Monday, June 9, 2008

Southern Vietnam

Next morning, a van picked me up for my journey to Vietnam. We had an hour by van to the Mekong River where we’d make the rest of the trek by boat. We were on the first boat for about 45 minutes before stopping at the border where we passed a group of Western tourists making the exact opposite journey. After customs, we had a quick bite to eat and boarded a new boat. The ride down the river was relaxing. We passed other boaters and many young boys and girls swimming.



When we arrived in Chau Doc we were picked up by men in bicycle rickshaws. Oh crud, I thought, remembering Chad’s decree. It turns out they were already paid for, so I didn’t fret too much. We were then taken through the rather personality-less town to a personality-less hotel and dropped off with the promise that we’d be picked up the next morning at 6:30 a.m. for a trip up to a mountainside temple and our next boat ride.

I dumped my stuff off in my room and headed out to wander around the town. First stop was an ATM where I had my first experience with a lot of dong. And, as you might have figured, the first of many dong-related jokes. (censor for grandmother) It was a little nerve-wracking to take out millions of dong. I didn’t find much in the way to do in the town so I decided to stop for a late lunch and try my first roadside pho. On the corner near my hotel was a woman with a plastic table dishing out steaming noodles in bowls.

My first Pho

I gestured I’d have one and she grinned at me and waved me to sit down at her table. She ladled out the noodles and poured in the broth with some sort of mysterious meat. She then added basil and mint leaves and sprouts. It was really delicious and I knew at that moment I'd be eating a lot of pho while in Vietnam. As I stuffed my face, the woman was chatting with her friend, laughing and gesturing at me. She then reached out and tugged at my cheek. I don't think anyone's done that since I was a baby.

After my dinner, I was feeling pretty tired so I returned to the hotel to veg for a little bit. I watched some dreadful movie while lying on my bed with the balcony door open. It was still early so I went out again to check my email in an internet cafe filled with screaming little boys playing video games against each other. Southeast Asia seems to be the online gaming capitol of the world. And the Vietnamese language screamed by little boys at each other? Terrifying. Later there seemed to be a commotion happening outside the cafe. Just around the corner a building was going up in flames. The entire town seemed to have turned out to watch. I ran into an Israeli girl who had been on my boat and we decided to get a bit of dessert before heading back. However nothing was open so we resorted to a cocktail and a nice chat.

I realized the next morning that when I had sat watching the movie with the balcony open, I had been bitten on almost every square inch of my legs from the knee down (where my camo pants/capris end).


After a quick breakfast, we were packed into a van and driven up Sam Mountain (most of the way) and walked the remaining steep hill to a beautiful temple overlooking miles of rice paddies. Back in the van, our guide proposed to me (I was seated up in front with him) and spent the next 45 minutes trying to convince me to marry him. We were driven back to the waterfront where women in face masks helped us into wooden skiffs they then guided out into the river, standing over us.


We docked at what looked like a floating house with a patio but was in fact a fish farm. In the center of the patio was a large cutout that was literally teeming with fish. Our guide tossed a handful of fish food in to the hole and the fish went bananas.


Next, we boarded our skiffs again and were taken to a small village where we learned a little about the weaving they did there but mostly were pressed into buying souvenirs. I had met two young men from Utah on my tour who were named Braiden and Braden. Nice kids, still in college and roaming around Southeast Asia on their break. They both decided to buy the iconic triangle hat and since it's really only women who wear it, two little girls pointed and giggled at them and asked sweetly, "Sisters?"


This time we were rowed out to a larger boat but first I managed to lose my sunglasses by removing my hat, which had my sunglasses underneath. Plink! Right into the Mekong. My lady rower made a valiant effort to grab them before they submerged but failed. Once on the larger boat, the Bra(i)dens and I retired to the top deck despite the looming dark clouds. Soon lunch was served and we docked long enough for me and a French girl and her parents to be kicked off to continue our tour up to Can Tho. We just made it into the van when the heavens opened. Something about a car ride in pouring rain... and I'm instantly asleep.

Woke up as we arrived in Can Tho, and was not too pleased with my hotel. It appeared to be still under construction and the entrance was down a narrow alley way lined with what appeared to be stalls selling hardware. They had booked me into a room with a stranger and I balked. For three more dollars I could have my own room so I decided to splurge. I guess I still hadn't recovered from my parasite infection and I was still often exhausted. I fell asleep for an hour or two, had bizarre dreams and woke up with no idea where I was. Stepped out to walk around a little although it was getting dark and the area of Can Tho I was in was pretty personality-less, stopped into a strange grocery store/shopping mall to stock up on snacks and then went to find dinner. Along the waterfront (which was much nicer) was a little restaurant where I recognized my hotel's desk clerk enjoying his meal. He waved me in and recommended the snake. I waffled but figured it was now or never. I decided to go with the fried snake. When it came out, I have to say I wished it didn't look so snakey.


It didn't really taste like much...chewy with a vague fishy-ness. I only got through (well... half of it) because of the cilantro thrown on it and copious amounts of beer. When I gave up, my waiter asked if I'd like to try the snake wine. Sure, why not. He came back with a small shot glass of whiskey-looking drink. I threw it back, tasted like a currant-y liquor of some type.

Glass o' Snake Wine.

I asked what sort of snake was used and he said black snakes mostly and gestured to the back of the restaurant. There, sitting up on a counter, was a large glass jug filled with coiled dead black snakes nestled in a brownish liquid. Thank goodness I saw that jug after I'd had the wine.

An Australian couple had seated themselves nearby and also seemed to be enjoying copious amounts of beer. We got to chatting and eventually I left my table to join them (we were the only people in the restaurant). They told me about the various taxi ripoffs they'd run into so far in Vietnam. One taxi driver tried to tell them that their 15000 dong ($1) fare was actually 15 US dollars (and they'd only been in the car for about 5 minutes) and they had to get their tour guide to argue with him. Next time they got in a cab they realized the fare was going up too fast and the taxi driver was going in circles. Now I was really wary of all Vietnamese transportation. Turns out we were all part of the same tour group so we headed back to the same hotel. I realized tomorrow I'd have to find a bar to watch the Man U game at midnight.

Next morning, we had a boat tour of the floating market and a noodle factory. I didn't have time to run out and find breakfast so I popped my malaria medicine (particularly concerned about all those mosquito bites) and ate a banana (while singing, "Malariaaaaa, ma-lar-i-aaaaa" to the tune of "Aquarius" from Hair... which I sung almost every day). Our group was guided to the waterfront where we got on a narrow boat and headed down river.

Somewhere along the ride I knew something was going terribly wrong in my innards. My gut bubbled and wheezed and suddenly I felt my face prickle. I thought it might be the snake turning on me. All too familiar with this sensation (although it had been 2 months), at the last possible moment, I casually got up from my seat and headed to the very back of the boat as if just checking out the view and the watercrafts out on the river and when I was sure the motor drowned me out and no one was watching, oh look! what is that in the water? -- I heaved my banana over the side. I felt instantly better except for wondering what was that about? I blamed the snake and sat down again.

First stop was the floating market, which was such a disappointment. All the guide books show it as this picturesque event where women in conical hats float about in their skiffs filled to the brim with exotic fruits. In reality, the first boat was a father and son duo selling Coca Cola (which was actually pretty welcome in my current state). It was not picturesque.


We had to get into a smaller boat to maneuver around the "market," and I was not impressed. But we got more pineapple and that was okay.


(dirty DIRTY sensor!)


Next, back on the original boat, we putt-putted over to the rice powder factory


(which probably breaks every health code violation if it was in the US) and from there to a noodle factory that also seemed to double as a pig farm.


I had the unfortunate moment of walking around a bend in the path to come upon a farmer gutting piglets into the stream. After lunch (appetite was strangely still healthy), we headed back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage. It was time to head for Saigon.



I loved checking out all the roadside cafes in Vietnam as we hurled in a packed bus towards Ho Chi Minh City (I prefer Saigon). Every cafe featured a dozen tables or more with 2 or three hammocks hanging around each of them. Genius. I'm guessing this would not really catch on in America as we are not encouraged to linger at our eating establishments.

There was an older man on the bus who was placed next to me. He did not look well. I noticed that his back was covered in red welts from an Eastern therapy "Cupping."

Said goodbye to the Australians upon reaching HCMC. They were booked at a five-star hotel in town as it was the end of their trip and they felt like celebrating. Apparently, while web prices remained high, they had called the hotels directly and bargained with them. The hotel industry is suffering so much I guess they managed to get a room at a rockbottom price and were pretty pleased with themselves. As for me, I had been paying 6-10 bucks on hotel rooms per night for the past two months and couldn't fathom rejoicing over finding a five-star hotel room for 75 bucks. The bus took us directly to the most backpackery part of town. As is my habit, I didn't go for the guest house the bus company wanted us to stay in but instead took my gear and headed down the street. Every hotel owner beckoned me in, but eventually I settled for a nondescript place... and instantly regretted it. Not because there was anything wrong with it other then the fact that there were SCREAMING CHILDREN EVERYWHERE. There are several rooms on each floor but it's also very clearly someone's house, which is weird. It's got a very official lobby with check-in desk.. yet there are baby clothes hanging on a rack next to it, toys scattered and someone asleep on a floor mat. I collapsed in my bed for a few minutes and then went out in search of dinner. There was a barbecue joint across the way and I wanted to find a good place to watch the Champion League game between Man United and Chelsea. I sat down and saw that the game was already playing. That can't be right. It wasn't due to start until midnight. Then i realized... I was watching highlights from the game... that had played the night before. I'd gotten my dates mixed up. While I was out eating snake, I missed the darn game.

The barbeque was delicious but I was pretty annoyed with myself for missing the big game. Man United had one and apparently it had been an amazing game. I texted with BF (the only MU fan I know) about it (I also thought abou tmy poor little Irish boys from Chiang Mai and how sad they must be as Chelsea fans) and then headed downstairs and sat down at the bar for a drink. The jukebox was playing Led Zeppelin when a young man with a mohawk came up beside me to order a drink. He was British and invited me to join him and his friends outside. A couple of Americans, Brits, and Aussies, all pretty boozed up. They welcomed me into their fold.


Shortly, they decided it was time to go dancing and we piled into cabs to go to Apocalypse Now! (really) which turned out to be packed and over-priced. Sorry, I don’t pay six dollars for a beer…if I can help it. Particularly not in Vietnam. Luckily, I was not the only one annoyed so we left pretty quickly and returned to the original bar. One of the guys asked if I’d like to get brunch with him the next day and I agreed. I then walked back to the hotel to find it shuttered for the night. There was a button on the wall, which I pressed and a sleepy woman came to the door, unshuttered it and let me in. I stepped over her family members asleep on mats on the floor and crept upstairs. It was only 11 or so.

Next morning, I was determined to find a camera shop to a) somehow clean my sensor and b) restore my ailing memory cards. I was down to just one card working as the others were teeming with viruses, picked up from all the different computers I had been using across the world. And because I had only the one card working, I had to find an internet café every day to empty it. I walked around the neighborhood, found a huge electronics store but no luck with any camera cleaner. It was heating up already and the smell of durian fruit kept wafting past me. It is probably one of the most hideous smells in the world. This fruit smells like a latrine with dead fish in it. I’ve never tasted it because I don’t want to know what taste goes with that smell (although I guess one can’t really judge taste by smell or one wouldn’t eat cheese). I’d been smelling it since Thailand and even now when I wander through Chinatown and smell it, I’m right back in SE Asia.

I was supposed to meet the guy at 12 at the same bar/cafe from the night before. My wanderings had taken me a little farther from the café than I’d thought so I didn’t get there until 12:05. He was not there. I sat down to order a Vietnamese coffee, which I was quickly falling in love with. They bring a small glass to you with about a half inch of condensed milk at bottom and a small metal filter sitting on top. The coffee drips out very veeeeeery slowly. Still no date. I order breakfast – eggs and a baguette. Because of the French, the Vietnamese make some darn tasty baguettes – light and crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside – perfection with a little butter and jam. And the jam in Vietnam was much better than the jam in India, which tasted like Red Vines candy smushed up.

Date never showed up so I decided I’d better get out and see a little bit of Saigon. I had heard about the War museum from a couple of the guys last night. They were going to head there today so I thought I’d check it out. I decided to walk there, which truly tested my motorbike dodging skills. You wouldn’t believe how many there are. At a red light, literally hundreds bunch up, drivers waiting. They tend to wear hats, facemasks and gloves.

Saigon Traffic

At first I thought it was because of pollution and then I realized they were a lot like the Indians in that they hid from the sun. Some even wore jackets with curious flaps that are intended to hang down over the tops of your hands. Out on the streets of Saigon, it’s like an army of pastel ninjas zooming around on their mopeds.


I arrived at the museum an hour before it was due to close. The weather looked like it was about to turn as well. The museum consists of a plane out front in the courtyard, a mock set-up of the “tiger pits” off to one side and an open layout room with walls full of graphic photos. Photos, I imagine, that were not shown in the US. Pretty awful stuff.

Just as I was finishing up in an outbuilding that was dedicated to photos by and of war photographers (many of whom died in action), the sky opened up. The downpour didn’t last long and eventually I emerged from the giftshop with the other museum patrons and headed back out into the streets. However, about half an hour later, it started to rain again which led me to witness the (I’m sure pretty frequent) sight of hundreds of moped drivers and their passengers abruptly pulling over to the curb to quickly throw on ponchos which they keep under the seat.

The rain was not letting up so I purchased a roadside poncho and kept walking home. Unloaded my overworked memory card at an internet cafe and headed to my hotel. Waiting for the rain to let up so I could go find dinner, I watched a little tv and then headed to bodega store on the corner for some snacks. There, I ran into the Mohawk boy who told me that he and his group were having a party in the girls’ room and I should join them. We pick up some beer and head to the hotel (but first I pick up a seriously tasty Vietnamese sandwich [banh mi] from a small cart outside) where the party is in full swing. Jack, the Texan, has instigated a drinking game of some sort, where you “race” cards to the finish line and the losers have to drink. There was a lot of “losing.”


By the way, the guy who stood me up was there. He said he showed up at the café but when I didn’t show, he left. Thanks for waiting five minutes, buddy. Finally, the guesthouse owner appeared and asked us to take the party elsewhere. It was 8 o'clock, after all and some people want to sleep. Back to the same bar as the last night, but on the second floor where there was dancing and a pool table. I decided eventually to call it a night (plus I didn’t want to stay out late and wake my hotel’s owner up again). It was pretty early but yet again, the hotel was closed up for the night.


(View from the club -- how about that wiring!)

Next morning, I continued my search for a computer store and found one! It was a dinky hole in the wall with a little nerdy guy working there (surprise! A computer nerd!). Or, not working actually as he was fully engaged in an online game when I walked in. He was very nice and it took awhile but eventually he figured out how to debug my cards AND my hard drives. Since it was taking some time to do each, I went down the street for some pho and then decided to hire a driver to take me to Reunification Palace, the scene of the end of the Vietnam War. Amazing building – the 1960s architecture and interior design is fantastic – shag rugs, orange and brown and avocado. Bars in the conference rooms. So great. The war rooms in the basement are pretty interesting as well.

My moped driver waited around for me and flagged me down when I came out. I guess business is slow -- best to hold onto your customers. Upon return to the computer store, I saw my trusty little nerd was done with my cards and hard drives and was reinstalling his computer (as it had become infested with viruses while trying to fix mine. We chatted a little – I asked if he had a girlfriend. He said no, nobody wants to marry a poor man. I gather up my stuff and nervously asked how much these hours of work were going to cost me. He goes to talk to his supervisor and comes back with a figure: 100,000 dong. Or six dollars. I happily gave him a ten dollar tip. Hopefully that’ll be a step towards getting a girlfriend. But considering he went right back to his computer game…probably not.

With a swing in my stride, I went back to the hotel to check on my stuff, check my email and get ready for my night bus to Nha Trang. Uploaded new pictures to flickr and decided to have dinner at an Italian place across the street. Drank wine while watching geckos lose their footing on the ceiling and plop suddenly to the floor - usually stunned but okay.

Bus stopped to pick me up around 9 p.m. I was immediately berated for getting on the bus in my shoes. I never remember that stuff. Vietnamese night buses are unlike Thai night buses in that they have narrow individual beds instead of reclining seats (this blogger has a good shot). There are three rows. I was limited in my choice as the bus was pretty full so I clambered up into the bunk by the door and tried to figure out where my stuff was to go. Not to mention my water bottle, ipod, etc. Turns out my bag goes behind the headrest area and you just have to sleep with your water, ipod etc. I climbed into my sleep sack and pulled the flimsy bus-supplied blanket over me.

And just like Thai buses, as soon as you’re falling asleep, they stop for dinner. Another bleary-eyed supper of pho and back on the bus. I didn’t sleep too well, surprise surprise, and in fact didn’t really fall dead asleep until just before I was rudely awakened as we entered Nha Trang (again... just like Thai buses). The morning sun was extremely bright through the windshield and the bus stopped abruptly to let us out at their chosen hotel. I was completely disoriented, unable to grasp exactly what was going on, and I was not the only one. A blonde Canadian woman and her equally blonde but silent boyfriend/husband were trying to wake up and get their stuff off the bus as well. The driver was cantankerous, shouting at us to hurry up. Nobody wants to wake from a dead sleep at 6 a.m. while getting shouted at! Bewilderment faded, replaced by irritability and I shouted back as I grabbed my bag from under the bus. The Canadian girl told me had no intentions of staying at that hotel and was in fact meeting some friends at a different hotel so I asked to if she'd mind if I followed her and her bf. She introduced herself as Sharon and the guy was actually just a friend she’d met in Saigon, a rather quiet New Zealander named Craig. We got to know each other as we hiked through the mostly silent streets, enjoying the early morning sun. Saigon had been rather overcast most days. Nha Trang was also different in that there was little to no traffic. The hotel was a block from the beach, which was exciting! We checked in and found out that Sharon’s friend was actually staying with Craig’s friend. They’d met in Saigon and hit it off. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so the hotel put us in another room so we could sleep until check-in. But Craig and I were no longer tired so we left Sharon to go find breakfast. More coffee, more baguettes later, we went back, found a groggy Sharon, moved into the room we decided to share as it had three beds and hit the beach. I went down to a street corner where I’d seen a man with an air-pump and petrol for motorbikes in order to fill the raft I’d been carrying with me for the past 2 weeks. I knew it’d come in handy at some point! Sharon and Craig had found some lovely chaise lounges and were fending off the local women trying to sell them fruit, candy, trinkets, etc. The raft was a big hit.

Strange beach. There was a steep dropoff only feet from the shoreline. The water wasn’t terribly warm either. But it was certainly pretty.

We were there most of the day. Mark and Delmelza eventually appeared (very smiley) as well as another girl (whose name I am afraid I can’t recall). We went out to dinner together that evening where we tried the delicious local Dalat wine. Next, we found a nightclub that was not terribly busy, but had local children on the dance floor. I tried to take a picture and was reprimanded by the staff.


Then we went to a more backpacker-friendly establishment where we drank some sort of crazy concoction out of a coconut and played pool… badly.


Craig and I faced off with a Vietnamese shark-lady. She was ruthless and very uptight about the rules… unless she broke them. She was winning until she sank the white ball at the end of the game and furiously stomped off.

Next morning, we had decided to go on the three island boat trip. We were picked up early and taken to the docks. Our guide/boat captain was a very genial fellow who was wearing some American from Michigan’s cast-off “Class of 03!” high school senior class t-shirt, complete with the “03” on the back filled with teenage signatures. The first island we went to was for snorkeling. No sea lice this time. The kids were jumping off the roof deck of the boat into the water. I tried it and promptly lost my bikini top. The second stop was an island that had about 4 feet of beach on it. We had about an hour there, Sharon and I put down our towels and were promptly sprayed with sand by the kids playing soccer… on the four feet of beach. Also happening on the four feet of beach? Parasailing. We watched as a young woman is strapped into vest, the parasail on the ground behind her. At the signal, the power boat out in the bay would jerk forward and a man pulling the rope just ahead of the woman would yank her into a run and then DIVE into the water to avoid her feet as she’s whipped up into the air. The entire ride appeared to only last about 6 minutes. After watching them return from a swing out and around the bay and the woman floating lightly down into the water where she’s immediately picked up in the boat and brought back, I was sold. I hopped up and went over to the beach workers. How much? Fifteen bucks. Deal. Before I could ask how long the wait was, I was being strapped into a vest! I ran back to the towels to get my money – Sharon and Craig looked astounded at my brashness. In the next minute, I was hooked up, yanked into a run and flying off my feet up into the clouds. Some people hang on to their straps but I spent most of my ride in the “starfish” position

Back on land, exhilarated and breathless, I sat with Sharon, nibbling on ice cream and watching other riders going up.

That poor man who pulls the riders into a run before the rope tightens and the fly up into the air (ON FOUR FEET OF SAND) just keeps diving under the waves at the knick of time in order to not get knocked in the face by flailing legs. He’d shake himself off and wait for the return of the boat. Now that’s a hard job.

Back on our boat, it was lunch time. And lunch was sea urchin soup. There had been a big bucket full of living sea urchins when we’d gotten on the boat and now I knew why.


Not too bad. Also glorious slices of pineapple one dunks into a pile of red pepper salt. Then they cleared off the group table, set up a rudimentary drum kit and brought out a guitar and microphone - apparently it was karaoke time! Only it was all Vietnamese songs… and there were only 3 Vietnamese tourists on the boat. The rest were white and bewildered. But we nodded along and eventually he sang a Beatles song so we could join in.

At the third island, we anchored and our captain leaped into the water. His shipmates tossed him a floating Styrofoam “bar” a couple bottles of “wine” and some plastic cups. Inner tubes were tossed into the water for us to use and we were invited to “join him at the bar.” “Taste like Petrol! Buy at petrol station! Terrible wine!” And yes, it was pretty bad but our captain was very funny.

From (this guy looks remarkably like our captain)

The final stop was an aquarium. It was actually not too shabby. Huge sea turtles swam in lazy circles in a pool outside. There was one main tank inside filled with “businessmen fish” (all very fast, have places to go, people to see, busy busy busy, okay everybody go that way!) and other gorgeous sea creatures as well as individual tanks. Eventually it was time to head back to shore. I decided to take a night bus to Hoi An that evening, as did Mark and Craig. Sharon and Delmelza would take a day bus the next day. My bus was due to leave at 8 so I grabbed myself some dinner and waited outside the hotel for my ride. Everybody else went to dinner. I waited and waited. No bus. There was a family who owned a little sidewalk stand set up nearby. Their two children came over to play near me. I got out my camera and they posed up a storm. I’d give them a pose and they’d strike it. “Okay! Now do Blue Steel!” I’d pout my lips and squint my eyes, and they’d do the same. Adorable.

"Blue Steel"

Then they’d practically tackle me, jumping into my arms and scrambling up into my lap in order to look over the pictures. I took so many photos, I asked their father for his email so I could send them. Finally, he took my picture holding the kids and as he put the camera down, he smiled at me with his children and said, “You take? Souvenir of Vietnam?”

Their father said, "Souvenirs of Vietnam?"

The bus was so late that Sharon, Craig etc were coming back from dinner when it arrived. Craig’s own bus was due soon and as it turns out, later that night, when we stopped for sleepy midnight pho, Craig’s bus pulled in just as we were finishing up. Another crack of dawn arrival found me stumbling around the lovely, sleepy town of Hoi An, looking for lodging. I stopped at a nice hotel but its proximity to the smelly river behind it made me hesitant. The desk clerk allowed me to store my bags while I went looking for food and a tour of town. I emailed Craig to see where he ended up and then found a cute café where I could sit outside and watch the women in conical hats with wooden rods over the shoulders carrying great baskets of bananas and other produce to market.


Coffee, baguette and postcards, I sat there for some time. On my way back to the hotel, I took a turn through the market and started noticing the storefront after storefront of custom made clothing. Hmmm. I stopped in one that had a very nice medium weight coat out front. I found out I could have a custom-made coat in any material, lined, for 30 dollars. Deal! I picked out a mustard wool and instantly, the woman running the store went to work measuring me. You know, while I’m at it, why not a pencil skirt? Always wanted one. In Thai silk? Why not! 15 dollars each? How about two in black and blue shot with pink. How about a blouse and a pair of slacks? But of course! A bit lighter in the pocket, I was told to come back at 5 for my first fitting.

Went back to the internet café and discovered that Craig had arrived and was staying in a gorgeous hotel not far away with A POOL. Now, let me tell you it was in the 90s, and steamy (believe me, I was not looking forward to the fitting of the wool jacket later) and a pool sounded amazing. I went back for my stuff, apologized to the clerk that I’d found my friend at another hotel and wandered over. Craig and Mark were poolside and it was gorgeous. The hotel room was fifteen a night, which was a bit steep for my blood, but I figured it wouldn’t kill me to have soft clean sheets, a/c, cable, gorgeous furniture and the bathroom! OH THE BATHROOM! Modern toilet (no squatting!), gorgeous huge bathtub…and all sparkling clean! I joined the boys by the pool and then went to explore the town again before my fitting.

I was amazed to see how far along my clothes were already. The coat was basically done. The pants were a tad large around my hips and thighs. The shirt was perfect except…well… it was blue. I asked for a white shirt and it was plainly light blue. They insisted it was white. Humph. The skirts were really snug but I liked them.

On my way back to the hotel, I was lured into another shop by a pretty sundress. Next thing I know, I’ve ordered two sundresses and 2 silk dresses. Ridiculous. I rarely shop so I feel justified.


Back at the ranch, Sharon has arrived and is not terribly happy with the price of the hotel but the pool beckons. That night, we head out to find dinner at a cute restaurant on the waterfront after learning the place we wanted to go was closed. We're all feeling kind of beat so we call it an early night and headed back to the hotel. However, once we arrive, the pool looked so inviting that even though it was ten pm and it was most likely closed, we grabbed our suits and snuck in. It felt wonderful! On the way back to my room, I noticed that the door across the hall was open and there was quite a lot of commotion going on inside. There was a lot of swearing and squealing going on. A very muscular young man with a shaved head, popped his head out of the door when he heard my key and I said, “Is everything okay?” “We’ve got a huge fucking spider in here!” He opened the door and his girlfriend was standing up on the bed. I walked in and he pointed to the wall behind the door and yeah, that’s a "huge fucking spider." One of those bird-eating spiders with a body the size of an egg and a leg span the size of a large man’s hand.

Thic picture does not do justice to the size of this spider...which was bigger than my hand.

In normal spider circumstances, I’d trap it under a glass and take it outside. The man suggested I hit it with a shoe, “Are you kidding?” I asked. “That thing would take the shoe away from you and beat you with it.” I looked around the room until I saw the waste basket. That would do. I popped the wastebasket over the spider and gently slid the waste basket down the wall until the spider got nervous and stepped inside. Then I whisked it upright and slapped a towel over the opening, expecting the spider to leap out and attack my face. Holding the basket at arm’s length and shuddering like mad, we all dashed out into the hotel corridor. But where to take the spider? No open windows to outside the hotel. Only to the pool. I shrugged and dumped the spider into a bush by the pool. Hope I don’t see that thing sunning itself on the chaise lounge next to me the next day. Excitement over, the young man and his girlfriend thanked me and we all headed to our rooms. (I still get heebie-jeebies writing about it)

Next morning, Craig and I had breakfast on the roof of the hotel. Today seemed like a good beach day. We decided to rent mopeds later in the afternoon and head out to Cua Dai beach. First, I had my second fitting of the first set of clothes to go to and the first fitting for the sundresses. The first set of clothes were pretty much done, except the pants needed a final tweaking. The sundresses looked GREAT… so I ordered another one AND another silk dress in different patterns. Then I purchased some Vietnamese coffee filters for myself and as stocking stuffers at the local market.

I met up with the gang and we went next door to the hotel to rent the bikes. At first, Craig offered to drive me around. No way! I want to drive! I’d wanted to drive a moped the whole time I was traveling but in India you’d have to be crazy, in Thailand they call road burns from falling off them “Koh Phangnan tattoos” due to the frequency of accidents and anywhere else in Vietnam was too congested. Hoi An was very quiet and few mopeds. It was six dollars for the day plus petrol. It was a little nerve-wracking at first. Mostly just the starting was awkward. But it was great fun. We roared down the city street and out into the country side, the sun shining over rice paddies. And by “roared” I mean about 20 mph. The locals were ripping past me at far faster speeds.

Once we got to the beach, I realized I forgot my swim suit! Awesome! So I bought a pair of tiny board shorts for four bucks and figured that would do.


The beach was beautiful, of course. There were fisherman in these strange bowl shaped boats out on the water.


As we watched, one beached on the shoreline and a bunch of men ran over and heaved it up out of the surf. Since I was leaving the next day for Laos and my trip was winding down, I realized I was probably seeing my last beach for awhile. As the sun sank lower and the beach sellers became more aggressive, we eventually packed it up and headed back.


The sun setting over the rice paddies was breathtaking and I wish I’d had stopped to take pictures or had more time with the bike. But we were zipping back because Sharon and Craig had met a very nice guy who ran the travel agency across the street from the hotel who’d invited us to go to his favorite local restaurant for “Hot Pot.” And if you say no to invitations to dinner while traveling around Asia, you are really missing out.

I decided to wear one of my new dresses to dinner. After a nice long shower, singing along to my ipod and speakers, I put on my new dress, a little make-up and felt remarkably clean and dressy for the first time in ages…despite wearing flip-flops. I joined the gang at the travel agency and decided to book my bus to Laos at the same time. It looked like it was going to be a rough journey as there are not many check points to and from Vietnam into Laos. I decided I’d head to Vientienne and then North for a few days and then fly to Hanoi. All I knew is that I had to be in Hanoi before Tuesday, June ____ because there were only 2 trains to Beijing every week and the next one was Thursday which would leave me no time to see the Great Wall before flying home. And flights were quite expensive. I could not believe my trip was so close to being over.

We took two taxis out into the country and stopped at a restaurant/house. We were the only diners. I had seen a chicken it its basket of doom outside the kitchen area as we walked in.

Pho! (our host)

First, our host taught us how to wrap our own spring rolls. I really quite enjoyed this except that my first couple of tries were just plain lumpy, torn and awkward. But then I finally got it!

Next – out came the hot pot, a boiling broth into our host dumped in noodles, vegetables etc and we all dug in. The chicken was brought out, cut into bits and even included the head, which we were all mesmerized by. But it was delicious and we were all stuffed.


Next we took the taxis back into town to a bar where Craig and I played more pool. Eventually it seemed half our party trickled out and left Craig and I to wander off to find another party. We wandered into a mostly empty bar on the other side of the river where the bartenders let us pick the music on the computer to play.


I chose “Africa” and suddenly a dance party broke out – as much as a dance party can break out when there are roughly 5 people in the place. Headed back pretty late… my time was running out.

Next morning, picked up the last of my clothes and walked around Hoi An a bit. Bought a bunch of silk ties with matching pocket squares for my brothers, father and stylish guy friends. Lunch with Craig then back to the hotel to pack up and wait for the bus. It was looking like it was going to be a brutal journey into Laos. I said good bye to my friends – Sharon, Craig and Mark were off to Hanoi and Delmelza would be moving on to Thailand shortly. She was planning on hitting India after that and I gave her lots of advice. I was pretty jealous that her trip was still warming up while mine was counting down. A smallish bus picked me up for the first leg of the journey to Hue. I was on an overnight double cot, which is interesting. Basically, you’re sharing a small double bed with a stranger on a bus. I was next to a young man who scooted all the way over until he was practically hanging off the bed. I must have cooties. In Hue, we were put on a second larger bus like the overnight buses from Saigon and Natrang. But this time, I was shuffled to the back of the bus – the sardine bed. Where as the rest of the bus gets individual cots, the back of the bus is one big bed and you’re stuck next to total strangers. Craig and Mark had come up from Natrang in the sardine seat and had horror stories of smelly cotmates. I climbed in, happy to be up against the window at least. I arranged myself and prepared to bed down for the evening. There was room for two people next to me. However, a Vietnamese couple and their child climbed in, squashing me up against the window so their kid could be between them. Not fair. They also decided to let their child listen to music on their cell phone – with no ear phones.

I do NOT understand why no one has earphones in Asia and everyone listens to music (staticy, distorted, awful music) on their cell phones. I was royally irritated but just after we stopped for dinner, the young mother sat up and vomited into a bag. They somehow managed to find new seats in the front of the bus and two men took their place. The one next to me was determined to hog my space. First he put his foot where my feet go until I literally kicked him out. I flopped over onto my side, facing the window and he rolls over too… up against me. I shove him away. He moves over again. I shove him away. He flops an arm over me!!! “GET OFF ME!” I yelled. Sufficiently embarrassed, he rolls over to the other side and doesn’t touch me again. Gah! At some point in the middle night, we are switched onto a new bus and the bus driver is determined to stay awake by playing loud music. I am too tired to care – put in my earplugs, wrap myself up and go to sleep. We are almost to Laos.

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