A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Sr.curtissan

Denied at the Thai Border

Warning: this story contains the graphic details of a trip gone bad.

76 °F

After 3 hours on the "VIP" bus we were rudely awoken by a member of the staff how shouted at us in an angry robot voice "Get off bus, get bag, walk 500 meter, we wait for you on udda side. We wait 2 hour. No more!" He repeated this statement with his laser eyes fixed straight ahead, burning a hole through the back of the bus. My eyes trained on him as he exited and made his way to the luggage rack beneath the bus. He hastily threw open the luggage door and walked out of site.

Ana and I gave a puzzled look at one another which lasted several moments as we read eachother's mind, "Now what?".

We decided to act natural like this was exactly what we had planned, so we grabbed our backpacks and followed the herd to the first line. The palm scanner on the agent's counter lead us to assume this was the line to officially exit Cambodia. After 40 minutes of standing in the shadeless que this assumption was confirmed and reinforced with new information that before exiting Cambodia we needed obtain a Visa on Arrival from Thailand, which we could do just a few hundred meters down the block; however, we would have to join the "exit" que once again.

Determined to make it to the white sandy beaches of Thailand we pressed on down the block, trying to ignore the tick tock of the clock in the back of our minds and the thought of being stranded at the border.

When we arrived at the top of the steps we were greeted by a sea of tourists in a line snaking back and forth a dozen times, but to our good fortune the Visa on Arrival line was 6 people deep. Yes! A little luck was just what we needed. Ana handed the official her passport and waited for what should have been a quick stamp, instead he reached for his walkie talkie and made a call. The response from the official on the other end of the line was abrupt ....perhaps a relative of the angry robot the... "Cota Rica, no entry. You go to Phnom Phen fo Visa.". We were redirected out of the customs building and ushered in the direction in the bus station.

The capital of Cambodia was a seven hour bus ride in the other direction. We through our now useless "VIP" bus tickets for Bangkok in the garbage and replaced them with fresh "VIP" bus tickets for Phnom Phen. After a little damage control, a small jar of pringles and bowl of noodles we had just enough new life to keep a positive attitude for the long journey back to the capitol. With our backpacks stocked with snacks and our legs fully stretched we waited to catch our 4:00pm "VIP" bus.

Shortly after 4:20 a young man said in our direction "Phnom Phen?", Ana and I nodded in return and he said " Sorry, coming a little late. Twenty mo minutes ok?". The buses around these parts hadn't been punctual, so an extra 20-40 minutes didn't break our bearts righty away; however, after being transfered to another bus station 20 minutes away and put on a bus that looked like it was meant for the local route my spirits began to wane.

At 6:30pm the Very Inconvenient Process bus left for Phnom Phen, and at 6:45 the Khmer (Cambodian) Kareoke started on the tv screen. By 7:00 the bus had locked into it's cruising speed of about 35-40 miles per hour. The dirt roads littered with dips and swales further enforced the wisdom of never choosing a seat in the back of a big bus. Not only will the ride simulate an amusement part attraction but you're also too far from the tv screen to sing along.

After three bathroom stops in the middle of the night and 9 hours on the bus the kareoke and the lights finally turned off, we had arrived in Phnom Phen. The bus dropped us on a dark corner in the city at 3:30 am in the morning. The excitement of making if all the way back to the capitol that day had diminish with the onset of a pounding headache further reinforced by a violent bout of diarrea first thing in the morning. I was completly K.O.'d the following morning, all afternoon and into the evening, my body stuck in limbo between the shakes and lucid sleep. Ana's persistancy finally got me out of bed around 6:00pm and we searched for a doctor.

To my good fortune there was a doctor half a block down the street operating out of local pharmacy. Thirty seconds after we entered his shop he turned from the Cambodian kickboxing match on TV and asked our business. With my elbows on his desk and my head in my hands I let Ana do the talking. It was very hard to focus on the conversation unfolding infront of me. Meanwhile the thermometer revealed I had a temperature of 102 degrees. All I heard was " food poisoning...bacteria...get him on the table and pull down his pants." Moments later I was laying on a wooden bed (no matress or sheets) with my shorts half off, watching a man wearing shorts and a polo shirt with two syringes get comfortable next to me.

I have no idea what he injected into my buttox, but Ana assured me the boxes from which he drew the syringes looked official. A one hour doctor visit with two administered shots in the butt cost me a total of $7, plus the 5 days of medication I purchased was another $6. Needless to say I kept a very low profile for a day or two days as while Ana worked out the details of her Visa at the Thai Embassy. Determined to make it to the white sandy beaches of Thailand I licked my wounds and packed my bags for one more push.

There were some dark moments in the last few days, but with a good partner and a lot of help from the man stairs i'm happy to report I'm operating at about %80-90 capacity and we have finally arrived at Koh Phanang, an island in the Golf Of Thailand. I'm pretty sure we'll be spending the last of our trip in the sun before heading back to the arctic vortex in MN.

Thanks for taking a minute to check out our trip!

Be well and safe travels,

Keith

Posted by Sr.curtissan 16:56 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The good, the bad, the sucker punch.

Greetings!

FYI the former name of Ho Chi Mihn City was Saigon, but it is referred to as both monikers.

We stopped in Ho Chi Mihn City for a few days before heading to Phnom Pen, Cambodia. We found a nice litte guest house located in district 1 in HCMC called Ly Loan. For $6 per person, we stayed right in the middle of the city. It wasn't necessarily a luxery hotel, but we did have a private room, bathroom, hot water, cable, a strong wi-fi signal and very sweet hosts. Both Ana and I are suffering from sore backs after sleeping on what felt like plywood with paper towels on top, but aside from that it was a safe place with much too experience just outside the door. Narrow allys, scooters whizzing by, whiffs of a dirty sewer floating through the air, the smoke from incense stinging your eyes and the smell of fried rice exploding from the ubiquitous small restaurant at every turn.

The traffic in HCMC is only a fraction less dangerous terrible than the traffic in Hanoi, which makes it the second most dangerous place on the face of the earth to cross the street. Stop lights are few and far between and cross walks are even fewer.

Traffic in Hanoi:
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Traffic in HCMC:
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Take a page out of this guy's book. We saw him two days in a row walking along the sidewalk near our guest house. They say the secret is to just start walking across the street and no matter what happends DO NOT STOP AND DO NOT SLOW DOWN. If you look closely you'll see he is taking his first step into traffic...or into a motorcycle/scooter....and then a bus. The only reason i'm giving HCMC a leg up with respect to traffic is because near the Ben Than Market (one of the most visited sites in town) Ana and I along with a few other tourists were escorted across the street by a traffic official.

This is a town with a lot of personality, however the more stones I turned the more uncomfortable I felt in both HCMC and Vietnam as a whole. We checked out The War Museum which was listed as one of the "must do's" when visiting HCMC. A more appropropriate name would be "The war with the USA museum". Vietnam has been at war with the Chinese, the french through 1954, then the USA from about 1955-1975; however, this museum was rich only with details relating to the war with " The Americans".

It was very painful to see the images on the wall of army troops in villages, helicopters in action in the battlefield, and read the captions under each photograph of war. I will spare the details of the photographs, but I will say that in my opinion, from Vietnam's perspective The Americans were the enforcers of the "machine of oppression" (to put it in their own words). Although it is a fact that the south of Vietnam asked for help from "The Americans" in fighting against the north, it's clear that in the government sponsored buildings in Vietnam cast a shamefull glare on the USA regarding the war. I'm confident the captions under the photographs were accurate, however there was an element of anti-U.S. propaganda laced throughout the information on display. By the time we left the War Museum I felt like someone had given me a sharp sucker punch to the gut.

The sucker punch was re-issued after we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is an area of approximately 75 miles of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong which gave them the advantage during the Vietnam War. They cooked, slept, shat and lived under ground for many years while the U.S. creatively and unsuccessfully tried to dismantle this system of tunnels, including flooding them from the nearby Saigon River and dropping bombs from B-52's from above. It was really quite somthing to see, as once we entered into the tunnels they were approximately 3-4' wide by about 4' tall (give or take).

As our tour collided with the dozens of other tour groups outside the tunnels, the guides showed us about 12 different forms of booby traps that were used "to kill the americans". Ana and I both agreed our guide had a deeper vein of hatred towards the Americans, as every time he showed us a new booby trap he'd either spin the spiked wheel or point to what looked like a trap set for a tiger or bear and say "annnnd for youuuuu, Americans." I took about 15 photos of this place, but eventually erased them all. It was both facinating and devastating to see the traps used to kill Americans. Every time I looked at the photos I felt the sudden impact of the sucker punch to the gut.

Did I mention that just before we finished the tour, 100' from the refreshment area, you can pay $1 per bullet to shoot M-16's, AK-47's and the M60 light machine gun? Serious! Even though it did appeal slightly to me, I passed as it seemed to give some sort of celebration to war which at this point was leaving my stomach in quite a stir.

Vietnam was a great place to visit and I do recommend it for anyone thinking about it. The people I interacted with who were from Vietnam left a good impression on me. They were eager to speak English and very friendly. The history Vietnam has with the U.S. played some mental games with me, but also became the foundation for some good conversations with Ana about government, military, war etc.

If I gained anything from these experiences, it's definitely knowing more about where I stand. Support out troops, bring them home.

Be well and safe travels amigos!

Keith

Posted by Sr.curtissan 21:24 Comments (0)

Life around the Lake in the Old Quarter

Tae Kwon Do vs Yoga

68 °F

Hola!

Just the other day Ana and I were walking around Hoan Lake in Hanoi. The pulse of the people around the lake reminds me of the vibe around the lakes in MN. Couples hand in hand, kids running around, wierdos here and there and of course a few muscle heads hanging about. In Hanoi working out appears to be best done in groups. Ana can attest to that:

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Picture 003

These young ladies were working it together, giving one another a fine back tapping and light massage in unison and all to the beat of Vietnamese tunes from a boombox. Three cheers to Ana for getting in there and ceasing the moment.

After a few more paces northbound around the lake we encountered muscle beach. Anyone could walk by and grab a set of dumb bells and pump iron. It wasn't anything like the gym back home, but it was a bit inspiring watching every at it. Ana dropped everything and ran over to take a spin on "The Twister" (we'll call it). They had these in Japan, too. Veeerry popular with the older generations:

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Picture 004

The excitement became contagious. Shortly there after I dropped my bag and walked over to the pull up bar for a few reps. Just as I was finishing my one and only set a little man approached me and we began to talk about life. Chu was a good guy, maybe 25 years old and from Hanoi. After a few minutes of chatting he showed me some Tae Kwan Do right there near the lake:

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Picture 006

He was all for learning Yoga too:
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He insisted on posing like this. I abided and got into my best and first Tae Kwan Do stance. In return for the lessons in Tae Kwan Do I taught him the Sun Salutation sequence in yoga. I regret to inform that all those photos are on Ana's camera. Hopefully I"ll get a few in this entry before too long.

Vietnam has been a very cool place to visit so far. Admittedly I had a lot of ice in my viens before coming here. Yet after nearly every encounter I have with a person from Vietnam the ice melts a bit more. I've met only friendly people eager to practice there English and discuss there culture; the food, language, traffic in Hanoi, any anything else that will keep you talking. They truley are eager to practice there English and learn more about where ever you happen to be from.

These kids approached Ana and I with out hesitation just before we left town:

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That reminds me, I spent about 90 minutes the other day chatting with university students near the lake. They politely approached me and asked if they could sit next to me on the same bench. I oblidged and on we went talking about music, home, family, movies etc. I can't help but feel a little strange knowing we had such a huge impact on this country in the 60's and 70's, then coming face to face with the people (not the government necessarily) and being quite enamoured with them. All good people aside, the street vendors are relentless and pickpocketing is still a problem in Vietnam. However violent crime is rare, and all of our hotel/hostel managers have given us good advice on how to avoid problems of that nature.

All in all a great experience so far.

Be well and safe travels amigos!

Keith

Posted by Sr.curtissan 16:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi_lake hoan_people Comments (1)

Ha Long Bay

Sun!!!!!

19 °F

Greetings friends and family!

We recently took a two day one night trip to Ha Long Bay. It was the first time we saw the sun in 12 days of being in Vietnam. Finally! Did you know that is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site? Ha long Bay means "Descending Dragon Bay"' and is littered with approximately 1900 limestone karsts. It is said that the limestone in this area has endured 500 million years of climate and environment change.

All aboard!!!!
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We decided to go for one night and two days, whereby we stayed on a boat over night along with about 20 other people. We were served loads of sea food (which I mostly didn't eat) that all came out of Ha Long Bay with the previous 24 hours. Shrimp, sea bass, cat fish and more fish we couldn't identify. I Played it safe and ate mostly chicken and rice. We did make friends with a couple from Switzerland and managed to share a couple meals together. This wasn't a booze cruise by any means, but I managed to order a White Russian at one point which spawned a wonderful conversation about our mutual appreciation for The Big Lebowski. Ahh, how I enjoy the random threads which tie is together.

Over the course of two days we toured about 40 Kilometers of Ha Long Bay. That sounded like a lot to me until I learned Ha
Long Bay is about 1,550 square kilometers. Since we were on a tour there was a set schedule for nearly every hour of the trip. We kayaked a little, visited a floating village, did some massive cave exploration and we even got a crash course in how to wrap spring rolls. It was a pretty solid experience all around.

A little power lifting in the caves:
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Ana whipping up a spring roll:
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Here's a couple more photos to try and convey the experience, although i'm not convinced any of these photos can accurately do justice to the real thing:
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...and any tour is a good tour when demand is high for a group photo:

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Be well and safe travels amigos!

Cheers,

Keith

Posted by Sr.curtissan 05:04 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Out with the Po Boy and in with the Pho Bo

A food tasted around the world.

54 °F

http://vietnamnews.vn/life-style/249801/travel-writers-rave-about-ha-nois-un-pho-gettable-soup.html

Trying new foods has always been a real challenge for me. Between Japan and Vietnam i've put my taste buds to the test a variety of times. Unfortunately they weren't all great experiences, but there have been a few truely delicious meals. The Pho Bo in Hanoi has been outstanding and I will be seeking it out once I get back to the midwest. Take a peek at this article I found in the local newspaper...

Be well and safe travels amigos!

Keith

Posted by Sr.curtissan 06:06 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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