Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Our new Apartment

We are no longer complaining about how far away, how uncomf..."well, what does it matter now” we've moved into another 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom serviced apartment on Monday, and it's great!! Check out the Saigon View link...

The neighborhood.

Our mini celebraty moments - how funny!

When people finally started arriving at the airport in Hai Phung we once again felt like celebrities (without having to look like one). It's actually happened a few times where the locals stare, touch and laugh at us and even take photograph's (I've heard about this happening and thought it was a joke). Well, who knows....maybe we're the joke!!!

In Hanoi a family were having there photo taken on the bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake by who looked like a professional photographer that ordered people to stop (not to get in their picture). I was waiting patiently waiting for them to finish when they waved me closer which I thought mean I could go past but instead they pulled me into the shot. Funny!!!!

The Vietnames girls in this picture would come sit next to us (check out what Marc was reading (or maybe they were smelling us) giggled and walk back to where they were sitting. A minute later two would come sit next to us again and they would indicate to the rest of their friends to come over. Moving closer and closer the one girl says "We u from"? I answer South Africa....she says "America", I say South Africa and they start laughing and run away again. Eventually the whole family (youngsters) were sitting next to me when the next question came "what your name"?...and so it goes. It is really quite funny and they were very excited when Marc wanted to take a picture.

Trip to Halong Bay

It was a 3 and a half hour trip in a mini bus (14 people in the group) to Halong Bay. The Bay is a World Heritage site and on of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations. Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin, includes some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars.

Upon arrival at the harbor our tour guide collected our tickets and we walked through crowds of people along the wharf where there were hundreds of Colorful Vietnamese Junks moored, some nicer than others...hoping our boat isn't a piece of "junk" (pardon the pun).

We had to walk along the edge of another boat to get to ours (Marc really concentrating not to bail into the water with our bag on his one shoulder) - As demonstrated by the guy in the picture

The inside of our junk where we had a lovely meals laid out (lunch, dinner, breakfast).

Our 10 m2 cabin with AC (thankfully) and a bathroom with a shower (well, if you can call it that)...more like a hand sprayer next to the toilet. All good though, it's part of the experience.

The deck of the junk. We couldn’t really spend much time up there during the damn HOT!!!!

Luckily we didn't have to sit in the boat the whole day. In the afternoon on Saturday, we visited a cave and took a little climb up to a point with a spectacular view of the bay.

Inside the Sung Sot Cave (Amazing cave), which was truly amazing. Neither of us has ever seen anything like it before. It was spectacular. It almost looked fake to me, as it was so large. We thought they could probably shoot a movie, Star wars or something like that in there.

After our cave visits we had a swim off the boat and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.

We dosed dozed off on a lounger on the deck and woke up to a beautiful sunset.
We woke up early Sunday morning and admired the view from the deck.

After breakfast we kayaked around the bay, WOW!!!! We really enjoyed the kayaking bit. I don't think I did to badly for my fist time.

After the boat trip we went for lunch at a very nice lodge with ones again, an amazing view of the bay and Halong City in the background.

Instead of going back to Hanoi with the group we took a private car to Hai Phong to catch our flight back to Ho Chi Minh. Which we thought was a good idea as it was only about 90min drive and we couldn't take the chance of missing our flight had we flown from Hanoi. Anyway, when we got to the airport, if you can believe this...we were the only people there. The airport only opens at 16H00 and our flight was at 18H25. Needless to say, Marc and I sat in very uncomfortable chairs in which felt like a sauna for almost two hours before they turned on the air conditioners.


Marc had to go to Hanoi on business and we decided to make a weekend out of it. We flew to Hanoi on Wednesday night (Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is located on the right back of the Red River 1,760 km north of Ho Chi Minh City). I had a look see around Hanoi. I can’t decide if I prefer it to HCMC. What I did like about it was that it had a definite French feel to it and the streets at least had wider sidewalks which made it a bit easier to walk around. I spent the day on Thursday trying to find the best tour operator to book our trip to Halong Bay through. I’ve never seen so many Travel Agencies in the same street!!

The City at night from the rooftop bar at the Sofitel Hotel.

View from our Hotel.

Marc managed to get out the office around 15H00 on Friday and we visited the Temple of literature and Hoan Kiem Lake.

The Temple of Literature ( Van Mieu ), dedicated to Confucius (Confucius was the great politician, educator and philosopher, who founded a doctrine, Confucianism, which has had far reaching impact on the culture, psychology and ethics of the Chinese people and other people in neighbouring countries, including Vietnam), was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong. In 1076, Vietnam's first university was established here to educate Vietnam's administrative and warrior’s class. The complex is in a tranquil park-like site in the heart of central Hanoi.

We took a cyklo to Ho Kiem Lake, what an experience traveling in the front of a bicycle in the middle of traffic with motorbikes coming past you from all sides and the odd bus, taxi looking like it's going to ride you over.

Hoan Kiem lake is located in the middle of Hanoi. Its name means "The Lake of the Restored Sword", referring to a 15th-century legend in which the nobleman Le Loi, who fought for the Vietnamese against Ming China, received his sword from a magic turtle living in the lake. The nobleman defeated the Ming and returned home in victory. One day, the emperor was boating in the lake when the turtle surfaced demanding the sword's return. In memory of this event, the emperor built the Tortoise Tower on an island at the south end of the lake. Enormous turtles still live in the lake today. When they are spotted, it is supposed to herald the death of one of the country's leaders.

Bridge leading to Ngoc Son temple, on an island in the lake.

The main hall behind us.

The Tortoise Tower.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Cu Chi Tunnels

We visited the Cu Chi Tunnel’s 60km north west of HCMC. The tunnels are the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This was the battle field of Cu Chi.

The VC hid from the Americans in an underground labyrinth of tunnels. At the height of the war the tunnels covered 250km. It’s hard to imagine that whole communities of people lived, cooked, gave birth and fought a war living like termites.

We crawled through the tunnels for about 50m and two levels down…. Scary Stuff!!! Check out the link for more info on the Cu Chi tunnels.

The Tunnels were clearly not designed for Westerner's, we were relieved to get out after 10 minutes.

Down the sights of the M16. The noise nearly deafened Adele

Trying my hand at firing the AK47 Assault rifle.

A yankee tank destroyed by a 5kg homemade bomb.

Our guide demonstrating how the VC hid in the Fox Hole's.

Training with Team Minetti at the K1 Boxing Center

This is the real deal! David and his team are pros, or as I have nick named him the Mighty Midget! ” I have the bruises and the black eye to prove it. He teaches mixed martial arts, ground fighting and kick boxing.
Adele is getting a “kick” out of the cardio workout whilst I get the “squeeze” in the grappling. Living the martial arts in Asia. Pity we cant stay in HCMC longer I think I could really get a lot out of this guy! Check out the link for more on the K1 Boxing Center.

Backpacker Distric in HCMC

We went to Sinh Cafe (a tour operator) which is located in the Backpacker District which Marc and I thought was pretty cool. It is almost a bit like Melville, with cafe's and small boutiques everywhere.

Ok, Melville doesn't exactly have so many overhanging power cables or rubbish on some of the streets nor are there Vietnamese street sellers walking around, but you know what I mean....

The houses in HCMC are all like this....They are long and narrow; even the big freestanding ones are 3 levels but very narrow and long.

Vung Tao

Marc and David had to go to Vung Tao to meet with clients and I went along for the ride. Vung Tao is a Beach Resort (well, so it's called) about 125km out of HCMC. David was nice enough to let his driver Mr. Van drive me around while they were working. I spent a about an hour and a half on the beach and then met them for lunch and after lunch Mr. Van took me to the Kings House up on a hill with a lovely view of of the ocean. Vung Tao has almost a Mediterranean feel to it and it is a really nice place to go to , to get away from the City hustle.

Vung Town is an oil town and they seem to spend a lot of money on the roads, gardens, sidewalks which are really well maintained.

You can hire a lounger and umbrella and just relax on the beach. I expected the water/beach to be dirtier but it actually wasn't too bad. There are the odd can or piece of plastic lying around but over all Vung Tao is a very clean town .

A very large statue of Jesus on the Hill

David and Marc after lunch, on their way to their next meeting...

While I enjoyed the view from the Kings House with my personal tour guide Mr. Van

Monday, July 10, 2006

The other (more glamarous) side of HCMC

It's not all markets and street vendors though. There are so many Boutiques with the most beautiful clothing, shoes, accessories etc. by local designers and of course the big shopping centers which sells all the brand names as well. Not to mention all the Spa's and Beauty Salons all over the place. Restaurants a plenty with cuisine from all over the world. Supermarkets where you can get anything (still not Woolworth's though).

We have to laugh though as everyday is a school day for us. Figuring out how the rice cooker works (what a pleasure to cook rice in) after trying to find a bag of rice smaller than 5kg that you don't have to soak for 2 hours prior to cooking. Buying "Cereal" thinking that it's going to be like pro-nutro and then realising that we are going to have to drink it like horlicks. Looking for washing powder with a picture of a frontloader washing machine because it's all in Vietnamese and the store assistants don't speak English. Well, the list goes on....

But, it's all in the name of "Adventure" and we are really looking forward to the next couple of weekends (probably two months) in Vietnam with so much that we still have to explore. We have to still do a tour on the Saigon River, Mekong Delta and to the Cu-Chi Tunnels and so much more.

And while I'm updating our blog, shopping for something to cook for dinner, reading, surfing the internet for a TEFL course (Teaching English) I can do, Marc has an 8 to 6 job that keeps him busy. He is really enjoying his job and will be doing a couple of site visits again so we'll be sure to update you on those as well.