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Our room is overlooking a large lake. No, that's not quite right. Our room is OVER a large lake. Our wing is built on stilts over the water at the shore of Ho Tay (West Lake) in the outskirts of Hanoi. We ALSO look over the lake to downtown Hanoi.
TK&A's plans for our immediate future are: Today in Hanoi; leave tonight on the 21:50 train to arrive in Hue at 9:40; layover tomorrow in Hue; leave the morning of the next day for an all day train ride to Nha Trang; overnight there, then we'll start bicycling.
At breakfast we found out TK&A's plans for us for today. Pack light for three days of train travel. Load everything else to be trucked to Nha Trang where we will meet up with our bikes.
Last night we made plans to go to town today with Rich and Jane. We met them in the lobby. Sean, Dave H. and Lynne all joined us in a van ride into town.
We first went to the only ATM in town (that we knew of) to get some money. Then we walked the "old town" part of Hanoi. It was fascinating, fun and frenetic!
The streets are NOT full of dirt, debris and rubble. Instead they're full of merchandisers, motorcycles and madness. Every 50 feet or so we would encounter someone trying to sell us something -- hats, scarves, plant hangers, post cards, guide books, maps, pedicab rides -- you name it, they sell it. One woman followed and pestered us for three blocks, trying to sell us hats.
The stores in Old Town are like booths in a flea market. Each about 10-12 feet wide, brimming with merchandise on display, usually with about a foot wide aisle leading to the stock (or living space) in the back of the store.
The streets are like aisles in a gigantic department store, with each block or two featuring a different type of merchandise. We walked down two or three blocks of just grocery-type stores, then a few blocks of dry goods, then toy stores, then drug stores, then party decorations, then furniture stores, then leather goods, then canvas goods, etc.
All the sidewalks were one-third filled with merchandise spilling out of the stores and the rest filled with parked motorcycles. Everything moving -- that included cars, motorcycles, pedicabs, bicycles and pedestrians -- used the narrow streets. And everything except the pedestrians had horns or bells that were constantly sounding to let you know they were coming. And, except for the occasional timid pedestrian (obviously a tourist), nobody paid much attention to the sounds.
The rule of thumb for the right of way in the street seems to be the same in all of Asia. Once you set your direction and speed you should maintain it, then each thing moving avoids -- maybe only by inches, but nevertheless, avoids -- the slower moving objects.
Thus, if you're a pedestrian, with a lot of guts, you just set out walking and you've got it made -- so long as you don't hesitate or make eye contact with whatever is coming at you. If you hesitate, you either lose the space you were headed for because someone else will beat you to it, or you will get hit by someone who is timing your pace so that they will miss you by a few inches.
Eye contact is also bad. Once you've made eye contact with a driver, they know you've seen them and they give you no quarter. Then, it's up to you to get out of their way.
We stopped at a local cafe and had lunch. Lisa and I each had a dish of noodles. a pancake stuffed with something savory, and a beer. Delicious and inexpensive! Only 33,000 dong. (The exchange rate is about 14,500 dong to the US dollar.) So that meal for the two of us cost about $2.25.
After a while, Lisa, Lynn and I got tired of walking through all the hubbub. We decided to go to the Hanoi Sofitel for a relaxed cup of coffee. For something different, we got three pedicabs to pedal us across town to the Sofitel. It was both fun and exciting! They followed the same right of way rules I explained above, so we came inches from pedestrians while cutting cars off (which came within inches of us) because we had direction and pace over them. What a hoot!
We had a relaxing cup of coffee at the Sofitel. Unfortunately, since it is a tourist oriented hotel, we paid tourist prices -- 100,000 dong for three cups of coffee. That was about $7.
Lisa wanted to have her hair done there, and Lynn and I wanted to get a massage, but they were booked. So we walked over to the Hanoi Hilton. No luck there either, so we took a cab back to our hotel.
When we arrived, we got another surprise. The train tonight was NOT the express train that arrives at 9:40 am. It was a local that would arrive at 14.40 in the afternoon. So, instead of a 12 hour overnight ride it will be a 17 hour ride. And, no, we do not have any class of sleepers. In fact, there are five classes of seats on the train -- two classes of sleepers and three classes of seats. TK&A reserved us seats in the two lowest classes. The lowest class being straight-backed wooden benches. The next higher being wicker seats with 1/2-inch vinyl pads to sit on.
Oh yea, and the next train is also not the express train that leaves at 9:40 and arrives in early evening. It's the extension of the same local train that we take tonight -- and it arrives at Nha Trang in the wee hours of the morning.
Oh well, on the bright side, you couldn't buy an adventure like this in the states for ANY amount of money! Aren't we lucky??? :-)
As we loaded the busses for the train station, we realized that: We're going on a train; our bicycles are on a truck, hopefully headed for Nha Trang: Some of our gear is on another truck that is also hopefully bound for Nha Trang; and our camping gear is in a warehouse in Malaysia (we think.) Is this an adventure or what?
We arrived at the train station 2 hours early. Most of the riders got on the train. We walked around the station most of the time.
At one time I was standing at one end of the station platform looking towards the other end. I remember thinking, "This is surreal!" On one side of the platform were all the merchandising booths selling coke, water, juice, candies, cookies, crackers, fruit, bread, cheese, etc. Down the center of the platform were groups of Asians, most in the traditional squatting position of one who waits. On the right was a train that looked like it came out of an old Orient Express movie. It had Asian faces, heads and arms coming out of every window. Overhead were bright, florescent lights. And out of the speakers was blasting Vietnamese music. I really felt like I was in another world -- and, come to think of it, I WAS!!!
Well, the train left right on schedule. It stopped about every 40 minutes, just a minute or two, up until midnight. We couldn't see anything outside because bright florescent lights were on in the cars and it seemed to be pitch black outside. I guess we'll have to wait until morning to see what's around.
Oh yes. Another part of this priceless adventure is using a squat toilet, next to a low, open window, in a very small compartment, while the train is rock'n and roll'n and race'n along the tracks. Wild!
Love to all,
|10/31||Vietnam, Hanoi to Hue
The train lights and fans went out at 2 a.m., then on again at 6 a.m. At 6:30, train personnel served a free breakfast -- a hot sandwich of some kind of meat and fruit, and a small carton of milk. Then they came by with a drink cart. I bought a black coffee for 3,000 dong.
We rolled through the lush, tropical countryside all night and all day. Lots of bridges over rivers and lakes. Lots of standing water. More and more rice paddies as we headed south. A few patches of vegetable gardens now and then. Thick, lush, green vegetation every place that has not been brought under control for a homestead or for planting.
We saw an occasional village of thatched huts, but mostly the houses were of more standard, stucco-looking construction. Every village had lots of merchandise stands -- the bigger the village, the more stands.
The train had very thorough "air conditioning" -- lots of windows that opened wide, augmented by a rotating ceiling fan every six feet.
The windows had raisable and lockable security screens of one-inch mesh across the opening. They were to keep thieves from reaching in at stations and grabbing bags. A local told us that the screens also kept out bottles and rocks that some people may throw at the train as it passes by.
The ceiling fans were just like 14-inch rotating desk fans except they were attached to the ceiling and they rotated 360 degrees as they blew.
Karen-Ann kept coming through the car with goodies. Last night was free beer. First thing this morning was supplemental breakfast sandwiches and milk. Then rolls, butter and cheese. Then beer, water and/or coke. About every hour she would come through with something.
We arrived at Hue at 5 to 2. The busses were waiting. Someone was planning. Was it organized in advance???
Unfortunately, no. We all had to wait to get our hotel assignments from TK&A before we could board the busses so that we got on the right bus. (I guess there was either not the time or the opportunity to do that on the train. Oh well.)
Some facts that we learned from the tour-guide on the bus about Vietnam:
The hotel, the Century Riverside Hotel, is a 3-star -- the finest in town. And it's just fine. Kind of a cut below a Best Western and a cut above a good, clean Motel 6.
We looked into booking a sleeper compartment on the next train with Larry and Joan. It was $50 American per person. That, alone, almost discouraged us, but if they'd take VISA . . . but no, no VISA.
What about an ATM? No, no ATM in town. We must go to the bank.
Where's the bank? 2-3 km away, must take a taxi. Then, for a bank withdrawal, we must have our passport -- but the hotel has them because the police need them.
Finally we said forget it. It's too much trouble. We didn't want to spend the whole afternoon just getting a train ticket.
We asked for a local area map so Lisa and I could go for a jog. A map of Hue cost 15,000 dong. How about a bottle of water? 30,000 dong in the hotel (but only 5,000 dong on the street).
Tonight TK&A treated us all to a Dragonboat cruise on the Perfume River, complete with local entertainment.
It was really fun! The Dragonboat took us up the river to a dark, secluded area. There it anchored and turned the lights way down low. Then the entertainment started -- and it was great!
There were three Vietnamese woman singers and three men and one woman musician. The instruments were all unique. The simplest one was a flute carved from bamboo. Then there was a two-string banjo-looking instrument. Then a 16-string instrument where the strings were mounted on the outside of a half-round tube about 3-feet long and 12-inches across.
Finally, there was what they called a traditional Vietnamese instrument. It had one string. One end of the string was attached to a solid peg in one end of a long, narrow, hollow box. The other end of the string was attached to a flexible stick that came up from the other end of the box. Different notes were made depending on two things. Where on the length of the string he "picked," and how tight or loose he made the string by pulling and pushing on the flexible stick. And in honor of all us westerners, the man played a solo of Auld Lang Zyne on that instrument.
After the entertainment, we talked as the boat made it back to the dock.
Love to all,
|11/01||Hue to Na Trang
A challenge first thing this morning! NO HOT WATER!!
We called the front desk to lodge what we thought would be a fruitless complaint. We were irate, they were nice . . . but we didn't expect much.
Surprise! They showed up in two or three minutes, worked on our individual water heater (mounted on the ceiling over the patio) for five, and told us we'd have hot water in 10 minutes. They were pretty accurate!
After a quick breakfast (custom-made omelet and crepes were the really good dishes) we were off on a city tour sponsored by TK&A. We were lucky again. There were three busses going, each with a guide. Two were full. One had only eight passengers. That was ours.
We visited the Lotus Pagoda. It has seven levels, each smaller than the one below -- just like the Lotus flower. It is built in the center of a turtle-shaped garden, and it faces south -- as do all Buddhist related buildings in Vietnam. (I did not catch the reason why this is so.)
There is a large turtle on one side of the garden and a very large bell on the other. The turtle symbolizes wisdom and long life. The bell used to be rung 108 times every morning by the resident monks. The number represents the number of identified hardships in life. (The ringing was discontinued in 1995 for fear of cracking either the bell or the building.)
Hue is the ancient capitol of Vietnam. Next we visited the Imperial City (also known as the Inner City, the Hidden City or the Secret City) of Hue. So named because it is the inner core of a double-walled city, and because it was ONLY accesssible, available and open, to the royalty. Ergo, 'hidden' or 'secret' from the masses.
The Hidden City is where the Kings and their mandarins lived. (The mandarins are the common people whose life-purpose was to serve the royal family.) As we wandered through the city we saw many beautiful, fancy, mosaic tile decorated buildings. We noticed many buildings were primarily yellow outside and red inside. Also, that many of the design elements were in sets of nine. It's because yellow, red and 9 are all royalty related.
We noticed that we were walking through lots of fields in the Imperial City, and that we never saw any snakes. We asked why? Simple. Vietnamese eat snakes. We were told, if you see a snake when you walk out your door in the morning, it is considered lucky. (Perhaps that is so because there are so mamy poor in Vietnam and they are lucky if they spot a meal so early.)
Hue is not only the former capital city of Vietnam, but is also known as the land of Buddhism. This is owing to the devotion of the Nguyen Lords for more than 200 years and the devotion of the Nguyen emporers during their 150 year reign. The monarchy ended in 1945.
Back to the hotel to check out, have a lunch of delicious noodles-with-chicken soup and green tea, then wait for the busses to take us to the train station.
Our train-car was MUCH more comfortable than the last one -- more leg room, more foot room, cushier seats, no bar in the middle of the back. We were even able to SLEEP in the seats.
So, what about the trains in Vietnam?
Well, the system was built by the French more than 100 years ago. It was severly damaged in the American war and the subsequent Chinese war. (Yes, what we call the Vietnam War is actually the American War.) We are told the government is working on it, but . . . .
There is one main line, in varying states of decay, stretching from China in the North, through Hanoi, down to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Since ALL of the trains, traveling either North or South, have to pass over the one line, several things happen. First, trains have to wait in stations -- the only place with double tracks -- for trains going in the opposite direction to pass. Second, trains going the same direction don't pass one another, so the average speed is SLOW. (It took us 14 hours to travel 650 km yesterday.)
Another interesting feature of the railroad the signal system. We noticed, at the beginning and the end of every tunnel, at the entrance and the exit of every station, and in the center of every station, there is a man with a red and a yellow flag. (No, I don't think THESE are related to royalty.) If it's okay for the train to proceed, the yellow flag is held up. If not, the red flag.
Still another is that whenever a train pulls onto a siding to allow to pass, the train is mobbed (outside) by venders and beggers.
For some of the ride today, the train clung to the edge of the jungle right on the edge of the Gulf of Tonkin. We had some spectacular views. There were even times when you could see the front and the back of the train as it skirted the cliff over a beautiful beach.
Of course, that helps explain why the trains are so slow. With so many tight curves on precarious, questionable foundations to go around, and so many tight, small-bore tunnels to go through, speed has to be pretty low on the level of concern.
We mentioned the war. We constantly have to remind ourselves that there really was a terrible war here not long ago. The people are so friendly and welcoming. Hard to imagine we were shooting at each other 30 years ago. What a waste.
We asked a local why there wasn't more animosity towards Americans. He said, honestly, "Peace is good!" "It's better to love than hate. If I hate you, yuo will hate me. What good is that?" He really did. And he wasn't preachy, just matter of fact. Nice!
Love to all,
|11/02||Nha Trang, Vietnam
Our train arrived at Nha Trang ay 5:30, right on schedule -- but I couldn't get off!
Well, not exactly. Last night, when I couldn't sit anymore, I got up and walked the length of the train. When I got back, Lisa had gotten comfortable across both seats so I found a cushy, empty seat in another car, settled in and went to sleep.
A conductor woke me up and asked where I was going. "Nha Trang," I told him.
"This is your stop," he indicated. So I headed back to our car. I found that the doors were locked between the car I was in and the next one, but I was able to unlock them and get through. Same thing at the end of this car. The door was locked, but I managed to get through. (I found out that the conductors lock the doors to each car to prevent stowaways and robbers from sneaking through the train.)
Then the problem! I was on the platform (enclosed) between cars. The door I had just passed through had locked behind me and the door into my car had a locked PADLOCK on it. I could see through the door grate, I could yell through it, but I couldn't pass through it.
I called to Lisa, told her I couldn't get through and could she take the luggage. (I didn't tell her I was trapped.) So she took the two backpacks and three grocery bags off.
I still had to figure out how to get off the train. I was stuck between cars -- the doors to both cars were locked -- and the exit doors in the space were locked.
Just then, Bryan (from Canada) opened the door into the platform from the car behind me. He was also trying to get off. I told him there was no way off from this end. We all went back and out the door on the other end of that car.
Busses were waiting to take us to the Vien Dong Hotel -- a 3-star property. (From our experience, when visiting Southeast Asia, a 3-star hotel would be the lowest acceptable level -- and they're often borderline so inspect them before accepting them.) At the hotel, everyone sat or laid around the lobby looking like zombies.
On the train, we had heard from Micki and Eric that they had $860 airline tickets from Singapore to Christchurch, then from Auckland to the West coast. We got the name and number of their travel agent (who happens to be Art and Lynn's travel agent) so we could check out that alternative.
So, while we were waiting for our room assignment we sent an email to Violette at Travel Connections in Colorado Springs. Then we went to breakfast.
After breakfast and a long nap, we went for a run. It turns out that Nha Trang is the vacation capital of Vietnam. Nha Trang is on the Nha Trang Bay of the South China Sea. It has a long, beautiful, pristine, silica sand beach, and it's just a block away from our hotel. We ran along that beach.
We were surprised to find that many locals greeted us and knew who we were (Americans) and what we were doing (riding bicycle around the world.) On our way back to the hotel, we met a pedi-cab driver who struck up a conversation. It seems his father worked for an American in 1973, then went with the American to live and work in Houston, Texas. That's where he is now. No, this fellow doesn't expect to ever go to Houston -- can't afford it.
After the run, we showered and met Larry and Joan for lunch. We went to an Italian-Vietnamese restaurant right on the beach. We all had pizzas and Lisa and I also had spaghetti.
Outside the restaurant there was a small cart dull of books. It was called "Lang's Book Exchange." We stopped while Lisa bought a book and had a nice conversation with Mr. Lang.
From there we walked up the beach to a place that Tim and Ann Mo recommended for ice cream. It was pretty good.
We walked and talked with Ken and Emily (from Oregon) all the way back to the hotel. Then we got our bike and got in line for the mechanics. (The last two truck rides -- in China and in Vietnam -- had done quite a bit of damage to a lot of bikes.) We were out of luck, though. It got dark just as we got to the mechanic. We'll have to go back tomorrow.
At dinner we had two hours of traditional Vietnamese entertainment. We had singers, dancers and musicians. Besides the one-string and 16-string instruments I described from our dragonboat ride on the Perfume River, they had several string and wind instruments made from bamboo. One was like a large harpsicord. Another looked like a series of variable length wind chimes that the player played by rattling them. Another was a strange 1-string "violin." It was played with a bow, just like a violin, but the player held the end of the one string in his mouth. That way he could pull it tighter to make higher pitches. He could also "hum" on it like a kazoo. Another strange instrument was a xylaphone made with different size and length of rocks. When the player struck each different rock with his mallet, each made a different sound.
We were tired so we headed back to our room to await the return of our laundry. Once that was delivered and put away, off to bed.
Love to all,
|11/03||Vietnam, Nha Trang to Da Lat
The plan today was to ride 115 km to Phan Rang, then bus from there another 108 km to Da Lat. (TK&A is providing the buses.) We didn't make it -- mechanical breakdown. But, I'm ahead of myself.
I (David) got up at 5 a.m. to call Violette at Travel Connection in Colorado Springs about the possible flights from Singapore to New Zealand to Los Angeles. We talked for about 20 minutes (about $80 worth), then, unfortunately, she told me she had sent all the info by e-mail. But, at least she has (and we have) some ideas and prices.
Next I went down to get our bike worked on. I wanted to be early in line. The mechanics were not set up yet, so I went on to breakfast.
At breakfast, I saw Merlin. I grabbed the tandem and walked with him to get his tools, then to his setup spot. I got in line.
We found that the major problem was a bent deraileur and a broken deraileur hanger. Fortunately, I had a spare deraileur hanger. Merlin fixed both the major and the minor problems pretty quickly. We were on our way by 7:30.
The whole ride was on Highway 1, the only road between Hanoi and Ho Chi Min City. It is a smooth, paved highway with wide shoulders -- and, of course, lots of bicycles, motorcycles and mopeds. It was a nice ride. Fairly flat, fairly straight, past lots and lots of rice fields, through small towns and past lots of "strip commercial" areas.
Remember now, "strip commercial" in Vietnam means clusters of open-sided huts, most of which sell, much to Lisa's consternation, only WARM water, soda and beer.
We did finally find a shack that had cool beer and a cool "sport drink." We had the sport drink. (It tasted like cough medicine.)
Then catastrophe hit! The gear cluster wouldn't catch!! We couldn't make the bike go!!!
A sag vehicle came by going the other way. Rene leaned out and asked if everything was all right. Of course, it wasn't. But, as we were considering our options, I was able to get the gears to catch, so we continued on to checkpoint.
At checkpoint, Jason looked at the bike. His evaluation? Bad news. We needed a new axle. We're done for the day -- probably for a week or so until we can get a replacement. BUT, we better get a second opinion.
So, we loaded onto the bus. On the bus ride to Phan Rang, we passed many areas where rice was spread to dry across half the road. Most of the "beasts of burden" were now Brahma bulls rather than water buffalo.
When we got to the road going through the mountains, we passed many, many very small, very weathered and very worn out homes. Most with no window glass (some had shutters, some had bars) and no wood doors (some had curtains). Most of the houses in the rural areas of Vietnam (and in China) were this type.
We passed through a few REALLY poor areas where some of the homes consisted of thatched walls and roof. Others were built of a bamboo framework with old tatami mats and rags attached to make outside walls. (There are no inside "walls" in these houses in any of the rural houses that we've seen. Sometimes there's a curtain, but nothing one might call a wall.)
Da Lat is about a mile high. We went over two passes to get there. It covers a pretty wide area and has a lake in the middle. We are told it's a "planned community." I don't think that term means the same in Vietnam as it means in the US.
We arrived at the main hotel about 4. I told Merlin about our troubles. He thinks he can rebuild the hub. I should bring it to his room. GREAT! But the bike wasn't there yet. It was in the belly of Bus 6.
Our gear finally arrived about 4:45. We had to unload the gear truck, get our gear bags and load them on the bus. We finally got to our hotel about 5:45. It was a little after 6 by the time we got into our room. It's an okay room -- cozy and clean. Lisa showered and I caught the next bus back to the main hotel so I could get the rear wheel to Merlin.
I know it sounds as if we've had a lot of bad luck with the bike, lately. But keep in mind that we're putting many more miles than average on the bike this year -- maybe the equivalent of five "normal" years -- so some things just start wearing out. Nd getting banged around in all the recent truck rides doesn't help....
We had a good dinner, more music from Vietnamese instruments -- only this time they were "plugged in". Yes, amplified like an electric guitar.
We walked back to our hotel with Phil and Shirley. On the way, we heard about their plans for after Singapore. We also found a wonderful looking bakery and drug store. We bought some Vitamin C to take us through the year. (Simple things like vitamins are not that easy to come by in these parts, so this was a good find.)
Tomorrow we'll explore some more. (We heard there's a good French restaurant here.)
Love to all,
We slept late this morning -- 8 o'clock. Then we had breakfast with Phil and Shirley from New Hampshire. Then we spent our day walking around Dalat.
Dalat is known as the "City of Eternal Spring" because of the pleasant days and cool nights. It's economy is based on tourism. And, it's Vietnam's most favored honeymoon spot.
It has a golf course (I didn't get to play), and a "Valley of Love." That is a tacky tourist area designed to look like a western town. There you can take a picture (for a fee) of a Vietnamese cowboy, or have one taken of yourself on a horse. There is an area near one of the many waterfalls that is decorated with stuffed jungle animals. Vietnamese tourists love to have their picture taken with the stuffed animals.
Dalat is so tacky, they even have a miniature of the Eiffel Tower on a hill overlooking town. It's painted blue, white and red, the colors of the French Flag.
Set in the midst of the beautiful, natural surroundings is this tourist town. To us, it looked like many other small towns in China and Vietnam -- lots of little shops selling almost any product or service that you could imagine, lots of street vendors selling postcards, maps, and sketches, and lots of tiny, mostly dirty, hole-in-the-wall restaurants with pots boiling in front.
Lisa had the idea that we should get the zippers on our new bike shirts replaced here. They're really short--we like longer zippers) Great idea, sine tailors are plentiful and cheap!
We found a tailor that understood what we wanted. They agreed to replace the short zippers on six shirts with longer (and cooler) ones for a total cost of 100,000 dong -- that's less than $7 for all six. Then I had two torn zippers replaced in my travel pants for 10,000 dong. (Yep, less than 70 cents.)
There is a wide stairway leading from the street in front of the hotel up a hill to another street. That stairway gets covered with people setting up firepots, tables and chairs as lunch and/or dinnertime approaches. In fact, the streets leading up to the stairs are also covered with little, makeshift pseudo restaurants. They cook -- who knows what -- and sell it right on the street.
We did NOT try any. The cooking and serving conditions did not look very sanitary.
We ran into Shirley and Phil again at lunch time. We all went to La Tulipe Rouge Restaurant for lunch. (Pizza and spaghetti.) We talked about what they and we did before Odyssey, then what would come after.
In our travels, we ran into Merlin. He said he got our hub working. We just need to pick it up and clean the cluster before putting it on the wheel.
Later, we picked up the wheel and cassette. The hub works great. It will need rebuilding again back in the states, but it should last until then with no problems. I cleaned the cassette in the sink with shampoo and a toothbrush. Then installed it on the hub during the meeting tonight.
Yes, TK&A finally had the long promised meeting where he answered questions about the extra charge for finishing the Odyssey. Nothing has changed from his first pronouncement. He still wants $3,000 per person to finish the Odyssey as originally promised and contracted for.
When he originally announced this, he simply said that they ran out of money. Now he's blaming the increased costs solely on higher transportation and fuel costs -- and, coincidentally, he claims he is allowed to collect extra payment for those increased costs because his original brochure included fine print to that effect.
One new thing he came up with is different extra costs for people who only want to participate in parts of the remainder of the trip.
We have not yet decided what we will do. We, along with a majority of the riders, have the feeling that the Odyssey 2000 trip will effectively end in Singapore. Whatever TK&A does after that will be a new trip.
We're not sure that we want to pay $6,000 for 3 weeks of bicycle campng in the rainy season in New Zealand and 10 days of the same in Hawaii. We are still looking at our options. Whatever we do, we're pretty sure we won't be back to the S.F. Bay area before sometime in January.
Love to all,
|11/05||Vietnam, Dalat to Phan Thiet
Today's plan was to ride 110 km to Phan Rang, then catch the TK&A bus the last 150 km to Phan Thiet. We were up bright and early (5:30) so we could get the bike ready and get an early start. We carried our panniers and the rear wheel as we walked the 2 km over to the Golf 3, the main hotel (where the mechanic was).
I cleaned the front gears and both chains while waiting for the mechanic. He installed the cluster and adjusted the front brake. Then I adjusted the front fender (it was rubbing) and attempted to adjust the disc brake. Couldn't get it to 100%, though. We finally got away about 7:30.
The first 25 km was all uphill as we climbed to 1,500 km. (We are very happy with our newfound hill-climbing method. We zipped right up those hills!)
The next 38 km was all downhill on steep, curvy, rough road. Unfortunately, the slight out-of-adjustment of the disc brake was enough to cause us to lose it's stopping power on the way down . . . so we went very slowly and had a few more stops than usual.
Both the uphill and the downhill was through very beautiful and scenic areas of the mountains. In the higher elevations, lots of coffee growing. We passed many, many areas where coffee beans were spread over half the roadway to dry. As we got lower, we saw the same thing with tea. Then came corn, then the rice. (Have I said before that Vietnam is the third largest exporter of rice in the world? They're behind Thailand and the U.S. The government here buys all the rice production that is not eaten by the growers.)
The Vietnamese people are ALL very warm and friendly and helpful. And the children are ADORABLE Lisa says. (She suggested going to an orphanage and adopting one to take home.) The kids all say hello and give a big smile -- then they giggle when they see our tandem. They're also extraordinarily affectionate with each other. It's very common to see two girls or two boys walking with their arms around each other or hodling hands (yes, even the boys).
I realized today that my negative descriptions of the lifestyle comes from comparing it with my own lifestyle. That's okay, but it should be kept in mind when reading my descriptions.
Having said that, I can give some more impressions from today's ride. At least half of the adult female population wear handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths. Apparently to filter the dust that is constantly in the air.
It's understandable why people get so sick here. Most homes do not have refrigerators. Every town market has open counters with fresh meat and chicken sitting out in the sun. Most people wash clothes and bathe in the constantly muddy rivers and streams -- the same rivers and streams that are the direct recipients of the sewage from every gas station and restaurant and home.
One of our Vietnamese guides told us that it's the dream of everyone in Vietnam to own three things -- a TV, a refrigerator and a washing machine.
We pulled into the bus pickup point about 2:30. Unfortunately, a bus had just left. We were in the last bus and had to wait for the eighteen riders that had not yet arrived. We left about 4:30 for the long ride to Phan Thiet.
We kidded Larry and Joan for being the last ones on the bus . . . but Joan pointed out that, "they weren't the last ones in." And that was true . . . just the slowest to board.
We arrived at our hotel, the Doi Duong Hotel, about 7 p.m. No food left, but, to their credit, the hotel restaurant got busy and cooked up some more. The hotel is new and still very nice. And it's a very nice location -- across the street from the beach.
When we came out from dinner, I said hello to Jane (Portland). She started crying. I put my arms around her and she told me that Rich's mother died today. They just got the word. Very sad, but not unexpected, they said. She had had several strokes recently.
We went to their room and talked with Rich, gave him our condolences, and exchanged email and address information. They will try to get to Ho Chi Min City tomorrow and get a flight home right away. We feel so sorry. And we'll miss them.
Love to all,
|11/06||Phan Thiet, Vietnam
We had a lazy day today. I worked on the disc brake system this morning, then just visited and read all afternoon. Lisa just snoozed, watched CNN and read most of the day.
I walked over to the beach this afternoon, then up and down it for a ways. It is another long, sandy, beautiful beach on the South China Sea.
Right across from our hotels are several beach cafes. They all have some type of beach chairs and some shade. They all sell drinks like beer and soda. Some had bags of chips. Very basic.
Lisa and I went over in late afternoon, grabbed a beach chair, and sat and read a bit. When we came back, it was dinnertime.
Candlelight dinner tonight. We're not sure why. Fun, though.
After dinner we heard about an orphan who stowed away on one of our trucks at Dalat. He says he's nine and that he wants to go home with "Americans." Of course he's very sweet, and of course there are a lot of women who say they'd like to take him home.
Last night he slept on the beach. Today he was discovered and tonight he's sleeping in someone's room.
Will the adventures ever end?
Love to all,
|11/07||Vietnam. Phan Thiet to Ho Chi Minh City
Election Day in the USA! We're watching CNN whenever we can.
We wanted to beat the heat today, so, up at 5:20 this morning, on the road by 7. Brakes worked fine today.
Nice ride today. Rolling hills most of the day. Constantly increasing traffic as we got closer to Ho Chi Minh City.
We saw lots of rice, coffee and corn spread on the shoulders to dry. Many of them being stirred with a saw-toothed wooden rake, with feet slogging through, or with the hands. We saw lots of weathered, small, lightly constructed buildings and homes. And, something new, quite a few (a dozen maybe) newer and nicer looking two or three story stucco homes.
We finished the 115 km to the bus pickup point by 1 today. The bus left at 2 for the harrowing trip into Ho Chi Minh City.
I sat in the front seat just for the experience -- and WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!
Highway 1 is mostly two-lane with about 6-foot shoulders. The shoulders in both directions are filled with lots of slow bicycles and lots more slightly faster small motorcycles. (Often these masses spill over into the traffic lanes.) Then lots of trucks, lots and lots of busses, and a few cars fight for the space that's left.
All the vehicles have horns -- bells on the bicycles, little car horns on the motorcycles, and shrieking air horns on the trucks and busses -- and they all use them. No brakes, just horns.
Our bus would tend to ride slightly over the centerline, always trying to pass. Exciting when an oncoming bus or truck was trying to do the same thing. Then we'd have a game of "chicken" to see who blinks first.
USUALLY one or the other was able to just barely complete his pass, with lots of horn blowing and light flashing, and cut in front of the vehicle being passed just before we meet.
Once in a while, one or the other would back off. This would only happen when one of them starts their pass VERY late. Otherwise, honor (or something like that) requires that they hold their course and complete their pass. Sometimes that requires four vehicles and a few bikes and motorcycles to squeeze through -- and somehow, they do!
We got to Ho Chi Minh City about 3:30. It's a VERY large city, VERY, VERY congested with motorcycles, people, motorcycles, busses, motorcycles, bicycles and motorcycles. And EVERYONE tries to be first to fill that one, empty space. And there are VERY FEW intersections with any traffic controls. That means first (or biggest if it's close to a tie) goes first.
Once our big bus starts slowly into an intersection, every thing else gives way -- eventually. Slowly but surely, as the bus lumbers forward, bicycles and motorcycles scoot out of the way -- JUST BEFORE they get run over.
It's an incredible sight!
Our hotel is about a 20 minute bus ride from the main hotel -- that's bad. But the rooms are VERY, VERY NICE -- that's good! And, the TV gets CNN. That's RELLY good, considering tomorrow morning we will be able to get the Tuesday evening election results from the U.S. (We're 12 hours ahead of east coast time; 15 hours ahead of California.)
Dinner tonight was in the main hotel. It was another very, very good meal. (We really like most of the Vietnamese foods -- especially the westernized dishes :-)
After dinner we had Vietnamese entertainment -- some Eastern, some Western -- all done with the previously described Vietnamese instruments. In fact, the lady playing the one-string instruement tonight was OUTSTANDING! Very, very talented. (She's been playing the dan tranh for 25 years. She has taken her group to Seattle twice.)
I found out from our interpretor that the one-string instrument is called a "dan tranh" and the one made of bamboo pipes on a slanted rack (looks kinda like a vertical xylaphone) is called a "dan t'rung." They are native instruments from the "minority people" of Vietnam.
(I'll find out more about the "minority people" and write it up later.)
After dinner, Lisa talked to Larry Gore (Al's cousin.) Needless to say, he's very interested in the election! And bummed out because the TV reception in his hotel is bad. We invited him to watch with us. Larry also is a Vietnam vet, and it was interesting to talk to him about that. He says it's been really tough being here. He realizes that the Vietnamese people have put the war behind them, and he should too, but it's tough. He was involved in the battle for Hue. (We were there a few days ago.) He said that during the battle, the North Vietnamese flag was flying at a prominent spot in the city. The battle to take the city lasted 27 days and the flag was replaced by South Vietnamese flag. Now, of course, the North Vietnamese flag is back. He said that was realy hard to see.
Love to all,
|11/08||Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
This morning we tuned in to CNN to get the early election returns. Then we went down for breakfast.
We met Larry and Joan at breakfast and agreed to go together on a city walking tour this afternoon. As we finished breakfast, Larry and I decided to take a walk in the neighborhood and find an internet and e-mail shop.
We walked several blocks. Finally found one. Larry successfully accessed his e-mail. I was unsuccessful. "Sorry," the owner said, "try again later." (Phone calls are outrageously expensive here. It costs from $20-$40 just to send Pocketmail. So I was trying to access our account on the internet, where the charge is only about $3 an hour!)
We walked back to the hotel to confirm with Joan what our afternoon walking itinerary would be. As we entered the hotel, Larry walked into a glass door and split the skin above his eye. It hurt like hell, Larry said, but it didn't look too bad.
The hotel staff was all over themselves trying to help. They got the split cleaned up and offered to call a doctor. We decided that Larry should get it looked at so Joan called the main hotel for Peter, the Odyssey doctor, only to find that he had left the tour this morning. We all agreed that Larry should still have a doctor check it.
The hotel arranged for Larry to go to the International Hospital in town. One of the security staff went in the taxi with Larry and Joan to make sure there were no problems. The hotel manager met them at the hospital to make sure things were handled well.
We went to our room to wait. They returned at 12:30. The Doctor had "glued" the split and Larry felt fine. When he and Joan returned, they were presented with a lovely tea set as a token of the hotel's concern. Very nice!
We all had lunch in our rooms, then left for our walk. We first went by the site of the old American Embassy. (The building has been razed.) That's where the last Americans left by helicopter on 1975.
Then we walked to the Reunification Palace -- the old presidential palace for South Vietnam, known then as Independence Hall. On 30 April 1975, when Saigon (and the government of South Vietnam) surrendered, the first Communist tanks to enter the city raced to this location.
It is said that when the tanks broke through the front gates and an officer ran up the stairs to raise the North Vietnamese flag, he was met by the S.V. vice president who offered to give the power of the government to the officer. The officer replied, "You can not give away somethng which you never owned."
The building has been preserved as it was on that 30 April date. It is a big, beautiful building with lots of magnificent rooms of state.
We watched a video on the history of Vietnam. It actually was a history of the occupation and liberation of Vietnam. It realy covered from the early French rule, to the Japanese occupation, to the later French and Chinese rule and through the American war.
It showed that the reason the French lost at Dien Bien Phu is that they never thought the Vietnamese could get heavy artillary up the mountain that towered over the French stronghold -- but they did.
It showed how the Americans dropped all types of bombs and chemicals and devastated the landscape of Vietnam, but they didn't know about the network of tunnels that the Viet Cong hid in. It showed the dissent in the U.S. about the war and inferred that that was the reason the Americans abandoned the S.V. government and pulled out.
We missed the War Remnants Museum, said to have lots of graphic representations of the horrors of war. (We didn't miss it too much, but we didn't SEE it.)
As I walked across town to the Pagoda, I marveled at how the traffic flows through the streets with no controls and only "more-or-less" type rules. For the most part, everyone misses everyone else -- if only by inches.
The masses of motorcycles on the streets are unbelievable! I stood on a corner and watched as hundreds of motorcycles would go through in one direction, then hundreds would go through in the cross direction, then back to the first direction, then the second, etc. I decided to get a picture from the centerline as one mass went past me on both sides of the line.
MISTAKE!!! I forgot something. The drivers pay no heed to traffic stripes. I was fair game!!
It was a harrowing experience, but I got the picture!
I arrived at the Emperor of Jade Pagoda. It's not much to see from the outside. It's set back from the street and jammed in between two other old, decrepit, worn-out buildings. But once I entered the front gate -- WOW! As the "Lonely Planet" describes it, it's a "gem of a Chinese temple. Filled with colorful statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes," it is said to be one of the most spectacular pagodas in the city. It has several rooms, large and small, each with several statues -- most gilded in gold.
As I wandered through, I watched several women light large bundles of incense from the ever-present candles. They would then wave the smoldering bundle up and down in front of each statue, say a prayer, then stick several of the burning incense sticks in the sand-filled urn that sat in front of each statue. They did this for each of the twenty or so statues in the many rooms of the pagoda. Then they went up to a second floor where they did the same thing on a balcony overlooking the front garden, then in the last of the rooms. (That last room was filled with photos of individuals who were apparently deceased.)
On what appeared to be the alter in front of many of the statues were plates of fruits, vegetables and other food, and bottles of opened coke. Just before I left, a man took a club and beat a big drum and rang a large bell. Then he collected all the food and coke bottles. I had to leave to catch dinner so I never found out why.
We had a fantastic dinner tonight. Lots of selections, lots of food, and room for everyone to sit at a table. (Last night the food was good and the entertainment was good, but the room was so small, some people had to sit on the floor.) For entertainment tonight we had a string quartet playing music from the 40's, 50's and 60's. Mostly v e r y s l o w dance music.
We got back to our room about 8 o'clock and turned on CNN only to find that at 6 on Wednesday morning after the election, the result still wasn't decided. Will it really take 10 days??
(An interesting note: at dinner, we sat with Ken, who owns the company that supplied the ballot-counting software to Florida. He confirmed that it was extremely unlikely that anything would change from the re-count. He said that if for some reason any ballots were hand-counted, that's where the errors would be.)
*** Oh yeah. Lisa and I decided tonight that we will be going to New Zealand after Singapore and doing our own, self-supported tour. If we find others with goals similiar to ours, we'll team up. If not, we'll do it independently.
We plan to ride from Dana Point to Burbank with whoever's left in the group, and to end the Odyssey in the Rose Parade on 1-1-01. Look for us!
Love to all,
|11/09||Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Phukett, Thailand
Finally ... an easygoing travel day. We delivered our gear bags to the lobby for pickup at 9 a.m. TK&A was prepared with airline luggage tags. The plan was to tag the bags in the lobby, then we would pick them up in Phukett. Good idea.
We loaded on a bus at 10:30 for the short trip to the airport. Then, as we were waiting at the airport, we were told that we had to retrieve our bags, take them through customs, and then deliver them to the airlines. It was not a big deal though since the day was essentially devoted to travel anyway, and the plane wasn't scheduled to leave until noon.
Going through the various lines was smooth. The airlines and the airport seemed ready for us. They had plenty of stations open at every step of the way. (Baggage security, baggage check, departure fee, immigration, customs, security, airport busses and boarding)
The flight was smooth and quick. They even had time to serve us a quick meal.
We landed in Phukett about 3, went through immigration, customs, etc., picked up our gear, loaded it on trucks, then we all ,loaded onto about five busses.
A not-too-funny thing happened while loading the busses. We heard the busses were loading. Lisa put some things on a seat, while I was getting some Baht (local money). She came and told me we were on the second green bus, then she went to the bus.
I was talking to some other riders in the airport when Lisa came back in. She was really steaming! She had come back to get me and the bus left without her/us. And her bag of bottled water and goodies was on that bus!
She went in to get some more water, and I went to organize a bus. I found two seats on the next bus and put my bags on it. Then it was ready to leave and Lisa wasn't back. I asked the driver to wait one minute while I ran to get Lisa.
I found her in the airport with a new bag of water and goodies. I said, "Hurry, the bus is leaving!" I grabbed her bag and ran out. She was right on my heels.
As I ran to where the bus was parked, it wasn't there. It was backing out. I caught it and banged on the door. Whew! We made that one.
(What's the big deal, you may ask. One bus is as good as the next. Well, besides the fact that we had bags in the bus, usually with Odyssey, if a bus is missed, it's at least an hour until the next one.)
But, the final laugh was on us. Our bus pulled out of the airport onto the highway . . . and parked . . .in the hot sun . . .right behind the two previous busses that had left earlier. We sweltered in the sun until two more busses joined us from the airport. THEN we all caravaned to the resort area of Patong Beach where our hotel was.
We checked in, got a nice room, and were told that we'd have to move tomorrow to a different hotel. Oh well.
Tonight we had a Thai buffet banquet dinner poolside. We were entertained by "authentic" Thai music and dancers. Very nice.
I was very tired and not feeling well so I retired early. Lisa went for a walk in the neighborhood with some other people. Here's her take on it.
Our plan was to take a walk and "find town," thinking it would be a quiet beachy-type place. What a surprise! Imagine a cross between Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Times Square, and a beach resort. Typical beach kinds of shops, lots of neon, bars everywhere, strip clubs everywhere advertising all kinds of "acts" involving snakes, flames, swords, razors, ping pong balls, etc. You name it . . . they do it. People everywhere. On top of everything else, there was a big festival for gay pride week, and there were drag queens everywhere.
Quite an interesting evening.
Love to all,
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