Tag Archives: Travel

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 Day out in Luang Prabang

A very slow day in Luang Prabang as predicted. I did leave the hotel at 5.30am to catch the bus into town as one of the big attractions here is the early morning Binthabhat ceremony when the monks from the 30 odd monasteries in town process down the main street receiving alms from the citizenry. As well as receiving, the monks also donate some of the food stuffs they are given to the less fortunate, children mainly, as far as I could see.
Well this all sounds fine and admirable, however the reality is something completely different. I arrived, solo, sat on a low wall to watch and initially, in the dark, made out a long row of citizens sitting quietly with a pot of rice before them ready for the procession. All very heartwarming. However, as dawn broke, the light strengthened all hell broke loose. Convoys of laden SUVs, tuk tuks, and taxis arrived depositing hundreds of camera toting “people”, who proceeded to behave in the most appalling fashion. I watched, amazed, as a camera with a two foot lens was thrust inches from a two year old’s face. When the monks finally came along it really was a nightmare. People falling over themselves, and the monks, to get the best shot. There was even one group led by a guide with a megaphone telling his group where to stand and giving them advice on what was going to happen next. Ok, I was there too, but kind of hanging back, on the other side of the street, behind the parked SUVs etc and quite honestly I took more photos of the deranged mob than of the monks. Oh it was dreadful, quite ghastly, wretched even.
So, bus back to hotel feeling sorry for the state of mankind and other profound thoughts. Had a shower and breakfast and fortified walked back into town. Found the ferry terminal for transport up, down and across the Mekong River, sat there for over an hour absorbing the timeless activity and felt better about everything.
Time to potter about the town which I did for about three hours, had lunch, came back to the hotel as it got rather hot and took a two hour nap.
Back into town tonight for the joys of street food, though last night’s hotel dinner with wine was no more than $15.00 and it was good, well ok, well passable. Street food may be better.
This is the first day since leaving SF that I haven’t had a schedule and I feel quite refreshed, already looking for local adventures. There is a two day boat ride up the river, then two days back that sounds appealing.
btw, I think I unlocked the you tube video from HCMC about crossing the road. That seems a long time ago and somewhat irrelevant but those interested will find it at the bottom of the Ci Chu Tunnels page.
More as I go.

Some photos of Ha Lang Bay. I hope I can do it justice.

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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.

First day out on the Far Side of the World

Day one. The morning ferry to Macau.

Not surprising really but even with the aid of a map I keep getting lost. After a satisfying breakfast of soup with fried egg, ham, noodles and some sort of green leafery in it for about 40 cents US I headed for the Macau ferry. My concierge changed his mind about the Visa, apparently Brits don’t need one to enter Macau.
Walked and walked until I ended up on Austin Street, I recognized it from the airport bus ride last night and thought, this ain’t right. Reversed route and then found the right building emblazoned with huge letters China Ferry Building. How did I miss it ? Joined the 10.30 ferry line and looked about, everyone was clutching a ticket. Bailed from the queue and found the ticket office, bought ticket and rejoined embarking line. Went through immigration, found correct dock and then MISTAKE.
With 20 minutes to go before sailing I looked around for a loo, saw sign, got on elevator, noted floor number one and descended. No loo. Went to top floor, no loo. Then, oops, couldn’t get back to floor one. Obvious really as I would have avoided Immigration. Raced down the Arrivals Concourse thinking I’m about to get arrested for illegally arriving before I had left ! Explained situation to Immigration Lady, got the “foolish foreigner” smile and was escorted back to Dock 12 on floor one through all the security doors. Phew.
Off to Macau. Well it’s no Staten Island nor even a Larkspur to San Francisco ferry. It’s all enclosed, you can’t get outside. Very disappointing. The sea was quite choppy, people were sick and I didn’t see a Junk. Arriving in Macau I was confronted with huge Sands and Jai Alai casinos and thought uh oh, this ain’t for me. Reminded me of the famous quote from one of those Brit sisters, the Mitfords, about a certain Bay Area City, but better not go there for fear of offending.

These ferries are over 100 years old

The afternoon was quite eye opening. I took one of the famous Star ferries across the harbor to the Central Pier in Hong Kong, what a tremendous experience. It was rather like riding on British Railways back in the days of steam. If that doesn’t help, think Harry Potter. All polished mahogany, mechanical cranking noises, the smell was amazing.

It's a Porsche I know but you get the point.

Then a long wander through the streets and back alleys of downtown. The juxtaposition between the old and the new is what struck me the most. Seeing Bentleys parked outside what appeared to be falling down tenements, besuited bankers perched on street stools eating lunch, on their phones, stilettoed secretaries

Such vibrancy everywhere

tackling steep uneven alleyways, it was all sensory overload.
The noise is overwhelming, everywhere there is building, cranes, cement mixing, hydraulics and that on top of the horrendous traffic. Double decker buses grinding uphill, flying through intersections, trams, clanging, pedestrian crossing buzzers. Quite a cacophony.

I deserved it !

Returned to hotel in Kowloon to spend some time keeping in touch and tea ! I can’t say enough about Skype, though additionally the Tunein Radio App is really useful, I can listen to KALW and KQED from back home in the Bay.
Off now to watch the Orchestra of Lights and find dinner.
What a stimulating day and never a sight of a Windows PC !