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Earthquake - 地震

Yesterday at around 7 o’clock in the evening I was in my room collecting things to send home to Sweden with my family when suddenly the whole room started moving. The windows were rattling and the liquor bottles on top of our book shelf almost fell over. It was just for a few seconds, but it was a bit scary. I ran over and closed the glass doors to the shelf and turned off the gas at the stove.

This was the first time I felt an earthquake. There have allegedly been others while I have been here, but none that I’ve felt. When I got back to the hotel that my family stayed at my father said: “Now I’m ready to go home.”. He was happy that he felt an earthquake. Luckily it was just a small one.

Asahi newspaper says the epicentre was in southern Ibaraki prefecture and with a magnitude of 5.0. The prefectures Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Saitama felt a 4 on the Japanese earthquake scale while Tokyo and Kanagawa felt a 3. The Japanese scale is not based on energy but rather on the degree of shaking. It ranges from 0 to 7.

Rice and Jungle - Jungle Rice or Perhaps Rice Jungle

It took a while to get this all written down and the photos all done, but since I’ve come back I’ve been very busy and also had troubles with sickness, so that’s my reason.

I got back from my travels to Vietnam and Cambodia on Friday March 7th. I spent 11 days (including flights) away from home, of which about 5 in Cambodia, 4 in Vietnam and 2 in the air. Everything went well and almost according to plan, I only had a few minor incidents - like getting ill and having the USB-port of my mp3-player ruined.

People that have been in the region keep telling you how cheap it is. I agree to that, I got away pretty cheap, although I certainly could have used less money had I really tried. I bought 400 USD before leaving Japan and later withdrew another 100 USD, before coming home with 63 USD left. Using my excellent maths skills, I’d say I spent 400 + 100 - 63 = 437 dollars. That includes everything except the round trip flight ticket (~58,000 JPY), as I didn’t buy anything using my card.

Day 1 - Tokyo → Saigon

Kitchen Work
This was mostly a transportation day. I started off early at Narita airport where I had big troubles getting my dollars. I didn’t have any cash with me because I thought it wouldn’t be a problem to use my VISA card at one of the largest airports in the world. How silly of me! Seeing as to how many times I have had trouble getting money from my card in the rest of Japan, I really shouldn’t have assumed that it’d go smoothly here.

After a while of running around the departure hall asking different banks and exchange agents if they accepted credit cards, which they of course didn’t, I finally found the only ATM that accepted international credit cards. So I got my dollars, got on the plane and never looked back.

Ben Thanh Market RoundaboutAfter a change in Taipei, I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City on schedule at around 16.30. I took a taxi to Bui Vien street in District 1 in the centre of the city, where my guest house was located. I felt it would be nice to know where to stay for the first night at least, so I had booked a guest house from Japan through Hostelworld.com. I stayed at Luan Vu Guest House on 35/2 Bui Vien and I paid $17 for a single room. It was a nice and clean room, with air condition, but in retrospect, it was a bit over the top as there were many other places in the same neighbourhood with much cheaper rooms and not much lower standards.

First Meal in VietnamHaving settled in my room I ventured out in the city to hunt down some dinner. I ate some fried noodles at a food stall at the market. Saigon is a bustling and live city, which never seems to rest. The streets are full of people riding bicycles and the ubiquitous motorbikes. They are literally everywhere. I heard from someone that there are 7 million people in Saigon and 4 million motorbikes. Crossing a street can be a little bit intimidating at first, but after a few times I had no problem at all. As long as you keep a steady pace and don’t do anything unexpected, the drivers will be able to plan how to drive to avoid hitting you.

Streets of Saigon
I also managed to buy me a one-way bus ticket to Siem Reap, where the Angkorian temple ruins (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom etc.) are, for the next morning before finishing off the evening with a few rounds of beer at the bars.

Day 2 - Saigon → Siem Reap

They Way to Ride a Cambodian Mini-Bus
Another early morning. I got up at 05 to catch the bus to Siem Reap at 06:30. The tickets were $15 and were bought from Sinh Cafe Travel Agency on De Tham street. I know Mekong Express also has tickets all the way to Siem Reap, but they are $22. There wasn’t much information when I searched the Internet about buses on this route - the route seems to be quite new. Before, it seems like you had to take a bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh and then go to Siem Reap the next morning. At any rate, the bus ride was supposed to be 12 hours with a 1h30min stop in Phnom Penh to change buses (and have lunch), but it turned out to take around 15 hours and I arrived tired and hungry to Siem Reap at about 21.

Man Watering FlowersI had read in my Lonely Planet and on Wikitravel about a guest house called Prince Mekong Villa, that seemed to have gotten good words from previous guests. So when I got off the bus I decided to try my luck there despite my tuk-tuk driver insisting on taking me to another guest house - probably one where he would get some money for bringing guests. The Prince Mekong guest house is located a little bit out of town, but the rooms were clean and the owner was very nice, so I decided to stay there. I stayed in a spacious single room with hot water, tv and fan for $10 per night. The price also included a light breakfast, a bicycle and free laundry service.

After settling in and having explained to me the best way to see the temples without the crowds (that is, by bicycle!), I went out to dinner with a few Koreans that I had met on the bus, and then straight to bed.

Travel Update

I’ve now been away for five days, and I’m still alive. For the moment I’m in Phnom Penh and have just had a chicken curry for dinner.

I arrived at Saigon the 26th and stayed there for one night. The day after, I took a bus from Saigon all the way to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Actually it was two buses, since there was a change in Phnom Penh.

I spent three nights and two days in Siem Reap, until this morning. The first day I used the free bicycle provided by my guest house to tour around Angkor Thom, starting before sunrise and ending very dehydrated around 4 in the afternoon. My butt still hurts from that.
Angkor Wat
The second day I took it easier and slept in for a while, after which I went to see the magnificient Angkor Wat. Good thing I followed the advice from my guest house and saved it for last. It’s not possible to describe it in words, it has to be experienced.

Today I left Siem Reap early in the morning for a 6 h bus ride back to Phnom Penh. After arriving I got myself a guest house - not the nicest in the world, but it’s just $7 - and then set off the see the Killing Fields of Chueong Ek, where the Khmer Rouge executed their prisoners from S-21. It was very uneasy to see all the mass graves and the human skulls piled up in the conmemorative stupa. Then I went on to see the Tuol Sleng museum, the high school that was taken over and remade into Special Prison 21 (S-21). A horrible, horrible place it must have been.

Tomorrow I will go to see the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh, with its Silver Pagoda. After that I will make a go at travelling back into Vietnam. I hope they will let me back in, because my flight home leaves from there. I plan on catching a local bus to Neak Luong, a boat fromthere to the border and then some kind of transport from the border to Chau Doc in Vietnam, maybe a mini-bus. It’ll be interesting. :)

Almost Time to Go

I went to the Cambodian embassy today to pick up my visa. No problem there, I just had to show the receipt I got when I handed in the application. I applied for it on Friday and they told me I could pick it up any time Monday, so that was quick. A good thing to remember if you ever apply for a visa to Cambodia in Tokyo is to print out the application form from the net and fill it out beforehand. When I got there it was full of people filling out the form, but luckily I had done that already and could just walk up to the window and hand it in together with the application fee (2800 yen or $20). Also, don’t forget your passport and a copy of your alien registration card (if you’re a foreign resident).

I’m now in the middle of packing my things. I have decided not to bring so many things as it’s very cheap to buy something there if I need it, and I’ll also be carrying my camera (which now includes the external battery grip with an extra battery and three lenses) and tripod, so I don’t want to be dragging too much weight around.
Packing for South-East Asia
This is what will be in my backpack. Two shirts (one with long sleeves and one short), two long-sleeved t-shirts, two t-shirts, two tank-tops, one pair of long shorts, four boxers, six pairs of socks, little sweat towel, toilet items (toothbrush, deodorant, contact lenses etc.), electronic things (camera chargers, card reader), medical kit (incl. mosquito repellent, stomach medicine, hydro cortisone, ibuprofen, thermometer, etc.), water purifier and tripod. In addition to this comes my above mentioned camera and my carry-on luggage, but it’s not that much - two books, ticket, cards, insurance papers, money etc.

So, I’ll leave from Narita to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow at 09:40 Japanese time (GMT+9) with China Airlines. After a change in Taipei (as usual) I’ll arrive around 16.30 Vietnamese time (GMT+7). I’ve got the first night booked at a guest house in District 1, the backpacker area, but from there nothing is decided. I might stay two nights in Saigon before going on towards Cambodia.

I won’t bring my Japanese phone with me because I can’t use it over there anyway, but I can use my Swedish phone, so I’ll bring it instead. That means that you can ring me or text me on my Swedish number, at least as long as I have signal. Internet seems to be widespread down there, so I’ll probably be able to check my mail quite often (maybe even blog once in a while). :)

See you when I get back, if I get back alive. ;) Hmm… I wonder how my beard will look when I get back. Maybe I’ll get me a trimmer down there.

Tripping

I have been doing a fair bit of travelling lately, but I haven’t written anything about it here. I’m planning on doing so when I get the time to write everything down. At the turn of the month, I went to Sapporo in Hokkaido for four days including skiing and the snow festival. The weekend after that, I went to the mountains of Hida-Takayama for a couple of days and soaked in many different onsen (hot springs). I will try to write those trips up and post them here with photos soon. I already have some photos up from my Hokkaido trip in my photo album. I will post more as I finish processing them (it takes time).

The next addition to my list of visited places will be Vietnam and Cambodia. I am going there for about 11 days (including flight time) starting from Tuesday February 26th. I have not decided everything on my plan yet - it will probably change during the course of the trip anyhow - but thus far this is how it looks. The map below has the major places I will be visiting marked out.


View Larger Map

I will fly in to Ho Chi Minh City from Tokyo via Taipei on the 26th, stay one night there and then go straight to Siem Reap in Cambodia the next morning, either by plane or by bus - I have read that there is a new bus line going straight from HCMC to Siem Reap that started last year. I will spend a few days there exploring the ruins of the mighty Angkor Wat. I think and have heard that I need at least two whole days to get anything out of it. After that I will go on down to the capital Phnom Penh and stay a night there.

From there I will go on towards Vietnam and cross the border at Kaam Samnor/Vinh Xuong, then continuing to Chau Doc. From here on I am not too sure on how I should spend my nights yet, but I am sure that will figure itself out during my trip. From Chau Doc I will probably continue down to Can Tho to see some floating markets, and after that on towards Vinh Long where I will try to arrange a home stay with one of the local Vietnamese families. Doing the home stay sounds very interesting and is highly recommended by my Lonely Planet guide book. From there I will continue on back to HCMC passing through the towns of Ben Tre and My Tho. I will spend a few more nights in HCMC before I fly back home to Japan on March 7th.

This is what I have in mind so far, but I am sure it is going to have changed quite a bit before I get back home. It will be interesting to see how well my plan match with my actual trip.