Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Photos

Hi,
We thought that when we put some photos of the Vietnam trip on the blogsite that the titles would appear as well, but not to be. All these things are very frustrating for us Dinosaurs........
Top to bottom:
1) French era public buildings Ho Chi Minh City - many beautiful examples
2) The gates to the Reunification Palace HCMC where north Vietnamese tanks crashed through in 1975 at the end of the American War
3) The boudoir - s.v. Tiare Taporo III - our Hephelant pillow covers!!
4) The Crazy House - Dalat
5) As above with You Know Who at the Crazy House. YKW wants one - the grandchildren would never go home!
6) American war materiel left in Vietnam in 1975
7) As above
8) Art Deco Summer Palace of the Bao Dai - Dalat, Vietnam
9) So-called sleeper bus with semi-reclining seats and YKW seated there!
10) More American war materiel left behind
Hope this helps in your deciphering of our muddled blogs!
Cheers and love from us.....
Jean and Jim

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Fwd: Phuket to Krabi and almost Christmas

----- Original Message -----
To: "Alec" <adonald@abdonaldltd.co.nz>
Subject: Phuket to Krabi and almost Christmas
Date: 23 Dec 2015 13:28:08 -0000
From: ZMQ5985

Hi to all,
We arrived at Krabi early in December after a 3 day crossing of Phang Nga Bay which was uneventful, except that our windlass refused to pull up the anchor at our last anchorage and we were worried that something else had happened to it but it turned out that the engine start battery which powers it was on its last legs after 3 years and we have now replaced that so all is well again.
Phang Nga Bay is of course where the greatest concentration of limestome karst islands can be found and it is truly very spectacular. Some amazing sights and often you get the impression that a whole island is going to topple into the sea, but of course they have been there a long time. However, one day..........! so we don't get too close to in case a cliff breaks off or the whole thing does fall over. There are some fairly recent scars where bits have fallen off in recent times. The Krabi side of Phang Nga is much more attractive than the Phuket side simply because it's cleaner. The water is not totally clear but is a nice deep green colour near Krabi, whereas on the other side the water is just dirty. Such a shame and is largely due to pollution from runoff from the low lying land to the north. Navigation is a bit tricky as most of the area is quite shallow and it is necessary to stay in channels (such as they are) which can get a bit hair raising.
We had been looking forward to returning to Krabi Boat Lagoon again but were shocked to be told almost as we tied up that our friend Garn, who has been running a great restaurant here, had been given 7 days notice to quit her premises. Just like that and after spending a great amount of money equipping the kitchen, fridges, furniture etc. She has managed to get the time extended to the end of December, but it is a shocking breach of normal business ethics and is a very good example of why anyone and foreigners in particular (Farangs) should never contemplate a business venture in Thailand. Normal ethics and fairplay as we understand them are often flouted. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as security of tenure via a commercial lease for instance. It seems that Garn's husband who is an Australian and who works in the oil industry in the Middle East, complained in fairly strong terms about power charges from the marina in a marina apartment THAT THEY OWN!! Apparently the marina owner took exception to that and as a result ordered Garn out of her restaurant. The restaurant has been a focal point for people in the marina and now that focus won't exist. Thais get offended very easily and you may not even know that it had happened. They tend to withdraw without confronting the issues head on and then can behave in a completely unreasonable and unexpected way.
We have a similar situation with engineering work. After the endless saga earlier this year with our prop shaft and cutlass bearings, we said that we did not want the particular engineer on the boat again. We have been told that if we won't have him we can't have anyone, in spite of the fact that there is at least one other qualified engineer available. So, that almost certainly means we won't be hauling out at Krabi Boat Lagoon again which is indeed sad. We just cannot understand the attitude. Again it seems that they don't want to offend the guy who has been with them a long time, but they don't worry about our feelings or the inconvenience caused. The Thai mentality is very hard to follow and as we've said in the past, the words "Thai" and "logic" are very often oxymorons!!
Another thing which has recently happened is that the previous manager was given sums of money on behalf of boats on the hard to go to Customs and pay for extensions of time for the boats. This is normally quite easy to do and we have done it ourselves at least once. However, this guy never went near Customs and instead as we understand it, just pocketed 4,000 Baht per boat (10 boats). That's a total of around NZD1600. Now the owners not only have to pay again, but they also have to pay a fine of 10,000 Baht per boat. In addition some of them may have had to return to Thailand prematurely to sort out the mess if they were away in Europe or the States working or visiting families, etc. These events are unconnected as far as we know but the result is that the atmosphere around here, which used to be happy and totally pleasant is now totally changed. Everyone is looking over their shoulders as the manager has been sacked and they are wondering who might be next. It's no longer a pleasant place to be. Hopefully it will settle down in the future, but that's how it is right now.
In the meantime the swimming pool has not been clean and the marina is a cesspit as most people living on yachts are using the on board toilet facilities on their boats because the onshore toilets are too far to go to and if you have any sort of stomach upset which is not uncommon here, you'd never make it! We used to use toilets attached to the condominium buildings and they are relatively close, but some idiot evidently complained with the result that they are locked and NO-ONE uses them!! Another example of Thai logic. And we sit on the bottom at low tide with no sign of any dredging activity on the horizon.
There is another marina, Port Takola, being built nearer to Krabi Town with all tide access and when that opens later in 2016, it will give this this place a real run for their money, so they really do need to lift their game.
In the meantime we have had plastic boards shaped and inserted in our soft bottom dinghy which should finally mean we can use it with gay abandon! Well, not quite but it will be a great improvement over the original Zodiac design - 3 yrs old now.
Popeye's carpenter, Don built the dinghy boards and also rectified some issues we had with deck caulking that had been done last year here at KBL. He had also raised our cockpit sole by 120 mm last year when we were away in India getting Jean's new hips and he did an exemplary job then too. He is an artisan of the first order and he also had rebuilt the 6 metre class ("Selma" built in Norway in 1926) which easily won the classic division of the King's Cup in Phuket a fortnight ago. We might enter next year - with a huge handicap!!! We'll give "Selma" a run for their money as Gauntlets were designed in 1934 as ocean racers!! But they were were designed with winds in excess of 25 knots across the English Channel so we might be out of luck. "Tiare Taporo III", originally named "Reflections of Wellington" and built in Wellington, NZ, apparently won a Royal Port Nicholson race across Cook Strait by 7 seconds in the 1980's!
Ian from the Australian yacht "Jayden" gave us some assistance with attaching the rated shackle to our anchor Jim bought in NZ (Green Pin). After a scolding from the Marina Police about cluttering up the walkway (which we were definitely NOT doing) we managed to get all our 100 metres of chain back in the chain locker and even the dinghy on deck!!!
Since then Jean and Jim are definitely in the cruising mode where getting to the other end easily surpasses any competitive urges!! But we can still give as good as we take.
On the health front, Jean has noticed a great improvement in her ligaments/knees with her stringent exercise regime. For those who know her, that would be no surprise. Jim on the other hand is nowhere near as stringent but there has been some improvement to his knees with swimming. Then there is always the Dutch Bakery in Krabi Town where one can get meat pies almost as good as Tommy Jones's Pies in Wellsford - 45 years ago!!!!!! How time passes. Jim used to pass by Tommy's early in the early mornings (6 am.) with his Dad at the age of 17 or thereabouts on the way to the Bay of Islands with a load of fresh bread in the old Pontiac (mid 1960'sh)!! Jim wishes he had met Jean in those days - who knows what might have been?
Nostalgia - it's always to be lauded but it should not be looked back on on. The main thing is to pick up whatever remains to pick up and get on with life. That's what we are doing with sailing through the Andaman Sea.
Lots of love from us
Jim and Jean and with all best wishes to all ............
----- End of Original Message -----

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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Phuket

Hi again to all,
Once back in Krabi we carried on with the twice daily antibiotic IV's for Jim at Krabi International Hospital. Krabi had no initiative - they simply carried on the treatment started in Hanoi which we must say in the end proved to be effective. This involved a 60 km. round trip twice a day which was a right pain - not to mention expensive with hiring a car at 1000 Baht per day. Plus the hospital costs which in Thailand are generally more expensive than other SE Asian countries - especially India!! You could be forgiven for assuming we are biased in favour of India! The IV's continued for about a week. Then with one day to go Jim had enough. He was on his own this time which was unusual; Jean was back on the boat catching up with chores. He was hooked up to the IV and then left in a room with freezing aircon and no way of calling a nurse. No-one looked in to check on progress. Because diuretics had also been prescribed in an effort to reduce the leg and foot swelling (at least partially caused by the antibiotic itself), there was a concurrent need for frequent toilet visits! Things were getting somewhat fraught with this pressing need and no-one to deal with the IV. So, it was necessary to get off the bed and fortunately the power lead together with the dripline was just long enough to open the door and yell at the 6 nurses at the nurse station who were mainly concerned with chattering and playing with their smartphones. They looked suitably abashed and one came over and disconnected the power so that the necessary visit could be made. The second time it happened Jim disconnected himself and wheeled the IV trolley past the nurse station. No-one offered to help. That was it.
They wanted payment for the morning IV plus the evening one as usual but Jim refused. This caused a furore but that didn't matter. All they seem to care about is getting paid. You can't get out of the place without being led very firmly to the cashier. The doctor who was useless and clueless about side effects of Vancomycin until we informed him, was in the end, after trying a severe lecture, only interested in getting Jim to sign an indemnity letting him off the hook! They had a plentiful supply of such forms which suggested that this was not an isolated occurrence.
Last year with Jim's Sciatica and Jean's hips (pre-op) we had had a reasonable time with Krabi International Hospital. We had both had MRI scans then and the doctor had correctly diagnosed and treated the Sciatica. Then of course we went to India where Jean received state of the art ceramic and titanium hips. Krabi IH has gone downhill since then and we deplore the money emphasis here which is in stark contrast to that of India where they are far more concerned with a patient's welfare.
Anyway, since then and since our arrival in Phuket, the Cellulitis symptoms have gone and a blood test showed that the bacteria was clear. Thank goodness for that. It's a potentially very dangerous infection and once again all thanks to Jean for recognising the problem early enough in Hanoi to enable the treatment to be effective.
While at Krabi we also came to an acceptable compromise with Popeye in regard to the engine alignment issues that we had. Popeye is incredibly busy and the comparison with last year is amazing. They had 37 boats on the go (and some were fairly major jobs) which they were struggling to cope with, but in future they will be restricting the workload that they take on. But it was good to catch up with Des and Ked again. We also were able to enjoy the new swimming pool which gave us some much needed exercise. Jean unfortunately was developing what seemed to be severe pain associated with ligaments and there is no-one capable of treating that in Krabi. What with Jim's Cellulitis and dicky knees as well we are just a couple of old crocks. This is why we do need to pass on the idea of more long ocean passages - particularly ones such as an Indian Ocean crossing. Unfortunately age and time are implacable foes. Although Jim still hankers after the idea of Borneo, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Aleutians (in the northern summer of course!) and the west coast of North America. A bonus would be to get the old girl (the boat!) to Seattle where there is a very strong following for classic timber built boats.
We left Krabi in mid November and had a quick trip to Phuket as it was urgent for Jean to see an Osteopath she had been in touch with. We anchored overnight and then proceeded to Yacht Haven - almost exactly 12 months since we were last here. No boat issues at least! Yacht Haven has changed radically with a totally new marina complex which is very efficient, but we have to say has an imposing appearance reminiscent of Soviet style architecture somewhat like Ho Chi Minh's tomb in Hanoi!! It has always been on a steep hillside with the carparks and services all up top. But they have a (mostly) efficient service of electric golf carts which take one hither and yon. And there is a pool up there as well but nowhere near as good as the Krabi one. You might wonder at all this obsession with pools, but we have lately become aware that there are box jellyfish (a la Australia) here as well and over the recent past few years several visitors have died from their stings. This includes Langkawi. So the thought of swimming in the sea is suddenly not so attractive. The annoying part is that the authorities never tell you about this - presumably because it is not a good look for tourism. But neither is tourists dying on beaches. This definitely is not a common occurrence but nevertheless is sufficient deterrent for us.
Jean had an appointment with Garnett Symonds (a U.K. trained Osteopath who had his own practice in London). He is located near Rawai Beach - about a 2 hour drive from here in the mad Phuket traffic. The treatment certainly alleviated the symptoms and exercise helps but still not sure what to do long term. We had some X-Rays taken at the 7th. Day Adventist Mission Hospital - they sing hymns at 8 every morning - quite soothing, especially in a hospital environment!! We've sent those to Vijay Bose in Chennai for his comments but so far haven't heard back.
Apart from all these medical woes, we've been enjoying our time here and we have found the Living Room restaurant which is far better than the marina restaurant and cheaper. It's just a sand floor under a lean to roof with lots of planting and right on the beach. This missive is being penned right here as we speak. We hire a car once a week to get provisions and any other errands that need doing. Tesco and Makro are our preferred food suppliers! Things like smoked duck and Cumberland herbed sausages are favourites not to mention fresh passion fruit in season now. They are slightly larger than the purple NZ variety. Still purple and full of pulp and so sweet! Then there are Papaya and all sorts of imported fruit as well. Aussie oranges, NZ apples, Kiwifruit and Avocados. And Chinese Nashi pears, carrots and garlic! So, we are well supplied. Norwegian salmon and Vietnamese white fish also.
In a couple of days we are looking after a miniature Schnauzer called "Cuzzie" whose owners (Lee & Richard from an American boat called "Before") have gone to Bangkok for a few days. We have remade the acquaintance of Erica and Nick from the Australian boat "Jepeda IV" and met a number of other people on boats as you do in this cruising life.
We have listed "Tiare Taporo III" with a brokerage here - Boatshed.com They are represented in 50 countries and also in all the wooden boat meccas of the world so hopefully something may eventuate. In the meantime we are enjoying our life and looking forward to exploring Phang Nga Bay on our way back to Krabi.
We will be very sad to sell Tiare but life has to move on. Time as always will tell.
With lotsaluv from us and hoping everyone is in the pink...........
Jim and Jean
s.v. Tiare Taporo III
Yacht Haven Marina
Phuket Thailand
www.tiaretaporo3@blogspot.com

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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Hanoi Sojourn plus Cellulitis!!

Day 17 - 19/10 to day 21 - 23/10
Things on the health front are improving all the time but the leg actually looks awful being swollen and reddish/purple!! Still, we're being very diligent as regards taking the antibiotics so hopefully as time progresses things will return to normal.
However, on Day 19 we returned to the hospital as we had been becoming anxious that the leg wasn't healing as it should. A blood test showed that the bacteria count was off the Richter scale which was not welcome news. Very dangerous if not dealt with. So,it was decided that Jim would have further antibiotics by IV every 12 hours. After all tests were done a broad spectrum antibiotic was started. There has been a blood culture taken to try to specifically isolate the actual bacteria but at the time of writing that result is not to hand. Right now Jim is having the evening IV on the 23rd. and the schedule for tomorrow is that we come again to the hospital for another IV at 0430. Then we leave for the airport at 0600 at the latest for our flight to Bangkok. We don't finally arrive at Krabi until 1630 so it will be a very long day. We have already arranged a hire car to go to the Krabi International Hospital for another IV soon after we arrive back.
But to regress - our days have mostly been concerned with Jim's leg and all that. Getting as much bed rest as possible with the leg up was paramount. Not very conducive to sightseeing except from what we could see from a taxi window. However, Hanoi is a very attractive city around 2 major lakes and many parks. Together with some lovely old French buildings. The French were anything but benign colonists however and were ruthless in their supression of resistance.
Jim was feeling a bit better so we made the mistake of going on a "City Tour". This involved a visit to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and also the simple Vietnamese house in which he lived. The Mausoleum is a forbidding looking Soviet inspired square building and normally it is possible to go inside and view Ho lying in state, but every year he gets taken to Russia where he undergoes a makeover and this coincided with our visit. So we didn't get to meet Uncle Ho. However, this visit in particular involved a lot of walking in the heat which did Jim's leg no good at all so we left the tour after the Mausoleum visit and returned to the hotel. The hotel restaurant only served breakfast so our days consisted of bed rest and occasional forays out to local restaurants for meals. Not very exciting but all we could do in the circumstances.
Our other activity was a twice daily visit to the Family Medical Practice at Ba Dinh where Jim had a broad spectrum antibiotic by IV to treat the infection in his leg caused by Cellulitis. This is a very dangerous condition which if untreated, could lead to loss of a limb or even life. Interestingly Cellulitis is very prevalent in Vietnam and this may be a legacy of the American War. Apparently with destruction of infrastructure and explosive excavation of ground more bacteria than normal can be released into the environment. This legacy can exist long after any war has ended. So maybe that was the indirect cause of Jim's infection, which we think started in Hue.
Day 22 - 24/10
A long day indeed. First the arranged wakeup call at 0300 from the hotel reception did not eventuate. Apparently they got the time wrong! Anyway, we were fairly keyed up and after a fitful sleep fortunately woke naturally in plenty of time. When we went downstairs we found Frank and his offsider asleep but they woke as soon as they realised we were there. Frank, Lala, Ana and Rose had been the epitome of friendliness and helpfulness and we were very sad to be leaving. The taxi arrived as ordered at 4 and off we went to the hospital. There they were as usual very efficient and within 10 minutes of arriving Jim was plugged in. When that finished we ordered another taxi for the airport. Arrived in good time and checked into Air Asia for our 0900 flight. We had bulkhead seats booked for the Hanoi-Bangkok leg and also down to Krabi which was a blessing as the Hanoi-Bangkok flight was almost 2 hours and Jim's leg swelled with the altitude. Managed to keep it wedged against the bulkhead in front of us so it remained more or less elevated which alleviated some of the discomfort. 4 hours on the ground at Don Mueang (Bangkok) which was totally unremarkable and then off again to Krabi. Climbing out of Bangkok there were some big thunderhead clouds which the pilot weaved his way around. This was accompanied by a disquieting opening and closing of the throttle as we negotiated these monstrous clouds full of high winds and thunder and lightning! Anyway, we made it to Krabi without incident and landed into a grey overcast.
So, our Vietnam odyssey has come to an end. We enjoyed the country and especially the people. When you think what they have been through at the hands of the Chinese (for 1000 years), then the French for about 100 years and who were anything but benign colonists, and then the American War from around 1960 to 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the wrought iron gates of the Reunification Palace in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), you have to have absolute admiration for their resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. The Americans could not fight them conventionally and so the order went out to kill as many Vietnamese as possible as they had come to view the situation as a war of attrition and high body counts were the only measure of military superiority! High body counts were also a guarantee of promotion. Women, children and old men - it didn't matter. A body was a body. And they cut the ears off to prove that the claimed body counts were not fictional. We're reading a book at the moment ("A People's History of the Vietnam War" by Jonathan Neale) which details all the history leading up to the American War and the deeply flawed and sick reasoning which led up to the American invasion. Not to mention horrific accounts of being directly under these bombing assaults. The total amount of ordnance dropped on Vietnam was more than three times that of the entire 2nd. World War by all protaganists in that sorry saga.
Since the war ended 40 years have passed and the country is prospering. Still a military dictatorship and nominally Communist/Socialist, but capitalism flourishes everywhere. However, all major businesses (banks, etc.) are state owned. The population is 90 million and there are 60 million motorcycles! Must be a great business for Honda and Yamaha.
That reminds us - when you are crossing 4 lanes of road in (say) Ho Chi Minh City, you must press on resolutely. Above all you do not stop, even when several hundred motorcycles are bearing down on you. If you keep going they can negotiate around you but if you hesitate or stop mayhem reigns. A word from the wise!!!
It was a pity that our 3 week visit ended as it did but we want to go back and complete our tour of north Vietnam in particular. We would give HCMC a miss but would spend more time in Danang and inland from there as well.
Well, that's it for now. More to come with the still unfinished business of the Cellulitis saga and ongoing yachting adventures. Watch this space!
Cheers and love from us........
Jim and Jean
s.v. Tiare Taporo III
Krabi Boat Lagoon
Krabi
Thailand.

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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Hue to Hanoi

Day 13 - 15/10
Hue is a fairly uninteresting city, although it was the home of the Vietnamese royal dynasty and the ancient palaces (although bombed during the American War) have been largely restored. However, we didn't arrive until the early afternoon and by the time we checked into the Thanh Lich Hotel, and found a late lunch at a nearby hotel, it was getting late and we were not a little knackered. Went back to the same hotel for dinner because we didn't particularly like the look of the street side restaurants and there was always the MSG issue. However, it was truly awful and we realised that we should have tried a restaurant that was recommended by our hotel because they only served breakfast.
Day 14 - 16/10
We decided to have a lazy morning after all the recent travelling so stayed in the hotel packing and then had lunch at the Saigon Restaurant which was much better than last night's effort and much cheaper as well. Then our taxi arrived to take us to Hue Airport. About 200,000 Dong and as usual the driver spoke almost no English. Just a note of caution here; if you express an interest in something that looks interesting, it's best not too ask about it because he won't understand and very well may think you want to stop which involves a U-turn which can be hair raising!
However, the flight to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines was very pleasantly and we'd have to say unexpectedly, a great experience. The airline operates a very young fleet and they fly world wide. Our aircraft was an Airbus 321-200 and the legroom was at least 75 mm more than you get with Air Asia. They are definitely not only catering for smaller bodied Asians! However, this is fast becoming a myth as under the increasing influence of the Western diet, average sizes are increasing with all the dubious benefits that that entails. We were most impressed and compared with American Airlines, Air Asia, Singapore Airlines and even Air NZ it was head and shoulders above any of them. They currently fly to Australia so hopefully it may not be too long before NZ is included.
We are not particularly looking forward to our return flights to Bangkok and Krabi although we do have bulkhead seats on the Hanoi-Bangkok leg.
Due to our late change of travel plans with cancelling the Sapa trip, we tried to change the date of our flights. We were technically able to do this but we discovered that it would cost more than USD90 so we decided to leave it. This is how Air Asia and other budget airlines make their money. What a fortuitous decision. We were met at Hanoi Airport by the hotel car. However, as we had tried to change hotel bookings at the last minute, it meant that we had to spend our first night at another hotel which was quite good.
Then the fun started. During the night Jim developed a raging temperature which we initially thought was flu. The next morning Jean bought a thermometer and the temperature was ranging between 37 and 39.5C. There were no other symptoms so we still didn't know what we were dealing with.
Day 15 - 17/10
The move to the Eclipse Legend Hotel was fairly excruciating for Jim as he was feeling absolutely awful. Went straight to bed and Jean was a wonderful nurse exercising her skills from long ago. Insisting on lots of water and cold towels with ice wrapped inside. It worked to a degree in getting the temperature down but always kept bouncing up. Just a burning body with no perspiration. Frightening because around 41-42c you're normally dead. This went on all night and then we had to finally move to our permanent room. We had the air conditioning turned right down as low as possible which also helped but which induced from time to time a severe shaking fit. Still none of the real symptoms at that stage. We had considered a hospital visit, but the temperature appeared to be stabilising around 38C. But then later in the day the bottom of Jim's leg started reddening severely almost up to the knee and became extremely painful. Jean didn't say much - probably to ease the feelings of the patient - but she insisted that we go immediately to the hospital - the Handi Family Medical Practice in Kim Ma Rd., Ba Dinh District. A 300,000 Dong taxi ride. The clinic was first class - very modern and spotlessly clean. We were seen fairly soon by a lady doctor who seemed very worried as she suspected either a thrombosis or cellulitis. There was an ultrasound which thankfully ruled out thrombosis. That left the cellulitis which of course we now realised had been the cause of all the recent high fever - not flu at all. We had arrived prepared for an overnight stay as it may have been considered necessary to have antibiotics by IV, but the doctor we subsequently saw gave us two lots of very strong antibiotics (Avelox and Dalacin) and he said that he was very confident that within 2-3 days there would be a big improvement. However, we have enough for 10 days so hopefully that will be more than enough. Jean has been and is absolutely wonderful. She's been up just about every two hours with the cold compresses (no sympathy for the excruciating cold on a hot body) and she's also been tireless in making sure Jim is nourished. We had bought a tin of Ensure (which is sold everywhere here, probably to combat the effects of MSG!!) and for a time that was all Jim could take. Once the real symptoms began it was really urgent to get appropriate treatment as otherwise the consequences can be very serious indeed. Once again Jim owes Jean a debt of gratitude for immediately suspecting cellulitis and organising the hospital visit accordingly.
Day 16 - 18/10
Not much to record here except that it seems that a slow improvement has started. Jean has been busy organising the hotel with supplies of soap and towels and ice and going out periodically to get food from a restaurant very close to the hotel.
At this stage we haven't seen much of Hanoi, except from taxis, but we have to say we are very impressed. Hanoi is a lively energetic city and very modern in parts with many high end shops and lots of others as well. Beautiful old French era buildings from the days of Indochine and from what we've seen so far impressively restored and maintained. Photos still to come - sorry, not up to it at present.
More to come and as always lostsaluv from us.........
Jim and Jean
Eclipse Legend Hotel
Hanoi
Vietnam

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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hue to Hanoi

Day 13 - 15/10
Hue is a fairly uninteresting city, although it was the home of the Vietnamese royal dynasty and the ancient palaces (although bombed during the American War) have been largely restored. However, we didn't arrive until the early afternoon and by the time we checked into the Thanh Lich Hotel, and found a late lunch at a nearby hotel, it was getting late and we were not a little knackered. Went back to the same hotel for dinner because we didn't particularly like the look of the street side restaurants and there was always the MSG issue. However, it was truly awful and we realised that we should have tried a restaurant that was recommended by our hotel because they only served breakfast.
Day 14 - 16/10
We decided to have a lazy morning after all the recent travelling so stayed in the hotel packing and then had lunch at the Saigon Restaurant which was much better than last night's effort and much cheaper as well. Then our taxi arrived to take us to Hue Airport. About 200,000 Dong and as usual the driver spoke almost no English. Just a note of caution here; if you express an interest in something that looks interesting, it's best not too ask about it because he won't understand and very well may think you want to stop which involves a U-turn which can be hair raising!
However, the flight to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines was very pleasantly and we'd have to say unexpectedly, a great experience. The airline operates a very young fleet and they fly world wide. Our aircraft was an Airbus 321-200 and the legroom was at least 75 mm more than you get with Air Asia. They are definitely not only catering for smaller bodied Asians! However, this is fast becoming a myth as under the increasing influence of the Western diet, average sizes are increasing with all the dubious benefits that that entails. We were most impressed and compared with American Airlines, Air Asia, Singapore Airlines and even Air NZ it was head and shoulders above any of them. They currently fly to Australia so hopefully it may not be too long before NZ is included.
We are not particularly looking forward to our return flights to Bangkok and Krabi although we do have bulkhead seats on the Hanoi-Bangkok leg.
Due to our late change of travel plans with cancelling the Sapa trip, we tried to change the date of our flights. We were technically able to do this but we discovered that it would cost more than USD90 so we decided to leave it. This is how Air Asia and other budget airlines make their money. What a fortuitous decision. We were met at Hanoi Airport by the hotel car. However, as we had tried to change hotel bookings at the last minute, it meant that we had to spend our first night at another hotel which was quite good.
Then the fun started. During the night Jim developed a raging temperature which we initially thought was flu. The next morning Jean bought a thermometer and the temperature was ranging between 37 and 39.5C. There were no other symptoms so we still didn't know what we were dealing with.
Day 15 - 17/10
The move to the Eclipse Legend Hotel was fairly excruciating for Jim as he was feeling absolutely awful. Went straight to bed and Jean was a wonderful nurse exercising her skills from long ago. Insisting on lots of water and cold towels with ice wrapped inside. It worked to a degree in getting the temperature down but always kept bouncing up. Just a burning body with no perspiration. Frightening because around 41-42c you're normally dead. This went on all night and then we had to finally move to our permanent room. We had the air conditioning turned right down as low as possible which also helped but which induced from time to time a severe shaking fit. Still none of the real symptoms at that stage. We had considered a hospital visit, but the temperature appeared to be stabilising around 38C. But then later in the day the bottom of Jim's leg started reddening severely almost up to the knee and became extremely painful. Jean didn't say much - probably to ease the feelings of the patient - but she insisted that we go immediately to the hospital - the Handi Family Medical Practice in Kim Ma Rd., Ba Dinh District. A 300,000 Dong taxi ride. The clinic was first class - very modern and spotlessly clean. We were seen fairly soon by a lady doctor who seemed very worried as she suspected either a thrombosis or cellulitis. There was an ultrasound which thankfully ruled out thrombosis. That left the cellulitis which of course we now realised had been the cause of all the recent high fever - not flu at all. We had arrived prepared for an overnight stay as it may have been considered necessary to have antibiotics by IV, but the doctor we subsequently saw gave us two lots of very strong antibiotics (Avelox and Dalacin) and he said that he was very confident that within 2-3 days there would be a big improvement. However, we have enough for 10 days so hopefully that will be more than enough. Jean has been and is absolutely wonderful. She's been up just about every two hours with the cold compresses (no sympathy for the excruciating cold on a hot body) and she's also been tireless in making sure Jim is nourished. We had bought a tin of Ensure (which is sold everywhere here, probably to combat the effects of MSG!!) and for a time that was all Jim could take. Once the real symptoms began it was really urgent to get appropriate treatment as otherwise the consequences can be very serious indeed. Once again Jim owes Jean a debt of gratitude for immediately suspecting cellulitis and organising the hospital visit accordingly.
Day 16 - 18/10
Not much to record here except that it seems that a slow improvement has started. Jean has been busy organising the hotel with supplies of soap and towels and ice and going out periodically to get food from a restaurant very close to the hotel.
At this stage we haven't seen much of Hanoi, except from taxis, but we have to say we are very impressed. Hanoi is a lively energetic city and very modern in parts with many high end shops and lots of others as well. Beautiful old French era buildings from the days of Indochine and from what we've seen so far impressively restored and maintained. Photos still to come - sorry, not up to it at present.
More to come and as always lostsaluv from us.........
Jim and Jean
Eclipse Legend Hotel
Hanoi
Vietnam

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Hoi An and on to Hue

Day 10 - 12/10
Pouring with rain first thing but we awoke refreshed and had a good breakfast in the hotel restaurant - all included in the tariff. Had a discussion with the hotel front desk about our onward travel. They can book trains, cars etc. Eventually decided to travel from here to Hue (the old Imperial capital of Vietnam) by private car as by the time one added up the bus fare and taxis at each end, there was very little difference.
Then we walked into the Old Quarter which is only a 5 minute walk away and is a delightfully eclectic collection of original old buildings. Some predate the French period and others are noticeably French in style. Lots of trees in the streets - altogether most attractive and laid back. Very touristy of course and prices to match and all prices are quoted in USD here - not Dong! We have been admiring the traditional female attire of the Ao Dai. This is a long covering dress worn over traditional trousers and slit on both sides up to the waist. Very graceful and alluring. Jean decided she wanted one and she does not make decisions regarding her personal attire easily. So, we found a tailor who impressed us. There must be at least 50 tailors in our immediate vicinity all catering mainly to the tourists of course. She considered silk as opposed to cotton and while silk probably looks the most graceful, well cut good quality cotton will be much more wearable in the hot climates we are living in. So the Ao Dai plus trousers plus 2 dresses all came to USD115 - approx. NZD170. There is to be a fitting tomorrow and they should all be finished then. What a great service.
We had been recommended to 3 restaurants here by Gavin at Life's a Beach and so for lunch we went to The Chef. Great Vietnamese NON MSG food!!! Then for dinner we went to The Cargo Club right on the Hoi An River. We were on an upstairs balcony overlooking the river where lots of traditional Vietnamese bats are moored. Similar to those of Thailand but not as graceful to a nautical eye! All in all a lovely day wandering around a very attractive precinct. If you ever come to Vietnam there is no doubt that Hoi An is a must see.
Day 11 - 13/10
Jean has been having increasing trouble with her left leg. It appears to be a ligament problem but is getting worse. As a result we decided to cancel our planned trip from Hanoi to Sapa near the Chinese border. A pity but we felt the risk of being incapacitated as a result of too much walking was too great. So we will stay in Hanoi and explore as we can. Jim's knees aren't up to much either so, although disappointing, the Sapa cancellation is no doubt for the best.
Jean had a fitting for her clothes during the morning and the we went to the Rice Drum for lunch. There we came across a young NZ couple who had been staying at Life's a Beach. Such a small world. We walked both sides of the Hoi An River and admired the architecture - so full of character as most dates way back even before the French period. Then a final fitting and all was OK. We had another wonderful Vietnamese dinner and then back to the Travelodge for an early night ahead of our departure tomorrow.
Day 12 - 14/10
Another comfortable night and then breakfast which by Asian standards was very good. Eggs, sausages and bacon and plenty of fruit. Great. The breakfast room has large French doors opening onto the street and they are kept open - for ventilation and the street atmosphere with constant motorcycles hurtling past. Not really necessary for air conditioning here as the temperature is in the low 20's.
Our car arrived just after 10 and we left Hoi An with some regret. However, the car trip was great as we had asked to go over a pass over the hills just south and not through a long tunnel. However, before that we passed through Danang and had a close view of seemingly endless great beaches with good surf as we passed along. The development here is immense - we passed building after building in various stages of completion. Industrial parks, hotels and apartment buildings.
It has been suggested that the TPPA is primarily designed by the US to sideline China by encouraging manufacturing in Vietnam which is a signatory. When you see the Danang developments it certainly seems to be an achievable goal, although the downsides for NZ remain as concerning as ever. However, when you understand the endgame being pushed by the US, the energy that has gone into pushing the TPPA is not surprising.
And not far off this coast in the South China Sea are the Spratley Islands which China has illegally appropriated and on which they are building military bases. The US has declared that its naval ships and airforce will operate within 12 miles of the Spratleys as and when they wish and the Chinese have warned against military escalation. Amazing since they started it in the first place but it's another potential flashpoint. America and China certainly appear to be getting more and more aggressive with each other so where that will eventually leave NZ with its FTA with China and as a signatory of the TPPA is anyone's guess. The only certainty is that it won't be pretty.
We stopped at a factory where they make large scale statues and ornaments from solid marble. Reminded Jim of his experiences with importing items of Indian marble back in 2005. Very impressive lions and religious statues. Absolutely amazing. Pictures WILL come!!
Then over the hills just north of here and wonderful views of the coast and Danang in the distance. We stopped for a comfort stop and some delicious Hibiscus Tea. Met a Kiwi couple from Bucklands Beach!
Further north we were back down at sea level and lots of rivers and fresh water lagoons. Picturesque and some beautiful narrow houses in the most unlikely locations. Then we arrived in Hue - the ancient city of the Vietnamese kings. Not sure whether we will have time to visit the old palaces as we fly out to Hanoi tomorrow but we'll see.
We are at the Hotel Thanh Lich in a leafy part of the city. Quite pleasant but nondescript and it seems that we might be the only guests! Very few tourists around - unlike Hoi An. The hotel does not have a working restaurant, except for breakfast so we had lunch at the Park View Hotel just down the road. Not bad so we decided to return for dinner. Big mistake - the soup was ok but the mains were very substandard and it all cost over 700,000 Dong - NZD50. Very expensive for here so if you ever come to Hue, do not stay there!! Walked back to our hotel in pouring rain but fortunately we have good umbrellas!
Watching a very informative Japanese documentary on TV and then soon to bed.
More to come as always.
Cheers and love from us..........

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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Heading north to Quy Nhon and Hoi An

Hi again to all our avid readers.
Day 7 - 09/10
The day dawned fine and clear with a temperature reminiscent of Auckland in summer - but without the humidity. This would be a great place to live were it not for the lack of language and MSG!!
We tried the "breakfast" at the Pink House but all it consisted of was bread and jam. So we walked down the road to the backpacker where we were able to indulge in fried eggs and proper toast. Had a great conversation with the manager (Cong) whose father had had a senior role in the Vietcong. Told him all about the fact that Vietnam was a signatory to this pesky TPPA so-called "deal" and that as a result citizens from all the other signatory countries (incl. the USA) will soon be flocking to Vietnam to buy property courtesy of the property provisions of the agreement that we haven't been allowed to be privy to yet. In that respect, good luck NZ as well. Of course we are already well down the road of being sold - Lochinver was just a blip in the system as Gerry Brownlee no doubt told the Chinese Vice Premier.
Cong was not impressed and complained about the non democratic Vietnamese government which just did what it liked and to hell with whatever the people wanted. This is what a Communist dictatorship does and we said NZ is no different. Welcome to the modern world of globalisation.
We were being picked up at 1300 so after packing and vacating our room we left our bags there and walked to the same restaurant where we ordered 2 lots of their spring rolls to take away which we intended to eat on the bus as the bus stops are infested with MSG. Jim had some squid and another nostalgic glass of strawberry wine and then we returned on foot to await the van to pick us up.
This duly occurred and off we went to the bus station. We paid for our tickets (430,000 Dong) and soon after boarded the bus for the 1400 departure. We knew we were down the back but at the back they have 5 reclining seats under a close overhead ceiling. No-one as usual had explained this. Jean refused point blank to get in there as she suffers from claustrophobia and the environment was cramped and generally unpleasant. So we told the driver we wanted to get off but he ignored us and started backing the bus out. His assistant who looks after seating arrangements initially indicated that there were no other seats but we pointed to 2 empty seats and said we were going there. He just shrugged his shoulders and washed his hands of the whole thing so that's where we stayed for the duration. We certainly were NOT moving.
The road from Dalat down to the coast was steep in parts and quite slow and about halfway down we ran into very thick pea soup fog. Apparently that phenomenon is almost always there, but you couldn't see more than the length of the bus. Anyway, after a time we came out of it and started north up the coast. Through Nga Trang where the bus stopped for food but we didn't have any except for some peeled guava which was good. It poured with rain while we were there and it was dark by then. We had given the driver's assistant written directions for where we wished to be dropped off at the Life's a Beach Resort about 10 kms south of Quy Nhon. We were following the bus's progress on Jean's I-Pad courtesy of GPS but the village of Bai Xep (pronounced bicep) wasn't shown so we were guessing somewhat as to where we needed to get off. However, when we were getting close, we were summoned to the front prior to getting off. The bus crept along looking for the drop off point and actually stopped at another resort but we said that wasn't it and so we carried on a bit further. Then we saw who we presumed was Steve, one of 2 English gay guys who own the resort. We had been ringing and texting him before we arrived and keeping him up to date as to our progress. It proved to be him and so we exited the bus. He carried our small suitcase down a concrete track on his motorbike and we walked alongside until we came to the most delightful, small and totally informal resort right on the beach. Only 4 or 5 units. There is sand outside our front door. By then it was about 2230 and we had a snack dinner which they had prepared for us and then collapsed into bed where we slept like logs.
Day 8 - 10/10
We woke about 5 to see the dawn coming up over the South China Sea - a beautiful sight and although we have seen many dawns at sea, it always impresses. Went back to sleep again and didn't get up until close to 8 when we dressed and went to the restaurant for breakfast - scrambled eggs. Met 2 young couples from NZ - one from Dunedin and the other from Christchurch. Had a series of great conversations with them and then made the big decision to have a swim. First time in the South China Sea. Lovely and refreshing and the beach here is clean with golden sand which you can't walk on in bare feet because it gets too hot.
The resort is great. Very laid back and Gavin and Steve do a fantastic job. So informal and everyone so friendly. Gavin also teaches English to the children of the local village for no charge. We would like to stay longer but we have to stick to our schedule. However, this is one place we would like to come back to. And they don't use MSG! It is about 10 metres from the front door of our cabin to the beach and it is a very picturesque view with a small island just offshore. Started wondering whether we could come in here with Tiare but of course so far there is the very expensive Vietnamese bureaucracy to contend with. Had a nap this afternoon (much needed) and then dinner where we were all at one table with a German couple the NZer's and a pleasant Vietnamese lady. Lots of good conversation and now to bed. It's now almost 2200 (NZDST 0400 the next day)and yours truly is feeling it. We have to be away from here by 1000 tomorrow or our trip to Hoi An which is another 6-8 hour trip. This time we are going in a minibus which should be more comfortable than the so-called sleeper bus. More about that tomorrow. Night night.
Day 9 - 11/10
The day dawned fine and bright over the South China Sea - in spite of a lightening and thunderstorm last night. Once more enjoying the dawn over the South China Sea and a great breakfast, courtesy of Steve and his team in the kitchen. Then sadly it was time to pack and say our goodbyes. The taxi arrived for us promptly at 1000 and there was a 15 minute ride into Quy Nhon where we were to catch our next mode of transport. 200,000 Dong (NZD13.40). There is a tendency for us to compare other taxi fares such as HCMC where a fare covering the best part of an hour was 150-180,000 Dong but of course NZD13 is really quite reasonable for a 15 minute ride - especially as he had to come and get us and helped carry our luggage back up the hill in fairly warm conditions!
The minibus was a long wheelbase Ford Transit - reminded Jim of his stint as a Super Shuttle owner/driver to and from Auckland Airport for those crooks - Super Shuttle. But the bus was good - an older Transit!!
The trip was a bit monotonous - all flat and some fairly indifferent urban ribbon development. And lots of rice paddies. But the bus was a lot faster than the bigger sleeper bus. However, some passing manoeuvers were fairly hairy and we weren't sorry to get to Hoi An. We weren't sure whether we were actually in Hoi An because the I-Pad had been packed in luggage which was jammed in the back and we couldn't see any meaningful signs. So, of course we asked and they looked astonished that we didn't know!! Then because "no Sunday" meant no taxis on Sunday apparently, we had to get on the backs of 2 bikes plus our luggage for the 5 km. (approx.) ride to the Travelodge! Not what we were expecting at all and we weren't happy as bikes are far less safe than cars. However, all was well and we paid the 150,000 Dong fare for the 2 bikes. The Travelodge is wonderful and has an indoor pool. Tariff of less than NZD50 per night and the hotel is near new. Very comfortable and friendly. On the recommendation of Steve at Life's a Beach we went out to dinner at a restaurant called The Chef and had a great MSG free meal. Perhaps we are now getting into Vietnamese life at last! We've certainly had some much better experiences of late in Dalat, at Life's a Beach and now in Hoi An at the Travelodge. The Old Quarter of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site (like Georgetown on Penang in Malaysia) which probably means prices are higher but there are lovely unspoilt buildings and traffic is banned at certain times of the day which is refreshing after the frenetic pace in HCMC!
More to come and love from us.......

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Thursday, 8 October 2015

Vietnam sojourn #2 HCMC to Dalat

Day 5 7/10 -
Today was a long day. We woke at 4 to finish our packing before being picked up by taxi at 7. The bus didn't leave until 9 but such is the rush hour traffic in HCMC that we needed over an hour to get into the city. Then there was time to have breakfast over the road from the bus stop. We'd been there before so the MSG message was well and truly rammed home - again! You meet all sorts of interesting people when travelling. There were 2 Vietnamese sisters aged about 50 who had left Vietnam for the USA with their families when they were 10 - 40 years ago. That would have been about 1975 when the north overran the south. Anyway, one lives in Texas and the other in Florida. They were here to meet some family and to see where they had come from in Vung Tau Province.
The seats on these long distance buses are intriguing indeed. They are semi reclining. One's feet go horizontally into a kind of semi covered pod which isn't long enough for our western bodies! The rest of you leans back on an adjustable back rest. They were ok for the day time but would be diabolical if you were trying to sleep at night. We managed to fit reasonably but they are narrow too. There are some on the bottom deck and some overhead but as it is not a true double decker, the access to the top tier was via the bottom and very small short ladders. We were advised to be on the bottom and good advice it was too. Entering and exiting from a reclining position was not easy and even when standing up the passages were too narrow for us so we had to go sideways. Fortunately we were at the front so didn't have far to go to get out - and we had a good view.
The first part of the trip leaving HCMC was very slow. For the most part there were 2 lanes in each direction but jampacked with trucks and all ambling along. One thing we noticed was that businesses of certain types tended to congregate together so at one point there was a collection of statue makers. The Bhuddha, Jesus and the Virgin Mary were all well represented and in many sizes. No doubt if you could afford it you could have the biggest available and impress the neighbours!! It seems that Christianity (mostly of the Catholic variety) is well represented in this part of Vietnam - obviously a legacy of the French. There were some very grandiose churches in most of the towns we passed through.
Once we were clear of the city and its environs the pace picked up but still not particularly fast which is just as well given the hair raising driving we witnessed. No wonder the road toll here is so high. There are 6 million motorcycles in HCMC alone and 9 million people. Buses generally ignore them and honk their horns and expect them to get out of the way, but if they don't..........
Once we started climbing into the Highlands the scenery became very pretty and the roads steep which again slowed our progress considerably. We stopped for lunch at a large road stop place and with trepidation ordered some things off the menu - once more emphasising NO MSG. However, in spite of their assurances Jean could taste it in hers and refused to eat it. Jim's wasn't great either. 35,000 Dong for each dish and we refused point blank to pay for Jean's. Caused a bit of a furore but when they realised we meant it, they backed down. Only the equivalent of NZD2.40 but it was the principle as if she had eaten all of it she would have been extremely sick and that would not have been good at all - especially on a bus. They obviously tell you the first thing that comes into their heads just so that you'll go away. We are getting more and more concerned because MSG is so prevalent in Vietnam it's almost impossible to avoid 100%. We have discussed more than once aborting the trip and returning to Thailand. We don't want to do this because we came here to see the country but we also can't afford the results of continually ingesting MSG. Much more and Jean would be totally immobilised and very sick and miserable and that would be ridiculous. We'll persevere but very carefully. This is very sad because Vietnam has such delicious food and they absolutely do not need the so-called flavour enhancement of MSG, but as we were subsequently told, if a restaurant here in Vietnam did not put MSG in its food it would be out of business very quickly. So we just have to grin and bear it and try to manage the situation.
Dalat is at 1500 metres (4,500 feet) and so has a very pleasant cooler climate. Usually daytime temperatures in the low to mid 20's C.
Day 6 8/10 -
First job this morning was to try to organise acceptable transport to our next destination, a small beach hotel (Life's a Beach) 10 kms south of Quy Nhon. This is approximately 8 hours (again!) by bus from here and we were also told that the only bus per day left here at 1600. This would have meant an ETA of around midnight to 1300 the next morning and we were definitely very concerned about that. However, this morning it transpired that another bus leaves at 1400 and so we should arrive around 2200 - much more civilised.
With that out of the way we wanted to do a half day tour around Dalat but this hotel (the Pink House) only offered full day tours. So we wandered down the road to an upmarket backpacker who arranged a car and driver/guide for us. We has breakfast there while we waited. Our man (Bay) duly arrived and we set off first to the ATM to get some much needed Dong. 5 million in fact (NZD344!!). Then we headed off to the Dalat Railway station built by the French in the 1920's in the Art Deco style. It is no longer part of the Vietnamese rail network due to war damage to the track but that is slowly being addressed and one day it will be a great tourist attraction. Then we visited a collection of villas built by the French as part of the development of Dalat as a summer hill retreat. Interesting architecture and it was obviously a great life for the top level French in those years. Then the piece de la resistance - the Bao Dai's summer palace. He was Vietnam's last king and lived for the most part in the old imperial capital of Hue. However, the summer palace here in Dalat (also built very much in the Art Deco style) was his summer retreat. He had 6 wives and married at least 2 of them while still married to his queen. He had 5 children to his 1st. wife and some to his subsequent wives and liaisons. Some are still living and the eldest still alive carries the title of head of the Nugyen Dynasty, although that title is largely meaningless. The children who are all still alive live in exile in France. Bao Dai himself died in France in 1997. An interesting aside is that during his time in exile in France he also lived periodically in Monaco and at one time owned the largest yacht in Monaco! So the family must have been fairly well healed. During the Japanese occupation the Japanese allowed the French to continue to rule south Vietnam as they had declared allegiance to the French Vichy regime (an ally of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan) in France. Bao Dai continued as Emperor of Annam as a puppet of the Japanese. When Japan surrendered in 1945 Ho Chi Minh (the founder of present day Vietnam) persuaded him to abdicate - given his collaboration and association with the Japanese occupation. This enhanced Ho's and the Viet Minh's standing with the Vietnamese people more than any other event and laid the foundation for France's ousting by the Viet Minh from Vietnam in 1954. When Japan surrendered in 1945 the surrender was received by the British Army as proxy for France as France had virtually no military capacity at the time. Britain's Winston Churchill was determined that Indochina would be restored to French rule and the British were largely instrumental in ensuring that outcome. A deeply flawed policy - obviously.
The summer palace here in Dalat is impressive in scale and as a largely original example of Art Deco architecture. In Bao Dai's bedroom the furniture all designed for the room is still there although badly in need of restoration. And throughout the palace the furniture and fittings are all still there and original. His office is all original and his huge desk with all the items he used during his time there are all still on the desk.
It was quite a surreal experience seeing all the personal rooms where the royal family of Vietnam lived. Nothing particularly flash about it - just the bare bones of what must have been a very privileged life.
Then we went to the Crazy House. This is a concrete house very cleverly designed much like a Hobbit film set and still a work in progress. The owner is a Vietnamese woman who has a Phd. in Architecture from Moscow. Her father was Truong Chinh who was Ho Chi Minh's successor as President of Vietnam from 1981 until his death in 1988. To plagiarise the Lonely Planet - "The Crazy House defies definition. Joyously designed, outrageously artistic, this private home is a monument to the creative potential of concrete, with sculptured rooms connected by super slim bridges and an excess of cascading lava-flow like shapes. Think Gaudi on acid!" It was an enthralling visit and we have many photos which will find their way onto the website soon. One of the problems with pictures is that these blogs are posted via Sailmail and Sailmail does not allow attachments so they have to be placed separately through our Gmail address.
Jean was absolutely gobsmacked by the house and said she wants one!! It would be great for the grandchildren (they would never want to leave) and she could become the old woman matriarch leaning on a knobbly wooden stick!! She'll kill me when she reads this!
Then it was back to the Pink House and out again to do some exploration of the CBD on foot. Dalat is hilly and is an ordered eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, service industries like motor garages in the most unlikely juxtaposition with other businesses and accommodation businesses - of which there are a few since Dalat is a tourist centre. But all pleasantly laid out and clean with good tiled footpaths. Spoilt a bit by the hundreds of motorcycles parked on them!
We went back to our favourite restaurant (Long Hoa) where they do NOT use MSG and they serve delicious Vietnamese food alongside western dishes. After an early meal and several glasses of homemade strawberry wine (wonderful) we made our way down the hill and then up another back to the Pink House. Jim's knees are giving some grief after all this walking (it was definitely NOT the strawberry wine!) but we made it back and now typing this blog. We leave tomorrow early afternoon for Quy Nhon where we are staying right on the beach - at sea level once more and no doubt a total contrast to this recent experience at Dalat.
More to come that's for sure..........
Lotsaluv from us and hoping this finds you all in the pink.
Cheers,
Jim and Jean
Dalat
Vietnam.

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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Sojourn to Vietnam - Part 1

Day One 3/10 -
We could only get an early morning flight from Krabi to Bangkok in order to allow enough time to connect with the flight to Ho Chi Minh City and so we were up at 0400 closing seacocks (which had to be done at the last minute) and generally doing all the final preparations to the boat and ourselves prior to leaving. We had arranged to meet Garn at 0600 for her to take us to the airport but our neighbour had made a last minute decision to go to Phuket and so he offered to take us to the airport as his route took him right past the entrance.
The flight to Bangkok (1 hr) was devoid of drama and we had no check in luggage so everything was as seamless as possible. However, leaving Thailand at Bangkok was a different story. The usual drama with Thai bureaucracy. First, we had checked into Thailand at Satun on the boat and here we were checking out of Bangkok. Second, our 5 year NZ passports were soon expiring so we had obtained new passports on-line. So, when we rocked up to Thai Immigration they had to check our visas in the old cancelled passports and get their heads around the fact that we had arrived by boat, as well as the fact that we had new passports which for them had to be linked to the old. It was just as well that we had allowed enough time on the ground at Bangkok because the whole exercise took upwards of 2 hours.
We had arranged bulkhead seats for the one and a half hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and it was moderately comfortable although Air Asia, being a budget airline, still takes the no frills approach such as eschewing the use of air bridges in favour of steps and buses, which is a pain. Still, we eventually arrived after another non eventful flight. Didn't see much as there was quite a bit of cloud. There was then a complicated process to obtain our Vietnamese visas. We had applied on-line previously, but all that produced was a letter from Vietnamese Immigration to say that we could apply for a 30 day visa on arrival. That seemed simple but the reality was somewhat different. You have to provide 2 passport photos and then fill in another (this time manual) application. Then they issue the visa but the fee was USD90 for the 2 of us. They don't take credit cards and we didn't have any USD!! However, fortunately we still had some Thai Baht and they would accept those but the fee was 4,000 Baht. This equates to around USD110 so it cost us the equivalent of another USD20 for having the wrong currency! The whole process seemed cumbersome and unnecessarily bureaucratic, but Vietnam is still a totalitarian Communist country so that's what happens. Having said that, it's like China and is becoming more and more a benign dictatorship which tolerates an extremely high level of capitalism in its economy.
The next thing to get one's head around is the currency. At present there are approx. 14,500 Vietnamese Dong (VND) to one Kiwi dollar. We were quoted from 200,000 to 800,000 Dong to get to our hotel by taxi - that's a price range of between 14 and 55 NZD, so no prizes for guessing which one we took. The hotel is a resort located on a U-shaped bend of the Saigon River. It was only costing us USD17 per night so we didn't expect anything too grand but the room is clean and the property very pretty and well maintained. The only issue is that it costs around 150,000 - 180,000 Dong to get into the CBD of HCMC. The trip in the taxi is fascinating. They drive on the right (a legacy of the French no doubt) and the traffic is reminiscent of India. Thank goodness we weren't driving. A number 44 bus, on the other hand is only 10,000 Dong for the 2 of us.
The Binh Quoi 2 Resort is very pleasant - not new and rooms a little in need of refurbishment but very clean and comfortable. The bungalows are built over a tidal inlet of the river but that sounds way better than it actually is. The water is murky and there is no real view of the river except from the restaurant. But no mossies or midges so that's all good. There is also quite a good pool but we haven't been swimming yet.
We availed ourselves of a buffet dinner which they put on on weekends and we enjoyed the delicious Vietnamese flavours but we hadn't realised that the Vietnamese often add more MSG to their food than even the Thais do and so we suffered that night with the effects of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
Jean is very allergic to MSG and so suffered all night but even Jim was affected too. We have since found out the Vietnamese for "NO MSG" and we flash that under everyone's noses now so hopefully all will be well. But we consider that the MSG issue alone would be enough to prevent us from ever settling permanently in SE Asia.
Day two 4/10 -
Not feeling at all well this morning due to the MSG poisoning. However, we needed to do something about our bus tickets to Dalat in 3 days time so we first of all decided to catch a "44" bus into town. However, it began raining quite heavily and so we abandoned the bus idea and took a taxi instead. Taxis at least are cheap. We were dropped off at Saigontourist where we had been told we could buy bus tickets but that was incorrect. We were then directed to the "bus station" where we were told we could buy tickets. We set off on foot but became lost again so at that point we were approached by two rickshaw operators who appeared knowledgeable as to where the bus station was. Jean was not keen but Jim felt that we needed to be taken as they appeared to be friendly and actually had written testimonials from some New Zealanders which appeared genuine. However, it was a scam and they dropped us at a local bus station. There was then an argument about the fare and Jim made the mistake of pulling out his wallet and pulling a couple of notes out. It's necessary to that because the notes re confusing with all the zeros and the 20,000 and 500,000 Dong notes are the same colour. Anyway, they then snatched the money and vamoosed. We're not sure but we think they grabbed maybe 1,500,000 Dong which is NZD103. A salutary lesson in not displaying money on the street but of course all we wanted to do was pay a fair amount and get rid of them. Never in a rickshaw again - that's for sure. We were lucky they didn't snatch the whole wallet, credit cards and all.
However, we finally found the ticket place for the bus and bought two tickets to Dalat (an 8 hour bus ride apparently) for 440,000 Dong (NZD30) and the buses are quite luxurious so at least that part seems quite cheap. We got a new battery for the camera and then found a reasonable looking restaurant where we had a local beer and an indifferent meal. However, the MSG message was rammed home! We returned to the resort a little chastened by the experience and glad to be back. Had a very pleasant dinner in the riverside restaurant. Jim had squid and Jean had grilled fish which was all delicious. We made sure they fully understood the requirement as to NO MSG as well!!!
Day 3 5/10 -
Woke this morning feeling much better as the effects of the MSG seem to be finally wearing off. Sore eyes, upset stomachs, a general malaise and leg muscle pain are all symptoms which one can well do without at any time and especially when travelling.
We decided we were going to go into town again specifically to see the Reunification Palace and later the War Remnants Museum. We are getting bolder so decided to go in on the bus - no. 44. Apart from a slow leak in the LH front tyre, the trip was uneventful. We met a very helpful young Vietnamese girl on the bus who spoke excellent English and she told us that when we got to the bus station we should change to a no. 35 bus. However, in a completely typical situation it turned out that the bus schedules had been changed a week ago and we should be catching a no. 6! We had no idea where to catch that and with the language difficulties we were unable to find out. Very frustrating. So we found a coffee bar where we had some Tiramisu and coffee and caught our wits. We were given directions and so headed off on foot along Duong Louis Pasteur - amazing they're still using a French name here. There is also a Duong Dien Bien Phu here after the famous battle in 1954 where the French were given a bloody nose - more than playing the All Blacks! They then left Indochine for good.
We found the Palace first after negotiating the street crossings - it gets quite unnerving when walking across even on a pedestrian crossing in front of 3 lanes of charging motorbikes. They have no intention of giving way, but if you just keep walking steadily they seem to go around you and everyone survives to fight another day. Anyway, we found the huge wrought iron gates that North Vietnamese Army tanks smashed their way through on 30th. April 1975. A North Vietnamese officer stormed the building and raised the flag of the VC on top of the building and then made his way to a reception room where the new Head of State (for only 43 hours) of South Vietnam, General Minh was waiting. General Minh said "I have been waiting since early this morning to transfer power to you". The VC officer replied "There is no question of your transferring power. You cannot give up what you do not have". The Palace had been built in the 1960's and was in fact bombed by a dissident South Vietnamese airforce officer in 1963 in a successful attempt to assassinate the then president, Ngo Dinh Diem. That was the catalyst for the USA to invade in a totally misguided attempt to control another country - but they've been doing that for years, usually via the CIA initially. Diem was a hugely corrupt leader doing great damage to his people. But that should have been left for Vietnam and its people to sort out.
Anyway, the rest is history, as we know.
Our next port of call was the War Remnants Museum. This commemorates (if that's the right word) the Vietnamese victory over the US invasion (they call it the American War) and the horrors and atrocities committed during the course of the war. Outside there is an amazing collection of American war materiel - aircraft, tanks, self propelled guns and a host of other equipment - all left behind when the US forces evacuated in 1975.
The bulk of the displays were photographic depicting the horrors of war and dwelling on the American atrocity committed at My Lai - about half way between here and Hanoi. The soldiers on that day took people away from their villages and killed them all - some very brutally. Pregnant women and children included. And the villages themselves were destroyed - all because they believed that everyone was in some way helping the Vietcong. Possibly that was correct but certainly was no excuse for the brutality, and after all the Vietnamese were entirely justified in fighting invaders of their country. The US and its allies may have been "invited" originally but the regime that did so was totally corrupt and its leaders were puppets the US had installed. It is reminiscent of the atrocities committed by the Nazi SS in Europe and by the Japanese in Asia - including Vietnam. There was a court martial for one individual (Lt. Calley) but somehow he only served 3 years.
America of course is still waging illegal wars where they deem it to be in their national interest, but they have done untold harm and left a legacy that will haunt them for a long time to come. Having said that, there doesn't appear from our short time here to be any lingering resentment towards westerners - but you would never really know. It will probably take several generations to die out before the memories really fade. The Vietnamese people are totally admirable - they won the war through sheer tenacity. War materiel was shipped into North Vietnam and carried south over the Ho Chi Minh Trail for 6 months before it reached the fighting units of the North Vietnamese Army near what was then Saigon. The Trail meandered for many miles back and forth across the Lao border and in the wet season was a quagmire. In spite of this and continual USAF bombing by B-52's those tenacious people managed to carry upwards of 35 kgs on their backs. Whatever one's political leanings then or now, this was an amazing feat and ultimately ensured Vietnam's independence.
Day 4 6/10 -
Last day in Ho Chi Minh City. Had a slight touch of MSG poisoning again this morning and even contemplated aborting our trip because we cannot be as sick as this for 3 weeks. We would never make it, especially on 8 hour bus trips! However, we decided to just get on with it and be very diligent about trying to avoid it. The Vietnamese seem to be far more addicted to the stuff than the Thais. We went into town again on the bus and went to the Ben Thanh Market where we bought 2 umbrellas. The tourist publications talk up this market but really it is just a large retail area selling loads of tourist kitsch, although there were some reasonable clothes. We then found a very good Japanese/Vietnamese restaurant where we had a pleasant lunch, and not expensive. 340,000 Dong - NZD23. On arrival both of us were suffering stomach pains again - possibly from breakfast. We are getting really fed up with this MSG related stuff - anyway, we had to pay visits to their loo in quite a hurry!! Let's hope this is the last of it. We also bought some snacks for the bus and Jean now has a Vietnamese ph. no. which is +84 1264020788.
Our impressions of Ho Chi Minh City are mixed. In hindsight it may have been better to have stayed closer in to the city, but the tariff here more than makes up for the taxi costs. The city seems hard to find one's way around in although we are now just starting to get a feel for things. The Vietnamese are generally friendly and helpful and a surprising number speak reasonable English, except taxi drivers it seems although there are exceptions. The buildings are a mix of lovely old French colonial, modern, and scruffy Asian which you see everywhere. The "tube" buildings are fascinating. These are 4-5 story buildings on impossibly narrow footprints. They all seem to lean on each other so they hold each other up but every so often you see one on its own. It wouldn't take too much of a shake to see it falling onto its neighbours. They usually have some type of business on the ground floor and residential above. There are heaps of shops and you wonder how they make a living. Of course they don't - it's just subsistence living.
We leave by bus for Dalat in the Central Highlands tomorrow so the next blog will be from there.
Cheers and love from us.........
Jim and Jean
Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam.

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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Sojourn to Vietnam - Part 1

Day One 3/10 -
We could only get an early morning flight from Krabi to Bangkok in order to allow enough time to connect with the flight to Ho Chi Minh City and so we were up at 0400 closing seacocks (which had to be done at the last minute) and generally doing all the final preparations to the boat and ourselves prior to leaving. We had arranged to meet Garn at 0600 for her to take us to the airport but our neighbour had made a last minute decision to go to Phuket and so he offered to take us to the airport as his route took him right past the entrance.
The flight to Bangkok (1 hr) was devoid of drama and we had no check in luggage so everything was as seamless as possible. However, leaving Thailand at Bangkok was a different story. The usual drama with Thai bureaucracy. First, we had checked into Thailand at Satun on the boat and here we were checking out of Bangkok. Second, our 5 year NZ passports were soon expiring so we had obtained new passports on-line. So, when we rocked up to Thai Immigration they had to check our visas in the old cancelled passports and get their heads around the fact that we had arrived by boat, as well as the fact that we had new passports which for them had to be linked to the old. It was just as well that we had allowed enough time on the ground at Bangkok because the whole exercise took upwards of 2 hours.
We had arranged bulkhead seats for the one and a half hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and it was moderately comfortable although Air Asia, being a budget airline, still takes the no frills approach such as eschewing the use of air bridges in favour of steps and buses, which is a pain. Still, we eventually arrived after another non eventful flight. Didn't see much as there was quite a bit of cloud. There was then a complicated process to obtain our Vietnamese visas. We had applied on-line previously, but all that produced was a letter from Vietnamese Immigration to say that we could apply for a 30 day visa on arrival. That seemed simple but the reality was somewhat different. You have to provide 2 passport photos and then fill in another (this time manual) application. Then they issue the visa but the fee was USD90 for the 2 of us. They don't take credit cards and we didn't have any USD!! However, fortunately we still had some Thai Baht and they would accept those but the fee was 4,000 Baht. This equates to around USD110 so it cost us the equivalent of another USD20 for having the wrong currency! The whole process seemed cumbersome and unnecessarily bureaucratic, but Vietnam is still a totalitarian Communist country so that's what happens. Having said that, it's like China and is becoming more and more a benign dictatorship which tolerates an extremely high level of capitalism in its economy.
The next thing to get one's head around is the currency. At present there are approx. 14,500 Vietnamese Dong (VND) to one Kiwi dollar. We were quoted from 200,000 to 800,000 Dong to get to our hotel by taxi - that's a price range of between 14 and 55 NZD, so no prizes for guessing which one we took. The hotel is a resort located on a U-shaped bend of the Saigon River. It was only costing us USD17 per night so we didn't expect anything too grand but the room is clean and the property very pretty and well maintained. The only issue is that it costs around 150,000 - 180,000 Dong to get into the CBD of HCMC. The trip in the taxi is fascinating. They drive on the right (a legacy of the French no doubt) and the traffic is reminiscent of India. Thank goodness we weren't driving. A number 44 bus, on the other hand is only 10,000 Dong for the 2 of us.
The Binh Quoi 2 Resort is very pleasant - not new and rooms a little in need of refurbishment but very clean and comfortable. The bungalows are built over a tidal inlet of the river but that sounds way better than it actually is. The water is murky and there is no real view of the river except from the restaurant. But no mossies or midges so that's all good. There is also quite a good pool but we haven't been swimming yet.
We availed ourselves of a buffet dinner which they put on on weekends and we enjoyed the delicious Vietnamese flavours but we hadn't realised that the Vietnamese often add more MSG to their food than even the Thais do and so we suffered that night with the effects of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
Jean is very allergic to MSG and so suffered all night but even Jim was affected too. We have since found out the Vietnamese for "NO MSG" and we flash that under everyone's noses now so hopefully all will be well. But we consider that the MSG issue alone would be enough to prevent us from ever settling permanently in SE Asia.
Day two 4/10 -
Not feeling at all well this morning due to the MSG poisoning. However, we needed to do something about our bus tickets to Dalat in 3 days time so we first of all decided to catch a "44" bus into town. However, it began raining quite heavily and so we abandoned the bus idea and took a taxi instead. Taxis at least are cheap. We were dropped off at Saigontourist where we had been told we could buy bus tickets but that was incorrect. We were then directed to the "bus station" where we were told we could buy tickets. We set off on foot but became lost again so at that point we were approached by two rickshaw operators who appeared knowledgeable as to where the bus station was. Jean was not keen but Jim felt that we needed to be taken as they appeared to be friendly and actually had written testimonials from some New Zealanders which appeared genuine. However, it was a scam and they dropped us at a local bus station. There was then an argument about the fare and Jim made the mistake of pulling out his wallet and pulling a couple of notes out. It's necessary to that because the notes re confusing with all the zeros and the 20,000 and 500,000 Dong notes are the same colour. Anyway, they then snatched the money and vamoosed. We're not sure but we think they grabbed maybe 1,500,000 Dong which is NZD103. A salutary lesson in not displaying money on the street but of course all we wanted to do was pay a fair amount and get rid of them. Never in a rickshaw again - that's for sure. We were lucky they didn't snatch the whole wallet, credit cards and all.
However, we finally found the ticket place for the bus and bought two tickets to Dalat (an 8 hour bus ride apparently) for 440,000 Dong (NZD30) and the buses are quite luxurious so at least that part seems quite cheap. We got a new battery for the camera and then found a reasonable looking restaurant where we had a local beer and an indifferent meal. However, the MSG message was rammed home! We returned to the resort a little chastened by the experience and glad to be back. Had a very pleasant dinner in the riverside restaurant. Jim had squid and Jean had grilled fish which was all delicious. We made sure they fully understood the requirement as to NO MSG as well!!!
Day 3 5/10 -
Woke this morning feeling much better as the effects of the MSG seem to be finally wearing off. Sore eyes, upset stomachs, a general malaise and leg muscle pain are all symptoms which one can well do without at any time and especially when travelling.
We decided we were going to go into town again specifically to see the Reunification Palace and later the War Remnants Museum. We are getting bolder so decided to go in on the bus - no. 44. Apart from a slow leak in the LH front tyre, the trip was uneventful. We met a very helpful young Vietnamese girl on the bus who spoke excellent English and she told us that when we got to the bus station we should change to a no. 35 bus. However, in a completely typical situation it turned out that the bus schedules had been changed a week ago and we should be catching a no. 6! We had no idea where to catch that and with the language difficulties we were unable to find out. Very frustrating. So we found a coffee bar where we had some Tiramisu and coffee and caught our wits. We were given directions and so headed off on foot along Duong Louis Pasteur - amazing they're still using a French name here. There is also a Duong Dien Bien Phu here after the famous battle in 1954 where the French were given a bloody nose - more than playing the All Blacks! They then left Indochine for good.
We found the Palace first after negotiating the street crossings - it gets quite unnerving when walking across even on a pedestrian crossing in front of 3 lanes of charging motorbikes. They have no intention of giving way, but if you just keep walking steadily they seem to go around you and everyone survives to fight another day. Anyway, we found the huge wrought iron gates that North Vietnamese Army tanks smashed their way through on 30th. April 1975. A North Vietnamese officer stormed the building and raised the flag of the VC on top of the building and then made his way to a reception room where the new Head of State (for only 43 hours) of South Vietnam, General Minh was waiting. General Minh said "I have been waiting since early this morning to transfer power to you". The VC officer replied "There is no question of your transferring power. You cannot give up what you do not have". The Palace had been built in the 1960's and was in fact bombed by a dissident South Vietnamese airforce officer in 1963 in a successful attempt to assassinate the then president, Ngo Dinh Diem. That was the catalyst for the USA to invade in a totally misguided attempt to control another country - but they've been doing that for years, usually via the CIA initially. Diem was a hugely corrupt leader doing great damage to his people. But that should have been left for Vietnam and its people to sort out.
Anyway, the rest is history, as we know.
Our next port of call was the War Remnants Museum. This commemorates (if that's the right word) the Vietnamese victory over the US invasion (they call it the American War) and the horrors and atrocities committed during the course of the war. Outside there is an amazing collection of American war materiel - aircraft, tanks, self propelled guns and a host of other equipment - all left behind when the US forces evacuated in 1975.
The bulk of the displays were photographic depicting the horrors of war and dwelling on the American atrocity committed at My Lai - about half way between here and Hanoi. The soldiers on that day took people away from their villages and killed them all - some very brutally. Pregnant women and children included. And the villages themselves were destroyed - all because they believed that everyone was in some way helping the Vietcong. Possibly that was correct but certainly was no excuse for the brutality, and after all the Vietnamese were entirely justified in fighting invaders of their country. The US and its allies may have been "invited" originally but the regime that did so was totally corrupt and its leaders were puppets the US had installed. It is reminiscent of the atrocities committed by the Nazi SS in Europe and by the Japanese in Asia - including Vietnam. There was a court martial for one individual (Lt. Calley) but somehow he only served 3 years.
America of course is still waging illegal wars where they deem it to be in their national interest, but they have done untold harm and left a legacy that will haunt them for a long time to come. Having said that, there doesn't appear from our short time here to be any lingering resentment towards westerners - but you would never really know. It will probably take several generations to die out before the memories really fade. The Vietnamese people are totally admirable - they won the war through sheer tenacity. War materiel was shipped into North Vietnam and carried south over the Ho Chi Minh Trail for 6 months before it reached the fighting units of the North Vietnamese Army near what was then Saigon. The Trail meandered for many miles back and forth across the Lao border and in the wet season was a quagmire. In spite of this and continual USAF bombing by B-52's those tenacious people managed to carry upwards of 35 kgs on their backs. Whatever one's political leanings then or now, this was an amazing feat and ultimately ensured Vietnam's independence.
Day 4 6/10 -
Last day in Ho Chi Minh City. Had a slight touch of MSG poisoning again this morning and even contemplated aborting our trip because we cannot be as sick as this for 3 weeks. We would never make it, especially on 8 hour bus trips! However, we decided to just get on with it and be very diligent about trying to avoid it. The Vietnamese seem to be far more addicted to the stuff than the Thais. We went into town again on the bus and went to the Ben Thanh Market where we bought 2 umbrellas. The tourist publications talk up this market but really it is just a large retail area selling loads of tourist kitsch, although there were some reasonable clothes. We then found a very good Japanese/Vietnamese restaurant where we had a pleasant lunch, and not expensive. 340,000 Dong - NZD23. On arrival both of us were suffering stomach pains again - possibly from breakfast. We are getting really fed up with this MSG related stuff - anyway, we had to pay visits to their loo in quite a hurry!! Let's hope this is the last of it. We also bought some snacks for the bus and Jean now has a Vietnamese ph. no. which is +84 1264020788.
Our impressions of Ho Chi Minh City are mixed. In hindsight it may have been better to have stayed closer in to the city, but the tariff here more than makes up for the taxi costs. The city seems hard to find one's way around in although we are now just starting to get a feel for things. The Vietnamese are generally friendly and helpful and a surprising number speak reasonable English, except taxi drivers it seems although there are exceptions. The buildings are a mix of lovely old French colonial, modern, and scruffy Asian which you see everywhere. The "tube" buildings are fascinating. These are 4-5 story buildings on impossibly narrow footprints. They all seem to lean on each other so they hold each other up but every so often you see one on its own. It wouldn't take too much of a shake to see it falling onto its neighbours. They usually have some type of business on the ground floor and residential above. There are heaps of shops and you wonder how they make a living. Of course they don't - it's just subsistence living.
We leave by bus for Dalat in the Central Highlands tomorrow so the next blog will be from there.
Cheers and love from us.........
Jim and Jean
Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam.

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Thursday, 24 September 2015

A blog from Krabi Boat Lagoon

We have now been here almost a month. And it's been great, especially to see Des and Ked again, not to mention Kaki - the dog who runs the place. And of course A and all the others of Team Popeye. And Garn the owner of the Galley Restaurant, who produces mouth watering delicacies from the menu.
It's amazing to see just how much the yacht repair business here at Krabi Boat Lagoon has grown. When we were here last year we were almost the only yacht being refitted and now they are struggling to service 37 yachts. The workforce has expanded to 40 people and they now have a fully equipped engineering machine shop. So getting things done, especially on an unbooked basis, is of necessity a little slower.
Popeye Marine is also getting into the 6 metre yacht restoration business. Last year "Selma" (built in Norway in 1926) arrived and she was launched a fortnight ago in all her splendid restored condition. Another arrived yesterday from Port Lincoln (near Seattle) and there are 4 more in the pipeline. It is wonderful to see the resurgence of such a famous Olympic yachting class. They are exquisite to look at - the perfect example of yachting poetry in form and motion. To see "Selma" you can look back on our website - www.tiaretaporo3.blogspot.com
Krabi Boat Lagoon now has a swimming pool and we have been exercising there. 10 lengths swimming, 10 lengths walking in water and sundry other exercises are making us feel better. Also we remember this time last year when we were in Chennai and Pondicherry in India, and Jean had undergone surgery for her 2nd hip replacement. That has had an outcome better than we could have imagined and she is a box of birds, especially with her new eyes done in Penang, Malaysia (minus cataracts) which means she can now spy a dust spot at a 1000 paces! Can be tiresome at times but it's great that she is so much better.
We still have the boat on the market but have not had any realistic overtures. Maybe we should reduce the price a bit more , but also we are considering sailing to Seattle (via Hong Kong, Taiwan, Okinawa, the Aleutians, Alaska and Canada) which is a major wooden boat enthusiast area in north west USA. That's a bit in the future however as it would involve about 2 years. And would be a major ocean passage commitment which we have to examine in light of our present ages of 68! However, there is a broker based in Phuket who is part of a global group and they have an office in Seattle, so that may be a more sensible answer.
In the meantime we have decided to do some land travel while in this part of the world. To that end we are going to Vietnam on October 3rd. for 3 weeks. Not on the boat!! We will be away for 3 weeks and will regale you with all that soon no doubt. Apparently to take a boat into Vietnam would be ruinous as far as bureaucratic cost is concerned (hundreds of USD), to say nothing of the frustration with reams of paperwork - so flying is the only way to go.
We have been going into Krabi Town periodically for provisions and also doing minor maintenance. The chartplotter was taken to Phuket for repair and is now back on the boat. The fridge conversion is underway but we haven't seen anything yet. The new aircooled system is being built in Phuket and it will be good to finally have a working fridge once more. Once again the original NZ built systems haven't stood up and we are having to alter the fridge machinery just the same as we did with the freezer last year. Ditto the watermaker which was completely rebuilt back in Australia.
But Krabi Boat Lagoon is a very pleasant marina to be in and very competitively priced. And friendly, unlike Malaysia. No marine growth to speak of and everything is here in terms of boat maintenance and repair that you could want.
Speaking of Malaysia, we have been following events in MSN Malaysia in terms of the corruption scandal surrounding the Malaysian PM. 700 million USD found its way into his personal accounts and it is now claimed that the payments were political donations from an unnamed Middle Eastern source! Extremely unlikely. There are also many more unanswered questions as regards payments that have vanished into thin air and irregular property purchases for hundreds of millions of Ringgits in the USA by the PM's relatives. There are judicial probes being launched in Switzerland and the US among others as those jurisdictions have been affected by possibly illegal money transfers through banks domiciled there.
A newspaper in Malaysia was shut down by the government because it was deemed to be too critical and subversive but they went to court and a subsequent court order has quashed the original shutdown as having been made illegally. However, a number of journalists have been arrested and detained as well as politicians, some of whom come from the PM's own party. They say it is "disrespectful" and "inciting public disorder" to express opinions contrary to the government's! Imagine the uproar in NZ if the current government tried anything like that!
We had considered settling in Malaysia back in 2010 when we came there on a flying visit, but that notion has long gone. And Thailand as well with the corruption not anywhere near so visible, but it exists just the same. However, the people are lovely as is the food - it leaves Malaysia for dead in those areas. We have often felt that the notion of normal logic and being Thai are oxymorons! But you just roll with it and as long as it doesn't adversely affect you it's OK. And it is normally restricted to local bureaucracy, rather than dealings with private businesses.
So, there you are; it's all just typical of spending time in foreign countries. The only certain thing is that things will be different and done differently from one's own country. And that's one of the interesting and enjoyable aspects of travel, particularly by yacht, even if it can be frustrating at times.
Well, dear readers that is it for now. More to come from Vietnam no doubt.
Lotsaluv from us,
Jim and Jean
Krabi
Thailand

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