Exploring Nha Trang

The winds howled through the cracks of the door and windows of our hotel room all night and the next morning was very breezy. I spent a large portion of the morning catching up on all the internet stuff I’d missed during my offline stay in Mui Ne. Most notably, a 3D mandelbrot set had been discovered and rendered into some impressive images. I also noticed that I had exactly one week left in Vietnam.

I was feeling significantly more I’ll that morning, but I thought I might only have a sinus cold or something lame and trivial so I didn’t pay much attention to it, expecting that it would go away in a few days

The cold water In our bathroom was broken so that only boiling hot water came out of the shower until there was no more, then it went to only cold water. This behavior would continue throughout our stay there, requiring us to take cold shower baths.

Nha Trang waterfront from the Manchester Hotel

We got breakfast late that morning at the place directly next door to The Manchester that I wouldn’t recommend. Over breakfast Tien and I talked a lot about humor and jokes. Even though there seem to be a lot of differences between Vietnamese and American humor, there also seem to be some global constants to humor. I tried to explain things like Knock Knock jokes, one-liners, and other types of humor. Most jokes in Vietnamese are longer jokes with a lot of context. This goes hand-in-hand with their love for comedy theater.

After breakfast we took a walk down the beach where it was incredibly windy. It was nice though to be out in the sun. The wind wasn’t cold either and that was nice. The weather looked stormy though, the waves were huge and the water was really rough, so I wasn’t too hopeful about getting to swim.

We found our way back onto the sidewalk by the main road and passed an area where there were about 50 large dragonflies hanging out. I thought about photographing them, but didn’t because I didn’t have anything that would make it easy to get a good shot. We also found many shops that were selling seahorses, both alive and dead and in various containers. Some were floating in liquid, some were dried and ready to be eaten whole, and some were in fish tanks with nothing more than water. Tien said that seahorses are supposed to have amazing medicinal functions, just like eating live lizards. Lore is always a little humorous to me.

Boats in Nha Trang The destination on our walk was a place called the Vinpearl, and it was amazingly difficult to walk there. We actually had to walk beyond it over a hill and then come around back to it, winding in the roads of its campus that had no sidewalks. Clearly this place was made to be traveled to and from by motor vehicle.

The Vinpearl is actually a huge island theme park with a lot of attractions. We didn’t know this when we set out to go there, but discovered it when we arrived at the mainland side of a gondola that takes people to and from the island. There were also boats of various size that would ferry people back and forth. I was feeling pretty tired from my illness and the walk and didn’t feel like I had the energy for a theme park, so we opted to go back another day and instead spend our day on the mainland. We intended to visit an aquarium, but when we got into the taxi and told him to take us there he said it was on the Vinpearl island. This was another mistake of not doing research and not using the guidebook. I’m never going anywhere without the guidebook again.

Tien at PonagarInstead of going to the aquarium we went to a place called Ponagar Tower that was an ancient stone temple. It was a bit like something you’d find at Angkor Wat. It was a small temple but Tien enjoyed it much. There was an older Japanese man doing tricks with tops, swords and yo-yo’s on the upper landing of the complex. He was pretty funny, partly because he kept messing up. He would say everything in Japanese and there was a translator and a few drum players beating on tribal drums for dramatic effect as he did things like accidentally throwing a top larger than my head, nearly hitting a bystander.

I was feeling increasingly ill and tired so we headed back to The Manchester for a nap. I was developing some flu like symptoms like fever and sore throat, so I assumed that’s what it was. We went for dinner and found an absolutely delicious pho place at the end of a dark alley and conveniently near a pharmacist. We had our dinner and picked up a cocktail of medication for my symptoms.

Malaysia, Part 2

Wednesday I woke up to hurricane winds and our hotel shaking. I moved the love seat in off the patio expecting to have torrential rains hitting soon, then I went back to sleep. When I woke up 3 hours later everything was calm. I guess that’s just how night weather is in Malaysia.

Sometimes when I dream it is like a movie with actors and character development, a climax and an ending. Some times the credits roll. This night I had a dream in that style about a big heist, but not a bank heist. It was something about ripping off a big corporation. I remember less of the plot from this dream than probably any other dream I’ve had like this, but I do remember the ending where about 4 of us survived an ambush. The whole dream was narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Tien and I were awake in time for breakfast this morning so we went downstairs and had a surprisingly good meal. We went back upstairs and relaxed for a bit and tried to figure out if we should leave, and then after a big pillow fight we decided to pack up. We checked out and caught a Mercedes Benz taxi back to the bus station. We got on the bus to Seremban, the city where we had to transfer to a train that would take us back to Kuala Lumpur. We turned on some music and zoned out and nearly missed the station. Luckily I happened to see the walkway we’d taken a few days earlier and recognized it in time to get off at the exactly right stop.

While we were waiting at the train station I saw a scale and decided to weigh myself and my backpack. I weighed 97 kg with a bunch of stuff in my pockets, and my backpack was 16 kg. I have to say I’m pretty happy with my backpack, especially since it holds 35 lbs of gear comfortably.

We boarded our train and headed off. I was staring out the window watching forests of palm trees pass by when I was struck with a craving for Mexican food. Then I thought about Puerto Alegre and how lovely their guacamole is with a margarita. There was no chance to have anything like that here though, so I let the thought go…

We checked back into the Mandarin Pacific in KL and had a rest, then headed out to find the Petronas Twin Towers. On our way down to the Pasar Seni station I smelled cloves in the air and realized that it wasn’t the first time I had smelled them in Malaysia. I guess people here love cloves, and I can’t blame them.

Four stops down the line we got off at a subway stop called KLCC and walked up a few flights of stairs. Walking up the steps from a subway into a new city is always an exciting thing and I recalled my first time walking up to Stockton and Market in San Francisco. I wasn’t sure what to expect here in KL, but what I did see when we walked out was a huge ƒ building. I wasn’t sure what it was but I began photographing it, and as we strafed it I realized that it was in fact one of the two Petronas Towers.

Petronas Twin Towers The Petronas Towers were enormous and awesome. I’d never seen such at glorious building before. They were shiny and clean and all of the spaces surrounding them were huge. Huge entryways, huge fountain, huge driveways. Tien and I spent a long while photographing them from near and far, and then went inside to take more photos. Inside on the bottom levels is a four or five story mall. Outside in the back is a large patio with an impressive fountain and an island. We took many many photos and some videos. TIen had never been inside of a shopping mall before and had never seen skyscrapers aside from those in Saigon, which aren’t really skyscrapers so much as tall buildings.

After we got tired from awe at the towers we were hungry, and since mall food tends to suck I resisted the urge to let Tien try Pizza Hut for the first time and we walked a block away and found a better, cheaper restaurant than what would’ve been available at the KLCC mall. I was beginning to feel a little ill in my digestive system, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying two beers and a delicious plate of spaghetti with chicken. Tien got some sort of delicious chicken and rice dish and honey lemonade. We sat and enjoyed our food as it got dark, then returned to the Petronas towers to take some photos of it at night. They are much more impressive at night because of the way they are lit up. Aside from the unique Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower, the rest of the skyline wasn’t even remarkable when compared to these towers.

We were really tired by this point so we got on the train and managed to stay awake. Between the train station and the hotel I began thinking about an old friend I used to work with named Ron Abitbol. Sometimes we had to travel for work to the same places, but we did t work together all that long. Ron lived out of his car about half of the time, and sometimes he’d live in his boat or in an actual dwelling of some sort. He was a unique character, his own man. Some people thought he was weird, and I guess he was. He did his own thing pretty much all the time. Before I had met him he had gone to Mexico for a long time and worked on a boat. He ended up marrying a Mexican girl and bringing her back to America. He would wander all over. I felt like I might be a Ron.

That night I slept unusually poor. The sickness had set in and kept me up frequently. Even so, we ended up sleeping in late and missing breakfast on Thursday morning.

We decided to go to the Batu Caves, a place I’d wanted to see since I saw taka’s photos of it. As we were getting ready a screw fell loose on my glasses like it had back at Angkor wat. We wandered around looking for a micro screwdriver and found an optics shop where a girl tightened the loose screw for me.

A block later we found a small temple and were invited inside. We went in and as I was taking photos I noticed that the battery on my camera was nearly dead. We went back to the hotel and ended up staying there and not going to the caves at all because I felt so ill. Tien went to find some medicine and food. I had told her to get some dried fruit. She returned with medicine, tea and junkfood which she said was the closest thing she could find to fried food. She did have some multigrain crackers though and that was nice.

Tiny WatchersWe napped the afternoon away and when I woke up I was antsy and feeling a little better, but rather than the batu caves we went to Menara KL looking for a geocache.

Two train stops up we began what was a decent walk to the top of a hill. As we got near the cache location a group of monkeys came running up. We took photos of them and watched them play and preen. When a menara security guard finally left we found the cache and dropped off a travel bug I’d found in SF. This was Tiens first geocache.

Since we were at menara we decided to go up into the tower. It was nearly sunset and the views were gorgeous. It really helped me see the space of the city, which was larger than the maps had led me to think.

There were many Islamic families in the tower and many of the women were dressed head to toe in black with just eyes and hands showing. One of them was having her photo taken, which I thought was funny since you couldn’t see almost any of her. It was like taking a portrait of somebody wearing a gorilla suit, it could be anybody. I thought about that custom and the more I thought about it I became slightly offended at it. I couldn’t put my reason into words but I was definitely offended and that was strange since I don’t usually get offended by people’s lifestyles.

We went back down the 1 minute elevator ride, me feeling slightly ill on the way, and at the bottom was a vendor playing with a really neat crazy remote controlled car. I ended up buying it for tiens nieces.

We took a shuttle down the hill to the street. The radio was playing a local Malaysian radio station with pop hits in English. One thing I like about Malaysia is that almost everybody speaks English. On top of that, many of the Malay words are misspellings of english words. For example, restoran, motorsikal, ekspress, monorel, and bas.

I had a hard time staying awake on the train home because I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in a day and was extremely dehydrated due to my ongoing gastrointestinal problems. There was a sign on the train that said “Three seats are reserved for senior citizens, disabled and pregnant ladies. Aren’t we courteous?”

Back at the hotel I noticed the the battery in my LX3 was dead so I plugged it in with a funky 3 prong plug. Back in Vietnam I’d looked at that plug and had nearly thrown it away since my American plugs had been working great everywhere. In malaysia though all power plugs were these and I’d used that cable to charge my Nikon and my laptop.

I was starving by this point so we went for food. I very irritably dragged Tien Through the market and settled on chicken fried rice with sprite, which was very satisfying. We then went to look for some gifts for her family at the market but couldn’t find anything that really stood out and decided to get some perfume once we were back in Saigon since we probably couldn’t bring it on the plane. We headed back to the hotel and packed for our early departure the next day. I always take a long time to pack so I gave Tien On the Road and had her read aloud to me while I packed.

We got to sleep later than I had hoped and 6am came too soon. We hit the train to sentral and arrived at nearly 7, which was a bit later than planned. Even at that time Starbucks was not open and we weren’t going to eat McDonalds so we just got on the KLIA Ekspres and went to the airport with the intention of getting breakfast there. We ended up arriving much later than I had planned and I was a little worried that the lines through passport control would be as long as last time we were here, but the whole process of getting into the international terminal was actually very easy. This ease was the last bit of joy I experienced in Malaysia.

There were pretty much no breakfast places in the airport. I say this from the perspective beyond passport control. After making one of my innumerable uncomfortable bathroom breaks that were the ongoing result of my illness, we went to a cafe and got coffees and a vanilla muffin, which would’ve made a great breakfast if we had time to eat it. Instead we went down the travellators, that’s what they call the moving walkways, and got to our gate. At the gate there were unsurprisingly no places to sit, and surprisingly another xray security checkpoint. I put our coffee, the muffin, my phone, LX3, ipod and the remote controlled car into a tray and passed it through the metal detectors. On the other side I received my electronic devices soaking wet with coffee that had spilled as it went through the machine along with the spoken notice, although it was not written anywhere, that I was not allowed to bring drinks into the gate waiting area. I had run my coffee through the machine and spilled it all over my new camera, phone and iPod for nothing.

I drank some of my drinks and left the rest there, picked up my soggy electronic devices and my muffin and proceeded to the waiting area for our gate, complete with plenty of chairs and absolutely nothing else. This was a place meant for people to wait, yet they could not bring liquids in, and there were no restaurants or even a drinking fountain. I sat there dehydrated from my illness and ate my muffin with no liquid to wash it down.

I then boarded a plane and sat there for over 30 minutes with really irritating music that sounded like french music mixed with banghra being played backwards and a screaming brat in the next seat over. Neither Tien or I could understand a single word spoken by the man who offered us a meal on the plane and we ended up getting a meal that was to me entirely inedible. At least I got a few tablespoons of Sprite.

Malaysian Airlines had bragged about being one of the few five star airlines in the world, but judging from their airport and their air service, I honestly wouldn’t choose them if I am ever given a choice again, and I’ll avoid KLIA or at least plan ahead if I have to go there.

I managed to find some calm by listening to Chicane very loudly and closing my eyes, but as we landed that terrible music came back on and that brat started screaming louder and I felt a little like I was on an airplane straight to hell. We were in Saigon though, so at least that was good.

We landed. I exchanged my ringgits and some Lao money that I still had into dong, slew a few taxi touts and found a good driver to take us to the familiar District 1, Pham Ngu Lao, and the Ruby Star.