A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

Vietnam...

..day 5

semi-overcast 27 °C

…and I’m beginning to think it’s a myth…there is no wind here…despite all the locals telling me “unusual for this time of year”!. Thankfully, whilst it is raining, it’s no where near as wet as last time we were here, and if I read the forecast right, the weekend onwards looks dry and windy. We will see I guess.

Despite no kiting, the first few days have been fun. It seems to be an altogether different experience being here this time. For one, there are actually other people here…although it’s not what I would call busy. On our arrival we booked into the Hoang Kim Golden resort, which we found online before arrival. It was really nice, with a semi-decent restaurant (despite breakfast, see previous post) and pool. However in true style, the building work woke us up at 6am, and it was only in the daylight that we were able to see the place was only half finished.

After an afternoon lying by the pool…while construction workers layed bricks, mixed concrete, randomly hammered things very loudly, all around us…we decided on a move.

We found a place right opposite where we stayed on our first trip here…the Nam Khai Resort…which has a clean room with AC, hot water, cable TV, for 10 bucks a night….perfect for what we need. Perfect that is until 6am the first morning…seems someone is building a house about a foot from our room window. There is construction going on everywhere though, so I figure finding somewhere quiet is going to be impossible. Ear plugs will be put to good use I feel.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Kim’s friend Candy joined us for a few days on her way north to Hanoi. On the first day she suggested we rent bicycles and go check out the local fishing village. Seems everywhere rents bikes here, but we were lucky enough to find the ones with rock hard seats and 21 gears of which 2 were functioning if you twisted really hard on the gear knob and held it there. This gave you 2 very useful options of either having your legs spinning at 200 rpm whilst going nowhere, or having to stand up and force all your weight through one pedal just to get the thing moving, whilst praying that the chain didn’t give way and you’d land with a thud on the aforementioned rock hard seat (only happened once to me).

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Despite the equipment challenges it was fun. We rode what I felt was about 5 miles (although if you believe the signposts 10 miles) down to the fishing village of Mui Ne. There wasn’t much going on there, however the sight of hundreds of local fishing boats moored in the harbor was impressive.

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We stopped for the obligatory coffee, noodles and spring rolls on the way and at the fishing village Kim & Candy managed to get accosted by 3 young local girls selling jewelry and postcards and are now 2 bracelets and 10 postcards better off.

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The roads here seem treacherous to me. It is actually illegal for non-Vietnamese to drive (although it doesn’t seem to stop tourists riding around on mopeds) which is good as I have no desire to be behind the wheel or on the seat of something motorized! The drivers, particularly of the large trucks and buses, have no fear…they’ll just put their foot down and not take it up again until they reach their destination…god help anyone who gets in the way.

We were all pretty whacked after our jaunt, but managed to find the energy to hit the local bar where we stayed last time, WAX, for a few drinks and food that night.

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Yesterday we booked onto a “Jeep tour to the Sand Dunes”…I was not really sure what I was expecting , but I can now tell you that a “Jeep tour to the Sand Dunes” is exactly that…you pay $9 each, get in a Jeep, drive 30km to some sand dunes and then get in the Jeep and drive 30km back again!

It was fun though. We loaded into the back of the Jeep with our driver and a local Saigon girl, Yang, who was herself traveling around SE Asia and who spoke excellent English. We first went to the “Fairy Streams” which from what I could gather is a canyon that runs up into the hills. We walked a little way up the streams which passed through some amazing scenery. I actually found this to be the best bit of the trip.

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From there, we drove to the “White Sand Dunes”…I guess if you’ve never seen a sand dune before it would be more interesting, however I think the drive there was more spectacular. We stopped for a while and then headed to the “Red Sand Dunes” which to me looked no different to the “White Sand Dunes”…and I think everyone else was in agreement…so we drove back to Mui Ne.

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Candy left for Delat this morning, a town in the hills about 200km north west of here. Kim is going to meet up with her again in Saigon on her departure in 3 weeks, although if the traveling gets to much we may see her back at the beach again before then!

Kim and I had a day on the beach today…sun was out and we managed to top up our tans.

The food is not quite as bad as I remember it…but it’s not great either. We did have some nice shrimp and fish the other night and I’ve had a couple of ok stir fries…I don’t think we’re going to starve, but I’m guessing after 4 or 5 weeks I’ll be happy to never see a noodle again. Breakfast is a real struggle especially if you want an egg…they will cook it “anyway you want” as long as it’s slighty under-fried. Seems the Vietnamese breakfast options are Pho (spicy noodle soup) or Bahn Mi…a curious invention…basically a baguette that is all crust and no bread…usually served with butter and jam…you tear it apart and watch it disintegrate as the crusty crumbs fall onto your plate…at which point you’re left with a small pot of butter and jam for breakfast.

Posted by msmitheman 07:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

UK...

...and back to Vietnam

rain 12 °C

On the 25th October we left Illinois for a few weeks in the UK…Kim’s first trip…and I have to say we had a great time visiting Mum & Dad, Mel & Paul, Grandma and seeing Peter, Kathy, Karen & Francois (probably spelt wrong!) for a few days.

I’ve stolen some of Kim’s writing for my blog entry as I think an American’s perspective is probably a little more interesting than mine!!

Mike and I spent the last 3 weeks in England, the mother land. I was very excited to have the opportunity to learn to speak English, as opposed to American English, and to have cream teas. I think I learned more English slang than ‘proper’ English, but that was fun too! If you aren’t privy, cream tea consists of 2 warm scones, a pot of jam, a pot of clotted cream, and of course tea. My initial reaction: “clotted” cream? …my only association to the word clot is through science courses – as in blood clot. Eeeek! Clotted cream has nothing to do with blood, thankfully. It’s a sticky and slightly sweet, thick cream. Put that on your warm scone along with the jam and voila, a very tasty snack! Wash down with hot tea (with milk) and repeat as often as possible for maximum weight gain! I’ve packed on a few lbs in this fashion – but I think the fish & chips, sausages and real ale have something to do with that, too. No bother, a waist is a terrible thing to mind, especially when faced with 5 weeks of Vietnam’s nauseating culinary offerings.

We were hosted most graciously by Mike’s family – the first week with Jim and Sandra, his parents, the second week with Melanie and Paul, his sister and brother-in-law, and a few days at Grandma Jean’s followed by a few days in London. I think benevolence and hospitality are in the water in the UK – I felt so at home everywhere we went! Mike’s mom hand-made a bag for my yoga mat during the week we were yachting and touring ancient sites (and ancient PUBS!) with Mel and Paul.

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Tour of Ancient Sites...
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...and Ancient Pubs!!!!
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Yachting!

Everyone cooked for us, which was really fantastic, and they even put up with my egg-eating. =) …for those who don’t know, I eat eggs probably 5 breakfasts per week. Especially since traveling over the last 5 months – seems you can always find eggs for breakie, though you may not want to eat them (see Koh Samet entry!). I thought a Christmas Cracker was something you eat, or maybe slang for Santa Claus, but Mike’s mom put me wise to the English custom over Christmas dinner, which we ate on October 18th. A cracker looks like a huge piece of taffy, twisted paper at both ends, except it’s wrapped in foil papers of all different Christmas-y colors. Everyone at the table has a cracker in front of their dinner plate. You hold one end in your right hand like you’re passing a baton to the person at your left, and they grab the other end with their left hand. You grab the other end of the person’s to your right, and so on around the table. Then everyone pulls them apart at the same time and they explode. Not like with dynamite or C4, just a little pop and you open it up. Inside, you get a paper crown, which everyone instantly dons, a joke on a little piece of paper, and a small trinket or toy – mine was a fingernail brush! That’ll come in handy for sand removal (the war on sand continues!). It was so much fun! I hear the previous year was a bit more fun – the fire department came and everything…someone lit the dining room carpet and hallway on fire with an out-of-control candle. Our families are going to get along great, I have a feeling!

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Christmas Dinner

It was, of course raining a bit during our stay. Seems like every time we tried to leave whatever house we were in, it would rain. Insert standard response here: Cuppa tea then? Seriously, I love all the tea drinking that goes on. ….and all the ale drinking for that matter (thanks Mel and Paul!). Anyway, we ate like kings, drank like sailors, and slept like it was going out of style.

While in London, we saw all the sights, and for Mike’s birthday, his parents treated us to a show. We saw Wicked last Wednesday night, and it was superb. If you like the story of the Wizard of Oz, you’ll probably like this. The production was incredible as was the singing, dancing and costumes.

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"London Sites"

It was indeed a welcome break relaxing down in Devon with Mum & Dad after the calamities of San Francisco. I guess the stereotypical views of bad weather and tea drinking in England are true, but I would debate the view of the food being terrible compared to America…I think Kim agrees that it is, in general, much better over the pond in the UK (assuming chicken nuggets and big mac’s aren’t your thing!!!)

The yachting with Mel & Paul was great fun (despite the abrupt end and injuries that Paul and I obtained in the process), and sparked an interest with both Kim and I that we may pursue wherever we end up next…and I guess I was secretly relieved as a tour of the ancient sites turned into a tour of the ancient pubs when for once the English weather came to my aid.

And so we end up back in Vietnam…the flight was uneventful…and we arrived to find our friend Candy waiting for us in Saigon. The joys of Vietnam have come flooding back very quickly!!! I was excited to be back in Saigon…in a warped sort of way I enjoy the city a lot, despite the craziness of the place. We took the bus to the beach again yesterday…seems the nice sleeping bus that we took the first time has disappeared, never to be seen again…I took a big gulp when I saw the one that turned up this time…let’s just say it made it as far as the first corner before it stalled. Thankfully it was fairly empty so we had plenty of space, and after going through the usual “ooooo 2 people with big bags, a chance to scam them for more money” routine we actually enjoyed a relatively comfortable journey.

I was lulled into a false sense of security last night when we ordered dinner at the hotel (see previous entry on food in Vietnam). It was actually fairly edible…chicken with chilli and lemon grass…but I was bought back down to earth this morning with breakfast. Candy and I suffered uncooked greasy pancakes with banana, whilst being secretly relieved that we hadn’t ordered the same as Kim…on the menu it read, “Baguette, eggs, bean and bacon”. We were all hoping that it would indeed turn up with one bean, but alas it was plate containing 2 uncooked eggs, white beans drenched in tomato ketchup (yes out of the bottle) and some fatty substance that resembled no meat from a pig that I’ve ever seen!

Ahhh Vietnam….joy….the wind had better @#$%^ blow hard!!!!

Posted by msmitheman 06:51 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Illinois

...middle america

15 °C

I was glad to leave for Illinois after the unexpected hassles of San Francisco. It was fun to see our friends and get back on the motorbikes, but I was ready to get out of there after 2 weeks.

After arriving in Chicago, we picked up a rental for the drive out to Kim’s homeland. If you ever want to visit, start driving south west from O’Hare airport, and keep going until you can’t go anymore…and then go about 5 more miles…and then you’ll get there. But don’t blink, or you’ll miss it and be driving through corn fields for eternity!

I jest, but it is sort of out there in the middle of nowhere! We checked into our hotel and went round to the family home where Kim’s dad still is…an idyllic spot of fields, trees and a pond. He cooked us up some amazing steaks from last years hunting exploits…I only wish we could’ve eaten there more over the week we were back rather than the culinary delights that can be found in the restaurants of the surrounding area (let’s just say if it ain’t deep fried you won’t find it!).

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"welcome home cake!"

We spent much of the week hanging out with her Dad, but her sister, Marcy’s family also came down for a few days. She has 2 adorable kids, Grace (2) and Emma (1) so I had at least 2 people on my level for the week, although seems I will be forever known as Mite in those circles as the “K” just isn’t in the vocab yet! (I have to say though, as with any kids, I was glad we could return them after a couple of days...nothing personal!!!)

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"Emma & Jeff"
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"Grace & Kim"
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"Grace & Pony!"

On the Saturday night (I think) that we were there, her Dad hosted a party at his place, where the rest of the family (Grandma, Kim’s mum) came out along with a whole load of friends from the area…it was great to meet/catch up with them all until the early hours of the morning. They are a real motorcycle/hunting/hippy crowd though and I have to say some of the conversations lost me, but Kim was able to keep up the translations for most of the time!

I managed to catch up with my friend and old work colleague, Kelli, who had a meeting an hour up the road, whilst I was there. It was great to catch up, I miss hanging out with a number of people from the old company…I have to say though I have no regrets about leaving…(who would! It’s a tough life swanning around the globe!!!)

The visit seemed to fly by…I felt a bit bad that we’d only scheduled in a week there and we had 3 weeks scheduled back in the UK…we will have to make up for it next time.

Onto England…

Posted by msmitheman 06:40 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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