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K-I-S-S-I-N-G 21 March 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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One of my Vietnamese friends has fallen in love with an Australian girl and he recently went to Sydney to visit her. Before he went, he came to see me for a chat, and I was teasing him, by saying

(his name) and (her name), sitting in a tree
Kay-eye-ess-ess-eye-en-gee!! (K-I-S-S-I-N-G)

He thought this was very funny, and I thought it would be a humourous insight into school yard teasing for him. He had a marvellous time, and he posted lots of photos on Facebook, for everyone to enjoy his time with him.

When he came back, I was so pleased for him, and I asked him; “How was your trip?”

He said: “Fantastic, I had such a good time!”

“Great! How was Sydney?”

He went bright red and said “there were a lot of trees everywhere.”

I was initially confused until he reminded me of the previous conversation. In other words, they had found plenty of opportunities for kissing! A gentlemen never kisses and tells, but he can indicate the number of trees he has encountered ūüėČ

Good on him.

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Only in Vietnam #15 16 March 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Life, only in Vietnam, Travelling, Vietnam.
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So, I ignored all warnings about the weather today, and by the time I reached the office, I was very cold.

But I love the Vietnamese – they are known for giving you all sorts of advice.

Today, a lady I have never seen or spoken to before came up to me and told me with a big smile that two layers for this kind of weather was certainly not enough, and I needed to be careful, because no matter how strong (or “healthy”) I was, I would get sick.

I received at least 3 more such comments along the 20 metres that I walk to get to my office from the motorbike.

Isn’t that just adorable, that the Vietnamese care enough about complete strangers to worry about their health!¬†I love this country. I love the people in my street. I am so lucky to be here.

UPDATE: two days later, all wrapped up in a jacket and wearing earmuffs, I see the same lady again, and she points, laughs, and exclaims “that is MUCH better!”

Footage 9 March 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Travelling, Travels, Vietnam.
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After seeing the footage one of my friends posted on YouTube of our recent trip, I have decided I need to take a personal cameraman with me wherever I go to document how awesome it was. See for yourself:

Ha Giang – lovelier, the second time around 8 March 2011

Posted by uggclogs in only in Vietnam, Travelling, Travels, Vietnam.
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I have, of course, completely stolen the above headline from my partner, who pointed out that it was indeed lovelier, the second time around. Which hard to believe, if you saw our reports on our original trip.

We were a group of six travellers this time, keen for adventure and the country side. We took an overnight sleeper bus to Ha Giang, which was actually not too bad, but sleeper buses designed for Vietnamese (where men are on average 22 cm shorter than me) is never going to be extremely comfortable.

Arriving in Ha Giang at 3 am, we had called ahead to a hotel and booked rooms, so we could sleep the rest of the morning in beds before getting started on the day.

Friday morning, we rented bikes, organised the appropriate licences required to travel in the region (as the Vietnamese like to know who is loitering in the border area with China) and set off into the mountains.

Unfortunately, it was raining and rather cold, and we soon also hit the mist which covered the mountains, so we were soon chilled to the bone. But riding through it was still beautiful and spectacular, with villages and mountains poking through the misty landscape. The roads were twisting and winding along the mountain passes, through valleys and onto mountain passes, with gigantic trucks and buses coming around corners in the mist.

On the first day we did not get very far, we stopped off at Tam Son for lunch (about 45 km), and then on to Yen Minh (another 44 km) for the night. I found the landscapes we passed through (when we could see further than 20 metres ahead) fascinating, and they varied almost per valley. Sometimes, they were dry and¬†wintry, other times green and lush, almost spring like. We’d pass through pine forest or leafy tropical forests with palm trees and birds¬†screeching¬†above.

On Saturday, we set off for Pho Bang (about 19 km), a traditional Chinese style village near the border of China, where we were received with smiles and waves. The local school also had just had a break, and we had a sticky beak into the class room when it resumed as the toddlers were reciting Vietnamese proverbs. They were so adorable! The landscape was yet again amazing, and you could practically see China from where we stood.

In Pho Bang, we stopped for a coffee, and watched the locals set up for a wedding. Everyone brought the tables and chairs from their houses, and there was a giant tarpaulin stretched right across the road for the revellers. The karaoke system was already installed before they had finished setting up the tent, so it looked like they were gearing up for a big party. The groom had gone early that morning to fetch his bride, so we did not get to congratulate them, and we needed to push on.

I was pleased to come across a game of Mah-Jong, too, clearly indicating that China and Chinese customs were not far away!

As we reached the turn off for the northernmost point of Vietnam, the group split up, with some going to Lung Cu (the northernmost point where there is a giant flag tower) and the others going to Sa Phin, where there is a restored mansion that used to belong to the Mong King which looked amazing. But just as I pulled up outside of the castle, I changed my mind and drove after the guys who went north.

It was a lovely drive, with amazing views, and apart from the fact that one of the guys had a small accident with his bike and came off it (slightly scraping his knee) and subsequently also had a flat tire, it was a beautiful side trip. I thought we would swing by the castle on the way home, however, due to the time lost to the accident and the tire, we chose a different route (which cut the distance to Dong Van in half) which I now thoroughly regret. I would have loved to see the Royal House! I thought I would get to do both, and I think if I had known that I would have to do either the flag tower or the royal house, I would have chosen the latter, especially as the mist shrouded the surrounding countryside, and we could hear the flag before we could see it as we were climbing the stairs.

On Sunday, we got up early to see the Dong Van market, which was still misty and smokey, but warmer than before. By the time we had explored the stalls and had some local pho, the sun came peaking through, and when we stepped on the bikes, it was almost warm!

We stopped off in Meo Vac for their markets as well, where we got to see all the beautiful ethnic minority people buying and selling their goods. It was intriguing to ride along the roads, where driving out of Dong Van all the minority peoples were walking towards you, heading to the town you had just left, and then, further on, they were all walking in the same direction as you, heading towards the town you were going to.

We also fit in the markets at Lung Phin, which are held every 6 days, and, luckily, we had worked out that they would also be on that Sunday. The locals were intrigued by our presence, and looked as much at us as we did at them. We soon headed back in the direction of Yen Minh, hoping to get there in good time.

Along the way on the last day, the mist had lifted, and we could truly see the landscapes that the north of Vietnam is famous for. All the peach blossoms were also out, and at one point, I came upon a mountain road where the clouds literally tumbled over the edge. You could see the movement of the clouds, rolling over the road, and I sat there, with my engine turned off, listening to the quiet and watching the marvellous picture nature was offering.

As we were all nicely warmed up, and driving through the mountains at ease, we managed to get to Yen Minh by lunch time! We had done 70 km in one morning! So we decided to get back to Tam Son, and then see if we wanted to keep going. In Tam Son, we were all doing so well, that we rode the entire rest of the journey back to Ha Giang (total of 170 km in one day!) to find some dinner there.

It was an exhausting day, but well worth the effort, because that meant that we did not need to leave early again the next morning to make it to the bus station.

Some of us went to a village near Ha Giang on Monday morning to have a look around, and were again pleased with what we found, riding along little paths, watching the locals go about their daily lives with their buffaloes.

When we arrived at the bus station, however, we were told the bus would not leave at 10am, as expected, but at 1pm. After trying to find a solution, everyone went to sit down, thinking we had a big wait ahead of us. I was a bit slow, and the guy in charge of the bus asked me whether we could wait until 1. I said no, we need to go now.

“Ok.” he says.

I just stand there, not knowing what he means.

“Hurry up, get on the bus. We will leave now.” He tells me.

He calls the driver over who is having a cigarette and a coffee.¬†“You need to leave immediately!”

So somehow, we got to go at 10am after all! We made it back to Hanoi tired, and happy, utterly pleased with the trip we had made. To anyone who wants to explore Vietnam by motorbike: do!

Three Castles and a Monastery 25 January 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Happiness, Travelling, Travels.
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As flights were delayed and cancelled all around Europe, we were worried that we would not be able to travel onwards from Warsaw. I was checking the weather forecasts (and the news about the Christmas tree in Japan being lit up with the electricity generated by an eel)¬†anxiously as we awoke on the Monday morning to snow twirling outside of the windows. We were in luck, however, both Warsaw and Munich airports seem to have heard of this winter phenomenon (“snow”) before, and neither one was seemingly having much trouble. Our flight ended up being only 30 minutes delayed.

We arrived in Munich after dark, and took the train to Marienplatz, where we had found a place to stay. The underground at Marienplatz was cold, grey, and uninviting, though not as cold as the weather had been in Poland. Yet stepping out onto the market square (albeit with suitcases hobbing along behind us) was like stepping into a Christmas romance. The Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) there is quite famous, and as we emerged from under ground, there were carollers lined up along the balcony of the Town Hall, singing. Fairy lights, Christmas decorations, sausage stands and other booths selling anything you might need at a Christmas market made us determined to drop off the bags as quickly as possible, and return to drink in the delights of European Christmas.

Image courtesy of the Internet

A most refreshing thing is that the Christmas markets seem to not only be filled with tourists like us, but the locals come out as well to try their hand at the famous gluhwein. Groups of smiling people gathering around standing tables with their real cups (upon return to the stand, you would receive a deposit back), all wrapped up in scarves and gloves, breathing frosty air and enjoying the Christmas spirit together.

Although I must admit that the gluhwein of Poland has a far more potent kick to it than the one in Germany, (who would have thought?) I never thought I could consume this much of it. But everywhere we went, it was a complete must, and we enjoyed letting our spectacles fog up from the cups containing the boiling liquid. For dinner? Currywurst with bread ordered in my most atrocious German. Currywurst is a famous (and delicious) sausage, which, it appears, also has a museum dedicated to it in Berlin. Let the sausage diet begin.

Bavaria has much to offer, but getting around is not easy. The “Romantic Road” is serviced by a number of tour bus companies in summer, but in winter, you are hard pressed to find one. Trains are available, but afford little or no flexibility in general. As we are terrible at deciding in advance what we wish to do on our holidays,¬†flexibility¬†is a must, so we rented a car.

We joined the Romantic Road towards the end of it (at Landsberg am Lech) where we had a break to look at the church and the town in general. Churches in Bavaria (mostly Catholic) are gilded with gold, and have fantastic frescoes. Most of them are open to the public, and shelter a weary traveller somewhat from the cold outside, although they are generally not heated.

From there, we went on to stay at Irseer Klosterbrau, which is an old monastery/ beer brewery which had been recommended to us. It is like stepping back in time, with the rooms entirely fashioned to look like (a modernised and idealised version of) the middle ages; think knights and maidens and eating meat and drinking beer in front of a fire. The beer brewed on site is fantastic, and served in huge steins, or beer mugs. This side trip alone made it totally worth it having the car!

The next day, we did as many castles as we could possibly stomach:

Hohenswangau, a castle built by Maximillian II near the Austrian border. We were taken on a highly efficient but fun tour through the rooms, by a very knowledgeable guide called Wolfgang.

Neuschwanstein, the unfinished castle started by Ludwig II, but stopped after his sudden (and suspicious) death. The famous Disney castle apparently was inspired by this castle. We missed out on going on a horse carriage on the way up to the castle, but we did catch one back down.

Linderhof, which we saw only after closing time, as getting there takes you into Austria, then back into Germany, and is a small mountain road with a lot of snow. Seeing the snow-covered mountains and the icy lakes was a serene and beautiful experience in itself, but driving a small car through them was exhausting. I haven’t done any winter driving for years, so it took a bit of getting used to, especially with giant trucks coming the other way. So getting there took longer than expected, but¬†I don’t think we could have processed the opulence of (yet another) castle had we been there before closing. Walking through the gardens was enough.

That evening we continued to Garmish-Partenkirchen, a mountain town that anyone who follows winter sports will be familiar with (at least by name): I spent every New Year’s Day of my youth with the television on in the back ground showing the annual ski-jumping contest.¬†Cue for more gluhwein, sausage,¬†Christmas¬†markets, cheese fondue, raclette and skiing!

And with that, we ended our Bavarian adventure, as we headed onwards into Austria the next day. Only half-way through our holidays, we were stoked that everything was so perfect!

Cabbage, Pork, Kitsch 8 January 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Happiness, Life, Travelling, Travels.
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Growing up in Western Europe, I was never really aware of what else was available on the continent. I mainly travelled to see countries for a reason, such as seeing family, going on a study abroad for High School, or on shopping trips to avoid insane prices. I have rarely been on a tourist trip of Europe.

Consequently, I had never been to Central or Eastern Europe. I had never ventured further east than Berlin, and that was in 2008, long after the wall fell. My mother had been east of the Iron Curtain when she was young, and raved about the countries and the peoples. But growing up during the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent large influxes of workers coming from the east during the summer months to earn as much over a summer picking strawberries as they did working normal jobs over the whole year, I was left with an image in my head of all these countries being cold, poor, and grey. I imagined bitter cold, long food stamp lines and miserable living.

Warsaw, however, has made a tremendous effort to dispel these notions over the weekend that we spent there. It is clearly a city on the way up – with a lifestyle becoming pretty similar to other small, Western European cities. It reminded me of Oslo in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, it was still cold! But it was not as poor or as grey as I had imagined it to be.

We stayed with friends who showed us around and took us to the unseen parts of Warsaw (the best way to see any city!), including a sampling of the the local foods (cabbage, sausage, hunks of meat, gluhwein, dumplings and more meat). And they showed us the sights.

It is a city with a gut-wrenching past which still permeates everyday life. I only vaguely remember my European history, and had to be reminded of all the atrocities that Warsaw has lived through, and it is hard to imagine where you would even start putting your life back together at the end of or at the midst of all that. Between the country being split up several times, then given away from one empire to the next, to a large part of the city serving as a ghetto during the Second World War where the Jewish population was first locked up, then murdered, to the Warsaw uprising resulting in the complete destruction of the city at the hands of the Nazis while their supposed saviours and allies, the Red Army, watched on from the other side of the river, to the Cold War. Where do you start to rebuild after all that?

Our friends took us to the place where the last remaining part of the ghetto wall is still standing. It is only about 10 metres long, and used to be part of the southern-most end of the wall. It now has a school yard next to it, and a plaque has been mounted which shows the city plan and the outline of the ghetto. Its location is harrowing, as it fully brings home how central the ghetto was. It was not an outlying suburb that was set aside for this purpose – it was a large part of central Warsaw. The actual remainder of the wall is surreal and underwhelming, as it is only about 2.5 metres tall. Standing back from it, you can clearly see the buildings surrounding the area, and if you had lived in one of the buildings inside the ghetto, you could have easily seen life outside go by from a second or third storey window. The fact that this is the wall that encircled and entrapped so many people, is unfathomable.

We went across the river Vistula to Praga, where the old Brodno Jewish cemetery is. It was entirely destroyed during the Second World War, and now, the grave stones (called Macewas) are basically piled up in large heaps. Macewas made from precious materials such as marble were sent off to Germany to be used for building projects. Sadly, there are few Jewish families remaining in Warsaw, so there is no one left to care for the cemetery, or to fight for restoration or commemoration. When we were there, snow covered the ground, and the birch and fir trees that have grown in the cemetery since the war added to the desolate and lonely feel of the place.

We went to the Warsaw Rising Museum, which tells the history of the uprising in 1944 against the Nazis. The Poles knew that the Soviet Red Army were closing in, so they staged an uprising, in the belief that victory would only take a couple of days. Instead, it lasted for almost two months before the Poles had to surrender. The Nazis subsequently set about systematically tearing down the remaining city block by block, destroying more than 85% of the buildings.

Yet after the war, even though the entire city was rubble, somehow, the Warsawians picked up the pieces, and rebuilt the city, brick by brick. Literally. Using old photographs and paintings, they reconstructed the city as it was. And they managed to rebuild the city to be believable, quaint, beautiful and historic. To think that at the old market square, where we enjoyed the Christmas market stalls and the surrounding buildings, have actually all but one (one miraculously remained standing) been rebuilt since 1945 is hard to understand.

The tenacity of such a feat is beyond me, yet it seems to be reflected in the Poles; they are serious, somewhat hardened people, and they give off the impression that they are not people that give up easily. And, if I were to generalise grossly after only being in the city for three days, they seem inflexible, stern, worn and tired, not overly friendly to foreigners in general, but they are reliable and earnest, hard-working and aiming for a better life.¬†At every turn, there is a nation moving forward, yet the past is evident everywhere. Great sadness can be read in the people’s faces, as they struggle onwards.

Modernity has now come with shops, malls, cafes and coffee shops littering the city, which was to great benefit for us, as we needed regular rewarming beverages (including potent gluhwein, hot chocolate, coffee, tea, you name it) to prevent us from freezing to the bone. The locals also subscribe to this outlook, with one of my favourite moments being had in a cafe at the base of the Cultural Palace where, while drinking gluhwein, I noticed that the two young men at the table next to us had two cups of tea, two shots of Vodka and one other unidentified alcoholic beverage, which they casually knocked back before slinging their hunting rifles back over their shoulders and strolling out into the cold rugged up and looking like they were heading off to hunt.

After so much history and sadness, we also tried to fit in something a little more lighthearted. On our last day, we went to a second hand market out in the suburbs which I absolutely loved. It was a second hand goods paradise: old clocks, silverware, toys, books, military memorabilia, kitsch and rubbish. I am so glad I do not live in Poland, or I would have bought so much stuff! In particular, I fell in love with a little old rocking horse made of wood, precariously placed on top of a pile of snow, ready to be sold off. It was a gorgeous piece which would never have fit comfortably in my luggage.

So, after a lovely rest and seeing our first snowfall bucket down over Warsaw, we were ready to face our Christmas holiday head on, collars turned up against the cold.

Hoo-Ha Explained 16 November 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, Travelling, Travels, Vietnam.
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Yesterday’s post caused a bit of a ruffling of some feathers, which was completely unintentional!

The post was meant as two things:

1) I discovered this other city, called HCMC, in Vietnam, and I liked it.

and

2) I am still incredibly happy to live in Hanoi, because it has given me so much.

I am surprised that people read it as a big ol’ whinge from an expat. Yes, I admitted to finding Hanoi difficult to deal with sometimes. However, I put this down to what someone told me on one of my first days in Hanoi:

Hanoi will be the same every single day, the only thing that changes is how well you deal with it.

Yes, I am spoilt here.

Yes, there are aspects of my life now (travel, standard of living, etc.) that are far better than before.

But yes, there are still things that I find difficult, too. BUT that is part of the adventure, part of the experience. I did not mean to complain. I am blessed and thrilled to be here.

 

Saigon oi! 15 November 2010

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After almost two and a half years in this lovely country of Vietnam, I have finally made it to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time. Not going earlier was not by design, I just thought it was one of those places that I would probably end up visiting often, so I never made the concerted effort. But being in my last year now, I realise that time is running out! So when my partner had to go down for work, last week, we tagged on a weekend to see the city that all my friends have told me I need to go see.

And what a fantastic city it is!

We chose the perfect time of year to go – Hanoi is slowly getting colder and more misty, and the annual rice stalk burning outside of the city recently left it in a haze of pollution. It is the time of year I am always struggling, I can’t breathe, my skin feels greasy and clogged, and there is a layer of dirt on everything. Rain cannot come soon enough to clear the air.

In contrast, Ho Chi Minh City proffered amazing weather, including 27 degrees, sunny skies, and visibility going for miles. It flirted with us in an outrageous manner, offering one-day-old Australian newspapers, little coffee shops and bars with tasteful interiors, friendly locals and amazing hospitality.

Ho Chi Minh City is the easy life – for an expat who doesn’t really want to live in Asia, it is the perfect option. There are cricket and AFL teams in abundance, everyone seems to have amazing English, and in District 1, there are more Western faces than locals.

However, based on all of the latter, I am glad we are living in Hanoi at this stage of our lives. No kids, still young, happy to try slightly crazy stuff. I love the fact that I have been forced to learn the language more than I would have in Saigon. I love the crazy, sometimes smelly and dirty, but more often than not challenging, adventurous and amazing city I live in.

But it is true that my personal experience (and I am sure many others do not agree) is that to survive Hanoi and it’s ups and downs, I have sometimes felt the need to leave, even just for a weekend. A break from the hassle. An easy weekend, where I feel I am not challenging myself. Lazy, perhaps, but true.

I am sure there are lots of parts in Ho Chi Minh City that would have been plenty challenging. I only went for the weekend, and two days is by no means enough to even get a feel for the city. We mostly saw District 1 and some of District 5. We saw some sights and we did some shopping. We hung out with friends we had not seen for a while. We enjoyed the food. So a lovely  little escape it was.

Saigon almost felt like Bangkok’s little kid brother. Easy, fun, entertaining. But small, and manageable. Worth the visit, and I certainly hope to be back to see more of this amazing city. I did not even scratch the surface.

And after a weekend of trying my best at understanding the Southern accent, I feel I speak better Northern. How odd.

Ba Vi 25 October 2010

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Early October, we jumped on our motorbikes and rode to Ba Vi – one of the places I really wanted to see before leaving Vietnam.

Ba Vi is close enough to Hanoi (50 km) to go there on a day trip if you’re keen, or spend one night if you take it easy.¬†I had invested in a new¬†Karibon mask (a must) and strapped the backpack to the back of my bike (yay 60 cent¬†bungee¬†chords), picked up a new helmet for my partner, and together with two other friends started out on our little adventure.

Riding along the Red River going inland, I love the smells of rural Vietnam. Cow patties, freshly cut grass and rice plants, burning piles of hay and dust. Loads and loads of dust. On the way we stopped by a random little shrine, where General Giap had planted a tree some years ago (1997?) and where the caretaker was stoked to show us around, as I don’t think he received many visitors.

We stayed at this gorgeous resort close to Ba Vi where we could wallow in serene, quiet surroundings (or so we thought) and discover the countryside. After lunch and checking in, we drove up to the top of the Ba Vi mountain. Ba Vi means three peaks, so as the name suggests, it is actually one mountain with three peaks.

There are many peaks in [the Ba Vi Mountain] range, but the most famous one is¬†TŠļ£n Vi√™n Peak. TŠļ£n Vi√™n Mountain is 1,281 m high. In¬†Vietnamese mythology, this mountain is the home of S∆°n Tinh, the mountain god. However, the highest mountain in this range is Vua Peak (or Emperor Peak), which is 1296 m in elevation.

You can ride your motorbike only so far up the mountain, rising through the mist while the air noticeably gets cooler, the road becomes narrower, and moss seems to cover just about everything. Then, if you are keen, you can walk the 770 steps to the temple dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, which is at the top of the peak called Vua.

At the top, we did not have much of a view, as the entire peak was shrouded in mist, but you could see down along the mountainside to the foot of the mountain, where you could make out just how high we had climbed.

Going back down was fun, and as we entered the valley beneath, we stopped at a local shop selling Kem Karamen, one of the many delights Ba Vi is famous for. Ba Vi produces loads of milk, and the Kem Karamen (Caramel Pudding) was sold in tiny tubs for 3000 dong per serving (that would be around 15 cents). We went completely overboard, and ordered a pack of 12 (after already eating one each) to bring back to the hotel.

At the hotel we had the pleasure of eating dinner through the deafening karaoke (so loud that we could barely hear each other talk across the table) and the dubious conga line dancing around the bonfire. And then, as we were giggling through the wine we had brought, shouting at each other, the most lovely gesture: the man who was sitting at the table next to ours with his wife and three young sons had ordered too much food, so he gave us the last course for free, seeing that they could not eat it anyway.

In many ways this is absolutely typical for Vietnam. The complete hospitality and generosity on the part of the locals blows me away every time. We invited him to have a glass of wine with us, which he accepted, knocking it back in true Vietnamese fashion (it is 100% or nothing!) with us doing our best to emulate his efforts.

We whittled away the last remaining hours of the day sitting on the balcony of our bungalow, playing cards and drinking wine, eating Kem Karamen (yes, all 12 of them between the four of us) and laughing until my tummy hurt.

The next day, we went for a drive to find lunch, as we had pretty much exhausted the menu at the hotel by then. We had seen some¬†beautiful¬†placed buildings along a lake at the bottom of the Ba Vi mountains, so we returned there to find something. Entering the ‘park’, however, was surreal.

The first people we spoke to were less than helpful, only asking whether we had paid entry tickets to the park (which we had) and then waving us on indicating that there was food further down the track. Then, pulling up outside a building, a man emerged who started screaming. He was literally yelling, telling us that there was food on the premises. My partner explained that our friends are vegetarian, and that we wanted to know what dishes there were that were vegetarian.

Still yelling, he screams; “We have rice…” counting on one finger, then counting the second: “and vegetables!”

I am giggling, as I am not sure why he is still yelling, perhaps an interesting strategy to make the foreigners understand.

Then he launches into a tirade about how he could not understand foreigners that go travelling, yet only eat vegetarian food. We thought it best to just turn around and get out of there, as crazy yelling man would not let up, and none of us could keep a straight face anymore.

Going further into the park, though, and seeing it up close was incredibly eerie – as what looked from afar as a beautiful park was in fact an abandoned, rusty, and fading theme park. Rides that had not been running for years, and pools that had completely clogged up with algae.

At one point, the friends we were with started imagining that we were in a horror movie, and that the gigantic aviary with the hole in the concrete at the bottom which I stumbled upon actually used to contain rabid monkeys which were now roaming the forests.

According to his vivid imagination, The Crazy Screaming Man had actually been trying to warn us from the impending doom, which we had ignored. Me driving at the back of the group would have made me the easy first target, as no one would notice that I would have been missing until it was too late. Then my partner would be attacked and pulled off his bike, as he was also riding alone.

Eventually, one of our friends would be able to make it out of the park alive, with the help of Crazy Screaming Man, to tell the tale…

Back to reality, we ended up leaving the park without any lunch, so we stopped by our Kem Karamen lady and bought some more (sickening, I know, but man, they were good!) which held us over until we reached Son Tay where we ate tomato tofu to our heart’s content. I don’t think the sales woman had ever seen such appetite for tofu before!

Oh yes, we had a most excellent trip.

Hoi An, take 2 27 August 2010

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Hoi An was the first place in Vietnam outside of Hanoi that I visited (for holidays anyways) back in 2008 after we first arrived. It was an amazing experience, I am still pinching myself when I reread my email home (rewritten as a blog post here) with the amazing experience that we had.

I am about to board a plane to go there again, two years later, and I cannot wait to see what it has to offer this time. I expect no dragon dancing or crazy crowds, as it will not be the Autumn festival while I am there, but I am sure I will manage to find some other attraction in this beautiful place. More blog posts after the trip.