Category Archives: Traveling Tales

Short getaways from KL are not so difficult to come by…

 

broga

Had a tough week? Took crap from your colleagues or your boss? Need a short getaway from the concrete jungles of KL? Catch some peace and tranquility in Broga. Only about 40 km from KL.

Ahahahahah….sorry, I know I risk sounding like an advertisement, but I just can’t resist sharing. Fat Dragon and I caught a sunrise up at Bukit Broga last weekend. It wasn’t breathtaking but it was nice and peaceful enough (after the crowds left, that is). And the trek up was, shall we say “Kacang Putih”. Only half an hour (if you take the short route)!

To get to Broga, head towards the Semenyih campus of Nottingham University. Check out this link for the map to go there. Semenyih is about 30km from KL. So it is not too long a drive.

Picking up from the map in the link above, drive straight on from Nottingham University. About 3.5km later, you will then see a Rabbit Fun Park on the right. Immediately after, you will see a dirt road leading to an oil palm estate on the left. Turn off here & park your car. Now this is the tricky part. There are two routes leading to Broga Hill. The shorter one is the first dirt road (that you parked in). There is a second dirt road, about 500m down the road, which is the starting point for a longer route.  

I recommend the shorter route up first. Time is of the essence if you want to catch the sunrise. The path is actually a dirt road, wide enough to take a car. Be careful, there are huge potholes along the way.  This path takes you through the oil palm estate. Not long after, this veers off to the left, and the path eventually narrows. You will be faced with an incline thereafter through jungle and then lalang. The tall grass signals that you are nearing the peaks of the rolling hills of Broga. There are 3 peaks which you can perch yourself on to soak in the sights of Broga. It is up to you, which you want to park yourself on. Total time for this climb – Half an hour. Do arm yourself with a torchlight and insect repellent if you’re doing this in the dark.

For the return route, you can back track the way you came or you can take the longer route which loops back to your original starting point. This means you have to move onwards past the 3 peaks and start your trek through jungle, rubber estates, an orchard and oil palm estates to go back down. Take note that you will have to traverse across 2 huge boulders after the 3rd peak. No worries though, there are knotted ropes secured to these 2 rocks to help you climb them, thanks to Hash activities in the area. Now this route has also got worn out paper markers strewn along the way & when I say worn out, I mean they are REALLY worn out. So, do keep a keen eye out for them. Time for this part of the trek – 1 1/2 hours. Be warned though, during the dry season, this trail is infested with mosquitoes.

Beware of a crowd during weekend mornings. However, I guess you can take comfort in knowing that there is safety in numbers – security wise ….. more so, if you’re unsure of the route in the dark.

How short is short…? Well, FD & I woke up at 5am. Left home about 5.45am. Reached Semenyih about 6.30am. Started to climb and reached peak about 7am. Relaxed, had breakfast and took photos at peak (FD even managed a little nap). Started down about 9.30am. Finished trek abt 11am. If you drive home immediately after, you’d be back in KL before 12 noon.

HAPPY TRIPPING!

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P.S. All estimates for trekking times are based on our own fitness levels i.e. MEDIUM FITNESS, not super fitness. So, you probably need to give or take some time off … as who better would be able to gauge your own fitness levels but yourself.  🙂

 

 

 

 

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Blood feast …

 YES, A BLOOD FEAST!  ….. FOR THE LEECHES, that is!

It all happened last Sunday. The occasion being a river and jungle trek up Sg. Ampang in Kemensah Heights, Hulu Kelang. The objective of the trip was to cover 4 waterfalls, the main one being the Kubang Gajah falls in the area.  It involved a series of jungle treks, river treks & climbing of steep slopes in order to achieve our goal.  

It was a memorable trip for all 34 ‘Waterfall Survivors’ members who went for the trek. Not only was the trip invigorating as we dipped into the cool (cold for some), clear waters of the falls … we also provided a feast galore for a certain inhabitant which thrives in wet & damp trekking trails – the leech. Pacat in Malay.

We might as well have sent out invitations to these creepy crawlies for a 7 hour blood fest from 9am to 4pm. We were ‘bled’ throughout the trail. Small price to pay since we were in their territory, I suppose. Each one of us was assured two to three bites (at least) throughout the trip. No one was spared. They latched onto our arms, our legs, in between our toes, our torso’s. One guy reported that he had three leeches feasting on his leg, side by side. Another discovered one latched onto the jewels in between his legs, when he reached home later. Hmm .. yummy? Ahahahaah!!!!!!    

Before they feed on you, leeches take on an innocuous, string like appearance. But after they feed, they grow into fat peanut sized monstrosities. They can sense your presence from the heat emitted from your bodies & they fall onto you from the leaves above or they can latch on to your feet from the ground below. Actually, if they don’t freak you out, you can just let them suck on your blood until they have had their fill. They will drop off once they are full. But …. if you do mind their presence, then you could bring salt water concentrate or a  cigarette butt with the tobacco end exposed with you. Once the leeches come into contact with these items, they will fall off of you. Check out this video for a visual on how they move about. Notice they have suckers on both ends of their bodies.

Leech or no leech – it was a GREAT trek! The waterfalls were breathtaking. The river trek was relatively easy. We could get a firm foot grip on the river bed which was sandy and the rocks were not too mossy. The Gods were kind to us too. The whole day was sunny and turned gloomy only at about 4pm. By that time, we were already at the end of the trail and on the way back to our cars.

Well, they say – leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs – in the jungle, but I beg to differ, you get to leave some bloodsupply besides your footprints! 

      

HAPPY TRIPPING!

P.S. Directions: If you’re interested in going to Sg. Ampang’s, Kubang Gajah Falls, drive towards the Zoo Negara in KL. After that. Drive into the road that leads you to the Zoo from the MRR2. Once you’re on this road, you’ll be driving beside the zoo. Drive straight along this road right to the very end (i.e. no more road left) and you will reach a private compound. Park there and access the trail from within the grounds. There will be guards there and a fee of RM10 pax to be paid at the entrance of this compound. Numbers to call can be found in the pic below.

P.P.S. Trail Map (not to scale). Note that the trail is not so clearly defined in some areas especially on the ascent route after the 3rd fall. There is a bit of a climb after the 4th fall to approach the descent route. This part is a bit steep so you have to be prepared to go on all fours especially for novices if you’re afraid of losing your foot grip.

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P.P.P.S. The difficulty level is subjective. If you’re fit, it’s probably an easy trek.  For those who are not fit, if you’re armed with a sense of adventure and if you’re not afraid of getting wet & dirty, then I highly recommend it! It certainly is not for those who faint at the sight of blood though, fit or unfit notwithstanding 🙂

Happy Feet = Healthy Mind & Body?

NO. THIS IS NOT A REFLEXOLOGY BLOG.

Fat Dragon and I had a really full social calendar the past three months. 

Now a healthy social life, doesn’t necessarily mean everything else is healthy. Namely, our bodies. We’ve been exercising our mouths, our livers to the maximum what with the merry making of catching up with friends back from overseas…with friends from out of town…..with friends during the Raya celebrations …. and so on and so forth…. There really has been no let up. And I can assure you, this form of exercise does nothing to shrink the numbers on your weighing scale!!!

We decided to go on a quest to make sure all these overworked organs remain healthy and in good shape for the next round of merry making in December…  X’mas & New Year! Ahahahahahah………

…So, we enlisted the help of our feet, of course! Sort of a walking, running, dancing bootcamp, you could say.  And here are some highlights of its activities………..

They trudged heavily & courageously on a mushy path in a 6 hour trek up and down  Gunung Berembun in Cameron Highlands, with Fat Dragon’s feet as companions. The trail was steep and mossy, hence the name, which translates into Mossy Hill. Such a wave of exhaustion hit us as we climbed and descended the slippery & ‘bouncy’ trail (Some parts of the ground was not solid ground. It was actually made up of root systems which felt suspended from the ground)… But we made it..shaky knees and all….and all we left behind, were our footprints! We did not take anything with us…not even pictures. We were just too exhausted!   

The lower extremities of our bodies were tested to the limit again, when they got fitted with dancing shoes during the Raya celebrations. Our feet shuffled and stepped to the sounds of 3 live bands (pic of one of them shown below) playing Santana beats and music from the 70’s and 80’s at the Cross Roads in  Concorde Hotel. I would say the Roaring Fortiers stepped up (pun intended) to the challenge given the extra loads and expanding waistlines that the feet had to carry but boy did we move. And…we passed with flying colours…..It would make the youngsters cringe but hey …  WHO CARES!

Warning: Please do not adjust your screen. The fuzzy image you see below was taken under the influence of alcohol… 🙂

They also got a chance to pound the hard, interlocking-tiled sidewalk along of Gurney Drive (Penang). This pavement is flanked by the sea on one side & and traffic on the other. So you get to breathe in a cocktail of sea breeze & exhaust fumes. How about that? The jog might not sound like a great fete to you but it really is a first for me. All the years that I have visited Penang, I’ve never run along Gurney Drive. I would never have dreamed being able to do 5km in half an hour, so it was an achievement for me and my dear old feet! 

 Now, you tell me, how often do you a get a scene like while jogging in KL?

Our feet succeeded in trekking up the steep road of Maxwell Hill (new name Bukit Larut, located in Taiping, Perak)), which was reportedly 6 miles long and not 6 km long … We completed about 5 miles up the road but given the failing light and rain.. we decided that the peak was to be ‘conquered’ another day! After all, the creepy stories of Japanese Occupation beheadings were at the back of our minds, (which is probably why the locals who met us along the way kept telling us “Its time to go down!”…  as the sun was setting) … But, we’ll be back – Wouldn’t miss another date with this giant centipede again………

 Sunset at Maxwell Hill

For the first time ever, our feet did a walking tour of Ipoh (as opposed to driving) and the slow pace of walking allowed us to savour the old charm of the city even more. We caught sights of the old FMS restaurant building, the newly repainted Ipoh Railway Station and Majestic Hotel, the Courts & the beautiful facades of colonial buildings which housed the various banks i.e. HSBC, Standard Chartered, OCBC etc. Our feet walked colourful mosaic pavements, which is such a nice change to the boring interlocking pavements and raw concrete flooring that adorns most of KL’s pavements nowadays. They walked under beautifully aligned arches of corridors to the old shoplot buildings. They walked by colourful flower beds which lined all these majestic old buildings ..  it was a highly peaceful and therapeutic activity. Highly recommended.

The colours of old charm…

And the highlight was probably the fact that we managed to join the footfalls of a group of new acquintances who share the same quest for wet & slippery adventures, in search of waterfalls in Malaysia … They call themselves the Waterfall Survivors under the passionate & energetic leadership of Ms. Joe Yap. Thanks to them, Fat Dragon & I managed to find the Tanglir Falls in Bukit Tinggi (which previously eluded us & led us to a wild goose chase to Janda Baik instead) and the beautiful and sandy Lata Khong in Karak (Sungai Dua area)!  One can’t help being contemplative under the influence of negative ions … as this young man seems to be doing at the foot of the Lata Khong falls. How cool is that?

Lata Khong…(Picture courtesy of Fat Dragon)

I’d say, without a doubt, happy feet translates into a happy mind & healthy body! …. Thank you so much or putting up with the eccentricities of this bunch of Roaring Fortiers! Thank you so much for helping us keep in shape! 

………. & we’ll celebrate it with a toast or two during X’mas, eh?  After all, the other organs and limbs deserve attention too, no? BOTTOMS UP! GAN BEI! CHEERS to our dear old feet! *$Burp#@

p.s. Apologies for the long absence from my blog. My fingers went into a meltdown phase. They refused to move, although the brain kept reminding them that their services were needed in updating my blog.

p.p.s. For those who find the idea of exercise dreary … do try to mix the activity with some fun: do it with friends, combine it with photo taking activities, vary the places you go to – walk in a concrete jungle one day and a real jungle the next … last but not least – arm yourself with a ‘can do’ spirit …Never fails!

Our beloved Zoo Negara…

      …..      Look how well camouflaged this winged friend of ours is amongst the flora & fauna…..

I know a lot of people (especially those bringing children) visit the zoo and complain complain complain… & compare compare compare – no animals, boring, nothing compared to the Singapore Zoo etc etc etc.

But Zoo Negara has its charm, for me & Fat Dragon anyway.  I suppose the Zoo holds a place close to our hearts.  It is situated in Ulu Klang, near Taman Melawati which was our place of residence from 1992 – 2006. The Zoo was practically our neighbour & some of the free roaming white storks in the zoo actually perch themselves on street lamps in the roads & grazed in a playing field in the Taman Melawati primary school. I kid you not.  (Wonder if the birds are amongst the ones in the pic below…. NO… those are pink flamingos!)

The Zoo’s 120 acre tract of land is very close to the spectacular limestone hills of Taman Melawati & a valuable piece of green lung in the middle of the city. That is the reason why there was a controversy some time back about the relocation of the Zoo. I guess some quarters felt that the piece of land is wasted if it wasn’t developed for commercial use. There was a proposition to relocate the zoo to Putrajaya but its a good thing it didn’t come through. The Malaysian Zoological Society runs it and the zoo’s operations are funded purely through ticket sales, donations & private company funding.

Putting sentimental reasons aside, I agree. The Zoo is not perfect. The animal shows are a bit too contrived. Some of the staff seem to lack a genuine passion for animals – as evidenced in the Petting Zoo where the guy in charge was looking really bored & uninterested in educating the visitors. Some of the air conditioned train stops were let’s say… aired but not conditioned! It was blowing hot air only. The venue that housed the KFC restaurant is now abandoned. The maps showed a Mary Brown restaurant but I guess that too went bust. And the so called ‘Bee’ exhibit is a real STING..as in a con job. Don’t go in.. its just a place showcasing ‘dead’ bees & its just a gimmick set up to sell wild honey.

BUT…….  I’ve always enjoyed walking in the grounds. I’ve always enjoyed the natural surroundings and although the S’pore zoo (which is where Zoo Negara is always compared with) has a lot more animals, some of the glass enclosures don’t appeal to me. Zoo Negara is more natural. I thought the tiger enclosure was very authentic, green & natural with a ‘moat’ running around it. The Bear complex too housed quite a number of bears i.e. sun bears, honey bears etc. A pair of Brown Bears caught my eye though. They were gigantic. And NO, there are no polar bears in Zoo Negara. Big deal. The puma & black leopard enclosures although natural looked unkempt though. The Safari Walk,  a long strip of land housing the giraffes, the zebras, the ostriches was nice. It’s open concept allows the animals to mingle and move freely & that was an appealing sight indeed.

Well, for me, visiting the Zoo is a wonderful experience & I’d like to share some animal sightings & surroundings with you.. I say to you, go with an open mind. Don’t explore with too critical an eye and you just might change your views of the zoo a little bit towards the positive ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. The entrance fee has gone up to RM15 for adults. Parking is per entry at RM3.

P.P.S. Getting There

  • Using Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR2) – from Ampang, u-turn at the Taman Melawati exit and take the first left; from Gombak, take the first left after the Taman Melawati exit flyover.
  • Hop on the Metrobus bus 16 from Central Market. This bus will bring you to the zoo entrance.
  • Using Kelana Jaya Line LRT, get down at the Wangsa Maju LRT station and take a taxi or the feeder bus to the zoo.

P.P.P.S. here are 16 exhibits in this zoo. They are:

  • Reptile Park
  • Monkey/Lesser Apes
  • Malaysian Elephants
  • Lake Birds
  • Bird Aviary
  • Nocturnal Exhibits
  • Wallaby/Kangaroo/Pademelon
  • Children’s World
  • Bear Complex
  • Savannah Walk
  • Nile Hippopotamus
  • Mammal Kingdom
  • Freshwater Aquaria
  • Cat Walk
  • Ape Centre
  • Amphibian World

Click this link for a map showing the locations of the various exhibits within the grounds of Zoo Negara.  

p.p.p.p.s. Last but not least… you homo sapiens better not monkey around with the chimps at the primate exhibit area …. coz they’re smart enough to … well let’s just say the warning sign explains itself –

…. a Smiling Mountain of horrors?

ARE THESE STONE SCULPTURES …. OR  ARE THEY PROPS FROM A MONSTER MOVIE SET?

No – but they very well could have been, I suppose, if you have an overactive imagination like me.

These are just natural formations from the limestone caves which Fat Dragon and I visited at Gunung Senyum (Smiling Mountain), a recreational Park, 40km off the town of Temerloh, Pahang in the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia during the labour day holiday. Imagine, these were carved out by tropical rain water over thousands of years!!!!!!  Its a real testament to the wonders of nature.

We ended up labouring hard that May day. You see, caving at G. Senyum, requires a bit of a climb. The caves are scattered all over the two limestone hills i.e. Gunung Senyum & Gunung Puyuh in the park.  I think in all there are about 18 caves in G. Senyum and about 8 in G. Puyuh. We managed to cover 8 only & they were all in G. Senyum.     

Caving really offers a unique experience. The minute you step into a cave, it can set your sense of imagination into overdrive. If you look closely, the overhanging stalactites and grounded stalagmites itself seem to take on a life of their own ……  sometimes eerily so, sometimes funny, sometimes cute. The larger than life sculptures carved out by Mother Nature are truly amazing and the uncanny resemblance to images of animals, things or certain characters can be quite scary sometimes.  For me, it feels as if you’ve just stepped into a sculptural museum of sorts or even a movie set of aliens & monsters!

See the resemblances for yourselves and tell me if you agree with the comparisons that I drew from them………..

1. ……….make way for the BABY ELEPHANT.. the Circus is in Gunung Senyum!!!!!

2. ……Ummm, could this be a panda? … The front legs are a bit short though…

…………………wait a minute, that’s maybe because he’s a BEAVER …

3. …..Hey I thought ALIENS were found in ROSWELL, you mean they’re in G Senyum too…! Hmm, his shoulders look buffed from the side profile. Must be from all the rock climbing activities here!

 4. …. Move aside Alien Vs. Predator … here comes Alien Vs. Limestone Predator?

5. Ok now this is getting creepy…..I half expected the stone which looked like a head covered with long hair to rear its head to reveal this scary eye image from the 1998 Japanese cult horror flick, The Ring…..   

6. Ahhahaha…Never fear…  the stalactite and stalagmite galore has enough images to offer you a respite from the self imposed scare….check out these peeping smiley faces…don’t they look like they came jumped straight out of one of Yue Min Jun’s art pieces – the anonymous smiling face being a trademark in each of his works  …  Yue is a contemporary artist who hails from China. He set the value of art produced by Chinese artists on fire with his piece “Execution” being sold at London’s Sothebys for a whopping £2.9m. Yue Min Jun ROCKS (pun intended!!!).  And what an appropriate way to end our adventure … with a smiling face in Gunung Senyum – a great playground for an overactive mind. Looking back at these pictures, never fails to put a smile on my own face.

How APT!!!!!!

 

P.S. Travel Tips to G. Senyum:

  • Entrance to the park is FREE of charge. There is ample parking space available and you can drive up straight into the park itself.
  • If you go during weekends, beware of Mat Rempits who lord their way through the small road leading to the Recreational Park.  They are actually youths working in the rubber/ oil palm estates of the huge FELDA schemes in the nearby Jengka area. We were told they can be aggressive at times & their motorcycle stunts pose a danger to traffic.
  • Be sure to pack lunch & drinks if you’re going on a day trip. There are no eateries in the Park itself although there are washrooms and rest areas.
  • If you’re the superstitious type, you’ve got to pack some caution with you. There are some pantang larangs attached to caves according to Malay folklore. A woman who is menstruating should not enter the cave. You should also not talk BIG or boast or even mock the creatures or whatever that is inside the caves. We were told that there have been groups of people who have violated these unwritten rules & have fallen sick en masse. Believe it or not.
  • There is no comprehensive map of the cave system available. Do try to explore every nook and corner, to the left and to the right even if its really dark. Or else you just might miss some spectacular sights. We covered Gua Angin, Gua Terang Bulan, Gua Taman Satu, Gua Taman Dua, Gua Gajah, Gua Makam Tok Long (Yup…you got that right..there’s a grave in the cave), Gua Silat, Gua Danau Impian in Gunung Senyum itself and that’s only partial coverage. Lots more caves to explore!
  • You can find directions and more information on the Gunung Senyum Recreational Park in this website.

HAPPY TRIPPING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down Memory Lane…

Nationalists & historians would of course look upon the British Colonial era as something representing oppression & suppression… but there are some things left over from the colonial days which should be cherished & appreciated…

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We stayed at a holiday bungalow called Hilltop in Cameron Highlands, which is run and owned by the Eu Yan Sang group, over Election weekend.

The colonial influence is evident in the Tudor inspired architecture  of the bungalow. This is reflected in the use of rough sawn timber on the outside of the house to create a post and beam look. The two tiered grounds are beautifully landscaped & although a little run down, the house is cosy enough! 

The four room bungalow comes complete with multiple fire places (can you see the chimneys in the picture?) &  a solid wood flooring, all in keeping with the cool highland weather. It also contains a vast array of antique furniture ranging from the dining table, the chairs, right down to the bedroom armoires & dressing tables.  All the doors of the house still have antiquated iron locks and keys ……. of which Mrs. Chong the housekeeper would never fail to remind us “Turn the key gently please…… if it breaks, there isn’t any locksmith left ALIVE who’d be able to duplicate the keys!” …. umm.. point duly noted Mrs. Chong!

Everything held a fascination for me personally, the taps, the tiles, the clawfoot bathtubs….. seriously, everything. If you look closely at the oversized sinks in the bathroom,  there is even a cool leopard logo (or is it a cheetah?) and it proudly prints “Made in England”. Gosh, it must be over 100 years old. Though old, the sinks are in good condition & of the finest quality unlike the cheap ceramics & bath taps of today.

The place is brimming with history……& now that Mrs. Chong the resident housekeeper is leaving, I fear part of the bungalow’s history is probably leaving with her. After 20 plus years of service, she has become part of the holiday home’s identity. She runs a tight one woman ship (plus a helper, if the crowd is large). The aroma of her scones wafts through the house during tea time and she can whip up a complete full course Western dinner that would leave you bursting at the seams. Her Roast Leg of Lamb is a real kick-ass meal ….! When a Roaring Fortier asked her better half “What is the most memorable thing in Cameron?“…he replied “The LAMB“. Well…. so much for good company, eh?

We now live in the 21st century where quaint dwellings with multiple nooks and corners have been replaced by buildings with clean architectural lines using fuss free materials like steel & glass! I hope that bungalows like Hill Top will remain as it is & never get demolished. Yes, it might be run down but god forbid that it be torn down to build a modern high rise structure which is economically more viable. We have enough of that all over. It lacks character. It lacks identity. Its STERILE. Everything from the facade, to the interior should be preserved, for the sake of history!

We all need to be reminded of what it was like when we go down memory lane ………………!!!  

P.S. If you have plans to stay at the Bungalow, you need to call Euco to make reservations. Do call weeks ahead as weekends are normally fully booked.

P.P.S. The map below given in the website is a bit vague. Important thing is, when you get to Camerons (direction from Tapah), head towards the Golf Course. When you see the green on the right, look out for the Dahlia Apartments which is situated on the left hand side of the road. Turn left when you see it. You will see a road fork straight after turning, keep left. After that you will come to another road fork…keep right. This will bring you along the private road leading to Hilltop, perched alone on top of its own private hill.

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Good Morning Vietnam! It’s X’mas at the DMZ…….

tour-bus-cartoon.jpg Day 4 – Dec 25

…… Good morning Vietnam – It’s X’mas. Up at 5.30 am to do  the DMZ tour …. boy, was it a mistake!!!!!!

The Demilitarized Zone(DMZ) is an area 5 km on either side of the Ben Hai River in Central Vietnam. It is actually a demarcation zone from 1954 to 1975 between South Vietnam & North Vietnam. When Vietnam was engulfed in the American War (as they call it), central Vietnam was the scene of the heaviest fighting around the DMZ. Here the North Vietnamese sought to infiltrate the south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail while American forces and the South Vietnamese allies tried their best to disrupt supplies. Thousands of lives were lost in bloody battles for strategic hills & valleys. 

Since the DMZ is 2 1/2 hours from Hue where we were based then, we decided to do a bus tour. Armed with high expectations, we booked ourselves a full day tour: 6 am to 5pm … so many places of interest to go, so many things to do,……ummmm that is  if only we had the time to do so … (Note the allocated times given by our tour operators for the sights visited) 

  • Khe Sanh – a military base high up in hill country (20 min)
  • Rock Pile, which was essentially a hill flattened to accommodate the landing of helicopters (5 min photostop)
  • Ho Chi Minh trail – the North Vietnamese tried to infiltrate the South along this trail (see from bus only)
  • Dakrong Bridge across the Ben Hai river (10 min photostop) 
  • Vinh Moc Tunnels which was a honeycomb of tunnels, rooms, meeting points. Larger than the Cu Chi tunnels, near Ho Chi Minh City, these were civilian tunnels.  The location of these Tunnels are phenomenal….  some parts exit into the most beautiful coastline of beach and pine trees where you can hang out & soak in the surroundings!!!! –   (a ‘generous’ 45 mins)

Now check this out. “Full Day Tour : 6 am to 5pm.” That’s 11 hours. It doesn’t take a maths genius to figure this out, the sights hardly took up 2 hours (i.e. 20% of the tour). So, technically most of the day or a major part of the tour was spent picking people up from hotels, traveling in the bus, making 3 obligatory stops at the same restaurant which serves less than mediocre food, dropping people off at their hotels etc at the end of the day…

How exciting!! Hmmmph! If they had cut down on those stupid restaurant stops, centralise the pick up points, we would’ve saved valuable time for sightseeing no?

There’s more. The bus driver seemed bent on a vicious vendetta to punish the very passengers responsible for getting him up early on a wet & cold X’mas morning. How?!  You might ask. Simple. Switch off the air conditioning half the time.  Make sure the windows of the bus are fixed panels of glass that cannot be opened or shut. Picture 24 souls breathing into the same confined space. Green house effect! Ouila – you’ve got yourself a busload of sleepy, oxygen deprived passengers who, in between comatose states, have to execute ‘car wash’ movements with their hands to clean the misty windows for a peep outside .  Mission accomplished.

The tour guide was really no better coz she was a burnt out middle aged woman in the business for 13 years. Her narrative was fractured. Her historical facts unclear. Her voice monotonous. Her lack of enthusiasm was infectious. So now add  grumpy & bored to describe the already sleepy, oxygen deprived load of passengers! 

X’mas 2007 is turning out to be a memorable day indeed, for the wrong reasons!  

If its any consolation, we did witness a very interesting cultural event during our obligatory stop for lunch at the restaurant they chose! Purely incidental. A wedding lunch to be exact. What boggles me is the scene after the lunch! The place looked like a bomb hit it, seriously. Bones strewn all over the floor, bottles of beer scattered all over, all well placed to engage you in an obstacle course challenge … tissues, food bits,  spilt liquids, you name it was thrown all over ….. Hmmmm….. perhaps there was an inter table competition – “Who can throw more debris on the floor???” Maybe it was prosperity thing…the more you throw the more luck you have?! Beats me… When we stopped by that very restaurant for the 3rd time (sigh…) that afternoon on the way back to drop the guide off & to pick up a waitress hitching a ride), we saw the cleaning crew engaged in the task of hosing  & scrubbing down the dining area literally, with plastic brooms to clean it! Explosive.  

And with that scene overhanging in our minds, we took the slow cooker journey back to Hue, with memories for the wrong things….we probably lost some grey cells too as a result of oxygen deprivation ………

Needless to say, the bus driver & tour guide received NO TIPS from anyone.  Are you surprised?

P.S. If you want to do the DMZ thing…here’s our two cents worth.

You should try booking a motor cycle tour from Dong Ha, rather than Hue which is nearer. It’s gonna cost you but it sure beats taking a tour bus. This way you can enjoy the journey & the destination combined since the places of interest are scattered. Actually you can split the journey into two parts. First along Highway 1 and later along Highway 9.

When you go along Highway 1 you would be enroute to the Rock Pile, Dakrong Bridge & Ho Chi Minh trail. Here you will be traveling alongside the Ben Hai river & you will be able to see some tribal villages along the road. This is followed by an uphill climb to the Khe Sanh Army Base.  This part of the journey commands quite a spectacular view especially after the bridge crossing over the Ben Hai River. Imagine the wind beating against your face as you climb up in your bike amidst these surroundings. Sure beats squinting through a tour bus window eh?  

Later when you switch directions to Highway 9 in order to access the Vinh Moc tunnels, you will feel like you’re traveling in the middle of an ocean of paddy fields. No kidding. They are vast!  Do allocate a whole afternoon for Vinh Moc – not 45 mins. It’s worth exploring the pine treed grounds nearby the tunnels & check out some of the exits which lead to the beaches outside!

 Yup, we think a motorbike tour would do the DMZ more justice! Never mind…next time!!!!!   

To be cont’d………..