The ship’s internet connection is via satellite and sometimes it is just plain crap, this is often accompanied by the loss of CNN on the TV and on this leg has been dogging us since close to Hong Kong. Yesterday there was a big notice outside the CyberStudy saying that it was closed but never having been one to take things at face value I went in anyway. I was all on my own and thought that I had struck lucky when I found that I was connected to the internet, so I posted the blog and tried to add some photos. I waited and waited for the photos to upload but it seemed as if nothing was happening so I disconnected from the internet and tried again. That was when I found that I had posted the same message twice and tonight I hope that I can remove it, if not hard luck you can add your comments on either page.
Today we entered Vietnamese waters and we were unsure what to expect, instead of being able to dock at the wharf we were advised at the last minute that we were to anchor offshore and be tendered in to the port of Nha Trang. Apparently since the last time the ship docked here the locals have built a huge sky way right across the harbour and the cables are too low for the ship to get under and now the only way for ships the size of Oriana to unload its passengers is for them to use tenders to get them ashore. It didn’t help that one of the tenders was out of commission but the usual chaos of getting 800+ people to the tour buses ensued and our tour that was supposed to start at 9.00am didn’t get underway until 9.40am. However this time instead of being rushed around the captain agreed to a later sailing, although even he probably didn’t expect it to be over 2½ hours late leaving Vietnam.
We knew that our tour was due to go to a school amongst its other stops but I don’t think that any of our fellow travellers, and there were at least 6 coaches on this particular tour, expected it to be quite so exciting or emotional. The little we saw of Vietnam showed it to have beautiful countryside, superb clean white sand beaches, utterly chaotic driving and happy but persistent vendors of everything from silk shirts to cheap postcards. We had seen the beauty of the place from the decks as we came to anchor, sweeping hills, luscious country side and a neat little harbour. Our drive out of the city in to the countryside however was a revelation to all of us, the place is alive with cheap Chinese motorbikes driven by what seems to be kamikaze kids often two or more on a bike. Our excellent tour guide told us that the rules do allow a family of four on one bike and sure enough we later saw mum, dad and two kids all squashed together going off to do their shopping. It’s impossible to describe how they drive in this place, even on dual carriageways we saw people going in opposite directions, cars and bikes cross intersections with absolutely no regard for what is coming towards them, how more people are not killed I have no idea. We saw several motorised and pedal rickshaws loaded up with goods so high that the driver could only see what was directly in front of him and one pedal cycle guy had a cart on each side which carried long metal tubes, probably 15/20 feet long and so he could not control his direction with the handlebars, presumably he manoeuvred by leaning one way or the other. We left the town just as people were going home for lunch (they eat early and have a siesta because of the heat) and I can only hope that our video does justice to this driving madness.
Our first stop was at a primary school and we were entertained with singing and dancing by a heart breaking group of children who were desperate for attention and we were able to give them the pens that Hilary had brought plus some cash as we felt so sorry for them. We were told that the class that we saw was for 6 year olds but in size they were much more like Western 4 year olds. It was a very touching moment and we took lots of photos and then showed them their face on the back of the camera, they really like that. As we had approached the school we were besieged (that is the only word that I can use) by young and old desperate for us to buy something from them. The goods ranged from postcards ($1US for 10 cards) to paintings on silk, hats, t-shirts, caps, boxes, fans and they would not take no for an answer. We did buy a couple of silk paintings at the first stop and thought that would be it for the day but no sooner did we get back in our coach then they got on their motorcycles and beat us to the next stop where they pleaded all over again. What started as one picture for $10 soon ended up as two for $5, how could you say no in the face of all this poverty?
During the course of our 4 hour tour we stopped at a temple – still not sure what religion it was – and outside there were some ladies making raffia matting and table mats so we had to buy some of those as well. The temple was very peaceful inside and I have to say I lingered a little while inside as it felt so tranquil then it was back to our motorcycle friends again pleading to sell us their goods at any price we would give them, some people even bought baseball caps for as little as $1 and polo shirts for $5. As one lady said, “At these prices I don’t even have to fight the laundrette, I can afford to throw them away when they are dirty.” Sad but true. Our next stop was to what was claimed to be a typical Vietnamese house and it was small but beautifully clean and well kept, I suspect that by normal standards this little row of houses with just one main living room each where mother and father, daughter and son in law and grandmother and grandfather lived was a cut above some of the farm workers houses. They even had their own rice paddy in the front garden! And our penultimate stop was to a rice paddy where locals showed us how the rice was cultivated and we had great delight watching a farmer try to control three water buffalo who had minds of their own.
Our last stop was to what our guide called the Silk Picture place and the skill shown by the rows and rows of girls as they placed individual embroidered stitches was amazing to watch and it was no surprise to find that some of these silk embroidered pictures sold for several thousands of dollars. Hilary settled for a much less expensive embroidered kimono and I have a silk shirt with a grasshopper on the pocket, I insisted in buying some silk pyjamas in Large size when Hilary insisted that I needed their XXL and of course as soon as we opened them on the ship I realised that she was correct and I was wrong. Know anyone who needs some black and white striped silk jammys that would fit a 5’6” slim person? I will give you good price as they say….
OK that is it for the first section and I will hand you over to Hilary for her perspective on today, I will add some of yesterday’s photos as well as today’s if the CyberStudy will let me. Tonight is a bit special for us as we are going to eat in the Gary Rhodes’s Restaurant on the ship and celebrate Christine’s birthday – daren’t ask which one.
Tiz I. The temple we visited accommodated three different religions – they all get along together and respect each others views, a lesson we could all benefit from in the west. No one gives up their festivals or celebrations – everyone just joins in! The children in the school were just wonderful, so happy and smiling and welcoming. They were waiting for us by the door of their classroom and started jumping up and down when we arrived and were invited inside. They sang a couple of songs and showed us how they do their exercises – then they each took the hands of a ‘guest’ and sang and danced with them. Just delightful. I just wished that I had thought to take the chocolates that we find on our pillow each night – I’ve got a stack of them – to give to the children. One of the other ‘guests’ had done this and the teacher and children really enjoyed receiving them! I found the street sellers very hard to resist and ended up with 40 postcards, 4 silk pictures, 5 table mats, 2 sun hats and a box with matching vase, pot with lid and incense burner – so look for these items when I get home! The other people on the coach laughed at me when I said that I thought that I had at least one of each item on sale – I got back to the coach saying no, no, no, and waving my hands in front of me to show that I did not intend to buy anything else. Without realising who he was, I even said no to the guy on the bus when he offered me a bottle of water – free – this brought the house down on the coach. Never mind, it was in good fun! The kimono is lovely – off white colour with multi coloured chrysanthemums on the outside and a wonderful golden dragon embroidered on the inside, I love it. We saw some beautiful scenery, some areas of poverty and others where the rebuilding of the towns is getting under way. We saw people with huge smiles and great honesty of spirit. This is a lovely place and one day I want to return and spend more time getting to know it better! Now for Hales – on the 8th we will be going to visit the Pairaj Elephant Village, Pattaya. It was opened in 1974 as a sanctuary for former working elephants. Some were retired by ill health others because of their age or injury (either caused by working or natural events). We will not have much time to see much more than this in the time we will have on shore.
At last we have been able to have the Gary Rhodes experience at a reasonable cost and I have to say that despite my reservations it was well worth it. To be frank I was expecting Nouvelle Cuisine, the kind of thing where the plates are big and fancy and the food portions aren’t even enough for a child, but this was totally the opposite. The menu gave us choices for starter, main and dessert but what it didn’t say was that there are free pre-starters and also sorbet to cleanse the palette between courses as well and the portions were huge. By chance Hilary and I both had the exact same choices of mushroom/egg followed by red snapper and lemon mousse with blackberry sauce. We started eating at 6.30pm and we have just come out 3 hours later and all for a mere £15 per head supplement, that has to be the bargain of the cruise and we will almost certainly do a return trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary on March 28th. Because the meal took up so much time (we actually met up in Andersons for pre-dinner drinks) we missed out on the theatre tonight so I am blogging at my usual time but in a slightly alcoholic haze, if none of this makes sense then don’t blame me just send your complaints c/o Gary Rhodes. Goodnight all.