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Old 03-17-2014, 07:28 PM   #646
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Thanks so much for sharing,stuff I may or may not ever get to see in person,and your explanations are so good to read,again thanks
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Old 03-18-2014, 06:55 PM   #647
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Thanks so much for sharing,stuff I may or may not ever get to see in person,and your explanations are so good to read,again thanks
My pleasure. I hope I can help encourage a few extra folks to make a journey or two.

... and on that note, I will post a couple, or more photos from Siem Reap. It is a truly amazing place to visit. I'm just (pretty much for the first time since), looking back over my photos from there and seeing what I missed uploading due to thin wifi, etc.

Here's one of the temples



I'll get some more together for later today... after my session with my favourite pain inflictor.
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Old 03-19-2014, 09:59 PM   #648
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Back to the temples around Siem Reap....

If you've seen one, you certainly haven't seen them all. I don't think I could name a favourite. Angkor Wat is a must see, as the largest religious monument in the world. Ta Prohm is great, with the over-growing trees. It is the one used in Tomb Raider. The Lady Temple (Banteay Srei) is fabulous - with the intricate carvings in its pink/red sandstone. Angkor Thom is great, with its huge faces, Beng Melea is another overgrown, sprawling temple... a lot further out of town... and so on.

I've been to Siem Reap 3 times now... and I'll go back again.

Here's some random temple shots







These elephants are life-size... part of a frieze that's quite large

















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Old 03-19-2014, 10:00 PM   #649
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This sort of scene is quite common



The missing head from that guardian statue would have been souvenired and taken back to Europe for someone's garden.















One of my favourites



... as is Banteay Srei



Which still has a lot of uncleared areas around it, despite having reached World Heritage Area status in 1992





I'll finish up on Siem Reap with a shot from one of the soccer games we attended with Jeat. First up, a shot of his better side... and no.. that's not the lady he ended up marrying, seven months or so later



She, like this lady, is one of the beer ladies that work in the bars (sounds bad, but isn't)




That's Jeat, below in the centre... bright red shirt, in the thick of a bit of a dust-up.

Most of the lads are playing without shinguards... so things can get heated.

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Old 03-20-2014, 09:02 PM   #650
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Man she is just gorgeous.




The pics of the temples are awesome - the work is just so fine. I love reading this report Ian - every time I do I just want to mortgage the house and jump on a plane man. Keep it coming, and don't forget the cuties!
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Old 03-20-2014, 09:16 PM   #651
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Jeat had hooked us up with a mate of his in Phnom Penh. Mr Mao, a lovely chap who even slept outside our hotel in his tuktuk in case we needed him. We were paying him a daily rate... which was pretty good, and I don't think he could afford to risk losing us. Kylie ended up giving him some of her spare clothes for his wife.

Here's Mao, with his tuktuk. Like most tuktuks in PP, he's got water-cooling via a drip-feed water bottle



Our hotel, down near the Mekong, was a tad gaudy



As usual, we were on the third floor... with no lifts and it was stinking hot. The hotel cared about us, obviously.... but I never did Dial 0, to meet the Receptionist.



As usual, it paid to have a look around in the bathroom before shooting water everywhere



Kylie got the bad news about her flatmate in Scotland's passing while we were there... and we'd done the typical tourist stuff.. S21 - the Tuol Steng Genocide Museum, the Killing Fields and so on... so our mood wasn't good.

Here's some of my initial views of Phnom Penh

The markets....



local freshwater snails... a bit of a delicacy, even if tiny. That's a toothpick



refreshing the beer supply around the bars




which we did our best to rectify





The food at that place in the last photo was interesting. I can't find a photo of it... but it was a full sized cow on a spit over some low coals in a couple of old fuel barrels. It was pretty much just down to the spine. I don't know how long it had been there... but let's say... it was tender and it had a rather unusual odour. I'll put my survival down to alcohol sterilisation...


Tuol Steng, the Genocide Museum







this was a school... they simply knocked holes in the walls and built "dogboxes" in to house the prisoners... who were tortured and killed there, although most killing was done out of the city.



Most of the people at the museum were Khmer





At the Killing Fields, there's signs asking you to not walk on the mass graves, but the reality is that the whole damn place is a mass grave.



This is the walking path. Its got clothing and bones that continually come to the surface. To see that you are actually walking on thigh bones and the like is pretty damn depressing.



This is the gallows... used more for torture than hanging. Prisoners would be strung up by their feet and have their heads lowered into barrels of filthy water...



I had Mr Mao show me some of the less appealing aspects of life in PP one night. There were young kids selling themselves on the streets. I'm pleased to say I didn't see it when I was back in PP recently. I suppose its still there, but I saw how some of it is being policed and its a whole heap better now. I've got a more positive view on Phnom Penh now.

We saw all the usual bike madness stuff, of course










Travelling with a woman was good... the women we met were far more trusting of an old bastard like me







We'd hit it off pretty well with Mao. Before we set off down the Mekong, he even paid a monk to bless us.



Speaking of travelling down the Mekong... this was the start of us wanting to do a "slow boat" ride. We trapsed around a number of travel agents, but couldn't find what we wanted... to go with the locals. At one stage we were offered a 3 day trp downriver for $2,500 each. We didn't even reply... just walked out.

.... but eventually, we gave in and caught one of the ferries down the river.
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:04 PM   #652
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Man she is just gorgeous.




The pics of the temples are awesome - the work is just so fine. I love reading this report Ian - every time I do I just want to mortgage the house and jump on a plane man. Keep it coming, and don't forget the cuties!

Geez guys, you'll get me into trouble with the missus again. She doesn't like the cuties photos. Oh well... there's some coming up in the Vietnam scooter trip section... given I ended up staying in a couple of damn brothels (no choice, honest).

Here's a couple more photos from Phnom Penh, before we head down river. Here's a typical, albeit well to do, Cambodian family. Yeah... he's got a helmet... but they'll only wear it if they think they are going to get fined.



The two kids and the missus? Nah.. they're OK

I think this monkey was in the park for the benefit of tourists. I probably got a bit closer than I should. Those teeth look a bit daunting, after the fact



This area, one of my favourite parts of Phnom Penh is now gone. The start of its demise can be seen on the left





Its the lake area... now filled in for future development. It was out here that Kylie took me to find the Gecko Cafe. She'd visited it on her first trip to PP - but the Aussie owner had since been killed in a bike accident. See why we weren't exactly full of good cheer?

Oh... and another one I found from Siem Reap. What can a guy say? It isn't even a KLR

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Old 03-21-2014, 09:41 PM   #653
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We were up early, expecting to jump on our boat near the hotel.... and head downriver to Vietnam. For some reason, that entailed a long minibus ride... which turned hectic after a flat tyre (and no jack to fix it... solved by flagging down someone else). Of course, that happened in the mud.


You have to love the passing traffic...





We eventually arrived at the boat... after a frantic dash to make up lost time.



It wasn't all plain sailing.... it was quite stormy in fact



and here's the crew keeping a very good watch on the bilge pump during a rain squall.



I just love the fuel ships and big barges on the river... they load 'em right up...



You'd reckon that if a seagull landed on the bow, she'd sink.

Yours truly, enjoying the passing scenery



Come lunch time, I spotted this lady grab a jar of Vegemite out of her bag.



I asked the obvious question, "are you Australian" and we ended up in a Rossi vs Stoner debate. Yeah, she's Italian, but had just been to Oz.

I had lots of drama at the border. I handed my passport over to the fixer on the boat and he came back a while later and showed me the problem. I'd been using that damn Pacsafe neck pouch.... which not only made me look like I had a huge gut (huger?), but the damn thing wasn't waterproof and my sweat had soaked the passport at some stage. The inks in my photo had run.. badly.

The fixer somehow got me into Vietnam. I subsequently took the passport to the Oz embassy in Hanoi. They told me they could issue a new one, but that it'd be more trouble than it was worth.. as I'd have to get a new visa, etc. As long as I had enough other ID, they said I'd get into Oz OK. As it turned out, when I left from Hanoi, the immigration guy there cracked a shitty and went off to get his boss but couldn't find him, so let me go. The Oz immigration mob cracked a real shitty. I had to sit in the naughty chair and get roused on. It got escalated three levels up the chain of command but I eventually promised to immediately have it replaced and to always be good to my passport in future.... and I was eventually released back into Oz.

Back to Vietnam... Elisa and Michele turned out to be staying in the same floating hotel as us on the river at Chau Doc, just into Vietnam, and we caught up over a beer or several.

We ended up staying a couple of nights there, as we decided to team up with Elisa and Michele. Kylie took charge of the local transport for our trip back to the hotel on the river



.... and the second night out, we'd joined up with yet another traveller, from Europe... and she documented some of the festivities...





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Old 03-22-2014, 01:06 AM   #654
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Ah Saigon green, bloody nice bia
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Old 03-22-2014, 03:40 AM   #655
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Ah Saigon green, bloody nice bia
Even the watermelons like it

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Old 03-22-2014, 09:15 PM   #656
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We ended up spending three nights in Chau Doc, after our late evening arrival.

Sunrise over the river was great





Over breakfast, we were entertained by the women unloading bricks from a boat. Amazing.



and the river ferries were a constant sight...



After brekkie, we moved to a cheaper hotel together the next day and tried to organise more time on the river. It wasn't easy. It turned out Michele was feeling off-colour, with a 39C temp, so he stayed in bed while the rest of us tried to find a travel agent or someone who could get us onto a slow boat further down the Mekong. We weren't having much luck.

The best we were doing was being offered a ride in these rat-tails down to Can Tho for $90. No thanks.



Later on, instead of coming exploring with us, Elisa stayed in town with him and finally found someone who organised a boat for us. A guy who was a part-time travel agent went to the market and organised with a woman who had a boatload of bananas to take us down the river. It was all dependent on whether she sold the bananas, but we got lucky.

Kylie and I had "signed up" for a short trip up to the top of the local mountain – 6km away to be followed by a visit to the local forest sanctuary – supposedly excellent bird photography. It was to be a short trip and I didn't even bother with the kidney belt (that was a HUGE mistake).

We left at 1 pm and got back at 7:30pm - in the dark with no headlight to speak of and it was a spine jarring marathon. About 90 minutes was spent at locations – the rest of the time, I was on the back of either a 100cc scooter, or the brother’s 110cc scooter. I had a backpack on as well with cameras, lens and water. By the time we got to the last stop… I couldn’t get off the bike – the leg angle of the seating was acute, so my legs locked – and every bump, the suspension bottomed – and the shock went straight up my spine.

Here's a rough estimated track of where we went. Big part is on the bikes, then the next day down the river to Can Tho, followed by a bus trip after a day exploring there, up to Ho Chi Minh City... where we bought our scooters



First up though, our trip on the bikes, with guides. Kylie and rider, in the lead




The locals making good use of the road towards the lookout



Here's the view from the top of that little hill, near Chau Doc. Its worth the effort



For some reason, unknown to us, we didn't end up at the forest for the bird photography, but at both Ba Chuc and Tuc Dup Hill. That second one is Two Million Dollar Hill... a Vietnam War site. This from a Vietnamese tourism website

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Location: Tuc Dup Hill located in Tri Ton District, belongs to Co To Mountain, An Giang Province.

Characteristics: Even though Tuc Dup Hill is only 300m high, it owns an obstacle and dangerous geography with rough cliffs forming caves getting though each other like a bee hive.

For these distinctive characteristics together with brave fighting will and wisdom of An Giang people, Tuc Dup became a famous fighting base in the time being against American. During 128 days, the enemy who had a very powerful military force such as fighting jets, artillery and infantry did not defeat our determined fighting will. In the result, American was defeated. Thus, a terrible name was heard “2 million - dollar hill” (the sum of money that American paid for bullets and bombs).
Its an amazing place...







The hill is a massive collection of boulders and you can climb deep down into it, as we did. The North Vietnamese used it as a headquarters and its now a local tourist destination and the source of much laughter whenever they discuss it because of the massive sum of money spent for no result. Worth visiting.

By the end of the trip, my arms were nearly dropping off from trying to lift myself off the seat at every bump…. I have video of us somewhere nearly taking out a dog – and some of me karate chopping the rider on both arms – we were travelling about 6m (20') behind a truck and the rider was perving at some cute chick beside the road – and the truck stopped. I chopped both his upper arms and screamed at him – we missed going under the truck by about 300mm – and if I hadn’t alerted him – I wouldn’t be writing this.... we'd have been under the truck at 50kph.

Other stops were a couple of pagodas – included the village of Ba Chuc, where the Khmer Rouge massacred the Vietnamese locals, including those taking refuge in the temple in 1978 – still plenty of evidence – including all the skulls in another display case and signs of damage from grenades in the temple. I thought we'd seen the last of this sort of thing when we left Phnom Penh.... Between 12 and 30 April 1978, the Khmer Rouge killed 3157 people here... and only two people from the village escaped.



We stopped at Mr Kamikazee’s grandparent’s place for a rest too – and met his young kids – Grandad still had one very obvious tooth – but that was about it.... a soup-eater for sure.

We ended up going out to dinner that night with an extra, as I mentioned yesterday... a lady from the Czech Republic who's into bikes too. Its a pity, but Eva and the other woman she was travelling with were headed the opposite direction.



Had to love the wiring in our bathroom at the new place.



We found this in our meanderings. If I came across it these days, I'd probably try and buy it



A trip to the post office ... and yet another request for a photo. I think the record was 12 in one day... and that's them asking me to have their photo taken.



I was getting to like the local coffee too....



... and the local Yamaha dealer, opposite our hotel, had a nice, unlocked wifi.
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Old 03-23-2014, 08:10 PM   #657
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Chau Doc, apart from the tour we did on the bikes



.... didn't hold any special attraction for us... except for some nice food





and some nice friends



... and even some nice flowers,



... and we were keen to move on.

One last photo from our accommodation though. This is the other room... check out the toilet.... in some damn cave. I'd have had to crawl in there, if we'd had this room




Fortunately, I can't find the photo from that nightmare pillion trip with the guides where I made him stop because the pain was too much. I think we did such stops three times on the return to Chau Doc - and one of the guys was giving me back massages beside the road. I called a halt to it when his hands wandered too low. I think he was genuinely trying to fix my back... but I wasn't going to find out. I did see the cheapest massages ever being advertised on signs in front of houses in the middle of nowhere. I think the cheapest I saw was US$1.75 for a one hour massage.

Massage was going to take on a lot more importance for me... and this next photo illustrates why.



Ignore, please, the silly pouch that I'm wearing. The issue is my legs. All these bloody tiny chairs were making me bend my legs to silly angles all the time... and it eventually became a real problem.

Two last views from the top of the hill near Chau Doc





Two last bits of water to cover though, before we buy our bikes. Our banana boat was waiting for us.... so off we went.



This is it. I've got no details on how old it is.... but let's just say it isn't new.



On board, we found mum, her pregnant 20 year old daughter, two more daughters 10 and 12 and a couple of guys, one son and the pregnant girl's husband. They didn't have a single word of English among them, we didn't have a single word of Vietnamese at that stage either.



Our finder - who was the husband of a woman running a small shop, who did some travel arranging - came out with us to the boat. I saw him give mum about $15... and we'd given him about $60. He saw me... and was quick to say that he'd given her a deposit the night before. We tipped her pretty well at the end, because I'd say he'd kept at least half the money. This wasn't a normal commercial deal. To his credit, he'd gone out and found a boat that was heading downriver. No-one else had bothered.

The issue was that none of the locals travel this way. They use buses, not boats. All the boats on the river... apart from ferries doing river crossings... were fishing or carrying freight. Most of them were also the homes for the people on them. We ended up emailing the finder some photos and encouraging him to get more people onto the river this way.

The family settled us down on some bamboo mats and we were off, heading 60 miles down the Mekong to Can Tho...



We eventually got some interaction happening, with the help of my rather frustrating phrase book



Kylie was a whizz with the kids





The kids had never so much as seen a DSLR at close range... but they took about 30 seconds to pick it all up





I was fascinated with the river. So much traffic, something always happening. Here's an interesting shot of two identical dredging boats. One either empty or only partly loaded and the closest one fully loaded... decks awash



I'll save most of the river photos for another day. I could post hundreds... if not thousands... but I won't. Back to our boat though. I didn't even try and squeeze into the wheelhouse.



I did have to, at one stage, squeeze into the head.

Its behind that narrow door with the washing up dish on it. I wanted a leak and would have hung it out over the side, so to speak, except Mama sent the 12 year old out back with me to make sure I didn't fall overboard. Hmmm.

Into the head... and it was all I could do to get the door shut. I was bent over, wedged in and unable to move, it was so small in there. Absolutely zero chance to use it if I'd needed to snap a log. Anyhow, somehow I managed to drain the spuds... couldn't see what I was doing, but I knew there was a hole in the deck there somewhere... and all the time, I was popping nails out of the tin covering the rest of the head. Very squeezy.



Plenty of brickworks beside the river... fired the traditional way... raw bricks stacked with coal bricquettes and the whole lot fired.





We were sorry to say goodbye at the end of the day. With a bit more experience of travelling in Asia now, I'd have stayed on board all the way to their place, which was right near the mouth of the delta, and then found my way to Saigon another way.



We found a couple of rooms in Can Tho and booked a river tour for the next day. Dinner was at a large restaurant and both Kylie and I had mullet. I ate one piece, decided it was vile and said as much. "Mine's lovely" I tried a bit of hers, and she was right. The rest of mine was great too, but the damage was done. Dunno what was wrong but I had a few off days after that... sore kidneys, etc. Obviously a bit of rotten fish there somewhere.
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Old 03-24-2014, 08:03 PM   #658
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I found the river traffic fascinating... and this trip has drawn me back to the Mekong many times since. I love it and I fear for its future. So many of its tributaries, and the mighty Kong itself are being dammed. Here's a map from the Economist a couple of years ago. Construction has now started on some shown here as "planned" - Xayaburi, for example.



Get in quick, if you want to see it.











I love these lifting scoop fishing boats



and the boat life is just great





I'm sure she's getting a thrill... she is sitting directly on a single-cylinder engine, after all.


So... in Can Tho, we were booked in for a full day of baa baa tourism. A day in the backwaters of the Mekong estuary. Just what I needed with that dead mullet still trying to kill me. Our day was spent in and out of this boat.



Our guide was a nice guy and there were just the four of us in our boat



I find water travel fascinating.... and there's always something different going on



The main attraction around Can Tho is the floating markets - well worth seeing





No paying for shop or market stall rentals here... just pull up and do a deal







We stopped at this lady's boat for some refreshments



Mine being prepared. She was quick and efficient



We took a shore-based excursion into a dirt-floored noodle factory





and toured a lot of the smaller canals, just taking it all in



... and that was our quick look at the estuary. It was off to the bus stop to get to Saigon.... and buy some motorbikes.



We struck our first ripoff straight away in Saigon.. a taxi driver who took a big circle route, and he didn't like me commenting on it... and then, when I handed him a 100,000 dong note, which is all of $5 or so, he switched it with a smaller 10,000 note when I looked away. That got a bit ugly, but he scored a few more dollars out of it. I got caught the same way a few weeks later. So, with taxi drivers and the like in Vietnam, its now a matter of the two-handed presentation and continuous eye contact.

We did some more baa baa stuff, including a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels from the days of the war...





You've got to like this one... a bullet that's almost gone down the barrel of a tank's gun.



Would've been interesting if he was a better shot

Speaking of shooting, you can do the AK-47 thing there too.... although they are a little less trusting here. The rifles are chained down.



We took in a few other sights, including the war museum, which was just stunningly horrific. I defy anyone to get through it with dry eyes.



About the best that can be said about the museum is that its a good messenger for peace. I did, at least, enjoy seeing a Dragonfly. I'd flown (right seat, but managed to get the stick for a while and do a barrel-roll) one a few years back, after putting my hand up at a charity auction



One thing I noticed in Ho Chi Minh City is that as a single male, you become a target. We were out to dinner, only about 50 metres from our guesthouse, and I excused myself from the group to go back and rest (still suffering from the mullet)... I got about 10 metres down the road and a very, very pretty young lady pulled up and suggested some action.

All that aside, we also got our bikes. We mentioned at the guest house that we needed to find a bike shop. One of the staff said he'd bring bikes in for us to look at, from his brother.

We'd have liked bigger bikes, but they seem hard to find in Saigon. We ended up with two "China Honda" 110cc scooters. Here's the surveillance video shot of me taking Kylie's bike for a test ride. Hers cost US$350 and mine US$400. Complete with registration papers (but not in our name).



Kylie had never ridden a motorbike before. Ever. When we set off, to catch up with a friend of mine in Vung Tau, we hired a guy to ride her scooter to the outskirts of Saigon, with her on the back. He had a mate to take him back... and when we got to the back road we wanted.... she hopped on and rode. The traffic and road conditions were horrendous and she scared the shit out of me once when she gassed it straight at the side of a bus at a tee intersection... but we got there.
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Old 03-25-2014, 12:39 AM   #659
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SSh very dangerous place to learn how to ride even on the back roads
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Old 03-25-2014, 06:26 PM   #660
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SSh very dangerous place to learn how to ride even on the back roads
Indeed... and I was feeling the pressure. There was no doubt that she wouldn't be getting lessons from me in the city....



She wasn't scared of the traffic at all.... here she is, having thrown her trishaw driver into the seat and taken off through town....



... and she's a competent cyclist. It was just the step to dealing with the throttle that took some work. She managed OK...

It was interesting wandering around with the Italians... the locals were always fascinated with Elisa's dreadlocks



This is Kylie's $350 bike - another "China Honda", ie clone.



Mine was less than a year old (apparently).... a Zinda. One problem with mine was that the front brake never worked. I had it in to bike shops three or four times, trying to get it fixed. New shoes, etc. At one stage it was so bad I couldn't get it to lock up on sand on a concrete footpath. I got more braking effect by rolling off the throttle than I did by pulling the front brake lever to the bar.




The back road to Vung Tau was really quite chopped up, but we made it before dark, despite some uncertainties over navigation. The only GPS we had was an old Garmin 72C, with no map. Our map was one that covered the whole damn country too, so it didn't have much detail.

We soon got into the routine of learning the exact local pronunciation of our destination before setting off... and at each intersection, asking one of the locals which way. Unlike my experience in Italy, where if you do this, they'll send you the wrong way on purpose, the locals were always helpful.... but the pronunciation is critical. Get it slightly wrong and you are in trouble.

We were going up to Vung Tau to catch up with Luc, who was building a 72' timber schooner for a client. Here's Luc when we dined with him in Saigon.



... and again with a friend of his, who sold us some books. Photocopied, of course. This is her only source of income - and she's raising three kids on her own



Its a tough life. She's been doing that for many years... and sports a huge bruise on her hip from the weight of the books.

I liked Vung Tau. Lovely beach







I also had an extremely memorable massage. Two women, at a hairdressing salon, just next to our hotel. One of the best I've ever had. The older woman used her bodyweight to stretch mine in some ways I've not experienced before or since. All above board, I hasten to add.... and I extended the session a couple of times. I think it was about three hours, all up.

Here's the schooner we'd come to see









Our plan after catching up with Luc, who'd come over from Saigon via the hydrofoil, was to follow the coast north and avoid the busy Highway 1 as much as possible. We wanted to see DaLat too. We were going to Mui Ne too and planned to meet the Italians again there. We'd decided to rail the bikes (and us) north from Nha Trang to Hue. Luc had a chat to us about our plans, grabbed our map and said... "when you get to this village.... turn right. Follow your nose. It won't be on any map, and you'll go 10 km at a time without seeing anyone else... but its a lovely road"... so we pencilled that in.

In a very sad postscript, Luc has passed away, just recently. He will be missed.

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Ride through Oz and Asia
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