Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ayutthaya, Thailand

I'm here relaxing for probably the last time in several months. After flying back to Chicago I fly to Kansas (will know for sure when after I get back), drive to Chicago, drive to Kansas, fly to Chicago, fly to Philadelphia, then on to Istanbul and then Uz. Then three months of having to learn Russian and/or Uzbeki, and then two years of living on about $100 / month and existing on flat bread, potatos, and mutton (or so they say).

It has been getting up to about 80 or so here. Very lovely. Lots of wats around town - old ruins and newer ones as well. Ayutthaya was the ancient capital of Siam, before the Burmese sacked it in the mafnmnth century (19th maybe??). Anyways, it's very laid back and great to bicycle around - although I did get a flat this afternoon and will need to get that fixed. Also kicked a brick and busted up my big toe. Blood all over. I guess not everything is going to cooperate with me. It's still better then having to deal with Bangkok. The only drawback is all the mangy dogs roaming around - most with mottled tuffs of hair and many limping (that's what you get for sleeping on the road). They're usually well behaved, but will occasionally give chase. And no, I didn't get a rabies vaccination before I left.

Two more days then off to the airport early early Friday morning. I think I'm going to try and catch the train around 3:30 am. One hour to the airport. Flight leaves at 7:00 am. Stop in Tokyo and back in Chicago Friday afternoon. Customs, el, taxi, so much fun to look forward to.

So that's the story from Thailand. I probably won't have anything else to report until I return.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Vientiane, Laos

Well, the 160 km ride wasn't too bad. Newly paved road, lots of curves, and a few small hills. Wind coming in from the north, so generally a crosswind, but occasional head and tail winds - I was passing motorcycles when I headed down hill with a tail wind. Whee! Quite a desolate stretch of highway, with only sporadic villages consisting of huts on stilts. But they were nice huts with 4x4s and faux-thatch paneling. Lots of kids waving and yelling "sabadai" and "bye-bye". Very little traffic as well. I usually biked down the center of the lane.

Savanakhet seemed like a nice town, but I had no map so I was generally lost. Spoke to a couple young buddhist monks. Sounds like they've got the best education in the country - 15 subjects and classes from 8am - 8pm.

The bus from Savan to Vientiane was less exciting. The high point was when a rear tire blew and the bus filled with smoke.

Vientiane, like the rest of Laos, is quite laid back. You almost have to strain to here the tuk-tuk and moto drivers calling for you. One "no thanks" and they leave you alone. The people in the markets don't latch on to you, and at times seem almost unwilling to make a sell. A number of people are interested in just speaking English with you and not making a sell. I don't think I spoke with a single person in Vietnam who wasn't trying to sell me something.

So I'll probably spend one more day here, then bike to the Thai border and down to Udon Thani on the 17th (not sure what day that is, nor do I know what day today, the 15th, is). Then down to Khon Kaen where I'll catch a train to Ayutthay. A couple days there and then down to Bangkok. And finally head back to Chicago. That's the current plan, at least.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Don Ho? Dang Ha?

Finally made it out of Hue. I've grown weary of moto and cyclo drivers. I was even relieved to see the gathering hordes of children when I stopped for a drink (right next to a grade school). It's nice and cool up here in central Nam - about 70F out right now. Of course the locals have on their winter coats, scarves, and stocking caps. There were a few sprinkles along the way, but nothing too bad. One more day in Nam and then into Laos - which is suppose to be much more laid back, Cambodia like. Apparently they don't get too many visitors here in Dong Ha - my room was listed for $19 and I said it was too much. The receptionist asked how much I could pay, so I said $10. She said, "$10, ok." I didn't even bother to look at the room. Not a bad place either - looks like hot water, satellite tv, and even a balcony and mini-bar. I probably didn't look like I could pay more then $10 anyways - my shirt was sprayed with flecks of reddish mud, making it look like I had been standing behind someone who got blasted with a shotgun.

BTW, sending email out of this place seems to be an impossibility. Which is annoying, as I am trying to schedule my limited time in the US. Anyways, for those expecting email from me (and those who I've been pestering with email and don't want anymore), I will try to get emails sent ASAP. I'm not sure when, especially since Laos will probably be pretty spartan. I believe Savan should have internet, which is where I'll be in 4 days. I can sometimes read emails, so don't be afraid to send them to me. Especially if I'm expecting to hear from you.

Thursday, December 9, 2004


I've finally managed to escape Saigon and have made it to Hue (just south of the DMZ). I don't want to say I hated Saigon, but I wouldn't recommend it for anything more then a quick stop over. You definitely have to stay on your toes there. Walking is a constant headache as there are very few sidewalks, or where sidewalks exist you have to constantly weave around food stands and motos. And the motos are more dangerous then on the street, since they pretty much have free reign on the sidewalks. Basically, nobody looks to see where they are going. On the streets, at least the motos will weave around you as long as you keep a nice steady pace. Bargaining is expected for almost everything, and there are enough people who want to scam the "rich foreigners," you have to be pretty good with your quick calculations. And after all this travelling, I sometimes get confused. It's roughly 15,000 dong/$ and a couple times I almost got upset when I felt the internet place was overcharging me by 500 dong. Of course, that works out to about 3 cents. At the market, I almost ended up paying 650,000 dong for a shirt, when the price should have been closer to 65,000. That woman wasn't too happy to see me run off once I figured it out. Motos drivers will try to charge 100,000 dong for 10,000 dong rides. Like they say, the Vietnamese are much more tourist savvey then the other Southeast Asians.

Here in Hue, I have reached the climatic north. It's about 70F and quite gray out. I have a few days of sight seeing here before heading east. Hue was the capital of Vietnam and has the Purple Forbidden City, plus lots of tombs around the city. I'll bike about 5 or 6 days east before heading up to Vientenne via bus and then taking the train down to Bangkok. Just over two weeks left.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

HCMC (the pictures)

No, this is not Sturgis.

The Cau Dai Temple - Buddhism+Catholicism+Confuscism+Something else

Cau Dai worshippers

Hidden Cu Chi Tunnel Entrance

Saturday, December 4, 2004


- Currently stuck in Ho Chi Minh, as I need to apply for a new (Peace Corps) passport at the consulate office. Unfortunately, their hours are 8:30-11:30, Mon-Thur. On the plus side, I know now what job I want after the Peace Corps.

- Went out to Cu Chi to see the tunnels. Or at least the reconstructed tunnels. They were still quite small. Interesting little propaganda film from the late 60's showing VC's laying mines. They also had various bamboo traps and of course kitschy souveniers (bottled cobra anyone?).

- The Christmas trees and santas look out of place.

- Not much to do here but wait for Monday. I guess it's better then being stuck on the train for three days (for a 20 hour trip) due to the flooding. As someone I was talking to had been.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Major Announcement

Soooo, I now have my plan. At least for 27 months in the forthcoming dark age. I have been offered, and accepted, a position with the Peace Corps. I will be going to Sunni Uzbekistan. Which means I will be heading back early (returning Dec 24 - that and Dec 25 were the only flights with room between now and February), making the rounds (early January), and leaving January 15.

In the meantimes, I'm training it up to Hue, biking across the DMZ, into Laos. Taking a bus to Vientienne, and then train back down to Bangkok. So only one mountain to cross (about 400m on the Vietnam / Laos border) and 6 days of biking.