Saturday, 3 May 2008

Day one in Chau Doc.

23/4 - A bit of a lie in and a bit of a stretch and the only plan is to have some breakfast and hire a bike and it worked out. Another lady shopper which my knees hit the handlebars, but it has gears, 2. I didn't push my luck and go against the traffic, so went with the flow, did a couple of rights then straight on to the river, where I thought I had better make a turn, so went left and out of town through some of the residential area. Eventually a bridge showed up, so I went over it, at a walk, as did everyone, it is small and steep. A woman coming down the other way was digging her heels in to try and stop her overloaded barrow running her over. When I got to the apex, a lad indicated, very strongly, that I should go back. I didn't know why, so I waited until he had gone and carried on regardless. I hit full steam ahead down the bridge and saw a sign saying Frontier Area. I wasn't sure what that meant and being an ex-trained killer, the Highlander, a cowboy and phscizophrenic I kept going.

I didn't think it possible, but the Vietnamese seem more smiley than the Cambodians, or they know what the sign means. The Cambodian smile is like a whole face glow. The Vietnamese smile is a friendly, bright-eyed glow. I love them both. I went through a village with lots of people lying around in hammocks or sitting around, so I found a crash barrier under a tree, over looking the Mekong and sat around too. A few inquisitive people came along and eventually left, so I left too, heading out into the countryside. I passed a group of older fellas sitting in the shade around a table, they gave me loads of chat and cheers as I went passed, there were lots of others along the way with smiley faces and friendly hellos. The houses eventually started to thin out and a man made pond appeared and looked like it was boiling, so being a nosey bugger, I pulled over. It is a fish farm and the fish are constantly feeding on the top. By the amount of feed these blokes are emptying in, the fish must be real Chubby Checkers. I thought we fed the fish a lot when we went to Ireland. These blokes are rowing around and just emptying sack after sack into the pond. There were at least 20 x 50Kg sacks went in. Down the road, there are loads of these farms. The Vietnamese are an organised people. The fields are lush green, whereas in Cambodia they are parched brown. Cambodias time will come, I hope. Riding along I can see the irrigation setup in full flow, it is well setup. I ended up at another get off and push bridge, so I did and then the road turned into a dirt track. It was well rutted. I didn't know what would fall apart first, me or the bike, so I headed back after a mile or so. The rowdy group of old fellas were still sat there and just as rowdy. They beckoned me over and who am I to refuse an invitation. I was giving a rousing welcome followed by a glass of what tasted like watered down pernod. Now I know why they are so rowdy. The oldest lad made a young lass of about 10 give me the glass again and shake hands. She was a bit reluctant, perhaps that is why he pushed her. My winning Grandad smile won her over in the end, or the big push he gave her. I was given the glass about 6 times and then they saw I was enjoying it too much, so waved so long. Down the road, I passed a lass pushing a barrow, selling water melons and pineapples. I went on about 100 metres, did a U turn and went and bought a water melon, a big bugger and she had no knife to cut it up, trauma, so I put it in the shopping basket and carried on until I got a friendly set of waves from a little shop, so another U turn and I asked if they could slice up my water melon. It was no problem and there was a lot of lauging and joking going on around me and some water melon got thrown at one point. I think some P taking was going on with the lady cutting it up. I left half the melon as payment, not that they wanted anything, we had a laugh and that was enough. They asked me to stop and eat it there, but being bashful and a sloppy eater, I moved on, back to the crash barrier from this morning and ate half of my half. I was joined by Vietnam's chief Mr Grumpy. If he had a smile in him, he kept it well hidden. He scanned my LP with an0ther lad, moaned a bit then left. He gave half a smile. I think I wore him down.

You may not believe this, but you should, me being honest Gil Brooks. I was sat thinking "I could go a coffee and a piece of cake." Less than a minute later, a lady walked down the road pushing a barrow of cakes. What could I do but buy a couple, only small ones and they were lovely, just the brew missing. With my engine now stoked up, I set off back. I had a few races with kids along the way, but didn't manage to win one, even when they were 2 up. I got back to the 1st "get off and push " bridge and a policeman pulled me over. Not bad??? 3 months on the road and my first arrest. (Only joking little Sis.) I guess I shouldn't be cycling around here after all. He motioned me back over the bridge and made a point of showing the Frontier sign, but too late, I'd already had a good day, he couldn't spoil it. Back over the bridge, through the town and out the other side, well, some side anyway. I stopped for an e-fix, the place was full of school kids and most of them gaming. Next stop, my first Vietnamese coffee and it is kick ass coffee. I had to put some sugar in it. Luckily a pot of Vietnamese tea came with it, free. I am getting a taste for it. Kheong gave me some in Cambodia. Buzzing from the coffee, I broke the sound barrier back into town and headed for the riverside prom. The rush hour has started and you have to be on your toes, there's motorbikes everywhere. The Lexus 4x4 and other flash cars as in Cambodia, don't abound here, suggesting a fairer share of the wealth and less corruption. I hope the Cambodian government hitmen haven't found my blog. I pulled over at a bench on the prom. There are loads of people doing laps of the prom, all ages too. Eventually, about 6 schoolgirls descended on me. This was a real English lesson. THey got their school books out and another 2 older lasses joined, but they were more interested in the LP. We were having some fun and some difficulty, when an old fellow joined us. He had been doing laps of the prom on his bike with his 1 year old nephew as up front pillion. He spoke pretty good English, so the lesson picked up. He used to work in Saigon for different English speaking companies, but that was 30 years ago, so he confessed to being a bit rusty. The girls left, then shortly came back. I don't know what happened there. The littlest one was the loudest and had the biggest smile. Next time the girls left for good. Me and the old fellow had a bit more chat, then he went off to do more laps and I went to watch some lads playing volleyball on a sandy patch by the river. Evening seems to be exercise time. Perhaps I should take note, instead of cycling around in the midday sun, like some mad dog. I headed back to the hotel, too late to visit the market next door, so had a beer and some nosh and spoke with the hotel staff, they are very friendly and like to practice English.

Can I make it to Vietnam this time???

22/4 - Off to Vietnam. I have enjoyed Cambodia, but am ready to leave. The sights are mostly temples, or perhaps I haven't seen the right places. The best part about Cambodia has been the people. I have had a great time talking to and meeting them. Even the scammers are generally light-hearted. It is a shame the people are being conned and dumped upon by their government. The country looks to be developing fast, so perhaps the people will get a better deal, but I have a feeling it will only mean the rich will get richer and the cities become a pain to visit. I hope I am wrong.
Off to get the AC bus for 50Km on the VN57 highway and then a slow boat to Vietnam. There could be a song title in there. The bus is a mini bus and the AC is the windows being open, the unit was duff. We drove across Phnom Phen, about 3 miles, then stopped at the hotel that owns the minibus, just long enough for anyone to have breakfast. These people aren't daft. At least the minibus isn't packed, once we set off again. UNTIL we stopped to pick up 3 monks and the driver touted for 3 more people as we passed a market on the town outskirts. Now the bus is full. We arrived at the boatyard and the minibus hightailed it. We sat long enough for everyone to have lunch. That is everyone in Cambodia. I think they were repairing a leak and a load of bikes had to be put on. Eventually we were summoned down the backyard to the boat, over some very dodgy boards crossing the water to the boat, but I made it, carrying all my gear too. More luck than judgement, with no rail to hang onto.
The boat is pretty keen. An old thing that gets coaxed along. Does it remind you of anyone?
My fellow passengers on this luxury wooden thing are 2 Yanks, an Israeli, a Dutchman and a Vietnamese lady. I think she is smuggling Westerners in for the Vietnamese slave trade. I could become a forced gigalo with any luck. Pascal, the Dutch lad had jumped onto the boat roof, so I did the same, with more of a clamber than a jump. We sat there frazzling, sailing down the middle of the huge Mekong river. I feel great, like a real adventurer. This is some river. Pascal saw what may have been a dolphin jump too.
We pulled over to offload the bikes. We're still in Cambodia, so they weren't smuggled. Not so adventurous. After about 3 hours, we pulled over and clambered up a hill to the Cambodian customs. Pascal had overstayed his visa by 3 days. He thought it was $5 a day and it was, but only for day 1, then it went up each day. $30 he paid and was not impressed. He is on a tight budget as he is away for 2 or 3 years. He camps out when possible, avoiding the minefields. He is headed north through Vietnam for Mongolia. Another place I"ll have to add to my list. We clambered back down to the boat, moved along a short way and off to Vietnamese customs. This time taking our luggage with us and there are no handrails and no planks, just steep riverbank. Mark, one of the American lads took my small bag and a small Vietnamese bloke and even smaller lass kept grabbing me as I shinned, wiggled and heaved my way up the bank. With great success I might add. Mark gave me a big cheer as I reached the top. He has a flat spot on his head, a big flat spot. He had cancer and had a brain operation. Every time the piece of skull was put back, it became infected, so they left it off in the finish. He is the most boisterous on the boat by far.
We went through Vietnamese customs, including our bags being scanned, then off to another restaurant just long enough for everyone to have some food, while our passports are being processed. These people arent daft either.
The young lass who helped drag me up the bank, gave me 2000 Dong, 6p, to get me through customs, as I only had $20 bills, which caused some consternation. Well, it would if I could spell it. I couldn't work out how I could pay her back, but she introduced me to a money changer, a little lady with a big handbag and a calculator. The rate wasn't too bad and I only changed $20 to pay her back with interest, which made her a happy, smiling lass. She was lovely and bubbly, so deserved it.
Packs on and back down another dodgy slope. It's a good job I've got this stick. THis boat is a bit posher. It has an afterdeck where some of us sat and waved and smiled, shouted hello and generally had good fun with the Vietnamese people along the way, old and young both. We have turned off the Mekong now and are headed up a narrow tributary. 2 Cambodians told me as soon as the border is crossed how green the land becomes and they are right. There are water pumps every few hundred metres and sluices on the Mekong side. Vietnam is just more organised and it shows, so they can have at least 2 rice crops a year. There are boat and boat loads of rice along the way. It is piled all over the place, along the banks and in rice mills. We chugged down a small river with stilt houses on one side and a road and sluices on the other. THe Mekong must be over there somewhere. THe stilthouses don't look as neat as in Cambodia, but the people are just as smiley, wave and say hello just as much. The life here seems same, same, but different. It certainly feels like I am in a new country and my enthusiasm is revitalised. I had gotten into a bit of a rut in Cambodia. As time comes to leave a country, I tend to look ahead to the next one instead of enjoying where I am.
Back to Vietnam........There are plenty of water buffalo along the way and a lad riding one, high on the bank. The older people seem more likely to wave in Vietnam, in fact there are not many who don't. The countryside is loads better than the cities. I would bet a pound to a penny Saigon is not as good as here. The boat ride has been brilliant. Mark had the kids in the water and on the banks, jumping like nutters, he has great energy. We travelled down a few rivers and they seemed to get wider until we were back out a big bugger and at Chau Doc. It is a different leg of the Mekong, but still impressive.
My initial impression of Vietnam???? I LOVE IT. I think it is part of my nature to like things initially and see what happens after that.
There are steps up to street level here, but I didn't have to worry. The Hulk drives a cyclo in Chau Doc and he grabbed my rucksack off the boat and threw it into his cyclo (bicycle taxi) and we were off to a hotel of my choice, Vinh Phuoc. Bad choice, but the staff are smashing. I have no window, but they say I can swap rooms tomorrow.
I had a much needed shower and hit the streets of Chau Doc. I got cyclo harrassed until he received my "I don't like you" vibe. I wandered along and spotted a restaurant with a vacant table outside. It wasn't hard to spot. The towns electricity is off until 22:00, so only those buildings with generators are lit up. The cyclos congregated outside with me, but I had a bit of crack with these lads. 2 of them have Giant bikes attached to their cyclos. Very nice. One of them was a nutter and kept shooting off. I think he was chasing the ladies. An old fellow came and sat with me, he is only a half a shilling at the most. He took my LP and started reading it, only scanning the lines with his fingers in the wrong direction. The owner tried to shoo him along, but he stayed and is harmless. He got a free tea for his persistence. He also enjoyed sneaking a drink of my beer when the owner wasnt looking. She caught him once and he acted all innocent like he'd picked up the wrong glass by mistake. He is a good old stick. The cyclos were giving him some stick, which only made me like him more. I think he was trying to wangle some of my fish in sauce, very nice it is too, but he couldn't wangle it. He left after a while, so I finished what he had left of my beer and went back to the hotel for another there. I had a good chat with one of the lads there before hitting the sack, well and truely knackered.

An even lazier Phnom Phen day.

21/4 - Victor came around at breakfast. I think he is just a little strange and he probably thinks the same about me.
I took a moto to the Post Office and posted some cards I've been carrying for weeks and some photo CDs, not to mention some very extravagent presents for the grandkids and a hammock. The lasses at the PO pack it for you too, a real bonus.
I took a stroll to Wat Prohm, but didn't go up the hill. I didn't need to, I had more of a laugh with some kids trying to sell me watches, shades and a dodgy looking flick knife. A mute lass joined us too, she took no nonsense from the others. I almost managed to sell my shades to them and my LP, as this is my last day in Cambodia.
I headed for the town centre, or so I thought. I was headed the wrong way, so gave up, took a moto back and phoned the kids. Paige sounded on good form. I hit the bar then for a lassi and went for a kip in the bar hammock, but it was in the sun, so too hot. A beer was the default getout, then a bit of packing. I just dossed for the rest of the day and worked out Victor stays in the guesthouse on the cheap and is harmless. Also the tall lady in the lake from yesterday was knealt in a boat, but I couldn't see the boat because of the vegetation. I'm still not sure about the toilet flushing.
Oh, my visa turned up.

A lazy Phnom Phen day

20/4 - Up for breakfast over the lake, which is part refuse dump, but only a small part, it is a lovely setting. The lake is about 75% covered with some vegetable and can't be very deep either, or the woman I saw in the middle is very tall. It is surrounded by houses on stilts and guesthouses. There is a nice cool breeze blowing in fromit, so I can't be arsed to move into town, but I will. I kept hearing rushing water whilst I was sat there and couldn't figure it out, but I think it may be the toilets flushing into the lake. I'll check it out. Before I could move myself, I was joined by a very strange Chinaman, Vincent. Talking to him was like reading our Mick's blog. I think he had a ganja hangover. He eventually drifted off, so I went to get my golden locks trimmed, but I think there may be a Khmer plan to have me grow my curls, as the lady told me the shears are broken. They forgot to tell the lady down the street though, so I am a slaphead again.
I had a wander around the back streets here. It didn't seem big enough to have so many. I was going to head off to the Khmer Rouge Killing field, but I have seen one and that is enough killing for me, although I have been offered trips to the firing range, where you can fire AK 47's and rocket launchers for a modest, huge, fee. I thought these firing ranges are illegal, but they are advertised in the Guest house, mind you that doesn't mean they are legal. I've also been offered about 2 stone of weed in the last 12 hours. I got asked if I had any to sell the last time I went to Glastonbury. I must look like a real dopehead.
I jumped on a moto for Central Market and got accosted by a little lady within 10 metres of getting off. She was selling hammocks. I must confess, I was more tempted than I have been with the weed so far, especially when the price went from $6 to $2. Guess what??? I bought one on the way out.WHY??? I'm buggered if I know. I was offered buggering too by a very sick moto driver who blocked my path, it is the first time I have come close to losing my cool. What is it about the big cities that attracts the sickoes???? No!!!!, it isn't me.
Central Market is very impressive. It reminds me of Grand Central Station, New York. I think it is the clock tower in the centre of all the stalls. There is a lot of designer stuff on sale, nudge nudge, wink wink.... Lots of jewellry, that is weighed before being bartered for. There is a lot of nice jade stuff in here, well, it's green, I wouldn't know the difference. This is the first time I've thought I should break the no buying rule, but don't worry, I didn't, apart from the hammock. Women buy jewellry and blokes buy hammocks. We've got it right.
It made me smile to myself as I left the market, buying the hammock. I'm easily amused. Outside the building there are lots of stalls selling fruit, plants, bric-a-brac and tourist tempting stuff, like hammocks.
I was led to believe Phnom Phen is a pain of a city, but I like the place. Perhaps it isn't in full swing after New Year, or I've become immune to the motos, tuk tuks, sex, drugs and rock and roll offers, plus it is cooler today with some cloud cover, not such a hot house.
I wandered on and sat a bit and sat a bit and wandered on. I have been out of e-range lately, so did a bit of catch up. The AC in there was a bit heavy, I was frozen when I emerged. The Sunday rush hour was starting to start and stop and start and stop, so I jumped on a moto and headed back to see the sunset over the lake. He was a crazy moto man, but fun. We stayed on the road most of the way, just using the pavements to jump queues at the lights. The pedestrians seem oblivious to us. I think the driver believed he was the biggest vehicle on the road, he definitely thought he had the right of way at all the turnings and we made it back, so he must have been right.
I got my coffee and packet of biscuits and sat by the lake. Victor,from this morning turned up. He is a strange man. He asked me again if I am a Christian and asked if I used drugs. I think he is a Chinese suicide bomber. He doesn't seem to be playing with a full deck, that is for sure. I am off to watch the football in a different bar. If Victor follows, he is just a hit man after Mackems, if this place explodes in my absence, I was right first time.
Another game Sunderland didn't deserve to lose, but I may be biased. An Irish lad joined me to watch the match. I thought he was bound to be a Sunderland fan. He is a bloody Mag and he left happy.
Another beer for me and bed, if the place is still standing.

Off to Phnom Phen to sort my Vietnam visa.

19/4 - Off to Phnom Phen to sort out my Vietnamese visa, well, nearly off. The bus was due at 7.30, came at 8.45 and went straight passed the guest house. Chanta, the cook, had taken the communal moto to the market, so I couldn't be nipped into town to catch the bus up. The bus ticket man, when phoned, said I was booked on the afternoon bus, which I think is Cambodian for Whoops. I played a bit of pool, read a bit and did a bit of typing, a relaxed morning and then the bus came and stopped and only an hour late.
The bus did the services stop at Angh Tusawn village, no baked spiders here. The kids selling the goods are always a good laugh, they have a great sense of humour and laugh at owt. You can't help but like them.
I got to Phnom Phen too late to sort out a visa today. I got hijacked by a tuk-tuk driver, who tried to take me to a hotel of his choice and also to a visa shop that was still open. The visa was only $40, 10 over the odds. We eventually got off to Boeng Kak lake, my choice, but it was easier said than done to find a hotel, this place is all knooks and crannies, but the touts always find you. I ended up in a room at Adam's place, not the one I wanted, but I couldn't find that one. The tuk tuk man said it was closed, but I found it a couple of days on. It may sound strange, but the room I have at Adam's, I would expect more for $5 a night. It is good enough though and the bar and restaurant area has a telly with the football on. Sunderland v Newcastle tomorrow.
This lake area is heaving with backpackers. Most of the guesthouses sort out visas and boat tickets, as does this one, so that'll save me some leg work. I had a couple of beers, some grub and watched a couple of games. I got chatting to an Irish lad, who absolutely hates Cambodia and the people. He got triple scammed at Poipet, a border crossing from Thailand and he just wants to leave after 3 days. A taxi driver and his mates did him twice and then a policeman. Poipet is notorious for gangsters and a place to avoid. The lad, Andy, is the 3rd person to tell me horror stories about Poipet. It is definitely a gangster town and needs a Cambodian Elliot Ness. He cheered up a bit later after a few beers and he was befriended by 2 bonny lasses. It would be a shame if he left with his current opinion, because this is a smashing country with great people.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Update or not????

Hello People, this just to let you all know I am still alive. The internet access is not as good as I expected in Vietnam and more scarce too. I have tried to access your comments and cannot. I have been visiting some more smaller villages and towns too, which means access is not available so readily. I am currently on a smashing island, Phu Quoc, in Vietnam, which is gearing up for the tourist trade, so there is access, but again I cannot access comments. I hope this gets posted.
I am about 2 or more weeks behind with the blog, but if I skipped those 2 weeks I would only fall behind again and I want this as a record for me, as well as War and Peace for you, so I will catch up if possible. If they have internet in the nick, I'll catch up when the bobbies catch up with me, otherwise hang in there.
I am alive and bloody well, getting brown legs and arms, having a ball, in no rush to stop, but going at a slower pace nowadays, through choice.
Stay well people and thanks for all the comments. I will catch up with them when possible.