Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Seachange

Perfectly on time a tour-guide from Galaxy Cruises came to pick us up to take us to Halong Bay.

I had barely recovered from a fever that came out of the blue the previous evening. Ree suspected my recurrent malaria (from my past travels), but I wasn't so sure. But i sure felt a lot better after the hotel manager had raced me past a few pharmacies (without finding any anti-malarian drugs) on his Vespa.

With all the happy punters picked up we drove for 3+ hours to be dropped off on the Cruise Junk at Halong Bay.

Again the humble price of the tour could not possibly cover the food, petrol or entry fees of the two days with Galaxy. Gazillions of tourists on the Bay, but no complaints there either, all was fantastic. An hour of kayaking, an hours walk through a cave...

Ree drifted off with the warm current during her late afternoon swim but was heroically dragged back from the ship's front to the safety of the aft ladder by fellow camper Pete. As she clambered on board I mentioned I needed more Panadol for my second fever spike (confirming it was indeed malaria). Ree was not impressed with my lack of compassion but the cocktails on board soon made us forget near drownings and malaria and refocussed our attention to the splendid cruise. The next few cruises were cancelled due to an approaching monsoon (I now remember reading the travel advice to avoid Northern Vietnam this in July/August).

It was all too soon before we were deposited back on the bus and eventually returned, in one piece, back in Hanoi at our perfect Dragon hotel in time for a nap and a bite prior to catching the over-night train to the Chinese border en-route to Sapan. The rain and thunder started as we hopped on board the overnight tourist train.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rising Dragon

Flying with Air Vietnam really is pleasant. No fussy checkins where they measure and weigh and charge. Both Ree and I carried the majority of our medicine as hand luggage. Although we are only allowed one piece we both carried on two each, and they weren't small. Even our checked baggage is about 20kg a piece. Mine had condensation forming on the outside from the ice cooled medicine bag. They noticed and alerted me to the fact something may be leaking, but that was all.

At the airport we found the usual tourist desk where we spent the next 30 minutes planning our final week. We had already heard from other tourists about prices and what to look out for. We booked the whole lot from the airport at what we thought were very competitive prices.

Long and scary drive from airport to the Hanoi Old Quarters. Traffic here is much scarier than anywhere else we had seen. We almost wiped out a dozen vehicles in our taxi. Even the cyclists that narrowly avoided death by quickly maneuvering out of the way looked totally un-phased by the driver's driving.

The Rising Dragon Palace Hotel, the latest of the 3* Rising Dragon chain, was welcoming. Efficient check in and we were guided to the room by the gent who checked us in. Room is perfect. Best we have had. And all for under $40 per night including breakfast (just had it and it is excellent!). Wifi in the stylish room too.

For dinner we walked through the old quarters to a Vietnamese/French restaurant which was nothing short worthy of a Michelin Star; The Green Tangerine.

Walking at night through Hanoi is mind boggling. 90% motorbikes traveling at a rate of knots in all directions. It is amazing we have seen no accidents anywhere in Vietnam yet (we saw one scraped tourist in HoiAn and one man come off a bike in HoChiMinh).

Hawkers selling food everywhere, and young people sitting on woven mats having picnics with beer! Everybody happy and peaceful. The main food was dried cuttlefish which was hammered flat with metal bars, and grilled on coals right there on the very narrow pavements. There was no room for us to walk on the walkways, and like everyone else we walked on the harrowing road with traffic buzzing around us. This was one heck of a special evening.

At a small pharmacy I bought my granulated oral Acetylcysteine (an expectorant not available in Australia) at half the price I get it for in other countries like Holland and Singapore or HK.

Travel in Vietnam

Hoi An was an incredibly good experience. Mostly thanks to Mr Long booking us into the Vinh Hung Resort! Excellent value and brilliant location. Many Dutch people there too - which is a recommendation alone!

Apart from the walking around we also hired bicycles for $1/day, which was a good exercise. My smell is next to none, and I did not smell the motorbike fumes or the market smells. Even going through the fishmarket as part of a cooking class I must say I smelled nothing fishy. I felt the resorts pool chloride in my eyes, but did not smell anything :( I do occasionally smell certain things, but am pretty much spared from any bad smells. Even if I don't wash for a month I still don't smell!!

Health doing remarkably well. Lung function is even getting better! I do need to watch my sugar levels, and remember to take more insulin with the food. Vietnamese food has cane sugar in it. Also I eat a lot more fruit here. How can you resist the Pomelos, the dragon fruit and the bananas...

Cycling from Vietnam to Singapore is starting to look a little daunting now I've seen how they drive here. No rules to speak of. Riding against the traffic is fine and crossing I. Front of traffic is accepted too. People dodge each other in a miraculous manner, usually within millimeters. Drivers beep their horns repeatedly when overtaking, even when there is no need for it. They do not beep when we would feel compelled to blow the horn mercilessly - when a truck or motorbike cuts you off or threatens to ram into you.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shopping Heaven - cheap is expensive

Hoi An is known for it's lanterns and it's shoemakers and tailors. So on day one we went to check it out. Sure enough there were bargains galore. If you can get any shoe made in real leather, of any design or colour you fancy for $30-$40 then how can you sy no? Or for even less get your pants or shirt custom made out of kashmere silk... And you don't budget for these, you didn't need them, but they accept VISA.... so how can you resist.

Wherever you go people are selling you things. A bit of a drag, but hey for a few days it is ok.

We walked halfway to the beach along a road buzzing with mopeds and bicycles steered by locals and tourists alike. All with one hand on the horn! Even saw a 5 yr old cycling along!

When you get too hot you flag a cab and for a couple of dollars they bring you to your destination. Beer and water are both about a dollar a bottle. My Casio watch broke in time for me to buy a Rolex for $25. I better arrange something with my bank to cover this shopping spree!!

Anyways, how can we carry it all hone without crushing it or incurring excess luggage fees. We'll find out on Tuesday or Monday (not sure which flight yet as we are wait-listed. If we get stuck here we won't mind in the least.

As I prepared all my meds this evening it occurred to me I might have trouble carrying it all in Spain next year when I am planning to walk 800kms on the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. I'll be carrying everything in a backpack. Plus I got one blister just walking around shopping!!

One other thing. My Big Buddah CF belly is revered here! People call me Happy Buddah every time they see my belly or see me eat! Getting measured up was fun too.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Out of the big smoke!

My lungs sighed a breath of relief when we landed in Danang where a vehicle was waking to take us to the Vinh Tran Resort

Friday, July 22, 2011

Floating Markets

We visited the night market at Can Tho and slept in the prearranged luxurious hotel. In the early morning - at 8am - after a huge buffet breakfast we got into a little boat and visited the local Floating Market. I observed how pineapples are meant to be cleaned, and then it was time for us to board the limo for the long trip back to Ho Chi Minh airport to catch a flight to the fresh air of Hoi An which Mr Long had arranged for us. The weather was holding out nicely and we hope the weather Gods will be as good to us in the resort town of Hoi An!

Before we got to the airport we had a surprise stop at a touristy road stop which provided us with an excellent lunch. I wasn't going anywhere near a diabetic hypo after the Elephant Ear fish and the sticky rice ball and everything else we ate here - all for under $20 for two.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Unicorn Island

The jungle channel we got rowed along was Unicorn Island. We finally felt like we had left civilization behind for a little while! This island, despite the touristy nature of it was a highlight!

Heading Bush?

This morning we left HCM City and headed for the hills, or so we thought! Destination Mekong Delta. We left the hotel in a brand spanking new Honda which took us onto highway one heading south. We stopped at the Cao Dai temple in My Tho after a few hours which was very special. Cao Dai is what I would call a boutique religion. We witnessed men singing their prayers.

We drove around the corner from the temple to the big Tien Gang tourist centre. There we passed the tourist bait and got onto a wooden boat to cross to an island in the Mekong river.

The treat here was tropical fruits complimented by live Vietnamese music with traditional instruments. After walking along a little trail littered with tourist souvenirs and home made candies (made in front of us) we found an old couple who had been assigned to pedal us back to the main boat through a narrow jungle channel.

Before we knew it we were back in the luxuriously air-conditioned car which drove us another couple of hours to a large hotel in Can Tho. We were seriously hungry as fruit is not enough for lunch. Fortunately I had a good supply if snacks with me. Need to watch those sugar levels!

Apart from the little island we visited we never did leave civilization!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

War Tunnels

Today we had a fantastic private tour to the Cu Chi tunnels in a beautiful VIP Honda Civic with our private tour guide Mr Long. Mr Long will be a vital contact for organizing the 2013 Vietnam - Singapore bike ride.

We almost enthusiastically booked the whole holiday with Mr Long, but back at the hotel realized it was way out of our budget. We will treat ourselves to an overnight trip to the Mekong Delta with him tomorrow. He had our entire holiday planned out for us, we hope we didn't put him out too much.

Had a belly and back ache this morning, but that is not unexpected with the new food/water and no kefir from home.


Today we went for a reconnaissance mission and walked to a famous Pagoda in District 3. Walking here in HoChiMin is an adrenaline fueled adventure. I keep on seeing me cycling in the traffic, en-route to Singapore in 2013. Cycling here is not for the faint of heart. Pollution levels don't appear to be too bad as my lungs are holding out nicely! The hotel noticed me
puffing, because I use the firestairs whenever I get the chance.

We notice a few cyclists in the traffic and poked our noses into a bikeshop or two. And a bakery and a huge high tech store,...

We checked out the War Remnants museum which was absolutely horrific for lack of better word. How can you make a vietnam war museum anything but horrendous. Ree left the premises teary eyed within 10 minutes, and I saw the Napalm section and left the building too :(. Lest we forget! Unbelievable that the USA was responsible for the atrocities. I am glad the world has changed, but not everyone has learned enough judging from what we still hear about in the media.


In the afternoon we met Long, the tour guru guide who looked after several friends of ours in the past. He will guide us tomorrow and help us formulate plans for the rest of our as yet unplanned journey.


First Panic

At night I realized I had left the power cord for my nebulizer in Kuala Lumpur. Whoaps. It was 9pm on Sunday night and after the air travel I really needed it.

Because it is a standard cable I figured the hotel would have a similar cable somewhere. My google translate app came in handy, except when I explained it was for a medical instrument they put me on the back of a scooter and raced me to a pharmacy that was still open. Of course they had no power cable! The friendly hotel man calmly raced me through the frenetic traffic: Unbelievable how much traffic there is on a Sunday night. Loads of young men with gorgeous girls in terribly uncomfortable heels and tight shimmering little 'numbers'. Families, couples with babies... all racing around each other on mopeds and scooters. Some didn't wear a helmet, but the few pedestrians walking around trying to calmly cross really I'd need the helmets.

Anyways, we ended up arriving at a mobile phone shop. No cable there either. Back to hotel. Another Samaritan took over. I readjusted my little plastic skull cap and secured my thongs for the ride. This time visited the same phone shop again and finally to a camera store. A heap of the right cables, dusty and used ones, were lying in the display there. The shop girl still had to make excited phone-calls before selling one to me.

By the time I got back to my room I was glad to have a nebulizer working, but even more glad I survived the roller coaster ride.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Good Morning Vietnam!

Made the 9am flight and even had a moment to catch our breath in the Harrods Cafe at the KLIA. Lunch inflight and received our $25 visa at the HoChiMin airport with the expected 30minute wait - this was part of the Internet application we had completed on the wobbly web at home.

Changed money and arranged taxi and hotel from a friendly Airport tourist stall - one of many.

To regain our health we booked two nights in a fancy $70
hotel, and wow, check out the double Queen bed!!

Transit at an Airport Hotel in KL

Had a wonderful flight with MAS - Malaysian Airlines. We sat right in the back of a Boeing 777 with 2 reserved seats behind us.

Plenty of food and drink, no need for nebulising en-route, but every time I dozed off I got a headache (breathing related). Being a daytime flight meant I stayed up and watched Harry Potter and read my book.

Only carrying hand luggage we arrived at the prebooked Concorde Airport Hotel. Hand luggage was FULL of medications for Ree and I, as our luggage was checked through (overnight) to Vietnam.

When Ree crawled into bed at 11pm she noticed huge disgusting stains on the sheets! Had to get sheets changed which took till midnight. Then my Nebs and it was 1am before I got to sleep. That was 3am Australian time - and so that was a long long day with the 6am start and 8hr flight....

Up at 6am for a proper saline treatment with my Flutter. Rushed down a bit of breaky from the extensive selection and caught provided transport back to KLIA for the final 2 hours to Ho Chi Min!

Vietnam here we come!

Leaving for three weeks Vietnam. Mission is to scout out the option to cycle from Vietnam to Singapore in 2013. But primarily holiday! Flying to HoChiMin with overnight stop in KL

The previous adventure!

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