FOOT LOOSE IN CULTURES
THE WONDER OF
EXPERIENCING VIETNAM, LAOS, CAMBODIA, THAILAND, & MYANMAR. JULY
to NOVEMBER 2014
On the ninth of July 2014 Henry and I dropped out of the sky, into Ho
Chi Minh City.
The first impression 0f this very different country is what looks like
a million motor bikes, snaking like rivers around the streets.
We soon grew to love this massive city, as so alive and wonderful night
life. Ten million people, 4,0000 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 mostly. If you make a mistake you must stand
perfectly still and the ‘river’ will sweep around you. I’m so active
and a bugger to run,which is very bad, but I learnt! The massive
permanent indoor market here is a sight to behold. I would get up at my
usual time of 6:00am, to see them chopping up animals of all
descriptions, live fish swimming in big basins and buckets, killing of
birds and setting up all manner of produce one could name. This massive
building must cover at least a hectare. I am always drawn to markets
worldwide, I guess as its where you see so many aspects of the culture.
Well, we have even set one up in Halswell, although a bit smaller!
Henry had quite a big job done on his teeth there and I a small one,
with varying results He was happy with his and I was not, and would not
have more work done there.
Henry and I ferreted out many interesting night venues, markets, food
stall streets, bars and clubs. One such was The Bitexco Tower, we had
seen this tower from all over town, a prominent landmark in the city.
We had heard about the Helicopter Bar on the 52nd floor.
A cheap taxi ride out there and up we went on the speed lift where the
view was amazing and music hot. You only have one beer there as highly
expensive ($NZ12 ! AS against fifty cents on the street ! ) to cover
Only ten o’clock so few people there but I could hear the music. It got
better and better so I just had to find the dance floor.
As so often no one was dancing but I couldn’t resist, so danced alone
in my crazy fashion.
I tried to encouraged the staff to dance with me to no avail, they were
astounded at this ‘old white fella’. The boss of the floor girl, asked
me how old I was and I said ‘only eighty two years young’ so she rushed
out to bring back the manager to watch the performance.
After that fun Henry and I ducked back down in the lift to find more
local life and excitement.
Not hard as just around the corner we found a dinky little bar called
‘Kim’s Tavern Bar’.
Well, so delightful, I soon found a girl who could dance and the night
was mine. I am still in touch with Han. I called her My” Saigon Girl”,
but she would always correct me and say she was my “ Mekong Girl” A lot
of the workers in Ho Chi Min City come from little farms on the vast
It took nearly a week to finish with the teeth. We then flew on to Da
Nang and taxi to Hoi An where Jon Webb lives with his lovely lady, they
are getting married on 31 August, which has fitted in with my trip.
Hoi An is a known tourist Mecca which puts me off a bit but still nice.
At 6:30am Henry, Jon, and I would cycle (free bikes at most hotels) to
“Jon’s office”, a little cafe right on the beach, drink the water out
of green coconuts (good), attend to computer work and swim in the
beautiful warm sea. Jon is back to his flat by ten to his domestic day
Henry and I did a great cycle tour outside the town seeing many
indigenous works, weaving lovely mats used in so many ways, two types
of boat building, one used on the beaches is like a big round basket.
Buffalo ploughing, the buffalo always fascinate me, and other crafts.
Lunch was on a bit of raised ground in a swamp in the middle of a
peanut field, with a family, totally indigenous, one of the best meals
I've had, just another unique experience.
Hoi An is a nice city, but a bit tame and middle class for me, as even
in NZ I prefer the back blocks and mountains or the opposite, the big
From Ho An. The 16 hour train trip to Hanoi we booked too late to get a
Fortunately I’m 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 but then moved into a much better
hotel, the Hanoi Blue Sky 2 Hotel, 34 Hong Go Street, Hoon Kiem, later
in the morning.
Hanoi is another big interesting big city, quieter I guess,as is more
Communist, but we managed to find the night life. Strange thing though
there are less motor bikes but many more cars, a very different
character to Ho Chin Minh. I met a lovely young Indian boy at the
hotel, who latched onto me and was a big help with my computer. He told
us about trekking at 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 these mountains to the north next to The Chinese border.
The highlight in Hanoi for me was the visit to the Ho Chi Museum where
in graphic terms and photos the story of the two wars between 1898 and
1974 is told. The Viet Nam people were colonised and brutalised first
by the French, followed by the Japanese,and then the Americans for
eighty years, until they won their own independence. The world didn’t
support them and they won out only through their own blood and tears.
Ho Chi Minh is my hero as, after all that, he / they won!.
I was so disappointed the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was closed on the five
days we were there. I believe they spirit him up to Russia to spruce
him up for the next season.
We had to travel fast to get Henry to see the country as he only had
three weeks. So next was a 31 hour bus ride, squashed in sleeping bunks
literally like sardines, all two layers of us. Again hard for dear old
Henry as he so tall. So out of Vietnam through the unique mountains of
Laos to Lung Pro Bang and our first sight of the mighty Mekong River.
This is a lovely laid back little town right on the banks of the river
(It’s honeymoon stuff). Quite a famous little back water. Film stars
come here to court their lovers.We had a boat ride up the river and
Henry, being a big swimmer, was keen to swim across the Mekong but
thankfully too sensible! I didn’t want to take him home in a box!
Another time would spend more time there, a great place to relax. Would
recommend this lovely place to anyone. I bought some favourite stones
that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Just a lovely place to “be”
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 we wanted to see the
country and experience the people.
After all that is why we are here. The first half of this trip is
winding tortuously through such picturesque, different mountains, from
a distance looking great to climb but closer, different to ours,
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’s mostly rice paddy fields with the same
road hugging a 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 but many on the road to the chagrin of
our horn tooting but competent driver.
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 me to part and he flew to Phnom Penh
where, after a few days he was to bus back to Ho Chi Minh getting his
teeth looked at again and flew on back home. I spent another two days
in Vientiane then caught the early “people’s slow bus” to Savannakhet.
Another eight hours of cultural experience mixing it with the locals.
The rickety bus was near empty at first but 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
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 no privacy, the women have to lift their
skirts on the side of the road
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
unsuccessfully to book on line. 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 pore
over to have their visas extended which fills the hotels up.
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, staggered in the pouring rain (there is tropical rain most
days in Laos, I believe it’s the monsoon) 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. BOMBED EVERY TWELVE MINUTES, DAY AND NIGHT FOR NINE YEARS and
good old Ho Chi Minh still won the war!!! The bombing wiped out whole
cultures . Every living thing was destroyed, whereas some were shifted
to the lowlands where they still died 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. How many of us knew or were ever told
any of this, a bit like our Maori history.
One of my biggest observations in Laos would be the number of ‘Wats’,
They are absolutely everywhere, dominating everything and taking up
hectares of land. It seems the poorer the country the bigger the hold
religion has. Their wealth is enormous and there are a lot of hungry
people and children on the streets though their parents still give 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, a 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 60 year old Irish expat, a character 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 I 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 and rice as far
as the eye can see and more of the sleek, dun colour cattle tied up or
loose along the road. This bus is even fuller than the last one but no
Seven hours in the bus and we arrive in Paskse 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 Paskse hotel. It’s a pretty posh hotel
costing NZ$28 a night with not a very good room but all else is great.
We get a massive breakfast from the restaurant on the roof above the
seventh floor with a view to die for across the spires of the temples
to 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 so I
stay where I am.
I’m 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. So far my fortified immune system is holding up and
that’s 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
my fingers crossed and still a bit fearful of the mosquito’s though.
The locals don’t even notice them.
I’m now writing from the only chic coffee café in Paskse (not a common
sight in Laos)
I am close to the Cambodian border now 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 well aware of rabies in these countries and many of the dogs just
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!
The bus from 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 joined by 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 the tiny motor and we set
of over this swirling, upwelling and eddying brown river but somehow we
made it to the island where he laid down the same rickety plank over
the mud for us to get off.
I 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 right
out over the swirling gurgling river. So lovely sitting watching it
struggling its way to the sea, it gives you the impression there's a
monster underneath protesting and making the water do the strangest
The next day I took a bike and wondered if I could make it in the heat
the 40km around the island. I started out not really intending to go
all the way but kept on going and made it all the way round. It was
really a bit much, especially as I got lost, but quite an achievement.
I stopped for more water just before a large puddle, putting the large
bottle in the front carrier. What with that weight in front, and my
giddiness I went flat into the red mud in front of the very amused
A kind lady from the tiny “shop” cleaned my bottle, so I sensibly
walked thru the mud and on my way. I the became totally lost, met a
lovely family on motor bikes when I was lying exhausted under a tiny
bush ( the only shade ) They put me on a motor bike and I precariously
held the bike out the side most of the way back to the village.
After booking a ticket on a bus to Siem Reap seven of us squeezed into
an even more suspect single hull dugout back to the mainland, which was
There, about twenty of us, squeezed into a little bus not much bigger
than our people movers, of course the locals are quite small so it was
Made it through the border, where I noticed this interesting young
Canadian woman, who I quite accidentally sat beside. We had a lot in
common and soon made friends, travelling all the rest of the way
It’s quite dry here, and just little workers shacks along the roadsides
after two hours we arrive in Stung Treng to change busses. We both had
read how 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 to
cross the Mekong again and catch a faster bus, (seven hours) Aimee and
I were told to wait for our slower bus (thirteen hours). Then they said
if we paid another $20 each we could get on the ferry to cross the
river for a faster bus. 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 vege lunch for $2 each. Then when they said if we paid $15,
we really got the message and said no. At last in desperation they said
$5 so we paid and jumped on a big crowded ferry and sailed across the
Mekong again. There we boarded a similar small bus where they decided I
needed to sit in the front beside the driver, they do revere age in
these countries. Already I see this county vastly different than Laos.
Back there is the classic small subsistence farming, 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
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. There
are no cattle at all here, though an abundance of grasses.
After two hours of this we come to flat land and as far as the eye can
see on both side of the road is what looks like rice for miles and nary
a house or shed to be seen except along the roadsides. There are many
cattle now and they are all white and bigger than the small brown Laos
ones but I soon notice they are mainly very poor and thin. I feel sure
they have a mineral deficiency as often 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 the driver was good it was scary. In the day they
toot the horn whenever approaching any oncoming vehicle. At night he
flicks the lights incessantly, now this works but many of the
approaching cars, especially the flash ones, don’t dip their lights. I
couldn’t see at all past them with people on bikes everywhere!!
We arrive in Siem Reap and are inundated by the usual tuk tuk 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 each
with a swimming pool.” We don’t believe him but he was right and for $2
more we were given the AC controller.
That night, with two German brothers we had teamed up with we found a
little street restaurant where good food was $2 and a glass of Angkor
beer 50c Then we found Pub Street. Wow, what a buzz in the Ankgor Bar I
shouted a few beers and the loud music across the road was
irresistible. I found Aimee could dance, it was very dark in the room
and so crowded but great fun. I got into my crazy dance and many women
wanted to dance with me, so I would have three at once. Aimee was
great, Stephan joined in. Too crowded so, Amiee and I moved off onto
the street still dancing and people were taking photos of us, then the
street kids started calling me Michael Jackson
Aimee and I headed home and the boys stayed to hopefully find girls.
Before, at the hotel the boys had said the idea was for four people to
hire a tuk tuk for the day , leave the hotel at 4-30 to be there to see
the sun rise through Ankgor Wat.
We did that and Ankgor Wat is as amazing as they say. I have photos to
The boys were going to stay for the full twelve hours 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 until they tired and we left.
In a few days Aimee left for Battambang where she was to teach Vipassna
meditation I’m sure we will keep in touch.
I left Siem Reap by bus seeing the countryside on a seven hour trip.
Such a difference from Laos where there’s small subsistence farming.
Looks like government (Communism) or corporate farming, massive scale,
and monoculture. 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 the 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, with them all on the sides of the infrequent roads.
It would seem only small workers homes too, as if they aren’t the
actual farmer’s houses.
The only big houses are when we hit a village.
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.
Phnom Penh, a big city, 2 ,000,000 people. It takes nearly hour to get
to the centre. A tuk tuk 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 for about $20. He takes me to “The
Safari Hotel “ bit dear at $25, but nice although no breakfast. I
straight away get out on the town looking for better priced places, but
as usually happens with me, it’s “you gets what you pays for “ so have
stayed here. Big bright airy room with balcony to street, AC, fridge,
and good WI fi.
The tuk tuk man who grabbed me at the bus, 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 murderers. 20,000 of them, mostly 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 treatment. Thinking perhaps they would be sent to a
slave work party but they were immediately put in covered trucks,
blindfolded, driven the eighteen kilometres (the same route I took) to
the killing fields. There they were put in a blacked out, sound proof
room, till night fall then taken out in groups; made to kneel on the
edge of massive pre dug hole in the ground and 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 the pit, often
with the mothers watching, before they too were killed. All because
they had some type of education, or even wore glasses.
All the while they played revolutionary music so loud that also with
the generator going the people and the 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
”Picasso’s War“ and his painting Guernica or any of the many genocides
in history, but this was worse as it was Cambodians torturing and
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, I 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 a trolly of 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 her trolley with mostly plastic bottles, tins and
cardboard, (we buy all our drinking water in these countries no such
thing as a glass at the tap), aren't we so lucky.
And then, the most interesting part was she gave the cook lady some
money, how great, a win win situation.
Also 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 but did helped me with some other minor problems,
again not wanting any money, so I gave the lad $5.00 they are such nice
people. Turned out I fixed it by re saving the story again from
Pricilla's email. The boy also installed Word and using that instead of
Pages the blue icons are not there anymore, success with the monster ay.
I’m just back from visiting the National Museum unfortunately not very
I’m being bitten a lot by mosquitoes; you sweat so much I guess the
repellent 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 I’m 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 it, 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
He lived through the Kramer Rouge (KM) as a boy. Said they didn’t kill
them all in that district, just starved and worked them 14 hours a day.
He 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 by 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
They were turned out of the family house and it was used as a hospital
for the KM. When the KM were pushed out by the Vietnamese they got the
house and farm back. He had an uncle and an 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
No1. 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 they also say 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 will do anything to
weaken it hence supporting Pol Pot.
The KM 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 KM 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 KM was a mixed blessing. While the KM were in power Phnom Penh was
totally deserted, as Pol Pot saw no need for cities, the land and
peasantry was all that mattered, so when the Vietnamese army moved in
they commandeered every car, motor bike and airplane in sight and sent
them back to Vietnam. They 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 borne diseases in the mud and swamps, further weakening the
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
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
They come in, cut all the trees, sell the timber, then walk away
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 Phnom 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
( 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 of his friendship with this “white
I had earlier found the night life that I enjoy down in the side
streets off The Mekong, finding a favourite bar, with lovely, naughty
young ladies where I had a ball. You would buy a lass a drink with your
own and pay for a whisky, which you soon found was lemonade etc! She
would stay with you, ( or if good looking enough, work several others!)
But of course I had to find one that would/ could dance. It was such
So this night I off out onto the heat of the night walking to the
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 to her what she wanted, sex and money.
Didn’t trust her at all so 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
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! Then 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 City 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 showed him the way..
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. I 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
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 Sky Tower and the” Gossip Bar” Both just around the corner
really. I soon found the Sky Tower, and wow, you are in the sky, thirty
floors up. Is very posh, and people in this 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.
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 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 on the spot. 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, then, 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 went for it. 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 ta bouncer asked me how old I was. I told him, “ only
eighty two years young“ 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 Bitex Tower where last
time here I met the gorgeous Han
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 a 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 hundreds 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 five 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
I will go back to The Chilli 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, to 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 of 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. He’s62, body not good 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
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.
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 am
pleased to see them.
The taxi to the airport is a whole other experience. As few cars
dodging around, through motor bikes, all but over them, no rules, it’s
amazing. You either look for a hole, or you make one, and it seems to
work ! The flight at only $45, 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
He arrived and is looking great, for the stress of a man getting
married in a few days.
Introduced me to all his friends from O/S, fifteen 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
we both 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. A
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 yet at nine , 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 t˙e 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 a year on them.
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 ) (It has never arrived !)
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
paying. 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 twelve 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 each lease a
plot ( I guess about 500 sq. mt. ) The best kept gardens I have ever
seen. With the heat here ,and fast growth. A plot like that would
support a family for food and income.
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 “Richer” shop, and for $40 bought a pair of shoes.
Better to have had them made like the other boys, as not perfect but,
the wedding was to be in three hours !!
So, the wedding was a great affair ( not quite grand, but almost., )
outside a big restaurant, on the banks of the river, tables and décor
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, the charming and good host as ever.
Quite a different wedding. They made up their own vows which 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 to us all, 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. ( Henry had asked me for Jon’s Ph. No.
As it darkened, it started to rain, which is so often the case here, 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
and I 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 would buy 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
We spotted a cooking class notice, went in talking to the owner. It’s
$US 28 , 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
for time 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
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 to 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 that
they had started this and hoped we would support them to make a living.
I had two beers and a nice little fish hotpot with rice. A small meal
but just right So, for 119 000 $NZ7 a satisfying meal. I talked to the
few other people there and they found it just as delightful. Quite
lovely and unique.
Twenty meters home and very early to bed as up writing. Starting to
make a habit of early nights before nine, the second in two months !!
Just had an e-mail back from Friendly Travel in Hanoi about the trek at
Sapa, sounds great.
Thank you very much for your booking at Friendly travel We are very
sorry about the internet trouble in Hanoi from, yesterday until this
We would like to send for you about the program to Sapa 3days/4 nights(
1 nights sleep at hotel, 1 night sleep at homestay) as attached file.
You please check email and confirm again for us exactly the day that
you want to go and come back.
We will keep room in hotel, homestay in Sapa, train tickets also in
We are looking forward to hearing from you soon!
Sales & Marketing
Hotline: +84 917510535
Quang Minh Trading Development & Investment Co., LTD Add: 47
Ngo Huyen st., Hoan Kiem Dist., Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: +84 4 6291 7903
Fax: +84 4 3938 0037
Thank you for the mail.
Could I stay longer in the village home stay and return later with
another group ? The one thing I don't have is tramping boots. I am
travelling in a very strong pair of “ Keen “ sandals, would they be all
Kind regards, Michael.
Well , Jon has decided to take us all to see the sights of Da Nang this
arvo So I can make my arrangements to leave for Hanoi. Walked across
the road to Vietnam Travel. Yesterday there was a flight for us$ 52
today it’s $107, next day the 4th it’s $62, at night it’s $48, so will
take the $62 at three pm,
I rang Mr Tien of VAVA. To say, “ I could be at his office at 10-30 on
Thursday, if he could take me to the centre to experience the wounded
children He said, “ Yes “ So will do that.
Was lucky enough to get Tony, ( Gold ), Barney ( Precious stones )and
Garry ( (You name it ) together to talk about stones. They thought my
stones are real.
We got onto USA. Vs. Russia. Putin. Interesting trio.
I asked Tony if I could have a personal talk with him about gold, so I
took him next door to my now little favourite restaurant to have what
was a very useful discussion.
He said, in relation to the what I see as inevitable melt
down---------------- ( Private Talk ) He loved the meal.
Bought my bus and plane ticket to Hanoi for the 4 th.at 2-30 Then
fourteen of us set of in a mini bus for the trip around Da Nang.
On the outskirts of Da Nang there five marble mountains. On the main
road there are many marble sculpture shops, where at the big one we
perused Quite amazing stuff. Then we drove through Da Nang city and on
around the cliffs up to the magnificent massive Buddha. Must be forty
m. high and one hell of a sight Many Vats and Temples , quite a village.
On the way down the hill we visited a unique, delightful art gallery
after walking up to this fairyland like collection of self built dinky
little houses. Tony had been before ,loved it and wanted to share it.
Then on inspecting the lovely city went on to a coffee café where we
had excellent coffee.
The idea then is to dally till dark as the lights are the big feature
of Da Nang Getting dusk and Jon took us for a lovely walk along the
river front past new most upmarket development with palatial new built
Getting dark and the lights start to show. Bridges ( five ) across the
river and lights wow.
First a massive ferris wheel framed behind a cable bridge also lit up.
Then The Dragon Bridge lights up, and almost every building a bevy of
lights. I have never seen the likes before. It is a known feature of Da
A great tour, thank you Jon and Tyna.
Driving home with much talk of real estate, ( many such people with us,
and of course Jon, )and back to Hoi An.
Many got off in town mainly too dine at Café 43. I talked The
Governors, Dave and Stella, Jade, Jordan and I into trying the little
restaurant nearby I found last night.
Ten fifteen, they all went to bed, I wandered into the Spar across the
road and had a delightful Vietnamese massage. Then wandered across the
road again to same restaurant.
Was closed but the massage couple rattled on the gate and the young
lady emerged and let me in.
I sat down with one more Saigon beer, she brought out a red dragon
fruit, ( never seen ) which is beautiful, ( grown away in the mountains
and expensive with freight ). They use them for the colour in
cocktails, but beautiful to eat. Was so appreciative of me bringing so
many people in. She has good English and told me the whole history of
the family’s journey. The obstacles these people survive ! It makes me
feel like a rich peasant in our so affluent country
Very sunny and hot today. Had some great swims in the pool with Garry
and Sue , the parents of Shea, who I was in USA with. I really enjoy
that couple, they are great craic.
I heard there were three young women teachers from Ho Chi Minh who also
had a lot to do with VAVA. Here. Made a point of meeting them and they
said, That “the money goes every which way ”. One VAVA place they
arrived at had a big flash Mercedes sitting outside the office”. Many
times, the stuff, needed for The Victims would all go missing through
the staff, but they said in a do-gooder way “ they are poor and they
need it “ That doesn’t cut ice for me!
Been having trouble sending e-mail. Got onto web based mail and at the
pool . Ian a teacher fm. Tasmania helped me get that system going,
great and thanks Ian.
Popped around the road to the tailor’s to get my new shirt taken in.
Had another wonderful massage. Will have the face massage after dinner.
An Edward Lunney and wife asked me where to have dinner and a drink. He
was sick. I showed them the “ I think you like “ restaurant and joined
them there.. Garry, Sue and Tom joined us as well. So good for the
I was so touched later when the girl patted me on the shoulder and said
my meal was free.
That’s appreciation, so nice.
Lunney’s wife has bad allergy’s, can’t have seaweed, but got Edward
interested and have e-mail
Dear old Tom, on about the charity he works for, nice for him, I’m sure
he is a help.
Had-a face massage. Strange experience, so had a look in the mirror to
see the difference, not sure what to look for !
Popped into my restaurant. Had a Saigon, said goodbye , writing and bed.
Hopped on bike to ATM for money and promptly got lost with no hotel
card. Stupid thing to do , as so easy to get lost. Found hotel by 7-30,
so time to pack, pay, and have breakfast.
The mini bus was doing a tour, and I was an add on, but he took me
right to the “VAVA”office, nice.
As with last time I was a bit wary of Mr Tien, and I think, he of me.
He seemed doubtful about taking me to The Centre, but I persisted and
he and I whipped off in a tiny taxi He said on the way that the
children were on holiday and I wouldn’t see many. Well what a
delightful surprise when we walked in, the classroom was brimming with
the children, their teachers, BA girls and an Indian man Ranjit
Dasgupta a director of ‘Harris Freeman Vietnam” and the benefactor of
the day, passing out gifts to the children.
He ( his company ) also has just built an clinic next door where they
are experimenting with detoxing THE DIOXIN with large dosses if niacin,
vitamins and sauna, with a doctor’s clinic beside. Mrs. Hien ran the
show and did a good job. Mr. Dasgupta was asked up to speak, and then
Ms. Hien asked me to speak. It was a real privilege to address those
kids, and how they responded. They rushed up and throw their arms
around me, and want to be cuddled.
These kids are too handicapped and poor to go to a normal school, so
these three centres are set up as schools for them.
It was so obvious, those kids have got a lot from VAVA. Does make you
The highlight of the visit was the acts and items the young people put
on up on the stage.
They had such fun expressing themselves. It was all I could do to not
get up and dance with them. I know how they would have loved it, this
old guy joining in , but I wasn’t sure it was approbate, esp as it was
Outside I drew Mr. Dasgupta aside and vented my fears without Joel’s
name about where the money is spent
He is adamant it mostly goes to the kids. He says he audits them each
time he comes.
He also told me about the “ Peace Village “ just out of Ho Chi Minh “ I
will keep in touch with Mr Dasgupta as he’s big in tea farming, and has
helped a lot of emerging countries with that.
They proudly showed me round the detox clinic, then we all squeezed
into a people mover back to the centre where Ms. Hien left us. Mr Tien
took me back to the office where I settled down with Wi-Fi and am
writing this, which brings me up to date.
By the way, Ms. Hien and especially Nr Tien, and me, are the best of
friends now ! I would so like this to be a legit charity, as would love
to be involved.
Half an hour and they will take me to the airport two km. Away.
A good flight of one hour into Hanoi. Taxi man got lost, took an hour,
but he got there.
Was like coming home, they all knew me at Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel 2, and
put me in the same old room Henry and I were in nearly two months ago.
I reckon his cigarette buts were still in the ash tray out on the
At night, did the same haunts we were familiar with.
Found it hard to find a suitable restaurant, so went to the expensive
one that we supported on it’s first night’s opening .
Up at six and on the computer. E-mailed Mr. Robert at Friendly Travel
He came here at nine. We talked about Sapa, he then took me on his
motor bike to look for a hat to cover my neck as forgot to pack mine.
The sun is vicious here and got my neck sunburnt and sore at Hoi An
with all the cycling.
Don’t think I’ll go on a motor bike again as so dangerous. I really
don’t know how they do it, though there’s seventeen thousand killed on
motor bikes, and several million hospitalised each year.
I was offered a ride to the Apple Shop today and refused it.
I haven’t been able to send my VERY LONG Travelogue so this morning,
down in the foyer,, every man and his dog has had a go to no avail I
have persisted and, well,, beat it, so will annoy you all with it !
Well, it’s not compulsory reading. ( There’s The Press ) Just watched
the tango on TV while writing, must learn. (Colombia won, of course ! )
Just got another e-mail from Mr. Robert as he knows The Ho Chi Minh
Mausoleum is a must for me tomorrow to say he does that plus the rest
of the town for $30 in a car, and $20 on a bike. Guess how many wheels
I have chosen ! ! Looking forward to that My little memento from Phnom
Phen arrived by mail from the lovely receptionists at “ Little Saigon
Corner Hotel in Ho Chi Minh. So nice of them.
On Sunday I have committed to do The Sapa trip .
I may stay in the villages longer
Wanting importantly to visit The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, I was easily
talked into a tour by Mr. Robert. When we get on the bus out tour
leader Mr Tom announced that The Mausoleum closed today for it’s three
months maintenance. ( Old Ho Chi needs a face lift ) I was naturally
brassed of as Robert must have known as I purposefully told him and
since refused another tour he has been trying to get me on.
The rest of the tour was good, if a few too many Temples and Vats for
Better get out on the town for food, beverage and the nightlife.
This has been a great trip / experience, though be good to be back home
Must find a different neck of the woods tonight, rather than the
touristy area that Henry and I frequented last time. So turned right
fm. The hotel this time. First corner on left , cute coffee café but no
beer, Across the road Saigon ( my favourite beer) 25—D. Not another
soul there and I remembered, Henry and I had coffee there and both
women were so sour., as they were again. Walked across to the 3rd
corner, two for one Hanoi beer for 30 D. Very friendly staff and lots
of people there. ( So, “ It pays to smile “ ) Sitting in the street on
a Saturday night. I don’t know how to express my feelings. As there’s
so much going on. I will try.
I found this little street that was all Cafes, then one with some
Heineken beer. The waitress chatted me up, a university lass wanting to
improve her English I think Mostly middle class family’s walking past
and you can’t help noticing how much they love their children. That is
a main impression of these three country’s.
Then ambled on to last night’s back street, to the low key but popular
street restaurant and, while having a Saigon I watched this phnonamen
Literally hundreds to thousands of well dressed mostly young people
purposefully walking past one way. Where were they going.
So, I followed “ the maddening crowd “
The crowd got thicker and thicker till their was no space right across
the road, but still motor bikes nuzzled through .
The throng didn’t really go anywhere, there were no nightclubs and a
few tiny bars, they were just being, the best way they knew, / could.
I see it as the a case of the “ wellspring “ of nature, ( what we’ve
lost, ) young people with little money, just enough to dress up, out
there, Saturday night, just being with their peers, laughing, having
fun, and perhaps find a lover.
Of course most of the people in these three countries have a lot, lot
less than than these kids ,and they wouldn’t be with this crowd, but
even they , laugh and smile most of the time
We, The West, have so much to learn from the past..
Another thing with the comparatively few cars in these countries, there
are no old ones.
They are very expensive with I think costing 100% tax. So people with
cars would be very wealthy. And there some very flash cars here.
The oldest cars here would have to be the taxies, from five to ten yrs.
Of course, it’s the same with houses
Twelve noon, stored my big bag here, and booked out.
Tried to find a nice coffee café with Wi-Fi, but all pretty grotty and
hot, so back in hotel foyer writing.
In all these big towns , above the sidewalk, hang a gaggle of up to
hundreds of both electric and telephone wires. All tangled together.
How there aren’t more fires I’ll never know.
Well , across the street I have just seen a vendor obviously without a
shop or permanent stand, with a long pole, hang many bird cages up on
those wires, the birds unaware creating a cacophony of sound, waiting
for new owners.
Stored my pack and computer bag and booked out of “Hanoi Blue Sky 2
Hotel to be picked up for the journey to Sapa.
In the two for one “ happy hour at “ Comga café bar on that corner I
met John Middleton from Melbourne a very interesting man. He is
interested in Lifeforce so we exchanged cards.
So, mini bus picked me up for the train Stn. And there’s the usual
frantic haste to get you on, only to languish waiting another half an
This was the start of my disappointment with “ Friendly Travel “ I was
booked in the lowest class sleeper, ( not told about an upgrade ) with
six in a berth, and I am on the top berth. A lovely French woman took
pity on “ this old man “ and swapped me for a middle, what a darling.
The train trip was something to remember ! It was like a roller coaster
lying on an inch thick mattress in the heat with ,as often the case a
Many didn’t sleep at all for the ten hours, but hardy “ old “ Mike
slept most of the way after an hour initial shock of this unique train
We arrived at Lo Cal; at around seven am and transferred to another
mini bus for the one hours trip up to sapa.
It was indeed, up, up all the way until at one thousand m. after
passing many colourfully clad traditional indigenous people on motor
bikes heading to start their tourist day, we arrived at the town of
Sapa, and were ushered in like a herd of sheep to register ( I must add
here, this is my first foray into the Tourist Tour type travel ) and
breakfast. The food was pretty common, not Hmong at all, but ok.
Then we were introduced to a little Black Hmong woman who took us on a
tour of Cat Cat and Sin Chai villages on the outskirts, showing us a
lot of the Hmong way of life,. An original house equipped with its own
stone corn grinder, rafters festooned with hanging drying corn cobs,
fire on the floor with no chimney, and the winter’s supply of sacks of
rice stacked in the loft. I asked about rats with the bags of rice and
Viet seemed to think they had none. In all the towns they are
everywhere. I was the only one who could work the grinder, being an old
We saw craft making, gardening, and my big interest on the trip, a lot
about ( after my questioning ) rice farming.
But the highlight of that tour for me was at the end Hmong dancing,
Now this was great, but I wasn’t prepared that this was the only
culture we were to see.
Now we had walked down hill for about three km, and knowing we had a
twelve km trek next day I wasn’t looking forward to all those steps up
hill, so accepted a motor bike taxi back up to the hotel.
Free time after that, so a rest and a walk around the village.
Next day the same guide gathered us up and at nine thirty, late I felt,
I had been up since six ) we, eight in a group set off walking on tar
seal ,for a fair while which seemed out of character for me. Long the
roadside were little quarry’s of a pure white rock full of mica. I
wonder what it is. There are whole mountains of it I see later.
Eventually we dived off the road into the wild stuff. Viet tried to
help me, but I wasn’t having a bar of it. If I needed help I shouldn’t
Soon we were experiencing what we came to see, the most charming views
you could wish.
First the mountains above, then what makes this place, and it’s mostly
about rice, and the way the people manage first, every inch of the flat
land with the patchwork of paddy fields, and then, the age old
sculptured patterns of the of the myriad of tiny terraces literally
wrapping themselves around the mountains. I don’t know of a prettier
From my questions it seems, there’s two main types of rise, wet rice,
grown in water, I think the main rice, then sticky rice (the most
favoured one ) grown on dry land, relying just on natural rainfall.
I studied all the processes,. Ploughing with buffalo, water, planting,
harvesting, with a little sickle like tool, laying it along the top of
the stubble to dry, then mostly by hand, beating the seed out into a
tub, or if more affluent, using a small machine, laying the seed on
blue tarpaulins to further dry, winnowing to separate the seed from the
chaff, and finally bagging and storing for the years food for the
Now I was puzzled why, as well as the guide about seven other aptly
garbed females, of all ages walked with us. One would latch onto you
being so nice. I asked my one was she paid and she said “no, she came
from a village even further on than our destination “and when asked how
she got to Sapa by nine o’clock that morning she said, “ walked,
leaving at four am “ They all had the traditional wicker baskets on
their backs, and it turned out they were only there to sell us their
traditional wares, which of course are in all the markets a lot
cheaper. I, as distinct from most, (youngsters on tight budgets )
bought some ,mostly for my grand kids, so I was hassled the most, (
there’s a saying in Indo china, some of us have A,T.M. Printed on our
I found out later these women were all Viet’s the guide’s relations.,
walking all that way just to sell us stuff.
Though the trip was good, Viet the guide didn’t show us much apart from
the questions mostly from me. There’s masses of rivers, water flowing
off these mountains and not enough being used for power generation,
lack of finance I think, so was pleased when we walked past a small
power station, funded by The Chinese I believe. The guide and the rest
just walked past as if it wasn’t there. I walked into the place, seeing
just one big generator and a spare one. The guide showed us bugger all,
I soon realised this is just ” all about money “ not us. Bit of a
I’m reading the brochure now as I edit this story and will enter the
names of rivers, and places Viet omitted to tell us about.
The power Stn. Was the start of The Muong Hoa Valley. We walked through
Y Linh Ho ( BLACK H’MONG ) The river is The Muong Hoa,
I read all the other names on the brochure before.
At about eight km. LAO CHI ( H”MONG )we stopped for lunch, I looked
around and no sign of any food, and the guide said it wasn’t ready
It was then the hangers on descended on us, plying us with things to
buy. As I said I bought some but I was the only one. The woman who had
latched onto me was bitterly disappointed I didn’t buy of her, but she
had nothing I liked for the kids. Then lo. After the selling frenzy, we
were taken down the stairs which were hard to see, where many previous
trekkers were feeding happily, no doubt after they had been seriously
harangued upstairs. The food was ok, but just the same. I found out
later the food comes in boxes from the same Summit Hotel back in Sappa.
Another four Km. And arrived at TA VAN ( DZAY ) our “ home stay. “ This
was the biggest disappointment for me. No one emerged to welcome, and
all evening the “ hosts “ didn’t emerge from the kitchen.
We were told by the guide we had to be here at five for chips, and
dinner at six, so of course we all bought beers from the cooler. The
chips dribbled out at about six then the meal not till seven thirty,
all the while us spending money.
Then the guide warned us we mustn’t go out or we could be killed by
marauding youths with big knives. I did all but laugh, and said loudly
“ so we stay here and spend our money
Earlier in the afternoon me and a lovely German couple who I really
liked teamed up to case out the town and see where to go after dinner.
After dinner I said “ her statements were a joke, and lets do as we
were going to and walk down, the fifty mts. To this kinky little bar to
see the village life. He would have, but his lovely partner was scared
out of her wits and said she would only go with a bigger group.
The others said they would go later so I waited for a while then went
on my own gaining the Buffalo Bar unscathed still with my life !
Now, this great little bar is too big a story to tell here, but I will
The proprietor of the bar Eddie, is married to Hanoi local lady,. They
have a little lad of sixteen months together who was sick in hospital
for weeks at birth. Eddie dotes on him.
The mascot of the place is a dingo dog called “ Lucky “, They built
this bar three years ago and have been battling with the locals since.
I will later tell you about an Australian I met in the village who
keeps out of it all but said, “ the locals gave Eddie the license to
build the bar, now they are petitioning and plotting to get rid of him “
I’s all about the trekkers money. Keeping them away from the bar and
staying in “ the homestay, so called “ I said to the trekkers, “ If
they made it more attractive, e.g.
introduced us to their culture, the reason I / we came here, a bit of
traditional music and at least a hello, of course we would want to stay
their and spend money with them“ The next thing, when the party livens
up a bit we see the first glimpse of our host as she comes out with a
bottle and tiny glasses with the traditional rice spirit firewater and
ply’s us. Being me I said loudly “ Oh it’s so lovely to meet our host”
We didn’t see anyone again though. By this time they had the group
settled in for the night. I found out from both Eddie and other
trekkers that exactly the same ritual happens at all the home stays,
which is what the village is all about.
So, back to Eddie. I can’t tell you all he said, or I may “be killed !
“ , but suffice to say there’s a big war going on between him and the
natives, and I can’t see Eddie winning..
He verified all I had surmised and a lot more. His opinion of course.
I spent a hundred thousand more dong on beers with him, and the craic
was great. He is a wonderful host the, opposite of the home stays and
as the night wore on the other nine, didn’t appear, I guess because of
the terror. Anyway the system worked for the home stays.
Well the highlight of the night, and possibly the Sapa trip was.
Eddie’s sixteen month little boy , who spent months in hospital with
his mum at birth and now is slight but very well., who of course is the
apple of his dad’s eye.
Also mum’s sister also was staying there with her three yr. Old little
Eddie’s music was pretty good for dancing. The wee boy wanted to play
with him, so he got up with him in his arms dancing around. The little
girl was hyped hanging onto his legs wanting to be part of the show.
Eddie sat down again with his guest and I just couldn’t help it I had
to dance. So, away me and the two babies went. I put on a hot show for
them and they loved it and in no time the little boy was copying me.
When I stopped for a breath, he kept trying to drag me back onto the
floor. Such a delight.
Three uninhibited human doings so enjoying each other . Sounds simple,
and it was, but what a blast.
The address :
“ LUCKYDAISY “
“ The Bamboo Bar “ Tavan Dzay 1, Sapa, LaoCai, Vietnam. Tel: +84
903475298 / 84 1296191831
Email : < firstname.lastname@example.org>
And “ The Buffalo House “ Renting.
They are also building the other beautiful house up the track on the
Eleven and I said goodbye, climbed the steep fifty meter concrete (
they love concrete ) path unacosted finding the place in total
blackness and the door locked. After banging twice on the barn like
door, a sleepy lad opened and I crept up the ladder to the loft and
snuck into bed amongst the snores.
Up at six, and still snoring abounded I crept out with my water bottle
determined to find out more about these mountain people which is why I
travel, not to be used as a tourist.
Down at The Bar, a lass was sweeping, but of course Eddie was nowhere
to be found.
I wandered around the little concrete road looking for Eddie’s small
rental house. People by now were stirring in the myriad of home stays
which all looked a lot better than ours.
I noticed a Caucasian man about his lovely house and chatted to him. He
is an Australian Andrew , married to a Vietnamese woman Lan, and they
have a small child.
They are : Andrew Cell : 0934 566 266 & : Lan, Cell : 0934 348
466 “ My Tra Homestay Dzay Village, Sapa,Lao Cai Email <email@example.com>
I must say at this point, he wants to stay well clear of “ The Eddie
affair “ I would be like him as I often say “ when in Rome, do as the
Roman’s do Three years ago he shifted the house from The Chinese border
and rebuilt it into a lovely place.
The house down stairs is immaculate and beautiful , with big fireplace,
( had to believe, but it gets cold in the winter, after all, we are at
1000 meters ) Upstairs are four little bedrooms and a bathroom, with
also a very large room where mattresses can be strewn.
He charges $5 a day, and local type meals can be supplied.
I got a lot of wonderful information from Andrew including he had not
seen a malaria or other disease in the four years of being there, and
doesn’t do anything for mosquitoes.
Nice guy and a good visit, learnt a lot.
Back to base for breakfast at eight, many of “ the young’uns “ still in
Eventually breakfast comes out. There’s coffee and two plates of under
cooked soppy pancakes with runny honey and that was breakfast. One was
enough for me. I don’t get as hungry as most as I have had my Body
balance ( liquid sea vegetables ) The two meagre plates are soon
devoured especially as I’m told that’s what the French have in the
morning. By the way we are, 5 French, 2 German 2 lovely Portuguese, and
me I Kiwi.
Our guide arrives, ( she lives nearby ) makes sure we all pay for the
beer, water etc. ( I find out later the owner of the homestay is her
brother ) and we pack up and leave. No host bide us goodbye, just an
interested little girl waves us away They are ready for the “next mob
of lucrative” sheep” to arrive at two o’clock .
Not far up the track when as usual I was leading while Viet waited for
the straggler sheep, Eddie called out “ Jack “ He was in the garden of
the other amazing house he had told me he was building, He said Jack as
was a joke between us as when I first met this “ hail fellow well met “
publican I just said I was Jack as of what importance was my name to
him. Different of course when I got to know him, and of course he knew
my name. It was clever as the guide wasn’t far behind me waiting for
the straggler sheep, and of course we wouldn’t want her to know we were
friends. I just said hello and walked on.. A waste of time as she knew
all about my escapade at The Buffalo Bar.
As distinct from the previous day when she was all over me, she never
said a word to me all day. This next six km. Of track is quite
gruelling, up and down and several times she tried to drop me on a hard
climb as I always follow behind the leader, finding it easier with my
age. When she saw I could keep up she stopped it. In fact I was
stronger than her up hill, but downhill she just skipped along like
mountain goat, real fast.
There were now several km of clay sidling through big bamboo forests
where at last I gained a stick which was great.
Why I hadn’t earlier was silly as with my unsteadiness the stick was
magic. I must buy two commercial ones.
We stopped in little shelters occasionally and the last one was next to
a water fall where some jumped in.
To shape my stick I but my hand into my bag to find my knife and the
sheath had come of it and I cut my finger which bleed profusely
As I was dripping it onto the ground hoping it would stop the guide
looked impassively on not offering to help, and a man I had never seen
gets out a first aid kit and proceeded to doctor it, first gauze then
tape which stopped the bleeding. Lovely man who I thanked profusely.
We then headed down a very steep clay hillside me following the guide
with her literally skipping down, (I must say she was like a fairy on
the down hill.) At the bottom we followed a concrete path on up to the
finish at GIANG TA CHI (RED DZAO ) Here we had the usual small noodle
soup ( instant ! ,how ethnic is that ,) Said goodbye to Viet the guide
and jumped on a bus for Sapa. ( Normally I would have tipped her, but
no., and no else one did, )
Two o’clock and back at the hotel we were able to have a shower, which
was well organised, and pick up the extra stuff we had stored.
Dinner was organised early for us leavers at four o’clock as the bus
leaves for the train for Sapa at five, so I just wandered on very sore
calves down the road to a coffee bar and back. To the hotel, perched on
the side of a mountain , as most of the town is and took photos of the
surrounding mountains seeing that they are the same dome shape as in
Laos, I guess the same chain extending away up here.
On the bus and a thrilling, if bloody dangerous ride all the way down
hill to Lao Cai.
The lovely German lass was terrified, and really angry, justify too, as
one time when he tried to pass a truck another one appeared in front of
us and he braked just in time. She was on the side that would have been
hit first too, but we would all have gone probably.
.Photos and a fond goodbye to The German couple who were on a later
I didn’t get their names but they have my card and am sure they will
I find the train Station and had the usual prompting to get aboard only
to have a half hour wait.
Well, I have never done a tour before, as always travelled solo or with
I guess I needn’t say I will be hard pushed to do “ a tour “again.
In the carriage I met a rugged young Dutch guy who when the train got
under way joined me in finding the dining car, he went one way and I
went the other. He won, It was so funny, “ The Dining Car “ Was a six
by eight foot compartment with one broken plastic chair which the
hospitable“ bar lady “ put me on and my companion was to sit on the
chilly bin which held all the drinks in ice.
We had a couple of cans each and good craic. The lady was ok with us
and joined in the fun. We killed a couple of hours by then also finding
an empty first class cabin and certainly decided we had done right not
upgrading at the cost of an extra $25.
My Very Friendly Travel Mr Robert had but me in a top bunk again ,but
as there was an empty one in the middle I bagged that. Way on down the
track I got a sharp prod in the side with “ you’ve got my bunk.” I
sleepily dragged myself up stairs and promptly went back to sleep
WE gained Hanoi at five, said goodbye to the Dutch chap, ( me and names
! ) and I got the taxi man down from 200,00 to 100,000 dong $5 and as
well as it turned out was a very short distance to my hotel.
Into my same good room with the balcony to the street. I washed my
travelling wardrobe, got on the computer, ( good to get mail from
Richard McDonald and travel agent Clinton Sangster about my Ticket No.
so I can now confirm my flight.
Lovely mail from Sue Webb and Marcus one of the German lads Aimee and I
met in Siem Reap.Seven is breakfast so that was nice.
Most of that day was taken up with writing. I have found a good bar /
coffee café where upstairs is delightful for writing, so I spend a lot
of time over a Vietnamese Coffee there writing
I also come here at night before dinner as it’s the same corner bar
below where they have a “ happy hour “ between five and nine where it’s
two for one Hanoi beer, which makes it around seventy cents, and the
service is great, they look after you. I first went to a bar across the
road where the service, or lack of is so bad have never been back.
At night I sit out on the pavement and watch the maelstrom of humanity
There’s a family virtually live on that corner at night. They have a
sugar crusher, but they mostly just “ be “
John, the manager here at “ Comga “ told me all about them. Mother, who
looks about the same age as some of the daughters, with almost the same
figure, has eight children. So the eight come and go, mostly of course
on motor bikes and the family dynamics are quiet delightful to watch,
which centres around the plethora of babies.
I have never seen babies so honoured and loved as on this trip..Not
sure if this extends to older children as I saw an older boy almost
pleading for attention with the same family recently. It’s so easy to
love babies. I know.
The menu here looks a bit limited so leaving after my two beers I went
to a quite classy place where I had eaten before only to find they had
no fish or duck, my favourites., so left and ambled back out to the
back street walking into a popular noodle bar where of course, no
English. They were watching a soccer game where Vietnam were beating
Myanmar. I got my message across and enjoyed a large noodle soup for
35,000 d. and a Hanoi beer for 15,000d, I just love those places where
the “ salt of the earth people eat / live.
Back at the hotel I was surprised to find that my I phone was in
Vietnamese. Then I found another iPhone in the other pocket in English
! Remembering picking up a phone of the table at Comga I realised it
must not have been mine. I had their ph. No. so rang getting John the
manager who had been so hospitable. It was his and he was
understandably relieved. He called round to pick it up and we had a
Today I mostly wrote ,and sorted out my flight home., as well as trying
to buy some walking sticks. Have got onto some which are supposed to be
sent round to the hotel but haven’t seen them yet. At $10 they must be
Talking to an English lad beside me here in the café. He has bought a
motor bike for $250 and is of to Sapa on it. He is here for a month and
says lots do that and then sell them.
He’s a braver man than me “ Gunger Din “
Another wonderful evening “ on the street “ starting at “ Comga Cafe/
Bar. My extended family, with babies, not here tonight, so my roving
camera eyes will have to find some other interesting human doings.
,Yes. Got talking to this interesting older ( 72 ! ) man sitting beside
me who was off to Sapa on the train tonight. A German and has had
restaurants in Germany and Goa in India for fifty years. We connected
on India and had good craic.
There’s The English boy apprehensively nosing his motor bike out into
the maelstrom, pack secured on the back. , heading to The Chinese
Border and Sapa. Don’t envy him.
John the manager, ( whose phone I found ) chatted me up and said he
could get me a iPhone 5S cheap.
This turned out to be $us600, no go. If I do want one at all would wait
for the 6 . Young people here are obsessed with new gadgets.
So, where to eat. Hadn’t had a lot of success at the normal main
street, so sneaked along the badly lit soul of the city like streets
and plonked myself down on the tiny red plastic chairs at my noodle
bar. ( Most things are smaller as they’re small people, and if it is
possible to be red it is, not just the red star, which is as prominent
as the US flag in most Americans front yard. ) to the acquiescence of
the locals who knew me by now I have never seen another white person or
tourist inside this place, so I’m a bit of a novelty here. Not a word
of English of course, and the man opposite decides I’m alright, and put
his hand on his heart first offering me his bottle of firewater. I wave
away so he gave me I shot glass of the stuff. I taste, and gesulate no.
Still with hand on heart he next has another small noodle soup put in
front of me. Since I left that, with his free hand he puts a big
croissant in front of me. All to no avail as one large soup is enough
for me. ( With The body balance I eat a lot less than others anyway. )
This went on all evening ,when he told the chef to do another large
soup. Just as well they understand sign language !
They love the fact that I love their basic food, pouring more chilies
and lime quarters in than even they do. They notice everything.
I hope my friend wasn’t heart broken when I left. You really see the
life of a society when dining at street level.
Up at 5-15, out on the balcony a very different sight. In daytime the
pavement is almost covered in motor bikes, with often another solid row
fronting up to the gutter, which means you are forced to walk on the
very busy road, literally taking your life in your hands. I have two
days to flying home and, have that feeling “ wow, I may make it out
alive, and in one piece “ Fingers crossed, And look sharp !! 5-30 am in
the street, not a bike to be seen on the pavement and few in transit, a
total empty space, almost weird.
And clean, men and women everywhere wielding the straw brooms getting
( Lots of trees in the streets )
The recycling system : All day long all the detritus is thrown into the
gutter, sometimes in heaps, or even plastic bags, but often random.
All day, but mostly at night people go round with push carts or even
bikes sorting and bagging the respective bottles, plastic cardboard
etc. You’ll see a bicycle beneath a mountain of plastic bags two to
three meters high. Love to know where they go and if they are council
or private, but feel they are private “entrepreneur” And the people
with the brooms, whether the adjoining business pay them or council ?
Anyway it was a delight to walk in this almost spotless space, a sight
most people wouldn’t see.
Six am and lots of the little eating places put out the myriad of tiny
red stools and condiments, ready for the influx of breakfast crowds.
I walk round the block through the poorer area, passing my noodle shop
where the same chefs are busily already thin slicing beef and chopping
Here too, in these grotty back streets it’s as clean as a whistle.
Whilst I dislike CNN, it keeps one up with the news away out here, but
then you wonder why you watch it, as nearly all bad. So glad I don’t
Just heard about the French Prison Hao Lo, so visited there today.
There the French colonists demolished a century old pottery village,
shifting the occupants to build their biggest, most secure prison to
hold, torture, and execute Vietnamese patriots. The most bizarre was
the guillotine, where the head would drop into container like a large
coal bucket, then be displayed hanging in a basket out on the streets
as a warning. That never stopped the resistance though. It was a
harrowing experience, but I guess one needs to know ( again ! ) what we
do to each other, us strange species.
That’s all for today, I think will leave my writing coffee café, to go
and have a lie down.
Would be about forty degrees. Thank god I farmed in a desert for so
long! Tonight, my last two Hanoi’s with the John at O nga.
He was going home for dinner, so he dropped me of at The Night market
to buy a present .
Just a lot of rubbish, so walked back. Jon not back, so walked to my
favourite noodle shop and had my last, Saigon and a soup. They know me
so just bring it out ! Felt like continuing my evening but was sensible
as flight tomorrow, and went to bed.
I wake up early when I have an early night, so out on the street at
five We just had a big, very loud thunder storm and the roads were wet.
At six thirty the traffic is building up and crash. I look round and
there’s a young lass under her motor bike.
She was pinned, so I lifted the bike off her. She was shaken and white,
but just drove of, embarrassed I guess. Bloody bikes !!
When I hear roosters crowing here, right in the middle off town ! I
always think of Jenny.
So looking out of my balcony yesterday I see the cocky rooster below,
and close by this fussy little bantam hen with six tiny chicks darting
about between the motor bikes.
This morning at six out walking I see her in a cage with the chicks so,
photographed them for Jenny.
Still wanting to buy the kids presents, the guy at reception said “ oh,
you can walk “ I had misgivings and was right. Certain streets are
downright suicidal, so I paid a dollar and taxied back. So sensible ay.
Paid up and won’t get fed until bout seven, so slipped round the back
street and had my last noodle soup. The same funny man who tried to
feed me with hand on heart was there, and so pleased to see me. Offered
me “ firewater “ but no, no.
Well, I’m almost surprised, I made it to the Hanoi Airport alive, out
of the motor bike jungle, after dodging thousands of missiles for three
The things we put ourselves through, but it was worth it. ( only
because I’m here now ! ) Spending my last 35,000 Dong on a tiny, black,
strong Vietnamese coffee. And that’s well worth the nearly $NZ2.
Well again, what an amazing few months, life will never be the same
again,, Lovely after three wonderful months immersed in three amazing
cultures flying home,
IT’S NOW LATE JUNE 2015 AND HAVING HAD MY LAPTOP STOLEN IN THAILAND I
STOPPED WRITING SO WILL NOW TRY TO REMEMBER AND PICK UP SOME THREADS OF
MY NEXT TWO MONTHS IN THE LAST OF THE FIVE INDO CHINA COUNTRIES,
THAILAND AND MAYANMAR ( BURMA)
Only home a few weeks when SE Asia beckoned me again My young friend
Mark was to be married to Somo in Northern Thailand, so he and I duly
set of on another journey.
Flying into Bangkok we stayed at his favourite little hotel near the
airport for the night, then caught an early flight on to Udon Thani
where Mark had already booked a large car and we drove the hour on to
Somo’s parent’s rice farm near Non Khai. The Somo’s live in a little
village, as most farmers do, with the rice land several kms. Away.
Being tired I just met the family and Mark drove me on to stay in a
hotel in the township of Non Kai with him driving back to stay with the
The hotel was a delight, a collection on tiny mostly one roomed
buildings snuggled among a natural forest with a raised pavilion in the
centre where you socialise, eat and gaze at the mighty Mekong River
oiling past. Interesting medium sized town with the main large indoor
markets very close., and lots of colourful boat restaurants bobbing
Next day Mark picked me up and took me back the the farm. The parents
Quiet dignified mother and exuberant fun loving father. He was
fascinated by me. He saw this old guy who didn’t “do “his age. We had
no language but he was all over me. We drove the several kms. Through
jungle second growth on rutted muddy tracks out to the farm where dad
had been working since six am, building a little lake for fish. The
whole family were there cutting rice so we all had a go at that and
laying it on top of the stubble to dry. Mark has bought some acres next
to the family land where he and Somo have planted food trees and intend
eventually to build a house.
Dad eventually arrived home late after us so I walked a few doors up
the road to this tiny store and bought more beers which we shared with
great gusto. Mother and Somo’s lovely sister then served up a great
Mark has a great love of The Thai people and I always felt he would end
up there. He had always wanted to help this family, and first bought
them a baby water buffalo and since paid for them to do up the house
turning it into a lovely place. Recently he financed a large trailer
for the farm. The farmers are quite poor ,living from hand to mouth and
don’t have much but I feel they are mostly much happier than many in
Back to town I soon found a kinky little bar which was great to dance
in. The woman owner and I got on well, the girls were great, and good
craic all round Well, not satisfied with that, while perusing other
hotels I allowed an attractive young woman to latch onto me. We
strolled back to my hotel, had a meal and chatted. She came back late
for me to take her out where I made the mistake of letting her into my
room as I changed. The room had two doors the spare one looking right
out to The Mekong. There was a curtain over the door and on leaving she
fussed around, as women do and obsessively checked the lock. We went
out the other door and on to my favourite bar.
She soon decided she was ill and wanted to walk to the All Night Store.
I went outside with her and the manager came to and decided to drive
her there in her motor bike. After she was driven back she stayed a
while and got on the phone and informed me she had to go away for a
short time and would soon be back to continue the evening with me. Of
course I was suspicious by then. Well about eleven I walked home and
noticed my Mac Laptop was missing, looked around and soon found the
bolt on the front door was open. She had obviously slipped the bolt
while pretending to check the door. Well, silly me, a classic clever
I had her phone no. so rang he but of course she veamently denied it.
Rang Mark who by then was joined by Somo and he was furious at me
letting the girl into my room, though he was “done” another time down
in Phuket. They took me to the police Stn. The police were very good,
traced the computer with the “finder” app. On it , but they were too
clever to turn it on to further trace it.
At my expense, esp. and as there was always an attractive young woman
cop around , they had a lot of fun about discussing in their
language“this old guy” being done by a young woman. I didn’t mind, as
all in good faith, they were a good lot, and it was all true, silly me.
Mark had more faith in the police than me, as I wouldn’t have gone to
them except I needed a police report for the insurance at home.
Well, the highlight of this three months was the wedding, best one yet
for me. We all were to arrive at eight am to lots of ritual.Mark and
Somo dressed in traditional Thai. A classic two wheeled tractor, with
driver walking behind steering it putted out front wired with loud Thai
music blaring while we all walked behind dancing and doing Thai things.
Then into the local What (church) to do The Buddhist thing, and on to
the wedding venue which was the whole street ribboned of and rows of
tables with white table cloths with a bottle of whisky centre piece on
Now for someone who makes it known he doesn’t start drinking until five
pm, one just had to start at nine am. Well, what a day, lashings of
incredible food, great company and one got used to having arm twisted
to drinking at nine am! The tables were cleared, and a band with
dancing girls arrived on a massive trailer for a dance floor. The music
was good so as usual the women started dancing. I of course couldn’t
resist and got into it. Well I danced from ten in the morning till
seven at night. As most men don’t dance in most countries I have been
in it was no different here so I would have three women in front and
two more poking me from behind to dance, and all this on a cobbled
street. Dad kept attacking me from behind wanting me to sit and drink
with him and “the boys” but was too much fun out there ay.
Back with another couple to their flash hotel where I had also shifted
to for convenience of travelling with them , where we had a night swim
in the lovely pool and bed.
Up early and away calling into the police stn, but no luck, so we on
back to the farm to say our goodbyes. The married couple and all us o/s
guests then drove the hour on to Udon Thani, the big airport town.There
we had a jolly evening together, bedded in our flash hotels (do love
the small kinky ones) got up very early as we were all getting on early
flights, married couple to honeymoon and some others on Ko Suomi
Island, me to Yangon in Myanmar, and the others every which way.
(Now having lost my computer in Thailand, and it’s eight months later,
I will nessasrally be brief about Myanmar )
While Yangon was no distance across fm. Here, I had to fly all the way
back to Bangkok to change planes and then on. Landed and jumped into
the proverbial Tuck tuck and on first impression the town wasn’t so
different. Took the drivers word in centre city and found a reasonable
hotel. Expensive for what it was @ $us25 I find the poorer countries
whack tourists whenever they can.
The visa only allows twenty one days in Myanmar so I had to move fast.
I had bought and read “ The Lady and The Peacock. The Life of Aung San
Suu Kyi “ so had a bit of a handle on the history. The elephant in the
room of course is the ruling Junta, which is so sad to experence. While
the people are lovely, they are kept so poor, living on $US2 a day,
whereas the generals might have a house in Paris and private jets. Say
no more, during the rest of my time there, this comes through all the
A few days in Yangon another big seething Asian city. Visited Aung
San’s house where she was imprisoned in, The famous Shwedagon Pagoda ,
I guess the main tourist thing here and then to find the night life.
Made a blank there so started looking north.
After a lot of bother, and several rickshaw trips to the railway stn. I
got a ticket north.
Like the rest of the populace I duly waited sitting on my bag over an
hour for the late train.It eventually clunked and hissed in where I
found my “first class” four berth cabin with a pull down bunk. Sharing
with with a Japanese US couple This was the most extraordinary
experience of my life. Worse than the North vietnamese one. The closest
description is a bucking horse as the whole carriage bucked up and down
and then sideways in a fashion as if it was trying to get rid of us.
How it didn't come of the rails I will never know. Once you got used it
and it stayed put, it became a unique experience.
The train follows the floor of The Irrawaddy basin, the rich fertile
food basket of Myanmar, which runs most of the length of the country
Around six hours later we arrived in Mandalay where I spent a few days
in the town and the surrounding countryside, studying the people,
farming and culture. ( It didn’t appear as romantic as the song )
Back on the bucking train and off north again. Still flat fertile
farming land, with never a tractor in sight, all traction done with
oxen. (Now, that is romantic )
The bucking horse! Eventually arrived in Magaumg, the end of the line
north. I found out late you could apply for a visa (which takes a week
to get ) to Putgo on the very northern tip of the country next to
China. You can only fly or walk, taking over a week as there are still
no formed roads. North West a road winds through Kachin where those
people are still a minority fighting The Junta for independence so a
definite no go area, though I met an intrepid woman in my hotel I
Yangon who said she biked down through that road from China .
Magaumg would be the highlight of my visit, a bit more rural and the
people more natural and friendly.
It still is on The Irrawaddy River, with vast markets on the banks with
most of the produce delivered by tail pole dugout boats from up and
down the water highway. I spent a lot of time hanging out there
watching the vibrancy of the seething masses.
I made the mistake of booking into a middle class hotel where the
people are “too important to fraternise with scruffy travellers” so
visited the YMCA Hostel where I should have stayed, as I met all sorts
of interesting people, local and travellers. Among them, a young couple
fm. NZ building and marketing wooden (bamboo) bikes. They introduced me
to others and we all went out to dinner. Next day my new friends drove
me away north up The Irrawaddy River where it forks East and West. On
up the West Fork we stopped at a little tourist place with restaurants
and cafes lining the banks set up on the pebbles. We all had a
delightful lunch there.
I mentioned you couldn't go farther North without a pre paid visa, but
the road East to China, beckons one. There’s no way as the whole of the
North East area belongs to The Karen people. I am as far North as I can
So, it’s back on that extrodanary train all the way back to Mandalay.
Second class this time, which is just a hard seat, and ok.
A night there and wanting to also go East to China if passible,back on
a bus (my least preferred mode of travel), and with two changes arrived
At the village near Lake Inlay.
This is a fascinating Lake where ply a myriad of pole tail dugouts that
mop up a similar number of tourists, and ply the length and breadth
thereof visiting the many floating islands where you are introduced to
as many eating places, workshops, and craft shops.
One I enjoyed as we watched the making to silver jewellery where I
bought a nice bracelet. Another I watched the making of a chopper right
out of a hunk of steel and bought it. It’s lovely to use in the
kitchen. I think it cost $ US7 Back to Mandalay and next day on the
bucking train” back to Yangon. I didn’t get to know this big town very
well and was happy as my twenty one days was actually a day over, to
get a taxi to the airport the next day.
After the busy bustle of successfully checking in (with my expired
visa!) and getting rid of my last few shekels on an expensive cup of
coffee, I gave a large sigh and thought. “ My God, I am on the way home
alive and un scathed after nearly five months in these amazing five
countries, teeming with people and motor bikes, and I only lost a
computer. Even with my giddiness with a thousand bikes tearing
literally inches past you, I have survived “. I have seriously always
said. “ Someone looks after me “ Almost a strange feeling ay. But it
again underlines that “ I must have more good to do on this planet ? ?
So,in a fairly small plane, we take off and the last sight of Yangon,
probably for ever, I see the shining turrets and spires of The
Shwedagon, and just pick out Aung San Kyi”s house.
A short flight and we land at Bangkok airport. A short time there and
away again. Now in more civilised airspace I get that wonderful
comfortable feeling of going home and some hours later we land in
Melbourne airport. I have no problem flying and sleep most of the way.
For some reason I always have a very long wait in Aust. Which is not
nice as am nearly home, and after all those experiences it feels a let
down hanging around there.
So it’s back in Christchurch at the good time of thee pm, but as
everyone is working, it’s a friendly shuttle home.
And, “ Oh to be home in my paradise of a place / home and country.
Wonderful fortunate New Zealand and me.
Aroha to that.
Please excuse any spelling etc mistakes as I am the main editor, (blame