Tag Archives: solo travel

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.

Last Day in Luang Prabang.

Itchy feet, high metabolism, well rested ? Whatever it is I am on my way tomorrow. Luang Prabang (LP) is a delight, the people are friendly, smiley, gracious, polite and as far as I can tell scrupulously honest. According to my Rough Guide they have an innate sense of “muan” (fun) and if something is “baw muan” (not fun) then it is quickly abandoned. Sounds reasonable. I see much hard work going on, running stalls and shops, fishing and farming, maintenance, repair and building but alas it all seems to provide little in the way of return. The most used bank note is the 50,000 Kip note, about $6.00 US, and frankly everything seems to cost less than this. Example, the restaurant I am currently sitting in features a menu with nothing more expensive than, yes, 50,000 kip. Johnny Walker is $3.00 a shot, cocktails are $3.25, Daiquires, PiƱa Coladas, even a Long Island Ice Tea. Not much of a markup available there. I suppose there is some solace in the fact that I am helping to contribute towards the fifty percent of the Country’s revenue which comes from tourism. But not even my meager contribution is not going to help Laos drag itself up from its position in one of the ten most underdeveloped countries on Earth.
I think it is here, for the first time, that I have found it unfortunate that I do not have a travel companion. All those activities in Hong Kong, HCMC and Hanoi were just fine to do solo but here, after the initial exploring, I could have done with some company. There are all sorts of one and two day excursions to waterfalls, elephant preserves, ethnic villages etc that really lend themselves to group travel. Bit boring on ones own. So, tomorrow I go to Siem Reap, site of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
Will let you know how it goes.

An overnight on Ha Long Bay

Hi there, went dark there for a time while on a boat for a night on Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am now on the bus for the three hour ride back to Hanoi, in the rain.
Quite an early start yesterday, woke at 5.00 am, as usual, and went downstairs to see what was happening to find the front door locked. The night time receptionist appeared to let me out but have to wonder about fire escaping! Anyway, breakfasted and the bus came round to pick me up, on time at 8.00am.
A digression: a number of people have raised a couple of points so let me try to address them here. Yes, this has been a crazy, crazy week, I have been cramming events into my eighteen hour days leaving very little down time for me to just relax. Well that is now done, I have knocked so many destinations off my “bucket list” that I am taking the next two weeks off. I should be on the banks of the Mekong tomorrow in Luang Prabang where I fully intend to just potter and refuel. I wonder if there will be anything to post a blog about? Secondly, so far so good with the gear. Shirts and pants functioning as predicted, amazing how much pleasure I now get from a bath tub with a clothes line. My Packsafe Duffle bag is just right and I can now almost anchor it to an immovable object with my eyes closed. (it has built in theft deterring steel cable and padlock). The e-vest is truly a lifesaver, not only for going thro airport security, but on a daily basis too. I don’t get any odd looks on the street and the hourly tap round inventory is now second nature, as is the zipper check. A quick count reveals that I have eleven zippers sown into what I am wearing right now, not counting that one ! Lastly, the gadgets are proving their worth, here I am typing this into the Notes App on iPad, then will copy and paste it into WordPress when I am back online. I love the camera, Canon S100, it has a great low light feature which over rides the intrusive flash. The phone, with it’s Vietnamese SIM, is a useful tool for calling home (s). I have to say that standing on the shore of the South China Sea this morning having a detailed discussion about the plumbing in San Anselmo Ca. was somewhat surreal. What an age we live in, but I bet every generation says that.
Back to the tale. The three hour bus ride was dull, we, the thirty of us, had to introduce ourselves which I think I coped with adequately. Raised a slight ripple of laughter describing my accent choice, Merkin or Brit. We did stop once at a vast warehouse full of products made by people with physical challenges (PC). We were encouraged to go see the products being made which I did, for about thirty seconds, then I had to leave. I have thought a lot about privilege lately and may discuss the subject later when I have “got it sorted”. The fellow trip mates are six Aussies, four Brits, two Americans, three Canadians, four Dutch and can’t remember where the others are from. Mostly twenty somethings but also some my age ish, which is gratifying, and all very gregarious, going out of their way to be helpful and kind.
We arrived at Ha Long City and embarked into a small boat for the ride out to the cruise boat. Embarked without mishap, the locals really go out of their way to ensure their charges don’t fall in, ha ha. Found cabin, really nice, with bathroom and a back deck on the stern. Off we went. The crew tried to serve lunch as we entered the Bay but those romantics among us bailed on that and took to the top, open, deck. There we stood, open mouthed, gaping at this incredible scene as it unfolded before us. The splendidly named Janet Beveridge Bean, her particular friend Michael Wilkie from Chicago, the nurses from Canada Sandy, Jennifer, Lindsay and a couple from Windsor, UK, just stood there, speechless, taking photos, glancing at one another, I won’t say anyone gasped but there were audible “Wows”
Look up, round, down, up, forward, back, at every angle there was an ever changing exquisite view. Nature at its most magnificent.
We paused to disembark at a cave complex, “The Surprising Caves”. There were three interconnected caves, each one bigger, wider, taller than the previous, high up inside one of the limestone pinnacles. Many stairs but worth the energy. I was reminded of the movie “Logan’s Run”. Vast chambers, flood lit so we didn’t stumble, stalagmites, ‘tites and mutters of spelunking from Janet.
Back on board there was a cooking lesson on how to make Spring Rolls which I chose to ignore until it came time to roll your own, which I did. I have say that as Spring Rolls go mine was a masterpiece, however, MISTAKE, I took a bite. Kuong, the guide, rushed over, “Mr Tim Mr Tim, they must be cooked”. Oh. Mr Tim blanched, looked stupid, felt stupid, as Kuong fussed that I must immediately drink a bottle of water and take meds. I did. And panicked a bit. The Canadian nurses thought this was a huge joke, ha ha look at him, he’ll be dead any minute. As someone quipped, I failed cooking class. Please, no more talk of trichinosis. It seems to be ok, thus far. Consulted with nurses during bus break and their general opinion is that as I’m not dead yet I should be all right. Here’s hoping.
Then we got to hang out for a while. Had a beer with Janet and Michael. Determined that Michael is a metallurgical artist and Janet a singer, in three bands. So off we went on that one. We all changed for dinner, well I took my scarf off. Dinner was good, some mystery objects, following my earlier error I was cautious, to say the least. A couple of bottles of Shiraz then Michael kindly broke out the Johnny Walker Double Black Label. A couple of those and a great night’s sleep followed, just as well as my cabin was over the engine room which turned over all night, I didn’t hear a thing.
Up in darkness and was on deck to watch the dawn. Despite a light drizzle it continued to be stunning, I especially enjoyed seeing the monochrome turn to color with the strengthening light. Gallons of tea and a shower later we were off to a floating village, a ride in a bamboo boat and perfectly delicious fruit from a floating market boat.
Back on board for breakfast, more soup, omelets, toast, usual stuff. Then a huge hang around just off shore waiting for the little boat to take us off. Then a shorter hang around while we waited for our bus. And now here I am, 30 minutes out of Hanoi. This has been a great way to spend a bus ride, thanks to those who got this far.
Happy Birthday to Janet Beveridge Bean, and all in all it really was “quite good”.

A Day out on the Mekong Delta

Mattias and Elinor taking it easy

Yesterday going to the Ci Chu Tunnels I mentioned a couple of Swedes on the tour bus, guess what, today it was just me, Mattias and Elinor on the tour to the Mekong Delta ! Elinor is a film animator, Mattias and I share an affinity for electrical pylons, turns out he builds them as well. Not too busy in the darkness of a Swedish Winter so here they are, enjoying the warmth.
8.00 am came round and we promptly departed.
It’s quite a drive to the Delta, about 95 miles, with the traffic and scooters this is about a two and a half hour drive.

Freeway ahead

Just like home in Cali'

Most of the distance is covered by the Ho Chi Minh Freeway (no kidding), the locals are quite proud of it as it has a central reservation. Head ons have been seriously reduced since its introduction I am happy to relate.

First view of Mekong

The first view of the river as we drew into the parking area was stupendous, just as I had imagined, only better. Hugely wide, just over a mile, alive with watercraft of every description chugging, steaming, speeding or just moored. Our guide, San, had filled us with some trepidation with instructions on moving slowly so as not to capsize, to check the life jackets, and such so we were expecting some sort of canoe. No, not really, the three of us made our way onto a rather large Sampan with chairs, driver and a roof. We chose to sit in a heap on the stern platform, the sun came out, my kind Swedish friends shared their sunscreen and we were off into the stream. Our first stop was to see the floating market where the local farmers bring their produce to sell or trade. Quite interesting but apparently much busier at dawn.

A long run across the river

Then we were off on a long stretch across the river to a narrow tributary which we gained after running aground once due to the receding tide. We paused to tour a sweet (candy) factory, Mattias and I muttered comments about child sweatshops and we tried to look interested. After some assurances that this was a family run business and that the young children were part of the family we thawed somewhat and began to pay attention.

Container ship, Mekong style

One of the main trade goods on the river is rice husks, these are used to provide heat for cooking. So we watched what we assumed was the manufacture of pop rice (think popcorn) which was then flavored with strawberry flavoring. It tasted ok, far too sweet for my taste but I see the appeal.

Tea on the banks of the Mekong

Tea was served and local delicacies offered, the local ginger was tasty but I fell for the Lotus seeds and even bought a packet. It apparently is a sleep aid and how I need that.
Lunch followed at a great looking old French Colonial house with a huge back garden converted into an open air restaurant, a highly surprising destination in a narrow spur of the Delta.

A surprisingly good lunch in an old Colonial

Elephant fish in rice paper with salad was followed by king prawns, then rice and unidentified meat, pot stickers, all deliciously fresh. We three were pleasantly surprised. Further up what could be called the bayou we paused for a short music recital by local musicians on local instruments. I was somewhat put off as we arrived as the previous group was leaving, to the strains of Auld Lang Syne!

The race is on at high tide, heading for the open sea, South China that is. Fantastic.

Then it was off again and turning a corner we found ourselves in the main stream, packed with boats all heading downstream on the rising tide. I was in boat heaven !
Following that, we went to a brick factory, yes a brick factory. It was quite interesting tho Mattias and I muttered sweat shops again. It is a massive operation with enormous kilns baking hundreds of thousands of bricks at a time. Then it was over and we came back to HCMC through the rush hour, a three hour drive.
All in all a great day on the river and I wish there was an easy way to share photos instantly using the iPad. I will keep looking and will try and endure the glares in business centers.
To Hanoi in the morning. See you there.

Only 5,000,000 scooters in this City

Bye bye scooterland, oh, and correction, there are 8 million people in HCMC and five million scooters, there are half a million cars. Enough said.

Arrival into Ho Chi Minh City

“I am sorry Sir we cannot allow you on this flight, you’re papers are not in order”
Oh how I dislike hearing those words, could be a very bad start to the day!
Back up a bit or even a lot. Way back in October 2010 I booked this Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City flight, so I certainly am not winging it, yet. In November of 2011 I started the micro planning, visas, hotels, airport pickups and the like. Vietnam is special as one has to tell the immigration office exactly what flight # one is arriving on and where. Not a problem. Filled in all the correct forms online, received an Application for Entry and Exit on the email to duplicate with a space for my photo and blank questions for me to answer etc etc. Also another form that told me all the other people arriving that day in HCMC plus a letter from the Immigration Department of The Socialist Republic of Vietnam specifying me by name, Nationality, Port and Date of Entry inviting me to collect my Visa at my arrival airport.
In the boarding line and pounced upon by official, escorted to the desk which is where I heard the heart stopping words above. Hmm, be courteous, keep smiling, don’t lose it. Apparently most people have a visa stamped into their passports but these days, with the advent of the Internet, the opportunity to apply in advance and have the Visa issued at the port of entry has been instituted. Eventually, after the desk crew scrutinized the five pages issued to me by the Vietnamese Immigration Service I got my boarding pass stamped and here I am, 63A. CX767.
Surely I cannot be the first person to show up for a flight to Vietnam Nam with these e-forms. Baffling. But I am sure I shall encounter further interesting situations….
Time to listen to The Boards of Canada and chill a bit at 39,000 feet over the South China Sea. Oh, the thrill of it all.
So now here I be, downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Let’s start with “it’s different”.
Though maybe that is an understatement. Leaving the comparative peace of the Arrivals area and going outside is entering mayhem, hundreds and hundreds of people waiting for loved ones to arrive from all over the world, complete pandemonium. Plus of course the temperature is about 40 degrees warmer than HK. I was quickly reduced to a perspiring wreck. Searched and searched for my hotel’s ride into town, difficult to say the least with all those people in the way. Eventually found car and driver and let me tell you, a bottle of cold water and an iced towel have rarely been so welcome.
Checked into hotel, had a quick Skype ,back home to California, that was great, and set out to explore…and explore….and explore. First, the motor scooters, there are 3.5 million people in HCMC and it looks like each one owns a motor scooter and each of the 3.5 million were all out on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon. Someone (thanks George) advised me to just step off the sidewalk and walk across the street, the scooters will avoid you, hmm, well, so far so good. !
I do have a method for the said exploring, walk out of hotel, walk round block back to hotel, then expand to two blocks, then three etc. it seems to work. HCMC has a lot in common with many other cities I have visited, ie, two to three hustlers on each street. I have been offered everything from a shoe shine, a scooter tour, money exchange to, well, this is a family blog, but you can imagine ! Over and over again. Ha.
After I had got about five blocks out from the hotel the 5.00am started to take its toll, so here I am in the Saigon Saigon bar at the Caravelle. I’m sure I read somewhere that it, the bar, was featured in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American and now I have lost the reference. Many references to the Majestic by the river so will check that out tomorrow maybe, after going to the tunnels. What tunnels? The Viet Kong complex at Cu Chi which apparently extends all the way to the Laotian border.
We shall see.
PS. Sorry about the lack of captions on the Photos of Hong Kong page. Next lesson for me.

The Day I Took a Tourist Bus.

Here I am, Saturday morning, hard to believe I only arrived on Thursday night. Afraid to say that the adrenalin has worn off and I feel a bit beat. So, taking the easy way round and taking one of those open top tourist buses. Yes I know, a bit tacky, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Bear with me…….
Ok, thanks. Actually it was quite rewarding, dare I say interesting. I certainly got to see way more than I would have done on foot. Plugged my headphones into the audio jack at the seat and received all sorts of tips, hints, history and anecdotes. I especially liked the advance warnings about upcoming photo opps that lasted a second or two.
I hopped off to take the tram to the “Peak”. The tram was installed in 1888 and is still running on the same tracks with the same cars. The view from the observation tower was spectacular despite the murky weather. They do say that one should step out of one’s comfort zone on this type of trip, I did. I have a mortal fear of heights, I usually close the blind if I am in a window seat when flying until I feel up to opening it (know what I mean?). So there I am, right on the top of this tower, waist height glass wall all round, and I actually lent on the railing and took a photo. This from a guy who didn’t get higher than the first deck of the Eiffel Tower!
I wish, at this point that I could make the blogging software app (WordPress) accept inserted photos. If any one has a clue, please let me know as I am beginning to think I shoulda brought a laptop, or even a MacBook Air. I will persevere and did actually email myself a couple of photos, then went to the business center and uploaded them from the computer to yesterday’s post. Such a chore and the formatting seems to have gone all pear shaped. Sigh.
So it’s bye bye Hong Kong in the morning. I am thrilled to have been here, it is so dynamic, so intense, so energetic, the people are all in a mad hurry, in fact I don’t think anyone has noticed me at all, heck, why should they. It has the aura of Manhattan, the sophistication of London or Paris and even the eccentricities and charm of San Francisco.
Tell you something, I haven’t been hassled once, I haven’t seen a panhandler nor any begging whatsoever. I have seen maybe three cops. The escalator into the mall outside the hotel is jammed, constantly.
They gotta be doing something right here in Hong Kong.
Next post from Saigon. I know I know, Ho Chi Minh City, but downtown retains the old name or so I have read.
We shall find out.

First 11 hours in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong first Impressions

British power sockets and car license plates
The queues to gain access to Prada, Chanel, Ferragamo and the other fashion houses.
Canton Street, where I am staying , has the feel of the Rue St Honore in Paris, the Via Condotti, Rome, Knightsbridge or High St Kensington in London. Not to worry, I am only here for a couple of nights then Saigon. I cannot imagine that City will be like this.
The docks, I knew they were big, but they went on for miles and miles as we drove in from the airport.
I am not actually in Hong Kong at all ! I am in Kowloon. Taking a ferry later to H/K and ride the cable car to “The Peak”
There are lots and lots of people, for instance I was passed through 5 people to get from the hotel check in at the airport to the bus. 6 if you include the driver. The shopping crowds last night at 9.00pm rivaled Union Square/Oxford St on a Saturday afternoon.
Must remember to take my Spork when I go out, chopstick skills under developed.
I need a visa to go to Macau, it only takes a day to issue so tomorrow I get to ride the Macau Ferry. I hear it rivals the Staten Island ferry ride, I wonder if it is free ?
I must look at the signs on the elevators. I inadvertently took the Service elevator last night and ended up in the kitchens.
Everyone takes photos. It’s like Edinburgh at Festival time, walking along and suddenly the people in front stop to photograph something, anything. Mind you the front of the Esprit store is pretty impressive, it is one huge tv screen on three sides.
Ok, it’s getting light, yes, all these first impressions were gained in darkness so I am off to catch my first glimpse of a Junk.
I have jet lag.