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Tell the Fat Lady She’ll On in Five…

March 31, 2013

It’s late Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting on a hanging seat with the sun beating down. Today is an exceptionally hot day, draining my energy so I’m sitting her, rocking back and forth thinking about the week I’ve had.

Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but I’ll repeat myself on more time. The primary objective for this trip was to lay down some ground work for Reaching Out; for the projects we may be supporting over the next twelve months as well as identify any volunteer opportunities for our mission next year. It is my intention to lead another group of volunteers back to Vietnam to help those less fortunate than ourselves and hope to make a difference in their lives.

Throughout this week I have visited a number of projects all of which seem very worthy causes. I also go the opportunity to reunite with he children of Go Vap (who we met during our Vietnam 2011 mission).

Words can’t really describe some of the things that I’ve seen, and I’ve also made a promise not to disclose too much information about the work that goes here which if course I will honour. However, I must say this, my hosts have been extremely accommodating and taken amazing care of me and my family. Despite my jest about their compulsion to feed me with the most tantalising flavours Vietnam has to offer. Most people would think my hosts have gone to extraordinary lengths in their hospitality, though I dare say this his part of their nature and no deed is too big for them. Having driven us over 400 kilometres across Vietnam, not only have we had to chance to see first hand the good work my hosts do on a daily basis, but gave us the chance to get to know each other a little too.

I wish I could publicly thank my hosts and allow others to share the recognition they deserve, but I know they are far too modest. Suffice to say, I will do what I can to raise awareness about the work being done when I return and I hope someday soon I can return and offer help of my own.

We have a few more days left in Vietnam before we return to the UK. As ever, I feel it’s far too short a visit and not ready to return to the cold northern hemisphere.

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Last Leg

March 31, 2013

Our last few days will serve as a short family trip, to allow us to unwind and relax before we rejoin the rat-race. We have chosen to spend that time on the beautiful island of Phu Quoc.

We arrived very early this morning having caught the06:35 flight from Ho Chi Minh City (You see I can write a blog without mentioning the name Saigon). Again, there was little sleep to be had. We arrived at the great capital in the early evening of Saturday and got an airport taxi to our hotel (which I had purposely booked as it was a stone’s throw away). Our taxi driver was not a happy man; even less so when he saw me – I’m not sure why I have this affect on people.

As we made our way to the hotel, we thought we saw a sign for our hotel, so in my typical knee-jerk fashion I asked the driver to stop, as I suspected he was trying to go around the block a few times; this isn’t uncommon in Vietnam. Last time we were in Vietnam we actually tracked the Taxi’s route with a sat-nav and it clearly showed the driver was taking a much convoluted route.

The driver stopped the car, started shouting something at me in Vietnamese (probably about my mother) then got out of the car. So I joined him, got out of the car and started to walk back towards the sign we’d seen. I was a little embarrassed when I saw it, because the sign clearly had our hotel’s name on it, but it also had an arrow pointing into the side street which we hadn’t seen.

Is there a dish, Egg Foo Mi? I apologised to the driver, but he didn’t take it. He did however take an extra 15,000 dong which I didn’t contest :s

Our hotel, the Sunflowers Hotel was a pleasant hotel, as with most new hotels, elaborately decorated. It was clean, comfortable and cheap which is all we needed as we were going to be catching an early morning flight the next day – so barely even breaking into our suit cases.

After we settled in, we decided to go for a shirt stroll for find some food. We find a very contemporary establishment with a spacious garden seating area. We thought we’d give it a try. The prices reflected its look, it was Vietnam’s yuppie bar and no Saigon beer to boot. Not only that the menus were in Vietnamese only and the waiting staff just stared blankly at me as I asked if anyone spoke English.

Our next attempt looked a little more promising, but looks can be deceiving and this was no exception. A non-English trend was starting to form in my head. Perhaps we were just a step too far from the tourist hotspot even for me. We take a stab in the dark on the menu. As it turns out, it wasn’t typo bad and certainly nothing to write home about.

We eat up and head back to the hotel, it’s an early night for us as we have an early flight ( have I mentioned that already?). Except I can’t quit switch myself off again. Everyone is asleep and the hours slowly pass by as I lie awake in the dark trying not to wake anyone. Eventually the alarm goes off at 4am I’ve not really slept, but I still feel refreshed.

Ho Chi Minh City Domestic Airport is a hive of activity at five in the morning, I can say I’ve seen an airport that is so busy and crowded at that time in the morning. I’ve had my fair share of early morning flights, having had to commute between Cardiff to Glasgow on a weekly basis for extended periods of time earlier on in my career. I remember Cardiff International Airport being reasonably vacant for the mot part, maybe a few dozen sleepy passengers trundling along through check-in.

This was a different kettle of fish; so many people impatiently pushing along through the queues, trying desperately to get to the check-in desks before the person in front. If I’ve not said this before, I’ll say it now… The Vietnamese have little or no patience; neither do they have any sense of orderly queues (Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum notwithstanding). The queue can easily be ten deep, and a little boisterous Vietnamese woman will happily push past you as if you were just a goal-post.

The flight to Phu Quoc is short and sweet, just under the forecasted hour and fifteen minutes. The airport we land in is unfamiliar to me. The last time I came here (with Mr Carter) we walked across the Tarmac from the plane to the tin-shack of an airport terminal.

Phu Quoc International Airport is now open boastign a shiny new glossy terminal building atis very modern and fresh. Vietnam moves at such a fast pace; these buildings seem to spring up faster than a flower blossoming in the sun.

The new airport is fed by neatly laid roads that were mere dirt tracks when I was here last. The place is barely recognisable.

As we head out of the terminal, i search earnestly for a Vietnamese driver with a piece of paper with my name on it, as I’ve already arranged a transfer pickup with the hotel. The confirmation email arrived only a few days previous, s it should be all good. It’s not. 😦 As each of the awaiting drivers start to peel away as they find they respective guests, we’re left standing alone at the terminal doors. All the drivers are gone, and so are the taxis. I’m a bit perplexed. As I reach into my pocket for my phone, a short Vietnamese chap (yes even shorter than I – I’m actually a touch above average height in Vietnam I have you know;)) approaches me and speaks perfect English. He says that he can get me to my hotel. I tell him that I have a pre-arranged transfer, to which he tells me there are no other drivers and he can help. He asks me for the hotels phone number and starts dialling. After a very brief chat on the phone he grabs my bags and tells me to follow him saying that he’s sorted it out with the hotel and he’ll take me there. It’s all happening too fast, and I’m getting a little flummoxed.

Wi little choice, we all bundle into his people carrier as he loads in our luggage. I notice he’s not a licensed taxi, but what am I to do… There are no more taxis left and its 07:15 in the mornings… I decide to go with the flow and see what happens. I’m more than aware that something dubious is happening, but I’m hoping i can still manage the situation. As we reach the airport gates, the security asks the man for the nominal airport taxi tax. The little chap smiles and points at me, casually saying I need to pay them 40,000 dong. No chance! I haven’t given him any money yet, and I’m not about too. I feign ignorance, but he’s no fool either (that’s a little too obvious at this point). And presses for the money. I flatly refuse and tell him to take us back to the terminal.

The next thing I know, he puts his right foot firmly to the floor with his accelerator pedal firmly gripped in between and his van speeds off through the gate. Somewhat startled, I just stare at him, but no sooner are we out of the gates, he slows down and then starts to talk to me casually. E reassures me that everything is on the up and up, and that the hotel will pay him once e explains the situation. I know he can sense that I know his game, but he carries on regardless. As we continue along the road, he pulls out a tourist map and asks if I’d like to stop off at any of he key tourist stops, as he’s more than happy to do so. “Dear God, it’s 7 in the morning is anything really going o be open at this time?” Is my most polite response, “Lets just get to the hotel shall we” I try my best not to sound aggressive or threatening. He smiles back, and says “Yeah sure, no problem”

We arrive at the Resort Hotel, and it’s a mess. There is a lot if building work going on, and the place looks grubby. Just behind reception around the corner from the swimming pool is a cement mixer, on full spin and the labourers next to it feeding it with sand. The day isn’t getting any better.

The receptionist can’t find the booking, until the manager arrives. Eventually the booking is found and an explanation is given for the lack of driver at the airport. They mixed up our reservation with another guest. ‘Le-Thanh’ is such a common name over here, it’s not surprising they mistook me for some six foot German tourist with a shaved head and goatee.

The manager assays that the hotel will pay for the taxi, as it was their mistake. I can stop with the German accent now.

We finally get taken to our room by a very unenthusiastic concierge, who more or less just throws our suitcases in throw the door. I’m sure I’ve seen this sketch on TV, though I’m sure it was funnier than it is now. We’re not happy. We’ve had the worst start to the day imaginable, followed by a second grade Vietnamese knock off of Faulty Towers. I’m half expecting the concierge to tell me his name was Manuel and he’s from ‘Rach Gia and he knows Nothing’ :s

It’s time for a family meeting, an emergency meeting. It’s agreed that this place is awful, and we can’t stay here. Lucky for me I have my laptop and their wi-fi security is appalling. Within minutes I’m connected to the web and searching for some alternative digs. Somewhere further down the road, more expensive but it have far better reviews than this place.

Give credit where credit is due, the Manager was more than helpful when I explained the situation. He even promised to ensure that I to a full refund on my booking (which was fir three night) less the cost if the taxi. I can only take his word on that, but to be fair he sounded very sincere.

I’m now sitting in the sanctuary of a different and very new holiday resort which was nothing more than rumble which I rode over on my moped 15 months ago. This place is amazing, there is something true in the saying, “You get what you pay for…” In more ways that one, I can agree with that.

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Thank you for Small Mercies

March 30, 2013

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That is our last day in Quy Nhon. It’s been a busy few days as we’ve been visiting a number of centres that are working very hard to help the poor and destitute. Coming from the west, us easy to forget what’s its like to have what you want when you want it.

I haven’t written much about our visits because I’m saving that for the official Reaching Out blog, but today is different. I feel I should at least share a little of my experience.

Today we visited a small village on the outskirts of Quy Nhon. Given the resort nature of the Quy Nhon you can be forgiven of not expecting to see a village as this. I am told that the people who live here are extremely poor, and mostly live from the kindness of others who are generous to give them their time to help and care for them. There is something unusual about this town, something I wasn’t quite prepared for, even though I had been told about the visit.

Today we visited a village that is populated entirely by people who suffer from leprosy. I’m a little embarrassed to say that half of me was a little alarmed t the thought if the visit. I know it’s naive, but still you can’t help having some slight prejudice. I’ve never met anyone who had suffered from this disease, or know much about it. And that’s why I think you harbour this prejudice inside – its more fear from the unknown and unknowing.

We visited a hospice close to the village centre which cared for the elderly. There were probably a good hundred r so people here, mostly in their late fifties or older. All suffering the affects of the disease. It has hard to watch. There was nothing gruesome to see, per se. No severe disfigurements as your imagination would have you believe. The reason it was hard to watch was because of the shear poor conditions these people were living in. Most of the people I saw, elderly men and women, had signs if multiple amputations… The primary areas seems to be the fingers, hands, toes, feet or legs. There were some, who appeared to have lack of facial muscle control which meant that half or all their face sagged and their lower eyelids just hung.

There was a room, which had about a dozen people lying in large beds not too dissimilar to the cots we’d seen at Go Vap only larger. They seemed to be very immobile. I spoke to one lady who had her fingers on both hands as well as her left leg amputated. I was advised that this was their last room; the room where they would spend their inal days.

We entered another room, full of men (most off the wards were segregated for men and women). All of whom appeared to be bedridden. However, there was one chap who seemed in high spirits and very chatty. The room was dark, gloomy and an overpowering smell of stale urine. As I looked around, I cold see that strapped to the sides if several beds was a makeshift catheter using just a plastic tube nod used plastic water bottle.

As depressing as the room was, these people appeared to be in good spirits. Despite the conditions, they had someone who came to visit and care for them on a regular basis.

I have no photos to share, because I felt it in appropriate. Perhaps I should n be describing this so openly, however I think that people should know something about. I need to ne’er stand and learn more about this disease and how it affects the lives of those it touches.

I hope there is a way Reaching Out is able to offer some support, how ever small, to the people who help he’s people.

Please spare a thought…

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Feeder

March 29, 2013

I’ve come to the conclusion that our host is a feeder.

Not that I’m complaining, though I’m going to have to work extra hard when I get back home 😦

The food has been non-stop, not only that, but she doesn’t really take no for an answer. The quality has been amazing too, probably better than most Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to I the UK. Some of it probablY isn’t for the faint hearted. Personally, whole squid (tentacles and all) is just delicious especially when it’s so fresh. We had more shrimp the size of you palm than you can possibly imagine. I’m told its just so incredibly cheap here, it’s like having a bag of chips (though I dare say a little more healthier).

Today, when we were out visiting a centre we were asked if we liked chicken. Which we said yeah, sure (I mean who doesn’t?). Our host then asked how we liked it, boiled for fried. I was presuming she was asking as a per-cursor to determining the main dish for our next meal. I wasn’t far off the mark, however, I was a little surprised by the small white sack she gave me a about 15 minutes later.

I didn’t think much of the sack, until it started moving. Curiosity took the better of me so I took a quick peak inside the sack… Lowland behold, sat three live chickens staring back at me probably as startled as I was.

It’s a good job she didn’t ask if I liked beef.

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The Only Pot Belly in the Village

March 28, 2013

The Vietnamese are very blunt; they tend to just say what they think – there is no malice to it, it’s just plain and simple honesty.

When I went back to Go Vap earlier this week and meet the director again, the first thing she said to me (via translation) was that I had changed shape; “you are narrower than before” she remarked.

I admitted that, yes I had lost a little weight since we last saw each other, taking this as a compliment.

“Why did you that?” She asked. I have to be honest, I was a little dumbstruck (which is very uncommon for me).

Even since my last visit to the country in 2011, I have noticed that there are much more ‘portly’ people in Vietnam. It’s not surprising though, and I guess it’s mostly in the developer cities. But society’s obesity is spreading its way across Vietnam too, it’s inevitable. This country is growing and developing at an alarming rate. Everywhere you looking in the cities you’ll see heavy western influences, there a recognised fast food restaurants everywhere; KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut etc. Fortunately, I’ve not had the misfortune to see the Golden Arches yet and I hope never to see it in Vietnam.

When I first visited the county in 1996, the main mode of transport throughout Vietnam was by push bike. Good old fashioned steam power ;). My next visit would be almost ten years later and the change (Saigon) was incredible. The city was unrecognisable. Seven years on and the country continues to develop onwards and upwards with relentless determination.

Go to any major city, and you’ll be greeted with an endless sea of mopeds streaming along the roads. Crossing the roads themselves is a challenge.

So when you mix in the change to their diets and lack of exercise (as they’re now all scooting around on mopeds), then it’s not hard to see how these people are physically changing so much.

I have to say, I am a little conscientious of my size. It’s not glandular, I am fat. It’s something I am working, probably not as hard as I should, but then life throws you these curve balls like dumping you in the mid of a country with the most amazing flavours. It’s hard to resist, very hard.

The last few times I’ve come back to Vietnam I have felt even more embarrassed about my portly size. My wife used to jokingly call me her Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig. The western world can be cruel, but sadly that’s all self inflicted.

It’s not so much the case any more. Nt only have I managed to lighten my load, but the number of pot bellied pigs living in the city has grown considerably. I’m no longer the only Pot Belly in the village…

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The Long Road Down

March 28, 2013

In chaos there is structure, a pattern if you will. You just have to look very carefully. At least that is what I believe or have convinced myself.

In all the chaos that adorns the roads in Vietnam, with the vast number of mopeds darting back and forth, in and out of each other I never understand why there aren’t as many accidents as there should be. Riders and drivers see gaps in the traffic that you would not try in your wildest dreams back at home, and yet they seem to breeze through the gaps effortlessly. It’s like they have this on board telepathy. Try it back at home and that’s just going to be a mess.

The constant hoot of the horn is an odd one too. You get so used to the incessant drone when you leave the country you almost miss the sound in the silence. Unlike home, where horns tend to be used for rebuking, they tend to use them to inform or instruct other road users. It’s like a language unto itself. Like dogs barking, fellow riders and drivers will respond according at the sound of the horn, either making way, slowing down or pulling over as required.

We are in a nicely air conditioned Mercedes People Carrier, heading southbound for Quy Nhon. It’s going to be a long journey, and the air conditioning is a very welcomed companion. You have to treat it as such, because any disrespect or abuse is going to end in tears. When you’ve been sitting in an air conditioned space for a while you soon forget how powerful a foe it is,or more to the point how hot and humid it is outside. Open the door or window for the briefest of moments and you soon remember why.

Even though this country is developing rapidly, the infrastructure is still somewhat deprived of the finesse wearer accustomed to in the west.

We are travelling along a road blistered in pot holes, which probably accounts or our cruising speed of 60 miles per hour. The road has a contra flow that has a steady stream of oncoming traffic consisting of thick pockets of mopeds, bicycles and trucks. Lots of trucks. Despite the steady oncoming flow, when the opportunity of a gap appears, the smaller more nimble vehicles pull out to the left and accelerate in unison. It’s like a ballet, abet a little scarier. Sitting in the front seat, I get the white knuckle version.

If the is a motorway from Da Nang to Quy Nhon, we’re not on it. I’m glad too, because the scenery is amounting. In fact I’ve missed a ton of Kodak moments writing this blog.

We’re two and a half hours into our journey when we take our first pitstop at a roadside petrol station. It’s pretty minimalistic, the toilets are around the back. I don’t really need a visit, but I decide to give it a try as we’ve still got a good three more hours on the road.

It’s a grim picture inside. Not the best kept facilities. The kind of place you wipe your feet as to leave to go outside if you get my drift. I’m about to make use of the facilities when this monstrous spider drops from the ceiling onto the wall in front of me. Honestly, the thing is the size of my hand. I hurriedly brush my feet on the floor and make my exit. I can wait until the next stop πŸ˜‰

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Photos…

March 28, 2013

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Basement Bargins….

March 28, 2013

I saw a funny thing the other week when I was in Tenby. “Β£1.20 Shop”… Who says inflation hasn’t hit the high street πŸ˜‰ I think the pound-stretcher market is being ‘stretched’ somewhat if you’ll excuse the pun.

There are many bargains to be had in Vietnam, and you don’t really have to look that hard. Though, I will say it is easy for tourists to be suckered into pay over the odds for things, but then who at they to know? Even when you are paying “over the odds”, chances are they’ll still be paying a fraction of the price they would in the western world for similar items.

The best way to bag a bargain, is to have someone local help you out – even if it is someone from the hotel you’re staying at, or maybe a friend you have met. They’ll always be able to advise you on a price guide. Locals will always pay far less for the same item a western tourist will pay. It’s because the Vietnamese know you have money, and they’ll exploit any opportunity to make a little more if possible. I don’t mean this in a negative or bad way, it’s just the culture. There is no malice intended, or evil deception. Put yourself in their shoes, I’m sure you’d do the same.

When I arrived in Saigon at the start of the week, once I’d checked into the hotel, the first thing I did was get myself a Vietnamese Sim card for my phone. Normally, as a holiday the first thing I want is to be free of my mobile. However, this is no ordinary holiday as I’m also out here for Reaching Out and therefore need to be contactable.

The cost of using a mobile in Vietnam is incredibly cheap, so much so that I wonder how they manage it. The cynical side of mean questions why is it so expensive in the UK if they an do it so cheaply over here. With the kind assistance of the hotel security man, we wonder over to a stall just around the corner. He asks me what I wanted then has a quick chat to the vendor. Regardless of the price displayed on the vendor’s cart (which were higher), he acquires a SIM card for 100,000 Vietnamese Dong (which is a little over Β£3). I have my trusty old iPhone 4 (the original I mig add) which means that it won’t fit a normal sized SIM card as Apple introduced the micro-sim on this model. Fear not, the vendor takes my UK SIM and uses it as a makeshift jig to downscale the Viet sim to size. After just a few minutes of cutting and filing, the sim fits snuggly into the magazine and it inserted back into the phone. As we switch on the phone we all breath a sigh of relief (including the vendor) when the phone chimes i to life and acquires a lock onto the Vietnamese mobile network. I even have 3G!

It’s now Thursday morning (very early morning I admit), and I’ve been using the phone, and mostly 3G all week without issue. I have know idea how much credit I have left (and I’m sure there is a certainly keyboard shortcut to tell me), but at Β£3 a go its not bad is it?

UK networks pay attention, you should be ashamed of yourselves I think. The services you offer are not much better than I’m getting here….

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Suits you, Sir…

March 28, 2013

By my standards, that’s probably the best sleep I’ve had in days. It’s 01:49 local time, and I’ve been up for an hour importing my photos onto the iPad. I feel refreshed and recharged. Last night was the earliest night we’ve had, I think we were in bed by nine- thirty last night.

We arrived at Da Nang International Airport late last night, having caught the last flight from Saigon. The flight was adjust a little late, due to strong turbulence, but we arrived safely at about eleven-fifteen. Disembarkation was uneventful, and since this was a domestic flight there was no need to worry about passports. By the time we reached the luggage belt, our cases were already dancing around the carrousel. these Vietnamese are very efficient.

In contrast to Saigon, getting a taxi was very straightforward and there was no worry about being taken for a ride in more ways that one. The streets were mostly bare, with maybe a small handful of mopeds darting across the roads.

As the taxi pulled up our hotel, it was clear to see that it was a new hotel. It was in pristine condition, not a spot out of place. Is was no accident by the way. I had a good look around on the interweb when I was booking hotels for our visit, looking for good hotels at reasonable prices. There are always new hotels springing up everywhere in Vietnam. Tourism is such a booming trade over here, it’s not hard to find such amazing bargains.

The hotel we’re staying is is the Starlet Hotel, I think it’s rated at 3.5 stars. As LiΓͺu would say, “it’s very posh”. If the hotel is very new, it’s not uncommon to get at least 50% the normal room rate as they’re encouraging guests to stay in order to build up a good reputation.

It is very late, there were only two people at reception, I hope they weren’t waiting sole for us to arrive, that would make me feel a little guilty. The reception is is polite, but lacks the usually warm welcome you typically receive in Vietnamese hotels. Oh we’ll, guilt over.

I had booked the room through Agoda, as you can get some very good rates through the site. I had booked a family room, however the receptionist informs me that I have to pay extra because I have more people in my party than I booked for. I pointed out that my reservation clearly shows 2x Adults and 2x children. She explains that children must be under 6 years old (most hotels in Vietnam state under 11-12); it’s very late and I’m too tired to argue. She’s asking for another 250,000 Dong – it’s not really going to beak the bank (less than a tenner). Normally I’d argue the point, but everyone is tired and hungry. We had a pitiful supper in the airport, eight summer rolls shared between the four of us as the restaurant was shutting and it was all they had).

The room as spacious enough, described as a twin room on the website but was occupied by two queen sized double beds. Nice! The mini bar is stock with some soft drinks, Heineken and La Rue beer.. No Saigon Green, what a shame 😦

It’s one in the morning, time to sleep.

I’m up again before my alarm. It’s 05:30, at last the first lie in of the holiday πŸ˜‰
As fancy as the shower looks, at estates mildly tepid. But it works, and it’s refreshing in this heat. Da Nang is no cooler than Saigon, perhaps just a margin less humid but not by much.

Breakfast is avery pleasant experiences the ninety floor, with a balcony that overlooks the seafront. What a spectacular view. We a greater by a very friendly man, who offers us some fresh pineapple and pho for breakfast. Fresh pineapple in Vietnam is amazing, it’s full of flavour and juices – an ideal as a refreshment int the heat.

The pho is very good, though with chicken rather than the traditional beef. As you travel throughout Vietnam, each region has their own distinct flavour of pho typically using herbs and spices available within the region. I’ve always found that it tastes better the more you travel north. It’s a personal choice, I’m sure others prefer how the south cook their pho. If you’re visiting Vietnam for the first time, you must try pho for breakfast, it’s an amazing start to the day! Pho-tastic!

Having thought that pho was our only choice for breakfast (there were no menus on display, and the friendly waiter had simply offered us “noodle-soup”) we’re now offered “fried-egg” which Lieu and I happily accept. Having not eaten much last night we’re both ravenous. A few moments later the waiter returns with two plates with two large fried eggs, elaborately decorated with tomatoes and cucumbers on each plate as well as a third plate filled with large fresh baguettes. The eggs were delicious. As well as the orange juice and strong Vietnamese coffee this was the best breakfast I’ve had since we started our journey on Saturday. It even made last night’s mixup an acceptable error.

We spent the whole day on Reaching Out duties, of which I’ll leave to describe on the official blog; but suffice to say e had an amazing day without very friendly host and appreciate their hospitality (the work they do is amazing and very humbling).

In the afternoon, we’ve been given an amazing treat – a visit to Hoist An. This is a fantastic place, about a thirty minute drive from Da Nang city located to the south on the sea front. Hoi An is particularly well known for its cloths making, and today was no exception. There is an abundance of cloths and shoe shops, though most cloths on display are the model garment because they will make the cloths, tailor made to fit. Most places will do this in under 24 hours, and the prices you pay are ridiculously cheap for the services you are getting. A word of warning though, shop around… There are plenty of shops, so it’s not hard to find the same style garment elsewhere at a competitive price.

The one thing that can be a little off putting, is the sales pitch. The Vietnamese are very pushy… Sometimes it’s fun, but other times its just off putting. If you’re not in the mood for it, it can be very irritating. Fortunately I was in good spirits;)

Nyasha and I treated ourselves to new jackets. The women in the shop were very pushy (or cheeky depending on your mood), but I was very taken by the jakes so it was hard not to buy into it. I’d seen the style of jakes in several shops, and knew I was going to buy one at some point so I figure why not here. Fortunately for me, the jacket was a near perfect fit. The store owner said that she would shorten the arms and length of the jacket for me. They measured Nyasha and asked her to choose the colour of inner lining. This was at 5pm, the finished garments arrived by 8pm and a good torts minute ride away. Hows that for service, and the two cost less than Β£50 including the tailoring and delivery! I love bargains.

We have a long day ahead of us, a six hour drive down to Quy Nhon (by road obviously). I’m sure I’ll get an opportunity to catch up on some sleep along the route. It’s an odd thing, but it makes so much sense. The Vietnamese tend to have an afternoon nap, usually after lunch for a couple of hours. Even if they’re in work, they’ll find a quiet corner and just lay down and sleep. I’m sure there’s something in this, maybe we should give it a whirl back at home – do you think they’ll go for it? πŸ˜‰

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Reaching Out

March 26, 2013

Another day, another airport. As long as the day has been, it was well worth the time.

Last night was a quiet affair, having finally arrived at the Saigon Mini 5 (It’s almost a home from home for me as its the third time that I’ve stayed here) after our long haul, we showered and changed cloths to refresh ourselves then took a little stroll along Bui Vien street.

Memories flood ack as we pass the old familiar, particularly the street beer bar Carter and I discovered selling Saigon Green at 10,000 Dong – what a bargain. Though I doubted I’d be settling in there tonight with the family in toe; it’s more of a backpackers enclave than a family saloon. None the less, a smile spreads across my lips as I pass.

Bui Vien is busy, very busy but thats not uncommon as this is Backpackers Central after all. Having walked up and down the street trying to recollect a cafe from a previous visit, I gave up the chase and chose what looked to be a new establishment. It was pleasant enough, and the beer was cheap at only 15,000 Dong a bottle (I always find it easier to work out the currency in beer bottles). We all ha a round of drinks, the girls obviously sticking the soft variety, accompanied by a couple of portions of Vietnamese Springrolls – ah heaven.

Rufi and the girls decided to make it an early night (realatveky, it was still about 22:30), but my mind was still wired, so I decided to stay out for one more, hoping my old remedy would help set me asleep…we all know how that turned out.

With about an hour and a half sleep, I’ve idled away quietly in the dark, waiting for a slightly more sensible time until I can do something a little more productive…

Eventually, the clock stuck five and signs of life start to stir in the streets below; a sudden downpour if rain says the nature street, but is gone as quick as it came. Glad I skipped the idea of an early morning stroll.

As Tuesday morning finally arrives, I’m a little apprehensive. With the help of my dear friend Kim Browne and her volunteer Huy, I’ve managed to arrange a short visit to Go Vap. I’ve very much been looking forward to returning to Go Vap an visiting he kids we eat during our Reaching Out mission in 2011. Brief ore I left the UK, I put together a DVD of the short films I made for Reaching Out. I thought I would be nice to present it to Director Co Loan and the kids at he orphanage.

I’m apprehensive because I suddenly thought, “What if they don’t remember me or the others from Reaching Ou?” What if I was just another anonymous stranger that came and went from their lives in a heart beat?

As we got to the orphanage, a big smile belonging to a young man came out to greet us enthusiastically. It was Huy. He seemed as pleased to see him as I was. After a some green tea and conversation with Director Co Loan, Huy took us over to the VVN Room, where most of the Special Needs class were waiting for us….

It was so great to see them, and they all looked so well and full of their usual zest for life. As soon as they saw me they shouted out to me. Huy transacted saying that they remembered me and my friends.

We sat and watched the DVD I made or them, then they entertained us with their singing. It was so good to be back. Not only that they were very welcoming to Rufi, Nyasha and Lieu. It was great to be able to share my experience with these amazing kids with my family.

After a few hours with the group, they finally said their good byes and headed for lunch. Huy gave Rufi, the girls and myself a tour of the orphanage so they could see the facilities first hand themselves. I can’t believe how much the place has changed, and so much for the better. It was great to see some mailer faces, the children who I’d spent so much time with only a little ver a year ago.

We’re now at Saigon domestic airport, waiting or our light to Da Nang to begin the next step of our journey.

There are always people in need in Vietnam, no matter how fast the country is developing; there are still those who get left behind. I’m hoping to find more ways to help those in need in Vietnam; to make a difference and to allow others to Reach Out…