Saturday, 1 November 2008

Another day at Dung's.

18/6 - Up for a shower, a manual, cold one and it does the trick and blows away the cobwebs. There's somemore visiting to be done today, someone has phoned to ask why we didn't go to see them yesterday. Dung's Dad is one of 9 and 7 of them live around here. Dung's uncle Hiep, finally got me fishing, but I caught nowt. He did thought and came trotting over with it dangling from the rod. We ate it for lunch. Yesterday's forgotten visitors were glad to see us and others called whilst we were there, to check out the ugly Englishman. Dung is a dab hand at sheperding me aoong to the next stop. We made it back for lunch and everyone is trying to fatten me up again, so I put my foot down and Dung promptly stepped on it. The fish here is smashing and as I said, very fresh. We were on the fresh, roll your own, spring rolls, made with rice paper and very nice too, even though I wasn't allowed to roll my own, Dung has seen me mess them up before. The day moved on and it is time to move onto An Binh, near Vinh Long. Dung has to be back at work on tomorrow. I think the family have spent money they don't have to feed me up. It has been an eye opener and a great experience. You don't get more Vietnamese than this.
We get a taxi to a street corner in HCMC and a minibus turns up to pick us up after about 15 minutes. I didn't know she had booked it and was ready to flag down any passing minibus that looked like it might head to Vinh Long. A ferry across the Mekong in Vinh Long and then a moto to the digs in Hoa Ninh. I have stayed here before, the people are smashing and chuffed to see me and Dung again. It's a chill place to stay. Dung is hungry, as always, so we get into a bowl of Hu Tieu, noodle soup, but the real stuff, not the stuff in a pot.
Another day done and it's good to be back in Vietnam.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Back to Vietnam

17/6 - Waiting in KL for the HCMC flight and being a clever lad, I left my Malaysian money in the bag I checked in. "Wally" springs to mind, but I have a big bar of dark chocolate I picked up in NZ, so I wont waste away and there was plenty of grub on the flight.
Into HCMC and my bag turned up. I wasn't convinced it would, I shouldn't be so sceptical. Out into the madding crowd, back in Asia. There are hundreds of people milling around, so I couldn't spot Dung, even though she is tall for a Vietnamese. Her brothers girlfriend spotted me, which I thought was very clever, as we hadn't met before. I'd forgotten how hot it gets here, but was reminded when I started to melt, I don't hold out much hope for the chocolate I have left.
Dung has invited me to go to her parents. How could I say no, but I didn't want to. They have come on 2 motos, one borrowed from Dung's auntie Ut, so I hopped on with Luan, her brother and he put my rucksack in front of him, no problem. We had quite a natter on the way to Duc Hoa, their home, which was good considering the traffic in HCMC is like a death ride. Luan speaks better English than Dung, we had a good natter about all sorts, football being a big hit. Dung's village is about 20Km from HCMC, so it took us about 45 minutes from the airport. Along the way the 2 motos were often side by side and everyone nattering. Riding motos is 2nd nature to the Vietnamese. Dung's home is down a track off the main road, about 1Km. Dung told me they are poor and the house certainly backs that up, but it's like going to my Mam's, everyone if very friendly and welcoming. I got the traditional tea and the introductions are made, then we are off to the kitchen for some lunch. 2 of Dung's uncles are here too, giving me the once over I guess. I was given beer and the rest passed the ruou around, rice wine. There is lots of Yo going on, the same as Cheers and drink up. It is a proper family meal, just like in the Grumpy Old Man's days and food is constantly dropped into my bowl, the custom. Everyone is making a big fuss of me, which is not how I like it, but it is good of everyone. After lunch we go to visit Dung's Grandad and Grandma. They live with her uncle, as he is the youngest and tradition dictates that is usually the norm. He is the youngest of 9 and gets a lot of land from his father for the trouble of looking after him. It looks like Dung's Grandad has had a stroke and he told me, via Dung, that he has been in bed for 2 years, but he still manages to smile. He wanted me to lie down and nap with him, but I managed to put it off until the next visit. There are about 10 others here, checking me out, Dung is good, fussing over her Grandad, in fact she makes a fuss of everyone and it seems very proud of me. Her Uncle Hiep tried to get me to go fishing with him, but there is too much going on at the moment. Dung fielded the barrage of questions and everyone is smiling and laughing, I don't know what she is telling them. Dung managed to move us on, back to her house for a nap, the girl is flagging a bit and so am I, but it is not easy to sleep with all the excitement around. I don't get too hot, as everywhere I go, someone appears to plug in a fan. It's like I have one tied to my leg.
Dinner is lots of food again. I can't eat like the Vietnamese, but am constantly encouraged to do so. There's squid, pork, fish, veg and Luan tells me to eat quicker. The rice wine is flowing, but I stick to a beer. Everywhere we go we get tea, but not always the time to drink it before I am moved on. Dung's Mam, Nu, is drifting around in the background doing most of the work, much like Khien's Grandma. She is watching me like a hawk. Understandable.
Next stop, Tu's, Luan's girlfriends. Her house is attached to a Buddhist temple, her Grandma founded after being released from American custody at the end of the war. She seems to have been a bit of a heroine and Tu's Great Grandad is famous throughout Vietnam for standing up to the French. I had better not cause any bother here!! The temple acts as a temporary shelter for poor people and there is a lot of faith healing going on, while I sit around watching. It looks very dramatic, lots of incense smoke and people flopping into monks arms. There is lots of fruit being dished out and I got offered loads. We stayed in the temple, sat on a bench/table/bed, it acted as all 3. Everyone is very curious and friendly with the whitey from Blighty.
Back to Dung's to settle for the night. It is poorer than I expected. There is not a lot of privacy. No need to shout "Goodnight John Boy" here, if you whisper it the house next door will probably reply. There's no upstairs in these houses, no walls to the ceiling and no doors, but it is very homely. The Dutch have a good word to describe it, "Gezellig".
Good night John Boy, time to kip.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

On the move again.

16/6 - I packed last night, so only had to get up and go, well checkout too. I dried my towel in the drier and lobbed my backpack into a locker and hit the streets to find some breakfast fayre, fair or fare and if none of that some food. Bacon and eggs for the second day running, but cheaper and better. How does that work Grandad? Beats me, just enjoy it. Soon it will be noodles or rice again.
Had a quick e-fix and it was time to hit the road to the airport. $13 on the bus to the airport. $30 on the way in, so it's not just the Asians that try the rip off. Checked in and my bag should go all the way to HCMC on its own, with no intervention from me. We'll see. The Kiwis hit you with an unannounced $25 exit tax, a sneaky little move that one. Creditcards accepted. Airport security here and in Aus it tight. I got pulled up because I never put my plastic bag with my toothpaste and deodorant outside my bag. The security bloke was a real dour bugger. I think he would have put me infront of a firing squad for being so stupid. The bloke infront of me had to take the perfume prsents he'd bought, out of the packaging, put them in a clear plastic bag, then repack them once through security. "What's that all about Grandad?". Beats me darling! Through without being executed and chilling, but without a beer. That's becoming a bad habit.
On the plane on the first leg back to Vietnam. It's an hour late, but that's not a bad thing, I've a big wait in Brisbane. In Brisbane, but no boarding pass as yet and the transfer desk is shut. Everybody seems casual about it, there's a sign on the transfer desk for Thai Airways saying go to the gate an hour before boarding, but that's not a lot of use to me, I'm flying with Malaysia Air, but everyone seems to think that is the thing to do, so I had a toastie and a coffee and chilled, then chilled some more, then headed for the gate. The Malaysia Air bloke eventually turned up, so I went over. Guess what he said??? "Go to the transfer desk." I should have known really. The transfer desk wasn't fast, but she was smiley. She said "Ah Mr Brooks, where have you been?" In the bloody queue love!!. Sorted to HCM now and we're on the plane, all but one pillock, so their bags had to be offloaded, but we got away an hour and a bit late, for KL. I have a 3 hour wait there, so it is tighter than Brisbane, but should be no problem. I told myself not to watch any telly onboard and get some shut eye, so I watched a telly and got a bit of shut eye. There was an ignorant Hindu bloke sat next to me, but I didn't let him get to me, I just punched him in the mouth. As iffffffffffffff.
He handed his packet of peanuts to his wife, across the aisle, which I thought was very nice, until she handed them back after opening them for him. Tosser.
I must be tired, using pillock and tosser in the same post. Into KL and the longest leg is done, just a short hop now to HCMC.

Nothing much to report on a chill day.

15/6 - the legs are tiring a bit, so an easy day today, dhobi and a bit of ironing, a walk and a chill in a pub that brews its own beer and very nice it is too. Just like a home from home. The food was good too, but I suppose lamb should be in New Zealand. The banoffee pie was a bit disapointing, probably because I wanted the apple and pear crumble, but they did it with whipped cream, not custard. Morons. I could have stayed, but didn't trust myself to stagger home. The pub is called Galbraiths, just in case you visit Auckland, it is worth calling for a beer, there is a good selection, there looked to be plenty of wine too, but I never tried it or it would definitely have been a bad stagger home, as it was I strolled back for a read, a shave and a shower, but probably not in that order.
I told you it was an easy day. I surprised myself by sticking to a plan, well more of an ad-lib than a plan.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Match day.

14/6 - Match day and Mick is picking me up around midday to give me the tourist tour before tonights kick off and a good job he does of it too. 1st stop was Mount Eden, an extinct volcano, I hope, but judging by the grass in the crater it is extinct. It's a great view from up there and Mick is an informative guide. I never tried to tackle the crater and a good job too, judging by the state of a couple of Yanks who came to the top looking like a couple of leaves of wet lettuce, well and truely knackered. I hadn't seen Mick for donkeys years, well 7, and we only worked together a few months, but it is like we are age old buddies. He has some good stories to tell and being Welsh, likes to talk.
Off for some snap next, Mick needs an energy boost. I guess down to Michelle. What he had will certainly put fire in his engine, Titirangi something or other. It has all sorts in it on thick bread. There was bacon, syrup, fruit and other bits and pieces. Kiwi food I suppose. I opted for good old fashioned mince on toast and I'd already had breakfast, but I am trying to fatten up a bit. Asia has dropped some weight off me. The cold climate certainly encourages me to eat, but it also stiffens me up, so swings and roundabouts.
Off to another hill this time, with a different view, logically and then off to the beach, with black sand, but a smashing place. It's about 20-30 minutes from Auckland. The surfers are out and there are some smashing waves, barrel or tubes or whatever they are called, but Mick reckons it is calm. These are better waves than Manly beach, but the beach is a bit tighter, not so sprawling and there are some dodgy looking rocks to clatter into. From what I've seen so far, this is a beautiful country and I suspect it will get even better away from the cities, although Mick tells me the rural parts are very rural and the people very rough and ready.
Back to Mick's now to dump the motor, so beer will be the order of the night around the rugby. Mick had a power nap, while I surfed. Michelle again I reckon. He's renting a smashing place, just right. Lots of houses in New Zealand, or around here, are single storey with good sized gardens, just right for me, but I don't live here. Mick had ordered a taxi before crashing and it came while I was still surfing the net and Mick was still trying to pretty himself up, in vain. A week wouldn't have been enough. Into the taxi and off to Eden Park, via the pub of course. There was a good atmosphere in the pub, some good banter and more English fans than I thought there would be, most are with Kiwis as the majority are ex-pats. A few beers and out to pick up a monster burger and it was delicious and just what the doctor ordered before the game and after the beer. I wish I could remember the name of the chain. Into the ground, which isn't big, so is quite choca and a sell out. it's a neat ground with both ends open, not good for NZ weather, but like I have mentioned, they are rufty tufties here. We are in the posh seats, so under cover whimps. The pre-match show was pretty good. Black knights fighting white knights. It looked like a draw to me, if that is possible in a battle. The game was good, I enjoyed it all. We were a bit overwhelmed by the All Blacks to begin with, but the English support was good and the team dug in. Both time they looked like getting hammered they dug deep and held in there. The Kiwi fans are super critical. They were winning by 15 points and booing the team. I was taken aback a bit, or would be if I understood aback. I think the fans are in need of a "don't take it so serious" injection. It has been a good night and we retired to the posh lounge under the stand. Anyone is allowed in, the people on the doors seem to there only to say hello and smile, it was very relaxed and a friendly atmosphere, good Grumpy Old Man material for the stuffy Brit equivalent. The Kiwis take the game very seriously, but before and after the game are very chilled. Perhaps because they expect to win before and afterwards they had. We had a couple in here, then it was off to a pub for a couple more. The social scene in NZ seems good news, friendly and relaxed.
Taxi time, so luckily, I don't have to tackle the hostel heartattack hill. I have had beer overload this weekend, so that should take back a notch on my belt.
The door was still open tonight, so I didn't have to cower before the big Kiwi doorman.
A good day all around. Thanks Mick.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Off around Auckland again.

13/6 - Up not to brightly and the weather is not so bright either, overcast and mizzle off and on. By the time I'd had my porridge and toast, both me and the weather had brightened, so I set off to go to Mount Eden and ended up in the Domain, a big park in Auckland. Another plan goes array. I left Mount Eden for Sunday. This is the most benchless park I've seen in my life. There's a big old tree full of yellow leaves even though it had shed a lot, this being the winter of Auckland. It looked very pretty and to enhance this even further, I parked my bum underneath it to eat the sausage rolls and custard tart I purchased on the way here. Very nice they were too, so I set my pack down for a pillow and had a read and an unscheduled nap. I was lying there contemplating the world and a loud yelling rose behind me. I glanced up to see a schoolbus full of kids yelling and waving atthe old fella lying under the golden tree, so I waved back and the volume went up a few notches. Sounds like a fairy story, with children, the old fella and a golden tree, but be careful who you are calling a fairy, especially in New Zealand. This strikes me as a place where men are men and fairies are very quiet.

The school bus was like a modernised version of the Vietnamese kids on their bikes, that I experienced with Khien on the Ho Chi Minh trail ride. It gladened my heart and gave me and the kids a big smile. Time to move on in case the police come and lock me up as a vagrant. I headed up the hill, no surprise in Auckland, and out of the park, back to dump my bag, as I'm meeting Mick, my Welsh-Kiwi mate later. With my load lightened, I set off for town. I did a bit of window shopping, but the England shirts were too expensive at $130 ($2 to the pound, roughly).

I'd heard Viaduct Quay is the place to be, so that is where I headed. It is certainly buzzing and looks like the after work drinking and nosh spot. The quay is surrounded by bars and restaurants and the water is full of very expensive boats. This is where the America's cup fraternity base themselves. It is very yuppy-like, in not too bad a way. I elected to go into the Irish bar for my fodder, but they had open fires blazing and it was red hot, so I settled for a Guiness, very nice too and then slipped around the corner to the Thai Chilli, a very good move. I had a green curry, there was lots of it and very tasty too. After stoking the engine, I headed on up the road to meet Mick in the London pub. I was running late, or would have been if I could run. I was only 10 minutes late, the pedestrian crossing here take forever, it's the same in Aus and I'm very impressed at how most people obey them. There was a live band in the pub playing jazz, but we didn't do much listening, I'm ashamed to say. Mick had invited a lass along from work, he was hitting on. We had a good laugh over more beers than I've had for a long while, thank goodness the bar closed at midnight, I'd had enough. Out of practice. I was surprised Mick was ready for the off too, but when I remembered the lady, I wasn't. I had the blooming hill to look forward too, but it flew by. It was good to see an old buddy and have a good natter. Michelle, the lady, is good fun too. When I parted from her and Mick, part way up Queens St. she seemed to be warming to Mick and I certainly warmed when I hit the hostel hill. It was late, so I had to knock up the doorman, in the nicest sense of the phrase, he was a big Kiwi. Then I hit the sack, a happy man.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

For Yvonne and anyone else still reading this.

20/9 - I am currently in Vietnam, with a very nice, young lady. I will be heading back to the UK on 4/11, with Dung, the lady, in tow and then possibly back here in January. Who knows???? Certainly not me.
Thanks for reading this and I'll try to get it finished soon. I lost the bug, but have it back.

And on to NZ

12/6 - Up with the lark and in enough time for some coco pops, then off ot the airport. It's closer than I thiought, so I went straight to the gate in case I nodded off somewhere, this wandering around Sydney is getting me knackered, plus the hostels are cheap, but when there's a room full of lads, sleep is not as sound as it should be with all the comings and goings, or perhaps I am approaching middle-age. I crashed on the flight, but managed to wake up for food. Perhaps slept would have been a better choice of word than crashed for a flight.
The country around Auckland is very beautiful from the plane, very rugged. The fields are not flat, everyone has a small hillock. It was good to come out of the airport and not get hassled for a taxi, moto or rickshaw. I had a scan around and headed for the mini-bus. 30NZ dollars, seems a bit steep to me, but I'm still not used to the developed country prices. I was dropped at the hostel door, which made me smile, as it is perched ontop of a small, but outrageously steep slope. I need some exercise and it looks like I will get it. Into the hostel and they only had double shared rooms left for $33 a night. I was just about to say OK, when the lady said "I'll give it you for $22", the room that is. This is definitely not Asia. The rooms are getting smaller as I roam the hostels, but still very adequate.
Did a little bit of organising and I'm out to checkout Auckland. Bloody hell, it's hilly. I like Auckland, but I couldn't live here with these hills. Mind you I'd get fit or drop. The people h ere are much friendlier than Sydney and more real. It's more rough and ready, there doesn't seem to be anything fake here. I was sat on a bench, surprisingly, people watching adn a woman came up to the pedestrian crossing with her hands full, so she kneed the button, another whacked it with a water bottle. It's easy to see why the All Blacks play rough. The hostel is in Chinatown, or at least Far East town. There's loads of sushi places, Korean and Chinese restaurants and the people on the streets are mostly of Chinese origin. It's not too warm, definitely jumper and fleece weather, but I soon warm up with my unconventional gait, on the hills.
I checked out the ferry quays, but there's not a lot to see. It's the rush hour and they are busy. It's faster by ferry than road. Auckland and Sydney are similar, in that they are both big natural harbours and this commuting by ferries seems a cool way to commute. Time for a beer me thinks. It's cool, but I found a busy bar, where you can sit outside and there's live music, a lad on the guitar, so my first people watching beer in NZ has a nice feel to it. My kind of town, as somebody once sung. Only the one beer, then stopped for a kebab and rice on the way back. I'm not a sushi man. There are loads of fast food placessss, but not too appealing. It seems you have to eat posh or fast and not much in between, but I've only had a quick look. I headed back to the hostel and turning the corner, I thought I'd need a rope to get up the hill, but I wiggled on up. It did my heart good to see others struggling too.
There's a lad moved in with me, when I got back to the room. He's Argentinian and speaks good English. He's looking for work as an architect. He told me Argentina and NZ have some kind of treaty to make it easy to get work in each others country. How that came about I don't know.
He seems a canny lad and offered to let me use his laptop for email accesss.
Cuppa and an early night. I'll be meeting Mick, an old work colleague tomorrow, so that will probably entail a few beers.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Back to Sydney.

11/6 - Up, some coco pops, I'm a big kid at heart and loaded up to hit the road to Sydney, which was a mistake, as the ferry takes you there, but I didn't get wet. I caught the bus to the ferry after walking here, I didn't need to prove twice I can knacker myself out. It is not that far, but it is raining again, so I took the bus. It is rush hour and the ferry is well packed out, but I got a seat to check out the view, at the wrong end, I went to the same end as I did coming, but the ferries have to bows, so don't turn around. DOH! This is a good way to commute, I could handle this, it is very relaxing. Bikes are allowed onboard too, but I doubt I could handle the hills of Sydney, it is a very hilly city.
Off the ferry and onto the train to Central again. The public transport in Sydney is better than Manly. The first 2 hostels I tried are choca. "No room for you here Mary." they said, so I guess they were full. The 3rd one didn't mind my wiggly walk and gave me a room, they told me the wrong number though, so they didn't like it that much. After the 3rd key change they twigged the number on my card was wrong. $33 for a bunk in a 4 man room. I never get one of these mixed room, but then with my recognition of lady boys, perhaps it is a good thing.
Dumped my gear and headed for the Vietnamese consulate to pick up my visa. The bloke here is a top bloke, really helpful. I changed the dates and was expecting a revisit. He said is 15 minutes OK. Headed back to town for a beer and some nosh. Went to a Vietnamese place, as I'd already been to the consulate. It was a damn site better than Pizza Hut and even more so than my cooking. Headed back for a brew whilst sitting on the balcony. Sounds posher than it was, but it was good and relaxing. Hit the sack for an early start in the morning to New Zealand.

Man in Manly.

9/6 - I've bought myself some cereal, milk and bread to try and block the hole that has developed in my natty pink purse. The money is either dropping out or dissolving inside it. Did a bit on the internet, then went for a wander down the beach to watch the surfers. They are keen. I haven't checked out the water, but I'm cold out of it. Edged my way along the beach prom, bench by bench and had fish and chips on the prom, how cool is that. Just like being on holiday. I wandered back the other way and sat to watch a bit of beach volleyball (Yes there were some women playing), but that is not why I stopped. I wish there had been 3 understanding people wit me, I'd love to have a game. I fielded one of the loose balls and nearly took a lads head off when I served it back to the court, so perhaps it is just as well there are not 3 understanding people. It looks good fun though. There was a surfing competition on or a show. I'm not sure which. It was very clever though, good to watch. There were tandem surfers, where a couple do lifts and movements on the board, bloody show offs. It was good to see.
The Aussies have a days holiday for the Queen's birthday. How does that work? They don't want her, but get a holiday and we don't get one. Sounds like a good rouse to me. The rain chased me off the beach, so I went shopping. I decided I'd cook my tea tonight. I haven't cooked for 5 months and I should have kept it that way. It was crap. I read a bit to hope some of the tosh I served myself digested then hit the sack after a lazy wandering day in Manly.

10/6 - I slept in until 9.30, the first time for a long time. I woke up in the night feeling shite, I definitely should not have cooked. I'm good now though. I did a bit of dhobi and had breakfast, then hit the local shopping Mall. Big mistake. Zero haircut and my photos put on a DVD, 25 quid. I nearly fainted. Get me out of here. I did some wingeing to myself. I have stopped asking how much everytime I buy something. I thought that was the Asian way. I thought wrong. I will ask in future before I buy. I did a bit more shopping. I have had to give in to the onset of hypothermia and buy a jumper. It's a tadge cold and the digs are even colder. It was in a sale and not too bad, so I didn't need the smelling salts again.
I decided to hit the prom for the sunset. There are only a few surfers out now, but they turn up for the last few minutes light, they must carry their surfboards in the car, like I carried my golf clubs, always. There is only 1 volleyball game on the go. It's nice down here though. I like Manly. The Aussies get their moneys worth when they build a prom. The foot traffic is non-stop, all ages, sizes and speeds, me bringing up the rear. Tonights top users are Mams with buggies. They chog along in groups giving it 20 to the dozen chatting. The surfing bug is definitely like the golf bug, they are still turning up at last light. Time for a beer I reckon. A pint of Guiness, 3 quid, just like back home. Headed for the digs after the beer and found the real Manly, lots of pubs and surf shops, it's not a bad little place. I could live here. Yet another place in the world that is Gil friendly, so if your name is Gil, hit the road for Manly.
Not having learned my lesson last night, I cooked tea again tonight. It was a better effort than last night. I did a bit of surfing looking for cheap flights. Dan, the English bloke staying here tipped me off to Tiger airways and that Air Asia fly out of the smaller airports in Australia. These 2 don't come up with the search engines. I think Dan has given up on the Papua New Guinea trip.
A bit of box watching and bed again. It's a hard life.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Lazy day in Sydney.

7/6 - I struggled out of bed this morning. I'm not used to these soft matresses. Had some breakfast at the hostel and decided to do some dhobi, even thought the sun is shining. Some of my clothes got ironed for the first time in months. It made me realise how badly stained my whites are. They look like I've been paint balling in them. I'd better get my hand in my pocket and get some fresh, non-white ones. I'm loath to ditch my "Red and White Stripes" T=shirt, but it is a mess. I might buy some stain remover at the next wash and see if I can revive it.

Out and about, heading in the opposite direction to yesterday. I had a plan until I remembered the Blues/Jazz festival., so change of plan to no specific plan. THe first part of the plan came off, I found Victoria park and sat in the sun to write up the blog, butthe sun is going down now, so I'm off to find the train station and perhaps a beer before the Blues fest. I pulled over after a quick visit aroud a market that looks to be a one off thing. Lots of home made stuff and hippie gear. I never bought any, I'll stick with my paint balling gear. Next pull over was a bar for a beer, then into town by train for the music. How about that for a plan working??? They were dismantling a set when I got to the fest, so I nipped off for some food, then came back. It was closed up, it must have beeen an afternoon affair. How about that for a plan working??? I guess that's it for today. I went back to pack and chill and this plan did work. When I left the hostel this morning, I had the 6 man room to myself. When I got back tonight all the beds were taken, but nobody in them. During the night there were 8 of us. Don't ask me!!! 2 lads tunred up at 5 a.m., went back out for a while, came back, picked up their bags and left. THey never slept in their beds. Perhaps they did someone else's. When they left a lad on the floor got up and climbed on to one of the beds. It made me smile to remember such times, when I was a jack the lad. Jack the lad in the best possible taste of course. "Good young Gil, he's the quiet one." They used to say. IT'S TRUE, ask Eddie. Anyway the day has moved on.

8/6 - I got up early, but the young lads never budged. THe old fella with the ear plugs and blanket over his head wasn't too happy. Loaded up my gear and off to the train, to the ferry, to Manly. The Sydney transport seems really good. Today it's misty and raining, so there's a cloud hovering over the top of the Sydney bridge. The ferry to Manly was not as exciting as I thought it would be, but it was raining. Sydney is hell of a harbour though. It makes Liverpool lok like a Dinky toy. Off the ferry and decided to test the legs and walk to a guesthouse, about 2 thirds of the way there I was thinking again, but I don't know why, it was easy and I wasn't dripping in sweat, like in Asia, only good old cold rain. I've got a room this time for 20 quid. It wont make the AA guide and probably only just the Alcoholic's Anonymous guide, but it is cosy. I took a stroll to the beach and the srufers are like ants on the water, all in wetsuits, it is cold. I'll come back here tomorrow. I'm off to see Manly rugby league team play the top of the table Sydney Roostersf. Catching the bus is hard work. I think you have to lie in the road to make them stop. None of this cram them in, move up, let these people in. It's follow the Nanny state rules on numbers and no more. The 3rd bus stopped. At the ground, it was easy to get a ticket. I was a bit surprised with it being the top of the table clash and only 13 quid, cheaper than the UK, by a long way and for a top match.. The ground is nowhere near gull AND there's only 24 minutes left on the clock when I get in, luckily it was for the U-20's game. I did initially flap a bit. The ground layout is good, 2 sides are stands and 2 hills, where you can park your bum until the match starts, then it is stand or miss it. I was surprised how small the crowd is, 18,000 +. The UK crowds are better by far. Iwas also surprised how crap the top of the table were, but they had 4 players away at the State of Origin games.. I was very surprised at the beer consumed. You couldn't see the ground for cans after the match. It was agood atmosphere, but the game was a bit one sided, 42-0. I mowzied on down the road looking for a bus stop and found a pub instead, those are the breaks folks. They had the match on the screens. From the cheering you'd think all the people hadn't been to the match and it was being shown live. They get into their port. It's all good fun though. Rooster and Eagles fans were mixed in the ground, no segragation necessary. I had a beer and then went to catch the bus. I'd have more chance of catching a great white down this road. It's abysmal. If I ever move to Aus, I'm going to live in Not In Service because most of the buses run there and they are all empty. Eventually my lottery ticket came up and I got a bus. There was a lot of well oiled banter going on. I keptout of it for a change. Off the bus and into a pizza restaurant over the road from the digs. I read a poster saying that anyone serving someone who is drunk is liable to prosecution. WHAT'S THAT ALL ABOUT GRANDAD????
That is serious Nanny State stuff. I am gobsmacked, almost speechless, which is a very big lie.
This is prime Grumpy old man stuff, but I decided to chill and ordered a carafe of wine to laugh into, then thought better of laughing in case they took it off me because I was drunk. "I don't believe it" as that well known grumpy old man said.
The wine was good and I was half cut, at least. I haven't had that much to drink for a while now.
I enjoyed the pizza too, but then with a carafe of wine, there is not much I wouldn't enjoy.
Sometimes I get to feeling sorry for myself. I know I should know better and sometimes I need a reminder of how lucky I am. A lad came in while I was eating, he was mid 20's and had a walking stick. It took hime a good w hile to walk across the restaurant, he didn't look well, but he just put his head down and made his way in his own way. It was a timely reminder for me. I hope I don't forget it too soon. The wine polished off, I headed for the guesthouse. I wasn't sure which of the 2 was the right one, so I took the one that wasn't moving so much. There's a Brit lad who has been staying here 4 months. He's working here at the moment, but has real wonder lust. He was planning a trip to Papua New Guinea, but is having second thoughts after finding it is one of the worst crime spots in the world in the town of Port Moresby. It says on the web not to go out after dark and to stay in your room during the day . That doesn't leave a lot of scope.
I left him to it and hit the sack. A pleasant day in Manly done.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

On the streets again, I'm a right old slapper.

6/6 - Up sharp, breakfast and walking the streets touting for gigalo business. Surprisingly, no joy!! The big cities are not friendly places. There's no Hello's and big smiles, well, there was one. She laughed at my touting. I miandered in the direction of I know not where and found Paddy Market, a tourist tatt place in an old building. Strangely enough full of tourists and one gigalo. Bought nowt and kept miandering, passed the Powerhouse museum, it was shut, so I continued over a bridge and down to Darling Harbour. This is a real yuppy place with big big yachts and bistros with big, big glasses, so I'm right at home. Now watch me gigalo. There's a Blues/Jazz festival starting tomorrow, so I"ll stay another night and check it out. I was going to head over to Manly and get a ticket for the rugby on SUnday, but I'll chance my arm and go on Sunday. The lad at reception said I should be OK to pick up a ticket at the gate. As I walked along Darling Harbour the bistros transformed into museums and aquarium and I-Max with lots of school kids buzzing around and making me smile. Darling harbour is partly what I expected, but mstly not. I expected an old place, it's still a good place to stroll. I headed for the Botanical gardens next, I hope. I did a bit of shopping along the way, as I passed Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Cartier etc. Window shopping that is. I did a bit of artful dodging as I passed the Law courts in fear ofmy sisters wrath, not the judges strolling by in their wigs, what's that all about Grandad. Then I did a bit of plonking on a bench at the top of Hyde park. It's nice around here, very Victorian like. Lots of old buildings, so long as I don't look over my shoulder to the law courts. I think I'd get asked to leave a city if I stayed over a week for fear of wearing out the cities benches. I have lost count of how many benches I've shined today. This is a nice part of town, a good people watching spot too.
I bought some tangerine/clementines/satsuma/orange things and headed for the gardens, passing a barracks museum, several registeries and a couple of libraries on my side of the road, all very olde worlde and skyscrapers on the other side of the road, very contrasting. The old knee is giving some grief, it must be the damp and cold. I popped a couple of paracetamols, well, I hope they were, I'm floating through the botanical gardens now. This is a lovely place to stroll lots of open grass, big old fig trees that look perfect for a bit of tree hugging, if you haven't treid it you should, lots of cockatoos toos, lots of all sorts, but still no gigalo business. There is a small rose garden, that I smelled before I saw, it is one of my favourite smells, roses. I got my first glance of the Harbour bridge, since arriving and then the top of the Opera house. I spotted a nice bench, near the Government building, still in the gardensssss, so I couldn't resist it and nodded off for a few seconds, the sun went down quick. Only jesting. I think I am more tired than I realised, mind you I have been up hill and down dale bench hopping for about 4 hours, not to mention window shopping. You can tell it's lunch time, the jolly joggers are everywhere. This is a prime spot for it. I rolled on down to the harbour, passing several joggers, I might add, going in the opposite direction. I found an irreststible bench overlooking the harbour, so watched the joggers rush hour while I ate an orange thing. And so to the Opera House. It is a magnificent building. It's a bit weird close up, sort of not very posh tiles, but still magnificent and the steps up to it are great, shallow and long. I don't need the bannister and ALMOST look normal going up them. THat is something I've noticed, I don't get the constant stares at my gait, as in S.E. Asia. People look, but not so many and not so obviously. It's a n ice change.
Strolled around the Opera House, then sat on the lovely steps for some nuts and an orange thingy to show my step appreciation. Onward but not too far, at last I've found what I've been looking for a few hours now, a toilet. I've been dying for a wazz. Now I can have a brew and a very nice sausage roll. The last time I hada asausage roll was with Paige. This cafe is below the Opera house and looks out onto the Harbour Bridge. I sat and scrutinised the walkers going up to the top. I think I may be able to do that, I'll have a think. On again, around the Circular Quay. This is my favourite part of Sydney, that I've seen. There's the bridge, the OPera House and ferries coming and going. I checked out the Manly ferry for when I leave on Sunday. Every 30 minutes, $6, can't be bad. Out onto the streets from the Quay. I've given up touting, so headed for the hill to the Rocks. I like this part of town. Lots of pubs and old harbour buildings. I was close to the Harbour Bridge now, so perched on a bench and watched the walkers. It is steeper than I thought, but I reckon it's a go. Not this time though, next time I'm in Sydney. The knees throbbing now, it needs some sunshine, or perhaps a Guiness and low ad behold there's a pub with some seats outside. The beer in Sydney is sold in schooners, less than a pint and just about right. I got a table of looks here, as I did my John Wayne roll up the hill. The pub is opposite an old ware house type of building and when I sat I noticed the tennant is Saachi and Saachi. I thought they were bosh not refurbished warehouse material. What do I know?
I enjoyed the Guiness, the knee is much better now, so I rolled down the hill to catch the train back to Central, without stopping at any passing benches, the arse of my jeans is getting a bit threadbare. A quick e-fix back at the hostel and then a power nap. I'm nearly caught up on the kip now. I was going to stroll into town for some snap, but when I walked outside I noticed the cafe attached to the hostel is doing what looks like decent nosh. I must have made a bad choice, but it filled the hole. The brew was smashing. Decided to give the booze a miss and did some research on swimming with the whale sharks at Ningaloo reef. It's very expensive, but there may be mantas there too. I think this has to be done, although it is coming to the end of the whale shark season and I am off to NZ for the rugby first. A brew and a natter with one of the lads in the dorm, Kevin, he is a bit weird, but nice enough. He probably thinks the same about me.

And so to Aus.

5/6 - Got myself a SIM at the airport. It is a smashing airport, simple, easy and all very neat. Everything is obvious. Immigration took a while, but my electronic visa came good and it meant my bag was there and waiting, dizzy on the carousel. I hit the ATM and it told me to sod off. The Grumpy old man told me to keep my head, it is only the computerised bank showing no common sense again and blocking my card. It makes me angry to think they can't be arsed to think for themselves and check before letting the computer do what it wants. Never mind, my credit card came good. I'll sort Barclays out later. Time for the train to town. Into Sydney, out of Central Station and into a cafe. Registered my SIM and phoned our Bec in Canberra. She sounds in good fettle, but she did have a quick bitch about subject not to be told, in case Liam's Mam find her way to my blog. Had a brew and phoned a couple of hostel, to make sure I wasn't hiking around the streets for nothing. Loaded up and walked over the road from the station and there's a hostel. This will do, sack walking, next to the station, 17 quid a night for a dorm bed, it'll do. It was a bit of a REALITY check, back to the burn money world of 2 quid cups of tea. I have been Asia brainwashed. This is going to be expensive. Dumped my gear, loved the hot shower and hit the streets before I had chance to lie down and crash. It's like being back home, cold and wet. I'm going to have to buy a jumper. People wise, Sydney is a lot like London, 50 % non English speaking and mostly foreign looking with local accents. It's probably more th an 50%, but I'm, in Chinatown. I didn't know that until I passed the first 50 Chinese restaurants and 10,000 Chinese looking people, that was in about 400 yds of the hostel. The hostel, Central Hostel, has everything, is clean, but a bit pricey, just for a dorm bed. I could get a good hotel room for that over the past 4 months. STOP WHINGING YOU TIGHT GIT. You are starting to sound like Dickie. I decided to sort out my Vietnamese visa, I'm going back. Why? Work it out yourself. I hopped onto a train and bingo I'm at the consulate. Being by Central Station is a bonus. I went for broke and asked for a 6 month visa. THe lady said "No way." The bloke said " No problem Gil, how's the family? Keano's doing a good job, isn't he?" Ha Ha to the lady, Mackem power rules. He never really said that, I just got a bit carried away, but he is a really helpful bloke. The lady did say that. Headed back to Central and as I am supposed to be gaining weight went to Pizza Hut. I have been looking forward to a good pizza, so why did I go to Pizza Hut. DOH!!
It was 10 quid all you can eat, but it was shi@#$@#@ said that Grumpy bloke again, so I went for a beer to commiserate. My eyes were starting to droop, so I resisted a second beer and headed for bed, via the internet, if you know what I mean. It's been a long but full old day. Sydney is so far so good, but bloody cold.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Working the streets of Bangkok.

2/6 - Still a bit knackered, but breakfast put me right, probably because it was included in the price. Then I hit the streets. It's a tadge hot, so I went into a few malls, but the A/C sets my cold off, what a whimp, so I ducked and dived alnot the way, in and out of malls. This is shoppers heaven, similar to KL, crap for men. I gave up in the end and went for a coffee and a cake. It's a busy city, constant traffic and very modern. THe pavements are in a shocking state, but a lot of them have walkways above them and the Skytrain above those. It's a typical big city, so what am I doing here. Just passing through. I headed back to freshen up, as they say, then headed to Lambini park. THis is a laugh. There are hundreds of people doing aerobics to several different leaders and music. A complete mix of people too. There's a lot of other exercises going on too. It's like an open air gym and a great idea and setting, if the weather permits. I plonked on a bench to watch and was joined by a fella to practice his English. Sound familiar? I got hit for a quid. I couldn't be arsed to go through the multiple refusals, so I paid him off to get shut of him. A monitor lizard came swimming passed, but it's English must have been good enough as it didn't stop. Back towards the Wendy House and some snap. Ordered a spicey dish, the woman warned me, but I'm hard, so hard I had to order a second plate of rice to finish it, then it was beer and bed.
3/6 - Noodles for breakfst then off for a wander. I checked out the cheap markets with the copy designer stuff and then went to yet more shopping centres. I don't know why I rarely buy anything. I can't walk far enough to get out of the shops. My Asianmanbirdflu has got me a bit crocked too, so I'm not at full power. I think I need a week off this holiday lark. I wandered until I was knackered and stopped for an ice coffee and a couple of doughnuts in Dunkin Doughnuts, it's that kind of city, it has all the fast food chains and then the Thai eateries and food stalls. The coffee didn't rejuvinate me, so I wandered a bit more, then jumped on a moto back to the hotel for a kip. The moto driver was on some kind of commission I think, we broke the sound barrier twice and it was only a couple of miles. Refreshed, I hit the town again, well, I walked down the road for chicken ginger and a beer. A South African in there got talking to me. WHat a funny lad and not funny ha ha either. He was after going for a beer, but I ducked out. I think he was South Africas version of me, very opinionated, but not is such a nice way as me. (No comments from the family). I wandered back to the hotel for a beer and an early night, which didn't happen, I sat people watching and time drifted by.
4/6 - Off to Aus today, that should keep Yvonne happy. I've been really looking forward to going to Australia. I'm not flying u ntil this evening, so did some e-stuff, had some lunch then headed for the airport. I took a taxi for the easy life. I checked the meter at 197 Baht, when I got out, but asked the price. 800 Baht!!! He went a bit sheepish when I mentioned the meter. No wonder taxi drivers have a bad name. I'm early, but checked in, just in case there is something wrong with my electronic Aus visa. That's what 4 months backpacking in Asia does for you. All went well and I went through for some more food. I'm under orders to gain weight, which I don't think will be a problem when I get to Aus. More looking at stuff that I'm not going to buy. The airport is typically Bangkok, full of shops. I have not really done Bangkok justice. From what little I have seen, I like the place more than I thought I would. I was told 2 days is enough, by several people, but I think 4 or 5 are needed especially at my pace. THere was plenty I wanted to see, the the manflu put the mockers on it. The flight is delayed an hour, but now I am an expert waiter it is no problem. It's a jumbo, so there are a loads of people around. I am going to try to not watch more than 1 film. I usually end up getting no kip and knackered at the other end. I watched 2 and then nodded off. I was reclined when I woke up, so the Qantas people must have put me back, I never noticed.

Monday, 30 June 2008

On to An Bing and off to Bangkok.

30, 31/5 - This new place is smashing, in amongst the dykes and greenery, I just don't know where amongst them. This is not a huge island, but it is a maze. Vietnamese breakfast and lovely, then took a bike out for a slow miander. I stopped at the internet, but it was a waste of time, between leaving the digs and the internet shop, the island power is off, so a short miander and back to the hammock then lunch. More good food, but too much. The power came back, so nipped along to the internet place then believe it or not I dossed until dinner time. Too much food again.
Next day, the penulitmate one in Vietnam/Asia. I don't really want to head off, especially to Bangkok, but it may be a good thing for a while. We'll see.
Breakfast and out on the bike again. I've been feeling a bit gimpy, but the bike put me right. A good old sweat sorts lots of things out. It was good to be on the bike wandering and collecting the Hellos and smiles. I hope it sees this cold off too. Back for a shower and a laze in the hammock. It seems to cure the cold, well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Sadly packed some gear. More food, fresh spring rolls, the roll them yourself kind. They are very tasty, but I am not a dab hand at rolling them. The family that own this place are smashing. The 2 daughters speak a bit of English, but the rest of the people don't. We still get along famously. They are really friendly. I asked if they did laundry and they pointed to the bowl. I thought they meant get stuck in, but when I went to it, the father donned his marigolds and took over laughing.
Dung and Anh Bai have sorted out transport to HCM for tomorrow. I got offered a bus at 04.00 or 10.00. Guess which one I took.
Off to bed for the last time in Asia.
Up for breakfast, noodles, sticky rice cake and fruit. The arrangements to get to HCM are not as I thought last night, after a word with the daughter. I have to get a moto to the bus company back in Vinh Long then a bus to HCM. Sometimes I think the Vietnamese don't understand each other. I can chose my own moto time, so I got myself sorted and left for Vinh Long. I have really enjoyed staying here. It is a relaxing place. The moto turns up on time and is to take me to the bus station. I have been told buses don't run to HCM from the station, but we're on our way. The buses don't run from the bus station, I got dropped at a shop in town, but it did the job. Nearly everytime I travel in Vietnam it is different to arrange. The buses run hourly, but I only had to wait 10 minutes for the next one. They are definitely designed for Vietnamese stature. There was some chuckling when I was coaxing myself to the back seat. I was glad when we stopped so I could unwind my legs. I was sat next to a nice couple and their kid. The lady did her best to strike up a conversation with me and was very impressed I knew about 20 words of Vietnamese, so much so, she asked if I had a Vietnamese girlfriend. You can't put one passed women and the Vietnamese don't beat about the bush. I got the 20 questions again. After that I intorduced the kid to "round and round the garden like a teddy bear" and " this little piggy" which impressed the parents as much as the kid. I was offered food along the way, as usual. They are a friendly people. Not only do the buses to HCM from Vinh Long not go from the bus station, this one does not drop you at a bus station either. It is at the company office somewhere in HCM. WHere? I don't have a clue. However there are always moto men or taxis lurking, well nearly always, today is a first, NOTHING so I set off down the road to nowhere in particular, when I'd loaded up. I 0nly did about 50 metres and a taxi slowd up. I had no idea where I was in this sprawling city, but it wasnt too far from the airport, the fare was cheap.
I havent been looking forward to Bangkok, but now I am here. The ATM rejected my first card, but the 2nd got me the taxi fare. I got done there too, but only a quid or so. I agreed a price, but they should go on the metre, I later read. I wonder if I'll ever learn. Straight to the hotel, even though I only had the address. How could I forget a name like "The Wendy House"? It's OK too and I'm beat, so had a brew and hit the sack. WHilst I was sorting a room out in reception an Aussie lad and lass walk in " Hello Mate". I'd stayed at the same place as them in Kep, Cambodia. Unbelievable? Obviously not. They were off to Northern Thailand to do a bit of plumbing on an elephant place. This is the couple who have left Australia with not timetable, just going with the flow. We had a good natter then I got that brew.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

On the move across the Mekong.

29/5 - Up and at 'em. Well up, I dossed in the room for a while, did a few exercises, few being the main word here, then fell asleep again. I must have been tired. Dung woke me to tell me she had booked me into another place on An Binh, an island on the Mekong and is on her way to pick me up. Panic shower and pack and we're on her friends moto and off to an island in the Mekong. It sounds very romantic, an island in the Mekong, but I'm not so sure it matches up to Phu Quoc. It is a smashing island though and big, this Mekong is huge. There is a 2nd ferry to An Binh, which I didn't know about, so it shows how big it is, or stupid I am. No postcards to Mick this time. The place I am booked into is smashing. Dinner bed and breakfast for $11 dollars. It sounds too good to be true. I'll let you know. I wish I had known about it earlier. I am getting well looked after. This place has loads of bikes, so I hired one and went for an explore. It's a tadge hot, but nice when the breeze hits. THe island is a maze of roads and rivers and somehow I ended up at the other ferry. I'd stopped along the way for Nuoc mia, sugar cane drink, and was hassled by a few kids for money, no problem, no money. Almost everyone who went passed as I sat drinking, smiled and quipped to the owner of the place. I was going to try and weave my way back down some bak paths and alleys, but thank heavens common sense kicked in and I went back the way I had come, this time stopping for tra da. I picked a bit more secluded seat this time but still drew curiosity.. It's still blistering hot, so I plodded back slowly. I don't make it over many bridges, but most people stop and get off. There's a neat little village around one of the bridges. It looks very poor, but has a very posh church. If I wasn't melting I'd have a look around. I've spotted an internet place in the middle of nowhere, so may call back tomorrow. Back at the ranch, I sat in the breeze to try and dry off before plonking in one of the many hammocks and when I did plonk, I crashed. It is becoming a pasttime. Shower and another swing in the hammock before dinner. The dinner was a banquet. Whole fish, prawns, pork, chicken, spring rolls. I had to tell them half portions tomorrow, it was outrageous and delicious, so much soit was back to the hammock with a beer and blow me if I didn't nod off again. I cant shake this cold off, so have been ordered to rest up tomorrow. I think I can probably manage that.

Still walking the streets of Vinh Long.

26/5 - I didn't fancy hot breakfast or bread today, so strolled to the market to pick up a pineapple. The market is about 50 metres from the hotel and now spills over to outside the hotel. I strolled on to a cafe that has a good people watching spec, to have a tra da, iced tea. I passed Dan the American from the other day along the way. He was sat on a bench reading a paper, outside his in-laws I guess. I said Hello and he blanked me, tried again and his head twitched. Strange, I thought. Never one to be put off, I stopped and tried to got an "Oh Hello", then back to his paper. He must have thought I was after his lottery money. A very strange going on, but never mind, better off out of that one. Off for my tra da. The cafe was peaceful, hen students started turning up for a drink, some park their motos out the back. THey sit for quite a while, in fact longer than me. I left them and went for an e-fix. There was a lot of flirting going on, I felt a bit out of placeand even more so when I spilled my tra da dregs as I got up. Wandered back for a midday kip after the e-fix, dont slag me off, I'm getting up at 5.00, well waking up then. I'm getting into S.E. Asia mode, about late considering I leave in a week or so. Up and out for a wake up stroll and bumped into the lottery lad. I offered to buy him a drink, but I think he just likes to say hello, sit a while and field all the comments from the locals about his pet Englishman. I bought a couple of baguettes and headed back to the balcony with a beer. Half way through the 2nd baguette, the crown on my front tooth dropped out. Now I am a real bonny lad, a proper ladykiller if I ever saw one. It did make me laugh when I looked in the mirror. It could scare the touts away too, but I doubt it.

27/5 - Early rise a bit of exercising, not much. I am doing a bit and feeling better for it. I just lack the discipline to keep it up. Down to reception to scare them withmy new style smile. The lady gave me directions to the dentist, but I know better regarding me and directions, so I took a moto for 20p. I'm first in the queue, but an hour early, the receptionist at the hotel was wrong, he opens at 8.00 not 7.00. I did a bit of log writing, I'm an expert waiter nowadays. When I got in the dentist smiled at the broken crown, then got to work. A new post, a bit of grinding, some glue and Bob's your uncle, less than a fiver. No wonder UK dentists are rich. It cost me over 100 quid for almost the same in the UK and it still dropped out. Keep checking the blog for how long this one lasts. The holiday insurance is a bit of a joke. I have to pay the first so many pounds, but it never gets passed that in Asia. I am happy at that though, I don't want any big hospital bills.
Back along the riverfront, picking up a nuoc mia, sugar cane drink, then plonking on a shady bench, watching the Mekong flow by and the boats busling along, al sizes, carrying all sorts. Ony my way back to the hotel Mr Trung spotted me. I met Dung through him. I managed to duck the English lesson for today, but have a 7.00 am appointment at the cafe, tomorrow. Did a bit of this and that and nothing much, had a wander around and back for some kip.

28/5 - Up for some early market snap, pork and noodles, before meeting Mr Trung and Mr Phuc. It's a bit of a struggle trying to converse, so I didn't try too hard, then Mr Linh came along. Trung and Phuc, sit here for 3 hours a day. It's relaxing, but 3 hours is a killer, so I excused myself after 2 before they hatched any plans for the rest of my day. I did some e-stuff, then had a kip. I've picked up manasianbird flu on Phu Quoc, so you can imagine how sorry I'm feeling for myself, hence the kip. It's actually just a bit of a sniffle, I'm just lazy. I've been trying to eat 3 meals a day and put some weight back on, but it is hard work trying to eat 3 meals a day in this heat. I wandered a bit more and watched the rush hour, it's prime time viewing, then I had a meal, I ordered Bo luc lac, all I know is that it is beef. This is a return visit to t his restaurant, they are very friendly and the Bo luc lac is very nice. I can tell you now it is fried diced beef with rice and salad. I headed forome yet again, stopping to watch the sunset by the river. I'm on a date tonight, so I'd better shower, not doing so cuts down on the touts, but I doubt it is good for a date. We went up to the Mekong bridge and pulled over. It is beautiful up here. It's a main highway, but loads of couples pull over for a romantic moment, in fact so many that there are street endores pu here. It was too cold to hang about, the wind whistles by up here. Back to town for some more beef, Pho Bo, beef soup and more, then I got dropped at the hotel. It was pointed out that it is very noisy here and she's right, so a plan is hatched to move me to An Binh, a nearby island, but it floundered when the hotel was full.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

More market snap.

25/5 - Another day strolling, e-fixing and dossing. Got myself some very slippery noodles on the market for breakfast, but watched the locals to find out how to eat them with chopsticks, I eventually got them from my bowl to my chops, instead of the table. There are free top ups on the broth too. I guess this is where the Yanks got the free drinks top up idea from. The ice tea on this stall was a bit naff.
I checked out the meat market. It looks pretty good, no refrigeration, but the meat looks good and fresh. It was probably killed this morning. I picked up some chom chom/rambutan and went off to eat it in the shade by the river. 2 young girls came to say hello, selling lottery tickets, quickly followed by 3 lads. Why is it nealry always the lads who are th buggers? Surely I wasn't like that! There was some language tuition, in both directions, the inevitable ask for money, again from the lads. Eventually they moved on, so I headed off along the river. I've been trying to get into the 3 meals a day routine of the Vietnamese, but when it is hot I never feel like eating. The meals are not huge, like in the UK, so 3 meals is about right. I bumped into one of the lottery lads twice more as I wandered. I think he looks upon me as his pet Englishman. A bit more wandering and eating and back to the hotel to listen to the karaoke. Some really are brave to get up and sing wlith the voices they have. If I ever get cajoled into it, I'll do the Lee Marvin version of Wandering Star. You don't know it???? I bet Mr Google does.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Back in Vinh Long.

24/5 - Nipped out the hotel and did a sharp left hoping to avoid Mr Trung, an old English practicer. He has coffee in the cafe over the road for 3 hours everyday. It was a good move, I stumbled into the food stalls on the market, so I had rice and something, it was good and the iced tea was too. It causes some looks when I wander into these places, I must be more good looking than I thought. The stools are not built for tall lads, but I'm getting used to them, I haven't fallen off one yet, but that will have put the mockers on that. I'll let you know. Moved on to the internet for a while , then a wander and a good old sweat, no wonder I have lost weight. An American lad beckoned me over as I strolled , he wanted to talk to an English speaker. He is married to a lass from Vinh Long and over trying to get har back to the States. They have been married a year and he reckons another 3 months should see her across there. The problem is at the States end . He says if people enter illegally they get looked after, but try to get somwone in legally and it is a different matter. At this point the Grumpy old man ranted about it being similar in another country. Dan, the American, won the lottery in the States last year and gets $1000 a week for the rest of his life. I could handle that, I wouldn't bother working again. He left to go back to his Vietnamese family after showing me the video of the wedding on his mobile. After a bit more of a sit, I went to the internet again . When I went to pay, Dan had paid, but I don't think he knew.
I found out Hull are in the Premier League, that was a shock and Dony play Leeds for a Championship place. That could cause some banter at Dickie's with Matthew. I headed back for a shower, its red hot, then went out in the heat again. How stupid am I? Answers on a postcard to our Mick again.
This town is bigger than I thought, which seems to be the case everywehere I go if I stay long enough to get a good look around.
Back for shower number 3, some early snap and a wander, turning lots of heads again with my beauty, or it could be my walk. I checked out the supermarket and bought a chocolate fix and then sat outside at the cafe chatting to the lottery sellers. It was the usual 20 questions and a laugh. Then back to the noisy hotel. It is never quiet outside this place, just varying levels of noise.

Phu Quoc again.

19/5 - 23/5 This is a short version of Phu Quoc. I even won a raffle to take a lady, but there were only 2 tickets and I had them both. It was all sex, drugs and rock and roll, but I had nothing to do with any of it.
Suffice to say, I had a great chill time and the people at the resort remembered me, even though I didn't stay there last time and made a big fuss of us both.
Perhaps I will get the sex, drugs and rock and roll if I go again.
It was very nice to have a lovely lady on my arm for a few days. I knew it was worthwhile carting that super glue around.
Back to Vinh Long to spend some more time on the Mekong and see what happens.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Shuffling around Vinh Long.

18/5 - Up for a bit of snap at the temporary corner stall, rice and pork, I hope and some lovely Vietnamese tea. I have great difficulty getting tea. Geardie sounding tja must be different to Vietnamese tja. Back to the hotel and shipped out, treated myself to a posh one. It's only $20 a night and only for 1 night, so it shouldn't break the bank. I'm off to Phu Quoc in the morning. The room has a good view of the Mekong too and a balcony, so I can get my washing dried completely.
Did a bit of interneting and sorted out for tomorrow and then crashed for a power nap, it's sweltering. I headed out to see the sun go down over the Mekong and for a change wandered aimlessly. I'd sunburned my bottom lip, pouting on the motorbike, so I went to get some lip balm from the chemist. It's hard to believe, but I didn't know Vietnamese for lip balm, but I flashed my cracked lip and the lady gave me a little pink tube. It looks the part. A quick coffee and an early night. The lip balm tasted a bit bunny, but was nice and smooth. I checked it out in the hotel. It's the last time I taste anti-wrinkle cream. I found it funny until I thought there may be a hidden message in the sale. The condoms were OK though, (Sue, that loud crash was our Val falling off her stool as she read this, go and pick her up please.) or so the lad who borrowed them told me, not that I wanted them back, you understand.

On the road and in the air to Vinh Long.

17/5 - As I couldn't get the early flight, there's no rush to get up, but I did. What to do for breakfast? No problem, I did a left out of the hotel, 50 metres down the road, 2 women sat at their mobile stall shouted me over. What the hell, I'll try it.
"Yes" then noodles and anything goes. One of them started ot m other me and was throwing all sorts in my bowl and the other I had to stop filling it up. This was another good laugh and offer of marriage, after I'd managed to field some of the 20 questions. A light hearted offer I might add. I was gently coerced into some lottery tickets, as other women drifted in and out to checkout the foreigner stuck on the 1 foot high stool eating noodles with chopsticks. One of the women was 40 and the other 60, but they looked better on it than I do. I left with more smiles in my locker and back to the hotel for an e-fix. I didn't get much of one though, the receptionist came over and spotted a picture of Benjamin on my memory stick and that was the start of "This is your life Gil Brooks." Benjamin and Paige are always big hits. The taxi for the airport turned up as we were still scanning my photos. The breakfast ladies had been gossiping, because the lass knew where I'd been for breakfast. She was intrigued by my extra special shoulders and was checking them out. almost giving me a massage, she did ask about them first. The Vietnamese are lovely people on the whole. Another big smile and wave for my locker and I'm off to Danang airport. Nothing much to report here, it all went pretty well. I was booked with Vietnam airlines and the plane was China airlines, so I guess there is some kind of partnership thre. Into HCMC airport and got offered a taxi to the bus station for 200,000 dong, but I followed the LP and took a metered taxi, 230,000. 54 years old and I still don't learn.
Onto the bus and headed for Vinh Long, another big bus, the 2nd time in Vietnam. I reminded the driver I was only going to Vinh Long, not Can Tho, the end destination. We entered Vin Long and he told me so. I got ready for the bus station, we were exiting Vinh Long and I thought I'd better get off. I was supposed to tell him whre to drop me. Do I look Vietnamese, can I read your mind???? It was only a short moto trip back to a hotel in the town centre. I got offered a single room with no window, so opted for the 3 bed room. I'll move on tomorrow.
Knackered and crashed.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

And so to Hoi An.

16/5 - Another good breakfast. I've put some weight back on during this journey. The Vietnamese like to eat. I thought we were at the edge of the HCM trail, but the scenery continued a lot longer, along a valley, so we followed a river gradually downhill and stopped at another roadside waterfall. There was not so much clowning around, I think the boy is tiring. They cant hack it , these young 'uns. It is a pineapple area here, there are basket, cart, lorry, moto loads of pineapples along the way, so we pulled over at a cafe (hut by the road) that doubles as a gathering station for the pineapples and had some pineapple, strangely and some VC food. Tinned mackerel in tomato sauce and boiled rice. This was a big part of the VC diet during the war. There was something else too, but I don't remember what. The people collecting the pineapples are busy, hard workers and it is 50-50 men and women. There were more minoirty villages along the way once we set off again, mostly the houses were made from wood or bamboo,straw and mud. I guess the government moves to integrate them hasn't succeeded yet. It was time to get the fleece off, the temperature is rising. It has been a real pleasure to wear jeans and trainers everyday. I was even c old at o ne point. We hit the flat lands and the paddy fields reappeared and thousands of kids going to and leaving school, so the roadside Mexican wave and hello echoes were very prominent again. Time for a rest for Jack, co we pulled to the shade of a tree. 3 women over the road beckoned us over, but Khien resisted, not for long though, the charmer was out charmed. I think he wanted to go all along. He fielded the 20 questions again and I smiled charmingly as always. It was a good laugh again. Whenever it's known I'm single, I soon know who are the single women. It is more of a natural response than a grab the weird Englishman, hem may be rich. Back on Jack and because it is a sunny day, there are kilometres of rice, chillies, corn, maze, fish, all sorts laid out to dry on sheets by the side of the road, and basically anywhere that the sun is shining. This is authentic sun dried goods. Moto's and bikes ride over the rice where necessary, or people walk on it, probably helps the overall process. Rolling into Hoi An was a little bit sad, I have had a great 5 days and am gee'd up to do a motorbike course w hen I get home. Hoi An looks good, the women would like it here, it's renowned for shopping. Rustic style shops, small, cut with everything in them. THe shopping streets I saw put me in mind of a one story cowboy town. I don't know if they are 1 story, that was just the feeling I had as I walked back from the ATM. Khien dropped me there, we had traveled 5 days, no problems and he got lost on the way to the ATM, that I walked back from. He's a good bluffer though. I gave him back the money I had borrowed from him, we had a couple of hugs and Easy Rider disappeared into the afternoon sun. He's one lad I will never forget and I'll always smile when I remember him. Time to go and sob in a beer I reckon. Then nap, repack, shower, food and bed. I walked down the road to check out the eateries in the cowboy town, as I'm going through the swing doors of a local eatery (bit of artistic license there), it always causes a stir when I walk into one of these joints. Guessing, the waitresses say "You go and serve him"
"No you go", but there is usually one who is not too shy. There's no menu, but I know what beef is and rice and beer, there's always some green bits too and it was lovely, the beer too, so lovely I am making myself thirsty thinking about it. The lady came over to check what I was writing. Once the ice is broken, they aren't shy. I almost had another beer, but the HCM trail is catching up with me, so I hit the straw pile.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Off to the HCM trail.

15/5 - Up and Khien is singing, he gor around to singing a song about the HCM trail. He should stick to these type of songs, he's not bad, I usually get pop or kids songs. Fried egg butties for breakfast, Vietnamese style, very nice, then Khien dropped me at an internet shop while he went to wash Jack. It's got less than 1,000 Km on the clock, so its understandable.

The company who I got this round the world ticket from have come good, they have got my Aussie visa sorted out overnight. The consulate in HCM city was going to take a fortnight.

First stop today was in a minority village. BMT is a big city and we only went a few miles outside where there's a minority village and hou ses are wooden and there's not a lot of money about. It seemed strange, but it's normal for big cities all over, poor places withing spitting distance of the money places. There's a longhouse that's used for village meetings and teaching. THe roof is really high and thatched and all held together by bamboo and string. We'll pass a few of these today. The steps in are a notched tree trunk, its on stilts. There are lots of pictures of Uncle Ho, HCM, inside. He is very reviered in Vietnam, but Khien reckons he is only 80% good, because he never married. Just a long the road, an old fellow, 92, comes out to greeet us in French and with a toothless grin. He's 4 foot nothing and lively as owt. He took us to his house, up the stairs and outside there's a musical instrument he has made from bamboo and fishing line. He's really good on it. It's like a xylophone with extras. Khien got on the suspended drum until a young lad came and kicked him off. The old lad gave it some stick, I had a dabble, but was crap. Khien wasn't bad, but he'd been before, that's my excuse. The old fella was chuffed to bits to see us and be able to show off and was full of it as we left, all in French.

Next stop a big old wooden church and very nice too . It fronts as an orphanage. We'd got some pens and sweets for he kids. Khien wouldn't come in, he gets too upset when he sees the babies, so I went in. The old lad who runs it speaks rally good English. There are 184 kids here, all but 1 are minority kids, from 1 to 19 years old. The government give no support. I'm glad I didn't have too much in my nifty pink purse, I emptied it. When I got back to Khien, he was giving an English lesson. He's self taught from books and tourists. He got through university, as a biology teacher, but couldn't get a job, he reckons because his Dad was an officer in the S. Vietnamese army. His Dad has already paid too, with years of rehabilitation in prison. We moved on now heading for the HCM trail, but stopped first at another monument, this one had tanks, so the amry clown suits came out. After this we nipped to a street stall for a coffee. Khien fielded the 20 querstions and I chipped in with, thank you, son, daughter etc.... The Vietnamese are usually surprised, but pleaseed when I try to speak Vietnamese, een j usyt "thank you" makes them smile. We're off again, but not to far before pulling over. Khein pointed out we're about 15Km from Cambodia adn Laos and also the sign Duong HCM, the Ho Chi Minh trail. We'd had 3 great days already, but the scenery along this is fantastic, thick jungle all the way to the mountain tops, roadside waterfalls, smashing, if poor villages and lots of friendly people. Not to miss out, we had a good clown around at a lovely waterfall, Khien playing dead in the middle of the road, he likes his photo taken. Needless to say, the HCM trail isn't that busy a road, Khien's daft, but not that daft.
We pulled over at a minority family house. Khien spotted the Mam, a really beautiful lady, sitting on her step with 5 kids, 3 are hers. Across the ditch ans sit on the ground with the kids. I only kept one packet of sweets for the HCM trail. I wish I'd kept them all. These kids had snotty noses, some were half clothed, one nude. The sparkle in their eyes was missing from these kids, even when the sweets came out. This was a lot sadder than the orphanage. The Mam was smashing and Khien had a chat to her. The house was wooden with hard dirt floor, very little in it. There was a TV, but not a lot else. The Mam's eyes were bright, perhaps from loving the kids. Thinking about it now pulls a cloak of sadness over me. We were getting along pretty good, then 3 blokes turned up on a moto, one the husband and all drunk. I know I should not jump to conclusions, but I was a bit pissed off by it. The Mam was pleased to see him, but we weren't Khien up'd stumps and we were off. He couldn't understand the blokes language, the minority people in the mountains still use their own dialect. It is dying out in the lowland villages as the government try to integrate these people, which seems a bit of a shame. I think I mentioned Khien has a soft spot for the minority people and it shows more as we meet more of them. He has picked up a bond from somewhere.
Back on the trail, the stunning scenery eventually removes the sadness cloak. If I come back to Vietnam, I will do this again, stocking up on food before hitting the HCM trail, to dish out along the way. As we got closer to tonights stopover we passed through villages with kids walking home from school, again we got loads of waves and hellos, it really lifts my spirits, not that they need lifting, but I feel even better. I even got a high five from one kid on the trail, probably a truant, him and his mates were having too much fun. All along my trip I've been thinking "This is a great life". Now I am shouting it to Khien, I'm having so much fun.
Into the hotel in Phuoc Son, showered and a walk down the road to a restaurant and another good meal. Khien wasn't so quick on the draw tonight with the beers. I think it was because of the company. He will marry a Vietnamese girl, I reckon, but loves blonde lasses and another Easy Rider from Na Tranh, who Khien knows, walked in with a tall, blonde, Aussie lass. Mr Charmer was all of a sudden tongue tied. It was funny to watch. The harder he tried the worse he became, but the Aussie lass, Hannah, dug him out of the holes he was getting in. She seemed like she would have liked a beer, but hadn't realised wer were having more than one, before she got whisked away. We only had 2 or 3, then back to bed. Khien is really good company and is keen to learn things, as well as dish his knowledge out.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Off to Komtum today, I think.

14/5 - Up loaded up and of to the bakery to pick up some tasty stuff for breakfast. We had to go through the market. It was heaving. People don't get off their motos, just pull over and check out the merchandise and decide whether to buy. The housewives all turn up early to get their fresh food, none of this refrigeration lark here, then it back home to get cracking. We got through and picked up some tasty looking pastries and Khien told me to pick on e up that looks dec idedly li ke a cake to me. I don't usually do cake for breakfast, but I never used to do noodles or chillies either, cake should be less of a wrench. The market wasn't so bad on the way back. The photo lady from yesterday was there at the roundabout, but I saw her too late to shout and make a fool of myself. Will that last the day? I very much doubt it. Out of town a few K's and we pulled over at a cafe for tea, coffee and YES it is a cake and bloody lovely too. It was a loaf cake, no ceremony, snapped in half and get stuck in. The pastries were filling too, even Khien kept one for later. We set off yet again, di thoi big boy, we passed through rubber plantations. The plants are not like the rubber plants you see back home. It looks a laborious task to collect the sresin, but the Vietnamese are good at them jobs. We pulled into a rubber plantation for a gander and bounced around a bit. It's all clever stuff, the collection method. A nick here a pot there and resin everywhere. Di thoi again and through a few villages, there's street/roadside markets in most of them and loads of the little tractors with long steering arms, pulled over at the markets. They double up as taxis for the farm workers. We've passed loads on the way back from the fields loaded up with people, most wearing the nun las. We pulled into a monument to the mail men and women. Lots of these monuments have statues of several people all in different ethnic clothing. Khien always tells me the different types. He also pointed out some shy grass, the leaves close up when touched. He comes across as a real country lad, but I think he has picked a lot of it up from the farmers he speaks to along the way. After a bit of clowning around, Khien is an expert, it's back on the bike. The scenery around here is more rolling, so not so stunning, but still eye catching. The resin from pine trees is being collected too, so I asked about it. There was something illegal going on, but I'm not sure wh at. Something to do with making it into explosives and fishing with it. There is a legal side too, but I missed it. Khien was clowning around again, h e did Kung Fu for a couple of years, so was kicking at a dead tree when he spotted a mouse hidden in a hollow branch. He nearly wet himself. Big, hard Kung Fu fighter. He legged it when I went to scare it out. Di thoi lady boy and we pulled over at a roadside cafe for some sugar cane drink. We hit the hammocks. Khien tried to mother me into a low one, but I lounged next to him and the lady brought a table over in between us and put the drinks on it. Anything to make life relaxed and easy, they are smashing people. We had a bit of crack with the lady, he's a real charmer. He knows most of the answers to the questions about me now, so I don't get too involved. It is the Vietnamese way to ask and I quite like being celebraty. We finished off the pastries, the sugar cane was nice too, we had a bit of a swing and then left with a big smile from the lady. We are passing through poor places now, with mostly wooden houses. The housing material seems to be the only difference, the people seem to be doing the same thing, but look poorer.
The schools always seem to be going in or coming out in dribs and drabs, but when we hit peak hour time we both wave and shout and it's like a Mexican wave as we pass. It lifts my heart to see it, a real boost to morale. Like Carol said, I'm just a crusty marshmallow. Morale isn't low, but the kids do make life even better.
We passed a wedding in full swing. They look to be good fun.
Next stop, a pepper plantation. It tastes great straight off the plant. We jus wander into all of these places. If anyone is around they usually have a quick word, then just get on with their business. You may not believe this, but there was somemore clowning around and then we are off again. I've suspected bus drivers are crazy when I have been on them, but being on the outside, more than confirms it. We had to pull off the road to avoid one. They dont give a toss about the motorcyclists.
There are lots of the babyslings in this neighbourhood and the woven bamboo baskets too. The minoirty peoples have a completely different look to the run of the mill Vietnamese. More like Peruvians. Perhaps it is a mountain thing, or jungle thing, as they mostly hale from th juingles. We pulled over to give Jack a rest and for a bit of a clown around. 3 ladies sat over the road h ad a good lauigh. They were sat on the step having a good old chin wag. It reminded me of my Mam and the other miners wives standing at the gate nattering at the end of a shift, waiting for the men to come home. While we were there, 3 lasses with babies in slings walked passed, one had the bamboo weave basket no her back too, another an umberella for a sunshade and the last was smoking a pipe. We set off again, with a cheery goodbye from the doorstep ladies and headed for Sea Lake, so called because of its blue colour. It looks man made, but is a volcano crater, it must have been a big volcano, the lake is a big one. An old fell came dashing over to show us a big centipede or millipede, either way it was big. I had one in my room the other week. This is another romantic setting and there are starry eyed couples, but I soon put the mockers on that. An addictive ca phe da, iced coffee and we are off again, headed back to BMT city for the night. We are sharing a room from here to save dosh, so there was a super clowning moment when Khien spotted my fins, mask and snorkel, he was like a kid in a sweet shop. and disappeared down the corridor wearing them. We got shifted eventually and caught a taxi to a BBQ testaurant. A little wrough iron BBQ is put on your table and you do it yourself. Keeping the adventure going, we had wild boar, it was better than the porcupine though that was OK too. A few beers, abit of charming by Khien and back to bed. He cam sleep for Vietnam. He always tells me not to set my alarm, hel'll wake me and I end up waiting for him to wake up. He wakes up lively though, so we don't have to hang about long. The worst thing is he wakes up singing.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Day 2 to Hoi An. Today to Buon Ma Thout.

13/5 - Village life starts early. About 4.00 am Toto were being played in the yard next door, a little bit surreal. I nodded off, then woke, then nodded off, then woke, then gave up and got up, the village life noise was too much for me, but Khien was snoring like a good 'un. He came out in the end and showed me the official toilet and washroom. The lads next door were dipping into a waist high jar, I was just about to join them when Khien came out. There was a shower in our place, but it would have been whimpish to use it.
There are plenty of pot belly pigs all over the show and chickens. An Aussie lass is trying to get to stroke the pigs, but they are having none of it. We went down to the lake and some of the fisherman are coming back in. The catch is mostly small stuff. One lad had a fish about 1lb, so he was smiling, that's a big one. There's lots of lads out on the lake, so I guess the fish don't get much opportunity to get big. The nets are put in the water then the fishermen clash their oars on the water to chase the fish into the nets. Any that are not eaten fresh are smoked, not in papers like weed. A few of the old dears are walking around smoking pipes and have babies slung on their backs. There seems to be more women smoking them than blokes. I think this is either H'Mong or Lat minority people, they have a tradition of using these slings, some of the kids being carried look like they should be walking, which surprised me. The longhouses give the village a great look. Whole families sleep in them with curtain partitions. There is a the ladies section at the back where they get banished to when the lads want a bit of privacy. It sounds like the women are 2nd class citizens, but they control the money. All the money coming in is given to the wife, if the lads want a drink or a smoke they go cap in hand and if they do anything out of order, no money, no sex and no cooking, so perhaps it is more 50/50 than it first appears.
These people work hard and have a knack of going at at nice easy pace. They have long days but pace themselves nicely.
There were only 3 tourists in the village from what I could see, but daytime visitors must be due as a load of elephants with seats on are trundling through the village. The Aussie lass has already set off on one.
Breakfast now, omlette and french stick, typically Vietnamese, it's popular and we get some kickass coffee again. Time to hit the road Jack. I'm glad Khien relented from going to a hotel. I'm starting to enjoy getting up early. Di toiy, let's go, Khien has taught me this, so I taught him di toiy big boy, but I get di toiy lady. We skirted the lake, there's lots of rice farming going on. We pulled over at some kids fishing. They lower a net, about 6ft x6ft, into the river by a hand held frame, leave it a few minutes then bring it out most of the fish are stickleback size, but they are bagged up, perhaps for fish sauce, very popular in Vietnam. Khien got nattering to the eldest lass hauling the net. They work from 6am to 6pm doing this. She seemed to take a shine to Khien and invited him to have a go, so it as a quick di toiy big boy. Perhaps he's not the ladies man he makes out, but he is a smashing lad.
We stopped next at a brickworks, this looks like a family concern, the lad is loading the bricks from the kiln onto a conveyor, Mam is stacking them on the trolley and Dad and another bloke are unloading them. The kilns are tall brick towers with tunnels underneath where great tree trunks are loaded and set on fire after the clay bricks have been cut in the nearby clay mixing leanto and loaded into the kiln with coal dust spread between them. It looks very time consuming, but well organised. The bricks go for 500 Dong each, 32 bricks for $1.
Along the road families make granite bricks from the nearby hills. It is all done with hammer and chisel and I can see the marks on the stones just like in th temple at Angkor in Cambodia, built hundreds of years ago.
After some beautiful countryside we rolled into TP BMT, Buon Ma Thout. Khien dumped me at a roundabout with a monument on it, in the middle of town and went off to get some picnic food. I walked around the roundabout and smiled at the photograph lady, then sat on a wall. I took out my mobile and the photo lady came over to check it out, followed closely by a young couple, none of us could speak each ohters language, but I had a laugh with the photo lady. I have learned Vietnamese for son, daughter, grandson, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, so the family photo always comes out and I show off both my Vietnamese and family. This inevitably leads onto wife, but I haven't learned how to say "buggered off" in Vietnamese. Perhaps I should try to learn divorced. We were having such a good time, we never noticed Khien sat at the curb beeping his horn. I said goodbye, but she followed me to checkout the wife bit with Khien. She is single too, so I gave her a hug and a knowing smile and she laughed. Khien tried to set me up with a date that night, typical Khien, but she declined, with a laugh. A lot of people frown on divorce in Vietnam, but I've come across loads of divorced ladies. I haven't chatted the men up, so don't know about them.
Di toiy, with a big smile and wave in both directions. Next stop a set of waterfalls. Khien sent me off to take some photos and stroll and when I came backhe'd set up the picnic on the road on newspaper. Rice paper, herbs, pork, sauce and noodles, more herbs and a beer. I'm having a great time with this lad. He packed all the non-organic bits in a bag, very none Vietnamese like. We clowned around a bit and got back in the saddle. A young couple turned up, this is a very romantic spot, but they didn't stay long, I think it was Khiens singing, he's only slightly better than me.. The picnic made them smile, I wouldn't be surprised if they had gone off to get one. The next waterfall in the same park, is even better. It was a bit of a hike to get there, over a couple of bridges and up and down some rock steps, but well worth it. We did a bit more clowning on the way. Khein is looking out for m, this walk was good though, it made him realise I can do most things, just in my own way, he still watched me like a hawk. this is a beautiful place. I had real sweat on when we got back, so we had a sit and a cold drink to cool off. I think Khien was quite proud of me. We met another Easy Rider with a Scottish lass and picked up my passport and Khien's ID. We'd got half way around the lake this morning, when he got a call to tell us we are dopes, but the Easy Rider brotherhood came goo, we didn't have to go back for them.
We set off back towards BMT city for the night, so I could have had a date. We hit a bit of rain, but were dry by the time we reached the hotel. A bit of laundry, a nap and repack and then out for some food. It is raining again. We went on the bike. Khien has a good friend in BMT, Quon and he came along later with his girlfriend, Loin. He's all goggle eyed with her, he is 30 and she is 20 and she has to be home by 8.30pm, her parents have told her, much to the delight of the grumpy old man. Quon came back and we had a few more beers. We'd had rabbit and beef for eats and they were as usual delicious. The beer was a trial beer and very nice too. Khien has the gift of the gab, he chats up all the waitresses and had Loin grinning like a Cheshire cat. He picked up another nickname today. "Check it out Khien". He moves in close if we pass any fit lasses on motos and checks them out in his wing mirrors. I pulled him up on it and he said "Check it out" so it stuck. He is a little bit tipsy tonight, so I pulled him up on that too and it was the last time we used the bike at night. He went back to run Quon home too, even though he said he'd get a moto. It was good to see the respect Khien showed him. Quon took him under his wing when he first arrived in Da Lat from his home town to study. I hit the sack when he went back.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Off for the 5 day tour to Hoi An.

12/5 - I woke early and threw the curtains open to see how heavy the rain is, only light. I headed for the shower, but never made it, the little lass from the hotel knocked on the door and stood there with fried eggs, baguette and a pot of tea. The little tip came good, but she is a smashing lass anyway, really bubbly and smiley. It has saved me a trip out too. Ready to roll, so I sat in reception, the mobile shop, and waited for Khien, while he sat on his bike outside and waited for me, but we were only like that for a couple of minutes, before he popped his smiley face around the corner. He loaded up the bike and the little lass brought me a coffee, so I encouraged him while I sipped. Loaded up and we set off, in only damp conditions, not really rain. As we left the little lass shouted "Don't forget me". How nice are the Vietnamese. The friendliness is almost overwhelming.
We called in to Vietnam Airlines to get my ticket. The morning flight was full, so I got a ticket for the afternoon, no rush then. Now we are off, but not too far, only to one of the 3 summer palaces the ex-king had built in Da Lat. Khien doesn't have a good word for him. It seems he was a philandering puppet for the French, who spent the peoples money building summer palaces wherever he fancied. The palace isn't flash by todays standards. It is Art Deco, I think, and surprisingly palatial inside, done out mostly in gold and yellow. The flower thing with the colours. Every chance Khien had he slagged off the ex-king.
We moved onto another pagoda next, not as spectacular as yesterdays, but nice gardens. Khien was more taken with the women than the gardens. He blushed big style when I pointed it out to him.
The next stop was out of town a bit to Sap waterfall. There's a rollercoaster that will take people down and bring them back up, if they want. It doesn't spoil the natural look of the place either, it is well hidden. I was going to walk down and take the rollercoaster back, but Khien convinced me to take it both ways and I'm glad he did. It was great going down, you are in control of the brake yourself, so I let it rip, but paniced a bit when I saw the car in front of me looming. The trip was worth it just to go on the rollercoaster, but the falls are pretty too. Not huge, but set down amongst the jungle in a beautiful setting. Thank heavens for my stick again down here, the Vietnamese build big steps for little people. The rollercoaster ride back up was less spectacular, but I'd have been knackered if I'd had to walk back up, it is a fair old hike. Some blokes were clambering across the rail back up as I approached and the last one got his foot caught in the rail. I think I flapped more than he did, I had no control going back up, but he quickly scampered away.
Off we go again on Jack, heading down the mountain through some beautiful scenery. Next stop, Chicken village. It has a huge concrete chicken built there by the government to try and create some mystique around the village with a story made up around the chicken, in an attempt to keep the minority people here, that have been relocated. The government seem to want to control the several minority peoples within Vietnam and stop their nomadic ways. The kids are given free schooling, which is not normal in Vietnam. The story is a Romeo and Juliet type story. I don't know how it will make the people stay around, but then I am not Vietnamese, so don't know the psyche. The village is a dirt track, with wooden houses set back from the track. The houses have a large area in front of them that is used for the kids to play on or for sundrying crops. It is a very poor village with very smiley people. I hope they are as happy as they appear. The kids are especially happy when Khien pulls over, some are too shy to come over, but some come running over shouting for sweets that Khien had picked up along the way. His heart seems to be with the minority people, he talks about them often and I can hear the feeling in his voice. He has a theory that one day they will come to power in Vietnam, as the Vietnamese become more westernised and have less kids, but the minority peoples don't, so they will tip the balance of power. I have a feeling they will be intergrated before that happens. Khien had a good chat with some of the women and loves the kids. The dialect is different, but he gets by. He is a great lad, full of love and fun. Some of the houses are still made with bamboo thatch walls covered in mud, the floors are hardened earth and all the houses look neat and tidy. Not having too many belongings will make that easier. I think this minoriy people are the H'Mhon, they all seem hard working, there is a lot of activity in the surrounding fields, all the farming is manual.
Khien had asked if I fancied lunch at his Grandad's. It sounded like a good idea to me and it was. We rolled into the open yard and his Grandad was there in a flash. 62 and fit as a fiddle, he almost shook my hand off. Khien was earning his corn translating now. A glass of tea appeared before I could get my helmet off. Khien had told me of the Vietnamese tradition of tea being the first thing that happens whenever someone arrives anywhere at homes, businesses, restaurants and the grumpy old man told me it used to be like that in the UK when he was a lad. Another custom Khien mentioned is the Vietnamese give visitors 20 questions rattled off in quick succession and I got that too. Kids, married, home, age, my legs. It is like a formality and once it is over you can sit back relax and field the next 20 questions. The family here is Grandad, Grandmother, 3 uncles and aunties and about 4 kids. Grandad fusses around me like a mother hen and Grandmother just gets on with life quietly in the background, smoothly moving around and in between everyone. We went from the wooden out-building to the bricks and mortar house. I took my trainers off and was setting off for the house, when Grandad's flip flops appeared in front of me, so I donned them for the 10 yds walk. Nothing is too much trouble for anyone. More tea appeared in the house and the table was started to be set. Khien makes himself at home flitting around the house. Grandad keeps shaking my hand, smiling and laughing. He wishes me luck in health, wealth and everything going and tells me his house is my house and wants me to come back. Grandmother cooks the food with the help of the other lasses. There is all sorts laid on with as much rice wine as you want, but I took it easy. There's chicken, fish, beef, noodles, loads of different veg and there's eggs. Grandad is trying to fatten me up, he keeps putting chicken in my bowl before I can try anything else out. Yo, Vietnamese Cheers, is said a lot too, with the rice wine in hand. GET THIS LADIES, all the blokes sat around the table, whilst the ladies sat around a mat laid on the floor, Grandma and the 8 month pregnant auntie too. The Vietnamese are great at sitting on their haunches, I get really jealous. I mention to the blokes about the ladies sitting on the floor and was told that is just the way it is. The women come and sit at the table and chat whenever they fancy. The food was brilliant and now the fruit, rambutan came out and I had one put in my hand everytime it was empty, but I do like them. I have been invited to stay for as long as I want, whenever I want. Grandad wants us to stay tonight, so he can take me fishing and drink rice wine and beer. If I come back to Vietnam, he wants me to bring some wine from England, he says the wine in Vietnam is expensive and not good. I will try to call here again before I leave Vietnam. Coming here for a few days has to be better than sightseeing. Diep, my unofficially adopted daughter want me to call to see her before I leave too, she has made a present for me. It is all getting a bit overwhelming. Khien started to make moves to get us on the road again and about 30 minutes later we managed to leave. I have had a great time and would love to go fishing with Grandad, we'll see. I felt like a million dollars as we drove on and the sun was shining too. Khien stops regularly, to give Jack a rest he says, but I think he is looking after the old man on the back. We stopped at a bamboo bridge. I thought the one in Cambodia was rickety, this one is definitley not for heavy traffic. It is used to allow the villagers to get their crops over the river. There is no way I'd drive a motorbike over here, I have enough trouble walking over it. We are having a good laugh along the way, we are already good mates on the road. The rain came on and there was still a long way to go. The gortes trainers weren't waterproof against this. I had my Green Bay Packers cape on, but it only came to my knees, below that was drenched and I'm having a whale of a time, loving every minute. The scenery is great, rain or no rain. We are headed for Lak lake, a minority village and to stay in a long house overnight. Khien is having second thoughts and thinking about a hotel, worrying about the bloke on the back, but he relents when he sees how good a time I am having. The rain eased off a bit for the last few miles until we pulled into the cafe at the village, but not enough to dry us any. The cafe is run by the head man and Khien sorts out a longhouse for us and we have a beer, whilst it is readied. I felt sorry for the lad and lass who went off to ready it, the rain had started again, but they never flackered, just jumped on the moto and off they went. We even have to hand in passport and ID here, it is a way the bobbies make a few extra bob I reckon. We had quick look at the lake, the rain had stopped and the sun was dropping, not that we could see it. Khien set us up with some food for later at a cafe. It is more of a bit of spare space in case someone drops in. The canoes on the lake are hollowed out tree trunks and solid. The longhouse is on stilts and there's only me and Khien in it. It could sleep about 40 at a push. We got a mattress on the floor, a pillow and a mozzy net. I was dead excited, like a big kid. Khien took pity on me and gave me an extra mattress from out the back. We settled in, put on the sandals to give the trainers chance to drip and headed for some tea. The jeans will dry better on. Tea was a whole roast chicken and rice porridge/soup and both were well received along with a couple of beers. The family sat the other side of a curtain having a natter and a good laugh. The TV is on, but little attention is paid to it. "Good family life." said the Grumpy old man. Fed and watered we headed back. Once there, I asked Khien about the toilet whereabouts. He walked to the edge of the balcony and pee'd over it. Nature he said. It is still raining, so it will soon be diluted. Who am I to argue with the locals, so I pee'd over the side too, brushed my teeth and spat that over the side too, the toothpaste, not my teeth. I wont say in which order I did my ablutions.