A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Good Morning Vietnam! I'm a $6,000,000 man...

overcast 33 °C

Okay, so it's not really six million dollars, but we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday morning and hit up the first ATM we could find. When the exchange rate is a whopping 21,000 to 1, it doesn't get you much cash for 6,000,000 Vietnamese Dong. Nat has a friend from South Africa here on a work contract, so we grabbed a cab and headed to her house. She had mentioned something about hoping that the water level was low when we arrived so the taxi could actually drop us off at the front door. We weren't sure how to take that news, but after our flight from Cambodia showed us so much flooded devastation in the country side, we were a little weary of what we were in for. Luckily our timing was perfect and the cab had us at the front door just after noon with dry shoes and dry luggage. Last night we were treated to a roof top bbq at her house while we watched the sun go down and the water levels rise until the street was at least a foot deep, if not more.

This morning started slowly as the water level rose earlier than we did and it was easier to wait for it to subside then for us to swim. Nichola didn't have to work today and with her boyfriend, Bastiaan, in town, the four of us headed out to explore the city. We are staying in a suburb just outside the downtown area, that is heavily populated by French ex-pats, so the restaurants here are all top shelf and right up our alley. We headed into the city to a market that was a feast for all of the senses. First we walked through the meat market, then the fish market and then the vegetables. Everything was so fresh that a lot of the fish was still swimming. Next was the restaurant section that was simple stalls with a few stools each, it was chaos and it smelled amazing....except the couple of stalls selling the durian fruit. Durian fruit really should be outlawed, it smells worse than the dumpster behind the market (I checked). It is a prickly husked thing that looks like a spiny breadfruit with the worse smelling contents imaginable. Despite that smell, I tucked into a breakfast of clear noodle soup with pork belly and prawn...absolutely delicious. After, we wandered through the rest of the stalls of various stuff. It can't have been that good because I only remember a lot of t-shirts and tiny people grabbing at me to look at their wares.

Of course Vietnam has some sad history and we went to the War Remnants Museum after the market to take in a little bit of history. As a Canadian we don't study a lot in school about the Vietnam War, but the museum was a pretty grim reminder of how horrible human beings can be to each other. It is also interesting as I have read a little bit of the American version of the story and now to read a little of the Vietnamese side of the story how each government has their own version while millions of soldiers and civilians on both sides get caught in the middle.

The rain started to fall as the museum closed for lunch, so we explored some shops along the streets, It is very metropolitan with every shop you can imagine and probably ten more shops for each fancy one, knocking off the same stuff for a fraction of the price. Nichola and Bastiaan then took us to the top of the city for lunch. The menu was a wide variety of international cuisine and the 23rd floor rooftop view of the city made for a great backdrop to an amazing meal. To look across the city is great as you can really see how integrated the river is and how much green space they have here as well. We actually grabbed a water taxi back to our neighbourhood and relaxed a little in the late afternoon while the heat and humidity were peaking. We went back out for a little bit to grab dinner and fought the rising tides on our way home.

So far, Vietnam is great. Always good to be with friends and the food is great too. And, of course, it is good to be a $6,000,000 man!

Ps. If you send us anything on Facebook right now, we apologise for not responding. Our Ipad app lets us read what you write, but we can't reply through that and we can't log on to the regular site as it is blocked by the government here...something about not being so fond of social networking...

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Posted by colincampbell 08:36 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Going Local

sunny 31 °C

In a couple hours we are off to the airport, headed for Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam and we both agree that Siem Reap has gone by too quickly. We haven't had enough time to see everything, eat everything and, I'm ashamed to say, we haven't even managed to figure out how to pronounce our guide's name. We have had a really wonderful time here.

Yesterday morning came very early as our guide assured us we had to see the sunrise over Ankor Wat. It was a spectacular view for half of us, I won't say which half, but someone definitely wasn't getting out of bed at 4am again no matter what she was going to see. I wandered around for a few hours before heading back to the hotel around seven to have some breakfast. At 9am we were back on the road with a different agenda today, it was time to take a break from temples and go and visit some rural living. Every time we drive through town he takes a different route and it is amazing what this small city has to offer, so far we have seen lots of restaurants, museums, parks, monuments and palatial homes for various members of government and royalty when they are in town.

We headed south out of town and the road went from wide and nicely paved to one lane, bumpy dirt track that wound down the river to the edge of the Tonle Sap Lake. I just googled it myself and it's pretty amazing because it changes size so much with monsoon season that the actual directional flow of the water current changes twice every year. We bought some tickets and got on our own ferry for our three hour cruise (not just a Gilligan's Island joke, it was a three hour cruise!) The landscape didn't change a whole lot (even though we were on the water) as the path the boat took was lined with trees and brush that grows up out of the water. Beyond the trees were plots of water that were being fished by locals much like farmers working a field, everyone seeming to respect that they had their area to set their nets. The trees got denser and we stopped seeing anyone fishing just before the forest opened up and we had arrived at a police station and the local high school. Before we knew it we were downtown in the floating village of Kampong Phluk, a bustling economy built completely of houseboats and buildings on stilts of concrete or bamboo. We cruised down main street while the locals went about their day; one guy was building a new canoe, a few ladies were paddling around boats full fresh vegetables selling them door to door, kids were either at school or swimming to avoid the heat, it was pretty unreal. Beyond the town we motored through a floating forest that was a little less impressive and then we were out of the river and right out in the massive Tonle Sap Lake. We watched some locals fishing in the deeper water before heading home, back through town and the shallows.

Back ashore, we grabbed some lunch and headed to catch a temple or two. We also visited a local orphanage that I think must be where Angelina Jolie picked up her kids as they seemed to think everyone that is white must want a couple little ones. Don't worry, we didn't come away with any souvenirs from that stop.

It was definitely time for a nap after the 4am wakeup call so we headed back to the hotel. When 8pm rolled around, Nat was feeling a little under the weather so she grabbed some room service. Our guide was back ready to show us the town, so I couldn't let him down. Nat was resting up for Vietnam, while I headed out on the town. I asked him if we were headed to all highlights I had heard of and he replied that he wanted to show me a Cambodian beer garden which also came with a live show. We went to the other side of down and ended up in a giant fancy shed with a stage full of singers and tables full of celebrating locals (and a very few tourists). I have read a few things warning tourists about ending up at the head of a table full of locals as the party can get out of hand and so does the bill, but after this week, I trusted our guide and he didn't let me down. It was long before we had a table full of tuk tuk drivers, some of the singers from on stage and a beer rep from the local beer. Plates of fish and chicken and even frog arrived with rice and sauces and more beer. Saturday night was jumping at the beer hall, dinner was great and was fun to meet so many people, language wasn't a barrier and we had a blast. I thought it was time to go and check on Nat so we rolled out just after a big rain shower. The big tab after our party night ended up being $34 which just doesn't add up as I think our table must have consumed a case of beer plus all of the food.

We might just have to come back here one day. Our guide has already assured us that he will meet anyone we send him at the airport with a sign with their name on it and he will give them the experience like we have had. In case you are wondering, the cost of having this tailored tour and surefooted tuk tuk driver is $15/day.

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Posted by colincampbell 00:31 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

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