A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Out of the Fat and into the Fire -

from Temperatures to Transportation Intrepid Indochina Family Adventure

10-04-2012

This morning we were on deck at 8 am for our cyclo tour of Saigon. It was really nice to get a sense of the city without trying to dodge traffic. With the flick of his hand, Hoang beckoned our chariots and six men pedaled to the front door of our hotel. It was only seconds before I felt terribly bad about being fat. It was 36 degrees, humid and these poor tiny Vietnamese men wearing jeans had to pedal us giant western beasts around the city. It was not a guiltless experience.

Fortunately it wasn't a long ride because they dropped us at the Vietnam war museum or the "American war" as it is called here. This was a horrific experience. I had no idea of the magnitude of the damage from a war that was so recent. The Agent Orange exhibit was devastating and we were all moved to tears. There are still children being born in Vietnam with severe defects as a result of the chemical warfare used in that war. Despite the fact that the United States broke international laws, there has been no compensation to the people affected. There are some American groups that have contributed to the museum here in Saigon. Hoang says the Vietnamese still cry for help as the handicap population is so high, but they accept it as history and harbour no hard feelings (his dad was in the war). I believe that since I see these people as warm and welcoming. It is remarkable the way this country has recovered and I am very impressed with the number of social programs for these people. Lorna recalls seeing hundreds of disabled people begging on the streets 18 years ago and we have seen next to none.

Our chariots waited outside and we continue to dodge traffic in these bikes. We literally crossed right into the middle of the traffic and rode along with the motorbikes and cars. A little freaky but you just have to sit back and trust your driver. You can see the traffic density in the pictures. We were safely delivered back to our hotel and had time to shower and eat before heading to the airport. I am truly sad to be leaving this beautiful country. I would love to have a couple of months here. Hoang is building a new home and has invited us to come stay some time. I may just do that.

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I cannot say our flight to Cambodia was uneventful. Sharon, just remember I fly a lot and this is my first experience with severe turbulence. Just prior to take off we had heavy rain and I could see thunderstorms moving in so I knew we were in for a bumpy ride but this was my worst flying experience. It was a very scary departure. But, we are safe and sound in Phnom Penh and all is well. Even from the drive into the city we can feel we are in a different world. Lorna and Sharon say it is more like Thailand. Once again we are pleasantly surprised with a lovely hotel only this time, unlike Saigon, our room is huge. One of the first things I notice is that people greet us by joining their hands in front of their chest (like Namaste) and bow. The doorman, the bellman, the waiter. I feel like royalty. It is as though all is right in the world. I just might like it here.

We were late getting to the hotel so decided to just go for a nice Cambodian meal and save the sightseeing for tomorrow. Hoang took us to a beautiful restaurant on the lake. The view was gorgeous, we were entertained by petite and pliable Cambodian girls, and the food was great. You will see Isaac's Water Buffalo with fried egg and my Khmer Curried Chicken. It was a lovely welcome to Cambodia. As the heat seems even more intense here, or rather the humidity, we decided to come back to our air conditioned rooms and get a good sleep. We have a full day planned for tomorrow which was a scheduled free day. Hoang has arranged a Cambodian guide and van to take us to all the sites including the Killing Fields. More sobbing I expect. As always, he will join us as well. What a great guide we have. He is so good with the children. He takes special time for each of them everyday and is a big kid himself. We have truly been blessed on this holiday.

Until tomorrow.
Shelley and Isaac

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Posted by curlygirl 14:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged cambodia vietnam family chi ho minh jetstar siagon Comments (0)

NEVER EAT TOFU WITH HONEY!

Intrepid Indochina Family Adventure

08-04-2012

Happy Easter - since this is a Buddhist country, they do not celebrate Easter.
Finally got all our packages last night and all was as ordered. I have to say that the gratitude people show when you buy something makes me feel like my shopping is a completely selfless act..tee hee hee. It is as though buying boots was a gift to the people of Hoi An. Let's go with that hey? I was thinking how honest and trusting people are. I paid for my boots up front but they still arrived. I gave a lady $15 as a down payment to make me something and she came as promised and I paid the balance. So cool.

My friend the rooster had me up again at 5 am. But I don't seem to need any sleep over here. I am like the energizer bunny. Isaac woke at 7:30 and immediately said " St. Paul's Intermediate calling, please hold or press one". He is so funny. He has no idea why he thought of that. It is the start of the message on the automatic phone messages from his school. His guts were a little off this morning but he has been fine since. That is the first sign of any tummy troubles we've had which is a shocker. All six of us took the traveller's diarrhea vaccine so perhaps that works. He has been perfect ever since.

The Easter bunny came to Vietnam. Sharon had Easter bags all done up for the kids and a bag of nougat for me. She remembered I liked it in Costa Rica. So sweet!

We left for the airport at 9:30 this morning and arrived safely in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) via Jetstar airways at 12:30 pm (1 hour flight). Our bags are slightly heavier! Instead of coming to our hotel we decided to go right to the water park. That was an activity planned for tomorrow morning but we decided to do a full day optional tour down the Mekong River tomorrow.

The water park was the same as one in Florida only there were thousand of Asians and us. So, if you want to feel completely naked and huge. This is the place to come! A few locals asked to have their picture taken with Kajal and Isaac. I have to email the pictures tonight. They are both like a tourist attraction. Isaac with his height and Kajal with her round pink face. The kids had a good afternoon.

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We are just settled into our hotel and had supper. We are all too tired to go exploring. Lorna is getting up early to see if she can find her old apartment. She did a law work term here 18 years and we are staying in the same neighbourhood. Saigon is much like any big city - no pedal bikes, no chickens in the street, more commercial that the other two places we visited.

Since I don't have any great tales to tell, I thought I share a piece out of an article I read on the plane today. I ripped it out because it was so entertaining. The article was called 9 Worst 'couple" foods. About foods you should never eat together. Number one was:

1.HONEY -TOFU - Tofu often has plaster and honey has sugar. If these two ingredients meet each other, then there will be precipitated, balled up in the stomach, make eater oppressive, hard to breath and then faint. Especially if the victim has heart disease, he/she will die faster.

You can see food combinations are serious. Too funny. Fresh fish and alcohol is a no no and did you know if you drink tea when you are drunk, you get drunker?

Here's a few things I love about Vietnam:

1. The kids - the beautiful faces and the awe when they look at us big white people!
2. Being a millionaire. $50 = 1, 000, 000 dong. I am throwing around 100, 000 bills ($5) like crazy!
3. Eating at beautiful restaurants, and feeding us both for about $20- $25. That's sharing an appetizer and me having a cocktail and Isaac fresh fruit juice.
4. The bananas and the Mangosteens, our new favorite fruit.
5. The fact that I barely notice the chickens and ducks in the streets any more.It is my new normal.
6. The silhouette of the Vietnamese people with their cone hats.

That's just a few. Off to sleep for me. Expecting a great day tomorrow.

Shelley and Isaac

Posted by curlygirl 14:39 Archived in Vietnam Tagged cambodia vietnam family chi ho minh jetstar siagon Comments (0)

TUK TUKS and COCONUTS - visiting the Mekong River

Intrepid Indochina Family Adventure

09-04-2012
Well today is our last full day in Vietnam. I can hardly believe it and I am not nearly ready to leave. I am very certain this is a place I will return to.

Today we did a day trip to the Mekong River. It was a 90 minute bus ride to pick up our boat where we were served fresh coconuts mmmm. Our boat ride took us to the countryside and a part of the river that is known for coconut farming. We stopped at a local coconut farm and learned how not one bit of the coconut is wasted, not even the dust from the husks which is used for fertilizer. These people waste nothing! We first learned how they made coconut candies, hand wrapped. We tasted them warm. Double mmmmm. And, yes there is some in my suitcase. Coconut ginger candies for you mom. Next stop was to see how they use the coconut milk to make coconut rice paper. So yummy. Isaac actually made one and did great. From there we picked up our tuk tuk (see the photo), a little truck pulled by a motorbike. We were cruising and had to duck to not get knocked over by the vegetation. We thought it was a short ride but it was about a half an hour through back roads passing school kids pedaling home from school. So much fun! We stopped at a little place..house maybe? where we sat and tried a variety of local fruit. My favorite was probably the jack fruit and Isaac liked the milk apples.

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Then we got back on the tuk tuk and winded through a few more small roads to a house where we had a local meal. It was amazing. We were brought a full elephant ear fish which was turned into rice paper rolls. The presentation is always so beautiful..see the chili in his mouth. This was followed by shrimp, rice, soup, deep fried spring rolls and deep fried banana leaves. They were delicious. It was super hot today so they gave us some time to lay in the hammocks and have a rest. So relaxing. Although, Isaac had some trouble getting into the hammock and I bruised myself getting out!!! We left there by a small boat and were poled up the small tributary back to our larger boat and made our way back home. A really wonderful day.

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In Vietnam, the guides call the bathrooms 'happy house". Well, we saw the strangest happy house today (see snaps). I have included a picture of the squat toilet with the bucket to flush. If you can call it that. I heckled Lorna while she was using to try and make her fall over. Evil. She was kinder to me. Then I learned that the little hut like thing hanging over the river (square straw box in pix) was a happy house for number 2!!! You crawl into the box, squat and poop in the river. Ewww! Took a pass on that one!

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A few more Vietnam favorites:

1. Coffee with milk. Which in Vietnam means sweetened condensed milk. Love the iced version and the morning hot version.
2. Fresh fruit, fresh fruit smoothies. Made to order.
3. The lush vegetation - palm trees, rice paddies and farmer's fields.
4. The expression "same same only different". Heard often!

I won't miss having soup, rice or noodles for breakfast. Can't get used to that and the food is the same for all 3 meals.

Saigon is super busy and not nearly as charming as our other stops although we didn't spend much time here. We are doing a cyclo tour in the morning. Then it's off to the airport for Cambodia.

Talk to you from there. I am exhausted, it was so hot today, it did me in.

Love, Shelley and Isaac

Posted by curlygirl 14:20 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam family intrepid mekong indochina siagon Comments (0)

There's a Lump on my Leg and Calamari in my Shoe

Intrepid Indochina Family Adventure

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I was once again woken by a squawking rooster. Lard lipton he was loud and it was only 5 am. I woke Isaac at 7 to be ready for our bike ride at 7:30. It cost us $5 each to rent a bike for 3 hours which included a guide. I have to say this simple ride was another trip highlight. What we saw in a couple of hours made for the best sociology, science, and geography lesson all in one. We biked out of the town to the countryside and through the small roads that winded through the nearby villages. We were constantly dodging chickens, roosters and many women on their way into the town with their goods (see ducks on a bike). We were not far into the ride when we were stopped short by the cries of children screaming "hello...hello....hello...hello". You get the idea. These tiny beautiful children were in school but all ran out to greet us. It was sweet and funny. Along the entire ride the people were constantly waving and saying hello. One boy rode up to Isaac and Jackson and just looked them up and down, eventually joining us for a bit of the ride. We saw women working in the rice paddies, men up to their necks in water, taking advantage of high tide to build a fish trap that would yield a catch as soon as the water went down. We got up close and personal with peanuts (tasting them right from the ground), and rice...who knew how these things grew and the work involved. We watched a woman working in the water to farm shrimp (the ones I have been eating every day with not nearly enough gratitude). We saw ferns that closed up as soon as they were touched, a highlight for Isaac. I felt like I was riding through a movie set that was meant to capture every thing that exists in this land. Simply magnificent!

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We made it back without incident minus the large swollen bruise I have from whacking my leg getting off the darn bike. After the ride we stripped off, including my headband and sent our laundry out. They wash, dry and fold laundry for $1 a kilo so I took full advantage. We rushed into the market for the first fitting on my boots -yikes, another disaster. But I said that after the first clothing fitting and that worked out. They are being delivered shortly. Next stop was another clothing fitting. We are getting closer, just minor adjustments and one more fitting.

After grabbing some lunch, we came back to the hotel so Isaac could have his one hour massage, and I had a pedi and mani. Isaac and I both had callus removal done with a straight blade used for shaving men! Did a great job but not sure about the hygiene on that one but neither of us got cut and we have our hepatitis shots!

I rushed back to the tailors for my final fitting and yay, all done. Love my coat and dress and the blouses are ok. Pretty neat experience.

I have made my last stroll over the bridge to the market having just finished dinner. As I left the restaurant, I felt something in my shoe. It was some calamari. Not sure how I managed that. Now, we are sitting at the hotel awaiting delivery of our goods. My boots arrived at 6pm - some guy just shows up in the lobby, fits me and goes off to make a few more adjustments. They are much better but it is all so fried. He is coming back again at 9 pm. Our clothes are due to arrive at 10 pm, and something I ordered at 5 pm, will be here at 9 pm, as well, "family just making it special for me". Simply bizarre. If you sit long enough, everything will be delivered and all produce will drive by for purchase.

So that's today. All packed up for our morning flight to Saigon. It seems more locals still call it Saigon than Ho Chi Minh City.

Boots just arrived. They are great! Phew! High class stress for sure!

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Posted by curlygirl 14:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam family bike intrepid hoi an indochina Comments (0)

WOK with Isaac and Ill fitting clothes

Intrepid Indochina Family Adventure

06-04-2012
I am just sitting by the pool drinking a pina colada. We have had another great day and it's not over yet. We were up at 7:30 to have breakfast on the hotel roof (what a view!) in order to be ready for our 8 am outing. This morning we went to visit a local orphanage that is sponsored by Intrepid. What a wonderful and sad place all in one. This small facility houses 29 local children who either have no family or whose families cannot support their education. It was a really moving experience that brought me to tears. Like a fool in fact. I sobbed. The facilities are so simple but so focused on education. I will post some pictures. What a wonderful cause. Not only are these children supported through high school but if they qualify the program continues to support the kids through university. The goal is to break the cycle and we all know knowledge is power. So I am going to be asking all of you who have enjoyed my blogging to help me to make a donation to the program. I will come to you with a hand out on my return. Just a warning.

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From there we went to the beach for an hour. Such a beautiful beach with next to no one on it, 'cept a few peddlers. Next on the agenda was our cooking class which was fantastic. Our chef picked us up at the hotel and we all walked to the market to fetch the fresh ingredients we needed for our meal (Isaac is too tall for the market canopies. haha). What an experience that was. She talked to us about the different vegetables, fruit, fish and eggs. From there we went back to the school for a very interactive cooking class. The kids loved it and did well. Isaac is much handier with the chopsticks than I am! Cooking and eating with them. We made pork spring rolls, green papaya salad, tuna wrapped in banana leaf and a hot and sour chicken soup. After the cooking we enjoyed eating it all. Delicious.

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Since we were so close to the market we did a little shopping, mostly junk but it was fun to get a few souvenirs. By the time we walked for an hour my clothes were literally wet through and I was dripping with sweat. Totally gross. So here I sit by the pool, finally cooled down. I have to head to my fitting in 30 minutes so I must go shower. Fingers crossed I like this stuff! I'll be sure and let you know.

Ok, the fitting was a little scary. I wasn't happy with anything. First the blouses looked a little matronly and the coat and dress were too big but I am happy to say, I am just back from yet another fitting and I love my coat and my dress. Only minor alterations left on them. Have to wait til tomorrow to see if the blouses have been repaired. But they are only 20$ each so no great risk. Boot fitting in the morning.

So that was it, other than more poking around and supper. Lorna, Sharon and I shared a bunch of appetizers for supper. Soooo good.

Another full and happy day in Vietnam. Getting up early, before it gets too hot, if that is possible, and renting bikes so we can ride out to the countryside.

Tomorrow will be a shorter email .Promise. We have nothing planned except bike riding, swimming and fittings.

Love Shelley and Isaac

PS. The little old lady in the pix, just sat between us at the beach and waited for us to buy something so we paid a $1 and took a picture

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Posted by curlygirl 14:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam family clothes cooking intrepid hoi an indochina Comments (0)

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