Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (23 of 40)

boatin through the delta

boatin through the delta

delta blues…
“woke up one morning, do do do sat right up in bed, do do do pour myself some whiskey, do do do i look over and kiss my baby still asleep in bed, and then i cried ive got the delta blues,  the delta blues baby  oooh ive got the delta blues.

we’re traveling to the mekong delta to a home stay on a fruit orchard. locals have been starting an ecotourism on the islands of the delta  where you arrive by boat to rustic bungalows on their property. the average costs are around 7 to 10 dollars a night and the dinners are usually a set menu.

a 400 lb catfish was caught here last year (biggest ever!)

a 400 lb catfish was caught here last year (biggest ever!)

in the delta the local specialty is the elephant ear fish. first they cook the fish on the grill which they fuel with the husk of the rice, giving the fish a flakey crust. then they stand the fish up in between some wooden dowels so you can see the fish (i couldn’t see an elephant ear). next they bring you an assortment of fresh greens and herbs with a plate of rice noodles and rice papers. you place the greens first, next some noodles and top it of with the flakey fish. roll it up and savor the fresh creation.

we chose a home stay on a fruit orchard which proved to be difficult to reach on our own. we tried to do this without a tour company so we could move on our own schedule. we first booked a 1 day tour of the mekong to reach one of the islands (this was recommended to us so we could see a few diffrent things and also advance further along)  we were planning to get off the tour half way through and catch a ferrry to another island. the remainder of the group would return to saigon.

taking a rest

taking a rest

on the tour we first visited a local coconut candy shop where they make a delicious coconut taffy. then we took the boat to a bee farm where the locals capture the queen bee to produce honey. another attraction was the pythons which you can hold and take your picture with. if you wish, you can stay here at their home stay – we thought it might not be such a good idea to sleep at a home stay with with snakes and bees.

so here is where we decided to travel by the seat of our pants.

picture stacy and i with our packs (that weigh around 60 pounds each). our boat guide tells us it’s around ten km to the boat ferry, so we catch a local horse and buggy taxi to the dock (turns out the 10 km was only about 1 km).  we reach the ferry only to find out it was the wrong one. our ride cost us 6 dollars – looks like the driver will be eating steak and lobster tonight.

mekong canals

mekong canals

so then we had to hire motorbikes to take us to the bus stop, which scared the shit out of stacy. with the heavy packs, we were on the scooter with some random guy, zooming along a large bridge that went up and down like a roller coaster – we held on for dear life. were dropped off on the side of the road and greeted by the local vender who offered us a chair and some shade. at this point no one spoke any english so we just smiled and let the trip unfold.

soon after, the shop vender yells out at a mini van passing by to negotiate our bus ticket. seconds later were stuffed into the minivan. one thing about bus travel is that, when we get on, they make the locals get out of their seats so we can have the seat. we feel a little weird, but since we’re paying more than everyone else its ok. the driver gives the local vender a little kick and away we go.

now the stares begin…everyone usually turns to you smiles and laughs and talks in vietemese. our minivan cargo consists of 12 people, 1 motorbike, lots of boxes, and us. eventually one of the girls started a conversation of broken english to get our story. come to find out she wants stacy to find another boyfriend and she wants me (understandable –  i’m pretty damn good looking).

river house

river house

i have to decline but she still continues to share her fruit and coffee with us. 5 hours later were dropped off at the bus station (the wrong one again). here we have to hire another motorbike to the car ferry. we get on the bikes and away we go to the wrong ferry. the guys are gone before we realize and now we need to get to the car ferry to reach our orchard island. lucky for all travellers, help is always one step away (for the right price).  we’re now the most frustrated we have ever been. we must hire a boat to take us directly to the family ranch or take another scooter ride to the right ferry.  once we calmed down, we bit the bullet and hired the boat ride directly to the orchard guest house.  this $7 a night room has just cost us a total of $35 to get there.

looking through out boat

looking through out boat

after spending two relaxing nights, a day of boating around the floating market and canals, we left on our way to the cambodian border.  another motorcycle ride on skinny little pathways and bridges and we made it to our bus – a local bus. once again the seats were cleared for us and we were on our way to chau doc.  we were told the ride should be about 4 hours long.  after the first hour or so we hit traffic.  we were at a dead stop on the road behind a line of working trucks, minivans, and other buses.  the roads beside the bus are filled with scooters and people.  the scooter guys are poaching people from the buses and vans, and at this point we don’t know whats going on.  ladies are walking up to the windows selling everything from cold water and towels to grilled corn, sticky rice, gum, you name it.  we sat in this traffic line, moving slowly – inch by inch – for at least an hour until we reached a ferry dock.  we realized what the scooters were doing now.  in the distance you could see major construction of a massive bridge.  until it gets completed, this ferry line would be a daily activity for most.

coconut candy makers

coconut candy makers

finally we had fresh air blowing in the bus again (local bus means no AC, just hot sticky and sweaty – smells real good).  an hour later we stop for lunch.  we take a seat and realize everyone’s looking at us again.  guess we’re in an area where not too many westerners pass through.  we sit down sipping our pepsi over ice and take in the silent stares.  i (jeff) begin rolling a ciggy and an old man with ho chi minh characteristics, who has been sweeping around us, takes notice.  he stops.  he stares. he smiles.  we come to realize, maybe he hasn’t seen a rolly since the last time he came across americans some 30 years ago.  jeff offers him one and he smiles and sits down in acceptance.  by now, he’s smoking in silence with a smile, others from the bus are circling around us in silence, and we just sit there and take it all in.  very much like when robin williams returns to neverland in hook and all the lost boys surround him in curiosity staring and touching.  finally the old man says two or three words softly and kindly (we have no idea what he said).  but they were probably the softest words we’ve heard in all of the vietnam language.  after this surreal moment, we load back on the bus and in a few more hours we arrive at our destination.

coconut candy...like caramel

coconut candy...like caramel

we hop on the back of a bike – with both our bags and both of us…major weight – and the guy rides us around from hotel to hotel until we find one that fits us.  now we’ve settled in, we have a great balcony to watch the kites fly in the sky, the mellow traffic below and enjoy the 24 pack of beer 333 that jeff bought and the many mangoes stacy bought.  we’re happy campers.

wo here we are, do do do do, ice cold beer in my hand, do do do do, killin them mosquitoes to survive, do do do do, hopin my next ride will be alright, do do do do , cause that’s how the mekong delta blues carries you through the night, do do do do…

xo”

honey bee man

honey bee man

mekong bees - can you find the queen?

mekong bees - can you find the queen?

wildman jeff

wildman jeff

water buffalo - keeping it cool

water buffalo - keeping it cool

starting to charge a bit now...

starting to charge a bit now...

$6 horse and carriage ride - what a rip off!

$6 horse and carriage ride - what a rip off!

boatin it - its been a looong day

boatin it - it's been a looong day

typical mekong scene

typical mekong scene

cute little whiskers!

cute little whiskers!

wood

wood

watermelon

watermelon

stacy

stacy

jeff in front of our homestay

jeff in front of our homestay

mekong cathedral

mekong cathedral

canal scene

canal scene

boy peeling fruit

boy peeling fruit

floating market

floating market

house

house

schools out

school's out

arriving in chau doc

arriving in chau doc

jeff + beer = happy camper

jeff + beer = happy camper

moon rising

moon rising

dusk settling from our balcony view

dusk settling from our balcony view

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (22 of 40)

chna beach surf

china beach surf

where to begin?????
“let’s see, we spent 8 days in china beach which is located half way between danang and hoi an. and we loved every second of it.  the only reason we left was cause we’ve now started a bit of a schedule to meet my mom.  but, open long beach, very similar to hosugar (sp?) of southern france according to jeff, just not quite the waves right now. though, we did get one day of surf there. that’s right, WE.  i kinda freaked and came in fairly quickly though cause it was getting too big for the likes of me.

jeff or mike, i think mike (new friend)

jeff or mike, i think mike (new friend)

our little hotel was quaint, on a dirt road that led to the beach where two little seafood restaurants were.  the first few nights the vacant pine forest separated our hotel and the beach filled up with hundreds of high schoolers (you can see it in some older pics) going crazy with karaoke, games, singing and dancing…the vietnamese girls know how to get down.  we were pulled into a few little dance circles not sure what to do, and both of us were pretty seductively ‘freaked’ by the locals… pretty funny. we have it all recorded (with sound)..classic.

from china beach we chose to stay one night in hoi an; a beautiful city with plenty of old architecture NOT destroyed by the wars past. we rented a motor and went a few days from china beach, but chose not to stay cause it was pricier than where we were anticipating and hot, with no beach at your doorstep.  we got some clothes made, had some traditional foods and then were on our way south to jungle beach, another beach paradise north of nhe trang by 60km.

stacy - surfs up!

stacy - surf's up!

our clothes and a pair of sandals turned out pretty good and we were on our way, back on the night bus onward south.  we heard about jungle beach through our china beach place owner, hoa (a very nice guy who loves his beer).  we got on our bus, got some cozy beds, and at 4:30am we were dropped off alone in the middle of nowhere at a gas station. we made it.

to our surprise, but not really cause we’re in vietnam, two guys came out of the bushes and offered us rides to jungle beach, which is a 30km ride from there.  after some negotiating we were on our way, once again on the back of a scooter with our way-too-large of bags (we weighed them and they are each teetering on 60lbs!!!).  we had an amazing cruise, starting in the dark with the stars, then watching the sunrise over these beautiful landscapes of rice paddies and what smelled like cow fields.  we hit the water, went through a small village, and voila, we were at the jungle beach.

china beach sunrise

china beach sunrise

an amazing place. it really was a backpackers resort.  a private-ish beach, white sands, warmer water than where we had just come from (not that it was cold by any means, even up there), beautiful landscapes of jungle and hills with boulders and monkeys, great little rustic bungalows, play areas with a ping pong table, and some great food. it was ‘all inclusive’ per se – 22 bucks each, which included all meals and housing.  alcohol was extra. overall a bit pricier than we were used to, but the experience was great and worth every bit of it.

it was really something out of ‘the beach’ but all positives… there were around 20 of us for the three days we were there.  you get up around 7 or 8ish, walk around the beach, come up for a delicious breakfast that you get to pick (great scrambled eggs, the best yet, pancakes, frenchtoast…) then you do what you do best and hang on the beach. we all have our own little shades made of bamboo and we laid out, read and surfed. thats right, surfed!

morning volleyball sessions, china beach

morning volleyball sessions, china beach

jeff finally had his moments. me too! it was great.  we showed up in the morning, everyone already down on the beach, but nobody was messing with the shitty, but workable surfboards.  jeff picked up the long board, hit some waves, showed me how, and then everyone was out wanting to learn – it was great and hilarious. jeff was pushing german guys bigger than him on the board into a wave.  everyone else was from europe so they had no experience but were dying to learn. it was so much fun!

at lunch we’re all summoned from the beach by the nice ladies and served a family style meal that is absolutely delish.  we go back to the beach, repeat, the ladies bring us amazing juicy fresh fruit in the afternoon, beach, then dinner at 6ish…amazing food again.  and then it’s back to the beach for party and bonfires with guitar and singing galore.  it just felt so good to be surrounded by people of like minds doing what we do best…chillin. we listened and sang and just had an awesome time with great people.  it was one of those moments where we were waiting for something bad to happen cause everything was so great. even the local guys were singing on the beach and sharing some local folk songs.

another china beach sunrise

another china beach sunrise

after a few days though, we had to depart.  sylvio, the canadian trippy owner booked us a night train to saigon and we were on our way. coincidentally, 10 others were leaving so the timing was right.  hopefully we’ll run into some again on the road…. the travel road always seems to be smaller than it really is.

we arrived in saigon, now ho chi minh city at 4:30am after a well rested train ride, bed and all, got a hotel and started our exploring.  we ended up getting a cyclo, a three wheel bike and drove around town.  our driver was hilarious and even famous; he got his photo taken riding his bike in some tourist mag. he wooed us with his charm and we were on our way.

little girl, wish we knew what she was saying

little girl, wish we knew what she was saying

first to the war remnants museum, the last of our war visits.  a moving, depressing, amazing museum, definitely from the VC prospective.  the favorite part of it was the section dedicated to all the correspondence/photographers that had lost their lives in the war. an amazing photo collection…the most moving part of the museum. american, french, english, japanese, korean, and vietnamese photographers. such telling stories.  there was also a section on agent orange (appaling pictures and even two or three you could call it, real babies kept in liquid so you can witness the atrocities the poison causes), the tiger cage jails that the south used, one containing an old french guillotine (old school be-header) that was used through the early 60′s, old weapons/bombs, and alas, a beautiful display of local children’s artwork on how they see a peaceful world.  great museum, but we’re done depressing ourselves.

hoi an river

hoi an river

we then moved on the cho’lon, the old china town. it’s not much of a china town now as many migrated/fled during and after the war.  now it’s all in construction with whole blocks being demolished to create new streets. we saw a cool pagoda, lady in the sky , that was built in 906AD.  then he took us for lunch, some delicious pho, our best yet. and he told us more of his past.

oh before that, the best part – he was telling us he has 4 kids (3 boys and 1 girl) where he lives and so forth. he recently found a baby at the rail station. crazy saigon.  no one knew where he came from so he took him home and has been raising him for the last 8 months.  he was telling us this story and then kept saying something but we couldn’t really understand. then it came to us:  he was asking us to take this baby home as our own!!!!!!!!!!! he said he’d accompany us to the police station, get all the paperwork figured out, and then we could take him back to the states with us. he then started pulling out pictures of this adorable little boy. we said thank you but no thank you.  but throughout the day he kept asking…. any takers???

hoi an lanterns...everywhere!

hoi an lanterns...everywhere!

so, we had lunch, he told of us his fight with the south from 68-71ish, he was shot twice but just barely, showing us scars above his eye and on his thumb. one of his two brothers disappeared in the war. the remaining of them served in prison for four years, at the end of the war, until they memorized the words of communism and were able to convince them of their dedication.  now he still isn’t allowed in northern vietnam for his past southern alliance.

it was a great day spent with our friend. now we’re ditchin this massive city and heading south to the mekong…land of fruit and mosquitoes!

i’m sure there’s a lot more to be said, but jeffs waiting patiently outside so its time to go…. plus these computers are so damn slow you have no idea how long this takes just to do this and upload a measly 15 photos….when we have so much more!

peace and love”

hoi an streets

hoi an streets

hoi an alley

hoi an alley

carving station

carving station

old french style building walls

old french style building walls

view from back of our hotel hoi an

view from back of our hotel hoi an

jungle mountains

jungle mountains

campfire singing

campfire singing

our jungle beach bungalow

our jungle beach bungalow

bungalow inside

bungalow inside

classic watch dog

classic watch dog

hoi an market

hoi an market

eggs

eggs

lettuce

lettuce

jungle beach - to the beach

jungle beach - to the beach

path from dining to bungalow

path from dining to bungalow

cyclo with our famous driver

cyclo with our famous driver

ho chi minh sity

ho chi minh sity

our could be son

our 'could be' son

wishes and prayers

wishes and prayers

incense prayer to last a month

incense prayer to last a month

pho lunch with our driver

pho lunch with our driver

our famous driver

our famous driver

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (21 of 40)

sleeping bus

sleeping bus

DMZ tour
*** this entry is long and just deals with the DMZ tour and may drag on, so beware! and our history’s not so good, so bare with it***

arriving to central vietnam, we entered the main hub of the ‘american war’ – as its called here – naturally, since it marked the border between north and south, hue, the city we stayed at, has a much older and richer history, mostly being part of a citadel constructed in 1806 by the emperor ly, later destroyed by the french, then rebuilt, only to be destroyed by the american, and then once again bandaged up.

a very cool site: old brick walls with castle like towers every hundred feet, surrounded by a moat of course.  and the emperor himself gave this region the great food we get to eat today.  he was so picky and cocky, he wanted 50 different dishes prepared by 50 different chefs and served to him by 50 different servants….quite a guy! but, citadel aside, this is where the american war tours begin…..

gettin comfortable

gettin comfortable

the DMZ tour takes you on a bus (12 hours in all, 6am to 6pm!) and drives an hour north of hue to the de-militarized zone which lies 5km south of the ben hai river and 5 km north of the river, from ocean to the laos border (about 65 km).

a little buff up on the history, the ben hai river served as the border between north and south vietnam after the elections failed to happen in the early 60′s (failed because the southern catholic ruler refused to hold an election with US aid pretty much because it was feared the communist leader ho chi minh would win).  so, then during the ‘war’, the DMZ area was created to serve as a safe-hold for civilians who wanted to cross the border.  of course, as ‘peace keepings’ usually never really mean peace, this ended up being the scene of the largest battles throughout the US involvement.

hue citadel

hue citadel

so, this tour takes you from the ocean almost to the laos border and back, stopping to look at old bases, stations, trails, tunnels, etc… that were significant in the war. unfortunately it was more of a driving tour than anything else, and the tour guide’s english was barely understandable.  but still, here’s a run down of what we saw and experienced:

rock pile: a little more than a pile of rocks, this is a giant mountain, rather rocky, that served as the US helicopter pad as well as look out station. now, it looks like a beautiful green mountain in the midst of a valley, but during the war, it served as a vital tool for the US

us artillery

us artillery

hien luong bridge/ho chi minh trail: this was a little more vague for us because there was nothing in our LP book and we couldn’t understand the tour guide… but, the ho chi minh trail served as a path of the VC (charlie) and its supplies and weapons.  now its pretty much all highway (the one which we were driving on) but we were shown pictures of the steep dirty trails that it served as in the past.  the bridge itself we’re not too sure about, other than it was part of the trail and now a big fancy one was built in honor of it.

landscape: to us, the landscape was beautiful and green, but to the trained eye you would know that the land should be lush with jungles.  in reality, the hills were rolling with green grass and shrubs, still tropical.  but prior to the war, there were thick jungles with trees and canopies, which coincidentally served as good cover for ‘charlie’.  so, the US not only bombed the place but sprayed herbicides everywhere, killing every plant around. and still today, the trees and many other species/plants haven’t returned.

crash remnants, khe san

crash remnants, khe san

khe sanh base: this was the mother-load. others may know it as ‘khe sanh hell’, the largest battle in all of the US occupation in vietnam.  short story goes something like this (bare with it , some of you probablyly know more than we do) – US intelligence gets wind of charlie moving around in these distant mountains, south of the ben ai river border, only 20km east of the laos border.   traditionally, these mountains are filled with local tribes who don’t know or care not much of what’s going on in the rest of their country, they live the simple life.  with this new intelligence, president johnson and his top officers decide the US needs to establish a presence there.  so, we go there, pretty much demolish the villages (not in a killing way, but just take over, ruining the traditional livelihoods…), create an airstrip and make our presence.  in 1967, more movement was detected around the hills and the US predicted a major attack. after filling the place with marines, we were ready, or so we thought.  as nothing seemed to be happening, supposedly, soldiers started wondering what the heck they were all doing in the middle of nowhere.

helicopter

helicopter

there was no real land to be conquered and no visible threat to them.  but on january 21 1968, battle began as the US was then surrounded by charlie and local guerrillas.  after the largest sum of american deaths in one battle, the US fled khe sanh on april 7th (not to mention how many villagers and civilians died).  however and coincidently, on january 23rd (i think) the TET offensive went off, and the north vietnamese had attacked/taken over dozens of cities and towns (including saigon) in the south.  a major ‘loss’ to the US. it turns out, the charlie that was around the mountains was a diversion to get all the attention up there and let charlie slip by US intelligence to accomplish the TET offensive.  so, pretty much, the khe sanh battle was looked at as not necessary. soldiers then coined the phrase “in the middle of nowhere fighting for nothing.”  nothing good came from the troops being stationed up there and from what we’ve read and seen it seems like both the soldiers and the US people saw khe sanh as a major if not stupid mistake on the US government’s part. sorry we can’t explain it better, just google it.

old bunker

old bunker

but what WE saw: now, a memorial museum on the site as well as old helicopters, bunkers, tanks, and bombs.  the museum was breathtaking. filled with old photos and testimonies of locals and soldiers. and everything is actually pretty matter of fact.  i think there’s a pretty general consensus that the US made some bad calls, but they’re not throwing it in your face here at all.  it’s just amazing to see all this in person with your own eyes and look around you and see the stories come to life per se right in front of you.  outside the museum were two american helicopters -huge!!! as well as an artillery gun, a tank, bombs…… the photos will show you…oh and even the remnants of the airstrip where nothing grows, though the rest of the landscape is all beautiful coffee plants.  needless to say we left there with a whole new feeling.

US military tank

US military tank

vinh moc tunnels: now, north of the ben hai river border and on the coast, the local villagers took flee underground…for 6 years! 60 families took cover from all the bombing above and lived in a three tier tunnel maze reaching up to 23 m below the surface.  and in this time, 17 babies were born, all which survived the war.  there are also tunnels like this around ho chi minh city,much more complex but supposedly slightly smaller and more tourists :)  so we got to venture down these, still ducking quite a bit.  it was amazing to see the handy work amongst all this red clay. they used bamboo to support the tunnels and built wells, bathrooms, bomb shelters, a larger meeting room, and lots of stairs.  if we thought about it too hard, you could get very claustrophobic down there as you’re walking with a tour of 20 people in these tiny tunnels.  at least today they’ve wired them with electricity so that was at least comforting. overall the tour was eye-opening but our bumms were sore from sitting so much!

used and unused bombs

used and unused bombs

some additions…

khe sanh: this (worded by the vietnamese) was the biggest ruse of the war – the vietnamese gave every appearance of threatening khe sang, surrounding the place with thousands of troops and shelling the base relentlessly. no serious attempt to seize the marice base ever occurred.  the vietnamese purpose was to distract westmoreland’s attention fom their preparations for the real dein bein phu of the american war, the surprise nationwide offensive at tet, the lunar new year holiday, of january 1968, which broke the will of the johnson administration and the american public to continue to prosecute the conflict.  the ruse succeeded.

a guerrilla monument

a guerrilla monument

a heartbreaking story overhead from a US vet: stationed in the beginning of the war, late 50′s i believe, they arrived to a village in central vietnam and was greeted by the local chief.  he asked why they were here and who they were.  he sensed trouble and told the soldiers that they walked and acted just like the vietnamese men that had just visited previously (charlie).  when told they had came up from saigon, the chief said they had no idea what saigon was (just to prove how remote this part of the country was).  they proceeded to tour around this village and others. they were ordered to recruit villagers. most did, but some didn’t. one in particular was a 16 year old boy.  he began running away and one of his fellow soldiers was ordered to shoot. he did and killed him on the spot. the mother ran over and held him crying profusely.  the general or colonal, whomever was in charge, was saying ‘why won’t she shut up damn it, gooks have no feelings, why is she crying like that’. a soldier replied, ‘we just shot and killed her son sir’. but the head honcho proceeded to swear and curse her tears…..

flowers growing among old bomb shells

flowers growing among old bomb shells

old photo - soldier hugging his fallen friend

old photo - soldier hugging his fallen friend

DMZ crossing

DMZ crossing

tunnel

tunnel

tunnel construction - it took 20 months of digging day and night to build them

tunnel construction - it took 20 months of digging day and night to build them

in the tunnel

in the tunnel

old village photo

old village photo

rock pile today

rock pile today

old photo of ho chi minh trail

old photo of ho chi minh trail

new bridge

new bridge


Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (20 of 40)

arriving to the caves

arriving to the caves

descent of the dragon
“the junk/boat was fairly big – it had 10 rooms on the first floor, dinning room for 20 + on the second, and a deck up top.  we started with lunch which was decent.  all-inclusive usually means the food’s gonna suck, and in this case, it pretty much all did. the meals on the boat were okay: sticky rice, fried something (either french fries, fish, calamari, peanuts, peas, you name it) nem (fried spring rolls), grilled fish (unfillet’d of course), steamed cabage of some sort, and sauteed noodles with either a meat or fish…. like i said, decent, but bland for sure.  and as drinks weren’t included, not even water, we suffered cause we refused to pay the 4x markup price…although we did splurg once on a beer.

keeping with food, the food on the island at the hotel we stayed at was horrible.  it was as if you were at the worst hospital ever, and it was ‘chinese food day’, slopped up by the lunch room lady played by chris farley… horrible i tell you! and it made me sick and even jeff a bit too.

Food aside…. the bay was great.  Our boat first took us to a giant cave on an island.  The boat pulls up to the cement dock stairway and then the music instantly starts.  It`s like we`re at disneyland! The load speaker is spitting out some form of traditional music followed by a vietnamese voice, and then an english voice.  Now we`re on the ride… She explains to keep the island clean by depositing all rubbage in the Penguin and Dolphin trash cans and stay on the path… Cross between Jurassic Park or Disneyland for sure.  We hiked up a short stairway to enter this massive cave.  It was totally unbelievable.  For the biggest cave we will probably ever see in our lives.  All in all it`s the size of a small mall after you`ve walked it all and it`s tall, a huge room of many forms and shapes. But, continuing with the disney theme, they`ve wired it with electricity and colored lights reflect off different walls or bottoms to represent water i guess or something… kinda crazy.  Still the natural beauty prevailed.  Van Whee took us through with his lazer light and pointed out all the shapes of people and creatures you could see, like when you`re looking at clouds.  But, he forgot to distribute enough drugs for the rest of us so we could be on his same plane….  After 25 minutes, we started to exit the cave, only to find the beautiful bay has now been encompassed by a massive wind and rain storm.  We cancelled the second cave we were to hike to and made our way down the slippery cement stairway to our Junk.
Now, we`re soaking wet and stuck on the boat realizing there went our afternoon of kayaking around the bay.  The boat starts its departure and we`re on our way to find cover in a cove around the bay.  As we`re moving along, I of course bring up whats the liklihood of a boat like this tipping over.  After Jeff and this guy from Boston discuss the decisions made its too big to tip, it would rather have to sink from hitting a rock or something.  Moments later, we hear a crash outside and one of the deck hands rushes inside and yells something loud and crazy that then results with all 20 of us franticlly moving to one side of the boat to balance it out.  The sound had come from two of the beautiful giant flower pots they had outside that were obviously not secured down as they slide around breaking and going overboard.  It seems that we had got caught at just the imperfect time in this wind tunnel between these two islands as we were trying to get around them.  It took about 10 minutes of shifting side to side and opening the windows so the rainy wind could blow through the ship rather than at it, until we were safely motored to cover.  Kinda crazy and exciting, at least since we survived it!
Since our afternoon was shot, we ended up taking a long nap in our actually very comfortable and cozy room.  Then dinner while we watched lightning and thunder surround us.
In the morning we awoke at 630 and hit up the kayaks now that it had cleared and the sun was beginning to shine.  We row`d around for 30 minutes or so then retreated to our room and warmed up before breakfast.  Then after our horrible cold breakfast, we motored over to Cat Ba island where we would spend the next night.
Now we seriously were on Jurassic Park.  We got in our little bus and drove through amazing limestone peaks where we were awaiting T Rex to jump out at any moment.  Unfortunately I guess we were a few million years too late.  Our first stop was the national park.  We hiked a short but gruesome hike to the top of a peak where we climbed a scary old rigidy army look out tower and gazed accross the mountain peaks.  And looking down at the old army base (VC army).  Very cool, but super scary,for me at least, Jeff I guess isn`t fazed much by heights, but half the people couldn`t even make it to the top.  I did, but I could feel my legs almost about to give out if I thought about it too hard, or looked down through the rusty old crate top.  After the trek we went to our mediocore hotel, had horrible lunch, then hit the beach up (cause now its sunny).  Went for a dip, sunbathed, then I got sick and couldn`t really leave the room, or toilet for that matter.  Not much going on the island but a lot of building.  There were whole areas cleared out with the giant billboards showing pictures of the future projects that looked like condominium developements and more resort  hotels… the new Phuket of vietnam, too bad.
On the third day we boat`d back about two hours to mainland, sunbathing on the top deck, not too shabby.
Bia Hoi, our only saving grace.  Translates to Beer Fresh.  Only 18 cents a mug if you can believe that! Tastes kinda like dirty fermented water at first, but after one or two you get used to it.  Its made by locals, unfermented and dranken on the street corners or little cafes.  That`s been part of our daily routine, meeting lots of expats from around the world that are here teaching english or own tourism copanies or restaurants.
Food, we`ve tride fried corn kernals rubbed in a butter custard thing (ultimate popcorn), squid jerky dipped in a sweet and hot sauce, kebabs, either in a pita or baguetts (decent), and more pho (still our first experience has been the best).
Now we`re loaded up on oranges and we`re getting on a 13 hour busride south to Hue in the middle of the DMZ (demilitarized zone) which at once was an imperial capitol and has an old citidel in it…. we`ll see.  Then Jeff just might have his luck as there may be surf at the infamous China Beach which is just south of Hue….
Overall, Hanoi is still in our tops.  We found out it is a city of around 8million now, with 6.5 million scooters! We`ll be uploading photos to prove it at the next stop.  Great people though, with some hasslers everywhere, but we`re used to it now….
Peace and love for now!
xostacy and jeff

food aside…. the bay was great.  our boat first took us to a giant cave on an island.  the boat pulls up to the cement dock stairway and then the music instantly starts.  it’s like we’re at disneyland!  the loud speaker is spitting out some form of traditional music followed by a vietnamese voice, and then an english voice.  now we’re on the ride… she explains to keep the island clean by depositing all rubbage in the penguin and dolphin trash cans and stay on the path… cross between jurassic park or disneyland for sure.

Van Whee and Captain, chugging beers, you just cant see it in the pic

van whee and captain, chugging beers, you just cant see it in the pic

we hiked up a short stairway to enter this massive cave.  it was totally unbelievable.  by far the biggest cave we will probably ever see in our lives.  all in all it’s the size of a small mall – a tall, huge room of many forms and shapes. but, continuing with the disney theme, they’ve wired it with electricity and colored lights reflect off different walls or bottoms to represent water i guess…or something… kinda crazy.  still, the natural beauty prevailed.  van whee took us through with his laser light and pointed out all the shapes of people and creatures you could see, like when you’re looking at clouds…but he forgot to distribute enough drugs for the rest of us so we could be in his same frame of mind….  after 25 minutes, we started to exit the cave, only to find the beautiful bay has now been encompassed by a massive wind and rain storm.  we cancelled the second cave we were to hike to and made our way down the slippery cement stairway to our junk.

rushing from one side of the boat to the other

rushing from one side of the boat to the other

now, we’re soaking wet and stuck on the boat realizing “there went our afternoon of kayaking around the bay.”  the boat starts its departure and we’re on our way to find cover in a cove around the bay.  as we’re moving along, I of course bring up “whats the likelihood of a boat like this tipping over?”  after jeff and this guy from boston discuss and come to the decision that it’s too big to tip, (rather it would have to sink from hitting a rock or something).  moments later, we hear a crash outside and one of the deck hands rushes inside and yells something loud and crazy that then results with all 20 of us frantically moving to one side of the boat to balance it out.  the sound had come from two of the beautiful giant flower pots they had outside that were obviously not secured down as they slide around breaking and flying overboard.  it seems that we had got caught at just the imperfect time in this wind tunnel between these two islands as we were trying to get around them.

our nice room below deck

our nice room below deck

it took about 10 minutes of shifting side to side and opening the windows so the rainy wind could blow through the ship rather than at it, until we had safely motored to cover.  kinda crazy and exciting – at least since we survived it!

since our afternoon was shot, we ended up taking a long nap in our actually very comfortable and cozy room.  then dinner while we watched the lightning and thunder that surround us.

in the morning we awoke at 6:30 and hit up the kayaks now that it had cleared and the sun was beginning to shine.  we rowed around for 30 minutes or so then retreated to our room and warmed up before breakfast.  then after our horrible cold breakfast, we motored over to cat ba island where we would spend the next night.

view of the island from our kayak

view of the island from our kayak

now we seriously were on jurassic park.  we got in our little bus and drove through amazing limestone peaks where we were awaiting t rex to jump out at any moment.  unfortunately i guess we were a few million years too late.  our first stop was the national park.  we hiked a short but gruesome hike to the top of a peak where we climbed a scary old rickety army look-out tower and gazed across the mountain peaks and could look down at the old army base (vc army).  very cool, but super scary, for me at least.  jeff isn’t fazed much by heights, but half the people couldn’t even make it to the top.  i did, but i could feel my legs almost about to give out if i thought about it too hard, or looked down through the rusty old crate top.

fishing village

fishing village

after the trek we went to our mediocre hotel, had a horrible lunch, then hit up the beach (cause now it’s sunny).  we went for a dip, sunbathed, then i got sick and couldn’t really leave the room, or toilet for that matter.  not much going on on the island but a lot of building.  there were whole areas cleared out with the giant billboards showing pictures of the future projects that looked like condominium developments and more resort  hotels… the new phuket of vietnam – too bad.

on the third day we boated back about two hours to mainland, sunbathing on the top deck, not too shabby.

floating villages

floating villages

bia hoi – our only saving grace – translates to beer fresh.  only 18 cents a mug if you can believe that!  tastes kinda like dirty fermented water at first, but after one or two you get used to it.  it’s made by locals, unfermented and drank on the street corners or in little cafes.  that’s been part of our daily routine, in addition to meeting lots of expats from around the world that are here teaching english or who own tourism companies or restaurants.

food, we’ve tried fried corn kernels rubbed in a butter custard thing (ultimate popcorn), squid jerky dipped in a sweet and hot sauce, kebabs, either in a pita or baguettes (decent), and more pho (still our first experience has been the best).

kayaking couple

kayaking couple

now we’re loaded up on oranges and we’re getting on a 13 hour bus ride south to hue in the middle of the DMZ (de-militarized zone) which once was an imperial capitol and has an old citadel in it…. we’ll see.  then jeff just might have his luck as there may be surf at the infamous china beach which is just south of hue….

overall, hanoi is still in our tops.  we found out it is a city of around 8 million now, with 6.5 million scooters! we’ll be uploading photos to prove it at the next stop.  great people though, with some hasslers everywhere, but we’re used to it now….

peace and love!

xo, stacy and jeff”

rusty stairs

rusty stairs

at top of peak

at top of peak

mountain views

mountain views

top of lookout tower

top of lookout tower

lookin down

lookin down

sign on top

sign on top

seriously tall

seriously tall

and seriously old and rusty...missing last step!

and seriously old and rusty...missing last step!

from below looking up

from below looking up

army barracks

army barracks

old army barracks

old army barracks

cat ba harbor

cat ba harbor

jeff takin a dip

jeff takin a dip

sunset

sunset

3rd day on the boat and sunny!

3rd day on the boat and sunny!

always sportin the flag

always sportin the flag

view off junk deck

view off junk deck

front of boat

front of boat

this does no justice to show how many there really are

this does no justice to show how many there really are

beer hoi

beer hoi

motor transport for anything and everything

motor transport for anything and everything

lunch

lunch

Guest Blog – Jeff & Stacy do SE Asia (19 of 40)

now departing the bay of halong city

now departing the bay of halong city

startin the boat tour…
“it’s amazing, our seventh day here in hanoi and we’re still walking down little streets and alleys we hadn’t done before… something always new!

we departed from the old quarter on friday the 13th to halong bay, which in vietnamese means, ‘descent of the dragon’ because if you were to fly over the bay, all the islands would look like a dragon…but from the boat it’s hard to tell.

view of the bay

view of the bay

the book actually recommends taking a tour to do halong bay because it’s just too complicated and expensive to do it on your own.  so after a day devoted to finding the REAL tourist companies that are listed in the book, we had a better idea on what we wanted.

we settled on a $53 each tour, three days two nights, one night on the boat, the other on the only inhabited island, cat ba.  we were tempted to go for a higher priced tour guaranteeing more kayaking and boating, less island, but after all was said and done, we figured it’s all the same bay, so lets save a buck.  all tours are ‘all inclusive’ minus drinks.

jeff on deck

jeff on deck

we left at 8:30am in a short bus with 18 other tourists and our tour guide van whee.  as our trip began, our lovable crazy tour guide began his orientation to us in his best english that was very hilarious and slightly frustrating.  we did learn some history of hanoi, traffic laws, history of halong and that he called the bathroom the ‘happy room’ cause you always come out happier… usually true.

after 3 hours we arrived at the harbor of halong city.  not much to see thus far.  plus it’s slightly misty/foggy so our sight could only go so far.  but the city itself is highrises, big bridges, not much to see.

we were loaded on our junk (that’s what they call a boat) and off we went!

more about the boar trip later…..”

nice weather, eh?

nice weather, eh?

stacy on deck

stacy on deck

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (18 of 40)

ho chi minh statue

ho chi minh statue

uncle ho…
today we saw uncle ho.  really we saw him in his own flesh…. embalmed of course.  at the ho chi minh mausoleum, you stand in this thick long line for about thirty minutes and you swiftly move along the outside until you reach the ‘lotus building‘ what looks like a square with pillars, and you silently enter in and weave around to where he rests…. a big, ornamental, glass coffin, resting with his hand layed upon his chest, ‘peacefully sleeping’.  you walk steady around and past him as well as the 6 manikin-like guards beside him, and then out you go.  through this there’s no pictures, bags, anything – you check all that in.  it’s a free sight, as many pilgrimages here often are.  pretty crazy, don’t know how often we’ll see something like that in our lives.  uncle ho wanted to be cremated, but after his death, his followers thought only fit to follow suit of lenin and stalin and embalm him…. crazy stuff.

breakdancers

breakdancers

after this we had our first real pho experience.  this one was pho bo (beef noodle soup, at least we hope, as we did see more fido being offered just up the street, in a real restaurant in the open )…. the grandma, lookin pretty damn old, sat us down and with no words exchanged. we saw her grab a wad of raw minced beef, throw it in a woven basket spoon, hold it in the boiling water, then dump it atop rice noodles with fresh chives, pepper , salt, and poured over a broth, and then placed these plentiful bowls in front.  that was good enough for us, we thought…. then she grabbed a plate of chicken, a plate of spring rolls and meatball things, a bowl of fresh greens (mint, coriander, lettuce), a jar of garlic, and a spicy soy sauce concoction, and began serving away…. she took much of each and dipped it in one sauce and then threw it all on top of our bowls…it was actually outrageous.  so much food and flavors and really good – as long as you didn’t look too close as what was in the meatballs or the spring rolls…..i’m sure it was all okay to eat  ; )  chased down with two room temp canned heineken, and quite a meal.  we seriously felt like we were hansel and gretal at the candy house, she would NOT stop giving us chow… after we got across we couldn’t eat anymore pho, she had her sweet smiley granddaughter clear our plates… then the bananas came out and the hot tea… we just couldn’t get enough i guess.  by this time jeff and i are cracking up at how she just won’t let down… but we know, there’s gonna be a price to it all.  and of course, she then asks for $200,000 dong (15 bucks about….) and we’re like hell no.  we figured it probably should have been around 80,000 dong, so we left her 100,000 and walked away with her shouting at us.  we passed by her again later and waved and it was all smiles

evening excercise

evening excercise

after pho time, we went to the temple of literature, the 1st school in vietnam, built in 1075 i believe.  very cool old buildings and beautiful property.

vietnam doesn’t seem to have much if any copyright laws.  the book says it’s in the works but, for now, anything goes.  so what this means is if you have one successful restaurant, hotel, tour company, store of any kind, there will be at least 10 copy cats anywhere, even if it means all 10 are lined up right next door.  it’s hilariously frustrating when you’re looking for the right one, or just trying not to go in circles when, around every corner, you see the same names…. if we’re looking for something out of the book then we just make sure the addresses really match up.  and speaking of books, we bought two:  lonely planet vietnam and mr. nice (aussie book), and both are photocopies! the covers are photocopied on hard back so you would never know… its crazy out here!

the pho shebang

the 'pho' shebang

tomorrow we head to halong bay for 3 days on a junk (boat) and to stay on an island…. should be cool!  the weather is warm to cool with a slight mist, so it’s almost perfect.  the first day we didn’t have any mist and it was perfect, but still, the mist is just that, there’s no wind, so calm seas should lie ahead….

xxxoo jeff and stacy

pho grandma and prodigy

pho grandma and prodigy

temple of literature enterance

temple of literature enterance

hello!

hello!

literature grounds

literature grounds

doctorines plaques

'doctorines' plaques

music video being filmed

music video being filmed

old

old

incense dragon

incense dragon

cool view

cool view

freaky giant turtle

freaky giant turtle

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (17 of 40)

view of old quarter over hanoi

view of old quarter over hanoi

it’s day three in hanoi and we’re still diggin it.  a city of 3 million, its got an amazing amount of character and charm, of course with the daily tourist scams, but we’d be surprised if there weren’t any.

view of lake from cafe

view of lake from cafe

on our first day we walked around ‘old quarter‘ where we’re staying to get our barrings.  first things first – coffee.  the book raves about the coffee here so we gave it a try.  the first cafe we saw was more of a club, but with a fabulous view so we said what the heck.  on the 6th floor balcony we were overlooking the lake on one side and the old quarter on the other.  and the coffee had like 6 shots of espresso, thick espresso, topped off with warm sweet milk, if you like…rip the enamel right off those pearly whites.  this ‘cafe’ was something we could never afford to go to in the states as looked like the swankiest club in vegas…but for us, a mere $5.00 for two coffees and a pineapple/carrot shake…. sure not really on our backpackers budget, but what a view…

strong coffees and shake... notice the carved carrot...

strong coffees and shake... notice the carved carrot...

the old quarter definitely has a french feel to the architecture, but the streets are everything you’d expect of a bustling asian city.  motor bikes, bicycles, and cars, zooming every which way.  horns going off everywhere!  but to tell you the truth, even a blind man could cross the road here, you just gotta keep moving (never stop!) and the traffic weaves around you like a river around a rock.

each street specializes in one thing, be it aluminum materials, silk cloth, musical instruments, chinese lanterns, flowers, plush toys, plastic toys, you name it.  it’s like one giant store and each street serves as an aisle.

the lake we’re at has been here for thousands of years, hanoi itself is something like 545 days until its 1000 year anniversary (there’s banners and billboards countin’ down).

legend has it the dynastic leader at the time, ly, was sent a sword from the gods and defeated the chinese with it, and then a giant turtle

mmm...coffee

mmm...coffee

from this lake came up and grabbed it from his hands, taking it below and returning to the gods

where it came from…. still today there really are giant turtles in the lake, but you only see them maybe once every two years, so consider yourself damn lucky if you do! we did, but embalmed on a temple island on the lake, looks more like a giant seal or something stuffed in a shell….

water puppetry is an ancient form of entertainment, originally started at the rice paddies… the puppets are made from fig trees with dye from foods.  they use a stick to move the puppets from afar, and back in the day, these experienced puppeteers would get water borne diseases. yuck.  puppeteers have at least a minimum of 3 years experience.  now, its done in theatres, clean water, and they wear waders.  we saw it, pretty cool.  check out the pics.

roof tops

roof tops

eel or snake?  in food market, of course!

eel or snake? in food market, of course!

want some bananas?

want some bananas?

what a load

what a load

flowers!

flowers!

flower bike

flower bike

old quarter street corner

old quarter street corner

ancient bridge

ancient bridge

fruit bikes

fruit bikes

house

house

jeff in street

jeff in street

oranges

oranges

jeff lookin like a natural

jeff lookin like a natural

old wall

old wall

old quarter on the lake by night

old quarter on the lake by night

turtle temple island

turtle temple island

pagoda, the symbol of hanoi

pagoda, the symbol of hanoi

tower

tower

cool old trunk

cool old trunk

bridge

bridge

water puppet parade

water puppet parade

the puppet masters

the puppet masters

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (16 of 40)

got baguette?

got baguette?

vietnam
“well we made it.  and with that said we’ve already encountered/checked off things we knew would occur… we signed up for our 24hour bus ride at $19.00 each.  nothing to write home about, but at least it wasn’t the worst.  they drove us 7 hours to the border and then we stayed there until it opened up at 6am.  once it got light out we could see we had already crossed a major weather barrier:  it was foggy and misty and cool… a nice change, but we were still in shorts and t-shirts and flops.. not really prepared.  after we got pulled around the border crossing they (like normal), were demanding more money, and then we were left in the rain to walk through ‘no mans land’ (the inbetween laos and vietnam).  but we made it back on the bus, passport in hand, soaking wet and cold (see pics).

arch of vien tien

arch of vien tien

our first stop was the classic bus owned road side restaurant where everyone gets off, chows down quickly, goes pee and even brushes their teeth (we’ve done this one many times by now).  but here we tried our first pho and co.  the first is the famous noodle soup, the second is a rice dish… both pretty good, but I know we’ll find better. on the bus there was about 6 of us ‘farungs‘ and the rest locals of vietnam.  not too much interaction occurred until the bus started to thin out in vietnam and seating arrangements were rearranged.  we finally started our interaction.  one guy knew very little english, but enough to get a convo going.  he asked us where we were from, but he couldn’t understand us.  we proceeded with age questions, travel, etc… then he asked again where we were  from so pulled out our trusty map and pointed to the states.  that’s when it came, the big long “ooooohhhhh…..” then silence for a few minutes.

laos arch

laos arch

we weren’t sure how to take it and have been wondering what it was gonna be like since neither of us experienced the war and were not that affected by it…. he then broke the silence with a smile saying how many many vietnamese were killed in the war. we nodded in agreement, curiously wondering what they were thinking.  he continued on and we figured him and jeff are the same age so they went off that for a bit, then he explained how his older brother was sent to the states in 1975 at the age of 9, and has been there ever since.  he’s now a doctor in california (area code 714 – he showed us, but we’re not sure where that is…) and he sends home $1000-3000 every christmas since, the way things worked out, he is more successful now whereas the local brother we were talking to barely scrapes up the change. his buddy then explained his father was killed in 1974 in the war, but he was only 1 year old, so he never knew him.  the whole conversation was a very interesting experience and we know we’ve got lots more to come.  but there was smiles and even laughter so we felt in good company.  i do have to say that it’s heart wrenching looking into the eyes of the elders here knowing they DID live and breath through the war and that we have no idea what that was like….

box wine...makes a bus ride smooth

box wine...makes a bus ride smooth

then, we saw it…just what we were hoping to not see – what we were thinking could just be rumors…. fido on a stick…well almost (he was on his way).  a lady on the side of the road was prepping her dead ‘fido’ (i just can’t bring myself to say it..) for the next stages in the kitchen…we continued on down the road and noticed quite a lot of dogs chained up on the side of buildings…keep in mind we’re in 3rd world countries here where dogs normally roam free and wild…so this was a dead give away…… now we have a lot more to explore, as this was all on our little bus ride.  hanoi is huge, 3 million i think.  we’re in the old quarter at a clean decent hotel – for 10 bucks, free internet, and dinner in our room….not too shabby! we got in at dark, so tomorrow we explore around… now we’ve got our box of wine from the bus to finish while chowing down on spring rolls….. peace and love always…”

walking in the rain

walking in the rain

jeff like pineapple

jeff like pineapple

yum

yum