Tucker in Asia

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.