Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vietnam to Cambodia - a quick summary

Arriving in Saigon/HCMC we made a quick transition to the War Remnants Museum, after organising our transport to Phnom Phen. The museum is largely devoted to the Vietnam war and was totally amazing, making us appreciate and realise even more the resilience of the beautiful Vietnamese people.
After that a beer was required and the venue was the Rex hotel, apparently a fav of the US officers stationed in Saigon - not that that was a selling point. Very camp, very 50s, and pulsing with wedding fever - one wedding each floor - wedding season Vietnam cashed up style. Marie and I had a Saigon Iced Tea, Rob his stock standard if not over inflated Tiger beer. Dinner Lemongrass restaurant - gorgeous Viet dinner, amazing view. Next morning early call for Cambodia!

Ok Ok quick summary - I'm trying!

Six hours on a bus to Phnom Phen - we were met by a relo of a friend and were soon in our hotel despite thinking 20 Tuk Tuk drivers were him. A beer or two later all our Cambodian friends arrived on mass, organising our forth coming days and catching up - all 13 or so of them. Dinner later via a few sites with our Tuk Tuk driver Hua, and an early night given our plans for the following day.

Khon and the convoy picked us ap after breakfast and we headed for the Killing Fields. Her and Urn her sister told us of their stories of flight in the Pol Pot era, as very young children - 8 and 11 respectively - all very harrowing, amazing. Killing Fields and their stories among thousands of other unheard voices, all I will say is it was totally gruesome and disturbing and I can't believe this was allowed to happen again - obviously WWII lessons were not learned. And to be with survivors of this horrid regime made it all very real - as did the S - 21 prison - right at the end of the street we are staying. Lost for words!!!!! Wake up world!
Cambodians - so happy such lovely people in the face of an horrific recent history.

Off to Angkor Wat tomorrow with the Cambodian troop - lots of fun to be had I am sure, and lots of lessons to be learned as well!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Moving On to HCMC

Today we are leaving for Ho Chi Min City - Saigon, for one night before we leave Vietnam for Cambodia. It will be sad leaving Vietnam as we have all had a wonderful time here, and also sad today leaving Hoi An as we have had 4 wonderful days here, in fact I am getting a new t-shirt printed - Breakfast, Massage, Temples, Shopping, Beach, Beer - basically the order of the days activities this week. We have been fortunate to stay in a beautiful boutique hotel, where everything has been sensational. We might all loose some weight after leaving here as breakfast is unbelievable - yesterday I had Creme Caramel after fruit, and eggs and toast - only because I could. Today I might have cake - again cos I can! My two travelling companions have been stuffing their face, me I am a bit more restrained - except for cake!
Yesterday I also did some more shopping, organised my new dress to be made, picked up my new shoes, bought bits and pieces, visited temples and the sights despite feeling a bit unwell - sore throat etc. but I still managed to be out and about. It was really hot too, after a little rain in the morning which equalled humidity and very curly hair.
The afternoon was spent at the beach, another ride down there which is so much fun, a coconut on the beach, a nice long swim, followed by a beer before the ride home. The night was capped off with dinner and again an early night - I have been so tired, but I guess that comes with an action packed day in beautiful Vietnam.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ho Ho Ho with Uncle Ho

Christmas in Hoi An has been fantastic. Starting Christams Eve, there was a big dinner here in the garden of our hotel, and being the Christmas lovers we are, we deceided to go along. The staff were buzzing and very excited, all decked out in Christams garb, even a Vietnamese Santa. We took a few early snaps and were later seated in the garden and had a lovely table. It was all very festive without being commercial and chi chi. As it was Christams were ordered some French bubbles (I only do French at Christmas - old tradition - helps me cope!). Anyway suffice to say we downed several more bottles between the three of us, all teamed up with the fantastic buffet of seafood, and other specialties.
We were very merry and really enjoyed the evening despite the Christmas tunes - it sounded like Christmas on 45 on high repeat. A lovely night I must say, the staff were so much fun as were my dinner companions.

Christams day we all had a cruisie day - Marie and I went to temples, shopping, tailors etc. whilst Rob had a relaxing day reading and doing nothing - he said it was his best Christmas ever, and I have to agree, no pressure, no fuss, just fun and relaxation.

We rounded off the day with a trip to the beach. Rob had been the previous day and so all three of us hopped on bikes and peddled down to the coast - only about 20 minutes away. It was a great ride and the beach did not deisappoint - the water was warm - not freezing like southern oceans! We hung out on the beach and then stopped off for a nice cold Tiger beer on the way home. Dinner was at a local institution - Mermaid restaurant, where I finally got to have Green Papaya Salad, and it didn't disappoint. We all had something different, again with a Tiger for our thirst.

So that was Christmas in the land of Uncle Ho. If Christams was like this every year I could learn to love it again!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hanoi - Hoi An, an amazing Race moment!

We left Hanoi at 5am, after waking at 4, arriving nice and early at the airport. Lucky lucky as our flight had been re-scheduled and we were now scheduled to leave at 5.30pm - ahhhhhh!!! However as we were there early I went immediately to the Vietnamese Airline counter to see if there was a possibility of getting on an early flight to Danang. We were told that all flights were full but to wait 5 minutes and they would see if there were any no shows on the 6.45am flight. So lucky we were but I needed to pay there and then in cash, needed everyones passports, but thankfully a trip to the bank the previous evening ensured I had millions of Dong, and could pay up quick (I was told to hurry!!) - there was lots of running around and getting passports, money, lots of chaos, and getting on the plane, through security - all in a few minutes - but we did it.
We arrived in Hoi an not knowing if our pick up would eventuate, but everything fell into place, and we were soon whisked away to Hoi An.
Upon arrival at our hotel, we were taken to the restaurant for breakfast - OMG - everything you could want and more!!! We are all going to be sooooooooooooo fat when we leave this hotel. And the rooms, DIVINE, all for US $50 per night - though Rob is complaining that it's not as good as the Dubbo motel for AUD $65! (that was vile!)
We are all in heaven - and there are shops everywhere - double heaven, though shame about all the Christmas cheers and carols, though it is sooo nice I may even be nice for Christmas this year - and also go to the spa for some pampering. Better go - shops are calling!

Hi to Uncle - Last Day Hanoi

Arriving early this morning by train from Lo Cai, we headed back to the hotel where we waited about to go and see Ho Chi Min's Mausoleum, opening at 8.00am. Given we arrived in town at 4.45am, we had a bit of time to kill and no where to have breakfast. We watched stupid Virginia Trioli verbally box a few people on ABC early morning TV, before finally being able to get out of the hotel to walk to see the man.
It was a big walk through and around the military/defence zone, before finally arriving. We were third in line for the somber pomp of viewing Uncle Ho (as he is affectionately known). Upon entering the tomb with a uniformed military guard in front, there he was - lying serenely - albeit a little white, but otherwise looking good. It was totally worth doing, though one couldn't say they'd enjoyed it!
But it was post Ho that we were all looking forward to, breakfast then proper check in and shower. Breakfast was divine - a lovely eatery called Five, great coffee, great food!
The rest of the day was spent collecting my new prescription sunnies, and shopping, before drinks at Mao's again - Long island Iced teas on special today (35 Dong or $2 AUD). Dinner was local - Tandoor - for yummy Dhal, rice and veg dishes - to the sounds of disco Christmas tunes - how multicultural!!
Now I'm tired, tired, tired - have to be up at 4am for the next leg - to Danang and Hoi An - so enjoy Christmas eve! Maybe I'll get in a practice then.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sapa - Coc Ly - Lo Cai

Another action packed day, after a very amusing afternoon and evening in Sapa. We ended up being the toast of the Black H'mong ladies, particularly Rob, as he really played a game with them, so they tried even harder to sell to him. Needless to say, on a cold evening they were all lined up outside the restaurant we went to just waiting to sell us more stuff. It was hilarious, and an even bigger game by this time. As it was so freezing outside as well as our hotel, we chose a nice warm pizza restaurant with nice cold beers, where many were downed.

Still not a yoga practice to be had, today I managed a few stretches whilst waiting for a boat, it is way too cold and with no heating and my mat in Hanoi, it can wait til tomorrow.

We left Sapa early bound for Coc Ly market, about 2 hours away, a Tuesday market frequented by Flower H'mong. It was very colorful, lots of snaps to be had, and a few purchases as well. The boat trip followed down a river for about 1.5 hours, where we were lucky to visit a Flower H'mong village, where our boat driver was from. It was great - again really colorful, very tribal, just as I like! On the way back we spied over into China from the border crossing, and saw a temple dance ceremony in action right near by.
Now we are back in Lo Cai waiting for the night train back to Hanoi minus the Baileys! I am really enjoying Vietnam, the north is wonderful, hope the rest maintains my enthusiasm. Anyway better get back to my Tiger - beer that is!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hanoi and Sapa

Yesterday, after touring around by foot in Hanoi - visiting the "Hanoi Hilton" - the Maison Centrale - an old prison, the city art gallery, some travels in and around the city walking around the streets and markets, taking in some fab sites, smells and street life, downing several beers in Maos Red Lounge, I saw the best sight so far - a motorbike travelling down the street with a full size fake blue and white Christmas tree standing upright on the bike travelling at high speeds down the street - so as you can probably tell I have not avoided any Christmas crazyness, although they are not trying to sell you stuff you don't need under the guise of Christmas.
Later in the evening we boarded the train heading for our next destination, Sapa, up in the northern highlands, very tribal, hopefully with the promise of being very funky. The train journey was great, very comfortable, and our compartment was very glam! After many Baileys, we slept all night, waking at 5am, the train due to arrive at 5.30am. We were met and transported an hour to Sapa, and realised how freezing it was. Our hotel was freezing, there was no heating, and we couldn't check into our rooms til midday. They did however feed us a fantastic breakfast, albeit downed to the tunes of an annoying new "friend" from the land of the Union Jack - who incessently complained about the weather and anything else she could.
After breakfast we left with our guide Kee, a H'mong guy, lovely and friendly and who really liked Aussies. They were 4 French in tow and little miss annoying - but we soon got rid of her as we ventured into the valley towards Cat Cat village. The H'mong people are gorgeous and we soon had a mob around us - they are so tiny and wear bright gorgeous tribal gear, so a winner in my eyes. Our trip was about 6kms round trip, steep down and as you guessed it - steep up. At the top my new friend Sy, a H'mong womand and a few of her friends extorted some $$s out of me in exchange for some nice textiles and jewellery.
We arrived back at our hotel - had a freezing shower - if I don't come back with pneumonia it will be a miracle. A hot, lunch, some warm coffees and a few beers later, and we are all smiles - loving Sapa and the local people. In fact the Vietnamese as a whole are lovely, am enjoying it more than expected - the sights, the people, but particularly loving it here in Sapa!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hello Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi about 1pm Saturday afternoon after a few hard fought vinos on Malaysian Airlines, and too many hours at KL Int. Airport. Malaysian Airlines are a little stingy with their drinks, but the whole "service" provides entertainment in lieu of real in flight entertainment. For those interested the plane was a 737/800.
Arrival in Vietnam was easy, way too easy, and a little amusing. Marie and I had some duty free booze and we wanted to go throught the customs declaration line but there was no one attending to that line, so we asked the guy in the nothing to declare line what to do - he asked what we had - we said two bottles of booze - he said "oh alcohol - no problems" and waved us through - I was liking this place already. We quickly found our ride, and were off to town in a flash.
The surrounds reminded me a little of India, well any developing country. Plenty of scooters and bikes on the road - lots of helmets though that's unlike India, however not sure how much a jockeys helmet is going to save you. It was only 20 minutes into the 50 minute road trip to town that I heard some Christmas tunes on the radio. Our driver changed from a CD to radio - possibly to hear the news, then after that came George Micheal singing "Last Christmas", followed by some chick singing "Santa Baby", then "Rock around the Christams Tree" - Brenda Lee I think. I was crying with laughter, and Marie and I had a bit of a sing along too, much to the delight of our driver who thought we loved it. Another 5 minutes down the road I spied the first of the many Christmas decorations we would see all day. In fact our hotel is just around the corner from Christmas decorations street, where you can go to buy your Santa suit, and other Chrissy decs! I will not be spending much there me thinks.
We arrived at our hotel in the old quarter about 2pm, checked in, conducted all the necessary formalities, then showered before stepping out into the Hanoi streets.
I love Hanoi street life, a little like India, particularly in the tiny streets of the old quarter minus the color of the saris and salwars, and the absolute beauty of the Indians. Anyway mission one was to get prescription sunglasses - something that required more than a little patience. Unlike India English appears to not be widespread, and coupled with the fact that I'm an idiot and left my prescription in the hotel, which equalled interesting situations, a few potential eye examinations, much head shaking and finally a place that knew what I wanted. Suffice to say I think the people here are lovely, really gentle and pleasant.
After that was accomplished (wonder what I will end up with), we all strolled around the streets and checked out the street life which is really cool. A few beers, some delicious dinner, mine came with a hair but was still yummy, and we were set, though ready for bed. A night cap of Baileys (it's quite cold here) and I was asleep despite the horns and street noise. Can't wait for day two!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hanoi bound

Gee airports are fun!!! More than a few hours to fill in today at KL International airport - where the big jet engines roar - oopps that was from Susan Reye's 70s song LA International Airport - brilliant song!! Anyway am bored, have shopped - bought some very nice sunnies, not eating though - so maybe a few sun salutes soon! Checked out the airport jungle - there was a cockroach the size of my fist - lovely. Knee is feeling good - playing cricket yesterday seems to have sorted it out - Go Tigers - we won (not that I had much impact though did take a nice catch if I do say so myself!!).
After entering the terminal at KL on my Christmas escaping adventure - we were confronted with "Jingle Bells" and over the hours heard many more lovely Christmas tunes. Marie, one of my travel companions dared me to untie the tinsel festooned around the balcony in the main arrivals terminal, but languishing in a Malaysian prison for being a grinch doesn't appeal.
Stay tuned for more over the next 15 days, some travel, Christmas, food and practice tales to tell I hope!