Back on the road (Mui Ne to Saigon)

The Reunification Express only runs once a day from Phat Thiet back to Saigon and the timing did not suit my agenda, so I bit my lip and paid US $100 for a private jeep back to Saigon………………I must say that it was money well spent, good new vehicle, excellent driver and the sights to be seen on the roads of Vietnam held me spellbound for the entire 5 hours of the journey…………..if you ever make this journey, or a similar one, a good, nay, excellent driver is  a fundamental prerequisite………….they, (all road users) are all as mad as squirrels, no, madder, much much madder; they make the homicidal maniacs that inhabit the roads in India seem quite benign, which takes a bit of doing………..

The variety and condition of vehicles that populate the roads of Vietnam never stops surprising you,……I have captured a few of them as and when I could; my driver was great, slowing from great speed every time I pointed at something that I wanted to snap………..I did not always get the window down in enough time to avoid a few shots being spoiled by window reflection, but when I did, I was very grateful for the lightning fast auto-focus on my little compact Leica…………..

I think that his MOT may have expired………….

Bananarama………….

Why bother to look where you’re going when you are on such a safe vehicle……………

 

It was new years day in Vietnam and flowers and plants were on sale everywhere………………..

I’m not sure about that pillion seat………………….

 

Mobile phone use is prolific on two-wheelers in Vietnam, both calls and texting………..

I have no idea what this is but I think that he is at the front end of it…………

Clear the road, run for cover………………………he’s got it started

 

Four up………………………….

One without a helmet…………. I did not find out, but I think that crash helmets (the wearing of) must be a legal requirement in Vietnam, because I don’t remember seeing anyone not wearing one, and their own personal safety is not something that they appear to prioritise

There would not appear to be many things that cannot be transported on two wheels……chickens…………………………goats!

I managed to get the window down for this shot, and the plaintive bleating of these goats was audible, as they  seemed to sense their impending fate…………

This is my favourite image from that memorable trip…………..I just love the nod at legality by leaving his rear number plate clearly visible………..I kept thinking he would take flight, like some latter-day two wheeled Icarus………..even my driver had a chuckle at him and gave him a toot and a wave, which drew no response whatsoever……………………. he was in the zone

Almost at the end of a thoroughly entertaining journey, the imagery of which will stay with me for a long time……………rolling into Saigon; anti-pollution masks of various designs and questionable effectiveness are commonplace, with riders and pedestrians alike…………

 

Mui Ne……………….South east coast of Vietnam

This is the beach at Mui Ne at 7.30am on 5th Feb 2013………..where I have come for a few days swimming, beach-combing and resting up, in order to convalesce from all this enjoyment that I have been indulging in…………………..

……..and breakfast arrives

That is my large yellow papaya, in the middle of her front basket……………and below, ready to go………..my request for a medium latte drew an inquisitive expression from her………had I been serious, she would no doubt have conjured one from somewhere……….

I had to pay an exorbitant price for my beautiful papaya, in order to persuade her to unmask for a photo………………

…………….after which, she returned to anonymity……………….below……………….. minus 1 papaya and considerably more wealthy (relatively speaking, of course)

 

Two of her chums walking away………….. inconsolable that she had gotten to me first……………

If you like tropical fruit…………………..and (below) a few snaps of the Bamboo village hotel, which to use a cliche, is rather idyllic…………………………..

View from my bungalow………..

Swimming here is not for the faint of heart, as the notice above correctly warns; a big swell and rip tide prevail and very strong winds ensure big, uneven and powerful sets of waves…………….perfect for kite-surfing and there are hundreds of them here………..

You may have noticed the green writing on the warning sign; the Americans may have left Vietnam, but the Russians are here………..

I don’t know, but I’ve been told

The streets of Heaven, are lined with gold

I ask you how things can get much worse

If the Russians happen to get up there first

Bob Dylan………..”I shall be free No 10″…………….from the album Another side of Bob Dylan

Iv’e spent hours watching these guys kite-surfing, it really does look as if must be such a buzz…………..

High as a kite………………………………………

 

 

 

The Reunification Express………….. (Saigon To Phan Thiet)

I am now in the beach resort of Mui Ne, on the south east coast of Vietnam; I was confronted with several alternatives for getting here, but once I learnt that the train from Saigon was called the “Reunification Express” I felt compelled to climb onboard, to be honest, I would chose a train ride to a bus ride every-time………………….

“Nothing like the rain to bring you down

Nothing like a train to take you far away

Leaving here without a sound

Should have been gone yesterday”  …………….The Vigilanties of love…………..

The train took me to Phan Thiet, and from there I took a twenty minute  bus ride to Mui Ne where I am staying in a very nice beach-side hotel called “Bamboo Village”

I bought my ticket through an agent and they advised me to arrive at the station at least an hour before departure time (06.50)………….I got there at 06.00, found what I thought was the right train and started trying to find carriage number 3; nobody at the station spoke any English, the carriages were not numbered, and if you think that carriage number 3 was the third from the front of the train, well, that is far too logical for this part of the world………..having satisfied myself as best I could, that I was in the right carriage and seat, I realised that it was 06.30 and I was the only person in the carriage; ten minutes later, just as my anxiety was starting to rise, all hell broke lose, as people flooded into the carriage in a cacophony of noise and animated gesticulations………………the large 3 tier carriage was awash with colour and the vibrancy of everyday life……………… every seat was occupied, and we chugged slowly out of Saigon station at exactly 06.50 and arrived at Phan Thiet just over 5 hours later, pretty much on schedule

View of the empty 3 tier carriage when I first arrived, and below, the view from seat number 9………..

 

My mental arithmetic has always been quite sharp, something that I have been grateful for since my arrival in Vietnam; their currency is completely mad, it is called the dong, and give or take a few, there are thirty three thousand to the pound………so, for example, if you buy something with a value of £40.00, you need to count out one million, three hundred and twenty thousand, two hundred and nine dong………………….oh, what fun, especially in poor light conditions, trying to read the denominations on the notes>>>>>>>you can see on my train ticket the price of 151,000 dong (£4.57)

Au Revoir Saigon

Just a couple of snaps from my last day in Saigon……….

The lovely Cathedral in the centre of Saigon

Just another tourist…………waiting for the rain……………….next day, waiting for a train….

Above and below…………a park in central Saigon

 

One of the many beautiful buildings in Saigon…………this one is a shopping mall……..remind you of some of the shopping mall’s in the UK…………….no, I didn’t think it would………………………..

 

These two guys played some interesting interpretations of some reasonably well known tunes, in the restaurant where I had my last meal in Saigon…………..Which was of course,  a large portion of “Morning Glory”………..>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Those of you that know me well will not be surprised to learn that I hunted down “Morning Glory” in Vietnam……….. I suspected that it was a regional vegetable rather that just specific to Thailand……….often referred to colloquially as water spinach, river spinach or water morning glory, this sublime vegetable is known in Vietnam  as “rau muống xào tỏi’  ……..it took me so long to learn to ask for it in Thai, so I now have the Vietnamese spelling written on a piece of paper that I produce on entry to any restaurant that I visit here……………it has proven to be a bit of an ice-breaker…….. well it certainly gets the waitresses giggling………………probably because they cannot read, which consequently necessitates me doing exactly what the plan was designed to avoid……..trying to ask for it…………….. which initiates even more giggling from the aforementioned waitresses……….

The Mekong Delta

I have for some reason always held the belief that the Mekong (river) ran through Saigon, but  the river running through Saigon is the eponymously named Saigon river; to visit the delta of the mighty Mekong one needs to take a 2 hour ride south-east of Saigon; I took this ride yesterday on a small organized trip with 9 other people in a mini bus from Saigon, and then a boat large enough for about 20 people on the Mekong itself, and then transferring to small Sampans for 2/3 people to be paddled along some of the backwater inlets; this whole region is a labyrinth of small waterways and inlets, and you cannot help but wonder if they have all been charted………….maybe Lord Lucan is a resident here!

P.S…………I have ceased using Ho Chi Minh City as a name for Saigon, apart from a few instances where political correctness necessitates, everyone here in Vietnam still calls this city Saigon……………..

We stopped on the way at this lovely old Pagoda, which had many statues of Buddha, including two enormous ones; one of “Smiling” Buddha and one of “Reclining” Buddha

 

On the Mekong delta, an old floating fish farm looks ill at ease with the new bridge as a backdrop…………..the locals, for an obvious reason refer to the new bridge as the San Francisco bridge……………….

The mekong is a huge river; this shot is taken looking across it, not downstream or upstream…………..in the foreground is a small island

 

We were all supplied with a fresh coconut to drink………….so a “holiday snapshot” was called for………………

 

Sampans on the backwater, mostly maned by women, one on the bow, one on the stern

 

We were assured that there were no crocodiles at this time of year; but we were implored to keep our hands inside the Sampans at all times; this instruction was reiterated several times, which was a little disconcerting…………..anyway, we did not see any crocs so maybe it was just a little something to make it a bit more exciting for us…………….

The Sampans dropped us off at this tiny village for an hour where we visited this amazing workshop making toffee from coconuts; the women above are rolling it out by hand, cutting it into equally sized squares using only a knife and hand/eye coordination………….then wrapping the little squares in individual papers and packing them into boxes, it is, I hasten to add, delicious…………..

This is the giant old food-mixer that slowly turns the liquidized toffee while it is heated from below by burning wood……….

and the ultra modern power circuit for the electric motor!………..what do you make of that Wally?

 

 

 

 

Dual purpose……………Fishing boat and houseboat…………………..

 

 

 

Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

I am now in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) having made the bus journey yesterday (Thursday) from Phnom Penh……..there are not so many bus companies that run on the international routes as there are on the domestic routes and I chose to ride with “Mekong Express” who have generally received good reviews, and, in fairness they were very good; although not new, the bus was in good condition, it was clean, had a toilet and wi-fi… and the lovely “flight attendant” provided all passengers with a complimentary bottle of water and a “breakfast box”……………..the journey is advertised as 6 hours and involves a ferry crossing to the east bank of the Mekong and another chaotic and tiresome border crossing at the Vietnamese frontier; why it took so long is inexplicable, you cannot get a visa on arrival into Vietnam, so everybody arrives at the border with a visa in their passport (or is simply refused entry) so it is, or rather, should be, a simple process of ratification; of course, it doesn’t work like that, but it is all part of the fun and entertainment, and viewing it as such is the only sensible attitude to adopt; the journey took almost 8 hours, and having left my hotel in Phnom Penh just after six for the seven am departure, I was ready for a swim and a cold beer when I got here…..

 

Pretty good for on a bus………and it was spotlessly clean…………..

 

Above and below, beautiful flower stalls outside the Mekong bus terminal in Phnom Penh at 6.30am

My breakfast box, courtesy of the Mekong Express bus company……….and below, its contents…………………

The breakfast box contained 2 small cakes, a tooth pick, a piece of tissue paper and a pastry parcel; the little chocolate cake was surprisingly good, and fortunately I kept this until last………………..the other cake would have won the “driest cake in the world competition” in any year since that particular competition’s inauguration in 1907……. and it took me 7 minutes and the assistance of a bottle of water to ingest it; yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I was hungry………the ingredients that filled the pastry parcel, were, quite frankly, unidentifiable, but one very small investigative bite, was enough to convince me that this was not something that I should use to test the well- being of my digestive system at the commensuration of a 6/8 hour bus journey ………….so that got binned…………

Two sellers on the ferry across the Mekong………………..

Just approaching the border of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; I hope thy’ve got their visas………….

Across the border and into Vietnam, and the biggest tuk-tuk I have ever seen……….I took this shot through the window of the bus, so I could not get back far enough to capture the complete image, but there were more than 20 people riding in this tuk-tuk…………….