Okay, so I think an update is required since its been so long.

Sofiya and I have been staying in MUi Ne for the past few weeks, it’s been a great place to relax and just take it easy. Unfortunately, well, maybe fortunately, there was a typhoon hitting the the islands of the Phillipines and we were getting a little bit of it. The waves were absolutely huge, almost terrifyingly huge at times. We’d go sit at the beach and be mesmerized by the sheer size and power of the waves hitting the side of our hotel. A couple of buildings away, two bungalows were destroyed by the waves they were that huge.

Anyway, my update that I wanted to make was two fold, the first is that my computer is broken and I’m forced to use my iPad… It means that updates will be difficult. The second is that I leave here in about three days for MalaysiA. My visa runs out on the 30th so I’ll be going to Kuala Lumpur on the 29th. I have a possible medical problem that I think I’ll need surgery for, and Malaysia seems like the best place to have it done.

We arrived in Mui Ne, Vietnam yesterday. I don’t think I could feel so good getting someplace, but as the bus dropped us off I felt like I had stepped into a new world. A world filled with palm trees, beach resorts, and long beaches. The area we are staying is basically a very upscale beach area situated along a single road. There seems to be more white people than Vietnamese though and many, if not most, of the white people are Russians. There are so many here that many of the businesses have Russian language on their signs and menus. It’s weird but I get kind of offended if a menu is in Russian… I guess I now know how many feel when the menu is in English. J

We threw our bags on the bed and headed out to the beach. It was very windy and I guess the wind is typical for the area because about half the shops on the three kilometer beach are for kite surfing lessons or rentals. The first night here there were dozens, maybe hundreds of kite surfers flying across the water. It looks like a lot of fun. The sun was going down and the sky was turning orange. We walked to the end of the beach and then walked back along the road to the hotel. I know, boring right, but I have to set up the next part of the story.

After we finished with dinner, we decided that we’d sit near the beach and have a beer. It was about 8pm and very dark, Sofiya goes to the beach and I go to the room to get a beer. I grabbed a beer and head down to the lounge chairs that are overlooking the beach, remember there aren’t any light on at the time and it’s very dark. I’m able to make out someone sitting in a lounge chair and head over. As I get close I see dark hair and glasses, just like Sofiya, so I reach down and romantically run my hand through her hair. The person jumps and turns around, that’s when I realized that it was just a guy sitting listening/watching to the waves. I was mortified and in shock, I apologized about ten times and tried to get out of there as quickly as I could. Sofiya wasn’t that far away so I got to her and basically hid for the next twenty minutes. The next couple of days I kept running into him, but in all honesty I don’t know if he recognized me and I wasn’t about to give any sign that I knew it was him.

I left Sihanoukville a couple of days ago for Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I was in Vietnam about six years ago but I never went south of Hanoi, and have always wanted to visit HCMC. When I left Sihanoukville I took a sleeper bus, with a single bed. I have to admit I loved it. There was wifi on the bus, I had the space to myself, and had more than enough room to stretch out. It was so comfortable that I fell asleep after about an hour.

Within about one minute of stepping out of my hostel this man stopped to talk to me. He was a scooter taxi so he was looking for me to hire him. We got into a short conversation though about the War. He fought with the Americans against the NVA and barely made it through the cleansing that happened after the NVA invaded. He told me stories of what it was like after the Americans left back in 1973
Within about one minute of stepping out of my hostel this man stopped to talk to me. He was a scooter taxi so he was looking for me to hire him. We got into a short conversation though about the War. He fought with the Americans against the NVA and barely made it through the cleansing that happened after the NVA invaded. He told me stories of what it was like after the Americans left back in 1973

The bus got to Phnom Penh where I would have about a two-hour layover for the bus to HCMC. I didn’t like the idea of the layover, but sometimes you just have to take what you’ve been given and waited. It was about 1am when the bus dropped us off on a street in the city. Except for a small street restaurant there wasn’t too much around us. The people in charge of the bus service put us on a tuk-tuk to take us to another location. On the tuk-tuk I met a couple, the guy was from Portland, Oregon. It was kind of cool to talk to someone from my hometown even though I haven’t lived there in a very long time. He’s in HCMC teaching English.

Just a quick photo of part of the food stalls going on when I first arrived in Saigon.
Just a quick photo of part of the food stalls going on when I first arrived in Saigon.

So the tuk-tuk drops us off in front of a closed travel shop. By now the streets are nearly empty and except for the other six people going to HCMC there isn’t really anything going on. I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open.

When I bought the bus ticket I was told that there was a chance that the two-hour layover could end up being three-hours. Talking to the others there, they were told that it was a four-hour, maybe longer. The reality turned out to be about six-hours. I wasn’t very happy with waiting in front of closed shop at four in the morning. In the end everything turned out and at about 7 we were on a bus on our way to Vietnam.

Going through the border was surprisingly painless. The bus had a guy on it that did all the work and all any of us had to do was to pretty much walk through the borders. It was a little bit more complicated than that, but it sure seemed easy. It probably took us a little bit less than an hour to go through both borders.

About two hours from the border we finally stopped in HCMC and the bus dropped us off. My hostel is about 300 meters from the bus stop and I had no problems finding it. There was a festival of some sort going on in the park next to the bus stop so after putting my bags away, I headed out to get a better look at what was going on. I don’t know exactly what to call it, but the festival was very western. What I mean is that it was modern and contained mostly small tents featuring food from area restaurants. In Portland we had an event called Bite, and I kept thinking that it was what was going on here. There was some great food and I spent probably a couple of hours walking around and tasting different things. I even had Durian, and I was surprised it was pretty good.

Ho Chi Minh City is chaos. That’s the only way I can explain it. There are scooters going everywhere that don’t seem to follow any sort of rules. There are very few traffic lights or stop signs so it’s a challenge to get across the street. Most of the time I just start walking and hope that the scooter that seems to be heading straight towards me will veer away. There is al a kind of sense of a little of Taipei here, but I think it’s more on the architecture and less on anything else.

I didn't take many photos while I was in Saigon, so I'll add this one. It is a photo of the festival that was going on.
I didn’t take many photos while I was in Saigon, so I’ll add this one. It is a photo of the festival that was going on.

Sofiya finally got here about a week after I did and once she arrived the city seemed just a little bit better. Not that it was fun now that she was here, but it was at least nice to have someone around to validate my feelings about HCMC. We ended up leaving about two days after she arrived. At that point I was about to give up with Vietnam and head back to Laos or Cambodia so I asked Sofiya to decide where we should go. She decided on a beach town in Vietnam called Mui Ne.


Thu 08/01/09 05:36
…and I can’t find my camera

Right now it’s the morning before I leave for Dubai, and most of the last three entries have been written this morning. I leave for the airport in about 20 minutes and although I have much more to write, I need to finish packing. My next entry will probably be when I’m back home.

I’m in the Hanoi International Airport right now. I was packing up and getting ready to go and realized that I couldn’t find my camera. Shit. I got a call from the front desk of the hotel telling me that the driver was waiting to take me to the airport, so there I am scrambling around looking for my camera with no time to go through all my stuff to see if I packed it somewhere strange. Anyway, I didn’t find it, but to be honest, if I was going to lose it the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The display was broken so I was going to have to buy a new one when I got back to Dubai anyway, and except for the sdcard and the photos that were on the camera, there really isn’t anything to be sorry about.  I keep trying to tell myself that, and in time I think I may actually begin to believe it. J

Thu 08/01/09 05:35
but I still have one night on my own…

The next day we did a tour of the city. We went to Ho Chi Mihn’s tomb, Hotel Hanoi, and a 1k year old temple. All of it, except for the temple, was kind of strange for me. I grew up thinking of Ho Chi Mihn as someone akin to Stalin, not a glorified leader that freed his people from bondage, but that’s the way they seem to want to portray him here. Our guide actually said that in the North, the people love and revere him, and in the South they don’t. Our guide is from the South, and although he didn’t really say how much he dislikes Ho Chi Mihn, he did tell us things that make it sound like he’s hated in the South. Our guide made a comment that many people feel cheated in the South, that they believe that if not for the war, they would be a city much like Hong Kong, or Singapore right now. Our guide really helped me to understand the way Vietnam is. When I got here, I didn’t see Communism, I just saw a city doing the things that cities do, but after talking to our guide I see some of the things that make this kind of a dreary life for many of the people in the city.

After our walking tour we went back to the hotel. This was the official ending of the tour and I needed to move my stuff over to a different hotel. I calculated the days incorrectly so I have an extra day here in Hanoi before my flight back to Dubai. The extra day was needed for me to get my feelings in order on Hanoi, and in some ways the tour in general. I did some souvenir shopping, and then found a café and had a few beers and watched the people go by. That’s one thing that I did a lot of during the summer, and the one thing that I haven’t had a chance to do very much this winter, just watch people. We always seem to be moving, either by tour design, or as a group to go have dinner. Just drinking a few beers watching the traffic and people go by is a necessity for me. I may have started a little too early though, because at about 6pm I had a strong buzz and needed to get something to eat. Not a big deal if you know where to go, but if you’re in a place where the landmarks are scarce, traffic is dangerous, and you can get sick eating at just any old restaurant it can be a very big deal. So I did what I usually do, go to some place where I’ve been before, KFC. I did get lost about three times, but I eventually found my way there and ate.

Thu 08/01/09 05:34

We got into Hanoi early in the morning, and stored our bags before we headed out to take a cruise to see the Ha Long Islands… This cruise isn’t part of the tour but we all wanted to see them, so as a group we hired a driver and headed to the coast. I don’t know if anyone reading this entry will be familiar with the Ha Long Islands, but my guess is that most people have seen them, or seen something very familiar. The best way to describe them is that there are thousands of jungle covered rocks, or islands, off the coast. They’re very beautiful, so beautiful, that there is a push to get them included in the list of the Natural Wonders of the World, along side such landmarks as the Grand Canyon. I can’t say that they are awe-inspiring, but they are very beautiful. Our drive took about three hours and through what seemed like one large suburb of Hanoi. I, like always fell asleep shortly after leaving Hanoi so I didn’t see all the sights. When we got there, we boarded about a 50 ft. day-cruiser and headed out. The boat was large and very nice, two decks one enclosed for eating and one on top for seeing the sights. There was something so special to be on this large boat with only nine other people, that made the visit even better. The whole cruise took about 3 hours, we made our way out to a cave and took a hike through it, then we found a sheltered area and had lunch. It was about an eight-course meal which included, squid, prawns, spring rolls, fruit, and some other things that I can’t remember right now. After lunch we went deeper in the islands and found a more sheltered area where we could swim. I say “we” but I should say, “some of the people on the tour” because I feel very self-conscious being half naked in front of people… Don’t ask me why, I just do. So some of the guys went swimming. After the swim the boat headed back to the dock.

It took us about three hours to get back to the hotel, and like always, I slept part of the way. I was awake though to see a dog running all out down the street. I mean this dog was yelping and running as fast as it could, occasionally looking back. It was a strange sight to see, and it didn’t quite make sense until I saw some people carrying a guy to the sidewalk. He was obviously dazed and confused, and then it made sense, the dog must have been hit by the guy and his motorcycle. For some reason it seems funny now looking back.

That night was the last night of the tour so there was kind of a solemn air to the evening, our last dinner together as a group. We had dinner and headed to a bar that overlooks the city. After that, I headed back to the hotel with some of the other group, while others were going to go drinking. I wanted to go drinking, but decided against it for personal reasons.