Tuesday, 30 September 2008

A Litany of Scams

To truly get inside the mind of an accomplished scammer you must first serve yourself up as a delectable juicy morsel. So thorough is my ability to get served, I now have a list of warnings and common scams operating in South East Asia to share with you. Please do not feel pity. My intentions were always noble and I have done a fine job in redistributing my wealth to others.

The truly astounding fact is that in most cases we had prior knowledge of 90% of these swindles before we left home. Traveling long distances, queuing, disturbed sleep and a liver struggling to process last nights bar top frolics can all exacerbate ones ability to be taken for ride.

These scams have all been tasted and tested throughout our trip through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. However I suspect that similar currency hijacking exists throughout our known galaxy so sit back, enjoy and hold on to your wallet.

THAILAND

The pushy Bangkok travel agent.

Bangkok is the gateway for most people visiting South East Asia. The travel agents in particular have a really bad reputation. I am sure there are some good ones out there we just didn't find one.

We entered the travel agent wanting two tickets to Koh Samui

But in the space of half an hour we managed to sign our selves up for 20 days of accommodation, travel and sundries. Our itinerary was scribbled on a never to be seen again piece of paper. We received our tickets the next day in a series of envelopes. Religious holidays were cited as an excuse why we would find it hard to find accommodation without our agents help. By a rough calculation we payed twice the list price on every single item. But we could not reconcile correctly because we received no itemised account. Conveniently our travel agent had gone home on a holiday the next day when we collected our tickets.

Needless to say we are going to have a great time enacting revenge on our return to Bangkok booking 60 days of five star travel, stalling and generally making nice nuisances of ourselves to the very same travel agent. Think of it as self enforced karma.

Unseen Travel Bangkok Naughty Naughty Naughty.

Island Travel

After a ferry ride which often will be on the back of a twelve hour bus ride all one wants to do is get to your accommodation. In general the islands are very small. It does not take half an hour to get anywhere and the roads are perfectly adequate for moderately fast travel. You will be sharing your trip with other travelers. Negotiate as a group if you can and wait till you get off your ferry. There will be no shortage of people willing to help. Confidence men actually operate on the ferrys taking money from travellers and double your money by being the nice guys in the middle. It is amazing what a polo shirt can do to make someone look semi official.

Border Crossings

Border crossings are particularly bountiful for the practiced grifter. I have the following bullet points to make these painless.

  • Know how much a visa costs
  • Have plenty of passport photos ready
  • Don't get any currency changed by a helpful stranger
  • Do not believe a word about a lack of ATMs, financial services or a regular power supply in your intended destination
  • Do not accept help from anyone who is not behind a counter or is part of your tour party
  • Know your exchange rates, have them written down

In addition be particularly wary in the immediate vicinity of a border crossing. You are most likely to be preyed upon around borders.

LAOS

Laos in general was pretty laid back. The only scam I can list could have been a mistake or genuinely mischievous.

Vanishing Clothing.

I lost a lot of clothes in Laos and it can all be traced back to using laundry services. Thankfully as I lost more and more, my clothing accounting improved. If you wanted to dodge this scam; count your clothes before you give them away or take a quick digital photo of them laid out on a bed.

I suspect my clothes are now being worn proudly from one end of Laos to the other so I am not completely aggrieved.

VIETNAM

Vietnam it would appear is in a perpetual state of war; foreigners are routinely financially liberated.

Hanoi Taxi & Hotel Scam

Thankfully we knew enough about Vietnam to dodge this bullet but the lengths we needed to take are worth rewriting.

  • Know where you are staying and have its address. We recommend the Tin Tin hotel in the old quarter
  • When you are dropped off at the wrong hotel check the name on the hotel
  • Be forceful with the driver and get them to take you to your desired hotel
  • Give the driver the money you agreed on not a new per person amount
  • Have both currencies handy so you do not have to rely on a drivers dubious exchange calculation

Hanoi Cheap Cheap Accommodation

More general advice here which is worth knowing about. If you go cheap in Hanoi you had better agree on going with the hotels tour services. If you do not, you can count on having a hard time when you check out. It is worth paying a bit more and sorting out tours by yourself.

Roadside selling

Be prepared to give your neck a thorough work out. A firm no and shake of a head is generally enough to discourage people but in tourist havens like Nha Trang the surge of salesmen is relentless. You are not even safe in a restaurant as they will come in and try to sell you all manner of things right at your table.

Unfortunately this is just modern day Vietnam. I did have one idea that might work. Wearing a pair of dark glasses, carrying a cane and leading a labrador might flag you as suitably blind and therefore not a good target.

The Ultimate Confidence Scam

To this day I do not know if this was a scam. It was so well executed that if it was I tip my hat to the gentleman that played it on me. It started with an innocent walk to find an internet cafe. I was gently accosted by a man who had mistaken me as a member of his New Zealand extended family. He proceeded to tell me he had a couple of hours to kill and would I come for a drink with him. Wanting to further my traveling experience I promptly hopped upon his scooter and we headed off to a river side bar.

A couple of bars later I had *learned* about this fellows family, his interests and he was also a writer or sorts and being the first writer I had met on my travels this in particular got me excited. Alarm bells should have rung when he told me he was a foreign currency collector and how he attempted an unsuccessful currency swap. He got me to write his wife a happy birthday note for his book of writing, it was conveniently her birthday. I then said I would like to return to my hotel and stop at an internet cafe. On our way home we stopped at a liquor store so he could buy his wife a bottle of wine. In a beer induced stupor I agreed to buy his wife a bottle of birthday wine which conveniently cost the total amount of money which was in my wallet. I suspect the wine was exchanged back less a percentage after I was dropped off.

The tale written above is undoubtedly a scam but it was done with such poise and grace that it felt completely natural. A canny old writer bugger to be sure.

CAMBODIA

Cheap TUK TUK

Crime in Cambodia is organised. At the lowest rung of the crime ladder are the tuk tuk drivers. We had a particularly ugly situation with a tuk tuk driver in Phenom Penh, He conveyed us to our guest house without a hitch for nothing. He did not accept any money and then agreed to take us to some do some tourist type things the following day.

Unfortunately for him over night we had hatched competing plans which were not fully realised until it was time to leave our guest house the next morning. We tried to pay our friendly tuk tuk driver for the previous days trip plus a generous bonus which would have more than covered his time, and then explained we had to go with other people. He got really ugly and really angry, he would not accept our money and I made the cultural mistake of throwing the money on the ground.

We learned afterwards that this is a cultural no no. We also learned that the tuk tuk driver believed that he owned us for our entire stay in Phenom Penh. If you need to organise a tuk tuk do it through your guest house because at least then the guest house can enforce some security and you have a channel for hearing any disagreements.

Do not accept free rides. Nothing comes for free. It is best to pay a bit extra and not have the burden of someone having unreasonable expectations from you the next day.

Charity Work

If you are feeling particularly humane and want to give blood, visit an orphanage or make a donation do your best to research your charity first. We have heard of the following.

  • Donated blood being sold for a premium instead of being used for free transfusions
  • Children being hired out to be dressed in rags for local mafia run orphanages

There are a lot of beggars in Cambodia. This is distressing but if you look a bit closer you will often notice the beggars are carrying large wads of cash. They are also often carrying shopping and I suspect retirement age women will take babies out whilst baby sitting to make for a more compelling sell. DO NOT give any money because if you give some to one you then will be hounded for the rest of your stay by all the beggars in your area. It is a well organised business for them.

There are a lot of NGOs operating in Cambodia looking for places to spend money. Rest assured there are procedures in place so no one needs to go hungry. Even a cash strapped tourist.

Conclusion

Be aware, be alert and be cautious.

Furthermore if you want to feel my plight without leaving your computer, donate some money or click on a google ad. I have learned from the best.


Whilst on the Run

Lists are the foundation of most worthwhile and practical exercises. Before we embarked on our adventure I cataloged my mobile digital strategy with gusto. On the whole it has been successful and has only needed a couple of tweaks as we have made our merry way around this part of the world.

I hope this information will be useful for anyone who takes a laptop traveling, enjoys using the internet and maybe tries to write a bit each day like myself.

Do not count on WIFI or even a network cable

Whilst we have been very lucky with most of the places we have stayed it is sometimes necessary to find an internet cafe. Some are nice and have a table set aside for laptop users but some are not. The setup of some internet cafes makes it tricky to appropriate network cables for your laptop as well. I incurred an electrical charge this morning doing this, shocking.

If you blog use Post2Blog

Post2Blog is a wonderful piece of software which allows you to compose your blogs offline and then publish them when you are ready. It is more elegant than using notepad and it is actually more powerful than using the standard blogger and wordpress editors.

Get Protected

You will need antivirus protection on your machine. When you leave the firewalled protection of your home and start having to use memory sticks and public internet terminals you will start to notice your antivirus software earning its keep.

Don’t believe me? skim over this

Scan performed at: 9/2/2008 23:17:51 PM
Scanning Log
NOD32 version 3401 (20080829) NT
Command line: H:’

Date: 2.9.2008 Time: 23:17:55
Anti-Stealth technology is enabled.
Scanned disks, folders and files: H:’
H:’system.exe - Win32/Autoit.BA worm
H:’RECYCLER.exe - probably unknown NewHeur_PE virus [7]
H:’dvd.exe - probably unknown NewHeur_PE virus [7]
H:’My Pictures.exe - probably unknown NewHeur_PE virus [7]
H:’Apps.exe - probably unknown NewHeur_PE virus [7]

That particular scan found 447 infected items on my memory stick. This was after one use on a suspiciously slow internet terminal.

Do not count on a lot of power points.

This hit me the most in Thailand. Especially when we were staying in bungalows. One power point would be the norm and sometimes they would be in very odd positions. I picked up a very sneaky double plug which also acts as a universal country adapter. Just head for a hardware store.

Shrink those Pictures.

Pictures add a lot to writing but they can also add a lot of time when you are paying per the minute to upload them. I use the Microsoft picture resize power toy for easy right click and compress of our photos. I suspect Apple users have something equally elegant, in fact I am sure they do not even have to think about things like this.

Mesh is best

When carrying an assortment of widgets, gadgets, plugs, and sundry necessities it can be quite a bother to find them. One of my handiest tools has been a mesh bag which came with an IBM think pad. It is easy to spot my power adapter mouse etc and the mesh means it is easy to find with your tactile senses when diving into a backpack.

Look after your gear

My pride and joy retractable targus mouse started behaving erratically in Chiang Mai. The replacement whilst cheap has the propensity to self destruct when it falls off the bed. Flooring is usually tiled, carpet is a rarity. Things will break if you do not look after them.

In one of life’s crueler ironies my traveling partner managed to destroy my 500 gigabyte portable hard drive by foot massaging it off the bed today. A small annoyance but it gave me the impetus to complete this post.

When you have a writing idea

Write down a sentence or even just a phrase. It is far easier to come back to something rather than nothing. Just look at my blog.

Friday, 26 September 2008

24 Hours in Cambodia

The last twenty four hours have been a rich pasture for someone like me. Our trip back to Phnom Phenh was marred with our bus hitting a small calf. Stock are usually tethered by a chain when beside the road but this calf made the mistake of a road crossing as we approached. The bus looked in need of some serious cosmetic surgery. The calf seemed ok and was tied up and placed in a luggage compartment. I did my best to shield my own bovine companion from seeing such a distressing sight.

As we entered Phnom Phenh we encountered a 30 minute traffic snarl up of some magnitude. The usual give way to everything road laws that are in place are sadly ignored when it comes to buses. After watching one particularly smug looking black SUV block our path I made a good natured one fingered salute. Did you know Cambodian custom dictates that one fingered salutes are reciprocated with the flourishing of hand guns?

Last night we drank heartily at our guest house and went off to find some sustenance. We had the misfortune of meeting an incredibly drunk and obnoxious pairing who hailed from Christchurch, New Zealand. Not only did they enjoy Hanoi, but one of the duo, when tackled with conversational genetics was proud to promote inbreeding as the only way to raise good pigs and therefore the only solution for the improvement of the human race. Sadly my limits for discussing sullying the gene pool with someone of questionable chromosomes were sorely tested. We effected an exit not before my wife had them convinced I am someone quite famous and not to be trifled with. Read this and weep fools!

This morning began with a curious sensation permeating my cranium. Having faced this predicament numerous times on this journey I arranged a variety of bloodstream additives to have with my breakfast. Satiated and feeling fit we embarked to take in some of the tourist offerings Phnom Phenh has to offer.

The killing fields are chilling. The removal of all of the original human slaughter buildings and equipment makes it all the more eerie. A sole monument filled with skulls stands as a reminder to the loss of lives under the rule of Pol Pot.

The National Museum was far more accomadating. Cambodia has a breathtaking past and it’s artisans have created some incredible statues and fine art work which fill the museum.

I was not supposed to take these photos but I did wear my sarong over my shoulders as a sign of respect so I am not completely dishonourable.

One more day of inspiration and we will catch our bus to Siem Reap.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

After the commercial break

Having been an avid abstainer of broadcast television for a lengthy amount of time, TV in South East Asia has been something of a revelation to me.

A prodigious grid of satellite dishes and an unfettered supply of television sets provides round the clock amusement. Even more surprising is the sheer un abandoned angst that can be inflicted with the push of a button.

My traveling partner seems to have an innate ability to channel wipe out. Channel wipe out is the disastrous outcome of channel surfing, stopping at a random channel then becoming distracted.

Other unwitting surfers will peer up from a book or navel to see the native tribesmen of swahili council chiefs weekly meeting channel. Music television seems to have had an unhappy marriage with failed soap operas, and its aborted offspring dominates several channels. I have seen many things that defy description, either that or my mind has willingly erased them for fear of my sanity.

Thankfully when surfing is mastered it is rewarding. The ninja fighting movie channel is worth a watch. So is the teenage girls screaming channel; if only because it prepares me for my unwitting displays of public stupidity. There are plenty of news channels, and where else could you watch a cooking show with no talking, just a romantic ballad soundtrack with a lady diner lying down to sleep at the end ( I hope). Japanese wrestling is far superior to its Western cousin and where we are staying it occupies channel one, simple for those panic button incidences.

Pleases do not think ill of me for exploring television. I am a fastidious researcher and will go to great lengths to bring you a compelling show read.

What to do?

Hello and welcome to today's daily edition of my blog. The sun and subsequent taste of the Taiwan tropical typhoon has left me a bit spent. However I am happy to chart a written course for the tail end of our adventures in this part of the world.

We are heading back to Phnom Phen today for a couple of days we will then catch a bus to Siem Reap and will spend three days at Angor Wat. We have it on good authority that watching a sunset and sunrise at Angor Wat is one of the best things you can do in this part of the universe. Being well versed in sunrise watching (sometimes unintentional) I shall do my best to catch and distill the experience.

From Siem Reap we will head towards Bangkok and perhaps stay along the coast to enjoy the beach a bit more. West of Bangkok are the Tiger temples where Monks and Tigers live in harmony. This photo of one of my diving buddies sold me on it instantly.



From Bangkok we will head north again to Chiang Mai to complete our hill tribe trek. Roll up the Buddhist mountain to be blessed for good luck. We will have a second attempt at the all you can drink Heineken bar. Then it will be back to Bangkok and a flight home.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Back to the Beach

It is astounding what regular sunshine, sand, smiles and sunscreen can do for ones disposition, let alone a whole coastline. Sihanouk Ville is a beguiling spot catering superbly for even the most whimsical of wanderers.

Pedestrians out number vehicles by a good amount and once you get off the beaten track the local ethnic tuk tuk start losing parts and passengers at an uneconomical rate. The beach front is dotted with all manner of bars and restaurants. You can actually sleep at your bar of choice inside the handily appointed dorm rooms for free.

The beach’s are charming with a novelty for this part of the world. Waves, they are not huge but it is nice to hear and see waves crashing with a bit more gravity than in Thailand and Vietnam. Still the beach is not without its moments. A colourful profusion of trinket, sunglasses, and mobile beauty salespeople patrol the silky sand. My own smoothly shaven calves were even up for imagined enhancement. Still I have my trump card for demanding situations and it seems to work even here.

Yesterday we attempted a circumnavigation of the immediate coastline with a middling degree of success. I suspect about 5 degrees were surveyed give or take a protractor. There is plenty of change occurring and I hope it can be managed in a responsible manner. Various countries have bought blocks of land for redevelopment and I suspect some of it is on the backs of NGO's

Still it is the enterprising locals which are to be admired. During a two hour stop at Victory beach I took the necessary steps to purchase some refreshments. I was *served* by a group of three young girls. As is usual for my trip I was giggled at and one hid in a handily accessible cupboard after I realised they could not understand a bar of my spoken game of charades. Mother was summoned and more laughs were shared.

I expect this will be our last big beach session before we return to New Zealand so it is time to savor and maybe just let it all sink in. Wish me luck.

Monday, 22 September 2008

It is Fate Mate

I am not completely sure what cosmic bodies were in motion last Thursday but I am glad to be in this part of the world. After a very relatively hectic couple of days thinking, walking and talking like business people its nice to be in the calming surrounds of Sihanoukville and Serendipity beach.

I must explain my lovely wife has been doing most of the talking like a business person. As a writer it is important to observe and perform an objective role. Like science even the mere observation of said interactions can change the outcome of the experiment. Our tentative forays into the fields of free trade and third world commerce should be spared from as much of my comedy as possible.

That is not to say I have not found aspects of Cambodia thoroughly hilarious. Much like Laos there are all manner of organic herb supplement pushers and incredibly descriptive menus with outlandish effects.

Watching a rather large Elephant take on rush hour traffic in Phnom Penh yesterday morning was a sight to behold. I do not think Elephants are particularly responsive to car horns.

Organised crime and corruption are very apparent here. A simple yardstick for how corrupt a police officer is by how fat they are. The fatter they are the more likely they are to be receiving bribes. Of course if you need the police to help you with crime you need to pay them to help you as well.

Still it is all part of the experience. I look forward to sharing with you what we are up to. Strictly business of course.

Serendipity

beach

sunset



Friday, 19 September 2008

Grin and Beer it

You can tell a lot about a country by its beer. At least I find myself telling myself this after a few bottles. Unfortunately Cambodia’s beer whilst majestically named fails to conjure images of temples.

I suspect if you drank enough of it you could make a convincing aluminium place of worship with the empty cans. My stomach sadly was not up to it. The good news is that Beer Lao has reentered my life and for that I am glad.

Our current home is the convivially named OK hotel. After a brief dalliance on the internet I managed to forget which room we are staying in. After knocking on a few doors and losing my nerve I headed downstairs to reacquaint myself with Beer Lao

I found Beer Lao and a couple of friendly Canadians. They are now enrolled in my Canadian & New Zealand accent campaign. Sympathetic to my lonely plight they helped me to embark on a Beer Lao tasting session of some merit until my wife could send out a self powered search party.

She arrived and I was saved. More beer Lao was drank. Cards were played. We made an acquaintance from Australia who works on super yachts. After a vigorous interrogation we are now equipped with the knowledge to seek a working berth on one. With a bit of luck we will find Captain Nemo next year.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

So Long Saigon Goodbye Vietnam

It seemed mildly criminal to say good bye to Saigon without first saying hello. Our bus ride in revealed a city not as intense as Hanoi. Perhaps the Saigon locals have learned to keep tourists away from core economic functions and narrow streets. So after finding a hotel to lodge in we decided to make a two night stop instead of just one.

This morning we visited the war memorial museum. The museum here is graphic to the brink of horrific. A macabre thought of mine would be for such collections to be sent to countries with a predisposition for fighting. A warmonger's antidote if you like.



The Zoo in Saigon is a worthwhile visit. It has a diverse collection of foliage and fauna. The elephants each have a small dance that they do to attract attention and food. Perhaps the street hawkers that I have grown to love could learn a thing from the elephants.



A cruel reminder of life was spotting this hamster quivering in a snake enclosure.




Wandering the streets has served to remind me of some uniquely Vietnam things that will stay with me forever. For keen badminton players, games are set up where ever there is a flat surface. The beach and beachfront of Nha Trang always had a few games going. Saigon seems to be the same.



Until I find a place with more scooters I will never look at a scooter again without thinking of Vietnam.



Tonight we watched a water puppet show. The musicians and puppeteers were masterful. The performance lasted for 50 minutes and it was full of laughs and gasps.



If I was to attempt to sum up Saigon and Vietnam it would be like this. Leave your prozac at home, it wont work. You will feel a full range of emotions every step of your journey.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Get the Facts

As google ads remain the cornerstone of the incredible month on month revenue growth of this blog I have been doing some tinkering with the delivery of said ads.

I am a bit bemused at how google has managed to link my blog with getting *facts* about Scientology. However it does allow us to bleed the coffers dry of the Scientology church.


Surely a sign of my impending fame!

We are off to Saigon early this morning and will be starting our holiday in Cambodia the day after. I have no idea how easy it will be to find internet access but will do my best.

I have a variety of interesting things for you to do if the updates are infrequent. Apart from learning about Scientology you can register as a follower. Look at my new RSS feedburner feed. Listen to UPFM and I even have a poll you can vote on.

Goodbye Vietnam

And now for a message from Tom Cruise.

CLICK THE GOOGLE ADS CLICK THE GOOGLE ADS

Monday, 15 September 2008

Nha Trang Nuts in a Shell

Nha Trang has it share of more traditional cultural delights. Pagoda, craft and sunglass salesmen all dot its surrounds. Some of the more modern additions are just as worthy of notoriety and I would like to think they will be still around in a thousand or so years.

A day trip by boat is a must. Snorkeling, eating, lounging and beaching are all well catered for. The truly astounding feat was the crew which metamorphosed into a band. It started harmlessly enough with a drum kit of dubious quality appearing.



Then soon enough the number one boy band of Vietnam who moonlight as tour operators were energetically taking us on a round the boat and world tour.



Stirling stuff and a good reminder that talent should never stand in the way of having a good laugh.

VINPEARL LAND is hard to ignore from Nha Trang. It is written into the side of the island with large white letters.


The cable car that conveys punters stretches 3.3 kilometres over the ocean and at its highest point is 6o metres. It is quite a feat of modern engineering.

by day

by dusk

by night

Vinpearl land is well kitted out with an amusement park, shopping mall, amphitheater, event hall, water park and five star hotel.

We spent most of our time in the water park. The water park is especially well designed with a channel that you can float around the entire water park without taking a step.

The slides are scared wife friendly and we had a lot of fun.





After a frantic hours of sliding I can think of nothing better than posing with a c0uple of my best friends.





On our return home we were befriended by an ex pat Vietnamese man and his wife. He took us out for a few drinks and we were lucky enough to have our restaurant invaded by Dragons!







Not a bad couple of days and to think it all started with a bath full of mud.





Saturday, 13 September 2008

For your Consideration

As noted earlier traveling has been hard on my wardrobe. The continued involuntary dispossession of my choice items has left me mildly consternated. In the past week I have made the most of Vietnam's shopping and street vendors to put together a new fashion collection of some merit.

It was earlier this morning that the planets aligned to give me the reasoning for my spending spree.

New Zealand fashion week starts this Monday!

If you want to attract attention on the street, witness this striking ensemble. It was purchased off the street but strangely it leaves street vendors gagging for more.




-Straw hat
-Vietnam shirt
-Sarong

Completely impractical in 30 degree heat, this tailor made coat will heat things up in any room, literally. Add a pair of Boss sunglasses. Stuff Hugo I wanted straight Boss.



Witness the dragon. Hand embroidered silk robe which has a couple of tricks.





The true beauty of my 2009 fashion collection is its versatility. Watch as my model remixes the collection on the fly.



What a clever chap. Thanks to my photographer, model and my wonderful fans.

If you are after real fashion go visit Ana Steele and Michael Pattison they know what they are doing. I just write about what I am doing.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

An Odd Day

If you had told me before today that I would willingly pay to sit in a bath full of mud I would have heaped lavish amounts of spoken dirt and wet wit upon you(mudslung).

We almost did not make it. We set off from the heart of Nha Trang shortly after lunch in search of the mineral mud complex. We had vague directions and perhaps boldly thought a swarm of helpful scooter tourist guides would surround us and guide us into the mud. It was not to be. It is heartening to know there is a limit to how many country roads we can scooter blindly down before we start asking questions. The answers were cryptic. One bunch of bystanders wanted to send us back to Hanoi and another fellow tried to send us off to recruit in the Vietnamese army.

At wits end we convinced a scooter taxi to drive to the mud and we followed him. He did not lose us and we managed to find salvation in a bath of mud. There is something strangely satisfying about immersing yourself in a bath full of mud. Mineral mud smells great and covers up commuting ailments instantaneously.



Calling the Nha Trang mineral pools complex a bath full of mud is disingenuous. You can lounge in the sun caked in mud after you have your bath. You can then be hosed with high pressure mineral water jets. There are a variety of hot mineral water pools and there is even a waterfall. Before you leave make sure you take the time to buy a tub of souvenir ex foliating mud just in case you have a harrowing scooter excursion again.

The Thap Ba Hot Spring Centre is situated at 25 Group Ngoc Son Hamlet. Don't take a scooter unless you have a good map or you want something to write about.




Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Heres a Rub

After the banquet of massage services that Thailand and Laos provide, Vietnam is decidedly spartan. Words from the wiser, the massage services that are promoted by tuk tuk drivers in Hanoi are not medicinal in the slightest.

Still we found a gem in Hoi An.

Mrs Phoc and her family do a decidly professional job of providing massages in Hoi An. A beauty parlour is at the front of her shop. With the slight draw of a curtain the three tables at the back transform into a decidedly inviting place to lie down and let someone else's fingers do the talking.

Pressure points are still firmly found but if I was to describe the massages in a few sentances it would be like this. They attack from the sides. The openings between muscles and bones are interogated. My feet in particular were given such a rigorous attack I had to stifle many a manly squeal.

Money well spent all in all and where else would you receive a kiss on the cheek from the massage matron at the end of your treatment.

The Phuoc Beauty Salon can be found on the corner of Nguyen Duy Hieu and Pham Hong Thai Streets in Hoi An.

She can be contacted on 09 05629026 email thienlongnu@yahoo.com

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Hoi An

Travelfish correctly labels Hoi An a delightful tourist trap of Disneyland proportions. It is incredibly picturesque, full of restaurants, tailors, bag and shoe makers. However it is the little things that stand out for me.

Hoi An by night

The local rubbish truck does its beat playing an ice cream truck like tune. Not what you would expect and I can't help thinking all city services could be improved with musical accompaniment .

As dusk falls, street vendors begin to pepper the restaurants and roads with a sortie of goods and services.

a real little drummer boy

Hoi An and Vietnam has fantastic food. Most restaurants have huge menus. I counted one with over 30 pages. Several of them have grass growing on the table instead of floral arrangements. That is right, standard, lawn variety grass.

Grass

I think I should be taking more photos of the food here. It makes a welcome change from landscapes and buildings.

Grilled chicken breast with garlic and sesame seeds cooked in banana leaf.

We hired a scooter yesterday and were afflicted with a new annoyance. Drive by tourism information. Wearing a backpack flags y0u as needing help it appears. After going through the talking while scootering motions a few times we thought it may be better to pretend not to know english. I did get to try my Russian accent though so all is not lost. Not many Vietnamese know Russian it appears.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Necessary Evils

Periodically I lurch into the depths of the internet scouring its bowels for ways to increase my readership. This proves largely depressing for reasons that I will cover soon - but I will not call it completely fruitless.

The problems with using blogging as a medium for writing are numerous. If you go out to see what blogs are really successful they are usually devoted to one thing.

-How to improve your blog

Do you see my frustration? To become truly successful I must write about something that I have no interest in writing about. Which makes me wonder.... were any of the successful blogs writing about anything worth reading before they became successful? Do I want to become successful? I think not! Of course in my own mind I am a raging success so I bat my eyelids and blink as the cameras flash around me.

If you burrow a bit further you will find whole websites devoted to the self promotion of blogs. These places are refuges for depraved blog junkies desperate for that next hit. I can only visit them for a while without feeling physically ill.

My other gripe is the word blog... for someone like me who has been writing and ranting on for close to ten years on the internet the word blog is highly offensive and necessary at the same time.

Want a blast from the past?

Go and read this crazy news from a decade ago


Do you know what word makes blog look pretty. Blogosphere. I am part of that word I am contributing to it and so are you by reading this blog. Are you feeling ok? Take a stiff drink if you are not, I am hic.

Now I have got that off my chest. I can get down to my solution.

If you look to the left of this writing you will see a new section above the bright red official UPFM sound track button that you click every time you visit. It is my new follower section. There is a good chance if you have read all of this you are a follower of this blog. Now you can announce it to the world!

Or just click this link

Easy, I think.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Time and Space

Read carefully, this might be hard to follow. Stop reading if it starts to hurt and please consult a doctor first.

As we have followed our route through this part of the world one of the amusing things for me has been the generous manipulation of time and distances quoted for journeys. There is no method in the distortion, just madness. Being an expert on all things mad I will attempt to comprehend and explain for you all.

It is as if the local cartographers and chronography guilds have been on strike for the past few years. This is all the more poignant given the abundance of time keeping devices and lonely planet guide books that are sold every 10 paces. Actually after giving it a couple of seconds more thought it is no wonder the guilds are on strike given the dubious authenticity of the books and watches being sold at every ten paces.

Still it makes traveling all the more exciting. One never knows if 5 minutes in in fact 5 minutes or a whole hour. Is 20 kilometers 20 kilometers, 20 miles or 200 kilometers ? Traveling by road seems to be the worst culprit, especially when in a bus. The time quoted as far as I can fathom is the optimum time for the driver to drive an empty bus from point a to point b without stopping. There is a delicate balance which exists between when someone will think a bus trip is too long and will chose to fly or catch a train. The optimum times sit upon these thresholds.

Rail can be challenging. I actually have a theory that railway stations should be named railway stationaries. You can spend a lot of time - stationary - waiting for a train, even at the station of origin. Mountains of irony for all!

When we checked in for our sole flight from Laos to Vietnam I was flummoxed and appreciative of the computerised flight information screens. They had printed apology stickers on every screen saying that the information could not be trusted.

If you are traveling in this part of the world add at least 2 hours onto any trip time quoted. Do not trust distances, they may be as the crow flys. Think of them combined as the hungry drunk crow flying and you will not be surprised.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Hue

Hue pronounced Hway is the historical capital of Vietnam. With a population of 340,000 and sitting astride the delightfully named Perfume river it is a welcome stop on the journey south from Hanoi.

Yesterday we took a motorcycle tour of Hue and the surrounding area. Small private motorcycle tours are recommended by travelfish and the benefits are obvious after taking one. We used Mr Phuoe and he was a fount of information, laughs and craftily drawn maps scribed in the dirt.

Mr Phuoe can be found at the Long Cafe 19 Hung Vong - Hue City Tel 054 820800

Rather than cheapen the experience with an exhaustive regurgitation I will share some of the insights gained and include photos where possible.

We have been lucky to hit one of the rice harvesting seasons in Vietnam. The full life cycle of rice was learned. Some mechanization has occurred but it remains a very labour intensive exercise. One of the things that I found interesting was the symbiotic relationship between duck farmers and rice farmers. Both benefit from sharing land use. The ducks are diligent stewards and are fattened at the same time.



Our first real stop was a Vietnamese village with an interesting bridge. A childless mother commissioned the work of the bridge to bring her a child. She remained childless but became the mother of the whole village. The bridge had neat bench seats for relaxing and our guide was on hand to demonstrate. The bridge also serves as an informal meeting place for elderly men during the day, a place to talk, drink and smoke in the shade.





I have been missing seeing Buddhist monks in Vietnam. They are everywhere in Thailand and Laos. During the morning we learned that the Vietnamese follow a different flavour of Buddishm. Monks are monks for life and they only wear orange for praying and meditation. The rest of the time they wear brown. Often the first born son of a family is given to monk hood as it is believed it will bring good luck to the family. They also do not seek alms in the morning.


Monks praying

leaving the temple

The four supernatural creatures of Vietnam are the Unicorn, Dragon, Phoenix and Turtle.
The Turtle gains his supernatural status by benefit of his wisdom. It is good luck to rub a turtle statue head.



Mr Phuoe getting some free luck

Hue has seen its share of eccentric rulers. One character had 104 wives plus a suite of concubines. He also had a taste for Elephant and Tiger fighting. Not content with a fair but macabre spectacle the Tigers always had incisors removed and claws clipped. For royal reasons it was important that the Elephant always won. The Tigers still managed to cause havoc escaping rings of spear men and a carefully chosen island until the Tiger and Elephant arena was created.



Learning about Vietnam's various battles other than the American war was very worthwhile. As discussed earlier my knowledge was all gained from TV and film. Being on the ground and learning from a local is invaluable.

View from gun emplacement on south side of the Perfume river

Just a small sample of a day in Hue and the rich history Vietnam has. If you are going to do a tour in Hue take a motorcycle one. All of the sites we visited were free and we were finished by lunch time. Bus and boat tours are slower, longer and tend to stick to admission fee only places of interest.