Category Archives: Vietnam

Vietnam. Evaluation. 23rd October – 11th November 2016

So that was Vietnam.

Nineteen days of being exposed to a very different and often bemusing culture..

I cant say I’m sorry to be leaving, it’s probably been about the right length of time for me.

Any longer and the frustrations and petty annoyances that have so far been amusing would start to morph into big issues and I really don’t want to leave on those terms, cause we’ve had a laugh, seen some really interesting stuff and learned a lot.

But Vietnam for me is a place of continual frustration.

Yesterday we took one of the Iconic ‘Trips’ to the Cuchi Tunnels where a ragged army of peasants defeated the worlds biggest Super Power. The trip allow’s you (us) to actually go into the tunnels and experience first hand (though admittedly, only a cursory glance) what life was like for a whole generation of people who were born Farmers and died Soldiers.

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Tunnels aren’t made for Fat blokes

The key to the Tunnels (and in fact the defeat of the USA) was down to some fairly simple factors.

1. The Vietnamese were small and the Yanks BIG (the vietnamese marvelled at the Hairy arms of the Yanks) and as such the Americans couldn’t squeeze through the tunnels.
2. The Vietnamese used everything around them as a resource and lived off the land. They ate what grew locally (no organic veg Boxes being delivered) and drank the local water. The Yanks shipped in, often by helicopter, everything, including water to wash in.
3. The Americans were predictable. They started their war first thing in the morning and knocked off at five o clock when they commuted back to base for a Burger and a Beer.
4. Perhaps most importantly, the land belonged to the Vietnamese and they were committed to defending it. The Americans didn’t understand what they were fighting for.

I’m sure there are other factors but these seem to me to be the important ones.

You may ask. “When did he become an expert”?

Well, anyone who grew up in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ was well aware of the Vietnam War and most of us I suspect, marched or demonstrated against the war at one time or another.

Also, Ive been reading a book about the Cuchi Tunnels by Tom Mangold who was the BBC correspondent in South Vietnam during the war and his knowledge is priceless.

The actual Cuchi Tunnel trip is offered at every Hotel and travel agents in Ho Chi Min and the price varies depending on where you buy the deal. Primarily the entrance fee is 110,000 VND which can be paid at the entrance gate but the Trip includes a guide who is apparently knowledgeable about the tunnels and the war history. Plus a coach which pick’s you up from your Hotel and drops you off again, somewhere in district one.

In theory, the smaller the group size, the more expensive the trip. We paid 250,000 VND for a group size of about 12 -15 but when we got there our guide amalgamated us with another group so the group size doubled. Had we paid the 500.000 VND required by the hotel, iI for one would not have been happy.

The travel time from pick up was about two and a half hours. 30 Minutes of which was spent driving around Saigon collecting passengers from various Hotel’s.

Then there was a toilet stop at a Disabled Craft Centre where we could ‘buy things.’

This is a real dilemma because you want to help people whose lives have been blighted primarily by the use of Agent Orange but the item’s they produce are far too big, heavy and inappropriate for most westerner’s to take home.

They have absolutely no problem with using guilt as a sales tool which I find slightly disturbing.

The ride was quite uncomfortable with the bus lurching and jumping around on the uneven roads.

What made it worse were the 4 people on the back seat, right behind us.

Ive mentioned in previous Blog’s some of the disgusting habits some people display in public with nose picking and spitting at the top of that list.

This mob were obviously an A cappella Sniffing band or at the very least they were all professional Beat Box musicians cause the noises they could make were insane.

The lead singer was obviously the older lady who ‘Belched ‘ constantly.

Initially I thought it was some one using a straw to sucking the last dregs of Cola out of a plastic cup. But when I looked she had nothing in her hand.

Then I thought she must have a Tracheostomy pipe which needed clearing but her throat was (as yet) uncut.

Later we observed her walking around Cuchi belching all over the shop.

The gentleman with her was the rhythm section.

He coughed continuously and regularly from behind my seat, parting my hair with each bark.

I haven’t had so much Saliva on my head since i was the page boy at my aunties wedding and my mum used a good glob of spit to keep my hair from sticking up at the back.

She used to call it. “A Spit Lick’.

Combined with a clean Handkerchief (though in all honestly I don’t know why) it often replaced having a wash.

At that time washing was a bit hit and miss.

Our family had very little hot water, bathing only once a week when the big gas geyser in the bath room would be lit. Everyone was a bit frightened of it and we lived in fear of being clean but burnt to a crips on Sunday evenings.

So we had what my Mum called. AP&C. Armpits and crutch.

Those areas would have a cursory wipe over with a flannel and we were good to go.

The rest of the band chipped in with the odd Sneeze or Sniff where appropriate.

Our Guide seemed reasonably knowledgeable about the Tunnel’s and the history of conflict in Vietnam, particularly the American war which he talked about in triumphant tones and which I suspect, would be quite uncomfortable for any Americans present. I assume they anticipate that before they book up?

He started the narrative on the coach speaking through a mike with a small amplifier on his waist (like someone from a shopping channel) that made everything he said distinctly tinny.

His command of English wasn’t good and it was difficult to follow all that he was saying, especially as the old lady behind me decided to talk (and belch) all the way through his delivery.

So by the time we got there I wasn’t much wiser than I had been at the start.

The tour round the tunnels complex  was interesting though it was delivered in a very Vietnamese way. Shades of Dads Army in its organisation and delivery.

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Inside a tunnel

The “Film’ we would all see was obviously in Black and White but it was played on an old 22 inch Tv and the sound track was so badly warped it was almost impossible to understand.

Ironically the value of the tunnel was their size and the difference between Vietnamese fighters and American was constantly emphasised.

So why use European Mannequins dressed as vietcong fighters?

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One of these is Jaki the others real.

Half way through we were taken to a rifle range where you could shoot several different rifles and judging by the noise, which was deafening, there were plenty of takers at 40,000 VND a bullet (minimum 10). What we needed was ear protection.

On the return leg we were given the opportunity to crawl through part of the tunnel and this was probably the highlight of the trip. Hot and claustrophobic it really demonstrated what their life was like.

A taste of Tapioca root, the staple diet of the fighters and a tea made from Bamboo leaves proved just how ghastly life must have been.

Then it was back on the bus for the 2 hour ride home.

One of the other obvious frustrations here in Vietnam is the Traffic. The lack of any regulation and specifically the billion’s of scooter rider’s whose sole purpose in life is to mow you down.

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It’s hardly surprising I don’t want to return to a country that has attempted to kill me on so many occasions. Very John Yossarian. (Catch 22).

Once whilst I was walking along the pavement a scooter rider decided to use it as a short cut to avoid waiting at the lights (yes some do wait at lights, but most don’t bother).

Another was driving the wrong way down a one way street with no lights when I stepped off the pavement on a zebra crossing with a Green Man telling me I was safe to go.

Safe to go! That just doesn’t apply here.

Another frustration for me is the use of surgical masks.

I did some research and there are different explanations why they are worn but the most likely explanation is to avoid inhaling pollutants or germ’s. (Some say it is to keep their skin pale as dark skin is seen as unattractive).

On both counts I am baffled.

Firstly the masks are often ill fitting and are designed for single use, so donning the same one every day doesn’t help.

Secondly, if they didn’t Sneeze all over each other, there would be no need to take such drastic precautions.

Look, just put yer hand in front of your mouth when you Sneeze or cough! Right.

I wonder if the French rules on wearing the Burka would apply to some one wearing a full face mask like the do here?

Further proof of their insanity is demonstrated when you see a whole family perched on a motor scooter with young children stood at the front and Mum sat, side saddle, clutching an infant.

You do wonder about people who put a face mask on their kid’s face but don’t put a crash helmet on their heads?

There are clear difference of culture which both side’s find amusing.

Jaki has been the centre of attraction with her blond hair and Ive lost count of the number of photo’s we’ve cameoed in with Asian families.

Nothing typifies the difference in culture more than chop stick’s a tool that is brilliant in its simplicity yet breaches so many of our etiquette rules around eating.

“Sit up straight” My old Mum would tell us, don’t slouch over your food.

Yet here, that is exactly what you need to do in order to get noodles from bowl to mouth.

Of course, you cant cut food up with Chopsticks so it is held, and bitten into edible pieces. 
I watched a lady eating braised pork at breakfast and she had a large slice hanging out of her mouth like a Labrador’s Tongue before bitting of a piece and letting the rest fall to her plate.

Her mate was tackling a huge bunch of noodles which were dangling from her mouth like a Blackbird with a beak full of worms.

It’s also a Communist Country so they are happy to employ ten people to do one person’s job .

Though the Achilles Heel’ of communism was laid bare here.

When they had rice cooperatives’, everyone got paid the same so there was no incentive to work as you got paid anyway. Now each person owns their own plot and keeps (subject to tax) all of their earnings, increasing the rice crop several fold.

We’ve met some really friendly people, though most I must admit rely on tourism for their living.

Ive seen a country that has pulled itself up by its boot straps despite horrendous barriers.

But it’s still a Country in a state of flux.

They no longer look to Russia and China as their allies.

Most people tell us they are preparing for war in the South China Sea by building Battle ships with which to fight the Chinese.

They love America and want more US Tourists.
They dislike the Russian who they say are aggressive, rude and drink too much.
So I leave with mixed emotions but mainly with relief, Im glad to be back in Thailand where I just feel more comfortable.

I would find it hard to go past Thailand to get to Vietnam.

Sorry Guys but thanks for the experience.

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Ho Chi Min City. 8-9th Nov 2016

Ho Chi Min

When we arrived at Ho Chi Min Airport there was a Vietjet lost Items desk so we enquired about my Kindle which I had left in the seat Pocket of our flight from Bangkok to Hanoi. I’d realised it immediately but couldn’t get back on the plane to retrieve it so I was left with reporting it missing.

I did this on line but heard nothing so I got the Hotel to Phone them on my behalf.

Vietjet said they would e mail me if it was found, but to date I’ve heard nothing.

At the desk they wanted all sorts of information which luckily I had on the laptop plus my passport (which seems to be an addiction here, everyone want your passport). Eventually the lady made some phone calls to see if it had been found, which of course it hadn’t .

In conclusion she gave me a piece of paper which acknowledged the missing Item had been reported and told me to get on with my life.

We had contacted our chosen hotel, the Avanti and asked about their Airport shuttle service but they wanted $25 which seemed too much, so we went outside and tried to get a recognised metered Taxi.

Now we’ve noticed there’s something odd about Taxis here. The one at the front of the queue isn’t always the one that will take you. Why I don’t know.

Confronted by two different rows of taxis, one on our right close to the airport building and another just across the road, we followed the Taxi signs and went over the road, for no better reason than it got us away from the crowd’s clustered around the terminal exit door’s

Following the line of taxis to the front we asked a taxi driver for a ride into District one.

I may as well have been speaking in a foreign language for all the good it did.

He just stared at me with a vacant look on his face. This was repeated by three separate drivers of the first three cars.

The fourth one however took our bags, loaded them up and had us on our way in no time

He assured us he was a Meter Taxi and we sat in terror watching the meter whizz round as he fought through the traffic. By the time we got to our Hotel, it registered 1.5 Million VND an all time record high for a taxi fare. I had already rehearsed the rant I was gonna deliver as well as taking his number and photographing the meter, which by now was in overdrive.

However, when we stopped and asked how much we owed, (180 VND)  it was a perfectly reasonable sum that equated to about $10 which is what Bloggers had suggested we should expect to pay.

The Hotel is right across the street from Ben Thanh Market which seems to be THE tourist hot spot, so it couldn’t have been better placed. Our room wasn’t ready yet so we went across to the market and got an Iced Vietnamese Coffee with condensed milk, which is becoming one of our favourites and I couldn’t resist some BBQ meat on sticks.

It was hot and humid and there was a strong smell of cooking fish which would usually make me retch, but not today.

The Market is typical, lots of stall’s crammed into a large building with trader’s all trying to get you to buy from them rather than their competitor by shoving items in your face and chanting their mantra.

“Hello Madame, want to buy some thing, come in to my shop and look.”?

Later we sat in the Air Conditioned comfort of the reception until our room was available then threw ourselves onto the bed and slept.

When we woke it was early evening, so we showered and got dressed to go out.

The Market had changed considerably as the Indoor one was closed but they had all moved out into the surrounding streets with pop up tents and stalls, BBQ pits and Food stalls filling the road which had become almost pedestrian. Except that is for the bloody scooter riders who ignore every obstacle put in their path, including humans, if they choose to.

We went up to Bar’s Bar which was up a steep flight of Stairs. It was dark and there was some modern Vietnamese disco music playing. Think really bad Eurovision.

3 x Very attractive young ladies in very revealing outfits were manning the bar in between preening themselves in the long mirror behind the optic’s. Gorgeous as they undoubtedly were I wanted a drink rather than a fashion show. As it happened it was happy hour and we got two very good G&T’s at a reasonable price, some free salted Nuts and some free entertainment.

After Mooching around the stall’s on the street’s for a while we re-crossed the road, got some more money from a convenient ATM that didn’t charge us any extra for the privilege and found ourselves outside of the Ben Thanh Indoor Street Food Market where dozens of small stalls were banging out a range of different food’s which you carry to long benches to consume.

There was a rather good local band playing and the place was packed with tourists and locals alike.

The range of food options was extensive. From Oysters and sea food to BBQ Steaks.

I chose some big fat Pork Spring Rolls that were very good served with a spicy dipping sauce and several large BBQ’d Prawns.

Jaki went for BBQ’d Belly Pork with a selection of BBQ’d vegetables and the Okra with dipping sauce was very good. One for my brother Tony?

We drank some local white wine served in very elegant plastic pint glasses and soaked up the atmosphere. It was fantastic and something we should consider putting on in the UK. A covered food hall with lots of individual artisan food’s at a good cheap price. Think it will catch on?

later we went back to our Hotel and sat on the balcony over looking the road and the market where we ordered two very expensive (and not to be repeated) G&T’s before calling it a night.

The next morning we had a really good breakfast at the Hotel before setting of to explore.

It was much hotter today and though there was some cloud, the sun was shining in a very blue sky.

Jaki had heard there were some nice Park’s to be explored and spotting two green areas on the map (which turned out to be the Royal Palace and as such you have to pay to get in) we set off to find them. Once we realised our mistake we decided to walk to the Zoo and Botanical gardens which didn’t look to be the 4 Kilometres away that it actually was.

We drank our way through 4 bottles of water before eventually arriving at the Zoo and had several near misses with scooter riders who by now were getting on my nerves.

Not happy with putting our lives in danger every time we crossed a road they also took to driving up onto the pavement (where we were walking) to avoid any traffic jams. Several times they whizzed past me from behind brushing against my arm as they went. Each time i got slightly more aggressive till in the end i Blocked the path stopping one rider getting past. I pointed to the road.

He simply shrugged and drove around me.

The Zoo was both magical and a Horror show.
If like me you are a bit of a Zoo fan you will be interested to know this Zoo is an antique. It is antiquated has a faded charm but hasn’t kept pace with Animal Management and good practices.

Most of the animal’s are kept in cramped under sized and completely inadequate accommodation and their behaviour reflects a lack of stimulation.

elephant-2

One Bull Elephant was locked in a pen just large enough for him to stand, without being able to turn around. He swayed and demonstrated the repetitive motions of an animal that has been caged and restrained for too long. His female counter parts and there were about 6-8 were in a larger environment but they stood motionless, just repeating the monotonous rhythms of boredom.

We watched a Gibbon showing off in the Monkey Temple (which is like a giant ornate bird cage, very grand but totally in a appropriate) and he was so entertaining we decided to film his antic’s.

gibbons

He lured us into getting close to his cage before his grand Finale.

Grasping a lump of faeces from his bottom he threw it at us with remarkable speed and accuracy, hitting Jaki on the hand and splattering the i pad. He had the bowling action of ‘Tuffers’ With the accuracy of Broad and the arrogance of Peterson.

He seemed very pleased with himself.

We were so amazed by this that we stayed and watched him, though at a safer distance and he twice more threw faeces at us. Oh how we laughed.

What sort of place forces an animal to behave like that just to pass the time?

There were baby monkeys in another part of the cage though they were small enough to squeeze through the bars and come out onto the paths. Not too risky then?

There were also less welcome creatures running around and we counted 4 large Rats during our visit.

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The more we looked the worse the environment seemed though the gardens, particularly the Orchid House and the bonsai Tree’s were amazing.

orchid-house

bonzi

The afternoon took a particularly bizarre turn when I was led on a marble bench under a canopy cool ing off. Closing an eye I was relaxing when I heard some strange grunting noises that were clearly human, though not a spoken language.

Opening my eye a lady was taking picture’s of me. She seemed to find it highly amusing to see a Foreigner relaxing in the zoo.

There was even more commotion and this time when I opened my eyes she was leaning against my legs, making the two finger ‘V’ sign that is almost compulsory here, whilst jaki took her picture on her mobile phone.
It turned out the lady was deaf and she taught Sign language in English to deaf Vietnamese people?

After this our enthusiasm for the rest of the attractions fizzled out.

There was thunder in the distance and the first spots of rain were falling, so we decided to head home. Not before I had a quick game of badminton with some school kids using a very bald shuttle cock.

The walk home was long and hot and by the time we got in the US election results had called it for Trump.

Yet another opportunity for life to throw shit at me.

We slept till about seven when we set off to the market looking for a vietnamese flag which I hope to use when I get my next camper van.

There was a pop up restaurant dong a roaring trade in BBQ Fish so we sat and ate half a Kilo of giant Prawns with a mint and chilli dipping sauce that was sensational before going to book our trip to Cuchi Tunnel’s tomorrow. (Im currently reading a book about them by Tom Mangold but after I purchased it and opened the wrapper I found it is a badly photocopied reproduction, only the cover looks legit).

The Hotel wanted 500VND each but the travel agents around the corner offers it to us for 250 VND the only difference being the group size. Bigger the group, bigger the Bus, lower the cost.

I almost met my doom at the hands of yet another Scooter rider who decided to drive the wrong way up a one way street . We crossed the road on a Zebra Crossing with a Green walking man showing, looking right at the waiting traffic i didn’t see this loon who had to swerve to avoid me as I stepped off the pavement.

After some discussion about what to do next we decided to call it a day and headed back to our room where it wasn’t long before sleep over came us.

Explanations!!

Let me make it clear.

Though some of my Blogs may seem slightly negative with a touch of Moaning, I am having an absolute Blast and would not change a thing.

In fact every time something goes wrong Jaki says.”Well, that will make a good Blog”.

So please don’t feel sorry for me!

We went across the road to Bar’s Bar where three very attractive young ladies brought me G&T (2 4 1 happy hour).

Then, we went to the ‘Indoor Street food Market’.

I had pork spring rolls, deep fried plus BBQ Giant Prawns and Jaki had Pork Belly BBQ with BBQ’d vegetables.

We washed it down with Local white wine before coming back to the Hotel for a night cap.

Now sat drinking PG tips tea before putting the TV on to watch Hillary whoop Trumps ass.

Do not believe me when i say this aint fun.

 

Nah Trang Apartments. 4th-8th Nov 2016

Nah Trang Apartments

We started to realise this wasn’t going to be the executive accommodation we’d expected when we walked into the Lobby.

The Taxi had pulled into a rather swanked Hotel only to be told the apartments are “Round the back mate”!

The lobby housed a row of plastic chairs on which sat maybe 10-15 people all apparently waiting for the lift.

There were three lifts servicing the 45 floors of the apartment building (though 20 odd weren’t available from the lift) so I assume these are the Hotel floors, accessed from a different set of lifts.

When the first lift arrived everyone who was seated surged toward the lift door and rammed themselves, their Kids, one dog and a selection of bags into the enclosed space like those acrobats that can squeeze themselves into the cardboard tube inside a toilet role.

Jaki and I with typical britishness, stood back and waited for the next lift. However, we soon realised the crowd would build up again before the next lift was available and we would be in the same position.

So we shoved.

Our instructions were to ‘Go to the reception in Suite the 31st Floor to get our keys’.

When we got off at the 31st Floor there was no welcome desk , in fact there was nothing to tell us where to go. There was though a horrible smell of cooking. After a cursory search we found room 3102 which has several pairs of flip flops in front of it. It didn’t look like the management office of a rental management company.

We knocked and a lady who didn’t speak very good English answered, gave us some keys, took our passports and told us to go to room on the 34th Floor (the actual room number escapes me) and off we went.

We must have had a premonition as we asked if we could see the room before I paid for it, so we followed the Lady to our new apartment

Stepping out onto floor 34 the smell was much worse and the echo of our footsteps (or foot prints as an old sub officer of mine use to say) sounded very loudly as we searched for our room. The stark empty spaces that were the communal areas were unpleasant and slightly unwelcoming.

Not a vase of flowers or a picture on the wall. Very Inner city high rise.

When we first entered the room it looked reasonable but it smelt sickly sweet, like some one had just emptied a can of air freshener. it was similar to the pictures we’d seen on the web site and as we were so tired we didn’t really do a full inspection which we should have done. So I went back to the office and paid for the 4 nights.

When I returned to the room Jaki wasn’t happy. In my absence she’d had chance to look around and found the room was in an awful state.

The bathroom was dirty, the kitchen was filthy and the whole place was a mess.

The more we looked the worse it got.

We made a list of the issues and started taking photographs.

Dirty Cutler

dirty-cutlery-close-up

One frying pan, no utensils.

only-cooking-impliments

No plates

cutlery-cupboard
4 small bowls

no-plates-only-bowls
No washing up cloth.
No scouring cloth.
No kitchen roll

Two plastic beakers

the-only-cups-provided

No toaster.

Iron but no ironing board

The Serviced (executive) apartments were not equipped for Western tourists. They had none of the basic essentials we would expect. No toaster, a lack of Cups and saucers Knives and Forks, spoons and no means of cleaning anything. They seemed to cater for mainly Asian guests as there were an awful lot of Bowls and chop sticks but little else.

However, the main criticism was the cleanliness (or lack of it) of the room, it clearly hadn’t been cleaned properly.

graffitti-on-partition

There was Graffiti on the dividing wall

dirty-shower-screen

The shower screen was mouldy and dirty

dirty-ceiling

The ceiling in the bath room was dirty

cystern

The cistern was unpleasant.

toilet-first-app

There was a dirty Mop that leaked blue liquid on the floor

 

broken-shower-tap

The shower tap was hanging off the wall.

dirty-floor-and-mat

The bath Mat and the floor were dirty

dirty-shelves

Shelves were stained and covered in dust.

dirty-dividing-unit-with-spiders

There were cobwebs on some surfaces.

dirty-drawers-full-of-dustand-bits

Drawer’s w’ere dirty and there was old rice and dust in them.

dirty-cupboard-close-up

Cupboards were dirty

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The kitchen was so dirty we refused to use it . Even the Microwave was dirty inside and out.

dirty-microwave-2

The fridge door was stained

bogey-again

Perhaps worst, there was a Bogey on the front door.

As a result I went back down to the management office to complain but even though the shoes were still outside the door, no one responded and we were forced to spend the night there.

The next morning we resolved to leave if they didn’t move us to a better apartment.

We spent an uncomfortable period in the office with several of the staff showing them the pictures and explaining that unless we were moved we would leave.
We were eventually moved to room 4430 which was marginally better.

Well, at least it had a dish cloth, though it was dirty.

only-t-towel-supplied

It still didn’t have the facilities we required but after a further complaint they brought up the safe (as advertised) two knives a plate and a bowl.

They did nothing about the broken Bed.

base-of-bed-broken-5th-nov

So we went out and searched for a shop that had cleaning materials and then spent a few hours of our holiday cleaning and sterilising the kitchen, the cutlery, the Microwave and the cupboards.

cleaning-materials

After the chores were completed the place was at least habitable enough that we could make some Tea and heat up food without fear of catching something horrible.

At no time were we given instructions on how to find the Pool or Gym, how to use the washing machine or TV and we never got our welcome drink.

These two apartments aren’t executive apartments by any stretch of the imagination and should not be advertised as such.

plug-socket
exposed wiring.

The lack of cleaning and basic maintenance is deplorable and I am surprised  Bookings.com are still promoting them on their site.They even failed to turn up on time when we were due to check out (before 6 am0 and I had to go find someone to give me back my passport. (I wasn’t happy handing it over in the first instance).

The management company are completely incompetent and seem to have no understanding of how to manage and maintain a property in a reasonable condition.

These properties do not contain the basics expected by Western tourists.

I suggest if you want to visit Nha Trang you don’t bother with the Nha Trang apartments as they aren’t in my opinion fit for purpose.

 

 

Nha Trang. 4-8th Nov 2016

Nah Trang Beach Resort.

Some times you get to a place and it becomes special straight away, other times places can grow on you. Hanoi was like that. It felt very alien at first and yet I missed it when we left.

Other places can have a Magical attraction, like love at first sight. No rhyme or reason, it just happens.

There are a few places that have done it for me.

The Florida keys was one. I Shed a tear when I had to leave.

Sanibel Island is another place I love, such happy memories. I first went there when i was married. Anna, Bo (Robin) and I went there by chance and had a fabulous time.

Since then Jaki, Georgia and I have had several great holidays there.

Breckenridge in Colorado is probably one of the pretties places I’ve ever been and Bangkok is still one of my Favourites.

But i don’t think Nha Trang Beach will ever get into my top ten.

Admittedly, we haven’t seen it at its best.

When we arrived it was late, it was raining and we were tired and hungry but none of the restaurant’s were open so we went to bed with a bag of Nacho chips and a Growling stomach.

The apartment was a let down too.

Instead of being a great place to relax whilst the storm blew over it became a source of frustration. I’ll do a full run down on that once we’ve left cause I’m due a rant and this will be a good one.

Whilst its not anyone’s fault that the weather was bad, it did have a major impact on the beach, which after all is ’The Attraction’ here.

The storm left the beach covered in debris. Litter everywhere.

Its at times like this that you realise just how much muck is floating around our Oceans, and thats just the stuff we can see.

Plastic, old clothes, flip flop’s, paper all litter the beach.

Every tide washes up more filth in a necklace of shame along the high tide mark.

In some respects this is down to the Vietnamese, they don’t seem to treasure the environment like they should and seem to think its OK to drop litter anywhere.

The girl on the beach who sells bottles of beer, took the top off the bottle and let it drop on the sand.

A girl came out of a Massage parlour last night and threw a large selection of rubbish on the pavement.

Customers in Restaurants drop bones and skin on the floor rather than put it on a plate or in a bin, It must just be a cultural thing.

It’s no surprise the sea is full of rubbish when the very people that depend on it treat it with such disrespect.

debris-after-storm-2

However, most of the debris on the beach is wood and foliage. There are some pretty big trees scattered along the beach which a team of cleaners have struggled to remove. Yesterday we watched as they cut up the big ones with a chain saw ( No protection, no goggles) and then hauled it away using a Hoist on the back of a truck which pulled the big bits up the beach.

debris-on-beach

 

One particular specimen required an army of workers, two Tractors and a whole afternoon of digging, but they still couldn’t move it. By the time it was getting dark, they decided to leave it and all went off in the back of the lorry where the tree should have been.

Nah Trang is a bit like Blackpool or Weston Super Mare.

It has high rise apartment all along the sea front which cast strange square shadows onto the sea at about 4 o’clock as the sun sets behind them.

It seems to cater for the mass Russian Tourist trade, though the locals aren’t particularly happy about this and share their frustrations with us at any occasion. 

I understand from unsolicited conversations that the locals feel Russian ’s don’t spend money locally, drink too much and are aggressive. They prefer English (for once) and Americans who they say are much better guests.

Strange how old enmity is quickly forgotten and replaced with optimism and friendship, if only we will allow it.

There are lots of bars and restaurants with their signage and their menu’s in Russian as well as Vietnamese which added to our feeling of alienation in this the friendliest of countries.

So, its with relief that we leave this morning.

Ive not particularly enjoyed Nha Trang.

We had a lovely day on the beach yesterday. Fresh Mango, BBQ’d Lobster and good fun with the beach traders. Later after dark, we strolled down the beach, had a drink and then made our way to The Louisiana Brewhouse where we decided to eat.

It looked great. tables laid out around the pool and across the terraces, with the sound of the surf in the back ground. Sadly looks can be deceptive and the food was awful. Over priced and badly cooked. The service was poor too. None of the staff could be bothered to engage, they didn’t even make eye contact when we paid, preferring to carry on a conversation with their colleagues.

This just about summed up Nha Trang.

A bit Blowsy. All ‘Teeth and Tits’ but no substance.

Pity because it could be so different.

On a practical note.

The Airport is a long drive and the Taxi cost us 570,000 VND so be prepared.

Vietnam Tips. 7th Nov 2016

When you need currency here in Vietnam you will need Vietnamese Dong (VND) and at todays exchange rate its 27822.4 VND to the pound.

Now the nought’s get confusing. There are so many and becoming a millionaire over night does go to your head.

I just haven’t got my head round the currency and we’ve been here ages.

I keep confusing 1000 VND with 10,000 VND and even 100,000 VND which is how Ive ended up giving people such big Tips.

The notes are all of a similar colour and when they are dirty (which they often are) its hard to tell the difference. Add to that a few beers, a dark bar and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The guide book say US Dollars are also welcome but in our humble experience, most people prefer the Dong and when it comes to buying small things, say a carton of milk at 10,000 VND it’s a no brainer.

However, you cant (as far as we know) get VND outside of Vietnam so you are hostage to their rates. Your first encounter with VND will probably be an ATM at the airport and here you are the target for Scam’s so be warned. Unscrupulous people will know you are a tourist (or Foreigner as they so unkindly call us) and may offer to help.

Just say NO thank you.

The other thing we found was that Banks don’t/wont/cant give you money, at least not easily. If you want cash from a bank theres a lot of confusion behind the tills and then an awful lot of paperwork. At the end it’s not worth it as they still charge you a fee for the service.

Why not use an ATM you may ask?

Well, most ATM’s charge a Fee over and above the bank charges you will incur at home. Some were charging 13% fee’s for withdraws.

However, look for Agribank ATM’s there is no fee.

There may be other banks that don’t charge but we haven’t found them.

Finally, there is a Maximum which we think is 5 Million VND ( £178 just about) that you can withdraw from an ATM at one time and this, trust me, doesn’t go very far. We did try to take a second amount out of another ATM and it let us have 2 Million  but said we had then reached our limit.

So, If you’re using an ATM that charges each time you will be paying some hefty fee’s.

Another issue, if you are booking Hotel accommodation in advance and on line is to get the prices in VND rather than say Pounds or Dollars. Why, because the price quoted in British Pounds on say Bookings.com is an estimate of the charge in Dong. When you come to pay the Hotel will charge you in VND and you don’t know what exchange rate they are using and how accurate it is.

If you get the rental in Dong on line, you can do a quick calculation and work out the English or US equivalent but the actual price is displayed on the screen.

If you screen shot that there should be no surprises.

Also, here is the typical plug socket we have encountered in Vietnam, but be warned they are some times difficult to use as they are stiff and you have to force the adaptor into the holes.

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Vietnam Scams.

I dont want to frighten anyone away from visiting Vietnam  but if you are prepared then you are less likely to fall for a trick and as a result you wont have your trip ruined.

Ive already written a blog on our exploits at Hanoi Airport but we are now looking at Ho Chi Min and were planning in advance to avoid mishap.

We first tried booking the Airport Shuttle service Offered by our Hotel but they want $25USD and that seems very expensive seeing as the regular Taxi service is about $6-8 USD from the airport to district 1.

So were probably going to use a regular Taxi and hope it works out but if you follow the link you will see some of the SCAMS that are pulled and maybe this will keep you safe.

Legit Taxis are:-

Mai Linh Taxi: This is one of the most popular taxi brands in all over Vietnam with cab in many tourism destinations. There services are safe and flexible with diverse taxi products such as Gia Dinh Taxi (Tel: 38.98.98.98), Mai Linh Limousine (Tel: 38.36.36.36) or Saigon Taxi (Tel: 38.23.23.23). Taxi Mai Linh often has the cover of two main colors: white and green.

Vinasun Taxi (Tel: 38.27.27.27): a big taxi corporation in Ho Chi Minh City with more than 3,500 cabs and high-quality services. The company’s cabs can be recognized by the typical cover with the main white color, in addition with one red strip and green strip below.

Hanoi Taxi (Tel: 38.53.53.53): One of the pioneers in taxi services from 1993. The cab of Hanoi taxi is painted with purely white color.

Journey from Danang to Nha Trang by Train. 4th November 2016

SE1 leaving Danang at 1141.

The Train from Danang to Nha Trang. 4th November 2016

We are still heading South, though in reality we should really be trying to get North as thats where the weather is better. We Think.

Theres been a constant feed of stormy weather coming in from the East since we’ve been in Vietnam and its really spoilt our plans. We had expected to spend some quality ‘Beach Time’ on the Vietnamese coast but its been so miserable we just haven’t been able to do it.

The one day we tried, we got soaked.

In reality we realise that some of our basic planning was wrong from the get go.

Before we came, even before we booked we did some home work that suggested now was the best time to come to Vietnam as the wet weather was at an end but it still wasn’t stiflingly hot.

WRONG.

Most of the information we now have suggests this is perhaps the worst time to come as it is so unpredictable and this sort of weather its not uncommon.

So, we have been re-evaluating our journey at every stage.

We stayed in Hoi An for an extra 4 days because the forecast suggested the weather would improve. But here we are in Nha Trang, a seaside resort and its drizzling, theres a stiff breeze and the sea is very rough. The forecast doesn’t suggest it will get better any time soon.

Which is what makes the apartment we rented all the more depressing.

We decided we would go for a nice self catering apartment with all the facilities, at least then we would have a comfortable stay, get the washing done, brush up on the swimming and maybe even catch Match of The day.

Sadly when we arrived late last night after a 10 hour train journey it became increasingly obvious this was a bad choice.

We went to the ‘Reception Suite’ on the 31st floor which turned out to be a room where there was old furniture, a dirty brown carpet and a desk. The lady who met us there was pleasant enough but didn’t bother showing us how the air-con worked or any of the usual pleasantries.

We did ask to see the room before we paid though it was only afterwards that we realised just how dirty the place was. initial impression was that it smelt overpoweringly of some thing sweet, like they had sprayed the room with air freshener. I did find a can in the cupboard this morning and I can definitely smell cooking even though we have the windows open all night. We definitely haven’t seen food for 24 hours as my rumbling belly will tell you.

One bag of Nacho Chips and two halves of Passion Fruit saw us through.

The layout was obviously wrong. The TV can be seen from one bed (there are two doubles but they are hard as hell. The thin mattresses are on a solid wooden base. I wonder if this is a cultural thing as it seems to have a Japanese influence) but not from the seating area. The bathroom sink is in the lounge plus the shower and toilet are all in one room. It just doesn’t work.

In fact the whole place is a pigs ear.

There is a kitchen area but before we cooked anything we would have to give it all a bloody good clean and i didn’t come here to do housework.

So we went back to find the lady at reception but although her shoes were still outside of the door she refused to answer.

Hungry and tired we went out into the rain to look for a restaurant but at this time of night, they’re all shut. Eventually we found a shop and bought two frozen pizza’s. Only to find we don’t have an oven, so they are still sitting in the fridge unused.

Its such a disappointment when we did so much home work before deciding to book this place the Nha Trang Apartments, Suite 3102, level 31, Muong Thanh Centre Apartments, 60 Tran Phu, Nha Trang.

Remember the address and avoid.

There is so much accommodation here, we should have had a great time. Instead of which we will have to go and see the management and ask to be moved which I suspect they wont do, or leave and find some where else.

If were going to do that, we might need to think seriously about whether we stay in Nha Trang at all as there wont be much to do if it rains.

I suspect we will have to bite the bullet and take a loss on the accommodation but I definitely don’t want to stay here for 4 days in the rain.

The trip down was interesting though.

We chose this time to travel ‘second class soft seats’ ( there are no First Class soft seats) because:-

Most of the journey was by day,
Sleepers weren’t particularly comfortable
It was cheaper.

In some way’s it was better, the seating was reasonably comfortable, the seats reclined and there was good leg room.

The issues, and there were plenty, were more cultural. They were about our expectations not being met.
Initially we got on the train OK (meeting some fellow travellers who were on the Halong Bay trip with us, getting off as we were getting on). The staff don’t help you with your luggage and its a long way up from the track into the carriage.

Once in we had to lift our two suitcases onto the over head rack as there is no allocated space for them. But hey, were big enough to cope with that.

What I wasn’t expecting was the noise.

Some of the write up’s we’d read said t can be a ‘bit noisy’ we just weren’t prepared for just how noisy.

Primarily this came from two sources.

People on Mobile phones who think if they shout really loudly it will be much better for everyone around them.

Two old guys who stunk of Fag smoke and got more and more pissed as the journey went on were the worst culprits, I don’t think they had used a mobile phone before as the steward had to show them how it worked.

The second and probably the worst was the “Train TV’ system they seem to have recently installed which consists of two Tv screen bolted to the ceiling and some cheap tinny speakers that are turned up to full volume so everyone in the carriage can hear whats going on whether they want to or not.

They played a Pixar Movie about a Dinosaur, followed by some really cheesy pop program’s which showed Video’s of local Pop Idols (they all looked like they had been digitally designed) prancing about imitating Western Boy Bands but without anything Raunchy.

It was like some thing a Sunday School Band would put together in their bedroom. Shockingly bad.

Then, and perhaps the worst, a documentary come cookery programs featuring a Vietnamese cook who has apparently gone to the USA and made good.

They particularly liked the bit when he talked about his Dad dyeing and how sad it made him feel. They cranked the volume right up for the weepy bit.

This trash went on probably until about 7pm when thankfully the volume was turned right down as most people by now were trying to sleep.

There was a regular supply of food available throughout the journey from large metal carts they drag up and down the carriage.

The most popular one is the Egg Cart.

This dished out hard Boiled egg’s which people devoured as if they had never eaten before and left the carriage smelling distinctly, well… eggy.

The rice Cart.

Then there was the rice cart, with cooked meats, vegetables and some sort of gravy.

What I lovingly refer to as the BBQ cart.

Grilled meats on sticks, sausages and BBQ’d Sweet Corn.

Plus a regular visit from the Drinks Cart which also offered snacks, crisps and Pringles. What would a train ride be without Pringles.

The toilets were reasonably clean, but only by Vietnamese standards.

The other thing that we couldn’t get to grips with were the stops.

train-rooute-to-nha-trang

We down loaded the route and it had three stops clearly marked.

Quang Ngai
Dieu Tri
Nah Trang

Yet we stopped at least 3 more times and often for long periods.

At one point I thought we’d broken down on a railway crossing we were there for so long.

There are no sign’s on the train, nothing to tell you which station you are approaching and the stations themselves, particularly in the rain, are poorly lit and its impossible to read any signage.

The staff call out in vietnamese the name of the next station but don’t say it in English. In fact they don’t seem to speak any English and are distinctly unhelpful.

Our guy asked to see my ticket some 4 hours into the journey when he had been sitting (often sleeping) in the seat behind me. Why?

In reality these trains and the service offered isn’t fit for purpose by western standards.

They are ramshackle and neglected. They are without a doubt a Health and Safety hazard in more ways than one.
for example the Steward came down the carriage with a kettle full of boiling water and filled two empty beer cans with scalding water for the two, by now, pissed up old gents. What they would do with two cans of boiling water is beyond me but carrying scalding water down a moving train, come on?

So, if you can avoid traveling by train, you should do so.

If you cant avoid it or can’t afford an alternative be prepared.

Warm clothing, stocks of food and drink. Ear plugs. Plenty to read.

Do your home work, know where you are (we used Google maps to track our progress) and most of all, be prepared for the unexpected cause it will happen.

Good luck.

Hoi An. 1st-4th November 2016

Hoi An. 4th November 2016

Were sat in the railway station at Danang waiting for the train to Nha Trang and its gonna be at least 10 minutes late.

So it back to the waiting game.

One of the skills of traveling (one which I find difficult to master) is patients.

We noticed years ago ( I think in Mauritius, or maybe it was Crete) that local people have the ability to sit for long periods, staring into space for hours at a time. You often see old people, sat on a stool outside their home’s, just watching. As if they can see things we can’t?

I don’t mean like ‘people watching’ from the window of Starbucks.

This is sitting in a street, in a village where nothing happens. Where no traffic passes, no tourists stray. The most you can expect is for a stray cat or a local dog to wander by, stop and shift a tick or flea, then be on its way.

Even they don’t stop for long.

Some children learn this ability and I wonder whether with Mobile phones and Social Media they will loose this skill and become as impatient as us Westerners?

So when you travel you also have to learn to let go.
Lots of things are out of my hands, I am unable to do anything about them so theres no point worrying about them.

Long periods are spent in limbo.

Am I at the rights train station, am i on the right platform, will i get on the right train, in the right carriage. The truth is, I don’t know and I wont know until the train pulls in and I try to get on it.

It will either work right, or it won’t. But stressing about it now wont make any difference to the outcome.

You also have to learn some tolerance and again I’ve still got the ‘L ‘Plates up.

People behave differently in different countries and what is the social norm in one place is offensive in another.

Like the guy sat opposite us in the waiting room. He’s proudly displaying his high tech mobile phone but is shouting into it so loudly he’s getting on my nerves. Yet i guess he is currently ‘Cutting edge’ like a ‘Yuppie with a Filo fax.’

Or the guy sleeping on two seats, with his dirty old feet stuck up in the air for all to see.

Interestingly there has been no need to remove shoes in Vietnam either when entering buildings or temples, yet in Thailand and India this was critical. I think if i was a God ( come on you know I’m not, well not really) I wouldn’t want people to take their shoes off, I cant stand feet at the best of times.

Picking your nose in public and spitting both seem to be acceptable behaviour here where as at home it would be Taboo.

One of the other things we’ve noticed is that people sneeze a lot. People sneeze all the time. People sneeze without putting their hands in front of their mouths.

It seems there is some children education needed.
What about. “Coughs and Sneezes spread Diseases”?

However . “Look right, look Left, look Right again, then cross the road’ would be fatal here as there are no rules for crossing the roads even on zebra crossings.

Nicholas Parsons has it right. Don’t deviate, replicate or hesitate. (Just a Minute).

The rule of thumb seems to be once you step off the kerb just keep going, that way the traffic will anticipate where you will be and avoid a collision. Stop or turn back and your doomed cause they wont expect you to do that.
Anyway, back to blogging.

We’ve just had three nights in the EMM Hotel Hoi An and its been great.

The Hotel had everything we wanted. Nice big clean rooms. Comfortable beds. Good food, free push bikes, fats wifi and a great staff team.

We’ve had good staff almost everywhere we’ve been. Most have spoken good English and been more than happy to help us. The difference here is that the staff were fun. They had a sense of humour and we had great fun teasing them, or in most cases, they had great fun teasing me.

Bloody ‘Happy Buddha’ indeed!

Hoi An itself is pretty, it has plenty of restaurants and bars, though if you wanted a bar to get blathered in or to party hard late into the night, you might struggle. Its much more gentle than that.

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Hoi An Coffee shop

By day hordes of tourist wander around taking millions of pictures and buying rubbish trinkets that will be forgotten long before the tan fades. But its at night Hoi An comes into its own.

It has hundreds of paper lanterns which are lit up at night creating fantastic photo opportunities.

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True there is a lot of hard sell. Postcards and Tiger balm is constantly thrust at you by sad looking touts who pester you constantly whilst sipping your Iced Vietnamese Coffee. Shop keepers will shout ”Madame” as you walk past (presumably aimed at Jaki) trying to encourage you into their shop. If you so much as think about going in they are all over you like a rash.

Yet if you go in (only if you decide you do want to buy something. You can have hours of fun.

I haggled over a pair of sandals and got the price down from one million, six hundred thousand Dong to six hundred thousand Dong and had the best half hours entertainment in the process. The secret as with all things, is to treat it as an experience and enjoy it rather than seeing it as a threat.

However, if you look like me (i tend to stand out with grey hair and a grey beard) they soon get to know you and they realise they aren’t going to get a sell and are happy just to shoot the breeze for a few minutes.

Nostalgiadays.

Its been raining constantly for about three or four days now and were really just hunkering down to sit it out.

We’ve booked into a Hotel called EMM in Hoi An which has a pool, free bikes and is supposed to be a 10 minute walk from the Old Town. I suspect it’s slightly further than that to get right into the centre of the Old Town as we are quite a way to the North on the Ly Thuorng Kiet Rd, but its do-able.

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At least here we have a really comfortable room. It is probably one of the nicest Hotel room’s we’ve had to date. Maybe not the most exotic or fancy but lots of space, couple of chairs, a desk, lovely bed, good bathroom a kettle and, the best of all.

Two Mugs to make tea in.

room-at-emm
Our Room

So by day we can find plenty to do, swim, relax and watch TV, read and at night we can go into town where there are bar’s and restaurants a plenty. Last night a groups of about 12 people our age who are on an organised trip, were in the bar, drunk as skunks. Ended up in the pool fully clothed. They were having a great time, though I doubt it will be so good this morning when they have to get up at eight for their cycle adventure.

Jaki and I took a little walk around the local neighbourhood last night to see what is available and there are plenty of shops though the restaurants are very ‘Working Class Vietnamese”.  One we visited had gangs’ of men (Only) sat around drinking (there were remains of food so they had eaten) and they were clearly pissed.

On one table a row was taking place, the arm’s and facial features of the two combatants were extremely animated.

At another table, a chap fell off his chair and knocked all the drinks an stuff off the table smashing glasses and bottles in the process.

And that was a Tuesday.

There was a restaurant about two doors away without a single customer, just the owner sat watching a Bollywood movie.

We ordered some food there but gave it a mixed review.

I had ‘Stir Fried Chicken in Ginger ‘ that was fantastic plus, Deep fried Tofu, which was Ok.

Jaki had’ Stir fried rice with Chicken and vegetables’ which was awful.

It had never been near a Wok let alone deep fried.

It looked like it had all been steamed.

The rice was exactly the same as mine. There were large pieces of Cauliflower and Green Beans that were the concrete side of Al Dente and worst of all, it had absolutely no flavour what so ever.

The lady seemed very upset when we left and Jaki had only eaten the pieces of chicken.

So, with all this time on my hands i got to thinking.

What do I miss about home and as a result, what am I looking forward to doing.

Not that im ready to go home but some times you need to get away in order to enjoy what you usually take for granted.

So here’s my list.

1.  Georgia, I miss her loads and cant wait to get home where she can moan at me.

2. Sunday Lunch at Cary and Rachel’s. Always good food and good company.

3. Drinks at the Rising Sun with my mate Steve. I miss his wit and the Cider.

4  My Sister Maria. Im looking forward to Brunch and a catch up.

5 A Fat boy’s Breakfast with my Breakfast Chums. Kevin, Pete and Dave.

6 My Garden. Ive got loads of great Ideas for improvements.

7 My own bedroom where I can get a quiet nights sleep.

8 Bristol City FC. I want to get down the Gate.

So there you have it.

Not quite a top ten but it’s a start and you know when Im home I can make a list of all the things I miss about Traveling.

It don’t get much better than that!