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Written and edited by Michael Brosnan. 16/ 01 / 17

FOOT LOOSE IN CULTURES

JULY, 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.
 The 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 August).                           
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.
 
Ho 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.
 
Hanoi 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. 
 So, 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 BANG

Our 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.
 
Out 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.
 

VIENTIENE

On 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.
 

 SAVANNAKHET

Another 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 lovely people.
 
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 for here.
 
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 living thing.
It was called “THE CIAs SECRET WAR
  How many 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 health.
 
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.
 

PASKSE

Seven 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 notice.
 
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 much information!!
 

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.
Found 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
There 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 together.
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.
After 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.
Dark 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 REAP

We arrive in Siem Reap and are inundated by the usual tuck tuck chaps.
I 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
Then we 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.
Earlier, 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.
The 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.
I 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 Mekong )
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 persistent.
So, next day I hired him  to take me to “ The killing fields “ The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, and S 21 prison and torture chambers.
A bit like Angkor Watt, you could write a book on both, This is so sad it’s hard to write.
3,000,000 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,, Cambodians
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
Getting to 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.
This 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.
Just 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.
Sitting here 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.
They 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.
Pol 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.
Another 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.
Half 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 corporates.
They come in, cut all the trees, sell the timber, then walk away producing nothing.
He 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.
The vast lakes of slowly moving brown water over the paddy fields, is indeed a natural process of the annual flooding of the Mekong.
These 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 jealous.
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.
Was 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.
Met 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.

The 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 public.
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.
Quite  a 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.)
At 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 street.
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.
As 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 exabition.   
I wanted to take Shane to Tim’s Bar , near The Bitx Tower where last time here I met the gorgeous Han, Mekong Girl
 Shane 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
Shane 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 !
So, my next adventure. What a great universe it is. If you love it it sure does  “love you back “ Sky Bar, “here I come “
So, it’s 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.
He had 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
The 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.
The 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 up Vietnam.
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.     
He  arrived 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 !! 
Sue 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.
Well 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.
I 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 )
Later  Ms 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 translated.
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.
Met 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.
Barney 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 “
I 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 !!

WEDDING DAY.

So, 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.
Quite 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.
As 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.
In 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 them.
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.
Been 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.
Oh 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.
Twenty 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.
We 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!
Best regards!

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