Raining in Hoi An

Well we're in Hoi An, the shopper's paradise. In this townm you can get a suit whipped up in a few hours for US$20, or anything you can find in a fashion magazine or photo. I've spent US$115 so far on a couple of suits and a bunch of shirts.

However we're pretty much trapped here. It's been raining since we left Dalat on Saturday because of a tropical low off the coast. That meant missing out vbaluable beach time in the coastal town of Nha Trangh. The stormy, 14 hour overnight bus was pretty uncomfortable on the single lane, potholed goat track they call Highway 1.

When we got to Hoi An, it was still raining and continued overnight. Our cheap hotel, interestingly called the Trade Union Hotel, was nearly flooded the following morning. A stormwater drain next to the hotel broke its banks and flooded the roadway out the front. With it rising so fast overnight we figured it would only take a bit more rain to get it to rise the foot or so needed to make our beds float. So we moved to a nicer, more expensive hotel on the third floor. There's a conveneient balcony we can moor boats on if it comes to that 8)

In the flooding yesterday we took a boat ride and shot nearly a whole roll of film in half an hour, looking at the restaurant we had tried to find and eat in the night before with water flowing through it.

The rain eased last night and the floodwaters are going down. The low system seems to be blowing itself out. Hopefully we'll get some sun and can go to the beach soon!

Raining raining raining

We're in Nha Trangh and it's been raining all yesterday and today. Looks like it might clear up by tomorrow, thank Bob. Not much to do in a beach town in the rain.

Apparently there's a storm (typhoon perhaps?) off the coast and it's raining throughout the whole country.

Oh well, all we can do is drink beer, eat amazingly fresh seafood and wait out the rain. The things you do 8)

We love Vietnam!

It's funny how bad experiences contrast so readily with good. Last night we arrived in Dalat, the internal tourist capital of Vietnam. All the Viets have their honeymoons here. It's strewn with tacky tourist parks with Vietnamese dressed up as cowboys, cartoon mouse bins, the whole tacky deal.

After the bus arrived, we had a terrible time with tour and hotel hawkers demanding we come and see their places. We all got a bit stressed by all the attention and ended up spending 3/4 hour traipsing up and down the budget hotel district until a tip from a German couple on their way out of town clued us into a fantastic, cheap hotel. After all the stress, we weren't expecting much from this town. After checking in we got majorly hassled by the very poor hill tribe children trying to sell us shoe shines, cigarettes, maps and chewing gum.

Then this morning the air cleared and we started having fun! At breakfast one of the cigarette and gum sellers started talking to us. We were attempting to speak the language from our phrase book and she and her fellow seller ended up sitting with us for half an hour giving us lessons in Vietnamese. The hardest part is the tones which are quite complicated with different accents above letters (look at the next Vietnamese Restaurant you see) indicating different ranges of tone.

After that we negotiated a brilliant motorbike tour around the various sights in this town. Our guide was friendly, spoke excellent English and was great fun. Holly, who had some trepidation about hopping on the back of a motorbike, absolutely loved it.

Tonight we wandered around filled with much more confidence, which is all that is required to get by around here. A simple "khong moi" gets rid of the hawkers and the helpful addition of a smile gets you anywhere. These people are lovely, friendly and eager to help, but poor. What we initially saw as aggressive hawking is really just the result of real poverty. The moment you show you've been around more than a day or two, by speaking the language, they give up.

Also we've managed to work out and enjoy the process of bartering for prices, an essential tool for the third world. It's no to be approached as an adversarial, aggressive process but as a bit of sport. After all, for us at least, we're haggling over 20 cents or so but also want to conserve our funds for the rest of our trip and to brace ourselves for the appalling state of the Australian dollar. As with everything in this country a sense of humour and a smile go a long way. To barter for, say, a couple of dragon fruits (red, weird fruit that taste like kiwifruit) a Vietnamese "bow nyew" or "how much" will bring you something like 20,000. You giggle and go "no, 10,000". They find your price hilarious and offer something lower. Eventually you either arrive on a price or walk away to try the next stand. Of course as you walk away another price will be offered, hopefully to your liking.

The thing that has changed our experience most is realising that this isn't a nasty process of us versus them. We have way more money than they can imagine and have to keep this in mind and not be too focussed on getting the same price locals get.

Today's motorbike tour also let us into a little tip that anyone interested in travelling here should know. The Sinh Cafe open tour is not the way to get around this country. It's cheap (US$32) and gets you through the main sights, but they aren't the real Vietnam. Travel is more a process than a tour, so we would rather have caught a series of motorbike tours around the place than the sanitised tourist bus experience we are doing.

A motorbike driver we met tonight truly convinced us of this fact. He was friendly, had great English and the testimonials in his book were genuinely positive. He even organised a wedding for a couple of Americans in a minority (as in non-Vietnamese slash and burn minorities with different culture and customs) village in 12 hours!

Anyone thinking of travelling here, be sure to contact us and we'll give you the lowdown. When we get to London we'll write it all up and let people know.

Loving this country heaps. Tomorrow we catch a bus to Nha Trangh.

In Dalat

We're now in Dalat. Not much to report except seeing lots of beautiful countryside on the 8 hour bus ride here. Dalat is the main tourist destination for Vietnamese. It's much cooler than Saigon, which is a nice change from the stifling humidity.

However the people here are a lot poorer with the result being they're more desperate. That coupled with the fact that it's the low tourist season makes the hawkers and motorbike guys much more persistent, which gets tiring very quickly.

Tomorrow we'll be doing a tour around the area and catching the bus the bus on Saturday to Nha Trangh. There we plan to spend a few days on the beach. Mmmmm!

Having fun and will say more when we have more to report. Limerick coming after we drink more beer 8)

Snow!

It snowed this morning. Must have been a couple of inches at least, judging from the amount piled up on cars in the street. Not quite a white Christmas but nice nonetheless. Rachel called us at 5:30am to tell us to run out and see it. Holly was so excited she got to work early and wandered around Hyde Park to watch the ducks taking shelter.

You can see a picture here and live cameras to see the snow on the ground if it's still there here. There's still snow outside out door making the footpaths treacherous and there's more on the way, apparently.

Christmas was good fun with Holly and I spending Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day at Rachel and Danielle's in Battersea. There's no public transport on Christmas Day so we had to get there early. Lots of fine food,good booze, great company of all that ice you Aussies would have gone through, we just stuck our beer and wine on the balcony to chill.

Not much else happening. Holly's working at Harrod's but has managed to score New Years Eve and Day off. We bought our tickets to a party with Luke Slater, Asian Dub Foundation, Liam from the Prodigy and Adrian Sherwood. Should be fun.

Tomorrow my new computer arrives from Glasgow from an auction on eBay. Should be more contactable then.

Bad poetry

We've taken to writing limericks while sipping yummy Vietnamese beer about our travels. We'll do one or two poems a day about our travels.

2/10/2000

We jumped on a cyclo in Saigon
And went "what the hell have we got on?"
They ripped us off blind
Which put us in a bind
So now we negotiate in Dong

3/10/2000 (Day)

A friendly cyclo driver named Minh
Toured us around the city he lives in
The chicken market in Cholon
Flashing Buddhas were switched on
The streets hum a beautiful din

3/10/2000

There once was a Frenchman in Ho Chi Minh City
Who got too drunk in a bar, he was shitty
He picked a fight with a flic
Who bashed him with a stick
They took him to the station. What a pity.

(PS: flic is French for cop)

Holidays at last!

We're in Saigon and loving it. Apparently Saigon is the worst place in Vietnam, so it's only going to get better from here.

Vietnam is an incredibly interesting place to travel. A communist country, it has fully embraced capitalism with all its class distinctions that brings about. Vietnam airlines will happily charge extra for you to go into "Upper Class". Capitalists rent passenger bicycles, cyclos, to incredibly poor drivers for US$1/day and kids are put into service selling books, cigarettes, chewing gum and all sorts of things.

With capitalism, and with extensive tourism, comes robbers, rip-off merchants and danger for people like us. Vietnam has its share of people who will overcharge those who don't know the local prices by a few bucks but the other dangers of places like Thailand don't seem to be a problem. People are incredibly friendly and helpful. Even those trying unsuccessfully to sell you something are cheerful and polite about it.

So what have we been up to? When we arrived around 4pm it was 32 degrees with all the humidity and just beginning the afternoon storm. Our trip into the city by taxi was uneventful, although of course the driver tried to hook us up with accomodation at his mate's place for a tidy kickback. We managed to extract ourselves and found a nice, clean, cheap place in the centre of the backpacker district.

Yesterday we got ripped off by a cyclo driver who took us to the War Remnants Museum, formerly the American War Crimes Museum but with a changed name to not scare off the Yanks. We made the mistake of bargaining in US dollars which don't give you much leeway up and down, and US$1 is a lot of money. The dong, with 14,000 per $US is much more flexible, allowing you to juggle a few 1,000 very well worn banknotes. The markets were interesting, though more for locals than us farang. Lots of weird produce, fake designer clothes and te like.

The War Remnants Museum was disturbing, but worth the visit and the 10,000 dong entry fee. Tanks, planes, guns, mines, ammunition and lots of other American and French war machinery left at the fall of Saigon were on display. As well there were displays of disgusting brutality perpetrated by American soldiers, information about the effects of defoliants like Agent Orange and an exhibition dedicated to photographers who died during the war. The whole thing was quite one-sided and talking to not particularly pro-Commie locals there were plenty of nasty things done by the North's soldiers.

In the afternoon we arrived at a much more reasonable rate and wandered around the expensive tourist area looking at stalls. It's amazing the stuff they have here to buy, though we have to remember that we'll be lugging anything we buy 1,700 kilometres North to Hanoi and through Paris before we touch down in London.

Lacquerware seems to be a bit of a specialty with beautiful bowls, boxes, chess sets and the like available for a couple of bucks. This is the sort of stuff that sells in Pentimento on King Street, Newtown for $100. There also seems to be a lot of Tintin merchandise, a hangover from the French influence, including t-shirts and posters of a non-existent "Tintin in Vietnam" book.

Finally I'll leave you with a description of what it's like around here. You first have to understand the noise. There's a constant hum as hundreds of bicycles, noisy and dirty motorbikes and cars bump, roar and toot their way down the street. Every few metres in the backpacker area you're asked to buy something, go into a cafe or jump on a cyclo. The footpaths are crowded with cafe tables, motorbikes and bicycles for hire, mobile food and cigarette stalls and people sitting going about their business. This necessitates frequent stumbles out onto the road itself.

Now the traffic is incredible. There are no rules, no correct side of the road other than a rough tendency to be on the right more than the left and vehicles and people heading in every direction. To cross these roads you can't wait for a gap, there won't be one. You have to stride out slowly but pointedly and the traffic will flow around you. It's pretty terrifying at first but works surprisingly well considering the volume of traffic. That said I won't be hiring a bicycle in this town.

Everyone moves about smoothly. There are no traffic jams, mainly because everyone is happy to swerve around each other and the fact that the majority of the traffic isn't road-hogging cars. The slow speed helps, you wouldn't want to negotiate this sort of traffic at high speed. In general it moves at between 0 and 40 km/hr.

Tomorrow we're heading off on a half-day tour of the Cu Chi tunnel network built by the Viet Cong during the war just outside Ho Chi Minh City (the name of greater Saigon). In the afternoon we'll check out the Reunification Palace. For dinner we'll have Pho Bo (beef soup) at the soup bar that served as the Saigon headquarters of the Viet Cong during the war as American GIs stuffed themselves downstairs.

On Thursday we head to Dalat on the first leg of our open-ticket tour to Hanoi, allowing us to stop anywhere along the way for as long as we like.

It's gonna be a fun four weeks! Not sure when I'll get to a net cafe again. We'll see.

Update time

Well it's been almost a month since I last told you what we're up to. Been a bit slack, I guess.

I never thought I'd appreciate evergreen trees so much as being in London in Winter. The trees were a gorgeous range of bright autumn colours when we arrived but are now stripped naked, leaving spindly twigs and branches like the remainder after a bomb has been dropped. Of course the colourful autumn leaves were great but the result is a bit grim.

Holly and I moved into a house on Friday with a nice Kiwi guy called Duncan. The house is in Queen's Park/Kilburn which is North-West of the City, just north of Shepherd's Bush. You can see it on a map here.

So now our address for all those late Chrissie presents you're sending us:
221A Bravington Road
Kilburn West, London, W9 3AR
United Kingdom.

Holly has a job with Harrod's starting on the 18th December in the baby clothes section. She'll do this until one of the agencies she's registered with comes upwith something better. I've registered with a bunch of agencies and had a couple of interviews but it's pretty slow before Christmas with most jobs starting in January. We'll see how we go.

Last night we went to an excellent cocktail party in the East End. Friends of Kris Brown's who now have a new flat out there. Lovely people and lots of drunken fun had by all.

We also spent a week in Holly's home town, Leicester, a few weeks back. Lovely place and distinctly colder than London. During that stint we checked out a bunch of local historical sites: Bradgate Park, Lady Jane Grey's home before Henry chopped off her head; Warwick Castle; Bosworth Battlefield where a major battle in the War of the Roses took place.

So having fun. Love to hear from you all to see what you're up to.

I'm an uncle!

Just got this email from my brother Anthony:

At 11:15pm on Tuesday the 14th, Laura gave birth to a 4.175kg baby girl by C-Section

Wahoo. Looks like I'm an uncle and Anthony and Laura are now parents. Her name is Abigail and by all accounts she's a gorgeous bundle of joy. (We're still waiting on photos hint-hint people in Sydney)

Congratulations Anthony and Laura and hope you can fight off the clucky grandparents long enough to cuddle her yourselves :)