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Merang

November 15th, 2000 · Comments Off

Day 323 & 324

Rickey bridge

celebrations

DannO

Elbert

Comments OffTags: Malaysia · SE Asia

Hat Yai

November 14th, 2000 · Comments Off

Trang to Hat Yai

Day 319

Bus management was rather exciting today. The day was another one of extreme heat. At checkpoint we stopped to fill bus one and had several desperate cyclists ask if they could buy a seat on our bus. The ride was so long and the weather was just doing them in. I had several seats available, but not enough room for that many bicycles. I hated to have to tell them “no.”

entertainment in Thailand

Almost every night in Thailand we were entertained by a variety of musicians and dancers.These adorable little girls did a dance to popular music.

Before the first bus left checkpoint, I discussed with Julie our interpreter how the second bus should proceed. I thought I was clear and she understood that the #2 bus should stay at checkpoint until 1 p.m. So we in bus #1 left. After about 15 minutes of traveling, Ron who was sitting in the back of the bus, yells up to me, “Hey, Kristal I think the bike truck and bus are following us.” I looked out the window and sure enough, the empty bus and bike truck had followed us!

We stopped and I once again went over the routine and sent them back to pick up the rest of the riders. Terrific, the poor riders would be standing out in this horrible heat wondering where their ride was.

AlBus management was getting old! At dinner, a rider asked me if I knew of any seats that were for sale. I sold him mine. He didn’t want the management part, since it wasn’t a paid position, I didn’t feel so bad.

Now I would be on own. Just me, Al the Alien and the bike!

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Trang

November 13th, 2000 · Comments Off

Krabi to Tranag

Day 318

The second day of rescue busing was easy. Everything came off like clockwork, both buses got in at reasonable hour. TK& A even got there and got organized within an acceptable amount of time. Of course our first bus beat them. As we pulled up to the hotel there was a huge banner welcoming us and they were giving out leis. We were careful to let the management know that we were not TK&A staff and we had to wait until they arrived.

[Read more →]

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Krabi

November 12th, 2000 · Comments Off

Phuket to Krabi

Day 317

It’s day one of the rescue buses being on the road. Helen the organizer and my self had to solve problem one, Malcolm the guy who runs the company showed up with two buses to fit 40 people and 2 pickup trucks to fit about 29 bikes. Does this story sound familiar?

Lucky for us Malcolm is an American U.S. Army retired guy with a Thai wife. Malcolm and I spoke the same language. It took awhile for him to hear us, but finally it sunk in, we would get a bigger truck, but not for a few hours. [Read more →]

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Phuket

November 11th, 2000 · Comments Off

Layover at The Royal paradise Hotel

Day 315 & 316

Our first dinner at the Royal Paradise Hotel was a memorable one, where traditional Thai dancers entertained us with their lively music and graceful dancing. The food was impressive, we got to eat from a huge buffet filled with traditional Thai food and American dishes. It was delightful.

The hotel is located in a very seedy area, its sort of a Tijuana with a beach. I know there must be a nice area around here someplace, because I’ve heard Phuket is a great place to go. This just isn’t it. I later discovered that Patong Beach is not prime real estate, the better places to go are Katon and Kata Beach to the south.

Our Hotel was nice, but stepping outside the door brought some severe urban blight into view. The whole neighborhood was once probably very nice, but today only a bulldozer could help it. The street is filled with tacky gay bars and the once ornate fountains now are filled with stagnate green water and trash.

This is what happens when the tour director runs out of money. We get to stay in ghetto neighborhoods, it’s all part of the adventure!

My first day in Thailand was spent catching up on the website and planning for the next two weeks of the trip. The heat is bringing many people down and I was no exception. It is just too hot to cycle the five 100 mile days scheduled over the next 9 days of riding. I was torn between staying put in Phuket for the duration or flying to Singapore.

After seeing the neighborhood outside the hotel, my feelings for staying here evaporated. Then I was asked to manage one of the two bus groups that are being formed to get us to Singapore. I decided it would be fun to have a direction and purpose again, so I said, “yes.” Kristal’s bus would ride again!

On day two of the layover I attended a Thai Cooking Class that was held at the Boathouse Restaurant in the Karon Beach area. It was on the way to class that I discovered I may have been hasty in dismissing Phuket Island as a place to spend a couple weeks. The other areas were gorgeous.

The Boathouse is a hotel and restaurant with a private beach. It had a stunning oceanfront setting with turquoise water and white sand beaches. I could have stayed there forever.

My cooking class was held in the restaurant where we could look out and see the water and the beach. We had a cozy class of 11 people from various parts of the world. Our teacher, Tummanoon Punchun is the author of a few cookbooks and has been teaching this class here and in Switzerland and in France to teach this two day cooking class. I was leaving on the second day, so would only be able to take day one.

The class was so informative, at first we were given a lesson in the spices. I enjoyed the fact we all got a sample to see, touch and taste. Most of Thai cooking is done with spices that we don’t have back home. It was nice to be able to see them up close. I now have a greater affinity for what I’m eating.

Chef Punchun talked at length about the types of spices and how to recognize “old from new”. He also went into how long the shelf life was of each item. When we finished that discussion, we were all led to a table to actually get our hands dirty by mixing a stuffing for prawns. The Chef cooked them in a wok for us when we were done, and the best part came when we were allowed to eat our creations!

We learned how to prepare two appetizers and two salads. After class we sat in the restaurant and ate lunch, enjoying each other company. It was a good experience.

The Thai government has a very unique long range plan to increase tourism in Thailand. It is a 3 step process that goes like this:

1) The government is planning to sponsor 20,000 franchised restaurants to help create an interest in Thai cooking.

2) The government will than supply grocery stores internationally with the ingredients needed for Thai cooking.

3) The government will then help promote Thai cooking classes, taken in no other than Thailand!

It sounds like a brilliant plan and I’m already ahead of the pack! I graduated from my class with a great looking apron and a new appreciation for spicy Thai food.

It was a good experience.

The Thai Cooking ClassHere I am with my cooking buddies and the Chef. From left to right, Lee Ann, Me, Chef Punchun, Linda and that’s Marc in the back.

Tonight back at the hotel, Kathleen Hooker sponsored a “talent show”, put on by a select few of “hammy riders.” It was a great show.

Ben beating on his bikeOur Master of Ceremonies, Ben juggled oranges and coconuts for us between acts. When things got really tough he used his bike as a drum, later he balanced his bike on his chin. Who says Raleigh Global 2000′s aren’t versatile?

Al and Allen singingThe choir had us in stitches by singing verses of the latest hits, “How much is that doggie in the hot pot, the one with the bar-b-qued tail?” and “50 ways to flush a toilet”. Hopefully the titles of the songs need no more explanation.

Al and Allen did a duo using all of our names in a melody of tunes, some recognizable, some not. They were so creative and funny.

50 ways to flush a toiletIt was one hilarious moment to the next. I loved laughing and crying with the entertainment. This is what I had envisioned Odyssey to be in my dreams. A group of funny, friendly people who have become like family to each other. We have seen and been through so much. Going home is going to be hard and perhaps boring.

DannyDanny said “it’s been the best year of his life, even though he’s only had 19 of them(years).”

The countdown to home has already begun. Several people are leaving prior to Singapore. Tickets from Phuket to the U.S.A. are very cheap, as in $430 to the west coast. It’s hard saying “goodbye.”

Coming here on the plane, several folks got on the microphone to make announcements. As they did, Tim introduced them. I thought after the fact that no introduction was necessary, I knew each person by the sound of their voice. I know I can identify all 200 of the riders, by voice now.

We have come a long way since January 1, 2000.

Comments OffTags: SE Asia · Thailand

Thailand

November 9th, 2000 · Comments Off

Saigon to Phuket

Day 314

It was only a 2 hour flight from Saigon to Phuket International Airport on Phuket Island. The outside temperature went from hot to hotter. Welcome to the tropics.

Lovely Thai LadiesWe were welcomed to Thailand by these gorgeous ladies at the airport. They were dressed to impress and we all took advantage of the photo opportunity.

Comments OffTags: SE Asia · Thailand

Ho Chi Minh City

November 7th, 2000 · Comments Off

Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon)

Days 312 & 313

Saigon is Viet Nam’s largest population center. It is a dynamic city that was once the capital of South Vietnam, before the American War. Today it is a peaceful, but not very laid back city full of people, pollution and noise.

The people live in the streets here too. Whole families spend their days working, eating andStreets of Saigon living on the street, sometimes just outside their doorstep if they have a door. Others not so fortunate live on the sidewalk out in the open air. Many times they block off an area with plastic for privacy. It is normal to see people sleeping on mats with their shoes off and the rice pot resting on a cold stove.

Uptown SaigonThere is also a part of the city that is very modern, with wide avenues and tall bank buildings. It feels just like being in Chicago or New York, but here the people don’t live on the streets. As a matter of fact this part of town is fairly clean and different that the rest of the city. It is also very quiet, it’s on the outskirts of this area that I find most interesting. Life in the city beyond the pristine avenues is real and very different than any life I have ever been familiar.\

Rejoining the Odyssey group after having a very high emotional fun week away is rather daunting. I missed all my friends, but I didn’t want to get “sucked” back into the negativity of the problems. I just wanted to end my trip on a high note and go home. However, my camp gear was taken away from me and the others in Hong Kong. Now I have to stick it out until Singapore so I can collect my stuff and go home. It was only 2 weeks away.

I arrived in Saigon just after dinner was over, I wasn’t hungry but was to keyed up to go to sleep just yet. I explored the neighborhood to see what it had to offer. As it turned out, our hotel was located in a touristy section of the city, there were souvenirs shops and internet cafes all over and they were still open.

The Viet Nam soccer team in playing in some tournament and the entire city is going nuts. Everywhere I went people were intent on watching TV and not paying attention to customers or anything else. It was nice to be able to look around without the constant hassling, “come into my shop!” Above the roar of the soccer game there was personal peace and quiet for me at last!

My second day began with uncertainty of what I should do. There are so many sites to see in the area, many folks were taking the 12 hour tour to the Mekong Delta. It would have been my first choice except I have a moratorium on “12 hours of forced anything down my throat if I have another choice.” So I passed on that. Other folks were taking in the Chi Chu Tunnel tour another 1/2 event that let big people crawl around in spaces built by and for people who are 1/3 the size. Preferring not to be a “mole person” I emitted that option too. I just didn’t feel strongly about what to do, only what NOT to do!

So I headed for the Internet Cafe. Along the way a cyclo driver pulled up alongside me. He was polite and started a conversation. My first instinct was to say, “NO!” but instead I listened to him and answered his questions. One thing I found out, is that if you are talking to one, the millions of others leave you alone! This is a good thing!

Chong as was his name, pulled out his “book” as he was peddling alongside me. He turned to the page where an American had written a testimony, it was a good reference. I read that and saw a resemblance to my resume, sort of. I felt some compassion for this guy who was trying to earn a living by cycling me and others around on a beat up, rusty old cyclo.

I asked him, “how much?” He said you pay me what you want. It was a new approach for me, not knowing how to respond, I thought what have I got to lose, I don’t have a plan anyway and the internet will be there later, so in I hopped.

Once again, lead by serendipity, I made a good decision. Chong told me he would show me the sites of Saigon and not to worry, I would be happy. He did and I was.

Riding on a cyclo and not having to peddle is a real kick. It goes much slower than if you are riding a single bike, for a person who loves to watch people it is perfect the world passes by much slower, the view if more in depth than in a faster vehicle.

We had a little conversation, as much as his English would allow, but for the most part I sat, relaxing and watching the world go by. It was delightful.

Reunification PalaceMy tour took me to the Reunification Palace which served as the Presidential Palace for almost 20 years. Today it is open to the public and looks the same as it did the day the communists took over Saigon. The grounds were nice, nicer than I had seen anywhere else in Vietnam.

Chong pulled the old, “you must see the Lacquerware factory,” on me. I didn’t fall for it. All the tour guides get a commission for taking tourists to the factory. When the tourist buys, they make some money. It is a real pain, because every time they do it, you get taken to a very aggressive, high pressure selling place. It is awful. Once when I was riding the “open bus” all the passengers sat still in open protest refusing to exit the bus. We didn’t want to see anymore factory tours!

I told Chong, “no thanks”. I wanted to go see the market. He wanted to know what I wanted to buy, I told him, “nothing”, I just want to see it. He didn’t understand that, but he took me and waited for me to return. After that he just took me on a tour seeing a few sites, but understanding I didn’t want to go into museums or Temples and especially places that had an entrance fee. Viet Nam is famous for ripping off the tourist with entry fees for really worthless tours. I just said no, with one exception. That being the War Remnants Museum.

US Helicopter in SaigonThe War Remnants Museum is a collection of U.S. planes, helicopters and anything that the U.S. left behind after the “American War” as they call the Viet Nam War. Also housed at this compound are very graphic photos of troops, injuries, after effects of agent orange. It is a very sobering unglorious exhibit of the nastiness of war. Of course it is very one sided.

I arrived at the Museum like royalty in my cyclo. It was a kick to get there the same time as an Odyssey bus full of my friends. Chong just eased my chair up to the curb and I neatly stepped off onto the sidewalk. Inside I searched out a cold drink, but on the way meet a guy with one eye and no hands. He was trying very hard to be of service to me and I could tell that I was in for a rough escape.

I forget his name, but not his story. At age 7 he stepped on a land mine as a result he lost an eye, his hands and arms and it scared his face. Today he appears to be very capable as he grabbed a diet coke from a refrigerator, placing a straw under the tab then putting it on the table in front of me, finally opening the can, using only the short stumps of what was left of his arms.

I watched him, knowing he was doing this for my benefit. It saddened me to think such a horrible event should happen to anyone. He pulled a photo of his family out from the box he was working with, letting me look and admire his wife and two children. Then came the pitch. He wanted me to buy a book of stamps, “no” a book of coins, “no” a book about the war, “no” I kept telling him I had no room in my suitcase.

I asked if I could give him a donation, he told me, “the police will arrest me if I take tips, Please buy a book. He was asking way too much and I told him so. I offered him a more than fair price and grabbed my coke, getting ready to escape. He took my price, I bought freedom and he sold a book.

The Vietnamese are still living off the American War. I saw it everywhere.

The museum was interesting but since it was so one-sided I had a hard time appreciating it. I know men who died here, and I know some of the South Vietnamese wanted us there. Have they forgot?

My cyclo tour of the city was a terrific way to see Saigon. When I was hungry, Chong took me to a real Vietnamese neighborhood restaurant, where I choose my lunch from a glass enclosed buffet wagon. It was rather scary at first, but I was buoyed by the supportive comments I’d read regarding eating in such places, as written by the Lonely Planet Vietnam Food Book. I risked it all and had a marvelous lunch while chatting with my Aussie table mates. The cost of my non-tour lunch was 78 cents, that included the bottle of diet coke!

After 5 hours of sightseeing, Chong dropped me off in front of the hotel. I asked him how much and this time he actually answered me. He wanted 15,000 dong which was about $10. I know I could have negotiated him to half that price, but then I also knew I had more money than I could spend between now and when I left the country. I could give it to him or waste it somewhere else.

I paid him. He thanked me profusely for “helping him”. It warmed my heart when he said he would “always remember me.”

Scooter traffic in VietnamOne of my challenges in Viet Nam was to try and capture the scope of the traffic. I took dozens of photos, but I’ve never been totally satisfied with the results. This picture was taken from the seat of my cyclo while making a turn. Traffic lights mean absolutely nothing in Viet Nam, but I swear I could walk across the street blindfolded and not get hit, just as long as I continued in a smooth predictable gait. It’s hard to believe, but it works.

River hutsThese huts are built on stilts jutting right out of the river.

Comments OffTags: SE Asia · Vietnam

Hoi An

November 2nd, 2000 · Comments Off

Traveling to Hoi An

Days 307 thru 312

Hoi An is a town that will always hole a special place in my heart. Located 30 kilometers south of Da Nang, on the Tho Bon River this not so sleepy town is bustling with activity. Parts of it looks the same as it did 150 years ago, with French Colonnade buildings for several blocks. Many of the buildings are now being restored, but for the most part, they look rather old and tired. Housed in the tired but charming buildings are dozens of restaurants, variety shops and tailor shops.

It wasn’t exactly love at first site.

The Open Bus took us directly to a hotel in Hoi An. What a deal, or was it? We were starting to see a pattern here and immediately our guard went up. While Sarah was negotiating the price of a room, I went downstairs to be near the bus. but I was late, the bus left. Our luggage was still on it! I freaked and yelled up 3 flights of stairs to Sarah, “the bus is gone!” She panicked to, everything we had brought with us, except our money was on that bus. Including my computer.

The bellman assured us that the bus would come back. We didn’t feel very sure that he understood we were so upset. We thought he thought we wanted to continue south and he was telling us it would come back that night. By night our stuff would be long gone. Darn! Why had we both gone to see the room!

Our panic was misplaced, after about 10 minutes the bus indeed come back. Our luggage was there! Whew! That was a close call!

Hoi An Hotel

Hoi An is a very special place, it stands out in Viet Nam as a Vietnamese Venice. Not knowing what to expect prior to arriving I was absolutely delighted to find the town so quaint and charming. The town was once a port, built on a river. Over the years the river receded leaving the town untouched by further development. Today the river remains, but only small boats navigate it.

Tourists flock to the area and over 200 tailor shops have sprung up, offering custom made clothing from silk of all varieties. Prices are unbelievably low.

That is the reason we are here!

Sarah and I came to have some clothing made. We heard from several sources the place to come is Hoi An. We settled into our hotel quickly and set out to fortify ourselves with lunch before shopping for a tailor.

The minute we hit the streets, people started hawking their services at us. “Madams, madams, please come into my shop, look around.” “Madame where are you from?” “Madams, need ride?” “Madams come here, see my lovely suits, I make cheap for you!” It was non stop.

We were overwhelmed by the aggressive friendliness of the locals. Their intensity to obtain our business never stopped. These people are amazing. I watched them as they were told “no” a thousand times, but they kept asking. It is a way of life.

One young lady came up to me and something about her made me talk to her. She seemed to be practicing her English and I naturally was glad to help. She finally exposed her intentions when she asked us to “come visit my Mother’s dress shop”. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was just another way to get business. We told her we wanted to eat first, so she give us both a business card and made us promise to stop by. Just to get rid of her, we promised!

We found a nice looking restaurant to have lunch. Seated outside near the riverfront we continued to be approached by young vendors selling us everything from clay pipes to saffron in a ground form I’ve never seen to kitchen utensils. We never had to leave our seats, the merchandise came to us.

Miraculously, after we finished eating the young lady appeared to be sure we would visit “her mother’s shop”. After all we had promised, so we followed her through the maze of the market, past the fruit stands, then the blood and guts of the meat market and finally the fish stalls. I hopping all the while that the dress shop was beyond smelling distance of all this. If not, I would just die.

It was. The shop was filled with women waiting for us to appear. They had pattern books, material and cold drinks to keep our attention. They also had orders not to let us leave until we purchased something. It was “buy or die” time for us.

We bought!

KK’s new dressI started out with a chocolate brown cashmere wool suit and black silk top. The suit was $25 and the top was $8. At these prices I didn’t think I could go wrong. The workmanship of the clothing I could see was professional looking. Actually, I think this is where the ready made garments in America are made, well actually not in Vietnam, much of our stuff comes from China. These folks work in sweat shops for peanuts. At home I couldn’t even purchase the material for this price. What did I have to lose?

The next day I anxiously went for my fitting. The suit was magnificent, I was so pleased. In the meantime I found another shop I liked even better. The first shop put way to much pressure on me to purchase, pressing me for decisions before I had time to think. I didn’t care for that, and it resulted in me ordering one outfit I didn’t like and probably will never wear. Oh well, it was cheap and I’ve made fashion mistakes before and probably will again!

All in all the experience in Hoi An turned out to be exciting. I bought a whole new wardrobe for myself and started buying gifts for others. It was a shopping frenzy for 5 whole days!

The amazing part is, I spent no more than if I had gone to Nordstrom’s back home and bought one nice suit. Now I must figure out how to get all this stuff home!

Since there are so many tailor shops in Hoi An, they have difficulty in “standing out”. We were walking home one evening when we saw this sign. It read, Ugly, short? Fat?“UGLY? SHORT? FAT?….VD? These chicks know how to fit you to make you look good….”

It was hilarious, we stopped and laughed then went into the shop. The sign was made by some American who wanted to tell the world he was pleased with his new clothing. There’s nothing like a personal referral, I ended up liking this shop best of all. They were good.

Nhi Trung Cloth Shop

Roof tops of Hoi An

Each morning I walked out he would come to greet me and see what I was needing. At first we wanted to rent a bike to ride, upon inspection we found that his bikes were really bad. The brakes were long gone and the bike wobbled as it rolled. We told him his bikes were no good and went 20 steps down the street to another vendor.

Our Hoi An rental bikes were a deal at 5000 dong a day (70 cents). Unlike our Odyssey bikes, they were upright bikes, complete with a handy basket on the handle bars. The bikes were all to small for me. My legs are a few inches longer than the average Vietnamese, so even rising the seat, I was still crouched down. I didn’t mind, actually it was fun to be able to ride from place to place rather that walk.

On the third day I for a mere $4 U.S. I rented a new motor scooter for the day. The Street Concierge helped me negotiate the deal, including my driving lesson, which consisted of, “4 down”. Meaning to shift I had to click the peddle down 4 times. Not being able to speak English, he forgot to tell me where the clutch was. It had been 25 years since I rode a motor bike, so I did take to it, after a few minutes. The clutch wasn’t on the handlebar as expected. I rode around in high gear, only when I stopped for “valet beach” parking did I learn how to downshift, by pushing the back of the gear shifter. There was no clutch, or if there was, I didn’t find it. Just the same the bike worked!

Hoi An Street

Our shopping took us to various places, some were the actual “sweat shops” that were making the products sold in the shops. It was of interest to me to see the young people, mostly teenagers working on the handicrafts. They sat on the floor carving wood inlay, working in dirty, dusty conditions with poor lighting. I asked permission to photograph them, they looked to their supervisor for approval or maybe it was translation and were given a “yes” nod. They young folks would continue working, looking down and not at me. When I was done, I would always show them their picture on my digital camera. They marveled at the image of themselves, smiling as they went back to work.

As always, I visited the market in Hoi An, which also was the only means of buying food in theSidewalk sales area. For the people of the area, they too shopped at the market as opposed to “running down to Safeway” for dinner. The market was quite an experience.

First of all it was open every day and very early. Sarah and I got down there at 8 a.m. one morning and it looked like it had been opened for many hours. I was a woman carrying about a dozen live chickens in her hands and reached for my camera. Just as the camera was “booting up” the batteries died. Darn! I so wanted that picture.

Instead, I took off in search of batteries. As typical fashion in Viet Nam, a vendor noticed myYoung Vietnamese Salesman eyes searching her wares and asked in broken English what I was looking for. I told her batteries and when that didn’t register, I took the 4 batteries out of my camera and showed them to her. There was immediate recognition. She motioned for my to follow her and off she went, charging through the crowd. I found it difficult to get up her pace, their were slow moving shoppers and the canopies overhead were right in my face. I kept having to duck or bend over to crawl along the pathways. Everyone is short here!

My new guide took me to an associates stall, but she only had 2 batteries, I needed 4. Off we went in a different direction, this time the lady run up in her attic, coming down with a whole package of some “off brand” battery. I searched for the expiration date, but after finding none, I bought 4 for 15,000 dong, thinking I would just have to chance it.

The lady who helped me now wanted me to buy something from her. She was selling primitive kitchen utensils and some unidentifiable spice, all of which I had no use for. I kept telling her, “no thank you.” but she kept insisting. Finally, I just said “thanks” and walked away. They just don’t take “no” for an answer, almost like 2 year old children!

I headed back into the market to look for more “photo opportunities”. Not finding the live chicken lady, I headed for the “fish department”, it was conveniently located next to the river! Walking over the fish scales, heads and tails on the floor, I decided at that point the new $3 sandals I bought would not be accompanying me in my suitcase. I could just feel them soaking up the fish juices on their silk sides. Oh well, they hurt my feet anyway!

Finding a great shot I turned my camera on, only to have it boot up and turn itself right back off. The batteries were no good! Terrific. I just wasted 15,000 dong, because there was no way I was going to go back to that stall and try to get my money back, then have to tell the other women 10,000 “no’s!” I would go buy some more and chalk it up to a mistake.

Back home finding batteries would be very simple. I could name off dozens of places that would have good, reliable batteries. Here I didn’t have a clue. I just walked along trying to see them. Eventually I thought of going to a film developing store, which I did. They had some for me and luckily for me they lasted for a day, but still not as long as a set of normal batteries would last. I guess Viet Nam is hard on fresh batteries.

Food CourtIn the market there was a lot of organization so far as what merchandise was sold. Each area was like a department so you would know where to go to find what ever it was you needed. There was even a “food court”. Women came and set up their kitchens with grills and woks and had a full menu of food. I was intrigued by the food, but not willing to sample it. Later I meet a lady from South Africa who had eaten there. She was a cook and was so thrilled to be able to taste the “real” Vietnamese food. It was so inexpensive and very delicious.

Sarah and I ate 3 square meals a day, but we ate in restaurants where we could feel comfortable. The places were basic but clean. Most cater to westerners in offering dishes that we are accustomed to seeing. I was brave and adventurous and kept trying local dishes. I enjoyed everything I ever ordered, we never had a bad meal. Even the so called “high cost” of the restaurant was never really high. Our meals were always under $5. We never walked away hungry!

The worst part in dining were the people who would walk right up to our table and try to sell us things. After school the children would hawk postcards or clay whistles. They were all insistent and would not leave us alone. I think they purposely had a system where they would take turns coming, trying to wear us down.

The routine was predictable. First they would ask, “where you from?” “America” we would answer. Then it was, “How long you stay?” We would say, “I don’t know.” They would ask us to buy, whatever. When we said no, then they wanted to know if we had any coins from America. If I had brought a jar full of pennies and given each one, I would have had an empty jar. There were a ton of kids who did this the entire country. I think they are sent out to the streets by adults and coached on how to pester.

One young man captured our hearts with his quick wit and charming smile. He looked to be about 8 years old, but was in fact 10. He spoke very good English and talked to us about school and how he only went from 6 am until 11 everyday but Sunday. He spent the afternoons until late evening selling postcards to tourists. Sarah told him if he came to America, he could be the next Bill Gates. He said he would like to go to America. We told him to pack his bags, we would take him. He knew we were joking and for the next few days every time we saw him we would have fun, joking about going to America.

During the day and at the end, Sarah and I would arrive back at our hotel with stacks of shopping bags. The street concierge would try to sell us another bag to put our luggage in. We would tell him, “not yet.” The dress shops in the area would shout, “you come see me!” or “come help me, buy from me!” They were all friendly shouts and curious stares. They must have been wondering what it would take to get our business.

The day I rented the motor scooter, I practiced driving for awhile, then Sarah hoped on thePlucked chickens back, with a death grip grasped my middle and we rode out to the beach, 4 kilometers away. Now I don’t want to say that Sarah didn’t trust my driving skills, but at first she was holding me to tight, I found it hard to breathe. After a few minutes hyperventilating, she finally eased the grip a little. It was easier to drive when I could breathe!

A block before we got to the beach, the main road ended. We had to park the bike with a parking attendant. He gave us a “claim check” and took the bike away. From there we walked to the beach. We didn’t know what to expect. The beach itself was very nice, but at the entrance their was cluster of open air restaurants and then dozens of beach chairs, all lined up in a row. We could have been on the French Riviera or Costa del Sol. But no, it was Vietnam.

Immediately the beach vendors stalked us. “Buy from me, necklace?” “Please, no buy from me, help me!” There was no rest for the weary. We wanted just to be left alone with some peace and quiet.

A lady motioned for us to sit in her chairs, at the same time a competing lady motioned for us to do the same in her section. How do you choose? We opted for the closest ones. I was directed to a beach chair that looked normal, but when I sat in it, the back was not attached, I sat all the way down to the sand, wedging myself with my butt on the ground and my arms and legs flailing in the air. There I was pinned in and laughing, then the beach vendor pipes up and says, “Lady you wear my necklace, shit don’t happen!”

I roared in laughter! His timing and English was so perfect for the moment. It was classic!

Eventually, I managed to get up from my unsightly position. I was unharmed, despite a couple of tender soon to be bruised places on the back of my arms. I tried to negotiate a price for the “shit don’t happen necklace,” but I just couldn’t afford it. So I guess I will have to continue on my risky way, without a necklace!

The following day, when I walked out on the street the locals made me feel very special. They all knew I drove a motorcycle, some made motions with their hands like giving a bike the gas and queried with their eyes if I wanted to rent their bike. I was a mark for yet another service. My leasor wanted to know if he could drive me to Hanoi. I told him I was going to Saigon, but by airplane, thank you very much.

The funniest is when they started asking if I was married. That is when I pull out the picture of my 3 kids! That always scares the men away! My kids are all bigger than they are!

We were scheduled to fly Vietnam Airlines at 3 pm, but late morning someone called the hotel from the airlines to give us notice that the flight would be 2 hours late. The receptionist told me the minute I walked in the door. I was in shock from actually having the airlines give us the consideration of a telephone call. It was a first for me!

My parting scene from our hotel was rather sweet. I had put a few items in the trash can that I didn’t want to carry. There were 4 dead batteries, 2 oranges, partial package of cookies, a candy bar that had melted to a solid mass in the bottom of my pannier, my 4 day old fishy sandals that hurt and some dirty old Chinese yuan. I went back to the room to pick up something Sarah said I left, when I opened the door, the 3 maids were sitting on the floor with their legs spread, sorting out the “loot” I had left behind. One gal was wearing my sandals they were exactly twice as big as her feet. The others were eating the oranges. They were slightly surprised to see me and giggled at being discovered. I told them to keep it all and they were so delighted.

One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.

I wish I could have left them more. I have so much.

crabsA basket of Crabs with their claws neatly tied.

Floating Bike BoatA floating bike boat

Shoemaker ladyThis woman made me a second pair of sandals, sutom fit to my feet for $8. I probably paid too much, but they are very nice. (I didn’t use them to walk around the market either!)

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Viet Nam a summary

November 2nd, 2000 · Comments Off

I loved Viet Nam and the way I traveled through the country. Transportation in third world countries is always difficult and Viet Nam was no exception. Using the flights to shorten the distance between stops certainly help by giving me more time to spend in each location.

There is much more I would like to see in the country. The minority tribes to the north are very interesting and treks to visit the villages are very common. I want to return to the Mekong Delta for a longer stay and to see the floating market. Oh the list can continue on.

Most of all, I want to return with my daughter and husband to have clothes made for them too. Who knows maybe by then I will decide I need a few more pieces.

Viet Nam was another special place on my journey. I shall be back.

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Malaysia

November 2nd, 2000 · Comments Off

The ride will be entering Malaysia from the Thailand to the north, traveling along the eastern coast all the way down the peninsula to Singapore. The entire length of the country will take only six days with one day off. Actually Malaysia is divided into two sections, we are on the peninsular side. The other section of Malaysia is on the top of a body of land shared with Indonesia.

ferryOur ferry from Thailand to Malaysia was loaded with people, trucks, cars and us.

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