Art by Mimi

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Read Don's blog and poems of our year around the world 2011

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The Mimi Lamp Gallery

Fishing village on Lamma Island, Hong Kong

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Samoa and Robert Lewis Stevenson's house
I have seen many Samoans in the States and it was fun seeing them on their own island in their own environment. It is a beautiful island! We entered Apia by going between two reefs and it was a narrow entrance!  Our captain is so good at what he does!  The people are so friendly here! They only get cruise ships docking here a couple times a year so they are very happy to see us come. Most ships dock on the other side of the island, where there are wonderful beaches and this side is more mountainous. We were greeted on this gloomy looking Sunday morning with a SDA Church choir, singing traditional Samoan songs as well as Christian songs with the leader thanking God for our safe travels. That was pretty unexpected but a great way to start the day. We were told that Samoa is a very religious country and that they send many missionaries around the world.  There was not a store open and usually the Stevenson’s house and museums were closed on Sunday, but they made an exception for us.  That was pretty nice of them, otherwise there would have been very little to do or see other than driving through the island or hiking a mountain.  Hmmm, doesn’t sound too bad after all. Our goal was to get to Robert Lewis Stevenson's home just outside of Apia in a town called Vailima.  We asked a taxi cab how much it would cost and it was only $10 so we got it.  The sprawling European-adapted-Samoan house was set on a beautifully cultured lawn that was huge!  The lawn was bordered by wonderful tropical plants and trees. There were some turkey like wild birds that seemed to be grazing on the lawn. We arrived before the ship group tour arrived so we got a private tour of the house. The house is pretty much how the Stevenson’s left it. It had all the books he wrote, including first editions of Kidnapped and Jekyll and Hyde, two of his famous books. It was fully furnished as well as the drawings and paintings that his stepdaughter had done of him and their life there in Samoa. Don really loved being in the home of a famous writer and tried to get as many good vibes from his house as possible.  Maybe, just maybe, some of the stardust will fall on his writings! Soon the place was crawling with Princess people!  They had a dance and Kava ceremony planned so we watched. Their dancing was great. I wish that America had a traditional dance.  Oh, that right, we have western country dancing! After the dancing, and everyone left, we decided to climb the mountain to where Robert L. Stevenson was buried, along with his wife, who died 20 years later in San Francisco. It is sad that Robert L. Stevenson built this beautiful home but died 4 years later. He had TB and thought it best to be in a warmer climate but it didn’t prolong his life that much. He was fairly young when he died.  Anyway, there was a break in the weather so it seemed like a wise thing to do….there was a well marked path so we headed out.  Then it started to rain and boy did it rain! I had brought the umbrella and rain poncho so we were protected but I was wearing flip flops (I didn’t know we were going to climb a mountain!) and I was slipping all over the place.  The sign said it was a 30 – 40 minute walk but it took us well over an hour.  Once we got to the top, there was thunder and lightning and I don’t like being the high point on a mountain holding the aluminum umbrella! We photographed the grave, read the inscription and headed down. By the time we got down, the house and grounds was deserted and the sun was just peaking through the clouds! Murphy’s law.  It was sunny again. It was a good adventure.  It should rain in a tropical rainforest, right?

We really enjoyed Samoa and were glad that we had time to see Robert Lewis Stevenson’s beautiful home.   

7:16 pm est 

Suva, Fiji December 9

Fiji wasn’t quite what I expected it would be but I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I don’t know why I have this image in my head that I can’t dispel of these exotic destinations. I see deserted white sandy beaches with palm trees swaying in the warm ocean breezes. Instead, I am met with crowded white sandy beaches, small cities with noisy polluting traffic and hot sticky weather with no cool ocean breezes at all! Fiji felt like we were back in the Caribbean. It made me miss Rashawna! The first thing I noticed were the little busses, the HiAces made by Toyota, that are in so many parts of the world. But one unique bus they had were old big busses that were built with windows that were not supposed to have glass in them, but had plastic shades that could be pulled down if it rained. They looked like so much fun to ride in. Great idea for a tropical island.

We didn’t plan any tour with the boat and hoped we could find a tour on shore that would take us to a beach to go snorkeling. Sure enough a group met us and told us that they would drive us to a beach as soon as they found another couple. A very nice Fijian woman named Jess drove us through the city of Suva, a small bustling town, then headed out for a 45 minute drive to a resort where we could snorkel. The country side was definitely tropical. There were trees that were massive with hundreds of shoots from the limbs to the ground. There were some beautiful mountains in the distance, not higher than 1000 feet or so, but quite pretty. One mountain looked like a thumb, hence its nickname, The Thumb. We passed by a large graveyard that had the traditional tombstones but many of them had canopies covered with streamers of bright colored cloth. The country is mainly Christian, but there are many Indians who settled here centuries ago and brought Hinduism. There is also a group of Muslims as well.

We followed the coastline to Paradise Cove and pulled into a resort. The boats had already left for the outer reef where the snorkeling is best and this beach didn’t look too promising so Don decided to forego the snorkeling idea.  I was still feeling the effects of my cold so I wandered into a community called Makasoi and drew one of the typical homes.  There was laundry drying out on the front porch with a perfectly mowed front lawn. The house was up off the ground about 3 feet on wood posts, either to keep the house dry in wet weather (it rains about 200 inches a year) or it is to keep the house cool in their year round warm weather.  As I was drawing people looked at me curiously and said “Bula”, or “hello”. I did talk to some girls who were out canvassing for the SDA church and they invited me to their house for some tea. Everyone is very friendly and so nice here. Even though we only had a few hours to enjoy the island we got an overall good feeling about the people. People seem to be “what” we remember the most about a country.

5:41 pm est 

Australia I IV November 24 - December 2
Darwin

What a great day we had. It didn’t start out very well but it did end being a fabulous day after all. We couldn’t find our Australia Visas and I had inadvertently put it up in the bookshelf with a stack of papers and it ended up between two books. We didn’t have that many places to look in our cabin so Don did find them but we did send out a few @$#@ fireworks to start the day! We do have our moments of frustration.

We booked a tour that took us for a two hour ride from Darwin out to the grasslands.  We were really regretting not getting to see the interior of Australia by train as we had planned so this was the best we could do from our cruise ship. We had to be happy with two hours of grasslands instead of 2 or 3 days of Australian scenery.  It turned out to be a tour that we were glad that we took. The bus headed out of Darwin just after 8 am and I kept pinching myself, I was so happy to be in Australia. I never thought I would ever be here. My first surprise was that Darwin is very green with lots of trees and brush and green, green grass. Australia had always been, in my mind, that huge desert with ranchers in dusty boots. Not Darwin.  There are only 95,000 people living here so it is a very small city. And the outskirts are not that far away. Darwin does have a skyline, but it is only a few skyscrapers and not even that tall. I have a good feeling about this place. We drive out to the outskirts and I saw some brightly colored homes and see that they belong to aborigines. I wish I had had my camera ready!  Those were the first and last aborigines I saw that day.

The Northern Territory is tropical so the hills are covered with palms and trees with big leaves and wandering vines.  There were plenty of mangroves growing along the ocean front that supposedly had crocodiles lurking in their shadows. It was not that hot at 8 AM because of the cloud cover but it did heat up as the sun rose and the clouds dispersed. But this was only temporary. Once the air heated up to well over 100 degrees and the humidity was so thick you could slice it, the raindrops began to fall and so did the temperature. Thank goodness we were in Australia (and not Africa) because our bus was air conditioned and it felt very good.  The road was pretty empty and I guess that is due to it being a Thursday, Thanksgiving to be exact. Not that they celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia. We zoomed down the two lane freeway that soon became one lane. The road was still deserted and we were soon at the Wangi Waterfalls.  It really is pretty but the swimming hole was closed due to crocodiles. I didn’t see any crocs and the water was clear enough to see in the streams but who knows about those dark areas in the middle of the pool! Don and I decided to try another trail since we had a little time and as we were walking deeper into the rainforest, we saw a big black sow and her three darling little piglets, foraging for something wet and yummy to eat. We also saw a huge spider just like the kind we saw in Hong Kong on Lamma Island. They are so nasty looking. The body is about the size of my index finger and the legs extend out to the size of my hand. Yuck! But they are quite harmless to us, thank goodness. As we were walking out of the forest, we saw our group looking up in the trees and pointing. There hanging upside down on branches was over 20 bats, Flying Foxes, with their wings wrapped about them. One would fly from one tree to another, showing his silver grey fur. They were just creepy, yet fascinating! I was a little glad to be out of there and on the road again!

Lunch was served in an outdoor covered patio next to a burned out restaurant. It had been struck with lightening just two weeks earlier that had collapsed the roof and burned the majority of the kitchen area. They said that it didn’t take more than 15 minutes and their place was almost completely burned. However, it was a delicious lunch and we were glad that they had kept this restaurant on the itinerary.  They were “world” famous for their mango cheese cake so we had to have one and were pretty disappointed. It was more of a sugary chiffon with orange squares of sweet things. Don doesn’t even like mangos but he loved this, so that tells you that it didn’t taste a thing like mango. I gave him my piece as well. If I am going to have dessert, I would rather it be chocolate!

Next item on our agenda was another waterfall, Florence, that had a more dramatic view point and we were able to go to this pool. We climbed down a wooden staircase that dropped us to the bottom of the falls. Australians make it so easy to enjoy their waterfalls.  We didn’t have time to swim, even though we did bring our suits. We had our feet cooling in the water and were busy watching the young couples and groups of 20 something’s that were enjoying the water.   We waded a bit before we realized that our entire group had already left. We ran up the 100+ steps to find everyone cooling off in the bus, waiting for our group of three. Oops!

Our last site was to see the termite mounds. We almost didn’t go on this tour just because we had seen the termite mounds in Botswana, but I am glad that we did. These mounds were quite different shaped from the conical mounds in Africa. We saw two kinds. One kind of termite built flat walls, about 5’ high and 5’ wide and just a few inches thick, so when you saw a group of them on a plateau, it looked like a graveyard. The other one we saw was barrel shaped, a lot like a cactus, the kind that has vertical ridges that go around the entire thing. And the heights of these were amazing. I am sure the one we stood next to was at least 17 to 18 feet high. The outside of the termite mound is hard like a rock, held together with the termite’s spit.  Each one of these mounds has a queen termite and as long as the queen lives, the mound is a busy well maintained city. Once the queen dies the mound deteriorates and crumbles apart. The queen termite can live well over 50 years.  Pretty amazing stuff!

 Cairns

I know that this word looks like the word cairns, a mound of rocks that signify a place of significance. But in Australia, it is pronounced as Cans, much like the city Cannes in France. The same is true of Airlie Beach. The R is silent and it is pronounced Ally Beach. Now you can talk like an Aussie.

The ship was offering a day on the Great Barrier Reef for the price of….well, a lot! Someone suggested to me to go on TripAdvisor.com and see if I could book an excursion for less. I had never used TripAdvisor.com for activities but sure enough, they have that category and I just never noticed it before.  TripAdvisor had one reef excursion company on their site and so I emailed them and asked for info. I waited. I emailed again. I waited. We went to their website and tried to book a trip with them and that had problems. I finally gave up and searched through Google and emailed 4 different companies. Only one replied. They got the job!  (There is obviously no recession here!) We had a total of 16 people who were interested in snorkeling from Green Island so we all met at the dining room and disembarked together. We walked just a short 10 minute walk to the pier and boarded the boat. Next to us was another larger boat of the same company. Guess who were boarding the boat….that’s right. Our cruise ship. They were paying $100 more than the asking price and we were paying $200 less than they were for a 2 hour shorter trip. I was very glad that I had taken the time to find a better deal for us. 

Green Island is a resort island that is lush and green with beautiful beaches and was jelly fish free. Very important feature at this time of the year. Between the months of November and May there are jelly fish that not only sting you but can kill you within a few short hours! I purposely did not go to hear the speaker who was talking on this subject! I already have issues just getting into ocean water; I really don’t need to hear anymore horror stories. We changed into our suits and headed into the water. It was a beautiful blue, almost as nice as in the Caribbean, so very clear. First fish I saw was a baby shark. It was only 2 feet long so I was pretty brave and put our underwater camera as close as possible for a good photo. Then we saw several turtles floating with their heads above water then they would disappear under the water once again. I was determined to snorkel and headed out. I had on bright green flippers, a mask and snorkel and a life jacket (and my bathing suit, of course!) I learned in Galapagos Islands that if I wear a life jacket, I am so much more relaxed and won’t freak out. I swam out to deep water and floated quietly on the surface of the water. At first I didn’t see any fish, but soon my eyes adjusted and there were fish all over the place. Fish with stripes, fish with spots, big fish, little fish, silver fish, yellow fish, fish with “caps” on, fish with blue “masks”, and the list goes on…….. I loved it. I might get over my fears of snorkeling yet! 

We rented a kayak for a half hour and really enjoyed it. We will have to get a kayak when we return home. I really do love rowing!

It was a good day and time to return on the 12 noon boat. We got back to Cairns by 1 PM and had lunch with Jens and Jenny from the ship’s health spa. We found a great Australian gift for Tom, Don’s brother that we mailed so he could have it for Christmas. We also found a souvenir shop going out of business and we bought a bead and shell belt for me and a boomerang for Don. I love these exotic things that are going to be such sweet memories of our trip.

A good day in Cairns!

Airlie Beach

Half way down the Great Barrier Reef is a beach town that is called Airlie Beach. In this area there are 74 beautiful islands, called Whitsunday, that are just a short distance by boat from Airlie Beach. One of these islands has pure white sand that sparkles like sugar! I wished that we had had enough time to see this amazing island. The town was quite small and obviously a tourist destination. This part of Australia is rainforest so the hills were very green with flowers blooming everywhere. There were apartments overlooking the ocean all along the beach. It looked like a fabulous place to live!

It took us over 2 hours to get to shore because they were only using 2 tenders and it was a good 30 minutes to shore.  There were quite a few annoyed people on board. Once on shore we were met by volunteers that gave us maps and answered any of our questions. How wonderful to be met by these people! We walked the Centennial boardwalk into town and got an iced coffee. It had a cup of cold coffee that had cream, milk, ice cream and whipped cream on top! Yummmm!  No calories in that, I am sure! There was no one in the ocean because there are so many jelly fish in the water this time of year even though the temperature was in the 80s. However, the town made two man-made lagoons so that there could be swimming year round. We saw one of these lagoons in Cairns and it was so impressive. It is a large area of salt water that is next to the beach that is completely manmade. Most of it is very shallow so children can play and adults can wade. There is a small area, that is about 2 meters deep, but it only a small fraction of the lagoon I think this lagoon is such a good idea instead of a regular pool. I want one in Idyllwild! And then it can be turned into a ice rink and we would have something to skate on in the winter!

We walked back to the boat dock and I left Don there while I walked in the direction of the Post Office. The volunteers told me that it was a good 25 minute walk and it turned out to be quite a bit longer but a lovely walk. The Centennial Boardwalk took me along the coast, by mangrove trees, beautiful rocks and flowering trees with noisy birds. I only had to ask twice to find the little shop that served as the town’s post office. It was $16 to mail a book to Rashawna that may take 12 weeks to arrive, $30 to guarantee it in a week. That is very expensive! The book only cost me $10 in Hong Kong but it was such a good book that I really wanted to share it with Rashawna. I sent it the cheap route and hoped for the best. Instead of walking back, I took the city bus.

By the time I got back to the dock Don was pacing. I had been gone at least two hours and he was concerned. We climbed in the tender and headed back to the ship. A good, relaxing day in Airlie beach. Sydney, here we come.

 At Sea

I am trying my hardest to stay calm. But 18 to 20 foot swells. Come on!  I wish we had a room on the 4th floor, not 7th and in the middle of the ship, not second cabin from the bow. These high waves had subsided for a short while, lulling us into believing it was over but now they have returned with a vengeance!  First I heard the wind howling through the crack between our sliding door of our balcony and then the pitching and rocking and rolling and slamming started up again.  I am getting just a tad bit tired of this storm. The captain had the 5th floor outside deck closed then he closed the 10th and 11th outside decks mid morning. Then the waves started up. Around 2 PM I was in the Tahitian Lounge on floor 10 when the waves really gained momentum. The art auctioneer was trying her best (in stiletto heels) to do the auction and barely finished when paintings started falling off their easels. During a break, I was wandering the room looking at the paintings. A woman beside me started to lose her balance so she grabbed the pin holding up the painting on the easel, and the pin fell out in her hand. The painting fell, sending the easel flying, taking out another easel beside it holding a painting. She caught her painting in mid air and I caught the second one just as it hit the carpet. That was a bit of excitement. I was hoping that no one thought I was the one who created the mess! For once it wasn’t me.

Dinner was really bouncy! I watched out the stern window of the dining room as the sea would disappear from view (the bow of the ship was taking a dive) and then the ship stern would suddenly come crashing down with a huge slap, the angry ocean filling up the view of the window. This was repeated throughout dinner. The waiters and waitresses did their best to pour the wine without spilling and carefully weave between our chairs with plates of food in both arms. They did a stellar job and I wouldn’t doubt that they went back to their rooms at the end of their shift with a few new bruises.  Towards the end of dinner the waves seemed to be subsiding a bit. I went up to our room and Don finally woke up. He had taken a seasickness pill and was groggy enough to sleep through dinner. He went upstairs to the buffet, got a little dinner and came back with three green apples that the wait staff said would help. Sour green apples seems rather counter-intuitive to me!

The captain told us it would be calmer by midnight ……..it is 12:48 AM and the seas are rougher than before!  It is just not letting up!  I want to sleep but know it is pointless.  Maybe if I get really, really, really tired I will fall asleep. Maybe I will turn on the TV and see if something is on……..good night. ROCK! ROLL!  JOLT! SLAM!

Sydney   

Sydney is the closest to the U.S. that we have felt since leaving last February. The city is beautiful, clean and contemporary. It is built around a harbor that has several fingers of water.  Since our ship is a smaller cruise ship, we were able to come in under the famous 1923 Sydney Harbour Bridge, past the world famous Sydney Opera house and slid into Darling Harbor. We had an appointment at the US Consulate to get Don a new passport. It disappeared sometime between Darwin and Sydney. I know, we have travelled all the way around the world, in 63 countries, on trains, planes and busses. Then we board a secure, safe ship and we let our guard down, and the passport disappears.  We don’t think anyone stole it on board but Don cannot remember the last time he saw it after Australia gave us our entry visa.  We were making plans in anticipation of Don having to wait a couple of days for a new passport. I would stay on the ship and he could fly to New Zealand a few days later and meet me. We were ready for the worse scenario. However, the ship called the consulate, made an appointment for him, and he walked in with his CA driver’s license, copy of the front page of his lost passport, and two hours later, he had a new passport! The US is wonderful!

We walked from the Consulate to a mall nearby that housed the Sydney Tower.  After eating some food, we purchased the tickets that were $65 AU each. It is very similar to the Seattle Space Needle with a 365 degree view.  I snapped photos of the city 304 feet below us that was shining in the sun that had appeared with the clearing of the clouds. Just as Don was getting his pressed coin souvenirs, a group of people walked in with orange suits, looking a little haggard. We chatted with one of them and discovered that they had done the SkyWalk. We looked at our tickets. We had paid for it not realizing what we it entailed.  Don and I looked at each other. I knew that I didn’t want to go up on the top of this tower and walk on a ledge, even if I was attached by clamps and ropes! No Thank You!!  Don wasn’t up for it either.  We took back our tickets and they were gracious enough to refund us our money. No wonder it cost us so much!

We found the Hop-On Hop-Off bus and did a tour of Sydney. We love those bus tours! Once we got to the Sydney Opera house we got off and took the tour of the building. It is truly an amazing structure. Kind of a sad story how the original architect was not able to finish the building. He went home to Denmark and never returned to see it finished.   It took 16 years to build. The roofs are tiled in over a million self cleaning tiles from Sweden and are a very light beige, that appear white in the Australian sun. I was able to take photos in the building but not in the three auditoriums. They say it is for security reasons, but I am sure it is so we will buy their photo package! The main auditorium was beautiful with golden wood and black walls. There is a pipe organ that was made specifically for this auditorium and it took 10 years to build. One of the entry foyers was brilliant red and another one was purple, so purple that Pavorotti would not sing in this auditorium.  He believed that the color purple was bad luck. Another one of the auditoriums is actually under water. They room couldn’t be air conditioned so they have seawater flowing over the steel plates in the ceiling cooling the room. Pretty clever!

After spending a day in Sydney, we fell in love with the city and could easily see ourselves living here!

Update on Don’s passport:  After we searched our cabin and three ship staff searched and could not find it, the passport appeared under a notebook in the drawer that we had designated as the drawer for our important papers. Every one of us had searched that drawer and had not found it……..how things hide and then suddenly reappear is beyond me!  The passport is no longer valid but at least Don has all country entry stamps of our trip this year.

4:24 pm est 

Family in Bali November 21st
We do become lonely while travelling. I know that doesn’t make sense but we really have missed our family. And we do miss having a conversation with an American, someone who gets our jokes and we know that we share the same love of our country. So when we get to see one of our family members twice in one month, we are ecstatic. I didn’t know Katie that well. My memories of her were when she and her twin Kristie were 6 years old and they were racing around the house stark naked after their shower giggling like only little girls can do. Then I saw them a couple times as teens, at their graduation from high school and then at Katie’s wedding to Chris. Now they have three children and have been married for 15 years. How did time go by so fast? We saw Katie and Chris, their three children, Abbey, Lucie, and Jake in Hong Kong with my cousin Suzie, her husband Monte and their two other kids, Katya and Alex. Katie, along with her twin, Kristie, are Suzie and Monte’s oldest children so that makes them my second cousin, I think. They are also travelling around the world for the year. And with three kids!! Those kids are the greatest. They are homeschooling this year and are staying for longer stretches at each place they visit. Frankly, I am in total awe of their family! So when we heard that they were going to be in Bali the same time that we were, we planned to do something together.  Our ship pulled into port around 7 in the morning but we didn’t get a tender until close to 9 AM. We came into shore and were met by the usual barrage of taxi drivers. We told them we needed to go to Nusa Dua and they quoted us $50. Chris had told me that their hotel was very close to the dock so don’t pay over $5. When I told the taxi cab drivers that $5 was my final price to pay, they looked shocked and told me it was a long way away from our ship. I didn’t believe them of course but then I saw a sign of the “Official Taxi” and it said Nusa Dua: $35. At that same time, Don had been talking to one man and he agreed to drive us for $20. He got the job! And it was a long way from their hotel! Evidently, the dock near Nusa Dua was being worked on so we used a different dock on the other side of town.  Their hotel was in this beautiful exclusive area that was a gated community. After the bombing in 2003, a group of hotels built up walls around them, making like a compound, and had guards at the gates for protection. It was a little different to have our doors opened and the guards put in a scanner to check for metal. A little like going into an Embassy. President Obama had just been here and security must have been a nightmare. Thank goodness we were there two days after he left even though it would have been nice to have maybe caught a glimpse of him. Katie said that several times this week they couldn’t leave their hotel because Obama was expected at to his hotel nearby and they shut down all the streets a couple hours before he was expected to arrive. Wouldn’t it be terrible to plan and save your money for a week in Bali and you are there the same time Obama is and you can’t leave your hotel for hours, days!We decided to go for lunch and Chris and Katie had heard that Jimbaran beach had great fish meals on the beach. They hired a taxi for the day and he drove us to the beach. Sure enough, we got to chose what fresh fish we wanted, they cooked it up fresh and they served us on tables at the beach. It was great food, even though the kids weren’t too thrilled with fish with heads and shrimp with legs!  Then we headed over to Kuta beach to try surfing. I had sunburned my back so bad that I didn’t want to be exposed to the sun but Don, Jake and Chris rented two boards and gave it a try. Don did fantastic. He was able to stand up and caught the gentle waves into shore. I was so impressed! Just when I was almost thinking I might give it a try, they all came into shore, with sea weeds, grass, and plastic hanging off of them. The ocean was so stirred up that there was coconuts, branches, plastic bags and tons of seaweed floating on the water. Don said he was afraid one of those coconuts was going to come flying at him with one of the waves he caught and he would really go flying. He had a scratch that was bleeding where a branch had hit him. I decided that if I ever wanted to try surfing, I’d do it in San Diego where they keep the  beaches clean! While we were watching the guys surf, we were bombarded with vendors selling everything under the sun to us. Ice cream, sodas, jewelry, massages, nails, toys, and the list goes on. There were two ladies that had 4 women around them, doing their nails and giving them leg massages. It looked very odd to me but I guess that is what they like for their vacations!Our time was up and we needed to get back to the ship. Bali was a beautiful island, with jungle wooded mountains not far from the white sandy beaches. The architecture was very different from what we had seen in the rest of Asia. Their art was more geometric and it was wonderful. Bali is 94% Hindu so there are thousands of temples and all with the Indian influence in art. We saw several wood working shops making those fabulous hand carved doors and tables. We wished we could have bought several!!We were sad to leave Bali and the Bonga family. We promised we would get together in the States when they get back in June 2012.
3:54 pm est 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Second Chance for Vietnam

Travelling through Vietnam was part of our Big Plan.  We had planned to take the train out of Hong Kong to China then down to Vietnam, a quick bus ride to Cambodia and back, fly from Ho Chi Mien to Kuala Lampur then train down to Singapore to catch our cruise. We had wanted to take the train through Thailand but that was changed by the flooding so then we went to Big Plan “B”.  Then Don got sick. It was just a cold but he had a bit of a fever and he felt miserable. We waited three days, sunning ourselves on the beach and taking it easy.  On day four we packed our bags and Concerto Inn took our bags to the ferry. The manager, Karl, had written down exactly what trains, at what stations, and at what time to get us to Vietnam. We took our last ferry ride from Lamma Island feeling like we were leaving our best friends, but we were glad to be on the road again. It had been almost 3 week and we were getting very soft!

We found the metro at Hong Kong Central that would take us to the border of China and got on. At first there were no seats available and the ride was to take around two hours. We were glad when a seat finally came open, even if it was in the last half hour. The border crossing went fairly quick, unlike the border crossing on the bus! We were out of Hong Kong and into China in one hour. From there we walked to the train station, not far away, and paid for a ticket to take us to Guangzhou. There was one leaving soon so we sat in the waiting room and waited. We waited and waited. The train was delayed. The waiting room was full now and people were starting to line up. The announcement was made that the train had arrived and we made our way to the swelling crowd.  Soon the doors opened and we moved with the crowd to get to the platform. We had to walk downstairs follow an underground passageway then upstairs to the platform. People started pushing as we were in the tunnel to our platform. I was not very comfortable with all the pushing and tried to walk in front of Don, using him as my shield. I was getting really annoyed that these people were shoving so they could get in first. I assumed that we all had tickets with seats assigned. Once we got to the platform, we got out of the crowd and let them go first. Just as we were getting on, the conductor started shouting and blowing his whistle. I was able to get on but Don couldn’t. The doorway and the aisles were completely packed with standing people. The conductor yelled at Don to get on and blew his whistle emphatically. Don was barely able to get in before the doors closed. The train didn’t move for a full 5 minutes but we were all in. There were people everywhere! They were standing in the aisles so we couldn’t get to our seats assigned to us. We looked at our seat numbers. Even though our seat numbers were 33 and 34, I was in one car and Don was in the other. We decided to go with my seat number since there was a little more room to maneuver.  We finally reached my seat and someone was sitting in it as well as the one beside mine. The crowd laughed when I showed my ticket and they willingly gave up our seats to us. Don started to protest that this wasn’t his seat but we figured if someone claimed the seat next to me, he would go and claim his in the next car. No one did.  Now we understood why they were all rushing to get on the train.  They buy a cheap ticket with no seat number and then grab the first seat on a first come first serve basis, until someone shows a ticket for it.  Funny way to sell tickets, but I guess it works. However, we had people leaning up against Don’s aisle seat the whole way to Guangzhou.

It was late by the time we arrived and we decided to sleep in Guangzhou. We found a booth for tourism and asked about a hotel. She didn’t speak English but she pointed to a hotel near the station and wrote the figure 300 Yuan.  That is less than $50. Would it be clean for that price? We tried to ask for a more expensive hotel and she couldn’t understand us. We decided we would just go and take a look and maybe it was ok.  We were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was and more than happy with our room. (The shower was huge with a smoked glass wall that made up one wall of our bedroom. Nice!)  It was one of the better hotels we have stayed in!

Before I go on, I have to describe our experience in purchasing a train ticket in China. We had read that it is recommended to go to a Ticket Office, not the train station to get your tickets. Unfortunately, when we have traveled, we have just purchased them from the train station, since that was a destination taxis understood. The people were very helpful but there is a real language barrier. Most people do not speak English though we usually found someone who could speak at least broken English and were always very happy to help. Then there is the written language. If you can’t read the characters, you can’t even begin to figure out what the words are saying. At least the numbers are in the English characters! At train stations, the town or city is in Chinese and English. Here is an instance of what we experienced to get tickets from Guangzhou to Nanning, China. Once we arrived to Guangzhou, we decided we had better find out when the train leaves for Nanning. We exited the building that we arrived at, walked out the front door into a partitioned off area that had a fence between us and an open area where there were taxi drivers and hotel sales people begging for our attention. There was another building right next door that had the same set up: fencing partitioning off the area with an aisle to walk up to the front door. Halfway up to the front door, a security guard would ask to see your ID and if you were Chinese, they scanned your ID card (so someone in China knows that you are travelling). Seeing that we were foreigners they would just motioned us through. We then walked up the front entrance and we put our things on the conveyer belt to be inspected, walked through a metal detector and then we were patted down.  We walked around the train station and realized that there were no ticket booths in this building. So out we went and we were directed to yet another building to purchase tickets. Tin all, this train station had three buildings; an arrival building, a departure building and a ticket building. The ticket building did not have any security which should have been our first clue.  There were at least 10 lines of people so we asked several people which line to stand in. They pointed us down to the end lines. Once we got to the window, we asked for a sleeper to Nanning. It was going to be an overnight train and so we bought what we thought was a sleeper. They were all sold out in 1st class, or soft sleeper, so we bought what we thought was a 6 sleeper. Someone in line helped translate even though his English was pretty poor, we were so grateful. Don kept making sure that the ticket lady knew we needed a bed, not a seat.  Yes, yes, she insisted that she understood so we were happy. She told us that it was a top bunk, but we thought we could deal with that. We bought our tickets and worked our way back to the hotel. The area in front of the train station was like a huge square, with throngs of people selling anything from food to phones to barking stuffed dogs! There was an underground shopping area that took us across the street to our hotel.  It took us quite a while to figure out how to get out of this square to our hotel, just a hundred yards away.

 

We slept in the next morning, leaving the hotel half past twelve.  We wandered the streets of Guangzhou a bit, grabbed some Ramen noodles and water for the train before returning to the station. We had planned plenty of time just to make sure we wouldn’t be rushed. We went through security and went upstairs into a large waiting room that had the number of our train on the board. Now, there are no elevators in Chinese train stations, except in Peking, so they have cemented in a small section of the stairs so you can climb the stairs and drag your luggage up the cement ramp. It is an alternative, for which I am grateful, but it is really steep. It is hard work to pull your heavy luggage up the ramp and hard to control its speed when you are coming down. As I was pulling up my suitcase, a girl came from behind me and helped by pushing my luggage. Once I made it to the top of the stairs, she raced back down and gave Don’s much heavier luggage a push.  We were very grateful for such consideration. But when we got to our waiting room, it was virtually empty. The cleaning lady told us that the train was already loading and that we needed to go back downstairs to the platform. Ugh!  Down we went with our friendly helper/translator, giving us a steadying hand.

Once down on the platform we start looking for our car number. The words are all in Chinese, but the numbers are the same as ours. As we are approaching our car I see that it is the open dormitory. That is a car with 6 bunks to a section with at least 12 sections. And there are no doors. There were 4 men already in our section and we had paid for the top bunks. Don knew I wouldn’t like it so he started canvassing the train, to find a more private room. He came back and told me that there were no rooms at all.  I had had a chance to “talk” (no one spoke English) to these gentlemen and they had offered me the lower bunk.  They seemed like nice enough men so I had determined that it would probably not be that bad of a night after all.  However, the steward thought of another idea and took us to another dormitory that was being used by the staff and gave us a room to ourselves with the bottom bunks. Hooray! The pricing on the bunks is interesting. There are hard beds and soft beds, softer being more expensive. The top bunks are the least expensive, the middle bunks being middle priced and the bottom bunk is the most expensive. We had to pay 14 Quay more for the bottom bunk, a whole $1 each.  Not much difference in price but much better in position! We did get two more passengers in the night, but we didn’t care, we had the bottom bunks, even if we didn’t have a door!  I got up once in the middle of the night to use the restroom and ended up in one of the dorm cars. The lights were on and there were people milling around talking like it was the middle of the day! I was so glad that we got a quiet, dark car!

We arrived in Nanning, no worse the wear. Now we needed to get our tickets for the train to Vietnam.  We could only buy tickets to take us to Ha Noi so that is what we bought and this time, Don bought all the beds in a 4 person sleeper cabin just to make sure we had our privacy! It was $120 well spent!  After buying the tickets, we returned to the train station because we had seen that they had luggage storage and we wanted to roam a bit without lugging our suitcases. We had to go through all the screening and frisking to get to the Left Luggage room. The man explained by sign language that it was 30 Yuan (less than $5) for 24 hours. He wrote up a receipt for the 30 Yuan dated it and we signed it. It was so nice unloading our luggage and heading out to explore Nanning. We were both tired and not very energetic so we didn’t go far. We explored the Terminal Mall close by.  It was at least 7 or more floors of shopping. To cross the road from the train station we had to go across a foot bridge where there were venders selling all sorts of wonderful Chinese goods. There were also beggars.   There were the usual beggars that had no arms or no legs but one stood out amongst the rest. He was a young man, beating his head on the cement walkway next to an elderly woman lying down, covered in heavy blankets, seemingly asleep or in a coma. (It was no less than 90 degrees out that day). People stared out of curiosity, as we did, wondering what the story was.  We entered the mall and were met with hundreds of little shops, not any larger than 6’ X 10’. There were the side walls and the back wall but the fronts were wide open.  And those shops were packed, to the brim, each one carrying pretty much the same as their neighbor, maybe with a slight variation.  One whole floor would be dedicated to women’s clothes, and then the next would be shops of children’s clothes and another floor just of cell phones. Very different from our malls. You could feel the hubbub of capitalism!

On our way back from the mall, after buying more noodles and bottled water, we saw a building next to the station that had a sign that read “Soft Seat Waiting Room”. Hey, that could be for us!  We went inside and showed them our tickets and sure enough, this was our waiting room! We went in to cool off in the air conditioned room before going out in the heat to the next building to get our luggage. Ah! It won’t be so bad waiting the next 6 hours for our train in here. Once we were cool, we walked back to the train station, went through the screening and frisking again and went to the luggage storage room. The old man wasn’t there but two ladies were and we asked for our luggage. She brought it out and Don walked away with his luggage while she was getting mine. She noticed him leave and started fussing, demanding another 30 Yuan. We told her we just arrived 3 hours ago, we paid 30 Yuan and we want our luggage. She didn’t speak a word of English. She showed us the receipt. He had written down that he had received the luggage on the 6th and today was the 7th so it appeared that we had left them overnight. We hadn’t notice the incorrect date because we rarely know what day it is, much less the date!  Don was so frustrated with her and she was so frustrated with us. I kept taking her to the clock on the wall and counting the hours but she insisted on two days fees. The other woman ran to find someone who spoke English. In the meantime, the lady called the older man who had taken in our luggage and finally got hold of him. You could see her face change from anger to a shy, embarrassed look.  He told her he had taken our luggage just three hours earlier and to give us our luggage. She hung up the phone and said in English “Sorry, so sorry!”  Whew!

The train left close to 7 pm. It was an older train but it was clean and we had a room of our own. There was no dining car so the staff walked by encouraging us to buy their packages of fruit. If this had been the States, they would have been selling chips and soda, but not here. They do eat much healthier than we do. Our train was to cross the Chinese/Vietnamese border around 11 PM so we played a few hands of Canasta and roamed the train. To our surprise we found some foreigners, a group of Swedish guys that we knew from the Trans Siberian train ride, a month earlier. It was great seeing them again. They had gone to Tibet and one of them had run in a Himalayan Marathon and placed 2nd.  What a coincidence that we would be on the same train!  We asked them what they had heard about crossing the Vietnamese border, since we had heard several different versions. They had heard different stories as well.  We would soon find out.

The border was town in China was not much to look at. It was pretty small and obscure and dark. The guards came on the train, took our passports, recording us leaving China and sent us on our way.   The steward of our car kept our passport for the next border, Vietnam.  Once we reached the Vietnam side of the border, everything looked quite different. There was a European architectural look to the public buildings and the houses looked different too. They were more decorated, with words on the door frames, prayer flags flying and artistic iron balconies and gates.  We had left the religious stifling of China and were in a free country again. I hadn’t noticed the constraints in China until I left and I noticed I felt so much more at ease.  We got out of the train at the border town and walked into the train station where the border patrol had our passports.  There were not enough chairs for all of us to have seats so some stood or sat on the floor. We waited not knowing what they were doing behind the glass windows. It was taking forever.  We waited some more. Finally one of the border patrolmen came out with a small stack of passports and called out several names.  They came up and were given their passports and they returned to the train. The man disappeared for another 10 minutes. He reappeared with another stack of passports. He called up the next group of names, gave them their passports and they left for the train. This happened 2 more times and the crowd of us got thinner. There was only a few of us left. The patrol came out and called up a young man. He had problems with his passport. They discussed it at length and finally the patrol was satisfied and stamped his passport to enter. Now it was just Don and I and two others. It took another 10 minutes and they returned with our passports, stamped to enter their country.  This took an incredible amount of time! But we were cleared to go. We climbed back on the train and finally crawled into bed.    Soon, we were sleeping like babies. We had a good, very short night’s sleep and woke up to a knocking on our door.  Ten more minutes and we will be in Han Oi.  We got up and were ready to go. It really helps when you sleep in your clothes and don’t even open your suitcases.

We asked the ticket lady when the next train left for Ho Chi Mingh (Saigon). What we could understand was that the only train leaving today, with a sleeper, left at 6:40 AM or we would have to wait until tomorrow. It was only 5:30 so we had an hour to wait.  Don and I had figured out that we really didn’t have enough time to spend a night in Han Oi but needed to keep going south .We were disappointed that we didn’t have at least the day to walk around this famous city, one we had heard about daily in the 60s and early 70s.    We did need some Vietnamese money so I found an ATM inside the train station. As soon as I finished my request, the machine froze and after a very long 2 minutes, it ejected my card. It gave me a fright! I went outside and found another ATM machine that would accept my card and gave us some money for our trip through Vietnam. This almost catastrophic situation made us stop and think about what would happen if we lost our debit card. Next chance we get we are going to activate our other debit card that we have as an emergency back up!

Our train arrived and we found our room. It was 6 bunks so we knew that we would possibly have to share it with 4 other people but I was OK with that. But the condition of this train was not nearly as clean as the Chinese train we had arrived in. It was obvious that someone had been on this bunk before us and the sheets and blanket looked very worn and used. We knew that coming to much of South East Asia meant visiting developing countries and we thought we were ready for it. It was hard not to be critical.  The Chinese trains were old but they were not dirty. I lay down on the bed and looked at the walls. They were filthy. People had cleaned out their noses and used the wall as their tissue. There was a very old piece of chewed gun on top of my light by my head as well as several stuck to the bunk bed above me. I was grossed out! I willed myself not to look at any of it! I pulled out my book and engrossed myself in the story. Soon we went for lunch and went searching for a dining car. We found a kitchen with a few tables and assumed it was a dining car. The kitchen was at one end of the car, with boxes stacked on either side, in total disarray. No one was in the car except the kitchen staff who were sitting at one of the tables. We asked if they served food, motioning shoveling food in our mouths, and they nodded. We sat down, having to move old newspapers and used dishes on the table. I kicked something with my foot and found a napkin, smoked cigarettes and some chicken bones under the table. I shoved them to one side, disturbing a few feeding cockroaches, so I wouldn’t be playing footsy with them while we were eating.  There was no menu and one of them said the word “chicken” so we agreed that would be good. We knew we would get rice without asking for it. Our food arrived and it wasn’t that bad. But not that good either.  We ate as much as we could and paid the $3 or $4 that it cost.  As we left, we gave the kitchen a last look in disbelief that we had not only considered eating in there, but had actually eaten their food. We never did get sick from it.

We reached our first stop and a mother and her 3 year old daughter got on board and settled into our room. I was relieved that they were very nice and the mother spoke English. She was a manager of a bank in DaNang and had been visiting her husband’s family. The daughter watched us with interest. Soon the mom fell asleep and the daughter came and sat next to me. We played with her Lincoln logs and other toys while her mother slept. Wanting to make something personal (and do something artsy) I made the little girl a paper doll that looked like her (who was very cute!) with some paper clothes. One outfit was the one she was wearing and then I made up several others I thought she would like. . I even painted them with my watercolors.   This little girl was so happy with the doll and clothes. I showed her how to put the clothes on and bend the tabs behind the doll so they would stay on. Her favorite clothing: The hat. Every outfit had to have the hat on the doll’s head. She loved the doll so much that when she took her nap she insisted on sleeping with the doll and all the clothes in her hand. It warmed my heart!

While I was working on the doll and clothes, I noticed that the mom was sleeping a lot and that the daughter was running a fever. The little girl kept coughing and sneezing, (not covering her mouth) and I noticed her sweating. She lay down for a while and slept but woke up sweating, fussing, waking up her mom. I pointed out to the mother that her daughter was sick but she quickly dismissed it. I think she was trying to hide the fact that they were both sick feeling bad that we were in a small, enclosed space with them.  I wonder when that cold will catch up to us? But we have all been there…..what do you do if you have a ticket for home and you are sick?  You have to travel and hope you don’t spread it! In China, the sick person wears the mask so as not to spread their germs. Good policy. We did see a lot of people wearing cloth masks in Vietnam when they rode on the motorcycles and we were told that the girls wear it so they don’t get a tan. I think it is so they don’t swallow bugs!

Another thing I discovered while I was working on the doll was that our room had a mouse. I was sitting on one bunk, with everyone asleep and I saw something moving in my peripheral vision but when I looked down on the floor near my feet, there was nothing there. I went back to my drawing and I saw the movement again, but this time I was fast enough to see the cutest little grey mouse scurry between the table and the suitcases under the bed. Great. A mouse in our room! If I moved, the mouse would hide, but if I was perfectly still, he had run of the floor space. I envisioned that little mouse would play all night while we were sleeping and that was not a good picture.  I reached under the bottom bed and pulled my suitcase up, brushed off the 4 mouse poops that he had already delivered and put it in the overhead space.  I was totally grossed out, again! I took off my shoes and tucked my feet up under me and turned my back to the floor. If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist!   Now I am glad that my bed is the middle bunk instead of the bottom bunk! I am sure that mice don’t climb Formica walls.

It had been raining off and on since we had arrived in Vietnam. It was usually a light sprinkling, just enough to make our photos rather gray. As the day progressed, the rain got a little harder. We had been going though mountains that literally looked like they were out of National Geographic. They were rock structures that rose high out of the ground with rice paddies surrounding them. The villages were quaint and the people would walk on the paths between the paddies, carrying tools or crop in baskets on either end of a bamboo pole. Their hats were cone shaped, just like the photos we had seen in magazines. It really was very picturesque, if only it hadn’t been drizzling.  As we descended out of the mountains, we saw waterfalls rushing over ledges, into swollen streams and rivers. It was a beautiful view for us but quite another matter for the people in the valleys below. By the time we arrived to the low lands, the sun had gone down and we were creeping along at a slow pace. We stopped many times and waited for a train to pass or move off of our tracks. Ahead, the tracks were flooded so the trains were sharing tracks, undoubtedly a nightmare for the tower. Our railroad tracks were on a cement platform above the miles of rice paddies and other crops that were flooded from the deluge.  But once in a while, even our tracks would be covered with water and the train would slow to a crawl.   This was when both Don and I started thinking about what would happen if the train did become derailed and would fall into the flooded water on either side of the train. We checked our windows. There were only three windows in our whole car that opened and they were on the left side of the train. That wouldn’t help if it fell on the left side, those windows under water. How would we get out. We checked the doors at either end of our car. They were locked with padlocks. We went to find the train staff. The only people we could find were the kitchen staff. We tried talking to them but they didn’t speak English. One of them called a woman on their cell phone who spoke English and we explained the situation to her. She tried to reassure us that everything was fine and she didn’t think it was unsafe that we were inside a train with little chance for escape. Then she remembered that there were hammers at the front of every car. We hung up and started our search. We found the box in the first car, but there was no hammer in it. We went to the second car and there were two boxes and two hammers. But when we got to our car, a sleeper car, there were no boxes at the front of the car, as in the seat cars. Then we saw the little metal boxes, one in front of each of our rooms at the base of the wall. And ours had a little red hammer. What a relief!  I took the hammer, sat in a chair in the hall and tried to read my book, trying to ignore the sound of the water rushing between our train wheels. It was hopeless. I was scared and I didn’t want to be on this train anymore. When Don gave me a hug and asked if I was OK, I broke down crying. “I want to get off this train, at the next stop, and I don’t care where it is!” Don was so understanding. I think he felt the same way, but was just being braver than I was. He was being more logical and I was being emotional!  We were running about 4 hours behind and didn’t reach DaNang until almost 2 AM. This was the destination of our cabin mates and I asked her if she could help us find a hotel. She was wonderful and once we disembarked, her father and brother met us with a taxi that took us to a hotel near their apartment.  The front doors were locked to the hotel but the desk clerk was sleeping on a mattress nearby and  got up to open the door. He found a room key and took us to our room. I hadn’t had a great impression of Vietnam so far and was a bit worried since the room only cost us about $35.  But it was perfect.  It was clean! The room was huge with two double beds.  The bed was very hard, like we were sleeping on the box springs, but we have learned to sleep on just about anything, as long as it is clean!

The next morning we took a taxi to the airport and asked for a plane ticket to Siem Reap. China Air was the only airlines that flew there but they did not have a ticket office at the airport. They gave us the address downtown and we took another taxi to their ticket office. I waited in the car for Don to return and since he did not speak much English, we quickly ran out of things to talk about.  I was a little embarrassed that it took over 20 minutes  but the taxi  cab driver wasn’t concerned about it at all, even though we had agreed on a price and he didn’t have a meter to charge us for waiting. Don finally returned and was very generous with the taxi cab driver for being so patient. (We were probably the highest fare he would have all day but it was still very inexpensive!)  We had tickets for Siem Reap for tonight and one for Singapore in three days. Don did good!

Since we only had 3 hours before we needed to return to the airport, we walked into the hotel for some lunch. Don spotted a sign for massage and made an appointment. While he was being worked on, I got caught up on my emails. I love hotels that have internet! I sat at a corner window and could barely take my eyes off of the traffic going around a round-a-bout.  It was so impressive, I film it on video. It was a visual symphony. There would be no less than 100 motorcycles and scooters entering and exiting the circle of cars and other two wheeled vehicles from 5 roads and all came out  totally unscathed. I didn’t see a single accident and I watched for at least two hours. And it rained almost continually! There were scooters carrying passengers in rain ponchos, ladders, boxes of food, balloons, and mothers taking multiple children to school. It was thoroughly entertaining to watch. However, I did hear that there are 30 people a day killed in Vietnam on motorcycles.  Many are children and hardly anyone wears a helmet. What a shame!

We had a wonderful quick flight to Siem Reap and you probably read my blog about Cambodia, one of our favorite places we visited. Then we flew to Singapore and caught our Love Boat, the Ocean Princess, for the next 47 days.  Our first two ports of call were in Thailand and our third port was Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam. After a very disappointing time in Vietnam, I was really looking forward to seeing this very famous Saigon and giving this country a second chance.  We docked in Phu My, a 2 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh. We booked  a bus with the ship booking office, the only way to get to town. Our dock was out in the mangroves far from any town.  We hopped on the bus, squeezed into the back seat with 6 others and I snapped away at huge beautiful Buddhist  temples along the 2 hour drive. Once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh we could see where there had been flooding but was now receded. Our bus dropped us off at a hotel in the center of town. I asked a guard of the hotel where the art museum was but he didn’t know and some very persistent ped-taxis kept interrupting our conversation declaring they knew.  “Oh, it is very far, 2 KM. Ride in my taxi.  Only US$8.”  I knew that they would probably say anything just to get us in their cab and I didn’t appreciate them butting into my conversation. So I asked another person walking by. He very politely explained how to get there, saying it wasn’t far and that we could easily walk.  Don is wanting to ride the ped-taxis. Because they are very unusual (we would sit in the front of the pedals on a seat inside of a triangular metal frame) and we have never ridden on one. 2. Because it is very hot and they have told us that it is far. But, me being the stubborn one, I refuse to ride with them on the principle that someone told me it is close and I feel they have lied to me to get a fare.  I am walking!  Sure enough, it wasn’t that far but these ped-taxis followed us the entire way, directing us how to go.  I tried to think of them as being helpful, but they were just annoying!  I was so glad when we found the not-so-far-away museum but we were VERY hot and sweaty by the time we arrived.  The museum was once a villa for a wealthy Frenchman at the turn of the century. It was set up more like a gallery, since we could purchase the art, rather than a museum but it was good seeing all the local artist. The best thing was that there were some artists hanging out so we could speak to them and the museum had a collection of books on local artists that they were selling. I ended up buying several of them.  The art in Vietnam is good, but it doesn’t have the education of the Thailand artists.   You get a sense that the Thai artist spur each other on, motivated as a group to excel in their art, a sense we didn’t get form the Vietnamese  artists. Interesting that you can get so much from an art show.  After we spent several hours in the “museum”,  we went to a restaurant close by and had real Pho. It was as good as it is in the States but we didn’t feel that we could add the raw greens so that made it not quite as tasty. We didn’t have much more time before we needed to catch the bus back to the ship so we didn’t do any more exploring. But our general consensus is that Vietnam is still a developing country, not as progressive as the Chinese, nor as ready for the foreign traveler. We will have to come back and try it in the dry season and spend more time to get to know Vietnam and the Vietnamese people when WE are fresh and not rushed. It really does make a difference in how you see a country!  

       

Travelling through Vietnam was part of our Big Plan.  We had planned to take the train out of Hong Kong to China then down to Vietnam, a quick bus ride to Cambodia and back, fly from Ho Chi Mien to Kuala Lampur then train down to Singapore to catch our cruise. We had wanted to take the train through Thailand but that was changed by the flooding so then we went to Big Plan “B”.  Then Don got sick. It was just a cold but he had a bit of a fever and he felt miserable. We waited three days, sunning ourselves on the beach and taking it easy.  On day four we packed our bags and Concerto Inn took our bags to the ferry. The manager, Karl, had written down exactly what trains, at what stations, and at what time to get us to Vietnam. We took our last ferry ride from Lamma Island feeling like we were leaving our best friends, but we were glad to be on the road again. It had been almost 3 week and we were getting very soft!

We found the metro at Hong Kong Central that would take us to the border of China and got on. At first there were no seats available and the ride was to take around two hours. We were glad when a seat finally came open, even if it was in the last half hour. The border crossing went fairly quick, unlike the border crossing on the bus! We were out of Hong Kong and into China in one hour. From there we walked to the train station, not far away, and paid for a ticket to take us to Guangzhou. There was one leaving soon so we sat in the waiting room and waited. We waited and waited. The train was delayed. The waiting room was full now and people were starting to line up. The announcement was made that the train had arrived and we made our way to the swelling crowd.  Soon the doors opened and we moved with the crowd to get to the platform. We had to walk downstairs follow an underground passageway then upstairs to the platform. People started pushing as we were in the tunnel to our platform. I was not very comfortable with all the pushing and tried to walk in front of Don, using him as my shield. I was getting really annoyed that these people were shoving so they could get in first. I assumed that we all had tickets with seats assigned. Once we got to the platform, we got out of the crowd and let them go first. Just as we were getting on, the conductor started shouting and blowing his whistle. I was able to get on but Don couldn’t. The doorway and the aisles were completely packed with standing people. The conductor yelled at Don to get on and blew his whistle emphatically. Don was barely able to get in before the doors closed. The train didn’t move for a full 5 minutes but we were all in. There were people everywhere! They were standing in the aisles so we couldn’t get to our seats assigned to us. We looked at our seat numbers. Even though our seat numbers were 33 and 34, I was in one car and Don was in the other. We decided to go with my seat number since there was a little more room to maneuver.  We finally reached my seat and someone was sitting in it as well as the one beside mine. The crowd laughed when I showed my ticket and they willingly gave up our seats to us. Don started to protest that this wasn’t his seat but we figured if someone claimed the seat next to me, he would go and claim his in the next car. No one did.  Now we understood why they were all rushing to get on the train.  They buy a cheap ticket with no seat number and then grab the first seat on a first come first serve basis, until someone shows a ticket for it.  Funny way to sell tickets, but I guess it works. However, we had people leaning up against Don’s aisle seat the whole way to Guangzhou.

It was late by the time we arrived and we decided to sleep in Guangzhou. We found a booth for tourism and asked about a hotel. She didn’t speak English but she pointed to a hotel near the station and wrote the figure 300 Yuan.  That is less than $50. Would it be clean for that price? We tried to ask for a more expensive hotel and she couldn’t understand us. We decided we would just go and take a look and maybe it was ok.  We were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was and more than happy with our room. (The shower was huge with a smoked glass wall that made up one wall of our bedroom. Nice!)  It was one of the better hotels we have stayed in!

Before I go on, I have to describe our experience in purchasing a train ticket in China. We had read that it is recommended to go to a Ticket Office, not the train station to get your tickets. Unfortunately, when we have traveled, we have just purchased them from the train station, since that was a destination taxis understood. The people were very helpful but there is a real language barrier. Most people do not speak English though we usually found someone who could speak at least broken English and were always very happy to help. Then there is the written language. If you can’t read the characters, you can’t even begin to figure out what the words are saying. At least the numbers are in the English characters! At train stations, the town or city is in Chinese and English. Here is an instance of what we experienced to get tickets from Guangzhou to Nanning, China. Once we arrived to Guangzhou, we decided we had better find out when the train leaves for Nanning. We exited the building that we arrived at, walked out the front door into a partitioned off area that had a fence between us and an open area where there were taxi drivers and hotel sales people begging for our attention. There was another building right next door that had the same set up: fencing partitioning off the area with an aisle to walk up to the front door. Halfway up to the front door, a security guard would ask to see your ID and if you were Chinese, they scanned your ID card (so someone in China knows that you are travelling). Seeing that we were foreigners they would just motioned us through. We then walked up the front entrance and we put our things on the conveyer belt to be inspected, walked through a metal detector and then we were patted down.  We walked around the train station and realized that there were no ticket booths in this building. So out we went and we were directed to yet another building to purchase tickets. Tin all, this train station had three buildings; an arrival building, a departure building and a ticket building. The ticket building did not have any security which should have been our first clue.  There were at least 10 lines of people so we asked several people which line to stand in. They pointed us down to the end lines. Once we got to the window, we asked for a sleeper to Nanning. It was going to be an overnight train and so we bought what we thought was a sleeper. They were all sold out in 1st class, or soft sleeper, so we bought what we thought was a 6 sleeper. Someone in line helped translate even though his English was pretty poor, we were so grateful. Don kept making sure that the ticket lady knew we needed a bed, not a seat.  Yes, yes, she insisted that she understood so we were happy. She told us that it was a top bunk, but we thought we could deal with that. We bought our tickets and worked our way back to the hotel. The area in front of the train station was like a huge square, with throngs of people selling anything from food to phones to barking stuffed dogs! There was an underground shopping area that took us across the street to our hotel.  It took us quite a while to figure out how to get out of this square to our hotel, just a hundred yards away.

 

We slept in the next morning, leaving the hotel half past twelve.  We wandered the streets of Guangzhou a bit, grabbed some Ramen noodles and water for the train before returning to the station. We had planned plenty of time just to make sure we wouldn’t be rushed. We went through security and went upstairs into a large waiting room that had the number of our train on the board. Now, there are no elevators in Chinese train stations, except in Peking, so they have cemented in a small section of the stairs so you can climb the stairs and drag your luggage up the cement ramp. It is an alternative, for which I am grateful, but it is really steep. It is hard work to pull your heavy luggage up the ramp and hard to control its speed when you are coming down. As I was pulling up my suitcase, a girl came from behind me and helped by pushing my luggage. Once I made it to the top of the stairs, she raced back down and gave Don’s much heavier luggage a push.  We were very grateful for such consideration. But when we got to our waiting room, it was virtually empty. The cleaning lady told us that the train was already loading and that we needed to go back downstairs to the platform. Ugh!  Down we went with our friendly helper/translator, giving us a steadying hand.

Once down on the platform we start looking for our car number. The words are all in Chinese, but the numbers are the same as ours. As we are approaching our car I see that it is the open dormitory. That is a car with 6 bunks to a section with at least 12 sections. And there are no doors. There were 4 men already in our section and we had paid for the top bunks. Don knew I wouldn’t like it so he started canvassing the train, to find a more private room. He came back and told me that there were no rooms at all.  I had had a chance to “talk” (no one spoke English) to these gentlemen and they had offered me the lower bunk.  They seemed like nice enough men so I had determined that it would probably not be that bad of a night after all.  However, the steward thought of another idea and took us to another dormitory that was being used by the staff and gave us a room to ourselves with the bottom bunks. Hooray! The pricing on the bunks is interesting. There are hard beds and soft beds, softer being more expensive. The top bunks are the least expensive, the middle bunks being middle priced and the bottom bunk is the most expensive. We had to pay 14 Quay more for the bottom bunk, a whole $1 each.  Not much difference in price but much better in position! We did get two more passengers in the night, but we didn’t care, we had the bottom bunks, even if we didn’t have a door!  I got up once in the middle of the night to use the restroom and ended up in one of the dorm cars. The lights were on and there were people milling around talking like it was the middle of the day! I was so glad that we got a quiet, dark car!

We arrived in Nanning, no worse the wear. Now we needed to get our tickets for the train to Vietnam.  We could only buy tickets to take us to Ha Noi so that is what we bought and this time, Don bought all the beds in a 4 person sleeper cabin just to make sure we had our privacy! It was $120 well spent!  After buying the tickets, we returned to the train station because we had seen that they had luggage storage and we wanted to roam a bit without lugging our suitcases. We had to go through all the screening and frisking to get to the Left Luggage room. The man explained by sign language that it was 30 Yuan (less than $5) for 24 hours. He wrote up a receipt for the 30 Yuan dated it and we signed it. It was so nice unloading our luggage and heading out to explore Nanning. We were both tired and not very energetic so we didn’t go far. We explored the Terminal Mall close by.  It was at least 7 or more floors of shopping. To cross the road from the train station we had to go across a foot bridge where there were venders selling all sorts of wonderful Chinese goods. There were also beggars.   There were the usual beggars that had no arms or no legs but one stood out amongst the rest. He was a young man, beating his head on the cement walkway next to an elderly woman lying down, covered in heavy blankets, seemingly asleep or in a coma. (It was no less than 90 degrees out that day). People stared out of curiosity, as we did, wondering what the story was.  We entered the mall and were met with hundreds of little shops, not any larger than 6’ X 10’. There were the side walls and the back wall but the fronts were wide open.  And those shops were packed, to the brim, each one carrying pretty much the same as their neighbor, maybe with a slight variation.  One whole floor would be dedicated to women’s clothes, and then the next would be shops of children’s clothes and another floor just of cell phones. Very different from our malls. You could feel the hubbub of capitalism!

On our way back from the mall, after buying more noodles and bottled water, we saw a building next to the station that had a sign that read “Soft Seat Waiting Room”. Hey, that could be for us!  We went inside and showed them our tickets and sure enough, this was our waiting room! We went in to cool off in the air conditioned room before going out in the heat to the next building to get our luggage. Ah! It won’t be so bad waiting the next 6 hours for our train in here. Once we were cool, we walked back to the train station, went through the screening and frisking again and went to the luggage storage room. The old man wasn’t there but two ladies were and we asked for our luggage. She brought it out and Don walked away with his luggage while she was getting mine. She noticed him leave and started fussing, demanding another 30 Yuan. We told her we just arrived 3 hours ago, we paid 30 Yuan and we want our luggage. She didn’t speak a word of English. She showed us the receipt. He had written down that he had received the luggage on the 6th and today was the 7th so it appeared that we had left them overnight. We hadn’t notice the incorrect date because we rarely know what day it is, much less the date!  Don was so frustrated with her and she was so frustrated with us. I kept taking her to the clock on the wall and counting the hours but she insisted on two days fees. The other woman ran to find someone who spoke English. In the meantime, the lady called the older man who had taken in our luggage and finally got hold of him. You could see her face change from anger to a shy, embarrassed look.  He told her he had taken our luggage just three hours earlier and to give us our luggage. She hung up the phone and said in English “Sorry, so sorry!”  Whew!

The train left close to 7 pm. It was an older train but it was clean and we had a room of our own. There was no dining car so the staff walked by encouraging us to buy their packages of fruit. If this had been the States, they would have been selling chips and soda, but not here. They do eat much healthier than we do. Our train was to cross the Chinese/Vietnamese border around 11 PM so we played a few hands of Canasta and roamed the train. To our surprise we found some foreigners, a group of Swedish guys that we knew from the Trans Siberian train ride, a month earlier. It was great seeing them again. They had gone to Tibet and one of them had run in a Himalayan Marathon and placed 2nd.  What a coincidence that we would be on the same train!  We asked them what they had heard about crossing the Vietnamese border, since we had heard several different versions. They had heard different stories as well.  We would soon find out.

The border was town in China was not much to look at. It was pretty small and obscure and dark. The guards came on the train, took our passports, recording us leaving China and sent us on our way.   The steward of our car kept our passport for the next border, Vietnam.  Once we reached the Vietnam side of the border, everything looked quite different. There was a European architectural look to the public buildings and the houses looked different too. They were more decorated, with words on the door frames, prayer flags flying and artistic iron balconies and gates.  We had left the religious stifling of China and were in a free country again. I hadn’t noticed the constraints in China until I left and I noticed I felt so much more at ease.  We got out of the train at the border town and walked into the train station where the border patrol had our passports.  There were not enough chairs for all of us to have seats so some stood or sat on the floor. We waited not knowing what they were doing behind the glass windows. It was taking forever.  We waited some more. Finally one of the border patrolmen came out with a small stack of passports and called out several names.  They came up and were given their passports and they returned to the train. The man disappeared for another 10 minutes. He reappeared with another stack of passports. He called up the next group of names, gave them their passports and they left for the train. This happened 2 more times and the crowd of us got thinner. There was only a few of us left. The patrol came out and called up a young man. He had problems with his passport. They discussed it at length and finally the patrol was satisfied and stamped his passport to enter. Now it was just Don and I and two others. It took another 10 minutes and they returned with our passports, stamped to enter their country.  This took an incredible amount of time! But we were cleared to go. We climbed back on the train and finally crawled into bed.    Soon, we were sleeping like babies. We had a good, very short night’s sleep and woke up to a knocking on our door.  Ten more minutes and we will be in Han Oi.  We got up and were ready to go. It really helps when you sleep in your clothes and don’t even open your suitcases.

We asked the ticket lady when the next train left for Ho Chi Mingh (Saigon). What we could understand was that the only train leaving today, with a sleeper, left at 6:40 AM or we would have to wait until tomorrow. It was only 5:30 so we had an hour to wait.  Don and I had figured out that we really didn’t have enough time to spend a night in Han Oi but needed to keep going south .We were disappointed that we didn’t have at least the day to walk around this famous city, one we had heard about daily in the 60s and early 70s.    We did need some Vietnamese money so I found an ATM inside the train station. As soon as I finished my request, the machine froze and after a very long 2 minutes, it ejected my card. It gave me a fright! I went outside and found another ATM machine that would accept my card and gave us some money for our trip through Vietnam. This almost catastrophic situation made us stop and think about what would happen if we lost our debit card. Next chance we get we are going to activate our other debit card that we have as an emergency back up!

Our train arrived and we found our room. It was 6 bunks so we knew that we would possibly have to share it with 4 other people but I was OK with that. But the condition of this train was not nearly as clean as the Chinese train we had arrived in. It was obvious that someone had been on this bunk before us and the sheets and blanket looked very worn and used. We knew that coming to much of South East Asia meant visiting developing countries and we thought we were ready for it. It was hard not to be critical.  The Chinese trains were old but they were not dirty. I lay down on the bed and looked at the walls. They were filthy. People had cleaned out their noses and used the wall as their tissue. There was a very old piece of chewed gun on top of my light by my head as well as several stuck to the bunk bed above me. I was grossed out! I willed myself not to look at any of it! I pulled out my book and engrossed myself in the story. Soon we went for lunch and went searching for a dining car. We found a kitchen with a few tables and assumed it was a dining car. The kitchen was at one end of the car, with boxes stacked on either side, in total disarray. No one was in the car except the kitchen staff who were sitting at one of the tables. We asked if they served food, motioning shoveling food in our mouths, and they nodded. We sat down, having to move old newspapers and used dishes on the table. I kicked something with my foot and found a napkin, smoked cigarettes and some chicken bones under the table. I shoved them to one side, disturbing a few feeding cockroaches, so I wouldn’t be playing footsy with them while we were eating.  There was no menu and one of them said the word “chicken” so we agreed that would be good. We knew we would get rice without asking for it. Our food arrived and it wasn’t that bad. But not that good either.  We ate as much as we could and paid the $3 or $4 that it cost.  As we left, we gave the kitchen a last look in disbelief that we had not only considered eating in there, but had actually eaten their food. We never did get sick from it.

We reached our first stop and a mother and her 3 year old daughter got on board and settled into our room. I was relieved that they were very nice and the mother spoke English. She was a manager of a bank in DaNang and had been visiting her husband’s family. The daughter watched us with interest. Soon the mom fell asleep and the daughter came and sat next to me. We played with her Lincoln logs and other toys while her mother slept. Wanting to make something personal (and do something artsy) I made the little girl a paper doll that looked like her (who was very cute!) with some paper clothes. One outfit was the one she was wearing and then I made up several others I thought she would like. . I even painted them with my watercolors.   This little girl was so happy with the doll and clothes. I showed her how to put the clothes on and bend the tabs behind the doll so they would stay on. Her favorite clothing: The hat. Every outfit had to have the hat on the doll’s head. She loved the doll so much that when she took her nap she insisted on sleeping with the doll and all the clothes in her hand. It warmed my heart!

While I was working on the doll and clothes, I noticed that the mom was sleeping a lot and that the daughter was running a fever. The little girl kept coughing and sneezing, (not covering her mouth) and I noticed her sweating. She lay down for a while and slept but woke up sweating, fussing, waking up her mom. I pointed out to the mother that her daughter was sick but she quickly dismissed it. I think she was trying to hide the fact that they were both sick feeling bad that we were in a small, enclosed space with them.  I wonder when that cold will catch up to us? But we have all been there…..what do you do if you have a ticket for home and you are sick?  You have to travel and hope you don’t spread it! In China, the sick person wears the mask so as not to spread their germs. Good policy. We did see a lot of people wearing cloth masks in Vietnam when they rode on the motorcycles and we were told that the girls wear it so they don’t get a tan. I think it is so they don’t swallow bugs!

Another thing I discovered while I was working on the doll was that our room had a mouse. I was sitting on one bunk, with everyone asleep and I saw something moving in my peripheral vision but when I looked down on the floor near my feet, there was nothing there. I went back to my drawing and I saw the movement again, but this time I was fast enough to see the cutest little grey mouse scurry between the table and the suitcases under the bed. Great. A mouse in our room! If I moved, the mouse would hide, but if I was perfectly still, he had run of the floor space. I envisioned that little mouse would play all night while we were sleeping and that was not a good picture.  I reached under the bottom bed and pulled my suitcase up, brushed off the 4 mouse poops that he had already delivered and put it in the overhead space.  I was totally grossed out, again! I took off my shoes and tucked my feet up under me and turned my back to the floor. If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist!   Now I am glad that my bed is the middle bunk instead of the bottom bunk! I am sure that mice don’t climb Formica walls.

It had been raining off and on since we had arrived in Vietnam. It was usually a light sprinkling, just enough to make our photos rather gray. As the day progressed, the rain got a little harder. We had been going though mountains that literally looked like they were out of National Geographic. They were rock structures that rose high out of the ground with rice paddies surrounding them. The villages were quaint and the people would walk on the paths between the paddies, carrying tools or crop in baskets on either end of a bamboo pole. Their hats were cone shaped, just like the photos we had seen in magazines. It really was very picturesque, if only it hadn’t been drizzling.  As we descended out of the mountains, we saw waterfalls rushing over ledges, into swollen streams and rivers. It was a beautiful view for us but quite another matter for the people in the valleys below. By the time we arrived to the low lands, the sun had gone down and we were creeping along at a slow pace. We stopped many times and waited for a train to pass or move off of our tracks. Ahead, the tracks were flooded so the trains were sharing tracks, undoubtedly a nightmare for the tower. Our railroad tracks were on a cement platform above the miles of rice paddies and other crops that were flooded from the deluge.  But once in a while, even our tracks would be covered with water and the train would slow to a crawl.   This was when both Don and I started thinking about what would happen if the train did become derailed and would fall into the flooded water on either side of the train. We checked our windows. There were only three windows in our whole car that opened and they were on the left side of the train. That wouldn’t help if it fell on the left side, those windows under water. How would we get out. We checked the doors at either end of our car. They were locked with padlocks. We went to find the train staff. The only people we could find were the kitchen staff. We tried talking to them but they didn’t speak English. One of them called a woman on their cell phone who spoke English and we explained the situation to her. She tried to reassure us that everything was fine and she didn’t think it was unsafe that we were inside a train with little chance for escape. Then she remembered that there were hammers at the front of every car. We hung up and started our search. We found the box in the first car, but there was no hammer in it. We went to the second car and there were two boxes and two hammers. But when we got to our car, a sleeper car, there were no boxes at the front of the car, as in the seat cars. Then we saw the little metal boxes, one in front of each of our rooms at the base of the wall. And ours had a little red hammer. What a relief!  I took the hammer, sat in a chair in the hall and tried to read my book, trying to ignore the sound of the water rushing between our train wheels. It was hopeless. I was scared and I didn’t want to be on this train anymore. When Don gave me a hug and asked if I was OK, I broke down crying. “I want to get off this train, at the next stop, and I don’t care where it is!” Don was so understanding. I think he felt the same way, but was just being braver than I was. He was being more logical and I was being emotional!  We were running about 4 hours behind and didn’t reach DaNang until almost 2 AM. This was the destination of our cabin mates and I asked her if she could help us find a hotel. She was wonderful and once we disembarked, her father and brother met us with a taxi that took us to a hotel near their apartment.  The front doors were locked to the hotel but the desk clerk was sleeping on a mattress nearby and  got up to open the door. He found a room key and took us to our room. I hadn’t had a great impression of Vietnam so far and was a bit worried since the room only cost us about $35.  But it was perfect.  It was clean! The room was huge with two double beds.  The bed was very hard, like we were sleeping on the box springs, but we have learned to sleep on just about anything, as long as it is clean!

The next morning we took a taxi to the airport and asked for a plane ticket to Siem Reap. China Air was the only airlines that flew there but they did not have a ticket office at the airport. They gave us the address downtown and we took another taxi to their ticket office. I waited in the car for Don to return and since he did not speak much English, we quickly ran out of things to talk about.  I was a little embarrassed that it took over 20 minutes  but the taxi  cab driver wasn’t concerned about it at all, even though we had agreed on a price and he didn’t have a meter to charge us for waiting. Don finally returned and was very generous with the taxi cab driver for being so patient. (We were probably the highest fare he would have all day but it was still very inexpensive!)  We had tickets for Siem Reap for tonight and one for Singapore in three days. Don did good!

Since we only had 3 hours before we needed to return to the airport, we walked into the hotel for some lunch. Don spotted a sign for massage and made an appointment. While he was being worked on, I got caught up on my emails. I love hotels that have internet! I sat at a corner window and could barely take my eyes off of the traffic going around a round-a-bout.  It was so impressive, I film it on video. It was a visual symphony. There would be no less than 100 motorcycles and scooters entering and exiting the circle of cars and other two wheeled vehicles from 5 roads and all came out  totally unscathed. I didn’t see a single accident and I watched for at least two hours. And it rained almost continually! There were scooters carrying passengers in rain ponchos, ladders, boxes of food, balloons, and mothers taking multiple children to school. It was thoroughly entertaining to watch. However, I did hear that there are 30 people a day killed in Vietnam on motorcycles.  Many are children and hardly anyone wears a helmet. What a shame!

We had a wonderful quick flight to Siem Reap and you probably read my blog about Cambodia, one of our favorite places we visited. Then we flew to Singapore and caught our Love Boat, the Ocean Princess, for the next 47 days.  Our first two ports of call were in Thailand and our third port was Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam. After a very disappointing time in Vietnam, I was really looking forward to seeing this very famous Saigon and giving this country a second chance.  We docked in Phu My, a 2 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh. We booked  a bus with the ship booking office, the only way to get to town. Our dock was out in the mangroves far from any town.  We hopped on the bus, squeezed into the back seat with 6 others and I snapped away at huge beautiful Buddhist  temples along the 2 hour drive. Once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh we could see where there had been flooding but was now receded. Our bus dropped us off at a hotel in the center of town. I asked a guard of the hotel where the art museum was but he didn’t know and some very persistent ped-taxis kept interrupting our conversation declaring they knew.  “Oh, it is very far, 2 KM. Ride in my taxi.  Only US$8.”  I knew that they would probably say anything just to get us in their cab and I didn’t appreciate them butting into my conversation. So I asked another person walking by. He very politely explained how to get there, saying it wasn’t far and that we could easily walk.  Don is wanting to ride the ped-taxis. Because they are very unusual (we would sit in the front of the pedals on a seat inside of a triangular metal frame) and we have never ridden on one. 2. Because it is very hot and they have told us that it is far. But, me being the stubborn one, I refuse to ride with them on the principle that someone told me it is close and I feel they have lied to me to get a fare.  I am walking!  Sure enough, it wasn’t that far but these ped-taxis followed us the entire way, directing us how to go.  I tried to think of them as being helpful, but they were just annoying!  I was so glad when we found the not-so-far-away museum but we were VERY hot and sweaty by the time we arrived.  The museum was once a villa for a wealthy Frenchman at the turn of the century. It was set up more like a gallery, since we could purchase the art, rather than a museum but it was good seeing all the local artist. The best thing was that there were some artists hanging out so we could speak to them and the museum had a collection of books on local artists that they were selling. I ended up buying several of them.  The art in Vietnam is good, but it doesn’t have the education of the Thailand artists.   You get a sense that the Thai artist spur each other on, motivated as a group to excel in their art, a sense we didn’t get form the Vietnamese  artists. Interesting that you can get so much from an art show.  After we spent several hours in the “museum”,  we went to a restaurant close by and had real Pho. It was as good as it is in the States but we didn’t feel that we could add the raw greens so that made it not quite as tasty. We didn’t have much more time before we needed to catch the bus back to the ship so we didn’t do any more exploring. But our general consensus is that Vietnam is still a developing country, not as progressive as the Chinese, nor as ready for the foreign traveler. We will have to come back and try it in the dry season and spend more time to get to know Vietnam and the Vietnamese people when WE are fresh and not rushed. It really does make a difference in how you see a country!  

       
3:58 pm est 


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Welcome to the website

of

Mimi Lamp

Artist

It all started here, a little gallery in Idyllwild, no better place on earth. Or so I think.  My husband Don and I are on our way around the world this year. Watch my website for new drawings, sketches, watercolor washes of places we visit.

My email is artbymimi@gmail.com

Let me know what you think or if you would like to purchase an ink drawing fresh out of the sketchbook. 

P. O. Box 3256
     Idyllwild, CA 92549

Phone: 951-902-5556

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For more information or to purchase a painting or drawing,
call 951-902-5556 or email me at artbymimi@gmail.com.

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