Ho Chi Minh and more decisions…

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(journal excerpt: February 17, 2012-Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam)

Still here, in Ho Chi Minh and I admit it’s been a bit difficult to think of where we want to go next.  We decided early on that we wouldn’t be revisiting all the areas of Vietnam that we’ve seen before but we considered returning to one place we remember fondly: Mui Ne.  However, last time we were there it was low season, and mostly deserted.  The idea of a packed beach and unavailable rooms wasn’t really attractive to us and we kept hearing mixed reviews about how busy it actually was.  Some people were telling us it was pretty much dead.  Other people told us it was overrun with Russian tourists.  Our other option was Dalat, a cooler area in the mountains and an old hill station to the French.  Kitschy and a popular Vietnamese honeymoon spot, it still sounded interesting but eight hours away by bus with some windy stretches of sketchy mountainous road? We weren’t sure if we were up for that either. 

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This debate has been torturing us over the past couple of days.  Why is sometimes making even the simplest of decisions so hard for us on this trip? We were making way to big of a deal out of the simplest things! Some days I get so annoyed with making decisions all day long and I realize that home life gets boring sometimes because there are not that many decisions to make in each day.  Breakfast is usually the same, route to work, workload, dinner routine, same same same.  So instead I know I should embrace the choices that we decided to embark upon, by choice, because of lack of choices and decisions back home! I seriously must drive some of my readers crazy with these trips down my meandering psyche.  Lordy, I annoy myself most of the time.  I really do actually appreciate “options”.  Honestly, when I write this and think of it, I am very grateful.  But it’s just tiring sometimes.  Sometimes I wonder if our willingness or desire to slow things down on this trip, spend more time in fewer places, is also related to the idea that we will making bigger choices soon enough regarding what to do after our trip and maybe we just don’t want to think so hard right now about the little things because we always have big things niggling at our brains. 

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But that doesn’t mean we are not exploring! Spending more time in each place really gives us a better chance to go beyond the tourist sites and see a city.  We’re walking a lot here, yes, we escape into a mall every so often for a blast of air conditioning but we’ve also explored Ho Chi Minh a lot.  Our guesthouse is good right now and a brother who lives in Seattle is visiting and we’ve been able to talk to him a bit about his displacement, his life in the US and coming back home.  As a young guy he left Vietnam on a boat and tried to immigrate to Malaysia.  With 208 people on his boat, only 100 or so survived.  He told us that he recommends Dalat over Mui Ne because he doesn’t like the ocean which reminds him of this time, taking the boat to Malaysia.  It was just a tiny boat and people had to stand with their heads looking up because they were packed so close together, they couldn’t breathe otherwise.  When someone died, they threw them overboard and the bodies got caught in the wake which make them appear to follow the boat like ghosts. 

When I think of this story and how we can’t decide if we want beach or mountains I feel like an idiot.  At the end of the day we chose Dalat because we haven’t been there before.  We will probably go the day after tomorrow.  It’s a long bus ride that leaves early in the morning so it’s going to be rough but I think we’ll like it when we get there.  I’m looking forward to the lake and seeing Crazy House which I heard about on Departures, the Canadian travel show.

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Ko Lanta…last day?

Our last day in our new-found paradise, Ko Lanta and on to the story of the “secret” beach.  The night of the beach party, Malik the TukTuk driver asked us what beaches we’ve been going to on Ko Lanta and since we haven’t really felt like renting a motorbike or paying for TukTuk’s we’ve been sticking to our local beach-it has some ‘okay’ snorkelling but the reef is dead and it’s just rock and not swimmable at low tide.  Malik started telling us about this beach by his house down the road which is basically around the rocky outcrop from where we had been swimming.  We’ve seen a couple of people swimming around this outcrop and have wondered what’s around the bend and where they were going.  He offered to take us in his TukTuk the next day as it is not visible from the road.  After breakfast he took us about 5 minutes drive up the road and wouldn’t take any money for taking us there.  We pulled over to the side of the road to a small pathway that went into the thick jungle.  The path was very overgrown and very narrow and I couldn’t help but think of cobras or poisonous spiders or something.  I didn’t think about Malik leading us into the jungle in the middle of nowhere, however, as I had seen him with Pon and Pheat for days now and I knew he was good friends with them and he obviously loves Nong Pheat very much.  He was always carrying him around anyway, I felt fine.  After about 10 minutes of walking through tall jungle shrub the path opened up into a massive clearing of coconut palms and a large bay of freaking unbelievable private beach.  Actually, almost private-at the time of our arrival there was one other German couple on the beach who immediately started asking Malik how to tell the difference between the young coconut and the ones with the harder dried meat we are more accustomed to in the west.  He had already opened up two coconuts and drank the coconut water but he had thrown away the rest.  Malik took out his knife and fashioned a spoon out of a piece of the coconut and gave it to me to eat and left us to the beach.  We chose the other end of the bay and left the Germans on the other side and after about 2 hours, they left and we had the whole entire beach to ourselves.  A huge bay with a soft break of waves and all white sand.  Behind us the grove of coconut trees and beyond that the jungle and the path back to the road. 

At the edge of the grove where it meets the sand, a mango tree with a rope swimming and actually the only downside to this was the garbage from groups of partying Thai’s including syringes!! Actually one big disappointment in otherwise beautiful Ko Lanta has been the garbage on the beach.  When I mention it to local people they seem reluctant to admit it comes from the locals (all the garbage is not the kind of stuff tourists buy, although you do see some plastic water bottles), and instead they blame it on the last full moon period where the tide was exceptionally high but I don’t know.  Anyway, a near perfect secret beach and we spent the afternoon here, M living out his Robinson Crusoe fantasies by attempting (and failing) to make fire.  We swam and watched the coconut palms sway and 3 muslim fisherman and their little boy pulled their boats up and disappeared into the jungle path. 

I feel pretty lucky these days. 

We leave Ko Lanta early tomorrow morning and tonight we must say goodby to Pon, Pen and Nong Pheat although Pen has told us she is waking up early to open the restaurant so we can grab breakfast from her before we go.  We hope to come back to see them again.  We’re already talking about doing so when we reenter Thailand from the North later to go to Chiang Mai but at the moment I’m not sure. 

That’s the problem with travelling is you make really intense friendships in a short period of time but then you have to leave.  At home you already have those really intense friendships and all you do is think about leaving.  I suppose we just have to make the most of all of them each day. 

Ko Lanta and the stars…

(journal excerpt) November 27, 2011-The weather here finally changed for the good here and we got a good day at the beach yesterday.  Still hanging out with Pon, Pheat and Pen and its been great getting to know them more.  I have learned a lot from Pen in a short time about Thai cooking and after mentioning to her that I was after a Thai style vegetable peeler (I know, I’m a geek), she promptly brought me a new one in the package from her kitchen and tried to give it to me.  I made her take 20B for it and even that wasnt enough…I had my first fresh young coconut since being here that Pen hacked open with a massive knife by herself.  It had been in the fridge and it was ice-cold and the best thing I have ever tasted.  Then you get a spoon to scoop out the young coconut meat from inside.  Seriously amazing. 

Pon has a friend named Malik who hangs out near the restaurant.  He drives a tuktuk and waits for customers to walk by and when he is not busy, which is always, he is in the restaurant smoking and talking with Pon or playing with Nong Pheat.  Pon made Mai Tais for them and was giving us little shot glasses of the leftovers which eventually grew into him making a new blender full and him giving us two full glasses free of charge.  After we hung out in the restaurant for a while, they asked us if we were going to go to this beach part that was happening down the road at the next beach resort about ten minutes drive away.  We hadn’t planned on it, the flyer on our table didn’t make it sound too much our thing-a Man U game on a big “telly” followed by a UFC match, cheap beer and some kind of “worst Speedo ever” competition.  But they offered to drive and said they were going so we all loaded up in their truck, baby and all and headed to Klong Nin Beach.  We had to make a stop first at teh resort that Pon’s mother runs/rents.  Pen mentioned she might stay there with Pheat and visit with Pon’s mother. 

As soon as we arrived at the resort, all these children ran up to Pheat and he was carried off into the crowd of family and friends.  The resort was rough-I’m talking some serious ramshackle wood and thatch bungalows-loud music, I caught a glimpse of the inside of someones open bungalow and it was fully horrific, like something out of that scene on the Ko San Road in “The Beach”.  Meanwhile Pen brought me a Thai whiskey and coke (also free) and M bought a big Chang.  We were getting to know this French couple that Pen and Pon also invited and came on their rented motorbike.  She is half Mauritian, half French and he is Algerian.  Their English was about as good as M’s french and so our conversation vacillated between the two languages and as the two (M and the Algerian) got involved in heated discusses about Algerian cinema, politics and healthcare systems, I tried to explain in basic English what was being said to Pon and Pheat who had no clue what was going on.  Suffice it to say, we didn’t get to the other resort for the beach party until we stopped there on the way back home.  The evening progressed into many Thai whisky buckets and apparently Scottish? Rum and Pen and I sat in low beach chairs as the tide came in under our feet and she told me all sorts of things about working at the resort where we were, under her now mother-in-law, fighting with her and getting 4000B per month (and sometimes 3000B) for working the bar, serving customers food, taking orders and essentially doing whatever she was told to).  She also talked about getting cheated out of 80,000B when they attempted to open their restaurant down the beach from where we were (long story) and having to save the money all over again. 

The night was amazing and beautiful and a few times I walked out to the edge of the water where it as away from all the lights of the resort and there were more stars than I’ve ever seen.  I actually said, “Oh my god” out loud, it was literally breathtaking.  As much as I thought I hated a cheesy fireshow, I quickly changed my mind when the adorable 11-year-old nephew of Pon came down to the beach to give us a private show.  All the while poor Pheat stayed awake and was mostly cheerful (there is no such thing as a “bedtime” in Thailand or most of Asia as far as I can tell). 

As I said, it was an amazing night, our new French friends were great and a perfect night only to be followed by a more perfect day the next day that I have to write about tomorrow when my hand doesn’t hurt so much…

Railay Beach, Thailand

(Journal excerpt)

Apologies right off the bat for the lack of photos and formatting here. I am at some dodgy internet cafe in Thailand and nothing on this computer is working for me. I had prepared a bunch of photos on my memory stick to post here, but alas, it will not work. Hopefully at the next place. What follows below are some journal excerpts from the past few days…

“November 11, 2011-Railay Beach, Thailand-Okay so we flew and it was better and now we are on the beach and it is amazing of course. It has changed a lot since we have been here last. Ao Nang is more built up and there is a freaking Starbucks here now but the place is still beautiful and it is great to be here. We flew into Krabi Airport and hired the bus to take us into Ao Nang. Since it was night we decided to find a hotel in Ao Nang and go to Railay the next day. We went to the guesthouse we stayed in last time we were here, tired and hungry. We took the room almost immediately but it wasnt too long in the room, after dinner that we found a bed bug crawling on top of the blanket (surprising even for us as usually they don’t come out until its dark and you’re in bed-leading us to believe it was quite infested) but there wasnt much we could do about it but get in the bed and have a restless awful sleep as the office was already closed and it’s not like we would get our money back. We had previously contemplated staying in Ao Nang two nights but this solidified our original idea that we might as well move on. In the meantime, M’s electric razor conked out which is exactly what happened to him in Vietnam during our last trip and we still hadn’t learned to buy a voltage convertor..I’m pretty sure he shorted it out. The next day, M riddled with bites (Im okay for bed bug bites, they don’t usually like me but I did get a million flea bites in Bangkok the night before), we packed up and left. After a short boat ride we were back in Railay and it fixed all our problems. We are back at Diamond Cave and after one night in the slightly better 500B room, we moved back to our regular dumpy ghetto room with what might possible be the worst bed I’ve ever slept in, including that which I have found in Malaysia and India! But oh well-you sacrifice a lot when you travel for the natural beauty and beach-insect bites, bad bads and electronics not working properly etc.

The jungle here is amazing here and now that Ive seen a few Apichatpong movies, I cannot look at it the same way. Distant birds calling in the depths you cannot see and the imposing limestone cliffs that absorb everything-what we call common tropical houseplants are massive trees here-today I saw a palm frond the length of a house and the flowers are best of all-frangiapani, orchids and a million other fragrant things I cannot identify. I am in love with frangiapani at the moment. Speaking of flowers, I had a banana and honey pancake here and the honey tasted like jasmine-I think I need to buy some and drag it around with me…more later when I have a table-this is too difficult to write…”