Feb 6, 2014

Headed home--From 32C to 27F

Now that I'm on the flight headed back to the US of A, there are a few odds and ends to get down before I forget them again... and again.

Most restaurants offer only either facial tissue or toilet paper for use as napkins.

The Western concepts of personal space and privacy are often, in my experience, beyond what is commonplace in Việt Nam. What we consider staring or intruding into personal space is simple curiosity. More than once, someone I barely knew felt free to pick up and sort through my personal things in a way I've not seen in the West. After extreme discomfort during the first couple such experiences, I was able to let go and accept both that I had nothing to hide (because my passport and cash were locked up) and that there was no malice on the part of the looker, just curiosity about things unfamiliar.

I've also experienced many instances of someone staring for a minute or more with no hesitation or looking away--again something I've not seen in the West. It's just the way things are done... and although it was difficult not to ask, "What are you looking at?" I managed to avoid blurting it out.

Toothpicks are on every restaurant table and both males and females use them after meals, in most cases discretely hidden behind the other hand.

If you want a good, DOT-rated motorcycle helmet for use in Việt Nam, bring it with you. 

Ditto good riding gear.

For a cross-country trip, it's going to really help to have a Garmin GPS specifically designed for motorcycles. The car models work well in dry, sunny, and dust-free weather, but as soon as you get into dust or rain, you're going to have an issue. Make sure that whatever you get has the ability to add maps via an SD or micro-SD card or you'll get to buy a new GPS for each continent or sub-continent.

You will eat more white rice in 30 days in Việt Nam that you will in a year in any Western country.

In place of a $5 to $600 GPS, unit with the SD chip for SE Asia and turn-by-turn instructions, some people buy a set of maps, and other figure they'll look at a map before they set out and that will be sufficient. We found a blue-covered book of detailed maps of Việt Nam in a Sài Gòn bookstore. 


If you have neither a GPS nor a Reisse map, your next best bet is this book. I suggest paying close attention to it and checking if each road you pass might be the next one you seek. is a web site via which Vietnamese women and Western men can find each other on-line for friendship and companionship or dating.  If you use the site, treat the women with the same respect you would give a close friend or your sister. This includes walking beside and not in front of them, and paying for meals, drinks, and any travel you may do together. It's about ability to pay and nothing else. You have it, they don't. This respect also means only making statements and promises that you intend to honor.

If you want to buy something used, for example a used cell phone to replace the one you lost or had stolen, ask for "second hand." In my experience, the term "used" will not be readily understood.

If you want change for a big bill, ask them to "make smaller."

The Asian beers tastes like lite, lite beer. The only Asian beer I found that has ANY cojones is 333 (Ba Ba Ba), and it's still relatively weak.

A XXXL shirt bought in Việt Nam is roughly equivalent to an XL in the U.S. In most shops, you will be fortunate to find their XXL.

In Cambodia, the stated sizes are much closer to those we know in the U.S.

Forget about finding shoes > size 11 unless they're specially made.

Eat at least one-third of your meals at the sidewalk-based restaurants... the ones that have only low tables and the short, square plastic stools. My rule is, the greater the number of locals eating there, the better the food. Sure, a few may charge you a bit higher rate than the locals' rate, but it's not much.

Pay attention and learn hello (pron "Zin chow"), thank you ("cam ún"), and basic numbers (1) Môt (2) Hai (3) Ba (4) Bwon (5) Nam and so on. 25 is pron. hai muye nam--2-10-5. My spellings are closer to how we Westerners would say the words. The spelling is NOT correct.

You don't always have to know what you're eating. If others are eating it, it won't kill you and probably won't make you sick.

If you want a Bluetooth device, take it with you. I saw none in my two months in-country.

Many hotel computers (no matter where in the world you are) have worms or viruses. At one point, I had over 1000 spiders on one of my camera's memory cards. If possible, avoid plugging memory cards or sticks into a hotel computer. If you need to transfer or backup files and can't take your own netbook or laptop, have a computer business or shop that advertises file transfer to CD do it. 

Most massage businesses are honest. Since it's impossible to know which are not, enter with a minimum of cash and valuables and keep them within sight, possibly under the massage table.

Tip every service-oriented worker at least 10-15%. You can afford it and they will be grateful.

Keep a journal or blog of your trip, even if you never share it with anyone else. Without one, you will forget forever some of the smaller things within a week or less... and if they're written down, some of them will become your best memories and stay with you forever.

Humorous t-shirts spotted:
  No Money, No Honey (on a woman)
  Sleep with me and get free breakfast (on a man)
  Marry me and fly free (on a female Flight Attendent 20+ years ago)

Stay in the small, locally-owned hotels and guest houses. They're generally clean, well-run, and full of character... and characters. The international chains are the same no matter what city/country they're in and it's easy to wake up not knowing where you are (speaking from experience here) because the furnishings all look the same.

A few of the differences I noticed between Cambodia and Việt Nam:
 1) I saw very few Cambodians smoking. When I asked about it, I was told that they used to have a LOT of smokers until about 5 years ago when the government ran a huge public education program about the dangers and diseases associated with smoking.
 2) Cambodia has significantly less trash on the streets, probably because there are a couple trash and recycles receptacles on just about every block.

Here are some more random photos you've yet to see...
When you have a big skull, it's sometimes hard to find a helmet that fits. Bring or buy one that does.

Gotta love the adaptability...

And the moment-by-moment traffic interactions... The woman at the far left is signaling their intention to move or turn right by pushing her extended right hand down. Looking over one's shoulder is NOT part of changing lanes or entering into a traffic stream.

One of the most photographed corners in the tourist-heavy area. 
The wiring is not unusual, just highly visible.

A kite boarder and a local man dragging for shellfish north of Mui Ne.

Moving hay to market

One of the many--and the dirtiest--toilets I got to use. All the little brown things are live maggots. That was an especially good day to be able to pee standing up.

When is a mushroom statute more than a mushroom statue? 

Agriculture using a mechanical pulling device with a PTO.

A more time-tested method

Purina Dog Chow in 150 meters?

Nope. It's a ramp for runaway trucks.

Getting hungry...

While I was gone to Sapa for three nights, I paid for and kept my room at the Queen Hotel in Hà Nôi. During that time, the hotel needed to move me from the fourth floor to the room immediately above. Everything was in the same place in the new room that it had been in the previous room, even down to the torn off wrist cuff from a pair of nitrile gloves that I'd forgotten to throw away before I left.

One of the local creators of "buffalo chocolate". See "Treking Around" dated Jan 07.

View from my room at the Queen Hotel. Note the varying levels and styles...

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