Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



Last night I went out with those I mentioned in yesterdays e-mail. Also met some nice ozzie girls and a paddy called Brian. Got a bit pissed and so slept in this morning, only till 11ish though. Got some bits sorted then got a cyclo (seat in front, guy peddling behind) around town. Went to a number of Pagodas. At the first the abbot had some tea and a banana with me, then showed me round which was nice. Saw the black river (really shitty and sludgy hence its name). Saw more pagodas, went to Cholon (china town) and the market there (where I didn't buy anything). Then on to War remnants museum (previously called American War Crimes Museum), some of the pictures and exhibits are truly horrific, not only of the sadistic yanks, killing folk but also the lasting effects of many of the toxins used, agent orange in particular. There were malformed foetuses in formaldehyde which were particularly stomach wrenching. There were also pictures of the effects of other weapons, such as napalm which were also rather hideous to behold. Although the museum is obviously biased, there is no way any apparently civilised person could possibly comprehend 1% of the shit done.

Then went to Notre Dame cathedral, rather boring as closed. Across road to post office which is nice art deco building and then to the Jade emperor pagoda, with funky statues and the like. Finally on to a shop / museum that makes lacer ware in particular. It was interesting to see them making all the stuff, from first preparing the wood all the way through to inlaying, mother of pearl, eggshell, painting it or carving in to it.

Cyclo was quite a nice way of getting around town as you're going slow enough not only to take everything in but also to tell the driver to stop, go anywhere at every opportunity that appeals. It was quite a difference however from tuk-tuks which you rely on the drivers instinct for self preservation, him being in front. With a cyclo you are in front of the cyclist and therefore make up the crumple zone. Not so worrying you might think its only a bike with a seat in front. That however is not your thoughts when a car, bus, bike, truck or some such similar vehicle is bearing down on you from the opposite direction, still all part of the experience.

Saigon is without a doubt a bike orientated town (motor or push move at similar speeds in traffic). There are also peculiar driving styles and traffic laws. On most streets red traffic lights mean you can go straight on, left or right. Whereas at major crossroads on a red light one only turns left or right. Furthermore, the white lines down the centre of the road are merely to inform the curious where the centre of the road is, and has no practical purpose. Zebra crossings are unnecessary as you cross where you want and there are no zebras in Saigon. All this I feel has justified my decision not to hire a bike and makes me more understanding why Mike had an accident out here.

Just going to book my two day trip don the Mekong Delta.

Before I go an amusing bit of trivia.

When Kentucky Fried Chicken applied for a licence to open a restaurant in Vietnam. Why you might ask? The answer being that the powers that be thought colonel Sanders looks like Ho Chi Minh.




I've just returned from my trip down the Mekong Delta, in the south of the country. The whole place is incredibly beautiful with postcard scenery. 

On the trip down to the Mekong River, the bus had a puncture, the second time this has happened to me since I've been in Vietnam.  

After lunch and a brief tour of a former VC stronghold, then down the road a bit further where we got into boats for a couple of hours. It was amazing to see how people live along the side of the river. Kids playing, women washing the pots/clothes, men fishing. It was all the things I previously thought were just on postcards for the tourists, but it does actually go on. 

We spent the night in Can Tho, a quaint town way down in the delta. Whilst wandering through the market at night, there was a fellow with glasses attached to him by heat and suction, being treated for something or other. The masseuse there practically forced me to have it done to me, something I was rather adamant didn't appeal, so went on about my business. 

The Mekong Delta has a couple of main specialities, it provides enough rice to supply the rest of Vietnam, a number of times over (making Vietnam the second or third biggest rice exporter in the world), (boring but true). However, the more interesting of the specialities is the snake and snake wine. So for dinner, as they say "when in Rome". Snake isn't too bad, nothing like chicken (which everyone says its like) and rather chewy. The snake wine is rather potent stuff, more of a spirit taken in shots, which is a good job as it doesn't taste very great, but after the third or fourth glass you stop noticing. After dinner went out for a few beers. Then shared a room with decent enough Japanese fellow, problem is his English was only marginally better than my Japanese.  

On the way back up river, went to the market, which is basically hundreds of little boats bumping against and pushing through from one side to the other with fruit, veg and other things, the floating bars were particularly cool, with the people trying to thrust a beer or coke in to your hand.

The people all along the rivers (and so far across Vietnam), are still intrigued to see western faces and the children often cal out and wave, just as one might to a lion at a zoo.

Anyway, got to go sort some bits and then going out for dinner and drinks. Off to Da Lat tomorrow morning and hopefully in country from there to a some hill tribe villages, where they use elephants for daily life and are largely untouched by progress, still wearing traditional clothing.



Sorry I haven't been in contact for a while as I have been in the mountains, not too many places to plug in a modem.

Anyway the story as from last update.

Left Saigon on Saturday for Da Lat. The journey is about 150miles and took aprox  8.5hours, what a schlap. Stopped off en route to see tea and coffee plantations and a couple of floating houses, as well as for lunch, Riveting.

Got to Da Lat and took it reasonably easy, booked a guide for the next few days (all will become clear) and then went off for something to eat/drink with some ozzies I met up with. Later in the evening we ended up in a Karaoke bar and nick and Lou (the bastards) totally set me up, with me ending up singing this song from "Jesus Christ Superstar" called "I don't know how to love him" you get the gist. Nick still hasn't let it lie.

Mui, the guide I mentioned above came to pick me up at 8.30 on Sunday for my tour of Da Lat. We started off going to the "Crazy House" a mad hotel built by the second president of Vietnams daughter. The place resembles a network of trees and animals, with spiders webs and such  like, sounds shit, but is actually quite nice, all the rooms have a theme e.g. tiger, ant, eagle, etc. Then onto emperor Bao Dai's palace (Vietnams last monarch), a bit of a boring art deco mansion on top of the hill. When going in most people remove their shoes, as I had my boots on the girl at the desk said I should just tie the plastic bags she gave me around me boots. I ended up being the laughing stock of the place with people running into the other rooms to inform them of the mad westerner with bags on his feet.

Then onto Tam Ty Ni pagoda, built by one monk (Vien Thuc) over the past 37 years. He's known to some of the locals as the crazy monk as he laughs and jokes all the time. He also speaks 6 languages fluently. We chatted for a while and he has rooms filled with  his paintings and poems, I got him to translate a couple which sounded quite chilled (Mike, bought 3 for you, you owe me another $19). Took some  photos chatted some more (cool, chatting with a Zen master) then went to the "Chinese Pagoda" which is much like any other pagoda , except this one has a huge stone Buddha on top of the hill behind it, still nothing so special. However, many Vietnamese tourists go there and for there benefit some of the folk dress up as cowboys, with there horses etc., very kitsch.

Then onto Paradise Lake and the pagoda / monastery there. I was just chilling out sitting down on a bench in the gardens when a group of 30 Vietnamese students started saying hello etc. Then suddenly they all huddled round me holding my T-shirt etc. for a group photo, then departed almost as quickly, bar a couple who wanted to practise their English.

After this Mui and I went out to the chicken village, so called because of the huge statue there. The people there are part of the Koho tribe (ethnic minority), there were kids weaving and a Buddhist nun making joss sticks. We then went into a widows house (hut) and saw how she lives in this tiny place with her 5 kids. We then headed back toward Da Lat, Mui saw rain on the horizon and did a sharp U-turn, not wanting  us to get wet. We sped away in the opposite direction, Mui kept on checking over his shoulder like we were on the run from the police. We pulled up at a restaurant and had lunch, then set off an hour later, it usually rains for about an hour each afternoon in Da Lat.

On the way back in to Da Lat we went passed the French district, a bit boring, the buildings just look like some of the bigger houses you find down in any English southern coastal town.

After getting back I chilled out for a while then Lou, Nick and I went out for some food/drinks, no more Karaoke.

Monday, Lou, Nick and I left Da Lat at 8ish. I was now going on Binh's bike as they thought it would be more comfortable for me, good thing as during the journey Mui's bike kept on falling apart. We went to mushroom and pineapple farms, more interesting than it sounds and on in to the mountains. We had a bit of a wash in a mountain stream and then went for a walk. We had a great lunch and the guides ordered, taking into account my dietary considerations / fussiness. We then went to some of the hill tribe villages. It was cool to see these old girls strutting about with babies in a  papoose and a pipe hanging out their mouths. This was the real Vietnam. There were also hundreds of kids, the guides brought some sweets for them and thy swarmed like flies to shit, with outstretched arms.

Going along all the rocky dirt roads on motorbike meant for Tarmac meant that after a few hours you got off feeling like the prison bitch who's been broken in by 200 of the inmates. Louise and Mui, fell over on one of the roads, neither were severely hurt though, but it provided her with a great story to expand upon.

Anyway, on we went and stopped for the night at the Lak village, next to a great, serene lake. We got a ferry across to the island in the middle and saw another of the tribes. It was great to see these people, many of whom had never seen white folk. One could cross the lake by elephant but it cost $30, too much.

We stayed that night in a long house on stilts. The animals sleep underneath. They also provide a good natural alarm clock.

Yesterday / Tuesday, we spent a lot of time in the saddle, accruing more sores on our arses than you find in a hardware shop. We saw the effects of Agent Orange on the country side, and stopped off at a pepper farm, the family  there were all a bit crazy but in a good way. We skipped the brick factory to get straight to our destination for the day, Doc Lec beach, where we had bungalows. We went swimming and the water was perfectly clear, the sand was fine and white and there was hardly anyone for miles. We played aussie rules footie with some of the local kids then had quite a few beers some dinner and an early night. Whilst hanging up some of her wet clothes Lou electrified herself, putting a wet shirt over some live wires (Cam, maybe the new disaster girl, heh :)

This morning we came straight to Nha Trang, where I'll be staying for a couple of days probably. It's good to get off the bikes, but it's a shame that tour is over. The guys (Mui, Paul and Dunhill) were great, spoke excellent English and were really considerate.

Thanks for writing, those who did, the rest, get off your fat arses. I will now try and answer a couple of the questions some of you asked, in one fail swoop.

1- Yes, I'm having a great time can't you tell.

2- I have found places to e-mail in most towns so far as they have places in hotels etc.

3- It's winter here so the temperature varies from 90-100 degrees F. Not bad, in summer it's between 120-130, too hot.




Hello again from, now I'm in Hoi-An.

Hoi-An is okay but I'm just taking it easy for a bit as I've been going at quite a pace so far.  

The day before yesterday I went on the Mama Hanh boat trip where you see 4 islands off Nha Trang. However, the real reason was for $7 you do the trip, swim in the clearest blue ocean, party, eat and get pissed, you only pay for the beer you drink. Which in my case was 3 cans. This might sound a bit lightweight but during the floating bar bit Mama decided to stick a bottle of wine down my gullet, I don't know if it was the motion of the ocean, the beer or the wine but by the end of it I was pissed as a newt. The journey was not without event though, Nick the ozzie mentioned in the previous e-mail passed out, in the course of a major whitey and Lou the disaster prone girl, was walking from one boat to tother when she fell between them, losing the towel she was wrapped in. It looked quite funny, but I had to do the concerned thing as Nick was flat out. To top it off she then fell off the front of the boat wearing her Sarong which she also lost (Cam-Definitely the new disaster girl). Yesterday I got the bus from Nha Trang to Hoi-An which took 14hours (what a schlap). I took five valiums as the old ozzie bloke next to me was a complete plonker though not a bad person. E.g. he explained to me how he thought it was unfair Oz wasn't allowed into the EC, I tried to explain the fact that oz is neither in Europe nor within 12,000 miles of it might have something to do with it, a point he failed to accept. So I slept most of the way.

This morning I went to My Son a site of temples etc. similar to some of the Mayan ruins. They were very cool and interesting, unfortunately the dumb bastard yanks decided to bomb some of them and there are mines all around them so you have to stick to the paths. (Geet - do you remember that program with Easter island, the pyramids, some Mayan thing and somewhere in Vietnam, this was the place in Vietnam, 1 down 3 to go).

Anyway, I'm going now as the e-mail in Hoi-An is twice the price of elsewhere, keep e-mailing, take care.



Sorry I haven't been in touch for quite a while but the internet places in the middle of the country are the most expensive.

Anyway, as you may have gathered from the title I am now in Ha Noi, and have just under a week left in Viet Nam.

In Hue (the old imperial capital) I largely took things easy and did just a bit of sight seeing (otherwise I was likely to overdose). I went and saw the tombs of some of the old emperors, more like palaces. Some were good, some were bad, and some we skipped. They were interesting nonetheless.

Also met up with a couple of English girls and we hired push bikes to see some of the town, particularly the citadel. The Viet version of China's forbidden city. It was interesting but the yanks and VC dropped a fair amount of ordinance there, destroying potentially the most interesting bits (bloody Americans). Anyway, Hue is just a town really not much more. It was funny however en route when chatting to some folk on the bus - Kirsty was telling me about this restaurant recommended to her by a deaf and dumb bloke, Matt (the bloke sat next to me) and I were in Hysterics for five or ten minutes as I couldn't work out how a deaf and dumb bloke recommends a restaurant. It turned out that I had mis-heard her all along, the deaf and dumb bloke is just the owner, still it was funny at the time.

Now in Ha Noi (since Thursday) - The place is rather big which is strange after going through so many pueblos. I'm staying in the old quarter, which is like a rabbit warren and I've already got lost a couple of times.

Went to the Ho Chi Minh museum - just to see what the big deal was. The place is quite surreal using strange modern art things to symbolise something else. Fortunately I had an English student as guide (for free - he just wanted to practise the language), which saved a wasted trip as the symbolism would otherwise have been completely lost on me, much of it still was. Tried to get in and see Ho (he's stuffed in a glass box down the road from the museum), but it's closed on Fridays. Went along again today but it's closed in the afternoons, I've got a feeling he's just avoiding me.

Last night I went down to the lake down the road to chill out and read, ended up meeting some other bloke who wanted to practise his English, which didn't really need practising. We chatted for quite a while and it was interesting to get his perspective on things. The folk in the North think very differently about some things, than those from the south. Another guy came over who spoke very natural English, he had learned it from his family. His father is a minister, the Vietnamese equivalent to having Rupert Murdoch as your dad, given the number of doors they can kick open and the comparative wealth. We went off got some food, played some pool and sang some Karaoke (singing being the loosest possible term). Got back at 2am so had a bit of a lie in this morning.

Later this evening I'm meeting up with several people I've met throughout Vietnam, in Apocalypse Now a club/bar. So, it could well be another long night, oh well.

After meeting up with the various folk afore mentioned I will probably go with a couple/or all to Ha Long Bay, which looks like an astoundingly beautiful sight. Hopefully we'll go our own way and charter a boat, the best way to see the place. 1500sq miles of these strange vertical dolomitic islands.




Alright so I lied, that wasn't my last e-mail from Vietnam, but this almost certainly is.

Since last e-mail things have gotten a bit strange (in the words of Lewis Carrol "curioser and curioser"), I will try and relate an account of the past few days, be patient, and try and empathise that from where I've been, things are a bit odd. Don't worry though nothing dodgy or bad.

I'll start on Sunday, in the morning I went down to the cafe in the hotel and saw Nick, the ozzie guy I've been travelling on and off with in Vietnam, he'd been staying in the room next to me for a couple of days (only slightly odd), during Sunday we saw a few sights, caught up had some food, had some drinks, saw some water puppets (a bit boring, the guy next to Nick fell asleep), had some drinks and then went to Apocalypse Now another bar to have some more drinks. As you may recall, I was hoping to go to Ha Long Bay, during the tail end of the drinking about 4.30a.m. I decided I was going to go that morning. The weirdness started after leaving the bar. Firstly, by this point Nick had left (aprox. 1a.m.) but there were still five of us left, we got some cyclos (bike behind and seat in front), four between five, two pairs, me on my own and another cyclo who came for the ride. The renegade cyclo decided to show off by doing wheelies and other assorted stunts, the other cyclos decided to follow suit, I told my guy not to bother if he wanted to live to see the sunrise. As I was explaining my ultimatum, Tony (one of the five)of us went flying out of his cyclo, unhurt, but shaken. Next thing I know for some reason Eddie was cycling and his cyclo guy was sat next to Lee taking it easy, this was all getting a bit odd. Then one of the cyclo guys decided to try and sell us half a cigarette that he was trying to convince us in vain was full of weed. Somehow, we asked about why the cyclo driver riding with Lee wasn't involved with the negotiations, we were told it's because he only deals in heroin, thinking he was bullshitting I said so, he then rolled up his sleeve to reveal an arm with more track marks than a BR terminus, not a sight I really wanted to see. The negotiations about the cigarette / spliff recommenced and I didn't want to get involved so I told my driver to carry on going. Five minutes later we were stopped by the police, wanting some backhanders. I played dumb and when they searched me and found nothing incriminating, turned their attentions to the cyclo driver, screwing him for 20,000 Dong (about 1 GBP). After this we got back to the hotel, where Nick who had left 3 and a half hours earlier was involved in a heated discussion with a motorcyclist. On seeing me he ran over and asked if I had any money I  had 20,000 VND in my hand which I was going to pay my cyclo guy with. He took it gave it to the afore mentioned motorcyclist and then came over to explain things to me. This had to wait as I had to pack my stuff up and check out of the hotel as I was on a mission to get to Ha Long Bay. After waking the entire staff and checking out we related our stories of the evening to each other, whilst sending my as yet unpaid cyclo driver off to scrounge cigarettes from the market stalls that were setting up. He returned every couple of minutes with a fresh pair (in the space of twenty minutes I think we went through just about every brand on the Vietnamese market). To fill you in I resumed smoking about a couple of weeks ago, after my brief sabbatical December - march. I told Nick what had happened to me and then he started his story, after leaving the club at aprox 1.30 and dropping a girl at her hotel he thought he knew the way home, he walked 2km in the wrong direction before realising then turned around and walked 1km in still the wrong direction, he met some guy who kept giving him rice wine and Nick thinks wanted him to screw his wife. Then asked people the way to the Don Juan hotel. They thought he was trying to tell them he was some kind of great lover and shouted at him. He then did a relay race from one motor bike to another to the Dong Xuan hotel pronounced Dong Swaan. I then had to go to the station to get the train to Ha Long city, did a deal with my attentive cyclo driver and got there with twenty minutes to spare. Problem was they wouldn't let me on their train and said I would have to go to Haiphong instead, I said fine, they said okay but that station is 1km away and the train leaves in ten minutes. I jumped on the back of a motorbike who sped me across town just in time to buy my ticket and board the train.

The train journey was pretty uneventful, except for some crazy old Vietnamese woman who wanted to be my friend but spoke no English. I got to Haiphong then across town to the ferry port by cyclo to get the fast boat to Cat Ba island.

At Cat Ba island I got a great hotel for $6 a night, with a 15 foot high twenty foot across window looking across the bay, what a view. Had one hours sleep then went downstairs. The hotel guy convinced me that the only way to see the island properly was to hire a motorbike, which I did. This hog of a motorbike, from Minsk turns up and to cut a long story short, I thought I knew how to ride it. I sped off and about 500 metres later tried to turn right on a muddy patch. The bike went left I nose dive to the right. Lying in a pool of mud I checked to see if anything was broken, which it thankfully wasn't a couple of small cuts and bruises, a bit of a torn shirt and a mashed up bike. Some charitable fellow took me back to the hotel and I washed up and sorted out the damage with the bikes owner (about 4 GBP). I then got the bikes owner to take me to the national park where I had been heading, and then act as guide. We climbed this mountain (remember I had only had 1 hours sleep in 48). The rocks were strange in so far as they were all razor sharp bits sticking out vertically. Great to climb, but mincemeat if you slip. As you can tell, I didn't and reaching the summit and the views were well worth the knackering slog. Made easier by the boots I was wearing (thank you granny).

That evening I had an early night, ready for an early start the following morning - cruising round Ha Long bay.

So the cruise went as follows. We (myself and a couple of decent Swiss fellows) went round the bay in pissing rain to Ha Long city where they went off. I went and got some money changed, had some lunch and did the cruise back on my own. I will now try and describe the indescribable. Ha Long (which means dragon descending) Bay is made up of all these rocky outcrops jutting out of the sea, it used to be a haven for pirates. The water is a milky jade green and these mountains on stilts (there bases are eroded to make it look like that at low tide) stand up in circles. Some of the just sheer cliffs, others like a deck of cards, poorly stacked at 45 degrees. There are stalactites hanging off the side of many and interesting birds with colourful plumage, nesting on them. To say the least I loved it and I know that the photos I took won't do it justice.

After getting back from the boat trip I chilled out for a while then went for something to eat. All the time this girl (I think she was the owners wife / sister - not to bad looking either) kept grabbing my shoulders and humming in my ears. The shoulder grabbing thing happens to me a lot out here as the Vietnamese seem to think I have impressive shoulders. Compared to their skeletal frames, I probably do. Anyway, on finishing the meal I asked for the bill. As the owner was about to give me the bill, the girl said something which he translated as "do you want a massage?". I thanked him and declined the offer, she then said something else to him, her asked me "do I want to sleep with her?" I repeated my question asking how much I owed for the meal, paid and left. I then went and had a few drinks with some folk who I'd met previously in Hue, Ha Noi and were on the island as well.

That brings me almost up to date, this morning I wandered around the island (on foot, I think I might steer clear of bikes for the while), saw the hotel guy at the barbers, where he told me I should get a hair wash as it was only 5,000 VND (25p) and I would like it. I tell you something these Vietnamese know how to get their hair washed. The process takes half an hour and is more of a massage of the head, temple, face and neck, with the occasional sprinkling of water, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser. Not bad at all. I got the boat back to Haiphong, waited and read in the station for two and a half hours then got the train to Ha Noi.

I've booked back into the Dong Xuan and saw some (old) friends for a few drinks. It's now gone midnight and I am bloody knackered and I've kept this cafe open for the past hour or so. I'm going to bed and in the morning, hopefully, finally, I'll see Ho Chi Minh in his glass sarcophagus as I fly off to Bangkok on Friday.

If I've bored you tough, you didn't have to read it.

Hope all are well. Next update from Thailand - this is definitely the voice of Vietnam signing off after an incredibly brilliant, but arduous month.



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