Overview – Southeast Asia – 2015

Overview of my trip:

25 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that the stuff that are booked and planned go by fine but when I give options on what to do but nothing confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. I think whoever Im travelling with should have a clear picture of things to do per city besides the main things we book beforehand. Everyone needs their own space. I don’t know why I have to lead everywhere we go especially when they know I will be shooting over anything else. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless its a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. Ive heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. HCMC is very populated so just be cautious when it big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.

Vietnam:

Ho Chi Minh

Hot and humid – Its grungy, tons of motorbikes, don’t trust taxi cabs and stick to Mai Vinh and Vinasun cabs. Its rather easy to cross the street if you have no fear and stare them down. Its humid and full of people everywhere. People watching is great and the french influence in architecture make it beautiful. People stare. PJ and rice hats everywhere. Crocs rule this place as well as sandals and croc imitations. If they need to move anything around the city, it can fit on a motorbike including 2 old people with 2 ladders or bags of rice and other things. There are road rules and lights but not everyone abides by the rules. Its built with french influence – everyone eats on the sidewalks and people watch but on plastic stools and tables rather than wicker sets. Each restaurant specializes in one or two particular dishes so you eat at one place and move on. Sidewalks also become roads and parking lots. No age limit for drinking – babies drink beer.

Hanoi

Humid but rains and cools down a tad bit – Taxi’s are better than in HCMC – more regulations. Love the history of the old city where the streets were named after the product they specialized. I love that its such a mix of nature and city. There are so many random alleys that you can just turn your head and look at and its a small vignette into a smaller world; a smaller moment that I absolutely love and look for on all my trips. The people are different here form HCMC… a little more refined. From the looks of things, Hanoi looks more educated. Reminds me of Hong Kong – Humid as hell. Slightly calmer traffic but still amazing little streets to walk through. If it wasn’t for our food tour there would be so many foods we tasted that we would’ve missed out on.

Ha Long Bay

Hot – Beautiful pinnacle of islands to sail through and live aboard a boat was a great experience. Sunrise was so serene. I hear good things about Ha Long Bay but I hear Sapa is a dream… next time.

Lao:

Luang Prabang

It’s a dream world. A little village like city. Weather reminds me of Hawaii – hot but not humid. Mix of old and new but now with a huge mix of expats. Buffet street, morning market street and alms giving were great. Wish I had more time there. Kuangsi falls – spectacular!

Pakse:

Hot with normal humidity compared to Vietnam. Tuktuk will be cheaper options and can grab one outside the entrance of airport – Haggle down the price but check inside first what a taxi costs. A look into normal life – a small city that has great land nearby that produces one of the worlds best coffee. The people are lovely. Made new friends playing volleyball.

Paksong

Small little village but even on the van ride over, the people were just so kind hearted waving and smiling. The jungle was awesome. Wet but it only rains for a short time then it can be nice. I love being outdoors and this was definitely a workout and a half. Zipllining was awesome too but wished it was a little safer like Whistler nonetheless still a great experience

Cambodia:

Siem Reap

Hot and humid. Not all roads are built of concrete so they will be bumpy. Tuktuks will be your main choice in transportation. Full day tuktuk will be roughly $25USD + feeding your driver. Tickets for temples can be purchase morning of first day of temple running – $20USD for single day up to $40 for 3 day. Angkor Wat at sunrise is nice but everyone goes so its crowded and gotta be patient to not get another tourists camera in your shot. Bayon even though we didn’t go inside because it was so hot of a day and we had already visited at least 4-5 was by far the prettiest. Its hot… drink water – heat stroke is real. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt and cover them knees. Phare Circus is awesome and is a great asset to the community helping low income individual strive for better. The show is awesome too! The kids are so adorable here but when you’re closer to temples – tons of poor families and kids will approach you to purchase things – don’t buy from kids! If you want to purchase prescription glasses – this is the place to do it and haggle down price! I got mine for $38USD with lenses.

Thailand:

Koh Samui

Hot but not too humid. Hawaii like weather. Best time to go is April-March. #1 source of income – tourism. Very commercialized. Central Festival mall is pretty nice and has night market stalls outside overnight with cheap food and other. The night market by the water sells all souvenirs you want. There is also a volleyball / basketball court at the very end past the chewang food court market. Recommend staying in a resort beachfront near Chaweng. Sandalwood was great but hassle to be on top of a hill and needing to be driven down and then work within schedule for drop off and pick up if you don’t want to pay for your own taxi.

Chiang Mai

Taxi from airport is relatively cheap. Tuktuk as well. Hot with little humidity. More cultured – I see more style and edge to the people here. Laid back but very safe and nice. Sunday walking market is long and huge in a t format. Tons of temples to goto. The old city holds a lot of the culture and things you want to see. Top of the north wall – stalls – street food for locals – thai cowgirl – 30baht – best khao kha moo. Good Khao soi nearby stall. The Central Plaza – Chiang Mai Airport mall is nice too. Goto north village and all the way to the bottom to their foodcourt for cheap meals indoors in AC. Coffee trending here – Ahka Ama, Ponganes, Clay Studio Coffee, Graph Cafe, Natwat Home Cafe, Mao Coffee etc. Elephant, karen long neck tribe, tigers etc tours all can be done here.

Bangkok

HUMID. disregard the taxi stand right outside the arrival gate. head to gate 8 at Don Meuang airport and line up for a cab there. metered taxi. If you take the highway – tolls that need money up front at each toll. Don’t take an unmetered taxi unless you negotiate price first. Ride into downtown is about 35-40 minutes. HUMID. tuktuks are little pricer here but can negotiate price. Grand Palace is 500baht to enter. Was Pho is 100baht plus free water. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt & cover knees. Visit Chinatown to see what the city use to look like years past. Khaosan Road – touristy but cool to see/experience once. Buy all your souvenirs here. Get a thai massage in an AC place – 250baht for an hour is standard.   

Mekong Delta – Saigon/Ho Chi Minh – Vietnam – Southeast Asia – 2015 – Day 4

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We booked a private Mekong Delta tour with with Mekong Delta Tourism – TNK Travel. $50USD – 6AM pick up then off to Cai Be after an hour of delays waiting for the 15 in total group we had. The group of 4-5 from the Phillipines slept in and made us wait 30 minutes before we left them behind but then they caught a ride to catch up to our van as we collected the others on this tour. We stopped by Minh Tri for a rest break where we shared a bowl of pho and I got a banana shake – 30.000VND. Mr Thang was our tour guide who learnt english off of youtube and western television shows.

Facts aboutMekong Delta / Vietnam as told by Mr Thang:

-Mekong delta was actually owned by Funan under control by the Khmer people but Vietnamese people occupied areas around the delta and expanded the country which is long and skinny country like Chile. 

-40% of people are named Nguyen.

-Ho Chi Minh freed people against Japanese communist and Americans thus the name change from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho – father.

-Saigon wasn’t the actual name but over time it was named Saigon because people couldn’t pronounce the original name. 

-It was under control of a French colony thus explaining the architecture especially in and around the flower district.

-Since 1976, an election is held but there is always one winner because there is only one group that runs. 

-Hanoi (Northern Vietnam) looks more oriental as Saigon (Southern Vietnam) looks more western because of French and American invasion / influence. 

-Vietnam – means strong country in the south because China is the central capitol of Asia.

-There are 11 million people in Saigon and chinatown here spanned multiple generations mainly from Canton and Fukien so they speak Cantonese. Near district 8. Government built government housing where they turned the slums into new housing and built a highway. Some still live in shacks though. 

-In Vietnam, government offices and elementary school are closed weekends but university and high school run on weekends.

-Many don’t have drivers licenses but if they get pulled over, they just pay them off with money (200.000-500.000VND). 

-Mekong delta is flat so they plant rice. They can plant 3 harvests per year. It’s fruit and seafood are the main exports. 75% work in agriculture. May to October rainy season

-The Mekong Delta is known as the river of nine dragons with nine different branches as the legend told them the Dragon is God of river. But they mistook a crocodile as a Dragon. Cuu lung.

-In the delta, they bury people in the middle of rice paddies (above ground on pedestals) as the water levels rise so when it’s risen, they either put the dead people in plastic bags and hang them in trees or attach rocks to sink.

-Students in Mekong cross the river by going into plastic bags and pulling themselves across. But overtime, this gets difficult and many leave school early (grade 8-10) and work instead.

-The floating market isn’t regulated. You just need a boat license and government doesn’t care what you sell. They start their business at 4AM and finish around 2PM. They don’t gather together and are all their own business.They are only closed the days during lunar New year. They advertise their products by hanging them on nearby trees. Most of the people who sell on the market live far away from conventional markets and are poor. They also go by lunar calendar so depending on the days, big events cannot happen such as funerals or weddings.

-They also follow zodiac signs so a pig and snake can’t marry as the snake wool eat the pig. 

Ok, back to our trip. We drove past through the town of Tan An which overlooks flat rice fields where our first destination was Cai Be. From Cai Be, we boarded a tour boat that fits all 15 of us and motored down the Mekong Delta to a facility that makes crispy rice snacks and coconut candy. It’s an interesting experience seeing it made as they use black sand in a giant wok, use the rice husks for fire and then through rice into the sand and mix quickly then they sieve the husks from the popped rice. They also created some version of rice crispy treats. We also got to see a local painter paint, watch them make rice paper which is pretty cool. They take rice flour and water and cook it on a drum and pulling off the paper with bamboo. They can make a crispy version of this using rice flour and throwing in coconut milk, coconut shards and sesame if you like (which is so delicious!) We also had a shot of banana liquor but we could have also tried snake scrotum shot but didn’t. I feel like this tour is very scripted but I also know this is what happens when you want a “cultural” tour.

We hopped back on the boat and went over to Tan Phong Island where we sat and enjoyed the stylings of Vietnamese singing. I definitely prefer chinese opera over theirs.. we have a little more flair and high pitched emotion. From there, we took he boat over to Rustic Mekong where we did a “cooking” class. We were all given tasks to cut up / shred carrots, sweet potato, papaya etc which resulted in us making our own fried spring rolls and papaya salad. The meal was accompanied by fried elephant fish (a little meatier fish) which they a also took some of the meat and made spring rolls and also hot pot. After we filled our gullets, we hit the trails with our bikes (bamboo rice field hat optional and off we went. It was a fun ride although narrow paths and not so fast bikers in front made it difficult but also the fact my bike seat wouldn’t adjust and part way through my chain just wouldn’t pull (local men came up to me with a tile and just kept hitting then kicking it until it worked). Another girl was having difficulties because she was riding on a flat tire. One final activity to do: cruise the upper Mekong Delta through small canals with ladies paddling us through in 4 seater boats. I gotta admit my time here, I take for granted all that Toronto has to offer and for the same position at home, we get paid at least quadruple the price for these things.

Since we had a late start, we got stuck in rush hour traffic and even at one point got pulled over by police. I think we had to pay but Mr Thang showed the cop the papers in english and asked him to read it (which he couldn’t) and we were on our way. Got back around 6PM and just relaxed a bit before heading back out for dinner. We decided we wanted pho (In Vietnam why not!) and went around Ben Thanh to Pho 2000 (1 – 3, Phan Chu Trinh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1) which Bill Clinton visited back in 2000. 3 regular pho + 3 shakes cost 327.000VND. It was a better soup broth than previous day at Pho Hoa Pasteur. I ordered a sapodilla shake. Sapodilla looks like a coconut mango hybrid but has a banana-ish taste to it but its a tropical fruit and it was delicious. It was a Saturday and the streets were booming with the weekend market and people. The main area we were in the previous day became a pedestrian and motorbike only area and the foundations lit up with people selling trinkets everywhere reminded me of the gypsies in Europe. We went through the night market and kept getting pressured to buy stuff obviously. Similar to HK ladies market and all other night markets I always find myself never wanting to be hassled and buying stuff plus Im horrible at bargaining. Some of the stall markup like crazy and their asking price is still relatively cheap in USD but to the standards of SEA, since they are made there for .50USD you bargain the hell out of it. The best part of the day is showering. Also note that common products such as contact solution and cases were no where to be found so bring from home! 

HCM is a relatively clean city as there are people cleaning the streets constantly. In the central part, it’s present that there is security police patrol. It’s always congested with motorbikes, cars, trucks and bicycles everywhere. There are a few traffic lights but not all pay attention to it. The waterfront that we were  nearby in district 1 is actually being developed and mass production of more condos and land is being made so district 1 will be no longer exist in a decade. People are relatively nice but one again, we stayed and walked around very touristy areas so the image is skewed. Tons of food carts just setup on side of roads with little stools and food is produced. Males can be topless but women are suppose to be covered. Tank tops aren’t really seen around on women. I’m unsure if I’m feeling stares because I’m wearing tank tops or because of my physique. I am more toned/fit and taller than the men in HCM. Flip flop fashion is on point here as everyone in the city wears them for everything including riding their motorcycles.