Posts Tagged ‘visa’

Bye bye Bali

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Since I finished my diving specialties, I haven’t really been doing much… My days have been spent on the beach, walking around Sanur, surfing the net and watching movies and tv series.

I’ve had excellent company in my days of laziness, though. I managed to get in touch with Leonid, a couchsurfer I met in Irkutsk in Siberia, november 2008! He was hitchhiking back then, and his goal was Bali. A year ago, five months after I last saw him, he reached Bali, and he’s since set himself up with a job in a real estate office right here in Sanur! This week he had two couchsurfers staying at his place, Gosia from Poland and Houda from Morocco, and I spent a lot of time with them. Gosia is a backpacker who came here from New Zealand and Australia, heading up north, basically going back to Europe overland, the same way I came here a year ago. Houda lives in Malaysia, and was here on a visa run, to get another 90 days’ stay.

Yesterday my copy of winXP refused to start up, saying it needed activation. I couldn’t activate it, because it was an oem version from another machine, so I headed off to Denpasar to find a place where I could get hold of an external DVD-player to run the recovery DVD off of. I was told there was an electronics mall called Rimo, where I could get a good deal. The deal I got when I found the place was indeed good. I had a good time talking to a young Indonesian guy, while I borrowed the store’s external DVD-player, and it was completely free! The only drawback is that it just ghosted the standard installation, and that one is full of Microsoft’s crappy little programs that take up storage space and processing power for no intelligent reason…

I have now checked out of Little Pond, where I’ve been staying since got here. My luggage is stored in Blue Season, and in about an hour I head up north to Tulamben with Jon, my course director, for the Night Diving Specialy Instructor course dive that was postponed. We’re staying in Tulamben tonight, and head back here tomorrow. My last night in Bali, I couchsurf with Leo, and late Tuesday night I have a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Four thousand islands in the Mekong river

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

On Thursday I got up early-ish, and headed out to the Thai embassy to get a visa. They are giving away 60 day visas until June 4, so I figured I’d take advantage of that. In the visa office I met a Norwegian-Swedish girl called Helena who stayed at the same guest house as me, and that I’d spoken to a bit the night before. It was a looong wait to get to the counter where I handed in my application and my passport, and then an almost equally long wait to the next counter where I got a receipt for it. We talked most of the time, and decided to do some sightseeing once we got out of there. We first went to see the golden stupa, Pha That Luang, which is a symbol of Laos both nationally and religiously, but it wasn’t all that impressive, to be honest. The best part of it was that we met a couple of monks that were sitting around studying English and Japanese, and they wanted to talk to us to practice their English. Helena had recently studied Japanese for a few months, so they accidentally got to practice their Japanese as well, while all I said was wakarimasen, I don’t understand… πŸ˜›
On the way back we went through the Patuxai, which is a symbol of peace, but looks like the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped by Wat Si Saket as well, which was the only temple to survive the Siamese sacking of Vientiane in 1828, but it was closed, so we didn’t get in. We had dinner at an outdoor restaurant by the Mekong, where I ordered Mekong fish, and got a giant barbequed fish
on my plate, with some stickyrice on the side. πŸ™‚

The next morning we met at breakfast in the guest house, and both had to go pick up our passports with the Thai visas, so we stuck together again. We stopped for lunch on the way, and almost got to the embassy to late. It was open till 3pm, and we got there at 2:59, but with the result that we were in and back out in less than a minute! That night we went out with two Brits and an Australian, to the same place at the Mekong riverfront. Me and Helena were planning to pick up dinner at the night market, but since the others were eating there, I couldn’t resist getting what they called a “hatched egg”, which basically means a boiled egg with a foetus inside… It looked thoroughly disgusting, but it tasted like a hard boiled egg. For dinner at the night market I picked up some beef jerkey, fried rice, a really nice sausage, something that turned out to be herbs and liver in an intestine, and a bag of deep fried beetles that looked like giant stink bugs… πŸ˜› The food was good, but the beetle-snack was just salty and dry as dust, so I passed the bag around, and a Swedish guy ended up finishing it!

That night I got to talking to an Australian girl, Hannah, in my dormitory, who’d lost her passport and had been in Vientiane waiting for a new one for nine days. I told her I wanted to go out to Phu Khao Khuai National Park to go Elephant spotting, and she asked if she could come, so Saturday morning the two of us took a local bus out to the park, and a Tuk-Tuk to the nearest village, Ban Na. We found the office, had lunch, and headed out into the park. After a few kilometers we reached the Elephant Observation Tower, where we were going to spend the night with our two guides. They were two “for our protection”, but armed with flip-flops and umbrellas I’m not entirely sure they could do much than try to distract any giant pachyderm trying to attack us… We had a dip in the water hole where the elephants come to drink, and then settled in for a night of Elephant spotting. The tower is built right on a salt lick where they come to add some much needed minerals to their diet, by licking the salty rocks. It was a gorgeous night in the jungle, but the closest we got to wild elephants was a prodigious snort deep in the woods.

Sunday morning we headed out for a trek, and saw where the elephants had gone through last night. We went to a beautiful waterfall where we were playing around in the water for a while, and when we got back up, our things were literally COVERED in butterflies! I had to shake them off my camera bag to get out my camera, and it was hard to get good pictures, since they kept landing on the camera while I was trying to photograph them. When we were packing up to leave again, I had to wave the butterflies out of my backpack, camerabag and shoes… We stopped for lunch by another stream, and had another dip there to cool off in the killingly hot and damp jungle. A cool thing about that stream was that some of the water went under a ledge, and came bubbling out of a hole further down the stream, so it was like a natural jacuzzi!
We were back at Ban Na village a little before 3pm, and walked out to the river to catch a bus south to a place in the Mekong river called the four thousand islands. At a quarter to four a bus came past that was going to Pakse, and we got on it. Twelve hours later, we arrived in Pakse, where we had to wait for three hours before we could get a bus to Si Phan Don, the Four Thousand Islands. From the bus we got a ride on motorbikes down to the river, and then on a longboat across to the island of Don Det. We arrived at 11am, on Monday morning, a good 19 hours after we left… Needless to say, Monday was not a very active day on our part, we spent most of it in the hammocks on the terrace in our guest house, which is built on stilts over the edge of the Mekong. Here I met some Dutch girls that I spoke to in Vang Vieng, and that I might meet up with in Koh Panang on Sunday. This morning we’re planning to rent bicycles and go around the island of Don Det, and cross the bridge to Don Khon. Hannah has to go back to Vientiane tomorrow morning to pick up her new passport, while I’m staying another day before I head back to Thailand, and down south to the islands. The idea is to get to Koh Panang in time for the full moon party, the biggest beach party in the world. A lot of the travellers in South East Asia try to catch one of those while they’re here, and I expect to meet quite a few of the people I’ve met around the place in the past couple of months. πŸ™‚

Tubing in Vang Vieng

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

On Wednesday night my train left Bangkok a little past eight. I was travelling with Daniel and Joachim, whom I€ met in Pattaya, and in a bunk near us was a Dutch girl who was going to do an internship in the tourist industry in some National Park in Thailand. The girl was nice, and had a deck of cards, so we sat in the cafe carriage playing until they kicked us out. We returned to our own carriage, and probably kept people awake with our talking long into the night.

When we got up the next morning our train soon pulled into the city closest to the Laotian border, where we bought tickets for the final 15 minutes into Laos. We went through the Thai border control before boarding the train, and got our visas with surprising efficiency when we reached the other side. We shared a minibus with some other backpackers the 20 minutes ride into Vientiane, where Daniel, Joachim and I eventually found the bus station where the cheap local buses for Vang Vieng leave from. Apart from a couple of girls from Denmark, we were the only westerners on the bus. It was an old and rickety bus without aircon and with broken fans, but the windows were open, so I wasn’t too hot. One funny incident on the way, was when we passed an overturned pick up truck in the road. The truck lay on it’s side, and it’s load of fruit had been gathered up on the side of the road. The bus pulled over next to the truck and everybody got out. We promptly tipped the truck right side up, got back in our bus again, and continued on our way.

When we reached Vang Vieng I asked the Danes whether they had a guest house booked, because that’s often how I get to the cheap places to sleep, by leeching off of other people’s research, not to mention it’s a great conversation starter when you meet beautiful young women… πŸ˜› They didn’t have a reservation, but we set out together to see if we couldn’t find a decent place anyway. The first one we stopped in had a nice laid-back lounge up front, with lots of DVDs, hot water, free wi-fi, a roof terrace, free drinking water, and basically seemed nicer than most places. Since we arrived at the same time, we were asked if we wanted a room for five people, and after a little deliberation and some overdue introductions, that became the arrangement, so that night we were five Scandinavians heading out to an Indian dinner together.

Vang Vieng is located in beautiful karst scenery, like Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, and this has been developed by the locals, to offer kayaking, climbing, caving and tubing. Seeing as the young crowd these things attract don’t necessarily have a lot of money, the place is set up to cater to backpackers, and the prices follow suit. The small town is packed with backpackers’ guest houses, restaurants-cum-TVroom that show Family Guy, American Dad or Friends non stop, not to mention bars galore. Thus, after dinner, Daniel, Joachim, Simone, Cecilie and I headed across a plank bridge to an island in the middle of the Nam Song river, and a place called Sunset Bar. The place is outdoors, but has platforms with roofs over for those rainy days, and hammocks and pillows strewn all along the platforms. We all really liked the place, and stayed there till it was time to head home to sleep.

Friday morning we all got ready to go tubing, which is the main attraction in Vang Vieng. That meant that we put on our swim suits, rented inner tubes from trucks’ wheels and got driven by Tuk-Tuk three kilometers out of town to a place in the river where we got dumped with our tubes to float our way back down on the river. All along the banks were bars with swings, zip lines, water slides, mud pits and the like, and we had a lot of fun. On the way, when we stopped along the banks, somebody took two of our tubes, though, but we decided to return the next day, and just swim down the river instead. πŸ™‚ The mud pits were at the last place we stopped at, and we didn’t get all the mud off, so our bathroom was literally COVERED in mud by the time we’d showered. After some pizza we headed back to Sunset and the hammocks, but were so exhausted from tubing that we soon went back and to bed.

Saturday morning started with breakfast at one of the places where you lie down on pillows by a low table, and watch Friends. After breakfast we checked out of the Babylon, since the power was gone, the water was gone, internet wasn’t working, and the owner was a psycho who hauled Joachim out after his hair when he asked when the power might beΒ  back… We checked into a much better AND cheaper room in the guest house next door, called Nazim. Like we had planned, we went back to the river without the tubes, and had a great time again, and again rounded off the night at Sunset after dinner.

On Sunday we decided to go explore a cave, after our long Friends-breakfast. We rented three scooters between the five of us, bought a map, and headed out of town. Some 15 kilometers out we turned off from the main road, and followed a gravel road a few hundred meters towards, and across the river. From there it was more of a path than a dirt road… πŸ™‚ We finally reached the cave, where they rent out tubes and torches, and we started swimming into the cave. A tributary to Nam Song River runs out of the cave, and although you can wade in during the dry season, it’s been raining enough lately that we had to swim. The cave is apparently 500 meters long, but we didn’t follow it all the way to the end. It was a really weird experience to be floating around in a tube, deep inside a mountain! On our way back it got dark, and it was time for dinner. After dinner we decided to honour the Scandinavian tradition of a Vorspiel, before-party, in our hotel room, so we bought some beer, and sat around playing games and listening to Kim Larsen… πŸ˜€ Once again, we rounded off the night with our friends in Sunset, since that was THE place to meet people.

Monday morning saw us at the Friendsfast again, and I went tubing with the girls, while Joachim went for a looong ride on a rented scooter, and Daniel was stuck in bed with problems of a digestive nature. At the end of theΒ  day’s playing in the river and dancing at the bars, we didn’t even TRY to rinse off the mud from the mud pit, and instead headed into town covered from head to toe, assaulting other, cleaner specimen of tubers… πŸ˜› I thought the bathroom was dirty the first night after tubing, but after we’d helped each other get rid of all the mud on this day,Β  we had to shovel the mud from the floor! Even though it was still early, the others fell asleep as soon as they’d dried off from the shower, and in one case before, so I just headed out on my own for a baguette for dinner and went to bed myself.

Yesterday the boys headed back to Bangkok to get some clothes made and stuff before going back to Norway, and the three of us that were left moved into a smaller room in the same hotel. A slow day was spent watching Friends, buying bus tickets out of there, getting a massage, playing pool, and as usual rounding off in the hammocks. This morning the bus left at 10am, and we arrived in Vientiane around 2pm. I said goodbye to Simone and Cecilie at the bus station, where they were getting on a bus to Hanoi in Vietnam. I myself took a Tuk-Tuk downtown, and I’m finishing this post in my room here. There’s unfortunately no wifi here, but I’m hoping to get this posted somehow before I go to bed.

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…

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™‚

Ca Na – True VietNam

Friday, March 27th, 2009

We were supposed to go dune-sledding the day before yesterday, however due to Annikken’s severe sunburn we decided to postpone our dune-sledding adventure one more day. Annikken just relaxed the whole day mostly inside, while Gjerulf spent a few hours on the beach enjoying the sun and waves as well shopping for beachwear and finding an ATM that worked to withdraw some money.

Yesterday however we woke up bright and early at 6.30 to avoid the worst of the heat when dune sledding. We met up with Mr Binh and Mr. Khanh at 7.30, and rode motorcycles out to the dunes. It was about a half hour ride, and the scenery was stunning, with the turquoise sea, the bright blue skies, and the sand on the side of the road changing colour between bright red and stark white and back again. On the way out, we stopped for some photos at the idyllic fishing village of Mui Ne, away from resorts and hotels. Once we reached the dunes we dismounted for some pictures by a small lake filled with lotus flowers, before getting some thick plastic sheets for sliding on, and heading on foot into the sand dunes. For a while we got the feeling portrayed by humourous cartoons, of people walking in endless desert, as the dunes rose till they met the blue sky!

Having trudged to the top of the biggest dune, we sat down on our sheets, and started off the steep side. To our great disappointment it was EXTREMELY slow, just barely moving down the side of the mound of sand. We didn’t despair, however, being raised with sledding on snow, we decided to try on our stomachs, head first down! With the increased surface touching the sand we stopped shoving half the dune in front of us going down, and instead flew down the incline! We had great fun, but the scorching sun was trying to kill us even though it was still before 9 am! We reluctantly slouched back to the edge of the sand, where we downed a soda and two bottles of water each, trying to restore our cool. Annikken, being unsuccessful, started feeling dizzy and faint, and we decided to cut the trip short, and head home to the hotel. A couple of hours later our bus for Ca Na arrived, and we were pleased to find another airconditioned sleeper bus.

The bus stopped at Ca Na, but we were the only ones to get off, as it’s a bit off the beaten path for western tourists. There are three resorts just outside the small fishing village of Ca Na, but one of them has been closed down. We were looking forward to some less commercialized beaches, peaceful surroundings and motorcycle rides around the area to explore small coves and tiny beaches. It started off great, although the staff at our hotel don’t speak more than three words of English between them. The maid showing us our bungalow on the waterfront said we needed to use Visa. We refused to pay by Visa, and said we’d only pay cash. When she didn’t back down, we decided to go to the other resort and try our luck. Finally, as we were about to walk out on her, we realized she was talking about passports, which they need to see, in order to register us with immigration! πŸ™‚

We got an airconditioned room with TV and ensuite bathroom, the surf lapping the shore just a few meters from our balcony, all for the neat sum of 80000 dong per person, or just under 30 kroner. We immediately decided to go check out the beaches, and ride around to look for a good place to have dinner. We’re still not sure whether there were any places to rent motorcycles at all, but our hotel didn’t have any, and neither could they point us in the direction of anywhere that did. We were walking around for a while, looking, but no luck. The resort area was definately not aimed at westerners. We were so rare a treat that literally EVERYONE that passed us honked or shouted at us, smiling and waving! Seeing as distances were rather considerable though, we were unable to get around to where we wanted to go on foot, and decided to just head on to Nha Trang in the morning. We managed to find a guy who spoke English, who called a bus company and managed to get us a minibus at 7.30Β  am. We had a dinner that was surprisingly pricy for a non-western area, and headed to bed. The place was gorgeous in the night, with a million stars visible, and lights from hundreds of fishing boats glittering out to sea.

Sunrise this morning was fabulous, the illuminating the sea and our back porch beautifully! We headed out to take the bus to Nha Trang, and the trip was quite memorable as well… We were at least 23 people that we managed to count, plus some personal delivery mail and luggage, piled into a 14 seat van with no aircon. On the road we were suddenly waved over, and a column of official looking vehicles came racing past in the opposite direction. There were people in some sort of uniform along the road, and suddenly two bicycle riders came zooming past us. A few more cars, some television broadcast vans, and a bunch of motorcycles with TV-cameras followed, and then the main field of the bicycle race! We felt like we’d been dumped straight into some sort of Tour de VietNam or something!

We are now sitting in a divers bar in Nha Trang, looking forward to our first two dives on a trip out to the island of Hon Mun tomorrow morning. We found a decent looking Padi certified diving outfit with Vietnamese instructors that speak very good English, and decided to go for them. The divers bar we’re at has it’s own dive team, but they’re all Russian. Apparently there are lots and lots of Russians coming to Vietnam, which confirms our suspicions, having seen loads of menus written in Vietnamese, English and Russian.

Trekking in Panchase

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

So. For the first time on my journey, I have backtracked, and am now back at the hotel rooftop in Kathmandu. My plan was, as you probably know, to be in Royal Chitwan National Park just about now, and head for the border on the 23rd, when my visa runs out. I am back in Kathmandu now, though, because I have a job interview here tomorrow. Kathmandu International Christian Congregation has offered me a two month job as a youth worker. The pastor is out of town for a couple of months, so if I accept, I’ll be living in his appartment. They will also pay for my visa, and give me 20 000 Nepali Rupees (1767 NOK) per month towards insurance and food. My travel insurance costs around 900 NOK per month, and if I eat cheaply the remaining 800 should almost cover food, so I’ll come out losing very little travel time.

Yesterday and the day before, I went trekking in the mountains. I took a bus up to the trailhead, about 1500 meters above sea level, and we then hiked about 11 kilometers up to ca 2300, and back down to 2200, where we stayed the night in a tiny village named Bhanjyang (or something similar.) Up there we got a beautiful sunset, lighting up the mountains in the Himalayan Annapurna range, after a rather hazy day. Yesterday I got up before sunrise, and got some more fantastic views of the majestic giants, coloured bright red by the rising sun. As the sun warmed up the valley, the fog from Fewa Lake down by Pokhara, together with mist from the trees and thatch roofs on the hills, rose up past the mountains, and we got a much clearer descent. Much of the path going there was “paved” in big slabs of stone, making for smooth walking on the few flat stretches, and some mean stairs on the steep hillsides. Much of the paving is paid for by communal guest houses where tourists leave their money, but it is not mainly put there for the tourists’ sake, but for the locals. In the monsoon season, the torrential rains wash away the path where there are no big rocks holding it together, and it becomes almost impassable. This is a big problem for the locals, who have to walk at least half an hour from their homes to find firewood every day, and then haul their heavy loads back. There are plenty of trees, but to avoid deforestation, it is not legal to use healty trees for firewood. I asked why they don’t do like the Tibetans, and gather up dung for the fires, since there are holy cows walking around and dropping it everywhere, but the thought was clearly too disgusting to contemplate… πŸ˜‰

The trek was a welcome break from the noisy cities I’ve been to, with clean, warm air and the sounds and smells of hight altitude tropical forests surrounding us. My guide Harry, (“Jerry and Harry will have chicken curry, don’t worry” was his first words when we introduced each other) had however brought his Nokia N95 with over 500 western and hindi songs, and a battery powered loudspeaker, so it wasn’t quiet ALL the time… When coming back down, the rocks were wet from the night’s light drizzle, and the steps were treacherously slippery. On the most precarious parts, where the path just hung on for dear life to the green mountainside going straight up on our right and straight down directly to our left, I admit to making doubly and triply sure I had good footing before shifting my weight to that foot… I would’ve loved to take a longer trek, but my legs are glad they’re not moving much today. The ascent was hard on my thighs, but the descent was ten times as rough on my poor knees and calves. I was very happy to find that there was a clear mountain stream at the bottom, where I could cool down my aching feet and legs!

Today I allowed myself the luxury of taking the tourist bus back to Kathmandu, instead of the local bus. The main differences were that the seats were just far enough apart that I could fit my legs between them, there was no stereo blaring Bollywood love songs at 110% volume, we didn’t transport any goats, chickens or other livestock and the trip took about 8 hours instead of 9, as we didn’t stop at every one-horse-town on the way to drop off or try and squeeze in a few more passengers. The price difference, you ask? Up from 300 to 400 Rupees (from 26,50 to 35,40 NOK)

Rooftop of the world

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

From the trainIn China it seems that most things are described as “The [X] of [Y]”,Β  so you don’t really have to be a genius to understand how Tibet came to be called “The rooftop of the world.” We’re 3700 meters above sea level, and the train that got me here went along the highest altitude railroad in the world, at 5072 meters at the highest point. It didn’t really seem that high, though, as we were rolling along on a vast plateau, with much higher mountains on both sides.

I spent New Year’s Eve on the train, and it was rather uneventful. It was just another Wednesday night in China, seeing as new year here isn’t until January 26. The lights in my carriage went out at 9:30, and the restaurant car closed at 10… Anyway, I wish all of you a wonderful 2009!

When I arrived in Lhasa, I was picked up by my tour operator Lee Jack and my driver(!), and presented with a traditional white scarf for good luck. When we arrived at the hostel, I was warned that in order to avoid altitude sickness, I shouldn’t shower in the first 24 hours, nor smoke, drink alcohol, eat meat, fat or spicy food, get winded for any reason, and in general just relax as much as possible. High altitude sickness, or Acute Mountain Sickness as they call it, presents with headaches, fatigue, sleeplessness, nausea, or if you will: The Worst Hangover Ever. If symptoms are ignored it may be fatal, so I decided to be safe rather than sorry…

The first night here, I just wandered (slowly) into the quaint Tibetan back alleys, found a food market, and the muslim quarter. I ate a vegetarian supper in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where the cook/serving woman looked terror stricken at the prospect of having to communicate with a Foreigner… πŸ™‚ The food was amazing, though, when I finally managed to communicate that I couldn’t eat meat, fat and spice, as it was my first night on the plateau. The dormitory where I stay in the hostel has 12 beds (6 bunk beds) but is only occupied by me, a Chinese guy, and four Chinese girls. It set me back the staggering sum of 15 NOK per night…

I had the best night’s sleep in over a week (the Chinese medicine did the trick for my stomach!) and the next morning I went out to a place called Jokhang, where I had breakfast in a traditional Tibetan restaurant. I had yak dumplings, fried barley flour (Tsampa) and salty tea with yak butter… The place was pretty full, so I shared a table with a family of Tibetan pilgrims who, as a matter of course, shared what they ordered with me, and I shared my food with them!

I got into the Jokhang Temple in the busiest period of the day, when lots and lots of pilgrims were paying their dues to the buddhas in the temple, so I was basically standing in a long line, going through all the little chapels in the temple.

Jokhang TempleActually, the way I found the temple in the first place, was when I came out from a small side street, onto a wider pedestrian where everybody were moving the same direction… Most were dressed in traditional style, with amazing hairdoes, involving braided hair, sometimes intertwined with colourful threads. That went for both men and women, although some of the men were wearing ornate swords at their sides! Quite a few were prostrating themselves, laying all the way down on their stomach, forehead to the ground, every three steps! When I reached the front of the temple, there was a roped-off area, where dozens of people were laying down, getting up and laying back down over and over again!

Smearing buddha in butterWhen I’d done the whole circuit of the temple with the crowd of pilgrims, I went up to the roof, which was pretty awesome! The temple was built 1300 years ago, and although it has been partly destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past millennium, it still had that ancient feel of strong spirituality. From the roof it was clearly visible that the whole thing was built much like a maze, I assume in order to let light down into the lower interior rooms of the structure. I wandered aimlessly around on the roof, and stumbled upon a guy making (or maybe repairing) buddha statues, and in another place a couple of carpenters apparently preparing beams and posts that would replace crumbling ones around the massive structure. I also wound up on a stretch of roof that had a distinct off-limits feel to it, seeing as I was the only one there, and there were the occasional monk washing his cape, making tea and generally going about their business.

Potala PalaceIn the evening, 24 hours after my own arrival, the couple I’ll be travelling with in Tibet in order to share the cost of the obligatory car, driver and guide, arrived. Gabrielle and Christoffer are in their mid forties, and have been (in their own words) semi-nomadic for the past 16 years. In spring and fall they work as teachers back home in the US, to make money for further travelling! Today we went toghether to Potala palace, which is the most famous structure in Tibet. It is pretty easy to locate, it is the one that “touches the sky!” The massive red and white building is (according to a plaque at the entrance) 115,703 πŸ˜‰ meters high, and was the seat of the 6th to the 13th Dalai Lama, from the 17th century till 1959, when the current (14th) Dalai Lama had to flee from the Chinese liberators/invaders. Most people here put on a wide grin when they find out I’m Norwegian, and say something alongΒ  the lines of “Oslo! Dalai Lama! Nobel Peace Price!”

Military presenceIt is pretty obvious that Tibet is occupied territory. At every street corner there are four Chinese military guards, two with riot shields, and two with what I suspect are tear gas launchers. They also patrol all large open spaces in fours, sit on rooftops with their launchers, march around in large groups, or hang around the temples in their “civilian” dark blue no-brand track suits. Today I was stopped by one of the latter, had to show him all the pictures on my camera, and delete any pic that had any sign of military presence in it! Because the button that scrolls through pictures on my camera sometimes takes two or event three pictures at a time I managed to keep one; a picture of guards on a rooftop next to the Jokhang Temple… If the government finds this, they’ll probably ban gjerulf.com from all net users in China, and possibly deport me if they find out where I am…

The Chinese name themselves the liberators of the Tibetan people, which to some extent is true, as Tibet was a feudal serfdom before the Chinese arrived, and most people lived basically as slaves, in extremely poor conditions. Whether exchanging one oppressive regime with another one can be considered liberation is a different story. The undebatable truth is that Tibet is a much richer and more developed country today than it was before the Chinese arrived. Another truth is that the Chinese culture is on the verge of overwhelming the local Tibetan culture, which would be a great loss. In the future people might have to go to museums to see the pilgrims, full of grime and with bloody foreheads from hundreds of kilometers of prostrating every three steps, see the colourful clothes and headdresses, the men with the swords and all the things that make Lhasa unforgettable…

I don’t know how internet access will be the coming week, travelling through the inner parts of Tibet, so my next entry might be posted from Kathmandu, Nepal. I’m considering going to the Nepalese embassy tomorrow to get my visa, since it’s supposed to be cheaper here than on the border. I am looking forward to visiting Mount Everest Base Camp, which looks to be accessible even though it’s bloody freezing up there. Can’t get as bad as Mongolia, though. Or can it? Will those be my famous last words? πŸ˜›

Relaxing in Vanse

Monday, October 20th, 2008

StipeIt’s been almost a week since I left Stavanger with the first load. I’ve spent the time relaxing after the move, playing with my parents’ dog, Stipe (named after the Croatian president Stjepan “Stipe” MesiΔ‡ ) and sorting out what I’ll be taking in my backpack…

My eee pc 901 has arrived, and it took me a whole day (and most of the night) to manage to nLite and install xp on it from my usb pen drive, but I finally managed. I am quite satisfied with the end result, both in size and performance, especially compared to the wobbly giant that came pre-installed. It’s taking some getting used to, typing on a keyboard that small, but I think I’ll get there. I’ve never liked touchpads though, so I might pick up a small portable mouse for it. I’ve already tried using Skype from it, with my little sister in England, and I was impressed! The battery life is also decent, so I think I’ll be satisfied with the purchase.

I’ve also bought travel insurance, from the company named Gouda, mentioned in my post of October 3. BOY is travel insurance expensive! It costs a bit over NOK 30,- per day! I guess all it takes is a single mishap before I’ve made up for it, though…

In the days to come, I need to finish my preparations, and then I’m going to Arendal for a few days, to visit my grandparents. The last days before I leave for St.Petersburg will most likely be spent in Oslo, but I’m not entirely sure when that’ll be. I’ll know more when Privjet has had my passport processed for visas in a couple more embassies. Those things take their sweet time, but time is a commodity I have, now. πŸ™‚ That’s a wonderful feeling!

I watched a horror show on TV this evening. It was about what might happen in a worst case scenario if the temperature on the planet rises by 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 degrees. The changes at 2 degrees were drastic, and at 6 degrees they were cataclysmic… If any of them are even close to correct, this is one of the last chances anyone will have to experience some of the things I’m hoping to do on my trip. In as little as ten years, much of it might have changed irreversably. This is partly the reason why I’m choosing to do so little of my travelling by plane. I want to see the world without contributing more than necessary to it’s destruction…

It’s starting to dawn on me that this is for real…

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

On Tuesday I had my last day of work, so I am now officially unemployed.

Today I got vaccinated with four inoculations against yellow fever, Hep A + Hep B, Meningococcus A-C-W-Y, and Typhoid fever, and an ingested vaccine against cholera and ETEC, and I bougt prophylaxis for malaria. Vaccination makes an effective diet for your travel account. This ordeal set me back NOK 2790,- (EUR 337,-)

Speaking of dieting travel accounts, I also went to my insurance company today, to extend my travel insurance from the normal three months to a year. I almost fell off my chair when the lady, rather apologetically I thought, told me that this would cost me the rather large sum of NOK 20870,-!!! (EUR 2520,-)
I laughed, picked up my things, told her that it was ridiculous and left. I assumed beforehand that 12 months of travel insurance would amount to about four times 3 months of travel insurance. Silly me…
Well, when I got home, just now, I quickly googled backpacker insurance, and the very first hit there was a company called Gouda (!) that sells travel insurance through x-plore.no. Their price for a world-wide 12 months continuous travel insurance ended up at NOK 11515,- (EUR 1390,-).Β  This is still expensive of course, but at almost half the price of Gjensidige it is the cheapest I’ve been able to find so far. I’ll have to compare their terms, but I suspect I’ll end up with the Gouda insurance, if I don’t get any offers that can beat their price.

For visas to Russia, Mongolia, China and Nepal, I have been in contact with the people at privjet.com. I sent them an email on Aug 18 to see whether they could help me. On Aug 20 they answered positively, so I figured I was all set. On Sept 8 I replied that I was interested in their services for visas to the aforementioned four countries. By Sept 19 I had still not heard from them, so I called and asked how things were going. The guy (Helge) was very sorry that he hadn’t had time to process my request, but promised to get right on it, and suggested I sent a new email so I’d get on the top of his inbox. I then forwarded the message I’d sent 11 days earlier, and waited for a reply. A week later (Sept 26) I had not had any response, so I called again. Helge was in Moscow at a conference, but I was told to resend the email, and he’d get back to me on Monday. (this was a Friday) So I re-re-sent the email, and got an immediate reply from Helge:

Am in Moscow right now, will be back in the office on Monday. Have just gone through the Transsiberian/Transmongolian with our partner, so I can give you some good feedback on Monday. Sorry this took so long. Helge.

That was on Friday a week ago. I called them on Wednesday, since I hadn’t gotten any feedback yet. Helge apologized again, and said I’d get a quote before the day was over. I called him again this morning, Oct 3, and he seemed confused as to why I hadn’t gotten the quote on Wednesday afternoon, and promised to look into it immediately. This is actually on the verge of me having to postpone departure because of these guys, so if I don’t have a quote from them by the end of the weekend, when the travel agencies open, I’ll have to find someone else…

Right now, I’m off to take my PADI Rescue Diver theoretical course and exam, the practical excercises are tomorrow.