Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Cai Be

My Tho and Cai Be

Day 17 Thursday 1 January 2015

An early morning as we al have to disembark by 8:15am.  As last night we are still tied up to the pier at My Tho – but opening the curtains brings a huge shock and final proof and a realisation that we are on a tidal river.  Last night we could have stepped from our balcony onto the dockside; this morning we are staring at a wall which reaches up to eye level.  During the night the tide went out and the boat is now lower and egress from the ship to the quay is at second floor level.  At least no-one can see us getting dressed.

Bags outside our doors at 7 and we head upstairs for breakfast and coffee.  During the latter I note that the bags are being steadily offloaded and as we are not travelling with the main group to Saigon I go into mad “bag monitor” mode annd head outside collecting our two and two other fellow traveller bags into a separate and forlorn looking group.

We slowly watch our fellow passengers leave in various coaches for the next part of their adventure and we wave them all off; eventually there are just the four of us.

Suddenly a mini-bus arrives and we are back with Asian trails.  Our hotel booking for tonight is an eco-friendly hotel which is back at Cai Be.  Our friendly guide welcomes us (and with all bags loaded) we head off and she outlines are programme for the morning – which is to revisit the places we had seen in Cai Be the previous day (not overly surprising).  As we had “been there and done that” we advise her that we would be more than happy simply to go to the hotel and make use of the pool for the day – after all we need to go home a little browner than when we set out – it is supposed to be a holiday.  She seems surprised but accepts our decision and we are not surprised when the hotel says the rooms will not be ready until later.

We check in, passports copied and luggage labelled for room 106 and we head to the pool.  Sunlounger and towels acquired we stretch out and seek to get a little colour.  Around 1 it is getting hot and I suggest repairing to reception and seeing if by any chance our room was available.  Sadly not and so we sit on the hard wooden furniture (which could have come from that shop up the road) and I am glad we have not bought any.  I get an internet connection on the phone and can catch up with the world but none of the Apple appliances will connect.

Soon after 1:30 we are told our room is ready and we go there to find the maids just finishing.  I cannot get an internet connection now but the wife finds she has had an email from the National Lottery – she has won.  But we cannot get a connection to the NL website to find out how much.  Given my success earlier I return to reception and spend nearly an hour – but fail to find out anything useful.  When I return to our room the wife has found out the magic numbers from the Hull Post and she has won £25.  And I was hoping for the big money!

Then the afternoon descends into complete farce.  We get a phone call wanting to know if we have checked in.  [Needless to say we have].  Then when wife has rolled over to try an afternoon snooze the phone goes again – can they see the passports.  Not trusting anyone I remind her that I saw them take copies that morning and they already have them.  Having had her snooze destroyed the wife is not happy.  It gets worse five minutes late when a front of house manager arrives at the door and asks to see the passports.  I can only assume the change of shift from morning to afternoon has led to this complete catalogue of errors.

Our fellow travellers were allocated room 105 but on arrival there they had only been briefly in residence when management arrived and moved them to room 101.  105 was equipped with a double bed and two extra beds (for a family of four) and so was inappropriate.

Throughout this time our wifi was intermittent at best and so we went for a wander around the complex (beautiful gardens, nice pool, games area, beach area, bikes and boats for local outings, sign saying “keep out of deep water” on the same lake as canoes for use by residents, toothbrush in a plastic wrapper encased in a nice looking paper outer to maintain the eco-facade) and decide to settle in the restaurant area and have a drink.  Now all of a sudden we had rock solid wifi for as many bits of kit as we carry (at least four).  We can get our photos on line for the first time in days.  Getting a table was more complex.  We arrived at the same time as another couple and they wanted us all to sit at the same table.  We just sat at another one.

And had a drink, and then had another.  Service was not notable and nor was the quality of the cooking.  It was also entertaining watching as they tried to seat (or not) other people coming into the restaurant – which we were told variously was open all day and opened at seven in the evening – although we were served dinner (probably because we were there) at about 6.  At least we just had to consider it funny.

Returning to the room I use the toilet and think I see something running down the wall.  My fears are confirmed when my wife uses the shower and decides there are a couple of geckos in the bathroom – something which she has not encountered since our honeymoon in St Lucia where the score was only one.  Later I up the count to three on the glass wall of the shower which faces out to the river but do not tell her.  All seem to have gone by morning.

I am sure if they addressed a few of these issues (a lot of staff  training would be good, along with some consistent processes) plus upping the catering aspect then this would actually be a very nice place to stay.  However we decided to name it “Fawlty Eco-Towers” in recognition of our experiences.  PS to the above, most of those staying appeared to speak English so it would be good if some more of the staff had a better comprehension of English as well, although I understand that it does have to be local recruitment to hold costs.

Tomorrow – Ho Chi Minh City.

Sa Dec and Cai Be

Day 16 Wednesday 31 December 2014

We have been away from home over two weeks – this is probably the longest holiday ever, but as I no longer go to work it is perhaps more appropriate to say that this is the way we live now!

Sa Dec has a large retail market which we walk through.  The photos cannot really do it justice as  it would be boring if I posted a picture or each vegetable stall or each fish stall which replicate along the length of the market.  However merely one example of each hardly gives a fair representation either.  Also dashing around but not recorded are people delivering meals (usually some soup) plus the inevitable scooters weaving in and around the market. for the photographs.

At the far end of the retail market is a wholesale market and of course supplies come here in bulk before being broken down.  I suppose that Covent Garden was once like this.  I believe now that there is little direct trading at Nine Elms or at the other large markets in London, all of which have declined as the supermarkets have gained dominance.

Marguerite Duras lived part of her early life in Sa Dec and her most famous book concerned a relationship with a wealthy chinese man she met on the way to Saigon.  We had been shown the film the previous evening, but frankly I saw no merit in the story and gave up about halfway through!  The wife persisted to the end but no good came of it.  A few years ago it was realised that the house of the chinese man’s father remained in Sa Dec and it has been restored and can now be visited by passing travellers such as ourselves.  An interesting foot note but little substantial meaning.

We rejoin the local junk used for the journey from our cruiser to the town to travel a little further to see a church of a local important religion – Cao Daisim (or Dao Daisim).  Whilst relatively recent, being less than a hundred years old the religion beings together the teachings associated with Ying and Yang from China, the later developments of Confucius, Buddhism and Christianity, noting the significant overlaps and common teachings across these separate religions.  The religion has its home north of Saigon (see Sunday 4 January) and has a large number of adherents across the southern areas of Vietnam.  It was originally supported by the government and was not permitted after 1975 but has in more recent years become far more substantial.

In the afternoon we visit Cai Be.  The catherdral of St Joseph marks the continuing strength of the Catholic religion in the region and the area outside has various additional statues and has bought neighbouring land to permit expansion.  This has been achieved by money sent from church members now living abroad who are able to send money back to the church to provide the additional memorials.

It is noticeable this afternoon that a number of the group is smaller than usual with others choosing (as we did earlier on ) to stay aboard the mother ship.  Before we left home one of my wife’s main concerns was the transfers to and from our cruise vessel to land as this nearly always requires the use of a smaller motor vessel, capable of seating about 30 and for which we are required to wear life jackets (so we won’t drown – merely die of the pollution in the river) but each transit is between two vessels both bobbing around.  Pleasingly all of the transitions are made without a problem – except to my head.  Once again it is proven that I am significantly oversized as I clobber my head (despite the regular warnings given by all of the crew providing assistance) on the roof beam of the junk.  This time quite hard.  I cannot say I wasn’t warned.  They are of course built for people who generally are probably six or more inches shorter than I am.  This size problem will arise again.

Wandering in the group along Cai Be street enabled at last the picture of a small outlet selling wooden furniture.  Compared with some of the other larger scale enterprises we have seen this is modest and I am only glad that we do not have time to stop and buy (also I am not so sure how comfortable the chairs would be).  A separate album for Cai Be:

At the end of our walk is a factory producing variously popcorn, rice wine and fine rice paper.  The production processes are explained to us.  The rice wine here is not so near fire water compared with the Laos sample but on the whole I think I prefer a small cup of sake.  We wander around the processes and Jackie observes that the girls pressing the  toffee are doing so with bare hands whilst the sweet popcorn is being  packed by girls sitting on the tables.  I am sure they all wash regularly.

Jackie is particularly taken by the production of rice paper, wanting some authentic paper for a dinner party when we return but oddly it does not seem to be on sale here!  There is a shop but nothing catches our fancy.

After dinner it is time for “Mekong Prestige has got Talent” where normally the crew entertain the passengers.  But we have a surprise.  Among the Japanese contingent there is a trained dancer who has offered to perform and we have already see her twice during the day practicing.  She performs well and it is extremely brave of her to do so.

The crew have various party pieces – “YMCA” from one section, a great singing voice from the ship’s purser and the chief engineer is also a master magician with pieces of rope joining and splitting magically.  We are promised a disco and entertainment until the new year but all this fresh air and travelling means we go to bed.

In our cabin we note we are tied up alongside a form of pier and that on the quayside there are numerous containers.  If this is a passenger terminal then it is being seriously under-invested and gives a little weight to the comment made by the tour guide (Matthias who did a grand job over the entire week with three distinct groups speaking English, German and Japanese) that the facilities along the river are being stretched by the 16 cruise vessels now being operated along the Mekong.  When we went to the Nile some 20 years ago the numbers operating were much higher and there were facilities everywhere to tie up rather than using transfers.