July 31, 2005

impressions of laos

i really liked it.

this is a country i'll have to go back to. we spent a really short time here, most of it sick in pakse, but i still really liked it.
the capital city, vientiane, is really more of an overgrown town than a city. when we got there on sunday afternoon it was dead. we went wandering to find a resturant to have dinner and everyone was out on siesta (or something.) we eventually found a beer garden where we killed time till one of the resturants we were interested in trying opened up again. it seems this way with most the "cities" in laos.
the people in laos are really friendly and helpfull. in general people didn't lie to us to try and make a buck, or grosly overcharge us for things.
since we were there in the beginning of the rainy season the country was really lush and green. it seems they have an infinate number of waterfalls around. in vientiane there are some tour companies that can arrange for hiking, kayaking, or rock climbing trips to different areas of the country. (the only problem with laos is that you can't really explore the back country on your own since like cambodia they have a large problem with UXO, aka Unexploded Ordinace. seems the US dropped LOTS of bombs on laos and about 1/3 of them didn't explode. the country was also mined pretty heavily and you really don't wouldn't want to stuble over some of this stuff.)
i think it'd be really great to go back there sometime after the rainy season (when it's cool) for two to four weeks to explore the country further.

July 30, 2005

back in pakse

we got back to pakse today from tad lo falls. tommorow we're catching a flight to bangkok, thailand. (via vientiane, laos.)

we had a really laid back time at tad lo falls. we stayed at sayse's guesthouse in a huge room that was situated almost right above tad hung falls. (which are a little down river from tad lo falls.) our room was really nice and my only complaint was that the bed was rock hard. we had a small balcony on the back from which we could see the top of the falls. we spent almost an entire day hanging out there and just reading.

we also did a bunch of reading at tim's guesthouse. they had decent food and outdoor seating so we sat around there quite a bit, eating, drinking beer and tea, chatting with people, petting the local cat and dogs, and reading.

tad lo itself is a really small "town." it consists of one dirt road with a small bridge over the river. on the dirt road there are about 5 guesthouses and there's not a whole lot to do... so aside from reading and meeting people we also went for an elephant ride since neither of us had ever done that before. our elephant was a senior citizen at 65 years old, but somehow she still managed to drag us around. the exciting part of the slow elephant ride was when we came out of the forest at a bend in the main road. at this point a local guy on his moto was driving by, he looked at us, waved to us, said hi, and drove right off the edge of the road. luckily he was unhurt.

also, there was some other low key excitement during our stay. it's the start of the rainy season in laos and the first night we got there it rained A LOT. enough rain to flood out the dirt road in a couple places, cause a huge tree to fall over at tim's guesthouse, and force them to close the bridge for auto traffic since one of it's supports got knocked down.

on our last night there we met up with a bunch of other travelers for a lot of drinking and debating about a random different issues. (international aid, third world development, education and industry, physics/mathamatics/computers, etc.)

to get to and from tad lo we took a tour via the sabiday 2 guest house. on the way out to tad lo we got to see a tea plantation and two waterfalls, on the way back we saw a couple more waterfalls. this means that insetead of getting the public bus experience in laos (which i hear is actually pretty good, unlike vietnam) we got the sawngthaew experience (a standard for transport in laos.) basically a sawngthaew is a pickup truck with two benches installed in back and a metal post frame around the back area which you can stretch a tarp over for protection from the rain and sun. a little bumpy, but we did manage to squeeze 12 people into the back today.

July 26, 2005

heading to tad lo falls

tommorow morning we're off on a tour of the Bolaven Plateau. we're going to see a few (more) waterfalls, (more) ethnic villages, and (more) coffee and tea plantations. after that we're going to spend a couple nights at tad lo falls, hopefully in a small bungalow overlooking the falls. (which we're hoping will be impressive since it's been raining cats and dogs here for the past few days.) if the rain lets up a bit we may even do some hiking and elephant rides around there.

sick in pakse

pakse, laos is really a pretty small town and we've been hanging out here for almost 5 days. why you ask? well, aside from writing lots of overly verbose blog entries and picking lint out of my navel, we've been very busy trying to get healthy again.

both me and ronda started to get sick in siem reap. i got a low fever there one night and felt pretty crappy for the following two days.

ronda got a low fever the night before we left siem reap. then after getting into pakse and checking into our hotel her fever really took off. by 10pm on friday night her fever peaked at 103 F. she also had really bad stomach cramps, was puking, and had diarrhea. i was really worried since ibuproffen didn't seem to be doing anything to kill the fever. both of us didn't sleep much that night. i was taking her temperature every 20 mins, freezing rags to try to cool her down, and dragging her to the shower every hour to try and cool her off. needless to say, i was probably over-reacting but i was really worried. (we are really in a small town in the middle of nowhere.)

from this experience i learned that pakse does have a very large nice new hospital, which was built three years ago with japanese money. i went there during the night to the emerengcy clinic but couldn't find anyone who spoke english. the next morning me and ronda went down to the clinic with someone from our hotel to help us translate. first they told us she wasn't in a coma, which was a relief to me. then they told us that she didn't have dengue fever. after that they took a blood sample and told us it wasn't malaria either. all good news. eventually they said it was just bad food poisioning. (which was strange since we had been eating all the same food recently.)

after that they gave us "prescriptions" for a bunch of different drugs. (i put prescriptions in quotes because you don't need any to buy drugs from pharmacies here, so it was more just advice.) the drugs they recommeded seemed to be: paracetamol (for fever), amoxicillin (for i don't know what), buscopan? (or some type of antispasmodic to stop the stomach cramps and allow her to keep food down), and an antacid.

well, the fever hung around all day saturday and ranged from 100 to 102 F, sunday it was down further to the range of 99 to 100 F, and finally on monday it got down to 98 and ronda actually left the hotel room again to go get some food. while she was sick i went to the local market to buy some bananas and bread, but she really had no appetite and didn't eat anything. (which also had me worried.)

since then things have been looking better. she's been eating progresivly more and the stomach cramps have been occuring less and less. a welcome relief for both of us. my take away from this? being really sick in a small town on the far side of the world where few people speak the same language as you is a really really crappy situation for all the parties involved.

July 22, 2005

next: pakse, laos

today we caught a flight on lao airlines from sien reap, cambodia to pakse, laos. it's been a while since i flew on a prop powered place.

cambodia vs vietnam

they may share a border, but cambodia and vietnam are worlds apart.

as soon as we crossed the border (by boat) you could see interesting temples on the banks of the river with architectures unlike anything in vietnam. in phnom penh the temples, museum, and monuments have pointy spires, nagas (large snakes with 9 heads), apsaras (dancing nymphs), and other mythical creatures that we never saw in vietnam. the architecture here seems much closer to thailand than to vietnam.

the food is also much closer to thai food than vietnamese food. i've had lots of soups (sometimes made with coconut milk and spices) and curries here that remind me of thai food and have no connection with vietnam. we've stepped into a compleatly different culinary universe.

when you walk around phnom penh it has a very different feel from any city in vietnam. the streets are not as crowded with vendors and many shop fronts are permanently closed. (presumably from the lack luster economic situation?) walking around phnom penh you see that many of the streets in the city center aren't even paved and are simply very bumpy dirt roads.

the road situation in cambodia is much worse than in vietnam. cambodia supposedly has one of the worst road systems in all of asia. this becomes immediatly apparent when you take a taxi almost anywhere. (for example, going to the killing fields or any of the temples outside of siem reap.) most times you are driving very slowly and weaving all over the road trying to find the best path to avoid the REALLY big holes in the dirt.

there are also much fewer motos, but many many more cars, trucks, and SUVs here. for cars you see toyota, honda, lexsus, infinity, and mercedes. for SUVs and trucks you see the same brands as well as subaru and ford. some of these vehicles belong to NGOs, but not as many as you'd think. to me this seems indicative of a much smaller middle class in cambodia. the gap here between those who can't afford a moto and those who can afford an SUV is much greater here than in vietnam. right now in cambodia corruption in the government and misuse of internation aid and money brought in by NGOs is apparently pretty rampant. (hell, i even saw a toyota with chrome spinner hub caps in phnom penh... truly amazing.) in siem reap there was a bookstore where the owner had a Harly Davidson motorcycle, a really big hog, at least 1000cc. in vietnam, it's not legal for anyone other than the police to have a bike bigger than 150cc.

the poverty situation here also seems much worse than in vietnam. there are many more beggers on the streets (both in phnom penh and siem reap.) children following you for a couple blocks with their hands out either mumbling incoherently or saying "money, money" over and over again. children and mothers carrying babies are asking you for money. old toothless and cripple people are asking you for money. people with their legs and arms missing loaded onto carts are asking you for money while their friends push their carts along side you while walking down the street. when ronda handed a half empty plastic bottle of water to one begging girl, another begging boy standing next to her immediatly knocked her down and took the bottle. when i got off the boat in siem reap i was immediately swarmed by children all asking me for the pen that was clipped to the outside of my backpack. there really wasn't much of this in vietnam and here it's pretty continuous and very much in your face.

there are a some exceptions though. most of the rampant begging occurs in the tourist areas. when you leave the center of town (in siem reap) you don't see as much of it. also, the authorities seem to put a stop to it in certain areas of phnom penh. in phnom penh we stayed in a hotel on the river front and at night we pretty much only walked up and down the waterfront to resturants and bars there. (cambodia is a well armed country and armed robbery is not uncommon here, so we were playing it safe.) all along this strip there were multiple police officers on every block and the only people who would hassle you were tuk-tuk drivers who would ask once if you wanted a ride and if you said no they would back off.

another issue when traveling here is the pollution. in phnom penh itself the situation wasn't too bad, but once you get outside of town the amount of dust and dirt in the air is very high. while in siem reap the amout of dust and exhaust in the air left me and ronda with soar throats and stuffed irritated noses for the extent of our stay.

in general, people here seemed more congenial that in vietnam. social and financial interactions seemed to go easier and people seemed more strait forward and honest. initial prices for things seemed more resonable and the haggling process was much easier here than in vietnam. (on many occasions in vietnam people would try to sell us things at extravagent prices and then be compleatly unwilling to bargin, even if i knew what the price should be and was willing to offer them something reasonable. that never happened here.) with one exception, tuk-tuk drivers seemed less pushy and persistant that moto drivers in vietnam.

in all, i really liked it here and i wish that i'd had more time to explore some more. some other interesting areas to see around the country would be battambang, the coastal areas, and the nothern mekong delta region.

July 21, 2005

siem reap

we ended up spending five days here. three days exploring the angkor temples and two killing time since the flights to pakse, laos are only twice a week. unfortunatly you really don't need more than one day here (not counting days spent touring temples.)

siem reap is a dusty dusty town. and i've been told that it is actually much worse in the middle of the dry season. (it's the start of the rainy season now, but on the news we were hearing that there is currently a drought.)
the first night we got here i took a shower and the water going down the drain was brown. the next morning i took another shower and it was still brown. even the tap water here has dirt in it. the amount of dirt on the ground and dust i the air here makes the area of beijing i was living in last year look very very clean. the air quality here is pretty horrible. me and ronda both got sore throats and stuffed noses on our second day here and the situatin hasn't improved any with time. just walking around town you feel like you've accumulated a layer of filth on you.
it probably doesn't help that the amount of construction and big expensive hotels/resorts that are currently being built here is amazing. they are really banking on a HUGE future tourist industry here. (there are already lots of large hotels.)
there is a royal palace in town but you can't tour it. there are also some royal gardens which don't feel very royal. (there was construction going on in them as well.) the best part about the royal gardens is that you can see thousands of bats hanging from the trees in the gardens. and these aren't small bats, when they take off you realize that they have a wing span of at least two feet.
the center of town is actually pretty small and has a high concentration of "fancy" resturants, bars, and cafes geared torward tourists. one place we spent a lot of time at was the blue pumpkin cafe. i spent almost an entire day here reading since upstairs they have a giant 4 foot deep futon cushion that spans the length of the entire wall and you can sit on it burried in pillows while ordering drinks and food on smal tray tables. needless to say it was a pretty comfy place to relax and read. (it really seemed surreal and kinda outta place in this small town, but somehow i got over that.)
we also had some pretty tasty soup here at a place called the Soup Dragon. we had pho ($0.75 USD) and cambodian beef stew ($0.90 USD) for breakfast here twice. we also had some good thai soups for dinner at a place called In Touch. Finally, our favorite resturant here (that we went to three times) was a small down to earth place called Little India. the resturant has been around for a long time (supposedly the first indian resturant in siem reap) and the current owner is an indian nurse from sri lanka who came here to work at the local hospital in 1999 (and she still works there during the day.) we had some really tasty samosas, chana marsala, chicken tikka marsala, raita, and other bits here.
well, with all the time we've had to kill here i have had a chance to catch up on a little of my overly detailed and verbose blogging.

they closed the damn city!

this really screws up our plans for visiting laos. vientiane is supposedly closed from the 20th to the 30th. we already have a flight for tomorrow into pakse, laos and we were planning to leave via vientiane. (since it's the capitol and all flights out of laos go through there.) looks like we'll spend today changing our plans.

July 19, 2005


for some background, there are hundreds of temples built from the 9th to the 12th centuries. the older temples are hindu while the later temples are buddhist. many of the temples have been damaged or had statues and engravings pilfered over the ages. some have been restored (to prevent them from collapsing) and some have been left to the jungle. some are built of brick, others of sandstone, and some from a combination of both. many had stucco finishes which have since disappeared.

walking around the temples today the sheer number and size of them is mind boggling and awe inspiring, not to mention the amazing number of detailed carvings and statues adorning the temples that have managed to survive for hundreds of years. all the signs of a prolific and powerfull civilization that has disappeared from the face of the earth.

pretty dramatic introduction, eh? so we decided to spend three days exploring these monuments (you can get a one day, three day, or six day pass) that took centuries to build.
you can check out some maps of the central temple areas here and here.
there is also an interactive map of some of the central temples here.
the first day we were very ambitious. we got up at 4:30am and headed out to see the sunrise at the Bayon (the central temple in Angkor Thom.) it was gorgeous. we were the only ones there (since most people/tours go to angkor wat for sunrise.) the bayon has 54 towers each with 4 faces, and during sunrise the light plays off of them. when we got there it was still very dark and we used a flashlight to start climbing around. once it started to light up it was really great. you could hear bats calling from the dark corners and you would see human shapes and shadows in hallways from all the buddha statues. (the bayon is a budhist temple.) sunrise here was one of the hilights for me.
after that we had a long long day of exploring. we proceeded to see the Baphuon (which is under extensive restoration), the Phimeanakas, the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, and Angkor Wat... all before lunch.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world and it's pretty damn impressive. five central towers that are over 60m high. the entire complex is surrounded by multiple walls and there are extensive carvings covering almost every inch of the complex. we spent a good two hours wandering around here.
actually, this was already our second time at Angkor Wat. we had already gone to Angkor Wat the evening before. after 5pm you don't need a pass to visit the temples, so the day we arrived in siem reap we headed out to Angkor Wat after checking into our hotel. we wanted to see the sunset from the top of Angkor Wat, but it was not to be. by the time we got to the center of the temple they were starting to close it up and kick people out. as it turns out there was a big thunder storm heading in from the east. so we got a chance to sit in Angkor Wat (not at the top though) with the sun setting on one side and a very active lightning storm and lots of thunder comming from the other. the lighting was great and it was an awesome scene. while leaving the temple complex the rain clouds finally reached us and a real downpour started.
after taking a break to relax and get some overpriced lunch and coffee at the angkor cafe (the only air conditioned resturant near Angkor Wat) we took off again to see: Ta Promh (a temple that has been overgrown by the jungle) Sra Srang, Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, and Phnom Bakheng. Phnom Bakheng is on a hill near Angkor Wat and is pretty much the sunset spot. there was a huge crowd there but that didn't make the sunset any less attractive.
so after exploring temples for 14 hours (5am till 7pm) we were dead tired and headed home. our tuk-tuk ride back was hell. we got stuck in traffic (ie, we were sucking on vehicle exhaust) and the dust level seemed unusually high. by the time we got back to our hotel our throats were killing. i got a slight fever that night and felt really crappy the next couple days. (coughing up happy green things, etc.) unfortunatly the three day pass is only good for three *consecutive* days, so i felt compelled to go out and see more temples. but we took it much easier for the second two days (which were really just half days.) we also took taxis instead of tuk-tuks to try and avoid the dust and exhaust.
the second day we went to temples that were outside the central area. Banteay Seri and Banteay Samre to the north, and Bakong and Preah Ko (both part of the Roluos group) to the south east. Banteay Seri was pretty impressive. it's a really small temple made of pink sandstone that looks like a miniature Angkor Wat and the quality of the carvings is really great.
our last day was spent finishing up the temples around Angkor Thom. we saw the Eastern Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Preah Khan, and Ta Keo.
while touring the temples we had one really bad experience. on the first day there we had one teenager come up to us while walking around and start following us and telling us about the temples and the history of cambodia (all stuff i had read from my guide books and history books.) after a while of this i told him we weren't interested in a tour guide. at this point he started asking for money, saying he had shown us around and told us about some history. i told him that he had just followed us to places we were already planning on going to and he hadn't told me anything that was not mentioned in my book. at this point he started demanding some money and calling me lots of foul names. (his engish was surprisingly good in this regard.) eventually we started waking near some security guards and he left, but i remainded a little worried for the rest of our time touring the temples since sling shots are popular around here and i thought he might come back after us. (since he had been talking about how i would have "bad luck" because of this.)
our real guide to the temples was the book Angkor (Fourth Edition), by Dawn Rooney. the first half of the book talks about the history, religion, and other background for seeing the temples. ronda read some of the first half of the book (which i still plan to read) so she was explaining some of the religious history and significance of different carvings that we saw. the second half is information about each of the temples (including maps for many of the temples) and hints about what to look for and how to see each of the temples. the book was informative but a bit out of date. the book was last updated in 2005 but it was probably only to fix typos since it still talks about walking through areas in temples that are now roped off and other things inside the temples that don't match up to reality. that said, it was still much better than having no guide.
well, after three days of wandering around wats there wasn't much left to impress us since we were pretty templed out and ready to move on.

July 16, 2005

heading to siem reap

today we took a boat from phnom phen to siem reap.

not only did it take them an hour to debug engine problems after leaving so that we could go faster than a crawl, but once we got going it sounded like the boat was going to vibrate to pieces. you either had to sit outside on top of the boat (where you could get rained on first and then sunburned later) or you could sit inside with earplugs. of course this still seemed better than 9 hours on a bus. (since cambodia supposedly has one of the worst road systems in all of asia.)

July 15, 2005

food in phnom penh

like saigon, this city has a very international feel when it comes to the variety of resturants and the food that is available. but here i think most of it comes from all the NGOs which bring a heavy foreign influence. while here we continued the trend of eating mostly international food instead of finding the best hole in the wall cambodian food places.

i feel bad admitting it, but we ate dinner and drank at the FCC (Foreign Corrospondents Club) every night. course the food was pretty good there. they even had a wood fired brick oven where they made the best pizza i've had this whole trip.
we also ate lunch at an interesting little place called the boddhi tree. it's a resturant and guesthouse right across from S-21. (not a place i would want to stay.) but the food there was really good. i had some "cambodian" soup, which reminded me a lot of thai soups (like tom ka gai.) they also had some tasty rolls that consisted of a slice of grilled eggplant with a slice of prosciutto wrapped around some blue cheese. the roll was served warm with a bit of parmesan shredded and then melted on top. mmmm.
another interesting note is that there are tons of "happy pizza" resturants here. i saw the pizzas being served in most these resturants and while they aren't the best looking pizzas (imho), butyou can order them with fresh marijuana as a topping (since it's legal here.)

touring phnom penh

some of the sights here in phnom penh can be pretty grim.

we started or sighseeing by going to the Choeung Ek killing fields. this is an area 14 km outside of town where the khmer rouge killed everyone from the S-21 prision (and others) and threw them into mass graves. some of the mass graves have been exhumed, but most have not. a large monument has been created which contains a large number of skulls from some of the exhumed graves. when you walk around the site and look down you realize that in many areas you walking on bits of clothes and bones that are slowly being exposed from the ground. not exactly a happy place.
after this we went to S-21, aka the Tuol Sleng Museum. this was a high school that was converted by the khmer rouge into a prision. it was used to processes counter revolutionaries and usually extract "confessions" from them. once someone was sent to the prision, that was it. there are only seven known survivors from this prision. anyone that went there was killed to keep the location and even the existence of the prision a secret.
for more info about S-21 and the Choeung Ek killing fields go read rondas blog entry about these places.
after S-21 the mood lightened a bit. we went to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. this palace blew away any we had seen in vietnam and would have made any french king proud. (actually, in the grounds there was a building donated by Napolean III. architecturally it stood out quite a bit.) the silver pagoda got it's name because the entire floor is made of pure silver tiles. it also has a bunch of gold buddhas studded with diamonds and other precious stones to match. while we were there, the old king (a new one was crowned last year) stepped out of the royal residence and gave a wave to a large crowd of people.
lastly we went to were the National Museum (which was pretty nice and had a large amount of carvings from angkor and some other items of national heritage) and the central market. (i like to try to go the main markets of every town i visit here.)
the one interesting thing i didn't do was go out to shoot guns. i've read stories about cafes outside of town here where you can shoot AK-47s, M16s, and grenade launchers for fun. in my tour guide it said that recently the government was trying to shut these places down. it seems like this is probably a half hearted effort since i got my first offer from a tuk-tuk driver to go to one of these cafes within an hour of arriving.

July 13, 2005

cali represents

during stay in vietnam most the english speakers we've encountered have been irish, aussies, canadians, or europeans, and we met suprisingly few americans. then today on a small boat (only 14 people counting the driver and guide) to phnom penh, cambodia, we had 8 californians.

there was a couple from san francisco and a group of four siblings from the san diego and la areas. it was kinda strange. we all got along pretty well, ended up checked into the same hotel, and hung out for a night of chatting and drinking at the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) in phnom penh. it was a good time.

goodbye vietnam

it's been five full weeks, but now we're finally done with vietnam. today we traveled by boat from chau doc, vietnam, to phnom penh, cambodia.

delta tour

well, to exit vietnam we went on a pretty crappy tour of the mekong delta region. i could complain about it here but i think ronda has already done a pretty good job of it. you should also make sure to read her summary of vietnam.

July 11, 2005

rip peter

i just got some really sad news yesterday.

outta time in the delta

well, i can't keep up with the blogging stuff. i'll have to do a bunch of catch up entries after i get back...

but as of right now, we're spending the night in can tho on a three day tour of the mekong delta. the day after tommorow we should be heading into cambodia. there we'll go to phenom penh and siam reap.
after that we've changed our plans. we were planning to head to thailand, but all the people we've met on this trip have raved about laos, so instead we're heading there. we're planning to fly from siam reap to pakse. from there we'll head south into the delta, and when we're done make our way back to vientien and then bankcock to fly back.
of course this current plan is all still subject to change as well. ;)

July 10, 2005


well, we've short changed saigon a bit by only staying here two days (we're starting to run out of time on this trip) but it's still been a pretty cool city.

we did a very basic and quick tour our first day here checking out things like the reunification palace, the ho chi minh city museum, the fine art museum, and the war remenants museum. one of my favorite points was the notre dame cathedral. we didn't go inside because there was what looked to be a funeral going on, but looking in from outside, i did see that jesus had a neon halo, which is pretty funny.
aside from that, saigon has a pretty big internation city feel that hanoi didn't have. the streets are bigger, the hotels are bigger and fancier. there are more international resturants. etc.

segregation in action

we've noticed some interesting segregation on the trains and busses here in vietnam.

on busses, the tourists are always at the back of the bus. most tourist busses will also take locals on them when they're not full, and i've seen the people running the busses ask tourists to move back in the bus so that locals can sit up front. kinda funny.
it also happens on trains, but for a compleatly different reason. most tourists book trains through their hotels. all the hotels but their tickets through the same company in each town that goes to the train station and buys up entire cars. so normally when you book your ticket in your hotel, your pretty much guaranteed to get a seat next to other tourists. your other option is booking at an official train office. we did this once and we got seated with some locals. but this is a bit difficult because getting to the booking offices is a pain, and there may not be anyone that speaks english there. also the trains fill up earlier, and when the official office tells you there is no space, there may actually still be a space that you could get through the hotel, since they have essentially reserved a bunch of tickets by buying in bulk.

July 9, 2005

eating in saigon

first off we had pho at a place called pho 2000. (clinton ate here on his visit to vietnam.) it's a bit more expensive ($1.33 USD) than the other places i've had pho, but the broth here was by far the most amazing and tasty that i've had anywhere. the basil was a bit of a let down (not as flavorfull as i'd like) and all the meat was pre-cooked (i prefer having rare beef), but still it was a super tasty bowl of pho.

another great place we went to was hoavien. man after a month of travel this place was a godsend. they brew all their own beer and they have a really really yummy dark lager on tap. they also have a unique system of serving it that i've never seen before. aside from ordering different sized glasses (i had two half liter glasses, each only $1.66 USD) you can order one to five liters of beer. then they fill a 3 foot tall thick glass cylinder with a brass base that has a beer spout on it and bring it to your table so you and your friends can refill your own glasses at will. while here we also snacked on deep fried cheese served with boiled potatoes, sliced tomatoes, and sour cream.... mmmm....
after drinking at hoavener we got dinner at bo tung xeo (where we had a tasty beef dish that we grilled at our table) and commenced to do a small pub crawl
that didn't go as planned. one of the bars on the crawl we couldn't find, another really really sucked, and we ended up spending all our time at sheridans irish pub. it's a really small joint but it has a good irish pub feel and some really good beers on tap. apparently it's been around for over 12 years. there was also a large band of locals playing and singing classic irish and americana songs, and doing a suprisingly good job at it. needless to say, we went home pretty happy from here.

July 8, 2005

one night in Mui Ne

mui ne is a small beach town and we arrived there yesterday, by bus, around 2pm in the pissing rain.

once we quickly checked into a place, we went for a walk on the beach. we ended up going to jibes where i rented a surfboard for half an hour while ronda sipped some drinks. the waves were really small when i started and the rain and wind only got heavier untill it was all blown out and i gave up.
after that we wandered around mui ne to look for some dinner. mui ne is basically a long beach, with a bunch of small hotels spread out on it. past the hotels is a single road that parallels the beach, and past that are a few resturants and not much else. we walked around till we found sheridans irish pub, which turned out to be a bad hotel bar blasting vietnamese pop music, so we left there quickly. we ended up having a decent dinner at the forest resturant. mui ne is not known for its food.
we called it an early night and got up the next morning to get some ocean time before leaving. the rain had passed during the night, but the waves weren't any good for surfing so i just played around for an hour in the water trying to body surf. all i managed to do was get tossed around and get a sunburn. after that we cleaned up and hopped on another tourist bus heading to saigon at around 2pm.

July 7, 2005

drinking in dalat

we've had some really good and really bad drinking here.

first the bad... we asked around and managed to find a bia hoi. they served a locally brewed lager beer for which i can't remember the name. well, regardless of it's real name me and ronda nicknamed it bia ass. the reason is that it smelled like sewer. literally. i was really excited when we found the place and i immediatly ordered a pitcher of beer. we got it and started drinking, and then we realized that it smelled really really bad. at first i thought that the cup and/or pitcher had been washed in sewer water. (not an uncommon practice.) or even that a joke had been played on us by the staff. but the staff was not laughing and the serving ware was not being washed in the gutter. we ended up leaving the rest of the pitcher on the table and going to dinner with the hope that we wouldn't be sick. then the next day, we were on a day trip and went to a small resturant. i ordered a beer with lunch, and low and behold, they brought out a bottle of the same beer. this time i smelled my glass first and realized that it was just the beer that was stinky. it was funny because the beer tasted fine. (most lagers don't have much of a taste in my opinion anyway.) but the damn thing still smelled like rotting shit, which makes it a bit hard to drink.
now onto the good drinking. there's a bar called saigon nite in dalat, and if you're in town you should drop by. the drinks are resonably priced (not bia hoi prices, but resonable) and the owner rocks. i got my ass kicked repeatedly at connect four. i was trying really hard to win and he wasn't even paying attention. i lost about 95 games and tied about 5. (he was actually a few pieces short of a complete connect 4 set and this really helped me tie a few games.) we also played a bunch of connect five, which is completly unlike connect four, and i fared a little better at this. while i was busy getting my ass kicked, ronda discovered his guest book in which many people warned of his "mad connect four skills." a really friendly guy in a pretty low key bar. we stopped by there three times for night caps and ass woopins.

eating in dalat

dalat has been great for food.

when we got there we went to the central market, which had indoor, outdoor, and covered sections. the upstairs of the indoor section was all food stalls, and here i had some ok pho. (but not great.) eventually, i found some really good pho at a little place on the walk from our hotel to the market. it was great shop and i went there once a day. the pho was really good. all the right spices, and a mixture of raw and cooked beef. interestingly enough, the pho resturant also had really tasty coffee. unlike other places, here when they served the coffee, they also provided a plastic glass of hot water that you could place your coffee glass into to keep it warm.
this was also the first place i found some banh mi that i really liked. the rolls were fresh and light and i had them filled with some butter, cilantro, shredded carrot and some white stuff (also shreadded and i'm not sure what it was) cooked pork or chicked, and pork crack (i'm not sure what the stuff is really named, but this is the nick name my roomate gave it, it's pork that has been made into a really light, almost crystaline, hair like structure.) this was finished off with some really spicy chili sauce. the banh mi were different from the ones back home in that the amount of fillings was really small and the rolls were very light, so i would usually eat at least two during the day. but this was ok since they were only about $0.25 USD a piece. the banh mi shops where also pastry shops that had both sweet and savory pastries that we also picked up. ronda really liked the small, light angel food cake pastries that were an excellent coffee snack.
lastly we decided to splurge and go to the most expensive resturant in dalat that we knww of, Le Rabelais in the sophitel hotel. we had the place to ourselves most the night with our own personal piano player (who i assumed was actually tape until i saw him at the end of the night.) there were two fixed menu's for the evening, ronda got the one for $19 USD and i got the one for $32. the reason i got the more expensive one was because it had cheese course. the cheese course was a bit of a sad joke. i had some tasteless brie, a piece of a slice of roquefort from a plastic container, some munster, some boursin, and (the best cheese on the plate) some ok reblochon. i felt a small tremor when the served it to me... i think it was caused by every dead frenchman in the world rolling over in their graves. but the cheese plate aside the dinner wasn't all horrible. the deserts and apetizers were just ok, and the main courses were actually pretty good. i had duck (and it was served pratically rare) with lots of fresh vegetables, mashed potates, and an interesting pepper sauce. ronda had some pork in a mustard sauce with veggies and potatoes as well. dalat is known for growing vegetables and the ones we got were great. a nice variety, very fresh, and not over prepared.

July 6, 2005

around dalat

today we took a motorbike daytrip tour outside dalat.

we got a couple drivers, recommended by the woman who runs our hotel, who spoke really good english to take us to some of the villigaes outside dalat.
by far, the most interesting part of the trip was seeing how silk is produced. starting at a farm where they raise larva up to the cucoon stage and then sell them to a factory where they take apart the cucoons and spin them into silk threads.
past that, we got to see two really nice waterfalls. one of them we had to hike to, and of course the hike was on the same slippery clay as our previous hikes, so of course i bailed really good and smeared brown clay all over my rear end. needless to say, it looked like i soiled my pants horribly and i was getting good laughs from random strangers for the rest of the day.
we also went to a mushroom farm where we saw how they grew wood ear mushrooms for market.
the ride back got interesting because we managed to kill two bikes. ronda's driver had a chinese motor bike. these bikes are known for being cheap, in all sensed of the word. well, as it happens, the bike overheated while climbing back up the mountain to dalat. so our drivers flagged some random stranger down and got him to take ronda. this was going fine until his rear tire blew out. after that, my driver took ronda back to our hotel while i started to hoof it back. after a short while, the driver with the chinese bike caught up with me (since he had gotten a bottle of water which he used to cool down his bike) and gave me a ride back to the hotel.
another interesting thing i learned here is that the goverment doesn't allow anyone to have bikes bigger than 150cc. only the police can have bigger bikes. earlier i was suprised by how small some of the bikes i've seen here are. (i think the smallest i've seen here is 50cc, which is unbelievably tiny.)

July 4, 2005

hiking around dalat

we just finished a two day hiking, one night "camping" trip around dalat

it was an organized tour done via phat tire ventures. the hike we did was called jungle fever. it was a two day, one night hike that went through some varried terrain. we went through pine forests, jungle, and pushed our way through lots of tall ferns and reeds.
one of the difficult parts of the hike was that when you weren't in the jungle the trail you were hiking on was mostly hard damp clay, so there was a lot of slipping going on. i took a couple really good bails and a lot of close calls.
to make a bad situation worse, it also seems that they are compleatly unfamiliar with the concept of switchbacks here, so when there was a serious hill to climb you would simply go strait up it on the slippery clay trail. good luck. for the second day they gave us walking sticks since they could see we were struggeling.
another interesting thing we learned was that there are leecehs in the jungles. they're not like leeches i'm familiar with from movies and novels. they look like little worms, about an inch long, and pretty narrow. (about 1/16 of an inch.) they gave us some extra large "socks" to protect us from the leeches. we put these new "socks" over our hiking socks and into our boots. they came up to our knees and after putting them on we smeared the exposed outside of these "socks" with some ointment that would stop the leeches from crawling up past the top of the "socks."
the night was supposed to be spent "camping", and it was... kinda. we spent the night in a tent, on a concrete slab, under a large thatch umbrella. we were staying at a lakeside "resort" where there were lots of concrete slabs for people to sleep on. each of the slabs was protected by a large thatch umbrella, which was handy since it was raining most the night. the resort also had a large central building with no walls, just a really big thatch roof, that served as a dining area. we had dinner and breakfast here. they also (thank god) had a small store where we could buy over priced canned beer.
lastly, the resort had a bunch of "pets." their "pets" were a couple elephants which you could pay to ride. instead me and ronda bought a couple bunches of bananas and fed them instead. i've never been that close to an animal that big. the larger of the two was almost twice as tall as me. it was pretty cool. they also had a couple cages with monkeys in them that looked pretty sad. we tried to feed the monkeys bananas only to discover they weren't interested and all they really wanted was grass. they had already eaten all the grass they could reach so ronda went around ripping up grass else where and feeding it to them. the last entry to the "pets" collection was a couple horses that ronda of course said "hi" too.
we also had a pretty good hiking guide that spoke resonable english. we spent a good bit of time talking to him about vietnam and we had some good conversations.
we got done with the hike just in time since it started ito rain really heavily on our drive back to dalat. needless to say we were quite tired afterwards. (we spent the day before the hike biking around dalat, which is a pretty hilly town, so we were already tired and sore when we got started.)

July 1, 2005

night in Nha Trang

so we spent last night in nha trang

nha trang is a big beach town and we weren't really planning on spending much time there. we got in around 7pm after almost 12 hours on the bus.
during the bus ride i managed to finish reading the gulag. a very imformative, well researched, and well written book that i really enjoyed. it took me a while to finish since i started reading the book on this trip. i learned a lot about russian history that i never new before.
once in nha trang we tried to go to an italian resturant recommended in our guide book only to find it no longer existed, so instead we went to another italian chain resturant called "good morning vietnam." (they have one of these resturants in each of the major towns in vietnam.) the pizza was actually much better than what i was expecting.
we then headed back to our hotel, drank a couple beers, and passed out early since we were waking up at 6am this morning to catch the bus to Dalat. in all we spent about 12 hours in town. in the morning when we were getting ready to leave we chatted with someone else at our hotel who was also going to dalat and he reconed we'd spent about enough time in nha trang.