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Wednesday

A quiet day in Nha Trang.
After the diving the previous day, we took off mid morning for the local markets, if nothing else to score a new backpack to take our goodies home since they had outgrown the suitcase.
Again, it was a mixture of 3rd rate shmutter, a little good stuff, and lots of food. 2000 dong for a toilet stop (about 10c).
The day was hot though, so we spent the entire rest of the afternoon next to the pool – 3.5 hours of in-and-out, bit of lunch and drinks. A nice, quiet afternoon.
The taxi driver was the loquacious one we had on the way into Nha Trang, so he and I chatted for the 40 mins.
The flight was ok, except I kept feeling that we were dipping to the right all the time. My internal meter was definitely off since we did see some lights which showed we were level. Very disconcerting! This was Clara’s first night flight too.
Hanoi was a blur since we got in after 9. I thought the taxi was taking us for a ride at one point, but finally got there. Hanoi has only 7 million people as against Saigon’s 10 million. Small fry. A nicer atmosphere in the centre I think.

Tuesday

Up early (again – when’s the layin day?).
Meet the pros going scuba diving with Clara and I never having done it before.
Mark Scott’s a good teacher though – larger than life American living here for years and started one of the first dive shops in Vietnam.

The boat took us out on a lovely day.
All the prep done (face it this way, plug it in like this, stick a ton on your back, stick a dentist’s annoyance in your mouth), and plunging into the great temperature water.
It took me some time to get the hang of it. Clara got the breathing down pat right off though. Unfortunately, her ears started really hurting – possibly from the head cold and a tooth coming out.
So she returned to the boat after getting helping hand around for a while as I continued on.

Diving was fantastic – love it. Went down about 10-12m. There weren’t many fish there – apparently the Vietnamese have essentially eaten all the ones of reasonable size, and so all the larger life including turtles, rays, sharks are gone. Even 5 years ago it was different according to Mark.
Even so, the coral was nice and pretty much anything was going to be great on the first dive!

After finishing the tank (about an hour) we all moved to another location. Clara and I snorkeled instead this time and saw lots of smaller fish around the shallow coral heads. Fantastic time again.
The photos are from the snorkeling as I didn’t have the camera with me – too busy learning! – at the scuba.

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We spent the rest of the day stuffed, lazing by the pool or watching tv. Ahhhhh

Sunday

These two days words will remain short and sweet while I catchup more with photos than words.
Tomorrow (Monday) we leave Hoi An for Nha Trang.

Sat

  • Colour in shops: so many shops have amazingly coloured goods like shoes or the fabrics that are everywhere
  • Shops as houses: the shops are the houses of the shopkeeper. In many cases there is only a small screen off the main shop to where the family obviously lives
  • Storekeepers playing cards: the shopkeepers – almost entirely women – are in their shops all day, often from 8-9pm. I the calm and cooler night air they sit in a foursome outside their shops and eat and then play cards. Should a tourist look interested, the card game is quickly shelved but is returned to pretty quickly
  • Big buddha: an amazing store (yesterday’s pictures) of a hand carved big buddha. He looked so very friendly, I really wanted to take him home. Being simply too huge, I did seriously think about the 1m high version. Seriously!
  • Hat store: a hat store that sold all types and styles of hats

Sun

  • In bed: Clara too sick to go on the tour, so she went back to bed and slept for another 2 or more hours – very unusual for her
  • Walk to store, taxi most of way, taxi back: did our second fitting at the tailors shop, but Clara couldn’t walk that far so we taxied
  • Watched A Fish called Wanda for a while
  • Walk in, had drink, shopped in curio shoppe, dinner, smoker for Clara, tailors, taxi home: in the evening we went to the tailors again for a final fitting, and stopped to present shop on the way. Let’s of lovely things. I try not to buy junk (when I know the difference!)
  • Amazing dress: my “little” girl is growing up – her handmade dress is amazing. We took a photo of a dress in another store (who we didn’t trust enough to make a really good version). Our tailor did a great job with only the photo and our changes to go on (less cleavage, longer arms). It is really, really stunning; but not as much as the wearer.
  • Bridge light up: finally, tonight we were part way across the Japanese bridge when then big lights suddenly came on. I was taking a photo but Clara said the effect was incredible.

20120422-233321.jpg Amazing serviette stack in cafe

20120422-233329.jpg I’m so sick (more choc milk please)

20120422-233336.jpg Oh, ok – what a sucker

20120422-233344.jpg  Great wall-art in the cafe

20120422-233351.jpg Tendrils from the balcony

20120422-233357.jpg Colourful boats

20120422-233407.jpg A quiet evening in Hoi An

20120422-233412.jpg Calm (without hearing the music)

A multitude

A multitude.

We don’t say in English A two hundred monkeys.
We do say A hundred monkeys, but this is shorthand for One hundred monkeys.

So if there is a set that is a countable number, we don’t allow the singular ‘A’ before.
But if there is a set encompassed by another name – multitude, myriad – English allows the ‘A’.

Isn’t that odd?

Saturday pics

Photos from Saturday … Stay tuned for the story

20120421-174020.jpg  A happy Buddha (lookalike – not a real one!)

20120421-174026.jpg  The lantan of life

20120421-174032.jpg  Two cafe flowers

20120421-174038.jpg  THE FACE ON THE TREE

20120421-174046.jpg  Olde worlde

20120421-174053.jpg  The lone cyclist

20120421-174058.jpg On the street

20120421-174103.jpg Am I having fun?  Or… Please tell me I’m not like this!

20120421-174108.jpg  After a sweet choc milk and hazelnut coffee – mmm

20120421-174114.jpg  A tailors window – one of thousands

20120421-174120.jpg  Happy tourists on a cyclo

20120421-174124.jpg  Bonsai on the window above tailors – perhaps showing attention to detail?

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Can I bring it home? Please?!

Friday, friday

I’ve got Friday on my mind… No, not really. In fact, apart from these blogs, I wouldn’t have a clue of what day it is.

Ah, holidays.

Ah, to be over the dreaded lurgi!

I’m over it mostly, but Clara still is sniffly and has the cold, but has some little energy back.

Which is lucky since we’re off to Hoi An today.

We had another quiet morning – as much as possible to be out of the room by 9.
We said goodbye to the nice pool which we only used twice – neither of us was interested while we were sick (which says how sick Clara felt).

A stunning taxi ride through the joys of Saigon traffic. As as aside, I don’t know whether to use Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City when talking with people. I did wait to see what the locals say but it seems it really is pretty interchangeable – I haven’t detected any age, sex or other determinant of which is used.

The airport is everything you can love about airports – nothing special. Flight was ok, but cloud the entire way boded for the future weather and prevented us seeing more of the countryside. Hopefully the next three flights (!) are clearer.

Danang was nicely free of taxi touts, but we still got taken a bit on the way to Hoi An. Hoi An is about 35km south of Danang. Immediately there was less traffic – both cars and motorcycles. There were more bicycles as well. Phew, much nicer than Saigon.

Once out of Danang itself – with memories of that name from the Vietnam war in my mind as a big American base – we passed many houses butting the highway a few rows deep. On the sea side were demolished buildings next to new resorts, huge empty lots next to shacks. It’s easy to see that the Mekong has the rainfall and soil to support the greenery, whereas Danang – while green – hasn’t the same lushness.

We passed abandoned numerous army and air force bases. The main airport used to fly fighters all the time during the war and one side of it is the abandoned base; the runway looks of the same era though and is still pretty bumpy. The new international terminal shows that Vietnam is really trying to move ahead and past those times.

On the road, passed by and passing motorcycles galore, was the strangest one I’ve seem: an 70’s era motorcycle with what looked Ike a big urn on the side at the back. A second look confirmed that the urn was smoking, with a pieces of wood on fire under/in the bottom! I’ve been told that the Swedes used something like this for power during WWII as petrol was too expensive. I can’t imagine it’s the same – perhaps the owner always wanted a hot coffee ready?

Hoi An is a quaint place – in a Vietnamese way. Coming into it from the highway which bypasses is Ike coming into a northern NSW town like Murwilimbah. The streets are smaller, thes traffic but it’s more town traffic than city. There’s tourists (not us, no), but not too many. I haven’t seen a building higher than 4 stories except for a few 6 story hotels. Our hotel is “quaint” – our cheapest stay in Vietnam by far at about $30/night including breakfast. On the edge of the town centre, it’s in a good location with pretty bad views :-). A clean, good sized room, hard beds, and Yummy and Kummy (phonetically!) the ladies at the front desk always ready to joke and help.

There are parts of Hoi An in which cars are banned, so not knowing the scale of the map we were given we went for a walk. Maps should a) have a scale, and b) show very bl**dy street! We meandered, Clara being well enough and pushing herself a little. We pass tailors and shoe making shops and tailors and shoe shops and tailors and cages and shoe shops and tailors and shoe shops and restaurants and cares and tailors and tailors and shoe shops. And tailors and shoe shops and tailors. And tailors. Truly.

There is a lovely strip of cafes along the riverside and we had coffee and a late lunch. An older woman tried to pickpocket Clara but she didn’t have anything. Nice old lady…

Later, after being told online the wrong address, we determined to go to the best tailors in town to get Robert a suit made – “cheap cheap” (repetition is effective, especially with adjectives. “Same same” is another oft used phrase). Wall Street tailors were across the Japanese bridge – a lovely pedestrian only bridge in the middle of town. We strolled the very pretty riverfront, only being accosted once at which Clara was astounded by her fathers bargaining ability in being overcharged for some toys. In mitigation, I had already bargained to 33% of the original asking price, but you know you could have done better when they give you another item for free :-).

The evening along the river is beautiful – lights on old buildings everywhere, people with kids wandering around – local and tourists – smells of food through the air and, in our case, the thunderstorm in the distance making the air and temperature perfect.

Two suits (see my great bargaining before – ha) were ordered – I played dumb about clothes and asked for lots of help. It was easy, that being my natural state (although I owe Judy a lot at least making me aware, although probably not better with).

Dinner was takeaway, with Clara resting and me taking a wrong turn and doing 3-4 extra blocks of walking in 30 degree heat. Pshaw.

20120421-173938.jpg  The city of Saigon

20120421-173944.jpg  A foreign sunset

20120421-173950.jpg  The fire in the sky – Saigon

20120421-173957.jpg  Rose petals on the bed – Hoi An

20120421-174004.jpg  A quiet street

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Thursday

Today is short and not so sweet – the pizza returned and the Imodium used. Clara had still mainly a headcold, but mine wasn’t. We’ve spent the entire day in bed, sleeping, drinking lemonade, and sleeping. We fly out tomorrow morning and, I can say with categorical exactitude, that we won’t be seeing more of sunny Saigon while we’re on this trip – we’ll do well to make it onto the plane. No pictures today (doh!).

Wednesday

5am is too early, especially when you haven’t slept well on rock-hard beds.

A sampan took us with guide past the local town – centered on the river – and into the Mekong itself. 40-60m deep even here at more the 70km from its mouth, large ships can ply their way a long way up. It comes through 5 countries before making its way through the south of Vietnam. Maybe it was the morning freshness, or perhaps it’s the same always, but the river looked remarkably fresh after moving through so many bowels. Not clear you must understand, but less foul that I expected.

There are a number of islands in the river, and we travelled across to one of them and walked a short way to the local markets. About 3000 people live on the island and the markets open about 4am and close about 10am. They are entirely local markets, with most goods being meat and veges grown at home. Mostly they were sold for money – very little trading occurs. One of the great points of using Jason is to get the authentic view: these were locals at their local markets. The kids were going off to school on their bikes using the ferry (how proficient they were getting onto the ferry using the sloping concrete ramp), locals doing their own thing.

It was now that Clara really started to be unwell, almost keeling over. Panadol to the rescue. Another sampan back to see the town markets, again locals every one but this time in the town itself and thus much bigger and varied.

Duck, pork, eel, fishes galore, taro, rices, jackfruit, carrots, cocks, snails. Hoses, pumps, bags, tshirts, drinks. I didn’t even take any pictures as I was too worried about Clara chucking (into the snails – hmmm) and also because I don’t like to see animals with a life expectancy of minutes just for us to consume. Fortunately, the gentleman with the rice wine last night taught me a most important saying – un chai – vegetarian! While in Vietnam that can include no eggs, I’ll accept it when presented with the alternatives. The gentleman also assumed I was Buddhist and said he was as well (though not an chai), and that it was many years since he had met one.

Clara was so unwell we cut the tour short and sampanned (?!) back to base. I had breakfast (at 11) and clara slept for a couple of hours. They rearranged our afternoon so we could boat rather than walk, and we were taken across the Mekong and into the drains cut into the islands. The drains, about 2m deep, have been cut to allow the river water into the middle of the island for fishing and irrigation. They’re about 2-4m wide and all over the place – they must have taken some effort to cut originally. We were poled through by a fit woman with the ubiquitous palm-leaf hat.

Lunch at a lovely house almost overlooking the Mekong was again sumptuous – we simply couldn’t eat it all, especially with Clara under the weather. 2 hrs by car back to the hotel in Saigon seemed to take longer and by buttocks knew about it. We decided on pizza in the room since we didn’t want anything too spicy.

A fortunate decision in one aspect…

Tuesday

Clara was awake a bit early. I appeared about 8. We had breakfast at the cafe, another swim, then just relaxed for a bit.

Clara was feeling really tired – a sign of something not quite right with more to come – but I pushed so we went for a walk around the (large) block. We decided to venture to actually cross a road at another time, and anyway, there were enough motorcycles using the footpath! Well, it was a footpath, but broken tiles and little side streets everywhere – you couldn’t believe we were in the same block as on the map it showed the block as solid. In reality, it was a maze of little and not so little alleys. The stench from the river was pretty amazing – you turn the corner and it assaults the senses. I’m sure the 32 degree heat wouldn’t help the aroma. The walk did Clara in more as well, she was wobbly from sore eyes from the chlorine and, again, I missed the onset of something deeper.

Our driver for the Mekong tour picked us up perfectly and we went through more of Saigon and out into the countryside along a freeway to the south. There are some 20million people out of the 87 in vietnam who live in the Mekong delta – a huge number for a fairly small area. The car trip showed another part of Vietnam – the fields and paddies – even if they were whizzing by at 70-80kph.
We arrived at what looked like a dingy piece of riverbank amongst derelict shacks and were told to wait a few minutes (eek!). A sampan pulled in and we heard that new sound that wouldn’t leave us except in the door-closed room – the duk-duk of motors of sampans and launches and barges at all times on the river. There is no road access to much of the riverbank, right where people live, so everything is either brought in by boat, or comes along bumpy concrete path by motorcycle or bicycle. We were brought by boat to an amazing residence of Buc Da.

Buc Da was built hundreds of years ago as a landowners manor house. It features a wonderful front living/entertaining room where the gentleman landowner used to hold court and is now kept in restored condition with incredible timber furniture including inlaid shell pieces. In the middle is a very large treed courtyard. The two story sleeping quarters make up the rear. In and around the courtyard and surrounding walking tracks are many fruit trees: locals spend a large amount of their time harvesting and growing fruit and vegetables for their own consumption and sale to others. Without refrigerators, fresh food is always on offer and traded.

We met the entrepreneurial Jason, the organizer of the tour, and went with him on a bike tour along the walkway next to the river. It’s quite hair raising as motorbikes, often loaded with panniers full of goods, also speed their way up and down and around corners. It’s obvious that everyone who uses the corridor – and that means everyone – are excellent riders. I’m sure the boy who almost fell off his bike while watching Clara was only a compliment to her.

Unfortunately, the bike Clara had didn’t have brakes working and so at one point, a motorcycle passed too close at the same time she wobbled. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem as there was a gap both on the river side and the green “fence” side. This time, though, the fence consisted of a prickly cactus and Clara was quite lacerated on arm, hand and leg. She was very brave, but was in shock. We walked a little further to a ubiquitous coffee house where we had a lovely lemon iced tea and clara recovered some poise and colour. The tea and rest helped. Jason had phoned ahead and we were picked up by a sampan rather than walking all the way back (Clara couldn’t really hold the handlebars as the prickles were still too sore).

That memorable experience was followed by lots of antiseptic cream, then a gentle walk into another coffeehouse with another guidewoman, Hu. I ordered an iced coffee milk – sort of like our iced coffee but more ice and less milk; note: if your order an iced coffee you don’t get any milk! When we ordered a coconut water were imagined some mineral water with coconut juice. I forgot where I was of course – an entire coconut appeared complete with straw-in-drillhole. Very nice though (as was the coffee; Vietnam ranks only behind one country – I think Bolivia – in coffee production and they rate their coffee highly and it’s an important drink: they make sure it’s good).

We arrived back to make our own springrolls for dinner. Instead of the flat rice paper we have, theirs is filigreed and tastes very nice. At the table, we though that was dinner, for we’d made about 12-14. Jason joked not to eat too much because there were more courses coming. It turned out to be true, and another 5 dishes came out! Rice, homemade chips, battered beans, mixed veges and watermelon. Phew, all this on top of the springrolls! A veritable feast. An older gent came and gave some rice wine in thimbles – Clara took a drop on her tongue and almost exploded :-). She was very quiet and mannered until he went away then castigated me for not telling her what it was like – then she had another two drops :-). Apparently it’s not sake as its made with a different type of rice. It still tasted like the sake I had in Japan, so my taste buds aren’t cluttered enough to tell the difference; I’m quite happy to keep it that way too.

Having to get up at 5am to visit the floating markets, we slept early but not, I fear, well…

Monday

I didnt really get into a blow-by-blow of the last couple of days.
With Clara sick and sleeping in the air conditioned room, I’ll spend some time now…

We arrived in Saigon on time and on budget (ha). Good project management so far.
To get around the taxi touts at the airport who have a worldwide reputation for fleecing travelers, including stopping the middle of the “fare” and asking for triple the normal amount, I bought an overpriced ticket at the prepurchase counter.
The ride itself was worrying in two ways- the driver, without much English, seemed to be saying I’d still owe him when we got there; and secondly the traffic was chaotic and it seemed like we’d hit every car and motorcycle.
Still, we got there (wherever we were – I didn’t know which way was north let alone where the “city” was – it all looked like a short city, something like broadway used to be in Sydney but with 1000x more traffic).
The hotel was flash – doorman and gatekeeper to keep out the riffraff. They upgraded us to a 3 br as they didn’t have any 2br left. I’d ordered a 2br as there was no way to specify that we wanted twin beds when ordering the room. We ended up on the bottom floor, so no view, but in a huge suite. The air conditioning was a welcome change from the 10s between the taxi and the front door :-).
The hotel is very much for families and/or groups. It’s self-catering with a full kitchen and even your own washing machine. There’s a little grocery store in the complex (10 stories high in 3 towers), and a westernish cafe cum restaurant next to the huge pool.
We tried the pool pretty much immediately after looking around stunned inside the apartment. Lots of kids in the water with adults on deck chairs (this is Monday afternoon). They had large lights at the top of the buildings which lit up the pool nicely for evening swimming. After, we had a quick bite at the cafe – vege rice hotpot for me and spag & veges for Clara. It was ok fare. We slept well as we didn’t have an early next day, and we’d had an extra 3 hours in our day.