Something For The Weekend Sir?

The only problem with going away for a long time is that it becomes necessary to have things done that you normally have someone you trust to do. I refer , of course, to having your haircut.

After 3 months of hoping to get away with not having to do it my shaggy dog look finally began to embarass even me. So I had to do something about it and started to look on line about getting an haircut in Saigon.

I should explain we have now left Phu Quoc and yesterday we flew back up to Saigon. Phu Quoc was good but the lack of variety in the food gradually takes it’s toll on you and you begin to dread seeing another squid for the rest of your life. So it was back to the city and then on Wednesday we head off to the mighty Mekong River up to Cambodia and to the capital Phonm Pehn before returning here for their New Year.

There was plenty of info on getting an haircut in Saigon. That is of the cutting variety not being ripped off of which there was much more. Most of the hair cutting stuff was horror stories by visitors and expats about their experience of trying to get a vaguely decent cut at the hands of a Vietnamese who was used to cutting or hacking locals hair.

The locals and many expats use what is called a chop house which is sometimes a place with a roof over it but more often a chair and an awning set up on the pavement which in Saigon is rarely used for pedestrians who get in the way of all the other things going on on them. This is one chop house I saw yesterday

Chop House Barber

quite a salubrious  joint you might be thinking but let me just say the customer on the right had a fine head of hair before the guy got going on him !!

The thing going for them is they cost about 25,000 dong (70P) but you have no idea whether the guy has ever cut hair before and the trouble with hair cutting is when it is done it is done there is no sticking it back on.

My problem is that living in Italy it is almost impossible not to find a good barber. It is normally more a choice about how close to the house is he, can you park outside and how good is the coffee he offers you. The haircutting is a given, he will be brilliant at it and the whole thing is just a superb experience.

The internet consensus  was that Just Men was the place to go which suited me anyway as it was near the bar I wanted to watch football at that evening. Two birds with one stone I hoped.

In fact Just Men had already disappeared but had been replaced by this shop on the same site.

My Haidressing Shop

In I went and was immediately put in a chair. My hairdresser had the strangest hair style I have seen rather short at the sides and standing almost on end on the top as if he had seen a ghost. However once we had established such a style was not for me he proceeded sheepishly to cut. It was slow work and every 2 minutes he would ask if that was okay. Unfortunately I wear glasses so peering into the mirror I was unable to see what he was up to anyway. The blind leading the blind. Half an hour went by and nothing seemed to have changed up top other than an awful lot of water had been squirted on my hair. Still he snipped slowly and still I encouraged him to be a little bolder. After 45 mins I gave up and agreed it was superb, never seen my hair looking better. He beamed, I beamed and then he asked for 235,000 dong. Clearly I was paying by the minute not by the cuttings on the floor. However by then the game had started and my beer was going warm on the counter. I paid what must have been a kings ransom to him and fled.

Actually it isn’t that bad and by next week I should be able to take my hat off and show the world my cut. I am dreading going back to Italy and facing my barber Franco who is going to create merry hell about it.

I mentioned earlier about the uses the Vietnamese have for their pavements. The biggy is to park their motorbikes on . Not I hasten to add willy nilly style. Oh no these are organised lots. They have several attendants and you pay to park on a public pavement. They park them for you and when you come back you pay and the attendant rushes off and gets you bike and wheels it to you. It’s just that it is on the pavement

Bike Parking Lot

Almost every street pavement looks just like this. Long rows of parked bikes. The attendants who all wear uniform also use the space between the kerb and the back wheel to have all their meals on. They set up small chairs and charcoal grills and cook Hot Pot and noodles seemingly every hour or so. It never amazes me how much these guys seem to eat. If it rains they have cardboard to cover the saddles and likewise if the sun is on them.

I just keep thinking what is going to happen in Saigon when all these people graduate from a bike to a car.


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



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????



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



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 ?

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.