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

 

Thoughts while in Saigon

My daughter and son in law have arrived from Hong Kong and took us on a whistle stop trot around the sights of Saigon this morning. I’m not a great sightseer preferring to sit in places and watch the locals but it is good to get out and see parts of the city.

I managed the Cathedral, the Opera House on foot enjoying the hustle of the place and the challenge of getting across the roads while swarms of motorbikes, scouters and mopeds race around you. By the Post Office I was flagging but did manage to get the trusty old iPhone out and snap a picture

Post Office Saigon

Now I don’t know how many people on trips to cities take a picture of a post office, not many, but clearly for some reason the French must have had a thing about building monster ones in their colonies. This one is a rather pleasant ex British Public School boy pink shirt colour don’t you think ? It is huge inside but mainly made up now of stalls selling tourist knick knacks.

The youngsters went on to the Reunification Palace where you can crawl into the tunnels used during the war against the USA. I ducked out of this and returned to the hotel.

Obviously here understandably the American side of things is not to the fore but as I dozed this afternoon I  thought of a few people we have met on this trip .

In Mui Ne we met a charming American couple form just outside Anchorage, Alaska in a place called Palmer where they have a B&B. Greg had always wanted to visit Vietnam and this was his trip of a lifetime as he achieved that goal. He told me that his father flew B52s during the Vietnam war . He was based in Louisiana  and did tours of duty over here at the height of the bombing campaign. He said his father never ever talked about his experiences nor the war and that he Greg regretted never having made him to open up about a war that so many veterans decided to ignore as did most of the USA.  Hence his trip here .

Just before the train yesterday pulled out from the station I went to take the photos and met a Vietnamese guy having a last cough and a drag before he was banned from smoking for 4 hours on the train. He told me he was from Dallas, Texas and had returned for the first time since leaving Vietnam 40 years ago. He clearly left with the Americans. He had originally  come from Mui Ne and so was visiting  his home town. how did you find it I asked. Full of Soviets he growled at me whilst drawing on his last cigarette . I didn’t like to tell him that that place is no more either and for a few more minutes he went on about how the soviets seem to have taken over the whole area.

My experience of the Vietnam war was secondhand apart from a brief frisson of excitement that Harold Wilson the British Prime minister might take Britain into the conflict. Being Royal Naval Reserve at my school we had visions of call up and off to the Far East. Reading Spycatcher by Peter Wright years later the book in which the head of the CIA counter intelligence unit told the ex MI5 author that Wilson was in fact a KGB agent, such a  policy decision was clearly unlikely.

A friend of mine working at Pan Am in New York was called up in 1969. Luckily he always said because his father was in the US Diplomat Corps he pulled strings to have him placed as liaison with the Australian troops on the ground in Vietnam. His father felt he had a better chance of survival as an officer than with his own American troops ( at least 230 American officers were killed by their own troops, and as many as 1,400 other officers’ deaths could not be explained). A few years later as we sat in his very nice family apartment on Central Park South he told me how he and the Aussies would sit in the jungle and firstly hear the Americans coming with transistor radios etc, then smell them with their cigarette smoke and aftershave and then see them as they walked inches away without seeing the fully camouflaged, odourless, jungle trained Aussies. Often sometime later they would find the bodies of the self same troops killed by the Vietcong.

He survived 2 years but again in the main he never talked about it.

Goodbye Mui Ne

After two weeks here tomorrow morning we say goodbye to Mui Ne and the Villa Aria and head off to the train station to go to Saigon.

After the mini bus drive down here we decided to go back on the train. first class is US$15 one way and though it takes 5 hours the same as the road trip everyone says that it it a nicer way to travel . I’ll let you know.

So I guess I should do an impressions of blog today . Donald Rumsfeld the U.S. Secretary of Defence under Dubya Bush always used to annoy me with his asking a question of himself and then answering it at press conferences and the like. Unfortunately most politicians have now followed his lead and one of the first was of course Tony Blair. “Did I know the intelligence dossier was sexed up ? Well let me talk through this ” on so on. Of course I will now proceed to do the same !

Would I return to Mui Ne ? Well let me use a sketch from that great sixties classic stage show Beyond the Fringe to answer that one

So like Perkins the answer is goodbye not au revoir . Why ? Well lots of reasons really most of which I have covered on the blogs from here but mainly a feeling that it is all very false. The place has no soul because all that is done here is tourism and the locals very clearly commute in and out each day  on the local buses and live their real lives elsewhere.

The Villa Aria is a very small hotel in terms of ground size and I’m sure is delightful when occupancy is 60% but full it is a bit of a nightmare and more so when a group of 10 Russians are here. Probably any group would dominate such a small space but given their actual physical size as well they have taken it over. The other guests have retreated to the beach and left them to the pool and breakfast has become a battle ground. Enough said.

It has been raining off and on for the last two days and the waves crashing in have been enormous driving the fishermen in their boats further out to sea. The inshore ones fishing for shrimp have been confined to barracks . this is especially true as they put to sea in what can only be described as circular bath tubs.

Baath Tub Boat Mui Ne

Seriously two or three fishermen go out in these every morning at sunrise to trawl for shrimp. they are made of moulded fibreglass by the looks of them  and look like this on the inside

More Bath tubs Mui Ne

The paddle is used like a single oar to propel it along .

Along the beach are dotted the older version of the plastic bath tub made out of rattan and at the fishing village I went to yesterday these older ones were more in evidence.

Rattan Bath Tub Boat Mui Ne

Now as any self respecting Welshman will tell you these are clearly coracles and indeed they are . Coracles of course were designed to get fishermen and people into low water areas so quite how or why they have ended up here who knows. They are found  in Mui Ne, in Phan Thiet down the road and up in Nha Trang in Vietnam and in India, Tibet and Iraq or Eyeraq as Donald Rumsfeld would say.  They are certainly not made for the swells they have here and hence the lack of fishing the last couple of days. The shrimp they catch are really small and they dry them by the sides of roads and turn them into paste.

I am off out to eat several of their much larger cousins helped down by yet more Saigon Green Label. Tomorrow evening I shall be back in Saigon and drinking and eating more cheaply. until then, and seeing as we started with beyond the fringe , I will leave you with Dudley Moore. I had the pleasure of flying one time in the seat alongside his from New York to London on the lunchtime Concorde. Almost Arthur like he said he had the world’s worst hangover and would I join him in a pre take off Bloody Mary having decided to not stick with a promise to himself when he awoke not to drink again. The Concorde landed too late with the time change for me to go to work that day so I did. One led to a few more and I then had a fabulous flight over with an hugely entertaining companion. What a talent he was.

Giro Di Mui Ne

Those of you that follow my Puglia blog will know that I went down to the start of one of the stages of the Giro D’Italia bicycle race. I even  managed a photo of Bradley Wiggins or Wiggo .

Today I tried to emulate him on a ride to the fishing village ten kilometres away. There is one hill between here and there and as I rose from my saddle to start pumping the pedals I thought briefly of him. Four minutes later as I slowly ground to an halt on the incline I rather hoped no one let alone Wiggo was watching. Boy this cycling is hard work.

I did make it and have the pictures to prove it but on the way I took a few photos of my local pub that we use both for drinks and food now. This is the bar

Our Bar Mui Ne

 

Nothing too salubrious I admit but for me it is home ! They have their priorities right here a coffee with milk is 15,000 dong ( 45 Pence ) and a 400 ml Saigon Green Label is 10,000 dong ( 30 pence ) . The main road separates the bar from the restaurant which is on the sea front.

Seasside Dinning Mui Ne

 

Okay maybe no the most comfortable of seating but when it’s dark and the waves are crashing in it has a certain ambiance, oh and it’s cheap. Plate of fresh shrimp, big plate of squid, mix veg and a couple of plain rice 135,000 dong ( £4 ) . The seafood is displayed on this side of the road but cooked on the other side so a metal bowl is used to slide the  uncooked food one way and the cooked food the other. They wait for a break in the traffic and across it comes over this road.

Road for trays

 

The old Aussie guy Bill ( he is probably younger than me ) seems to hold court there every night and different groups of kite boarders stop by to chat, drink and eat at his table as the evening progresses. Last night he had a couple of French guys and a Pom as well.

What is it with people that stand on boards as a sport. It seems they need almost another language to talk. Snow boarders do it where as skiers don’t, kite boarders use the same one though water skiers don’t and the grand daddy of them all surfers started the whole thing off. Bill seems unfazed by all the dude business and just slowly drinks his Tiger beers.

The Pom was joined later by another one and after the usual high fives etc and a comparison of shoulder tattoos they got to talking about the Old Country. Both it turned out were in the building game in blighty . Loads of jobs in the UK in construction said one and the other agreed tons of them , hard to know which ones to take. Been busy for a year  they both confirmed. Of course in the perverse way of the English workman where had they come during this period of frantic and therefore very lucrative work . Kite boarding in Vietnam. One had come for two weeks and so far been here 5 weeks. Might go back in March guess the boss wonders where I am he said and the other said he was to do the same.

Alongside the bar is one that has closed

Closed Chill Out Bar Mui Ne

 

I guess no one bothered to tell the Vietnamese owner that things have changed in Russia and maybe this was no longer relevant !

Anyway I was putting pressure to the pedals again and eventually made it to the fishing village

Fishing Villahe nr Mui Ne

 

Hey I agree not worth the effort but once there I had to take a photo. There is a bar there  (as well as loads of tour buses and taxis for the wuzzies that don’t cycle ) . The bar is crawling with young kids selling fridge magnets of Vietnam and some particularly awful ones of Mui Ne for about 4 times the price they are in the “gift” shops on the strip here.

I had never thought about “tat” before I moved to Cyprus where our next door neighbour an English guy told me he was in tat. His company in the Midlands started years ago making tat for “gift” shops in the seaside towns of the UK. The British were keen to take home some memory of their holiday and a wooden plaque with “I was in Exmouth” or Lyme Regis with a tatty thermometer stuck on it that broke almost immediately seemed the ideal thing.  As the Brits started to go abroad the company widened its reach and Trevor joined as international sales manger selling “tat” to “gift” shops in Spain, Portugal and the like. It is always in English and follows the style so successful in the UK. He now sells all over the world as the Brits move ever further afield.

Clearly the Russians have a similar need as they buy the stuff by the suitcase load to go home. So something we have in common at last and okay I admit I have bought a couple of magnets myself.

Howzat

Well it had to happen didn’t it ? I guess I have been lucky really but it was bound to change.

While the English cricket team have been being clinically taken apart by their Australian rivals and then slaughtered in each successive Test Match I have been avoiding any contact with Australians but last night I had my Humphrey Bogart moment as two walked into the bar I was sitting at. Of all the gin joints in all of the towns in all the world they had to walk into mine

They were actually I think rather embarrassed by the way England have gone so meekly under the cosh and were almost apologising for the way Australia have thrashed us. They were rather delighted to get the England captain out for a golden duck ( sorry North America it’s a cricket term ) out first ball ( you are probably still none the wiser ).

After a little jovial Pom bashing which was quite amusing I asked the older guy how long he had been here. He replied 9 years which is quite a long holiday ! In fact he obviously lives here in Mui Ne and so proved to be a font of knowledge about the place.

He told me that when he came here in 2004 there were almost no Russians and very few real hotels. That started to change in 2007 but the Russians coming here were what he called more middle class ones travelling as couples or small families and were both polite and spent money in the town and the hotels. In 2009 a group of Russian developers were told that there was a plan to build an airport at Mui Ne to allow direct flights from Russia and they started buying land and building hotels to meet the expected demand. A tour operator was found to sell the hotels to a much broader mix of Russians.

The airport was a myth of course and apparently there are still some huge concrete shells of massive hotels dotted down the coast. Mue Ne itself expanded rapidly and Russians flooded in in droves. Most could afford the cost of the holiday paid in Roubles but little else. Spending in the restaurants and hotels dropped as numbers grew dramatically.

In 2011 the Russian tour operator went bust stranding 400 plus Russians in Mui Ne and leaving all the hotels with no payment. The Russian Embassy paid to take their subjects home.

A new tour operator was founded ( aren’t they always) called Pegasus and on the game has gone though some hotels are now more wary about taking Russians in large numbers hence the huge disparity in numbers staying in them. Some are chock a block, some less so and some with almost none. The Villa Aria seems happy to have them in groups even being a place with just 20 rooms. I looked at another small place yesterday called The Mia resort and there were none there at all.

So we had a complete history of the place which at least kept the guys off the cricket.

I remember my first holiday in Italy which was to Rome in 1957. After a few days sightseeing we took the small hire car to Fregene which them was a small beach resort area near another little fishing village called Fiumacino ( now the site of the main airport ).

Sitting on the beach there I remember seeing a guy pedal a cart along the beach selling ice cream and Coca Cola. We couldn’t eat the ice cream of course because back then you couldn’t drink the water in Italy and therefore no ice in drinks and no ice cream for us kids. Coke was hugely expensive but he also sold a fizzy orangeade called Pellegrino which was made in Italy and very cheap. Today of course in Rome they are both hugely expensive.

Anyway sitting on the beach today a guy came along doing the same thing. I don’t know if he bought this second hand off an Italian but it is just the same

Ice Cream Seller Mui Ne Beach

Think the umbrella is a the original as well. Mind you  a little later a fruit and beer sales girl came down the beach and let me say I never saw this on Fregene beach

Friut and Ice cream sellers Mui Ne Beach

However like his Italian counterpart all those years ago this guy also has an eye for a pretty girl  as you can see !

Frank Sinatra was one time on Fregene beach but unfortunately Humphrey Bogart never was.Nor were the Blues brothers but this song was being played in the bar last night almost non stop, a strange choice given the number of Germans here

I guess the Vietnamese bar owner doesn’t understand the words.

Bikes under Bushels

I’ve found in many of the hotels on this trip that it is hard to find out what they supply and what they don’t. They keep their lights under bushels as it were  and this is especially true when they offer something for free. This one The Villa Aria is no exception . In the room there is a huge book which merely contains the menu from the restaurant and a smaller booklet with information on the hotel that seems more like a rule book with things like no noise on the balcony, no swimsuits on the balcony rail, no diving in the pool and so on . All of course are totally ignored by our group of 10 Russians who we are begining to think might be here for the rest of their lives.

Luckily I was chatting to a German yesterday who told me about the market down the road. Quite co-incidentely given that I had posted on Here in Puglia about knife sharpeners, he had been to market to buy some knives. He used to buy them in Thailand he told me but now buys them here as they are cheaper and better. An odd souvenir to take home but there we are. How did you get there I asked. Oh he said the hotel has about 10  bicycles that are free for guests they just don’t tell anyone unless they ask them.

So I am now the proud owner of a bike and it has allowed me to head off exploring around the area ( Geraldine doesn’t do biking ). This morning I went to the market that the German had told me about.

Ham Tien Market Entrance

 

 

As markets go it is very small and quite well organised. It is quite noticeable how over the last 20 years most westerners have become used to supermarkets and their cleanliness and the way they display food . The young Brits who were here a couple of days ago were telling us graphically about the market and the fact that stuff was displayed on the floor and that the butchers area was so unhygienic with slabs of meat covered in flies being cut up with blood everywhere etc. . It’s not that long ago that even in the Mediterranean they would have been shopping everyday in a market just like the one here for each meal.

I remember in Porto, Portugal in 1983 asking for minced goat ( no lamb then) and the guy hacking off part of the goat and then painstakingly chopping it on a trunk stump of wood into ever smaller pieces until it finally kind of resembled minced meat and in that butcher’s shop getting a pigs liver was almost like having to sit in on an operation in the local O.R or theatre at an hospital.

This market had but one butcher but lots of fish sellersFish Fish Mui Ne

 

I wasn’t in need of squid but did find some bananas and bought just over a kilo for about 50p. There was a great deal of hilarity when the old lady held up fingers to signify the price which was obviously way over the odds, with howls of derision and disbelief that she could be so brazen. But of course when I stumped up the cash she had the last laugh on them all.

Ham Tien Market Mui Ne

 

The bike has widened my ability to check out restaurants and bars and now each night we take a taxi to a new place and try the food before finding a taxi to bring us home. Last night  we actually got pho that tasted like something more than stock cube hot water though if the Brits had found the market distressing I’m not sure what they would have made of the kitchen in this joint.

You know they always say that Asians cannot tell the difference between us foreigners that we all look alike. Well  last night I asked the cab driver who took us to the restaurant to come back at 10 p.m. to pick us up. After a lengthy bout of sign language with lots of pointing by both of us at my watch and the number 10  he agreed. At 10 we were patiently waiting for him . A cab drew up and we piled in. I was effusive in my thanks to him as he started off for being so punctual and getting back to us. For sometime we drove with him looking at me and me again nodding and saying how well he had done. Suddenly he stopped and in broken english asked where we were going. It wasn’t the same guy at all ! Well they all look the same to us don’t they.