Posted by: travelrat | March 31, 2020

Mekong Delta

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Mekong Delta: 15th November 2019.

I can’t remember the name of the film, but, for years, the words ‘Mekong Delta Cruise’ conjured up visions of snurching up the river in an airboat, to the tune of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, with a heavy-calibre machine gun mounted up front.

I’m happy to report it’s not like that at all!

We arrived at the river … or, actually, one of the several waterways joining the arms of the delta, and boarded a pirogue. This seated four people, and was propelled by an oarsman in the stern. He propelled us along a quiet, peaceful backwater, until, after a short distance, we transferred to a larger boat. This motor vessel sailed us further up the river to a riverside restaurant, where we were to have lunch.

And, as we sailed, a lovely lady chopped the top off coconuts for us, so we could have a drink.

Mekong 2

After lunch, we reboarded the boat, which took us back to the bus. The journey this time was broken by a visit to a busy indoor market. It covered a vast area, but the sort of place where you didn’t need to go looking for what you needed.

It would come and find you … often, whether you needed it or not!

Posted by: travelrat | March 29, 2020

Endeavour

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Endeavour

Peter Moore

Chatto & Windus

If I ever took part in the BBC’s Mastermind quiz, my ‘specialised subject’ would probably be James Cook. Although I suspect that someone else has chosen him long ago. So, when this book came out, I pounced on it eagerly.

But, it’s not all about Cook; it’s about the first of his ships, and his voyage is only a part of Endeavour’s story. The story starts with an acorn, from which grew the oak from which the Earl of Pembroke was constructed. That was the original name of Endeavour; a Whitby-built collier, whose main business was carrying coal around the North Sea.

She was re-named when she was bought into the Royal Navy, and sailed to the Pacific under Lieutenant James Cook, to observe an astronomical phenomenon called the Transit of Venus.

‘And, while you’re about it’ Their Lordships might have said ‘You might go and see if there’s anything in this ‘Great Southern Continent’ malarkey!’

Of course, Cook didn’t actually ‘discover’ New Zealand or Australia. He did, however, establish that New Zealand was two islands, not a peninsula of the fabled GSC, and accurately chart its coastline, and that of much of the eastern coast of Australia.

After this famous voyage, Cook went on to command Resolution, and Endeavour was sold into private ownership, and renamed Lord Sandwich, to serve first as a supply ship and then as a prison hulk. She met her end by being ignominiously scuttled off Nantucket, as a harbour defence during the War of Independence.

Endeavour’s story involves much of the history, politics and personalities of the time, and this book gives a fair insight into them. And, much of it witnessed by a small collier brig from Whitby … if only it could talk.

Posted by: travelrat | March 26, 2020

St Christopher

St Christopher

You may be familiar with the Chinese curse ‘May you live in interesting times’, and, at the moment, the times are certainly interesting, to say the least.

A lot of folk on social media have asked what a travel blogger does when there isn’t more travelling. Indeed, some bloggers have asked if maybe they should discontinue for a while.

It’s a matter of personal opinion, of course, but my answer would be … keep on blogging. I still have a lot of stuff about South-East Asia to share, which, hopefully, will last until we can go somewhere further than the local supermarket again.

On Twitter, I’m posting a Daily Travel Pic, from the archives, to show there’s still a world out there, waiting for us when all this is over. And, I’m going to repeat the exercise here, with a Weekly Travel Pic.

This week, I’ve chosen one from just about the furthest south we’ve ever been. This is Ushuaia, in Argentina, and the St Christopher, which, many years ago, was damaged, and abandoned here, where it remains as an almost permanent landmark.

Posted by: travelrat | March 24, 2020

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Saigon Sunrise

Saigon: 15th November 2019.

We woke up in Saigon at ‘silly o’clock’. Before anyone jumps in and tells me ‘It’s called Ho Chi Minh City nowadays’, the downtown area/old city is still called Saigon, and our hotel was just on the edge of it.

Today’s excursion would be a cruise on the fabled Mekong Delta, which is a lot further away from the city than I imagined it would be, The long bus-ride down was broken up by a visit to the bustling Chinatown, with a call at a less bustling Chinese temple.

I’ve said before that, although I’m not a Buddhist, or know much about Buddhism, I’ve always found their temples places of quiet, of relaxation and contemplation. I hope the accompanying slide show will convey what I mean.

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Posted by: travelrat | March 22, 2020

Handshakes and Hugs

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At the moment, we are, due to Covid 19, advised to keep bodily contact to a minimum. This is nothing new. Just before I went to Spain in 2009, Spanish people were advised, because of the swine flu outbreak, were advised to greet their friends with a handshake, rather than the traditional dos besos (two kisses). However, the Spanish people in our party didn’t seem to be taking much notice, and, as far as I know, nobody went down with swine flu.

However, when the latest variety arrived, we were advised to avoid even the handshake, and some people have been trying to come up with an alternative; the most popular at the moment seems to be the ‘elbow bump’.

Other alternatives have been suggested; some say we should greet each other with the ‘Vulcan Salute’. I favour the Indian style namaste … it’s used in other South East Asian countries as well .. although we were told NOT to do it in Vietnam.

Most people say the origin of the handshake was to demonstrate to the person you were approaching that you didn’t have a weapon to hand, and didn’t intend them harm. Scouts offer their left hand, as a symbol of trust … I believe this practice came from Africa, via Lord Baden Powell.

The military salute has similar origins … it was mainly to demonstrate to the officer that you were unarmed, and its secondary purpose was originally raising your visor so he could recognise you. If you were armed, you indicated your weapon with a ‘butt salute’ … although, nowadays, the term has a totally different meaning. ‘Presenting Arms’ signified offering your weapon for the officer to inspect.

In ancient times (or maybe just in Hollywood??) a standard greeting was raise the clenched fist of the right hand across the chest. Or, there’s the ‘Roman Salute’; although these days, it’s known as the ‘Hitler Salute’, so it’s probably best not to go there!

Posted by: travelrat | March 18, 2020

Don’t Talk About the War!

Co Chi 1

Ho Chi Minh City: 14th November 2019.

On our first day in Vietnam, I decided it probably wasn’t a good thing to mention the conflicts of the 60s and 70s, lest I stir up some unpleasant memories. But, straight away, Tran, our new guide, took us to sites connected with it; he proudly told us his father and uncle had fought for the Viet Cong.

If nothing else, it reinforced the saying that history is propaganda written by the winning side.

We started with a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an underground complex in an important Viet Cong stronghold. I didn’t go into the tunnels themselves; I didn’t think I could do the necessary contortions. But, there was a pretty fair presentation above ground. One guy was making ‘Ho Chi Minh’ sandals from an old tyre, which he was selling for four dollars each … and, if you bought one, you got one free! They also displayed some pretty fiendish booby traps, designed to do harm to any unsuspecting GIs who came upon them. I felt sorry for these poor guys; usually green conscripts, who had been thrust into the unknown with minimal training.

Cu Chi 2

There were many displays and dioramas, as well as examples of stuff they had captured. We even sat down at a long table, and sampled the kind of basic, locally produced food they ate.

My sympathies switched entirely to the Vietnamese at our next call. At the ‘War Remnants Museum’, they displayed harrowing reminders of the conflict. Displays of artefacts and photographs told the story from the Vietnamese side, and the Americans didn’t come out of it very well at all.

Posted by: travelrat | March 15, 2020

Coronavirus

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I thought that, in the midst of all the gloom, doom and negativaty that’s going around at the moment, I’d post a Happy Picture

I wasn’t going to write anything about this subject, because I am in no way qualified to really comment on it. My highest ‘medical qualification’ is a First Aid at Work Certificate I gained sometime in the 1980s. Also, I have no wish to pass on some of the hysteria, half-truths, and downright false information that’s being circulated on both mainstream and social media.

In fact, I’m suspicious about anything that isn’t written by someone with the honorifics ‘Doctor’ or ‘Professor’ before their name!

But, I can write about how it affects travel plans … although even that’s changing by the hour. What I’d advise is … if you hadn’t any plans, don’t make any just yet. But, if you already have something booked, that’s a different matter. If you decide to cancel a booked trip because of misgivings about coronavirus, the chances are you won’t get back any money you have paid out, unless the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (or equivalent where you live) has issued advice not to go there … or if, indeed, your destination has ‘closed its doors’, as some countries have.

You’re in the best case if you’ve booked a package, with ATOL protection, as we have. That way, if the operator cancels for any reason, you should receive a full refund.

So, although it could change, our May trip to Borneo is still on. In the event it doesn’t happen, we shan’t lose out … we’ll just formulate a ‘Plan B’ closer to the time. Maybe we’ll postpone the trip; maybe we’ll go somewhere else.

It should be considered, though, whether ‘go somewhere else’ is the best advice. A leading newspaper recently published an article ‘Ten Destinations That Aren’t Affected By Coronavirus’. That, I considered irresponsible, and should maybe have read ‘Ten Places You Can Go And Spread Coronavirus’.

(This was the same newspaper that, a couple of days ago, a joker in a supermarket took a stack of, and placed in the empty toilet paper rack!)

Just as long as something happens before I run out of things about Vietnam to post about, or otherwise, after 12 years, I shall finally run out of ‘blogunition!’

Posted by: travelrat | March 11, 2020

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh Pictures

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Phnom Penh: 13th November 2019,

I could happily have spent all day exploring the Royal Palace, and learning more about it but, sadly, we didn’t have all day. So, really, I was just able to write a couple of short paragraphs about it.

We can’t leave Cambodia without a closer look at it, though, so, rather than write a scholarly screed about Cambodian history and architecture, I’ll just show some pictures.

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Posted by: travelrat | March 8, 2020

Mainly Cutlery

While doing my research for the upcoming trip to Borneo, my attention turned to what I called the basics … like, which side of the road they drive on?; what kind of power points do they use? And, so on … If the guide book doesn’t give the answer … and I’ve seen a few that don’t give what I regard as trivial, but essential information … then a quick search of the web will usually provide the information you need.

Except one item. I wanted to know what was the preferred eating implement of choice in Borneo? Chopsticks or knives and forks? No-one seemed to know. Even Sally, who lived in Malaysia for many years, said:

‘I don’t know about Borneo, but on mainland Malaysia, it depends on your ethnic origins, and the type of food you’re eating. We’re ethnic Chinese and we mostly eat Chinese food with chopsticks. But, other foods, we used a knife and fork’.

I suppose I could adopt the military habit of always carrying my ‘fighting irons’, ‘gobbling rods’ or ‘KFS’ (Knife, fork and spoon) in the event of the opportunity of any ‘scran’  presenting itself. I often used to do this while flying, because I always found the plastic ones a bit too fiddly. That, of course, was before such things were banned, in case I used them to take over the aircraft.

However, a recent article in a travel magazine suggested taking a bamboo ‘spork’ … that is, a cross between a spoon and a fork. That, it was suggested, might prevent all that nasty plastic polluting the environment. Good thought, but I can’t really see it happening. I’m pretty sure that plastic cutlery goes into the trash anyway … whether you use it or not.

But, maybe the airlines will eventually start handing out bamboo cutlery with their meals?

Posted by: travelrat | March 4, 2020

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Royal Palace 1

Phnom Penh/Ho Chi Minh City: 13th November 2019

Today was a much better day. First, we were taken to the National Museum. I know museums aren’t everyone’s thing, but you’ll often learn more about the country’s history, culture and wildlife than you’ll glean from the Tourist Information Centre.

The Royal Palace was an ornate delight. It was raining when we got there, but we thought: not to worry; at least, we shall be inside. Wrong! The Palace isn’t just one building, as we understand it in Europe. It’s a complex, somewhat reminiscent of the Forbidden City in Beijing ,,, but not as grand. Quite!

This is somewhere you could walk for a long time, just admiring the architecture. Alas, we didn’t have a long time. We had a flight to catch.

That flight took us into Vietnam, and we noticed the contrast to adjoining Cambodia straight away. No tuk-tuks, for one thing, although it seems that every citizen has a scooter. You still take your life in your hands every time you cross the road. I noted, too, that all the signs are in Roman script … which would make them easier to read, if you understood Vietnamese!

Almost the first thing our new guide told us … Saigon is still Saigon, and refers to the ‘old city’, or the downtown area. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC for short) is the conurbation that developed around it after the Vietnam War.

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