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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