weejay


All paid employments absorb and degrade the mind.


...and I'm off again...
weejay
A couple of years later I've decided to quit LJ altogether. The ads and the outages finally did it for me.
You can find me here from now on - http://www.haonowshaokao.com
See you there!

New Blog
weejay
Hello LJ friends. Sorry it's been so long. I'm moving all my different (occasional) efforts to a single blog now, and you can find it here - http://haonowshaokao.livejournal.com/ Hope to see you there.

Northern Thailand
weejay
It was the opposite of a shock to return to Thailand after my time in Laos – not pleasant familiarity, but an easiness that doesn’t fit in that well with my idea of travel, whatever that is. Not that anything went badly, just that there was a certain sense that from this point onward I was on the proper tourist trail.
This was something I’d anticipated, and this was one of the reasons I decided to try out the Couchsurfers website, an online community in which travel types link up with each-other to provide free accommodation. My host was Eric, a Malay guy with a Thai wife, who lives in a small village outside Chiang Rai. I was just there for a night, and had a good chat with the guy, before setting out the next day for Chiang Mai.
On the way there was an afternoon to spend in Chaing Rai, not a bad little provincial capital, though not one with more than enough sights for a day. There were some nice temples I almost happened across, of course – this one came out particularly well.

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All the same, I was getting Temple Fatigue, something I would develop into a fine art within days. Seeing Angkor halfway through the trip could well have been a mistake as everything after was bound to be a step down.
I picked the cheapest bus to Chiang Mai, and didn’t regret it until the realization that the night was drawing in and the windows were all wedged open, leading to another journey mainly spent shivering. It was 11pm by the time we arrived, and an expensive tuk-tuk took me down to the centre, where I found every place with a dorm either fully booked or closed up for the night. Eventually I came across a basic hotel with a moderately priced room.
There were another two and a half days in the city, though I didn’t do much. Superficially the place was fairly nice, but for some reason I just didn’t enjoy my time there. Maybe it was the T.F. – I deliberately overdosed on temples the first day to leave myself a day free for... what? I forget. There were some very nice ones, all the same.

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My favourite was this one – a vast semi-demolished shape which would have seemed much more at home at the end of a jungle path rather than in the backstreets.

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It was so hot at this point that I feared going into the sunlight for even a minute with my pasty, burnable skin. These, and other pictures, were taken either from the shade or from a brief dalliance into the sunshine.

Aside from temples Chiang Mai has an apparently famous but not particularly interesting night market, with food.

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On the way back I spotted a man with a baby elephant. His business plan seemed to involve stopping at bars, letting the elephant eat tourists food, then waiting until someone gave him money to take it away.

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There’s a very famous temple complex just outside Chiang Mai, which I spent the best part of a day trying and failing to get to. The quoted price in the tourist guides is about 80p, but the parasitic tuk-tuk drivers have entered into some kind of cartel to jack the price up to £10. After a few hours being carted around trying to find one reasonable businessperson in the entire city I got angry, for the first time on the trip. I swear that the people operating transport in Chiang Mai are the most unpleasant shysters to be found in any walk of life in the whole of South-East Asia. I don’t know if it was this that left a bad taste in my mouth, but I certainly departed with a negative view of the admittedly attractive place. This is what it means to be ruined by tourism – the creeping feeling that everyone you speak to is trying to sell you something, and for many times what it’s worth. That’s not fun.

Leaving for Pai was a good idea at this point. Adam had recommended I go there and I probably wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise. The only transport was another old bus, so I took some slightly warmer clothes, but the problem this time wasn’t cold but coach-sickness. The road we took must be one of the most ridiculously windy in the world, and the bus engine was ill-equipped to manage it.
There wasn’t really anything to do or see in Pai, which turned out to be an absolute blessing. It was exactly what I needed – a break from the T.F. and the salespeople with no little voice telling me I have to do something or see something. What there was was a good selection of restaurants selling excellent Thai food – Na’s kitchen in particular sold Thai curry so good I can’t begin to describe it – and some decent bars where expats, travellers and locals all drank, mixed and had fun in a way unimaginable in regimented tourist-spots like Chiang Mai.
The place was at the same time small and sleepy enough that a dog could feasibly sleep in the middle of the main road in the middle of the afternoon.

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My room was a hut which cost £1.50 a night, amazing value for Thailand. In the daytime I lounged around here with the cats.

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After three or four days my time really was running out, and my appointment with South Thailand touristland was due.
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Up the Mekong
weejay
Like much of the other travel advice I'd been offered, the description of the Mekong boat trip as 'not worth the bother' turned out to be completely untrue. The three cities had been great, but much of the time something hadn't exactly clicked for some reason. That 8am though, as I stepped on the boat something changed. There's a pressure when you're in a place for a couple of days - there are things you have to see, you have to negotiate prices, not spend too much money, and on top of this I've given myself a few projects to organise on the way. On the boat, though, there's nobody to meet, nothing to buy, nothing to worry about. There's nothing to do but watch the scenery go by, eat, drink and doze. It was a tiny little boat with about 30 seats powered by a tractor engine in the back, but it had everything we needed.

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The views on the first day were worth it alone - not that they were dramatic, more just right.

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Just after sunset the boat stopped at the small town of Pakbeng for the night. Even the word 'town' might be a bit much - the place wasn't any more than a strip of buildings perched between the jungle with a small jetty. A few steps onto dry land we'd all been press-ganged into taking rooms in a fairly nice guesthouse two minutes walk up the road on the other side of town, then there was just a couple of hours to get some dinner before the power generator was turned off at 11.
Outside my room there was a preying mantis.

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Inside my trousers was a large hissing clinging beetle.

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...and next to my bed was a large gecko. If you're not an insect then geckos are harmless, but I couldn't have slept with the noise they make, so I got the man to capture it with a special tool.

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Don't worry, it's not hurt. Just really, really pissed off.

The second day the views were if anything better. We were deep into the infamous 'Golden Triangle' by this point, and I'd got to know the other passengers the previous night, so it was a little more social. At lunchtime a storm passed over and we had to take shelter for a little while. The delay meant we were able to see the sunset over one ofthe widest point of this part of the Mekong.

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The delay also meant that we were too late to get the ferry across the river to Thailand, and had to wait another night in larger but still small town of Huexai, which had a little less in the way of character and a lot more stray dogs.
The next morning everyone hurried to get to Thailand, but I lounged around waiting for the daily rainstorm to finish and had my last Lao meal. At 12 I finally took a tuk-tuk to the boat station, which was made up of a canoe and the smallest, least serious passport control office I've ever seen. On the other side I was suddenly in Thailand, without any sort of fanfare, and took a motorbike taxi through the unremarkable town of Chiang Khong to the tiny bus station. From there, with a great deal of help, I found my way to a small village outside Chaing Rai, which is where I'll leave this for today.
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Laos Part 2 - Luang Prabang
weejay
The bus journey from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang was in some ways worse than the one from Siem Reap. In its favour it was at least half full, or half empty, so I had a double seat to myself, and the road wasn't too badly repaired. On the other hand it was a rickety old citybus and the road was a windy path up through the mountains, which the ancient pulleys and levers in the engine were only just about able to manage. It was cold up there too, and as usual the guy in front of me insisted on having the window wide open - in order not to freeze I had to dig my suit jacket and a couple of t-shirts out of my bag. LP is only about 60 miles from VV as the crow flies, but the journey took us all of seven hours.

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It was still light when we arrived, and not hard at all to find a tuk-tuk to take me into the centre, where I found a room for about £2.50 and ditched my stuff to go out and check out the town. I didn't get to the centre of the action until I'd had some food and internet, and by then it was 11 and everything seemed to be closed or closing - Laos isn't anything if it isn't sleepy - but I once again managed to bump into the same guy I'd met on the border and in Vang Vieng. He was with a few other people all trying to work out what to do when everything was closed. A passing songthaew driver heard us and took us to a bowling alley on the outskirts, where I bowled a 66 game, then a 48.
The next day I woke up with the old travel fatigue disease. It's something to do with traveling for a couple of months - you just get to the point when you're just no longer in the mood to explore new places. The remedy was to get on a bike and cycle round, which in the end did the trick. At first I was going to see temples, which narrowed the disease down to 'temple fatigue' - some of them were very nice indeed, but after you've seen Angkor and the palace in Phnom Penh it takes a bit more to impress. Still, the photos came out well.

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More on this theme under the cutCollapse )

Eventually I found some stranger parts of town and went to investigate. The route I had to take was a little strange as the local authorities have decided for some reason to ban foreigners cycling on four of the main roads in the city, and involved going over this bridge a couple of times.

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Looking back, the views from some of the places were unbeatable. Look closely at this picture and you might be able to see the figure of a man walking across the water.

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After the sights I found my way to a signposted waterfall, past a kilometer of potholed clay. It turned out that it was better described as a small pool with a weir, so I turned round and came back. I'd seen the town and it was very nice indeed, but was still feeling a bit miserable and couldn't work out why at all. Before bedtime I booked myself in on a cheap tour to see if that would work - and it did.
The next morning I got up early-ish and headed off to the pier to catch the tourboat. It was a scrappy little vessel steered by a Laotian guy in a Calvin & Hobbes t-shirt and helped by his two daughters who were about 4 and 5 years old. After a nap we arrived at a 'Whiskey Village' - really a few houses with a still making tasty moonshine.

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Half an hour of slowly motoring up the Mekong later we arrived at a cave full of Buddha statues.

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After an hour there we set off back down the river, stopping briefly to return for the Israelis we'd left behind, then continuing until the motor blew up and left us stranded on a sandbank.

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We were stuck on the bank while we waited for the driver to douse and fix the motor. It was a good chance to meet the other people on the boat. The Singaporean girl above was a little concerned as she had a flight to catch, but we weren't terribly late until the boat ran out of petrol a little further downriver and we had to drift to the nearest petrol station.
There wasn't time to stop for lunch, so instead we piled into a minibus to go and see a series of proper waterfalls with crystal-clear water coloured by the turquoise ground underneath.

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It was so nice I even decided to give up being a miserabalist and go for a dip.

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Passing the park bears and missing tiger we went back to the minibus to town, where I tagged along with some others to get some dinner and look at the night market, which I'd somehow missed the previous two days. I got a t-shirt and a catapult, hung around until 11 or so, then went off to have a few hours sleep before the early boat up the Mekong the next morning.
I was going to write about that too, but it's late now too and it reminds me that I really should go to bed too. So, next time.
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Laos pt 1 - Vientiane and Vang Vieng
weejay
After a night in Bangkok (which I'll write about a bit later) I took a "sleeper bus" to the Thai-Lao border. It didn't have beds, but the reclining chairs went back far enough for the journey to be bearable. As usual we arrived at the border at silly-o-clock and discovered that there was a large surcharge for paying for the visa in baht, then another one as it was Saturday and they were working overtime. While we were waiting and arguing about this everyone on the bus got to meet each-other. The most vocal was an American exchange student who was taking a break from studying in Hong Kong and claimed, infuriatingly, that the Chinese food was better in LA.
A little later we crossed the Friendship Bridge and arrived in the Lao capital of Vientiane. I couldn't quite believe we were there. It seemed more like a small country town than a capital. You could cross the road any time day or night and not have to wait more than a few seconds - in fact I never saw an actual queue of cars. Even on the biggest street at what would normally be called rush hour there was less traffic than on your average country road in the middle of nowhere. It didn't feel like a backwater either - everywhere you could find excellent cafes and bakeries. So all together exactly the kind of place I like to visit, not to say a relief after the chaos of Vietnam and Cambodia.
There wasn't a great deal to see in the city, for all its charms. I did find the national museum which persistently and hilariously referred to the USA as "imperialist aggressors" on almost every caption, and a few almost-deserted temples. Unfortunately most of the photos I took were destroyed in a memory card virus attack, but these were salvaged:

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While I was there I bumped into a few people I'd met in Vietnam, and went with a couple of them to watch the FA cup final in an Irish pub. The game was rubbish, but the football and politics arguments were a lot of fun. I arrived back at five minutes to 12, which was lucky as I would have had to pay a $10 fine if I'd come back after midnight. That might not sound like a lot, but my dorm bed was only $2.50, which was a good deal apart from the lack of a shower.

The next morning I got the bus to the famous backpacker hotspot of Vang Vieng. It wasn't an interesting journey, but I enjoyed it by listening to the travel tales of the English girls talking excitedly near me. They dropped us off next to a stupidly expensive hotel, so I turned around to look for a cheap place and was stopped straight away by a 20-year-old man who had a much cheaper hotel, and took me there on his motorbike. It was reasonable and cheap enough, so I ditched my pack and went down to the river to see the "rocket festival." This was a gathering of a hundred or so people on a muddy strip next to the river watching people set off large homemade fireworks. It was an odd scene, next to crazy jagged karst hills.

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While I was watching teams climb the scaffold I was joined by the American exchange student from the bus, who was with an Israeli girl. We seemed to be the only foreigners there apart from an unwashed old hippy with a telephoto lens.

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The fireworks were large but unspectacular. They would fire into action with a great deal of smoke then just fizzle away to nothing.

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After a bit of action there was a delay while a new team set up their stand. A man in the crowd held their bamboo-and-gunpowder monstrosity and didn't think anything of smoking a cigarette while he carried it.

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At the top of the frame they delayed for quite a while, then decided, stupidly, to hang the advertisement they were holding on the rocket. When they lit the thing it didn't take off but instead just turned into a fireball which engulfed the man who'd been carrying it. In flames he dropped into the few inches of water below. Everyone else rushed forward to get a photo, but I couldn't look, maybe more due to squeamishness than morals. When I'd turned round again his friends were taking him away - he was walking ok, I'm glad to say.
Seeing all this put a bit of a negative spin on my time in Vang Vieng, or there could've been a number of other reasons why I didn't have such a great time there. The idea of a little village that suddenly becomes a backpacker hangout for no obvious reason isn't too bad, but I somehow just wasn't in the mood for tubing down the river, eating "happy pizza" or sitting in any of the twenty or so cafes showing old episodes of 'Friends' to crowds of backpackers. Maybe I'm actually getting too old for this stuff. Maybe it would've been good if it hadn't been raining most of the time. Whatever the reason, I didn't have the time to hang around waiting for the good times to start.
Before I left there was a nice bike ride to enjoy around the local countryside. There was a rainbow in the sky for about an hour, though I seem to have lost most of my best photos in the virus attack.

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Siem Reap, Angkor and a few buses
weejay
It would've been nice to have stayed on in Phnom Penh a couple more days at least, but time was starting to run out and I was eager to see Cambodia's biggest draw, Angkor Wat. Tyler was off back to China and Bruce was staying put, so it was just me and Shaun on the bus to Siem Reap. It wasn't an eventful journey for a change, though this was entirely a good thing.
Later on, when I was in Laos, I spoke to an American girl who said that she'd been delighted on arriving in Siem Reap because there were immediately a gaggle of tuk-tuk drivers offering their services, "a return to civilization" she said. My reaction can't have been more different. Twenty or thirty people shouting at me at once and blocking my way is just about my idea of hell (or at least one of its outer circles), fortunately close behind there was the owner of a guesthouse who had a piece of card with my name on it. This had been arranged through the OK Guesthouse, on the principle that one good place to stay would know about another. The principle turned out to be a little flawed, for a couple of reasons. It wasn't that the place was hugely expensive, but the fact that everything cost at least twice the price in Phnom Penh was a little strange, and what with Angkor turning out to be $20 per day these two days ended up being two of the most pricey in the trip. For some reason they also elected to keep on all the lights and open the windows upstairs, which meant everyone got bitten (though there were quite a lot less mosquitoes in Cambodia than I'd been warned.)
The main problem, though, was my basic stupidity. In 2005 I managed to cut my chin open in Portugal, and my first action on arrival at the guesthouse was to fall over on the slippery floor and land on my chin, reopening the cut. For a moment I thought I might have broken something but then the worry shifted to a concern that I'd have to have it stitched up again. Most travel guides advise that if you get sick in Cambodia you should go to Bangkok, a good day's journey away. The bleeding stopped after a little while, but it looked messy for over a week.
Our only full day in the city was spent, of course, visiting the ruins of the ancient city of Angkor. This is one of these cases where pictures are better than words, so here we are:

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The site closed at 5pm so I was unfortunately unable to see the famous "sunset over angkor" thing. A shame, but I was tiring anyway, and Shaun had flagged an hour or so before. It had been well worth seeing.

My next stop after Cambodia was Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Laos does share a small border with Cambodia, but sheer logistics meant that the most convenient route was via Bangkok. Getting from such a major tourist site to the tourist capital of the peninsular couldn't be that much trouble, right? I'd been warned that the stretch of road from Siem Reap to the border was bad, but nobody warned me about the bus. In contrast to the air-conditioned coaches you generally need in such hot places it was a run-down city-bus, perhaps 30 years old, full of backpackers whose bags had no place to go except the aisle, where the blocked exit and entry, and the back shelf, where they constantly threatened to fall and injure the people beneath.
If this wasn't enough then the condition of the road had to be seen to be believed. Significantly worse than a dirt-track, it consisted mainly of piles of sand ostensibly there as part of a building scheme, though work seemed to have stopped years ago. At one point we were blocked entirely by a lorry that had fallen over, the other side of the road being blocked by a pile of sand. After half an hour of waiting in the increasingly unbearable heat some of the passengers climbed out and shifted the sand with a small shovel and a plank of wood. None of the 20 or so people standing around apparently had any interest in helping.

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Rumour has it that a certain Thai airline is bribing someone not to finish this road in order that they can make as much money as possible on their flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok, currently going for around $200.
Once we'd crossed the border and boarded a luxury air-conditioned coach I had a bit of a nap and woke up a few hours later in Bangkok.

Phnom Penh
weejay
For every disappointment like Saigon there's at least a few pleasant surprises, like Phnom Penh for example. What makes it so different from the former is hard to say, though. If Saigon is a red light safari then Phnom Penh is the depths of the jungle. Hopefully as I write I'll be able to make some sense out of it.
The journey there was yet another inauspicious start. All was going fairly well in the bus until I stupidly agreed to change money before crossing the border into Cambodia. It seemed that I'd got a fairly good rate until a nagging doubt led me to check the number of zeros and find that they'd left off one, leaving me about 20 quid worse off. As far as travel disasters go it was fairly minor, but it left me in a bad mood which I took out on the pushy tuk-tuk drivers who greeted us at the bus stop.
On the journey I'd met a couple of Americans who I'd seen around in Saigon. Tyler was a surf-style guy from Chicago who lived in Shanghai, Shaun a big guy from Arizona who looked like a wrestler. We shared a ride to the "OK Guesthouse" in the nice area of town which was even better than its name suggested.
The next three days I hung out with these guys and Tyler's friend Brian who had been in the city for a month. Our first destination was the notorious "Killing Fields" where Pol Pot carried out his slaughter of anyone suspected of being an intellectual or any for other reason. The pits of bodies had mainly been excavated, but there were still scraps of clothing trodden into the ground everywhere and signs that said things like "Children were beaten against this tree and thrown into this pit." Very depressing indeed, and the thought "what am I doing here?" wouldn't go away. The answer I suppose is that the alternative would be to ignore it, which would be worse. As I was walking around a little girl directed me down a path, and before I knew it I was halfway around a stagnant lake with about 15 kids surrounding me pleading for money. In the end I managed to get away, a few dollars handed out, but it seems fitting to this miserable place, which I've since learned is owned by a Japanese company. Here we all are outside the entrance.



The drive there and back was fairly interesting as we got to see a good amount of the city. The outskirts looked a bit like this...



...and the bit in the middle looked more like this:

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The rest of the afternoon we spent at the market, where I bought a much-needed knife and my day's supply of mangosteens, then at a spa for (legitimate and actually very good) massages, and briefly by the side of the road taking goofy photos.

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In the evenings we went out to a few bars - some of them better than others. Prostitutes were absolutely everywhere, but this time it didn't bother me. They weren't crack-addled and they weren't pushy. Sure I had to explain the whole "have a girlfriend and anyway don't pay for sex" thing a few times, and thinking what these nice girls had to do for a living was a little depressing, but there's something about the spirit of the Cambodians that makes speaking to any of them fun. It's amazing with what they've been through that they could come out the other side with such a sense of humour. That's what I liked so much about the city, really, the people. Almost everyone I met was a joy to speak to.
On my last day there I had the option to go and see the school that had been used as a centre for torturing people before they were taken to the killing fields, but instead I went to the palace to see some nice things, and I'm glad I did. Starting to suffer from temple-fatigue as I was it was still well worth seeing, and a little odd too (which is always a plus).

I'm putting these photos under a link to save space. Click here to see.Collapse )
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Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
weejay
Sooner or later there was bound to be a city I just didn't take to, and that city turned out to be Saigon - a slightly unfortunate note to leave Vietnam on. I suppose things started badly on the train there, which left Na Thrang two hours late during a flash storm which sent hundreds of cockroaches swimming over the tracks and onto our feet and bags. The train wasn't much better. I sat next to an old lady who heavily objected to my being there and spent most of the journey complaing to the indifferent conductors. I would have move myself if another seat had been free.
When we arrived I found a taxi, agreed a price, sat for half an hour and then realised the driver didn't have a clue where he was going. After a few directions we got there and he asked for double the money because of the 'trouble' (I didn't agree of course). Sitting in a grotty hotel room that was terrible value at $7 I'd say I had every right to feel pissed off, but strangely enough I wasn't. Trouble is bound to happen on a trip like this and you can't let it bother you too much. Instead I went to an expensive bar, drank beer, talked to a German guy about football and watched the tourists and prostitutes pair up.
The area I stayed, ate and drank in was the backpacker ghetto area, Pham Ngu Lao. If you're in the right part of it you can take a photo where it looks ok...

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...otherwise, though, I'm really not sure if it is ok. There's something seedy about it, and not in a good way. I'm used to seeing a fair number of sex tourists in this part of the world, but there's usually a separation, both from us travelling types and from the normal life of the city. In Saigon, much like in Amsterdam, the red light district and the backpacker area are one and the same, like an underworld safari. In Amsterdam at least there seems to be some sort of regulation.
I wouldn't be complaining about Saigon (nobody there calls it Ho Chi Minh City) if I'd had a good time there, but I comprehensively failed to. The only successful trip I made was to the 'War Remnants Museum', which was staggeringly depressing. There were three main parts to the exhibition. One was a grizly reprroduction of torture and execution chambers, another a collection of photographs by war photographers who died in combat, with captions like "As he stood up to take this picture he was shot in the head." The final part I visited was the central hall, which was devoted to graphic photos of the victims of US army massacres and napalm, including a real deformed pair of conjoined twins in a jar. It was impossible to leave with a cheery manner.
Another day I went to see the particularly pompous and dull cathedral, hid from the usual afternoon rainstorm in a dedent enough cafe, then went to see the Reunification Palace, which looked like a particularly ugly 1960s hotel.

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On te way back I did manage to see something halfway intresting, though. There are more motorbikes in Saigon than elsewhere in Vietnam - even more than in Hanoi, which I would've thought impossible. It was rush hour when I came across a traffic jam which was almost entiorely made of bikes.

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Central Vietnam
weejay
The longest train journey you can take is from the south of Portugal, across Europe and Russia, down through China and all the way to Ho Chi Minh city in the south of Vietnam. I'm not about to attempt it, at least not right now, but I always had a thought about completing all the sections, a thought that's unexpectedly led to nothing this year except the sleeper train from Hanoi to Hue, which I shared with an old couple from Perth. It was one of the most spartan sleeper compartments I've seen, but comfortable enough for the night.
We got to Hue at 7am or so and I shared a taxi into town with the Australians. After we'd dropped them off at their expensive hotel I showed the driver where I wanted to go on a map, then he drove me around other hotels for twenty minutes trying to sell them to me until I threatened to get out without paying.
To be fair though, he was the only genuinely annoying person I met in Hue. Everyone else went out of their way to be friendly, if in an often pushy hard-sell kind of a way. After I ditched my bag at the hostel my walk into the pleasantly pastoral and otherwise peaceful centre was continually interrupted by this man on the right here, trying to get me to go on his tour.

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I didn't have anything against his tour, I was just wandering around before lunch, which I had at an apparently famous cafe run by a blind man who makes very good spring rolls and whose nephew took me out on a motorbike tour of the area for the afternoon.
I hadn't heard much about Hue, except that it was the old capital of Vietnam and that there was a battle there of some sort during the "American War", so it was a pleasant surprise to find a city of wonders, moreorless. Here are some pictures. I took a lot more but there's not enough time to upload all the best ones.

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As we drove at (hopefully not literally) breakneck speed the sun baked down on my exposed skin. I would've had sunstroke if it hadn't been for the factor 50 - as it was I managed to get a mild burning under the lotion, and a bit of a tan too. The river at sunset was just perfect too, at least from a distance.

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Back in town I had some more spring rolls and spent the night chatting to the most genuine, down-to-earth LA resident I've ever met, then slept in before catching the midday bus to Hoi An, which mainly took us along the coastal road.

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That was all I saw of the beach in Hoi An. I burn too easily to sunbathe and if you've seen one tropical beach you've pretty much sen them all. (I'm not going to back this statement up too much, but if believing it prevents me getting sunstroke then that'll just have to be that.) The sun had just gone down when we arrived and I couldn't be bothered to look around for a place, so I walked into the hotel the bus stopped at and got a perfectly good room for $5.
The next bargain I got was about five minutes or so later when I was dragged into one of the hundreds of tailor shops that populate the small-ish town. By the time I left I'd managed to buy a whole suit, three shirts, one pair of trousers and a winter coat, all tailored to my measurements and instructions, and all for a total of less than 60 quid. I had to post some things home, which cost a little, but aside from that I'd say it would be better value to fly out here than buy tailored clothes in the UK (don't do this though).
A torrential rainstorm went on for most of the first night, so I hid in a restaurant and watched it fall.

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Aside from the tailors, incredibly good cheap food and an absolutely stinking fish market there wasn't a lot to do in Hoi An, so I spent the day my clothes were being made on a day trip to (go on) My Son to see the ruined remnants of the Cham civilization. They aren't ruined due to normal wear or tear or abandonment but rather because the American army in the 1960s thought that there might be someone inside who disagreed with their ideas on how to run the country.
The remains were overgrown and looked satisfyingly like a ruined city in the jungle should look.

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When we'd tired of wandering round these there was a good drumming show under an awning. The synths and go-go dancers probably made it inauthentic but I don't really care. The journey back into town was the worst. It must have been near 40 degrees outside and yet the driver wouldn't let us open any of the windows in the minibus which was crammed full of sweating tourists - he insisted that the obviously inadequate aircon be allowed to do the job. I have never sweated so much in my life.
Before I left Hoi An I picked up my clothes and bumped into the guy from LA again. The bus left in the evening, and was the kind I didn't want to catch, with rows of beds laid out next to each-other in one big shelf. I had a double to myself until the driver turfed me off it and insisted I sleep next to an attractive German girl at the front. I didn't mind but an English guy behind persuaded him on my behalf to let me sleep at the back with a couple of snoring locals who were stretched all over my part despite repeated prodding.
The next morning we arrived in Na Thrang and I had breakfast with the English guy and his girlfriend. I was supposed to take another bus to the mountain resort of Dalat but it was 7am, I hadn't slept properly and the prospect seemed daunting and not worth the bother. A tuk-tuk later and I was at the beach. It looked nice but the heat was absolutely unbearable.

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So I turned round and went to catch a train to Saigon.
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