Vietnam

Chennai – Good bye

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This was our only photo in Chennai (CHUH – NYE) – our last dinner on the roof our hotel.

We only had two days in the city. The last two days of our 10 month long trip, and we chose to spend it at a buffet table and a shopping mall. We were tired, and wanted a couple of days to gather our stuff and relax before our next leg of travel back to our home and native land.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t have any grand tales to share from our time in Chennai.

Instead maybe some advice:

1. Go to more breakfast buffets.

2. Take your time there: don’t blow your appetite on an overfilled, first plate of waffles and pancakes.

3. Aim for four plates. For example, start slow with salad. Move over to the omelette station next, and pay service to some sausage and bacon. Then for your third plate, you could bring in some insulation like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. This means you can finish on a light note. As your reliever, go with some fruit.

4. Get the fresh stuff: is there one piece of french toast left in the container? do another couple of laps, or distract yourself with the colours at the salad bar then double back to get the new batch.

5. Treat it as your own food museum: people spend hours touring museums, taking history in slowly, one piece at a time. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. Consider a buffet, your own edible museum or art gallery that you can enjoy, bit by bit, digesting it all slowly.

Enjoy.

We’ve now been back in Canada for a couple of months, and I can confidently say that the first impression of life here is cold. Not groundbreaking news for winter in Canada – but we’d been living under sun for the past 10 months, and hadn’t been below zero in a long time. Our East Coast is having it rough, getting hammered with one snow storm after the next, which I think, is well summed up in this ditty:

Toronto is just cold. I know, in comparison to other parts of Canada like Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northern B.C, and Quebec we’re living in a paradise. My eyelids aren’t freezing shut, my nose hairs aren’t growing icicles, and it doesn’t hurt to breathe outside. And yet, I still feel cold. Maybe the sun has made me soft.

There’s a lot of good things to being back:
– fast WiFi
– good coffee
– personal laundry
– maple syrup

And some bad:
– The Toronto Maple Leafs

It was an amazing trip overall – with a ton of different experiences along the way, which I’m sure we’ll return to again and again as our memories are randomly triggered.

” Do you remember that drunk guy singing in a microphone on that Indonesian ferry?”

” Remember those mountain goats we saw off the trail in Nepal”.

” Remember that Chinese trekker who had a teddy bear on his bag to remember his wife”.

Blah, blah, blah. We can go on forever – and think it enormously interesting, while boring the shit out of everyone around us. However, in place of our subjective impressions, here’s something we can include people on: our trip by the numbers.

Months spent travelling: 10

Countries visited: 10

Planes taken: 32

Longest single flight: 14 hrs 35 mins. (Vancouver to Auckland)

Trains taken: 5 (overnight) + 2 (day)

Longest single train ride: 14 hrs (Delhi to Varanasi)

Buses taken: 2 (overnight) + 19 (day)

Longest single bus ride: 13 hrs (Mumbai to Goa)

Tuk-tuk/rickshaws taken: 100+ (at least)

Cars/Taxis taken: 40-ish

Cars we rented and drove ourselves: 2

Mopeds we rented and drove ourselves: 5

Boats/Ferries: 7

Longest continuous day of travel: 26 hrs (Phuket to Sukothai)

Guesthouses stayed: 84

Nights sleeping in airports: 2

Bouts of food poisoning: 2 – Marc 0 – Rose

Countries where one or more nationals mistook Rose as a fellow citizen : 8

Scuba dives: 12

Highest altitude climbed: 5416 metres (16, 878 feet)

Lowest depth swum below sea level: 30 metres (98 feet)

Trail hikes: 4

Longest hike: 20 days (Annapurna Circuit)

Major news stories of our disappearance: 5 (Google search: Marc + Rose + Nepal)

Strangers who asked me to pose in a photo with them: 4

Temples visited: beaucoup

How many times we changed time zones: 10

Most times zone crossed in a single day: 10

Total distance travelled: 98, 885.4 kms (two times around the earth + 18k leftover)

I may fill in a few spots here and there, add some more travel books and odds and ends. But otherwise, that was our trip.

Merci bien. Thanks for reading.

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Travel Books: Vietnam

Rose and I catch a ton of tips, bits, and ideas about where we’re currently travelling and where we’re heading thanks to the widest web in the world and even real people! (Amazing, I know. Don’t believe it? It’s vrai.)

One of these things we’ve both accumulated are books. Not physically, thankfully, because we’d never pass the weight restrictions on airplanes.

Instead we’ve each read a bit on the places we’ve gone or are heading, aside from just run of the mill travel guides. Though, to be fair, Rose’s approach may be more indirect through an aside in a Robert Ludlum novel, a single mention in a Scandinavian crime novel or when Jack Reacher says anything about the Vietnam War.

Nevertheless, the point still stands.

From fiction to non and beyond, I thought I’d add a section related to some of the books about the countries we’ve visited which either one of us found insightful, handy, hilarious, or a comforting read on the toilet.

As we meet people along the way, I find I ask what they’re reading as much for conversation as a recommendation, and thought, well, why not pass along my own.

I recognize all of this is probably delusional, considering my family and Rose’s are our main fanbase, on this thing – but who knows, someone three steps removed from family might crack out of the woodwork, and instead of kind encouragements like: “I’m reading your blog!”- might find something actually helpful.

Also, since most of our posts are about US, US, US, I thought too, it might be nice for a change to lead you to some professional writing that could offer more sustenance. Rather than observations here like: “Hah. We saw a monkey today, and I think it was circumsized!.”

So, with that in mind:

Good books I read about Vietnam on this trip:

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Pho,pho,pho. Plot follows a pho vendor who secretly operates his pho stand outside of Communist vendor bureaucracy. Nice insights into cultural change after the Vietnam War and openings for entrepreneurship after 80s economic reforms. Plus tasty descriptions of Pho inspired us to make it even more imperative to order it wherever we went in Vietnam. And for bonus marks the author is Canadian. Rose suggested I may have given her an easier pass, because of that. Could be. But still a good one.

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Historical background on both Indochina wars, plus insights into why the U.S. carried on from the French when the odds of victory looked dim. Really good- def recommend for background on the Vietnam War and prior colonialism of the region.

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Author was a soldier in Vietnam. He relays stories about his time and impressions of  his platoon. Book is broken up into different stories, relating to a single event he remembers – written in a way that’s almost an elegy. Found it interesting, and of course, sad to get an understanding of how it looked to someone who at first was on his way to Canada to protest the war, then decided to opt back in. (I know more Canada. I’m making up for lack of CBC coverage here.).

Books I’ve read a while ago that I want to reread after visiting:

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Journalist who covered the War, and wrote this book in 1977, which a lot of authors give high praise. I remember it being an interesting account, but now that I’ve seen some of Vietnam I want to have another crack at it.

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This book was for sale all over the place in Vietnam, including tons of bootleg copies. Plus Graham Greene had huge references in the Embers of War book I also read. Read it before and liked the noir feel of the thing, the fatalism of the older main character, and the idealism of the younger American. Now, time for an encore, I think.

Books I haven’t read but heard good things

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Recommended by someone we met travelling. Based on a Vietnamese guy who left and came back, and finds he doesn’t fit in.

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Only know this is written by a former Vietnamese soldier. Haven’t got to it yet, but hope to at some point when I’m not reading about the next place we’re going. Based on that, the odds don’t look good for me right now. How about you? Are summer blockbusters, going to the cottage, friends, excitement, latin named frothy drinks, swimming and drinking beer poolside and general hopefulness after a brutal winter getting you down? This book might be just what you need.

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And, there you go. The start of my book club.

Good thing you quit yours Oprah, and are safe and sound with a magazine (I think she did, didn’t she?). There’s a new chief in town, and if our 15 viewers a day have anything to say about it, I think we may…we just may have 16 viewers by end of summer.

Believe that.

A chunk of Hoi An and a bit of Hue (Hoo-eey)

 

 

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A woman took this photo four times.

Rose asked someone passing by, and the woman seized the chance like a long lost love. Maybe a failed photographer in her past or an aspiring one in her present, she snapped a shot once (the one above), said “Hang on. Let me get some more”. Then took another one: in which my smile went from “Cheese” to “Uhh”, and Matt’s expression seems to say: “What is she doing?”.

Then a third shot: Rose’s smile in that one looks pained, her teeth appearing more like knives waiting to hit a target. And finally, the fourth shot- where Juliana looks dazed, unsure if the woman was going to give back our camera.

It also happens to be one of the few shots we’ve got together. Maybe the woman sensed this and wanted to rattle off one for each of us?

In any case, it kicked off our visit to Hoi An – a UNESCO world heritage site (Remember them?) – so enshrined for its ancient town that is still well preserved, showcasing its past as a major 18th Century trading post for China and Japan. Its history in trading continues, but rather than dealing in goods for residents, its dealing in us – tourists – which means a lot of this:

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Plus plenty of touts (this is a title we’ve come to learn traveling in Southeast Asia. I didn’t get it at first, because, well I like to confuse things – but it means someone “touting” something. Remarkable how that came together, no?). At every restaurant we passed along the canal in the ancient town, someone was waving a menu while running off a version of: “Hey. Where you from? Come in boss. Cheap beer. Good food. We give you good price”.

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There was a crucial moment in our stroll one evening when Rose approached a tout, giving the menu a closer look, then decided to keep walking. But before making it four steps, the tout shouted after her:

“COOOOMMME ON LAAAAAAAAAAAAADYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!”

This quickly became the refrain between us for the rest of the trip, invoked by anyone when any other member of Team Canada (male too) was either slow on the uptake or didn’t understand something.

I heard it a fair bit.

The other side of things that Hoi An is known for is tailoring. You can get a suit made for some insanely ridiculous price – (I wasn’t looking, although a tux on a beach or wearing it to wander through temples has its own perverse appeal). One group of guys staying at our hotel were going on and on about their appointment with their tailor, and when they had to pick up their several suits – all of them saying this wearing no shirts, only shorts and flipflops. It looked like a cry for help.

After wandering through the many stalls, and things for sale along the waterfront, including women selling lanterns to tourists to drop in the water (and left as garbage on the shorebank)

 

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plus dipping our heads, scrunching down, and dodging other tourists taking photos of everything around, including one guy who, at the entrance of THE tourist attraction in Hoi An (a Japanese covered bridge), where piles of tourists walk through constantly, he gestures to Juliana, with a look of exasperation: “EXCUSE ME”, while waving her away with his hand in the air, as if bothered by a mosquito, which seemed as useful as motioning cars to get out of the way of the Arc de Triomphe – All in all, I found Hoi An, umm, ha du you zzay in Franch… behn un peu trop “tout-y” la.

However, we at least, left with our two souvenirs: “COME ON LADY!” and “EXCUSE ME!”, which we packed with us for our one-day whirlwind in Hue the Vietnamese capital until 1945, which is yet another….have you guessed? Uh-huh. You got it. Straight outta history to your modern day tourist eyes….. a UNESCO world heritage site!

This one designated, in particular for its Citadel where the former Vietnamese Emperor also ruled:

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Since we only had one day, we made the Citadel our single site to explore. It was an interesting spot, with massive ponds in front:

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Then inside the walls, two long hallways, one on either side of the garden:

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And, at this point, I thought. “Ya know. A gold dragon would really button up the place”. Annnnd behold…

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Amazing. I know. Fanks ever so much.

And, after the piece de resistance, some of us were too blown away to move:

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But rather than sleep on a bench for the night, we met up for dinner with our two UK travellers from Halong Bay, Jon and Sara from  http://alongwayfordumplings.travellerspoint.com fame who also happened to be in town, which you’ll have to take my word on, because I haven’t got photo proof.

But, I do have proof of what we did the next morning:

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Which landed (thankfully), in Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City aka HCMC aka our espresso connoisseur finds her Stanley cup aka museum stops aka even more traffic stops AKA our last stop in Vietnam.

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Talk soon