Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Post Vietnam

Today is a long weekend here in Darwin. It’s show weekend.
I sit in the rapidly warming caravan listening to warplanes roar just above our heads. It’s war game season in the Top End. They go night and day.
And they are loud!

What have we been up to?
Cor, where to begin.

We worked away until the mid year holidays and then flew to Vietnam.
Vietnam will take the focus of most of this blog, OK.

We flew into Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) and went to a luxurious hotel, The Metropole. It was actually quite good.
We went to theme parks, markets and jostled along with the traffic. Pictures speak a thousand words, so I will upload plenty for this blog.
We then went south to the Mekong Delta area. Expecting it to be ‘in the bush’ we were surprised to have it built up all the way, and then some.
We saw a bloke whose foot had just been crushed by some vehicle, blood everywhere and people running with bandages from who-knows-where.
We saw a couple of more accidents in our two weeks there. They manage to dispatch 14,000 a year on the roads. That does not seem to have dented the traffic though, and it is amazing it is not more.
We went across on a quaint boat to an island, then a canoe up a stream, then a donkey and cart, more boats and back. Too much food, but a great time anyway.
It was very surreal to be the only tourists in a shop/eatery place and the waitresses stopped cleaning up, stood in front of us and sang some traditional music, standing only a meter or so away. A bit daunting, but not quite as daunting as the ‘offering bowl’ quietly placed in front of us when they finished. We gave them a tip, surprise, surprise.
On the way down I mentioned to the guide that we wanted to try Durian. A fruit banned from many hotels because it stinks like off meat/milk/sick stuff.
He immediately got the driver to pull over and purchased one for us. The seller lady opened it up as I prepared to ignore the smell because ‘it is very nice if you can get past the smell’.
The first thing I noticed was that the large fruit opens in three segments, and each has a nut in the middle of the fruit. (Bananas also are in three sections, try it!)
The second thing I noticed was that it had a squishy slimy, pale beige thing happening. Highly unattractive and lessened my resolve a little.
Anyway, we all tried a piece. The guide wolfed it down happy as a pig in Durian.
Sam said he was going to vomit and quickly turned for the grass behind him. Jude and Jess said it was ‘OK’, but it lacked any conviction. I said it was a mistake.
Needing fairly urgently to rescue our taste buds from the assault we raced across the road to buy cold drinks. We all selected one except Jude, who was being spoken to about the various drinks that were not known to us. She selected one called ‘Winter Melon’. Quite a favourite in Vietnam, we were told.
After a sip, Jude offered us all a taste.
There IS one thing worse than Durian.
It is Winter Melon drink.
Not trying to overstate it, it tasted like cigarette buts taken from a urinal and soaked for a while to release the full flavour.
My whole can of Pepsi did not dent the taste, sadly. I resorted to munching more of the sure fire remedy for motion sickness, Ginger. That helped both by removing the taste over time, and stopped me being sick.
Jude persevered for a while (amazing woman) until we got to the Mekong Delta boat place, where the guide said he had to go to the ‘Happy Room’. We waited until he returned and then asked if we could find a toilet.
‘I already told you I was going to the Happy Room’ he replied.
OK, ‘Happy Room’ = toilet.
Jude went and decided to discard the remainder of the drink down the Happy Room facility only to discover that it is actually the same colour as cigarettes-taken-from-a-urinal juice. None of us tried it again.

We flew to Hanoi from Saigon and stayed at the Hotel Luxor, in the Old Quarter. They were great, and ended up like family. Mind you, I think that is where we got Salmonella, which I still have (27/7/9). But they were great, and I would stay there again.
More shops, Pagodas, Museums, Parks, Cyclos, and bikes.
From there we went to Sapa, in North West Vietnam. It is a 5 hour train ride, then a couple more hours in a taxi up and up and up.
Much cooler, and very beautiful. The ability to farm rice on 45 degree slopes is amazing. Mind you they have been at it for a few thousand years, so I guess it all took some time to get to where they are today.
We visited three villages, and the Black Mongh are the most ‘active’ of all the sellers. We finally worked out how to get rid of them, bit it takes some convincing them that we WILL NOT BUY FROM YOU TODAY AND IF YOU FOLLOW US FOR THE NEXT FEW HOURS YOU WILL BE WASTING YOUR TIME SO WHY NOT STAY HER AND GETTHENEXTTOURISTLOTASTHEYARRIVEOKOKOK!!!!!!!
They got the message and we had a fantastic walk into the last village.
One of the amazing things is the farming of hemp, which the strip, dye and colour to make their own clothing. We should farm hemp here.
We went into the home of a villager, who are accustomed to having strangers poke around their homes, they have spare beds for guests available all the time and are very hospitable.
They are in an area that snows in Winter, yet they have no windows, the walls are not sealed and are on dirt floors with a pot for cooking and a pot for bathing. The young people go somewhere outside to toilet, the elderly have a little square section inside, against a wall and they put some ashes over when they are finished. Amazingly it did not smell at all. Their way of life has not changed for centuries, but it is only 10 years since tourism hit them. Some say that it will all end in the next ten years, sadly. They are extremely happy people.
It seems that you don’t need Maccas, DS’s or Xbox-iPod-Phone-computer-cars-and-planes to be genuinely happy.
Who would have guessed?
The scenery was amazing and we sadly farewelled Sapa to go back to the train and Hanoi.
The next adventure was a trip to Halong Bay, two hours car ride from Hanoi.
We stayed on a ship that was amazing. The whole thing was amazing.
Did I mention it was amazing?
I kinda had to hide the camera a bit as that’s all I wanted to do, it is so photogenic.
I loved all the seafood, then loved all the seafood again, then liked ALL the seafood again, then was a bit over the seafood and then…… well, I was so stuffed with food that I thought I could never possibly be hungry again.
Each meal was in 8 or so courses. It just kept coming. We sent most of it back in the end, we were told they gave the excess to poor people, so I felt better about it then.
Jude and I had a massage, whilst we watched the bay slip along.
My masseur wanted to put her thumbs through my calf muscles and I valiantly tried not to whimper or cry. I almost succeeded. Judith’s lady, on the other hand had a voice that was the closest to singing in angelic voices I have ever heard. She was amazing (did I mention amazing yet?). I would have paid to have her just speak quietly whilst I lay there.
We visited a floating village, caves, and went through a hole into an internal lake thing. Fantastic and a real highlight of our time there.

We returned to Hanoi, then Saigon and home again.

We are now in a too-hot caravan in Darwin, the same place we started the adventure in 18 months ago. We will hopefully move for a time to a house that needs work that Marrara Christian School is buying, and then… well, I don’t know.
We intend to return to Tas next year, but I must get a job first.
We will travel for 5 weeks down W.A. and back. If there is no job then we will have to return here, as I am asked to stay every day. Flattering but also sad that I can’t.

I am presently on sick leave. Rare for me, but the effects of Vietnam linger on, and the local Pathology Dept knows us well now!

Well, hope that fills in the gaps a bit. Let us know if you would like to know anything else.