Monday, November 17th, 2003 – Day 272

Monday, November 17th, 2003 – Day 272

Vietnam cleans up after deadly floods as new storm advances. Latest storm News is death level is now 58. The good news (for me) is that the new storm will hit the north of the Country. Last week’s rains fell just before the rice harvest, destroying crucial crops as well as devastating shrimp farms, leaving thousands without food. It was unclear whether coffee crops, mainly located in upper areas notably in Gia Lai and Dak Lak provinces which I was in – Dalat City), were really badly damaged or not. According to World Bank figures, natural disasters have cost Vietnam 1.25 billion dollars between 1995 and 2002.

I was up at 5.15am. Reception rang as promised at 5.30am. I took a moto to the bus station. There were only two uses going to Kon Tum but thy were owned by the same company. Worse, they were going at 7.00am (not 6.00am as I was told). Worse again, as foreigners (everyone who is not from Vietnam) are not allowed to buy tickets from the official booths and where prices are fixed. Foreigners can only buy tickets from the conductors and touts. Its a crap situation in Vietnam. Imagine if a Vietnamese businessman came to Ireland and we charged him or her 200% more because of his nationality.

They do not distinguish between foreigners. If you are white, they expect you can afford the price hike. I was told locals pay 45,000 Dong for the ticket. I was been asked 70,000 Dong. No one will take your side or intervene in your behalf. A Vietnamesse person will not loose face with another by helping out a foreigner. Its unheard of.

I waited around until 7.00am keeping the 3/4 hawkers selling tickets for the bus company in suspense to whether I would be making their pay day. With I left the station to buy water, two of them followed me around.

I have no choice in the matter. I had to bite the bullet. We left on time with the collector who sold me the ticket onboard. He saw I was pissed off and tried to placate me with free water, refresher towel and his foreign currency, but I ignored all overtones. I was in a mood. It was only 4 hours to Kon Tun.

Vietnamese girls are terrible travellers. While 2 male kids and a girls puked all there way to Buon Ma Thuot, another girl puked all the way to Kon Tum. The road was fine and we passed the town on Pleiku.

I was still in a mood when I got there. At least they moved the bus station which was 13km out of town a few months ago into town. I did not accept offers from moto drivers and instead starting walking down the VERY long main street.

Kon Tum is a province belong to the North end of the the Central Highlands with the important strategic position: Crossroad of Indochine, adjacent to Laos and Cambodia with its border of 275 km. Topography is complicated, difficult transport system. Ngoc Linh peak is 2,845 m high – The highest one in the Sourth. There are National Route – 14, Route – 24 leading to Quang Ngai, Route – 18 leading to Atopu (Laos), Xesan river is a combination of Dakbla and Krong Poco river, creating Yaly waterfall – the second largest hydro-electric work in the whole country.

There are many hill tribes in this area, some only 4/5 km of the town. Catholicism is the main religion here as well. Overall 10% of the population in Vietnam is Catholic.

Kon Tum province lies in Central Tay Nguyen Highlands and shares a border with Laos. More than 50% of the Kon Tum’s population comprises numerous minorities such as Xo Dang, Ba Na, Gie Trieng, Brau, Gia Rai, and Ro Mam.

Kon Tum is the largest plateau on the central Highlands. It is more than 800 meters above sea level. The majority of the local inhabitants are made up the Ba Na, one of the several ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands. The second largest group is the Kinh which is followed by the Gia Rai people. The provincial capital of Kon Tum is the townships of the same name which is located on the northern part of Central Highlands. The town is situated on the river bank of the Dac Pla river, a tributary of the town is in a small flat land area which is just 525 meters above sea level.

Kon Tum was an administrative centre of the French colonialists who ruled the Central Highlands as early as the 19th century. Some French missionaries arrived in Kon Tum as earlier as 1651. They came in a greater number in 1838 to pave the way for the French troops to invade the country . to oppress insurrections repeatedly launched by the Vietnamese people the French built a big prison in Kon Tum where many staunch revolutionaries were jailed. Vietnamese soldiers in the French army were dispatched to guard the prison and a severe prison regime was applied there. The forming of the highway 19 that runs through the central Highlands to lowland areas to the east were the result of flesh and blood of prisoners from the Kon Tum prison.

At last, I am on a town which was part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As I was walking down town I had a coffee where the owner tried in vain to converse with me. They do not get many tourists here and you get stared at and frienzed HEKKOS. I walked to a Bahnar Village (lang bana). The village here is very poor. People live in wooden shacks whicha re so stilts. Most adults were in the fields so there were many kids and old people. I walked around for 20 minutes before meeting an old man who though I may speak French. He had a reasonavle amount of it. He invited me into me home. Again it may ahve been a wooden shack but it was spotless.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Kon Tum – Hill tribe (17-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Kon Tum – Hill tribe (17-11-2003)

In this part of the world, guets drink from home fermented rice wine. It is brought to the middle of the main rooma nd a large plastic straw is put in. The vase may contain 10-15 litres. The old man drank, then I and then his son, It was passed around for about an hour. the old man was drunk at this stage and slurring. I had a good time and i was happy to be invited to his house and partake in the hospitality.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Kon Tum – No carts and horses on this street (17-11-2003)

i walked onwards and back to Vietnam proper, who show litle regard for these tribes. I walked 20 minutes to theDakbla Hotel. The Lonely Planet does not really recommend although it said there were only 3 state owned hotels in town. i counted at least six. I paid 8 USD for a fan room. It was basic abd not entirely clean. Again they get few people staying.

It was only 3.00pm and I walked to another vilalge about 4 km from town. The rain clouds were gathering. I called into two local Catholic Churchs and the old Kon Tum village.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Kon Tum – Oxen are viery important (17-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Kon Tum – Marriage Cermony begins at Seminary Hill catholic Church (17-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Kon Tum – Lots of bikes at this school (17-11-2003)

Again I had a good view coffees. There was little to do that evening. I found a NET cafe and read up on the major battle of Kontum from the Vietnam War. These sites are blocked from computers in Vietnam but I found way to read them. Indeed its hard to find information on the Vietnam War from here.

Kon Tum and Pleiku are places we heard during the war. Terrible battles took place here, one on Charlie Hill nearby where a Vietnamese commander determined not to retreat or surrender, and lost a large number of soldiers. A Vietnamese song was written: Nguoi o lai Charlie — the people stayed in Charlie.

I found another site where a visitor mentions the wild prices we foreigners get on buses and te way passengers back up that deception.

Sunday, November 16th, 2003 – Day 271

Sunday, November 16th, 2003 – Day 271

I was up at 6.05am and paid the 10 USD for 2 days accommodation. It was very reasonable. I was in a bit of a rush as I did not know how long the bus journey would take me, what the road conditions were like and if the weather had affected the route. I was only taking my day pack with me and my tooth brush. I left my backpack with the hotel manager and promised him I would be back in a few days.

I walked to the bus station. The Lonely Planet says the station is 500m west of the Cathedral. Its more like 1.5km. It was 6.45am when I got there. I don’t know why I do not take moto taxis. They are only 5000 (.25 Cent) per trip.

There was a bus going to my destination (a mini bus). It was filling up. I knew that there are two public bus prices in Vietnam,m: a local price and a foreigner price. There are no ticket booths here and lots of companies. The conductor will charge whatever he feels in right. HE asked for 50,000 Dong but said he would be there at 11.00am. I did not think it would be so short a journey.

The scenery was great for the first 40 minutes as we traveled up the coast and along a bay shadowed by forest covered mountains. There were hundreds of fishing boats in the bay and it was a beautiful site.

As I was told, we arrived at 11.00am. The bus station is about 3km from town so I took a moto (5000 Dong) to my chosen hotel called the THANH PHAT hoel. The lonely Plant: Vietnam is strange on Vietnam. It seems to be written by some one on gap year. Its biased against the government and only recommends middle range hotels and travel gents.

It recommends staying in the Dam San hotel which is about 30 USD per night. I bargained for a really nice room in the Thnah Phat Hotel for 5 USD. It was nice and early and I should have hired a motor driver to take me to some water falls outside town.

Instead (because the rugby is on today) I decided to walk around town. I really like this town. Its a market town and it was really busy. I spend a good amount of time in the market watching the going ons. It was a bit like been back in Java, Indonesia as every second person was shouting HELLO. 95% of them are just looking for a reaction. If you acknowledge them by saying hello or nod, they are happy.

Tucked deep into the Central Highlands, about 360 km from Saigon, Buon Ma Thuot (pop. 200,000) is much farther off the beaten track than Dalat and sees far fewer tourists. But Buon Ma Thuot is certainly worth the trip. The region is home to a number of ethnic minorities, including the Rhade and Jarai groups. Buon Ma Thuot has the distinction of being the site of the last major battle between the North Vietnamese Army and South Vietnamese troops during March 1975. As a testament to that battle, the first North Vietnamese Army tank to enter the city is perched in the center of town as a monument to Buon Ma Thuot’s “liberation.” There has been talk of moving the tank into a museum, and indeed, some travel publications say it already has, but the tank still has it’s turret pointed skyward, looking still quite capable of spitting out a 120mm shell.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Buon Ma Thout – Tank Monument (16-11-2003)

Buon Ma Thout makes a great base for trekking to ethnic villages. The longhouses of the Rhade and M’nong groups are particularly impressive – try to spend a night or two. A popular stop is at the Rhade village of Buon Tuo, about 13 km from town.

Though located about 200 km farther north than Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot is at a lower elevation and is warmer year-round. Neither does it possess Dalat’s over commercialization (nor Dalat’s beauty, on the other hand). Coffee is the major cash crop here, however, this mountainous region is heavily deforested, the hillsides bald and brown during the winter months. Much of the region’s wildlife has been driven away by deforestation or through the misfortune of getting stuffed by wannabe taxidermists. The best time to visit Buon Ma Thuot is during the dry season, between November and May. Though the scenery isn’t as lush as it is during the rainy season, it’s a lot easier to get around!

I was had about 10 ice coffees. The highland region has the reputation as having the best coffee in Vietnam and they also have great cafes. You can usually sit outside watching the world go by. For a ice coffee and a pot of tea, the cost is 3000 Dong. I walked out to the Dam San Hotel as the Lonely Planet recommends their tours. What a joke. It looked like they haven’t a customer for years. The cheapest tour for an afternoon and a morning was 147 USD. What!!!!! I said good bye. It was a good 20 minute walk out there and then back again.

I enjoyed walking round the town. I love busy towns. Dalat wasn’t one of them and I find this found much more interesting. At 4.00pm I headed back to the hotel only to find out that electricity is rationed in this town. They expected the power to be back on at 5.00pm (the rugby was startinga t 4.00pm). I headed down town to check out the five star hotels as I was told they would have generators. I tried in vain for 30 minutes. I did walked the 20 minutes back to the Dam San hotel (ironic). They had the game in reception. They were happy for me to watch it. I saw the last 10 minutes of the first half and 30 minutes of the second half (until their generator died).

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Buon Ma Thout – Market (16-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Buon Ma Thout – Market (16-11-2003)

The weather ruined the game. Pity. England as TOO clinical (Wilkinson ) and cycical. They have no passion or flair. Looking at them they seem to think rugby is a job/profession rather than a sport.



Elaine Davidson of Brazil, who holds the Guinness world record for being the woman with the greatest number of body piercings, 1,903 altogether, poses at the Tate Modern art gallery in London, November 11, 2003. The gallery held an event to mark the release of the 100th millionth copy of the Guinness World Records books. (Lee Besford/Reuters)

I had to walk back to town in the dark. There was no place with hot food (no electricity) so I had a bread roll. Electricity came back around 7.00am and I took a stall meal. I had a nice Noddle Soup with Chicken for 10000 Dong (0.56 cent). There was nearly a 1/4 of a chicken in there. I was approached by a moto driver he said he would take me around to the sites tomorrow for 15 USD. I took his mobile number. After thinking about it, I thought it was a bit much just to see a waterfall and a village. I decided to head away tomorrow. I headed back to the hotel and had an early night.

I had been told that there was only one bus to Kon Tum and it was 6.00am. The hotel said all buses leave at 6.00am for all destinations and that’s about it for the rest of the day.

I told the staff to wake me up at 5.30am. I had a good nights sleep though.

Saturday, November 15th, 2003 – Day 270

Saturday, November 15th, 2003 – Day 270

I was a bit hung over so I did not leave my hotel until 11.00am. I had breakfast and walked to:

Po Ngar Cham Towers

This standing temple complex was built from the 8th to 13th centuries to honor goddess Yang Ino Po Ngar, mother of the kingdom. It was built over a wooden temple burned by the Javanese in A.D. 774. There were originally 10 structures; 4 remain. The main tower, or Po Ngar Kalan, is one of the tallest Cham structures ever built. Its square tower and three-story cone roof are exemplary of Cham style. It has more remaining structural integrity than many sites, giving you a good idea of how it might have looked in all its glory. In the vestibule can be seen two pillars of carved epitaphs of Cham kings, and in the sanctuary there are two original carved doors. The statue inside is of the goddess Bharagati, a.k.a. Po Ngar, on her lotus throne. It was carved in 1050. The Po Ngar temples are still in use by local Buddhists, and the altars and smoking incense add to the intrigue of the architecture. Detracting from the whole experience are kitsch stands and endless hawkers.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Towers (15-11-2003)

It was a 20 minute walk. It was 4000 Dong (.22 Cent) in. It was pretty small and there was not much to get excited about. There are TOO many offers of MOTORBIKE taxi guys shouting for business. It got annoying.

I then walked to the local market. It was interesting. On the facade this is a seaside town, but the market was very good when different animals sales, fruit sales etc.

I then walked to:

Long Son Pagoda

The main attraction at this circa-1930s pagoda is the huge white Buddha on the hillside behind, the symbol of Nha Trang. Around the base of the Buddha are portraits of monks who immolated themselves to protest against the corrupt Diem regime. After climbing the numerous flights of stairs, you’ll also be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of Nha Trang.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Long Son. Sea the flooded fields (15-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Long Son. Reclining Budda (15-11-2003)

Good views from the top. Had to pass many postcard seller hawkers. It was free entry. The enclosure is closed from 11.30 to 1.00pm. only had a few minutes there. Funny thing is that I could have had more time but I visited the hill first. I can get paranoid when I get free advice. A local wanted me to get in earlier as I was walking up the hill but I ignored him as I thought it was a scam. You can too paranoid here and believe everyone is out to get you.

I had hear alt of horror stories regarding over charging foreigners but I have NOT encountered it really. I buy lots of snacks and bread rolls (3,000 dong) (.17 Cent) every day and have not been over charged. They have been nice, kind and courteous.

An update to the Flooding in Central Vietnam that killed dozens.

the heavy rains triggered deadly landslides and floods in central Vietnam for the second time in two months, killing at least 49 people, officials said Friday. The dead included 15 gold miners who were sleeping in their huts when a landslide buried them in Quang Nam province, 560 miles south of Hanoi.

Rail services and traffic on a major national highway were halted. Up to 20 inches of rain fell in central Vietnam between Tuesday and Thursday, according to the National Meteorology Center in Hanoi. Water levels have started receding, but more rain was expected over the weekend

The difficult thing I learned is that the troubles are yet not over, as tropical storm Nepartak, which pounded the central Philippines early Friday, killing four people and leaving millions without electricity, is expected to hit Vietnam within days.

I also visited nha trang main cathedral here today. It was large and interesting. It was quite beautiful inside and inside and outside was spotless. There seemed to a dozen people cleaning the place for Mass.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Cathedral. (15-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Street Monument. (15-11-2003)

The construction of Nha Trang Main Cathedral was started on Sep 3, 1928. Archbishop Louis Vallet had the top of the mountain blown off with 500 mines to obtain a flat surface of 4,500 m2.

In March 1934, the colorful windows were fixed into the domed doors and in the cathedral, completing more than ten construction items. Three big bells were supplied by the famous Bourdons Carillons company (established in 1786) and were christened in July 1934 and in October 1939. The big clock on the top of the cathedral was inaugurated in December 1935.

The cathedral was built with steel reinforced concrete with walls in top quality cement slabs. In general, the construction has a solid and strong structure with details getting smaller as they climb up the building.

The highest point is the place where the cross is fixed on the top of the church: 38 m from the surface of the street below. Although it was built nearly 70 years ago, the cathedral keeps its majestic beauty and its unique architecture.

I was just back in time for the New Zealand (All Blacks) V Australia (Wallabies). I watched it on my hotel TV. It was a good game and I am glad the host country went through. I hope France do the business tomorrow.

It was 4.10pm local time when the game started and it was dark when it finished. I went on the NET for a while and had a bite to eat. I went back to the place where I had the home made beer. Its only around the corner from the hotel. I was just passing but the owner made me!!! I had too much. I always do this before a day I need to get up early. I had nearly THREE liters. It came to 18,000 Dong (1 Euro). I was still in bed by 11.00pm but I was up all night going to the toilet. The beer was fine. It was just the large volume of liquid.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Market (15-11-2003)

I was to bed pretty early as I want to be up at 6.00am.

Friday, November 14th, 2003 – Day 269

Friday, November 14th, 2003 – Day 269

As I already know (I was part of it), Vietnam has been hit by lethal flooding. The report says deaths were also reported in the central coastal provinces of Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa, home to the beach resort of Nha Trang where I am going this morning!!!

At least 15 people have been killed and four are missing in floods that have swept central Vietnam in the last two days, according to officials.

The floods, which have been caused by several days of torrential rain, isolated several villages and caused the collapse of a number of houses in Ninh Thuan province and a gold mine in the central province of Quang Nam.

18 killed, four missing as severe flooding hits central Vietnam

I told them to wake me at 6.30am for my 7.00am bus but they did not. I had set my alarm anyway. Other people in the hotel were not so lucky. It seems they decided not to RING anybody. Just my luck has the weather had turned. It was a beautiful morning.

The bus was full (full of pissed off people). About half the people on the bus were on the same bus yesterday to Nha Trang. After about two-thirds of the way, due to a flooded road, they had to turn back, but the driver not tell any of the passengers. At about 3.00pm they pulled into what they thought was there destination, but turned out they were back to square one. They had spent 9 hours on the bus. Ouch.

Off we went again and the roads were in bad shape. It seems there was a bridge down on he road to Saigon and there was major traffic jams and full buses going no where. We were heading north, We stopped for 30 minutes at a old Cham religious site called Ve Tham quan di tich.

They are also called the Po Klong Garai Towers and are located west of Phan Rang near the Thap Cham railway station in Ninh Thuan province.

The consist of four towers, remainders of a group of six towers constructed during the 13th century. From the top of the hill where the towers were built, one can admire impressive views of the entire valley and surrounding countryside. The main tower was built to worship Po Klong Garai King, who, according to the legend, suffered from leprosy. Despite the passage of time, the 21-m tower has remained intact. During excavations of the tower, even recent ones, archaeologists found jewellery inside the towers.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Cham Towers. (14-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Cham Towers. (14-11-2003)

We also stopped for lunch for 40 minutes where I met an Irish girl touring south East Asia for 6 months.

We were susposed to reach our destination at 12.30pm but it was 2.30pm when we arrived. Again we stopped at the Sinh Cafe Mafia branch with added hotel. I saw the rooms. They were fine. A fan room for 5 USD but I wanted to break with the tour mentality (fait acompli not) and walked to another hotel called HOTEL HA HUONG. It was a bit of a 20 minute walk as I got a bit lost. It was the same price but a nicer room and quieter area away from the beach and tourists. The receptionist wanted 6 USD but she admitted I was the only tourist. November and December are the LOW LOW season here as they get most of the rain fall during these months.

We passed flooded streets as we came into town and there were lots of emergency personnel about. As most people driver motor bikes, they are more liable to get stuck. We passed two roads where only buses and trucks could pass. People had their motor bikes ferried down roads on cyclos.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Floods on the streets. (14-11-2003)

I walked to the sea front. It looked rough and it was filthy brown. The floods and storm had brought tons of rubbish and wood onto the beach. Most locals were going through looking for valuables while emergency workers were started to clear the beach of it using diggers, trucks and manpower. The beach was wrecked. There were TV crews out and big crowds were watching the clean up. A fishing boat had been smashed up as well and was in bits on the beach.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Sea front. (14-11-2003)

Welcome to Vietnam’s Ocean City. The capital of Khanh Hoa Province, Nha Trang has a full-time population that stands at about 200,000 people, but it far exceeds that with the heavy local and international tourist influx, especially in the summer months. While it’s not a particularly charming town, its surf isn’t bad and the beach is a breathtaking setting, with views of the more than 20 surrounding islands. There are a few very nice places to stay, and dining is about good fresh seafood.

Unfortunately, far from becoming a gracious hideaway, Nha Trang is becoming raucous. With the development of water slide parks and more young folk out “cruisin’ the strip” of oceanside, palm-lined Tran Phu Street (on scooters, of course), it’s starting to look like a spring-break town and might as well just go ahead. If you accept it as such, it’s a fine place to spend 2 or 3 days frolicking in the surf, snorkeling and diving, or taking a cruise to the nearby islands.

Culturally, there are a few things to keep you occupied: The Pasteur Institute is here, offering glimpses into the life and work of one of Vietnam’s most famous expats; there also are the interesting Long Son Pagoda and the well-preserved Po Nagar Cham Temple.

Off season (Oct-Mar), the surf is far too rough for swimming and sports, and you might want to rethink stopping at Nha Trang at all.

The last point is interesting. I may stay for two days and watch the Rugby World cup semi-finals. After that , I plan to head back to the Highlands for good coffee.

I did little the rest of the day. I called into a ear cleaner and took some photos. He showed me his instruments and then showed me the ears of the client he was working on. They were spotless with no wax as far as I could see. I was VERY tempted but declined. I will get them cleaned soon.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Ear Cleaning (14-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Nha Trang – Ear Cleaning (14-11-2003)

I did not feel hitting the backpacker bars (not that there are many of them about), so I sat down on some plastic chairs close to my hotel for Bia Hoi. This is the home made stuff and it was good and only 3000 Dong (0.17 Euro) for a litre. It was 10.00pm and there were two guys to my left and the owners husband and son to the right. One of the guys had worked in Germany for 20 years and had good English and German. The husband and son were playing guitars. They played very well and strummed everything from the Land of the Rising Sun to local songs. They asked to play or sing lots of times but I could not. It is one of the main deficiencies of our family name. None of us can play an instrument or sing a song. I have often been asked in Wicklow and Kerry as well, but I know no song fully. I need to learn a party piece.

The owner kept on asking questions through my translator friend. The first question they ask here in Vietnam is your age and then your nationality. It was all good fun, She was asking why Europeans all had big noses etc. I stayed there until midnight and stumbled back.

As I said before there are few times, when you say to yourself – this is why I am traveling . I think this was one of them. The full moon was out, there was a cool breeze and the craic was good.

Tuesday, November 11th, 2003 – Day 266 to Thursday, November 13th, 2003 – Day 268

Tuesday, November 11th, 2003 – Day 266

I was up at 6.45am and got ready. I had a small breakfast and was in plenty time for my bus to Dalat at 7.30am. It was a pleasant journey and there was plenty of room in the air-con bus. We made two stops for 15 minutes and a 40 minute lunch break.

We arrived in Dalat at 4.00pm. It was raining.

Known as “Le Petit Paris” by the early builders and residents of this hillside resort town, Dalat is still considered a kind of luxury retreat for city dwellers and tourists tired out from the steamy coastline in Vietnam. Here you can have a game of golf on one of the finer courses in Indochina, visit some beautiful temples, and enjoy the town’s honeymoon atmosphere and delightfully hokey tourist sites.

At 1,500m (4,900 ft.), Dalat is mercifully cool year-round — there’s no air-conditioning here — and is a unique blend of pastoral hillside Vietnam and European alpine resort. Alexander Yersin, the Swiss geologist who first traipsed across this pass, established the town in 1897 as a resort for French commanders weary of the Vietnamese tropics. In and around town are still scattered the relics of colonial mansions, as well as some serene pagodas in a lovely natural setting; you’ve escaped from big-city Vietnam for real. A few ethnic minorities, including the Lat and the Koho, live in and around the picturesque hills surrounding Dalat, and you can visit their small villages.

Dalat is the no. 1 resort destination for Vietnamese couples getting married or honeymooning. If the lunar astrological signs are particularly good, it’s not unusual to see 10 or so wedding parties in a single day. Many of the local scenic spots, like the Valley of Love and Lake of Sighs, pander to the giddy couples. The waterfalls are swarming with vendors, costumed “bears,” and “cowboys” complete with sad-looking horses and fake pistols. A carnival air prevails. It’s tacky, but it’s one of those “so bad that it’s good” kind of tacky that’s kind of fun. You’ll also get a chance to travel, lodge, and dine with Vietnamese on holiday, a rare opportunity.

When you travel with a bus company, they usually try to get you to eat in their restaurants along the way and stay in their sister hotels. For lunch, I went across the road to eat at a stall instead of eating at the restaurant we were directed to eat in. When we arrived at Dalat, we were asked to see the rooms. I wasn’t going to stay there as I had picked out another hotel, but I was surprised at the room. It would be something you would pay 100 Euro at home for. Quality beds, sheets, duvets, fittings, decorations etc. Class for 7 USD. I decided to stay. It is low, low season here. The high (honeymoon) season is from January to April. Locals say many people have to sleep in the street (the thousand star hotel) due to the influx of people.

TRUNG CANG HOTEL4A Bui Thi Xuan St. Dalat

The Sinh Cafe expands its monopoly on budget traveler amenities here with this new, centrally located little gem. Rooms have clean tile floors and basic amenities; and any lack of decoration is compensated for by clean, airy rooms for next to nothing, though some even have nice filigreed ceilings and cool, subdued lighting. Time will tell with this place, but get there while it’s new, ask to see a room, and do a bit of haggling. This is a good option for those on a budget, and the folks at Sinh Cafe are always accommodating when arranging tours or getting you around town. All room rates include breakfast.

It was raining most of the evening. I headed to the local market for a bite to et. I had rice and chicken for 7,000 Dong (.50 cent). I checked out some 4 USD hotels but they were not in the same class. I also checked out the weather for tomorrow. If its raining as heavy, I may not go sightseeing on a motor bike (passenger) as planned.

From what I was talking about yesterday, a 19-year-old British man could face the death penalty after being arrested on drug trafficking charges in Thailand today. It said the pills, estimated to have a Thai street value of 3.4 million baht (5,400 pounds) were hidden in his luggage. More information from here.

Singapore is at it again. A new law allowing for the monitoring of all computer activity and “pre-emptive” action, to twart attempted hacking of government computer systems. But some MPs said the new law was another aspect of the city state’s authoritarian side.

Had a great nights sleep although I am in the cheaper rooms so I have no views of the lake which is right beside the hotel. Still, the town is quiet. Most shops close at 9.00pm and there was no one walking or cycling the streets by 10.00pm.

Xuan Huong Lake

Once a trickle originating in the Lat village, Dalat’s centerpiece, Huan Huong, was created from a dam project that was finished in 1923, demolished by a storm in 1932, and reconstructed and rebuilt (with heavier stone) in 1935. You can rent windsurfing boards and swan-shape paddleboats, although in two visits here I have yet to see anyone actually using them — I cannot vouch for the cleanliness of the water.

Wednesday, November 12th, 2003 – Day 267

I got up at 7.30am as I planned to go on a tour but it was raining very heavy and I had no Poncho. I decided to postpone it until tomorrow and go back to bed. I stayed there until 11.00am. It was hella comfortable. It was raining ALL day.

The planned path of Israel’s security barrier will carve off 14 percent of the West Bank, trap 274,000 Palestinians in tiny enclaves and cut off another 400,000 from their fields, jobs, schools and hospitals, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday.

In local news, a former Vietnamese communist soldier turned democracy advocate was sentenced to 10 months in jail Wednesday for “abusing democratic freedoms” after sending a letter to government officials demanding that other political dissidents be released.

Tran Dung Tien, 74, was arrested Jan. 22 and will be released from jail next week, having served most of his sentence while awaiting trial, according to a court official who spoke on condition of anonymity following the half-day trial in Hanoi.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat Market. (12-11-2003)

I had lunch and dinner at the market. There are about 25 stalls on the top floor on the two building indoor market. There was a wide variety of food including lovely pastries when onions and egg in the centre. They are called BANH BAO. It is a sweet doughy Chinese pastry with a red dot on op and filled with meat, onions and vegtables and dunked in soy sauce.

You get a lot of stares at the market but they welcome the income. The market was very colorful and busy. I bought a disposable poncho for 4000 Dong. I also purchased a tour of the sites surrounding Dalt from Sinh Cafe for 8 USD.

Dalat Market (Cho Da Lat)

Huge, crowded, and stuffed with produce of all varieties, this is the top stroll-through destination in Dalat. Here’s where you can see all the local specialties — and even have a try! Some of the vendors will be happy to give you a sample of some local wine or a few candied strawberries. Dalat in general is low on the hassling tourist touts that plague the big towns and tourist sites in Vietnam, and entreaties from the merchants are friendly; you can walk around without too much hassle here because the locals are doing all the shopping.

This is one boring town. There is f&^$% all to do excpt go on the Internet (3,000 Dong per hour) and drink great coffee. The satelite TV is down so i can watch Karaoke or endless Vietbnamese governemnt meetings. Somethimes that have people dressed up as Viet Cong singing revolutionary songs.

There are no bars or pavement drinking. I just walked around from 8-10.00pm going in cofee places. Its a long process, getting the cofee, dripper, ice, two cups (one for free tea after) etc. Drinking a cup of cofee takes 40 minutes. Still, this must be one of the most boring towns I have been to since I started my trip.

Thursday, November 13th, 2003 – Day 268

I was up for 8.00am to get my mini-van. It was puring rain all night and is still was. The driver said thee was flodding all over Vietnam. There were only two other guys. There was a french and a Japanese guy. We headed off in the rain passing trought some barely pasable roads due to rain.

Lang Con Ca (Chicken Village) – Dalat

The people in this village are not strictly Vietnamese. They are a from the Koho minority. They have their own customs, language and beliefs and they are perecuted for it. There was a lot of trouble here last year and access to these villages were cut off. Many villagers were jailed for talking about indepencence. The Koho make up about 100,000. Hill people are collectively known as Montagnards. It was a VERY poor village but in the middle stands a giant chicken. There are different stories as to why it was built.

(1) A giant concrete chicken towers over the village of Lang Con Ca to scare predators away from the real chickens. The local children enjoy scampering in and out of a hole in the chickens rear end. Villagers eke out a living growing rice, tobacco, squash, corn and pumpkins. They also work in the coffee and tea plantations

(2) It was built by the village chief after the tragic death of a young woman. It’s a story of star-crossed lovers and that sort of thing.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Chicken Village. (13-11-2003)

A young woman wanted to marry a man in another village, but it was forbidden by the chief. She was adamant to the point where the chief relented, but on one condition: She had to go into the forest and bring back a spurred chicken. (They’re rare as hen’s teeth). Of course she never found a spurred chicken and died in the attempt. The reason for the monument is a bit obscure. It’s either a dedication to young love, or the authority of the chief.

There is a lot of trouble in the highlands generally. Thousands had to flee to Cambodia last year. Most were accepted to the USA and some were sent back. Check out Human Rights Watch: Vietnam. tourists were not allowed to come to this vilalge last year. I wandered down the dirt track to a priamry school. It was very basic. it was a two room building with no windows, doors. The kids had few books and were badly dressed. There were 3 teachers. We took photos of them and promised to mail them back to them. I shall do this when I get back.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Chicken Village. (13-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Chicken Village. (13-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Chicken Village. (13-11-2003)

They especially repress the ethnic minorities known as Montagnards in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Human rights violations have continued unabated since protests for land rights and religious freedom began in February 2001. Human Rights Watch, says Vietnam has intensified repression of ethnic minorities in its Central Highlands region. A statement by the American-based group says people are being interrogated, arrested, beaten and jailed simply because they are Christians or are suspected of supporting the popular movement for land rights and religious freedom.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Truc Central highlands. (13-11-2003)

Bao Dai’s Palace

Completed in 1938, this monument to bad taste provided Bao Dai, Vietnam’s last emperor, with a place of rest and respite with his family. It has never been restored and, indeed, looks veritably untouched since the emperor’s ousting and hasty exile; on a busy weekend in high season, you might get a rush by imagining you’re there to liberate the place and are part of the looting masses — that’s not hard to imagine, with the crowds ignoring any velvet ropes and posing for pictures in the aging velvet furniture. You’ll be asked to go in stocking feet or wear loose shoe covers, which make it fun for sliding around the home’s 26 rooms, including Bao Dai’s office and the bedrooms of the royal family. You can still see the grease stains on Bao Dai’s hammock pillow and the ancient steam bath in which he soaked. The explanations are in English, and most concern Bao Dai’s family. There is pathos in reading them and piecing together the mundane fate of the former royals: This prince has a “technical” job, while that one is a manager for an insurance company.

This was pretty cool as its stuck in a 1950’s time warp. Nothing has been changed since still making it look quite stylish. You could not recreate the furniture and decorations even if you tried. Very nice.

Hang Nga Guest House and Art Gallery

Otherwise known as the “Crazy House,” this Gaudi-meets-Sesame Street theme park is one not to miss. It’s a wild mass of wood and wire fashioned into the shape of a giant tree house and smoothed over in concrete. It sounds simple, but there’s a vision to this chaos; just ask the eccentric owner/proprietor and chief architect, Ms. Dang Viet Nga. Daughter of aristocracy, Ms. Nga is well heeled after early schooling in China and has a degree in architecture from university in Moscow. In Dalat she has been inspired to undertake this shrine to the curved line, what she calls an essential mingling of nature and people. The locals deem her eccentric for some reason, but she’s just misunderstood; don’t pass up any opportunity to have a chat with the architect herself. On a visit here, you’ll follow a helpful guide and are sure to have fun clambering around the concrete ladders, tunnels, and hollowed-out nooks, and in the unique “theme” rooms of this huge fantasy tree trunk. It’s an actual guesthouse, too. There’s a small family shrine in a large common area at the back. It all spoke to me about Vietnam’s refreshingly lax zoning laws, but to many it’s an interesting, evolving piece of pop art. This is a fun visit.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Crazy House. (13-11-2003)

A very weird place .. and a bit of a dump. The bedrooms (10 of them) are all themed after diferent animals, birds, vegtables like the American Eagle, the Russian Bear, a pheasant etc. Because they are made of concrete there is water leakage and dampness in the wet season. I would not stay there. prices range from 29-60 USD. All the bedrooms have mirrors inthe ceiling for some reason!!! A nice lady showed the three of us around. She had good english and we had good fun with her regarding the rooms.

Dalat Railway Station (Cremaillaire Railway)

Built in 1943, the Dalat station offers an atmospheric slice of Dalat’s colonial history. You can see an authentic old wood-burning steamer train on the tracks to the rear, and stroll around inside looking at the iron-grilled ticket windows, empty now. Although the steamer train no longer makes tourist runs, a newer Japanese train makes a trip to Trai Mat Street and the Linh Phuoc pagoda. A ride costs US$5 and leaves when full.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Railway Station. (13-11-2003)

This was a short 25 minute visit. The station has not changed since 1943, and if you are into Art-Deco its a good visit. They ahve an old Ford Falcon car inthe stationa s well for some reason. Its American and Bullet prrof. they stopped making them in the late 1960’s and they are a collectors item. There is an old Japanese steam engine and a new (1980’s) Russian train in the station as well.

The car is interesting. I was checking it out on the Internet and..

Ironically, the Falcon, one of the most beloved cars of the 1960s, was the baby of one of that decade’s most controversial figures: William Strange McNamara.

McNamara, with his slicked-back hair and granny glasses (and, yes, his middle name really is Strange), is best remembered as the country’s secretary of defense during the Vietnam War.

He was then-president LBJ’s cheerleader for escalation into a conflict which years (and some 58,000 American lives) later he admitted that he hadn’t thought winnable.

But before that became his albatross, McNamara, one of Detroit’s original “whiz kids,” ran things at Ford, the car division he helped rescue from near oblivion in the nifty ’50s.

Starting at just $1,912, an outstanding 417,000 Falcons sold that first year and, in the blink of an eye, new-genius McNamara was off to fight on the New Frontier.

It was under his Pentagon watch, and with his blessings, that Congress in 1964 passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, catalyst for the Vietnam War. After 1964, life would never again be quite the same.

Lake of Sighs (Ho Than Tho)

This lake has such romantic connotations for the Vietnamese that you would think it was created by a fairy godmother rather than French dam work. Legend has it that a 15-year-old girl named Thuy drowned herself after her boyfriend of the same age, Tam, fell in love with another. Her gravestone still exists on the side of the lake, marked with the incense and flowers left by other similarly heart-broken souls, even though the name on the headstone reads “Thao,” not “Thuy.” The place is crammed with honeymooners in paddleboats and motorboats.

Prenn Falls

The falls are actually quite impressive, especially after a good rain. You can ride a rattle-trap little cable car over them if you’re brave or follow a stone path behind the falling water (prepare to get your feet wet). That is a little thrill, of course, but the true Prenn experience is all about staged photos for Vietnamese tourists: couples preening, boys looking macho, and girls looking wan and forlorn. Professional photographers run the show and pose their willing actors on a small wooden bridge, on the back of a costumed horse, with an arm around a guy in a bear suit, on a small inflatable raft in front of the falls, or perched in one of the cool tree houses high above (be careful of the loose rungs when climbing up). Come here to have a laugh and observe until you find out that, as a foreign tourist, it’s you that’s being observed; in that case, say “Xin Chao” or return a few “hellos” and go from there (you’ll be getting your photo snapped for sure). You might walk away with some new chums, not to mention some good tourist chachki, if that is your wont (plastic samurai sword anyone?).

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Prenn Falls. (13-11-2003)

We three were the only tourists. We had a wise cracking guide but he usually stayed in the van as we got wet. The rain was very abd at this stage and the two bridges we passed were dangereous as the rivers were at breaking point. They were brown due to the mud. We were the only tourists in the complex. I got soasked. It was impossible to walk behind the walls due to the torrent of rain. We stayed 30 minutes.

When I got to the entrance, a lady selling water screamed and grabbed my legs. I thought I was clever wearing scandals and shorts due to the weather, but there she was holding and inspecting the calf of my leg.

There were 4 leeches on my legs and one on my foot. Evey time she pulled one out, there was a spurt of blood. Ounch.

Terrestrial leeches are common in areas of dense vegetation with a moist climate. Very little can be done to keep from being bitten. There are two types of leeches, those that wait on the ground and latch on to you as you walk by, and those that drop from the overhanging vegetation. Most all of the leeches bite and start drawing blood without you knowing, but feel like a small pin prick.

They have a substance called hirudin in their saliva which is an anticoagulant. So when you are bitten by a leech you will bleed long after it’s had its fill. Generally speaking the bites do not hurt – it is thought that they also have a mild anaesthetic in the saliva. The leeches in Vietnam are, for some reason, particularly painful. Leeches tend to be more prevalent after rain but there is controversy about who in a group is most likely to be bitten – the leader on a trail or the followers.

Leeches (Common Blood-suckers)

Leeches move through the water by undulating like a snake. They can also move along the surface of an animal, rock or piece of wood by ‘looping’. They do looping by attaching their mouth to a surface, pulling their body forward and attaching their tail suckers to the surface. By repeating this looping motion they can move over a surface.

Most have well developed jaws with gristly mouth parts to break through the skin of their victims and suck fluids. Their saliva contains an antiseptic (pain killer) so their victim does not feel them break the skin. Their saliva also contains an anticoagulant (a chemical that stops the blood from turning jellylike and scabbing) called ‘hirudin’. Leeches have very large ‘crops’ that make up most of their digestive organs. The ‘crop’ can hold up to three times the weight of the leech in blood. The leech keeps only the solid parts of the blood as food. While it is sucking and after it leaves the host or prey, the leech’s kidneys eliminate or rid its body of the fluid part of the blood.

If you or a friend finds a leech on your skin, it is important to not pull it off. The leeches’ mouth parts could be left in your skin and cause infection. Infection is more dangerous than the loss of blood. Get out of the water. Use an irritant like salt or heat (lighter, match, hot pin) to make the leech let go and drop away. Then treat the wound. The wound may bleed a bit because of the anticoagulant (see above).

After lunch we visited:

Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) Zen Monastery

What’s refreshing is that you can walk around Truc Lam with no harassment, unlike many other temples and most pagodas in Vietnam. This is a working temple, and though it’s packed with tourists at certain times of the day, you’ll be wandering amid meditation halls and classrooms that are utilitarian, not museum pieces. You’ll get to see monks at work and have an informative glimpse into the daily rhythms of temple life. The complex was completed in 1994 with the aim of giving new life to the Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen sect, a uniquely Vietnamese form of Zen founded during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400). Adherents practice self-reliance and realization through meditation. The shrine, the main building, is notable mainly for its simple structure and peaceful air, and there is a large relief sculpture of Boddhidarma, Zen’s wild-eyed Indian heir, at the rear of the main temple. The scenery around the monastery, with views of the nearby man-made lake, Tuyen Lam Lake, and surrounding mountains is breathtaking.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) Zen Monastery. (13-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Dalat – Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) Zen Monastery. (13-11-2003)

Ita a pretty new complex but its busy with local tourists. I got my picture snapped twice by locals. It was stiill raining. There are some nice views of the lake from here.

We headed back. We were back in the hotel by 3.00pm.

I see Vietnam’s coffee farmers are in crisis. Prices have dropped big time.

In other new, thirteen people were executed by firing squad in two days in Vietnam. Three people were shot at dawn Wednesday at central province of Ha Tinh for trafficking seven kilograms (15 and a half pounds) of heroin from neighbouring Laos. They were sentenced to death in January 2002. Ten others were executed for drug trafficking and murder on Tuesday at Le Xa shooting ground, in northern province of Nam Dinh, in front of nearly one thousand local people.

I cant believe this was a public event. If I was there, I would have gone. Call me what you want!!

In Irish news, it has been found that a pint of plain (stout) is yer only man if you want a healthy heart. Research presented this week in the US suggests that a pint of stout a day could help reduce the risk of heart attack.

Another boring night and I was in bed by 10.00pm. There was nothing to do exept have a long shower, check over the leech bites and watch terrible local TV.

I am worried about my camera. It got a soaking today and when I turned in on tonight it was still misty and damp. Hopefully there is no pernament damage.

Friday, November 7th, 2003 – Day 262 to Monday, November 10th, 2003 – Day 265

Friday, November 7th, 2003 – Day 262

I was awaken by the noise by 6.00am. Most of the city gets up at this time and as I have a large balcony (even though I am on the 5th floor) the noise was massive. I rested until 9.00am. Its was TOO noisy and TOO bright here (facing the morning sun).

I decided to spend today looking for some DVD’s. I have a mental list which I want to complete. You can find them round the backpacker area for 20,000 dong (1.15 Euro) or 16,000 Dong (.92 cent) in other areas. I suppose the extra cost for the convenience.

DVD’s can be found along Nguyen Hue street on the corner just up from the Prince hotel going up toward the HCMC Party headquarters. You can also find them at Saigon Center on Hai Ba Trung just up from Le Tan Ton street.

You may ask (and you would be right), why buy DVD’s. Whats so important. They are just copies and anyway films these days are mostly crap.

As one report put it –

Or reality TV, edited and cut so that plotlines are clear and linear, not messy and complex like real life. Sure, it can be entertaining, but “real” is the last thing you’d call it.

And then you have the movies.

So many of today’s blockbusters have been CGI’d and Dolby 5.1’d to within an inch of their celluloid lives. They’re nothing but big special-effects set pieces surrounded by connecting tissue — something Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne acknowledged in a recent article in The New Yorker. Despite his status as one of Hollywood’s handful of go-to guys — or perhaps because of it — Towne wasn’t so much asked to write a script for one of the “Mission: Impossible” films as to connect the explosions.

I read on a chat board recently –

…. but I don’t think you’ve really thought about the function of movies and entertainment in this society. They’re the opiate, the “Soma” or “feelies” as Aldous Huxley called them, and it’s they’re job to deaden us with meaningless sensory stimulation so we becomes cogs in the machine of capitalism. Depressed or just plain bored, we get our fixes of mindless pop culture for a momentary distraction, then move on to the next fixation, whatever works to keep us from actually thinking and realizing what a soul-sucking and empty existance we all lead.

Its an interesting point but some movies do have a function. They can relate to our own lifes and make so more conscious of other lives. As Morrissory said (not):

Because the music that they constantly play

IT SAYS NOTHING TO ME ABOUT MY LIFE

.. and many movies do not but now and again one does and as long as that continues, I will continue to go the movies and enjoy films . if they some thing to say. I have bought 5/6 Documentaries as well including The Trials of Henry Kissinger and Southern Comfort.

Anyway, I understand SHOPPING now. I never could understand how women could shop all day without stop looking for that something. Well, I shopped from 9.00am to 5.00pm today without stop looking for those certain films. Many of the markets are at different points of the city and I walked from point to point.

As I have been in Saigon twice and have seen many of its attractions, I will post few pictures during the city visit.

I did pass by Notre Dame Cathedral

The neo-Romanesque cathedral was constructed between 1877 and 1883 using bricks from Marseilles and stained glass windows from Chartres. The cathedral is closed to visitors except during Sunday services, which are in Vietnamese and English.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Saigon – Notre Dame Cathedral. (07-11-2003)

General Post Office (Buu Dien)In a grand old colonial building, you can check out the huge maps of Vietnam on either side of the main entrance and the huge portrait of Uncle Ho in the rear.

City Hall

Saigon’s city hall was constructed between 1902 and 1908, a fantastic ornate example of colonial architecture. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Saigon – City Hall. (07-11-2003)

I headed back to the Pham Ngu Lao area where my hotel is located. Everyone in Saigon sits down on stools in the street. Most do not have air-con and favor talking with friends and family outside on the pavement. Its a hive of activity with bikes, cyclos, motor bikes etc. People are selling always.

I settled out for some Bia hoi which is beer sold in litre bottles. Its made in local breweries but its cheap. It was 6,000 Dong (.35 cent) PER LITRE. The seller had it cooled and it tasted great. I settled down and bought a copy of Michael Moore’s STUPID WHITE MEN for 30,000 Dong (1.72 Euro).

I had two litres of beer (it was a good book!!!!) and I was in bed by 11.45am. Everybody else here is in bed by 10.30pm.

Saturday, November 8th, 2003 – Day 263

Ho Chi Minh City, or, Saigon as it is once again commonly known, is a relatively young city for Asia, founded just in the 18th century. Settled mainly by civil-war refugees from north Vietnam and Chinese merchants, it quickly became a major commercial center. When the French took over a land they called Cochin China, Saigon became the capital. After the French left in 1954, Saigon remained the capital of south Vietnam until national reunification in 1975.

Saigon is still Vietnam’s commercial headquarters, brash and busy, with a keen sense of its own importance. Located on the Saigon River, it’s Vietnam’s major port and largest city, with a population of almost 5 million people. True to its reputation, it is noisy, crowded, and dirty, but the central business district is rapidly developing in steel and glass precision to match any city on the globe. The old Saigon still survives in wide downtown avenues flanked by pristine colonials. Hectic and eclectic, Ho Chi Minh City has an attitude all its own.

I did not do a whole lot today either. I was out of the hotel by 9.30am and I visited:

Ben Thanh Market

The clock tower over the main entrance to what was formerly known as Les Halles Centrale is the symbol of Saigon, and the market might as well be, too. Opened first in 1914, it’s crowded, a boon for pickpockets with its narrow, one-way aisles, and loaded with people clamoring to sell you cheap goods (T-shirts, aluminum wares, silk, bamboo, and lacquer) and postcards. There are so many people calling out to you that you’ll feel like the bell of the ball or a wallet with legs. Watch for pickpockets. The wet market, with its selection of meat, fish, produce, and flowers, is interesting and hassle-free; no one will foist a fish on you. In open-air stalls surrounding the market are some nice little eateries.

I had a breakfast of beef noodles soup and ice coffee. I also bought 200g of Vietnamese coffee. Its great stuff. I bought a bag last year with coffee drippers. Its smells of roasted butter (I know there is no such thing). A 200g back will cost between 7,000 and 50,000 Dong depending on which of the 15 or so varieties you want.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Saigon – Planes from the Vietnam War. (08-11-2003)

I did not watch the New Zealand V South Africa game at 2.30pm but I did watch the Australia V Scotland game at 5.00pm local time. Australia cruised past the Scots. They are two poor teams and Australia will not progress past the semi final stage on current form. I am really looking forward to the Ireland V France game tomorrow.

I called into Dan Sinh Market which is close to my hotel. I bought about 5 reproduction Vietnam Era Zippo lighters here last year. It is also known as the War Surplus market due to the huge amount of supposedly ex-military clothing and equipment. Most of the items for sale are however reproductions. They have everything from VC, US uniform to army boots, ammo belts here. Weird.

Sunday, November 9th, 2003 – Day 264

I decided to switch accommodation. I called in the Quang guest house last night and they showed me a quiet room with air-con, hot water and satellite TV for 7 USD per night. As its only one USD dearer, I decided to move. My old hotel was too noisy and was just a fan room.

Nothing much to report today. Eh, Sunday IS a day of rest (and sport on TV). I was watching TV most of the day!! As I have been in Saigon twice before, I have no motivation to revsit the attractions. I visited an Irish Pub (there are three) in Saigon at 2.00pm to watch the match.

SHERIDAN’S IRISH HOUSE

Popular Irish-themed pub with good food. A favourite with Saigon’s expat community. Well located in the “junction” area, a short walk from the CBD etc. Irish music (played by Irish & Vietnamese musicians) every Saturday night. Other musical entertainment on Thursday/Friday nights.

There was very little atmosphere. Most people were there for an expensive Sunday lunch. There was less atmosphere even if they tried. Beer was expensive. One dollar for a small bottle (well, expensive for Vietnam, anyway).

It was a very disappointing game for Ireland. France deserved it. We weren’t even at the races. I left with 15 minutes to go (I was the late tries later on).

it was a night of watching Sport on TV. There was the England V Wales rugby game Manchester United V Liverpool and Chelsea V Newcastle Football games. It was bed time when they were all over.

Monday, November 10th, 2003 – Day 265

I called into Sinh cafe (travel agent, travel company, restaurant) to book an open bus ticket to Hanoi.

SINH Cafe established in 1993 is one of the first travel agencies organizing guided tours for foreign tourists to explore Vietnam.

What is Open Tour ?

It is a shuttle bus that can take you to travel everyday from this place to another throughout Vietnam. On the way you can stop at any sites the bus goes through and stay there as long as you want to. Just confirm with SINH CAFE your next trip one day before your departure, our bus will be available to pick you up at your hotel accommodation (except Saigon).

What kind of bus to be used for Open Tour ?

SINH CAFE has a fleet of 45-seat and 34-seat buses with air conditioning especially used for OPEN TOUR itinerary. You will have no worry about the space for your luggage, for your long legs and you will feel comfortable and enjoy your time in Vietnam.

I paid 23.00 UD for the following series of bus journeys, which I can take in my leisure.

SAIGON – DALAT – NHATRANG – HOIAN – HUE – HANOI

More information on this option can be found here. There are advantages and disadvantages to this package. Buses go every day from each start and stop and therefore is flexible, so you don’t meet local people. A good advantage (apart from the fact that inter-city bus services are terrible) is that we get to stop on various SIGHTSEEING STOPOVERS during the journeys. Therefore, I get to see more of Vietnam than if I took scheduled services.

Anyway, I went shopping today. I bought some MORE coffee. Yep, even though I am mainly a tea drinker I am very found of Vietnam coffee. It has a world reputation. I brought some some from my last visit. There are dozens of varieties. In an average stall you may get 10 types of coffee and a similar variety of tea leaves. Prices vary from 5,000 to 30,000 per 100g. I also bought two stainless steel coffee drippers.

I also purchased a pair of scandals. I normally don’t like wearing them, but my trainers are wearing out. I have won them most days over the past 6 months. Its also a bit hot and sticky for shoes, but to mention you have to head to a laundry with your socks once a week. The disadvantage is the your feet get filthy.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Saigon. (10-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Saigon. (10-11-2003)

It was raining heavily from 4.00pm to 6.00pm. Its about 24 oc today.

Later on I bought a copy of Lonely Planet China (China, 8th Ed) and a copy of Damage Done by Warren Fellows.

It was recommended to me in La Paz, Bolivia. It is reprinted as 4000 Days: My Life & Survival in a Bangkok Prison.

Warren Fellows spent 12 years inside some of Thailands most horrific prisons suffering the most inhumane treatment possible from the hands of brutal guards.

Warren survived the experience and was eventually returned to Australia a stranger in a strange land. The world had changed much since Warren last saw it

I found an interesting site about people currently in prison in Thailand and other counties.

On a related note, I purchased Brokedown Palace on DVD. Its about 2 girls who get jail in Thailand for drugs.

Another prisoner in Thailand book is called Forget You Had a Daughter. The author spent 4-1/2 years in the notorious Lard Yao women’s prison – dubbed the Bangkok Hilton – before being repatriated in 1997 to serve the rest of her sentence in Britain.

The China Guide has nearly 1000 pages. Anyway I paid 8 USD for both. They are copies. For the use I will make of the LP guide, why buy a new copy for 30 USD plus.

Note: Its impossible to visit some web-sites in Vietnam. Every time I go on the NET, it will not allow me to visit GEOCITIES, where these pages are edited and uploaded to. I will not be able to edit the site pages for a while until I figure a way around these difficulties.

Thursday, November 6th, 2003 – Day 261

Thursday, November 6th, 2003 – Day 261

There are three means of transport between Phnom Penh and HCM City via Moc Bai:

  • 1) The direct bus is a large, air-con bus, which departs Phnom Penh from the station at the southwest corner of the Central Market T/T/Sat at 6:30AM. Departs HCM at 6:00AM. $12, 8 hours one way.

  • 2) A bit cheaper are the daily minivans from Capitol GH and Neak Krorhorm Travel in Phnom Penh for $6.

  • 3) Cheapest, local taxis depart from Market Chhbar Ampeou near the Monivong Bridge in Phnom Penh. 10,000R for a cramped and harrowing ride to the border. With the exception of the direct bus, you will take a taxi or van as far as the border, walk across and pick up another vehicle on the other side.

Visas are not available at the border so get your Cambodian or Vietnamese visa in advance. More information from http://www.canbypublications.com

I was at the Capitol at 6.30am and I had an ice coffee to rid myself on the last of my riel. We piled on the bus at 6.40am. It could fit about a dozen but they have over sold tickets as there were 2 Japanese tourists with no where to sit. They switched so to another bus. I got the seat up front beside the driver. There were all locals on the us except myself and the Japs.

The road has improved big time although its a 10 hour journey to Saigon (although you may be at the border for two these hours). It was a pleasant journey as I was up front. I took my shoes off and put my legs on the dash board. It was interesting viewing. I saw Oxen plough rice fields, monks collecting food from shops in the morning (with safron robes and umbrellas). We had to use one ferry to cross a river but we could stay on the bus.

Only one incident at the boarder. At Vietnam entry, they give a SARS free certificate but it costs 2000 Dong. I did not have it. They would accept Thai money but she would only give me half its worth. I asked another tourist for a loan. Its only 20 cent.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Phnom Penh to Saigon – A group of minks collect supplies, gifts etc. from shop keepers. (06-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Phnom Penh to Saigon. A lone monk looks for supplies. Usually in South East Asia, they carry an umbrella to guard against the sun and usually they have a child to carry the bucket or vessle that people put things into. In Cambodia, you are not allowed shake hands or touch a monk. You can talk to them, but they usually they will not talk to women. In Thailand its similar althouh men can give them things with their right hand only (left handed people watch out, as the left hand (usually used to clean ones self in the toilet) is considered dirty. Females can not hand them anything. (06-11-2003)

Anyway I got to Saigon around 4.15pm. I know Saigon and have been before so I decided to try some hotels. Its tough (not) as there are about ONE HUNDRED hotels in the backpacker area. Every few yards, there is either a guesthouse or a hotel. Prices range from 4 USD for a fan room to 10 USD for a air-con room. Of course you can find more expensive places.

I did exactly what I should not have done. I started walking around checking out rooms instead of picking one in the first two or three. Over the next hour I checked about one dozen rooms. They is little to nothing to separate them and you soon forget the pros and cons of each. Basically, I ended up at one which I didn’t want but was too tired to move again. It was 6USD for a fan room, with local TV but a balcony. Its a big room with hot water.

I did little the rest of the day. I walked about and stumbled across a ear cleaning saloon. That’s right. Very fascinating to watch.

They scrape and probe inside ears with his little scoops and copper prongs, and a series of feather brushes.

I had a few beers and went to bed.

Wednesday, November 5th, 2003 – Day 260

Wednesday, November 5th, 2003 – Day 260

Nice article here on copying your old Video to DVD.

Its a great hotel I am staying in. It is called the Tonle Sap Hotel and is overlooking (nearly) the river front. For 10 USD per night I am getting satellite TV, HOT WATER and even AIR-CON. I would recommend it folks.

I have decided to head to Saigon tomorrow. I went down to the Capitol Guesthouse to buy a bus ticket for 6 USD. Its a 10 hour journey but the competition on this route keeps prices VERY low. I have taken this road 4 times before and know it to be a nightmare. I only hope the road has improved since last June. I am due to collect my passport with Vietnam Visa tonight.

You can take a air-con bus for 12 USD. Its called GST and better comfort is assured. Speaking to the Capitol, it seems they have a new bus for this route and have decommissioned the one I had last year which was crap and had so many sharp edges and broken seats.

Anyway, I did little today. There are lots of preparation for the Water Festival and independence day (11th of Nov). They have added stages n the different parks around the royal Compound and bands, Karaoke all day long.

I visited a few markets looking for sandals but nothing took my fancy. I love Phnom Penh for its weird wild west feel. Its dusty and loud but you can never expect what happens here. Lawlessness, the people, the stories. Its great.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Phnom Penh. (05-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Phnom Penh – Markets. (05-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Phnom Penh – get on yer bike. (05-11-2003)

I spend most of the time on the NET writing about 8 days of blog and getting my pictures to disk. There was only one Internet place in Phnom Penh the first time I was here. There are now about 15 places in the city centre and prices have fallen big time. The price is now only 1500 Riel (40 cent) an hour. So the day gone so that this blog can be updated. You might ask, why not update once a month and to hell with it. Well, I am kind of sucked into now and with only a few months before I head home, it would be a shame for it to whimper it out. Anyway its a diversion from the normal sightseeing and travel stuff.

I had a great dinner (as I have every night in Phnom Penh). Fried break with beef and fried rice with beef. All for 4 Euro including a large cold beer. I collected my passport and did some food shopping. I bought 20 (yes, TWENTY) bananas for 3,000 Riel for my journey tomorrow.

I have got gone out on the booze in Phnom Penh yet. As it was my last night I decided I would go to the infamous Martini Pub. This is the famous Martini, in Phnom Penh since the UNTAC days. Their ad reads, Bored, lonely, hungry. We have everything you need! and that just about sums it up. Lots of bar girls.

I got a moto there for 1,500 Riel. Beer was 1.50 USD a can. Funny place. Big barn bar with restaurants, big screen TV and dark (so dark you cant see) Disco. Connections to the Military so its never closed.

Much adieu has been made of the Cambodian government’s recent edict banning karaoke clubs and discotheques. In the initial confusion about how to interpret the law, the rumor mill, fueled by an overzealous press, spread exaggerated stories that all of the bars were closed and there was no beer to be had in Cambodia. Absolutely not true! The new law has closed most of the karaoke clubs and forced the discos to alter their format, which has had some impact on the Asian tourist market. But the law has left most of the businesses frequented by Westerners unaffected.

I was in bed my 12.30am. My bus to Saigon is at 6.45am.

Monday, November 3rd, 2003 – Day 258 to Tuesday, November 4th, 2003 – Day 259

Monday, November 3rd, 2003 – Day 258

I got little sleep. I was woken by staff at 5.30am. Ouch. Smileys is a good palce and I would recommend it. it was 5 USD per night. The food and drink was also good and its about a 7 minute walk to town. Internet access is expensive here though. Now for Battambang.

The mini van came at 6.00am. It was transfeerring many tourists to the docks to get boats to Phnom Penh. It was fasinating stuff as we travelling by the docks. Hundreds of houses built on the river in boat sides of a dirt track. All wooden, bamboo shacks with no electricity but a hive of activity. to be seen to be believed. Its just the end of the wet season so its easy get a boat out to the river but amny services do not run in the dry season.

The makority of people were going to Phnom Penh. I was pointed and directed to a small speed boat. There are about 12 passengers (half local, half tourist). I decided to get up on deck and stay there for the trip.

Battambang (1995 est. pop. 110,000)

In a great rice-growing area. The second largest city in Cambodia, it is a market center with numerous rice mills. Textiles are also made. The city is on both the highway and railroad linking Phnom Penh with Thailand; after the outbreak (1970) of civil war in Cambodia, the Battambang–Phnom Penh road was a prime target of the Khmer Rouge insurgents, who, by capturing it, severed Phnom Penh from its major source of rice. Battambang was acquired by Thailand in 1809 and returned to Cambodia in 1907. French-colonial-era terraces on the riverside are rapidly filling with private English-language schools and mobile-phone shops. The busiest Battambang gets, however, is at the central market, where gem stones from the town of Pailin, southwest of Battambang, are cut and traded. Don’t expect to pick up a bargain unless you know what to look for – the better stones are shipped straight to Thailand.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Battambang. (03-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Battambang. (03-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Battambang. (03-11-2003)

Much of the architecture is French colonial and traditional Cambodian. Few buildings are over three stories, and the main streets are shared by cars and horse carts alike.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Battambang. (03-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Battambang. (03-11-2003)

It was a great trip but I got a little sun burnt. I must have waved to 200 kids durng the trip. Its a real water afair. All these floating villages and fishermen using empty plastic water bottles as floats. Nobody has electricity and all life, work and play is water based. They catch fish during the way( we have to be careful to avoid the hundreds of net floated by botles) as we travelled), and swim for enjoyment. Its real peomotive but they sem content. The houses rest of stiltes. We also had to slow down going pass houses as some tourist boats from Siam Reap do not and thereby snag nets and capzise people while on their small boats. It was fasinating watching people fo on with daily chores on the river – going to flating svhools, shrimp catching, fishing, guting. Lots of things I saw, no type to write or type them down.

When we got there, there were many touts but also 2 mini vans owned by the two most popular hotels. Many hotels were built by investors to house NGO personnel in the 1990’s. It seems there were hundreds of them with big U.N wages. They are all gone now and there is a glut of accommodation. You can get a hotel rom with cable, shower and fan for 5 USD. I choose to stay in the Royal.

Its a very pleasant cirt with lovaly buildings. The only fault is that the river attractions every sort of insect. I spend half the night killing them as my window did nor full close. All sorts of insect fromwalking to flying. They really pissed me off as they climbed all oer me. I am heading abck to PP tomorrow. I hate insects.

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003 – Day 259

I was up at 6.00am in order to get the 6.45am bus to PP with GST bus. I bought some bananas for the journey. It left on time and it was full. The ticket was 4 USD. The road was fine. Again it was unpaved in some areas but no holes as the weather has been good. They were working on the road in 5/6 locations. The lady beside me kept ofering me all her fulla nd drink. She had enough to feed an army. I took some beans and a pastry from her. Nice lady but no English.

When i got to PP, the first two things before I went to my hotel were to get some US dollars and get a Vietnam Visa. There are no ATM machines here so its fill up forms time. It took about 20 minutes. You need your passport. I walked to the capitol guesthouse and paid them 30 USD to get a 30 day Vietnam Visa (for delievery next day).

I took a moto to the Tonle Sap Hotel. For a change of location I choose this hotel. Its on the riverfront. All rooms with air-con, cable TV, fridge, hot water and bathtub.

The bus journey took nearly 6 hours but it was pleasnt as I had the front seat and leg room.

I watched OFF LIMITS staring Gregory Hines and Willem Dafoe.

As plainclothes military police in Saigon during the Vietnam War. They are, that is, as plainclothes as two American civilians in a Detroit car would ever be in Saigon. They go to investigate the brutal murder of a prostitute, and in the course of their investigation they learn the murder is one in a series, that there might be some kind of weirdo who specializes in this crime. Then they begin to suspect that attempts are being made to close the case, to cover up the connections, to protect a high-ranking American official who may be the murderer.

I see a new Gaelic game for PlayStation 2 is been planned. At long last. Another artice on piping music from your PC to your stero.

I did little the rest of the day. I was deciding long and hard what to do next. I am in three minds.

  • Take a boat to Kratie tomorrow (5 hours) to see fresh water Dolphins. It is one of the few places in Southeast Asia where these elusive and majestic snub fin dolphins can be viewed so easily. During the Khmer Rouge [regime], fishermen would use all kinds of methods to catch fish, like electrocution [and] big nets, even hand grenades to fish. They wanted just the fish, but would kill many dolphins in the process.

  • Wait around until the 11th in PP to see the Water Festival. The 1th is Indepence day. It is the most extravagant and exuberant festival in the Khmer calendar, outdoing even the new year celebrations.

    Starting on the day of the full moon in late October or early November, up to a million people from all walks of life and from all over the country flock to the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers in Phnom Penh to watch traditional boats racing on a huge scale. This year more than 400 of the brightly colored boats with over 2,500 paddlers battled it out for top honors. The boat racing dates back to ancient times marking the strength of the powerful Khmer marine forces during the Khmer empire.

    During the day, the boats race in pairs along a kilometer-long course, and then in the evening brightly decorated floats cruise along the river prior to and during the nightly fireworks displays.

    The festival marks the changing of the flow of the Tonle Sap River and is also seen as thanksgiving to the Mekong River for providing the country with fertile land and abundant fish. It is at this time when the river flow reverts to its normal down-stream direction. In a remarkable phenomenon, the Tonle Sap River earlier reverses its course as the rainy season progresses, with the river flowing “upstream” to Tonle Sap Lake. Then as the rainy season tapers off, the river changes direction once again as the swollen Tonle Sap Lake begins to empty back into the Mekong River, leaving behind vast quantities of fish.

  • Go to Saigon Thursday to start my 3 month visit to Vietnam, Southern China, Northern Laos and Northern Thailand.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Parked bikes outside Psar O Russei Market. (04-11-2003)

I still had not decided before heading back to my hotel.

Sunday, November 2nd, 2003 – Day 257

Sunday, November 2nd, 2003 – Day 257

I met my driver at 9.00am. I am paying him 15 USD for 3 days driving. Its 7km to the temple entrance and many temples are 4-5km apart. He stays around all day waiting outside each temple until I am done. Cambodian Nationals get into the temples for free. As it is a weekend, many are here to picnic.

I hear about the Land Mines Museum from a guy in Indonesia. I found out that its on the way to the emples (well 5km down a dirt track), so I decided to visit.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Land mine Museum. (02-11-2003)

You won’t find signs leading you to this seemingly impromptu museum; Cambodian officials prefer their own rhetoric to that of the owner and curator, Mr. Akira. The museum itself is just a corrugated-roof area stacked high with disarmed ordnance and detailed data about the use, effects, and statistics about UXO (unexploded ordinance) in the country. Most interesting is the small grove out back, an exhibit of how mines are placed in a real jungle setting. The museum is a call to action for demining in the country. Resist any temptation to volunteer (unless properly trained), but you’re sure to have a chance to chat with Mr. Akira, peruse his recent book on the subject, and sign a petition (he’s hoping to achieve NGO status). It’s an interesting visit.

Interesting. his parents were Killed by the Khmer Rouge and he was taught by them to lay mines as a child Soldier. In 1979, he was captured by the invading Vietamese forces and was part of their army until 1990 whee he fought his former comrades. Some of the content of the museum is made up of his exploits against the KE, much of it graphic but interesting. He laid out all the tricks he used to have to ambush KR troops. When the Vietnam Army pulled out, he was in the Cambodian Army from 1990-1993 again fighting KR. Indeed there was KR activity up until 1997 in districts around Siem Reap. There are lots of warning from him about the mines around the temples.

Anyway, spend ALL day until sunset at the temples. Enjoy.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Angkor Wat. (02-11-2003)

Ta Prohm

The jungle foliage still has its hold on this dynamic temple, the only that was left in such a ruinous state when early archaeologists started freeing the temples from the jungle. Ta Prohm is a favorite for many; in fact, those very ruinous vines appeal to most. As large around as your average oak tree, the vines cleave massive stones in two or give way and grow over the top of temple ramparts. It’s quite dynamic, and there are a few popular photo spots where the collision of temple and vine are most impressive. Sadly, Ta Prohm was looted quite heavily in recent years, and many of its stone reliquaries are lost

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Ta Prohm. (02-11-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Ta Prohm. (02-11-2003)

Back to Ankor Wat for sunset.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Angkor Wat – One of the Central Spires up close. (02-11-2003)

I went back to the Hostel. I ate and decided to head to battanbang. The attraction is the 5 hour boat trip there. Its a tourist thing as you can go by bad road, but not many tourists take this trip. The boats that ply the route are small as there are some very narrow waterways. I bought the 13 USD ticket from the hotel. I would be picked up at 6.00am and the boat would leave from the docks (40 minutes away) at 7.00am.

I had one day left on my Siem Reap ticket (for the temples) but I had more than enough. I was templed out.