Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok

In my haste to book our cruise I guess I didn't do as much research as I should have done. I jokingly referred to this as being a Ryanair cruise because some of the ports of call were a long way away from were the boat was docking. Beijing was several hours from Tianjin by coach but it didn't matter as we had flown in to Beijing, had we had a day visit on a cruise ship we may well have thought differently. Our next two ports fell very much in to this category.
Firstly, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Well those of us around in the 70's have vivid memories of the images of the Vietnam war. Names of places like the Mekong Delta firmly imprinted on the brain. We all heard about the Vietcong tunnel network.
Our ship docked in Phu My which was a 3 hour drive away from some of these places and we were only in port for one day. Much though we would like to see them, we decided it was too much time spent travelling and research on TripAdvisor suggested that was the right decision. Instead I used the web site "Cruise Critic" joined their "roll call" for our cruise and made contact with two other couples who were happy to contribute to the cost of a private tour which came in at a less expensive price than the £100 per couple on the official trips tour to the same place Vung Tau, a local seaside resort some 30 minutes drive away. Once again, the benefit of a small group and personal attention worth more than the savings made on paper.
On the one side of the port it was open water and beyond a huge mangrove swamp by the looks of things.
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The ship offered a shuttle bus away from the port as there was no way you could leave the port on foot as it was too industrialised. 
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Once you had gone beyond the dock gates you could see much of the surrounding land was marsh land and I'm sure a haven for wildlife. Stopping wasn't on the agenda and we met our tour vehicle at the drop off point, a village were the main attraction was the large Co-op store.
We were soon on our way to Vung Tau and the first stop was the beach
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Pleasant enough but my thoughts were if this is a highlight there can't be too much to see. 
In actual fact we had a very pleasant tour around. A climb up to the top of a pretty steep hill to the foot of a giant statue of Jesus was next on the agenda,
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If you look carefully you can just see some people stood on his shoulder which gives an impression of just how big it was.
Next was a visit to a Buddhist temple followed by another hill and a light house, then a market, a Whale temple and the bones being holy relic.
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I didn't like asking how or where the whale was acquired but similar temples are fairly common place I think.
One interesting observation was a passing hearse.
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Very brightly decorated and again, look carefully and you will see paper in the road. They throw out counterfeit currency as an offering as they drive around the place.
A visit to the fishing part of the beach and another observation was that the boat is powered by foot not hand.
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Why the other is wearing an helmet I can't explain !
We even stopped off for a chance to try fresh coconut, one I passed on as to me it was one of life's biggest disappointments when I tried it in India several years ago.
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Try though I did, my objective of getting at least one bird in every port was a failure. I did snap a feral pigeon but I won't include that and I did have a go at some Swifts but my lens was too short for a positive ID so Vietnam is a blank. No trip photos  at all. How poor is that !
We did however finish the day with a superb lunch cooked in a local home. The home was a simple affair and we sat out in the covered porch. Typical Vietnamese food which was simple but very, very delicious. 
A grand day out !
Next stop would be Bangkok and again we judged it too far to bother travelling to. Instead we took the offered low priced shuttle bus to nearby Pattaya.
I am glad I went specifically to make a note never to return ! This sign says it all to me :-
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There's a spelling mistake though, substitute the "B" in Bad and replace it with "S".
This place is a total dump and if I had arrived for a two week holiday I would have burst out crying ! This is everything I despise.
A crowded beach with no room to move ( the food looked good though!)
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The beautiful people
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Despite it being relatively early morning the hookers were out although the bars pretty deserted.
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One or two people having a coffee
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But the standards of cleanliness revealed by daylight left a lot to be desired.
The far end of the beach towards the boat park was a refuse tip.
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Strangely enough though, right in the midst of all this squalor I found a little oasis of trees that gave me Jungle and Common Mynah
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Ashy Wood Swallow and two lifers, Peaceful Dove
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and Pied Fantail.
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Maybe out of town there was more to see, but we had already had enough. We headed back to the ship for a late lunch and enjoyed the luxury of having the whole back deck to ourselves again.
Pattaya is very much on the tourist trail. There are some expensive looking hotels there but it's not my cup of tea. Full of seedy bars, tattoo parlours and clubs all looking pretty filthy. I reckon you could catch quite a variety of things here and many probably do.
I shall never return that's for sure.
Next stop, the cruise end and Singapore.

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