Seven (More) Days in Saigon

Vietnam veterans

I fell in love with the Nam the first time I was there.

For our second visit to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam we’d been given the use of our friend Mr Lee’s apartment and driver. As it turned out, our driver didn’t speak English but came with an interpreter, the delightful sales manager from our generous friend’s business.

We were travelling with the other captain’s brother, a veteran of the war (sort of, I’ll explain later).

The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment, Saigon Vietnam
The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment

The apartment

Waiting for our driver, Saigon Vietnam
Waiting for our driver

The apartment was a mansion. Twenty rooms, four storeys, a lift. Designed to be a hotel originally. Complete with a live in houseman to open the Fort Knox gates.

We only spent a few hours in our splendid apartment before we were whisked off on an adventure. Our driver and intrepid interpreter took us to a meeting at Long An  University, where we met up with Mr Lee’s brother and friends for a road trip.

Road trip Day 1

Heading for Ban Tre we had a few stops. For food and drink of course.

First, a feast of lẩu nấm (I think), the Viet version of steamboat, by the side of the road. It’s no secret local food ordered by locals is better.

Is too much coconut water bad for you in Saigon Vietnam
Is too much coconut water bad for you?

Next a leisurely stop over at one of our road trip team’s family coconut farm. As I was offered and guzzled freshly opened coconut after freshly opened coconut to drink, I wondered if too much can be bad for you?

On Day 2 we set off for a day of exploring. Well we were actually just visiting one of our road trip team’s parents.

Three fat pigs, two lively goats

We trundled down the skinniest road with lush jungle on either side. Occasionally having to pull over so motorbikes could get past. One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on board. The biggest load I saw was a motorbike towing a trailer carrying enough reinforced steel to build a small house.

One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on… Click To Tweet

End of the road

Ferry barge, Saigon Vietnam
Ferry barge

The road ended at a Mekong river tributary.  A small barge ferry, big enough for motorbikes, people and small livestock, arrived shortly after we’d parked at the impasse.

We walked through tiny local markets, and tall shady trees on streets only wide enough for motos and pedestrians. To our friend’s parents place deep in the jungle.

Jungle hideout deep in the burbs

Cooking lesson Saigon Vietnam
Cooking lesson

Over the long lazy afternoon we had a karaoke session (I watched), drank more fresh coconut water (I had stopped worrying about the dangers of overdosing), cooked (mum let me cook two banh xeo pancakes), and ate the most delicious spread of local dishes. Over fascinating conversations.

Stories of the war

The locals call it the American War. The other captain’s brother was in despatch in the Australian army as a teenager, flying over Vietnam but never landing. (So not technically a vet.)

The more I learn about the Vietnam War (the one going on when I was growing up in Australia), the more I feel it was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up. Yet I have never felt Vietnamese people I’ve encountered to be resentful.

The Vietnam War was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up Click To Tweet

One of my road trip friends told us how he fled his village with seven on the moto, including his mum and dad, sister and kids. Ten years later when interviewing locals with an American journalist, the journo remarked he was surprised the people who’d been locked up in prison in appalling conditions were so happy. The reason: they were simply happy to be free.

HCMC take 3?

Backstreets pho, Saigon Vietnam
Backstreets pho. Yum

At the end of Day 2 we were deposited safely back at our borrowed apartment in Saigon Vietnam.  We spent a week wandering around dodging the legendary motorbike traffic and taste testing the backstreets Pho.

I wonder if I’ll get a third chance to visit HCMC? I’d love to sail there one day…

Related

Good Morning Vietnam

35 Hours on a Train

Taken for a Ride by a Taxi Driver in Hanoi

A Lament for Vietnam

100 miles of Solitude in the Aussie Outback

It’s a wide open road

Driving in a straight line for an hour and a half without seeing another vehicle. Is this the great Aussie outback? Nah. Just a normal part of the road trip from Perth to Esperance WA (Western Australia).

I grew up in Esperance. 750 km south east of Perth, Western Australia. My roots are there. And my mum. And my little brother. Who is way taller than me by the way. But likes drinking wine as much as I do. So the night we arrived we did a bit of wine tasting, as you do.

Whale watching in the Aussie outback

The next morning I was seriously thinking about getting up, but frankly my body wasn’t responding, when we got the call. Whales. Cavorting just off the beach.

Erghh. My niece and I groaned and put on some warmth over our PJs and headed for the beach.

Worth it! The last time I saw whales was when I was doing the boat handling unit of my Yachtmasters course, off Fremantle, before my sailing adventures really began. It was my turn at the wheel driving the TAFE catamaran. Distracted by the whales spouting I almost failed the ongoing assessment.

The first time I saw whales was when I was in primary school. At the whale factory in Albany Whaling Station on a primary school excursion. But that’s a another story.

The whales off Castletown beach seemed to be resting, perhaps just waking up like my niece and I. It looked like a mother and baby closest to the beach. Felt like 30 metres away.

At first glance they just looked like rocky outcrops. Really. Then when I looked closer I could see the mini islands moving. And spouting water. Amazing. When I’m sailing I reckon any day with dolphins is a perfect day already. Any day with whale sightings is perfectly excellent.

Frenchmans Peak, Esperance WA

Gerard Depardieu's nose (Frenchman Peak) in the Aussie outback near Esperance WA
Does this remind you of Gerard Depardieu’s nose or is it just me?

The next day we decided to climb Frenchman Peak. (We all call this Esperance WA icon Frenchmans Peak.) We climbed it as kids. It’s just a tiny bit scary as an (um older) adult. But sooo satisfying. I never admitted to being fit, just up for it. And the view from the top is, of course, spectacular!

Three things you have to do

Esperance WA beaches are as isolated as the Aussie outback
Are they gigantic whales or islands in the distance?

When you visit Esperance WA there are three things you always have to do. Climbing Frenchmans Peak is optional. But:

  • You have to go to at least one Op Shop. I can’t get enough natural fibre white or light shirts for sun protection when I’m sailing. I scored big time with a linen and a cotton number at $5 for both. Bargain.
  • Coffee at the Taylor Street Tea Rooms. Going by different names these days it’s still right there on the beach next to the port. The coffee is still good, and it’s still one of the best spots to have it.
  • Drive around the beaches. I traveled all the way to north Queensland as a teenager before I realised Esperance has some of the most spectacular coastline in Australia. And in my personal sailing adventures it still rates as totally magnificent next to Thailand’s Phang Na Bay. Esperance just has the isolation advantage. It’s not crowded or full of trash. We’re talking about Southern Ocean water coming from Antarctica. Clean, achingly blue and cold.

A little bit spooky

So…driving back. (You gotta love a two way road trip.)

My niece had remarked Esperance looked like it had been flushed with money, now down on its luck.

In fact Esperance and the next town  Ravensthorpe (only 185 km away, but not in a straight line. Not counting Munglinup – Google it) had the same feel. The last mining construction boom has run its course. The big nickle mine there was built at the height of the cycle. The massive cost overruns, partly due to the skills and supply shortages of the boom, linked with falling commodity prices chimed the death knoll on the mega project.

Then Newdegate. Like a town with no people. Seriously. We drove through in the middle of the day and didn’t see a living soul. Didn’t help having a particularly creepy bit of War of the Worlds as the soundtrack. Something about taking blood from the living… shiver.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but my take on the Aussie outback is like in the remote desert. But the world is getting smaller, so maybe my road trip to Esperance was a bit Aussie outbacky after all?

Hey and BTW did I tell you sharing is sexy?  Feel free to share this story if you like it…

Related

Urban legends from the Aussie outback

Road trip to Malacca, Malaysia

Whales delight beach goers in Esperance

Road Trip to Malacca: Flat Tyres, Food and Fun.

Our first delay on the way to the city of Malacca, Malaysia
Our first delay on the way to the city of Malacca, Malaysia

 

Malacca, Malaysia is charming, fun and delicious.

When we sailed past last year, we didn’t stop because there were no good anchorages.  It’s been burning a hole in our bucket list since then.

So we decided to ride the Yarley there.

Flat tyres

I guess 125cc Yamaha scooters aren’t made for 300+ km road trips for driver, pillion passenger, two wine bottles of spare fuel and two backpacks.

Why?  Because we had our first flat tyre about 50km down the road.   We had to roll our bike 5km, hot and sweaty and constantly asking myself “are we nearly there yet?” to have the tyre replaced.

(It was trashed.)  Later we learnt you can use the help phones on the side of the motorway.  Don’t you love hindsight?

We had the second flat tyre on our way home.  Apparently the new tyre was made in Malaysia, not destined to last.

I tried using the motorway help phone.  I was wondering what to do next after five minutes of listening to “Please hold the line” when a kind truck driver stopped.  He offered to take us and our moto to the next town to have the tyre replaced.  With a tyre made in Vietnam.  RM5 cheaper but better quality, so we’re told.

Eat, drink, pray and visit museums in Malacca, Malaysia

Tandoori ovens in Malacca Malaysia
The tandoori ovens running hot

Naan makers in Malacca Malaysia
Naan makers are kept busy

The food in Malacca is fabulous.  The tandoori chicken and naan bread at Pak Putra is sensational.

The Portuguese chicken dish at Eleven Bistro was delicious.

Also I discovered why everyone raves about Malacca’s famous chicken rice balls and steamed chicken. Yum.

Buying wine was a bit tricky, but we managed.  On the first night we found a supermarket selling reasonably priced red wine as we headed out to dinner.  It was okay so on our way back to our hotel we decided to get a second bottle.  The checkout chick in headscarf, asked me if I had finished the first bottle already.  “No no this one is for tomorrow” I said.  Headscarf smiled.

Malacca’s long history is visible in the variety of places of worship from a Catholic church to a temple sponsored by Guinness and Tiger beer.  Well that’s what it looked like anyway.  The columns featured advertising for both beverages.

Maritime Museum, Malacca Malaysia
Maritime Museum

There are more museums than you can poke a stick at.  Wikipedia lists 38.  We visited two.  The Maritime Museum, housed in a replica of the Portugues Flor de la Mar, a 400 ton nau or carrack (sailing vessel) from the 16th century.

And St Paul’s Hill.  A ruined church with a spectacular view.  Famous for being the temporary resting place for St Francis Xavier’s body enroute to India.

There are churches, mosques and temples everywhere.

A trifecta of temples

Jalan Tokong, AKA Harmony Street, features three temples and a mosque.  You can get your multicultural spiritual fix in one short walk.

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Malacca Malaysia
The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple,

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. Another trifecta here: It’s for devotees of the Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.
Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia.

The architecture of the Kampung Kling Mosque is a combination of Sumatran, Chinese, Hindu and Malay styles.

I lit incense in the Xiang Lin Si Temple which is run by Buddhist nuns.

The river at night, Malacca Malaysia
The river at night. Guess what? There’s a church in the background.

On the Sunday I had planned to go to mass at the historic St. Francis Xavier Church.  I have very catholic spiritual tastes and admit I am more lapsed than Catholic.

 

Wet wet wet: flooding in Malacca Malaysia
Wet wet wet
 It was bucketing rain.  The streets were flooded.  So I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and had a cappuccino and croissant just round the corner instead.  Divine.  So good it was almost a religious  experience.

 

It was lucky the deluge ended before we headed home.  Another flat tyre in the pouring rain might not have been much fun.

Related

Have you visited Malacca Malaysia?  What were your impressions?  Or maybe you have suggestions for other places worth visiting?  And BTW if you enjoy reading my travel stories I would love you to share my blog!

Still Stranded in Paradise

We were nervous as turkeys at Christmas during our trip from Ko Muk to the very safe anchorage on the east side of Ko Lanta Yai.

Wondering why we were so worried? Check out the story so far: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? and Stranded in Paradise.

Ko Lanta Old Town at high tide, seen from our anchorage
Ko Lanta Old Town at high tide, seen from our anchorage

 

Wrecking rocks on the way to Ko Lanta

Our trip started with very light wind in the exact direction we were heading, so sailing wasn’t an option. There were yacht wrecking rocks on our lee side. And when we used Perky, our engine, the recently replaced drive shaft was overheating alarmingly on account of the shonky engine mount bolts.  Yep we were nervous sailors.

But we ended up happy sailors when we altered course and the wind picked up. The last two hours turned out to be perfect sailing, averaging around six knots exactly in the direction I wanted to head.

My second road trip to Phuket

We needed to replace the wobbling engine mounts, the root cause of our broken drive shaft.

With Yana de Lys safely anchored on the east side of Ko Lanta, we  hired a car and the Other Captain and I set off on a road trip to Phuket.

How do you do a road trip between islands? Via two car ferries then a bridge.

How do you do a road trip between islands? Via two car ferries then a bridge. Click To Tweet

We needed to find new engine mounts for Perky and to replace Yana Banana, our dinghy.

Yana Banana, an itty bitty inflatable, was taking in water and letting out air at an alarming rate. Her outboard wasn’t working either after going for a swim during one of her low inflation high sea water content moments.

Ko Lanta to Phuket road trip
Road trip from Ko Lanta

What else could possibly go wrong?

I guess this was the point when I started wondering when things would start going right.

I guess this was the point when I started wondering when things would start going right. Click To Tweet
  • I got a miserable brain numbing cold
  • My computer was stolen by sea gypsies. I hadn’t done a back up since Langkawi because we didn’t have enough AC power because of our engine problems.  But I had transferred all my current photos onto the stolen computer and deleted them from the camera
  • We ended up with a monster four stroke outboard, and a dinghy way too big for our needs. We called the outboard Thumper and the tender the Queen Mary. The guys in Phuket delivered the wrong models, but agreed we could change them when we got to Phuket in Yana
  • The monsoon influencing the weather created two weeks of impossible conditions for sailing on to Phuket. (I’d told my employer I was taking a two week break. I ended up losing my job)
  • The engine still wobbled like crazy with the new engine mounts

Stranded in paradise again

But Old Town on the east coast of Ko Lanta is a charming place to stranded.

Old Lanta Town is all character, sensationally delicious honest Thai food and relaxed friendly locals.

Old Town Ko Lanta
Old Town Ko Lanta – the “front side”

The restaurant staff lead you from the street-facing tables and chairs through the kitchen to the restaurant’s “back side” where the rest of the tables and chairs are over the water (at high tide).

Back side restaurant, Old Town, Ko Lanta
“Back side”

I terrorised the locals with my attempts at their language from my Thai phrase book. They would respond by either correcting my pronunciation, staring at me blankly or smiling encouragement.
The community comprises a lot of Chinese and Muslim Thais.  Their calls to prayer were much more musical and less mournful than in Langkawi.  As I was riding past a mosque on our scooter there was a dog howling along with the call to prayer.
The weather was wild for about a week. Even the local fishing boats came into the safe anchorage.

There were two days when it was so rough we couldn’t get to shore, even with Thumper and the Queen Mary.  We got cabin fever and felt like prisoners in paradise until the forecasts improved.

When there was a break in the weather we continued on our way to Phuket. With an unscheduled ten day stay at Ko Phi Phi. Find out why in the next episode of Stranded in Paradise.

Related

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I had my eye on a Monet but settled for a Van Gogh

Before I die…