Posts Tagged ‘tuk-tuk’

Vietnam gets better

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Vietnam did not create a good first impression. Immigration at Moc Bai was a complete shambles. It was tempting to go to the airport in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon and get on the first plane to anywhere else.

The temptation wasn’t eased by the chaos that is the Ho Chi Minh traffic. In a city of 10 million people there are about 6 million motorbikes, only 90% of them are on the road. The rest are all over the pavements (sidewalks for the Americans); being driven on them or parked on them. Walking down the road often means literally doing that because the pavements are impassable on foot.

Next day we visited the Cu Chi tunnels used by the Vietcong and local resistance fighters in the guerrilla war with the American army. The “information” film about the heroic locals fighting off the evil American aggressors was hugely amusing – hardly biased at all. OK, it was hardcore propaganda. In the interests of balance I’d have to say the traps they used to maim the American soldiers were every bit as evil. On the way back to Ho Chi Minh we visited the War Remnants museum covering the physical, social and human effects of the Vietnam war. The human cost of the Agent Orange defoliant used by the American forces was truly horrific.

Hannah was keen to get back to Bangkok to do another massage course so we went our separate ways; she to Hanoi by plane and me to Hoi An by bus. Twenty four hours and two buses later I reached the pretty little seaside town. It’s the ideal location for anyone in the market for a new suit or seafood dinners. A much nicer place than Ho Chi Minh. I spent a day here but could have easily stayed two or three more and just chilled out.

Another two buses and nineteen hours later I reached Hanoi. As they say in SE Asia “same same but different” – smaller than Ho Chi Minh and with slightly less manic traffic. There were still motorbikes everywhere and billboards covered in propaganda posters for the elections held on 22 May. I arrived on a Friday and pretty much all the museums and tourist attractions were closed. It was grey and raining too so not a great day for sightseeing. All the tour booking offices were open though so I booked a three day two night trip to Ha Long bay leaving the next morning.

Cruising around Ha Long bay on a junk was lovely, the cave visit and kayaking not bad either. Overnight on the junk was nice and Cat Ba island was good too. The trekking was rather hazardous but no-one broke any bones on the slippery and uneven path or the jagged limestone and fortunately it wasn’t a stupidly hot day. The view from the hill we trekked up wasn’t really worth the effort and it was no better from the top of the precarious looking rusty iron tower which occupied the summit. Cat Ba town is another seaside town full of hotels and restaurants and a seafood aficionados delight. Outside all of the restaurants tanks of fish, crabs and shrimps waited for pointing fingers and “I’ll have that one” to condemn them to the cooking pot. In the harbour floating restaurants serviced by the waterborne equivalents of tuk-tuks looked rather sad during the day time. At night they were brilliantly lit and easily won the competition with the neon signs on the land based restaurants. It reminded me a lot of Blackpool.

In Vietnam the constant barrage of “tuk-tuk sir?” calls while walking around has been replaced by “motorbike sir?”. Polite, but every bit as irritating after the first few dozen  (ie: about two minutes) refusals. Despite this, after a few days the place is growing on me.

Thai much massage

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Almost a week has passed since I arrived in Bangkok.

It was a long, tiring, hurry-up-and-wait day and a half getting from Kathmandu to Bangkok via Delhi.

Amusements along the way:

  • His’n’hers security and boarding queues at Kathmandu

Irritations on the way:

  • the foreign exchange desk at Delhi International terminal doesn’t serve foreigners
  • the shops at Delhi International terminal accept only GBP, USD or euros but give change in Rupees which are no use to me
  • Airbus 330 seats don’t recline; the cushion slides up and down instead making it almost impossible to get any sleep

I met Hannah outside baggage reclaim and customs on Monday afternoon and we took a taxi to our hotel. The ride was about 45 minutes and cost us 405 Baht including airport pickup surcharge and tolls. It was hot and humid but both less so than I was expecting. Result :-)

Our hotel is only a mile or so from Wat Pho (one of Bangkok’s largest and most famous temples) and is definitely not in a tourist area. We’re also about a mile from the infamous Khao San Road. Less than 100 yards from our hotel the area decays into slum with locals living under canvas at the side of the road and wooden or tin shacks propped up against the well-past-their-heyday buildings. We’re not quite the only foreigners in the area but there aren’t many others.

We’ve been eating from the local roadside food stalls. Dinner for two most nights runs to less than 100 Baht – about £2. We had our most expensive meal yet at lunchtime today. It looked like a Chinese dish from home and including a fizzy drink cost us 150Baht each.

Our first two days didn’t go quite to plan. We were both wiped out after getting here and too tired to try to start our Thai massage course on Tuesday. We wandered round the temples at Wat Pho instead and then tried to go to the Grand Palace in the afternoon but arrived too late and it was shut. We did manage to find out where to go for our course and that it would be better to start on Thursday rather than Wednesday. A Thai boxing match sounded like a good way to spend the evening but not at £40 each. On Wednesday I couldn’t post my trekking stuff (which I won’t need for the next three months) to New Zealand because the Post Offices were shut due to a holiday. We couldn’t go in the Grand Palace for the same reason. And we couldn’t find the river ferry points for the ride up river and weren’t prepared to pay £40 for a two hour scenic tourist ride. We rode the 3 Baht river crossing service instead (nice cool breeze on the river) and failed to find Wat Arun temple. We settled for another instead. Let’s face it, one temple full of Buddha statues and monks is much like any other. And my camera has been misbehaving (Canon EOS 20D Err 99) since Tuesday morning so no pictures for most of the week.

We started the Thai Massage course at Wat Pho traditional Thai massage school on Thursday and four days later are feeling pretty battered. They recommend having a Thai massage no more than once or twice a month and we’ve been getting up to three a day. There are only three of us in our group. There was a group of about eight Thai women who started on the same day but they’ve had a separate teacher and our two groups only worked together today. It’s the final day of the course tomorrow, with a practical exam in the afternoon. I hope we’ll be able to remember enough of the 160 step routine to pass the exam. Some of the transitions from one body area to the next are not intuitive or really obvious. One of the other groups graduated this afternoon, there was lots of clapping and cheering and big smiles all round. The number of groups running has been tailing off as the week progresses because the school will be closed over Songkran – the Thai New Year holiday which starts next Wednesday. On Friday and Saturday there were up to about 50 students working in the training room we’re using, all at different stages in the course.

I managed to get my camera to a Canon service centre after the course on Friday and was able to collect it yesterday. They seem to have fixed it so that was £50 well spent. Also I managed to get my trekking gear posted to New Zealand on Friday too so that’s five kilos less stuff to carry around for the next three months. The Canon service centre is in the MBK shopping centre, five floors and eight acres of retail therapy about an hour’s taxi ride away. The fourth floor was geek heaven – almost more mobile phone shops than there are grains of sand on the beach. Hannah was remarkably unimpressed by the thought of all that retail therapy but came with me on Saturday to collect the camera. When we came out of the centre there was some kind of free music gig in progress – “Wishing for Japan”. The band playing thought they were so rock’n’roll. Funny really given all the band members only looked about 15 years old.

Transport has been a bit hit and miss. The tuk-tuk drivers routinely have a laugh on the price they want for a journey. Having taken at least one metered taxi for most of the journeys we want to make we have a reasonable idea what the fare should be. If they won’t bargain down lower than that then we walk away. Many of the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers seem to have skipped doing “the knowledge”. Others don’t want to accept a fare because it’s rush hour, or going somewhere they don’t want to go, or simply not worth their bother. It averages about three or four flag downs for each journey before finding a driver who knows where we want to go and is happy to go there. Taxis are generally less hassle than the tuk-tuks, are more comfortable, safer and much less fun.

There are some new photos in my RTW2011 set at Flickr.

We’re off to Koh Chang on Tuesday for four days of rest, relaxation and recuperation after the massage course.