Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

South Africa - Bushy, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Fred and I are back home in Amsterdam now, having flown from Robin Hood - Doncaster-Sheffield-Nottingham airport, which is in fact, in the countryside just out past the racecourse in Doncaster. We have had a busy but enjoyable time in England, the last couple of days with Diana and the family in Sheffield, before than a night at my Dad's on The Wirral and before tha a night at Philip's in Gloucestershire. It was very nice seeing everyone and it was just a pity that Fred has not been feeling too well.

A year ago, we were in Zululand in South Africa, driving in our rented Kia from Eshowe to Insinkwe, having a puncture on the wya, which we just managed to fix before evrything shut down for New Year. We made it to Isinkwe, a bush camp near the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi National Park in good time to settle in before the New Year celebrations started by the pool. We had been told to be there by 7'ish as this was the time the local resident bushbaby might come down to feed on the fruit left out for him and , sure enough, he turned up!

No bush babies this evening, I expect, as we go to see in the New Year at Henk's, next door. Nice to stay local and greet all the neighbours outside shortly after midnight. There is a rope across the street so we can expect the bangers to go off and already it sounds like Beirut outside with all the fireworks going off.

So, like last year, this leaves us wishing you all....

Lieve allemaal,
We wensen jullie een prettige jaarwisseling en een Gelukkig en Gezond Nieuwjaar.

Liefs, Fred en Charles

Dear all,
We wish you a Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.

Love, Fred and Charles

Liebe Freunde,
Wir wunschen euch alle ein guter Silvesterabend und ein Guttes und Gesundes 2007.

Liebe Grusse von Fred und Charles

Cari amici,
Sinceri auguri per un felice buon anno!

Saluti, Fred e Charles


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Twins in Durban

Twins (d)Urban, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we were a year ago, on the streets of Durban in South Africa, having experienced a 24 hour journey in the front of the top of a bus which had no air conditioning, sitting in front of a whole family with bronchial coughs. Maybe not the bestjourney we had in Africa but it had its rewarsd in the tremendous scenery we passed, notably as we skirted around the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

Anyway, these two women seem to be very interested in the Sale going on, just like their counterparts in England it would seem. The news was reporting this mornig how people had ben camping outside certain (out-of-town) shopping centres in oredr to get various bargains on offer, with some shops opening their doors at 5 am. Apparently the so-called high street shopping (carried out all to often in out-of-town shopping centres) has seen a slump in sales, despoite the generally buoyant consumer economy this year, so they are hoping to catch up in teh sales. Well, maybe someone should point out to them that maybe people are fed up of continually buying more and more and maybe it is cheaper to buy one's books and other media from web-sites like (with free delivery).

Today, we had a much more mundane journey, first being given a lift by Mum to Taunton to pick up a hire car. Interestingly enough, the news this morning was full of reports of Taunton being closed to traffic due to a fire and an explosion during the night. Typical, we thought, the first time in ten years that we want to go to Taunton and it is closed off! As it happened by the time we arrived there, the town had been re-opened and it was time to say goodbye to Mum, Fiona and Thomas, the latter two whom we will see later in the week at Diana's, all being well. A big thanks to Mum and Nick for giving us a nice Christmas, yet again. Looking forward to seeing you in Amsterdam some time in the New Year.

It was a drive up the M5 to get to Stroud where my friend Philip lives and with whom we will be spending the night. Philip is the Green Party member of Stroud District Council, having been elected earlier in the year. I would like to very much recommend the excellent blog he maintains being, which is concerned mostly local issues as well as some more general/wider ones.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a holiday in the UK and most of the Anglo-Saxon world, being the day after Christmas, also known at St Stepehen's Day. The origin of the name is disputed but seems to have something to do with handing out of boxes of presents from the lords of the manors to the serfs.

Today, it is known as a sporting day, with some major race meetings taking place, a full programme of football and the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne (in which England have failed again dismally, but well done that man Shane Warne, captain of Hampshire Cricket Club, on getting his 700th wicket amongst the ifve he took today).

It is also a day for fox hunting and all the major hunts will have met up today and ridden off into the countryside with their hounds. By law, they are not actually supposed to be meaning to hunt foxes, despite the fact that hounds are trained to sniff out a fox and follow its trail. No, but if the hunt should happen to come across a fox, they ARE allowed to follow the fox and, basically hunt it to its death. This nonsense law was passed by the British Parliamnet two years ago after very many hours of Parliamentary debate. It was felt that Labour Party supporters had very fixed and negative ideas about fox hunting and that the Government should do something to meet their concerns. So they spent inordinate amounts of time trying to passs a Bill, which was meeting opposition from the House of Lords (unsurprisingly enough). Indeed so much time that there was so little time left to debate Britain's entry into a war in Iraq. Despite this being a much more important issue than fox hunting, the matter was given very little time in Parliament. Someone accused Tony Blair of being a genius ot have arranged it this way.

My view is and was that fox hunting should be left to the country people as a traditional pastime and large employer in the countryside and that we should not have invaded Iraq alongside the Americans. Mind you, while I was happy enough to enjoy the specatcle of the hunt meet this morning, I would not have enjoyed the business end of the hunt, just as I enjoyed the roast beef we had last night, regardless of what had happened earlier in the abbatoir.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas bells

Christmas bells, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

In the meantime, we are enjoying a very nice Christmas here in Crewkerne and it seems we are about to eat... roast beef and yorkshire pud!

Merry Christmas.


Ethiopians attack Somali airports

Ladies posing, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

According to the BBC

Ethiopian jets have bombed two airports in Somalia in a widening operation against an Islamic militia group.
Jets hit the international airport in the capital, Mogadishu, and another at Balidogle, in the south of the country.

So the war has started in earnest, no doubt pushed on by the US, wanting to open up yet another flank on their war on terror. Again, an Ethiopian governement which is widely hated by its people and whose democratic and human rights credentials are almost the lowest of the low. Hypocrisy? Yes, as always and again the Somali people are suffering.

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Flooding in Malaysia

This was the scene in Port Dickson in the state of Negeri Sembilan where we were just over a week ago, with a grey threatening sky. Now it turns out that southern Malaysia has had the worst rains in a century, six people have died and 60,000 displaced as a result. Th erains have hit Sumatra as well, with eighty people dead, just two yeras after the tsunami. Our thoughts are with them this Christmas.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Merry Christmas to all

Red roses, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

As a happy and proud atheist, I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Fred and I made it over to England yesterday, suffering only a two hour delay due to fog the previous day which had left most of the flybe fleet in the wrong place at the start of what is one of the busiest days in the air of the year. We were met by Mum who took us back to Crewkerne in Somerset where we were in time to watch the Grand Final of Strictly Come Dancing.

Fred had been keeping me up-to-date with all the comings and goings on the show while I had bene away and our two favourites Matt and Mark were, rightly enough, in the final. Matt better at ballroom and Mark better at Latin American. It was billed as being the closest final they had had but in all honesty, Mark Ramprakash had a much higher entertainment value with his hip gyrations during two amazing dances he performed out of the five and it was quite right that he was voted winner.

Today, a low-key Christmas Eve, starting off in Woolworths finishing the Christmas shopping, going out for a drink in the pub at lunchtime, with lobster flavoured and lemon and chili flavoured crisps as snacks, each packet costing as much as a plate of something delicious in Hanoi or Battambang. Battambang was in the news, well Hello Magazine, as it is in Battambang Province that Angelina Jolie had had a house built. She had just taken Brad Pitt and their three children there to look at the work being done by her foundation in helping a community up in the north-west. Good for them, helping putting Cambodia on the map and highlighting the continued problems of landmines there.

We are now waiting for my sister Fiona and her son Thomas to turn up and by the smell of it, Mum has another delicious dinner waiting for us.

In the meantime, an e-mail form Richard tells us that he arrived back in Nagaland safe and sound albeit with one or two problems on his flights back.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Sun rising over Angkor Wat

The days are getting longer already, at least here in the northern hemisphere. Always a good thing to remember as we descend into the depths of winter, not that we get to see much winter in these days of global warming.

There IS a big fog over England at the moment and all number of flights have been cancelled. I was at the travel agents this afternoon to wish them a Happy Christmas and they were teling me that there is chaos everywhere at the moment, especially to Bangkok since Cathay Pacific cancelled two jumbo jets there just this week.

We have a Flybe flight to Exeter tomorrow, one of the first to take this route which has just opened, all part of the British government's scheme to promote regional airports, at exactly the same time they are supposedly trying to push the climate change agenda at international meetings. A bit like me, in fact, supposedly concerned about the environmnet but unable to suppress my desire for air travel.

And this is something to think about when wandering around Angkor Wat, seeing people from all over the globe who have come there, almost every single one coming by plane. Angkor Wat is Cambodia's most important tourist attraction by far and tourism is one of the biggest sources of foreign exchange. Increase the excise and taxes on aircraft fule to where they 'should' be and you deal a mighty blow to the Cambodian tourist industry at the same time that the liberalisation of world trade is enabling Hong Kong, Taiwanese and wastern companies operating in special trade (tax-free) zones in China to undercut the Cambodian clothes and garments industry.

On a lighter note, just to say that my uncle and aunty are now in Siem Reap, to celebrate my uncle's birthday tomorrow, so Happy Birthday and we hope you are having a lovely time over there.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ethiopia at war with Somalia

Posing, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here are a bunch of 'Ethiopians' from Jigjiga, albeit they are Somali people, living in what is land assigned to Ethiopia by the British over a century ago, namely the Ogaden.

Somehow, their Ethiopian government, which managed to stay in power by cheating last year, has decided that it can save Somalia from the grip of the Islamists of the UIC and have sent their troops into Somalia. They have also lobbied, together with their friends in the US, to have the arms embargo on Somalia lifted. The United Nations, which seems to know next to nothing about Somalia, and has agreed to the lifting of this so-called embargo which was never policed anyway. They are said to have about 8,000 tropps in Somalia.

They are in Somalia supporting the pretend government, a government which was formed outside the country in Kenya, consisting largely of representatives from the warlords who had made life for Somalis hell for the last 15 years or so. It is a government which spent its first year or so in Kenya before being eventually kicked out as they were just spending other people's money and not doing anything. It is a governement which has no or little general support within Somalia and one which had to find a town outside the capital, Mogadishu, namely Baidoa, to spend its time. It is a government which has no real right to exist or call itself government, except that it is recognised by the idiots at the United Nations and the African Nations sponsoring its existence, such as neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, both being countries in control of old Somali lands themselves.

It is this government which seems very happy to work with its backers, the (illegitimate) government of Ethiopia and is allowing foreign troops into Somalia to protect Somalia from the very peaople who have finally brought some measure of peace and stability to Somalia, namely the Islamic Courts.

Anyway, it seems as if the war has already started, judging by reports on the BBC, so this should make both the US and the United Nations very happy, however bad it is for the Somalis themselves. Shameful.

And I am sure war is nothing which ordinary Ethiopians want either, rather I am sure they would rather see the back of their own cheating murderous barbaric government, a government, which needless to say is supported itself by the self-proclaimed upholders of freedom and democracy, none other than the United States. Another bloody war on their hands.

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Good luck, Tee

Battambang - Tee and Nye, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is a photo of Tee and Nye, our motorbike drivers in Battambang in Cambodia who took us out for two of the best days we had, into the beautiful countryside around Battambang.

Since then Tee has had his motorbike stolen, this being the source of his income. By all accounts, the police have not been much help in finding the mortorbike and indeed asked for a special payment before they would start looking at the case.

Anyway, it seems that Tee is now ready to start with a new bike, in time for the height of the tourist season, so we wish him all the best of luck and hope that this new bike does not all of a sudden disappear like the last one.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Yemen - Shoppers, Sana'a souk, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Sorry, Mar, but I am going to have another go...

This morning I poured the contents of a litre bottle of Gordons Gin down the toilet (and a few other places I should not mention). I had bought this bottle a few hours earlier in complete innocence in Bahrain, as it was cheap and I know how much Fred likes his gin and tonics.

He also likes his Antaeus aftershave and I was about to buy a bottle of this, which was also quite cheap, when the sales lady warned me that I might have problems taking it with me out of London, and I was reminded to the ridiculous regulations regarding carrying liquid substances on board planes leaving (not going to, but leaving) the UK. Toothpaste, aftershaves, bottles of water, jars of jam and so on are all being regulated, after a plot to blow up a number of planes leaving the UK was discovered sometime in the summer.

There were long queues to transfer to connecting flights as extra staff were laid on the explain the regulations and make sure that nothng less than solid was not taken on baord unless it was in an unopened container and was in a small plastic bag.

I was thinking, what about my suty free? I know they sell it as Heathrow, presumably to people leaving the UK, so what sort of exception would there be for this? Well, it turns out that duty free is allowed, as long as the bottle has not been opened, that you can prove that you bought it in the previous 24 hours..... so what would be the catch? Well, teh catch is that it is OK to bring duty free on baord so long as you have travelled on a European airline. I came on Gulf Air, which disqualified me, yet if I ahd been on the British Airways flight twenty minutes earlier, it would have been OK to take the same bottle of gin with me. Incredible.

As I said, it was cheap and I resigned myself to pouring the stuff waway, and stopping the airport staff from taking it home with them, but there were a couple of young French chaps ahead of me. Somehow they ahd got past the first level of control and I explained what had happened to me and the mindless way they had thought up the rules. These lads had about four bottle sof what looked like expensive liquor on them, and surely enough their bags were stopped and a long conversation ensued, then end of which I did not stay to watch, but which would have bene totally predictable, a victory for the mindless bureaucrats.

What makes this all seem so incongruous however, is not the silly overreaction of the British government, for whatever reason, no doubt tied into the American War on Terror, but the fact that while all this was going on, the big news of the day was the accusation in the press that a suspected murder of a police woman had left the country and passed through airport immigration checks dressed as an Arab woman in a veil.

Even in Yemen, they seemed to be checking evry woman in a veil, albeit in a separate room away from the gaze of men. How could this not be the case in the UK? Incompetence, pure and simple.

Coming home

Taking a break, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Back in Amsterdam now on a cold grey but dry day, in a nice warm, neat and tidy house with even some Christmas decorations up, waiting for Fred to come home from another day at work.

Henk was there to pick me up, even though I was delayed about 40 minutes due to the freezing fog at Heathrow, so thanks Henk!It seems we were lucky to leave when we did as I read on the BBC that most flights were cancelled later in the day due to the fog. It was a nice flight and it is always surprising how quickly one rise above what seems to be impenetrable fog to get into the bright sunshine. This time we had a lovely view of beaconsfield, teh town we were brought up, quite fitting seeing as I ahd only just said goodbye to Richard in Bangkok.

The big surprise waiting for me was the square, as pictured in this photo from September. All the holes have been filled and the streets restored but all of a sudden thereis a big round 'square'with a fountain in the middle. They have made a proper roundabout and created a very nice space for park benches and trees. The road is now very tight so will slow the traffic and may even stop the large noisy juggernauts which sometimes come down, not likely to stop the scooters though. A German company specialised in fountains is doing the work on the lights and the water and it will be a couple of months before the fountain is working, but it looks excellent.

had a bit of a shock going to buy half a loaf of bread from Kees, who now has a very brought red sun screen outside his shop, as the chap asked me for € 1.75, for just half a loaf. This is as much as the excellent last night dinner Richard and I had in Bangkok, with fresh prawns, steaks, kebabs, veggies, fruit, rice, salads and all sorts. It is also as much as the (legal) CD I am listening to - a CD of beautiful Vietnamese songs sung by a military choir - Tenh Yeu Nguoi Linh Tre - check them out if you can!

I remember coming back from Thailand and Malaysia in 1980 and being very funny about spending money then. It was the day (another cold one at the beginning of May, when Dexy's Midnight Runners were number one with Come On Eileen, whilst Take That are there now with their excellent song Patience, as we saw in Vietnam watching RAI Internazaionale!) Known Fact won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on the disqualification of the Frenh horse Nureyev. Both went on to be great sires, Known Fact being the sire of the brilliant Warning and being a very prominent broodmare sire, but I digress...


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Just a quick word here to thank my brother Richard for being such an excellent friend and travelling companion these past few weeks. We ahve ahd an excellent time together and fitted in well with each other, not so difficult as we seem to have have many of the same interests while travelling. I must say I am impressed by your way with the women, like this one in the paddy fields of north-west Vietnam.

It has been interesting to hear all the stories about life in Nagaland, a pity that the place seems to have so little going for it.

We have not spent so long together since the times in Rome when I would come out for my summer holidays from Southampton University over twenty years ago. It is great to have had this opportunity to spend so much time with you, not something which two brothers often have, but on the other hand most brothers don't tend to live so far apart from each other.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing you again soon enough on your next trip back to England, when maybe you can stay a little bit longer than last time?


Back in Bahrain

Bahrain - new Bahrain, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Back in Bahrain for what should be just four hours this time,as I wait for the connecting flight to London. Feeling a lot happier than when last posting a blog because it seems that somehow, I have won my battle against Gulf Air and have been put back on the 08.20 flight. Whether this was to do with what my friends from Arke have done in Amsterdam or the phone calls I made in Bangkok, it seems as if the pressure has worked. Now just to hope that the baggage follows me there as I heard from other passengers horror stories of lost baggage.

I have to admit that I stormed off very angry from the hotel in Bangkok as they had not done anything about ordering the taxi for me at 15.00 and were still not doing anything while I was filling in time writing my previous blog. So, we eventually ahd to call one off the street which took no time at all but now I had to travel according to the meter and I had already lost 45 minutes from my schedule. Again, despite being almost hopelessly blocked in teh traffic in Bangkok, once we were on the toll road, it was a very quick journey and I only took a bit longer than Richard earlier in the day and the price was half of what the girls at the hotel had wanted from me, so happy with that as well, in retrospect.

It is a pity to report I was not impressed with the girls at Thai Cozy House, because when we had stayed there the first time, they seemd to be both friendly and efficient. This time they kept saying silly things to and about Richard and that annoyed me. As Richard says, there are plenty of places we can stay in Bangkok and next time it'll not be the Cozy House.

In the meantime, I feel very naughty again by placing a bet here in Bahrain. The race is the King George Vi Chase, won previously by favourites such as Silver Buck (twice), Wayward Lad (four times) and Desert Orchid (five times) and the horse is Yes Sir. The trainer went public saying that 33-1 was a "fantastic" price, so he was only 20-1 when I placed my bet. The race is run a week today, by which we'll have had our Christmas Day, Christmas being something I am wholly unprepared for, sorry to say.

I am cheating a bit by putting this photo up of Bahrain as it was taken during my enforced 24 hour stop-over last time. This time it is dark and wet outside, the temperature is about 13 and there is a strong wind. Winter.

The forecast for Amsterdam is a cold dull 7 degrees tomorrow; I hope the central heating is working well. Looking forward to going home and seeing Fred and seeing what they have done to our street. Not so very many hours to go now. I have been away for seven weeks and despite what my Mum says, it has seemed like a lot more than seven weeks, so intense has been our experience out in South East Asia.


Time to go

Richard made it to teh airport in 40 minutes, I am waiting 40 minutes just for the taxi to arrive here to take me to the airport. Still involved in a fight with the cheapskates from Gulf Air who want top put me on the later flight because it is cheaper than the flight I was booked on and confirmed to fly on. Everything today is CAN NOT, CAN NOT. I suppose that once I am at home none of this will seem at all important but at the moment it IS very very frustrating.

Still, Richard and I had a nice evening yesterdayas we took a taxi across teh river and ended up in a garden where there was a singer singing nice Thai guitar ballads and there was a sort of self service where one could get one's own food from the stalls and fry them or boil them on the apparatus provided. Very nice, very cheap and no other tourists.

Followed up later with a footy massage for Richard and a facial for me, slightly less successful than the unplanned one Fred and I had in Amman last year, but it was nice and relaxing, although with all the stress I am having today I am sure all teh wrinkles are back.

Waiting and waiting here despite the fact that it was four hours ago when I booked a taxi to leave at 15.00, the silly ladies from the Thai Cozy House don't seem to have done a very good job, quick enough as they were though to take the 500 Baht off me when I made the reservation.

Time to go, I think. Getting crazy here and maybe it is unfair to take it out on the people here.


Charles and Richard saying goodbye

Time to go, I am afraid. Richard has already lef, at least in a pink taxi to the airport, while I have anotherthree-and-a-half hours to wait for mine. I am still struggling with Gulf Air as the ******s have put me on a flight back to Amsterdam which is a good five hours after my previously scheduled and confirmed flight, meaning I lose my Wednesday at home and have to pay the earth to get a taxi with all my bags home, enough money to last two whole days out here. I cannot even send an e-mail back to the travel agent in Amsterdam who informed me of this because the set-up of wanadoo/orange says my e-mail is spam and refuses to send it. Unbelievable! Now trying to send through hotmail.

Time now to go and get away from the stress, vacate my room and go for a walk, maybe to the Royal Palace.


Happy Hippos!

Dusit Zoo - Hippos playing, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.


Monday, December 18, 2006

A visit to the zoo

The last full day of the holiday and we spent most of the time trying to make sure there is room for us on our flights back home. As it happened, Richard had been bumped off and it took him some guile to get his seats back so he now has a re-confirmation. I went more than anything else to check the time of my flights and was told variously that ceratin parts of my journey were no longer confirmed. Anyway, it now turns out that I have a place back to London, but none on the BMI connection flight to Amsterdam. There was a simialr problem on the way out, which was resolved, so I am hoping for the same again this time. I rue the time I did not book the KLM flights on these dates, only to see the rpice increase by 250 euro the next day, which is what brought me to Gulf Air. I am really not that impressed with Gulf Air, and they seem to lag behind Emirates and Qatar Air, if their publicity can be believed.

Anyway, suffering a bit from travelling fatigue, I did not make the best use of my day and spent teh afternoon at te quite sad zoo they have here. I remembered the zoo from when we lived here as we used to drive past it and I would get excited to see the elephants. Well, I managed te see the elephants which looked reasonably well and happy, although it would no longer be possible to see them from teh road. For the rest, there were some tigers, leopards, sakes, a red panda and some biting hippopotami and lots of birds. Not recommeneded as the best way to spend a free day in Bangkok.

Funnily enough, I got a lift back to the hotel from the chap here in blue, who I had photographed last time we were in Bangkok. Then we would not have taken motorbikes, being too scared, but onow we are old hands and the motorbikes are a lot faster through teh traffic, if not necessarily any cheaper than taxis or tuk-tuks.

Dinner and beer time now.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

An afternoon at the races

I know one is supposed to go to a Thai boxing bout when in Bangkok, but I decided to spend my afternoon at the races. It was pretty poor fare but an interesting experience nevertheless. Concrete stands and fenced off paddocks and little opportunity to get near the horses. On the other hand, it was cheap and the food was excellent - notably the fried tofu with chili and lemongrass. And to the accompaniment of Dusty Springfield and Leo Sayer as well.Here is a photo of a horse winning a race. He was second favourite at 3-1 and had a very nice name like Monkoren so something, but I didn't have any sort of bet.

Earlier in the day we had taken it easily before Richard went out to get his computer fixed and he now has an 80 GB external hard drive which works and expanded DRAM menaing his computer works much faster, so he is busy sorting out about 1,000 photos of ours to have printed tomorrow!

I wandered the streets, trying to reacquaint myself with a place I had been to just six weeks ago, but it really seemed a lot more than that. Didn't take any photos. It was a very nice sunny day and not at all too hot.... a true cool season day in Bangkok.

We have been very very lucky with the weather on this holiday, having missed the various typhoons which came over from the Philippines to hit central Vietnam and we heard subsequently that the two days after we left the mountains of northern Vietnam visibility was down to almost zero for two days. Not coming abck with any sort of sunburn though.

This evening we might take a tuk-tuk into town for some nightlife, it still being a weekend.It must be said that in tehg six weeks we have been away the number of tourists has increased dramatically, especially around here. Incredible. Richard also says that he has seen thinsg which we had seen for sale in Vietnam for very cheap prices for sale here at much higher prices!


Old times

Morning in Bangkok and the residents of the cozy house are stirring, the internet terminals getting busy. The sun is shining outsideand it promises to be a good day, not too hot at 30 degrees and we should avoid the rain which has been falling daily in Kuala Lumpur for the past six weeks.

Yesterday, for example, was a bit of a grey day as we went down to the coast past rows and rows of newly built smart-looking terraced houses in the Klang Valley. Not every development seesm to be equally successful, but there is no doubt that there is a tremendous amount of development going on and the estates being built seem to providethe inhabitants with large-ish houses, with a garden and room to park the car. The car is a majot\r part of everyone's life in Malaysia, as the public transport system is not so good, while everywhere large wide roadsare being built to allow the growing number of car owners (a million new cars every year) to go shopping, go to work and visit friends. To be honest, the land around here was not the most attractive, being a flat flood plain, amking Aunty Nina think it not a very sensible place to build. Later in teh day we would see similar developments around Seremban, and there surrounded by the green forested hills, it seemed a much better place to be.

We stopped a few times by the beaches, low flat beaches looking over the low flat and very busy Straits of Malacca. Therewould be families under the trees or fully dressed in the water, backed up by food stalls and kite sellers... great to see kite sellers again, as kite flying is an old Malay tradition, notably on the east coast, which ahd sort of disappeared.

The road along the coast was a lot more interesting than the raod to the coast, as we passed old cocnut plantations, new oil palm plantations, market gardens, growingsalad vegetables and dragon fruits, durian plantations, old towns and villages, many with the 1920's shop fronts, all the restaurants and stalls, by the side of the road. Wecannot go anywhere like this without Aunty Nina wanting to stop and treat us to some local delicacy, so we had goreng pisang (fried banana), freid tempe, rambutans and a durian, this all taking us back to the various times in teh past when we have come out and stayed with our uncle and aunty.

I was just saying how the landscape looked like the Malaysia that we knew and loved before, when a few hundredmetres further on we came across some signs denoting we were passing through the Guthrie-owned Tanah Merah estate. This was the very place where Uncle Malcolm was manager in 1970 and 1972 when we stopped off on our way to and from Australia and would be the first memories I would have of Malaysia. So although I did not actually precisely recognise this as being Tanah Merah, the lines of the hills, the rows of oil palms (then rubber and oil plams) and the feel of the place was sufficiently familir to my brain to prompt my comment about this being the Malaysia we knew and loved. We had such happy memories there, being the place most of us learned to swim, tghe place weher Aunty Nina kept her pet monkey, dogs and cats, the beautiful garden and trees filled with Golden Orioles, the visits to the estates and all the stories of teh malays, Chinese and Indians, watching them tap the rubber, lookingat all the cups attached to the treesand so on....

Money run out again, time to go.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Back in Bangkok

Bangkok - Buddha, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We are back in Bangkok, at our place of residence, the Thai Cozy House. The flight from KL was good, although it was delayed for an hour, despite us getting to the airport niceand early and we managed to avoid too much excess baggage by carrying most of our bags on board without any problems. I had treated myself to teh book Malayisa and the Club of Doom and had read half of it already by the time we got on the plane. I heard Uncle Malcolm say he was looking forward to reading it as well he should as the book is very clear in the way it seeswhat passes for Islam holding countreies back and causing them to collapse. More about this theme another time. Now we are in a primarily Buddhist nation.

We had a wonderful last day in Malaysia with Uncle Malcom and Aunty Nina with Uncle Malcolm driving us down the Klang Valley to the coast where we ahd a delicious seafood dinner next to the sea before stopping a few times to buy rambutans, durains, rojak and so on, ending up in Port Dickson and visiting the Willoughby's who I had not seen since I was over in 1980.

Anyway, more to tell tomorrow. Time running out now.


Downtown KL

Downtown, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Richard with Uncle Malcolm, Brad Pitt looking down.

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Kuala Lumpur skytrain

KL skytrain, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

My goodness, how Kuala Lumpur has changed over the years! Here a view from Bukit Bintang, looking out across to the skytrain.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The Alfa Romeo Santas

The Alfa Romeo Santas, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

They were trying to sell Alfa Romeo's dressed in the colours of Santa Claus, and they were wearing mini-skirts!

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Snowing in KL

Snowing in KL, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we have the snow falling at the Marriott in Kuala Lumpur.

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Christmas in Malaysia

Christmas at Bukit Tinggi, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The previous Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammed called Malaysia an Islamic state and indeed the majority of the people here are Muslims, but this does not stop them celebrating Christmas. Not althogether in a Christian way with the Virgin Mary, Baby Jesus and the Seven Dwarves, oops!, I mean the Three Wise Men, but in an American way with Santa Claus, Snowmen, Christmas trees and an assortment of other characters, accompanies by various versions of well-known Christmas songs and carols. only exception was a poster advertising 'Tenors for Christ', a concert sponsored by a Chinese fundamentalist Christian who seems to own most of teh best rteal estate in downtown KL.

Christmas is everywhere.

Yesterday in Colmar Tropicale in Bukit Tinggi, the reconstructed French town in the mountains, where we took this photo. Later in the hell of Genting Highlands (4,250 feet above sea-level) at the New World Hotel, which at 6,000 rooms (all seemingly occupied) is the largest hotel in the world, where Santa Claus was dressed in blue!

And again today in all tghe various shopping centres we visited where Santa Claus had even turned into a woman with shapely legs and a mini skirt. In the centre at Bukit Bintang (s)/he was still in traditional red, but by the time we made it to The Curve, she was now dressed in green and had a double!

We had snow falling from six stories high into the lobby of the Marriott, where we had a delicious Italian lunch ay Shooks!. Real snow it was too, falling between all the white Christmas trees which were hanging from the ceiling, sometimes coming down in large flakes, at other times, small powdery flakes, while the sun shone through the roof. It was quite a surprise later to step out into the bright sunshine and heat on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Our last evening here, Aunty Nina cooked us a delicious dinner of prawns in a yellow cocounut sauce, petai beans in sambal, a mixture of herbs and greens from the garden, ikan bilis, some more prawns in another sauce, followed by durian and honey jack-fruit. Delicious!

Tomorro wa trip down to teh coast for lunch at a seafood restaurant, where we hope to be served by nice friendly Burmese (or Nepalese), followed by a trip to Port Dickson and then the airport for our flight to Bangkok. Richard's over-weight baggage charge will have increased somewhat from Wednesday due to his purchases, while I will struggle to keep below the 15 kg allowance, despite taking two full rucksacks on board... and then there is all the stuff we had left behind in Bangkok!

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Big leaf

Big leaf, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A day spent in the jungles on the mountains to the east of Kuala Lumpur.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

No motorbikes today

No motorbikes today, only cars and shopping malls, Malaysia having already become rich on it mineral, oil, rubber and oil palm resources, amongst other things.

The Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur was perfect, a full plane with comfortable black leather seats, delicious food served at very low prices and arriving 25 minutes early to the LCC, Low Cost Carrier Terminal outside Kuala Lumpur, where we were met by Uncle Malcolm who had got a little bit lost finding the recently opened terminal. It was good to see him again and we had an hour in his car to catch up with news, driving along empty roads before arriving at hisn house in Damansara Jaya, where Aunty Nina had stayed up to greet us. She was looking very well, I am happy to say.

We stayed chatting until about 2 before going upstairs to sleep in air-conditioned comfort, me waking up a good deal later than Richard, in time for a continental breakfast on the terrace at the back of the house, overlooking the fish pond, with the lilies opening up in the sun. Aunty Nina had already got up early and was out at her sister's plantation, getting durians for us to eat later in the day. There has bene too much rain here the past weeks/months, so not so good for durians, but Aunty Nina was hopeful of coming back with a good crop. And so she did, eventually.... and now I am stuffed full with too many of the delicious durians. Unfortunately she had cut herself while cutting through the durians and we just missed seeing her sister and garnd nephew as they came home just a few minutes before we eventually did.

We spent most of our relaxing day, wandering around a couple of shopping malls in Petaling Jaya, namely The Curve and Utama One, both very large, with a wide selection of shops and some excellent places for eating and great places for studying the local middle classes as they too wandered around eating, drinking and shopping. Bought some New Balance running shoes, the mountain trekking shoes not being in my size. Quite cheap, but the price of things like electronics looked to be uncannily teh same as tehy are almost everywhere else, the new Sony A-1 camera with standard 18-70 mm lens costing a thousand US dollars, the same as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Holland! Mum had sent us off on a search of a new Ninentendo game console, something none of us knew anything about, but whatever it is, it seems to be more expensive here than in the UK.

Surprisingly, a little, there were many book shops ot be found and Richard is quite keen to get his hands on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but even more surprisingly, it was sold out and on order at every place we asked! Other creationist books however seemed to be in great supply, due no doubt to low demand. As it was Richard bought Sam Harris' End of Faith and UNcle Malcolm bought a book about Malaysia and the Club of Doom (The collapse of Islamic countries). He thought he had better be quick about it before such a book gets banned!

A day's rest from photography, we might take the camera out tomorrow as we go to the hills out to the east of KL, weather permitting as we had a very heavy downpour this afternoon. Nice to be listening to the frogs croaking in the garden behind me as I sit here in Uncle Malcolm's study, getting ready to look through some photos of his travels.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sleepy in Hanoi

We are waking up on our second and last day here in Hanoi. We take an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur this evening, leaving at 18.05, arriving at 22.30, which makes us think that we are also stopping in Bangkok as the flight should not take four hours. (While typing this, I spoke ot a couple of girls from KL who tell us that there is a time difference, with Malaysia being an hour ahead, despite being more westerly than Vietnam. They are from PJ and like us earlier, they were trying to delay their flights back to KL to give themselves more time here in Vietnam. Unlike us, tehy are enjoying the cold weather here!)

It is again cool, dare I say it, cold, and cloudy in Hanoi and this is to be our experience of this wonderful city. The door of the hotel is open AGAIN, letting in the cold air, the sounds of the street, the motorbikes, the hooters, while across the road a shop is full of Christmas decorations, comnined with red Chinese well-wishing messages and makes a bright contrast to the general gloom.

Richard has bought a Christmas tree, Christmas lights and Christmas baubles and I am interested to see how he is going to take this all back home with him, together with all the presents he has bought. We are both going to have to buy ourselves new rucksacks to carry all teh stuff we have bought. Looking at it just now, as I was packing, I cannot say that we have necessarily bought the nicest things, I suppose more the things which are easier to carry.

Life on the streets of the Old Quarter of Hanoi are like a theatre with a collection of the finest characters you can imagine,l especially the old people who sit outside on their tiny little stools, doing some trade or other, luike the old man with the grey beard who appears at 5 am every morning with his wife and who is always one of the last to go home. Not exactly sure what it is he sells, but it is some brew or other. There are endless numbers of women in peaked hats carrying their double baskets on a stick on their shoulder. They will often come up to you to ask you to buy their bananas, pineapples, doghnuts, pastries or whatever. Sometimes, you will say yes, if you are a greedy pig, or hungry, like me, and they return your favour by asking a ridiculous price for their wares giving you, again, the stress of having to bargain down. Actually, we are quite good at bargaining, as mostly we are buying stuff we don't really want to we can easily walk away and see the price plummet as we do!

Yesterday, we were called off the street to an eating place outside which a young man was grilling meatballs, which looked and smelled like the kofte we have in Turkey and the Middle East , and which is generally what I eat when I am there - so I was intrigued. It became even better when we came to sit down whereupon we were each served with a bowl of apple soup, then a plate of fresh white noodles, a plate of salad leaves, including lettuce, mint, coriander, lavender and then along came plates of meatballs (I think it must have been lamb, but teh lady said it was pork, whatever, it was spiced just like a kofte) and some spring rolls, all this to be dunked into the hot apple soup. So, so delicious! Bon Cha, it was called and highly recommended.

After this, we took out two motorbikes, with riders for a two hour trip around Hanoi, a scarey experience, given the narrowness and crowdedness of the streets, their inclination to go across red lights. We were taken to a couple of pagodas, the massive West Lake, on the north side of town!, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the railway station (by day!) and the Hanoi Hilton, a prison built by the French to intern and torture the Vietnamese, later used by the Vietnamese to intern and treat very well, shot down American pilots, including the (now Senator) John McCain. We arrived back just on the two hours, paying the lads their 50,000 VND (three dollars).

Later on we were to visit teh Water Puppet theatre and see a delightful water puppet show, water puppets being a traditional form of entertainment before TV, DVD's and mobile phones showing movies and playing music. A curious but typical sight here in Vietnam and Cambodia is computers being used to download music to people's mobile phones. Probably all illegal, but done very openly! The show was accompanied by live music and comprised scenes of village life on the water, with dragons, storks, phoenix, jumping fish, fishermen, fishwives, children playing and so on. Totally delightful and a lovely way to spend our last evening in Vietnam.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Baby of the day

I love these woollen hats for the babies. It was only after leaving Bac Ha that I realsied it would have been nice to buy one or two, but time was short, so not enough time to take photos, eat and buy (and bargain for) things. I did buy some scarves though.. any takers?

We are now back in Hanoi, after a good night's sleep on the night train, arriving as planned at 6.00 am, since when we hgave been waiting to get into a room at the Blue Sky Hotel. Richard is up therev now, so I will join him. Cool and cloudy here again, as it was last time we were here. A good thing we decided not to go to Ha LOng Bay, as it'd've been freezing there, apparently. Time to visit teh Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, I think.

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The dark side

Men of Bac Ha - selling a dog, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

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The Flower Hmong women of Bac Ha

My favourite of the bunch.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hats, caps and helmets

Housebuilding around Sa Pa, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Although most Vietnamese men seem to wear baseball caps, many of them wear these helmet-like hard hats, in standard khaki colour. These two chpas were happy to take a break from housebuilding to have a chat and a photo taken of themselves.

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Market gardening

Market gardening, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is a photo of some well planted and tended vegetables planted below the road from Lai Chau to Sa Pa. Somehow the colours do not look so good on this screen, but you can see that there is not a weed to be seen.

By the time the food arrives on the table, it is still very clean and very fresh and mostly very tasty. My favourite as been any sort of meat fried with lemon grass and chili, the last being goose meat (whilst Richard was eating a deer steak the other side of the table). The fresh rice noodles are always tasty and make a change for baguettes and jam for breakfast. Last night, while with our new friends in Sa Pa, we had chips, watching our hostess go out to the market to buy the potatoes, peel them, cutb them and fry them a few at a time, the hot chips arriving at regular intervals on our plate, to be eaten with salt and chili sauce. Not quite Yemen quality, but almost!

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Among the Flower Hmong

Today has been our last day in the mountains, as we are now waiting for the 21.15 train from Lao Cai to Hanoi, expecting to arrive at about 6.00 am tomorrow morning. We finally have our tickets and just in case anyone reading this is looking for travel tips in Vietnam, it would be to think very carefully before using the services of Sinh Cafe. We have not been impressed. Use Vietnam Geographic instead! Anyway, after our escapades of last niught we think we will sleep better on this train than the one which brought us from Hue to Hanoi. Leaving laterb in the evening helps too, I think.

Anyway, after a very very shaky start, we joined the bus tour to go to Bac Ha, home of the market to which many Flower Hmong people go. They would have to be some of the most colourful people in the world,. at least the woman and babies, dressed as they are in a riot of colours, from top to toe, starting with a bright check headscarf, done in a variety of ways, down to beautifully creased skirts and shin straps, finished off with some modern trainers - but then with colouful laces. Every woman there is an invitation ot take a photograph. Incredible! Only there are so many of them there that it is hard to get the space to make a shot without someone standing in the way or bumping you from behind. Anyway, I cannot upload photos on this computer so will have to do so tomorrow. These are a couple of Flower Hmong we spotted yesterday when we were still sober in Sa Pa.

Further, there are other attractions to the market, namely the grim looking men in their dark clothes, the street barbers, the dog and pig market (next to each other and a bit disturbing to see doggies being treated as a potential future meal), the ponies bringing goods to be sold at the market and so on. Unfortunately, we wonly had two hours during which we were supposed to eat something so we did not get to see as much as we would have liked.

This, especially as the Flower Hmong village we visited was in fact quite boring, with just some beautiful views over terraced rice paddies to make it a little bit worthwhile going. Such a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the market in town. We suggested to Xung, our Black Hmong tour guide that next time they offer tourists the choice of an extra hour at the market or a trip to a (boring) village).

It should also be said that the countryside on the way down from Sa Pa to Lao Cai and then along the river valley marking the border with China,. followed by teh climb up to Bac Ha, was simply stunning. Vert green, very neat, endless terraces, jungle, bamboo forests, market gardens, tea plantations and another very picturesque brick factory. The whole area looked as if it was one very well tended and fertile garden. Mum, you would have loved to see the neat rows of cabbages, artichokes, lettuces, spring onions, carrots and the like. Not a sign of a slug to be seen anywhere.

Although we were on the road for five hours today, and then right next to the Chinese border, we hardly saw a single lorry or juggernaut (not that the roads were all that good), but it made one realise that for so much of people's needs the products are grown or produced locally, this being the natural organic and sustainable way to live, in contrast to the out-of-town shopping centres of Europe and the motorways chock-a-block with lorries.

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Going ethnic

Around Sa Pa, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Richard started it!

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Sa Pa love market

Sa Pa love market, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We made our own love market yesterday. Richard had just finished having what turned out to be a very expensive haircut and we went off to have a coffee. The timing on my camera says it was about 3 pm, although it was very misty by now and getting dark.

Four and a half hours later I was stumbling back down the road, totally totally drunk and dressed in all manner of local clothing including some baggy trousers, lots of bags and some necklaces.

We had made our own love market, with the fiolks at the market including a pretty young Vietnamese girl, this shady character a Black Hmong who started us off on the deadly rice wine, and a host of mainly Red Dzao women, icluding the formidable Mother Dzao. Rgis is about as much as I can remember, I am ashamed to say.

Richard looked after me exceedingly well, and apparently, after putting me to bed, he went to the official Love Market, a Saturday evening affair where the local young lads and lasses are supposed to meet up and find a prospective husband or wife. Of course, the tourists have come and the original participants have left and Richard remarked that it was a very disappointing affair. Still talked about in all the tourist literature though.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Looking like so many Father Christmases

Here are the Red Dzao people, the women dress in these red cloth scarves, bordered with white, making them look like so many Father Christmases.

We took motorbikes to the Ta Phin village, about 12 km north of Sa Pa. We could very easily have stayed in Sa Pa, but our curiosity got the better of us.

Here we were each joined by about three women eager to sell us things whilst accompanying us aorund town (following us basically). We were then morally obliged to buy their products, so it seemed, but there was no obvious bad feeling when we bought nothing or from one of the other ladies. We were shown inside their houses and also taken to a wedding party, which in its third and last day seemed to have already peaked!

Tomorrow we will walk to a Red Dzao village and ome back to Sa Pa in time for the Love Market, more on which, tomorrow, I hope.

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Young Black Hmong

Young Black Hmong, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Another ever-so-cute young child.

The largest minority tribe here in Sa Pa are the Black Hmong, who wear blcack and navy clothes, made from locally grown hemp, dyed with locally produced indigo, coloured with imported cottons and wools from elsewhere.

We had seen Hmong elsewhere in the past few days, but they were not necessarily as traditional dress-wise as the Hmong here. The women sem to be very good at commerce and like iot sell you their cloths and these ones all speak surprisingly good English.

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Rice terrace at Cat Cat below Sa Pa

A view as seen from the walk down from our hotel in Sa Pa, framed in the most perfect light.

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Over the mountins to Sa Pa

Today we said goodbye to our driver, Mr Nang as he dropped us ioff at our Sapa Goldsea Hotel here in Sa Pa, on the slopes looking down the Cat Cat valley across to the mighty Fansipan range the other side. A more spectacular setting, you could not wish for.

We had bene advised to arrive in Sa Pa by 9.00 this morning in order to be in time to join with the Sinh Cafe tour, but as it happened we wer not to get going until 1.30 which gave us some time to look around the town, notably the market and also take some motorbikes out to visit another village which would not be covered by our tour. We could have rested but when there is so much to see and do, it seems a pity to rest.

So, this meant that we had an early start from new Lai Chau, where we spent last night on two very hard beds. Neither of us could sleep, either because the bed was so hard or because we were scared of not waking up in time. But up we were ready to go at 6.00 am, without any cofffee and while it was still reasonably dark. On our way to the next village we saw numerous tired looking people on their way to work or school, so we were not the only ones. Time to stop briefly at this place for a look at teh maket and take some photos in poor light before starting our 30 km ascent up the pass.

As they had said in our travel plan, all the other passes we had climbed were like aperitifs for the main course, and specatcular it was too, with clouds bubbling over the peaks as the sun shone through. Here is a picture of us at or near the top, to give an idea of what it was like.

The mountains we have travelled through the past few days have resembled a bit those we had seen in yemen, with respect to teh terraces and also Ethiopia with respect to the shapes and vegetation. Sometimes it seemed we were back in the Omo Valley, so similar it was, with the forested slopes coming down to meet the rushing waters of the river. Tody was more like the Simien Mountains, the smell and feel of the air (a fair bit warmere here, thank goodness), the grassy slopes and the feeling of being at the top of the world.

Coming down into Sa Pa from the pass was a long 10 kms, again passing stunning scenery and itw as a great way to end what had been four-and-a-bit excellent days.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Early morning on Pac Hoan lake

This was the calm morning after the night before. A night of Boney M, sexy music videos, vodka and beer. We were the only guests at this lovely hotel on the wooded shore of this lake, just 20 kms or so from Dien Bien Phu, not mentioned on many maps. There were three staff and five loud dogs, a large living room with small seats, some glass tables and a massive stereo/video system. It was not long before they were blasting out Euro disco, sounding as if it had come from 1996, and mostly accompanies by sexy videos of sexily dressed ladies dancing around... well with so few women around, it was not entirely surprising.

It had been a long and very enjoyable day and it was getting dark, so it was not long before dinner was served, whereupin one of teh lads found the VCD of Boney M's 20 greatest hits and although we only got to about number 10, I can't think there were any that we had missed. What got them to sing a song about Belfast, during the times of the troubles, goodness knows, but I think that was the end of their pop carrer in the UK, at least!

How to spend an evening with four Vietnamese (including the driver) with such a language barrier. Well,we resorted not to karaoke, but to showing them my moo cards and Richard his photos on his laptop (yes, he is carrying his laptop, luckily enough as this is the only way I have been able to save my photos, the new hard drive already having given up working properly). Anyway, it was all good fun, even though all the Vietnamese found reasons NOT to drink the vodka (which we had not, in fact asked for), mostly claiming that they would not sleep if they did.

The next morning it was an early-ish rise to take a boat out onto the misty lake, just ourselves, some jumping fish and a couple of canoes of local people going past. Infinitely peaceful. Birds could be called singing from the trees and most of teh shoreline was covered in thick green jungle. We have been impressed with so many things here in Vietnam and one thing is the way they seem to be preserving their forests up here in the mountains. The village folk keep to the villages, albeit bringing back firewood, but it all seems to be done on the right scale. Richard, who has been teere, tells me that the mountains in neighbouring Laos are largely treeless, and by the sounds of it even Sumatra seems to be going that way too.

Back to teh lake, we stopped off at a Black Thai village, to see the local men building a new wooden house, one man could be seen sharpening his saw and really the very basic tools seemed to have been used. The houses are very well designed and most of them have red brick tiles on, sourced no doubt from the many brickworks one sees scattered around the countryside. The houses are on stilts and underneath, one finds pigs, chickens and dogs running around. The puppies and teh piglets are so adorable, although I must say I am more in the mood to eat dog than pat a dog since on of them had a bite at my trousers last night as I was walking back from a closed internet cafe.

Back at the hotel it was time to say our goodbyes to our new friends and soon we were on the road down to Dien Bien Phu, site of the famous battle which saw Vietnam beat the French as the first major step of getting the French out. Again, a word of admiration for the Vietnamese.... they have managed to see off Imperial China, Imperialance and Imperial USA. They can be very proud and as I mentioned before, they seem to be very good at doing teh right thing, where so many other countries fail.

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Dzao baby

Dzao baby, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Too cute to be left out of the blog, this chappie was being carried on the back of his father, as we came down the mountain into new Lai Chau. Last night we were in old Lai Chau and tomorrow we cross the highest pass in Vietnam, passing Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam at 3,140 meters, on the way to Sa Pa, where we join our other tour. This was the tour we had originally arranged up here in the mountains, and it is a trip which many tourists will make. We are very happy to have taken this particular tour which ahs been absolutely spectacular - so thanks very much to Uncle Malcolm for suggesting it, Vietnam Geographic Holiday for organising it at such short notice and also to the ever patient Mr Nang who has driven us around for the past four days. One thing about Mr Nang, apart from being an excellent driver and a war veteran (we have seen the wounds in his legs) but he likes his music. So we have been listening to the same selection fo what we think is four or five songs for teh last three-and-a-half days since we told him we preferred Vietnamese music above the American easy listening stuff with which he started off in Hanoi. He is also a keen football fan and we think that the reason he was late for breakfast this morning is because he was watching the Manchester United-Benfica match at 2.30 in the morning!

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Fishing net

Fishing net, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The mountain folk do not seem to be such great fishermen as the ethnic Vietnamese on the coast who have lots of fish farms and shrimp farms and so on. Anyway, yesterday we came across these two men bring in their net, with one tasty looking fish caught before paddling away on their bamboo raft.

Afternoons are a great time to travel through the country, as people have finished their work and often go to the river to ahve a wash (the owmen wash their very very long black hair - which they normally have tight in a bun at the top of their head, over which goes the scarf/headgear). You will also see children playing around with buffalos, young men having a game of football on a field of newly cut rice and even foot volleyball... in which incidentally, Vietnam won their first gold medal in the Asian Games in Doha!

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Richard being dressed by Dzao women

It was all very fetching but the cloak was too small and the price too high. Anyway, these Dzao women had great fun dressing Richard.

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Old lady with gangrene

Old lady with gangrene, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We were invited into the house by the husband, who offered us rice vodka, which we were not allowed to sip, but had to drink down in one go. Richard chickened out, but I didn't so I promptly had a new glass filled which had to be downed. I don't think it was actually all that strong although it felt like it as it went down. At least one gets a warm hand shake from your drinking partner when one has completed the task.

This lady had a plastic bag over her right foor and although we had both noticed we thought it polite not to look at it or mention it, until the husband started pointing at it. Anyway, she seemd to be taking it in her stride and was happy top have haus as guests in her house, however briefly.

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Hmong women

Hmong women, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Hopefully all the 200 or so photos will tell the story of what a wonderful trip we are having here in the mountains. As you can see the weather has improved greatly and it is beautiful to feel in the sun on one's face in the clear mountain air.

The driver took us off-road up 10kms or so for views across the valley to the mountains bordering China, which was about 10-20 kms away. All along teh way were people busy at work building the new road, including these Hmong woman at the end. At first they were a bit shy to be photographed, but eventauuly they even started getting specially dressed for teh photos. Beautiful colours, brilliantly lit.

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Back again

Here we are in Lai Chau, connected for a while to internet fater three days. So many stories to tell and so little time, Anyway, it seems as if some poor people put their photos of Vietnam on my flickr site - and strange that nobody seemd to notice. Anyway, they have been removed and a whole load of new photos are going on now. Will write some more to a different photo.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Black Thai skirts hanging up for sale

Not all doom and gloom today.... these colourful garments are skirts as worn by the people of teh Black Thai tribe, ready for sale ot tourists. The village which we visited at lunchtime, which is a very attractive one, set in the middle of some paddy fields, surrounded by high mountains, makes a side income in tourism, welcoming tourists for lunch, dinner and homestay. If we had not had to shave a day off the planned trip to make it to Sa Pa on time for our other tour, we would have been staying here tonight.

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Big leaves

Big leaves, gathered by some colourful Hmong women high up in the mountains. They are used for wrapping up pig(let)s.

By the way, yesterday lunch time we ahd a culinary first - pork kebab!

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