Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cham Towers

Trying to take advantage of our last day in Nha Trang to check out the sights, Andrea and I decided to rent some bicylcles and vist Cham Towers as well as pay a visit to local market for some lunch. The bike ride was pleasant since this city is pretty much flat, but there was the rain. Fortunateley the air temperature is still somewhere in the low to mid 70's and the rain is not cold, but it is wet. Even though we had our rain ponchos I still got plenty wet. The towers were impressive, but only three towers have survived the elements and the war. We got a tour guide who gave us a brief history of the towers and their usage.

After leaving the towers we headed for the market and were greeted by a large labyrinth of stalls. We've learned to be more selective with the food we see since our experience in Hanoi, so now we only buy one item to split and see if its worth getting a second one. This proved handy when we bought this yummy looking fried banana. It was more of a plantain and pretty starchy. Still good, but not quite up to our expectations. As we ventured into the market we checked out our options. When we saw this stall that had the most interesting selection we sat down. Thinking that we would be able to pick out the toppings for our bowl of rice Andrea grabbed the guide book prepared to figure out how to avoid the organ meats. But as I was away getting the drinks, it turned out we were just given an assortment of toppings from veggies to different types of meat. But as we tried them it turned out they weren't meat at all, but a tasty assortment of veggie fake meats. The fake chicken even had a fake bone (or ventricle) made out of a hard piece of pasta. Aside from the chicken our plate included fake fish, fake liver and fake bologna. Well I wasn't sure how fake the bologna was since neither of us really wanted bologna fake or real. Some mysteries are better left alone.

A different perspective

With plenty of free time on my hands I've decided to try running again. As many of you may know I've had a pretty serious case of plantar fasciitis, which has prevented me from running these past 2 years. I did take a stab at running in Beijing with Stephan, and noticed I didn't have any pain. So I've tried running in the early morning before the rains start, which also happens to be the cooler part of the day. It's amazing how different things are when you are running. For one, I don't get harassed by all the motorcycle taxis who want to take me somewhere. I guess its seems more obvious that I have no need for that when I'm running. Also I don't get harassed by the various shop-keepers who try to charm you into their stores or restaurants.

A few of the more interesting things that have happened on my runs are racing some school children in Hoi An while they were riding their bikes and racing a young boy in Nha Trang as I was crossing a bridge. In both cases I was pretty much just trotting along, but the little bit of competition gave me an incentive to pick up the pace, and it was fun. In Nha Trang I happed on the famous basket boat fishermen...or fisherwomen. And the most interesting thing I saw was a cockfight on the beach. There was a group of men forming a circle around these two fighting cocks, but the fight looked more like a sumo wrestling match as the roosters were pretty much just pushing each other around. I was really wishing I had my camera but some things just don't transfer on film anyways. So I hope to enjoy future runs and look forward to what ever other interesting things I'll happen upon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Night out in party town

After a long day of snorkeling out off the coast of Nha Trang, we thought we should take advantage of the fact that we were staying in a party town, as designated by our guidebooks. So we decided to check out the bar scene. After having a beer at the Guava I was already feeling a bit tipsy. This was the most active bar that we had seen and it looked pretty swanky. Andrea and I knew it was going to be a wild and crazy night the minute we finished our debating whether one of the light fixtures is using an incandescent or halogen light. We did hit up another bar on the suggestion of one of the dive instructors from earlier in the day that we met at the Guava. The other bar definitely looked hopping. But aside from one other person I think Andrea and I were the oldest people there by at least 5 years and possibly 10. Ouch! We had our "Smile" a fruit smoothie with rum, we played a game of foozeball, connect four and enjoyed our complimentary mojito. We were out of there by much for a crazy night on the town.

Oh and I learned that divers get a high similar to getting now I see why its so popular..but still I have no interest in it.

Snorkeling in the rain

I was a bit concerned that trying to snorkel in the waters around Nha Trang would be minimally interesting at best. Since the waters around the beach were a bit turbid I figured there wouldn't be much to see. But after getting out to one of the islands off Nha Trang in the marine protected area we could see the waters starting to take on their greenish blue color. We got into our wetsuits and prepared to get in. I jumped into the water and started to see what I could find under the sea. I didn't see much of anything. But as I headed closer to the rocks seemingly out of nowhere a school of small blue fish appeared. Then more an more fish until I could see the colorful coral beneath me. Though I never did see the clown fish (no Nemo) I was still impressed with everything that I saw. I'm just amazed with all the colors of the fish and the coral. I was, however, a bit disappointed to see a stretch of dead and dying coral. It was such a contrast to the beautifully colorful part of the sea.

I only snorkeled for a total of 2 hours and though I thought that would hardly be enough time, I was very much ready to head back to dry land. The coolest part of the whole experience was how calm and tranquil it felt while I was under the water. Even though all around me the currents were pushing me towards the rocks and the rains started to get more and more intense. As we headed back to the mainland I was pretty exhausted, and I had to fight off a bit of nausea from the rocking boat and the diesel fumes.

Beaching it in Vietnam

Since it appears we are traveling through Vietnam in the rainy season, we were really taking a chance at trying to check out the beach in Nha Trang, which is billed as having some of the best beaches in Vietnam. Well if that is true, I don't think I'll be hitting up any more beaches in this country. Though I think its more a factor of the rains which bring in debris and any thing else that is on the streets onto the beach and into the surf so the water takes on a brownish tinge and the sand is littered with all sorts of debris from palm fronds to plastic bits. We were lucky enough to have had a clear morning when we arrived from our overnight bus trip from Hoi An, so we still went down to the beach. After finding a nice spot under a palm tree we settled in and tried to nap on the beach. But we received an onslaught of merchants trying to sell us bootleg books, and sunglasses. Though we clearly had both these items and it didn't seem to deter the vendors. At first we tried being polite saying no thank you, but that just seemed to encourage them to further engage us and try to sell us other stuff we didn't want. We finally ended up shooing them away without much of an acknowledgment. And it seemed that Andrea was taking more of the vendors.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New wardrobe

One of the highlights of our trip was going to Hoi An. This small town is known for its droves of tailors. Andrea seemed more prepared than I with ideas for the clothes she wanted to get made. I pretty much just went along for the ride, but soon was motivated to buy myself a fully tailored new wardrobe. It was fun and addicting. If only my bank account could afford it I would have bought far more clothes than I actually did. I did eventually get a couple of suits and some jackets made for me and shipped them home. It was so much fun going through the whole process of picking out the clothes we wanted, then making specific requests for some alterations and the fittings. It was a bit awkward putting on winter coats in 80-degree weather with humidity, but Andrea and I knew they would come in handy when we land in Europe in a few weeks.

We stayed in Hoi An for about a week, which was hard for me to believe. But there was lots to do between the fittings and fine dining and general lazy days exploring the town and trying to stay dry while the town nearly flooded when the river cutting through town breached its banks (which hardly fazed any of the locals).







Monday, October 15, 2007

Pics from Halong Bay

Andrea and I took a day trip out to Halong Bay. Halong Bay has these amazing rock formations that jut right out of the bay for some impressive views. The weather was a bit gray, but we still had some impressive sights. Here are just a few pictures that I snapped up.






Sunday, October 14, 2007

Same Same but 10 times more expensive

In my quest to buy some new running shorts, since I ended up leaving my last pair behind in Zhongdian, I popped around the markets in Hanoi and looked high and low for a new pair. Since I bought my last pair in Beijing for around $US 2 I knew how much I wanted to pay. When I found a pair of shorts that I liked I checked on the price. The woman said it would cost 20.000 Dong..that's just over $US 1. They were exactly what I was looking for, but I wanted to see if she had another color. She called into the abyss behind the clothes rack, where I heard a bit of ruffling, then suddenly a new pair emerged the exact color that I wanted. I said I'd take it and she quickly stuffed both shorts into a plastic bag for me and asked for 40.000 Dong. It was almost too much effort to argue with her so I figures I'd buy both shorts for what was almost $US 3. Of course I didn't realize just how much a deal they were until I got to my hotel and noticed the price tag for the "Made in America" shorts see pic below.



Saturday, October 13, 2007


Here are some pics from our visit to Hanoi. It's hard to believe but I am actually missing China. Its a bit more crowded here and such a faster pace of life here than any place we've been to in China. Part of that is due to Vietnam's 1 million vehicles and over 18 million motor bikes that seem like they are all up in Hanoi! This heavily motorbike dominated transportation system makes crossing the street something between a zen moment as the bikes magically part all around you as you cross the street or just pure insanity as you just pray they don't hit you. This all depends on your point of view. One reason for the high number of motorbikes here is that there seems some sort of property tax that is assessed based on the frontage width of the buildings here. So you see lots of tall skinny buildings on very narrow streets with of course limited parking. This design scheme certainly make for a quaint looking city, but after Andrea and I went up and down several flights of stairs checking out several different hotels I was certainly missing the low-lying buildings from LA.






Friday, October 12, 2007

Crappy day

Andrea and I just arrived in Hanoi last night. We had a bit of a rough time getting down here. Andrea got her bag slashed on the overnight bus to the China/Vietnam border then we had to spend all morning yesterday at the police station so she could file a report. We hiked the approximately 2 miles to the train station from the border since there were no taxis in sight and being that we already agreed not to take motorbike taxis we were laden with all our belongings. All along our sweaty and mostly quite walk to the train station we were greeted by folks trying to sell us something or another, but all we wanted to do was buy our tickets to Hanoi. When we got to the train station we were greeted to a closed ticket booth with not a single sign in English explaining either opening hours or any other useful bit of information for us. We tried to motion the buy inside to give us some information, but he just waved us away. Finally after a few minutes he came out of his booth and in the few words in English that he knew we got a quote for 2 tickets on the next train to Hanoi. It just so happened we had exactly enough to cover the cost of the tickets with the money had converted from our left over Chinese Yuan and left us with about 20,000. Once we agreed to the price he hurriedly rushed us onto the train. We didnt' even have time to grab some food and we were already getting hungry since we hadn't eaten anything since the night before. Fortunately the train stopped at some point on our journey and Andrea ventured out to buy us some food. She came back with one small rice and tofu dish and a bottle of water...d'oh! We had been placed in 3 berth high cabin that was already full with Vietnamese travelers. Our inability to communicate with them and their constant smoking left us annoyed at our fellow cabin mates. But eventually they started trying to talk to us and eve put out the cigarettes. We learned our numbers from them and they had fun looking through our Lonely Planet guide book. We couldn't understand a word they said, but we at least broke the tension and made the 6 hour+ train ride more bearable. When we got to Hanoi, our new friends whisked us off the train and past the guards, since apparently we had actually paid someone off rather than obtaining an official ticket. I guess that is why we were stuck in the staff quarters of the train rather next to the engine car.

We were a bit disoriented getting out of the train station. We were left with no local currency, in a part of town that didn't show up on our map, and no way of reading the signs. We were also a bit wary given that all our research on Vietnam warned us of the numerous scams that foreigners encounter. We wandered the meandering streets for what seemed like an eternity in search of an ATM. All the while we were fending off touts asking to take us to any number of hotels. When we found an ATM we had high hopes, but alas, it was not meant to be. So we wandered further in the direction of the hotel we hoped to stay at. After walking a bit more we saw a swanky wine store so we stopped in and asked for an ATM, she pointed us in the right direction and jackpot it machine took our cards and I instantly became a millionaire....Well I took out $2 million Dong...which I think is about $124 US.


We ended up getting into a cab that tried to rip us off, then we looked at a bunch of overpriced hotels that looked crappy. Finally, someone showed us a picture of a place that looked nice and said the right words, two beds, air conditioning, breakfast included and cable TV all for $15. It was one of the cheapest quotes we'd gotten and sounded the best so after 3 minutes of walking around the city again with our bags and going up 5 flights of stairs we made it....It was nice, soft bed too. We topped off our evening by eating a very delicious chicken and bacon sandwich on a French roll and watching HBO after taking a nice hot shower and enjoying the air conditioned room. Its amazing how small comforts can really change your mood.