Posts Tagged ‘Annikken’

Temples of Angkor

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I am now travelling alone again. Annikken and I spent our last night together in Vietnam in the company of Karoline, Jake and Bryan at the GO2 in Saigon. I stayed in a cheap dormitory that night, and Bryan saw what it looked like when he followed me over to get money for the bus to Cambodia. They made fun of it the whole night, but when it came down to it, I slept like a baby. πŸ™‚
Early Monday morning I went to the guest house where our three new friends were staying, had breakfast with them, and got on the bus to Phnom Penh. Later the same day, Annikken got on a plane to go to Hong Kong, then London and finally Oslo, but I didn’t see her that day, as I left too early. This goes out to you Annikken: It was really nice to see you again, and to travel with you, even though I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time with anyone in go, ever. The more I think about it, the stranger I find it that we didn’t have more fights!

On the bus, one of the bus company guys collected all our passports, and filled out our Cambodian immigration forms for us. I was going to buy my visa on the border, and the bus guy said he’d fix it for me, the price was seventyfour dollars. I got worried, because I didn’t anticipate such a high price, and told him as much. He kept sticking to his price, but I just didn’t have that much dollars on me, so I couldn’t give it to him. When we got to the border, I fixed the visa myself, for 20 dollars, and it took about five minutes. This is the kind of behavior I’m getting tired of, you ALWAYS have to be worried about getting ripped off.

Before we got to Phnom Penh, we decided to keep going directly to Siem Reap, as the others were flying out of Phnom Penh later, anyway. We arrived there in the evening, really tired, but booked a trip to Angkor the next morning anyway.

The alarm went off at 4:45am on Tuesday, and we were off at 5, in our little Tuk-tuk. The one day ticket cost 20 dollars, and was printed with our photo on it, taken at the counter! Around 5:30 we reached Angkor Wat, the temple city, itself, and together with the crowd of tourists, we watched the sun rise over the thousand year old temple complex. We spent the next couple of hours exploring the huge temple, climbing stairs and photographing bas-reliefs and fascinating architectural details. The only disappointment was that the stairs to the upper level had been closed off, because they’re so steep, and some tourists have fallen down and hurt themselves.

At the end of it we met up at the tuk-tuk, and continued to Angkor Thom, the Great City. Angkor Thom was the capitol of the great Khmer empire, and the area housed about a million people around the turn of the last millennium! Much of it was swallowed by the jungle after the fall of the empire, and some claim that there are still undiscovered structures hidden in the dense growth, even though most of the sites are overrun by tourists. We were among them, as we entered through the South Gate of Angkor Thom, over a bridge where statues of men holding the bodies of two great seven-headed Nagas formed the balustrade on each side. Once inside, the jungle still grows, but is kept at a distance, so it more closely resembles a park. The second stop inside the walls, after breakfast, was the Bayon temple, with a stunning 54 towers, each adorned by a smiling face of Avalokiteshvara, in what they say is a great likeness to the face of the king who had it built, King Jayavarman VII, who ruled from 1181-1219. Inside Angkor Thom is also the Baphuon, which was constructed by King Udayadityavarman II who ruled from 1049-65. In the 15th century parts of it was dismantled, and used to build a seventy meters long reclining Buddha, which is still part of the rear of the structure. We went to the Royal Palace with Phimeanakas, and to the Elephant terrace, where the kings would watch elephant races and acrobat shows and other entertainment. At the opposite side of the racing ground were big towers, between which long wires used to be fastened, for acrobats to “fly” through the air before the eyes of their audience. We had lunch before we left, and then headed out the east gate of Angkor Thom.

The first place we stopped at once outside, was Ta Keo, which is almost devoid of carvings. Lightning struck the temple before it was finished, and this was considered such a bad omen that construction was just left as it was, and to this day the place looks like it’s almost done, and is only lacking decoration.

Our last stop was Ta Prohm. This temple is the only one close to Siem Reap that is still partly overgrown, but even here the growth is kept down, and only the biggest trees with the largest roots are left standing. King Jayavarman VII, who also built Bayon, built this temple dedicated to his mother, and it contained massive treasures. Some of the many Sanskrit inscriptions apparently state that there used to be thousands of pearls and precious stones, and golden dishes weighing more than half a ton each! The one thing that the temple is most known for today, however, is that Angelina Jolie was here as Lara Croft for the filming of a couple of scenes for Tomb Raider… By the time we were done sneaking through dark galleries and climbing over roots and fallen pillars like Indiana Jones, it was getting late, and we headed over to Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill, where we watched the sunset before heading home for dinner. By the time we got back to our hotel, we’d been walking around for 14 hours, and my feet were sore in my new sneakers.

The last couple of days, I’ve been taking it easy, reading and relaxing. Jake, Bryan and Karol left for Phnom Penh on Wednesday, and went looking for a cheap hotel. I ended up in a place called Sakura Village, where I’m staying in a double room with aircon, my own bathroom, cable TV and minibar for 5 dollars per night. One of the things that are peculiar about Cambodia, is that the ATM machine only dispense US dollars… To change to Riel, the local currency, you need to go to street-side exchange operations or banks! The Riel is used instead of cents, so that one dollar divides into 4000 riel of small change, but price is almost always given in dollars. Across the street from where I stay, is a hotel called Soria Moria. Because of the name, a palace in the clouds from a Norwegian fairy tale, and because it had a Norwegian flag, and promised Scandinavian food, I went there Wednesday night. It was run by a couple from Sandefjord, and I spoke briefly with the wife. It was one dollar night, with tapas at a buck a piece, so I stayed a while, and sampled amongst other things the Swedish meat balls… They also had free Wifi, and when I got online, I found that there was to be a small Couchsurfers’ meeting that night, at a place called… Soria Moria! I kept hanging around, and eventually met up with a group of surfers. After dinner, three of us went to the Bar Street to play pool, and after several rounds eventually ended up playing Wii Sports in a bar until time came to head off to bed. πŸ™‚
Yesterday I sat in a garden restaurant reading all day, just enjoying life, and today I am meeting with a German guy Annikken and I met in Hoi An. First though, I am planning to go see if I can find this place that’s supposed to have some nice miniature landscapes, copies of the Angkor areas, and get some nice bird’s eye view photos. πŸ˜‰

PS: It’s REALLY IS a small world. On my last day in Vietnam, I walked into a restaurant to have an iced coffee, and I started talking to some of the other patrons. Two of them were Swedes, and the third was a Norwegian they’d met and travelled with for a couple of days. His name was Jostein, and he went to school with one of my best friends, Hallgeir…

Saigon – full circle

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

On Thursday Vietnam was celebrating a special day. It was the 35th anniversary of the Reunification, i.e. the end of the American War. We got on the bus in Hoi An at 6:30pm, and headed south. We spent a couple of hours on Friday morning in Nha Trang, from 6am to 8am, before continuing on to Saigon. As we stopped for lunch in Mui Ne, Gjerulf was the last person off the bus before it was locked, and Annikken was the first person back on after it was unlocked. In the mean time, someone had stolen her cell phone from the top of her day pack… We asked the bus drivers if they had let anyone in during the stop, but they didn’t understand the question. Eventually they called the office, to give us someone who spoke English, but even then all they could come up with was a shrug and a wagging of the right hand from side to side, which apparently means “Shit happens” or “Nothing we can do about it” or something of that sort.

We met some nice travellers on the second bus, who are living in Tokyo, teaching foreign languages; a German, Karoline,Β  teaching German, and two Americans, Bryan and Jake, teaching English… πŸ˜‰ Jake had his camera and ipod stolen from his bag on the previous bus, so someone was definately making some extra money on that trip.

We went out for dinner with the three teachers last night, along with a Canadian guy from the bus, a Japanese girl that the teachers had met earlier in Vietnam, who just happened to be there, a Japanese guy who had studied with the girl in Australia a couple of months ago, and who also just happened to be walking by, and last but not least a Scottish guy whom the Canadian had met elsewhere in Vietnam, and who ALSO just happened to be there… When you’re a backpacker, these things tend to occur. The night ended early, however, as most of us had just gotten off the bus after a 25 hour bus ride…

Today we met up with Bryan for breakfast, and Karoline a bit later, and then the four of us spent the day walking around Saigon, buying stuff at a local market, and we even managed a tour of the Reunification Palace. The tour was very interesting, and we learned a lot about Vietnam. For example, they had four presidents in South Vietnam during the war, one who was president for three years before he was killed, but managed to start the building of the palace we visited. The second president was in power for eight years, and lived in the palace. The third president lasted about a week, and the fourth president lasted all of 43 hours in office…

Tomorrow is the last night before Annikken gets on the plane to go home, so this will be our last blog post together. To all of you who have been following Annikken, hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you back home soon.

Gjerulf will continue to travel, and continue to write. He might head into Cambodia with the three teachers we met, on the same day as Annikken goes home, but we’ll see. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Hoi An again

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

A week ago we arrived in Hoi An for the second time, after a long journey on the bus from Ninh Binh. After checking in at a hotel around half the price of last time we were here, we rented bicycles and headed to the beach. The beach was where we spent the next four days, until sunset, or until we couldn’t take any more. πŸ™‚ The waves were awesome for body surfing, the palm trees provided shade to retreat into when the sun got too strong, we played frisbee in the surf, read books, bought fresh mangos and pineapples from the beach vendors and enjoyed the beach life, until Saturday night…

After a long day on the beach, we splurged on a splendid three course western meal at the Cargo Club Restaurant, accompanied by a nice wine. While we were eating, it started raining, and the weather’s been gray ever since. We stopped for a Tiger and pool at Before and Now on our way back to the hotel, where we met a couple of nice travellers. We were going to show them King Kong, but when we were getting our bicycles, Annikken’s right calf touched the muffler on a moped parked next to it, and she sustained a deep second degree burn. With a burn like that you can’t go in the water, so the gray weather has been a consolation; at least we haven’t missed any beach days because of the burn!

Annikken also had to return some tops she had made, because the first time she wore one of them, the seams started coming apart. The tailor took them back, and as a matter of course double stitched the seams on all the tops. A dress that was returned for refitting turned out to be more of a problem. She had three fittings before we left Hoi An last time, and the dress was still not ok, but we had to take it, as we were leaving. After we returned, she had seven more fittings, several arguments and much frustration on both her and the tailors’ sides, before the dress turned out the way it was ordered to begin with.

On Monday morning we had cooking classes at Friendship Restaurant, which makes Annikken’s favorite clay pots. We showed up at at 9:30 in theΒ  morning, and started out by going to the market to buy some sauces, vegetables and noodles. In the following hour and a half, we were taught how to make fresh spring rolls, Wonton and Chicken Claypot.

Last night we dined at Treat Restaurant, and spent the evening talking to a Canadian couple on their yearly three week holiday. They were extremely jealous of Annikken who could take two months off, and Gjerulf who’s travelling for a long time… πŸ˜‰

Tomorrow night we’re taking a 24 hour bus ride to HCMC, and on Monday Annikken is flying home to Oslo. She is really looking forward to cooking her own food, sleeping in her own bed, baking and meeting her friends again. She is NOT, however, looking forward to returning to a place with no tropical beaches, and temperatures below 30 degrees. Gjerulf on the other hand, is still not sure what to do after Monday, except that the plans WILL involve tropical beaches and temperatures over 30 degrees, but sadly no kitchen, dark bread or tasty, fresh, cold milk. πŸ˜›

Stunning scenery in Ninh Binh

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

We arrived in Ninh Binh last night at 9.30. We decided to take an early night, in order to get up early, and botched miserably as usual… After our usual breakfast pho, we headed off on a rented moped around 11am. The destination was Tam Coc, where there are karst formations of the same kind as in Ha Long Bay. The limestone has been thrust up from the old seabed and then been withered by wind and water in much the same way, but the difference is that here Rowing with feetthey are on land. A slow river meanders between the rice paddies, and curls around the jutting karst spires, except where the water has cut a hole straight through them. We hired a flat bottomed sampan, and were rowed up the river, and through three of the caves. The lady rowing, alternated between using her arms and using her legs to push the oars! We even put our strength to use with a paddle ourselves, when we got bored of just sitting and looking.

Our timing turned out to be as perfect as could be, since we had the river to ourselves almost all the way. Only at the very end did the next bus loads of day trippers from Hanoi start moving rank and file up the river, with only a few meters between each sampan. The best moment on our whole 2 hour boat trip, was when our rower stopped rowing in a narrow, uninhabited valley, and the silence was so intense we could hear our own breath… That’s a first in Vietnam, even for Annikken who has spent months here earlier!

After the boat trip, we headed further into the karst scenery on our moped, until the road ran out… There we were befriended by a deaf road construction worker, who insisted on showing Gjerulf a small, deserted valley over a low ridge. It was a short trip in dense jungle, but it was like entering a different world! With his communicative sign language, he explained that the valley was home to both monkeys and huge snakes. Meanwhile, Annikken helped a Vietnamese family build the foundation for a new house… She lifted heavy rocks, tried her hand at chiseling a rock, and helped apply the mortar. At first they were making fun, and pointed to a big rock they wanted to have carried over. Their faces changed rapidly when she just smiled, picked up the big rock, and asked where they wanted it… When she lifted her arms and flexed her muscles to show how strong a Norwegian woman is, they lauged happily at her antics.

After lunch, we just drove around for a while, until the sun set between the limestone towers. As we write this, we are waiting for the sleeper bus to come and take us to Hue and on to Hoi An.

Ha Long Bay

Monday, April 20th, 2009

On Wednesday we bought tickets to go to Ha Long Bay, and Thursday morning we were picked up outside our hotel by the travel agent. After a four hour drive, we arrived in Ha Long City, where we transferred to our boat. As we started out from the tourist pier, we were served lunch on the restaurant deck, and we soon reached an island where there were a couple of really nice caves. When we headed out to sea again, we checked into our cabin, and headed out on the sun deck on the third and top floor. The type of boats that take tourists out on the bay are called Junks, but it still looks a bit strange when a boat proudly displays “Paradise Junk” or “Junk Tours…”
Cruising around between the striking karst formations sticking out of the water, Pia, a danish woman who was travelling with her daughter, voiced a question of whether they could be called islands. They were certainly big enough, but they were basicly just huge rocks with vegetation clinging to the tops and sides. We never did find out what the definition of an island really is. πŸ™‚

In the afternoon some of our group were dropped off at Cat Ba Island to go trekking and stay at a hotel, while we continued to where we’d stay the night, in the boat. We had a beautiful sunset, and Gjerulf had a little swim in the ocean once we stopped. The next morning we also started with a dip, before going kayakking. The islands or rocks or whatever are just as magnificent up close. The formations are beyond description, the way they just rise abruptly out of the water, with their sharp ridges and sheer walls flecked with clinging trees and bushes.

After kayakking we had breakfast, while waiting for a couple of vietnamese girls who’d lost track of time while kayakking. Our guide set out to look for them, but they got back from another direction immediately after he left, so then the whole Junk set out after the guide. πŸ˜› The rest of the trip we spent on the sun deck. Annikken suggested Gjerulf should put on some sun screen. He thought it sounded like a good idea, and then immediately forgot about it. He now sports a fancy sunburn where the shorts and T-shirt didn’t cover him.

Yesterday we were invited to spend the day at a pool in a nice hotel, with Gautier, the Frenchman we met last Saturday. He’s been teaching English here in Hanoi for a year and a half, and has taken Annikken sightseeing on his moped, and shown us nice places to eat and to watch football. Gjerulf was particularly happy about Finnegan’s, the Irish pub where you could get a REAL Irish stew, and where Annikken got to watch footie both Saturday and Sunday nights. πŸ™‚

Today we’ve checked out of our hotel, and we’re taking the bus back south to Hoi An. The plan is to stay where the weather is sunny, and a beach is within reach… πŸ˜‰ The weather forecast says Thursday onwards is going to be rainy again, and we might head further south to look for better weather. Nothing’s for sure, though, we just go where we feel like, when we feel like it.

Hanoi – a city with two faces

Monday, April 13th, 2009

After 16 hours on the bus, we arrived in Hanoi the day before yesterday, at 6.30am. The bus was quite comfortable, and the trip wouldn’t have bothered us, if it hadn’t been for this one young man in the bunk behind Annikken. As he entered the bus we felt an odd aroma in the air, and when he climbed to his bed, we got a foreshadowing of what was to come. This man probably works in a Nuoc mam factory, producing the world famous Vietnamese fish sauce that stinks like rotting fish… He looked clean, but either he hadn’t washed after work, or the smell is impossible to wash out, because the reek was so strong, Annikken at one point thought she’d be sick from it, and actually considered getting off the bus to catch the next one, 24 hours later!

On arrival we spoke to a tour operator, who sent us in a taxi to a hotel he recommended. The problem was just that the taxi driver was so eager to get us in his car, that he didn’t catch which hotel we were going to, and just dropped us off at a random one. We were told we could get a room for 8 dollars, but we’d have to wait a few hours, until 12, to get it. In the mean time we were placed in a bigger room. At 1.30 we still hadn’t been moved to a different room, and when we asked, we were told we couldn’t stay there after all, but they’d fixed us a room in a different hotel, smaller room, lower standard and higher price… We said “forget it”, and walked out on the angry hotel keeper who wanted to charge us for a half day of waiting! After having trotted around half of the Old Quarter, we finally settled for a hotel, after several attempts where the staff more or less plainly tried to scam us. At one backpackers’ hostel they tried to make us pay 20000 dong for a 6000 dong can of 7Up. The first face of Hanoi was one of unfriendly people, constantly trying to rip us off.

In the evening we headed out for Indian food, and a visit to a local pub. We met up with a group of English teachers on their weekly night out, and they took us to their favorite after-hour haunt, where the cocktails were 90% booze and 10% mixers. (Which was why they liked it, appart from the fact that it’s one of the few clubs that pay the police enough money to be able to stay open after midnight) Annikken was especially glad to meet someone with whom she could discuss good wines, a Frenchman of course. An early morning was thus followed by a late night, and sleep came quickly when we finally turned in.

Yesterday we had plans of catching the early morning easter mass in St.Joseph’s Cathedral, but we were unable to get up at 4.30 in the morning to get to the 5am mass. Instead we got up rather late, started the day with a magnificent Pho Bo and Pho Ga, (Rice noodle soup with beef, and with chicken) at a street kitchen in an alley by the cathedral. Annikken’s father had recommended the Museum of Ethnology, and we had a few hours before the next mass, so we took a taxi out there. The Museum of Ethnology gives an introduction to all the major ethnic groups in Vietnam, and show everything in their every day lives, from arts and crafts to rituals and rites. In the garden they have built copies of houses in the architectural archetypes of the various etnicities. Annikken adopted a communal house as her own, with the steepest, tallest thatched roof we’ve ever seen, 19 meters from the ground up! We also saw a Water Puppet show in the museum garden while we were there, and one of the puppets brought out a rose that was given to Annikken. On our way back, the taxi had to break suddenly because of a crossing moped, with the result that another moped crashed into us from the rear. Seeing as an accident like that takes a million people and hours of arguing to settle, we just got out, and hailed another cab. Even though it was a bit of a drive out of the city centre, the visit was definately time and money well spent.

We returned to the Cathedral just in time for mass. The building is reminiscent of Notre Dame from the front, with the two square towers, but the inside is rather different from Western Catholic churches, with banners and decorations in bright colours in evidence everywhere. We stayed for a while into the mass, but the atonal chanting in Vietnamese eventually drove us back out into the bustling city.

This morning we went out to get a sandwich breakfast, which turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than expected, but we found a good place after a long walk. The places serving noodles and other traditional Vietnamese food are numerous, but getting a decent sandwich in the Old Quarter is actually quite difficult! About five hundred years ago, that part of Hanoi was divided into 36 areas, belonging to the different Artisans’ Guilds. Still today many of the streets are devoted to a particular type of merchandise. On the street where we were first dropped off, for example, all the shops were making and selling bamboo ladders, another sells diapers and towels, yet another sells sweets and cakes, but one that caught our attention was the street devoted solely to traditional medicine. Annikken went into a store, pointed at things that looked interesting or curious, and bought a bit of it. The shopkeepers didn’t speak a word of English, but they phoned for help from a shopkeeper nearby, who unfortunately was fluent in French and Vietnamese only, but spoke enough English to explain what the different things were, what ailments they target, and how to use them. So in case any of you need a cure for cancer, just contact Annikken when she gets home in May!

Since we were in the vicinity, we visited the Dong Xuan market, a massive three storey structure that covers an entire city block. The whole thing looks more than anything like a normal mall, but occupied by hordes of hawkers with their piles of goods in a blessed chaos all over the place.

The second face of Hanoi, is one of a relaxed atmosphere, friendly people, beautiful scenery and old traditions. If you ever go to Hanoi, be ready to fend off the people who want to trick you out of your money, but keep an open mind. Everything is not as it might seem!

PS:
As we’re sitting here on a bench after a nice stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake, (Breiavatnet i Hanoi, for dere Siddiser) we’re sending warm thoughts to all our readers living in colder climates, because today is the first day of summer in Hanoi, and the temperature just keeps rising. (Γ†da-bΓ¦da!)

Hoi An

Friday, April 10th, 2009

The week before we got to Hoi An was spent in Nha Trang. Due to heavy rain, Annikken thought she deserved a day at the SPA where a body scrub, hot stone massage, manicure and pedicure was on the menu. She was pampered and cuddled and returned to Gjerulf a happier more energetic woman. Meanwhile, Gjerulf took a boat trip around the islands outside Nha Trang in the rain… He enjoyed it, but Annikken did the same trip three years ago in beautiful sunshine, and felt it couldn’t be topped.

The week also contained a refreshing trip to Thap Ba hot springs, with mud bath, mineral baths and mineral showers. After having spent a good week in Nha Trang, we took the sleeper bus to Hoi An, of which Gjerulf has heard a lot lately. In 2006 Annikken spent three months studying here, and this visit is a trip down memory lane, and at the same time rediscovering Hoi An. In the first two days here she has shown Gjerulf her favorite Breakfast Noodle Soup place, her favorite dinner restaurant, her favorite bar, her favorite French Bakery, her favorite beach, and her old study centre, where she also had time to go every once in a while… After the first night, in the first hotel we happened to drop in at after a sleepless night on the bus, we also went to see the hotel where she used to stay. Due to Annikken’s old contacts (who still remembered her name!), her charm, and the fact we’re here off season, we’re now staying in a 45 dollar room for 15 dollars, with air con, a balcony, a bath tub, and breakfast included. We met some nice people at her favorite bar, and headed with them out to Cam Nam Island, to a bar called King Kong, where we put our names on the wall, where hundreds of other travellers had done the same.

Hoi An is known for the food, the laid back atmosphere, the Unesco World Heritage listed old town, and last but not least the numerous tailors crowding every street of the city! They are known for their low prices and good workmanship, and we spent the main part of our second day here shopping for clothes. Annikken was getting some dresses and tops made for her and her friend, and Gjerulf was getting a couple of kaftans. In the evening, we headed out to King Kong again, to meet some guys we’d met the night before.

Our third day was spent at the stunningly beautiful beach, where the beach hawkers also recognized Annikken! πŸ™‚ That evening the moon was full, and Hoi An celebrated it’s full moon festival. There were lanterns lit and put on the river, cultural shows on boats and improvised stages around the old town, and even a martial arts show, and we met up with our friends from King Kong bar.

Both of us got quite sunburned on the beach that day, so on our forth day rented a motorbike went to Marble Mountain, an extraordinary piece of geography (or is it geology?) about 20 kilometers from Hoi An, named for the amazing marble extracted from it and the surrounding hills. The steep sides of the hill had steps going up to temples, pagodas, caves and view points, and in the village surrounding it, more than half the shops were stone cutters! On the way there on our rented moped, a vietnamese woman drove up beside us and started chatting. It turned out she lived just next to Marble Mountain, and ran a stone cutting business there with her family. She let us park our moped there for free, and Annikken struck a good deal with her on a marble mortar and pestle when we were done sightseeing. Next to Marble Mountain is China Beach, where we went to “Hoas Place” for dinner. Hoa himself was playing poker with a Canadian and an Australian, and was very drunk, even though it was only 4.30. He kept telling us to take it easy, and gave us lots of hugs when he realized Annikken had been there in 2006… The food was great, especially the spring rolls, but we forgot to sign the guestbook before we left, even though we had planned to find Annikken’s last entry in the back log of over 20 books!

Today we are headed to Hanoi, to renew Gjerulf’s visa. At the airport in Saigon he was given a 15 day visa, instead of the 30 day one he was supposed to get, and we found this out only after it’d run out, so he’s hoping fervently it won’t cost a fortune in fines… Although we had not planned to go to Hanoi quite yet, we’re not all that sad to leave, considering the weather forecast has predicted rain all of next week! We’ll rather come back later and get some sunshine. πŸ™‚

Nha Trang – Backpacker Central

Monday, March 30th, 2009

March 29
Yesterday we got up at 6am, and were picked up by our diving outfit outside our Guest House at 7.30, after showers and a rice-noodle soup breakfast. We were driven to the harbour, and it turned out we were the only two divers on boat, so we had the crew of three all there only for us. At first we were a tad nervous that we’d ended up with a unserious outfit, and that everyone knew but us, but our misgivings faded when we saw how professional they were, and how well they treated the equipment.

The boat ride out to Hon Mun (Mun Island) National Marine Park took about 50 minutes, time we spent relaxing in the morning sun on deck, and then preparing our equipment. We got in the water shortly after arrival, and started our first dive at just before 9am. The site was Madonna Rock, by the tiny Hon Rom, outside of Hon Mun. We went down to about 17 meters, and wished we had an under water camera! The colours of the corals weren’t quite as breathtaking as we might’ve fantasized about, but the fishes were really nice. Being on the seaward side of the island, the swells could actually be felt as deep as 10 meters, pushing us forward, then pulling us back gently. Having turned around to head back, we swam through a little tunnel under a big rock, where the swell was felt particularly strongly. As we headed up through the cave, the water was literally teeming with fish! They were everywhere, in bright yellows and blues! Annikken also saw a Murene, but Gjerulf didn’t see it, as it was hiding under a small overhanging coral. The fish were small to medium, some flat, some long, some round, some with a funny looking beak, all the shapes of fish we’ve only seen in pictures before!
As we came back to the boat and started to ascend, we both got burnt a little by some jellyfish threads or something, but the stinging subsided rather quickly when treated with normal vinegar. The first dive was 40 minutes. The boat left Hon Rom, and headed a couple hundred meters up to the Northern Reef divesite, also known as DeRice Bay on Hon Mun. While we were waiting for our second dive, Annikken was enjoying the sun on the sun deck, while Gjerulf did a little snorkeling.

Unfortunately Annikken experienced a little trouble with pressure compensation, and sat out the second dive, while Gjerulf went in alone with our Divemaster, BΓ’ng. The second dive started about 10.30, lasted 48 minutes, and went to 14 meters. Being a reef this time, the corals were more impressive in size and colour but the fish were smaller and a bit more scarce, and mainly flitted in and out of the corals. On this dive Gjerulf also got to see a Murene lurking under a rock, and a couple of the more decent size fish had colourings that looked as if God had just done a splatter image with the most intense colours on his palette! Back on board, we started to head back to shore again. BΓ’ng’s English was not as good as he would’ve liked it to be, and he was studying to learn more. On the way back, he brought out his English text book, and recruited Annikken as a tutor! The lesson of the day was practicing the use of “to lend.” πŸ™‚ Back at the dive store, the lunch that was included in the price was waiting for us.(!) There was a LOT of food, just for the two of us, and we hadn’t even gotten particularly hungry yet, so we ate a polite amount, and headed back for a surf on the net, and a bit of a rest and refreshing at the Guest House.

In the evening we hit the town with the other backpackers, at the Red Apple Club. It was a nice little place, with dancing going on, and other travellers out to have a good time. Gjerulf got to talking to a group of British beach bums, and a Norwegian backpacker couple, while Annikken met a couple of Swedish/Norwegian firefighters, with whom we, like almost everyone else, headed over to the Sailing Club, a night club at the beach, where they had a beach party going on. There was good music, dancing on the sand, and loads and loads of people, and we didn’t head home till past 2 in the am! All night, Annikken’s poison of choice was only Tiger beer, and she enjoyed it! (Imagine the looks on our faces, when we were getting our first drink for the night, and Annikken orders beer, and Gjerulf a Mojito…)

This morning we slept long, and woke up glad that neither of us drank much last night. We met up with the Swedes at the beach, rented some beach beds, and stayed there till the sun started to set. For tonight, Gjerulf has his eyes set on a place with music and atmosphere very much to his own taste, while Annikken is headed back to the Red Apple Club with our Swedish friends.

Mui Ne – Tropical Paradise

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 24

Yesterday we arrived in Mui Ne. The bus ride was a bit of a surprise, to say the least! We were expecting a normal, cramped bus, hopefully with A/C. What we found, was a sleeper bus, with beds instead of seats, comfortable, well airconditioned, with pillows and blankets for everyone. No doubt the most comfortable bus ride we’ve ever had, especially after a couple of too warm, sleepless nights, trying to adjust to the heat.

On arrival, we checked out a few hotels before deciding on Thai Hoa Beach Resort, with it’s own stretch of beach, and a lush, green garden with an outdoor restaurant. We had a bite to eat before we changed into swimwear, and literally raced each other into the waves. Gjerulf’s delight at finally seeing the sea again for the first time since November was only topped by the feeling of luke warm salt water on our poor over heated bodies. We are continuously grateful for the price level in Vietnam, as the room with en suite bathroom, TV and fan only sets us back 105000 Vietnamese Dong per person, approx 40 NOK.

Last night we finished off the day by dressing up and heading to a nice restaurant down town for a bit of a splurge… Garlic bread, thai coconut curry, BBQ Barracuda and fruit platter was the order of the night. After finishing the regime of medicine Gjerulf was finally able to have a refreshing beer again, and was introduced by Annikken to the wonders of TIGER beer!

Today we have done as little as possible, the day was solely dedicated to lying on the beach and playing in the surf. Despite SPF25 and only short periods in the sun, Annikken has changed hue on the front side, from a standard Norwegian Winter White, to a deep Lobster Red. Gjerulf hunted around shops and a pharmacy for some aloe vera gel, but it took a woman’s determination to achieve any results… Annikken headed out, despite the severe sunburn, and tried to ask around for it. The motorcycle driver misunderstood her intentions, and took her to a restaurant down town. After a quick stop at a travel agency to ask for more pharmacies, the return trip consisted of frequent stops along the road, with unfruitful attempts at conversation with well meaning Vietnamese with no knowledge of English. Eventually, Annikken spied a massage parlour with a picture of an aloe vera plant on the board. Communication was still difficult, and the manager assumed she wanted their special Aloe Vera and Honey massage. Finally they understood her needs, and brought her around to the back of the shop to where a big plot full of Aloe was growing! Two huge leaves were cut and given absolutely free of charge, as both driver and shopkeeper were happy when they had finally managed to put a big smile on the face of the resolute girl with a mission! Upon her triumphant return, Gjerulf voluntarily conceded that her stubbornness paid off, even though he was convinced there were no shops selling aloe vera gel in this town! Covered from head to toe in Aloe, Annikken is hoping fervently that the aforementioned bright colour will turn into a more pleasant sun-kissed brown by the morning, when we’re going dune-sledding!

VietCong’s Cu Chi Tunnels

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 22

My plane was an hour late, but I got through immigration without problems. Annikken was waiting for me when I arrived, and we took a taxi with a Canadian woman to the backpacker area De Tham in Saigon (=Ho Chi Minh City=HCMC). We bargained for accomodation, and managed to get it down to eight dollars for a room for the both of us.

We tried to get a CS host in Saigon, but due to some misunderstandings and short notice, we’re spending our nights in Saigon in a hotel (read: room above an arts and crafts shop). The temperature down here is a scorching thirty five degrees centigrade, and we’re both having a bit of trouble adjusting to the climate. We’re travelling together for the next couple of months, so the coming weeks we’ll share this blog.

Yesterday was mainly spent resting and trying to recover from jet lag and sleep deprivation respectively, while both attempting to cope with the dramatic climate change. In the afternoon, however, we had a nice walk around down town Saigon. The parks were filled with teenagers and young adults playing games. The most prominent is kicking around things made of layered plates of plastic, with tails of feathers, as if they were hackeysacks. Another favorite pass time is apparently hiding from parents, making out on all the benches in the darker shadows in the park. A striking point to be made on the layout of the city, are the abrupt changes between different quarters. On our side of the park is the backpacker area, while the park was almost all Vietnamese youngsters. On the other side of the park we entered an area catering to well off Vietnamese professionals, and at the north end were all the luxury hotels. Amongst them is the New World Hotel Saigon, where Annikken will be spending her last well deserved night in Vietnam, drinking her long awaited champagne after backpacking for sixty days. Google it and and weep! πŸ˜€

We decided early to try to mostly eat traditional and local cuisine preferably outside of the typical tourists areas, dining where the vietnamese dined, from street vendors or similar. So yesterday at lunch we started our food adventure by buying baguettes from the street vendors, one with tofu and one with ham, filled with lots of vegetables and different kinds of tasty sauces, and for desert a big pineapple. Unsurprisingly this tasted fantastic and we will without a doubt try this again. For dinner however, Gjerulf decided to be a bit more adventurous and we sat down at a street barbeque and ordered a whole frog WITH skin as well as grilled pork to be a bit more on the safe side.

This morning we got up early and headed off to see the Cu Chi tunnels, for which the American War (that’s the Vietnam war to you Americans:)) is famous. On the way there we stopped to see a laquer-workshop run by vietnamese who were handicapped due to the military use of the chemical Agent Orange. The workmanship was fabulous, but being backpackers with weeks and months left to travel we couldn’t very well stock up on the awesome trinkets. At Cu Chi, the Vietnamese soldiers dug small tunnels under the ground, to stay hidden from American bombers and infantry. The tunnels were tight, with little oxygen and less light, but the construction was fantastic. The area was spiderwebbed with tunnels, so that if a bomb broke through the ground and destroyed some chambers or tunnels, there were always ways to circumvent the missing parts. On three levels, at 3, 7 and 9 meters under the surface, the lowest tunnels needed air shafts to supply oxygen. They were built by drilling bamboo pipes from the surface to the ground, and disguising the opening at the top as a termite mound! The tunnels were in places riddled with booby traps, to stop any unwelcome visitors, and deep fresh water wells to get drinking water. We were shown how they popped up of the hidden entrances, some of the ingeniously cruel traps, got to taste the food they ate (mainly tapioca) and had the opportunity to fire weapons from the period, like the AK47, M30 and others. Annikken had done it before, and Gjerulf is pasifist, so we skipped directly to the tunnel walk. The tunnels were widened and heightened to fit westerners, but it was still a pretty claustrophobic squeeze, running at a crouch through the pitch black heat. We were told the widened tunnels would feel to us as the originals feel to the Vietnamese. The small size of the tunnels was a great defense against American soldiers, who’d have no chance following into the tunnel system.

Tomorrow we’re off to Mui Ne, a five hour bus ride from HCMC. It’s a famous beach resort, and we’re looking forward to finally throwing ourselves into the turquoise water, and lie on the beach under a clear blue sky. The bus leaves at eight am, so Annikken is headed to bed, while Gjerulf goes out to see if he can meet some CS’ers for a little while.