A Travellerspoint blog

June 2008

Don't take Travel Scrabble on your trip...

...and forget to bring a dictionary...

sunny 28 °C
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...and agree to play using American spelling with a American biochemist....

Unbelievably I think the score is 8 all....despite the mass of Z words and the unknown words that get explained away as "oh thats a medical term"!!!!!

Still in Bali and enjoying the beach life. There has pretty much been wind everday although we've become a little snobbish in picking our conditions. Kim is up and riding and getting more confident by the day. She did a big downwinder from up the beach to right outside our hotel last week. I repeated the trip on my own on Friday, at low tide, that was, how shall I say, not my most spectacular moments on a kiteboard!

I decided I was going to brave the head high waves on the reef as they were looking pretty small compared to usual. I surfed one sucessfully despite it being painfully shallow...as I was coming down the wave I could see rocks on the reef sticking out the water. I returned back towards the shore for another run, and on my way out I was sensing I was only kiting in about 5 inches of water (no exaggeration).

The rest all happened in slow motion really....as I was approaching the wave on the way back out, I saw a big rock outcrop almost poking out of the water but stupidly I thought I could ride over it (yes, I know, not around but over)...well the next thing I know, I thumped straight into it with the side of the board. For a split second I just seemed to be stood there, but then obviously the kite powered up and pulled me, minus board, over the top.

Dragging in 6 inches of water without touching the bottom is tough, but somehow I managed to do it, but the waves were breaking over me and pushing me towards shore. I could see my board perched ontop of the rock outcrop and thought there was no way I could get back to it (and expected it to have a huge hole in it anyway!). Luckily a big wave came through and knocked it off and I was able to retrieve it. Unbelievably very little damage.

On returning to the shore right outside the hotel, I thought I may be able to get away with no one knowing, until I remembered that I was videoing the event from a camera mounted on my kite. I have to say its quite a good bit of footage that will be making our "Travel & Kiting in SE Asia" DVD that we are putting together.....(Yep guess what you're all getting for Xmas this year!!!!!!)

Other than kiting we are planning a horse ride (this week) and possibly a climb of the big(ish) mountain/volcano here.

We continue to stay in the Ananda hotel on the beach in Sanur. It's a great spot and has a fabulous restaurant where we are starting to put the weight back on that we lost in Vietnam!

I am getting slightly irritated with all the people trying to sell you things/services the moment you leave the front door. I have started taking a sarcastic approach to this (yes I know, surprise surprise!!!). A typical encounter happened the other day...

Bali chap (obviously a taxi driver): 50% off, 50% off, 50% off
Mike: Off what????
Bail chap: off the price!
Mike: The price of what?
Bali chap: my service!
Mike: ohhhh great! 50% off...really?
Bali chap: yes, 50% off, 50% off!
Mike: off what?
Bali chap: the price!
...I kept this going for a good few cycles, until he got it and started shouting transport, transport, transport....obviously we didn't need to go anywhere!

When you do go somewhere it seems to be in what they call a "Bemo". As far as I can gather, this is a small green, beaten up mini bus with no doors, propelled by a wound up elastic band, driven by a slightly insane Balinese man, who will explain to you that you are his first customer in a week so he should charge you a silly price so he can feed his family this month! I find I have to stop myself haggling sometimes when I can see Kim getting irritated by the fact that I'm arguing over 50 cents...I think it may have gone to far the other night, when we went drinking and clubbing in Kuta (a whole other blog entry at some time!)...we were heading back to our hotel at 5am (they seem to party late here!)...and I made us walk the whole way as the taxi driver man was trying to rip us off...in hindsight he only wanted 2 dollars...and it would have saved us a half hour walk....oops

Posted by msmitheman 21:10 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Kiting & Massage

sunny 28 °C
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Finally settled in Bali and there's sun, good food, and wind!!!!

2 days in a row...supposedly driven by typhoons in the Philippines...glad we're not there at the moment, as it sounds bad! Anyway its meant we had 2 days of very consistent strong wind.

The kiting setup here is that there isn't one! We were the only ones out, which was great. The beach is not very wide but a short walk upwind there's a private beach outside one of the big hotels that no one seems to have a problem us using, and its empty. There is a big series of reefs offshore that creates pretty huge waves, and the inside is almost totally flat and anything from knee deep to about my height. Very much as I remember Boracay in the Philippines.

...and the good news...it seemed to all come together for Kim finally with the conditions, board and kite skills and she managed to get going fairly consistently!

After two energetic days on the water we decided to treat ourselves to a traditional Balanese massage in one of the expensive hotels. A huge Spa complex by the beach. We were shown into this little hut that had 2 massage tables in and handed 2 rolls of what looked like 2 shower caps and told to get changed..after Kim figured the cap wasn't going to fit on her head, we worked out that they were in fact 2 sets of paper underpants....not a lot to them! Anyway in the spirit of things we got changed (me making a special effort to make sure things were all tucked in!....I'm glad Kim didn't have a camera with her!)...and waited patiently.

Nelly and Dina came in (2 tiny Balanese women) and told us to sit in front of 2 bowls of water where they proceeded to wash our feet (poor women!)....of course mine didn't fit in the bowl which caused much amusement to everyone else...including Kim.

Next we layed face down on the tables....I needn't have worried about the underpants as it seemed the first thing she did was pull them down...however we then proceeded to be pummeled and beaten for an hour. I suspect that once we were face down on the table, Nelly and Dina swapped places with 2 burly Balanese chaps, as it was quite the beating, but I can't be sure as when I was rolled over they were back again!

I joke a little, it did actually feel pretty good and after a nice cup of tea (included) I felt it was money well spent!

Today we've got up to sun and no wind.....I think we're both secretly relieved...a relaxing day doing nothing is in order.

Posted by msmitheman 20:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Bali, Indo

sunny 30 °C
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So we decided to call it a day with Vietnam for the time being and return around November when it's the windy season and its stopped raining!

Of course the Saturday before we left (on the Sunday), the sun came out and it blew for a couple of hours. I managed to get out kiting which was fun.

On the Sunday (15th June) we got back on the bus to Saigon. A little disappointing after our bus journey out there. A similar setup, but a different company and very busy being Sunday night....it wasn't really a pleasant 5 hours, but I'll leave it at that!

We booked back in to a 2nd hotel owned by Madam Cuc....just up the road from where we stayed before. A highly recommended place (either hotel) if you ever find yourself in Saigon!!!

We booked flights to Bali for the Wednesday (18th June) so had 2 days to kill. It was wet again on the Monday so I have to admit we lazed about the hotel, drinking beer and watching movies (the first of either thing since we left pretty much!). We ate our "included" dinner of noodles and spring rolls in the evening at the hotel too....probably the best thing since we'd arrived in the country!

On the Tuesday we went sightseeing....the obligatory church's and temple's...(though quite impressive)...and also went for a walk around the "up market" part of town.

Giving Vietnam cuisine the benefit of the doubt, we went for lunch in what the guide book described as the "best local cuisine in the area". A fairly posh Vietnamese restaurant down towards the river. We were clearly underdressed in our shorts and t-shirts (I'm beginning to think Kim was right, I should have bought more than one t-shirt!). Spring rolls and calamari for starters....one was tasteless the other was frozen....seafood fried rice (no seafood and burnt) and shrimp hot pot (4 shrimps and more salt than vegetables). Not impressive at all, especially for 30 dollars! When we go back we're going to look for self-catering accommodation!!!

Wednesday morning we got up early and got a taxi to the airport for a flight via singapore (on Singapore Airlines) to Bali. After a brief scare where the check-in agent was trying to convince me that whilst US passport holders could get a Visa on arrival, Brits couldn't. I knew this was wrong, and eventually convinced them to let me on the filght!

A smooth journey with quite a long stopover in Singapore Airport (where there's plenty to do anyway!), and once again no hassles at all at Indonesian immigration or customs.

We had booked a room for the first night in Sanur on the south east coast. It was fine, although without any windows a little like a cave, and after Kim came face to face with her first cat sized cockroach on a trip to the bathroom, I realized we weren't going to be staying there!

We spent Thursday hunting for somewhere to stay, and have found a nice little place right on the beach. Kim negotiated a very cheap price and we plan to stay here for a while. The weather is great. There is plenty of surf and wind looks fairly promising. Either way there's plenty to do here and its dry! Oh and the food is good!

Posted by msmitheman 19:17 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Disillusioned!

semi-overcast 30 °C
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Well it’s the things that don’t seem funny at the time that make the trip when you look back at it in years to come…right?

We have been trying to persevere with Vietnam, but it seems the elements are against us at the moment.

Let me go back a bit…when we arrived in Mui Ne after a fabulous bus journey on Sunday, the sun was out, the wind was blowing, people were out kiting and despite the “Rat Hotel” hiccup (the name by which it will ever be remembered and referred!), we got up Monday morning in high spirits. Once again, the sun was shining and the wind blowing, but we decided as we have all the time in the world, we would laze on the beach and by the pool, not kiting, for our first day, which was wonderful…

…and then that night the storm started…and it rained…for 2 days straight. Knowing it was the rainy season at the time of year, this came as no surprise, so we decided we’d wait it out by eating some of the great Vietnamese food we’d been told we were going to find over here…well its crap. We’ve tried cheap and we’ve tried expensive…and I’ve even tried the finger bowl of dish water that Kim convinced me was tea…a whole other story!

A few of the more memorable meals…

Dried out swordfish and boiled rice
Shrimp noodles and vegetables (also known as 3 shrimps on a plate with half a pack of frozen vegetables and packaged noodles)
Chicken curry (a bowl of water with curry powder dissolved in it and tinned chicken)
Penne Arrabiata (also known as half boiled dry pasta tubes with a chopped up chili)

I shouldn’t be all negative though…the national dish of Pho (pronounced Pha) is wonderful…basically a noodle soup with beef and chili’s, spices and celery…the only problem being they only serve it for breakfast!!!

…and then there’s the memorable dining experiences…

One night we splashed out on a restaurant a few doors down. Let me just say I’ve since found out it doesn’t matter where you go for dinner, the menu is the same everywhere…however...we were sat at a nice table by the front wall of the outdoor dining area (everywhere is outdoor dining). As we ordered our Pasta Napoli (Kim) and Singapore noodles (me) along with our freshly squeezed fruit juice (which I have to say is great everywhere) I witnessed the biggest rat I’ve ever seen (initially mistaken for a small Yorkshire terrier) run down the side of the wall by our feet. Realizing Kim had not seen it, I suggested we move to the table in the middle of the restaurant under the electric fan…which we did.
After pointing out the observation to Kim, it was only then we realized why the waiters were giving us strange looks. I forgot to mention that, despite it being 100 degrees, we were decked out from head to toe in shoes, socks, jeans and long sleeve hoodies (with hoods up) to avoid the bugs (oh yes, more on those later!!!)….dressed like that and then asking to sit under the fan! Did I mention the food was terrible too!

And then there was this morning breakfast…fresh fruit, yogurt and muesli…how could you go wrong? I was even prepared to pick all the raisins out of the muesli! We both ordered a big bowl full and it looked great when it came to the table…watermelon, pineapple, bananas…mmmm…except Kim pointed out that her bowlful was actually moving and on closer inspection so was mine…yes the surprise Vietnamese delicacy of ants was in there too. Well to cut a long story short we sent them back and got new bowls, only for Kim to realize when we’d finished it that dead ants floating in the bottom probably meant that all they did was try and pick them out when we sent them back.

But we kept in high spirits and were rewarded yesterday when the rains stopped and the wind picked up…kites were pumped up, harnesses were donned…I launched Kim’s kite for her and then the wind died. We left the kites on the beach (only for them to be peed on by a stray dog) and went for a swim instead.

And then there’s the bugs…particularly the mosquitoes…there are millions of them, and despite being slathered in the spray and cream and sleeping under a net I’ve managed to be bitten a hundred times to Kim’s two…but I’m not bitter, I’m pleased she too isn't being kept up all night scratching (although I’m sure my scratching isn’t helping her sleep).

…as I am writing this, the power just went out…again..I’m off to book flights to Bali!

P.S. I have maybe focused on the negative a little during this post…we are still having fun and it’s a billion times better than working!!!! ;-)

P.P.S the internet connection is sooooo slow here, we will post more pictures when we get to something quicker!

Posted by msmitheman 03:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Millionaires In Saigon!

30 °C
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Thankfully got out of Manila on Friday night (6th June). We had a good couple of days there looking round the shops and lazing by the hotel pool, but the city is so hectic and dirty that we were glad to get away.

Cebu Pacific Airways flew us (just) from Manila to Ho Chi Minh city (seems everyone still calls it Saigon). A pretty terrible airline that I won't go into...however it got us there on time and once again we were through immigration, baggage and customs before we knew it. As promised Madam Cuc met us at the airport (although not in person, she sent a driver...in fact I don't believe we ever met her!)...and within 30 minutes we were pulling up outside a gated door in what is obviously the "backpacker" part of the city.

Some sleepy woman let us in (maybe this was Madam Cuc, I don't know!!), and after handing over our passports (which in fact took a good 15 minutes due to the language barrier) we had the joy of hauling our kite bags up what seemed like 10 flights of very steep stairs (probably only 5)...Kim captured them on camera! The place was actually fine and clean and I suspect we'll end up back there at some point.

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We got up early to have a wander round and grab breakfast. Saigon seems to be a fun and friendly city. A lot of backpackers, tourists and expats...though very little English spoken amongst the natives, but sign language seems to go a long way. My overriding memory of this place will be mopeds and motorbikes though. You would not believe how many there our. Thousands everywhere...on the road, parked on the street, in the hallways of hotels and restaurants, every other shop sells mopeds...and still there are not enough as most that are on the road seem to have at least 3 people onboard, if not the whole family!

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Our first job was to find an ATM (cash machine) and in the space of 2 minutes we became multi millionaires, albeit in Dong! Its about 15,000 Dong to the dollar or thereabouts. Food is cheap, a meal for a couple of bucks…and is pretty good, although we didn’t have anything outstanding. My favorite thing so far is the coffee (hot or over ice) and mango smoothies…although having not had a single alcoholic drink until last night, I can now say I quite like “Saigon” beer too!

We seemed to get into a schedule of enjoying “not doing very much at all” at the moment…eating, drinking, sitting in café’s and people watching…in fact in Kim’s words the other morning “I don’t understand how people can go on vacation and…do stuff”!!! Having said that we forced ourselves to do something cultural in Saigon and visited the “War Remnants Museum”. Pretty harrowing photos and exhibits , it’s easy to understand how people came back so messed up.

Weather is hot, although also typhoon season, so most days (or nights) there is a huge thunderstorm. Hasn’t interfered though, as this is just another excuse to catch up on sleep!

Sunday we got up early to take the bus to Mui Ne, a beach resort about (I’m guessing) 150 miles from Saigon on the South East coast…however a 5 hour journey due to the roads. I was dreading it somewhat (no first class again) but for 10 dollars each (plus 6 for the kite bags) we had the best bus journey I’ve ever experienced (ok, I admit, probably the first and best bus journey I’ve ever experienced!).

The photos explain why, but essentially everyone gets a bed rather than a seat, with pillow and blanket. Were it not for the “car horn” happy driver and the blaring far eastern pop music, I think I would’ve slept all the way!

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We had pre-booked a room for 20 bucks for the first night on arrival (last night). On the face of it, it seemed idyllic…a small bungalow on the beach, with access to pool, restaurant and bar. We had no AC but a fairly decent Fan and laid down for a nap yesterday afternoon (…the bus journey was tiring!!!). The electricity went out almost immediately and this was when we heard the rats! Scurrying along the rafters in the holey ceiling above our heads…neither of us was very happy at this point and when one fell out onto the floor we both bolted for the door and checked out!

It worked in our favor and clearly this was a dodgy place (should’ve believed what the lonely planet guidebook said!) as we found another place down the street…cheaper, AC, TV, Fridge, no rats, nicer bar, restaurant and pool. We’re going to stay here for a while.

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Today was a lazy day on the beach. There were a few kiters out. The kiting looks good. Wind seems to pick up for a couple of hours each day which considering it’s the “off season” is reassuring. We’ll go out tomorrow fully rested!

Posted by msmitheman 02:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

San Francisco to Manila

semi-overcast 30 °C
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Final packing up in San Francisco went surprisingly smoothly and we finally got to the airport about 9pm Monday for what was the start of the most uneventful journeys ever! Hopefully a sign of things to come.

The flight to Hong Kong was full but bearable…no first class, no economy plus, no exit row (think I’ve become spoilt over the last few years), in fact no space at all, but we managed to slot ourselves in and settled down for the flight. I have vague recollections of flying Cathay Pacific before and it being quite good, however I found it distinctly average and the food was terrible. However, as Kim predicted, I was fast asleep within the first five minutes of the first movie I tried to watch (apparently a common occurrence!). She also slept for most of the flight.

We had a brief hour stopover in a very wet and windy Hong Kong,...just enough time for a coffee and to gather a pocket full of “Hong Kong” coins that can’t be used anywhere else (why does that always happen!).

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Flight from Hong Kong to Manila was empty and uneventful, just an hour and half. I sat there dreading the hustle and bustle of Manila airport immigration and customs and trying to prep Kim for the inevitable wait in lines for both…but seems that we lucked out…plane to hotel room in an hour and a half!

Manila is the typical busy Asian city. “Jeepneys”, motorcycles and taxis everywhere, somehow managing to muscle their way through the back streets and alleys. Hotel is crap, but I expected no less and we did manage to sleep for about 14 hours last night which is good! Off to see the city today.

Posted by msmitheman 16:44 Archived in Philippines Comments (5)

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