June 30, 2005

bug free Hoi An

another great feature of this town is a distinct lack of bugs

i noticed it the first night we got in. i was wandering around in sandals, a tee shirt, and shorts and i wasn't being eaten to death by bugs. we had dinner at a river front resturant and we did all the eating. it's really great. (turns out the river is close enough to the ocean such that it's actually salt water, so no mosquitos.)
every where else in vietnam i end up putting on long pants and bug repellant in the evenings. i've gotten about a billion bug bites, all of different kinds. my favorite was the ones i got the first two days in town. they started out as mosquito bites, but then they went from a small red bump to a large red splotch (about an inch in diameter) with a white center that really itched. after that they finally faded away. (much to my relief.) i still don't know what they were, but i had about six of them on my left leg.

eating in Hoi An

so we've had some really enjoyable meals here in hoi an.

The first night we got here we ate at cafe des amis, a little french cafe on the river. it was a fixed price menu for 80k dong (about $5.30 USD.) it was a LOT of food served up in about 5 courses and we weren't able to finish it, but it was really good. we got to try both of the hoi an local specialty foods in one meal. the first was cau lau (more on this later) and the second was the white rose. (dumplings with assorted filling.)
another place we ate at a couple times was the Ba La Well resturant. it's named after (and is near by) the famous Ba La Well in the center of town. Hoi An is known for Cau Lau. Rice noodles that are similar to Japanese Udon noodles and are made with rice husks (so they are brown) and water from the Ba La Well (supposedly.) well, the Cau Lau here was really really good. basically you get a bowl of noodels with some slices or pork. there are also bean sprouts and a bunch of assorted greens (basil, lettuce, mint, etc) mixed in. there are tiny bits of crispy fried onion, and a little liquid that remains from when the port was cooked. i tried cau lau at about three different places in town and this place had the best one by far.
we also came back to this resturant the next day because their mail specialty dishes looked really good. they basically served an all you can eat, roll your own pork rolls. you get a large plate of mixed greens, a plate of rice paper, two types of roasted pork on skewers, spring rolls, special sauce, chili sauce (which you can mix with the special sauce), cucumbers, and optional spring rolls. you roll up whatever you want into the rice paper and dip it into the special sauce, and much away. it was really tasty. also, all you can eat in vietnam is a bit different that in the states. first off you only get charged by what you actually eat. what's left over on your table goes back into the community pile and will be served to the next patrons. so in the end me and ronda gorged ourselves for 60k dong. (About $4 USD.) of course 30k of the price was for the beer we drank with the meal.
another great place we went to twice here was Hong Phuc. Here they serve fish cooked with garlic and lemon grass wrapped in banana leaf. i had this dish twice. a bunch of other resturants in hoi an serve this same dish, but i really liked it here. i had tuna and ronda had red snapper. it was very very tasty. (and once again it had the tiny pieces of very fried onion that appear on lots of dishes here.)
The only meal i regret having was some Banh Mi with pork. (Banh Mi are basically french rolls which you can get plain or with filling.) back home in SF i love a place called Saigon sandwhiches which serves really good Banh Mi with chicken, pate, or pork. i hadn't seens any Banh Mi in vietnam yet which looked as good as the ones back home, but here in Hoi An i finally found a street vendor with what looked like the right set of ingredients to make Banh Mi the way i remember it from SF. (yes, this does sound backwords, i know, coming to vietnam to get vietnamese food like i remember from sf, sigh.) unfortunatly, while the banh mi tasted really good, i think the pork that was in it was bad. the same pork was sitting out in an open cart unrefregirated for an underermined amount of time. (i bought my banh mi in the morning and the same pork was sitting out there late at night when i walked by again, and it was still there the next day as well.) regardless, it disagreed strongly with me and i ended up nicknaming it Banh Mi Bum Pee.

June 29, 2005

vietnam is a small place

you realize this once you keep seeing the same travellers over and over again.

our first day in Hoi An, we ran into the irish lads we were hanging out with a couple night before from Hue. (and from the train from Hue.) this of course resulted in another night of late drinking.
we then ran into a british couple who we met on the train from Hanoi up to Lao Cai. (on our way to sapa.)
we then saw another girl we had met at a resturant while up in sapa.
finally, we recoginezed another girl who had gotten really upset and caused a scene in the lobby of our hotel in Hanoi.
all the travellers in this country are either heading north or south, and if they're heading in the same direction as you, it seems you constantly run into them again and again. it's feels a little weird when you get into a new town and start wandering around only to see faces that look remotely familiar.

hanging in Hoi An

so today is our fourth full day in Hoi An and we're planning on leaving tommorow morning for a 12 hour bus ride to Nha Trang.

this is the longest we've spent in any one place so far. hanging out here has been really great. the town is pretty small and pretty low key. also the food has been really good. (i've pretty much enjoyed every meal i've had here so far.)
the center of town (old town) is a bunch of shops, bars, and resturants. the main gig in this town is getting custom clothes and shoes made for cheap. i bought myself a linen shirt with wooden buttons for $15. i got ripped off. i later found other places that would make it for $8. but whatever. now i can feel a bit more imperial when i wear the shirt. ronda also picked up a few shirts and a jacket for herself.
two days ago we rented bicycles and headed out to the local beach. it was pretty beautiful and the water was perfect. unfortunatly i got a little sun burnt.
past that we really haven't done much here. we've skipped the tourist attractions and spent most our time hanging out, reading, eating, doing trip planning, and drinking. it's been nice and relaxing. (hell, i've even had time to sit around in internet cafes twice and write a bunch of lousy blog entries.)

June 25, 2005

marked in Hue

the market in Hue is the best i've even seen.

before catching the bus to Hoi An today we decided to check out the open air market here, and it's by far the best market i've seen so far. it's also the largest food market i've seen so far. there was an incredible selection of meats (fish, shell fish, jelly fish, beef, pork, chickens/roosters (dead or alive), foul (dead or alive), etc) huge tubs of chili sauce and other sauces i can't name, tons of fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, herbs, etc. there were huge colorful scenes of women napping in their little boots surrounded by tons of different colord peppers and fruits. in one section there was about 12 women burying themselves as they peeled garlic en mass.
the market also had a ton of non-food stuff and had the narrowest isles between stalls stacked 10 feet high with assorted crap, from trinkets, to clothes, to toilet bowls, etc.
it really was pretty impressive.
the only thing i don't like about the market was that it's always an assult on your nose. not only do you have the fresh smells of all the products, but you also get the stench of rot. when the fresh fruit and meat is not sold, it's thrown out into the street and the swept into large piles on the edge of the market where it rots. so it's trully an assult on your nose.

June 24, 2005

dmz drudegry

well, at least we knew it wasn't going to be great going into it...

on our first day in hue, we booked a DMZ tour that was supposed to start at 6am and finish at 6pm. a really long day. when we went out drinking that night we heard from lots of people how boring the tour would actually be, and they were right. at least we were prepared.
we got up really early and a bit hung over thinking that we should probably try to cancel. in the end we went. what the tour is is actually 8 hours of sitting on a bus, 1.5 hours of sitting in the same resturant for breakfast and lunch, 1.5 hours of sitting at Khe Sanh, an hour of looking at the Vinh Moc tunnels. as it turns out, you go to Khe Sanh because half the people on the bus are actually going to Laos, and while you sit at Khe Sanh, the bus will drop them off at the border. of course Khe Sanh is already pretty far from Hue so you spend a long time driving there to see a tiny and mostly uninteresting museum. along the way the bus stopped a few times at the side of the road: once the guide said: "that's the rock pile. a famous american hilltop lookout, there is nothging there now." another time: "this is an ethnic villiage." another time: "this is a new bridge on the now paved over section of the Ho Chi Minh trail." not all that exciting.
really, the only thing worth seeing was the Vinh Moc Tunnels. the tunnels were pretty extensive and you got a chance to walk through a section of them. once they get below the surface you see how much work it must have taken to dig these tunnels 23 meters below the surface. pretty impressive.
of course, if you went to see just the tunnles it would have been a 6 hour trip instead of a whole day. in the end i wish we had just gone to Da Nang and organized a private tour. it would have been a much better use of our time.
needless to say we got a lot of reading done on the bus.
past that, i'll let ronda blog about all the strong feelings she had about the Khe Sanh museum. she got quite a bit rilled up by the descriptions, exhibits, and propaganda. (for reasons i still don't understand.)

June 23, 2005

first day in Hue

so today was our first day in Hue.

we arrived thur morning via a night train, on which we met a couple irish lads that had come over russia, mongolia, and china via train all the way down to vietnam. we raided the food car, chatted, and drank beer and corn whisky well into the night on the train.
the actual day in Hue was ok. it was unbelievably hot. according to my thermometer, it was over 100 F. and judging from the amount of sweat on my body that was not evaporating, it was also about 99% humidity. so we explored the town very slowly. in the center of town is an old citadel and a mostly destroyed mini-forbidden city. we wandered around here for the day before heading out to grab dinner at Y Than Garden.
Y Than Garden is a place described in the lonly planet as a good example of Imperial food, which Hue is known for. i'm wasn't a big fan of imperial food in china, but i figured it'd give vietnamese imperial food it's own shot. the conclusion is that while it looked pretty, i still wasn't too impressed. it was a fixed price menu for $8 a person. (which is a fortune for a meal here.) the setting was great since it was in a beautifully restored private villa inside the citadel walls. and during the meal i was able to watch a "heat lightning" show. (i'd never seen a lighning show like this. it wasn't raning and all the lightning was occuring between the clouds. ronda said that most people that didn't grow up in california are familiar with these types of things. regardless, i found it facinating.) the food was more about presentation that actual taste in my opinion, and while most the courses didn't taste bad, i wasn't too crazy about them. the best course imho was the rice cooked in lotus leaf (with a buch of other stuff mixed into the rice.) unfortunatly the duck that it was served with was a bit over cooked.
that night we met up with the irish lads again at a ex pat bar and sat around drinking till about midnight. after that we were hungry again so we managed to get the name of a street corner vendor that would still be around from the owner of the bar. we went there, and low and behold, the were still serving food on the corner. we were their last customers. (while we were eating they started cleaning up shop.)
we got some chicked with rice. basically the lady took a big knife and shaved some skin and meat of some large pieces of what looked like boiled chicken, threw it into a bowl with some oil, MSG, salt, pepper, onions, and greens. (basil i think.) she mixed it up and then put it on top of some rice. this cost us about 7k a plate. we then proceeded to sit on the sidewalk, eat, drink another beer, and watch the local roach, rat, and dog population scurry around. i was a little worried about eating here and i was pretty convinced that i would regret it the next day, but everything worked out just fine. i didn't die. also, i think the guy that owned the place was amused that a bunch of drunk white people who didn't speak vietnamese were there buying food. he was so amused he invited me over to have a drink of some of his corn whisky from a dirtly gasoline can. all in all a great time.

June 22, 2005

more eating in hanoi

i eventually found some more places where i really loved the food in hanoi

I finally found the Pho i was looking for.
Name: Pho Ga - Bo,or Pho Bo, Ga (depending on which sign you look at)
Address: 32 Bat Dan
Phone: 826 9119
this place rocked. i went there twice. the first time a woman served us and the second time there was a man there. basically, a bowl of pho was 8k dong. (a little over $0.50 USD.) they would take some rice noodles and put them in a wicker basket, lower it into some boiling water for a few seconds to warm them up, and then throw them into your bowl. on top of this they trow a bunch of chopped up green onion and lemon grass. then they take some fresh beef, put it in a big spoon, and dip the spoon lightly into the pho broth (which is in a giant black pot and sits there boiling all day), and by doing this they cook the beef a bit with the hot broth right in the spoon. this is then thrown into your bowl, and more broth is added to top it off. once i got the bowl, i had pickeled garlic, freshly chopped chilies, chili sauce, lime slices, and some other greens at my table. (and the tables at this place are the little kiddy ones that are set up on the sidewalk.) i added these as necessary to the pho. it was absolutly great.
we also went to a "fancy" resturant (read "fancy" as not 8k for a meal) called highway 4. (it's documented in the lonly planet. we went here a total of three times. first they have good cheap coctails. (normally i got the 15k dong, or $1 USD coctail, but we did hit happy hour once where everything was half priced.) but the real reason i kept comming back here was the catfish spring rolls. they consisted of a fried piece of catfish, a piece of fennel, and some mild creamy horseradish sauce rolled up in rice paper. this was then dipped in a oyster (hosin?) sauce which i think had a bit of the creamy horseradish sauce mixed in. the rolls where steamed a tiny bit and served warm. the second and third time i went back here, all i ordered was drinks and the spring rolls. (multiple servings of them.)
Of course i also went back to the Bun Cha place i described earlier.
lastly, while drinking is technically different from eating, i'll mention that me and ronda spent quite a bit of time at the corner of P Luong, Ngoc Quyen, Dinh Liet, and P Ta Hien. (in the old quarter.) on this corner there are three Bia Hoi joints that all fact into the intersection. each of them has all there seating in the form of plastic kiddy chairs on the sidewalk, and best of all, they all server beers for 1500 dong, or about $0.10 USD. me and ronda managed to kill about three hours one afternoon here during the peak heat of the day, and it only cost us a buck. very nice.

stuck in hanoi

so we spent the past two days stuck in hanoi.

our train got into town at 5am on monday morning (6/20). later in the day we went to pick up our supposedly reserved tickets for a train that night going to Hue. we found the travel agency, paid for the tickets, went to pick them up around 5pm, and got a complete run around about how the machine was broken and the couldn't get the tickets, blah, blah, but we could just take their bus service tommorow. this left us pretty pissed. we went somewhere else and eventually booked a train for Hue on wed night (6/22).
so we spent a couple more days that planned in hanoi. but this time around it was much nicer than before. it wasn't quite as hot, and i don't know why, but on wed the traffic seemed much more sane. we went back to our favorite places to eat, and even bought a bunch of bamboo plates, bowls, and serving dishes which we shipped back to the states. we'll have to have some dinner parties when we get back to use them.

June 20, 2005

i'm filthy

ok. so the bus to bac ha wasn't like i was expecting. we took an early bus from sapa to Lao Cai. the bus was tiny and had 15 people with luggage in it. four people were travellers, the rest were locals. the bus was backfiring 10 times a second and smelled of burnt brakes as we went down the mountian. we continued along like this till we had a blow out and pulled over at the beginning of a hair pin turn. the worst possible place. then everyone got out and squatted behind the mini-bus while they changed the tire. the worst possible place to hang out. then we got to Lao Cai.

lao cai sucks. once here we had a bunch of people tell us there was no bus to bac ha, or that we had missed the bus, or the bus was going from the other bus station. all of them offered us a ride on their moto, or to stay at their brothers place, or to take their tour tommorow, or to wait at their cafe while they called the bus driver because he was their friend. it didn't help that there were two bus stations in town and that our guide book steered us to the wrong one. (and had a really crappy map.) eventually after getting ripped of for a few bucks and being ready to punch some really pushy vietnamese people we finally found our bus. everything was wine and roses from there.
the people on the bus were from the bac ha area and were really nice. (a lot of them seemed to be school children.) we met a little school girl who spoke some english and assured us we were on the right bus. we also met an older man who was married, had a one year old son, and didn't speak a lick of english. we had an entire conversation by pointing around in my translation dictionary. he eventually invited us to stay at his house but we turned him down.
bac ha itself was a very small and sleepy town. it was great. we got to see the market area before the market really got started and also after. at the market we bought some corn alcohol that we'll probably drink on the train tonight. the woman who sold it to us was estatic. (i think it was because she was expecting us to pay 500 dong, but we misunderstood and paid 5000 dong, which is still only about $0.34.)
in Bac Ha we didn't see too many other foreigners. we saw three non-locals the first night and about 5 after the market. (during the marked a couple tour busses brought in more people but not as many as i was expecting.)
the market had anything you could want really. the going rate for horses was between $200 - $400 USD, pretty pricy, so ronda didn't buy herself one.
after the market me and ronda went for a walk out to one of the local villages, Ban Pho. it was a nice walk out into the rural contryside. we got a little sun burnt on the hike.
one of the best features of Bac Ha in my opinion was the Bia Hoi joint we discovered. they actually served pitchers of beer for 20k dong. (about $1.33.)
this was great and we hung out there both nights when we were in town. the first night we had a classic beer joint experience. a really drunk vietnamese man at the table next to us started calling out "Hello" and "I love you." he then came over and procceded to drop his cigarette in my drink. then he went back to his table and me and ronda watched his friends give him a serious talking to and they tried to drag him out of the place. also, one of his friends then proceeded to order me and ronda a new round of drinks to make up for the intrusion. so afterwards i ordered a pitcher and refilled their glasses. then the other neighboring table decided that we were nice and started toasting us and it all ended up with people pounding glasses of beer at tables all around. a classic beer drinking moment. the second night was less roudy, but we got warm welcomes from some of the regulars we saw the night before.
all in all, i really liked the town. you could walk along the streets without the fear of getting run over by motos and there were a lot less tourists that in sapa. (althoght the food and weather were better in sapa.)
the bus ride out of Bac Ha was a trip. first it was a russian bus (i think) that was very high off the ground, bouncy, and had wooden planks for the floor. the bench seats were all really narrow and our seat was directly above the exhaust pipe. the road was in horrible condition (as it was when we came up.) flooded out in many sections and just a mud path on the side of the mountain lots of times. the pigs in baskets from the market were thankfully strapped to the roof. we were the only non-natives on the bus. also, there were lots of fumes (from our bus, other busses, and trucks) and since it hadn't rained in a couple days the mud had dried in many places and it was really really dusty. i was very happy to be off that bus and i'll be really lucky if i don't end up with a resperatory infection.
so right now we're in Lao Cai waiting for the night train back to hanoi, where i plan to ask how much it will cost to rent a room by the hour to take a shower. i'm really looking forward to that. (and i'm not looking forward to sleeping on a train in my currently filty state.)
tommorow night we plan to catch a second night train from Hanoi to Hue from where we will explore the DMZ and possibly My Son.

June 17, 2005

relief in sapa

we left hanoi wed night on an overnight train to Lao Cai. it was supposedly an air conditioned train, but i think that was just a marketing gimic. after sweating all night we arrived in Lao Cai and took a hour bus ride to sapa. we've been hanging out here since then. luckily it's been about 75 F and raining most the time we've been here, and i've been enjoying the lack of heat quite a bit.

after a small bit of confusion while checking into tour hotel. (since there are two hotels with the same name right next to each other... accompanied by a tale of divorce.) we napped a bit and then went out to grab food at a restaurant called "little sapa." we had some tasty wild pig cooked sapa style. (which means served on a sizzling platter having been cooked with onions and spices.) this was some fresh spring rolls were really tasty. (the restaurant had been recommended by some people we met while traveling to haulng bay.
after that we walked to the cat cat village and saw the cat cat waterfall. along the way were lots of pigs, water buffalo, chickens, corn, rice, weed, bamboo, and strange foul. i managed to take some good pictures. after getting back we went to a french restaurant and headed back home to read and pass out. (this town is really dead at night.)
today we took an old beat up russian jeep to the tach bach water fall. it was a pretty impressive fall. about 100m broken up over multiple stages. we got to hike up a trail on one side, cross the falls half way up on a bridge, and head back down. it was pretty cool. the jeep was about as beat up as the road we were traveling on, which was well washed out in sections. also, the driver had to refill the radiator a couple times since the radiator cap had been replaced with a rag and a piece of twine. the driver also took us to a high up mountain pass to see the neighboring providence, but we couldn't see more that 15 feet due to the clouds.
at the waterfall i had some really great sticky rice from a lady on the side of the road. up here they serve stick rice that has been stuffed in the hollow center of a piece of bamboo or sugar cane. (i'm not sure which.) this is roasted over coals for a while, then peeled open, and then you break off bits of the rice and dip it into crushed peanuts and salt. it was really really tasty.
tonight we went back to "little sapa" for dinner and had some chicken with yogurt that was cooked in the same fashion as the pork we had earlier. it was super tasty. (we wasted meals trying food at other places around town and "little sapa" was the clear winner.)
tomorrow we're leaving really early to catch a bus back to lao cai. from there we will try to catch a public bus to ba ca. we're planning to spend two nights in ba ca. sunday morning there is a huge market in ba ca where we might buy some horses and water buffalo. (after buying and drinking some of the local corn whisky i've read about.) a lot of the hotels in sapa offer day trips to ba ca, but we wanted to spend some more time there because it's not supposed to be as touristy as sapa and there are lots of small villages to hike to. one hotel in here in sapa tried to talk us out of taking the public bus there because apparently all the locals would be on it with their animals heading to the market. so it could get interesting.

June 15, 2005

my 6th sense

i feel like the kid from the 6th sense. but instead of dead people i see and feel mosquitos everywhere.

eating it up

today we went to a really good bun cha resturant (No 1 Hang Manh St.) a little place where we got a huge plate of rice noodles, a huge plate of veggies, a large plate of chopped up fried spring rolls, a bowl of chopped garlic and chilies, a bowl of fish sauce and a bowl of assorted pork bits. (little meat balls of pork wrapped in leaves and also bits of fat, grizzle, and meat). it was really good. we just through all the ingredients together into a bowl and chowed down. had it with a large beer at 10am for breakfast. me and ronda couldn't finish it all. cost? under $5 USD for both of us.

yesterday we went to Cha Ca La Vong. a old resturant that serves Cha Ca. (a food style that it defined and others now imitate.) they brought a clay stove with hot coals to our table. it had a frying pan on top with fish in it. there was some oil, safron, and other spices on the fish. into this we threw fresh chopped chilis, basil, fennel, and green onion. we cooked it for a bit and had it atop rice noodles in little bowls. and of course we had beer with it all. it was pretty damn tasty and came out to about $6 bucks a person.
my quest for the ultimate pho has not yet been fulfilled. i've tried quite a few tasty bowls, but none have yet matched the pho cooking in my mind. i'm still continuing to hunt this one.

hanoi wins

this city has defeated me. it's really too much. it's hot and in your face every second.

everything happens right on the street. you can't walk on the sidewalk because there are people having hair cuts, women cooking food, people eating, parked motorcycles, buildings extended out onto the side walk. you have to walk in the street. of course in the street are about a billion bikes. the most recent i heard, vietname has 14.9 million of them (with a population of 84 million.) it's loud, frantic, and in your face. and every block you have at least one person asking if you want a ride or want to buy something.
yesterday i felt compleatly defeated. just hot and very tired. all i wanted to do was retreat to a quite air conditioned room. so i ended up going to bed early at 10pm.
but today was much better. it was only 85 F today (still humid though.) that small temp difference really left me feeling much better. also, we took it easy today and didn't go to so many places. that really made a big difference.
all this said, i haven't disliked the city. once you get out of the old quarter things calm down a bit. and there are lots of places to explore and try out that i haven't managed to get to, and probably won't get to.
now we're taking it easy, just sitting at cafes, reading, drinking, and relaxing. tonight we're taking the train to sapa. a village in the mountains where we're hoping it will be a bit cooler. (and a bit less intense.)

June 13, 2005

halong bay

so we got back to hanoi earlier today from a tour of halong bay. i had a really great time. we booked the tour with Handspan adventure travel. it was a little pricy, but worth it in my opinion.

we booked the tour on friday night, and sat morning we hopped on a bus at 8am heading to halong city. we had a very talkative tourgide named Phu who told us all sorts of interesting random fact on the drive to keep us entertained. we also spent some time getting to know the other people on the trip with us. (we had a group of 12 people, including Phu).
on the way out there (and on the way back) our bus stopped at a "happy place." Phu described it as such, saying that people were usually tired of the bus when the got off and happier when they got on. as far as i can tell it is basically a required tourist shop. there are signs up saying that all the trinkets were made by "disadvanteged" youths, blah, blah. we had hopped that by going for a more expensive tour we would have been able to avoid these types of stops, but ronda mentioned that in china such stops are actually required by the govt, so that may be the case here as well.
we arrived in halong city and went strait for the boat docs where we climbed over a couple boats, all piled up against each other, to get to ours. once there we immediatly started drinking beer and waiting to leave. once our boat left the bay, the scenery became really impressive. ronda had seen scenery like this before in guilan, china, but for me this was all new. we had lunch on the boat and just sat around taking pictures, talking, and watching a fraction of the 1500+ islands go by.
we eventually stopped at one of the islands, which had some huge caves, and we spent some time walking through them. (along with a bunch of other tourists.) aside from being pretty impressive inside, it was about 15 degrees F cooler in the caves than outside, which was a welcome relief for me.
back on the boat, we sailed away from the cave island a bit and dropped anchor. from that point on the afternoon and evening were spent eating, drinking, chatting, and swimming. the sunset was also pretty stunning. (we were lucky in the weather since it didn't rain.) i passed out really early that night since i was still tired from hanoi and not fully recovered from jet lag.
the next morning our boat took off early and after breakfast we met up with another taxi boat. the taxi boat took us to a small island with a few huts on it. there we dropped our stuff and jumped into two person ocean kayaks. we paddled around for a while before going to another beach to swim some and then another boat for lunch. by this time i had a huge headache (probably from too much sun) and took a short nap. after lunch we were taxied a ways to a floating villiage in the bay. lots of people have houses with dogs on the bay and they raise fish in nets. we jumped back into our kayaks and paddled around the village for a while, paddled past Cat Ba island and saw the town there, and then paddled a little out to sea and back to the island we were staying at. while paddling back it started to rain.
we spent the evening on the island relaxing, drinking beer, eating, and chatting. finally we retired to our bungalos, where earlier ronda had practically jumped through the roof when a large centepiede (millipede?) crawled out from under some clothes on her bed.
the next morning we had an early breakfast and made our way back to halong city. i mostly just read and napped on the way back. we had lunch in halong city and then took a bus back to hanoi.
on the road from hanoi to halong city you see tons of signs of development and signs about all the new places being built. it doesn't seem like it's going to be long at all before all land alongside the road on the way out there will be totally developed.
all in all, i really liked the tour. it was really nice to have everything taken care of and planned for a few days. the food wasn't great, but it wasn't really bad either. and i fufilled my goal to kayak on halong bay and sleep on one of the islands. we also met a few really cool people that we hung out with later back in hanoi.

June 10, 2005

i've got a rash

this is gonna be quick. i've got a few minutes before i have to catch a bus to Halong Bay for a couple nights. we've book an organized tour with one night on a boat, one night in a hut on one of the smaller islands, and some kayaking in between.

so far i've had two full days in hanoi. it's HOT. 90 F with 100% humidity. i've got what ronda says is a heat rash on my chest where my shirt has been rubbing me...

aside from that it's been pretty good. we managed to see some water puppets and walk all around town. yesterday we went to the temple of literature, the one pillar pagado, the womens museum, and the Hao Lo Prison Museum. we saw the madness that is all of hanois youth going on their motor bikes to get ice cream and night.
i got a local cell phone account here. $10 USD for a vidaphone sim chip. my local number here is 091.278.4964. (to call you need to prefix with the viet nam country code, 84.) i tried sending txt messages to a few people back home but i'm not sure if they got through.
so far meals have been a debate about how much risk i'm willing to take. stick to guide book recommended places (been to a few.) or try the local joints. i haven't eaten from any of the street vendors yet. i did try a couple random joints that turned out to be pretty good. the bai tuoi (a stronger type of beer that bai hoi) place we went to yesterday was really good. cold beers in this weather are essential to survival.
when we first arrived into town, late and night, we took a cab on from the airport along a highway that ronda said was the best maintained road in the country. it was raining and we passed two accidents. the second one was particularly bad. there was a cab that looked like an accordian, and a cab driver that looked like a ghost. our cabbie pulled over to talk to him. so there were at least three cars involved. (since the cab was smashed from both front and back.) also there were a couple bikes and a couple dead people on the road. (at least i'm assuming they were dead, because i don't think live people can be in positions like that.) the cabbie got back in the car and told us 3 something. i never found out if he said three cars or three people dead.

June 7, 2005

middle of nowhere

well, i'm not at home and i'm not in hanoi yet. i'm half way, so i guess i'm in the middle of nowhere. right now i just got off a 11.5 hour flight from sfo to seoul. turns out they have free internet terminals here so i though i'd abuse one. i also have three hours to kill here before my next flight to hanoi. (i don't know how long that will be but i'm guessing about 4 hours.)

even though i'm feeling pretty bloated from the flight, i'm still interested in seeing what kind of food i can find in this airport. i've been reading my vietnam food book on the flight over as a sort of self torture. (reading about good food and then eating airline food.) ronda has been studying the language, which is what i probably really should be doing, so i'll get started with that on the next flight.
we should be getting into hanoi around midnight and then making our way to the hilton. ronda used a bunch of hilton honor points to book us in there for two nights so we can start the trip with style. :)
well, that's it for now, i'm off for more cramped seating.

June 5, 2005

getting anxious

so today i picked up ronda from the airport and then spent the day preparing for my trip. i've called all the credit cards, banks, and insurance companies. i started setting aside the things i'm going to pack, organized documents, started collecting phone numbers, started writing a lists of things left todo, and started making a list of stuff i still need to buy.

"need" might actually be too strong a word. i'm probably over thinking and over preparing and it'll turn out a lot of crap that i "need" will never be used. hell, i've practically got an entire pharmacy that i'm planning to bring.
while staring at the growing pile of crap i'm planning to take, i'm still dreaming that i'll fit it all into my kelty 2400 cu inch backpack that i use every day. (instead of taking my hiking back pack. i've used the kelty for three week trips and that has worked out just fine, but this is a bit longer.) this might be a little far fetched, but i think it would force me into a minimalist mode, which would be good because there would be less for me to worry about.
lastly, the past couple days i've actually been getting a little anxious. i'm starting to wonder what the hell i've actually gotten myself into. i'm sure everything will work out fine once i'm there, but saying that doesn't exactly relieve the anxiety that's setting in now. (i think i was also a bit anxious before leaving for china.) damn stupid uncontrollable anxiety. i hate my brain sometimes. i also checked the weather in hanoi, and it doesn't exactly look good. and to help with my anxiety i've been reading about the side effects of my malaria pills (malarone), reading about drug side effects really isn't a good thing for anxiety relief. (my favorite quote: "Take a repeat dose of atovaquone and proguanil if vomiting occurs within 1 hour of taking a dose.")
well, i'm off to bed. one more day to go.

June 4, 2005

wrapping things up

well, this past week my work schedule has been a little off. it ended up shifted to late in the day as i attempted to wrap things up around town before leaving for vacation. tue i went to the second OpenSolaris User Group and i didn't get home till after midnight. wed and thur i got home around 2am. last night i did manage to get back to sf just in time to grab some chicken panini at chez maman (right before the kitchen closed.)

i also talked to a couple people at work this past week at work who had recently been to vietnam and cambodia. russ had just spent 10 days in vietnam touring around vietnam and strongly recommended a motor bike tour he had taken around the north west. steven had also just recently been to cambodia and told me about some of the things he saw and did there as well.
i'm leaving on tue so there's only a few more days to wrap things up. i need to leave the house i a decent state for blake, so today i have to drop off a bunch of old stuff i'm getting rid of at good will. i also want to start packing today so that i know what i'm bringing and what i'll still need. past that i've still got plenty of reading left to do in my vietnam book and i haven't even started reading my vietnam food book. instead i've been paying bills in advance and writing blog entries. well, i'm off to do some real work now.