Day LXXIV – MAI 31, 2012

120531 dogpile 2
For the first time ever do I go out snorkelling. And my god, what have I missed?! I can’t believe how ignorant I was about everything down there. Finding Nemo is so accurate! All the colours, shapes, in coral as well as fish. Wow!
My friend even saw a shark. Good thing I think I didn’t know that was what he was signing, as I don’t understand underwater language and only found out after we were back on shore. I would have been shit scared and it would surely have come after me.

My last days are here and I’m at the point where I can start my lists, and when it comes to town and locals this place is by far #1, leaving all the others far behind!

I’m trying not to focus on the going home, and even though I’d love to see my friends, the whole concept of it; stepping back into a daily life of school and living in a house and all that slur, I can’t quite grasp it, even after just being away for so short a period.
Damn, now I’m getting sentimental. I don’t want to leave!

One of my friends has her last night tonight, so we invent a little event to make it special. We call it sampai pagi: we’ll watch the sun set on black sand beach – we don’t actually make it out that far, but the idea was there. Then there’s the bar for some live music, good fun and drinks all night, until we go to the dock to see the sun rise again.
It got to a saying and yell and all. People would be asking what we were talking about and I’d like to explain “You know fullmoon parties, blackmoon, halfmoon, all that crazy shit in Thailand? Well, this is the Padangbai version, from dusk till dawn!”
When at 2am we’re all sort of dozing, I suggest we head over to the bay early and have a wake-up dive. They respond with more enthousiasm I embarked on. So I quickly go to pick up my bikini and say goodbye to Koming who was already asleep on the chairs in the café.
We pay our bill with the boys and clear out their supply of bir.
Wayan, a friend of Tude, who really wants to practice his English, comes with us. He and Carmel decide to guard the shore while Chris, Joe and I go in the shallow bay. I have my bikini, Chris strips to his shorts, but Joe thought it more appropriate to go skinnydipping. The water is so nice and cool at night. But there’s a lot more creeping the dark waters here. I get caught by some evil plants or whatever it was that was trying to take me down to depths, but break loose and get out. I win, bitch!
We move over to the dock for the rest of the night and Chris pulls out Otis Redding to complete the feeling.
Two thousand miles I’ve roamed, just to make this dock my home.

After an hour or so we see a light coming our way, and worry for a second someone might be coming over to tell us we can’t be there. It’s just Tude, who tells us he’s been all up and down the shore looking for us, that little partyanimal.

As I lay back to do some stargazing we somehow end up in a violently playfull doggy pile, and eventually we all fall asleep.
I wake up with Joe tugging my arm again. “It’s here! Come on, get up.” I look up and see an already blue sky turning yellow just over the hill near Blue Lagoon. I look around me and see a few fisher men readying their boates. Many are already out there. It’s 6am and the new day is breaking. We’ve made it, sampai pagi!
After sitting there widnessing it for a while, Joe already chatting away in Bahasa with the fishermen, Tude and Wayan gone and Chris and Carmel still asleep under my sarong, I figure I’d best turn in for a few hours. Koming will be picking me up to go to Tirta Gangga in less than 5 hours. Suddenly the boys turn up and tell us we should get going with the ferries coming over soon.
Tude insist on driving me home, even though it’s light out now, and still no 5 minutes by feet. These silly asians are worse with their bikes than the Dutch are taking our bicycles out for every little distance.

As soon as I see my bed I pass out.
To be awoken again by 10, it’s Wayan with a little hard-to-follow story, but what he’s trying to say is “Come have breakfast with us.” “I’m so sorry but I really need to sleep some more…”

Surf, ink and Kuta clubs

DSC_0640
Day LVIII – MAI 15

Another early morning at the surf. Today we learn more about the conditions out there: on-, off- and sideshore, gutters, banks, the rip and the lull, the eskimo etc.
We stay out much longer and go back in after an early lunch at Warung Garung; amazing good food by the way!
The waves and current are a lot stronger today and it’s gotten pretty crowded, so I didn’t get a lot more action than yesterday. But I’m finding my groove, and I’m learning to steer.
When we get back to the villa I feel my legs and shoulders object.

The Bahase Scandinavia is still all around, so I finally started that Bahasa Indonesia podcast I downloaded back home. Another week to learn, before I set out on my own again.

I thought I should get a job to get me by, the 150€ budget I have left isn’t going to do. So when we’re at tattoo Tuesday in Deus Ex Machina where one of the girls is getting some of that free ink done I ask the owner if he’s hiring. He tells me he can’t though. He’s an American, so the government is already watching his every move, and I don’t have a working visa, so that’s that.
I’m thinking of having ink as well, but decide against a spur of the moment thing for now.

Tonight we go out, to Kuta. A cab is ordered and picks us up at 9pm. Just 20 minutes later we’re downtown. And that includes the one-for-the-road pitstop we made at Circle Mart.
It’s early but the streets are already crowded, as is the club we first enter: Bounty.
Camille [Denmark] and I hide from it while sipping some needed cocktails in order to get us in the mood for this crazy crazy party party. Some boys find our hide-out and we’re forced to go back to our group and hide amongst them.
The place is packed with big muscly, drunken Aussies behaving like bavoons. And when one of the locals does a dance-off with one of our girls that’s loving the attention, security comes over to tell him off. What’s that about?!*

We decide to try a different place, the famous Skygarden, but loose part of the group on the way so end up going back and forth and getting a little drunk ourselves.

In the end I share a cab with just James at 3am, or I think it was. The rest is still out there, somewhere, or might have gone home, who knows…
Our driver says he knows the way but stops, according to our (poor) counting 7 times to ask.
Finally I recognise things and tell him how to get there. Successfully somehow; we end up by the right pool. I feel very much like a swim, but it’s probably rude: the house rules state no more using the pool after 11pm. So we crash.

* So it’s normal for the (local) security to take sides with those obscene tourists who bring in the money, instead of standing with their mainly innocent brothers…

Back to the city

Day XL – April 27

Those cows that walk around town at all these random places, freely; it’s not like they don’t belong to anyone, but they’re not really ‘owned’ either.
I wonder, how do you tell which are yours?
But I guess it’s a bit like the bikes we’re using now. We call them ‘my bike’ because we are used to the word ‘mine’. But they’re Greenway bikes, Mr Ya’s bikes. He calls them ‘the bikes’ though. There are no locks on them, but no one would steel them, no matter where in town we’d park them.
Yesterday at the orphanage the one Rikke is using was borrowed. Five minutes later it was returned though, no harm done.
A little left-over of communism I guess, like there are so many in daily life. There is no ‘mine’ or ‘yours’; there’s not even a translation for the word – everything is collective goods. And when someone has had a bad harvest or needs money to repair his home, neighbors and friends; the community, will step in to lend a helping hand. This seems to be a sense of compassion still so much alive in all these countries I’ve visited.
You don’t see that anywhere in the western world anymore.

I thought time would slow down out here, being in one place, having a daily routine.
It hasn’t one bit. We’re about halfway but it still feels like we only just got started.
And the classes this morning: after explaining the stuff we put on the poster, there was hardly any time left; it just flew right by.
Next time I’m doing a project like this I will be sure to take more time, 6 weeks at least.

This heat makes for an unquenchable thirst for sodapops, and for swollen legs and ankles. It’s quite tiring.
And also means showering before 10pm has no use, and falling asleep is hard to do. And waking up before 6am is a given. And the worst is there is nowhere to swim. I really hope we’ll find a pool in Siem Reap this weekend.
Hard knock life in Cambodia…

Yeah I guess we do stink after a hot day like this in class. The taxidriver that came to pick us up, just pulled over to buy a facemask.

After the modest settlements by the road, it’s an insane sight to be driving into Siem Reap over the highway, which takes us along all those huge resorts. All that fake glamour is quite nauseating once you’ve seen the real life.

We made sure to book our night at Garden Village Guesthouse this time. And when we get there we’re shown to our rooms, with actual roomnumbers and everything.
But it’s so much better; their dorm rooms have a single wall and a roof, but otherwise it’s outside; just a bed and a net – what else would you need?
The ‘room’number is written on a paper, hung on a corner of the net.
Amongst about 10 doublebeds there are 2 bathrooms to share, just the simple toilet/shower combo you see in every budget hostel. Plain, but just fine by me.

I’m starting to get a little worried about my leg. Putting bandaids on it reverses the healing process so much it has now turned into a bright red wound. But the minute I walk outside, I catch a fly feeding on me…

We have dinner at one of the stands along the curb, where we find a pearl of Engrish on the menu; right in between the pork dishes there is one named ‘spicy porn’. Great food. And after missing my daily fruitshake for a week –I’ve not seen them yet in Samraong- it’s a relief to find them on the specials card.

We meet the other Greenway girls for a cocktail at happyhour.

Is this the first time I mention happy hour? I only started noticing in Vietnam, how they don’t really get the concept but handle it like: it’s an hour and we’re happy. It can apply to anything; clothing, food, drinks… and it can mean any sort of deal but usually something different than the second-for-free deal that we know.

And what do you know; at the place nextdoor, right across from me, sits Rob, the Scot I met in Spicy Laos, Luang Prabang, Laos. He’s been taking a different route, but still it’s impossible to meet someone just once on this Southeast Asia backpacker trail.

After the mandatory second cocktail we proceed to bar Angkor What?! for a dance and more drinks. Yun and I decide we need a shooter, so bend over the menu and pick something all us 6 girls might like; peachvodka it is. Sounds sweet right? Well it doesn’t taste it.
Did the trick though, so we merge in the crowd of crazy crazy party party for an hour or so and dance away to all the classics – 2 Unlimited, Vengaboys, 2 Brothers On The 4th Floor – and the new classics, those bakcpackerhits you hear everywhere – Swedish House Maffia, Bruno Mars, Rhianna.
I guess we do; Mariella’s decided we need another bucket.
Once tired we sit down at Temple Bar for a Tombraider -supposedly Angelina Jolies invention- a nice mix of bitter lemon, lime and vodka.
Eventually we get a little shattered, some going home, some making out with a boy that just randomly joined our table; the way it goes at partyparty. Some wallflowers and some party hardies.
I end up on the dancefloor with 2 girls that are here on vacation from Phnom Penh, a 16 year old and her 20 year old cousin as her chaperone. I don’t know if they are rich and famous or how they ended up in a club this late, but they appear pretty modern.
That I’m talking to a boy though, makes them a giggle, and they joke at me like he’s my boyfriend. Yeah he was hitting on me, but a little drunk too, and other than that I just wasn’t attracted to him. Suddenly the girls don’t seem all too modern anymore…

At 2am I decide to go to bed; Pat, Rikke and I are supposed to meet for breakfast at 10am. I walk home alone and at the end of Pub St Alley the ambush of tuktukdrivers awaits me. I tell them I will be fine and will just walk, but one of them keeps insisting: “I go home now, I go that way, I take you there, no charge.” Too sweet an offer to decline. Everybody is so friendly here, for a big city, but then I guess Siem Reap isn’t that big after all.
siem_reap_pubstreet

What’s up Vang Vieng?!

island

I’ve been hearing and reading about the Vang Vieng party dying.

The party that’s still vivid in my memory. The party that never seemed to end.
After reading this article, I decided to find out for myself.

Alas, hopping on a plane to actually go see for myself is not in the cards just yet.
My friend See, one of the boys from Easy Go hostel, would have to give the answer. This is what he wrote:
see vang vieng

Yeah, the government has closed the bars on the riverside and the island.
VV is not a crazy party like before, but still has many people visiting just the same.
I hear the government does have a plan to let bars open again, but they have to take time to improve contracting first. Then they will let bars open again, slowly. Go step by step, following their plan.
At the moment we still have bars open in town.
Don’t worry, I think VV will be back to what it was, but it will need time.

His place is still doing well though, and the pictures of him being a bigshot DJ come down the facebook timeline well regularly.
In the Travelfish article we read tubing is still happening, just on a much more decent level.

I guess I’m happy to have widnessed old times. And I’m very curious to see what will come of new times. Next year I’ll tell and show you all about what I find!

In a way I’m happy that crazy crazy party party exploitation has been put to a stop.
Yet at the same time I feel a stinge that what I widenssed, where I was, what found a place in my heart, is gone for good.
I’m glad tourism hasn’t suddenly died and I would still encourage everyone to go there and support my local heroes at Easy Go. There’s still plenty to see and do!
Another thing Vang Vieng is famous for, for example, is rockclimbing, something I’m defenitely going to explore next time around!
surrounding vv

The day I fell in love with Hoi An

Day XXX – April 17

My bus to Hoi An leaves Hue at 8am and arrives around noon.
I check in to Hop Yen Guesthouse, again just one hostel with a dormroom in this town. It’s where the bus droppes us off.
When I arranged my check-in with the strict lady of the house, she shows me to their dorm in the attic, three flights of stairs up. In a sterile looking room, four beds are lined against the wall, some other travelers belongings are scattered around, and I am pointed to the metal construction in the corner.
Up there I meet Jenna [19, UK] who spend 6 weeks in Hanoi teaching, just unpacking. And by proxy we’re now travelbuddies, for as long as it lasts.
Right away we plan a trip to My Son tomorrow, sharing the rent and responsibility of a bike; yay, it’s going to happen!

Before I came to Asia I don’t think I knew of My Son. I first heard about it when Madison was giving me tips, back in the Gibbon Treehouse. Then again when I was on the Halong Bay Cruiser; the UK lady and the French girls were jubilant about it and told me I HAD to see it. So I figured it’d be a nice daytrip when in Hoi An.
It’s like most things. Kuang Si I didn’t know about before I came here.
You hear about them on the road, when crossing travelers going in the opposite direction. Talk of place to be or have been is usually the first thing to come up.
Honestly, I had no more than a general idea of main landmarks and towns I wanted to visit, but most of what I saw, I did because of mouth-to-mouth and not what I read back home.
Also I’ve told you that before this trip I wasn’t a fan of Lonely Planet. The one I’ve carrying with me is completely worn down by now, so much have I been flipping pages, crossing, adding. Hardly a day goes by without it advising me on one thing or another. On the back it presumptuously calls itself the backpackers bible, but I’m starting to agree.

After freshening up, we go for a walk around the neighborhood. Hoi An is absolutely adorable, small and with a Mediterranean sort of feel that makes us crave a dive.
We rent some bicycles to check out the beach, a 15-minute ride along a river and a view to die for.
The beach itself is littered with fat, red tourist and local ladies persistently trying to sell snacks, shawls, massages etc.
The palm trees attempt at that tropical vibe, but the sky holds too many clouds today to be convincing. And that greyish ocean doesn’t appear like it either.
The water feels so great though! And it’s oh so nice to sit by the shore, to hear the ocean roaring in and out, to gaze at the vague mountains in a far distance.
And here’s for a little comedy: the locals just challenged some tourist boys to a game of football.

resto hoi anLater, when we get back to town and start looking for dinner, we’re once again confronted with the aggressive sales techniques that seem to be part of the Vietnamese culture, even in a calm town like this. So called Easyriders –a name some drivers that do mountaintrips gave themselves- and other mototaxies never let you pass them by without offering a ride.

Asia is tailor area, Vietnam being the main producer, and Hoi An the capital. Only 1 out of 10 retailers aren’t in the textile business. But should you ask, even they can still provide any piece of clothing or shoe you’d desire.
Other than that, this originally fishermanstown thrives on tourism. We see many families walking the streets.

As we stroll the quiet side of the quay, we let ourselves be dragged in to this empty restaurant. We didn’t have much of a lunch so we’re early anyway. Does give us the best table; just up the stairs, looking back to the other side of the river that’s completely covered in lanterns and cute little lights, and still feels like we’re sitting outside.
The menu is filled with all these local delicacies like fried fish in bananaleaf, springrolls, white roses (a jelly shrimp dumpling) won ton (a cushion of fried dough with a meaty stuffing and grilled fruits on top) and cao lao (a thick, shrimplike noodle) And it all tastes exquisite!
So on top of tailortown, Hoi An also receives a golden medial for foodie-heaven!
hoi an
As our table is right next to the street during dinner we’re being served a pile of ‘free bucket’ flyers to give us direction after.

bar hoi anThe first we look up, is in a little alley on the other side of the river, on one of the islands in the center of town. It’s nicely decorated, with a fancy bar, a pooltable in a reasonable state and dark red walls covered in greetings from all over the world and praises on the place. It is deserted though, and the music doesn’t give us enough reason to stay. Next.
A few bridges later, in an alley even further back, feeling even more deserted, we finally find the place. Old & New bar, it’s walls also covered in writing, this pooltable a lot less in one piece, we find some garrulous crowd sitting at the bar and end up staying till well past midnight.

Jenna found a flirt so I walk home alone, and for the first time I don’t feel completely safe. Alone and with my semi-pro camera that I usually leave in a locker when going out, right here in my bag. No less safe than I would in the same situation back home though, just to clarify.
The quiet streets with many dark corners and little noises around each of them, and the many taxies still driving around, each asking me if I need a ride…

But of course I make it to my bed safe and sound, and before I fall asleep I hear Jenna come in and crash.

It seems today, that all you see, is sex-drugs-rock’n’roll and friends on tv

Day XXIII – April 10
blue lagoon
Today brings the final goodbye with Levi, very mellow and quite impersonal… “Bye, have fun, have a good life.” My first on-the-road crush and I skrewed it up by not undertaking any action.
phatok caveAnd here I thought I’d figured out by now one of my lessons was to follow things through, where I used to throw in the towel because I think I can’t do it or it might be too dangerous or scary, but live like there’s literally no tomorrow.

I make another trip to Blue Lagoon, by tuktuk this time, with Dave, David and Kevin, the two Germans we met here in the hostel. And besides swinging and splashing in that lovely pond, we go up to the cave and take the big walk around, wandering into the dark.
Dave has a sort of torch and it’s a lot easier, this one. But still a nice little adventure with lots of clambering over rocks, discovering new holes, and again some really nice views.

When we come back, we sit down at a diner for a good meal and some Family Guy. We try to leave, but before we’re done paying a new episode has started. Near the end I’m contemplating on having icecream for desert, but decide against it so we can finally leave, after just sitting for over 2 hours.

It’s this thing here: everywhere you see screens playing reruns of Friends, Family Guy and the occasional Southpark, and travellers captured by the moving images. It’s easy to get stuck waisting time like that.

family guy
We skip the river and just have a quiet evening at the island. It’s a Buddhist holiday, so there isn’t allowed to be any loud music.
Again heavy rain and thunder pour down this evening. It’s getting closer to the rainy season, or it’s coming sooner this year. But we’re safe in our little cabana.
I get a Kate Hudson (in How To Loose A Guy) from Kevin.
It’s another common thing: comparing people you meet anew to celebrities.
David lights my potential last cigarette, [that lasted for 4 days… Sorry David,] and we have interesting conversations, until he gets drunk – for the second time in his life he claims. That’s what Vang Vieng does to you…

Did I mention how over time your standards of hygiene adapt?
At first I used a wipey ceveral times a day, cleaning my face, hands, feet… Now just washing with water every once in a while is fine for my hands, and the daily shower will do for the rest.
I still want my toilet paper, but don’t mind if it’s a squatter.
My feet get real dirty, but that just suits the local belief that they are not just physically but also spiritually the lowest part of the body.
I used to ask for ‘no ice’, now I hardly check if it was purified. The whole in the middle of the cube should tell you it is.
You extend the amount of time it’s OK for clothes to be worn.
And make up: I bother to do it once every so many days now. It’s too much hassle to sit down every day and spend 10 minutes staring into a mirror.
Mosquitospray; I started out applying it several times a day. But still, especially those first days, my legs and feet were covered with bites. Over time I applied less, only at dusk, until I left it all together. Now I just use that Columbian after-product my brother gave me after his trip there, to stop the bites from itching and me from scratching. I mean, it’s not like I’ll get bitten any more now; less actually. New bites every day, of course, but still.