Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hanoi to Hue - Rude old ladies!

Our last night in Hanoi ended with food at the 'Lantern Lounge' in the Old Quarter.  We sampled MORE spring rolls and chicken skewers.  Then it turned into something completely different, and I’m not quite sure if it had anything to do with the couple of drinks we had.  We only had two drinks, seriously! But the scotch must have been a free pour and an over pour!  We left the restaurant and heading back towards the hotel and we decided to make use of the massage vouchers that the hotel had given us for the spa around the corner.  

The Spa was called “SF Spa Hanoi Lakeview”, at N0.7 Cau go Lane, Cau Go Street, .  We sussed it out and decided to go for it.  THEN we turned into a pair of ‘misbehaved children in church’.  I don’t know whether it was because the place was so quiet and we just couldn’t bare it after the noise outside in the busy street.  We were ushered into a change room and the giggles started up!   Originally, I have not idea why we were having a laugh and then out came paper undies that were too small even for Sparkie’s skinny bum.  We were trying to strangle the snigger's before we got to the massage room but we got a prompt hurry up from the lady and that pulled us up for a minute.  We were taken into a really old lift and went up to a long room that had rows massage tables in it and no screens from one to the next.  We both looked down the room and saw a white hairy arse crack sticking up from a table towards at end.   Well we just about lost it.  I could have sworn that hairy bum belonged to a bloke and I was wondering what sort of show the place was running.    We both burst out laughing with nerves and the thought of a western bloke being the room and potentially walking out when we were both sunny side up at the end of hour half and hour massage. Incidentally at the turn over to sunny side up point the person was still there and it was then that we realised that  it was not a man but it was a hairy arse cracked woman with long blonde hair.   
I got the full Vietnamese treatment again towards the end of the massage - hair pulling and a few snap jabs to the forehead.  We both got back down to the change room and we were still children giggling about the paper undies.  I decided to stick my bum out and pinch the butt hole area.  However, they were so flimsy I pulled a perfect hole out of the undies and brown eye’d Sparkie.  That’s when the lady came in and asked if we were ok.  Sparkie told them we were just having a laugh. We quickly got dressed and tried to control ourselves until we got back to the spa reception.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast and a hob knob (i.e. network) with the hotel consultant we wandered down to check out a small temple.  There was a lovely old lady with fresh flowers that was making a gorgeous arrangement.  I was trying to take a sneaky shot of her going about her business, she was very good at her job.   That killed the time until we checked out and jumped on the hotel transfer to the airport.  

We had terrible trouble with old women at the airport!  They were pushy and forceful.  We had two sour-pusses push in front of us at the check in line.  They were unbelievable, we took a stand once we found ourselves in a line that had just opened.  It was strategic body positioning - Hips and toes  pointed outwards and bag placement was essential so they couldn’t get near the counter and push in AGAIN.  WE WON!  Then we were off to Hue to meet more pushy old ladies. 

There is a free city shuttle into the main part of town.  We were pointed in the direction for the bus.  Once we got there I jumped on with my pack and to be polite and make room I got back off to take my pack off without the worry of a confined space,  I had intended to stand at the bottom of the step and hand my pack onto the driver to load it up the front and then hand Tanya’s on.   Epic fail in this country!  It’s the quick and the dead!  You snooze you loose!  And he who hesitates most certainly waits!   No sooner as I had stepped back down, another rude old lady parked her cart with about 4 boxes at the base of my feet and pushed around me to get her load on first.  I was left standing with her cart in the way of the door and being completely pushed out of the way by some strategic trolley placement.  She then left the trolley at the bus door blocking my entire path.   I cow kicked the bloody thing out of the way so we could get on the bus.  By this stage I was building a fierce vendetta against old Vietnamese women for the day.  That is as polite as I can manage describing these old creatures!  They were clearly Hanoi locals and very unfriendly.  The further south we travelled the nicer the people became.
We arrived in the middle of town, somewhere! God knows where, and I instructed Sparkie to wait as long as possible to get off the bus because our packs were inconveniently on top the rude old ladies boxes and I intended on making life as hard as possible for her.  So we waited on the back seat of the bus like a pair of belligerent teenagers.
Then we were off like pack donkeys to find the hotel.  We got up the street and the nice bus driver stopped us, (central country folk are much nicer people), and asked if we knew where we were going.  He confirmed for us that we were heading in the right direction towards the river.  Sparkie had prudently studied the lonely planet and found the most strategic path to the Imperial Hotel, in Hue.  We wandered around a few streets and walked by a primary school.  The kids must have been on a lunch break, they went nuts outside and walked along the fence with us with huge smiles and curious attitudes.  They were excited to see us.  

It was the usual check in process with Sparkie throwing around the business cards and asking for a tour of the hotel.  We had a executive suite on the 14th floor that overlooked the city side and the school we’d walked past.  Once we’d gotten up to the room we both fluffed around on the Internet checking emails and Facebook.  Sparkie was a bit cagey during the afternoon and she had hinted about something, then wouldn’t let on what it was.  Then all of a sudden Sparkie goes, “Oh shit, get off Facebook, you’re not allowed to use it until later”.  Then she made a mysterious call to what could only have been a reservation at a restaurant.  What I found ‘smirk worthy’ was that she made the reservation for “Tan”, which intrigued me because in this country there was potentially a couple of existing reservations in the name of “Tan” already at the restaurant.  A bit like ordering takeaway pizza under the name of Smith on a Friday night.
All was revealed a few hours later when Sparkie and I got dolled up and had a date night.  It started a little more hyper vigilant than I would have liked.  Let me explain - the bellhop looked after us and ordered us a cab to the restaurant, which by this stage I’d found out its name “Les Jardins de la Carambole”.  For about three bucks we were driven across the river and past the Citadel and its long surrounding moat.  We turned off the ring road and into a VERY dodgy street.   I fixed a glance on a strange smiling bloke standing on the side of the road doing the eagle eye on our cab.  Then the cab slowed down, at which point I was a bit concerned and ready to bash someone wearing a skirt if I had to.  Then all of a sudden I realised there was a mass of light coming from my left.  I looked to my left and there was a double storey colonial style house that was lit up like a Christmas tree in purgatory.  Seriously the dodgy street did not match what I was looking at.  And that my friend  was Les Jardins de la Carabole Vietnamese and French cuisine restaurant.  Two of the staff came to meet us.  As it turned out the dodgy smiley bloke worked there as well.  They all helped us inside and they were fantastic.  We were taken upstairs to the balcony, which was likely to have been the coolest spot.
Dinner was amazing, we had Salmon Capreito, Crab soup, Betel soup, Duck and lemongrass and of course spring rolls. For dessert we had chocolate mousse and creme bruel and coffee.  During dinner we shared the restaurant with two other couples and a young family, who were all french.  The other couples appeared particularly arrogant and you could really tell in behaviour towards them from the staff.  What I wasn’t expecting was that the staff would favour us on the floor and we actually got better service.  During dinner the staff pointed both of the pedestal fans on the balcony in our direction and away from the other couples.  We’d seen one bloke turn food back to the kitchen because he wasn’t quite ready for it yet and their general demeanor was pretty dismissive of the staff.  Teach them for being total dicks, we got the fans!   The staff doted on us during the night and by the end of it we were stuffed like a roast chicken.  We decided to walk off the four course dinner via the exceptionally dodgy street,  the Citadel and back across the bridge.  Hue is quite city at night time and very pretty.  It was a really warm and still night, of course there were still a few motorbikes buzzing around.  It could have been because we were in an off peak season but it was a calm place to be.   

Indiana Jones and his lady cross here apparently!

Research trip by -

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Treasure Junk

We woke to my phone alarm at 6.00am.  Tanya woke up in the horrors and insisted it was 7.00am and we were really late.  I checked my phone three times while Tanya peaked out about time zones being different and Hanoi must have been 4 hours instead of 3 hours, until I snapped and said find the clock in the room and what does it say?  Tanya rolled over and while I was still in a track start position ready to bolt and she announced – “It’s 6 o’clock”!  And the farm suddenly calmed!  Jesus Christ woman!  That was how our day started on the way to the junk!  It was the usual pack up and breakfast.  I learnt at breakfast NOT to eat salted eggs again ever in my life, it tasted like some horrible smell from the streets of Hanoi.  We stowed our bags and checked out with some confusion that we’d see them tomorrow.

The staff were too polite to suggest anything else.  We walked around the corner to “Handspan” the tour company that we used to go on the “Treasure Junk” on Ha long bay. Sparkie started up her travel agent yarn to the staff where they informed her they were actually on the junk for two nights and not one.  It was a Sparkie panic as she realized she’d only packed for one night and told the hotel we’d see them tomorrow.  Sparkie WHAT THE HELL! I was pretty lucky that I had packed an extra set of good clothes to go to dinner in.  There was a bit of wheeling and dealing, a call to the hotel to make sure they held our bags for two nights and not one.  Then we were off on a 3 hour drive to Halong bay. Our guides were “Mee” and “Zoom”.  Mee was very informative however the only thing I actually retained was that there are 1969 islands in Halong Bay and its world heritage listed.

We had a stop at a craft place.  The signs said that disabled Vietnamese people made the works and we walked through a large room where probably about 70 people were working on large silk embroidery pictures.  None of them looked disabled.  One of the staff asked if I was a teacher, I’m still not sure why.  At the back of the place Tanya and I found a café and we tried our first Vietnamese coffee.  Well fuck me it was strong.  When the woman poured it out it looked like black tar or oil engine oil.  Tanya has her coffee straight black.  Even the Vietnamese lady gave her a quizzical look with some a few raised eyebrows and explained – “It very strong you want water”?   There was a bit of muttering between us and the conclusion that we’d better considering the locals were suggesting it, it must be bloody strong.   I asked for mine with milk and sugar.  The lady chugged sugar syrup into my coffee and a dash of milk.  So we walked off with extra hot coffee and took the first sip.  Needless to say there was some rapid face pulling and contorted facial muscles.

We pulled up at the harbour and had a drink at a little pub across from a hotel while we waited for the tender to come to pick us up.  We met the rest of the tour group while we waited and had a drink.  There was Marco who was in the travel industry and was checking out Handspan and he later secured a contract with them. He was from Rome and an authentic Italian man.  There was a Brazilian couple Vincent and Thais who actually live in Amsterdam just outside the city circle.  And then there was Inga and Leo, both Dutch retirees.  Inga worked as a legal secretary and English translator for the courts and Leo was a retired GP.  While we were waiting a local commotion erupted straight across the lane from us.  A little delivery truck drove in and then reversed back a bit and took out an oval shaped sign.  The plastic Perspex signage smashed out onto the road.  The skinny little Viet driver jumped out and had a quick look and drove forward.  By this stage two guys came out of the hotel to have a look.  The driver was unloading some boxes when one guy from the hotel literally kicked him up the arse when he turned around to get another box from the truck.  When he turned back he coped a decent right cross to the cheek.  The driver didn’t miss a beat, he put the box down then the second guy kicked him square up the arse as well and followed with another right cross to his head.  What I found amazing was that there was ZERO retaliation from the driver he coped it and continued on with his business.  There was hardly even a word spoken between them, just a few filthy looks from the hotel guys.

After the street entertainment and the cold beers the tender was ready to take us off to the land of “Jack Sparrow”….  Well that’s what it felt like! The scenery was a misty mysterious sand limestone rock formations with caves and the possibility of cheeky monkeys watching from above.  The sea was relatively calm with a hot breeze.  The trip out to the “Treasure Junk” (I’m still sniggering at the name… Maybe Misser Clarke will find his junk full of treasure).   Anyway, we were fitted with the tender lifejackets which were less than new, none of the zippers worked but the clips worked.  The afternoon was a full program, it was checking into very cute little cabins on the first deck with two large windows.  Lunch was about five courses of amazing food.  We were stuffed and we ended up on the sun deck, I absolutely crashed but woke myself up snoring shortly after.  Then we were on the move again with a demo on how to kayak.

Mee told us the legend of Halong bay, which literally means “Descending Dragon” and the main land mass Hanoi means “Ascending Dragon”.  It was the mythical descending dragon that created Ha Long Bay.  The scientific creation explanation was a lot more clinical and less interesting.  So we were off in double cockpit kayaks to explore some nooks and crannies of the bay.  The Treasure Junk goes further out into the bay to avoid the large populated areas that are swarmed with tourist boats, we were the only ones around.  “Zoom” cruised around and took us to a cave we could kayak into.  I think out little “Zoom” takes the descending dragon a little too seriously and was quite hawkie of the caves around the place.  We got to one stop and he told us to go have a look and you could see the light at the other end.   The adventurous Australians that we are took it on without hesitation.  Once we got right to the back of the cave we realised that Zoom had NEVER been to the back of the cave at all.  Once we got through a skinny bit the cave opened up into a large dark area. The light he was talking about was just the reflection of the water on the back wall of the cave.  We could have actually turned the kayak around in the space but it was too dark to see if there were any other sharp edges to get snagged on, so we reversed out.   Mee had told us that if we were lucky we’d see monkeys on the cliffs above us, we did see some amazing bird life.  We were keeping a good eye out but the only monkey I encountered was Sparkie my travel kayak front man.  The bay had a lot of rubbish floating around and the crew gave us some nets to collect some of the rubbish we came across.  We’d paddled around for a while and were heading back around an island when we lined up two pieces of rubbish ahead of us.  The Brazilians were next to us.  I made the call to Sparkie to get the chunk Styrofoam on the ‘starboard’ side.  That small suggestion started a chain of unexpected events.  I steered us over, Sparkie leant over and picked up the chunk of Styrofoam, she turned it over and there was little crab hanging on for dear life.  Ha Long Bay came immediately to life with an exceptionally loud squeal from Sparkie.  The Styrofoam and the crab when flying across the water to the direction of the Brazilians.  The crab hit their kayak only just narrowly missing one of their cockpits.  The Brazilians had a good rock up in anticipation of receiving a flying crustacean.  I could hardly paddle I was laughing SO hard!  Sparkie point blank refused to pick up any more rubbish in the bay after that.

We paddled back, parked up the kayaks and then jumped off the tender for a swim.  The bay water was quite warm and there was a bit of a current around us.  There was time for relaxing and a shower before some sundowners on deck.  We had a short cooking course on how to make fresh rice paper spring rolls AND THEN a SEVEN COURSE dinner!  Oh my god we were stuffed.   After the spring rolls, we had pumpkin soup, Seafood skewers with a Mornay sauce, king prawns, BBQ spare ribs, Yam bean salad, fruit and crème brulee.  Then we asked for coffee!  I opted for the ‘western coffee’ and not the Vietnamese version considering the form it took earlier that day.  The instant (I think) western coffee tasked like an ashtray and I couldn’t drink it.  The Vietnamese coffee even smelt better than what was on offer in my cup.  After dinner it was happy hour and squid fishing!  We caught a crab. This time Ha Long bay didn’t get screamed down, Sparkie could see this crustacean coming at her so she handled it like a water police pro!  Then she managed to terrify Mee when she found Sparkie hanging off the back of the tender trying to light up phosphorous in the water.  We chatted to Inga, the Dutchie, for quite a while before I finally dragged socialite Sparkie to bed.

We slept through the Thai Chi lesson on the top deck. Breakfast had the best view!  It was dreamy with light morning mist, a subtle warm breeze, peach coloured morning sun light and potpourri tasking, moustache shaped chipolatas… yes weird I know!

We were off again for about three hours of Kayaking and visiting some little hidden beaches.  It started reasonably ok until Sparkie pointed out that we kept drifting to the right and it was royally pissing her off.  As the rear motor it was now my problem.  I could confirm that yes we did have a rudder however I couldn’t find the pedals for it and the rudder wasn’t actually in the water.  Zoom saw our predicament and asked if we wanted to use it.  Sparkie confirmed quicker than a light strike, however I said to him that I couldn’t find the pedals.  I’d found the straps but no peddles.  After some direction from Zoom I found the pedals halfway up my thigh. Clearly they’d been set up for a VERY small Vietnamese person.  I had to let the straps out by about two foot so I could actually reach them with my feet.  The next Vietnamese person to use them will probably have the same problem as I did and won’t be able to find the pedals because a GIANT Caucasian person was in the kayak before them.   Anyway, Sparkie was happy after that and we cruised around pretty easily.  We visited two little beaches and Kayaked through some caves and arches.  We pulled up at a smaller boat that invited us for lunch.  Sparkie jumped off the top of the boat for a swim but this was a drawn out process, she got up there only to find she couldn’t quite stand the height OR the heat on her feet so she was stuck between being scared of heights and burning the soles of her feet.  Eventually she jumped with another squeal into Ha Long Bay.

After the morning Kayaking and a feed we were totally spent!  We’d just gotten back to the Junk and we fell asleep on the sundeck. We only just went downstairs in time for a massage.  I went first which turned out to be an interesting experience.  First the Viet lady giving the massage was standing above me on the bed and the light above her blew and she totally let fly with a tiny scared shriek and then asked me if I was ok.  I told her I was fine and that the light had just blown.  I asked if she was ok and there was some exchange of broken English.  I have no idea what she actually said.   The massage was pretty good until the end.  I wasn’t expecting her to pull my hair, and I certainly didn’t expect to be punched the forehead!  I was slightly stunned by it and before I could actually really reacted she’d slipped a few into me.  Apparently this is a ‘traditional Vietnamese’ massage.  I didn’t tell Tanya until she came out, I thought it best to leave the surprise to her just like I’d had.

I went and found Tan chatting to “Tu” who was like the Junks floor manager or Concierge in the sitting area next to the bar.  He was happy to keep chatting so we switched and I sat down for a yarn with him.  We covered the usual trip plans and he asked how we’d found Hanoi.  I told him what we’d gotten up to in the one day.  He asked what food we’d tried and joked about if we’d had any dog.  At which point I told him about the ‘chicken’ roll we’d had the day before.  He said it could have been dog, but then I described the meat to him as being grey, really tough, grisly and it had some sort of marinate to it and that they had given us a choice of that or roast chicken.  Tu then announced – “You ate Cock”!  I nearly choked and burst out laughing.  Apparently the tough old rosters are prepared differently and their skin is very tough and grisly.  They marinate it in some herbs and spices to try and tenderise it and the meat is typically coloured grey.  This would explain why the woman in the shop offered the roast chicken, obviously the better cut of meat than eating ‘cock’!

I was literally on the edge of my seat hanging for Tanya to finish her massage so I could tell her that we’d eaten “Cock” in Hanoi.    I killed the time writing some notes and saying hello to the new pommy guys on the boat that had arrived that afternoon.  I was on the deck having a drink when Sparkie finally came up from her massage.  I told her the story from Tu and we were in raptures.  What we didn’t realise was that the pommy boys had heard us.  We officially met them all at another little cooking class on deck before dinner.  Their names were Matt and Bill.  The others were a family of three, more poms and three antisocial German girls.  We sat with Matt and Bill for dinner and swapped stories.  We’d started telling them about our only day in Hanoi at that stage and Bill suddenly said let me guess, “You ate cock”?  They were nice boys and really easy company.  It was another 7 course dinner and after one cocktail we were off to bed after a big day around the bay.

The next morning we woke to the Junk rocking and rolling with bad weather.  Harbour Master Sparkie declared we were swinging around on the anchor and it couldn’t be good. After about ten minutes of lying in bed like a pair of lazy koala’s, we shot out of bed after I said, “If we sink we’d better get our passports in the dry bag just in case”.  And with that we moved!  We’d heard stories from the last two days about another Junk called the “Paluma” that had been owned by the company and they sunk it. They sold the Junk and then they’d sunk it another two times.  Plus given the fact that Junks sit quite high in the water and are quite unstable on the sea worthy stakes.  Now when I’m packing a dry bag for a pending ship wreck I put in the essentials in.  For example, passports, mobile phones, swiss army knife, the relevant currency and credit cards.  A camera if it’ll fit, considering it has a built in GPS I thought that was a good addition.   I’d packed the rest of my stuff and I came back to find Sparkie’s additions to the dry bag survival kit – cotton buds and flushable alovera wet wipes!!!  What the hell!  If we did get ship wrecked Sparkie was not getting picked up without clean ears and a clean date!   Anyway, we didn’t get sunk on the junk and the morning went as planned.  However, other ships and boats weren’t allowed to leave the main harbour due to the bad weather.  We had breakfast on deck and we straight off to have a look at the floating village.  We felt so sorry for the little skinny Viet guys that had to forward row us in a head wind around the corner to check out the floating houses.  One of the houses had number 48 written on it and I couldn’t help but wonder if the address would come up on google maps.  We came back around the pearl farm and the skinny Viet rower took off that quick that we didn’t even get a chance to tip him.   After a quick look at the pearl farm and the lady boy with exceptionally long fingernails displaying their processes we made it back to the Treasure Junk just as it started raining.

After brunch we check out of the cabins and caught the tender back to the main harbour.  The bus was ready for us and we were off on the very uncomfortable 4 hour trip back to Hanoi on a bus that was clearly built for midget legs and not ones that average over 170cm.  We stopped at the same place for a break and we ran into another group that could only be described as loud, obnoxious, barefoot, singlets, tattoos, fresh off a night of cones faces, basically contiki wankers.  We had a laugh with Bill and Matt about what things you could catch from that sort of tour.   After the break at the disabled place we stretched our leg out across the aisle and tried to get a snooze.   A snooze was impossible in the crazy traffic of the highway into Hanoi.  There were roadworks, weaves, beeps, dogs, cows, more beeping and lunatics on motorbikes carrying Christ knows what.

That was the end of the Junk and we were back in the busy sticky bustle of Hanoi.  It had some light rain going on.  We checked back into the Tirant Hotel and we got ANOTHER upgrade! This time to a room with a balcony overlooking the street.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hanoi, Vietnam

Breakfast next morning was the usual buffet hotel style and we were back in the shuttle to go back to the airport.  A Frenchman shared the shuttle with us and after both realizing we were both flying Thai airways he asked if we were flying to Paris.  However, Ole’ Sparkie thought he said Perth and she wound up into a story about Perth. I was slightly amused and let her fly until the Frenchman said something weird to her and I had to point out that he said Paris and not Perth, and by the time the exchange was over we were back at the airport.    We only stayed a matter of hours in Bangkok so it was like we never left.   

I have always had terrible trouble with static electricity when I’m either at an airport or on a plane, my hair becomes some wild beast with a mind of an electronic alien. Up until now, I never knew it could affect someone so drastically.  Sparkie has a very LOW pain threshold, so a static zap to her is like she’s been stabbed! I’m not kidding she’s terrible, it was bad enough getting her through her needles and boosters for this trip at the travel doctor last week.  We were walking around the airport shopping for random toiletries and a Sasquatch size pair of thongs (size 42 – 43).  You CANNOT buy thongs full stop at the Bangers international airport, but we had fun trying.  Anyway, walking around the airport was an electrical experience.  The moment I came even remotely close to Tanya I’d zap her, most of the time I was completely unaware until Tanya would BLOW UP.  After about fifteen minutes of this going on if I even went within a meter and a half of her she’d cower and recoil like a frightened little child about to be stolen from her mother.  The look on her face was like I was a complete stranger to her.  There was one point I deliberately earthed myself on the metal stud on her jeans and she TOTALLY lost her shit.  I had to promise to earth myself elsewhere before ANY contact was made from then on.

It was a short flight and we arrived in Hanoi the Capital of Vietnam.  The migration through immigration was uneventful but I swear the immigration staff were all drones.  OR potentially chemically controlled via high doses anti-emotiveness.  They moved slowly and deliberately and without ANY facial expression, must have been drones!  It was so quiet when we arrived that I was surprised when the place came to life when two airline staff openly had a yelling match across a counter.   I dunno what it was about but you could sense “bitch” in the air.  It was over after one walked off around the corner… and everything went back to quiet.

The Taxi into Hanoi was 340,000 Dong which equated to about $26.15AUD.  The ride in was uneventful until we turned off the main drag and into the push and shove and commotion of Hanoi’s old quarter.  I still can’t believe how the driver negotiated his way around the small streets surrounded by mopeds, bikes, vendors, flowers, food, clothes, you name it you’d probably find it here.  After about 40minutes we arrived at the Tirant Hotel and stepped out into the heat and craziness and we were immediately hit up by an old woman trying to sell what appeared to be pastries to us.

Tanya had to insist again that she indeed wanted one bed in the room and she scored another upgrade.  I have only been upgraded once in my entire life and now I’m two from two in two different cities this trip, what the actual hell!

We literally hit the ground running in Hanoi, at the time we thought we only had the one day in Hanoi to have a look about, that changed though.  We headed for the lake along some streets that didn’t make much sense and went off in completely different directions with twists and turns, no grid pattern over here people!  Our first Vietnam purchase was two cans of coke. There is a Coca-Cola promotion over here at the moment and there are smiley faces on the cans with a couple of words underneath it.  Under on of the smiles was the words “Cam’ On” or pronounced “Carm earn” which means thank you.  The guy that sold it to us was happy to teach us in his broken English.   The pronunciation of thank you has changed about a dozen times since that first encounter but the guy was very happy to help so Tanya asked about the words under the other smiley face on the other can which were “Ha Ha”, which I thought were the literal meaning and the guy echoed back “ha ha” and let fly with a big smile.   At which point Tanya realized what she’d asked. 

Straight after the lake we had to re-learn how to cross the road.  The short version on ‘how too’ is point your feet in the direction you want to walk to and pray.  What you should also know is once you find your direct heading DO NOT ALTER, HESITATE, OR FLINCH! Make your way with deliberate movements and only slow a step slightly for the ease of the weaving mopeds around you.  Watch a local first to get the style and purpose you must show in crossing the road.  ALWAYS give way to cars and trucks.  After our lesson we found a little place that was in the lonely planet for lunch. The place was called “Pho Thin”.  It was a dodgy looking alley with an old brick space out that was obviously the kitchen.  We were ushered out the back by the pointing of hands and handed a menu card.  We were pretty confident we ordered beef noodle soup and that was exactly what came back.  Winner winner chicken dinner! It was a massive bowl of water broth, chives, coriander, boiled beef and rice noodles.  It came with a piece of lime to squeeze into it and there was a very large tub of what looked like a Cajun paste or some sort. Tan smelt it and it could easily have passed as cap spray.  Lunch was done for 50,000 dong each or about $3.80AUD.   

We were off on a Cyclo ride around the lake to the old Hanoi Prison.  It was sort of interesting but full of propaganda about American POW’s, their claims of how many American pilots had been captured and the Vietnam War in general.  The rest of the afternoon was like our own walking tour of Hanoi but it was kind of by accident.  We rocked up to the Military Museum in time for the rain and then we found the Hoi Chi Minh Mausoleum.  At the Mausoleum we both got a weird feeling that something wasn’t quite right.  There was a guard losing it at a kid that stepped over a yellow line along the footpath, so we didn’t’ hang around long, we ended up finding ice-cream instead and walked some more.

On our travels ‘Tour Guide Tanya’ pointed out the Citadel three times in three different locations until I asked how many were there, her response, “Only one”.   I tell ya, Ya gotta watch these travel industry guru’s, they’ll tell you anything.

Found the entrance to the Palace but it was going to take a lot longer than one hour to get through so we cut our losses and left it for another trip.  We were pretty foot sore by this time so we headed back towards the old quarter and home.   I thought I found a ‘short cut’ only it ended up the ‘long cut’.  We went down a street only to get bailed up by a soldier who directed us to the other side of the street.  We did as we were told, given that his mate had a very large rifle.  The entire block had been cut off by a clear military presence.  We asked a guide a few days later what a similar set of building were and all we were told was that they were ‘government buildings’.  They are all painted yellow with white trimmings.   We ended up doubling back over to the Military Museum, by this stage we were foot sore and hungry!

I saw a little café across the road from where we were, that looked like they had fresh bread rolls.  After another hairy road crossing we found ourselves inside and ordering what we thought was chicken.  We sat down and asked for a couple of cokes.  It was around this point that we both turned into children!!!!   I had commented about ten minutes before hand about seeing a dog turd on the footpath but we hadn't actually seen any dogs.  The conversation lead into crap about I hope we didn't order dog and the like.  The guy that led us inside went and got a large crystal bowl out of the fridge.  I looked at the colour of the meat and had a raised eye-brow moment.  It was grey in colour and a bit funky looking.  The lady in the café said something to him and he put it back and came over to us and showed us the card again and explained ‘roast chicken’ or ‘chicken’.  I was more than happy to opt for the ‘roast chicken’, it was in the hot box out the front, but Sparkie’s theory on this one was that the grey substance in the fridge had been refrigerated and hence not so likely to make us sick…. So we stuck with what the original option was and the grey meat concoction came out of the fridge again.  

After a very short time two bread rolls came out to us that looked ok.  There was the grey meat concoction and some Viet salad stuff with cucumber and maybe green mango.  I bit into it and oh .. my… god… it was the freshest lightest bread roll I've tasted in a very long while.  A few complimentary comments were thrown around the bread and then silence hit the table as we hit the grey meat.  I was trying to chew threw what felt like a rubber band.  And you just couldn't!  It was near impossible to break any of it down. On the other side of the table Sparkie was having the same trouble but managed to swallow her meat out of politeness.  There was no way I was going to swallow it so I snatched it out of my mouth and dumped it on the plate.  And the laughing, giggling school girls started!  In between bursts I managed to say, “Well if that dog, that has left his legacy down the street ended up here, it must have been his last will and testament”!  The giggle continued Sparkie would look at me, we’d gain control, I’d look at her we’d go again, and back and forth we went.  We didn’t identify the offending grey meat concoction until a few days later but that is an entirely different story.

We headed home after that and freshened up for a bit before heading down the street to “Quan Bia Minah”. We sat upstairs on the balcony and watched the streets of Hanoi go past.    And by Christ it was a busy street.  We were perplexed at the two old ladies across the street who were continually moving mopeds from one position to another. It was fascinating to watch.  At one point the main old girl yanked a white moped off its stand and pushed it out onto the street and let fly with “beep-beep-beep” from her lungs. It was hilarious.  By the end of dinner the only logical business she could have been running was valet parking for mopeds. 

After dinner we did a little bit of shopping around the markets again for thongs – still none about for Sparkies big feet.  We got home to pack for the ‘one night’ trip on the Treasure Junk and organize our big packs to go into stowage at the hotel.    Then it was down for the count in the GIGANTIC bed. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Night Arrival Bangkok

It’s been awhile since I've travelled overseas but the build up before the trip was more frantic than ever… and that’s including the ‘Inland tsunami drama and crazy Queensland weather that nearly stopped me from getting to South America in 2011. And yes we flew on the September 11 anniversary, i had the mindset that surely lightning can’t strike that bad twice on the same date.  And neither did all the other people booked on the flight because it was chockers. I did point out the significance of the date shortly after receiving the confirmation from my then overzealous travel agent who is now my partner.  We had just moved house over two days and had to go straight back to work. Since then we've condensed two houses into one and renovated a bathroom.  
Anyway, so let me introduce you to my ‘travel agent’ and newish partner of six and a half months - Tanya or more affectionately “Sparkie”.  She is currently scotch and peanuts in hand sitting next to me watching an action movie and letting fly with some random “whhaaaooo’s” with her ear phones in.  She’s fresh from the hairdressers with a new hot do, in her skinny jeans and a black t-shirt.  She’s had a travel company ( since 2011 and frequently burns the candle at both ends by keeping her day job as an Intel Officer.

This morning was no exception to the ‘frantic express’ - it was sorting out the 74 year old house sitter - Nan or Coral, and an elderly shit eating dog and a horny 6 month old male guinea pig.  The arrival at the airport seemed like a weird dream sequence that wasn’t really happening… was I really on holidays or was this some sick dream.

There is usually some drama at check-in or at immigration for me, and it varies.  This time was no exception and you should really be careful when you hang shit on someone else when your going through the process because karma will kick your arse.  So I had loaned one of my day packs to Tanya.  On the odd occasion I use it to take to work.  Tanya randomly asked me if I’d actually checked the bag for weapons of mass destruction, knives, bullets, etc.  I couldn’t help but tell her I hadn’t checked it and there was a pretty good chance of a stray bullet in the bottom of it from firearms training.  I copped a raised eyebrow look for it and we get to security and immigration.   I’m staring off into space when MY BAG gets pulled up by an over-excited rookie security officer who announced to everyone, “You have an ENORMOUS PAIR of scissors in  your bag”.  I was very surprised by this revelation, I was even more surprised when he pulled out my little pencil case that’s the size of a Redbull can to indicate they were in there. I couldn’t help myself by then and i started muttering, “I highly doubt is fucking ennnoooorrrmous in that little pencil case”.  Meanwhile Tanya is hangin shit on me with a few, “Ha ha it's NOT my bag”. Then he the overly excited security dick pulls out a pair of Tanya’s hairdressing scissors then she copped, “There your bloody scissors”! They must have gotten mixed up in the move or something bizarre at some point in the last month OR someone strategically put them them there because i didn’t see them when i put my ear phones in there the other morning.  Mmmm anyway, that one will stay a mystery! In my fluster I walked away leaving the pencilcase, my little superman clutchy purse, my mobile phone and two pens sitting in the tub.  I only twigged onto it when i heard ANOTHER security person call out about a superman purse and i realised.  GREAT START….

The collection of “Dong” at the travelex counter was equally amusing with stupid jokes of winning the lotto and being first time millionaires picking up 26 million Dong.  The only thing it seemed good for was to play monopoly with.  Then some duty free shopping - We didn’t even have to wait to get harassed by an asian.  The perfume woman took care of that, she accosted us early with all the comments, “Come I show you, it berry nice (Squirt) ”; “Oh you no like, you try this (Squirt) ”. “Here this berry sexy (Squirt) ”.  “ (Squirt)  Oh you no like, come you trying this (Squirt) , it very fresh, when you wake up in the morning you put on (Squirt), it wake you up”.  “No, what else you like”!  (Squirt) and on and on.  

Anyway it took a couple of beers, a couple of phone redirections, more travel work and a handful of mile high jokes and we were off.