Technical Difficulties Are Only Temporary

It’s been over four days since my last update but the technical end of things have been causing all sorts of problems. What with difficulties getting a Photo CD burned, incredibly slow response times in Sapa (we were in the middle of the mountains so go figure), BlogSpot being inaccessible and my dropping and breaking my camera things got just a bit out of hand. Also to be honest Sapa was just so damned overwhelming that at the end of a day of trekking all we wanted to do was sit by the fire and drink hot wine!

We are now in Hue after a touch and go experience with our friends at Vietnam Airlines. We were up and out of the Hotel by 0500 with our bleary-eyed guide Hai. I had an uncomfortable feeling at the airport when I couldn’t see our flight on the departure screen: Cancelled for lack of interest! We had to standby for Da Nang and then take a car back the 80 kms to Hue. Wonder of wonders we got on, by the time we had arrived at the baggage carousel our bags where there and the driver was outside waiting for us! Vietnam Luxury Travel had done an incredible recovery job. Enroute we saw China Beach of TV fame, incredibly ornate cemeteries and some of the most baroque catholic churches I’ve seen outside of Austria! This country is a constant source of surprise and wonder.

We are now checked-in to a grand hotel from the 1901s – the Saigon Morin. Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard spent their honeymoon here – now the Beaulieu-Hobbs duo is ensconced in a room the size of a football field with rose petals scattered on the bed! Life is tough!

Harried, Harrassed and Hurried

We have been on the go for the past few days and it has been difficult to get into an Internet cafe for any length of time. We are currently between the Junk cruise of Halong Bay and the overnight train trip to Sapa. So just a few highlights – there are pictures to come, honestly!

  • It’s been bloody cold here and unfortunately overcast and frankly the constant honking his driving me crazy!
  • The good part of the drive to Halong Bay is through a deeply depressing coal mining area – the soot coats everything and dulls even the normal vivid green of the rice paddies.
  • Halong Bay is truly a World Heritage Site
  • Being very ecologically inclined I chastised two Korean women for climbing over the limestone formations in the caves – I was then gently told by our guide Hih that before the area became a World Heritage Site, the local fisherman used explosives to catch their fish!
  • We had more shrimp in three meals on the Bai Tho Junk cruise than I’ve had in the past four months in Ottawa.

Hanoi at 60

Not much different from Hanoi at 59 frankly – scooters still buzzing around. Only difference is that the temperature dropped today and its been slightly chilly. The locals, of course, have donned winter parkas.

Some Birthday treats:

  • flowers from our tour guide – lovely but not as nice as the 24 roses the Rex Hotel sent up to atone for the incident in the Health Club ( more about that later)
  • a birthday cake from the Sheraton Hotel – expect the picture to appear in their magazine
  • cooking lessons at the Metropole
  • a lovely dinner including Champagne
  • being with Laurent
  • the greetings sent by my friends and family – love you all!

A Quick Update

Sorry that I haven’t been posting as much as I wanted to. Its been go, go, go for the past few days. On top of that I didn’t bring my laptop with me so I have to depend on Internet at Hotels or cafes. The Rex in Saigon wasn’t too bad but the Shearton in Hanoi wants $1 USD a minute for a connection.

Anyway here are a few observations/highlights/thoughts:

  • If you get a relaxing message at the Rex Hotel – expect them to want to recreate the entire American journalist experience for you (more about that later)
  • The drive to the airport in Saigon took 50 minutes to go 7 km – those bloody scooters again
  • When we got there our 1130 flight had been rescheduled for 1100 – couldn’t be delayed the way everyone says AC always is.
  • The flight was on a beautiful brand new 777 – very attractive and attentive service and a great flight – Vietnam Airlines is doing something right!
  • No I did not look at the dog being sold as meat at the market during our cooking school tour.
  • The drivers in Hanoi are scaredy-cat chicken-shits compared to the drivers in Saigon
  • People here are incredible – friendly and helpful
  • The Vietnam War is known here as The American War – depends on your perspective
  • The “Hanoi Hilton” is pretty bloody scary.
  • A little of the Water Puppet Theatre goes a long way.

Hope to have some pictures and something more tomorrow.

Saigon When It Sizzles – 2 (And a bit about Hanoi)

It’s hot!

“For Saigonese, Christmas also offers a rare opportunity to enjoy the feeling of chilly air. The greenhouse effect has reduced the time when the termperature in Saigon drops to its low point of 18C from about a week to only a few days.” Saigon Business News – December 2006

Well it doesn’t look like the deep freeze will be setting in over the next day or two – it’s been 30-32C the past two days.

Scooters

The scooter is the transportation of choice in Saigon – scooter outnumber cars about 3 to 1. The buzz of Vespa engines at times sounds like a squadron of very angry, very large hornets planning to attack. And as the Rex is located in the heart of the old city that sound is constant from 0530 until 2359! At first the thought of trying to cross a busy intersection gives raise to panic if not outright terror – and at night the sight of a pair of compact headlights coming at you can be hypnotizing. Then you realize that it is a well-choreographed ballet – drivers are very adept at weaving there way around moving cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians. Laurent says its a hell of a lot safer than Beijing!

Hanoi addendum: We just spent an hour in a cyclo – a bicycle-powered rickshaw – going through the 36 streets of old Hanoi. The noise of scooter horns, reeving motors and the smell of exhaust tended to take the joy out of the adventure. Still don’t know how they do it – saw a couple with papa driving, momma on the back and the baby squashed between them! And nobody is wearing a helmet. Our guide explain that if you wear a helmet it’s difficult to recognize friends or talk on the cellphone. Okay!

PHO – not just for Breakfast

Who the hell wants bacon and eggs when you can have a bowl of rice noodles, chicken and herbs swimming in hot broth. It’s the national dish of Vietnam and though here in the south its a breakfast treat, you can have it for lunch and dinner. Vendors sell it on the street, there are glossy PHO24 fast food chains everywhere and the most upscale restaurant features it. I’ve made it at home a few times and it really is one of those one-dish meals that’s quick and easy for that weekday meal.

The beauty is that almost anything can be added to it: beef, pork, tripe (oh yeah!), deep fried onion, basil leaves, coriander stocks, hot pepper slivers, lime juice – the possibilities are endless. It’s healthy, it’s economical and it’s good – but not good enough to have for breakfast lunch and dinner. Below I’ve included the recipe I’ve used from Cook’s Illustrated for anyone who wants to try it at home.

Photos

December 6-7

For a few shots of the past few days click on the date link and watch the sideshow (it’s not necessary to sign in as a member.)