Returning from Cat Ba Island

After the previous days excursions, May 31 was a somewhat sore day. I actually wasn’t as sore as I was expecting though, which was nice. Tien and I were thinking about finding more things to do on Cat Ba Island, but instead we decided to head home. We chose this over our tentative original plan, which was to take the bus back down the coast and see things along the way. I think it was mainly because we’d been traveling for about a week so far and were just a little tired. In hindsight, I think we should’ve just taken a day to rest, but heading home wasn’t a bad choice either.

We grabbed breakfast and then took a stroll by the waterfront businesses, looking for a travel agency to get us as close to her home town as we could. We found ourselves in a travel agency with a girl sitting in front of a piece of paper with a telephone. She talked and talked forever, and Tien talked back. The woman made a phone call and talked some more, then made another phone call and talked some more. When ended up being the story was that the people on the other end of the phone were away for lunch, and we weren’t making any progress with our flight plans. I should’ve known something lame was going on because I felt that same kind of boredom I often felt as a kid in church or school, like I’d rather die than continue sitting there doing what I was doing.

Eventually we got tickets on a boat and bus to take us to Hanoi, plane tickets would have to wait. Back at the hotel we packed, checked out and sat down at the cafe where Paul was talking with two young brits. He told us the story of their trip to sleep on and island. They had chosen monkey island. They slept under a mosquito net on the beach, but got rained on in the middle of the night. Instead of trying to sleep in the rain, they hiked to the peak of the island in the dark to watch the sunrise, then hiked back to where their kayaks were. Just as they were about to leave they got attacked by a group of monkeys and had to defend themselves with their paddles, jump into the kayaks and row away from shore. It was quite an exciting tale, one of the best I’d heard in my travels. The other two brits he was with were on the island with him and they all thought it was a pretty funny, enjoyable time, monkey attacks, rain and all.

We all ended up on the same boat and bus to Hanoi. The bus took us up near where Tien and I had gone on the motorbike the first night, way off into a marshy area with salt percolation ponds. On the way the bus actually scraped another bus while trying to pass it on a narrow gravel road on the side of one of the karsts. On top of that, our bus was probably the worst automobile I’ve ever had to ride in. It stalled at the top of a hill and a guy got out, I assume to put rocks behind the wheels so they could start it and get it back into gear without it rolling down the hill backwards. I thought about that scene from romancing the stone where the bus breaks down and everybody on board just gets out and starts walking. That scene had never made so much sense to me as it did right then. The bus stalled a few more times on the way to the boat, but we eventually got there.

The boat was not one of the hydrofoils or junks that we’d taken for transit in other places. This was a boat like you’d find in America on a lake, but longer and made for carrying people. There was an inside cabin with rows of seats, and an outside deck with an awning and a bunch of the ubiquitous Vietnamese plastic chairs. Paul, the british kids, Tien and I sat on the deck with a bunch of other people, including a child who kept pulling the hair on my leg. There was also a lot of luggage on the deck, and a motorbike.

After a short ride that was always within distance of land, we arrived in a very industrial place called Dinh Vu. Once off the boat we were divided up into a group going to Hanoi and a group going to Ha Long City. The bus going to Hanoi was blaring loud techno music with the lyrics “who the fuckin who the hell is ringing at the bell right now,” chosen by two slender guys in pilot shades who were in charge of that bus. We drove through some places I had never seen, mostly industrial, and made a bus in Hai Phong to a bigger, higher class bus.

Tien gets carsick depending on the quality of AC that is in the vehicles we drive in. Sometimes she’s fine, sometimes she immediately gets nauseous. Sometimes the nausea comes on gradually with carsickness. This bus was almost immediately nausea inducing. Actually I even got a little bit sick. I looked it up later online and found nothing specifically relating to AC, and it was interesting to me that the condition was so reproducible but nothing online mentioned it. Tien sickly tried to sleep most of the way, I played a lot of Plants vs Zombies.

32::AM::142We arrived in Hanoi ahead of a storm that was making beautiful clouds and a rainbow, and a sunset that was throwing lovely colors at it all. Tien, the brits and I tried to get a taxi, but we couldn’t all fit and so they chose to go with Paul for a while before he caught a bus to somewhere else. Tien and I said goodbye and took off in our own taxi heading to Ngo Huyen street.

When you say goodbye to other travelers, you never know if it’s the last goodbye. We didn’t see Paul again after that.

Tien and I went to the place we thought we’d stay but it was full. We quickly found another place that was nice and cheap. This neighborhood was undoubtably much better to stay in than our previous area. This was the Pham Ngu Lao of Hanoi, the backpacker’s street. Before I had started traveling last year, Lila had told me that in every city you willfind a place where the backpackers go. You’ll be able to find cheap accommodations, good food, good conversation, and everything you’ll need to keep traveling. She was definitely right, and we’d found that spot in Hanoi. It felt relieving to not have to worry about all the little things.

Tien and I left the hotel and went to get dinner, but two doors down we ran into the brits. We had a funny exchange where they said they had just gone to a noodle place, but I thought they said nude place, and had thought “damn, these kids don’t waste any time partying, but where on earth did they find a strip club in Vietnam??” That was the last time we saw them.

We got dinner at a place playing kung fu movies. There was a refrigerator with a sticker that read “Hybrid plasma toshiba refrigerator.” Quite the technological accomplishment.

After that we haggled with a travel agent for a while and ended up not getting our tickets there. We checked the internet and found cheaper tickets, went back out to see if we could find some cheaper around nearby, but after talking about it over some smoothies we ended up buying our tickets from jetstar.com. We decided to stay an extra day in Hanoi so we could get an early flight to Saigon on June 2nd then catch a bus back to Binh Hoa and arrive at a decent hour.

A Trip to Cat Ba Island

On the morning of May 28th our alarm failed to go off, or at least we didn’t hear it, but I somehow managed to wake up about 15 minutes before our bus arrived. We hurriedly packed and got downstairs with just a few minutes to spare. Tien tried to find us some breakfast but the neighborhood we were in was mostly construction type shops so she only managed to find some snacks before the bus came and took us away.

There were many europeans on the bus, it was almost entirely full of white folks. The narrow streets of Hanoi were already full of life and packed with motorbikes. We passed by the lake where a street was closed off for a festival that was just beginning. We stopped at a few hotels to pick up other folks, and then stopped at the cathedral to wait for somebody. It was at that time that Tien realized she’d forgotten her bag at the hotel. The bag that had the iPad in it. In her typical stressed out mode, she forgot all english and began blabbing away in Vietnamese with the bus driver and some other folks, and didn’t really say anything to me or answer any questions. She told me to wait, and went to hail a moto taxi. 32::am::138 I chatted with a girl from The Netherlands for about 10 minutes before Tien came back, relieved to have her bag in hand.

At 9am we headed out for Ha Long City. Traffic was heavy on the way out of Hanoi, and I noticed again how the number of cars just seemed to mess up the flow of traffic. Tien and I drank water and ate Oreo cookies for breakfast.

We passed the charred frame of a motorbike that stood up in its own ashes as if it had immolated itself at the side of the highway, probably protesting the rise of the cars.

We passed factories for Canon and Foxconn in the countryside.

We pulled off at a travel stop for 20 minutes. Tien and I got some pomelo and bananas. I was hoping to find a better breakfast, but they don’t know how to make breakfast sandwiches yet in Vietnam. I could make millions selling them… Millions of Dong.

We passed a few auto accidents along the way to Ha Long, one involving a motorbike and one where a car had driven up the side embankment and crashed into a pole, finishing sideways, squished between the pole and the hillside. It was a remarkable sight, I’m not sure if anybody died, but it looked like they should have but didn’t.

Soon after the car crash we arrived at the outskirts of Ha Long City where the bus dropped us off at the docks. Tien and I were the only two folks on the bus left who weren’t going on the cruise, and it felt kinda nice to be sitting there with just the two of us, ready to do whatever we felt like, far away from obligation. The tour guide from the group came over and asked us if we wanted to go on their boat to Cat Ba Island, which is precisely where Tien and I were headed, so we agreed to take their tour for 250k each. It was expensive for a boat ride, but included the Ha Long Bay tour, dinner and a cave tour, so it was a pretty good deal.

The boat we boarded was a typical asian junk. Ours had three levels: rooms downstairs, a dining room in the middle and an upper deck. Dinner was served shortly after taking off. Tien and I sat and chatted with some other travelers and it was good to be back in the company of english speaking, active people. Only one of them was from America, the rest were brits, french and other countries that I never learned. Tien was the only Vietnamese person on the tour that wasn’t working. She mostly listened while I blabbed away with the brits about traveling, culture, food, work, and destinations. One of them, a man named Paul who we’d run into many times on the island, was traveling from London to Australia to work. He’d been traveling for a few months and had a few weeks left. Local transport in Ha Long BayMost other folks were just traveling for fun, some for weeks, some for months.

After dinner most of us went up on the deck to take in the sights as we approached the islands of Ha Long Bay. The boat pulled into a bay and docked with a bunch of other junks and we all got off to explore Thien Cung cave. It was a cool cave, but there really isn’t much to see inside most caves. There was an opportunity to go to another cave, but Tien and I declined and instead went to take some photos and relax.

Everybody returned to the boat and we traveled onwards, through the islands and into a market area where there were many floating houses that were used as a fish market and other business related things. There were girls floating around on boats with their fruit all laid out for sale. They paddled up next to us and shouted out, sounding like retarded people with a heavy lisp, saying “eck-u me, pine-appo” and things like that. It was cute, and their boats were beautiful with the colored fruit, but Tien and I already had some fruits we’d bought earlier so we didn’t buy anything. Instead, we decided to go with a small group on a little tour of an enclosed part of the bay, completely surrounded by cliffs, almost like a lake except it was salt water. We took a small local boat in and a few of us swam around for a while before returning through another natural tunnel.

A short rest on the boat later we were pulling up to Cat Ba Island, which looked like a pretty treacherous place, and seemed like it would be more than one island. Indeed it would be if the water were deeper, the landscape rose and fell just like the islands sticking out of the water, but came down to land at the bottom.

Anybody who wasn’t sleeping on the boat was dropped off on the island. We were, once again, dropped on the completely opposite side of the island from the town. Tien managed to negotiate some kind of bus ride, still with the tour, and after sitting for 10 minutes or so a group of us got in and headed over the crazy terrain.

Cat Ba backroadsThere was one sign at the front of the bus, and it was written in Korean. I’m sure nobody on the bus knew what it said. The ride took 30 minutes and we passed by many, many beautiful views. The steep hills fell down to flat fields where different foods were grown, some ponds and rivers, and countless steep hills. On top of one of the hills was a tower standing tall, and I made a joke about climbing up it. A lot of other people were blabbing away in their native languages, and a group behind us was chatting in english about their travels.

As we pulled into town, Paul and some of the folks he was talking to were trying to find a hotel in the guide book. We all got out right at the main intersection of the town, and after looking at one hotel that had no vacancy I decided Tien and I would probably be better off walking around trying to find a hotel. We went one block and found a place where we negotiated with a slimy guy who I didn’t like much. Tien said she also didn’t like him much because of some things he did or said that showed he looked down on her. The hotel room actually kinda sucked too, no AC, no internet, and a bed wrapped in plastic with a tiny blanket.

We took a short rest and then went out for dinner. There were a lot of people riding tandem bicycles around and we thought about getting one, but decided to do it another day. Instead we returned home and fell asleep. Some time during the night, Tien got up and found some towels to use as blankets. The next morning we woke up and the power was out. 32::AM::139 It was a dreary morning. We decided to find a new hotel.

Finding a hotel has become much easier now that I know to use my iPhone to do it. I don’t look it up online, that’s pretty tough over here where there are no centralized review sites like yelp. Instead, I go into the network settings and look for wifi hotspots with hotel names, then I go to that hotel. Any hotel who has wifi that my iPhone can find from the street has got to be good. The only downside to this is that sometimes these hotels are expensive, but at least it helps weed out the crummy places.

We walked out to the end of the pier that stuck into the bay where dozens of boats were docked. Some were fishing boats, some were floating hotels, some were restaurants. It was a good way to get a view of the shops that went along the waterfront.

We had a disappointing breakfast in a restaurant that seemed like it was closed. I was getting tired of fake coffee. One great thing though was we invented a new food. It’s the stir fried beef and noodle egg breakfast sandwich. Tien orders stir fried beef and noodles, I order egg with bread. I put the egg in the bread with some soy sauce, and she puts some beef and noodles in with it. It is *so* delicious, I’ve been eating it frequently ever since.

We went back to a place we saw the previous night while walking around looking for dinner. It was a hotel that was built into the rock cliff. There was a big room with two beds available for not much money, and we took it. We didn’t need the second bed, but it’s nice to lay things out on when you’re organizing, and for lazing around on like a couch.Tien and the bike at Cat Ba So, we spent the mid day heat being lazy at our hotel room.

We went to rent a tandem bicycle, but the prices were like 20k for 1 hour. A motorbike was as low as 60k a day. We had already paid the girl before we knew it was per hour, and I finally decided to let her keep the damn bike and the money because we didn’t need a bike for an hour. She finally gave my money back as I was walking away. Instead of a bike, we decided to get a moto from our hotel though, for 100k a day.

We cruised some local beaches and then headed northwest on the island into territory we hadn’t seen yet. We found a place where they were filling in a bay with mud to build a golf course. Beyond that there were beautiful, natural places, some caves, farming villages, roaming goats, and eventually a beautiful pink sunset. Finding the rural Cat BaWe stopped a lot along the way and took photos, and at sunset we decided to speed back to the town to go swimming at the Cat Co 2 beach. Unfortunately, by the time we got there the water was off limits, so we sat and had some drinks on the beach instead. I dipped my feet in the water and was suddenly not disappointed that I couldn’t go in, the water was cold. Too cold to enjoy a swim in, that’s for sure. It was a huge difference from the beautiful, clear, warm waters of Phu Quoc. Instead of sticking around, we headed back to town to get dinner at an awesome spot on the water front called Bamboo. It was recommended in the guidebook, but also looked appealing. The staff was nice and the food was great, and it was a very satisfying end to the day.

Consular BS, Interview Date, Traveling to Hanoi

On May 24th Tien and I woke up with a plan to head to Saigon. We booked a bus for 3pm and spent the morning playing more Wii and PvZ. We played PvZ all the way until the bus to Saigon was right outside Thu’s house honking its horn waiting for us to get onboard. We got on and headed straight away, getting across the My Thuan Bridge in only 2 hours and 15 minutes.

As we were crossing the bridge the Kid Koala remix of Moon River came on, and I began to miss 4211 Moraga. I first saw the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s when I was living there, and I remember thinking that it was the most accurate example of how the parties at 4211 would go. Full house, people dressed up, climbing in and out of windows onto the fire escape, etc.. I really loved living there, I think we had something that not many people find in their life, and it was great. This week, a year after everybody else moved off the block, Lauren is finally moving away.

We stopped for a snack and then drove on towards Saigon. Night fell and I put on The Kleptones 24 Hours album. I looked out the window and found it hard to tell that I was in Vietnam. Between the mashup music and samples transporting my mind to somewhere in the Western pop culture ethos, the landscape was also changing. We found ourselves on a highway like no other highway I’d been on in Vietnam. It was raised up on a berm with a view out over the dark trees and neighborhoods. There were even green markers with white numbers ticking away the km. It was a smooth highway, and there were no motorbikes allowed here. It felt like we were in the midwest of the USA.

It was also an extremely efficient way to get to Saigon, as we got there in about 4.5 hours, which is less than any other trip we’d taken. We ended up at the same bus station on some back road of District 5 as when I had left Vietnam last November. It’s essentially a garage on a dirty side road off a main street. I think we even took the same van to get to the hotel that we took last November to the airport. We checked into a room on the 7th floor of the Bui Phan Hotel and went next door to Viva Coffee for dinner, then retired. We had an early morning at the consulate to look forward to.

We got up early on May 25, got breakfast and tried to find a motorbike to rent. Nobody would rent us one though since we didn’t have our passports since they were at the hotel front desk. We had planned to take a motorbike to the consulate, but ended up settling on a taxi since we ran out of time before finding a moto.

We first went to a service that Tien’s sister had hired for her to help handle the consulate procedures. I sat and played Angry Birds on my iPhone and waited there while Tien went to get a letter from the consulate that would tell her when her interview date was. This was a significant piece of information, a huge puzzle piece in the nebulous, infinite maze of US immigration procedures.

And of course they didn’t give it to her. It can never be easy with immigration.

They apparently needed her to have a different address. Why on earth it makes such a big deal which address they have on file, I will never know. It is probably the same illogical reasons that banks use when they require you to have a physical address on file instead of a PO box, even when you don’t have a permanent physical address. They’d rather have inaccurate info that fits within their broken rules than accurate information that doesn’t apply to hoi polloi.

So, I went down to the consulate and stood in line. While I was waiting a security guard walked directly over to me and asked me if he could help me with anything. I don’t know why he picked me out of the whole crowd, maybe he didn’t like my looks or maybe I was unknowingly giving him a threatening look. I told him my business and he walked away.

When I got to the window where you can ask information and asked them for the date of Tien’s interview they said they would not give it to me. They needed updated address information for her file. It’s just so fucking important that they know where you *say* you live even if you don’t spend most of your time there. So, so, so fucking important. And that got me really fucking frustrated. Dealing with immigration is the most painful, frustrating thing I’ve had to deal with in I can’t remember how long, perhaps my whole life. It makes me livid.

We went back to the service, Tien talked to them while I sat there and steamed, we got a piece of fucking paper with some words on it, walked down to the consulate and they gave us the info just like that. I should’ve been really happy, but actually I was just really fucking pissed off at how asinine this whole damn situation is. They *really* needed her address updated that badly? It’s not like they know how to send letters anyway, none of the shit they sent us ever arrived at her cousin’s house when she was living there. What makes us think that if they can’t successfully send mail across the fucking city that a letter will ever arrive in a tiny farming village in another province near the Cambodian border? WTF ever, they got their info and we got ours. It was an intel hostage exchange that we had successfully negotiated by complying with the perpetrators every demands.

June 16th.

Tien would have her interview on June 16th, and if she passed it she would get her visa to go to America to marry me on the 17th. This meant we could be back in America by the end of June. I thought about this and tried to focus on the happy things in the taxi back to the hotel.

32::AM::136We took a nap during the mid day heat, then went downstairs and rented a moto from our hotel. This was an idea that we hadn’t really thought of before, but I remembered our ease in renting a bike in Da Lat and got the idea from that. We cruised down to Highlands Coffee for lunch, then went back to the consulate to get the official letter that should’ve arrived at Tien’s cousin’s house however long ago they sent it.

After that we just cruised the city, at first because we got lost and then after we found our way we just wanted to keep cruising and see some sights. It was the first time we’d had a bike in Saigon. Tien had one while she was living here, but never while I was around. Before returning to the hotel we went and bought some plane tickets to Hanoi, some doughnuts and some sugar cane juice. We took them back to the hotel and watched Avatar on my laptop.

We lazed away the morning of May 26, spending a lot of time online in our air conditioned hotel room. My brother was online and he told me that my dad had almost died while choking on a chicken bone. He had passed out and gashed his head on the way to the floor, home all alone. He woke up covered in blood and called for help. My mom was with him at the hospital and he was doing decent, alive and stable and probably not permanently damaged. My brother and I decided to buy him a helmet since he seems to be making a habit of this kind of thing, having done something similar last Christmas.

Tien and I caught a taxi to the airport. That taxi hit a motorbike on the way there. Just gently though, and the driver bitched loudly as he rode off with his passenger. I wondered how Saigon would handle the influx of cars that would undoubtedly come with its current business expansions.

At the airport there were two girls talking in castilian spanish sitting behind us in the waiting area. The Jetstar flight to Hanoi was unremarkable, other than the fact that it was Tien’s third time flying. She did well.

I got an aisle seat in the bus from the airport to downtown, and aisle seats always suck. My shoulders are too broad and everybody hits them with their hips as they walk by.

This was Tien’s first time in Hanoi and I wondered what she thought of it as I recalled my last trip and took in the differences between the north and south. Things are more ornate up here. There is more dirt and more rocks. Most highways are raised up on berms or on bridges, and there are significantly more cars. The traffic didn’t flow nearly as well as it did in Saigon, and it was because of the higher number of cars. One car could be stopped and it would back up the whole flow, whereas in Saigon the motos just go around. Another thing I noticed was that people would drive their cars like motorbikes, driving into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the street, as if they could just slip by oncoming traffic as easily as they could on a motorbike. Traffic here would prove to be much more frustrating and less fluid than that in Saigon.

At the bus stop a man with a taxi offered to take us to his hotel. It was nearby where we wanted to stay so we went. We agreed to stay there, but the more I looked at things the more I realized we’d checked into a pretty crummy hotel. Not only that but after walking around our neighborhood we realized that it kinda sucked. Those two factors made Hanoi much less fun than I was hoping.

We went out for dinner and found something just as mediocre as our hotel, ate, then retired for the night.

Adventures on Phu Quoc and the trip home

On May 20 Tien and I woke up on the island of Phu Quoc, went downstairs for breakfast and then took the moto out to have a look around the town. We bought a proper swimsuit for her, some sunscreen, and tried to find me a helmet, which is a continual failure.

Sad, broken puppyRight as we were coming around the corner to one of the shops a puppy got run over by a motorbike that broke it’s leg. The dog lay in the street yelping for a few minutes as we all looked in with pity before a little girl came and helped the dog back to her shop. Tien and I went to the shop to buy stuff and the poor puppy looked so sad, yelping and crying and looking around scared. Poor thing. At least he was alive though, and not being eaten.

Back at the hotel Tien and I prepared to go back down to the beach to go swimming, but as we were leaving the hotel staff asked us why we weren’t going to bai sao, the prettiest beach on the island. It was 45 minutes away by moto, down the road we had taken the previous night. We decided to head there instead, which was a fantastic change of plans.

Boat on the western shoreOnce we got past the construction and actually by the coast it was absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t believe how vivid the colors were. The ocean was emerald and blue all the way to a crisp horizon. The water was calm and reflected the large billowing clouds in the true blue sky.  Our motorbike was pretty good and had the larger tires so it handled well on the dirt roads. There were some rough places though, like a bridge with huge gaps between the metal plates that covered the construction going on below.

We found our way to a little resort by the beach where we ran into the man who rented us our motorbike. He gave me a keychain, which I thought was strange before Tien told me it was the same guy. We also ran into a girl from Tiens village who was working at the resort. She sometimes shopped at Tiens family’s store, and now we were buying beach towels from her.

The resort was a tropic paradise with clear waters on white sand, slow rolling waves over shallow waters that extended beyond a hundred meters. The water was warm, and later got hot enough that we had to swim way out to find the cool patches.

We rented two beach chairs and go. A menu. A little puppy came wandering up and we played with it a little before leaving it at the waters edge where it was scared of the waves.

Floating in the big bathtubWe swam in the shallows, most of the time less than a meter deep. I swam way out to find some deep water but ended up just getting stung on my foot four times while checking if I could feel the bottom. Even where it was six feet deep I wore my sunglasses because the water was clear and calm enough that I was t worried about losing them.

We grabbed the cameras and waded out to take photos, not scared of submerging them in the shallows, then went back to the shore for ice cream and cold beer. After a few hours we decided to get a real meal elsewhere, and as we were leaving I saw a sick man throwing up. I was glad not to know whether it was the food.

Tien and I headed to a stream that was supposed to be beautiful, but when we got there it was all dried up.  With that we decided to just grab lunch a the hotel and ended up napping the rest of the day away.

32::AM::131May 21 we woke up to rainy weather and ended up staying inside sorting through photos as we waited to leave. On the boat back to the mainland we played ipad games, listened to music while it rained and sometimes thundered out on the distant ocean. We also passed an island with a big white statue that looked like a saint next to what looked like temple gates.

The scattered rain kept up as we caught moto taxis to a bus station. I’m always glad the rain in SE Asia is warm.

We ate and had coffee while waiting for the bus. A woman let her child stand up on the motorbike to pick frui. From a tree. A girl came by wearing a shirt that said “Product Bros.”

The bus we caught was a big badass that everybody moved over for. Inside was a movie about children doing Kung Fu. Movies where kids do adult things like fight biker gangs and seduce bikini clad babes drive me crazy.

I noticed a stream of liquid running down the center of the bus and looked back expecting to see a toppled bottle, but
Kid peenstead I saw a man picking a toddler up from her squatted position in the aisle and putting her back on his lap. A bus employee got a newspaper and tried to clean up the urine.

We switched buses in LX and were dropped off right in front of Tiens parents house, then retired to thus house where we had dinner and slept in our familiar bed.

Heading to Phu Quoc

The morning of May 18 we woke up with no power and again made plans again to go to Ha Tien beach. We went to LX to have lunch and surf the net and check out the bus station schedule.

We passed a white man with a white trimmed beard and thick nerdy glasses riding a bicycle through the back streets of LX.

We decided to go to Phu Quoc instead of Ha Tien, and decided to go the next morning. We’d hoped that somebody from tiens family would come but everybody had reasons to stay so it was just us two.

Early on May 19 we woke up to catch our bus. There were men outside of thus house digging a ditch for a pipe of some sort. They were chiseling right through the tile on thus front patio, and not one of them was wearing protective eye gear.

Even though it was early I didn’t feel tired like I had for the previous few days and I remembered that my body adjusts it’s energy level for the pending activities. Now that we had plans I was wide awake and ready to rock.

As we headed out I got a feeling that I setimes get on motorbikes… The naked feeling that I should buckle in somehow, as if I’m in a car. Of course there are no seatbelts on motorbikes, and in VN there aren’t often seatbelts in cars or buses either. If they’re there they don’t get used.

On the ride to the bus station I saw a woman go to adjust the mirror on her motorbike and have it break clean off.

We left the station at 8:10 and before long we found ourselves driving on the wrong side of the road with a man hanging out of the open bus door yelling. We sped past two trucks on our right as a tinny voice blared out of a loudspeaker to our left and the sound of an alarm could be heard from somewhere ahead. Just another typical day of travel in Vietnam.

We stopped at a cafe where there was a sign with some Japanese fantasy character on it. The word “internet” was followed by some Chinese characters and then the words “Final Step 3.0″… oh squaresoft, look what you’ve done. Same to you, internet buzzword machine.

The bus continued it loud caper down the highway which parralleled a river all the way to the coast. There was a shrine on the dashboard and a spare incense holder affixed to the frame of the passenger side window.

We got off at Rach Soi and took motorbike taxis about 12 km to the superdong ferry in Rach Gia. The ferry only left twice daily and we were early, so we ate some food and waited. I noticed them loading motorbikes on and off of other boats and had tien get th price of what it would cost to take a motorbike. At 170k it wouldve been a much cheaper alternative. Next time.

The boat ride was pretty smooth and we passed many small islands. The seats were pretty small though and I was glad when we finally arrived. The boat hadn’t let us off where I thought it would. I thought it was dropping us off in the city and so we hadn’t bought a bus ticket to te town. We ended up getting a taxi for not too much more who took us to a decent hotel where we got a room and rented a motorbike.

We were hoping to go swimming and so we headed off in the bike to cruise the coast in search of a nice beach, but it was too dark and the road was under heavy construction which made it hard for us to navigate. We ended up going back to the hotel and taking a quick dip in warm, dark water with rapidly breaking waves. The swimming conditions weren’t good so we headed back to the hotel, grabbed the bike and heade to the night market for dinner. The night market was small and didn’t have anything interesting, so we had our food and retired.

Over dinner I thought back to one year ago when I was preparing for my first trip to VN. it was strang e to think that in one year, trawling internationally, staying at random hotels in random places and discovering new areas has become normal. It wa strange to think back to a time when my comfort zone was so small that each night I wanted to be in my own bed. Now I don’t even own a bed, much less care where I sleep.

Hanging in Saigon, choosing Binh Hoa over Nha Trang

On May 12 Tien and I got an early breakfast and decided to walk down to the river. It looked nicer on the map than it actually was, due to construction and heavy traffic, but it was nice all the same. We ran into an Australian couple and asked them to take our picture, then chatted about traveling Vietnam for a while. They said they were staying at the foot of a very large, impressive skyscraper that was being built nearby that I’d been talking about with Tien earlier. It’s a financial tower, and I was talking about how its presence will definitely change the surrounding areas, which were already showing a heavy western influence.

We found a cafe and sat for a while, watching Hero, drinking smoothies and playing with the iPad. The walk back to the hotel was longer than I’d remembered, and by the time we got there it was time for lunch. We went back to the restaurant we’d eaten lunch at the day before and this time I took time to scrutinize the menu a bit more. It had some very interesting things, to say the least… Sauted [sic] noodle w. 3 special objects, Cow marrow ommelette [sic], Sauted [sic] ox pennis [sic] w. Satay, Grilled bloody clam w. fat & green onion, and Grilled crocodile file [sic] w. fish sauce were some of the highlights.

We watched a movie, then went out for doughnuts. They gave us a receipt.

On the way back I saw a lingerie store with two half naked mannequins in the front window. A sign read “50% off.” Indeed.

As we entered the hotel the man at the front desk lowered his cell phone, which he was holding facing the door, and greeted us. It was interesting because I’d seen him do that before and thought he might be taking our picture. Also of note was that nobody at the hotel was familiar. Tien had gotten to know the staff before and they recognized us every time, but this time nobody knew us, and here was some guy doing something potentially creepy. It weirded me out and I mentioned it to Tien in the elevator.

On May 13 we headed to our usual breakfast spot and sat upstairs looking down on the intersection. I watched all the different people passing by and thought about all the different ways of life in Saigon, and the world in general. I wondered which of my friends would enjoy coming to Saigon and which would have a hard time adjusting. Tien and I talked a lot about cultural differences and how hard it is to give people insight into what a foreign place is actually like, and I said I couldn’t really think of much to show her what American culture would be like.

The original plan was for us to take off to Vung Tau, Mui Ne or Nha Trang for a while, but we decided to go back to her hometown and then go off to Ha Tien beach instead, so we booked a bus home and headed out. The bus driver was really fast and we expected the trip to only last 4.5 hours. The music was loud and there was an intermittent sound of one of those really irritating alarm clocks. We also passed the scene of a motorbike wreck that had just happened. Fluids were still flowing across the highway from the mangled wreckage and a bleeding man was in the arms of another man on the back of a motorbike that was just taking off down the highway.

When we came upon the wreck, Tien had been in the middle of telling me a joke, which she told like this…

“There was a blue and a red monkey sitting in a tree. The blue monkey jumped into the river, which one was left?”
“The blue one.”
“No, that would be too easy.”
“WTF, is that the joke?”
“People here think it’s funny!”
“I think it’s retarded, that’s not remotely funny. So that’s the punchline? ‘No, that would be too easy’?”
“No.”
“Then how does it go??”
“There’s a blue monkey and a red monkey sitting in a tree. The red one jumped into the river, which one is left?”
“The blue one…”
“Nope, the right one.”
“WTF, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“No, it’s the opposite!”
“The opposite of what…? Left? Wrong?”
“No, of wet.”
“Right is not the opposite of wet. Dry is.”
“Oh, yeah, the dry one.”
“…”

It took us 2 hours to get to the other side of the big bridge in Tan Hoa, something I’d never timed before but wanted to do because it always seems to take forever to get from there to Saigon. There was a cute little kid sitting ahead of us that I’d been playing with from time to time. He was really shy, but he warmed up to me and began playing little games with me. Then he began spitting, and all the sudden he wasn’t cute at all anymore. He was just a rude little bastard that I wanted to smack. I didn’t though, and eventually his mom did so for me and made him behave.

Right as we left Long Xuyen heading for Binh Hoa it began to rain heavily. We passed two people on a motorbike and sprayed them with water, and to top it off, one of the employees on the bus opened his window, pointed at them and laughed at their misfortune. I found this doubly hilarious.

I started adjusting my things to get ready to get off the bus, when I noticed that my wallet was missing all of the US dollars that had been in it. When they were in it, I don’t remember, but they were missing then. All that I knew was that my wallet had been in my pocket since we left the hotel, and that meant that somebody at the Ruby Star had been the one who took it. Maybe that creep with the cell phone, maybe the cleaning staff, I’ll probably never find out. I’ll probably never go back to the Ruby Star either.

It was right as soon as I settled on that when we realized the bus had missed the stop in Binh Hoa and was crossing over the bridge into the neighborhood on the other side of the river. Tien argued a little with the bus folks and they ended up dropping us off on the other side of the bridge where rain water was flooding a business at the side of the road. We crossed to a cafe on the drier side of the road and got some coffee. Tien’s sister was busy fighting a leak in the roof of her new house and said she’d come get us when the rain stopped.

Tien and I sat and talked a while with the family who owned the shop. They wanted to talk to me and asked a lot of questions about where I was from, how we knew each other, and said I was handsome. This tends to be the standard set of interaction between Tien, me and interested strangers. She thinks it’s remarkable how everybody says I’m handsome, but I think it’s probably just custom.

There was also a family next door to the coffee shop who knew Tiens family, so we went over there and visited for a few minutes before Tien’s brother and sister showed up on two motorbikes to take us back to the village.

We arrived at Thu’s house, which I had never seen before, and relaxed with the family, finally home. We ate some doughnuts that we’d bought in Saigon, and some chocolate I had brought from America, and tried to find batteries for a remote controlled helicopter that I’d brought as a joking gift for Tien that stemmed from a conversation we’d had online about flying over the puddles. The helicopter ended up being a lot of fun though and I’m glad I brought it. It wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the Wii that I brought though. Tien said she doesn’t know anybody in Vietnam who has a Wii, and had never seen one before I showed it to her online a few weeks back.

White Sands and our arrival in Nha Trang

Tuesday morning we woke up with the intent to go to some white sand dunes that were about 20km north. We got breakfast at a place just up the road on our way. There was a modeling show on TV and I was watching it to see what gear the photographers were using. They were interviewing the models a lot and I wondered what they were talking about. I guessed that the show was in English, but the sound was down and drown out by really loud Vietnamese music.

Tiny Trees Over breakfast we talked about our plans and decided to go straight to Nha Trang instead of stopping along the way at some temples. Tien wasn’t excited about our bad luck finding things to do in Mui Ne, and since the second place we had planned to go was pretty remote she expected it to be much of the same.

Back on the road, we headed off into unexplored territory that looked not much like what I’d seen in Vietnam before. I caught the scent of a Colorado summer in the air. We saw a lot of farm animals, including geese that were hanging out with cows and goats and water buffalo. We passed by a lot of sand and the landscape turned into rolling hills with trees scattered around it, much like the high Colorado prairies.At the lake's edgeThe road turned into dirt and sand mixed together and the motorbike became a bit wobbly because of the sand shifting under the bald tires. We could see the white sands in the distance on the far side of a lake by a small forest.

We eventually made it to a spot where a few motorbikes and jeeps were valeted at a little shack, so we did the same and began walking through some trees next to the lake that was at the foot of the white sands, through some shops, past some other tourists and up towards the sand dunes. A kid followed us much like the two from the night before, asking us to rent his sled and pointing things out to us.

Tien at White Sands We walked around a bit, but sand is sand so there wasn’t really much to see. We took some photos and the kid kept asking if we wanted him to take our picture. Eventually I conceded, thinking he might charge us for it. He took two, then had us stand somewhere else and took two more. When I looked at them I was very pleasantly surprised at his composition, each pose taking one wide and one close shot. I tipped him a few thousand dong and we headed back to our bike. He trailed behind and complained endlessly in Vietnamese that the money I gave him wasn’t clean enough and he wouldn’t be able to use it to buy cake.

Tien had driven on the way out so I got to drive on the way home. This was my first time in like 12 years riding a motorcycle on dirt. We quickly sank our rear tire in a spot where I had gotten off to walk before. We both laughed and Tien got off so I could wobble my way up out of the sand and across to where the dirt was solid again.

As we headed back the way we came, over the rolling hills and through a pretty countryside I thought again about buying a motorcycle one of these days so we could just cruise the countryside at our own pace, not having to rely on buses. I also changed my mind about Mui Ne being a lame place to go, it’s pretty nice outside of town in the countryside.

Resting in oceanic peace There was a herd of cattle that had been grazing in a field where there were many graves marked with swastikas, a symbol of power and not of Nazi affiliation, and now these cattle were taking up the whole road. I squeezed by and then stopped and watched a big truck make its way by, something I wasn’t sure would be easy for it to do.

When we arrived back at the hotel we returned the bike, packed and checked out, but our bus wasn’t coming for two hours. There was a warm breeze coming in through large open windows and blowing around the chandeliers in the lobby where the Internet was still broken. Tien and I decided to go wait by the beach. There were no hammocks, which was a disappointment, but we found a little table to sit at and enjoy some drinks while playing cards with the ocean waves breaking about 50 feet away. Tien kicked my ass at the game I had taught her, I only won twice.

_DSC7629We got one last meal in Mui Ne, then went upstairs to wait for the bus. I explained photographic composition and exposure to Tien while we were waiting, but had to finish the discussion on the bus.

After exhausting the topic of photography I realized I forgot my headphones in my backpack which was stored in the cargo area. This was a pretty bad thing to do since I was then forced to endure the most epic movie I’d ever seen and then hours of loud Vietnamese theatrical comedy.

The bus had headed north beyond the white sand dunes, introducing us to even more beautiful countryside and coastline. The bus was comfortable too so it was an enjoyable ride. We even stopped for 15 minutes at the first rest stop I’d seen that had Internet access. My iPhone GPS worked too, which kinda made sense because we were near Da Lat and it had worked there. It continued to work as we headed north and I wondered if the norh of Vietnam had the mobile infrastructure to accommodate the retarded assisted GPS in the iPhone. After all, my phone hadn’t been unlocked when I was in Hanoi, so I wasn’t sure it didn’t work there.

It began to rain right at dusk. I also began to feel sick in my throat. I had been feeling a few symptoms once in a while for the past day or so, but this was the first real evidence that I was coming down with something.

When we got to Nha Trang it was still raining lightly. As I was getting into a hotel shuttle I noticed a motorbike stashed in the cargo area of a bus, a brilliant idea that I wouldn’t have expected to be permitted.

We checked into a hotel that I’d seen reviewed somewhere online, The Manchester. Our room was on the sixth floor with an ocean view and deplorable wifi access.

On our walk to find dinner, just when I thought we’d gone the wrong way from restaurants we came across an authentic Italian restaurant where two men were talking loudly in Italian. After sitting down an older Italian man, the cook, came out to introduce the specials and show us the list of Italian wines. I got the chefs special and as I sipped my wine I pulled out my iPhone and found an Actiontec wireless network. It almost felt like we were sitting in Sunnyvale.

Traveling to Mui Ne

Sunday morning when I woke up I noticed a recurring morning phenomenon; stiff ankles. I thought about how I should probably stay more active to avoid that displeasure.

Right after waking up Tien called a bus service and found a bus going to Saigon at 9:30. Thu got us some hot breakfast from the market while we packed. We ate and headed off by bus. We were still unsure about the train schedule and availability and decided just to head to a travel agency in Pham Ngu Lao and see what we could find.

As we were leaving Binh Hoa I saw a scooter stacked 4 boxes high that had fallen over while parked and the driver was trying to pick it back up. A peloton of cyclists passed by. Real cyclists, not just school kids on their way. We did pass a school though and I noticed that all schools in Vietnam look the same. Tan buildings with big fences and blue signs with white text.

As we got to Saigon I noticed some large text written with plants on a wall. As we passed I looked back at it and saw it was a billboard wall made with an array of pot holders so you could use pots containing different colored plants to make patterns. Potted plant pixels.

The clouds were dark and it began to rain. I feared bad weather or worse, really bad weather.

I noticed a police checkpoint set up at the side of the road. I had also seen one as we were entering Long Xuyen and I would see another as we were leaving Saigon. I never found out what the story was.

Just after getting into a taxi I saw a guy on a motorbike with no helmet and a styled Asian hairdo with the addition of a mullet.

I saw two young girls on a scooter collide with a woman carrying baskets on each side of her handlebars in busy Saigon traffic.

I saw a guy on a motorbike sharing headphones with his passenger the way Tien and I do. I’d never seen anybody else wearing headphones while riding.

Our taxi turned down Nguyen Trai street, home of the Ruby Star, and we drove for many, many blocks. There were tons of stores full of awesome girl clothes and I thought about how if I was a girl I’d go nuts in a place like that. For a man of my style and stature there is neither the inclination nor the option for such an occurrence.

After arriving at the same travel agency where the two motorbike taxis had dropped us off at last time, Tien and I quickly figured out our travel situation, bought bus tickets and went to find coffee. We only had to go next door to Highland Coffee. We had eaten lunch here before, it was the cafe where the French club owner was negotiating with the local DJs. The food was good here but we just wanted coffee. It had western prices but with them, western flavor, which was very welcome. I had savored a cappuccino.

We stayed there for an hour while I caught up on some internet stuff and charged my phone whose battery had been depleted while playing Fieldrunners on the bus, then went outside and boarded our bus to Mui Ne.

There were very few people on the bus and about half of us were white, though not all speaking English. Most were a group of three girls and one guy who I thought were Ukrainian.

As we headed north there was a variety show on the TV with guy and girl hosts who I recognized. Tien said the man’s name was Nguyen Ngoc Ngan, which may not sound like you think but is still pretty hard to pronounce.

There were a lot of songs sung between guys and girls reaching dramatically out into the air and gazing at each other during the harmonies and looking away during the solos. I asked Tien why so many Vietnamese people like this kind of thing and she just laughed and said it was romantic. I asked why Vietnamese people like romance so much and she didn’t know. It seemed odd for a conservative culture to be so enamored with romance. I thought that as far as video media is concerned, romance was to Vietnamese people what action is to Americans.

A bit later two Vietnamese people got on, one guy and one girl, and immediately struck up a conversation in English with the Europeans. They both spoke english very comfortably and phrases such as “you know, like” made it clear they had lived in America for a while. The man said he was engaged, though not to the girl he was with, then continued to flirt with the Norwegian girls, a detail I garnished from unwilling eavesdropping. He talked on about money and living in America, and it even seemed like his girl friend was being his wingman. For a while I thought he might just be the guy we stayed with in Binh Duong. He was certainly just as sleazy with all the same lines.

One of the bus employees came by asking where to drop us off, but we really didn’t know because we hadn’t planned that far ahead. The man in front of us said he could recommend a cheap hotel to us.

I put my headphones back on and we lost ourselves in a variety of music that I picked while scanning the songs. Debussy, The Thompson Twins, Oscar Peterson, Simply Red, Zero 7, Above and Beyond. We settled on classical and I drifted off for a few songs.

When I woke up we were slowing down next to the ocean to let the Norwegians off. There was a sizzler restaurant and a wind surfing and scuba diving tour place. We rode a little farther and got off where the man who was recommending our hotel got off. A guy on a motorbike was waiting for a fare, and he flagged down another passing motorbike to take us to a hotel. As we were riding Tien’s driver talked on and on and on in Vietnamese. We left town and headed inland a bit, which wasn’t encouraging because I wanted to be in the city or at least by the water. We took some big roads, passed an empty round-about by some big sand dunes, and eventually popped back out onto a highway that paralleled a beautiful beach. I could see the caps of breaking waves in the darkness. The air was warm, and it was magical riding along the coast through that warm night air on a motorbike next to Tien.

Tien’s driver led us to a dark resort hotel with trees scattered between various buildings. Tien later told me that he had skipped the hotel that the man had recommended because it was apparently too loud and was a dirty place. I honestly couldn’t imagine what a hotel was that was dirtier than the place he took us to. It had water stains on the wall, chipped plaster, it smelled funky, there was a board covering the window in the bathroom, and it looked pretty much like it wasn’t kept up very well.

We checked in and agreed to pay 400k a night, which was clearly too much for what we were getting. We had come so far out of town and hadn’t passed anywhere that was definitely open that I figured the price to take the motorbikes elsewhere would’ve been more than the difference, so I decided to go ahead and take it.

Right after checking in we went 50 feet down to the beach where there were lots of red and blue lights bobbing in the dark ocean. We couldn’t tell what they were, though it was clear some of them were boats because a few times somebody turned on a flashlight and shined it around the boat they were standing on.

There were also some circular boats that looked like baskets sitting on the shore. Somebody was busy filling one of them up with some kind of supplies as if they were about to go out into the water.

The sand was coarse and the water seemed a little dirty, so with that and the fact that I was tired we decided against swimming or even staying at the beach and returned to our room for the night.

The trip home from Da Lat

Sunday morning was warm and glorious. Eating breakfast outside was a treat that morning. We hung around the hotel until a van came to pick us up at 12:30 and take us off to our bus. We had expected the van to arrive sooner and give us time to eat while waiting for the bus, but there wasn’t enough time so we boarded and headed out with the expectation that we’d stop in an hour or so where we could find some food. This was not the case.

The first place we stopped was a tea and fruit juice place that had pretty much no food. There were a few things like cakes that you would eat with your tea, so Tien and I got some cakes and ate them on the bus as we headed up a mountain pass that was in the middle of being reconstructed.

The bus had a DVD player and a TV at the front so people could be entertained along the way. This was a home entertainment style DVD player, which means it wasn’t really built to handle being moved along a bumpy dirt road winding through jungly mountains. Needless to say it skipped a lot and they eventually turned it off. I wondered why in a country like this with so many dirt roads a company like Mailinh who had busses that went everywhere didn’t just rip their DVDs into something that could be played from a cheap solid state media player. I wondered about the technological and business aspects of such a proposition, along with my idea to put wifi at popular bus stops, since there never is any and I’m sure people on their netbooks would use it. Perhaps the country just isn’t quite ready for that step…

Tien and I didn’t get a chance to eat until 4:30pm. Hu tieu never tasted so good.

Back on the road, I saw a motorbike with logs about 6 feet long stacked sideways on the back seat so that it took up the full lane of the road. The sunset was beautifully colored, like tropical fruits. There were beautiful green rice paddies illuminated by that gorgeous dusk light, but I had a hard time photographing it and I realized it wasn’t just because we were in a moving vehicle. Vietnam is so flat that you don’t get to see much of the beauty. Trees and lines of buildings block off so much of the natural beauty of the rice paddies and fields, and there are so few mountains that you rarely rise above it so you can look down on it. It’s a shame, really.

Well into the darkness of light we passed over a bridge where there were house boats floating on still water, reflecting their lights all around them. It was magical.

As we were coming into Saigon I saw an airplane on its descent. It was the first airplane I had seen since we left the airport several weeks ago.

I saw a huge billboard at the side of the highway advertising HHH Zippers.

Back in Saigon, we caught a taxi to the Bui Phan but it was full except the most expensive room, so we headed to the Ruby Star and got a cheap, awesome room. WiFi on this floor was a problem, I was unable to get out to the internet. Upon further investigation I discovered multiple cascaded DD-WRT routers all using 192.168.1.0/24 on both their LAN and WAN, and this was keeping me from getting out to the internet. After a few guesses I was into the admin panel and was able to reconfigure them each with their own LAN subnet so that there was no overlapping IP space and I was soon able to actually get out onto the internet. I considered different approaches but settled on this since I was doing all configuration over the air. It was good enough for one day.

Monday morning I woke up and when I signed on I had some more problems with the internet. My computer had switched to a different AP with the same SSID and a different LAN subnet. This was no good. I decided to go ahead and fix this problem once and for all by adding the WAN ports of each router to the switch, disabling DHCP, giving all the APs the same SSID and assigning them static addresses in the DSL modem. This allowed roaming access throughout the hotel, the way it should be. It worked like a charm and I felt pleased with having done something productive. I rather missed the IT world and the puzzle of finding elegant answers to technological problems.

Tien and I grabbed breakfast and decided that rather than stay in Saigon and rent a motorbike, we would return to Binh Hoa. There was potential fun in Saigon but returning home for a few days rest was appealing, and we’d definitely be coming through Saigon again numerous times anyway.

The standard procedure for hotel checkout is playing on computers until it is time to catch a taxi to a bus, then check out of the hotel and head out. This is what we did.

I saw a girl on the back of a motorbike reading a book and my NV240HD failed when I tried to take a photo of her.

I saw a girl with a shirt that said “I swoop want water.”

That evening we were back with the family in Binh Hoa, sharing the details of our trip to Da Lat. The bus trip from Saigon always wears me out because it’s not comfortable and I can’t relax without my body moving into a painful position, Scootretteso after dinner and a little bit of teaching Ngoc english from a book she had we fell fast asleep.

Tuesday was pretty much a rest day. We did the routine shower and get breakfast at the market. This morning though Thu brought over some mangos and peeled them. They were delicious. I don’t think I had ever eaten mango before, except the dried kind. While we sat there eating mango we planned to go hiking on Mt. Cam and to the floating market in Can Tho. That evening we took a little ride around at sunset and took some photos. That evening Mai made us sweet soup, which is a desert style dish with sweet peas, coconut and some squiggly things made from flour that have the consistency of those tapioca drinks.

Heading out for Nha Trang

Tuesday morning at breakfast Tien’s mom brought over a young boy who was big for his age. His older sister showed up soon afterwards and we all ate some snacks. They were Tiens cousins and I recognized their father from our engagement party when he came to pick them up on his scooter.

We returned home, packed for our trip to Nha Trang, had lunch and caught the bus right outside Tien’s house at 2pm.

The bus was not the usual bus service we take, Mai Linh. It took a different route through narrow back country roads that were more jungly than the main roads. I recognized the route from the trip we took where the man was joking about fighting with me. The bus seemed to be going pretty fast but that may just be because the road was so narrow. After a while we got to an area with muddy dirt roads with huge puddles and many bumps.

The driver turned on some pop Vietnamese music and I wondered what a Vietnamese reggae fusion would sound like.

I got out a book, Iron Orchard, and read. Brianna had found the book on the street and gave it to me. It was entertaining light reading that was good for a trip. After we stopped for a break I continued reading until it was too dark, then I just enjoyed music and watched the lights pass in the darkness.

We came upon an accident, the first serious one I’ve seen in Vietnam so far. The diver of a large truck was standing by the back where a bloody man was wallowing in pain on the ground. His motorbike was stuck between the front and rear axels and there was an anonymous pool of liquid coming from the darkness under the truck. I wasn’t sure if he was the only passenger.

Tien looked at the scene then looked away with a shriek. She looked at me with worried eyes and said “He died.” I thought this was an odd way to say it. Later I came to the conclusion that her phrase told a story from a scene that she hadn’t experienced which was why it sounded weirder than saying “he is dead.” I told her that he hadn’t died. The bus drove on and I never heard a siren or saw an ambulance.

As we came into Saigon it was clear that it had been raining hard. Pools of water were standing near intersections and the sidewalk by the river was reflecting the tail lights of motorbikes that rode down it.

The ride seemed endless and my ass hurt from having my buttock muscle stretched in the same position in that tiny seat for so long. We rode through some interesting neighborhoods in Saigon including going over a bridge that we’d seen near the new roads on our way out of town last time. Eventually we arrived at the bus station where we caught a taxi to a hotel I’d stayed at once before, the Bui Phan. The issue with the bed bugs at the ruby star made us not want to go back there, plus I wanted a bath tub.

The hotel was conveniently right next door to Viva Coffee, so we ate there for dinner. In Vietnam, most cafes are also restaurants. Tien’s mom called up worried and told us that the weather was bad in Nha Trang. Her mom worries about everything, but this time she was right. The latest AP headline read something about 32 people being dead from flooding up towards Hanoi. There was a photo o a man motorbiking in Nha Trang in over a foot of water that covered a whole street, and it was still raining.

Wednesday morning I got out of bed, picked up my laptop and found tiny bugs crawling on it. The Bui Phan had them as well… On top of that there was heavy construction going on outside our hotel.

Tien and I had a late breakfast and talked about cultural differences like how multicultural different cultures are and how conservative they are. Afterwards we went online and looked up new destinations. Traveling as a pair was expensive and airfare was also looking more expensive because it was nearing time for peoples fall and winter getaways. We thought about going to Thailand and I even got in touch with a friend of a Sara’s whose family owns a resort north of Phuket. We didn’t decide on anything then.

Instead we went out for a walk to look for an external hard disk that I’d meant to install in my laptop before leaving America. As we left the hotel I saw a Yamaha R6 parked at the motorbike shop next door. It was remarkable because nobody rides anything over about 110cc in Vietnam and this was at least 600. Also, almost nobody rides real motorcycles, just scooters which are more practical.

We walked a long way stopping at computer shops and explaining to them what exactly I was looking for, a FireWire 2.5″ SATA external hard drive case. Amazingly this was t all that hard. For one, I had one with me so I could just show them and then point out that I just needed the case, a d two, there were plenty of computer part shops with drive cases. To my dismay, none had FireWire ones so I had to settle for USB. the sad life of a technology enthusiast.

On the way home I saw a shirt that said “Hollister California” and hated fashion. What on earth is so great about Hollister? I’d never liked that brand and I liked it even less knowing that it could be found in Vietnam, knock-off or not.

Back at the hotel a confusing technological coincidence happened where my old 500gb drive had mysteriously quit working while we were out looking for a new case, which meant I didn’t even need a new case. It also meant I had lost all of my photos and music. On top of that, I broke my only screwdriver while I was right in the middle of investigating the problem so I had a pile of computer parts on a hotel bed and no way to assemble them.

Malaysia, Part 1

Sunday morning we woke up and hurried out for breakfast at our usual spot before checking out of the hotel and catching a taxi to the airport. Tien had rarely been inside an airport before. She had never been on a plane before. She had never left the country before. This was the first of some big firsts for Tien and I was excited to experience them with her.

We waited for our plane at the end of a remote terminal. There mens bathroom had a girl walking around inside cleaning things while men urinated with her right there. I thought this was interesting, and actually I’d seen it before. She pointed me to a toilet that she’d just finished cleaning so I went to it. What else can you do when a woman offers you a clean toilet?

At takeoff I was a little worried that Tien would go into shock like she’d done on a roller coaster at a fun park there in Saigon on the second day I was there. I think I forgot to write about that day, but she basically went into shock for like 15 minutes and I had to carry her off the roller coaster. She did ok though. I took a video of it and will post it on youtube so you all can experience her first airplane takeoff.

The meal on the plane was good, chicken beriani with vegetables on the side, mango juice, wine, chocolates and wafer cookies. Tien always shares her meals with me since she’s a pretty small girl, and we shared this meal too. I began to see the benefits of traveling as two, like “I get more food on the airplane.” We listened to some music and before we knew it we were on the ground in a foggy Kuala Lumpur. The airport was nice, modern. There was almost nowhere to sit though, and we ended up sitting at a train stop in order to fill out the immigration arrival cards. Then we got forms for H1N1 and there was nowhere to fill them out because about 100 people were needing the same exact thing. Most of us just used the handrail of the broken moving sidewalk. Beyond health screening was passport control where about two hundred people were waiting. I had never seen so many people at passport control. It was interesting people watching though. There were many girls with head coverings, Malaysia is predominantly muslim. The police looked really sharp, great uniforms. There was a cute little chinese american girl doing funny things in the line next to us.

Waiting at Sentral Finally out of the international zone of the airport, we looked for transport. The airport is located some ways away from the actual city of Kuala Lumpur and there was allegedly a train going there. We finally found some signs pointing to an empty area at the far end of the airport. There was literally nobody in sight and it kinda felt like Jacob’s Ladder as we proceeded down to the ticket booth and out by the tracks. I had expected to find the train out of service there ended up being a healthy number of people on the train when we got there. It departed soon after we arrived, and it was a very good train. The ride was very smooth, the speed was very quick, the seats were comfortable. A man we were sitting with said that the train system, Kuala Lumpur International Transit Express, was privately owned and used to go direct to downtown, but it wasn’t making money that way so it started putting in more stops along the way and thus took longer. He told us some more about KL, Malaysia and Singapore. He was a nice and had a beard and a turban. He was a business man returning from a trip to Singapore.

We got off the KLIA Express at KL Sentral Station, which is a huge transit intersection. About 5 train systems come together there and there is also a small airport. We were pretty tired from traveling so we took a rest at Starbucks and got coffee. This was the first time Tien had ever had Starbucks, she didn’t even know what it was. I explained how it was a huge corporate entity that pushed smaller, local coffee shops out of businesses in cities where the government didn’t intervene. I then went on a short tirade about how huge corporate entities are bad for locals and how they screw third world countries like Vietnam out of their human rights like healthcare because the suits at the top don’t care a single bit about the individual who is actually doing the work down at the bottom of the pyramid. Then we got up to catch a train.

We were a little confused by the whole five transit systems thing at first, but we got some insight by following another pack packer couple who I overheard talking about the same stop we were looking for. When we found the ticketing area for the train we needed, all but two of the ticketing systems were broken. I tried one but it wouldn’t take actual money so I went to the line for the other one. Then both of them broke right in front of us as people used them. We bought tickets from a person and then went to the turn style where all but two of them were broken. This was the most broken train station I’d ever used. The train was nice though, and when we left the station there as a great view of the city. We got off one stop down in Chinatown.

As our train was pulling up I was checking out all of the sights. In the distance we could see the Petronas Twin Towers that are in every photograph of Kuala Lumpur, which we also had seen on the KLIA Express on the way in. I saw a tall hotel called the Mandarin Pacific and thought it would be great to stay there because we could see out over the city, so we went and got a room there. After a short rest we went out and got some refreshments including a bottle of cabernet. We went back to the hotel and I enjoyed a glass of wine while taking a bath. I bathe in every hotel that has a tub because you never know when you’ll find another one since they’re so scarce.

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown OldieWalking outside we found a McDonalds which was directly across the street from our hotel. I joked with Tien about eating there but she didn’t really get the joke because she had no idea what McDonalds was. I told her that we’d eat there some day, but not tonight. Instead we turned left to see what was that way and ended up in the center of the Chinatown market which happened to be a block away from our hotel. The streets were closed off and there were market stands set up selling shoes, bags, shirts, lighters, binoculars, fruit, dvds, scarves, belts, watches, perfume, bathing suits, etc. etc.. I found a stiletto knife with a lighter in the handle and nearly bought it, but I figured I couldn’t take it on the plane home so I decided against it.

I asked Tien what she thought of the market and she said it was strange that people were talking in languages that she didn’t understand. I guess we all think that the first time we are in that situation, but it had been so long for me I had forgotten that it had happened to me when I first went to Sunnyvale to work for the Chinese.

We found some good smelling perfumes and bartered the price a little until I realized I might not have enough money to pay for the perfume and pay for dinner, so we just left and went to have dinner. It was good dinner, fried rice with chicken that was pretty flavorful. No doubt fresh meat. We had fresh lychee and mango juice too. We walked around a bit more, saw the rest of the market and some of the surrounding area and returned to our hotel.

Monday morning we had breakfast at the hotel, which was so so. They had strawberry jelly to put on toast so that made me happy, but cold eggs and spring rolls aren’t exactly part of the breakfast of champions. The coffee was bleh, but hey, it was coffee so I couldn’t complain. We headed out to find a travel agency to help us plan our getaway to a beach but amazingly we couldn’t find a single one. Usually in the backpacker districts they’re everywhere, but here there were absolutely zero to be found. Instead we looked in the Lonely Planet guide that I had and picked out Port Dickson on the map and decided to head there if we couldn’t find a travel agent anywhere else.

We packed up, got on the train and headed back to Sentral Station. On the way up to the station Tien turned to me and commented about how she probably looked much more confident today, which she did. I recalled that buzz of riding public transit for the first time, experiencing all the new things like tickets, turn-styles, route planning and waiting on train platforms.

Back in Sentral we were a little confused on how to get to Port Dickson. The map showed a train going all the way there, but people there said that was not so. On top of that we weren’t sure which train to take since five different transit systems come together there. In the end we figured out that we had to take a train to a city called Seremban, then take a bus to Port Dickson, and so we did.

Islam is the official religion in Malaysia and it certainly shows. There are girls everywhere with head coverings on, and they sell head coverings in markets just like baseball caps and shoes. On the train there was a girl with a head covering on and a hand bag that said “bikini bottom”, which I thought was pretty ironic. I thought about how Islamic girls probably wear head coverings while they swim and figured that the Saudi Arabian Girls Swim Team would perform very poorly. There was another older woman on the train with a head covering and hair several inches long coming out of a mole on her neck. I don’t know why, but a lot of Asian people let the hair in their moles grow out inches while cutting the rest of the hair on their face. It doesn’t make sense to me, and is kinda gross.

To kill time I decided to play with Cydia on my phone, even though I didn’t have internet access. This is when I recalled how poor a lot of OSS software is. Cydia is absolute crap without an internet connection, and honestly is pretty poor as a package manager in general, but not even networking software should crash in the absence of a network connection.

The train dropped us off a ways from the bus station and we had to walk down a long covered pathway to get to the bus station. It took me a while to figure out the bus station, mainly because I associated the numbered bus parking spots with ticketing windows of the same number, but there ended up being no correlation there. You merely had to go stand by the bus stop labeled with the destination you wanted to go to, get on the bus and pay for your ticket once you were onboard. Simple. While I was figuring this out we were walking around and Tien bumped into some Vietnamese people and was really excited to see her countrymen while out and about in the world. It was remarkable too because even when I was in Vietnam traveling the English speaking Vietnamese people had said that not many Vietnamese people travel outside of Vietnam.

We boarded the bus with a huge crowd and were almost the last ones on, so I ended up having to stand at the front of the bus with one foot in the stairwell and sit on the dashboard while Tien stood next to me. Our bus headed off through the city and off across the countryside through hills and winding roads on smooth paved roads. We passed a dead cow at 80kmh. We passed land that had “private property” signs, the first I’d seen in Asia. 40 minutes later we were standing in a town we knew nothing about, so we started walking around. 10 minutes later we realized that we’d need help so we went to look for a map but could not find one. We ended up talking to a taxi driver who drove us south down the coastal road and pointed out hotels. We picked one that was tall and was right on a beach. It was more of a resort hotel than I was looking for, but it was nice and we wanted to be on the beach, and that we were. Our room was large and had a patio looking straight down onto the beach itself, which was quiet and small. Only a few people were on it and the waves were gentle.

We were hungry so we went out to find some food. There was a market across the street from our hotel so we headed that direction. At the main street we stopped and I checked traffic to my left to make sure it was clear, but to my right was a curve in the road that I couldn’t see around. I kept my eye on it as we walked into the first lane, but right as we did some maniac came flying around the curve on the wrong side of the road and full speed. Then I realized it wasn’t that he was on the wrong side of the road but that people in Malaysia drive on the left hand side and I’d checked the road wrong. We ended up just running across and did not get hit. This was fruitless though because some of the restaurants were closing down and the ones that were still open only had gross food. I wanted to find a restaurant with pictures on the menu so I could just point and say “I want that.” I recalled a scene from Lost in Translation where they are at the shabu shabu restaurant and Bill Murray orders in just such a fashion.

We went back to the restaurant at our hotel and looked their menu over. There was mostly chicken and I figured that between the Muslims and the Hindus there wouldn’t be much beef or pork in this country. Tien and I talked over dinner about traveling and mixed culture, how things are so different in different parts of the world.

After dinner we went up to our patio and drank some fruit juice and wine and watched the sun set. After it was dark we went swimming in the ocean. The water was as warm as a pool, the waves were gentle, and there was nobody else around. It was really really nice, like the whole ocean was our own pool. I taught Tien some more about swimming and she caught on well, but got cold and worn out quickly so we went back inside after 20 minutes or so.

Tuesday I woke up to thunder rolling in from the ocean from lighting that was going on way out in the Strait of Malacca. I got up and brought the love seat in off the patio thinking that there could be huge rains, then went back to sleep. When I woke up it was not raining, but looked like it had been and would be again very soon. And it did. We caught a taxi to a bank back in town and it was raining when we got out of the car. I withdrew some money and then realized that I had no idea where to go or what to do.

Tien and I began walking through the gentle rain down the side of a main street until we saw the word “restoran” and assumed it was a restaurant. It was, but it wasn’t appetizing so we walked around some more and found a place with decent breakfast even though it was after noon. We ate and drank coffee, then walked some more. We found a small temple with huge doors that had just shut when we got to them and the tiny bells all over it were still shaking. It looked like a Hindu temple to me, but I could be wrong.

We bought some drinks from a local market where a friendly man was asking all sorts of questions like “Is she your wife? Where’d you get her?” We left the shop and walked out towards the street and I wondered how on earth we could get ahold of a taxi in a place that looked like it was nowhere special, but just as I was thinking this a taxi pulled right up in front of us and we jumped in.

Back at the hotel we rested for a while and waited for the sun to come out a bit more, and once it began to warm up and dry out we went for a walk down the beach. There was a park at the north end of our beach. While we had been in the taxi I’d seen something that looked like a pier and I wanted to check it out, but when we got there it was closed for construction. We decided to swing on the swing set instead. Tien had never been on a playground swing before and she loved it.

Statue in the Forest We left there and found a calm beach with white sand near the pier thing which ended up being a bridge to what was once an island but was now a peninsula. We walked out onto it and photographed the bridge, then continued into a forested area with weird trees that grew up out of the ground and had branches that grew back into the ground. Some of the branches grew up from below the ground in an arc and then went back to the ground so that they were only an arch of wood coming out of the sand. It was very strange and interesting and I’d never seen anything like it before. I found a few little statues in the forest and some other neat areas, but it wasn’t exactly a beautiful place so we didn’t stay long. Instead we went back home and resumed being lazy.

At sunset we went for a swim. There were some men on boats that were pulling these big colorful blow-up rocket looking water toys and were charging for rides on them. We didn’t have any money since you can’t exactly bring money swimming and you wouldn’t want to leave it on the beach. I wondered how they made any money at all, even though it did look fun. Tien and I swam for a long time and played in the waves until after the sun had set and it began to get cold.

The hotel had a sign that said that there was no wet attire allowed beyond the edge of the lobby and especially not in the elevator since it could cause a short circuit in the electricity. I wondered what kind of beach resort would have such ridiculous rules. They didn’t even provide a locker room to change, so we just ignored the rule and went in while we were still wet. The hotel had other silly rules too, like “no outside food or drink” even though the room had a refrigerator in it and there was no grocery store in the hotel itself. I realized that this was a place where rules were made to not be followed.

Photographed and gone to Cambodia

I spent the morning on the subject en of a Kodak DSLR in a photo session reminiscent of that in “Lost in Transaltion”. The photographer was good though, and Tien looked ƒ incredible. I felt like a doofus next to such stunning beauty, but her sisters flattered me into a comfortable state of mind. It was fun and some of it was silly. We went through several outfits and lighting setups and it was interesting to see their techniques, so different from what I do. It was surprisingly tiring though, partly because of the waiting while Tien changed from one stunning outfit and hairdo to another. After the shoot we went and had lunch at the place where I got ill and got the same thing, but this time I didn’t eat the vegetables. Afterwards we wnt to look through photos of the shoot. Nobody has taken photos of me in a long, long time. It was odd to see myself, looking my age, balding, gaining a little weight. I quickly got over my self consciousness and we picked out all the necessary photos, paid and went not home but to a flower market. All I wanted to do was sleep at this point, but thu bought like 10 pounds of flowers and I carried them in my arms as we scooted home.

Sleep at last… Tien and I talked and I drifted off into a Lon nap. When I woke up we discussed the details of my third attempt to get to Cambodia. We would go to saigon by bus early the next morning, leaving from long xuyen.

We woke up at 3:30. I thought about how many times I’ve gotten up at odd hours of the night on this trip. Tiens brother went to find somebody to take us to the station but didn’t come back in time and we ended up motorbiking down with her dad and sister.

It was completely dark, it was warm and there was a crescent moon shining through haze in the sky. We shared headphones and listened to the garden state soundtrack. There weren’t many people on the road, but it seemed that when there were they’d pass us in groups and the headlamp would shine a bright circle onto their backs.

Bus Station in Long XuyenWe arrived at the bus top late and had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. Tiens dad shook my hand and smiled big, then rode off on his motorbike. I thought about how interesting it is to communicate things nonverbally, like saying goodbye to your future father in law.

The morning light began to show the details of the rainclouds that had been sneaking up on us in the dark, and as I photographed them they retaliated with a gentle sprinkle. It was pretty dark and my f/4 was not giving me much as far as shutter speed and I thought about how nice it would be to have a tripod. Incidentally the guys at gorillapod.com emailed me the other day asking to use a photo I took on their website and offered to send me some gear. I wished that I had it with me already and later told Tien that when I get back to Vietnam we’d have to go take photos in the morning light if I had received a tripod yet.

As we were boarding the bus I realized that I didn’t have any earplugs. Luckily I had brought a second set of headphones so Tien and I could both listen to music, but we couldn’t share it on a single iPod. I made a mental note to remember earplugs from now on.

We made our way down the bumpy and now familiar route to saigon, the first time in dayligt. At the ferry station I watched crowds of people passing. I saw a guy on a bicycle flirting and joking with the girl he was with and thought about how great it is that mannerisms transcend spoken language. These two were happy and I could see that. Some women behind them were happy and I could see that. Another woman was in a hurry and I could see that. When you’re surrounded by people who don’t speak your language you begin paying attention to such things and they take on a bigger weight in the absence of words.

I saw a half white girl on a bicycle, easily distinguishable because of her brown hair, and realized I had seen another in a restaurant a few days earlier. I wondered if these were products of war.

I saw people taking a motorcycle riding class.

When we stopped for a break Tien and I got breakfast, eggs and bread and coffee, which made me very happy. When a skillet was placed before me I touched it to move it and burned my finger a little and cursed. Instead of the American ever-liable reaction of sympathy and placation, the employee who had set it down laughed and smiled at me and said something in Vietnamese. I thought this was awesome. People need real world conditioning, not the legal shelter from physical reality and responsibility that so many liability lawsuits in America display.

When we got to Saigon the traffic was terrible. I realized that even though Saigon is great for so many reasons I really don’t like it all that much. It’s not bad to stay a day in, but I wouldn’t recommend an extended visit over Hanoi or more rural places. Then again, maybe it’s different if you speak the language, know the hidden gems, or at least have your own transportation.

Hiding poorly Tien and I checked into a mildly crummy and hence overpriced hotel and caught up on missed sleep. We sat on the bed and ate pringles and drank soda from the fridge and went back to bed. The best thing about vacationing is a lack of responsibility. We were free to do whatever we wanted with our time and chose to be lazy. Eventually we got up and had lunch, discussing some details of her immigration, then realized we wouldn’t see each other for a few weeks and had a sad goodbye. I gave her a few billion dong, the Vietnamese currency, put her in a taxi and was alone again in Saigon.

I spent the rest of the night in my hotel room catching up on computer stuff and being lazy some more. In the morning I shaved my head, checked the charge on my gadgets, checked out of my hotel and headed for an Australian cafe I’d seen.

Apparantly Australian cafes are not the same as American cafes, which I stupidly expected because of the shared language. I did have a cappucino though, my first in weeks, and a Vietnamese breakfast of bread and beef stew.

A Filipino man was sitting at the next table and began talking to me. He asked about my travels and my work and said he was looking for a cheaper hotel. It was nice to have a conversation and I hoped to find more English speakers on my journey through more popular tourist destinations.

I wnt to the bus HQ and checked in for my ride. I was required to hand over my passport and was told it would be given back at the border of Cambodia.

As we boarded the bus I was asked to let them pack my backpack. When I asked to take it on the bus they said no, so I took my book and gave it up. This was the first time letting it out of my control while traveling.

I got on the bus, found a seat centered between the axels and read until we began to drive away. We passed the bus station where I proposed to Tien as we crawled a crooked trail out of the city. I wished that I had my bag, or more accurately my camera.

I’ve wished several times on this trip that I had just brought along a panasonic LX3. I’ve even considered buying one and mailing my D300 back to America, but have not. Maybe I’ll buy a messenger bag instead, something easy to carry a few accessories in. A man purse.

So here I am on the bus to Cambodia, writing again on my iPhone. I really wish the iPhone had real GPS support. I thought that it did, and the accuracy of the 3g iPhone made it seem so, but I have not been able to get a GPS signal on it since leaving SF even though my Geomet’r works fine. It sucks because it’s not like I knew that before I left, it’s not something I could’ve tested. Maybe if I put in a local SIM card it’ll work…

Leaving Binh Hoa and Saigon

At 5:30 yesterday three long shadows headed for the bus to Saigon. Thu, Tien’s sister, saw Tien and I off. One week after arriving in Binh Hoa we were headed back to Saigon, back to the airport.

One earbud and one earplug each, Tien and I lost ourselves in music as our bus flowed through mixed currents of scooters and buses through city streets and country fields, stopping a few times to exchange passengers with the outside world. At one stop I saw a slender american looking girl appearing somewhat lost, standing next to a bus and chatting with a metropolitan looking Vietnamese girl. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her, though I would’ve liked to see what she was doing out in An Giang.

I saw a man on a bicycle with a trailer that said “hamburger” and was carrying two panes of window glass.

When we arrived at a ferry building some vendors poked into the bus selling sweet corn on the cob and tortillas and for a moment I forgot what continent I was on. As the ferry approached the far side of the river the bus driver turned on a light and yelled something back to Tien. “We need to pay more because you are a foreigner.” I didn’t care much to argue about it, and later when I gave the driver 50,000 more he took it and went to eat.

We went on listening to music and driving through the night. On my left, Tien fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, and the stranger on my right did the same. I couldn’t sleep though, these seats were made for short people so I got no head rest. My neck was hurting and my head kept falling back. We drove a long way, sometimes down dirt roads with one lane bridges. There were countless bridges, including the beautiful My Thuân bridge.

Eventually we made it to Saigon and found a taxi to take us back to the house we stayed at on my first night in Vietnam. Two familiar faces unlocked the iron gate and let us in. By this time it was 11pm and we had to wake up at 3:30am. This didn’t stop Tien and I from staying up late saying goodbyes and sharing the last of the time we’d have together for a long time.

The morning came too early and as soon as I was done showering a taxi was waiting outside to take us to the airport. The streets of Saigon were very empty at 4am, so it was a quiet, dark ride. I kept thinking of Late Night Alumni’s Sunrise Comes Too Soon.

When we arrived at the airport we found our contact at the travel agency. He gave me a bright orange bag and a bright orange hat which I had no idea what to do with. I managed to stick them in my luggage though, I thought they might come in useful. Despite wishing me well a few times, Tien stayed with me until I was right at the security checkpoint, which is fantastically easier to manage than american airports. I gave her a 500,000 bill, said a final goodbye and stepped through security.

She had been my translator and guide from the time I had stepped out of the secure area, and here I was back inside it, once again without her, headed to Hanoi. I thought about this while I was sitting at the terminal, thinking about how she was probably crying in the taxi on the way back to the bus station.

I slept on the flight, somehow, and before I knew it I had landed in Hanoi and was out walking around in the terminal, wondering where the hell to go. I didn’t see anybody with a sign that looked familiar, or any of the folks from the tour that had been on the flight. I decided to put on my orange hat, and no sooner had I done so than a man was welcoming me and telling me to sit and wait for the rest of the group to arrive.

So I did. I sat and waited. I ate a Snickers bar and drank a Sprite. I read some of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I wrote most of this.

Thoughts from the back seat of a VW on the way to Santa Cruz

In the back of Blake’s car cruisin’ down highway 1 on the way to Santa Cruz after a crazy morning running around trying to handle my travel visa’s. It looks like everything is going to work out, so that’s good, but apparently Laos and Cambodia only give single entrance single exit visa’s. That’s OK, but it does hinder my freedom to roam aimlessly all over SE Asia.Azula

Blake, Steven and I are out catching the beautiful sights on our way down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz. Just out for a drive and are going to meet up with Sara, Karen, Brad and Misty. Misty recently went to Vietnam so I’ve been picking her brain, but this is the first time I’ll get face-to-face since she’s been back.

Last night, Donna and I got some wine and beer then caught the 71 down to Haight to catch a show that one of Donna’s friends was putting on with his band, Dead Western. It was a party bus off the bat, as soon as we got on some guy commented on Donna’s captain hat and told us a story about his apartment building in NYC having an explosive sewage problem. One of his friends came over wearing a captain hat and set a little sail boat on the raw sewage to sail it around. The people you meet randomly have the most interesting stories.

We got off in upper Haight and went to Slice of New York and got some pizza. I’ve decided that I’m not going to eat any Asian food until I actually get to Asia. That way I can get sick of American, Italian and Mexican food and hopefully will not crave it so much when I can’t get it.

We met up with Dead Western and hung out before the show. I called up my friend Ben Random and invited him down, he only lives a block away from the venue. He showed up and brought his Panasonic LX3, which I’m thinking about picking up for my trip. Now, I’m really really thinking of picking one up. HD video, F/2 24mm equivalent… yeah, it’s rad.

After the show I caught the N to 4211 and crashed on the couch with Brianna for a bit until we went back to her own bed and I fell fast asleep and had strange dreams about people from Colorado.