Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Years. Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Vietnam reminds me a bit of India. There are aggressive peddlers, beggars with obvious disabilities and the streets are noisy with traffic. English is not as proficient as it is in India and Thailand, which is a welcome challenge. I would like to learn some basic conversation Vietnamese. So far I can order a few dishes speaking Vietnamese but that is it. 'Hello' and 'Thank you' would be useful!
We spent our first night in Ho Chi Minh at a dirty hotel in the town center. The wallpaper was peeling, curtains faded and sagging and the air had a distinct smell of stale cigarettes. But it was right next door to the bus station and included free breakfast.
At 7 am the following day we boarded a bus heading to Nha Trang, where we will be for New Years and Judy's birthday. The 11 hr ride cost us a whopping $8 and included free water. I have gone over my budget in India and Thailand but I feel that I will be able to recover during my stay in Vietnam. It is very affordable for Westerners to travel in this country.
Our current guesthouse is by far the nicest we've had this entire trip. We each have our own queen sized bed, a balcony, a mini fridge, a TV, hot water shower and it is very clean. It is also the cheapest accomodation we have had the entire trip, costing us $4 a night each. We arrived a day late because we were not permitted to board our plane leaving Thailand since we neglected to get all the correct visa paperwork. Oops! I had emailed the guesthouse to inform them that we would not be there for our first nights reservation. I received a quick reply addressed to Mr. Naomi stating that my change had been accepted. The email was very cute with it's broken english. I felt it was a good omen. We really like it here at Bao Khanh Guesthouse.
The man who greeted us upon our arrival at Bao Khanh Guesthouse doesn't speak any english. He showed us around the room smiling and demonstrating how to use the TV and shower. He took our passports as a deposit and left us to unpack. He quickly returned and gave a quick knock on the door. I opened the door to see him laughing and passing me the TV remote that he'd accidentally taken after giving us the demonstration. It's like playing charades to communicate and I find it very enjoyable.
Tonight is New Years Eve. We have plans to meet up with Maria (my old boss at Chau)and a few others from Vancouver. It will be nice to see familiar faces. Not too sure where the night will take us but I imagine it will be filled with great food, a few cocktails and dancing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pork Chop Noodle. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

My first taste of Vietnam was realized at a small noodle house in the busy district 1in Ho Chi Minh. After a long day of travel, tracking down a big bowl of pho was high on my list of priorities. We noticed a small noodle house frequented exclusively by locals and decided to give it a try. I asked the server for pho ga (chicken noodle soup) and he replied with a laugh and vigorous shake of his head. Okay... perhaps pho bo (beef noodle soup)? A louder laugh and more shaking of his head. It was then that I realized the restaurant's title is 'Pork Chop Noodle'. Oops. So basically everything has pork. I knew my vegetarian habits would be difficult in Vietnam but I was not prepared to eat pork, which has been absent from diet since the age of 11. The only item on the menu that worked for me was shrimp noodle soup so I put in my order for that. I was equally cofused by the drink list and when centella juice was suggested I agreed. I was delighted by the centella juice, which is similar to wheat grass served chilled and lightly sweetened. I was less delighted that the shrimp noodle soup was garnished with pork balls. I also suspect the broth was pork based but chose not to acknowledge that fact. On a side note, if you are reading this Lukas, don't think that I will come home as an avid consumer of pork. Bacon is still on my black list!

I suppose I should back track since I have completely glossed over my time in Koh Phangan in Thailand. I realize there has been a singnificant absence since my last blog. I was far busy being a beach bum to sit down and write. I also did not have access to wi-fi in order to edit and post photos. I will tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet beach bungalow where we stayed at Ocean Emerald. I also enjoyed the amazing food at Liberty Bungalows, which was right next door. The beaches are beautiful and we met many friendly people, both local and foreign.

I did check out the infamous half moon party, but was completely overwhelmed by the drunken and drugged foreigners. One man sporting a bloody nose and deep gash across his forhead approached and offered my friend Floyd some BBQ chicken on a stick. After declining the man told us 'not to fuck with him'. We took the chicken and he smiled while calling us 'cunts' as he stumbled back into the mass of people dancing. We offered the chicken to a stray dog and left the party shortly after. I am not sorry to be missing the even bigger full moon party taking place on New Years.

After not using my Acer netbook for nearly a week I was surprised and dissapointed to find that it had crashed somehow. It is a brand new machine and has been handled with care. So until I can get it fixed or replaced I am unable to post any pics. On the plus side I do have almost all of my files backed up elsewhere.

Oh gotta go. Cafe is kicking me out for closing time. To be continued...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You are good friend. Goa, India.

We spent our last morning in India on the small farm where Green Leaf Homestay is nestled. I fed the kittens some sardines and tuna and the owners told me I was ‘a very good friend’. They introduced me to their parrot, which they caught from the tree about a month ago. The bird is well fed and spends its days climbing up and down the bars of its cage, I presume with the intention of finding a way out to freedom. The two dogs, named Judy and Tyson, are the healthiest I’ve seen in India. They don’t even have fleas, which leads me to believe they must be on treatment, a rarity in India.

In the afternoon we decided to wear our saris to take a few photos. The trained eye will notice that my sari is on incorrectly. However, it was the best I could manage, even with the help of a youtube how to video. When it came time to take photos of Judy (the girl not the dog) we had some unexpected help from an Indian woman. She bluntly told us the sari was ‘all wrong’ and set about fixing its arrangement. She even gave Judy her bindi before setting off and telling us to visit her store later. I knew which store was hers because she had been yelling at us every day to come in as we passed by and once even grabbed my arm and tried to pull me inside. We agreed that yes we would visit her store now for the first time.

That evening on the way out to find some dinner we stopped at her store. I purchased an anklet and Judy purchased a few items of clothing. She is a very hard woman to bargain with but it turns out she has four children to support by selling clothing and jewelery so I can understand why. She made a comment that we should take her littlest one home to Canada so she can come back someday with money. She was joking of course but there was also a seriousness in her voice. She told us we should still be wearing our saris and insisted we go back to our room and put them on for dinner. And she added that if we had any shampoo or other things we no longer wanted that we should give them to her. We relented and went back to our room and attempted to dress ourselves in the saris. It is a lot of material to deal with. We both gave up and went to see her with our sloppy saris. With laughs all around she fixed us both up, garnished us with a necklaces and asked to have a photo taken of us three. I told her I would mail a copy to her. We gave her some clothing we no longer needed and went for diner in our saris. She insisted we keep the necklaces. We were both very touched by the gesture. We both felt decadent and awkward wearing saris. It was fun. The locals liked seeing foreigners wearing Indian clothing. One man even asked to take our picture with his cell phone camera.

India is a very different world from the one I have known at home in Canada. One thing that surprised me was how comfortable men are with each other. Seeing two men holding hands, linking arms or holding each other’s shoulders was common. Little boys sported painted nails without so much as a second glance from anyone. Public affection between men and women, however, seems rare, almost taboo.

The next morning we left India and landed safely in the city of Bangkok. Thailand is a drastic change from India. Drivers use lanes and turn signals rather than relying on the horn to communicate. Cows do not nap in the middle of busy intersections. The men do not sport mustaches and bellbottoms. It is acceptable for women to wear skirts, shorts and tank-tops. We weren’t sprayed with antibacterial aerosol before debarking from the plane. It is so much quieter, despite Bangkok being a huge and lively city.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

No smoking, no spitting. Goa, India.

'No smoking. No spitting' is written on every city bus I've been on in India. So today when I vomited out the window of the bus I was riding, as it pummeled over speed-bumps and raced around corners, I was sure I was going to be promptly escorted off and left at the side of the road. After all, isn't that more offensive than spitting? I admit I was feeling rather sorry for myself, which is selfish considering we were passing families who literally live under tarp tents. Motion sickness is not deserving of any complaints. Judy later told me that the other passengers on the very crowded bus simply averted their eyes and ignored the situation.

Once exiting the bus and after some one on one time with a nearby bush I sat myself down at a small open restaurant and chugged a litre of water. When I was somewhat recovered, we meandered our way down to the remote turtle beach that we travelled reasonably far to explore. And what a beach!

I wrapped myself up with a recently acquired cotton blanket to protect myself from the sun. Of course I also wear sunscreen every day, but despite it being spf 40 and promising to lighten my skin I am an entire shade darker than when I left home. India seems to have an obsession with skin lighteners, which is fuelled and was perhaps created by companies such as Dove and Garnier.

We didn’t see any turtles since they only venture onto the beaches at night when it is time to lay their eggs. We did, however, enjoy a relaxing afternoon away from the noise of the city. Judy painted with her miniature water colour set and I shared my lunch with a timid stray dog. I also went for my first swim, in full clothing, since arriving in India.

On our way back we stopped at the same restaurant where I recovered from my motion sickness for a light dinner. I figured having some food in my stomach may help me have an easier ride back to the city. We chatted with the husband and wife who own the restaurant. They told us about the efforts to save the olive ridley turtles whose numbers have declined to the point where they face extinction. Indians used to take the turtle eggs for eating, but now they protect the turtles by fencing off their nests and posting signs alerting tourists and locals to steer clear.

Perhaps because we showed an active interest in the welfare of the turtles, the husband and wife asked if we’d like to see a crocodile. We nodded our heads and followed them a few meters into their front yard. We saw a miserable iguana with a badly injured front leg and bound with twine. The creature was only about two feet in length. My heart sank. The wife went on to explain that the iguana had fallen into a ditch and the neighbours were beating it with the intention to kill it. They rescued the animal and put water in a coconut shell but the iguana would not drink. I asked for some scissors and cut the twine off the iguanas tail and back. The four of us then shooed the iguana across the road and into the protective covering of the bushes. I left them a very generous tip after finishing my meal.

The bus driver on the ride home drove much slower, and thankfully my stomach held itself together. Not getting sick almost made up for getting stuck beside a man who absolutely could not keep his fingers out of his nose for 20 kilometers. Thankfully, a teeny tiny little girl in a pink princess dress was the perfect distraction as she very enthusiastically waved at us while squealing ‘hi’ the entire bus ride.

*I was not up for taking photos today so here are some that Judy snapped.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yes, Madam. Come in to looking. Goa, India.

Judy and I set out yesterday for North Goa via public transit. We squeezed ourselves onto the busses, with Judy almost getting left behind on one occasion. The busses do not come to a complete stop as passengers jump on. Luckily a fellow passenger pulled her on board as the bus picked up speed. Three busses later we arrived at our destination, a bustling small city.

The vendors and beggars are aggressive here. I have been pushed into shops by both men and women. If you give one beggar child or mother money a storm of children swarm you. With one hand they grip your arm tightly and with the other hand they gesture that they are hungry, with desperation in their dark eyes. I scooped one young girl up and moved her to my either side because I was afraid of how close the cars and busses came to her small body as they raced past. It is distressing. I want to find ways to give back, perhaps starting with my own troubled city when I return home.

We are staying at a quaint homestay called Green Leaf, which is situated amongst the homes of several families. Chickens, dogs, cats and a pig also call this space home. I would recommend this accomodation to other travelers, with the warning that the beds are hard as rock.

There is a large Tibetan population here. Their markets are filled with beautiful jewelery, both new and old, as well as other beautiful trinkets. The Tibetans are happy to let people gaze quietly at their merchandise without shouting high pressure sales pitches. The Tibetan woman shown below is Dolma. She sold me a beautiful old silver ring with jade, coral and turquoise stones. She speaks seven languages.

Cows and white sand. Goa, India.

We left Kerala by 3rd class sleeper train heading to the South of Goa. The train was closterphofic for me, a Canadian who is used to so much personal space. They really pack people in like sardines. India has a huge population and cramming people onto transportation systems is the only way to accomodate their needs. I did manage to sleep despite my mental discomfort of the blankets and pillows being used again and again by travellers without being washed. We were fed a basic meal and tea in the early morning before arriving at our destination.

The beaches in Goa are perhaps the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. White sand stretches as far as the eye can see. The entrance to the main beach is crowded with foriegn and domestic tourists waiting to be taken on speedboat or airballoon rides. However, a short walk down the beach provides a quiet haven from the crowds. We have heard that the holiday season is slow this year. Perhaps due to the recession in the UK and America.

A few more. Kerala, India.

Thank you to all the wonderful people of Fort Cochin who opened their doors and hearts to us. You're town is truly an oasis in a crowded and often chaotic country.

And to my readers if you ever find yourself in Fort Cochin, which is in the state of Kerala be sure to stay at Tag Und Nacht Hometay. Antonio and Kristine will take excellent care of you. Reservations can be made here: And if you need a taxi driver for tours ask for Jose! He is very friendly and full of knowledge.If you need a driver for evenings and weekends ask for Anil. He really went above and beyond to help us find sari's, a tailor, the train and even our seats on the train. All these people will be missed!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hare Krisnas visit from the West. Kerala, India.

The sound of drumming and distant chanting could be heard at a distance from the room this morning. As the music came nearer it became clear that this was a familiar tune to my ears. I suddenly felt transported to Commercial Dr where "Hare, Hare Krishna" can often be heard chanted in the streets. Sure enough some Western Hare Krishnas hailing from America stopped in front of our homestay. Many locals took to the streets to see what these curious men were doing. I snapped some photos as they tried to sell me and the locals yoga books in order to support their travels of India. I can't help but wonder why Indians would want to support these wanderers, who likely have more money than they do. Oh Westerners and their antics.