wanderlust


:12/31--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

out my guesthouse window,
vang vieng laos



vang vieng



this is not me, it's a very fucked up british lassy


last day of 2002, first day of the best year of my life....

i was awakened by the psycho chicken rant this morning and have reconsidered being a vegetarian. i am more than happy to eat those screechy little fuckers. there were also pigs squealing, lao people playing their traditional music (also a bit screechy) next door, little birdies chirping in some sort of ecstacy on my windowsill (holiday?), and some kind of construction going on overhead. sigh.

i found robin downstairs and we decided to have ourselves a little tubing expedition. we paid $1.50 and took a tuk tuk with some arrogant dutch girls and a somewhat dorky guy from l.a. to the head of the river about 5k away. the river was a beautiful green and it was a sunny day, so we floated blissfully on our tubes for awhile until we saw a sign for a cave and decided to get out and explore it. i am never prepared for situations like this in asia. i was wearing a bathing suit and flip flops and had no light with me. to get to this cave (we realized about halfway there), we had to climb the cliff for 15 minutes, up the steepest sharpest rocks i have ever seen (not so graceful in a bikini). we get to the cave and it's huge and black and sort of ridiculous. an old scruffy lao man had given us candles below so we lit them but still it was mostly blind going. there were steep mushroomy rocks on the decent, random potholes full of banana peel mud, and the ominous sounds of splashing water in the depths of the rear of the cave. people had left their handprints in the moss on the far wall. we felt stupidly proud of ourselves for having made it but didn't stay long.

the rest of the tubing trip was rather cold, but there were little bars at the side of the river along the way. the lao people would pull us in with bamboo poles and feed us beerlao, and go back to tending their five kids. i met some more americans (ugh). i of course didn't have my camera.

for new year's eve we headed to a party on the far side of the river. to get there we had to cross through the dark market and over the water in the dark on this rickety footbridge made of plywood planks balanced on bamboo poles. it was sort of treacherous and i wonder how many people were later on unable to make it home. the party ended up being more of a western style rave. lots of house-y techno and somewhat wasted people dancing (including locals). it was pretty good for a small town like this. we sat at a table next to an italian couple who were apparently insane. they had this pipe called a 'cillum' (?) which was basically a huge wooden joint and they filled it with some sort of hash mixed with pot and puffed away behind a huge cloud of obvious smoke next to us. i was a little worried about the possibilities of being busted so robin and i didn't socialize too much with them, but i did manage to snag one hit off of their wonderful friendly pipe. i am not sure exactly what it was i smoked but i was instantly thrown into the twilight zone and the rest of the evening was sort of a daze. i danced a lot, robin and i kissed each other on the cheek at midnight, and so it goes.

:12/30--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

to vang vieng, laos

hopped us a minibus to vang vieng at 9:00 this morning, hoping to get there in time to snag a good guesthouse and scope the place out before new year's eve. i forced robin to get his own room so i don't murder him in his sleep (i have serious space issues). we are paying $6 each right now which isn't so bad, though we could get one room for $3 total if we skipped down the road (much to robin's pouting chagrin). nana guesthouse is nice though, it's a huge modern house with white walls and wood floors, big sunny windows, & little kid sheets with teddy bears.

vang vieng is of course gorgeous. it's similar to pai in northern thailand in that it's a small, quiet valley filled with hill tribe families and (well, wanna-be) hippie travellers. it's set along a river and overhung with amazing scraggly black limestone karsts (cliffs) filled with caves and places to camp and trek. there are a lot of tropical birds singing, which is noticeable since you don't hear these specific types of....tweets? :) in the west. lots of animals running around everywhere. the restaurants on the main (and only) strip play american dvds at night, serve the same rubber stamp menu of mediocre western food mixed with asian dishes, and have mats and pillows on the floors around the tables on which to chill out to mostly western music. i wouldn't say this is authentic laos but sometimes travelling isn't so much about that as it is about taking advantage of a beautiful place and enjoying your life amongst others who are like you.... anyway the market here is great! every asian town has an open air market but this one has all kinds of weird cool things to buy ($20 handmade guitars, badminton birdies used as hacky sacks, 'white monkey holding peach pit' balm-my new addiction, and fresh fruits and vegetables from the nearby organic farm. there are bikes to rent to explore, and lots of kayaking/camping/caving/trekking tours to choose from...of course there are probably lots of drugs too but robin and i have been really good about smoking just a little bit of pot and drinking in moderation.

by the way my rant on vietnam a few days back was somewhat regretted in retrospect. one of those reflexive things. vietnam's a weird place... i definitely have a love-hate relationship with it. there are some things i miss about it actually, and if you are a traveller reading this site i don't mean to discourage your going there- it is definitely a place worth visiting for the cultural education alone. i loved things about it, i just don't feel like writing them down. :)

:12/29--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


























i liked today

buddha park is a beautiful place that happened today in vientiene. we passed the friendship bridge and waved to happy north thailand on the other side of the mekong ...but continued in a tuk tuk with wind flying through our hair and hot sun glinting off other tuk tuks & hitting our backs. the traffic here is entirely reasonable (maybe that has to do with cars instead of motorbikes?). it was necessarily silent on our ride or i would've had to pop off the infamous and spastic robin, who tends to constantly be playing air guitar and singing heavy metal lyrics, belching loudly, or shouting out random bits of nonsensical dutch otherwise. our driver was very friendly and typically shy.

we drove for 25 km and thus got a good glimpse of laotian life. laos is not so poor, despite what i have heard. it's one step below thailand economically, but a step above vietnam and definitely better off than cambodia. the streets are paved and the houses are typical wood paneled shacks with thatched roofs, but clean and comfortable. nobody gives a rat's ass if you talk to them or buy anything. they are not desperate or ruthless in the least. it's a very well put together place.

there are lazy animals everywhere and a bit of animal cruelty as well. in vietnam it's not uncommon to see pigs and chickens tied to the backs of motorbikes in little bamboo baskets. but they are usually dead. in laos it's not uncommon to see a live cow trussed to the point where it can't move hanging upside down off of the back of a speeding truck or a bunch of live turkeys being dragged behind a motorbike by their feet.

the park was green and fluffy and the statues were weird and childish, looking more hindu than buddhist. there was a lao boy punk concert in the sun. lots of kids jumping around with candy. girls walking around looking sublimely bored. we ate roasted chickens (you get the whole thing on a stick) (yick) and smiled at a few presumable alien worshipers who had the guts to look at us (that is, lao people are fascinated and bored by us into cultlike worship).

sat in the grass for a while and then paid more money than we should have as usual to get back to our guesthouse and watch french cartoons (oui divine).

tonight we might go eat injun food and lay on mats watching movies with irish coffees. not many interesting people around here right now, including lao people, who don't seem to live up to their reputation of being so effusively friendly. but i wouldn't be friendly to me either so i'll just hope it gets better by new years'.

taking advantage of the fast internet while i have it. there are more pictures on this page than usual so be patient and let it load. >>>>

:12/28--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


mekong


vientiene street corner





 

vientiene, laos. it's a small town set along the mekong river. i have no idea what to do here and today is fairly cold, but it's so nice to be in a new country. there are a ton of internet places with fast connections (better than vietnam) so i will be updating today. picked up my huge stacks of weird money... $1 = 10,800 kip give or take. lots of little shops and weird ski-lodge looking restaurants. very quiet...otherwise it seems a lot like thailand, even the language is same-same. same tuk tuks, wats, and buddhist relics...but no sex scene! thanks! ...and lots of stoned european travellers of course. i overheard americans conversing at the next table at breakfast and wanted to strangle them. i am embarrassed by the p.t.a. mother, s.u.v. driving element of my country at home and don't expect to hear them in laos (ack). we did meet a german guy and 2 israelis, okay i didn't like them much but they were chill-able. we bought weed from a tuk tuk driver and sat and drank mirinda with him for a bit. discussed our options for massage and a trip to "buddha park". i think i will like it here.

there is some kind of curfew though...hrmm.

vang vieng will be next, in 3 days. where i can tube through caves on the river.

:12/27--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

view from bus

after having spent 26 days in vietnam i am entitled to my opinion i think, and that is that vietnam sucks(!) in general. i had a great time in nha trang and hoi an was beautiful and fun also, but for the most part it was other travellers who made it cool. the locals are complete assholes, and most of the country is fairly boring and a pain in the ass to travel through.

so there. i am a little bitter today because of the hell bus trip i just endured. 24 hours of asinine incompetence and rudeness from the vietnamese people. they didn't tell us anything about our trip beforehand, so we were completely unprepared. northern vietnam is freezing and there was no heat, no blankets. the bus only stopped 3 times for peeing and 2 of those were at the side of the highway, so i had to squat in the bush and hope the entire bus wasn't watching. :) they packed all their luggage on. (i know, these are just cultural differences but they tend to yell and be annoying in the process). at about 1 in the morning, instead of just driving straight through, the driver stopped the bus, came and unceremoniously kicked robin and i out of our seats, and proceeded to sleep in them for the next five hours while robin curled up on the floor and i squashed myself into a smaller seat trying to sleep between shivers. there were two stops for food but nothing was edible- it was all vietnamese. we ended up choking down some ramen noodles with unnameable parts of what i suppose were chickens. when we finally hit the border at about 8 am they just pushed us out of the bus with a grunt towards immigration. it was a mountainous, foggy town smack in the middle of winter. we were so cold by that time i thought we would freeze to death waiting to get our stamps, but somehow we made it through. of course the customs officials charged us to process our visas (it's very much free) and there was nothing we could do. ack. even robin was getting on my freaking nerves. we finally made it to vientiene at about 4p. i was so cranky by that time that i just paid the tuk tuk guy a dollar and told him to take us wherever he thought was good. we did manage to find an okay room for $10 and after a pizza and some beer lao we passed out in front of asian mtv once again.

the scenery was gorgeous though. (from hoi an to vientiene via lao xau). looming black mountains dotted with thick forests and waterfalls, all overlooking the coast, huge waves crashing into small inlets which turned into random fishing villages with waterlogged houses. people walking around half clothed and seeming lost. kids selling strange food through the bus windows. we had to stop for geese, wild boar, and an ancient, wise-looking ox of some sort who scowled at us as he crossed slowly by. lao villages are mountain towns with a hippy vibe. wooden airy shacks, woven blankets, ponds and animals. families on bikes.

:12/26--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

bye hoi an

off to laos via bus, which is at least a 24-hour ride across vietnam and then up the coast of the mekong.

 

:12/25--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


"suksa vito ala pora percessa"
(phonetic)





christmas in vietnam is not so christmas-y. it was just another hung over day. robin & i haven't been hanging out so much which is nice but we played some pool, sat in a couple of cafes.....same same and not so different.

later on tonight though (when we had finished drinking and dissapointedly just decided to pass out) we ran into marcel and the finnish boys again and the party started all over around 11:30. those boys can drink(!!!) ...we had beer in the tam tam bar. moved to another bar and had more beer and rum and cokes. it was full of drunk travellers who had paid the management to stay up and keep the place open while they stripped naked and swapped clothes and did the limbo to disco music. a little too frat-party for us. we decided to head to the riverfront for a little party of our own. there we had more beer, white wine, they had some snake wine, and we passed a couple of joints....yeah more indulgence than i am used to but rad.

it was an ethereal boxing day night on the riverside. we saw an eel swimming near us and this old fisherman with no pants rowed over and snatched it out of the water and brought it up to us to inspect. he pulled up the bottom of his boat and added it to the supply of writhing fish in the compartment beneath for his breakfast. we chatted with him for a bit and he smoked one of robin's shaggies which is always funny because they are so much stronger than asian tobacco. robin and marcel were drunk and chatting in dutch all night next to us so it was me and the 3 finnish boys who stayed up- mika, heinrich and axel. mika is a little quiet, bookish and has the most style of the 3. heinrich has a fascination with rednecks and did impersonations all night. axel is just weird and silly and cute. sigh... i love them. i hope someday to run into them again. they made our last night in vietnam exquisite. (robin says "bye vogel").

we finally stumbled back to the hotel around 5 am with promises to keep in touch. walking at night in asian towns is amazing.

:12/24--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



christmas eve. we woke up late of course and had our usual cappuccino and played with the little vietnamese kid on the porch of a place i have yet to learn the name of. went and picked up our tailored clothes, which were somewhat disappointing to me... they did not make them look like the pictures i showed them in the least. also the pants are SO tailored that i look super thin in them and feel somewhat conspicuous. but still it's cool to wear something designed exactly for my own body. i like my lace-up pants.

in the evening robin and i went to the tam tam restaurant/bar and had a weird candlelit christmas steak dinner. it was sort of festive- the waitresses were dressed in red with santa hats and there were christmas songs playing. it all seemed like a joke. we drank wine and had a couple of cordials so we were drunk by about 8p. we took a walk by the river and shouted "ya sin vui va" to the old ladies on the boats (merry christmas). bought some hats from a kid and his mom.

later we wandered around drinking at random bars and ended up at the champa bar later with the same group of people from last night. marcel from amsterdam has travelled extensively since his first solo trip at 12 and is a cool record label guy, and i am in love with every one of the five finnish boys he hangs out with (guess i'll be paying finland a visit). i have never met a group of such laid back people that i liked so much so instantly. they just came from china via the mongolian express train.

the danish boys were there also & passed out bottles of champagne. their accompanying danish girls were lacking in personality but they more than make up for it in looks. scandinavia must be some sort of aesthetic heaven, the people are absolutely perfect. (between the porcelain-skinned scandinavian girls and the perfect-bodied asian girls here a gal like me can feel pretty damn mediocre)...

anyway we drank until the bar kicked us out again and ended up later in the evening drinking more (! some sort of almond vodka) at a roadside stall with some vietnamese people, more scandinavians, and a french guy. it's strange to be the only american in a group- i have to answer a lot of trade center questions. at about 4am we were invited to go smoke up in the finnish boys' room but robin was passing out so i went back to the hotel with him.

it was a merry christmas indeed.

:12/23--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



hoi an's the center of custom tailoring in the country so even though i could go get an entire new wardrobe made for about $100 i had been trying to restrain my space-limited greedy self. i gave in and found myself in a tailor shop today getting measured for clothes, after i realized that i have lost a few more pounds here and none of my pants fit me any longer. i am wracked with guilt at the $40 it will cost me, but i ordered 3 pairs of custom-made pants and at the last minute one shirt to go with them. robin also took in his favorite pair of pants to be copied so i don't feel so alone in this. i have to say it's fun. they let you look through big catalogs, pick out what you want, choose the material from stacks of rolls, and then they measure you and have it made for you within 24 hours. i can also get shoes made which is tempting since i will need them for trekking....eventually.

'x' wrote me to tell me how many girls he is getting for $4 a night in phnom penh. guess he's over being sick. phnom penh is sort of a wasteland and the only westerners who stick around there tend to be the pathetic ex-pat sex tourist types (the ones we saw in corners of bars). good riddance i am thinking. it is one thing to experiment with the sex scene in asia and another whole can of beans to let it become a part of you to the point where you lose a gal like me. :) i won't bother to go into the moral implications or the dangers to his health... they speak for themselves.

and yes, i am jealous, but it's really nothing new to me either. stupid ex love. :(

ahem...tonight ended up being one of those amazing nights you don't anticipate and thus are all the better. we have been drinking at the champa bar for the past couple of nights with the same people every night. there is a group of rather pompous (rich kid) danish boys and impossibly beautiful danish girls. there is another group of five super cool boys from finland and their friend from amsterdam. there is a group of guys from vancouver, and there are robin and i. we all played pool and drank a ton (the danish kids paid $9 for designer shots while the rest of us wisely stuck to cheap local beer) until they finally kicked us out of the bar at about 1 am. we didn't know where to go because everything in vietnam closes early, so we ended up camping out at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (all 20 of us). we passed a couple of joints spiked with a wee bit of smuggled opium, a few bottles of warm beer, and a couple of the guys played guitar and sang for us all until about 4am while the rats dodged in and out and people passed slowly on bikes. robin and i stumbled back to the hotel. there was a weird tv show on in our room, just still pictures of nature (a waterfall scene, flowers, a mountaintop) with soft music playing behind them, which was the perfect thing to be entranced by when trashed like we were...ack. we also watched some interesting claymation. it's really the only time i have enjoyed vietnamese tv. it was a gorgeous night.

:12/22--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

new haven

we had been staying in this awful pit of a hotel room (a literal shithole if you took the smell into consideration) just out of miserliness (it was only $8 a night between the two of us), but this morning we decided to fuck it and got up early to move to another hotel. we are now next door in the thuy duong hotel and paying $10/night for a gorgeous room. it has clean sheets and towels, a big window overlooking the town, hot water, a/c, a fridge. and even better, about an hour after we moved in they knocked on our door with a brand new satellite tv. i figured if we are spending christmas here i could afford to splurge the $5 a night for a good place. robin and i were so happy that we didn't leave the room for most of the day. i read an entire book (i am a voracious reader)- 'damage done' by warren fellows, the true story of a man imprisoned in the bangkok "hilton" (a notorious prison) for a drug crime in thailand. it was a good story but it made me very queasy to think i had crossed the border with robin carrying weed in his pocket. also it was yet another story of the unbridled cruelty innate in people which sort of depresses me. human nature sort of...sucks. anyway besides that we watched scooby doo in vietnamese (hilarious) and an mtv special on bon jovi and napped intermittently.

later on we went to this restaurant on the river called cafe de amis owned by a mr. kim and very famous for it's food. there is no menu, just a set meal at a fixed price that changes daily. he is some kind of internationally renowned chef but you wouldn't know it to look at the place. mr. kim is smiley and has books and books of declarations of love and devotion written to him by past customers which he likes to pass around. there were a few different courses to the meal- some sort of dumpling stuffed with sprouts and shredded crab and topped with french onions, a squid and vegetable stir fry, and fish steamed in banana leaves with a delicious lemony dipping sauce and slices of papaya. it was really, really good and only cost us about $5 each. i would have gone solely for the creme brulee-ish dessert.

:12/21--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

we have decided to stick it out in hoi an through christmas, and then make our way overland to laos, which sounds increasingly divine, for new years. this is a peaceful little town and everyone gets to know each other quickly so i won't be so alienated in asia at this time. there are christmas trees up and at night it's cool by the river, and with the lanterns lit and top 40 christmas songs playing in the bars you can almost believe it's really the holidays.

not much happened today, same same. the beach was windy and the clouds were rolling in so we escaped back to the city and had an early pizza dinner. while we were sitting there we heard an engine stall and suddenly all the vietnamese people were running out to the street. we followed them to see what was going on and saw that there was a fairly traumatic motorbike accident in the rain. this was something inevitable that i fully expected to see in this country but it was still kind of shocking to see the twisted, broken body of an old lady laying under her bike. of course there are really no emergency services or facilities here so after about 10 minutes of standing around staring helplessly, someone picked up the body, threw it over the back of a motorbike, and raced off with it, presumably to a doctor. 'god' forbid i get hurt here.

later on in the evening robin and i played pool with yet another english couple and got fairly drunk. we had called it a night and were on our way back to our hotel when we saw a guy we'd met in dalat in a nearby lantern shop, playing his guitar for a group of people. we yelled his name and they invited us to join them. the shop was owned by a very friendly vietnamese family who sat in a circle with us and a few other western people, showing us pictures of their friends, telling us about their lantern business, and serving us endless amounts of puffed rice chips, cigarettes, tea, and more importantly, their local rice wine. the wine is extremely potent and no sooner do you put down your glass than it is refilled again. we couldn't escape before we were trashed, but everyone in the group was fairly trashed at that point. it was really interesting and i suppose "authentic" to sit with the family, and i had a great time. i am really starting to get used to and even like vietnamese people.

:12/20--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



i was sick with stomach cramps and paranoia all day today so didn't do much other than a quick tour of hoi an given by my maniacal motorbike driving travelmate. we sat on the beach for awhile later in the day. on vietnamese beaches you are typically allowed no peace whatsoever. there are hordes of people walking around trying to sell you pineapples, massages/manicures, books, postcards, art, you name it. as i mentioned before they are ruthless salespeople and they get really damn annoying after awhile, but some australian kids on the beach came up with the idea of having a competition. they set up some makeshift goalposts and told the touts that whoever could score a certain number of goals in a futbol match would be completely bought out by their group. the intent behind this was apparently to bring a little fun into the lives of people who work very hard for little pay in the hot sun all day. it was great to watch them running on the beach in their flip flops and rice hats. they had a great time. one of the ladies must have been 90 years old but she was scoring goals left and right and having a blast. in the end i think she won and the kids bought the lot of pineapples from her and they all had a little picnic.

at the bar later on i drank sprite and was bored with the drunk pool playing western crowd. someone had brought their baby to the bar and was letting it wander around in diapers. it's funny the effect a baby has on travellers. they all moon and purr and drool all over it but when it comes down to it i don't think any of us have any desire for one of our own- or ties at all for that matter. it's nice to be among my people! bored as i might get with the travellers around me at times, they sure beat the people in my real life who have no understanding of my lack of inclination to settle or be "normal".

:12/19--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

hoi an, vietnam


robin escaped me today which was nice for a change. i wandered around hoi an and have decided this must be the most beautiful city in all of southeast asia. had a capuccino and muffin and listened to good chill-out music on the front porch of a cafe on a side street. street life here is fascinating- from wrinkled old ladies in rice hats chewing betel nuts and spitting through red teeth to men working like oxen to pull overladen carts to barefoot dirty children selling handicrafts to reticent artists who paint quiet masterpieces to old men playing iron drums and smoking bamboo pipes.... vietnamese are very gruff, never smile, seem very untrusting and untrustworthy. it's strange to watch their social interactions. when i first came to vietnam i thought they were yelling at me at times, but i have learned that their short barking is just a way to get their point across. it's a bit disconcerting still and i must say i am not so fond of vietnamese people. it's an us vs. them mentality and like in so many parts of the world a traveller is nothing more than a walking dollar to them... though i have met one or two who were great so of course i can't write off the entire population.

my favorite part of hoi an is that the trash trucks sing as they roll through town- a tinny, scratchy music box sort of song, so weird and so very asian. otherwise hoi an is sleepy, protective of it's autonomous worth, and sort of otherwordly feeling. i am intimidated by it, not sure what to do with myself here. i took a walk to the covered japanese footbridge, took some pictures, strolled through the market and bought a silk bag and a tailored skirt, and finally ended up at an internet cafe for a wee bit of sanity in the ol day.

for the full moon tonight robin and i rode at 2am to the beach with natasha (the english girl from nha trang) and her irish friend sharon. the beach was deserted except for the fisherman in their round bamboo basket boats floating on the water lit up with lanterns. we smoked a couple of joints and made strange conversation which made us avoid each other the next day.

:12/18--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

oh horrid stagnation. some days i should just stay in bed. last night was a two beers and i puke sort of night and i had nightmares for hours, sweating and rolling all over my platonic bedmate. woke up irrationally irritated at robin and unmotivated to see the city i am in.

thus robin and i did a whole lot of nothing today. we had a vietnamese banana split (weird mystery flavors in the ice cream), played 8 games of pool all of which i won (not sure where that lucky streak arose from), walked along the riverside and had a vietnamese dinner (spring rolls, cao lau which is some sort of pork noodle dish, and papaya juice for me), and ended up at a bar later in the evening chatting with the english girl we had met earlier in nha trang along with another english couple we ran into who told tales of drinking snake wine and seeing piles of dead dogs tied to the back of vietnamese motos, presumably for lunch.


:12/17--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

street in hoi an, vietnam


hoi an market


hoi an ladies

a day of total disorientation. every major city in vietnam so far has been completely different so you don't know quite what to expect. we caught a cab with two dutch men from the train station in danang to hoi an a half hour away. hoi an is a small seaside town that's like a cross between new orleans, pictures i have seen of morocco, and the stereotypical picture of asia you have in your head as a child. it's an absolutely stunning city. the streets are very narrow and convoluted (but with the same insane traffic) and the buildings are old and low and dark (some chinese). everything is painted and there is a definite ton of art.

robin and i wandered around the market, rode a motorbike to the very airy and dry beach, ate some italian food guiltily and ran back to the hotel room to escape the overwhelmingness. our hotel is dirty and smelly but cheap and polite. than binh, $4/ night. there is a tiger beer poster on the wall which is my favorite.

oh, if anyone has been paying attention, 'x' (still in cambodia) has typhoid (!!!), along with some kind of parasite. holy crap i should have gotten shots.

:12/16--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

bye nha trang


bye minh the postcard boy


train compartment

a nice rainy day and our last in nha trang. i don't want to leave but i don't want to get stuck either. we hung around in the hotel all day trying not to enjoy it too much so we could leave easier. watched vietnamese soap operas if that's any indication of what we put ourselves through. said a weird goodbye to the hotel (the mother patted us on the back, said "we love you", and gave us some bananas for the train), caught a grief stricken minh for a last minute goodbye on the way out to the train station, and took the night train at 7:30 to hoi an.

the trains in vietnam are claustrophobic. you share a cabin with three people. there is no dining car and the sheets and bathroom (more appropriately "the pisser") were dirty. robin and i had two vietnamese drug enforcement officers in ours. they slept early. we had to be quiet. but it was supposed to take 14 hours and it only took 12, and we managed to get some sleep even though we were laying on our bags, so it ended up swell.

:12/15--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

river en route to hot springs



dirk and robin

robin and i were supposed to meet up with dirk this morning to go exploring on motorbikes but ended up sleeping too late and missing him. we rented a motorbike anyway ($4) and drove out to a hot springs resort. nha trang is really gorgeous though you don't see it on a daily basis when you stick to the traveller's spots. there is a huge white buddha at the top of a hill overlooking the river, an ancient looking cham tower (temple), and nice little fishing villages that we passed through on the way. the hot springs were great!!!! we started with a bath in weird slimy mineral mud, which we then allowed to dry as we sat in the sun, and then washed off in a hot springs pool. my skin was very silky and it was incredibly relaxing. we met an english girl named natasha and ended up hanging out with her all day. at about 3pm it rained and we sat in a hot pool under a natural hot waterfall while the cold rain dripped on us from above and created steam. gorgeous. we were throughly relaxed (especially since we had woken up hung over) and very zen. we returned to the hotel and took showers and dirk knocked on our door. he had been waiting for us off and on all day, and sadly had to leave in a hour to catch his train to saigon. we took him to crazy kim's and bought him a tiger beer to send him off. someday after i die i expect to find 'heaven' to be a traveller's ghetto in the sky where i can see again all the amazing people i have met on the road but never was able to spend as much time with as i would like. occasionally you meet someone you click with really well but it doesn't go anywhere due to different schedules. ah well.

i called 'x' again this morning in cambodia (another $30!) and it turns out he is even worse off now, though he did find a good english doctor at long last. i am giving him another day or two to get better and if he doesn't i am going to fly to phnom penh to help him. biting my nails...

:12:14--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

robin and dirk



lunch



bamboo basket boat

today was absolutely divine. mama hahn's picked us up at the hotel at 9 am. we had our first beer on the boat at about 10:30. we toured from island to island all day, listening to hippie music, hanging out in our bikinis and stopping to snorkel and swim and play volleyball and boat around in bamboo baskets. it was gorgeous weather, gorgeous islands... they fed us a great lunch on the boat and there was a floating bar with an amusing vietnamese bartender who sang 'old mcdonald had a farm' and kept threatening to leave us on the island to have our own robinson crusoe experience.

our group wasn't too big so by the end of the day we all knew each other. there was a very friendly couple in their early fifties from belgium- the man was jolly and funny and the woman and i had a nice mother-daughter chat. there was a really cute english guy (having none of my seductions for some reason :( durnit), a group of guys from switzerland (swiss accents are the goofiest), a feisty korean girl who sang for us at the floating bar and a vietnamese chap from new zealand who made me his playmate and was constantly trying to throw me into the water or drag me out to see fish and coral with him. at one stop an australian girl with cute friends from another boat randomly asked me if i wanted to take a walk with her so we explored the island together and saw a bit o wildlife (a skink and a weird butterfly). the vietnamese guy kept making jokes about marijuana but none was to be had (none needed).

robin instantly clicked with an odd jean claude van damme lookalike (love the arms, man) named 'dirk' from south africa and we sort of became the notorious threesome on the boat after that. by the end of the day we were wet, sunburned, and drunk. but this being a hardcore day of fun dirk still came back to the hotel with us and smoked a joint, and after a quick nap we all went out yet again. we were drinking and dancing and playing pool at the sailing club on the beach and most of the people from our boat showed up. we made fun of the swiss guys and the vietnamese girls (for sale at the bar)....and by the end of the night (after about 12 hours of nonstop partying) we were completely wasted and fell into our respective beds, satisfied.

:12/13--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

breakfast



christmas?

friday the 13th. mama hahn's was cancelled due to inclement weather. still in nha trang which is nice.... robin and i have been travelling fairly quickly and recklessly so it is wonderful to just chill out in a place like this for awhile. we have a little routine down. breakfast at cafe de amis (baguettes with peanut butter, boiled eggs, fresh coffee, and a happy little kitten to attack our feet and wake us up). check email, play pool, hang out on the beach. we found a good mexican restaurant, a great italian pizza place (what spoiled backpackers we are not to eat vietnamese food, but once you've had rice and vegetables you have had it all i think), and 3 neighborhood bars which we juggle nightly. today i spent some time alone in my room, catching up on my site, listening to my music, reading, centering myself a bit and worrying over my dwindling money supply(!). met up with robin later and walked out to a pier, where we had drinks while the surf crashed beneath us. quite gorgeous.

tonight at all the bars and hotels people started putting up their christmas trees which is sort of amusing given the tropical atmosphere, and the street hawkers suddenly appeared with supplies of santa hats and squeaky christmas toys. minh asked me to buy him one but the kid is already getting spoiled, with the ice cream and coca colas robin and i buy him every day. :) i bought some chewing gum from his mother instead, which made them very happy. we ended up at the why not? bar tonight and i talked to a brilliant vietnamese girl named vy for a couple hours. she was way more educated than anyone else i met here and was really interesting. she had been working at the bar for a week, after the government closed down the last bar she worked at and put 40 people out on the street, jobless. she was a very nice girl who really deserved a chance in life but considered herself "unlucky". sadly, we found out later that she was fired by her boss after we left tonight for being too chummy with the customers.

:12/12---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

don't even ask


beach at nha trang

the sky was gray and the surf was rough today (still in nha trang, vietnam) so it's another day of relaxing in cafes and such which is fine with me. i love not having to make decisions other than where to chill out next and how to get there. robin and i have reached a happy medium.... this week at least. :) i HATE his music (he is a heavy metal guy though you would never know it to look at him) and he hates mine too, but other than that and the fact that he calls me "pumpkin" (he heard it was an affectionate term in america, ack)... it's all good. we meet other people, we retain our own identities despite the sometimes 24-7 contact, we can hang out and be quiet together which is a good thing. he's a good guy. (there you go robin, that'll be $5).

i miss some things about home. movies. books. art. style. hot water. choice of nightlife. conveniences. in america you have a different store for anything you could possibly want to buy. here you are stuck with whatever the street hawkers or the roadside huts have on hand. i miss good food tremendously (got to avoid meat in vietnam especially as they seem to eat anything that moves here) but nha trang is better than most places and i have had some good pizza, pasta, even red wine since i got here. there is nothing like a third world country to put you in your place. why i ever paid $2600 for a loft in new york i do not know! i would blow through $2-400 every weekend for chrissakes. what horrible arrogance. waste. irresponsibility. america is a spoiled country and it's no wonder other countries hate it (they do). it's all about excess. though i do admit it's fun. :) anyway it's important to get the other perspective i think in order to understand the world.

one thing though i will also say is that america is not a free country. there are rules for every little teeny thing you do in the states. it's ridiculous. the cops are overcautious babysitters on power trips. the laws cover such trivial contingincies... it's easy to make a mistake in the US and trip onto the wrong side of the law. in asia it seems to be based more on the honor system. it's fairly logical. you have a problem you go to the police. but they don't wait around every corner for you to trip up. there's not paperwork for every stupid thing, you are not tracked like laboratory animals. if you want to walk down the street naked (as one mental patient here in nha trang enjoys doing) you won't get a freaking ticket, maybe just a raised eyebrow or two. if you want to hang over the edge of a cliff to look at a waterfall, good luck to you, it's natural selection here. no guardrails or posted danger signs. there aren't even lifejackets on boats... and don't get me started on health regulations. true, sometimes those things are beneficial, & there's not much in the way of democracy here and what there is in the way of law enforcement is corrupt, but considering the circumstances of our current president's "election", do we really have as much effect on our government as we think we do either? do all those rules makes us happier and safer or do they oppress us? all i know is that poor and unruly as people are over here (and poor in america can't hold a candle to poor in asia) they are still happy, friendly, and manage to live without getting all up in everyone's business, unlike my own country. i don't really know what i am getting at and these opinions haven't been fully formed so ....enough said.

tomorrow we have booked tickets on mama hahn's boat tour... off to the islands to smoke pot and party on a boat all day with a crazy old vietnamese woman (she's somewhat infamous for these tours). until next time folks, goodnight and good luck.

 

:12/11---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

painting at cafe des amis, nha trang

i still hadn't heard from 'x' yet and i was making myself sick with visions of him alone on his death bed, so i spend 30 dollars (!) this morning on a 10-minute call to his hotel in phnom penh (which i FINALLY tracked down). poor kid has been at the mercy of cambodian medical practitioners (a complete joke) and really has been very sick with a consistent 103 degree fever. he could barely make it to the phone but at least he is alive. i am very relieved and damnit can't help but love that boy to pieces. but the whole deal makes me feel a little apprehensive about not having any medical insurance! i am still sick as well but thus far have been able to keep anything too serious at bay. we'll see how long that lasts.

robin and i relaxed today, got massages, i went and had my hair done (it's somewhat purple) at a salon for $10 which is spoiled and girly but was fun. we went to happy hour at the why not? bar and played pool and drank free tiger beer. ended up at crazy kim's bar later on. met some travellers, had a nice chat, the usual.

people are very poor here which is not immediately noticeable since they all seem to be doing their own thing, as opposed to cambodia where they lay around on the street and look poor. my little friend min was working when i woke up this morning and he wandered into the bar tonight at about 11 still trying to hawk his postcard packs for $1.25. i gave him $3.50 so he could relax, which he received wide-eyed and ran out to hand to his mama. he hung out with us for awhile playing pool and teaching us secret handshakes. he has been wearing the same clothes for 3 days. he's a skinny little guy and i feel bad for him, but he is just one of many people desperately trying to sell one thing or another at all hours of the day. what can you do.

:12/10---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

too many pics of robin methinks
finally someplace i can sink my teeth into in vietnam. i really like nha trang a lot. it's a touristy beach town (not so much of cultural interest) but still laid back, lots of good bars and cafes and of course the beach and all it offers. it rains every night (vietnam's rainy season just started) but during the day is nice and warm if a bit cloudy. our hotel is the blue star hotel, $3 each a night. we found weed right away (not mandatory to a good time but it helps, moto drivers need to supplement their income so we're doing a good deed as well) and we're near a great bar called crazy kim's, proceeds of which are donated to anti-pedophilia campaigns and with cute pigtailed waitresses with attitudes. the people here get a 6 on the friendly scale which is good for vietnam thus far. the moto drivers are just as fiendish as ever though, & the number one rule of street hawking in this country is to never take no for an answer, which is annoying. i acquired two new friends immediately- one a little kid named min who sells packets of postcards on the street and speaks amazingly good english. he seems to follow me everywhere and insists that i be his "girlfriend". there is also a scraggly calico kitten across the street who attacks me goodnaturedly every time i walk by. i am getting very good at pool... robin and i can play for a dollar an hour next door and occasionally i get lucky and kick his ass. we went out drinking tonight (back on the perpetual drinking binge that you tend to fall into as a traveller) and shared a square pizza with french fries on top(???) at midnight. i secretly worried about 'x' all night long.
:12/9---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
bus to nha trang. uneventful other than a bit of motion sickness while we careened around the mountain curves. the number one rule of driving in vietnam seems to be to honk your horn as loud as possible every 20 seconds. there doesn't seem to be much logic to it other than to thoroughly annoy and deafen your passengers.
:12/8---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

yippee cay ay

woke up feeling like shit this morning but we had made plans to go to the "valley of love" and go horseback riding with the vietnamese cowboys so off we went, shivering on our motorbike the whole way. (robin drives like a madman which doesn't help). the valley of love was talked up a bit more in the lonely planet than it should have been... it was a mediocre muddy lake next to a burnt out forest with a few kitschy statues and a small flower garden. we were hit up by the "cowboys" right away (wearing galoshes instead of cowboy boots), and we hired a pair of horses to ride around the lake. they led us about a half mile along the edge, then made us get off the horses, take pictures, and then pointed to the path and said "go". um. okay. we walked around in the forest next to the lake for awhile in the sun, not saying much and feeling sort of stupid. we did find a very weird spider chomping on a fly in it's web, it looked like a butterfly with spider legs. but that was the extent of the adventure. we walked back and the cowboys propped us back onto the horses and led us back to where we came from.

i was prepared to go pass out at the hotel again while robin went to search for a waterfall, but i got sidetracked by an internet cafe where i learned that 'x' is horrifically sick with some 103 degree tropical fever in cambodia (he even gave me his pin number so i can have his money if he dies), and my baby sister is pregnant. thus i went to bed with niggling worries to dream about (on top of recent dreams of being back in nyc and having to find a job- the horror!) and it was a restless night.

tomorrow: bus to nha trang, a beach town with... could it be? nightlife! i have found that 3 days is sufficient for most places. glad to be leaving.

:12/7---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"crazy house"


room in crazy house

dalat (the paris of the east) is rather gorgeous. our hotel (phuong hanh, $6/nt.) is an old french building set at the top of a hill overlooking the city. it has big shuttered windows which open onto a balcony, hot water, and even a tv, although all 4 of the channels are in vietnamese (have these people not heard of sitcoms? vietnamese tv has to be the cheesiest sappiest crap i have ever seen! lots of choirs singing on mountaintops and the like). there are musical birdies to wake me up on my windowsill in the morning, and bats fluttering about at night. the city is full of lakes, forests, waterfalls, markets... pretty nice although none of the cafes serve food! just drinks... also there is no nightlife whatsoever beyond an occasional karoake joint- typical of vietnam thus far. cheesiness abounds in that arena as well.

robin and i (both sick and sort of halfheartedly) rented a motorbike and headed out to a place that the locals call the "crazy house". this old hippie artist woman made a guesthouse which looks like it's straight out of alice and wonderland. it's absolutely cool. lots of nooks and crannies, each room has a theme (you can have tea in a giraffe's belly or build a fire in the belly of a bear in your odd-shaped cavern of a room). they weren't unfortunately being rented out but it gave me ideas for my own guesthouse which i intend to start someday, somewhere.

we drove round the market for awhile while people stared at us like we were aliens and we eventually sat and had some marvelous pho with a group of vietnamese people who kept stealing robin's cigarettes. i then escaped robin (this is becoming more and more necessary though it's not his fault) and passed out in the hotel for the rest of the evening with a fever and swollen glands.

:12/6---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

dalat from my balcony
we set out this morning on our way to pham rang, which is a one-horse waystation town from which we were supposed to catch a bus north to dalat. we had intended to spend the night there and proceed the next morning, but we were the only tourists going to dalat, so the bus driver dropped us at the side of the highway in pham rang next to a group of the most fiendish moto drivers and touts we have encountered thus far. no one would take us to a hotel, no one spoke a lick of english (and i can say "no" and "thank you" which is the extent of my vietnamese), they were all yelling in our face and trying to get us to pay such and such for such and such, we had no idea where we were or where to go... argh. robin is not so good at dealing with people under stress (ie. he stands there staring stupidly at me :) ) so i finally decided we would take a minibus that was nearby and just head the rest of the way to dalat. simple enough. they made room for us, we paid the requisite double amount that the locals pay, and off we went.... we thought. a minibus is the same thing as a minivan, and maximum occupancy SHOULD be about 9 people. our bus kept stopping every 3 feet and picking up more people (more money), until we had 25 in total crammed in. there was a little old lady laying on top of robin, about 5 vietnamese men breathing down our necks, and we had to put our feet on top of our bags so that our knees were up next to our ears the entire way. the ride should have taken 2 hours, but in typical asian fashion it ended up being 4. we arrived in dalat furious, exhausted, cold (it's a mountain town), and beginning to be rather sick. the bus drivers refused to take us to a hotel once there (demanding more money on top of what they had extraneously charged already... ASSHOLE, do you understand that one mr. vietnamese man?) so we ended up hoofing it until we found a decent place to sleep and somewhere to get a hot drink. and so it goes.
:12/5---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"fairy stream" leading to waterfall
better mood/energy all around today but we have still decided to leave mui ne tomorrow and head further north to somewhere with more action and charm. we decided around 4p to head towards the sand dunes (for which mui ne is famous) and a waterfall. our moto drivers dropped us off at the end of the "fairy stream" and explained to us that we needed to walk up it for 2 km to reach the waterfall. it was gorgeous and weird. the mud was soft and deep, quicksand in some places, and there were big crabs swimming around in it. along one edge were huge red clay dunes and on the other was a palm tree forest of sorts and little grass huts. we walked along quietly, happy to be doing something new.
:12/4---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

robin mooning me at guesthouse

bored. i know that if a person is bored then they are probably a boring person so i feel slightly bad but i just can't get into vietnam. it's not the laid back place seeming with culture and excitement that i am looking for. though it beats working in new york for now. we rented bikes this morning from the internet cafe down the road and tried to ride into the main town 13 km away. vietnamese bikes are really cute but they suck to ride (especially in a sarong)... there are no gears and you have to pedal twice as fast as normal to get anywhere. stupidly we decided to make this trip at the height of the hot day, so we didn't get very far. we crashed at a small little roadside cafe and guzzled water and watched the pet monkeys, cats, dogs, chickens, and pigs frolic on the lawn while the vietnamese people gave us unfriendly stares. we gave up and went back to the hotel to play pool and hang out in hammocks for the rest of the afternoon. i bought a book from the legless war veteran across the street. we started drinking in our room around 7p, playing cards and listening to music, and by 10p we were a little tipsy & we decided not to go out.

tonight in holland is sinter klaas. similar to christmas (which they celebrate like we do in the US) but much sillier. sinter klaas dresses just like santa claus but he comes in a boat from spain (???) and leaves presents in the shoes of good little children. instead of the chimney he comes through the window. people leave carrots out for him and they sing a cute little dutch song to him before going to sleep. robin and i were disappointed to find only sand and bugs in our shoes upon awaking. maybe i am a bad child.

:12/3---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

mui ne, vietnam
i feel guilty for having left saigon so quickly but i think both robin and i were too moody to deal with it right now. the bus to mui ne was quite comfortable and i listened to robin speak dutch with a couple next to us most of the way (i am getting to the point where i understand a lot of it). mui ne is a gorgeous little beach town a couple of hours north of saigon but not really what i expected- it's more of a package tourist resort with very expensive accomodations and few backpackers. we picked the cheapest place to stay out of the lonely planet and probably should have known better than to do so. we got a small room with one bed (weird) for $9, with a shared outhouse at the small garden guesthouse. the bungalows were $20+ though and we just couldn't justify it. we settled in and had a chat with the owner, who is swiss with a vietnamese girlfriend. what a drunk! he couldn't get a complete sentence out. also he gave some other people a discount on a bungalow since they were swiss. argh. we walked down to the beach which is gorgeous at night. the water is very choppy and this area is perpetually windy so there are a lot of windsurfers here. afterwards we went and had great bbq and drinks at a little place across the road. they had great music and kept giving us free shots so we felt better and slept well.
:12/2---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

saigon at night


snake wine/cobra tonic

another mediocre day in saigon. robin and i got lost in the hot midday, walking from one street to the identical next looking for something interesting to do. we failed. we bought a ticket to go to mui ne on the coast tomorrow morning, so maybe a little beach life will lighten me up a bit. i don't know if it's the fact that i am in a city or if i am just due for some sort of breakdown but i am feeling somewhat apathetic and cranky all around. i almost told robin that it was time for me to move on and travel alone but then i realized i'd have a lot more time to dwell on certain things (ie. 'x'), so together we go alas.... on another note, i have no idea how much i am spending here. vietnamese money is the dong and $1 = 15,346 dong. i am so confused that i end up just throwing all my money on the counter and hoping i get the correct amount of change back! between that and my lack of vietnamese language skills this can be a frustrating place to be.

i did meet a couple of guys later on in the evening who were appalled that we weren't so keen on saigon. perhaps they were more opportunistic than we are, or in the right place at the right time? they had drunk snake blood, driven their cyclo drivers around at rush hour, and had some eastern medicine practiced on them which entailed being naked right on the street with dozens of suction cups attached to their backs to leech out bad energy. hmmm. it's all relative... i suppose in the right circumstances this is a great city to be in.

we went out drinking tonight to a place that probably would have been very lively if it weren't monday night, and afterwards to a little hole-in-the-wall girl bar. i have to admit i like hanging out in the prostitute bars. it's so much more drama than anywhere else. we watched a hilarious drew carey lookalike from britain pick up a gal along with his friend who apparently was married with 6 kids. played some pool, got drunk, had some pho (vietnamese noodle soup) from a streetside vendor, and passed out in our room.

:12/1---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




cheap/amazing art reproductions
saigon is a way station if there ever was one. it's modern and hipper than the parts of asia i have been in most recently but it's lacking the quaintness and culture. i don't dislike it necessarily but it's boring and too similar to the west for me. i can't wait to get back to a smaller hippie town and relax. today just had a weird negative energy about it all around. robin picked up a little vietnamese gal at the bar last night and never came back to the hotel, so i woke up at least a hundred times all night long wondering if he had been drugged and robbed and left for dead somewhere (silly). i spent the morning wandering around an area of about 8 blocks square- the traveller's ghetto (pham ngu lao). anything beyond that is absolutely terrifying... the traffic in saigon is mad! mad i say! instead of cars like in the US it is all cyclos & motorbikes and there do not appear to be any traffic laws... you have to hold your breath and hope you make it across a street alive with a wall of speeding motorcycles headed right for you. i checked my email to find another very cold letter from 'x', had a breakfast of raw eggs and grainy coffee, and gave up trying to elevate my mood and walked back to the hotel to pass out. robin was back so we smoked some pot and decided to go bowling (it was that or another museum). little did we know that the bowling alley was all the way across the city and was $4.50 a game per person... ack. and we had to buy socks! it was a short-lived afternoon at the saigon superbowl. later we tried to eat a weird concoction of grease dotted with specs of chicken and potatoes, and failing that got entirely too drunk. we ended up at an all-vietnamese dance club, feeling very underdressed and conspicuous. 2 coronas (forced on us by the corona spokesmodel herself) were $5 each, but we were waited on by no less than 6 people who anticipated our every need and treated us like royalty (weird). robin attracts every gay guy/ladyboy within a 10-mile radius which i find hilarious. we have to tell people we are together but then when one or the other of us meets someone we like that can be a problem. it's a strange dynamic between us all around.


 

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