Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hoi An & Nha Trang

In Hue I met a girl in the hostel. I was answering some of her questions across the room cause no one else seemed to know the answer, and we found out that we both go to Hoi An the next day. It turns out that government wants Hoi An to remain a posh place and so the city doesn't have any hostels ... i.e. it's not backpacker friendly. We decided to go there together and to share a hotel room. I didn't read enough on the bus, and had no idea which guesthouse to stay in, but of course it's never a problem as when the bus stopped at the station the hotel people came right to it, and we got a nice hotel room for $10 (hey, it's cheaper than a hostel!) with free transportation to it.
At first it was awkward to be in the same room with a stranger, but we soon discovered how much in common we have, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.
Her name is Penny. She had an accident in Vang Vieng. She was dancing in the bucket bar, fell down and scratched her leg. 2 days later, on her birthday, she woke up with fever. Went to the hospital, they cleaned the wound, gave her antibiotics and sent her back. 2 more days, her leg is 3 times the size, blue and black and Penny takes the first flight to Hanoi where they schedule an emergency operation. Turns out that when she fell, a small piece of wood got stuck in the leg, which they didn't take out in Laos, and it got so infected that they almost had to amputate the leg. No wonder that in LP it says, for medical emergencies fly to either Bangkok or Hanoi.
Now she's walking, and even though she has 3 holes in her leg and one is 2cm deep, 3cm long an 1cm wide, and you can see all the vital life processes happening inside, I've never once heard her complaining.
That day we just went to dinner in Ganesh restaurant, which had the best Indian food I've ever eaten! Don't forget that I just spent half a year in India. Too bad I only had 2 spoon fulls before I started shaking and trembling, got a headache, couldn't concentrate, couldn't eat and I was hot and cold all at once. 2 weeks of constant go-go-go finally caught up to me. Between travelling, reading/planning the trip and writing the blog, I didn't get more than 6 hours of sleep per night. Every day now for a few days, whenever I feel sleepy, I look at my watch at it's 5:30pm!! That's it, energy reserve for the day is gone. Never had that in my life! Did I say that before ... damn 1 month visas!!
Next day was a sight seeing day in the old quarter, which is cute, charming, colourful, flowery, sits on the river, and it's traffic free in the evenings. We bought a ticket for 5 sights which all the places accept, but it was so hot that we didn't finish ripping the ticket apart. We went to assembly hall, not an interesting museum, made a clay pot, saw them making wood sculptures and lanterns, walked into an ancestor home. It turns out that they're very tricky. They give presents to the ancestor spirits, but it turns out that they can eat it 3 days later. What kind of sacrifice is that?
(LP) Failing businesses often call in a geomancer (feng shui expert). Sometimes the solution is to move a door or a window. If this doesn't do the trick, it might be necessary to move an ancestor's grave.
Next day John who I met in Laos in Luang Prabang came to Hoi An. He's on the way north, while we're on our way south. We rented bikes and went to the beach. Got lost cause there are no maps, and instead of 4 kms, we rode at least 10 in the boiling heat. Tried to ask the locals where the beach is. The locals don't speak English, so it was another game of charades. Beach/ocean/water/waves/swim???? I tried to show breast strokes, they didn't get it ... a few people later someone finally got it. Turns out they don't know how to swim with breast strokes, they know doggy style when he put 2 hands in front of him and started splashing around :) Why do people who live near the beach don't know how to swim? I got tired of riding, stopped by the taxi to ask for directions. They told me to turn left on the traffic light. We were on the straight road and no traffic light in sight. No more riding, I took the first left and we ended up on a very nice almost local beach with no hassle and only red mouthed women selling peanuts. They also chew betel nut in here, but all their teeth are red, and lips and it drips from the sides of their mouths, much more disgusting than in India. Also at least in India only men did it. Yuk!!
Finally we had a chance to go out, and finally I dressed up. Too bad dressing up means wearing the only dress and the only pair of heels that I have. Oh, and it also means taking a shower :) Taking a shower while travelling is almost a privilege. Sometimes there are no showers, sometimes they're shared and disgusting, sometimes there is no water, sometimes it's only freezing water, but usually you're so exhausted that you don't even remember what a shower looks like anymore.
First we went to pick out a suit for John. He ordered 2 suits from the best quality material, with 3 shirts, all custom made for $200. I don't even know if that's a good price or not, because guys are not as picky as girls, and John ordered it in the first shop that we went in to. Ordered at 8pm, picked up at 3pm the next day. Now that's fast service!
Walked around for a long time picking a restaurant. There are so many good restaurants, but they're all expensive. Ended up in a so so one, but at least on the terrace overlooking the river. The owner came to our table and offered us to come to his village to see what a traditional village is like, how they live, how they plant rice, it sounded very interesting until he started pushing so much that we declined. Next was a "why not" bar, there is a "why not" bar in every city in Vietnam. We got picked up by an expat manager on his bike who went around town collecting people. He said that there are at least 35 people in there, and drinks are free till 12. There were hardly 10 people, and drinks were 2 for 1. I told him that he spent way too much time in Vietnam. The music was good though, and we played 2 rounds of pool. On the way back to town we stopped at another bar where we all had munchies and ordered 3 slices of cakes at 12 am :)
Next day after another wonderful lunch in the Ganesh restaurant where I especially went to the kitchen to tell the boss and his chefs that they make the best Indian food, Penny & me took a night bus to Nha Trang.
My seat was in the front of the bus and 4 guys, I'm not sure who, were smoking near the driver, I thought, one is ok, but as soon as they put down the first cigarette, they took the next one. No, no, no, it's not going to work. I got up, pointed my finger at a cigarette and then to the road, not in the bus!!! 2 of them quickly threw their cigarettes out, but the other guy aggressively took me by the hand and put me down on my seat. Vietnam is definitely the most aggressive country in SE Asia, I think they have that mentality after the war. At night I couldn't sleep, I was only comfortable in one position on the side where my nose touched the seat which was all saturated with cigarette smoke.
Arrived at Nha Trang at 5am. Took 2 taxi bikes that drove us to some hotel. When we arrived I got scared, 2 girls alone in the middle of nowhere going down dark alley on 2 separate bikes, but of course in the morning it wasn't scary anymore, as we were in the middle of a side street full of nothing but hotels. The owner when showed us the room, entered into it with a cigarette in his mouth, at least him I could kick out :)
Welcome to Nha Trang, the Russian capital of Vietnam. For some reason Russians always choose the worst places, I have no idea how much the marketing people were paid to promote these places. Pattaya, Phuket in Thailand, Bali in Indonesia, there is nothing there, and amazing beauty just a few hours from that place, but anyway, everything's in Russian. Russian restaurants, all menus, all stores selling expensive jewellery and leather, convenience stores sell vodka with black caviar, everything as it should be :) Some girls said that in the airport the "welcome to Vietnam" sign was only in Russian, there wasn't one in English :)
The beach is not impressive at all, and full of too many Sheraton and Hilton high rises. The water didn't look clean and I didn't feel any urge to go in.
Next day took a boat trip. Half a day cost $15, and please take a few seconds to guess how much a full day trip cost ...................................................... you guessed wrong! It cost $7. Yes I know, I had eyes as big as yours. It cost less because there are more people. What a nice day we had. We went snorkeling twice, even though I've seen more garbage than fish, too bad, as it was even in a protected area. I snorkeled in a t-shirt, it's some rule that I have, and thank god for that rule because everyone who snorkeled was as red as a lobster. I saw 2 fish that I didn't see before, that's always exciting, I thought it was another garbage artifact, but it was a thing that looks like a rope with some things coming out of its mouth, a needle fish, parrot fish, but not much coral. Pretty much everywhere I snorkel there isn't any corals left. Please don't buy any dry corals or souvenirs made out of corals. They're much more beautiful in an ocean than dead on a shelf.
We then had a lunch followed by a happy hour with free drinks, followed by an entertainment program of a singing lady boy :) He then called out tourists from different countries and made them sing some famous song. That Vietnamese guy knew the words for all the songs in all the languages. Russians were singing "Katusha" :). I was looking at one and only Russian couple. They always argue, very aggressive towards each other. I can't even imagine how can you talk like that with a person you love. They're the only ones who don't smile, who don't want to have fun, who don't know any English. The whole world is on that ship, and they're the only ones who can't even say a word in English, who don't know how to use chopsticks. I know that the show was childish, but everyone is having fun ... join in!!

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Woke up at 3:30 to take the only bus that leaves that town. They first took money from us - 120. That already looked suspicious. When they collected money from local people, I saw that they all give them 80. I "talked" to the money collector, which involved some pantomime, pen and paper, he laughed at me, and then ignored me all the way. I told the guys that the trip costs only 80. The guy knew a little bit of Vietnamese, asked the locals and then started arguing with the money collector and with the driver. Again, they ignored us and at the end yelled at us to go away. That's it! I prefer to take local buses, but if they're going to lie and cheat, they won't get our business anymore! I'm getting a tourist bus ticket! And the thing is that for them it's not lying. They think because we have more money, we should pay more money, it's only fair. Damn communism!
At the bus station the taxi to center cost 150, I told them where to go, or rather went there myself :) To the outside gate, where they happily took me for 50. Arrived at hostel, no time to waste, no money to count, I took a motorcycle tour of the surrounding area. 1 month visa sucks! Saw a Japanese bridge, US bunker, king's tomb where he actually lived all his life, but after India nothing was impressive anymore. (LP) The king Tu Duc lived a life of imperial luxury and carnal excess (he had 104 wives and countless concubines), though no off springs. All members of his harem were checked for weapons before being allowed into his bedroom. The tomb, is a drab grey monument and the emperor was never interred there - the site where his remains were buried (along with great treasure) is not knows. To keep it a secret from grave robbers, all of the 200 servants who buried the king were beheaded.
Long live the king!
There was also an arena like a coliseum, but I didn't make it there. Doesn't mean I don't have any info about it :)
Ho Quyen was built in 1830 for the royal pastime of watching elephants and tigers face off in combat. The tigers were usually relieved of their claws and teeth so that the elephants - a symbol of the emperor's power - triumphed every time.
& while we're on the elephant subject: An elephant's life - Behind the apparently glorious status of the elephant in Vietnam is a tortured history spanning centuries. Praised by kings, these gentle and intelligent creatures were trapped by H'mnong hunters. The animals were then tames through savage beatings before being presented as royal gifts or put to work by the tribe. And what work it was - elephants were (and still are) used as combination bulldozers, fork-lifts and semitrailers. Now they're more often seen in the lucrative tourist industry, lugging people through the forests or as part of minority festivals. It's not necessarily a better life. Many elephants were trapped as babies so that they would be easier to train - neglecting the fact that they need their mother's milk up to the age of four in order to develop healthily. It's also easy to overestimate what adult elephants can tolerate. Elephant skin appears to be rough and impermeable, but it's as sensitive as human skin, vulnerable to sunburn, dirt and infections. Though elephant trapping was banned in 1990, it was not strictly enforced. Vietnam's native elephant species has been listed as endangered since 1976 and it's estimated that only a few hundred elephants remain in the highlands. Without elephant sanctuaries or alternative employment, their fate seems grim; a lifetime of tourist rides, illicit employment in logging and construction, or, if the money runs out, abandonment or death.
We stopped for lunch near the tomb where there were a lot of birds in cages. I was happy since my guide could speak English. I asked him to call the owner. I asked him how he would like to live all his life in a closed room with no communication, no friends, no family, no nature. He said that of course he wouldn't like to live that way. I asked him how does he think a bird feels in a cage. He laughed at me. The guide told me that Vietnamese people love the sound of bird's singing and it's a status thing. Yeah, yeah ... I know ...
After the motorcycle tour, I went to a royal palace. It hardly looks like royal cemetery. It's not their fault though, the whole palace was bombed. Not only the palace. Vietnam doesn't have any architecture left since the Vietnam war, the Americans destroyed the whole country.
Next day I took a DMZ tour. It was very interesting because of our very informative guide who couldn't stop talking, with whom we stood near a makeshift map and were amazed for half an hour. We saw a river that divided the south and north Vietnam. Listened about the Ho Chi Mihn (HCM) trail, and learnt about the Vietnam war. Vietnam war began because US was scared of the spread of communism and because South of Vietnam asked US for assistance, and how could it refuse? It wasn't a war between US and North of Vietnam, it was a war between US and Russia, something that both countries don't want to get involved in directly. Russia supplied weapons to North of Vietnam, also offered soldiers, but North Vietnam refused, as money can be repaid, but soldiers lives could not, and in that case it would somehow become a part of Russia.
HCM trail - this legendary route was not one but many paths that formed the major supply link for the North Vietnamese and vc (Viet Cong - the South Vietnamese who fought for the North) during the American war. Supplies and troops leaving from the port of vinh headed inland along mountainous jungle paths, crossing in and out of Laos, and eventually arrived near Saigon to transfer the weapons and fight. with all the secrecy, propaganda and confusion regarding the trail, it's hard to say how long it was in full: estimates range from over 5500 km to more than 13,000km. while elephants were initially used to cross the Truong Son Mountains into Laos, eventually it was sheer human power that shouldered supplied down the trail, sometimes supplemented by ponies, cycles or trucks. Travelling from the 17th Parallel to the vicinity of Saigon took about six month in the mid-1960s. Years later, with a more complex network of paths, the journey took only six weeks but it was still hard going. Each person started out with a 36kg pack of supplies, as well as a few personal items such as a tent, spare uniform and snake anti venom. 10% of the VC were killed by malaria. They ate only what they could find on the way, which mostly was tapioca. What lay ahead was a rugged and mountainous route, plagued by flooding, disease and the constant threat of American bombing. At their peak, more than 500 American air strikes hit the trail every day and more ordnance was dropped on it than was used in all the theatres of war in WWII.
On the division line, the US built a 16 km electric fence, where not even the rats could pass through. Ironically the DMZ (demilitarised zone) became the most bombed place in Vietnam. People in the villages in the DMZ didn't want to leave their land, so they moved underground into the tunnels. 3 levels of tunnels have been built, 300 people lived in there for 6 years. 17 babies have been born, all of them are deaf and with mental problems due to the shocks from bomb explosions.
Vietnamese thought of the biggest smoke screen. They attacked the US bases in the DMZ to which US responded by sending most of the soldiers to that area, meanwhile the rest took control of Saigon (in the south). The guide said "liberated". I asked him why does he think that South Vietnam wanted to be liberated? Half of the bus laughed and my very communist guide didn't really like my question. He said that Ho Chi Mihn's dream was to see Vietnam united.
During the war which US haven't even declared, 4 million Vietnamese have died.
It was the first war that US has lost
We also learnt about the My Lai massacre:
The My Lai massacre is probably one of the most infamous events of the Vietnam War. The soldiers had been advised before the attack by army command that all who were found in My Lai could be considered VC or active VC sympathisers, and told to destroy the village. Still, they acted with extraordinary brutality, raping and torturing villagers before killing them and dragging dozens of people, including young children and babies, into a ditch and executing them with automatic weapons.
Over the next three hours they killed as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians. Some were lined up in a drainage ditch before being shot. The dead civilians included fifty age 3 or younger, 69 between 4 and 7, and 27 in their 70s or 80s.
In addition, Vietnamese women were raped; other civilians were clubbed and stabbed. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. One soldier would testify later, "I cut their throats, cut off their hands, cut out their tongues, scalped them. I did it. A lot of people were doing it and I just followed. I lost all sense of direction."
While 26 U.S. soldiers were initially charged with criminal offences for their actions at My Lai, only Second Lieutenant William Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but only served three and a half years under house arrest.
There were many theories as to how such a catastrophic event could occur under American leadership.  Racism was a reoccurring speculation, as many of the soldiers had been trained since day one to hate the Vietnamese.  “The many hours the men spent during combat training listening to their instructors referring to the Vietnamese as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Halong bay, Ning Bihn & Phong Nha

Took a 3 day tour to the world famous Halong bay (or Ha Long Bay). The tour almost got cancelled because it rained. The government got strict about it because a few years ago a boat sunk in the middle of the night killing 11 tourists. The crew just jumped aboard without waking anybody up or sounding an alarm. Although, I still don't see much sense in it. What if you're already on the boat and it starts to rain, then what happens? While waiting, I looked around at the people on my boat. Nobody inspired much interest in me, and I continued writing my blog. After a few hours, these people started forming groups, "oh-oh" I thought. Once groups are formed it's hard to make your way in. I remembered what I discovered just a few days ago, that there are no "non talk-able" people, turned off my computer, made some random comment and fit right in. The boat was beautiful (even though all boats are called "junk"), I had a room all for myself, wood finish, modern bathroom, other nice touches. We all started talking about prices. I paid $80 for a 3 day all inclusive tour, others paid $80 for 2 days. I don't understand why. Hanoi is full of agencies all selling these tours. Did they just walk into the first one and bought it? Walk in at least five, so you'll have a chance to compare especially that they're all next door to each other.
Halong bay is indescribably beautiful, something magical, something unreal of 1000s of green limestone islets rising out of water, and even 100s of boats cruising around don't ruin much of the scenery. We were enjoying the beautiful day on the deck while sipping red wine and eating fruits. Too bad it was a bit foggy though.
First day it was already too late to do much, such as kayaking, and we only had time to stop at a cave. It was the most stalactites and stalagmites that I've seen concentrated in such a small area. Our guide was picking on a fat boy. "How many babies are you having?", "What a beautiful man, do you want to marry him?", "Double portion for the fat boy" or "No food for you, you're on diet today". There are no social norms here at all.
In the evening we had to fulfil our junk name "Halong party", woke our guide up, connected a karaoke machine and started singing and dancing around. Half the people went to sleep, half of the remaining people sat quietly, and I was ordering songs, jumping, singing, dancing, without any care in the world, and that's without any alcohol. A few months ago, I started thinking why people care what others think of them, I didn't find an answer and since then it's really hard to embarrass me or make me feel uncomfortable. Just remembered a saying: "People buy things they don't need on the money they don't have to make impression on people they don't know". And I know that I don't have any voice to sing, and how many people were turning on the volume in the car when I started singing. But I love it, and I do it! They kicked us out at 10:30 :( Stuff works with no breaks, sleeps with no beds, and they need these precious hours which would be better spent in quiet than listening to our whaling sounds.
Woke up at 6am as was initially agreed upon, too bad nobody told me that the breakfast has been changed for 7:30. It's ok, I did yoga on the deck in peace and quiet with the first rays of sun. We then picked up some girls from another boat, all girls, all made up, and got dropped off on an island. We were supposed to go for a walk, it ended up being more than a hike, with some parts that you have to climb and use scary ladders. I don't think they were happy about the short dresses that they were wearing. They're sweaty, and they complain about it all the time. It was an "Yeeeeeeeiiuuuuu!!" symphony. I almost asked them if they've ever been to the gym or the sauna? Maybe not everybody is talk-able :) We reached a high point with a lookout tower. They told us not to climb it, because it's not safe. I decided to check the validity of that statement and discovered that it's pretty safe except that at the very top there are a few pieces of wood missing from the platform floor, otherwise everything is ok :) Reminded me of a phrase: If you don't take risks, you don't drink champagne. I had to reinvent it to: if you don't take risks, you don't have good pictures :)
Next was monkey island. I told everyone to stay away from the monkeys. They're cute and fuzzy, but they're evil monsters. They looked at me, and I could hear a laughter inside. I ordered coke in the restaurant, and right away I saw a monkey climbing down the roof. I know what it wants! I put the coke on the chair next to me hoping it wouldn't see it. This was not the case, it walked on the table, took the coke and sat on the fence to drink it. I didn't move or made a sound when it was near me. What monkey wants, monkey gets! That bustard, I only took maybe 3 sips :) Everyone loved it, what great photo opportunity it made. Then they stole some beers. Imagine what a can of coke or a can of beer can do to a little monkey.
Daniel (one guy from the boat) and I both can't sit at one place and we hiked up the hill for the views. No trail, we had some awesome rock climbing experience. On the top were the views, and on the other side of the hill was a resort with lounge chairs which we of course occupied. On the way back, a monkey attacked a girl on the beach for no reason. She wasn't near him at all or provoked him in any way. The monkey just run up to her and bit her leg. Now she has a deep wound and needs to urgently go to Hanoi for rabies shots.
In the evening I convinced Daniel to go to the fort, luckily not much convincing was required. I like forts, they always offer great views. But at this fort I liked the cannons, bunkers and tunnels more than the views.
Next day on the way back, most of the girls were sleeping on the deck. I don't get it. Don't they know that these places don't exist in the world??? They could've waited 2 more hours on the boat, and slept 4 hours on the bus. I'm on the other hand was happy to find out that I didn't forget much Spanish, as there were 2 girls from Spain, and I spoke to them in Spanish all the way back to Hanoi.
I swear that Asia is the only place in the world where it's easier and cheaper to take a tour. So I got a tour. It's a boat ride on the river with a stop at yet another temple. I'm moving south and this place is a few hours south of Hanoi, which is right on the way. All the trips leaving from Hanoi stop at souvenir shops, often selling handicrafts made by disabled people. Among all the pictures, plates, cloths, there are also huge marble statues, and on drive to the river, we saw the whole effect of destruction of such beautiful mountains for the extraction of marble. These were not mountains anymore, but rather ghost mountains.
This trip was much better than perfume pagoda. More peaceful, more relaxing, more beautiful, less hassle. The selling ladies tried to sell us water/cookies/candies ... when I said that I don't need anything, she tried the guilt trick on me of buying something for the lady who rows the boat. "Buy cookies and water for her, she's tired, she works very hard for you". I looked at her and asked, do you want cookies or money? She said money ... I thought so. The ladies who row the boat, do it with their legs, which is a much better idea I think because legs are stronger and the pictures are better :)
I asked the bus driver to drop me off in town from where I could take the bus south. I asked everyone where the bus station is, at the end I walked 1 km one way, just to walk 1 km back. There is no bus station! Besides that, nobody could understand what I want from them. I ask them in Vietnamese where is a bus station, and they just look at me. No wonder though, one variation in intonation and the whole word changes meaning, what if I ask them for a chicken bus or a donkey station ... doesn't make much sense now, does it? :)
Finally caught a bus on the street where my bus driver dropped me off. Apparently there is no bus station, you just flag any bus that passes and it will stop for you. I got on a very run down local bus, no space for legs, no fabric on the seats. He tells me it's 400,000. What is it a magic number?? I tried to argue with him, telling him the price written in lonely planet. He is telling me 4 times that price. We go back and forth, he's getting rude, I'm getting angry. I asked them to stop the bus and got out. The bus stood, they talked and talked, at the end motioned me to come back on. I was upset and didn't want to go on that bus anymore. It's not alright to make fools out of tourists. I took my suitcase and walked the other way with an angry face. Caught next bus, it was cheaper, though still more expensive than in LP, but I don't understand why it took much longer than mentioned in LP ... maybe because of construction work. At least that bus was a sleeping one. Arrived in mid town only at 10:30 at night. Walked alone to the hotel in the dark, freaky, not the best idea. Good that it was near the bus terminal, the only hotel mentioned in lonely planet, even there it says that no one will speak English. When I got there, they did! What a surprise! They must have read the lonely planet comment and decided to hire an English speaking person.
My morning bus was 40 minutes late, and there were no more buses going to the Phong-Nha national park that day. I had no choice but to go with a motorcycle taxi, with a backpack on my shoulders and my suitcase on my lap sitting behind the driver. I had no money left and we stopped at an ATM. Again, not a very good idea, me, my money and a driver on his motorcycle. But they're locals, not yet destroyed by the corruption of tourism, so it was ok. One hour and $13 later, I arrived in the only hotel, where I met 2 more couples of backpackers. We were offered a tour on a posh laptop for $75 each. What kind of price is that? We didn't really understand the point when we refused and just went to the pier and got the same tour for $20.
On the river the locals collect moss, I think it's morning glory, on small boats with long long sticks, all dressed head to toe in this heat protecting themselves from the sun. On the itinerary are 2 caves. We drove to the 1st one, got another boat to go inside the cave, as usual the stalactites and stalagmites are lit up with a rainbow of colors. There is water running through the cave, and a beach. I'm yet to see a waterfall, a very tall one, that would be cool :) We got back on the boat and drove an hour back. Why are we back? We have 2 caves, take us to the 2nd cave. We argue with them, they argue with us, they don't speak English, we show them the ticket for the 2nd cave, we have no idea what they tell us, needless to say it went on for a while. They got out of the boat, talked to some tourist information people, and reluctantly took us back to the place where the 1st cave is! Apparently they're right beside each other. Whose fault is it??
Took a taxi to paradise cave. It was funny as we couldn't find how to talk to the only taxi driver that we found. We tried to pantomime him the cave, a biiiiig cave, daaaaark cave!! No result ... then as a joke the 5 of us started talking to him in all the languages that we knew. He reacted to German! That was a surprise :) I don't already remember how he knew it, but he knew it fluently. Lonely planet got the description off when it described the cave as breathtaking. It should be speechless, unbelievable, indescribable! It was just discovered 3 years ago, and I think it's the largest cave in the world. 32 kilometres long, and only 1.6 are open for tourism. They built lights and a very nice walkway. We couldn't stop turning our heads and "woooooow"ing :), too bad it was relatively dark, and the pictures are not that great. Had to yell at a girl who was touching the stalactites. Isn't it common sense, don't touch stalactites, don't throw garbage around, don't kill squirrels, don't don't don't!!
In Laos and in Vietnam there are many people keeping birds in cages, sometimes in very tiny cages. My heart hurts every time I see that, and since Laos I'm coming up with plans to release them. In the evening we ate at a restaurant that had 3 cages, we had a few beers, I got enough courage, looked around to make sure nobody was looking, and opened one of the cages where the bird couldn't sit on one spot, was just jumping from wall to wall. I felt good, the other couple gave me a high five saying they dreamt to do it for a few months now, but in the morning I felt a bit bad. Some say that if a bird was in  a cage for too long, then it won't be able to survive in the wild, so what if I just accidentally killed it? In these countries birds are a status thing, when one bird can cost $20 (a 2 week income), and everybody's keeping it, not in the house, or in the back of the house, but in front, for everyone else to see. If there are 100 million people in Vietnam, and everyone has a bird, there are no more birds left in nature, and how will they reproduce? Lets just hope that they reproduce faster than the Vietnamese.