Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mission? me??

I have been oh so blessed the last few days with extremely warm sunny weather up here in Sapa. Cheering!!! During our hikes it has actually become quite hot! Alot of people got really really sunburnt. But I'm quite happy about this situation as when I was in Hanoi I attempted very unsuccessfully to buy warm clothes, got fed up with shopping (due to strong dislike and the millions of shops selling almost identical things) and having to haggle and not knowing what i want..... and purchased no additional warm clothes coming with only what I brought in my pack from australia.

The photo's I've just added are from wednesday when it was a bit more foggy in Sapa (I haven't downloaded my hiking photos yet), and one with me and the Tu Phin village ladies. That was an interesting experience from Wednesday afternoon. I hired a scooter in the afternoon and went to visit this village and cave that is there. When I arrived in the village, the women all rushed over and waved me down to park the scooter and then walk the remaining kilometre or two (I already had the blisters by this stage post Cat-Cat Village hiking). I had 5 ladies following me - one passer-by commented "lucky girl". But basically, the problem with this situation is that you are then expected to buy handicrafts from each of your walkers!! These ladies, I tell you are brilliant at guilt-tripping you. I ended up making a deal and bought 2 items from the ladies (I couldn't please everyone and I just a) didn't like any of the offered handicrafts and b) didn't want to have to carry it either!!). I am getting better at bargaining....

Anyway, so the last 24 hours I have been hiking and on a homestay. Thursday we hiked for 17km up and down mountains and today we hiked 14km. Subsequently I have some pretty sore muscles and blistered heels (I never want to wear shoes again!). But the experience itself was definitely worth it and I'm glad I went. If I had more time, I would have liked to have climbed Mt Fansipan (highest mountain in the area 3000-something feet high) just to say that I climbed it but I'm glad I just did the 2 days with the homestay. I'm still a bit sick from the cold weather at Halong Bay and the harder trek would have done me in I believe.

The hikes were basically up and down through the rice-paddies and bamboo forests, up and down cliffs (the potential for people to fall off and die was quite high in a lot of situations). Absolutely breathtaking scenery and we had 100% sunshine for it the whole time as well which was lucky - last week the weather was about 4 degrees, this week its high 20s early 30s I think! But not an easy walk in the park, thats for sure.

The rice paddies them selves are a bit fascinating. The entire mountainside is landscaped into terraces of these rice fields, which all contain water and flow from one to the other. Each field has to be 100% flat to ensure an even cover of water and allow it to be continue down to the next field. Ingenius design, there are little pipes and gullies flowing between them all to keep the water fresh and clean. It is the dry season at the moment, so the rivers themselves are quite low, but a very pretty turquoise colour.

Our group had 7 in it, two NZ girls, a couple from the UK and a newly-married (as in they got married 4 days ago) couple from Melbourne who wanted to do something different for their honeymoon (they have been living together for >5 years). It was a good group and we got on quite well. Last night at our home-stay we had the most awesome feed (couldn't finish it all) and it was a bit of a pre-requisite to try rice-wine. I think I mentioned earlier my first experience with rice-wine at Dalat - it was at least 50-60% alcohol and the fumes came out of my nose! This rice-wine or rice-whisky wasn't quite so strong but it was still strong enough!! The grandma of the house came out and we had a bit of a chant we all had to say (I'm not sure exactly what it all was - I have suspicions that it was something to the gods?). The first part I knew - Chuc Mung Nam Moi which means happy new year in Vietnamese as TET has just past and people are still celebrating this season. We did about 3 shots this way, and she was keen for them to continue but we left the rest for a bit later when we played cards. Learnt a new game called 'Durak' which is a Russian game meaning 'fool'. Good fun, but basically the durak had to down a shot of the rice-whisky. I was pretty tired so I ended up going to bed having won a few rounds and only losing once.

The majority of the time as we have been walking we have had a solid group of followers from either the H'Mong or Red Su tribe. Everyone is trying to sell you things which gets a bit frustrating after a while, they all have a particular tone of voice 'buy from me?' which can be quite effective in guilt-tripping you. I did manage to resist, but one of the other girls got sucked in a couple of times. However after so many times you become immune to 'the voice' as it is all identical (and seems well-practiced). There are many young children around as well who try and sell you things as well. You are encouraged not to buy from them though as they are meant to be in school and many will skip as they prefer to sell things or get lollies, pens, toys and things from tourists. If they asked me to buy things I'd pretty much tell them they should be in school :) hehe!


On a more personal note, I am still in process of deciding what I want to do with the rest of my life. I realise this is a bit impatient of me - I want to live everything today here and right now. I mentioned a few days back how I had received an email from Interserve and had responded. Anyway, I was just randomly job-browsing a few minutes ago and decided to look at a few different mission agencies to see what opportunities they had going on as well, as I would like to continue obtaining experience in nutrition and dietetics if possible. So, I found a position advertised with Interserve (funnily enough) for a nutritionist somewhere in South East Asia working in a school with disabled children and their families. Sounds good, so I've sent an enquiry about it and will pray and see what happens from here on I guess.

Mission and me has always been an interesting topic. I grew up in Africa as an MK, spending 6 years in Zambia. So yes, I see the point and benefit of mission but I guess I have a rebellious streak that automatically makes me reject the possibility or potential of being a 'missionary' because i either don't, or didn't want to see my self that way. Bit selfish isn't it?

Anyway, there are a whole heap of preparation steps that Interserve have forwarded to me in the lead up to considering mission, so I would appreciate anyone's comments, encouragement/discouragement, thoughts, discussion about any of the following things:

1) Talk to your minister, Missions Task Group, Ministry Leader ( these are the people who have worked with you and taught you....what do they think?)

2. Read missionary biographies ( from 19th, 20th and 21st centuries ).List over page.

3. Build a Partnership Team ( people who pray for you throughout the journey ).

4. Complete either the Perspectives Course ( 1 night /week for 12 weeks ). or the Kairos course (1 night/week for 9 weeks).

5. Pray for 1, 2 missionaries ( by yourself or join a Missions Prayer Group ).

6. Cultivate your walk with God ( grow your Quiet Time, increase your Bible intake, develop your prayer power, be witnessing, journal your thoughts and God’s leading ).

7. Grow your ministry skills ( take a responsibility in your church and excel at it ). Also seek training ( small groups such as uni, leadership such as Beach Mission, youth leadership, disciple-making skills ).

8. Find a mentor ( seek a “Paul” to keep you accountable in the above activities ).

9. Pray for a “Timothy” whom you can disciple, or lead to Christ then follow-up.

10. Become involved with mission-hearted people

· Investigate some mission agencies (See 2nd Step on the Journey for more information

· Sign up for free email service notifying you of mission news and openings –

· Attend missions conferences and events ( Interserve Annual Conference, ReachOut, CMS Summer School ) and information nights ( Xtreme Places).

· Participate in activities that stimulate your missions heart (re-unions of Short-Termers, Interserve ‘Stay tuned to missions’ ).

11. Get involved in a sub-culture in your city – by doing this you truly are showing you are keen to work in another culture before you go to another country.

I was reading Ecclesiastes over the last few days in my search for meaning, and read Eccl 7:28. Can anyone explain to me why there are no righteous women in the world? I don't understand! Sounds, just a bit sexist but I'm sure there is a perfectly logical explanaition for it.. somewhere!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Wow! I can't believe it is almost the end of February already - time is going so quickly, I have almost been in Vietnam for a month and my time is almost up :(

I spent 2 days in Hanoi while waiting for my Laos visa to be processed as I decided that I would cross over the northern border by bus rather than fly. During that time I met a couple of French boys in my dorm with guitars, and knowing me and music i got sucked in hook line and sinker and ended up buying myself a guitar for about $20 - just a little one, for me to carry around and play. I ended up spending most of my time in Hanoi playing guitar subsequently, we got a bit of a band happening and other guitarists and musicians just joined in on a jam on the side of the road outside the bar where our hostel is. Think we brought them in quite a bit of business too!!

So naughty me, didn't end up doing a whole lot of tourist stuff while in Hanoi. I did go to the prison, which was interesting, and went and saw the water puppets which was amazing! They are extremely intricate, i took some video of it, and at the end of the show they lifted the curtains to show that they are only manourvering the puppets with bamboo rods, but there must be wires or something inside the pole as they can make the puppets do all these crazy sorts of things. for example, at one time they had 4 dragons swimming around, overlapping and spitting water at each other! Definitely worth seeing if you are in Vietnam.

I am now in Sapa in northern Vietnam, I arrived here very very early wednesday morning after a sleeper train from hanoi to lau cai. That was an interesting experience! I actually slept quite well I think, but still woke up tired (understandably) at 4am when we arrived. I ended up being on a 'luxury' sleeper train and had 3 vietnamese in my room who spoke French. My passport fell out of my pocket as I was on the top bunk and they were kind enough to give it back to me! It did take a while to get to sleep initially though, because one of them had some vietnamese music playing from his phone as loud as possible, and I am definitely not the best sleeper.

After arriving in Sapa in the morning I had some breakfast at the guest house I chose from the collection of women 'selling' their guesthouses on arrival to the town. Then I put on my hiking boots and headed into town to walk to Cat Cat village which is one of many villages where many of the handicrafts are made. Almost immediately after leaving the hotel I had a few ladies following me trying to sell me their jewellery, clothing and other souviners. One particular old lady 'Me' from the H'mong people followed me for at least 2km down the mountain side towards the village, (hopefully the photo has attached itself) so I ended up feeling sorry for her and caved in and bought some earrings from her. Walking down the mountain wasn't so bad, coming up though was a completely different story! oh so high!! I ended up getting blisters from that walk alone, before I had even started my home stay so that wasn't the best. The views were amazing though. Because of those blisters I began to second-guess myself as to whether it was the smartest idea to go on a 2day trek and home-stay. However, when I was in Hanoi I'd had this discussion about not wasting our lives (think it was based on a John Piper book that I'm going to have to read at some stage), so decided that I would give it a go regardless of the pain...

It is now Friday afternoon and I have just arrived back at the guesthouse I am staying at after a 2 day trek. To say that I am a bit weary is an understatement. We trekked I think 17km on Thursday and about another 13km today. I'm scared to take off my boots as I know the blisters are going to be BAD!! I'll update on the last 24 hours in another post after I've had a shower and some clean clothes and hopefully my brain will be in working order again!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Halong Bay is breathtaking!

I'ts 7.15 Monday morning and I'm now back from a few days visiting Halong Bay - a UNESCO World Heritage site that if you ever have the chance to go - you MUST go! It is absolutely amazing and breath taking (I am working on getting some photos up, limited computer access....)

My adventure started Friday morning at 7.56am when I woke up in my dark dorn to discover that my alarm hadn't woken me up at 7am like it was supposed to and I was meant to be at the bus to leave for Halong Bay at 8am. IAs you can imagine there was alot of running around, dropping everything, and in my attempt to pack and dress in 4 minutes, I pretty much ended up taking nothing with me (you left your main pack in the luggage storage at the hostel). So basically, I had the clothes I was wearing for the whole 3 days, a torch, some swimmers, some showering stuff and camera's... oops. But I did manage get dressed, close my pack, store my pack, grab a bread roll from the free breakfast section and make it onto the bus, all within about 10 minutes!! It was definitely a relief to be on the bus when it left for Halong Bay.

With dubious weather reports we headed off to Halong Bay, when we arrived in the harbour it is absolute madness there! Very glad we had the tour all sorted out, there are tourists and locals and people everywhere with no real direction or sense to it at all. There are so many boats on the harbour as well! Alot of boat congestion and it was funny watching some of them collide accidently as they entered the harbour to pick us up.

We jumped upon a boat which took us to the sailing boat that we were on for the night (named the Jolly Roger). We had a group of about 15 people with us I think. Pretty good bunch of people. We had lunch on the boat then spent the next few hours cruising through the bay and the islands. We happened to have an awesome day, a bit cool but we did get a little bit of sunshine, enough for us to strip down to shorts and singlets and enjoy the warmth. Words cannot express how beautiful the area is - when it is sunny the water is this turquoise colour and these big and small islands jutting out of the water all over the place with jungle covering the rock. Beautiful.

While we were floating through this beautiful scenery, Charlotte (another Australian girl) and myself decided to climb the rope ladder to the top of the mast for fun and for a better view, it was definitely worth it! None of the boys were daring enough to do it! :)

Once we were somewhere in the heart of the bay (it would be extremely easy to get lost there, especially when it gets misty), we all got to jump off the top of the boat into the water, which was a little bit cool but not overly cold (it was still overcast). Once we were all nice and wet then we jumped into some kayaks and explored the bay and some of the islands by kayak. I was the last one into a kayak so I ended up being on my own which resulted in many many sore muscles as i had to try keep up with the others in doubles! We went under a cave to explore a bay in the middle of one of the islands where we saw some monkeys playing around jumping through the jungle. Then we kayaked over to another area where there was an actual cave that we all climbed into and explored with some difficulty due to the fact that it was very dark and we only had 2 torches between 15 people!! Luckily we made it with no casualties and had a bit of fun there.

kayaked back to our boat where we continued to cruise through the bay a bit more. I correctly guessed the number of islands (apparently 1967 islands) so won a free beer. We had some dinner and bit of fun with the rest of our small crew (the boat can fit around 40 people so it was small) for the rest of the night before sleep. I managed to take some night photo's of the boats in the harbour - there are heaps of boats hanging around - apparently 500 are on the water at a time!

on Saturday we woke up early and checked out of the boat, jumped onto another little boat which took 7 of us who were doing a 2nd night camping on 'castaway island'. We cruised around for about half an hour to get to the island. Saturday the temperature had dropped even more -its so cold up here north :( so it wasn't particularly inspiring to get into the water.

We all got to do an activity as part of our 2nd day, however due to some miscommunication, our only options were water-sports as the rock-climbing people had to be warned in advance. So 4 of us decided that why not we would go try our best at wake boarding! I am proud to say that i got up first time and aced it!! yay!! I love the water!! It was not at all tempting to get into the water because of the cold air but once i was in I loved it. Once I got out.... that was another story. I was freeeeeeeezing. Now have a bit of a head-cold because of the water and changes in temperature and everything. but so does everyone else around here at the moment so thats okay!!!

The food on the boat we had was amazing, the food on the island wasn't quite so. grease grease and more grease. yuck yuck yuck. oh well. I'm finding that I am craving vegetables. Oh funny thing, discovered that two of the girls on the tour are from wollongong, one of whom is housemates with a girl I went to uni with! Small world!

Went to bed pretty early on Saturday as I wasn't feeling the best, had the best night sleep though because I had 3 doona's and 2 mattresses under me. We were camping in these cute little thatched huts with mosquito nets to keep the bugs out and because was only a small group of us, we could get as many blankets as we wanted so I was nice and toasty!!

Because it was so cold, I didn't do a night swim in the water which sparkles at night (it's prety cool) but i did wander in about knee deep to see it. Very cool.

On Sunday we had breakfast then back on a speed boat which took us to the main sleeper boat where we caught up with other people we knew (and didn't), cruised back to the harbour through all the mist/drizzle and cold (freezing day - we totally picked the best weather for it!!).

On the bus driving back to Hanoi, it was a very very full bus and I was up near the front for most of it - tried to get a video of the traffic which was an interesting experience. In Australia when you are overtaking a vehicle you would usually keep a few hundred metres in front of your vehicle and the oncoming one. In Vietnam, not so. Five metres maybe? Less? Probably! It is insane to watch! you probably spend more time on the opposite side of the road than you do, with cars and bikes coming towards you. Might always wins the fight, biggest vehicles always win and get right of way. You just push your way through.

Same thing goes for crossing the road. You don't even realy bother to look anymore because there are no such things as 'gaps' in traffic. You just cross and everyone else will work their way around you.

So I'm in Hanoi for the next couple of days while I'm waiting on my Laos Visa being processed, then going to head up to Sapa for a couple days then onto Laos!!

I met a Aussie Christian guy last night named Will, that was a bit cool, surreal conversation regarding philosophy and living overseas. He is currently doing short term mission in china teaching English. As I've been travelling around I have been thinking I'd like to get more involved in working in developing countries. I'm planning to apply for a post-grad diploma through Curtin University working towards a masters in international health. Today I had an email from Interserve Missions about short-term mission in health in Asia so I've replied to them, see what happens with that.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hue to Hanoi

My cooking lesson from the other day turned out to be a complete success, sooo much food yum yum yum! I can now make fresh and fried spring rolls, bon bu hue and their pork/prawn fried pancake. From a dietitians perspective, I was shuddering just slightly at their liberal use of the phrase "a little bit of oil" and figuring out ways to do the same thing at home with probably 20% of the oil! But it tastes good and I'm on holidays so i'm quite happy to eat whatever at the moment!!

As part of the cooking lesson we went to the markets, its crazy everything is shut from TET still! so strange, the food part is still open at least partially but all the clothes shops and markets are empty.

The change in weather is a bit depressing, think I'm starting to get a bit of a cold which is no good. It is drizzly and rainy and overcast and COLD!!! brrrr. good thing i brought a scarf and a jacket.

After our cooking lesson (a group of 5 from the hostel did it) and reaping the benefits of our cooking, I wandered around the citadel. Alot of it is run down and there has been extensive bombing in side alot of it, but the scale of it is huge. I mostly wandered around teh citadel inside the citadel as the outside citadel is just too big (and I was getting tired from the lack of sleep after the bus ride up) until it was starting to get dark and then headed back to the hostel. Because I've been on the verge of getting a cold I had 2 early nights while I was in Hue.

Yesterday I slept in and then decided that despite the rain i would go down to the river to catch a boat to see some of the royal tombs. Walking down the river i inquired about the price of the boat (and in doing so probably ended up insulting them unintentionaly because I didnt end up getting a boat), but didn't really feel like paying US$40 for a boat for a couple hours, plus the 550000dong entry fees for each tomb. So me being miss independent decided i would walk there. Not that I realy knew where I was going.. my map said a particular road went to the tombs so I started walking that way, and walking, and walking, and walking some more!! I pretty much ended up walking for 2 hours!!! I got some very vague directions along the way, but it was mostly guess-work on my behalf. The rain was constant and light the entire time so i was getting a bit damp, but it did start to get a bit heavier. Along the way I stopped at a couple of pagoda's (temples) for a quick look and wandered around a vietnamese cemetery for a while. I find cemetery's interesting, particularly the differences between those here and in the west.

So after my 2 hours of walking i got to another cross-road and having no idea which way to go there, accepted a lift on a scooter from a guy there who said it was close for 10,000dong. (75c). It was probably about another 1-2km from where i had arrived, uphill. Everyone passing me must have thought i was some crazy white girl walking around in the rain for no reason! I organised to get a ride back home to hue for 30,000dong for when I finished at the tomb.

Made it into Emperor Tu Duc's tomb, which was very beautiful and ornamental. There is huge moats and lakes with big fences around the individual tomb sites and particular buildings and temples. It was very slippery with moss and nearly face planted a few times! Alot of it was run down, some being reconstructed or held up by poles. My scooter ride home took all of 15 minutes!!! He obviously knew a short cut which was dramatically different to the 2 hour walk it took me to get there, but i did enjoy wandering around the countryside.

Right now I am in Hanoi at the backpackers here, having arrived at about 9am this morning after what was a very interesting bus ride. I'm not sure I slept at all. Apparently I must have at some point however because one of the Dutch couple I shared our 'beds' with said the bus hit something last night and i have no recollection of that.

So, my bus adventure started at 5pm last night when the sleeper bus was MEANT to come pick me up from the hotel. at 5.30 a bus (brand new extremely nice sleeper bus mind you) came and picked up the 2 other girls and then said they were full and drove off. okay. right. thanks! The hostel said to wait 5 minutes and another bus was coming. AFter about 20 minutes a taxi came and i had to get in, we drove around picked up the previously mentioned dutch couple. We then had to get out of the taxi at a random spot and then were told 'follow me follow me' by a guy on a scooter.. around the corner we go to the 'sleeper bus'. it wasn't the sleeper bus we were expecting. it was FILTHY!! and pretty much just a normal bus, slightly altered inside and very dodge looking.

I did manage to get a bed seat, but it was a very different experience from teh last sleeper bus I had taken. We probably had a maniac driver, so you learn to not bother watching the road and just ignore it. A group of young australians got on last and were put at teh front seats which were definitely not sleeper seats - they understandably were not impressed.

At about 6 oclock this morning we blew a tyre. The bus stopped for a bit, they got out poked around a bit and then kept going. We drove on the flat tyre for about 3 hours at least at a much slower rate than normal, because if we went too fast it would go thud thud thud thud..

But I got here safe in one piece and it's all going well. I'm in Hanoi for the day today and then head out to Halong Bay tomorrow for 3 days. Apparently the weather is meant to improve over the weekend though so we'll see. its currently 13 degrees..... brr

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

lanterns and buses

Been a few days since I've posted anything. Things are going well, have just had some limited access to computers and internet. I just arrived this evening in Hue after a few days in Hoi An - it is incredible how different the change is now from the south up here in the north. On the bus trip we had to pass through a long tunnel that goes right through a mountain. When we entered we were in blue sky and sunshine and upon exiting the tunnel it was overcast drizzly and cold! Definite change from the last few days down south. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Friday night I experienced my first sleeper bus. Overall not the worst experience of my life, a bit jolty and bumpy and lots of horn blaring, but with the help of a couple sleep enhancements I managed to sleep the majority of the night waking up only about four times over the 12hr bus ride. We arrived in Hoi An at about 5.30am, a bit disorientated and groggy with no idea where they had dropped us off. One of the guys on the bus I had met earlier during the week so we decided to get a ride with some motorbike taxi's to help us find a hotel to stay at, as neither of us had booked anything over TET. This itself was an interesting experience. Normally I would always figure it out myself and find a hotel myself, but Hoi An is quite spread out and there isn't really a distinct area where accommodation can be found. So we jumped on the back of the scooters and they drove us around town to a few different hotels until we found one (third time lucky) that we thought was suitable enough (price, smell, internet, breakfast inclusions...). Let me tell you that it is a difficult thing to hang on to the back of a motorbike when you have a rucksack on your back, and a small day pack on your front without falling off, but we made it!! We ended up staying at the hotel Phouc An which was very very nice. In the end we decided to share a room to save both of us some money as the rooms are always twin beds, which worked out quite well.

We were both starving so had the hotel buffet breakfast (at 6am) followed by showers and then my friend went back to sleep and I decided to wander into town as I can't sleep in the day. I had a great time, and quite productive wandering around town. Contrary to popular opinion, I think TET is agreat time for people to travel actually, especially in Hoi An (apart from the escalated prices on everything) because it meant you weren't harassed by people. Hoi An is renowned for its tailors. And from my wanderings I would not hesitate to say that there's at least 100 and most likely many many more tailors within the main area of the town. Many were shut, but there were a few still open for business. I probably spent about 4 hours wandering around town, tried Cao Lao one of the local dishes at a street vendors before going back to the hotel. We had lunch and then borrowed the hotel's pushbikes which we were allowed to use for free to ride out to a nearby beach (approximately 5km). It was a nice drive but a bit crazy towards town because there were vendors and flower markets absolutely EVERYWHERE. With the exception of sydney flower markets, i've never seen that many flowers in one spot! They were for both TET and valentines day and the markets were packed to overfull because they would be closed for a few days after TET and everyone was getting last minute supplies.

Saturday night was TET, and I met some girls I had seen earlier in a tailoring shop who ended up being from Sydney (first sydney people i've met so far - everyone's from melbourne!!) and through them met some melbourne guys they were travelling with. We all decided to meet up for dinner at an awesome restaurant called the laugh cafe I think. Totally recommend it, it was brilliant (we went for a repeat dinner on sunday night we were so impressed). After dinner we wandered down to the river to watch the fireworks and celebrations for TET which was fun and beautiful. People were selling coloured boxes with candles that were placed into the river to float down. It looked beautiful but I couldn't help but wonder where the rubbish was all going to end up and the unlikelihood of it being cleaned up!! The fireworks at midnight for new year (the year of the tiger now!) were impressive but unfortunately many of them couldnt be seen through the significant smoke as there was no wind and all fireworks were being set from the one location. One of the guys described it like the smoke from a napalm (probably spelt that wrong) bomb!!

Hoi An itself is a beautiful town. It has been all decorated with hundreds and thousands of coloured lanterns which are pretty by day and gorgeous by night.

Sunday was a bit of a cruisy day, i slept in significantly and wandered around town and then rode to the beach again before dinner with my new friends. Many of the local sights were closed because of the new year holiday so unfortunately i never got to try white rose (a specialty dish of the area), or do a cooking class there. However on Monday morning before my bus to Hue I did manage to get up at 5am to do the 'sunrise tour' of the My Son ruins. It was quite ironic actually as we arrived there probably an hour after the sun rose in the end because they kept stopping for unnecessary things. then upon arrival sat us down to give everyone an educational session about the ruins. You could just tell that everyone just wanted to go and get on with it and take good pictures then figure that out later. It was pretty cool though, as it is set in a valley with big mountains and it was all misty. Beautiful, not hard to see why it has been UNESCO nominated for world heritage listing. There are some massive bomb craters left from when the Americans bombed the sight, partially to destroy them on purpose to bring down the moral during the war. They were built by the Cham people, and there is alot of mystery surrounding the towers like many in south east asia, as to how they were built. the language of the Cham has been lost, so inscriptions on the temples are not known. The bricks used on the towers are very smooth with no cement used to bond them together. The thought is that they may have used some sap from trees in the forest, but after many experiments by scientists they have given up trying to figure out how they did it!

After My Son I managed to get back in time for breakfast then just wandered around a bit, had some lunch then waited for the bus to pick us up to take us to our current location in Hue. The bus trip was pretty uneventful. Its pretty cool the different people you meet, I've been given some recommendations for places to stay over the various countries I'm visiting and good guides to contact as they are welcoming, honest and helpful.

This morning I'm just about to head off to do a cooking class at a restaurant a few of us went to dinner at last night, and then probably head over to the citadel. Get to learn some of the local specialities such á bun bo hue (rice noodle beef soup hue style), fresh and friend spring rolls. I am loving the food. ít terible i'm probably eating 4 times a day some times!!!! sooooooooo good the food!!

Current plan is to stay here in Hue for about 2 days then catch a sleeper up to Hanoi then onto Sapa and Halong Bay in either order. After that will head over to Laos and currently debating my method of doing so. I originally was going to fly but i might join a group of backpackers heading over the chinese border to Yunnan and get into northern láo that way!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Scooters and Mud :)

The last few days have on the whole been relatively uneventful. I have been completing a scuba diving course which has been alot of fun - successfully gained my open water scuba divers license today. Love it!! Been some big days to fit it all in, all these videos I had to watch and a day session in the navy pool practicing plus the 4 open water dives which I finished this afternoon.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I had a very eventful afternoon/evening which was definitely an experience and a half! About 5km out of town there is a natural hot springs/ and mineral mud place called Thap Ba which I was keen on visiting. I met a girl called Jessica during the dives yesterday and as she had the afternoon free we decided to go together.

After some discussion on the matter of transportation, we decided that we would hire a scooter ("motorcycle") for a couple of hours to get ourselves out there. This in itself wasn't a particular drama, they were happy to view my drivers license and rang up thehotel to confirm they had jessica's passport and here-you-go there's a scooter for you to ride for 40,000vnd (approximatley 2.50 which we split between us).

Dilemna number 1. Manual scooter, no clutch! I have a motorbike at home so figured yeah no problem it'll be easy to ride a scooter. Hmm, think again. Everything was different!! Everything! Firstly, the lack of clutch was a bit baffling, secondly the gears are entirely different to a motorbike. For example, a real motorbike you would tap down for first gear, and then lift up for 2nd thru to 5th gear and then tap down to go down through the gears using the 1 pedal for all.

These scooters, they had 2 pedals (thankfully on the same side). You tapped down on the front pedal for gears 1-4, then tap down on the back pedal (meaning you have to move your foot) to go down the gears. but you could also tap down on the back pedal to end up in 4th gear. How that works exactly I have noooooooo idea!!

Third difference - driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. I actually didn't find this really difficult, its more a matter of trying to remember which way to look when crossing the roads! Fourth - I'd never ridden with a pillion passenger before so that made things a bit different.

Finally and probably the most significant of all is the traffic and the rules (or seemingly lack of) when driving/riding through Vietnam!! The section of town we are currently located in is basically a tourist domain and is very very quiet in comparision to the other end of the town!! There are cars everywhere, bikes everywhere crossing pretty much everywhere and anywhere!

So there we were, 2 white girls in singlets, thongs, and relatively mid-thigh skirts/shorts (very normal attire for the other end of town...). The road to the centre was off to the side and ende up in the country by the river so we began to feel a bit underdressed as the only foreigners around. We must have made an interesting sight trying to navigate our way around the main roads to our chosen destination. We went a bit too far along the main road due after we misunderstood the sign, so it probably took us about 30 minutes to get there (including about 5 minutes time teaching myself how to use the scooter) while about 15 on the way back with a more direct route with fewer traffic lights and roundabouts!

But we made it! And boy, if you are ever in nha Trang you MUST go to the mud baths they are awesome!! for 100,000 dong (about AU$7-8) you have the basic treatment. Firstly, you have a shower in hot mineral water followed by a 15 minute soak in a tub full of mud, which smells amazing with a slight hint of ginger and cinnamin!! It is not really thick, a bit runny. we had a communal tub (there are probably about 30 tubs in the complex for mud) and we were joined by a Swedish couple who we also saw today on a boat trip on the harbour! After you have soaked (I think they forgot us so we soaked about 30 min), you go and sit in the sun and bake for 10 minutes.

Once your mud pie is nice and dry you wash it all off under the mineral showers again. Next stop the hydrotherapy jets. I must say, these were definitely designed with the Vietnamese people in mind as the top of the jets tended to finish around the waist of us westerners!! Next, you jump into a spa tub freshly filled with hot mineral water and you soak there for 30-40 minutes. amazing!! After that, you are free to spend as much time (unlimited) in the multiple pools and waterfalls in the rest of the complex. It is really really well set up!! there were a few hot pools -imagine a full resort size swimming pool at 38 degrees... mmmmmmm :) as well as cooler mineral pools. It was awesome for sure. We left feeling very clean refreshed with silky smooth skin! Definitely get your money's worth at this place for sure. all up we were there for about 2 hours, could have stayed longer but wanted to be back before dark.

Anyway, i should go in search of some food before catching the bus - off to hoi an tonight, arrive about 5am tomorrow I think... It's a sleeper bus and i believe some sleeping tablets will be an extremely wise investment here! :) Tomorrow night is new years eve for TET so we'll see how I go. I haven't booked any where to stay as of yet, and it is likely that many shops will be shut. I like living on the wild side, the worst that can happen is I have no food for a day.... :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bye bye phone :(

Hmm. Well yesterday started off fine but ended with a bit of a downer at nha trang. I caught the bus from Da Lat to Nha Trang which was relatively uneventful - We had a better bus driver this time so we actually made it to our destination by the proper time - 1.30.

With Tet coming up (I realise this is a frequently occurring topic here..) they mentioned that we needed to book sleeper buses asap. My next destination is Hoi An, a 10hr drive (if there are no problems on the way) which ideally is conducted at night on a sleeper bus which is basically a big bus with beds in it! I went to the travel agent and the next sleeper bus isn't until friday night this week so I am now 'stuck' in Nha Trang until then, we will leave at 7.30pm on friday and arrive i believe 6.30 or something on saturday morning, just in time for TET to begin on the sunday.

So.. I thought to myself what am I going to do with 3 full days at a beach which is Vietnam's premier diving spot?? Naturally I decided to go diving and promptly joined up with one of the diving companies here - rainbow diver's to do my PADI course open water diver. I then had to spend the next 3-4 hours in the afternoon watching videos on the techniques, equipment and some skills I'll get to cover today (its 8am wednesday morning now) in the pool. While I"m here I also plan to hit up the hot mud centre and get a little bit dirty!!

Anyway, so Nha Trang is a bit of your typical beach town and there is quite a good night life here. Went out and met some more travellers in the area. I'm travelling for only 11 weeks - that is nothing compared to some of these guys who have often been in one country for that amount of time!!

Anyway, so I was on the beach at some late hour (yes silly I know) with some of the people I know and I must have put my bag down while we were sitting. One of the guys happened to turn around and a vietnamese guy had crawled up to us and was just about to grab my bag and took off. I promptly chased him all the way off the beach and almost caught him, but he jumped on a scooter who had a driver waiting and bolted with my bag. Quite an inconvenience. :( I initially thought I had lost eveyrthing that was in the bag (which thankfully wasn't all that much) however as we had startled him, some of my stuff had obviously fallen out of the bag. I recovered my camera (just a little one I've had for years which doesn't have heaps of photo's on it) and the torch I'd put in there for the dark. But he managed to get away with my phone (which I had newly recharged), some lipgloss (which i'm sure will do him a world of good) and the bag (which had originated at an op shop for maybe $5.).

All in all, really it was just the phone that is a pain. I did like my phone, but it was also things like the photo's I have on australia that I have been showing people along the way on the phone, and the ability to contact friends and family on it. Ah well. Honestly, I'm not that bothered by it. It's just a phone! I was thinking and praying about it this morning actually as I was trying to sleep - remembered that I had probably 20 different bible verses saved onto the phone, that have been some of my favourites over the past years. Here's hoping that this annoyance might come to some eternal good benefit!

Just remembered a couple other things I have been up to over the past few days I think I've forgotten to mention - when I was at cu chi tunnels I got to shoot an AK47 hehe :), and while I was in Da Lat I saw a rice wine distillery and got to try a bit. Pretty easy to make, its basically rice fermented with yeast, boiled in a big pot and then condensation and cooling and all that stuff between pipes that i can't remember the names of! It has bite let me tell you, should be called vodka more likely, think its about 40% alcohol..

I have learnt: don't take bags anywhere, they are prone to be stolen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A day in da lat

I didn't write anything yesterday because I didn't feel I had anything particularly interesting or inspiring to say. Majority of the day was spent on the bus to dalat from HCMC - long drive! Left the city at 7.30am and arrived in da lat at about 5.30pm. Apart from being quite long, the trip itself was quite uneventful and I managed to sleep a little bit of it.

Until last night, my initial impressions of Vietnam had been different from what I had expected. I always try to go into a situation with no expectations, because then you can't be disappointed, but just experience it for what it is or isn't. I'm referring to the landscapes particularly by my initial statement- Probably one too many war-time movies in the jungle so I came expecting to see vietnam all swampy and jungly and mosquito-infested! WRONG!! Vietnam is nothing like that (at least not early in the year), it is incredible how much the landscape changes over the country side. I have only travelled a small proportion of the south so far, yet I have seen flat rice plains, large rivers, bamboo forests, rubber-tree plantations, and wait for it.. pine-cone tree forests! I would NEVER have expected that.

Freshly picked strawberries

Which brings me to my current location - Da Lat. Da Lat is a charming little French village in southern Vietnam that is situated in a valley amongst pine-tree forests. It is beautiful, surrounded by not rice farms but strawberry farms (it is the only place in vietnam that can grow strawberries), flower farms and many fruit and vegetable farms. I went on an easy-rider motorbike tour today with a man by the name of Mr Hung. He was very sweet - last night after I had arrived at my hotel he approached me and said he had seen me on the bus and followed me "like a spy" to take me on a tour of the land! The easy-riders are a company of ex-war veterans who have been showing tourists around vietnam via motorbike since about 1995 with many customers and happy reviews. I had been considering doing a longer trip with the group, but with TET coming up I need to make it to the larger cities before the country and transport all shuts down for a week or two!!


Anyway, so today Mr Hung (or Eagle as he has been previously nicknamed) took me on his motorbike around the greater Da-Lat area. First stop was a Buddhist temple where I learnt that he was a Christian - but only goes to church at Christmas. There are beautiful flower gardens in greenhouses over the entire surrounding countryside - full of roses, gerbera's (i think I spelt that wrong...) orchids, babies breath that is sold throughout Vietnam and the world. Beautiful.

Coffee is another crop grown in the area as well - large coffee plantations with both arabica and mocha coffee beans are grown in Da Lat. I learnt that the mocha plant has smooth leaves which the arabica beans have a rough leaf.

Fresh coffee

Next stop was a silk factory where you see the entire process of making silk. It could be a bit gruesome for some I would imagine - as they boil the cocoons to obtain the silk then use the larvae inside to feed the pigs for protein. There is a combination of manual labour and machinery used to make the silk fabric. However, some of the minority people of the area still use looms to make silk fabric by hand.


Also visited another temple, some waterfalls, the railway station and some of the original French Villa's. Beautiful. The 'Crazy House' is also a big tourist attraction of the area designed by a Vietnamese architect, daughter of a previous President who studied in Moscow. The building is still in the process of being built, it is very difficult to describe -made from concrete but it looks like a tree on the outside and inside,, nothing is square or 'normally' shaped or sized, there are animals and plants, and rock formations and a huge spider-web and a giant giraffe. It is like a maze and has been previously described as an "Alice in wonderland' sort of house with little walkways leading you all over the place! Google it!

The temperature here is alot cooler than other area's of Vietnam, so it gets quite cold at night.

Last night I met and had some extremely interesting conversations with an Australian guy and an american/vietnamese couple. I am finding that religion is frequently brought up in conversation over here - most likely stimulated by the many temples around here, and many people on a search for something meaningful in their life.

The American guy we were chatting with was very interesting - son of a tzar i think, his dad was in charge of oil in America, an environmentalist who was very very VERY passionate about protecting the environment, recycling and his work. We spoke over the night about a burner he has designed . it can burn anything with <16% moisture I think to produce some sort of gas which you can cook with and it produces pure carbon at the end that you can put into the ground and it builds up the soil! They have produced many designs which are open plan - primarily to be used in the developing country context as it is extremely cheap and easy to make. In Asia they have been working on a design which allows them to burn rice-husks. His other passion was the black soldier fly which is one pretty amazing bug and it's uses for recycling, getting through rubbish and building up the land. Everything has a purpose and can be used for something else. Very intelligent people and extremely interesting conversations we all had!

I learnt last night how the north is quite different to the south, and it can be much more difficult for men (especially American men) to get around as they are not welcomed as much. It is easy to forget that Vietnam is a communist country. The south is quite capitalist. However the government does keep tabs on where you are all the time (I hadn't thought about this previously) by having all hotels register you upon arrival with your passport and visa details.

TET is coming up, I am learning that the majority of the country will shut down, and have been informed that as a foreigner, particularly female australian I will be welcomed into many people's homes as it brings good luck! I am aiming to get to Hoi An by TET, so we'll see how I go! Off to Nha Trang tomororw.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

temples and tunnels

Just a quick one for today - feeling a bit weary after only 2-3 hours sleep last night!! By a random chance of fate I got totally spoilt resulting in no sleep! While wandering the streets of HCMC last night at about 5.30 looking for other backpackers to meet I was asked by a Canadian guy if I had any hotel recommendations so brought him back to the place where I was staying to see if they had any rooms left which they did. We had a bit of a chat and i helped him bring his bags back from another hotel. Turns out he is a resident doing an elective exchange at Hoi An hospital for the past few weeks, in his last night in vietnam.

Anyway he invited me out to dinner to help use up the last of his money as he didn't want to exchange anything before he left (flight out at 6am) and ended up taking me to a nice vietnamese restaurant and then we chatted the majority of the night after that ie me having no sleep! i also learnt during this occasion that i loooove tiger beer!! yum yum :)

so, today I joined the Sinh bus company (considerably cheaper than my last few days!) on a 1 day tour of the cu-chi tunnels as well as the cai dai temple. which in hindsight i should have skipped the temple and done the half-day tunnels tour only. Ah well. next time!!

the temple was interesting - if not only for the religion itself but the conversations I had with one of the other guys on the bus - mario a self-professed atheist. Had some very interesting discussions with him over the day and at dinner with a group of us from the tour about religion and their thoughts on it. this particular religion is a combination of 4, i can't remember what they all were though apart from red was catholic. They all wore white and coloured arm bands which symbolised the different religions. Apparenty today is the last day that they go to the temple to worship - it is only one week during the year prior to the lunar new year (TET) which is next week. During the service, there were tourists by the bus-loads up on the balconies taking photos and obsering - makes you wonder what they are thinking and how on earth they would be able to concentrate on their worship with 300 people gawking on.. then again it also makes me think that isn't it awesome that we don't have to wait for a specific week or two in the entire year to be connected with God!

Then we drove to the cu chi tunnels. I would definitely recommend going here - the history alone is great, maybe erring a little on the side of propaganda at times. There is a historical documentary that you watch from the 1960s where you are introduced to the vietnamese war hero's (peasant girls from the cu chi village) who killed multiple american enemy soldiers. They then take you around various dig outs around the area where they show you how weapons were made, models of the traps they used to kill/severely injure the enemy and finally the tunnels themselves that you get to crawl through. They were bigger than I had expected actually - however we were frequently reminded that they had been expanded in size by 40% for tourists, and I think we were using the largest tunnel section as well. It makes you think about what a messed up crazy world we live in and hope that war is not a strong occurance during our lifetime.



Coming out of a hidey hole

I shot an AK47while I was there too...

off to da lat on the bus tomorrow!

Friday, February 5, 2010

the learning of bargaining skills

Well, fancy that! i am writing to you from sozo cafe in hi chi minh city - check out some of the keys on the computer are sticking so please excuse my grammar! i thought i would check out this cafe as it featured in the lonely planet book i had - turns out it much be a christian place as well as they give thanks to God on their website. i am drinking a vietnamese coffee which is amaaaazing!! the coffee here is awesome i definitely recommend it.

my trip to the mekong has been one of adventure and learning. i am learning to improve my bargaining skills, and be less of a pushover. I have been very grateful for Phung's help over the past few days, but i have determined that he was requesting alot more than the going or usual rate. It is very much a struggle as to how much to pay someone a certain amount when you know that back in your home town that would be peanuts, but here it is multiple days (weeks perhaps?) wages in one hit. Ideally you want the money to be going to the people who need it most, rather than a specific individual or middle man. Hmmm. definitely a challenge! which brings me back to my current location - sozo here employ disabled vietnamese, help to improve their english skills and give them opportunities that otherwise they probably would not have. for example, i ordered my coffee from a boy who is unable to speak. just then i had another waiter who with the help of one of the volunteers at the cafe practiced his english skills on me while testing out a new chocolate cake recipe to see which is better. mind you he did tell me which one was better to start with, but practice makes perfect!

Anyway, today i have learnt a few new things, some better than others. i have learnt (with some difficulty) how to master a toilet-paper-less toilet as is the norm in most areas here, how to barter and bargain a bit better and stand up for myself more, that i really really love cold showers, that vietnamese coffee is amazing, that pho bo (beef noodle soup) actually tastes really good for breakfast,that the vietnamese looooovve karaoke and it can go on for hours in the night and that you can fit a scooter in the middle of a bus!

i was stressing a bit over these things last night (resulting in me not sleeping much after 2am) and found parts of psalm 131;1-2 that i was reading just before that i need to take into account more, handing things over to god instead of clinging on and stressing to them.I am looking on the bright side. i may have been ripped off a bit, but i was shown the customs of the land in a way that i probably would not have seen on a tour bus, ate local food with local people and i can hope for the best that the money was distributed amongst all the people i saw! plus, i was treated and looked after well - that is a definite blessing!!

I don’t concern myself with matters too great
or too awesome for me to grasp.
2 Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,

today was a good day, a long one but a good one. it is good to be off the back of the scooter though - it does tend to hurt your bottom after many many hours!! i went on a tour of the floating markets on the river and also the food markets of the town. i love fruit and vege shopping (not that i bought any this time, just observed and took some photo's with permission of course!!) and there are so many foods here that i have never seen before, plus many exotic ones you do see in aus but not all the time. the meat section of the market is very interesting - live fish, octopuses shrimp etc in buckets, chickens and ducks tied up on the ground and other meat products chopped up on display for weighing and purchase. i tried to explain how different it is in australia, not sure if phung understood how different but i tried!!

anyway. plan for tomorrow is to go to the cu chi tunnels (this time i have booked with a reputable tour group who charge the correct going rate!) followed by an open bus trip of 7 hours i believe driving up to da lat.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mekong via moto

So if you are offered the chance to ride a moto to the Mekong Delta, I would say you will have quite a sore bottom afterwards, but it is definitely the way to go. It is the end of day 2 in Vietnam and I have seen (as in literally seen) a max of 10 tourists, 2 of whom I had a chance to speak with. Everyone else I have talked and seen is Vietnamese.

I am currently staying in a 'hotel' in Ben Tre, a big island on the Mekong Delta. It is basicallly a guesthouse of a family that live here, complete with canals, fish farms, chickens, ducks and pet dogs.

I arrived here about 11.30 this morning after quite a long trip on the back of phung's scooter. He picked me up this morning from the hotel in HCMC and we took a ride to his house where I met his mother and got my first taste of Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk. The streets aroud have got venders and women selling chicken, fruit, vegetables and all sorts of food/non food items.

We then started the long, and i mean long drive to Ben Tre! However, it is quite pleasant and you get a great view from the back of a scooter. I will have to introduce you to the fashion of moto helmets - it is fascinating! Everyone does wear a helmet, and alot of the women particuly also wear masks to cover their face. I though originally the masks were to protect from dust etc, but was informed this afternoon its more to keep their skin pale and away from the sun! Anyawy, helmets. Street venders and the markets all have these helmets for sale which are mbasically a bowl-like hat, but there are all decorated ones, some to look like hats, very fashionable!

We did stop halfway thankfully at a rest stop on the side of the highway. These stops have hammocks in them which are very comfortable after a 1.5hr moto ride! On arrival you receive a nice cold wet towel to clean you face. its amazing how grubby you get, or maybe it was just me that got grubby! This pic shows me on our rest break... all tired and dirty!

When we arrived at Ben Tre I got lunch at the hotel which was a big fish and some fresh herbs and vegetables to make into rice paper rolls. i literaly got a whole fish on a plate which i'm guessing was fried (gutted but complete with scales)and standing up on a plate between some posts. It is a case of guess work sometime as to what to do-whether to use hands and fingers or chopsticks. I tend to wait a bit for example so I don't do the wrong thing! The mother of the house came and took the meat off the fish with a chopstick (scraping the scales off) and i ate half of the fish, the rest of which she put together into rice paper rolls with noodles, mint, basil, tomato and cucumber. yum! I was very full after this - I don't think i've eaten a full fish before. I then tried ice coffee - it literally is more ice than coffee but they do the same with tea.

After lunch we went into town to go on a boat ride through the Mekong Delta. This ended up being quite a bit more expensive than I had anticipated (also its confusing when Dong ends up in the millions and figuring that out in dollars!) but as I discussed with them later, it is because I'm on my own. When there is a group, the tours cost less per person as you share the cost around. The money bothered me a bit, but I grew to be okay with that as I know it was being shared around the people on the many sights I got to see.

I saw the 4 major islands of the area, visiting the coconut temple, saw coconut candy being made (i liked the one with ginger added, but too much and i felt a bit sick), wandered around the fruit gardens seeing where alot of the fruit grew. It is interesting to comprehend how alot of the things we apreciate in the west, are highly ikely made by hand by people in countries like Vietnam. For example, ladies were embroidering intricate patterns on shirts, tablecloths and things by hand, and the coconut candy was all cooked, moulded and wrapped by hand!

I also got to try alot of the local fruits, including dragon fruit which interestingly enough inside is white with black spots (I never knew that!). There was a bee farm on this particular island. Bees in vietnam are very nice! Not like australia where they get a bit aggro and will sting you, the vietnamese bees were quite happy for me to stick a finger into the honey comb to try!

I am finding that I feel at home here. It is strange how I feel more at home in a foreign country where i know no one and nothing, than i do in my 'homeland'. I don't quite understand how that is. It seems that change is necessary for me.

Anyway I have been unsocial by updating for long enough.. Tomorrow back on the moto and heading back up to Can Tho and the floating markets and Saigon again.

the moto view

The Hotel I stayed at last night had issues with cookies or something so I was unable to post until now....

What a day. I am enjoying life in Vietnam. I got to sleep in a bit, had breakfast and then a massage compliments of the hotel I was staying at last night! Checked out with my backpack all set up at 12 and hit the streets in search of a backpackers place to stay at for the next few nights while in HCMC. As I was walking, a few taxi's or scooter riders approached me to see if I wanted a lift but me being indendent me was determined to do it myself. It is quite warm and quite humid here so after probably 30 minutes of walking around I think I was on the verge of heatstroke!!

Another scooter rider spoke with me then and we chatted for a while, asking where I am from where I was going. There were 2 streets I was intending to walk to as they were full of backpacker's places and I was about 3/4 of the way by this time. but with the heat and fluid loss I started to get a bit lightheaded and sat down on the side of the street and decided I'd give Phung a go, giving me a ride. I knew that chances are there was some sort of commision involved and that it woud end up with other tours being offered and things, but i thought why not support the local people in the tourist industry rather tahn paying the money to big companies.
He took me to a little hotel in a side street alley somewhere in District 1 (which i have just discovered is pretty much the street i was trying to get to anyway)where I left my stuff and then he took me out sight seeing for the day. Its fun whizzing around the city (at like maybe 5km/hr max) with a million other scooters going crazy with their traffic rules (or lack of). I was trying to figure out why sometimes people stopped at traffic lights and other time's they dont. It seems this rule is a bit flexible or up for interpretation. The traffic lights in the city centre itself has a little countdown for both green and red telling you when it will change - but it appears that you can go through red lights if you want to...

First stop was the war remnants museum. Definitely worth going to - they have tanks, helicopters, warships and a few different kind s of US military fighter airplanes out the front, Very eye opening as to the impact the war had on the Vietnamese people here. Next stop was the independence palace, I had a quick wander around here. i believe it is where the president used to do all his business - there were specific meeting rooms for specific people in government. Very grand and impressive to look at. In the basement downstairs they had all the control rooms where during war times they had meetings, controlled radio centres and the like.

Phung (my moto guide) then took me to the hong kong markets, which are the older ones. I've barely seen another european face the entire day - saw I think 2 people during this market. There are the odd curious people wanting to know what I'm doing but on the whole the local Vietnamese in the market let me wander around without any notice.It would be very easy to get lost but luckily this market seems to be separated into sections where they all sell specific things, theres the shoe section, the fabric section, the shiny sparkly hair clip section, the plastic container section, the makeup section, the pots and pan section..... i particularly enjoyed the food markets. During this time i started to question myself, wondering what is appropriate culturally and what isn't. For example, photographs. I want to take photos of this experience, but how appropriate is it? i mean, if i was at home in australia doing my own business, would i appreciate random people coming up and taking a photo of me in the midst of my usual work? It is a challenge trying to fit into this society.

Next stop was a couple of the major temples in the city. This reminded me of how futile life is without Christianity. The sacrifices here are never ending. outside the temples there are people selling goldfish, turtles and incense (which i was offered to buy).

On my travels today i have tried a few different new foods, some better than others. All meals have been on the street and yes I have been having drinks with ice in them... so we'll see how strong my stomach is in time! Lunch was a rice dish with a sort of egg omellette and a chicken bean dish. I had some durian which is a bit sloppy but not awful, a fruit shake and soem sort of roll which had processed meat (you may be aware of my dislike of processed meat...), cucumber, mint and chili sauce. Minus the meat it was not a bad meal. THe breads here are amazing!!!

The city is busy in preparation for TET (Chinese new year) with lanterns and beautiful decorations everywhere. As the city got dark they all light up and make for a spectacular view.

I have managed to get myself a mobile phone SIM card so I am contactable, not sure exactly of the service or how much credit I have on it or what it costs for me to send messages but I can definitely send and receive to Australia.

Another thing that has challenged me today is who I want to meet while I am here. I want to have a truly cultural experience, however when looking for accommodation I was wanting to meet other backpackers like me - made me question what I was really looking for. Phung has been very helpful, showing me the sights of the city. Tomorrow we are off to the Mekong Delta for a few days.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Safe in Saigon

Well I made it, a couple of hiccups at the airport on the way including me not reading my flight itinerary properly and thinking my flight left at 12.30 when it actually left at 2pm and ending up at the airport super early, then waiting even longer with plane delays due to having to balance up the weight distribution.

But, I am now here. It is 11:17 local time, no idea what time it is in Australia, about 1am I'm guessing. I'm probably still running on adrenaline as I don't feel tired (yet) even with only 2 hours sleep last night and a brief nap on the plane to Darwin. I'll probably crash tomorrow though. I'm hoping (fingers crossed) that my plan of staying up till its late here will help me avoid as much of jet-lag as possible. We'll see!

I had no drama's with getting through customs and found a taxi that took me to my hotel which is very nice. So definitely thanks to God for all of that. Met some nice people on the plane from Darwin so good chats there.

So far, what I've seen of HCMC is a very busy, bustling city with many many MANY motorbikes and scooters! Its amusing to watch the lack of roadrules - you drive on the 'right' side of the road here, but the traffic does have a tendency to go all over the place.

Some things remind me of living in Africa - random things like white paint around the bottom 1m of the trees on the side walk (why is that??!), men sitting on the sides of the road playing games. But there are so many other different things as well. Scooters are parked by the hundreds all over the footpaths in front of shops - which happen to be still open at 11pm at night selling clothes and things, and people sit on their scooters like a chair, cross-legged or lying on top of them.

Anyway, sleep time. Plan for tomorrow: start exploring the city and getting my bearings! Night!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A time and season for everything

I was encouraged over the weekend that I should start a blog of my expeditions over the coming months, and thought I would give it a go. Many thanks to Ben Purdy for his excellent choice of name! :)

Its currently 2.58am (Don't tell my parents!) and I am less than 10 hours away from the beginnings of a new journey, season or chapter in my life. One that I am hoping and praying that will help me get a bit closer to the major thing I don't know in life - what I want. There are many things I like, but I don't know what I want - with work, living arrangements, church, relationships - and because of this I struggle with feelings of being fake and a failure.

I know God is there, supporting me, helping me and guiding me, but I struggle with knowing how He does that, and incorporating it into my life. I believe that I do have a purpose in life, or direction. I just don't know what it is yet!

As to what lies ahead for me in the next 3 months, I don't know. People keep asking me if I am scared, or saying that I must be brave. I don't think either applies - it's more likely to be naivety or stubbornness to prove a point that I actually can follow through with what I say I can at times! I just want God to move me, change me, grow me, make me more than what I am today. Somehow I think this might help.

For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:11-13

As a last note I thought I'd add in one of my favourite verses. I tend to just focus on the plans and future side and overlook the last 2 verses. However in this next season I want to be seeking God more and relying on myself less.