Back in Europe

Back in Europe! After a 26 hour journey I arrived in Frankfurt/Main on Monday afternoon. To be greeted by rain and lousy temperatures. And, at my apartment in the Taunus hills, outside Frankfurt, by a cable break, meaning I had no telephone and no internet. Just what I needed – as I have about 4 million tasks to accomplish before I go back to Bansko on Friday. Well, the German Telecom fixed it on Tuesday afternoon – and now I am trying to catch up.

I bought myself some Munich “weisswurst” after my arrival, the speciality that cures every Bavarian’s homesickness immediately, when eaten with sweet mustard and Bavarian pretzel and a “white beer”. Guess what: I did not like it much.The next morning  I bought at the local butcher another thing that I usually adore for a late breakfast: a juicy slice of warm “Munich leberkaese” in a bread roll – and, guess what: I did not like it much.

I am doomed! I will starve to death here. Or is it maybe just the change in climate? Recently I had to have the air conditioning on all the time because it was too hot and now, like with the flick of a switch, I have to have the heating on all the time because it is so cold.

So, on Tuesday I went shopping to find as many ingredients as possible to, guess what: a Vietnamese “pho” noodle soup. Seems, I am hooked and addicted! Could not find the right beef so it’s a chicken “pho” – and not from any cookbook.

Everything is ready, pre-boiled, chopped, marinated.
The stock in the pot: boiled with 1.10 kg chicken thighs and roasted onion, garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and cloves (and salt and pepper, of course). At the left back: champignons de Paris (can’t remember their English name at the moment), boiled in the broth, then (down) chopped green salad hearts, bean sprouts, spring onions. To the right: rice spaghetti (the reason to take the thin ones was that a package had opened inadvertently – my standard choice for “pho” is the 3mm rice noodles. These ones are sold as 1mm noodles – but every eye can see clearly that they are at least 1.5 mm) -  and a lot of chicken meat – some already in a big bowl (not on the picture), set aside and loaded with all soup ingredients, missing only the hot broth to be poured on. The smallest bowl (front centre) is the crucial one for me :) – thinly sliced HOT chillies (with their breath-taking seeds), ample smelly fish sauce added, then chopped (Bulgarian) garlic, rice vinegar and some shaved palm sugar (stirring vigorously every time after adding an ingredient)…
…that was not what I expected to do upon my return to Europe, really!
I just realised that winter starts officially only on 21.12. – and I am already fed up with it now!What always used to be a major complaining point in Southeast Asia for me, that it turns dark all year around 6pm, has turned around into something very pleasant.  Here in Germany it has been dark grey like on the verge of getting dark basically all day. And at a quarter to five pm it really got dark completely.

And on my way from the airport my beloved green valley just before my village in the Taunus hills near Frankfurt has turned grey and dark also. No more leaves on the trees. I am surrounded by pure misery! And unpleasant temperatures. Too cold to feel comfy in a leather jacket and too warm to wear a down jacket. In addition it rains most of the time.

Sh.t, why did I have to come back now? To make sure that Pirin Lodge is in perfect condition, that we have enough logs for the fireplaces, that our services are up to level and…and that we are ready to greet our apartment owners and their families and friends like our own family…

And I wish a lot of them will come – but there will be only few. At least I hope they appreciate what I am doing and how much I care. Because I certainly don’t make any money out of it. So, appreciation is the only satisfaction I am getting out of being the “janitor” at Pirin Lodge.

OK, we will see how things go in Bansko. At the moment, however, I would much rather fly back to Vietnam than to Bansko…

Thank you all for following some of my experiences in Asia. There will be a summary, eventually. And it will be ground-breaking for a new understanding of Vietnam, of course.:))) So, don’t turn your back to this blog-site (yet) :) Short term, things will revert to Bansko, Bulgaria, the hottest spot in Europe…

Good bye, Vietnam! Thank you for having me.

This morning I left controversial Vietnam that gave me pleasure, upset me, made me happy and also sad – but never left me untouched.

And I parted in style. I went to the fancy Bobby Chinn fusion restaurant after all.

To get rid of my usual shyness I had to revert to some Mojitos…they did their job quite properly…notice the morning-glory-stem instead of a straw :)

Well, it was not my fault that they had Bollinger champagne not only on the menu but also cold in the fridge! Since my motto is: “mit mir trinke ich am Liebsten” (or: I, myself, am my favourite drinking companion) I could not resist.

I had various things to eat – but can’t remember properly what it all was. It was good, no doubt. But not mind boggling.

Somehow, the champagne ended too quickly (as always) and I had to rinse my system with a few gin & tonics:

The youngsters behind the bar turned out to be some extremely nice people from the country. We had great philosophical and general discussions till late … and they even hailed a taxi for me on the streets to make sure that I would get home OK.

Oh, and somehow the bill amounted to about 8,000,000 Dong, by far the biggest amount I have spent in Vietnam in one go :) Yeah!

To my surprise I woke up at 6 am – which gave me time to have breakfast in peace and get packed so I could head to the airport at 8 am.

Now I am in Thailand. Phuket. At Patong beach. And it’s 6.30pm – pitch dark and time for dinner. So I will stroll out now to see what the street vendors offer :)

See you guys :)

 

Bits and pieces…

…middle of the night…and no internet since last evening. At least no access to servers outside Viet Nam…

The “funny” thing is I went to bed tonight at 8pm…but could not sleep, so sipped away on Cuba Libre and watched TV. Still sipping and still watching HBO…and nibbling on those little meat packages that I showed you a picture of yesterday. They are fiercely HOT! And make me “sip” a little bit more.

Anyway, my last days in Saigon are not exactly as expected. No night life till the early hours with booze, broads and the rest…this is what happens to you when you start looking more and more like Karl Lagerfeld. When the mirror tells you you should hide more and more of your body parts, maybe even start using shirts with collars that hide your neck and the skin on your throat completely ?! Well, OK, I am not quite there yet but I guess you know what I mean :)

So, I am not into “finding a Vietnamese woman”, despite that so many Vietnamese women and men I met on my trip wanted to help me in this endeavour. And I am going out to meet and to talk to interesting people and have some good food. Not to “bars” where the aim is to get drunk and maybe find a victim of some kind.

Last night e.g. I started with some beers and a snack I wish I would have back home: chopped up dried squid with a special chilli sauce. Not cheap (50,000 Dong a go) – but it will give you hours of pleasure:

Do not underestimate the power of the chilli sauce and the rewarding satisfaction you feel in your mouth when chewing the dried squid that gently and slowly releases its taste…

That was just a starter (that I “doggy-bagged” to take home after finishing my 2 beers).  Next thing I found myself in a street restaurant around the corners…and choice became more difficult. I had focused on three things as a starter and needed to make up my mind: crocodile ribs, beef penis and chicken testicles. “Chicken testicles” I had never sampled before, but when I contemplated my choices I felt that the the chicken balls might be a rather minuscule food portion…”beef penis”, as they called it, I have eaten before in Asia (as well as the “balls” of the freshly killed bulls in some Southern French “arena”) so: the baby crocodile ribs were my choice.

Can I swear that these were really baby crocodile ribs? I cannot, never having caught, killed or dissected a crocodile. But they sure tasted like it – comparing the taste with alligator meat that I have been eating in Florida, there was a subtle but still existing difference…—————————————————–

Somehow this was to be released yesterday…but then the internet stopped…

Today is a completely different ball game…and my last night in Vietnam for that matter. I qent through some last minute pressure purchases and found out some unpleasant facts about my surplus of Vietnamese Dong…and so on.

Anyway, I have decided to spend a million or two on dinner tonight, to conclude my trip with the best food the country has to offer. There is nothing like fond memories, is there? :)

But I am torn between “Bobby Chinn”, the Vietnamese-Pacific fusion king, “Quang Nuong”, BBQ on top of a Hindu temple and Song Ngu, the seafood place.

Or maybe, I just bail out completely and conclude my trip with food from the hawkers on the streets around my hotel.

In any case I am doomed. Today I realised that I still hold 15 million Dong in cash. And tomorrow morning I will leave the country. So I went to some banks to re-change my Dong to USD. OK, 15 mil. is about 750$. The banks told me: no change from Dong to Dollar! Sorry!

Really nice :) So, what to do? Have an orgy, using all the dong :) ? I even arrived at buying a smart phone like the Samsung Galaxy 3 (32GB) for 14,000,000 Dong. But then: what to do with it and for what to use it?

OK, I heard that you can change dong to $ at the airport when leaving. That’s what I will do then. Probably with a heavy loss – but then it was all my fault anyway. I just had assumed I would be spending much more money in Vietnam than I actually did. So, let them screw me on the exchange rate, lesson learned and accepted, and I will cope with that by spending less in Thailand :)

La vie en rose!

Kisses,

Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One, two, three – go!

It all started with Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi and it looks like my expedition to Vietnam will end in Ho Chi Minh City. I will stay here till the 14th. Then I will fly to Thailand.

The last few days will be devoted to the good Saigon city life. Time for me to finally participate in Vietnamese night-life also. And Saigon is just the place for that. The headline “One, two, three – go” is the young Vietnamese people’s”Trinkspruch” (mot, hai, ba – yo) which makes it acceptable even for girls to drink alcohol (in a group) – and you empty the tiny glasses in one go (10-15ml each?), drinking liqueur with probably 25% alcohol or so. Really heavy :)

I will recover from these debaucheries on Phuket – where I will be a good boy spending my  time at the beaches and eating at the night markets – which will give me the time and peace of mind to reflect on all the aspects of my experiences in Vietnam, many of which I have not even mentioned on this blog as it would have made me spend most of my time in front of the computer writing – instead of being out there with the people…

In the morning I had a long breakfast, starting with a Pho noodle soup, continuing with rice cakes, pork with vegetables, springrolls – then moving to the Western side with coffee and OJ, French bred with butter, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes with bacon, sausages…finishing sweetly with pancakes with honey, a fried banana – and a small assortment of fruit (rambutan, mango, dragon fruit and these teeny, weeny lovely bananas…)

Then I posted the previous blog entry. And headed for the Coop Supermarket. A little further away than I had expected – and when I arrived I was drenched in sweat. My light cotton shirt was dripping – as was the sweat from my head along my hair – dripping from above onto my ears! Uzhas!

I spent half a million Dong – on extravavaganzas like Gillette razor blades, French baguette, some Vietnamese meat snacks, milk, chocolates – and the best toothpicks I ever came across in my life!

These toothpicks – I came across them first on the farm…

…are made of very robust, quality wood and are much thinner than anything I have ever seen elsewhere – which means you can get into any cavity with them and they do their job properly!

Tooth-picking is an integral part of Vietnamese life. Even the most primitive restaurant will have tooth picks on its plastic tables. Whether out and about or at home, after every meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever) every Vietnamese (old, young, male, female) will engage in tooth picking – without any shyness, on the contrary. After all, clean teeth are a valuable asset :) No wonder, they are the masters of tooth-picks :)

On the way back from the Coop, passing the ex-presidential palace for the umpteenth time (my hotel is just around the corner from it) – and after fending off all those riksha and motorbike-taxi guys that see me melting away and think if there was ever a victim for them it was me – I had to stop for an ice coffee – “ca phe den da” in the parallel street to my hotel. Next to the old French era law court that is not listed in any tourist guide but is one of the few originally maintained colonial buildings (still in use).

The locals also like this very much and, as you can see, spend their Sunday mornings here:After returning to my hotel, showering for the second time at 11 am and changing rooms I have started with CL (Cuba Libre) exactly at noon (58 minutes ago) and after writing this I am out of coke now.

The drawback is that about 10 minutes ago a torrential rain set in that makes the idea of leaving the room look absurd. But once it stops it will take about 15 minutes to evaporate all the water on the streets…

Anyway, now at 1pm only tourists, idiots and young people in love would venture out into this tropical humid heat that makes New York in summer feel like a very dry place…

So, maybe, to open a bag of snacks:

…and then to have a nap or so. I am hesitant to eat that stuff, though. I had such things, wrapped in banana leaves and plain newspaper, homemade in a small “zech” (workshop), in the village where the farm was. Simply delicious. This, however, is from a supermarket and is probably fake…

Later I am planning to find some laundry service. Because I have very few clean things left to wear. I have been washing my underwear by hand so far – and my shirts a few times. But for the “bigger” things like trousers and polo shirts  I have used laundry services. And that’s what I want to do today. To have things washed in the hotel is out of the questions. The polo shirts will cost me more than what I paid for them in Thailand some years ago. Other laundry services charge per kg. These are my guys.

And there is an area where all the “backpackers” that are flooding Vietnam (of whom I have seen many in the cities – fortunately from a distance – but amazingly few in the real countryside) stay in cheap hostels – and where such inexpensive laundry services supposedly abound. And this area is rather close by. But still a 15 minute walk that will make all the juices flow out of my body! And then I should go there again tomorrow (or the day after) to pick up the ready laundry.

Or shall I just make do with what I have and have everything laundered in Thailand (where I am sure to pay a higher price but will have the comfort of my air-conditioned rental car) ?

Life is tough. And “Free Cuba” (Cuba Libre) is only a nice concept as long as both (Cuban) rum and (American) coke combine and flow freely…and here in my hotel room the balance has collapsed due to lack of coke. Also the rain has stopped. So I will pack a plastic bag with things to launder and wait for my chance to go out and get things done. On the way I might be forced to have some ice coffee, however…

I————————————————————-

Update:

It helps to talk to the people. When I told the reception staff that the hotel’s laundry services are too expensive for me they pointed me to another hotel across the street  :)

In my hotel I would pay per item, e.g. trousers 35,000 washing, 20,000 ironing; Shirt 30,000 washing, 15,000 ironing. In my case: 2 trousers, 4 shirts, 3 T-shirts: 195,000 washing plus 145,000 ironing: 340,000 Dong (17$ or 25.50 Leva) In the place opposite my hotel I pay per weight (2.40kg x 25,000= 60,000) plus 8,000 per item for ironing shirts and trousers (48,000)= 108,000 Dong! (5$ or 8.30 Leva. ) Maybe this sounds very avaricious to you. OK. As I tell my Bulgarian friends all the time: you do not get rich from spending :)

Why should I pay more money when I can get one and the same thing cheaper? Especially when there is no personal relation involved.

So, that’s the good side. I saved money. And a lot of sweating since I only had to cross the street :)

The bad side is that I still decided to have an iced coffee and I walked around the block. And sat next to an elderly couple from New Zealand. And ordered an iced coffee from the young girl serving there. And received a bottle of beer and a glass with ice in it!!! NO ONE has misunderstood me so far when I ordered an ice coffee – and not only in Saigon. This gives me the confidence that it was not my rotten pronunciation but  the  lack of brain on the girl’s side that caused this misunderstanding. Anyway, being in the “happy Buddha mood” I settled for the iced beer :)

After a nice chat with the Kiwis (cultivated people, both working at the Auckland university and very familiar with Europe) I strolled back to my hotel checking out the shops.

Before my trip to the Mekong I had seen this little chocolate shop around the corner. So, since I had time I said, let’s have a look what they have to offer.”Boniva” is the name.

Big mistake! They produce pralinées, not chocolate bars.

Prices for these rare delicacies (we are not talking about rough Belgian pralines here – which I detest for being so peasant-like) were nearly the same here like elsewhere where there are people capable and willing enough to go through the immense trouble of producing such delicate cochonneries for connoisseurs. But how could I resist? After reading about ingredients like durian, lemon grass, mango and many other things no French patissier used to have in his repertoire – not even Lenotre. I had to order at least a small selection of not more than a dozen pralinées that set me back the price of a gourmet dinner :)

…I won’t show you the second layer :) But, amongst us pious people, after trying the first two of those sin-carriers: I consider myself lucky that I will stay here only another three days. Otherwise I might ruin myself either financially or morally (or both) with these chocolates :) )))))))) The next step would be to find one of my favourite French Cognacs (Otard XO would do the trick) as I have a real weakness for the combination of cognac and pralinées…and I would be back in the old spiral immediately. How could you possibly have the finest brandy on the planet with chocolate that “shovels out” endorphins without complementing it (OK, OK you women, without “topping it off”) with the finest sex that can bring two people together?! You could not! Or, maybe, you could but I couldn’t…

Goodness, it’s only 4:30 pm on this lovely afternoon in Saigon. But time flies. So I better  shut up now and do some planning and arranging for tonight :)

A bientot…Mesdames…;-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mekong – Khong, the Mother of Water…

Finally I have been to the delta of the river that was the main reason for me to come to Vietnam in the first place. Having travelled “the Greater Mekong Region” with my dear friends Achim and Volker, the “end” of the river was the missing piece in the picture for me.

And this delta is indeed like a culmination of all the power that the Mekong amasses on its long way through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong may be only maybe the tenth longest river on the planet – but the experts say that it is number two in biodiversity – after the Amazon.

Having travelled on a boat on the Mekong in Northern Laos, through canyons and long stretches of wild, uninhabited nature one would not assume how full of life every square centimetre in the Mekong delta seems to be.

There is one property next to the other along all the roads and waterways. Countless families share the richness of this fruitful countryside – where three crops a year are the norm…

The further you move South-West from Saigon the more lush the vegetation becomes and the huge rice fields and big plantations are more and more being parcelled out by channels and water ways. And once you cross the My Tho branch of the Mekong, transport infrastructure shifts from road to water.

There are countless channels and river-branches – and I wonder how many of the 16 million people in the area live on boats  – or floating houses? Life is bustling and connected in one form or the other to the water. While there is still a lot of traditional extensive farming and fish-breeding there are also industrial outfits now that breed 200 million fish in one spot to supply the needs of Western people! 200 million! Guess what they feed the fish?!

To give you an idea of the traditional business. Here you see some houses of a typical village, floating on the Mekong river:

People live on them with there animals and everything. Underneath the floating houses there are fish cages. As big as the house and between 3 and 4 meters deep. Some people breed different varieties of fish and you will find them at different levels of the cage, others only one kind (like catfish).

To feed the fish you just lift some wooden boards on the house floor and throw the feed (in the background you see the sitting room with the altar for worshipping the ancestors).

As rice is the universal commodity in this area the feed is home made pellets, made from rice bran.

The bran is cooked and then left to cool off and afterwards pushed through a machine that makes pellets of it.

No chemicals and antibiotics. Still questionable in my view as I don’t consider rice and its derivatives the natural food of fish. But apart from that “organic”.

And the “rice diet” does not work for all the fish they breed. Some need more specific food. Anyway, only about 20% of the fish produced in the Mekong delta are produced in that “traditional” benign way. I could not get access to the industrial fish farms (which I really wanted to see), as the two of them that I had emailed did not respond. So, there is little I can say.  Maybe just that much: we are all doomed – and it’s our own bloody fault!

Doesn’t it look nice in such a floating village?

One of the concerns about the future of this area is the fact that China is planning to build a series of dams along a stretch of 800kms of the Mekong and also Laos is planning to build a huge dam. So, maybe all this unique biodiversity here will be gone in a few years and the waters of the “Mother of Water” will only be used for “substantial” commercial operations.

Sorry, I am getting a little turned off now. I have so many photos of this unique landscape that I wanted to share. But not now. Anyway, I am back in Saigon. So, maybe tomorrow…have a good night…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost and found…

This morning I had an extensive breakfast with all variations of Asian stuff that I got tired again and went back to bed to sleep till nearly lunch :) What a pleasure!

Here is the stunning view from my room, by the way:

Alas, when I wanted to leave the hotel I noticed that my phone was missing, a dual SIM-card one with my BG card (and ALL my phone numbers) and my Vietnamese card (easily to be dismissed). I searched all my belongings – but it was definitely gone.

So I tried to call my mobile phone from the hotel phone – switched off! So, it was clear to me that I must have lost it yesterday evening, most likely in a taxi. The fact that it was turned off suggested that the driver or whoever had found the phone had decided to keep it and just exchanged the SIM-card. Shit!

But the hotel staff was very friendly – and the bell boy took me on his motorbike to a mobile phone shop with low local prices. Where I bought the same Nokia X1-01 that had gone missing for 980,000 Dong (74 Leva) – about the price I had paid for it in BG. Plus another 11 Leva for a new Vietnamese SIM card (including a lot of talking time).

To celebrate the quick and successful decision I went for an ice coffee to the coffee shop near my hotel where I had a few beers last night. After sipping on my coffee for a while, the three lovely ladies in their pyjamas (whose picture I posted yesterday) came to greet me – and one of them asked me if I was missing my telephone. And when she saw my big eyes they proudly presented me with my missing phone. And there was a lot of grinning and smiling from all sides :) We are all family now :)

I could not help but order a beer – and a little delicious snack

And am now back in my room, happy and relaxed – and somehow not in the mood to go out and have dinner.

In any case I should go to bed early as I am leaving at 6am for the Mekong delta. Maybe I won’t have internet for a few days…we will see…

 

Sights of Saigon

Here is a selection of the “must see” places in Saigon:

The square in front of the central market of Saigon “Ben Thanh”

A park in the centre. With public fitness machines…

Life in the backstreets:

There is no lack of cabling in Saigon :)

Regular street life:

How about some duck for lunch?

One of the modern buildings:

Views at the Saigon River:

The first Grand Hotel in Saigon, the “Majestic” (from 1925):

The “Opera” (1899) – for many years the centre of Saigon society and behind it the first “skyscraper” in Saigon from the mid fifties, whose roof-terrace was described by the war reporters as “the splendid stage of dying Saigon”…

The “Vincom Centre”, a shopping mall. I have no clue what it looks like from inside as i stay away from such places as far as possible…

The former city hall, now the “People’s Committee” seat:

Notre Dame – for a long time the symbol of Saigon:

A group of school kids drumming on the pavement:

To a few of them they had given dangerous instruments which they used successfully to  torture the nerves of all innocent passer-by:

Lunch break in the city:

The Vietnamese version of “doner kebab”?

Not really :)

A shop offering classy containers to store and age your alcohol with various ingredients (reptiles, roots, etc)…I was tempted to by one for my own rakia and experiment with it back in Bansko :)

And a really nice flower shop – not for the poor, however…

 

Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh…

…that was the slogan on the streets in Munich when many, many young people, mainly students, demonstrated against the Vietnam war. I was one of them. That war was on German TV news every single evening for quite some years. And “normal” people became apathetic to it. There is only so much information you can take. And if it’s about something that really does not interfere with your own life – you get fed up and stop paying attention.

At least this is the only explanation I have why this American war could continue for so many years and kill so many millions of people – and for what? To please the pig-headed US-politicians, who, in the wake of the McCarthy area, saw communism as the biggest threat to mankind and who believed, if Vietnam would fall into the hands of communism this whole area of Asia would follow suit.

And back then, like now, the country that stands as a symbol for human rights and freedom, had no problem to use chemical weapons of mass destruction against civilians, torture opponents and so on. But we all know this. Or at least we should.

Anyway, I start my Saigon-show with a photo of the place that was the heart of Vietnam during the time of the war, because it was shown on TV many, many times. It’s also the building where the war officially ended when the Vietcong tanks rolled through its gates.

Enough of that sad matter. For now.

Yesterday, I really had a hard time. Kind of a crisis. a physical and psychological one.I was kind of fed up with Vietnam. Could not stand the smells of rotting and fermentation in the markets any more, was tired of having to defend myself against being ripped-off, could not stand the dirt everywhere any more…and so on, and so on.

Now that I am in Ho Chi Minh City (stupid name, sounds like “Karl-Marx-Stadt”), amazingly my spirits have picked up and I am back to my old bad self (without the cigarettes!)

Saigon is really different from the rest of Vietnam. Not only is it bigger than Hanoi in terms of inhabitants but it is buzzing with life. And capitalism and venture capitalism. 6% of the Vietnamese population produce more than 30% of GNP here! But these are only figures. You can see and feel the difference to the rest of the country in real life. People are more outgoing, entrepreneurial – also more superficial and consumer orientated. In short words: more Western :) For someone coming from capitalist Europe this has some appeal. Because it makes the place “familiar”.

There is this phenomenon all around the globe: the serious north and the easy-going south (at least in the Northern hemisphere)…just look at Italy, France, Germany. The same seems to apply in Vietnam. But, OK, I will need more time here.

I have done a lot of sight-walking today – sweating like a pig on the way to the slaughterhouse. And taken a lot of photos. And I also had the opportunity to talk to quite a few local people speaking some English “interviewing” them about their attitude towards their life and the “North”. Well, since Saigon is much more touristic than most of Vietnam and also has this Western history, there are much more people here who speak English than in Hanoi.  And, no surprise, the Saigonese love the Hanoiese just as much (or little) as they love the Southerners.

Pictures or not now? Well, maybe tomorrow. This is not a travel guide.

Today I accomplished a few things:

1. I managed to change my room for one with a window! And to the backside, not the noisy main-street. Yippeeeh!

2. I outsmarted the helpful concierge desk at the hotel. After they could source me Havana Club rum only from far away and at ridiculous prices, I managed to find a shop in Saigon, on the internet, where they had it. I went there by taxi and we had long negotiations. In the end I still paid more than in Saigon – considering that I bought 6 bottles – but at 270.000 Dong for 0,75l, the litre came at 18.25 Leva!!! This is supposed to satisfy my “Cuba Libre” needs till November 25th when I go back to Europe: 4.5 litres for 19 days! That’s a meagre 236ml a day. OK, OK I will survive :)

3. I saw all of the main sights today. This will give me lee-way to explore the people-side tomorrow.

4. Most importantly, I got back into good physical shape (despite the lack of cigarettes). While I could have only bland rice porridge for breakfast this morning, my digestion system recovered during the day and my appetite came back. And I had various ice coffees during the day when I needed to “chill” (in the truest sense of the word) – and a handful of beers in the evening.

All in all: power to the people! I am back on track! And I’ll start tomorrow morning with a decent breakfast – and then play the day as it comes along!

The day after I will leave for the Mekong delta. Which is another story. As my plans did not turn out as expected. My young man from Hanoi cannot make it to join me, as his university just gave him a new schedule. So I had to organise the trip myself. Today I hired a driver and a guide for only three days. I think that will do the trick for me. I do not need to travel the Mekong by boat extensively. I have done that with my two German friends Achim and Volker in the previous years. I am mainly interested to see how the people in the delta live and how they make their living. Obviously, there is a lot of fish breeding, as the new kind of cheap fish “Pangas” (introduced to the West by “Metro”) is raised here. Of course, I will take some pictures for you from the floating markets and such shmere – but this is like taking pictures in the zoo.

OK, it has become quite late – the first time since Hanoi, maybe (11 pm now). And I am still only slightly above my daily limits of Havana Club (250ml instead of 236ml) :)

But maybe I am boring you shitless already? Good! Don’t read on then. Just a few real Saigon life pictures here now:

Lunch break in the city

I took a taxi to go to a garden restaurant  in the suburbs recommended by my German guide book. Only to find that it was closed and they refurbished it for a new owner. So, I did not want to go back to my hotel but walked around and ended up in a “fancy” place for Vietnamese:

Everyone there was quite shocked when I entered! No English or whatever menu :) But, being caring (entrepreneurial!)  Vietnamese, they knew how to deal with the first foreigner ever to enter their premises: they found someone with some English (I never found out if the guy worked for the restaurant or not :) )

I wanted something “typical Southern”. He recommended a salad – which I gladly accepted (considering my stomach situation).

Main ingredients: carrots and kohlrabi – and peanuts, seasoned with salt and vinegar and mint. A real delight with the dipping sauce of fish sauce and chillies…

The better local beer here is Saigon “export”, 5,000 Dong more expensive than the regular one. So, I lived “big time”. Spending 1.50 Leva for a beer, instead of 1,20 Leva! Rich Bulgarian that I am!

They caught me a taxi for going back to my hotel – and it was still quite busy on the streets (about 9 pm – Hanoi would be dead by now)…

There are about 5 million motorbikes in Saigon – and 500.000 cars. If you have not seen it, you would not believe the traffic. And it’s not just “traffic” here – it’s complete chaos!

After arriving at my hotel I decided to have a beer close by instead of retiring and writing this boring blog. Getting out of the taxi I noticed a “beauty parlour” across the street from my hotel, with a dozen of spectacular looking ladies. In my naivety I crossed the street and brought out may camera to share the scene with you. Oh, oh. There was fierce opposition from everyone who saw me. So, I put my camera back in my pocket :)

Instead, I ventured to a street side “zavedenie” where I had two beers and fell in love with the owners, three generations of women: grandmother, mother and daughter!

…in control of everything. I might have proposed on the spot to the granny on the left – if she and me would have been 30 years younger – because (with my my current knowledge) I could have rested assured that the “family business” would have been taken care of (Chinese roots (!), as you can see in their faces)…

I also watched in amazement that the town collects garbage in the evenings:

…not with trucks, but with individual “rolling bins”. That fill up within 5 minutes. I wonder what happens after that? Where they take them, or dump then. I will have to pay attention to this in the next few days as I really would like to find out.

OK, Havana Club levels now reaching code yellow (350ml gone) – I better pack it in. Probably I won’t be the first for breakfast tomorrow morning (starts only at 6:30 in lazy South Vietnam) but wtf. Despite having only rice-porridge for breakfast, as a professional hotel consultant I watched out of habit how they replenished and looked after the buffet breakfast. And it gave me the comfort that, at whatever time I will show up for breakfast tomorrow, I will get the full selection, freshly prepared! Not very common, even here in Vietnam. But very professional. I like that very much – and wish we could do the same thing in Bansko. But we are too f..ing stupid, primitive. Thinking about our own needs more than about clients’ desires. Not realising that ALL the money comes from the client.

But that’s another story in my life. That I am fortunately finished with. Because there is no hope. Enough said about this.

Finally, enough bla-bla…good night and so on…

Oh, enough now.

No Joy…

Yesterday was a hard day!

It started with pouring rain (outside) and roaring pain (inside my guts). Something had caught me off balance, again.

In addition I was stranded at the Dalat airport (about 40km away) for 4 hours as no plane could land due to poor weather.

Well, the positive thing was that despite the delay my limo was waiting for me at the Saigon airport. And, boy, was I glad that I had afforded this luxury.  No hassle in my miserable condition!

As it was dark my first impressions of Saigon on the way to the hotel were limited – but it seems to be a huge and busy place. I will see.

The hotel had messed up my booking and I ended up in a room without a window. As they were fully booked they could not switch my room.

No joy!

 

(Not-so-)Easy Rider in Dalat

By idling around this morning I managed to keep myself busy till 6am, hehe, and I was the first client in the breakfast room. Despite a nice Asian breakfast selection, for the first time on my trip I opted for a Western breakfast: toasted French baguette with butter, fried bacon and sausages, fried  potatoes – and scrambled eggs from the egg-station.  That was a pleasant interlude. Tomorrow I’ll go for the Asian again :)

Then I walked over to the market where I had discovered various motorbike rentals yesterday.  I could not find the man with whom I had agreed on something for today, so I just picked the next best place. A lady, doing her rental business with 4 motorbikes while sitting in a café and chatting with friends. We agreed on 5$ for a day.

Three minutes later I was on my way, surrounding the central lake:

And then to explore the hills and valleys of Dalat. Somehow I got lost many times and had to turn back after arriving at some dead-end point.

The whole area is full with green houses, where they grow mainly flowers.

And what was listed as “Sights” in the guide maps, like “The Valley of Love”, turned out to be amusement parks for romantic Vietnamese. Oh my god!

I’d rather visit places like this cemetery instead…

 

I got lost in a vast residential area that, however, had only one entrance/exit – and after I reached the far end I had to turn back – at which time the engine shut itself off, and the starter pretended not to have any electricity and refused to work. So, I had to push the bloody bike – and hopefully to find a garage to get it fixed. How nice, because exactly at this moment it also started to rain. Well, twenty yards ahead there was a rescue sign in the form of an ad for noodle soup. I pushed the bike there as quickly as possible and fled to a dry plastic chair under the roof. One Pho noodle soup later it was still raining cats and dogs. So I ordered a beer which I drank slowly – and another one.  After an hour or so the rain became very light and decided to make a move.

Some people from neighbouring houses had watched my whole dilemma – and now stepped outside to point me in the direction of a motorbike repair shop very close by. I pushed the bike there and before asking for help I gave the starter a final try – and, surprise, the engine turned on. No stopping me now!

On the way back to the centre I took only one wrong turn (or maybe two) – but I did not mind. It was raining only lightly now – and despite that I was dripping wet it did not feel so wet somehow.

Now I am taking a little rest at my hotel, new clothes, a shower etc. before heading out one more time to make the best use of Dalat….