Saturday, 17 May 2008

A bit of beach bum practice.

2/5 - On the moto and off to the boat for Phu Quoc with Coung. It leaves from a fishing village, Ho Bong and is a big old rust bucket, but for $6 it's good. The roof from the steering cabin had to be removed, so the boat would fit under a bridge on the way out to sea. It was crowbared back into place afterwards. I cant help but love S.E. Asia, it makes things fit as it rolls along. This is the river that was packed with fishing boats yesterday and it is no different today. It's like ship dodgems manouvering out of the estuary. The boat is a big old thing and there are only about 20 of us on it. There was a bag left on one seat, it wasn't ticking, it was clucking and then about 5 minutes later it was crowing. The owner took him out for some fresh air about half way and what a fine feather of a cockerel he is. The owner must have bought him for breeding, his back claws have been cut, so he's a lover not a fighter, just like me. If only...........
I was doing a bit of writing later on and he cockerel owner came over to check it out. He picked out a few words like Phu Quoc and Vietnam, but that was it. I like the open curiosity of the Vietnamese, there's no standing off like most Brits.
A big old lad came over for a quick natter and asked to have his photo taken with me. That is a first since Malaysia. Half the people were asleep before we left the harbour and most of the rest not long after. I confess to a power nap too, layed back on my rucksack. The captain had one too, in a hammock slung across the wheel deck. One of the other lads was steering with his feet, his not the captains. The trip was about 3 and a half hours and a nice easy one. Coung had recommended a quiet beach, but when I arrived I went for some noodles and a coffee to ponder again. I went for the more busy place with more amenities. The place I chose is pretty good too. The bungalow is a bit basic, but 50 metres from the beach. The nearest town is Duong Dong (Juom Jom), but I am not off there today. The beach is narrow in most places, but miles long and the sea and sand are smashing. I went for a dip and a beer and can feel complete relaxation taking over already. I even stayed in the resort for tea and a few beers. Not much chance of a starlit sky tonigh, to much light and too many clouds, so an early night for a read in the hammock.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Labour Day.

1/5 - Labour Day here and everywhere and so the second holiday on the bounce.

I am off out with Coung on his moto. I am getting a definite itch to try one. It was a fair old hike to our first stop, but interesting along the way, lots of shrimp farms. It is big around here, ponds everywhere and loads of villagers have them spread out on the road side or pavement to dry out, before cooking or selling on. Good fodder for the grumpy old man and the hygene laws of the nanny state. They are popular when having a beer, but used in all sorts. Coung tells me shrimp fried rice is delicious, I've added it to the list. We passed over the river bridge in Ba Hong. It was a traffic jam of boats on the river with shrimp and fish everywhere. It's amazing there are any left in the sea, these are just small boats too.

Our first stop is a set of caves the VC used to hide in when fighting the French and Americans. They open out into an inner circle, open to the skies. There are bullet marks everywhere and fallen boulders blocking some of the entrances, fallen from some of the heavy American bombing, but the VC carried on regardless, though there are some graves and shrines scattered around inside and outside. Starvation and lack of clean water killed a lot of VC too. They were a clever lot to out do the power and mass of America with not a lot of heavy weaponary.

We moved into the deeper part of the caves on a dodgy path laid in the water and the power went off, the path became instantly dodgier. It took longer to get back. Coung wasn't keen to take me when the power was on, so he paniced a bit now, but he saved the day with his mobile light. There is a fair old complex down here and I've only seen a bit of it. There's a floating cafe too. There are areas that were hospital areas and cooking areas, not a temporary setup. The hospital area had a few memorial stones, one of a nurse killed in 1945 when fighting the French, she is a heroine around here. We headed out passed the floating cafe and there was a group of people having their picnic on a pontoon. They shouted me over for a glass of rice wine and when they saw I was coming over, topped it up. Mugged again. They offered me a huge mussel, but I declined, now if it had been a muscle....... The lad put the muscle down and offered me a chicken foot, the most expensive part of the bird. I have tried them before and it was a mistake then, so I declined this one. The rice wine was rougher than the one Dung gave me, but it went down, warming me as it did so. This grotto, especially the inner opening is beautiful and must have been more so before the bombing. There are a few bomb craters scattered around outside, now used as ponds, very little gets wasted in Vietnam.

The Vietnames are doing their best to ruin the landscape now by tearing down the grottos and knolls to make cement.

We had a quick iced brew and were off to Chua Hang grotto. There's a temple built into the rocks here, Hoi Son Tu, Sea mountain temple. The way out at the back leads to a nice beach and lots of people on holiday enjoying the seaside and food. There are 2 small islands here, Hon Phu Tu, father and son islands. How they are said to have formed in legend is a long story, but the father one was twice as big as the son, but a typhoon the other year put paid to that and now the son is bigger. A message for us Dads perhaps. The temple was good, but I felt a bit out of place with a lot of the local tourists praying and lighting handfuls of incense. I walked back along the beach and through the market. It is just like a resort back home, lots of old tat for sale, but some good stuff too and some nice fruit. Back on the moto and off to Duong beach for some shrimp in batter, also surprisingluy some rice and more surprisingly, a beer. Cuong tells me this is rest time and offers me the free hammock before jumping into it and crashing, now they are all full. I sat on the beach, it is pretty nice and quiet too. After a while I couldn't resist anymore, so donned my trunks and went for a dip. The sand only goes out about 20 metres and then the silt from the Mekong takes over. It didn't feel so good, squidging between your toes and didn't look good either, but the water was clear.........ish. You can't see the bottom, but it is not manky. I get funny looks when I have my clothes on, but you should see the stares when I'm in my trunks, but they are mostly accompanied by a smile. On the way back to the table, I got pulled over by another table and offered beer, how could I refuse, but I only had a swig. I must look like a charity case in need of help, except to the touts. Coung had picked up 2 women when I got back, but he didn't look too impressed and was glad of the respite I brought. One was non-stop talk, but they eventually moved on and so did we. By the way, the shrimp had too much batter on.

We went to another temple, this one up some steps. I may not look the best going up, but some of the people were in a right state. I get there, just not prettily. I couldn't have done it without the bannisters though. This temple is pretty neat too. It is hacked out of a bute and has a outlook at the back that overlooks Cambodia. There is a shrine at the entrance for 130 people murdered by the Khmer Rouge, they were not the best people to walk the earth. The Cambodians consider the Mekong Delta as Cambodian and there are Khmer temples scattered all over the place, but it is Vietnamese hands for now. Back down to Coung and back into town. I have arranged to go to Phu Quoc. It is an island off the coast and he will drop me at the boat tomorrow, so on the move again. I could have stayed here longer, but have itchy feet again. A quick shower and into town for a fish tea, no chips and a couple of beers. I went over to see the rowdy lads at the Gio Cafe again, tonight they were over-rowdy, so I kept moving chairs for a bit of quiet, but the rowdy ones followed me. The rowdy ones tried to get me to foot the bill, but I told them to F.... Off. Thank goodness they didn't understand. The landlady tried it on too, taking for all the drinks when I paid, but one of the quieter ones gave her and the rowdy lads a right mouthful. From the number of times Vietnam was mentioned I think it was along the lines of "What do you want this man to think of Vietnam and the Vietnamese." I have had a good time with these lads and the waitresses, they accepted me as one of the bunch, but it is time to move on tomorrow, with another good memory.

Where am I now???? Still the same place.

30/4 - Had a bit of a wander looking for a bike, but gave up and went for some breakfast. I thought it was about time I tried the S.E. Asia breakfast, so ordered some noodles and fried veg and you know what? I should have tried it earlier.
I moved out looking again and got touted for a motorbike outing tomorrow. It wasn't heavy pressure and I think I'll call the lad and set it up later. He warned me off the high pressure tout of yesterday, that could have been beating up the competition I suppose. This lad, Coung, pronounced Cuun, speaks good English too. He also directed me to a bike hire place, so now I have a very small lady shopper to bruise my knees on, no gears and a wobbly pedal too, this should be an adventure. Not just yet though, I walked across the road, parked it and went in the floating cafe for a coffee. I left the bike, without a lock, when I asked for one the lady told me "This is Vietnam, you don't need one." I bet I lose the bugger now.
The iced coffee in Vietnam is great, if I have said that before, it is only because it is great and comes with a free pot of tea, usually. I bought a cake last night, because I was getting withdrawl symptoms, so I got stuck into that. The grumpy old man whispered in my ear "They wouldn't allow you to eat your own stuff in our bloody country."
Ha Tien seems to be a relaxed place, although today is Liberation day from the Yanks, so the flags are out and the place has a buzz about it.
I got on the road to have a butchers around. There are lots of backstreets with shops tucked away down them. The riverside is a smashing place to stroll, like I said Ha Tien is a nice place. I bought a hat for Paige's birthday, a big spender me. It cost so much the postage was more. It should be though, the amount of work that went into posting it. I had to fill out 5 forms, the lady wrapped it for me, which is always a bonus. She did it while doing all the other jobs in the place too.
I went down the market area. Market areas in Vietnam are always interesting and busy, I like to wander through them. A police or army wagon came hurtling through with its siren whaling. It can't happen very often, because everyone stopped watching me and looked at it. I trundled on a bit, my knees getting bluer on the handlebars, then I got my big toe stuck in the front wheel. Difficult to do??? Nah, a piece of cake for me. I will have somemore skinned marks on my tan now. The only thing that got hurt was my pride. People have been laughing at my knees hitting the handlebars all day, now they are rolling in the street. Oh no, that was me. I did feel a fool.
I called it a day for now and went for a shower to get the grit out of my knee and lay on my pit and nodded off. I must be getting old. I know better, I was just tired. After the power nap, I was back out on the street, upright this time. The town is buzzing even more now. Stalls have been setup along the river, mostly aimed at the female contingent, clothes and jewellry. I took the bike back, before I did myself anymore damage and went for some tasty food. I use the chopsticks usually. It seems to give people a laugh. One lady was motioning at me to eat, so she could watch and have a chuckle, we had a bit of a laugh. I am turning into a circus act. I moved on for a coffee with the rowdy lads. There were only a few there, so it was more relaxed, a nice evening watching the world go by on bikes and motorbikes. I do love this life.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Hard to believe, but I'm on the move again. Ha Tien or Rach Gia today

29/4 - Just to let you know, I can read your comments when I am in Ho Chi Minh city, but seeing as I'm in DaLat, not a lot of good, but I was up to date when I left a few days ago.
Also to let you know, I am going on a 5 day motorbike trip from tomorrow, don't worry, I'm pillion.
I am going to Hoi An through the Central Higlands of South Vietnam. It should be an adventure. I'll let you know, if I ever get that far in the blog. So today is the last installment for perhaps a week. Don't panic due to lack of posting. If you really miss me, you can always text me, but I have a Vietnamese SIM in most of the time, so don't expect a quick answer.

And so to the blog.
Packed again, but it is too nice to leave my box on the Mekong, so I pulled a chair outside and sat on the walkway to wave and shout to passing boats. No mooning, I'm passed that now. I got some great smiles from the boats as they went close by, big and small.
Dung came along to say goodbye, she is off into town on works business. She is a smashing lass, I will miss her. I dumped my bags at reception and paid up then nipped along to see the effervescent Diep. She was bubbling over. She gave me a great cuddle then grabbed my arm and wandered along with me, back to reception. I said goodbye and went to grab my bags, she followed me and grabbed one. I'll miss this one too. She came along to the gate with me, where the moto was waiting, telling everyone we passed, that she hadn't already told, she is my daughter. Another cuddle, a peck on the cheek, a peck on the cheek and I'm off to another town. Which one is still undecided, but I'm getting a bus to Rach Gia, I'll decide on the way there. The first guest house in Vinh Long, that I stayed at told me they could get me a ticket and drop me at the highway, the buses don't come into town anymore. You go to the highway and flag them down as they pass. The lass in reception says they come every 15 minutes, so her brother ran me out on the moto. I got to cross the Mekong bridge, a construction everyone seems very proud of. Some people had pulled their motos over to the side of the highway, at the top of the bridge and were stood gazing down the river. I wonder what the grumpy old man would say about that?
The lass in reception was right, the buses pass every 15 minutes if not more frequently. The buggers don't stop though. We stood about an hour and eventually one pulled over, with a bonus, the aircon worked. Time passed quickly, I am an expert waiter now. This was more like hitch hiking, than catching a bus. It brought back memories of my youth, stood by the side of the road, ever hopeful. The minibus wasn't too packed. We stopped to pick up another lass and she brought a durian on. It must have been open because we went about 100 metres and the driver pulled over and threw it in the back, with my rucksack. The bloody stuff stinks to high heaven. There was an old fellow on the bus with a torn off piece of cardboard, hung around his neck with some twine. I haven't a clue what it said, but he looked like a war refugee. He was all there though. I had bought some coconut pastries for the trip, they are only small, so I tried one. I offered some to the old fellow. I knew I'd done it wrong. He was happy to take the bag, eat a few and put the rest in his pocket for later. I enjoyed mine.
We eventually pulled over at some services, a lot more swish than spiderville in Cambodia. I drew some serious stares and some lovely smiles. My height seemed to be the object of amusement. One woman came over laughing her head off, as she measured the top of her head to my elbow. The Vietnamese are not particularly small and sometimes not that slim. The Chinese influence I suppose.
We moved on fed and watered to another ferry crossing where some volunteers get out and go over on foot. It must be some kind of dodge. I'd seen it before, so thought it would be an experience and volunteered. It worked differently on this ferry. I was stood around doing my Gil the ambassador abroad bit and the co-pilot came over and grabbed my elbow to lead me onto the bus before we docked. Live and learn.
Into Rach Gia and there was only 1 tout waiting, so why did he pick on me?? My height I guess. He wasn't a bad lad. He did try to get me to take a moto instead of the long walk to the bus station, until I pointed out to him on the map that it is 200 metres away. I hadn't decided whether to stay here or move onto Ha Tien, a few hours on another bus. The minibus had dropped us outside a cafe, so I took advantage and sat for an iced coffee and a tea, the tea is free. I sat and contemplated a decision, I decided a cake would be nice, but none were available, so I finished sipping and moved on to catch the bus. The cafe owner told me there were no more buses until the morning, but being a cynical young man, I didn't believe him. I was right. I walked the 200 metres and didn't even need a ticket, there's a conductress. I went to put my rucksack in the hold and a lad took it off me and threw it through the window. It was open. The rucksack got put behind the back seat. I used my head and took the middle seat at the back with loads of leg room. Not so clever. This is a local bus. The conductress is very efficient and looks like she is possibly a part time wrestler, so nobody argues with her. She is authorative with a smile, a 100% character. Anyway, my leg room disappeared mostly. All the floor is filled with boxes or stools to sit on. It is all very orderly, not like the cram them on job in India. Still there must have been 50 people, all seated on a 35 seater bus. The wrestler recognised the length of my legs and left me a bit of foot room between the boxes. It is all very friendly, people helping each other and smiling. Leaning on each other and nodding off. An old fella sat next to me, scrunched his legs up on the seat and then sat a young 'un on his knee. I felt like a right old croc. 2 young lasses who were sat next to me, got off, so we moved along a bit and the old fella just leaned on my leg. It made me feel like one of the family.
We rolled into Ha Tien in the dark and the same procedure as usual, someone comes on and grabs your bag, takes it to his moto and tells you where he is taking you. Once we got things straightened out, we headed for my choice. I was told it was closed, but it wasn't. It should have been, the steps were huge and the lift out of order, they asked for too much, then halved it when I started to walk. This is the first time I've had the hugely overcharging experience in Vietnam. A lad had latched onto the moto and followed me to the hotel room and was nagging and nagging and nagging for business, he eventually got the picture and left me alone.
I wandered to find some food, but there was not a lot open, so I picked on a street stall and had something that sounded like paxo salt, but I'm fairly sure it was Saxo who made it, so it wasn't. It was smashing though, noodles, bean sprouts, nuts, fried egg and spicey sauce, probably a few unknowns too, but as long as I don't know about them..................
A bit more wandering to get my bearings. There are loads of billiard places. No wonder Trung and Lim gave me a beating. Some young lads beckoned me over to sit with them on the street outside a cafe. We didn't understand each other, but got along famously with the help of the LP. It was a canny night, they were good fun. I spotted the leader, so made friends with him. It came in handy when one of the other lads tried to get me to foot the bill. The leader fired him off. He then bought mine for me. We could have been good mates. They were a rowdy lot, in there 20's, but a good laugh. The 2 young lasses serving on got some stick, but when they said "Closed", all the lads scattered, the girls were in charge.
Home, read and bed, pretty much in that order.