Drive it like you’ve stolen it!

For my 60th Birthday which was back in November 2014, my two children Sean and Lauren really had no idea what to buy me for this momentous occasion. After numerous conversations with Lynne it was decided that an appropriate present would be the chance to experience driving a sports cars. I had a choice and could have driven a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin DB9, Mini Cooper, Porsche (something or other) Caterham 7 or some Japanese tin boxes or an E Type Jaguar. The decision was not a difficult choice to make. It had to be the E Type…

I decided to wait until the summer months, hoping that the weather might possibly be more favourable than the depths of winter and 12th June was the chosen date. We arrived one hour before my allotted slot, registered and heard the compulsory briefing. I was then offered an additional classic car experience costing from £25 for the Mini Cooper S ranging up to £60 for a Aston Martin. There was a Austin Healy 3000 and a Ford Mustang Mach 1, both a car that I’d very much like to drive. Decision made: it was the Mustang American Muscle Car ( I’d watch the film “Bullitt” in my younger years)

My name was called and it was time for my six laps in the E Type.  I was not alone; there was an experienced driver in the passenger seat who was responsible for ensuring the experience was enjoyable, making sure I didn’t break it.  Strapped in and ready, we slowly made our way on to the track which consisted of two long straights with chicane corners at each end. On the first straight I thought I was going fast until a Aston Martin DB9 passed like I was standing still.  I starting gaining confidence by the 6th and final lap when I passed the same Aston Martin DB9 (pretty sure it was a different driver!) All too soon the E Type drive was over. But it will never be forgotten.

By the time it came for me to take the Mustang out, the rain arrived and it was torrential. Those of you that know  anything about American Muscle cars, know that they don’t corner in the dry, never mind when it’s raining cats and dogs.  So it was all about the straight: automatic gear box, engage drive, press the accelerator down to the floor and sit back, brake heavy before the corner, coax it round and the off down the straight again.

What a day! Driven two of the most iconic cars ever made.

 

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And he’s off

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Songkran in Chiang Mai

Sean, Lynne and Neil survived Songkran 2014.

Well, this is our last few days in Chiang Mai before we head off home via Bangkok. It’s Songkran festival which means it’s party time in Chiang Mai. The water fights are actually just one aspect of the Songkran Festival. It actually has a deeper meaning and that is to ask for blessings and to enrich religious intentions. As everyone wishes for good vibes, housewives clean their houses and remove all junk. That’s for the Thais. For westerners it’s all about the water fights and having a great time.

Day one:  We ventured out dry and un-armed and prepared to get wet. Phones, camera, wallets all secured in a sturdy waterproof bag. The temperature was a balmy 35c so getting wet would be a pleasant experience. We must have walked for 20 minutes before we encountered the first serious water revellers who took great joy in throwing, squirting and pouring water over us.  Some of the water was warm, some was ice cold and was quite a shock to the system. By the time we arrived at the centre of the celebrations (Tha Phae Gate) the road was 6 inches deep in water and hundreds of people either side of the road battling it out with buckets, hose pipes and water pistols. Tuk tuks and pick-up trucks filled with people and water butts with ice cold water spraying everyone. We decided we needed to be equipped so we bought what I can only describe as a three litre capacity water canon, that was capable of shooting a high powered jet of water over 4 metres. It was time to seek revenge!

Day two:  This was the official start for Songkran; day one was just a practice day. Today there would be processions and floats and many more Thais on the street.  This time we were fully prepared, water pistols filled we hit the streets.  We managed to arrive at the local ice cream shop quite dry and shared large passion fruit frozen yogurt and listened to a local Punk band that were performing. We then ventured into Loi Kroh.  We knew that this would be a very water hostile territory and we were right, it was like Custer’s Last Stand only shooting ice cold water but no scalping. We exited Loi Kroh colder and wetter then we arrived and manage to fill our own water pistols before crossing the main road, Moon Muang, by the moat. This was the most hazardous part of the day, the water from the Moat is not the cleanest and it’s best avoided if possible.

We arrived at base camp zero, We’s restaurant, wet but not yet traumatised. This would be our base for a couple of hours, offering plenty of water, cold beer and ambushing unsuspecting tourists. One very dry Chinese tourist took exception when I gave her a good squirt by shouting “fook off”, so I squirted her again. The final sorte of the day was Tha Phae Gate, the centre of celebrations. It was chaotic: thousands of Thais and westerners all dispensing gallons and gallons of water on to the procession. We had a great time but after fours hours of water fights it was time to retire and shower for Seans last dinner in Chiang Mai.

Today Monday: Sean is on his way back to the UK. Songkran goes on for another two days, we’ve decided to have a day out today. We are leaving Chiang Mai early Wednesday (Bangkok bound). We’ll be sorry to leave Chiang Mai but looking forward to getting home.

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching”

Hope you like the photographs. It was quite difficult getting them without getting the camera soaked.

 

 

 

 

Adieu Vietnam

Our time in Viet Nam is nearly at an end, we leave here early Wednesday 23rd. Destination Chiang Mai via Kuala Lumpur (we couldn’t fly direct from Da Nang to Chiang Mai).  We did intend travelling to the Perhentian islands in the South China Sea. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any accommodation so we decided on a month in Chiang Mai and then head back to Malaysia.

The voluntary worked we wanted to do never materialised, we had to make do with helping three Vietnamese University students with their spoken English. (Well Lynne did).  They sometimes struggled with my accent.

Vietnam: The traffic in the cities is sometimes frightening. If not flying, travelling between majors cities can be agonisingly slow and sometimes dangerous. The drivings consists tooting your horn every 20 yards, bicycles three abreast going the wrong way down a one way street, dodging motorbikes on the pavement.

You are are continually approached by children, pensioners, disabled people, restaurateurs, tailors and taxis selling anything they can. But when you consider that they earn less than £2 a day and there is no state pension, you can’t really blame them.

Vietnam: On the positive side the country is beautiful and the scenery truly amazing.  The Vietnamese people are some of the warmest and friendliest we have met in Asia.  They still have  a lot to learn about tourism and dealing with stuffy westerners.  We have been fortunate enough to have spent nearly three months here, we have had some wonderful memories and stories that we can reminisce about on our return to the UK.

Should you visit  Vietnam?  Yes, come here before it’s over run with MacDonald’s, Dunking Do-nuts, Starbucks and other fast food outlets.  The world changes so quickly now.  Ten years from now it just could be another Benidorm!

Come here and enjoy, before it’s too late…

Police close hotel – Eviction notice served

One week ago we moved hotel  due to extensive renovation work, the builders starting at 7:30am it was bit much. So we found an hotel literally two minutes walk away.  It had only opened the previous week, swimming pool, good size bedroom – $17 a night.

Today, like any other day, we went down for breakfast and discussed with Sean what we would do today?  Two minutes later the manager came to us and informed us that we would have to leave the hotel by midday as the police were closing him down and would be here at 3:00pm confirming that all guests had vacated their rooms.

So, instead of a day on the beach, it was back to Agoda to look for a bed for the night (preferably a soft bed)!

Savile Row it’s not.

Which Tailor?

Choosing a tailor in Hoi An isn’t an easy task, there are over 300 of them, all vying (bordering on the desperate!) for your business.   Even if you casually look in or make eye contact with the shopkeeper, it’s assumed that you must want to buy.  I  have lost count of the number of times we’ve been asked “You want something in my shop? You come look in my shop?”

Thursday: Sean (my son) having lost a number of his suits to a whisper of very ravenous moths, decided he would take advantage of being in the tailor capital of the world and get some suits made.

After consulting TripAdvisor and on a recommendation from a Kiwi, we found  Kim Hien tailors. The staff made us very welcome and we made it quite clear that Sean was the one -the only one of us – looking for a suit.   Sean went about the task of choosing which cloth and what design.  (Mum and Dad are paying, belated Christmas present) so we had vested interest in how much the suit was going to cost.

Whilst Sean was being measured, the remaining shop assistants went to work on both Lynne and me, trying to persuade us to buy something we didn’t want. Having spent the last 6 months in Asia, we’re both masters at declining these approaches. Now it would take a water boarding session to persuade us to buy something we don’t want.

Sean chose the cloth and design: 3 piece cashmere suit with 100% silk lining. The cost of said suit was then up for negotiation. The first price quoted was $175,  at this point I made sharp intake of breath and feigned a look of shock and horror.  After a bit of light hearted bargaining and with the prospect of some hand made shirts being ordered, we agreed a price  of $160…at todays exchange rate this is exactly £100….Bargain!

So cheap! Now he wants more..

Being so cheap, Sean thought it would be crazy not to get another but this time he wanted a material that was proving difficult to find.  After trying several  tailors, Kha Huy Tailors came up with the goods.  After seeing a rough example of what he wanted on a photo on his phone they managed to source the material. So again we negotiated a decent price and the measuring went ahead. Suit price $120, 3 hand made shirts $55.

I was so impressed, I decided to have copies of my favourite casual trousers and shirt made.  Total cost £25.

“Banana, Pineapple, Mango”

Here in Vietnam, there is no such luxury as an old age pension.  If you don’t have a family that can support you there is no alternative but to work. Many elderly people still work in the fields and the fishing industry.  Some choose the life on the beach.  The two ladies featured sell a variety of goods: bananas, pineapples, mangos, cigarettes, sweets and beach balls. If you look closely you will see that there are no National Health Dentists over here.

Vietnamese Wedding Reception

On Sunday we returned from Hue to Hoi An. We arranged a private car so we could meet Sean from Da Nang Airport en route.  We pre arranged with the driver that we’d stop when requested to take some photographs along the way.

Our first stop was on a huge bay with rice paddy fields and mountains. Close to where we stopped a Vietnamese wedding was in full swing, the noise from a disco and karaoke was nearly unbearable.  But what the hell, I thought it would be a good photo opportunity.

We stood at the entrance and saw the bride having pictures taken with all her girlfriends. Before we knew it we’d been dragged in and a beer thrust in our hands. Everyone wanted to shake our hands or just touch us. We were being pushed to the back of the room – I think they wanted us to get up and do a karaoke song.  The bride and groom were introduced, Lynne had her photo taken with the lucky couple (sorry about the quality of the photos, they kept thrusting bottles of beer in my face and wanted to say cheers (or the Vietnamese equivalent)! We were introduced to  granny who had a lovely smile, see picture.  They made us very welcome and wanted us to stay! It was a very surreal experience.

An Bang Beach – Vietnam

A normal day on the beach – Vietnam style

Currently the temperatures are in the high 30c,  so today we went to local An Bang beach for the cool sea breeze. Like most beaches in Asia they are patrolled by hawkers who want to sell you something.  Their English is usually pretty good and they generally have an opening pitch. They will then sit on the end of your sun lounger and ask “where you from, how old are you, what is your name, you have children???”  The cheeky ones will sometime poke my stomach and say “Happy Buddha” and they then expect me to buy something!

The range of goods vary from: ‘designer’ sunglasses, jewellery, cigarettes, corn on the cob, chicken and rice, beer, fresh lobster, local newspapers, hammocks and tropical fruit.

The girl vendors cover themselves in order to protect themselves from the sun.  In Asia if a girl/women is dark skinned it’s frowned upon. You will see in the photographs some of them are kitted out more for robbing the local Post Office than selling trinkets on the beach.

The staff in restaurants seem to have their meals at the time when most tourists want to have theirs … bizarre.

There’s never a dull moment on the beaches here!!!!!