Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Support wall along the Ho Chi Minh highway in Northern Vietnam.
We found the only place in Vietnam (according to the owner) that rents large dirtbikes. For $22/day you can rent a Honda 250 XR and be the king of the road. We rented 2 bikes and became instant celebrities with the locals.

We took a 3 day trip through Northern Vietnam from Hanoi to Mai Chao and back on a loop. We definitely got off the beaten path on roads you won't find in the guide book. We encountered spectacular scenery, shitty roads, and a lot of curious looks. Upon arrival we generally attracted quite a crowd.

Everybody drives a motorbike in this country (very few personal cars), however, they all drive bikes that are 150 cc's or less. You can't buy anything bigger so you can imagine the reaction when some foreigners roll into town on something most Vietnamese people have never seen in person.

More fun with a monkey at a Bia Hoi establishment in Hanoi.

I am pretty sure that the Thai word for beer translates to "terpentine". It is expensive (compared to other costs here) and good beer in Thailand does not exist. Singha is shit, Leo is ok, and Heineken brewed in Bangkok is tolerable but exensive. Thai whiskey is awful and liquors are expensive so basically you are stuck drinking Singha or Leo. Wine is taxed heavily and much more expensive than it is back home. Basically, Thailand is not a beer lover's paradise... rather it is hell.

Cambodia was worse with Angkor beer being a mix between Singha and the curb water in Phnom Penh.

I didn't expect much different in Vietnam, however, I'm happy to say I was wrong. Bia Hoi is the world's cheapest beer. It is about 2,000 dong or 12 cents a glass and is available everywhere. It is "fresh beer" and has no preservatives as it is ready for drinking right away. It is generally served street side in the cities and the taste varies greatly. I found one I really like and have been back a few times in Hanoi. Finally a beer that fits the other prices in this part of the world and it actually tastes great.

A good Bia Hoi is accompanied by some squid jerky. (pictured above) This street vendor walks around with a basket of dried and flattened squid and a bucket of coals. She said it went great with beer so we ordered some. She grilled it on the coals and ripped it up into strips and served it with chili sauce. It was good.

This was our room at the Spirit House in Hanoi, Vietnam... the room sucked but we talked them down from $25 to $14 so we took it.

We visited the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the "Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes") in Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon. It is incredible how warm and welcoming the Vietnamese people are to Americans considering the devastation the US caused the Vietnamese people. It is hard to understand how anybody could support this sort of aggression.

The exhibits documenting the effects of "Agent Orange" are disturbing to say the least. This museum is interesting as it offers a glimpse of the war from the perspective of the Vietnamese people. More than anything else, it reminds us that the biggest losers in most wars are the civilians.

The images are a French Guillotine and an American Tank. (You should be able to read the description by clicking on the photo)

Noam Chomsky said about the Vietnam War, "The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction - all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Saigon is a great city. It is strikingly modern and the people are friendly. Something interesting awaits you on every street corner. There was a lot of things that seemed strange to a typical westerner. A racy fire-eating, flag-burning, show celebrated the lives of some neighbors who passed away the day before (3 in the same day). Bicyclists with wooden rattles roam the streets after dark with small black bags. We later found out (by asking our hotel) that they are advertising "gay massage" for locals and tourists. It was the strangest thing as they were everywhere... you couldn't sit outside a cafe and not hear one for 30 seconds.

One of the most exciting things to do in Vietnam is cross the street. Traffic is mostly motorbikes (scooters) and it is common to encounter streets with more than 10 lanes of traffic. Traffic lights are uncommon and even when there is a light few drivers stop. Riding on a bike is a lot of fun and approaching a busy intersection without slowing down is pretty exciting.

Crossing by foot may be more fun. Basically you just walk across the street at a consistent pace and people drive around you. It's an interesting concept. The rule is don't hit anybody. If the street is full of traffic it is also acceptable to just drive down the sidewalk. We found ourselves surrounded by multiple lanes of traffic on both sides while just standing on a street corner curb. They drive on the right but driving on the left is common as well if the right side of the road is full. Besides not hitting people it is good to make way for larger vehicles or they will hit you. Oh yeah.. the final rule is to honk your horn all the time for no apparent reason. (and never get angry... everybody remains completely calm and horn honking is rarely a sign of somebody being upset)

We found some nice accomodations in Saigon, Vietnam. Our hotel was just 17 days old and we got a great room for $16 per night. The hotel treated us to a free dinner on the top floor bar, where they proceeded to take dozens of photographs of us eating. We ate with a European couple staying at the hotel and we got the feeling they were taking pictures for their website or something.

We stayed at Hotel Duc Vuong. They were very helpful with booking our airline tickets from Saigon to Hanoi.
Cafe chairs can be somewhat small in this part of the world. (Hanoi, Vietnam)