Come along for the journey!

Come along for the journey!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

FLOATING MARKETS: (Can Tho, Vietnam)

We've enjoyed the variety of 'getting about' in Vietnam - from sleeper busses, to moped dirt biking across Pho Quoc island, to Canoeing through the mekong delta and taking the ferry into Cambodia. Seeing the Mekong Delta was fascinating - everything happens on the river. The markets were great. What has particularly tickled us is seeing people out in their pyjamas everywhere, day and night. The picture here looks like Mekong's answer to Tony Soprano I reckon.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

THE 'AMERICAN' WAR: (Saigon, Vietnam)

Now named Ho Chi Min City after the victorious post-war leader, the city ensures through it's war museum, that the atrocities committed in that bleak and paranoid commie-fearing period, are not forgotten. The figures on the numbers of bombs dropped during the 'American war' - more in one operation than in the entire 2nd World War, and other factoids, staggered us. There are all sorts of facts and figures hotly contested still, both 'sides' accusing the other of messing with statistics to serve their own purposes. Of course this doesn't happen much in politics so it's quite a scandal.

Another fact that astonished me was that when America left its puppet army (S.Vietnamese), they left them armed to the teeth, such that they had the 4th largest airforce in the world! Thankfully America don't arm people in volatile areas in the same way any more, as history has clearly taught lessons from Vietnam. Naturally, the quickly re-developing nation doesn't possess such a vast airforce anymore as it is fairly expensive to run. Should the need to commit war crimes and ecocide (I liked that term) crop up, then as America has its hands full right now, it could be suggested they use one of the many emerging budget airlines to bomb their countrymen. Only, if their airlines are anything like the Ryan Air's of this world, they'll probably have to drop the bombs in a neighbouring country, then bus them for 20 hours to their intended destination. No doubt, some far off and supportive country or another would lend a hand.

Friday, 22 January 2010

SWEET RELIEF: (Southeast Asia)

Arriving in Bangkok on route to Saigon, having survived two and a half months in India, we were met by helpful staff, signage to basic things like the departure gates and toilets, clean seats, safe food, calmness, and a sense that everything was going to be okay now. Everything felt so easy. We nearly cried. Arriving in Vietnam, things also felt like the knot had been removed from our stomach. It is reassuring to ask people questions when not only are they understood, but you expect they're telling you something useful and accurate. India has taught us to doubt everything! Now, we don't have to look where we're stepping in the street, the food is amazing and fairly safe. The first night, having remained vegetarian for pretty much the entire time in India, we gorged on meat. We met people who were overwhelmed by the traffic and the chaos when we were actually loving the newfound serenity, and  trying not to entertain secret smug thoughts of how we're far more hardened travellers than them. We laughed at all the funny and rude sounding place names and signs - some included for your entertainment on the photo pages. Neko got a hair cut, a major one. We have a new lease on life.

Great to see the Herberts again. As is the trend for weary travellers here in SE Asia, we went for a massage all together. George and I weren't entirely sure if we'd been slightly violated when all the masseuses were in mini-skirts. It is quite probable we were in a more than amenable establishment. Jolly good massage though. Neko candidly informed her Vietnamese masseuse that she was American, then proceeded to receive the firmest massage she'd ever had. Most likely a coincidence.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

TOY TRAIN: (Darjeeling, India)

This must be the only train you can jump off, have a pee, then run along and jump back on. Idling up into the Himalayas on rails built into the main road, at all of 6 miles an hour or so, we had a beautiful day taking in the sights and holding up the traffic.  

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

"I'm hot, I'm naked, I'm online.": (Varanassi, India)

Innocently passing by a ramshackle old building on the bank of the river Ganges, we were invited to enter the house of a locally known guru, 'Lali Baba'. Lali, as I call him, is a tall naked man, aside from a delicately placed loin-cloth, covered in the human ash remains from a cremation. Quite the charmer. On a break from his duties at the burning ghats (cremation site on the riverside), he was most pleased to bring us into his office-cum-bedroom to chat about Karma, Dharma, and his latest pics on facebook! It was quite bewildering to find such a man, so steeped in tradition, the Indian holy-man archetype, to be twittering and checking hits on his website. I was quite interested to hear about his career pathway, and how a BSc in Science led to getting all naked and crazy looking. Would engineering not have been something that pleased his mother more?

Lali likes to perform the Gangaji fire ceremony on the river every day at dawn and dusk, swinging hot burning sticks over his naked body in reverence to this mighty life-giving 'Mother' river. He was amused to be paler than Neko in his ceremonial ash white appearance. Anyhoo, do look Lalibaba up online - it's most informative. Urban myth has it that the two skulls in his office are from people he has eaten. Other than that, he seems most agreeable, if slightly in need of a larger loin cloth.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

WAITER WISDOM: (Munnar tea plantations, South India)

We boarded a train in Aleppey for a 1 hour trip to take a bus to the tea plantations. It was the return to University day for Indian students so the carriages were crazy full. Not only so, but in their wisdom, the train bureaucrats decided not to stop at our stop as it may result in overcrowding. And so we stood…for 3 hours until the next stop. To make matters worse, I seem to have developed flu, possibly the swine flu as I had never had such a high temperature in my life. After a night of Neko setting alarms to get up and throw soaking cold towels on me, we eventually arrived in the cool plantations the following day.

Sauntering around the the verdant hills of Kerala, escaping the heat and sampling fresh teas from the plantations, we were feeling everso colonial and ventured out for a taste of the Raj. We went to the delightful 'Tall trees' hillside restaurant where we could dare to try a few things we might not ordinarily in cheaper establishments. I was tempted by the lychees with ice-cream, but where ice-cream is famed for its food poisoning effects with the frequent power cuts, I still felt reluctant.

Soothing the tummy with some fresh coconut
It was a nice place with back-up generators no doubt, and the wife was pleased to take the risk on the ice-cream, and leave me with the fruit. We'd had our share of dodgy street vendors. Feeling a little fussy, I therefore asked the waiter if he could please bring us the chosen dish, but with the ice-cream separately. "Of course sir" he said…"would you also like me to bring the lychees separately?" Arrrrgh! I hate it when they trap me with a philosophical conundrum like that.

Looking for sneaky spots to 'make toilet' whilst on the plantation tour!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

GETTING A SWEAT ON: (Aleppey, Kerala, India)

We followed up our delightful backwaters trip with Les Herberts and Spinkette, with a canoe ride to some of the smaller Keralan villages. It was beautiful.

I did some more of that thinking around how comfortable we might be with someone physically working for you - never sits easy being cycled around in a rickshaw, or rowed in a canoe. Until now, I have in fact hired a rickshaw on the proviso that I do the cycling whilst the driver sits in the back. But then my discomfort with human labour probably arises because I can see them doing it, unlike when Asian farmers pick my fruit, Africans mine minerals for my mobile phone use, or South Americans picking my coffee. Not sure why I feel a bit better about builders fixing my ceiling? Probably because they normally rip me off.

Anyhoo, enough thinking about social justice, equality, and blah blah blah. Just enjoy the view right? What a troubled soul. Inspired by the scenery Neko thought about colours to decorate the front room, and the usual puppies and kitties...whilst I picked up a paddle and joined the paddling at the front of the boat.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

BACKWATERS: (Aleppey, Kerala, India)

We got to spend a couple of wonderful days with Trev & Poly, Laura, George & Zoe in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

It was utterly relaxing.

We took a rice boat along the canals whilst we had the finest south Indian food prepared for us. It was so peaceful and pleasant…definitely a recommendation.

What wasn't quite as relaxing was posing for a photo with a huge anxty temple elephant in the street for Neko. Such is her love for animals, she made me wait until the beast was breathing down my neck, and the owner actually hitting me with a stick until I was out the way.