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New Year – Viet or Chinese Style

3 Feb
Happy year of the Cat - 2011

Happy year of the Cat - 2011

Don’t get in a fight now – it doesn’t really matter. Some call it Chinese New Year, some call it Vietnamese ‘Tet’.  Fact is that 3 February is new year on ‘this side’ of the globe. The Vietnamese celebrate the year of the cat, which for strange reasons, in the Chinese world it is the year of the rabbit. (something got lost in translation?) – pics below.

However, both of the new years involve lots of kitchy decorations, sporting either rabbits or kitties for 2011. Red envelopes are present everywhere, in the New Year trees (who said only christians decorated pagan trees ;-), in your pocket (if all goes well) and you should make sure red envelopes make it to the pockets of your relatives and friends. In a tourist city, like Siem Reap, where life never stops to vibrate, all of a sudden shops close (tough luck for the tourists) and bus prices double. Continue reading

Crossing People’s Paths

31 Mar
New Year in Phnom Penh

New Year in Phnom Penh

It is mind blowing the variety of people that you meet while traveling. It’s often in moments when I’m most down or sick and tired of traveling that I tend to bump into lovely or intriguing people… as if someone up there feels for me and sends some company around.

A little overview of the magnificent people I met:

The Effect of Asia on a Westerner

27 Mar
Probably not all Asians are like this

Probably not all Asians are like this

So are you ready for gross generalizations? This post gives a little insight of what could happen to a Western traveler when hanging around (South East) Asia too long (or maybe for a short time as well ;-) Asia does strange things with your body and soul – and maybe those things are not so bad after all – they just help you put things in perspective and appreciate the ‘differentness’… (see also ‘the only white guy’ post)

It messes around with your mind

No, I’m not going crazy – I could survive here in South East Asia for a long time easily, but nevertheless being far away from home makes you think… (that’s also part of the reason to come here) Continue reading

Evacuation from Vietnam

15 Feb
Vietnam Airlines - planes from before the war...

Vietnam Airlines - planes from before the war...

I squeezed as much I could out of my Vietnam trip, and out of the time with my ex. But to all stories comes an end. My goodbye-honeymoon came to an end at the same time as my visa for Vietnam: 15th February. Valentine I spent together with my ex (not quite as expected: VIPs can read more here) so the 15th was the last day I could spend in Vietnam, with the Laos border closing at 17h. I had to get there at all cost – and indeed I had to fork out some money to get where I wanted to get – but got a lovely ride through the mountains in return for it – and a not so lovely ride into Laos … Continue reading

Funny Vietnam Pictures

14 Feb

Just like I bumped into many funny situations or saw interesting scenes in Cambodia (see Funny Cambodia Pictures), I also came accross many sights that made me smile in Vietnam.

. Continue reading

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14 Feb

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Hallucinating in Halong Bay

13 Feb

Halong Bay - the star attraction of Vietnam

Halong Bay - the star attraction of Vietnam

Halong Bay is a definite must if you’re anywhere near Vietnam (see pictures below). It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen on my trip so far (definitely on the same level with the Angkor temples, and Kep Lodge ;-) You basically check in on a jonk boat (for a day or two or three) and float around the carst rocks that rise from the tranquil Chinese Sea, in all kind of different formations. On the trip you’re served with a meal of seafood on board, and drinks you can add yourself as many as you like, which we did ;-) We were lucky with the weather, as it is often foggy out there, so we were sunbathing on deck while taking in the scenery.

On the trip you can stop to visit some nicely lit caves and play the ‘You See What I See’ game with the tour guide, imagining different statues and scenes in the stalactites and stalagmites. Or Continue reading

Ha Noi hustle and bustle

11 Feb
Ha Noi old town

Ha Noi old town

(more pics later) Even though Ha Noi is the capital of Viet Nam, it is and feels smaller than Sai Gon. It was clear from talking to some people that the two cities (as well as the North and South of the country) compete with each other: which is the biggest, who has the best food, etc. The north has pink cherry blossoms for the Vietnamese New Year, the south swears by yellow peach blossoms.

We were lodging in a nice hotel in the Old town, with small winding streets and alley ways and thousands of shops and restaurants spilling out on the side-walks (see pictures below). This means that the motorbikes are half parked on the street, so the pedestrians walk on the street, together with lots of cyclos (taxi bikes) hunting down tourists. This then doesn’t leave lots of space for the zillions of motorbikes and the cars moving around. Having said this, Continue reading

Uncle Ho Chi Minh

11 Feb
Visiting uncle Ho in his glass coffin...

Visiting uncle Ho in his glass coffin...

One of THE things to see in Ha Noi is the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum & museum – it doesn’t get more Vietnamese than that. The big block mausoleum is situated on a big boulevard, closed for traffic in true communist style, with soldiers guarding the access. There are supposedly strict controls to get in – although we didn’t quite get the system. And then you are shuffled across the big fridge containing the body of Ho Chi Minh… A strange experience.

The mausoleum is like a big concrete block – but it is supposed to represent a typical house in Vietnam – with a lotus flower on top. The materials were brought from all over Vietnam to honour their big leader. The mausoleum was inspired by other ‘great’ leaders such as Stalin, Lenin & Mao. The funny thing being that Uncle Ho actually wanted to be cremated – so much for his last wish. Continue reading

Bus Encounters

10 Feb
Encounters in the sleeper bus...

Encounters in the sleeper bus...

Just as I wasn’t feeling so happy (just a bit of travelers blues), I bump into lots of interesting people that cheer me up on the sleeper bus. It is a nice way of life showing me that ‘all will be fine’ and that I shouldn’t worry when I have a little dip. I got some relationship counseling from a Dutch-British couple, talked about travel approaches with a retired German traveler and got into deep philosophy with a French dentist that was volunteering in Vietnam.

I thought I’d seen them before, and yes, it turned out that I was virtually doing the same Lonely Planet trail as the Dutch-UK couple I sat with during the dinner stop of the night bus. For some reason, stronger than me, Continue reading

Imperial Impressions of Hue

9 Feb
hue-113

The imperial tombs of Tu Duc

Not sure if I was convinced I should visit Hue on my trip, but it was a stop on the ‘Open Tour’ ticket, and it was the old imperial town and intellectual capital of Vietnam. So why not – for a night on my way to Ha Noi. (Lots of pictures below)

There were a few interesting sites dotted around the city, and as I was not really into walking too much or haggling for a motorbike every time, I decided to rent a bike for the 1,5 day I was there. And this allowed me to go at my own pace and visit whatever I wanted (see pictures) and move on whenever I felt like it. So far biking has been my favourite way of locomotion.

On the other river bank of the Perfume River, there was the Citadel: an enormous park with the ‘purple city’ inside – the Vietnamese version of the Beijing ‘Forbidden City’. Continue reading

Chilling in Hoi An

5 Feb

A typical Hoi An street

A typical Hoi An street

Hoi An is a quaint little village in the centre of Viet Nam. It has a gorgeous old town centre – part of the Unesco World Heritage (see pictures below). Besides that and the sea a few miles down the raod, there is not much to see or do. And that’s exactly what I did there: nothing much – just lingering around in town and chilling at the pool of my hotel.

The fabulous sleeper buses... Good night...

The fabulous sleeper buses... Good night...

I arrived there with one of the wonders of tourism – the sleeper bus. Since distances are relatively big (Vietnam stretches over 1700 km from North to South), and the trains are relatively slow (they go on averate 45km/hour, whihch would make the trip from Saigon to Hanoi a painstaking 36hour journey…), and the plane is relatively expensive (although for 100 USD you have a return ticket between Hanoi and Saigon) and you can’t get off where you want –  so they invented the overnight Open Tour in sleeper buses. Continue reading

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2 Feb

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Family holiday at the Beach

1 Feb
(lots of) Travelling to Nha Trang

(lots of) Travelling to Nha Trang

We were only just back from the beach (visiting a friend’s fancy beach resport in Vung Tao) and what comes next. Right: a little holiday to the … beach. With the family-in-law this time and going a bit further afield: to Nha Trang (more north). We packed and loaded the car in good family style, stuffing the boot with beach stuff, munchies and picnic for the road, as well as one aunt & mother, brother & wife and also the kids of the brother, full of enthusiasm.

The trip was scheduled to start at 7am, in order to reach Nha Trang at a decent hour (so that we could still have a quick dip before sun set), but children, aunts and cars don’t always move that fast in Vietnam, so it wasn’t till 8h30 that we dived into Sai Gon traffic (after having got up at the crack of dawn to be ready). Continue reading

Luxury retreat–Cheap style

28 Jan
4 star pool

4 star pool

So actually I stopped traveling to be with my BF and his family – bye bye lonely planet, bye bye tourist traps – to do what the Vietnamese do. And what do the Vietnamese do for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year? – right: travel. So I went on a 2-day outing with my boyfriend and his friends, to visit a class mate from the olden days. She was a hotel/resort manager now – and she wouldn’t do less than 4 stars… So off we went to test the fancy Ho Tram Beach resort & spa, a 4 hour drive away from Sai Gon – and to play cards, lots of cards, and eat sea food, lots of it as well.

It all happened on a crazy evening when some old school friends of C got together to catch up and wish each other well for the new year. Continue reading

Super-Sonic Saigon

25 Jan
A tiny portion of traffic in Sai Gon

A tiny portion of traffic in Sai Gon

Remember the structured traffic chaos I described in Cambodia? Multiply this by ten, and you get an idea about the traffic in Sai Gon. Or should I say Ho Chi Minh city? Many of the places in Vietnam have several names: dating back from the ‘old days’, from the French colonial period or from the communist (current) era – just to make understanding & traveling easier ;-) Add to that a few accents (meaning, completely different pronunciation and meaning) to every vowel, and you’re completely lost. But Sai Gon definitely had its charm, all done up in the New Year looks, and holding onto a hunk shooting through traffic on the back of a motorbike…

Are there enough accents ?

Are there enough accents ?

Traffic… I thought I’d seen it all in Phnom Penh, but Saigon beats it by large. The large bulk of traffic are not cars, not buses, but motorbikes and mopeds. It’s like dropping a handful of marbles in your bathtub, they all jump frenetically into different directions, bumping into each other, but still arriving where they should be. Continue reading

Very Vietnamese New Year

24 Jan
Offerings for the ancestors... and us afterwards...

Offerings for the ancestors... and us afterwards...

I had read so much about the Vietnamese new year that I was very curious to actually see it happen – and I was even more excited to be part of it in my boyfriend’s family. Having said this, this was certainly not the reason for getting back with my ex (that would be veeery cheap!). I made pretty sure that I’d prefer to stay at the hotel if it would be inappropriate to be at his place for Tet (Vietnamese new year) or at his family’s ‘tout court’.

Our ‘getting-back-together’ timing was not the best of all, as we only got back together the day before the new year. I had seen that it is traditional to give each other big presents for the new year, so I certainly didn’t want to be the pauper and come empty handed. Continue reading

Adopted by a Vietnamese Family

23 Jan
The church around the corner from 'our' place

The church around the corner from 'our' place

Sorry to have been off-line for a good week or two (as if you noticed ;-) but I had some family matters to ‘take care of’. I had only arrived a few days in Sai Gon and the ‘inevitable’ happened: I met with my Vietnamese ex from Berlin (we knew we would be in Vietnam at the same time) – originally just for a friendly drink – but then for lunch with his family – and as I was there for dinner as well – his mother said: ‘why don’t you stay in our house?’… A very simple and candid question – with more complicated and far-reaching consequences. (VIPs read more here)

That was quite an unexpected evolution of my situation: from being a lone (and at that moment lonely) traveler I was promoted to a sort of son-in-law. Wow. Continue reading

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22 Jan

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Phu Quoc paradise island

20 Jan

Phu Quoc paradise island

Phu Quoc paradise island

Phu Quoc – according to the guidebook – is where travelers go to take holidays from their holidays. So it is definitely the easiest way to start Vietnam – as many other travelers reported. The beaches are nice, the food relatively international, there’s not really many things to do or to see – but relax – which I did.

The toughest part of Phu Quoc is to get there. There are only two boats a day which are quite full and a bit expensive (220000 Dong-10 Euro – hm, maybe it is not that expensive after all I just realized…). When getting there (as in most bus stations and ports) you need to fight your way through herds of moto-guys and taxis that all want lots of dollars for a ride that costs only 40000 Dong. I am quite hard in my bargaining, and Continue reading

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