Tourism revisited

Despite the wonders of the internet it is still quite nice to have a newspaper delivered to one’s room in an hotel. Today I opened my New Straits Times ( new because like The Times of London it has gone tabloid size). The front page was full of details of the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s speech on tourism and the changes taking place that his country would focus on. It was full of marketing gobbledygook with weird phrases like the creation of a new global elite and money rich time poor super rich etc.

His speech almost echoed speeches reported in Thailand when we were there and Vietnam as well as similar ones heard from almost every tourist board around the world.

Anyway the gist of it is apparently that they want to attract the new high spending tourists from China, Russia, the Middle East and India. Well which country doesn’t ? The trouble is they often are mega rich because they work incredibly hard and rarely take holidays. They also tend to cluster where the others are in well established destinations . There also aren’t that many of them compared to mass tourism .

Since 1998 European and Australian tourism here in Penang has been falling every year as tourists head off to other places . Tourism here is now mainly from Indonesia , a little from China and Japan and the rest is weekenders from K.L. The most popular month for tourists is August . Penang has watched islands like Phuket and Ko Samui in Thailand and Phu Quoc in Vietnam take their bread and butter.

George Town on Penang is a UNESCO world heritage site and when here 3 years ago UNESCO in, to me, a surprising move as I always felt they didn’t make waves, threatened the State government with the removal of the UNESCO name as more and more of the town was being developed and ruined. Walking around today in George Town there was some proof that things had changed and the rows of empty buildings that greeted us then seem to have new tenants rather than being knocked down and another sky scraper put up in it’s place.Old World George Town

When here in the 1980s and 1990s Love lane was a thriving street full of shops with lots of tailors and dress makers. They all disappeared but now it has been re-invented as a back packer area with bars, hostels, cafes and small restaurants. It is again a vibrant place just different than before

Love Lane George Town

Another great trend is the development of rows of these terrace shops as upmarket boutique hotels.

The Seven Terraces Hotel is great example of this

Seven Terraces Hotel George Town 

The hotel has been developed by the same two guys that built several boutique places in the Old Fort at Galle in Sri Lanka. It isn’t cheap with rooms starting at £120 but nor is it for the mega rich either . There are a few of these now and hopefully loads more will follow as booking rooms in them is quite difficult, they fill so quickly.

If only this kind of development had started in 2000 rather than 2011 how different the tourism figures might have been and George town would have retained it’s original charm and still been the Pearl of the Orient .

Mind you things have gone  backwards in the last few years with the advent of the cruise liners docking here.

When I first came here in 1975 George Town resounded to the tinkle of bicycle bells . There were a few motor taxis but in the main you got around by tricycle taxi with a guy peddling away for all he was worth behind you .

Tricycle Taxi

It was exciting stuff as you were thrust out into the traffic first so he could see around the corner. They of course died out when taxis became the norm and a few decorated the driveways of hotels or the inside of the odd restaurant to remind people how it used to be. There was a feeling that this type of transport was somewhat demeaning for the pseddler and an hangover from colonial times so the State government was keen to see the back of them.

In Hanoi when the Communists came to power in 1955 they stopped the man pulled rickshaw as it was seen also there as Colonial suppression. Today one of the senior Ministers family own an huge amusement park just outside Hanoi and to get around it visitors  use one of the man pulled rickshaws. How quickly they forget when money is involved.

So too here in Penang, Colonial hangovers be damned, there’s dollars in them there peddles.

The cruise line guys here also saw the potential for resurrecting the tricycle taxi. Today three large cruise liners were docked in town and once again the streets rang with the sound of bells.

Tricycle George Town

They stretch back as far as you can see and about 40 had already gone past me. The trouble is for the lads peddling is that westerners ( and Malays who have a countrywide massive obesity problem ) have got much fatter than when these were the normal way to get around. This is probably more so for cruise passengers . So it was fun to see that in many of the tricycle taxis the couple could not fit comfortably in without one or the other sitting up off the seat. Indeed in some only one could fit and the partner followed behind in another.

God knows what the excursion office on the various cruise lines charge for this but hopefully these lads peddling away are well paid. Today the temperature was 35C (96F)and humidity was really high as well. Where two had managed to squeeze in several of the lads were pushing their tricycles rather than trying to peddle such was the weight inside.

Penang, Pearl of the Orient

Flew up yesterday afternoon to the Island of Penang on Air Asia. We left from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal at K.L. Airport. There is a new one due to be opened in early May and just as well. The old terminal was appalling yesterday, packed with Chinese New Year travellers ( they celebrate it for 15 days here) and unable to cope. The new terminal is already well delayed and the reports in the paper yesterday said that 65% of it didn’t conform to the basic Fire and Safety regulations here. The Minister stated that they would open it and figure it out later. So don’t light a cigarette if you get to use it when it opens.

No one seems to know why Penang island is called the pearl of the orient but today  a more appropriate name might be the bubble in the developers balance sheet. They have built on almost all the spare land and at night these huge high rises have not a single light on and are clearly empty. It is the same around K.L. as you fly out of the airport. acres and acres of housing without a single resident. When it will burst who knows but surely it must.

We are in Traders Hotel in George Town for 4 nights to have a look around the actual town before heading our to the coast for the long stay part of the trip.

So the pool

Swimming Pool Traders Penang

This is also the view from the bed chair so you are saved that photo. However thank god it is Chinese New Year ‘cos off to the right of this photo is this

Construction by Traders

There are three cranes around it and another building behind it going up. This week it is almost quiet but next week all hell will break lose again. On check in the receptionist proudly said “ah a pool view” and we thought wow. The room looks straight across at the building and you feel you could almost touch it. So from next week city view or nothing.

Given the cost of booze I booked a Club room here. They have a club lounge and free flow drinks 6 p.m. till 8 p.m. The plan was to drink heartily till eightish and then go out to eat thirst well quenched.  Looking at the price of a normal room we had to consume about £15 a night to make it up. An easy task I thought given the high prices.

Traders Club Lounge

This is part of the club area.

However I hadn’t really thought through a couple of key points. 1) that a few other like minded souls might have had the same clever idea and 2) that the Club also does food at that time and places it cunningly almost in front of the self service bar area

Traders Club Loube Bar

The jockeying for pole position as the bewitching hour approached in the club lounge should have worried  me more. It was a little like a sailing race start where you have to cross the line just as the gun sounds or you are either disqualified or at the back of the pack. Clearly others had been practicing their technique and timed their run to the food and booze better. We weren’t disqualified but we were way behind the others.

When I started as a sales Representative with British Airways my mentor told me the most dangerous time in the job was if you accidentally got between a group of travel agents and the free bar and buffet. You would he said be trampled to death.

Last night was as close as I have come to those days. The Chinese and Malays focused on the food and a large group of Brits on the booze. I am sorry to say the Brits would have given the Russians in Vietnam a good run for their money both in quantity drunk and their  physical size. It quickly became clear that the enjoyable part of the evening was not going to be trying to compete which was impossible but more watching the amazing amount of stuff being consumed and the tactics used to complete the task. Bottles of wine were going in just 3 glassfuls and the game was to get the staff to bring more to you not to others. Charm tactics for some, aggressively bashing the empty bottle on the door on the staff kitchen door for others. Bottles of gin, bottles of whiskey went like lightening followed by beer chasers, vodka shots and plate after plate of food. It was a feeding and drinking frenzy . We sat clutching our small Tiger beers lest someone thought they were spare and took them and watched in awe.

At two minutes to eight there was almost fighting as the final minutes ticked down till 6 staff fought their way out and emptied the fridges and shelves of what little remained. By 8.10 the place was empty and snores could be heard from the nearby rooms.

We went out to some stalls nearby to eat. I will talk more about the food in Penang which is superb on another post, last night 12 satay sticks for £1 followed by 2 huge plates o my favourite Penang food Kway Teow  ( a shrimp, egg, rice noodle and onion dish) for £2 and a large plate of spicy chicken legs for £1.30 filled us to the brim. Beer at the stalls is £3 for a large 660cl bottle so cheaper than K.L.

Here’s how to make Kway Teow

Colonial Relics

But first a tip to start the blog. We came in on the train from the airport for 70 ringits for 2  (£14 ) and then paid a cab 40 ringit ( £8) to drive us to the hotel. This morning flying on Air Asia from what they call the Low Cost Carrier Terminal which is on the other side of the airport we would have had the taxi then the train then the shuttle bus to the LCCT. Instead we got a limo no less to take us straight there from the hotel entrance for 100 ring its {20 pounds} and it took just 30 minutes

Last night we went to visit an American friend who vacations here for 3 months to avoid the Baltimore winter weather. He stays as a long term guest at The Renaissance Hotel and he gave us a tour of the hotel and it’s huge pool. It is really more like a resort than a city hotel.

We adjourned to the Club Lounge for a few drinks and chatted. As we chatted about travel and journeys he talked about travel in his grandparents day in the 1920’s and 1930’s and, being American, of the importance of ships and ships Captains. I had never really thought about it before but our friend told us how society weddings were planned not by the date the bride wanted to get married but when the married couple could sail to Europe on their honeymoon on their favourite ship and far more importantly with their favourite Captain. So if the ship and the Captain only came together in say November that year then that was when the wedding would take place. I remember reading that The White Star line moved Captain Smith to the Titanic because he was so popular with passengers despite some misgivings about his seamanship skills. With him on the maiden voyage the Company was assured that the most influential of rich society on both sides of the Atlantic would be onboard.

Before 9/11 quite a few airline Captains would saunter back to have a chat with the passengers but in the 1950’s and 1960’s as airline travel gathered pace it was de rigour for all Captains to spend plenty of time in the passenger cabin. Clearly a throw back to the old ship days. Indeed on my ship the Orcades we had a Staff Captain as well as a Captain whose job it was to spent most of his time with the passengers as so many of P&O’s Captains were ex cargo ships and had no time for what they called “human cargo ” quite often to their faces.

Anyway I digress from the relics ( Colonial not seaman). I went downtown to find the old buildings. There are quite a few. I chose to look at the Old Railway Station completed in 1910 and designed by A.B. Hubback. Surprising to me was that so many of the old Colonial buildings in Kuala Lumpur are designed to reflect the muslim style of architecture rather than the pomp and very Victorian style found in say India. It is rather nice that they felt sensitive enough to build in that style. The railway station from the outside is impossible to photograph now as there is a bloody great 4 lane motorway roaring past it’s front door but I borrowed this one from wikipedia

800px-Railway_station_KL_2007_010_pano

 

clearly it was taken before they built the motorway. Quite why after independence they built another at Sentral and gave up on this one I have no idea. The Sentral is just a concrete eyesore whereas this has character. It is an immense place and all the trains still stop here a few minutes after leaving Sentral. Go figure as the kids would say.

It is huge inside

IMG_0578

 

and keeps the theme in the ticket hall etc as well

Ticket Hall KL Old Train

 

From the station it was but a hop skip and a jump to the Central Market built in 1888  and still a market of sorts though catering to the tourist trade exclusively now

Central Mkt K.L.

 

I loved the inside so colourful and with amazing floors.

Central inside1

 

You can buy almost any tourist type tat here and I indulged with some over the top gaudy fridge magnets for the kitchen which I think I might have to battle to keep up there.

Around the corner from the market is Chinatown again an area the developers must be salivating about and tossing in huge bribes to knock down

Chinatown Street KL

 

Down one of the many small streets lined with these very colonial shop/house buildings Chinese New year was still in full flow

China Town KL

 

and round the corner the Temple was busy. The Chinese  seem to have a relaxed style to religion. Mercedes and Audis would pull up outside the entire load would run in, light a few incense sticks say a few words and 2 mins later were away off to make another fortune before dinner. Despite all the things the Malays have tried to do over the years including forcing companies to employ a minimum of 20 % of management  from the Malay population and taking almost all power away from the Chinese, they still run virtually everything in Malaysia.

Chinese Temple KL

 

this was the temple with a classic old Chinese guy outside straight from central casting.

Inside the incense was burning by the shed load.

Inside Chinese Temple KL

 

The multiculturalism of Malaysia was aptly demonstrated by the the Hindu Temple on the other side of the road

Hindu Temple KL

 

 

what I love to find is small alleyways where stalls cook food and serve beer a far cheaper prices than in swanky pubs and hotels . This Chinatown didn’t disappoint

IMG_0593

 

a large 660cl bottle of local beer was  20 ringit still a kings ransom for South East Asia at £4  or £3,60 a pint but way cheaper than in the hotel.

Of course the Club Lounge is even cheaper at The Renaissance as it is free flow on all drinks from 6p.m. till 9.30p.m. but you do need to be a Gold or better still a Platinum card holder with them to get in.

My American friend was telling me that he still has one of the sleeper suits that  British Airways gave out to First Class passengers. His was from the first flight to give this service and is still in it’s original wrapper. I was telling him that we looked at one stage to have a motif on the suit depicting the level the passenger was at in the Executive Club so others could recognise a Platinum holder from so the far more common silver or worse still a Blue which the wearer we hoped would be spurred on to increase his miles rather than appear for too long in the First Class cabin with his Blue motif. Perhaps wiser heads feared that the poor Blue fellow would switch to another carrier rather than be shown up. We shall never know.

The Reluctant Tourist

The trouble with being a tourist most of the time especially in the tropics is that you have to get out and about during the heat of the day. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun and all that.

I am probably more a beach tourist than a city tourist. A bed chair and a beach to explore is my idea of heaven . Pounding around hot city pavements is certainly not how I  like to spend my days. So writing this blog is actually good for me because I am forced to head out and see what is on offer when often I would just be looking for the closest happy hour deal to my hotel.

We flew on Malaysian Airlines yesterday from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur. I have a few air miles on British Airways and found when they changed them to Avios points that the airline had decided to close out Italy as a destination  which meant until this trip they were almost useless. However I hadn’t realised that Malaysian had joined One World nor that it is now dead easy to book other airlines on the BA site. So for 9,000 miles and £12 in taxes each we got Business Class tickets. Of course having just sat down and about to enjoy a large glass of wine  the curtain into Economy flew open and a lad of about 13 carried in a bawling 3 year old and dropped it on his parents lap who , as always just happened to be sitting in the seats just in front of us. He shouted a few choice words in Hindi which I took to mean the brats all yours and left. Clearly the parents had booked the 5 children in economy and they had revolted. The crew not seemingly wishing to make a scene allowed the wretched thing to stay and it cried all the way to Kuala Lumpur. Thank god I hadn’t paid the US$ 610 normal fare.

The fast train from the airport to downtown takes 28 minutes and costs about £7 each. Then a taxi to the G Tower Hotel was another £8 but looking at the map he took us around the loop motorway rather than the far quicker downtown route. Taxis the world over ……

The room at the G Tower is huge and the hotel also boasts a Bridge Bar on the 28th floor that links the two towers. Not a good place to have a beer for the agoraphobics  clearly. I plugged in the Apple and noticed a letter from the Management on the desk. It wasn’t one of those hello type letters. It was the one you dread the most and makes you realise why they were discounting the place. ” We regret to inform you …….. renovation works underway…. drilling and banging sounds………apologise for inconvenience…..don’t think you are getting a refund or discount….. ” etc etc.

Sure enough at 8 a.m. even though  it is Chinese New Year and there is little or no construction taking place in the entire city what sounded like a single workman hit a pipe every 3 seconds for an hour and then went home. Better than a breakfast gong I guess.

So at 10 a.m. we were ready for some sight seeing . First stop those pesky towers that featured in the Sean Connery film Entrapment. I got a shot

Petronas Towers K.L.

But they are so tall at 452 metres above the street they are very difficult to snap. The Towers are taller than our house is above sea level in the hills near Martina Franca . We are just 390 metres above sea level.

It costs £15 quid each to go up and so we gave it a miss. Why ? Well a pint of beer here is an head spinning £8 most of which is made up of tax. Welcome to another soon to be dry, Saudi backed, muslim country. So the choice was a ride up to see what we saw from the aircraft yesterday or 4 pints of beer tonight. No brainer of course.

The base of the towers boast a Marks and Spencer and this

Harrods in K.L.

Harrods cafe no less. I didn’t even stop to ask what their champagne price must be.

In the book I’m reading on Vietnam the author makes the point about the divergence of wants between the local people and the tourist. The locals, he says, are  desperate to move away from the very things the tourist comes to look at. It is true for Malaysia as well. The locals want a modern vibrant city with huge motorways and plush buildings like the Twin Towers. Not so the tourist. The number one tour in K.L. is The Heritage Tour which takes them around all the old colonial buildings that have survived for now the developers sledge hammers. So I went in search of it in the midday sun.

Driverless Tube

The local metro trains are driverless, the station concourse has no ticket offices just change machines and ticket points . The stations have no staff on them , no “mind the doors” nor “mind the gap” people and no guards on the train. So those of you reading this in London where there is a 48 hour strike by underground staff rejoice that sometime soon Bob Crow and his bunch of overpaid members will be gone, toast, history. I have seen the future and I hope Boris has too.

It is amazingly cheap as well (unlike beer) clearly the Saudis don’t mind trains. 25P for four stops. That’s what you get when you are not paying drivers and guards £60,000 a year each to do nothing. Mind you it probably helps to have the Saudis as your favourite uncle I guess. It is a really easy system and with most signs in English and automatic voice announcements for each up coming station, it almost impossible to go wrong.

I know what you’re thinking but no I didn’t go wrong and nor were there any screaming kids either. They luckily are all on holiday this week and spend their entire time at the huge amusement parks that dot the outskirts of this very modern city.

Did I find any colonial relics ? Well building wise yes I certainly did . However one of the few benefits of high booze prices and strict laws on prostitution is there are no old relics from Europe staggering around with desperately young girls on their arms and that has to be a good thing

More tomorrow on those relics ( buildings that is ) when we get to Penang.

Farewell Vietnam

Well after nine weeks we are heading off to Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur for a few nights to catch up with an old friend who winters there now.

The Tet New Year looks as if it is finally running down and things are getting back to normal. Last night as we wended our way back to the Continental they were busy taking away all the flower displays on the main drag and this morning it is a very busy road again. The benefit for the Continental is that all the traffic that was flowing past the hotel has gone back to using the big road again.

Like The Grand the Continental is owned by a State Organised Enterprise ( SOE) but unlike most hotels these two have no foreign ownership and it shows. Faded glory and somewhat surely staff. The hotels slogan is “Continental since 1880″ and we spent what passes for the breakfast service dreaming up more realistic slogans for them. ” Continental Uncleaned Since 1880″ or ” Continental Original Plumbing since 1880″ or ” Continental Unchanged Since 1880″ the list went on and on. I think a new Graham Greene would be hot footing it across the main road to The Rex Hotel today.

We were thinking of heading off to try The Rex Hotel roof bar. It was voted one of the top 20 bars by the New York Times last year. Luckily we sent a scout ahead to check it out and try a beer. He returned clasping the bill for his draught Tiger beer and looking somewhat shocked. 289,000 dong ( $14 or £8 ) . We adjourned to The Caravelle rooftop bar instead. They do a buy one get one free tiger beer offer from 4-8 p.m. each night and the glass size is half a litre. It works out with the free one at 60,000 dong each ( $3 or £1.70) so much better value. The view isn’t great these days as they have built and continue to build skyscrapers all around

Skyline From Caravelle Roof Bar

 

It is said that during the American War the savvy war correspondents could sit up on this roof bar and watch the fighting taking place outside of the city and as they chug a lugged down their expenses paid for scotch write gripping but fictitious stories of them in action at the front with the boys. It was certainly true during the Tet offence of 1968 as the Vietcong were in the city for 3 days.

I am now reading Vietnam- Rising Dragon by Bill Haydon which tells the story of Vietnam from the fall of Saigon to the present day. It is a fascinating read of how the Party has, to keep power, had to move ever more to a market led economy but how they have managed to keep not only control through the SOEs that they have allowed to have joint ventures with foreign companies but have also made themselves and their families incredibly rich . It is amazing having been to Cuba how here in a communist country there is no health service unless you pay, no education unless you pay and no help if you are unemployed.

The crunch says Haydon is fast coming when to introduce these measures the Party must tax its high ranking members and their thousands of relatives to pay for it.

Still we must say farewell now. Personally I think Vietnam is a place to visit and “do” in say 2 or 3 weeks from top to bottom and then move on. It is not a long stay place as there is no variety in the food and little else to see . A two week jaunt through might leave you wanting more but it is best to leave the beaches to the Russians and the towns to some rather sad expat retirees sitting in English or irish theme pubs telling you how wonderful it is to live here, how great the local food is as they order an hamburger egg and chips with lashings of HP sauce and how lovely the people are as they snuggle up to their 18 year old Vietnamese  “wife” .

Still we had some fun saw lots of places and drank plenty of beer. Last night is was time to say goodbye.

On The Caravelle Roof Saigon

 

Farewell Vietnam .

French Rules

We moved today from The Renaissance Hotel with it’s all American feel to it. The bathroom and all the bedroom fittings are imported from the USA to The Continental Hotel one of the grand dames of old Saigon. It was here that Graham Greene came each year in the early 50’s to write novels during the winter months. He occupied room 201 at the end of this corridor. We are five rooms down from his much larger suite.

I’m not sure how much has changed about the old girl since he was here during the last days of the French colonial war.

The Continenental Hotel Saigon

Like the Americans 10 years later, the French were fighting a war they couldn’t win because the mass of the people were against them . Almost nobody had wanted them back when they returned after the Japanese had tossed them aside in 1941. Certainly the doors and windows in this suite at the Continental look original

Room 206 Continental Hotel Saigon

That’s ours between the two trees that you can see clearly and we might as well sleep on the street for all the sound proofing that they offer. Luckily I’m not too worried about noise and hopefully most will stop around midnight . Graham Greene’s old place has been given new windows

IMG_0550

but that I suppose is because the cognoscenti who want to stay in it are happy to pay more. The rest can make do with what was there. Mind you many of Greene fans would probably want it as it was. He of course when the French left also decamped and headed like so many other writers to the Caribbean .

French rule was like that too. They did little if anything for the people in any of the countries they occupied. In Life Of Brian the Python team ask what the Romans have done for them and then slowly come up with a long list of benefits must to the annoyance of the rebel leader. No such list would exist for the former French colonies I fear.

In Kamm’s book Cambodia he describes their colonisation as ” of the most condescending and patronising kind.” Hardly any Cambodians were trained to perform any functions of authority. What was even worse was that they invested nothing in local education fearing that it would bring about ferment in the local populous. When the Japanese threw them out in 1941 there was just one High School educating just 537 students and only 22,280 attended just 192 state run primary schools.

Mind you the reverse is now happening as the Vietnamese busy themselves knocking down most of the old buildings  and throwing up new stuff full of glass and steel. This hotel is full of lovely old photos of Saigon in the 50’s and 60’s and the comparison is heart breaking.

I don’t often agree with Prince Charles but his views on architecture have a certain resonance with me. It always disappointed me that Germany managed to rebuild their city centres as they were before the Allied bombing but British councils chose to plough a different furrow and  ruined their own centres. One only has to go to Plymouth to see how badly wrong they got it.

Saigon is fast going that way and really all that is left are the grand dames hotels to remember the past and they are busy ruining those as well. The Grand now has a bloody great tower in the middle of it and the Majestic is about to go the same way.

At leaf this one whilst losing it’s rooftop still has it’s very French street terrace where one can sit and watch the world go by.

Outdoor Terrace Continental Siagon

The opera house is right across the road and alongside it is a delightful little park

Opera Hse Park by Continental

One can imagine one’s self sitting quietly in the shade reading a book while nearby through open doors the sound of opera practice floats out on the breeze.

Dream on. The gates are now locked and the only entrance and the pathway into it is now a motor bike park

Moto Parking Nr Continental

Ah the march of progress . Come see it before old Saigon disappears altogether. What would Graham Greene make of it all .

In his time during the French war the brave drank on the street where Vietcong could throw grenades from the back of cycle taxis and the cowards sat up on the roof. Now where would I have sat . answers on a postcard please.

Horsing Around

Well happy year of the horse. It arrived at midnight last night here in Vietnam and we had a front row seat.

Quite by chance we are staying at The Renaissance Hotel right on the river. only let me say  because they were doing great rates over the Tet holiday as normally this is a business hotel. It also boasts a rooftop swimming pool and river views.

Little did we know that in the field on the other side of the river from the hotel was where the fireworks to celebrate New year are launched.. It was almost in the room. The show lasted for 15 minutes but the build up in terms of the thousands upon thousands of motor bike riders pilling into the area to watch the fireworks started around 8 p.m. Roads were blocked as were pavements/motor bike parking areas. Walking became almost impossible and we retreated back into the hotel clutching a few supermarket beers.

At midnight all the ships on the river started to sound their hooters, fog horns and whistles and the field opposite erupted.

Fireworks Tet Saigon

The show had begun. This was right outside the room window.. The huge crowd in the streets around the hotel started to clap and shout

NEW Year Tet Siagon

and we started to oh and ah as well.

Great Firworks Tet Saigon

The moment the show was over everyone started the mad scrabble to get back to their bikes and head home to family and friends. I had constantly been told that most people leave Saigon for Tet but it looked last night that an equal number arrive into Saigon for the festival. They actually travel with their crash helmets on the train ready to either hop on the back of a friends bike when they arrive or take over a family bike from someone who has gone to the family home elsewhere.

Coming back it from Mui Ne before Christmas it was a little disconcerting to find so many people in the railway carriage wearing their crash helmets. It looked like they knew something about the ride we were about to embark on that we didn’t . How bad was this train going to be we wondered with so many people sitting with helmets on. It seemed an age till most took them off.

This morning it was the turn of dragons at breakfast as a troop of entertainers arrived to dance

Dragons Phnom Penh

They seemed to scare the children more than entertain them but the guests certainly enjoyed the spectical.

Dragon Dance Phnom Penh

you could even feed them apples off the table.

It was not a morning for an hangover though

Dragon Band

This guy could bash that drum like crazy and being an atrium the sound echoed and was amplified. It was deafening.

To round off the morning we had to go to Flower Street. It is in fact normally the main street in Saigon and is usually a 4 lane road that dissects the city. However the authorities close it off and put huge flower displays on it for Tet.

Of course the start has to feature the horse

Year Of The Horse Tet Saigon

 

It is an amazing show, flowers as far as the eye can see. Crowds of locals flock to it and have their photos taken, thousands and thousands of photos. Like the Japanese before them the Chinese and the Vietnamese seem to do nothing but take endless photos of each other and themselves. They pose like professional models and pout and preen with the best of them. The latest idea seems to be to jump in the air as the shoot is taken so all up the street all you can see is see people leaping . All very odd.

Colourful Saigon Tet

 

Of course they dress beautifully and add so much colour to the flowers

Flowers in  Saigon

 

Certainly a very different New Year. It is rather nice the flower tradition and the idea of peach tree blossom coming out on New Year’s Eve is quite special.

Still we quickly went back to being western and went to the pub to watch the rugby.