Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saigon, very nice to return

We headed down to Saigon for the weekend, go down Saturday, come back Monday.  A short break, but we managed to pack quite a bit in without running ourselves ragged.

We took the airport bus into the city centre.  At 20,000 VND each (under USD1) we were on an uncrowded air-conditioned bus, a shutter bus according to the signage. 

It dropped us off around the corner from our hotel Little Saigon Boutique.  It was an excellent location for us.

We headed off to drinks on the rooftop of Anan restaurant.  We enjoyed happy hour watching the street activity.  There was no obvious sunset as the rain clouds grew thicker and darker.  And inevitably the heavens opened and we retreated downstairs for an early dinner. 
We had a 7 course tasting menu, modern Vietnamese fusion style food.  The meal was fantastic with 5 savoury courses and 2 sweet.Every dish was full of flavour and portions generous.  We didn’t finish our bottle of wine, so they put the cork back in and Andrew carried it back to the hotel
The next morning we wandered around the area, meandering our way to the War Remnants museum for a return visit.  It was interesting skimming the extensive displays, but equally interesting was watching the other tourists reaction to some quite confronting images and information about the consequences of modern warfare.

It was hot and humid so we stopped for a cold drink at a bright little coffee shop – Thuc Coffee.  Refreshed and having been to the toilet we stepped back outside only for it to start raining.  By the time we found a spot to shelter it was full monsoon, and we waited for a good 10 minutes under the eaves under our umbrellas.

For lunch we went to L’Usine, a concept store with a highly rated café.  It was a slick machine with good service and very good food.
After a bit of a quiet afternoon we left the hotel at 5:20pm to meet our motorcycle drivers for the evening.  We were off on the XO Foodie motorcycle tour.  All the drivers were females (wearing traditional costume) and they proceeded to race us around the suburbs at speed from venue  to venue. 

It started with very good Bun Bo Hué (noodle soup with a aromatic lemongrass) Here all the participants were brought in from our respective hotels.  We introduced ourselves to the people sitting opposite us, who turned out to be New Zealanders also: being an ex-All Black and an ex-60 minutes presenter.
Andrew took a little bit to warm up to being on the back of a bike and putting his trust in a tiny Vietnamese girl.  At the beginning he looked petrified, but by the end much more relaxed, but that may have been because he had consumed a few beers over the 3.5 hours. 

And while Andrew likes to think he could drive a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City, the picture below is posed.  We did not drive!

We visited a Vietnamese BBQ where we ate beef and goat,   a seafood specialty restaurant where we ate scallops and crab. And Andrew was ‘that’ person, the only one who was brave enough to eat the local delicacy of Balut (Baby Bird embryo).


The next morning we checked out a couple of shops and then headed for the highly recommended chocolate café Marou.  Here with our coffee we had a brownie each.  Andrew describes it as the best brownie he has ever had. Ever.  It was fantastic.  

We purchased a block of chocolate, locally grown cocoa and locally sourced ingredients.  Dark Cocoa and ginger: It was good stuff, but the memory of that brownie will take a lot of beating. 

A bit more walking and then we found our lunch spot.   We were dining and imbibing at the Pasteur Street Brewing Company where we had some nice beers and lunch.  Andrew spotted the brewery before me and proceeded to do a bit of posing.
Then it was down the stairs, back to Andrew’s bus stop to pick up the bus for the return to the airport.  2 flights under an hour each, with 30 minutes stopover on the runway at Phnom Penh and we were back in Vientiane. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Winter trip to NZ

We went to NZ to see family, friends, ski and look at the Bannockburn section. Paula only had 9 days before returning to work and Andrew managed 15 days.

Flying into Queenstown from Sydney we had 30 minutes circling (holding pattern) the Mount Aspiring National Park, perfect reflections from the lakes on a clear blue-sky day before landing at Queenstown.
It is always a question as to whether one has the right winter clothes when departing from Asia and heading to the NZ winter. We did OK.

In the South Island we did enjoy our family visits and hospitality. Mackersy’s in Arrowtown, Rae’s in Invercargill, and Jackson’s in Dunedin. Peter and I did go and visit our parents bridesmaid Marjory who told us we had made her day. The driving on the quiet roads in Central Otago, Southland – Catlins and seeing the rural flax bushes, small towns and coast was a treat.

We had 4 nights with the Shepherds based at Pisa Mooring 10 minutes out from Cromwell. This enabled evening meals with Phillipa, Yannick and the boys, some skiing at Cardrona, sightseeing at the Snow Farm, revisit to the Cardrona Hotel (Andrew and Peter first visited it 50 years ago) and around Hawea Flat and Tarras. Paula passed on the skiing and visited some family and friends in Cromwell and Alexandra.
We went to the Bannockburn section and pegged out the concept plan. We concluded that swapping the front left and right part of the plan would be better to enable better use of the section. Given the building work going on nearby we determined that a fence would be sensible to deter the section being used as a parking lot. With “Farmer Pete” being about to direct operations (purchasing waratahs, rope and a big hammer) and executing the fencing a job was well done.
We flew to Wellington collected the old Camry from Chloe and headed up to coast for a chat with the Macaskill’s. Impressed with the home brew tasting. We had a fun evening with Harkness team at Waikanae and enjoyed the sea view to Kapiti and the memorable flowering native, which looked very much like a very big stalk of aspargus.
Saturday am it was back to Wellington, no change at Rankin St (being nosey), visit to the Wales and a catchup with Chloe, Aidan, Georgia and Bella. They were a busy and happy team. A night at the airport hotel as Paula hit the airport track at 4.30am for Laos and I did the 8 am flight to Christchurch.

Great to see Chazzy, Simon, Izzie and Livy at the airport and then we went to the Botanical Garden for coffee and a walk. A lovely sunny winter day and we walked into the centre of town to see what progress had been made with the re build. There are still many bare pieces of land and it doesn’t have the critical mass to make the centre hum as it use to do.

The Witheford’s garden is spacious and sunny so plenty of room to play and invite the neighbouring kids. Monday morning was the walk to school with Simon and the girls as Chazz was teaching pilates. A visit to City Art gallery and some more city centre walking was interesting. An enjoyable trip to Christchurch.
Back to Wellington on Tuesday to stay with the KS team. They do have a lovely warm sunny home and there is some good walking around the hills in Miramar and lovely views. Had a great lunch with the Burns at the old favourite “Olive Café” in Cuba St. Had coffee with Miranda and picked up some of the local gossip. I could tell her about brother Stewart in Vientiane.

Wellington is blessed with Moore Wilson’s and the bag was topped up with wine, food, chocolate and Paula’s specified items. It was a packing challenge, but all went well with the Friday 4.30am departure and safe travel back to Laos.