Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Travellers

So, my dear folks, here's the moment you've been waiting for.

Because let's face it, everyone loves a good trash-talkin'. Some shit-talkin'. Some dirt-layin' sonovagun who can tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

It's not that bad, of course. If it was horrible, no one would travel and your facebook feed wouldn't be occasionally submerged by posts like "Why I travel", "Why travel ROOLZ GUYZ", "What I learned during my amazing travels", "Travel frees the soul, is the school of life, OMG iz SO GOOD".

I consciously leave most of the annoyances, negativity and other insects of that family out of my posts to make it a pleasant and uplifting reading experience (but then again, when I look at the blog stats, the most popular entries are the sad ones).



My biggest pet peeve, I would say, are other travellers. While away, no matter if you're on the road for 6 weeks or 6 months, you will meet a diversity of characters richer than a Tolkien novel, as diverse as the inhabitants of the lands of Westeros, and sometimes just as ludicrous as, well, any spoof of said literature.

The order of this list follows my train of thoughts, and nothing else. Literally whatever comes to mind goes first, and then second, and then well you know how lists go.

First!

The Traveller Fashion

Yes, my dear drinkers of knowledge, there is such a thing.(try Google-ing it too!) To put things in perspective: you leave home with a bag weighting under the 12 kg. limit to avoid airline penalties and so you pack light. That means leaving a few shirts behind because you'd rather pack a book - and anyways there's shirts where you're going (probably) and it's a nice souvenir too.

So! If you're like me, you just landed in Thailand and are walking among the unorthodox mess that is Koh San road. It's fucking hot. So you think, ''Hey, I'll get me some tank-tops, it's like 4 dollars each and I can probably get a deal if I buy more than one''. Little do you know, you've just taken your irrevocable first step into Traveller Fashion (add echo).

Douchebag / laidback / fuck yeah vacation look:
Local beer tops. Tubing in Laos tops. Muay Thai tops. Tribal turtle tops. Elephant pattern pants. Swimsuit all the time.
Cheap flip-flops, or if you went all out, those with the fake grass so you feel like you're playing mini-golf bare-foot all the time.
Fake Ray-bans should complete the look.
It's what I wear, I totally get it when people silently eye me dơwn in hostels. With my tattoos hanging out I can look like a total dick.


I'm going Into the Wild! look:
Picture African safari pictures of olde. Black and white photograph , and the subject is some old white dude with a sweet curly mustache and a hunting rifle; indigenous men in the background, out of focus, carry his crap. Now picture how he is dressed. Yes, exactly like that!
Some olive, savannah-colored cargo shorts and when he sits they go up to the middle of his thighs.
A matching button-down shirt with those nifty straps on the sleeves so you can tight them up even more, you know, so you don't get caught in the heavy bush.
Maybe some sleeveless army-green mesh shirt with lots of pockets worn on top of that shirt.
To complete the look, my favorite: trekking sandals. I love those!
I've never worn any but every time I see a pair of them on some sweaty feet I'm like "Damn, that's luxury right thurr".
It's like a Jeep for your feet.
So yeah, some people dress like that, usually in the range of 35 to 45 but sometimes you see a kid, like 19, sportin' the look.


I'm a free soul look:
This one puzzles me. I don't know where it comes from. Who decided collectively for all the hippies and off-the-grid survivors, think-outside-the-box, I'm-saving-Gaia-by-eating-only-plants that this look was the official one? And if you're so original, why do you dress all the same?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging: I come from the punk scene, where everyone says they're marginal, but everyone follows a rigid uniform code.
Anyways. Long hair for both male and female. Bandanas are welcome, tied around the forehead to support all that hair and those revolutionary ideas.
Tie-dye shirts are not uncommon, but usually the tribal turtle shirt is sported, or maybe some loose cotton shirt (looks fucking comfortable, not gonna lie) or straight up their clothes from home.
Since they don't burden themselves with artifacts of the material world, they can pack more clothes and still be under 12 kg, I guess.
The elephant print pants are an absolute must, on guys and girls alike. Very popular are also those pants where you look like you have 3-inches high legs, where that part that usually holds your butt is by your ankles (you make me think of Obelix).
Shoes, sandals, anything for your feet is optional. They go bare-feet wherever, in a complete disregard of local cultures. They can probably walk on Legos, their sole is so tough and caked with shit.
Also, dreads.

I don't give a fuck look:
My favorite, and what I went for thís time. Basically what you wear at home, fuck it. T-shirt and jeans are good for nearly every occasion, anyways.
Special mention to the guy wearing his american football jersey.

Not very negative, as you can see, just some observations. Judgmental as fuck, actually.

Next logical item on the list (I lied! There is an order!)

Personalities:

I hate to judge based on looks, to think that humans can be so easily categorized, that we're nothing more than some straight-out-of-the-box, pre-made characters for some Higher Power's sunday Role-Playing game sesh, so I will not attach their personality to their looks.

And here starts the bitching, friends.

I think it's because I'm laidback and can actually listen to people when they are talking, but I meet a lot of:

Know-it-all(z):
Armed with their cellphone and roaming data package, they always know the best spot to eat, the cheapest guesthouse, the next temple.
They stop you from walking spontaneously into a Wat on the corner of the street because there's a bigger, better one just 2 kms away.
If you answer ''I don't know'' to questions like ''Where are you going next'', better grab some pen and paper, this guy knows where you're going next!
For people like me who prefer to see as you go, who are not too stressed about paying $1-2 more for a dorm because the cheapest one in town is full, it's fucking annoying.
Granted, sometimes I would have missed really cool things if it wasn't for a random person suggesting what I should do next, of course.
But being figuratively taken by the hand by some random stranger and dragged (or followed) around town can be quite the mood-killer.
Their mouth hands out unwelcomed, basic knowledge like their minds are the sharpest. They don't listen to you when you speak, will interupt you or repeat exactly what you just said in different words to seem like they thought about it first.
They annoy me.

Lonely Planet Zombies:
Their weapon of choice: the latest edition of the traveller's bible. The books are pretty useful, of course, but some people are treating it as a holy book, the one that contains all the knowledge and that will show you the path to a perfect voyage.
First of all, these books were written by people, like you and me. So, it follows their preferences and taste, most of the time.
Second, when I say zombies, I mean it. Some people quite literally leave their brains at the guesthouse and wander around town, nose in the pages, not even looking around to absorb whatever it is that they came for to absorb. I've seen people stop in the middle of the street in front of incoming traffic to look at a map.
There's only so much the authors can cram in there! You're bound to miss out if you think you've done everything in a town because you did the 5 suggested activites.
Also, and this is from experience, their cultural Do's and Don't' miss the nails more often than they hit it, at least for ASEA.
I'm not saying they're useless, I personally use Frommer's Rough Guide when I'm about to cross borders to get up to speed on the upcoming country. I'm just saying, once in a while, leave the book on your dorm bed and go explore. Get lost. There's no instructions on how to get invited to 4am, drunken karaoke with the locals.

Ze Bros:
They can be the life of the party, or they can be the death of the soul.
Usually super cut, and I suspect they carry a wax-a-chest kit with them.
They say stuff like ''I'll never go to X town, it's way too touristy'' (actually everyone says that) but the only time they leave the confines of their guesthouse it's to go to the bar.
They're loud, they command attention, they're big, they're having so much fun.
If you look closely, you can see a faint glimmer of jealousy in the eye of everyone they are annoying. ''How can they be so free! Is it because they're so cut? Muscles bring freedom?''
Sometimes followed by one smaller, bearded, beer-gutted dude.
They treat the locals like Disney World mascots, don't bother to learn ''Hi'' in whatever local dialect, and will just talk louder and LOUDER if the waiter doesn't understand their order. ''Pizza. Pizza! PIZZA. PIZZA!!!''




Well folks, there's plenty more but I don't like to be this bitchy for this long and I am also quite lazy all of a sudden. I hope I could get a few laughs out of you.

I let the inner geek out more than usual. Deal with it!

I hate being a salesman but I do love attention so if you ẹnjoyed this, go ahead and like the Biere de Route facebook page, share your stories! I want to hear them! Also share the page! Tell your friends!
There's an Instagram page as well, Bierederoute. I got a new phone and the camera's real nice so I'm posting regularly.

Peace out mafakas!



MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! 
JOYEUX NOEL A TOUS! 




Saturday, 20 December 2014

I'm okay u guyz

I would like to start by saying to everyone: I'm doing okay! I'm not depressed or anything, just turning my cosmic sight inwards, like hơw Captain Marvel (not the Shazam! one) did some decades ago.

I did not discover that I had cancer like he did, however.

If you look back at how this blog started, it used to be personnal as fuck. I kind of stepped away fron that for a while, because sometimes I met people at parties who would go "I love your stuff! I read everything!" And of course I appreciate the dedication, but I felt too much like an open book, and so I put up the natural force field of protection and write more about my travels around the world, and not those of the mind, of the heart.

So yeah, that last post was a little outburst of bottled-up thoughts let loose. But I'm fine, really.

The follow-up was a plethora of messages from friends, some of which opened the door to very meaningful conversations, for which I am very grateful.

On to other things.

I am sitting at a little wooden table in a restaurant in Hue, Vietnam, the ancient capital of the country, housing the "Purple Forbidden City".

I came down here to give some love to my girl, Lucy, my motorbike. She's been waiting patiently for over a month.

I am in a period of transition, for in about 3 weeks I will stop being a backpacker and turn into a sedentary foreigner.

A student, of all things.

My backpack is filled to capacity, since my needs have changed. It's too cold for my light trekking shoes, shorts and tank-tops. I had to obtain new shoes, jeans and shirts, even a light jacket.

My mindset is adapting as well. I spent 4 days in Hanoi and haven't visited a single attraction. My time was spent shopping for clothes and a cellphone.

The rest of the time I would simply read a book in a small café or wander aimlessly, sort of like what I do back home during my free time.

One night I was approached by 2 university teachers looking to practice their english. They invited me for some street food and even drove me to a cellphone store. Mighty generous of them.

The next day a Vietnamese lady who studied in Holland more than 15 years ago offered to buy me a coffee so we could talk and she could refresh her language skills.

It's been quite interesting, going for food with strangers but this time, my companions are not other travelers. I have actually grown quite anti-social towards them, to my own surprise.

I also want to mention that for good times' sake I rarely mention anything negative about my travels, painting a very Disney-esque picture of the whole thing.

I will shed some light on the whole affaire soon, like Dick Tracy exploring under the cover of darkness a clandestine warehouse down on the waterfront.

But not right now, the last post was heavy enough.

It's Christmas very soon. I hope everybody is doing well.

Hugs and ball-punching,

Ho ho ho
Ha ha
Ho hee
Ha~


(Joker style)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Back to Hanoi

Well, it is always a culture shock to leave Don Det.

When you're at home, where every day connects effortlessly into the next, like riding a subway train from one end of the lane to the other and your only stops are small inconveniences in your life... Go to doctor station, holiday station, my SO just dumped me station - it's hard to miagine that 3 weeks can seem like a lifetime. That in just 3 weeks your way of thinking, your way of acting, walking, eating, talking, being, can change so much - or reveal itself so much.

Don Det was even better this time around. I think it's because I came back. When you're a local there - as I was for 3 months 2 years ago - you tend to stop investing so much in friendships and the like with travelers because let's face it, after a while, continuously saying goodbye, hope to see you again one day, it was great, well, it takes it's toll. So you tuck your shirt's sleeve over your heart and maintain a degree of separation.

Since I came back though, I showed the residents that I'm not just a backpacker anymore. I belong here. I feel it, and I think they feel it too. The last night, hosting ex-pats and Lao peeps alike, sitting under the stars on nothing but a traditional carpet, drinking Lao-Lao out of one glass for the whole group, I could feel it. People care. I care too. The feeling is amazing.

A lot of people came to my good-bye BBQ before I left Montreal and I am very grateful for it. However, there is a certain group of people, let's call them The Inner Circle, the boys that I've known since I moved back to Montreal when I was 14... Well only 2-3 of them showed up. During a short moment of quietness between two board games, Phil looked at me with a mild expression of concern and asked: "Etienne, where are all the boys?". I shrugged my shoulders in a two-sided body language of "I don't know" and "I don't care".

Truth is, of course I care, but like when I was on Don Det, I can't let it get to me, or I'll just get sad and I don't like being sad.

I understand that everyone's got their own life to live - and that's why I was able to leave again, maybe this time for ever. I have my own life to live as well, I hope you understand, is what I am trying to say.

 The bonds I have forged with Ken, Jon, Adam, Phil, Manni, Phone's family, Sit and everyone are as important to me as if I had known them my whole life.

So, leaving Don Det after 3 weeks of waking up naturally in my wooden bungalow, to slowly go eat breakfast with my Lao family (sticky rice and spicy stuff), then walking around talking to people, helping dig foundations or build a bamboo fence or preparing a BBQ. To sit down on a bench and just talk about life with Phil while he paints his new Burger Kong sign, or watch South Park at Adam's until the kids show up and want to play. To read a book until Ken's kid is dumped on my lap - here, your turn to take care of him - and finding failproof ways of making him laugh. To never worry about money, to never see a car, to go to sleep when I'm tired not because I have to...

I know it's not the real life, it's the traveler's life, but it's so easy to get used to it.

If Don Det was a woman, she would be the country girl, dressed in a Lao traditional dress, with long black hair and her skin mildly tanned, walking slowly here and there in flip-flops and a reserved air, slightly frowning but easy to laughter. We would go for a short walk through the rice fields at night to star-gaze, then find someone to take a shot of Lao-Lao with, never talking about kids, or money. When it was time to say good-bye, there would be a long heart-felt embrace, followed by a quick "When will I see you again", a short squeeze of the hand and a pat on the butt, and a wave good-bye.

Simple, contempt.

Last time I left her, it was to take a 28-hour bus straight to Bangkok.

This time, it was for Vientiane, and then to Hanoi.

And if Hanoi was also a woman, she would welcome me back with a short but strong hug, kiss on the cheeks, grabbing my hand and urging me to drop my bags off before we go for a drink and street food, dodging kids in rollerblades and ladies selling donuts. Last time I saw her she was wearing heels and very short shorts showing off her amazing legs and butt, with a huge beautiful smile and teasing eyes. This time around she traded the shorts for tight jeans and a light winter jacket, but she still grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out for beers. I was reluctant though, still thinking about Don Det, about the quietness, how slow everything is, how hot it is, how we don't need to be talking about anything, drinking in the silence, slowly swinging in a hammock.

And so I set my 3rd beer down and tell her, hey, sorry, I'm kind of tired, I need to sleep a little bit more, but we can get back in a day or two if you'd like.

We have much to talk about however, and the quiet walks to nowhere in particular are replaced with discussions over tea, about history,  culture, food, traveling, girls, money. She has much to share and the days go by quick.

Don Det and Hanoi would sometimes ask about Canada, that elusive woman from home, the one that raised me and reluctantly let me go, that couldn't be there to say goodbye because she was too busy. That woman who rarely keeps in contact, only to ask "Where are you now? When are you coming back?" but rarely asks "How are you doing?". That woman so diverse, so stressful and yet so happy, who wishes I was back so that all the pieces of her jigsaw would be in their proper place, never really realizing that I never fitted completely in the first place, that I longed to break free.

I am the monopoly die you lost somewhere, that you never think about until you open the box, about to play, and notice that I am gone.

You complain a little bit, but quickly make do without, and I go on, rolling but never quite coming to a stop.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Sabaidee! Pai Sai?

Today I'm splurging.

And by splurging I mean using an actual computer to do actual planning for the next 2 months while eating a giant bacon burrito. I ordered the ham one first because in Laos ham is slang for penis and sometimes they can't help themselves but smile when they hear it.

I've been meaning to try and describe Don Det to friends through text but it is quite impossible. You just have to get here.

The meaning of the term "Time slows down" was probably born here. I should say... Here, it's swinging in a hammock, listening to someone's ukulele.

Imagine a place, so hot you don't want to move and neither do the locals. You find a quiet little restaurant overlooking the Mekong river (named Namkhong here, Nam means water) where you sit on a small mattress and eat on tables just inches off the floor. You get up only to turn the fan on. When the meal is done, you push your plate back and lay down on the floor and promptly fall asleep for 2 hours.

On Don Det, it is considered extremely rude to wake someone up from a nap. I fucking love it.

My first day back, as soon as I step on this holy soil I see Manni, 4-year resident and party animal. It is his tradition to greet the newcomers freshly off the boats. Next to him is Alex, a guy who was on Don Det at the same time as me last time I was here, 2 years ago. He was back to say hello too, turns out he came back exactly at the same time as me.

Amazeballs.

Another Manni tradition is to get the returning Don Det family members absolutely plastered. So after I set my bags down at One More Bar, give Ken a giant hug, say hi to my Lao family and distribute my meager gifts I head to Happy Bar where a giant joint is waiting.

It's about noon. By 4pm I am sleeping off the excess booze and herb on said small mattress in One More Bar. I wake up to eat something and have a good, hearty talk with Ken about everything. I missed this place so much.

At one point, Noua passed by on a bicycle. Noua is the neighbor's kid. She's witty, always laughing and always running everywhere - quite extraordinary for a Lao person - and last time it was our little game that I'd try to catch her every time she'd walk by. So, I'm sitting by the "road" talking and she passes by. I see her and my mouth lets out a "Oh!" sound. She turns her head. Recognizes me right away, even after a 2 year absence and a giant beard missing. I start running after her. She's laughing so hard she can't pedal anymore. Such a good moment.

The next 2 days were spent getting acclimated - meaning napping all day - and just going around saying hi to all the residents of this amazing island. They don't remember who I am usually, but after I explain that I shaved or show them a picture of last time, their face lightens up and we share an immense smile.

Papao, another of the neighbor's kids, the one who isn't afraid of anything and has a kind of crazy strut and look in his eye, can't remember me. "Pei, tell him I'm the one that used to throw him so hard into the river". She translates. His eyes and smile become enormous, he throws himself in my arms.

There was Sun's 1st birthday party. Adam's boy. Adam is married to Pei. They live behind Ken's house. We're sitting in One More Bar chatting when the father of the family quietly struts by. Tells Ken, without ever slowing down or even looking at him, "We're having beer". Ken laughs. It's inevitable, everyone's getting hammered tonight.

Driving at night to a Lao party in a rice field on Ken's battered scooter. Suddenly, in the middle of the road, a snake about 5 feet long. Black with yellow stripes. Good girth too. I call him Lucic. "Woooooiiiii!" Ken goes and avoids the snake (his brakes are out). "Fuck, Etienne, I lose my mind I so scared. This snake, number 1 danger in Lao. He bite, you die in minute". Quite the adrenaline rush.

A few days later, we're all sharing beers. Rachid tells me, he had the scare of his life, he was walking in the dark, quite high, and almost stepped on this black and yellow snake. But it was dead. Ken is laughing so hard. His new friend and ultimate badass, Sit, had crossed the snake one night and killed it. He doesn't even remember how, he says, it was just instincts. As a joke, he lay the snake in the middle of the road to scare people.

There's a few differences on the island since the last time. I'm here during low season, it's much more quiet. We still get rain almost every day. I guess as a direct result, I see more wildlife. I've seen about 6 snakes in 2 weeks, last time in 3 months I saw only one. More locals and ex-pats talk to me, I guess because I've returned, shown my interest in the place. I've even let the word out that I'm looking to settle down here one day to see what happens. Result: "Eh-Tee-Enn! I speak with my friend. He has daughter. If you have money, you can marry her no problem!" "Is she pretty?" "I didn't see".

In a place with not much to do and small population, gossip is an important activity. You have to be careful. Anything you say will travel. You can lose face that way. Or make new friends.

I've picked up a few more words and am starting to be able to create sentences. I've realized that every single time you go walking, people ask you where you're going. Pai Sai? Go where? You don't even have to reply, it's just a way to start the conversation. Most people just point ahead with their chin and smile. When you walk back, they ask you where you were. Every. Single. Time.

I don't know how to describe Don Det. How about, a place where you go to rent a bungalow for one day, help the family write a sign down for their restaurant. All of a sudden, you're part of the crew. You get to eat Pho for free. You get to sit down with them on the floor and watch Thai tv, drinking beer with Papa or cuddle with the daughter, depending on your sex. Next thing you know, your visa is running out. It's been a month.

A place where hammocks are only outnumbered by smiles, where locals and foreigners mingle naturally, where time is quietly napping in the shade and no one will wake it up.

I love you, Don Det.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Pluie

Cher Jocelyn,

j'allais te demander si tout va bien mais je ne t'ai jamais entendu te plaindre.

Je vais ecrire en anglais car j'ai pas les accents sur le clavier de l'hotel.

Turns out I didn´t check the weather correctly when planning my trip. I've been getting rain for the past week. If I were to push south I would get nice weather, however, but my visa ends in 3 days.

Lucy can't seem to get better. Every time I bring her to the motorbike doctor, they fix a problem but a new one appears. Last time, my motor would simply shut down, even while riding in 4th gear. The mechanic cleaned the engine and over-charged me. Now, the button for the starter is almost disconnected.  My front wheel is bented. The welding on my bag rack just gave up, I have to tie my backpack sideways and it's harder to ride cities that way since everyone drives inches from you.

I decided to leave her at the hotel for a month, for a small fee they will keep an eye on her. I will take a bus to Laos and enjoy a little bit of peace of mind and pick her up on the way back.

Leaving Hanoi with her was amazing, however. We drove to a little beach town during tourism low season and had a good swim, coconuts, and a night drive just watching bored teenagers ride around and shoot the shit.

From there, quiet and short rides through small villages. Every time we'd stop for Pho, the whole village would come by and sit, staring at us and smiling. The kids are the ones who know English and they would practice their textbook sentences with us.

After a few days I decided to go to Pu Mat national park that I had spotted in my road atlas. A quick search online told me that the only thing to do was hike and see waterfalls and that sounded pretty good. Riding the main road towards it, I went passed the small backstreet that takes you inside the park. Stopping for directions in a tiny restaurant (2 tables, a cooler), a small Viet man lets me know through hand gestures that he needs to be going there. Before I can understand, he's sitting on my bike with a huge smile.

Needless to say, it was pretty cramped for the both of us AND my backpack and daybag, but we managed. After another 30 minutes of riding a tiny paved road through even smaller villages I reached a dammed river where 3 restaurants were waiting for customers, built on floating rafts. I asked to go see the waterfall but it was too expensive - you need to rent the whole boat so it gets cheaper with a group - so I just sat with a beer, pondering what to do. Shortly after, a group of young Vietnamese showed up to do the boat tour so I got in with them and enjoyed beautiful scenery of jungle canopy and local people riding on bamboo rafts.

After a quick swim in the river we went back to the restaurant where a young and pretty Vietnamese girl was waiting for me. She owned one of the restaurants and could speak English very well so we started chatting. Within a minute she offered to come with me on my trip before we went back together to Canada. I explained Canadian winter and the fact that people are not nice like the Vietnamese there and she changed her mind. Seeing that it was getting dark, I asked for a place to sleep but there were no hostels of any kind in the area.

I then asked if I could sleep in the restaurant, I would give them some money. The whole family got excited - apparently I was the first ever foreigner to ask such a thing here - and they opened more beers. I spent the night joking with them. They cooked the best fish I have ever eaten, I learned how to suck snails out of their shells and drank rice wine with the men. We then went for coffee and billard and came back to the restaurant where I was shown my bed. A matress and several bedsheets were laid out on the floor but I would be sharing it with the drunk of the family who tried to spoon me all night. I didn't sleep much.

The next morning we jumped off the dam and I made everyone sad when I announced that I had to keep going. It was one of the best days of this trip.

I made it to Phong Nha the next day and had a beer at Easy Tiger Hostel. That's where I saw the most westerners I had seen in a week, all grouped together. I stayed 3 nights in this little town, visiting amazing caves, playing board games, trying grilled pork belly. I met a german guy who was looking for a partner to ride the western branch of the Ho Chi Minh trail - a 200km segment up in the mountains with no gas station and only one village - and I jumped on the offer. It was easily the best drive I have ever taken of my life. Not a soul for hours, delicious curves, ridiculously amazing views. We stopped A LOT to take pictures, and every time we just stared at each other with giant smiles, WHAT the actual FUCK coming out of our mouths a lot.

During a pee and smoke break, we watch a big monkey, black with a white mane and red legs, jump up and down a tree and skillfully swoop around. It was beautiful to watch.

The trail took us about 7 hours to complete and it was pure bliss. Beautiful, not a pothole, not a truck.

The next day we visited, in the same day, an ancient american base and and ancient Viet Cong tunnel system. Impressive stuff.

In Hue we visited the Forbidden Purple City, not as grand as the one in Beijing but more charming. We also visited the tombs and mausoleums of ancient egocentric Nguyen emperors and then I got absolutely hammered in a small bar.

Last week all I did was hang around in Da Nang, the 3rd biggest city in Vietnam. Beautiful, lots of trees, tonnes of tailors, and a beach. I found a good ex-pat bar. I had an interview to get into an Intesol college the next morning so I took it easy in my room, watching HBO and eating Springles all night. The next morning I went for a drive around town and got proper dress pants and a button shirt and cleaned my trekking shoes with a toothbrush to look presentable. The interview went really well.

I spent a few days in Hoi An in this barbaric hostel, hoping to make friends and meet some girls but it turns out that I hated almost everyone I ran into. I got obliterated in another small bar, speaking with the Vietnamese girl working there.

I made it back up to Da Nang after 2 miserable nights and went back to the Ex-Pat bar where I met my first Quebecer, Yves de l'Outaouais. He's been working in Da Nang for a few months and he took me to another, slightly classier bar where the waitresses had a pretty good sense of humour. I closed the bar with them and they then invited me for some street food.

When it was time to leave, 3 young Vietnamese guys invited me over for a beer and I joined them, curious about where this was going. It was 1am. After a whole crate of beer they took me to a Karaoke place. Turns out I can read Vietnamese pretty well and can even sing it, judging by their screams of hapiness. Around 5am, they all took their shirts off and started grinding me - even after showing me pictures of their girlfriends - and after a few minutes of respectfully pushing them back I had to leave, drunk and angry. They had puzzled looks on their faces.

Came back up to Hue to cross over to Laos. The rain just relaxed a little bit. I'm gonna go for a walk, wearing a swimming suit and a poncho.

I miss my friends and family.

Have a good day everyone.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Travel tips and stuff

Today, so far, is pretty good. I woke up at 8am, got on my battered bike and drove around beautiful Da Nang looking for clothing stores. By 10am, $25 later, I was sitting under an orange tarp on a street corner, gulping down a $1 Pho, wearing a new dress shirt and black dress pants.

The reason for this attire, you ask? At 11:30 I was walking in the office of iCan, an INTESOL training school set up here by Canadians. Starting January 5th I will be learning how to teach English as a second language.

Just like my brother, now that I think about it.

The blog being at an all-time low in readers, it's hard to stay focused and dedicated, but today's a(nother) "chill-out" day, so being back to basics, it has returned to being my personal journal of sorts.

First of all, a little inventory update.

I lost, and bought, and forgot at hostels, about 5 towels now. 2 weeks ago however I found an awesome travel towel.
I have NOT used my solar charger. It's been demoted to my bag of rubbish, with the playing cards and beer opener for Ken.
Yesterday I forgot my sweet swimsuit in Hue. I suspect it was stolen, I had left it to dry in the dorm, I would have seen it when leaving.

I went through 4 of them in the last trip so I'm not at all surprised.

Apart from that, gadget wise all that was added was a fake Beatspill speaker, cheap razor that can't hold a charge and a usb key that won't work. All bought in China.

Also got a few extra shirts from Ben in Leeds, and shower flip flops I wear everywhere.

Now, for some travel tips...

Before you leave, think about your entertainment. Times have a-changed, every hostel had Wi-Fi and that means everyone's staring at their luminous screen.
In a tiny place in China, a lady teases: "You came all the way to Asia to play games on your tablet?" (I'm addicted to Jetpack Joyride). I simply extended my arm and moved it in a 180 degree arc, pointing at everyone. They were all on their tablets or phones, including her.

My best move so far was to bring a board game. I chose Carcassonne. It's easy to learn but hard to master and when you leave the small point counting board at home it fits in a small Tupperware. I've played about 20 games already.

Do not underestimate the awesomeness of a camera. You see so many things in so many days, the pictures help remember. Also, if you have a good one, you get better pictures, therefore people will more easily listen to your adventures you so desperately want to talk to them about when you're back home.

Don't be so fucking cheap, dammit. I saw a man spend 300,000 Dongs on a meal and then give shit to a lady for trying to sell him a chocolate bar 5,000 more (25 cents) than the last city. It's embarrassing.

More driving tips:
I realized that my last tips were more about country side driving, after watching a fellow traveler cause so many near-misses and not even being aware of them.

All around tips: don't be cheap. Okay, you bought the bike $200 and you will sell it in a month at a loss so you want to limit your spending. But how much is your life worth? Go and fix that front break, don't wait until you almost hit a cow and shit your pants.

Be gentle with her. Give her a name. "Treat her line a woman", was what Tanja told me. I'm not very nice to girls though, but when learning the clutch I got what she was saying... listen to her. Treat her well. Spoil her. Give her an oil change every few days. It's your life on the line.

Splurge, dammit. I just got a new helmet for 350,000 Dongs with visor and ears protection and I regret not doing it earlier.

City driving guide.
Eyes looking ahead. Big time. Don't worry about your sides or what's behind you. The Vietnamese are excellent at anticipating, as long as you drive responsibly and somewhat like them.

The right part of your line, again, is the buffer zone for window shoppers, texters, kids on bikes, people driving the wrong way. The part on the left is for people who drive fast and they can be ridiculously close to each other. I avoid it.

Don't do smooth large loops to dodge people and things. Try to drive as straight as possible. Again, there's people really close to you and they don't expect you to do that.

Intersections are awesome, because they are so chaotic. There's no stop signs. Some people go on the red light. Cars and trucks don't slow down. Just slow down (sometimes to a crawl) and assess the situation. People will avoid you.

Honking doesn't mean "fuck you" like home. It means "I'm here, watch out". Don't be afraid to use it.

If you see someone coming up on a side street to merge, give them some space. They will not look or stop. It's your job to give them the room they need. Serve slowly and lightly to your left and everything will be fine

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Vietnam Greetings

I'm sitting at the public computer in this nice little hostel in Hue, Vietnam. A light but steady rain is washing the streets but the sun is strong enough to pierce the clouds and illuminate the land. I'm waiting for the weather to improve so I can get on Lucky Lucy, my Honda Win. She will take me to Da Nang in the south where tomorrow I have an interview to be accepted in a college ran by Canadians.

They will train me to become a teacher so that I can work, here in Vietnam. If everything goes well, I'll be putting my bags down for a while and get a more in-depth look at this amazing culture.

I've been in Vietnam for 3 weeks now, all of it has been great.

Right from the start, crossing the land border (a small bridge over a river) from China to Vietnam, I've had a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and been walking around, contempt.

First of all, everybody is warm. So warm. The locals are not tired at all of tourists. They stare at my tattoos a lot but if I smile at them, they smile back, 99% of the time. And what beautiful smiles.

No one is shitting in the streets, or spitting in the bus, or shouting at me for no fucking reason. This was a reality the second I stepped on Vietnam soil. Just a small river separates China from Vietnam and yet, the difference is stunning.

The food is delicious, not that spicy, and if you stick to street vendors you can get away with spending $10 a day for your three meals. A beer is usually $1. Not 2% Chinese stuff either. I've had a few hangovers already.

Around the middle of the country, near Hue, the coast with sunny warm beaches is just 50km away from wet and cloudy mountains. Diversity at such a close range.

My first night in Vietnam was spent on a sleeper train, traveling with Claudio the Italian basketball coach. After Nilkanth, he's my second favorite person that I traveled with on this trip. We shared a booth on the train with an Irish guy who froze when he heard The Pogues softly playing on my speaker. We shared some beers and stories.

We arrived in Hanoi at 5am, groggy, sleepy. There I would get my first Vietnam lesson: money is fucking confusing. 20,000 Dongs roughly equals $1. Our cab costs us 150,000 and as we all try to pay the driver at the same time, he starts moving money around, trying to confuse us as to who paid what amount and he is slightly successful. At the end of the transaction I overpaid by 30,000 Dongs and realized as he was driving away. I get very angry, until I realize that I only lost $1,50 in the transaction. Second lesson of Vietnam: count your change. Third lesson: everything's cheap.

We check in our hotel where the receptionist is sleeping in a small folder bed behind the counter. He tells us to put our bags down and go sleep in the common area, we're too early to check in. We gladly comply and sleep until 10am, after which we get to our rooms, drop our bags, have a little shower and workout, and go explore.

We get some cheap food and promptly get lost in the Old Quarters, the backpackers area, where every street has a commerce specialty. We see food street, bar street, metal street, bike repair street, clothes street. We see scooters everywhere, people just sitting around waiting, little dogs, birds in cages chirping away in the front of little stores, street vendors, cooked dog.

It's Friday, and when the sun goes down around 6pm, all the little bars and restaurants put small plastic stools out and the streets get clogged with beer drinkers, both westerners and locals. We quickly find out about Beer Hoi (tap beer), rumored to be brewed in a day but I don't know how this is possible. We sit next to the keg because, well, one mug is 5,000 Dong (25 cents), the beer is cold and the air is warm. After a few hours our duo of travelers has evolved into a full group of 10 people, some backpacking, some on holiday, some ex-pats. As we sit and talk and laugh, the street sounds of scooters, laughter, talking and dog barking lets in something different: the beautiful melody of 2 violins backed up by flute. Meters from us, 3 beautiful girls in black dresses are playing a free show. I am in love with Vietnam.

At midnight, the police shows up and closes everything. The tightly packed crowd quickly disappears but we are approached by club promoters. They take us to what looks like a fancy building, and on the 5th floor a dark club with loud music and a dance floor swallows us whole. We drink and dance until 5am.

We have to take a bus to Ha Long bay at 8am. It was rough.

We got packed in a small gray bus expertly navigating the small crowded streets. In the back, 5 Australian bros are talking loudly and laughing. They carry a huge boombox. Everyone else on the bus is quiet. I secretly hope that they are not on our boat tour, for I feel like taking it easy tonight.

We spent 2 nights in Ha Long Bay. The first night we spent drinking more Beer Hoi on the roof of the boat with other travelers. The bros were on a different tour so we got to relax. We had the crew turn off all the lights of the boat so we could just lay down and look at the stars while trading travel stories and everyone was nice. The next day we spent on Cat Ba island, where I meet a very dysfunctional couple of a 60-year old Vietnam millionaire woman who bathes topless, and a 30-year old scruffy-looking Brit. Weird conversations ensued.

I ended up getting pretty sick from swimming in the dirty bay where our bungalow was. I was afraid of Dengue but I just got mild fever and a cough that stuck with me for 2 weeks, until I resolved to spitting out the yellow shit that was coming up. I stayed a total of 8 days in Hanoi, relaxing, trying out the food, walking around, looking at INTESOL schools and streaming hockey very early in the morning, from the hotel lobby computers. I absolutely loved Hanoi and wouldn't mind working there for a while.

Buying my motorbike, that I paid $230 for - helmet, rack and bungee cords included - I ran into a German couple I met on mount Hua Shan in China, a month earlier. They're also buying a bike (that I later learned we should have paid $50 for) and we decide to travel south together, for safety's sake.

We left the next day on the first step to an amazing journey.

Cheers guys

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Pictures! Yay!

I don't always get a fancy $7 hotel room with its own laptop, but when I do, I share my GoPro pictures.

Considering I'm shooting blindly I'm pretty happy with the results.

(Some are not in chronological order, deal with it)


Enjoy,

 Ha Long Bay

 Dark Cave ziplining, Phong Nha

 Pu Mat National Park

 Skippin' rocks

 Forbidden City intruder





 Forbidden City

 Pour Jocelyn, ils jouent au Loup Garou en Chine!

 Mocha, Ping Yao

 Not this time, Dr. Tail

 BMW

 Yamen Hostel, Ping Yao





Petite princesse, Xi'An 





Lovers Locks, Hua Shan 

 I heard the pay's good

 Two days of this

Hua Shan 







Sky Planks, Hua Shan

 Yo, I heard you like locks, so

 Top bunk of sleeper train, China

 Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

I like how they're ALL looking 

 I seem to have grown manteets on this one


                                          Right after she kicked the ball right in my face

                                         All he could say in English was "Oooo-Kaaaay"
It ain't no party like a GoPro party!  

 Ha Long Bay

One of the islands of Ha Long Bay 

Brixton hat in Vietnam, Saint-Henri represent! 





Leaving Hanoi with the biking partners, nice German people that I actually met on Hua Shan a month before. We ran into each other while buying our motorbikes.

 Hoa Lu boat ride, yes, she is paddling with her feet

 I hope I do not wake the anger of ze german with this picture. Sorry Phil

 Small inconvenience, Ninh Binh

 "So you press here and"

 Sam Son beach



 After a small incident. Villagers helping Phil by chewing leaves to make a healing paste. It worked.

 Little break



Longer break 

 Quite the cheeky one, she was







 Pu Mat National Park

Ho Chi Minh Trail 





 Dark Cave

Dark Cave



Don't wear shoes.

 Mud Cave





The gym at Easy Tiger Hostel 





 The prettiest place I have ever seen, Ho Chi Minh trail

 D'awwww



Still breathing, Khe Sanh

 Pour Phil D.



 New break line for $4, in 20 minutes

 
The shop, Vietnam




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