- Thursday, April 28, 2005. On this day: BBC, Wikipedia, HowTo
- In Hoi An
Well I've arrived in Hoi An which means I've survived crossing Hai Van Pass. It's a pretty freaky ride over the mountains but the scenery is really cool. I think it'll be nicer when the tunnel is completed, most of the heavy trucks and busses will go through the tunnel but you could probably still go over the mountain and enjoy the scenery without the traffic.
I had a chance to see some more sites in Hue yesterday and it's nicer than I initially thought. The old citadel is a huge site and was really interesting. I think I was expecting more of an old city feel, which Hue doesn't have. But there are still plenty of things worth seeing.
After crossing the mountains I've also arrived in Vietnam's tropical zone so it's much hotter than in the north (more like the weather in Laos).
Haven't explored Hoi An yet so I can't really comment on it. I am however staying at the nicest hotel so far on the trip and it's only $14/night! I think I could have negotiated even cheaper than that but that's still a good deal.
One of the big things to do in Hoi An is get clothes made and I suspect that I will have some made when I find a nice shop. Some people I met at my hotel said they were recommended a good place to go so I'll see what I can find.
# Posted 12:29 AM (0) comments
- Tuesday, April 26, 2005. On this day: BBC, Wikipedia, HowTo
- 2 Wheeling in Hue
Well I haven't been too impressed with Hue but I've met some really cool people so that's made up for it a lot. It just doesn't seem to have as much nice stuff to see as in Hanoi. However, I did go on a really cool motorcycle tour today that was a lot of fun. We went around to a few of the temples in the city and then also saw one of the tombs for emperors from the Nguyen dynasty. It was really cool riding around on the back of the motorcycle and we got to see a lot of back roads and areas that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. I've been taking lots of photos so I'm excited to see the results.
Tomorrow I'm taking the bus to Hoi An in the afternoon. I've heard it's a really nice city and it's also got lots of good tailor shops so I think I may get some more clothes made. I think getting at least 1 more suit will be good but I'll have to see what the prices are like.
So far the trip has been going really well and I've been having a lot of fun.
# Posted 8:52 AM (0) comments
- Sunday, April 24, 2005. On this day: BBC, Wikipedia, HowTo
- Leaving Hanoi
Well tonight I leave Hanoi for Hue. I've really enjoyed my time in Hanoi. I spent 3 days in the city itself and then did some trips to areas nearby. On Thursday I went to the Perfume Pagoda. It's a nice trip out of town, you drive for awhile and then get a boat to go to the mountains. There are a lot of temples around and we only visited a few of them. Apparently, the biggest one is on the top of one of the mountains and is a full day's trek so we didn't go to it. A joint venture is building a cable car so I imagine that in the near future it will be overrun by tourists. It was really nice to walk through the mountains and see the scenery though but our guide's english wasn't very good and he didn't explain very much.
On Friday I went to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. Hoa Lu was the old capital in the north over 1000 years ago but those remains are long gone aside from some excavation work. There are 2 nice temples that we visited though and the guide was able to cover more of the history. Tam Coc is a beautiful area in the mountains surrounded by rice paddies. We went in small boats (2 people in each boat) and rode up the river for a few hours. It was very peaceful and the scenery was quite nice.
However, the highlight of the trip has definitely been Halong Bay. It's simply an incredible place in terms of scenery. Plus, I was really glad that I "splurged" on the trip and went with a better company. The boat was really nice and the service was incredible. We ate so much good food and got to see a fair amount of stuff for a 2 day trip but it was all very relaxed and I didn't feel rushed at all. Plus, the group was really good and I had some really interesting conversations with 2 of the other travellers on board. It was also my 28th birthday so it was a pretty cool way to spend my birthday and was worth every penny.
# Posted 11:15 AM (0) comments
- Wednesday, April 20, 2005. On this day: BBC, Wikipedia, HowTo
- Vietnam Observations
Well I've been in Vietnam for a few days now and I figured I might as well take advantage of the free internet access at my hotel and post some observations.
First of all, while vietnamese are still generally really polite, they are definitely way more aggressive about trying to sell you things than lao people are. As soon as you walk along the street you will have tons of cyclo and moto drivers trying to take you somewhere. There are also lots of ladies carrying around fruit that really try to push it on you and usually some people trying to sell you t-shirts or books. What gets to be a bit annoying is that they all really try to get your attention and sometimes won't take no for an answer. I have a couple theories on this. I'm thinking that with years of propoganda about western capatalists maybe they just think that we're so obssesed with spending money that as long as they can get your attention you'll have to buy something. Well it's a theory anyways.
Sometimes ignoring them works really well but you have to be careful about how you ignore them. Not making eye contact seems to help keep them from starting in on you. When they spot you they start yelling "hello" to you. If you really ignore them then sometimes they'll figure you didn't hear them and keep yelling (or honking their horn or making other noise). Shaking your head sometimes works but not often. The key seems to be to make it clear that you did hear them but you're just not aknowledging them, hard to pull off.
A technique I've developed for dodging the moto and cyclo drivers has been to walk with a purpose. As long as you have a really clear destination in mind and focus on that you seem to be a little more immune to them. But if you're just wandering or have to pull out the map, then it's all over. I was extremely sucessful in this earlier today but that time my purpose was to find a moto driver! I was walking around with such a clear purpose of trying to find one that none of them went for me. Finally, I stopped and reached for my guidebook, as soon as I touched it a moto driver was on me.
Related to this is something I've noticed in Laos as well, there is tons of copying of businesses. In Laos you would see it more in that if a shop opened up then pretty soon 2 or 3 more shops trying to look as similar as possible would open up nearby (frequently next door). So you'd get a lot of places where there'd be 3 or 4 cell phone shops in a row for example. In Vietnam, it seems to have gone even further, they will blatantly rip off even the name of the place to try to confuse you. This is especially true of tour companies that get good reviews in Lonely Planet. There must be at least 100 Sinh Cafe copies in Hanoi. There's a rip-off Kangaroo cafe. And possibly my favorite one, there's a Fansipan Tours right next door to the real Fansipan tours! You really need to make sure you know the exact address of the place you're going (in the case of Fansipan, it was something like the real one is 24a and the fake one is 24 on the street). I'm not sure if this is a lack of business knowledge where people don't understand that you should try to make your business stand out to attract customers. You could also get into cultural differences here, particularly being a communist country where people are encouraged (and taught) to follow as a group rather than pursue individual ideas. I suspect the yelling thing started this way too, a few people started doing it and got more business so now everyone does it. I try to make a habit of not buying anything from these people in hopes that it will discourage the practice.
I also have to say that cyclos are really cool. I'm not sure which is cooler, tuk tuks or cyclos, they're both cool in their own ways. Either way, 3 wheeled vehicles seem to be way cooler than 4 wheeled ones. For those not in the know, a tuk tuk is a vehicle common in Thailand in Laos. It's basically a motorcyle front end with a covered carriage in the back with seating for about 4 people. They tend to be hand-built but there's a certain amount of uniformity in the design (although they all are different). There is actually a tuk tuk dealership in Udon Thani though. A cyclo (or pedicab) is essentially a bicycle back end with a seat in front of it. The rider pedals on the back end and you sit in the seat on the front. I've heard the ones in Saigon are smaller, the Hanoi ones could fit 2 people if they squeezed in a bit. They're pretty comfortable and a neat way to get around. What's odd is that there's nothing if front of you to obstruct your view. Makes for an interesting ride in traffic sometimes but it's pretty cool to just sit there in the open and take in the sites.
The final observation for today is traffic; there's a lot more of it here in Hanoi. It's definitely not as bad as Bangkok though. However, like Bangkok, it's produced a different effect. The traffic is extremely chaotic and drivers are certainly not "good" by western standards but there's a sort of un-written set of rules. I suspect that traffic has been an issue here for longer than in Laos so I'm seeing a similar situation as in Bangkok, the traffic is crazy but everyone driving in it knows how to drive in the crazy traffic. It definitely seems less dangerous than Laos where no one knows how to drive, let alone in traffic.
Similar to Laos, no one seems to look behind them or use their mirrors. With various different speeds of vehicles on the roads this can create problems. The solution seems to be to use your horn, a lot. I seem to have come up with the situations you use your horn:
- If a slower vehicle is ahead of you
- If pedestrians are on the road ahead of you
- When entering an intersection (don't bother actually looking for traffic)
- If pedestrians or vehicles are on the side of the road not blocking your way but maybe they will
- If you haven't honked your horn in the last 2 minutes; better make sure it's still working in case you'll need it
Seriously, the honking is crazy here. But this creates a new problem; people are used to filtering out the honking. The solution seems to be to honk louder or longer or to do a series of honks. Of course everyone ignores those too. For the most part it usually seems to work but I've been on motos where the driver will honk at a group of people standing in the middle of the road and they just stand there oblivious until he's right on top of them.
Sorry about yet another massive blog post. I've been debating including more posts on the main page but with the average length of my posts being pretty long that doesn't seem like a good idea. Incidentally, at Sneddy's request I've added an xml feed for my blog using blogger's atom feature. It's not exactly the way I'd like to do it but this is now done automatically by blogger so it's the easiest way for me to set it up for the moment. I might look into better options once I'm home. Those who don't understand what I'm talking about in this paragraph needn't worry, it won't affect you.
# Posted 12:07 PM (0) comments
- Tuesday, April 19, 2005. On this day: BBC, Wikipedia, HowTo
- Turning 28
Well I hadn't really mentioned it before but my 28th birthday is coming up soon (this Saturday). In more recent years my birthdays have usually been no big deal. The last really cool birthday I had was my 21st when I took the overnight train to Moscow with Leanne and spent the day in Moscow just because we could. That was a total blast. Hard to compete with that I know but for the last few years my birthdays have usually been more down or just been doing a few things with friends. I've never been a big party guy and I'm not good at trying to organize parties either so I would never really pull off doing much of anything.
This year I'll be spending my birthday in Vietnam which is nice in itself. To top that though, I'll be spending my 28th birthday doing a boat cruise in Halong Bay. The site for the boat is Tropical Sails. Looks like it should be a really fun time. Then the plan is to head to Hue Sunday night, probably on the overnight train.
So far the trip is going great. I ended up adding an extra day in Hanoi because of when I could book the boat cruise. I spent most of this morning going to tour operators to book my cruise and day trips. In the afternoon I went to the temple of literature which was the first national university in Vietnam. It's a really nice old confucian complex, took a lot of pictures.
# Posted 8:38 AM (0) comments
- Monday, April 18, 2005. On this day: BBC, Wikipedia, HowTo
- Made it to Vietnam, 2nd attempt
Well I had written a nice long blog post about getting to Vietnam last night but then blogger had problems and I lost it so this is my 2nd try.
I arrived in Hanoi Sunday night. I was a little worried about being able to get out of Laos. During Lao New Year Mai and I went to Vang Vieng for a couple of nights. We went tubing down the river and my passport and wallet got totally soaked. I had them in a ziploc bag but it opened. Most of the stuff was rescued no problem. Some nice lao people helped me dry everything out on a charcoal grill (including all the money I had on me). The big problem was that the date stamps for my lao visa and extension had washed away. I was worried I'd have problems when I left the country. To make matters worse, being Lao New Year the immigration office was closed so I couldn't fix it before my departure.
In the end it worked out alright. I picked the friendliest looking immigration officer at the airport and he just asked me a few questions about the dates but then let me through no problem.
Hanoi is a bit different. It's a lot more traffic than Laos and people are more aggressive about trying to sell you things but most aren't too bad. I know the traffic is worse in Saigon and I think the sellers might be worse as well so I'm glad I'm starting here and working my way south, might help ease my way into it.
It's a lot cooler here (mid-20's vs. high 30's) but it's rainy so the humidity is pretty high. In the morning it's really nice for walking around though and it's nice to be able to stay out all day and not get exhausted from the heat.
Some people have asked if I notice much of a difference between Vietnam and Laos. Yes I do. Laos is much more Thai/Indian influenced. Vietnam is more Chinese influenced. I'm really like the change of influence because I've always been more interested in Chinese architecture and design. There are also lots of uniquely vietnamese things as well so it's a nice change. Probably the easiest way to explain the difference is that in Laos (and Thailand and others) you get the tall skinny Budha statues with the pointy hats. In Vietnam (and China and others) you see more of the fat Budha statues. I know there's a joke about young Elvis and old Elvis in here somewhere.
In terms of Budhism, Laos and Thailand follow Therevada Budhism which follows only the original Budhist writings. Vietnam received it's current form of Budhism via China and is the Mahayana tradition which uses later writings as well. There's your trivia for the day.
Plan to stay in the general Hanoi area for a few more days but this will probably be my last full day in Hanoi. I'm going to take a 2 day trip to Halong Bay and also probably 2 day trips. 1 will be to the Perfume Pagoda and the other to the Tam Coc/Hoa Lu area. I've heard that the Perfume Pagoda is busy this time of year because it's a pilgrimage time so I may have to pass on that. After that I will head to Hue. Might fly, might take the train. From there I plan to head south towards Saigon. There's a lot of things I want to see along the way so I'm pretty excited.
# Posted 11:56 PM (0) comments
- Sunday, April 10, 2005. On this day: BBC, Wikipedia, HowTo
- The plan comes together
Parts of the plan have changed for a variety of reasons.
For reasons I only vaguely understand, it's vastly cheaper for me to fly to Hanoi instead of Ho-Chi Minh City (Saigon). I did some looking in Lonely Planet and it looks like the majority of stuff I want to see is in the north or central regions so this works out well. I've decided to add a week to my trip to Vietnam so that I'll be able to cover more stuff. I'm flying to Hanoi on May 17 or 18 (still some issues with booking the flight so I don't know for sure yet) and will spend 3 weeks travelling in Vietnam. I will then fly out of Saigon to Siem Reap so that I can visit Angkor Wat and other temples in the area. I should be able to spend about a week there which will be really nice. My concerns about the cost turned out to be somewhat unfounded. It worked out to be only about $20 more to stop in Siem Reap vs. flying direct from Saigon to Vietiane!
I'm really excited about the trip, it looks like I should be able to see a lot of cool things in Vietnam and also really explore the Angkor Wat area. I'm a bit down about coming back to Canada and Mai is really sad. I know I have to though because I don't have a job here and I need to start making a life for myself. Right now it looks like that's not possible here.
I've also registered for the colour photo class at NSCAD. I have the same teacher who taught me advanced photo so that's really cool. He talked me into shooting colour print film instead of slides and that's what I've been shooting here (Fuji NPS rated at 100). From my prints here I have mixed opinions of the results. Not sure if it's the negatives or the printing (my major complaint about negative film). Still, I do have some nice results and it'll give me tons of stuff to print when I get back (shot 12 rolls so far).
I plan to shoot more in Vietnam and Cambodia. I'll need to get more film but should be able to buy some in Hanoi or I can pick some up here. Debating if I'll go back to slides or stick with the print film.
To accomodate the extra time in Vietnam and the trip to Cambodia I had to change my return ticket. I now leave Bangkok on May 18 and arrive in Halifax May 19. I'll have to leave Vientiane on May 17. I tried to arrange the stop over in Japan but my ticket won't let me do it. I'm a little disappointed in that but the extra time in Vietnam and Cambodia makes up for it a bit. At least I know that I couldn't do it so I don't have to live with asking "gee, why didn't I stop in Japan?"
I will miss the first week of my class but that's not a big problem. I think the excuse of needing to miss it so I could spend extra time in Vietnam and Cambodia should get me off the hook.
# Posted 3:05 AM (1) comments
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