Monday, October 31, 2005

happy halloween!

halloween is my favourite holliday. ever. i'm kinda sad that it really doesn't feel like halloween here, sad that i won't get to hand out candy (and eat tons a well) to cute kids all dressed up. all i get here are cute dirty kids begging for money... same same, but very different.

on our walk around town today we saw a cambodian handicraft market and decided to go check it out. it turned out to be rows and rows of fortune tellers and so we decided to get a try at it. we found a crazy chinese man with a runny nose who spoke english and surrendered $3 usd each to see what ws in our cards. we both got our palms read, our faces read, our cards read and did some crazy coins shaking in a turtle shell to see what was ahead.

resume of my predictions:
i am clever. i can go anywhere no problem. i have the respect and honour of society. if i marry before 20, very bad, but if after (i think that's covered), very good. i will make lots of money between the age of 40 and 60. the best years of my life will be from 26 to 66. 25 and before were not so good years. i should not wear yellow. mountains are bad for me and i should never go there alone. i need to live besside the sea or a river, but away from mountains (does vancouver landscape means that they cancel each other out and i'm ok, or am i still bad off?). i need to be careful when making phone calls or going to markets, because people will try to steal my stuff. marriage will come to me between february and june of the next year. i think a lot but i don't say much.

katy's predictions:
she is clever. she can go anywhere no problem. she has the respect and honour of society. when she speaks people believe her. she should not marry before 21 (covered). she will make lots of money between the age of 30 to 40. she should not wear black (which is funny, because she always wear black). water (river, lake, sea) is bad for her. she should not go in water alone, especially not in the next two months. she needs to live besside mountains. marriage will come to her in november or december of this year. from two men, she will need to choose. on of them is bad and good, but overall good. the other one is someone new.

quite funny! i think that it was a great thing to do on halloween. and now i'll have her back when we go swimming so that she doesn't drown and she'll have my back when walking the steets so that i don't get robbed. sweet!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

cambodia, country # 5!!!

after waking up early, we left chau doc (vietnam's border town) by row boat, and then slow boat, for the combodian border. there we waited well over an hour for our passeports and everything to be checked and sorted out, for our visa, for god knows what. and then it was on to a "speed boat", that wasn't really that fast, and that i lovingly baptised "inferno hell" due to the heat caused by actually being stuck inside a boat (the others were open-air). and then, a long bus ride into phnom penh, cambodia's capital.

my downfall again was to expect something else. people said that this city was lovely and considering that it used to be french, i was expecting something along the lines of a more modern vientiane. but no, it isn't so (thus far at least). we arrived in what was described as a tourist area only to find nothing aimed at tourist but ugly hotels. we got cornered by tuk tuk drivers whanting to give us a lift. they all spoke at once and it was impossible to tell what any of them were actually saying. we managed to pick one out of the crowd and got to our hotel, which is well located. but being nearly full but for one room, we are sharing a double bed for tonight in a room with no windows and yes, no balcony. but tomorrow it will all be better.

for dinner we walked to the river and found a great khmer restaurant with a lovely waiter who spoken english with a scotish accent. i had one of my most expensive meals yet, and hardly ate any of it because the portions where much to big. but it was delightful!

tomorrow we will play it by ear, walk around and hold onto our bags as if they were our lives (they usually are, but now everything is in a safe... minus cc, because those tend to get maxed out somehow, sometimes). phnom penh might be a great city but it's not a safe one! it's quite unfortunate really. but considering this is only the second city on this trip that i really have to be careful in so far, it's not so bad!

no-miss saigon

here is what my memories of vietnam will be filled with.

the insanity of crossing the streets. you need to trust fate and go with it... steadily. hard on the nerves, but you get used to it. so much so that at the end, i realised that i wasn't looking enough at trafic and was trusting the god of the road too much... just as the locals do.

the best cities, hanoi and hoi an, for great food, beautiful archticture and non-stop shopping options. hoi an had an incredible beach as an added bonus...

the best landscape: mui né. for the dunes, the canyons, the colours, the ocean, the fishing boats, the blue sky.

fashion: men there love green safari hats and women dress up guerilla-style with hats and scarves that cover everything but the eyes.

the wild life: never have i seen so many rats, cockroaches and musquitoes.

the music: i haven't heard so much "vengaboys" since 1999, although as things are right now cambodia might be a good rival.

the smells: vietnam's fish sauce and fish food factories rival the worst chinese public toilets for gut wrenching stench.

the selling: in sapa, mostly. a common sale pitch is any or all of the above: "you buy? you buy from me? you buy one, you buy two! you buy from her, you buy from me!" or the cyclo with their convinced statements of "one hour, ok?" as if they were confirming a sale.

lovely hotel rooms with balconies.

incredible food and all the hours spent eating, thinking about eating and just hanging out in great restaurants.

playing pool: the most i've ever played in my life.

the incredible smiles and warmth of the vietnamese people, especially the children of the mekong delta.

and of course, all of the lovely people we've met along the way.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

ah! yet again i am faced with hotmail that doesn't work properly. i will be glad to be rid of weird vietnamese computers and their dodgy internet connections.

today has been filled with bus, boat, bus, ferry and bus. quite a journey, with an even better road. the bumbiest so far, and i am certain that it will only get worst. (ie, the boarder crossing into thailand is world famous for being hellish - what should take 2h to do takes 9!).

tomorrow we will cross into cambodia by boat on the mekong. i can't wait to be in a new country!

we are now off for our last dinner and beer here in vietnam. we are treating ourselves to the colonial and beautiful victoria hotel restaurant. or something similar! it's great to be in a country where you're a millionaire.

Friday, October 28, 2005

bye hannah!!!

hannah and i, on her last night with us here in saigon. we're rocking at the guns'n'roses bar. yes, that's right! a bar that constantly plays gnr!!!

last day in saigon

this morning i woke up early, to say goodbye to hannah, one of the awesome ladies with whom i have been traveling in vietnam for the past month. it was really sad to see her go, i even did tear up a lot. hannah is going to singapore for 2 days and is then off to beautiful china: i know that she will have a great time. but i will miss her!

we are now a traveling duo, katy and i, and have decided this morning to say goodbye to HCMC earlier than planned and head on out to cambodia. we are now leaving tomorrow, and will then arrive in cambodia on the 30th of this month after a great ride on the mekong.


our trip yesterday to the cu chi tunels and the crazy church was quite nice, although the tunels was not as fun to go through than the ones in the DMZ zone. we did 30 meters of a tunel section and got out of there sweaty and exhausted. the tunels are so small, with only enough space to walk either really bent down or completely crouching. quite the workout! i can't believe that people used to go through those tunels all the time, for long distances (many km) with guns and amo. insanity!

talking about amo, i got to shoot an M1 (there was no more bullets for the MK47) and i have to say that it's something else. i wish my dad had thought me to shoot! i tried my best to aim but nothing worked. the M1 was the gun (riffle?) of choise for the women soldiers here but really it's a big, enourmous, heavy wooden thing. it was positioned way too low on me and i really had to struggle to shoot the thing from that angle. i was expecting a strong kickback, but this was much bigger than expected... enough that my shoulder is still sore today. and the noise! by the second bullet my ears were ringing and by the third and last one i was partially deft. that people did this, again, all the time, is insane.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

still in saigon, still not impressed, really. have been trying out the restaurants and the bars, have been to the designer street but even there, the charm of hanoi is nowhere to be found. i should have done this country the other way around... it would have been ideal that way.

i spent nearly 2.5 hours today at the post office. i had stuff with me from as far back as japan, i was really due to ship stuff home. but vietnam is slow, and everything has to go through customs. i had stuff refused (my water purifying drops, hannah had her rolls of film refused) and stuff i had to fight for (snuff bottle from china: had to convince them that it wasn't an antique). i also had to donate some of my fine chinese tea to the customs official for drug testings and the likes... i'm sure they'll just drink my tea and not do tests on it. but after all of that, i have a parcel heading home, which should arrive god knows when. all that to save 4 kilos in my bag. it may not sound like a lot, but it is a lot. a lot of space and weight. my bag must now weight a tiny 14 kilos... less than what i left home with. sweet!

i'm quite happy though, regardless of this city. hannah and i had a great dinner at a french bistro, where i had a wonderful steak with not so wonderful mashed potatoes. then we have some friends in town, so the distraction will be nice. and tomorrow we are doing to cu chi tunels (used during the war) and a wicked church. i'll pay $1 usd and will get to shoot an ak47. for those who do not know what that is, it's a freakin' huge gun. i'm looking forwards to great pictures.

katy and i have also booked our transport into phnom penh. we are taking the mekong delta tour, so our crossing into the country will take 2 days. but it will be beautiful, on the water... i can't wait!

Monday, October 24, 2005

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

meditation has been explained twice to me, in different terms.

one of my university teachers described it as a moment of total blankness, where your mind lets go of everything. as an example, she used tripping on a rock. the split second where your foot hits the rock and you start falling, that second where you go blank, well, that's meditation, right there.

the second explanation came from a monk in laos. he said that you always have to be aware of what you are doing. for example, right now, i am sitting down, typing, breathing, thinking, am pretty contempt and are not hungry. he said that at every moment of your life you should be aware of yourself. to me, that's much easier to do.

sitting on a motorcycle in mui né, i might have done some pretty good meditating. i sat there and i thought, everything around me is perfect. the sky, the clouds, the light, the sand dunes, the sea, the grass, the sacred cows. the wind in my hair, the warmth of the air. perfect happiness. i am happy. i am sitting. i am comfortable. i didn't want it to end.

until a bug hits you in the face. at that speed, it really hurts. then you think: "if we fall, we die".

this may seem tragic or extream. but in the moment of pure happiness, i didn't care. i placed my trust in the god of the road (you have to, in vietnam) and went with it. comfort, beauty, happiness.

pure and simple.

bikes get past us. i think, this speed is perfect. i peek over my drivers shoulder.

60 km/h.

if we fall, we die.

there's a hill, we're going down. she shuts of the engine. gravity does it's work. and all i want to do is that stupid "titanic" pose.

really, i feel like i'm free.

i'm happy.

if we fall, we die.

but for once, on the back of a motorcycle, i let go. i give in, i stop fighting the bike.

for once i'm no longer afraid.
going to mui né was probablt my best idea yet of this entire trip. not only was the place every bit as spectacular as i was expecting it to be, it was even nicer and the weather was *beautiful*. no rain. little clouds. hot. perfect. like our hotel! beautiful resort, with bungalows and palm roof, pool, incredible drinks... that's the life. but mui né has its downfals: crazy amounts of mosquitoes and nothing to do outside of the resort.

we spent 2 nights there, but could easily see how easy it would be to get bored there. it's low season, the hotels are empty... you're pretty much alone in your resort. but when it came time to leave today, i didn't want to go. it was hot, beautifully sunny: i just wanted to lie on a chair and dip myself in the pool, over and over again. not be on a long bus journey to the capital, with no air con really, and the sun shinning hard on me...

and here we are, now, in saigon. i was dreaming of a place like hanoi, really. wide boulevards, french colonial architecture, cafés, beauty. what i found was modern, ugly maybe, tall buildings (the tallest towers since japan), cold, charmless. maybe tomorrow i will see something different. but right now, i'm disapointed... enough for katy and i to look at each other and wonder how we'll stay here until the 31st without going mental. enough to consider going to cambodia early...

Friday, October 21, 2005

chicken flu and body shots

when the rain fall constantly there seems to be nothing better to do than to dance the night away. really it usually isn't what i'm looking for in a day but last night when we kept getting power outtages i was really worried that the only entertainment in this city would be taken away from us. fortunately it wasn't.

i was right about nha trang: it is a lot more like cancun. the only thing is that there's only really 3-4 bars here, so the proportions are quite off but the debauchery seems to persist regardless. this one bar has what looks like dentist chairs set up specifically to facilitate body shots and encourages people to go up on the bar and flash/moon the crowd for a free t-shirt. bars offer drinks in big jars or what looks like small beach buckets. it's crazy that people can drink those things, and still be standing... what's crazier though is that people stay here, it seems, for a long time. from a week to a couple months... just insanity.

but where are the french people? they are abselutely everywhere in vietnam and in insane quantities but here in nha trang, nothing. only british people. weird!

we are leaving tomorrow for mui ne, the one place in vietnam that i most want to see. hopefully the guidebook is right and mui ne is really in a seperate weather patern... hopefully the rain won't be following us, but i'm sure that it will. the monsoon is big and is everywhere.

as a side note, to those of you who might worry: we are deliberatly avoiding chickens and ducks like the plague. we have been known to cross the street to stay away from them... but fortunately vietnam isn't laos and free running chickens in thne cities seems to be less of a common occurence.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

freakin monsoon!

somehow, i forgot that vietnam had two monsoon zones and that i'd be avoiding one, but not the other. i am not right in the heath of the action, with crazy rain falling constantly for well over 11 hours now.

i'm upset about this because it means that there's nothing to do. i'm upset because this was my first beach stop, and i wanted to lie on the beach, relax and try to even out my farmer tan. i'm upset because i wanted to learn how to dive here but the visibility is shit and it just wouldn't be as much fun in the rain...

i'm just upset i think... ha! it happens.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

finally found an internet café that works! ha! (but hotmail is still shits, maybe vietnam needs to look into better internet... can't believe that laos was better than here!)

we're on our last hour in hoi an, a city 5km away of the chinese sea with a beautiful beach, great unesco sights, wonderful food and an industrial quantity of tailoring stores. i've had a pair of sandals made to order, that fit my feet perfectly. i found that to be pretty impressive, especially that it was done in under a day. i've also had a dress made (which turned out not so good, and with holes in it from them having to unstitch it) and a pair of board shorts because david convinced me to leave mine at home and heck, that was a bad idea.

last night i had my first encounter with the persistent, horrible, probably prostitution-bound vietnamese that many people had told me about but i had yet to encounter. we had a motorcycle driver keep asking us to go to the full moon bar (an illegal, after-hour bar, there's tons of them here because of vietnam's stupid bar hours). i think that he was high out of his mind, but he kept asking and insisting and there was not enough "no" anf "go away" that would send him off. we tried ignoring him, and all we got was him pulling on our arms and hitting our arm to get our attention. eventually he would leave, but he'd always come back within 5 or 10 minutes and the whole thing would start again... it took an hour of this for him to finally offer us a wonderful "fuck you" and leave for good. geezs!

tonight we are leaving for nha trang, 11 hours away. it's supposed to be the equivalent of the french riviera, but i think it will most probably be more like a vietnamese cancun... it should be nice though, the water there is supposed to be the best in vietnam. but, it has been gray in central vietnam, and raining a lot... so we're crossing our fingers that this doesn't make for a boring beach vacation.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

bourgeoisies in 'nam

traveling in vietnam has to be the easiest so far. places are easy to access, most people speak english and the food is delightful. i have stopped saying that i am traveling through vietnam and am now stating that i am doing a culinary tour of vietnam. great french and eauroppean food is everywhere, along with great pastries and the likes. it seems that most of what we have been doing so far is eat in posh restaurants, living the life, filling our bellies with some of the greatest food ever. yesterday was filled with duck, duck in lime leaves, cannard à l'orange, crêpe flambées... hard to resist.

we are now in hué, the old capital of vietnam, with a unesco protected citadel city. the entire city though is beautiful. it reminds me of of a better version of vientiane in laos, with the larger streets, big trees and wonderful french architecture. yesterday we toured the old city, and gave in to another bourgeois activity: the cyclo. everywhere you go, people say "cyclo? ok? one hour? ok?" and finally we realised that it would be really nice to sit in the seat in the front and be cycled around town for a bit. it was wonderful, relaxing, yet it felt wrong as well. being pushed made me realise that the social divide between i and the cyclo was much greater than i imagined. i felt bad, felt like a coloniser perhaps, even as if i was superior, as if he was a servant. it was odd, being thorn between enjoying the ride and the streets of the old city and feeling as if what i was doing was reinforcing the colonial ties in the city. but he's a cyclo for money... i told myself, he needs this money, regardless of how akward this might be. i wondered if he felt degraded by his job... so i gave him a big tip.

last night we found the first bar so far that do not close by 11pm. we chatted up 3 french guys who biked all the way here from paris, and they were really nice (on top of having so many great biking stories, which made us feel a tad like our trip was very lazy compared to theirs...) we stayed out until 2:30, until we were told it was time to leave, "please leave *now*". it's funny how in vietnam they kick you out of the bar, at the hour the place closes, and never give you any time to finish your drink. when it's over, it's over.

so we then proceded to go to our balcony for a after-hour party. see, we found this awesome room with huge, soft beds and a gigantic patio that does the entire corner of the building (and the room has a *bath*! my second bathtub of the trip!). we continued drinking and talking until 6 this morning, until the sun was up, and the roosters were out and the world was alive again. it was weird to have an all nighter again, it had been so long! so we slept until noon and now we are off to do a tour of architectural marvels of hué by bike. it should be fun, even though we're pretty tired!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

mo' temple of heaven!

Originally uploaded by francois in asia.

merci françois!

my eyes are closed. this seems to be a bad habbit of mine.

temple of heaven reflection

Originally uploaded by francois in asia.

if you look closely (or even better, if you click on the picture for a larger view), you will see my reflection, along with françois'!

ha! how hot is that?

Originally uploaded by francois in asia.

françois, a wonderful french guy i met in beijing, took this abselutely fabulous shot of me sleeping. flattering, no?

for some reason, everyone in beijing was having fun catching each other sleeping. as a revenge, i also took a picture of françois. but it has yet to be posted...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

halong bay paradise!

picture this.

halong bay. one of the most beautiful places on earth, where odd mountains pierce through the ocean in an incredible way. at 9pm at night. with a sky filled with starts, much more than i have ever seen. enough stars that you can see their reflection in the water. and swimming, in the water, in pitch darkness. until you move, and then, everything around you lights up from thousands of phosphorescent sea creatures (planktons?). {yes, like in "the beach".}

it was like swimming in the stars. it was magic, beautiful, incredible. i think, the most incredible, beautiful experience of my life. i couldn't stop looking at my hands, moving in the water. it looked like i was swimming through pixie dust. as if everything was caused by special effects, addded in by disney. i couldn't stop moving, always wanting to create more light. the only thing that kept bringing me back to reality was the flying fish who seemed to have the annoying habbit of flying right into people's face (those fish are pretty hard!).

i would have kept swimming forever. or at least, until i was forced out or started to get hypothermia. i swam for one hour. i didn't want it to stop. i didn't want to get out. but i was finally getting cold. and i didn't want to make my cold worst...

i got out, showered (because for some reason, the water there is pretty dirty and you get out covered in a brown film...) and spent an other hour or so on the boat's deck, watching the stars, in the sky and in the water, lighting up randomly.

i saw shooting stars. maybe when they hit the ocean they transform into phosphorescent creatures?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

temporary departure from hanoi

our days in hanoi have been wonderful, but lazy! we have tried a couple times now to do the walking tour of the old city but there are so many nice shops along the way that one of us is bound to get distracted. this city is evil for that! it is so easy to spend money, buy things, souvenirs, good food... cheap watered-down beer... we have really been living the life, pretending not to be backpackers and eating at french bistro and places like the german embassy today. it will be hard to stop the luxery and get back to the real life of traveling on a budget. but i think that the issue is that i might be indulging myself this much in western culture as a way to try to get closer to home, to hold onto anything i can that can make me feel a little back at home, and it's too easy to do that and i think that i really shouldn't. i don't feel homesick really, but apparently my stomach does!

i've just realised tonight how nice it is to get to know a city well, to walk it's twisted streets without doubt and get back to your hotel from the other end of the city without much use of a map and without falling prey to the hundreds of cyclo and moto that keeps asking if they can give you a ride. of course, when you get to know a city, it's then that you must go...

tomorrow we are heading off on a 3 day, 2 night tour of halong bay. halong bay is a unesco protected area in costal northern vietnam that is just "ridiculously good looking", and i can't wait to go there and spend lazy days on the boat. right after we come back, we will board a night train to sapa in the north of thne country. i can't believe that i'll be 2km away from china! it's so tempting to go back there... so many good memories and great locals, especially in the south. i'm looking forward to that chinese influence in everything including the food, and am hoping to catch more great pictures of the wonderful locals. we'll be back in hanoi on the 11th for a couple more nights and right after we will head down to the south, and the beaches!!! i can't wait to just lie in the sun and swim in the blue sea!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

hello hanoi!

i landed last night in hanoi, with a girl i met in vang vien who happened to be on the plane, which was nice. hanoi reminds me so much of china: it is busy, loud, dirty, lots of specialised shops and sidewalks eateries. it also reminds me of laos though, with it's french architecture and tall trees everywhere. although i was no very impressed with the city last night, i have to say that the place grew on me today.

we found a lovely café for breakfast, where i indulged in my most expensive meal since peking duck in china. but the place was so lovely, surrounded by other lovely coloured buildings and i just kept thinking... i love the french! thank god for their lovely architecture and baguettes! god i love them! and i never thought i'd say that, really! actually sitting in that cafe, i felt a little bit like i was back home, in montreal, on st-denis or something... what a beautiful moment.

hannah and i (the girl i met in lao) shopped around for a bit for a good tripple room, as katy was meeting us today. we found this amazing place with a huge rooftop patio (private, of course!) overlooking the city. we'll stock up our fridge full of beer tomorrow and chill there for sure!

i think that tomorrow we'll do a walking tour of the city, well, just of the old quarter. there's so much to see! it's quite a nice change after laos.

well, that's about it for now! going to a jazz club later... if we can find it! the streets here are a real maze!