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A big thank you from everyone to Yen Dao and Thao Tran for organising a great holiday. Thank you to Tracey for keeping a diary and for everyone who took photos and allowed me to scan them in (Sarah and I didn't have a camera!).
Day 1: Friday 18/01/02
Holiday makers make their own way to Sydney Airport. Ray, Natalie, Tracey and Craig hire a car, Yen, Andrew and Anna Thanh get a lift with Yen's brother, Thao and David fly up and Sarah and myself drive Sarah's car. No dramas apart from a luggage contents reshuffle by Yen and Andrew at check in - everything worked out fine (this is where we discovered that you need a lot of stuff when you travel with a baby.) Bought some alcohol at the duty free shop and had a few celebratory Drambuie night caps (courtesy of Ray) after take off.
Day 2: Saturday 19/01/02
Arrived at Bangkok International Airport at 0600, the earliest we would ever be up the whole trip. Enjoyed the first whiffs of the unforgettable smell of Asia just after stepping out of the door of the plane.
Met the tourist guides (Thanh and Paul) and jumped on the big red bus to go to check into the Bangkok Palace.
Went swimming at the hotel, had a look at the surrounding street markets and I dropped into a barbers shop for a international haircut - $3 which included a neck and head massage, I'm trying to introduce the concept/pricing at the local barbers.
Went shopping in the afternoon - holiday budget already in jeopardy. In the evening went to the infamous Pattong Road, under the leadership of Ray Skinner. Went to a piano bar and had a few drinks - came this ' ' close to getting the excellent cover band to crank out some Neil Diamond.
Caught Tuk Tuks (three wheel motorised taxi) back to the hotel, Ray, Nat and Craig in one, Sarah, Tracey and me in the other. Offered to pay the driver double if we got back to the hotel before the opposing Tuk Tuk, those things hammer (even on two wheels around the corners). Unfortunately we had an unlucky break with the traffic and Rays' team came in first, even though we weren't racing.
Christened the party room with Drambuis and Frangelico (courtesy of Craig).
Day 3: Sunday 20/01/02:
Early morning, breakfast and then off Pattaya (1.5 hours south of Bangkok) via some temples, the Grand Palace, a river trip and a crocodile farm (apparently animal liberation hasn't got much of a chapter in Thailand). Saw some guys do crazy stuff (putting their heads in open jaws) with big crocs, these guys made Crocodile Dundee look like an actor! They must have been drugged or something.
We also met the other half of the tour group that we shared the bus with on the tour around Thailand. They were from Brisbane and Melbourne in Australia and were also heading off to Vietnam after the tour.
Checked into the Century Hotel. Went out to dinner and saw a magic show then went for a walk around the open bars in Pattaya. Christened the party room again.
Day 4: Monday 21/01/02
Early start again, breakfast at the hotel then whisked off in the bus (15 minute bus ride as opposed to a 5 minute walk) to the beach, jumped on a boat and went out to the islands and pontoons for some parasailing. Parasailing was an experience, $15 for a hair raising tow behind one of about 30 ski boats - if you look in the photos you can see the quality of the old nylon rope, some of which had big knots at random intervals. Tried not to think about the background of the knots. In one instance a small child (less than 10 years old) was hooked up and one of the attendants went up with him (unsecured - he kind of sat on the ropes above him) to make sure he didn't fall out!!
Tracey almost went over the edge of the pontoon when here parasail didn't inflate properly and the boat took off. Face plant followed by a slide towards the edge, fortunately the boat stopped in time for her to recover.
Went out to a beach and relaxed for a few hours, did some snorkeling, Showed the locals how to make a loud noise with some dry ice (they were using it to keep the drinks cool) and a plastic coke bottle. Just after I screwed the cap on the thought did cross my mind that it might not have been a good idea - anyway woke up a few tourists and got the guy who sold me the dry ice in deep shit from his manager. Next thing I know a official looking guy was walking down the beach towards me - turns out that he wanted to sell me some rifles and hand guns - had to decline.
In the afternoon went to some more zoos. Saw an interesting elephant show where they actually had elephants playing soccer with this HUGE soccer ball - they were doing big drop kicks using their trunks to hold and drop the ball. A few times the ball went into the audience, madness. I don't normally enjoy animal shows but it looked like the elephants were actually having fun - sounds crazy but it's that kind of place.
That night when out to see "Alcaza - The most Hilarious show on Earth" (for all the wrong reasons) - great costumes and good looking girls. I thought one might have been a transvestite, turns out the whole show had changed teams!
Later that evening went out and ended up checking out the seedy underbelly of Thailand - interesting.
Day 5: Tuesday 22/01/02
We were scheduled to go back to Bangkok but managed to convince the group that Pattaya was the place to be - tour guides did a great job of reorganising the whole show and we stayed for one more night - thanks Thanh and Paul.
Had a sleep in and went to Greg's kitchen for continental brekky (that is no rice, no fish and no bok choy! - the novelty can wear off). After lunch Ray, Craig and myself hired some scooters, had to get used to them before we took the girls for a ride - the downside being we had to some unhindered sight seeing.
I got taken to the cleaners at the fuel station, Ray and Craig FILLED their bikes up for 40 bhat, the guy who filled mine up wanted 80 bhat for half a tank! (that's 4 times the normal rate). Now I don't mind a bit of charity, and I know it was only 4 bucks, but I was trying to make a point to the guy that its not good to blatantly rip off tourists - the prick wouldn't budge, Ray and Craig were laughing, I was laughing the guy was laughing - finally decided to pay up and make sure that no one ever goes back to him - see photo for Thai man never to buy fuel off!
Returned to the hotel and went to a great Italian restaurant for pizza and garlic bread
Day 6: Wednesday 23/01/02
Headed back to Bangkok early the next morning. Stopped at a snack food market place where I got roped into a captivating fortune teller (who didn't charge me any money) and cut his tongue on a sword, wiped it on a cloth and gave it to me for good luck and told me to come back June 15 2002. He did actually say a few things that made me think.
On the way back to the hotel we dropped into a Gem factory and snake farm. The snake farm were selling snake penis capsules that were meant to increase the male virility at $US80 - we had to explain that Aussie lovers don't need any increase in virility but thanks anyway.
Got to Bangkok and checked out the local shopping mall - which was similar to a mall here in Australia (inlcuding the prices).
One night in Bangkok with Paul - the bad man from Thailand.
Day 7: Thursday 24/01/02
Slept in went for a swim , did some shopping and went to the airport to head off to Ho Chi Minh City.
Met Yen's' brother, Tuk, at the airport with the bus and the driver (Foong) .
We landed in the late afternoon, had some dramas at the airport with Traceys bag, some schtick from Sydney who had a similar bag took hers! To cut a long story short - called the Australian number on his bag, spoke to his family in Australia, spoke to his family in Ho Chi Minh (via Yens family - they didn't speak English) he was out on the town, ended up getting the bag back the next morning.
Day 8: Friday 25/01/02
Got up early and headed into town - we thought the traffic in Bangkok was bad - this place is incredible, the only way I can describe it is a river of step through motorcycles. We went shopping in down town Ho Chi Minh City. (Half the people still seem to call it Saigon (the old name) - after the American War was over the Communist Government changed it to Ho Chi Minh City, but the southerners still tend to call it Saigon - I think Saigon has more charm - there's too many syllables in HCMC).
In the afternoon we went to the War Remnants Museum which is a must for any tourists to Saigon - there was some fascinating photographs and journalists work from the time in there. One thing that hits home is what a big mistake the whole thing was - if the Americans had of not spent a cent in the War Effort the outcome today would have been the same, but that's the benefit of hindsight. Kind of sombered the mood of everyone for a while, but I think it was required to get an insight to what people have been through in living memory. The museum was also a useful prelude to the trip to the Chu Chi Tunnels a few days later.
The other striking fact was that the there is almost no residual animosity towards Americans and Westerners (except for the French - but I think that's everywhere). The world would certainly be a better place if other peoples had the same attitude towards reconciliation as the people of Vietnam.
Had authentic Vietnamese takeaway dinner at Yen's place - tasty!
Day 9: Saturday 26/01/02 (Australia Day)
All piled into the bus early and headed off to Nha Trang. It was around a 10 hour trip but we stopped off regularly at interesting places along the way. We stopped in at a great seafood restaurant for lunch - choose the food from the tank and eat it 15 minutes later - delicious and so cheap! Later in the day we called into beautiful sand dunes that are right next to the coast - went sand tobogganing and bought about 6 packs of post cards from the cool kids there. Yen was saying that last time she was there ( a few years back) there were a lot of beggars in the area - this time there were almost none. The Lonely Planet Guide indicates that there were a lot more beggars in Vietnam than what we saw, the economy and standard of living does seem to have risen significantly in the past few years. Since returning I read an article about Vietnam being the best performing economy is SE Asia.
Rolled into Nha Trang around 2000 and booked into a great hotel just opposite the beach. Just happened to be one block down from an Indian Restaurant - which I was initially sceptical of but decided to try anyway - turned out to be one of the best Indian Restaurants (Omars) in the world! The proprietor had recently moved from Delhi - the food was sensational, butter chicken, garlic naans and dhaal - unbeatable. Went back several times.
Everyone forgot that it was Australia Day! (no one mentioned it anyway!)
Day 10: Sunday 27/01/02
Got up early and chartered a boat that took us out the islands off Nha Trang. Had some great swimming and snorkeling in the morning. Then went to an island village for a seafood feast - crabs ($1), fish and prawns (and a few refreshing Tiger Beers).
In that afternoon did some more snorkeling and swimming. Ray and I swam out to two couples that were fishing off some rocks. They welcomed us with big Vietnamese smiles, offered us cigarettes, some home made Vodka (quite tasty). They had enough English and we had enough basic Vietnamese phrases to exchange a few greetings. They were having a sort of Sunday afternoon fishing trip/picnic, they even had a small gas cooker and cooking utensils - they kindly offered to cook us up one of the fish they had caught! Amazing hospitality - especially when you ponder what would happen if two Vietnamese guys swam up to two Australian couples on the rocks in Australia!
Noticed that Andrew Ebdon was looking a bit on the red side - he said he was felling a bit sun burnt but "don't worry, it will tan up - I never peel" Returned to Nha Trang and got ready to go out for the evening - heard a knock at the door - there's Ebbies - shirt off, red as a lobster with the biggest sunburn blisters I have ever seen - evidently an unfortunate side affect of the malaria drug Doxycycline is \"an exaggerated sunburn reaction\". That was the understatement of the trip. Later when we were at a party an elderly lady came up to put her shoes on near where Ebbies was sitting and she leant heavily on his sunburnt shoulder whilst she was putting her shoes on - tears of pain welled up in my eyes, he controlled himself beautfully (until she was out of sight anyway).
That night we went to a Vietnamese Seafood Restaurant down the road. After dinner we hired some cyclos (which seem to be a dying trend) and went for a ride around the town - halfway through we swapped with the drivers/riders and put them in the seats and us in the pedaling seat. They enjoyed it as much as we did.
Day 11: Monday 28/01/02
Up early and off to Omars for a tomato and onion omelette, then off to Monkey Island to see some monkeys, also some Monkey Magic (of the 80's TV serial fame) paraphernalia.
Sarah handed me a bag of peanuts from the backpack deep in enemy territory - I was swamped with mokeys, one actually jumped onto my back and was trying to reach around for the bag - the only way out was to throw the peanuts in the air whilst yelling to scare them away - fortunately it was an instinctive reaction (years of training).
After lunch we visited some ancient Hindu Temples that over looked Nha Trang, they were around 1300 years old and in the process of being refurbished. The temples were near a bridge that was taken out during the American War ( a new bridge had been reconstructed but you could see the remnants of the old bridge). There were some beggars around the place that lived there during the war and had lost arms and legs during the bombing, it had taken this one guys house while he was in it and he had lost both arms! (This was translated through Yen). Again, it was amazing to see the resilience in these people - he was full of smiles and no malice towards westerners (for all he knew initially we could have been Americans). We didn't mind giving money to these kinds of beggars as they are obviously genuine and in need of assistance.
Highlight of the Nha Trang visit was a trip to the Mud Baths, these are essential for any one considering a trip to Nha Trang. 30 minutes in the mineral mud bath, 30 minutes in a hot spa, swim in the warm outdoor mineral swimming pool, followed up with a 45 minute full body massage - all for less than $10. It was incredible and almost worth moving countries for. It was afternoons like this that we committed to returning to Vietnam sometime in the near future.
Went to Omars Indian Restaurant for dinner, ate way too much butter chicken, then went to Jake's pool hall for some pool and beers (and rum) - does it get any better than this?
(Ex-pats seem to go to these places and start up bars, cafes, restarants and humbly name them after themselves - so you get all these Greg's Place, Jake's Place, etc - I think there might be a niche for a Scott's place over there)
Day 12: Tuesday 29/01/02
Left Nha Trang and headed back to Saigon - huge traveling day. Stopped at some interesting ancient road side temples. Also stopped at some roadside stalls to get some dragon fruit - which is this strange looking bright red fruit with white flesh - tastes a little bit like kiwi fruit. When we got to Saigon turns out that Hung was attending a house warming party a few houses up, we were invited and welcomed by a room full of around 20 guys in full swing - were promptly made to skull about 3 beers and eat some interesting delicacies (deep friend duckling - whole (that includes the beak)) - 20 minutes later we were in full swing as well - those guys know how to party!
Day 13: Wednesday 30/01/02
Woke up with a headache, had a few iced coffees and a Saigon roll to kick start the system, went shopping for DVDs and CDs - Lord of the Rings, Terminator DVDs - $3 - and not a cent to Hollywood, got to love that. Does any one else think its strange that the music and movie industry never stop moaning about how recordable digital media is ruining their industries but they keep posting record profits year after year?
Yen's family cooked a wonderful feast for the whole group. Sarah and myself visited a friend of a friend in down town Saigon. Had an early night.
Day 14: Thursday 31/01/02
Got up early and went north west of Saigon to see the Chu Chi Tunnels - there are fascinating. The tour guide really knew a lot about the history of the American War and was a former VC soldier ( with the bullet wounds to prove it) and was involved in building and defending some similar tunnels further south.
Really interesting to ask him his perspective in the war. he was telling us that he has actually taken US Vietnam Veterans through the tunnels! We asked him what he thought of Americans now and he said that obviously at the time they didn't like them but now they welcome them to their country and that every friend you have is one less enemy! - if only the Palestinians and Israelis were so insightful - perhaps they should all adopt Buddhism.
A side note: the guy spoke with a easy listening American accent (if you had of closed your eyes you would have thought it was an American talking). But it sounded like he was chewing gum - but he wasn't, I think that the guy who taught him to speak English must have been chewing gum the whole time and the sound effect was learnt by this guy.
This was our last night in Vietnam, and as a sign of appreciation to Yens family we took them out to dinner to a floating restaurant on the Saigon River. It was a great finally to the trip and everybody had a great time.
Had fun riding scooters back to the hotel.
Day 15: Friday 1/02/02
Our last day! Went to Yens place early in the morning and hung around taking photos, eating and thanking them for their hospitality.
Went to the airport around 12 pm and flew out to Bangkok and then a connecting flight back to Sydney.
An excellent trip all round, we are keen to do another trip, but this time to Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and then onto Hanoi to explore more around the north. Sometime .....
Thanks to Tracey for keeping a diary on the trip!