Saturday, June 28, 2008

the section i was dreading

Just rode up to the border at Boten. Got some heavy rain action and the road got worse until the intersection going to Boten so the last 20k was lovely. There wasn't much there almost like it wasn't a proper town. there were scary monkeys tied to poles and rat/moley things in cages(waiting to be eaten maybe) so it felt a little creepy . Asked around about a number plate but everyone was Chinese and no one really knew any English. Asked the at the Lao side about taking bike over and they said I'd have no luck on the ching chong side. One Chinese dude said just take number plate off. Most of the bikes didn't have number plates so maybe he was right but i don't think this would cut it with a foreigner. Went to get some lunch and while waiting for menu a group of Chinese men invited me to eat with them. They had heaps of food and not long after they left so i had a whole table of really good Chinese food! So a massive free lunch was a nice cheeky bonus. Decided i would go to plan B and head 50 clicks to the closest town (Luang Nam Tha) and try my luck sorting something else there. Asked at a travel place about taking a bus and putting my bike on(without plate) which he said was a good idea but since it is classified as a 50cc I should have no problems taking it to china as it is. Will take his word but i think i will still see about taking a bus over the border and try to keep my white face and the bike disassociated through the border crossing. Need to go to bus station first thing in morning to see what buses are running into china (mengla). Fingers crossed. Otherwise i will just try to ride it, the worst thing they could do is turn me back between borders but that would be a real hassle.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The $70 tent getting put to good use
Our traditional breakfast. Shared my two pineapples i was hauling round with me.

Village out in the back blocks
Views from my bumpy road

Truck trying to steal some hardwood for Johnny's deck! Not the best road

More native fare. .5 star dinning.
Nice road with with views to match

Waterfall near LP

Trying to take a dip

Small section of road in LP. not very good pic.
A blinged out version of my bike.
Reluctantly left comfortable Laung Prabang this afternoon. Went and saw a really nice waterfall this morning about thirty clicks out of LP. Great to be blasting along without all my gear in just shorts and shirt. Got there before opening and before anyone else so i had the place to myself which was excellent because it felt way less touristy. Ran around like a mad man and up to the top a couple of times and then cooled of in a mighty fine swimming hole. Busted back into town and checked the museum/palace which was plush and indulged in some nice coffee and baguette in a french/italian cafe. said goodbye to my ice coffee girl, who i fell in love with, well her super friendly service and coffee, and got food for the road. Not sure why i liked LP so much. Maybe it was the feel of the old french buildings or that people were friendly but I didn't stay long enough to properly check it out.

Rode up to Lithavixay but road was a shocker with surface missing and big potholes. thought we had overcome such poor main roads! Started to rain late arvo just as i was getting to the top of a hill. The sky looked almost black so i knew it would be bad(still raining, 7hours). Had to ride really slow but still managed to nearly lose it on the smooth wet tar surface as both wheels slide out. Stayed up with a big dab. Bit disappointed i didn't make it further because i am now staying in a very bland junction town. Will see if I'm close enough to china to find any chinese number plates in the morning but will prolly head straight to border town and try and suss something out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Movin on up

Tired so be quick. In Laung Prabang. Looks nice so far. Will check some sites in morning then prolly head north close to border and figure out how to get across(well bike at least, I have a visa) into china. Ride from vang Vieng to LP was awesome. Great road just wish i was on a super motard and would have been perfect! Still i must have been the fastest on the road making all the passing maneuvers. Only a few dodgy moments coming into corners with the back stepping and once where I lost the back pushing too hard through a bumpy corner and getting a mini high side thing (but when you don't actually go over!). Really hot but I guess that's not too bad when i hear how cold it is back home..


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tourist slut

Hmm. Haven't moved Far(net distance north that is) since the last post(2 days ago). Spent a day in Vientiane in the end but wasn't planing to. Ended up sorting some insurance stuff and then meet up with some Spanish dudes (chile, mexico, catalunia) from the night before and walked(very slowly) about the city checking some of the sites in the sweltering heat. Left Vientiane late yesterday morning, with the spoils from a very nice french shop (it had the best brownies!), and headed north aiming to cut of the main highway just before the tourist capital Vang Vieng and head up the back roads to the Plain of Jars. the Main road made for great riding with all the ups, downs and tight corners a motorbike loves though far to many pot holes to let really loose. My first mistake once off the main road was missing a turn off and riding a brand new(incomplete) road, which wasn't actually on my map, until i reached a checkpoint which i just blapped through only to hear a whistle squeeling behind me. So politely, i turned around and the security guards told me I was in a 'Special Area' and had to turn around. I showed/told them where I wanted to go and they told me there was no problem so i made my way back15 odd km. On the right road this time i was very disappointed. It was really rough and rocky I knew i could ride it but it would be slow and punishing on the Cub(bike). I was pretty annoyed cos the guy i asked at the travel place said the road was good. I bumped around for the rest of the afternoon until it was starting to get dark when I approached a couple of guys eating dinner on the side of the road. They gestured to me if I wanted to join them so I pulled up and filled my face with sticky rice, spicy vegetable stuff and a few shots of rice moonshine. The men were friendly and helpful and tried to use the tiny bit of English they knew while also trying to teach me some Lao. I set my tent up next to their truck for the night and woke to the sound of cooking. After packing up more workers came from the town with some more food and bottles of water so I had breakfast well sorted! After saying goodbye I headed north to Longcheng and by midday i had arrived, been stopped, and told to turn around by the "special area' security. Grrr i was so close to where i needed to be, why didn't anyone tell me I couldn't get through!! At least he told me the other way through was also impassable so i accepted my unpleasant journey backtracking and heading to Vang Vieng. I dropped the pressure in my tyres to racing levels and fanged it back to vang vieng trying fiercely to avoid a pinch flat. Knowing the way back and giving full juice when i could i retraced all the previous days effort and more and arrived in vang vieng by 5pm. Sore. Tubing anyone?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Larking about in Laos

Still safe and well. Been away from computers for a while. Just arrived in Vientiane and need to go find a room. Spent a day on a small island on the Mekong, near the border with Cambodia, to rest up. Yesterday spent most of the day riding a roundabout way to a massive cave and got caught on some gnarly bits of road but also some nice gravel.
Riding(grinding) around the island on rather small, suited for an asian, sit up and beg bike. Jessica would agree on the riding position, TJ wouldnt agree on freewheel action and nobody could get behind the chinese engineering!
Lao skinnies. On that bike i was nervous!
Riding into where the Cave was and where I stayed with a family in their village. Really nice place and people seemed really friendly and people were actually working! Feeling better after going there but cave trip wasn't as good as i had hoped and boat men riped me off as they never stopped to show me stalagmite gallery and maybe other stuff. These people really piss me off at times (got my glasses stolen the day before!). Villagers all had cell phones, electricity, satellite dish and plenty of music playing, goodo.
Getting bike across river. A bit easier than 1200gs but im sure they would try anything!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stung Treng

Sorry this blog hasnt been getting the treatment it needs. Just escaped the jungle from which i was trying to cross from Siem Reap to mekong. Spent the last two nights with cambodian families and one of which was in a small village in the 'jungle'. Pretty cool but the mosquitos were big enough to lift me right of my bike. The roads were really bad and really on suitable for dirbikes but the cub pulled through with a broken exhaust, bent gear shifter spindle pegs and brake pedal, Filled the engine 3 times with water submerging the bike in puddles and rivers (when i got caught in monsoon rain). Heading to Loas this arvo might just make it a small day and stay on an island on the mekong. I'll try to keep in touch. Sloooooooooow Internet.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Templed out

Just quick note. I've been in Siem Reap and the temples were amazing but i dont think i could look at another for a while. Heading off to the Laos border on road 12, may or may not cut across to Strung Treng. Sorry, stories later (maybe!).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Penning from Phnom Penh

Finally made it this morning. Had a look at some sites and visited the Tuol Sleng genocide museum which was really depressing. Had dramas crossing the border when they told me bikes cant leave Vietnam but hey i made it and will try to write about it later. Off to get something to eat. Will leave tomorrow and head north to seam reap (not sure if that is spelled correctly) as im running out of time to get to china. Later.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Heart of Darkness

Eh up,
Would like to write more about Vietnam but dont have time at mo so here is the wrap: Off to Cambodia in the morning, if all goes well, and will aim for Phnom Penh. Not looking forward to the sore ass from seat...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ahh monday blues

What have i been doing?? The weekend shot by with no big dramas. I think saturday was a low key affair. I slept till midday, though sleeping not in the true sense. Sleep usually involves going to bed too late after a cold shower in order to bring body my temperature low enough to allow me to pass into sleep. Later once the body has again re-accustomed itself to the ambient room temperature and realised how humid it is I am then suddenly awake again and up to down half a bottle of cold water then fall back to sleep on a new dry space of mattress. Then for the rest of the night it is a matter of rising and falling back to sleep while each time rolling over to a cooler less damp area of the bed! And with unsettled sleep i end up having unsettled dreams which may entail going over and over what i need to do that day or some yellow menace creeping around en the shadows of my room. Oh, how i think i exaggerate. If were so bad, i wouldn't be so tight as to not pay the extra to have noisy air conditioned comfort.
Where was i before i veered of writing complete nonsense? So, saturday: bought a helmet, tried to find a market to buy petrol container(they dont have those red petrol containers here), dinner, emails, coffee, NO beer(!), meet cool people, ate too many lychee things, watched euro football (had to support Portugal because couldn't get behind the country(turkey) that persecuted my Armenians!), had a power cut, and then went home. nice and simple.

On sunday i had actually organised something the night before so Jo and i were off the the mekong delta for the day. I had pretty low expectations of the trip as it was one of those touristy tours but i needed to get out of the city for a day and i knew this would be stress free. The one feature of the trip was taking a boat from the mekong back up the saigon river to HCMC. The rest of the trip was pretty lame going around a few islands on the mekong and getting shuffled on and off smaller and bigger boats to see around. It probably wouldn't have been too bad if what you saw wasnt so made/influenced for tourists and i found everywhere to be quite messy and lots of rubbish everywhere. As least now i know roughly what the mekong looks like. We stopped on one island for lunch and afterwards i took out a real junker full suspension bike (which was very hard to do for a bike snob like myself!) and fanged it about the paths and small roads doing wheelies over bridges and cutties through corners all to the great amusement of the local kids. so stretching my legs on a bike again was prolly the best part in the end. The boat ride back was good as we got to see all the boats working on the river and waving kids from the river bank plus a lot of it all looked very nice and tropical! Taking three hours to get back i could also catch up on a bit of sleep.
So anyway, i caught up with marcel at our cheep shop for a few beers and a little faux vodka. I think jo couldnt make it as he was catching up on sleep from the night before and i think the mekong trip had taken the last out of him. We went off to watch the croatia/austria football match but we got tired and lost interest after a while. Said our goodbyes, as marcel was leaving thailand on monday, so drinking buddy of nearly two weeks will be missed :-(

Now monday and my scoot was supposed to be go. went and had a look but electrics hadnt been fixed. not sure if there was a communication breakdown somewhere so will go back this arvo to check it out and hopefully pick up. I took it for a whirl around the block and the new engine seemed good but will have to see what it is like at top speed.

Mmm hungry time now but will have to see bike first.
Loving the emails everyone is sending, its still possible to get lonely in a city that has more than twice the population of all of NZ and even simple email always puts a smile on my face.

Mucho amor

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friday 7th

I needed sleep so ended up in bed till mid day. Took a moto around to the motorbike fixit shop to find they had already put the engine back together and had it running on the bike. I wanted to check out the parts he bought to make sure he was using things like japanese bearings. I guess ill find out now when i break down in the middle of nowhere! Should be done on monday morning which is earlier than he said last time. Went looking at helmets again. no luck so went to the market for a coconut to drink. Got chatting to a man from Bali who was visiting. I couldnt tell if it was the same person i meet in the park last week who was trying to get me to meet his daughter who was going 'study' in NZ! Got another motorbike dude to try and find me some more helmet shops but he was useless then tried to rip me off...
Had enough so went back to hotel to relax. Had some beers with the boys again then meet up with the canadians again and some other american girl for a few rounds of vodka (I think a trend is starting to develop here!). Tried the Lush club in down again but very average and pretty horrible music apart from maybe a missy g or duffy track! Got talking to some middle class vietnamese which was kinda interesting but a bit strange cos they could have been from anywhere. Again, we had a crazy taxi back to our local bar where the vietnamese girls followed us back to. Was feeling pretty tired and tried to keep some distance between me and the girls as i really wasnt in to mood for any attention! I then made sure i had a whole morning of sleeping.
Need to start doing some more interesting things. Will try and get down to the mekong delta on sunday then have the bike going on monday and be free!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Thursday 5th

Went around to the little motor bike fix it shop and the dude had already taken off the engine and completely stripped it down. Gave him some money so he could by new parts to rebuild engine with 110cc parts, new cdi electrics and new 4sp gearbox. forks and shocks are all going to be serviced and new seat and tyres. he tried to tell me it would be done on friday(next week) but informed him it had to be done sooner and he said tuesday. So it looks like a fortnight in total in saigon before im gone. How i mange to have things end up last minute!

Caught the taxi off to china town with the boys and went to the big market. I didnt really need anything but just to have a look around. got a 'mechanical pencil' for 20c to replace the one i let jess steal. Walked around to find a pagoda and found some small one and took a look around. It had a small pond filled with turtles and surrounded by bonsai trees and miniature bridges and stuff like a childs toy house. Would have been better to take a moto guide and gone by myself and would have been able to see more because we didnt know where we were going and just wondered around in a fairly ordinary looking place with the exception of a few dragons. The people were friendly though and didnt try to rip us off. Got some sugar can juice and deep fried pastry things for really cheap off the street. Had to have a sleep when i got back. I guess its the heat that gets to you after a while.
Went out later to look for a helmet but in true communist style they had the quota of models but only in one size (a bit of an exaggeration but it was very limited). Ended up just wondering the streets and found a pagoda thing that looked interesting. When i went to go inside i was stopped and given incenes and a few things as offerings to the gods. Once i had walked around and planted all my incense and placed my gifts to the gods i headed for the road. Once out side i was stopped and was demanded to pay 50 000 for each offering but i didn't know how serious they were and i didnt want to offend by haggling over religious matters so just payed up! there went my money for the next day. hopefully i will get protection from the gods for my travels!
Kept on walking and the night street stall were starting so i got some really nice crispy fried noodle and a coconut to drink for about $2.
Meet up with the boys later and had some beers then went round to our cheap shop with some really cool french canadians we meet (they knew trailer park boys!) and had rice vodka before tracking down some french people down in a club in town. I managed to cut my finger open on the vodka lid so now another thing to heal. I think it must have been the most expensive club as they were charging 100 000D for a cheep beer (c.f. 10000 at shop)! It didn't have a license so maybe that was why. We went from there to Apocalypse now and back to local Go2 bar while being chased by an Austrian girl. Managed the make back to hotel alone!

Wednesday 4th

Finally meet up with my Vietnamese motorcycle fixit man at the scooter shop and got sorted what i wanted and what could be done. Went round to his little shop and left the super cub there to start work on it in the morning. Could only get the engine increased to 110cc as 125 would be too much hassle and a completely new engine would have to come out of a stolen bike and the quality would be unknown and cost twice as much. So its back to something simple and very common so will be able to be fixed anywhere. Went searching for someone to photocopy and laminate my vehicle ownership card for a spare and the lady who did said i could get locked up for doing that. ohh, living dangerously! Meet up with jo and marcel again and got a few drinks. Got talking to a Vietnamese man who had really good english and i think he could speak french and was very intelligent. So we asked him why he couldn't get a better job than just driving a moto and he said it was because he didn't have a communist card. Also if you wanted to have a public servant job you had to be second or third generation communist. Had an early night :-)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Saigon so far

Just 10 observations I've made whilst trying to fit being a tourist into my regime of drinking.

1. Saigon has a very distinct perfume. It smells something like stagnant water, rotting fruit, exhaust fumes, aromatic food and rat piss. Obviously its stronger in some areas than others and maybe only a mix of some of the above ingredients. Thankfully the final blend is not that bad and you soon become accustomed to this base smell and and then you can enjoy more the subsequent simpler root scents!

2. There are a lot of rats. This could quite possibly explain the rat piss smell.

3. Rubbish and food scraps are usually just thrown on the 'foot' path and washed onto the street or just tossed into the gutter where later it will all be swept up by hand. This will most definitely explain the rats.
4. The foot path is not a path but a series of paved or concreted platforms at various altitudes and angles for which to park the thousands of scooters.
5. Scooters don't remain just scooters. They are modified and added on to until they turn into all sorts of mad max utilitarian contraptions. Nothing is ever wasted.
6. It is true what they say about having a whole family on a single scoot and the excesses of over burdenment are not to be taken as only an over exagerated cliche. You can see a mountain of rubbish traveling down the street and think it was a truck only to see the front and discover its a moped with a couple of arms holding on which lead back into a plathora of scavenged goods.
7. There is not much music heard and never have i seen any played live. If prodded the taxi driver will sheepishly apply the volume to his music but other places of business outside the car will rarely ever have music playing. Exceptions to the rule are touristy restaurants and rent boys on bikes shaking their rattle shaker things trying to drum Up business. Unless of course, you consider the cacophony of a million different horns and honkers chiming at once a form of instrumentation(i think maybe prostration)!

8. Apart from newbies being very susceptible to being riped off and hence becoming very suspicious and resentful of the peddlers and beggars most of the saigonese are very friendly and will endeavour to speak you language and have some chit chat.

9. I am always surprised by how many people can speak other languages and/or who are trying to learn other languages while being severely under resourced and running a shop at the same time to all hours of the morning.
10. The young kids are amazing and so cheeky. They know better english than a lot of the older folk. They may very well steal off with your bags but they are sure to steel even more smiles.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Thursday 29 -

A quick impersonal rundown from the rest of the week:

29th Thursday

Up early and went to vietnam visa issuing place to have my visa extended only to fill out forms then be told I had to go an do it through a travel agent even though travel agent said to do it directly. Feeling like im on a ferris wheel going round in circles! Ended up getting visa sorted for $35 and could pick up the next day. I think it is a bit of a racket 'cos if the visa place had given it to me in the morning it would have been $10. Decided to take a look around town a bit. Headed to fine arts museum which pretty limited and run down. I guess art is a bit bourgeois for the commies. Walked to the market and had a poke around. I was offered the same t-shirts by half the stalls I dont think originality is their specialty. Found some cheap food though and checked out all the live fish, crabs and the like in buckets. Left the market but came out facing a different way than i thought and headed off to the Unification palace but got lost and i didnt have a proper map so just took a moto there. Palace was a bit strange as the architecture and interior design had all been kept the same as it was in 1975 when the city fell. Walked around to War Remnants Museum which wasn't very big or informative but had some good photography. The deformed babies in jars was a bit unexpected and very depressing. It was more an anti war anti american exhibition. Took a moto across town to motorbike shop to see what they had found for me. I was a bit disappointed with the honda cub but supposedly you dont get much choice as most bikes are really worn out and not uber cheap. Decided to hold out for something different in the mean time and have a look myself. By this time i had really had enough of the heat so headed straight back to hotel. Went out for dinner and met a dude from london and decided to catch up at bar later. He didnt turn up but got talking to a couple chaps from holand and france. We left the bar and headed for a corner shop where the beer was only 10 000 Dong and stayed drinking Saigon till 3am. Found i was locked out of my hotel but there was someone about to let me in.

30th friday

Took a taxi and went looking for motorbikes in the morning with Jo(france) on the street which is meant to have lots of shops. It was really hot and the sun was out and i was starting to get a bit annoyed at looking at bikes of very dubious quality. once you took the 'tourist tax' off the price they still wernt very cheap. Decided to taxi to first motorbike shop to look at the first bike again and see if they had come up with anything else. Couldnt make a decision(normal for me!) so had another look at bikes on the way back into town with no luck. Decided to relax and go to museum and pogoda but taxi driver kept getting 'lost' so it took a while to get there! After making it back to hotel i gave the motorbike shop a call to see when they could start work doing the engine on the bike they had but it would have to wait till monday. Dinner turned out to be a meaty affair consisting of only a massive slab of chicken grilled and a pile of rice. though simple it was mighty tasty. I can foresee the vegetarian diet taking some puishment this trip! Meet up with the guys again at the corner shop for some more cheap drinking then went into the main district to a bar called Apocalypse Now (not that original either!). I was expecting it to be filled with tourist as it was really expensive(relatively) but it was mostely Vietnamese. Strange kinda place playing some pretty shonky breaks and house beats(imagine 'take me home country road' to a cheesy dance beat!) and the place had tons of security guys around. It even had some lady boys and figured that most of the girls were prostitutes! Some american guy started talking to me then asked if i was gay but then said we were in the supposedly gay corner. Not very encouraging!! Meet some other backpackers and deicided to go back to the bar back in our district and kicked about there for a few hours until daylight. The taxi ride back was interesting with his erratic driving trying to go fast with lots of tooting and his funny techno music blasting! Got talking to an american brother and sister from florida that were traveling together and were really cool and made me think about how i was already missing my sisters and bros. Didnt have to worry about being locked out of hotel again as they would already be opening again for the new day!

31 Saturday

Stayed up until i could have breakfast in hotel then went to bed and slept for most of the day! Tried to organise meeting up with a SERVAS member to meet a local foreigner for something different. will wait to see how that goes. meet the guys again at the corner shop to partake in some strong coffee and more saigon session beer that never seems to get you drunk but tastes pretty good. we went back into central district to find a party that a french girl had told us about at an italian joint. they were playing some interesting music like wu tang clan mixed with the specials, go figure! but we couldnt find anyone so we left and ended up bumping into a girl from iceland and a guy from england. We managed to find a Lebanese bar and had turkish coffee and a shisha session which was nice and relaxing and got to do lots of talking.We all then headed back to our little corner shop back in our backpacker district and partook in a couple of bottles of the cheap local vodka then took off to the local bar and meet with some people we meet the other night. Went back to the americans hotel and listened to music and spent the day sleeping it off!

1st june Sunday
Got back to the hotel at about 6pm to get myself sorted then meet back up with the americans and others to find some sustenance before going off the to our cheap corner shop again for more coffee and Saigons with the othe other guys followed by a couple more bottles of vodka. We then had to spend some time back at the local bar. Manged to somehow catch my shoulder on something and gave at a bit of a cut. Decided head back early(well before day) to the americans hotel where jessica was kind to clean my little wound with iodine and gauze it.

2nd monday
didnt sleep in to long and saw the lovely floridans off at 11. I think i will miss them as its hard to find people like that in any country. Moved into their hotel to save some money. Feeling the affects of the weekend but manged to get a few things sorted including getting a Loas visa and catching up with the people at the scooter shop. Will have to wait till wednesday to see someone about doing work on the engine. Starting to feel the need to get out of saigon because i know know im going to be here longer than i want. Caught up with the guys again at the cheap shop for some beers then headed over to the bar to play some pool and got talking to a guy from england who told be about a boat to the cu chi tunnels. Had early night, yeah!

3rd tuesday.
Up early to catch the boat at 8 to the tunnels. really good to see something different and the boat ride up the river was cruisy. Had an interesting guide and nice to just sit back and be told stuff. the story of the tunnels was amazing but you didnt get to spend much time in them. This was prolly a good thing as the are very small and hot. I bought a fistful of bullets for the M1 riffle and shot down some targets whilst almost losing my hearing! Came back to Saigon on the bus which happened to be the same one marcel(holland) was on which made it not so bad. I think the girl across from me was a hooker and trying to pick me up. Fending off that sort of stuff gets really tiresome grrr. Caught up with the boys again at the corner shop and Minh a local older guy was there again which is cool cos he knows english well and can answer most your questions. Had some cheap sticky rice off the street for dinner. We went back to the lebonese bar again and then checked out a club which was pretty fancy but not my thing. I was feeling pretty tired so we didnt stay out too late. Checked the local bar again for any one we knew but all quite quiet so went back down to the trusty shop on the corner for ice cream and beer! Hopefully get bike sorted tomorrow. Feeling sunburnt.

Ill put some pictures up soon.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Day 3,4,5,6,

Still in Saigon.
Well there has been a bit of a lack of postings. will try to flesh it out later. Been doing too many all nighters and illicit activities! Will get some sleep tonight and try and think of something to write tomorrow. Going to get some work done on a bike starting on Wednesday so should be out of here on friday.
Having too much fun, this place is whack.