Written and edited by Michael Brosnan. 16/ 01 / 17
FOOT LOOSE IN CULTURESJULY, AUGUST & SEPTEMBER 2014
The wonder of experiencing Vietnam, Loas Cambodia,
Thailand & Myanmar.
Please excuse spellcheck !!
Henry and I dropped into Ho Chi Minh on the 9th of July.
We both got to love this massive city as so alive and wonderful night
life. Ten million people, four million motor bikes and only
70,000 cars. You have to be fast on your feet to dodge the
streams of bikes though they are good at missing you too, mostly if you
make a mistake. If you do, you must stand perfectly still and the
“ river “ will sweep around you.
I’m so active and a bugger to run, very bad in this situation.
Henry had quite a big job done on his teeth and I a small one, with varying results. He was pleased, I certainly wasn’t.
massive permanent market here is a sight to behold. I would get
up at my usual time of 6:00am to see them chopping up the meat of all
descriptions, swimming the live fish in big basins, killing the birds
and the setting up of all manner of produce one could name. This
massive building must cover at least a hectare. I am always drawn
by markets worldwide. I guess as its where you see so many
aspects of the culture. Well, we have even set one up
in Halswell, a bit smaller though !
It took nearly a week
to finish with the teeth. Then we flew on to Da Nang and taxi to
Hoi An where Jon Webb lives with his lovely lady. (Marrying on 31
Most mornings at 6-30
the three of us would cycle (free bikes at most hotels),
drink the water out of green coconuts (good), attend to computer work
and swim in the beautiful tepid sea. He is back to his flat by
ten and starts his domestic day with Tyna.
Henry and I did
a great cycle tour visiting many indigenous works, weaving lovely mats
used in so many ways, two types of boat building, the main one used
from the beaches for fishing a round basket; buffalo plowing -
the buffalo always fascinate me. Weaving of mats and other
crafts.Lunch was on a bit of raised ground in the middle of a peanut
field, surrounded by swamp with a family, totally indigenous, one of
the best meals I've had. Just another unique experience.
An is a known tourist Mecca. Too many for me but nice. The
train trip to Hanoi we booked too late so couldn't get a sleeper.
It was a sixteen hour ride. I am able to sleep anywhere. but
Henry had a bad seat and was awake all night. Arriving in
Hanoi at 5:00am we booked into a crap hotel as had forgotten to
book ahead, shifting to “ Hanoi Blue Sky 2 Hotel “ 34 Hong Go St, Hoon
Kiem, a good hotel, in the morning.
is another interesting, big city, quieter as is more
Communist but we managed to find the night life. Strange thing,
less motor bikes and many more cars. A whole different character
to Ho Chin Minh. I met a lovely young Indian boy who latched onto
me and was a big help with my computer. He told us about trekking
to Sapa, in the mountains to the north where he was going. I have
two weeks after Jon's wedding in Hoi An so intend to spend it up in
those mountains on the border of China.
The highlight in
Hanoi for me was the visit to the Ho Chi Min Museum where in
graphic terms and photos the story of the two wars between 1898 and
1974 is told, so this brave little country was brutally occupied for
almost a hundred years. I actually cried here, to see how these heroic
ordinary people survived this horror to eventually gain back the
ownership of their own country.
I was so disappointed the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was closed on the days we were there.
Five days there and we had to travel fast to get Henry to see as much of the country as he only had three weeks.
next was a 31 hour bus ride, squashed in literally like sardines,
layers of people in tiny spaces ( they are small the Vietnamese! )
driving out of Vietnam through the mountains of Laos to Laung Pro Bang.
LAUNG PRO BANGOur
first sight of the Mekong. This is a lovely laid back little town
right on the banks of the river ( is honeymoon stuff, in fact famous
film stars are oft. seen here ). Quite a famous little back
water. We had a boat ride up the river towards where it flows out
of Vietnam. Henry, being a big swimmer, was keen to swim across it but
was thankfully too sensible! It’s a place to spend more time. a
great place to relax.
On then by the ‘people’s bus’ to
Vientiane. You can get a VIP sleeper bus for not much more but it
travels at night and I / we like to see the country. After all
that is why we are here. The first half of this trip is winding
tortuously through such picturesque and different mountains, from a
distance looking great to climb but closer, tightly clad in trees and
scrub to the tops.
As with everywhere in Laos, the
highways are hugged by shops, houses and shacks. You are
literally driving through their front yards. We would call it
ribbon development but for them the road is the lifeline.
of the mountains and it is mostly rice paddy fields with the same road
hugging myriad of tiny villages. We had hardly seen any animals
in the mountains but now a lot of the dun brown, part Brahmin looking
small cattle were everywhere, mostly on a light cord mowing the road
verges as the fields are in rice. Many on the road to the chagrin
and horn tooting of our good driver.
now crossing the Mekong River into Vientiane, Laos’s second largest
town, we found a suitable hotel and set about sassing out this large
and more sedate city. We were pretty tired so did a bit of
resting. Here it was time for Henry and I to part and he
flew to Phnom Penh where he was to bus back to Ho Chi Minh and on
home. I spent another two days in Vientiane then caught the early
‘people’s slow bus’ for Savannakhet.
eight hours of cultural experience. The rickety bus, near empty
at first soon fills up and before long there are bodies sitting all
along the aisle on boxes and bags of rice. Few get off and you
wonder what happens when the aisle is full but they squeeze on somehow
and there are no raised voices or unpleasantness. They really are
The bus stops every mile or two to pick up
people with masses of boxes, sacks and even motorbikes where a man
climbs onto the roof, using bare feet for grip (no ladder), drops down
a thick cord and he pulls and the others push the bike up onto the roof
where it is lashed with the cord. No problem to these guys.
The bus rarely has comfort stops but as it takes a long time to
stow all the boxes, sacks and the odd bike, the men pee into the bushes
and if nowhere else, the women have to lift their skirts on the side of
the road, so natural, no hassle.
As with many things in
Laos the bus is so badly designed there is a window high and low down,
right along the middle and at eye level is a plastic wall. You
can’t see a thing unless standing up or lying down so to see the
countryside you have to stand up. After 10 hours jammed in the
bus (these people are small and even the seats are narrow, so it had
ben hard for big Henry) the bus arrived at the station around 7:30 in
the dark which is always a problem finding a hotel. I tried to
book on line but computers ay. Shouldering pack and computer bag
I stumbled around the corner and into the first hotel to be seen.
It was a grot and of course no Wi-Fi so walking for an hour in enormous
heat, every place with Wi-Fi was full. All of these bigger towns
have a ‘friendship bridge’ across to Thailand and the thousands of
expats pour over to have their visas extended, filling the hotels. Jon
Web gets a cheap flight to Singapore. So I just had to go
back to this so grotty hotel for the night. In the morning I met
a French girl who told me the centre was miles away next to the Mekong
so I jumped on a tuk tuk, got dropped off at the information centre
which of course was closed, and staggered in the pouring rain (there is
tropical rain most days in Laos as is the monsoon I believe) and
literally stumbled into a quiet place. It is a lovely, old world
family hotel, commandeered 80 years ago by the French army and the
family eventually got it back and are restoring it. Hard to find
these family places. I love them. The owner, reared
and lived 31 years in France (big French connections here and mostly
French tourists) talked to me at length about Laos’ troubled
past. The hotel was more expensive but you sure get what you pay
So interesting is the history of these three
countries. I visited the museum here and find Laos was subjugated
for 80 years. First by the French and then by the
Americans. Eastern Laos (where the Ho Chi Minh trail mostly goes
is purported to be the most bombed place in the world killing every
It was called “THE CIAs SECRET WAR
of us knew, or were ever told this?? Even the USA public did’nt
know this was going on, or I guess The Vietnam protests would have been
way bigger.(A bit like our Maori history.) Bombed every twelve
minutes for nine years killing every living thing and good old Ho Chi
Minh still won the war!!! The bombing wiped out whole
cultures, so of course I found the museum and saw it all in
detail. These people are so proud of what they have done.
Makes us look like drones.
One of my biggest observations
in Laos would be the number of “Wats”, Buddhist temples. They are
absolutely everywhere, dominating everything and taking up hectares of
valuable land. It seems the poorer the country the bigger the
hold religion has. The wealth looks enormous and then there are a
lot of hungry people and children on the streets, their
parents still giving to Buddha I must study this further as am
only speaking from observation.
I am meeting so many
people who are interested in the Lifeforce products. It seems the
older I get the easier it is to sell myself. In the five days
being here I have five addresses. A Laos Canadian, professional
Thai boxer, two Australians, a French woman who took me to a very
French restaurant she knew where we shared a meal and Jo Tierney, a
character of a 60 year old, Irish expat who wants to get the
seaweed as he wants to be like me at 82 ! Very hard to get it here Joe
but I’ll try. You’ll have to drink a bit less beer though
aye! It is so good being in an industry that helps people’s
So it’s time to mount another ‘people’s bus’ and
head south again. The same thing, had to stand up to see more
than the verge of the road. Very flat, rich looking land with
lots of flooding, which is where it gets the fertility from. All
the houses are on stilts. Rice as far as the eye can see and the
sleek, dun coloured cattle tied or loose along the road. This bus
is even fuller than the last one but not a complaint.
hours in the bus and we arrive in Pakse and a group of us pile into a
tuk tuk and this time I know where I am going as Sandra, the French
lady, recommended the Paxse hotel. It’s a pretty posh hotel
costing NZ$28 a night with not a very good room with no view, but all
else is great. Massive breakfast, restaurant on the roof above
the seventh floor with a view to die for across the spires of the
temples and the mass of the Mekong. You look across at the
mountains of Thailand with a massive Buddha lit up on the side of one
of them. Next day I looked at lots of other hotels and apart from
the room, they are not a patch on this place.
I am sitting
beside the mighty Mekong River writing this. It looks like a sea,
about two-three miles wide!! On the other side is Thailand.
I knew it must be wide here as have been following it down stream about
a thousand miles from Laung Prabang and it was a mile wide there.
It is always solid, red, brown and all the fish we eat come out of
it. I have fish every day. I hope my fortified immune
system holds up. So far so good after a month of eating like the
natives. Dear old Henry was sick a few times. He’s not used
to travelling in all this dirt. I have crossed fingers!!! I
am still conscious of the mosquitos though. The locals don’t even
Am now writing from the only chic coffee café in
Paskse (not a common sight in Laos) close to the Cambodian border which
I will cross in a few days. Across the road is the Mekong River
with Thailand on the far bank. It looks like a sea as is about
3-4 miles wide here. The fish still taste good out of the
polluted water, if a little muddy. I walked across town today for
an hour and found the museum. They get smaller as I go south but
still lots about the culture and the troubles.
I am aware
of rabies in these countries and many of the dogs rush at you but I was
bitten on the ankle for the first time today. I don’t think the
skin is broken. There are so many dogs.
I will probably go
south tomorrow, so got up at 6:00am and walked across the road to the
big market to see the people preparing for the day. It never
ceases to fascinate me. For instance, the tripe is all black
inside and one wonders what the cattle have been eating!!! Too
FOUR THOUSAND ISLANDS.The bus
fm. Pakse arrived at the bank of The Mekong where four of us
gingerly walked up a loose plank onto this “ferry “ Well, it was two
dugouts with a few planks across with a little form to sit on. A motor
bike was tucked on board as well. We were heading for Don Khong Island(
one of the 4,000 ) out in the middle of the river. The ferry man sat in
the back hull and pulled the cord of tiny motor and we set of
over this swirling, upwelling eddying yellow brown river We made it to
the island and he laid down the same rickety plank over the mud for us.
an adequate room with AC for only 80,000 kip = $11 It is a charming
quite romantic little island, You eat in the restaurant accross the
road right out over the swirling gurgling river. So charming
sitting watching it struggling it’s way to the sea. It gives you
the impression there's a monster underneath protesting
and making the water do the strangest things.
The next day I
took a bike and wondered if I could make it ( in the heat ) the 40 km.
around the island. Started out, intending to come back, kept going all
the way round. It was really a bit much, especially as I got lost, and
once fell off, covered in red mud, in front of a crowd, to their mirth,
but quite an achievement.
Booking a ticket on a bus to Siem
Reap, we, seven of us squeezed into an even more suspect single
hull dugout. That was exciting, but we made it to the mainland
about twenty of us squeezed into a little bus not much bigger than our
people movers, Of course the locals are quite small.
Made it through
the border, where I noticed this interesting young woman, who I quite
accidentally sat beside. Aimee is Canadian and we have a lot
in common and soon made friends, travelling all the rest of the way
Quite dry here, and just little workers shacks along the
roadsides. Two hours we arrive in Stung Treng to change busses. Now we
both had read, they try to rip you off at these bus terminals, and sure
enough, when the rest of the people were told to get on the ferry (
Mekong again ) and catch a faster bus, ( seven hrs. ) Aimee and I
were told to wait for our slower bus ( thirteen hrs. ) Then they
said if we paid another $20 ea. we could get on the ferry. I
might have paid it, but Aimee, like most young backpackers, just
couldn't afford it We waited it out, I bought us a lovely veggie
lunch for $2 ea. Then when they said if we paid $15, we really
got the message and said no.At last they said in desperation, $5 so we
paid, jumped on a big so crowded ferry and sailed again across
The Mekong. Then a similar small bus where they decided I
need to sit in the front beside the driver. ( they do revel age in
these countries ). Already I see this county vastly
different than Laos where there is the classic small subsistence
framing, with houses doted all over. Now, in Cambodia we see vast mono
cultures one crop going for miles, with not a single house as they are
all along the roadsides, which in turn are very widely spaced apart.The
houses too are all tiny, obviously workers.The big prosperous houses
are only in the villages.
As well, for miles and miles the land is
newly cut over and developed as there are still blackened burnt stumps
all through the crops. ( See Page 16 / 17 ) )
There are no cattle at all here, though an abundance of grasses.
two ours of this we come to flat land and also, as far as the eye can
see on both side is rice for miles and nary a house of shed to be seen
except along the roadsides ( Again, Page 16 / 17 )There are many cattle
now and they are all white and bigger than the small brown Laos ones
But I soon notice mostly they are very poor and thin. I feel sure they
have a mineral deficiency as there was plenty of grass. Love
to talk to someone about it. I was to get an EM contact here but didn’t
follow it up enough..
We roll into a good sized town,Stung Treng for a toilet stop with three hours to go.
now and whilst he is a good driver it was scary. In the day, they toot
the horn whenever approaching any veicule. At night he flicks the
lights incessantly Now this works, but many of the approaching cars,
especially the flash ones, don’t dip lights I couldn’t see at all
past them and people on bikes everywhere !!
SIEM REAPWe arrive in Siem Reap and are inundated by the usual tuck tuck chaps.
timidly ask Aimee if she would like to share a twin room. She was happy
to do that so the driver says “he has hotel for $10 room with a
swimming pool.” We don’t believe him but he was right and for $2 extra
we were given the AC controller
That night with two German
brothers we had teamed up, we found a little street restaurant where
good food was $2 and a glass of Ankgor beer was 50c
found Pub Street. Wow, what a buzz in the Angkor Bar I shouted a few
beers and the loud music across the road was irresistible I found Aimee
could dance it was very dark and so crowded but great fun. I got into
my crazy dance and many women would dance with me, so I would have
three at once. Aimee was great, Stephan joined in. Too crowded, so we
of onto the street still dancing and people were taking photos of us.
Haha, the street kids started calling me Michael Jackson. (That was the
first time it happened, but many times later. rather flattering !!
Promptly started trying to learn the back step in “Moonwalk” )
Aimee and I headed home and the boys stayed to hopefully find chicks.
at the hotel the boys had said the drill was, for four people to hire a
tuck tuck for the day , leave the hotel at 4-30 to be there to se the
sun rise through Angkor Wat.
We did that and Angkor Wat is as amazing as they say. I have photos to prove it.
boys were going to stay for twelve hour to get their money’s worth. It
costs $20 which is a lot for them. (They recommend two days to properly
see it all, and some take seven ! ) I was buggered after eight hours
walking, amongst massive crowds and would have gone home, buy stayed
and they tired and we left.
In a few days Aimee left for Battambang where she was to teach Vipassina meditation I’m sure we will keep in touch.
left Siem Reap by bus, to see the countryside on a seven hour
trip. Such a difference with Laos where there’s small subsistence
farming Looks like either govt. ( Communism )or corporate farming
( Yes, I guessed it, Page 16 / 17 )Page 16 / 17
) massive scale, and monocultural. Large single crops go
literally for miles. Also, for the first hours, on uneven ground, it
was all newly developed, black stumps of cut over bush in all fields.
Then further on and all the way to Phnom Penh, where the land is all
flat and fertile there’s rice on both sides of the road for as far as
the eye could see. No houses out there at all, only on he sides
of the infrequent roads. It would seem only small workers homes too, as
if they aren’t the actual farmers houses. The only big houses are when
we hit a village. ( Page 16 / 17 )
Must be low lying land
now , as it seems water from The Mekong to our right ,is actually
flowing over the rice fields, deeper than the rice plants It may be
flooding, but i don’t think so, puzzling. ( It was the
Phnom Penh, a big city, ,2 ,000,000 people. It takes nearly
hour to get the centre. A tout / tuck tuck man latches onto me. I
don’t want him as not much English. His brother speaks for him and
pleads for me to give him a go. ( Wrong decision ) I say a hotel
about $20. He takes me to “ The Safari Hotel “ Bit dear at $25, but
nice. No breakfast though. I straight away get out on the town looking
for better priced places, but as usually happens with me, it’s “you”s
gets what yous pays for “ so have stayed here. Big, bright airy, room
with balcony to street, AC., fridge, and good WI fi.
The tuck tuck
man that grabbed me at the bus . Well, they try and be your diver for
the duration of stay. I tried to stave him off but they are so
So, next day I hired him to take me to “ The
killing fields “ The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, and S 21 prison and
A bit like Angkor Watt, you could write a book on both, This is so sad it’s hard to write.
people died in the hands of Pol Pot and his murders. 20,000 of them,
mostly entirely innocent, were incarcerated in S 21 and tortured until
they signed false confessions, having to implicate other persons, even
family, who would be the brought in to undergo the same. S21 is an ugly
concrete building which was a high school, not needed now of course as
education is why you were being killed. Here you were in the most
graphic detail the methods of torture and humiliation.Then, after
confessing, thinking perhaps they would be sent to a slave work party,
they were immediately put in covered trucks, blindfolded,
driven the eighteen kms. (the same route I took ) to the killing
fields, put in a blacked out, sound proof room, till night fall, taken
out in groups, made to kneel on the edge of massive
pre dug hole in the ground, clubbed with any type of farm tool, even
hoes, ( bullets cost money ) and pushed into the hole.
We saw a particular
tree, where they would swing babies by their feet and smash their
heads on it before throwing them into he pit, often with the
mothers watching, before they too were killed
All the while they
played revolutionary music so loud that also with the generator going
the people, farmers, outside couldn’t hear the screams and thought it
was just another party meeting.
We saw the chemical shed where the
DDT was stored. They sprayed that on the bodies to stem the smell, and
to kill any that were not yet dead.
For a start there were
just two trucks a week coming from S 21, but later it was 300 people a
day and they couldn’t keep up. They slaughtered all
night under lights There would be 200 in a pit, they would
swell and started rising out of the ground.
.That is just a snippet
of this gruesome piece of history I think of” Picaso’s War “ and
his painting Guernica or any of the many genocides in history,
but this was worse as it was Cambodians torturing killing,,
Just had a talk to the manager of the hotel, nice guy, I
asked him if Pol Pot was mad and he told me the whole story
about Vietnam Cambodia and Khmer Rouge
more present day observations. Was sitting with the computer out
front facing the street and there's these
older ladies with little carts, or just big plastic bags over
their shoulder picking through the bins etc. collecting plastic
bottles, tins, or just plastic. With virtually no other recycling
going on it is something. A lady from the hotel, the cook I think, was
standing by the roadside with cardboard cartons. A more upmarket
bag lady walked up with a large shiny cart, ( like a bigger
shopping trolley ) and delving into the boxes filled hers with
plastic bottles mostly, ( we buy all our drinking water in
these countries, no such thing as a glass at the tap, aren't
we so lucky. ) tins, cardboard etc. And then, the most
interesting part she gave the cook lady some money, how great, a
win win situation.
And too, sitting there in this relatively better
part of town it's common for a large rat to scurry past your
feet. Day or night they run across the road, more like a little
dog really. There is rubbish everywhere. not a clean city.
morning I changed my bus till tomorrow as I want to go back to a
computer place to see if they can erase the blue icons all
through my story but he couldn't and helped me with some
other minor problems, Again not wanting any money, so I gave the lad
$5. They are such nice people. Turned out I fixed it by re saving
the story again from Pricilla's e-mail. The boy
also installed Word and using that instead of Pages the
blue icons are not there. Success,, with the monster ay.
back from visiting the National Museum, not so informative. Being
bitten a lot by mosquitoes. You sweat so much I guess the
repellant washes off. Fingers crossed.
Not sure whether to
go back down to imbibe in the life down "by the riverside " where
I usually go, or try a street inland the manager told me about, with
great food and life. Knowing me, will probably do both.
with the AC going am a bit cold so, stepping out onto the balcony,
though it's six pm ,and starting to grow dark it's like a sauna.
Most Westerners hate i the heat, I love it.
Before I went out
last night I bought the manager a beer and we sat out on the
street and yarned. I learnt so much. He has a wife and three
great little girls who like me. He still has the family farm down south
and would love to be there, and will one day. Makes me feel how lucky I
have been / are.
He lived through the Kramer Rouge ( K M ) as a boy.
Said they didn’t kill them all in that district, just starved and
worked them 14 hrs. a day Said they KM. were everywhere, and if they
heard water boiling in the house they would come in and if
there was anything in the water apart from the few grains of rice they
were allowed you were shot. The parents brought up seven children
through those three years, so the dad, ( still alive ) secretly and
quietly climbing a tree and carrying down a coconut, cutting into tiny
pieces for each person. Many died, I think three million.
were turned out of the family house and it was used as a hospital for
the KM. When the K M. were pushed out by the Vietnamese they got the
house and farm back. He had an uncle and
aunt sent to S 21 tortured and bludgeoned to death.
I asked him again if Pol Pot was mad. He had a lot to say and it’s hard to put it on paper, but will try.
Pot was from a very poor family but bright and got a scholarship to be
educated in France. Didn’t pass a degree, joined the communist party
there, came home, shot up the ranks in “ The Party “ eventual becoming
No 1 Even though the system gave him the chance in life, he never
forgot his impoverished childhood and hated wealthy people. And though
he was a teacher and educated he set out to kill all of those people. (
so, of course the question arises, “ what is madness ? ) You will have
read the rest above in S 21, and The Killing Fields.
Now, he also
says that Vietnam ( who he thinks is behind most of Cambodia’s problems
) and partly China were supporting Pol Pot. He would say
Vietnam has always had designs on Cambodia and do anything to weaken it
hence supporting Pol Pot.
The K M. rule only lasted about three
years. It had to fail as there was nobody to run the country as all
educated people were dead or escaped. What was left were the K M. army,
all farm boys, and the peasantry Pol Pot’s people, who were also dying
of starvation and over work.
Now, he says the invasion by the
Vietnamese army and the expulsion of the K M. was a mixed blessing.
While the K M. were in power Phnom Penh was totally deserted, as Pol
Pot saw no need for city’s, the land and peasantry was all that
mattered., so when The Vietnamese army moved in they
commandeered every car, motor bike airplane etc. in sight and sent them
back to Vietnam. They also occupied the country for about ten years.
thing, he said, The Vietnamese ( V ) sent many ten year old boys to be
educated in Hanoi, staying and marrying V women. Then sending them back
to Cambodia ( C ) to run the country, their way. One man they made
president of C. They then told him to send out the young men to cut all
the forests down and send the timber to V. For two reasons, no forest
for gorilla army to fight from and most of the young men die of
mosquitoes bourn diseases in the mud and swamps, further
weakening the country.
This President was a good man and
still a patriot of C, wouldn’t have the forest cleared so he only
lasted a year, was sent back to Hanoi and imprisoned for ten years
there. They then installed someone more malleable.
My host feels Pol Pot was just part of all of this.
He, had a lot more to say, but I don’t want to bore you on the subject.
We talked at length about the land tenure, and the vast tracts of land I saw with no houses.
of all the land is still owned by the government and they corruptly,
lease it for 99 years to their cronies mostly Vietnamese and Chinese
They come in, cut all the trees, sell the timber, then walk away producing nothing.
also said the vast tracts of flat fertile land I saw isn’t all rice, a
lot of it is just grass lying idle,( crony
corporates,) virtually no stock out there, also no fences ()
So thousands of landless people leave every year for the likes of Vietnam looking for jobs to survive.
vast lakes of slowly moving brown water over the paddy fields, is
indeed a natural process of the annual flooding of the Mekong.
lakes extend all the way down south of Phnm Penh, as well, and he said
, the silt left behind each year ( making a gesture with his hands
looking like four inches ! eventually raises the land to where you
don’t grow rice as not enough water, but so fertile one can grow any
vegetable with impunity, as they do.
So The Old Man Mekong has it’s
uses, though he says the climate indicates big changes e.g. Higher
water levels and hotter in the rainy season, and dryer in the other
season. ( climate change he feels )
I could have talked to him all
night, but his wife is quite demanding for help with the three
young’uns though there was a whole family supporting her. She seemed
Off out onto the heat of the night. Went to the street
recommended. Didn’t’ like it all touristy and glitz, so hopped on a
motor bike and was whizzed back down to my old stamping ground by my
favourite river, where I was picked up by an
interesting lass., took her for s drink, didn’t like her
story or give her what she wanted, which was sex, and you knew you
would be done, in some way. but gave her $5 for her company, and
slipped back to my favourite bar meeting a very lovely young lady,
bought her some drinks, danced of course, and had a wonderful night.
to be on a bus at eight for Ho Chi Minh ( H C M. ) but decided to stay
another day as problems with my computer and had found a good place to
take it, so changed the bus for a day later. They were a big help, but
in the end I fixed the computer myself as he put Word on for me.
with my last nights dancing partner again, but got to bed
early at one am as am on the bus in the morning. Miss that girl ay.
bus was a good one, best yet, even a toilet, which doesn’t worry me,
but good for the ladies not having to lift their skirts in
We drove through more miles of flooded flat land till the
bus rolled onto a ferry across “ my river “ I couldn’t count the big
busses, trucks, cars, motor bikes and people and could see how they
capsize, so I was ready! More sheets of water turning the
land into lakes until we reached the border..
I was sad leaving that
fantastic little country and the bus driver had to hustle me onto the
bus last as I was standing looking back. Cambodia I love you.
shock again into a different culture. It seemed built up all the way
along both sides of the road until you realised we were actually in the
outskirts of the great Ho Chi Minh. It seemed one long town from the
border. It took almost an hour to gain the centre of the city I got
chatting to a nice young Vietnamese lass who had been concerned about
my heavy pack all along at the border. Was bucketing down as we got of
the bus and a taxi driver was touting me. She grabbed me and said “no
they are expensive, she would get me one “ She hailed one, ( V--- taxi)
and made sure I was ok. I meet so much kindness here. The taxi drivers
here never seem to know where to go, but I had a card (
compulsory ) and prompted him where to go.
The card was to my
dentist, so I jumped out and into there to ask for a lend of local
money to pay the driver Talked to my nice little dentist. He said “come
back at six. So I just walked around the Corner to our old
hotel The Little Saigon Corner, took a window room on the first floor (
I admit I’m paranoid about fire in these countries, most smoke, and
inside, especially in China, no fire escapes. In those cases I will
first look out the window and count the sheets before I take a room.)
six I duly presented at the dentist. He is always hard to convince
about things wrong with his job, but I am a persistent man.
He did a good job in the end, and I am happy now, but not happy enough
to go back.
Talking to the cute little receptionist , who I have got
to know well, I asked where the “hot spots, especially for dancing are.
She pointed me to “ The Chili Sky Tower in the AB building, and the”
Gossip Bar” Both just around the corner really. I soon found
the Chili Sky tower, and wow, you are in the sky, thirty floors up. Is
very posh, and people in an emerging nation trying to be sophisticated.
Not alluring, but the night was gorgeous, the view fantastic, so I
bought a beer for the enormous price !! of 200000 Dong = $12 !! for a
good Belgian beer, cheap. The night before I was paying 50 cents on the
All so relative ay.. There was one real looking lad there by
himself. I asked to pull up a stool and we got on cracking. He is
Australian from Perth, in the mining industry of course. He had been
there a while as there had been a “happy hour “
There was no way
you would dance there so opted to find The Gossip Bar, Shane was keen
to, though like most men, and for that matter women he
“no way “ was a dancer. It was a competition to find it the
bar, me as usual asking people, him on his Google. We both won ay. I
didn’t want to go in as it was so loud and crazy I didn’t think he
would like it, but while I was casing out he had paid. He is a very
generous young man.
Well , the not so good music was the loudest
I’ve known and, same thing all standing around trying to
look sophisticated , not a soul dancing, just a few jigging up and
down. I walked, half danced around trying to get someone to dance. Some
wanted to, but too scared. Back to the bar, but I just had to dance.
There was this big round dance floor with steps all around, so up the
steps and into the middle I danced by myself It wasn’t long before
Michael Jackson’s name was coming up, what fun. There were many guys in
faun suites standing around, quazey bouncers come staff They all wanted
me to get back up there, but not until a young guy, encouraged by an
older bouncer showed interest, so between the bouncer and me
we bullied him up there . He was pretty good, so we away. Then the
bouncer joined us and he was pretty good too. I had the feeling the
young guy was gay as the older guy was encouraging me towards the lad.
I guess he though an older dancer has to be gay. I love it ay.
I soon got sick of the place, though we had got them started as a few people were now jigging up and down up on the floor.
we went out a bouncer asked me how old I was. I told him, “ only eighty
two “ he just about fell on the floor, so I gave him a parting
I wanted to take Shane to Tim’s Bar , near The Bitx Tower where last time here I met the gorgeous Han, Mekong Girl
was pretty drunk by now, as had a lot more than me. Good guy, but
classic Aussie, boisterous and pushy. He would get in a taxi, with
a driver with not a word of English who didn’t’ have the
faintest where to go. We went within a block of the tower,
but the little bugger wouldn’t stop and kept
driving so between him and Shane who “both knew where to go ! “ we
ended up miles and miles in the opposite direction. Shane muttered, “he
was paying “ he sure was. The driver dropped us of near what looked
like the tower but no. So Shane grabs another taxi and it was better
and we found it, by accident I think ! Now I,, had to find Tims Bar.
Shane was walking pretty slow in his present state, so I doubled back
to him saying it would be the other street but he / we spotted another
bar. He said, “just one “ Not a bad little bar, not as up market as
Tim’s . The girls didn’t expect drinks, just were nice and encouraged
one to stay and drink more.
I danced and the girls loved it but too
shy to join me, and the name Michael started whizzing around the bar.
When I got back to the bar Shane was in avid conversation with I guess
couple of Aussies, so I left my drink, jumped in a taxi and home in a
few minutes, costing only 24,000 dong. He would have spent
thousands on those two taxies! It was three am.
But for all I know Shane may still be back in the bar.
Next day it’s five- thirty and am
writing back up in my favourite coffee café and looking down the
traffic is incredible, ninety percent motor bikes and scooters by the
thousands. Today has been pretty uneventful, but I don’t often have a
slack day, and caught up on writing.
I will go back to The Chili Sky Bar for happy hour at seven as
may be there and I would like to see him again. I gave him my card but
haven’t heard, though he hasn’t a computer, and will have a big
headache ay, though he’s a tough guy. My last night here and you never
know, I may never be back, though I have a feeling about that !
my next adventure. What a great universe it is. If you love it it sure
does “love you back “ Sky Bar, “here I come “
raining cats and dogs, but off with trusted brolly. Getting a bit wet
but you soon dry out here. Up to the 28th floor and it had to be
the inside bar. Not as exciting, but view still good through the rain.
Shane not here so settled down to the good Belgian beers at
happy hour rates. Back out into the busy night and promptly got lost. A
motor bike man took me the three blocks for 2,000 Dong
Back to the
hotel to pick up the discount card for “ Mon Hue Restaurant and
met this outrageous American Joel Osner, Is 62,
body not good health but mind as sharp as a needle. Been a musician,
has shares in nine restaurants. We cracked of like twins.
eaten so I high tailed it through the rain to “ Mon Hue “
again to have my wonderful fish meal. Home and to bed by eleven,
earliest in months.
Up at six for breakfast
with Joel. He’s on his third marriage to a Thai lady, which has lasted
twenty years and I think he is still in love.
I took the advantage
to ask him / talk about the whole Asian partner thing. Obviously he,
and I think my two friends have struck it right, but on the whole I
think it’s a sad business. I feel, if you can’t get on with
a “ white fella “ woman ,men often run away to somewhere like Asia,
where it’s cheap to live and and partner with someone who usually can’t
speak English, and a totally different culture. So often I se the men
gathering in their “ expat “ groups in avid conversations, and the
woman ignored with almost no involvement.
The Asian wo0men “know
what they want” they pull this often older guy, marry him, get their
kid, wait a few years, take half his goodies, leave and either go back
home to family, or marry a younger man of their own age.
Joel and I are such big talkers, we don’t always get to the point, so I need to talk more to him about this.
Joel asked a favour of me. For years he has donated a thousand $ us each year to
Danang Ass. Of Agent Orange Victims He is not too sure if
the money is going to the right cause, and asked me if I would go and
see them, snoop around and try to see what they are doing with it. They
said they would send him the proof, but never have and he is
so concerned he didn’t send any this year
I have had a lot of experience with this scenario in Africa and an please to see them.
taxi to the airport is a whole other experience. As few cars dodging
around, through, all but over, no rules, it’s amazing. You either look
for a hole, or you make one, and it seems to work ! The
flight at only $US45, took just an hour, and that’s half way
I am back in The Sunshine Hotel again, tucked into a very nice room with a balcony over the swimming pool.
No sign of Jon. I guess he’s running around having his nails done for the wedding.
and is looking great, for the stress of a man getting married in a few
days. Mind you, he’s not big on feelings. Introduced me to
all his friends from O/S, fifteen flown in here for the wedding.
Interesting crew including, Tony fm. Auckland, ( in the gold business
) Jon’s brother Shea’s dad --- and his
interesting wife Sue, Dave and Stella fm. Rangeora,
Chch, Robin, fm. NZ, lives here like Jon with a
partner, and others. That night we all got in two taxies to the beach
and had some hilarious drinks, where I stepped into a hard to see water
feature, wet up to my crutch.( Well, you dry out so quick here ! ) Then
back to town to one of Jon’s favourite restaurants, ‘ 43 “. My food, a
ruined big fish was crap, worst meal in Asia
Next day, Tony and I
were to cycle early to Jon’s “ office “ at the beach and swim in the
sea, but Tony couldn’t get up ay. Dave, Stella and I cycled to the
market to buy material for a wedding shirt for me, and trousers for
Dave. Bought some lavender material at 150,ooo dong, = $9 !!
showed me how to get my Michael Jackson black trousers mended, so cycle
again to the tailors to be fitted for shirt and yes they could mend my
trousers, for free !!
That night, taxies to a lovely
fish restaurant right on the beach. Few drinks and beautiful
food. I had the little clams. Small meal, but not hungry, and was
lovely. ( good choice Jon ) Back home for the
earliest in bed at nine yet, great.
Hope to hear fm. Mrs. Hien of
The Danang Ass. Of Agent Orange Victims ( VAVA
) This morning to go there today. So, off to breakfast.
got a taxi to Da Nang, 35 Km. Ms Hien the President wasn’t
able to come as “had an important meeting “ so I met with the Vice
President Phan Thanh Tien . I said at the start I may be
interested in donating, so wanted to know what they did with the money.
He was a bit shifty at the start and kept asking me who told me to come
there. I edged around that then I blew my cover as hadn’t remembered I
had written Joel Osner’s name on the address page I had given him. He
said was it Joel , and I said he was a friend. So he was onto me ay.
We talked at length, They have five houses, three centres where The Victims come, and they spend six million dong.
asked him many times what % of the money goes to the people and what to
Administration, and could I see a balance sheet, as with most
businesses. Got no answer to the % one, but he said he would
send me a balance sheet. ( Somehow I would be surprised )
( I do
have some. credentials for this work as have had a lot to do with aid
programs in Africa, and not impressed with many )
Hien surprisingly turned up, a bit sheepishly. He would have told her
on the phone in Vietnamese that I knew Joel Osner, hence
I became a more important person, as Joel has had
words with them while trying to find out where his money was going, and
actually stopped the money.
She didn’t speak English so Mr Tien
He asked me how long I would be here and said that in
Monday he would take me to one of the three centres where they work
with the children I said our group would all be on a
tour of Da Nang that day and some of the others may want to come. So I
will set that up.
Am speaking to “ the boys “ now and one said he
would be too upset. I said, “ I have followed this American “ thing in
Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for two months and “ discovered “ that the
yanks had carpet bombed the Trail on Laos every nine
minutes, day and night for nine years in the name of democracy. The
most bombed country in all of the world wars.“ I said I
couldn’t be any more upset than studying that, and we need to know what
we do to these poor little countries.
Another hilarious dinner at the beach and home early to bed.
Barney, a very interesting man with us. Has been a gemstone dealer
living all over the world. His wife, an American, sounds even more
fascinating I met her at the wedding, and having a good talk to her she
works with natural medicine, acupuncture and even internal
massage, where you manipulate and shift the internal organs around. She
is a beautiful blonde, and quite lovely.
Now, I have been wondering
about the soil, between Da Nang and here since I came here. It is so
poor, growing nearly nothing. I decided it was either agent orange, or
desert. The victims people told me it wasn’t agent orange On the way
out I popped into a normal garden, and, sure enough it is almost pure
sand, hence no A. O. as jungle would never have grown there.
told me about these massive Tra Que Gardens I should see.
So, I set off on my bike, towards the beach and at the end of the paddy
fields a little road sneaks in to the right where there
acres of immaculate veggie gardens. Owned by the
government, people lease a plot ( I guess about 500 sq. mt. ) The best
kept gardens I have ever seen. With the heat here ,and fast growth, I
think a plot like that would support a family.
Home and Garry, Dave
and I biked to pick up our new wedding shirts. Mine too big but they
will take it in. Did a good job of mending my “ dancing pants “
was going to go to the wedding in my sandals, as is all I am carrying,
but it is all looking a bit flash so biked along to the Riker shop, and
for $40 bought a pair of those. Better to have had them made like the
other boys, as not perfect but, the wedding was to be in three hours !!
the wedding was a great affair ( not quite grand, but almost., )
outside a big restaurant, on the banks of the river, tables and decor
beautifully done. A meter high horse and phoenix carved out
of ice, standing dripping down into trays, with changing lights behind.
Tyna, all in white in a magnificent wedding dress looked like a princess. Jon, as charming and good host as ever.
a different wedding. They made up their own vows witch was charming.
Then the giving, a big part of local custom, ( I had asked Jon before
about presents, “ you give either gold, silver or money “ that was easy
for me ) Most of the guests, like me put money in an
envelope and handed it to a woman at a desk coming in Then one by one
her sisters ( nine I think ) came up and put a gold ring on her figure.
Also her one brother, aunts, and then the manager of the orphanage she
spent all her childhood in came up talked and presented another gold
ring. She was covered in them.
Then there were the speeches, short
apart from Dave, which was quite late so all the locals used that as
the opportunity to leave. Two dear old aunts came up and said goodbye
to me. That was touching.
Jon made special mention that Henry Hope had telegraphed to wish them well. ( He had asked me for Jon’s Ph. No.
it darkened, which is so often the case, here, it started to rain, so
we all shifted inside for a wonderful buffet dinner, and all along the
red wine was flowing into my glass.
By now, it was pouring with rain
and Garry Sue, Tony and a few others stumbled out into the
road and walked ( no taxis etc. allowed in this old
quarter) running into the only bar open and, would you
believe had more drinks. Tony was drinking this mixture of white rum
etc., etc! and he bought me one. Well I have to admit I was then quite
drunk. ( I rarely mix drinks )
No taxis, so we hopped on the back of the murderous motor bikes ( 17000 killed on / off them every year ! ) and made it home.
the morning, as I had promised , I took Sue on the bikes back out to “
The Tra Que Gardens. She loved it, knowing a few more plants
than me also.
We spotted a cooking class notice, went in talking to
the owner. It’s $us28 , where at eight am you do some gardening, pick
your veggies, cook them, then at twelve you sit down to table and eat
There were twelve elderly women and men tucking in around a
long table. They were all friends from Perth. They had just flown in
after taking the boat from Siem Reap, Cambodia, all the way down The
Mekong to Ho Chi Minh in a flash boat all supplied, calling into tiny
villages, really meeting the people for $NZ2000
That would be an amazing trip, would love to do it.
writing the rest of the afternoon, and it seems as I do get lost when I
write, the crowd have all gone out for dinner so will just pop across
the road to this wee café with quite good food and beer’s ok.
it’s closed, well Sunday night. So, turned right to walk towards town
and lo, two buildings on here’s another delightfully kinky little
restaurant. Tentatively looked in, an old lady peering at me, not the
usual young chick rushing up th welcome you, but I had a feeling, went
in , the old lady just stared at me, then the preverbal young lady
rushed up to offer me a seat.
Well, I had discovered a real dinkum
family business. They had it all written up at the front of the menu,
all the family’s names and they had started this and hoped we would
support them to make a l living. I had two beers and a nice little fish
hotpot with rice. A small meal but just right
So, for 119,ooo
$NZ7 a satisfying meal. I talked to the few other people there and they
found it just as delightful. Quite lovely and unique.
meters home and very early to bed as up with writings. Starting to make
a habit of early nights before nine, the second in two months !!
Just had an e-mail back from Friendly Travel in Hanoi about the trek at Sapa, sounds great.
Thank you very much for your booking at Friendly travel
We are very sorry about the internet trouble in Hanoi from, yesterday until this afternoon.
would like to send for you about the program to Sapa 3days/4 nights( 1
nights sleep at hotel, 1 night sleep at homestay) as attached file.
You please check email and confirm again for us exactly the day that you want to go and come back.
We will keep room in hotel, homestay in Sapa, train tickets also in advance.
We are looking forward to hearing from you soon!