Saturday, 30 August 2008
It appears that even impending fame has a price. I have been losing clothes regularly during our trip. The only rational explanation is that various purveyors of laundry services have been appropriating items of my clothing for future auctions. Whilst I am flattered I am also running out of t-shirts. The first lady of this fantastic blog has also lost a singlet and a pair of shoes.
Today we went walkabout for about four hours. It appears the scooter riding population of Hanoi are vision impaired, hence they can not see red stop signs or pedestrian crossings. That said the city is full of neat things to gape at including ourselves.
Check out this video it almost does the scooter madness justice
We have organised a trip to Ha Long Bay. A huge shout out to Ernie Dingo and his lovely wife at Sinh cafe opentours . In between the free information about the number of concubines and wives previous Vietnamese dignitaries have had they put together a very competitive package and bus tour. We will be leaving Hanoi and visiting Ha Long Bay tomorrow
Please enjoy these photos of Hanoi. There are full sets up in the usual places.
Before you leave also enjoy the hypnotic chant bought to you by the gracious sponsors of this blog.
CLICK THE GOOGLE ADS CLICK THE GOOGLE ADS CLICK THE GOOGLE ADS
Friday, 29 August 2008
Add one Jazz bar
3 Welsh People
2 Bottles of Gin
One large flower
Simmer loudly for 3 hours. When the band stops try and commandeer the instruments. After being politely ejected take to the road and integrate with the local population.
Fellow scientists I do not remember your names but you all have my card. Thank you for the successful experiment. Please send panadol.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Numerous taxi horror stories litter the pages of travelfish and we were advised to take a minibus. A minibus was found and we were advised to patiently wait inside. It appears the minibuses have an ulterior motive. They are used to roast tourists in 35 degree heat until they stagger out ready t0 hitch a ride on a sturdy looking garbage truck if one is handy.
So a taxi was chosen. The motorway and massive bridge into Hanoi was impressive and it was in Hanoi that the experience really took off. The scooter to car ratio in Hanoi must be about 50-1 and you do not feel safe in a car. I imagine a sloth with an allergy to bees wandering into a bee convention would feel safer.
The taxi promptly tried to drop us off at the wrong hotel. A suspiciously helpful 'reception' man met us on the street, told us our hotel was full and he could help us out. After asking him why he was not working on reception, leaving the car and checking that the name of the hotel was in fact not our hotel and using a few choice expletives we managed to get the taxi to take us to the right street. The taxi tried to triple charge us our fare. Luckily my chief war time negotiator was on hand to do some hard talking.
Sadly our hotel was fully booked. The negotiator was sent off on reconnaissance and after bypassing one we have found a very good hotel. The one we skipped tried to show us one of their rooms, which was full, and pass us off to this other one for the same price. My negotiator got very bossy and made sure they showed us the room we could actually stay in, at a separate hotel, which we got at a better price. The lady then managed to ring us here to try and get our business back for tomorrow night, saying hers was nicer, which is a truth bend of magnificent proportions!! Got to love persistence I think.
Hanoi is very beautiful it has to be said. We are looking forward to exploring over the next couple of days on foot. But first we have to get food. Wish us luck!
The steeds that one would hire in south east Asia come in one of two flavours. A adventurous looking mountain bike resplendent with gears, shock absorbers and neon paint. The second more desirable option is a lazy looking retro model, no gears and if you are lucky a bell to ring.
The benefits of cycling the streets are numerous and it is a crime that more concessions are not given to cyclists in more developed countries. After a good stint of cycling today I have a few findings to share with you all.
-It is far easier to smile whilst riding a bicycle
-Cycling lends itself very well to recording ride-by videography.
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Please excuse the burry image. Write it down as artistic licence. The picture quality directly mimics the quality of the article.
Rest assured I am now convinced the population of Laos believes New Zealanders have drunken riots on the streets battling police every weekend. The sad thing is that this is almost true.
New Zealand. Making news about not much but it is still news somewhere so its ok alright.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
- They do not require socks
- They are water friendly
- He did not slip over once
Our trek was charming. Our party consisted of one trail blazing Korean, a lady from Manila, Anna and myself. We had two Laos guides one wearing Crocs and one wearing jandals. The croc wearing one was the same age as me. He had spent most of his adult life working in a copper mine and by good fortune had started working as a guide for the last 6 months. A good example of how tourism benefits developing countries.
Our first hour of walking was meandering through rice and corn farms. The first bridge we crossed was the worst. It was a bamboo and wire contraption of dubious quality. It had the endearing quality of tilting at the worst possible times. It also had several large holes. Still I have a new found appreciation for bamboo. It was after we had crossed the bridge our guide told us that the bridge had collapsed recently and 15 people had fallen into the river. These little timely reminders were a hallmark of our trek. I suspect our guide will end up working in public relations, he had an uncanny ability to deliver bad news.
Up through a mountain pass we ambled. Recent rain had rendered our path very muddy so it was slow progress. We had time to learn about various critters. Danger ants were to be avoided. I suspect they are also known as army ants. At times I felt like a large rhino as most of the guides warnings came too late. I did manage to destroy some thorn bushes and tenderly remove some loose rocks and branches. Subsequent rhinos might find the trail easier work.
Over and down into a valley we headed to a hut for lunch. The hut was surrounded by a small herd of cows. Kebabs and fried rice were dished up and I asked our guide about a large sign with a predominant price.
Translated it means; if you steal any of my cows and sell them at the local market you will be fined 2 Million kip.
After lunch we headed up the valley to the water fall. Physically this was the hardest part of the day. Incredibly slow and hard progress. It was with some relief we heard the comforting roar of the water fall. We all had a swim, both of our guides jumped 15 meters from the top of the waterfall into the pool. Sadly I did not have any crocs or jandals handy and could not join them.
Refreshed we headed back down the valley. Half way down the hill we heard a loud shot ring out. Later we were to find out that the surrounding hills are a popular pig hunting spot. The final stage of the trip was going under the mountain pass through a large cave. Before we entered the pitch black water in the cave we were asked if we could swim. At times we were walking through waist deep water. It was after the deepest part of the water our guide told us of a python that had been living in the cave a while back.
Actual photo of me directly after this news.
The rest of the trek was very pleasant. We continued to learn new Laos words and quizzed our guide on all manner of things. For example the small platforms that found on the side of every rice fields are for farmers to sit with torches to scare away mice at night.
We are now in the capital of Laos, Vientiane. We will spend the next three days organising our visas for Vietnam and the next stage of our trip.
Saturday, 23 August 2008
The distractions are a worthwhile lesson in promotion and marketing for any aspiring entrepreneur. They certainly kept our pod of tubers entertained.
Lesson 1: Provide free fun information to potential customers
Lesson 2: Provide bait for your customer and when they see the bait have a large hook ready.
The ability of the riverside bar attendants to haul in customers was a marvel to see..
Lesson 3: Your bait should be exhilarating. If your customers are not ready to be exhilarated your core product should ease them into it.
This person who resembles me may have enjoyed a lot of product.
Lesson 4: To help facilitate purchasing your core product you should have an incentive system.
Free whiskey shots. He swore it was ginger in the bottom of the bottle.
Leave your patrons with a nice reminder of how wonderful your place of business is.
Not a bad Friday. What did you get up to?Footnote
The title for this post is a play on words from the seminal skateboarding movie of the early 90’s gleaming the cube
Friday, 22 August 2008
The van had a current registration but also a curious lack of seat belts. This was not a concern as we rarely went over 50 kilometers an hour. At one point I was counting the winding road signs, I soon gave up after 30.
Laos is a country of misty mountains. Driving up through cloud cover prolongs the sensation you might have tasted whilst being in a plane.On our descent from the mountain range I spotted a fantastic mountain. I could imagine a city of dwarves or some other subterranean race living under this beauty.
It was on our final leg to Vang Vieng we happened upon a group less fortunate than us. A reminder to wear your seat belts if you have any.
Vang Vieng the town is a tad disappointing after the wondrous architecture of Luang Prabang. Travel fish does recommend walking 1km in any direction from the centre of town to get over this. The scenery is amazing. Limestone cliffs, jungle and rushing rivers. I think we will be here for a few days.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
So off we set a motley crew of ten French, Dutch, Japanese and Kiwis. Our driver drove an interesting diesel van. It can not rain here often, or at least it has not rained convincingly since the van passed its last certification in 2005. The drivers side window wiper was not functioning. When the drivers vision was impacted badly by moisture we would stop on the side of a road and hail a waiter to clean the windscreen. Service with a smile.
Our final destination was magical. Bears who would have been destined for the black market live in relative paradise and one of them posed for a photo. It was on the way to the water falls I noticed a distinct difference between Thailand and Laos tourism. In Thailand there are safety signs that no one takes heed of. In Laos there are no signs. What should have been a sedate walk to the source of the thundering falls took on a whole new dimension with the added rain boost.
It was after the walk we happened upon two natives of Cairns, Australia. An inspirational couple who were on the Laos leg of a trip. After a shared dinner I feel a bit wiser and very content. Not a bad day. Weather, you like it or not.
Monday, 18 August 2008
A new country means new words to learn and a new currency to handle. Language wise Laos is very similar to Thai, the currency however is not. It has a neat name -Kip - but the conversion factor means dividing Kip but 250 to get Baht. All I can add is listen to your maths teachers kids, even when they have hairs growing out of every facial cavity.
Another striking thing about Laos is the inversion of road lanes. Colour me ignorant but I always expected to be pulling out onto route 66 or some other locale and be at odds with the directions cars were coming at me. Therefore it was mildly con fuddling to be overwhelmed by a swarm of scooters and bicycles crossing the road last night.
My feet took a hammering this morning. There could be a pattern emerging. I will blame the last bout of foot fatigue on the incredible French Asian architecture that adorns the streets of Luang Prabang. So, enamored with the sights this morning, it was well after an hour and half of stumbling and photo snapping that I retired footsore and singing the song of the chronically moaning.
Tomorrow we are heading for a waterfall and animal park. The waterfall has restorative powers that have been lying dormant waiting for the visit of a footsore traveler.
last sentence could be true, in fact I am hoping quite hard that it is true.
Sunday, 17 August 2008
The liberal use of straws could be a south east Asian epidemic or be just local to Thailand. Invariably you will gain a straw with any liquid purchase. In fact 7-11 operators are so used to dishing out straws I wager you could purchase a box of straws and get a free straw.
On the bus journey I watched a crazy DVD concert. Clash Army was the name of the group. The theater was formidable; think a well groomed Linkin park with even more makeup add 100% unintelligible lyrics and you are halfway there. One point during some of the more theatrical of the proceedings included a very showy love song where the lead singer shot his girl friend on stage. They were reunited in heaven but like all good murder stories she was unmasked as a corpse. Ozzy was never so bold.
It was at the Thai immigration check point we were declared Aliens. With some skill we had managed to overstay our visa in Thailand by two days. We were liberated from some of our currency and duly flagged as aliens. I was quite chuffed! I have been trying for years to assert my otherworldliness and now I have a receipt to prove it.
Laos has been a different world. At our first stop down the river I was met at the top of a very slippery slope by a gentleman who was hailed himself as Marco Polo. He was a very helpful chap but seemed quite pressing on his ability to fit me out with all manner of herbal remedies. I gracefully declined and he grew cold on me. Money on the other hand was a true gentleman. True to his name he let loose with a wise proverb "no money no honey"
Todays river ride was incredibly taxing but we are now settled for at least four days and will do some exploring of Luang Prabang.
Writing this after three days of non stop travel has been a herculean effort I might add but I hope your mondays are all the more better for reading it.
Friday, 15 August 2008
-Quality music dished up digitally through the wonders of the internet.
-Instant office credibility even when you are in the depths of Zurich.
-Get your New Zealand accent fix anytime of the day.
-Repeated clicking of your mouse is good for your disposition.
-Your household and office plants will grow bigger.
-Your hair and nails will shine like never before.
disclaimer: some of the rewards for listening to UPFM might not actually be true but we will blame that on the internet.
Thursday, 14 August 2008
When we return to Thailand we have to,
-Come back to Chiang Mai
-Complete hill tribe trek with Elephant ride
-Not drink so much
Laos promises to be exciting. Let me borrow an excellent synopsis from the tremendous resource that is travelfish.
Landlocked Laos is one of the Asia's most enchanting destinations. Stunning natural beauty -- think mist-shrouded mountain peaks flanked by jungle-clad valleys teeming with wildlife -- combine with a fascinating Buddhist culture to make Laos a superb destination for backpackers and independent travellers, while luxury tourists are now also well-catered for.
Our first three days are catered for traveling by slow boat down the Mekong. This promises to be an experience and if we don't run aground, sink, run into drug runners or drunk Englishmen we should be OK.
Cooking class was a lot of fun! Who would have thought? We had a very good teacher with an incredibly infectious cackle. Nobody died and I was smiling the whole time apart from this photo.
Factoid for the day. We have jettisoned 10 kilograms of non essential items back to New Zealand since we started traveling.
THAI COOKING CLASS DAY
But Dan, you have already driven scooters, fought off sea creatures and created new sports why are you scared? To understand my terror you must first learn more about me. At school cooking was a tedious affair, made light by my classmates and I adapting our carefully crafted chemistry skills and concocting salves that would seal wounds, remove hair and treat cold symptoms. Sadly they were far from edible.
As I have grown my cooking skills have mutated. Now I am a bit wiser my standard dish is taking meat, frozen veges, heating them and then adding two incompatible spices like chilli and wasabi. Whilst these dishes certainly tickle the taste buds they are still far from edible. My wife eats them with some grace. I think I have destroyed her palate.
So today we will journey to a farm, pick fresh ingredients and learn four dishes. Wish me(them) luck I may kill someone.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
I do not pretend to have anything more than a passing interest in writing about the Olympics. However being that I am closer to the Olympics than 99% of my readership, I feel honour and duty bound to write about them as best I can. Begrudgingly I must admit that 99% of my live Olympic coverage resource is in a foreign language and as such my reporting might be suitably disorientated.
Anyway the Olympics started on Friday. We managed to miss the opening ceremony by sticking to the major networks. BBC, CNN and Aljazeera. How does this work? Well for all of their self promotion on how feature complete their Olympic coverage is, they did not have the rights to screen the opening ceremony. So we saw some sweaty reporters and glimpses of fireworks from the street. Think downtown New Years eve.
Never mind we slept on it. The next morning we discovered a South African sports channel and the dulcet delights of Keith Quinn commentating on archery or something else that he should have no business commentating about. The truly shocking thing is that he sounds quite good talking about archery. Let us hope South Africa can adopt him as a specialist sports reporter. In fact it appears that the South African sports channel has peppered its line up with a full cast of New Zealand and English commentators. Read into that what you will. Draw your own conclusions.
So we have a good TV channel to watch the Olympics with. The only problem is that it is delayed and often repeated coverage. If we want to watch something live we watch the local coverage. Watching Olympics in another language is strange. Given the strengths that Thailand has you could be forgiven thinking that womens weightlifting and badminton are the only two sports at the Olympics(slight truth stretching)
So I find myself flicking back to the major channels to find some of the fabled comprehensive 100% complete coverage. What I find is human "interest" pieces about Bejing transport, food and accommodation. Did you know that dog has recently been removed from the menus of Bejing's largest food market? Talk about bad timing!
From the Olympics I have watched it has become clearly obvious that we need more fringe sports if we are to compete with China in the future. I think I might have invented one this afternoon in Chiang Mai's largest shopping centre. As is often the case when I have been dragged screaming from shop to shop buying nothing, grimacing as one only hopelessly in love can, I need to sit down.
I have recently become attached to the massaging chairs that are popping up all over the place. The chairs here are different as I was soon to find out. As soon as I sat down on the chair a loud peeling scream rang out from behind me. A flock of teenage girls cantered past squealing with laughter at me. Huh I thought with the wisdom of someone in a foreign shopping centre, can't get many chair users around here. The ringing subsided with the starting of my chair and I soon drifted into as much as a stupor as I could reach without copious amounts of mind altering substances. When I awoke some teenage girls were sitting on the bench beside me. The chair had wound down and the screaming and laughter rang out again. Hah I thought nobody could mistake one of these chairs as a lounger, but I was midly sheepish as I thought of the spectacle I had made of myself.
Therefore, to sooth my bruised ego it is necessary to canvas the IOC for the inclusion of a new olympic sport. Unwittingly public displays of stupidity in unfamiliar surroundings. I could be onto a winner!
This is an easy task if you use the right tools. Please note all of this information is for PC users only. I sold my mac before I started traveling but will welcome the donation of any Apple hardware. Ps Hi Steve Jobs.
Ok; so the premise is you have a DVD and wish to put some or all of it online for people to look at. You will need the following software.
Install DVD Decrypter. Pop your DVD in your DVD drive. Run DVD decrypter and click the green arrow button down the bottom.
DVD decrypter will copy the contents of your DVD to a directory on your c:\
Once complete DVD decrypter will make a horrible tinkle noise. Do not be alarmed.
Now install and run VLC. VLC will let us look at those VOB files and find out which ones we want to convert into an online video. You can just drag and drop the VOB files onto VLC to play them. Some of them will be DVD menus, extras ect. Generally the largest single file will be the main movie of a dvd. Make a note of the file name you want to convert.
Next open up super.
Do the following.
Drag your vob file onto super.
Choose mov or avi in the output container box.
Click encode active files
After super is finished you should have a new file which you can upload online.
I had a very spotty internet connection and used Google video. Google video allows files over 100 megabytes in size if you use the google video uploader. It also allows resumed uploads and uploading multiple files at once.
I have learned more about my latest love, the Chiang Mai moat. It is the principal venue of an epic three day water fight each year. Songkran celebrates the Zodiac new year and what a better way to celebrate something than an epic water fight.
First of moat scooter run during festival
Speaking of festivals, today is Thailand mothers day. Thailand has a very healthy amount of holidays and religious festivals. It is worth learning about them before you visit as they can be used to transmogrify travel arrangements by less than scrupulous travel agents.
Last week we spent 2-3 hours visiting the craft precinct of Chiang Mai. We learned about silk, Kashmir, silver, jewelery, resin pottery and umbrella making. It is incredible the time and skill that is put into the smallest of items. Nearly impossible to just browse but a pro tip for the budget conscious traveler say you have sold your house and have no home to return to.
More about the Chiang Mai moat. If you need something worth betting about in Chiang Mai, a jump in the moat de rigeur. Just make sure you are not betting on the All Blacks in a world cup quarter final; apparently.
This Friday we will cross the border into Laos and will be doing a cruise down the river into a very different part of the world. Exciting times.
Thanks to all of the supportive words and comments about my fashion sense.
Monday, 11 August 2008
Saturday, 9 August 2008
We have been on the road for a total of 24 days
- 11846.45 kilometers traveled
- 1 Flight
- 3 Over night train trips.
- 1 Day train ride
- 4 Ferry rides
- 3 Tuk Tuk jaunts
- 1 traditional taxi (hot pink)
- 4 Less than traditional taxi rides(Ute with cover)
- 4 VIP van trips(air conditioned vans)
- 3 Scooter hires total of 5 days
- 1 Quad bike hire(wish I had never had)
- 6 Open water dives
- 3 Cities
- 3 Islands
- 9 Books read.
- 15 movies, tv episodes and documentaries watched (thanks Richard)
- 1 New Zealander met. Kiwis really are shy!
We are consuming about 2.5 litres of water a day. I have beer a lot of drunk. I had decided to stop drinking the large bottles before we came up north and then found out that you can buy a large beer here for the price of a small one on the islands. To run salt in my numerous wounds. A bar here has all you can drink Heineken for about $4 on Saturday nights.
I can say hello and thank you in Thai with some authority. I think this is all you need as long as you remember to smile, bow and have a co-pilot to barter.
Today we are off to sit by a lake and celebrate our Kiwi friends birthday. This evening I will resist the Heineken bars impressive tractor beam. If it sucks me in I will let it in the name of science and Philip Bendall who has remonstrated me on the merits of more being always better.
Friday, 8 August 2008
Perhaps one of the more tangible grasping points when traveling is handling different currency. Hence it is with some conviction that I can safely say that we as subjects of the Queen have been short changed. With all due respect to her Majesty she needs some image enhancement on the back of our coins immediately. Perhaps some bunny ears, some designer sunglasses or at least a flowery hat. Thailand's King adorns the coins here and there is something incredibly satisfying holding a perfect profile like this, he is positively pimping.
I continue to smile at every corner. Imagine coming across a welcoming sign like this after falling in love with a moat.
Yes I could weather a siege in here. Did I mention the 14 hour happy hour signs as well?
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
The final(dare I hope) straw was this morning. Ironically and stupidly I had earlier boasted about how i would upload a photo of my poor feet. As I stepped out the door to collect my Wife’s shoes(another irony). My eyes happened upon the largest pool side mountain ever to wear a pair of speedos. My overloaded candor was such that as i turned to make a heartfelt comment to my wife I did the following work of art on the door frame.
There is surely a lengthy proverb in there but i think a simpler truth is needed for me. If your shoes fit wear them. If my tales of self harm have you thinking I am some later day Jackass reincarnate I assure you I am actually quite fond of my body, preferably intact.
Connecting further dots. It was with some relief we came across this huge statue in Ayutthaya. She was reclining, looked beautiful but had really sore feet obviously.
More photos in the usual spots. Or you can just click this link.
Tuesday, 5 August 2008
I found some more evidence for the happiness that pervades Thai culture. Conversely I would not like to come across these at night time. The usually bland fashion mannequins are different. Imagine your local fashion precinct with mannequins like these.
We are leaving the tranquility of Koh Tao today and will be heading through Bangkok on our way to Thailand’s second largest city Chiang Mai. There we have a diplomatic mission to complete with an expatriate New Zealander. We will then head north to the border of Laos and a spot of Elephant trekking. Through Laos into Vietnam will be our next jaunt. I hope you can hang around.
Friday, 1 August 2008
Happened to me on the bottom of the sea today. A small cleaning fish attached itself to my four wheeled horse injuries and attempted to clean them up. Now this would have been a bit more than ironic if it had been a sea horse. Hence I was pleasantly amused and a little sketched out when the second fish I laid eyes on was a clown fish. Made famous by you guessed it...... Finding Nemo. Monstorous celestine coincidences aside, SCUBA diving is incredible fun and now I am PADI certified for open water diving I will be embarking on the advanced course. Thoughts come a bit slower at high pressure but are good all the same.
A couple more insights. Nothing says you are a bit more than a bit eccentric when you turn up to the last day of your PADI course in a wizards robe. I have been liberally applying business cards to choice candidates. If you are reading this and have one of my cards, consider yourself in the official cool club.