Friday, February 29, 2008

Dalat and Na Trang

The flight from Saigon had us leaving the hotel at 5:30am and on the bus in Dalat a few hours later. We spent the day touring - a Buddhist monastery, a cable car ride through the mountains, Bao Dai's summer palace. He was the last emperor of Vietnam and like many wealthy people, liked to escape to this mountain city when summer became too hot on the coast. One of the specialties of the area is hand embroidery. The most exquisite work is done to produce pictures by thread. Some are even so perfectly done that they can be viewed from either front or back.

Na Trang is a 5 hour drive from Dalat through the mountains, which all would have been more spectacular without the low cloud cover. On the way we visited the Cham towers, which are a major temple for the Cham people who occupied the area during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The next day we took a boat ride to an island primarily occupied by fishermen. To get to the island from our "tour" boat we boarded what appeared to be round woven baskets with a diameter of about 6'. There was a small wooden floor, and 2 of us sat on the edge along with the 2 locals who paddled us in. Lunch was cooked on board our own boat and included a lovely selection of seafood along with soup and fried noodles. The captain doubles as the chef.

Our food in general has been local, fresh and delicious - and all without problem!

Mekong Delta

We left at 8:30 this morning for the Mekong Delta.  The highway was covered with trucks, motor bikes, bicycles and buses all trying to get farther faster.  And on either side of the road (i.e direction was irrelevant if necessary).  The local buses have an odd sounding horn, and the more they use it the faster they can go.  At least I think that's the logic.

As we went further south there were more and more rice paddies at different stages of development.  The greens are so spectacular.  

At the water's edge in the Delta we boarded sampams to take us across an arm of the river, and then got onto even smaller ones to chug up a narrow canal that was covered on either side with water coconuts.  We visited  a candy factory where they make coconut candy from the pressed fresh coconut and palm sugar.  Lunch was a local feast of elephant ear fish cooked whole and studded with garlic and then pulled apart and served in rice pancakes with fresh green onion and basil.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


We've met up with our tour group, an Australian couple and a British couple and a very cheery Aussie tour guide. The Sheraton Saigon is in the older downtown area and like most Sheratons, a nice luxurious hotel. It's a busy city - lots of motor bikes, bicycles , cars and trucks all vying for space on the roads and sidewalks so lots of honking going on. To cross a street requires great faith - nothing stops so you have to just keep moving across and the bikes avoid you. Of course, you have to stay out of the way of cars as they expect you to move. We started with a walking tour to learn how to do this!

The main old buildings have been nicely fixed up - the opera house, the post office and the cathedral. We've arrived just after Tet, the Vietnamese New Year and the streets are covered in lights, red banners and pots of yellow chrysanthemums which are on either side of most doorways to keep out evil spirits while the spirits of the ancestors are being welcomed in.

Our tour guide took us to her favourite pho place. This is a local noodle soup which contains meat or seafood, and then you add your own fresh bean sprouts, Vietnamese basil, mint, and hot sauce. Delicious.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


What an amazing three days we've had here. Everything from setting out before dawn to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat to eating food from roadside stands.

The temples are amazing works considering that most of them were built in the 10th Century or so. Some have been fixed up a bit, with stones put back in place, and the jungle cleared away, but today we went to one that was still a tumble of rocks, with trees growing through and around. It was awesome in it's destruction - made one feel like an early adventure coming at it for the first time. Then, of course there is Angkor Wat which is the largest and most popular. We saw the sun rise over it, and it is just beautiful.

Each temple had it's own style and character with a variety of carvings and buildings. It's going to be a challenge to remember it all when I finally have the chance to download the pictures.

Our guide has been very keen to introduce us to local things. This morning he took us to his aunt's restaurant stall in a market to have breakfast. One dish consisted of porridgy type rice in chicken stock, with vegetables and bits of offal. The other, my favourite, was a bowl of rice noodles with veggies and peanuts and sesame oil. We've also watched how it was made, and eaten sticky rice and red beans cooked in coconut milk in bamboo sticks. This is a snack that is portable, and very good. We've eaten milk fruit, dragon fruit and rambutan. And palm sugar (similar to maple sugar candy).

We've also been to local restaurants, one of which included a BBQ - food cooked on a "volcano" over a brazier.

The hotel (the Victoria Angkor Wat) is lovely. They have the best pastries - a hangover I think from their French colonial times.

Rebecca arrived here just before us so we've had a lovely reunion and it's been great traveling with her.

Tomorrow is off to Ho Chi Minh City

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


We haven't made it to Egypt - just a stop at the British museum! We've also visited the Natural History museum, the National Art Gallery, and the Royal Academy where we saw a very interesting exhibit on loan from the Hermitage museum.

Last night we saw a humerous version of the Mikado and tonight will see the Lord of the Rings. And as always in London, lots of walking and riding the Tube. And the weather has been kind - somewhat overcast and only a hint of rain.