The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bear's Blog: Antarctica...

OK, I know it's not about Vietnam, but I think Bear Grylls is really cool--and I hope one day soon he might consider doing an adventure out here in the Binh Thuan Desert between Phan Thiet and Phan Rang. His latest injury sounds quite awful. Lets pray he heals quickly.

Bear's Blog: Antarctica...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Forest Star Fruit

Trai Khe Rung or Forest Star Fruit (in contrast to the yellow or green star fruit cultivated, and usually eaten sour with banh cuon) is an edible fruit that grows wild in Vietnam, especially along shady roadsides. The red petals are the only edible parts (and very sour), which surround a seed pod. Kids love them, and sometimes moms make che (a sweet soup or porridge) with them at home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More Christmas in Phan Thiet

Below are more Christmas photos from the Catholic neighborhood of Thanh Hai in Phan Thiet.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Displays in Phan Thiet

Thanh Hai is a Catholic neighborhood just east of Phan Thiet City center, and west of the 2 bridges in the neighborhood of Phu Hai. Thanh Hai is a strong community--one I'm told the authorities are not fond of, due to the association of Catholics with the former American presence. At Christmas the entire neighborhood is lit up with lights, giant Christmas stars, banners and life-size animatronic manger scenes. It is an amazing sight, and rivals anything back home in the USA. If you are in town, be sure to come see it before Christmas day, when the decorations begin to be removed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kingfisher at the Sailing Club Mui Ne

White-breasted Kingfisher, Halccyon snyrnensis, rescued at the Sailing Club, Mui Ne. Photo by Scott Soothill.

A Few Christmas Photos from Mui Ne

This last shot is the hotel under construction at Sea Links with a tree-like display on top.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

More of Saigon Christmas Spirit.

I wish these had more aesthetic than narrative value but I was in a hurry while in Saigon so there wasn't much time to refine my photo-taking opportunities.

Diamond Plaza Photo Ops

More Diamond Plaza Photo Ops

More Diamond Plaza Photo Ops

2 Viet Santas and 1 Viet Con

Le Loi St Decorations

Notre Dame Cathedral

Looks like a set-up for an upcoming show at Le Loi and Pham Ngu Lao

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pandanus Christmas Promotion

Pandanus is offering a special Christmas promotion for accommodations and holiday dinner and breakfast. Click below for more information.

If you are already staying in the area and would just like to come for dinner, the cost is USD $40.00.

Job Wanted: Restaurant or Hotel

Met a nice guy here this weekend by the name of Tommy Sevens. He's looking for a job here in Mui Ne and already has previous hotel and restaurant experience. If you have an opening at your location, please have a look at his resume posted here and here.

Note to Mui Ne Hotels and Restaurants

Please, please, please... train your receptionist, when they answer the phone, to say "Hello, this is Hotel/Restaurant X, My name is Y, How may I help you?" or something similar that at least announces where or what you are.

There is nothing more frustrating to me as a guidebook writer (or customer) who often calls businesses, to spend several minutes on the phone just trying to figure out whether I have called the right number or not, while your receptionist grunts, groans and mumbles inaudibly.

Please, don't let your staff get away with just saying "hello" or grunt like most do when they answer your phone. And further, put your BEST english speaker on your phones. But if you don't employ someone who can speak English, at least find someone who can speak Vietnamese clearly. Lets put our best foot forward and show some professionalism for our international guests.

This is not an isolated problem--most hotels and restaurants in Vietnam suffer this problem, and Mui Ne is no different.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sea Links Develops

Sea Links has an open house for its members and the press from Saigon on December 12. Would be nice to be invited so I can cover it in this blog... hint... hint...

To prepare for the event, they have repaired and upgraded the roads around the corner of their property. The road hugs the rocky coastline and dunes (and incidentally is the site of numerous fatal accidents due to the treacherousness of the curves in the road). The alterations look nice, and it's great because since it is a public stretch of road, the public benefits from the upgrade (Thank You Sea Links and Rang Dong!) It looks like a nice promenade is being shaped along the beach. My only hope there is that the beachside will remain open to the public, as it always has been, once the changes are completed.

My only other request, if I may be so bold... Sea Links, (or Mr. Rang Dong), while you are in the midst of the road upgrade, could you donate a few speed bumps to help fight the traffic and speeding problems in Mui Ne?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sky Publishing

Below are photos of the new Vietnam guide by Sky Publishing (based in Hong Kong). I contributed photos for Mui Ne and Phan Thiet.

This is my second Vietnam guide to be published this year (I am a contributing author to ThingsAsian Press' "To Vietnam With Love," which was published this summer).

In 2009 watch for my other books, including Insight Guides Vietnam, Berlitz Pocket Guide to Vietnam, Thomas Cook's Travellers Vietnam, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides Vietnam, and ThingsAsian Press' To Cambodia With Love. My involvements range from co-author and co-photographer to updater/researcher.

Saigon Has Christmas Spirit

WAR on Con Dao

Thursday, November 27, 2008

From Gordon A. in Canada

I received this note today:

"I just spent two weeks in Mui Ne and by far the biggest (only) hassle of the place is constantly being harrassed by moto-taxi drivers. It would be nice to just go for a walk during the day or stagger back to my room after a night out with these buggers chasing me down the street. They have even waited outside Wax bar for me and insulted my female friend by asking how much she was charging for the "ride" home. Had it been at home I would have been obliged to do the manly thing and defend her honour. I would have destroyed the cheeky twerp. I met people in business renting scooters and motos, I vastly preferred getting around on my own. I am thinking of traveling the country by moto. but of course I would have to adjust my plans to return to Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. I simply will not submit to being harrassed by these clowns again."

Unfortunately our current situation with the police pulling over foreigners and confiscating motorbikes will probably only add to the frustration of visitors like Gordon...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thailand's Troubles - Vietnam's Gain?

Vietnam's tourism doesn't seem to be affected by the world economic downturn so far, but there's been a big looming question regarding what will happen after the holiday reservations have come and gone. Is the Thailand political situation--much like the terrible Tsunami--set to rescue Vietnam from what might otherwise be a very rough patch in the economy? I also just discovered that Siem Reap Airlines, a national airlines of Cambodia, just suspended all domestic and international flights indefinitely this week, the apparent result of an unrelated dispute with the EU. It might be even better for Vietnam if tourists have difficulty traveling in Cambodia.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Birthday Glimpses

Ruou Can in the dunes with friends.

A party at Tinh and Sabine's in Mui Ne (Ham Tien). They make fantastic jewelry with local stones.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Want to Help?

As of this year I have co-written or updated 5 of the world's top 10 guidebooks on Vietnam, and contributed to 2 other books on Indochina as well. It's been exciting running around and getting all the latest travel info for each edition, but I'm always happy for suggestions. If you've found information that is out-of-date in any guidebook that you happen to use, or have a suggestion/tip of your own, please feel free to post it here or send me an email. :-)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hidden Binh Thuan with Mr. Binh

I followed Binh, of Mr. Binh's Sahara Tours, up into the mountains to observe a "Buffalo Stabbing Festival" at a Chu Ru village this weekend, just across the border into Lam Dong Province.

Looking south to Binh Thuan Province.

A herd of water buffalo.

Bao Dai Falls from above.

Bao Dai Falls from below.

The ceremonial pole where the buffalo is tied when it is sacrificed.

Your can meet Mr. Binh at 81 Huynh Thuc Khang in Ham Tien (Mui Ne Beach) or call him at 098 929 7648.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poor Service as Usual: WAKE UP Mui Ne Hotels!

I went to one of Mui Ne's largest and most well-known hotels twice this week to meet someone on official business. Both times the receptionist refused to help me by calling the person I came to meet or by leaving a message for that person--even though the person I wanted to meet works at the hotel. The receptionist did so purely out of laziness. When will these hotels learn? It's not like there are only half-a-dozen resorts in Mui Ne any more. There is serious competition on the beach, and hotels with terrible service are going to fail--no matter how well connected their owners may be to the government, mafia or some rich and powerful person--and deservedly so.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Announcing Fish Egg Tree Tours

Brought to you by and the co-author of numerous international guidebooks on Vietnam, Fish Egg Tree Tours is the only tour company exclusively covering Binh Thuan province with knowledgeable guides, fluent in English, who teach you about local history, culture & ecology. Unlike other local tour companies, we are not a mere taxi service! You will learn about Mui Ne, Phan Thiet and the surrounding area from your accompanying guide, and you will have fun doing it! tours include: 3 minorities in 1 day; eat your way around Phan Thiet; ancient temples of Phan Thiet; mountain trekking & nature hikes; sand dunes; Ta Cu Mountain and Khe Ga Lighthouse. Classes Include: minority handicrafts; cooking Phan Thiet delicacies. Custom tours available to suite every need. Please contact us or call 090.443.4895 for more information.

Theft by Open Tour Companies

I've received reports that some major Open Tour Bus companies servicing Mui Ne have told their customers that they can not sit with their valuables--that they must put them under the bus--then later parters of the bus attendants are going through their bags and robbing passengers. Likewise I've recently heard about customers falling asleep on the bus and getting robbed.

Never, under an circumstance, put your valuables(electronics, money, etc.) in the compartments under the bus. Any attendant that instructs you to do so is saying this with the sole intent of robbing you. This has never been standard practice in any company. Likewise, keep track of your valuables at all time. Don't fall asleep with valuables out of your reach.

In an unrelated matter, I've received report of another theft which was reported to local police, but the police refused to file a report out of sheer laziness-despite the fact that the victim had accurately collected the names, passport number, hotel and even flight information of the criminal! More information on this exceptional case soon...

The point being, if you do happen to get robbed, unfortunately you are on your own. The local police will not help you.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Flowers of Binh Thuan Province

In the Dry Season, much of coastal Binh Thuan Province is a desert wasteland. During the rainy season however, the desert blooms.

These flowers are commonly found growing up bushes and trees in the scrublands.

These flowers are found along the ground, typically at the base of other bushes.

I'm told the orange blooms of this flower are edible--and sweeter than sugar cane.

These fragrant flowers attract lots of flies and bees

On the inside, this wild fruit, which grows on mountain slopes, looks much like a longan, but on the outside, like a small orange. I've been given conflicting reports on whether it is edible or not.

This large flower grows plentifully on wooded hillsides.