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.

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Dragons

Another thing Phan Thiet the local big town is famous for is it’s dragon fruit. It is grown all along the A1 road which was the one we came down on our epic drive here taking over 5 hours. The road is poor to say the least and in some spots it is almost non existent. Sitting in a car you are bounced around and everything begins to ache even your teeth from the incessant pounding you are taking. Most overtaking is done on the inside on the so  called hard shoulder which is actually a dusty track. It is exciting when buses do it to you. Blaring horns and then it comes thrashing past you on the inside leaving you in a cloud of dust.

What is funny is the fact that you go through toll stations on the way down here.I thought perhaps they were going to pay us for travelling on this makeshift piece of tarmac but no they wanted money for it.

Still towards the end of the A1 there certainly are plenty of dragon fruit farms and the farmers set up stalls to sell some of the produce.

It is a staple at breakfast at the Villa Aria each morning

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It’s the one in front that looks like ants are crawling on it ( those are the pips ).

When you read the guide books they make it sound  very much like it is a Vietnam fruit born and bred and that it was used in the past for ancestral rituals. Only recently has it moved into full production as a fruit.

However some simple research on Goggle reveals it is a fruit called Pitaya and is actually part of the cactus family.

It comes originally from Mexico and the Europeans bought it back to Europe with them along with chilli  tobacco and potatoes.

Europeans then took the fruit on to South East Asia to try growing it out there. Interestingly the fruit only flowers at night so has to rely on moths and bats to pollinate it. How about that.

It is very easy to grow once you have one and any part of an old  root planted takes in the soil very quickly. It will take some frost though maybe not the frosts in Martina Franca and being a cactus it doesn’t like lots of water. Rainfall around this region of Vietnam is about 1500 mm each year which strangely enough is only a couple of hundred mm over the rainfall in Martina Franca and this is considered a monsoonal climate.

Actually the fruit doesn’t really taste of much which is why you put it with others on a plate.

I have however found an excellent use for it as it makes a very fine cocktail mixed with vodka to have by the pool at lunchtime. Here’s mine

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The Vietnamese also make their own vodka called Hanoi Vodka though I am told it is very difficult to find it up there for some reason. Here it is on sale at every corner shop and costs about £1.70 for a 750ml bottle. If you’re a bit wary of local vodka though it tastes fine Smirnoff is about £6 a bottle but check the seal is intact.

Busy day today blog wise. i did one for Here in Puglia so if you have time check it out. The reason was that the weather has changed over the last few days and we have had 3 days of cloud. Hopefully things ail pick up again soon.

Changing my Book

In the 1970’s in my youth the parties I went to were all bring a bottle. The game was to find a pretty revolting bottle of plonk which wasn’t hard to do in the 70’s and take that for the host to place on the table or sideboard where the drinks were, whilst at the same time hiding a bottle of something more drinkable for one’s own consumption.

The host at the end of the party would find a bottle that even the drunkest person had not risked drinking and take that to the next party they were invited to .

Hirondelle I remember was a particular wine of choice to be displayed as your contribution. They did a red and white version each equally obnoxious. For some reason they initially said the wine came from Austria but once a newspaper revealed that their sales were larger than the total production of Austria they came clean and said the wines came from Cyprus and many Eastern European countries and were blended in the UK . As some one that has lived in Cyprus I can certainly attest to Cypriot wines being particularly loathsome. Blue Nun was another favourite being cheap and sickly sweet . Mateus Rose was always much in evidence and was another wine supposedly from Portugal but the consumption far exceeded the production on the Mateus estate. I had my own killer wine that I bought from a small wine merchant near South Ken tube station. It was Moroccan with an unpronounceable name that probably meant camel dung but sold for about 20p in new money a bottle. A fun game was to see when a bottle you had taken to a party turned up back at one of your own your parties and the Moroccan was easy to recognise.

Books left in hotels are a little like that I think. Despite the advent of the wonderful Kindle people still carry books and once read off load them by leaving them in hotels. All hotels now seem to have an area where you can place them and The Villa Aria is no exception

Library Mui Ne

 

 

What I find myself doing despite having a Kindle full of books is picking up one or two and quite often carrying them on to the next hotel where I then dump them and pick up another few and so on like the wine of my youth. The books even if you don’t bother reading them are great for reserving bed chairs by the pool anyway.

The Germans looking at the titles seem always to be the most generous in leaving books for others to enjoy or maybe they just buy more awful books that they can’t wait to offload. The Brits clearly read lots and are always in second place. Given the massive percentage of Russians here you would expect to find huge numbers of books filling these shelves but there isn’t a single one. Mind you come to think of it I haven’t seen a single Russian here reading a book . In fact they don’t seem to read anything at all except menus.

Disappointingly our group of 10 Russian male weightlifters and female shot putters returned to the hotel yesterday and are back at the poolside scaring the rest of the guests and playing havoc with the infinity pool water level. They have however realised that buying their booze for drinks from 09.30 onwards each day is cheaper in the supermarket than at the hotel bar so they stagger in with colossal loads of it each morning.  With true Russian nerve they then take their bottles up to the bar to have the girl open them.

Breakfast for them is a silent affair. Not a word is uttered while they gorge themselves on plate after plate of buffet food. It is clearly a serious business as they won’t be eating again for 3 hours.

I remember a friend of mine joining his first Royal Naval ship in dock in Portsmouth . In the morning he made his way to the wardroom for breakfast and was somewhat dismayed to find the Captain sitting at the head of the table with another senior officer. Good morning  he said trying to sound relaxed. The Captain looked up from his paper and said rapidly 7 good mornings and then glaring at the Midshipman said that’s covers the week now shut up. Breakfast in the Royal Navy is a silent affair he discovered .

Moscow Rules

But before we deal with George Smiley and his rules just to let you into some rules for crossing the road in Saigon. I was introduced to it yesterday morning when I had to buy a sim card for Vietnam and the seller was on the other side of the street.

Saigon is the motor bike capital of the world given the number on the streets each day

Starters orders Saigon

At this traffic light they stretch back as far as the eye can see and when the lights change they almost fill the road

there off in Saigon

Crossing the road is how you might imagine trying to cross the Aintree race track when the Grand national is being run and the horses are pounding towards you like a cavalry charge.

But their are rules it seems. The main one is to keep moving at all times in a forward motion. The riders all see you and assume that you will keep walking and therefore plan to either pass in front of you or behind you. Don’t ever stop moving just keep walking and they will avoid you. Stop and there is confusion but they maybe miss you. Go back and you will be hit by one of the ones slipping behind you inches from your backside.

It is exciting stuff and you feel like you have a swarm of wasps all around you but you just keep walking slowly but purposely forward and you do get away with it.

We left Saigon at 11 a.m. to drive the 187 kilometres to Mui Ne . You can get a car which we did or take one of the luxury buses or catch the train. The buses take about 5-6 hours and a car between 4-5 hours depending on the traffic. On a Friday the traffic was bad and we took 5 hours. Most of that was getting out of Saigon and then passing the endless stream of container lorries. There is nothing attractive about the drive until about the final hour. Watching the buses overtaking lorries made me quite pleased that our driver was pedestrian.

Mui Ne is how I would have imagined a Black Sea resort to be at the height of the cold war. The tourist mix is 90% Russian, 4% French, 3% Dutch , 2% German and 1% others including Aussies and Brits. For obvious reasons given the state of the England Cricket team Down Under I avoid any contact with the Aussies.

A Brit in Chiang Mai described the typical Russian tour group. There is the big guy both in weight and stature with an equally large wife and around him are a group of heavies and their equally large wives. Then somewhere down the strip in another hotel are about 5 young girls who are the mistresses and get visited during the stay by the big guy and his heavies.

We have that very situation here at the Villa Aria . There is the big guy and what he says goes. When he signals lunch they all get up when he goes to swim, they all go to swim, when he wants a drink they’ll all have a drink. It is super to watch and one feels almost part of a John Le Carre novel as one watches it all happen. As you walk the beach you see other groups with the same make up of people as well as now quite a few couples who are much younger and so maybe the way they travel is changing slowly.

The beach is huge this is the view looking north

Mui Ne Looking North

and this is the view south from the hotelMui Ne Beach Looking South

I keep thinking that i should start another blog called View From My Breakfast Table as there are now lots of that type of blog springing up where people pro actively share their photos ion one particular subject. A really fast growing one is my feet where people share photos of their feet in strange places or just while sitting at home.

I normally share a photo on this blog with a view from the breakfast table at the different hotels and at the Villa Aria this was the view this morning from our table

Breakfast Table View

It’s a boutique hotel tucked in amongst some much larger hotels and prides itself on it’s green credentials.. Lots of natural stuff like shampoo and the like and the breakfast offers strange juices rather than the old staple Orange Juice. This morning i slurped down cucumber juice with just a soupçon of Dragon plant juice. Actually it was very refreshing.

Another blog to start might be View From My Bed Chair

Bed Chair View

We are elevated up above the beach lying on our chairs soaking up the rays . Sadly the hotel even though boutiquey doesn’t have enough bed chairs for the number of guests so there is still some hassle in the morning as towels are laid out with books etc and one has to get up earlier and earlier it seems. It doesn’t help the the big boy and his team like to sun bathe for an hour then sit in the shade so are moving around the pool like it was a game of musical chairs.