Links of the day


Friday, March 20, 2009

March 18, Quy Nhon -> Hoi An : While in Quy Nhon, I pulled a vietnamese on the Viets and invited them to drink on my round. Thank you phrasebook! In addition to making fun at the expense of the unmarried daughter, there seem be a running joke everywhere in the country where I am the subject of the joke. It's about my nose. Need to study Vietnamese further and figure it out. Arrive in Hoi An, which is incredibly romantic, in the western-sense. The city is composed of 500 tailors, 500 shoe makers, and 500 huppé restaurants. It's low season, the waitresses look desperate for company.

March 19, Hoi An -> Dong Hoi : Stop in Hué for an authentic meal cooked in the middle of the market for the staff of the booths, and it tastes just like home (Hi Cou~'ng!). I buy flowers for two of the unmarried daughters I meet. Hoi An must have rubbed off. Arrive in Dong Hoi and share diner (and beer) with the Vietnamese director of Afterward, the local choral lets go and I find myself swamped amongst schoolgirls again.

March 20, Dong Hoi -> Do Luong : With 85 million people in such a small land, there is hardly any space between the villages. Riding along the highway is a long sequence of Victoriavilles stringed together like pearls on a necklace. I veer West towards the mountains but the moment the driving was turning sporty it starts to rain. Booo. The locals make fun of my drenchedness over cheerful mugs of Bia Hoi Ha Noi.

Only 300 kilometers left to reach Hanoi.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 14, Saigon -> My Tho : Decide that the people up North give better pantomimed directions, and are much nicer over all. Commit to reaching Hanoi by motorbike in 9 days (1789 km). Try to get some pictures printed, but meet the entire family at the print-shop instead. All theories of North-vs-South Vietnam needing a revision.

March 15, My Tho -> Mui Ne' Beach : Grand effort to wake up at 5:00 am to take picture of the empty port, but find it filled with Vietnameses doing their Thai Chi. Spur road around Saigon most dangerous ever. Dead body on the road. The police was there. They put a chunk of cardboard on her. :-((

March 16, Mui Ne' Beach -> Middle of nowhere near Nha Thang : Wake up in my beach resort. Can't believe the price of the room nightly is less than the rent daily in Montreal. Bob up and down with the slow waves. My way out of the village find itself slowed by a sea of village schoolgirls pouring in the reverse direction. On the way, Guillaume find a place so remote there is nothing at all.

March 17, Near Nha Thang -> Quy Nhon : Practice trombone around the local pagoda. Tragedy! I lose my Vietnamese mobile with all the phone numbers of cute girls it contains. The road is an endless scenic which I fail to capture on camera. All the beauty doesn't fit in the lens.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Once you get out of the tourists-and-w*res district, Saigon is actually quite nice. It looks like a fabulous city to be rich in. It has french cafes with realistic-looking baguettes, impeccable fashion stores, art galleries selling beautiful fakes. Name it, if your neighbor Vietnam-dong-billionaire likes it, Saigon's got it.

However, it does not have any coffee. Not any coffee to care for anyway. I suppose it never gets cold enough for a street-side Caf fe nom sua here, but don't these people ever need to wake up?

I spent the day riding around the Mekong Delta. The book makes a lot of the cultural impact that the American presence had on the South, but this is silly, I feel like I am touring the poorer parts of Louisiana.

So this is it, I going back to the North.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Guillaume has found a place so remote there is no Internet

This trip is progressing much faster than my ability to write it down. I do visualization exercises at night to commit as much as I can to long-term memory. The places I have seen, the people I have met, the mystery meats I have eaten.

March 3, Hanoi -> Ha Phong : Separated highway, mostly motorbikes but also rural buggies pulled by orcs. The whole highway has a bicycle lane. Ha Phong is built around a park, which radiate a wonderful sense of place. Must be the feng shui. Share diner with some guys at a street-side booth, drink too much vodka for the amount of beer. Cheers abounds.

March 4, Ha Phong -> Cat Ba : Pay 3$ to the guys that loaded my motorbike on the pedestrian ferry. Ride up the mountain of this Jurassic island. Play pool at a street-side booth with 12 guys a girl and a shark.

March 5, Organized boat tour around Halong Bay, World Heritage Site : Wth I am doing in a tour? Talk politics with the Americans.

March 6, Cat Ba -> Lang Son : Breakfast pho in the fishing village. Locals feed me has much vodka as they can before the ferry leaves. Superbly cute baby plays wave-at-the-foreigner. Cute girls my age play phrasebook. In a village, share lunch with all the women of the family. In another village, coffee with impeccably fashionable 18 year old who dreams of travels (and is a killer at the phrasebook game). On arrival in Lang Son, share diner with the waitresses.

March 7, Lang Son -> Nguyen Binh : Ride up the mountains as the fog clears. Most fun driving since the Ridge Racer days. Share diner with the daughters at the hotel. Seems to be leaving behind a trail of brokenhearted 18y-olds who somehow got a hold of my phone number.

March 8, Nguyen Binh -> Ha Giang : More breathtaking views from the narrow coiled roads. Did not fall down the cliff, did not become a pancake on the front grill of a truck. Minority villagers surround my bike in silence, curious but careful, as I ask for directions with the best Vietnamese pronunciation I can manage. Share lunch with a Vietnam-China custom officer.

March 9, Stay in Ha Giang : An entire school ground of kids ask for the foreigner's name and wave, overjoyed that their hard-learned English is being heard by someone. Play phrasebook with the elderly owner of a tastefully decorated coffee house off the main road. Diner with the hotel staff. Spend most of the evening with the maids, in fact. They are learning trombone.

March 10, Ha Giang -> Hanoi : More pleasure driving. Takes longer than planned due to all the delicious coffee (and company) on the way. Lots of oddities on the road, such as a truck full of pigs, who are wrapped in stuff sacs, piled 4-high, with plugs in their bottom so they do not dirty the road. I follow it for a while, in horror. The pigs squeal.

March 11, Hanoi -> Saigon : By train, it's 60$ for me, and 20$ for my motorbike. The trains crawls at 50 km/h, feels like it's hitting turbulence every 30 minutes, and takes 33 hours to get there. The awful food is a reminder to never eat in a state-run restaurant in a communist country. Beer is plentiful though.

March 12, Arrive in Saigon : I'm in shock. It's like all the vietnameseness of the Saigoneses was pressed out of the Viets under the weight of too much money. A mere 1/5 of the faces show the happy, playful smile that I know from the North. A drive-by thief tries to snatch a handbag. Moms driving scooters stop by me : "see my daughter back, she give you gentle massage and f*k you." I haven't seen so much filth since visiting Amsterdam, and I've only been here 3 hours. Things may be better in a different district, we'll see.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Joy is Pho, Coffee, Tea

One small plane hop, and here I am in Vietnam.

This trip began in 2005 when I took appartment into what would become the birthplace of the Vietnamese Expat community in Providence. You might have heard the joke before, during that period I had between 3 and 12 roomates depending on how you counted, since many Viets who officially didn't live there nevertheless spent most of their time with us. Every evening we hosted the group diner (feast!) which was full of fun and sillinesses et surtout, bien arrose'. I soon learned not to skip the diners, first because when in Rome you don't skip diner, and second because they did wonder for my happyness level. Nearing the end of my time in the house Cou~'ng had the best quote: "By now you may think you know Vietnamese culture, but be careful, we are, actually, pretty cool. :)"

Cou~'ng, it's time for me to find out just are cool you are.

I landed in Hanoi on Saturday (Feburary 28) and proceeded to gather the elements necessary for this trip. Motorbike, check. Helmet, gloves, road map, insurance, check check check. With my trusty leather trenchcoat, I was ready to face the mountains of North Vietnam. Trecheous yes, but they are also reputed to contain some of the best moto rides on the planet.

In Hanoi, you order Pho. Or rather, you stumble with your non-existant Vietnamese trying to order a meal, and the woman correctly assumes that you want Pho. In Vietnam, it's Pho for breakfast, Pho for lunch, Pho for afternoon snack, etc. There is a clock somewhere that counts the time before I tire of Pho, but this country isn't old enough to contain it. The Pho in Hanoi is delicious, as I expected.

What I did not expect, was to meet the love of my life in Hanoi within 12 hours of my arrival. Early Sunday morning, Nguyen took me to a coffee house for a true cup of Vietname coffee, dark, deep, sweet, rich and almony. What I wonder! I'm sorry Italy, I'm sorry expresso, for now on I have eyes only for Caffe'e no'm su^a.

Thus, with Pho and coffee, this trip was off to a good start, and it will get better as I ride deeper into the tea-producing country side. I can't wait.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Cheap, Cheapish, and not cheap at all.

In Bangkok the most expensive mean of travel is the tuktuk. They have no meters and their drivers always quotes 200 baht (5$) irrespective of your travel distance, because (I suspect) the Lonely Planet advices that no ride should cost more than 200 baht. Paradoxally, the luxury taxis are cheaper. Cheaper still, is the metro, which at first glance looks like a fake-copy of the one in Delhi. The least expensive are the boat buses which races around the canals of Bangkok. Most Thais dislike them because the powerful rip waves from the boats often crashes on walls of the canal, spraying of sweage-water back at the boat. Yum. The more daring Thais are provided with a traffic-free commute into town, and with entertainment whenever a foreigners falls over, so it's all good.

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