HUE………………..

Yesterday ( Monday 25 /11/13 ) I went to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue which is situated a few kilometres away from my hotel on the other side of the Perfume river, which is the river that runs through Hue……….

Built in 1601, the Pagoda has seven storeys, it is the tallest in Vietnam and is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the ancient imperial capitol; it was battering down with rain yesterday and the daylight was very dull, almost eerie, which threw a different challenge to my camera settings compared to the usual problem of fighting against overexposure in bright sunlight…………

 

The Pagoda and its grounds are some distance from anywhere else, so they have built a small block ( above ) which is discreetly tucked away in the corner of the grounds, housing a Mens and Ladies toilet, with of course, separate entrances……

And below, for anyone experiencing a gender identification crisis, they have thoughtfully fitted a pair of saloon style swing doors interconnecting the two toilets………..you couldn’t script it could you ??

Above…………one of the many bridges that span the vast flood of the Perfume river

And below………..crossing it on my motorcycle taxi coming back from my trip to the Pagoda

Below are a few shots near my hotel in Hue

oh yes…………..something that I have spent my whole life aspiring to………..riding on the back of a small, cheap, underpowered and  malfunctioning motorbike, holding a large pane of glass in front of my face and my dangly bits………………… whoopeeeeee !!

Below………..I can be relied upon to find a Vespa dealership, wherever I am in the world.

Above lovely 125 Primavera …………..and below, they even had a few new Lambrettas for sale…………….

 

Hoi An to Hue

I left Hoi An yesterday (Sunday 24/11) to travel to Hue, which is the ancient imperial capitol of Vietnam and was so from 1802 right up until the end of the second world war in 1945………the country was then, as is well known, divided into north and south Vietnam and the present day capitol Hanoi only became so in 1976 after the reunification of north and south at the end of the Vietnam war…………

Rather than take the bus, I chose to make the journey by private car for US 50 dollars; the bus trundles along with only a couple of brief stops and takes the tunnel under the Hai Van Pass; whereas, I negotiated my fare to stop at Marble mountain, go over the spectacular Hai Van Pass and stop at Lang Co Beach………….the journey took about 5 hours which the bus would have taken anyway……….

First stop………the start of the long and steep steps to the top of Marble mountain

Above, an old Pagoda near the top, and below, a temple

And of course with every Temple comes a couple of old ladies selling incense sticks, if you wish to go into the temple and offer your salutations to Buddha…….

An obligatory Buddha on the side of the mountain, and below a few shots from the top

We then started the long climb to the top of the Hai Van Pass, and on down the other side…

Above, near the top, and below, you are here…………..I think

The weather on the way to the top of the pass was fine and sunny, but as we crested the summit and started to descend on the other side, it was completely shrouded in clouds……… until we got below about 500 feet……………

Once down at sea level we drove for about another 30 kilometres to the beautiful and deserted Lang Co Beach, which was bathed in sunshine and is where the remaining few photos were taken

The vey welcoming entrance to Lang Co Beach

 

Above, Lang Co Beach……………and below, a lone tourist, wearing the now legendary “One-eyed tiger” tee-shirt………………..

 

The River Man…………

On my last day in Hoi An, I went down to the old port and negotiated for an hour trip up and down the river with this great old man in his, well, boat I think we shall call it…….he had lost the bottom part of his left leg in the Vietnam war, so this was a job for which that was no apparent handicap………

I don’t know why I bothered negotiating with him, after an hour in the company of this charming old man, I gave him the price that he had originally asked……….and a bit more..

He insisted on taking a photo of me…………I insisted on slipping the wrist strap over his boney hand before I let go of my camera……………..

He drew a map of the United Kingdom on the deck of his boat with a wet finger, telling me where Scotland was and where Ireland was……..he is just putting London on the map, but  I fear that a career in Cartography does not beckon, as you may observe, he has completely forgotten about Wales………….I know that invites some obvious comments, but please don’t, I have friends there !!

Above and below…………this guy was going upstream and then downstream for hundreds of metres, dropping his seemingly never-ending net over the side of his boat, whilst sculling it with one long oar…………..

Above and below, after my boat trip I jumped on my rented scooter and headed to An Bang beach for the rest of the day…………

Above and below, this old lady was on An Bang beach every day trying to sell small packets of monkey nuts; thy must have been remarkably stale because I did not see anybody buying from her………….I gave her 10,000 dong (30p) for a packet on my first day and she started remonstrating that it was not enough, until she realised that I had put the packet back in her carrier bag…………she suddenly warmed to the deal and I had laid down the marker for a daily transaction……………

Yup, you’ve guessed it…………they go out fishing in these……………honestly !!

Last month my daytime choice of beverage was watermelon juice; to remove any remaining shackles of routine, I have decided to embrace a different drink each month………..so, flavour of the month is now Lipton’s Ice Tea with freshly squeezed lime juice……………………you would not believe how stressful it has been deciding on what to change to…………I don’t know how I ever got up and went to work six days a week ……..

Below, some things are set in stone……..lunch is served, Morning glory stir fried with garlic and chilli……..Rau Muong xao toi as it is known in Vietnam………..

I went back to the riverside for dinner, where street sellers offer paper lanterns that you light and set float on the river

Lanterns are big business here and shops specialising in them abound

 

 

Hoi An

I am in the ancient port town of Hoi An, which dates back to the fifteenth century as a trading port; located on the south central costal region, it has an historic bustling centre located around the port and river, and several decent beaches a short ride away……….

Snells leaves here tomorrow to fly to Nah Trang and I will be staying here for one more day before travelling north to the old imperial capital, Hue.

I have been riding around on my rented scooter quite a lot and I have developed a technique of using my compact camera while riding; not as easy as it sounds, I can assure you………….compact cameras are easy enough to use one handed, sure thing, but it needs to be your right hand, which is the hand you need for the throttle twist on the scooter, but you see so many amazing sights when you are riding around that you need to be ready to snap…………..

I followed this guy for a few miles, trying to see if the bikes on the back of his scoot were secured……….I’m still not sure………..

I saw this moving as I approached it from behind, without anyone in the saddle, magic I thought, but no……..this road has a slight gradient which was obviously a tad too much for peddle power, the “rider” was at the front, pulling it along by a rope and harness………..

Above and below, Vintage motorcycles and sidecars that this hotel uses to ferry guests around………great stuff

The two lads on the beach………………..

Loading one of the many boats that ferry people, bikes and scooters across the river….

Above and below, I went to the market, that bursts into life every morning along  the riverside, with stalls selling all kinds of fresh produce………wonderful colours, and the sounds of shouting and cackling as food and money changes hands……….

Last Days On Phu Quoc

Just a few photos of the last couple of days that Snells and I spent on the lovely island of Phu Quoc; we left there on Tuesday morning to fly to Da Nang, which was a two flight journey………… from Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh City, and after a 2 hour turnaround in HCMC the flight from there to Da Nang.

The flight from Phu Quoc to HCMC with Vietnam Airlines was a bit different, it was in a ATR 72-500, which is a 68 seater, twin engined turboprop; its two six bladed propellers can only achieve a top speed of 300mph, so the journey to HCMC took an hour, compared with the 35 minutes it took in a jet when we flew to the island…………….

Above and below, Long beach on Phu Quoc where our very nice, cheap little hotel was………it was just back from the beach and so had no beach frontage, but we slipped a few thousand dong to the sun-bed attendant at this upmarket hotel and secured a couple of sun-beds and towels everyday…………as you do !!

 

Below are a few shots from the night market, where we ate on many occasions………over 100 metres in length, with about 20 food stalls selling fantastic fresh food which you could watch them cooking; the place was buzzing with sounds, colour and frenetic activity late into the evening

 

 

 

Above and below, on our last day, we took a trip the beautiful Sao Beach, on the south eastern tip of the island………..it was a bit of a trek, but well worth it to spend the day on the soft white sand and enjoy the sea that was refreshingly cooler for swimming in, than at Long Beach on the west coast………

 

Above…………………. with his boyish good looks and endearing personality, Snells on Sao beach, proving that he is still very much a “Totty magnet”

And below…………don’t forget where you are; a couple of tattered Vietnamese national flags on Sao beach……..

We are now safely in the historic port town of Hoi An after our flights to Da Nang and a taxi ride………….stay tuned !!

 

Phu Quoc

 

This is just a quick posting to let everyone know that all is well and that I have not been affected by the awful devastation that has been caused by Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines recently; I am on the island of Phu Quoc with Chris (Snells, Neph, or whatever you know him as)……..

Although Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in Vietnam a few days ago, it was in the far north east of the country, north of Hanoi, near the border with China; Phu Quoc is an island off of the south west coast, sitting in the gulf of Thailand, and as such is thousands of miles away and is protected by the land mass of the country……….. we have been here for 5 days and  the weather here has been great, hot sunshine with a few clouds and the welcome respite of an occasional thirty minute downpour………

We have just booked flights to leave here on Tuesday and fly via Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang, from where we have the choice of visiting either Hue or Hoi An, or both………………..stay tuned !!

 

 

 

 

 

I took a scooter ride the other day to Cape Ganh Dua, which is on the north western tip of the island, while Chris decided to laze on the beach; I took the main road north from where we are staying at long beach and on the fairly decent surface of tarmac, I got there in under an hour………

 

Coming back I decided to take the coastal route, which turned out to be approximately 15 kilometers of unsurfaced clay, which had been heavily doused by recent rain and its uneven surface was consequently littered with puddles and pools of mud; a trail bike would have been ideal, but the small wheels of a scooter did not make for a comfortable journey…………I managed to avoid falling off, but I was relieved that Chris had his backside on a sun-bed and not on the pillion of the scooter………………

Above…………a couple of shots from the main road north, and below, the mud track that is called the coastal road

Above and below, take away chicken, but not as you or I know it…………….

Above, most people take them away, alive and clucking……….but as you can see below, they also offer an abattoir service…………

 

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

I am back in the wonderfully mad and colourful city of Saigon for a few days before travelling to the island of Phu Quoc; with a recorded number of over 2 million scooters and motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, the place is constantly alive to the symphony of small engines, hooters and the squealing of brakes and pedestrians………..crossing any road is initially a pretty scary experience, but you soon get the hang of it; you cannot wait for a break in the traffic, it just doesn’t happen, so you step off the kerb having looked both ways (especially in one way streets, perverse, yes, essential, definitely) once on the road you must walk quite slowly and at an even pace……..they will avoid you so long as you allow them to, which means not walking very quickly, not stopping and under no circumstances taking a step backwards………..

This visit I have taken to using motorbike or scooter “taxis”……….they are everywhere, faster than a normal taxi, they supply you with an ill fitting crash helmet, because it is law  to wear one here, and surprisingly enough it is a law that appears to be strictly adhered to…………..  they are cheap as chips, safe (ish) and  extremely exhilarating……

They come at you from all directions, and don’t be fooled by the “Crossing” painted on the road, it is a flagrant waste of resources………..I believe that it might even be illegal for vehicles to stop at it……..

 

Anti-pollution masks have gained rapid popularity here, spawning many small cottage industries producing them in all imaginable colours………….

 

 

 

Breakfast at the Vien Dong hotel where I am staying was a shambles on my first morning, so I have been taking breakfast from this wonderful woman’s mobile fruit stall; I find her somewhere not far from the hotel at 7 in the morning and have seen her still pushing her little business around at 7 in the evening when I have gone to dinner………smiling and laughing all the time as she exchanges banter with people on the street…………

I couldn’t help thinking how great it would be if you could distill her attitude and work ethic and send it to the thousands in the UK that think they deserve to be given four hundred quid a week for doing nothing, because they consider most work to be too menial for them……sorry, I promised myself that I would not voice such opinions, but when I see somebody working so hard to support her family and to try and give her kids a better future, and all done with a smile on her face…………….well, I’ve said it now !!

Above and below, roadside beauty treatments…………….

No low bridges on the way home, I assume……………

The choice is up to you, because they come in two classes………….Rhinestone shades or cheap sunglasses …………..ZZ Top

The centre of Saigon is beautifully clean with lots of palm trees offering their shade as shelter from the hot sun………and a lovely old French colonial building below: Vietnam was, of course, a French colony up until the start of the second world war……..

I had always believed that I looked quite “cool” on a scooter………this belief was brutally exposed as a misconception today, when I saw, below, what it is really like to look “cool” on a scooter…………….problem is, I just haven’t got the legs for it…………..

Back in Bangkok

I arrived back in Bangkok on Monday after the ferry crossing to the mainland and the minibus ride; I am staying at the Amari Boulevard this time and not the Amari Watergate, it is not such a nice hotel but the Watergate only had suites for £160 per night, so the Boulevard is quite acceptable for £50 per night……………

Above and below, the ferry terminal on Koh Chang

 

 

It is the safest that I have ever felt on a ferry crossing; there were 100 or more Buddhist monks on board

We stopped at this amazing shop on the way to Bangkok, selling a remarkable array of dried foodstuff; mostly creatures from the sea……………

 

 

Above and below, the swimming pool on the sixth floor of the Amari Boulevard………..

 

Pile it high…………..sell it cheap

Mounted policeman, a rare sight indeed………..

Vespa, that must have been imported from England at sometime, looks like a Mark 1 GS………nobody in Thailand would have gone to the expense of having the side panels, front mudguard and headlight surround chromed……..this belonged to a “Mod”at some stage in it’s early life !!

Breakfast at the Amari Boulevard is not included in my booking and costs about £12.00, so I have been bringing breakfast back to my room from one of the street stalls at the cost of 30 bhat (50 to the £)

This afternoon I fly from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) where I will meet up with Snells who arrives on Saturday………….

Elephants and monkeys

I took a scooter ride to the small elephant park that is about 8 kilometers south of where I am staying at white sands beach; they only have six adult elephants and a youngster there, and they all looked to be well cared for…….. there is no entrance fee but visitors can buy, as I did, a basket of bananas which the elephants take from your hand with their trunk’s, in  a remarkably delicate fashion.

Visitors can take a ride on the elephants for a fee, which is how the income for the upkeep of the park is generated………..I watched a few people taking rides and it was just a short saunter around in a well shaded area, so not too stressful, I imagine, for the jumbos.

Riding back from the Elephant park, I suddenly spotted this troop of monkeys playing around at the side of the road……….

Above and below………this bar on the outskirts of white sands beach, is not in a very favourable location………………so some innovative advertising is called for………..