Thursday, July 28, 2005

Have Horn, Will Travel

Vietnam is a very crowded country. You only have to look at its roads for proof: they are swarming with mopeds and bicycles flitting in between lumbering buses and lorries. Traffic rules and regulations theoretically exist (someone assured me that one has to pass a driving test in order to drive, but I don't believe him) but are never followed, with people driving wherever they can find space on the road. And although they don't seem to follow any traffic laws there is an intricate series of hand gestures used by drivers to warn their comrades as to the whereabouts of any traffic police. But the defining aspect of Vietnam's vehicular culture is the importance of the horn. Ostensibly it is used by vehicles to warn others that they plan to overtake, and that they should move away from the middle of the lane that they are hogging like spoilt children unless they want to get run over. Please. Now. However, it seems that blaring horns are now used to mean anything from "look at my lovely, new car" to "where are the brakes on this thing?". I'm sure that there are even people who have their horns wired up so that they are continually sounding. Indeed, there's apparently a saying here that even the blind can drive, all they have to do is follow the sound of the horns. All this motorised madness means that just crossing the street here can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated, but worry not, there is a secret. All you have to do is look straight ahead and walk calmly and purposefully, without ever changing pace, across the road. The oncoming traffic will part and twist like a fast-flowing river to accommodate you. If the sight of motorbikes missing you by inches is still too scary then wearing a blindfold helps!

Now, I wasn't going to let myself be outdone by any blind man so, whilst in the northern town of Ninh Binh, I hired myself a scooter and set off. Although the town itself is a bit of a dump, the plains to the south hold one of the most beautiful areas of natural scenery that I have ever seen. The cliffs and caves of Tam Coc look as if some mischievous, wandering god dropped these giant, sharp, limestone cliffs right in the middle of somebody's paddy fields. Adding to the magic of the place is the way in which you visit the area: peacefully gliding along in a rowboat, which many of the women who man them still row in the traditional fashion, using their feet.

Getting out and about on a scooter allows you to see much more of the countryside than is normally possible when one is subscribed to taking the bus along the main roads. By taking the small backroads you see the small, typical, dusty towns and the women, bent over, working in the paddy fields, only their conical hats visible. The area around Ninh Binh also seems to be one of the main centres for Christians in Vietnam (Vietnam has the second highest Christian population in Southeast Asia, roughly 10%, after the Philippines, a fact that was used by the French as an excuse when they originally invaded in the 19th century), and so one sees many churches about, mainly in a neo-gothic style. Very run of the mill on might say, and I would agree, if it wasn't for Phat Diem. This church looks like a Chinese palace and so seeing JC and Mary along with various Latin phrases dotted around makes it all the more interesting.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mr Nguyen I Presume

The central city of Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty for almost 150 years from the early 19th century until the Second World War. Nguyen is a name you see and hear often whilst travelling in Vietnam as it is the surname of almost 70% of the population! The emperors were greatly influenced by the Chinese and set up his own Forbidden (Purple) City, forbidden to everyone but their wives, concubines and eunuchs. This was surrounded by a moated citadel containing temples and administrative buildings and this in turn was in the centre of the imperial city, itself surrounded by its own moat. Unfortunately very little remains of the citadel and the Forbidden City as it was heavily damaged in 1947 during the First Indochina War and the job was finished in 1968 during the Tet Offensive. I'm sorry for sounding like a broken record and continually mentioning the war(s), but they have left an indellible mark upon the country. For example, the old, imperial city of Hue is surrounded by a moat and high wall with several gates. Of the gates that are left standing a few are crowned with ornate pagodas whereas the others have concrete machine-gun emplacements. Still, judging from the buildings that are left standing in the citadel amongst the frangipani trees, it truly must have been a sight to behold (but then again you would never have been able to behold it as it was a forbidden city).

Hue was the residence of the emperors of Vietnam in life as well as in death; the countryside to the south of the city along the Perfume River is dotted with the tombs of the Nguyen emperors. The tombs are very elaborate affairs with several pavilions, pagodas, lakes and towers. They are peaceful and serene and a lovely change from the hustle and bustle of the city. In fact the tombs were often used by the emperors while they were alive as Summer retreats, something I can't help but find slightly morbid.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Ends Don't Always Justify The Means

Although Hoi An was mostly spared in the American War (as it is called here) the same cannot be said of a village, just 120km south of here, called Son My, or My Lai by the Americans. On the the morning of the 16th of March 1968 a platoon from Charlie Company arrived in the village on a "search and destroy" mission to root out VC guerrillas. But they found no guerrillas. Indeed they found very few men of fighting age. Nevertheless, when they left the village a few hours later, and without ever a shot being fired against them, 504 Vietnamese, mostly women and children, lay dead. It wasn't until a year later that news of the massacre reached the outside world, and the subsequent investigation was a whitewash. All in all only one person was ever found guilty of the massacre and he served less than 4 years before being released by a federal judge.

Unfortunately My Lai was not an isolated incident and was symptomatic of the way the war was waged by America. The statistics are chilling. During the course of the war the Americans dropped more bombs during the war (8 million tonnes) than had been dropped altogether in WW1, WW2 and Korea by all sides (particularly impressive as, apart from rice paddies, there were very few targets of any military importance). Add to that the 72 million litres of chemicals, such as Agent Orange, that were liberally sprayed throughout the country. Vietnamese casualties numbered roughly 1 million combatants and 3 million civilians. No wonder they didn't win the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese. The effects of Agent Orange still haunt the Vietnamese as it is a stable dioxin that causes a plethora of ailments to people who come into contact with it, including hugely increased incidences of birth defects. And although the American government recognises these effects at home and pays compensation to its own veterans accordingly, it (as far as I am aware) has so far paid out a grand total of $0 in compensation for its targeting of civilians and the countryside (in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions) with this highly toxic chemical.

On my travels so far there has been a common thread in countries' histories over the past 50 years. In their ardour to fight against communism during the Cold War the Americans often employed, or sanctioned, methods and regimes that were on a par with the evil they professed to be combating. This is especially true in much of South America, as well as here in Southeast Asia (the American-backed Diem regime in South Vietnam was not especially liked by its people) where human rights abuses by right wing dictatorships were overlooked by the west. The saddest thing is that the Vietnam conflict was much less about the spread of communism but rather about the fight for Independence, and if the Americans had tried to understand the history and motivation of the Vietnamese then perhaps the whole sorry episode could have been avoided. Funnily enough I seem to angrier about this than the Vietnamese themselves, as I haven't heard a single comment about either the war or Americans in general. The people seem to have forgiven and are getting on with their lives.

Although I seem to be singling out America and its foreign policies for abuse the culpability lies with all the western powers. It's not that the regimes they were fighting were gentler or more humane, it's just that when you profess to be fighting for ideals such as justice, liberty and the rule of law then you need to abide by them yourself, and not disregard them whenever it is expedient. Such behaviour is incredibly hypocritical.

Now where am I trying to go with this? To tell the truth I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it's that we in the West should practice what we preach. Perhaps we ought not to go rushing into things without trying to understand the causes underlying the problems. Perhaps we ought to realise that our solution isn't the only one. Perhaps we should realise that we can't always have everything our own way and ought to be willing to give ground on matters of disagreement. Perhaps history should be made compulsory throughout school. Whatever the point I'm trying to make we in the West should pause a while and think before we view ourselves as being blameless and above reproach.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Every Girl's Crazy About A Sharp Dressed Man

Hoi An is rightfully regarded as one of Vietnam's cultural jewels. It was spared during both Indochina wars and therefore retains many of its old, characteristic little shophouses with yellow facades, time-worn wooden fittings and slightly convex, Chinese-style roofs. The Chinese influence is also evident with the numerous community centres, each one catering to the Chinese community from a particular province (Fujian, Canton, Hokkien, and so on). All this has earned Hoi An its deserved World Heritage status. And although the art galleries and antiques shops do a brisk trade from the many tourists that flock to the city, there is a greater force vying for those tourist dollars. Clothes.

It probably would not be an overstatement to say that in Hoi An (and the town is pretty small) there are close to a thousand clothes shops. The vast majority of them will make you very good quality clothes, made to measure, within a day. I thought I'd be calm and collected about it and take my time. By 10am on my first day here the friendly girl from a tailor shop already had her tape measure round my neck; by half past four that very afternoon I was in for my test fitting and by five o'clock I was walking off with two brand new suits (one cashmere) for only $80. Bargain! And although I'm the archetypal retrosexual and know nothing about clothes (embarrassing really as my grandfather was a tailor and my mother knows her stuff when it comes to stitching and ... other garmenty things) the suits definitely seem to be the real deal. The tailors here are incredibly good and can rustle up anything you throw at them, indeed they have many Western catalogues and magazines (Next seems to be popular) that you can flick through for inspiration. If I wasn't on such a tight budget I know I'd probably run amok on a wild clothing spree, which I would no doubt later regret. At least this gives me an excuse to send a package back home and thereby get rid of a lot of the crap I've accumulated so far (various books and museum entry stubs mostly) and significantly reduce the weight of my backpack. Thank god.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Where's That Damn Jumper?

Brrr, for only the second time since leaving Perth four and half months ago I've had to dig my jumper out from the bottom of my rucksack (the first time, incidentally, was in the Cameron Highlands). Still, it also means that I've had my second hot shower in the same time period. Dalat is a nice enough hill station in the mountains of southern Vietnam, It was founded by the French and so (of course) has a miniature (maybe 30m) Eiffel Tower. Along with their utilitarian architecture, the French also brought pine trees along with them. These now cover the hillsides and give a slight Alpine feel to the place. The area is actually very popular with local tourists and is a centre for adventure activities. This being the case I decided to get off my fat arse and do some mountain biking and canyoning. I don't think the latter qualified as real canyoning, more abseiling along a river, although it was enjoyable nonetheless, the highlights being abseiling through a waterfall and going down a natural water slide. But I think that's enough exertion for me (the mountain biking especially was quite tough) so I'm heading for the beach at Nha Trang.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Brilliant Idea Goes Pear Shaped

During my travels so far I have been to many countries and experienced many things. I have survived without too many problems but my passport has suffered. It has been soaked 3 times (a water bottle leakage in Palenque, a flooded tent in Argentina and the boat ride from Battambang to Siem Reap) and peared once (I left a pear in the same pocket in my bag and promptly forgot about it until several days later) and has only 5 clean pages left. I therefore decided to get a new passport here in Vietnam, handing in my old one to the consulate in Saigon and hopefully picking up a spanking, brand new one in Hanoi, thereby bypassing the necessity of staying in one place whilst my application is processed. A genius idea I hear you say; unfortunately suffering from a fatal flaw. In Vietnam, being the communist, one-party, autocratic country that it is, all foreigners staying in hotels must be registered with the police. Most people visiting Vietnam don't realise this as the legwork is done by the hotels themselves, and so all the average tourist has to do is hand over their passport ... which is where I start to run into problems. On my first stop outside of Saigon (where I was staying with a family, and therefore probably only semi-legally) in Dalat the majority of hotels refused me outright. It took me about an hour to finally find a place that would take me sans passport. I just hope things are going to be easier in the other towns I visit, although I have this sinking feeling...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sartorial Observations In Saigon

I was rather apprehensive before coming to Vietnam as it has quite a bad reputation on the backpacker circuit for being full of touts hassling you all the time and getting ripped off left, right and centre. None of which has so far been the case. Indeed, the Vietnamese I've met so far have generally been incredibly warm and friendly people, one episode left me particularly admiring. I was having my dinner at one of the many rice stalls dotted around town and the guy sitting opposite me, upon leaving, paid for my lunch as well! I hadn't so much as exchanged a word or even a glance with the man and there he was buying me lunch (the fact that it cost only 20p is neither here nor there). It might have been due to the fact that I was actually eating at a stall where locals eat (most tourists eat in restaurants where the same food costs at least double) or maybe because I scowled at a group of western girls wearing skirts and halter-tops (women here almost exclusively wear trousers and always cover their shoulders). Whatever the reason it really touched me as the man obviously didn't want or expect anything in return, and I barely even managed a thank you before he scampered off.

Seeing as I've already mentioned clothing I might as well expand upon the subject. It is one of the things that I really enjoy about this country: it's probably the only place in the world where wearing your pyjamas and a lampshade is common practice. Not that I'm being derogatory, in fact it's very practical: the pyjamas are light and airy so keep you cool, and the broad bamboo hats are perfect sunshades. Actually I feel rather comfortable here as I've taken to wearing my pyjamas for quite some time now. That said, I also find their more formal national dress, the ao dai, incredibly elegant and sexy.

Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh City), though not the capital, is the economic hub of the country. That, coupled with the fact that it is quite a new city, means that it isn't particularly pretty. There are, however, some interesting things to see in the neighbourhood. About 100km outside of Saigon are the Cu Chi tunnels, which played a very important part in the Viet Cong resistance against the Americans. There were over 250km of tunnels in the Cu Chi district, sometimes in 3 layers and to a depth of 10m. The ingenuity of the VC in building the tunnels is extraordinary (they had kitchens, smithies, sleeping quarters and, of course, booby traps) and shows how dedicated they must have been. Although the tunnels are a major tourist attraction and have therefore been enlarged to double their size, it was still a bit of a squeeze for me in places (and I'm not particularly wide or tall (I would have loved to see a fat American get stuck down there!)), so I'm not at all surprised that the Americans never managed to dislodge the Vietnamese. Another stop on the obligatory tour is the Caodai temple. Caodaism is a religion that was "invented" only 80 years ago by a local prophet (mystic? spiritualist? philosopher?) and is as syncretic a religion as you can get, being a mélange of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and local animist beliefs. But for me the most interesting sight here has been the War Remnants museum (formerly called the American War Crimes museum). It presents a lot of information about the effects of the war on the local population that is often not mentioned or glossed over in the west, and frankly it's not even as biased and full of propaganda as I had hoped. Although I was dimly aware of many of the facts the museum put a light on it as a whole and made me realise the extent of the atrocities. I'm not going to write a great deal about the subject just now (as my rather depressing post about Cambodia wasn't that long ago) but I'm sure it's a subject I'll come back to in a later post.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Bye Bye Mekong

From the moment I crossed the Thai-Lao border at Huay Xai the mighty Mekong river has been a constant landmark (apart from a few side trips) snaking its way along with me through Laos, Cambodia and now Vietnam. But now, after over 2000km I have to say goodbye to my travel companion as it merges into the South China Sea. The Mekong starts breaking up in Phnom Penh into an upper and lower river, and by the time it finally reaches the coast the delta comprises 9 major branches and innumerable smaller ones. The delta region, although topographically very boring (flat, flat, flat), is extremely important. It produces the vast majority of the rice in this, the world's second biggest rice exporter thanks to the fertile, silt-laden waters of the Mekong. Plus, and this fact probably makes the Vietnamese very happy, this very same silt is extending the Vietnamese coastline by about 50m every year. As well as rice the region grows many varieties of exotic fruit such as lychees, rambutans, longans, dragonfruit, jackfruit and many others whose names I don't know. As soon as you cross the border into Vietnam there is a perceptible change in the surroundings: there are more people around, most of them whizzing dangerously about on scooters and bicycles (or little motorised canoes along the myriad canals), and the land is used much more intensively; not a single patch of land is not used to its full potential. Anyway, from now it's due north until I reach China (though what I'll do once I get there I'm not quite sure).

Friday, July 08, 2005

History Lesson

No country's recent history can match Cambodia's for sadness and misery and because I feel it's important that we understand and appreciate the past so that we can better understand the present, today's post is going to be a bit of a brief history lesson.

The easygoing Khmer people have been unscrupulously taken advantage of over the past 40 years by all comers, from their own, self-serving leaders to their neighbours and the world's major powers. The small nation could not maintain its neutrality in the face of substantial pressure from the Vietnamese and the Americans during their conflict, being used as a garrison base by one and a bombing range by the other (it is estimated that American carpet bombing killed several hundred thousand Cambodian civilians). When the belligerent powers finally left her alone in late 1973 Cambodia was too weak to resist the Chinese-backed Khmers Rouges headed by Pol Pot.

The Khmers Rouges ruled for only 4 years, but their stamp on the nation will never be fully erased. Pol Pot's murderous regime that killed 2 million of its own people puts him on a par with the likes of Hitler and Stalin. Actually, he far surpasses both of them, having managed to kill fully one quarter of Cambodia's population. What's particularly callous about this genocide is that the killings, in Pol Pot's drive to create a completely agrarian society, particularly targeted the intelligentsia and the educated elite: its artists, its teachers, its lawyers, its bureaucrats, its doctors, its musicians and pretty much anybody who could read and write. Much of Cambodia's cultural richness permanently died with them. During these 4 hellish years the Cambodian people were evicted from their homes and sent to farming communes. Families were split apart and made subservient to the collective. Any disobedience, be it unauthorised communications, the humming of a tune, or even catching an insect and eating it to supplement a meagre diet, was often punishable by death. In so doing the regime took away the people of Cambodia's humanity and turned them into menial beasts. The deaths were often horrible, protracted affairs that would often be preceded by detentions in grisly torture prisons, like the notorious S-21 in Phnom Penh. A visit to the prison is a truly sobering experience. Of the 20,000 internees only 7 survived. In the memorial museum at S-21 there are rooms full of headshots staring at you as you walk past. One of the most haunting is of a person who perhaps deserved to be there more than most: Hou Nim was a Khmer Rouge cadre and minister for culture (though god knows what that job entailed) who was sent to S-21 after one of many internal purges. In his picture his expression is one of knowing resignation, aware of the fate that awaits him. From S-21 the people were driven, blindfolded, to the outskirts of the city, made to kneel down, and bludgeoned to death. They were left where they lay, in festering pits, the notorious Killing Fields where, to this day, one can still see shards of human bones lying around. Such set-ups were spread throughout the land. Little is known as to the motivation behind such brutality, but as with all dictatorships the rulers were abject hypocrites. The ruling Khmers Rouges clique was part of the educated elite that it strove to annihilate, most of them having won scholarships to study in France, becoming teachers upon their return (I always knew there was something strange about teachers).

As well as espousing an extreme form of communism the Khmers Rouges were also rabidly nationalistic and tapped into the huge well of anti-Vietnamese hostility that makes up the Khmer psyche (after the downfall of the Khmer empire their power continually diminished due to incessant pressure from both Vietnam and Siam, though it's the former that has earned top spot in Cambodians' love to hate category). This proved to be their downfall as the Vietnamese, with their vastly superior military, retaliated by ousting the Khmers Rouges and replacing them with a more favourable, and altogether less brutal (comparatively), communist regime.

This should have been, at least partially, applauded by the international community. Instead the Americans and other western countries decried this breach of supposed national sovereignty and, along with their unlikely bedfellows the Chinese, started to rearm the Khmers Rouges (personally I think it was sour grapes on the part of the Americans who were still bitter at having lost to the Vietnamese, as national sovereignty has never stopped the Americans from doing exactly as they pleased). This led to a protracted civil war, which only ended when Vietnam lost their main sponsors with the fall of communism in Europe. So the UN was called in to sort out the stalemate. However they failed miserably in bringing about law and order and a sense of stability to the shattered country and instead busied themselves with setting up and holding elections. These were duly held and the Vietnamese communists were voted out in quite an emphatic fashion. The UN patted itself on the back on a job well done and promptly left; meanwhile the communists, who controlled the military, refused to cede power and insisted on being in the government. Once there, they proceeded to remove the rightfully elected party from power, and to this day its stranglehold on the country is as strong as ever, despite farcical elections.

In the meantime those in power have been stripping the country of its most valuable assets, selling them off to either Vietnam or the Thai army (who, incidentally, were one of the biggest backers of the Khmers Rouges) whilst pocketing hefty backhanders. Perhaps even worse is the fact that none of the Khmers Rouges leaders have been brought to justice, instead they hold positions of power (Hun Sen, the present day prime minister defected from the Khmers Rouges in 1977) or have been left to wander free. Brothers number 2 and 3 i.e. the second and third in command of the Khmers Rouges, both live in grandiose villas in the western town of Pailin. In fact I was even offered a tour by a moto driver to go and see their houses and perhaps ogle these mass-murderers living free, but the thought of it disgusted me. Pol Pot himself never faced a proper trial and died under mysterious circumstances under house arrest.

Sorry if this post is a little on the long side (I tried to be as concise as possible whilst retaining everything I thought important) but there are two reasons for this. First of all it shows one of my main impulses for travelling. I'm intensely curious of the state of affairs in the world around me and how they came to be. It is only by knowing the history that one can understand the present, and unfortunately nowadays too few people care about the underlying causes of the problems that affect our world today. And secondly after reading about and learning Cambodia's distressing history I believe it is one that we should all know. The Cambodian people have been mercilessly preyed upon by pretty much the whole world. Their history shows that no matter how much lip service is given to democracy and human rights, politicians never act altruistically and that if nothing is done to stop it the strong will always steamroller the weak. And that is something we must strive to change.

Monday, July 04, 2005


I've been racking my brains trying to find a clever pun for the title of my post (Angkor What? Wat The Hell! and those are the better ones) but everything I came up with was corny and so I've decided to go for simplicity rather than embarrassing myself.

No visit to Southeast Asia, let alone Cambodia, is complete without a visit to the temples of Angkor. Despite being the most famous, Angkor Wat is not the only building that remains from the glory days of the Khmer empire. In fact there are over 60 different temples spread out over about 250 square kilometres (the reason that the only remains are temples is because only houses for the gods were allowed to be made from stone, people had to make do with wood). Actually, the whole ensemble easily dwarfs all the other ruins I have ever seen, both in size and grandeur. At the height of its powers (around the 12th century AD) the Khmer empire covered, in addition to modern day Cambodia, most of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and was the major cultural influence in the first two (Thai and Lao writing, dancing, clothing and kickboxing were originally Khmer).

Angkor Wat is purportedly the largest religious structure in the world (it probably depends on your definition of large, but either way it's not small) and was originally built as a Hindu temple (nowadays it is still used, but as a Buddhist temple). Everything about it is just monumental: it is surrounded by a moat that is as wide as the Thames at London; the central structure is (almost) a square 200m wide; and its central tower is 65m tall. And although it is about 900 years old it is still in pretty good nick, with many of the intricate bas-reliefs still perfectly visible and lots of gothic "sticky out bits" covering every available inch of space. What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that these huge buildings, with their tall ceilings, were built without arches. Apparently the Khmers hadn't "discovered" them and used progressively longer slabs piled on top of each other to produce tapered ceilings. Other notable temples include the Bayon and Baphuon, both of which would be worthy "ruin destinations" in their own right. But my favourite was a temple complex called Ta Prohm, where nature has been allowed to take its course and the temple buildings are alternately pulled apart or kept together by immense networks of tree roots that look like and invading army of octopuses.

I've also decided I much prefer Hinduism to Buddhism. It has nothing to do with their doctrines but much more to do with architecture. You see Buddhists have only got Buddha, and no matter how many poses he strikes, he still gets rather boring after a while. The Hindus, on the other hand, have tons of gods, and they're all far more colourful than old Bud. There's far more action and excitement in Hindu mythology (wars, murders, love stories, etc.) than in Buddhism where all Buddha seems to do is sit under a tree.

My time here ended on a bit of a downer though, when somebody nicked my hat after I left it lying around for just 5 minutes. God know why it was taken as it was rather battered and dirty and is worth very little, except for me as it now has sentimental value (I get very attached to my old tatty clothes and find it difficult to throw them away). Sniff.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Je Ne Regrette Rien

Is one of the maxims I like to think I live by; making a choice doesn't close off an option inasmuch as it opens up many more. However there are some choices that, looking back, probably weren't particularly well thought through, such as taking the boat from Battambang to Siem Reap. I could have taken the bus, which would have been quicker (slightly), more comfortable and less expensive (yes, for once I chose the dearer option; what's happening to me?!). But instead I took the "scenic route". And indeed the scenery was pretty and I got to see many riverside villages and their inhabitants as well as the remarkable floating villages of Tonle Sap lake. Tonle Sap is incredibly important to both the culture and economy of Cambodia, the annual expansion (during the rainy season) and shrinking (during the dry season) of the lake being the heartbeat of the nation. The nutrient-rich waters contain a staggering concentration of fish and the yearly flooding helps keep the soil fertile for the farmers. Anyway, a number of factors (the speed of the boat, its lack of shelter and the wind) meant that everyone got as thoroughly soaked as if they had swum. On the bright side though, I did meet some friendly travelers aboard and that evening we went out for a few drinks (including a beer at a bar containing a crocodile pit with at least 20 live crocs that you could feed!).

But today has seen a really true regret. My cousin is getting married today and I'll be unable to attend, although I'd dearly love to be there. So here's wishing Ramtin and Meli all the best in their lives together.

P.S. And if anyone else is planning something important like that please wait until I get back before doing it. Thank you.