July in Vietnam: Boats on the Mekong

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

A tour of the Delta was incomplete without a look at the boats populating the Mekong. There were lots of boats filled with junk (rather than real junks like the tourist ones up-country at Ha Long Bay.

00387

But a far cry from the North, here the inhabitants were incredibly friendly, waving warmly at the tourists passing by.

00394

Seeing as the river was so full of traffic, there were plenty of signs governing boat movements.

00412

Good luck in trying to decipher them all though!

00420

Here, there were bona fide floating markets that were there for true commerce rather than purely tourist commerce as in other more famous floating markets. Here, goods seemed to be traded in bulk as heavily laden boats plied up and down the river. How to figure out what each boat sold? Easy, just look at what was displayed on the poles.

00388

This boat was selling all sorts of vegetables and fruit.

00414

Another sold yet another mind boggling array of local produce.

00416

And here the boat sold an assortment of melons and pumpkins. I wonder what would happen if a boat wanted to sell pork or beef though.

00433

To make a sale, the boat owner had to catch the attention of the derelict little sampans and row the produce out to the buyer, whether on shore or on another boat.

00423

Some of the more enterprising boats sold banh mi (baguette sandwiches) from their floating stalls. Life here, it seemed, could be lived exclusively on the water.

00431

Even colourful wardrobes of clothes were brought onto the boat. The owner was never too far from a clean change of clothes.

00429

And of course, they lazed in their hammocks in the setting sun, exactly the way to end a long day on the river.

00438

July in Vietnam: The Fishing Village of Mui Ne

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I moved on from Quy Nhon to Mui Ne, bypassing Nha Trang because I wasn’t up to much partying after Hue (I chose not to post about celebrating Canada Day because of that awful, awful hangover) and I heard the diving there wasn’t very much different from Hoi An (with which I wasn’t impressed, that’s a story for another day). Mui Ne didn’t disappoint. I arrived as dusk fell and the idyllic coconut-trees-swaying-in-the-wind setting immediately started working its charm.

00271

Daytime augmented the coconut-tree charm and I soon found myself on the back of a motorcycle off to a nearby fishing village.

00275

Early in the morning, fishing boats return from the night’s work and the flotilla waits in the shallows for the coracles to come out to unload the cargo.

00287

The coracles are unique circular little fellas that are nimble enough to float on mere inches of water to bring in the catch.

00282

By the time this tourist arrived, most of the activity was tapering off and people were starting to relax after sorting and selling their wares.

00293

Many of them were still milling around the main bartering areas, leaving their little boats on the beach out of reach of the waves.

00298

The highlight of this visit really was getting up close to these boats. I’d not seen them anywhere else in the world and was very intrigued by how they managed to get anywhere. I imagine myself just going round and round in circles if I had to captain one of these! These boats were really just waterproofed baskets, no wonder they were simply left unguarded all over the beach. If one goes missing, just weave a replacement, easy!

00290

Coracles aside, there were other interesting things going on at the beach. There were bullock carts hauling fresh catch or selling breakfast treats.

00283

There were baskets upon baskets of fish on sale, mainly small to medium ones.

00279

And there were plenty of locals in the characteristic conical hats negotiating good prices for crates of silvery fish.

00294

Some areas of the beach were strewn with open shells. Here, plenty of sorting had taken place earlier in the morning where I’m guessing workers went through thousands of scallops, extracting the meat to be dried for export.

00470

Near the beach, fish were being salted and laid out to dry in the already fierce morning sun.

00300

And off I went to my next adventure, admiring how the sun glinted off the sea in waves of silver as my motorbike whizzed past.

00301

It was also a wonder how we got anywhere, considering that the bike’s speedometer needle didn’t move past zero! More to come next post.

00303

July in Vietnam: By the River in Hoi An

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

My next stop was Hoi An. Its name sounds a lot like “River Bank” in Cantonese and true enough, a big feature is the river than runs through it.

00200

It’s an incredibly atmospheric town, as you can see from the riverside pictures.

00168

With its junks and shophouses lining the banks, I found this a far more peaceful version of Singapore’s riverside.

00179

There were plenty of cute little boats with little eyes painted on the hull to help navigate the river.

00196

And there were plenty of “fishermen” casting their nets, not really for the fish…

00197

… but really for the tourists to get a picture and for them to get a tip.

00199

Despite how touristy this town was, there was definitely a lot of charisma and charm to it, from which Singapore ought learn.

Towards the end of the day, the light lent a soft veil over the buildings.

00174

And as the light faded, the buildings, despite being restored, started to take on a slightly shabby look as they aged with the light.

00165

They started looking almost like ochre postcards of the olden days in Singapore.

00167

Only to come back to life when the lights came on in the dark.

00220

Hoi An, what a charmer.

April in The Philippines: Wrecks and Good Food

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Coron is less than an hour away by plane from El Nido. By ferry, however, it takes an eternity. I caught the morning ferry and only got there 10 hours later. Nothing much happened on the way, save that we saw an eagle of sorts kept as a house bird.

00329

The scenery wasn’t quite as good as that in El Nido. The limestone crags were still draped with lovely green, but the cloudy skies turned the water a dull grey-blue.

00345

We finally arrived as the sun was going down. Thankfully I’d booked ahead and the dive resort was right where the boat dropped us.

00334

Coron is famed for its wreck diving. An island surrounded by shallows, its warm waters are ideal for diving year round. It was this same shallow water that stranded a whole fleet of WWII Japanese warships and all of them went down under Allied fire. I didn’t yet have my underwater camera at this point, so all I have is this photo of the dive brief.

00339

I wasn’t particularly keen on wreck diving. All wrecks look pretty much the same to me and marine life on wrecks hardly seems varied enough to sustain my interest. I feel that wrecks, being dead things, are very unnatural and it’s quite spooky even in the day time to go there. The idea that people died there, that I’m diving a grave site is quite unnerving.

Obviously, I enjoyed mealtimes a lot more. The crew made excellent food and there was plenty to go round.

00337

Aside from the food, other things caught my fancy too. Here is the entrance to Barracuda Lake. The lake is enclosed within the island and to get there, we had to scramble up and down craggy rocks. Only some bits of the way was a proper path connected by wooden planks. And if that doesn’t sound hard enough, we had to do this with full scuba gear on. OK fine, so we hung the fins round our necks, but you get the idea. It was awful!

00335

The dive itself was fantastic though. I didn’t see the barracuda, later someone told me others had spotted it on the other side. What an experience it was! Fresh water running into the saltwater lake somehow forms a film on the top which traps heat from the sun. It results in (relatively) cold water of 30ºC at the top and warm water of 38ºC at the bottom. It felt like diving in a nice warm bath. I loved it. At 10m, there’s a halocline where salt water and fresh water meet in a hazy muddle. It’s really strange to pass through that transition. I saw the bottom at the shallower part of the lake and it was made of a strange kind of earthy, soft sand. You could dig your arm right inside and still not reach anything hard. Squeamish about odd encounters with the unseen, I only reached in up to my elbow. The dive guides told me that someone had once taken a photo with his head buried in the sand like an ostrich!

00341

As usual, the food was excellent, with fresh grilled fish at practically every meal. It was great.

00347

While we’re still on the topic of food, there was this great French place on Coron that served up amazing food, especially considering that we were hours away from freshly imported gourmet food. I had the booziest coq au vin ever, so full of red wine that I had to go back to my room to lie down before heading out to check my email and then head back Coron Bistro for some very good apple tart.

April in The Philippines: Puerto Galera

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Puerto Galera was the first stop for the first real backpacking leg of my trip. I eased into it by joining a group of dive friends to Puerto Galera and Donsol before heading off on my own.

It’s a dive town strung out against the coastline, with most things of beauty being the coconut trees leaning gracefully over the water towards the newly painted outrigger boats. Looking out to sea on one of those bright, almost unbearably sunny days, it really looked and felt like paradise.

00008

The town itself was nothing much to shout about. The most interesting thing about the town in the day time was this faux medieval castle masquerading as a high end hotel. One afternoon, we pretended that we were looking for a room and went in for a look. If you’re up for dark hardwood floors and claustrophobic winding staircases, this is the place to be! A nice gimmick.

00014

The other interesting thing about Puerto Galera were its many nightspots and drinking places, all populated by an incredible number of pole-dancing girls. This, contrasted against the rules for the town. (Click on the picture for a larger image to read each one.) I suppose it comes under Rule #10,  teach kids to love your town.

00015

Well, we came here for the diving and it was superb! It helped greatly that we had some very excellent dive guides who were professional, friendly and gave some of the most comprehensive briefings I’ve had. Here’s Oying, the head dive guide, with one of his beautifully drawn maps of the dive site.

00028

Too bad I don’t have any pictures of the diving as I’d not bought my underwater camera and housing till much later. I’ll have to leave you to go there yourself first. Yes it’s a copout, so you’ll have to check out my next post for more interesting stuff.

March in Laos: Along the Mekong in Huay Xai

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Unlike most travellers who were using Huay Xai as a transit point between Thailand and Laos, Siamesecat and I made our way to the border town for some monkey business. (More on that next time.) We spent a little time cooling our heels here at this tiny strip of huts along the Mekong. I wished “Visit Laos” year would come round more so they’d get a new sign. While the town appeared fairly nondescript, it was so laid back that it was almost worth the couple of days spent here.

00171

The streets were tidy and well-kept, lined by lots of pretty flowering shrubs.

00173

The main focus was of course the river. The slow boat from Luang Prabang ejected its passengers, grubby from the two-day journey, along Huay Xai’s banks. Everything in this town seemed to point to the river.

00169

Even the local temple, with its so-tacky-it’s-cool dragon balustrade, pointed to the river with the long flight of stairs up to the shrines themselves.

00164

The stairs undulated their way down to the river, reminding devotees returning from prayer exactly where the source of life was for this town.

00166

Strangely enough for a riverside town, this place was incredibly dusty. Even this cutie-pie of a dog had its fur messed up with brown. It lived at our guesthouse and at the end of our stay we still couldn’t figure out whether it was a white dog or a brown one.

00150