A Travellerspoint blog

Cai Be to Sa Dec - Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Scenic Freechoice - Exploring Local Industries in Sa Dec. Visit the historic town of Sa Dec

semi-overcast 31 °C

Went to bed reasonably early last night and Phil started watching some harrowing movie called "No Escape". It was so violent and blood thirsty, which was not conducive to a peaceful night's sleep, so consequently I was still awake at midnight!

Despite that, the bed and pillows were lovely, however, I have just consulted the Pillow Menu and am going to change to either an Age-Defying Pillow or a Luxury Down Pillow, both filled with goose down, which I love.

Early start this morning and we left the ship, via sampan, to visit the floating market at Cai Be and then look a local historial house and visit a coconut candy factory.

Disaster - while I was at reception this morning, swapping my door key for a boarding pass, I DROPPED MY TABLET and cracked the screen! OMG! I have dropped it before and nothing has happened but this fall was from quite a height and it landed on a corner point and the screen cracks radiate out from there! But the good news is that it still works and I can still blog and take photos.

I was speaking with Mao about it and he said he may be able to get it fixed for me in Siem Reap, for quite a cheap price. We'll see what happens. If not, then we have about six hours at Singapore Airport on our way home, so I may be able to find something suitable in Duty Free. Upgrade perhaps?

We are anchored in the middle of the river, so sampans come alongside and take us ashore. On the way, we passed the floating market but it doesn't have as many participants any more since the bridge was built over the river and people can shop at the local fresh markets, which they like to do once or twice every day. The houses along the river bank are like hovels and are all on stilts for the wet season when the river rises.

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Due to the dams that the Chinese are building further upstream, there are not as many fish in the Mekong anymore and while it is okay at the moment, in five or six years, there will be none let, and what will the local people do then?

We visited an ancient house which was full of artefacts and large, dark and ornate furniture. Out the back we strolled through the massive garden of all sorts of fruit trees imaginable.

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The dish washer!

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Then we walked through the village for a while, saying hello to the children. All the flags are out because of New Year and the people MUST hang the national flag outside their house at New Year or else they will receive a visit from the local village councillers. (Not sure what happens then).

Next we called into a local coconut candy factory. The conditions these people work under are incredible. We did a lot of tasting. Then a huge snake appeared and Ingrid couldn't resist.

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Peter even tasted the snake wine, but women weren't allowed!

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We had a safety drill back on board.

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We hopped on our sampan again for the ride back to the ship. We had lunch with Alison and Russell Petch from Sydney and I excused myself and went downstairs for my traditional Khmer body treatment, which was a strong massage, deep into the muscles. Gosh, she found muscles I didn't know I had. I changed into Vietnamese pyjamas and she proceeded to kneed and pummel my body. At one stage, she was using her feet, because she was holding on to another part of me with her hands. No lotions or oils were used - just pushing into muscles. She knew I had a sore neck and so massaged some tiger balm into my neck. I have made appointments for two more massages - on a traditional Vietnamese body treatment and an aromatherapy experience. Should be nice.

Phil stayed on board this afternoon while the rest of us went ashore to visit the local fresh food market. Oh God, it was awful. It's about 30 degrees, though overcast (not blazing sun) and there are raw chickens, fish, ducks, prawns, eels - you name it and it was there - just sitting in the sun waiting for buyers. It was smelly and disgusting.

The fresh fruit and vegetable stalls were much better to look at and everything was very fresh.

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We then went to an ancient Vietnamese house made famous by the book by Marguerite Duras called "The Lover". To this day, I cannot understand why this book EVER became a best seller. Marguerite Duras wrote it about three years in her own life (from 15 to 18) when she lived in Vietnam and had an affair with a 35 year old Chinese man, the son of a very rich man. The affair was frowned upon by his parents because Chinese men didn't marry white French girls and her family was poor, because he father had died in France and her mother decided to stay in Vietnam to raise her three children. She was the Principal of a school.

I read the book before we came to Vietnam and found it the most boring, convoluted, hard to read and follow book ever! Why this story became such a "thing" here, I'll never know. She went back to France and had a couple of marriages and he married and after World War Two, went to France with his wife and phoned Marguerite and told her he would always love her. And that's that.

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We have been invited to an "Intimate Table around the Asian Saveurs" tonight, elaborated by the Executive Chef Oka Wibawa and his team.

Other guests at the table were Peter and Angela from the UK and Val from Melbourne and Jenny from Adelaide. It was a degustation with 10 courses and the second last one was a little surprise.

We had:
1. Tuna Sushi revised - Sushi rice cracker, soy pearls, vinegar, avocado
2. Local fruit, organic vegetables, sweet sour consomme
3. Japanese Scallop, Osetra caviar, cauliflower, white chocolate
4. Prawn Custard, Tom Yam, Asian basil, young coconut, crackers powder
5. Green Pea soup, Tobniko, dim sum
6. Lime Granite, coconut espuma, passionfruit
7. Pepes Salmon wrap in banana leaves, Tom Ka spinach, light curry, mashed potatoes
8. Beef Rossini, Loc Lac Madeira sauce, black truffle, Khmer bitter baleen, greens
9. Fake quail egg (this looked like a small raw egg in a tiny dish and we all hesitated before eating. Someone put their little finger in the white stuff and it was lemony and the yellow yoke was actually a piece of mango). Very clever.
10. Butter cake, Kemangi icecream, tamarind gel, black rice meringue

Wines served:
We started with champagne, then white wine, rose, red wine and a rice wine to finish. The rice wine was very strong and tasted like rocket fuel, which I didn't like, but the whole evening was stunning.

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Early start tomorrow. Looking forward to a good night's sleep. Have actually ordered two more pillows to try and have settled on the goose down one.

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Posted by gaddingabout 02:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City - Mekong Cruise - Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Tour Ho Chi Minh City on a Vesper then bus to My Tho to join the Scenic Spirit.

sunny 32 °C

Slightly later start this morning, as our Vesper ride around the city starts at 9.00 am. Elfi not too well this morning, so she is not coming with us. Her cold has come back and she has a headache. Phil is also coughing and spluttering and I am still coughing but am on the mend and haven't had an uncontrollable coughing fit since yesterday. Fingers crossed that that stage has passed. Ingrid is the only one who is well!

Wow, wow, wow! Just had the best morning - whizzing through the streets of Saigon on a Vesper with Phil and Ingrid. We were supposed to start the tour at 8 am but put it off until 9. We hopped on our Vespers, helmets and all, and off we went. We stopped shortly after at a coffee shop to discuss the itinerary. Because we had cut the tour short, we opted not to visit a few places on the list, as we had been there yesterday, eg the Reunification Palace.

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it is just exhilirating riding through the streets on the back of a Vesper. There is a little handle to hand on to but I felt safer hanging on to the driver and asked him if this was okay and he said yes.

First stop was the bird park. Now this was wierd. The Vietnamese buy espensive birds and keep them in a cage at home. Then they bring them to the local bird park so they can interact with other birds and learn to whistle!

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We visited the memorial of the monk who emoliated himself in 1960 in protest of the Government cracking down on all religions, especially Buddhism. His car is in Hue and we saw it 10 years ago. His heart woulde not burn and even after his emoliation, they tried to burn his heart and it still wouldn't burn, and it is now stored in a vault in a Saigon bank.

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We drove through a tunnel under the Saigon River to view Ho Chi Minh City from the other side. These fishermen were casting their net in the very muddy river.

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We also visited the cathedral.

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Phil and Ingrid went back to the hotel at 11 am but my driver and I continued on until 11.30 am. I just didn't want to get off. It was so much fun. We stopped at this park and took some photos.

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I was dropped off at the hotel at 11.30 am and at 12 noon we checked out of the hotel and all walked across the street for lunch. It was lovely.

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The waiter gave this dry ice snack to try and we all had steam / smoke coming out our mouths and noses. Very funny.

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Bye bye the Park Hyatt Saigon.

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Then on the bus for the two hour drive to the Scenic Spirit. The traffic is quite good leaving Ho Chi Minh City but it is very busy the other way with everyone returning to the city from the New Year holiday weekend.

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We stopped for a Happy Place visit at this road side place and it was so picturesque. The lily pads were impressive.

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This is one of the best photos I have ever taken. It just happened. As I was taking the photo, the girl walked into the centre of it. One of those magical photographic moments.

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Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the Scenic Spirit and were met at the gang plank by the Captain, Eric from France and Paula from Australia. Our cabin is lovely. It is similar to the Scenic Aura but wider and a different configeration. Didn't think it could get much better, but it is.

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They had "heard" that Phil liked to have a banana and tomato juice before breakfast and they were in our suite. They had a bottle of Hennessy Brandy (that is not available at the bar) in the suite for Phil and a bottle of Verve Clicquot for me. There are jars of sweet biscuits, chocolates (where is Mike), peanuts and chips, orchids in pots everywhere and a masseuse for give us a neck massage after our bus ride. Just wonderful. Also, we have $330 USD on board credit and I will definitely be having a massage while on board.

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We unpacked, and changed and went to the lounge for the welcome briefing. Then into dinner with Ingrid and Elfie and David and Margaret from Melbourne. Elife is not well and went to bed straight after dinner. Phil is coughing and spluttering everywhere and I am finally on the mend. I haven't had a coughing fit all day!

Just a note re my pjs. When I was packing my bag at the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City this morning, I couldn't find my pyjamas and thought I may have already packed them or maybe Phil had picked them up by mistake and we would find them when we unpacked on the ship. But no, no pjs. I have no idea where they are or why anyone would take them because they are my old ones and fraying around the edges. Maybe when they changed the bed they got caught up in the linen? But on reflection, the bed was still unmade and the pyjames totally gone. Where are they?

We have died and gone to heaven. The Scenic Spirit is divine! This week will just fly!

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Postscript to the pyjamas story - Phil was asleep on the bed when housekeeping came so they cleaned the bathroom but didn't disturb him. Later, when we went out, they came in and changed the bed linen. My pyjamas were under the pillow and they must have got caught up in the linen and no one noticed, because no one would pinch such a grotty pair of pjs.

Posted by gaddingabout 03:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City - Monday, 30 January 2017

Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels

sunny 32 °C

Up VERY early this morning - 5.45 am - breakfast at 6.15 am and on the bus for the two hour drive to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We had visited them 10 years ago so Phil decided to sleep in and forego the trip, but I decided to go as the only thing I could remember from 10 years ago was how frightened I was when I went down the tunnel and spent five minutes in it crawling along to the other side, in the pitch dark. It was awful. A memory I'll never forget and I certainly wasn't going to do it again! Older and more sense, I guess!

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Within the system of Cu Chi Tunnel, Ben Duoc Tunnel was the base of Party Committee and Headquarters of Sai Gon - Cho Lon - Gia Dinh Zone and Military Zone. This is a unique architectural structure, a system of deeply underground tunnels having several floors and alleys that extend for 250 kms, with places for dining, living, meeting and fighting. "This tunnel system embodies the strong will, intelligence and pride of Cu Chi people, a symbol of revolutionary heroism of the Vietnamese people" - a quote from the brochure.

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Visiting Cu Chi is a sobering reminder of times past. The cruelty and senselessness of war but when visiting here, I have always been impressed with the cleverness of the Vietnamese people to outwit and outsmart their enemy - the Americans. This system of underground tunnels is really fabulous. The ventilation system, the dispersal of smoke from the cooking fires and the booby trap for the American "Tunnel Rats" are impressive. And wearing their sandals back to front so the Americans thought they were going one way, when in fact, they were going the other!

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War is stupid and visiting a place like this, only reinforces that statement.

During our visit, tourists were shooting the AK47s, and the sound of that gun fire in the jungle made it all the more real. We had some tapioca root (tasted like bland cold potato) and some green tea. At the end of our visit, we watched a propaganda movie about the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is known here). I am glad I am not American, because they don't come out of it too well.

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After a couple of hours there, we all boarded a speed boat for a 40 minute ride down the Saigon River to a lovely restaurant on the water's edge. We were the only ones in the restaurant and the Vietnamese food was very nice. It was delightful whizzing along the Saigon River, weaving in and out of the floating water hyacinth and we had life jackets that we had to wear as opposed to being in the boat at the teak bridge at Mandalay!

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We had:
Fresh Mustard Leaf Rolls; Pomelo Salad with Prawn and Pork; Vietnamese Rice Pancake with Seafood; Grilled Pork Ribs with Lemongrass; Sauteed Water Morning Glory with Garlic; Green Cabbage Soup with Fresh Shrimps, Steamed Rice and Seasonal Fresh Fruits and Tea and Coffee.

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I was sitting in the middle of the table and kept getting missed out, so they prepared me my own pork ribs. Gosh, after all that food, my own serving of pork ribs was the last thing I needed so Kevin helped me out.

Back to the hotel for an hour before our afternoon's outing. We went to the Reunification Palace and the War Museum. We couldn't remember if we had been there 10 years ago, but as soon as the bus pulled up outside, we realised that we had been here before. Still it was good to see it again. This is the place where the Viet Cong came crashing through the front gate in a tank, which virtually ended the war and North and South Vietnam became one, and communist.

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It is humid and quite hot but not as bad as it would be in the wet season.

Then we went to the War Museum and we realised that we had been there also ten years ago. It is a very sobering place too and the photos are graphic and horrible but really a must for everyone to see. But unfortunately, seeing places like that still doesn't deter people from making war.

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Tonight's dinner was a Scenic Free Choice and we, along with about 20 others, chose the Colonial House Restaurant. It was a lovely atmosphere in the grounds of a lovely old colonial French residence. The food was Vietnamese but was fresh and tasty.

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The streets are decorated beautifully for Tet New Year. They are very hard to photograph at night, from a bus, but hopefully you get the idea.

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Leaving the hotel tomorrow for the Scenic Spirit!

Posted by gaddingabout 06:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City - Sunday, 29 January 2017

Chill out day!

sunny 32 °C

We had a good night's sleep and while we were at breakfast, made contact with Mao, our Cambodian guide for the next 13 days. He has a delightfully smiley face and we have bonded with him already. He is going to be a good guide. He told us there will be three groups - we are group 2 and have 16 members in it. Six are already in the hotel, with the rest arriving this morning.

After breakfast Ingrid, Elfie and I tested the temperature of the pool. The pool attendant told us it was 30 degrees, which is acceptable to us, so after our walk to see the rooster in flowers, we'll be back to spend a few hours at the pool.

We caught a taxi to a chemist as we all need strepsils for our coughs. The taxi waited and then took us back to the Continental Hotel, which is close to our hotel and where we stayed 10 years ago. There was a cafe opposite where the journalists used to hang out during the Vietnam War but it 's not there any more. A couple of high rises are now in its place. I am surprised that they let it be demolished because American journalists were fired on in that cafe, and now it's gone.

We found the street where the rooster and chickens are depicted in flowers and took lots of photos. It is a New Year Holiday today so everyone is out on the streets, some dressed in national costume and the ladies in their lovely long dresses, with long pants underneath. They are so slim and elegant.

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Back to the hotel for a swim and lunch by the pool.

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Phil's watch band broke a few days ago and he went for a walk this morning and found another one. As I was getting changed for the pool, my watch band broke too, so after the pool, we went back to the shop and bought a new watch band for me.

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Then, back at the hotel, we just had time to freshen up and change to attend the Scenic briefing at 5.30 pm. Our group of 16 seem quite nice - we have six pommies, two Americans and eight Aussies.

We all then walked across the road for a traditional Vietnamese dinner. All the courses were nice. Now into bed as we have an early start tomorrow.

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Posted by gaddingabout 06:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Mandalay - Bangkok - Ho Chi Minh City - Sat, 28 Jan 2017

Flying from Myanmar to Vietnam, via Bangkok

sunny 32 °C

We had a great sleep last night and a big sleep in this morning. We weren't leaving for the airport unti 11.15 am, so we didn't even set the alarm.

The B Team left for Inle Lake at 7.30 am, but we didn't get up to wave them goodbye.

We had a group photo downstairs but Ingrid and Elfie missed out. Then a tour guide arrived in a Toyota Royal Crown Saloon (what a lovely car). It even had reclining seats in the back! She was taking us to the airport, while of the rest of the group were going in a mini bus. Thanks to Scenic's great loyalty program, we get limo drives to airports etc.

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Before we left Jimmy asked me how I was feeling today and we had a "consultation" about my sore throat and coughing, and he gave me some anti biotics to help speed my recovery. That was really nice of him because I really need to be in good health to start our new cruise up the Mekong and don't want to be spreading germs through our new group.

The airport wasn't too crowded, but the check in was very, very slow, as we were on the Economy Line, not our usual Business Class. Phil went over to the Business Class check in and asked if we could be processed there as our guide had to get to another job! They were very pleased to oblige. We had to pay another $5USD each as the airport taxes had been increased since we had purchased our tickets. That was fine as I had US dollars, mostly fifties, but I had one 10 dollar note. But they rejected it because it wasn't brand spanking new. We borrowed one from Charlie, who was next in line to us, and they still wouldn't accept it. I then gave them a brand new 50 dollar note, but they didn't have any change! So they inspected all the 10 dollar notes we had given them and accepted one! What a drama that was.

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Immigration was just as disfunctional. There were no departure cards at the table for us to fill in so Phil asked a guy to get some, which he did, and it took ages to get through Immigration to the other side. The rest of the A Team were lined up there for ages.

Our flight to Bangkok on Bangkok Air was uneventful and took an hour and a half. Charlie and Pattie were on the flight, as well as Ingrid and Elfie and us. We said goodbye to Pattie and Charlie in Bangkok Airport and went off to find the transfer desk for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City.

We boarded our plane, a 787 Dreamliner (which are beautiful - we flew in one in South America. They are quiet and have humidified air), but the funny thing was, they can hold about 260 passengers and on our flight there were only 26!!! It was a scream. We were scattered all over the plane. Apparently this flight is usually full but due to Chinese New Year, it wasn't, but it was a positioning flight as the flight back to Bangkok tomorrow is fully booked.

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We landed, sailed through Immigration, collected our bags and met our Scenic Transfer guides outside the airport. Elfie and Ingrid were whisked off to a car and Phil and I waited on the footpath for quite a while, while our black Mercedes arrived. It was a lovely drive into the city. We haven't been here for 10 years and absolutely nothing looks familiar. The streets are decorated with lights for the Vietnamese New Year - Tet 2017.

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Our room at the Park Hyatt is very nice and the decor is lovely. Ingrid and Elfie are opposite us, which will be handy. We are here for three nights before we join the luxurious Scenic Spirit.

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The lock on my carry on was a bit bent and consequently, I couldn't open it. We had to get someone in the hotel to come up with bolt cutters to get it open. All good.

Still coughing and my chest is so sore from all the coughing. Going to rub with Vicks tonight and hope to feel great tomorrow to start our new adventure in Vietnam.

Posted by gaddingabout 08:37 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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