Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I am mother to two young adults in their mid to late 20's. I work in the medical field as an admin officer/personal assistant. I look forward to the day when I can spend heaps more time taking and making photographs. However, for now, the bills have to be paid. I married a jazz musician many, many years ago. My adopted home is Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I am originally from North Queensland... a tropical place!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Catch up - Monday 29th October 2012

Well, it appears this blog is going to be a weekly blog instead of a daily one.  A catch up of the last week is in order.

As mentioned previously, we flew from Hue to Hanoi last Wednesday evening and were collected from the airport in a private car driven by a driver who spoke NO English at around 11:15pm.  We were very dehydrated as we could not bring water with us on the plane so when we hit the airport we tried to buy water but the only shop available was closed.  The woman who ran the shop was still there but refused to let us buy water.

The trip from the airport to Hanoi was on freeway most of the way and we could not get the driver to stop so we could get some water because he didn't understand anything we said.  He dropped us at our hotel in the 'old quarter' which did not look like a hotel and we were worried for a moment until the security grill was opened and a guy came out to get our luggage.  We struggled past two scooters parked in the foyer and were taken to our room.  The airconditioning did not work and nor did some of the lights.  Mary was not happy (the room was quite expensive) and demanded another room which we got.  The airconditioning did work in this room but, in the morning, we found that the bathroom was flooded from a dripping hose to the toilet.  The breakfast was nothing fancy but the view from the 6th floor (see photos) showed us a Hanoi which is very polluted, crowded and busy.  The vibes from the people was not good and we could hardly wait for the bus to collect us for our Halong Bay tour.

Part of Hanoi seen from the 6th floor of our hotel.  Visibility was not very far.

Early morning street scene outside our hotel in the 'old quarter'.   People on the street did not want us taking their photos.

The trip to Halong Bay was hot and tiring as the bus was crowded and the air conditioning didn't handle the conditions very well.  The pollution extended all the way from Hanoi to Halong Bay and out over the water.  Our tour guide (Thanh) was very chirpy and young and very good at her job.  She had completed a university honours course in English Literature (I think) and decided she liked working in the tourist industry and certainly seemed very happy in her job. 

We were herded onto a small boat for the short trip to our cruise boat (Halong Dragon Cruise) and lunch, which was nothing special.  After being assigned our cabins, everyone was herded back on to the little boat to go cave walking, kyaking and swimming.  As my knee was very sore, I chose to forego this expedition and stayed on the boat, taking photos, reading a book and snoozing on deck and later in our cabin.  Mary enjoyed the expedition and particularly the kyaking and swimming.

The Halong Dragon Cruise boat which we slept on overnight at Halong Bay.

The foot that steered our cruise boat.

Some of the amazing scenery in Halong Bay.

Some of the locals who live in the floating village in Halong Bay.

Some of the other cruise ships looking their best.

Part of the floating village of Halong Bay.

Free feet and leg massages were on offer prior to and just after dinner which most people on the cruise took advantage of.  The young guy doing the massage was very soft in his technique but wanted people to have full body massages (or head and shoulders).  I decided I'd have a back and head massage and he was very happy.  I said I liked firm massages where I could feel the massage getting into muscles and he said he could do that.  He couldn't!  After buffeting me around with edge-of-hands type massage, I stopped him and said I wanted to show him what I wanted by massaging his back.  He was terrified because he didn't know what I was saying so I had to go find Thanh so she could translate for me.  I then showed him what I meant by massage and he said he had the idea so we swapped back, still with Thanh as translator.  It turns out he had only done a short course in massage and had very little experience.  While I was teaching him massage techniques, Thanh was giving him English lessons.  I told her he had to learn "too soft" and "too hard" for starters.  All up, the experience was funny and enlightening for all of us.

Dinner that night was okay but breakfast the next morning was ho hum.  At dinner, Thanh said if anyone wanted, we could go to another cave at 6am and see the bay in the early morning light.  Thinking of photo opportunities, Mary and I said we'd go and another couple of people on the tour also wanted to go.  I got up at 5:30am and had a shower and while I was in the shower, the rain pelted down.  I thought that was it for the tour but the rain passed and the tour proceeded.  Mary bailed and decided on more sleep but she was up when we left. 

After having camera and lenses in the air conditioning during the night, the lenses fogged up for ages before the whole lot warmed up which meant lost photo opportunities for the early part of the trip.  The cave turned out to have very small openings which we had to crawl through to proceed.  After doing two of these crawls, Thanh decided I couldn't get through the last one so I had to stay with the pilot from the small boat while she went on with the other two people.  By the time they returned and we all returned to the boat, crawling through these small openings once again, my knee was very sore. 

We had to get luggage out of cabins so the cabins could be cleaned so congregated on deck.  After breakfast we were taken to a pearl farm which was fascinating.  However not many people bought pearls and once again, the push was for buying. 

Pearl Village - the oyster farms very impressive main building.
Staff quarters for people working at Pearl Village.
There was a swapping of people from other boats and our boat as some were going on to Kat Ba island for another night and the rest of us were returning to Hanoi.  We returned to Halong Bay land by around lunch time and were packed into taxis to be taken to a restaurant where we received very ho hum food once again.  The bus was again packed and I had to sit in the front beside the driver where I got the hot afternoon sun.  I was tired and cranky but did manage to get some more photos of Hanoi on the trip back to the city.

The smog over Hanoi on the trip back from Halong Bay.

Mary and I were dropped at the tour company's office where we left our luggage while we went and found a recommended restaurant and had dinner.  If anyone is ever in Hanoi and wants a fantastic meal, go to the Blue Butterfly restaurant where Minh (the manager) will look after you very well.  Feeling somewhat more human after good food and a cocktail (very strong), we arrived back at the office just in time to be put onto a bus for the railway station to go to Sapa.  We were sooooo pleased this happened when we realised how difficult it would have been to first find a taxi with a driver who spoke English and could take us to the railway station and then find where the train was that we needed to catch and get on it.  The tour guide was invaluable in making all this happen with a minimum of fuss.

We shared a four berth cabin on the train with a young girl and a 30's something guy.  The girl kept her light on all night which made it very difficult for Mary to sleep as they were both on the top bunks. The railway is in as bad a condition as the road system I think given the jerking that occurred throughout the trip overnight.  I had a roaring headache by the time we arrived at Lao Cai.

We were met at the railway station by a mini bus person who collected another 10 people and luggage and jammed us into a small mini bus for the trip up the mountain to Sapa.  This took a bit of time but by the time we reached Sapa it was day and we had great views up the mountain. The hotel had one room ready when we arrived so we dumped our luggage and went and had breakfast while another room was prepared for us.  After sorting rooms and luggage, I fell into bed and slept for 9 hours straight.  After waking, we went out to explore Sapa.

There is a large christian church near our hotel opposite a large square.  This square was full of mountain women selling their wares.  As soon as we appeared, we had women coming and asking "Where you from?" "How many children you have?" "You buy from me?"  They just don't want to leave you alone.  We had to get very firm with them and say NO many, many times.  "We're just looking, not buying."  After finding somewhere to eat, we were wandering back to the hotel past the church and discovered an event taking place at the church.  Many women and children were performing dances and singing and they were a wonderful sight.  Unfortunately the music was so loud it was distorting and difficult to listen to.  After taking many photos, we moved off back to the hotel and bed.

The Saturday night church event at Sapa.

Sunday morning did not loom sunny but very, very rainy as a consequence of the typhoon heading for the northern coast of North Vietnam.  Even so, we hit the streets and markets and had a lovely day exploring and saying NO many, many times.
A rainy Sunday in Sapa.

Some of the hill women working at the market who wouldn't let us take their photo unless we brought something from them.

We had booked a trek for Monday but it was cancelled because Monday was expected to be another rainy day.  However, the weather turned out not too bad so Mary and I went for a walk to Cat Cat village, about 30 minutes walk from Sapa.  I had to bail on Mary for the walk all the way down to the valley as my knee was playing up so I waited at an art gallery (where I bought a lovely painting) while Mary completed the expedition by herself.  She arrived back totally exhausted and I did not feel like undertaking the trek back up the very steep valley track, so we caught a taxi back up to Sapa.

The valley that Cat Cat village is located within.

Some of the rice paddies

The Eco Tourism and Environmental Education Centre of Hoang Lien - nothing seemed to be happening here but it looked good!

Looking back at some of the buildings of Sapa from the track down to Cat Cat village.
After a bit of a rest at the hotel, we went to the Tourist Bureau and booked a bus and rail ticket out of Sapa tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday 30th October) at 5pm (bus) and 8:10pm (rail from Loa Cai) back to Hanoi where we arrive very early on Wednesday morning.  We then booked air tickets from Hanoi to Luang Prabang for Wednesday evening.  We have a day in Hanoi before the flight at 8:40pm.
After doing a little more shopping, we found a restaurant to have dinner, ate and returned to the hotel where I have spent the last few hours compiling this update.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

Another couple of photos for Debbie - the local hotel cat... very pretty.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Travel Update Tuesday 23rd October 2012

It has been a week since I have been able to put anything up on my blog.  Having a busy schedule combined with unreliable wifi has meant my best intentions have fallen by the wayside. 

A quick dot-point update to let you know where we are at. 

*  Completed the Mekong Delta tour on Thursday 18th October.  Can Tho was flooded when we arrived Wednesday night and was flooded again Thursday morning.  Made for some interesting times getting to and from the hotel.

*  Returned to HCMC Thursday afternoon.  Had dinner and had a nap until it was time to catch the midnight bus to Dalat.  The roads in Vietnam are certainly not the best so the ride was a bit bumpy but not too bad. 

*  Arrived Dalat early morning - around 6:30am.  We were delivered to the hotel by a courtesy bus from the bus company.  Looked around Dalat while waiting for our hotel room to be ready.  Very hilly place and much, much cooler than being on the coast.  The climate, environment and people of Dalat were fantastic.  Many stories to tell about Dalat ... but not now.

*  Stayed at Dalat for 3 days/2 nights and then flew to Danang as there was no direct flight to Hue.  We arranged a private car to collect us from the Danang airport and drive us to Hue where we arrived at around midnight.  Having been up since 6am that morning, we crashed and slept very well.

*  We have been in Hue for 2 days and have one more day before catching a flight to Hanoi tomorrow (Wednesday 25th October) night at 10:10pm, arriving Hanoi at 11:15pm.  We will be taken to a hotel for the night and will be collected from there for a 2 day/1 night delux cruise of Halong Bay.  I hope the weather continues to last.  [Greg.  We have not had any rain since being in Hue!]

*  Back from Halong Bay Friday afternoon to catch the train to Lao Cai overnight (10 - 14 hours) arriving around 6:30am and then a bus to Sapa -- hopefully only another 1 - 3 hours!  We have booked at Sapa for Saturday to Monday inclusive with the option of another day if we wish.  As life has been hectic, we may well take that option to kick back and relax -- and I will be able to catch up with my photos!  :-)  Here's hoping anyway.

Well, that's all for now folks.  More details stories from the last week will have to wait until we return ... unless I get some time to go back over events in the coming week!  :-)

The photos below are from today at Hue.  Breakfast on the terrace of the hotel enables some wonderful river scenes.  We did a full day tour of The Citadel - the enclosure for the home of emporers.  Enjoy.

Early morning on the Perfume River, Hue

Entrance gates to the emporer's palace and temple.

One of the many decorative and protective features on the buildings throughout The Citadel complex.

The emporer's mother-in-laws place!  Pretty spectatular hey?

One of the many, many sensational and elaborate gates in The Citadel complex.

And one for Debbie - a very disgruntled cat who was woken up by it's carer so we could take a picture!  We tried to say "leave it" but didn't get a chance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday 16-10-12

Lots and lots of adventures were had today, starting at 6:30am with breakfast at a cafe where only one person had ANY English.  I ordered a hot white tea and got a tea that was undrinkable because condensed milk had been liberally inserted.  However the chicken soup was pretty damned good!

Went wandering for the next few hours around the local area and came across a street where people had used the footpath as a toilet and, I suggest, non-Vietnamese don't normally venture given the amount of attention we attracted by being there.  Did a 'blockie' around a sensational catholic church/school and ended up in a huge park the purpose of which seemed to be to provide exercise opportunities for the population.  We came across people playing badminton, doing exercises on machines located throughout the park, doing Thai Chi, taking dancing lessons and generally strolling in the cool of the morning.  A lovely place to be.

I had my first experience of paying to go to a public toilet -- the squat type -- which I managed quite well.  As I was leaving, I passed a man going into the women's toilet but have no idea what he was about.  The smell was pretty bad so I left pronto.

Wandering further bought us to the Bin Than Market once again and Mary wanted to buy a paid of long pants to replace a pair that she had to throw out.  I swallowed my apprehension and gamely followed her.  While I was caught up looking at embroidered pictures and deciding which ones to buy, Mary went off and found and purchased her pants.  Bananas then became the object of our attention and we found the food section of the market and purchased a hand of bananas each.  These bananas are like nothing I have tasted before.  They are small -- around 3 to 6 cm long -- and they have a very distinctive taste.  Very nice to have for munchies and easy to take on travels.  Next door to the banana lady we found a nuts stall -- after I had asked where to find nuts!!!  Felt a bit foolish but purchased some roasted peanuts which Mary and I have acquired a taste for since having them at the Rex Hotel yesterday... also good for munchies and to compliment the beers we have.  :-)

We had had enough of walking after the market so caught a taxi back to the hotel and I was very surprised to find it was only 9:30am.  We spent the next few hours to 12 noon relaxing and packing to move ourselves and belongings across the road to the Huong Han Hotel/Guest House which is managed by the lovely Anh. 

We settled ourselves and our luggage in our new rooms and promptly caught a taxi to the central Post Office to post some gifts I had purchased which would not fit in my luggage.  This was an educational activity in the functioning of the communist system located within a sensational building (see photos).  I had to que for one counter to find out how much it would cost to post the goodies.  I was directed to another counter to have the goodies weighed and then returned to the first counter to obtain a rough estimate of costs.  I then was referred back to the counter which had weighted the goodies and after filling in four different forms with basically the same information, I handed over the goodies and these were packed (very thoroughly).  The forms were duly stamped and one of them attached to the parcel.  I was then given the other forms and told to return to a different counter and wait in line to pay the bill.  When I asked, I was assured the goodies should arrive in Australia in Pascoe Vale South in approximately 3 weeks.  Mary advised me there is no guarantee that the goods will ever arrive but I have faith in the system!!  [Clinton -- please let me know if you haven't received the parcel in 3 weeks.]

I then had a lovely 30 minutes or so photographing the building inside and out and the Notre Dame Cathedral opposite the PO and other buildings in the vicinity.  Just when the photography activity was completed, the storm which had been building during the morning struck so we quickly retired to a lovely cafe which had a long verandah outside well covered by an awning and which sold LATTE's! and watched the storm.  I have had no luck finding a latte since I've been here and this one was so delicious, I promptly had a second!  We had a lovely time with the staff here and will come back if I return to HCMC.

While I was photographing the verandah, I noticed a Commonwealth Bank across the road so went and obtained more of the local currency -- another experience to reflect on at a later date.

A taxi back to the guest house bought us to a street which was flooded.  What an adventure.  Stepping out of the taxi into about half a foot of water, which was swirling with all the rubbish from the street, was an experience.  We then spent the next 30 minutes or so photographing the traffic in the street and had a lot of fun.  The Vietnamese people are a very laid-back lot and this is just life for them.  Noone appears to get upset at chaotic road situations (traffic or flooding) and in fact, what I see as chaotic road situations are quite normal for them.

We had to race off to the optomerist to collect the glasses we ordered yesterday (unbelievable) and they are sensational.  I decided to order another paid of prescription sunglasses as they are so inexpensive here and I will collect them on our return from the Mekong River Tour on Thursday late evening.  Most shops/businesses operate until very late at night and the optomerist staff said they will be working until at least 9pm. We asked them where I could purchase an umbrella and after much discussion amongst themselves, the young apprentice optomerist was delegated the task of ferrying me on the back of his scooter to the market.  What an incredible experience.  I offered up a prayer as I climbed aboard and quickly wanted to close my eyes.   I cannot get used to this traffic and how it operates and I was sure we were going to be wipped out innumerable times.  I finally convinced myself to relax and enjoy the ride -- well, almost.  I was VERY pleased to be returned to the optomerist alive and feeling VERY alive.  [Mary did take some photos so I'll post them at a later date.]

Once back at the guest house, with beers and water purchased on the way, we took a leaf from the local's book and settled back on the well covered verandah with a beer and nuts and a computer to check out hotels in Dalat, the next port of call after the Mekong River Tour which is tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday.  We went to see Anh to ask him to book the hotel we had chosen for us so we didn't have to use a credit card online (most unsecure I have been warned) and Anh talked us into trying another hotel which he highly recommended.  We went with his suggestion and he rang and booked us in for Friday 19th.  I hope it is as good as he remembers.  We get back from the river tour on Thursday latish afternoon/evening and will catch a bus to Dalat that night (overnight) after I collect my new glasses and we eat.  We have been assured these buses are very comfortable so fingers crossed!

Once accommodation for Dalat was completed, we went off for dinner and promptly felt incredibly tired once we had eaten.  Back to the room, washing to complete and hang up to dry overnight, photos to download and a blog diary to complete -- the night is almost complete and it is 1am.  As I have to be up and ready to go at 7am, I'd best get to bed. 

As we will be travelling for the next two days, I may not have access to the internet so may not be able to log a daily blog message but will do so as soon as I am able.  Cheers.

Hong Han Guest House
238 Bui Vien Street
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Phone:  (84-8) 38 361 927
Manager:  Anh

Some impressive buildings around HCMC.  Enjoy.

  The Opera House.

  Uncertain (It's called the Vincom Centre but I don't know if that's the 'real' name of the building.)

  Statue of Ho Chi Minh outside the People's Palace (I think).  Please correct me if this is incorrect.

  The sensational local Catholic Church discovered on our local walk this morning.

  Inside the impressive General Post Office.

  The outside view of the GPO.

  Notre Dame Cathedral -- with storm brewing.

  Uncertain but an impressive building.

  Here comes the rain!!

 A very civilised spot to ride out the storm.

  The aftermath of the storm on the local street.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 2 - Tuesday 16-10-12   Ho Chi Minh city

We took a walk-about after breakfast and went to an optomerist to buy some glasses. I have purchased a spare pair of normal glasses and a pair of prescription sunglasses which I am looking forward to receiving tomorrow.  Much, much cheaper than buying glasses in Australia!

We went to a huge market called the Ben Thanh Market, which is a bit like the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, except it was PACKED with very little room to move through aisles. We went looking for a sim card for my phone but after 2 minutes in the place, I wanted OUT and left and will not go back. It was totally overwhelming to me. 
After leaving the market, we wandered some more and saw an art exhibition, Ho Chi Minh's statue, the Opera House, various VERY spiffy hotels and ended up at the Rex Hotel (very nice place and lovely staff) where we had a couple of beers and fresh roasted peanuts -- just delightful on a very hot and muggy day.
A taxi brought us back to our hotel where we dumped gear before heading off over the road to a vegetarian restaurant where we had a beautiful meal. Turns out that the manager's partner is a photographer who has produced two books of stunning photos. You can see some of the images here ( if you are interested in having a look.  While we were eating, I was able to continue to take photos of street action, some of which you can see below.

After a bit of a shower and a nap, we wandered up the road and found a restaurant run by a guy from Brisbane (Terry) who owns and runs the place. After sitting on a first floor balcony checking out the scene while we ate diunner and had a couple of beers, we had a chat with Terry about things we had questions about, one of which was about massages available and how to tell if they were good or not. On his recommendation, I went next door to his place and asked for a foot massage. The young girl was okay but she talked a LOT while she was massaging (to another girl massaging a guy) and did feet, legs, hands and arms and a brief rub of the head and managed to do it all in 45 minutes rather than the 60 minutes I asked for for feet only. I'm sure I will benefit from what she did but I will not return to have her work on me. 

We plan to wander around some more tomorrow and then head off on a 2 day Mekong River tour before coming back and perhaps catching a midnight bus to Darlat. I look forward to taking some good photos from the Mekong tour and sharing them here.
Cheers everyone.

Some PEOPLE photos from the streets of Ho Chi Minh city.