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Vietnam

Mui Ne Beach, round 2

…go on, eat the fish eyes.

semi-overcast 31 °C
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Since our arrival at Mui Ne Beach 4 days ago, Candy, Mike and I have seen more than Mike and I saw in 2 weeks last time around. It was also peeing down rain last time, so maybe that’s why. It’s still a little rainy and overcast, but the forecast looks good this weekend for some wind! Fingers crossed, people!

Looking for a hotel the first day was a fun little chore. The three of us slid into a taxi and headed toward the south end of the beach in order to saunter our way back to the north, stopping in each hotel to ask price and availability of the rooms. The range seems to be about $10 - $80/night, of the hotels we saw. We opted for the nice, simple room with A/C, hot water and mini fridge for $10/night at Nam Khai Guest House, just across the street from Wax, the bar where we spent most of our time last time – drinking Tiger beer and waiting for the rain to stop.

After finding and securing our rooms for the next night, we crossed the street and headed out to the beach for a wander back to our old hotel, the Hoang Kim Golden Resort, which is located pretty far to the north of the kiting beach – too long to trudge every day in the heat with the kites! Plus, they’re doing construction on all the rooms on the first floor, so we were woken up at 8am both days we were there. It took us about an hour to get to the hotel on foot…in the sand…and the heat…phew!

It was a lovely intro back into Mui Ne life, and speaking of lovely intros, I was lucky enough to get to share an introductory yoga lesson with my friend Candy later that night in the soft glow of the pool. I bought an audio yoga CD by Janet Stone (she teaches at Yoga Tree in San Francisco), which I synced to my iPod. Plug the iPod into portable speakers, place by the pool, and ta-da… instant yoga class! Candy did swimmingly as a first-timer, and I greatly enjoyed sharing the experience with her. Yoga has been central to healing in my life. Whether sharing the class with one or tens of people, or just on my own, yoga centers me, is my moving meditation, keeps me in touch with what really matters to me. It also happens to be a great workout. My and Candy’s session was intensified by the presence of one very large bat. Yes, I said BAT! While holding a pose as we faced the pool, he skimmed the water 3 or 4 times in search of bugs….that or he was scoping out who would be liberated of their blood, Candy or me!!! A few minutes later, I heard a commotion above my head and off to the right a little, looked over, and in the light of the pool just his head was visible – the rest of him was attached by his feet to the overhang of one of the first floor bungalows. He screeched. And screeched again. My heart rate shot up and I wondered if we should haul ass or brave the beast lurking in half-light, lusting after our blood. Then I wondered if the mosquito repellant I had nearly drowned myself in prior to our meditation worked on bats, too. Then I realized that this is real yoga, maintaining calm in the midst of calamity. Meanwhile, back at the ranch…. Don’t take my word for it, but citronella must be an effective repellant of bloodthirsty winged spawn of Satan…he just dangled there like a cling-on while we finished. Walking through the arboretum on our way back to our rooms, the bat dive-bombed us, and then fluttered through the front restaurant and off into the night. We returned to our rooms, unscathed.

The restaurant across from our hotel (as you’re standing at Hoang Kim, slightly to the left and across the street) was the location of a fantastic dinner that night. Fresh foil-steamed fish, rice and veggies, and Candy and I each had a fresh coconut, which contained lots more juice than I expected. Our hostess, Chin, was very attentive and kept picking more and more fish off the carcass in front of us and piling it onto our plates. Unfortunately Mike seemed to get mostly bones! Chin spoke English very well, so we chatted with her through most of the meal. I asked her how long she had worked at the restaurant, and she said that she didn’t work there, that she owned the travel agency next door. She noticed that her neighbors were very busy and volunteered to help them…how sweet! She then grabbed the eye out of the fish on the plate in front of me with her chopsticks and said, “Eating fish eyes makes your vision better!” and proceeded to plunk it down on my plate. Being an adventurous creature, I said, “Well…..uuhhhhh…..ok!” I picked up the eyeball with my chopsticks, gave it the once-over, and placed it in my mouth. Biting down was not the thing to do…I should have just swallowed…what was I thinking!!!??? It was pretty hard, I think I was gnawing on its lens, with very little aqueous/vitreous humor – it was very dry, so I chewed a few times and tried to swallow the bits. It really didn’t taste of anything, just had an odd texture, and I couldn’t stop the feeling of a fish eye swimming around and looking at the inside of my stomach.

The next day we rented bikes to ride to the fishing village about 10 miles north of the beach.

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As far as I can tell, the whole stretch is called Mui Ne. I don’t think any of us have been on a bike in a very long time. That being said, none of us crashed or was hit by a speeding passenger bus the entire time! All along this road, there are houses, food stalls, moped repair, clothing, snack shops and stunning views of red sand dunes on one side, and the South China Sea on the other.

The fishing boats were fun to see…they all seem to be similar. There are small bowl-shaped rowboats that they use to paddle out to the big boats, and then they moor the smaller boat while they go out fishing, which seems to be mostly at night or in the wee hours of the morning.

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We ran into a few local girls selling trinkets, and they followed us all the way down the steep steps to the water, holding our hands and touting their wares.

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They were so sweet, and spoke English quite well. I asked one of the girls, Jae, where she learned English, if it was in school. She said she didn’t go to school, and that she was taught by a tourism agency. I’ve heard that school isn’t free, so those who can’t afford to pay go to the streets to sell trinkets etc to tourists…seems so sad to me, but they seemed very happy and chatty, and they seemed to all be good friends. As we were getting back on our bikes, it looked to me like they were pooling the money they made from us and dividing it.

That night to reward ourselves for all our efforts during the bike ride, we proceeded to get tipsy at the bar called WAX.

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The next day, dangling by the thread of a hangover, we three booked a jeep tour of the nearby white and red sand dunes. We learned that if you’ve seen one sand dune, you’ve seen them all. The sky was particularly wild with pre-storm plumes of white fluffy cumulonimbi, which made for some majestic photos of the landscape. See the photo gallery for more pics.

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The nearby Lake of Tears was full of reeds and lotus flowers, and the ponies used for tours on the dunes were cooling themselves in the water, some almost invisible under the water with just their heads poking up out of the water.

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The Fairy Stream was the highlight of the tour, a stream that runs through a chasm of red and white sand and lush greenery and tropical flowers.

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We waded through the ankle-calf deep water for about 30 minutes, and then headed back to the jeep to continue the tour. This was actually the first stop, followed by the white dunes, the red canyon, and the red dunes. Here’s a photo of the red canyon.

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We ended our day with a drink at SNOW, an uber-cool sushi restaurant next door to our hotel – soft blue lights and plush, white décor. They happen to have wifi, so we brought the computers and had a tech moment. Later, back at the hotel, we hung out in Candy’s room before heading off to dreamland…saying goodbye to Candy was sad. It was great fun having her around, but hopefully she’ll be back this way before Saigon. If not, I plan on meeting her in Saigon for a couple days before she goes back to the US.

Yesterday was a very low-key day, as we topped up our tans on the beach, practiced poi, and had a light and early dinner before retiring to our room for rum & coke and 3 more episodes of Battlestar Galactica (not the 1970s version)…if you haven’t seen it, it’s a great series!

Today after breakfast, as the rain eased off, I jumped into a cab and headed out to the local hospital to see if I could arrange a tour and possibly some volunteer work. To my dismay, it seems to be a tourist hospital, triaging toe injuries and drunken head traumas. It was actually very quiet with only one patient getting a toe bandaged. I met the Traditional Physician, Vo, who had many local acupuncture patients coming in about ½ hour, so I waited and was able to observe his practice. It was fascinating to see. He had 2 patients on tables in separate rooms, and about 6 more in the waiting room. He sees about 15 – 20 patients per day, a decrease from 50 per day since moving here from nearby Phan Tiet. Despite our language barriers, we were able to communicate somehow, and it was a very enjoyable experience. He was surprised at the length of study I am about to embark on in the field of Natural Medicine – 6 years. I still am not sure if he was able to gather that I am about to start my studies, not just finishing them. He showed me his acupuncture book, which looked like it was hundreds of years old – it was beautiful. I was touched by his eagerness to share his practice with me, as well as his patients' willingness to allow me in the treatment rooms with them.

Posted by kmpossible 06:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Why yes, bugs and muesli happen to be my favorite breakfast food."

all seasons in one day 32 °C
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Let me start by saying, I’m a bit disillusioned today. After our first two sun-soaked days here at Mui Ne Beach, the sun has left us.

I’ll start at the beginning. Mike and I took a 5-hour bus ride to get here. Yea, 5 HOURS on a bus…that’s what I was saying to myself too. When the bus arrived at Madame Cuc’s Hotel 64 in Saigon at 8am on Sunday last to pick us up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a “special sleeping bus”. It has only about 24 seats, all of which are like a barco lounger. You climb into your seat and recline back, or lie flat the entire way. And it’s air-conditioned!!! So we cruised across Vietnam to the beach in style.

We arrived at a hotel arranged by the girl at the front desk at the previous hotel, and were swept into our room. We got the cheap room with no AC, so by the time we got our bags inside, we were ready to get into the water! We took a quick wade in the ocean followed by lunch. A plate of swordfish, a little overcooked and dry, and a noodle plate with some shrimp, plus a couple freshly squeezed juice drinks. Afterwards, we went to the room to relax a bit and possibly take a nap. It’s tough work sitting on a bus reading and listening to music for 5 hours. =)

About 10 minutes after we lay down on the bed, the fan stopped working. And the room became like an oven. We sat there trying to figure out what to do, when I noticed a shadow go across the ceiling, which was made of thin corrugated plastic. (Over that roof was another, thatched roof.) I thought it was just a bird, but then I heard the clickety clack of tiny little toenails as several huge rats made their way across the roof again…they had a nest up there! Stunned into silence and sweating like a whore in church, I lay there frozen. Just then, I heard ‘scamper scamper, clicking of toenails, and a loud THUD and a SQUEEK!’ One of the rats had gotten into a skirmish with one of the other rats, and had fallen off the roof and into our bathroom. We were suddenly and surprisingly galvanized – we hurriedly packed our bags back up and checked out of what will forever be known as “The Rat Motel”.

We walked down the road to find another hotel, and came across a sign that said “70% off rooms”…we checked it out, and that’s where we continue to call home, at the Windchamps Resort and Kiting School. Sunday and Monday were windy, sunny, and hot, but we decided to catch some rays and rest a bit from our harrowing horizontal journey from Saigon instead of doing what we came here to do: KITE!

As our luck would have it (Baja Revisited?), there’s been no wind since then, and it’s now Friday. To add insult to injury (there have been injuries…more on that later) it’s been pissing down with rain since then, with a brief break yesterday, but no sun. Today it’s a little better, and the sun actually just came out. The whole time it’s been humid as hell though.

We actually pumped up our kites yesterday and got all our gear on as the wind was pretty good, but still no sun. Just as we tried to launch my kite, the wind died. Boo hoo! So we made the best of it and played in the water. Like most beaches around the world, there are lots of dogs here. One such beast trotted up to my kite like he owned the place and promptly proceeded to lift his leg on it! “Oh hell no!” I shouted and ran toward the mongrel. He only got a little squirt out. Lucky for me there was just enough wind to blow the piss onto the sand instead of landing on my kite. “Little bastard!” Mike’s kite was down wind a bit, which is exactly where the dog headed next. I thought surely he’ll realize that I’m watching and won’t make the attempt. I followed him just incase. Sure enough, he lifted his leg again!!!! This time I was much closer to him, so I sprinted across the sand and just as I came up behind him, I kicked the sand (full of lots of shards of shells) right at his boy-dog bits. He yelped and jumped about 4 feet in the air. “I hope you don’t sit down for a week!” I win – two to nothin’.

Last night we went to a more expensive restaurant than we’ve been frequenting to see if the food is any better – it’s mostly been crap. Not even OK, just crap! This place was no exception. We were greeted twice, first by the wait staff, who seated us near a 2-foot retainer wall, and second, by the biggest rat I’ve ever seen, who seated us again, at a table far away from whatever dead thing it was trying to eat on the other side of the wall. We were dressed in jeans and hoodies, not because it was chilly, but because we’re being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the night as we sleep (the aforementioned injuries!), despite our mosquito net! So we told the waiter we were moving to be in front of the fan…stupid Americans and their weather-inappropriate clothing!

The food came and seriously it was nothing noteworthy…we thought the fish would be incredibly fresh because this place is ON the water, but that’s been bad too. Over cooked and dry, and not much variety: shrimp, squid, swordfish. The three S’s of Mui Ne seafood. Well I’ve got three more for you: soggy, scorching and scratchy! …aw well, make it four: Scrabble! You’ll play a lot of it if you come to visit here this time of year! =)

So we tried also last night to stay awake past 7pm., a tough endeavor for us, but we managed, even after Mike took 2 Benadryl for the ungodly number of mosquito bites he has all over him. I’m not getting bitten as much, thankfully.

Upon waking this morning, we walked to our new favorite place for breakfast. They actually serve something that doesn’t come with a baguette, so we both ordered that: fruit bowl with yogurt and muesli, as well as some Vietnamese coffee. We shared that and an omelette two mornings ago, and it was great. The coffee came and we were chatting about what to do if the wind doesn’t pick up and it continues to rain. We’re thinking about heading to Bali for the rest of the month if things here don’t pick up, and maybe head back here later in the year when the rains have died down.

Breakfast arrived at the table, a lively bowl of local watermelon, pineapple, banana, yogurt and muesli. I sat admiring the simple yummieness (yes, it’s a word!) of it, and realized that there were tiny little bugs crawling on the muesli! Mike’s was the same, so we sent them back. I think the girl just opened a new box, scraped off the old stuff and poured on some fresh cereal, because when I got to the bottom of my bowl, there it was, the lonely carcass of one of the tiny bugs…probably drowned in yogurt. I was completely grossed out. I won’t be ordering the fruit bowl again, and would certainly think twice about going back there again.

Back at the hotel, there is a swarm of dragonflies buzzing over and around the pool area. I think it’s a sign…this is biblical. They carried away a small child. …not that I mind, but I think the parents did.

Enough is enough.

As the plague of dragonflies swarms around me blotting out the sun, I book a flight to Bali, and hope for some FREAKING WIND!

Posted by kmpossible 04:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good morning Vietnam!

all seasons in one day
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Today we were up at about 5am, and ready for breakfast! We putzed around the room for a bit and then headed downstairs to greet the day. The lobby was already alive with activity, since our room included breakfast (and dinner), people were down there eating. Breakfast was a baguette with butter and jam and coffee or tea. So we obliged the girl offering us our breakfast, and sat down to eat. We weren’t really full from just a bit of bread, so we headed out to Café Zoom for some more Vietnamese coffee and omelets. I didn’t realize that baguettes are so popular here, but you get them for breakfast with pretty much anything you order.

We sat there in amazement as the motorbikes passed us by – so many people on their way to work!

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Venturing back out into the heat of the day, we opted to check out the War Remnants Museum, not too far from where we had breakfast. As the museum closed at noon, we had to hustle (i.e. shuffle along slowly so as to not get heat stroke!). We made it in plenty of time to see more than enough – I believe we saw 5 of the 7 buildings/displays. It was a very sobering experience. I hadn’t seen any of these pictures of people (of ALL ages) who had been injured by phosphorus bombs, and agent orange bombs.

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There was one whole room dedicated to giving you the play by play of the tortures people in prison camps endured. Women had snakes put up their pant legs while they were held down. Top halves of people’s heads would be shaved, and then the person would be strapped to a chair, while water would drip on them, drop by drop by drop. Each drop felt like a heavy blow to the brain. One I found particular disturbing (of course, they all are) was this: a hose is inserted into your nose, all the way to your stomach, as you’re strapped flat on your back to a board – declined with your head lower than your feet. Into the hose they would pour limey water, or sometimes soapy water, until your stomach would bloat in a strange way. Then they would punch and kick you in the stomach until bloody discharge would come out of your nose and mouth. Did I mention that you’re gagged as well? …terrible, awful, nasty things…I can’t imagine laughing and watching someone suffer.

I was wiped out by that experience, so we headed back to the room for a nap to revive our tortured souls. And then the rains came! There was thunder and lightening and a terrific downpour that lasted about 2 hours. We ventured out after the worst of it stopped to find the street in front of our hotel flooded.

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We slogged through to find some pho…tasty tasty! We each had a bowl of the noodle soup and a soda, and the bill came to 49,000 dong, which is about $3. …I think we napped again at that point, but I’m not sure…we’ve been sleeping a lot! Later that night we grabbed a quick dinner down the street and went back to sleep. Jet lag is hell!

All in all, I loved Saigon, but I’m still unimpressed by the food. =(

Posted by kmpossible 20:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Exit Manila, Enter Saigon

all seasons in one day
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Ok ok, so let me just say, Manila airport isn’t THAT bad…just on arrival there’s no air-con, upon departure, there IS air-con. There seems to be a strange trail of paper we’re leaving behind us here…everyone likes to give you a bit of paper to sign – for instance when we got a couple towels near the pool at our hotel in Manila, the attendant gave me a receipt saying that I had two towels. So I signed it and he was happy…seems a bit unnecessary when they have the room number, but whatever.

So we left Manila airport at about 11pm on Cebu Pacific airlines – which must be the worst airline EVER. Upon first inspection, it looks and feels just like any other airplane, except the fact that it was colder than a meat locker (mmmmmm….meat!). When you sit down, you start to notice little things, like the exit signs that are just a little too brightly lit, and the arm rests don’t have the requisite channel change and volume buttons…there’s nothing there! Luckily, we thought, the seats do recline – no small feat of engineering for seats that are literally 12 inches apart front to back. Taking off on our 3 hour flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), we realize that our particular seats DO NOT recline. Oh well I thought, until the people in front of me reclined, putting my nose securely on the back of their seat. Hummph! Grrrr! Well, at least I can’t fall forward in the event of a “water landing”. I wonder if they really DO have the oxygen masks and floaty seat cushions, or if it’s all for show.

I somehow manage to sleep fitfully, waking up every 10 or 15 seconds saying audibly “Aaaaaoooooooooow(ch)” and then nodding off again.

Did I mention that we’re actually having a good time??? No really, it’s great, just some things – most things - aren’t exactly how I pictured them.

Arriving in Saigon was a treat. The airport is expansive and shiny, very clean, and immigration and customs were a breeze - possibly because it was 1am. Our bags came, once again, faster than they do at SFO. We were met by a boisterous man with a sign bearing my name, who prompted us into a taxi...our kite bags were put into a SUV type car, and we were taken separately in another car, which scared me a bit. My fear wasn't squashed when Mike said "That's probably the last time we see those bags." I didn't realize he was kidding, and went into panic mode until our car caught up with the other taxi containing our bags.

We stayed that night and the following night at Madame Cuc's in Saigon. We arrived very early in the morning, so the gates were locked in front of the hotel, and a very sleepy girl opened them for us. We stood there in the dark just inside the doors trying to figure out what she was saying (turns out it was "passport"). She was gesturing to us, but as it was so dark, we couldn't see what she was doing...it was very frustrating for all, since we were all tired. We finally got the passports out, which they hold at the front desk in a safe until you check out, and more importantly, pay. The hotel was very shiny and clean, and that was comforting. Following the empty-handed girl, we lugged our 50lb kite bags plus our backpacks up what seemed like 5000 flights of stairs, the lower floors having shallow steps. Each floor the stairs got steeper and steeper, which didn't make the climb any easier, and on no sleep and little food. Check out the photo, can you see the bottom floor? This photo was taken from the floor below us, so we were even further up:

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Finally, we got some sleep after turning on the air conditioning...ahhhhh.

Posted by kmpossible 21:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged air_travel Comments (2)

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