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Volcanoes and Hilo

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We began Thursday with a fresh fruit smoothie, which has become our habit, and packed up the car and headed out. From Hawi, we turned south onto the Kohala Mountain road through verdant ranchlands and up 3500 feet, dropping after 21 miles into Waimea. From Wiamea, the Belt Road took us along the northwestern coast across many bridges to Hilo. 

A cow on the Kohala Mountain Road

I took an immediate liking to Hilo. Once the centre of the now-defunct sugar cane industry, Hilo has a worn and sleepy attractiveness to it. The narrow downtown streets are lined with low wooden buildings with great shopfronts, and the signs reflect the Japanese-Hawaiian-American culture that has evolved there. Bento and musubi are for sale in many of the local restaurants, along with loco moco, a dish of rice, a burger patty smothered in gravy, and an egg on top. We stocked up on mochi, the Japanese sticky rice dessert, at Two Ladies Kitchen. 

Shops along Hilo's waterfront street

We had lunch at a Miyo’s, which serves up traditional Japanese dishes in a teahouse-like setting overlooking the Waiakea pond. Located in what seemed a derelict resort, Miyo’s was busy, basic, tasty and fun. I had a sesame chicken don. 

Seasame chicken don at Miyo's

A low-fat meal featuring a char sui egg sandwich

Volcanoes National Park is a short 45 minutes drive away. Just inside the park, we stopped at the visitor centre and found out, alas, that the lava isn’t visibly flowing at this time. Nevermind, there was still tons to see. We started with a 2km walk around Kipukapualulu, a 4,000 year old island of closed-canopy forest that has survived the lava and is home to a rich assortment of birds and rare trees.

The highlight was an end-of-day hike to the Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone and the Mauna Ulu shield. Stopping en route at a couple of massive pit craters, we arrived at the trailhead which was originally part of the Chain of Craters Highway until lava flows in the early 1970s smothered it. We parked the car at around 4:30 and headed east across quite barren flows of ropey pahoehoe lava. The warm, low light brought out wonderful details in the landscape. The cinder cone itself is forested; older than the landscape around it, it seems to have been protected. We hiked around the cone, then climbed up towards the steaming Mauna Ulu crater. The landscape here was lunar, with only a few small ferns and bushes poking through the lava. Closer to the crater’s edge, steam issued from fissures. With the sun close to the horizon, it was very atmospheric and impressive. 

Pahoehoe lava flows with the Pu'u Huluhulu Cinder Cone behind

Looking down on the forested Pu'u Huluhulu Cinder Cone

The steaming rim of the Mauna Ulu crater

Kristi on the rim of the Mauna Ulu crater

The 1974 lava flow over the Chain of Craters Highway

The hike back into the setting sun was quite lovely. Driving back towards the entrance of the park, we stopped in the Thurston Lava Tube. The darkness outside didn’t matter for a walk through the 500′ long, lit tube. We drove around the crater to the Jagger Museum’s viewpoint over the enormous Kilauea Crater. A crater within it, the Halema’uma’u, is currently very active, and at night is a massive orange-glowing furnace emitting copious quantities of steam high into the atmosphere. It was pretty thrilling to see.

We spent the night in the very-nearby town of Volcano (I’m not sure who would want to invest in real estate on top of an active volcano). Our guest house was simple and comfortable. We weren’t there for long – we went to bed at 9pm and woke at 6am to make the best of an early morning hike.

At 6:30am, we parked next to the Kilauea Iki crater. In 1959, this crater erupted, firing lava as high as   1,900′ in the air and creating an enormous lake of molten rock that took 30 years to solidify. Our hike took us down into the crater, along the crater’s floor and up the other side. 

Dawn light hits the far end of the Kilauea Iki Crater

We were the first to arrive in the parking lot and were treated to an amazing symphony of bird songs as we looked down at the first light hitting the crater floor. We took the trail clockwise, dropping quite quickly down a series of switchbacks, then out onto the flat expanse of the crater. With the rising sun behind us, we set out across the floor, with steam rising out of cracks around us. Near the far side, we came to the actual cone and crater the lava spewed out of. Looking way up to the summit of the cone about 500′ above us, I recalled the photos from 1959 of the molten lava launched several times higher than the cone. 

Buckled lava on the floor of Kilauea Iki

Steam rises from the floor of Kilauea Iki

The ground became rougher and more broken due to its proximity to the cone. We made our way over it, then began a steady climb up through forest back towards the car. Viewpoints along the way provided great views of where we’d been. 

Looking back across Kilauea Iki

The cone which spewed a giant 1,900' tall fountain of lava

Looking across Kilauea Iki towards the steam cloud from the active Halema'uma'u crater

On the way out of the park, we stopped at the roadside steam vents and got steamed.

We arrived back in Hilo in the late morning. We strolled around the streets, enjoying the clear blue skies, warm temperatures, and funky little shops. Amazingly we ran into two people we know from Vancouver, Keltie and Paul, coming out of the Salvation Army thrift shop with two boogie boards. Small world. After the initial surprise, we chatted and shared what we were up to on the Big Island, said goodbye and headed on in different directions. 

The Palace Theatre in Hilo

Kristi and I had good sushi for lunch at Ocean Sushi. I particularly liked my ahi poke roll. Poke is raw fish, usually ahi, marinated in a shoyo-sesame sauce, and is a staple in Hawaii. On the way back to the car, we stopped at the small farmers market (the huge one is on Saturdays, unfortunately) and picked up four papayas (for $1), a pineapple, tomatoes and rambutans. Everything came to $8, I think. I also stopped in a small snack shop for a musubi to go. 

Maki at Ocean Sushi in Hilo

Rambutan and other fruit at the small version of Hilo's farmer market

Our final stop in Hilo was the Suisan Fish Market on the waterfront, where we picked up half a pound of poke, which we put on ice for our dinner. A park across the road had a nice Japanese garden and huge banyans. 

The Suisan Fish Market

An assortment of poke at the Suisan Fish Market

Kristi under a giant banyan tree

We took more time diving back than on the way down. We dropped off the highway in a couple of places to drive on more scenic routes, stopping at one point to walk down to a rocky cove and watch breakers roll in. Driving uphill from the highway near Hononu brought us to Akaka Falls State Park. We took the slightly longer walk to the falls through lush forest, then were treated to the falls themselves, dropping straight down 420′ into a fern-filled basin. The town of Honomu was pretty attractive too, with its typical strip of old wooden storefronts, and a great old theatre, unfortunately closed. Every small town seems to have a classic old theatre, some functioning, others defunct. 

On the coast just north of Hilo

Akaka Falls, 420' high

The abandoned theatre in Honomu

Our final stop on that coast was the Waipi’o Valley. We only experienced it from the viewpoint, but it was still stunning, looking down on the valley floor far below and the massive cliff faces on the coast receding into the distance. The valley has an ancient history as a centre of taro cultivation for Hawaiians. It is possible to hike down into the valley, up the other side, across several smaller valleys an into a larger valley beyond where you can camp. What a trip that would be. 

Looking down into the Waipi'o Valley

I jumped out of the car for a few minutes in Honoka’a, the lively local town near the Waipo, for a few photos of the old centre of town. 

Honoka'a's active old theatre

The drive back followed the same route and we dropped down off of the Kohala Mountain Highway at dusk. It felt good to pull up back at the cottage. For dinner, I threw the poke on skewers and made tuna tataki, which was quite delicious.

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Written by sockeyed

February 4, 2011 at 15:01

Beach Day

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We did three different activities on three different beaches. First up was snorkeling at Kahalu’u beach south of Kailua. In the midst of the Kona Coast scene, and fairly jammed with snorkelers, it offered surprisingly good snorkeling behind an ancient breakwater. The water was very shallow, sometimes too shallow, but the fish were plentiful and we saw many of the same species as earlier, plus a unicorn fish and a sea turtle. All were amazingly relaxed around the larger number of people. Just beyond the breakwater surfers rode pretty substantial waves. On the other side of an adjacent resort were temple ruins and large tide pools which we strolled around.  

Kahalu'u Beach

 

We drove back north through, and after some ugly detours through enormous resort communities on the coast, we arrived at the Puako Petroglyph Preserve. A 1.5km walk through dusty scrub and trees bring you to a large slab of rock that has been carved with 3000 petroglyphs, some human, some animal, some seemingly abstract. We arrived with the light at a pretty decent angle to bring out the details.

Puako Petroglyph Preserve

 

 Next stop was a return to Hapuna Beach in the mid-to-late afternoon for some great boogie boarding, with some sizable waves. As it was my first time, I watch those around me for tips and picked up the hang of it pretty quickly. Kristi, sadly, just waded and sat on the beach; she would have loved to have been out in the big surf.

I head into the surf at Hapuna Beach

Kristi at Kapa'a

Kapa'a Sunset

 

Back at the cottage we cooked up a pasta dinner and packed up our stuff for a two-day trip to the volcanoes.

 

The last beach of the day was Kapa’a, not too far from Hawaii, where we sat on the rocks and watched a classic Hawaiian sunset while the locals had a big BBQ.  

Written by sockeyed

February 2, 2011 at 17:22

Arrival on the Big Island

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It is the third day of our trip and I am on the screened lanai of our cottage near the lush north end of the Big Island of Hawaii. Our place is in a ravine next to an ephemeral stream and surrounded by fruit trees – orange, lime, banana, breadfruit – and an avocado tree. It’s as jungle-like a setting as I’ve been since I was in Borneo, albeit about 10 degrees cooler (still warm). Green geckos with ruby highlights and ebony eyes peer down from the ceiling, and the trees echo with bird calls and whirr with the sound of cicadas.

We flew out of the small and functional Bellingham airport on Sunday late afternoon, the cold damp wind chilling us as we walked across the tarmac to the plane alongside dozens of other Canadians fleeing the grey gloom (actually Sunday was a lovely day). The flight, as one hopes it will be, was uneventful, and we were treated to syrupy maitais as we got close to Honolulu..

We stayed a brief night in Honolulu at a Best Western five minutes from the airport. We woke at 4am in order to catch our 5:52am flight to Kona. The short flight was entirely in the dark, but dawn arrived as we waited for our bag in the primarily-outdoor airport. The light illuminated lava fields all around us, and a dry, hot-looking landscape.

We picked up a Mazda 3 from Enterprise Rent-a-car, and I took a few minutes to empty out a burst bag of quinoa from the suitcase before driving south.

This is a car-oriented place. The roads on this part of the Big Island are wide and thick with cars, most of them far larger than ours. Not much, if anything, is walkable, it seems, which is unfortunate in such a climate.

We drove about 20 minutes south to Kailua where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast, potatoes, Kona coffee, and a tasty half-papaya dressed with lime juice. Our cafe overlooked the water (across a road), and waves rolled in.

 

Papaya and Kona coffee

We decided that snorkeling was the best objective for the day, so we drove south to Captain Cook, and hiked steadily down about 1000′ over 45 minutes to reach Kealakekua Bay for some fantastic snorkeling. Just off the lava rocks (and an old temple complex) were clear, warm waters with a great collection of tangs, angel fish, parrot fish, ribbon fish, anemones and corals. It was wonderful to be back in the water again, recalling memories of Sipadan and the Gili Islands. It was busy, mostly from people arriving by boat or kayak, but in the water it didn’t feel too bad. At one point, Kristi got a foot cramp and I had to tow her to shore. 

Looking across Kealakekua Bay to where we snorkeled (and Captain Cook died)

Next to the water is a monument to Captain Cook to mark the spot where he was killed by locals after the ill-considered idea to take a chief hostage. The monument, erected in the 1870s by ‘his countrymen’, states that he discovered the Hawaiian Islands. With an attitude like that, I’m sure the Hawaiians felt rather justified in doing him in.

The hike back up to the car was hot, passing through old lava flows under the sun, and Kristi, being almost five months pregnant, had to take is slow. I was fine with that.

Back in the car, I ate a musubi, a roll of sticky rice with a slice of Spam in the middle, wrapped in nori. Tasty.

From there we drove north through the hot, dry Kona coast, with scabby lava flanking the road. We stopped for a few minutes at Hapuna Beach to watch folks get pounded in the surf in the late afternoon sun, and made a point to return later in the trip. 

Hapuna Beach in the late afternoon

Hapuna waves

The landscape changed not long after this with an abrupt transition to lush and humid and green as we rounded the north end of the island. We passed through the towns of Hawi and Kapa’au, and dropped down a narrow asphalt track off the road to our lovely cottage.

We found this place on-line, and fortunately there had been a cancellation in the window we wanted. The fellow who owns it is a carpenter and this is his show-piece, full of beautiful but not ostentatious details. It has an open vaulted ceiling with visible beams, a polished and dyed concrete floors, lots of built-in storage, an open kitchen, and the amazing 200 square foot screened-in porch, or lanai. The cottage sits in a lush ravine among all the trees I mentioned, and pleasant breezes blow through. 

The cottage in its natural setting

The interior at night

It rained hard last night, but we had the the windows open and the skylights cracked so we could hear the waves of heavy rain that came through. Tired from our very long day, we slept like sacks of rocks.

Kristi made a great fruit salad drizzled with lime, all from the property, for breakfast.

At the end of the road about a 10 minute drive from here is the Polulu Valley. We drove out just for a look, since the weather was still a bit patchy, but the deep valley heading inland, and the line of tall sea cliffs heading into the distance was so spectacular that we decided on the spot to hike down to the black sand beach at the head of the valley. It ended up being an easier hike than we imagined; probably only about 20 minutes down. We walked on the beach and sat on a log watching the big breakers roll in. We let the tail ends of the waves lap over our toes. We felt the warm sun and warm breeze on our faces. 

Looking down at the head of the Polulu Valley and along the coast

Happy and with a growing belly

The hike back up was easy after yesterday’s longer slog.

We spent the early afternoon looking around Hawi and Kapa’au, which are pleasant little town with nice old wooden buildings. They are touristy, of course, but nothing like the Kona coast. After a fruit smoothy we returned to the cottage then spent the balance of the after noon just relaxing.

It feels good to be here. Flying five hours for a holiday is indulgent, but there is a richness to the Big Island that is worth experiencing, and I’m excited about the days ahead. I’m already feeling like there might not be enough of them before we have to go.

Our lanai

Written by sockeyed

February 1, 2011 at 22:20

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12 Hours in Hong Kong

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I had 12 hours in Hong Kong, arriving just after noon and leaving at 1:00am on November 8th.  I made my way to Tsuen Wan from the airport, then went for a walk along the Kowloon waterfront with Rehman and Kin-yi.  I had an obligatory stop at the Golden Computer Centre to poke around, then enjoyed a delicious home-cooked dinner in Tai Po with the Kwok clan.  It was a full and enjoyable day, and a great way to complete the trip.  Here are a few of my images from the day.

The Star Ferry pier in Kowloon with Hong Kong Island in the distance

A Star Ferry with Central in the distance

Daring to fish in Hong Kong Harbour

An alley in Sham Shui Po

A Sham Shui Po street scene

Written by sockeyed

November 8, 2010 at 00:55

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Phnom Penh

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I had two excellent days in Phnom Penh, a city I always enjoy returning to. I spent must of my time eating and drinking in the town’s fun great restaurants, cafes, and bars.

My plane touched down in the late afternoon, and I picked up my visa-on-arrival ($20) and was through customs and in a taxi quickly for the drive to my hotel. Vinh suggested the Amari on s.136, a great place just off the riverfront, centrally-located, new and not too noisy. It’s the sister hotel to the Paragon where I have stayed on other trips. My interior room – which I prefer as these rooms are quiet and dark – was $20/night.

View from my hotel to the 69 Bar

On the floor of the elevator in the hotel. A symptom of being on S.136

I picked up a SIM card from the front desk and gave Vinh a call. Before long he showed up and we walked down the riverfront to Cantina, the usual spot, for an Anchor (pronounced an-CHor) and a couple of really tasty chicken soft tacos. There was an opening of a photo exhibition on Cambodian performance at the National Museum, so we wandered over. We arrived in time to watch an excellent dance performance by a group called Children of Bassac. They perform every Thursday night, and high-quality cultural events like this is something that Phnom Penh really needs. Now, tourism seems very much based on atrocity tourism – the genocide and visits to S21 and the killing fields; for culture, people head to Siem Reap. Hopefully the city really begins to nourish regular cultural events like dance, music and visual arts.

Unfortunately we couldn’t actually see the photo exhibition (we did meet the photographer), so we went for more food, English this time, at a place nearby called Sunset or something. Vinh has a massive plate of bangers and mash, and I had a cheese and tomato toastie. Rick Valenzuela, a long-time friend who introduced me to Vinh, showed up and we were back to Cantina for another Anchor. Sue, Vinh’s wife (they were married a week before us), joined us. We didn’t stay up too late; I was sleepy from my travels.

I enjoyed an eggs and bacon breakfast at Cadillac where a group – me, Rick, Vinh and two other friends – assembled for an expedition to the RCAF (Royal Cambodian Armed Forces) market out towards the airport. Last year I bought some excellent new Thai-style army pants that I wear constantly; I bought two more pairs this year, but somewhat-different Cambodia-style one which are quick-dry synthetic and ripstop.

Vinh & Rick at the RCAF market

You wouldn’t expect to find a good burger place in a gas station, but Mike’s Burger House delivers the good. I had a regular cheeseburger for $2, and Vinh ate a double cheeseburger that was as big as his head. He also paired it with french fries that are deep fried, then batter-dipped and deep fried again. Sweet mercy.

Vinh enjoys his double cheeseburger

The 'band shot' in front of Mike's

I rested off the burger in the mid-afternoon, then Rick and I joined Sue and Vinh for a sunset cruise on the Mekong. Although we were invited for free, the regular price of a relaxing and scenic cruise on a very nice boat up and down the Phnom Penh waterfront is $5 including a drink. Amazing. It would be the perfect thing to do after work.

The waterfront

Oh Canada

The Paragon Hotel, where I've stayed in the past

Back on shore, Rick headed off to a small house party and went with Vinh and Sue to their apartment by the Independence Monument so Sue could change out of work clothes, then we rolled through town in a tuk tuk and across the bridge and south down the far bank of the river to Snow’s bar, a great, funky little wooden place with a stellar view back across the Mekong towards the city. A little burger stand out front provided my second burger of the day. I had what’s informally called the ‘oxymoron burger’ – a veggie burger with bacon on it. Oh, and it was good, possibly one of the best veggie burger patties I’ve had.

Vinh and his mistress at Snow's Bar

A pair of Anchors on the bar at Snow's

Next stop – back across the river to a party on the top of the Canadia Tower, the tallest building in the city. Not a particularly exciting event, but great views to be had. We circled the roof deck with Vinh taking pictures to stitch into a panorama. Vinh’s full bladder and a dire shortage of bathrooms had us making a hasty exit, however.

An entertaining American+Swede couple, Maria and ??, went with us to Sharkys, a venue that strikes me as a Viagra ad – a classic rock bar full of homely 50 & 60 year old white guys and freelancing Cambodian girls. Rick showed up.

A few drinks later and we decamped to Rock Bar (aka Zeppelin Cafe), a mandatory destination in Phnom Penh. Again, more drinks, plus sweet and sour pork and dumplings, and of course, hard rock dj’d by the owner, a fixture at the back of the bar, always loving what he is doing. I paced myself well throughout the evening and drank lots of water, so I was not in a bad condition; Rick, who I rode back to the the hotel with (his place is right around the corner), was pretty well lying on the floor of the tuk tuk. It was 2am when I made it to bed.

The Swede, Maria and Rick at Sharky's

Saturday morning found me groggy but functional. I met Vinh at Metro on the Riverfront for another excellent meal. My open-faced egg sandwich was mountain of foccacia, bacon, two poached eggs, hollandaise, salad greens, balsamic and shaved parmesan. The coffee was good too. Rick arrived only moderately the worse for wear. Vinh had to take off, so we said good bye, and I hung out with Rick for the duration. We went by his excellent corner loft apartment on the Riverfront at s.130 (I think) where he gave me a great Phnom Penh Post (his paper) cap and I visited his cat (kind of skittish and clearly doesn’t remember me). We went in vain to try and find a t-shirt he’d had printed at a printer shop (he’d lost the receipt some months ago). Back in our neighbourhood we said goodbye, I packed up my room and took a taxi to the aiport and caught my Air Asia flight back to Bangkok.

A fine breakfast at Metro

I stayed in the familiar Silver Gold Garden Hotel, only about 10 minutes from the airport, which is clean, comfortable and only $20 a night including transfers to and from the airport. What made the experience enjoyable was a street market next to the hotel. I set down my bags and went out to find dinner. I found a stall selling delicious laksa-like rice noodles with fish balls in coconut curry soup, with big bowls of fresh herbs, pickled greens and sprouts to throw on top. This cost about $0.60. I also found a place selling the best mango sticky rice I’ve had, so I picked up two orders, one for dessert, and one for breakfast this morning.

Mango sticky rice and other goodies from the market

 

I slept well, one of the better nights I’ve had. A van took me to the airport at 6:30am, and my flight left at 8:25. I’m 30 minutes out of Hong Kong, where I’ll have a 12 hour layover to visit folks there

Written by sockeyed

November 7, 2010 at 08:51

Posted in Food, Travel

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Leaving Vietnam

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My second day in the field with PSI Vietnam was just within Hải Phòng documenting their promotional efforts and outreach. We started in the morning with a trip around the city with a local staff member photographing billboards promoting safe practices and HIV testing, ideally with groups of men sitting or standing nearby. The billboards were generally placed in strategic areas – places where men drink (bia hơis) or industrial areas where they work.

A PSI billboard promoting HIV awareness

For lunch we had bún chả at my request. Our local contact took us to a place that was quite renowned for it, and rightly so; the spring rolls were delicious – stuffed with crab and shrimp. I ate very well, but it seems the others were able to eat a fair bit more.

Crab and shrimp springrolls with bun cha

After relaxing in the hotel lobby for a couple of hours (I uploaded photos to my last blog post), we returned to the PSI office where they male client team was meeting before heading out for the evening’s work. They practised a couple of interactions with a mock group of men out drinking, and apparently it was very humorous and realistic. After about an hour we took a group photo, then they all rolled to various quarters of the city to do their work.

We met up with a couple of teams (they work in pairs) on a busy street lined with bia hơis. Their outreach was very similar to what I’d seen in Phnom Penh – a worker would approach a group of single men in the target age group and engage them in discussion about condom use and HIV prevention. From what I understood, much of the talk was about how you can’t tell if someone has HIV and that it’s best to be safe and practice prevention. One example they used, presented with flash cards, was that you can verify what your friend says about the weather by looking at a weather forecast and what he says about a restaurant by trying it, but you can’t take his work on whether a sex worker is safe, so it’s always best to use a condom. At the end of the chat, a few gifts – pens, condoms and condom holders – were passed around and the worker found a new table.

A PSI outreach worker with potential male clients of sex workers at a bia hoi

This kind of work can’t really happen late in the evening as the men will have had more to drink by then and would likely be heading to ‘entertainment establishments’ if they were planning to do so, so we were on the road back to Hanoi by 7pm. It was a steady, slowish drive again and it wasn’t until about 9pm that we got to where I would be staying in the northern part of the city. We had some phở, then I was dropped at the Newtatco Hotel, an unusual place which I think was a state-run guesthouse. It reminded me of something out of China in the early 1980s, and the bed was as comfortable as sleeping on a sheet of plywood. Like most nights on this trip, I didn’t sleep well.

At 6:30am a taxi arrived to take me to the airport which was surprisingly busy. There were long lines to check in and for emigration. The flight on Air Asia was smooth and comfortable and time, and Bangkok’s airport was surprisingly quiet and I was out the door and on the airport train quickly.

I checked in to Jim’s Lodge not long after lunch and tried unsuccessfully to nap, so I got up and headed out on the town. For a snack I picked up a couple of buns at one of the ubiquitous 7-11s, then took the BTS to National Stadium. My plan here had to meet up with my PSI connections from last year. From National Stadium I was planning on taking a taxi to meet Piboy, the outreach worker I followed for a few days last year, but it turns out he was an hour away, so unfortunately I could not meet up. My other contact here, Alex, had to head out to check on projects in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, so I couldn’t meet him either.

I ambled around MBK mall for a bit, watching people buy cell phones and gizmos, but looking at the price of camera gear, it was clear things are actually cheaper in Canada. I did buy a screen protector for my point and shoot which came to $3, installed.

Jeremy Tan recommended a chain of classy and high-quality spas as a place to get a thai massage. Normally averse to massages, he claims going to Health Land converted him, so I had to check one out. It look me a long time to find the location I was looking for as Bangkok street names and addressing are confusing at best. I walked up and down many streets including the infamous Soi Cowboy (the go-go bars being prepped for the evening’s action, and the bar girls having their dinners). Eventually I simply got a moto driver to take me to Health Land (I had been very close several times). When we arrived he expressed concern that I was in the wrong place. Through hand gestures he let me know that I couldn’t possibly want to go here as the place doesn’t offer boom boom as part of the massage. I let him know that it was OK.

It was a very pleasant place with beautiful wood finishing and fragrant herbs in the air. The customers were mostly women and couples. For 450 Baht ($15) I got a 2 hour thai massage in a nice, soothing room by a stout and powerful masseuse. Thai massage, when done properly, often makes you think, by god this hurts but it sure feels good for me. A great deal of time is spent on the legs, and when you have hamstrings as tight as mine, there were times when the pressure almost made me sing. Two hours of finger and elbow pressure, plus twisting and pulling reduced me to a sack of jello. I had come in with a headache and it was long gone, and my legs felt pleasantly achy.

Looking down on Suhkumvit from the Asok BTS station

For dinner I walked a few minutes over to Cabbages and Condoms, a social enterprise started by the fellow who really brought condom use to the fore in Thailand in the 1990s. The restaurant is in a lovely treed courtyard, and a musician from a music school plays traditional Thai music. The food is very good too. I had tom yum talak (spicy seafood soup) and penang kai (chicken in a thick coconut curry sauce), with sticky rice and fresh coconut water. For desert – mango sticky rice, of course, and a glass of Thai whiskey. The bill came to about $17, which is pricey for here, but certain worth it for the food and the ambiance.

Then, back to the hotel for an early-ish night (although I still didn’t sleep too well). I’ll pack up now and head to the airport for my flight to Phnom Penh.

Written by sockeyed

November 4, 2010 at 20:05

Hà Nội-Đồ Sơn-Hải Phòng

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My last night in Laos – the 29th – was a lively one by Lao standards. I joined my old friends from last year’s malaria project (Tak, Saen, Seng and Dao) for a night on the town. We started at the expansive waterfront bar Moon the Night (not sure what that means), where a crate of Beer Lao was delivered to the table and there were various things to nibble on. At around 9 or so we decamped to a karaoke bar near That Louang for some crooning. Only one of them (identity protected) had a woman sit with him; I can only imagine the agony of one’s days spent listening to men yowl along to the latest Lao and Thai hits.

Mr. Seng belts one out

I was home by 11, I think. And I’ll be ice in my beer kept me sober (I’m learning to nurse my drinks long enough to get me through an evening without wobbling).

My flight for Hanoi left in the late afternoon, and to be honest I was worried about how I was going to spend the day as I really had drained Vientiane of options. Fortunately Dao was having a party at his house as he lives near a part of the river where there was a boat race festival. Apparently it’s traditional – if you live by the river – to host all of your friends, feeding and beering them under a canopy. Tak picked me up at the hotel and we joined Dao for a few hours of sitting and grazing. Once again I nursed a small amount of beer through the afternoon.

Mr. Dao hosts a party

I arrived at the very quiet airport in plenty of time for my 17:50 flight on Vietnam Airlines. The flight was fine although I was disappointed not to be fed even a peanut or cracker in the course of the one hour flight. The time on board was extended by 50% when we sat on the taxiway for half an hour behind some other plane. I worked on reading my book.

I picked up my visa on arrival and was met by a PSI driver. We zipped into town, then got, bogged down in traffic, as expected, but eventually I made it to my hotel. I was very pleased with the Hanoi Elite, a two week-old little gem in quiet alley in the old quarter. I had a very nicely appointed little room in a modern Asian style, and the staff were very pleasant and helpful, running out to get me a SIM card or a moto driver, and providing excellent breakfast.

The Hanoi Elite Hotel

I was tired and hungry, but it was Saturday night in Hanoi, so I grabbed my camera and spent a couple of hours wandering the streets and photographing the highly-aesthetic chaos. Nothing is quite like Hanoi traffic, and organic mass of scooters with the odd car screwing things up like a clot in an artery. Crossing streets is much the same as it was in 2004 – walk steadily and let everything flow around you; hesitate or run and you’re likely to get in trouble. There is a new dangerous element however – it is not unusual for a rider to be text messaging on the scooter. Danger danger.

Near Hoan Kiem Lake

I enjoyed a bowl of pho ga at a streetside stall, squatting on a 6′ high stool and watching the world flow by. The chicken broth put a dent in my sore throat (which lasted until today – November 1).

A typical streetside pho restaurant

The next day – Sunday and Halloween – was a free day for me in Hanoi, so I woke at 6am, hand breakfast in the hotel, then hit the streets. I crisscrossed, circled and ambled my way around the Old Quarter, savouring its vibrance and looking for spots I remembered. I also noticed the changes. It’s quite likely that I have a selective memory, but it really seems to me that there are a lot more tourists and backpackers than there were, and a lot more restaurants and bars catering to them. And locals responded differently, probably tired of being photographed and being in the constant presence of travellers.

A street in the Old Quarter

A street vendor in the Old Quarter

I had a few enjoyable interactions, particularly in one case where I stopped to watch two men and one boy sanding the rust off an old disassembled child’s bike. The boy stood at the ready with a can of blue spray paint. The pulled up a stool and invited me to join them, so I did, communicating what I could and photographing the scene.

Bringing an old bike back to life

I had fantastic Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sữa) in a cluster of coffee shops on Trong Thanh and a massive and delicious lunch of bún chả hà nội (fried spring rolls, grilled meat, noodles, greens and soup) at Dac Kim on Hàng Mành Street (recommended by Vinh).

Where I enjoyed my cà phê sữa

bún chả hà nội

I laid down for a rest in the afternoon but didn’t really sleep, and got up around 4pm to catch the better light. A visit to the Temple of Literature turned out to be a bit of a mistake; it was totally mobbed and just moderately interesting. Well, it does have an impressive history and some interesting stellae celebrating ancient professors, but I didn’t feel moved. The moto ride through the Old Quarter, however, was very exciting and warranted shooting lots of video clips.

A detail at the Temple of Literature

Mob scene at the Temple of Literature

Three years ago in Luang Prabang while photographing the Luang Prabang Children’s Cultural Centre I met a CUSO Cooperant named Derin. It turns out that she’s now in Hanoi working for Oxfam Canada, so I joined her, her mom and sister for a dinner in an open-air restaurant southeast of Hoan Kiem Lake not far from the railway station. We caught up on what we’ve been up to and enjoyed a variety of Vietnamese dishes, prepared in hawker-like stands around the periphery. The dinner came to $5, or 100,000 Dong each with beer. Yes, Vietnam is still very cheap (and this wasn’t street food).

Why not carry a giant plant on your scooter?

I enjoyed my last evening scooter ride through the city and slept nearly a full night.

Rush hour (note the standard way of moving infants on the right)

Hoan Kiem Lake at dusk

Today it was back to work with PSI, but it was a very enjoyable and full day. My guide, Ms Ngoc, and a driver showed up at 8am for a long, slow drive to Hải Phòng (100kms in two hours). Ms Ngoc is like many of the PSI local staff I’ve worked with – very bright and helpful. Prior to work with PSI she was with Save the Children, and she spent time studying in Switzerland. She fell asleep in the car.

We passed straight through Hải Phòng, continuing another 20kms to Đồ Sơn, a resort town on the coast. It was actually pleasant, with a cool breeze, shady trees and a reasonable waterfront. We spent our time with Mr Thu, the local distributor for PSI’s Number 1 condoms. I learned a great deal from the experience. Here, hotels and guesthouses are largely responsible for providing condoms for their sex workers, but they are also seemingly the central organizing element in the sex trade. Quite often, women were based in the guesthouses and sent around the town to clients on the back of motorbikes. It was a surreal scene as the place was actually quite deserted-seeming, but there was a steady buzz of women in tight pants and heels being delivered here and there. Condoms also seem to be quite a commodity. PSI is interested in encouraging as much use of their high-quality condoms as possible, but they face competition from cheaper Chinese ones. When guesthouses run through 10 shoebox-sized boxes of them in a week, I guess economies of scale come into play. So Mr. Thu has to actively promote his product.

Number 1, big here and in Laos and Cambodia

 

He drove around town with a big box of Number 1s on the back of his scooter and we followed in our car. He chatted up and made sales of varying sizes to street stall vendors and guesthouse operators, and pitched the condoms to the sex workers directly. I documented it all.

Mr. Thu out on his motorbike

Interacting with the owner of a tea stall who sells Number 1 condoms

A week's worth of condoms for a guesthouse

 

Late in day we rolled back to Hải Phòng and spent a couple of hours with the female sex worker outreach team – Sống đẹp (“Clean Living) – first in their office where they mocked up a series of 1-on-1 education sessions with sex workers, then in the field. We didn’t have any success getting into any entertainment establishments, which we expected, but I was able to photograph outreach to a couple of street workers. Much of what I’m doing is carefully shot to preserve the identity of the sex worker.

Sống đẹp outreach workers fill out their log books

A Sống đẹp outreach worker provides support for a female sex worker

 

Hải Phòng is bustling and dusty, but not ugly (for the most part), and I got to see a lot of it as we drove around after the outreach teams. PSI has put my up in the decent Bach Dang Hotel in the centre of town on Dien Bien Phu Street. Ms Ngoc led us to a decent and filling dinner of pork cake and rice noodles dipped in sour-saltly-sweet-spicy soup. I was back in the hotel in plenty of time to write this and backup all of the 300 images I took today.

Written by sockeyed

November 1, 2010 at 17:59