Posts Tagged ‘park’

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! šŸ˜€

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.

Ulan Baatar, the world’s ugliest capital?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

BaikalI met my Dutch friends, and we went to Listvyanka village by lake Baikal, about an hour from Irkutsk. It was definately a huge lake, and I took some cool pictures (that I still can’t upload, as the computers in this internet cafe don’t have accessible USB). My first priority was to find a dive centre, and lo and behold, even on our way into the village, we saw people in scuba outfit on the shore just next to the road! After a nice lakeside lunch, we trotted over to the dive centre.

I contacted a dive centre in Irkutsk a while back, www.baikalex.com, through the contact box they have on their page, and via email. They never answered, but I called them when I got to Irkutsk. They said they were fully booked, and that I should have contacted them via their web page… They suggested I just go out and have a looksee at Listvyanka village, so there I was. For a while, I actually thought I was going to get to dive! It then turned out that there HADindeed been a free spot in their previous dive, a couple of hours earlier, but the next free spot was in the middle of next week… (just about when I’m posting this) šŸ™

Pribaikalsk Nature ReserveInstead of diving, we went for a hike in the pribaikalsk national park, which turned out to be an, if not equal then at least decent, substitute. We went up one of the valleys from the lakeside, between quaint old wooden houses, on frozen creeks, through snow that was about ankle deep, and up steep hills. We were originally planning to head over to the next valley, and then go back to the village from there, but we instead decided to get up to the top of the hill, and thus followed the ridge when we got to the highest point of the pass. The two Dutch guys were beside themselves, which is maybe not so surprising, seeing as they both live four meters BELOW sea level… The view from the top was gorgeous, and at least lessened my disappointment at not having gotten in that dive.

When I got back to Irkutsk, I had to take a taxi to my host’s place in the suburbs, pack my stuff, and then back to town to catch the train. Anastasia saw me off, and offered to help me getting supplies and everything before I got on the train.

The train from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar was the most expensive so far, because they didn’t have third class, which is what I’ve used so far. The only carriage that was crossing the Russian/Mongolian border was second class. In third, the “compartments” aren’t really compartments, because they don’t have doors or walls. Second class was a whole different deal. The third class carriages look like they’re from the early seventies, but the carriage I was in from Irkutsk was brand spankin’ new! Each compartment had a tv and you could get either the onboard radio or the tv sound from minijack outlets above the beds. Each bed had a reading light, the windows were clean so you could see out, you could open them to get fresh air, the provodnitsa spoke English, the toilets smelled of soap instead of piss, all in all it was a whole different world! Still, the biggest change was being able to have proper conversations with the other travellers. I shared my four berth compartment with a couple from New Zealand, two compartments over was a father and daughter from Holland, who both were fluent in English, and a few of the other passengers also spoke English!

The train was a really slow one, however, and apparently I missed some of the most impressive scenery in Russia, going through tunnels and across bridges along the southern bank of Lake Baikal, since we passed it in the night.

We got to the border about 1pm the next day, and then found out that passport control wouldn’t come till 4pm. We went out and looked around a little, but it was a tiny village, so there wasn’t much to do. I spent my last few rubles buying some more credit for my Russian sim card, and used it to send some messages to my friends in Irkutsk. Then we waited. Around three thirty we got some customs forms to fill out in duplicates. At five to four a guy came into our compartment, looked at our passports, took the customs forms, stamped them, gave one back, and left again. A while later, another guy came in, got our passports, and trotted off with them. After more waiting, first one, then two more people searched our compartment. I couldn’t say what they were looking for, because they didn’t even touch our luggage… About seven hours after we first came to the border, we started moving again… Ten minutes later we were at the ACTUAL border, and twenty minutes after that, we got to the first Mongolian station. There, we had to write immigration documents and more customs documents, and of course the Mongolians had to take our passports. I don’t really know how long the whole border crossing ordeal took, but it must have been over ten hours… šŸ˜›

The next morning, we were woken up at 5:30am, about forty minutes outside of Ulan Baatar. The plan was to borrow a phone and write my host in UB an sms with my arrival details as soon as we entered Mongolia, but I fell asleep before I thought of asking anyone, so I obviously wasn’t met at the station. There were several hostels that had pick-up-service however, so I hitched a ride to a hostel, had breakfast, borrowed a phone, and sent an sms. Fifteen minutes later my host picked me up from the hostel, and we went to his place. He went to work, and I spent the day relaxing, catching up on international news on BBC World, and fell asleep in the middle of an airplane disaster show on Discovery. It was unspeakably nice to get a proper shower and a shave, which I hadn’t had since Ekaterinburg. (I had shaved, but my host in Irkutsk didn’t have a shower, only a communal washroom)

Today I’ve been walking around UB. It just might be the ugliest capital in the world… šŸ˜‰ There are, however, some pearls buried in the massive concrete soviet heritage pig sty. My host runs a restaurant a few minutes walk from the city centre, and on my way from the restaurant to the Sukhbaatar Square, I found a small, run-down buddhist monastery, that wasn’t even among the few sights listed in my Lonely Planet guide! It was quite cool, with it’s prayer wheels,Ā  huge communal Gers and locals going around offering their prayers! There is a bigger, more beautiful monastery in UB too, which I’ll visit later. I finally feel like I have time to do what I want, with two weeks here!

I also went to a large park that was marked on my map, but it turned out to be more like the ghost of a park… I don’t think it was supposed to be open to the public, because all the entrances were welded closed, except the one I reached first, and even that one was deserted. I was the only person in there, which was both nice and really eerie at the same time… There was a broken fountain with no water, a big, empty, dusty bowl where a pond was marked on my map, lined with broken statues of exotic aquatic animals. Further over were the skeleton of an old rollercoaster and a rusty ferris wheel that looked ready to collapse. The walk paths had almost no paving left on them, and dry, brown undergrowth was sticking up through the snow everywhere. I was really far from the place I’d gotten in, and all the other entrances were welded shut, so I ended up squeezing through a hole in the fence, in order to get out of the park on the right side…

My cs host has friends that are nomads, and live in a yurt out in the countryside. He’s arranged for me to go there tomorrow! I will be staying and working with the family there until Friday. Then I head back to UB, because I’ve been invited to a concert with Mongolia’s first (and only) death metal band! Can you say clash of cultures, anyone?