More Snake Sir?

Popped down to the night market to have a look see at the place. it is at the end of the strip almost in the old fishing village. Now night markets to me conjure up stalls ladened with cheap clothes etc a la Thailand  but this one is in fact made up of an endless line of small restaurants and guess what they sell. Yup BBQ squid, prawns and Kingfish. One after the other all doing pretty much what every other restaurant is doing on Phu Quoc.

At the bottom of the street there are 2 or 3 stalls selling clothes but that is it. Not really worth the 100,000 dong cab ride but there are a couple of very local bars with yet more infant school seats and beer in cold boxes so all was not wasted.

It seems you can get some interesting food served at the night market

IMG_0259

 

Never mind the heering salad or hot pod. Hows about what you get to go with your fresh seafood. That will bring you back for seconds without a doubt.

There is one other thing they catch off the beaches here and a few people have been bitten by them. These also go on the BBQ but at least you can keep them fresh and alive before cooking them

Night Market Snakes

 

Yes, sea snakes and very tasty they are too, just like eating chicken.

The hotel we have moved to is the newest on the strip having opened last November . I had looked at it with some envy as it is right next door to the Paris Resort but had presumed it was much more expensive. But when we declined to move rooms my friendly tour operator in Saigon got me a room here for US$30 more a night. It is to say the least chalk and cheese . The Famiana Resort has fully trained staff who go to school to learn their jobs and attend English lessons for 3 hours a week. it is professionally  managed by an hotel General Manager and is not amateur hour like the Paris. So a couple of shots as always. The view from the breakfast table :

Famiana Gardens

 

and from the bed chair and please note it has it’s very own sea based assault course.

Famiana Play Ground

 

all very It’s a Knockout from the 1970’s on BBC TV with the now imprisoned Stuart Hall and Eddie Warring the rugby league commentator . Boy the BBC could make some rubbish and we watched it .

We also have our own 18 hole gold course in the grounds and so you can play a few rounds before the sun gets too hot. Tee times are easy to book and to be fair you don’t need too much gear to carry though I’m sure this hotel would give you a caddy !!!

Famiana Golf courseW

We’ll okay I accept it’s not St. Andrews or Pebble Beach but with a cut down putter for a six year old it is quite a challenge !

So this hotel is  the newest on the strip but 5 hotels down towards town is the oldest built in the 1980’s when there was nothing on Long Beach but a few run down old French Colonial houses . In those days there were no roads on the island so you had to come by boat from the mainland and so did building materials . So you needed a pier that would survive monsoonal seas .

Pier Thousand Stars

 

and so The Thousand Stars Resort as it is called boasts the only pier on the whole strip.

It is a weird hotel built by an eccentric with his own idea of what things to put around the place. The gardens and the beach are dotted with oddities

Sculptures Thousand Stars

 

The place has certainly seen better days , much better days and is still open but up for sale and awaiting some developer to come and do it a favour and put it out of it’s misery by knocking it down.

If you go onto Tripadvisor and look it up there is not one review that doesn’t start with the first line in massive capitals. DO NOt STAY HERE. and then the poor person goes on to list a litany of problems they have encountered. One poor couple who stumbled on it one evening when the taxi dropped them at the wrong hotel had to pay to get their passports back once they had checked in and realised they were in the wrong hotel. We’ll phone the police they told the manager. Great he said they don’t speak English and you signed a booking form for 7 nights accommodation. Pay up to be able to leave. Now there’s customer service for you.

Wouldn’t happen at the Famiana ……. Would it????

 

 

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Food Glorious Food

One of the problems with  rapid tourist growth on an island is that things get thrown up in an hurry to meet the ever growing demand. Here on Phu Quoc the “strip” from what was the old sleepy fishing village  down to the end of Long Beach is just that a strip lined with restaurants and travel agents selling excursions. The local catch here is squid and prawns plus some local king fish. The rest is brought in from the mainland by boat.  So the locals who threw up a shack with tables and chairs and a makeshift kitchen with the loo in the middle of it were somewhat hampered for choice. Some bright spark ( all puns intended) came up with the idea of cooking the three staples on a BBQ and then tossing some rice or noodles onto the plate and serving it. The rest quickly followed and that is the choice down almost the entire strip. Great for a backpacker getting a few days of rays after a long trek through Vietnam before heading off to Cambodia some 3 hours away but not so great for the two week holiday maker. Then try us on our 4th week here and you realise why we are leaving before planned and also heading off into Cambodia.

I really haven’t been good at recommending places to eat on this blog unlike many other bloggers. One man’s meat is another man’s etc etc. But let me assure you that we have had to kiss an awful lot of frogs to get to being able to say where we most like to eat and we have suffered during the night and often all the next day in that quest to find a prince. Most Vietnamese just don’t know how to BBQ and of course what they don’t use that night goes back in a freezer and then is defrosted again the next day and so on until it is sold. health and safety would have a field day here.

However before we eat we have to have a sundowner or three so where do we go for those? Most restaurants are happy that you sit and just have beer but the majority are on the increasing busy main road so we look on the beach.

This one should be the king of all bars

Headland bar

 

it sits on the headland between the two parts of Long Beach and gets the cooling winds as well as some great views and sunsets

Sunset on Phu Quoc

 

It should be packed but it is run by a gloriously inefficient Vietnamese lady who rushes about doing almost nothing. 20 mins to order a beer and then 20mins for it to arrive. Who knows where she goes or what she does. It is a fact of life and maybe an endearing feature of the local people that they have no memory at all. It is not even the last person they talked to syndrome. Ten paces from the table they took the order it has gone from the mind as if it were never there they wander away and start on some other task and you sit there expecting within minutes a couple of cold bottles of beer to arrive. 10 mins later they wander past your table without a flicker of memory that they ever took an order from you. So you need a bar where the bar person  is close to you and the supply with no distractions in-between. This one is rough and ready but hits the two key objectives

Sundowner bar

 

Yes those are infant school class room chairs and yes you sit on them. It is like being back at the parent teacher meetings where the teacher in oder to rush you along sits you in little Freddies chair so you can view his scribblings, but the beer cooler is 5 paces away and the guy sits within feet of you and has nothing else to do and no real distractions. You can even get squids and fish from him and his BBQ is clever

BBQ

 

a kitchen sink !!! Now before i discovered the delights of an outside wood oven I used to do a load of BBQ and have a Webber at home. I went one time to buy the attachment they sell that gives you a workspace on the BBQ and realised that to buy it i would need to take out a fourth mortgage on the house. This local lad has solved that problem instantly clever fellow.  I’ve never been brave enough to eat anything from him but have seen others do it though to be fair i have never seen them ever again.

So after the sunset and the beer to the restaurant

Canadianand there is the champion after 4 weeks of testing. It is just by La Veranda Resort if you are ever down this way. The place is run by a Vietnamese family but they have a Canadian ex restauranteur as an advisor. He sold his house in Vancouver at the height of the housing bubble and bought a motor home for the summer to tour around visiting friends in Canada and invested the rest to pay for winters in the sun on Phu Quoc. He stayed at one of the cottages the family rent and offered to help out in return for beer and food. He also bought with him his 250,000 tune music library and each day he compiles two playlists one for lunch and one for dinner. As he says the music therefore matches his mood or hangover and we have sat there some evenings feeling maybe he wants everyone to cut their wrists. However the food is good, not a BBQ in sight and because as he in a very unCanadian way boasts that his place is by far the most popular on the beach or on the strip the turnover in food is very rapid.

A second place mention must go to Ganesh the indian restaurant who not only serve great curries but prove that you can take locals and turn them into good waiters. They bring in teams of Nepalese managers, head cooks and supervisors and train the local workforce. it is an impressive organisation with staff eager to serve you and never once forgetting why they are in a restaurant and wandering off to look at the sky.

All this is making me thirsty and hungry so I’m off

 

Expat Bars

Apologies for no posts but the internet at the Paris is down and looks likely to remain so. We have moved hotels now and I am on line again

It was a good time to leave the Paris Hotel as groups were beginning to arrive. Two days ago a group of Germans arrived some 20 in all . 18 of them were Chinese/Germans and were clearly here to have a good time.

In the early 1970’s Monty Python did  a sketch on the then new phenomenon of package holidays and what they were like. One of the lines from it was ” and swimming pools full of huge Germans building pyramids.”

Would these German living and speaking Chinese follow the same pattern set in the 1970’s I wondered. Well yes and no in fact as with the advancement of technology building human pyramids in the pool is clearly passé. Instead enter the underwater camera. So 20 people jump into the pool and one with the camera faces the other 19. the 19 then take a deep breath and down under they go . the photographer takes the photo and all 20 come to the surface. Loads of laughing and high fives and bellows follow as the water erupts around the pool . But wait the photograph missed out on his/her photo so let’s do it again. what fun, what a super game, isn’t everyone else enjoying the noise and the fun we are having. In fact lets do it 19 times and see if we can empty the pool of water and submerge a few bed chairs. No thy haven’t changed at all.

Oh yes expat bars. let me just say that I’m not on about the bars in major cities frequented by working expats gathering at a favourite watering hole at the end of the day.

i’m on about the ones in seaside towns where clearly an holidaymaker has at some stage sat on a beach and said to the partner “you know this place needs a decent pub let’s stay and open one “.

I remember in Goa in about 1990 venturing out of a Taj hotel one evening and finding such a place with a large “just opened” sign on it. A couple from Manchester had just rented it and were busy turning  it into an English pub replete with pint mugs and fish and chips on the freshly painted menu. ” Been a dream of ours “they said “just what the area needs ” said his wife. ” Been here in the monsoon” I enquired . ” no but we get a lot of rain in Manchester ” they chorused. Hmm I thought as i finished my beer and left them dreaming of crowds of Brits spilling out into the roadway night after night. Two years later on another trip there was an empty building and a for rent sign in Hindi outside.

Phu Quoc boasts a couple of these dream places.

Expat Bar 1

My cheap laundry place is alongside the Safari run by  a Brit. I popped in to check it out and it was er empty . My beer was more than I pay in the hotel and almost double what the two nice bars nearby charge. Small wonder I thought why no one is there.

The other is American, Down Home Alabama

Expat Bar 2

and had 10 or so guys gathered around the bar. Mine host was in the middle of them . To a man they were clearly on long term holidays here for the whole winter and staying at the various hostels around town. Everyone knew everyone else and ranks were closed as new comers entered. Mine host was as uninterested and I ordered drinks from the young Vietnamese waitress. They cost even more than The Safari indeed more than most of the hotels on the strip.

The bar was more a way for the owner to have a few mates around for a beer and get them to pay for them. Opposite was a local Vietnamese bar and there were a few more long stayers there who clearly had either fallen out with mine host or couldn’t pay the crazy prices. The bill took ages as mine host couldn’t drag himself away from his crowd.

Cross two more off the list.

In Cyprus when we lived there loads of people  followed that dream of running a pub in the sun. Few make a go of it and they pour their woes out on expat forums. New lifers I call them as they always talk about a “new life” and when it goes wrong they are always “gutted” that people who said they would support the pub by being there everyday didn’t. “We were gutted” ” We came here in good faith ” etc.

It is normally best left as a dream . Shouldn’t it be sweet home anyway ?

All Quiet

In case your worried that is snow falling on the blog and not a problem with your eyes. I can jazz up the site for Christmas. Apparently I can even add Christmas songs to it but have resisted that at the moment.

No protests today as the protesters decided that they would help clean up the areas where the they have been active near government buildings. It is all to do with the King’s birthday tomorrow and both sides seem eager to not offend him . So it will all start again on friday by which time we should be long gone. Still it has certainly livened up the past couple of days.

Whilst up in Chiang Mai and staying at the Opium Apartments I had some trouble getting this laptop to link with the hotel internet. Luckily there were an army of people staying there who were eager to help and eventually a South African lad Jerry got it all worked out for me. He had just spent 4 months in Vietnam  and advised me to get a booster for the internet signal as many hotels there have lousy signals. An American lad Zac who works at Best Buy as a computer salesman told me it is all to do with the number of routers the hotel installs. Good ones put a couple on each floor poor ones hardly any at all. Each router can run so many customers and then rejects the rest or gives them lousy connectivity . I have to say it all goes over my head but having had problems throughout Thailand I thought I should get a booster.

Bangkok is awash with computer places. The biggest is the MBK Centre with floors and floors of shops selling anything you need. Nearby is the Siam Discovery Centre, the Siam Centre and the Siam Paragon . All these malls are almost dedicated to the I.T. industry as well as having tons of DVD and CD copies as well.

However they are all near the protest area in fact they are on the road where all the tear gas and rubber bullets were fired over last weekend. Well worth a miss I thought. so instead I went to the Fortune Town Mall well away from the troubles and six stops on the metro from Si Lom .

Well I don’t know about the others but this one was four floors full of I.T. stuff. The only drawback was that almost no one spoke english and sign language for an internet booster with an ariel challenged even my charades game expertise. Sound like, 5 words, first word etc. Still i am now the proud owner of a Tenda booster with a very smart ariel. I ‘m not sure it does anything but boy I look suitable geeky now.

I was also looking for a Jawbone Jambox mini as I can’t get my iPod music on to this new MacBook Air . In fact no one had the new one which gets rave revues on Amazon.co.uk . They haven’t arrived yet over here but I did get an exact copy of one made by OnBeat.

The papers here cover today the Transparency International corruption survey. Thailand didn’t come out of it too well ranked 102 out of 177 ( least corrupt at the top and most at the bottom). The problem here seems to be mainly the political parties and the police as being the most corrupt.

Dear Italy comes in at 69 and there the survey shows people believe that almost all the corruption is with political parties, politicians and parliament. Perhaps surprisingly the only other body considered very corrupt are the medical services most especially the doctors. Only 47% of people agree with Il Cavaliere Berlusconi that the Judges are corrupt.

The UK by the way was at number 14.

So we are ready to move on tomorrow. Another travel day for us .

Bus, Plane, Taxi

Travel day today. We drove the 3 hours back down to Chiang Mai from the Mea Kok River Resort and headed to the airport.

Any lingering thoughts of Chiang Mai as a sleepy northern town were dispelled by the 6 lane highway complete with under passes and fly overs to the airport. With 8 feeder lanes running alongside it it is bigger than the motorway in from the main airport in Bangkok. How soon before we see a sky train here?

Air Asia surprised us again by offering food and drink this time slowly wheeling a trolley the length of the aircraft. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair would be tearing his hair out at the lack of sales technique but at least you could buy a drink if you wanted.

There is now almost a half hourly service between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Air Asia have been joined by Nok Air and another new entrant Lion ( check them out by clicking here ). A couple we met in Chiang Mai last week had just bought their tickets on Lion for US$15 each including taxes for the week after next.  Nok Air have cleverly at Bangkok grabbed the internet rights at the terminal and so you need a booking number on them if you want to connect while waiting at the Low Cost Airport here ( it’s the old airport that closed and then re-opened in 2010 ).

The taxi into town took 25 mins to the Siri Sathorn and even though we passed the Ministry of Energy we saw no protesters. Disappointingly there was no visible security at the airport when we left it . In 2008 protesters seized it and held it for 3 weeks forcing people to trains, buses and ferries to get to an airport in another country to get home.

I will be checking out a few happy hours in the area around the hotel to pick up any news on how things are going and let you know.

I booked an early morning call for 7.30 this morning at The Maekok Resort and at 7.40 the guy was knocking on the door to collect the bags ! Now there’s speedy packing but that was expecting quite a lot considering the car was booked for 9 a.m.

Bryan was on parade to wave us goodbye and told me Christmas week they are full to the gills. Having seen it struggle with 26 of us quite how they handle 72 I have no idea. Still the school was quite something.

Education. Education, Education

So said a young Tony Blair when asked his priorities for his first government. Like so many politician’s promises or in Blair parlance ” sound bites” I’m not sure what happened to that one but up here near Chiang Rai on the Mae Kok River it has a certain resonance.

There are some 10 different peoples populating this area and most are a few notches up from what my geography master used to describe as subsistence farming e.g. these guys have stuff left over to sell. The way clearly to get them moving upwards is to ensure that the children get a sound education and can then makes life choices ( good buzz word don’t you think !) as to whether they want to stay or head off to the city because with it they will  be able to make the decision.

There are plenty of schools up here built by the Thai Rangers elite border control section of the army. They built them during the period when tension was high along the Thai/ Burma border and it was a way they hoped to stop the local peoples offering assistance to the Burmese forces that infiltrated across the porous border to attack the Rangers.

Tensions are now very low and the schools have fallen into disrepair. Step in Bryan Massingham the amiable owner of the Maekok River Resort and the Outdoor Adventure school for International School students from around the world who also was a geography teacher before building the resort.

Each week he has about 40 International school students here and because community service is now high on the education curriculum in many countries it seemed a natural to offer such an experience to his visiting students where they could add value ( I’m full of buzzy stuff today ) . It has worked a dream as they say.

When I was at school eons ago community service was done as a punishment for bad behaviour and we all considered it far worse than a beating with the cane. The idea of hours weeding some ancient pensioner’s garden was enough to almost dissuade you from say smoking. Indeed one new enlightened house master decided to do away with the cane and use the community service punishment alone. He was surprised to receive a petition signed by all the cadets in his house begging him to re-instate the cane immediately.

Now it is the normal part of being at school it seems and here the students do it in the local schools and Bryan took me to one today to see them in action.

The foreign students and this lot were from Hong Kong are split into two groups each day. In the morning one lot do painting or repairing of buildings

Int Students Painting school

 

Three days ago these were rusty unused school playground equipment. The students have sanded them down, oiled them, repaired them and now have painted them .by tomorrow they will be back in use and loaded with happy 5/6 year olds.

the other half teach English in the class room

Int School Teaching

 

Some like these guys are very good and the local kids pay real attention. I didn’t like to photograph the other room where the students had lost complete control of the children who were running amok. Byran with his head master’s hat on took control immediately and I found myself calling him “sir” for a short period as did the kids.

The real benefit though comes when the students go home having seen first hand the type of conditions the kids are taught in and start to raise funds to be sent back to the schools they have worked in.

Bryan has established close links with 38 schools in the area and since 2004 over 120 school improvement projects have been funded by the international school students to the value of over 15 million Baht ( £3 million ).

At this school he found that many of the very young students 5-7 years old were walking 5 kms each way to attend school each day. The funds have built two dormitories and now the youngsters weekly board and merely walk down on a Monday and go home on a Friday. The funds also started a small farm nearby to provide food for the boarders. Classrooms have been built , sports facilities  laid out and more teachers bought in.

They also provide funds to allow bright students to stay on at school when  the parents would normally take them away from school at 11 years old to help on the farm. Now they can stay on till 15 years old.

To increase fund raising Bryan loaned money to 6 local women to set up a small   pashmina business working on local looms.

Making Scafes Local Village

 

 

Now International school students buy the stock and take it home to sell there and we parents all know how good kids are at doing this. A school from Tokyo bought up 15,500 baht worth a few weeks ago and this week sent Bryan 57,000 baht having deducted the original outlay !

Since seeing Sri Lank a few years after the tsunami had hit and the almost total lack of new building despite the millions sent to the country I have grown sceptical of charities. Especially as I met in the Hilton in Columbo 50 or so so called NGO leaders living there on the executive floors making the odd visit to the the Galle area where the devastation was.

To see this little operation in practise was great . Blair was right of course but to him it was just a clever thing to say. Bryan and his small team are doing something very practical to improve the lot of the local people by providing education, education, education.

Die Deutschen Kommen !

The Germans are coming ! We have been enjoying a couple of days the way we did in Baan Krut a few weeks ago as the only guests in a rather large hotel. But our joy at having the place to ourselves is to be short lived .

A group of German tourists are to arrive tonight on their bus to spend a few days here before moving on.

Today  I spent most of the day by the pool or rather my own pool with my own choice of 11 pool loungers to choose from and a choice of green and blue towels. The pool is quite small

the pool 1

Ideal for young Hammond the hamster but not too good for 24 Germans and two Brits to co-exist around. You can do the math with just 11 pool loungers and 26 guests for yourself but basically it means world war two all over again. By Saturday towel parties will be slipping through the undergrowth near the pool  at 5.30 a.m. to lay them on said pool loungers and clutching wire cutters at the ready lest the other side has used chains to link the  loungers together ( I kid you not I saw it often  in Penang 3 years ago ) .

I don’t know if you remember that great Spitfire beer ad with the dam busters music and the brit bouncing his towel across the pool itself like a bouncing bomb to land on a lounger just before the German could lay his own towel on it. it is a technique I must practise this evening.

Last night we drank in our very own bar with two staff to answer our every beck and call had we wanted them to. We didn’t of course but that’s not the point we could have done. It was actually quite dark in the bar but it reminded me of a bar in many of the safari lodges in the Kruger Park down in South Africa. here it is in daylight ( I know but my camera is 8 years old folks and not seeing as well as it was in it’s youth).

athe bar

behind me in the photo is a large fireplace for the colder nights though I’m not sure what they mean by that. The Thai waitresses were all wearing thick anoraks last night and the temperature was about 20 C .

We collected the domino set and moved outside to play much to the horror of the Thai girl who thought we might freeze to death before the game was finished.

bar verandha

the view which at night is flood lit is this below but of course the game was too intense to enjoy it. I wonder if the Germans play Domino we could play them for a pool lounger or two perhaps.

bar view

The chefs here come from the Shan peoples who originally came from Burma and indeed until Britain and France carved  new borders on behalf of the Thais who i presume didn’t have a pencil, this bit of Thailand we are in was part of Burma. So we had Shan style curry of pork and chicken. There is no coconut milk in them and they are more sour and with much more turmeric than you find in Thai curries.

Now it seems quite by accident ho ho  the Top Gear boys brought with the from Burma some wine. Well to be honest quite a lot of wine indeed the E.U. wine lake crowd would have been proud of them. And despite a good effort by all the crew with them keenly involved too there was still some left over when they departed. We drank one of their bottles last night with our curry.

It is called Red Mountain and is grown by a German in the mountains in Burma using normal wine techniques. The altitude makes the weather similar to France but without the frost and he matures it in oak barrels imported from La Belle France.

What does it taste like well I’m sworn to secrecy. No I’m not really that just on what the Top Gear boys were doing here. It actually tastes not half bad. How is that for a wine critique ! It certainly slipped down a treat and though i’m not a great believer in wine with curry believing lager beer a better choice i have never been known to look a gift horse in the mouth as it were.

Well better get an early night I’ve got some towels to lay early tomorrow morning by cover of darkness. I stole them from my pool this afternoon ready for the raid so I have the advantage I think as the others  had been moved away by the time the enemy arrived on their bus. Achtung Englander.