Thursday, 26 July 2007

Good Morning Vietnam!

Yeah I know, anyone who can make a conical hat look that good should be locked up for the sake of the local female population...

A boat selling rambutan ( a fuit that looks like hairy red testicles) on a floating market

Me and Tom thought this looked rude therefore funny, therefore you all need to see it/them

A trap used by the Vietnamese during the war. You kind of just fall in and get spiked a lot

One of the many helicopters used to "stop the spread of communism"

An artists impression of how Tom might look were he a Vietnamese teacher. Above him is a picture of Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho as he's better known

A lot of the boats on the Mekong Delta have the two eyes because superstition states that a monster lives on the bottom, of the lake. If it comes up to attack and sees the two eyes it will think the boat is a friend and will leave peacefully.

So who's already finished the last Harry Potter then? Well, if you have don't tell me what happens because now Tom has finished his in some kind of record time, I will soon be starting said book. We've barely had a word from him in days on coach journeys, I think I may have even seen him shed a tear, although I can't back that up with any actual proof. It was impressive though how on the day of the worldwide release of H.P, you could pick up a dodgy copy on the streets of Ho Chi Minh city for about 100'000 Dong, or about 3 pounds.

We also said goodbye to Nick until we get back to the UK, albeit for a second time in Ho Chi Minh, we'd already had a bit of a leaving party in Sihanoukville on the South coast of Cambodia. It invloved drinking a lot of cocktails, a whole menu's worth in fact. Which could explain why the next day when we said the first goodbye to Nick, it felt like something had crawled inside me and died. But then when we said goodbye for the second time it was Nick's turn as he reckoned he had Dengue fever or something like that (read: manflu). Anyway, if it was Dengue fever, don't expect to see him too soon as there is no known cure for it. His last meaningful action in this world would then have been to get me to take a picture with Tom's camera (so I can't show you the horror at the moment) of them having a big, and slightly wrong goodbye embrace. When I say slightly wrong I mean very wrong, because when I say goodbye embrace I mean the meeting of two beards in a brief "manly" goodbye smooch. I bet Nick slipped him the tongue.

Anyway, enough manlove, back to Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh we went to see the war tunnels used by Guerilla fighters in that famous war of the 60's and 70's. This was where I discovered that I am a little bit claustrophobic. Not so much that you'd notice but put me in a dark, hot tunnel with just enough room to crawl on hands and knees and I'll look for the exit quicker than you can say "I love the smell of napalm in the morning". We also saw a lot of gruesome looking traps, the worst of all for me personally being one that spikes the armpits after you fall onto it. It probably wasn't the most deadly but come on, spikes through the armpits, it's just not cricket.

After Ho Chi Minh, we went on a 2 day trip to the Mekong Delta, where we stayed on a homestay with a Vietnamese family and helped out a bit on cooking some of the best food I've had whilst travelling. I'm kind of hungry right now so I won't go into detail for my own sake, I don't want to be charged extra for drooling onto the keyboard. It was gooood though. We also rowed a bit on one of the boats we took through the Mekong Delta where I was put to shame by a not quite eldely but old woman who rowed ceaselessly through the inlets we were passing through, while my arms wanted to fall off after less time than they should have. I like to put it down to the fact that she has been doing this all her life, not to the fact that university ruined my physical fitness to the point where I can be out-rowed by a woman who could feasibly have been old enough to be my grandmother.

Now we are in Mui Ne, a small beach town on the south east coast of Vietnam. Yesterday was a good day of doing virtually nothing on a beach so today we had a roam to some large sand dunes around on moto's (scooters essentially). I can now drive a manual, who needs a license anyway?

Seeing Die Hard 4 in a Vietnamese cinema a few days ago was also a worthwhile experience because Die Hard 4 is a brilliant film! I can't think of a fourth film in a franchise that has been as good. Normally, by the time they make it to number 3 it's all gone to hell, let alone 4. Just consider the shite number 3's that Hollywood has put out this year; Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and although I haven't seen it, I have heard that Oceans 13 was entirely unecessary for all concerned. Well, if you haven't seen Die Hard 4 do it or Bruce Willis will drive a car through your house.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Qi est la daddy?

GRRRR!!!! Sometimes computers make you so mad you could maim a small passing kitten. This is one time. Because of some damn Cambodian computer I lost ALL of my Cambodian photos. There were some damn fine ones in there too. Anyway I've stolen Tom and Haya's so all is not lost, we had been to pretty much the same places anyway. It's just that my photos are my photos and well, this rant is going nowhere

Angkor Wat silhoutted against the sunrise. (Photo courtesy of Tom)

Bayon, the temple with all the crazy carved faces. Loved it. (Photo courtesy of Tom)

Francisco, our Chilean friend, shows us how they riot in his home country. (Photo courtesy of Tom)

Life is hard (again). On the right is my hebrew teacher, Haya. I have learnt how to tell Tom he has a stupid beardy face. (Photo courtesy of Haya)

Everyone loves a cheeky monk shot. (Photo courtesy of Haya)

Our reunion with Paul. We now all sport Changbands. Some would call them matching bracelets but that makes us sound like a bunch of French dukes, and this we are not. Well sometimes we are not.
(Photo courtesy of Tom)

I think the very first travel photo of me and Nick in Heathrow airport looks like this except that we have no hair and are very pale. Now look at us. We are hairy hobos.

The bumping into random people from home continues. The two girls on the left, I used to go to uni with. Met them in Chang Mai, Thailand and then southern Cambodia. Small world etc. bla bla bla

Angkor, I would be an idiot to try and sum that place up in words. It would just be a paragraph of wow, spectacular, ancient, grand majestic etc. and we don't want that.

So, yes Angkor and it's many ancient ruins and temples was all of the aforementioned superlatives and more. Getting up at 4am to see the sunrise was even worthwhile and I am a man who hates early mornings with vehement passion. Of course, it wasn't as simple as getting up early for a gentle cycle over to Angkor Wat, because after about 15 mins of riding the chain on my bike broke. Which meant a mad dash back to the hotel in a tuk-tuk, dump the bike, get back in the tuk-tuk and hope to get there in time. Which I did. Just. I think all the high pitched oo's and aah's of the hundreds of Japanese and Koreans around us when the sun appeared were apt.

A brief history lesson: Angkor was effectively the capital of the Khmer Empire 1000 ish years ago. (Give or take a couple of 100 years, I can't be bothered to wikipedia it right now). When London was merely a young whippersnapper on the world circuit with a population of 50'000, Angkor boasted 1 million. Over the course of several hundred years, temples were built; Buddhist temples, Hindu Temples, big ones, small ones, some with such intricate detail on such a massive scale that it is bewildering. One of my favourites was Bayon, which was massive in itself and was home to over 200 large carved stone faces.

Siem Reap (the base town for seeing Angkor) also taught us that myself, Nick and Tom should probably not share a room for 4 days ever again. The room may have passed as a hotel room when we entered it but it was probably a biohazard when we left it. Festering would be a good word to sum it up. So would stale. I have to hold my hands up and take a large share of the blame here, I was a bit ill one day and as a result sweated my own body weight during the night. Back home, if this were the case, one might change their bedsheets. I just changed the end I slept down the next night. Living the dream...

After Siem Reap was Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh. We spent a day at the Killing Fields and S-21 both stark reminders of the tyrannical reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79. In a nutshell, the man wanted to start society over again, from the beginning, meaning that he intended to turn every Cambodian into an agricultural worker, farming the land. A lot of Cambodian people were killed by their own countrymen, e.g. anyone considered too intelligent was murdered, which quite often meant just wearing glasses could get you 'disappeared'. One line that I took from the Killing Fields was "they have the human form, but their hearts are demon hearts", in reference to the Khmer Rouge.

Oh yeah, I'm now a card shark. Won a game of poker the other night that started off with 13 people. Went a bit flash with the winnings and bought drinks for anyone that wanted one. Then the money left over paid off my guesthouse bill the next day. Who says gambling is a mugs game?

Now we've made it back to the beaches, we're in Sihanoukville, in the south of Cambodia, just before we head into 'Nam. Somehow, we've managed to go over a month without a peaceful stretch of sand in sight. I say peaceful, it becomes less so when small children are convinced that you will buy whatever trinkets they are selling if they ask you enough times. And then the Cambodian equivalent of Tom Farmer minces past you wanting to manicure your nails. Still, a beach is a beach.

Anything else? The phrase "what's he doing in there, reading War and Peace?" is now redundant as that is exactly what Tom is doing in there. I am learning a few lines of hebrew from our latest travel buddy, Haya. So far, (and without looking in my book), one of the best things I can say is 'Az ma? At baa lepo hrbe?' Which means 'So? Do you some here often?' Bars of Israel look out, lines that good are like a lethal weapon in my hands...

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Keeping it Riel

Can't remember the name of this waterfall but it was Northeast Cambodia. And there was lots of water. This photo is from behind it by the way.

Different waterfall this time, a couple of children fishing in it.

We went to see the Irrawaddy dolphins (endangered species) but the photos I got look like amorphous, fat, grey blobs so here's a fat beardy blob instead.

Nick prefers to look at the world through pink laced curtains

Up close and personal with a water buffalo

Is there a better name for a whisky?

These blogs have been lacking wanky, artsy sunset shots recently so here you go

You may think the population of a small Cambodian village surrounds this car but no, that's who was riding in it. They got stuck. A few times.

Don Det was not what you might call a party island so god knows why menu item no. 14 is quite as chemically enhanced as it is. You could also make any item on the menu "happy" and you just had to specify how "happy" you wanted it...

Sorry to disappoint you but nothing much has happened today. We've had a 10+ hour coach journey from Kratie to Siem Reap and I managed to nap throughout much of it. So, there you go, nothing to see here, go on, go and do whatever it is you were meant to be doing before you thought ""hmmm lets see what Mark et al have been up to..."

Ha! As if I wouldn't have anything to tell you about. Imagine! The mere thought that in over a week since the last blog nothing would have happened is just silly. For a start we're in Cambodia now, we crossed the Laos-Cambodia border about 4 or 5 days ago. The passport office was essentially a wooden shed in the woods, down a dodgy back road but we got through with a minimum of "administration fees"(read: bribes), only a dollar or two each side of the border.

The last place we visited in Laos was in the far South, an area called the Four Thousand Islands. Of the four thousand, we stayed on one called Don Det. Not a great deal happens on the islands, which is undoubtedly the main attraction of them for many people. Including ourselves. It's quite easy to do nothing when your room has a balcony with several hammocks and overlooks a large expanse of the Mekong River. Most expanses of the Mekong river tend to be large actually. And quite swirly. Oh and while we were there, Tom "accidentally"milked a stray dog. Psh, "accidentally".

From the border crossing we headed North East to an area called Ratankiri where you go see/swim in a few big waterfalls and swim in a volcanic crater lake. Not many backpackers make the journey this way during the wet season (i.e. now) because it is a bit of a trek at the best of times. This proved to be the case. Not so much on the way there but certainly on the way back as we had to get out a couple of times to help out other vehicles that had gotten stuck in the mud roads that service this area of Cambodia and were therefore blocking the path of our bus. By this time I felt experienced in the field of getting vehicles unstuck as we had helped a large Cambodian family get out of the mud the previous day. I mention this because I had to leap into the back of a pick up truck at fairly high speed.

Such death-defying recklessness came about as me and Nick had chosen to jump up and down on the back fender of a pick-up truck to give it better grip on the mud. (This seemed the intelligent choice as opposed to pushing and getting liberally spattered with mud). SO, the truck gets the grip it needs and starts to speed up. The both of us think we'll just hang on until the driver stops. But he's decided he wants to be well clear of the mud and proceeds to bounce the truck over the mud track quite fast. Anyway, the upshot of this rambling is that I had to dive, kind of head first, with Nick pulling one arm, into the back of the truck as I would otherwise have been thrown off the back. Those watching from behind just saw my legs as they dangled gracefully about off the back of the truck until the driver decided it might be time to stop. Arnie himself would have been proud of such an action scene. I'm not sure what that gives me on the "I could have died" stories count but if you don't come back with at least a couple, other backpackers will shun you and offer to buy you a white wine spritzer. Oh the shame.

Finally for this week, I was talking to a couple of Dutch girls who were on our boat trip to look at the Irrawaddy dolphins yesterday. One of them asked if Tom, Nick and myself had become hippies while we were travelling, or always looked like this! Whilst making a kind of hand motion gesture that described our long hair and general beardiness. I'm sure it was a compliment although I couldn't tell as one of them, as I had earlier pointed out, had the kind of face that wouldn't seem out of place in the Gestapo.

And quote of the week comes from Tom: "I don't fancy Danny Grewcock, I just love him" (For those not into their rugby, Danny Grewcock is a player who would get more games if he weren't generally suspended for maiming other players. Tom should never be allowed near him for the safety of all involved.)