Nha Trang

Nha Trang proved to be another great place, an adventure right from the start. The sleeper bus dropped us at some random hotel at 630am. At $8 a night and it being only 2 - 3 minutes from the beach we decided to take a peek. It was okay but it was clear to see that the beach was quite a distance away ... 2 - 3 minutes via motorbike, perhaps.

We weren't even steps away from the hotel before some guy was pushing a pamphlet at us for the 'Nice Hotel'. The price was right and he claimed to be right on the beach. It was a free ride down if we were willing to take a look. With two of us and only one of him we asked about another bike. He took mom's pack and mine and piled them on top of each other, his chin resting on the top to hold it all on. Mom hopped on the bike first and then I after that. I put my feet on top of hers and held on tight.

The main entrance of the hotel was located in a tiny lane that we were about to turn into. The driver didn't seem to be aware of the pedestrians crossing the way. He ran over a girl's toe and almost lost his two passengers as well as their bags. He asked us to get off to walk the few meters to the door.

Upon seeing this airy seventh floor room with a gorgeous view of the sea, there wasn't really any question as to whether we'd take it or not. It wasn't on the beach, but no hotels were. The waves could be heard throughout the night which was an added bonus.

Nha Trang is known for diving. November, unfortunately, is off season. It did make for diving that was too cheap to pass up. It was nice to get out and experience the feeling of being under the sea. A bit chilly and littered, it still turned out to be a great experience.

We kept hearing horror stories of our next stop. Mom opted to turn around and go back and then pay to change our flights. I opted to trek on, not having come to go back. I talked Mom into it, assuring her it would be fine. With the bus tickets bought, we spent our last day on a pool deck basking in the sun.

We were scheduled to leave at 7pm that night. While mom rested, I went out to find some garbage bags. There was a good possibility that the next stop was going to be under a few meters of water. We bagged our things and prepared for the worst.

We brought a small amount of food and a small amount of water as the bus didn't have a bathroom ... that brings a whole other funny story to mind which may follow this post.

For now, I'll stop here ... on the 12 hour bus ride to Hoi An. I am thankful for making it in one piece ... the small road that must be considered a highway was anything but that. Windy, steep, potholed and broken ... it wasn't a place for a big touristy type bus to be traveling.

Vietnam Album Posted ...

It was quite a process with my hard drive dying one week after arriving back from Vietnam. I had it replaced and managed to purchase a Mac as well. It's a great computer and I'm running both until I can make a full transition. Although ... two systems is turning out to be rather efficient.

I weeded through the 700+ photos that were taken and have picked out some favorites. Click the link on the right ... and enjoy!

Mui Ne

It was hard to tell what Mui Ne was going to be like due to the flooded roads and the rain that was crashing down on the taxi's windshield. We were left at a hotel we had chosen out of the Lonely Planet. Both wet and hungry, we decided to rent a room for the night ... the cheapest being $50US. It was a great room with the hotel being right on the beach. The internet was free and there was a pool in the yard. After a fantastic meal, it seemed the rain had stopped. We went for a walk on the beach and then up and down the road to check out what was around.

It looked like a great place to hang our hats for a few nights. The hotel right next door had a cute room for half of what we had paid for ours. We put down a deposit and planned to make a switch the following morning.

Saturday, we found ourselves up and out early. We went for a long walk down the beach after seeing blue skies from our window. It was a beautiful morning allowing one to see white sand for miles.

During our short stay, we rented a jeep with a driver to take us out one afternoon. It was questionable as to whether the jeep was going to stay in one piece. Something seemed to be wrong with the tire and the guy was having trouble changing gears. Our first stop was at some red sand dunes. The driver actually left us there to go and get the jeep fixed or something ... he didn't speak English so it was hard to say, but that seemed to be what was going on. After a half hour we began to wonder.

He finally returned ready to take us to the next stop. The drive to the white sand dunes was very impressive ... perhaps more impressive than the dunes themselves.

We hit a few more places on the way back always in hope of making it in one piece.

The few days went by quick but it was time to head off ... we had a lot of ground to cover. We booked an overnight sleeper to our next stop, Nha Trang. We were being picked up from our hotel at 1am. We would make the 6 hour trek in a bus that had 30 beds. There was one half hour stop along the way.

After pulling away from the rest area, I saw an overturned bus in the ditch that looked the same as ours ... it was hard to get any rest after that. I'm not sure when it was that I dozed off, but I did awake to the bus slowing down and some gasps and chitter chatter. I looked out my window at 530am to see a dead body on the road. It was covered in thin sheet metal up to the neck ... two people were kneeling at the foot of the body praying. If that doesn't wake one up, not sure what would. With one hour left to our destination, it left me deep in thought to ponder the ways of life.

Thursday Novemeber 8th, 2007

On the first night in Vietnam, a man staying at the same hotel suggested a trip to Long Hai. It was an hour and a half boat ride on the Saigon River landing in Vung Tau, a great little spot. Had we known what Long Hai was going to be like, we probably would've opted to stay right where we were. We found two bikes to take us the 40kms to Long Hai for $2.50US. The ride out was beautiful and worth it for that, if nothing else.

Upon arrival, there weren't any beach hotels. The one we did find was about 3x more the price than the guide book had suggested ... it was more than we wanted to pay because there didn't seem to be much of a beach in front. We found a cheap hotel just up the road. It was $12US a night for a small room with no satellite TV. We weren't sure what we were going to do for the evening as we quickly realized we were in a bit of a ghost town. Not one white face.

The beach was alright and we spent most of the afternoon walking about. Once the sun started to set, we found ourselves a bench to sit on. Out of nowhere comes a guy with a table. He places the table in front of us and asks us in very poor English what we'd like to order. Mom and I looked around as we weren't aware we were at a place to be served. We decided to order two beers. About 10 minutes later, after he probably ran down to the store to purchase our request, he tried charging us more than double the price of what we had paid for our beers at the other end of the beach. Nice try on his part. Too bad for him we were already one in for the day.

After returning to our hotel, we called the guys that had brought us to Long Hai and asked them to pick us up first thing the following morning. It didn't seem that there was any going ahead at this point. Long Hai didn't have a bus station, nor did the tiny town over. Going back to HCMC seemed the best direction to go.

We arrived back to HCMC around 11am ... exactly 24 hours after we had left. While we ate breakfast, the big dilemma was whether to spend another night in HCMC or take off on the next bus. We opted for the next bus. The big tourist bus to Mui Ne was leaving at 8pm that evening, dropping us at our destination around 1am. It didn't strike us as the best option so we made our way to the public bus station.

Me having taken public transit in third world countries had a bit of an idea of what we were in for. Mom on the other hand was a bit out of the know. It was fun to see her reaction to the daily lives of an underdeveloped country. The bus was actually a big van meant to seat 16, 4 rows of 4. Upon leaving the bus station, we were at 17. One guy seemed to be working with the the small bus as he didn't have a seat and he was handing out water to the passengers. With no air and not much room one was thankful.

The driver drove most of the way in the middle of the road, weaving in and out of traffic with his hand on the horn. We stopped on two different occasions to pick up more passengers. Mom and I only looked at each other and quietly giggled. The final two shoved in, crouching on the foot step of the van. It took 5 tries to close the door, but alas the overloaded bus was on the move.

Our stop was the bus station and we were the last ones to depart the bus. There wasn't a beach in site ... only a ton of bikes wanting to take us for our money. Big black skies threatened rain within moments. We spotted one taxi and made a run for it. Big heavy drops started coming out of the sky and we were glad to be under cover. $10US and on our way to Mui Ne beach, things didn't look too hopeful.

From a different angle ...

Wednesday November 7th, 2007

We did all we could on this day as we were unsure about spending another day in the city. We wandered the busy streets in the morning, making our way to one of the markets. It was full of everything and anything one could possibly need. As we walked down the tiny overloaded aisles, we were grabbed and pulled, everyone wanting us to buy from them. We had a quick look but continued on our way as neither of us had much room for extras. We walked back through a beautiful park and stopped for a delicious pizza lunch.

After getting back to our hotel and having a quick rest, we hired two motorbikes for the afternoon. One of the drivers was quite fluent in English, so we were very lucky. We had chosen three places of interest and they offered us five. It was a great afternoon with a good look into how the people of HCMC live. It's a crazy place, indeed.

We were both pretty tired after the tour. We had stumbled upon a few Indian restaurants earlier that morning. The food was delicious and unbelievably cheap. Over dinner, we had decided to make our way to Long Hai as we really wanted to be on the beach.

Knowing this was probably our last night in HCMC, we made our way to the Sheraton hotel as a friend of mine was playing in the cover band. The bar is on the 25th floor which made for a beautiful view of the city. On our way over, we took a taxi. We went 1km which cost $2US and the driver honked 53 times ... I mean imagine, 53 times?! And yes, I counted.

Mom and I were in stitches laughing the whole way ... as she was talking, I'd keep interrupting her with my counting ... fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen ... twenty-two, twenty-three ... twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine ... unbelievable!

Tuesday November 6th, 2007

The flight to HCMC was quick. I found myself arriving before the scheduled time. My mom's plane had landed about a half hour before mine and I was beginning to think that setting an arranged meeting place may have been a good idea. She wasn't waiting at customs, nor was she hanging around the baggage claim area. As I was waiting in line to go through the final security check, who should I see on the other side of the window, anxiously looking in? I wondered if she was having the same thought as I.

It was a hug, a hello and a deep breath as we ventured into an unknown journey. We were quickly whisked away by three people looking to take us into the city. Having no idea how far the city really was or how much it should cost, we accepted a ride.

Traffic in Vietnam is insane. It is the worst I've come across in my journeys so far. Horns going all the time, bikes swerving here and there ... no traffic lights, no stop signs, no lines on the road to keep traffic to this side or that. The cars drive in the center, everything else seems to revolve in whichever direction around that.

It took us almost an hour to drive a not so very far distance. The thing I quickly noted about Vietnam taxis is that the meter doesn't move unless the car is moving. That is unfortunate for the driver, not unfortunate for the passenger. It was hard to judge the reason for lack of movement ... whether it was due to the mass amounts of motorbikes running around us or if it was the heavy rain that was pounding down on the windshield. Or was it that the time was coming close to 6pm rush hour ... probably putting those last two words mildly according to a chunk of the world's standards.

Upon arrival at our destination, a street I had picked randomly from a map and information out of the the Lonely Planet, it was flooded with water up to our knees. The driver didn't speak English, so I took off my shoes and starting rolling up my pants. What else was one to do?

The street was covered with small hotels and we found ourselves staying at the one we were left in front of. It was a cute room on the second floor with 3 beds, a balcony, a bathroom with a hot water shower over the toilet and a TV with satellite. All this for $12US a night, $15US if one were to want A/C. Having two fans in the room, we declined the air.

We settled into our room quickly, had a shower and then headed across the way to Bobby Brewers. It was here that we bought a bottle of Australian wine and had our first of many delicious meals that Vietnam has to offer.

We stayed in the room that night amazed of the noises the city had to offer. It was great to have a balcony to overlook the excitement. And just to think ... this was only the beginning ...

Pumpkin Carving 101 with Brother J ...

How very cool! Wish I was able to trick or treat at his place. My mom will arrive in two days with a big bag of sour keys ... happy Halloween to me!

A bit of time has been spent over the past few days scouting out a turkey or two. Three sit in my freezer now as I type ... can't wait, can't wait!

Only six more sleeps until Vietnam ... it's coming up fast and I am so ready!

Little Levi

Thursday October 25th, 2007

It's been a very busy month ... it's hard to believe it's almost over. A new photo album will (hopefully) be up in the next day or two. I was away last weekend and found myself at a very impressive aquarium. I took a ton of photos and am currently working on them. With all my new found work, trying to piece together a Halloween costume for the party on Saturday and my upcoming trip to Vietnam, one hardly has the time. Eyes posted. Time to run ... again!

Monday October 8th, 2007

I think Typhoon 柯羅莎 (Krosa) was, perhaps, the biggest of the year. Some quotes taken directly from the Taipei times ...

- potentially the most dangerous storm of the season so far

- moving in a northwesterly direction at 15kph, packing sustained winds of 184kph and gusts up to 227kph

- with a radius of 300km

- 500 households were still without water at press time, while 72,000 households were still without electricity and approximately 2,200 home phone lines were out of commission

- Mudflow risk remains high, with more than 260 rivers listed at red alert and 660 at yellow alert

- Council of Agriculture said that as of 5pm yesterday, about NT$748 million (US$22.9 million) in damage had been tallied so far, but that figure was expected to rise

- 3,283 hectares of farmland were damaged, with an average crop destruction rate of 20 percent, meaning that the equivalent of 2,630 hectares had been destroyed

- banana and rice crops were the most heavily hit, persimmon, guava, papaya and grape farms were also damaged

and the best for last ...

- Hsintian river overflowed into the park's grounds and then receded, stranding the fish

- some people interviewed doubted that the fish were safe to eat, others gathered as many as they could, arguing that the fish had probably come from the Feitsui Dam and were therefore safe to consume ...

I ventured from my place to a friend's around noon on Saturday ... he lives a few buildings over. I nearly blew away walking over in the underground passage. He lives up on the 14th floor and his building was shaking most of the day. Announcements were warning folks not to go outside. If going outside was necessary, to please stay out of the courtyards. About 10 of us spent the day indoors with scrabble, a BBQ, twister and tequila and gin, straight up! What else were we to do, really?!

Just before noon on Sunday, I found myself venturing around to see what the fuss was about. People were obviously up much earlier than I ... (perhaps due to the tequila) ... piles of debris were scattered here and there. The driving range just behind the complex had blown to pieces.

Trucks and working crew have been cleaning since early morning. Once again, I find myself amazed and a bit scared of what mother nature can throw out. Learning quite late that this weekend was Canadian thanksgiving, I find myself thankful for the fact that I have a standing home. I don't find myself with a full plate of turkey, but that will come upon mom's arrival.

29 more sleeps ...

Thursday October 4th, 2007

Seems as though it will be a wet weekend for tiny Taiwan. See us now ... won't see us tomorrow ... nor the day after that! Typhoon 柯羅莎 is on the way. The wind has been picking up with each passing hour. A solid week of rain is showing in the forecast. One can only hope it's going to change. Wednesday is 雙十節. It's a day off and it best be sunny!

My Vietnam trip is coming up fast. With 2008 just around the corner, work has been plentiful and time has been tight. A break will be needed as I hope to maintain this pace until late next year. That is, of course, with the exception of a diving holiday in some exotic place over the Chinese New Year.

33 more sleeps ... not that I'm counting yet or anything!


Monday morning 7:30, I found myself heading to 劍湖山. The bus ride was not so quick with a hired tour guide feeling the need to talk most of the way ... microphone in hand.

We hit a few rest stops along the way. The first stop on the tour was at a restaurant high up in the hills. We questioned the tiny windy roads in this big out of place bus. Coffee was a specialty around these parts. The restaurant first served us coffee mayonnaise salad ... it was alright, a little plain. Next came coffee ham and coffee sausage. I didn't dare to try. The third dish proved promising ... chicken with coffee beans and tea vinegar. After that, bamboo with no coffee, thankfully, and also tofu with who knows what. It was very bland, but seemed a healthier option than the coffee sausage and ham. Still to follow were deep fried mini fish and squid that was bound to have been caught in the stream one could see below. One thing I've learned about small mountain restaurants is that you're never sure what you'll get.

I recall one time, an order of chicken wings was placed. They consisted of baby chicks that were cut in half ... the heads weren't even removed. I remember my friend picking up one of my wings and opening the beak begging me not to eat it. Can you say instant loss of appetite? Anyway ... off topic.

Next stop was for cake and coffee ... funny that. All one really wanted to do was be at the water park. We waited there in the hot sun for what felt like hours until the rain came. Finally ... in the rain ... we were off to the hotel. Upon arrival, the rain had become torrential and the parks were closed. With just over an hour to kill before dinner ... because we hadn't just eaten ... we were free to wander the hotel. It wasn't overly interesting.

Dinner was buffet style but one could hardly be hungry. The elderly man next to me, a parent of my coworker, ate four FULL plates of food. Not sure where he put it!

The evening followed with one very expensive beer at a transvestite show. Unfortunately pictures weren't allowed to be taken. The best shot of the night would have been of the two, um, ladies dressed in thongs, small bras, boas and (excuse the language) fuck me boots ... two kids about 6 and 8 sat directly in front of the pole they were dancing around. They were staring up and whispering amongst themselves. One couldn't help but wonder what was coming out of those mouths.

After the show, we went to a Russian circus. It was alright ... entertaining at best. A flying car ride followed which was nothing to write home about so I won't. Most of the seats were broken which made one wonder what the rest of the park was going to present.

A long island ice tea in the hotel lobby and then it was off to bed for me. The next morning was buffet breakfast and I was pretty excited. There was bacon and eggs and pancakes, although no syrup or ketchup. There was honey and hot sauce so it all worked out.

The park was quite fun and I'm sure the pictures will speak for the rest. Check it out. The link on the right. Click it.

Fun, Fun ...

New Photos ...

Sunday was spent climbing more rocks ... a few new photos have been added into the album on the right. I found myself at the same place, so there aren't so many new things to shoot. I did do my highest climb to date. Was I scared? Yes. It was a long way down looking over that edge.

Whoops ...

Would that be snakes or snacks?! It's truly hard to say in this country ... anything goes!

Typhoon 韋帕

I received a message from my principal at 9pm stating tomorrow is a typhoon day ... no school! I ran out to the grocery store as I once again found myself with an empty fridge. Fortunately for me, the shelves were stocked! The place was a zoo ... it's as if the city is shutting down for a week ... unbelievable.

It's been a windy wet day. I picked up scrabble over the weekend ... guess it was a good time to do so. I'm seeing friends, food, booze and scrabble in the plans for tomorrow ... I love unexpected days off!

Monday September 10th, 2007

The tenth of September ... how is that possible? Summer is certainly on its way out. It gets down to 25C° at night now ... makes for some cool breeze through my apartment.

I found myself out rock climbing again this Sunday. The drive was quick, it took just over an hour. It's a beautiful ride along the coastal highway. I have posted another page of photos in my rock climbing album on the right.

Click the link ...

tgif ...

Friday September 7th, 2007

We had a pretty good shake last night here in Taiwan. I'm not sure if it was the shaking or the cats tearing out of my room that woke me up. The quake seemed to last for about 15 seconds. Nothing knocked over in the house, although the quake was threatening it. There's nothing in the news as of yet ... it happened last night at 2am. Measuring at 6.6, there's bound to be something. I will keep my eyes posted!

Tuesday September 4th, 2007

The weekend turned out to be hot and sunny. It was busy with a birthday party, a going away party and a trip out to 龍洞. I'm not having much luck finding any English information about 龍洞 (long2 dong4) meaning dragon cave. It is on the Northern Coast of Taiwan and it's known for rock climbing, diving and snorkeling. A fantastic place, indeed!

I've posted a new photo album on the right. Check it out if you have a moment and as always ... enjoy!

Thursday August 30th, 2007

Summer camp is finally over! I've since been on holidays and haven't been in front of the computer ... having another week off wouldn't hurt my feelings any.

Monday, a few of us hopped on our scooters and made the trek to Pinglin. A few photos have been posted in Summer of 2007.

The week has been spent running errands and being poolside. It's been relaxing ... very rarely do I take time off in Taiwan. The weekend calls for rain which could be a bit unfortunate, but it also might make for a nice excuse to stay indoors with the cats and some movies.

I will leave you with a video from our summer camp farewell party. Murray, one of our teachers, wrote a musical drama titled Sons and Daughters. The kids did well and I think the parents liked it. Enjoy!

Monday August 20th, 2007

Some lines taken directly from the Taipei Times in regards to Typhoon Sepat:

+ cutting power to nearly 95,000 homes, injuring twenty four people and forcing more than 1,000 others to evacuate

+ Four people suffered minor injuries in Taipei after being blown off their motorcycles while one man was wounded by falling rocks in Kaohsiung

+ 1,785 people had to evacuate their homes in mountain villages that were threatened by mudslides

+ Several vehicles were crushed by a falling billboard in Taipei, scaffolding collapsed on the outskirts of the city and in mountainous areas, workers battled to clear uprooted trees and rocks blocking roads

+ radius reached 250km

+ maximum wind speed near the center was measured at 126kph

+ Strong wind and torrential rain had damaged about 2,500 hectares devoted to fruit and vegetables in Hualien, with 1,340 hectares of cropland completely destroyed

+ Pomelo growers sustained the heaviest losses, with around 1,040 hectares of pomelo orchards damaged

+ Watermelons, bananas and leafy vegetables were also seriously damaged

+ An AFA release said there are more than 4,500 tonnes of vegetables stored in temperature-controlled warehouses that can be gradually released into the market to absorb consumer demand

Things have been getting back to normal ... I spent some time today clearing one of the balconies free from leaves and dirt. I still have one more to go ... tomorrow perhaps as it's a day off.

Sunday August 19th, 2007

The typhoon has passed, the rain and wind have stopped. I uploaded a few new photos to Summer of 2007. --------->

Off to rugby practice ... it's going to be muddy!