Vietnam; first impressions. Busy roads filled with people and families on little Hondas, all driving with no helmets and seemingly minimal road rules. Then at 4ish the monsoonal rains begin, cleaning up the dusty polluted air. Everyone has rain ponchos on, even when they are driving their little motor bikes. Our hotel is sensational, a resort near the airport; but we shop for water, snack, and meals in the neighbourhood; the local joints. Blimey the restaurant tonight….this was on the menu. I kid you not!!!
Steamed fallopian tubes
Braised chicken testicles
Grilled (live…meaning fresh, we think) turtle
Crispy fried sparrow
Cobra blood mixed with liquor
Grilled lizard in mountaineer style
Cat entrails with bamboo shoots
BBQ snake head
I can see some of you shaking your head and saying this is an exaggeration, but no, it is not!
I ordered spring rolls, which were very good, but after a while the smell of unidentifiable food started to get to us, (to me it smelled like poo) so we did not finish our dishes.
Now we are back in our safe western luxury hotel, suffering just a little from culture shock, but feeling good all the same. The things that make this less strange; plenty of French sticks everywhere, the use of our alphabet, the lovely bakeries with French goodies …chocolate éclairs, macaroons, good stuff. It also helps that is very cheap. Our meal tonight set us back under $5 (US) and that included beer (Tiger of course!)
People have ready smiles and it’s rather exciting and so very exotic.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
We slept until nine am, which was a good catch-up to time zones and hours missed getting here from Istanbul. There was a stop in Dubai for westerns to take pictures or spend money or well I am not sure why. There were plastic everything including big palm trees at the airport.
It was easy getting to our hotel in Ho Chi Minh. We are still trying to figure out the money – millions of things equals a few dollars US. Actually 30,000 local dongs equal $1.88. It cost about three dollars via taxi to our hotel. We chose to stay at the Novotel to make an easy transition and it was worth the extra few dollars. We seem to be surrounded by local homes, which I suppose westerners would refer to as slums but they are not really.
The people are so friendly they stop and wave or just have the biggest smiles. ...unlike China on our last two visits where everyone looks grouchy. I am writing this listening to our CDs we got at 9000 a piece, big bucks for sure until I calculated they cost about fifty cents each. Listening to Credence Clearwater – the pirated version. We bought eleven CDs.
Narda wrote about last night’s dinner – I had the deep fried tofu but only ate half of it. There was a diseased looking dog wandering around and sniffing everything and the place really smelt different than what we are use to. I must admit the cobra blood casserole did sound tasty and the monkey testicles – wow I almost thought of stopping being a vegetarian. We did see some unfortunate animal strung up slowing being barbequed on one of our side street walks though we could not determine what it was; too big for a fowl, too small for a pig, a body of a dog for sure. When we were in Turkey there were so many stray cats – we haven’t seen a cat in our first two days here. Narda was really unsure what was in spring rolls but I am sure I heard an ancestral meow as she swallowed.
We did our usual wanderings and getting lost down streets no western tourist had ever been. I bought a new computer bag for an equivalent $8US and we got a few other things. The streets are almost impossible to cross, as there seems that there are no traffic laws. A few times today we were escorted across a five-lane street because we stood fearful on the side looking like deer caught in headlights. A couple of years ago in Guangzhou it took us three days to get the courage to cross the street across from our hotel – even at the crosswalks no one would stop. Finally we took the courage and using a group of Chinese as a human shield we got across and took a dinner cruise on the Pearl River. In Beijing there were overpasses for pedestrians as they are trying to get ready for the Olympics. Here, forget it. We had one man on a motor scooter go straight across all the traffic with us alongside him. A couple of other times we were escorted through traffic. I think the trick is to just walk across and the motor scooters dodge us instead of us them.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
The bus to the Pandanus Resort took four hours. We took the Sinh Café bus which cost 100,000 dong or about $6.30 US bracket for two tickets for four hours of bus riding through Viet Nam. We got a million plus dongs yesterday (making us millionaires for a moment until we realized it equaled $US63. The thing to be careful about aside from keeping track of the large amounts is the better hotels (we are at a four-star resort) put everything in US dollar, for example the Pandanus Resort charges $100 US for a trip to Ho Chi Minh City per person in their mini-van, 96 dollars more than what we paid. Everything at this resort is priced in US dollars and we are a bit trapped here for six days. A beautiful place to be trapped for sure but we have to eat here as it is too far into the nearest town so this could become more expensive than we had thought. We will take a taxi to Phan Thiet – a rather interesting looking town (the guide book says there more than a million people living there) – about fifteen minutes away tomorrow or the day after.
We are getting adept at sign language. We are trying to get the staff to understand we need coffee cups after spending the longest time to get someone to understand that we wanted coffee. Now Narda has just drawn a picture of a coffee cup, which got the staff to laughing a lot.
The resort is rather nice – large comfortable luxury room and a beautiful beach. We are not exactly slumming it – just on holiday within a holiday. We have a great balcony looking at the beach and South China Sea. It is really hard to imagine this place was at war a few decades ago. I am sure in another couple of decades tourists will be visiting Iraq once again. We are here for six days and I plan to get caught up on swimming and the gym and work on my never-ending story, ‘leaving Australia’ which passed my 150,000 word PhD thesis years ago. I think it was 250,000 words last count – right up there with the dong in numbers for sure.
Even the package food is difficult to figure out. We bought a box of cookies and there was the usual ingredient percentage on the box. However, they added up to 80% so we could only guess what the other 20% was.
Went for a lovely swim. Currently Narda is on the phone trying to get towels from housekeeping and of course one can imagine how hard that is to get across. I think next time we come here we will bring a phrase book.
The weird thing about this resort is that there are only a few people staying here. There is more staff than guests. We ate at the restaurant – being a bit trapped within a resort and all – and there were like five other people this evening eating and there were seven or so waitresses and the like hovering. The meal was a bit disappointing; Narda could not chew the meat because it was too tough (and we did not want to philosophize about missing pets), I got crab in a shell and rice and needless to say we left hungry. Luckily there was a deli of sort across the road from the resort. We are really out in the country with not much within viewable sight but there was this one place across the road. We pointed at what we wanted and left. At about ten pm being hungry still we went there again and there was the same person but we noticed that she was preparing to go to sleep with her baby on a mat on the floor behind her counter. Nevertheless we look forward to our week here and the fact that we are probably just about the only guest at a large resort does not bother us. Viet Nam is very new at all this having just gotten freedom from a somewhat brutal communist regime in the last few years and of course all the wars the place has been in. The resort could rival resorts in Singapore and Hawaii; it is new, beautifully laid out, tropical, large swimming pool, health club (though the weight machine does not work and I had to find someone and point out that the pulley was broken and of course no one quite knows what to do about it) and very friendly staff but there is not anyone who knows more than a handful of English (Narda didn’t try Dutch that would be just too confusing) and it really seems a lack of how to do the resort thing amongst the staff. I had expected Internet in our room like in China and Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City but there are only two old computers and the Internet is very slow and I could not use my flash card that I am doing these pages on so I have no idea when I will get these pages onto the web. I think if they let Narda and I market this place we could make some minor changes and sell it to Australia as a safe destination that is cheap. Of course a four-hour bus ride to here is a bit difficult. I think we complain too much. It is Sunday night and the place is quiet (well there are five people in a resort that has hundreds of rooms and many cottages). We may be putting notes in the suggestion box that sits on the front counter tomorrow. Though we should have our comments translated into English first.
Just turned the telly on and there it was: the Crows thrashing Geelong in Aussie rules footy. Sitting here in Central Vietnam watching some football seemed pretty weird. Not sure what to expect these next few days. I’m reading a great book now “She’s come undone” by Wally Lamb, so who really cares. A nice beach chair and time to burn is the real luxury. Last night at the shopping mall near our airport hotel I ordered fried rice and German sausage in a place that also sold pizza. You’d think that would be pretty safe. It tasted OK, but smelled strange and I felt sick and couldn’t eat it. Hard to banish those images of cobra blood drinks.
The people are very friendly and smile easily. Perhaps we do look a bit of a sight…too tall, too pink…..and they are just laughing at us. Terrell was told the other day he looked like Al Pacino. Reminds me of the time in Bali when my blonde Brendan, in his high school, long-haired days, was told he looked like Bob Marley…now there’s a stretch!