Chau Doc

Spent the day half way up Sam mound today. I could have gone to the Chau Doc floating market and seen the floating houses ( houseboats I guess)  but decided against it. Leisurely breakfast I thought looking out over the paddy fields. Well up we went at 9.10 and it had all been cleared away. The staff most of whom are training as this hotel is also home to the Victoria Hotels Training Academy looked somewhat aghast . It was clear we had been forgotten. All the other groups had upped and gone en route to Cambodia and we fell through the net. They recovered well and produced the a la Carte menu and dragged the poor egg chef back upstairs. But leisurely it was not . We appear to be the only guests here today and have had the pool to ourselves once again. It has become a feature of our stays in out of the way places.

Pool Victoria Nui Sam

To be fair the trainee’s are lovely and so eager to please just quite disorganised which seems to be so much a part of hotels in Vietnam unless they have a foreign General Manager.

Being built on the side of the hill the hotel sets some challenges even to the fairly fit. There are stairs everywhere and not an elevator  nor any form of mobile transportation in sight. This is the staircase from our room

stairs at Victoria Nui Sam

There are sixty of them, trust me I counted them. Then you have to get down and up to what was our private pool today

Stairs to Pool

43 of those little beauties and another 36 to get up to the dining area and reception. Housekeeping carry everything up and down the stairs as there are no trollies and so it is not surprising that the staff look unbelievably fit but with bulging leg muscles .

We stayed one time in an hotel in Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus and that had a quite a few steps but nothing like these. It was there I first heard about the complaint bungalow knees which is a condition most bungalow dwellers get when after a year in the bungalow they are faced with climbing stairs again on a regular basis.

Chau Doc has been part of Vietnam for 300 years and before that it was part of Cambodia. more map drawing by the Europeans I would imagine. The hill the hotel stands on is very famous place of pilgrimage for the Vietnamese people. They come to worship the Lady of Sam at a temple further up the hill from us  and some 2 million arrive each year.

Chau Doc is a trading town being so close to Cambodia and is also famous for it’s fish paste and catfish . But like floating markets I think everywhere on the Mekong and on the coast  seem to be famous for the same things. Looking out from the poolmore Paddy Fields Nui Sam

surely rice must be the big thing here as all you can see are paddy fields

Tomorrow we leave here at 5.30 a.m. ( fire the tour operator someone) and take the early boat “up the Mekong” into Cambodia.

When I went to sea with P&O in 1967 my second voyage was to bring what was then a huge tour group organised by the Australian Women’s Weekly magazine. They booked the entire ship and the average age of the participants most of who were women was 64years. The difference was amazing for a young purser cadet whose first and subsequent voyages had at least 500 girls between the age of 16 and 22 on board. We were required to entertain the passengers on deck at night but on this trip by 9 pm almost all were tucked up in bed fast asleep. I therefore spent a lot of time in the ship’s cinema watching the latest films and one of those was Khartoum which given the boredom factor of being on deck I think I saw about 10 times. One line in it stuck with me. When Gladstone played by Ralph Richardson says to General Gordon improbably played by Charlton Heston ” It’s up the Nile for you Gordon , up the Nile”. What a line, oh the romance. It was then I decided I wanted to spend much of my life living around the world. There were so many “up the Niles” I wanted to see and work in.

and now I am up the Mekong.

Further Up The Mekong

Today we drive on from Can Tho to Chau Doc along the banks of the Mekong south channel.

The river rises some two thousand five hundred miles away in Tibet and flows down through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before entering the South China Sea in Vietnam. At the height of the annual flood it is moving thirty eight thousand cubic metres of soil every second so no wonder it is so brown. Vietnam, thanks to particles of soil from all those countries is growing at a rate of 200 feet per year.My thanks to Michael Palin for that rather useless piece of information. He was coming down the north channel of the Mekong when he penned that.

Up The Mekong

Can Tho was a fun place and we had another good night out last night though Vietnam food still rather leaves me cold. I still haven’t really discovered what it is about. The city is the 4th largest in Vietnam and in Vietnamese the name means River of Poems.

I have read the great reviews the Victoria hotel gets and am amazed. It is as I said yesterday a very noisy hotel ad to me the French owned place seems to typify what was wrong with French Colonial rule. Milk the locals dry ( in this case read hotel guests) and put little back in it’s  place. The hotel certainly adds to the debate on whether a five or four star hotel that is unable or unwilling to supply drinkable tap water should charge for bottled water. I’m firmly in the no camp but the Victoria takes it one further by charging eleven times what a bottle costs in a shop. Now that really is gilding the lily . A small bottle of beer there costs 125,000 dong ( US$6) which is far more than in Saigon’s best hotels.

The problem is they have a monopoly and get away with it though I quickly found a small local shop to get around it.

They also have a monopoly here in Chau Doc having for years had the only decent hotel in town and now having opened a second up on the hill over looking the town .

It is here we now rest our weary heads The Victoria Nui Sam Lodge.

Victoria Nui Sam

 

This is where to view the sunset as it goes down over Cambodia. As you can see they meant it when they said it is on an hill. Indeed it is built into the side of a very steep hill. All round us are paddy fields

Paddy Fields Victoria Nui Sam

 

The Mekong Delta produces over half of Vietnam’s rice crop each year. Rice exports are the third largest export after seafood ( mainly shrimp and pastes) and timber. China takes almost all the rice, and the U.S. A. takes almost all of the seafood and the timber.

Being on the side of an hill the hotel has plenty of hiking trails and health walks . We stood in reception whilst the kindly lad rattled though his speech giving us the list of exceedingly healthy options. However then I found these to counter act it all

Hamocks Victoria Nui Sam

 

Looks like we are set anyway.

Mind you we got plenty of exercise getting the bags to the room. To beat the system I had the driver stop at a shop and bought 12 bottles of beer and a couple of sodas. Brilliant I though paying 25,000 dong for each beer, at usual Victoria prices that has saved me well over a million and a quarter dong. After staggering to the room under the weight of them I looked at the price list at this Victoria. Small bottle of beer 40,000 dong.

Damn damn damn !!!

It’s Up The Mekong

The drive yesterday from Saigon to Can Tho took 3 hours and was certainly much easier than the drive to Mui Ne last month even though it is further. The road was dual carriage way for the most part and the driver got his toe down .

You can stop at various temples on the way but we chose to get down to the hotel. After a couple of months in South East Asia you get templed out especially as it would have added some 2 hours to the journey.

The Mekong delta is large. Several times we thought we were crossing the Mekong, each time though it was one of the many offshoots that meander their way to the coast.

When we finally hit the real thing it was huge. An enormous bridge spans the river close to Can Tho and as you look down the massive brown river is full of ships and barges.

The Victoria Hotel sits on the River Hua a tributary to the Mekong but from the grounds you can see the big river

Mekong River Can Tho

You can barely see the other side off in the distance.

The Victoria is an old colonial hotel built by the French close to a town that is now a major port and industrial hub.

Victoria Can Tho

 

The hotel itself is surrounded by large restaurants catering to the local populous and so during the day the various acts that entertain the diners practice their songs and music at full volume whilst a night they then do the act for real. So quiet it is not. Nor is it a quiet hotel inside with marble corridors and teak floors accentuating the noise of people walking about.

But the setting is superb and they do a lot well.

There is a sunset cruise on an old rice barge that doubles as the happy hour drinks barge

Sunset Cocktails

Excitingly instead of the dreaded minivan shuttle into the town they do it by boat

Shuttle to Can Tho

 

the hotel prides itself on it’s green credentials hence the lawn growing on the top of the boat. It is certainly a great way to head into the large town and the pier in town is the central point for the local restaurants that cater for foreigners and therefore speak some English.

On The Shuttle

 

I was in this morning checking out places for tonight as in the dark last night we never really found the main area. The beer was cheap though and Can Tho produces it’s own local brew which you buy in various places for 9,000 dong (25P) a large glass. It is an acquired taste me thinks but at that price worth persevering with  .

The market is full of flowers as people decorate everywhere ready for the Tet New Year holiday on Jan 31st.

Tet Flowers Can Tho

 

there is yet another floating market here as well that opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 8 a.m. also selling flowers. Were we tempted to go see another floating market ? Er no.

The Tet is a 9 day holiday here in Vietnam for the first time under communist rule and the people seem determined to make the best of the new extended holiday.

The big thing to have is a peach tree that flowers on the 1st of Feb to mark the new lunar new year so market sellers try to make sure they have the trees ready for this.

It is quite strange to wander down the road seeing rows and rows of bare trees up for sale

Peach Tree Can Tho

 

these are being snapped up and carried away on the backs of motor bikes. Some poor market stall sellers though have got it wrong

Peach in Bloom Can Tho

 

not sure what they do with these now in bloom as nobody wants to buy them.

It is a bit like buying a Christmas tree hoping that yours is not going to drop most of it’s needles before Christmas Day.

In Canada I went out into nose bleed country north of Toronto to actually cut a tree myself. How fresh is that going to be I thought as I loaded it on the jeep.

Back in town and worried that is might need water i put it in a bucket on the porch. The frost that night froze the water and within 2 days we had a bare tree rather like those peach ones. Kids weren’t happy let me say.