So I lost all discipline with my idea of a daily journal. I blame Japan because we’ve been moving non stop and having our minds blown and shopping and eating and learning and having fun.
We arrived in Osaka after a long and tiring transit day and everyone was grumpy. The hotel is a bit crappy and far out of Central Osaka which didn’t help. We made our way into Osaka to see Dotombori at night and we all feel in love with the city. Dotombori is the biggest tourist trap but that doesn’t matter at all. It’s a “shut up and take my money” scenario.
The lights in the water are beautiful, the shops and restaurants and Street vendors are all super friendly even when they can’t speak English. The area is crowded and busy, and has an electric vibe.
Yesterday we did a tour of Nara Park, including Todai-ji Buddhist temple and Sadai-ji Shinto shrine. Both were stunning and awesome, and so much more enjoyable to see with a knowledgeable local guide
After this we went back to Namba and walked around until we found a Korean BBQ restaurant we wanted to try. It was good but best of all was how excited the owner was to be hosting us. He gave us presents and shot glasses of milk for dessert. Funny guy, great food.
Catching trains in Japan is pretty much mandatory as it’s the cheapest and usually quickest way to get around in the city. It’s also daunting and confusing at first. Different lines have their own stations and they are not always interconnected. Nevertheless, we’ve pretty much mastered the trains now and we’re ready for the next big test – tomorrow we go but train from Osaka to Hiroshima. Four trains over about two and a half to three hours. With suitcases. That should be fun.
We left this morning and went in search of a photo lab to develop some film. Turns out there use one place within 800m of our hotel. The lab was in one of those buildings that reinforce my theory about City blocks in Vietnam
We went in search of an address on the corner of the top left intersection but it turns out that buildings share their numbers with these inside-the-block buildings – and the lab was in one of the diagonal buildings inside that block.
We also went in search of markets and shopping, and food as usual. Everyone bought something today so I guess it was a successful day. Quiet time now, then out somewhere for dinner later.
Tomorrow we will go to a museum, and to the temple of literature.
We woke up early and made our first stop at Ti Top Island. It’s a small island with a very high tourist per square metre ratio. We climbed 427 stairs to reach the Pagoda at the top where there is a great view to be seen. Or so I hear. I was too busy trying not to puke after climbing the stairs too quickly.
Next up is a buffet breakfast as we sail back into the main port. Then a four hour bus trip back to Hanoi.
We got in to Hanoi and checked back into the hotel. After a freshen-up and some time out we went exploring in search of dinner and things to see and do. Hanoi is way less geared for tourists than Saigon is. It’s definitely the business end of the stick.
After dinner we found Saigon’s Book Street, which is open at night. There’s a concept every city could learn from.
We left Hanoi bright and early, after a quick detour to find a pharmacy. It’s a four hour drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay, through miles and miles of this:
It’s interspersed with some countryside which abruptly returns to concrete. We saw drained rice paddies (it’s the dry season now) and fields of many different crops. I noticed something interesting here – the Vietnamese (and Cambodian) definition of a city block is different to ours. I think because ours is less by the idea that every property has a driveway or dinner form of car access. Here, for example you see a row of shops with a gap that leads to a school or a set of buildings inside the block, that have no direct street access. Not sure why, it’s like a mini biolage inside a street block.
We got to Halong Bay for lunch, and had lunch on the boat we’re on. It’s great. The boys days the boat reminds them of Murder on the Orient Express. It’s all plush fabrics and dark woods.
It’s winter so not ideal timing for being here but it’s still been interesting, scenic and fun. And I think my man-flu is getting better… Holding thumbs for tomorrow.
Cambodia is awesome. People are friendly, the town is quite small and quiet compared to Ho Chi Minh City (not hard to do that 😉 and the whole place is a balance between a focus on restoring Cambodian culture and entertaining western tourists, some of whom are evidently bogans.
We did a day trip with a guide, through Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Bayan temple. The guide was excellent, and very knowledgeable. The temples were amazing to see and experience. The hordes of tourists were OK except for at Bayan temple where they got a bit much.
It’s interesting how civilisations layer on top of each other, as can be seen all round the world. Including here where formerly Hindu temples are now Buddhist temples. It’s also interesting how the Cambodian people deal with the after effects of Pol Pot’s reign. It’s not widely spoken about (at least in my experience so far) but the general understanding of what needs to be done to rebuild is there, especially a value placed on education.
Continuing the Vietnam/American war theme, we did a trip out to see the Cu Chi tunnels. The history is interesting, and you quickly get a feel that the savagery and brutality of the war was all around.
We also went to an art factory that creates work for disabled people affected by Agent Orange. Bring the sucker that I am for good causes, our bags are a few kilos heavier and wallets a few dollars lighter.
We wrestled up the day with a flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Next stop – ticking off a bucket list item.
Boys at the tunnels:
I managed to get a cold, and spent the day trying to not be sick. We went to an artisans factory where they train impoverished people up in artisanal skills and then give them a share in the factory. It’s inspiring to see all the initiatives going on in Cambodia to restore the economy
We then went off in search of an ice creamery that is featured in the Lonely Planet, and famed for all natural ingredients and the best coffee in Siem Reap. It did not disappoint. Turns out that the street the place was on should be the first stop anyone makes in Siem Reap – not the last, like we did. We also encountered a man with no arms, who was a landmine victim there. Another lesson in how wrong shit can go.
After lengthy delays and a two hour flight we arrived in Hanoi, tired and ready to sleep. And me basically being a human snot factory.
We’ve found things to be very hit-and-miss in Saigon. It’s like a study in emergent systems. The system feels like laws are more suggestions than actual rules. People are very innovative in finding ways to make a living. People seem to wait cautiously before interacting but once you show politeness they generally seem friendly.
We booked a tour today and made our way to the meeting point. We got bundled into a minibus and we’ve been sitting waiting ever since. Not a word from anyone. Hit and miss, thirty minutes waiting on the street.
Next thing we know… We’re off on this tour and meeting new people and seeing amazing things. There tour took up all of the day. We saw markets, temples, Independence Palace, the Vietnam War Remnants Museum, Traditional Medicine museum, and Chinatown. Full on.
We made an early start and went off to the Binh Tay Markets today. My bad – we were supposed to go to other markets but I spoke to so many people eventually I got confused and took us off to the wrong spot. It only matters because tomorrow we are doing an organised tour including going to Binh Tay Markets. Maybe we missed some stalls….
After the markets we walked a long way… checking out life in Saigon from all the angles. It’s a lot to process – but safe to say it’s an order of magnitude more intense than our lives in Sydney. 12 million people packed into a 24 hour city, and something like 8 million riding scooters. When the light goes red they shortcut over the sidewalk. If you’re brave enough you can get an Uber Scooter.
We went to see the Jade Emperor Pagoda – a Taoist temple that is one of the most famous temples here. One of the staff at the hotel told us Barack Obama went to see the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It was fascinating to see, and as much as I wanted to take photos I didn’t want to offend anyone so only snuck a few
We rounded things off with a massive meal of things I don’t really want to eat again – a five course Vietnamese street food tour of Saigon. The tour guide was funny, we went along with some nice people, and the boys had fun. Thousand Year Old Egg…. Shudders…
Day One in Vietnam.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at around midnight, and it was a lot like walking onto the set of some sixties war movie. The border security look like they are in slightly overdone third world bad guy costumes, complete with the communist style army caps. We spent half an hour or so walking up and down looking for our airport transfer, who had clearly opted for bed instead of a very late night pickup.
Once we gave up on our transfer we tried in vain to find a sober taxi driver. I picked one who seemed sober, or at least could pass for vertically capable. He then grabbed one of our cases and took off into the parking lot. We chased him down and caught him at a people mover, and then we negotiated a fare. A second person then came to renegotiate and round up, and insisted “tip tip tip”. We then did a circle round the parking lot, and they swopped drivers. again. The new one seemed half sober so we got our hopes up. He proceeded to grab my wallet and audit it for me, just to make sure I didn’t have anything in there he would like to relive me of. After this display of kindness we felt we had found the man to take us to our hotel… but after another circle round the parking lot they swopped back to the first guy.
We finally left the parking lot, after the first taxi driver had told us “not happy” a few times. My wallet was the equivalent of twenty dollars lighter, and we drove four minutes down the road to our hotel.
Vietnam is a funny place, and it’s 2am – we haven’t even started yet.