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Saturday, December 31, 2011

DUELING TUK TUKS

DUELING TUK TUKS

Something that I'd forgotten to relate was the motor taxi incident. The day before, I'd found a driver and headed over to the Vietnamese consulate. It had been closed but there was a note on the gate saying that if you wanted visa stuff, you should go to a different address. I dutifully wrote down the address in my notebook. We then drove to it and it was closed as well. The guards assured us it would be open the next day. I passed that information on to the driver. He said he would be happy to drive me over there. I told him "maybe, if I saw him". Note that it is very important to never say "yes". That makes it a verbal contract. Even if they aren't around and you end up going with someone else, they will regard it as their god given right to collect the money they would have made from you. So I always stick with a lot of maybe's when dealing with them. Note, it doesn't go the other way. If they tell you something and don't deliver, it doesn't matter. So I stressed the 'maybe' a couple times to make sure it sunk in. The next day, I went out on the street and looked around. No sign of my previous driver. Some other guy asked me if I'd like a ride and where I wanted to go. I told him to hang on for a moment. I went into a shop and bought a drink. While drinking it and smoking a cigarette, I explained that I had gone out with another driver yesterday. I would smoke my cigarette and drink my drink. If he didn't show up by the time I got done with these then he could drive me but if he did show up I'd go with my old driver instead. He agreed to this and I had a very leisurely drink and smoke. No sign of the old driver. So, I went with the new driver. After finding out that the rules for traveling in China didn't suit me, we returned. Naturally, the old driver was there and wanting to take me to the consulate. I explained that I had just gotten back. He started yelling at the new driver. I'm not sure what was said but I told him 'I waited, you not around.' I think the new driver backed me up on that saying that indeed I'd waited around. The old driver was no longer angry at me but I thought he'd get into a fist fight with the new driver. These guys are really territorial. Be really careful what you say to them as even a casual word can be interpreted as an iron clad promise. Use a lot of 'maybes' in your dialogue or just say 'not now' with no talk of the future.



DOCTOR IN SAIGON

So I'd gotten done 'refueling the ship' in Saigon. I'd grown rapidly more impatient to leave. The unrelenting traffic, overcrowding, uncomfortable and inexpensive living had made Logan restless. I Wanted to GTFO. I decided to go back to the fancy eye doctor a day early. I knew this would involve various complecations - it always does - but I really wanted to just get my eye looked at then leave. I think that makes me the kind of guy who would be likely to swim most of the way across the English Channel, decide he couldn't make it then turn back. Six days is nearly as good as seven, right? Wrong. The doctor I was suppose to see wasn't in. I figured hey, what the heck. I'd only blown $2-$3 in moped fares, why not. I could come back. Instead, I was assigned to a single sai weilding guard who began taking me around like a tour guide. He made jokes to which I would respond by smiling, nodding and saying things like "I wish I could understand you!" That got some smiles from those seated around. Although they were speaking in Vietnamese, they were listening in English. Anyway, he had me sit on a chair in a waiting room and demanded 200,000 VND. There was no way I could explain to him "Hey, she's not in I can come back later." So I shrugged and forked it over. He went downstairs, paid my admissions fee and brought me back a receipt. I've got to say, 'single sai was a helpful guy'. On his tour, he then took me to the elevador. Believe it or not, there was a guy sitting in there collecting fees to use the elevador. In the hospital. That is, if you are too messed up and sick to use the stairs, you can always pay for the elevador to get better. Single Sai (as I thought of him) told the old guy sitting on the plastic chair I was with him and fees were waved. It was the red carpet treatment. Though in this hospital I got the feeling that if they rolled out the red carpet, that would be an extra fee. But I didn't get shaken down for my small change of the wildly devalued currency. I then sat around the waiting room of the eye doctor. The same waiting room I'd seen the other lady in before. One of the nurses asked me excitedly "What you write?" This is one of the questions that always confuses me. I'm not sure if her English is good enough to understand the answer. It would be like me asking in Korean "Oh mah im knee ka?" Which means "How much is this (polite)?" I don't ask it because I don't know Korean numbers - hence the answer would be meaningless. Unless we started playing with the calculator - which is part of the reason I carry one. I answered the nurse "Notes for the blog." I'm sure I coud have said "I work for your government and am writing a report for the secret police." and could have gotten the same nod and smile. But it's best to resist my natural urges to be a dick.

It ended up that after a phone call to the poor lady who was going to see me the next day, they did indeed have someone already at work who had the same specialty. I'm guessing she told the nurses about him. He even spoke fluent English and helped me out. For the two readers actually interested in his diagnosis, he told me that the inflammation was healing slower than expected and I should keep on my heavy Pred Forte regiment for another week then see a different eye doctor in whatever country I was in. Good enough.



LEAVING SAIGON

I headed out with 130,000 VND in my pocket (about $7) with the rest in dollars. The ticket back to Phnom Phen was the same cost as it was to get to HCMC, $10. Unlike every other bus I've been on, this one took my ticket when I boarded instead of leaving me with part of it or just partially ripping it. I was concerned because I didn't want it to come back and bite me later with the 'you have no ticket, you must pay thing'. Fortunately, it didn't. In fact, it turned out to be the easiest border crossing I've ever had. On the way, they collected up all of the passports along with $25 since I needed a Cambodian visa. Sure, some web pages say it's $20 but I just forked it over. Again, no receipt or anything - he just stuck it into my passport and wandered on. Turns out that they even filled out my 'arrival card' (though not my 'departure card') and did all of the necessary stuff. I didn't have to take my bags off of the bus and have them x-rayed as is usual. Pretty much march through the line at Vietnam then again at the Cambodian side of the border then back on the bus. It was a snap. I would say within SE Asia it was the best border experience I'd ever had. [As this point, Adam is experiencing incredulity at my praising of something, I know.] After a six or seven hour bus ride to Phnom Phen, I got dropped off in a fairly remote part of the city as I did last time.

I knew I needed to go to the Central Market. The bus station is located there on the west side of it. The tuk tuk driver started at $3 and through haggling dropped to $1.50. He dropped me off about a block away from the Central Market Bus Station. I hadn't even gotten out of the tuk tuk when I had three guys approach me asking if I needed a tuk tuk. Unbelievable. Yes, even though I am currently sitting in one and could easily pay the driver to take me somewhere else, I want to get out of his and into yours. Really? So, the driver spoke to some other guy and he approached me with the 'Where going?' I said "Kampot". I knew that whatever next came out of his mouth would probably be more expensive than walking the block to the bus station and buying a ticket. He considered this for a moment then said "No have." I feel bad for the novice tourist who doesn't know any better. They might have taken this guys word that a bus for Kampot doesn't exist around here and panicked. I instead ignored him and trudged my pack over to the bus station. For $4.50, I got a ticket to Kampot. It was a lot further away than I expected it to be and we made a few stops to drop off and pick up other people.

The bus left only fifteen minutes late which meant I had to wait hardly any time at all. I counted it as a good omen and a smooth transition. I suspect that the bus drivers get paid by the number of clients on the bus rather than by the company for doing the route and that is why buses and such often leave late. That did make me remember that it took Mussolini to make the trains run on time in Italy. Maybe he had the same problem with them. I don't know.

At the bus stop, I had some sort of steamed bread with stuff inside and corn on the cob. I have no idea what the bread was called but it was pretty decent. One of the street vendors (70 year old woman) that I didn't buy anything from seemed to go a bit crazy and went around poking people in the crotch with a rolled up newspaper so I got back on the bus. I looked at the stop as a win since it was a $1 meal.

At the bus stop, we had about half a dozen beggars trying to get money off of the people disembarking. I don't remember them last time I was there. Maybe they had a day off?

Like all of the other buses in SE Asia (aside from the border bus earlier - which was lovely) this one played music videos that would have made production crews of the 1970's proud. [Yes Adam, I don't like them in any country - even America.] These are the only videos in which a scooter is considered 'cool'. [No Adam, I don't think a scooter can be 'cool' in any country. In America, I've heard a joke that riding a scooter is like having sex with a fat girl. Sure, it may be fun but you don't want to have your friends see you do it. I'm not sure how the fat girl got involved but that was the joke I'd heard.]



KARS

We passed through a town named Kams. It is smaller than Kampot. According to the tuk tuk drivers, it is supposedly nicer than Kampot. Since I instinctively disbelieve tuk tuk drivers, that would be something I research before acting on. The tuk tuk drivers claim it would be $8 to buzz out there. From my perspective on the bus, it seems like a pretty long journey. Not something I want to do right now, but maybe keep it on the back burner if I need a change of pace.



KAMPOT

After about twelve hours of riding time, I finally made it to Kampot long after dark. I was so exhausted that I decided to see what the jacked up rates of the tuk tuk drivers were who swarmed the bus as soon as it stopped. Only $2. I can live with that. [Note, later I found out this fee is double or possibly triple what it should be but I'm not going to bitch about an extra dollar. I was paying for the 'you know where shit is and can speak English, and happy to do it.] I told the driver that I wanted to go to a guest house that charged $5 to $9. I figured he might take me to a place where he gets some sort of kickbacks and so it might be a $10-$15 spot, so I low balled it a bit. I was wrecked enough that I honestly didn't care.

Instead, he actually took me to a decent place. It's not at the center of anything wonderful but it is only $7 per night. The room has good points and bad points. The best point it has is that it is $7 per night. It is a 'fan room' (meaning no AC) but that's just fine with me. The windows have a full set of bars - and just as importantly screens - on them so I can leave them open all the time. The room is spacious, big bathroom and well lit. The door is able to be double locked from the inside and I can leave the key in the lock after disconnecting it from the card used to allow the room to have power. This means that Mr. Doorstop can stay in the pack. The double locking also makes it harder to pick than a lot of the cheesy locks I've seen. Since you really have to wrench it around for the double lock, you'd have to be good on the tension bar to pick it. I don't think it could be picked with a 'gun' lockpick - too hard to turn the tumblers. I also have doubts that most people around here would know what the hell it is. [Yes, it could be 'bump' picked but so can nearly all locks.] So the room itself has decent security. Note that this doesn't mean the pack isn't locked and chained to something with no goodies (other than the computer which would be inconvenient to carry around) left in there. I have been robbed by professionals once and expect to have it happen in the future as well. The downsides of the room are shitty internet (no surprise there - this isn't Vietnam) and no refrigerator. I can live without a fridge but it is nice to have. If I wanted to double the price of the room, I could have AC and a fridge but it's not worth it to me. Another downside is that they didn't ask for my passport at the desk. That tells me that international thieves could be checked in and living next door - again. I checked out another room the next day that was the same price and did have a fridge but it was much darker and smaller. So, I'll stick with this place for awhile. I think it's pretty damned nice for $7. [Again, I apologize to any shock this may cause Adam.] In addition, they sell cold drinks downstairs at a fairly small markup. I can get them even cheaper if I feel like wandering across the street if the grocery is still open. There is also a cheap restaurant next door that I've eaten at a few times without getting sick. This is huge for me. A meal is $2 to $3. I may end up 'doing the menu' there. That is ordering everything once and finding out what all I like - and don't.

The town itself looks pretty trashed. I wasn't expecting the French Rivera at a place where I can get a $7 per night room, mind you. I suspect this will be a town of 'hidden gems' meaning that once I walk around enough, I will find stuff I consider 'cool' or 'useful' but most of these places are not readily apparent. The town is a lot more spread out than the map seemed to indicate. That means I've got plenty of opportunity to walk my fat ass around looking for stuff. I do like the view of the river itself. When I get to a place with better (or working) internet, I will try to upload some pictures I took of it.

Unfortunately, they have scooters for $5 per day rental. I think that's a really good deal but I'm going to do my best to resist for the usual reasons: I've never driven a scooter before, I can't turn my head to see important stuff, SE Asia driving conditions, road conditions, the fact that if you are a foreigner and get into an accident it is always your fault, no insurance and the need for lots and lots of exercise for my pudgy body.

The only downside I've discovered near where I'm staying is a wedding tent. This is a very large tent they set up so that tons of people can get married in it. The marriage party goes on all day and well into the night. Like after midnight. The music is loud enough that I don't think anyone in the tent is required to talk and you can hear it from blocks away, much like a teenagers car radio. No, I don't consider this an interesting 'cultural phenomena'. Something I would is say a day long parade. As opposed to what I've been told is three months of non-stop daily weddings and loud music. Hell, I'd despise that in the states as well. Best avoided, just like Western weddings.

There are quite a few tourists wandering around here. I've seen blind and deaf tourists as well. I think that being blind and or deaf would make travel a huge challenge and I commend them on their efforts. The tourists seem friendlier here. My guess is that less touts continually hassling you makes you friendlier to other people. It's a theory that I have.

An interesting thing I've noticed in the building across the way is a ton of black birds that are paid to circle the building and apparently have a roost in it. This is unusual. Although pets are not uncommon in SE Asia, most people don't seem to have the disposable income to keep something they're not going to eat later. I don't know if they have the same crazed attachment to something with fur as in the USA. I've noticed that here if a pet gets wounded it either heals or stays wounded. I've never seen a vets office. I'm pretty sure that nobody in SE Asia dishes out money for a pet psychologist though.

In a way, Kampot reminds me of an old west town. Tumbleweeds going down the street have been replaced here with plastic trash bags. It's dry and dusty here. I do like the feel of the town.



THE NOTE

When I went down to the front desk to get some clean towels, I was told I had a note left for my room. Honestly, I was amazed that the existence of the note was passed on. I checked it out. It was addressed to 'Mate -' and asked for the occupant of my room number to keep his bag in my room for him. I figured that the sender had gotten the name wrong. With the exception of Tonto, to the best of my knowledge I have no friends in SE Asia. And I figured that the backpack would probably have a key of coke, a pistol used to commit a multiple homicide and the wrapped head of a dead hooker Matt had killed in it. I told the desk that I didn't know the sender of the note and the bag looked fine where they had it, behind the desk. I am the kind of person who is suspicious that the local police force may be working on getting some more cash and arranges sting operations for stupid people. After making sure they wouldn't take the bag up anyway and claiming to have no knowledge of the person who sent the note I wandered off.

It would have been a better story if they'd delivered the backpack and it did contain all of that stuff - but they didn't. Thank god.



THE RESTAURANT

Next to the Paris Guesthouse is a restaurant. It's nothing special but I ate there and didn't get sick. This made it into my favorite restaurant. The downside is that there is only one waiter. The custom in SE Asia is that they come to you with the menu, find out what you want and such but this guy gets distracted with the TV and likes to gape at it. So, when I go there, I often have to go get my own menu then find him and tell him what I'd like to eat. The food is extremely reasonably priced; I'm probably spending $10 or less there a day on food and that is with extras like shakes made from odd stuff (like 'dragon fruit'), cofffee and beer. A meal is $2 to $3, depending on what I get.



THE SCOOTER RENTAL PLACE

I stopped by there looking for directions. I figured a place that rents scooters wants people to be able to go visit stuff, hence would know where things are. They did one better than that and gave me a photocopy of an A4 sheet of paper with a very nice hand drawn map of the town on it. From my explorations and use of the map, it seems accurate. I'm very happy with it and have even directed other tourists to the shop to get the map. I notice that the scooter rental place is the only scooter rental place on the map. Clever guy. That's about the best marketing thing I've seen. I know that if I ever do go insane and rent a $5 per day scooter it will be there.



ZOO, ZOO, ZOO, GOING TO THE ZOO, ZOO, ZOO

According to the scooter rental place's map, they have a zoo here in Kampot. It's not especially close but I'm guessing $2 will get me out there via scooter. It has been since the mid 1980's since I visited a zoo. I got stuck making a lot of trips to the one in Munich because I kept having various women want me to take them out there. Since I was 19 or so and wanted sex, I took them to the zoo. I don't remember it ever paying off though and eventually I got sick to death with that zoo. I may end up going to visit this one just to have something different to do. If I get to see a monkey urinating into it's own mouth with a look of intense satisfaction like in that youtube video, that would be the height of my visit. I really am a simle creature.



STREET SIGNS ARE FOR PUSSIES

One sucky thing about Kampot is there are no street signs. If they do have them, they are hidden beyond my means to detect. Phnom Phen was dead easy to navigate around in. Street signs everywhere. Here, nada. I'm not sure why that is. I don't think it is because they have no tourists who might want to know where something is - or where they are - there are plenty of tourists. It's probably a monetary issue as are so many things. Saigon (Vietnam) had plenty of street signs. Although they wouldn't always match up with what was on the map, you could figure out where you were. Like Czech, Vietnamese uses the same characters as English. Like Czech, they add extra squiggles and such they believe they need. Cambodia uses it's own alphabet - but even street signs in Cambodian would be a big help in Kampot. You could play the 'match the indecipherable characters' game. Since there are no streetsigns, make sure to carry a few business cards for where you are staying in case you lose the 'find the guest house' game.



HAIRCUT

I think I annnoyed the barber by wearing out not one but two razor blades. He ended up having to use three different razors to trim the brambles I call a beard. I gave him a twenty five cent tip and he seemed very happy with that. My inability to discuss haircuts in both Cambodian and French meant I didn't get exactly the cut I wanted but it was close enough. It's not like I have a complicated haircut. Short. Damned short. Short enough that basic training drill sergeants would think it was fine. I know 'bald' is an even easier haircut but as I discovered from poor Pete, getting sunburned on top of your head does suck.



FOOD REVIEW

I'm doing this for Adam who you can read in the comments section of the last blog doesn't believe that I eat any local food. I do but I don't want to live on it for weeks or months at a time. I also don't want to eat things that will be savagely and messily ejected unexpectedly from my body. I normally don't talk a lot about food because I don't have the vocabulary to give a really wonderful food review, but here's my attempt. For you, Adam.

The English menu calls the dish "Khmer Curry". It has chicken, onion, something that looks a lot like carrots (not much taste, could be anything orange) and some sort of creamy sauce that is an off white. Coconut milk might be an ingredient in the sauce. The dish has kind of a gritty, grainy taste I like. Usually, I'm not a big fan of soups. It's water that I've got to go through looking for the good bits but this one is a win. Especially if I'm still OK in a few hours. [Follow up, I was.]

After reading that food review, I don't think the New York times is going to come out hat in hand begging me to be their next food critic.



BLACK PANTHER BEER

"Racial unrest in every can!" Most of the beers taste like the standard watery crap of American beers. This one is a black bitter beer that has the kind of taste that hits you with a pimping cane in the side of the head and says "Where's my money, ho?" I like it and have purchased several cans to sit in my room and celebrate New Years with. If you drink enough of this beer, you may become someone's 'bottom bitch'.

For my personal new years celebration, I picked up eight cans ($5 from a store). I doubt I'll drink them all but hey - I've now got a fridge!



MAGIC SPONGE GUESTHOUSE

On my quest for a palace at less than $10 per night, I went over to the "Magic Sponge". This place has got a lot of ambiance built into the outside of it. They have hammocs, a few concret holes of a put put golf course and a bower with tables under it. Concrete is apparently easier to maintain than felt. But it is painted green at least. They have an Ozzy and a yank that were working there when I was there. Unfortunately, the same work that went into the outside wasn't really present inside the rooms.

They have an outdoor restaurant I decided to visit. Like most things, it had an upside and a downside. The upside - a couple had ordered coffee and apparently the staff had forgotten about it. The American manager told them it was on the house. A local might have just appologized - or shrugged. A Czech might have shrugged or given them the finger and told them to stop bothering them. Or poisoned them. I do like it when a restaurant (or any business) gives small freebies to smooth the irritation caused by incompetency. The downside, I got sick (see previous entry under medical) eating there, so I'm not planning on going back.

I decided to pay the area of those guest houses a visit at night to see what they were like. Magic Sponge did indeed have music playing outside in their 'bower dining area' but by Cambodian standards it was positively subdued. Probably easily ignorable from within a room. The area Magic Sponge is in has several different guesthouses in it and caters to foreigners. I went and checked them out and made these notes:

Pepper: $12 per night. There is a sign that says 'tourist info' but nobody there speaks any English. So, if you are a tourist who happens to be fluent in Cambodian, I'm sure they can give you some information. The only reason I could communicate with them at all is that, ironically, there was a tourist fluent in Cambodian there.

Orchid, $8 per night wifi, fan, no fridge. Possibly do-able if I can't find better.

Kampot Guesthouse: Wildly over priced compared to their next door neighbors. I'm not sure if their rooms are just that pretty or if they are feeling smug because they are full up right now.



SPEAKING OF INCOMPETENCY

The Paris Hotel where I'd been staying decided to try to fuck me not once, but twice on the same day. It was the third day of wanting to stay at the Paris Hotel and, as is my daily habit, I wanted to pay for my room that night in the morning. They wanted to charge me for the three days I'd been there. I admit I got a bit ruffled at that but I pulled out my receipts and showed them that indeed I had payed. They took my money for one day.

Later, I came back and was told I needed to switch rooms. It turns out that someone had rented the exact room I was staying in. OK, I'll take a look at the new room. It wasn't nearly as good and so I decided to try out somewhere else. Since I'd already paid them for that night, I asked for my money back. Oh, no. They believe the money I'd paid him this morning telling him "This is my money I am paying to sleep here tonight" was from last night. They moved back the day they believed I had checked in. Since I'd read that getting angry is wildly counter productive I just did the 'Thai smile' thing (big fake smile) and kept gently insisting that no, the money I'd paid him two hours earlier was indeed for tonight. He pointed at a calendar and showed me his notes. I looked at it, then him. "Sir, you don't even have any names written on that calendar." I was refunded my $7 and left.

When you ask a yes/no question, you will get the answer which results in them getting your money - often regardless of the truth or falsehood of that answer. For example, the new hotel I had gone to I had asked previously "Do the rooms have wifi in them?" Yes, yes, yes. I was told. This my friends was what we call a lie. This place has no wifi at all. Which, if you think about it puts it only a step down from the Paris Hotel which did have wifi but their wifi did not work. Same same. Rather than just asking a question like 'is there wifi in the rooms' you have to follow it up with another question like 'what is the password for the wifi'. It wasn't till I asked that I was suddenly told, no wifi.

So I took a tour of the room. Not expecially clean, no windows and dimly lit with a 40 watt bulb. The hotel guy saw me staring at the 'make water hot' box in the bathroom. "Hot water!" he said cheerfully. Stupid me, I didn't check. So, I went downstairs and checked in. No documents required. As I do every time I give someone money, I demanded and got a receipt. Sometimes saying 'check' or 'bill' helps if they don't know the word 'receipt'. I then went back to my room for a shower. No hot water. Attempt, gentle reader, to look surprised. I returned to the desk then back to the room with the guy in tow. I demonstrated the lack of hot water. "Hot water, three dollars extra!" he said. I responded with a smile "When you showed me the room, you said hot water and room seven dollars. I said OK." He kept repeating his three dollar shake down. Have you ever seen the 1990's move "The Freshman"? The German cook guy who kept repeating "Carmine said one boy, here are two." I must confess I started doing that. Eventually, he dropped his demands to $1. "Carmine said one boy, here are two!" Eventually, he gave me the hot water. Remember, getting angry here is wildly counter productive. A big smile lets them save face. I also worked on saving him more face. When he was leaving I said "Hey, remember, I don't know how long I'm going to stay here - it could be awhile." And people could stop trying to shake me down for extra dollars. And I can suddenly learn to fly without an aircraft. I'm here only until I find something better. Following Wise Adam's advice though, I shall hold my own council.

I suppose that's the downside of trying to live cheaply. There is always someone trying to rob you of more money.



THE BLIND

In Cambodia, they have a lot of 'massage by blind' places around. Apparently, their lack of vision is suppose to make them better at massage somehow. I've never stopped at any of these places though. The workers sit outside and I don't like the way they eyeball me.



COFFEE

I think Cambodian coffee is instant crap. The upside is that you don't have to wait for it to percolate through the clogged dirty metal things like you do in Vietnam. The downside is that Vietnamese coffee is much better.



DEAF TRAVELERS

At or near the Paris Hotel is a group of deaf travelers. One of the ladies is a real looker. Unfortunately, it's been years since I've used my ASL (American Sign Language). When you don't use it, you lose it. It isn't really hard to pick up though. I think it's interesting that they are out traveling though with traffic as it is, their risk factor is definately up.



WHAT NEXT?

I'm pretty happy to sit in this town for awhile and take advantage of cheap lodgings, cheap food and bitch about the wedding tent. All of these things should give me pleasure for awhile. I have a lot of things I can do here. I can work on my book, explore the town, work on finding other lodging further away from the hated wedding tent that is even better than the place here. The bar is pretty high so it may take awhile to find an even better place. I've got a lot of gound to explore - two different sides of the river.



WHAT BOOK?

I'm working on an urban fantasy book. Since I'm not a wonderful, published author it is not going to win any awards. It's my first effort. I know enough about writing to know that it may take writing several books before I get one worth printing. I'd like to thank Chris Casey as he is the only person to consistantly get back to me with suggestions rather than excuses for my book. It means a lot to me buddy.



SE ASIAN CUSTOMS

I've become convinced that in the SE Asian countries I've been to (Cambodia, Lao, Thailand, Vietnam) the number of people you have working at your place is a status thing. The more, the more status the owner gets. Mind you, I'm not griping - it provides a lot of jobs to people who could use them. It is just very strange to walk into a 'hole in the wall' store and be crowded for too many employees in there. They have a Circle K in Saigon that has four people who work there, usually not doing much. The shop gets crowded at five people in it. The place could be easily manned by one, maybe two people. I've seen as many as six employees in there at once. I've seen the 'employee picture' from a party that they have beneath a glass. I think they have enough employees to make two softball teams and play a game. In the 1920's America, I believe the practice of hiring way too many people for a job was called 'featherbedding'. [Note, the wiki shows a bit different of facts that what have stuck in my brain. The wiki is probably correct.]



TRAVELERS' TIPS

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before and I'm way too lazy to go look back on it but I recommend keeping all of your receipts and stuff. Get them dated, keep track of when you check into a hotel and so on. Otherwise, you will probably get screwed out of some money. When I switch countries, I can dump all of that crap.



COSTS

Nice room in Kampot, Cambodia $7 for fan, double for AC. (Electricity must be hella expensive here).

Shave $1, haircut $2. Shave and a haircut, $2.

Beer from store, 2500, from bar 4000, from hotel 3000. That's about half a dollar up to a dollar.

Meal, $2 to $3.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

SO WHAT'S UP WITH BURMA?

WORKING UP TRAVEL PLANS

Right now I'm upset with the Chinese government. Apparently, they're still feeling a bit touchy from having taken over Tibet. This means you have to get 'special travel permits' to go through Tibet. The only way you can get these special travel permits is to go through a travel agency. You can't buy just the travel permit. Oh no. You must book a vehicle AND a driver AND a guide! I can't afford all that shit. So, I'm working on figuring out a way to get from SE Asia over to Tibet, preferably without flying.

It might be possible to do a very wide swing all the way around the Tibetan 'issue' and then come in from the north into India and circle back to get to Nepal. But it looks like a serious amount of ground to cover and having traveled a lot, I know what that means. Also, China and India don't seem to get along well - I'm not sure if there would be a place to legally cross the border there.

I decided to do some research by actually going to the Chinese consulate and asking questions. They had a couple clerks who may have been hired more for looks than any sort of critical thinking skills. They were certainly not hired for their English speaking ability though they did have some. After talking to them (and making notes, and pictures, and hand signs) for awhile the story I pieced together was not good. Despite Vietnam and China actually sharing a border which does allow traffic, tourists cannot get in that way. They are required to fly in. The way you get your ticket is to go buy an airplane ticket then bring it to the Chinese consulate. The visa is issued only for the duration of the stay in China with 30 days being the absolute maximum. What a gyp.

So, fuck that. I may in the future figure out some clever way into China or meet up with a diplomat who is happy to help me out getting in. Don't laugh - I've met the brother of a Nigerian diplomat already who offered to help me get into the country but that's a ways off.

I'm thinking about going back to Cambodia. Hopefully the 'squirting' sensation I experienced most of the time I was in Phnom Phen won't be affecting me in the town of Kampot. I've read they have $5 guest houses I can 'lie low' in and may do so for a month or two while the winter wears off.

Apologies for my Russian friends who are currently freezing their asses off, especially the ones that live in Siberia. I'll say the same thing to you that I did in person. "Move." Negative fifty Celsius? Who puts up with that?

Anyway, while I'm having a long sit in Kampot I will think about what to do next. It is possible that I will get bored and go to other places in Cambodia. It is also possible I will try to escape to India and Nepal. To be honest, I still need to do some research into those to make sure that the places I can stay are massively cheap. I need to save a ton of money. Who knows - if I find a place that 'doesn't suck' I may stay there for a year to save money.

We'll have to see what I find and find through research.

I've noticed that the type of research I've started doing has changed substantially from when I had started the trip. Here is what I'm doing now. In the under developed countries, only the really expensive places use things like hostelworld.com and such. The places I'm wanting to use never would find their way into that. Hell, even the Burma embassy can't keep a working e-mail address. Yeah, I did try to e-mail them. Anyway, I've been checking wiki travel to find out what kind of price range I find under the budget 'sleeping'. After that comes the part that will make my travel mentor Adam yell 'What the fuck is the point then' and possibly vomit in rage. I look under the budget eating places listed to find out what kind of foreign (to them) food they have. I've discovered that I'm not a big fan of (for example) Vietnamese food. Sure, I could eat it once a week or so. Same with Cambodia or Lao food. Thailand food, say three times a week. A significant amount of eating. But I do like variety. The major type of food I've been eating in Vietnam I would classify as 'shitty Mexican'. Not great by any stretch, but I like it better than Vietnamese food and it's not too much more expensive. When I started my trip, I would always try to eat the food of the country that I'm in but my attitude on this has softened substantially. After eight months I'm to the 'fuck it, eat what I feel like eating' rather than trying to keep the moral high ground of eat like a native. I don't like a lot of what they eat - why punish myself? So if a town I'm thinking about going to doesn't have a lot of food I'm wanting to eat, I'm not going to be going to visit for a prolonged period of time. If at all. Yes, I realize that wiki travel has only a sliver of what is actually there but it does give at least a hint of things to come.

I'm not sure about Indonesia and the Philippines. I had been thinking about going that way but island hopping isn't going to help me save money and they do have some really expensive resorts down there so I'm not sure if that's the way to go. Right now, all I'm interested in is saving some money while being reasonably comfortable so I can work on my book.



SO WHAT'S UP WITH BURMA?

After some fairly exhaustive web research I've done on line, this is what I've come up with. "It's a shithole, avoid it." Apparently, land entry is verbotten (forbidden) unless you are just visiting the town itself for a visa run. Since a lot of the countries in SE Asia make you go out to extend the visa. Why? Because of bureaucratic shenanigans. Some of Burma's borders are closed. If you are able to get in there, you need to hire a mandatory 'guide'. They have terrorists blowing stuff up. This is because the military was in charge, some elections happened that people say were rigged and at the end to everyone's huge surprise the military was still in charge. Quite surprising. It would be quite impossible for me to enter the country through one border and exit through a different one, hence making it useless to me. Despite these obvious 'what the hell is wrong with this picture' and a hefty amount of bureaucratic bullshit to get into the country, the government is claiming on their webpage they want a lot of tourists this year. Want in one hand...

So, it's looking like Burma has taken itself off of the table. I'm not sure about their neighbor Bangladesh. More research required for there.



WHERE I'M AT NOW

Right now, I am staying in a building that would qualify as a 'guesthouse'. It's $12 per night. I have hot water showers and air conditioning. The room is of decent size. They provided me with two chairs (my fat ass broke the first, just like Adam's toilet seat) and the second probably isn't far behind. It's decent. I went looking for a new place though because I'm not real comfortable here. The reason isn't because I have to walk down a couple floors any time I want to go outside to smoke - I can live with that. I walk a ton anyway - it's just more exercise sorely needed. I don't like it because a very extended family lives here. It's literally their home. So, I get to hear them argue loudly with each other. Wander by them when they are in partial states of undress in the main room which is the only exit to the street. For those who think that sounds good, let me just say that seeing an eighty year old pair of breasts trumps any cold shower. I get to hear babies cry. Other places have yappy dogs. Before I did some fairly serious traveling, I had sort of a romantic view of 'home stays'. Now, I think "Christ save me from this." Most places I've stayed in it is not the guests which are loud and obnoxious. It is the people who work there - or worse yet live there. They are the ones with the loud pets or who like talking loudly on skype or playing music. Just give me silence where I am staying and I'm happy. Yes, the party hostel is an exception but if you know what you're getting into when you go there, you can live with it. But the majority of the time when I'm not hanging out with others give me silence.



VIETNAM ATMS AND BANKS

Although their currency is nearly worthless, they don't let you take much out of an ATM. 2M VND seems average with a few machines peeking at 4M. That's not much - $200. With my ill planned bank hitting me up for a huge amount of money ($30 or so) every time I make a transaction, I try not to make small ones. Yes, I think the people who pay $1.50 per withdraw and get $20-$40 at a time are amazingly stupid. I went to a bank looking for a bigger withdraw and got hit for 4% fees. Not good - bring the money you will need for your trip to Vietnam.



WHAT'S NEXT

I've researched the area I am going to be going to in Cambodia. It's actually not that far from me. I then decided to research areas around where I am (HCMC) to see if there was somewhere else I could go hang out for a couple weeks here. Nothing looked decent. At all. So, I could stay in HCMC where I am feeling swarmed by people and touts or head across the border into Cambodia. I'm thinking I'll be going back to Cambodia. Not planning on coming back to Vietnam. The people were OK but nothing I really want here. I just want to find the kind of place that has $5 per night rooms. Maybe upgrade to a $7 per night room and get some extras. Ooooo! We'll see. I'm going to sit and ponder stuff in Cambodia unless I decide I can't stand it then I'm going to either head back to Thailand or just pop over to India. I'm not sure. If anyone has any ideas or words of wisdom, I'm interested.

Note that I'll be here at least through Thursday, possibly till Friday as my eye doctor appointment (the thing I've been waiting in HCMC for) happens on Thursday afternoon.



AMAZINGLY STUPID, BUT ENTERTAINING

Heck, that could be the name for the blog.

This bizarre video spliced from a freaky movie. Thanks to Chris C. for sending it to me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

STILL IN SAIGON

TWAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS AND ALL THROUGH SAIGON

[For clarity, HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) = Saigon]

I really intensely dislike going out at night in a new town until I get a feel for the town. I'm not sure if it's being paranoid or just plain cautious but I like to know what I'm getting into. The night time is when it cools off significantly and the towns in SE Asia really come to life. It is a short lifetime for most of the countries as everything closes up somewhere between 21:00 and 24:00, after the residents have worked through a twelve hour or longer day.

Hunger drove me out earlier than I'd wanted through the streets of Saigon. If I have to go out at night in an unfamiliar town, I try to play it safe and stick to the main streets close to where I'm staying. The safety may be illusory but it is something. In the four block walk to find food, I was accosted by several groups of threes. Three people wanting to offer me rides, three prostitutes offering me the opportunity to make a small sperm donation for a large cash donation and four groups of three people wanting to sell me useless shit. You can buy anything - recreational drugs, food, unidentifiable food, books, pirated DVD's, mops, etc. Everyone is interested in gnawing at the teat of the tourist for some of that sweet, sweet money.

There are a ton of Russian tourists here. I'm not sure why - English is still the lingua franca of this area. Maybe because Vietnam is a communist country it is more attractive to them. American tourists are easy to spot - a lot of them have extra kilo like I do or boom their voices. Like I do. It makes me sad that I am such a stereotype.

The area I'm currently staying in has both an upside and a downside. The downside is the non-stop barrage of 'give me money' requests coming in. The upside is that they have a few westernized restaurants I have eaten at without getting sick. Although I loved Thai food (who doesn't?) and would sometimes just eat western food there to break it up, I've found that I really don't get enjoyment out of Vietnamese food. Their big dish is pho. That's noodles in soup with a couple pieces of some meat as a garnish. It's a lot like eating ramen without the flavor packet.

In Saigon tons of tourists are in the tourist district (district 1). I have made my way through long walks on foot into other districts but risking the amazingly heavy traffic doesn't fill my heart with joy. To me, Saigon is a fix up station of sorts. Today I spent $10 to get my teeth cleaned, and another ten or twenty on refilling a couple medicines. Refuel so I can head back out to somewhere less congested.

I wanted to see about correcting my Acer netbook. According to the monitoring program the Amazing Bert had me download it had been running pretty hot. I had gotten the address of the Acer repair center here in HCMC. I was pretty happy to get that address. Rather than play the 'fuzzy directions' game which never has any winners, I just negotiated with the motorbike drivers to get a cheap set of NDE's (near death experiences). We made our way over there. One one of the journeys I was trying to count the number of times we almost hit someone or was hit by someone but I gave up. Anyway, we got there and I talked to a very nice man who spoke excellent English from having lived in Australia for several months. The problem with the temperature of my computer was a flaw in the design and has since been fixed in subsequent products. I gave him my "if they knowingly made and sold me a fucked up product I'm not going to give them any more money" look and asked what could be done about it. The only thing he could recommend was an external fan. He gave me 'computer parts street' address. Remember the Asian business ideal of 'if someone sets up a business and has any success you should set up the exact sort of business and sell the exact same shit at the same price and you too will be successful'. This strategy causes all the businesses of one type aside from pharmacies and small grocery stores which are everywhere to get into large clumps. I took another scooter over there and bought a very small fold up external fan for my netbook ($5). Despite it's weak assed fans, it seems to be doing the job according to the sensors. Weird.



THE TALE OF THE DOOR WEDGE

For those who have been reading the blog for awhile, this is a piece of gear that I've had sitting unused in my backpack for quite a few countries. In SE Asia, it has gotten plenty of use. Usually in hotels, they have a door chain or bolt you can pull. Many of the places I've stayed have not. I'm not sure why but they haven't. Because I'm not an ultra light sleeper with catlike reflexes and a burglar dissuading kukri, I've been using the door wedge as well as locking the door.

Once I found the door unlocked but the wedge still in place.

Did I accidentally leave the door unlocked? It is a possibility but I feel better for using the wedge. It is not a preventive, just a small time waster and that may make it a small deterrent. Yes, I sometimes do put furniture in front of the door as well. Not heavy stuff as I am not physically strong, just stuff that will make a racket. After getting robbed twice so far, I hope that I will be forgiven for having 'trust issues'.

And speaking of trust issues...



THE TALE OF THE HAT

So I'm wandering around in Saigon going for one of my multi hour stomps around the city playing in traffic. I'm near some statue they set up at a roundabout and some guy approaches me. Because natives who approach me invariably want to sell me stuff I don't need or want I am instantly on guard. "That's a nice hat." He says indicating my camo boonie. I instantly know there is something up for four reasons:

1. His English is too good.
2. He is not wearing a hat.
3. His micro expressions and body language are not showing open, friendly, relaxed. They are showing something more calculated and honestly made me nervous.
4. It is NOT a nice hat.

He then asks if he can see it. Meaning touch it and hold it. Despite his objections I warily back away putting up my hands in the universal "I don't want to deal with you" thing. I'm putting on a show for the ever present other people. After backing up far enough that I should hear him run to get to me, I turn and resume my stomp. In the background, I hear him yelling obscenities and such. Had he yelled for me to have a nice day, I'd have thought that perhaps I had made a mistake. People who yell obscenities after you when you leave are not your friends and are best avoided. I'm not interested in handing anyone anything I'd like back. What if he kept it and said it was his all along? He speaks the language, I don't. I am the outsider. I would lose. Or if he simply ran off. I could follow him for the first meter but after that, he's gone. Or some sort of other 'make friends then scam'. FTS.



HAPPY CHRISTMAS

I hope people of all religions can come together at this time of year to celebrate the birth of Santa Clause. Have a good celebration even if you don't worship the flying spaghetti monster.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SAIGON HO!

NARRATIVE

I ended up moving place of residence within Vung Tau. The owners of the new place seemed quite interested in having me as a guest. In accordance with Asian business practices, everyone who ever wanted to build a guesthouse did so within the same six blocks. There were literally half a dozen guest houses or so on every block, both sides. Hence, competition was rough. When I first stopped in and asked the price it was 200,000 VND. I pointed out that up the road it was only 150,000. The price immediately became 150,000 for the room which was much nicer than the one just up the road.

Keep in mind that in all of SE Asia (that I've been to thus far) EVERYTHING is negotiable. You can even negotiate for marked prices in grocery stores and such if you are buying more than one of something. Or just happen to have not quite enough money on you.

The room had a refrigerator, balcony and air conditioning. Aside from the staff, it was pretty quiet. This fed into my opinion that when something is fucked up at a guesthouse or hostel, it can usually be traced to the staff. They liked to play loud music in the morning while the guests were still sleeping. I don't understand why people would do that, especially if you own a guesthouse which is in constant stiff competition with other guesthouses. After I got up and went downstairs a bit of sign language ended that. They figured out I was still trying to sleep and the loud music was not helping. The price for laundry started at $3 per kilo until I said that was super and did they know where I could go find it for $1 per kilo or should I just go search? Here! No problem.

After doing some research and buying a map at one of the posh hotels for a buck, I discovered that despite my instructions and having the address written in Vietnamese, the taxi driver had dropped me off at Back Beach instead of Front Beach. It turned out not to be a huge deal other than a three kilometer walk to anywhere useful every day. I figured I could use the exercise and I didn't think I'd be finding $7.50 places to stay on Front Beach so I went with it.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem in Vung Tau is that literally everywhere I ate made me sick. The gross, disgusting kind of sick. (Read 'Medical' below for too many details.) The meals, however, were slightly cheaper - $2 to $4 instead of $3-$6. I'm really not sure if it is worth it though.

Here is something I enjoyed that may interest you - Vietnamese coffee. Here's how it works. They take an empty coffee cup. On top of that they place a metal cup with a metal lid on it. Inside is some sort of double straining device. They put coffee in the metal thing and it drips down. Really slowly. I found out why it is so slow from an expat I spoke with. Apparently, few people in Vietnam other than tourists have access to hot water. Hence, everything is washed in cold water. Because of this, it doesn't get properly clean and the holes the water is suppose to percolate through become more or less permanently clogged. So, you spend awhile fucking with it to get a shot of coffee out of it. The coffee is pretty good. As an American though, when I drink coffee, I'm not happy with a shot of it - I want a full cup. So, I've begun ordering a cup of very hot water along with the coffee. You have to specify hot hot hot water. When the tiny amount of water that is in the silverish cup gets done percolating through, I keep adding more. It really doesn't dilute the coffee much and you get a lot more. Especially since the hot water (thus far) has been free. This tastes different than Greek, Egyptian, etc coffee. The cost of said coffee starts at around 12,000 VND and goes up to about double that, depending on where you buy it but it's generally less than a dollar.

Overall, I've thus far found the Vietnamese people friendly and curious about me. I'm sure they are asking themselves questions like "What the fuck he eat to get so big?" An example of the friendliness, I got invited to sit down and have a (free!) beer with a guy who was throwing a small party at the guesthouse I was staying at to celebrate his guesthouse opening across the street. Business practices and attitudes seem to be very different here than in the States!

The pharmacies here seem even worse stocked than those in Cambodia. The Cambodian ones seem a bit more poorly stocked than Thailand. So, I'm currently at the bottom of the scale for actually finding my medicine. Fortunately, I have enough for my time here. I would have had more but wasn't sure if there would be some sort of bag search for naughty drugs and have them seize my blood pressure medicine thinking it was crack cocaine. There wasn't but I'll need to keep searching for medicine. It gives me yet another reason to walk around.

Vung Tau was a bit odd. From what I've read and seen it is essentially a tourist town. Despite that, few people speak English there. Even the people who normally speak decent English such as pharmacists and such don't have any ability to do so. This is especially odd because before I'd come I'd read and heard that much more English is spoken in Vietnam than Thailand, Lao and Cambodia. Thus far this is what we would call a 'lie'. I speak more French (or Arabic or Spanish) than most of them do English. Sometimes, if you write it down they may understand a little better. I suspect this is because they had sucky non-native English teachers who could spell fine and couldn't pronounce worth a damn. Personally, if I was in charge of the country, I'd start interviewing everyone from a native English speaking country that came in and ask 'If you were given a job and money to teach English, how long could you be here for?' I think that by giving the students a language teacher who isn't a native you do them a great disservice.



LOGAN'S PLANS - DISRUPTED...AGAIN

I don't know why I would get surprised any more. Nothing I plan ever seems to go as intended. My intent had been to stay in the cheap town of Vung Tau for awhile to try to save up a little cash. Lie low. Work on my book. Get some exercise walking back and forth. Avoid the hustle and bustle of the big city for awhile.

It was not to be.

I spent a day looking for an eye doctor. I went to hospitals to get directions from people. Addresses were written down that turned out after an hour or two of walking to be dress shops. People were questioned and gave contrary answers. Streets were explored. Hours of walking. No eye doctors.

Vung Tau would have been a rough town for me to live in. Either spend money (NO!) or walk three kilometers to get anywhere interesting. But I'd be saving money. I had Adam's ghost (even though he's not dead) appear to me swathed in chains which he rattled at me and threatened to choke me with. In a ghostly voice he said "You've got cheap living here. Stop yer bitching you big pussy."

I was happy to do just that.

But I need an eye doctor. Iritis can permanently fuck your vision. Cataracts and other scary stuff. And I do use my eyes often, despite what Pete says.

So it's back to HCMC (Saigon). After I get fixed up there, I may go to one of the other small towns around time allowing. After I explained this to Adam's ghost, he shruugged and said "Do what you got to do. But you're still being a pussy." And then he faded out. I have no idea why I am being haunted by the ghosts of the living. Probably because he is my unwilling mentor.

Following another piece of Adam wisdom (TM) "Keep your own council", the first hint the owners of the hotel had that I was leaving was when I showed up in the morning wearing my backpack. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my receipt for the previous night and so I got to have a five minute discussion with the kid who was manning the desk until his father showed up and verified that indeed I had paid. Note this was in spite of me paying every morning like clockwork with the kid standing there watching. I think that the father wanted to have a discussion with me about something else. It may have been along the lines of 'did you turn off everything' or 'did you leave the remote there' but since he spoke no English and I was already irritated at being unjustly held up, he got a jaunty wave and I was off.

Since I knew where the boat place was, tickets were slightly cheaper this time ($10 or 200,000 VND) to get to HCMC (Saigon). The seat I got was in the front. This caused my theory about people needing to spend more on t seats up front to fall through. Perhaps the first ticket 'oh we need more money' was just a shake down. Well, fuck them.

I suspect it will be closer to $30 a day in Saigon instead of the under $20 a day in Vung Tau but if I'm lucky I can keep the food down. I realize that won't make me as thin but I was getting worried I may have caught some sort of semi-permanent parasite dwelling in my bowels and laughing at me.

So, I got on the hydrofoil again. Yes, I know I could have saved $26 or so by just staying the hell in Saigon but who knew that a city that size wouldn't have an eye doctor who wasn't hiding more effectively from me than Anne Frank did from the Nazis?

Due to having eaten something just before leaving, I had to make a fast trip to the hydrofoil bathroom. It was surprisingly clean. I think it may have been the cleanest bathroom on any public transport I've ever used. While it is true that it didn't have a sink but just a bucket full of water along with a plastic ladle floating in it, it was still pretty decently clean. I was surprised. There was even toilet paper!

After a couple hours I was again in HCMC. I decided not to fuck around but just to get a taxi cab to district 1. It is where all of the tourists live. And, the restaurants they eat at and hopefully don't get sick. I am so tired of (see 'medical for details on what I am tired of)... The cab ride cost nearly as much as the two hour boat ride here. Happy!

Finding a guest house once I entered 'district 1' (where all of the tourists go) was not a problem. A tout found me. He offered a $12 guesthouse so I said I'd look. After discounting the first one (and his commission) I found myself given from one owner to another. They all seem to work together. Eventually, I found one I could live with for a couple nights.

I checked into a $12 per night guest house. I'm really happy they gave me a business card for it because I'm not certain I could find it again. In fact, using the business card, transport people have trouble finding it. The guesthouse is located in a narrow alley with god knows how many other guesthouses. Maybe a dozen, perhaps more. Aside from no refrigerator or balcony, the room is fine. Hot water, air conditioning, wifi that actually works. Yes, the wifi in Vietnam is much better than Cambodia or Laos. Perhaps equal to or a bit better than Thailand. Not sure. Hell, maybe good enough to get a Skype call but it likes to turn itself off and on unexpectedly.

Since I really don't have a great longing to tour the congested and dangerous streets of HCMC/Saigon, I made straight for the eye doctor. The family that owns the place I am staying at collectively knows a bit of English. The mother of the family warned me several times about bag snatching and that I should not keep my passport in the bag. I thanked her (I don't but didn't want to get into a discussion as to where it was kept) and got a bike rickshaw out there.

Momma-San (as I now think of her) kindly wrote down the name of the hospital in Vietnamese. Apparently, they don't have any private eye doctors around. Plus, she told me the hospital would be cheaper. Cha ching, sold.

The price started at 100,000 VND but when I started laughing and preparing to leave it suddenly dropped to a more reasonable 50,000 VND. I could have probably gotten it a little cheaper but honestly, I feel sorry for any small old man who has to pedal my fat ass anywhere.

And people say I have no mercy. HA!

I had thought about getting a scooter (and would have saved a buck on it I discovered later) but I was a bit wary of it. My leg has fully healed from the last time I'd been on a scooter and I wasn't anxious about repeating the performance. I'm fragile. (Stop nodding.)

As we slowly made our way (presumably) to the hospital, I reflected back. I like Phnom Phen better thus far than HCMC. It is less congested and a lot more gritty. Hell, I could have stayed in the States if I wanted to see modern, clean streets glass and steel. Give me a bit fucked up with plenty of character any time. While I may bitch about it (or sound like I am) I enjoy it.

Here is a video of me on the way to the hospital.

Thinking about the doctor, I was making a new plan. Consult and get the fuck out. Get out of the big city and go to somewhere cheaper. A good plan, I thought. Like all of my plans, this one would be shattered really soon as well. Happiness and joy are mine.



THE HOSPITAL

The outer areas of the hospital look as though it was built in the 1950's and haven't been maintained since. You know when they use the cheap glue and stick it over the wall then slap up a movie poster in a hurry? Later someone else tries to take it down. They get a few strips of it then give up in frustration and you've got half the poster left? They did that with medical notices and such. They have the movable poles with the chain going through them. These are used to temporarily close off an area and moved to open it again. Much like the 'velvet rope' concept. This chain was literally covered in rust. I'd never seen that before. Scores of people waited to see a doctor. I got the impression that these were the people too sick to ignore it or ones which had tried home remedies which failed to work. These are the really sick people. In America, often we get people who go to the hospital because they're feeling a bit 'under the weather'. Here that doesn't seem to happen. The outer areas of the hospital were hot, crowded, very dirty and stunk of illness.

I got there a bit after noon. All of the doctors, staff and even admittance people were out to lunch until 13:30. How about that. The only people in evidence were the patients, moving like zombies or sitting listlessly in seats with homemade bandages on. This reminded me of a story about a restaurant in a communist country being closed during lunch time - so the staff could eat.

When you get to the hospital you see lots of signs. Nothing is in English. From the layout of the place it is in no way obvious as to where you should go. There is nothing the location of screams 'start here'. Aside from about four people, nobody seemed to speak much English. This did little to inspire confidence in my first Vietnamese hospital visit.

Hunting down and grilling the staff eventually got me told that lunch would be over at 13:30. This is what we call a 'lie'. Naturally, they were late getting open, but I've come to expect that. After the medical teams had returned to work, we were able to access the 'forbidden hallway' when they pulled aside the bars that had blocked it. The 'forbidden hallway' was a few steps up in cleanliness as were the offices after that. Apparently, more care is put into where the doctors actually work rather than just the waiting room.

One thing I've found in most Asian countries I go to is that I get treated first. Bumped right to the head of the waiting line. I use to stress about this but three things have gotten me away from that into just accepting it:

1) I can't understand the language and usually have no clue as to what is going on. Being singled out and sometimes even walked around is reassuring.

2) If I say 'I'm not next in line' or 'what about them' or protest that it is not my turn, it creates more hassle and I still end up going when they direct. Easier to just do as they say and go with the flow.

3) I've had enough people climb over me in other lines as most of these countries have no clue what 'standing in line' means. I figure it is Karma attempting to balance itself.

I'm not sure whether they bump foreigners to the front of the line for courtesy or if they are wondering what I am writing in my notes and want to get me off of the premises before I devalue the building.

Within the eye doctor's exam room, they did all of the stuff an American (or Cambodian) eye doctor would normally do but combined it with an odd game of musical chairs presumably to keep track of the people. Initially, I was impressed with the speed they went through the patients until it turns out that the doctor had lost my book and had to make me a new one. The book is an elaborate but small paper book they issue you when you pay. It combines a prescription pad, reminder of when you should come again, medical records, etc. They don't hold on to this, the patient does once they are discharged from the facility.

Despite my left eye getting better, the doctor feels it is best to keep me on the really heavy Pred Forte regime. I'm good with that. Sadly though, she wants to see me in a week. She isn't confident that the eye doctors 'in the provinces' will either exist or be competent. Hence, it appears I'm trapped in HCMC. In a week, I get to spend another 200,000 VND ($10) for another visit. I can live with that cost.

She wrote down an additional eye drop I'd need on my book and had someone walk me down to the pharmacy. Since Pred Forte was also on the pad, they sold me another bottle of that as well. I was set to object until I noticed the price was less than half of what I'd paid in Cambodia and thought was a remarkably cheap price. Although I already have two bottles in my kit, I was good with spending another dollar something for another.

I decided to risk a scooter back to the guesthouse as a journey of that length is pretty uncomfortable, either way but faster on the scooter. I managed to get back without dying or getting burned. Huzzah!

So now that I'm stuck in Saigon (for health reasons) for a week, I'm thinking that I might be able to eat at restaurants that won't make me sick. Yes, they'll cost more. Yes, since I am able to eat and perhaps wanting to eat more often my food costs will go up. But I'm pretty sure that just eating one meal a day and (see Medical) isn't really healthy. Believe me when I say I'm not wasting away or anything but I do enjoy good food.

More next time...



VIETNAM SHENANIGANS

I was talking to a group of Australian expats and they were regaling me with stories about monkey business done by Vietnamese construction crews. Like putting up concrete walls without metal supports. Using beach sand laden with salt instead of the slightly more expensive correct sand. From what they told me, when the salt melts out you have much less stable concrete from beach sand. Numerous attempts to steal cable and electricity. Walls falling down onto other people's property due to shitty construction and the attempts by the crew to hide the damage and fallen wall under rubbish piles. This feeds into my opinion that I'd love to get people from SE Asia to decorate stuff for me but I really don't want to get into an elevator they built.


Another expat told me that if there was ever an accident involving a foreigner such as the foreigner being run over by a motorcycle that it is the foreigner who is at fault. It was their own fault they were there instead of in their own country. Interesting.


In Vietnam, you are required to leave your identification (passport) with the hotel so they can supposedly register you with the police. We all remember what happened in Bosnia, yes? Anyway, it is also illegal for foreigners not to have their passport on them at all times. Get around this BS by presenting the hotel/guesthouse with a photocopy of the picture page of your passport along with a photocopy of your Vietnam visa. Have a few of these made in case the hotel/guesthouse loses them. Loses the photocopies instead of your passport.


Here in Vietnam, I've gotten more of the long stares than in any other country I've been to thus far. I really don't mind. I figure that person has absolutely nothing better nor more entertaining to do with their time than stare at the fat foreigner. I actually feel a bit sorry for them. Depending on my mood and what I'm doing (and if I think they'll try to sell me something) I will ignore them, smile at them (until they decide looking elsewhere to be a good idea) or try to strike up a conversation. Normally, the conversation either stalls after 'hello' has been exchanged or they want to inform me they have relatives I've never met living in states I've never been to. Sometimes they want to know things like 'how long have you been here' and 'how long will you be here'. I am wary when answering these questions as I am suspicious by nature and training. Sometimes when you are asked 'how long you been here' it is a way of saying 'how gullible are you'. I normally pad my answer by a couple weeks. Sometimes when they ask 'how long you be here' they are wanting to know for reasons beyond idle curiosity. So I am vague, inexact or lie through my teeth depending on how I feel about it.



LOGAN SHENANIGANS

When you check into a guesthouse in Vietnam, you get the pleasure of filling out a form which asks for 'occupation'. For some reason, I've been putting 'Carnival Freak' in the box. I figure if they ask, I'd tell them I was the 'fat man' at a carnival but I lost too much weight and got fired. I've never had any Vietnamese ask me what the deal is with that but eventually who knows. If the police ever asked me that would be extra humorous. Well, for a little while.



DEEP THOUGHTS

Years ago, I use to ask questions like 'Why don't they have any (insert country name here) restaurants? Surely they must eat there? Why no restaurants?' My friends, I have found the answer. It is twofold.

* The food of (insert country name here) is so close to (insert well known country which does have restaurants name here) as to be indistinguishable to foreign devils. So, you'd have a less known restaurant serving the same food as a different country.

* The food from (insert country name here) sucks ass. Because of this, you will have a visitor once and then never again as they will learn their lesson and tell their friends. A good example for me of his would be a Ukrainian restaurant. I've gotten stuck with those in a couple countries. The reason they are rare (or non-existent) in the USA is that you have all of the countries who make good food in competition with them. The only place they can have a restaurant (in Logan's opinion) is in a country whose food also sucks. That way you can have a choice between two different sucky foods. [Sylvia's cooking was the only good food I ate in the Ukraine - and she is Polish.]






BOOK REVIEW - TWO URBAN FANTASY BOOKS

I'm going to review these together as they seem fairly typical of what I think of the low to medium end in quality of the genre.

Spider's Bite
October Daye novels (the first two)


In Spider's Bite, it talks about an 'assassin'. She is without a doubt the worst assassin I've ever read about. Most assassins which I've heard about (both in fiction and real life) are a 'tool box'. They have different weapons for different purposes and kill pretty much without any feeling at all if they are any good. It is a job to them they have as much emotion about as say a plumber. Plumber's may grumble if the pipes aren't sealing right but they don't get emotional about it. In Spider's Bite, the protagonist is suppose to be a 'dangerous, feared and professional assassin'. This 'assassin' pretty much wants to work out her rage by stabbing the shit out of things with knives. I don't see her so much as a 'professional' as I do someone who would be just as happy having sprinklers of blood showering her as she danced around screaming "I have men (and daddy) issues". Despite the plethora of CSI information available to even the lay person, it is obvious the author hasn't availed herself of it. In addition, if I wanted to have someone who was psychologically addicted to stabbing things (what would Freud make of it?) I'd probably go at least question someone who knows how to fight with a knife. It's amazing how many authors (including both on this review) have people doing things like sticking a sharp knife into their belt. Without a scabbard. Failing to clean the knife after use. My knife fighting training was not all that extensive but even I know that.

With both books, it becomes clear that 'urban fantasy' started as - and with many books continues to be - partially mired in the 'romance' genre. It is amazing just how many times the female protagonists seem to go into heat over every man they meet. I'm not sure why. They sometimes indulge in sex with them but usually not. It appears they go for a lot of 'sexual tension'.

The men are all handsome yet incompetent and weak. If other (actual) men were around they would accuse the men of either being stupid or 'a pussy'. The only strong men are usually either physically or emotionally distant and too involved with something else to try to help out the heroine with whatever project they are working on. I have yet to see a man actually come up with a good idea and implement it. I'm curious if it is only by surrounding the woman with wildly incompetent men that allows her to shine forth as the heroine. Does that mean that if even one competent man was hanging around she couldn't? I've known many competent women over the years and it didn't seem to be the case but perhaps this is the reality within the author's minds.

From the authors bios, a lot of the women (and men for some reason) who write urban fantasy tend to own a lot of cats. That's struck me as a bit suspect. There may be a link.

As to the question, are these books any good - again, they are examples of the middle ranking ones. Say 5/10.


Some other very quick reviews of books I thought sucked. I put these in to save you the pain. If you are thinking 'but what urban fantasy books did you like'? You always tell us about books that sucked! Can you even name one series you liked? Yes. Sandman Slim. There are others but unfortunately the ones I dislike outnumber the ones I like by a good damned margin. Also some of the books I've been listening to are not urban fantasy. For example I have recently listened to (most of) a book on cold war weapons of the CIA. I forgot the title and deleted it when finished but it was interesting to hear because that is the kind of shit we were using when I was in. Now, the game has massively changed and they can print that stuff. So, on with the books that sucked ass!

You Slay Me

This book had some potential. An interesting murder, some interesting characters and a plot that seemed to be going somewhere. After a few chapters, I had to delete it because the bitch (main character) is in heat. Holy shit, every time she got around someone with a penis she was panting and needing it. It was like reading the diary of a nympho. To be fair, it was recorded as a 'romance' but holy shit - you can get more subtle than that.


Laptop of the Gods

If you enjoy a bunch of fist pumping Greek gods (and Roman, whatever) who work for God with a capital G singing lyrics to 1960's songs and shit, this one star out of (pick a number) is for you. I actually listened to nearly a full chapter because I was stunned at just how bad it was. Books like this really give me hope that I can be published. I should probably find out who this guy's agent was. If the agent can sell a piece of shit like that, anything I churn out will probably get sold.


On Stranger Tides and the Anibus Gate

Why the fuck do I keep getting a hold of books by Tim Powers? I clearly don't like his stories. They are a bit dry for me. I suppose that if someone wanted 'historical urban fantasy' this might be the only option. I just find them dull and plodding.


Mistborn

I don't remember specifically but I think I just got bored with it.


The Name of the Wind

I don't remember specifically but I think I just got bored with it.


There you go - some books to avoid if you like the same kind of stuff I do. When I read more books I like, I'll post them up to. Unfortunately, looking for good urban fantasy (or any books I suppose) is a lot like wading through a river of shit looking for diamonds. Stinky, but rewarding. How is that for an analogy? Not all that great. Kind of like pickles on peanut butter. Some people will like it while others will loudly decry, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"







MEDICAL (Warning - contains disgusting content. Don't gripe, you've been warned).

Have you ever used a squeeze-able bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup? When you come to the last little bit you are trying desperately to get out of the bottle? When you squeeze it, it makes a thrrrup! sound and bits of chocolate fly out in random directions but hopefully mostly in your glass. Now imagine having some sort of air hose linked up to the bottle that starts at random and forces air through there causing the bottle to semi randomly discharge. God, I can't wait until I get to a country that doesn't cause that feeling in me. Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have all gotten into the 'eat then camp near a bathroom to see if you will need it' category. Thailand was a treat. Their food was much better and you didn't have to run for a toilet and hope you made it. As part of my 'carry everywhere' gear in my slung black bag I now carry a small supply of 'so you got diarrhea fucking again' pills. I recommend these in a container that won't smash.

To experience some of the fun of this here is a simple thing you can do to experience the thrills and chills of this. Have someone who hates you dress up all in brown with a big bucket of liquid shit. After a random meal, they get to draw a card out of a bag. The cards either say 'safe' or have a random number written on them. If they pull one that says 'safe', nothing happens until your next meal. If they pull one that has a number on it (say between 1-20) they wait that long then tell you 'Run mutherfucker!' They then draw cards until they get another random number and start the stopwatch. Once that time has elapsed, you must be or have been inside a restroom or they get to douse you with the bucket of shit. It's a fun game the whole family can play!



FUTURE PLANS

From Saigon, I'd like to get to somewhere quieter with at least one restaurant I can eat at without (see Medical). Somewhere comfortable, cheap and quiet where I can walk and write my book.

After my Vietnam visa ends, I am really torn as to what to do next. My options (that I've figured out - other clever people might come up with others):

Malaysia - Things cost more than the other countries but allegedly more people actually speak English there. Coincidence? I have heard Singapore is definately expensive and I have no reason to go there (oh look, big metal and glass!) so I'd probably avoid that. But other parts of the country could be interesting. Also, this would provide me with a non-backtracking way into Burma. Which would get me eventually to India and Nepal.

Indonesia - Haven't seen it. Worried about how much the sea voyage would cost, however because I don't want to go through the hassle of flying nor spend the $110 to do so. I'm going to have to go to travel agents to try to research this (which will cost more) because travel by sea hasn't caught up to the internet. Or I just haven't found it.

Island hopping - Easier to answer if my finances were in better shape. I need to do more research to see if places like Papua New Guinea are dead cheap to live or if I'd get there and start screaming in pain. It would put me close to Australia which would cause the Highlander quickening feeling in Pete and he'd start looking around and becoming nervious I was getting to close to his native land. While I know I very much cannot afford Australia, some of the smaller islands and such to the north and west of it may provide living quarters for awhile. I am concerned about being there during the summer however. It may turn me to 'melted Logan'. Which is brown and squishy.

Another option could be Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal, India...?

I figure I've got two or three weeks to research it. I'd say about 90% of my motivation is currently price over 'how cool would it be'. Kind of a sad way to travel right now but it is needed. For example, Burma is very rough and the visa is about double or triple Vietnam. And the tourist industry hasn't really been established. But some people I was talking to were saying living there right now would be dead cheap. I know I'll have to pass through it or boat around it though. For those suggesting the findacrew website, yeah, I checked it out. It should be called 'boatslutwanted' instead. It seems to be guys looking for women to fuck while they sail around.

I wouldn't mind going to somewhere like Poland (I know a lot of folks out there and it seems that even more know me and read this blog) but I don't know if I can make it that far out soon.

Anyway, I've got to still research and ponder the next step. Goals for those wanting to help, dirt cheap and cool during the summer. Yeah, I need fucking wifi to keep sanity. And to write this blog!



FOR JANA

I can't send my notebooks off while I'm in Vietnam. I suspect that if they got hold of them they would burn me at the stake for witchcraft. I will mail them eventually and I suspect you will get a lot of them at once and my backpack will suddenly get a lot lighter. I'm not sure what country to mail them from. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia all had 'sucktastic' mail systems. I'm not sure which country I'll be in next or if it would be better. Malaysia might be a winner if I got there. Note: I checked - as of now it is only two notebooks. By the time I get to a 'good mail' country, who knows.

BTW - how many notebooks are we up to now?



TRAVELER'S TIPS

When the hotel makes a receipt for you, be sure it is dated. If you don't get a dated receipt, you may be forced to pay an additional day whether due to their greed or their incompetence.


I was in a restaurant that had no napkins. Instead, they placed a plastic wrapped wet towelette on the table. I was wary of it. My fears turned out to be founded. Had I used it, I would have been charged an extra 2000 VND. Yes, that is ten cents but on principle, I don't like shit getting put on the table that I didn't order yet will cost me money should I use it. I look at it as unnecessarily sneaky.



COSTS

Taxis seem to be about two to three times as much as motorbikes (scooter). You need to negotiate a motorbike in advance but the taxis have a meter. This meter seems to start off nice and slow but goes up quick after the two dollar mark. I'm not sure why that is. Oddly enough, the bicycle rickshaws cost about the same or sometimes slightly more than the scooters. Generally speaking, I seem to spend about $3-$4 on a taxi, roughly half that on a motorbike. If you don't nail down a price in advance on a motorbike you are a rich fool.

Black and white photocopy, 1000 VND

Monday, December 19, 2011

NO FACEBOOK FOR YOU

For those who have been wondering why I'm not on Facebook as regularly as normal (which is to say 'daily') it is because I found out the Vietnamese government has blocked it. They won't admit to blocking it. They don't let people they have told to block it discuss it. Apparently, they are worried about people saying bad things about them. Which they did anyway after Facebook had been blocked. Apparently, if you are at all net savvy it is not hard to get around. I tried looking up various suggested methods of unblocking it but I just couldn't get them to work. I tried using the hidemyass.com proxy but then Facebook accused me of not allowing cookies and it wouldn't work. I tried going through google translate as one web page suggested - but Google told me it is already in English. I tried going to several different web pages that claimed 'oh just click here and it works'. They were actually advertisement web pages and didn't work at all. I know someone (or perhaps several someones out there) will suggest a remedy. All I have to say is please test it a couple times before you suggest it. There is nothing that is more irritating than someone who wants to give helpful but untested advice that just ends up wasting my time when I can do that on my own. Also, I have the tech savvy of a chimp and no access to the routers of the guest houses I am staying at. The 'how does it work' pages suggested a 'simple' fix that involved me just adjusting those. Not a good solution if you are on a public network you have zero control over.

If I can't find and implement a working solution it is not the end of the world. I'm just working on staying in Vietnam for one month. According to the information that I've read, only Vietnam and China have turned off Facebook and chances of me getting into China are slim.

For anyone that wants to comment things along the line of 'what about freedom of speech' and 'it's not democratic', please remember that Vietnam is a communist country. If they don't like what you say, then you get to become a 'guest of the state'.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

VIETNAM - FIRST IMPRESSIONS

OFF TO HO CHI MIHN CITY?

I got the bus from Phnom Phen to HCMC ($10, 6-7 hours including the border crossing) today. It was a decent bus in that the seats were pretty comfortable and the AC worked. Unfortunately, it had the speakers that they so love to crank up to a high volume. Unfortunately, these speakers were pretty much shot. I'm kind of surprised that nobody else seemed to mind or notice. When I say 'shot' I mean that distortion was so high I couldn't understand when the guy was speaking in simple English.

They were still cranked up. Not as bad as some of the bus trips I've had in SE Asia though.

So we did the border crossing at Vietnam. In order to try to keep the buses together since people in SE Asia don't really seem to grasp the concept of 'standing in lines', the folks in the bus took everyone's passports and gave them in a bundle to the border guards. The border guards would then call the names of the people after doing something mysterious to your passport. They also got my fingerprints. They had a nifty electronic fingerprint reading pad. I wasn't too alarmed about that as I was forewarned by the internet. I suspect that it's just more of the good ole fashioned paranoia. This was odd because the security at the border struck me as 'lax'. Some guy dressed in workman clothing took through a big tube thing without pausing and talking to any of the guards. It is true that he could have known them and such but when I saw that my first thought was 'I could easily get a nice sniper rifle into that tube'. As with most of the other borders I've been to, it was understaffed, slow and laden with cumbersome procedures.

My initial thoughts when I got to HCMC (formerly Saigon - a much better name) was that it was a rather nifty looking modern city. Big. Much cleaner than PP in Cambodia as well. I really didn't want to sit around another really big city though so I figured I might see what kind of cheap accommodations they have and maybe stay for a day or two. I checked out a place. For $10 I could get a room I would describe as 'grim and depressing'. Or, for just $13, I could ride a hydrofoil (which I'd never done before) to a place (Vung Tau) where the price range of rooms is from $6 to $10 and that has been called 'the cheapest place to stay in Vietnam'. Since my money situation is still what I'd term 'alarming', I said 'screw it' and got the hydrofoil ticket. It was a strange setup with how it worked. Rather than getting the ticket there, two ladies came with. One rode in the taxi with me, the other took her scooter. Her job was to get her cohort back to the office. The taxi ride and such were included in the price of the ticket - I checked before purchasing the ticket. So, we rode out there after I'd paid my money and 'oh look, there is a problem'. I think the price of the ticket had jumped up a little bit and the lady was going to pass along the increased price to me. I gave her the 'it's not my problem' look and tone of voice and said "I have a receipt. I need my boat ticket please." Without any further conversation, she got my boat ticket. Once I boarded the hydrofoil, I believe I have figured out what happened. They didn't have any of the 'in the back' tickets left for the time I had been promised I would leave. Instead, I got to be seated one row back from the big front window. Considering the ticket cost about $12.50 and they paid for the taxi ride over, I think they didn't make any money (or took a small loss) on this one. As I learned in the military, 'proper planning prevents piss poor performance'. Apparently, their procedures need updating.

The ride itself was smooth and fast. You really don't feel going up on the hydrofoils but you know for sure when you go down. It's a big hit and a lot of extra sudden drag. It doesn't knock you out of your seat or anything but you notice it. The seating on this was much better than on the 'long tail boat'. They didn't take my bag so I wedged it between my feet and the seat in front of me. I didn't mind - it was only an extra hour and a half and I'd rather have my bag to keep track of it than risk it getting lost or stolen. I sat near a nice old lady who gave me something to eat. I have no idea what it was but it had 3-4 big seeds in it, sugar on the outside yet was spicy. A very strange but not unpleasant taste. I don't know if I've had anything that combined sweet and spicy before.

So, we got dropped off at the boat docks. I ignored all of the high pressure taxi cabs and motorbikes out of habit and decided to walk. I went the wrong way. Twice. After a couple hours hauling around the big pack I decided to get a guy to peddle me around on the rickshaw. He asked for a dollar. I thought, hey sure. Peddle my fat ass and my 20KG pack around for a dollar? Why not. Because he didn't speak English worth a shit is why not. I told him 'cheap cheap guest house'. After he'd taken me to not one but two five star hotels, I gave up on him. I paid him. Gave him an extra dollar even. This turned out to be a mistake because he then figured I was loaded, we were friends and maybe he could start selling me extra useless shit. I managed to ditch him eventually. I went and asked locals for directions. I'm not sure what the deal is with natives of SE Asia but none of the ones I've talked to seem to have the slightest idea how to read a map, know about compass directions or can give directions unless they can point to it. The 5-8 guys I asked sent me on a wild goose chase that eventually brought me to a large Russian secure dwelling apartment complex. I couldn't remember the word in Russian for guest house but through my very limited Russian and a lot of sign language I did manage to communicate with the young lady what I wanted. Unfortunately, it seems that she's lived here too long and continued my wild goose chase. Sad.

In the other countries of SE Asia I've been to, the word 'guesthouse' is pretty common. Even if someone doesn't speak English they know that word. It doesn't seem to be the case here. They don't get it.

I haven't eaten much today but I figure I will make up for it eventually as is my nature. I had two pieces of chicken, three small 'I hope these don't make me shit my pants' rolls and a waffle I bought off a guy with a stall hooked to a motorcycle. That's it. I'm looking forward to getting a decent meal tomorrow.

Eventually, I found a guesthouse/hotel (not sure which) that is pretty nice. If it was labeled as a hotel it was only in Vietnamese. I managed to ask someone who could literally point to it. That's the only reason I could find it. The rooms here are $9 (groovy) but the location is absolutely shit. There is nothing around. I'm not sure why anyone would stay here really. Unless they had their own transport that is. It seems I'm about 3KM (yeah, I wandered a lot further with the pack on and I'm absolutely wrecked) away from anything interesting. There are two ambient noise producers. There is some sort of loud music playing club which I hope will eventually stop. The other is some sort of yappy dog on the other side. I'm pretty sure that if I was to slowly and painfully strangle it to death, I'd guarantee myself a place in heaven. Getting into Heaven with the capital H would require the same treatment to the owners of said pooch.

Having said that though, the room I'm in has all of the things I like in a hotel. Good wifi, hot showers, private bathroom, a balcony to smoke off, decent bedding. If I can't find better in the 'front beach' or 'back beach' area, I will probably come back here. If I can find a restaurant within walking distance.

I'm not sure if the food here will make me as sick as the food in Cambodia did. It seemed like every 2-3 days I was sick (with all the shit that entails) from their food there. I really hope Vietnam is better. I would say that Lao and Cambodia are pretty similar in food. Thailand is on the top both in terms of taste and least amount of sickness.

So, anyway, I am currently in the town of Vung Tau.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

When confronted with a language they don't know, some people want to be helpful and use the 'phone a friend' option. You can let them if you wish but you should know in advance that you are just wasting both your time and theirs. In my experience, I've never had them call anyone who actually speaks English well. Even if someone spoke poor English if they are face to face you can get a lot more communication done than you ever will over the phone. The people I've usually had called seem to speak English at the same level or worse than the person telephoning them. They then try to pool their collective ignorance and come up with...nothing useful. My advice when they want to phone a friend? Thank them and walk away. Find someone else to have a face to face with.


Verify whether your coffee will be served hot or cold. If you don't the waitress will show their instinctive ability to choose the right one. I've had Baileys and coffee before. I've had Irish coffee before. They are always served hot. Make the coffee, pour in a shot of alcohol and it's done. In many places they want to serve it cold. With ice in it. The ice is not made from bottled water. Unless you are acclimatized to the tap water (or once filtered water which is still a few steps below 'bottled') drinking this may cause you to spend the next few days with your new friend Mr. Toilet.


I know I've said it before but recent experiences make me want to stress it again. If you think about getting into any sort of taxi, rickshaw, etc., ask the guy a question that the answer is not a yes/no. My favorite is 'what color is the sky?' This will show you their true level of English. If you are dumb enough to ask them 'do you know of a hotel' or 'do you speak English', you deserve what happens to you. Taxi drivers usually only know a few key words and won't take you to where you want to go unless you like five star hotels that charge you more in order to pay the taxi driver their 'tout fee'.



TRANSPORT MODES

Got a new edition to my list (last one) by chance so I thought I'd publish the updated list. Since I don't accumulate these too rapidly, I don't think the list will become a frequent thing - just when I find something new I can travel on.

Marshrutka
Ocean freight carrier
Motorcycle
Scooter
Bus
Minibus
Jeep
Truck
Jet
Dolmush
Baht bus
Tuk-Tuk
Hydrofoil

PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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