I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Vietnam (22)


Seen in Saigon




We went out on the shuttle bus this morning, to spend time in the city by ourselves.  We planned to rediscover old haunts and get one or two bits and pieces along the way.  Rather than give a blow by blow account, let me share one or two things we saw.

Laser cut pop up cards are everywhere.  The ideal item for a street seller, they’re light and easy to carry, though these two didn’t look as though they intended carrying them anywhere for a while.




The traffic.  Though we think there are possibly fewer scooters on the road now than there were, we could be mistaken.  There are more cars, for sure.  Still crossing the road is fairly straightforward if you take a deep breath and keep on walking.  No one will run you over!




Colour!  In this case, prayer scripts in the Chinese temple yesterday afternoon, but really, everywhere!




Incense coils hanging from the roof of the Chinese temple.  They intrigued me when I was first here and they continue to do so.




The scooter park.  How on earth would you find yours?




Fabric in the market.  So much of it.  So little I’d even consider buying.  Mostly polyester remainders from manufacturing clothes for the Asian market.




Downtime in the market when business is slow.




Business seemed to be really, very slow.




Face masks for women who ride scooters.




Long gloves and socks for the same people.




Because though we might favour a light tan, Vietnamese women prefer to stay as pale as they can.  They cover up completely whilst riding their scooters, mostly wearing a kind of apron over their legs, a hood or scarf over their head (beneath their crash helmet), long gloves and a face mask.  The woman in blue above, seemed to have it all stitched up in one garment.




Men playing a game on the side of the pavement.




Another stall holder making use of the excellent wifi service that is available here.  Even the tour buses are equipped.




A shop selling paper lanterns.  The kind of thing which would make me squeal to a halt and rush and take photos.  Except I’m not driving (thank goodness) and can’t.




The Saigon Opera House.  Where Tra played the first concert we came to.




The new metro which is being built in the centre of the city.




The terrible building site everyone has to cross to go anywhere.




Paintbrushes and other artists’ materials on sale on the street.




The ribbon and trimmings store next door.




An elderly woman going about her business.




Racks and racks of clothing in the market.




Model ships – here in the market but also out in shops in town.  Remember the Top Gear programme filmed in Vietnam?




More fabric I didn’t want to buy.




More traffic.




A bunch of elderly ladies shouting something at the Town Hall, carrying what seemed to be protest banners.




And a group of bemused policemen and army officals watching on.




Oh, and did I mention the traffic?

Saigon is such a vibrant city, full of energy and life, much of which is taking place right there under our noses.  From the minute we arrived in 2007, we loved it and this short stop has reminded us quite how much.




This is what we love most of all: The Vietnamese people.

So happy to be back!






We were not scheduled to arrive in Saigon until lunchtime, but from mid morning onwards, we sailed through a flotilla of ships of every kind.




Some were small and were rocking about on the choppy waters.




Others were large and were a little closer to us that we expected – until we spotted they were t anchor, that is.




It’s always interesting looking out over the balcony rail, speculating what’s what on board those ships.  We love it.




But spotting something like this in the sea makes us wonder!  I guess that’s shallow water?




Anyway, soon, we are sailing up the river – the Mekong?  The Saigon?  I’m not too sure which one!




All too soon, we spot our berth for the night.  I say all too soon, because we were hoping to be a little closer to the centre than this, the container port.




Because though these enormous structures are fascinating to watch, actually, tonight we are meeting our friends and it would be so much easier if they didn’t have to trek out to the edge of the earth to find us! 




The crew were looking forward to going shopping as well, but in case they didn’t have long enough to drive into the city, the shops have come to them.  A small marketplace was set up on the quayside, ready for business!




It’s six years since we were in Vietnam.  We first came here in 2007 to hear our friend Tra play in a concert and returned a year later, when we explored a larger part of Indochina but stopped over in Saigon to hear Tra again.




So, it seemed sensible to take an orientation tour before going out alone, because there’s no doubt about it, things have changed hugely since that time.




Though we didn’t set off till well past noon, we packed a lot into the trip.  We began at the Reunification Hall.




We had a tour of all the hidden depths.




Next, a stop by the Post Office and the Cathedral, from where we could see the Caravelle Hotel, where we’d stayed previously.




At this stage, things were much as we remembered, except that all around us were new developments, more traffic, more familiar brand names here and there.




But thankfully, some things remain.  Our next stop was the history museum, were we had a brief tour of the highlights




and a short sampler of the Water Puppet Theatre.  We’d spent a whole evening watching a show in Hanoi previously and recalled feeling a little underwhelmed to begin with but totally enchanted by the performance once we realised what was going on.  This simple little show was fun, too.




Our next stop was the inevitable shopping opportunity – the lacquerware workshop.  Was this the third of the trip?  We couldn’t remember. 




Here was slightly different though, because the designs are worked in eggshells, which look more like mother of pearl when finished.




People were getting a little weary by now and at each stop, more of them chose to remain on the bus rather than get off and see what’s what.  Never ones to miss a chance to see somewhere new, my hero and I wouldn’t even contemplate that!  The Chinese temple was somewhere we’d been before, too, and yet the place is so magical, so photogenic, we’d not refuse any offer to visit it again.  It’s smoky with a haze of incense, rather dusty and grubby and all the more attractive for that.  And it’s totally unassuming, being accessed by a simple doorway onto the street.  If you didn’t know it was there…well, you’d never guess.




And a short ten minute stop is just long enough for me to scuttle around noticing things.  Like this lady carefully packaging the incense sticks ready for sale.




We’d thought that was that, but no, there was one last blast of colour and life.  Next stop was the commercial wholesale market.  Oh my goodness.




We walked this one in single file, never stopping but keeping going, clicking cameras and spotting all kinds of funny things here and there.




It being a wholesale market, it was clear we weren’t there to buy, so no-one bothered us.  Quite frequently in markets here, I wish I could simply be left alone, to wander and observe things happening.  But it so rarely happens, because everyone wants to sell me a T shirt, a bag or a watch and I so rarely want to buy.




The quantities of goods on offer here was staggering.  Here were a few stalls selling caps.  Baseball caps by the thousand.




Next door was the ladies hat department and some children’s hats too.  Piled high all round, of every colour and shape you could possibly want.

As we returned to the bus, those who’d chosen to stay on board asked “What did we miss?”  How could I answer that question?  I know that not everyone sees things in quite the same way as I do, but would “Oh a few plastic buckets and some baseball caps” do?




We returned to the cool white ship to shower and change and get ready to meet our friends.  As we walked over the dockside to the gate, we heard a whistle.  Ignoring it, we heard it again, so looked around.  Though we were walking in a huge flat area and nothing was going on here at all this evening – no containers being moved or anything else – we were not walking in the marked channel. 

We made it safely to the gate and waited in the hot, sultry air.  Taxi drivers wanted to know why we were there; did we want a cab?  No thank you, we explained.  Our friends will be here shortly – and thankfully, shortly afterwards, they were!




We had a lovely evening with Tra Giang, Hoa and Simon and enjoyed an absolute feast of Vietnamese food in the best company.




The restaurant overlooked an artificial lake in one of the new, district 7 suburbs and yet again, we marvelled at the developments in this country over the last few years.  We drove past Porsche and Mercedes Benz dealerships, through smart suburbs with fancy shops.  Who’d have thought that in such a short time, a country could change so much?




We said our goodbyes at the dock gates and hoped we’d see one another again before too long.  Tra Giang may be attending a film festival in Germany in the Autumn, she said, and Hoa and Simon travel extensively for business, so who knows?  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

What a lovely way to spend the evening, though.  What a pity Tra couldn’t be there with us too!


Ancient Civilisations




What a glorious morning to wake in Nha Trang!  Not a cloud in the sky and the slight breeze from the sea made the already high temperatures more comfortable.

Though we’ve travelled around Vietnam quite a bit, this was our first time in Nha Trang itself and we looked forward to filling in a gap in our knowledge about the Champa people who featured prominently in the history of this area, which is why we chose the “Ancient Civilisations” tour for this morning.




It was another tendered port, so we watched as the boats were launched.  Be careful with #8!




As we stood waiting for things to happen, life in the wide open bay went on.  Ferries were crossing to the Vin Pearl Island, a five star resort and theme park just over the water.




Smaller, passenger ferries buzzed to and fro and we got our first glimpse of this very well developed Vietnamese beach resort which over the last twenty years has grown at an incredible rate.




Evidence of former traditional lifestyles remain on the edges, where fishermen live in simple homes in the same way as they always have.




But driving out along the seafront, the large part of central Nha Trang is now reminiscent of beach resorts the world over with wide open promenades and a broad, sandy beach.




We’d not gone very far when, stopped at traffic lights, we acquired a little friend.  “Wanna buy Polo shirt?”

We love Vietnam!  The colour, the life on the street and the vibrancy of the people provide a stark contrast to the quiet, controlled atmosphere of Brunei and we are so thrilled to be here.




Some things haven’t changed since we were last in the country!




And though NhaTrang appears to be developing fast, there are still signs of the old, traditional ways.




Outside our first stop, the Long Son Pagoda, this woman had set down her yoke full of cooking things and was taking a small break on her tiny red plastic stool.




The pagoda was interesting and rather attractive, though full of tourists including a large number of Russian visitors.  We noted many signs in Vietnamese, English and Russian and the destination of direct flights to the airport here is an indication of where the main tourist business is to be found.




Inside the Buddhist temple was a colourful affair.  Very photogenic and more vibrant than some we’ve seen recently.




There were three Buddhas here, each one in different style indicating the age of the figure.




Whilst the others climbed to the top of the hill (200 steps) to view the large white marble Buddha, I chose to mooch around and take some photos, spotting these Chinese characters made up in mosaic.




Each one different, I really liked the pattern and the carefree way they’d been assembled.




You know how it is, too, that once you start spotting things, it’s hard to stop taking more photos?




Until you come across another little distraction.




Or rather, another series of interesting things.




Good advice I think!  




The others were staggering down the steps by now and it was time to move on.  As I did, I got a photograph of the marble Buddha – surely better from here than from up beside it!  (Or am I simply justifying my inertia today!?)

Actually, I woke with a cough this morning and am doing my best to rise above it and not allow it to stop me having fun.




Our next stop was right up my alley even if we’ve seen several similar places before.  Nevertheless, a short stop where people are working with their hands is always fascinating to me and we hoped it wasn’t going to be one of those hard sell places.




Actually, the XQ Historical Village turned out to be interesting and proved popular with several of our group who purchased embroideries here.  The work was of a high standard and shown off to best potential, though I have no idea of prices.




We perused the shop before leaving, though, and I thought these small jewellery pieces were an interesting and very saleable development of the techniques.  Not my kind of thing at all, but attractive and wearable, I’d think.




As we waited to climb back onto the bus, I spotted a little something there in the boot.  A small cage with a bird inside which seemed to be the driver’s pet.  Having noticed it here, we continued to watch throughout the morning as at each stop, he opened the compartment, took the cage out and hung in on a nearby tree until it was time to go, when it was carefully returned to its place in the boot and closed up for the journey.  What fun!




At this point, I’ll admit to getting grumpy.  Our guide had told us that we’d be able to view the fishing village from the large bridge which crosses the river and I looked forward to getting some colourful photographs which would inspire me and add to my collection of “pictures to play with”.  But though other groups were walking on the far side of the road and able to get a clear, uncluttered view of the village, our guide told us not to cross the road, but to stay on this side.  We’d get another chance he said – but we couldn’t work out why we were walking over here if the whole point was the view the village!

Maybe I’m getting a little weary of being told what to do, of following instructions!?




Not only that, but we’d hardly seen any ancient civilisations yet, had we?  But looking over onto the hillside we spotted what we thought was a Champa structure and hoped we’d be heading there next.




TaDah!  Sure enough, the Po Nagar Tower, which had been built by the Champa people around a thousand years ago was our next stop.




I loved the ruined parts where additional pieces had been fixed.  Our guide told us that there had been an attempt to clean the tower and restore it, but the restorations fell apart more quickly than the original structure, so now, it is merely tended to and only preventative work is done.




There were two or three small chapel like structures, each with a dark and gloomy interior that invited the curious to step inside.




But in order to do that, those with short sleeves and uncovered knees needed to wear a robe.  I wasn’t feeling much like dressing up today, but my hero volunteered to step inside and take a few photos for me.




Now, of course, I rather wish I’d made the effort!




Had I been working, at this point I’d have questioned the title of the tour today and asked, did it really reflect the content?  Ancient Civilisations?  Because here we were at the market now.  Not that we minded.  Our guide had managed everything efficiently and we hadn’t been left hanging around anywhere for an unreasonable length of time.  Most of the group were delighted with the content of the morning and so it appeared to have hit the spot with the majority – maybe it was just we who would have liked to have seen more/learned more along the way.




It’s also tricky when one is already familiar with a place.  We knew what to expect on a Vietnamese street and though we still get a buzz from standing on the corner watching life go by, it’s not quite the same as experiencing it for the first time.




As we’ve discovered too, people like to shop!  Though we bought a couple of packs of the sesame/peanut snack we’ve enjoyed here, we weren’t looking for copy handbags, pearls, souvenirs or anything else.




And although we could use some fish sauce at home, perhaps we don’t need it in quite such quantity!




Still, I can always amuse myself with my camera.  Mary, do these shoes look familiar to you?




I love the colourful plastics!




And watching a motorcycle rider have his load secured before driving off is entertaining, too.




Watch out everyone, wide load coming through!




There was one thing I could use.  I stepped inside the pharmacy and asked for cough medicine.  Receiving a puzzled look, I coughed…aaaah, “syrup?”   A short while later, I took a wary sip of the linctus – perfectly fine and tasting exactly like any other cough syrup I’ve tried.  But it’s no Benylin, sadly.




The last stop of the morning was at the “Four Seasons”.  That’s “A” Four Seasons rather than “The” Four Seasons of course.




Situated directly on the beach, you knew what I had to do, don’t you?  (And yes, I was extremely careful with my camera!)




The sand was extraordinarily hot but the water cool and refreshing.




I could quite see why NhaTrang is such a popular all year round resort.  Years ago, we stayed at DaNang, a little further north and visited China Beach which was deserted but for a single building site.  I wondered what it’s like now?  What it will be like in another twenty years time?




A refreshing coconut drink hit the spot and it was time to go back to the cool white ship. As we boarded our coach for the last time, our persistent T shirt salesman, who had followed us to every stop this morning on his moped, made a few last sales. Full marks for perseverance!




So much for Ancient Civilisations.  When we chatted to friends over lunch later, we discovered that all the tours had included several common features, regardless of the title.  Whilst the tourist industry in NhaTrang is developing fast, maybe there’s still a little way to go; a little confidence to develop in recognising the things which tourists/travellers are keen to see and to learn about.

It’s great to be in Vietnam again though!


A few more good things from the trip



Uploading photographs from our trip, I came across a few which didn't quite fit in earlier posts but which I think are interesting in some way, for example, these shampoo and shower gel bottles in an hotel.



What about the "odd" tile in the Cao Dai temple? To illustrate that only God is perfect, perhaps.

Is buying rice a simple purchase? A market stall in Saigon, Vietnam.

I loved the way the yellow building brought this Saigon view to life.

On the Mekong, in Laos, the flowering teak trees of the forest are doing fine above the high water mark from last weekend's flood.


A store selling handmade paper and books in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The outside of the same store


Rice cakes drying in the sun, Luang Prabang, Laos

Silk scarves, Luang Prabang Night market, Laos.

Bead store in the Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Woven wall hangings for sale in hotel shop, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Three characters from the garden, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

In case of boredom, a basket of wooden puzzles from the bar, Chiang Mai, Thailand.


A few interesting roof structures


coconut leaves, Mekong delta area, Vietnam





clay tiles, Luang Prabang, Laos


clay tiles with stencilled wooden battens, Buddhist temple, Luang Prabang, Laos


Irregular clay tiles on plain wooden battens, Luang Prabang, Laos.

wooden shingle on canopy, Chiang Mai, Thailand