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Sunday, 23 December 2007

Deck the hotels with miles of tin foil

I found a place that was just too awsome to capture in a single shot. The My Hotel, on or near Cao Ba Quat.

I'd passed it a week ago near the end of the work night out which included Karaoke in a fried chicken shop. I was mesmerised by the sheer shininess of it and had to be dragged away. I'd had several lemonades so was pretty impressed that I managed to find it again. No small thanks to Stephen who responded swiftly to my squeals of "Shit stop the bike, there it is". I jumped off and ran down the street Anneka Rice style while he had to find a way back down a one way system to pick me up once I satiated myself.

My Hotel

One third of the frontage, here you can see the compulsory Creepy Santa, this one gets extra points for having no hands, just streams of tinsel spewing from his cuffs.

My Hotel 2

Inflatable snowman atop the stairs covered in aluminium foil, visitors can still get into the hotel but no more than two abreast. Even the entry and exit to the underground parking is lined in tin foil.

Christmas Crib

Finally, Baby Jesus in tinfoil nestled in a manger lined with tinsel. It doesn't get any more Christmassy than this.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Dam Sen Park, Saigon

What to do on a weekend, shopping loses it's charm for me pretty quickly so the obvious option is to get out and see the sights. We haven't "done" the reunification palace or Cu Chi tunnels yet. We're saving those in the vain hope that someone will come and visit us some day. So we went to Dam Sen Park in District 11, HCMC.

It's a kitsch family park, there's a water park too, places to eat, an Ice Lantern, a Dinosaur Land, odd statues, orchids, a monorail, very tacky topiary, and a big lake in the middle.

Welcome Dragon

An interesting use of crockery, in the UK this would be smashed to pieces within minutes of it being installed.

Crockery Art

Pink on Pink

This was taken in the garden area outside one of the floating restaurants (also a dragon made out of plates and spoons). Dam Sen is a popular place for weddings and pre-wedding pictures. In Vietnam the official pictures are taken before the day of the wedding and often in several outfits.

Speaking of weddings, I spotted these being prepared at the tradesman's entrance to the restaurant.

Piggies on parade

Piglet parade

No steak pie and prawn cocktail here.

Aside from spying on other people's wedding preparations other attractions include the Ice Palace. A giant freezer full of replicas of famous buildings rendered in ice and illuminated from within. Visitors are provided with puffa jackets to keep out the cold and they're sorely needed. It took ten minutes for my camera to return to outside temperature and the condensation to clear from it.

Great Ice Wall of China

The Great Wall of China I think, followed by the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal in ice

And here's Santa atop the Ice Lantern centre wearing one of the orange puffa jackets.

Orange Santa

Topiary in Dam Sen Park

Topiary is ever popular.

Bottle Dragon
And dragons made out of little glass bottles filled with green water.

Concrete carriage

And unidentifiable concrete animals pulling carriages.

We're going back at night, they light everything up.

I just heard it was minus 7 in Edinburgh last night. I'm putting on the sunblock and going out to take more Christmas pictures.

Friday, 14 December 2007

You better watch out

Santa Claus has hit town in a big way.
Dress your child like Santa month

It's "Dress your child like Santa and take pictures of them in front of the Christmas displays around town month". This is outside the Tax Shopping Centre at the top of Le Loi. Benches are set up and photo opportunities abound to capture your family in front of a seasonal backdrop.
Still Live

But to some nothing says "Christmas" quite as well as a backdrop of a projected new high rise development.
Christmas portraits

The developers also seem to be sponsoring the not very realistic log fire inside the shopping centre, also a popular photo spot but you can have enough of a good thing so I haven't posted any here.

Meanwhile other attractions have not been left behind. Gucci does it with stylish blue lights and nodding white reindeer.

Have yourself a Gucci little Christmas

Oh deer

And in Dam Sen park the Santas travel in packs.

They travel in packs

Or languish forgotten from previous displays.
Dam Sen Santa

Sunday, 9 December 2007

View from the balcony

Houses in HCMC are generally built close together, consequently our blacony, which is at the side of the building, only has a view of the wall of the house that's being built next door.

That doesn't mean there's never anything to see.

Yesterday this appeared:


Followed by:


And finally the entire package:


Sunday, 2 December 2007

Santa Claws

I went for a manicure yesterday and found this Santa Claus themed gem amongst the false nails.

Santa Nails

I was tempted but remained strong and just got mine painted in "Natural". But look at what I COULD have had done.

False Nails

For those interested in this type of thing, I had the full hand and foot package, an hour and a half of up to three people pampering me. A herbal foot bath, foot scraping (painless and necessary for me to get rid of hard skin) foot, leg, hand and arm exfoliation, paraffin wax treatment for all extremities, foot and hand massage including arms and legs, manicure, pedicure and to finish off a neck and back massage and a glass of green tea The damage £12. Both cheaper and more expensive are available and generally the treatment is excellent.

My worst experience so far, having my feet scraped in Hoi An for the first time lying face down on a treatment couch and once finished invited to see the results which they had lined up on the ledge under the mirrors. Three feet of ex foot is not a pretty sight but the beautician seemed very proud of herself, so much so that she dragged Stephen in to have a look at it too.

Oh, and there was a time I was refused treatment when after a leg inspection and much discussion I was told that the "girl who can wax hairy westerners was not at work". Cue quick trip home and out with the bic razor.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

The earth moved

Last night at around 10.15 I was typing up some reports when the chair I was sitting on seemed to sway and felt as though the legs were about to give way, there were two waves of this accompanied by a dizzying sensation then nothing. No noise, the geckos stopped geckoing and the builders next door stopped metal grinding.

There were no other shocks and five minutes later everything started up again. I checked the internet this morning, it was a 4.8-magnitude earthquake which struck southern Vietnam.

The epicentre was off the coast of Vung Tau, east of HCMC. No injuries or damage have been reported.

Back to pictures of things that make me look twice in the next posting. Christmas is gearing up, I've seen six children wearing Santa outfits already and it's not even December.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Saigon Traffic

The first thing most people notice here is the traffic. It is overwhelming and appears to be completely disorganised. Of course it isn't, it just has different rules and behavioural expectations than anywhere else. We read about crossing the road and watched traffic on YouTube before we came and what we read is pretty much true.

Common advice is to step out slowly into the traffic which will flow around you. It does, to an extent.

  • Step out, obviously not INTO the traffic, wait for a gap or thinning.
  • Be sure to look in the opposite direction to the main flow for someone going the other way. This isn't the wrong way, just the other way.
  • Walk slowly and traffic will move in front of you, when you reach a critical point in the middle of the (mainly) oncoming traffic it will start to pass behind you.
  • Reach the middle of the road and start the process over again.

These rules work well with motorbikes.

Cars don't flow, they might honk, they might stop. Buses honk anyway, don't flow and certainly don't stop and motorbikes, bicycles, cyclos and the three wheeled truck things made from motorbikes carrying four meters of metal piping flow around buses and cars directly into your path.

No injuries here yet and there's a certain cache in crossing confidently. Last weekend I rescued two septugenarians from East Kilbride who had been stuck in the middle of the road for five minutes holding a map and looking petrified.

I've been trying to get a picture that illustrates the traffic, I'd just about decided that only a moving image would do it justice but I tried a couple of tight in shots that give more of an impression of the madness.

Not excessive loads

This is a fairly normal street scene, the traffic isn't too busy and there's the normal range of things being carried by bikes. The man sitting higher than the rest of the traffic is riding one of the three wheeled bike/vans. No live animals being carried and everyone except the cyclist with the green lemons is travelling in the same direction.


This is more like it, all shapes, all sizes, all directions and more of the perspective you get when in the traffic, either on foot or wheels. You can see Government Information posters including, on the far right, one for helmet wearing. What you see isn't a midget on a bike but the bottom part of the poster. The demonic small person is a child perched between his father's knees. There's a big push on to get the populace helmeted and rejecting the traditional head protection of a basketball cap and/or ponytail. Even in the short time we've been here we've noticed a lot more head protection. So demonic small person posters seem to be working.

As I was about to stop taking pictures out of the traffic emerged a cyclo driver loaded down with bananas. He looked so poised and calm I thought he was a visual antidote to the mental stuff.

Banana Man

One last traffic posting for the moment. A few weeks back I put up some pictures of loads on motorbikes, I mentioned at the time that I thought the fridge bearers were delivery drivers. I was right, I spotted them outside the loading bay of Nguyen Kim a massive electrical shop where we bought an electric fan recently.

Nguyen Kim

The load of the day, a fridge and gas oven.



Yes we still snigger every time we go in but the ice cream is delicious. We've yet to try the All You Can Eat Fanny Buffet but will report back when we do.

Fanny Interior

On our way for a bowl of Fanny I saw the first Christmas tree of the season. I've heard Saigon goes all out with the decorations. This is somewhere off Nguyen Hue, it looks promising.

First of the season

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Thngs I've seen that I like


Ducks? Geese?

Yellow Wall, Hoi An

A yellow wall.

Today we plan to shop. There's a chance that the phone brought from the UK will be unlocked, it's been with the unlocker for a month now. We're planning on getting some decorative items for the apartments. Lamps, cushions, another elctric fan and some bedsheets that aren't lime green are on the list. Whether we get any or not remains to be seen as we're both fairly pathetic shoppers. however we feel fairly settled here at the moment so it seems a good time as any to try make where we live look more like a home than a motel.

It looks hot out there today, no clouds and no breeze. I'll take the camera and practice shooting in sunlight but it looks like a great day to try out some more ice cream parlours.

Flooding in Hoi An

Photograph courtesy of notquiteginger on flickr

I was pulled up short to see the extent of the flooding in Hoi An this week. I'd been lightheartedly going on about the sweaty interiors of disposable raincoats while the rains continued to fall and the river rose.

From Than Nien newspaper:

Households underwater in Hoi An ancient town of Quang Nam Province
The death toll continued to rise in the aftermath of floods that wreaked havoc in the central provinces, bringing the total to 21 dead or missing after more bodies were found Thursday.
Two bodies were found in Quang Nam Province, bringing the total number of people dead or missing in the province to ten.
Quang Nam was also the hardest-hit in the central region.
In Da Nang, the bodies of two young students were discovered yesterday in Hoa Vang District, bringing the death toll in the city to three.
In Thua Thien-Hue Province, six people have been reported dead so far.
Local authorities said the water in the Thu Bon and Vu Gia rivers have receded some.
The floods submerged tens of thousands of households and destroyed thousands of hectares of crops.
Traffic to the area resumed yesterday after having been cut off by the flood waters.
Most of schools are now reopened.
In Hoi An, local authorities dispatched personnel to rein-force the structure of historic sites susceptible to collapse.
The Thua Thien-Hue administration has rushed 380 tons of rice and 26 tons of instant noodles to needy districts while provincial health regulators are providing flood-hit areas with medicine as a preventative measure to possible epidemics.
Thousands of households in flood-hit areas were subjected to evacuation.
Meteorological experts forecast that the weather will continue to worsening in the central region in the next several days and more floods are expected.
Earlier floods that had devastated the central region in mid-October left 64 dead and 14 missing in their wake.

There's another problem, escaped crocodiles from the State Owned Yang Bay crocodile farm. Big buggers by all accounts.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Hoi An Images

The wet season seems to be coming to a close in Saigon, the wind has changed direction and it no longer rains every day. That's not the case in Hoi An. It bucketed down every day, usually two or three times a day. Umbrellas just didn't cut it so we got some disposable raincoats, the type that make you look as though you're wearing an ill fitting condom. They certainly keep the rain out but it's like wearing your own personal sauna and pretty soon they were sweat wet inside. Not a good situation so we fell back on plan B; when it rains go inside.

Going inside wasn't hard, there were plenty of cafes to shelter in, mostly serving good food.
Snack stop
The photo above was taken in a regular stop off point as we cycled to the beach. The observant amongst you will notice that it's not actually raining in this picture. But it did later.
Rain again


The beach is a 4km bike ride away and despite the wet weather was lovely to visit. Maybe lovlier because of the wet weather as we had the place to ourselves and even the hawkers stayed away.
South China Sea

Hoi An is very pretty and well worth a trip. Food and shopping are top class and there's lots to see and do.

As always motorbikes are the main form of transport.
Tangerine Vietnamese vespa closeup
Bicycles are much more common than in HCMC
Daily business

But it's boats of all shapes and sizes that are the most eyecatching transport.
blue and battered
Fish market Hoi An

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Hoi An continued

Our trip to Hoi An was a great success. We started at the domestic airport, I wasn't expecting much and dreaded it being like Prestwick, but it's nice as airports go. I have seen so much fresh fruit for sale at an airport either whole or in smoothie form, I had a custard apple smoothie and passed on the delicacy below.
braised tortoise

Our first hotel was the state run Hoi An Hotel.
Hoi An Hotel bedroom
Nice spacious rooms and the mosquito nets and shutters add a pretty air to it.
The pool area was well maintained and although this hotel caters to a lot of tour groups the pool was fairly quiet while we were there. I expect they're all out doing what they're there for; touring.
Hoi An Hotel pool
It's only downside was that the breakfast facilities sometimes got a bit overwhelmed when groups were leaving at the same time, otherwise it was well run, friendly and had very good facilities including a spa and garden bars and cafes.

The best part of it was the sign on the minibar:
Enjoy your drinking
As this is a state owned hotel we took our instructions seriously.

Our next place was on the smaller side.
Ha An Hotel, Hoi An
This very pretty hotel cost us £10 per person per night for a superior room. The staff were welcoming and helpful, the breakfast buffet outstanding and they have free rental of rattly bikes to get around on.
Ha An bedroom and fruit
Rooms are lovely and liberally sprinkled with flowers and petals for your arrival and come with a constantly replenished fruit basket and an area of blacony.
Ha An Balconies

If you're in the area I'd highly recommend the Ha An.