Friday, 17 May 2019

What to do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in a short time.

When I left Cambodia, my next country on the list was Vietnam. I had to fly to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) this time because I did not have time to cross over land and luckily enough the flights in this region are cheaper than those offered in Africa.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived were the bikes! I have never seen so many motorbikes in one place, but luckily enough I made it to my hostel on an uber bike which is actually the cheapest mode of transport. It was wonderful to be in a new place. I was ready for sightseeing.
Traffic jam in Ho Chi Minh City.

My uber bike.

First off I experienced the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. This historical institution enables you to see what Vietnam was like during colonial times, the big war with the Americans and the aftermath. It was extremely powerful and emotional, and quite refreshing to hear a perspective that you don’t see in Hollywood movies. However, between the enormous loss of life it was also sad and heavy to process everything. After about two hours in the museum, I moved on to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the city's cathedral in the old town. It was beautiful and serene.

The sad truth.

One of the fighter tanks used in the war.

Saigon Notra- Dame Basilica 

Don't forget to visit the Ho Chi Minh City post office which was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the late 19th century. The architecture is beautiful and so is the decor of this building. You will get good deals or small gifts like fridge magnets, postcards, key rings etc. My first day in Vietnam was the last day on the calendar. It was fun although New Year’s Eve is not a big deal in this part of the world but the party happened on Bui Vien street, party central in Saigon. Make sure to check it out if you enjoy the night life. It’s full of bars and live shows.

The City Post Office.

Having some drinks on Bui Vien street.

The next morning I left the city and commuted one hour to see the Cu Chi  tunnels which are extensive underground passageways used by Viet Congs during warfare. Numbering in thousands of miles, these hidden roads were multipurpose. They housed troops, transported communications and supplies, served as a means for executing booby traps, and gave the Viet Cong the ability to mount surprise attacks. This is quite a popular tourist attraction and should not be missed by those looking for history. If you’re not claustrophobic and are a petite size, check it out. Make your way through them. It’s unimaginable what these soldiers experienced. The passageways are dark and dank, but should not be missed regardless if you choose to go underground or not.

On the way to the tunnel
Getting out a tunnel.

Disguised tunnel used as a trap.

I enjoyed the night markets in Asia and the ones in Ho Chi Minh City are not to pass up! Stroll around for some cheap street food and shop for clothes and gifts. I recommend the Ben Thanh market in District One, one of the earliest surviving structures of Ho Chi Minh City and a popular tourist spot for those searching for local handcrafts, textile souvenirs and local cuisine.
Variety of fruits on the street.

Coloured street rice.
Stalls  in Beh Thanh market.

I wanted to leave the south of Vietnam at once, so I decided  to go to visit the Cai Be floating markets on the Tien river. This a hub for transporting agricultural goods and sea food from the Mekong river to the rest of Vietnam. We got on a boat very early in the morning and that proved to be the best time to see the floating boats carrying out business. We later got off to a small village where we learned real Asian cuisine by making rice noodles from scratch.

Right after our floating market tour.

A boat with potatoes on Tien river.

Home made rice noodles.
Because of my limited time in the country, I had to take a flight the next day to Da Nang. This will be another blog for next time. 

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Karamajong, Uganda's Nomadic Warriors.

I remember when I was growing up, we heard stories about the Karamojong. I heard they lived a simple life, drank cow blood and had few possessions-- not even clothes. It was really interesting to hear all about this. When I saw them on TV I was intrigued.

A leader of a tribe. Photo by Paul. 

My client and two Karamajong warriors. 

The Karamojong have survived years of insecurity in north-east Ugan
da where they lived. There were disputes with cattle and herders owning guns to protect their livestock. I remember my teacher telling us the Karamajong believe all the cows
in the world belong to them. The disputes led to violence which led to loss of life. Some left the region out of fear for their safety. It was not until 2005 when the government outlawed guns that peace returned.

There are tons of cows in this region. 

Early this year I had the chance to visit the region with a client and it was unforgettable. We broke our journey in two by stopping over Sipi Falls and then continued to Moroto. It is not advisable to travel all this journey in one day. Moroto is a district in Northern Uganda about 405 km from Kampala going via Mbale.

Upon arriving we noticed the style of huts (manyatas) are different. They are small and the entrance is very tiny for security purposes. The Karimojong are naturally tall and skinny so entering their homes isn't an issue.

The tiny entrance into the Manyatta. 

A big food storage pot. 

A young boy milking a goat. 

The new generation of Karamojongs are clothed. Women wear hand- made woven skirts made from a blanket known as “Nakatukok” with unique jewelry. The men usually tie a blanket around their waistline topped with a vest or nothing above the waist if they feel like it. Their blankets are used to cover themselves overnight when they go grazing and spend the night in the kraal. They also have a special kind of a tiny wooden sitting stool they travel with used as a pillow or sitting.

Animals are very important when you live a nomadic life. There were tons of goats in the compound and the cows were out grazing. Usually livestock is used for transaction purposes. For example, if I want my child to go to school, I might as well hand in some goats instead of cash. The more cows you have, the more your wealth. You may also have more wives hence becoming a chief of the village.
A Karamojong diet includes milk, meat, cow blood and sorghum. Nothing sweet. No oils for cooking. You can't notice but wonder when you see seniors with strong teeth how much food consumption plays a part in their health.

The men tie a blanket around their waists.

Woven skirts by the Karamajong women. 

We were lucky when we arrived, it was the community get to together and dance. The dancing movement required lots of energy with high jumps! It’s kind of similar to how the Masai dance themselves. After 30 minutes we were exhausted!

Community games. 

The dance. 

The Cheerleader. 

We were taken to a Kraal where we had to spend a night with some nomadic warriors along with kids aged 4 to 10 grazing cows, sheep and goats. It’s believed teaching these skills to the youth prepare them to be responsible men. With our camp fire lit, we listened to stories while we stared at the sky, the stars were very bright with refreshing air. The next morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunrise behind Moroto Mountain! You cannot miss this. Be sure to be up by 6:20 am at the latest.

Our camp Fire. 

A kid having raw milk and fresh blood from a cow. 

Sunrise over Mt Moroto. 

We rode our bicycles to some other communities with Mount Moroto in the distance. I, myself, am not a good cyclist but we had a wonderful team of leaders who led us through the trails and were very concerned about our safety. It was a great work out for the day.

Having a rest after cycling. 

At the end of the trail. 

If you have more time, there are trails that you can hike on Mount Moroto where you can immerse yourself into the daily life of the Tepeth community who are believed to be the indigenous owners of the Karamoja savanna. How they’ve built their huts on top of the toppling rocks along Nadukon valley is a marvel.

 This Northern part of Uganda is rich in nature inhabited by a people who have not forgotten their humble roots. There is so much to do and experience! You’ll love it!

Friday, 15 February 2019

10 Do's and Don'ts in Kampala

Kampala is known as one of the busiest city in Africa and well as among the cheapest. The city is less populated with tourists  but it can be an interesting one to discover.

DON'T: Carry dollars printed Pre 2009.... 

Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous but no one will accept them. Make sure the dollar notes are crispy clean and not folded.

DO: Carry some cash with you at all times.....

Not all facilities accept payments by Visa cards like its done in the west. Most transactions are done by cash. Having some money on hand will save you sometime and frustration when they refuse your card.
Have some cash on hand.

DON'T: Get on a boda boda without a helmet.... 

I know you might be curious to use one of these bikes which is fun if you are using a good rider but you have to put your safety first. Accidents by boda's are common and nasty. Keep safe.

Keep safe.

DO: Experience the night life in Kampala.

Kampala has a reputation of having the best night life in the East African Region. People love to party and have a good time everyday. Check out some live bands, bars, clubs and performances in the city. I kid you not, you will not be disappointed. Who knows how many dance moves you will discover?

Kampala Walking Tour's Pub Crawl.

DON'T: Stop eating.... 

You have to try a Rolex before you get out of the city. It is Uganda's favorite snack sold every where on the street, its probably the cheapest Rolex you will ever have. And have you had our fruits? I will say no more. Betcha you just can't have one.

Our favorite snack.

DO: Keep your valuables in sight...

You should carry your bag in front of you and keep a hand on it. Keep your wallet and phone where you can watch or feel them all the time. Pickpockets in Kampala are very smart, so your valuables should be given the first priority once you are roaming around the city.

This is how you carry your bag in crowded areas.

DON'T: Miss out on the markets.....

Markets are always interesting areas to explore in Kampala. This will give you a little taste of our daily life.

One of Kampala Markets full of colours.

DO: Avoid the rush hour....

I don't know if you heard about Kampala's traffic jam but you do not want to get caught up in it. We do not have so many traffic lights which makes it worse.  Always do what you have you have to do and leave the city before the rush hour. If your last resort is the boda boda, remember the helmet.

Kampala Traffic Jam.

DON'T: Hunt for WiFi.......

Free WiFi is hard to find. Forget the internet and slowly feel this city which is overwhelmingly interesting in its own ways. You will not regret it at the end of the day. Stay electronically unplugged when you do not have to be.
Forget the WiFi, enjoy the city.

DO: A walking tour with Kampala Walking Tours........

What better way to discover the city with the first, best and original Walking Tour company in Kampala. This tour will take you from the Uptown, downtown and the suburbs. You will discover so much in a short time and you will learn more about the city and country. What better way to discover the city on foot one step at a time?

Enjoy and learn more with the fun guides.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Exotic Namibia and what I did.

Namibia had always been on my list. My aim was to visit the world’s oldest desert but when I got there, I checked off more than I expected. I flew into Lusaka, Zambia and from there took a long bus ride (nearly a day) along Botswana then to Namibia. 

Just before my long ride.

It was quite refreshing to visit Windhoek. The city of nearly have a million people was quite spacious. You can go long stretches from 6 pm without seeing anyone, and the streets are clean with great infrastructure.

It’s not an easy country to explore on public transit though. I relied on my hostels to get around, writing a note on the noticeboard looking for fellow travelers to share a ride and split costs. I did a free Windhoek walking tour, visited an at gallery and on day three I was on the road to the Namib Desert.

Christuskirche built by Germans.

Spotless clean street in Windhoek.

It wasn’t easy to get there; we got a punctured tire along the way and the road was so long. We stopped for lunch at The Solitare, a small settlement offering a gas station, bakery and cafĂ© along with a view of vintage cars baking in the sand.

Seeing the big dunes at sunset was a revelation. Some are over 170 meters high (more than a 30 story building) with sand 5 million years old. To get a great view we had to climb up what was known as “Dune 45,” not an easy thing to do with the wind blowing and your footsteps not being stable. The sunset was just spectacular, and a magical bonus was witnessing the Milkyway with my own eyes later that night.

Entrance cost was N$180 and camping was N$220 at Sessriem campsite.
Climbing dune 45.

Yoga moves on Dune 45.

Beautiful sunset from Dune.

In the morning we set off for the Sossusvlei/ Dedvlei region to see some magnificent trees, resplendent in the sky with some believed to be over 800 years old. How have they survived without a consistent water source? It was Mother Nature working her wonders. This area is simply amazing, make sure to go before it gets too hot.

800 plus old trees in Deadvlei.

Big Daddy dune in the background.

Visiting the Himba tribe in Opuwo, North Western Namibia, was unforgettable. They’re a proud culture who have withstood the centuries and are still thriving. I was struck to see bare chested women in public. A guide brought us to the village to spend some time with a tribe. Beware of tourist traps- snapping photos will cost you. Most of the women were surprised I was not married or had no child which is uncommon to them. They were also curious how I protected myself this long without a child. Women take care of the home while the men take care of animal grazing, we did not find any single male in the village except the village elder.

One of the respected ladies in the village.

Cute kids in the village.

Mama and her beautiful little ones.

I spent five days in Etosha National park. I don’t usually travel to see animals but this was incredible! The scenery is gorgeous. Lions, wildebeests, impalas…it was like living a scene from the Lion King. I learned that elephants as well other animals in arid regions are larger than those in humid temps.

Zebra crossing in the park.

King Lion roaming around.

Herd of elephants.

Are you afraid of ghosts? You have to visit Kolamanskop 10 km away from the coastal town of Luedtritz. There you’ll find a silent community named Kolmanskop. Back in the day (until the 1940’s and the start of the Second World War) this former German diamond mining town had a quaint population of 400. Today all that’s left are echoes of what was, with weathered shops and schools and places of worship amongst sand and strong winds. Everybody left town once the loot ran dry, but their footprints remain. It’s eerie but so captivating. Bring a ghost buster if you can! Kidding, no ghosts,

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll come across some precious stones, but you’ll be asked to return your shiny discovery. They will reward you with 50% of the cash value.

Fun times in the Ghost town.

Sand filled room in Kolmaskop.

Dias' cross.

A drive down Elizabeth Bay enabled us to say hello to some pink flamingos amongst amazing sunsets. The day concluded at Dias's point, where a Portuguese explorer named Bathlomew Dias put down his cross in 1488 as the first European to discover Africa’s southernmost tip.

Namibia is such an exotic country with so much to see. If ghost towns and sand dunes and tribes don’t capture you, visit Walvis Bay where you can surf amongst the seals. Did I mention the Fish River Canyon, the Caprivi strip, or the bushmen and Epupa falls? Nope. There’s so much to discover. You’ll love Namibia, just remember to bring a jacket and hat as there’s lot of sun,sand and wind at night.