Tam Coc

Day 119 , Wednesday 02 May, 2012, Tam Coc.

I was put in a new room last night, pretty crap really, TV doesn’t work, bed squeaks really badly and internet is painfully slow, if I can connect at all. There is also no window, reasonably common in some places, but first one time in Vietnam.

I awoke with some trepidation as today I am going to do another tour and after the disappointment of Ha Long Bay I am worried it is going to be another long and tiresome day, at least it is only the one day.

I was picked up late, which is never a great start for me, and I will say pretty unusual for Vietnam, in my experience things generally happen on time. I jumped on the mini-bus to find I was the only westerner and my immediate thought was Oh shit, here we go again ! we did pick up an American girl at another hotel, and once full we were off.

The tour goes to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. Hoa Lu was the first capital of Vietnam under the Dinh dynasty from 968 – 980 and the Li dynasties from 980 – 1009. The capital was then moved to Hanoi. Tam Coc is known as Ha Long Bay on rice paddies. Both sounded interesting.

Level crossing Hanoi styles, spot the odd person out !

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First stop, of course, was a cafe/souvenir shop half way along the four hour drive to Hoa Lu. I started talking cameras with the guy next to me in the cafe and he was in a group of three couples from Miri in Malaysian Borneo (and I place I much enoyed !), like many Malay Chinese they all had great English and were interested to know I had been to their home town. I hung with them for the rest of the day, so yay – I had some tour buddies ! This is obviously no fake !

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All along the highway outside of Hanoi there are miles of paddy fields, the area between the Red River and the sea is very productive. A lot of communities and families have rice paddies, vegetable gardens and often a large pond full of fish and ducks, they can be quite self sufficient. Many of the rice paddies will have burial sites in the middle, some quite large and others with just a single grave. Unfortunately I really didn’t get a chance to capture one properly from the bus.

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The limestone hills are not going to last long !

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Hoa Lu has been pretty much destroyed over the years and there are two key sites left which are the temple sites to the two dynasties, we visited King Dinh first.

King Dinh

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Number one son

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Next stop was King Li’s temple, though my picture of Mr Li sucked, so it is not here.

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I was going to do a bike ride from Hoa Lu to Tam Coc, it is only 12km, but I was the only one who had registered for it, and it was 41.5 degrees outside, yep it sure as hell was hot! I decided to take the bus with the others. Later that night I met some Canadians who had done it the day before (it was only 39 then) and they said the first 500 metres was Ok, then it was gruelling – and the last 7kms were through houses and very dull – he also got sun stroke, so I am glad I chose not to do it.

We had a buffet lunch in Tam Coc, this was the best feed I have had a tour – great variety of foods, and eating with the Malaysians I got to experiment a bit, the goat kebabs were charcoaled though and uneatable – or maybe the goat was tough, not sure. The restaurant sold hats – and believe me, you needed one, it was scorching.

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Token bicycle shot…

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The afternoons activity was a two hour boat ride through the rice paddies on the Ngo Dong river, we were rowed by a local woman.

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As “The Guide” says, it turns into a surreal sales experience, sadly they also demand a tip, which is embarrassing for all. However, the trip was great, quiet and gentle for the most part, there are a huge number of boats, and I can assure you the Vietnamese drive these like they ride motorbikes, no one gives way until the yelling is over…

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The river gently meanders through rice paddies, surrounded by magnificent limestone bluffs, with the occasional temple and house along the way. On three occasions we passed through low caves in the lime stone bluffs.

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A lot of the men and women row with their feet, which is just amazing to watch, their are also a large number of local photographers, who snap your photo, whether you want it or not and then try to flog you an appalling printed image at the end. This woman was rowing and snapping at the same time, awesome !

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After the river we were back on the bus for the ride back to Hanoi. As we were dropping off some of the other guests I recognised the street where my favourite cafe was, so I got dropped off. I found Moom on the first night in Hanoi, and have been unable to find it since, and not through a lack of trying either ! I had a couple of beers and a small pizza with a Canadian couple and a young English t guy, and at nine I wandered back to my hotel for some sleep – the bestest sleep ever !!

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 🙂

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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 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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Walk around Saigon

Day 105, Wednesday 18 April 2012, HMC

Remarkably I was feeling OK after a few cocktails and beers last night, I think the cocktails were weaker than when they are at full price ! We were up early to get out while the day was still ‘cool’ and were at the market by 6.30 am, which was too early for most of the non-food related stalls.

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We walked round the fish section and found bucket loads of eels and squid and octopus.

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As well as the inevitable motorcycle – smoked pork anyone ?

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We stopped for a heart starter coffee in the middle of the market and this was one of the best I have had in Vietnam, as well as cheap.

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And then walked on to Notre Dame Cathedral, which was not open till 8.00 am, we then headed off to the Revolutionary Museum, but that too was closed so it was off to a street stall for pho for breakfast. See my new man bag ? “North Face” bag, $12… so much easier than humping a day pack around.

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Then back to Notre Dame for a quick look inside, I loved the floor tiles, especially if you get down low !

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Getting to Notre Dame was a real challenge, it is on a large traffic Island and things were moving quickly through here.

Then a walk back to the museum, there was no photography allowed in the museum, but I had to take a photo of that loo doorway !

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It was still early in the day, though stinking hot, so we decided to take the long walk back to the hotel and went via the Ton Duc museum – boring, Ton Duc was a past president of Vietnam, and the Ho Chi Minh museum, which was almost as boring – they both were comprised mainly of photos of them shaking hands with people… though the walk around is always good.

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By this stage it was about 11.00 and we were in need of more coffee and some food so decided t head back into the centre to look for cafes. We decided to try the really tall building, the Bitexco financial Tower to see if they had a viewing area and cafe, they did…. the viewing area was expensive at $12 NZ a head, but the view was fantastic from just below the helicopter pad. Coffee was outrageous so we didn’t have one there.P1120256

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We decided to find a supermarket and get some bread and cheese and just get back to the guesthouse to cool down and eat there, however at the mall we found a Highland Coffee and took shelter there over coffee and lunch before venturing back out into the mid-day heat back to the GH. I picked up this pack of biscuits at the supermarket – Arsenal and chocolate chip cookies, too of my favourite things !

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I spent the afternoon catching up on blog posts (again) and chilling in the coolness of an air conned room, cookies were crap…

At 6.00pm we took a walk back into town again.

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And had a couple of drinks at the Saigon bar at the Caravelle hotel. The Caravelle is where foreign journalists were based during the Vietnam war and the bar is still the same – though the hotel has been upgraded since. Leonie bought us a couple of drinks as she was heading back to New Zealand (and an income !) tomorrow and they were expensive – but very nice – Thanks Leonie 🙂

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On the walk back to the hotel we find these guys watering the gardens, subtle huh !

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By the time we got to the local restaurant we were whacked so grabbed a takeaway and ate in the room and slept.

Cocktail hour or two

Day 104, Tuesday 17 April 2012, HMC

Slow start to the day, though I wanted a down day to catch up on some blog posts as I am starting to get behind the eight ball again. Leonie had not been to the war remnants museum so she left early and I lounged around in the room for most of the morning trying to plan the next few weeks.

I put together a bit of a plan for Vietnam, Laos and Nth Thailand and realised I do not have enough time to do everything I want as well as do justice to Sri Lanka, so have decided to flag Sri Lanka this time and will go back there for a proper trip another day, so I will stay here as long as possible and go direct to London.

So….. with all this mind, I have booked myself a flight to the UK on Malaysia Airways, from KL on fifth June ! This gives me eight more weeks in SE Asia.

After Leonie got back and had time to cool down we went off to find some vege food for lunch, we found a nice Sth Indian restaurant on Bui Vien (the main tourist drag) and I had an exceptionally good vege korma and mango lassi – possibly the best korma I have had – it was that good !

After lunch I took a walk around some of the back alleys of Bue Vien.

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It is incredibly hot here at the moment, the sun is brutal and even a few minutes in the early afternoon is enough to get a major sweat on, so I soon headed back to the guest house for an air con respite. I got a whole pile of washing done and hand washed my day bag as it was rank and dusty as all heck – you should have seen the colour of the water !

Late in the afternoon, I was reading the blog of someone who “liked” one of my posts and she had been to the bar on level 23 of the Sheraton Hotel in HMC for happy hour and sunset . The photos were fab, so Leonie and I decided to make a rapid twenty minute walk over to the Sheraton to get there before the two for one cocktailsshappy hour finished. It was rush hour…

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We had a couple of drinks

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And admired the awesome view over Saigon as the sunset.

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The famous Caravelle Hotel

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After a few drinks and a wee wee stop – love the ashtrays in the loos….

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We walked passed the Louis Vuitton shop, amongst other big brands,

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Then had dinner at a street stall, and no, I had none of these options. Though I was not entirely sure what the ‘seafood’ I did have was.

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The Mekong Delta Tour

Days 101 -103, Sat/Sun/Mon 14-16 April 2012, Mekong Delta tour

A new first – a three day post. I have managed to post pretty consistently for the past hundred days, odd glitch here and there, but the record has been pretty good I reckon. My enthusiasm for it is waning some what, I am not sick of doing it, I still enjoy the photography and the review and selection of images and I still enjoy the writing, once I get going. It is the getting going that is the hard part !

I decided to do a tour of the Mekong rather than try and get around on my own, the guide book said it was easier and cheaper, and on reflection it was probably correct, all up the tour for three days and two nights, including one dinner, was $60NZD. I would be pushing to do that on my own.

I was disappointed, with the tour, not really the tour’s fault, maybe I was more disappointed with the Mekong Delta, as the most fertile area in SE Asia I was expecting to see vast rice paddies and the ‘typical’ rural community that I have seen elsewhere, of thatched huts and water buffalo. However for most of the eighteen hours I spent on mini-buses and vans over the three days we passed through town after town and after town, with virtually no breaks between. So I got to see a whole lot of houses and shops. I found out on the tour that twenty two million people live in the delta, with a large number living on the main road and water ways. The tour also took us to a few small businesses (as expected, though not all had shops !) including a honey farm, fruit farm, rice noodle making and coconut candy. The highlights were a home stay that I did one night plus the time on river systems that make up the delta.

As this is a three day post there are a few photos here, so I will let them do most of the talking…

Day 1. There a three tour options for the Delta, 1, 2 or 3 day and we all started out on the same mini-bus and over the few days we changed vehicle five times and people joined and left at various locations on the way. There was only four of us who made it to the end ! The mini-bus was pretty cramped – built for Vietnamese legs not Western ones and the ride was fairly long to Ben Tre (I think) where got on board the first boat of the tour and visited Dragon Island, where we got to hear some traditional Sth Vietnamese music.

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I discovered that they have the eyes on the front of the boats to scare away the crocodiles – and old tradition.

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Then on to some small canoes for a short but very crowded ride up a small river, that seemed a wee bit pointless – my paddler – seemed women did most of the work.

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The Vietnamese paddle canoes like they ride motorcycles !

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We hopped back on the boat and off to a coconut candy making place.

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And then to Phoenix Island for lunch and we finally were allowed to roam. A few of us grabbed bicycles and went for a ride. The bike guy was the surliest person I have come across in Asia so far, man he was miserable – even worse than the grumpy guy at Inle Lake when I didn’t pay to take photos. Of the five boys bikes all were un-rideable for various reasons so I took a chicks bike and he was not happy, I asked (via hand signals and pointing) for him to pump up the tyres that were flat on two of the boys bikes, and he just sat down with his back to me, so that I thought “f**k you Jimmy” and rode off. We only had thirty minutes but had a nice (though hot) ride up the side of the river.

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We then drove to Can Tho where the five us of doing a home stay were picked up by the homestay man (HM) and i have really stupidly forgotten his name. It was dark by now so the fifteen minute ride in the taxi followed by another fifteen in a canoe up the river were interesting. HM lived with his wife, two children and her (I think) parents on a small tributary off a larger tributary of the Mekong. We had no idea of what to expect, though he did tell us that five of us will sleep in the room with the five of them and it would be cosy (his English was great) though he also had a wicked sense of humour and when we arrived we found we all had basic bungalows along the river side with bed, fan and mozzie net.

As it was late his family had already eaten so we had dinner together and were shown how to roll spring rolls filled with fresh elephant fish, rice noodles and vegetables. The food was great.

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This was followed by a few (quite a few) rounds of rice wine shots to the call of Mot, Hai Ba, Yo!, (1 2 3 – drink – guess Yo is drink !). I was the only one brave (or stupid) enough to try some of the snake wine, this is a stronger (40%) rice win that has a small cobra and scorpion in the bottle – I have yet to get a good photo of this. It was fine – no stronger than a shot of scotch and tasted like a normal rice wine. Rice wine is the local home brew and tasted like sake, just stronger. It was a fun night, but fortunately over by 9.30.

Day 2. Up at 6.00 for breakfast at 6.30.

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As is the norm in SE Asia, the river is the source of everything, washing of our dinner dishes.

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Mrs HM checking the nets – do you love that single trunk bamboo bridge to the neighbours ?

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HM

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We were on the boat by 7.00 for the ride up a confusing collection of channels and tributaries back to Can Tho where we met up with the rest of the group who had elected to stay in a hotel, I think we had the most fun, the ride up river was a highlight of the tour.

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Once back on the main boat we visited one of the floating markets at Can Tho.

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Some of the boats have poles sticking up with what ever they are selling attached, though the pineapple seller forgo the pole thing.

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A trip to a rice noodle making place – the most interesting of the making things places we visited.

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A fruit orchard – with a bamboo bridge specially for photographic purposes.

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And some more time on the river

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A gas station.

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It was then back on the bus for a couple of hours (thank god for MP3 players) of driving through never ending towns to Long Xuyen, where we visited a crocodile farm – fortunately they only farmed and sold live animals from here, though the conditions were not ideal. This religious scene was in the entrance, I liked the armless child and was wondering if they had fallen in…

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Moving the one year old crocs to a new pen.

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Back into the van and another thirty minutes up to Chau Doc where we visited a hillside temple built in 1747 on Sam Mountain (278 metres, so a small mountian). Sadly it was fully renovated in 1980 !!

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There was a cave with buddha and monk statues though my shots are all blurry. There was a great wall with shutters though ! I love simple lines and colours.

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From there it was a quick ride to the hotel, where three of us had to go and sleep in a separate hotel to the other 8 people as there was no room. At the second hotel they tried to put the three of us, a couple and me into one room, we told them NO WAY, which they accepted, though my twin room had a mouse pooh on one of the beds ! Oh well. We caught up with the others for a good meal in a local cafe and then another early night. Hotel reception and parking lot.

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Lonely Planet describes Chau Doc as “charming”, perhaps they were drunk when they visited.

Day 3. Up early again as off to walk a couple of hundred metres to the river at 7.00 where boarded a boat and went to visit a floating village. I loved the motors on the back of the houses.

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I tried to get the contrast between the floating houses, the river side shanties and the comparatively wealthy city folk.

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And then to a Cham minority still village, where we were shown some silk weaving. The Cham people record the flood levels each year – hence the houses on stilts….

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The Cham are muslims and we visited the local mosque.

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From there it was back on the van, then a bus and finally a horribly cramped mini-bus for the six or so hours back to Saigon.

This was one of the few glimpses of paddy fields through the endless towns.

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One of the few towns that was interesting as it had a small river between the road and the houses.

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One of the many many bridges we crossed.

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Relentless towns…

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I arrived back in Saigon about 5.00 and Dan’s sister Leonie had already arrived from Hanoi, after a shower we went out for dinner at the place I went to with Hayley, Mark and Malcolm we then went and had a couple of drinks on the side of Bui Vien, the road we are staying on, it is a bit of a small scale Ko Sahn Rd, with small liquor stalls filled with young westerners getting shickered on $2 drinks. We didn’t stay out late!

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Hmm, didn’t let the photos do too much talking did I!

War Remnants Museum

Day 100, Friday 13 April 2012, HMC

Wow, one hundred days on the road, and still enjoying it too!

All the remaining wedding guests were flying home today so some of us agreed to meet at the War Remnants Museum as it opened at 7.30 AM, a fifteen minute walk from both our hotels. The museum was interesting, I loved the names of some of the collections – obviously the Vietnamese side of the story is so different to what we have learned in the west.

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I really enjoyed the photograph collection, there was a very good exhibition by photojournalists from both sides who were killed during both the French and American wars, including Robert Capa who is one of my favourite photojournalists. This photo shows how dangerous it was (excuse the reflection !) This Japanese photographer survived the experience, though I neglected to note his name.

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As we were walking the exhibition we were invaded by a hundred or so Vietnamese school children, I must have said hello to each one at least twice, they were very friendly and their smiles were quite catching – especially in such a place as this.

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I enjoyed the museum, it was getting a bit crowded when we left, so it got harder to see and read the information – it was pretty biased, but not terribly so, and the section on Agent Orange and its effect on families even 40 years later was quite moving.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped for a filter coffee, Vietnamese style, then found out it was $3 – five times the price of a coffee in Da Nang, so was pretty pissed off. I wont go back there again thats for sure.

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In all the cities I have visited in Vietnam I have seen sculptures in parks, I really liked this piece, though there is no information about it.

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At lunch time we wandered over to the Rex Hotel to meet everybody else, Dan had been in to the hospital that morning and had some sort of chest infection, he was not moving from his bed, not a great way to end his wedding week. Those of us feeling up to it went and had a swim in the hotel pool, luxury ! and then I bade every one farewell and went back to my guest house so they could finish packing and head to the airport.

The view from the Rex, the modern business centre.

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And the contrast, Socialist Republic of Vietnam flag against the Sheraton hotel.

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I have arranged to share a room with Dan’s sister Leonie for a couple of days, when she returns to HMC from Hanoi on the 16th, so booked myself on a three day Mekong Delta tour starting tomorrow morning.

I haven’t had a good walk around the streets of HMC yet, but this show how narrow they are in the backpacker area.

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I had dinner in a local bar, got ripped off on expensive beer and watched half a game of rugby league – Dragons v Knights. I miss rugby league !

Goodbye to a bunch of very nice people, Dans mum – Jessie, bro – Russell, cousin Karen and friends, Hayley and Mark, Malcolm, Nolan, Debs and Keelan (apologies for spelling names wrong : )) It was great meeting you all and I really enjoyed hanging out with everyone. Many many thanks to Dan and Van for having me at the wedding, you are a great couple and it has been lovely to meet your families.
I also want to say a special thanks to Van for organising everything for us, the trips, the buses and hotels. All was great and so very much appreciated ! Van – you are a star !