Not Really a Blog

June 29, 2012

Mekong Delta

Filed under: Cambodia, Mekong Delta, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , , — jesus @ 05:11

To finish up my stay in Vietnam I decided to take a Mekong Delta tour during three days ending in Cambodia. These tours are very common in Saigon where you go for three days (two nights) and then you come back to Saigon. Anywhere you walk in Saigon you’ll find a travel agency where they advertise them. I don’t know if there are different types of tours, but I would generally avoid them if you are thinking of going yourself. Mine was not very good, and on top of that I had a bad experience with the hotel, the Nga Hoang Hostel, I was staying at in Saigon. If I were to do it again, I would probably travel by myself and choose the places I wanted to go, sleep in the area and avoid the worthless visits to different places where all they want you to do is to buy some stuff. Which is fair enough, but it gets old very quickly and you don’t get to see that many nice things.

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Anyway, the idea is not so bad though. You are supposed to go around the Mekong river south of Saigon and see all this area in all of its grandiosity. The river, the rice fields, the floating markets, etc. In the end, it feels more like you are in a theme park than anything else. It’s not so bad because you get to see some nice sights, but it feels like it’s not enough though. And, that you are taken to a theme park of Vietnamese stuff.

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Wanna see crocodiles eating ducks? how to make rice noodles? play with a big snake? being taken through one of the canals of the Mekong river? This is your place.

Siesta

Instead of returning back to Saigon, I booked a boat trip into Cambodia through the Mekong River, to get to Pnomh Penh, the capital of Cambodia. To me the most interesting thing on this trip was a visit to the floating market in Can Tho. You know, you are on a boat in the river and you go to this market made of tens of other boats where people are buying stuff and exchanging goods. And of course this has become a tourist attraction. Very funny, but interesting anyway.

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Floating market where you can buy coffee

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Fresh pineapple, ummm!!!

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Rice noodles

Fried rats with onions

Something on the menu, fancy it?

We were getting closer to the border and the weather was getting muggier and hotter, as we spent the last night in Chau Doc from where we were going to go, supposedly through the Mekong river, to Cambodia. And well, it turned out to be not the Mekong river proper, but a canal that goes along the border of Vietnam and Cambodia. Where we finally arrived, waited a couple of hours to get our passports sorted out and then finally we took off again on a different boat to get to Phnom Penh. Or that’s what I thought. In the end we went up the river for like 30 minutes where a bus was going to pick us up.

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Cambodia in the distance
Cambodia in the background

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Isn’t he cute?

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And isn’t she cute???

Now, this was my first encounter with Cambodia. Bus is a very loose term in Cambodia, it seems. Instead of what you could think, it was not actually a bus, but a van for around 12-14 people. There, they put us all, 20 people plus bags. You can’t imagine the scene? try hard, remember Twister? that’s basically what we did for 2 hours. It gets better. Driving at 100km/h and overtaking on blind spots while speaking on the phone.

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Untitled
The Canal

From Vietnam to Cambodia 8

Boat Driver
Boat driver

Welcome to Cambodia, this was certainly going to be an interesting country…

Bus or minivan (2 of 2)

The back of the van where we were squeezed in!!

More photos of the Mekong Delta and the trip to Cambodia.

February 24, 2012

Halong Bay

Who hasn’t heard of Halong Bay? Or who hasn’t seen a picture of Halong Bay? Well, I had, and I had felt fascinated by it, its ghostly waterscapes, so much that I wanted to visit it badly. Having seen amazing pictures on the internet had made my desire grow stronger. I just wanted to take my camera with me and shoot away at the amazing scenery, hoping to have great weather and perfect images, combined with a nice stay in the area.

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The place looks like this

As it happens the place is a tourist trap and for this and other reasons it was a bit disappointing. The weather wasn’t good at all,  with temperatures dropping to a maximum of 13 Celsius precisely the day I was going there, so enjoying Halong Bay in the typical way, standing on the top of a boat while you go around the thousand islands was no longer an attractive option. Also, being it a tourist trap, the place is overcrowded with boats targeting all sorts of tourists, from the party-alcohol-fuelled-goer to the more senior-citizen holiday kind of thing. Water is dirty on many spots due to the large amount of boats leaving diesel residue behind. If you add to it the possibility of drowning on one of these poorly maintained boats, then choosing whether to go or not is no longer a simple question.However, the place is fantastic, and deserves a lot of praise regardless of its shortcomings. So I went!

Cold Halong Bay
It was this cold

Upon arriving to the main dock you realise how big this tourist trap is, seeing hundreds of boats coming and go, buses loading and unloading tourists without stop. And, all of this during off-season. I can’t really imagine what this must look during the peak season. Shortly after arriving you aboard a small boat that takes you to the main pirate boat, one of those that has a resemblance with the typical Chinese junk-style boats (mind you, they are just modern boats).

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Tourist Trap Alert

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You usually get to one of these boats using a travel agency in Hanoi who offers you a tour/package in Halong Bay, where you can choose whether to stay one or two nights being the second night on an island or again on the same boat. There are prices for everyone, but everywhere you search on the internet (and on the lonely planet guides) it recommends not being tight with your money as getting one of the $50 dollar-mark tours can very well leave you on a boat infested with rats and cockroaches, and a horrid experience to remember. From there you can go up to more than $400 for just 2 nights although most tourists settle for something around $130, which is fair enough for the amount of staff you get (apart from accommodation, you get food and transport, but not drinks). Some tips to book Halong Bay tours here.

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You will be in a boat like this

Mine was called Party Boat and despite what our agent had sworn (no party, it’s just the name) there was some party. Mainly because all of these tours are led by a guide who’s not only a guide but also someone responsible of making everyone have fun, which on a boat called party boat involves putting loud music and trying to get everyone to dance and sing all the time. I guess that you know the type.

The party boat
Halong Party Boat :-/

However, as the weather was not that nice and the bunch of people aboard were closer to 30 than to 20, most of our guide’s efforts were futile. Good. Except there was a fairly large group of young Australians during the first day who were generally nice, but there were two dudes in this group who wanted to make a career at annoying people. They decided they wanted to piss everyone off and so they did put the karaoke system on full power late at night, trying to sing every song in the most ridiculous and stupid way, screaming and yelling and generally trying to keep everyone awake while they were getting high on booze. To make you an idea, they even tried to sing Dido’s Here with me. I was considering the option of making them walk the plank into the sharks…cold water. I survived that and learnt a couple of card games from fellow travellers!

Anyway, apart from these two, we were a nice group. A couple from the UK who just got married (Amy, Mike and their friend Sally), another couple from England and Germany (Laura and Dennis) and a few other made the group we were in. And we had fun in this group :)

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Amy and Sally

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Mike

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Dennis and Laura

And Jeremy, our tour guide (Jeremy was his chosen western name). He was trying desperately to rock us (come on, party party) while we had cold-stone faces (What are you doing dude?). I think he felt really frustrated that we were not responding.

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This is not Jeremy, though! :-)

But hey, it was frikking cold outside and he wanted us to party on the boat, play sports on the beach and get ourselves wet in the freezing water, as if it was summer. No exception ;-) Funny though.

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He managed to convince Mike to play football

Mike, cold
But later he was recovering like this

I chose the two nights/three days tour. It’s the right amount of time, methinks. If it were not because I had to use three blankets at night to keep myself warm in bed ;-).

You typically stay on the boat while they wander around taking you to nice spots and cool beaches, mixed with activities like hiking the hill on one of these island, playing beach football or kayaking.

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Hike to the top

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kayaking if you wanted to get your ass wet

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This would have been so nice being warm and having a mojito in my hand…

At the same time you are taken to floating villages, caves and pearl farms which makes the experience interesting.

Oyster
A pearl

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A vendor on a boat

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Did I say it was cold?

It was a shame that it was very cold, because the colour of the water invites you to jump in, no matter what time in the year it is. Watching the sunset and sunrise was magical nevertheless. Sure I didn’t see the sun (for three weeks) and couldn’t get the amazing colours you see on photos everywhere, but still the light seemed kind of magical. You just fantasize you are in a pirate boat and this is your little empire ;-)

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Colours

Anyway, Here there are a few photos I took in Halong Bay:

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Decorated food

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Supposedly squid fishing, but bullshit actually :-D

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Night shot

Smile
Crew member

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Your own private beach

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Want to jump into the water

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Sunset

Halong Bay, captivating, relaxing, awe-inspiring despite it being a tourist trap. I worry that the Vietnamese will convert this into a full-scale tourist-exploitation system and break the ecosystem and destroy nature here which is what attracts people here in the very first place.
I have to come again, spring time, or in warmer climates, for sure! :-)

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