Paying a visit to Uncle Ho

Day 116, Sunday 29 April 2012, Hanoi

I was awake at 5.00, I am really am going to have to put some serious effort into staying up later in the evenings so I don’t wake so damn early. One of the issues I have with being on my own is I entertaining myself in the evenings. Though it sounds like I have been out drinking a lot, i don’t really do sitting in bars drinking on my own, I am way worse than that. I sit in my room drinking alone – well sort of, I have one or two while writing blog posts, not big nights of boozing. Once the blogging is done I kinda run out of enthusiasm, in fact – I usually run out about three quarters of the way through the post and I think that shows clearly in some of my entries. Maybe I should make them shorter !

The going to bed early is the start of a vicious cycle, early bed, early awake, early out doing things, early back for a rest, early out again, early dinner, early drink, back to bed…

Ha Long Bay tour tomorrow so should be with a group – fingers crossed there are some good folk on the tour, I am always in fear I will end up with a bunch of muppets, I should be able to vet their personalities before they are allowed on the bus !

Now – I have kinda got a plan, at least in my head, sorted. I was dead keen to dive Sipidan in Malaysian Borneo, however I got an email from one of the dive companies there and it will cost me at least $1500 NZD + flights to dive, on a minimum four day package. This will really stretch my available funds, so I may have to dive somewhere cheaper – any suggestions ??

Thailand or Malaysia – I will be ending my travelling in Chiang Mai and fly to the UK from Kuala Lumpur, so happy to dive anywhere sort of in between – as long as it is GOOD…

Back to the day – I was up in the ‘restaurant’ too early for eggs, so had a meagre breakfast of horrible toast and banana and a couple of coffees. I was on the road by 7.30 and took a long walk to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Around the Presidential Palace.

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I knew it was going to busy, but wow – the queue was 500 metres long at 8.15, and it took me 10 minutes to find the end!

The start of the queue

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The middle – though I had to hand my camera in soon after – no cameras allowed from here to the mausoleums exit.

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The end of the queue !

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However the queue moved pretty quickly and I was through in half an hour. The visit was interesting – basically you queues for ages, shuffle quickly through the mausoleum, past dead Uncle Ho and out the other side. No stopping, no lingering and definitely no photos, I slowed down a bit inside as I kept stepping on the heel of the young girl in front of me – and got a hurry up nudge on the arm by one of the numerous guards.

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After a slow walk through the palace grounds with hundreds of Vietnamese I visited the One Pillar Pagoda, but decided to flag the nearby museum as it looked like a repeat of the HCM museum in HCMC (as it were !)

HCM’s place of residence in the 50’s

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One Pillar Pagoda

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I went in search of coffee on the way to my next stop which was the temple of literature, I wanted airconned – or at least fan cooled coffee, though it was cloudy and only 29 degrees I was still sweating like a trooper and needed a seat and a cool down, a roadside coffee was not going to work – though I should have taken one as I found nothing !

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The temple of literature was barely interesting, I am not sure if there was war damage to it, but everything is so renovated and concreted, new features are still being added, and it really detracts from the ambience of historical sites. I have mentioned this before, so no ranting now ! It was worth visiting, but was hardly a highlight of Vietnam.

This is really common in Buddhist temples, relics that have been rubbed so many times over the years there is a shiny spot. I think it is awesome.

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Vietnamese calligraphy.

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The place was fairly busy so I was amazed to be able to grab this shot without too long a wait.

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I had been on my feet for three hours by the time I left and was in need of water and coffee and some food , I wandered back into the old quarter to try and find my lunch spot from yesterday, maybe I was confused by being so dehydrated but I just could not find it and almost got lost wandering around I stopped for a coffee and chicken rice at a random place and found the wifi wasn’t working which was frustrating as I would have gone somewhere else that had wifi and relaxed for a while. So, it was back to the hotel room for a cooling shower and a lie down – bushed, and it is only 12.30. It was a good morning though, I do like walking around watching all the people, especially the lost tourists !

Yesterday I handed some washing in to the hotel to do, I got it back today and every item has a small label with my room number attached by two safety pins – labour is so cheap here.

After a wee lie down I started work on finalising some plans, I got myself booked on a flight from Hanoi to Luang Prabang in Laos for the third May, which kinda settles my plans for Vietnam ! I was planning on flying from Luang Prabang down to Pakse and then making my way back up to Vientane and then over to Chiang Mai, but there is no flight to Pakse anymore… going to have to rethink my whole damn schedule again : (

Bah, I went for walkabout, a couple of beers and some dinner.

A lovely (is there such a thing ?) old Citreon.

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I have sort of liked Hanoi, but like all large cities it is very impersonal and I have not connected with anyone since I have been here – this makes meal times less than fun times, though like all big cities wandering the streets is always interesting. I have been a bit reluctant to take photos here, there has always been someone in shot and I really do not want to offend by snapping peoples photos without their permission, well if they are looking at me anyway : )

After dinner it was back to the room to watch a bit of TV, review todays photos and post this blog entry!

A wander around Hanoi

Day 115, Saturday 28 April 2012, Hanoi

I woke early but lounged around in bed till 8.00 – and not due to the bottle of Jamesons I bought last night as I only had a couple, oh ye of little faith

Up for breakfast and found again that I was the only person in the restaurant – I am really starting to wonder about the places I pick – I have generally selected hotels/hostels/ guest houses that rate well on various websites, based on the assumption others would too. However it appears I choose places that no one else goes to. Maybe when I go Luang Prabang I will stay in a dorm room, though with my luck it will be empty bar me – at least it will be cheap I guess. Breakfast was average so maybe that was it !

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I also discovered my first hotel cockroach in four months of travel – awesome, and about time too, I have heard so many stories of hotel cockroaches and was starting to doubt them!

For the first time in weeks I wore shoes today, I have a few grazes on my toes from the crappy flippers I was using diving and my jandals are virtually worn out now so I was getting sore feet walking in them last night.

I had loose plans to see a few sites when I left the hotel this morning, but the real aim was to walk and enjoy Hanoi. I didn’t bring the longer zoom lens which was a bit frustrating as there was a few things I would have used it on where the 20mm was way too wide – tomorrow !

My first stop was the remains of “Hanoi Hilton”, Hoa Lo Prison as it is officially named. The prison was opened by the French in 1896 and was used by them up until they were kicked out in the 50’s. It was then used by the Vietnamese to house US airman captured during the Vietnamese/American war. There is only a small section of the prison left standing. The commentary is very biased, the French were bastards (probably true) but the Vietnamese treated the American airman like hotel guests (probably not so true) and there were some great photos of smiling US prisoners to prove it. it was nowhere near as bleak as S21 in Phnom Penh.

I liked this quote from this female prisoner as she was sentenced to twenty years hard labour by the puppet government of the French.

“Will your regime be able to exist for another 20 years to keep me in prison”. Awesome !

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I wandered the streets a bit more.

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Feather duster seller.

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LCD TV delivery vehicles !

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If you get stopped by the police for any reason and cannot pay the instant fine then your motorcycle is confiscated on the spot and held for 10 days. When you get it back it will have no petrol and will possibly be missing parts. I heard one story of a newish engine being swapped for an old one. Got to love the police here !

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Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of restored sword) is the centre point of Hanoi’s old quarter. The lake’s story is that in the 15th century the Gods sent emperor Ly Thai To a magical sword which he used to drive off the Chinese invaders. Once the Chinese were gone a tortoise swam out of the lake, grabbed the sword and took into the lake to return it to the gods.

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Ngoc Son Temple is a an 18th century temple in the lake.

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St Josephs Cathedral was built in 1886 and was closed when I got there.

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After a wee lie and cool down I ventured out again for another wee walk.

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Some street art, sadly most of it was covered up !

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And some not so good.

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Finally – a bike I can photograph.

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This outing my goal was to find “Bia Hoi corner”, which funnily enough I did… Bia Hoi means fresh beer and is dirt cheap, at 30c a glass. It is made in the evening, delivered in kegs the following morning to the various street stalls and drunk that afternoon and evening by a large mix of Hanoi locals, expats and tourists.

Bia Hoi corner, it slowly takes over the street.

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I had a couple of beers followed by a noodle dinner and back in my room by 7.30. Tired.

Hanoi Arrival

Day 114, Friday 27 April 2012, Da Nang – Hanoi

Wow my four months of travelling anniversary today, pretty sure when I started I never expected to spend this much time in SE Asia, I may have planned to spend it , but those first couple of weeks of solo travel were tough. Looking back at some of my posts I was not exactly happy with my world – surviving it all was the key then. If everything goes according to plan then I have one month in SE Asia to go before heading to the UK and Europe and a new unknown – well almost, I have been there before, but it was a long time ago.

I did nothing active all morning, but had a productive time. I spent a good few hours catching up on a massive backload of emails, I am so sorry to all those who were waiting for replies, no excuses at all. I also got a good chunk of planning done including trying to organise some diving over my last week away. After some chasing have finally had a response from the company I used to send a box of stuff to the Uk, including my big DSLR camera – I am looking forward to being reunited with it !

I want to do the Sipidan dive in Malaysian Borneo, the site is one of the top dive sites in the world and is restricted by the Malaysian government to a limited number of divers per day. I dived nearby back in Jan but couldn’t get a dive there then a there was a four week waiting list. I emailed Scuba Junkies who I dived with in January and the closest they could do to June 1 was June 14 ! No good for me… But tonight I may have found another place, so hope to finalise soon.

As I left for the airport I felt good about my morning for a change ! I also had some awesome news from my sister and bro-in-law, that I will share later. But I am very pleased, though happy is not a word I will use in this situation.

I am reasonably convinced my taxi to the airport was being driven by a guy who may have driven a car before, but if he had it was probably only a couple of times, interesting is the word I would use. It was the first time I had gripped the sides of the seat in a cab, thankfully he was slooooooow. At the airport I had a traditional Vietnamese meal – I think this is the only BK I have seen in Vietnam…

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The flight was a wee bit bumpy, especially the descent into Hanoi, probably the lumpiest flight i have had so far on my travels.

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I had organised an airport pick up to my hotel, seems to be a lot of airport taxi scams in Hanoi at the moment. I was surprise at how far away the airport is from town, so glad I did. I snapped a few things on the way. I recognise the ironing board, but I cannot figure out what else was there.

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Once I was settled into the Atlantic hotel (Atlantic ???) I went walkies around town for a while, it was dark soon after I left so it was a short walk, though I grabbed a fried rice meal while out. Hanoi, or at least this part is way crazier than Saigon !

Outside my hotel

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I think I have stepped into an episode of Dr Who !

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Bathroom essentials – soap tray, loo roll, ash tray, and this is a non smoking hotel !

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I picked up a bottle of Jamesons Irish Whisky tonight and had a celebratory drink in my room. I then discovered the shower doesn’t work, grrrrrrr.

My Son (sorry Dom and Aiden – not talking about you)

Day 113, Thursday 26 April 2012, Da Nang – My Son

Once I was secured in my room at the Phi Yen Hotel I pretty much crashed straight away. When I was on the train I was really looking forward to a shower, but after two late nights in a row all I could manage was to flop unceremoniously on the bed where I remained until I awoke, rather groggily at 8.

My plan for Da Nang was to visit My Son as I missed it last time I was here and to catch up with a couple of people from the wedding, however I am stuffed if I can find my Vietnam sim card and I have phone numbers on it…

So, I have decided tdo a trip to My Son and have got a motorbike taxi for a few hours for $25, I could definitely do it more cheaply on my own but I am not riding a bike for 150kms !

Motorbike is definitely the way to see the country, we went pretty slowly so I got to see a lot more than I have done on buses or in cars, we only had one “oh shit” moment when a guy on a motorbike just shot out of a side heading the wrong way into us as we were being passed by a truck – well maybe I had the “oh shit” moment and everyone else just carried on as normal. I did see two guys got knocked off their bikes by side swipe from a passing bus, no one was hurt, thank God, and no one seemed to be too worried. Daily life on the road in Vietnam, if you make it home at the end of the day it’s a good thing.

My Son was a bit of a let down to be honest, maybe my expectations were too high for a site that is quite small and was bombed only forty years ago. Those days around Angkor and Bagan have given me unrealistic expectations for all ancient sites in SE Asia.

On the ride back to the hotel I was comparing the rebuild of Christchurch to the rebuild of Vietnam and have realised I have been very unfair on the historical sites here. The expectation is it will take many many years to rebuild Christchurch city, in a country that has a good economic base and a commitment to rebuilding. After the war Vietnam had no economic base and so much of its infrastructure had been destroyed, the rebuilding of places that are hundreds of years are old were and still are not a priority. Having said that there is a huge amount of construction work in Da Nang, from highways and resorts to houses and historic sites there is work going on everywhere.

My Son is a small cluster of Hindu temples started in the 4th century and active as a site until the 14th. The French started the renovation of the site in the 1930’s and had completed, what appears to be, some good work until hostilities started. The site was heavily bombed by our American cousins during the American war of aggression AKA the Vietnam War.

I found this great cockie in the small museum at the entrance, biggest I have seen that was not on a BBQ ๐Ÿ™‚

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The trail down from the first temple site just made me think of my lovely Waitakere Ranges at home.

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I spent an hour and a half wandering listlessly around, not really in the zone for it today, there was a big tour group there the same time as me and it was very hot.

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I stopped for a water or two at the end and found this little beauty.

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On the way back to the hotel we stopped briefly at this temple. The wind had really picked up on the way back and we had a couple of good gusts hit the bike.

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After a wee lie down I walked a couple of kms to the good old beach side Temple Bar for a pizza and beer, though their internet access was down, which was a bit of a pain as I was going to do a couple of hours of email. I snapped a couple of pics on the walk there and back.

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I was back in the hotel with a full belly and zero energy by 6.30 PM, watched a bit of V8 super car racing from Hamilton – wicked, haven’t seen any all season !

Diving, late late nights and 10 hours on a train

Days 111/112, Tuesday/Wednesday 24/25 April, 2012, Nha Trang

Up early again for a repeat of yesterdays breakfast at Salut and then off to Angel Divers shop for the pickup to the boat. It was a similar group to yesterday so I knew we would have a good day.

There was one other advanced open water diver with the group so I got paired up with Louis for the first dive, which was at Madonna Rock again. We did a deeper dive than yesterday with a more difficult swim through, having to swim down under a shelf and then up through a shute, loads of fun. We also repeated the best swim through from yesterday, Louis was behind me and filmed the swim so I am hoping to get a copy of the clip. We spent a bit of time trying to find a big grouper that lives around the rocks, apparently much bigger than the one we saw yesterday, but to no avail sadly. Visibility at depth is not great which is a bummer.

For the next two dives I was alone with the dive master Michael, a guy from England and an avid Arsenal supporter. He has taken my email address and said he will see if he can hook me up with one of his mates who has corporate season tickets to Arsenals home ground, Emirates stadium, in the new season. Now that would be cool !

The second and third dives were variations of dives from yesterday, with similar sea and coral life to look at. We did come across a massive school of fish that seemed to be doing a swim past a metre from my face, we followed them around for a bit which was fun, but then air was running low so we called it quits.

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Like yesterday the in between dives was spent mucking about in the water, diving and jumping off the boat, pushing people in – it was like being a teenager again, and for me really added to the enjoyment of the day.

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Selfies under water, in a wet suit with no weight belt are not easy.

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Bird nesters homes.

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Once the dive was over and we were back on shore I spent a bit of time cooling down and relaxing in my room before meeting Dave, a diver trainee I hung out with a bit over the past two days for dinner at eight (way too late for me !) . We met at the dive shop and as he was the only diver booked for the dive tomorrow they mutually agreed to have a day off. We had a beer at the shop and went off in search of pizza and more beer.

After pizza we went back to Why Not Bar – one of the two big backpacker bars in Nha Trang, we had a couple of drinks and were joined by JC, my dive master from yesterday, who also works part time at the bar. At midnight when JC’s shift finished we moved to another bar with a few of the guys and girls from the dive shop and then back to Why Not at 2.00 AM to watch Chelsea v Barcelona in the Champions League football. I got to bed at 4 am, fortunately I did not drink a huge amount, so was not suffering too badly when I got up !

The bar was interesting, this was my first time in a backpacker bar late in the night, it wasn’t packed at 2.00, but there were quite a few people – the majority of which were pretty drunk. The people watching was fascinating. We assisted one extremely drunk Greek guy who was on his own, completely incoherant and had no idea where he was staying. The dive shop guys were concerned that at closing time the bar staff would just put on the street where he would likely get robbed. Fortunately a couple of girls recognised him from their hostel so we bundled him in a cab and sent him on his way.

It was a good final night in Nha Trang, hanging out with a good bunch of people always makes for a great time.

I woke about 8.00 and tentatively opened one eye after the other, realising my head was not going to fall off I praised myself for the wisdom in drinking beer slowly, though I was up almost all night so there was definitely some wisdom lacking when I made that choice.

I did very little for the morning, went to the dive shop to see if they had the video footage but the camera card reader was not in the shop so I wandered off for breakfast instead and hope that they email me one day.

At 12.00 I checked out and went to the lobby and shared a taxi to the train station. I hung about with an Aussie family at the station until the train arrived forty five minutes late at about 2:15. The ride to Da Nang is approximately ten hours.

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This was my first sleeper car ride so I boarded the train with quiet expectation. I was in a totally different carriage to the Aussies, and after a brief moment of confusion found my bed – number 5.

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I am fortunate in that I have a bottom bunk as I least I can store my pack under the bed. There are only two of us in the room and I am sharing with a middle aged Vietnamese soldier who appears to have no English at this stage. The room is pretty grubby, though we do get a supposedly clean sheet which is a bonus.

My roomie promptly turned his radio on and the lay down and was snoring loudly well before 3.00 – this could be a long ride. I used the laptop (wrote some of this) until the battery died and then kind of mooched for a while with headphones on to drown out the snoring – this would be a feature for most of the next ten hours !

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I heard the snack cart goes past the closed door and nipped out and bought a can of 333 beer and a packet of biscuits, as nothing else really appealed. I shared a few biscuits and a smile with my roomie. At around 6.00 we stopped in a town and got another passenger in the room, he didn’t say much either so it was not going to be a long chatty ride like the one to Nha Trang. My roomie got off the train and came back with a meal of rice, fish and eggs and two cans of beer which he shared with me, very cool. We had an enjoyable meal over our small table, though we did not say much !

After dinner he slept again and I drowned the noise with loud music on mp3 player until we arrived in Da Nang late at 12.45. I took a motorbike taxi to my hotel and had to bang on the locked door to be let in.

Diving again – it has been too long

Day 110, Monday 23 April 2012, Nha Trang

Up before six this morning, slept very well for a beer sleep ! Got myself organised and went out for breakfast and back again for a five minute snooze before walking down to Angel Divers for my day of diving. I chose Angel as they were competitively priced and had great reviews on the Tripadvisor website. I have been using Tripadvisor a lot lately, more so than the guide book when it comes to checking out accommodation. I think it explains why I am ending up in guest houses that are not full of back packers – which may sound good to some, but is actually a bad thing in some ways as I am isolating myself a bit. When I shift up to Hanoi in a few days I will move in to a proper backpacker hostel and hope to find someone to travel to Laos with.

The day was an odd one, I was a bit frustrated with some initial lack of organisation from Angel, we got to the boat on time and away from the dock, but the gear was all over the show on the boat and it all seemed a wee bit ad hoc.

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However reflecting back over the day, most of the staff were very professional, the gear was in good condition, I have certainly had a lot worse – so I think my first impression was actually the wrong one, though briefing on the first dive was a bit loose…

We motored out to Hon Mun island, about 45 minutes from the mainland, the conditions were perfect for diving, a very gentle, cooling breeze and clear skies. There were ten divers, five on courses or learner dives and five experienced divers. The first dive I was with a group of three Germans (max four per dive master), the dive was Ok. The coral has been destroyed here and there was an Ok amount of small life and we saw all the usual suspects.

In some ways it was a good first dive back, as there was not a huge amount to see I could focus on buoyancy and technique – which set me up well for the second dive.

While we waited for the beginner divers to come back I had a wee play with my little camera Panasonic FT3, it is only rated waterproof to 10 metres so I cannot take it diving, but I jumped into the sea and snapped a few photos.

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The boat from below : )

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The second dive was at Madonna Rocks and I have to say it was fun. It was just me and JC and French Canadian dive master, so I got see a lot more things. The highlights of this dive was three cave swim throughs, the longest was five or six metres. JC swam though so smoothly and I was banging the walls with my legs and my head and felt such a mumpty. I guess if you dive daily then you get good at it ! In the first cave there was a nice size grouper as well which was most cool and the second cave had a large school of shimmering small fish which would have made for a superb shot.

dive spot 2

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and 3

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We motored over to Mushroom Reef for the third and final dive of the day. We had to wait for a while before diving so the Germans and I had a bit of fun diving off the roof of the boat and bombing anyone who was in range. I also went for a brief snorkel and took a few snaps – and got burnt by the sun.

A fish !

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A sea urchin similar to the one I put my hand on while diving in the phillies – wont do that again !

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The third dive started off a bit dull, just rolling along a fairly deserted sandy area, but once we got into the reef it became a lot more interesting, again it was just JC and I and I had my buoyancy pretty dialled on this dive so I could just hang in the water as we looked at some of the things of interest. Highlight of this dive was a good size moray eel that was out of his hole and moving around the coral, very nice to see, and apparently quite rare as JC was really pleased to see it. I am really enjoying just being able to spend time looking closely at the coral and the small life within it, there is an amazing array of small fish, shrimps, crabs etc going about their business, it is quite cool.

We motored back into port and parked with all the other tourist boats.

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And were all picked up by a van and taken to a local restaurant for a reasonable lunch and then dropped back at the shop around 3.00. the diving was not spectacular, certainly not up to an El Nido or Semporna, but I had fun today, it was a good group and the DM’s were pretty good. I decided that if I could postpone my train ride to Da Nang till the day after tomorrow I would do one more day of diving. I could so I did….

My hotel have been great at arranging trains for me, I am assuming they get some sort of commission for booking tickets, but the receptionist here has just been so nice and simple to deal with, her English is fantastic and nothing is a problem. It makes life so much easier. She arranged for a train ride for the following day and secured me the bunk I originally wanted but didn’t get for tomorrow, its the details that matter sometimes.

I found this little critter outside my window.

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Nha Trang

Day 109, Sunday 22 April 2012, Nha Trang

Up fairly early and out for a walk around the streets near the hostel and down to the beach. The beach looks quite nice and like the beaches near Da Nang there was a number of both local and western people taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and getting a swim in.

I walked for an hour and my first impression of Nha Trang (yet to be changed 36 hours later) is that it is a fairly soulless place. It is a beach town full of hotels, souvenier shops, bars, restaurants, travel shops and massage spas. There is no character and limited vibe to the place, Ok it was 6.30 AM, but Nha Trang makes no pretence to be anything but a beach and party town, and its main source of business is Russia. Some restaurants do not even bother with Vietnamese or English signs !

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I stopped for breakfast and a great filter coffee at one of the local cafes – things are cheap here but not cheap cheap, however I have not moved out of the tourist area yet.

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Mum – one of these filters is on the way to you in the post, but you may not want to use condensed milk.

On the way back from my walk I found a small barber directly over the road from my hotel and decided to check them out later for a shave. The last shave I had was about sixteen days ago and that was a tough one, so I thought I would leave it all up to the pros ! It was a good shave, took ages and I tipped almost as much as the cost of the shave – and still less than $5. Sure beats shaving myself : )

When I got back to the hotel I moved to my proper room, last night I was given a free upgrade as they “had a nice room free as long as i didn’t mind moving in the morning”. the proper room is just fine !

[edit] The recpetionist in the hotel didn’ recognise me when I came in this afternoon – she said I looked a lot younger – I sense a tip when I leave ! credit where it is due, the service in this hotel has been fabbo [end edit]

The rest of the day was spent relaxing again – I am starting to get a bit more energy back, and I after a bit of research I booked myself three dives with Angel Divers for tomorrow. I also booked a train ticket to Da Nang for Wednesday mid-day.

I planned on heading to the night market to suss it out and try to get some cheap street food for dinner when I spotted Ollie, one of the English guys from last night, walking into the bar almost over the road from my hotel so I decided to pop in and say hello and have a swifty beer. Six hours later I emerged from the bar to go back to my hotel room and prepare to get up for my dives in the morning….

Fortunately it was not as bad as it sounded, I did have a few beers, but kept it quiet and watched football with some mad keen West Brom. Fans – West Brom beat Liverpool, so happy days. It was a good night with Ollie and Gabby, Tom, Chris, Pa ddy – and I cannot remember his partners name… I had a nice chicken chilli for dinner but it was damn small and I went to bed hungry.

For not a lot happening it was a good day, I am glad I got a day of rest as I am starting to get physically and mentally tired, the diving should be fairly relaxing – in an active way ! I am really looking forward to getting under the water again.

Trains and beer do mix…

Day 108, Saturday 21 April 2012, HMC – Nha Trang

My last night in Saigon was OK, a wee bit of sleep was had and I woke up feeling OK, so not a bad start to the day. I went down for breakfast quite late by my normal standards at 8.30 – longest lie in for days. I was in no rush this morning. Had a good breakfast with an Aussie couple who were heading back to Sydney – luckily they had not watched the league test last night : )

I took everything out of my pack and gave it a shake to clear the accumulated dust out and then wondered how the hell it was going to go back in again – and why I have three full cans of warm beer to lug around (now only one can of cold beer in the fridge).

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I did some more photo uploading up blog writing and thank God I am almost caught up and then it was time to go down to the street and get my motorbike taxi to the station for the train to Nha Trang. The ride was ‘interesting’, first pillion ride in Saigon traffic, crazy.

I have decided to train this leg and if this works OK I will train to Da Nang. From Da Nang I will take the easy route and fly to Hanoi. The train is slower and more expensive than the bus, but I am expecting it to be safer and probably more secure.

The train left on time, yay for socialism – things are pretty reliable here in Vietnam. I was lucky and got a forward facing seat for the eight hour ride. The other westerners all had rear facing seats which must have been pretty awful.

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The journey started slowly through the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City, I was sitting next to a very grumpy man who had the window seat, I don’t think he liked a westerner sitting next to him, so I didn’t lean over him and snap pictures. However, the train runs so close to the walls of the buildings that any photos taken in the city would have been a blur, not that there is anything wronh with that of course. The line starts off (and may continue) as a single line so we frequently pulled into sidings to let other trains through, and vice versa. At one stop we were inundated with hawkers yelling and screaming to sell their wares, mainly fruit and drinks. The train however, sells plenty of food and drink – as i soon found out. We were soon out into the countryside and I grabbed a couple of snaps while my neighbour went for a smoke. The weather had packed in and we had quite a bit of rain for a while.

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About three hours into the ride, after I had just finished a book on my Kobo e-reader (I cannot recommend an e-reader enough if you like books, these are a must for travellers !) I was just kinda drifting off in my seat, when the guy in front passed me a beer poured into a bottle (in case I don’t like drinking from a can !) and introduced himself as Tam and his friend over the aisle as Duam (I think that is how it was spelt). Duam lives in HMC but has a wife and a son in a village 14 hours away by train. It was his sons first birthday tomorrow so they, plus Duam’s grandmother were heading up to the village for the celebration. Tam had pretty good English and Duam only a little, but they shared a good few beers with me and bought me some noodles and vege for dinner when the dinner trolley came past. Once dinner was over they introduced themselves to some English travellers sitting a few rows opposite and we all moved to the diner carriage so the poms could smoke. Tam bought a case of beer and we all sat down and drank it. Occasionally we were joined by the security guys on the train for a swift glass of beer and then my seat neighbour showed up as well. Apparently he is a ‘big boss’ not sure of what, but the guys all deferred to him – I don’t think it was anything bad/criminal, just he was an important man, elder or some such. He was pretty friendly actually, shook my hand, and later on gave me a glass of his beer.

Tam and I, I am not as drunk as my eyes or the healthy glow in my face suggest !

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It was a good time, we drank many toasts to train friendships and being able to share a beer with strangers for a few hours and have a good time. And soon enough we arrived in Nha Trang where all us westerners bade farewell to Tam and Duam and left the train.

I am sure that these things can end badly for us naive tourists, being scammed or robbed by “friendly” locals is something that happens all too frequently. I even left my (locked) bag with Duams grandmother while we went to the diner car. Call it foolhardy or risky, but I did spend a couple of hours with these guys first and they felt OK – yeah I know the scammers do to. But, sometimes with risk comes reward and i had a great time, they were nice guys on the way to a birthday.

A good night, and one that will go down as a highlight of my trip.

From the station I took a motorbike taxi (see my comment reply to a previous post ๐Ÿ™‚ ) to my hotel. I chose a hotel as they are so cheap here, $14 a night for aircon, TV, hot shower and fridge. I was even upgraded for free tonight to a room with a bath, which I had and would have enjoyed if I was five foot tall !

Today is Record Store day in NZ (possibly everywhere else as well) I got an email from my favourite record shop advising that as a one off, never to be repeated special they were releasing a limited edition vinyl recording of a Toy Love gig from 1979. Toy Love were an old NZ punk (ish) band and a favourite of mine. The release would be 400 vinyl pressings, no CD/DVD or digital release, so miss out on the vinyl and that would be it.

I asked my nephew, Fraser if he would mind trying to get a copy for me. He has a great taste in music for a young person as well as being guardian for all my records, CD’s and turntable while I am away, and does like visiting the store. Anyway he secured me a copy me a copy and for that I am very grateful, as well as very happy !

Here is an old clip of Toy Love from the 1979, Chris Knox the lead singer is an icon in NZ alternative music and sadly had a stroke in 2009, he survived but his ability to make music was ended. It was a sad day for music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8g2DBHNvLU

Vice Versa – Vung Tau to Saigon

Day 107, Friday April 20 2012, Vung Tau – HMC

I had a terrible sleep last night, for some reason I could not get my body tempreture down, even with the air con blasting away I was hot all night long and barely slept. I had a lovely room in Chris and Trish’s house with the most awesome sci-fi shower, I took a photo, but it was crap!

I was up at 6.30 and had a brief chat with Chris befor he left for work, George was up soon after me as we had decided to go visit the Big Buddha together, and get out as early as possible before the heat got up. Apart from the beach Vung Tau’s (VT) key attractions are a big Jesus statue (supposedly bigger than the Brazilian one) a lighthouse and recently a big Buddha (competition to Big J. maybe ?) These are all located on small hills on the Sth China Sea side of VT. Each of the hills had old war time gun emplacements as well.

George and I were out the door and in a cab by 8.00 for the short ride to the base of the big Buddha hill, the hill also has a small amusement park type thing at the top, with a short cable car to get there ( a la Ba Na hills in Da Nang). The Buddha was Ok, there was also a cave underneath, which has been either recently built or recently renovated – hard to tell. P1120334

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There was small zoo with some porcupines, pigs, ostriches and deer living in terrible conditions that would never be allowed in the west, some of the deer were in a bad state and I felt for the poor beasts. There was also a luge on a rollercoaster track which was a bit of fun and we had a few goes, I never made it down without touching the brakes though I am sure it is possible.

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We caught the cable car back down and George went home and grabbed a motorbike taxi and got a ride to the base of the big Jesus via the lighthouse.

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The lighthouse offered a good view of Big J. and VT .

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I liked this graffiti on an old French gun emplacement on the hill, well i liked the fact that though I am 99% sure it was written by Vietnamese it is in English, this is quite common.

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The walk up to big J. was gruelling, if it was NZ I would have run up it, but even at 9.30 AM it was hot, I just put my head down and ploughed on up, the Vietnamese and Chinese tourists struggled upwards and I passed a lot them sitting in pools of sweat on the way. You can climb up the inside of big J and the view from his shoulders was pretty big.

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I had arranged to meet Trish and George for lunch so started heading back to the house on foot from Big J. I expected to be met by a motorcycle taxi within the thirty seconds of hitting the road but for a change this didn’t happen and I ended up walking along the water front for an hour, before one finally found me a hundred metres from my destination!

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I went straight into the pool to cool down ! For lunch Trish took George and I (individually) on the back of her motorbike to a local cafe that specialises in Banh Khot, one of the local specialities. You get served a bowl of soup , which you soak some rice noodles, mixed with chilli paste that you add as you like, some local herbs, lettuce leaves and rice pancakes with a shrimp on top.

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You then wrap the pancake, herbs and noodles in a lettuce leaf and dip in the sauce – very nice !

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After lunch I picked up a USB flash drive from a local store and grabbed a whole pile of new music from Georges collection – so nice to have some new stuff to listen to : ) and soon after it was time to get on the ferry back to Saigon.

Many thanks to Chris, Trish and George for inviting me into their home and feeding me a wonderful home cooked meal. It was a touch of home that I missed and very much appreciated : )

Back in town I was sent off to a sister hotel as the Luan Vu was full (I expected this !) but it was a bit cheaper and just as good so no bother to me. The view out the window.

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I wandered around Bui Vien and had dinner and then discovered the NZ v Australia Anzac rugby league test on a TV in a bar so went and watched, a depressing, final twenty minutes as we lost to Australia 20-12. Oh well….

I picked up a small bottle of whisky for about $10 bucks and had a shot while I did a belated blog post.

PS – I must learn to proof read before posting and not after…