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How to survive an 18-hour bus ride without actually sitting down
Five weeks ago, Dan and I were on safari in India. We planned well for our daily adventure, looking for wild tigers in their Jungle Book habitat. Every day we checked our bag: Mosquito repellent, extra water, sunscreen, monocular, extra batteries for our cameras, scarves to keep out the dust. (Read Dan's blog about this from April 5)


What I should have packed was a pillow. Something nice and cushy, to suspend my tailbone a few inches above the rattling jeep seats.


Four weeks ago, we were in Kolkata, sweating in the high humidity and 100-degree-plus temperatures. To get there, we'd taken two full days of bus rides and an overnight train. Again, a pillow might have been handy on those hard bench seats.


Three weeks ago, we flew to south Vietnam, planning to stay for two weeks and then head north and west to Laos, then south through northern Thailand, eventually ending up back in Koh Tao, where we'd pursue our new goal of being PADI-certified divemasters.


The tale of my painful tail started the day we went to the Thai consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to apply for visas. The pack I have carried daily since China started to bother me. When I stepped, it bounced on my lower back, which, as we walked away from the consulate through the leafy scooter-lined streets, felt more and more tender.


We spent a few hours at the War Remnants Museum (Read Dan's blog about this from April 14). I shifted my bag from my back to my front like a Chinese schoolgirl. Outside, Dan took pictures of the fighter jets, helicopters and tanks and I perched gingerly on a concrete bench. A part of my body I rarely think about, the area between the flesh I sit on and the waist band of my pants, was starting to give me some real discomfort. It felt tight, and hot, and a little bit itchy but at the same time like it should, under no circumstances, be touched. There seemed to be only one immediate solution: beer.


Luckily, near the museum we found a Czech-style microbrewery pub which sucked the rest of our day's budget away in a nice sudsy foam. Dan carried my backpack and his own, and we went back to the hotel just a little bit fershnickered.


I didn't know it at the time, but my body was trying to tell me that I, along with some 80,000 soldiers in WWII, had contracted “jeep seat,” basically an existing sub-skin cavity irritated by sitting, sitting in a jolting vehicle, sitting in a jolting vehicle in high, sweaty temperatures.


A few days later we arrived in Can Tho (Read Dan's blog from April 17), to look at the floating markets. Boats, rivers, floating stuff--I love it! But, after the increasingly painful five hours on the bus from Saigon, I decided to sit out the boat ride back in the hotel popping Paracetamol tablets. Except I wasn't sitting. Laying, lolling, reclining, yes. Sitting, no way.


We went to a local hospital to see if they could help. A nurse saw me, talked to a doctor, and came back with a cream and some antibiotics. Total cost, about $12.


Hopeful that this would cure it, we booked an 18 hour bus ride to Nha Trang, a diver's paradise on the middle coast of Vietnam. We were going diving!


Well, Dan was. (See his blog from April 26)


We reached Nha Trang at 5 a.m. Dan found us a hotel while I waited, standing of course, on the curb, and then we went straight to the nearest hospital. My backside was red in parts and purple and yellow in others. I could barely walk.


The doctors looked at my derrière for about five seconds and, through a translating nurse, told me to get on the bare metal table, 'cause they were going to cut me open.


The fun that followed I won't inflict upon you, Alaskan Kangaroo readers. Other sufferers of this condition have written online that their experiences rivaled childbirth or unanesthetized root canals for pain. I prayed to faint.



They sent me back to the hotel with a diaper-sized bandage taped haphazardly to my bum and a bag full of medicine and told me to come back in the morning. And the next morning. And the next. And . . . Total cost, about $50.


For ten days we stayed in Nha Trang, across the street from a six-kilometer-long beach and around the corner from cheap beer bars. Our hotel sold $4 snorkeling excursions that featured a floating bar where everyone sits in inner tubes and drinks plonk.



Instead of pursuing beach-goers' paradise, I sat in our hotel room; drank water; read books; took vitamins, antibiotics and pain pills; watched bad TV and climbed on the hospital's metal table every morning so the brisk and ever-changing staff could re-dress the wound with varying levels of tenderness or cleanliness.


On the tenth day, we decided to come back to Saigon. There was no way I could weather the bus ride out to Laos and then down through Thailand. All of the things we'd wanted to do in Laos involved lots of bus rides, boat rides, hiking or inner-tubing in rivers. Plus, mass protests in Bangkok didn't make us want to spend any time transiting through there. So, we booked a mid-May flight to Phuket, in southwestern Thailand, and decided to eat our way through another two weeks in Saigon. 'Cause, at least, I can still eat.


We visited an international medical clinic in Saigon where I saw two English-speaking doctors who explained the problem, the procedure and wound care. They prescribed me more antibiotics and gave Dan instructions so he could start dressing the wound. It would be slow, but the deep, inch-long wound should be healed by May 20, when our dive courses start. These visits total cost: $125.


“This is one expensive bottom!” the nurse exclaimed on our second visit.


Yep.


For the last ten days, we've lazed about Saigon's District One. Thanks to a great foodie blog Dan found after following a reference from Anthony Bourdain's travel show on Vietnam, we've explored some back-alley cuisine that saved us money and put protein back in our diets.


In four weeks in Vietnam, I haven't seen much more than a small collection of hotel rooms and a wider variety of restaurant menus. To me, Saigon shall remain broken rice, barbecued pork, freshly made custard apple shakes and daily trips to Yogurt Space, a serve-yourself frozen yogurt extravaganza where the staff now give us a 10 percent discount for being faithful customers.


I'm trying not to think of it as just a pain in my ass.

 
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Lion Fish
[Editor's Note: Due to illness, our usual writer, Beth, is taking some time off. We welcome guest blogger Dan as he fills us in on the latest Alaskan Kangaroo wanderings.]

A
wesome!


With Beth still unable to take a boat ride, we reasoned that it was a good time for me to do some diving research and get some much-needed practice before our course to be SCUBA divemasters next month on Koh Tao island, Thailand.


I signed up for some group dives and the following morning I was on a boat headed for Hon Mun, a large island 40 minutes from the harbour. The cobalt water was very inviting. The day was hot and diving in was just the solution.


Underwater was really beautiful. When I was learning to dive, I was focusing on where my instructor was, so I wouldn't get lost. This dive I finally looked around a little. The first dive spot was Rainbow Reef and as the name suggests it was a huge bio-diverse coral garden full of hard and soft coal and a myriad of fish. I saw six lion fish, a stone fish and more other fish than I could name.


The second dive was at Madonna Rock. Named so for a possibly obvious reason, Madonna rock was lighter on the coral and abundance of fish, but had the redeeming feature of a large number of swim-throughs and caves. These were super exciting. There is a balance between buoyancy and position and controlling your movement. The 50 minute dive had five swim-throughs and two caves..


There were many fish hiding under the swim-throughs that it seemed the fish agreed with me. Swim- throughs are just fun!


* * *

Please be patient, Dan's photos from Nha Trang are coming soon!
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Madonna Rock--named for the singer, not the saint
 
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Sunday morning shopping on the Mekong River
[Editor's Note: Due to illness, our usual writer, Beth, is taking some time off. We welcome guest blogger Dan as he fills us in on the latest Alaskan Kangaroo wanderings.]

A
bout five hours southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, is the quaint riverside city of Can Tho.

After a such a long bus ride, there is nothing better than exploring a new town. A man at our hotel quoted us $40 U.S for an eight-hour boat up the Mekong to see the floating markets. There were two markets to see.

While we thought about it, Beth and I made our way to the river's esplanade and took a long stroll along the long walk. I thought that maybe like many countries, dealing with the boat owners direct was a sure-fire way to get a cheaper price. Also, I think we read somewhere that it should be around $3 an hour, however it prices do go up.


So we walked. Took a few pictures of the ferry that carried motorbikes and cyclists across the river. Reminisced at how Can Tho felt similar to Shantou in northern Guangdong, China. Instinctively, I turned around and saw a man in a gray “ Boss” brand t-shirt. I didn't think anything of it.


We walked some more, and came up to what looked to be the boats that would carry passengers to the floating markets. We stopped, took some pictures and showed interest in the boats and the area. No one approached us. No one tried to sell us a tour. We walked on.


“ I was sure that that would be the place to find a ride,” I said to Beth a little perplexed.

“ We'll keep looking.” I noticed she was puzzled too.


We walked along the foreshore for another five hundred metres. We passed some more boats, but no one was offering a ride. At one point, two old men laughed. I looked behind me, and there was a man wearing a “ Boss” brand t-shirt. Had I seen it before?


The sun was setting. It hung heavy in the sky and cast the golden light of photography's magic hour. We took some pictures, and made our way back the way we came. The man in the “ Boss” t-shirt was near us again.


“ Hey Beth, I think that man has been following us.”

“ Really?”

“ Let's give it a test.”


We walked about ten metres, and suddenly stopped and turned around sharply. The man was coming in the same direction as us. We stopped to take pictures, he waited nearby. We zigzagged through the park, he followed in and out of the esplanade. He was terrible at following.


We finally gave him the slip by hiding behind a short wall. He walked passed us a took a seat by on a park bench and made a call. We took a picture of him just in case there were any problems.


We finally walked past, thinking he hadn't seen us. Finally an old lady in her seventies came out to the street, near where we had stopped to look at boats earlier.


“ Psst! Do you want a boat ride tomorrow?”


Broad smiles on our faces. Finally!


She lead us to the dock where three or four women sat. We were still at the introduction stage when the women stopped and turned away from us. It was like a switch had been turned off. I turned around and coming down the path was the man in the “ Boss” t-shirt.


I stood up and walked over to him directly.


“ Hey Amigo!” I asked, “ Why are you following us?”


“ No, no.” he answered, avoiding eye contact.


“ Yes you are. Why are you following us?”


“ No, I, no...” he turned and hurried away.


The ladies sighed their relief and smiled again.


“He is bad man.” One of they ladies said. We couldn't understand why they thought this.


Had we stumbled on to a turf war? Was it the local Triads? Did the hotel send someone to follow us and try to ensure we went with their boat guy and no one else? Was it the local tourist police hoping to keep us safe?

We would never know.

I chatted with the ladies and agreed on $3 per hour and a time to meet one of them in the morning. Beth would wait this one out, her tail-bone was starting to bother her and a morning on the hard wooden seats of a river boat didn't seem like it would help any.


The actual ride was great. The sunrise on the Mekong was just gorgeous. We passed a floating gas station. The houses seemed to be on stilts rather than floating. I can't compare this to the floating markets in Thailand, however to me this floating market was larger house boats disseminating their cargo to smaller boats to be transported along the river. The larger boats had a long pole with a fruit or vegetable as the 'flag' to show all what cargo it carried.


We were at the market for a good forty minutes and continued our way back through small canals. A real slice of rural life. Fishing and boats hauling dirt. There were palm fronds that grew up straight out of the water. It was fun.


On the hard wooden plank that I sat on, three and a half hours was more than enough. I was glad I didn't sign up for longer. Time to check in on Beth.



***
Click here to see Dan's photos from Can Tho!


 
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A street vendor in the 'foreigner' district
[Editor's Note: Due to illness, our usual writer, Beth, is taking some time off. We welcome guest blogger Dan as he fills us in on the latest Alaskan Kangaroo wanderings.]

T
he airport bus snakes through the traffic. The city is a balmy 33 C – 91 F and it is humid, but after Kolkata, this is a nice break.


Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, a bustling metropolis of made of Lego concrete. Its roads are full of scooters and mopeds. Honda is the big winner here in the transformation from bicycle to motorcycle. The mind-boggling, eye-crossing thousands of scooters are zoom-zooming and the only road rule is to not hit what is in front of you. Flashing past, zig-zagging through the traffic, most bikes end up driving on the sidewalk. Chaos as order only works when everyone is as skillful as these riders.


Pham Ngu Lao is the centre for backpackers. At night, bright neon signs beacon the US dollars from the the leather wallets. A grandma walks by carrying twenty pirated best-seller books which have been cleverly tied together. She would be happy to sell to have one less to carry. Beer at two for one. Happy hour is every hour! Most are here to relax and have a good time. Most are succeeding.

“You want a cyclo?” ask the man in the beige baseball cap. One chap hands us a flyer for the Taj Mahal Restaurant. No way, but thanks any way! We were just there there, at the real Taj Mahal!


Pizzas, hamburgers and steak are the popular dishes. But I just wanted some fresh spring rolls and some pho. Local food is easy to find with local restaurants and street food almost everywhere. It's cheap and tasty and healthy and a Saigon beer straight from the Alaska (brand) refrigerator to help the food down. Ice cold beer full of flavor washing away the heat! Awesome!



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One day we wandered through the town to the War Remnants Museum for a peek at not-so-distant history.


Near the museum we saw a T-shirt with the slogan, “Vietnam is a country not a war.”


At the War Remnants Museum (formerly the Museum of American War Crimes) in downtown Saigon, it's easy to forget that.


It was a humbling place full of war pictures, statistics and weaponry. A memorial, I believe, is to act as a warning beacon to any and all who shall pass it by. The message should always be simple and clear-- “War is bad. Everyone suffers and many people die.” There is good and bad, but mostly it is just stories of pain from those who are touched by war.


Unfortunately, this got a little lost at this museum. A war memorial should not have for sale pirated copies of Dan Brown books and Lonely Planet:Thai Beaches guides, glossy picture postcards of the war, and placards of the cartoon character Tin Tin next to fake fallen soldier GI dog tags. Ironically, all the prices at the gift shop were listed not in the local currency, the dong, but in U.S Dollars.


We decided to skip the city's other war remnants, even the famous Chi Chi tunnels. We'd rather look at Vietnam today, and with that in mind we headed south, to the Mekong Delta's Can Tho.


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Click here to see our photos of Ho Chi Minh City!

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At the War Remnants Museum