30 November 2009

Thailand

A small post to remind we are alive and still riding trains. Today here in Chiang Mai we exchanged "The end of poverty", "Life of Pi" (I hadn't read yet) and "Lonely Planet Mekong River, Cambodia, Laos" against the Paul Theroux's "Riding the iron rooster" (his train adventures in China) and 110bath. Chiang Mai is the Northern capital of Thailand and is more than full of western people. Just second hand bookshops there are maybe ten!

We found Thailand and Bangkok and huge relief (=calm) compared to Cambodia, Vietnam and China. It is a very easy country to travel and while guide books warn about scams and annoying taxis, motos drivers, we may say that here is very quiet.

After a short night in Bangkok we took train for 12hours to here, and the last 3 days we went to a lovely small remote village in a National Park where a french couple developed the tourism with the locals (from a mountain tribe called Karen). So the couple financed a house built by the locals and now the locals receive tourists (up to 8 at a time), show them the village and traditions (we got to see a wedding), cook, do hikes and/or go by bicycle somewhere around. Around the house just rice paddies, no noise of cars, nothing. A real gem. Thanks Anne-Laure for offering us this stay. :-)

Today we rest and tomorrow we will start going back down, direction of Bangkok.

More stories will come soon.

26 November 2009

Travelling by elephant

Our new mean of transport!

22 November 2009

Memories from the Cambodian war

Between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia was ruled by the Khmer Rouge who wanted to create the "perfect" communist state. In doing this, they killed probably a million people, intellectuals, land-owners, everybody connected to them, and everybody who didn't want to play their game.

In Phnom Penh, there are two places that one must visit to understand this part of their history.
One is the Tuol Sleng prison, also called S-21, that the Khmer Rouge installed in a former school in Phnom Penh. They transformed some classrooms into tiny cells, others into "interrogation rooms", the schoolyard was used for torturing the prisoners. It was in fact an extermination prison, and almost all prisoners died there, except 14 people who were still alive when the Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh. The prison is now a museum, but has been left largely the way it was found back in 1979 (I wish they would renovate the ceiling though, it seems like it's going to collapse any time soon...). This really makes a very strong impression. Inside, there are different exhibitions of photographs. One exhibition shows photos and personal comments of a Swedish person who was part of a delegation that visited the country under the Khmer Rouge. He describes how at the time he didn't know and didn't want to believe in the atrocities that were happening in the country, because he (and many other Europeans) believed that the Cambodians were about to form the ideal communist state, where everybody was equal and that was not dependent on other countries to survive. Later on he had to admit that he had been terribly wrong, and that's why he shows his photos now, along with his comments, so that this would not happen again.

A few days later, we took a Tuk-Tuk to Cheung Ek, the "killing fields", about 14 km from Phnom Penh. A quiet spot in the countryside with lots of trees. One can hardly imagine that this was the very spot where tens of thousands of Cambodians were killed in the most horrible way. They were taken here in trucks, most of them from the Tuol Sleng prison, and just beaten to death (bullets were too expensive). Since the 1980's, several mass graves have been unearthed, and a big stupa has been erected that contains the skulls found in the graves. One particular atrocity was committed at the "killing tree": children were held by their legs and swung against the tree to kill them.
There was also a small museum, talking about the people who were responsible for the killings, and how their judgements are getting on (they are being tried by a joint Cambodian-UN tribunal, which has been very very slow to get on, and the accused are slowly dying from old age without having been judged, like Pol Pot for example).

After Vietnam's uncritical propaganda, it was good to see that Cambodia has made the effort to show everything that happened in the past, with a strong will that this will never happen again. Recently they also published a book for all the schools about what happened under the Khmer Rouge.

18 November 2009

Tipping, beggars, over-pricing: questions

Tips, double-pricing, beggars, children-beggars, children-sellers. Yes, no, yes or no? Poverty, South-East Asia (SEA), Vietnam, Cambodia. Questions to which I don't know the answer. Several moments a day which I don't know which is the right action to do.

Children-beggars if given money it will just increase the number of beggars and remove them from school or school-related-work. Beggars in general, if you provide them money, it will mostly not go to them but the the leader of organized-beggars groups who sends them to the street to ask for money. These leaders are known to exist.

But what to do when you are in the terrace of the restaurant, eating and someone comes to ask for money. Or points to one of your toasts and asks for it? Giving the toast will help the children/person future? Will it change something? Is it not better to support an organization who will help them in more long-run and try to remove from them the feeling that they can make a living of asking food or money from the tourists? Where I'm talking about (Phnom Pehn, Cambodia) there are such organizations where beggars can ask for a meal. Nonetheless it is a very disturbing moment when you have a children in front of you (even if usually in distance you see a "parent" bit more well dressed who have sent the children alone to beg).

Over-pricing just annoys me. In SEA is a constant problem in buses sometimes also in others means of transport. Your guidebook usually says which is the normal price. Just in case you ask a local which is the price. You see the locals paying X. You are then asked 3 times X. You contest, you might manage to pay 1.5 times X. And then you go in a cramped and hot bus for which the really fair price is X. What to do when you know being over-priced? Accept? Contest? I know I'm the rich in a very poor country, but I try to think: would I do the same in my country to a person which I know earns 10-times more money than me? No! Indeed I accept to pay for the quality and when there is the possibility to pay a reasonable/fair price for a quality bus, I'll pay and choose it instead (for instance, when there are 2, 3 and 5 usd buses, I rather take the 5usd knowing it will have AC and will not gather passengers around for the next 30minutes while leaving the city). But I do not accept to pay more than the locals when the quality is bad, which is often the case.

Tipping, either in the "taxi"-like or at the restaurant... I tend not to tip, except when the service (and/or food) is better than my expectations for the current local prices. Most of times in SEA people do not expect tip and are very thankful you have used their services (so far was like this in Phnom Penh). But sometimes, I don't know if because of the American culture of tipping, they get annoyed when you don't leave anything. This happen sometimes in Vietnam. Two times during this trip I was even directly asked for tip, which is the thing I find the worst. Tip is a gratuity which you give if you feel it, not something to be asked for.

I know that their salary is very small and a tip could help them, but I've the opinion that it should not be expected and the clients should be respected either if they tip or not. My own way to tip is to go back to the restaurant or use the same service again, giving it this way more profit in general.

At this article the matter of tipping or not in 3rd world countries is discussed already for 2 years. There is no big conclusion.

More ideas or comments?

16 November 2009

Current stop: Cambodia

Temperature: 31degrees. Sunny. On our arrival to the port (we came by boat from ChauDoc in Vietnam) several people showing posters announcing themselves as the nicest tuk-tuk drivers or having the best places to sleep. We had the plan ready, based on our guidebook. One dollar or we walk to take us to the hotel we have chosen, about 800m from there. "Bad tourists" called the first one when sawing we were not open to negotiation. The second one took us, his name Pho. We took his phone number for having him as a driver the next day.

Tuk-tuk are motorbikes with a remork attached, that can take a few people in the back. They cost the tourist about the double as for a simple motorbike. There are very few taxis in Cambodia and some cyclos (bicycles with seat in front for 1/2 passengers).

Cambodia is pricier than Vietnam. There are more big wealthy jeeps but also more desperate women and children begging for money. For same price as in Vietnam, our hotel room was fairy simple, in a 5th floor without elevator, towels smelling of being always hand-washed in a bathtub. There was no upper bed-sheet, just a light silk sheet that could be more for decoration. "Please close your door and windows during the night" said behind the door, besides the already prison like barred window.

Next step: look for money. Few ATM accept foreign cards, but the ones that accept are indicated almost like a big gas station, with 10m tall sign with the symbol of each brand of card. Money that comes out: US dollars. Official Cambodia currency: riel (for which there are no coins). In fact, all the cities run in USD, down to the unit, and then use riel as subdivision of dollar. Exchange rate is 4135 riel = 1 usd. For the friends (mean, current use) 4000 riel=1usd, which makes 1000riel=0.25usd, just perfect.

We were in desperate need of laundry. Everywhere it was by piece, but we need by kilo. Google as a friend together with other tourists, we find a bike shop which runs a launderette walking distance from the hotel. Laundry done during dinner.

The next morning was for touring the city. Pho as agreed met us at 8am. When we said our plan, he start excuses as Thai embassy being too far away, then that he could not drive on the two main Phnom Penh avenues. We agreed that he could take us nearby and we would then walk there. After 300m he turns to opposite direction, after while we ask where he is going. He stops near other tuk-tuk drivers and asks another one to take us. This one just did what we wanted. Drove us around the city and waited for us while we were doing our business (Thai embassy, market and museum). At the end we re-ask why Pho could not take us to the Thai embassy area. "He had to do some job mid-morning" was the new excuse. Impossible to know the real reason.

Thai visa will be ready only Thursday. Meanwhile we can take it easy visiting the city, which was deserted 34 years ago, when Cambodia Khmer Rouge suppressed money, religion and private property in a communist rural utopia. It is quite impressive city still with strong signs of the war and repression that happened 30years ago.

13 November 2009

Motorbikes, last photos

We left Vietnam already 15 days ago, we spent a bit more than a week in Cambodia to visit Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (and Ankhor Temples). Bit Vietnam pictures were the last ones I've "developed".

The record of people we saw in a 2-wheel motorbike was 5, two adults and three children. On a 2-wheel bicycle it was 4, an adult and three children! No pictures though of those. :-(

Moving office.

Family going out to the river.

Going to the pediatrician with the babies.


Gas station.

Taking kids from school.

Arrival at Phnom Penh port.

12 November 2009

Motorbikes and bicycles

Few bags in the traffic in front of his friend with the metal bars.

The family outing.

Banana seller.

Couple using the same pair of pedals.

Tow a moto with a tricycle (the motorbike driver is also on the bicycle!).

Sleeping in the motorbike.

A regular transport or merchandise.

11 November 2009

Motorbikes and bicycles

We saw first with a single passenger, the next had two. Look, there are two plus a child. Another one was carrying a vase. Now there are also single saddle bicycles with two people riding. Second day in Vietnam: record, two adults and two children in a single motorbike. But then there was a guy alone with 5 pigs in cages on his back. Yesterday there was one with a whole double-door fridge balancing on the motorbike. Photo, photo. Hey, 3 children cycling the same single saddle bycicle... They find the place for it. During a glass of beer I thought being drunk - four adults in a scooter! But more, these days we see them carrying a broken motorbike in a trycicle; or just their office - table plus chairs plus two persons in a 100cc machine. They are crazy - doors, the driver and two wheels of the motorbike. Ofter they carry also long tubes, just 2 meters, plus a meter of motorbike plus 2 meters. Doesn't mater if the tubes are plastic or metal, it is 5 meters long device carried in the middle of the city. Impressive image last evening - rush hours, hundreds of motorbikes - we are in Ho Chi Minh City - and a student cycling her bike without using the hands in the middle of the traffic. Talking on the phone or texting while riding the motorbike and skipping a red light is peanuts of local people. Frontal chocks, lateral touches motorbike-motorbike or motorbike-car happen, only once we saw a person lying on the floor...
Hey, that one is 3 meters wide and 4 long, but just two wheels. Eva, Eva, a leopard riding. No, this one probably will be only tomorrow.

Soon I'll post some pictures of this text. It is not easy to catch the images, but if you like photography, indeed Vietnam is a country you should not miss.

Cu Chi Tunnels

From Saigon we took a half day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels that played an important role during the Vietnam war. The Vietcong from North Vietnam built an extensive tunnel system in the south so they could fight against the Americans, hide during the day and get protection from the bombs. Parts of the tunnels have been made accessible for tourists, the Vietnamese way.
At the beginning of the tour, there was a video about the Vietcong and how they fought against the Americans. It was just plain communist propaganda. They talked about some Vietcong "heroes" who received the distinction of "American-killer" because they had killed a certain number of Americans. They glorified the simple village people and peasants, how they fought the Americans who destroyed their innocent villages.
(Now of course, I won't deny that America shouldn't have gone there in the first place, and that they committed many atrocities, but a tiny bit of self-criticism would be welcome, as the Vietcong were not angels either.)
Then we followed a path through the jungle, and our guide showed us how the entrances to the tunnels were concealed. They were really small holes, and the smallest tunnels measured just 70x80 cm, so try to imagine crawling inside it.... Then we were shown the "booby traps", traps in the ground, concealed under leaves. American soldiers would step on them and fall into a hole, that was filled with sharp bamboo spikes pointing upwards.... I don't want to imagine. Our guide was also very proud to show us all the different kinds of traps the Vietcong built with very simple materials, to kill or injure American soldiers. How can one be so proud of such horrible things?
Further on we saw kitchens, common rooms and storage rooms used within the tunnel system. All decorated with life-size puppets to illustrate it better. There was also an old American tank (those who wanted could climb up and have their picture taken). Further on there was a shooting range where one could shoot with American rifles... I found this very bad taste. Right next to the shooting range was a souvenir kiosk, selling cheap copies of weapons and landmines... now this was really bad taste.
All in all it was quite an interesting outing, not so much for seeing the tunnels (I could also have watched a movie about it or read a book) but more for the whole thing, with all the pro-communist and anti-american propaganda that just seems so much out of place. Travelling around Vietnam, I didn't come across many things that I would describe as "communist". The gap between poor and rich is clearly visible, schooling and medical care are not free, and only children whose parents own a piece of land can attend secondary school. But here they are, glorifying this horrible past, never admitting the atrocities the Vietcong committed against their own people.

06 November 2009

The 8-hour trainride that took 26 hours

We continue on the Reunification Express, this time from Danang to Nha Trang, a trip of 524 km. Of course we knew about hurricane Mirinae, we had seen the flooded streets in Hoi An and people continuing with their everyday life.
We arrived at Danang train station at 10 am, having in mind to take the train at just before 11 am, but it was cancelled. There had been a landslide further down the line, but we got a ticket for the next train at 13:13 that should take 8 and a half hours to Nha Trang. We were told that we would have to change for a bus in Dieu Tri because the line was damaged, but that we would arrive in Nha Trang all right, with a delay. Ok, we thought, and bought the ticket.
The train left half an hour late but then went about the usual (slow) speed until it stopped at 5 pm in a small train station, 137 km from our departure. Soon many passengers got off to smoke, and very quickly some local women set up a couple of tables and small stools and started serving food and drinks. At 5.30 it was dark, so they lit small lamps. It looked very cosy but it didn't give me the impression that the train would start again soon.... I continued reading my book and opened a pack of Oreos. Miguel came back with the news that we were waiting for a train from the other direction (the Vietnamese train line is a single line with few crossing possibilities), but nobody knew when that train was going to be here and when we were going to start again.
Hmmmm... lack of communication. We've seen this before, no? In communist or post-communist countries...
At around 6 pm that train arrived, stopped for a few minutes and left again. Supposedly it should have arrived at this station at 3 am - which meant it was 15 hours late. Very encouraging.
After this, our train didn't leave. We were apparently waiting for another train to cross, but again nobody knew where that train was right now and when it would be here. Around 8 pm everybody was told to get on the train, but nothing more happened.
During all this time, I continued to read my book, trying to close my ears to the neverending noise coming from the loudspeakers of TrainTV. The programme was stopped several times and then re-started from the beginning, so we saw the same Hollywood movie twice (something about rattlesnakes) and a selection of Vietnamese pop that made me want to jump out of the window. In between, some sexistic advertisements for soft drinks.
Just when I was about to go and bribe the conductor to turn off this noise pollution, it went off. Heavenly peace.
As all the passengers had got back on the train, the ladies outside packed together their tables, chairs and food, and the platform went completely dark.
Around 9 pm the passengers in our carriage switched off the lights and everybody went to sleep. I was amazed by the ease with which the Vietnamese can sleep in all possible positions, lying down on 2 seats with their feet up against the window, or on the floor on a sheet of newspaper.
The funny thing is that during all that time, the train now being over 4 hours stopped, there was never an announcement or anybody trying to find out what was happening. It was as if it was the most normal thing, everybody settling for the night.
One of the conductors had offered us a bed in the sleeper carriage for a little "contribution" of 100000 Dong, which we declined, knowing that at some point we would have to get off and change to a bus anyway.
At 11.30 pm I woke up because suddenly there was complete silence. Bugger, they had turned off the air conditioning. Breaking into a sweat at once, I went to the front end of the wagon to find a window I could open, and settled there across 2 seats, under the open window, getting wet in the heavy rain that had just started, and tried out the different "Vietnamese" sleeping position, none of which worked for more than 15 minutes. Maybe we should have accepted the conductors offer for the sleeping car?
At about 1 am, the long-waited-for train arrived, stopped for a couple of minutes, and went on. My hopes didn't come true though, we stayed where we were.
I wouldn't have been surprised if the train crew had just decided to go to sleep, or had had too much rice wine.
Shortly after 4 am, as if there had been a signal, people started getting up, went to brush their teeth and wash, and switched the lights on. It was still dark outside, but the Vietnamese are used to getting up very early. At 4.30 am, the train moved. Halleluja.
At 6 am, we stopped again in a small train station, where another train was stopped as well. As our dining car was still closed, Miguel went into that other train to buy breakfast. He came back with two dry cakes and ice tea. At 7 am, there was an announcement that we had to change trains as ours wasn't going any further. The process of everybody getting off with their bags and cardboard boxes was long and complicated, especially as we almost had to jump off the train as the ground was so far below the stairs. In the other train, we got seats with a little help from one of the conductors, and soon after this breakfast was served, some kind of semi-liquid rice slush. I stuck to the dry cake and Oreos.
This train then went on to Dieu Tri, where we arrived just before 9 am. We were supposed to change to a bus here, but a conductor checked our tickets and told us the train was going on and we could stay on, which we did along with most other passengers. As soon as the train had stopped, several women got on trying to sell drinks, coffee and food. One of them wanted to sell her coffee so badly that she started shouting at the people (I think she was slightly crazy). After about 10 minutes the train started, but stopped again after 10 meters. We were told that finally we did have to get off, but none of the train personnel was able to tell us whether there would be onward transport or not.
Coming out of the train station, there did seem to be some sort of organisation. A lot of men in uniform were walking around with lists and paper and pens, and buses were arriving and leaving, taking the passengers to the next station where there would be another train. We waited around for a while, because every arriving bus was instantly full of people and luggage. Finally we decided to have a go, and we did it just like the locals: push all you can. When the bus stopped, I was right in front of the front door. It started to open, and a tiny lady next to me started pushing her big suitcase in front of me. No mercy, I forgot all my European manners, I was first. With my backpack I have both my elbows free and made use of them, jumped on the bus and threw myself on two double seats for us and a Dutch-Swedish couple we met on the train.
The one hour-and-a-half bus journey was actually quite scenic, with nice views of the sea, beaches and green hills. I just had to struggle to keep my eyes open. In the back somebody was constantly retching and vomiting, a normal event on a bus in Asia. They're either genetically more susceptible to motion-sickness, or maybe they travel less, in any case there's always at least one person vomiting.
We arrived at the train station and got on our new train, it was midday. We were lucky to get seats in the Soft Seat car, and soon after we were served a free (although not very filling) lunch of rice, 5 cm2 of meat and 2 shrimps. I was happy to get something different than Oreos.
The train finally left at 1 pm and went at a close to normal speed until Nha Trang, our destination, where we arrived at 3.30 pm, after a 26-hour trip.
The conclusion? Well, I still do not quite understand why nobody seems to communicate, the train crew knowing nothing about what's going on. But then, the locals don't seem to mind, I guess they're used to just "wait and not ask any questions" (again, this seems to be a characteristic of communist/post-communist countries...). They just sleep, just as they do in their shops or on their "cyclos" (sort of bicycle-taxis) when there are no customers. They are just so relaxed.

05 November 2009

The longest ever 7-hour train ride

Soon Eva will write details about this... 26-hour journey.

03 November 2009

Travel software and websites

One post I tough for long is about the few software I've put in my usb key and websites which help a lot during the trip. Maybe it can help you if you like to travel light without your own computer.

- Firefox Portable - Firefox is still miles faster than IE, and is the one that works fine when you need to edit Google Maps (the one at the top of the blog). Many of internet cafes do not have it installed and is just a mess to download and install everytime (we did it often). I found this "portable" edition which you install on the usb key and it runs from there. You can keep you own bookmarks, it remembers your history and this way you also do not leave your history in the public computer.

- IrfanView - It's a simple picture editing software which I use mainly its "batch" feature, which allows me with few clicks to rename hundreds of photos and at same time move them to a different folder and if I want also to resize them to later put them on the web.

- FileZilla, Putty - this is a more geeky thing, not really necessary, I use to backup pictures on my website and so on.

Websites:
- Google Maps - to make the map at the top of the blog
- Google Reader - to keep up to date with our friend blogs and world/local news
- Blogger - where we edit the blog
- Flickr - another tool for backing up the pictures
- Thorn Tree - Lonely Planet forum to get travelers updates on the next place to go
- HostelWorld - check what hostels are being preferred on the next stop.
- Weather Underground - to follow up the tropical weather warnings.
- News websites: DN and LeTemps (Miguel); NZZ and TdG (Eva).

Are there other suggestions?

"One Dollah for Pahking"

We arrived by train to Danang and wanted to take a bus to Hoi An, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, a small town by the sea, but it doesn't have train access. As the bus station in Danang was about 3 km from the train station, we had to take a taxi (I'm not a fan of taxis, be it here or in Europe, I only take them if there's no other choice. When travelling, I feel so distant from everything looking out of the windows of a taxi...). Very spontaneously we decided to share one with a Swedish mother and girl, and managed to make ourselves understood to the taxi driver as to where we wanted to go. He put on the meter (Miguel told him so) and off we went.
Arriving at the bus station, he wanted to drive us inside the station. "One dollah pahking". That would be 18000 Dong. Right in front of us was a sign saying that parking cost 5000 Dong. Me tourist but me not stupid. We told him to leave us outside the bus station, which he fortunately did without discussion, and we paid the price showing on the meter, which seemed correct.
Getting on the bus, the ticket lady (actually, there are no tickets...) wanted us to pay 40000 Dong per person, which was almost as much as we had paid for our two-and-a-half hour train ride. This was a one-hour ride on a lousy bus, and our guidebook said it was 10000 Dong. "Very important holiday in Vietnam" was the excuse, although she wasn't able to tell me which holiday it was supposed to be. She made us sit right in the back of the bus so we couldn't see how much the other passengers paid. Finally we got the price down to 20000 Dong per person. About halfway through the trip we saw her giving some money to the guy who stands in the door of the bus helping the passengers get on and off... They were probably sharing the "benefits".

Of course all this is somehow infuriating. Travellers in Vietnam often say they end up trusting nobody at all and feeling they're constantly being ripped off. At the same time, of course it's true that we have so much money compared to them and it doesn't hurt us so much paying double, triple or more. A lot of people have to rely on this "extra income" in order to make ends meet. It's just that the constant haggling about the price is tiring. It also creates more of a gap between the locals and the tourists, nobody trusting anybody else. The aim is to get as much money out of the tourists as possible. And even if one dollar is not much, it still adds up for the budget-conscious traveller.

I don't really have a solution for this. We try to take trains, where prices are fixed and the same for everybody, avoid taxis, and ignore the constant "Hello where you goin? Please come in and have a look!" I only buy things that I really need, and try to make up my mind before about the price that would seem right for me. Yesterday I spent some money in a shop that benefits disabled people who are working in the back of the shop. At least I can see where the money is going.

The Reunification Express

We're back on the trains again, and happy with it. Bus travel in Vietnam is either in public buses, which are old and bumpy and where tourists get ripped off as a rule, or in tourist buses, shared, well, with tourists.
Not many travellers in Vietnam seem to use the train, but there's actually a convenient train line between Hanoi and Saigon, the so-called Reunification Express. Ok, they are quite slow, but taken that the line was almost completely destroyed during the Vietnam War, it's quite an achievement to be able to ride the train here.
As in China, there's no first-second-third class system (we're in a communist country, no classes, no difference between rich and poor, right?), but there are "hard seats" and "soft seats". The difference is pretty self-explanatory.
"Soft seat" is comfortable enough for a long trip, with reclining chairs and small tables, and you can buy a meal for 1 Euro and have it delivered to your seat. It consists of a big dollop of white rice in a plastic tray, along with a piece of chicken and a ladleful of what you might call soup.
In order not to get bored during the trip, there are 2 TV screens showing "Rail TV". They basically take programs from other chains and show a mix of travel shows, Vietnamese singers trying to sing like Patricia Kaas, Casper the friendly ghost dubbed in Vietnamese, and "hidden camera" shows. All this, of course, with the sound turned up to the maximum. People here must be either genetically different to be less sensitive to noise, or else they all become somewhat deaf by being constantly exposed to it. Only the stupid foreigners seem to mind the blaring loudspeakers.
The trains are usually quite full. People travel with everything, but especially cardboard boxes and plastic bags. At major stations, the getting off - getting on process is loud and a big confusion. People get off at one end of the carriage, while others get on at the other end, pushing and shoving and shouting, with their motorbike helmets still on. Although the seats are reserved, it seems to be important to get on first. Then everybody climbs onto the seats to find a place for their cardboard boxes and sports bags. At some point half of the people would get off again - they were only saying goodbye to those travelling. After the train pulls out of the station, there will usually be some shifting of seats with the help of the conductor, and some ticket checking which also seems to have its complications although I haven't yet quite understood everything.
The train goes at a mean speed of around 50 km/h, which leaves plenty of opportunities to watch the countryside. It was beautiful between Ninh Binh and Dong Hoi, with lots of rice fields and green hills. People with conical hats were working in the fields with their bare hands, ploughing them with buffaloes. As a tourist one would like to stop the train and take a lot of romantic pictures, but these people are just leading their everyday life that is not so romantic at all, it's just about having enough food and a roof over their heads.
The trip from Hue to Danang is supposed to be the most beautiful stretch of train travel in Vietnam, maybe that's why there were so many tourists on this train. Anyway, it was beautiful, with a lot of nice views of the sea.
We will now continue until Saigon, with a few stops in between. There we will have to take buses again to cross Cambodia...

02 November 2009

Flood, Mirinae and photos

While in HoiAn we got hit by the Mirinae tropical storm, which caused more than 100deaths in Central Vietnam. Fortunately we were a bit North of the central point, but in any case the city got flooded (and we had electricity cuts).



Good and bad weather

Last week after going away from NinhBinh and willing to make a not so long train ride, we decided to stop at DongHoi, just 8-hours South. Unfortunately hour multiple-coutry guidebook did not mention this place and on our internet researches we did not find any nice accommodation to stay. On our arrival we just knew that the train station was about 4km away from the hotels area, so we took a taxi. But we did not know what to say to the taxi driver, we tried to mention hotels, but he wanted a specific one. The only Eva remembered the name was a 4-star resort and here we go. Arrived there we see it was already a bit out of the way from everything, but we ask the price anyway. They were quite empty and making 40%+ reductions from the price. Then they showed us an offer for two nights including dinners, breakfast and access to the gym, sauna, swimming pools and transfer to the train station. It was just 10usd/chf more than the discounted rate. Needing a bit of holidays from our trip, we accepted. Below a picture of Eva swimming in the main pool.

There were patches of rain and patches of gorgeous weather. We tried to swim in the harsh sea, but was too dangerous. They were nice days...

Now we are in the "Mirinae" cyclone affected area and its raining a lot, downtown HoiAn is flooded. This morning was still possible to walk in the market and we took this picture. Now we are confined to the hotel. Hopefully tomorrow the weather will be better.