south east asia on a shoestring

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Well, I am back in Vientiane after a whirlwind trip.  It feels like I haven’t slept in years.

Quickly, this was my itinerary:

Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho, Vietnam, by AUNILO bus

My Tho to Chau Doc Vietnam by Vietnamese van, 7 hours of HELL, including a ferry crossing of the Mekong and going through Sadec, formerly the hometown of Margeurite Duras.

Chau Doc to Phnom Penh Cambodia by Boat

Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by bus

Angkor Wat by Bicycle and tuk-tuk

Siem Reap to Vientiane, Laos, by airplane.

Then I cam back friday, taught a class, went to a wedding, and have been going non-stop since.  Back to work today!

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More pictures coming soon!

hello from ho chi minh

Holy shit.  Ho Chi Minh City is a chaotic frenzied mass of motorcycles, all perpetually honking.

Anyway, I shall write more about Vietnam later.  First a quick summary of my travels for far:

After a grumpy start at the Vientiane Talat Sao bus station, when at 9 in the morning the lady told me I couldn’t buy a ticket for the 4 pm bus to Udon Thani, and I missed my bus to the University.  After waiting an hour for the next bus to the University, which never showed up, at 10:15 I called my boss and told him “I give up on the bus.  See you in Vietnam!”, then I went home and sulked.  At 12 pm I rode my bike back to the bus station and bought the ticket for the 4 pm bus, 22,000 kip (about $3).  Then at 3:30 I went back again to actually get back on the bus.

At 4:00 we left Vientiane, about 30 minutes later we arrived at the Friendship Bridge.  After 2 HOURS of standing in lines, we were finally in Thailand, and then another 45 minutes to Udon Thani.  In Udon Thani I went to the “Ruangsoupraeth” VIP Bus company and bought a ticket for the 9:30 pm bus to Bangkok, 443 Thai Baht (about 15 dollars).  Then I went to the mall and ate KFC, 100 baht ($3), which was really exciting.  At 9:00 I went back to the bus station, got on the bus, and while some science-fiction horror movie starring The Rock dubbed in Thai played, I tried to sleep.  Actually the bus was quite comfortable, but I always have nightmares the driver is falling asleep and we are about to careen off the highway so sleeping on night busses is alwasy a challenge for me. Anyway, at 6:00 am we rolled into Bangkok.  This was the first time I had ever been to Bangkok, even though it’s only a $15 bus ride away…

I argued with a tuk-tuk driver for about 10 minutes and convinced him to take me to a guesthouse my friend Dani recommended for 140 Baht (about $4).  Bangkok traffic, even at 6 in the morning, is also pretty horrendous.

I went to this guesthouse, and asked if I could have a room for 6 hours.  Anyway, to make a long story short, the woman was an asshole, she ripped me off, and I highly do not recommend Tavee guesthouse in Thewet, Bangkok.  Anyway, after paying too much because I was exhausted, I fell asleep for 2 hours, then found a tuk-tuk who I told to take me to “Pratunam market”, where I have heard all the cheap shit is.  An hour later (yes, Bangkok traffic is horrendous) we pulled up in front of PLATINUM shopping center.  At that point I didn’t want to be on the road or in a tuk-tuk any longer so I got out. It turned out Platinum is like heaven, actually.  Shoe and handbag and clothing heaven, all reasonably priced, and no need to bargain for 20 minutes per item!

After dropping a few thousand baht, I went back to the guesthouse to get a bite to eat and grab my bag before heading to the airport for my flight to HCMC.  As I was walking past a cafe around noon (11pm Chicago time), I noticed a bunch of people with their eyes glued to CNN.  Obama was giving a speech.  Until that point I had completely forgotten about the election, since I sent in my absentee ballot months ago.  As I stumbled to take off my shoes to walk into the cafe I said “Did he win !??! Did he win !??!”.  I got a very bland “Yes.” in response.  “Hooray!!  Hooray!” I shouted.  Then everyone looked at me strangely.  I guess they had had more time to digest the news and we’re as excitable as me.  Anyway I just put my shoes back on and ran away from all the un-excited people.

I got my bag, and after listening to the lady at the gueshouse try and convince me for 10 minutes to take a taxi to the aiport for 450 baht ($15), and refusing to tell me where to take a bus from, I finally just left and decided to take a tuk-tuk to Khao San rd where I was pretty sure some bus or van to the airport must leave from.  I arrived, bought my ticket at a little kiosk for 130 baht, plus 20 for the tuk tuk ($5), and arrived at the aiport around 2:15, checked in for my 3:55 flight, and then hit the duty free shops.  I probably should have just spent the $400 to fly directly from Vientiane to HCMC, considering the loads of cash I am dropping on the way, but at least I get more than crappy airline food as a souvenir.

I arrived in HCMC around 5:30, and a lovely young lady from the University of Vietnam was waiting for me to escort me to my hotel.  However, due to the aforementioned chaotic frenzied traffic in this city, it actually took over 1 hour of mostly stop-and-go traffic to get to the hotel from the airport.

This hotel has more than it’s fare share of funny anecdotes, mostly due to the extreme lack of English comprehension of any staff member here, and my zero knowledge of the vietnamese language. I have to write a paper right now but I will share them later.

travel plans, etc.

This week seems like it’s dragging on in agony.  I received some bad news today – my application for a Canadian work permit was rejected because it was 3 weeks late.  I tried to contest the rejection on the grounds that I couldn’t have submitted the application any sooner as I was the victim of credit card fraud and could not pay the application fee until I had received my new debit card.  Canada basically told me to go f*%& myself, and won’t even refund me the $150 I threw down for the application fee.

I HATE CANADA.

I spent a lot of this week running around to the Vietnamese embassy, and the Cambodian embassy, getting things prepared for my upcoming trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Phenom Penh, and Siem Reap.  I am looking forward to having a few days off to see a bit of Asia and relax.  I might actually even get to visit a beach.

I am looking forward to seeing HCMC – mostly because of all of the literary references to Saigon I am familiar with.  My favorites of course are “The Quiet American” by Graham Greene, and “L’Amant” (The Lover), by Marguerite Duras.

With regards to Cambodia, I don’t really know what to expect, though I have heard Angkor Wat is awe-inspiring.

I don’t plan on spending much time in Vietnam – I will probably be returning there in April for the Consortium of Asian Librarians, at which time I hope to get to visit Halong Bay and other interesting sites.

Things are pretty quiet in Vientiane… my term at school has almost finished and next week is the last week of classes.  I am looking forward to a break from teaching.  I hope to use the time to make some conceptual art to decorate my walls with; my apartment is really spartan looking.  I want to try and make a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. out of 500 kip notes.

This week I also went to the Vientiane Swimming pool twice – I feel very happy to be getting back into the habit of swimming.  I’m trying to go every Tuesday and Thursday morning.  We’ll see how long that lasts….