Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Ovah!

I have decided that blogs are for the moment not retrospective rantings! i.e. S.E.A. holidays past. So no more!

Anyway, as we speak...I have a man cramped into my manhole....two children in bed, 'he that is king's' lunch waiting to be delivered to his work(to enable his training ride en route to work hampered by ten sandwiches in a large tupperware lunchbox and she will bring it because that is what her life has amounted to). Floors have been sucked and licked, biscuits have been baked, newspaper has been browsed, muesli with strawbs and kiwifruit consumed and procrastinated blog begun...

Great morning.

Oh yeah, man in hole....electrician. After spending up to a year on the ground we are finally mounting and connecting the heat pump. Thank you Mary for staying at home to facilitate this. We shall now be able to utilise the second floor this summer without losing 5 kgs.

Kids in bed - studying....NOT!

What does today behold? Xmas cake, Xmas presents, bills, installation including man with sunshade, Trade Me uploading and current sale, call Mum, buy tuner for laptop so I can watch tv on it (Breakfast show in the morning), arrange Friday night GGG (Glamour Girls Gig.

Have procrastinated (a common theme) on Xmas cake. As a virgin baker of aforementioned festive delicacy am taking my time and savouring the experience. Purchased ingredients a week and a half ago..got recipe off sister in law....moved recipe to kitchen area...moved it again to read while eating breakfast....hoovered....mopped....hung out washing...forgot about recipe....blogged...

Ah well, must go and check my multitude of lists to remind me about what I am supposed to be doing...

Am thinking of consulting a life coach..

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

12 September Farewell Hanoi

Saturday and all is well. I survived potential swelling, infection and a bout of Dengue fever. After a quick couple of showers to go we raced down to the pre-booked farewell breakfast only to discover our instructions were lost in translation. We lingered impatiently as they set up the buffet and pounced upon their every delivery. Happy with my standard 3+ plate intake of fruits, smoothies and coffee we bid the Serenade and Hanoi city farewell and leapt into the waiting car with the same speedway driver for the final shake up to the airport. Consistent to the end he surged through the inclement weather to our international departure lounge. Bidding him goodbye and good riddance full of smiles and hand shakes we turned our back on Vietnam and left on VN869 via Laong Prang (Laos captial) bound for Siem Reap (Cambodia) and three nights of cultural exploration.

*We ran into the Russians again at the airport and giggled at our chance reunion. They en route to Laos shared the first leg of our journey to Cambodia. K engaged them in the transit bus and again on the Laotian tarmac where an international exchange of business cards took place. One of the four was called Vladamir (of course) Belov and his wife was coming to Nelson later this year for a wedding. Pleasantries over we lamented the loss of an opportunity to bond on the boat in Ha Long Bay. Maybe an extra night would have done it. It is a fine line between balancing the courtesy of giving people their space and wanting to interact with them.

We had a quick uneventful turnaround in the Laos airport transit lounge of around 15 minutes where we managed to stretch our legs and bladders and catch some quick footage on video.

Our arrival in Siem Reap airport was to full sunshine. After escaping the Vietnamese acid rain, we welcomed the breeze less 30+ degrees reported by the airport. We cleverly bypassed the airport currency exchange and were greeted by the newest guide, Sophura and another 'mute' driver clueless to our language as we were to his. Eagerly we took extensive video footage heading into town on our 15 minute transit. Sophura was around our age and knowledgeable. We approved.

Our hotel was relatively new, stark white and an easy four stars in congruently fancy in this dusty little village/city. Large and expansive complete with swimming pool water feature and heaving in staff we were well impressed. Straight to the pool to test its water and cocktails while we waited for our room to be made up. The sun loungers, pina coladas and noodle dishes didn't disappoint as we took up residence poolside for a couple of hours as if we had been there for a week. Champing to get into our room before our 3pm pickup we reluctantly unhinged ourselves from the loungers and headed for room 318 three floors up. Changed and back to reception Sophura rejoined us after admitting to a lunch and afternoon nap prior to his return. Bundled back into the van we headed 10 minutes down the road to the famous Angkor Wat.

Our guide got us dropped off on the roadside where we were ushered over a fence and under some well placed trees. We could see the temple about 400m away magnificent from a distance surrounded by a moat and thousands of milling tourists in the oppressive afternoon heat.

In true Asian style I erected my travel umbrella to shade my skin from the sun. We literally dripped perspiration as we painstakingly listened to Sophura's exuberant verbose rendition of the entire history of the Angkor (area) wat (temple) and the common misinterpretations of the lay tourists.

It was about then after being bored into submission that we started to witness some chinks in his armour. The first nervous tic could be forgiven. The more fervant he become,the worse they got. We politely ignored the head rolling and shoulder shrugging but became slightly alarmed at the insane mutterings. I think he was taking a couple of personalities out for the day. The fact that he admitted to 'replacing' the original guide (due to sickness) left us nervous as to his credentials and sanity. We followed on dutifully distracted by his repetitious rantings and insistent interactions. A couple of his favourite phrases began with "I would like to inform you.... and It's amazing, How do they do that?"

We stifled giggles as not to enrage him as we now considered him fully blown 'pyscho serial killer' material. Glad of the company of the hundreds of fellow tourists we walked on tentatively. The temple had been built in 1113 and had see-sawed between Buddhism and Hinduism dependent on the King of the time. The Indians had brought both religions with them from India to Cambodia and of that the locals were grateful otherwise there would be no Angkor or the multitude of temples in it. This particular one was the most magnificent and had only been rediscovered by the French colonists in the late 1800's lost for the previous 400 years when the then King had fled to Phenon Penn pushed out by the invading Thais. As the Thais had captured all the scholars of the area and the majority of the people had left with the king, the Angkor (and all its temples) had been left to return to nature. The remaining populace were illiterate and thus the history and temples were lost. The jungle took back its place engulfing the area completely entombing the entire lot of wats.

Enter the French (19c) colonising at will and upon rumours learned from the locals they rediscovered and subsequently restored the lost city of the gods. The main structure consisted of five conical temples within a walled area surrounded by a moat that served to deter enemies and provide water for the city. A long central entrance path (400m) went out to the gate another horizontally wide magnificent structure decorated b intracately carved apsyrah (heavenly dancers) buddhas, serpents, lions and elephants. Sanscrit (Cambodian writings) told the story in carving too on the large blocks of sandstone used in its construction. Locals dotted the ruins worshipping the same gods in the same temples as their ancestors did centuries before them. Twin libraries were also a regular feature of the original architecture and lay on either side of the entrance. Large short steep staircases reminiscent of Inca temples led up to the five main towers. Pointy towers signified Buddhist temples and more low lying temples represented Hindu ones. When the Hindus were in power the Buddhas were all removed or chipped out of the carvings. The attention to detail was astounding and astounded the guide was with his disbelief of how it could have been done!

He said it only took 40 years to build which seems a 'jiffy' considering its expansiveness and intracacy. We were reminded of the wonder of the pyramids and Roman ruins and put it right up there in that league.

Agog at the experience and that of our ever insane guide we were happy to be redeposited back out our hotel 2 1/2 hot tedious hours later.

Alone again we discussed in depth the mental health of our Cambodian foe over more restorative cocktails poolside and wondered how we would survive the next two days with him.

Shaken but not stirred we decided not to venture out into town after dark for fear of meeting more of his unbalanced countrymen and instead stayed wihin the sanctuary of the 4 stars.

11 September - lest we forget.

Awake but unprepared to move we lolled about for another hour. 'Zing' our cutsie teenage pursor knocked persistantly at our door. K leaned out the window and summoned up all the manners her mother had taught her to greet her. We were told it was breakfast time "NOW" 7.30am. We begrudgingly readied ourselves and got another terse reminder from Zing. It seemed they had a schedule we were not abiding by.

No amount of table dressing could disguise their disappointing attempt at providing a European breakfast. Nor could any amount of make up disguise my reaction. A sparse and unappetising array of limp white cold toast, bacon cut from a pressing and two fried dead eggs with three pieces of dragon frit awaited my growling stomach. After force feeding myself one piece of white death covered in NZ butter (better) and strawberry jam I filled myself uncustomarily on the Vietnamese coffee in a bid to revive myself.

That over, we were herded onto a rowboat where our captain rowed us 'punt-like''(with oars) to a nearby cave entrance where we passed through to a cute bay to look awhile. The five minute oar back was hampered by a head wind so our sole rower had to dig deep to get all 7 of us back.

Back on board for a slow and peaceful return to the drop off zone ready for collection by our driver. Our entrepreneral staff had many souvenirs to foist upon us and I purchased some lovely little pearl earrings for Georgia for $30USD. A final lunch was gratefully inhaled which left me in high spirits regardless of the downpour that followed our every arrival or departure in Ha Long.

Cossetted back in the car with the same driver from yesterday we resisted the urge to offer the spare seat to the (unwashed) German backpacker. His failure to amuse us on board had left him out on his own. K took up residence in the front seat this time to divert all oncoming traffic through a series of hand signals and shocked expressions and to avoid potential nausea.

A quicker trip back left us 'safely' deposited in our room at the Serenade in Hanoi. Showered and regrouped we then set out in a search of local 'must sees'. We dawdled in raincoats and Crocs combing the shops for all they were worth. We stopped awhile in a really interesting shop choccer with antique foreign (for Vietnam too) jewellery and tried on a really strange array of necklaces and bracelets, me settling on four bracelets to go. The owner was a man with one inch well manicured finger nails who had a really easy feel about him which made the whole transaction quite pleasurable. Some of the stuff looked like artefacts and I got a small bad omen when K put on a snake necklet with an unusaly locking mechanism. With my wrist now six deep in bracelets, I felt satisfied with my ability to maintain a collection and we marched on.

As one can never have too much lacquer ware K purchased a beautiful set of trays and me some shocking pink bowls for Trudi's upcoming birthday. (It is tradition to bring home something pink for Trudi Hall's birthday).

Hungry now, we called into a nearby Vietnamese family run cafe and settled into the cramped area alongside a couple of sets of Australians and a lone Swiss. The Swiss man reminded us of Al HW with his short grey hair and marathon running look so we engaged him in conversation. He was a maths tutor at university and on a wee sojourn (not a paedophile on the make a K had suspected.
We all sat bemused as our teenage waitress repeatedly got every instruction cocked up
while trying valiantly to run the four tables on her own. Her mother looked on from the bar eyes rolling in disdain as we smiled on knowingly.
The food was nice (fried tofu and buttery corn) the drinks average.

Back on the street, renewed, we wandered on taking note of the historic tube house that had long closed and the busying streets amping up for the evening. We were now ready for the main street event as we contemplated a local cafe called the 'Tamarind' with it's large interior and 10% discount and extensive menu we silently concurred and entered. Seated in a well air-conded area on comfy cushioned sofa seats we ordered 2 papaya cocktails, fried mushrooms and a Thai glass noodle salad to complete our vegetarian experience. The drinks, food and rest were well received and we mentally high fived ourselves on another good pick.

With repacking to do for an early start tomorrow we sauntered sated back (skillfully navigated by K) in the direction of our hotel. Nearing the turn off to our street K's scientific navigational calculations had been temporarily displaced by the recent erection of a street market around 100m long. Not one to miss a shopping opportunity or (a recent erection) we lingered through the showery weather already damp and close to a drying zone. Jam packed with sunglasses, wallets, undies, perfumes and make up each stall was much alike. We finally submitted and returned to our expertly positioned hotel Serenade to shower, repack and set the alarm for a 6.45am pickup. Once the entire contents of our bags had been taken out and reinputed we rested easy and put out the light. That's when the mosquitos or some other creature decided to dive bomb me repeatedly. Stealth on its side I couldn't hear it or see it coming but I managed to scratch myself into an irritated slumber woken rudely by the alarm at 5.30am.

10 September 2009

*MUST get blog finished ASAP of Asian trip...
Expectations high we dined at the hotel restaurant takingon ample nutrients to get us through the 3 hr drive to Ha Long Bay. Checking out but leaving our bags, we packed an overnight bag and were duly collected at 8.30am. The heat high but the car cooled by air con we set out of the city. Once the traffic thinned all bets were off as our driver hovered habitually over the centre line surging and weaving in turn through the haphazard traffic for three solid hours. Karen turned many shades of green mixed with red as the local driving technique infuriated her. The driver was lucky to escape without a good tongue lashing and follow up cuffing from behind.

As we neared Ha Long, the rain started. We were dropped off at a waiting station whe re we waited patiently for our changeover. We eyed up the other tourists and wondered which of the 600 junks that departed daily was ours. About an hour later (hungry as rabid dogs) we were ferried out to our floating palace (Ha Long Dream). The "├ľne Square Meal" was handed out for medicinal use and again it saved the day.

Once on board we were revitalised by the waiting orange juice and the thought of the high seas. The rain had abated as we set sail/motor for the limestone valley.

Seated at beautifully laid out tables we waited impatiently for lunch to be served. With only seven passengers on board and more than seven staff we reveled in the peace. The 6-7 course meal was well received as was the bottle of Chilean Chardonnay ($35USD) we quaffed all too quickly.

After lunch we roamed the decks and were quickly brought to the first stop on our tour of the area to a well worn tourist route. the "Cave Walk' was outstanding. An array of carved out steps took us and around 150 other tourists on an incredible journey deep inside one of the plethora of lime structures synonomous with this area. The cave was a large as a football field and as hot as Hades. Fighting off the stuffiness I was glad to see the exit but still amazed by the experience. Herded back on board we motored off to the next destination; swimming beach.

As we clamoured to gain full immersion we were rudely stopped in our tracks and directed through the ticket booth. Unfortunately we didn't have small enough local currency, so our kindly captain (fearing impending mutiny) dipped into his own pocket for us and told us we had only 15 minutes to enjoy!

We ran to the water and swum out to the nearby buoy where I overzealously circled it and it's large abrasive chain. Bleeding and smarting I exited the water and thanked the heavens that I was travelling with my pharmacist friend and her extensive booty of products. Fearing our 15 minutes of waterplay was over we headed back and our captain ushered us to the nearby steps to partake of the hill top view.

We climbed tentatively in our jandals up the carved from rock steps where we were told by our fellow tourists of the ensuing 400+ steps to the top! Valiantly we squelched all 400 steps to the viewing platform wheezing like asthmatics. Some other German aged 'David Attenborough' type gentleman had lugged the biggest camera and tripod I had ever seen up there to take some serious panoramic shots. We paused to enjoy the fruits of our labour briefly then headed back down.
Our legs weakened by the intense climb descended in a mind of their own, wobbling and tremouring at will.

Back on board again we head to; ''Dinner Bay'' and dropped anchor with a handful of similar vessels. Calm and balmy we relaxed with blue cocktails swinging our legs freely over the front of the unfenced vessel reveling in the pre dinner peace. Staff and passengers alike swam off the boat while we smiled on approvingly.
After showering and readying ourselves from the last swim we were reluctant to enter the well used bay for another dubious dipping especially with my recently abraised skin .

The dinner was extensive with great use of the local seafood. Stuffed crab bodies, large bbq-ed king prawns presented in lovingly carved vegetables, steamed fish and fried rice gave us another good stretching. Washed down with a nice French Savvy ($39USD) we sat for awhile outside on top deck before succumbing to the results of our gluttony and turned in for the night at around 9.30pm.

The room was slightly more comfortable than the deck of crudely padded/non existent deckchairs so we extended our hunched over bodies and fumbled fervently with the stubbornly stationery air con unit. I did manage to kick it into action switching every button I could find.

We began a night of tossing and turning in the heat in our small and moderately cushioned cots. Karen restlessly paced the 2m x 2m room and hung herself out the door in an effort for a temperature respite. We dozed fitfully before we finally began speaking at 6.30am.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

eek. accidentally posted without finishing

After a couple of hours we were worn down by the heat and negotiations so sought out some refreshments. A nice local (deserted) cafe served us up a couple of passion fruit slushees that were to die for. Temporarily hydrated we carried on. Another hour of shopping and we were ready for solids so we nipped into a classy three storey cafe/boutique called 'Tanmy'.

Mixing retail/dining and atmosphere we sauntered through the three levels, K fingering their linen while I holed up on one of their stylish sofas and availed myself of their free wifi on my iphone. Deciding to eat there we sat at a modern little eating area and ordered a couple of *savs (blancs as opposed to eloys) and beef salads and reveled in the peaceful surroundings complete with fish pond and styly coffee machine.
*We tried in vain to order a couple of Alan Scott Pinot Gris but had to settle on a French Savignon instead! Good Kiwi wine obviously popular.

Happy to pay the decent price for the serenity we languished on the Country Road like sofas as long as we could then used their stylish ablutions before heading back out to the mayhem of the streets.

3/4 stretched and wilting in the mid afternoon sun we decided to have "an experience" and haggled a price on a cyclos for a round trip of the lake for $5USD. Lurching around at snails pace we jammed two up in the seat for 1 and a half people and sweated buckets as we sat and enjoyed the watery inertia. Re-energised and oriented we headed back to a bag shop K had spotted, as our parcels now outnumbered our luggage. The first stop proved too inflexible without much choice so we pressed on and settle for $40USD for me (haggled from 60) on a hard case suitcase and $25USD (orig 40) for K for a patterned soft one. Our purchases packed safely inside the new purchase we headed back to the hotel to regroup before heading back out to dinner.

Showered and repacked into the new bags we headed for the roof top city view in the square. Up the lift to the fifth floor we eagerly ordered up a couple of long island teas and prawn crackers off the boy with the modern digital order machine. We got two black Russians and a bag of prawn crackers on a saucer. After several attempts to rectify the drinks order we gave in and took a couple of cursory photos and departed quite underwhelmed by the whole set up.

The square had touristy non-Vietnamese food to offer so we ventured further from the hotel in search of a restaurant our guide had recommended.

After a couple of laps of the area we settled on a kerbside seat at a nearby restaurant serving locals and tourists alike. We went straight to the good looking set menu for a $4USD/head and a couple of Gin and tonics later we could call it a dinner. A quick Pho soup to start followed by a fried fish with special sauce and a chicken and lemongrass dish left us happy in the knowledge we had dined like the locals. Weary and worn but not out we returned to our conveniently located abode and settled for another big day tomorrow and being collected at 8.30am for Ha Long Bay.

Day 9 9/8/09

We woke at 4am and dozed till 7am then planned our day of shopping in Hanoi. Determined not to continue over budget, I took out $60-80USD and another $100USD just to be safe. I came home with $12USD.

We meandered at leisure through the heated chaotic streets using the road along with all the vehicles as the pavements were stacked with parked scooters blocking our path. Prices here in the air conditioned shops are mostly fixed but some determined bartering won a few times.

We used the central lake located about 100m from our hotel as the centre point and fanned backwards and forwards from it in a bid to ensure we didnt get lost as the streets all looked the same. Ensconsed in the old quarter we found the streets of similar genre and marvelled at their plethora of goods going indoors where air conditioned when the mood struck.

The retail etiquette here was less demanding/irritating with some store owners not even coming near you. The heat seemed to slow them down as well as us. They have a system of discounting heavily for the first sale of the day to bring them good luck. Not sure how many firsts they had as they sure didnt look like virgins to me!

Almost over it

Have lost the impetus to post Asian trip but must press on in true Virgoan style....