A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Chestnuts roasting....

On an open fire!

overcast

Chestnusts Roasting...
...on an open fire

Seriously...a little Vietnamese chap outside the window of my new favorite coffee shop...how festive. They look pretty nice to be honest, so I might don my wooly hat and scarf and try a bag...errr except it's 30 degrees C outside and it's the last thing I fancy eating! I've been sat here 30mins and he hasn't sold any...he should brew up some warm mugs of cocoa to go with them!

Talking of food, I just went for another Indian. I have to say whilst I wasn't locked in the toilet all yesterday, I didn't venture too far from it...with that in mind I went for italian food last night and it was terrible...so feeling hungry I decided the fallout (so to speak) from the curry was worth it and I went back for more tonight.

Lots more westerners in there tonight...encouraging! I decided to study the menu...but on reaching the end (15 mins later) I really couldn't see anything that appealed more than what I ordered the other night.

On trying to order the owner told me that if I enjoyed the madras I should try the "house special". On enquiring what the "house special" was, he stated (rather than asked I felt) "you like spicy!". I replied with a hesitant "well yes but..." but then realized it wasn't a question..."oh you like you like, very good"..."well ok then"...I sensed he would be offended if I didn't try it.

About 2 minutes later he came back..."you like spicy or very spicy? I think you like very spicy yes?"...again I was unsure whether he was asking a question or making a statement, however before he could escape I threw out a "just spicy I think"!

Well long story short...it came...and once again it was delicious...even better than the other night...but oh my god it was hot...not so much that you couldn't eat it, but enough that I drank 3 Saigon beers in the attempt. Tommorrow is going to be a fierce day I think :(. I will be requesting that extra roll of paper on my return to the hotel!

Yesterday on my return to madam cucs, I was ushered into the kitchen by the woman who works behind reception. She opens the fridge, points at a carton of eggs and says "tommorrow you have eggs with your breakfast"! Well I said that's great and returned to my room thinking maybe it was a special breakfast thing they do on Saturday to accompany the usual baguette and jam.

Well I got up this morning, ventured downstairs and sat myself down at the communial breakfast table, but was immediately told that I had to come sit at a table round the corner on my own. Seems for some reason I was the only one getting eggs and they didn't want anyone else to see. They were actually a pretty refreshing change although it still amazes me some of the ways they manage to cook a simple egg (generally unsuccessfully). I have volunteered to show the 2 girls who seem to do all the cooking how to do good scrambled eggs in the morning.

It was a bit dull and dreary yesterday, and as I was having my post breakfast coffee at a place round the corner from the hotel I noticed that an English version of the new Bond film was opening up at the cinema...so I thought "why not?". I started wandering down there and then suddenly realized that I was being stupid...I was bound to be able to buy a pirated copy cheaper and watch it in the air conditioned comfort of my room...I popped into the next store I passed and sure enough there it was...wasn't a bad recording. Crap film though!

On my way back to the room I witnessed 2 chaps on mopeds having a heated conversation on the side of the road. One of the guys jumped off his bike, walked away from the scene and then suddenly turned and sprinted back towards the other chap...he then launched himself horizontally into the air, both legs outstretched, and in true kungfu style sent the other chap tumbling off his bike onto the street with a flying kick to the head... It was just like the movies, impressive and hilarious at the same time. The chap on the floor jumped up dazed, got on his moped and flew off down the street. Guess be knew when he was beat!

Last day in vietnam tommorrow, I'm ready for a change.

Posted by msmitheman 05:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Food Dilemmas

storm 28 °C

Sick of pasta & noodles, I was determined to find something different tonight, even if it was going to taste bad! I have to say, I've sort of felt malnourished ever since I got to Saigon this time. 2 nights of noodles and spring rolls were enough for me at Madam Cucs, and I did the Pho thing and found some ok Pasta...I even found the "best burger in the world" (it's a stretch, although I have to say it wasn't bad). Really hasn't done much for me though.

On a wander today, I spotted a little hole in the wall Indian place not far at all from the hotel. Well why not we've tried everything else. I wandered down there and was encouraged to see that it was run by an Indian guy and was pretty full of Indian people eating! I ventured in.

Well my heart sank when I got the menu. I've seen some big menu's since I've been here...but this one took the biscuit. I kid you not...28 jam packed pages. So the dilemma was, do I read it, or do I just try and order something...I went for the latter, and keeping it simple order a Chicken Madras, Pilau Rice, a Garlic Naan and a bottle of Saigon Beer. To my encouragement the chap took the order without questioning it, so assume those dishes exist somewhere in the 28 pages!

Well soon after I ordered (almost too soon!), it turned up. A dinner plate sized dish of nice looking rice, a huge bowl of curry, a huge naan, a small dish of green stuff (no idea), and a plate of red pickled onions (I think) .... oh and the beer.

I have to say we have not been eating large portions since we left the States 6 months ago...so this was a little overwhelming...anyway deep breath and I tucked in.

Well...this was without doubt, no questions asked, THE best meal I've had in Saigon hands down and possibly even the best in Vietnam (although "before and now" are close rivals...see previous post).

I may be a bit disillusioned after a month here, but I have to say it rivaled any Indian meal I've had anywhere. The curry was nice and spicy, the rice well cooked, the Naan tasty, the green stuff spicy and the pickled onions...well ok they were a little unnecessary. It was delicious.

I devoured the lot in record time and, mouth burning, swigged back the beer...and then immediately started to feel rather unwell with that "oh dear I've really eaten too much and I'm going to regret this". I payed (just under 6 dollars), and stumbled out the door. I took a long stroll to try and walk it off, but have arrived back at the hotel still a little green. Don't get me wrong the food was great and it's still in me (for now), I just ate far too much!

I will probably go back and look at the menu tomorrow night and try something else (or is that mistake???).

In other news...

...I saw an obesely fat Vietnamese person today, kankles and all ...wierd as fat people just don't exist here (I've told you about the food right?)

...my guess is she knows where the Indian restaurant is.

Posted by msmitheman 05:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Saigon By Night

overcast 28 °C

So I thought Saigon was a hectic city in the day....well tonight I went for a wander around at 6pm (when it's already dark and I suspect rush hour).

I can honestly say I've never been anywhere in the world so chaotic. The sheer number of mopeds on the roads at night is just unbelievable...I mean really unbelievable...I can't even put it in words. They drive on the right here (sometimes!)...and at major junctions with lights, hundreds (no joke) of mopeds turning right will just hop up on the sidewalk/pavement to get round the corner...just walking down the sidewalk is a nightmare, let alone crossing the road. At one point I just stopped and started laughing....I was completely surrounded by hundreds of mopeds moving all around me...I don't know whether I was on the road or the sidewalk, I couldn't see my feet. I just started shuffling as gaps opened up in front of me and eventually reached an open area. It's just insane. You mustn't change your mind about where you're going, you just have to keep heading in the same direction...if you hesitate or change course, you'll get hit. Surprisingly I've only seen 4 accidents since I got back here, but I noticed tonight, that people are bumping there mopeds into each other the whole time...glancing taps, rather than full on collisions.

I was heading nowhere in particular, but stumbled across a big night market. Kind of reminded me of Marrakech, Morocco on a smaller scale. There was an interesting variety of foods for sale some of which I have to say looked pretty tasty (although I didn't partake....maybe at some point this week)...there were obviously the usual "squidito on stickito" (dried squid on a stick) and steamed pork buns etc, but there were also hundreds of fish tanks containing various species of live sea creatures, lots of fresh looking fruit and veg, and what I'm pretty sure was squirrel on a stick (a whole, skinned, uncooked animal with a skewer stuck up its butt and coming out of its mouth...if it wasn't a squirrel then other possibilities are rat, cat or small puppy).

From there I headed to the expensive part of town...posh shops and hotels. Seems Christmas has reach Saigon...there were many window displays and outside the Saigon Shopping Center, there were throngs of Vietnamese people taking their pictures alongside model snowmen and santas set amidst a big snowy xmas scene as an asian version of Jingle Bells rang out.

Seems at night you no longer get hassled by motorcycle riders (well not as much anyway), but you get offered a massage every 5 steps by a young lady, dressed in traditional garb, with a bunch of leaflets in her hand. At first I thought it was fairly legit (and am sure it was), but the further I got towards the river the seedier it got as the traditional dress seemed to disappear and they weren't just offering massages. I made it in one piece to the river where I cut back towards to the hotel. The river at night is full of dinner cruise ships it seems with bright lights and load music....seems a bit of a nightmare to me. I did actually have a purpose in that I'd read about a small restaurant, down a side road, that serves (and I quote) "the best burgers in world"...this was from a number of (supposedly) independent reviews, and whilst I am skeptical I thought I'd see if it was indeed there. I did find it and it looked reasonable but the place was empty tonight and I didn't fancy sitting in there on my own. I think I'll head back there in daylight tomorrow for lunch.

I returned to the "backpacker neighborhood" where the hotel is, and stopped at a little italian place for pasta...it was not bad, although Kim will be glad she's not here as they went a bit heavy on the garlic. I'm feeling very uninspired with food at the moment and am looking forward, I hope, to a change in the Philippines next week.

Posted by msmitheman 05:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Final Days in Vietnam

sunny -28 °C

I am down to my last week in Vietnam before moving onto the Philippines. Last night Kim & I arrived back in Saigon and she headed off to the airport this morning for a quick trip back to the USA for med school interviews. Today has been feeling a bit strange...I realized that in fact it's probably the first day in 6 months I've been on my own...I'm not quite sure how she's survived that time with moi, but suspect she's enjoying some "alone time" despite having a hectic schedule for the next 2 weeks! I look forward to meeting back up with her in Boracay in 2 weeks.

After a month in Mui Ne, we were read to move on. It was a fun time, but there really is nothing to do there. The wind was good but very inconsistent, I was hoping for much more kiting, although the days we did get were good. Kim is improving all the time, although has her frustrations now and again, as we all do when progressing at something. I have to say she throws herself in with great gusto. We took to doing big long runs down the beach together which was great fun (despite the hike back)...I would go from seeing her doing great long runs one minute to huge, splashing, spectacular crashes the next! She also has a habit of whacking herself in the legs with the board during these crashes...I was horrified to see the bruises she's got from it. My only solution was to wrap her or the board in bubble wrap...but that didn't go down too well. Her only problem really is controlling the speed without getting out of control...we all went through it, but you've just got to get a feel for it which she will soon (any tips Benjamin/Peter????).

I went out on a couple of extremely windy days on our little 7m. It was really gusty with huge seas...challenging? yes...enjoyable? juries still out. My best outing was on the last day we were there. Solid 12m conditions...probably 50+ other kites out...I rode for ages and got a little sunburnt in the process.

We were ready to leave yesterday and endured the 5 hour bus ride back to Saigon to our home away from home at Madam Cucs guest house. As I've mentioned before, the bus ride has never been the same since our first trip to the beach. We were on the sleeping bus again, but it was crowded, smelly, noisy and uncomfortable. In true style about 5 minutes before we arrived the heavens opened with a thunderstorm and we were dumped in a puddle with our 2 kite bags, 2 backpacks and newly received travel guitar (Kim's B'day present to me, I'm so happy to have it as something to play with during the quiet times...well I guess not quiet but you know what I mean). We managed to get said luggage into a little 4 door saloon with Kim, me and the driver who then drove us the 200 yards to the hotel (it really was raining though!).

We got another warm welcome at Madam Cucs, where we were given our usual room on the 5th floor which is actually the 95th floor (or so it seems!). After our meal of noodles and spring rolls (included in price) we went up to bed as Kim had to be up at 6am for her flight back to the US. I've probably mentioned before that it's a very friendly little guesthouse...I am getting the feeling that because I'm here 7 nights I'm a long term resident...the turnover seems to be very high with people just staying for a night or 2 before moving on. All the employees here seem to speak a little English (some very good) and have all come up and introduced themselves this morning. I feel a little bad as they all now remember my name but I can't remember or pronounce any of theirs!

I went back to bed for a bit after Kim left this morning and then, deciding to have a quiet day, I went for a wander around town (and a tour of coffee shops). I really do like the vibe of the city...it doesn't feel dangerous or threatening at all, unlike some big cities in this part of the world. Having said that, I am clearly the main attraction for the locals. I even got recognized today...when Candy, Kim and I were here a month ago, we took a walk down to a supermarket about 15 minutes from the hotel. I took the same stroll today, and a little old lady came running out of her shop shouting "oh you're back!...you here before". I smiled, we talked for a few minutes (no idea about what...probably the usual, oh you're tall, yes I am, you're short...basketball blah blah) and then I carried on my way!

Having said that, I do have a few annoyances (you have to right?)

1. Mops & Brushes - everywhere I walk and especially everytime I sit down down for a coffee (happens a lot here) a person with a mop or brush will appear out of nowhere and start cleaning around my feet. Means you can't enjoy a coffee without also dancing an irish jig at the same time.

2. Motorbike Riders - I am going to have to agree with Candy's observations on this. Something that wasn't evident when we were walking around as a group of 2 or 3 in Saigon, but that is VERY evident when you're on your own, is that you literally (and I'm not exaggerating here) can't walk more than about 10 paces without someone offering you a ride somewhere on the back of a moped. They don't hassle you (or at least not me) but you end up getting in a rhythm of saying "No Thanks" after every 5th or 6th step.

3. Google (and websites in general) - this may seem an odd one, but everytime I go to google (or certain other websites), why do they immediately assume I'm vietnamese just because I happen to be here and take me to the Vietnamese version of their website, with no obvious link to the non Vietnamese version!

...and really that's about it.

No real plans for my week yet. I'm determined to get out and see something though as it would be very easy to chill for a week, drinking coffee and watching the world go by! I was going to go to the Cu Chi tunnels, the vast tunnel network where the Viet Cong hid out during the war, but on learning that at their biggest the tunnels are 4 feet high I'm having second thoughts...I'm not sure it would be good for my posture. I think I'll find something else to do.

Posted by msmitheman 21:41 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Jeep Tour...

...number 2

sunny 35 °C

Despite it’s quirks I’ve decided I really like Vietnam, or at least the little I’ve seen of it…I’d definitely like to return one day to tour the north of the country…just different priorities this trip with the kitesurfing!

Having said that, we have definitely got out and about more this time. Yesterday we went on a jeep tour (yes, another one…see previous entry!) to a few different sites. Our jeep picked us up at 7:30am (yes that’s in the morning 7:30!). Sleepily we jumped in and set off for a 5 hour tour of…dragon fruit farm, market, Ca Tu Mountain and the Cham Towers!

First the Jeep…there are an abundance of ex USA army jeeps still in operation here, left on the side of the road and reclaimed by local Vietnamese at a later date. As you can imagine they are extremely well used and it’s unbelievable how they keep them running. Observations I made about this particular one…steering wheel was from a Toyota Corrola, welded onto what looked like the original steering column…gear stick looked like it was from a Honda and I’m suspecting so was the gear box itself as when the chap changed gear the layout seemed to be completely upside down, which suggested to me that they installed something else and had to “fit” it in any which way they could….none of the instruments were wired to anything (they are minimal in such a vehicle anyway)….the jeeps are open air with a roll cage and a bit of fabric stretched over it, our roll cage appeared to be made out of plumbing pipes, evident by the screw type corner joints that had “extra” corners and holes...there was no back to the jeep it seemed, and the spare wheel was tied on to something behind our seat, meaning anytime we went over a bump it thumped into our backs…pulling away from a standing stop involved the driver reaching down below the gas/accelerator peddle and pulling on the throttle cable to get enough revs to dump the clutch, which made for an interesting spectacle when he had to pay at the toll road booths as he was reluctant to come to a stand still (missing at least one lot of change)…starting the jeep after it had stood for about 30 minutes involved a lot of work under the hood/bonnet, I’m not really sure what.

I mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again…the driving is crazy here…pick a side of the road and go for it whilst trying to avoid thousands of bikes and mopeds…I can’t believe there aren’t more deaths on the road (maybe there are!). In fact as a side note we have just come back from the supermarket and witnessed the aftermath of an “incident” between a couple of mopeds and a cart pulled by 2 buffalo. All parties seemed to be ok…but the buffalo were loose with their wooden harness type thing (do they call it a yolk??) all smashed up.

Anyway first stop was the dragon fruit farm. A dragon fruit is a bright vibrant pinky red fruit with spikes a bit bigger than a mango but smaller than a melon. The flesh is white with tiny black seeds in (that you eat). Kind of the texture of a papaya, a little mushy. At first I wasn’t a fan, but they are growing on me. Anyway you get served them quite often here and seems that’s because if you drive 30 minutes up the road there are acres and acres of the things growing. The tree/bush they grow on is about head high with what looks like cactus leaves sprouting out the top…the fruits grow on the leaves themselves. Weird looking plants and fruits. Well the visit to the farm was actually just a stop on the side of the road to snap a few photos before heading on to the market.

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We stopped at a market just outside Phan Tiet. It was quite big with the usual food and wares stalls. I have to say it seemed a lot more hygienic than some I’ve been to over the years based on the lack of nauseating smells from the food section. We were definitely the attraction of the morning…2 tall, 1 very tall, blonde people…it did strike me how short the people are while we were there. The market is mainly made up of stalls with canvas roofs and awnings although there is an indoor bit too…I spent a lot of time walking round with my head out of the market looking down on the top of the stalls. I definitely felt a little like a tourist attraction myself. One stall had a bunch of live chickens and geese on who seemed to be shaking quite a lot. It was then that I noticed the 2 hanging by their feet, blood dripping from their necks (Kim tells me this is the best way…I don’t want to know how or why she knows this), and the completely plucked pair in a bowl on the same table, which probably explained the nervousness of the others. The only thing we bought were 2 deep friend bananas…I thought mine was pretty good, but Kim wasn’t impressed with the hair she found in hers. On to Ca Tu mountain.

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Ta Cu mountain is 20 miles or so from where we are on the beach. It is the site of (and I quote from the guide book) “…a pagoda constructed in 1861 during the Nguyen Dynasty, an important pilgrimage center for Buddhists and the site of Vietnams (…note I’ve only just read this in the guide book while writing this, I was thinking it was the worlds….damn) largest reclining Buddha at 49m/160ft long”.

We arrived at what looked like a very deserted, but pretty entrance to the mountain complex (for mountain, read pretty big hill!). We were told we had to buy a 65,000 Dong return ticket for the cable car (about 5 bucks each…Mike’s “I’m getting conned” alarm starts ringing!) and ushered onto a little electric wagon (kinda like a stretched golf cart) with a young Chinese couple for a ride to the cable car to get up the mountain.

I think the ride on the wagon was possibly the highlight of the trip…it won’t come over well in writing but we have video…the trip was about a quarter of a mile down a little path that wound its why around bends and over a significant hump back bridge. Well the driver slams his foot down at the start and we proceeded to take this journey at about 20 to 30 miles an hour…as we approached the hump back bridge Kim and I both looked at each other thinking “he will slow down right?”…but no, we flew over the thing and through the s-bend/chicane on the other side before coming to standstill at the bottom of the cable car.

A little exhilarated the four of us walked up to the non-operational cable car where there was one car with a guy asleep inside and the control room with 2 other guys smoking, staring at us and generally not doing much. Seemed quite a modern contraption, much like the one at the ski resort of Sunshine Village in Canada with about a tenth of the amount of cars on it (…not many). The Chinese girl went up and asked if they would start it, and with a grunt one guy sauntered over and took all our tickets. There wasn’t much action for the next few minutes, but then once he’d finished his cigarette, he hit the “GO” button and the thing buzzed into action (much to the surprise of the chap asleep in the one cart I imagine…I’m not sure whether he woke up or not!). The four of us jumped in and headed up the mountain.

I’m guessing it was a 10 minute ride up and over the jungle. It seemed extremely dense and green jungle with lots of birds and I’m guessing animals with all the noises we heard. We did spot a few monkeys playing in the trees.

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On arrival at the top my heart sank a little bit as I heard the banging of hammers and the general buzz of a construction site. I may have mentioned in a previous entry that this is the general sound of Mui Ne where we are staying. Construction everywhere, including the house they’re building next to the hotel. Well firstly the good, the views were amazing from the top, and the jungle setting spectacular. The ancient Nguyen Dynasty Pagoda, an important pilgrimage site…well that’s been knocked down and is in the early stages of being replaced by, what I can only assume, is an even more important Pagoda of the 2008 Dynasty! Currently a construction site. We climbed about 10,000 steep steps to see this construction site, and when we got there I began to think that the site was also big enough to once house a 49m reclining Buddha! Surely the tour company (or the chap who sold me 2 65,000 Dong tickets, or the jeep driver) would have mentioned if the Buddha had been removed…wouldn’t they? As I caught my breath and scanned the horizon, there was no sign of any Buddha or indeed of any people…other than the Chinese couple (who to me seemed to be having similar suspicions), a Russian family (Russian mafia, they’re everywhere here), and some random locals.

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At this point they’re were 2 options, back down or more steps leading up (why they couldn’t have extended the cable car a few more feet I don’t know!). Well we kept climbing and eventually I caught glimpse of said reclining Buddha through the trees. It was indeed large, pretty run down, covered in graffiti, but impressive non the less. It would have been quite a peaceful spot as well, with the spectacular views and jungle setting, but the noise of the construction, jack hammers, drills etc, meant we only spent about 15 minutes hanging around before heading back to the cable car.

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Once again it was non-operational when we got there and on asking the guy in the control room whether he could start it, I received a reply in Vietnamese followed by much laughing, so wandered off to wait (I suspect I may now know the Vietnamese for “Sorry you’ll have to walk down”!). 15 minutes later it started up, we were whisked down and rode the “kamikaze cart” back to the front gate.

Our final stop was at the ancient site of the Cham Towers…three 9th Century temples. They were impressive, but by this point it was the middle of the day, 35 degrees C, and we were a bit done in, so we didn’t spend long there. After summarizing there were no ancient pubs in the vicinity (see UK entry), we jumped in the jeep and drove back to the hotel.

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A fun and interesting outing…just driving around in this country is fascinating even if the sites when you get there are not quite as impressive as maybe you’d hoped!

Posted by msmitheman 08:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

We’ve Got Wind!!

...but no we didn't eat something bad!

storm 28 °C

Firstly I’m going to have to eat my words somewhat about food in Vietnam. Seems if you let a flock of tourists descend on a place it’s only a matter of time before someone has to cook something edible, otherwise they won’t stay long.

The solution seems to be, don’t order off of the menu. Look for the places that offer fresh BBQ and then turn up about 6pm. You can get a good sized snapper, the biggest prawns I have ever seen, rice and veggies…cooked over a metal bucket with charcoal in…for a very reasonable price. In fact forgo the prawns and you can get the fish (big enough for 2) and trimmings with a couple of beers for about 7 dollars (the prawns triple the price…but they are worth it!!!).

We have scouted out a few fairly decent places now. Breakfast is typically at a place called “Mellow”…a small hostel run by a British guy and his Vietnamese wife. The food isn’t great (we haven’t found a good breakfast anywhere), but they will scramble an egg for you with some toast…actually they’ll scramble the thing beyond recognition, but at least it’s still better than the usual partially fried egg you find elsewhere. The real reason we go here is that you can also pick up free wireless internet from the posh hotel over the street, so it’s a chance to check emails over breakfast (which I also have to admit has been occurring at what most would usually consider the luncheon hour…oh well, did I mentioned we don’t work these days!!!).

Talking of checking internet, there are another couple of options. “Snow”, is a very trendy sushi restaurant/bar/nightclub a couple of doors down from where we’re staying. Cocktails are good but very expensive, food is not good and overpriced…beer and wireless internet are reasonably priced and free respectively. I have my suspicions that the place is run by the Russian mafia so just something to keep in mind if you’re ever there!

WAX is a bar/restaurant across the street from where we are (actually the place we stayed last time). It’s overpriced, the food is bad, but the atmosphere is good and they also have free wireless.

“Before & Now” is a restaurant a few doors down providing “Italian & Vietnamese Food with Real Italian Chef”. I am some what suspicious about the claim “Real Italian Chef”…personally I was expecting to see some big, red faced, Italian pizza chef, however in reality it’s a small Vietnamese chap who to be fair makes up some very fresh pasta and doesn’t over cook it. It’s managed by a very sweet Vietnamese lady who makes you feel welcome without bugging you.

And whilst we’re on bugging…there is a restaurant over the street that serves good BBQ but the woman in there is possibly the most irritating person we’ve met on our travels (or maybe a close second to the woman from the Spirit Café in Bali…see previous posts!). She will stake you out from anywhere up to a mile away to try and get you into the restaurant…at which point she will proceed to read the menu to you and then tell you how you should come back there for 3 meals a day for your whole stay…continuously throughout your dining experience. At first I thought, oh she’s just trying hard, but now I’ve decided she’s just extremely annoying. I’ve noticed she sets up her employees at strategic places along the “strip” (the whole town of Mui Ne stretches along about a 10 mile stretch of road) to try and poach customers from other restaurants. Luckily there is a place next door, “Mango”, which serves even better BBQ in a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. I can also say that they serve the biggest prawns/shrimps that I have ever seen…I’ve seen smaller lobsters in the past. I am considering volunteering my services to Mango a few evenings a week, to sit outside the annoying woman’s place and tell people they should eat next door.

Other services in Mui Ne…there’s a liquor store 2 doors down from where we’re staying…cheaper than everywhere else, and maybe I’m going in there too much or something, but they’ve started to give me “frequent shopper” discounts and free bottles of water with my purchases. And there's a grocery store up the road where you can get out of date UHT milk that doesn't smell bad and doesn't seem to make you sick!

…and finally if you’re really stuck for stuff, jump in a cab for the 15 minute ride to Phan Tiet, the town south of here. Ask your cab driver for the “Co-op Mart” and you’ll be deposited at a big supermarket type place, that lacks in the fresh food department, but that serves up most supplies that you might need (They even have bread…not Bahn Mie…see previous post).

And so to the wind…there was a definite buzz about town a couple of days ago when we went for breakfast (at 11:30am)…I was semi confident the forecast was coming together and that we were going to get wind, and everyone else seemed to be in agreement. By the time we got down there at 12:30 it was indeed blowing and there were lots of kiters out and lots of lessons going on. We are pretty much in the dead center of a beach that stretches a few miles each way around the Mui Ne bay. Most places where people kite in the USA seem to have people congregating in a bit of water 50ft by 50ft…I’ve never understood why…so it was nice to see kites spread out along the whole stretch of beach. It wasn’t overcrowded though, Kim tells me she counted 40 at one point, which in an area that size seems quite sparse.

I put up my 12m and went for a few runs, and was nicely powered up in very consistent winds…not gusty at all. The water is very choppy and there is a little bit of swell, but not really clean enough to wave ride.

I came in to spot Kim on her first day back on the water (with new harness). The wind direction here is totally opposite to anywhere else she’s kited, so this also meant starting off on her so called weak side which she’s had very little practice on. To add to that, we were lucky enough in Bali to have the water to ourselves, so it was also the first time she’s kited in “traffic”. I sensed a little apprehension, but before I knew it she launched her 9m and was up and away, tacking back and forth and getting used to the choppy conditions. I suspect looking back on it, urging her into cold, 10ft swells to body drag without the board at Pismo Beach in California a few weeks before we left on our travels, is starting to pay off!
We both got a good few sessions on the water, and the wind actually picked up throughout the day, before we eventually threw in the towel at about 4:30pm when the sun was starting to go down.

I have to admit, we were both in a pretty embarrassing state, physically, after the first day on the water…both suffering from aches and pains in muscles we didn’t no we had.

Yesterday was a hot hot day…possibly the hottest day since we set off on our travels…there was wind, but it wasn’t quite as strong as the day before. We didn’t need many excuses to just lie on the beach, but even that only lasted an hour in the sweltering heat.

This morning we woke up to see Obama getting elected, it seems much to everyone’s relief. Strikes me people are more interested in the fact that he’s the first African American president than anything he has to say about politics or running the country (although I suspect the cab driver we had in Manila a few months ago, who insisted that there’d been a black president in the past, is still sticking to his story!).

Anyway, the wind was blowing hard when we went for an early lunch (at Before & Now…see above)…while we ate it really started howling. We headed down to the beach and proceeded to get sand blasted by the wind so went back to the room to get the gear but by the time we got back it had dropped a little. I went out on the 9m and found that the conditions were stupidly gusty…one minute struggling to keep the kite in the air, the next getting picked up out the water. I came in and Kim rightly decided not to go out for a bit. It was carnage out there, people struggling with their kites out at sea, whilst learners were being thrown in the water near the beach only to see their kites fall out the sky. As I was kiting I saw boards floating about everywhere in the water! I do have to say though, that everything looked very safe, there were no people getting dragged along the beach or anything…people were staying out of control in the water!

As I came in on my third outing on the 9m I managed to somehow whack myself where it hurts with the board, which was a little unpleasant…that was enough for me to call it a day. Kim decided to give it a go, but as I walked into the shallows I managed to stub my toe on a rock and rip the toe nail off…that definitely convinced me I should quit for the day! I rinsed off my bloody stump and then blew up the 7m for Kim. She went out and made a valiant effort, but the lulls in the wind were so weak that she couldn’t get going, so she came in and swapped onto the 9m. When she tried to launch it was so gusty that even keeping the kite in the air was a challenge…I also tried one more launch and decided it just wasn’t worth it, so we packed up.

It was still fun day. Seems we might actually have to get up a bit earlier tomorrow and catch the more steady winds before the storms start to blow through.

Posted by msmitheman 06:52 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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)

Kiting & Massage

sunny 28 °C
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Finally settled in Bali and there's sun, good food, and wind!!!!

2 days in a row...supposedly driven by typhoons in the Philippines...glad we're not there at the moment, as it sounds bad! Anyway its meant we had 2 days of very consistent strong wind.

The kiting setup here is that there isn't one! We were the only ones out, which was great. The beach is not very wide but a short walk upwind there's a private beach outside one of the big hotels that no one seems to have a problem us using, and its empty. There is a big series of reefs offshore that creates pretty huge waves, and the inside is almost totally flat and anything from knee deep to about my height. Very much as I remember Boracay in the Philippines.

...and the good news...it seemed to all come together for Kim finally with the conditions, board and kite skills and she managed to get going fairly consistently!

After two energetic days on the water we decided to treat ourselves to a traditional Balanese massage in one of the expensive hotels. A huge Spa complex by the beach. We were shown into this little hut that had 2 massage tables in and handed 2 rolls of what looked like 2 shower caps and told to get changed..after Kim figured the cap wasn't going to fit on her head, we worked out that they were in fact 2 sets of paper underpants....not a lot to them! Anyway in the spirit of things we got changed (me making a special effort to make sure things were all tucked in!....I'm glad Kim didn't have a camera with her!)...and waited patiently.

Nelly and Dina came in (2 tiny Balanese women) and told us to sit in front of 2 bowls of water where they proceeded to wash our feet (poor women!)....of course mine didn't fit in the bowl which caused much amusement to everyone else...including Kim.

Next we layed face down on the tables....I needn't have worried about the underpants as it seemed the first thing she did was pull them down...however we then proceeded to be pummeled and beaten for an hour. I suspect that once we were face down on the table, Nelly and Dina swapped places with 2 burly Balanese chaps, as it was quite the beating, but I can't be sure as when I was rolled over they were back again!

I joke a little, it did actually feel pretty good and after a nice cup of tea (included) I felt it was money well spent!

Today we've got up to sun and no wind.....I think we're both secretly relieved...a relaxing day doing nothing is in order.

Posted by msmitheman 20:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Disillusioned!

semi-overcast 30 °C
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Well it’s the things that don’t seem funny at the time that make the trip when you look back at it in years to come…right?

We have been trying to persevere with Vietnam, but it seems the elements are against us at the moment.

Let me go back a bit…when we arrived in Mui Ne after a fabulous bus journey on Sunday, the sun was out, the wind was blowing, people were out kiting and despite the “Rat Hotel” hiccup (the name by which it will ever be remembered and referred!), we got up Monday morning in high spirits. Once again, the sun was shining and the wind blowing, but we decided as we have all the time in the world, we would laze on the beach and by the pool, not kiting, for our first day, which was wonderful…

…and then that night the storm started…and it rained…for 2 days straight. Knowing it was the rainy season at the time of year, this came as no surprise, so we decided we’d wait it out by eating some of the great Vietnamese food we’d been told we were going to find over here…well its crap. We’ve tried cheap and we’ve tried expensive…and I’ve even tried the finger bowl of dish water that Kim convinced me was tea…a whole other story!

A few of the more memorable meals…

Dried out swordfish and boiled rice
Shrimp noodles and vegetables (also known as 3 shrimps on a plate with half a pack of frozen vegetables and packaged noodles)
Chicken curry (a bowl of water with curry powder dissolved in it and tinned chicken)
Penne Arrabiata (also known as half boiled dry pasta tubes with a chopped up chili)

I shouldn’t be all negative though…the national dish of Pho (pronounced Pha) is wonderful…basically a noodle soup with beef and chili’s, spices and celery…the only problem being they only serve it for breakfast!!!

…and then there’s the memorable dining experiences…

One night we splashed out on a restaurant a few doors down. Let me just say I’ve since found out it doesn’t matter where you go for dinner, the menu is the same everywhere…however...we were sat at a nice table by the front wall of the outdoor dining area (everywhere is outdoor dining). As we ordered our Pasta Napoli (Kim) and Singapore noodles (me) along with our freshly squeezed fruit juice (which I have to say is great everywhere) I witnessed the biggest rat I’ve ever seen (initially mistaken for a small Yorkshire terrier) run down the side of the wall by our feet. Realizing Kim had not seen it, I suggested we move to the table in the middle of the restaurant under the electric fan…which we did.
After pointing out the observation to Kim, it was only then we realized why the waiters were giving us strange looks. I forgot to mention that, despite it being 100 degrees, we were decked out from head to toe in shoes, socks, jeans and long sleeve hoodies (with hoods up) to avoid the bugs (oh yes, more on those later!!!)….dressed like that and then asking to sit under the fan! Did I mention the food was terrible too!

And then there was this morning breakfast…fresh fruit, yogurt and muesli…how could you go wrong? I was even prepared to pick all the raisins out of the muesli! We both ordered a big bowl full and it looked great when it came to the table…watermelon, pineapple, bananas…mmmm…except Kim pointed out that her bowlful was actually moving and on closer inspection so was mine…yes the surprise Vietnamese delicacy of ants was in there too. Well to cut a long story short we sent them back and got new bowls, only for Kim to realize when we’d finished it that dead ants floating in the bottom probably meant that all they did was try and pick them out when we sent them back.

But we kept in high spirits and were rewarded yesterday when the rains stopped and the wind picked up…kites were pumped up, harnesses were donned…I launched Kim’s kite for her and then the wind died. We left the kites on the beach (only for them to be peed on by a stray dog) and went for a swim instead.

And then there’s the bugs…particularly the mosquitoes…there are millions of them, and despite being slathered in the spray and cream and sleeping under a net I’ve managed to be bitten a hundred times to Kim’s two…but I’m not bitter, I’m pleased she too isn't being kept up all night scratching (although I’m sure my scratching isn’t helping her sleep).

…as I am writing this, the power just went out…again..I’m off to book flights to Bali!

P.S. I have maybe focused on the negative a little during this post…we are still having fun and it’s a billion times better than working!!!! ;-)

P.P.S the internet connection is sooooo slow here, we will post more pictures when we get to something quicker!

Posted by msmitheman 03:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Millionaires In Saigon!

30 °C
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Thankfully got out of Manila on Friday night (6th June). We had a good couple of days there looking round the shops and lazing by the hotel pool, but the city is so hectic and dirty that we were glad to get away.

Cebu Pacific Airways flew us (just) from Manila to Ho Chi Minh city (seems everyone still calls it Saigon). A pretty terrible airline that I won't go into...however it got us there on time and once again we were through immigration, baggage and customs before we knew it. As promised Madam Cuc met us at the airport (although not in person, she sent a driver...in fact I don't believe we ever met her!)...and within 30 minutes we were pulling up outside a gated door in what is obviously the "backpacker" part of the city.

Some sleepy woman let us in (maybe this was Madam Cuc, I don't know!!), and after handing over our passports (which in fact took a good 15 minutes due to the language barrier) we had the joy of hauling our kite bags up what seemed like 10 flights of very steep stairs (probably only 5)...Kim captured them on camera! The place was actually fine and clean and I suspect we'll end up back there at some point.

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We got up early to have a wander round and grab breakfast. Saigon seems to be a fun and friendly city. A lot of backpackers, tourists and expats...though very little English spoken amongst the natives, but sign language seems to go a long way. My overriding memory of this place will be mopeds and motorbikes though. You would not believe how many there our. Thousands everywhere...on the road, parked on the street, in the hallways of hotels and restaurants, every other shop sells mopeds...and still there are not enough as most that are on the road seem to have at least 3 people onboard, if not the whole family!

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Our first job was to find an ATM (cash machine) and in the space of 2 minutes we became multi millionaires, albeit in Dong! Its about 15,000 Dong to the dollar or thereabouts. Food is cheap, a meal for a couple of bucks…and is pretty good, although we didn’t have anything outstanding. My favorite thing so far is the coffee (hot or over ice) and mango smoothies…although having not had a single alcoholic drink until last night, I can now say I quite like “Saigon” beer too!

We seemed to get into a schedule of enjoying “not doing very much at all” at the moment…eating, drinking, sitting in café’s and people watching…in fact in Kim’s words the other morning “I don’t understand how people can go on vacation and…do stuff”!!! Having said that we forced ourselves to do something cultural in Saigon and visited the “War Remnants Museum”. Pretty harrowing photos and exhibits , it’s easy to understand how people came back so messed up.

Weather is hot, although also typhoon season, so most days (or nights) there is a huge thunderstorm. Hasn’t interfered though, as this is just another excuse to catch up on sleep!

Sunday we got up early to take the bus to Mui Ne, a beach resort about (I’m guessing) 150 miles from Saigon on the South East coast…however a 5 hour journey due to the roads. I was dreading it somewhat (no first class again) but for 10 dollars each (plus 6 for the kite bags) we had the best bus journey I’ve ever experienced (ok, I admit, probably the first and best bus journey I’ve ever experienced!).

The photos explain why, but essentially everyone gets a bed rather than a seat, with pillow and blanket. Were it not for the “car horn” happy driver and the blaring far eastern pop music, I think I would’ve slept all the way!

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We had pre-booked a room for 20 bucks for the first night on arrival (last night). On the face of it, it seemed idyllic…a small bungalow on the beach, with access to pool, restaurant and bar. We had no AC but a fairly decent Fan and laid down for a nap yesterday afternoon (…the bus journey was tiring!!!). The electricity went out almost immediately and this was when we heard the rats! Scurrying along the rafters in the holey ceiling above our heads…neither of us was very happy at this point and when one fell out onto the floor we both bolted for the door and checked out!

It worked in our favor and clearly this was a dodgy place (should’ve believed what the lonely planet guidebook said!) as we found another place down the street…cheaper, AC, TV, Fridge, no rats, nicer bar, restaurant and pool. We’re going to stay here for a while.

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Today was a lazy day on the beach. There were a few kiters out. The kiting looks good. Wind seems to pick up for a couple of hours each day which considering it’s the “off season” is reassuring. We’ll go out tomorrow fully rested!

Posted by msmitheman 02:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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