The 1994 Adventures of Cowboy Bob & Bonanza Jellybean...

Thursday February 17 - Victoria

We started late this year. The 0600 Dash 8 flight to Seattle via Port Angeles was wet and socked-in... breakfast at SEATAC.

Friday February 18 - Tokyo to Bangkok

February 17th ended abruptly as we headed west across the dateline at 33,000 feet. Seats 32 D and E in the Northwest Airlines' 747 were just behind the business class bulkhead. Rows 25-26 were smoking so you know we got the second hand stuff, big-time.

While Joann crashed in the Narita lounge, I snacked on dried squid and talked to 3 yanks... 2 worked for Ford and the other was a military dude on his way back to Korea after some R&R states-side. Snake skin boots and a carry on pool queue... Hmm?

Don Muang Airport customs were easy as usual... we were flying to Surat Thani the next day, so we wanted to find a reasonably priced bed near the airport... the hotel information desk said that the best we could do was in the $150US range. We put on our friendly faces and laid on the little Thai we know and she finally said don't say I told you but here's a phone number. A very nice taxi tout helped us across the skyway to get a cheap cab (40bt) to the Don Muang Mansions. The room was no hell for 800bt, but it did have a TV with one channel to watch the winter Olympics, a bird in the bathroom and A/C, and it was conveniently close to the airport. The friendly front desk guy asked "are you with the other Arabs?"... what and we don't even have tans yet... went for a walk down these small local alleys and bumped into a 7eleven, very weird.

Saturday February 19 - Bangkok to Krabi

The time zone transition was not as bad as some have been... up at 0600... the front desk wanted 200bt to drive us to the domestic airport... NOT... we waited on the street for 30 minutes... got a cab back for 50bt. Wow, the domestic airport is sure a lot different than the international... there's Burger King and Mister Donut everywhere you look. Checked out the flights to Vietnam just to see what's up... yikes, they're all booked up, hope it's not going to be a problem'o for us.

Thai Airways Airbus... $88CDN one hour to Surat Thani...ever had tuna pizza? 35bt to Surat then 91bt on the magic A/C bus to Krabi... the A/C didn't work worth a dam and I didn't get a seat till half way... as usual the 2.5 hr trip took 3.5 hrs.

BIG changes... The Pine office had moved... more construction in the downtown area... new medians on the main street... Mr Chai (Chung's brother) spotted us and directed us to the new cubby-hole across the street from the Krabi Pee Pee Tour office. Lek has a baby girl, Susan... Lek doesn't work anymore... Kaew now does all the cooking... no more 'O' or Kim... Job works for Som Pong at Krabi Pee Pee Tour and there's a new front-end person, Krung.

We rode out to Pine with Chung's older sister, Julie... her husband Mr. Vera has flown the coop and taken 5 million baht with him so Julie is left holding the bag of debit. Mr. Chung and Keow are running the whole show, Julie helps in the evening, Ban Sen and Mia are still going strong... David and Joy are still here... Adam left in December... the Italian contingent; Roberta and friend are there... Ingrid and Joseph are there... David and Irene are no shows...

Chung has repaired the fire damage to bungalow #20; he added a bedroom on the back made from beach rock. It rents for 180bt and we said that it would be OK for a short time till something else came up, but after we stayed a couple of cool nights with the windows open it's not bad at all. Just a little culture shock, weird... The first supper... Phad Thai and fruit salad... mmm. Joann says she likes mine better...?

Michael comes up and asks if we're the Bob and Joann, and asks if we know Glen and Felicity. He met them here at Pine three years ago when we were sailing out to the Similans. He's a Hooter... (that's someone who who's... calls owls) been working for logging companies in Alaska and Washington making sure there are no Spotted owls in the areas to be logged.

Chung has a new plan to move to another island... he's bought 10 rai of waterfront for 2,000,000 baht. Half down with a promise to pay the other half in 2 years... wants to sell leases to farangs to help finance a restaurant and bungalows.

Sunday February 20 - Krabi

Woke early by the rat race in our bungalow... 0600.

There was a theft last night... Ingrid, Clive and a new couple lost some minor money and a watch... they all got pissed up last night and left their doors open... local or tourist? We said our goodbyes to Ingrid and Joseph then relaxed the day away. Planning a trip to the new land with Chung tomorrow. The water temperature measured 34C... ah it's good to be back.

Monday February 21 - Krabi

0600, standing on the road in the dark waiting for the school bus with Michael, Andrea, Hans and Chung. So many different levels of wealth on one bus, not counting us... you can see it in the clothes the students wear, but they seem to be oblivious.

Mmm... Chai's wife can make a mean traditional Thai breakfast... rice and a choice of fresh Padang foods for 15 baht... a first for Michael.

Chung had the longtail booked for 0830; it was a slow boat so should take about 1-1/2 hours by the river or 1 hour down the coast. The river was a wonderful trip... we meandered through the mangrove past many little villages... the shades of green were fantastic, the birds.

We arrived at Ko Siboya at 1030... rubber time. Chung was in full sales mode... "Look at the good coral"... ya, ya it's nice... no, we don't want to snorkel right now.

The land he bought has 200M of beach frontage by 80M deep... One of Chung's younger brothers sold a house in Bangkok and either gave or loaned him enough to cover the down payment. The plan is to take about half and make 18 pieces 20x20M. The leases will be for 60 yr. at 200,000 baht a pop for the beach plots, 175,000 for the middle and 150,000 for the back pieces. We committed for a middle piece with an option on the front if someone backs out... oh; the design wheels are turning already. The trip back was 11/2 hours by the sea. Noticed my ears were very burnt on the truck ride back to Pine.

Whooped Michael at crib... David shot a red snapper... Lek did up a green curry... Mmm. Had some of the roll up pandanas leaf width all the flavours and sauce that Joy made up... Andrea, Clive and David? were more than three sheets to the wind.

Tuesday February 22 - Krabi

Instant replay on the school bus, things to do people to see... Just can't get it all done going in on the 0900 truck and coming back at 1130.

Gold bracelet for Lek's Susan (3.9g = 1325bt... gold $387US)... new lenses for the red frames 1200bt, 1 hr... lenses for reading glasses 400bt... cat shirt... silk blouse... saline, hydrogen-peroxide, bread, peanut butter, past cards, stamps... can't find a lock.

Rode back to Pine with a Frenchman with a perforated ulcer... Joann chewed them out remembering Jimmy Thompson.

I power-napped while Joann did Tai-chi with Kathy form South Africa

Michael is on the hunt... to be continued.

Wednesday February 23 - Krabi

Tea for breakfast... Andrea is questioning the land deal... Hooter took tea to Katherine (Swede, lived in Texas for awhile)... Hooter took Mekong to Katherine... spent the whole day at the table with the international crew (2 Swede boys, Kathy and Clive)... power nap... then dinner.

Thursday February 24 - Krabi

David's computer is dead... he says the people who love computers treat them like gardens... always changing, cultivating and refurbishing... he just wants to use it as a tool.

Ban Sen just sneezed into his hands then returned to preparing someone's fruit salad...!!

Friday February 25 - Krabi

The Frenchman heads back to the mission hospital in Phuket... thinks he may have Hep-A

Saturday February 26 - Krabi

Juanita (lesbian) knows Lara... lived with her in #10 in '93... was she the break-up that Lara was getting over... poor Mark... sent a postcard to Lara in Taiwan... turns out to be Juanita's address, Lara lived with her...??

Juanita says she wants to build a Thai style house about 5x10M on the back of the second lot... asbestos roof fastened with typhoon hooks then over laid with palm or grass for the looks... wants to plant hybrid coco palms, frangipani and bougainvillea... all stuff the goats won't touch.

Michael left at 1300... we'll see him in Cle-Elem in April.

Marcos and Claudia had their Christmas egg at chicken island... yes it was a surprise...

The German family... mother, father and daughter turned out to be mother, daughter and daughter's boy friend... weird.

Sunday February 27 - Krabi

The Swedish lads are doing Valium... Kathy is sick... Juanita is super hyper about Siboya... I suspect some type of high. Isis gave herself a hypo with some type of anti-biotic... what fun... sent a message with Dung to get something for a bladder infection...??

If Krung comes back in the morning then Chung will go to Siboya with me...?

Monday February 28 - Krabi

Krung is a no show so I'm off to Siboya on my own... same boatman... I made a map of the river as best as possible, 2 hours. Took video and made topographical maps and counted trees... the trip back was 1 3/4 hours by the sea.

Stopped at the tailor in Krabi on the way through... Joy made green curry... mmm. There's such a rivalry in the food preparation... guarded recipes. David is sitting back and watching the Siboya saga unfold... optimistic with a sprinkle of critical realism... he might just be into it himself if it pans out. House design is the topic de jour around the dinner table.

Tuesday March 1 - Krabi to Surat Thani to Bangkok

A relaxing morning... one last float, a leisurely pack, lunch and goodbyes... Chung gave me all his account info and said the most important thing... "don't forget to send the money."

No sooner into Krabi then onto the minibus... zoom, zoom... dam Yankees, peeing French and a sleeping driver... 2 1/4 hours to Surat... the normal mass of humanity at the station.

The train doesn't leave till 1730, so that gives us an hour to find dinner and water... dam Yankees encore, wrong day you dummy... Swede with young Thai and baby... she got off at Cha Chan?? Noisy Swede playing Tracy Chapman.

Wednesday March 2 - Bangkok

I woke at 0430 still an hour from Bangkok... got Jo up... the fruit salad for breakfast was warm. Got off at Sam Sen station and took a metered taxi to the River Guest House... the driver didn't have a clue where to go; it's nice to be familiar enough with this end of Bangkok to show the way... the house keeper Pa recognized us and squeaked and squirmed like a little puppy happy to see a familiar face... we moved into good old room 7 minus the smell of barf... had a shower then off to phone home to check on Florence, OK... Khao San rd to see what VIETNAM info we could suss-out; not much of anything... over to Peachy Guest House... where's Glenn?... stopped for a hair cut on Phra Atit then back to Peachy, voila, Glenn... he'd spent the morning at the River Guest House waiting for the man with the beard...??

Back to the River Guest House to get the passport photos then off to the VIETNAM embassy... love those metered taxis... rather than deal with the Vietnamese Consulate in Ottawa long distance (5000 Km and no 800 phone numbers) we chose to get our VIETNAM visas in Bangkok since we'd be there anyway after 3 weeks of beaching in the south.

The VIETNAM embassy is extremely utilitarian. (..what did we expect?) Two windows; "Reception" and "Visas". Two line-ups, we got in the Visa line, waited about 40 min. till the Thai fellow behind us said, "Are you going to work in VIETNAM? This line is only for working visas." After another 40 min. the official behind the reception window gave us the forms to fill out and bring back to him with $50US.

Just up the street is the MK Way travel office... we decided to fly on Thai International... 6800bt or 8500bt... what's 1700bt between life and death... VIETNAM Air does fly cheaper, but the safety reputation leaves a little to be desired (they use a lot of Aeroflot's rejects, scary movies!). Glenn also bought a "hold your hand tour" of Ankor Wat.

River boat back to Banglumpoo... Glenn moves into the RGH then off we go to the Jim Thompson silk shop and cruise Silom Rd.

Dinner at the Nana night market... old friends and good food... mmm mangoes.

Thursday March 3 - Bangkok

RGH for breakfast then express boat to River City... Danish and tea... Rivets... didn't make it through the craft fair in the mall... lunch at Jacques, nice place, nice silver work... down New Rd. to Julie's to have some sewing done for Glenn... called Trudene, not a good prognosis for Doug.

Back to the RGH, put some things into storage... zip over to the bus station and hop a 2 hour 62bt bus to Kanchanaburri.

Walked 2 km from the bus station to the Raft House... looks quite dingy... 150bt for a floating bungalow in a mosquito pond... I'm wondering if this is such a good idea...?

Friday March 4 - Kanchanaburri

Slept ok, but this is just a little rustic... went to Sam's next door for breakfast and checked out what they had... wow, a palace for 250bt... no hesitation, we moved. Glenn was waffling a little but when he saw the 150bt room he capitulated.

Walked down the river a ways and hired a boat to go to the Buddha on the hill and the temple cave. We hiked up the hill past all the tourist schlock to view the Buddha then on to the temple... we walked down the stairs into the cave and found hundreds of small statues and a large reclining Buddha... in the back of the cave was a small doorway which looked just a little claustrophobic, no thanks... as we exited up the stairs, a monk said in broken English, "No, one way cave." We realised that he meant there was another exit to the cave so back we went to the infant door and squeezed through... the path continued, sometimes becoming nothing more than a leaning slice through the mountain... can you spell claustrophobia? After about 400M, day light appeared and we were out.

Back in the boat we went up river past the famous Bridge on the River Kwai then had the driver drop us off at Sam's.

We went up to the night market for dinner and reserved Honda 100's for the next morning.

Saturday March 5 - Kanchanaburri

Rode the bikes up to the Kwai bridge to have a closer look... nowhere to change money... met Don (expat) in a restaurant, he was doing some private money changing and accommodated us.

Off we go to see the Erwan Dam... after 70km we stopped for the real thing... a coke... the people in the shop said we were only half way so we reassessed the situation and decided on a detour over to a water fall, 29km... when we arrived the waterfall was literally a drip... lunch and inquiries said the real waterfall was another 50km... we opted to park the bikes and go via song-toew. When we arrived Glenn said "I don't think this is the one I was at last time... walked across the suspension bridge... nice view of the upper river with the floating houses. Cooled off in the tributary stream and headed back. The 45km ride home turned into more like 60km... dead dogs, skinned cows, Brahma bulls, trucks, buses, sleeping children on the back of motos, numb hands, can you say carpal tunnel... and still we made it back alive. Glenn's tour or bust.

After a dead beat day we decided to have dinner across the street at the Ice cream parlour... ho hum... listening to White Rabbit. Back at the room here comes the dreaded Atrial Fibrillation. This is the first of the trip and the first on the new medication, Sotacor... I'm not used to being on something all the time... so now I just have to wait and see what happens... will I convert... how long will it take... if I don't, will we go to Vietnam or abort the whole thing? This is a new chapter. Lulled to sleep to the sound of Disco Duck.

Sunday March 6 - Kanchanaburri

It's morning and still in AF... what now... wait. Quite mild AF eating, walking, not affected by dizziness... is this what chronic AF is like? Converted after 20 hours... at 1800... Joann is stressed.

Spent the whole day lounging and reading the Vietnam book.

Monday March 7 - Kanchanaburri to Bangkok

Lovely, leisurely breakfast at Sam's then walked up town to change some money. The Thai Farmer's Bank had an ATM but my PIN didn't work... bummer. Got a cash advance in the bank. Shopping for mossy nets, pillow cases and bus tickets.

Trishaw'd up to the bus for a 12:30 departure... left my hat at Sam's... mai pen lai... checked out architecture and plants for the proposed house on Siboya... Glenn is helping enthusiastically.

Disembarked the bus early in Thom Burri... caught an 80bt taxi back to the waiting rooms at the River Guest House. Glenn went for a hair cut then we went last minute shopping at New World.

Had dinner at the hole in the wall Maharaja on Khao San... good food! Shopping for "Tin-Tin" T-shirts... bartered hard got 20@70bt.

Home and crashed by 2200.

Tuesday March 8 - Bangkok

Went over to the PO to phone Bev Pearson in Canada, for Karen's number then Karen, for Peggy Peacock's (cousin) number in Hanoi.

Jo and Glenn went power shopping on Khao San again and I went home to wash Jo's towel and pack. They returned... burned out with more Khao San T-shirts.

We caught a klong boat (5bt) over to the train station, then a taxi (65bt) to the Vietnamese embassy. As usual I get a little bent when someone tries to jump the line... "excuse me I think I'm first..." busted, they apologize and capitulate. I am a big mother fucker aren't I? It seemed to take the official at the office for ever to find any record that we had even applied for a visa... finally it's OK. Just up the street the plane tickets were all in order at MK Ways. We're told it might be wise to have PP photos just in case the Vietnamese authorities demand we be associated with a tour or something...? Rumours abound that they don't really like people showing up with no accommodation arrangements made in advance. Off to New Road to phone Hanoi... Almond shakes and 2000bt of fine silver jewelery at Jaque's Harmonic.

Dinner at THE restaurant on the river... on the way home we passed by a Chinese Temple where a funeral or wake was in progress... great singing and music by the holy man.

Pack... goodnight.

Wednesday March 9 - Bangkok

During the 1 hr 50 min flight to Hanoi, most of the passengers searched through their copies of The Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam, like cramming for an exam. Landing was not too bad on the crumbling concrete runway in the middle of a rice paddy. Thanks Goodyear. The temperature was a comfortable 22C, welcome relief from the 34C of Bangkok. Every official in the airport was dressed in either thread bare military style uniforms or baggy gangster zoot-suits out of a 30's movie. When the question of "Which hotel will you be staying at?" came up, I dazzled them with double talk about having to contact our Peggy to find out what arrangements she had made for us. It seemed to do the job and we were easily through the gauntlet.

While I was changing $100US bill into 1,085,000 Dong, Jo was sweet talking one of the taxi touts. $5US per person to Hanoi was expensive, but they were very patient and drove us to various hotels we pointed out from the LP guide, all of which were full. Eventually we stopped and I stood guard over the packs while Glenn and Jo headed off on foot to find rooms. Half hour later we returned with stories of full rooms or $140US per night for 3 people. Yikes!! VIETNAM is expensive for tourists compared to other SE Asian countries.

All the time I had been guarding the luggage, a tout kept chanting that he could show us a private hotel for $30US for 3 people. Sure, I bet. Here comes our first scam and only 30 min. in Hanoi. Wrongo! He took us to the Thein Trang Mini Hotel. Very friendly and helpful, spoke mostly French not English. His Hotel was full but his cousin's place was only a half a Km. away, The Thanh An Mini Hotel. Mr. Truy's English was a little better. The Hotel was great, $30US for 3 people, as promised by the tout and $1US for breakfast of tea/coffee, French bread and Laughing Cow cheese ('s the same all over VIETNAM ...the youth actually think French bread is indigenous). Felt quite pampered, clean sheets, private bath, towels etc. One does require a hot shower anywhere north of Hue in the winter. They built a bed for Glenn and Joann died in the shower.

Went for a short tour de ville... banana shakes at the Darling Cafe 2500d... very small street restaurants... looks of amazement... the locals are obviously no used to tourist yet... smiles... quite a few English signs... T-shirt shops... very narrow buildings, maybe 5 meters... concrete forms made from woven grass mats... lots of red brick... the trucks look like big roto-tillers with trailers. The entrepreneurs are already plagiarizing the names of the restaurants that are listed in the LP-VIETNAM book... went for dinner at Cha Ca and it turned out to be not the original... forgot to ask the price.... dumb. Served by a very gracious hostess who spoke quite good English by didn't really understand any of our questions. One dish menu... prepared at the table... shredded green onions in a vinaigrette with chilies and fresh herbs... fresh veggies (probably form the river)... 3 dishes of noodles, 3 of peanuts and 2 of fish sauce... hot pot with 3 fish... 2 waters and 1 coke for the real guy... 142,000d, next time we ask first.

On the street 3 girls giggle and say "I love you".... back home... dank... crash.

Thursday March 10 - Hanoi

Breakfast was a bagett, laughing cow cheese, butter, plum jelly from Holland and tea of coffee served by the manager... 23C. A little on the cool side.

Our tour through Ho Chi Minh's (affectionately referred to as Uncle Ho) mausoleum was surreal to say the least. He had just returned from Russia, where his annual make over had made a new man of him. He lay in a glass enclosure, bathed in eerie white light, guarded by four statue like sentries. The single file spectator line was required to pass by in absolute silence.

Walked to the Thai embassy to apply for the visas we'll need to get back to Thailand. Stopped at a little art gallery... Glenn fell in love with an abstract painting of 2 cows but the price was $200US, yikes... then over to the Cafe 252 to have lunch with Peggy. All the table and stools are only 18 inches high.... I feel very awkward not to mention how I must look. Pictures of Catherine Denuve adorn the walls from when she was here filming Indochine... the owner, dressed in sports jacket scarf and hat is fussing with the patrons. The hot chocolate is awesome... this is very much a foreigners hangout and not just travellers. Peggy arrives with Rob, Hal and Calvin all from Northern Telecom in tow. They ordered croissants and a mixed plate that came with cheese, ham, tomatoes and cukes... OJ to drink... very good. We didn't get much insight from any of them... they weren't travellers... we knew more than them already.

Went for a walk-about... lots of schlocky, expensive lacquer ware. The Metropole Hotel is reminiscent of Raffles in Singapore. Had an entertaining time at the Vietcom Bank getting a cash advance... first I gave them the Canada Trust PowerLine Master Card which they said was an American Bank... no we said, can't you read it says "Canada" Trust... no, they insisted... the first 4 numbers of the card prove that it's affiliated with a US bank... luckily we also had a Royal Trust Visa Card.

Took a cyclo back to the hotel and booked an "All inclusive 2 day Ha Long Bay Tour" for $25US then had dinner at the hotel restaurant... a weird mix of French and VIETNAM, watching Russian TV and paying in $US.

Haven't seen a single (or married) cockroach yet or a cat for that matter.... glad I don't eat meat.

Friday March 11 - Hanoi

Our gracious host has purchased 3Kg of mangoes for Joann... it's very easy to be nice.

The slimy cyclo driver made a deal with Truy for a price to take us to the train station but as soon as we were out of sight he wanted more dong. The train station was a grey cold beauraucratic place. The soft sleeper was all booked so hard it is... The ticket clerk had a mitt full of $US. Too weird.

Grabbed a cyclo over to an old temple that was being restored... some of the old statues had such a huge number of coats of lacquer that the detail of the carvings was being lost so the restorers were removing it back to the base material.

Went to the Thai Embassy to get our visas and has to deal with a group of young Israelis... I don't know why the young generation are so obtuse and argumentative. They really are a rude pain in the ass and I feel embarrassed that I'm lumped in with them as farangs

The 2 cows painting must have been a good buy cause when we had a second look the price had appreciated to $300US... what's going on here?

Strolled past the Hanoi Hilton... shit row... and more crappy souvenir shops on the way to lunch at the Cafe 252 again... checked out the department store, communist shops are very austere... wanna to buy some Geko Juice? Walked around the lake... Joann did a tour de WC while Glenn and I inspected the open air kitchen... remind me not to come her for my last meal.

Turned down a bar invitation from Peggy... sat at the hotel restaurant watching the street go by, waiting while the staff finished their dinner before preparing my French fries... we all finished off with a cr?e caramel.

Saturday March 12 - Hanoi

Slept in till 0900 then went on a walk about and bumped into the Emerald Pub... 2 Brits with the money and a Vietnamese partnered up to build a very expensive western Irish Pub... a roaring success with the ex-pats in Hanoi. Rumour has it that it was so successful that the working visas of the Brits were revoked, leaving the Vietnamese holding all the marbles.

Went for a cyclo ride down to Lennon Park... pretty much a non event... cameras seem to be very scarce... little booths set up around the park offering to take photos of you and yours. Kids entertainment at the park is limited to the stationary metal animals and vehicles rusting in the long grass. Lots of people approach us for handouts.

Hanoi is brown, grey and damp. It's like no building maintenance has been done since the thirties. Spent most of our time in Hanoi rummaging around the old section of the city, taking photos and people watching. The men in Hanoi were either in green army fatigues and pith helmets, or suit jackets and berets. Most of the women wore the stereotypical conical straw hats and looked quite exotic. Glenn said it was very much like China.

In the evening we went to the Water Puppet Show... big surcharge to take camera and videos in. What's a Water Puppet... well picture a pool of green, algae choked water about 10 meters by 5 meters with a translucent screen coming just down to the water level for the length of the pool. Puppeteers stand waste deep behind the screen extending long poles under the surface with puppets on the end... so all the audience sees is the puppet walking on the water. Really quite effective and entertaining, I'd hate to think what microbes might be lurking in the depths. Some of these puppeteers were women, and they weren't wearing chest waders.

After the show we ventured into some of the pseudo antique shops on the way home. Bought 2 carved replicas of old opium pipes $28US... Glenn bought a $50US antique elephant tea pot and 4 ceramic musicians $10US.

Snack on mangoes and pack.

Sunday March 13 - Hanoi

I awoke suddenly at 06:14:58... my father having won $67,000,000 in a lottery... damn, what a great dream.

The tour bus was not the expected nice mini-bus but instead a short version of the Russian rattle traps rumbling around the city. 19 foreigners and the tour guide who spoke very broken English were off on what ended up being the most horrendous 160km trip ever. The Ha Long Bay highway was the worst road I've ever been on in my life... the sights were rich... waiting our turn for the one-way bridge... the barge ferry looked like a scrape metal candidate... army trucks full of waving child solders... road crews with piles of big rocks and hammers making gravel... with every pot hole the back seat riders were airborne, whopping loudly... we thanked our lucky stars that we had by chance ended up in seats in the middle of the bus, lessening our air time greatly... six, count them, 6 hours later we arrived... sloops for lunch... check in to the hotel then off on the boat trip to see the famous bay area... Joann opted out with a lousy head ache... and it was a cold damp let down... in comparison, our visits to Krabi had much more stunning examples of the limestone monoliths that exist throughout S. E. Asia.

Joann's head has improved but the food for dinner hasn't... where's the bloody tea... what the hell am I doing here.

Monday March 14 - Ha Long Bay

16C. rain and wind... mosquitoes all night... the bathroom smells vial... Glenn's cold is bad, he mumbled from the cocoon that he'd pass on the gourmet breakfast and the morning boat trip... at 0630 we had French bread, butter and coffee with sugar... soup? "Don't have."

We stayed in town and passed on the boat trip too... took a local bus and did a little exploring... not much to see, couldn't even find a cup of tea.

Lunch was back at the trough... we ordered off the menu although the set meal looked a little better, must be getting used to it. The shoe shine kids were excited to get our oranges as hand outs and actually took the time to sit down and eat them.

We had it planned and it worked; we were the first back on the bus and into the same good seats... there was a little animosity but we ignored it. There seems to be less traffic today and the driver thinks he's in a Grand Prix... I don't think we actually touch the bottom of any of the potholes on the return to Hanoi... 5 hours flat.

Hot showers and good food, good night.

Tuesday March 15 - Hanoi

the last breakfast... down to the department store to get pads for the hard sleepers $6US each. Our restaurant was closed so we went to the Emerald Pub for American fried rice and a beer $5US all enjoyed to the styling of the Beatles White album.

The 5 days we spent in Hanoi were cold (12C) and damp. Before leaving Canada we'd had visions of hiring a car and driver for the whole trip, but in reality the cost was prohibitive. Strange contradiction to be in a Communist country paying for all Government services with US Dollars.

Our train left at 1630... Hanoi to Hue on the over night train... rock and roll for 16hrs... hard sleepers 3 high, HARD, did I say hard? yes like a HARDwood floor... the pads helped a little... 6 per compartment, our mates were 2 Vietnamese gents and a granny on the bottom... bottom $44US mid $40US, top $37US... the locals have a different fee schedule...? seats are cheaper $?... and soft sleepers are more $?... price includes a yummy box lunch... mystery meat sandwich, cream filled pastry and a fruit flavoured sugar water drink.

Wednesday March 16 - Hanoi-Hue

Good morning Vietnam... beef noodle soup from a large vat trundled up and down the corridor for breakfast mmm...??? I was the only one who was brave, I mean foolhardy, enough to try it.

Cyclo to the Hue Tourist Villa... $5US per person with a hot shower... walked over to the walled temple where the Citadel is mostly intact, but not the ancient Purple City... it was leveled... this is where the film Indochine was filmed... wonderful old Chinese architecture... bought a Cham brass statue from the little shop inside the temple for $100US and a bronze fish with Uncle Ho on it's back... the locals have a little more of a menacing look than in Hanoi, but no major hassles yet... a lot less vehicles, more quiet bicycles.

Booked a boat for a cruise up the Perfume River then went for dinner at the floating restaurant... $10US for the 3 of us... pretty basic food, I've had better at the Vietnamese restaurants in Canada though.

Thursday March 17 - Hue

the boat trip is cancelled so we slept in till 0900... had breaky with Russ and Marilyn from Queensland... they were coming south to north and said that Nha Trang was an ok city but that Saigon was a bust.

The cyclo drivers that have found THE new way just sit outside the gate till they catch their $1US ride then they're set for the day... why bust your ass with the locals for peanuts... $20US per month is a typical wage for a teacher.

Walked to the post office to mail the post cards and have them franked... then went to the Sung Huang Hotel for lunch on the rooftop restaurant, pretty sterile... changed money and booked a car to Hoi Anne... Joann's cold is really starting to get her down... sounds like it could develop into pneumonia... not feeling particularly good about this trip through Vietnam... expensive but poor and lots of opportunistic rip-offs.

Friday March 18 - Hue

Pierre helps Joann down the bank to the boat that resembles a plane fuselage... it's their home... mom is captain, son is the front end man and the "cousin artist" is along to show this captive audience his wares and put on the hard sell... the boat visibly slows so that the sale can be completed before the first stop... we settled on $8US for 5 paintings... interesting economics... if you hire the boat from the hotel, it's $15US... from the Pierre the tout it's $11US and from the owner it's $9US for the whole day.

The first stop was at a pagoda... crawling with tourists and "artists" selling all the very same paintings for $1US each... OUR artist has a big smile. The monk who was the human torch during the war was from this temple and the old Austin car in the famous photograph of the burning monk was here on display. Dozens of very old bonsai's were all around the big garden... Joann and Glenn savoured the smuggled joint (accidentally brought in to Vietnam in Joann's underwear... scary stuff)

Hue is a wonderful area to visit many of the spectacular temples that survived the Tet Offensive. We stopped at 3 more whose entry routes were lined with beggars... "Monsieur" or "Madame" "Bon Bon" It seemed to be such shame that the temples were not even being maintained let alone restored.

On our return the boatman who had been so charming just had to burst my bubble by asking for more money... we gave him 4 packs of cigs.

My head is stuffing up... oh no, I've got Joann's cold... hot shower good night.

Saturday March 19 - Hue

Joann and I tried sleeping together to keep each other warm... a terrible sleep with the small blankets moving all night.

The Peugeot we hired to take us from Hue to Hoi An... turned out to be a '72 Ford Falcon... no shocks... not a Ford motor or transmission any more... rough shape. Flat tire after 1 hour... ironically it happened just as we approached a small village with several repair shops... 4hrs... $30US for 3 people, 4 would have been $40US.

Up and over the pass 476M... many many switch backs, water stations and stalls selling carvings and wheel chocks. Presto chango... warm weather... did we want to stop off at the Cham Museum or Marble Mountain or maybe the famous China Beach... only a few extra dollars. Passed through the hot, busy and dirty Danang... 20 Km south to the turn off Hwy1, then 10 Km to the old 10 acre Marine Base, the Hoi An Hotel. We'd phoned ahead to make reservations from Hue as it's the only place in Hoi An to stay. by the local Gestapo, I mean Government. It's quite a big stately Hotel that was headquarters for the Marines Brass. Great room with 4M ceilings, wonderful beds with mossy net, ensue, hot shower, fan and breakfast for $27US for the 3 of us. The sign on the back of the door read "No Stinking Things, Even Prostitutes"

Time for a walk around this small, sleepy, clean little hamlet complete with 100 year old covered bridge. Lots of artists and galleries. Stopped for a coffee and a frozen flan.

Sunday, March 20 - Hoi An

Did the local market scene... bought silk material from the intense sales ladies... a beggar wanders through the market, singing and playing spoons with a small boy tethered on a string, holding the begging cup. Several shops have false teeth displayed, seem you have a choice of either white or black...? Bought some veggies and bagetts for lunch the next day... plan to make guacamole and tomato subs. Incredible that the currency is still available in 100 dong bills, that's $.01US. Ambled through the very old streets, getting to know the very friendly people, rummaging through the many pseudo antique stores and art galleries.

Went into an 100 year old house that's been in the same family... the old guy was so nice and friendly. Walking through the old French quarter, a man came up and started to tell about his old house. He went into great detail about it's history and offered to show it. Not to offend, I accepted only to find that as the end neared he began his pitch for a handout. I declined.

We had dinner at the Fai Foo Restaurant at #104... the lunch had been so delicious that we just had to come back... love those shrimp cakes on sugar cane skewers... now this is good food. The 11 year old son spoke English passably and was the most amazing whiz-bang business man... he was poetry in motion.

Monday, March 21 - Hoi An

With the help of a tout, Vue, we managed to hire a car (ironically it was another '72 Ford Falcon) to take us to Mi Son for $25US and were just about to be off when the hotel officials said that we were circumventing the correct procedure by not have a rental contract from the hotel... this reads... they won't get their cut so they'll boycott the car owner in the future. So, we get the contract and the price is now $30US. What a bunch of communist bullshit.

What a horrendous road... the 60Km took 2 hours. Passed through several poor villages... even saw an ox cart loaded with very large calibre shells... apparently VN is the world's largest exporter of scrap metal. The driver Mr. Hoa spoke a little English and at one point indicated some relief that as we passed by a police check point without incident. After further interrogation we discovered that they were stopping vehicles with tourists and extorting small fines from the drivers which we always felt obliged to reimburse. The police (ex-Vietcong) knew that when the passengers were tourists that the driver was making good money and the cops wanted their share. The road ends and you must check in and walk the last 2Km up the under construction "Italian-Vietnamese Friendship Hi-way" to the Cham ruins. It was a scorching day... should have got a lift on one of moto-taxis. Not too much left of the ruins to see... almost leveled during the war. On the way back to Hoi An we almost made it but no banana... had to shell out a 30,000 dong fine.

We firmed up a price of $40US for the hire of Mr Hoa to drive us to Nha Trang on Wednesday morning. This time he wants to do it without going the official route so we arrange to meet down the street a ways by a restaurant. Good luck.

Made "official" arrangements with a Mr Cha to take us to Danang in the morning to the Cham Museum.

Tuesday, March 22 - Hoi An

First things first... get our pass ports back from the front desk on the pretence of going to Danang to do some banking... a lot easier that I had anticipated.

Mr Cha was a late comer... said he was washing his car... off we go in his old rattle trap of an Isuzu Bellet. He was an Officer in the South Vietnamese Army and has nothing good to say about the Vietcong.

The Cham Museum in Danang is well worth the half day trip. Lots of very old statues and carvings displayed in an open air facility. Very nice. On exiting the Museum we decided to meander through a couple of the roadside art shops... some very nice stuff... we bought a Hoi An skyline water colour for $125US. I know it sounds expensive and I'm sure the vendors dance with delight the rest of the day, but it was worth it to us.

We stopped to see the famous China Beach, where during the war front line GI's would be chopper'd out to from the front lines for a short lunch time picnic then back to the horror.

The Gestapo managed to nab us twice and extract 30,000 dong each time.

Wednesday, March 23 - Hoi An

Casio tells me it's 0545... beep, beep. Pack, have the last breakfast with Gualo the cat and head off down to the rendezvous. Vue meets us half way, he was coming to check on us. Off we go... slight rain... bad wipers... no existent shocks... very slack steering and 4 bald tires. Vue and Hoa stopped for breakfast after about 2 hours... they had pork noodle soup. I joined in with some veggie soup to be sociable... Joann had coffee and Glenn caught up on hi beauty sleep in the car. Passers by stared at the abnormal site of foreigners out in the middle of nowhere and we all toasted having made it out of Danang Province without getting another fine.

The country side rolled by... boys sleeping on the backs of tethered water buffalo... rice harvesting by hand... irrigating the paddies by hand with a bucket suspended on rope being manipulated by two people... planting... paddy leveling... ploughing... burning... threshing... drying rice on the side of the highway for miles.

Broken buses and trucks... axles... tires... rear ends and transmissions. We blew a rear tire in small village and the whole town came out to watch us watch Hoa put on the bald spare.

Stopped at a truck stop for lunch and had a great feed of prawns and squid... kibitzed and played the fool with some of the other patrons. Got the flat repaired for 86,000 dong. We'd made 200Km in the last 5 hours.

The road is getting rougher now, if that's possible. One of the deeper holes ripped off the muffler. Resourceful Mr Hoa was able to hay wire it up so that it didn't drag and off we went... the smell of exhaust was not great and the noise drummed, but if he went faster the smell was less. About an hour later we stopped at a small repair shop and a skinny Vietnamese kid slithered under the car with an acetylene torch an made the repair. Off we go again... it's getting darker now... almost hit a girl... a little fish tailing on some of the rice straw at the side of the road... killed one chicken... "I want chicken tonight...." as the current commercial on TV goes. Thank god the lights work... crashed into another pot hole and broke the muffler again... 40Km to go... Joann creeps into the field and behind a bush to attend to Mother Nature... as she lifted her skirt she had visions of stepping on a land mine and blowing up, very funny ha.

Finally 18 hours later we pull into Nha Trang... very busy town We make arrangements with Hoa, who says his wife will prepare a special seafood meal for us on Thursday. We've been checking the guide book and have decided to go to the Post Hotel... Hoa says "No, no you must stay at the Vien Dong Hotel..." We look it up and figure there's no way we can afford it... he's adamant and takes us there anyway... good choice... after a little bartering we settled on $27US for the three of us... pool-side restaurant, tennis courts, pools tables etc, felt like being in Club Med. What a change from Hanoi, this is surreal.

Thursday, March 24 - Nha Trang

You definitely can feel the change into South Vietnam. Almost like a different country, and the locals express the same feelings out it too. Nha Trang is the tourist city for the Vietnamese, crashing waves, beach restaurants, touts and beggars. Away from the beach people are very friendly... changed money at the bank with no problem... amazing how much Vietnamese cash it takes with exchange rate.

Stopped at the "2nd Best Ice-cream Parlour in the World" as the sign read, right next to "The Best Ice-cream Parlour in the World. Arranged our train tickets to HCMC over at the station, in the air-conditioned comfort of the Foreigners Waiting Room. Couldn't believe it... they actually have a separate section of the station... soft sleeper this time, $27US for the 12 hour trip.

Kicked back at Club Med till dinner time. Every night the restaurant by the pool has live entertainment. Mr Hoa showed up with his wife Ri and 8 year old son Ans... did he come to pick us up for dinner or what...? We made arrangements to go on a tour de ville with him in the morning at 0900... he left after one beer and enjoying rubbing shoulders in the luxury of the Hotel. After they left we ordered dinner as Kate and Cameron were off to HCMC very early the next morning. We had 2 table top brazers going, cooking up squid and beef. Good feast.

Friday, March 25 - Nha Trang

First stop on the tour was the Bodhi Villas. In the past they were the place that the aristocracy come to holiday, but now they've been opened up for the public to rent. Nice location with a great view of the Nha Trang oceanfront.

Next was the temple with the big Buddha up the 160 stairs lined with old beggar women. Hoa said these women were widows without sons to support them. Quite a panorama of the Nha Trang area. Lots of kids running around and playing gambling games.

At the east end of the harbour bridge are another set of Cham ruins, much smaller than those at Mi Son but some in better condition. Also a great view of the huge number of fish boats in the harbour.

Hoa had just installed new tires on the front of the car and the lack of a wheel alignment compounded by the totally worn out front end was causing it to shimmy uncontrollably. So he pulled over to the side and proceeded to crawl under the car. It just happened to be in front of a temple so Jo and I went to visit. The resident monk was beside himself with joy as he showed us all around the temple. With a grin from ear to ear he showed us what I refer to as the disco Buddha... computerized twinkle lights covered it. Every chance he got he was touching and squeezing either mine or Joann's arm, this may have been his first foreign contact face to face. A couple of young apprentice nuns were making incense... there were thousands of drying sticks everywhere. Clank, clank... Hoa was under the car for 30 minutes before he emerged to say let's continue. He was not impressed. We continued on some back roads past paddies contaminated with salt... through small villages... then walked a couple of kilometres along a trail beside a small creek, stopping for a leisurely picnic lunch.

Back to the hotel for a quick shower then over to Hoa's house for dinner... two rooms... front room with couch and chairs... back room is a combination of dining and sleeping... beds separated by curtains... the kitchen such as it is is out back under a lean-to. The wall dividing the two rooms didn't go to the ceiling and was stacked with hundreds of cobweb and dust covered books. I think Mr Hoa can read and write a lot better than he speaks English.

Vietnamese rollups with tuna, a big plate of shrimp, I think they spent a lot more than they could afford for all this food... we were stuffed... relaxed with some tea and conversation before getting a lift back to the hotel. Vegg'd in the lobby for a while watching a little Tom and Jerry on the tube... good night.

Saturday, March 26 - Nha Trang

Goofed the morning away by the pool then decided to go shopping. Found a market where we were the only gualos... got some great deals on stuff... boxed sets of 10 pairs of ebony chop sticks for $1.25US... carved stone boxes, $2.50US.

Dinner with traditional music at the hotel... this is getting pretty hard to take.

Sunday, March 27 - Nha Trang

Breakfast around the pool at 0630... the temperature is perfect with a little broken cloud. Both the tennis courts are full of locals... lots of wealthy VN having breakfast, I guess Sunday is a day off for some (all men)... at 0700 they all head off in their Honda Accords with the green VIP plates.

The hotel staff are very polite and efficient, but they don't think... I ordered a breakfast omelette with bread and end up with bread, butter, marmalade and 2 hot chocolates... and they walk away empty handed on their way back to the kitchen... many, many empty trips.

The new bar they've built only took 4 days... progress is very rapid even without power tools... many hand... but not that efficient... ended up being torn partially apart then redone. Discovered that the hotel is run by the Province of Nha Trang. Love that socialism....!

It's Sunday at the "fancy hotel"... many of the well to do VN families are here seeing and being seen. Hob-nobbing with the foreigners as it were. Some of the children are obviously not used to being in the company of gualos, they look a little unsure and nervous. The men are too cool... posturing and smoking cigarettes... photo opportunities by the pool... "Sunday go to meetin' clothes" which means party dresses for the little girls.

"Excuse me, I ordered my coffee with cream, no sugar and NO mouse shit thanks."

The sun came out... everyone hit poolside to bag a few rays... Hoa showed up to say he would like to deliver us to the train station the next day then went away and returned later bearing a gift which we weren't to open until we left Nha Trang... looked a little bit like black lacquer and Pearl's mom. Hoa said that his father was killed by the VC in 1972 at the age of 42.

Hoa and the family arrived for dinner at 1800; all of us had a great meal. The bill... 198,000 dong and 18,000 for a pack of cigs for Hoa. Nice floor show, nice time with the family, they left at 2030.

Monday, March 28 - Nha Trang

Mmm... I'm lusting after one of the Vietnamese waitresses in her yellow traditional dress.

Scuba lesson in the pool this AM; instruction on the pool deck right outside the dope smokin' Yank's room... ha, ha... well sort of a scuba lesson.

Went to town... found an antique gong knocker for 2000d and a set of lacquered plaques for 290,000d. They did an amazing job of packaging them for the long ride back to Canada. Stopped for another ice-cream at #2 then a cyclo back to the hotel.

Sitting at "Club Med" it's time for a reality check as an ox drawn cart delivers a load of construction sand. It's the last supper at Nha Trang, it must be time to go... we've exhausted the menu... there's a fight outside on the street... we walk back to #2 for the last desert... nice town.

Tuesday, March 27 - Nha Trang

Nha Trang to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City aka: Saigon) by train... soft sleeper this time (be sure to book your tickets early for all train travel, they fill up quickly)... had planned to go to Dalat but our time was running out and we kept hearing conflicting stories about the crowds and the circus like tourism.

Got off the train in the dark at about 0500 and took three cyclos to the area we'd studied in the LP guide on Vietnam... some looked a little too rough... some were too expensive... we finally settled on the Rose Hotel... managed a triple for $25USD on the top floor; three flights up... no elevator. We arranged for the cyclo drivers to collect us on the morrow for a tour de ville. It was a 4 hour romp through the traffic to see some very interesting Chinese temples.

HCMC... heard horror stories from the people we'd met travelling the opposite direction to us so we allowed only 3 days 2 nights. Obviously these people have never been to Bangkok. HCMC was fun, great food, great shopping (if your into that) and just the most amazingly speedy economy.

Lots of poverty. People desperately trying to make a living. Many people missing limbs from the land mines that are still everywhere. It was an interesting time and great to see a country before the hoards of tourists descend upon it. Already there are direct flights from Paris to Hanoi and HCMC daily disgorging French tourists and Clinton was reported to be opening a Consulate there soon. (I don't know if that has actually happened yet?) Such a poor country but economic revitalization is coming at break-neck speed. Vietnam's business climate is changing daily. Heavens, Coke and Pepsi are there now!

Arranged for a taxi to take us to the airport... all the baggage was x-rayed and we were asked to "step over here please." We were asked to open our packs... the bronze Cham statue was taken to a desk and scrutinized by several people after which we were told that it was an antique and therefore not allowed to be exported. I informed them that I'd bought it at a Government shop in the Purple City but I didn't have a receipt to prove it. They filled out a form in Vietnamese and said it would be kept for my friend Hoa to pickup. Sadly we had no choice but to carry on... while waiting for the flight I asked a stamp vendor to interpret the form for me... she said that it stated no declaration had been made and the statue was confiscated for smuggling. I saw red ( no pun intended) and headed back through the passport control, back to customs, found someone who spoke a little English and straightened out the scam. They were going to ship it back to be resold. Finally they capitulated and I wrote a note for Hoa to collect it when he was next in HCMC. (Note: He did collect it, had to pay $20USD storage and $20USD for some other trumped up reason, but at least he has it). Back I go through customs to find Joann in a panic, holding the plane for me. I think she had visions of me ending up in the "Hanoi Hilton".

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