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January 30, 2007

These Little Piggies Went To Market

Pigs HANOI, VIETNAM - They're all alive, I know because one of them winked at me.

January 30, 2007

Halong Bay

Halong BayHANOI, VIETNAM - After spending the last 3 days out on a packaged tour of Halong Bay, I'm back in the city gathering up my visa, train tickets and changing money. I leave for China tonight aboard a 50 hour non-stop train from Hanoi to Bejing.

Aside from some good company and great scenery, there isn't much to say about Halong Bay. Nothing went amiss and nothing overly exciting happened. For the first time in a very long time, I'll be travelling solo, though I doubt I'll be solo for long. The thing with travelling is that it's dead easy to meet others. Here's to hoping I find somebody who speaks English on my train...

January 26, 2007

The End of My Endless Summer

HANOI, VIETNAM - Money doesn't make the world go 'round, but it certainly makes me go 'round the world. Without a bottomless bank account, I can't keep travelling at the 'smell-all-the-roses' pace I've keeping. It's time for me to make rush toward Europe so that I can hurry up and get on a boat bound for home.

As a direct result of my new go-fast strategy I'm the proud new owner of a one way train ticket from Hanoi to Bejing in the north of China (50hrs). This will put me smack dab in the middle of a winter at least as frigid as that of Southern Ontario. What's more, If I were a betting man, I'd place myself in Siberia sometime in February. Brrrrr... No more beaches and no more sunburn; it's time to trade my shorts for mittens.

All I'm waiting on now is the Chinese Embassy for my visa. They're promising Tuesday. While I'm waiting I'll be heading out to Halong Bay with Victor, a friend we've met here in Vietnam for a last hurrah in Southeast Asia.

January 25, 2007

The Cheapest Beer in the World

The BartenderHANOI, VIETNAM - If I had to guess, I'd say that the average price for a pint of beer on planet earth is about $1 USD. I've seen more expensive beer and I've seen cheaper, but I've never seen it priced as low as I did last night.

2000 Dong for a big glass of beer might sound like a lot to somebody who has never dealt with Vietnamese Dong as a currency, but it's not. It works out to about $0.12 USD. That's why, when we stumbled into this mythical intersection somewhere in the old quarter of the city of Hanoi, we had to stop.

I'm not sure what to call this place. If it has a name, I'm unaware of it; I've started referring to it as 'the four corners of beer'. Each corner of this apparently random intersection, is crowded with plastic chairs who's diminutive size suggests that they've been borrowed, or stolen, from a kindergarten classroom. The people, locals and foreigners alike, sit in the street on these tiny chairs, and drink big glasses of an unnamed draft beer. It provides for a very festive setting and won't break the bank. I challenge you to find a cheaper beer.

Here, in the North of Vietnam, I'm finally beginning to feel my first shivers of winter. January in Hanoi is more of a sweater and jacket city than the shorts and t-shirt Capitals of Oceania and Southern Asia. In order to make room for the extra insulating layers I'll be needing I plan to be ditching my most of my summer wear.

Gia flew home today, after travelling with me the last two weeks. Once again I'm planning the next leg of my journey. I'm dedicating today as an Internet research day. I've got some ideas about what to do and where to go from here but they need finalizing. I expect I'll post again before the day is out.

January 23, 2007

I've Chosen Baldness Before It Could Choose Me

BaldHOI AN, VIETNAM - We've made it half-way to the North end of Vietnam to the city of Hoi An; famous for the old french architecture. It's even recently become a world heritage site. I've got a million photos to upload but it looks like I'll have to wait until we get to Hanoi, the capital. I'm pretty sure the Internet here in Hoi An is as old as a lot of the buildings.

Oh yes. In anticipation of eventually going bald of natural causes I've shaved my head. It's meant to be a sort of trial run for the real world; to test out the shape of my skull, which surprisingly has no terrible bumps or serious discolourations.

The picture above has me covering most of my head. It's just that I'm so... uhh.. bald now. I need to get used to it myself before posting it all.

January 19, 2007

The Easy Riders of Dalat

Easy RidersDALAT, VIETNAM - I can't exactly say why, but the informal crew of motorcycle guides, who call themselves The Easy Riders are dead easy to pick out from the imposter's. I can't exactly describe what makes it so obvious. They have that intangible quality; an aura of cool, they're confident and self assured. When they're not escorting backpackers around the cool mountain villages of Vietnam's central highlands on their vintage motorcycles, they're smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee in the many cafes of Dalat. They all speak English, they're great at conversation and they've all got a story. It's easy to see why a lot of people end up keeping their guides for trips as far away as Saigon and even Hanoi (1700km).

We've been in Vietnam now for several days. After spending a couple days in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) we decided a breather from the tropical smog and chaos of the city was in order. The cool mountain retreat of Dalat fit the bill nicely.

I'm having the usual frustrations with finding an Internet connection fast enough to upload my photos. My backlog is growing. C'est la vie.

January 16, 2007

The Killing Feilds - Not Your Ordinary Genocide Museum

Stacked SkullsPHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - The temples of Angkor were astounding. They were vast. They were beautiful. They were awe inspiring. Even for my templed-out senses. I put them in the same league as the Mayan ruins at Tikal and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Not one of the pictures I took do them any sort of justice. I'm sure National Geographic has back issues or TV episodes about them so I'll just skip on past the temples and move on to the capital city: Phnom Penh.

I've seen war museums before. But nothing prepared me for the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, just in the outskirts of the capital. It's a memorial to the 20,000 people who were executed on that site.

According to the locals, 3 million people (out of a nation of 7 million) were executed during the rule of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge revolution between the years 1975-1979. Knowing this as I went in didn't prepare me for what we were about to see.

The tower of 8000 human skulls was sobering but as we wandered around the site it quickly became apparent that the dirt paths we used weren't just dirt. The rubbish on the ground were bits of clothing. The 'rocks' protruding out of the path were bones and the pebbles were teeth. We were walking on people. None of the signs made any mention of it. Most and most of the tourists exploring the site didn't notice. Children from nearby homes played amongst us. All the while we were walking on people. Thousands upon thousands of them. The thought makes me shudder.

Our evenings spent sipping mojitos in the breezy Foreign Corespondents Club (FCC) along the waterfront were in stark contrast to our terrible, dusty days spent on The Killing Fields.

January 13, 2007

Bus Scams and Bumpy Roads

Cambodian HighwaySIEM REAP, CAMBODIA - One of my New Years resolutions this year has been to pick up my travelling pace a little. My money won't last forever and there's still a lot of ground to cover between Southeast Asia and Canada. Half a world to be exact.

In light of this resolution, I stayed in Thailand this time around barely long enough to meet up with Gia, a friend from home, and fall for classic Bangkok to Cambodia bus scam. The scam involves offering a ridiculously cheap bus fare to get you on board then extorting money from you by forcing you to buy visa's at inflated prices, exposing you exclusively to their money changers and delivering you to their guesthouse in Siem Reap which of course is inconveniently located outside of town. The whole racket is obviously quite profitable for nearly everyone involved. Easy money like this is rare in poverty stricken Cambodia.

All of my travelling thus far has exposed me to more than a few tourist scams, but these guys have to be commended for their execution of it all. It didn't matter at all that I was on to them right away. I even knew about the scam before I got on board! I simply couldn't resist the rock bottom bus fare. In any case, I did my best to view it all as a game of wits. We rolled with the punches as best as we could and, in the end, managed a few victories out the whole ordeal.

We're now safely in Cambodia, nursing our tail bones after the notoriously horrendous road from the border to this city proved to us the stories we'd heard weren't exaggerated. (150km in 7 hours)

Most people come to Siem Reap for one reason and one reason only: to see the ancient cities and vast Khmer temples of Angkor Wat. We will be no different. They say it's a must see.

January 10, 2007

On The Road Again

Chungking MansionBANGKOK, THAILAND - The Chungking Mansions in the Heart of Hong Kong may sound like a luxurious place to sleep but like so many things in life there exists a certain irony in it's name.

Seeing as I was wandering around the mean streets of Hong Kong in the wee hours of the morning hunting for somewhere to sleep - The decadent YMCA, and every other conventional hotel, it seemed, was full. I was tired. I'd just endured a long haul flight from Toronto to Tokyo then on to Hong Kong. All I wanted was a place to lie down that wasn't on the pavement.

Enter the Chungking Mansions: They burst out of the neon lights and glass towers of the city like the eyesore they are. As wide and deep as they are tall, they're more of a living city than a building. Full of dark corridors, dank stairwells and haphazard elevators. They're also full of an infinite number of small guesthouses.

The problem with the room I ended up in wasn't so much the room; it wasn't much bigger than a closet, but it was clean and bright. The rats in the corridors wouldn't dare venture in. No, the real problem with my room was that I was nestled so deep in the labyrinth of the Chungking Mansions that I was fortunate to find my way out in the morning. If I had dared to venture out to the street there was no chance that I'd find my way back. None. I'm certain there are people who went in years ago and have yet to find their way out.

In any case, I did make it out and managed to catch the ferry across the Pearl River estuary to the island of Macau where I flew a very cheap, and very shady discount airline the rest of the way to Bangkok.

I've picked up the trail where I left off, met up with some familiar faces and am planning my next move.

January 04, 2007

CTV News Television Interview

ALGOMA MILLS - Earlier today Gord Nicholls from CTV News in Sudbury, Ontario made a visit to my parents house to do a general interest story about this trip. He did an interview and had a cameraman shoot a couple things around the house. The story is set to air tonight between 6:00 and 6:15pm through the Northern Ontario region. I'm also told that depending on how many planes crash and how many countries overthrow their governments today there is a chance that other regions could air the story as well. So if you live in the North Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury area keep one eye on tonights evening news. It's my minute and a half of fame.

As I prepare to head back to Southeast Asia to pick up the trail where I left off (Bangkok), I've deliberately kept a low profile here. I'll be posting from the road again on Monday the 8th.