us to Nha Trang comes at 7:30 pm, so we have some time to do some more walking around. My friend James, who's been here twice now and is coming back again shortly has requested that we go say hi to his friend Non, who is fluent in English and Vietnamese. That'll be nice, maybe she can teach us a phrase or two. Trying to use the little bit of Vietnamese that I learned is quite funny. I'm usually faced with a blank stare so I'll point to the book and they'll help me with the pronounciation. Maybe I'll get better by the end of the trip. ;)

Unfortunately this place doesn't have USB ports, so I'm not able to upload any photos. I've only taken a few so far, but that will change as we get out of the city and start doing some real sightseeing.

I've typed this in a bit of a hurry, all while talking to people on MSN, so apologies for any mistakes or anything that doesn't make sense.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Waiting in LA

At 25 cents a minute I'm getting some crappy internet access. I only have two minutes left so gotta keep this short. We've found a guest house in the guide book that we could book online and they even pick us up at the airport. We've got our first place in Vietnam booked! They have internet access so I'll add more from there.

LA airport is a zoo, and it's so smoggy!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I'm ready!

It's 3:23 in the morning and I'm done packing! Kheang will be here in an hour and a half -- plenty of time to catch some sleep. :)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A little background

Last year I really wanted to go to Asia. I had thought about Japan but decided it was too expensive. China was also on my list, but I was concerned about the culture shock. I decided I was going to check out Thailand because it has a pretty well developed tourist industry and then fly over to Cambodia to see Angor and the surrounding temples. That was the idea and I was pretty set on it.

So how did Thailand become Vietnam? Well..

While hiking with the
Calgary Outdoor Club I met Mr. Ung, a High School science teacher hailing from Cambodia. As we became better friends I thought I would invite him on the trip. To have a friend who speaks Cambodian with you in Cambodia would be priceless. However, Kheang wasn't that interested in seeing Thailand, as he's already been there and he proposed the idea of going to Vietnam instead. Though I wasn't too keen on it at first, I gave the it some thought. While reading about Vietnam I stumbled upon the photography website of QT Luong. I was sold.

There isn't much of a plan in place. Kheang wanted to take motorcycles through the Ho Chi Minh trail, which cuts right through the jungle. The north Vietnamese used it to supply their armies during the American war. I liked the motorcycle idea, but suggested that we follow the main highway instead. It was a deal and that's pretty much the plan. Ideally we'd like to buy motorcycles so that we don't have to come back the same way, but if that doesn't work we'll take the bus or train from town to town, and rent and ride to the surrounding areas. Either way, it seems like a great way to see the country. When we reach Hanoi and are done exploring north Vietnam, we'll try fly over to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and try and get over to Angor. After we'll have to return to Ho Chi Minh for our return flight.

So that's the general idea, but nothing is written in stone. We'll see how it goes.