Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mui Ne

Eleven years ago when we were here we stayed at the same hotel we are in now, but everything has changed. Except the wind. Every day we wake up to calm seas, calm enough for swimming, but by mid-morning the wind has picked up. The wind-surfers and kite-surfers are in their element then.

Along with the water sports come the instructors. These young local men have the most incredible back muscles. 

Their school is next door and offers lots of equipment.

Early morning sunrise. 

That's when the fishermen are out in their odd round boats, coracles as they are known in England.

Although there are normal looking boats too.

The beach scape is limited since the winds have shifted sand away. The hotels along this area have built sloping walls to maintain their property.

Note the contrast in waves from morning (above) and afternoon (below).

When we were here last there were few restaurants or services except for the windsurfing schools. Now the place has been invaded. By Russians in particular. 

And the ubiquitous Spas. Where they dry their towels over the conveniently placed motorbikes. 

And apparently they are expecting brides to be shopping while they are visiting the beach. I'm not sure this display would convince many brides that here's where they'll find that perfect dress.

We took a trip on the local bus to the village of Mui Ne which is several kilometres beyond our hotel.

A couple of the coracles minus their fiberglass shells.

And a woman repairing a net.

The fishing fleet is huge. They go out at night and light the horizon like a huge waterborne city.

These young women were merely bobbing in the water. Like most Vietnamese women, they enter the water fully clothed. 

We found one restaurant which serves excellent food with style! Here's one of the amuse-bouche we were given. Watercress soup in a shot glass accompanied by a slice of grilled polenta with watercress foam.

And this is the one we received last night. Barley risotto with Bok Choy foam and tomato essence.

On our first visit we shared a pizza, which i neglected to photograph even though it was unusual since one of the garnishes was sliced potato. It was very good - thin crust the way they do it in Naples. My main on our second night there was this slow-braised beef with onion jam on a bed of carrot purée, celery and two vegetable chips. 

Geordie had spezzatini with beef and beans. These were a kind of gnocchi.  

On our third visit, last night, along with our barley risotto we both had tenderloin. It was delicious although there was a little mix-up. Geordie ordered his medium well with a mustard crust while I ordered medium rare with a truffle glaze since I don't like mustard. Of course they came the wrong way.  No matter. The garnish was green beans and truffled mashed potatoes. 

And we had a grand conversation with the chef Federico from Padova, near Venice. He's a big little man and heavily tattooed. He'd just shaved his head. And this was his last night for the season. He heads back to Saigon now where he will hope to pick up work. He's definitely good. We are eating there again tonight even though Federico won't be there. We'll have pizza and pasta rather than the expensive beef. (Oh, last night's meal, two tenderloins, the amuse-bouche and a bottle of a nice Italian red - $50.00. And a licorice liqueur after offered by the owner Stefano, from Trieste.)

Moving right along. We have had several unusual toothpastes. One had salt in it. This one is lemon-mint with Vitamin C - an acquired taste. 

And here is some colour to brighten your day. These flowers grace a tree outside the restaurant where we have had breakfast most mornings. The blooms stand about five inches tall. No doubt someone can name it for me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Above Saigon

Since the building was there and so much a part of the cityscape, it just felt right to go see Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC officially) from the air. This is the Bitexco Financial Tower. The heliport juts from the side. It's at the 52nd floor of the 68 story structure.  The observation deck is on the 49th and 50th floors within the circular space. 

262.5 metres, 851 feet, 124th tallest building in the world, completed in 2010.

Here's Geordie at the entrance. He got a Senior's discount. I'm too young.

I'm not geographically astute so I have no idea what direction we are facing. West?

This river flows into the Mekong. Notice there is green space. I have told people that we didn't enjoy Saigon when we were here last. I think that's because of where we stayed. I liked it lots more this time. 

Here's the Mekong.  Lots of empty space across the river. We went for a drink on the roof at the Majestic Hotel which is the building in the lower right corner.

Geordie holds on for dear life. I didn't mention it to him but I occasionally felt the movement of the building. Architects design that way for tall buildings.

Here we go - from inspiration to concept to design. The architect for this building is Carlos Zapata, an Ecuadorian. 

Geordie was excited to see the highway dip below the river into a tunnel. When we left Saigon we drove through it - 1.5 minutes under the water.

The red roofed building is the Stock Exchange. And the tunnel entrance/exit on this side is right above it.

And the red roofed building here on the left is the City Market. We didn't go in. 

We had to come back down to earth. Here is one of the busy motorcycle guards doing his job. Folks leave their motorbikes to be guarded and pay the guard when they return. By the way, Saigon has 9,000,000 inhabitants and 6,000,000 motorbikes. 

There has been a dearth of temples in the last few blog posts. Here's one that's a little more rare. And unlike the busy, chaotic Wats and Chinese temples of SE Asia, this one was locked up. Even the schedule of services was locked away in the entrance area. It's the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Just across the street is the post office, designed and built by Gustave Eiffel. Yes, that Eiffel.

The building interior. Note the portrait of Ho Chi Minh in place of prominence. I think you can still mail packages and letters here, but it's more a tourist attraction, with stamp shops in the centre.

Inside are two maps painted on the walls. This one shows the telegraph lines of Southern Vietnam and Laos. 

And this one shows central Saigon. Both are dated 1892.

After our walking tour we headed back to our hotel. This woman is selling basketrys from her bicycle. She wheels it through the streets since she can't actually find the seat.

I leave you with this photo of two young lovers in the park. Face masks are de riguer for many SE Asians. The motorbikers wear very heavy cloth ones which are sold on street corners. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Mekong Delta

We got touristy yesterday. Travelling the way we do, we often miss things because we have no easy way of getting places. But we decided we really should see a little of the Mekong Delta before heading north, so we took a guided tour via bus and boat to the area.  I really wonder how the people involved make money. We paid $11.00 each for a ten hour tour. During that time we had two bus drivers, a tour guide, two boat captains, two boat paddlers, a meal (included), served in a restaurant with lots of staff, and a musical performance with three instrumentalists and four singers. We also stopped at a honey farm where we were served honey tea, and at a coconut candy factory. (Yes, some of those people were selling things [honey and candy] and others got tips, but still that's a lot of people on hand for an $11.00 dollar tour. I guess it's a matter of volume. We were not the only bus load of tourists out there.

After our two hour bus ride to My Tho, we boarded our first boat.

And made a selfie. 

Our honey tea included a spoonful of bee pollen. I also got to taste royal jelly (the stuff in the tiny jar on the left). Oh and dried banana and dried ginger with honey, too.

You can see it's a volume business. This is where we boarded our small boats to tour the narrow canals. The tourists were lined up behind us.

Each boat had two rowers

These are river palm coconuts. Very different from the large ones that tower over beaches and occasionally fall dangerously near one's skull.

These small islands are connected via bridges. The only traffic seemed to be bicycles, motorbikes and horse drawn carts (which were ferrying tourists around).

These are working boats. Note the eye painted to ward off Ill-fortune.

There were houses tucked in among the canals, with boats moored nearby.

At the candy factory, the coconut candy is cooked over this stove, fuelled quite economically by the coconut husks. 

Ropes of candy are transferred to the cutting table.

Then wrapped individually by hand.

We met this charming beast at our lunch stop. Geordie thought it would be a good idea to use him for a photo op.

It all looks innocent enough except that the horn was hooked into the leg of my shorts. The beast is in the process of lifting his head and I had to wrest my shorts off his horn before he tossed me into the water which I know was his intention. I am now looking for new shorts as these have a gaping great hole. The man behind me called out to "be careful", but not before the damage was done!

Village life.

Two happy kids on a bike.

Our musical interlude included these performers.

A lovely banjo with only two strings.

And this bamboo instrument which has only one string and is plucked with a quill. The pitch is controlled by the rod in his left hand.

On our way back this flotilla caught my eye. I think these may have been the model for "Angry Birds".