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Blog entries March 18 - May 26, 2010

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30,000 litres of water
May 26, 2010

In April we left Scorpio on the hard in Boat Lagoon Marina, Phuket, Thailand. Then we flew to Europe for a few months. A month later, included in the marina’s first monthly invoice, I was charged for the use of 30,000 litres of water!

I know that I used about 1,000 litres when filling the tanks and cleaning the yacht. I have also had a contracor peeling off the anti-fouling paint and he has used some water, but not any excess amounts. According to the my contractor, the water tap has been locked.

30,000 litres is equal to the amount that flows through our tanks in about 10 years (and we live aboard 9-10 months a year).

I have protested about this charge, but so far no reply from the marina.

hose


Goodbye Hotmail
May 17, 2010

I'm finally abandoning Hotmail.

The last drop was that someone hijacked my address book and sent most of my contacts a fake message recommending iPhone.

In the process all my contacts have disappeared from the address book and so have all mails in my inbox for the last two months.

I will change to the following address: henrik(at)scorpiosail.com. But for the time being please use both addresses (copy to hotmail).

very angry


Sawatdee pi Maï – Happy Thai New Year
April 11, 2010

During the past four months we have witnessed New Year’s celebrations at least four times. We are now back in Phuket in Thailand and prepare for the New Year 2553.

New Year occurs on different days in different countries and the calender is usually based on religion. Here in Thailand it is called Songkran and takes place this year between 13th and 16th of April. Next year will be 2553, as Buddha was born 563 BCE. However, all Buddhists over the world do not celebrate New Year on this day. The Chinese for example celebrated their New Year on 14th February, when we were in Langkawi.

There are also a lot of Muslims in this part of the world, particularly in Southern Thailand and Malaysia, which adds their New Year to the mix, last time was around 18 of December 2009. And finally throw in the Hindu version, which also appears to take place any day now, around the sun’s entry into any sign of the Zodiac, similar to the date of the Christian Festival of Easter.

As a result of the ethnic and religious mix of the population, there are a lot of public and other holidays over here. Quite a few times we have been forced to change our plans or found doors closed because of these various holy days. It appears that very often a particular day, when we have made plans to do something (banking, shopping, clearing customs etc), happens to be either a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or other sacred day. Adding to other holidays is the custom in Langkawi where Muslims have their weekly day-off on Friday.

The civil servants love all these holidays of course – they are free from work regardless of which faith they obey, and if they happen to be at work they can charge overtime fees!

Here’s a couple of New Year’s quotes:
- “Many people look forward to the new year for a new start on old habits.”
- “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account” (Oscar Wilde).


Return to Thailand
April 6, 2010

Hello from Koh Lipe, an island in Thailand only 30NM NW of Malaysia’s Langkawi @ 06°29′ N, 099°18′ E. We are presently under way from Langkawi to Phuket in Thailand.


A well kept secret among the cruising community is the presence of an immigration office at Koh Lipe. We didn’t clear in here as they do not have any customs clearance and we have to clear in the yacht in Phuket anyway. But in case one has consumed all the time of one’s Malaysian visa it is convenient to just “drive over” to Koh Lipe from Langkawi and then return the next day.
Apparently the immigration office at Koh Lipe is open only during the high season, which is around December to April, so check ahead first.


Indochina Road Trip - The route
March 29, 2010

We are back home aboard Scorpio in Langkawi after our 15-day road trip to Indochina and Siam. Our route is explained by the map below. The red lines indicate flights (5) and blue lines show bus trips (3).

map

Before we took off I had only a rough idea of our route. Our strategy was to plan as we go and we only booked one flight and hotel at a time. Therefore I tried to find hotels with internet in the room, I was carrying a laptop and did all flight and hotel bookings on the web.

We didn't go for the dirt cheap guest houses, but stayed in four star hotels paying an average of 50 USD per night. You could probably do this trip and stay in 2-3 star hotels for around 20 USD, if you know where they are. We had no recommendations and didn't want to risk arriving in a place we didn't like, and as you usually arrive in each place in the evening. Therefore we always booked only one night and then extended our stay and it worked fine every time.

The full report will be posted in due course in the Log & Yarns section.


Chiang Mai - temples galore
March 25, 2010

We didn’t visit all the 300 temples, only a dozen or so – guess that our temple quota is full by now. But they really are quite amazing.

templetaxi

Chiang Mai is a cool place, despite the heat and a population of 1,5 million (according to Lonely Planet) – it is Thailand’s second largest city. It has been a major centre on ancient trading routes, where caravans stopped between Simao (in China) and and Mawlamyine (on Burma's Indian Ocean coast), and it is still today the Silk-Capital of Siam. Chiang Mai’s leading tourist attraction appears to be the Night Bazaar, which is one of the largest we have experienced.

abbot

Chiang Mai is also where our tour of Indochina/Siam ends, two weeks from it’s beginning. Because of the political unrest in Bangkok, we decided to return to our yacht in Langkawi. As there are no direct flights, we will first fly to Kuala Lumpur and then to Langkawi.

A full report of the tour will be posted at the Scorpiosail web site in due course.

mobilemeditation
Mobile meditation?


Indochina past, Siam present
March 24, 2010

Today we arrived in Chiang Mai, the cultural Capital of northern Thailand, 700 km north of Bangkok. We traveled by Lao Airlines from Luang Prabang in Laos.

Our 12 days in Indochina are now a past and we are back in Siam, although I guess that these geographic names from the past have no exact borders. One particular detail, ubiquitous everywhere regardless of country, is the monks in their orange robes.

monkspainting

Chiang Mai was founded in the 13th century and it has more than 300 temples, almost as many as Bangkok, which is a much larger city. We’ll explore Chiang Mai for a day or two before we start heading south. Originally our plan was to travel via Bangkok, but the present political unrest in the Thai Capital may force us to skip it this time, so we may fly back to Scorpio in Langkawi (via Kuala Lumpur) a few days earlier than planned. No big loss though, we’ve been in Bangkok before.


Land of a Million Elephants
March 23, 2010

- Hello from Luang Prabang.
- Thank you, but … wonder where that is …

elephantpainting

Well yes, I didn’t know about the place either until I started to plan on our journey in Indochina.

We are in Laos PDR. The letters PDR stand for Peoples’ Democratic Republic and the only reason for my generation to have ever heard about this landlocked (no sea border) country is the Vietnam War – some of you may particularly remember the fabled (CIA owned) Air America and its Ravens. I suspect younger generations know even less.

As a matter of fact, Laos was a kingdom until the revolution of 1975. The first kingdom was established already in the 14th century with the title Lan Xang, or (Land of a) Million Elephants. But unlike their neighbour Cambodia, the Laos have not returned to kingdom – on the other hand they didn’t have any Khmer Rouge period either.

OK, and Luang Prabang …..?

This city, only 400 km but still, about a 10 hours bus ride north of the present Capital, Vientiane, was the home of the Royal Family. Only a decade ago this area of Laos was very difficult to access (actually its not easy even today except by air), with no decent roads across the mountains, but today, with better road connections, this once sleepy Capital, with its myriad of temples, glittering in emerald and gold, with its orange-robed monks, and great food, restaurants and night-market may be the most sophisticated and photogenic city in the whole of Indochina.

butterfly

We traveled by bus from Vientiane, and it took all those 10 hours mentioned above and although the VIP bus was reasonably comfortable, the serpent-roads made it a tough ride.

However, Luang Prebang is certainly not an unknown place among serious globetrotters. During the last 5 years it has 4 times been voted “The Worlds Top City Destination” by readers of the UK’s Wanderlust Magazine. Latest trophy was awarded last month, Siena in Italy came second.

The whole city is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

“Maybe it’s the languid pace of life instilled by the monks, maybe it’s just being in the shadow of those majestic temples; maybe it’s the presence of the mighty Mekong – but the whole place makes you slow down, forget any stress and just appreciate the environment around you. Yes, there are things to see and do, but that’s not the point. Luang Prabang is simply a great place to be” (Wanderlust Magazine).


French connection


Snuff in Vientiane
March 23, 2010

We arrived in Vientiane (pronounced Vien-Chan) by Vietnam Airlines from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The Capital of Laos is a delightful, compact place – at least the traveler’s enclave in the centre is. Bougainvillea-blooming streets with French colonial mansions and an incredibly rich international kitchen surrounded by steaming noodle stalls and Buddhist temples – it is a charming backwater, and surprisingly sophisticated.

arc de triomph
Patuxai, the Vientiane version of Arc de Triomphe.

Vientiane’s peaceful appearance hides a turbulent past. Over a millennium of its history the place has been abused by successive Vietnamese, Siamese, Burmese, Khmer and French conquerors. The signs of French occupation and colonialism is particularly in evidence, but today mostly in a positive way: beautiful colonial buildings and the French cuisine.

However, the most surprising evidence of foreign influence was this sign:

snuffsign

[Swedish snus (snuff) is a kind of chewing tobacco,
outlawed in the rest of the European Union.]


Miss(ing) Saigon
March 21, 2010

We really enjoyed Saigon. Officially Ho Chi Minh City nowadays, but everybody we talked to still call it Saigon.

A nearly mythical place in my imagination thanks to TV news and documentaries of late 60s and 70s, American war movies and series like China Beach. On the surface it looks like any big city, and it is much larger than I had expected.

And it certainly does not look like a communist community, on the contrary. The stores are full of typically capitalistic goods: electronics, furniture, appliances, jewellery, but most of all, as all over SE Asia it is of course about cloths and handicraft.

Vegetables, fruit, meat and fish are plentiful, fresh and displayed very tastefully at the enormous Ben Thanh Market. People socialise outside on the sidewalks, particularly in the evenings, where they bring chairs and tables, and often prepare their food in the open or buy small meals from ubiquitous stalls.

I have never seen as many motorcycles, scooters and mopeds as in Saigon, and they are transporting almost anything, between a family of five or half a dozen enormous (dead) pigs or a king sized mattress. The traffic is really crazy – makes you think of a giant ant burrow.

Saigon has certainly come a long way since the Vietnam war and I can’t avoid comparing Vietnam with Cuba and feel sorry for the Cubans. If they’ve had had better leaders, life in Cuba would be a lot happier and easier than it has been for the past 50 years and still is.

Prices are very cheap, we had a lunch for two, including a glass of wine and a beer for 4.5 USD total (= 2.25 per person).

We do not think there are many sights worth exploring in Saigon, but we loved walking around or sitting in a cafe, sipping our favourite beverage and just watching people around us. A visit to the War Remnants Museum for a look at the Vietnamese view of the war is probably mandatory.

One evening we went to watch a water-puppetry performance, which was wonderful. This ancient art is more than 1000 years old and was developed by rice farmers, who used waterfloded rice paddies as their stage. Wooden puppets are manipulated by puppeteers under the surface and the performances are accompanied by music played on traditional instruments.

Vietnam is not a democracy of course, but we saw very little evidence, except for the red flags, either with a golden star or the hammer and the sickle. If it hadn’t been for the Facebook incident, where the government blocks a non political web site, we would have departed the country with only good memories.

Only two hours after I uploaded the post telling about the blockage of Facebook (March 18, below), the internet connection at our hotel broke down and didn’t work anymore during our stay. Can this really be a coincidence or am I being paranoid?


Jackpot at the ATM
March 20, 2010

ATMs have made currency management a lot easier for the frequent traveler. But sometimes things can get complicated even so.

The last few months we have been handling Indonesian Rupiah, Singapore dollars, Malaysian ringits, Cambodian riel and now we were facing Vietnamese dong (all of which have at least two zeros too much). Usually the ATM’s in this part of the world have a very modest maximum amount of withdrawal, anything between say, the equivalent of 50 to 250 USD, depending on the country and the bank. This is another scam because you can usually withdraw several times in a row, but the bank takes a fee each time.

Anyway, here I am in a hot ATM booth in Saigon, where the machine tells me to enter the amount of withdrawal up to “a maximum of 20,000,000 dong (yes 20 million). Trusting that this maximum amount was something in the region mentioned above I pushed ENTER.

And ding Dong, the ATM spat out the equivalent of 1,050 USD of Vietnamese Dong, which is not a convertible currency. Also, you wouldn’t expect the machines to produce this kind of money in a socialist country. Later I had to change back a major amount to USD at the market (the bank refused to exchange it). How stupid can you be?

I’ll update this post later, when I have been able to calculate the damage.


Taxi scam
March 20, 201

I’ve been to more than a 100 countries – and I’ve probably been cheated at least a 100 times.

We arrived in Saigon by bus from Cambodia. I knew that our hotel should be only 500 metres or so from the terminal, so I was prepared to walk. As usual there was the hord of taxi drivers surrounding us when we stepped out of the bus, and I could sense that Malla wasn’t very keen on walking with the luggage (although we only have the flight bags on wheels). One taxi driver grabbed her bag and started walking towards his car.

I tried to get a fixed price, expecting it to be 3-4 USD, but the guy insisted that the fare is metered. After a while I gave in and got into the car and looked at the meter, which said 10,500 (dong), about 50 cents US. One minute later, when the taxi has moved around 100 metres, the reading was 220,000 dong (12 USD or so). I told the driver that there was something wrong, but he ignored me. A couple minutes later we came to the hotel, but the guy didn’t stop the car in front of the entrance (although there was free space), but at the corner 50 metres away.

At this stage the meter showed 260,000 (14 USD) and I new, that I had been fooled again. The driver said that he would not accept dollars, only dongs. I protested of course, and refused to pay this rediculous amount, as I knew that a ride from the hotel to the airport (30 minutes) would cost only 6 USD (120,000 dong). I told him to move the taxi in front of the hotel entrance, so we could discuss the matter with the reception, but the driver refused.

In the end he decided to accept dollars, and just to get the thing over with I handed him 10 dollars before we walked away. I could hear him complaining loudly, but we ignored him and walked back to the hotel.

It’s not the price, for that amounty you can’t even get into a taxi back home, but I hate being taken in – every time.


Goodmorning Vietnam - Facebook blocked!
March 18, 2010

We arrived in Saigon yesterday and were positively surprised by our first superficial impressions. It certainly did not look like a socialist city in a developing country (except, maybe, for the thousands and thousands of mopeds and motorbikes).

It didn’t take long to realize that Big Brother is in control, though. I have used Facebook as a quick and easy (?) way of keeping our relatives informed of our daily movements during this journey on land in SE Asia. However, access to FB has clearly been blocked at the hotel were we are staying. After some quick research on the web, the following is apparently what is happening:

The Vietnamese Government has an Administration Agency for Radio, TV and Electronics Information that acts as a watchdog over Internet activity. In the name of public security, an official dispatch has been sent out to internet providers in the country, ordering them to block their users’ access to some websites, including Facebook.


Cartoon by Nguyen Thanh Phong (click on it for larger copy)

For an article about this issue at CNN.com click here (if you are on-line).

We may now be unable to communivate via Facebook as long as we stay in Vietnam. So please check this blog here at Scorpiosail more frequently.


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