Back  Home  October 2001 December 2001 Maren & Kirk 

November 2001 Daily Diary

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(China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand)



The bus pick up was at 6:45 am in the morning. It took us to the Hydrofoil at the dock.  The boat was a boat where all the seats were inside, which was a little disappointing.  We got though good seats by the window.  In the middle of the boat was a section one could stand outside and view the gorges as we went by.  The weather was not great so we were happy not being on the two day cruise trip.  The boat went really fast along the river.  It went by on the dam they were building and some really high gorges, some 900 meters high.  We were glad that we were seeing the gorges before the dam was finished and the water level is to rise considerably up to 40 m.  It was just to bad the weather did not cooperate.  The towns along the Yangtze seemed really depressing, gray, building blocks surrounded by a lot of garbage built along the river.   Kind of gloomy and dreary.  Seven hours later the Hydrofoil arrived in Wan Xian.  There first we walked around a dreary town and got some dinner, dumplings, rice, and something we could not figure out.  It was not very good.  We are starting to get sick of the food. Can not wait until we will be able to cook again.  After buying some supplies for the night, we got onto the bus.  There we slept a few hours before it left. The bus was smoky and dirty, however much more comfortable than the Hard Seat Class Trains we have taken.  


We actually slept on the bus the whole night. The bus only drove around 6 hours but parked outside the city until 7:00 am.  Then the bus driver drove everyone to the train station.  So it was good that we could at least sleep a little that night.  In Chongqing we had to wait until 4:26 pm for our train, so we put our stuff in the train stations luggage storage  and took a bus to the central district in the city.  There we could not help ourselves and we got hamburgers at McDonalds for breakfast.  Kirk actually had 2 cheeseburgers.  Afterwards we asked the staff at McDonalds if they knew where an internet cafe was.  The McDonalds guard was actually nice enough and took us there personally.  Sometimes the people here are really nice and helpful. It is quite the opposite we expected when we thought about China before we came here. At the internet cafe we were able to hook up our laptop for the first time in China, but not able to FTP to our hosting site, it seems to be censored here in China.  However we were able to send out finally some emails.  The time we spent there was over 4 hours, but it was only 24 cents and hour to surf.  Afterwards we had a hard time to admit, but we ate at McDonalds again for lunch.  We know that is not good, but somehow our appetite was not accepting anything else accept western food.  We caught the bus back to the train station and got onto the train. We thought that the train was arriving the next day at 6:00 am.


Well after waking up and a little confused why the train did not arrive in Guangzhou, we finally asked a security guy, and we figured out that the train was arriving there the next day, that hurt!  37.5 hours in the Hard Seat Class. We had two seats each at our disposal, but that was not much of a help.  One could barely sleep.   The whole day we basically just read our books.  The scenery from the train was not spectacular, just a lot of small villages that looked exactly alike, with a lot of pollution and garbage lying around.  The people on the trains always seem to stare at us and laugh at us when we do not understand anything.  There were also a few security checks on the train, checking id's and ticket stubs.  Again there was confrontation with the plastic boy collectors when they jumped on the trains and tried to collect the plastic bottles. They fought with some people who did not want their plastic bottles taken.  What was a great surprise on the train was there was one conductor who took control of everything and kept the place clean. Not only that he was cleaning up almost constantly, but he also yelled at people when they threw garbage on the floor or left garbage on their small tables.  The people on the train thought this was weird, we thought it was great.  It made a huge difference and the train arrived fairly clean.  We did not eat much on the train, accept for fruits and noodle soup we bought from people outside the train when it stopped. It was much cheaper than buying on the train.  



The night we did not sleep much again. Again our limbs kept on falling asleep.  We were glad to arrive in Guangzhou at around 6:00 am. There  we found the bus station and took a 1.5 hour bus ride to Shenzhen.  There we had to go through customs and, just like a normal border crossing, even though Hong Kong now belongs to China.  We also found out something not too much to our liking.  The Chinese Visa expires when you go to Hong Kong, which means we have to get a new Chinese Visa when we go back through China to get to Vietnam.  Makes one really mad.  We got some Hong Kong Dollars at an ATM machine and got tickets on a train to Kowloon. From there we took a bus to Hong Kong Island.  We had lunch at McDonalds again, hopefully the last time for a while.  From there we took a bus to the foot of Mt. Davis Hill. From there it was a 30 minute walk up hill to the Youth Hostel. The Youth Hostel has a beautiful view over Hong Kong and its harbor.  There a nap was in order and then we took a 45 minute walk to a supermarket to get some food so we could cook the next few days. The Youth Hostel had a kitchen which was a great surprise.  We went to bed in two separate dorms, one for women and one for men.  Kirk had trouble sleeping because one guy snored horrendously.  


The first thing we had to do after a great breakfast of orange juice, toast, cheese, butter, and ham was to find the Vietnamese consulate to get our visas for Vietnam.  They were expensive, 40 US $ each.  They have another price listed, but it cost 50 % more when one does not have a personal invitation from the Vietnamese Government or kind of permission.  They were however nice and photo copied our Passports, so we would be able to go to the China Foreign Affairs Office and get a  new Chinese Visa.  We finally found the Chinese Office after going to the wrong place first.  They moved since the guide book was written.  It was about half an hour away by foot.  There we found out we could not get a transit visa with out a train ticket, and that the price was the same as a tourist visa anyway.  So we applied for a tourist visa again.  The good thing was it was a little cheaper than last time and that we would be able to pick it up on Wednesday.  On the way to the Library we walked through a really nice bird sanctuary in the middle of town.  In keeps the birds in a huge cage. One can walk nicely through on an elevated wooden walk way.  From there we went to the public library to check our emails.  It is free here at the public libraries which is a nice change.  We then looked for a the used book store, which we eventually found, but it was closed on Mondays.  Being both tired we went back to the hostel and Maren made a delicious meal of beans and pasta, just what we both needed. We wanted to do some  computer work, but the plug did not fit in the socket.  Kirk stayed up later and watched some TV, some documentaries and the show the Practice.


Sleeping was tough for Kirk again, during the night the guy snored really loud again.  It was horrible.  Some guys even in the morning changed rooms and got a more expensive triple.  Little did they knew, he was leaving to New  Zealand in the evening.  Maren made a great scrambled egg and ham breakfast.  A real nice change.  Kirk also was happy to get to see ABC evening news at 7:30 am in the morning. He got up just for that.  Later on we took the ferry to Kowloon on the mainland.  The fare was really cheap, around 3.5 HK $ for the both of us.  We walked around there, but there is not much to see so we took the ferry back, checked out emails and looked for an adapter plug and a used South East Asia Guide book.  We did not find a used guide book, but found the  previous edition guide book heavily reduced, while the new one has just came out.  We also did some food shopping and found a electrical plug that broke after once using it.  The fuse must have broken.  Maren again made a great bean and noodle meal.  She got some really bad news from home in an email today.  This has not been the best of years on the home front.  We also finally did some work on our site, it is way behind.  Hopefully we can find somewhere where we can upload our site before we leave Hong Kong. Maren called her mom, took a while to reach her, she is never at home.  She felt good talking to her and was happy she got in touch.


Kirk actually woke up earlier than Maren, at 7:00 am. He wanted to make sure he got to see the ABC Nightly News again.  Maren made a great breakfast, boiled eggs and a delicious sandwich.  Kirk also called home to speak to his parents.  It is always nice to be able to speak to them.  Emailing one another is nice, but hearing voices is nicer.  We also worked on our web pages a little before we took a bus to the Chinese Embassy to pick up our visas.  From there we walked up Victoria Peak. One can take a tram up, but that costs 20 HK$ each/ 30 HK$ return.  So we saved the money and was happy to get the exercise.  The walk up was nice and one got great views of Hong Kong from above. There we bought a couple of post cards and sent them right away.  We had a banana each for lunch and then walked down towards the library. On the way down we came upon the Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Garden.  It was kind of nice, especially the Jaguar, a spotted one and a black one.  Also there were all types of birds including beautiful pink flamingos.  The public library did not have any computers free so we went food shopping for the trip tomorrow and bought also some 35mm films.  We bought 2 loafs of bread, peanut butter, jelly and some cookies.  What is sort of nice with our hostel is that one has to walk around 30 minutes up hill to where the hostel is, guarantees one will get some exercise.  For dinner Maren made spaghetti and tomato sauce with some cheese on top, delicious.  In the evening we worked on sorting out pictures for our website. Kirk has taken too many last and this month.  So we have a lot of work to do. Hong Kong as we found out is an expensive place to be in.  It was nice to visit but we will be happy to leave again tomorrow. 


This morning ABC News was on the agenda again. Getting to watch the news is really a treat.  After a great breakfast we got packed and headed to the Vietnamese embassy to pickup our Vietnam visas.  Then it was to an internet cafe to upload our web pages.  We had to buy extra web space, because the free space we were using was full. We noticed it when we could not upload any pages anymore.  So now we have 75 MB of space, but that will not do for long since we are using now over 69MB.  We then got a bus to the train station and then the train to Lo Wu.  After clearing customs we decided to get a bus to Guangzhou.  The train as fully booked to Guilin.  It would have been much cheaper if we were able to get a seat on the train.  In Guangzhou we were also not able to get a seat on the train, so we had to get another bus to Guilin, a luxury sleeper bus. However the cheaper local sleeper buses are actually more comfortable to sleep in.  Even though the local buses are really dirty and people spit and smoke the whole night.  Before we took off Maren made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They were great.  Somehow on the road one craves things you hardly ever eat at home.  On the bus we both had trouble sleeping.



The bus arrived at 7:00 am in Guilin, the both of us were really tired. This first thing, was to see if there were any trains to Nanning.  The only trains that day were at 1:04 pm in the afternoon. That was too early for us, since we wanted to see the pinnacles in Guilin and in Yangshuo.  Right before we got on a local bus to Yangshou, a tout spoke to us and offered a direct bus to Pingxiang.  This seemed like a good alternative than taking a bus to Nanning first and then another bus to Pingxiang.  We were also able to bargain the price 50 % down.  Well this turned out to be a small blunder on our part. First we still think we over paid by a couple of bucks, and secondly the bus turned out to be not a direct bus after all, but more on that later.  The bus took 1.5 hours to Yangshou.  Yangshou had some really nice Pinnacles and the town was quite interesting. It was the only town in China that we have been to that is made out for the tourists.  It had internet cafes, western menus, and most things in English.  Probably it would have been nice to stay there, but we had left all of our luggage in Guilin and we had already booked the bus to Nanning.  We walked around the area a little, checked our email.  The email was so slow and barely worked so we did not pay.  Later on we got a bus back to Guilin. There we visited the Seven Star Park and climbed up a pinnacle.  There was a great view of the city and the surrounding other pinnacles.  Maren bought a 50 cents t-shirt in town.  We later on waited at the train station for our bus.  There again was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Tasted as good as ever.  Now going back to the bus story. The bus turned out to be a local bus, the bus did not depart from the train station (we had to take a ride on a motor bike to where the bus was), and the bus did not leave as planned at 6:30 pm as we were promised.  The bus drove around in circles in town trying to find more passengers. Three hours later than planned the bus was full. They also lied to us about the direct route, which really worried us if we had bought a bus ticket only to Nanning even though they promised us Pingxiang.  No one on the bus could speak English, so we were in the dark until we got to Nanning if our ticket would get us to Pingxiang.  Maren had tried to speak to some people not on the bus while we were waiting, but most of them could only speak a few words English.  We should have listened to our guide book, that explicitly states one should watch out for touts and that especially in Guilin they try and rip you off whatever you do.   Even on the bus ride back from Yangshou they tried to openly charge double, we refused of course, but one always has to watch out.



The bus arrived at 6:00 am in Nanning.  To our relieve the bus driver from our bus found a bus for us to Pingxiang and paid for our new tickets. At least there was not a huge loss on the trip.  It was again a sleeper bus which took around 5 hours to Pingxiang.  These buses are always so dirty and everyone smokes with no regard to the others.  The arrival time in Pingxiang was around 12:00 pm.  There no one spoke English, which made things really a pain to try and figure out what the real price for the ride to the border was.  We ended up taking a motorbike rickshaw to the border, when we could not figure out which or even if a bus was going to the border.  It turned out later that a bus did go to border.  However it only costs us a few cents more, so it was not too bad.  Kirk stupidly banged his leg getting into the rickshaw and it swelled up a little, but not too bad.  At the border they hit you with a departure management tax of 10 Yuan each. Pay to get in, pay to get out. What everyone loves.   The Chinese immigration also checked our passports for a long time before we could leave.  They can be a real pain in the rear sometimes the custom officials.  At the Vietnam side it took a while to fill out all the forms and get through the customs again. There a tax driver was waiting for us of course. We were able to bargain him down to a reasonable price, the price was ok because we shared the taxi with a nice Japanese guy. It was also good because he was the only one with Vietnamese Dong on him. At the border the money changers were giving horrible rates.  The Japanese guy got a really bad rate of 12000 dong per US $ while the going rate is 15000 dong per US $.  The taxi took us to Lang Son, where we got a 3.5 hour mini bus ride to Hanoi.  It was good that the Japanese guy new what price the minibus should charge, because a friend of his took the same transport 2 weeks ago.  So we were able to cut the minibus price by one third the original asking price.  The minibus turned out to not only carry passengers. It had under the seats and in hidden compartments stacks of toothbrushes, cloths and other things.  It seemed like they smuggle the things in from China.  Before we were in Hanoi,  the minibus stopped a few times to unload the goods. In Hanoi we checked out a few hotels and finally took one for 5 US$ with own bath and shower, even had a TV, only with local channels though.  So the TV was kind of useless.  In the evening we walked around town and then went out for dinner.  Later on we checked the internet.  


This morning we bought over 12 bananas for 30 cents for breakfast. We then visited Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace. We did not see Ho Chi Minh's body because the Mausoleum was closed, so our only view was from outside.  Afterwards we visited the Army Museum, which had exhibits from the different wars in Vietnam, and yes the defeating of the "American Aggressors" as they put it.  Later on we walked around the city and then got some lunch at the same place we had dinner at the night before.  Kirk had pineapple and duck and Mare beef and pineapple.  Both tasted fairly good.  We then checked our email again and some news on the net.  In the late afternoon Maren worked on the the pictures for our website.  And in the evening we checked the internet again and then got some pastries for dinner.  What we have found out here is that one has to bargain for everything and watch out what they charge. Normally they seem to double the price for everything if not triple the price for foreigners. However they at least behave in a nice way.  Even at the Internet cafe, they tried to over charge us when they wrote down the wrong times we were there, hoping that we would not know how long we used it. Not that it costs much here to use, 20 cents an hour at the cheaper places.  Also in the afternoon we booked a 2 day tour to Halong Bay. We could probably not have done it cheaper on our own and we will probably be able to see more. We also bought an open bus ticket down to Saigon which will allow us to get off in certain towns and catch the bus the next day. We recommend that people check around town for the best prices, because they do vary considerably.  Hopefully it all works out. We now calculate that we will probably spend 2 weeks in Vietnam itself. 



The bus picked us up at the A-Z Queen Hotel, the place the tour to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island was booked at around 7:00 am.  Only 5 other people were on our tour, so we had a small group. The both of us felt that we were cheating going on a tour, but there was probably no easier and cheaper way to do the Ha Long Bay Islands in such a short time.  For 16 bucks a head including everything it was not a bad deal.  One thing that is a little frustrating, that tour groups always stop at tourist traps where they try to sell you things. This one stopped at a place which employed children with "Handicaps".  Most of the Handicaps according to the guide came from the French and American chemical weapons during the wars.  We did not know if this was a tactic to make us feel more sorry for the people there, propaganda or just facts.  Who knows. It was actually not bad there and they did not get in your face to buy things.  Also the children there were making cloths and things before our eyes.  So maybe the selling of the things help them out, hopefully.  At around 11:30 am the bus arrived in Ha Long City, there we had lunch, mainly sea food and rice, Kirk's favorite.  So Kirk might loose some weight the next couple of days.   After lunch we got on a boat and took a 4.5 hour boat ride to Cat Ba Island.  There are over 2000 islands in Ha Long Bay.  It is absolutely amazing to see. The islands or pinnacles just stick up from the sea. They come in all shapes and sizes. Too bad the weather was not great. When the sun shines it must be totally spectacular.  Along the way we also visited a big cave called the Surprise Cave.  There was a tour through the cave and then the boat went further.  Along the way the boat stopped and we had a chance to go swimming. Only the guys went swimming. Maren thought it would be to cold.  It was actually ok.  We were able to jump from up top of the boat which was really fun.  However when Kirk came out of the water he had rashes all over his arms, he must have been allergic to something, but it went away after a while. Along the way we also got to see pearl farms and small house boats where local people fish for a living. The whole ride was long but really interesting. It is definitely a major highlight for us.  A bus picked us up at the small harbor at Cat Ba Island and took us to our Hotel. There we rested for a while and then had again a seafood dinner. Kirk tried the seafood, but it is just not for him.  After the dinner we walked around town, ate an ice cream and went early to bed.  Another thing, our guide is really nice, but his English is hard to understand.  However he really tries to explain things to us and let us know what is going on, just like a guide should be. Much better than the guide in Tibet.  It is a nice change!


It was too bad that the weather did not cooperate again. It was wet, rainy and windy.  The alarm went off at around 5:45 am to wake us up so we could walk down to the fish market before breakfast.  The fish market was ok, not too many fish though. One disgusting thing was the slaughtering of the ducks and chickens.  They slit the throat of the birds, first draining the blood out and then throwing them back in the cage with living ducks, there they squirmed around for a while before they died.  We tried to buy some bread, but as usual they were trying to charge us foreigners a ridicules price,  so we decided we could wait. The breakfast was not much, some bread and a small piece of cheese, so we were both not very full.  We joined another tour for the journey back to Hanoi because some people were staying an extra day to go hiking.  It kind of stunk for them because they must have had horrible weather the rest of the day.  After catching the bus to the harbor, we took the boat back to Ha Long City.  The ride took about 1.5 hours and was very cold.  The weather was wet, rainy, and cloudy and one could not really enjoy the scenery. Also the windows and door in the boat could not be closed because the one could not breath because of the engine fumes coming up from below. So we were both fairly cold the whole way.  After the boat ride we had lunch and got a bus back to Hanoi.  One thing we found out at lunch was the crash of the airplane in NY again.  We hope this time it is not terrorism.  Kind of suspicious though. It is all that NY needed at the moment.  We arrived in Hanoi at around 5:00 pm. We checked out the internet, because we had received 30 minutes free internet by booking the tour to Ha Long Bay.  After dinner we were picked up by the bus for the overnight journey to Hue.  Before we left Maren bought some banana bread, almost as good as Kirk's mom, a big emphasis on almost!



The bus trip was longer than expected and got to Hue at around 11:00 am, one hour late.  The weather was horrible, and we have seen a lot of flooding along the way. Kirk was able to finish his book, which was good since the book was not that good and now he can exchange it somewhere.  Even though it was rainy really hard we decided to use our few hours in Hue to visit the Citadel.  We did not go in because we did not think it would be worth paying the entrance fee in the rainy and wet weather.  So after walking around the city for a while, getting wet we had some salad and tea at the hotel where the bus would pick us up to go to Hoi An.  We had also bought some bread for lunch to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  On the road they always taste the best.  We also checked the internet, and yes Nina has now internet access at home and no excuse not to send long and interesting mails regularly.  It was nice of Anne and Olli to install the modem for her and hook her up to the internet.  The bus ride took an hour longer than planned, probably because of all the rain.  It looked like many of the fields were flooded along the way. The rain was really falling today.  We mostly read our books the whole way.  When we got to Hoi An we were dropped off at a hotel where we arranged a triple with a Swedish guy, 3 US $ per person.  After taking a much needed shower, we decided only to do some work on our web pages before we went to bed. 


We both woke up at around 6:45 am and got our stuff packed. The bus to My Son was supposed to pick us up at 8:00 am. It actually came early so we were not able to eat breakfast. The trip to My Son was really bumpy, because the roads were not great. It was also rainy pretty much the whole time.  One saw the rains creeping up to the huts. It must be really moist and dungy living in the huts along the rice fields.  The trip took 1.5 hours. There we bought the tickets to My Son and got the gratuitous jeep ride up to the temples.  The temples were, well ok.  They are restored and they are falling apart and the jungle is crawling all over them.  Most look like a pile of bricks. They were interesting, but we had expected something else.  After catching the bus back to Hoi An we reserved a ticket on the night bus to Nha Trang and then had some lunch, walked around town, and checked our email.  In town we walked around the market and along the river. Nha Trang is a town where you can get tailored clothes really cheaply. We though about it, but it would just be another unnecessary expense for us at the moment.  Later on we went back to hotel because we were getting soaked by the rain. There we read our books and waited for the bus to pick us up at 6:00 pm. It would be another nightbus ride. That means we did not sleep much again.  Along the way the bus had a flat ,  which delayed the trip a little.



The bus arrived about 3 hours late in Nha Trang and many people missed their connecting bus to Saigon, which of course did not make them happy.  They needed to catch flights home from there.  In Nha Trang we took the hotel where the bus dropped us off. Maren was able to bargain the room down from 6 US $ to 5 US $ with breakfast. Which is ok for here.  Maren right away washed our cloths. She told Kirk he stunk. Well she told him for the last few days that he stunk, ok for the last month.  After taking showers we took a walk along the beach, which was nice, but could be much nicer when the weather was good. It was still rainy and overcast.  Later on we just walked around town, eating fried bananas in a doe mixture and buying some green oranges which turned out to be not very good.  They were a little dry.  In the late afternoon Kirk and Maren took turns working on the website.  We are still too far behind with the pictures and web pages.  We both took turns taking naps as the other worked. In the evening we walked around town, checking menus at different restaurants until we finally found one we liked with a reasonably priced menu.  Maren had beef and vegetables and Kirk had pork and vegetables, both came with rice which they refilled when the rice bowl was empty.  So that was a plus. Before we went back to the hotel we checked the internet, no new emails, but Kirk was able to read some news.  Later on the both of us did some work on our web pages before bed.  The Vietnamese people, though nice, will seem to always want to rip you off.  Even in the internet cafe's they try to charge you more. One always have to watch out no matter what you are buying or doing.  We are taking the 7:00 am bus to Dalat tomorrow so we have to  go to bed now.  We started taking our Malaria Pills again today.


This morning we woke up at 5:30 am and checked out of the hotel. We got a voucher from the hotel, which gave us a free breakfast in a nearby restaurant.  The both of us had a pancake with bananas and Kirk had a coke to drink. Maren ordered coffee but in offering Kirk a taste of the coffee spilled it over the whole table.  The banana pancake at least was really good.  The bus picked us up at 7:00 am for the trip to Dalat.  Along the way we stopped at the Cham Towers.  They were similar to the temples in My Son, but much better preserved and actually much much nicer. Though they did not have that jungle feeling around them.  The entrance fee was also ok and 5000 dong which is only 30 US Cents. The trip took around 5.5 hours. There they took us again to their hotels. However we decided this time to look around a little and we found comparable rooms for 1 US $ cheaper, 5 US $ for a double which is ok for Dalat.  The tour company offered their room also then for 5 US $, but we decided to take the room in the other hotel.  The hotel clerk told us we should rent a small motorbike (Vespa) to check out the sites around Dalat.  So we might take the motorbike instead of having to go on another tour.  In Vietnam it is sort of a pain that one always has to go on a tour for everything, so this might be a nice change.  After settling in our room we walked around town, having fried doe covered bananas for lunch.  They are kind of greasy, but tasted really good.  We also found an Internet Cafe that said we could hook up our laptop there. That will be good so we can finally update our website.  Later on we again did some more computer work and wrote some emails.  When we were finished we had sandwiches for dinner and went to the Internet Cafe.


We wanted to sleep a little longer today, but we woke up before 7:00 am.  The both of us had weird dreams the whole night.  We started taking our malaria pills again and are wondering if that has something to do with it.  Kirk was a little nervous because we had rented a small motorbike for the day.  After the little crash in Zanzibar, he was wondering if he could handle it.  The motorbike was ok, it was automatic, without a clutch, so it was not that hard to drive.  It took a little bit getting used to, but eventually one got the handle of it. The Vietnamese drive like nuts on the road.  Luckily they drive mostly motorbikes and there are not too many cars and trucks on the road.  They never seem to look when they turn or enter a main street from a side street.  It takes more than a while to get used to.  Also the passing on blind curves is something one will never get used to.  The hotel clerk told us we would not probably need to buy the police permit to get into Lat Village, though the guide book and tour companies all told us that we needed a permit.  It turned out he was right or at least no one asked us for one.  The tour guide on a bus from Nha Trang tried to pressure us yesterday that we have to book the tour now because the company has to buy the police permits for us before the police station closed.  He also said they cost 5 US $ per person, even though our hotel clerk said if we were stopped, it costs only 3 US $.  One has to watch out here, the tour guides will tell you anything to get you nervous, that you book a tour with them.  Also they claimed the entrance fee to Lang Bian Mountain was 25000 dong when it turned out to be 5000 dong.  We were just very glad that we did not book a tour.  The motorbike was a great idea and it saved us a lot of money.  Lat Village turned out to be a little disappointing.  There was not much there and one could not really tell that the people living there were Vietnamese minorities.  It was like any other village we have seen here.  We would have been kind of ticked to pay 5 US $ to get into the village. There was nothing there to see.  One drives through the village to Lang Bian Mountain, where one parks the motorbike at a motorbike parking area (2000 dong, which is necessary because otherwise your vehicle is not insured if it gets stolen).  We climbed to about 2000 meters high, one can go to 2164 meters high, however the trail got really muddy and we were hardly able to hike any further. One probably could but one would have come out covered with mud. What we did not realize is that one can also camp up there.  More and more we think we should of kept our tent and cooking gear. We definitely are going to buy a new tent in Australia. We realized that we had a great time in Africa and want to camp some more.  After the hike we drove back through Dalat to the other side of town.  We drove to a lake where a temple was and then down to Prenn Falls. The falls were alright and one could walk under them. However it all was a little kitschy and made out for Vietnamese tourist and honeymooners. Well the whole of Dalat is very kitschy to say at least. It is a very tacky honeymoon spot for the Vietnamese.  From there we drove back to the hotel.  We then walked to the middle of town and bought some fried bananas in doe again for lunch. We also had a great coffee at the hotel.  The coffee is almost like a strong espresso with some creamy sweet milk.  Later on Maren took a nap and Kirk did some work.  In the evening we bought some bread and walked around town a little. Otherwise we took it easy. Kirk did some work on his other websites in the evening.  Maren sewed some stuff, including Kirk's blue t-shirt which she would love to through away.



After Maren paid for the room and the motorbike, we had breakfast bread, butter,  jam and some coffee.  Not much but ok.   The bus picked us up at our hotel at 7:45 am.  The bus trip was ok, it went by some coffee and tea plantations which were interesting.  Along the way two of the buses tires blew while we were crossing a bridge. It was pretty scary,  since the thought of the bus going through the railing and into the river crossed every ones mind.  Luckily nothing happened. We had to wait for an hour and a half at a restaurant where they served free tea and coffee hoping that people would buy some. Some actually did.  Kirk had 2.5 small cups of coffee and paid for it later. Maren was already not feeling good so she just had a taste.  Well on the bus Kirk felt really sick and jumpy from the coffee.  He did not feel well the whole way to Ho Chi Minh City.  For lunch the bus stopped along the way. There we ordered one plate of vegetable rice for a dollar.  Two girls from Holland did too.  To make the story short, our meal was first served to the table next to us.  They tried it but then realized it was not what they had ordered. They gave it back and lone and behold we got the plate which the people at the other table had already picked at. Well we gave it back and said we did not want anymore to eat.  They knew right away what we meant. The bus attendant even apologized.  We bought some chips for a snack later on.  At lunch we talked to a couple who took the Trans Siberian Railway from St. Petersburg to Beijing.  Sounded like a great trip.  At around 4:30 pm we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and started looking for a hotel room.  We finally took a room in a private house.  It seemed to be given to us by a tout, but we were not sure. The "tout" was a 51 year lady who had followed us through the streets for half an hour as we looked at other hotels. We eventually went back to hers, and it turned out to be the best room for the money we could find. Should have went with her right away.  She even gave us each a free bottle of coke.  In the evening we went looking for an ATM machine which was a half hour walk away.  For dinner we first went to this one restaurant.  The prices were a little expensive we thought, but the menu looked good so we decided to try.  Kirk ordered the largest spaghetti and basilica on the menu and Maren a lasagna.  They first came out with Kirk's meal.  It was about 50 grams of spaghetti and a couple of slices of green pepper on top. The both of us asked if this was not a small order.  They said it was the larger order. Kirk could not believe it and told them this was a joke. For almost 2 US $ in Vietnam, one expects a little more on the plate.  When Maren's lasagna came it was just as small, actually smaller.  Well Kirk was not going to pay money for this here in Vietnam.  Kirk told Maren not to start eating. He called the waitress over and asked her if we have to pay for this small meal and that he still could not believe that this was what they were serving.  The waitress spoke to the chef and a couple of other people, but nothing really happened. Kirk called her over again and said we are not going to eat this and that we were leaving.  This was just a tourist rip off.  So Kirk told Maren we are leaving.  We got up and just left.  I think they could not believe that we got up and left like that. But it was such a ridicules portion, Kirk felt we had no other choice.  We then walked down the street and had a  meal at a place with big portions for half the price. So it turned out well.  In the end we had given back two meals in one day.  Later on we hooked up our laptop for a long time and checked emails and then had some ice cream for dessert.  


By the way if anyone else is counting, we are on the road now 8 months.  Time is going by so fast.  We woke up a little late this morning. We wanted to get a real early start.  The first thing we did was walking all the way to the Cambodian Consulate.  The tour operator offered to do the Visa applications for us, but we decided to save the 4 dollars and do it ourselves. For the Cambodian Visa one applies in the morning and get it back in the afternoon.  This was good for us since we are going to the Mekong Delta tomorrow.  The Visa pick up time was 3:00 pm. So we decided to do a little sightseeing. First was the Reunification Palace.  There we received a tour of the Palace and got to see a small movie on the place.  The movie was very much against the imperialist Americans when it was covering the Vietnam War.  It can be difficult to watch.  The truth always seems to lie somewhere in the middle when one watches these types of films.  When we were finished with the palace we walked around town, ate dinner where we ate the night before and then went into a small market. Kirk did Maren a great favor,  he bought himself two new t-shirts.  Maren also got a t-shirt. The lady started at 5 dollars a t-shirt but eventually we got her to accept 3 US $ for all three t-shirts.  We then decided to walk in the direction of the Cambodian Consulate. On the way we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, the former US Embassy and the post office.  We arrived at the Cambodian Consulate at around 2:00 pm and were lucky to get our Visas an hour early.  Afterwards Kirk went to an Internet Cafe near our hotel and tried to make a copy of our pictures on CD, but the place was incompetent and not very helpful.  It did not work because the guy did not free enough space up on his computer for Kirk to copy his files on.  So we eventually gave up.  Later on we had some dinner and then did some internet work.  Kirk also installed some test software to see if they were good or not. It took 4 hours to do. Everything is just really slow in Saigon.


For breakfast we had some egg sandwiches which we bought from a street vendor. They actually tasted really good and Kirk got a second one.  We had booked a tour to the Mekong Delta.  The both of us really do not like these tours in Vietnam, but it is the quickest and easiest, probably almost the cheapest way to see things. After the 2.5 hour ride to the Delta we got onto a small boat. Kirk cut his foot on a loose bench that was not screwed down.  No bad, just a small gash on the side.  The boat took us first to an island where the group got to taste papayas, pineapples, dragon fruit and some fruits similar to lychees.  We then got to ride on smaller canoes through some small water ways which went in a circle back to the larger boat.  The next stop was on another island. There we tasted rice wine, honey tea, different type of local candies (made from pineapple, honey, ginger, nuts, banana and others), and stuck our fingers in a bee nest to taste the honey. The bees did not sting us.  The honey tasted really good.  Later on we stopped at a place where they make candies out of coconut and saw how they were made.  For lunch we went to another small island.  The meal was very basic, a piece of pork, some rice and vegies.  There we sat with two Canadians who were vacationing in Vietnam. She was a Documentary Film Maker and he was an Art Teacher. We had a nice conversation of lunch.  On this trip there were some girls from the US who just did not shut up.  They new everything and anything about Asia, maybe the world.  It drove a few of us nuts.  After dinner is was a short boat ride to the bus. The bus stopped at a bonsai garden on the way back, a small tourist trap.  In the evening we had some dinner, checked out emails and went to bed.



This morning egg sandwiches were again for breakfast. Maren also bought a lot of bananas with the rest of our dong.  The bus picked us up at a little past eight.  The ride was ok in Vietnam and nothing spectacular happened a long the way. The scenery was really interesting, especially the rice fields.  At the border crossing we had to wait for an hour, they wanted people to buy lunch there.  After getting across the border we got another bus (on the same ticket) to Phnom Penh.  The roads the whole way were horrible.  Pot holes everywhere, a lot of the time not even paved.  We were flying up and down. The houses from the local people along the way were really interesting. They were on stilts most of the time. Too bad that the bus driver never stopped to allow us to take some pictures.   At one point we stopped after taking a ferry across a river. There the kids loved getting their picture taken with the digital camera. They were clinging and climbing all over Kirk.  We arrived in Phnom Penh after an eleven hour bus ride.  It was really long. There we quickly got an hotel. We were also able to watch a little bit of CNN, which was a nice change.  We then went out to dinner. There we met another German, with whom we had dinner.  We then collapsed into bed.


This morning we wanted to see how much a Laos Visa costs here and how long it would take to get it.  On the way to the Embassy we were able to check the internet. It is much more expensive than in Vietnam. It costs 1 US$ per hour and that is cheap here. Most places charge 1.50 US $ an hour. The Laos Visa was really expensive here, it costs 45 US$ for same day pick up and 40 US$ for next day pick up. So we decided on getting the Visa in Thailand. We then walked to the Tuol Sleng Museum. Along the way Kirk got a haircut and a shave for 51 US cents. The guy at the end tried to charge more by giving a ridicules exchange rate for the dollar, but it worked out ok.  We gave him eventually Cambodian Riel.  The museum gave you a really sickening feeling in the stomach. It was tough seeing everything there. They also had pictures of the detainees hung up on the walls.  One could see the fright in their eyes.  There were also displays on how they tortured the people and one room with the bones and skulls of the victims hung up on the walls. Before this place became a museum it was the largest detention and torture center during the Pol Pot regime, the former Khmer Rouge S-21 Prison. After that we walked down to the river.  From there we went to the Wat Qunalom, the National Library, Hotel Royal and then to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda.  The Silver Pagoda was really impressive.  It is a big complex of different temples and buildings.  The whole day we were almost constantly on our feet. It was a lot of walking, but well worth it because it was really interesting.  We were both really impressed with the city and the sights.  Much nicer than in Vietnam.  The people seem much more sincere also and do not bother one as much.  In the evening we checked our email again and some other stuff and went to dinner at the same restaurant as last night. Maren was exhausted and went straight to bed and Kirk did a little work on  the website.  He did not do much since he started falling asleep.


We slept out this morning, well to 8:15 am.  First time we were able to do that in a while. Felt good.  As Maren took a shower and got beautiful Kirk turned on the computer again and made some updates.  We then got a motorbike with a driver each to the Killing Fields.  The ride was really bumpy because the roads are bad or there are hardly any roads at all.  The round trip cost 3 US $ each.  The Killing Fields were a major reminder of what has happened here. There is a Memorial Stupa in the middle of the place filled with human skulls organized by aged sex.  It makes you think to say the least. We walked around for about half an hour. There are holes in the ground where the mass graves used to be.  Afterwards we went back to the hotel. Later on we walked to the market and around town a little. Before dinner the hotel showed the movie The Killing Fields. After seeing the sight today and the movie, the both of us were a little down.    Later on we had dinner and then came back to the hotel. We have to get up early tomorrow because we have to catch a 7:00 am boat to Siem Reap. 



The car picked us up at around 6:30 am. It took us straight to the boat. On the dock we bought some bread for our trip. They wanted over double the actually price of the bread. But Maren bargained it down to almost the real price.  Everyone around us paid the inflated price it seemed.  The boat we took up the Mekong river was really fast.  It went almost to fast that we could not take any pictures.  We were really glad we chose to take the fast ferry up the river.  The landscape and views along the river were fantastic.  We both thought at the same time we had wasted our time in Vietnam visiting the Mekong Delta.  That was a tourist trap.  The houses and the river beds were really interesting.  Most of the houses were up on stilts.  Some houses seemed to be built in the river. People were also fishing and doing other things in their boats.  About 5 hours later the boat arrived in Siem Reap.  There the touts were waiting, just like in Jaisalmer India, holding up signs,  advertising their hotels and offering free rides to their hotel.  We eventually chose one of them, with the cheapest room, 2 US$.  Maren did not really like the room so we looked at the more expensive ones.  We were eventually able to negotiate a room with bath for 3 US$ a night.  In the afternoon we walked around town, bought bus tickets for the 27th for Bangkok. We found bus tickets for 6 US$ not the 10 US $ the hotel wanted. So we got a really good deal. Some places in town were offering the same tickets for 15 US $.  Afterwards we had dinner at a local street restaurant. It did not taste that good. Later on we picked up some bananas and organized a motorbike and driver for each of us to go to the Temples of Angkor the next day.  In the evening Maren sorted out some pictures and Kirk finished his Tom Clancy Novel Op-Center.



At 4:45 am our alarm clock went off. We wanted to leave 5:30 am to get to the temples early to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Wow what a spectacular monument.  The both of us had never seen anything like it on our trip, or actually ever before.  It was built by Suryavarman who reigned from 1112-1152 in the honor the God Vishnu.  The place is just huge and in itself alone is almost worth the 20 US $ admission fee to the Temples of Angkor.  The sunrise was beautiful and it gave some nice reflections of the monument on  a surrounding lake. One was able to walk around, on, and throughout the whole monument.  It took a while to see most of it.  The other temples and structures we visited were Phnom Bakheng, Bayon, Baphuon, Suor Proat Ta Kev, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, and Preah Khan.  They were all very interesting.  We did a lot of walking and enjoyed the day.  Sometimes the climbing up the temples was a challenge since a lot of the steps are worn away and they are very steep.  We were amazed that people were allowed to climb all over the temples.  Only one thing was not to our liking during the day.  In the morning the guys turned out to be guys hired from the guy we had spoken to last night. That would not have been all that bad, but he had promised us that he would drive us himself with a friend of his.  The problem was something totally else.  There are two major cirques one can take to visit the temples, a smaller inner route and a larger outer route.  At around 12:30 pm we were already finished with the inner route and wanted to do the outer route too.  Well they then told us they wanted more money.  We had asked the guy the day before at least three times, what was included and where could we go.  He said we had the driver and bike for the whole day and we could go anywhere in the temple area. We looked at a map together.  Well they did not believe us and said that was not included,  Kirk said it was but saw it was not going anywhere, so he just said if not we are going, and by. We just started walking away.  They then agreed to take us where we wanted to go, though he told us that we were cheating and Kirk was a nationality that I do not want to mention here.  They were not very friendly the rest of the way, but they did bring us to most places.  When we paid in the end the drivers barely acknowledged the payment.  The two asked ourselves, why does this always happen to us?  Before we left we visited the Angkor Wat again and walked around for a while.  It was just as beautiful as in the morning. We were back in Siem Reap around 5:00 pm.  It was a long day. We then checked the internet and also went to a street stall for dinner.  It tasted better than yesterdays dinner.  After buying bananas we went back to the hotel, where we paid for two nights. The hotel manager asked us if we had already bought bus tickets to Bangkok, we said we did, he asked for how much, Maren said 6 US$, he did not say anymore. Though it seemed to tick him off that we bought the tickets somewhere else.  On the way out we saw the guy who was supposed to take us to the temples. Maren asked him where he was this morning, he came up with just a lame excuse. He said though that the guys should have taken us anywhere we wanted.  Though it was clear that he was just trying to get rid of us.  We did not want to make a fuss, so we left it at that.  Later we just went back to our room and did some work.



The bus picked us up at 6:45 am. It first went all over town picking up other passengers, as usual in no order or sequence.  The trip to Thailand was fairly bumpy, but we had expected much worse.  Along the way the normal stop at a restaurant where the drivers and bus attendant received free meals to when they stopped.  Otherwise the trip was fairly uneventful.  The roads on the Thailand side of the border were immediately better and actually really good. We got a mini bus from the border to Bangkok. In total the trip took 11 hours.  It went by pretty fast. First thing we noticed was that one can buy everything in Thailand and it is very western compared to Cambodia and Vietnam.  In Bangkok it took us a while to find a reasonably priced hotel room. We had to walk around a lot to find one.  Later on we got some street food for dinner, orientated ourselves and then checked the internet.  We were amazed at how many tourist were in Bangkok and how many young people looked as if they have been here a long time.  Also for the first time on our trip we think, we could not get a room in a hotel because it was fully booked.  The street food tasted really good.


This morning we wrote some emails, got some rice and chicken for breakfast. It tasted great. The spices used here taste really good. Afterwards we looked around for a good price on a Laos Visa.  The tourist operators do it for you here.  We finally got one which was cheaper from all the other tourist offices.  However in the evening we saw it a little cheaper. Cannot win all the time. We also checked our emails, getting some really sad news from Germany that Maren's grandfather had died.  It is not easy always being away from the people you care about.  Also news came from Germany that a Bauleiter in Kirk's former company had died.  So the emails were not the best news we have had on our trip.  Later on we had a banana pancake for a mid day snack.  We also bought student cards for the year 2002 and for the year 2003.  It was really cheap around 1.75 per card.  They come in handy.  We also bought some new passport photos and a new UV lens covering for our camera. In Tibet one had broken. We were also happy to get rid of some books we had read.  We were able sell them for a couple of bucks.  After that we walked to the Grand Palace, but we did not go in because Kirk was wearing shorts. We will go tomorrow. We also walked down to the river.  In the late afternoon we went to 7eleven and got a big ice pineapple drink and then went back to the hotel room and rested and wrote some more emails.  We were a little tired.  Later we had some street food again for dinner, rice with pork and something.  Everything tasted great.  We also uploaded our emails and then had our fist alcoholic drink since Africa.  Kirk had a beer and Maren a cocktail.  Kirk felt a little weird from the alcohol. We also bought bus tickets for the overnight trip to the Laos border tomorrow. 


We woke up much later than we had hoped, 9:00 am.  One of the latest times we have gotten up on this whole trip.  Scott had called in the middle of the night to give us some information on something happening at home.  Thanks for the info Scott.  Later on we went and had some breakfast at the same street corner stand as the day before.  Kirk actually got two servings this time.  He served a great tasting sweet and sour bird (probably chicken) with rice.  Afterwards we went again to the Grand Palace.  It was very impressive and interesting to walk around.  A lot of the structures are covered with gold and there are a lot of Buddha's statures all over the place.  Later we walked to a shopping district, but there they were only selling junk.  So we decided to go back to near our hotel. There Maren had spring rolls for lunch and Kirk a mixed noodles meal on the street with pineapples to top it off for desert.  We also bought some film and looked for a new battery for the digital camera.  The problem in that area was they did not have any.  So we had to quickly catch a bus to a huge shopping mall. The only problem was that we had to catch a bus to the border to Laos in two hours.  The bus ride to the shopping mall took forever to get there because there is just so much traffic in the city. It took also a while to find a store which sells the battery. The battery was expensive, over 70 US$ for one.  We already have two, but one does not really charge well anymore, so we need a reserve battery for the camera. It is necessary to have.  Things for the Sony DSC-P1 Cybershot are just really expensive.  We would like another memory stick, but a 128 MB stick cost here over 160 US $.  We were able to get back to the Khao San Road at around 6:00 pm. Kirk then ran to pick up our backpacks at the hotel and Maren went to pick up our Laos Visa at the tourist office.  Well we did not have to rush that much in the end because the minibus that was suppose to pick us up and bring us to the big bus station was late.  On the way there we sat in the minibus with two American young ladies from New York. They were quite nice.  The bus was ok, but nothing special.  We were able to sleep a little.




The bus was supposed to arrive in Nong Khai (border town with Laos) at around 7:00 or 8:00 am.  Do you know how things are always late, well this time the bus was early 3:30 am.  We could not really believe it when the bus attendant woke us up and said we were there.  We had to sit around a while with the two ladies from NY until 6:00 am when we took a Tuk Tuk to the border, about 6 kilometers away.  Of course they started with a high price and we were able to bargain them down to 40 Bhat for the 4 of us.  Going through the border we had to pay a departure tax, entrance tax and pay for a bus ride over the friendship bridge.  Not only do these countries get you for the Visa, they also get you for the leaving and coming. It was good that we got our Laos Visas in Bangkok, they are double the price when one gets them on the border.  On the Laos side they also tried to charge us a overtime fee with the entrance tax. We refused to pay and they eventually said we did not have to. There we bargained with a Tuk Tuk driver for a ride to Vientiane (Capital of Laos). He only brought us to the bus station and not further, though it was promised to bring us to a hotel. The hotels were only 15 min walk away, but he was trying to get us to go with another taxi driver.  We were half asleep and we heard that people in Laos were supposedly really nice, so we paid him anyway. Which we regretted later.  We should have at least reduced the fair.  However can not fight every time they try and rip you off.  Though this guy way an unfriendly driver.  We then walked to a hotel in our guide book. We only checked two hotels and took the cheaper one. A little dirty, but it will do for one night.  Been in much worse.  After dropping off our bags, we checked our email for 4 minutes and then went to a Scandinavian bakery. Kirk had a big ham and cheese sub and Maren a croissant with ham and cheese with coffee and juice.  It was delicious and a nice change.  Later we did some seeing to Wat Si Saket, Haw Pha Kaew, Pha That Luang and walked around the morning market.  The people here are much more laid back and do not hassle one constantly.  The sights were ok and afterwards we walked along the Mekong and back to our hotel. There the both of us rested for a while and Kirk did some computer work.  In the evening we had dinner, walked around town and went to bed after updating our webpage.