Monthly Archives: January 2013

Mui Ne, Coconut Island and Saigon

Jan. 24, 2013 Saigon District 1

When I started my trip I promised myself that I would do at least one thing each day, and not just hang at hotels all day; I want to get out and do something special each day. I am doing that no matter what place I find myself.

Cuong and I took an afternoon bus to the coastal city of Muine. It is about 120 miles away but the bus takes over 5 hours. This tourist place is full of Russians. They come out of the cold to the warmth of Vietnam. We walked the strip of tourist resorts, restaurants and stores over 3 miles long. The food was fantastic. This was the first time I have seen a roasted crocodile.
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We had some nice seafood meals next to the ocean and enjoyed getting away from the noise and commotion of Saigon. The hotel had CNN International so I was able to see Obama sworn in. It was after midnight but I stayed awake for it.

We came back to Saigon and I thought I was going to have some rest. My friend Linh is starting a walking tour business and asked me to go on several of his tours he is developing. He took me to Chinatown and showed me the local temples. These places are full of incense smoke and great works of mysterious art. One is over 300 years old.
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That night he took me back to Chinatown and we went to street places to eat. We shared an oyster omelet at one place, then crab soup and lite spring rolls. Dessert was coconut ice cream and sweet sticky rice. The food was fantastic and cheap, It is good to have 2 friends in Saigon with motorbikes!

Yesterday Lynh took me to Coconut Island. 45 minutes out of Saigon, then a ferry ride across the river. Another half hour to a place called Scorpion Island. This is a picnic place for the Saigon people; next to a river and full of tropical trees. As we rode there we saw water buffalo and dragon fruit trees.
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Here is a jackfruit tree.
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One more tour that Lynh took me to was a night cruise on the Saigon River. It was nice but it seemed like a wedding reception where you knew no-one.

Another week here in Saigon. I hope it is a bit more relaxing but I do like those nighttime thrill rides on the back of a motorbike through the crowded streets of Saigon. I am working on gathering some trinkets to mail back to my sister Jeannie. Almost got enough to send.

Here is a picture from Scorpion Island. She gave me a nice smile and a little wave.
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Back to Saigon..again

I almost forgot my passport at the Phu Quoc hotel,  they keep your passport when you check into hotels here in Vietnam.  At the last minute I got it and took a van across the island to catch the Superdong fast ferry back to the mainland. As soon as I saw the ocean I knew it was going to be a rough ride. The second worst boat ride of my life. I was looking for my life vest and checking out for emergency exits. I am always thinking worst-case scenario.

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Terrible rough ride in Superdong

I bought a ticket on a BUS, my bus turned out to be a local van with limited AC and overfilled. The 5 hour trip was just terrible. I bought the ticket at my hotel and not a travel agent. It was such a pleasure to take a motorbike ride from the bus station back to my hotel.

My days in Saigon have been slow and relaxing. Cuong took me to dinner at a vegetarian place, I got a massage at the Association for the blind ($3.00), and I got a ride to the Chinese Market and bought a little glass globe. Today Lynh took me to a couple of Catholic Churches.  I bought a couple of rosary beads to send back home. We were lucky to attend a nice wedding at this church.

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Saigon Church

The ladies were all dressed up. They keep men on one side of the church and ladies on the other. That would not work in the USA. Here are some wedding pictures.

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Beautiful Ladies of Saigon

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I do

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I wish them a happy life together

No planning just luck to see this beautiful wedding.

One night I ate dinner in the hotel alley. This alley is amazing, it is full of people driving their motorbikes way too fast and is filled with many little street restaurants. It also has some lowcost tourist hotels.

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My alley in Saigon

I ate dinner with a guy who could not speak any English. Somehow we communicated. I was so surprised when I found out that he payed for my dinner. I do not know his name but this act of generosity is one of the reasons I love this country.

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Thanks for a nice dinnrr

Off to another coastal city tomorrow for a few days.

Phu Quoc Island

I met two travellers on the boat to this island. Sebastien is from Quebec and Samuel is from Kent, UK. I lost them when I got off the boat. When I woke up the next day I was surprised they were in the next room.

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Phu Quoc friends

Now I had a couple of friends for a few days. We decided to rent some motorbikes and explore the island. This is Vietnam’s biggest island and had the largest prison. At one time 40,000 Viet Cong POW’s were kept here in the Coconut prison.

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Phu Quoc Prison, built by the French

Viet Nam is making this island an international tourist site. Many new hotels and expensive resorts are being built. The roads are all torn up and construction is everywhere.  Riding a bike is a real challenge. I covered over 250 miles in 3 days and only had a few close calls.
I got my meals at Rory’s right on the beach. Rory is an Australian and knows how to run a nice place. He
marked up a map of the island and advised me what to see and what roads to avoid. He told me that I really had to see the Happy Buddha Temple. It really was surprising to see this Buddha.

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Happy Buddha

They grow a lot of pepper on this island. Here is what it looks like before it gets into our food.

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Pepper plants

There are many Russians here, I guess it is like their Florida. I am going to have some relaxed days here and then back to Saigon. Here are some Navy guys I saw in An Thoi, a naval port on the south of the island. They look so young to me.

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Viet Nam Navy

Here is a picture of a Chao Dai Church/Temple. I climbed to the top and could see a great view of the city and river.

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Phu Quoc Temple

Cambodia is very close to this island. A year ago I was there for Chinese New Year’s.  I had a great time on this island and not sure why I picked this place but it was fantastic.

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Waiting for a customer

First week in Viet Nam

Third time in Saigon and I continue to really enjoy Viet Nam. My friend Lynh picked me up and took me to a vegetarian place…clean and good.

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Lynh met me in Malaysia a couple of years ago and last year saw me walking the streets of Saigon and yelled out “Bob, is that you”. Just one of the many fantastic things that happen to me as I travel the world.

Lynh just got back from Sihonoukville in Cambodia. I was there for 10 days last year and we compared notes about this great tourist town. We went to a new mall, VietCom. It just opened up and is very upscale.

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New Mall

I stopped in a music store and sang some Johnny Cash.

I switched from a $24 hotel room to a $14 one across the street. My new hotel is run by a family and they treat me very nice. The next day Cuong and I took a speed boat down the river to the South China Sea to visit Vung Tau. Love that place, not much to do there but very quiet and relaxing.

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Cuong buying rice pudding

We had to get back to Saigon, Cuong had a job interview. So back to the city noise.

I hired a motorbike to take me to the Myanmar Embassy to get a visa. We had a difficult time finding the place. After a long wait they told me that only issued business visas and not tourist ones.  Aaarrrrgggghhhhh. I still love Asia. The bike ride was another thrill ride and I got to see parts of Saigon I have never seen before.  I will get my visa in Bangkok next month.

One day I took a long walk to the Central Tourist Market to buy a new hat and a couple of trinkets. I wanted some nice chop sticks and some coasters. I will mail the stuff home. Here is a picture of the Saigon Opera House, Saigon City Hall and the Saigon Contenental Hotel, all historic buildings.

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Opera House

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City Hall

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Contenental Hotel

I bought a bus/boat ticket to Phu Quoc. This is an island off the coast near Cambodia. After an overnite bus ride and a 3 hour boat ride I arrived in this remote island.  I got a nice room with wifi and walked to town along the beach. The town is fantastic with a great night market with fantastic seafood.

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Phu Quoc Bridge

Tomorrow I will  get a bike and take a tour of this island. Not sure of my plans in Viet Nam, seems to be working without plans.

Jakarta to Saigon

Jan. 6, 2013 Saigon, Vietnam

The flight from Bali to Jakarta was so easy. Adi drove me to the airport and we had to stop several times due to rain showers. I fell asleep on the plane and woke up as we touched down in Jakarta. The airport bus had wifi and took me to Gambir Train Station. A short motorcycle ride to my hostel and now I could relax for a couple of days.

I walked up to McDs and had a coffee and just watched the scene. The street is full of traffic and you need to be brave to cross the street. The secret is to walk across the street at one steady pace and the cars, trucks and motorbikes go around you.

The hostel had 2 Swedish girls, and Veronica from Germany and another unforgetable character….Alessandro, a doctor from Milan, Italy. He is 26 and is just so happy.

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Euro Songfest

The Swedish girls played the guitar and sang in harmony. One of them sounded just like Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac. We stayed up singing one night until 3 AM. These are the reasons I like to stay at hostels. 

I ate across the street at a street place. Lately I have been drinking watermelon juice with my meals. The drink is light and tastes great. I ordered melon juice and it was so fantastic. Remember when you were a kid and had a slice of melon? It was so sweet and good. It seems like melons are just never that good anymore… BUT my Jakarta melon juice was so great that it brought me back to my childhood. This little pleasure of liquid honeydew melon was the highlight of my day.

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Melon Juice from Heaven

The food consisted of fried noodles, vegetables and some small shrimp. The meal costs a liile over $2.00. On Friday night street musicians came in and sang for us. I am always giving to street musicians. As soon as you tip them they stop singing and split.

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Entertainment

I had a nice surprise on the morning I left Jakarta. A couple of fellow travellers I met in Kyoto, Japan came to the hostel and took me to an upscale mall to have coffee. Odus and Evie have professional jobs and love to take Asian trips. They both want to visit the USA.

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Jakarta Friends

They dropped me off at a bus station and I got a bus to the airport. I spent one day longer than my visa so I had to pay a $20 fee. Of course…no paperwork or receipt was involved. The flight to Saigon was so easy and smooth. The jet came in over the city in the dark and it was hard to believe this was my third visit to this country. The taxi ride brought me through the center of the city which was still all decorated for the holidays.

I checked in at my hotel and went out to get some noodles. There is a young guy who hangs out in the hotel alley. He is a little slow and has a speech problem but he says hello to everyone. I have always bought him candy and ice cream. When he saw me he smiled and gave me a big hug. I took him to the Circle K store and bought him a big candy bar. He helped me find a sim card and now I am ready for Viet Nam.

Tomorrow I explore Saigon once again.

Bali for the Holidays

2 Jan. 2013  Bali Kuta

I went back to the same hotel in Bali and after a few nights, changed to a  different one with WIFI. The breakfast is not so good at the new one, but now I am web connected. No major plans but I just want to chill out for the holidays.

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Bali Kuta Beach

Raja had to get back home to Sumatra to start school, so we said goodbye after travelling together for two weeks. I gave him a $5 bill and a little Indonesian money and he was so nice about it. Fates keep sending me beautiful friends and I am hardly ever alone on the road. Before Raja left, we took a motorbike ride to a Bali Temple next to the sea. It was so hot but it was nice to get out of the tourist mess of Bali Kuta.

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Raja at Bali Temple

So it looked like a slow 10 day holiday stay here in Bali. I went to a nightclub with a live band and met Adi, a local tour guide with a motorbike. He gave me his card and I called him to find out how much a local tour would cost. He took me to the mountains at another UNESCO World Heritege Site of rice terraces. This place was not as steep as the terraces in the Philippines but had their own natural charm and beauty.

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Bali Rice Terraces

On this trip we took a shower at a waterfall and a bath at a natural hot springs. It was a long ride back to Bali Kuta. I took Adi to a nice dinner and once again ate fish at a traditional Bali resturant.  These past few days Adi has been driving me all around Kuta Bali. I know most of the local neighborhoods and beaches, just don’t know how they all fit together. The place is jammed with cars and vans with  motorbikes going in and out of traffic in haphazard fashion. I feel safe on the back of these bikes, but have had many close calls.

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Adi in prayer mode

My days here have been full of things. I got to see the 3-D version of the Hobbit movie, sang Kereoke with Adi and his friends; I went to a couple of nice places to eat including a Shisha place with Moroccan and Turkish food. I love hummus and they know how to make it over here. You can not imagine how good the bread tasted at this place. Felt like I was back in Marrikesh. I took Adi to Starbucks and actually enjoyed the high price coffee and good wifi.

I am planning on coming back to Bali next year. It is funny, I never really wanted to come here but I did. Now I understand why so many international people come here.

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Bali Beach

I had a Great Christmas in Bali and a fantastic New Years. The people really know how to celebrate here. I have had very little to drink in Bali. Of course the food is too good to resist. Surprisingly, Indonesian food is very good. They use plenty of spices and peanut sauce and coconut milk in their food.

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Another bit of rain in Bali Kuta

Tomorrow I fly back to Jakarta for a few days then Viet Nam again. Once I stop enjoying this I will head back to Knox and sit and watch TV……not likely soon.

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Another fish dinner and watermelon juice