Ho Chi Minh City 22.01.07 + Mekong Delta (AKA like father, like daughter)


Good morning Ho Chi Minh City, we’re off to spend our last day doing a (totally inadequate) one day tour of the Mekong Delta.  Up early for breakfast, then a few hours on a bus to get to a boat, which takes us a short way up a side waterway to catch a glimpse of urban life on the Mekong.


At lunch time, I stalked baby chickens….



After lunch, we visited a candy factory (coconut & peanut, yummy). 


A “con meo” in the village.  I’m taking more pictures of animals than anything else right now.


This woman asked me for money as our boat passed hers.  She was laughing hysterically when I gave her some (about .40c).


A very handsome lizard.


And this, is live electricity wires, knocked down by our bus on our way out of the port.  Nothing to worry about, we just kept driving….

Then tonight, we decided to live it up a little for our last night.  Cocktails at the Rex Hotel (one of the grand old dames of the Saigon hotel scene).  Probably the most expensive drinks we’ve had here, but still probably cheaper than most Sydney bars.  The rooftop garden is something to see, but we arrived too late for decent photographs. 

After leaving the Rex, we decided to walk to the riverfront to take in the night life – apparently the young and hip put on their best threads and cruise the Dong Khoi area on their mopeds. 

But some idiot decided to leap onto a traffic island that was a little to high for the height of the leap.  And I have sprained my right ankle.

A taxi back to the hotel, some ice, some vodka, and I’m fine, just embarrassed.  Getting packed and getting home is going to be fun.

Whale Island – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City 20.01.07

After an early lunch, we had a huge hassle paying the bill – apparently we couldn’t put more than $200 on one credit card – luckily we had three!  We then paid our drinks bill with what was left of our Dong, and raced to catch the boat, which took us to the bus that would take us to the train.

We decided on the “5 Star” train, as we had already experienced the normal train and the soft sleeper.  It was dead posh, with sofas instead of recliners, and a lot more space, and with staff, but it was still 8 hours on a train.  Just before dark, a window opposite us shattered, the older German couple sitting next to it were quite startled.  Apparently it is common for children to throw rocks at the train – they break about two windows per day.  I’m glad the windows were double glazed, as it could have been quite nasty.


Arrived at our hotel just before midnight, to find it surrounded by metal grilles like it was awaiting a siege.  A kind stranger knocked on the grille for us and a very sleepy short person reluctantly let us in, after we assured him we had a booking.  The hotel “reception” is part of the souvenir shop next door, and it seemed to have at least 4 people sleeping in a very small space – as well as a few motorbikes.

Up 4 flights of stairs to the room (which did NOT have the green marble bathtub the guidebook promised), we surrendered our passports (the police require that all foreigners give their passports to the hotel staff), and we collapsed into bed.  Sleep did not come easily, we are on a very busy corner, and Ho Chi Minh City seems to be a city that doesn’t need much sleep.

Mark took these pics this morning – there is a great view of our busy corner from the fourth floor.  Now at an exorbitantly expensive cafe using the “free” WiFi, but it’s now time to have some more adventures.  I’ll fill in the Whale Island gap as soon as I pic some representative pictures, and process some stuff.  It’s all good!



Safe and well

We are on Whale Island, where everything is perfect except the internet access. 

More details later, but I am posting here because the internet is sooooo slow that I cannot even read my email.  It took me 40 minutes to log in to .mac to see that I have email, but I cannot actually read email, or send it.  In desperation, I am posting here just to let mum and dad know that we are safe, well, and having such an indecently good time that we expect to be apprehended at any moment.



Whale Island 13.01.07

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Us leaving the island.

The reason that I haven’t posted this sooner, is that we really had a proper honeymoon.  Just two people, in an idyllic location, building intimacy and sharing an intensely personal and wonderful time.  We didn’t actually do much, but it was seven days that I will never forget.

Thanks Mum and Dad.  Your gift means more than I can say.


About to get on the boat that would take us to paradise.


There were ducks on the way.


The view from the restaurant on the island.


Even the beer was beautiful.


My own personal palm tree.


The view from my knitting.  Thanks David for the sock pattern 🙂


Mark off to discover the underwater delights.  Unfortunately his new underwater camera (my christmas present to him) died after the first day, so no great underwater shots.  Which is a pity, because we saw AMAZING stuff underwater. 


We pulled this guy out of the water for pictures.  A bit mean, but he was utterly gorgeous!


And this guy was posed a little bit – but seeing the colours, can you blame us ?


The jetty, from just outside our hut.


The restaurant and bar, with the owners waving us goodbye as the boat pulled away from the jetty.

Ho An 10.01.07


This guy was making wire baskets (for catching sea creatures?) just outside our hotel.


I can’t remember how we spent the morning, but we started to look at some of the Hoi An “attractions” (old houses, family temples, museums, etc.), and came across a young backpacker walking out of this place, who recommended it highly.  Always keen for a good veg restaurant, we went in.


And found tofu so fresh, it was still steaming. 

I wanted to go to the Hoi An Orphanage, but the address was in “Let’s Go Vietnam” (which I highly reccommend BTW), and not in the Lonely Planet which was in the day bag.  I had found the orphanage on the way back to the Grasslands hotel late at night by walking into the rusty barbed wire surrounding it and scraping some flesh from my scalp.  Unfortunately neither of us could remember where we were at the time.  A young western woman entered the restaurant and ordered in Vietnamese, Mark asked her if she knew where the orphanage was.  Fortuitously, she did.  Her name is Emma, she is a  social work and psychology student from Melbourne, and she is in Vietnam for the 4th time to work at the orphanage for a month on her annual holidays.  She gave us directions worthy of me (crappy), and we hoped to catch up with her later.

Unfortunately, from this point on, I have no photos until later in the day.  Rhubarb (the macbook) decided that even though his hard drive was full, and he wasn’t going to save the pictures to it, he would delete them from the memory card anyway.  I hissed, and cried, and stamped my foot, but they did not come back.


I went into one of the “assembly halls”, places where chinese families could meet and celebrate.  They were doing a solid trade in incense cones, which were hung from the ceiling and had labels attached – it appeared to be some kind on ancestor worship, but there was no-one around to explain it to me, so I just drank in the colour and movement, took pictures like I was possessed by a thwarted japanese tourist, and grinned from ear to ear.


This is one of 2 photos I took at the orphanage.  I just couldn’t be a “tourist” here, there is too much life and suffering, it is too close to the edge.  This little girl is 5 years old.  Emma says that 2 years ago she would not speak, or smile, or engage with anyone.  She is the first child that engaged with me – she motioned for me to come to her, pick her up, and take her to the food.  She had already eaten, she was just trying it on.  She spent most of our visit either in my arms on on my lap, smiling and laughing and clapping her hands, and being tickled by one of the other kids.  She lives in the room with the severely disabled.  Of the 70 odd kids at the orphanage, about 25 have disabilities, many of them quite profound. 

Visitors to the orphanage are asked to give a donation – Emma had warned us that this would be expected (and of course, we went with the intention of helping out), but that if we did want to make a financial contribution, it would be much better spent by giving it to a UK based charity that directly helps the Orphanage, rather than allowing the money to go to the Director of the Orphanage (from where there is no transparency as to how the money is spent).

The Kianh Foundation was started by two women who visited the orphanage in March 2001, and found the children living in revolting conditions.  They met a boy whose spirit touched them, and they resolved to do whatever they could to change things for the children there.  We made a small donation in the official donation box (100,00D, less than $10), which Emma said they would be happy with, and then met Emma at a park down the road (the director gets suspicious if she leaves with visitors).

Emma led us to Jenny’s Bamboo, who is an Aussie expat and is authourised to collect donations on behalf of the foundation.


We bought Emma a beer, and sat and chatted till night fell.  Again I looked for Pho (a place recommended by our tailor), but we couldn’t find it, and my guts are still not quite up to scratch, so we went for Emma’s reccomendation of Cafe 19 – “try the tofu with stuff”.


On the way we found the place where we had our cooking lesson – highly recommended.


Tofu with spicy greens and peanuts.  One of the top 5 meals so far.  Mark ordered this, I ordered “Tofu, Vegetables and Rice”, but it came without any flavour whatsoever, so I gave up and ordered the same thing.


A Hoi An Lantern shop.

Nha Trang 12.01.07


After breakfast, we formulated a cunning plan.  We would visit the pagoda and the champa temple (this one still in use), and then try to find the Whale Island office after lunch, to let them know where we were staying so we could be transported to the island.  On the way we saw this fabulous laughing Buddha – unfortunately they didn’t have a smaller scale model inside.


The caged bird sang prettily, though an identical bird, in an identical tiny cage just flitted from side to side like his mind was fractured by prolonged confinement.


This is the 10 armed manifestation of somebody in the form of somebody else.  Guidebook is not handy, but I will look up the reference.  We were met at the gates of the pagoda by some very pretty young women who informed us that they were orphans, and that the monks allow them to live at the pagoda and go to school – but that they need money to go to school, and would we please buy postcards or silk paintings from them.  The postcards cost us 100,000D – a shade under $10 – we declined to buy two sets.


The reclining buddha – finished only a few years ago.  The steps up to the buddha on the top of the hill were populated by beggars – old women, young children, and one girl of about 15 who carried her crippled (and not much smaller) brother with her.  By the time we had climbed to the top and bought water, we had spent about $20 – despite there being no “entrance fee” to the pagoda.  On the way down, the Lonely Planet recommends exploring around the left hand side of the main temple – we found a man who was happy to show us around through the closed gates, and recommended the best angles to photograph the sights from.  He also pointed out the tomb of a female monk, who was either born in, or died in 1953.


Next to the champa temple.  This is the first intact Linga (symbolising the male) that we had seen.  Splendid.


Some ladies eating lunch, while a young demolition worker has a rest between bouts of destruction.


All without a net.


The view from the top down to the entrance “hall”.


Shiva above a doorway.


Three of the four or so small temples.


More splendid revolutionary art.

After a very pleasant cocktail at the Nha Trang Sailing Club, on a terrace on the beach, we tried to get vegetarian food in two restaurants for dinner, but weren’t thrilled at the prospect of “stir fried legume”. In desperation we ended up in Nha Trangs only “genuine indian”.  I imagine that their genuine Indian is the chef, as the food was pretty good – and the gin and tonic was rather splendid.  Early to bed for an 8am pick up to go to Whale Island.

Catch up – Hoi An 09.01.07

Up early for a 7.45am pick up for the My Son Tour.  “My Son” means beautiful mountain, and it was home to the ancient Champa people who may have also built Borobodur in Java, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  Wikipedia is a little fuzzy on this point, but our guide claimed they were the same people.

Duy Phú is about a 1.5hr bus ride from Hoi An, after you buy a ticket (60,000D), you walk to a tin shed, where you wait for one of these to take you the last few k’s.


This is our guide, showing us a statue of Shiva, and encouraging us to stand behind it with only our heads showing for a photograph.  We declined, but many didn’t.



A detail of some of the stonework.  The workmanship was incredible – the fact that it is still standing today is testament to the incredible skills they had.  Many of the patterns on the stonework reminded me very much of Victorian decorative work.


A temple under restoration.  In the foreground you can see a deep crater full of water.  This is a bomb crater, made during the American war.  Until then, many of the towers still reached to the heavens, but ruthless bombing reduced much of what was left to rubble.  My Son is a magical place, but again with the rain, and the endless floods of whinging tourists, and a tour guide that threatened to leave without you if you didn’t get back tot he bus on time.  This is a place that needs time and contemplation, and I think Mark and I would both love to go back – with our own driver.


Back to Hoi An in the afternoon, and we found the Optometrists that I had seen from the bus earlier in the day.  We were doubly lucky to arrive when Ninh, an English teacher from the local high school was also there.  She dropped everything and became our official translator for the next 15 minutes, even translating for an eye test!  Mark had forgotten to pack contact lenses, and since he is so very blind, wouldn’t have been able to go snorkeling without them.


Back to wandering around Hoi An, we found this statue in what looked like a parking lot.  We have decided that he is Karl Marx, because it’s unlikely that the people of Hoi An would erect a monument to Normie Rowe.


Back at the markets, I found this woman selling a large number of onion variants.  The white ones in the small dish in the middle were smaller than my pinkie, and looked like onion grass.


Back at the hotel, overlooking the river and having a Biere Larue.  Tastes like VB, but is the local beer, and has a very attractive tiger on the label. 


Then off to cooking class.  We learned how to make “Vegetarian Pho”, Fresh Rice paper rolls, and Tofu with Chilli and Lemongrass.  The Pho wasn’t Pho.  It was a very nice vegetable soup with rice noodles, but it wasn’t Pho.  I think I’ll have to do a cooking class to learn how to make the dead creature variety, and then adapt the recipe myself.  Along with bacon and salami, Pho is something I miss very much, and the opportunity to taste it in Vietnam has been haunting me.  So far, every Pho I have tried has been like 2 minute rice noodles, with no character.  Apparently Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has great Pho.  I live in hope.

On our way home from dinner, we walked through the market, and encountered some Hoi An Nightlife 🙂


Hoi An to Nha Trang 11.01.07


We had time for a quick breakfast, then hired bikes to ride to the free WIFI cafe to check for an email from the hotel booking people, but there was no joy.  We made it back to the hotel in time to pack up our room, and were paying the bill when our driver arrived to take us to Da Nang train station.  I took some randome photos out the window for the mini bus.


Ahead is the “Marble Mountains”, made of, yup, you guessed, marble.  Apparently it’s an interesting place to visit, but we didn’t have time to stop.


Most train stations we have seen have marvelous examples of revolutionary art out the front.  It’s brutal, and course, but rather stirring.  Da Nang has a train instead.


Our tickets.  We are “foreigners”, in case you hadn’t noticed.


The train “platform”.  Quite likely, the lack of an actual platform is an excellent reason for not allowing people out of the locked waiting room until the train has arrived on the platform. 

The journey was uneventful – barring an unfortunate culinary incident.  I had seen someone buying boiled eggs, which were served with herbs and an interesting looking salt, and resolved to try them the next time the egg man cometh.  When the egg man came, I ordered some eggs, and he looked very surprised.  I should have known then that I was treading dangerous waters.  He cracked open the eggs with a very large cleaver, peeled them, and presented them on a little tray.  They looked… funny.  I proceeded to poke about with it, and found a tiny avian fetus, boiled alive.  Somehow, I think that is crossing the line between vegetarian and omnivore.  We declined to eat it, culinary adventure or no.

There was no-one to meet us at the other end, so we caught a cab to the hotel, and were in our room within 15 minutes of the train arriving.  Exhausted, we went straight to bed with a small Cointreau, and then slept very well.

Hoi An – Poisoned


I’ve spent the afternoon sleeping – my guts have sincerely disliked something I put into them, and I am staying close to a toilet and trying to keep my fluids up.  Felling a little better, touch wood, and looking forward to the trip to My Son tomorrow.

Picture is one of Mark’s from his new camera.  He is a clever boy, and has been running out to fetch lemonade for me between adventures.