21 Feb

$64 Tour – 3 Days – 2 Nights – Bus – Boat – Meals – Accommodation – Guide

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My hostel in Ho Chi Minh City had a brochure of the tours they offered. I always take these to see what there is to do, and how I can do it myself. As I read through it I noticed a 3 day bus/boat tour with an add on to go by fast or slow boat to Phnom Phen. I had planned to go to PP next, so this sparked my interest. The total cost for the 3 day tour (transport, accommodation, some meals, and a guide) was $40 with a $14 add on for the slow boat. I thought anything sounded better than a long bus ride, so I decided to sign up for it. I can do just about anything for 3 days. I did pay an additional $5/night in order to have my own hotel room.
Day 1: I was picked up and we went by bus to My Tho city. We took a mid sized boat to an island where we visited a bee farm and drank honey tea. We also rode in little dug out boats down a winding channel. Each boat held 4 people and most boats were paddled  by an elderly couple. . The old lady on our boat got a call on her cell phone so talked on it most of the way, as she paddled.  It was not far, and the channel was full of boats going both ways. We had lunch then went to see how coconut candy is made.  Back by boat to the bus and a long ride to Canto where some of us went for a lovely dinner along the river. 
Day 2: Breakfast at 6 and on the bus by 6:30. We got to a pier and got on a boat for a half hour trip to a floating market. This is also where the big wholesale fruit and veg market is. Big boats completely loaded with fruit and veg. Market vendors have little boats that pull up beside ours – you can buy coffee, soup, soda, fruit and anything else you might imagine. We stopped beside a big boat full of pineapples and the old lady peeled them for us, and we ate them like popsicles – so good, so sweet, and $1 each. Next stop was an island where they make noodles. Rice is ground to a fine powder, mixed with salt and water. The batter is spread on a big round grill and covered, and cooked for 30 seconds. The big discs are then put on rattan racks to dry in the sun for 4 hours. They are then run through a machine to cut them. The rice husks provide the fuel for the fire – nothing is wasted here. Earlier night to our hotel in Chau Doc. Day 3: Brekkie at 6 and on the river by 6:30. First stop was a floating village where each house has a net underneath it, and each net holds a fish farm. They open a trap door in the floor and throw in some fish food. Here are many floating homes and people living on boats – both big and small. We then went to  a stilt village. We left our boat and walked on a small, narrow, uneven wobbly catwalk – with no handrails. We then got on an even more scary walkway – very high – like a suspension bridge. This area has huge floods during the rainy season. Village was all Moslem, and women did weaving. Back along the scary walkway to the boat.   We head upriver for 3 hours to the border. Stopping in Vietnam for exit stamps and we fill out Immigration cards for Cambodia, and I pay $35 for my visa. Back on the boat, they change the flag from Vietnam to Cambodia. We don’t go far, get off the boat – the guide takes all of our passports and Immigration cards. He comes back with our visas all done and we just have to get one stamp before we are good to go. Now we go on a different boat – this one has brought people down river. It has reclining seats inside, and then a raised, covered deck on the back with lots of rattan furniture – papasan chairs etc. We settled in for an incredible 5 hour trip up river, constant sights like little fishing boats, big barges, corn fields, villages etc. The only negative was 8 Russians that joined our tour the last day – they were drinking at 6 am, and never stopped all day. Drunk and rude. We lost our 5 cute young Aussie guys to the fast boat,  and got the Russians – bad trade. We all kept grinning like fools who have won the lottery – that one day was well worth what we paid for all 3 days. Now to see Cambodia.

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11 Feb

Hanoi To Me Will Always Be……..

Well non techno me has pushed a wrong button somewhere – I could not get the pics for this to load – so I am going to publish it anyway, and the pics will be on Facebook. Sorry about that – but I should be able to get some help before the next post. G So here is how Hanoi will Always Be to Me:

* Being brave enough to cross the street. It is death defying. You take that first step out in front of 50 – 100 oncoming scooters, cars, buses etc. Once you start, you never stop, you never change your pace, even when the urge to run, or stop, is overpowering. you never look in the direction of the oncoming traffic and they go around you – you hope!
* Scooters, scooters, scooters – at least half of them tooting their horn at any given time. They ride on the sidewalks and they go the wrong way down one way streets.
* Vietnames women with conical straw hats, a bamboo pole over their shoulder, and big baskets bouncing along on either end, loaded with anything and everything.
* Street food. A woman carries her entire cafe with her, stops on the street – cooks, and has a stool for her customer to sit on.
* Plastic stools less than a foot tall. They are everywhere -and that is seating everywhere. I will never be able to master getting up or down from one.
* Rickshaw drivers yelling “Madam, on hour”…….
* Vietnamese coffee – thick, black served with sweet thick condensed milk, in a glass.
* Bicycles loaded with huge amounts of anything that needs moved anywhere.
* Everything happens on the street – haircuts, getting your hair dyed, pedicures, shopping for meat and vegetables, men getting a shave, portable stores and cafes.

This is a city where you could spend an entire day standing on any street corner, and be entertained all day. There is always something to see that is totally amazing. Aside from the cold crappy weather, I have really enjoyed my time in Hanoi.

02 Feb

Vietnam is……Different

Don’t let them put other people in bed with you” was the advise from the travel agent in Vientiane, Laos as she stamped my sleeper bus ticket “No Refund”. She went on to explain when the buses are busy they will try to cram as many people as possible into each bed. My books are called “I Talked to Strangers – and I was not wanting to have to change it to “I Slept with Strangers”. Fortunately we had a new bus and there were three rows of bunk type beds? that are actually seats that almost recline – and no room for two or more in any of them – barely room for one. My journey to Vietnam was advertised as 16 hours, leaving at 5 pm and arriving at noon – my math said that was not 16 hours. Bus had blankets for us so we all settled in for a long ride. We arrived at the border about 2 am, but the border does not open until 7 am. Our bus was about 3 blocks back in the endless line. Driver explained we had to go to the Lao border, get our exit stamps, go to a checkpoint, then come back to the bus. A fine plan except it was so cold you could see your breath – and pouring rain. We have many Vietnamese on our bus going home for Tet. The locals in Thailand and Laos are small, quiet, gentle, soft spoken people, who line up and take their turn. Not so with the Vietnamese – I felt like I was back in China. You must push and shove your way to the counter – then throw you passport at on officer, and wonder if you will ever see it again. I saw an elderly lady about 4 ft. tall walk completely over a 6 ft. young man from Calgary. There is the same procedure on the Vietnamese side, but we also have to get our luggage from the bus and put it through a scanner. Once we are in Vietnam and back on the bus, they turn the A/C on high to keep the windows clear.I was sure I would never be warm again! We make a lunch stop at a huge rest stop. You pay for your food then take your ticket up to a big counter and someone dishes up what you have ordered. As we stand waiting we notice as they clear the tables, any food left on plates is brought back and dumped back into the pot it came out of. Waste not – want not?? Most of our group decided they were not hungry after all. Welcome to Vietnam – the adventure has begun.