Tucker in Asia

Monday, July 24, 2006


My time wandering around Asia has come to an end, as of last Saturday night (the 22nd of July). The last 48 hours were maybe the most enjoyable. That is, I was able to fully enjoy all 48 hours because I didn't sleep. More of that story later (it wasn't that bad, certainly no worse than the 22 hour train ride in China).

The last days in Thailand were marvelous. Though visiting the beaches of Thailand is a jump into the western holiday world locations still exist that closely resemble paradise. For the last week we were on the Gulf of Thailand. We found one beach paradise on Ko Phangan called Hat Tien, which is a 15 minute boat ride from the not so great beach of Hat Rin (although it is laden with parties and naked women and is home to the infamous Full Moon parties). On Hat Tien there is a hippy wellness center that offers amazing food, yoga, and expensive bungalows. We stayed next door for a few bucks and then ate at the Sanctuary; my body loved me for eating whole foods instead of fried foods. Time spent there also included relaxing on the beach, swimming, and even a bit of snorkeling. I think I may have seen a barracuda, I am not sure since I immediately put in some big kicks, but basically I saw a big fish scare a school of smaller fish and just assumed it was a barracuda. Had I a spear I would have taken it home for dinner. One day on Ko Phangan we dedicated to a snorkeling trip but it turned out to be a sort of foul weather day so more tea was drunk than ocean water. Luckily in the morning the sun was shining at the tropical fish and corrals could be seen. The Gulf is in a sunny hot season so most days were very enjoyable.

Prior to hanging out on the Gulf we visited the Andaman sea side of Thailand and it happened to be in the monsoon season, thus we experienced some foul weather. Luckily the landscape and water color on the Andaman side is so beautiful that it is amazing all the time. We visited Railay, where folks climb the surrounding limestone cliffs and Ko Phi Phi, a small island where I could have and just about did stay forever. Phi Phi was one of my favorite spots of the entire trip and one of the first spots that I feel I would like to return to. The water surrounding Phi Phi is a glowing bright green/blue. The beaches are light white sand. The landscape on the island is limestone cliffs with tropical forests in between. We snorkeled a few days here and had some beach time between the rain.

Getting around Ko Phi Phi and back to the mainland was definitely an adventure because of the season. The last day there we decided to visit a neighboring island called Ko Phi Phi Ley (there is a beach on this island where the movie "The Beach" was filmed). The straight between the two islands is very exposed and the swells can be quite large. Some folks in the boat seemed quite frightened (I thought it was fun) and became even more frightened later in the day when we took the ferry back to the mainland. The larger swells must have been 25 feet. The boat sure was rocking and wasn't that big. Maybe 60 feet long but the beam couldn't have been more than 12 feet. Once we got to land Justin asked if it was appropriate to kiss the ground. Ha!

The three months in Asia were well spent. Good days and not so fun days are inevitable when backpacking through developing countries but of course the good out-weighed the bad and the good memories topple over the bad. I even have good things to say about China. As far as a favorite country I don't have one. I have places I feel are wonderful in each country, stronger memories of peoples in certain regions, and a stronger affinity to a couple places where we spent more time but there is not one specific area. The only favorite is the food of Thailand; it was definitely my favorite of all the Asian cuisines.

There were many other great adventures and stories from Thailand (and other places), I probably could write forever. Instead of doing that however, I am going to save a few items and hope to see everyone soon. I am currently in Bozeman struggling with culture shock but this should wear off in a few days (hopefully). I am finalizing plans for a August trip back to Minnesota and may also stop there in September (no concrete plans yet). So, hope everyone is well and I look forward to talking in person sometime soon!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Cambodia, Thailand, and Lao Blog

I have taken quite the little break from blogging and now don't know where to begin. The fact of the matter is that nothing nearly as exciting as the little incident in Saigon has come to pass thus I have not blogged. Regardless, the last few weeks have been interesting and exciting; I just have not had any poles swung at my head. Maybe the most "exciting" times were when we took buses to no where. This happened twice. The first was pretty minor, only cost us maybe 50 cents and an hour and a half. Basically what happened is that we were trying to go to dinner in China town so we got on a bus and then didn't know exactly where to get off and the next thing we knew we were over the river and miles from China town so we got off the bus, crossed the street and took the bus back to where we began to have dinner some place else. We were thankful that we could save the embarrassment of not having to get back on the same bus once we crossed the street (we had to wait at least 20 minutes in which time the original bus could have made a loop). A few days later we were trying to go to a national park in Northeast Thailand and so we went to the long distance bus station in Bangkok and proceeded to get on a bus that went in the complete opposite direction. We then turned around and traveled to a third city from which we could catch a bus the following day to our desired destination. We easily turned a 3 hour journey into 24 hours. It was fun. Initially we thought that the lady at the first bus station was just trying to screw us but now we are guessing that the location was just lost in translation. Apparently nodding while looking at the map was just a formality for her.

We are now in a quiet town called Luang Prabang in the north of Laos where we have been basking in the hospitality and kindness of the Lao people. They are by far the most receptive to travelers and most pleasant to visit with of all the countries we have seen in Southeast Asia. Justin and I are now joined by Justin's sister Stacey and our friend Sara. They both flew into Bangkok around the 21st of June and we are more or less traveling as a group for the next few weeks.

Going back.... From Saigon Justin and I cut across the Mekong River into Cambodia. The highlight of Cambodia was, of course, seeing Angkor Wat. The vast array of ancient temples are all amazing and most are seemingly unique of each other. Angkor Wat (Wat means temple) is the largest in the area, in fact it is the largest religious building in the world. It is in remarkable shape giving off a feeling as though it was abandoned just yesterday. All in all to get the real feeling you have to visit the area (which everyone should) and for a close second you may want to view my world class photographs when I am home. I have roughly 300 digital photos that all look the same.

Leaving Siem Reap and Angkor we set overland to Bangkok which turned into another first, that is driving across African quality roads in a car hotter than a sauna. The trip did take a turn for the better when we crossed into Thailand; suddenly laws, freeways, and order were present. We made it to Bangkok for the big 26 and stayed up late enough to finish watching the U.S. blow it against Ghana. The games are all on late here and I generally don't make it that late into the night. Being a year older I was able to make it close to midnight.

In the remaining 3 weeks of our little holiday we are going to head back to Thailand to see part of the north and then migrate south to the beaches before flying to Bozeman on the 22nd of July. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here but am getting a bit sore about living out of the backpack with the same stinky clothes day in and out. So until later on, hope everyone's summers are fun and filled with adventure!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Finally....Some photos. Bangkok seems to have a much better connection with nice, new computers, yeah!

A haircut outside the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam. I cannot believe the scissors he used actually cut hair; I think they may have been manufactured in 1911.

Stephan, my "Easy Rider" Guide and I in Dalat, Vietnam.

The mighty Angkor Wat in the classic postcard view, Cambodia.

This is at Ta Phrom (or something like that) in the Angkor Wat area. There are something like 1000 temples (or ruins of) in the Angkor area, we saw maybe 20. This particular temple has never been cleared of jungle so is over grown with trees foliage creating a spooky Indiana Jones sort of feeling. One of the best temples we saw. Parts of the movie "Tomb Raider" were shot here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Chuck Norris

Well, I could have used some mad bow staff skills today, actually bow staff defense skills against a little, old, Vietnamese women. The day started off as a nice little Tuesday with a leisurely trip to Saigon. Our bus happened to be a mini bus and the only two passengers in it were Justin and I. Quite comfortable and relaxing with the extra space. Upon arriving in Saigon we set right out on a mission to find habitation. We followed one lady from the tour office where we were dropped off at to her hotel which seemed all right but I cut if short when someone in her family backed his motor bike out of the drive (which coincides with the ground floor of the building) and right into my leg. When I hear a horn I know to move out of the way. Since there was no horn and I had the temerity to stand on the sidewalk in conversation with the hotel owner I was a target. Apparently bikes can hit you at their discretion. Frustrated, we left in search of hotel number two and after a few quick looks we settled in on a place for 7 bucks a night. It seemed clean, there was air-con, private bath, even World Cup football on the satellite TV, a pretty good deal. We basically dropped our bags and then took off for some food. We went back maybe an hour and a half later to have a rest and do some planning. When we sat down on the bed we noticed, luckily, that there were bed bugs everywhere. Neither of us wanted to deal with this so we made the decision to take off in search of a new hotel (number 3). We gathered our bags and walked down stairs. At the desk the man asked what we were doing and we replied that we were switching hotels because of the bed bugs. It went to hell from that. They made a quick offer of another room but since no one uses hot water for washing we assumed that all rooms probably had bed bugs; we were set on leaving. Diplomaticly as possible Justin explained why we were taking off but that did not work for them. They got so, so mad and started demanding that we pay for a night (big deal, right?) but since they would not listen and were demanding money we did not feel right forking over any dinero. We would have gladly paid a small amount if they would have remained civil, this is not the first time we have left a hotel after checking in. Fairly quickly there were lots of hotel folks around (which is just a family) and all were very mad. The old man tried grabbing my arm and I pulled away. The old women spoke no English but I have never see anyone so pissed off. She started charging at us, swinging her arms, and then grabbing a large piece of wood, literally about a 5 foot long 1x1, and started charging and swinging. Mind you this was a 90 pound, 75 years old, 4'10'', frail, old woman; not real sure how to approach that. I made for the door, which was a gate sort of thing but the old man held me back while someone else threw a pad lock over the door. I yelled out into the street at two western passerbys who helped by finding a hotel owner across the street to mediate. Eventually we paid them about 4 U.S. dollars to open the lock for us to exit. The family poured out into the street mad as hell, luckily one of the young daughters had pulled the bow staff away from the old woman. Not real sure what I would have done had I been struck by the bow staff. I mean, an old woman was swinging it, I am not sure what she thinks I would have done had she hit me, little me and I am still twice her size. We found a new hotel a few blocks away and it is much nicer. We inquired about tourist police but there is no such thing. Not much we can do....There is a commonly used travel forum that we are going to post a blurb on advising backpackers not to stay on the entire alley that the hotel is on (there are like 15 hotels in a two block alley); the incident didn't seem to bother any other hotels. If there is one day that I wished I had a travel companion of Chuck Norris it was today. I bet those Texas Ranger moves would have put that lady right back to where she belongs. A close second for travel companion would have been Napoleon Dynamite. I think num-chuck skills would have been advantageous. Justin is sort of a wus and I have a stretched muscle in my groin so a high kick was out of the question. My arms are shorter than the bow staff so I don't think I could have had an effective hit with them. Tonight we are going to practice some moves and skills and work out some defense plans.

Monday, June 05, 2006

You may as well call me Peter Fonda....

We have traveled in a full spectrum in the last week from motor scootering our way through rain forest and rice patties around Ninh Binh as part of a biker gang to shopping for tailored silk clothing in Hoi An to the beach of Nha Trang to tagging along with the "Easy Riders" of Dalat. I am not sure how to select a highlight of it all, nearly deserted beaches with the bath-water ocean water is nice but seeing the hard life of the rice workers acts as a reminder of where we are and how different lives Americans lead from the Vietnamese. The beaches are not the real Vietnam, the back roads, the rice, and the people are.

Riding on the back of a motorcycle with Stephane, my "Easy Rider" freelance guide this morning showed us the South Central Highlands livelihood. We saw crops, a waterfall, people and amazing scenery with stories accompanying it all. The climate here is cooler thanks to a little altitude and the surrounding farmed hills make a beautiful spectacle. The area produces lots and lots of flowers and vegetables but also has silk worm farms and coffee farms. Most of the growing areas are small family type farms, there did not seem to be any large plantations. Perhaps the most daunting of things we saw was country side where no trees will grow back because of the napalm bombs and agent orange spread during the "American War." We saw a hill where a U.S. base used to be located. In the 60's during a holiday new year break from the war the Vietcong set out around the base and set booby traps and laid land mines. When the war started again the U.S. wiped out the forest in an effort to get to their base without being killed by the traps. After the war the government tried to re-plant the forest and was successful in some areas but other areas will not grow. Later, when the farmers returned to the area lots of people lost their lives from the land mines. My guide lost two family members who when turning land to plant crops perished by a mine. Interesting war stories....There also remains a peculiar animosity between the Southern Vietnamese and the Northern Vietnamese; and the government seems to favor the Northern Vietnamese.

I guess the only other explanation needed is the clothing. Hoi An is known for its tailors, and they are ubiquitous, so you can't help looking and the purchasing more clothes than you can possibly fit into your bag. Suits are the big ticket item to have made but since I really don't know what I would do with a suit (like I'm getting a job or something?) I didn't order one. Instead I got some dress pants (Italian Kashmir) and shirts and ties and a coat....Enough loot to necessitate a 6 kilo (between the two of us) box being sent across the Pacific. I figure that if I bought everything at Marshall Fields it would probably cost over 600 bucks and I got it all for 125, I think I got a helluvadeal.

Friday, May 26, 2006

We find the heat

Today is the first real day of intense heat and humidity and I think it will only grow worse as we continue to move south. We are in Hanoi, I am not entirely sure of the temperature, it is over 30ºC, but it sure is humid. There was a rain shower an hour ago so that cooled things off but this is going to take a bit of an adjustment.

We first arrived in Hanoi a few days ago via a slow, loud, overnight train from Sapa (it was also the nicest train we had been on). The train spit us off somewhere onto a random street with loads of motor cycle taxis and car taxis about 5:30 AM. My first realglimpses of Hanoioccurredd as we were loading into a taxi car with some others (to split the cost) and a mototaxi came up to us with the driver pressing the horn down for us to move; and he was not giving up on the horn.Apparentlyy instead of simply going around us he wanted to drive where we were loading and the horn is the obvious sign to get the hell out of the way. Since he could have easily gone around, it was 5:30 in the morning, and the horn was loud I was sort ofirritatedd at the driver so in my defense I reached over his handle bars and physically moved his thumb off the horn. He got really pissed. It was really funny. The karma came back to me a few minutes as our cab driver went the long way to the hotel and the cost was probably double what it should have been. Oh well.

We have spent two days in Hanoi splitting them up with a two day tour of Halong Bay, the infamous bay with the limestonepillarss. Other than the overcast/rainy weather the area is beautiful and very unique. There seem to be numberlesspillarss that just jet up out of the ocean covered in green foliage.

Hanoi seems to be the land of motor bikes. They are everywhere and here in the Old Quarter they outnumber cars at least 50 to 1. This is a lively city, lots seems to be happening, and the Vietnamese live their life in the street, which is interesting to observe and try to experience. Shops and restaurants pour well onto thesidewalkk, actually we rarely walk on thesidewalkk because it is so filled with motorbikes and random stuff. Its muchtastierr and easier to eat street food here than in China. The food has changed a bit from China, very similar foods but less is deep fried greasy and there is maybe a little less spice. Thanks to the French they have bread which was a rarity in China. The people of Vietnam also differ from the Chinese. First off they seem much more open to western tourists and don't gawk (but they do try to sell you everything in a verypersistentt manner). After doing the little Halong tour and talking with some other tourists I realized that the Vietnamese first approach tourists as open, kind, happy you are here, and then after you pay, or do the tour they turn a bit and act as if they no longer speakEnglishh or are oblivious to any problems or concerns. Like the cab driver. There was also a little food shortage incident on our Halong Bay tour, basically a family traveling with a two year old had paid for all three of them but the crew would only bring food for the two adults. Strange situation. The rest of Hanoi has been fun too see, mostly just walking around and taking the city in but we did see the Temple of Literature and the Hanoi Hilton, the prison where American POWs were kept during the Vietnam War. This is where John McCain was. The information on the Vietnam war was intriguing, a very differentinterpretationn from what most American'sperceivee. The exhibit at the museum makes it sound as though staying at the prison was similar to staying at the Hilton, except you couldn't leave and listed in the rules was no "sharing free thought".

We are leaving Hanoi tonight heading south, starting to push our way a little quicker towards Bangkok. All this heat is making me think beach and there is so much to see and do three months doesn't seem like that much time. Well, see ya later.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Runaway Pigs

The first day spent in Sapa was a day to rest and recover from too many bus rides and in the late afternoon, while sitting out on the balcony of our hotel room (for $6 total a night), we witnessed a great porker site. The road outside the hotel is lined with hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies and thus is quite busy with pedestrians, motor bikes, buses, jeeps, and trucks. There are many sounds but the first real abnormal sound we heard was some loud squealing blended with the sound of a motor bike. I stood up quickly to witness two fairly large pigs tied to the side of a motor bike, in the place where rear panel bags might attach. The pigs just squealed away and the driver just kept going along, determined to bring home his new prized purchase. A few minutes later there was more commotion, it was louder and closer to the hotel than the first pig encounter. Again, standing and looking down to the street I saw two more screaming pigs and a crowd of people watching them. The road outside curves a bit, but another road/path turns off and then quickly turns into stairs leading down to some homes; this was the road closest to us. It seems a man was walking with two pigs, maybe the same two from the bike, and once the man and the pigs reached the staircase the pigs started to act in a recalcitrant manner. One pig started down the stairs as it was supposed to, with just a few screams and a few pushes from the man. Once to the bottom a helper tried to control the pig from continuing on and was able to contain the pig in the general area for a short time while the other pig was being tended to. Pig number two was going nuts. There were a few people helping with the owner taking charge, the problem was that the pig had no desire to be ordered around. First the man tried to simply walk the pig down the stairs, a no go. Second he tried pulling the pig down the stairs by the tail, then by the ears which quickly turned into a full wrestling match. The pig won and moved himself back to the top of the stairs to start roaming around the parked cars. It seemed as though even on the flat surface no one was able to control the loose pig. There was the owner attempting and a few other helpers trying to poke, prod, pull, trying anything that might work to move the pig. Meanwhile pig number one had become bored with waiting at the bottom of the stairs so he thought he would go back to the top to join his buddy, but the stairs seemed all too easy, he decided to walk up the 6 inch wide and 6 inch deep drainage gutter channeled to the side of the stairs. For the owner this proved OK since this delayed any speediness the pig might have had at an escape. The pig would take a half step and get stuck, then push his snout down into the gutter to become more stuck, until finally becoming unstuck somehow just to start the process over. During this time pig two was still wandering aimlessly at the top of the stairs and the owner was getting upset over the trouble and the spectacle he had become. He caught up to the pig, wrapped his hand firmly around the tail like it was a rope on a bull and he started pulling with all his strength. A woman did some pushing to jump start the process and then stood aside. The owner pulled faster than the pig could possibly walk backwards so the pig was forced to push his front legs in front of his body to try and slow the movement with a body slide. This did not work. Although never surrendering the pig eventually lost and was dragged down the middle of the steps where there was a built in plank area used for pushing bikes or carts up and down. The pig seemed to be on his chin and neck the whole time but was able to keep his hind legs erect and bouncing. Once to the bottom of the stairs he started moving in the correct direction to the pleasure of the owner. Pig number one just needed a few good pushes and he was free and obediently moved to the bottom of the stairs with pig number two. The highlight of day one.

The other days here have been just as exciting but maybe in a different way. On day two we went on a 6 hour zoo walk, that is we walked through some traditional minority villages where we stared at the local people and they stared right back at us. I actually found this quite interesting, there was the whole living museum feel at times but the walk was through the hills of rice patties south-east of Sapa and the views were amazing. The valley we were in had a small river at the bottom and then rice terraces carved into the mountains from the river to almost the top. There were workers everywhere, harvesting rice, building new patties, or plowing with the help of the buffalo. The workers were of all ages, literally, from maybe 12 to 70. The children under 12 took care of the even younger children or chased the tourists around to sell them something or to practice their English. Most of the minority cultures we saw were H'Mong. There were different types such as Black, Red, and Flower but these seemed just to represent little differences such as what crops they grow, what color they wear, ect. They all dress in beautiful, colorful clothes, however they seem so heavy that I don't understand how they take the heat. Everyone speaks a tribal language, the younger generations also speak Vietnamese, and it seems like all the kids speak English, just from conversing with the tourists. The typical way of life for boys is to go to school until they are needed in the fields or they are at the age which schooling is no longer free (very few move on to college or secondary school). The girls generally do not go to school, they traditionally get married at 12 or 13 and then go work in the fields. We had a guide that was a girl of 20, she never went to school but taught herself to read and write Vietnamese and learned English from speaking with tourists. She spoke very good English. She said that she has trouble writing Vietnamese because she learned so late, but has an easier time typing it (she says she has an old hand). She is an anomaly as she has not married.

Yesterday we visited a nearby Sunday market. It is one of the larger markets in the area and is a social area for all of the local people. As far as dress goes it is probably the most colorful market I have ever been to. We just walked around and observed only buying some peppercorn, a Chinese spice we are not convinced we can buy at home. I thought of buying a baby pig or dog to travel with as a pet but decided that wasn't real logical. Luckily I was not tempted to buy a buffalo as we arrived late and there were none left. The pigs were just funny and so stupid that it would have been fun, if I would have gotten it back to the States I think it would have made a nice gift for Danny. Sorry Danny, its a no go. The puppies were all in cages and being bought to eat, real sad. I guess if you buy one they will cut it up for you to bring the meat home. Most of the local people don't realize that we keep dogs as pets. Sort of a cultural difference I guess.

This morning we hired motorbikes and braved our horn skills, driving skills, balance skills, and num-chuck skills on touring around the area. We road up to a nearby pass, saw some beautiful mountains, just had fun. Moped-gang-Bozeman needs to happen this summer. Patrick start keeping your eye out for some cheapos.

Well, we are off for a train to Hanoi. If anyone would like some dog meat shipped to them....I don't think I will be able to try it myself but let me know. We had some rabbit for lunch, that was tasty. Also some venison and good ol' chicken.