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Vietnam

Weather Report: Sunny and Windy!!

sunny 30 °C

It's been good to get back to our friends at the Jibe's Kiting School in Mui Ne where the weather has improved for kiting somewhat. That storm that is killing hundreds in The Philippines is sending us some gusty wind and some big waves, but it is better than nothing. Nat got another lesson in before the waves built to the point where she had to stop and I managed to get a few sessions with the crazy wind.

Saturday night was the 10th anniversary party for the beach bar which was a great party. The owner threw a big bash with open bar and a pretty good band. It was a bit funny watching a three piece band with the drummer being the lead singer and wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey. Good times had by all and we left in time to avoid any serious hangovers, which I can't say for the rest of the beach staff.

If you get to Vietnam, definitely make a point to try the coffee. We haven't tried their most premium brand, known as "weasel coffee" (because the beans are eaten and excreted by a rodent before roasting), but the regular blend is pretty good. On the beach it is served over ice, usually with condensed milk because it is really really strong and the milk thins it out and adds some sweetness. The teas are also delicious, not just the locally grown leaves but also the various blends they make with ginger and other fruits and herbs. The bars here also keep coconuts in the freezer so you can order a fresh coconut and drink the ice cold coconut water before the waitress opens the nut with a giant cleaver so you can eat the meat.

We are still staying at the same hotel, Full Moon Resort, who have been really good with us even though it is getting hectic here for Christmas vacationers. It was a little unexpected, but every hotel here is strewn with Santa Claus', coloured lights and Christmas trees. From our room, I can here the waves pounding on our steps and it sounds as if the wind is picking up, so we will write again soon.

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Posted by colincampbell 20:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

So much to do and so little time

semi-overcast 21 °C

A week ago we laboured over our decision to leave Mui Ne for a few days and make the awkward journey to Hoi An, but after our time there, we are very happy we made the trip. We were so busy and exhausted ourselves so completely that this morning, when we were supposed to be getting on the bus from Dalat to Mui Ne we were catching up on some Zzzzzz's.

Aside from what the ancient city had to offer, we didn't find time to see any historic or cultural sites of this part of Vietnam. But we did manage to eat a lot of great food, find a great local artist, put some talented tailors and shoemakers to work and try our hand at a cooking course. Our schedule was literally jammed from morning to night with nonstop action.

The dining continued to be excellent and our favourite restaurant offered a cooking class that ran from 8:30 am until 1pm that we signed up for on Tuesday. It started with a tour of the local market where we learned about their local herbs and spices as well as how to select the freshest meats and vegetables. Apparently the restaurant staff gets to work very early as the fish market opens at 3am and the regular market opens at 4am and the chef demands the freshest ingredients get into the kitchen long before the sun comes up. I'm glad we weren't shopping for our lunch midmorning as the refrigeration was non-existent and the meats were looking a little questionable to say the least. Back to the restaurant we went upstairs and entered a MasterChef look alike kitchen, they have clearly been doing this course for quite awhile as it was really well organised. The menu we would be cooking consisted of 5 course and started with a cabbage and shrimp soup that had us rolling shrimp dumplings into steamed cabbage leaves. Tricky business but we managed alright, Natalie was immediately the teachers pet while the instructor took one look at my dish and just left her response at "OK...". Next we marinated some chicken with a tray full of herbs, spices and oils and sent that off to be grilled on their open fire. We were eating as we cooked and the next appetiser was a rice paper wrap of pork, shrimp, noodles, herbs and a deep-fried spring roll which we devoured quickly. The kitchen staff had prepped everything we needed to do our cooking which sped things along well. Next we made a crispy savoury pancake that was rolled into rice paper with fresh herbs and greens. Finally we made a mango salad in time to be served with our bbq chicken. I'm glad we skipped breakfast and we definitely didn't need dinner until late.

The shopping was really the central theme of this part of the trip and we didn't really expect it. On the first day we arrived I had remembered seeing people in a hurry with new suitcases as if they realised at the last minute that there was no way that their new purchases would fit in their luggage. In my head I had laughed and asked how such a thing could happen but the answer, it seems, is quite easily. I am happy to say we didn't buy any luggage but that is only because the hotel arranged for the staff from the shipping company to come to meet us, package our loot and arrange for it to be sent via airmail. We ended up having five different shops making us stuff and had a range of experiences and quality. The best was with our new friend "Ti" who has already invited us to her wedding and Nat has assured her she will be back annually to get her new gear. We will see how well everything holds up, but for now it appears to be great work.

Everything went smoothly with our last night from Danang to Dalat. As I mentioned, we didn't quite make our bus this morning to Mui Ne, but we had a really relaxing day here and are all set to get up early tomorrow and hopefully be on the water kiting tomorrow afternoon. We are also making our plans for our next leg of the trip, we were looking at Christmas and New Years in Southern Thailand, but now it kind of looks like we will be exploring the North part of Thailand with elephants!

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Posted by colincampbell 15:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Don't stop the carnival

overcast 15 °C

It was pouring rain, she wasn't feeling very well and it was a Sunday morning, not really the best recipe for a day of shopping, but nothing was getting in Natalie's way after what she had seen on our short walk Saturday night. There is some history in this town and we might get to see some of it today, but our first priority was checking out the streets full of shops that you can hardly imagine. It is all about custom fitted clothing and shoes here, bring them a picture or a sample and the people here will make you a perfect copy (or a dozen,) whatever they can manage to sell you. The tourists that aren't carrying garment bags are carrying new suitcases that can only be for carrying home the extra (unplanned) purchases. So far Nat has ordered a jacket (it's kind of chilly here,) 3 pairs of sandals, one pair of boots, two dresses and a couple of hats. The girls even talked me into a couple of shirts and a couple of jackets in case I ever end up getting a real job again.

The real hero for me so far has been the food. It has been quite awhile since I have focused a blog on food, so I think it's about time. After a dozen laps around town we had worked up quite an appetite and I had noticed one little spot that I had seen in a few of our books. Miss Ly was reviewed as "cheap and cheerful local goodness." Nat was taking a hesitant approach to the menu and stuck with a sweet and sour shrimp with white rice, fresh veggies and shrimp pulled right out of the water here made for a great meal. I went to the "local specialty" section of the menu and ordered all of it. The "white rose" is a local shrimp dumpling made by one family in town here and served at most restaurants. Topped with some fresh parsley, peanuts and a light sweet chili sauce, delicious. The next plate that arrived looked kind of like 4 giant nachos (actually fried wontons) that were each covered with roasted pork and chicken and mix of veggies and herbs that almost tasted like salsa. Saucy and amazing. Finally, a little bowl arrived and all I could see were Udon noodles...I don't really like Udon noodles. But Miss Ly changed my view of the chubby noodles with one bowl of love. The noodles were "al dente" and topped with pork belly, crispy pork skin, mint, basil, parsley and tossed in a soy, honey, lemon sauce. That won't be the last time on this trip that I eat that. With a couple of cans of Tiger Beer, it was the perfect meal for about $12.

The afternoon was just passing time between meals for me, but for Nat it an sensory overload of fabrics and catalogues. We had three recommendations for tailors and we put orders in with two of them. We found Nat's jacket at one more place and the lady was so nice and her jackets were of such excellent quality and so cheap that we asked her to make us one. We're heading back to her this morning to picket that up.

Now that we know our way around town a little bit, we headed down Le Loi Street looking for dinner. It is in the centre of town and appeared to have a bit of a bar scene that we could check out after dinner. We stumbled upon a bright little restaurant called Morning Glory and it turned out to be a gold mine. The tables surrounded a cooking station that most of the meals came from so we could watch the chefs at work. I think that part of the meal sold us on coming back later this week for some cooking courses. Natalie started with similar version of the nachos that I had had for lunch, but hers came topped with local crab meat and were good enough that she wasn't sharing. My appetiser needed some at table construction as I received a plate of tiny fried spring rolls, noodles, mint, herbs, rice paper and sweet and spicy fish sauce. The waitress taught me how to take the rice paper and roll everything, starting with the fried spring roll, into one tasty wrap of so menu different textures and tastes. I can hardly describe it and it all disappeared too quickly to get pictures of. For main courses, we had a stuffed chicken and a roasted duck that didn't disappoint, tender and perfectly prepared.

Dessert was a tiramisu and some cocktails at a bar down the street. It was run by Vietnamese but had a real english feel to it, they frown on photography inside, but the artwork and vibe is so good, we might have to sneak a few photos tonight. All in all, a great day had by all.

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Posted by colincampbell 19:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

No moss on these rolling stones

rain 18 °C

When we woke up Friday morning it was raining the kind of rain that makes you rent some movies, pop some popcorn and go back to bed. Without popcorn and not wanting to watch any movies we made an executive decision, the weather wasn't cooperating so we would put our kitesurfing lessons on hold and go on a road trip. Before we arrived in Vietnam, we had looked a little at the maps and books, and we had planned to bus our way up the whole coast, making a few trips inland to check out some jungle. It turns out that this country is pretty big and not the easiest place to take simple bus trips around. Our destination of choice is the coastal town of Hoi An which is about 800kms north of Mui Ne. Our options for getting there; head back to Saigon (5 hour bus south) and take a plane, head inland to Dalat (5 hour bus west) and take a plane, or head to Nha Trang (5 hour bus north) and take another bus (another 13 hours on the road.) We figured that our best option was to head inland, explore some new terrain and avoid the overnight bus.

The hotel and kite school staff were very understanding and were happy to help us organise bus tickets and change our plans. We will see them again next Wednesday when the wind is due to return. Our wake up call came at 5:30 Saturday morning and after a quick bite (I think we cleaned them out of peanut butter) our bus picked us up at the front door and we were off. The bus held about 20 people some of which were backpacking tourists and some locals making for interesting scenery. I had to take a picture of the tone deaf aspiring musician sitting behind me that was sure the PCP he was smoking during our rest stop was the key to honing his skills and opening up his creativity. All it really did was give him a twitch, a sense of humour that only he understood, and the energy to test our patience for the entire five hours.

The roads deteriorated from the reasonably well paved 1A national highway to some seriously pot holed dirt tracks as we wound our way through the farm lands and the mountains. I was originally most concerned about the large hole in the floor of the bus, but quickly lost interest in that as we started into the hills and started hearing some truly unnatural noises coming out from under the hood and inside the gearbox. There was more than one occasion that I'm sure we could have got out and walked up the hills quicker, but eventually we arrived in the city of Dalat. The books describe Dalat as the capital of French Indochina in days gone by and we can see a little bit of Europe in the architecture as we drive through town. We only have a few hours, so we store our bags and grab a map and go on a walking tour, heading straight for Saturday market. I am sure it was busier earlier in the morning, but it was still a feast for the senses as we wandered through the indoor and outdoor sections. We grabbed some lunch of giant bowls of Pho which with a big tip was still less than two dollars and very delicious. We experimented a little heavily with the "sambal" that was on our table, the hot pepper condiment left us tasting lunch well into the late afternoon. The locals were very pleasant, not at all pushy, when they offered us everything from chicken and coconuts to all day driving tours for the next day. We skipped any purchasing though as we had an idea of the shopping that we would be doing at our final destination, by 3 o'clock we were in a taxi bound for the airport and on our way to Hoi An.

The airport was 35kms out of town and looked a little out of place, a shiny new facility in the middle of farmland, on the edge of the hills. I guess tourism is going well here, or maybe communism is the way to go, they even have free wifi at every airport in this country...why can't they do that in North America??

The weather forecast here looks pretty gloomy for the whole country right now, I just saw that there is a typhoon in the Philippines and so we are getting the rain from the outer bands of that along the whole coast of Vietnam. It was drizzling a little as we walked across the tarmac in Dalat to get on the plane and it was coming down harder when we arrived in Hoi An. We actually arrived in Danang and took a 30km drive to Hoi An.

Our hotel is nice and right next to the old part of the city. The ladies at reception checked us in and gave us a map explaining everything we might need. Our rooms are equipped with umbrellas, so we grabbed them and headed out to find some dinner. In the short three block walk to dinner I think we passed 50 shops that are either tailors or shoemakers, I'm impressed we actually made it to the restaurant, Nat was having a small coronary as she was planning her shopping schedule for the next few days. Dinner was great and we headed back to the hotel as the rain kept coming and the waterfront side of town started to flood. This town has temples, tailors and food for us to explore, most of which can be done indoors...I think it's going to be a great few days.

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Posted by colincampbell 17:11 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Please Sir, can I have some more!?

sunny 29 °C

The beach town of Mui Ne has grown on us pretty quickly and we are taking a little time out from out travels. Nat has found a great instructor and we are happy to hang out here until she is up and kite surfing like a pro. Today was originally our day to move on to the town of Hoi An, but with the weather as it is, we decided to hang in for some more wind and today we were rewarded. After a good start last week, Monday and Tuesday were very light wind so we had a few days off. The nice part about a day off is that we hang out at the beach bar, hoping that things will improve. Today our prayers were answered and the wind filled in again giving us a great day. Nat had some funky food the other day so was still recovering from food poisoning as she wrestled her kite and board in the gusty winds. She did a great job though and should be riding tomorrow or Friday at the latest.

Before tourism arrived here, this town was a fishing village and the locals that aren't working in tourism still spend their mornings harvesting the sea. The restaurants cater to a range of tourists from the masses of Russian sun seekers to the international crowd of kiters with a range of Vietnamese, Thai and French cuisine. The fish is really fresh and I still can't get enough of the noodle soups that are served everywhere.

As we are spending so much time on the water, we don't have a lot of stories right now of much else. There are some amazing sand dunes near here and some really rural areas that are worth exploring, but we wouldn't know as we haven't gone outside walking distance from our hotel in case the wind picks up and we miss a session. One night Nat got a manicure/pedicure that she was really happy with for a whopping four dollars and we've both had a few massages that can be as expensive as $15 if you get the ninety minute version.

For now, we have booked another week...we'll see what happens next Tuesday when it is almost time to move on. I wouldn't be surprised if we were here for Christmas.

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Posted by colincampbell 04:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

School is in session

sunny 30 °C

It was time to move on so we have said goodbye to our friends in Saigon and moved on to Mui Ne which is a little town on Vietnam's eastern coast. We took a taxi as the bus schedule was awkward and a little unpredictable. And, by the time we took a cab to the bus station, got the bus, and took a cab from the bus station to the hotel it wasn't going to be that much more to get the door to door service. Tao, our driver, was a really nice lady that spoke a little english and was very pleasant. She was recommended for her safe driving and we have no argument there...she rarely got out of third gear as to not risk breaking the 50km/h speed limit. When she hit fourth it was usually just as she tried to pass a truck on an incline. Those of you familiar with a standard transmission will know that that is a recipe for disaster, her foot was keeping the pedal to the metal, but the engine was choking and spluttering to death.

The 1A highway is supposed to be a scenic route and originally I had wanted to scooter long stretches of this area after seeing a "Top Gear" episode where the guys had done a challenge here. Luckily we opted for the cab ride as their is nothing too scenic here as we wound our way out of the city and along some pretty industrial and then farm areas. As we got close to Mui Ne most of the fields were full of dragon fruit, an odd looking but delicious tasting fruit that is tough to explain if you haven't tried. Get to the grocery store and give it a shot as it is really good and good for you!

We had booked ourselves a week in the Full Moon Beach Resort which is tied into the Jibe's Beach Bar and Kitesurfing School. I have been kitesurfing in St.Maarten for years now and we have been trying to find a place for Nat to learn. Our online booking was a little vague, but basically we signed up for a week of lessons for both of us; Nat to start from scratch and I was looking to learn some new skills. We checked in just after noon and headed for some lunch and to meet the staff who would be our teachers. The wind was light and the forecast looked a little dubious to say the least, but Drew, Weop, Adie and the rest of the guys were all positive and got us orientated right away.

This morning I got up early and caught the sun rising over the South China Sea, the fishermen in boats that are best described as 'tea cups' had been awake for ages and were already hard at work. The forecast was still pretty sad, but we headed down to the shack to check out what the plan was. Nat and Adie went in one direction and I started with Weop, they are really keen on safety so I spent the day catching up on everything that the French guy that taught me skipped. The wind filled in late afternoon so we ended up having a great day, tomorrow is slated to be even better, so keep your fingers crossed. Now Nat is doing a yoga class and I'm curling 330ml of Saigon Beer...I'm feeling stronger already.

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Posted by colincampbell 07:41 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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