21 February 2000

I met two long term bicyclists in FaiFoo. On the first picture below on the left, one in the blue shirt is Phil from England, who is traveling non-stop for 3.5 years. On the right there is Thomas from Germany, who just started 4 months ago. You *should know* the guy in the middle.

Everybody is happy in FaiFoo. City is charming, the street venders are not so nasty, because proportion of street venders/tourists is not so big as in other places. The worst was famous China Beach (remember movie), where the army of vendors haunted few tourists and the only escape was in the ocean. Non tourist serving people are usually good and friendly (normal people). When I stopped a regular bus on my way from Faifoo to Da Nang people pulled my bike in and found place for me and bike (the bus was full).

On the second picture there is a bar scene. I'm squeezed between Markos from Sweden and his girlfriend. The bottle in the middle of table is that one which we always had with us (y nas s soboi bilo). Markos was very tall, handsome and friendly guy. I said was, because he is not the same anymore. He felled a victim of STD *. He ate wrong soup in wrong place and now he cannot move more then 10 ft from the toilet. I had been saved so far. I try to avoid touristy places where the eager to serve you waiter put his fingers in your plate in order to show you how to eat Vietnamese style. I eat a lot from street venders where the locals eat and feed their children (third picture)

* soup transmitted decease

Hanoi Vietnam 2-21-2000

Phil, Alex, and Thomas

A bar scene  

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I'm eating a lot from street venders

21 February 2000

Some more pictures:

On first picture is another bar scene to tease you. Girls around me are Azel and Linda, you have seen them before. Guy next to Azel is Markos

On second picture you can see what happens if photographer you ask to help never hold camera before.

On third picture famous FaiFoo tailor Mr. Bu

Han Oi Vietnam
8:30 pm
Alex Mumzhiu

23 February 2000

I am back from Halong Bay trip. 3000 islands vertically extending from Tonkin Bay are magnificent, but weather was bad. Hanoi remind me Leningrad in November 7-8 in the old days when city was covered with red banners and it was rainy and cold. Most of group in my tour to Halong bay were untouchable French people from Vietnam Tour. There were a few backpackers/independent travelers, three of them were sweet, little girls from Switzerland, right after high school. They traveled already for 8 months through China, India, and SE Asia. I was shocked to see so young girls traveling alone through these not so easy countries. But they told me that it is pretty common practice in the Switzerland to send kids right after school around the world, before they will go to college 1). I think it is a lot better then work in McDonalds to earn money for a new car, as American kids do. Girls singed me song "Kalinka kalinka kalinka moia v sady iagoda malinka malinka moia) and asked me to translate it... Any suggestion? There was one guy there from Holland, he was from organized group, he works for international organization and visited many countries, and he knew Russian. He told me that we Americans are idiots or big children, whatever is better. He told that in most exotic places we always looking for coke and hamburgers and that we are unable to adopt to a local situation in undeveloped countries. I met only one American guy in all my trip, it was in a restaurant in FaiFoo and it is true, he had stake and french fries. That holland guy admits however that we (Americans) know how to do business, and this is why we are so successful.

1) Vladimir Kelman: In our recent trip to Peru we also met several such girls and guys, some of them were from Israel. It is really a common practice.

3 girls from Switzerland  

25 February 2000

Today I went on a trip to the Perfume Pagoda, a famous Buddhist temple (Chinese influenced, unlike Champa, which is Indian influenced). There was a thick crowd of worshipers, who did not respect the temple in our western way, they ate, drank, and smoked in the temple. They threw garbage on the floor too. However they probably do not consider this wrong. Our guide explained that they, as most of the Vietnamese, work 7 days a week and do not have any holidays at all, so they also used these visits to the pagoda as picnics. It was raining, the dirt on the road was ankle deep, but the view was incredible. The vertical green cliffs, which I thought existed only in China, stood surrounded by emerald green rice fields. And the cave pagodas are like something from the illustrations in the books we read in our childhood. Yesterday I rode the bike sightseeing. I got to a huge Ho Chi Mingh compound. His museum and his mausoleum were there. The compound covered a huge area so a few buildings are surrounded by the fields. You have to walk a lot to get from one building to another. It was so foreign in Hanoi, where each square inch is covered with something. I wanted to see his mummy; because I have seen Stalin's and Lenin's, but it was above my capabilities. As some of you know, I have arthritis in my ankle which does not allow me to walk for prolonged periods of time and arthritis in my back which doesn't allow me to stand for long. They did not allow me to ride my bicycle to the mausoleum in spite of my explanation that it is not a bicycle but my two wheel handicapped vehicle. I forgot to mention, on today's trip I have met Americans again. They traveled for one year, but they are from California (Californians are different brand). I heard again a lot of abbreviations: CCD, CMOS, SCASI, SEO, SFO and something new for me: CTO. Do you know what it means?


Buddha in Cave

Green rice fields between vertical mountains

Halong Bay from the previous letter

25 February 2000

Some more pictures

1. On first picture there is a Vietnamize BBQ. One who saw the book "critter cusine" can recognize this picture.

2. A bicyclist (now with the head :) ).

26 February 2000

A few not related notes:

Vietnamese cultural features:
While I was on a train I could not find a place to throw away the orange peel and asked conductor. She showed on the floor, there was no garbage can on the train. When people in my rail car finished breakfast (it was included in ticket price) they throw away plastic caps, boxes and other stuff through the window. There are piles of garbage on all the road shoulders here. It is not only here, everywhere in Asia except for Japan and Singapore. By contrast, the rice fields through which these roads go, are meticulously clean, accurate, emerald green and just beautiful. I did not see any agricultural machinery. Everything is done by hands, they even pump water from water canals to fields by water buckets. According to Vietnamese whom I speak with, the peasants works 12-14 hours a day with no holidays or vacations. Just like my wife, however, she don't have to stand in cold water like rice farmers do. Some of my readers was offended by my attraction to local food. I should explain that it is not that I sold my soul to * and forgot our native borshes and hamburgers. I simply tried to use an easy to understand food examples to illustrate my observation. The point is that the inhabitants of large countries such as USA or Russia are less willing and capable to understand culture, customs and cousin of other people, then inhabitants of small countries such as Benelux. Because I travel a lot, I think I am more adaptable, but up to a point. This morning I had a soup with intestines (s potroxami) for breakfast at the street stall. After I finished my soup, I noticed few caps with red liquid in them. I asked soup lady what is this. She shown me very graphically what it is. It was a blood. Even for me it was too much. Talking about blood, in the morning my sheets were spotted with blood from the wounds from fallings from the bicycle, from barrakuda, from sea urchin needles and from sun burns. "Tuff life".

* I would like to remind my readers that extension (.com) here has different meaning than in It means "with the rice".

Hanoi Vietnam Feb. 26 9:40 pm
With best wishes, AM.

  27 February 2000

Some of my readers were very surprised on how I got in a picture with school girls and with college age kids in a bar. Here is the explanation: In America we all live in a terror influenced on us by the army of lawyers. Every day bombard us with the news of sexual, racial harassment, child molesting and so on. So even if we do not have an intention to harass or molest somebody, we instinctively avoid any contacts with these who can take us to a court. As a result, we socialize with the same kind of people as ourselves. Here, on the territory of Socialistic Republic Vietnam (ironically) it is free country, at least for westerners. I started again to tell compliments to women and jokes. Also here, in these backpackers ghettos, where I prefer to hang out, there is a real brotherhood of tourists, which is free from any discrimination including age.

2-27-2000 9:10 pm

28 February 2000

One of my friends and subscribers suggested me to stop my association with backpackers and move to more decent living environment. I'm hearing these not for first time. My grandmother 40 years ago told me: "Alex, you have to stop carrying backpack like a gopnik (bum), you have to carry suitcase like your father do." No way, I will not switch nice company of backpackers to convenience, boredom and warm closets of American hotels.


1. Bargaining is most disgusting feature of Asian life style. When you arrive at airport you are immediately will be surrounded by wild people shouting to you "tyk-tyk, tyk-tyk". They are drivers of three wheel motorcycle called tyk-tyk, Asian version of taxi. Then, you selected one of them and tell him where to go, and ask how much. In response he asks you how much. He means how much are YOU ready to pay for the trip. I arrived from the different continent, how can I know how much this damn tyk-tyk trip should cost! Fortunately for me I can sent all of them along with their tyk-tyks to the hell, assemble my bike and go. Only Japanese furiously refuse any attempt to bargain. They do not want to look like rest of Asia.

2. Street peddlers.
On the streets you are periodically approached by peddlers. They sell all sorts of junk. If you look at product or even worse take it to your hands you lose. He will not leave you alone all day long, he will follow you, he will wait for you at stores and restaurants and continue to sell his junk. I did that mistake once. I got irritated, got lost in the city, and eventually had to buy his junk, because I had to get rid of him and to concentrate on my map to find my way back to hotel. Proper way to handle the situation is do not look at them at all.

3. Clothes.
Men in Vietnam do not pay much attention to their clothes, like men elsewhere in the world. By contrast girls and young women dressed very elegantly, many wear national clothes which consists from long tunic cut from waist down and pants, all white or very light color and looks like it was washed and ironed 20 minutes ago. When they ride bicycles they wear long glows.

4. Orienteering (zakritii marshryt).
Lonely planet encourage sort of international orienteering competition. When I arrived in Hanoi at 9 pm, I took minibus, not taxi, at airport. Minibus was full of backpackers. When bus stopped somewhere in the middle of unknown city Hanoi everybody opened his or her Lonely Planet book oriented his or her map and started to move from one control point to another. A control points in this case were backpackers hotels. They remembered my bike and while I rode they were shouting to me "Hello Alex" from the side walks.

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Bike ladies

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Bike tuck

Feb. 28 2000 9:50 pm
Hanoi Vietnam
Alex Mumzhiu

1-3 March 2000

I am in Vientiane - the capitol of People Democratic Republic Laos. It is like returning to the lost empire. I flied from Vietnam on "spisannom" (removed from inventory) soviet airplane. In the hotel bathroom, the water is heated by soviet vodonagrevatel (water heater). Hotel itself is built in luxury soviet style of 50-ties with huge rooms and very spacious bathrooms. There is no compact backpacker's area here. So I selected to stay in this out of time luxury for $22 per day. And it has the same restrictive rules. I quote: "Out-siders, ever male or female are strongly forbidden to meet guests in the bedroom. In case of necessity, permission from the hotel official is required." Upon arrival I got 1,000,000 kips (local currency) from credit card in a bank. It is about $120, but nobody wants kips here, all want dollars, most prices are in dollars. What I will do with my million? Most of Americans do not know that they have this small satellite state in tow. Its GNP is 6 billions dollars, about the same amount as Bill Gates gain in a good day on his MSFT stock. Vientiane is so quiet, compare with Hanoi. There is no street peddlers here and almost no bargaining. So I, as well as other tourists, quickly lose my defensive reaction, developed in Vietnam.

Vientiane, Laos
3:1:2000 9:30 pm

I met here in Vientiane that English guy who is traveling for 3.5 years, and it was 3 more long term bicyclists there. So, yesterday I had privilege to have few beers with these world class travelers. It was a pleasure to look at them. Anyone of them can be admitted to iron man competition. They sneaked through Chinese police cordon to Tibet, were arrested by police in mountain area of western India and escorted by police yak out of restricted area, frizzed in 6.000m at western Tibetan plateau on a way to Pakistan. They know geography by heart, used names of many small town and villages in forgotten corners of the world. I saw such guys before only at the presentations at National Geographic.

Vientiane Laos
3:20 pm

3-5 March 2000

If somebody asked me which country on SE Asia to go, if he has time just for one country, I would say Laos. Laos, according to Lonely Planet, is least developed and the only not overpopulated spot in Asia. Comparison of Laos and Vietnam show that major enemy of population is over-population. Vietnam is richer and more developed, but life of many people is so miserable there, and it influenced life of the rest of population and even tourists. Laos is more poor but it is a lot more decency here. All my friends backpackers share this opinion and want to came back here again. Yesterday I visited Buddhist park kyltyri i otdixa (Buddhist relaxation park). It reveals happy, funny and a little bit childish nature of Buddhism. I had a lot of fun there.

Vientiane Laos
March-3-2000, 5:25 pm

From your response I realized that I have one additional reason to write the travel notes. My writing encourage others to write. Probably based on following consideration. "If this guy with such terrible spelling and grammar is writing, I can do it too.

Yesterday we were in a bar with bicyclists and they gossiped about other bikers, especially one girl who traveling solo on bike, they met here at different places. All man condemn her based on universal man's logic "Ne dala - ny bliad'" (non translatable). But Phil, who is master of short formulas, in addition call her feminist steroid monster.

It was few real Americans there in a bar, who are easily recognizable by their unwillingness to sit even if sits are available and habit to drink beer without food.

Traveling on such unusual bike like mine has many advantages. People translate their feeling about vehicle on its owner. They think that I am the same funny and pleasant guy as my bike is, which is not true. Owners of Brompton bikes have warm feeling toward other bromptonists, the same as Alfa Romeo owners.

Yesterday, I was stopped on the street by women who had Brompton bike in a past. We had lunch with her and her husband. She is a French archeologist, he is an environmentalist from NY. They told me that Laos is most gentle Stalinist totalitarian state you can imagine. They live here in Laos and like it.

Right now I am going to small city Vang Vieng 160 km north from Vientiane. This city is known for its scenic vistas and popularity with drug-tourists.

Vientiane, Laos
March 5 2000, 11 am

Buddhist relaxation park

9 March 2000

My trip is coming to end. And by the end, I had couple of pleasant and adventurer episodes. In Vang Vieng I met two bicyclists from four, I described you before. Jeff, an Australian guy traveling for 2.5 years. Jeff has unusual face, because his grand grand father was Chinese. He looks like very tuff guy and he is. However, then people discovered that he is talkative and smiling guy, everybody loves him. Another guy Bill, was a system software salesman from Minnesota, he quitted his job sold his house and is traveling with Jeff. They, me, and two 23 year girls from Norway (they know bicyclists from before), we took a serious bicycling trip in vicinity of Vang Vieng. We covered long distance on bikes, crossed difficult terrain (rice fields), claimed mountains, got lost in caves. When I eventually came to my hotel I realized that I barely could climb to my second floor.

We had lunches and dinners together and I realized that my Russian influenced attempts to pay for others are accepted with the same reactions as if I suddenly start to sing area from opera Evgenii Onegin. Everybody pay for himself and count every kip (Laos money). Next day guys wake up early in the morning and started their trip to Luang Prabang. I went to the same destination on bus with two girls. I felt a little bit guilty because the road was difficult for bikers: up and up and up. Girls manage to reserve our seats at the roof, which is the best place with panoramic view. View was magnificent. This road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang is know for its scenic views. It was like traveling in time machine. People at villages we passed performed their agricultural works the same ways as 1000 years ago, women carried bunches of firewood on (koromislax) their shoulders. All the way innocent naked children greeted as and waved their hands. I remember one little boy,  he was doing his number 2 at the road shoulder and greeted us with his other hand. I think it was best ride of my life. It was like traveling in time machine in the other sense also. Last time I traveled this way 40 years ago on Chuyskiy tract to mountaineering camp in Altay mountains. This afternoon guys reached Luang Probang and now 5 of us are going to dinner. Luang Prabang unlike other destinations of my trips filled with cultural folks, mostly French.

The road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

On the bus roof

Luang Prabang, Laos
March 9 2000

13 March 2000

I am in Bangkok now.
At the last day in Luang Probang, I was invited to wedding party of brother of guesthouse (where I stay) owner. There was a lot of ethnical stuff there. I was tying the rope on the bribe hand, which should bring joy and happiness to new family and also guarantee from divorce. Hotel owner invited all guests and their friends (may be in a hope for generous donations for the new wedded, which they got). So I invited my friends.

Westerners who attended the party almost did not drink. They showed to insisting hosts that one more drop of alcohol will kill them. Our dryjnaia piaterka (friendly five) behaved differently. Being in perfect sporting condition we were able to drink a lot. When we left party I realized that all my friends are deadly drunk. I was more or less OK. because I eat, and they did not know that they need zakysivat' (eat after drink). Bill was unable to keep balance, run across the street, and ended up in the bushes. Ingrid jumped on rear seat of motorcycle of local guy who was also deadly drunk. When I pulled her from that seat, she became angry, and I had to explain her, that I am a sort of her substitute father. Eventually we all found a way to our guest houses. We all stayed in the different guest houses. I offered guys in the beginning to move to the girls' guest house, which was best and also recommended by Lonely Planet, but they explained to me that it will be inappropriate! We spent last week almost all time together and it was pretty happy week. We met for breakfast, do different stuff during the day and got separated only after late dinner. My young friends did know how old I am, but they do not show any respect for my old age, which I appreciated. Just opposite, Lena teased me that she asked my hotel owner where is that old man on a funny bicycle. I complained about it, and Jeff said "would you prefer if she would ask for funny man on old bicycle? That's all, this is my last report. My trip is finished I will fly tomorrow home to do my taxes, to renew taking Ginko-Biloba and Metamucill regularly and to start looking for appropriate nursing home.

Tying the rope on the bride hand

Bravie rebiata (brave guys) bicyclists. Alex, Bill, Jeff

With boevimi podrygami (female friends): Alex, Lena, Bill, Ingrid, Jeff

With best regards
Yours Alex Mumzhiu
Bangkok Thailand
3-13-2000, 9 pm