Ho Chi Minh

My first week in Vietnam was better than I expected. After a disappointing stay in Bangkok (though Ko Samui was quite relaxing and enjoyable), I had imagined the high-density Ho Chi Minh City to be as bad, or even worse.

Let me first point out that the flight between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh with VietJetAir was the best low-cost flight I ever had. Comfortable leather seats, good service, very well organized and on time. One thing that made a big impression on me was the seriousness of the flight attendants. As I was seated on the Emergency Exit seats, they came to me and explained in detail what I had to do if we had an emergency, making sure I understood all the procedures. Once the fasten seatbelts sign was on, they really made sure everyone had fastened their seatbelts, and turned off their electronic devices. (It is so sad to see how people nowadays cannot part with their 'smart'phones even for a second, and try to hide it from flight attendants). As they explained the safety measures, I was delighted to see them interrupt the whole thing twice or thrice, to point at somebody and say "Pay attention. And TURN THAT PHONE OFF". I wanted to get out of my seat and grab the damn phones and step on them, but I'm sure they would have told me "Sir, please, remain seated while the seatbelt sign is on".

When I got off the plane, I had to go through immigration, of course. Some people told me that might be difficult, specially because I did not have a visa, and I do not have a ticket to get out of Vietnam (obviously, I'm the "one way trip guy").

As I gave them all the documents to request the visa, the vietnamese lady told me to sit next to that United Statian who was waiting for his visa. He seemed grumpy and was mumbling something about having to wait such a long time to get into that goddamned country. I felt a bit afraid the same might happen to me. Nevertheless, around 45 seconds later I was called, much to the disbelief of the United Statian next to me, who went on complaining to himself, counting his many USDollars. She told me "It's ok. Pay 95 dollars". I said "Sorry, I don't have dollars. How much is that in Thai Baht?". As it turned out, I had miscalculated and did not have enough to pay for my visa. She advised me to go to the ATM right next to her counter. I did, and the ATM did not accept my card. I was growing more and more worried I might get kicked out, specially with that US fella counting all his money there and still not being allowed to go through. I told her I couldn't take money on that ATM. She smiled gently and said "No problem. Go out of the airport, there are several ATM machines there, get money, and come back". The United Statian was baffled at how well and smoothly I was treated even if I had no money, but he had to wait. That is what you get when your country SUCKS! I went out, withdrew a couple of millions of Vietnamese Dongs, which were enough to grant me 3 months stay in this great nation.

I was very surprised to see that Ho Chi Minh City is modern, clean, aesthetically not that bad and people go around smiling and having a good time. There are several playgrounds where children play until very late, students play badminton at the city's squares, others play a rather unique game, in which they kick a badminton shuttlecock with rather interesting moves. Of course, there are dirty areas, and people sleeping in the streets just as Bangkok had, but I saw no prostitutes, no rat-cockroach encounters and no over the top ripping off of tourists.

I initially thought I'd stay 3 days in Ho Chi Minh and then leave for more 'paradisiac' destinations, but I am growing quite fond of this city. Great night life, good food at very low prices and, according to locals, 90% atheists. I still have no big updates or great photos to share, as I have only been in the city center and a few museums, but that will come with time. For now, I just want to share my admiration for this brave people who have fended off the French in a war in the 50's, then the United Statians in the 60's and 70's (at great costs, I must say), toppled the evil regime of the Khmers in the 80'as and fended off the Chinese in the early 90's. No other nation can boast such a record in recent wars, and it's mainly a rice farmers' country. The two airplanes you see on the photos below each have a great story. One was from the Saigon forces, who were pro-US. A northern spy worked at one of the airbases for some months, and was handed the airplane so he could bomb communist bases. Instead, he took off and bombed the palace in which the United Statians were based, becoming a national hero. The other plane was captured at a battle. One vietnamese engineer studied it for a couple of hours, took off with it, flew to a US air base and destroyed 26 fighters that were landed there. This is the kind of smart move a less technologically developed country needs to have when fighting against 'war giants'. Official calculations say that the US spent 10 dollars for every 1 dollar they destroyed in Vietnamese soil - meaning that to destroy another nations property, they spent 10 times that which they destroyed was worth. Talk about being stupid.

Apart from the communist flags and revolution feeling everywhere, which I really enjoy, I must say that I find the people very open and rather curious - they want to know all about me and all about Brasil, asking as many questions as they think is acceptable (which many foreigners - swedish, germans, etc - think is way too much, and that the vietnamese are 'TOO curious'). Two other things I think is worth mentioning - the traffic rules here are CHAOS. Being a pedestrian means "close your eyes and trust the cosmos". You can't really wait for a proper moment - if you do, you'll wait forever. You just have to start walking and trust that the hundreds of scooters will be able to calculate your trajectory and avoid you. Also, the number of people who offer me weed in the streets makes me think that this country has HUGE plantation fields - every two steps, some street hussler asks "you want marihuana?". I can't really believe they all have it, because that would mean a third of the vietnamese population has weed to sell.

This weekend I plan on going to the Mekong Delta, but I am unsure, since I am really enjoying Ho Chi Minh. I highly recommend Vietnam to anyone who is interested in traveling Asia.

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Both flights with Malaysia Airlines were quite good, specially the second one, Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok (the first one being Amsterdam - Kuala Lumpur). Time flew (tududum pash) and before I knew it, I was in Thailand. The first impression was great - the train from the airport to the city is excellent: modern, fast and clean. But then the good impression started to fade as the scenario started to remind me more and more of São Paulo. A big city with an endless skyline, it shows lots of grey, and the green you can see is filled with rubbish. Maybe it is true that all big cities are alike. Of course, the temples are impressive, but they are, nevertheless, temples, and I cannot help but dislike the grandeur and luxury of faith being shown right next to the misery of common men. 
Mixed feelings dominated my first days in the Kingdom of the Thailand: on one hand, I felt it is too similar to Brasil. People are lazy, streets are dirty, buildings are not taken care of (unless they are a temple, of course), stray dogs roam the streets during the day while cockroaches and rats are often seen during the night. The amounf of people sleeping in the streets is appalling - I saw hundreds of people lying everywhere, sleeping and eating on the sidewalks. On the other hand, the atmosphere is peaceful, people are gentle and generous, and that aggression that overflows in Brasil is nowhere to be found in this clearly buddhist land. The food is tasty though not very varied, and the prices are quite good for foreigners. 
Going out during the day means facing the scorching sun and the pollution of the heavy traffic, which is 'inverted', like in the UK. Going out during the night means facing the hordes of tourists, the impressive quantity of prostitutes (both girls and boys dressed as girls) and the risk of stepping on unseen animals due to poor lighting.

I went out one morning and was stopped by an extra-friendly man who was opening his restaurant. He told me I should go see this and that, and wrote down a few Buddha statues I should check out. He also told me I was lucky to be wearing yellow that day, because that was the colour of their monarchy, and that today was some holy day for them. A day in which the government offers Tuk Tuk rides for free. That was, of course, the beginning of the most well known scam in Bangkok. I was oblivious to any such thing, and knowing how lucky I am, I thought "Hey! Got lucky again! Let's ride that Tuk Tuk for free!". Their idea of a scam is - the Tuk Tuk driver takes you around to see main touristic points for free, and stops at certain shops, which pretend to have great deals and offers, so you spend lots of money in them. The shops give the drivers some money for helping with the tourist trap. So there I went, riding the Tuk Tuk, visiting many temples and quite some shops. I saw the giant Buddha, the standing Buddha, the lucky Buddha, the bored Buddha, the black Buddha, the harlem shake Buddha, you name it. In between, the Tuk Tuk driver made me go into shops so he could get his bonuses for taking the idiot tourist around. It was their loss; the jewelry shopkeepers who claim to have rare stones and gems (which are fake, I've later been told) at low prices, which you can buy cheaply in Thailand and sell back in the country where you live for higher prices, were disappointed to know they were dealing with a nomad who has no intention of buying shiny things for far away women. The travel agencies that want to sell overpriced packages to naive tourists were disappointed to know that I was thoroughly going through all of them with a notebook with the sole intention of writing down prices and looking at pictures. And finally, the tailor who took my measures to produce a beautiful silken shirt did not expect me to have so much Arab blood in me; I bargained until the price was excellent. In the end, they fell for my scam.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

After a few days in Bangkok, I was quite ready to leave, as many people I met were. Tourists said they wanted to get away from it as soon as possible, and migrants were of the same idea. I spoke to several people, but I'll mention two that said the exact same thing. A prostitute from Laos and a bellboy from Burma. They both have about another month in their visa, and they both said they had enough, that their homeland is a corrupt and dirty place, but still their lives were better there than in Bangkok, and that they were looking forward to going back. It reminded me of some Africans I talked to in Italy - they wanted to experience that 'western' something, and realized it just sucks, and they're better off in their own land. I am of the opinion that the tourists ruin the few things that the Thai manage to do right.

The next evening I took the night bus to Suratthani, 700 km away, so the next morning I could take the ferry to Koh Samui, the biggest island in Thailand. After all that research with the travel agencies, I found a nice bungalow 10 steps away from a quiet, peaceful beach. That is where I spent the rest of my week, lying in the hammock, watching the sunrise, the sunset and the beautiful, clear sea. Now, that was much better than Bangkok. Most tourists go on elephant rides, safaris, marine parks, scuba diving, etc. I saw them going out each day early in the morning and coming back exhausted at the end of the day. I stayed around, with the locals, thinking about the meaning of life, eating good food, listening to the wind and taking these pictures whenever I was not napping. Now I will leave Thailand, before this good impression also fades. I know 12 days are not enough to be considered an expert in any subject, and I probably went around in touristic areas, but I have been to the capital and to the main island, and I guess I had a good sample of what Thailand probably is.

Next stop: Vietnam.

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PS- Dear Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of the Thai,
Have you ever taken a stroll around your Kingdom? Have you noticed half of it smells of urine? Have you noticed that your subjects are sleeping in the streets? Have you ever used a 'public' toilet in your own kingdom? I'm not talking about the free ones, I'm talking about the ones you have to pay to use. Have you noticed that most of them don't have a flushing system, and that you have to fill a dirty bucket with water to get rid of your own waste? And have you noticed that many places still don't have a waste treatment system? Also, have you noticed that the Wikipedia entry for your name has been blocked by the Ministry of Information here in your own Kingdom?



In 2007, while I was living in Brasil, I finalized the documents necessary to request the italian citizenship by right of blood. Part of the process was to be a legal resident in Italy for at least 1 month. I looked at my great grandfather’s birth certificate and saw that he was born in Pontevico in 1893. I was curious to see the land where the blood that gave me the right to be European originated from, and that is where I decided to move to. I randomly contacted a death metal bass player who lived in that small town, and asked if we could have a drink together when I arrived, at the end of the year.

Several drinks later, I had my citizenship, a job as a roadie for a pop cover band (which allowed me to travel to around 60 cities in Italy during the 8 months I worked for them) and some good friends.
In 2008 I moved to an even smaller neighbouring village, where I rented an apartment big enough to host my mother. She lived with me for around 9 months, in which period she acquired her citizenship as well. During that period, I quit the roadie work, and started teaching English and Spanish.

When my mother moved back to Brasil in 2009 I moved again; this time to Cremona, the city of Stradivarius, where violin makers and musicologists make life interesting. After another 9 months I had some more good friends and I recorded a Death Metal album with the band Voyage.
During this time in Italy, I travelled as much as possible, not only inside the country: Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Slovakia, France, and a thrilling hitch-hiking trip in the summer of 2009: from Italy I went to the north of Germany (Wacken Open Air) and took 40 days to go from there back to Cremona, going through Kassel and Gottingen (Germany), Utrecht (Netherlands), Gent and Brussel (Belgium), Bayonne and Biarritz (French-occupied Basque Country), Bilbo and Donostia (Spanish-occupied Basque Country), Castelnaudary and Carcassonne (France). That is when I fell in love with Utrecht. Love at first sight. Like you wouldn’t think it’s possible.

Back in Cremona, I decided I had to go live there as soon as possible. I finished all my projects and said my goodbyes. At the beginning of 2010 I briefly visited Brasil for the first time since leaving it, and then moved to the beautiful city of Utrecht.

As it happens whenever you feel at home, all went well: great friendships, interesting stories and a couple of interesting jobs. After a couple of months, I found one that suited me perfectly: online customer service for a website that sells train passes.
While the need for traveling was not as intense, since I had found a place I loved and felt quite at home, the job allowed me to move as much as I wanted: all I needed was my laptop and internet connection to work. That is why during the 3 years I lived in Utrecht I visited most of western and central Europe: Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Not only did I travel for my own amusement, but some of these trips were for work: being basically a salesman, I needed to know the product my company sells. That meant they sent me around Europe to take notes and pictures of trains and train stations. Pretty hard to be luckier than that.

After 3 years ‘stationed’ in Utrecht (for a total of 5 years in Europe), the travel bug bit me hard again: I have started my journey in another continent. For the next months I will be travelling around Asia, and this blog will bring weekly updates and photos that I hope are interesting to you, my friends!

But know this: this weblog is not an exercise in vanity, nor a way to ‘keep in touch’. With this, I hope to infect you with my serious condition: my travel mania. Hopefully, this will inspire you to search for your own journey, as I have been inspired by other travellers and adventurers in the past.

Welcome to my Trip.

Some pictures from my latest trip in Europe:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.