The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mui Ne Beach Pollution Crisis

I used to go swimming every day... but now the beach is so dirty I can't stomach the idea of getting in the water. I stopped swimming a few months ago.

So my question is, should photos like this appear on the front of to get people to wake up and do something about the problem before Mui Ne's tourism is destroyed? Or do we keep dumping our garbage, raw sewage and greywater, dead animals, plastic bags and other refuse until the beach itself actually stinks? Your thoughts? In fairness I should say this is more a problem for the easter half than the western half of the beach, but it effects the whole area.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Learning Cham

Having gotten comfortable with my proficiency of the Vietnamese language, and finding myself with a little bit of free time after finishing stage one of another new guidebook for DK Eyewitness, I decided to tackle the Cham Language. The Cham are the dominant minority in Binh Thuan and neighboring Ninh Thuan provinces. Their ancient kingdom of Champa would have been the fourth country of Indochina (after VN, Laos and Cambodia) if a few battles had ended with different outcomes.

Cham has turned out to be rather easy to learn. Like Vietnamese, it's all monosyllabic, except for pesky little pre-syllables. The only problem is that the alphabet, an evolution of sanskrit, is entirely unique--and most Cham speakers are entirely illiterate in their own language. I'd assumed my Cham friends were all at least fluent speaker, but as it turns out, they are not. They grow up speaking Cham at home, but later they are sent to school where all instruction is in Vietnamese-only. Most of my friends seem to be only 60%-80% proficient in their native language. Adding to the complication, there are no language textbooks, phrasebooks, dictionaries or listening materials in print, so I have to ask a variety of friends to help fill in the blanks. Still it's a fun challenge and the process of learning is much the same way I learned Vietnamese.

I guess it won't take long to become a leading expert though...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pasta at Sandals Restaurant, The Sailing Club

I had a wonderful dinner last night at Sandals Restaurant (The Sailing Club). They have a new pasta bar (each dish is lovingly tended to by the chefs) with elegant lasagna--a rarity in this part of the world. Feast your eyes on these pics.

One of the chefs rolls out fresh lasagna noodles.

The chefs await guests to select their desired pastas then prepare them individually.

Fresh Cajun Cream Sauce, Bolognese, jumbo prawns and a selection of pasta

Fresh bread with sun dried tomatoes and pasta with fresh olives and creamy feta cheese.

All this on the patio overlooking the pool and the crashing waves of Phan Thiet Bay. My life is so difficult... ;-)

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Congratulations to Nha and Khue

Friday, July 10, 2009

Central Highlands Roadtrip Part 1: Binh Thuan to Dalat

Below are the highlights from my 2-week solo motorbike road trip from Phan Thiet to Dalat to Lak Lake, to Buon Ma Thuat, with a diversion to Yuk Don National Park, then on to Plei Ku, Kon Tum, east to Quang Ngai, then finally a train ride to Phan Thiet.

I’m told I drove nearly 1000km (620 miles), and traveled through 6 provinces (Binh Thuan, Lam Dong, Dak Lak, Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Quang Ngai), and the territories of 9 different ethnic minorities (Cham, Rag Lai, K'ho, Ede, Ja Rai, M'Nong, Bahnar, Sedang and H'Re, not to mention the dominant Kinh or ethnic Vietnamese). This doesn't include the ride back by train.

My 4 (really 5) posts are presented in reverse order as it makes more sense for reading.

Rag Lai village in the mountain foothills on the north end of Binh Thuan Province.

Rag Lai men herding cattle

Pineapple grove outside Dalat

Forgotten hilltop French Cemetery outside Dalat

K'ho mountaintop village southwest of Dalat

K'ho woman selling a rich variety of hand-made textiles at Elephant Waterfall near Dalat

Central Highlands Roadtrip Part 2: Dak Lak Province

Dak Lak Province is north of Lam Dong. It was once Vietnam's largest province, but was split in half a number of years ago to create Dak Nong province to the south. The capital, Buon Mat Thuat is famous for coffee, and one of the world's top growers of the beans. The province is politically volatile, and the government only allows foreigners to visit a limited number or locations.

Traditional M'Nong long house on stilts at Lak Lake.

Visiting M'Nong villages by dug-out canoe

A rare white buffalo and baby.

M'Nong longhouse. The M'Nong in this village were relocated here by the government.

M'Nong woman herding cattle.

Water Buffalo on Lak Lake

Riding an elephant in Yuk Don National Park. The staff and facilities at Yuk Don are exceptional, but the park is still somewhat disappointing. The local government will not allow foreigners to explore the center of the park, or go anywhere in the area without a guide. Foreigners are limited to the buffer area of the park, where most wildlife or interesting plant life is entirely absent. It's great for elephant rides and bird watching though.

Drey Sap Waterfall in Dak Lak

Traditional Ede village longhouse on stilts

Traditional Ede longhouse on stilts

Central Highlands Roadtrip Part 3: Plei Ku and Kontum

I considered staying the night in Plei Ku, but folks there confirmed that local police will not allow foreigners to go anywhere in the province of Gia Lai except the highway and the city itself, without a licensed government tour guide. So, I continued on to Kontum, where I was allowed to travel with more, though not complete freedom.

Ho Bien, or Sea Lake in a volcanic crater, north of Plei Ku.

Lovely jarai ladies heading home from working all day in the forest.

Bahnar Rong House in Kon Tum

Traditional Bahnar stilt house in Kon Tum

The beautiful wooden Catholic seminary in Kon Tum, built by the French.

Wooden church in Kon Tum, built by the French

Traditional Bahnar Stilt House

Communal meeting house in a Bahnar Village in Kon Tum

Drinking Ruou Can or Bamboo/Jar wine with friends

Central Highlands Roadtrip Part 4: Kontum to Quang Ngai

Reminder: I'm posting this trip in reverse order of the normal Blog flow because it makes more sense for reading. The last leg of my Central Highlands Road trip took me from Kon Tum to Quang Ngai. Quang Ngai is East of Kon Tum. Half of the province is mountainous and inhabited by hill tribes like the H're, Bahnar, Koor and others.

My motorbike was weighted down at this point with numerous gifts an souvenirs: Ruou Can, baskets, textiles and other items.

A M'Nong village. The M'Nong occupied the mountain peaks between Kon Tum and Quang Ngai. These folks were NOT friendly, which I found very strange. Even the children scowled and would not say hello or wave.

A sign in the village, paraphrased, reads "If you keep farm animals under your house they will make you very sick."

M'Nong communal meeting house, similar to the Bahnar Rong House

The H're villages are tightly packed on little hillocks amid rice paddies in the valleys. The bamboo and wooden longhouses have odd columns of carved windows.

From here, the road extended a few more hours to Quang Ngai, where I caught the train all the way back to Phan Thiet. The train station in Quang Ngai was less than convenient though. It was bustling and crowded. I was told that passengers could not ride on the same train as cargo, so I had to send my motorbike a day earlier than I departed. The ride back to Phan Thiet was 11hrs.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Socialist American Government Hurts Expats Again

The American State-controlled media announced that the Senate will impose a $1000 fine on citizens who do not purchase Obama's new mandatory insurance... What about us expats who don't need or benefit from the new Socialist program in the USA?... Once again, taxation without benefit. We get screwed...