A Travellerspoint blog

December 2008

Our Christmas Holiday

semi-overcast 32 °C


Cynics among you may wonder why we need a holiday at all - haven't we been lazing about in Southeast Asia long enough?
Here's a few stats that might change your mind: In the past eight weeks we have changed language, currency, customs and diet four times. We've slept in 28 different beds; taken countless planes, trains, buses, boats, taxis, tuk-tuks and cyclos. We've fought off a million touts and survived some of the worst traffic and pollution in the world. All of this just to amuse you with our blog!
So now we're on a break. After a slight delay when we discovered the car arranged by our Kuala Lumpur hotel was from "Rent - a - Write-Off" we hired another and drove through the jungles and rubber and tea plantations to the East Coast of Malaysia, where, we thought, we could escape the capital's teeming hoardes.
No such luck - they came with us, and most of them got here ahead of us. The hotels are packed with devout muslim families enjoying the true spirit of Christmas on the monsoon drenched beaches.
Las Vegas is here - enormous glitzy hotels and resorts that have an air of a Butlins' Holiday Camp. Fun-fairs, sticky food and tacky markets. And money - lots of money. The Malaysians are awash in oil money. The coast is littered with giant oil refineries and petro-chemical plants, and, judging by the size of many of the locals, they're eating the stuff. After living for eight weeks with the wafer thin elves of Thailand and Vietnam, we're the skinny-minnies here. No one is pointing at Jim and calling him a "Happy Buddha." These guys and gals could eat King Kong under the table - and we see them trying ... every morning at breakfast.

Posted by Hawkson 00:34 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Reflections on Vietnam

sunny 32 °C

When Robin Williams starred in "Good Morning Vietnam" in 1987, he could never have visualised the incredible development that would take place in the following 20 years - high rises and urban sprawl as far as the pollution allows the eye to see.
Despite the United States' repeated attempts to physically and financially destroy the country over several decades, the resiliant and resourceful Vietnamese have triumphed. O.K. Let's be honest - the streets are a war zone, the rivers are sewers and construction appears haphazard. But it has its brightspots ... and it works.
And, as we mingle and talk to the friendly young Vietnamese, we marvel at how they and their country have both survived and thrived. The answer is that well over 50% of the population are too young to remember the American war - as it is called here. All they care about is the future and buying a motorbike - and we see that all around us. Twenty-seven million motorbikes are too many for one country to bear. They get everywhere. On our arrival in Saigon, (Ho Chi Minh City), we thought, "Great - unlike Hanoi the sidewalks are quite wide and not all used as motorbike parking lots." We were soon disillusioned. As soon as the traffic on the road gets too much, the motorcyclists simply take to the sidewalks - and what better way to go the wrong way up a one-way street?

On our last day in Vietnam we visited Cu Chi, a Viet Cong town where 16,000 people had lived underground in tunnels for 26 years - first to escape the French colonialists and then to avoid 50,000 tons of American bombs. Their tiny dirt tunnels snaked for 250 kms, joining underground kitchens, hospitals and living areas. Inhabitants emerged only to gather crops - until the Americans destroyed all the plant life with Agent Orange.
Here is Jim attempting, unsuccessfully, to get into one of the tunnels - his diet is going well!Jim_at_Cui_Chi.jpg

Now we have said goodbye to Vietnam, and goodbye to Steve and Melissa - two new friends from Melbourne whose company we enjoyed throughout our time in Vietnam - and arrived in Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur is an oasis of sanity compared to the general mayhem of S.E.Asia. Obedient drivers let us cross the road without fear and without blaring horns; the streets and sidewalks are as clean and uncluttered as Vancouvers', the transit systems are fast and frequent; the soaring office towers and hotels are world class; the parks and gardens are manicured and beautiful. Yet - in many ways we miss the grime and chaos, the daily near-death experiences on the roads, the shanty towns and bamboo hovels sprouting satellite dishes. And we miss the friendly smiling faces of the Vietnamese youngsters and their jubilant greetings as they practice English.
Goodbye Vietnam - We wish you well.


Posted by Hawkson 22:07 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Christmas is all around us.

sunny 30 °C


Judging by the masses of lights, decorations and skinny fake Santas, you would never guess that we are in a predominantly Buddhist, communist country. They are Christmas crazy here. Every evening hundreds of thousands of parents load all of their kids onto their motorbikes, (maximum of 3 children, two parents and a crash helmet per bike), and ride around the streets taking photos of the decorations. Hundreds stop at the gaudiest displays and line up the children for a photo op. Then they load them back onto the bike and head for the next.
The Xmas lights on Ho Chi Minh City's wide boulevards would put Oxford Street to shame, and the store windows are full of 'presents' which are well beyond the dreams of the average Vietnamese. No matter - the locals clearly enjoy the glitz.
So - here is a skinny, happy Santa on a bike, wishing you all a Very Merry Xmas from Vietnam on our behalf.

To all our families and friends around the world - Happy Christmas and thanks for keeping up with our travels.

With love from Jim and Sheila.


Posted by Hawkson 01:49 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Christmas on the Road

sunny 28 °C


We have been repeatedly flabbergasted by the incredible loads carried on bikes, cyclos. mopeds and motorbikes, and have witnessed such cargoes as: a complete construction site - including scaffolding tower, wheelbarrow, buckets, spades and bags of cement - on a tricycle; a mobile restaurant - stove, pots/pans, crockery, food, and a kitchen sink - on a bicycle, a full size wadrobe on a moped and, most improbably, a giant shop window (10 ft X 5ft) on the side of a speeding motorbike.
When we mentioned this to some of the hotel staff we were amazed to discover that the Vietnamese actually have a song about this phenomena. It is called "Me and My Moped Lover," and to our great suprise it is actually sung to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Try it - it's unbelievable! It could almost have been written by Sharron Bertchilde.

Me and My Moped Lover
(Traditional Vietnamese folk song - Anon.)

On the back of his moped my true love brought to me:
Twelve pigs in cages ...
Eleven dozen chickens ...
Ten wreaths of flowers ...
Nine-ty feather dusters ...
Eight-y fish-a-swimming ...
Seven bales of cotton ...
Six hundred balloons ...
Five enor ...mous urns ...
Four family members ...
Three sacks of rice ...
Two panes of glass ...
...and a kid with a Christ..mas tree.

And, yes .... We have seen all these things and much more.


Posted by Hawkson 00:19 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Easy Life

sunny 24 °C

The receptionists of the Hai Au Hotel, Hoi-An, Anh and Dung, have become our new best friends. Here we are in front of their Christmas Tree.


Life on the road is very easy for us. Hotels find us if we don't find them first. For instance, when we arrived in Hoi-An by bus, the tour operator phoned the hotel we had booked to say that we were at their office. Within 3 minutes Anh, the receptionist from our hotel, roared up on the back of a motorbike to welcome us and to wait with us until a taxi arrived to take us to the hotel. The hotel even paid for the taxi. Just an example of great service!
Not entirely - Tourists are gold, so bus companies offer ridiculously low fares in the hope of picking your pockets when you arrive. The bus driver had already tried to gently nudge us into two of his company's hotels before dropping us off at the office. Other hoteliers know this happens so are quick to grab their customers.
The hotel staff are generally fantastic. Nothing is too much trouble. They arm us with maps and directions and tell us what is, and what is not worth, seeing. They also suggest restaurants, stores and services that we should try. But everyone is a tout for one establishment or another. In Bangkok we saw a local wearing a T shirt saying, "NO - I don't want a Tuk-Tuk, Tailor or Thai Massage." Here in Hoi-An can be added, "Boat Trip, Cyclo, Motorbike, Shoeshine, Restaurant or Pig-shaped penny whistle."
We only have to mention to the hotel receptionist that we are considering flying or taking a tour, train or bus, and we are instantly booked. Every hotel is a travel agency and next door to almost everywhere is a laundry where we pay just $1 to get a kilo of clothes washed and dried.

A major source of amusement to us are the pseudo-english signs and menus - but we wonder how many Canadians could do better in Vietnamese. As for the spoken language; all the youngsters speak some English, although it is as if they couldn't afford the full English language course so they only took the first part - ergo they only learned the beginning of each word and didn't get as far as "R". For example: Fried Rice, fried egg and sweet milk becomes fly lie, fly eh and swee mil.

Posted by Hawkson 17:08 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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