A Travellerspoint blog

Nearly back inthe Western World

Day off in BMTand flight south to Saigon - and "lookshurry"

sunny 38 °C

Monday felt like a day off,after a rather hectic 3 days in the Central Highlands. We lounged around at or near the hotel and then caught the plane from the tiny local airport into Ho Chi Minh City (the old Saigon).

What a contrast! From the hot, dry, friendly, cheap - and let's face it - rather agricultural Central Highlands to an international airport and then rush hour in a bustling, modern, international city with more cars than we have seen since leaving the UK - and even hotter. Here are a few pictures we have taken to illustrate the scene and to also give you an idea of the rich mixture of people and things that get transported on two (or three) wheels in Vietnam.







And then we arrived at our hotel and the children jumped up and down with delight! Jackie had booked us in to the Grand Suite of the swankiest hotel in Vietnam - The Grand.


So the next few hours were spent bouncing on beds, looking out of the windows, turning on the TVs, marvelling at the 'smellies', locking and unlocking the doors,fiddling with the switches -and then going for a swim in the pool.




Then we went out for a pizza (special request from Dad who had the tummies and wanted something stabilising).

Today we swam a lot, visited the huge market, ate in a couple of westernised restaurants (we spent more on some pastries and a couple of trendy smoothies than we would have spent on 2 decent family meals in the Highlands - all of 7.50 GBP!) and then swam some more.

D went to the War Museum,a real eye-opener. (Did you know that the American War lasted 19 yrs and during that time the US dropped 5 million tonnes of bombs on Vietnam. Total casualties were over 2 million and about 75% of the Mangrove areas were totally destroyed and many Vietnamese were maimed or disabled for life because of Agent Orange? Tragic.)


They used this french guillotine right up until 1960!


Tomorrow is an exciting and sad day, as we leave for home.Sad to be finishing a fantastic adventure which we will all remember for a very long time. Sad to be leaving a country which we have begun to get to know and love. But excited to be heading home - in spite of the 24 hr flight!

Here's to the next trip!

Posted by snellfamil 07:50 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

3 days, 3 motorbikes, 2 elephants and 5 numb bums

Motorcycling through the Central Highlands

sunny 37 °C

April 6th,7th and 8th

Mum- we are all back safe and sound. You can sit back and read this without worrying that I have scraped your grandchildren across the Vietnamese tarmac.


Our 3 motorcyles with drivers collected us. Tam, the guide who speaks English and Billy Brown and Billy Blue- nick names provided by the girls for their drivers.


Within 10 minutes, whilst we were still amongst the busy city traffic, Billy Brown who was carrying the girls had a puncture and we were separated. My worst nightmare had come true. I was never going to see Emma and Olivia again as they had been sold as beautiful english girls to the Vietnamese Underworld! Not so...... Billy Brown quickly ushered them off the road and up into the shade, calling Billy Blue on his mobile who whizzed back to collect them.

We waited near a coffee warehouse- here are Olivia and Matt (in crash helmets - well if you can call Olivia's plastic 'Bob the Builder' hat a helmet?) - with a mound of coffee beans.


We watched the passing traffic but what amused us most were the electricity meter readers. They arrived on their moped with a large bamboo cane to which was tied a magnifying glass!!



Puncture repaired we set off again, stopping at a roadside cafe for a real Vietnamese coffee. It is served in small glasses into which has been poured 1 cm of condensed milk. The little aluminium can on top of the glass contains strong ground coffee which drips slowly into the glass. The glass is kept warm by keeping it in a bowl of hot water. It is always served with a pot of weak green tea. It might sound disgusting but it is truly delicious. It is warm and sweet and velvety and almost like 'Green and Blacks Cocoa'



Tam introduced us to another local speciality- sugar cane drink. This lady is crushing sticks of sugar cane through a mangle. She then mangles a sort of cross between an orange and a lime and collects the juice and serves it with ice. Its a bit tricky as we are trying not to drink the ice but you can't drink this warm so we throw caution to the wind and drink it down. Its delicious and so far no-one has been ill.


The road was dusty and we were getting dirtier and dirtier but all along the road were groups of children waving to us and shouting out "hello!". Emma can reduce a group of teenage boys to a giggling gibbering mass simply by raising her hand and smiling at them. There are very few westerners here and no other families. In the last 4 days we have seen fewer than 10 other 'foreigners' as we are called. So it is not surprising we stand out like sore thumbs.

We stopped to watch some H'Mong people picking the harvested rice off the fields into large flat baskets which they then sort of shake to sieve out the rice. Back breaking work but they looked so calm and serene and gentle. Emma commented to me how together the family looked, all squatting together, quietly and slowly working together, with smiles on their faces. Its not right to romanticise their poverty but it has certainly made us all think about what we have at home and what in fact we really need and don't need.


Onwards to the Jun Village. This is a village of H'Mong people still living a traditional lifestyle. They live in longhouses which are woven houses on stilts. The doors and windows slide- there are no hinges. The woven walls and stilts enable air to circulate freely. The animals wander freely around and live under the houses. There were Vietnamese pot belly pigs everywhere.



We slept overnight in the tourist longhouse. Very simply 8 mattresses on the floor - 5 for us and 3 for the drivers. The local villagers seem to carry on their lives more or less oblivious to us and we hoped that somehow this 'ecotourism' we had signed up to helps preserve their lifestyle.


It was a noisy night with the pigs, dogs, buffalo and chickens all roaming around and the villagers rising at dawn to start work. We travelled by beautiful dug out canoe across the lake the next morning before we headed north to Yok Don National Park to find some elephants.

Everywhere we go in Vietnam we are met with kindness and people sharing things with us. I was waiting for David opposite a motorcyle repair shop and the chap came across the road to offer us a durian. I think we know this as ugly fruit. I knew this was a strange fruit as the guide book says it stinks like a cross between pigs dung, turpentine and smelly socks. It looks a bit odd inside as well. The children are great now at this sort of thing and they manage not to turn up their nose and retreat behind us. So squatting on the floor with a group of Vietnamese men (we can all squat with consummate ease now apart from David who falls over backwards) we eat this rather strange thing.


The countryside round here is not as lush and green as up in the north. We are at the end of the dry season. There are two seasons here in the south. Either hot and dry or hot and wet. Most of the fruit around here seems to ripen at the end of the wet season around November/December time. Also, the land has suffered terrible deforestation as a result of the napalm used by the Americans in the war.


At Yok Don we meet our two female elephants and clamber on.


We set off on these beautiful gentle creatures across the Serepok River into the forest. It was very hot and incredibly uncomfortable. However it was not the tourist trap I thought it might have been. We plodded through the forest, not using any tracks.


Matt's elephant driver having to use a machete to cut the overhanging branches out of our way. We saw no other people. Unfortunately we saw no other animals either. Wild elephants and monkeys live in the forest but they move further into the forest during the dry season. The highlight of the afternoon however, was being on the elephant as the river got so deep, it was actually swimming. Our feet were virtually dipping in the river as these massive animals were swimming!



We were all quite tired by now. It's much more tiring sitting on the back of a motorbike but its a fantastic way of traveling. We had to be careful of the other traffic on the road with us!!!!



But- fresh fried bananas (one of the most unusual Birthday teas ever for David) kept us going back to BMT!


Tomorrow we head down to Ho Chi Minh City. I am not sure we are really looking forward to returning to a more cosmopolitan environment.

Posted by snellfamil 06:19 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Hoi An to the Central Highlands (via a Tropical Paradise)

Overnight train + bus + boat, then european luxury, then back to reality with a bump (or several bumps)

sunny 38 °C

Apologies for the delay, this is the first time we have had a decent internet connection..

March 31st - Hoi An ('It's a Man's World')

We had promised ourselves that we would have a serious look at the fabulous market before leaving the lovely Hoi An - so we all got up early and immersed ourselves in all the noise and the hustle and bustle again - this time with the whole family.

They say it's a man's world - and in Vietnam it certainly appears to be. The men get the good jobs and the women end up with the **** ones (sound familiar?!). Hoi An market is a good illustration of this. All women working. Buying, selling, cooking, jostling for the best fresh fish off the boats, chopping up their goods for sale, cooking for guests - a cacophony of sound.


Amidst all of this, Olivia stepped in a pool of fish 'yuck' and immediately an old lady jumped up and swilled a bucket of fresh water over her leg.

We bought some nik naks and persuaded the kids to join us in eating some authentic street food - Cau Lau and Bah Khai (noodles and crepe pancakes - both local specialities - delicious!

Then after breakfast, a fond farewell to Hoi An and a 9 hr train journey through countryside changing from rice fields in mid-growth to rice fields that were being harvested. Some beautiful scenery which we wouldn't have been able to see if we had flown from Da Nang in the north to Nha Trang further south.

This was followed by a seamless transfer onto a minibus and a mad 2 hr trip on a road which eventually turned into a bumpy track and just petered out and ended up at a sandy wharf from where we took a 20 minute boat trip to Whale Island, our tropical paradise.


It was very exciting arriving in the dark and being ushered to our bamboo beach hut in the middle of the night! Jackie thought that our non-english-speaking escorts were kidnapping us - but we survived.

Whale Island - April 1st to 4th

Swept aside our mosquito nets and opened the door of our new home to a bright blue sky, colourful and lush tropical shrubbery and palm lined beach - idyllic postcard tropical paradise.



After a delicious waitress-served breakfast, we took to the water with snorkelling kit - the children at first clinging to us as we swam nervously in crystal-clear water over coral, seeing miriads of tiny fish, a few larger ones and some huge blue starfish. The kids were freaked out by a big fat snake thing they spotted resting on the sea bed and we were slightly worried about some tiny jellyfish which gave nettle-like stings. We did see some real live clown fish though (AKA Nemo) Very very very hot in the afternoon, so we laid low, but were out in the sea again from 3.30 onwards, the kids getting used to the sea urchins etc.


It never ceases to amaze us how flexible the children are to change. They have really got the hang of sleeping anywhere, long journeys, eating strange things and putting up with the inevitable 'boring bits' as we have to spend a bit of time planning ahead or buying tickets etc.

We spent most of out time here on the water, either diving of the snorkelling boat into the clearest, bluest and warmest water we have ever seen, or kayaking to a secluded beach.



D and I introduced the children to the joys of skinny dipping but no pictures to accompany that!


Great excitement when David stepped on a sea urchin. Their spikes break off in the skin and are acutely painful for 10 mins or so. David says about 7/10 for pain! The treatment is to immerse the part in vinegar as this dissolves the spike. (Laura- sorry, cannot make it any more exciting
as it is not a lethal poison)


We are being spoiled here. Fantastic service, delicious food, massage on the beach...


Matthew was particularly fond of the stuffed squid which he spent most of the meal 'unstuffing' to get at the meat inside. The waitresses wander along the beach at 5.00pm with plates of banana cakes for the 'bebes' .

Last night on the Island and we had a visitor in our cabin - the geckos are quite friendly but this was quite a large one. Olivia saw a mini scorpion on her mosquito net - or so she says!. Fortunately we all survived the night and set off the next morning for our next leg of the journey- 'The Central Highlands'.


April 4th Nha Trang to Buon Ma Thout

This country is quite astonishing. On the face of it we had quite a complicated day ahead of us with a boat trip to a minibus taxi to a bus station for a 4 hour journey followed by another taxi to our new hotel. We are never really sure when we phone whether they have heard or understood us. Everything is done by hand with pen on paper, nothing is done by computer, there are no forms to fill in and no pre-payment has ever been asked for. Yet, everything goes like clockwork. We make all the connections and after a very interesting bus journey we arrive at our destination only half an hour late!

We had thought we were travelling by air conditioned tourist bus up to Buon Ma Thout (this town is right up in the central highlands, quite close to the Cambodian Border) but somehow we ended up on a local bus. It was old and pink! The speed limit here is unbearable slow (80kmph) and is strictly adhered to by everyone. Our bus didn't seem to have any air conditioning so we had the main door wide open all the way with the conductor sort of hanging out. If we slowed down, somebody would jump on with a basket of stuff-usually wrapped in banana leaves and try to sell it us.


She would then jump off when we next slowed again. People kept piling on, old ladies clambered over seats to get a seat at the front and then would slip off their shoes and squat the rest of the 3 or 4 hours. The children commented that they couldn't see Grandma doing that!

There's virtually no other 4 wheeled traffic on the road apart from the odd bus and a few lorries carrying sugar cane down from the hills as this picture through the front window shows.


We stopped once and everyone jumped off and bought bags of hot boiled sweetcorn from the roadside - a bit like the Watford Gap of Vietnam. We tried some but it was a bit soggy and chewy. All the rubbish gets chucked straight out of the window-plastic bags included.


We arrived hot and dusty in BMT - off exploring minority villages tomorrow and back here on the 6th.

Posted by snellfamil 06:17 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Funny Heads and Hats in Hoi An

Yet another world heritage site! Hats galore in the market.

sunny 34 °C

Up very early this morning as Jackie insisted the family visit yet another World Heritage Site- the Champa Ruins at 'My Son' or "my boy" as Matt kept calling them. They are basically a collection of tumble down ruins from the 4th century. Matthew said they were boring and Emma reckoned they were a waste of time. The children all had more fun making funny statue heads, watching the marching ants and trying to catch one of the beautiful and huge butterflys. My Son (not Matthew; My Son, the place, silly - Ed.) is up in the sub tropical jungle with great noises all around and very steamy.



We spent the afternoon trying on funny hats in the market - and finally succumbing to the ultimate tourist cliche of buying a conical hat.



Once again the highlight of the day was the interaction with the Vietnamese themselves. We had a lovely lunch overlooking the river and one by one each of the waitresses came upstairs, collected a bundle of cushions and lay down in the middle of the restaurant and fell aleep!! David and I would have liked to have done the same but no chance!



They were all admiring the childrens pale skin and told me that when they are pregnant, they drink lots of coconut milk to try and have a pale skin baby.

We are now trying to work out what the Vietnamese tooth fairy would consider a fair exchange rate as Matts tooth has just fallen out. The lady over the road tried to tell me something about putting the tooth on the roof- but I am not sure I qute understood her! David's up there now and I am a bit worried about him as it is dark and we are in a 4-storey building


Posted by snellfamil 05:36 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Turning Vietnamese

Early morning beach and market and Master Chef Goes Large...in Hoi An

sunny 34 °C

We love it in Hoi An. It is very relaxed and laid back. The buildings are old, the streets are atmospheric and the people are kind and helpful. We have really slowed down and started to get into the Vietnamese way of life (lots of hanging around!). Any minute you expect Clint Eastwood to ride down the street on horseback. We went to the bank today and it was just like something out of a Western - a man sitting in a room behind some iron bars, with all the money in a wooden box in a drawer by his side. Jackie got very nervous because there was a man behaving suspiciously behind us as we cashed in twice his average annual earnings.

(Lots more pics of your daughter this time, as requested, John and Sue)

Yesterday we got up early to avoid the heat and set off on our bikes to Cua Dai Beach about 3 miles away. This is where all the European sun-worshippers go - a strip of white, palm-fringed beach stretching as far as the eye can see. 'Banana boats' chugged slowly by and a man tried (and failed) to singlehandedly catch some fish only yards from the beach. We messed around here for a while and then cycled back for breakfast.



We stopped on the way to drink from a fresh coconut...


Today Matt, Jackie and David all got up early (the girls didn't fancy it!) and went to the market. Fantastic. Suddenly us tourists played second fiddle for a change. Women pushed past us to get the best fish and shellfish coming off the boat, vegetables were arriving from the fields - people were huddled around their pots and having breakfast - it was an amazing hubub!


Matt was intrigued by the small shark on one of the stands and in awe of the huge knives for sale (and in use). Health and Safety is certainly not an issue here. We also found out why so many of the old women we have seen have disgusting black teeth - they chew beetle juice, with a bit of banana leaf and some clam shell paste - all for sale at one of the stalls in the market, but we declined to try it!


Laura, I tried to lose Jackie to make this blog a bit more exciting but she managed to find her way back to the hotel!

We stopped at a market stall and sampled some delicious 'Banh Khoai' (egg and rice flour crepes stuffed with shrimp, pork and beansprouts - a local speciality) straight from the the frying pan. Even Matt liked it.


Later this morning we went to our Vietnamese Master Chef class - just the five of us in a waterfront restaurant, cooking a classic Hoi An three course meal of Hoi An Spring Rolls, Sweet and Sour Fried Wanton, Barbequed Fish in Banana leaves and Stir- Fried Squid.


We all did everything - from cutting up the vegetables to slicing open the fresh Mackerel and stuffing it. Matt and Livvy had to bash up garlic, lemon grass and ginger in a pestle and mortar on the floor and Emma had to squeeze Kumquats. It was a great hands- on experience preparing and cooking it.



Then we ate it all in the front of the restaurant, overlooking the river. Olivia said it was the best meal she has ever tasted - and everyone had some squid! We are at last ALL starting to eat Vietnamese.


Then after a busy afternoon doing absolutely nothing, we popped out for a pre dinner drink!


Posted by snellfamil 04:57 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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