Vietnam Part One

It’s 4.30am and there is music blaring outside my window, which penetrates right through my ear plugs. In reality, it’s 10.30am in Vietnam but I am still on London time and have been in bed for 5 hours, which the girls have decided is long enough and I need to go and entertain them. I am not impressed. If they could just leave me for another couple of hours….

I have been telling folk back in the UK that I am using Vietnam as a chill-out and time adjustment and that I think that the girls will want to spend the week vegging out and escaping from kids and maternal concerns. But they are really getting into their cultural experience and are wanting me to be a part of it. The trouble is that they are on a three hour time difference from Melbourne but have not adjusted their body clocks at all. They are getting up at 5am (just when I am going to bed) and are ready for bed at 8pm, when for me it’s mid afternoon.

So we have a pool, which is nice to chillax but I decide that we need to do some exercise. Olive has been sick for two days so is excused but I enlist Schmotty, Moo and Monsta for some 3 o’clock exercises. Let’s just say that it starts well…..

Maybe alcohol is needed…..

For the first two days I only step out of the villa once and that’s under the cover of darkness to visit a local restaurant. I use that term loosely as of course it’s a venue for local people with a local budget. The place would have been closed down in UK as the walls are more char grilled than the meat and there’s a motorbike parked next to where we’re eating but the food is good.

We have ventured out with Hanna, Moo’s friend from Melbourne, who is working in HCM with husband Rob. We ask Hanna if they sell drinks but she replies that “sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t” so we all turn up with our BYO’s in our hand.

There’s no menu but there’s a choice — Pork with rice or Pork with rice and egg. Sounds a bit like Fawlty Towers Gourmet Evening “if you don’t like duck, you’re rather stuck, hahahaha….”

The food is good and we’re very welcome although we are attracting a lot of stares. In fact, where we are staying in District 2, there are not many foreigners and so we are a source of overt amusement. Especially me, 6'4" and bearded.

The locals laugh at me every time I step out of the door. I keep telling myself that it’s not malicious, and portray that thought by smiling broadly back.

The place that we have chosen to stay is palatial; two storey mansion which is almost too big for the grounds that it sits in with high ceilings and four bedrooms. It is filled with what many would describe as artefacts, many of which could feature in any Indiana Jones movie. There’s a pool too which we use in the afternoon when it gets too steamy.

Half way up the stairs is a five foot onyx (?) statue of a Ghenghis Khan like character who we irreverently dress up from time to time.

By day three, I am feeling a bit more human and venture out more. The girls have booked a culinary motorbike tour of HCM at night (see separate blog) and a day tour of the Vietcong tunnels and Mekhong river, for which we get a minibus, tour guide named Minh and driver.

The tour guide remains steadfastly objective about the Vietnam war which was disastrous in so many ways to so many people, but the Cu Chi tunnel site goes into detail about the ingenious ways the Vietcong set about causing as much devastation and chaos to the U.S. led invasion.

Curiously, the tunnel tour ends at a modern day firing range, where we are invited to fire a few rounds of ammunition. I decline as, in the words of Michael Jackson “I am a lover not a fighter.”

It is good to get out into the countryside and see rural Vietnam. As we near the Mekhong delta, the number of paddy fields increase. Slap bang in the middle, it is common to see gravestones of past family members.

We stop for lunch at a rather sanitised but nicely maintained restaurant, catering for the Western tourist. Again the food is exquisite.

Crispy Fried Elephant Ear Fish

The afternoon is a bit too touristy for me. We take a motorboat over to Thoi Son island and are then guided through these various “attractions” — a local beehive with, would you believe…bees in it and the associated honey for sale; a coconut press that makes coconut flavoured sweets (yukk); a boa constrictor which is scooped from its tank and hung round my neck and we are introduced to a selection of local fruits, which we are encouraged to taste. We just manage to escape the agony of fellow tourists who are pinned to their seats while a group of Vietnamese are sharing their rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

Fruits from back to front, left to right — Sapodilla, Water Melon, Dragon Fruit, Pineapple, Papaya

To leave the island, we are rowed back to our moored motor boat in canoes, paddled by two people. It is not really authentic as there are scores of them rowing up and down and a bit like a gondolier ride in Venice. We are advised by our tour guide to leave a tip (fair enough) and in unison, after the 250 metre paddle, our rowers chime “Hello, goodbye, you leave tip.”

Monsta, Olive, Schmotty and Moo
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