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Category: Travel

Mekong River, Can Tho, Ho Chi Minh City

Our last morning in Phnom Penh a van picked us up at our hotel. It drove around to other local hotels gathering several more westerners before taking us to have our visas checked to make sure we wouldn’t be turned back at the border. On the drive a German lady sat by us. She was a farm girl and showed pictures of her family’s herd of cows. Cambodia checked our passports on their side of the border and after a certain amount of confusion we walked across the border and once again handed over our passports, this time to the Vietnamese officials. There was a planned 40 minute delay, giving us just enough time to eat breakfast at the cafe. Public transportation in these parts seems to always deliver you to where they want you to eat, for which they are undoubtedly compensated.

From there we boarded a boat and traveled for hours down the Mekong River. I’d expected to see some wild jungle, but on this long stretch it was mostly rice fields and small villages. To quote my Facebook post: Also saw many fisherman, floating houses, houses on stilts, brick factories, people flying exotic kites, ferry boats, classic Vietnamese farmers and more. Stopped to see a fish farm.

Before this trip I wasn’t familiar with Can Tho. It is one of the largest cities in Vietnam and is located on the Mekong Delta. The riverfront area where the tourism is located is definitely upscale and pleasant. Al and I are still “backpacker travelers” at heart but our hotel was pretty snazzy and a surprisingly good value, if you consider a nice room for two (with breakfast) for $18 to be a fair price!

We ate a fine breakfast at the hotel and after getting our group together at another hotel we boarded the boat and headed downstream to the floating market. There were many boats there buying and selling, along with the tourist boats checking out the colorful scene and yet other little wooden boats trying to sell pineapples, coffee and bananas to the tourist boats.

Floating Market, Can Tho

Floating Market, Can Tho

Many of the boats were “wholesale boats” selling tomatoes and watermelons, bananas, rice, coconuts and whatnot to people who would retail the produce. Families lived on many of these larger boats.

Family rice noodle operation

Cooking the “Rice Paper”

Our next stop was a family rice noodle “factory.” As I understand it, it is primarily rice flour and tapioca flour. They would mix the concoction and ladle it out onto a layer of cotton cloth over boiling water, then smooth it into a flat sheet. They’d cover it up for a minute or so, then lift it off with a bamboo “whisk” for drying in the sun. For heat they burned rice chaff. As the final step the dried sheets of “rice paper” were sliced into thin rice noodles by machine.

Finally, we visited a rice processing plant. It was remarkable how much the place looked and smelled to the old “feed mill” in my home town. The Mekong Delta is a major breadbasket area.

Back at Can Tho the guides sorted everyone out and put us on our assorted buses for the trip to Ho Chi Minh City, still usually called “Saigon” according to some locals, “because it’s easier.” I couldn’t agree more. On the way we stopped at a little town for a final sorting of the foreigners and it was here we bought some of what I call rambutans, but the locals call Chom Chom. You peel the fuzzy exterior and there is a sweet fleshy fruit similar to a very good tasting grape. The seed inside is not eaten.

Buying Rambutans aka Chom Chom

Buying Rambutans aka Chom Chom

We passed endless rice fields and villages on the way to Saigon. We drove into Saigon through a sea of motorcycles, the primary transport of the locals. Most people are very nicely dressed. Most “motos” have one rider but often will have a two people or even a child or two riding. It was a wild swirl of lights and activity as we walked to our hotel. Happily, it is on a relatively quiet side alley.

Vietnam is a rapidly developing country, that’s for sure, and much more modern than most of us realize.

Today is Al’s last day “in country.” He flies home tomorrow. It was fun spending the last week or so with him. For me, it’s on to Dalat.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

It is helpful when traveling to have a high threshold for embarrassment. After all, you don’t know the ropes, and locals  may be amused at your befuddlement of things they may have understood since childhood.

I took the Skytrain to the airport in Bangkok on the 22nd. The ticket booth didn’t give me a ticket as one might expect when I asked for fare to the airport. She just gave me 37 baht in coins. I noticed a nearby machine and fed in 37 baht for which I received a subway card. I couldn’t figure out which way to feed the card or even WHERE to feed the card so I used the old standby technique of watching other people. Unfortunately I got behind an older Thai lady who was flustered herself. When I finally figured it out on my own she rushed through on MY ticket and I was stuck on the wrong side. The amused lady in the ticket booth pointed to the bypass gate.

Like most modern public transportation of it’s kind, once I was through the gate it was pretty easy with clear maps and station announcements. It was easier buying a token when I got the the Airport Link train. This time it was a train token. At the turn-style there was no slot so I was again baffled. Apparently lots of people are baffled because there was someone standing right there indicating how it was done. You had to touch this big button thing. She burst out laughing when I did, indicating that you have to touch the TOKEN to the button.

On the plane I sat next to a UNESCO ruins expert on his way to consult with the Angkor Wat people. When we landed at Siem Reap I filled out the forms, and paid my $20 entry fee. Then my passport, along with everyone else’s was handed along a line of at least a half dozen people. At the other end a young lady would attempt to pronounce your name, holding up your passport. I retrieved mine and outside a fellow stood with a sign with my name on it. Pretty swell treatment for a $11 a night establishment. He whisked me to the hotel in his tuk tuk, which is a motorcyle drawn cart.

Waitress, Mandalay Inn, Siem Reap

Waitress, Mandalay Inn, Siem Reap

My hotel is a great place with a very friendly staff, clean and shady. The main waitress is really sweet.

After settling in I enjoyed a good meal. The highlight was a bowl of mixed fruit including lime, banana, dragon fruit, mango, watermelon, and a type of lychee, and that’s just the kinds I remember! I walked around town for a bit and bought some more fruit at the old market. In the afternoon I rented a bike from the hotel.

After breakfast I rode out of town not long after dawn. The traffic is pretty crazy in town, but not too fast and the cars are very accustomed to bikes so it wasn’t too tough to get on the road to Angkor Wat. I bought a pass good for any three days of the next week and peddled on to the ruins. At each stop I was approached coming or going,  mainly by children, but everyone with something for sale. Unlike some places it wasn’t particularly unpleasant. No one seemed starving or desperate or surly, just trying to make a sale with a smile on their face. Most had well-polished routines. One young lady had a selection of just about everything:

“You want buy cold water?”

“No thanks”

“T-shirt, you want buy t-shirt?

“No.”

“Scarf, nice scarf?”

“No.”

“What you want buy?”

“Nothing, thanks.”

“Nothing, I can sell you nothing. Only $10!” A good sense of humor.

Banteay Kdei, Angkor Wat

Banteay Kdei, Angkor Wat

The ruins are spread out over many miles and I spent the rest of the day riding from ruin to ruin. Luckily I had a good guidebook. What an incredible effort it must have constructing  the many complexes. More stone was used than in all the pyramids of  Egypt.

For lunch I stopped to buy some food cooked in banana leaves. It was some type of sweet rice. Don’t know what it was called, but it was good!

As the day wore on it got warmer and then hotter. Luckily there was plenty of water for sale along the way because my 1.5 liters had run dry. Also, much of the route was shaded as were many places in the ruins.

At some of the lesser ruins there were very few people, but when I passed Phnom Bakheng late in the day there was a HUGE crowd of people, tuk tuks, minivans, cars, motorcycles and bikes. I really got fooled by how fast the sun set. I’d planned to be at the main temple of Angkor Wat for sunset but was too late. Luckily, I have plenty of time in coming days.

Tug of War with Naga, Angkor Wat

Tug of War with Naga, Angkor Wat

I ate some barbecued fish at a roadside stand while waiting for traffic to recede, then rode my bike back in the dark. It had a light and I put a light on the back as well  just to be safe. I saw locals riding without lights of any kind, not something I’d care to do.

It was a long day of maybe 25 miles or so of  riding and walking and exploring, but one of my best days traveling ever.

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand

First, allow me to quote my Facebook post from yesterday:

I arrived in Bangkok in the middle of the night after a very long series of flights: Fairbanks, Seattle, LAX, Tokyo, Bangkok.

The Mile Map Hostel is nice, clean and quiet and in a good location. It is one block to a street market. Bought some fruit and asked a nice Thai lady what was good in her tiny restaurant and then ate a good breakfast for $1.50. Nothing wrong with going from 20 below to 80 above, either.

This shot is the corner near the hostel. Jet lagged but glad to be traveling again.

Pan Road, Bangkok

Near Mile Map Hostel, Bangkok

I got my body clock re-calibrated as of this morning. I walked down to the river and I teamed up with a young Danish lady trying to puzzle out the water taxis. A local fellow pointed out the right boat just in time. It was interesting seeing Bangkok from a different perspective. The boat was very full of people, mostly locals. The Dane got off at the Grand Palace and I hopped off near Khao San Road, possibly the center of backpack traveling in SE Asia. I’d been here years ago and wanted to see it for old time’s sake. I ate breakfast and people watched. It was interesting watching people get out of taxis, fresh from their home countries and looking a little bewildered. Then there those that had things more or less figured out and a few that looked as if they’d come here twenty years ago and never went home.

I took a different route back to the boat walking past one of the innumerable ornate temples in Bangkok. There were numerous boats rushing up and down the river, mostly large water taxis. The skill of the pilots quickly backing up their long boats to the pier was remarkable. I have to laugh at the below shot, like many people in today’s world, the young Thai is staring at her smart phone.

Water Taxi, Bangkok

Water Taxi, Bangkok

Back at the hostel I spent some time figuring out my plan for tomorrow. Bangkok is more or less just my starting point for this trip, a place to get oriented and rested before I head to Angkor Wat in Cambodia tomorrow.

This evening I walked to the market and got food from one of the street vendors. I pointed to what I wanted and she indicated I could choose pork or chicken. I chose pork and was pointed where I should sit down. It was 30 baht, (90 cents,) and delicious.

Pork and Noodles

Pork and Noodles

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