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.