A Travellerspoint blog

I survived Nam!

Hanoi/Halong Bay

overcast

Hot weather and cheap beer is the perfect storm of procrastination!

But enough is enough! Time to see the sights, enjoy the culture and experience that which is the descending dragon (aka, Halong Bay).
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The name comes from a story of the mother dragon. You see the gods sent down a family of dragons to help defend from invaders. As they descended the mother dragon spat out pearls which landed in Halong Bay thus creating the limestone islets. These islets devastated the enemy fleet, winning the war the mother dragon did not want to return to the heavens leaving such beauty like Halong Bay and descided to stay.

All the way travelling north in Vietnam I would hear stories of the famed backpackers booze cruise. There would be lots of nudity, lots of drinking and people running amok. We decided that we actually wanted to see the bay and not have it as a drunken blur so we opted for the more expensive but chilled out version. We booked with the hostel under pressure of time, which was probably not the best descision as we paid alot more than some we spoke with. It pays to shop around a bit, you see there are travel agency shops all throughout Vietnam tourist areas and you can get some really good deals. I guess it's a risk also though of not knowing what your getting.

The morning of the trip I had got perhaps 2 hours sleep due to the evil lure of free beer and a barbie for easter at the hostel. It was a mad rush for the bus that was turning up out front and I had thought I lost my wallet and held up the bus running around franticly. Anyhow it ended up my wallet was in the bag I had brought down at the start...but I did'nt tell anyone, so Shhhh ;p I try to get sleep slinking to a corner.
Now with every tour in Vietnam there is an obligitory stop off at a souvenir shop masked as a toilet break. (Toilets are marked as W.C., I'm not quite sure why) I take this time to play my Mekong bamboo flute for Mallory to ease her hangover :) Sooo we get to the port and await to go on the boat, now your probably expecting a traditional wood boat with the asian sails n stuff yeah? This is what you get.. halong_bay_014.jpg It seems that there are two stories of why two months ago it became compulsory to have a white boat. First story is that there were accidents and a white boat helps it be visible in the dark. second is that some head honcho travelled in Greece and saw all the nice white boats and decided that it would be a good look over here to increase the beauty of the bay. Our fellow shipmates consisted of three Australian couples, a Russian family and French family. Ended up being fun with lots of laughs and a little midnight karaoke (scored a 98!), kayaked and swam (even though the water is grosse :/ ) Here are some of the pictures I got, the place was fairly misty which seems to be the norm. The photo's that you see on the postcards with clear sunny days happen maybe 3 days of the year haha
halong_bay_061.jpghalong_bay_036.jpghalong_bay_067.jpghalong_bay_071.jpghalong_bay_076.jpghalong_bay_064.jpghalong_bay_171.jpghalong_bay_239.jpghalong_bay_254.jpghalong_bay_187.jpghalong_bay_191.jpg Now you would think you'd be safe from hawkers in an area like this on your own boat....but no, there are these little rowed boats all over selling booze and foodhalong_bay_125.jpghalong_bay_113.jpg They also live on the water on makeshift floating homeshalong_bay_119.jpghalong_bay_129.jpghalong_bay_127.jpghalong bay 096

halong bay 096

halong_bay_056.jpg I believe that the guide said there is 15,000 people who live there...or 1,500...

I went and saw Ho Chi Minh the other day, it took about an hour in line which I would say was a kilometre long. They have him embalmbed on display. This is serious business, there was no talking, laughing, your hands straight ..not in pockets, hats off, sunnies off and these guys have guns with bayonetes so you listen. Girls get knocked back for inapropriate attire. Well it was worth it, he is looking pretty good. I was just waiting for him to do the "rarrrr!" movement....didn't happen :(

So 2 more days left untill 4 days of water fighting in Laos!!

Ive been boasting of gearing up with an improvised arsenal of bamboo weaponry, I should start drawing up plans... so ciao for now!

S.

Posted by CrackerjackHobo 01:06 Archived in Vietnam Tagged boat vietnam bay dragon hanoi halong ho_chi_minh halong_bay Comments (0)

Vietnam continued

Mekonging, Tunneling, Shooting, and Drinking.

Hi again!

So to continue, I thought after drinking out on the town for the first three nights I should go and do something. First I decided to check out the Cu Chi tunnels from the Vietnam war plus I found out you can shoot some automatic weapons :) large_Vietnam_Wa..els_066.jpg

So we were picked up by SlimJim who was a crack up. He was named SlimJim because he eats like a bird but drinks like a fish he told us. He had so many sayings of Australia where he had learnt alot of our slang from. It took a while to get there but when there SlimJim took us through the jungle paths showing us traps that the VC used, explaining that they were not that effective except for pyschological warfare. Vietnam_Wa..els_013.jpg The tunnels that were used are incredibly small, here is a picture Vietnam_Wa..els_040.jpg Here is an original trench used in the war Vietnam_Wa..els_043.jpg Can you see something suspicious here? Vietnam_Wa..els_023.jpg How about now? Vietnam_Wa..els_021.jpg
Why is it that as soon as you hold a gun you become a poseing douche? ...I mean RAMBO!Vietnam_Wa..els_070.jpg
Into the tunnel I head...Vietnam_Wa..els_077.jpg and ever deeper Vietnam_Wa..els_082.jpg So Marc my mate from the netherlands was the one with me, we convinced a girl that was worried about doing it to come in and it'd be ok...which made it all the more difficult to make the descision to ditch her on the first exit :p The tunnel was really short and well I'm tall and it's much the same for the rest of it I was sure, so me and Marc jump out giggling because we have decided to come back in at the last exit to make it look like we did it. We run out and then run back in, it's pitch black entering in but with the noise we are making we hear a "Is that you guys?" from down the tunnel (I'm impressed with her speed). We enter in giggling and I get stuck with my backpack for a moment causing a jam, with the poor girl at the end haha Vietnam_Wa..els_093.jpg Well in the end we exited with the applaude of our tour group, it seems that they all left and didn't finish. So in the end the only person who really did do the whole length was the girl who didn't want to do it in the first place! Haha

After this we were rewarded with some thing like potato, I tried my food photography Vietnam_Wa..els_108.jpgVietnam_Wa..els_106.jpg at the end we were taken to watch a video. It was pretty funny, made in the time of the war it was very much propoganda. Reffering to the U.S. as demons and such and how this guy or that girl won the award for killing americans etc.. here's us watching it Vietnam_Wa..els_110.jpg Here are some pics from the drive back Vietnam_Wa..els_134.jpgVietnam_Wa..els_124.jpgVietnam_Wa..els_129.jpgVietnam_Wa..els_160.jpgVietnam_Wa..els_163.jpg

The next trip was the Mekong Delta. I really felt that even though I had heard mixed reviews I needed to do this, I convinced Mallory with this ideal also. The bus trip was going to be three hours or so with an early start. I would love to say that I slept these hours but I seem never to be able to sleep other than in a bed...I get close but never asleep. It is VERY annoying.

We opted for the day trip which meant that we would not be able to see the big floating market, only the "other" one. I was a bit upset with this as I had really wanted to see the teaming market like in the pictures etc. Here is some pictures of the market which really is just a few boats that had food on them going up and down the river... I did see some bartering and exchanges so I guess technically they can call it a market...maybe. Mekong_Delta_001.jpgMekong_Delta_029.jpgMekong_Delta_030.jpgMekong_Delta_036.jpgMekong_Delta_037.jpgMekong_Delta_050.jpgMekong_Delta_060.jpgMekong Delta 100

Mekong Delta 100


I'm not sure if this is her wardrobe or they are for sale...Mekong_Delta_053.jpg The river is quite busy though, people are in and out all over the shore Mekong_Delta_088.jpgMekong_Delta_016.jpg
After a time we reach our first stop which is the coconut place, they make all kinds of things out of it but mostly a coconut candy. There is also gift shops at every stop trying to sell you crap. They also have a home distillery for some reason so we all get a shot (It's harsh). The next stop is the honey place, they have two big boa's and give us honey tea then try to get us to buy some. Here is the bee's they bring out.. Mekong_Delta_128.jpg.

Next they take us to be rowed on a small boat down to where we will have lunch, (Here they are waiting for us) Mekong_Delta_173.jpg they lady that ends up rowing us makes sighing sounds all they way there ever increasing the closer we get to our drop off point (We were told we can tip them before getting in and I assume they know this), I somehow get fooled and tip. Suprise, suprise there is a lady selling soft drink and beer...I spy a flute and ask how much expecting some stupid price but it's only a dollar. Much to the disapointment of those around me I now have a Mekong Delta bamboo flute! :) So we head off to have lunch then a boat trip back and another bus back to the hostel. Her are some other pics from the trip... check out the load of grain this boats taking Mekong_Delta_166.jpgMekong_Delta_164.jpgMekong_Delta_171.jpgMekong_Delta_139.jpg The petrol station Mekong_Delta_135.jpgMekong_Delta_124.jpgMekong_Delta_113.jpgMekong_Delta_163.jpgMekong_Delta_147.jpg I bought some top gun sunnies! Mekong_Delta_191.jpgMekong_Delta_132.jpgMekong_Delta_121.jpg It's like they all have cable?! Mekong_Delta_070.jpg

So Ive booked my ticket for Loas, staying in Hanoi. Tomorrow I'm gonna try and see Ho Chi Minh himself, it's supposed to be crazy like...wish me luck!

S.

Posted by CrackerjackHobo 07:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam tunnel mekong chi gun guns delta chu shooting mekong_delta Comments (0)

Gooood Morning Viiieeettnnnaammm!

Ho Chi Minh City, the land of a thousand motorbikes!......every square metre...

Well the taxi ride to the hostel was a good start to the learning curve which is south east Asian traffic. On numerous occasions I turned thinking to see a mess of bikes from the taxi just going where he pleased. He beeped his horn of course warning that he would be coming, you see the horn is a second language here! I managed to get a picture from the car as we crossed a major roundabout, a picture is worth a thousand words...large_Ho_chi_min..y_1_023.jpg

So I'm dropped off on the side of the street to a kid and told to go with him, he casually strolls across the torrent of motorbikes. Not wanting to lose him I follow jumping this way and that causeing more havoc than I wish to avoid. Once across he enters a small alleyway and that voice chirps in for a quick "You have no idea who this kid is". As quick as it comes it goes away, the alleys are not barren but bustling with shops and homes with kids playing hopscotch. People laze about in doorways watching as you pass, scooters beep you from behind weaving between people. I try to take it all in going ever deeper, finally reaching the hostel I check in and start the five floor climb with my backpack :( Everything checks out with the dorm plus a balcony overlooking the alley is a bonus. Ho_chi_min..y_1_055.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_051.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_052.jpg The view. Ho_chi_min..y_1_046.jpg

Soon introductions are made and we are all out drinking that night.

Where I stayed was district 1, which is the tourist district. I had not seen so many tourists for a long time and had a kind of culture shock on that aspect which was strange. The district is full of bars, hostels and hawkers trying to sell you there wares. To give you an idea of what was on offer you had smokes (50c a pack! Even people that don't smoke are smoking), sunglasses of all brands (Same same but different!), a little marijuana and an assortment of random crap. Here is a picture of one, the stall behind was my local mango smoothie maker...that was untill I saw that the lady right behind her sold the same thing cheaper...I'm talking about 2 steps to the right saves me a quarter of the price....anyhow here is it is..Ho_chi_min..y_1_347.jpg and to show you how close the cheaper place is, it's that sign to the right Ho_chi_min..y_1_061.jpg

I got given a small map to use and all the local sights pointed out, the places all seemed fairly close so I thought I'd do a circuit. The circuit involved the war muesum, reunification building, Tham Market and Notre Dame!(Bet you did'nt see that one coming). First I went to see the war muesum thinking that it would be quite interesting/educational, that I should learn a bit about the places I'm going to see.
Expecting the politics of the Vietnam war and timelines and such I was taken a bit off guard by what we got. You see the original name of the muesum I found out was the "war crimes muesum". Basically once you enter you get barraged with horrible stories of torture, massacres and really REALLY disturbing photo's. Here are some photo's of the torture stuff, I must say I was quite suprised by what Americans did to the North Vietnamese...these photo's really do not show half of what was done, truly horrible stuff. Ho_chi_min..y_1_110.jpglarge_Ho_chi_min..y_1_111.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_108.jpg
This picture just looked good because, well because..Ho_chi_min..y_1_115.jpg
After going through the torture area you head into the everybody protested against the war level showing old propaganda posters from nations such as Russia supporting the North Vietnamese, here are a couple of pictures. Oh, there was also a band playing that seemed like they were unfortunately deformed by what I presume to be agent orange, I could not help but donate and to be honest were not to bad. Ho_chi_min..y_1_121.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_119.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_120.jpg They were perhaps my favorite part. So anyhow the next floor was the warcrimes part I think, it depicted events when U.S. troops massacred villages and such. The finger firmly pointed at John Kerry a senator in the U.S. who was in charge of troops that did horrible things, he ended up publicly admitting to his crimes.
The next floor was about agent orange and the generations it has affected. Shocking pictures of deformed people was the majority of it, though I was a bit disturbed by the liquid preserved fetuses deformed in birth. So that was it for me! I was dragging my heels by that stage, certain I could not take the next two floors, I left.

Next was the reunification palace. This is where the war ended by a north Vietnamese tank breaking through the gates of the palace, I can't help but feel it ended like a computer game (command and conquer perhaps) where if get into the main base of the enemy you win. I was with some other people from the hostel coming here with me. I had high hopes for this place, thinking that it being a place of command there would be alot of interesting facts on the descision making in times of crisis such as the war buuutt no : / There was on the otherhand alot of rooms but I had no idea what they were for as there was no information signs. Here are some pictures of rooms...actually...check them out in the gallery if your keen. I'll not put them in just for the sake of it, but here is some outside pics Ho_chi_min..y_1_160.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_168.jpg (Oh by the way there is my travel bud at the moment, she's just in frame on the left, Mallory from Canada). For those that may go, take a free guide to walk you around which I heard makes it alot better. Once again I left after two levels but I thought that was all there was and waited for the others I had traveled here with, I waited for 40 minutes or so and still they did not come out so I assumed they had ditched me (Later I was to find out that it was me that ditched them, oops!) and moved on heading down the riverside to check out the rest of the city.

On the way, I go to the Notre Dame knock off and see what I'm missing in europe.. Ho_chi_min..y_1_138.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_126.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_125.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_129.jpg I'm not that impressed. The post office is opposite which is known for it's european architecture also..Ho_chi_min..y_1_238.jpg I go in to try and get some information on sending a package, this is how the conversation goes.

Me - Hi, I was wondering if you might have a slip/form to fill out to mail a package?"
Information Lady - *Blank stare*
Me - "Is this a real post office?"
Information Lady - "Yes"
Me - "Can I have a slip to fill for a package?"
Information Lady - "No"
Me - "So you don't send mail here?"
Information Lady - *Blank stare* "No"

This kind of service I must say is quite a common occurance in Vietnam. I don't think they have yet perfected the customer service experience, most of the time you feel like your putting them out in some way and they don't hide it.

Moving on I head to the riverside passing through the Tham Market (pretty sure that's right)..Ho_chi_min..y_1_145.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_148.jpg
Along the river I find people netting fish that stay in the shade of the water lillies that crowd the rivers edge. Ho_chi_min..y_1_241.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_250.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_265.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_245.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_258.jpg
Travelling around I take random pictures but it may give you a feel for the place Ho_chi_min..y_1_282.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_324.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_355.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_325.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_326.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_327.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_341.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_345.jpg
It's quite normal to see a chicken clucking about, even in the city Ho_chi_min..y_1_321.jpg and people napping (can you spot him?)Ho_chi_min..y_1_319.jpg or a relaxing dog Ho_chi_min..y_1_354.jpg or a penguin bin...don't ask me..Ho_chi_min..y_1_264.jpg

Oh, this is the alleyway for my hostel Ho_chi_min..y_1_361.jpg
Amongst all this there is an awesome building that looms above with a crazy looking helipad Ho_chi_min..y_1_272.jpgHo_chi_min..y_1_278.jpg

Ok, So there is more to tell but I'm gonna break it up a bit. The Mekong Delta and war tunnels to come, then to Mui Ne and Nha Trang. Currently I am in Han Noi deciding on whether I should get some pimped out silk robes made...I'm thinking red and black with gold dragons! Bringing sexy back! haha

S.

Posted by CrackerjackHobo 07:36 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam saigon vietnamese chi ho minh ho_chi_minh Comments (0)

Taiwan, you may of heard of it?

Cool cities, green mountains and I get to wear shorts!!!

22 °C

Love seems to be a common theme here in Taipei and well with romantic views like this even I'm feeling the love... large_Tamsui_192.jpgTamsui_138.jpg

It seems that Taiwan was all I heard about when speaking with other travellers. Initially not on the radar as I was heading to Nepal, the heat and casual lifestyle was to much to resist!

The country was not what I expected, then again nowhere ever is. Taipei was my first stop, catching the bus from the airport and then on the train to find my hostel. Everything goes smoothly, but I get lost from my station to the hostel...this seems to be a re occuring event and my backpack even though I am continually getting rid of things is not getting lighter (I don't understand!!!). Eventually I see a backpacker and take a punt they are heading to the same hostel, she is and she has a map! The hostel is good, converted offices by the looks of it. Nothing matters to me except putting on shorts! (I'm excited!). Tamsui_001.jpg

I'm still sick from the fever but meet a traveller that has some fever pills which has ingredients printed on the packaging, mostly paracetemol so I gladly accepted. It is amazing what drugs can do, it broke the fever. Along with the hot weather I guess my body can better regulate. Anyhow...Taipei reminds me a bit of Seoul, it's easy transport and has a western feel (as much as you can get in asia). Everyone not Taiwanese seems to be teaching or trying to teach english and there is alot of english speaking Taiwanese, in fact it's been the best country for english so far.
The hostel is right next to the night market, a local (Hi Taylor!) from the hostel takes me to try chicken pie Taiwan style. Taipei_nig..t_1_002.jpgTaipei_nig..t_1_004.jpgTaipei_nig..t_1_010.jpg It does'nt even get started till about 9pm...

So Taipei is known for having what is now the second tallest building in the world (Dubai is now 1st). It's strange when you see the cityscape from a distance and there is this HUGE building amongst the rest. Strangely Kaohsiung was the same with one behemoth of a building. Here is a pic of Taipei's, it is supposed to resemble a sword I believe...Random_taipei_008.jpg

So I was pretty slack in the photo dept for Taipei....I was sick..gimme a break and well it's beer drinking weather! But, in the end I dragged myself out to have a look at Tamsui (Highly recommend if in Taipei). It's the port area for Taipei, which had a good atmosphere with boardwalk style food shops and such (the first photo's were taken there). It's also famous for it's lovers bridge Tamsui_139.jpg and sunsets ]large_Tamsui_163.jpgTamsui_200.jpgTamsui_175.jpg To get there we had to do a bit of a walk thru markets and shops stuff here is some Here's some pics.. Tamsui_102.jpgTamsui_107.jpg Look at the feet on this guy, he's give Ronald McDonald a go for his money.. Tamsui_108.jpg I have just realised I did'nt really take to many pics of the consulate building..thats boring anyhow, I'll give you some pics of Tamsui markets and streets walking to the port..Tamsui_010.jpgTamsui_021.jpgTamsui_035.jpgTamsui_054.jpgTamsui_024.jpgTamsui_058.jpgTamsui_067.jpgTamsui_073.jpgTamsui_075.jpgTamsui_074.jpgTamsui_132.jpgTamsui_209.jpgTamsui_221.jpglarge_Tamsui_238.jpgTamsui_248.jpg on the way back we found a night market for clothes, I needed some new shirts Tamsui_290.jpgTamsui_275.jpg scooters line up for petrol Tamsui_288.jpg

After more bumming around I decided that I should really move on and explore the country a bit so off to Kaohsiung I go all the way south. It takes 5 hours and costs $15 on the bus AND I get to watch a movie! I arrive at the hostel which is unmanned, I proceed in and see A guy on a laptop "Hi, I booked a room"..the reply "Oh, I'm staying here too, Umm I think Jim is still sleeping hungover"...Hmm this is going to be interesting. so I decide to head out let him get up (Btw it's like 12 noon) while I do some exploring. I head to the water. I see tour buses going up and down a stretch so I head that way and find a temple of such along with an English consulate building I think. Yes more pic's haha (I should warn you that this post will be picture intensive, even more than usual so maybe go and grab a drink, some dip and crackers), I'm going to start off with Kaohsiung's behemoth of a building in the cityscape... large_Kaohsiung_1_107.jpgKaohsiung_1_041.jpgKaohsiung_1_074.jpgKaohsiung_1_095.jpgKaohsiung_1_054.jpgKaohsiung_1_010.jpg On the way I got to see some boats at port, this was my favorite. You see Ive been thinking of my next trip and I think that I will sail in an island littered area, going from one tropical paradise to the next..ahh..now the boat Kaohsiung_1_024.jpg
From here I stay two nights, first night I get blind drunk having gone to see a band and came back to tequila shots and sugar cane. I wake up the next morning in a dorm...but it's not my hostel and I can't remmeber a thing in how I got there...oops. Anyhow I head into a more central Kaohsiung hostel which is really good (Cozy planet hostel if you go, it's great). One time the next night I hear outside a tune being played quite loudly, it being very hot I immediately go to the window trying to spot the ice cream van, after asking the owner he explains that it is in fact the rubbish men. You see once a day the rubbish trucks come thru and collect all the rubbish, when people here the music they come a running and dispose of the trash.

Oh, I need to back track a bit, before I left the other place I headed out to see monkey's again! Now if you have read earlier blogs my luck with the monkeys has not been so great. I asked the hostel owner where they were, he said they were very close giving basic directions of go here and read a street map so I felt confident that I could not fuck this up. So I head off with another traveller who I had warned of my previous attempts to see mmonkeys. So the directions are straight forward go to the tunnel and read the map and go up the hill (visible from the hostel) and you can't miss them.....I drag this girl along a mountain side for hours, slowly getting more and more jungle like with thin animal paths finally reaching a road we needed to improvise to get too. So you can probably guess that I fucked up the unfuckable. Once on the road we find out that it was the other side of the mountain that we walked past right at the start you needed to go to, now you probably know that my monkey endevours usually actually end up with a monkey encounter but it's more like a slap in the face for the huge gangs of monkeys I want to see...this time was no different as on our dreary walk back I did come across a small family of them but I was not satisfied. well anyhow the trek was interesting of sorts here is some pics Kaohsiung_2_015.jpgKaohsiung_2_016.jpgKaohsiung_2_021.jpg Stray dogs, there are many Kaohsiung_2_027.jpg We come across some deserted buildings in the middle of knowwhere Kaohsiung_2_031.jpgKaohsiung_2_037.jpg and the monkeys one gives me some bad looks when I make monkey sounds Kaohsiung_2_050.jpgKaohsiung_2_051.jpgKaohsiung_2_049.jpgKaohsiung_2_055.jpgKaohsiung_2_060.jpg There was this small one hanging out in a great possy watching the ocean, best seat in the house Kaohsiung_2_066.jpg

The Taiwan crossing man is the COOLEST crossing man ever! He does'nt walk...he struts! Kaohsiung_2_082.jpg it is so freaking funny! Kaohsiung_2_071.jpgKaohsiung_2_077.jpg

Ok, so next country is Vietnam. It's going to take a few days to get my visa so I decide to head to the east coast where it's a bit more rural and untamed with a famous natural attraction Taroko Gorge...so why not. Off to Hualein I go, after 6 hours on the train this is what I see when I get off Taroko_Gorge_023.jpg Thats the train station there, the clouds are hanging at the peaks of the mountain range and I'm feeling like I'm truly in a tropical wonderland. So i proceed to get lost in the city but eventually finding the hostel I'm glad I went with the previous hostel's recommendation, the hostel feels...beachy (If you go, it's called munkeysurfers hostel, something like that) here is a pic Hualien__Taiwan_018.jpg. I'm going to save you the pics of the city but you can see them in the gallery if you really want too.

I organise to go see Taroko Gorge, well I get told to go here and by a ticket for the bus. Because I was slack and slept in the first day I'm on a tight schedule for the trip (missing the first bus did'nt help any) finally get the bus and head there. I get dropped of at the famous 9 turns part of the gorge area to find it's closed... good start. I'm also just dropped of on a small windy road by myself, I start to wonder if my idea of walking the road myself instead of a tour was the right one. It works out to be fine and I make my way down the road taking pictures all over...the gorge is famous for being pure marble that has been eroded away as you may see with the pictures...I decided to take some marble rocks from the gorge as souviners... it seems me taking some of the great wall of china has started something (give me a 10 day visa *Bird*). Here are the gorge pics Taroko_Gorge_044.jpgTaroko_Gorge_047.jpgTaroko_Gorge_074.jpgTaroko_Gorge_084.jpgTaroko_Gorge_101.jpgTaroko_Gorge_105.jpgTaroko_Gorge_110.jpgTaroko_Gorge_131.jpgTaroko_Gorge_136.jpgTaroko_Gorge_164.jpg They had these hilarious signs all around..I giggled..then.. looked up and hurried..large_Taroko_Gorge_193.jpgTaroko_Gorge_234.jpg

Well you made it!

I'm going to try be a little more frequent as these blogs are getting way to long and I do forget some of the cool little things as time goes on. I am currently in Ho chi minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. Blog comming soon! :p

I hav'nt figured out how to reply to comments, I do read them and appreciate them...just so you know your loved..naww :)

S.

Posted by CrackerjackHobo 06:00 Archived in Taiwan Tagged monkey gorge taipei taiwan kaohsiung taroko hualien taroko_gorge Comments (1)

Ten Days in China

The Great wall, Forbidden City,Tiananmen Square and Terracotta Warriors

semi-overcast

Beijing! Finally I can wear my bright red jacket and meld into tour groups all strangely wearing them...hmmm...anyhow! Finally after all the ordeals I land on Chinese soil.
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Straight away I realised that communication is going to be a hassle. I fail to be able to say even the easiest things. The same word could mean 5 different things or more based on the tone you use! (My tones are as bad as my signature, never the same twice). The directions and what bus to catch are quite good for the hostel so I make there easy enough. They have a bar inside with a kitchen to order food. The room is not bad, plain and clean but with a damp smell from the bathroom. The shower is just on the wall and runs onto the floor so thankfully there is a high bar to hang you clothes to change with, it has it's own boiler so I'm hopeful the hot water will be good too. My room mate is Juan Claude Van Damme, well looks like him and I find out later he is from Belgium, makes sense with JCVD from there also. It's to late to do much of anything so I chill out with a beer and finish off some blogging.
I wake up lateish, as It's not going to be that big of a day and having everything I want to see within walking distance of the hostel is a plus.
The first thing on the agenda is the Forbidden City. I head down, it's only a short walk. On the way I come across my first tour group all in bright red jackets, I felt like this could be the place to rip out the "Bright red Jacket". Anyhow I was walking to the city and I get stopped by these young girls, they talk some idle country and weather chitchat then ask if I wanted to go and get a coffee and practice english. you know, get a real feel for the chinese culture. So I politely decline alarm bells had rung early on and was just waiting for the pitch. So the ruse is that they take you to a pre determined coffee shop where you have coffee, the thing is that they just get it ordered or brought to the table. you drink it and thank them then go to leave but no, your blocked by goons and you need to pay for the "special" coffee you just enjoyed and by "special" i mean "Fucking Expensive". The other one is a young student asking you to come and just see his schools art exhibition, feeling sorry for him you agree then find after trying to leave that there was a "viewing" fee :).
So as I get to the Forbidden City main gate now with shield up on yellow alert I take in the majesty of the building...Forbidden_..men_014.jpg Yet the moment was kind of disturbed by a little kid urinateing on the bins in the picture there but...T.I.C! So I continued on, dodging the hawkers I got my ticket and went inside. Here are some pictures...large_Forbidden_..men_024.jpg Forbidden_..men_013.jpgForbidden_..men_021.jpgForbidden_..men_026.jpg I try for a picture from a passerby, I hate having them take pictures for this very reason..did I say "ok I want my head right in the middle of the backdrop I'm trying to capture!". Forbidden_..men_031.jpgForbidden_..men_028.jpgForbidden_..men_057.jpgForbidden_..men_069.jpgForbidden_..men_154.jpgForbidden_..men_142.jpgForbidden_..men_207.jpg Forbidden_..men_220.jpgForbidden_..men_217.jpg There is more but I just upload them, so feel free to browse (I usually upload more than I put on the blog).

Off to Tianamen Square next which is close by there is a heavier military presence here with lots of groups of soldiers marching here or there. To get into the square you must go through security checks such as this Forbidden_..men_278.jpg Actually you have to go through checks like this for the train etc also...there seems to be cheacks everywhere. Usually I get in the militaries face and shoot pictures, hell I felt I could of taken pictures of the North Koreans at the DMZ easier but the Chinese guards did not seem happy..prime example (notice my lines are off because im rushing before I get shot haha) Forbidden_..men_244.jpg After walking around for a while declining coffee dates and art exhibits I saw a crowd forming and thought there must be something going on Forbidden_..men_254.jpg So i waited, and waited....waited some more. Bored I headed off to explore the rest, here are some pics large_Forbidden_..men_263.jpgForbidden_..men_259.jpgForbidden_..men_248.jpgForbidden_..men_279.jpg So I want to go back to the hostel but when I don't want to see the event people have been waiting for it's gonna happen and it blocks me getting back as all crossings are blocked during the change of the flag in the square, my over crowd picture Forbidden_..men_293.jpg

Next is the GREAT WALL OF CHINA, Yeah! *Que guitar solo* large_Great_Wall__China_242.jpg
Anywhoo, I plan to travel there by public transport. I dont need no stinking tour, I'm a traveller not a holidayer! (sure it's a word).... I take the tour after seeing the directions though.... The tour is really just a drive you there drop you off take you home kind of a thing and you can do what you want inbetween. The wall is pretty impressive, it definately would of kept the rabbits out! Great_Wall__China_181.jpgGreat_Wall__China_169.jpgGreat_Wall__China_136.jpgGreat_Wall__China_078.jpgGreat_Wall__China_026.jpgGreat_Wall__China_023.jpgGreat_Wall__China_017.jpg As you go along there are stalls that sell you goods like snicker, water, beer. You have to say no about a thousand times. Learning what I think was "no, thank you" in Mandarin "Bu, xie xie" I persist on...they laugh at me...I don't think I'm saying it right. Great_Wall__China_147.jpg She's in waiting to ambush haha Along the way back down I find something that boggles me for a moment, like the old story of the scuba diver found at the top of a pine tree. This is what I saw.. large_Great_Wall__China_227.jpg Now it settles in that it was possible but poor donkey having to climb up, he seemed really happy about itGreat_Wall__China_223.jpg everyone started getting pictures with the donkey yet the stall owner that brought it up did'nt realise that his donkey was his best potential for revenue... I actually think I would of paid. I had one of the stall women actually nearly get me, well she kind of did. They have this ploy where they start off saying they will take your photo at the chinese flag they have on the wall exclaiming "Free, free, free" so your like ok, they just want to be good patriotic citizens. well I ended up with postcards somehow..ONLY because i was looking for some anyhow...so..if you get Great Wall postcard you know where it came from haha The Flag Great_Wall__China_096.jpg After enjoying the wall I get to do something I've been excited about before even leaving... Toboggan down the great wall! Great_Wall__China_245.jpg Patiently I waited for the people ahead of me to have a headstart so that I could go faster. I saw more people coming which I would have to wait for again so I decided that I had given them enough time. Down I head full throttle, it seems quite safe and it's really speeding up.....but it's not long till I catch up with the people in front of me where a mother is screaming with excitment travelling at maybe 10kmh...FUCKING KILLJOY! OMG im so frustrated moving then coming to corners and literally stopping as they break so hard they stop....I'm depressed speaking about it, so wall experience over.

As I head back to the hostel I'm starving and REALLY tired. I was late getting back to lunch which the guide said it would be ok to be late for and the people had all eaten everything.. anyhow I get back and I quickly deteriate into a delerious dehydrated dizzy madman. I order food as I know I need it and retreat to my room. I'm experiencing chills and crave heat, though I overheat and drench myself in sweat and as always when I get sick I get a whooping cough to top it off. Midway through the night having the room to myself a sliver of light blinds my sore eyes and in enters a new roommate. Mind you waking I felt a little more hungry so I climbed down and ate while telling him how sick i am and that I'm sorry about his sleepless night. I'm guessing the scene layed out in front of him was not a nice one as he moved to another room within 10 minutes haha.

So I went to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors and took an over night train, I had two businessmen and a soldier as roommates. Was pretty good, recommend the "soft" bed style. So I get to Xi'an and first thing is to get Visas sorted so head off to get it extended, ends up that the PBS guy is suss on why I only have 10 days and will only give me 15 days to extend. I decide not to bother, I'm still sick and I lost my bankcard in Beijing and well... China has been a real hassle from the start. I get back to the hostel which i might add is an amazing hostel it's like I'm in a old english pub with pub meals back home. So for the rest of my days I am trying to recover and let my body fix whatever it is wrong as I still have the fever sweats going, could be menopause google tells me but i dunno. Anyhow, a fever aint gonna stop me seeing the Terracottaz so I head off. It's raining so im glad I get to use my raincoat finally. Anyhow here are the piiiicccsss.... large_Terracotta..ors_005.jpg It was like walking into a top secret warehouse under government control, lights beamed down through a misty haze. Terracotta..ors_013.jpgTerracotta..ors_025.jpgTerracotta..ors_041.jpgTerracotta..ors_059.jpg But I like the broken ones a little better for some reason, these headless guys had me chuckle a bit Terracotta..ors_032.jpgTerracotta..ors_040.jpgTerracotta..ors_034.jpgTerracotta..ors_031.jpgTerracotta..ors_027.jpgTerracotta Warriors 033

Terracotta Warriors 033

Terracotta..ors_029.jpg See if you can spot me in this one... Terracotta..ors_069.jpg This is pretty much how I feel in any scenario with a mass of people when I wear my Bright Red Jacket! There are more pictures uploaded.

As Nepal was my flight I had booked hopeing to change dates I had to cancel it. I did not want to head to Nepal with a fever, gammy knee and well, it's cold! Sooo I opted to go somewhere I had no planned on but have heard a many great things on my travels, Taiwan. SO I'm now in Taipei, Taiwan and I must say that I'm liking the city. The air has humidity, the city reminds me of seoul a bit, it seems a bit more like the china I imagined and not the reality China. I have been able to shake my fever not having to warry about hot and warm temperatures so much. The hostel I'm at is a shock back to reality of the backpacker after being spoilt with my last one.
I know your probably tired by now lol but I thought I'd just throw in some snaps I've taken of Taipei (oh, my Camera has somehow fixed itself, It may of just been a power issue). If you did'nt know, Taipei has the second tallest skyscraper in the world! Random_taipei_008.jpgRandom_taipei_010.jpgRandom_taipei_019.jpgRandom_taipei_020.jpgRandom_taipei_022.jpg

There is a really cool night market close to where I'm staying that has awesome food, this is where I got dinner last nightTaipei_nig..t_1_002.jpgTaipei_nig..t_1_004.jpg

Well anyhow, that's whats going on with me ;p I hope all is well with you :)

Steve.

Posted by CrackerjackHobo 20:04 Archived in China Comments (1)

Sunset in Seoul

War,war and war then DMZ

Sunset in Seoul!

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Heading in the city is much larger than anywhere else, firstly the bus takes us through which seems to be an area with ALOT of appartment buildings. Kinda reminds me of the way I play sim city...people live here...umm people work here...and umm I'll put a fire brigade here..
Entering the city proper we are dropped off at the bus terminal and make our way to the subway and to the hostel. We have a hiccup or two but nothing major, just a lesson in the importance of looking at the directions and not trying to remember. Actually we arrived pretty much right outside our hostel and if it had not been for "helpful" expats we would of arrived with no worries but as it seems we walked in circles with all our bags untill finally coming back to where we were and looked up. So be it.

The hostel is great! You get a single room with tv shower, toilet ...the works and it's only 15,000 won a night! We have issues with the booking and the guy gives me and paul a dorm room to ourselves then single rooms the next night. I had researched the place and the price seemed very cheap, we figure out that it is usually 45,000 won...we try to book more nights at 15,000 won...he was'nt having it. Part of the research was to find a place with a kitchen, which this said it had but ended up being a closet with a sink. Though this did not deter Paul who had a determination to have bangers and mash. Getting back from a grocery shop we managed to get frankfurts and potatoes plus some baked beans, a hearty meal indeed. We had no peelers, no can openers and well pretty much no anything to help but with some English grit and a sharp knife cans would not stop Paul! The debaucle contined but I'll not bore you with the details, but we ate like kings that night...on the floor for some, no seats too.

Seoul is a lot more westernised than the rest of South Korea visibly influenced by American culture. I was hopeful for some non fishy food. The people seem more fashion concious but still drab colours, so I keep my red jacket hidden. In our first venture out we are quickly bombarded with K-Pop as a group of girls are having a show at the front of the shopping mall. The area we are staying is a shopping district mostly, I search for bags as I am in need of lighter bags (see previous post) but find none.

After our stay we reluctantly leave, I have been up a good part of the night reading reviews and scouring the world of hostels, something Paul has no patience for so agrees to what ever I think will be good. The hostel we end up at is run by two young guys that are cousins turning out to be really good. I feel like im boarding with housemates than with owners, the place is very social with a chilled atmosphere (www.bibim.com.kr or bibim on hostelworld if ever here) which works for me as it is pretty much home for two weeks. Staying at the hostel is a group of young singaporean girls which like to shop, drink and party...pretty much in that order. One night I head out with them on the town to a club. We line up and get in and I have never been so packed before in my life, it's rediculous! Not only is it packed but every now and then when the crowd on the right decides they have had enough of shoveing they shove enmass, which in turn gets pushed (insert screams and shouts of people). To get through the throng I have to arms up and shove and push copping and giving elbows a plenty and the heat is crazy plus smoking in club is allowed. But I'm stuck, I have lost half of the girls...the half with the ticket for my jacket. Giving up, I give in...finding a niche and having a boogie with semi easy access to the bar. Finally we find the others and exit and go to another club which is normal, finish up, eat some food and go home.

Now that we are settled for a little while, we go and do some sightseeing. The first thing we hear about is the palace which has a bit of a ceremony reagrding a change of the guard, we are given examples of the english buckingham palace guard where you can take a picture but they did'nt end up being what we were expecting. You can judge... large_Seoul_Palace_206.jpg Nooo, No! How did that get in there, much more traditional, well not that much..loved the beards! ha Seoul_Palace_007.jpgSeoul_Palace_059.jpgSeoul_Palace_117.jpgSeoul_Palace_123.jpg This guy cracked me up Seoul_Palace_027.jpg They were really into it..Seoul_Palace_065.jpg and a few pics outside the palace.
Seoul_Palace_279.jpg This is General Soonshin who is famous as he commanded a victory against the Japanese fleet by enguinity in creating a unique design for a battle ship called the Turtle ship which was effective due to it's coverered decking. The Japanese fleet was 138 strong and the General only had 13 turtle ships which he used to defeat this fleet yet I'm sure there were many other ships but the turtle ship was a big factor in the victory. The strategy was that having an enclosed deck prevented musket fire and arrows aswell as cannons from doing alot of damage along with the covering having spikes to deter boarding. Here is a pilfered picture turb_bg.gif Here he observes over Seoul... Immortal! Seoul_Palace_274.jpg

After this it was visa time again, but I wont bore you with the details (Thank youuu my lovely sister Jasmine and her beloved Katey <3 ). With that somewhat sorted I thought I should do something out of the house as I had been couped up a bit stressed for a few days. So how better than to go to a prison museum depicting all the wierd and wonderful ways the Japanese tortured the Koreans. The prison was for the suspected and convicted of the Korean indepence movement sweeping the nation. It was in working order up until 1945, the liberation of Korea...not so long ago.
Here are some of the prisoner cards they have on display walls.
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It's a strange thing seeing a family of parents and little kids going through something like this (There are lots), I was watching a father have his child read the plaque of an exhibit that is saying quite nightmarish things at an age like that :/ Strange but thats just the way it is in Korea, war and suffering has defined them more than anything. Whether domestic or from a foreign invasion they have been through ALOT!

Paul decided to experience a torture box...He's in there some where... Seoul_1_039.jpg

Oh there he is...LMAO!Seoul_1_040.jpg I decided to do..I dunno..gimp mixed with a hunchback?Seoul_1_043.jpg Give the English a seat of power and it goes right to thier head..Seoul_1_081.jpg Then they become Australian?Seoul_1_086.jpg Oh this is a picture of the tunnel that they would drag bodies through after hangings etc...ominous..Seoul_1_100.jpg

Next we did a brief jaunt down to old Korea town to see some traditional houses and such.Seoul_1_004.jpg You just know a place is disappointing if I only take one photo! Well at least Paul got to have a traditional protection print done Seoul_1_015.jpgSeoul_1_017.jpg( I seriously have Journal envy! He has so much cool stuff in his. If you travel make sure you get a good journal, Japan and alot of places do stamp and caligraphy, characters and such). It is done from these rocks..Seoul_1_018.jpg only found in some place special, I was'nt listening as the other girl was hawt! :)

Recently I went and had a tourist day again seeing the war memorial museum then heading to the Seoul tower hopeing to catch a sunset. Im just going to show you the pictures, but before I do. The UN part of the museum was great because I was finally able to read those cool documents that you wished were not in Korean (Given that the documents were americans this stands to reason, but don't step on my buzz). The documents are from General McArthur who was the first Commanding General of the U.N. (don't quote me on specific titles) his first mission being the military response to aid south Korea in the Korean war. He details his assesment to the U.N. about that state of affairs in the country. I'll do them first so that you can have a read... large_War_Memori..wer_170.jpglarge_War_Memori..wer_171.jpg Here is what he looks like War_Memori..wer_174.jpg And here is the charter for the U.N. if you have not read it before..large_War_Memori..wer_168.jpg Most places you go to do with the U.N. forces you have a tally of dates, number of troops, casualities etc large_War_Memori..wer_173.jpg
Here is Australia's exhibit War_Memori..wer_175.jpgWar_Memori..wer_176.jpg A drum War_Memori..wer_157.jpg U.N. forces that participated War_Memori..wer_167.jpg
There was a cool statue out the front, well statues.. large_War_Memori..wer_024.jpgWar_Memori..wer_040.jpgWar_Memori..wer_047.jpgWar_Memori..wer_068.jpg Like I said war at an early age is apart of life.. War_Memori..wer_094.jpg

Trying to make the sunset I miss timed but got far up enough to find a random spot with a good view. The place I travel through in called Itewon, know for it's American population situated near the U.S. army base. This being the case it also looks to be a bit of a hub for the church, having neon crosses plaguing it's rooftops. with the sunsets though I sieze the photo opp..large_War_Memori..wer_244.jpgWar_Memori..wer_241.jpgWar_Memori..wer_239.jpgWar_Memori..wer_226.jpg Finally I find my way to Seoul tower (Got lost a lil bit) and it's dark, the climb is 20 minutxes or so of stairs..pics..War_Memori..wer_274.jpg I get a Seoul tower with a old to new theme like in Tokyo! War_Memori..wer_286.jpg

There is a stream that runs through Seoul which has been likened to the manhattan park walk for romance, it could work...when it's warmer. Seoul_stream_050.jpgSeoul_stream_024.jpgSeoul_stream_010.jpg

Site seeing is great but the most interesting thing of all is the South/North relationship. I briefed on it in an earlier blog with the anology for the relationship being that of brothers, one is a drug addicted allways fucking up, the other fights and defends thier ideals but still really has hope that they will clean thier act up and once again be family. There is such a strong desire for reunification that it's heartbreaking.

So off to the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone, though it is the most militarised zone in the world :p) and to the JSA (Joint Security Area). Perhaps if I could only speak with some north Koreans I could let them know that Sth Korea just wants to make up?!? The cost for the tour was expensive ($135,00 won) but it is probably the best thing you can do. I mean why come to Korea and not go to the DMZ, then again maybe the signing of the waiver for any liability to the U.N. in the case of limb loss, abduction or death could put some people off (I got to keep the signed waiver as a memento afterwards!). So on the Bus trip your told of many rules, like umm no bare back shoes or faded jeans. No pictures except at points that they say it is ok..this is the checkpoint going into the start of the DMZ...no pictures after this untill we get to the next destination. DMZ_023.jpgDMZ_024.jpg
The first stop is one of the I think four tunnels that the Sth Koreans found going under the demilitarised zone and into the Sth Korean land. They found the tunnel by accident when they were fitting pipes for some other reason, the north koreans excuse was that they were mineing for gold haha. The tunnel has not been collapsed to my knowledge but has three concrete walls with guard windows. large_DMZ_026.jpg It was very surreal being able to look through the last wall and see the dark window of the next knowing that it continued on to North Korea. No pictures were allowed in the tunnel which you were able to go down (I snuck one in with my phone but cannot upload :p). They say with other tunnels they found that a great sneak attack could of been done, just one tunnel could of allowed 38,000 soldiers in about an hour.

Next was the observation tower into the DMZ. There is a central border which is the the real dividing line, then there is two kilometres on either side for it's respective country which is the DMZ. At the observation tower you could only take photos from a certain marked distance so not to gve away positions of defence. I wish I had taken a photo of it but all tourists including myself are standing as tall as possible with cameras held high taking random pictures and hopeing for the best, somehow i was fortunate with some of mine. Here is a border marker at the two kilometre mark for Sth Korea large_DMZ_041.jpgDMZ_050.jpg DMZ guard posts DMZ_045.jpgDMZ_038.jpg Observation tower from the photo zone..DMZ_029.jpg

Next is the train station Gyeongui, I had thought that it was not active but it actually is and runs three times a day bringing everyday Nth Koreans to Sth Korea to work in a factory close by to the station. DMZ_052.jpg The station is also a symbol of reunification, a hope that some day it will be used for mass transit from the north to south, along with opening up Sth korea to a european transit line showed here on the board DMZ_064.jpg They have everthing allready in place, customs, immigration. I mean the train line runs all the way to the capital of North Korea, Pyeongyang. DMZ_059.jpg The soldiers I see are mostly just kids doing thier two year compulsory service. DMZ_056.jpg I somehow get into a situation of national bravado! ha DMZ_061.jpgDMZ_062.jpgDMZ_063.jpg I so let him win!...Ok, well he's a trained soldier...sorry Australia...haha.

Next is the most dangerous place of the DMZ.
JSA...(Spot the Nth Korean!) large_DMZ_092.jpg JSA is for Joint Security Area (Before entering you need to sign the waiver mentioned earlier). That concrete line going from blue building to the other is the border line, from there it's Nth Korea. The blue buildings are the area that Sth Korean, North Korean and U.N. officials meet these buildings that cross that middle boundary 50/50, here is a shot from the window of one. DMZ_073.jpg Meeting room guard duty. DMZ_082.jpgDMZ_083.jpg
This was not always the way though, the buildings used to be divided in a much more random array. Now a certain area of the JSA had a Sth Korean guard post which was effectivelly surounded by three Nth Korean guard posts. The closest other Sth Korean Guard post has sight of the surrounded one but a tree grew in the line of sight and gave a blind spot. The Sth Koreans one day went to chop down the tree which for some reason the Nth Koreans took offence too. Quickly the Sth Koreans were outnumbered and the Nth Koreans butchered the Sth koreans with the axes. It is for this reason that the JSA is now divided by a line down the middle and not just by building. The soldiers are serious here, strictly no arm wrestling! DMZ_093.jpgDMZ_101.jpgDMZ_090.jpg I don't know why I look worried here haha I was a bit upset with not being able to get the shots I wanted. DMZ_106.jpg
On the way back we go past the bridge of no return, at the end of the war prisoners were given the choice of which side to go on, once they had passed there was no going back..DMZ_117.jpg

As for where I am now...BEIJING, CHINA!

So ciao for now and wish me luck in extending my Visa so I can give you a good overview of China.

S.

Posted by CrackerjackHobo 19:23 Archived in South Korea Tagged palace south_korea seoul korea border war guard dmz soonshin demilitarised_zone Comments (0)

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