Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2 updates in less than 24 hours

While we've found some computers that work reasonably well, we figured we should take advantage and get all caught up. So after posting 43 photos last night just before midnight, I'm now going to post another 49 about 12 hours later.

This is a fairly classic example of some of the artwork you find in restaurants here in Vietnam. The still life with fruit isn't all that weird, I guess, but why the booze cannon?

We ordered the "set menu" for 1 person at this place in Hoi An, and they just kept bringing us dish after dish. 3 or 4 more plates came that aren't pictured. Eventually we figured that they had misheard us and given us twice as much as we asked for, but no, they only charged us for one. The whole meal was about $8 and it included 3 glasses of beer and way more food than you see here.

This dog is wearing a pearl necklace.

Cyclo driver. These guys are mega-annoying in Hue, but not quite as bad in Hoi An.

Another shot of Pho Bo.

Our hotel in Hoi An was really nice, and only cost $12, but the toilet would randomly gurgle and belch up water throughout the night. The culprit:

This represents how I feel about being pestered every time I walk outside here.

One of Hoi An's 234532463463242 tailor shops. Liz had a dress made; I had a pair of shoes made. I gave them a picture of these rare Dunlop shoes that Liz found in an advertisement in an Italian magazine. I've been looking for them ever since, and now I have a reasonably decent pair of fakes.

The shoes in question (I haven't taken a photo of my copied pair yet).

The is the face I make when I'm about to take a 19-hour bus ride. We were going to go from Hoi An to Mui Ne and skip the popular beach destination Nha Trang, but the weather changed our plans.

It wasn't as comfortable as it looked. There was actually a sizeable metal partition that made it impossible to lie on one's side. We spent about 20 hours on this bus but only made it to Nha Trang... thanks to a 7 hour traffic jam in the middle of the night. So we spent one night in Nha Trang (where the weather was terrible) before moving on to Mui Ne.

On the way to Mui Ne, we finally escaped the rain.

And then some.

View of the sunset from our pool. This place was $18 per night.

Liz didn't want me to post this, but I think it's humorous how her eyes rolled back in her head in ecstasy as she enjoyed just her second taste of pizza in the past few months.

Later that night, we went out for drinks and to play our new favorite bar game, where you take turns "drafting" bands and score points by the number of songs that are played by your bands. This place had pretty good cocktails that were buy one get one free, which amounted to $2 each.

Some more views from our hotel.

Fresh seafood is really big in Mui Ne. If you head into the center of the "town," all the restaurants have the day's catch displayed on ice for you to peruse.

We selected the guy on the right. It cost 120,000 (about $7.25) for the whole fish, including fried rice and vegetables for two.

Here's how he turned out. This was one of the best meals we had in Vietnam.

The next day we hit the beach and rented boogie boards for an hour.

I was reminded of why I originally retired from the sport.

Our last day in Mui Ne, we rented a motorbike to go check out the sand dunes. I'm glad I got to add Vietnam to the list of countries in which I have driven a motorbike (currently USA, Dominican Republic, Italy, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam), but the trip ended on a disturbing note. About 5km from our hotel, we were just starting to reach the edge of the city. As we turned the corner, we noticed a crowd of people gathered on both sides of the street. I slowed to a crawl, thinking we might be interfering with a parade or some other official event. But as we got closer, the atmosphere didn't seem very parade-like. There was a somber-faced policeman; a woman carrying her children quickly away from the scene. And then we saw it: There were no bodies, broken limbs or crushed vehicles. Just a disturbingly large pool of blood and a few small bits of motorbike. Sort of took the fun out of the rest of the ride. The people here really do drive terribly. I suspect that the problem will get even more out of hand in Saigon as the population keeps growing... it's something the country will have to address someday.

The white dunes were particularly cool. There were lots of little kids with plastic sleds that you could rent for sliding.

We also passed this "canyon," which was kind of cool.


Here's something annoying about Asia. Usually in the bathrooms, the shower just goes all over the floor. So if you wear your shoes in there, you end up getting mud all over the place. The hotels generally provide flip flops, but they're usually either filthy or, in this case, a touch on the small side for size 12 feet. I couldn't reach the end of these; the straps were so low that I couldn't get my toes under them.

More Bia Hoi (fresh beer), the 2-liter variety. 9,000 dong.

There are lots of vendors carrying around books in Saigon. This lady had one of the tallest stacks I've seen.

Do I really need to say anything more?

Yesterday we did a 7-hour self-guided walking tour of Saigon. One of the museums we visited was housed in a really cool old building. This bride and groom obviously also thought the location was nice.

It's no joke; you really aren't safe on the sidewalk here.

Another great meal. We lucked into this place in the middle of our walking tour. As good as it looks.

Massive tank at the War Remnants Museum. They have a very impressive, very disturbing collection of photos and artifacts.

For all the hustle, bustle and noise, Saigon has some natural beauty as well.

One of the few motorbikes that isn't a 110cc bucket of bolts. This was a cool vintage BMW near the Notre Dame cathedral.

The best knockoff in Asian history? It's not nearly as impressive as the original on the inside.

This does NOT do the situation justice. I have a video; I'll have to share it later.

That's all for now. We decided to head to Pnomh Penh in Cambodia tomorrow. It turns out we'll spend a few more days there than planned, as we can only remain in Thailand for 30 days prior to our departure on March 1. Catch up with you again soon!

An update?

Forgive the tentative title; I'm just not sure if this update will work or not. See, I can't even view our own blog here in Vietnam. Most internet sites work just fine, but for some reason, our blog always comes up blank. I'm not sure if this is some sort of censorship (our friend Adam says he can't view anything with the word "blog" in it in China without resorting to elite haxor skills), or just a problem with our blog, but I'm pushing forward.

Right now I'm waiting for Picasa to load my photos, then I can begin the annoying process of reselecting the ones I want to publish and uploading them. In the meantime, I can confirm that Vietnam is the most frustrating country I've ever visited.

We've had a lot of fun; don't get me wrong. But there are many things in this country that just drive me up the wall.

Today I was almost run over... AGAIN... for example. Right now we're in Ho Chi Minh City, AKA Saigon. The traffic here is more insane than anywhere else in the world, I'm convinced. I haven't been to India, so I guess I can't truly say for sure, but I'd be pretty impressed if it was worse than here.

The problem is that there are just too many motorbikes and too few traffic laws. Well, enforced laws, anyway. We've shot a little bit of video that will hopefully illustrate the situation, but I'm not sure whether we'll be able to post it on the internet or not.

Ok, done with Picasa. Looks like it will upload. I sort of breezed through the photos as I was annoyed with doing all the work again; looks like I have 43 to post instead of the 60+ that we originally selected. Oh well.

We begin in Hanoi. As I mentioned, we flew on Vietnam Airlines from Vientiene to Hanoi. Lovely. Took 45 minutes instead of 32 hours on the buses. Sure, it cost about $200 more, but, yo, that's WORTH it!

All these photos were from like 2 weeks ago, so forgive me if the details are already hazy. We've taken another 200 photos in the meantime so we're a bit behind.

Also, looks like the internet place is about to close up shop soon. I'm going to keep my comments brief so we can finally get this [censored] updated.

Street vendor in Hanoi. If people buy and sell it, you can find it on the back of a bicycle or moto here.

Cool beer 2500 dong. 16,000 dong is $1, so yes, this is pretty damn cool.

The 7-year-old who served us our cool beer.

Our new favorite Vietnamese dish, Nuong Bo (or something). Basically self-barbecued beef with tons of ginger and garlic. You also get tomatoes, onions and the most amazing dip in the world.

This is the dip.

I got a very short haircut in Hanoi and also trimmed my beard. I feel you need to know this for some reason.

There's a picturesque lake right in the middle of the old district in Hanoi. Some pictures to follow.

I screwed up the composition on this shot just a bit, but these were some very pretty fresh spring rolls we had at a "training restaurant" in Hanoi. Basically the waiters are street kids that learn english and a skill working there. Good food, too.

The fried variety.

Dessert. This was a little prettier than it tasted.

Halong Bay. We spent the first night on a boat; the next on Cat Ba Island.

Not a great shot, but it gives you an idea of what the bay is like. Tons of limestone cliffs.

This, to me, is the essence of capitalism. We're out in the bay, in the middle of nowhere, when this lady rows up with her fully-stocked boat. You could get Oreos, a dozen types of booze, Pringles, you name it. I thought this country was communist!

Very cool and huge cave in the middle of Halong Bay.

View from the top.

Just thought this was funny. There were tons of kids under the age of 10 rowing their own boats around the bay. Who knows what they were doing.

Our room on board the boat. Not bad!

Some of the people we had meals with and hung out with during our Halong Bay excursion. Danielle from DC and Harry and Greg (son and father) from Australia.

The water is really blue-green here.


Cool standalone karst cliff.

Dinner at our cheesy-ass "3-star" hotel on Cat Ba island. The room wasn't bad; the restaurant was fairly terrible.

Our tour included some "trekking," which was just a short hike over a mountain led by this really old dude. Also pictured is this Chinese guy who was a really funny character. Half the time he would sit silently by himself. The other half of the time he would try to get people to do crazy things like jump off our boat into the ocean while it was moving, or make them pose for photographs while he directed them like Austin Powers (yes! yes! yes! no! no! no! yeah baby!).

Perhaps because our guide was 143 years old, we took a lot of breaks.

Pho Bo, the most common meal in Vietnam. Delicious.

This was an interesting musical instrument we saw in a museum somewhere. You play it by clapping in front of the pipes.

Common problem for me in Asia: Things are too small.

Liz makes some friends.

This is soooooo standard, not sure why I'm even posting it.

I lost my sunglasses right before we left for Hanoi. No problem, I picked up this pair of Prada replicas for $5.

Some kids we met in Hue. They all were learning English to work in the tourism industry.

Pizza! We finally decided to give the ubiquitous Italian food a try in Asia. Not bad, although I don't think these results are typical of what you'd get.

Here's something you'll often see in Asia: a beautiful lakeside setting....

... so peaceful and nice...

... you almost don't notice the massive piles of rubbish nearby.

The town of Hoi An, where the tailors and shoemakers will ape any style you bring them. I call this the "Err Jordan."

That's all for now. I need to get back to the hostel... the internet shop owner has closed his metal gate 95% of the way to fool the police that it's closed. I don't want to get in trouble in this country for using the internet too late at night. Adios!