Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 5 and 6

Day 5 continued.
After a quick and efficient check in, we were bound for Da Nang airport where we got promptly deposited after an hour and a half uneventful flight. The only form of amusement being a well dressed (for a prostitute) well groomed young Asian ‘lady’ with proportions defying gravity. K stared agape at the adjacent sex goddess resplendent in her gold lyrex threaded black mini sheath that glided easily over her magnificently surgically enhanced bust down to her knees, topped off with killer high heels. I managed to capture her on video on our departure.

The tour company delivered and our man ‘Ken’ took us on a pre conceived detour to Marble Mountain where we typically/dutifully purchased our souvenirs. (nice Buddha head).

Back on track through a ‘Bosnia’ type village we entered the sanctuary of Life Resort Hotel which took me straight back to the Club Med Cherating style. Like kids in a candy store we acclimatised ourselves in thirty seconds to our outstanding new accommodation for the next three days.

We ran straight to the pool conveniently located outside our door and set up camp on the sun loungers after ordering a sumptuous snack of prawn and mango salad and matching ginger/grey goose cocktails. Mentally and physically high fiving ourselves and blessing the day Mrs Sinclair gave birth to our travel agent we sighed in utter peace and contentment. K slumped into an uncharacteristic bout of inertia while we dozed, ate drank and swam for the next hour.

Keen to stick to plan we then took resort supplied cycles and pedalled into town in search of the recommended tailoring shops to order our custom fitting suits. We navigated the bumpy less manic than Saigon streets, but manic all the same until we came upon our desired destination. Every second shop was a tailor and competition was fierce. A scooter pulled up beside me and tried to insist I visit her shop. As a tourist we are fair game and my skin slowly thickened as I endeavoured to rebuff them.

Once inside “Yali” tailors we roamed the spacious surroundings abuzz with activity confused and spoilt for choice. Around three hours later we departed, orders taken with promises of further fittings at 11am the following day.

Darkness had fallen and our appetites had risen so we headed back to the hotel and partook of the BBQ dinner on offer and a couple of bubbles before retiring to bed at 8pm! Big day out.

Day 6
7/9 Monday. Father’s Day in some countries, but not here. Body clocks slightly askew, we woke at 4.30am and decided to hold out till 6am before demanding to take the cycles out again. We read, drank tea and wiled away the hour and a half. The rain had bucketed down on and off and was on when we decided to do a quick reccy to find the nearby beach.

Straight out of bed we baptised the plastic rain coats in the downpour and cycled the four kms out of the city. Through active villages at 7am we compared our NZ options of riding short bays in the frost and revelled in our balmy albeit wet experience. It was one speed (slow) but with plenty to gawp at. Weaving around large puddles, scooters, locals, cars and trucks with little regard for pausing or giving way we found our ‘Çhina Beach’.

Like Mooloolaba beach but more deserted, with tepid waters we ditched our outer protection and entered the waves. The rip and potential attack of foreign sea creatures kept our experience short but satisfying.

Sodden but successful we cycled back into town only losing our way once and headed for the showers then a well anticipated hotel breakfast. Systematically making my way through all there was on offer we grazed continually for around an hour. As a good twelve hours had passed since my last meal I ate in an effort to assuage the large hole in my stomach. Two plates of fruit, (mango/passion fruit/pomelo) bacon and two poached eggs on toast, beef noodle soup and finally a crepe with fried banana with syrup and cinnamon to quell the appetite giant.

K had fallen in love with a book she had picked up from the resort and was keen to finish it so we made our spa booking for the next day and returned/waddled to our room to digest.
After a heavy session of digesting we checked the time and worked out we were thirty minutes late for our fitting appointment at the tailors.

We rapidly regrouped and set out for Yali. Apparently there is more than one so we spent another twenty minutes circling all three shops. Apologies given and received we were then herded into the air conditioned’ changing rooms where we stood motionless in an effort to keep the sweat rivulets stationary while they pinned, tucked and discussed the current global crisis. We made another appointment to return at four for a further fitting and scurried from the premise.

*In our haste to meet our appointment we ran headlong through the central local market dodging scooters in the one lane aisle while amazed at the array of goods on show.

With the worms biting, it was time for me to lead the way to a suitable pit stop. As I let my nasal passage do the walking my radar settled on a quaint but chic roadside cafe with appropriately arranged cane chairs and table settings set up begging for tenancy. We obliged and ordered two long island teas and freshly made spring rolls (not on the menu). The food, ‘tea’ and kerbside viewing were outstanding so we stayed for another round. By this time K was well and truly ‘stitched up’ and as cartographer our hopes of returning to Yali in time for our 4pm fitting were fading.

Back to the hustle of Yali and further frantic rearrangements we were then sent packing again to return in another forty minutes. Fortuitously enough time to trip and fall into an incongruously chic made to measure leather fashion shoe shop. I tried on three pairs and ordered one pair in another colour (to match my new tailored suit) that would be ready for pickup at 5 tomorrow. Got to love the speed of this town.

Back to the blessed tailors for a final fitting via bikes from our nearby hotel we arrived, dripping wet after pedalling through the dusk and torrential downpour. I mentally congratulated myself for hand picking such a worthy travelling companion in K as she battled ahead euphoric in the near national disaster conditions. Final try-ons and checking; the tailors are fastidious but their attention to detail and instruction leave a little to be desired. Fighting off previous urges to lash out at them in a bid to maintain local non aggressive custom, I repeated and gesticulated until the ‘penny/dong dropped’. We paid, arranged hotel delivery of the Empresses new suits and set off on our bikes and soaking blue raincoats in search of a suitable dinner destination.

Pedalling peacefully through the darkened streets we stopped at another kerbside restaurant that seemed half full with locals and tourists alike. Bikes parked, we were seated near the street whereupon we quickly ordered two Black Russians that came out in Martini glasses less the coke! We also ordered two dishes off the surprisingly extensive menu. Pork stuffed whole baby squid and a hotpot of seafood delights later we sat back well sated and ready for an early night...again!

All this yahooing sure takes it out of a girl. K keen to ‘knock the bastard off’ her book that is, we returned to the hotel. I showered and did my three sets of press ups (because I could) then read a little chapter and nodded off. Another big day out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 4 and 5

Day 4
5/9 Saturday. I am seated in the domestic airport restaurant in Saigon awaiting the arrival of my farewell spring rolls. Last night after an in room pre-dinner rev up of French champagne and local kettle fries and a pre timed ten minute power nap, we then made our way to the hotel’s sea breeze restaurant for the long anticipated BBQ dinner we coveted the night before. Perched high up on our bar stools overlooking the Saigon River we toasted ourselves on the ‘free flow’ wine beautifully chilled and presented and enjoyed the ambience complete with piped music seemingly handpicked from our iPods.

The seafood bbq exceeded expectations as a square plate of scampi, mussels, prawns and fish were presented to our ravenous eyes. The smoky flavours didn’t fail to please. The ensuing two glasses of wine was the one glass too many that sent us giggly exhaustedly back to our room.

Unaffected by jetlag we managed to stay up till 10pm local time (3am NZ time). Still with 10% left in my battery I prepared for bed with a little jasmine tea to go. Karen slipped between her sheets never to be seen again till the morning while I surfed the channels from my vantage point. I lasted for one cup of tea then succumbed to my stretched stomach and lay cast between the pristine multitudes of thread counts.

Day 5
6/9 Sunday. Awoken by the pulsation of my bladder at 5.30am, I tiptoed elephant-like to the WC. Upon my return, Karen had risen, Jesus like on Easter Sunday, and we discussed a quick march into the city before breakfast and our tour pick up at 9.30am. I opted for ten more winks so we dozed till 6am. K showered and I pulled on a pair of shorts as we ventured out in the opposite direction previously travelled.

K officious with her map led us up the road whereupon we were beset upon by a local cyclos rider who had us on his radar and was determined to show us a good time (for 10mins and $50,000 dong) whether we wanted it or not. After chivalrously accompanying us across the already manic throng of traffic at 7am in the morning, we were slightly grateful and after chasing us on foot over the bridge we reluctantly gave in to him as he studiously ignored our continual protestations. ‘Bernie’ insisted we stay put while he ran off to get his buddy ‘Wah’’ as the cyclos carried only single passengers.

While we waited outside the Ho Chi Minh museum contemplating our decision, K accidentally tripped and stood upon an innocent rodent spread-eagled on the sidewalk. He was already dead and even deader after K’s foot impression. With a corpse at around the size of a teenage cat, K did well to regain composure in only 2-3 minutes. Rooted to the spot inwardly reeling, her grimaced face contorted in revulsion as I did the neighbourly thing and caught the entire ordeal in a series of photos, I will name “The Saigon Situation!”

Recovered but unhealed, we leapt aboard the returning twin cyclos and were driven directly into the oncoming traffic further from our hotel into the unknown. Swinging between euphoria and uncertainty we weaved deeper into the seedier side of town and mentally sized up our captors. ‘Bernie’ had said he was 43 but looked a good 63 and ‘Wah’ looked older still. I decided together we could overpower them if needs be and returned to enjoying the sights and sounds of the local food market we were passing through.

Fruit lay resplendent at stall after stall as meat hung dead but proteinly appealingly to others. The rubbish truck with half its load spread out the back smack in the middle of the market didn’t do much for our appetites or nasal passages. After experiencing the visual symphony we headed back to the hotel with only a bridge and five million motorcycles and two aged cyclists between us.

We offered to vacate the seat on the uphill ride which was gratefully accepted and we hand pushed the cart alongside the throngs of mostly petrol driven vehicles. Back on board of the summit we glided at speed downhill as K’s chariot overtook my leading one and she whooped competitively past me.

We pulled up to our side of the road taking on the might of large Mac trucks and speeding cars as our antiquated, leg driven cyclos brought us safely to a stop at the front door of the Majestic hotel. K waiting with the ‘boys’ while I returned to the room to obtain payment.

The risk had been taken and was worth the increased heart rate as we congratulated ourselves on a great adventure. With the clock ticking we regrouped in the room, decided upon dashing out on foot to purchase local souvenir jewellery then back for brekky and a farewell swim for me. “When you have a five star pool – use it!” We reluctantly left our ‘home’ with our tour guide for the airport.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 3 - 5/9/09

In true fashion I woke at 4am local time (I usually do that in NZ). An ablution later Karen and I had a discussion about the room temperature then promptly returned to a deep sleep finished off by a good pillow dribble to awake from a coma at the 6.30am alarm. A quick turnaround, we ventured to the same bar of last night to behold our included breakfast. Well, from a well travelled, blasé perspective, I was impressed! The food, surroundings and service were exemplary. Karen unwittingly ordered three sets of eggs. Mortified, she ate the first lot, denied the second and foolishing let go the third. I did a good five plates of scrambled eggs, 2 x fresh fruits including pomeroy, passionfruit, guava, pineapple and watermelon, more sausages/hash browns/dim sums/tomoatos etc. I thumbed my nose to my sensitive innards and didn’t pay the price.

Hurriedly, yet relaxed we made the 8am meet with the tour guide. ‘Hugh’and Kiet the driver. Bundled into our local chariot we wound our way through the frenetic streets of Saigon weaving in fluid like motion through the plethora of cars and motorcycles to our tourist hot spot “ Çuchi” (pronounced Koochy) tunnels thirty kilometres from the city. We were walked through the international tourist destination step by step, climbing into the tunnels, viewing the booby taps and enthralled by the knowledgeable banter of our guide. After three hours of reliving the history and the atrocities of days gone by we were ferried back to the modern day sanctuary of all five stars to the Majestic Hotel.

Hunger pangs had set in so we rushed to the hotel’s pool area and ordered cocktails and a snack in a bid to assuage them. Relaxed by the pool we ate, drank and were Mary. A few lengths later we planned our next onslaught. With extra bag in hand we headed for the Ben Thang market. About fifteen minutes walk from the hotel we witnessed the streets (and crossing them – one big adrenalin rush) and found our undercover ‘’Äladdin’s Cave.’’

On a mission we entered the myriad of stalls sometimes like a vanishing point surrounded by octopus like arms grabbing and shepherding you into their particular shops. We bartered like locals revelling in the power struggle. Braver and wiser we exited armed with well thought out souvenirs of our time in Saigon. From ball gowns to lacquered kitchenware we had it all covered.

Sated but unspent we marched back in the general direction of our accommodation pausing only to partake of refrigerated caffeine drinks atop plastic stools on an amazingly busy intersection. We stopped briefly to purchase family loads of head protection (unimaginative and unobtainable at home). With a hunger brewing we returned to our well appointed rat hole to prepare for an evening of introspection and adventure for our last night in Saigon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 2

I am sitting in my luxurious hotel bed furiously documenting my trip thus far....lest I forget. After being let through check in at HK airport we high tailed it to the hallowed Koru lounge only to be rebuffed rudely and informed that we needed a forward Air NZ ticket to be allowed entry. Our hopes and dreams quashed with our Vietnam airlines ticket we walked back the seven hundred miles to Gate 5 to prepare for departure to Vietnam. With an hour now to find food we trailed the expansive post boarding pass area and purchased 2xnoodles and a cheeky Chilean Sav Blanc for 2. Sated, we met our Gate 5 departure on time and boarded our Vietnam airlines 2 ½ hour flight.

On the shuttle bus to the aircraft we literally rubbed shoulders with our pilot for the flight. Veronica Foy resplendent in her epaulettes was a dead giveaway. Karen engaged her and we ended up getting her card and her offer of assistance in Saigon (where she had lived for 8 years).

The international flight was surprisingly outstanding. Air NZ could learn a thing or two about space. We had lots of it and excellent food. The pre-flight noodles we enjoyed were superfluous. Not one to waste a good feed, we gorged happily. The staff was efficient but wasted no effort on being amiable.

Upon arrival we were met by the heat and Ken our local tour guide who brought us safely (no mean featin the horrific traffic) to our majestic (no actual) Majestic Hotel where we were immediately reminded of our entry to Paris with the Ritz-like flavour of its presence. French inspired history permeated through this 1925 built hotel with first class service, the icing on the cake. After dropping our bags and refreshing in the extremely well appointed room we rushed the sea breeze bar for a cocktail and snacks overlooking the Saigon River and commenced high fiving ourselves for making it unscathed to the Asian paradise that we be held.

PS. Before rushing the bar we performed a quick ‘reccy’trip to acclimatise ourselves with the locale and two pairs of cheap sunglasses were bought in the process. Spent financially and physically we retired to our room to get some winks after over 30 hours on the trot. We set the alarm on our phones and hoped to wake for the 8am start of the next day’s tour.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Asian Tour 3/9/09

I am sitting looking out into Hong Kong city from its international airport fighting off bouts of diarrhoea which started pre the 12 hr flight. I tried to sleep through the night enjoying the luxuries of premium economy class while constantly being disturbed by stomach cramps whereupon I was forced to clamour over sleeping passengers and gain sanctuary in the airline loo. A full evacuation of the contents of my bowel was effected as well as mini departures. Apart from that the flight was extremely amusing and entertaining thanks to the mirth of our friendly aged steward, Bill. Karen and I watched with our eyes open and closed several movies and dined on three course meals. Alcohol was consumed in pityingly poor quantities after an initial burst at the Koru lounge in Auckland quenched our combined thirsts.

We arrived sated and refreshed in Hong Kong only to be slowly worn down by hours of waiting and walking aimlessly about the confines of the spacious airport. We ate, slept and walked repeatedly for four hours before being allowed to check in.

*(Celeb spotting) Graham Henry did slip me a cheeky wink on the Auckland leg of the journey.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The New Bike

The New Bike
After fifteen hours of international travel concluding a nineteen day Asian tour nursing a hangover, instead of sleeping through the night flight as recommended, my reaction to the new bike birthday present hardly registered on the enthusiasm scale.

But, after a good days and nights sleep, I leapt aboard the Carrera bound straight for Scotty’s shop to have it fined tuned to my precise measurements. En route I fell in love...my pulse quickened, my top lip moistened as I felt the change.

Quite happy with my current Scott of 4 years I thought it an unnecessary extravagance to change. But now I was beginning to see the error in my thinking. Even unaltered with one foot uncleated (too tight) and freestyling, I could feel the difference in handling.
After Dr Scotty did his magic on it I took off (literally) for the blue skies of summit road.

Charging out on a handful of dates I cruised up to the sign of the kiwi until I was approached from behind (in a bad way). I struck up a conversation with a woman I knew by sight and we carried on over Summit to Redcliffs where she was meeting someone. We were well matched as I gave the Carrera a sound work out psyching her out completely.

On my own again I fell into my own rhythm with lack of competition and pulled over at the end of the causeway to text my oldest at home sick. A lone biker passed complete with bag on his back so I knew he would be off to work from Sumner to town and therefore pushing it over the short distance. Not one to miss an opportunity in the head wind, I quickly followed him. It took me about 500m to catch him on my new steed by which time I had got an impressive speed up and was marvelling at the cycles engineering perfection. Amped again but having passed the ‘meal ticket’ I now led the way. Bagless and lycra-ed up I obviously had the upper hand and had to maintain it whether I wanted to or not. Just when I thought I had lost him he would appear. Hammer down. We finally chatted at the Barbadoes Street lights. He asked “How long can you keep up that speed?” I wanted to reply “all day long buddy! He then left at the CPIT for his job as suspected and I carried on home euphoric on the new wheels.

Having given up one career I was now happy to take up this Carrera. Moving up from the satisfactory Scott to the Carrera was like getting off an outdoor lounger onto a Lazyboy recliner. On this occasion, I will have to admit....Husband does know best! Clever boy.