Progress of my journey (Part 5 – The final)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Hue (bus, 9€) ⇒ Hoi An (with a stopover at Nha Trang, sleeper bus/another bus 15€) ⇒ Da Lat (a sleeper bus, 9€) ⇒ Saigon (Mekong Air, 25€ ) ⇒ Phu Quoc (speedboat, 9€) ⇒ Ha Tien (bus, 8€) ⇒ Kep, Cambodia (minivan, bus, 6€) -> Sihanoukville ⇒ Koh Rong (boat, 11€ for the roundtrip) ⇒ Sihanoukville (four buses/minivans and one boat, 20€)-> Koh Chang (boat, bus, 6€) ⇒ Bangkok (diesel train, 2nd class, 0.5€) ⇒ Ayuthaya (diesel train, 2nd class, 0.5€) ⇒ Bangkok (Air Berlin, via TGX, 346€) -> Helsinki

Total: 119€ + 346€ for the flight to Helsinki

One particular thing about traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia is that it is extremely slow. Distances that do not look that big on the map can easily take a whole day of traveling, as it for example happened on the route from Sihanoukville to Koh Chang. Phu Quoc to Kep transfer took a greater part of the day too. There is an option in Vietnam to buy a bus pass, which includes eight destinations. And the price is only 40 bucks. Extremely good value, if you do a bit of traveling around Vietnam. I learned about it only after spending some time in Vietnam, which made me very sad. But in the end I did not do enough traveling in Vietnam anyway. On the route from Saigon to Phu Quoc as it was almost the same price as the bus + boat combination and saved me a whole day of travelling. Boats are never cheap.

A quick recap of Epic Journey 2: The Orient Express

View Epic Journey 2: The Orient Express in a larger map

  • The total price of moving from one place to another is 1262€
  • 8/10/2010 – 02/06/2011. Almost eight months of travelling. I aimed for a 9 months travel to make the journey more symbolic, but had to come back when I had to come back.
  • 11 countries visited (Macau and Hong Kong included)
  • I flew only thrice. Hong Kong ⇒ Bangkok, Saigon ⇒ Phu Quoc and Bangkok ⇒ Helsinki
  • The longest stretch by land: Helsinki ⇒ Hong Kong.
  • The most comfortable way to travel is high-speed trains in China
  • The least comfortable is crappy buses everywhere. The bus from Ulan Ude to Ulan Bator probably takes the lead.
  • Summer began in December for me
  • I saw a little bit of snow in Siberia and Mongolia, though

Notes about Vietnam (Part 2)

My first reaction after crossing the border with Laos was – oh my god, it is so green. Laos is abundant with nature, but there is something about Vietnam that makes its different. Blue skies and extreme greenery as far as an eye can see. It all is really beautiful. Rapid industrialization takes its toll though. As everywhere in Asia (minus Singapore) non-biodegradable garbage is all over the place and deforestation is rampant. Deforestation is not evident though, as in Laos, where you see scars left by the slash & burn practice everywhere. In fact I would not know anything about deforestation, unless I was told about it. Hills in Da Lat are covered with fields and plantations, while only several years ago they used to host forests. It even looks pretty with green tidy fields, unless I was not aware of the past. Ignorance is truly bliss sometimes. On the other hand all those strawberries have to come from somewhere.

I entered the country in the central Vietnam right in the hear of DMZ, where most of the fighting took place. Today the area is abundant with graveyards. I saw quite a few on my way to Hue, which made me think about the futility of war. Ten years of fighting, millions dead, devastated industry and infrastructure and all for nothing. United States and other aggressors never paid any war reparations or made any formal apologies. Agent Orange victims have tried to sue manufacturers of Agent Orange for years, but all in vain. How the hell you can attack a country like this and then just pretend the whole thing never happened? Simply mind-blowing. What is even more mind-boggling is that the history is repeating itself today in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it is business as usual: both wars are still going on with no attention is being paid to any of them any more, people are getting killed and the war economic machine is going full speed ahead. Anyhow, back to Vietnam. A good thing is that American and other wars are things of the past, even though the aftermath still rears its ugly head, like all the Agent Orange victims. Vietnamese in general and especially younger generation do not seem to hold the grudge against USA or France. US dollars are widely accepted as a currency and you see US branded clothing and accessories everywhere. It works in the other direction too. I have talked with several old American war veterans, who fell in love with the modern in Vietnam and made it their home. It is all water under the bridge. Indeed why cling to the past, when you can live in the present moment?

One of Vietnam’s highlights for me was food, which is just yummy and totally different to anything I have tasted before. Fresh spring rolls, friend wontons, pha, fried frogs, all kind of seafood and myriad of other things I have no name for. The cuisine can be best described as some sort of a fusion of Chinese and Thai cuisine, but in reality is totally unique and just awesome. Herbs as mint, basil and local varieties I have knowledge about are a big part of the cuisine. A nice touch is a complimentary bowl of herbs you get along with your food. Either you chew them as a healthy snack or add to your meal is your choice. My best food experiences were when I was out eating with locals, who knew magic words that brought all those secret delicacies to the table. English menu was often limited to rice and noodles with a couple of add-ons. It was especially frustrating, when I saw locals over a next table having a proper feast on the things I did not see on the menu. Food is very cheap too, even by South East Asian standards. I would love to visit Vietnam anytime just for the food experience.

In a nutshell, Vietnam is awesome. With a rapid economic growth and extremely determined people, I think they are destined for a great future. Next Asian Tiger or even the next mini-China maybe? Time will tell for sure. For now it is a lovely country with rich culture, delicious food, friendly people and low prices. Love it.

Notes about Vietnam (Part 1)

While I was in Laos, I heard so many negative things about Vietnam and especially Vietnamese people, so that it made me to reluctant to go at all. Fortunately I went and realized that Vietnam is not all that bad and in fact is a lovely country, although I can see why some people dislike Vietnam. Vietnam is like the mini-China. Vietnamese are ruthless, determined and focused. These people fought for 40 years non-stop defeating French, Americans and Chinese (and then invaded Cambodia). If there is a third world war, I want to be on the side of Vietnam for sure. One cannot conquer these people. As a citation in War Remnants Museum says “Those who dare to attack our territory; Will be immediately and pitilessly annihilated” Vietnamese are very business oriented minds and they easily make you part you with your money, sometimes in not so honest matter. But they do it with in a good fashion with a smile on their faces. You have to be constantly alert when doing money transactions. Double checking change, establishing price information in advance and making sure that you really get what you pay for. Nonetheless I found Vietnamese good-natured and pleasant. Especially after you get past the “you as a wallet” role, people turn out to be very nice. In this sense, Vietnam is very similar to China. The Chinese are vicious business-men and act like your worst enemy, when the transaction is being made. But once you get past that, they magically turn into the sweetest people. Jackyl and Hyde style.

I had an interesting experience on the journey to Da Lat, when I forgot my wallet in the bus. I realized the fact only after the bus was gone. A phone call was made and ten minutes later I got the news that they had found my wallet. Immediately a motorbike guy appeared and offered his services for only 150000 dongs (5€). An outrageous price, but I had to catch another bus, so I had to accept it. We went from one place to another one and back. Everybody around me spoke Vietnamese, inquiries were made, I did not understand anything and just followed my guide. Eventually two guys appeared with my wallet in their hands. Their first question was how much money I had in my wallet. To which I told them to just give my wallet back. We argued for a bit, but eventually I got my wallet. Cash card, euros and bahts were intact, but dongs were missing. It was plain obvious from their reaction that they took the money, but words and accusations did not help. Eventually I gave up, hopped on a motorbike and went back to catch a bus connection. This incident produced mixed feelings. One one hand, money was gone, but on the other hand they were honest enough to return my wallet with the rest of the content. Interestingly enough I had more in euros and bahts than dongs, but they did not know the value of these currencies.

I found out that Thai are a nice smiling bunch (at times artificially) and swallow any kind of disrespect, but behind your back they will be sure to express their true feelings. Vietnamese are different. Years of war resulted in the fact that Vietnamese do not tolerate disrespect from tourists. If you offend them, they do not laugh it away like Thais do, but will tell you directly that you are out of line. Tourism industry has created this artificial wall of niceness, where tourists can get away with anything, as long as they pay money. I prefer the Vietnamese way, though. Direct and ruthless, but at least there are no artificial smiles and fake emotions. If they act nice, they are nice. If they act angry, they are angry. Simple as that.


When I quit my job, I naively assumed that I would automatically have time for doing long neglected things as reading books. What I found out that without a right motivation these things just do not happen. On the other hand, travelling is filled with moments that provide no entertainment whatsoever, such as sitting in a bus for 12 hours, so a good book is a god send. Furthermore there were beach / hammock moments, where reading was the only activity I could bring myself to doing.

Then there was this factor of mystery, I never knew what book I was going to read next. At times I devoted my time to hunt a book by systematically checking nearby resorts/hotels. Stieg Larson and Marian Keynes were everywhere, but something more substantial was much more challenging to find. Sometimes I found a book I wanted to read, but could not agree on the price (bookshops on Koh Tao charged outrageous prices for used books for example). Other times I stole borrowed books from hostels as a form of redistribution of wealth (and then left the book in another hostel). Finding a next book to read became an adventure itself.

Below is the list of the books that accompanied my journey.

Howard Rheingold “Smartmobs”
Jules Verne “20000 Leagues Under The Sea”
Charles Dickens “Oliver Twist” (heavily abridged edition with a Chinese translation on every page)
Mary Shelley “Frankenstein”
Zachary Mexico “China Underground”
Игорь Станович “Гоанские хроники”
Stephen Dubner & Steven Levitt “Freakonomics”
Yann Martel “Life of Pi”
Neil Stephenson “Snow Crash”
William Shakespeare “Othello”
Ken Kesey “One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest”
J.D. Sallinger “Catcher in The Rye”
Catherine Taylor “Once Upon A Time In Beirut”
Henri Charriere “Papillon”
Philippe Cornwell-Smith “Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture”
Том Вульф “Электропрохладительный Кислотный Тест” (Tom Wolfe “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”)
Paulo Coelho “Alkemisti”
Jack Kerouac “On The Road”
William Golding “Lord Of The Flies”
Hermann Hesse “The Journey To The East”
Jules Verne “The Journey To The Center Of The Earth”

My favourite one is Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. It literally blew my mind. This is how you write a travelogue and this is how you travel. Amazing language, amazing read. Throughly enjoyed Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist too, it resonated very well with my own life at the moment. Papillon is brilliant, a proper adventure. Many great books and no dreadful reads apart from “Smartmobs”, the only book I could not finish. Interesting ideas, but the language is just miserable. “Othello” was hard to finish too, but due to the fancy language (it is Shakespeare after all). I kind got the general idea, but the subtleties of the language were lost on me. It was worth a try though.

Grande Finale on Koh Chang

I arrived to Koh Chang after an exhilarating bus journey from Sihanoukville involving four buses and one boat. If you look at the map, the two places are not that far away, but it took me a whole day to get to Koh Chang. Interestingly enough Siam Riep is much further from Koh Chang, but the journey takes approximately the same time. Fast traveling is unheard in most places in South East Asia. By the end of the day while sat in a taxi making its way at a blazing speed I stopped caring about everything. When would I get to my destination, where would I sleep or whether would I get there at all. All these basic traveller’s needs just did not matter in the end of the day. It was sublime.

Koh Chang experience was somewhat similar to Phu Quoc. I arrived and immediately disliked what I saw. Beaches are not match to Koh Rong and are too overdeveloped. Then I found nice accommodation and met people, which made things alright. Many old faces made it to Koh Chang and it felt like a last reunion of fellow travelers just before each one headed home. Life surprised once again. It is definitely the place to end one’s journey, especially at this time of the year. Koh Chang greeted me with the low season in its full bloom. Lower prices, frequent rains, deserted resorts and restaurants and not that many tourists. I liked it though, the low season made things much more laid-back. I went to a deserted bar once and asked the owner whether they were open or not. “Sometimes” was the answer. This is the work ethics I can relate to. I did not even mind the rain, as it was a perfect excuse to just to chill out in my bungalow reading books, playing card, socializing and just being. The only adventure for Koh Chang was limited to making a trip to the legendary Tree House now located on Long Beach. The place is rather isolated and a proper pave road changes to with a battered rocky road a couple of kilometers before the beach. The plan was to move there, but upon arriving there we realized that the place was closed for the season. But what an experience it was. It looked as if the place was abandoned after a cataclysm: deserted, washed-up garbage on the beach, half-destroyed bungalows and half-empty coffee cup on the table. Rather spooky atmosphere too. Only zombies were missing. This is Thailand I had never experienced before.

There is a snake-like hilly road circumventing almost all of the island, except the small bit in the south. There are apparently plans to complete the loop, but they have not materialized yet. The reason is unclear, but I heard two versions: plausible and interesting ones. The plausible one goes that the southern bit is very hilly and would require building a tunnel. Likely, but boring. According to the interesting one there are two quarreling villages divided by the jungle in the southern end and they resist all the motions connecting two villages with each other. There are also stories about local Romeo and Juliet from each village making jungle meetings in secret in the darkness of the night. I rather prefer the latter version. Who wants to hear boring truth, when you can have a good story?