Star Stuck! Re: the man in Saigon

Ok… I’ve held of posting this for a wee while as it might be a tad dorky…. BUT…. I was star struck last week – I was very stoked to get email from Kerre Woodham about the postcard man Megan and I met in Saigon!  

I finally remembered to email TVNZ/Intrepid to tell them about the encounter with the man in the market who we recognised from the TV show Intrepid Journeys (check out this blog entry)….    I wanted to let them know that we bumped into the man in the market, he remembered Kerre very clearly and that he was obviously very stoked to be on NZ TV (more so when we told him we recognised him from TV).   

Megan and Julia with the intrepid postcard seller

The trip is over… a map and a debrief!

A joint effort by 2.5 Kiwis, the Service Design Travel Companions and Moose.

To start off with, here is a map of where we went on our trip (click on it once to see it at full size):

 Map of SE Asia

From Julia:  Back to Bangkok!   Boo hoo… our 8 weeks are up, it is time for me to stay put for a while and I must reluctantly let Megan go back to NZ (I am going to miss her soooo much).  I am at my dads place and will stay here for a month while preparing to go volunteering up north (trying to learn Thai and gathering teaching resources).  At the end of October I am going to catch up with my ozzie mates Aimee and Jono as they are stopping off in Bangkok on the way to the islands down south.   After that I will head to North Eastern Thailand for my Volunthai experience!    So, even though I am not traveling, life is good and I have many more adventures to come.

From Megan: Home James!  And so we’ve reached the end. What an adventure. The experience has been incredible. I have done things I never thought I would. Seeing South East Asia and interacting with the people without the “shelter” of a tour group really was the best way to do it.  I am looking forward to coming home. I can now appreciate how lucky I am to be a Kiwi. However I am going to miss Julia like crazy. We have been attached at the hip 24/7 for the last 2 months. It is going to be hard to leave tonight that’s for sure!    

From the Service Design Travel Companions:  Well, firstly – Julia was VERY slack at emailing and posting photos of us, but having said that we did get to see some stuff which was cool and we met lots of cool people (who thought we were very strange).   We have told Julia off and she said she will post some photos of us that she took during the trip.  We think that now Megan has gone to New Zealand we might get to hang out with Julia some more.  Here are some of the photos we liked the best, Ale (red finger) and Amanda (yellow finger) suggested we post the toilet photos because they make great conversation starters:

    This lady had funny clothes. Beer…. yum Us and the tank Snorkelling is fun! A toilet we discussed while drinking jugs on the beach We were all hung-over (it was like after the Christmas party last year) Team Photo - Megan, Julia, Mini Moose, Max and SD Travel Companions Vietnamese coffee is the best.  As usual we drank a lot of coffee. A funny toilet sign that we liked a lot (especially Amanda and Ale) A nice lady we met in Saigon.  She thought we were cool.

A note from Max the Kiwi: Well, I’ve had a great holiday I liked it best when I was stuck to Julia’s bag and got to make lots of noise (thus causing some embarrassment to Julia and Megan and strange looks from everyone else).  The worst part of the holiday was when Megan got sick of my noise and I had to undergo surgery and have my voice box removed.   It hurt a lot but afterwards Megan was a lot nicer to me.    Now I am in Bangkok with Julia, I don’t go out much but she has promised to take me to North Eastern Thailand with her next month.  That will be exciting.  

A note from Moose:I am looking forward to going back to New Zealand with Megan as it will be a lot colder than in SE Asia and I get to see my dad (he let me go travelling with Megan which was nice of him).   I spent most of the holiday on Megans bag, it was funny because everyone thought that she was Canadian because of me!   I liked Hoi Ann the best because Megan bought me a new outfit.  Check out my photo:    

Mooses new clothes

The Mighty Mekong

To make our entry into Cambodia a little more interesting we opted to take a 3 day trip down the Mekong Delta followed by an exit by boat to Cambodia.  It was a relaxing 3 days where we were shown the mighty Mekong River (it begins in the Tibetan Mountains and runs all the way down Asia before exiting into the South China Sea in Southern Vietnam).

The slow boat (for canals only)
 

We cruised the Upper Mekong River, stopping off to sample some local fruits at an orchard. They were playing some traditional Vietnamese folk songs for us….I think it was meant to be relaxing but it sounded like cats on heat….needless to say we didn’t purchase the CD!

We had the opportunity to see how to make Coconut Candy, sampled some banana whisky and some honey tea. We also had the thrill of wrapping a 2 metre long python around us for a photo….I still can’t believe I did it given my extreme fear of all things reptile. Neither of us were game enough to sample the snake wine.
 

Overnight we stayed in some simple bungalow huts on the Mekong. Fell asleep to the quiet chattering sound of geckos. 
The morning was spent cruising the Mekong by boat, having a look at village life and the floating markets.
The afternoon we took the mini-van out to Chau Doc, near the Cambodian border stopping off on the way to see a crocodile farm and the Cave Pagoda at the Sam Mountain. There were lovely views of the rice paddies over to the Cambodian border. We had dinner and a few drinks with 2 hilarious French girls and an English girl.

 The final day, we were shown a Cham minority village where we saw traditional weaving and a fish farm. The village houses sit on the water of the Mekong and the farms with hundreds of thousands of fish are under the houses! 

We jumped in a speed boat and sped up the Mekong towards the border. I’m glad we took the speed boat and not the ‘slow boat’ as the journey to Pnomh Penh was still 6 hours (including the time to get Visas at the border of course).  Now we’re in Phnom Penh. So far our impression of Cambodia is quite different to Vietnam…. more about that in the next blog.

Saigon is buzzing!

We had been warned to expect millions of motorcycles in Saigon (no exaggeration there are actually over 3 million motorcycles) and total chaos… what we didn’t expect was that we might actually love the millions of motorcycles and total chaos. Saigon is buzzing! 

Motorcycles galore!
 
The first day in Saigon we did a lot of walking and checked out the Ben Thanh market. In the market we bumped into a postcard seller that featured on the NZ Intrepid Journeys travel show! What an awesome guy, his English is near
perfect, he has a great sense of humour and he can even speak a bit of Maori!  We had a lot of fun chatting to him about his filming with Kerry Woodham.

Megan and Julia with the intrepid postcard seller
 
The second day we went to the Cai Dao temple to witness a Service of the Cao Dai followers, this was a very interesting, unique and colourful experience.  The temple is the headquarters of Caodaism (a religion with a mix of Buddhism, Christianity and Confucianism) and the architecture is stunning.   

The Cao Dai Temple The Cao Dai 01
 
After visiting the temple we went to Cu Chi. Cu Chi is now considered a heroic district for its role in the anti-American war in Vietnam. It is known for its extensive tunnel system which were used during the war as hiding spots during combat, served as communication and supply routes, hospitals and food/weapon storage as well as living quarters for the numerous guerrilla fighters. The tunnels have been widened to allow the tourists to have a go, even though they were double the size, it was still too small for us.  We only lasted 30 metres out of the 100-metre tunnel before freaking out and needing to resurface via an emergency exit for air!

 The origional sized tunnels Megan and Julia with some soilders The tourist sized tunnels (they are much smaller when you get inside though)
 
On our last day in Saigon (sob sob) we decided to rent 2 motorbike taxis (with drivers) for the day to maximise our sightseeing mileage.  Our drivers were hilarious and consequently a lot of laughs were had throughout the day! 
First stop was to check out the Reunification Palace (a building used during the war by the South Vietnamese president and where the handover of power was processed during the fall of Saigon).
 
Then we headed to Notre Dame cathedral and checked out the Main Post Office.

Notre Dame Neon lights in the Cathedral
 
We took a very sobering trip to the War Remnants Museum. It’s hard to know what to write about it as it is such highly emotional place, we left the museum rather shocked and depressed. The museum is made up of a series of
themed rooms in several buildings (with photos and exhibits) and had military equipment out the front (tanks, planes…etc). I think the thing that moved us the most was the photo exhibition with the effects of Agent Orange.  
 
In afternoon we went to Cholon Market and a shopping mall. It poured with rain and we got to pull out the rain ponchos. Styley!
 
The rain wouldn’t stop so we jumped on the bikes and headed towards the hotel, stopping off for a few beers with our drivers on the way at a local pub (an experience in itself).
 
Then in the evening we were invited by the owner of the hotel we were staying at to join him for a slice of moon cake and tea. It was fun to continue practicing our Vietnamese and him to practice his English.

Mui Ne’s Spectacular Sand Dunes!

Even though we could have stayed in Nha Trang for ages we decided we should keep heading south to make sure we don’t run out of time to see Cambodia, Laos and Northern Thailand.  

We got a bus to head to another beach spot, about 200kms South of Nha Trang. What we just don’t understand is why travel takes so longin this country!  Logic would say 200 km at 100kph shouldtake 2 hours.   It took us 5 hours on yet another stinky hot bus with crappy air-conditioning and random stops to overpriced food stalls.

Thankfully we booked some accommodation ahead of time and got a gorgeous little bungalow right on the beach.  We were in Mui Ne for 3 days, we checked out the spectacular local sites, ate, drank, swam, chilled out and worked on our tans. 

Check out the view from our bungalow (the beach looks nice too ‘wink’) As you can see Julia is ‘flat out’

What are the spectacular locals sites you may ask… well..  Sand Dunes!  On our second day in Mui Ne we got up at sparrows fart (5.30am), hired a cool blue ‘Venga Jeep’ (called a Venga Jeep asour driver played loads of oonce oonce music) and stoppedoff at various sites where the local children fought over who would be our tour guide! 

First stop was the white sand dunes – these were spectacular.  Because the sunrise people (who got out of bed at 4am) had left and the day trippers hadn’t arrived yet we had the dunes to ourselves.  The kids took our cameras off us and several shots were taken of us hooning down the sand dunes:  

The Venga Jeep  Pretty white sand dunes Weeeeeeeeeee!

Next stop was to the ‘Red Canyon’ – the pictures pretty much say it all, the canyons are made of red sandyrock… it was very cool and worth the walk up the steep sandy hill to see them.

Third stop was to the ‘Fairy River’ where we had a group of 4 kids aged between 11 and 15 (who all looked 7yrs old) take us on a guided tour.  The kids were so cute, they chatted away practicing their English asking us lots of questions.  We shouted them all Cokes at the top of the stream and we had yummy coconut drinks.    Afterwards, theytook us off the beaten track though someones farm (with ascary guard dog),  past a tree snake that was eating a babybird and several prickly cacti – very dangerous stuff!

Fairy River Rocks   Our lovely young tour guides Megan and Julia sipping coconuts

On the way back to the Venga jeep they took us to the smelly fish sauce farm where there were loads and loads of fermenting pots of fish sauce… eeeew, smelly.

 Smelly Fish Sauce Farm Lots of pots of SMELLY FISH SAUCE

We gave the kids 25,000 dong each ($2.50) for doing such a great job and being so lovely – it was so lovely to see the smileson their faces! We are thinking before we hit Cambodia weshould stock up on little things like pens, hair ties…etc.to give the kids.

On our last night at Mui Ne we went for a meal that definitely ranked in thetop 5 meals we have had in Vietnam… it was a lovely BBQ seafood place down the road from our bungalow and had a few more cocktails (of course).

We are now in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we will be here a few days before going to Cambodia via the Mekong Delta.    Will post again soon!  

Nha Trang – A bit of R and R

So after the trauma of Quy Nhon we hit the real beach.  Yippee!  A chance to work on our tans, drink copious amounts of cocktails and generally relax.  We decided to begin with a little pampering, so we hit the beauty salon for a bit of TLC and then it was BEACH TIME! 

We hired a couple of beach loungers for the day andsunbathed, swam, drank and ate.  The beauty with the loungers is that you don’t even have to move.  On the click of the fingers they will bring you 2 chocolate ice cream sundaes…or whatever it is that you desire… Bliss. 

Julia and her lounger on the beach

The next day we wanted to up the ante a bit so we booked a trip on a boat to do some island hopping.  The trip was $6USD each for the day including lunch so we were a little skeptical as to how it might be.  The van picked us up and wewere taken down to Ca Bau wharf where we were herded onto aboat with 25 Vietnamese and a Chinese couple.  We weren’t overly impressed at this stage and were already scheming ways we could jump ship and ditch the group to allow for R&Ron a secluded beach!

First stop was Mun Island for some snorkeling.  More than half the boat got off on the island and the remainder carried on around the corner for swimming and snorkeling offthe boat.  We were the only two people on the boat who didn’t need a rubber ring and a life jacket which was abit of a laugh!  The snorkeling was pretty average, probably due to the hundreds of noisy people splashing about and occasional rude glass bottom boat scaring the fish away.  While the snorkeling was average, the swimming was lovely. Our tour guide looked very trick in his bright yellow and black striped speedos, floating in a rubber ring with a can of beer clasped between his knees!

After snorkeling we were off to another island where weparked up for lunch.  We had a lovely shared Vietnamese mealand after lunch our tour guide whipped out his guitar for abit of a singing session!  He sang in Vietnamese, English,French and Mandarin and then sang us a lovely version of Pokarekare Ana!  

After the singing it was time for the promised surprise… Our tour guide pulled out several bottles of wine and therewas a “floating bar” for happy hour in the sea! Thebartender was dishing out cups of mulberry wine andpineapple but we had to jump off the boat into the water toget them. The Vietnamese thought this was a hell of a joke (as did we) and after several rounds of “Mot, Hai, Ba, Yoooh!”(1,2,3 Cheers!) we were all rather drunk! 

Food The floating bar!

After happy hour it was time for a trip to yet another island. Some more relaxing and sunbathing for Julia andMegan tried out Parasailing (perhaps she was still drunk from the happy hour).   And then it was time to go to our final island for the daybefore hitting the mainland. 

Megan Parasailing 

On this island we visited theaquarium.  Megan thought it was rather impressive, Julia however wasn’t overly impressed as she would have preferred another beach with deckchairs and cocktails! 

Turtle

Our last day in Nha Trang consisted of much the same as ourfirst day, that is sunbathing, swimming, drinking andeating!  For lunch we had fresh bbq prawns cooked on thebeach in front of us and served with a chilli and limesauce.  Devine! Check out our personal chef:  

Lunch

In the afternoon Megan wandered around while Julia checked out an impressive photography exhibition of famous local photographer Long Thanh.     The evening consisted of…. more cocktails!

Megan and the famous Berlini Cocktail (many were consumed in Nah Trang)

A ‘sort of’ Kiwi Connection (Quy Nhon)

Posted by Julia: 

So, after 6 days we finally decided it was time to make a break from Hoi An (before breaking our bank balances) and continue the move South. We booked soft seater air con train tickets from Hoi An to Quy Nhon and hoped to spend the day watching country life out the window of the train, relaxing, listening to music and reading our books.

WELL…. that was a bit optimistic as the air con carriages come with ‘entertainment’ Vietnamese style. We got to watch a variety show type thing on TV’s with music blaring from speakers along the ceiling of the train… it was so noisy we couldn’t sleep, read OR listen to our MP3 players. So instead Megan entertained the little 5 year old boy sitting behind us (he was a cutie and obviously so chuffed to be playing with foreigners), we played cards for a bit and basically just ‘waited out’ the 5 hour journey trying not to let the music stress us out too much!

We arrived at Quy Nhon, a little town off the beaten track that was recomended to us by a Kiwi and Ozzie that had a ball there. There are a few Kiwi connections to Quy Nhon as there are a number of NZers volunteering in the area. We stayed at a place called ‘Barbaras Backpackers’ (run by a Kiwi called Barbara) and our first stop was dinner at the ‘Kiwi Cafe’.  I must say,after the Kiwi pub in Halong Bay the Kiwi Cafe in Quy Nhon was a bit disappointing – not an iota of kiwi paraphenalia anywhere and the only ‘kiwi’ food on the menu was home baking, scones, fish and chips and vegemite.  Having said that, vegemite is technically Australian and the jar that was provided with my bagette expired in Feb 2007 and had a thick layer of dust on the lid!  Oh well, it was a nice treat (Marmite is disgusting, Vegemite rocks!).

 Quy Nhon - Boats along the beach

So… in the morning we decided to take a walk along the beach – now that was an exprience in itself (poor Megs took an hour or two to recover)… there is an area that is very poor in the middle section of the beach where the government has tried to relocate the people against their will and has knocked down the ‘illegal’/unregistered buildings.   The people haven’t moved and are simply squatting in the rubble… it seriously looked like a disaster zone. We felt uncomfortable walking along the street so I decided we should walk along the beach front…. not a good idea at all. Two minutes walking along the water I saw a girl going for her morning poo near the waters edge – I looked around and saw that we were actually walking though the town toilet… this explained the terrible smell (along with the rotting fish) and needless to say we left Quy Nhon as quickly as we could!

We legged it to the train station, the only seats we could get were hard seats with fan (in the scheme of things this really didn’t matter). Believe it or not it was a lot more relaxing than the air con variety show entertainment train experience the day before!!! We had a great time being stared at, playing cards, playing with the kids, checking out the live chicken sitting in the seat next to us, talking (sort of) to the locals and just watching the world go by. We are now in Nha Trang, a nice beach town about 3/4 down the length of Vietnam – we have found a room with a sea view, balcony, pool and free internet for $15US a night. We have discovered a bar down the road that sells 2 yummy cocktails for $3.50 NZ (thats for 2 cocktails!). Tomorrow we plan to spend the day on the beach working on our tans while we get food and cocktails delivered to our deck chairs….. bliss…. watch this space!

Oh and before I forget, we hit a new motorbike record today: we spotted 2 adults and 3 kids on the one motorbike!  The previous record was 2 adults 2 kids.