Category Archives: Asia

The seductive powers of Ms Jet Lag

Ms Jet Lag is a strange creature.  She creeps up on you at strange moments like just after you’ve downed a double double expresso Americano.  Hey – what the hell was that?  I am loaded up with caffeine…. back off already!  Oh but she’s a determined dame.  Before you know it waves of fatigue are sweeping over your body and you long to lie down…. anywhere, really.  Right here on the supermarket floor would be just fine!

When you finally give in to her seductive promise of hours and hours of sleep she cruelly wakes you up at 4 am and wires up your brain with chaotic thoughts of work, kids, bills, laundry and impending disasters.  Yes you can try and snuggle down again and pull the duvet over your head.  Forget it.  You can’t escape her.  She will taunt you with all the things that need to be done…. NOW.   Even though its 4 am and freezing cold the compulsion to get downstairs and fire up the old lap top is hard to conquer.

Just a couple of days ago I woke at some strange hour at home in my own bed but lay there like someone who has awoken from a 10 year coma – wide eyed and not quite sure where I was.  Without moving a muscle I checked out the room.   Window, curtains, dark.  Oh of course – this was the Transit Hotel in Seoul airport.  Hang on… what’s my mom’s hat doing hanging on the back of the door.  Come on Lesley – you can do it.  Think…..

It was quite a shock to realise that I was at home in my own bed and that in fact I had already flown from Seoul to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Calgary.  It was all like a bit of a black hole.  I sat up in bed bewildered and confused and I could almost hear the smirk on Ms Jet Lag’s lipstick red lips.

Sticky rice in Saigon

Well I thought I had seen it all in Hanoi;  streets packed with motorbikes, traffic lights a mere suggestion, pedestrians with nerves of steel.  Take all that and multiply by 10 when you arrive in Saigon – or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now officially called.  Rush hour is crazy and don’t think you are safe walking on the sidewalk – these are handy detours for traffic trapped scooters and motorbikes.  Although it all seems totally crazy and random there is a certainly logic about the whole thing that I can’t work out.  Walking down to the Central Market from our hotel I found that some intersections had traffic lights which, for the most part, were obeyed.  However other intersections had no traffic lights at all but for some mysterious reason the traffic would suddenly grind to a halt – lined up as if waiting for the starting whistle.  Weird. 

Whenever we looked confused or doubtful coming to a street crossing the friendly locals would invariably offer to help.  “Follow me” they would urge.  “Stay close – sticky rice”.

The Central Market is hot, sticky and noisy but it doesn’t deter us from hunting down bargains.  Will the T-shirts shrink in the wash?  Who cares?  It says Good Morning Vietnam (thank you Robin Williams) and that’s a good enough souvenir.

For a break from the traffic, the hooting of motorbikes, the heat, the shouting just step inside one of the many upmarket shopping malls in the middle of town.  Here you find all the top name brands, Ecco, D&C,  Gucci.  The price labels are in the millions – Vietnamese Dongs that is – but even so converting to US dollars make eyebrows rise with prices like $800 a dress.  Clearly this is where the affluent Vietnamese hang out – somehow I preferred the market where the goods might not be the same quality but the atmosphere and the smiles are indeed priceless.

On our way to Saigon

As we wait in the lounge onboard the Amalotus I have been going through my photos.  I love reliving the days we have enjoyed so far and remember the highlights, like the Tai Chi on board our junk in Ha Long Bay early in the morning, or meeting one of the hill tribe people at the Ho Chi Minh monument in Hanoi.  Other memories jump out from my photos – the children’s school in a small village in the Mekong, the crazy organised chaos of the bikes on the streets of Hanoi…. and I still have MILLIONS of photos to sort out. 

Still here is a glimpse of some of them so far  Vietnam and Cambodia 

Killing Fields

A visit to the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the infamous S21 detention centre is not a pleasant experience.  It is traumatic.  It is upsetting.  It is incredible how again and again these atrocities occur – despite the fact that we believe we learn from history and recite the mantra – Never Again. 
  The detention centre in Phnom Penh – S21 – used to be a high school.  Pol Pot’s regime turned it into a chamber of horrors and the evidence is still there – the shackles, the horrific photographs.  Only 7 people survived by the time the Vietnamese arrived and I had the honour to meet one of them.  Now in his 80’s  Chum Manh speaks little English but he does know a few words – like electric shock.  He explained to me by sign language and a few words how he was tortured by shock treatment in his ear.  He also showed me his knuckles and slid off his shoes to show me his feet where he had been tortured.  He has been a witness in the trials of the leaders of the Pol Pot regime.

His story and the stories of all the Cambodian people should be treasured and perhaps one day in the future we will be able to realise the dream of Never Again…   Slide show of our photos Genocide Cambodia

Phnom Penh’s best dry martini

Sipping a dry martini in the roof garden bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh I could not help thinking back to what it must have been like in ’93 when Cambodia opened its doors to foreign journalists and diplomats.  The country had been through hell and the FCC as it became known was THE place to hang out.  It still retains a special atmosphere with its wooden rafters, ceiling fans and wide selection of menu surprises – such as cottage pie or fish and chips with mushy peas.  Clearly the Brits had let the restaurant know what their favourite food was.  No noodles for this crew!

Our ride town the esplanade along the river front by tuk tuk was an education in itself.  The streets were crowded, motorbikes competing with fancy imported cars.  The riverwalk pathway was wide enough for what looked like an aerobics class – speakers set down on the pavement, instructor standing in front of what must have been 50 people.  At first I thought it was a line-dancing class – hey you never know. 

Every second store seemed to offer either food or massages – or maybe both.  Can you believe $4 for a massage?  Conterfeit DVD’s were on sale everywhere.  Films probably not even released in Hollywood yet….  And yet I found the street sellers so much nicer than places like Mexico or Jamaica.  Yes they wanted to sell their wares but they did not become a nuisance, were never aggressive and those big smiles just melt your heart.  So needless to say I have a whole bag of “stuff” that I would normally not have purchased but console myself with the thought that I am doing my bit for the Cambodian economy.  Just hope I am not going to end up paying for extra baggage!

Contrasts of Cambodia

We have cruised overnight across Tonle Sap lake and are now on the Tonle  Sap river.  Recent floods have widened the river which is dotted with floating hyacinth, stilted houses and the odd small island.  We disembarked this morning to visit the floating village of Kampong Chhnang by small motor boat.  As we cruised the waterways children jumped up and down and waved but for the most part life went on as usual at the floating school, the floating shop and numerous other floating businesses. 

 Finally we docked at the pier and went on a walking tour.  The poverty is amazing and yet everyone is clean, well fed and seem to be happy.  How little they want from life.  Unlike many other places I have visited where a photo means a dollar or two – here the children were more than happy to have their picture taken and then to have a chance to look at the digital image in the camera.  Big smiles blossomed when they recognised their faces.

We could see the French influence at the market bread store where baskets of golden baked baguettes were laid out for sale – but the amazing thing was that this was bread made out of rice flour.  What a boost that would be in Canada for people with wheat allergies. 

After touring the village we got back onto our motor boat and travelled back to our luxurious river boat – what a strange contrast it is.  We float down the river in such luxury with air conditioning, ice clinking in our drinks and crisp white sheets on our beds.  Somehow it seems a bit wrong.

Ooodles of Noodles

I am not an adventurous eater – heaven forbid I should ever get invited to participate on Survivor or the Amazing Race.  I just couldn’t do it.  I can see that I would totally let my team down by not being able to scarf down fried grasshoppers or live bugs.  I was therefore a bit dubious about what to expect in Vietnam. That sounds silly, I know, because there is a Vietnamese restaurant in just about every suburb of Calgary – but I have never visited any of them.  Now here I am in Vietnam faced with the real thing – and you know what – it’s great!  Spicy broth with fresh veggies and rice noodles sprinkled with fresh cilantro just before eating.  Yum.  It’s called Pho.  (Pronounced FOH).  Here’s another weird thing.  There are no fat people in Vietnam.  Honestly, I did not see one.  I asked my guide, Bik, about this.  She laughed and said that she had married an American and when he moved to Vietnam to live permanently he lost 25 pounds just over two months and he eats even more than he used to.  So clearly the food is good for you.

Drive through any town in Vietnam and there is sure to be little “snack huts” along the side of the road where you can buy Chicken or Beef Pho for the equivalent of 50 cents – sometimes less.  It’s Vietnam’s fast food – call it McPho if you like.

Sometimes you have to be a bit adventurous with food when you travel.  I know none of us want to be hit with Montezuma’s revenge and trust me, I keep the Imodium and Gravol handy when I travel.  Perhaps however you might want to stretch the envelope a bit on your next trip and eat outside of your comfort zone …. But maybe leave out the grasshoppers.