Monthly Archives: February 2012

Well it is India!

I have read of the newcomer’s potential exasperation when trying to get anything done in India resulting eventually in the expression “well it is India”, so I have kept a large reserve of patience in case things begin to take their time. The first cup of tea for instance that took ninety minutes to appear. Today, being the last full day of my hotel reservation period, is the day I set about planning the next phase, a houseboat overnight in the backwaters. I had been checking out the many many boat ticket offices as I walked about town so headed to my first choice, A Fair Trade Boutique, and found them to be most obliging. The price seemed right, about half that of some other places I had looked at, they took plastic, but could I come back later after the boat Captain returned their phone call. Sure, no problem, I will go and find a domestic SIM card for my phone, they told me where to go.
Found a booth type shop manned by gentleman who feigned no English, but I caught him muttering understandably, and the we got to business. Oh no, not just any foreigner can buy a SIM card, you must have passport photo and permission. Really ? Ok, I left my photos at the hotel, but spotted a passport photo taking booth across the street. Be right back says I. A certain amount of dithering, pondering and decision making took place and then they took the photo. More of same and then they printed it, four photos, one dollar. Back to phone person armed with required photo. He produced a massive form and stuck my photo to it. I quailed, form filling not my strong point, but persevered to his satisfaction and then he wanted my passport. How difficult, how humiliating, how embarrassing, but I retrieved it from my document/money belt buried three layers deep upon my person, right there on the street. Nobody seemed to mind. So on it went. Another form appeared, he filled it in and faxed it, somewhere, then told me to return in half an hour, go have a juice says he. Ok fine, it was getting hotter and hotter. Juiced, I returned. He seemed pleased. Not me, no no sir, that is not a micro SIM that I need, do you have a clipper. No, no clipper and he produces a razor blade and sets about the SIM with that. On and on. I returned to juice bar and he came too, still trimming the SIM. Then we had to find a paper clip to eject current SIM from my phone. OH. Of course it didn’t fit, more trimming with blade until yes, it now fits. Great, back to phone booth with SIM installed but no signal. On and on, hotter and hotter. We are two hours into this by now. More calling, dialing, pin # entering, finally my phone chirped. Let me outa here. Thanking him as graciously as possible I ran away. To the Post Office!
I will cut this short. You must wrap your package to Seattle sir. Hmm. Ok. See sign in clothing shop that says package wrapping. Please wrap this for me, oh yes. A custom made linen wrap is created, my package goes in and the whole thing sealed with wax. One dollar. Back to Post Office, lady takes package, and money , no customs forms, no nothing. Will it ever arrive on East Thomas, only Nat and Erin will know.
Back to the beginning, to the boat booking and ticketing office. Everything was done and they will pick me up at 10.00am tomorrow.
Well it is India.

Lots of kind comments about the nets so here is another. Interesting to see the old and the new.

First Day in Fort Kochi.

Daylight on Tuesday reveals Fort Kochi, strangely quiet. Last evening there was the predictable busy busy business, motor scooters, tuk tuks, cars, buses and much pedestrian traffic. Only a little like Viet Nam, obliviously walk out into the traffic, keep going, don’t stop, don’t look and be optimistic. Woke up this morning at eight thirty, oh good, a lie in, pottered about, made tea, looked out the window, then discovered I had left the clock gadget on Cambodia time. It was a little after 6am. Oh well, sunup is a good time for a stroll. But, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ! Ok, there were a few goats, the occasional policeman, some soldiers, that was about it, well early I thought and kept walking. 7am then 8am and still the streets were deserted, the shops shuttered, no hubbub, no action. Hungry, I made my way back to the hotel and then it struck me, someone mentioned a strike last night, a 24 hour General Strike! Well that’s it then, innit, all the shops are closed, the banks, offices, gas stations, restaurants, the Post Office, the railways aren’t running, the airport is shut down, the port traffic halted, there are no buses, tuk tuks or taxis. It’s so strangely quiet, like going to Safeway on Thanksgiving morning.

Nothing, nobody, anywhere.

The story behind the Chinese Fishing Nets

The Nets Waiting for the new day

The net is lowered into the water.

After a suitable period of time the net is hauled up, gradually.

There may or may not be fish.

Last photo of nets for a while, promise.

General Strike activity, cricket. I counted four matches on this one “pitch”.

Another pitch, more cricket. Do check out the Banyan Tree, there are many in town and provide welcome shade.

Everyone goes to the beach to watch the sunset, over the Arabian Sea.

Having fun.

Crowd. Beach. Fort Kochi. Sunset.

On arriving in Kochi

Thirty thousand feet over the Indian Ocean with a plane loaded with sari clad ladies, bespectacled, serious gentlemen and small, happy bouncing children. I don’t know what I said or did but every seat is taken, aisles, windows, middles except around where I sit. Here I have four rows of three seats each all to myself, it is the emergency exit row but even so, dear dear. Air Asia is an odd Airline charging something like a third less than the price I was quoted back home and taking me to my destination in the space of one day, no overnight layovers in random ports. They insist in charging for everything, water is a dollar, Oreo cookies two dollars for a mini pack. They seem to style themselves on the Virgin America model, they even use the same font in their logo, but the seats are ok, leather like Jet Blue in red and black. Oh, the food is inedible and costs three dollars. Truly airline food.
I just wanted to check in as we speed along to try and share my excitement, juvenile perhaps, but this part of my circumnavigation has always been the most keenly anticipated and about which I am the most apprehensive. Will it live up to expectations, will I ? Or will I bolt behind a hotel wall, fading in the heat and refuse to go out into the crowded streets, alleys and markets ? Abandon my booked train rides and fly about like a So Bo Bo ? Ha. Whatever is that I hear you ask. It’s one of the many derogatory names given to people doing what I am doing, and I assure you there are many more to chose from. Actually I might devote an entire post to the subject. No, it would be boring. But really to see the supercilious looks I received when my waitperson offered to show me the best way to tackle a crab at dinner time and I accepted, well, it’s just plain snobery (maybe inverse snobbery. Anyone ?), he said politely. Get a grip people.
Charming interlude, was joined in my three across by two sisters, eight and eleven, who wanted to play with my tablet. Shame I only could offer Angry Birds. Do you remember the children in Phnom Penh market ? Anyway, shrieks of mirth, approving looks from cabin crew, the Dad came by and we shook hands. They got it, well the older one did, and oh my, what huge eyes they have.
So, plane descends, folding tray tables, electronic devices turned off, seatbelts buckled, you get the picture. Next installment from the ground in INDIA .
Landed, transportation into town, fifty kilometers, in traffic, that made it fourteen hours door to door. Gasp. Have been asked for first impressions and fortunately I took notes on the way in, well you can only look at traffic for so long. I will be brief however as dinner calls. Must say at this point, just helped an Israeli Doctor connect to his hospital in Jerusalem so he could view a patient X-ray taken thirty minutes ago ! Anyway, after only driving in I have to observe that they are moving ahead here. Road construction everywhere, big colorful trucks abound, billboards, huge and enormous dominate the roadside. A two lane road can become a three lane and even a four lane case of beeping mayhem. Guess what, red lights are obeyed not viewed as a suggestion to stop and you really don’t need to if you don’t want to, Hanoi, HCMC for example. The waterways look very tempting, vastly wide with many many craft moving about, I hope to be on a houseboat by week’s end. Lastly, the smell, it’s like the whole place is on fire ! It isn’t of course, maybe it is the burning rubbish, or what.
It’s great, I love it already. Tea was offered on arrival, it took ninety minutes to be delivered to the courtyard outside the restaurant, my type of place. I heard a Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, rapturousness.
Curry time, see you tomorrow.

Farewell IndoChine.

Well that’s it for IndoChina. What a treat, what a privilege, a big thank you to all the peoples of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, you have all been so kind and gracious. Not to mention your great food and cooking.
My five days in the Province of Kampot in the small town of Kep was a welcome break from the big cities, World Heritage Sites, museums, temples but most of all from the pollution and really really bad air quality. It took three days but I finally threw off completely the cold I caught in Hanoi. I did try a Post from Kep, alas still unfinished but will try for a successful completion at some point, but the power was unreliable and the web connection kept crashing. I have to say though that I couldn’t actually come up with too much to say that would be of much interest to anyone. The days passed far too quickly, breakfast became lunch, the afternoon into a siesta, tea became dinner and then it was all over and it was sleep time. Apologies to the squeamish but my sleep mates were wide and varied ! There was a dog outside my room every night despite changing rooms three times during the five day stay. Very large geckoes were constant companions both in and outside the room, there were toads and frogs kicking up a shindig for most of the night. I don’t really want to tell of the spiders and ants that marched about the rooms and the monkeys who screeched and yelled for most of the night, at least I suppose they were monkeys.
I think I may have mentioned the food, peppercorns, still attached to their vine, fried up and served with just about everything. The crab, the prawns, Lok Lak (a Khmer traditional beef dish), every meal was an exploration of my taste buds and an event to anticipate.
All too soon it came to an end and I was back on a tuk tuk to the bus station and the ride back to PP. Scheduled for 12.30 pm departure we were all still hanging about in the heat until about 2.00, will it come? Is that it? Where is it? Did we miss it? All the usual anxieties. Got to chatting with a Canadian gent, odd how they are always so easy to chat with, he from Vancouver Island and raised an eyebrow when I mentioned Victoria. Its good to get around a bit. Bus eventually came, another double decker, and I successfully found seat thirteen (angst) and who should settle in beside me but the Canadian. How do you do says I , Tim, no, he says, that’s who I am too. Not an Aries, but we had a most entertaining ride to PP. We ranged from the ten thousand hour rule, which dictates that to be really good at anything you have to have practiced same for said amount of hours to his six minute rule. I might try it.
Back home he specializes in emergency management at disaster sites and was in Cambodia with his wife and family researching for a magazine article she was writing on the indentured servant racket that is so prevalent in this country. Nice guy, we shared a tuk tuk to hotel row and off he went to find his family, funny to think he might be reading this. (hello Tim McLeod).
Not a very good evening as it was already getting late, did some gift shopping, Kramas (Khmer accessory), silk scarves, more pepper, a t shirt for me etc. went to the Foreign Correspondents Club, the FCC, for dinner and turned in early. That was the plan. Turned out the room had three extremely noisy extracta fans which I couldn’t figure how to disable. Called reception, first one, then two, then three hotel handy men came avisiting. Climbing on chairs, plunging the room into darkness, every switch, knob, dial, remote was brought into the scenario. Finally at about ten thirty I called a halt, herded them out and spent a largely sleepless night wearing my noise canceling headphones.
A 5am wake up call, 6am cab to airport, and this 8.30 flight. Oh yawn.
A break there for a read.
Right then, India for tea. Major expletive! Doodling over my 5.30 am cup of tea I made a couple of notes. I think one of the first books I remember reading was Kipling’s Just so Stories, so finally I am going to the land of Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and Baloo, O Best Beloved (s). I remember reading about the terrible famines and the tragedy of Partition. Plus of course the Bonzo Dog’s Hunting Tigers out in India!
I am on my way, have I planned sufficiently, am I prepared, time will tell I guess. If all goes to plan the next Post will be from Kochi (old Cochin) in the State of Kerala. More from there.

Incomplete due to power failure !

Can I coax a story out of doing nothing for two days ? Maybe, though perhaps not as interesting as some that have gone before. Happily, here at Kep Lodge, there little or nothing to do. Oh sure the tuk tuk drivers have an interesting itinerary of places to go, the pepper farms, the salt extraction beds, a ruined French colonial retreat, the local capital Kampot even the beach. But the charm of the place is it’s very slow pace. Accordingly, I have done very little.I did take the fifteen km tuk tuk ride to the local capital, Kampot, with the promise of interestingly decaying colonial villas and the like.

The ride was extremely bumpy, dusty and just a little uncomfortable, no suspension in a tuk tuk. The countryside was similar to the bus trip down from PP.

Alas, Kampot was a bit of a disappointment. It was unbelievably hot, maybe because I got there at noon, incredibly dusty, veritable clouds of dust churned up by the many trucks grinding through town and basically there was a general run down feel to the place.

The street were wide, boulevards almost, with very little shade, yes I now chose to walk on the shaded side of the road. Frankly after a visit to the market I was ready to call it a day. So I did.

Some views of Kep.

One of the hotel dogs who slept outside my room all night.

My little house at Kep Lodge, the one on the right.

A Kep crab boat seen through a restaurant.

Restaurant Row in Kep, water side.

Part of the crab boat fleet.


Poignant evidence remains of Pol Pot’s madness.

More evidence. I am sure these relics will be demolished soon as this region is developed.

Crab pots.

Inspecting the catch.

Preparing the catch. Mine was prepared with the local pepper. Delicious but finicky.

Restaurant Row in Kep, land side.

Back to the hotel, this is the driveway. Not exactly smooth, as I found out from the back of a motor scooter after accepting a ride.

Getting away from it all.

The Kep Bus.

On the bus to Kep, where ever the heck that is. Shamefully ignorant of the geography of Cambodia, I admit I didn’t even know it had a coastline, but it does and that is where I am bound. The bus is ok, a double decker with luggage and baggage on the lower, passengers on the upper. Eleven rows set in a two and one configuration, I am in a one that is slightly raised up above the rest, feels a bit throne like, but at least I can see out the front from six rows back. The seats are tolerably comfortable though an easy comparison with cattle class on BA, that goes for the legroom as well, there basically isn’t any. Fellow passengers appear to be two thirds Cambodian and one third Westerners. A French family with two young children, a couple from the boat down from Siem Reap, German I think, can’t ignore the cutest little Cambodian newborn you ever did see, not uttered a sound in over an hour. The terrain is flat, very very flat. The ground is dry, the rice paddies all shrivel led and stalks, dead and grey. There are occasional orchards with oranges growing and of course palms with coconuts. It will get hotter and hotter until the end of April and then the monsoon will break, much to the relief of all. The road is a good road, two lanes with a well kept surface, pleasantly smooth. The Highway code/rules of the road are completely non existent however. Small town markets spill onto the highway reducing it to one lane, down the middle. There is a bike, motor scooter lane but it seems to be not much used and the bus driver leans on the horn constantly. ……We paused for refreshments etc and have turned off the main road to Kompot onto a narrow jungle road , just about as wide as the bus. Passing pull outs, dusty, acres and acres of dried up paddies, random roadside stalls, locals dig trench across road in villages to slow the traffic, white cattle seek shade. There are hills ahead, the Coastal Range ?
We came to Kep, a dusty crossroads with maybe half a dozen tuk tuks, a cafe, tourist information office and that was about it for Kep downtown. A ten minute ride to the base of a low hill and here I am, all checked into my room, sitting in the thatch roofed restaurant of the Lodge. A small pool in front, a small pool table behind, a well stocked bar, piles of books and games, a beer (thank you) ,lunch on its way, spiced beef with ginger and rice, learning about Kampot pepper. Grown locally it seems to be the pride of the district, “Highly prized by gourmets worldwide”. (Nat, you heard of this stuff ?)
Lunch was great, best food I have had in Cambodia, and then I succumbed to the pressures of the day and fell fast asleep for an hour. I think I may have finally found my spot. First thing I notice sitting poolside is the lack of noise, there is no traffic, the nearest road is a half mile away, no motor scooters, no beeping. There is no pollution, no people in my immediate vicinity wearing smog masks. I may finally completely throw off the lingering cold I caught in Hanoi. We are a matter of yards from the entrance to a nature reserve, the air is full of the sound of birdsong, in fact the jungle threatens to encroach on the whole property. There will be some strange and unfamiliar sounds tonight I am sure. The hotel posts warnings about geckos, bats and frogs in the rooms, also that the spiders are not poisonous and are rather shy, good to hear.

The Hotel reception, lobby, dining room, lounge, bar, business center and activities room.

I may have finally worked out how to add photos and captions to a post using just my tablet and the WordPress blogging App. Finally. Goodbye Business Centers.

Let’s see what the evening brings.

One Hour of my Day.

“No sir, no Sir, you cannot rent a fishing boat, they are not for holiday makers, you must go on big boat” . I wanted to go ride on a Sampan. I have always wanted to ride on a Sampan and it looks as if my chances of doing so are running out. Not too many days left in Sampan Country. There were many boats for hire, sort of small to medium cruise vessels, complete with full bar, garish lights, tables and chairs for between thirty and seventy five, they are mostly used for dinner cruises up and down the river, at night. This is not what I had in mind at all. “There is one” says I, Oh no Sir he is busy. Well he didn’t look busy, in fact there was no-one on board at all and the whole craft had a somewhat disheveled look, crates and boxes everywhere, random curtains spread about, old bits and pieces, it was a bit of a wreck, almost a garbage dump. A shouted conversation took place from the top of the bank to the bottom. I imagine it went something like “Look at this crazy person, he does not want to spend an hour on the river in a luxury cruise boat, he wants to ride in your fishing boat with no bar, not even a chair”. Ah well, canny fisherman sees a quick buck in sight, ok, ten dollars for an hour, that’s more than I would earn in an hour fishing, lets do it, crazy person or not. Frantic rushing about, junk hurled onto adjoining fisher boat and in about a minute the Sampan was ready to go.

Note the smart mats for the sitting on.

I embarked, given a bottle of water and two beers in a cooler and shaking his head my Captain shoved off. Out into the stream of the Tonle Sap before it merges with the Mekong a half mile down stream and is gone forever. It was exactly what I wanted.

He has got that grin on again

We puttered down the middle of the river and looking over at the bank I could see all the people on the riverfront parade , I could almost hear the comments.

Undeterred we puttered on and reached the confluence of the two rivers, it got a little choppy.

The rivers meet

The village on the other side, flooded in the rainy season I would imagine

Today's catch

Fixing things

Everyone is busy

The riverfront in Phnom Penh

On our way back to the dock.

Here it is in all it's glory, my boat. (not sure you can see the file name but it is img_1948.jpg. Significant !)

I did finally Skype the younger son this evening and told him this brief, one hour tale. Sebastian commented ” Well Dad, that sounds like a life’s ambition achieved”

Too right Seb, too right.

Phnom Penh for a day.

I don’t think I have ever said “no thank you” so often, I am hoarse with no thank you. Every step of the way in Phnom Penh (now referred to as PP) it’s the same refrain “tuk tuk sir?”. Honestly the guy has to see that actually I just got off a tuk tuk, why on earth would I need another one five seconds later.
I did sleep in this morning, all the way until 8.30am, that was a treat. Breakfast in the hotel looked somewhat expensive so took a ride to the recommended venue promoted by guide book, unfortunately it is no longer in business, or we couldn’t find it so jumped out at the first sign of eggs. Just as an aside, I really find it offensive to be unable to avoid hearing about the exploitation of the local female population over breakfast, sleaze bags.
Sorry. To continue. Totally messed up, thought I would go to the Royal Palace before lunch so jumped in a tuk tuk, off we went only to discover it’s closed for lunch, 11.00 to 2.30, that is quite some Royal Lunch. Sat in cafe and drank water, tried to Skype younger son. Passed the time. Time dragged. Come on….
2.30 and I was at the gate, very impressive Royal Palace. All gold, silver, temples, Buddha’s,beautiful woodwork, bas reliefs ( for Barbara),great gardens and monks and cameras, lots of cameras. round I went. There are some photos, I added to the previous post Arrived Phnom Penh.
I had heard or read about the Russian Market so that was the next stop. Warnings in book about claustrophobia, no kidding. If the aisles between the stalls were three foot wide I would be surprised. After about ten minutes I really felt overwhelmed and left. Another aside, the local kids have made an art of mimicking the sounds from Angry Birds (a game) it is quite amazing, listen, someone is playing Angry Birds, look round and these young kids are having convulsions of hysterical laughter. Really quite clever.
So then I went to the Tuol Sleng museum. Well you don’t think about Cambodia without thinking of Pol Pot and his murderous four year regime do you ?. In the year 1975 he and his bunch of thugs evacuated this entire city, enslaving the population into tilling the land. It was quite ghastly. Ladies were openly weeping in the courtyard.
I was very sad.

A Trip down the Tonle Sap River

Ploughing our way at quite a rate of knots over what looks like a big inland sea, no sign of the banks on either side. We chugged along through a somewhat stagnant waterway after leaving the dock, houses on stilts, some donated by Americans. Saw one with a large placard outside thanking a family in Philly. It was narrow and the boat, slow. We have a film crew aboard, French, ladies, who set up their cameras on the bows, amateurs followed until there was quite a crowd up on the pointed end. Others situated themselves on the top, luggage deck, where they had a great uninterrupted view all around. We chugged on. Got to thinking that at this rate we will be in Phnom Penh by sometime next week, not the claimed six to seven hours. Eventually the stagnant river emptied out into a wider waterway and the thrum of the engines increased. There was a floating village with the inhabitants going about their daily business by boat. A large Catholic Church. Fisherfolk with their nets and lines, baskets and pots. A school donated by the Australian Government. All of a sudden we were out in the middle of this lake, the engines roared up to full power and we were off to the races. Spray everywhere, cameras protected, photographers retreated to the sanctum of the cabin. Film crew dismantled equipment, tripods, mikes, booms, cameras all packed up and retreated back to the dry. Should I mention the catastrophic wardrobe malfunctions as we pounded along faster and faster, no, better not. On we zoom, no sign of land, no sign of much of anything, so will pause and read book, well, Kindle app. Patrick O’Brian, still, of course. Treasons Harbour. (go away American spell checker).
Time passed (four hours) and we continued to roar on downstream towards the capital. The banks have changed their look, not the rather barren of further upstream, but now lusher, greener, more verdant. Different species of tree, not just the occasional palm, deciduous perhaps, certainly a mangrove here and there. There is the floating wild hyacinth again remembered from the Delta in great clumps, islands almost, I did mention that didn’t I, back in HCMC? More river folk activity too, bigger cargo boats, some cruise boats out of Phnom Penh. We slowed as we came to a stilted town, slowed right down so people could disembark. We didn’t stop, they jumped, bags and all into small boats alongside. There was a great collection of house boats as well as the houses on stilts, I had a quick pine for the houseboats of Sausalito. Then back up to warp speed for what is presumably the end run to Phnom Penh. Back to POB.
I love the universality of the wave. All down the river whenever we pass some boat or other with people in, or pass folk attending to their business on shore there is always a pause from whatever activity is being attended to and they all stand and wave wave wave. I am fortunate in my choice of fellow passengers, this is not a oh so cool crowd, and we all wave wave wave back. It’s really most delightful.
We are pulling into PP, there is an unexpectedly large Mosque. The houses have red roofs, were the Italians here, no, must be the French influence. If this town is as much fun as Vientiane then I am really going to enjoy being here, even for just a few days. Despite now being into hour seven of our progress I still have a happy stupid grin, what a great way to journey. None of the discomfort of plane or bus, free to move about at will, walk about, photograph points of interest. Marvelous. We dock.
A quick tuk tuk ride to the hotel and all checked in for three nights. Off to investigate the Foreign Correspondents Club which sounds intriguing for a late lunch then exploring this new City.
Thanks for riding the river with me.
Oh and btw, thanks for all the ATM comments and concerns. To answer the question, yes, I do have more than one ATM card, and from more than one country. Should take care of things.