A Travellerspoint blog

December 2008

We Wuz Hijacked

sunny 25 °C


When we arrived in Hanoi yesterday it was pure Bedlam, (although today it is merely mayhem). Hanoi's traffic makes Bangkok look like a Gabriola Sunday, and, in the midst of the frenzy we wuz hijacked.
We had paid a deposit, and had a booking & written confirmation for the Hotel Elegance. How could anything go wrong? Jim was almost collared by a shady taxi tout at the airport, but Sheila put her foot down. However, the "Official Taxi" driver turned out to be a front-man for the fake hotel he drove us to.
The hijackers were slick. In a cramped, dismal back-street horns blared as we blocked the traffic and, amid the chaos, a slick young fraudster leaped into our cab apologizing for the hotel being full. But he insisted on escorting us, at absolutely no charge, to a superior partner hotel - Hotel Elegance 2.
Inspector Bliss smelled a rat - two rats - and they wuz both sitting in our taxi's front seats. Fifteen minutes later several more rats greeted us at the doors of a sleazy joint - clearly not the Elegance 2, (or even 3 or 4).
They were very persistent - showing us to our room and giving us Hotel Elegance cards - but Bliss wasn't fooled. The detective pulled up the real Hotel Elegance website and said, "This ain't no Elegant Hotel - The scam's up - call the cops."
"Oh. Velly solly - Big mistake. We velly, velly solly," the chief villain spluttered, "We get you taxi - take you to Hotel Elegance."
The genuine Hotel Elegance lived up to our expectations and when we told them how Inspector Bliss had saved the day they weren't suprised - they'd heard it all before, often from travellers who had been duped and defrauded of large sums by the unscrupulous vermin of Hanoi's underworld.
WARNING to fellow travellers - this scam is very common and starts with the "official" taxi drivers at Hanoi's Noi Boi Airport.

Posted by Hawkson 21:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged events Comments (2)

PDR Laos versus HCM Vietnam

sunny 29 °C

The People of the Democratic Republic of Laos v. The Ho Chi Minh City Orchestra of Vietnam
At first glance it may seem supercilious to equate a performance of classical music, song and ballet with a soccer game but, right from the kick-off of our evening at the Laos National Theatre, we realised that we were involved in a grudge match.
An hour of speeches in Vietnamese, (painstakingly translated into Lao), might have been slightly boring if the audience hadn't drowned them out with a constant barrage of chatter and joyful greetings to family, friends and the neighbourhood tuk-tuk drivers. The audience easily took the first goal.
Then the choir began ... and so too the audience. Hundreds of yakking teenagers, some on cellphones, simply turned up the volume.
Audience 2 Performers 0
Screeching babies and yelling toddlers upped the score to 3 - 0 by the end of the first set.
The ballet dancers' pirouettes were easily outmatched by the constantly shifting audience - bopping back and forth along the rows and waltzing up and down the aisles.
Audience 4 Performers 0
A second choir had hardly begun when a raucus troupe of giggly teenagers miss-timed their approach and rushed the stage to present roses in the midst of a song. They were clearly off-side and a penalty should have been awarded, but the referee's call was swamped out by the catcalls and laughter from the rose-bearers' supporters.
5 -0 (and nowhere near half-time).
And so it continued:
The tenor soloist was tripped up by a dozen rose-carrying youths just as he was about to take a run at a difficult crescendo; the orchestra didn't have the power to overcome a barrage of cellphones, fifty IPods, and a radio in the back row; and the conductor had to drop his baton to accept an enormous bouquet in the middle of an overture.
We moved to avoid the chatty schoolgirls; again to escape the crying babies; once more because of a noisy spitter; and finally to escape the 4 year-old who discovered that spring-loaded theatre seats could be repeatedly banged up and down in opposition to the other team's percussionist. We ended up next to the toilets from where we could watch the drunks staggering back and forth.
Score ....PDR Audience 27 HCM Performers 0
And then, just as the orchestra and choir combined in a rousing finale, ninety percent of the audience rushed the exits to beat the final whistle.
This lot would do well at Arsenal or Manchester United!
What did we do? We went back the next night for the return match of course.
The screaming teens had been replaced by hundreds of uniformed military types, who had obviously been threatened with unspeakable punishments for any insurrection, and we were rewarded with a delightful performance of music, song and dance extolling the virtues of hard work, military service, and Communism.
It was ..................................... Interesting! (and free).

Posted by Hawkson 18:03 Archived in Laos Tagged events Comments (1)

Bon Voyage Laos

sunny 30 °C

As capitals go, Vientane doesn't come close to the hell-hole of Harare or the madness of Mogadishu, but it wouldn't take much to push it over the edge.
The shiny veneer of French colonial sophistication and savoir-faire is spread thinner than the foam on a cappuccino - though they can still bake a mean croissant.
Hotels line the sweeping bay and dozens of restaurants jam the sandy Mekong shoreline - reminiscent of Cannes or Nice. But this is no Cotes d'Azur - here there is no Carlton or Negresco charging a thousand bucks a night. Here are only backpackers' hovels and down-at-heal auberges that wouldn't warrant a black mark in the Michelin Guide.
The shore-side restaurants, (for want of a more apt description), sit on stilts above garbage heaps of their own making and offer an unimaginable array of dust encrusted delicacies including escargot that look big enough to bite back.
Readers of "The Dave Bliss Quintet," will discover here a dozen Chateaux Roger being swallowed by the concrete castles of modernity and assaulted by the abrasive air.
One bright spot in this murky backwater is the Palais de la Culture - a glittering palace with soaring ceilings and a spectacular theatre where we spent two evenings watching the Ho Chi Minh Orchestra, Ballet and Choir. Why two evenings - you ask? Answer later.

We are now off to Vietnam. Goodbye Laos - we have enjoyed the experience. We'd love to stay longer and help you, but wouldn't know where to begin.

Before the 2009 ASEAN games come here next year, someone needs to take a vacuum cleaner to the place.

Posted by Hawkson 20:33 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Same-Same, (but vastly different)

sunny 28 °C


Congratulations to Sandra Chow for identifying the world's tubing capital as Vang Vieng. A bucket of Lao whisky and an inner tube awaits you at Mrs. Loew's bar. And if you are wondering why a bucket of Lao whisky costs only two dollars - you obviously haven't tried it.

Every other T shirt here bears the logo "Same-Same," leaving you to wonder if it's a brand of beer. But what advertiser would want to claim their product to be the same as the competition? However, this is S.E.Asia. Elaborate, (and probably expensive) signs provide considerable entertainment to the thoughtful falang. Just today we could have stayed at the "Manirats Hotel", hired an angry car at "Car Rants" and visited the "Tourlist Office." Hilarious grammatical errors pepper ever menu and every advert.
But "Same-Same" isn't beer. It's the reply you get every time someone explains that their product, service or price is the same as the alternative. Ask the price of a tuk-tuk to town - "$3"; to the market - "Same-Same"; to the hotel - You get the point. So we took this message to come up with ways in which life here is "Same-Same" but vastly different. Here are a few examples.
We all wash - here they wash in the river.
We have the latest washing machines and driers - they actually have the same here, but many still wash clothes in streams and dry them in the sun.
Kids have toys - ours have a thousand plastic parts, (undoubtedly made in Asia), theirs are wooden whipping tops popular in Elizabethan England.
Televisions are as ubiquitous as the satellite dishes and Buddhas, (in Vang Vieng they are constantly tuned to "Friends"). In one village only the head man had a set - powered by a generator. The entire village was clustered around; men women and children, and had each paid a few cents. But they were watching Thai pornography.
In our 4 star hotel in Vang Vieng - with no glass in the lobby doors - the desk clerk unrolled a sleeping bag at 8pm. changed into pyjama's and lay in the middle of the foyer watching television until 11pm. when he locked the unglazed doors and went to sleep. This morning he gave us an early morning call, (unrequested), and shouted, "Get Up. Get Up." The same sort of thing that could happen anywhere - Same, Same but vastly different.

Thanks to our generous friends we gave a second donation. This one to buy books for Lao schoolchildren through an organization called, "Big Brother Mouse." WW.bigbrothermouse.com

Posted by Hawkson 03:00 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Lao Adventurers

sunny 27 °C

Riverside watering holes take on an entirely new meaning in this famous Lao town - the self-described "Tubing Capital of the World."
Bus loads of exuberant young backpackers all said, "You've gotta go tubing on the Nam Song - everyone does."
We snaked for 7 hours on a bus through spectacularly tortuous mountains, anticipating an adrenalin driven ride down rapids, whirlpools and watershoots in inflated truck inner tubes. We'd heard of zip-lines, bungee jumps and water slides, together with tales of of broken limbs, bruised bodies, smashed cameras, and all manner of foolhardy falangs' goodies being dredged from the river by the locals.
Would we risk it all?
Would we hire inner tubes and join the madness?
Would we shed four decades and take on the mighty river?
Not flipping likely!
But wait - where are the bone smashing rapids and the foaming surf? Where is this Niagara of S.E.Asia?
Certainly not here, but the entrepreneurial owners of the numerous riverside bars have found a niche market - thousands of beer hungry backpackers drifting gently down this softly flowing tepid river, who go home with intoxicated tales of bravado as big as their hangovers.

This week's question - where are we?
The prize - an inner tube and a bucket of Lao whisky on this idyllic riverside. (airfare not included).

Posted by Hawkson 01:51 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

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