Saturday, October 03, 2009

Lair of the Cave Penguin

The Catch-22 with writing a travel blog is that, when you're busy doing interesting things, you're busy doing interesting things and hence not updating the blog. The only time you have time to sit and write is when you have nothing to write about (''Phew, that's some catch-22'')

Halong Bay was stunning and I think just the pure fact I escaped what was rapidly become my least favorite city ever would have made anything look good. So imagine the bonus that Halong actually deserves it's World Heritage listing... the caves were gorgeous, the lunch superb and the bus ride long and tiring but totally worth it.

One of the caves was only recently discovered. UNESCO have donated the funds to light it up and place paths through it for tourists. They also (I suspect) supplied a number of rubbish bins - although why they thought it would be appropriate to place penguins and dolphins inside a cave, I'm not sure. But I managed to get a photo of the wily Cave Penguin, standing under a stalagmite with his mouth open, hoping for food to fall in...

I finally managed to get to Ho Chi Minh city (the locals call it Saigon, for reasons I'll expand on in a moment) and again, it compared highly with Hanoi. If anyone else has ever been to the 'Capital of the North' and actually enjoyed it enough to want to go back and stay there for a week, please let me know!

Anyway, Saigon is only slightly less chaotic but a bit more westernised. Went on a tour of the Chu Chi tunnels (along with what seemed like every other tourist in HCM that day) and had an amazingly crazy, complex and controversial tour guide named Joey. In the first twenty minutes, he managed to insult North Vietnam (they are all crazy and come here and take our jobs but they aren't smart), homosexuals ($20 bills try to hit on my all the time, I say no, is not good), American tourists and a range of others. He was also all for capitalism, which was an interesting contrast with the movie we were shown at Chu Chi - designed in the 70's, it talked about the 'crazy American devils who shot woman, children, trees, rocks, water, even bamboo pots' and the 'intelligent and courageous Chu Chi inhabitants who hunt Americans'.

The tunnels are impressive just as a demonstration of how people are willing to live in order to defend their homeland. Something to be said for nationalistic fervour I guess, which the communists seem to have been adept at whipping up...

It was the Northerners who, after defeating the South/USA in the Vietnam War, moved the capital to Hanoi and renamed Saigon as Ho Chi Minh, in memory of their leader who always wanted to go there but died before he had the chance. Needless to say, people in HCM don't necessarily agree with this and so the locals still call it Saigon. We'll see which one wins, but HCM seems to be on most international maps, which I think is a pity because Saigon is a beautiful name for a city.

It's a pity I was only in Saigon for the day. Caught a bus to Phnom Penh, after having nightmares about the lack of visa in my passport... but again, google triumphs against the forces of books and I was able to get a visa on arrival at the land border. Can highly reccomend the bus - gorgeous rice fields, stretching out either side of the road, water buffelo being herded across the bridge and a ferry crossing on the mighty Mekong.

The next few weeks will be involved with the RiverKids project - orientation tommorrow so hopefully all goes well!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hello Hanoi

Day 3

Theme song: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...

If you've ever had a panic attack, you'll dread the sensation of even feeling slightly stressed. The tightness in your chest, the inability to think coherantly, the desire to run into open space away from people - being unable to remember a four-digit code you used sucessfully two days earlier.

I still can't remember my pin and thinking about it just makes me start to panic a little so instead I'm living off my credit card and cash reserves. Successfully so far! Thank god for signature technology - once that dissapears, they'd better replace it with fingerprint/eyeball recognition or else I'm screwed.

So it was probably a good thing that I spent two hours in a Chinese tea house in Singapore, drinking tea and eating mooncakes. Tea solves all problems.

Day 4

Hanoi is a crazy city, true, but I think once you've been to Egypt any other cities attempts at being loud, chaotic, overwhelming and chauvanistic just pale in comparison. In fact, people here will actually take 'no' for an answer and be satisfied with a chance to practice their english instead. It's quite nice, once you actually stop looking at maps upside down and walking into traffic...

Went to a water puppet show last night - brilliant. Look it up on YouTube. Best thing I've seen in ages, much better than Transformers 3 (which I saw on the plane... would have considered it a waste of a few hours except that I couldn't really have utilised it any other way).

Off to Halong Bay tommorrow! YAY!