A Country on the Rise

Having been here for the past two weeks and seeing a bit of how things are done it comes as no surprise that Vietnam is the number 2 emerging economy in the world. The work ethic here (certainly in the service industry) is strong – people work 6 days a week (sometimes 7), often 16 hour shifts. The attitude to clients is friendly, respectful and with a genuine concern for your well-being.

Street and stall vendors are not grabbing, rude or persistent – normally a friendly “no thank you” is all that is required. Though various “extra” services have been offered by cyclo-drivers (pax the Rex Hotel but more about that later) again there is no open or offensive solicitation.

Dien, our guide here in Hue and Hoi An, seems to sum up the attitude to things like the French and American Wars as most Vietnamese see it: It is history and the past, now we have to concern ourselves with building a future. And it appears that they are doing exactly that.

The Monsoons Are Late This Year!

It has been wet! wetter! wettest! the past few days but the illuminated bridge at Hue was quite lovely in the rain last night. Even the Royal Tombs have a certain glamour in the mist and the fog. We toured the Tomb of Tu Duc – the longest ruling Emperor of the Nguyen dynasty (1848-1883.) Sadly much of the tomb complex is in disrepair and needs conservation before all trace disappears – the Vietnamese are doing what they can but desperately need outside assistance.

The ride down from Hui to Hoi An included dramatic climbs up the Van pass at the top of which there is an incredible view of Da Nang and China Beach of TV fame. A visit to the Cham Museum (sorry I couldn’t find a website for the museum but it is one of the finest collections of Cham artifacts in the world) and the Marble Mountains rounded off another day in Vietnam.

Now we are settling into the Palm Garden Resort – a lovely Zen influenced room in the Jasmine quarter. A view of a rather wild and erratic China Sea, a walk-in shower the size of my bathroom at home and free Internet make for another day of roughing it in Vietnam.

A Morning with Madame Ha

We’re sitting the the lobby of the Saigon Morin sipping coffee, watching the drizzle and listening to Celine Dion singing O Holy Night and crucifying our Lord well before Easter (that woman has a great deal to answer for!) The entire hotel is aglow with Christmas lights and decorations – O Holy Night indeed!

We’ve just returned from a delightful morning at Tinh Gia Vien attending a cooking class with one of Vietnam’s national treasures – the delightful Madame Ha. Perhaps her style of cooking is a trifle elaborate for the home cook but the ornate presentations were a layered omelet becomes a Phoenix, spring rolls provide the body of a peacock and sculptured carrots are the scales of coleslaw dragons are fit for a Hue Emperor.

We were the only two in the class and we laughed at our mistakes, basked in compliments on our omelet technique and helped created some memorable dishes. Our Dance of the Phoenix was served to a table of ex-pat Vietnamese who were visiting from Venice Beach. One of the most memorable mornings we have spent in a long time.

I finally was able to upload some of the Halong Bay photos (just click to view.) The connections here are not the best and I have not been able to access my blog to see how it looks. Hope everything looks okay.

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.