Saturday, October 23, 2010

Texture of Life in Vietnam

After living somewhere for an extended period of time you begin to take many things for granted that would be out of the ordinary to the traveler.  I have tried to bring a few images together to give a feel for the types of things one typically sees around Vietnam.

Below is a homemade fan that I found at a fish shop.  It was made to keep the flies away from the fish at the shop.  How effective it was is debatable.

Phone numbers appearing of all types of surfaces are ubiquitous in Vietnam.  They are glued (as seen below), painted, or hung on almost everything and advertise for all sorts of things.

Another thing that one often sees in Vietnam is people with deftly packed vehicles.  An example is the man below who was making very efficient use of space on his cyclo (Vietnamese bicycle pedicab).

Monday, October 11, 2010

PetroVietnam Tower with Worker

I took this picture from my Vietnamese school in downtown Saigon.  I do not know what the guy was doing hanging around on the (windowless) side of the building.  Still, I thought it made a good shot.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bao Loc Vietnam: Beautiful Mountain Scenery, Dangerous Mountain Roads

We traveled to Bao Loc for a conference recently and had the chance to do a little sightseeing while we were there.  Bao Loc is on the way to Da Lat from Ho Chi Minh City; it is about 100km away.  There is little to do in the Bao Loc other than enjoying the outdoors and eating at one of only a few restaurants.  However, it is so peaceful and beautiful there that one could easily spend a few days just walking around on the various paths leading to tea or coffee plantations and enjoying the quiet fresh air.  Below is one of the small paths for access to a farm.

Bao Loc is very mountainous and fertile and entire valleys are under production for various agricultural products.  This is just one of many different tea plantations.  

The city hospital is located at the end of a quiet road overlooking the mountains.  

Bao Loc even has a delicious vegetarian restaurant.  The prices were much cheaper than the vegetarian restaurants in Sai Gon and the food was much more delicious.  If you like to eat vegetarian every now and then, this place is worth stopping at on travels to Da Lat or farther.

The only down side to the trip was the number of accidents we saw on the road during our 36 hour round trip.  Below is an overturned trailer truck we saw on the side of the road on the way back to Saigon.  It was not there the day before when going to Bao Loc.

We also saw the unfortunate aftermath of a head-on collision between two smaller trucks.  There were also several motorbike accidents we passed that had occurred recently; one with a police officer measuring the accident seen (possible fatality) and one with a woman burning incense and praying in the center of the road with a picture of someone next to her (certain fatality).  The traffic is very dangerous here.  If you are in Vietnam, drive safely!

Phu Quoc Island

I have not had much time within the last month to make any posts; I have been rather busy here with work, travel, and learning Vietnamese. Sorry. 

I returned earlier this week from a 5 day trip in Phu Quoc Island.  PQ is the largest island in Vietnam (nearly 600 km2) and is actually closer to Cambodia than to Vietnam.  The island is in the process of building an international airport and soon will be able to accomodate large intercontenential airplanes.  However, now PQ has an airport of the same size as Con Dao Island and thus can only handle twin turboprops (a typical example is seen below at the Saigon International Airport).

I stayed at a little hotel about 7km away from the airport.  The motorbike taxis at the airport were fast and cheap (~30.000vnd or 1.50us).  The hotel name was "Beach Club" and rooms could be found for 15usd per night with private bungalows for 20usd daily (each rate goes up by 5usd during the high season, i.e. after the monsoon).  The hotel is run by a English expat named Mike and his Vietnamese wife and has been there for over 6 years.  The staff was helpful and friendly, the location was beautiful, and the food was good.  I would definitely recommend anyone coming to Phu Quoc to spend at least a few nights at the Beach Club.  

Phu Quoc is an island whose inhabitants are fishers and farmers.  The main town (Yuong Dong) has many different things to do; there are several good restaurants and bars (for example, Oasis Restaurant and Bar is a great place for a drink and some food run by an English expat named Stephan).  The main town also has a wonderful night market and many places to buy fresh fish (fishing boats at the center of town seen below).  The main town has other sites of interest such as a Cao Dai pagoda, a bustling city market, several unique coffee shops and snack stands on the water, and even a nightclub.  From Yuong Dong, you can travel north, south or east on the island.  The best beaches are to be found in the South, though.  On your way down south, stop in at Phu Quoc Pearls, a large company where pearls are farmed in the ocean.  The company is under the direction of a friendly kiwi named Grant and his assistant Jerry.  They also plan to have bungalows available for the night soon. 

The roads in Phu Quoc are a bit tricky to navigate with the majority of roads currently unsealed (see below for an example).  Also, the roads can be a bit of a maze.  If you are unfamiliar with driving in Vietnam or do not speak enough Vietnamese to figure out directions, I would recommend having a guide to show you around.  They can be hired on the island very cheaply and should be able to help navigate around easily.

Shopping list here