Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Hi Guys,
I am Back Home.
Sorry for having neglected you for so long, the reason is I wasn't sure what to do when I reached Phnom Penh that I just wasted a lot of time staying in the hotel room watching TV and catching up on some local news (Malaysian News) on RTM 1. Yes, Cambodia has RTM1 aired.
Anyway, let's go back to HCM City (Saigon). I must admit that of all the cities I visited so far, HCM rates at the bottom of my list, not because it has not much to offer but because I was already travel weary after almost 2 months away from home. The city is too big to see in 2 or 3 days but having been in Vietnam for more than 2 weeks I have a pretty good idea what Vietnam generally is today. I did not visit the VC tunnels but with so much publicity through TV and the print media I don't need to experience it first hand.
District 1 in HCM is where most of the travel agencies are located and you see tourists from all over the world. I saw a couple of Malaysians and even met a middle aged couple and their daughter from Penang busy bargaining with a street peddler over some stuff. En Shamsuddin (60) , formerly of Penang Sports Club, his wife Puan Zainab and daughter Fariza, a MAS ground staff on their final shopping before flying back to Malaysia. We do get many Malaysians now travelling to destinations where MAS and Air Asia Fly. Many Muslims travelling to non Muslim countries complain of the difficulty of finding halal food, but then, that in itself is an adventure - coping with adverse situations. At the 'Highlands Coffee' outlet I saw 'Nasi Goreng' and Malaysian Red Curry Biskit on the Menu - halal or not is anybody's guess.
I toured HCM on a motorbike with my guide - a Vietnamese who once worked in Klang for 3 yrs. - Le Van Chinh. He now works in a restaurat in Dist. 1 and speaks quite good Malay. People like him made my stay and movements easier. In HCM peddlers along the streets harass you wherever you go and that can be a real nuisance. On top of that you have the street children, beggars, shoeshine boys and a host of pimps trying to entice you - not a friendly place for the weak. There are many parks and gardens that are well tended with manicured plants that I enjoyed where I went for brisk walks on several occasions. All over Vietnam you see lots of manicured plants in big pots done in the same style as bonsai ,the difference being, these plants are much larger to be termed bonsai. They are seen adorning frontage of buildings and streets and parks - something we should emulate.
I left HCM on Tuesday 22nd by bus and reached Phnom Penh around 3 pm. We also had to cross the Mekong river on a ferry before reaching PP. I checked into a guesthouse by the riverside where a lot of construction was going on to cope with the increase of tourists. However, you see a lot of people just idling because of lack of employment. Besides motorbikes and taxis for transport there are some 3,000 tuk-tuks available in P. Penh, but only about 5% are seen moving along the roads. Petrol price is the highest in ASEAN at 5,700 riels (about) RM4.50 per liter, so most tuk-tuk just can't afford to move around looking for passengers and instead stay stationary and wait for passengers. I am told that most Cambodians earn less than USD 50/- per month. However you see a lot of Luxury cars and SUVs on the roads in the city.
Throughout the day you see young children, men and women going through the piles of rubbish all over the city streets collecting whatever is recyclable. It is indeed a depressing sight. Just about everybody is trying to sell you something or other, children with trays of cigarettes, travel guide books, women with babies sleeping on the streets stretching their hands for handouts and the handicapped , if you are seen giving to one the others are sure to follow you, so how do you deal with such situations. You tell me.
I also had the good fortune to witness election preparations before I left P.P. In a show of strength, the political parties go on a motorised procession that stretches for many kilometers with thousands of motorcycles, cars and lorries waving party flags and shouting slogans and banging drums as they pass. It is like a festival.
I visited the 'Killing Fields' and the Genocide Museum , The 'Russian Market' and the Royal Palace, and the Old Market over 2 days while in PP. I was tempted to go to Seam Reip again but having to lug the bicycle again I decided against it. I visited Seam Reip last year.
On the morning before I left P. Penh I was cycling around taking photographs of some of the sights when I bumped into some cyclists in cycling gear and on their training rounds. After the introductions, I regret for not meeting them earlier. They were 2 Cambodian national cyclists and their coach . We had breakfast together and exchanged news on cycling and of course they were surprised to know what I had done. They revealed to me that as a national cyclist one receives an allowance of USD30/-per month, and as assistant national coach he is paid USD200/-per month. Unbelievable, isn't it. To supplement their income they act as cycling guide for about 20 days in a year. With that they earn another USD250/-. I don't know how much our national cyclists are paid, but I am sure it is adequate. I spent the rest of the day with them until it was time to leave for the airport. As a parting gesture the 2 cycliss received my official Beijing Marathon t shirts which I was only too happy to part with, thus reducing some weight of my baggage. For the excess baggage (bicycle) I had to fork out USD 40/-.
Well, now that I am back home, it doesn't mean that I will stop blogging . I shall continue sharing with you whatever activities I undertake after some rest. I shall also share with you more insights into my experiences throughout my journey the last 2 months.
I am truly sorry to hear of my Thai friend Somchai who lost his camera and the bad experience he had in Vietnam. So, I consider myself lucky because even after 2 months in 4 different countries I only have pleasant experiences to share with you. One reason , perhaps is because of my advanced age and the other because I travelled alone. When abroad luck also plays a part.
Thanks 'Bandit' Puteri Kamaliah, Jimbo, Dr.Amir Lee, Kama, Ann, Hassan, Sook Ying and Jason, Kishab, my friends at Warung Rus esp. Datuk Johan, Cikgu Mat, Din, YB Edward, Stanley, JJ , Datuk Jaafar, Lee B. Leong and others who have been keeping track of my movements and the support and encouragements and to Tey I am happy that you have got the Visa to China .I'll see you when you come back.. It is still possible that I continue my cycling to China from Hanoi some time in the future - after the olympics.
I have registered for the S'pore Marathon in early December and I need to go into the preparation soon. There are many other things that I'd like to do in the near future but I need to make a thorough research to ensure any undertaking ends in success.
Well guys, call me if you like, we can meet up some time. Regards and take care.

Monday, July 21, 2008

In Saigon and the Chaos‏

I am in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) now, but I want to write more about Nha Trang before writing about Saigon. Nha Trang has a lot to offer the visitor. The sea-front is about 6 km long and with beautiful palms and well tended trees and gardens. Like most parts of Vietnam, there are stone sculptures everywhere especially in parks and gardens .There are hundreds of them, some sculptured by artists and others in its natural form.
The other interesting feature of Nha Trang is that there are many tandem bicycles. There must be hundreds of them. I have never seen more of them anywhere else. Families and couples and children happily ride all over the place and enjoying themselves .
I met a couple, a doctor and his new bride from Hanoi riding tandem along the beach enjoying their honeymoon. Nha Trang also has a port that serves the central region.
Among other tourist attractions are the Po Nagar Cham towers built in the 7th century as a Hindu place of worship and now used by Vietnamese and Chinese Buddhists. Then, there's Nha Trang Cathedral built by the French. Bao Dai's Villa, residence of the former President and the Prime minister, is now a resort for tourists. Long Song Pagoda and the Pasteur Institute are also popular.
Many basket boats are also seen north of the city. These are round boats made of bamboo strips 2 meters in diameter and are used by fishermen in the area. It can sit 4 people.
Near the port is a station that serves the cable cars that take visitors to Vin Pearl Island 10 km away. I am told that it is the longest cable car ride in the world.
A lot of seafood is available in Nha Trang and I managed to sample some with my 'Guides' along the beach at a very cheap price because I was among the locals. In a restaurant, it would cost at least double.You do get beggars and children tugging at you asking for money, and it's difficult to deal with such situations, to give or not to give. Some are handicapped and some with young babies.
Another thing I noticed about Vietnam is the presence of very fine furniture in all establishments and houses and although the place may look shabby, the furniture is always fine, many with mother- of- pearl inlaid. This is seen all over the country.The only difference with the Chinese version is that they are lighter in colour.
I arrived in Saigon around 7 pm and if you think Hanoi is bad, Saigon is even worse, as far as the traffic is concerned. I am told the city has 8 million people, just imagine it. This afternoon I was shown around by a local guy who had worked in Klang for 3 years. He speaks quite good Malay and now he works in a restaurant. Saigon is not a place I like but, I'll do some cycling around, tomorrow, before moving on to Cambodia.
I am staying at a small hotel in the heart of the backpackers haunt in District 1 and the place is full of tourists from all over the world.The room costs US$15/-and there is no lift in the building, I need the exercise under the present circumstances.
In Saigon everybody seems to be selling something. Along the roadside, peddlers go round with a tray full of wallets, tissues and just about anything and they can be a nuisance when they keep following you all over. Shoe-shine boys bother you in restaurants, even children as young as 6 would come round selling something or begging. There was some rain yesterday and an hour ago, something not seen elsewhere. It is a welcome change.
Well, I now look forward to go to Cambodia, meet new people perhaps, different in some ways.
Regards to all and take care.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Nha Trang B4 moving to Saigon

Hi Guys, Arrived at Nha Trang at around 7 am after about 12 hrs, but I managed some sleep as I had the 'sleeper.' Checked into a small hotel and will discover the place later.

Yesterday before leaving Hoi An I had the whole afternoon after checking out so, I went back to the ancient part of Hoi An again and I met the most number of people from different places in a single day.

While taking some photos near a stone sculpture I met 2 ladies and after some introductions one of them said that she's from Thailand and that she remembers seeing me pass her house about a month ago. Can you believe that? It's a one in a million chance, I think. Then at the same place I met an Australian middle aged couple and had a photo taken with them. Later I met an American couple-Trent Szakail (Hungarian American ) and Monica Gonzales (from Guatemala) who met in Spain as students 14 yrs ago and now married for 9 years. They now live in the USA.Then a group from Paris. Then some Japanese, and later still a Chinese from China who had the misfortune of having to hear my complaints about his country. Then I met again the Swiss couple whoI met in Hanoi, a young couple from Denmark and also a Korean who has been away for 9 months visiting India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia and now Vietnam. Next he visits Thailand.The number of people from all over the world is endless, but other than in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay I have not met a single Malaysian in all the other places in Vietnam.

I just had a short ride in Nha Trang and to describe the place, I'd say it somewhat resembles Penang where the beachfront is concerned, but the stretch of beach is right where the city (town?) is with its many 4-5 star hotels, and the development is still frantically going on.

The sandy beach stretches for miles and miles and the activities include water skiing ,paragliding, and other water-based sports. It also has a backdrop of mountains that has a sign something like that of HOLLYWOOD.

I see may senior citizens just lazing around and chatting away with their friends and of course like everywhere else couples sitting together or strolling. A lot of foreigners stay at the posh hotels just across the road from the beach. Most elderly people speak French but youngsters are learning English to cater for the increase in tourists from all over the world.

Two students studying tourism will be my guide this evening to show me around Nha Trang for free. When I asked why they are doing it , they say that it is because they'd get a chance to learn and practice English. Things look promising for me in Nha Trang so, I'll leave you now and perhaps blog again later tonight.Regards


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In Hoi An and moving on to Nha Trang‏

I left Hue for Hoi An around 2.30 pm yesterday and arrived at Hoi An around 6.30 pm. This is a small town but is supposed to be the oldest with a very ancient history. It goes back to a time BC. and has strong links with China, India, Japan , Thailand and some others.
The journey from Hue to Hoi An is about 150 km and I am glad I took the bus as there were stretches of very high hills, before Danang which has a harbour. Before Danang there is a road tunnel that is more than 16 km long, and the scenery throughout the journey is very scenic with a view of the sea.
The weather has been very hot and the temperature is around 37C. Apparently the school is on vacation for the summer for 3 months. there is still 1 month before the school reopens.
Today at breakfast I bumped into the Canadian girl who also stayed at the same hotel as I did in Hue and we went sightseeing together in the old city together with a guy from the hotel in Hue. There are several sights and you have a choice of five locations for a fee. Basically they are old houses of the early Chinese traders, ceramic museum, the earliest Chinese temples and such. It is more for students of history. There is also a beach nearby which I may go before leaving Hoi An for Nha Trang. I also met a couple whom I met in Hanoi at the ancient city, looks like most people use a similar itinerary while in Vietnam.
From Hoi An I move to Nha Trang some 500 km away and I'll be traveling by bus with a 'sleeper', for a journey that takes about 12 hours. Nha Trang is a seaside town famous for its beaches. The Miss Universe is just over I think. It was showing on TV over several days.
Vietnamese beaches will soon rival our beaches and those of Thailand, being more liberal than us they will surely attract some of beach buffs away from Thailand and other Asean countries.
That's all for now. Till next time, regards and take care.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Two Days in Hue then on to Hoi An

Hi, Today I went to visit some of the tourist spots in Hue. First I visited the Citadel, the old walled Palace of the ancient Vietnamese rulers. The complex is huge, walled all round and the wall is some 15 ft thick and 20 ft high. It is very impressive compared to the 'A Formosa ' in Malacca. Surrounding the wall is a moat filled with lotus (flower) plants.I didn't go to see the inside as I have to pay an entrance fee and it was too hot to see such a big complex at this time of year. Next, I visited a Pagoda which is also very impressive. Lastly I visited one of the tombs of Vietnam's ancient rulers. Hue has several of these tombs. This place would be a favourite for historians.
Hue is scenic with the river called 'Perfume River' adding to its charm. The riverside is a favourite with tourists and locals. You can stroll all along the riverside on the concrete walkway. In the evenings traders would spread their wares which include souvenirs, fruits etc.There are two bridges for vehicles and another for the train. At night the riverside is lighted and provides a beautiful scenery. There are a big number of Europeans, especially French tourists, around, the French being Vietnam's former colonial masters. There all kinds of transport available for hire here - cars, motorcycles, bicycles and trishaws. There are even some tandem bicycles for hire.
Hue has a tremendous tourist potential and there are lots of construction going on to cater especially to the tourists. There are two 5 star hotels and more are being built.
I am moving off to Hoi An tomorrow. I don't know what lies in store but I am assured by the hotel staff that I won't be disappointed. They are making the arrangements for me. Hoi An is about 150km from here.
Thank you Thoa from Hanoi who made all my travel arrangements and made my stay in Hanoi very pleasant. Do keep in touch. That's all for now guys, take care.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

2 days in Hue then to Hoi An

Hi Guys,
I left Hanoi yesterday around 7.30 pm by bus, but due to the impossible jam, didn't get out of Hanoi until around 9 pm There is so much construction in Hanoi, especially the highway, getting in and out, can be a nightmare. I was lucky that I had a sleeper on the bus that enabled me to really stretch, like on a bed, and sleep comfortably. I have not seen such buses back home . The last row at the back sleeps 5 persons, then the 2 rows in front of it sleeps 2 on each side, so in total there 13 beds while the others have the usual reclining seats which are also comfortable. The only strange thing I find, is that the bus does not stop at any RnR for toilet stops, but instead stop at at any spot convenient for one to ease oneself. I pity the poor ladies. The bus had more foreigners (Kwai Lohs) than locals. I managed at least 6 hrs of intermittent sleep, which I consider good.
Moving through the night, I didn't see much, although we passed through part of the way I cycled into Hanoi until Vinh. At dawn it was the usual paddy fields and traffic.
Hue is about 670 km from Hanoi and it is not so crowded. The town has a lot of historical sites, as this was the seat of the Vietnamese past rulers (like Malacca). Many areas of the town have remnants of the palaces and ruins of the past. It is a riverside town and is served by two bridges and a railway bridge. Many riverboats take tourists for a river tour and the river-side is a favourite of locals and visitors. The sunset is beautiful here and as the sun goes down all kinds of traders set up their stalls to trade, as everywhere else in Vietnam.
Another interesting thing I find about Vietnam is that most people eat dog meat. I was invited to join in for a dog meat dish and if I hadn't asked I might have eaten some. They find it strange that I didn't even want to try. Here, in Hue, there is also a lot of construction going on, especially to cater for the tourists - hotels, guesthouses etc. In another five years, infrastructure for tourists would be ready, and, so will prices.
It is not too bad to cycle here as the traffic is not too heavy and many people here, also cycle. If only it is cooler in the afternoon, then it will be ideal. That's all for today, more tomorrow. Regards and take care.

Specially for Somchai in Chumpon, Thailand

Hi Somchai,
Great to hear from you again. I just want check with you about your cycling to Vietnam. If there is any chance that you are in Vietnam anywhere where I am and the date coincide, I'll only be too glad to meet and cycle with you again. Please let me know your itinerary and the dates so that I may change my plans and cycle with you (if possible) Regards to all my friends in Chumpon and Thailand. Hope to blog again tonight.

Friday, July 11, 2008

To Hue, Hoi An, Nha Thrang,and Saigon

Hi guys,
I am leaving Hanoi today for Hue and onwards to Saigon some 1900km away. To cycle all the way will take about 2 weeks and the cost will be quite high so I have decided to take the bus instead together with the bicycle and though I have to pay for the bicycle as well the time taken will be shorter thus saving on the hotels. From Saigon I hope to go on to Cambodia (Phnom Penh) and maybe Seam Reap before flying back to KL. I should then be back in KL before the end of the month. I would still be cycling at the places I stop and enjoy the local scene.
Dr Lee, don't worry, I am still in good shape though a little soft and of a different colour. To Tey, I hope you will succeed where I fail. To Datuk Johan, Cikgu Mat ,Lee Boon Leong, Sam (Din), and all the guys at Warung Rus, sorry I can't report back on the Miao women. Will try again another time .
The two girls from Malaysia ,Chan and Shirley have left for home and too bad I didn't get to know them better, they had such a hectic schedule.
Another two Malaysians just arrived, Dominic Wong and Anthony Kok from CIMB. Looks like Air Asia is doing a roaring business.
While in Hanoi two girls have been very helpful to me and I am sorry to have to leave them: Quyen and Thoa (sisters) who sell tour packages for a Tour Agency. Without them I would not have managed with the problems that I had to solve.
Well I guess that's all for now, till next time , regards and take care.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Moving On

Hi guys ,
I have been in Hanoi for a week now and I need to move on. Forget China and the Olympics .I shall leave in the morning heading for the south of Vietnam right up to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) and after that hopefully, Phnom Penh in Cambodia. I don't know for how long I will be on the road but now that the cycling adventure is no longer relevant, my movement will be hindered by the bicycle. I can now take the bus or the train but the bicycle has to be taken along with me and that can cost quite a bit. The bicycle can also cost more than the passenger as my enquiries revealed. Anyway, we'll see as I go along.

To go south I have to travel the same way I came and that's not something I look forward to, so I will probably take the bus down to Hue passing through Vinh where I stopped before. After that I'll decide where to cycle and where I should take the bus .Whatever it is, I know it will be a new experience, so we'll see. To those who are not familiar with Vietnam the distance from Hanoi to Hue is about 700km and to Ho Chi Minh is about 1,800km and to cycle all the way from here will take at least 2 weeks without rest, I am not going to do that for sure.
After being away for about one and a half months now, I think I have lost some muscle mass although endurance-wise I am still ok.When I get back I need to beef up again, to regain muscle strength and stay in shape. I really miss my gym workout.
This is something I should write about : I notice that there are very few fat or obese people in Hanoi or in Vietnam in general. I have no clue as to the reason why, but it must be their diet or they are more physically active than us Malaysians. The streets are still crowded with people walking, and cycling and carrying out physically laborious tasks and that could be the answer. Like in Thailand and Laos, all available land is utilised for crops, even on the fringes of the city. In some cases the land is still ploughed using the traditional buffalo or cows/bulls, those without the mechanical harvester still use the sickle. The wages are also low - the receptionist cum manager at the hotel I am staying now earns US$150/- a month and his 3 assistants act as cleaner, bellboy and general worker earning US$ 70/- a month. Not much isn't it? Many Vietnamese have been to Malaysia to work and many said that they are happy to earn RM500/- after all other expenses are taken care of.
Well guys, That's all for the time being, I shall try and blog as often as I can, I appreciate your company. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Need To Decide And Move On

My last effort here failed. I went to the Malaysian Embassy hoping to get some positive answers but alas it was not to be. Nobody could help me anymore ,here at least. Other Malaysians in similar situations have also failed and they include some cyclists. Its up to me now ,whether to return to KL or continue cycling to the south of Vietnam and then on to Cambodia and back through Thailand. Whatever it is it will still be fun as far as I am concerned. You guys can still follow my blog because I am certain I'll be encountering more interesting people and places to write about. I am now a familiar face in Hanoi and need to move on as it is not cheap here. A few people have been quite close to me and I am going to miss them .
This is all for today.Regards to all.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

They refuse to give the Visa .Period.

Hi again,
It is not something unexpected, I am just angry because they made it very unpleasant. After yesterday, I arranged a hotel booking in Nanning and got the confirmation faxed and I also got a return bus ticket booking to Nanning. With the documents required I again made my way to the embassy. After having to queue like everybody else I was later told to get photocopies of the documents, so I had to leave the Q and take a motorcycle ride for some 1/2 km and with the photocopies joined the q again. At the same counter as yesterday the same guy
said that the Chinese govt. is not issuing visas to those without visas from the country of origin. Can you beat that? It is sickening, to say the least. Anyway I was not the only person to be refused, so that's a little consolation. 'Kwai Loh' and some from other Asian countries were also refused. What's next?!!!
My brothers-in-law have left Hanoi for KL and I have moved to a smaller hotel, which is very comfortable and the people friendly for just USD18/- , to lick my wounds and plan my next move. Forget China and the Olympics. I will stay here for 2 more nights and
then move south to Hue and continue to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). From there I might go to Phnom Penh. I might skip Seam Reap because I was there last year and make my way back to KL. What an anti climax eh.!! Well, that's life, I guess..
I know I have disappointed many people but, don't worry there will be other adventures to plan and look forward to.I welcome suggestions from all.
I thank all those who have been following my progress thus far and I shall continue to blog whenever I can as I go along from here.
Sorry Jimbo, 'Bandit' Tey, Rizal, Ann, Puteri Kamaliah and Anonymous for your comments. I have more to write especially about some of the interesting people that I met along the way from the time I started, and when I get back to KL I'd be able to post more pictures .
There are two Malaysian girls who are also guest of the same hotel ,but I still do not know their names as they have gone out - I'll get to know them when they come back. They actually just came in from Sapa and leaving for KL tomorrow.Well, I guess that's all for now, keep your chin up. Regards .

Monday, July 7, 2008

They refuse me a visa

Hi again
I am still in Hanoi and looks like I am stuck here for a few more days. I went to the embassy this morning and they need a firm hotel booking and return ticket before they issue a visa. I'll have to try and use other methods and try again tomorrow but the chances are 50-50. My two brothers -in-law are leaving tomorrow, so I'll be left alone again to fend for myself, and I'll have to give up all the luxuries I have been enjoying the last 4 days. I'll check into a one 'star' -(me) hotel and wait and hope for the visa.
I am itching to get started again as I am getting fat - with the good food and luxuries..I just can't imagine what to do if I fail to get the visa. Any suggestions?
I don't want to end the journey this way .Wish me luck,everybody. and take care.
PS. Thank you sook ying and Jason for your comments, will tell you stories when I get back. And also to you Choon in BG. Regards to Auntie.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Still enjoying Hanoi.

Hi again, Sorry for the abrupt stop yesterday, but here they are strict about closing time, but they are not punctual about opening.Yesterday I (we) visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where 'Uncle'Ho's embalmed body can be viewed. Thousands had to queue before you can enter and the opening hrs are very short-only about 3 hours. 'Uncle' Ho is Vietnam's greatest hero and his contribution to the country continues even after death. Millions go into Vietnam's coffers just by having to view his body. Many people won't agree with me but he looks like a wax model to me. Even Madame Tussuad's wax models look more lifelike than "Uncle". The Museum is a better choice as it depicts the country's history and how they fought the French.

There are many more sights you can visit but I don't care much for temples and pagodas.Just like Thailand and Laos transport available are the same- buses, taxis, motorcycles, and trishaws but strangely no tuk-tuk. Just about everyone will try to fleece you if you are not wise, so don't be easily taken.

Today we had lunch at a 'Malay' restaurant run by 'Ben' Alias a guy who left the country 30 yrs ago and has since been to 16 countries. His first marriage was in 1999 to a Vietnamese girl (32) Nur Adelena Abdullah and they have 2 daughters 21/2 and 7. 'Ben' is 61 years old and was a national sepak takraw player in the 70's The food is nothing much to shout about but it is ok when away from home. Generally food is expensive here.

I lost my helmet somewhere before reaching Hanoi so now I have just bought a new one. Sorry Agos, to have lost what you gave me, it has served me well.

I 'll be going to the Chinese Embassy tomorrow and hope to get the visa. I am hopeful. Got to leave now - hope to blog again tomorrow with some good news- I hope. Regards to all.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

A grand time in Hanoi

Hi again,Today I'll write about what I have been dong since I arrived in Hanoi.
The ride from Thanh some 150 km away was uneventful, as the route was as usual monotonous, except, when I meet people whom I could communicate with. Anyway, many found me quite strange cycling alone, along the dusty road with heavy panniers (saddlebags) with 3 flags flying. Many thought I was Laotion, and when they knew I was Malaysian they showed extra interest, some would ride their motorcyles alongside and have a chat before riding off. There's a railway that actually runs parallel the road most of the way.
I hit the dual carriageway highway about 40 km before Hanoi which made riding easier but I rode for 10 km in what I call 'hell' traffic. The traffic was teeming with thousands upon thousands of motorcycles (and bicycles) and other vehicles. To see a situation like that reminds me of ants moving in all directions and yet manage to avoid collision - you have to see to believe. I was later told that the population of Hanoi is close to 4 million and there are 2 million motorcycles. I rode for 10km before reaching the hotel where I was greeted by two of my brothers- in- law, who had flown in a day earlier, to spend some time with me before I go into China. Shahrin 70 and Dato' Syed Abdul Rahman 68 were equally happy to see me, still in one piece, amazed at how I managed the traffic. Anyway I was extremely glad to check into a 3 star hotel with all the luxuries, and real decent food (the Indian Restaurant was just opposite the hotel). Mutton curry was the first of my choices, (after a quick bath,that is).
Yesterday was Ha Long Bay some 170km away, but the journey was worth it, though I wouldn't make a second trip there. The three of us went in a hired SUV with a guide and and again a private boat just for the three of us and the guide. The boat can actually take 50 passengers. We spent 3 hrs on the boat and had lunch freshly cooked on the boat with fresh crabs, prawns, squids, veges and other dishes. Ha Long is a real wonder of nature with some 2000 outcrops of islands and rocks of various shapes and sizes and have caves similar to those in Sarawak (Mulu) There were hundreds of other boats with tourists mostly 'Kwai Lohs' and from other countries. All in all the trip was worthwhile though short. A better arrangement is to stay overnight at Ha Long bay instead of a day trip.
Along the way we also stopped at factory producing ceramic and china and gemstones. There was also a section producing handwoven paintings done by handicapped workers who are children of parents affected by 'agent orange' during the Vietnam War.
The 'Cafe' is closing, will continue tomorrow. Regards.

Friday, July 4, 2008

In Hanoi and don't feel like leaving.

Hi Guys, Sorry for deserting you for so long, but sometimes I had no choice. Anyway here I am again and I'll try to fill you up from where I left off. After leaving Vientianne I headed for Pakxan some 100 odd km away but it was quite easy as it was flat most of the way. The road wasn't as good as in Thailand but traffic was light and that helped. Laos is very undeveloped compared to Thailand and some people in the remote parts still live in thatched huts like you find among the 'orang aslis', back home, but one thing we should envy them is that these so called huts enjoy cable TV. Satellite dishes are all over. Pakxan is a small town, like Slim River and has only one hotel.The hotel is well appointed though not well maintained. Towns in Laos seem to have hotels owned or run by Vietnamese. Even the masseurs are Vietnamese. Don't ask me if I have been naughty, you are not going to believe me whatever I tell you anyway.
One thing about Laos I notice, is that, they have vast timber resources and they produce very good wood products - furniture, carvings, etc. Only hope they don't plunder their forests like we do. The other town I spent the night before crossing to Vietnam was Lak Sao and I had the misfortune of being checked into a guest house that was run down and because of the heat,I left all the windows and the door ajar. After a few minutes a herd of goats found their way into the room. And to get to that town must be the hardest ride I had so far . I had to tackle very steep hills something like cycling up Cameron Highlands by Simpang Pulai, but once you reach the top the view is really breathtaking, and way down in such situation, it is always a welcome sight.
The Laotian children are really friendly. They readily pose for photographs esp. with my bicycle. Many are amazed at the number of gears the bike has.
From Lak Sao to the Vietnamese border, is about 30 km, and though it has some hills they are gentle and almost without traffic. After clearing immigration and crossing to the Vietnamese side it was the most pleasant ride because I did not have to paddle for about 25 km. I only came across about 12 vehicles for that distance - amazing. After that it was mostly downhill. Hardly anyone speaks English in this part, so I had problems even asking for directions, and in fact once shown the wrong way. Luckily, it was only a short distance. I was chased by a dog again after crossing the border, border guard dogs, I guess, . I reached Vinh late evening and checked into a nice 2 star hotel and was surprised that it costs only USD10/- while at some hotel of worse conditions I paid USD15/-
I am now in Hanoi and I'll try and write more about Vinh and the ride to Hanoi tomorrow, but just make sure you stay with my blog. I am now staying in a very well appointed Hotel in the tourist area of Hanoi, with two Malaysians, my two brothers -in-law, who flew in the day before. We just came back from a cruise in Halong Bay. I may need to stay longer here, which I don't mind. I have to try for the visa on Monday and that could take some time.
To some of my friends in PACM who are following my blog I hope your training is going well, what with all the runs coming up soon. After a miserable finish at the last KLIM I really need to put in some training to even come in under 6 hrs. I envy guys like YLWan, Hooi. Gary, Kishab who have always been consistent, and Ngae, how about another Sahara marathon. Let me try the S'pore marathon in Dec first.
Blueamoeboa, arz , and Ann ,thanks for all the encouragemant and advice -you guys take care as well. To those who SMS to me, please identify yourself. I'd like to know you. That's all, till tomorrow. Regards.