Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Iconic Places 1

I wasn't going to come all this way and not make it here.

 The madness that is Halong Bay.
On our way to the ship but not before getting hit by that boat coming our way.
Bounced off and both of us just kept going like nothing happened...

These women work very hard. 
Smaller one person row boats full of stuff to sell
come around to all anchored ships.

What you miss from a photo is the sounds and smells -- Diesel.

Right outside my cabin.  Bringing fresh water at 6 am.

If you have a chance to go, take the 2 night cruise. 
The second day is much more relaxing, less regimentation.

I loved how the fog and mist brought such a mysterious quality to the Bay.
This was day 2 and had the day boat all to myself.
Stayed outside on deck all day despite the rain and drizzle.
Having full rain gear made all the difference.

Oyster/Pearl farm and museum.

There are wild monkeys on this island and I saw some unbelievable
behaviour by some parents urging their young children to get up close to them.
All I can say is Rabies, people!!!  It only takes a lick...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Thoughts on SE Asia

***Kudos to those who were able to identify the landmark places in the photos -- Hoan Kiem Lake, Temple of Literature, Opera house.  Yes, my home base was Hanoi.***

Having been to SE Asia twice now, I've come to some conclusions:

I am not attracted to either Cambodia or Vietnam as a vacation destination.  It doesn't matter to me that they are inexpensive once I get there.  Feels like I've only worked (not true) the last 2 trips and now need a real vacation! 

Granted I have not been to the more popular beach areas of either country (Kep, Da Nang) so that might have swayed things?  Not sure/convinced as I'm not a lie down on the beach, eat and drink my face off or go trolling for a companion for a week type of person.

I am griped by the level of suffering and would return to help out (Cambodia, not Vietnam, may consider writing about it another time), for the right project.  Having seen first hand some great organizations made me feel better about where my money was going.  Would also go back to visit the people I met.  And on this trip, my best memories ended up being all about the people.

Overall, I would not describe the places I saw this time around to be all that relaxing.  I met and were told by people who lived nearby (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur), that they chose these areas to vacation in because they are close, inexpensive and easy to do over a long weekend.

I get that but for me, the noise pollution, the chaos, might be amusing the first couple of days, but afterwards, don't know how people find peace?  I like to be able to hear myself think.  Hard to decompress with all the random, distracting inputs and worry about self preservation. 

For those who are accustomed to busy Asian cities it probably wouldn't register much of a difference.  And you obviously do adapt.  I kicked into gear right away though it took me a solid week at home to get myself back to normal.

For me it is upwards of 20 hours in the air alone to get there and what I experienced wasn't enough for me to chose it over Europe.  Heck, I don't even go for cheap packages to the Caribbean and it would be way closer!  Had been doing some serious research on yet another developing SE Asia country prior to my arrival but have since shelved plans to return to the region later this year.  I need a break!

Because I react to MSG, missing significant amounts of sleep didn't help matters.  Once I stopped eating noodle soup, I was able to get about 6 broken hours of sleep a night.  Not great but better than nothing.  And one thing about Vietnamese people, they will tell you in a kind and caring way if you are looking tired! 

I kept summing it up to jet lag.  Wasn't going to get into the food thing and start some sort of international incident.  We love Vietnamese food and eat a lot of it here in Canada.  And I was not going to miss out on opportunities to participate in street food tours.  So I just dealt with it.

Plus MSG/food additives isn't a wholly Asian thing.  Remember I had a similar but worst experience in Prague?  Because of that, I clued into it much earlier this time around.  It was a super great thing that I found Vietnamese coffee to be pretty awesome -- Cold, hot, made with egg, loaded up with condensed milk and ice, I drank it all!  And I'm not a daily coffee drinker at home.  I feel part of the difficulties I experienced getting back into the swing of things upon my return is detoxing from all of that.

One thing about being totally awake, you get a lot done!  I figured out where that extra flight I was looking to take is going to be and booked an entire adventure around it, at 4:30 am one morning using my phone.  Then it was the perfect timing to call D to see how his work day went (13 hours difference).  And after chatting for an hour, the morning public announcements and songs would start, signally the start of another day.


You don't have to venture far beyond the old gates of the Old Quarter or the Long Bien bridge to see how most people really live.  The density in the Old Quarter is nearly 8 times what NYC is and costs upwards of 15000 USD per square meter...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

First Day

I arrived near midnight and after managing to pick the very slowest line for passport control known
to man, finally made it to my hotel, thanks to my non English speaking driver. 
Here's what I awoke to a few hours later. 
Taken from balcony of the "honeymoon suite" I was upgraded to (first 3 pictures).


What you don't hear is the loud, loud nationalistic music blasting from public speakers
at 6:30 am and 4:30 pm everyday.  Followed by approx. 30 min of news -- Censored of course.
I was 7 storeys up with closed windows and balcony door and it still woke me up, every day.

I got such a kick out of seeing all the crazy electrical line set ups.
Watching a worker try to add yet another line was even more amusing.
I was prepared to do emergency CPR.

The sound pollution is incredible and relentless.
When I returned home, my ears were ringing from the silence (damage?).

Don't let the pictures fool you.
It was near 40 C with what felt like 100% humidity.
My day timer and journal got all warped despite being in air conditioning.
They have not recovered.

University grads ready to take on the world, posing for pictures.
I went on to spend about half my time with 3rd year students.

I discovered that I indeed possess an "Asian gear" that allowed me to thrust
myself into oncoming traffic from all directions without fear. 
Very handy here, in the land of 99% absent traffic lights.
I had been told that traffic in Phnom Penh was child's play compared to here.
They were absolutely correct.

Location of first lunch recommendation.
Owned and run by the same family for decades.

Located in a small alleyway, with only one medium length picnic style table.

Kitchen prep area.

Cooking area.

Food was good.
Though it initiated the first of about 3 days of zero sleep,
courtesy of msg.
I'm still recovering from the lag.