Charlotte eats poo……

Thursday 1st October
Crikey! We’ve been so busy I’ve not had chance to write! We’ve been trying to fit our original Vietnam plan into a shorter timescale, so it’s all go!
On Monday morning we caught the bus from Nha Trang to Da Lat. This was a 4hr journey on a spectacular road into the mountains, a bizarre mix of the Vietnamese jungle and the European Alps! And because our destination was at an altitude of 1 mile, a much nicer, cooler climate! Heaven! We actually ended up staying in the hotel all evening as we were both quite ill – Charlotte with more symptoms of altitude sickness, and me strangely full of cold! Or it might be malaria. Or the plague. Or Ebola. A right pair of old crocks!
Tuesday turned out to be probably the best day’s sightseeing of the year so far!!!!! We were on a full day’s motorbike tour of the surrounding area, and it was simply brilliant! Our guides/drivers were a young pair of lads who obviously really enjoyed their job and taught us tons of new stuff throughout the day. Our first stop was a hill top Buddhist temple, and was probably the most spectacular one we’ve seen yet. Immaculately presented, with stunning views over the lake. Other stops were made in rice fields, a weaving factory, a mushroom farm, the Elephant Falls waterfall (huge!!!), a silk factory (seeing the process right through from silkworm to thread), The Happy Buddha statue, and a coffee factory. The coffee factory actually seemed to be producing more rice wine than coffee! And we tasted it fresh off the still at 70% proof! Petrol!!! Charlotte also had one of the most expensive coffees in the world – made from weasel poo! The weasels (or what we know as civets) eat the coffee beans, but can’t digest them, so they’re left in the poo! It’s then extracted and roasted, and gives a beautiful thick chocolates coffee! Sells for £1000 a kilo in London! We had a cup for £2 fresh from the weasel’s bum!! Very very nice!
The silk farm was an eye opener too, and made me realise the incredible hard work, done in awful conditions, to make goods that we just take for granted.
We must have done about 100km on the bikes, and it was just one of the best things we’ve done all year! Charlotte now wants a motorbike!
All mornings start very early in Vietnam, so we were off again at the crack of dawn for the 8hr bus trip to Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City, but everyone seems to still refer to it as Saigon). It’s another huge city, and was once home to the biggest U.S. Army base outside of the States. Our hotel is right in the centre of the chaos, and it’s just brilliant to sit and people watch. Mark H, we went to your mate’s bar but he wasn’t in. We’ll hopefully try again. We settled into a great bar, with 2 for 1 beers! (18p a bottle!!!) And we got talking to a lovely young couple, Jonnie from Hull, and Sanne from Utrecht. Jonnie has been travelling for three years now, and met Sanne in Thailand 18 months ago. He’s a DJ and musician, and is currently DJing in what is basically a brothel with a bar near our hotel! Fantastic! What a fantastic thing to put on your CV! We had a great chat with them, lots of music discussed, and yet again it confirmed to us how right we’ve been to escape the rat race and travel. Just always so nice to meet such happy and positive people. We’ll be popping in to Crazy Girls for a drink with them before we leave!!
Today we’ve left Saigon for a couple of days on a tour on the Mekong Delta. It’s been amazing so far, and boating up the canal-like tributaries is just like in Apocalypse Now! I’m constantly looking for snipers in the jungle! (I’ve not yet met a Viet called Charlie, as the films would have us believe they’re all called!) On route to our hotel now for a well deserved dip in the pool!

Next time you buy a silk product, just bear in mind how it originated....

Next time you buy a silk product, just bear in mind how it originated from a stinking furnace-like sweat shop….

My selfie

My selfie

A terrifying dragon. And a beautiful sculpture of a mythical beast.

A terrifying dragon. And a beautiful sculpture of a mythical beast.

The Elephant Waterfalls

The Elephant Waterfalls

Mushrooms drying

Mushrooms drying

The Rock Motorcycle Club.  The initiation ceremony involves eating weasel poo.

The Rock Motorcycle Club. The initiation ceremony involves eating weasel poo.

No idea why there was seen a need for this sign.....

No idea why there was seen a need for this sign…..

Looking for Charlie....

Looking for Charlie….

More obsessive topiary

More obsessive topiary

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Nha Trang-ski

Sunday 27th September
Well, here we are in Nha Trang after another overnight bus ride in our tiny cots! Amusingly, we had the same three man crew in charge of the bus as three nights ago. They must be doing a grand tour of Vietnam. They are seriously dodgy! Trust me, I am/was a Detective! They make short unscheduled stops in the middle of nowhere where they get out of the bus, have a small discussion, then carry on. Occasionally they pick up what are obviously family members and take them wherever they want, whether it’s on the route or not! And in Danang they were stopped by the police and questioned for half an hour! This caused a lot of concern to them afterwards! But not to worry, it’s still a great service and costs absolute peanuts. Never be put off by a bus company called “Drug Couriers Inc.”
Nha Trang is the main seaside resort in Vietnam. The beach is fantastic, the sea is like a bath, and the prices, though slightly higher, are still bloody good. It is also rammed packed with Russians! We seem to be the only non-Russians in the whole resort! All the shop signs, street signs and menus are in Russian, so they must have been coming here a while. And they start on the beers by 9am, making me look a mere amateur! I can report, after a little scientific research, that the Russian female definitely favours a thong bikini! Unfortunately my probation order prohibits me from taking any photos….
We’re having two very lazy days at the beach, keeping ourselves hydrated with Tiger beer (90p a can at the beach, but 50p a can on the other side of the road, Marlboro Gold now dropped to 60p a packet!). The beach areas are split into economy, standard and VIP! Obviously, being rich westerners we’re in the VIP area where a sun bed (luxury model of course!), towel and wifi is a whole £3 a day! We managed to wait til 11.30am before Charlotte demanded beer. I, of course, was keen to have a non-alcohol day, but I have to do as she tells me……
It’s still bloody hot, 36 degrees, but the sea breeze helps. But not enough to stop sweating. Even Charlotte’s got a bit of a drip on. I look forward to the evenings when it drops to about 32. And we’ve found a lovely evening beachside bar where PINTS of draught Tiger are £1.20 for 2!!!! How civilised!
Tomorrow we head to Da Lat in the hills, where we have a motorbike tour arranged. Then it’s more beach beach beach! Other things still to come that we’re enormously looking forward to are Cambodia for two weeks, our week with Bruce’s family on Koh Samui, a couple of days in Bangkok with Sarah and Shelley, a couple of days ruining Aidy’s family holiday in Phuket, and then our sailing course! After that we have three weeks left before being forced to return to the Motherland to finish our life sentences (though we have a cunning escape plan…..) Who knows where we’ll end up on those three weeks??
How about this for luck? While finishing writing that last sentence, I said to Cha “I’m just going to nip to the shop for some more beer” when a little old lady passed our sun beds with a bag full of cold beers! And at an even better price of just under 45p a can! Bia Saigon “333 Export” 5.3%!!!! Fine work little old lady! I’ve instructed her to pass by every 15 minutes!!! She’s going to be my new best friend…..

Fantastic beach!

Fantastic beach!

This town has an obsession with topiary!

This town has an obsession with topiary!

Oh go on then. Mo, just one for you!

Oh go on then. Mo, just one for you!

And another for Mo! Speaking of topiary......

And another for Mo! Speaking of topiary……

Cycling in Vietnam!

Friday 25th September
Today is little Joshy’s birthday!!! How on earth can he be 20 bloody years old???! Seems like only yesterday I was holding him for the first time at Welwyn Garden City Hospital! Happy birthday old boy!!!!
Well, it’s still bloody hot here. I’m sweating like a scouser in a job centre. Still, in the raging inferno we managed to cycle about 10 miles with our guide Johnny yesterday. It was stunningly beautiful, cycling past temples, pagodas and miles of rice fields. I sweated so much I destroyed a full packet of cigarettes in my trouser pocket! Disintegrated!!!
Hoi An is a really old town, much of it preserved. It’s like Yvoire in France, only bigger, and is an ideal place for sitting outside a riverside bar watching the world go by. The downside is that it’s very touristy. However, the locals are as friendly as ever, and children will always say hello as they pass you. Everyone loves to try their English on us. On an evening the river is full of floating lanterns. These are sold by wizened old ladies, offering them at “ten dorror rantern”. Crikey, from what I’ve read, ten dorror used to get you much more than a lantern!!!
Last night we splashed out at a highly recommended, upmarket restaurant. Amazing food, and even the higher prices brought it up to only £15 for the two of us. Beer was 90p a bottle! Outrageously extravagant! It’s possible in many bars to get a glass of local beer for 10p, but seeing as how we’re feeling pretty rich I’m sticking to bottles of Tiger at 30p!
We leave Hoi An tonight on the night bus to Nha Trang, where we have a beachside hotel with rooftop pool for a couple of days. £20 a night! So, 12 hours snuggled up in my tiny bunk bed – I’m actually looking forward to it! I can get really comfy, and read and listen to music before snoozing the miles away! We’re spending the rest of today lazing at the hotel pool. It’s a tough life……..
Breakfasts have been brilliant in Vietnam. There’s generally a choice of western, continental and Asian food, so I like to have a “World breakfast” – usually something along the line of sausages, bacon, omelette, fried eggs, cold meats, and chicken fried rice with stir fried vegetables! Very cultured I am!

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The Japanese Bridge

The Japanese Bridge

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Lots of wedding parties on the river. This seems to be the marriage centre of Vietnam!

Lots of wedding parties on the river. This seems to be the marriage centre of Vietnam!

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A beautiful Buddhist temple

A beautiful Buddhist temple

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A big hairy smelly beast..... And a water buffalo.

A big hairy smelly beast….. And a water buffalo.

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I have traded Charlotte in as a peasant farmer in exchange for a bottle of beer

I have traded Charlotte in as a peasant farmer in exchange for a bottle of beer

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The Hottest Place In The World!!!

Wednesday 23rd September
Hué is a beautiful city, a bit quieter traffic-wise than Hanoi, and full of history. We spent yesterday on an organised tour of tombs, mausoleums, pagodas and The Citadel. Bloody hell it was hot! In fact I suspect it might have been the hottest day ever recorded in the history of the world! Standing in the sun for more than two seconds at a time caused people to explode into flame, and the town was dotted with whisps of smoke where Westerners had spontaneously combusted. Fortunately for me, my sweating rate of 13 litres a second kept the flames at bay. We saw some amazing places, the resting places of Kings of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). These Kings were incredibly privileged people. We learnt of one who had 500 wives and 700 concubines! Jesus! No wonder he died aged 40! He must have been drained of every drop of energy he had! He would choose up to 10 women EVERY night to join him in the royal chambers…..The history of Vietnam is fascinating, as they’ve constantly been ruled by one country or another – the Chinese, the French. The Americans tried, and failed (fortunately). It amuses me to think of the mighty USA being defeated by peasants and guerrillas in what they must have considered to be a tin pot country (albeit with the support of China and Russia…) I learnt an interesting fact yesterday – during the years of the Vietnam war the average number of Vietnamese killed in the war each year was 10,000. Now, in peacetime, 12,000 die a year in motorcycle accidents! That’s 30+ a day!!!! And I’m not surprised. I’m guessing that the Vietnam Highway Code consists of 1 sentence, “There are no rules”. But (despite the horrendous death rate) the traffic seems to flow well, and there’s rarely a traffic jam!
We visited a beautiful Buddhist temple, where we were able to touch the enormous bell, and the huge turtle, for luck. I’ve never seen touching a turtle’s head as lucky before…..
After the tour, beer was required, and so we slipped into our favourite bar. But not before I’d bought a Breitling watch! It’s a really good copy, and at £10 instead of £6000, I love it! Obviously it’ll stop working very very soon, but you never know. It looks identical in every way until you see on the back “Manufactured in Switchinterned”!
Cue a deluge of requests from back home for watches!
For some bizarre reason, Charlotte has lost any sense of direction since we’ve been in Vietnam. It’s as if she’s had her poles reversed. She seems to have the same navigational skills as Mark Thatcher.
Today we’ve been up early for our bus to Hoi An. We left the hotel at 7.15am, yet it was already 12,000 degrees. And this is autumn!!! Our bus journey is only 4hrs. These short journeys seem like nothing now, it’s hardly time to get settled in! But it’s a sleeper bus again, so I’m nicely chilled out in my tiny bed! The no. 36 will never be the same again! I’m writing this and listening to the album Kill City by Iggy Pop and James Williamson, as recommended by my brother. Wow! One of the best I’ve heard for a long time! Rush out and buy it instantly! The track Master Charge is worth it alone, lovely and mellow. It helps to read or write on the bus, as this stops you from looking out of the front window where you will see imminent death every few seconds, although I have touched the turtle’s head so hopefully fortune will smile on us…. We’re heading to a hotel with a swimming pool as it has become imperative to have some way of cooling!! And then tomorrow is a full days cycling tour!
Later – now arrived at the hotel, and for the third time in a row have been upgraded rooms! How very civilised! Beautiful pool too, so it’s a few hours of lounging before heading into town for some exploring!
The frightening news is that I’ve had contact from work asking me what my future intentions are??? One of the options they’ve given me is to extend my career break! Oooooh, so tempting!!!! They’ve also sent a 30 page form to fill out, that has to be returned by hand to them. Looks like they’ll have to wait a while then! I’ve not seen the form as its at my dad’s, but I suspect it’s full of loopholes that’ll see them refusing to take me back. No worries, that’d be one problem solved! However, we have a cunning plan………..

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The tombs were guarded by mandarin statues,  all about the same height as Ken and Linda.

The tombs were guarded by mandarin statues, all about the same height as Ken and Linda.

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Charlotte took time out to audition for Widow Twanky in this year's panto.......

Charlotte took time out to audition for Widow Twanky in this year’s panto…….

Buddhist monks chanting. What a great religion that promotes peace and kindness, and even better that people but cans of beer at the shrines for the spirits!

Buddhist monks chanting. What a great religion that promotes peace and kindness, and even better that people put cans of beer at the shrines for the spirits!

Charlotte touching a turtle's head......

Charlotte touching a turtle’s head……

Beer of the day! Huda! Very pleasant, and a very respectable 35p a bottle!

Beer of the day! Huda! Very pleasant, and a very respectable 35p a bottle!

My new Breitling!

My new Breitling!

Today's pool!

Today’s pool!

It Just keeps Getting Better!!!

Monday 21st September 2015
We’d returned to Hanoi on Saturday from Ha Long Bay for one night, and after having spent a couple of hours in the roof top pool, we ventured out into the streets! Bloody hell!!!! It was absolutely manic! It seemed that every person in Vietnam had come out on their mopeds to ride around for the night! Very common were families of 4 on one bike! We have never, ever seen anything like it! We both agreed that this was the maddest, craziest and greatest city we’d been to this year! Even more so than La Paz! What a night! Almost impossible to describe, but very briefly, I had the greatest vegetable curry I’ve ever tasted (beer still 29p), we visited the biggest, busiest, most chaotic night market we’ve ever seen (I haggled a G Shock watch down to £6, but wouldn’t buy it as I still thought that was too much!) and we finished with a last beer on the roof terrace of our hotel on the 13th floor looking down at it all. Superb.
On Sunday we had a lazy morning, luxuriating in the air con, before going out into the inferno-like heat and humidity for lunch. I’d also decided I needed new t shirts, as mine were looking a bit grubby after nine months travelling. Seeing as I have no fashion sense, I went for four identical t shirts in different colours (you’ll no doubt spot these very easily in future photos) and managed to bargain down from an initial asking price of 1,800,000 Dong to 425,000 Dong, so 25% of the price. Mind you, even then I felt I was being ripped off, but I couldn’t be arsed arguing any more, and I needed the t shirts!
Sunday evening saw us heading for the bus which was taking us to Hué. This is a 14hr journey. We were booked onto a sleeper bus, but had never imagined that it would be like this! A single decker bus, with three lines of bunk beds all along it! These bunks had been made for Vietnamese people, so anyone over 4′ tall and 8″ wide was going to have a bad time! It was difficult for me, so god knows how Charlotte got her arse into the seat!! 😉😉😉 (I have been warned by my dad to stop taking the mickey out of Cha’s bum, but I just can’t help it…..) It was like getting into a bob sleigh! Bloody hell! However, surprisingly, all went quite well, and with the aid of music and books I had quite a good night (Book- Ken Follett’s Winter of The World, Music – David Gilmour’s new album Rattle and Lock, Pink Floyd The Endless River, Snarky Puppy Bring Us The Bright, Rodriguez Searching For Sugarman). Managed a few hours of decent sleep. *******I would like it to be noted that, due to no onboard toilets, I sacrificed any thought of beer, and had my SECOND alcohol free day of this year!!!*********
Hué. Another amazing place. And the temperature must be at least 148 degrees!!!! It’s got huge history and was a massive turning point in the American – Vietnamese War in the Tet Offensive of 1968. This was a three week long battle that the Americans won, but at enormous human cost (to both sides), and was the realisation for many Americans that they were wrongly sticking their noses into other people’s business. For me, it’s fascinating history, and I find it absolutely extraordinary to know that in recent history this was a war zone, where I’m wandering around now. We’re visiting the Citadel and The Purple Forbidden City tomorrow, which are still riddled with the destructive effects of the war.
I have to say that I love Vietnam. Now, I know I say this about everywhere, but because of that I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I can genuinely say now that for me, it’s the most fascinating country I’ve been to this year. Maybe not best, nor most beautiful, but definitely most fascinating. And the service we’ve had in hotels, bars, restaurants and tours is easily the best we’ve had anywhere. The staff cannot do enough for you, and are the friendliest and outwardly happiest people we’ve come across, yet they’re probably working for the smallest wages. Vietnam goes to the top of my list!!! And did I mention that the beer’s cheap???? And we had 10 bottles this aft for under 3 quid??? 😀😀

This menu looked very tempting! Pigeon Fried? Hotpot Frog? Hotpot Grill????

This menu looked very tempting! Pigeon Fried? Hotpot Frog? Hotpit Grill????

My 14hr bed!!!

My 14hr bed!!!

Charlotte loving her bed!!

Charlotte loving her bed!!

Heaven in Ha Long Bay!!!! And Rooney arrives in Vietnam!

Thursday morning was an early start for our bus to the coast. But before the bus, we checked out of our lovely hotel, and I thought I’d be super generous and leave the staff a £2.90 tip (the equivalent of 10 bottles of beer, and tipping isn’t even expected here!). I expected the hotel manager to drop to his knees and kiss my feet in thanks, but no. Anyway, it wasn’t until a little later that I realised that, due to a malfunction in my currency conversion, I’d actually tipped 29p! No wonder he wasn’t worshipping me!! Haha! Never mind!
Our bus to Halong Bay was like a meeting of the United Nations – us, 1 Vietnamese, 1 Spanish, 3 Israelis, several Koreans, and a couple of Hong Kongers? Hong Kongonese? Hong Kongians? Hong Kong Phooeys? The bus journey was 3 hours of slow, rough roads, but fascinating seeing the villages and scenery. Tony, our Vietnamese guide (who claimed to be Tony Blair’s grandson?) was quite amusing, and once he’d got us through the chaos of the port, we were onto our boat for 3 days – The Golden Lotus. A lovely wooden boat, with only 13 people on board. Our cabin/room is a beautiful wood panelled room with ensuite, far better than we expected! And then came lunch – plate after plate of magnificent food! Bloody hell! This is good!!!! And the barman soon had me sorted – it only took the briefest of glances at him for him to bring me another Tiger whenever I needed!
The limestone karsts are incredible. There are two thousand of them here, ranging from single pillars rising vertically out of the sea, to much larger islands. Spectacular. No surprise that it’s classed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In the afternoon we visited huge caves, the size of a cathedral. Stunning.
Evening again saw a procession of plates laden with great food. I’m piling on the weight now! And very little exercise! Oh well, never mind! I did a spot of squid fishing too, but with no success.
Friday was an early start again for breakfast before we headed off on a smaller boat for the day. First stop was Cat Ba Island, but instead of going to the tourist areas we docked in the middle of nowhere and cycled several kilometres to a tiny rural village. This was fantastic, very easy to imagine that we were in Apocalypse Now!!! Seeing water buffalo in the rice fields was such a stereotype image of Vietnam. My bike was a rattling old single speed contraption. I suspect it was last used by an ARVN sniper as he blew the heads off American GIs! The small hills were a definite challenge, and I achieved a whole new level of sweating!!! I can’t even think of a description for it, but it was way beyond “saturated”!  We visited a local family and were offered rice wine. I was initially the only one to accept. It was an acquired taste, a mixture of petrol/schnapps/creosote. In a rare moment of sense, I turned down the snake wine, mainly because it was still fermenting in a vat of snakes! Even I have some limits…. This was followed by another superb lunch back on the boat, before a couple of hours of swimming and kayaking among the karsts. Heaven! The big surprise of the day for me was a visit to a pearl farm – I’d always believed pearls were just naturally found in a few oysters. But no. This farm “artificially inseminates” the oysters with pearl tissue and a seed right into the oyster’s ovary. Incredible! The oysters are then cultivated for 3-6 years before being harvested for their treasure. It was absolutely fascinating!! As the guide opened a shell for us, out popped a beautiful silver pearl! It reminded me of the sweets I used to buy, silver mint trillions, which in turn reminded me of when at school Bruce shot one out of a biro, pea-shooter style, and it bounced off Mr Venables’ bald head! Haha Bruce! Another visit to the head’s office!!!
Again, another evening of fine food and plentiful beer! This is just perfect!
The high point for Charlotte? Listening to one of the Vietnamese crew telling me I look just like Rooney!!!!!! Outrageous! Never have I been so insulted!
And a new dilemma – when talking to someone who has just introduced herself to you, and as you sit there and realise that your flies are wide open, what’s the correct etiquette??? To zip up? Ignore?????? I went for the “covering with t shirt option”!
To anyone thinking of visiting this area, I would fully recommend this trip, and do the three day option rather than the one or two. You won’t be bored for a single second. We’ve been happy to just lay on the sun loungers on the upper deck for hours at a time just watching the amazing scenery. I’d been looking forward to this all year, and it certainly didn’t disappoint in any way. A definite highlight for me.
We’ve met some really nice people on this trip, including an Israeli lady travelling for a month with her two 10 year old twin daughters, and a Chilean/Argentinan couple who live in the Chile area of Patagonia, so we’ve got an open offer to visit them any time we like in one of the most beautiful parts of the world!
So, it’s Saturday now, and after a lazy morning on the boat sailing through the karsts we’ve returned to Hanoi for another night. We’ve really pushed the boat out and booked into a posh hotel with 11th floor roof top pool, and Sky Lounge open air bar! £35 for the two of us!! Smack in the centre of the chaos and craziness of the Old Quarter! Unbelievable! Beers a bit pricey though, at 90p a bottle…….

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Incredible Hanoi!! And cheap beer!!!

Oh crikey! Blinking flip! Well I never! Hanoi!!!!!! HANOI!!!!!!!! Randall, you’re not going to like this at all, but I think Hanoi is one of the very best cities we’ve been to this year!!!! It is just magnificently mental, crazy, chaotic, buzzing, vibrant, historic, soooooo friendly, a visual feast of colour, and outrageously cheap! What a day we’ve had!
We started with a choice of cooked breakfasts (remember, £7.50 a night) before going on a two hour walk around the Old Quarter, as suggested and routed in the Lonely Planet guide. It’s just brilliant! Not picturesque or stunning, but so full of life and busier than anywhere else we’ve been. And then you’ll just stumble across a spectacular pagoda or a temple. The history here is very important. We’ve learnt that the easiest way to cross the roads is to just walk forward slowly, with your eyes closed, and miraculously the traffic somehow parts! It’s like a shoal of fish that never clashes! The streets are chock ablock with people, bikes, scooters and cars, and you can’t walk on the pavements as every bit of space is being used! Manic! Each street seems to specialise in its own thing – eg clothes, shoes, sunglasses, hardware, haberdashery, black smiths(!), kitchen equipment, door handles. The stainless steel area was amazing, with everything being made right there on the pavement. I could just imagine going into a shop and saying “I’d like a desk/oven/work top, incorporating all 3 things, 46.78″ x 300.54cm x 12 foot, made by a left handed craftsman, aged 76, with 36 grandchildren” and I’ve no doubt that the answer would be “ok sir, you gif me twenny minnit, and I haf it done fo yooooo!” The work and welding that was going on on those pavements was incredible! It put Sheffield Steel to shame!!!! So at the end of that we treated ourselves to a ridiculously expensive milk shake (£1) before going for a little rest back at the hotel. Then, when feeling a bit peckish, we went to a restaurant just two doors away, in which the owner/chef had been a competitor on Master Chef Vietnam!!! We both had the most expensive items on the vast menu (£3 each), polished off with a 500ml bottle of Tiger beer at 29p!!!!!!!!!! TWENTY NINE BLOODY PENCE!!!!! You could go out, have a shed load of beer, and still have change for the bus home with £3!!!!! And the food was little short of spectacular! We may very well be there again later tonight!

Its cloudy at the moment, and often raining but only for 1 minute at a time. But it’s still oppressively hot and humid! I look forward to the rain so that my sweat ridden t shirt finally looks like everyone else’s!
After the meal, we did another huge long walk, taking in Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (unfortunately closed “for restoration to his body”!). But we ventured into the real back streets, well away from any other western faces, and brilliantly found ourselves in an indoor food market. Apart from the amazing sights we saw in there, what made this particularly entertaining was the fact that even though it is indoors, people were still riding around on their scooters in there! Mental!!!!! Eventually we arrived back at the hotel, and have just had a few bottles of Halida beer in a nearby bar (still 29p each of course).
This place is incredible, and I’m totally taken with it! Can’t wait to see the rest of Vietnam! This is something really special, and just leaves me with a constant smile on my face! Tomorrow, off to Halong Bay for 3 days/2 nights on a sailing trip! Aha me hearties!!!!!! Shiver me timbers!!!

Brilliant!

Brilliant!

Ho Ci Min's mausoleum. Closed as they're just putting his rotting body back together!

Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Closed as they’re just putting his rotting body back together!

The Presidential Palace

The Presidential Palace

No joke, outside the restaurants, they let lunch run around until it's needed!!!!

No joke, outside the restaurants, they let lunch run around until it’s needed!!!!

Always busy!

Always busy!

Right Guard? 96 Hours? Pah! 5 minutes! I want my money back!!!

Right Guard? 96 Hours? Pah! 5 minutes! I want my money back!!!

Tiger Beer! 29p!!! Same price as water!!!! What a civilised country!!!!

Tiger Beer! 29p!!! Same price as water!!!! What a civilised country!!!!

Bloody brilliant food!

Bloody brilliant food!

Cooked by a Master Chef!!!

Cooked by a Master Chef!!!

The butcher sitting cross-legged on the work surface chopping up the meat!

The butcher sitting cross-legged on the work surface chopping up the meat!

No, I have no idea what meat this is, nor do I have any intention of eating it!

No, I have no idea what meat this is, nor do I have any intention of eating it!

It may be an indoor market, but that's not going to stop anyone driving around it!

It may be an indoor market, but that’s not going to stop anyone driving around it!

Finally I've caught up with the Costello and McGaughran Electrical Contractors (Vietnam Dept)! The usual shoddy work going on!!!

Finally I’ve caught up with the Costello and McGaughran Electrical Contractors (Vietnam Dept)! The usual shoddy work going on!!!


Good Morning Vietnam!!!!

Travelling again!! Brilliant! The journey from Manchester -London-Bangkok was easy enough, despite not being upgraded to Business Class. What a come down to have to walk to the back of the plane! And then find myself sat next to a hugely fat German, who really should have paid for my seat too seeing as how he used most of it!
Our wonderful friend Bruce met us at the airport and took us to his house, giving me the first chance this year to have a beer with him! And we had a selection of Asian beers, all very nice! Bruce, Tik, Thomas and Katy have a brilliant house on the outskirts of Bangkok, and are currently having another house and swimming pool built next door! How the other half live!!! Mind you, he works far harder than I expect I ever will do. And it was good to see that despite having lived many years in Thailand he still has the same sweating problem as me! 😆 Thanks Bruce and Tik! We’ll see you in the rockstar villa in 4 weeks!
Today we’ve headed back to the airport for our flight to Vietnam. That was a thirty-odd mile taxi ride which cost less than a tenner! Despite the traffic, there were times when the driver was able to reach Mach 4! We just love Thailand!
We flew on a Qatar Airways plane, brand new, with only about 25 passengers! I’ve never seen such an empty plane in my life! 200 empty seats!!!
First impressions of Vietnam?? Wow!!!!! This place is bloody fantastic! Just like in South America, Hanoi is a mixture of madness, chaos, craziness, and beautiful architecture. We’re going to like this a lot!!! Crossing the road is an extreme sport, and reminds me of the old ZX Spectrum game Frogger! No one stops at the crossings, and you are generally faced with 35 million scooters and 20 million cars! Yet somehow, it seems to work???!!!! After a walk around the lake, we went to a posh expensive cafe for a couple of beers. We knew it was expensive as they were £1 each!! To put that into perspective, we’ve just eaten really well at a noodle bar, where a beer and a coke cost 80p together! And the bars on our street by the hotel are selling bottles of beer at 30p!!!!!!! How can we ever come home?????!!!! The hotel, in the mid range price group, is £15 a night including breakfast. For the two of us!!! The staff are friendlier and more attentive than in any posh hotel I’ve stayed at! Why isn’t everyone living in Vietnam????
Tomorrow we’re having a full day exploring Hanoi, and we cannot wait!!!!! Cheers!

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Beef noodle soup!

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A welcome return to Beer of the Day!!!!

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Our English Holiday Comes To An End (Hopefully!!!!)

My goodness! This has been a tough and trying few weeks!!!! Some ups, many more downs, but we’re all coping admirably! Thank god for the help of gin!!!!
So, a couple of weeks ago, mum’s illness just got too bad, and she had to go into a home. This was after several years of dad being her sole carer at home, and it just wasn’t possible any more. Anyway, just to prove the point, after 26hrs the care home also said she was beyond their level of care, and finally mum ended up in St James’ Hospital. Now, I’m loathe to criticise any of our brilliant public services, but…… maybe I expect too much, and I’m sure they did their very best. Eventually, and most fortunately, mum has been admitted to The Mount in Leeds, a specialist psychiatric unit. Mum’s dementia has developed further into a terrible psychotic illness, and to be brief, she no longer recognises us, nor any part of her life. It is very very sad. However, she is in the very best place possible.
I cannot stress enough how much respect I have for the staff at The Mount. It is an NHS unit, so funding will always be a problem (last month they were reduced from 20 beds to 12 due to the cuts made by “our selfish bastard government”. My words.) Each and every member of the staff there are the very nicest, most caring people you could meet, and I genuinely feel humbled by them. They put the vast majority of us to shame in the way that they look after these very complex illnesses. I really can’t put into words how impressed I am by them. We consider ourselves to be extremely lucky that mum is being cared for by them.
Mum’s probably going to be there for several months, until they can possibly stabilise the psychosis, and then we’ll see how it goes. Tough times ahead, yet there is no better place that mum could be. Like I’ve said, it’s all very sad.
I came home for one week initially, then when we realised how things were going, Charlotte came home too, which was just brilliant, not only for me but also for her ability to deal with the hospital, and kicking some ass!!!
So, on Sunday 13th September, after 3 weeks at home, we’re heading back to Asia!! Not much more we can do here at the moment, and Dad is on good form, so we’re going to see if we can finish our trip! We’ve got 12 weeks left to do, with many amazing things lined up, including Vietnam, Cambodia, our sailing course, and of course a week of luxury in the villa with my wonderful friend Bruce and his family!!!! Not forgetting of course two days in Bangkok with the beautiful ladies Sarah and Shelley!!! Obviously, plans are very flexible in case we need to come home again. Let’s just see how it goes, and take one day at a time!
On the plus side, we’ve managed to sort out a superb flat for us to return to in Harrogate in December, which is one less job to do.

I managed to get another run done yesterday, around the crime scenes of North Leeds. In fact, I ran past the biggest crime scene in Britain – Jimmy Saville’s flat!! Made me think of poor  old Seamus, delivering his newspapers and being encouraged to go in!!!! Haha! Terrible visions of a young Seamus pressed against the window with a deranged white haired man behind him! No wonder Seamus’s tar mac- ing is all so wobbly!!!! To be sure……..
Our sincere apologies to our friends here who we haven’t been able to catch up with, but our priority has been here in Leeds with the family, and socialising has been well and truly on the back burner!! To be fair, I’m completely drained by it all. I need a bloody holiday!!!! We’ll see you all in December, and maybe have a small lemonade together!!!! Cheers chaps, and thank you for the very many kind messages of support we’ve had! 😀

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A touch of Thailand in the heart of Yorkshire! image image image image

Another little rant! But justified I’m sure you’ll agree! 😃

Friday 4th September

You’re going to have to forgive me, but I’m needing to have a little rant….
I’m spending a lot of time in St James Hospital in Leeds at the moment. The wards are chronically understaffed, and many of the nurses seem so demoralised that their work has definitely been affected. And who can blame them? They’re been asked to do more work, with less staff, for less money. And this is so that we can offset some of the financial mess caused by the bankers and the fat cats. It’s an absolute disgrace. The NHS is one of the greatest things about Britain, and our government seem hell bent on destroying it (still, we can all take some comfort in the MPs’ recent wage rise). I’ve no doubt that the nursing staff are (generally) doing their very best in difficult circumstances, and I take my hat off to them. I’m particularly impressed with the “non-qualified” staff such as the cleaners, caterers and care workers, who actually seem to give better care than any of the others. We get most of our information from the cleaner! She is absolutely brilliant and deserves a medal!
But. To make matters worse, I opened up yesterday’s paper to discover that Manchester United have paid £36 million pounds for a 19 year old footballer. Personally, I find this obscene. I know you can’t compare the hospital to a sporting “business”, but there is something morally wrong about this. Imagine what just £36 million pounds could do for a hospital, especially if it were actually able to be ring-fenced for the basic care on the wards (of course I’m sure there is also a huge amount of waste in the NHS, but I don’t think this occurs at the basic levels of care).
Certainly my dad and his friend, both life long football fans, have lost interest in the Premier league as a result of the money involved. And the blatant cheating by pathetic footballers who fall to the floor every two seconds.
Anyway, on a more positive note – mum getting the care she needs now, though there’s a long way to go, but already a noted improvement. Things have been much improved for me by having Charlotte back here too, as she knows what she’s doing with hospital staff! And she’s been able to cut and dye my hair again! Josh coming up later today, and Sam coming tomorrow so it’s an unexpected family reunion which will be lovely! Me and Charlotte made a quick visit to Harrogate yesterday afternoon, but weren’t drawn back to it in any great way!!! We’re still planning to head back to Thailand on 16th September, but obviously this plan has to be flexible.
I had a visit from my dear friend Cliffy last night, which was also superb! It’s always nice to know that people are thinking, and Cliff has long been a friend of the family.
Finally, the below newspaper cutting has made my day! Apparently far from being a drain on the NHS, us smokers and drinkers are actually keeping it going with our taxes! I always suspected as much! Admittedly, it was in the Daily Mail, and thus is almost certainly 100% a lie….

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Mum, almost smiling, proving what incredible drugs are available these days!!!

Mum, almost smiling, proving what incredible drugs are available these days!!!