Monthly Archives: July 2013

Hoi An

Hoi An (Vietnam), 31.07.2013

Highly recommended by the LP guide and a Unesco listed site, Hoi An seemed to be worth a visit to see an old Vietnamese town with few scooters and plenty of charm. It was just a 30 minutes drive in another snail speed cab from Da Nang, including the attempt of the driver to get me into a tour of a workshop selling stone statues. Driving out of Da Nang I had the chance to see something of this town on a beautiful bay. The hills opposite my hotel were still covered in clouds in the morning. In town there are many French colonial buildings in good shape, side by side with newly built high rises. Several huge new bridges span the Song Han river, one bigger then the next. As I drove through this town I wondered how the generations might get along with all the change, this place must have looked so completely different just a few decades ago.

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Vietnam by Train

Da Nang (Vietnam), 30.07.2013

After two days in a chic hotel and a big city it was time again to see something else. So this morning at 06:25 I took a train north. The cab driver that drove me to the station was probably the slowest one I’ve ever seen. It took him ages to get to 30km/h after every red light, and we stopped at several ones. But I made it on time to the train, that left Saigon shortly after I boarded. I had booked what was supposedly the most expensive class of seats, a first class berth in a compartment of 4. As I got to my seat there was a mother with her two small children already seated. I admit I’m no fan of trains, to put it mildly. Apart from some high speed trains in Europe the only other trains I took in the last 15 years were a sleeping car in France and a Swedish-donated, pretty rotten train in Bosnia. I find trains dirty, slow, disgusting, and a product of statist run companies that seem to have other priorities then serving their customers well. And this one in Vietnam confirmed my worst expectations, exceeding even the horrors of travelling on Italian state run trains of the eighties that I remember from my childhood. Continue reading

Saigon

Saigon (Vietnam), 29.07.2013

From Phnom Penh a bus took me to Vietnam in six hours. The ride was nothing spectacular, the Cambodian landscape flat, poorer then what I had seen before, and dirtier. The Mekong bus was also not as nice as the Giant Ibis from Siem Reap. And there was the boring and bureaucratic border crossing, the first one on this trip since the Pakistani-Indian one at Wagah. It felt strange to not have the car here.

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Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 27.07.2013

Yesterday got kick started by a phone call from the reception. “Your pickup for the bus is here.” It was 07:00, and I was getting ready to leave half an hour later. “You told me they would pick me up in half an hour, tell them to wait.” Speed shower-packing-checkout. A tuktuk drove me to the bus station, as the pick-up service had not waited. I thought I’d barely make it to the bus, but I was the first to get on board. So much to the timeliness. 45 minutes after the scheduled departure, the Giant Ibis luxury bus with aircon, WiFi (!!), drinks, breakfast and Hollywood movies on a big flatscreen TV in the front (one way ticket for 14 USD) left Siem Reap. Continue reading

Angkor Wat

Siem Reap (Cambodia), 25.07.2013

Probably I should have done my homework better, to not be caught by surprise on arrival in Cambodia. Or better in this specific place, Siem Reap, the town that hosts the ruins of Angkor Wat. I had expected a simple, poor, basic place. The temple complex, a Unesco listed site, is one of the wonders of this world, and a major magnet for tourists. This seems to have brought quite some wealth and investment to this town, that greeted me on arrival with a clean modern airport terminal, very chic. I had to get a visa on arrival. There were 3 guys taking care of the payment, 20 USD plus 1 for the passport picture I didn’t have with me. The visa counter is a long round wooden bar, with 12 officers sitting behind it. After the payment, my passport took a tour through the hands of the next group of four officers, then another four. After some minutes I got called up by name and the last officer an the other end of the counter and in uniform jacket, handed me back my document. “Welcome to Cambodia.” Continue reading

Metropolis

Bangkok (Thailand), 24.07.2013

Never will I forget the first time I went to the movies, I must have been 8 or 9 years old. Not only was it one of those exiting discoveries my father introduced me too. It opened up a new world of dreams and fantasies, after having discovered those of the book (on printed paper, for those who can’t remember the world before ebooks) and the audio drama on cassette tapes. But the movie also left a series of images in my mind that I will never forget. Continue reading

In Limbo in Delhi

New Delhi (India), 22.07.2013

The next morning after visiting the Ganges in Varanasi, we took a plane with Spice Jet to New Delhi, hoping to reach the city shortly after our car. While flying over India, as long as there were no clouds we noted that on the ground there seemed to be not a slice of land without cultivation, buildings, roads – occupied by man in some form. We arrived at our hotel after lunch, and waited for a call from Land Rover. The car was still not with the service center. We spent the day relaxing, organizing things, internetting, trying to plan next steps. The car reached New Delhi finally after over 60 hours of transport on the following day, and we kept waiting for news. Another day went by, waiting, chilling, reading, writing. The weather was pretty bad: hot, smoggy grey sky, rain in the afternoon. Once it poured down so heavily that there was almost half a meter of water on the streets. These showers lasted not too long, but kept the air humid. Continue reading

Varanasi

Varanasi (India), 17.07.2013

It feels strange to write this post about the first leg of our journey that we drive in a different car. We don’t actually drive ourselves but are driven by a local driver, from Kushinagar to Varanasi. Last night at 02:30 the Europassistance truck showed up, we loaded the Evoque on it, and off it went into the night. Suddenly we were left with just a few bags, and it felt really strange how our way of travelling had changed from one moment to the other. The next morning we left town in an old Chevrolet car. The aircon saved us from a free hour-long sauna, but what a change in moving forward. No comfort, no music, the view from the back seats, lacking the familiar atmosphere and personal things we had on board. We miss our car!

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A Nightmare on India’s Streets

Kushinagar (India), 16.07.2013

We left off our last post with the impressions of lush Nepalese mountains, a flight to see the Himalayas, and great food. We had arrived hours late at the Nepal-India border in Birganj due to the delays in the mountain flight, heavy traffic in Kathmandu, and a more complicated road through the mountains then expected. We had almost no Nepalese cash left and tried to find a gas station that accepted credit card throughout the day, without success. (Usually credit card acceptance and good diesel are found at the same stations.) Reaching the border our tank was pretty much empty. While having no Nepalese cash was not an issue any longer, we were also low on Indian cash. Continue reading

Through the Mountains of Nepal

Birganj (Nepal), 15.07.2013

Since we didn’t manage to see the Himalayas in Nepal so far, we decided to resort to extreme measures to verify if this country really has the highest mountains in the world: we took a plane to check out the world on on top of the clouds hanging low over the Kathmandu valley these days. We woke up at 04:30, left the hotel and arrived at the airport at 06:00, half an hour before take-off. We waited, and waited, were told there were some delays, then some maintenance works on the runway, then something else. The staff was very relaxed while we wondered why we had woken up so early. At 07:45 we were about to give up and leave, since we had a long way ahead of us, when suddenly the boarding started. Continue reading