Happy Trails to You!
Looking back on this last trip to Asia; going over favorite memories, these things emerge.
Hong Kong: As always the Star Ferry, the bus ride to Victoria Peak, Tsim Chai Kee for shrimp wonton noodle soup, getting apples and oranges for a good price at Fa Yuen Market, the Indonesian encounter, feeling so safe at the Dragon Hostel that we kept our door propped open most of the time we were there except when asleep. Photo: From Pacific Coffee on Victoria Peak ("The Peak"). This is the second time I've used this photo - I really love it.
Bangkok: Nice clean cool no-brothelish hotel and having coffee outside in the morning, amulet market, figuring out how to take the buses well, food courts and especially Siam Paragon, chicken street, figuring out that we were never going to get a cab or tuk-tuk for anything other than robbery cost, salad bar at Tops Market.
Chiang Mai: Lanna House, a nice hotel with decent breakfast buffet, Central Airport Plaza for the best food court, taking 20 baht song taoews everywhere, mango with sticky rice and sweet coconut milk, khao soi noodles. Photo: David and Leslie near Hue - speaking of photos I love!
Phnom Penh: Being with Samnang’s family and David at this place of good memories, Juedi’s cooking, dinner with Henning and Ment, hanging out with Lance in Battambang.
Saigon: Being back with Mrs. Kim and the sweet girls who work there, the pork chop lady – WooHoo!
Hue: Being in this beautiful city, staying in the Binh Duong II, eating at Thu’s (mmm, banana pancakes), taking a car into the countryside on a beautiful rainy day (see photo above).
Hanoi: Staying at the Camellia2, breakfasts at hotel, meeting up with David, Chicken Street with Jim, Halong Bay junk trip, going to King Cafe with David, graduation day at the Temple of Literature (see Photo at left), walking around the old quarter.
Overall: Traveling with David, traveling with Leslie (speaking of perpetual motion machines!!!), Leslie tracking the money so well, Leslie's brilliant plane seat work (we had some great seats), doing really well on public transportation, so much championship food, just the whole thing.
The Bus Ride (a story written on the bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh)
Introduction: One of the people who posts on the Lonely Planet Thorntree Travel Forum calls himself Bun Cha, which is also the name of the brilliant grilled pork, noodle, and sweet fish sauce soup dish (usually accompanied by the little fried spring rolls called nem) served mostly in Hanoi. Photos taken at various times.
His name was Trevor, a recent graduate of an average Australian university. His girlfriend, Jennifer was an American, a university drop-out – “I’m taking a year or two off to sort my head out.” They had traveled from Bangkok, where they spent two weeks mostly on Kao Sanh Road, to Phnom Penh. With visits to the “killing fields,” Tuol Sleng, and the tour to the garbage dump where ragged children sift through the stinking detritus (a tour!?), Phnom Penh was a sobering experience, so they were glad to get to Siem Reap where they met the most fabulous tuk-tuk driver … But they needed to have a real Asia backpacking experience, so bought tickets for the 12 hour bus trip to Ban Lung.
“Is there a toilet on the bus?” Asked Trevor. “Yes, have toilet,” said the pretty and terminally bored girl selling tickets. They boarded at 6 in the evening and the first thing they noticed was that the seats didn’t have much legroom. “But hey, it’s Asia and we’re backpackers.” As the bus pulled onto the road, Jennifer asked, “Where’s the toilet?” “I don’t know.” Trevor answered. “I’ll ask the guy who’s riding up there with the driver. “Where is the toilet?” The question drew a blank look from the driver’s assistant. “Where Toilet?” Blank. “TOILET?” Shrug. Back in his cramped seat he said, “I don’t know where the toilet is – I couldn’t get them to understand the question.” Jennifer is getting irritated, her voice rising, “You’d think they would learn to speak English! Why don’t they know where the toilet is!” Across the aisle a weathered western traveler says, “There’s not a toilet on this bus.”
By now the TV monitor is showing a series of boy meets girl videos and the singing actually isn’t that bad, but jeez it’s loud. The bus is rocking, horn blatting along the “highway” and the air-conditioning vent is drip-drip-dripping on Jennifer which upsets her, so she and Trevor switch seats (“It’s gonna be a long damn trip” he thinks) and by now the video is a Chinese movie featuring preposterous fights and sword fights and pretty girls with tragic looks if you know what I mean and I think you do.
The bus stops at a restaurant where you probably don’t want to eat. “There’ll be toilets out back.” the man across the aisle says. “Well finally.” Jennifer says, but returns unhappy. “They’re just holes in concrete – I can’t do that!” Trevor shrugs. He’s getting a little tired of it. The driver blows the horn and everyone gets back on the bus.
And so it goes into the night, the singing, the biff-bop-pow of endless fights, the blatting of the horn. Jennifer finally has no choice and uses a rest-stop toilet. “They don’t have any paper! Oh my God!” The air-conditioning finally fails around 11:30. By now the video is the most awful variety show low-brow comedy routine and the volume is even louder.
Trevor and Jennifer hear a man behind them say, “Turn it off.” Nothing happens, of course, and again the man says, “I said, turn it OFF!” The guy beside the driver looks back, then turns away. “TURN IT OFF, I SAID!” Trevor looks around and to his horror, sees a man standing up with a double-barreled shotgun in his hands and it’s almost like Trevor is looking into the side-by-side barrels like two huge nostrils, the kind of nostrils where you could pick your nose, with a finger in each nostril at the same time! Boom! The monitor vaporizes! Boom! The DVD player explodes! Their ears are ringing and the smell of cordite fills the air. The man walks toward the front of the bus, the driver shrinking against the window and the driver assistant guy huddled shaking in fear on the floor. The man reaches over and pushes the door opener. The door opens and the man steps out of the bus and walks into the darkness of the Asian night.
“My God,” Trevor says, “What just happened? Who was that?” The man across the aisle says with a slight smile. “What just happened was justice. And that was Bun Cha.”