Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Cool in Dalat.

10/5 - It is nice not to sweat for a change, although when the sun comes out it is warm. I had some pho bo for breakfast, like a beef, noodle broth, with herbs. I may have told you that before, so 2 for the price of one. If you told me a few weeks ago that I'd be eating noodles for breakfast, I probably would have believed you, as I've stopped surprising myself over what I eat nowadays. The meals come with fresh herbs regularly. I think the one I like the best is basil, but who knows. You just rip off the leaves and lob them in and have a quick stir. Yum yum.
Fueled up, I thought I would burn a few calories and set off up the road. I got pulled over by an Easy Rider, Khien. They are famous within Dalat and take people on their motorbikes for city or area tours. I had read a bit about them, so fancied a trip out, but being me, I took his card for a think. A bit more traipsing around and an efix then I decided to give Khien a ring and book for tomorrow. I asked him where I could hire an automatic moto. "Meet me outside in 10 minutes."
And there it was. I wanted a auto Honda 90, like my Dad used to have. I got a souped up Yamaha scooter, well, it seemed souped up to me, except going down hill, when it cut out if the throttle was shut. A bit, no not true, a lot hesitantly I set off and pulled over about 200 metres down the road, but only for petrol. Back on my new wheels and off down the road, which turned into a dirt track, OH OH, which turned into a narrow bridge, double OH OH, but no problem and no dead pedestrians. I was starting to get a bit cocky now, so headed out of town to look for some rough verges to practice on. When the buses, lorries and cars come passed, they don't expect to have to slow down or move over, the moto is expected to pull off the road and keep going. I never made the verges though, the heavens opened. I had planned ahead and brought the cape Dung gave me, but ripped it trying to put it on, so I did the local thing and found a building with shelter and pulled over. A bit late, but now the road was awash. The rain backed off, so I headed for the hotel, to pick up the heavy duty cape I have been toating around for 4 months. It was almost binned a few times, but now I am glad it wasn't. I got conned though, before I got back to the hotel, the rain lashed again and now I am completely drenched. Not to be detered, or to be a bit stupid, I got changed donned the cape and was cruising again. Dalat is a cool place. I took in the cathederal, the lake, the golf course, the lake again. I don' t know how that happened. I was going to avoid the central market area, but thought I'd skirt it. Wrong, I took a wrong turning and ended up amongst the stalls. There are some people very lucky to be alive still. The market is for fruit, fish, flowers and veg and very busy at this time of the evening. I manouvered my way out and kept on following my nose. I was getting a bit cold now with the rain and high wind as I hurtled along, so I pulled over for a whiskey, but had a tea. I left the bike outside the cafe, but only just. When I'd thawed out, my time with the bike was almost up, so I set off back, the wrong way around a roundabout, I later found out. It looked like a load of shops to me, not a roundabout. It doesn't really matter over here anyway. I have enjoyed it on the scooter, this could become a feature. I dropped it off and had some nosh and an early night.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Decisions decisions.

9/5 - Moving house again. I was going to go to the Mekong Delta, but decided to go to Dalat. Why, I don't remember, so it must have been a monumental decision. Dalat is in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam and handily, the bus goes from just around the corner. That could have been the reason to choose it. I lugged my gear around there and luckily, there is a bus ready to go. Got my ticket and stowed my gear in the hold, along with a couple of motos. I know I go on about this, but do you think that would happen in the UK. Anything gets transported here, so long as it will fit in or on. Except durian, that has to go outside or not at all. This is the most luxurious bus I have been on so far, but the local one to Ha Tien, was cosier and friendlier.
It is a fair old hike, about 6 - 7 hours but the views are good, to the time doesn't drag. We stopped a couple of times at services. I am trying all sorts of food at the services now. At the first one I tried a strawberry cornetto, just what the doctor ordered. At the second it was back to pho bo. The conductor made a list of the hotels we were staying at, I picked mine out of the LP, as he was writing the list. It will be handy getting dropped at the hotel. It was also wishful thinking. We got dumped at the town centre, or just out of it.
I looked at my map, I don't know why, but didn't feel so bad when a Swiss bloke couldn't work out our location either. The bus driver pointed out on the map where we were and I still couldn't work it out. The Swiss bloke wandered off to find some street names and a smashing little lass, very reminiscent of Diep, showed him where we were. The bus driver was a country mile off. The little lass was trying to get us to go to her hotel, the Swiss lad wandered off not interested. She told me where the one I was after was and said, "but very expensive $10-12". I asked where hers was. We were stood in it, fronted by a mobile shop. Does it sound dodgy to you? Oh yee of little faith. I didn't have to walk, so I took a gander. Cable TV (footie), hot water (luxury), big room (parties) and a balcony (outside toilet). $6, how could I say no. She even wanted to carry my rucksack upstairs.
It is fairly close to the local town centre, as opposed to the tourist town centre. I mozied on out to checkout the neighbourhood. This is quite a neat little place. The telephone tower is modeled on the Eifel tower, but I think that is quite common in VN. I almost went into a local eatery, but kept going a while and hit the real town centre, Touristville. I shouldn't keep having a go really, considering my position as a tourist. There's a smashing big lake and a good looking golf course, $65 a go. I could be tempted. The tourist area has loads of neon and a line of bars, so being a tourist, I went in one, for a coffee of course, but had a beer. The town is buzzing, it is that time of night again. Dalat is busy with VN tourists as well as foreign tourists. I watched the sun go down over my beer and headed off again. I hit the ATM, but could only get money out if I used my card. I couldn't find a local eatery that was open now, so ended up doing a complete loop and back at the first place I saw. I should have gone in then, this place is too hilly to be wandering all over, I wont be hiring a push bike here.
The city/town is popular with VN tourists because it is the flower city of VN, also known as the honeymoon city. It is the biggest flower and veg producer in the country I believe and I am very glad to be here.

Saigon strolling.

8/5 - Off to sort out my flight dates today, they are all way out of line, except for the Sydney one, you can tell this is my first time travelling, my estimates were way out. I used my head and took a moto there, but didn't use my head and change them when they asked for $15 admin. It was free on the phone to Bangkok. It'll probably cost me $30 to phone now.
I was going to walk to the Aussie consulate and sort out my visa, but decided to use my head again.... OH OH. I phoned them. It takes a fortnight to process. That saved me a walk, so I ended up by the Saigon river, for yet another caphe da. This is a big port, I hadn't realised. There are some big ships in here and a lot of them, like Liverpool used to be I suspect. (look out, here comes the grumpy old man). The 2 nearby ferries give it some stick, back and forth across the river and a couple of hydrofoils whizzed passed. It is a busy old river. There are not many touts here either, although that may change in the evening. A couple of nice Vietnamese men came over for a chat. One is looking to buy a yacht. I guess he earns a few bob. He is off to Plymouth soon to check out a factory. I wonder if it is to close it down and move the work, or for some friendly joint venture. They insisted taking my photo for me with the river in the background, which was friendly. I headed back towards town, stopping in the shade whenever the sun came out. I managed to shake off a persistent moto man and was getting a bit peckish, so stopped at a street corner vendor to pick up something I hadn't tried. I don't know what it is, but it looks OK. Poly bag in hand, I went looking for a perch. Some young man sat on a low windowsill/pavement, so I went and joined him. He motioned me to shuffle along, so I couldn't be seen from inside. It is friendly around here. Another lad came and joined our perch. It looks like I have picked a popular spot. The 2 lads lay down and nodded off, so I got stuck into my food. The sauce looks like giant tapioca. I must have been a pretty sight, because a bloke over the road took my photo. Me being the friendly sort, I waved, which made him and his mates smile. The food turned out to be banana fritters and tapioca and it went down very nicely thank you. The lads from across the road came over for a natter, intrigued I think. The Vietnamese plonk down and eat or sleep anywhere and dont draw a second glance, some gangly, bald Mackem sits down and everyone stares. I suppose I do stand out a bit. Eventually, I wandered off in the direction of the hotel, until I recognised I was headed towards the river, wrong way. The more I look at maps, the worse I get. I got a moto back, it is safer and went for a power nap. I don't know why I bother, something usually wakes me after about 10 minutes, probably my snoring.
I thought I'd head for the park and do some catch up with the log, so I found myself a shady spot and was joined by a persistent, canny, old bloke, who wanted money, but being a tight-fisted git, I never handed any over. He wasn't moving though, so I moved on and did a bit of blog catch up instead. I remembered my laundry and visa extension too, so went off to pick them up. It is a hard old life, but I consoled myself with a beer on the way back to drop them off. A lady outside an Italian/Vietnamese restaurant has been chatting and smiling everytime I walked passed, so I thought I'd go and eat there. I'm an easy target. A couple of glasses of wine and a beer and I'm half cut, so thought I'd better go back in case I get chatted up and don't spot the meat and 2 veg, although, I have only seen 1 ladyboy, since I have been in Vietnam.

Good morning Ho Chi Minh City.

7/5 - Up and at 'em. I thought I'd do a few sights today, but used my h ead and got a cyclo to the first one. If I am honest he badgered me into it, but it is a good way to see the city. I got a sweat on sat in the front, this bloke must have been soaked, mind you he wont miss a few pounds. You get badgered a bit by cyclos, motos, taxis and the ganja, sex, opium etc are like water off a ducks back now.
I checked out the bookshops. Why? I don't know, it surprised me too. Next up the Peoples Community building, parliament stuff, I think. I didn't go in, I sat in the park outside, so I am not sure. Then the Opera house, pretty cool. An outside exhibition of photos of Vietnamese life, then another bookshop. I must be delerious. Next, Notre Dame. I am delerious, this isn't Paris. No I am not, it is the French influence. There is a wedding going on too, so I didn't go inside. After 4 months, the sight-seeing urge is fading a bit, but I did go inside the Post Office over the road from Notre Dame and very nice too. I even posted a few postcards, but don't sweat, none to you lot. That'll teach you to read the blog. I read in the comments today, that our Mick is taking credit for it, which means I can take credit for his doctorship, so you know what a load of crap that is.
Wandered to another park, there are loads in HCMC. It is a very open city on the whole. I have heard good and bad about it. I like the place, so far. I heard it is full of motorbikes, but it can't be that full, I haven't been hit yet. It is less hectic than I imagined and nice to walk around, although I am only scratching the surface. Back in the park, a lad offered to shine the soles of my sandals, but I declined and we laughed and we laughed again as I wandered off and saw him shining someones shoes. I kept to the park scene and the shade as much as possible on the way to the Presidents Palace, not too impressive, to be honest. I took a left here, hoping to find Ben Thanh market and shock horror, I did. I like to look around the markets, a lot more than the temples at the moment. If the blog stops here, I have been struck down by Buddah, God, Allah or one of those lads. If it stops later, it was a fatwah. Into the market for a look, but I get the biggest looks I think, my natural beauty again. There is all sorts in here. If you want a T-shirt, jeans, shorts you don't have to look, they get thrust at you, again in the best possible taste with plenty of smiles and patter. I even got offered a helping hand from a young lass to get over the step on the way out. Now I feel like a dodering old fool, instead of the strapping ardonis I was when I came in, so I went back to the entrance and was reborn. I bounded down the road and collapsed behind a tree in another park. Actually I sat on a wall near a quiet spot entering the park. Not quiet for long though. A Phillipino bloke came over to chat. His sister is a nurse here and is going to England soon to be a nurse. He asked if we could meet, so I could give her some local advice. It didn't sound too kosha to me, so I dumped this one, like a hot potato. The LP can get you a bit paranoid. I have been hanging onto my bag for grim death, here in HCMC and my camera is clipped to my belt. I usually carry a debit card, in case I need some dosh, but it is back at the hotel. Anyway NEXT.....
A young lad came over into my quiet spot. He'd been hovering for a while. He gave me some cock and bull story about being on a project, stuttered and stammered a while, then went back to his mate. I had a vice grip on my bag. They both came back over to take a photo. He stood next to me and I watched his hand move to my pocket. At this point the interview was terminated with a few short sharp words, thanks to the LP paranoia. This area around the market is notorious. The landlady also warned me about it. I never twigged until I was back in the hotel, that I could have been in a dust up. They would have been dust and I would have been up in front of the judge. It's a good job Eddie, an old army mate, isn't here with me, we would both have been shot at dawn. A bit more park wandering and back to the digs. It's been partly cloudy today, but I am still dripping. Even the locals sweat when the sun is out. I had a shower, but not before I tell you about the other park adventure. I almost forgot, how could I?
An old dear tried to sell me some sweets, but I declined, so then she offered me her daughter, 22, good boom-boom, good English, good everything. That must be one hell of a mother daughter relationship, or one hell of a mugging, LP parnoia?? No !! the lady was right, she was good boom-boom. Only joking Valerie, pick yourself up. Showered and out. All the places I fancied eating were full, so I returned to last nights haunt, even the same seat. What a boring old fart........................... our Mick is.
I don't think there is anything more to report for tonight, but life is so full in the city, I may have missed something. Anyway, see what tomorrow brings. I think the last boring day I had was before I left home. I could be wrong, there may have been one in Thailand. How can I ever go back to work after this???? EASY, lack of money!!!
Goodnight Johnboy.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Look out Saigon, here comes Gil.

6/5 - Up with the lizards. The bus is arriving at 7.00. I gave 2 American lasses some friendly stick for being late. We set off and one of the lasses mentioned passport. I'd left mine at reception, but it was only 100 metres. I had to eat my stick though and it wasn't over yet. I hadn't got my ticket for the ferry from reception either. I had reckoned on picking it up from the ferry place. It changes from place to place. A moto man brought it over for me, 30 bob and I got some brownie points from the lasses, he brought a diary they had left behind. I was last man on the hydrofoil and we are off to Rach Gia. Vietnamese films are shown on board and are played so loud, it's pointless trying to listen to my music. Even though I don't understand them, the films are funny, in a Keystone cops sort of way. The 2nd one has the boat rocking with laughter. Our Mick should be here to watch these, they are his sense of humour. The trip was painless, but not for the lass over from me, throwing up. Another lass was greener than the top she had on, poor buggers. Into port, loaded up and safely back on dry land. Lots of willing help again. Then came the touts. I must just look like a mug, they walk passed all the other tourists to get to me. I am a mug, I nearly always fall for it, but not this time. A transfer to the bus station and I'm off to HCMC. The travelsicker is sat next to me this time, but he is saved by the Mekong, we just pulled up to the ferry as his head was bowing into the sick bag. I didn't have to volunteer to go as a foot passenger this time, we all got thrown out. I'll have to find out why this happens. The heavens opened as we approached HCMC and it is crazy, there are hundreds, probably thousands of motorbikes and bikes going through rainwater a foot deep in places. I have not seen anything like this in a big city before. The bus station is about 8Km outside, but the flooding stretches way down the road towards city centre. I got off the bus to the usual barrage of touts, so went for a wee to escape. A moto driver offered to take me into town, so I laughed and pointed at the rain. He showed me he had a spare cape. It would have been an adventure, but I declined. If his motorbike is in as good nick as him, I doubt we would have made it out the bus station. I ended up in a taxi with a puddle in the back and paid not too much over the odds, I THINK. The traffic rules in HCMC are "he who dares, gets through." I thought we were going to collect a few motorbikes and bikes along the way. You'll have to see it to believe the traffic flow, it is beyond words. We got to Pham Ngu Lao, backpackerville and it is a pretty cool place, just as I'd imagined backpacerville. Everything small and packed together. The landlady at the hotel asked where I am from.
No, the North!
Newcastle? I was gobsmacked. She has been 3 times to a friends and loves the Tyne bridge.
Up the stairs, only to the 2nd floor. The Geordie/Vietnamese took my small pack. Your shoes have to come off before you go upstairs here, the place is spotless.
Shoes off, bags off, sandals on and off to check the eateries. I walked the whole street and plumbed for a place where a Scots lass sat with a big bowl of soup. Good choice and a perfect people-watching table. At last, I tried the famed Pho Bo, beef soup but more. It was bloody lovely and so was the Beer Saigon, which considering I'm in Saigon, it should be really.
Bed time I think. You can't find a woman when you want one, well, a willing one, although there are a few moto drivers around here who could probably help. I haven't looked. HONEST GUV!!.

Lazy days.

5/5 - Not such an early start today, as it is lashing down, so I did a bit of packing and retired to the hammock to repair my pyjamas, they are actually a pair of our Gil's old football shorts, but great pyjamas. There's a lass over the way swinging too and having a read, she spends almost as much time as me in the hammock, they are really great. The sun's out and the girls are on the move, so I suppose I should follow.
I booked a ticket for the ferry back to Rach Gia for tomorrow. There are not plane tickets available for HCMC, another plan crashed and burned. I had better move on from here, Phu Quoc, it is too chilling, I could end up here for months. I may get back with Dung anyway, we've kept in touch by SMS and it sounds like a plan,................ so that wont happen.
I think I'll head for HCMC tomorrow, I need to change some flight dates and I think I'll extend my visa for Vietnam. I've slowed down my running around, not that I have run for many years now. I don't think I am going to get to north Vietnam at the current pace, another trip perhaps.
I jumped on a moto into town, they are typical tourist prices, 1 and a half quid and it is only 50 miles away, rip off. Duong Dong is bigger than I thought, there are loads of fishing boats and a neat market. A neat little bridge over the river too, only one plank missing. I stopped for a coffee and a bit of a watch. The non la hats are very popular with all ages. I'd buy one if I could pack it. The airport is right on the edge of town, very handy, except I don't have a ticket. There is a new international airport opening in 2010, so now is the time to come to Phu Quoc.
Wandering back down the hill, I picked up a baguette, I got the tourist price again. I strolled through the market and the rain started again, so I ducked into the indoor market. It is nearly all plastic plates, bowls etc for the kitchen with a smattering of clothes and jewellry stalls. It is all very narrow, built for the Asian physique, not a strapping, bronzed ardonis like me, it is a good market though. Back over the bridge and a miander. I went into a Hot Toc, I thought it was some kind of food to begin with, but then figured it is a barbers. You'd understand if you'd seen all the roadside signs in Vietnam. I was a bit reluctant to go in, they were playing cards and I didn't want to disturb them. The barber used manual clippers, it must be over 45 years since I have had my hair cut with them. He did a good job, mind you, it isn't a big job to cut my hair.
I found a bench by the road and ate my baguette, very tasty and finished my pineapple from yesterday. They are always peeled and cut in a pattern (now you know Carol). I wondered why and yesterday I watched the lady peel it, the pattern comes from the way they are peeled. I'll show you when I get home. I'll have to buy a honed machette first though, like the one the lady used. You don't mess with these fruit sellers. THE PRICE IS THE PRICE.
This is a neat little town, there are food stalls and a night market setting up along the roadside as evening draws in. I was going to go on the internet, but the shop is shut, so I sat on the step to check the map for another place and was joined by 5 ragamuffin kids. They wanted money, as have a few, but got biscuits. Only 2 of them would let me take their picture and the eldest wouldn't even take a biscuit. They are a right mix of characters and after a bit of fun, all left saying goodbye, except the eldest. A bunch of schoolkids, that I had met yesterday came passed and stopped for a quick hello. The ragamuffin kids were collecting recyclable refuse. I wonder if they get the option to go to school. It has to be paid for on the whole. Some minority tribe kids get free schooling, but not many.
I gave the internet a miss and setoff back, cutting through another hotel. The sea is wild again. Today I couldn't resist, so I stripped, dumped the gear and hit the surf. It was bloody hectic. I ended up 50 metres down the beach with the current in no time at all, so I swam back and ended up 50 metres down again. Sod this for a game of marbles, I body-surfed, in my own way, to the edge and took and age to get stood up and out. It was good fun. I'd no towel, so stood in the sun to dry and it disappeared behind the clouds. I was next to the internet beach place, so nipped in. No power for another 45 minutes or so, which probably explains the manual clippers and the internet shop being shut. I have been wandering around all day not knowing the power was off.
I had an iced coffee, I'm becoming addicted, they are really nice. A lass came across and told me the power was back and stayed for a long chat, giving me the 3rd degree, in a nice way. The staff here are smashing. Sea Star resort, in case you come over, $50 dollars a night though for a bungalow on the beach. Before I had a beer, I thought I should get nearer home, as it is dark and the sea is wild. I stopped for the beer and snap at the same shack as last night, the wind is blasting through tonight. They use authentic, chinese patterned, plastic plates here. I was just going to grab the last shrimp and noodles with my chopsticks and the plate took off in the wind. The dog enjoyed them, sand and all.
The stars are out tonight, between the clouds. This is a beautiful, relaxing place. Tonight I got back to base without any stings or problems, finished packing, a quick read whilst swinging and bed.
HCMC tomorrow.

Honing up my beach bum image.

4/5 - Up and off for a stroll on the beach. It is spitting most of the time, then raining or sunny the rest. I like walking in the rain, but got told off by a very beautiful lady, saying I would get sick. Rain or no rain, I'm thick, so I kept going. I got offered fruit and massages along the way, but not together. One of the beach hotels I passed had internet, so I sat and looked out at the sea while I blogged. You see the troubles I have to go through to bring you this sintilating recount of an intrepid and fearless traveller. I blogged until the power failed, so perhaps I didn't blog????? Took it as fate and went for a coffee in the attached restaurant, life is hard. One of the waitresses gave me a Vietnamese lesson. People often come over if I am writing or reading to see what I am up to. I suppose it would be called nosey in the UK, but here it gives me a warm, friendly feeling. The sea is very rough today, it must be getting near monsoon time, I was nearly tempted, but I have enough trouble getting out when it is calm, so substituted the swim with a bit more walk and a beer at yet another beach cafe (hut on the beach). The food looks great here, I think I'll stroll back here tonight for some snap. There are not that many places along the beach, it is just about right, every few hundred metres there's somewhere. Time to head back for a nod in the hammock and a music fix. I don't know what woke me, but I feel refreshed now, stiff, but refreshed, so shower and off to the beach again, I'm not fed up of it yet. I can see it from the hammock, so it is handy. I went back to the shack/cafe, the German lass was in from last night, she had returned my torch, whilst I was out. I had fish, whole, in pepper sauce, nothing like the pepper sauce back home, completely different and completely good. A couple of beers and back to base. I managed to get only 1 jeans leg soaked on the way back, the wave crept up on me. Another swing in the hammock and a read, I'm worn out, it's bloody hard work this. If it wasn't for the mozzies, I'd stay in the hammock for the night.