Email from our trip in 2008 to Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

October 28, 2008 - Siem Reap, Cambodia

The trip from Victoria to Siem Reap was quite the marathon. We always look forward to the trip over but the reality of it always smacks you in the face as it is happening. This year to keep in theme with economic restraint we chose to do the more time than money model. Local bus from our front door to Victoria airport. An easy 15 minute jump across the pond. Our Cathay flight to Hong Kong didn't leave until 300A. I beat Joann at canasta... YES! The new seats in the back of the bus class (economy class) have marginally more leg room but tail bone breaking lack of softness. It was a very long 15 hours. The only saving grace was the killer entertainment system.

Head winds made our arrival an hour late, thusly missing our connection to KL. The surrogate flight left 4 hours later. This was an OLD airbus... antique video sys... remember what it was like before entertainment on demand? Anyway we arrive in KL and continued with the thrifty theme by catching the 52 window limo into town. What a trip down memory lane... ah the thrill of living on the edge... Our driver was quite chatty and seemed to take a shine to us... he took off with his captive passengers down the freeway. I kept grabbing Bob's arm as we screamed up behind and practically on top of unsuspecting drivers. We actually almost ran into a small car that had 4 (count them) baby on board stickers... the baby looked up at us with surprise... Bob kept saying what does grabbing my arm do?... I couldn't help it. Our driver complained to us that the air conditioning was cooling his bald head (he felt that he and Bob had a common bond there) and proceeded to say that he didn't have a horse but he did have a cowboy hat which he perched on top of his head. As the bus had absolutely no shocks we felt like we were indeed on a horse. When we rounded one corner Bob said he was glad he had an armrest or he would have been on the floor. Our cheerful driver talked the whole time laughing and joking to someone on his radio phone and at one time had BOTH hands off the wheel while he spoke to someone on his cell phone as well. Welcome to Asia where the most dangerous thing you can do is travel on the roads... remind me not to sit behind the driver again. At one point he apologized that he couldn't speed as there was a mini-bus full of Gov people who would turn him in (thank goodness)! In the end he was extremely nice to us and dropped us off very close to Chinatown as he saw Bob had a "stick" (cane). Our hotel was great but we had to get up at 3am and search for a taxi... the trunk on one we found didn't work so all the luggage went in the passenger seat... Bob couldn't seem to fit in the back... he got one leg in but the other leg seemed to not quite fit in... the driver pushed Bob's foot in and away we went.

We flew off to wonderful Cambodia. As we approached Siem Reap we flew over the Tonle Sap lake. As rainy season has just finished, the lake is very swollen... it was marvellous. It's the largest lake in SE Asia. Emerald green glinting in the sunshine. Quite shallow in most places with roads that just barely stay above the water which lead to small remote fishing villages. And just like that we were in the land of the Khmer people. How delightful. Our ride, a tuk-tuk driver greeted us with a sign that said "Bob and Joann"... and he whisked us away for about 6 km to our hotel. We were smiling the whole way. Such a fantastic way to watch the world go by. In Cambodia, the tuk-tuk is basically a motorcycle towing a chariot style trailer hooked up like a fifth wheel. Everyone was smiling at us as they honked and buzzed around us. The Cambodian drivers seem much more civilized (than other parts of Asia) in their driving habits and very courteous.

Our hosts at the Mandalay Inn greeted us like royalty arriving... we've know them for several years and have twice stayed previously. Their kids are sooooo cute... 3 and 5 years old. We have a nice room with air conditioning, hot water, TV, fridge etc for US$18.00. We thought we were getting over our jet lag and turning our night into our daytime (15 hours time difference) till 6pm came along, we ended up hitting the sack at 7:30pm.

Today we met Ban Son (our new friend and tuk-tuk driver) he was recommended to us by a degenerate couple of Ozzies some of you may know by the names of Jennifer and David. Actually Jennifer is pretty alright but as David is now beyond old (he turned 50 last year) he can be somewhat difficult. We put Ban Son's info on ( website and soon we will have some photos. Business is definitely off now as he hasn't worked much lately and our host at the Mandalay Inn has said he has had many cancellations recently. Scary for them.

We started our day by asking Ban to take us to a local Khmer cafe for breakfast. Excellent... we had soup with noodles and seafood and he had a chicken leg on rice with some broth. He said the chicken leg would normally feed his whole family. We spend 8 hours today zooming around and really enjoyed ourselves. We saw lots of dried red snakes for sale and viewed some poor people who live their lives on rickety boats. Saw an article that cracked me up. "if it barks, eat it" Dog meat is called "special" and it's half the price of beef or water buffalo, what a bargoon! The most popular way to eat is barbequed or grilled as a kebab. After the dogs are butchered the heads are boiled and put on display. Khmers say that once one have eaten dog, other hounds can smell it on you and will avoid you for the rest of your life. Also soon its Hing Fever time. What's that you ask? Why frogs and toads! They will end up bubbling in a thick pepper sauce. You can also find them stuffed with peanuts...makes toast and peanut butter sound a little boring, eh? (the Canadian eh for those of you who like to mock Glenn?)
Went to an orphanage (they care for 53 resident children) and also help many more in their outreach programs. We also went to The Hospital For Sick Children. They see 400 kids per day... wow! Evidently there are a lot of new charitable organizations popping us but the money doesn't seem to translate to helping the kids... it just disappears. Doesn't really look like volunteering here will work out but perhaps Phnom Penh will have other opportunities for us. Our friends Ross and Joyce are arriving tomorrow so we will be travelling together for about 10 days. I can hardly wait for dawn at the Bayon temple. So very awesome.

We are off tonight to eat some dawg... just kidding... maybe some French food or Hing?

October 29, 2008 - Just a follow up to the previous email...

I know a lot of folks like to donate to worthy causes but feel their money just disappears down a big administrative hole.
if you ever what to help out... this is a perfect place!The Sangkheum Center For Children It's a joint Italian/Cambodian organization. Christian (the project manager from Sweden) gave us a tour around the modest organization. In 2001 it was just a rice field and now it permanently houses 53 young orphan children. They do not have electricity yet but are using solar panels and have a generator. It is really focused on Cambodians helping Cambodians rather than Europeans dictating what their society should be. Christian has been there 3 years. He gave us the tour and pointed out 2 young children, maybe 3 1/2 years old that they had just found a couple of days previously. Another boy of about 9 years he affectionately touched he said that he had been living with a alcoholic grandparent and when the boy arrived a year earlier he was not talking but to my eyes he now seemed quite happy. While we were talking to Christian and walking around our tuk-tuk driver, Ban had been reading a book to one of the classrooms full of young kids (what a nice guy). The place oozed "hope" (which is what "Sangkheum" translates as) but really does need money to grow. For example the library room had hardly any books etc. Christian advised us that any volunteers would need to have a police/security check which is nice to hear. Those 2 little kids I saw who were living on the streets and were not able to take care of themselves so would have been easy prey for anyone wanting to pick them up to use in the child sex trade which flourishes here. Aside from the main cities it's extremely poor here in Cambodia. The Siem Reap Hospital For Children we visited was so busy because it's free and parents were bringing their kids from all over the northern provinces. (imagine 400 kids a day go there for help) seemed quite overwhelming so see all the sick kids and their parents who often wait days after they get a number in the queue.

Went out for breakfast to The Soup Dragon this morning which was very pleasant with lots of smiling faces. Great to watch the world go by sitting on the terraces. While reading the Bangkok Post (love the newspaper) we saw a few fun articles. One article stated one of the ministers for health wanted to stop alcohol consumption over the Christmas and New Years holidays (what a dreamer). Another article (see photo) reminded me of myself as I barely made it to 6:30 last night before crashing... having a hard time turning my days into nights with the 15 hours time difference and the 3 day journey to get here... I'm glad I survived the night cause I sure slept a lot.

November 5, 2008 - Phnom Penh Reap, Cambodia

We just got back to our hotel after watching Obama's first speech as President Elect. It definitely brought chills of awe! The FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) here in Phnom Penh was hopping with supporters, posters, t-shirts and an electricity in the air. As well, it's Cambodia's 55 year of independence AND Ross' birthday. A triple whammy!

We drove from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh yesterday. Relatively easy 6 hour journey. The seats are never comfortable though.

Spent nine days in Siem Reap, seven with Ross and Joyce. People around town were starting to recognize us. It's a good feeling. We took the option of a 7 day entry pass into the Angkor Wat temple complex. Doing this makes the temple visits much more relaxed in the high heat/humidity allowing for half day tours. The entire Angkor complex continues to amaze. We never tire of just being in it's midst. Walking around a place or stepping on the same stairs people climbed over a thousand years ago gives pause for thought.

Typically we had a car fetch us about 900A and head off to breakfast... dim sum has been a favorite at The Hong Kong Restaurant. The owner Mike is Malaysian Chinese man who has lived the past 30 years in Germany before getting tired of the high taxes and so looked back to Asia and is giving Siem Reap a try. We've had some long conversations over jasmine tea; his life is a story that needs telling sometime. He makes all the dim sum himself... it's wonderful!

After breakfast it was off to the temples... we started with numero uno... Angkor Wat. The crowds were worse than 2 years ago and it's still in a slow part, quite early in the season. Asians are traveling en mass now. Still we were able to find some quite times with some breaks in the hoards. Ross was reviewing some photos from earlier and noted that he didn't seem to have any distant shots encompassing greater sections of temples; then realized that that would not be possible without having many of the tourists in the photos. Back to the hotel for a break, a shower and out for lunch. Then it's back to the hotel for R&R... emails, more showers and maybe even a nap before heading off for dinner.

Can you tell that a good part of Siem Reap was great restaurants and indulging in them? There must be 50 new avant garde (Siem Reap style) eateries in the old market area of town. It makes for quite the choice. Besides the afore mentioned Hong Kong... we frequented the Khmer Family Barbeque three times I think. Really good food and service. The Cambodian servers are not yet jaded with the masses of tourists.

Maung maung at the Mandalay Inn is continuing to have a successful guest house. His staff are very attentive and helpful if sometimes confused with the language barrier. He and his wife (Contier) are gracious hosts to all guests and the children Watun and Aim (son and daughter) are delightful. Aim was forever parading around in the latest party dress with a princess tiara. Either talking a blue streak or singing a song in English. She is three and a half and he is five. Contier says they both have a better grasp of English than Khmer... they hang out with dad a lot and are both enrolled in the international school.

Our last night in Siem Reap, Maung maung and Contier took us to a Cambodian BBQ restaurant (cow on the mountain). Picture a perforated metal dome over a charcoal brazier. Bits of all kinds of meat, seafood and vegetables are laid on the dome to quickly cook, dipped in various sauces and devoured. It's a bit like a Asian version of a fondue.

Over and out.

November 9, 2008 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Just getting ready for a tuk-tuk ride out to dinner and crash bang... wow... it's raining cats and dogs! It's really flooding. We are peaking out our French doors and watching to see if it will actually be flooding our room. A pair of shoes came floating by our door. Ross and Joyce's room is just a dozen feet away but it might as well be a mile. We sent them an email (smiles) as we both have computers. It's really super that most places have Wi-Fi. So if we want to check out pretty much anything; like Obama's win-victory on Tuesday (it was so very much fun to watch the numbers come in), to traveller's opinions on restaurants or hotels etc... it's all there at the touch of a keyboard. We are all very excited that Obama has won the election. When we entered the Foreign Correspondents Club (bar/cafe) in Phnom Penh the atmosphere was electric. All the American expats (and a few Canucks) were glued to the several large screen TVs and hanging on Obama's every word... it's a monumental task ahead for Obama but the world must feel relieved and optimistic that this man will take us in a new direction! Hope is eternal.

Last night we got caught in yet another rainstorm on the way to "Friends" restaurant. It was quite the little steamy cocoon as the driver pulled down rain barriers to keep us dry as we sped along in the darkness. The Friends cafe is a cool place as it is run by a great group who train street youth in the restaurant industry... dining for a cause. The food was fantastic, the frozen Marguerites didn't hurt either.

There are a number of organizations that sponsor youth at risk. One restaurant finds children who scavenge in the dump and rescues them. There a a huge number of NGOs here in Phnom Penh. Our efforts here regarding short term volunteer positions has been difficult but Bob has managed to connect to a couple of organizations that need IT help. So he can support them by building websites from Asia and also at home in Canada.

Here comes Joyce wading across the pond to our room saying that she is worried about her laundry... the dryer here is the sun. Ross and Joyce have been oodles of fun to travel with and soon they will be off to continue their journey around the world in honour of their 25th wedding anniversary.

Well, time flies and so did Ross and Joyce.

As Phnom Penh is on the river and next week is the annual water festival (Tues-Wed-Thurs) there are long narrow boats that are manned by about 30 rowers who are madly paddling up and down the river as they practice for victory in the upcoming races. All the spectators on the riverside are so excited! The shores are lined with huge barges and monstrous illuminated scaffolds. Many parade floats everywhere with Buddhist overtones. A lot of action on the riverfront. At the moment there is a huge construction project along the riverfront but just in front of our hotel (Paragon) there is a large area where everybody is celebrating. We have a small room (US$17.00)with an expansive common veranda, so the sights and sounds are really awesome.

Water is everywhere in Cambodia... the largest lake in SE Asia, Tonle Sap lake is the world's greatest flood barrier. The lake is connected to the Mekong at Phnom Penh. In the wet season as the level of the Mekong rises, it backs up into the Tonle Sap river causing it to reverse it's flow back into the lake, which swells from 2m deep and 2500 sq km to 10m deep and 13,000 sq km. During the dry season the Tonle Sap reverses again and flows back towards Phnom Penh. This phenomena produces the perfect breeding grounds for fish, supplying Cambodia with 75% of it's annual catch and earning it a UNESCO biosphere status!

Saw our lovely elephant, Sam Bo lumbering down the street in the rush hour traffic. He was heading home from Wat Phnom where he spends his days blessing people visiting the temple by kissing their head with his wet trunk to his night stall/sleeping area. We do love elephants! We saw him last time too... everyday at about 430P.

Walked back to the hotel via the REAL Phnom Penh and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. A photographers dream actually. We will at some future date give you a link for all the photos. The people here love to get their pictures taken and I always show them the replay which they love to see! Bob got his haircut today for $1.00... they were so happy he came in that they had the fellow who was in the midst of his haircut get out of his chair and wait while Bob got his first. Saw an other fellow getting his hair cut on the street so I'll bet Bob could have got an even better deal. There was one barber shop called the Kennedy Barber Shop and inside all these old pictures and paintings of John F Kennedy.

On Monday (tomorrow) we are taking the magic bus to Vietnam to see an old friend who we met in 1994 who lives in Nha Trang. His daughter was 14 when we last saw her now she is a computer guru and has studied at the university... only one generation and look what an education can do... her father Mr Hoa was our car driver in 1994. We are looking forward to see how Vietnam has changed. The Lonely Planet book paints a wonderful picture.

It's Independence Day today- November 9th here in Cambodia. Such a celebration, freedom from French domination. Awful to think that after the French left Pol Pot became this country's leader. In 1975 screaming solders armed with Ak47's entered government buildings, offices and homes in Phnom Penh and ordered everybody out. They then marched them in a mass exodus to the countryside, where for the next four years they were forced into slave labour. Pol Pot had devised a plan of turning the country into an agrarian utopia. He scratched the calendar and began at year zero. Literacy, arts music and religion were abolished. Any person deemed educated was instantly executed. It is believed that 1.7 million people died. Sometimes the way to prove whether you were educated was to feel the softness of a person's hands. On Dec 25th 1978 the Vietnamese invaded and on Jan 7th 1979 the Khmer Rouge fell and Pol Pot escaped. Severe famine now followed! It is estimated that as many as 625,000 people died in 1979 and 1980 of starvation (what were we doing in 1980?). Now Cambodia is extremely poor and has the highest incidence of AIDS in SE Asia. Today the Khmers with their unbreakable spirit and infectious optimism are finally starting to grow and prosper along with lots of help from the rest of the world but they have a long, long way to go. The people of this beautiful country with their huge welcoming smiles deserve to prosper as they have had a horrible history. The Khmer people will lift your spirits with their smiles and then their stories will horrify you. This is a nation of survivors. The parade I witnessed today was amazing. Everyone looked proud and carried a flag of their country. I listened to Hun Sen and marvelled on how these gentle people have survived such atrocities and now face such extreme poverty.

Well it's time for dinner, we'll talk later from Vietnam.

November 11, 2008 - Saigon, Vietnam

Well folks, after a 7 hour bus ride with a toilet set down in the stairwell that looked like a vertical tiny coffin we made it to Saigon. (we did not avail ourselves of the aforementioned toilet... scary movies)

As usual, as the rainy season is just finishing, we barely made it into our hotel before the thunder, lighting and rainstorm began. If you have seen the movie Blade Runner then you can imagine the wonderful city of Saigon. In fact I'm sure I saw Harrison Ford sitting eating noodles at a small cafe. When we were here 14 years ago it was only cyclos (kinda like peddle rickshaws) and now it's zillions of motorcycles. Unbelievable noisy motorcycles. We've noticed that whenever motorcycles turn right they never look to the left. It's just like watching controlled chaos at an intersection when a hundred bikes weave around each other like a ballet. I have, unfortunately been almost hit twice by bikes... gets the adrenal going! Bob has had a couple of mishaps too, once his hand got caught in a elevator door that closed very quickly (swollen and bruised big time) and the other time he sat down in a restaurant and the chair disintegrated... he fell and sprawled in the restaurant with all the Vietnamese looking on. Everyone loves slapstick. No damage done.

This city is such eye candy, as you walk along, everyone's business is spilling out on to the sidewalks. You'll see a coffin maker, then little ladies in typical Vietnamese conical hats and pyjamas selling fruit, then maybe someone roasting dried squid. Or perhaps young schoolgirls in their lovely white outfits cycling by with perfect posture and white gloves all the way up their arms to keep their skin white and so on. We cut through a market yesterday, actually it was the red meat section, and I called out to Bob... watch out for the entrails!!! Walking around Saigon you really do have to keep your eyes on the traffic but also down on the ground.

It's great to eat at these little places and marvel at the interesting people and their efforts on making a little money. Watching CNN from our hotel room seems so bizarre as the world stock and money markets seems so foreign to what is happening here, which is survival. The Vietnamese are really friendly to us and we feel right at home. We are hanging out here for 6 days and then we are off on the overnight train to Nha Trang (11 hours) to visit our Vietnamese friends we met back in 1994.

Tonight is the full moon and we went to the most wonderful vegetarian cafe. We found out later this is what one does in Vietnam on the occasion of a full moon. It was so busy we just thought that the Vietnamese loved veggie food. Due to the number of diners we shared a table with a couple of single gents. With broken English we had a very nice meal with this couple of great new friends. One was a marshal arts instructor and the other guy had a relative in Quebec. They spoke baby English so we were able to communicate somewhat and had a fabulous time. Everyone in the restaurant was happy to see us as this was not a tourist hangout. I went into the kitchen (didn't look around too closely) and took some pictures and they were all delighted. We toasted to Vietnam and said goodbye, we picked up dinner and for the four of us. It came to $6.00.

We have a real great room here at the Blue River Hotel in a little alley. Super clean and includes a very nice breakfast of French bread (wonderful legacy of the French colonization), 1 egg, orange juice and banana. We are moving to another little place tomorrow that is also very friendly. Good value.

On the train on Saturday night, we have a 2 births in a very comfortable four bed compartment. When we were here in 1994 they only had 6 bed hard sleeper (no padding) compartments. So we went to this communist department store which was quite austere and purchased some inexpensive padding to sleep on and then discard. Well, it worked quite well except that when we woke up we were covered, and I mean covered in white fluff... we looked like we'd been tarred and feathered. You have to laugh at yourself!

We really are amazed at the rats nest of wiring, telephone and hydro lines that drape from pole to pole. There are thousands at each pole, it's mind boggling to think of anyone figuring it out. Well today we were sitting sipping tea and reading the Bangkok Post when voila along came the telephone crew wearing hard hats. All of a sudden this guy leans a bamboo ladder up in the middle of the intersection against the heavy bunch of drooping cables. No cones, no flag people... just him in the middle of the road with motorcycles zooming around him. He then (no kidding) climbs up into the wires and cables and just like a circus acrobat inches along walking on the cables (thousands of them) and threading a new largish one (figure 8 for the the Telco crowd) over to the next telephone pole. Keep in mind he is walking over masses of telephone drops and power cables as well... and me without my camera... it was so dangerous and unreal. So much for safety! Love watching life on Saigon's streets, never a dull moment.

November 18, 2008 - Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam

After having spent almost a week here in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), we are enchanted with the welcome we have received from the locals. When we were here in 1994, the country had been open to tourists for only a month and we found the people somewhat reserved and a little harsh. Well fast forward 14 years and mix in the best working model of communist-capitalism on the planet and you have HCMC and the Vietnam of today. Right from the start as we came into town on the bus from Phnom Penh, the prosperity was obvious; the new affluence was everywhere. Gone are the swarms of cyclos (yes there are still many) replaced by millions... maybe even zillions of motorcycles. And they all have annoying, beeping horns. Reminds me of a bee's nest. Air-conditioned, metered taxis abound; very reasonable too (12,000 dong/CAD$.90 for the first km). The shops are as upscale as anywhere in Bangkok. Yes if you look down the alleys and side streets you can still see the old Saigon, including the odd (we didn't go on a quest) Rattini. When our bus reached it's terminal in Saigon, it just pulled up to the curb across from the booking agent that handles this line. Our hotel, The Blue River was just a 5 minute walk down a back alley and around a corner into a quaint little "quiet" lane. The din of the traffic was gone, it was a very Asia quaint.

We moved from the excellent Blue River Hotel, to a more modest hotel owned by the exuberant Madame Cuc (Kook), the MC184 (she has 3 hotels in the neighbourhood). In the evening, she swished into the lobby for a visit and after chatting with her for only 5 minutes we were invited for lunch the next day at her flagship, Hotel 127. Lunch was served by 3 of her staff who personally hand fed us by cutting up the food and placing it in our rice bowls. Madame Cuc didn't join us, she had a meeting or something elsewhere.

The staff at our "Hotel 184" are extremely attentive; such caring attention! We have met so many interesting travellers there. Sometimes I find that the less expensive hotels attract the most engaging people. Our hotel offers breakfast, dinner, all day coffee/tea/juice and room for only US$15 - $20. Very good value.

While in Saigon we revisited some downtown sites like the famous Rex Hotel where we had dined in grand style on the rooftop restaurant during our first time in VN in '94. In the old days all the beggars would be there with drugged babies in their arms. Today it's horribly burned faces or amputees so little has changed in that regard. There are still many sad sights in Saigon and it's a reality that we can't help everyone. We had in the past visited a famous ice cream cafe near the Rex Hotel and chanced upon a couple of twin women from Russia in matching pleated skirts with striped t-shirts... they were as wide as they were tall and when they smiled absolutely every single tooth was capped in gold. We half expected to see them again but alas they did not show.

Our new visa came through as promised. It's always a little unnerving to hand your passport to a travel agent who says come back in 2 days, but it was the only way to get more time in Vietnam. The the quick visa we acquired in Phnom Penh was not extendable. So getting the right agent who could grease the right wheels was the only way to get a brand new 30 day Vietnam visa. Theoretically this is not possible inside the country. Surcharge US$25 per person.

So now we are off to Nha Trang on the Golden Train but it actually says Blue Train on the side. I can still hear Robbie Robertson singing... "Take the Blue Train..." We have lucked out and our 4 berth cabin is ours alone. It's a narrow gage railway so its lurches from side to side but it's extremely comfy, vastly different from the cockroach infested train of 1994. We even have a 27inch flat screen TV and karaoke set up and A/C power so I can write this email. Bob's threatening to do a Meatloaf impersonation, singing along to "Bat out of Hell".

I'll attach a few pictures of Saigon that relate to our last email like the awesome overhead wiring and our dinner companions.

Joann just got up, grabbed the TP roll and said "Well I'm going to give it a try". Everyone dreads going down that bucking, rock and roll passageway heading for the toilet from hell on Asian trains. I'd all ready had a quick peek and it looked quite good. She came back, astonished saying that it was the first toilet in asia that she didn't have to watch the waste hit the tracks. It was a western WC and even had a bottle of soft soap next to the sink. Only one thing missing... NO grab bars to keep your ass from sliding off. It's like riding an exercise ball... good for core strength.

As if I would sit down (I'm back writing again).

Yesterday Vietnam was hit by a huge tropical storm, Noul. As our room in Nha Trang is on the 8th floor we enjoyed the storm clouds and the torrents of rain. We can see all of Nha Trang city and the palm lined beach with the pounding surf. We ventured out for lunch in our raincoats to a great Indian restaurant and got soaked as the wind howled up and under our plastic coats but it was fun as it's just water and it's really not that cold (25C felt cool though). We can't believe how much Nha Trang has prospered... really cool little seaside town with lots of trendy cafes and bars. Spoke to an Australian man here who owns a small cafe and were sobered when he described the poverty outside of the city and the pedophilia. He said a couple of years ago he was approached by a man who wanted to sell him a baby for 10 million Dong (US$750). He described the mother who was clutching her baby and weeping uncontrollably, saying that they had so many children they could not take care of another. In this instance the mother was lucky as Ozy Bob found an orphanage for the child, but there are way too many young children and too few orphanages. Once again poverty shows it's ugly face.

On that happy note we will say adieu... stay tuned for more...

November 24, 2008 - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Hello friends and family,

We are off tonight on the train back to Saigon.

Our time in Nha Trang has been great but extremely rainy, cloudy and the usual rainy season stuff. Luckily our room is so open and bright with windows that showcase the whole city. So even though the weather is gloomy or stormy it's great to see the pounding surf and the wind sucking at the palm trees and the clouds gusting by. When it's raining it's great to catch a ride in a Cyclo (Rickshaw) as they have great canopies and it's such a slow and easy way to see the city. The Cyclo drivers are usually old men with skinny legs who are victims of a modern age, now everyone travels by motorcycle taxi or metered taxis which are very inexpensive. This seems to be the case in many places in Asia now.

We caught up with our friend Hoa and his wonderful family. He and his wife, Ri invited us to their home again and were served a traditional Vietnamese meal with seafood and spring rolls rolls. Hoa, in our honour, purchased a bottle of Hungarian champagne. Se we toasted to "happy new year" and to "Vietnam and friendship" and drank our room temperature beverage and marvelled at how time is meaningless when you get together with friends. When I asked Hoa's daughter if they had any family in Canada or the USA she said there is only us! Hoa's 2 daughters speak English really well and Hoa did quite well in dredging up his English of many years ago. Hoa is such a great guy and when he was our driver in years gone by, he was so much fun and he really cared about us.

We invited the family out to dinner and went to a super seafood restaurant. You could even drive your motorcycle right up to the table if you wanted to as most of it was outside under the stars. We had a feast that night including the traditional soup hot pot filled with seafood, rice noodles and vegetables. We ate family style with everyone toasting "happy new year" with beers. Our star guest was Hoa's treasured grandson Minh Quan (3 1/2 ) who was so well behaved and obviously loved by all. Every once in awhile a waiter would try to scoop out one of the large fish from the tank behind us. The thrashing fish would fight for it's life. Water would be flying everywhere and Quan would be delighted and laugh!

In 1994 I had purchased a bronze statue while we were visiting the "Purple City" in Hue. It meant a lot to me because my mom had given me money for Christmas and I wanted to buy something special. It turned out to be the last gift I received from her. My sweet mom died a week after we returned from Vietnam. As we were exiting, the customs agent confiscated the statue, saying it was a protected artefact. Just before we boarded the plane a lady in the departure lounge, translated the receipt we had received... it really said that we hadn't declared it. Well... they are calling for us to board the flight and Cowboy Bob is off back thru closed doors to retrieve our statue as we HAD declared it. I thought we would miss our flight. To make a long story short we were allowed to let someone in Vietnam retrieve it. So dear Hoa drove the 450 km down to Saigon and picked it up for us for an exorbitant fee, of course, (which we covered). So after 14 years Hoa gave me back the statue last night.

Went to the Dam Market (love saying that) and we had so much fun. As we threaded our way through the maze of alleys looking at all the interesting wares on sale... everyone was smiling and kind.

Going back to the Lac Canh for another BBQ at the table... more cuttle fish and marinated veggies... mmmm!!!

Yes we do do other things besides eat!
xxoo CB&BJ

December 17-18, 2008 - Enroute to Canada

Baby, it's cold outside...

Well...guess where we are?... Back in Canada after a hellish 6 days in the Phuket International Hospital.

Bob got a major infection in his right foot at the site of foot restoration surgery that was done 2 1/2 years ago. Inside his foot he has a large steel plate and the foot also has 12 screws. The infection came up very quickly... 2 days so we hightailed it to the hospital in Phuket where they operated and opened it up. Bob, as he has peripheral neuropathy, with his CMT disease has no feeling in his feet and requested that he not have any anesthetic and could he watch??? Well... he watched and then when they were just tidying up he went to lay down and the last 3rd of the articulating operating table collapsed and Bob's feet were in the air and he thought he was going to fall off the table. Typical Asia. You should have seen the two small Thai men try to load Bob into the ambulance to take us to the airport. I thought the flimsy stretcher was going to collapse and then I watched as the two attendants struggled to lift Bob...yikes! Our good friends Glenn, Peter and Janet were there to wish us well for 2 days and to wave to us as we began our journey home. They dropped into the hospital for a surprise visit and was I amazed!! They stayed in a hotel right next door to the hospital.

I am writing this from the First Class Lounge in Hong Kong where I just had a marvellous hot shower and now am scarfing down smoked salmon, various cheeses and cappuccinos along with a few chocolates. We are about to get on the plane to Vancouver and we will be totally flat in lovely beds. Bob's problems do come with some silver linings... but I'd trade them for economy after the last 7 stressful days, especially as Bob has had a rough time with gastric problems and fevers accompanied by chills. I hear there is snow in Vancouver... coming from 30 degrees to freezing cold will be a hoot, NOT. And guess what? it's Christmas in a week and I don't have my tree up. Bob may need additional surgery to remove the steel plate so I don't even know if Bob will be home or what!.

Our doctor Bill Cavers, Bob's podiatrist Hiedi Postowski and Bob's sister, Colleen were amazingly helpful via the internet half a world away. It was so nice to get such great support. Now we are sitting at Vancouver waiting for our 11:45 flight to Victoria. We were on the waiting list for the 10 pm flight but didn't make it. The 3 people ahead of us that were also on the waitlist made it and we wondered why someone with medical problems wouldn't be put to the top of the list... love Air Canada.

So weird to be back in Canada and see all these big, pasty coloured white folks who seem to be generally overweight compared to Asians. I'll let Bob write a few words now as I am off in search of a coffee....

Hi boys and girls... just got off the Cathay flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. It was a quite speedy 10 hour flight. We even got the use of their highly touted NEW flat bed service... always nice to be able to sleep on a long-haul flights. All this is fine unless you are Bob Patchett, 6'4" - 270#