Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Hello Vietnam.

Was going to tell you about the People's Socialist Republic of Vietnam a few days ago, but it was raining so hard that I couldn't see a thing. Took the advertised three and a half hour bus trip yesterday from Kampot. I say advertised, as once again, they didn't mention the hour and a half stop this side of the border and certainly wouldn't have mentioned had they known, that the minibus had to be bump-started by some of the passengers every time the engine was turned off.

The 1$ fee charged at the border was another con. Having paid 70$ for the visa, the most expensive in the region, you would have thought that that was enough, seeing as I came here to spend my money.

When we finally arrived in Phu Quoc, the hotels all seemed rather dear. When the minibus driver heard me objecting to 20$ a night, he suggested a place he knew for only 5$, including air con and wifi. Turned out to be his place. I seem to have found a very good deal.

Firstly, I was invited to eat dinner with the family; a delicious rice soup with herbs to which you added pieces of roast chicken. I was then given the keys to a scooter, so that I could head over to the night market. Not being much of a scooter rider, I made my way cautiously the 4 or 5km to the market and had a look around. I've never seen such great seafood. Thailand had its moments in this respect, but here was in a league of its own: large fish tanks set up everywhere with huge prawns, lobsters and large exotic fish swimming about, not to mention the shellfish, crabs and squid. I went for the prawns with chili and lemongrass, a herb which grows wild everywhere here. The dish came with a small bowl of chili sauce. I dipped my first prawn in the sauce and immediately ordered another beer. The chilli on the main dish was easily enough.

The one gruesome incident was seeing lobsters on the barbecue. The guy stabbed the unfortunate crustacean in the head and threw it on the coals. It kept moving for at least a minute, which was extremely unsettling: like watching a lobster who was the first to translate the Bible into English.

Not a pretty sight.


The night market.

Beach bar just before the rain.

Stayed a few days with the family and was very well looked after, but the rainy season is starting, so decided that a beach resort is not the ideal place to be, so thought I'd give Ho Chi Minh, or Saigon, as everybody still calls it.

Family puppy.

Not the best idea.

Got to Saigon after yet another marathon bus ride, which took about 11 hours. Went to have a look around this morning and wasn't particularly impressed, particularly after the first potentially ugly incident since I got to Asia. I've been walking about in a pair of 5 year old deck shoes, which were starting to look the worse for wear; holes on the toes and slightly unglued soles. A guy rushed up to me and had them off my feet before I could protest. Firstly he cleaned them and then stitched a sole back on. All the while, a policewoman observed the proceedings, which should have made me suspicious. Finally, stitching completed, I had a pair of shoes which were completely rejuvenated.

'How much?'

'150,000 dong.' About 6$. (Sorry, dollars are used here too).

This seemed reasonable for all the stitching, polishing and glueing, so I paid up under the watchful eye of the policewoman.

I walked away and twenty metres later heard the shoe guys. (There were three of them).

'We forgot to do the soles.'

By this time, there was no police presence, I should have known.

They got me to sit down once again, this time at a bus-stop. I noticed that the adjoining bushes were scattered with empty syringes and ampoules and that I was suddenly much more isolated. They glued on new soles and handed them back.

'That'll be 650,000 dong.' (roughly 26$).

I told him that he must be joking and that the shoes didn't cost much more than that. He started to look slightly menacing. I headed back whence I came.

'Right, let's settle this with the police.'

That did the trick, but put me in a rather bad mood, especially as I was offered tourist tat every few steps. 'No' doesn't work.

Decided to pretend I was French, as surprisingly, not many people seem to speak it. That didn't work; the first person who tried to sell me something was able to speak very basic French.

Had a look on the internet for places of interest, but there was nothing very appealing apart from the tunnels of Cu Chi, just outside town. One of the two books I've read about the Vietnam war was about these tunnels. Looked up some stuff about it and discovered that it's very touristy. The tunnels have been widened to accommodate American girths and you get to have a go on a shooting range. Decided to give it a miss. Instead, booked an open ticket to move north, finishing in Hanoi, which has more interesting things to see. The ticket is valid for a month and you can stop off along the way. All for 45$, which seemed a pretty good deal. I didn't realize how long Vietnam is, so this way can make my way north over a period of a couple of weeks.

On the positive side, the coffee here is fantastic, especially after the coffee granules I've had to put up with up until now. Vietnam is the biggest coffee exporter in the World. Had a glass of iced coffee at a café which was delicious and followed it with a second with coffee ice cream which was great. A nice touch here is that when you order, you get a complementary glass of jasmine tea on ice. In the heat, which I've found to be a bit of a problem, it is always welcome.

Whether it's a bit of radical chic or just recycling, I don't know, but you see a lot of guys on motorbikes wearing American military helmets. They are only second to the Chinese cliché conical straw jobs, which are everywhere. Malaysians wouldn't be seen dead in them unless they had a man playing polo or a crocodile sticker. You see them in Cambodia or Thailand but here they are everywhere.

The other strange thing here is that you can't access any BBC sites on the Internet. The hammer and sickle flags everywhere perhaps have something to do with it. Perhaps it's considered too western and right wing; something the decadent new Brit government would disagree with. Personally, I'm on the side of Vietnam on this issue.

Man washing chickens???


Fnar, fnar - slightly unfortunate image.....

Correction. After a few days of trying, the BBC sites are now working perfectly here. Sorry Vietnam.

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