I had a lovely day cruising on the ferries that ply the Chao Phraya river. The ferries run a long way and by combining them you get an almost three hour cruise for under two dollars. And while it isn't the Kerala back waters or the inland passage I do find all the life on and near the river fascinating.
The ferry at full speed.
A Cross river boat ready to depart.
Long tail boat passes Wat Arun.
Passengers packed in on one of the busier sections.
I decided to go and see the royal barges museum a place where the boats for processions by and for the Thai royal family are kept. To get there I had to take a ferry across the ChaoPraya river and then walk it from there. It was a nice walk through an interesting set of alleys and back roads and when I came to the museum it was closed! So I continued my walk and eventually ended back up at my hotel where I bought a newspaper with a lovely picture of one of the barges on the front page.
It turns out the reason they are not on view is that they are being used to train the crew that has to take them out for a procession next month.
After three months traveling the highways and byways of South East Asia I got back to Bangkok. It seems busier then when I left and it is slightly cooler although that might well be because it rained during the night. I expect to be doing maintenance during the next few days, that is getting my laundry done sorting out my trekking gear and darning my socks, Ok not darning my socks, but you get my drift. Then all being well I will be flying to Kathmandu on Wednesday and getting ready for some serious trekking.
Contrary to last post I haven't been to Angkor Wat yet and have spend most of my days hanging around the hotel talking to people. While for most this would seem unthinkable I have actually been here twice before so it's not a if I am missing something.
Then again I should really go out there.
It's just after ten in the evening and I have arrived in Siem Reap. This morning I got up at 6:30 had a shower and got on the bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh. The border crossings went smoothly and the ride was quick enough that at two o'clock I found myself in the capital of Cambodia. A quick check on the timetable and another hour later I was back on a bus again this time bound for Siem Reap where I arrived at 9:30 in the evening. This is when familiarity helped out, I have been here a few times before and knew where I wanted to stay, and found myself in Front of the Red Lodge ten minutes later.
Time for a good nights sleep and off to the ruins tomorrow!
An altogether quieter day today. I managed to get a few blisters while walking yesterday because I wasn't wearing any socks in my shoes and today i was paying the price for it. Not that sitting in a cafe drinking coffee is that bad a price to pay.
Tomorrow I shall be on my way to Cambodia and all being well I should be in Phnom Penh around three in the afternoon. We'll see.
I visited the museum of War Remnants previously known as the museum of American War Crimes. Apart from a display of the usual collection of tanks and airplanes this museum lays out in gruesome detail some of the atrocities committed during the Vietnam war.
Display after display shows soldiers either torturing people or killing the innocent. Particularly bad are the photos of them posing with people that are blown up or that they have beheaded.
People that think Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident of a few deluded souls and these things normally don't happen should probably visit this museum.
Saigon has quite a pleasant feel to it and if you don't get run over by the crazy traffic there iss plenty to see as well. So here are today's highlights.
First up the lovely looking town hall with a statue of uncle Ho in the foreground and lots of embellishments on its flanks.
From here I walked to the "Notre Dame de Saigon" a church that looks indeed similar to its namesake in Paris. Nearby is the central post office a gem of tropical colonial architecture that is beautifully restored on both the outside and inside.
From there I made it to the Reunification Palace. This is where the government of South Vietnam plotted their actions in the war and where the war effectively ended when a North Vietnamese tank drove through the gate and the crew raised their flag over the building. Now the palace is preserved as it was then and gives a fairly interesting look at how the government of the day lived and worked.
Ittookelevenand a halfhoursbut the busmadeit to Saigonwherewearrived in a tropicaldownpour. Luckily I waspreparedforthatandhadmyumbrellahandy. Mybackpackhas a waterproofbaginsideit so everythingwasdryas a bone.
Tomorrowwe'llseewhat the cityhas to offer.
Hoi An issmalltownabouthalfwaybetweenHanoiandSaigonthathasescapedmoreorlessunscathedfrom the variouswars. With the openingupofVietnamfortourismithasbeensprucedupandisnow a reminderof an oldergentlertimethatprobablyneverexisted. Havingsaidthat, itsinterestingandwellworth the day I spendouthere.
Lovelytreecoveredstreetsand no traffic, carsarebannedfrom the citycenter!
The "Japanese" bridgewasbuilt to connect the JapaneseandVietnamesepartsof the village.
As I expected the bus ride was a sleepless one. On the one hand the bus was nice and new, on the other so was the sound system, so the whole night Vietnamese pop songs blared out at full volume. Anyway I am in Nha Trang and expect to spend the next few days on the beach out here before heading of towards either Dalat or Saigon.
Here are two fuzzy pics of the bus interior. Basically in a sleeper bus there are three rows of bunk beds/sleeping chairs that fit the average westerner badly. I am relatively short so I just fit the Ducth guys that were on the bus were all over 1.9 meters tall and didn't fit at all.
In a few hours time I am supposed to take the overnight bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang and I am not looking forward to it. So far I have avoided taking night buses as in my opinion they are one of the most uncomfortable ways of getting fro A to B. First you don't sleep all night the when you arrive you sleep all day to make up for it. Never the less its the only feasible way to cover the distance, so a night bus it is. I'll update you tomorrow on how it went.
The emperors of Vietnam had a fair bit of time on their hands as the country was run by the French and their wives and concubines obviously didn't provide enough entertainment so they set about building magnificent mausoleums for themselves. In order to take a look at some of them I hired a motorbike and driver and cruised the byways of Hue.
First up is a pagoda rather then a tomb but this one has an unusual and unpleasant relic stored in its compound. In 1963 during the height of the Buddhist repression by the South Vietnamese government the venerable Thich Quang Duc was driven to the center of Saigon in the Austin motor car that is now on display here. When he got to his destination he got out of the car, sat down, another monk poured petrol over him and he burned himself to death.
Today the pagoda is a quiet and pleasant place along the river.
Next up the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc who had 104 wives and concubines but didn't father a single child. He did however build a rather nice tomb with a large number of ancillary palaces, temples and pavilions. Apparently the population thought it was rather to nice and to expensive and attempted a coup, they failed and today his extravagance makes for a popular tourist attraction.
Emperor Khai Dinh his tomb actually took longer to build then his reign a total of eleven years. It is a combination of Vietnamese and European design and looks like something you can expect in France. Built against a hillside it's a climb to get there but once you make it the Emperor awaits in effigy. A lifesize gilded statue sits on top of the actual grave.
Finally I visited the last resting place of emperor Minh Mang. This is considered the most harmoniously laid out tomb and indeed the courtyards and buildings blend beatifully with the landscape. Unlike the other ones the tomb itself is actually inaccessible but just wondering around the area is well worth it.
I was warned by various people as well as by every guide book that honesty is not something that's high on Vietnamese their agenda. Now after ten days in the country I tend to agree. Not a day goes by that someone isn't trying to rip me off on something. Normally its small stuff like charging double for a cup of coffee or trying to get you to pay ten dollars for a taxi ride that costs only two. But sometimes its far worse then that, two Australians I spoke too had hired a rickshaw for the afternoon and presented with a bill for four million Dong afterwards, that's two hundred dollar! When you dispute any overcharges a lot of the locals get very aggressive indeed.
Not a problem for me I can give as good as I get but quite unsettling for a lot of people.
Hue's claim to fame apart from being bombed by every belligerent in Vietnam's wars over the last sixty years is that it was the seat of the Nguyen Emperors for close to two centuries.
Given the fact that the Americans actually used napalm on the imperial palaces it's remarkable how much is left standing and of course since those days a fair amount of restoration has taken place.
I had a fine but very hot day amongst the palaces both restored and ruined and have come to the weird conclusion that Chinese temples in Vietnam look more authentic then those in China. Go figure.
Entrance to the Imperial City
One of the rebuilt palaces.
One of the many gates,
Some in better nick then others.
No palace should be without a dragon.
To see a lot more photos of Hue, click on the 2011 Vietnam photo link.
It's 700 kilometers to Hue and the only half comfortable way of traveling there is the night train. The alternative a night bus is only for when you are really desperate. We left exactly on time at 3.45 in the afternoon and arrived spot on at 6.15 the next morning. As you can see from the photos there are four berths per cabin and I shared mine with a Chinese couple. The big benefit of travel by train is that you can get up and walk around to stretch your legs and on a sleeper train like this you can stretch out and try to catch a rest. I still didn't sleep much but that has probably more to do with me then the train.
Hanoiisquite a fascinatingtownwithlotsofoldnarrowstreets, temples, churchesandofcourseuncle Ho's lastrestingplace. Over the lastfewdays I havewalkedallovertown, seen the sightsandhadsomegoodcoffee. While, orperhapsbecauseoff, Hanoiisnowherenearasmodernas the places I visited in Chinaithas a pleasantfeel to it.
The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.
You don't get to manyoftheseanymore. A statueforVladimirIlyichLenin.
The trip from the Yuányáng Rice Terraces to Hanoi took me two days and started off with a misunderstanding on the first day of my travels. I had taken a small and bouncy van that passed my hotel to the bus station and attempted to buy a ticket for the bus to Hék?u when incomprehension ensued. The lady behind the ticket window said something to me and waved her hand. I tried again, same response, no ticket. I asked at another ticket window nothing to make me any wiser. So I walked through the bus station to see if there was anyone who could speak English, or Dutch, or German, or Spanish, French even. No luck I was obviously on my own. So I started to look for a bus with the script for Hékou, no bus. By this time I am considering walking to the border it's only 200 kilometers after all. Then a plan B pops up in my mind and I ring the owner of the lodge I stayed at and who speaks some English. Bingo! I talk to him then hand the telephone to the ticketing woman, she speaks to him and hands the phone back to me, I talk to him amd find out that the bus is yet to arrive at the station and I can buy my ticket on board of course at that point the Hék?u bus shows up. Right on the bus and how long can 200 kilometers take? seven hours as it turns out. On the upside its a scenic trip and at one stage we do almost two hours on an unsealed road through the mountains. When we finally make it to Hékou I hit the same language barrier. I am at the busstation but where is the border post? I decide to take a short cut and hop in a taxi show him the script for border post and he drives me around the corner and charges a dollar for it. Almost there now. After the hassle of getting there the formalities on both sides of the border are few and three minutes later I am in Vietnam. My first night in Vietnam is limited to finding out what time the train leaves for Hanoi and having a good meal. The next morning I am at the railway station at 8.30 am for the 9.15 departure of the slow train to Hanoi needless to say it's delayed we finally chug out of the station at 10.30. The carriage has timber benches and seat alocation for eighty people. Add another eighty for good measure and a can of sardines starts looking spacious. Still the people are friendly and we are moving. Then we stop I had forgotten that this is the slow service. We stop and start for the next thirteen hours, vendors come around to keep us fed and watered, people come around to practice their English on me and a group of students sings and dances in the aisle. By the time we trundle into Hanoi I am knackered, just one more ride on the back of a motorcycle and I am in my hotel and ready to sleep yet again
I spend two days walking the hills and dales of the Yuányáng Rice Terraces and am pleased to report that in spite of the brochures advising me that the development of rice paddy tourism was imminent it is still a quiet and laidback area of China with small villages dotting the hillsides and people just going about there business herding the water buffaloes and farming the rice. It was quite pleasant to see a bit of China that didn't have thousands of people standing in front of each sight and indeed while I was walking about I never saw a single other tourist. The rice fields are apperently being nominated for inclusion on the UNESCO world heritage list and I am not suprised. Starting at 200 meters altitude they go all the way up to 2600 meters with some paddies the size of a soccer field while others aren't much larger then a single square meter.
A note on my earlier story on the fake iStore. Just before I left the city council in Kunming declared that they had closed down three fake Apple stores. Unfortunately they somehow missed the two largest ones on Jinbi square and in the main shopping street leading off from there. Ah well maybe their bribes were all in order.
After two days of long and tiring travel I arrived late last night in Hanoi. I will try to update the blog on the time I spend in Yuang Jang as well as my trip down here later today but first I want to go and see some of the city.