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You say liberated, we say fell. Tomato, tomahto.

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Becky 020.jpg

It’s been a whirlwind ten days, everyone, and as I sit down to write this post about Vietnam – the little bit of it I saw anyway, I’m already in Cambodia. I left you in Luang Prabang, Laos, I think, after an aborted attempt to enter northern Vietnam overland from there. I was in a town called Mung Noi and I made a tactical error regarding transportation. I decided to take a bus from near there to a faraway town called Sam Neua, three hours from the Vietnam border, without realizing exactly how far. I caught a truck-thingie, called a sawngthaew (pronounced songthew, I think) which is basically two benches on the sides of the back of a pick-up, with a little roof, to a town called Vieng Khan in the middle of BFE and was stranded. No more buses. But there was a guesthouse there where you could stay and they would wake you up in time to catch the night bus, which passed through on the way from the capital, Vientiane, to Sam Neua.

The bus arrived at this guesthouse at 1:30am, and I, having not really slept, got on it, facing 12 hours (just to get to Sam Neua!), lights on, jam-packed, Lao pop blaring and no seats left, just kindergarten-sized plastic, backless stools in the middle of the aisle. Sitting on one of these stools, I thought, “Becky, you don’t have to do this.” So, I got off the bus and went back to bed. Decided to fly to Saigon from Vientiane, the Lao capital. No virtue in suffering, a wise traveler once told me!

Back to Luang Prabang on another truck-thingie in the pouring rain, me and all my stuff got soaked, plus there was a lady puking blood or something on there. Seriously, I think she had TB. Thank god I had my shot. When she got up off the soaked floor, where she was laying, there was literally a pool of blood. Spent the night and decided to take the night bus from Luang Prabang to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. Totally different situation! This night bus picked up at 6pm and arrived at 6am, so I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. And it wasn’t, except for the drunk Lao guy sitting next to me hogging the seat all night and the combination of Lionel Ritchie and Lao pop that played all night. What is it with developing countries and Lionel Ritchie? I half expected some Bryan Adams, too. The kid behind me enjoyed it though, or at least seemed to as he sang along to “Say You, Say Me.”

So, blah blah blah, a few nice days in Vientiane and then it was a flight off to Saigon! Whoa, sensory overload! The car and scooter horns, my God, the car and scooter horns. Deafening. Laos is so rural and green and quiet, except for the 5am roosters, that I was kind of gobsmacked by Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City to the commies. And the traffic, my God, the traffic. Crossing the street is an art form, as no one on the legions of scooters seems to pay attention to either “crosswalks,” or lights. You have to walk very slowly and make eye contact with the drivers to prevent being mowed down. What an adrenaline rush! We started crossing the street just for fun!

Vietnam is an interesting place. I’ve never seen a country embrace capitalism so wholeheartedly – every single building is a store. Kids patrol the streets selling photocopied versions of books, gum, candy, postcards etc. You can’t walk two steps without being assaulted by cries of “Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?” and an offer to buy everything else. Yet a distinctly anti-American vibe persists. Saigon was liberated in 1975 from the evil Americans – it says as much in propaganda everywhere. I toured, along with hordes of other tourists, the Cu Chi tunnels outside Saigon. They’re 220 kilometers of underground tunnels which the Viet Cong used to attack Saigon. Before the tour, we watched an anti-American propaganda film, talking about the bravery of the VC, who earned special “American-killing” medals. Then we walked around the grounds, which really look like Platoon or something, stopping to see an American tank that had fallen victim to an anti-tank mine, sitting exactly where it had been blow up in 1969, I think. Four Americans died on it, he said proudly. I’m no patriot, but I have to tell you, it made me kind of sick to my stomach to see people climbing all over it and smiling for pictures. We got to go about 90 feet in the tunnels too, which they had to widen for us fatty Westerners, and at one point I had to get down on my hands and knees and crawl. Very claustrophobic but fascinating. There’s a picture of the tank on Flickr, and the opening shot on this entry is one of the cartoon illustrations showing Americans getting maimed, displayed with the traps set by the VC. Also a few pics of those on Flickr.

Next day it was off to the War Remembrance Museum for more. It was a worthwhile visit, though. Lots of photos of the war and some tiger cages that the VC got thrown into when caught. The atrocities committed by the Americans were on full display, pictures of My Lai and the effects of Agent Orange. All very sobering and thought-provoking. It would, of course, have been better if the Vietnamese government acknowledged some of the atrocities the VC committed during the war, or mentioned the “reeducation camps” it sent southern Vietnamese to after the war was over. But, I kept forgetting, this is a “communist” state. It was, to say the least, a very interesting few days.

Took a 3-day tour from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, where we floated around and endured a 3-hour boat trip in a downpour underneath a tarp. Instead of canceling the trip cause of the rain, I think the guide was like, “Well, they paid for it, so they must want to do it.” Right. Anyway, I am really, really ready to get out of the rain. Took another boat ride from Chau Doc, Vietnam to Cambodia, where I now sit, starving to death and ready for lunch. I think this entry is long enough, don’t you? Laters!

When it rains, it pours.

Monday, September 10th, 2007

At least here in Laos, where the weather has been unrelentingly Laosy. Hahaha! I’m back in lovely Luang Prabang, Laos, and it just stopped raining. And I don’t mean drizzle, people, I mean a 12-hour downpour.

(Just as a side note, as I write this, I’m also researching fares on Lao Airlines, and their Web site looks like it was designed by a retarded 5-year-old. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the airplanes.)

But I digress, back to the rain. Left Luang Prabang about eight days ago to go to Luang Nam Tha, which borders a protected area of the country, offering eco-treks into the jungle. I really wanted to see some rural life, and scenery, but was uncomfortable with the whole idea of a trek into the wilds to view the natives in their natural habitat. This particular area of the country, though, got great reviews from guidebooks as well as other travelers for leaving a light footprint on the culture and environment. So off I went. Spent the 9-hour bus ride chatting with an Israeli guy I met and watching Lao pop stars (I think, anyway) doing karaoke or something with Hawaiian shirts and leis on. They all stood in a circle dancing, and each would take his or her turn singing. Oh, how I missed you, iPod. After the musical warm-up, we were treated to a Lao-dubbed version of Charlie Chaplin in The Tramp. Um, guys? That’s a silent movie. From 5 billion years ago.

Arrived in Luang Nam Tha, able to retell the plot of The Tramp in Lao, and it was – yep, raining. My new friend, Erez, was interested in trekking too, and tried to convince me to go on a three-day hike instead of two. Thank god I won. We checked out a Lao bar that night (more video karaoke) and spent the next day (in the rain), watching South Park and drinking Beerlao, the national brew. Met another woman the day before, searching for accommodation, and she wanted to go trekking as well. So the three of us signed up for a two-day trek to a village, including an overnight stay.

Hit the local market that night to buy some gear, cause I came unprepared for the jungle and…wait for it…leeches! Aaaaah! I almost turned my city ass right around at the word. But, I thought, you can handle it. So I bought a rain poncho, some bright green plastic shoes, which I will post a picture of, and two pairs of socks, for a grand total of $3.50. Eat your heart out, North Face and Columbia. Those shoes friggin’ rocked, BTW. Others were slipping and sliding, but not this girl!

Hit the trail, and it was – partly sunny! In the group were me, Erez from Israel, Tamara from Austria, Alice from Italy, Jamie from the U.K. and a 66-year-old Japanese dude who put me to shame. Walked on a nice flat bit by the river for awhile, and I thought, “This is going to be fun!” Then…the uphill started. And continued. Oh boy, am I out of shape. Around lunchtime it began to: Rain! Hard! But guess what? No leeches! Well, two little ones stuck to my shoe, but I got them off right away. Yay! We continued on for the rest of the day in the rain until arriving at the Thai Lu tribal village where we spent the night. This was the part I was most looking forward to, as it would be all cultural and stuff. Well, readers, it sucked. They put us up in this long house-style room away from the village, cooked for us, but did not eat with us and generally never even acknowledged our presence. I guess I wanted “authentic” eh? The village chief was busy entertaining agriculture ministers or something, too. Doesn’t he know I’m American for Godssake?? The night was spent in the company of our group and our two guides, who tried to get us all wasted on Lao Lao, a home brew whiskey endemic (and yes, I mean like a disease) all over the country, that tastes like a combo of lighter fluid and rubbing alcohol. Yum!

Woke in the morning for the 10k trek back to semi-civilization, and there wasn’t even a pretense of sun this day, just a full-on downpour. About two hours in, we were given a choice: the long way or the short way. The long way was super-muddy but flat, and the short way was semi-muddy and had “one-half” hour uphill. All but the retarded 21-year-old chose the short way. Here’s how it went down:

Me, after a half-hour uphill (San Francisco uphill, just so you know): “Um, how much longer are we going up hill?” “Because we’re, (gasp) like, in the middle of a huge hill.”

Our guide, Pon: “Half an hour.”

Me, half an hour later, cursing under my breath: “Um, Pon? How much longer up hill? Because it kind of seems like we’re climbing up and over a mountain.

Pon:”Half an hour.”

Me, after, yes, another half an hour, now wishing self and everyone there serious harm: “Seriously, dude, you said ONE half an hour, not ONE hour and one half. I hate you.” (I didn’t say that last part out loud)

Pon, inside his head: Shut up, you complaining American. We’re all suffering, but you are the only loudmouth.

We crested the mountain, finally and had some lunch in the rain. Tromped on for about four more hours, and the shoes did their job. Uphill I was a whiny brat – on the flat and downhill bits I ruled! The mud didn’t stop me! Except when I stepped in it up to my knees. I embraced it though, and decided to stop fighting it. If only it hadn’t been pouring, you could all see just how muddy I got. Couldn’t whip out the camera in the downpour, you know.

We arrived in a village somewhere around 4pm, and boy was I ready to hit the hot shower and beer. Went out that night with some people from the trek, to a Lao kids’ talent show in honor of their first day of school and then hit a nightclub with karaoke, where some chick in a high heel stepped on my left big toe and ripped off the toenail. Ouch. Next day, it was off to a town called Nong Khiaw with Tamara from the trek. This will be Part II of the rain series, I think, as I’m sick of typing, getting hungry and wanting to go to the Hmong market. Will post pics and carry on story tomorrow, maybe. Till then, may your skies be sunny, people.

Warning – vegetarians beware the following image!

Friday, August 31st, 2007
Becky 001.jpg Above picture was taken at a market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I took a cooking course (pics on Flickr) and we went to the market before heading out to the organic farm where it ... [Continue reading this entry]

Phuket and bucket do not rhyme

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007
1213360786_e433f24931[1].jpeg Hey all - I decided to carry on with the blog after all for you loyal readers. :) Putting a bunch more pics on Flickr too. First of all, when they say "rainy season," let ... [Continue reading this entry]

Is anyone still reading this thing?

Sunday, August 12th, 2007
Hi all! Here in Georgetown, on an island called Penang, still in Malaysia. And boy is it H-O-T. Seriously, I'm melting. I'll give you all the short version, cause I don't think anyone is reading this thing anymore. My enthusiasm ... [Continue reading this entry]

Don’t let the bedbugs bite…

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007
Hey all, blogging from busy Kuala Lumpur. It's my sixth day in Asia, and I'm still reeling a little, to be honest. I can't seem to get over the jet lag and am tired during the middle of the day ... [Continue reading this entry]

Africa For Dummies

Thursday, July 26th, 2007
508.JPG Hi all! Blogging on the morning of my departure from Africa - it seems like forever that I've been here. I was going to title this one "Out of Africa," but really, it just seemed ... [Continue reading this entry]

Pole Pole in Lamu

Saturday, July 21st, 2007
lamu.jpg Pole Pole (Polay Polay) translation: slowly, slowly, or, 'take it easy.' Hey all, blogging from Zanzibar, my final stop on the Becky Africa Tour 2007. Well, actually, I'm going to stop in a town called Moshi, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jambo from Kenya!

Saturday, July 7th, 2007
blogphoto.jpg Hi all! Blogging from Lamu, Kenya, a small island off the northeastern coast. Finished the safari on the 3rd. Was very cool, but I don't have my journal with me right now, so details are ... [Continue reading this entry]

Dar Es Salaam

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007
Yo, all. I'm writing this the same day, from the same place as the last entry, from Nairobi, but I thought you all could use a break. The cities I'm visiting are largely impenetrable, because of the obvious language barriers ... [Continue reading this entry]