This is the blog of a man called Monk and an elephant answering to the name of Nellie.
For 35 years, Monk and his beautiful Irene had such a wonderful life and shared so many adventures together until one day in April 2009 when Irene was called back to the jungle with so much left yet to do. Monk determined to continue those adventures and to take Irene with him in his heart.
Some might consider it a sign of impending insanity to be found apparently talking to oneself - so - enter Nellie to save the day because, as we all know, 9 out of 10 psychiatrists would agree that it's perfectly normal to talk to a soft toy!
This blog will contain trip details for friends and family wanting to keep a track on the progress of Nellie and Monk as well as tips, advice and, hopefully few, warnings for travellers. If you stumbled upon this blog by chance, I hope that some of the information might prove useful to you. However, the faint-hearted should be warned that there might be some explicit content (of an emotional nature) from time to time; please accept my apologies for this and just skip the Monk's Meanders sections if your interest is purely the travel detail.
(My darling Peeps, this blog's for you - may we meet one night in the silver light ...)
March 11th 2011
Nha Trang Monk and Saavas escaped from the hustle and bustle of Saigon and flew up to the seaside resort of Nha Trang. It takes 5 hours by bus but is just a short hop, just 55 minutes, by air. The downside is the airport is no longer in Nha Trang, it's a half hour drive away in Cam Ranh. It's a spectular flight in, over the coast, the sandy inlets and the turquoise sea. Cam Ranh airport is waiting for something to happen - all dressed up and nowhere to go. That something looks to be the wholescale development of the area. From the airport, for a good few miles, the road to Nha Trang is a 4-lane highway with roads coming off going to nowhere except sandy beaches. There are some resort developments in ... read more
March 10th 2011
Vung Tau After a few days in Saigon it's good to escape to somewhere a little less frenetic. The two ferry companies operating to Vung Tau come to the rescue. Vung Tau is 125km from Saigon sitting on the South China Sea and although it's not an island, it has isolated island feel to it. The main town has a laid-back charm to it and has many attractive French colonial buildings. The market has a fish section which is one of the most impressive Monk has seen in Vietnam, probably as a result of the hundreds of small fishing boats moored offshore. There are beaches, including in the town, however, the main beach called the 'back beach' is on the other side of the peninsular - just a 5-minute taxi ride from town. It's a fairly ... read more
March 6th 2011
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Hung had booked Monk and Saavas seats on the 9:00 bus to Saigon. Phuong Trang seems to be one of the better Vietnam bus companies. It's a 4-hour journey for a fare of 80000 dong ($4) and that included the mini-bus pick-up from the road bridge near Hung's house. The seats are numbered and reserved and there's no overcrowding. It also includes a mini-bus from the bus station on the outskirts of Saigon to a drop-off point in District 10, close to the centre, from where you can get a taxi for the short distance into District 1. Monk and Saavas had booked a hotel overlooking the river in the Dong Khoi area for a couple of nights. This area is fine and there are some reasonable restaurants and bars within ... read more
March 4th 2011
Hung's Homestay near Can Tho While exploring in Can Tho, Monk had bumped into a Canadian couple he'd previously met on the bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot. They'd just arrived in Can Tho that morning after having stayed two nights in a homestay which they said had been wonderful. A couple of nights' stay in the home of a Vietnamese family was on Monk's agenda for the next stage of the trip and what better place to choose than one that came so highly recommended. Monk called Hung and arranged to meet him the next morning. Hung's nephew turned up on his motorbike and Monk and Saavas climbed into a taxi which followed him out of Can Tho into the countryside. The normal way of arriving at Hung's is to meet him at a road ... read more
March 2nd 2011
Chau Doc to Can Tho As Monk and Saavas were saying their goodbyes to Vang the previous evening, he insisted on taking them to the bus station the next morning and organising a ticket to Can Tho 'at local people prices'. Monk had originally hoped that they could find a boat from Chau Doc to Can Tho so they could cruise the Mekong (or the Bassac) for this section of the trip. However, it seems that no public boats operate this section of the river any more - buses and motorbikes have put an end to most of the public river transport services. The only boats offering any kind of service are the up-market 2-5 day 'rice barge' cruises running into hundreds of dollars. So, the bus was the only option. At 10:00 Vang and buddy ... read more
March 1st 2011
Vang's Riverside, Countryside and Sam Mountain Tour Around Chau Doc Next morning at 8:30, Vang and a colleague were there with their mopeds ready to whisk Monk and Saavas off to the riverside where they climbed on board a small boat piloted by an old lady - Vang's mum thought Monk - but no, just a friend said Vang later. Monk mentally nicknamed her Madame V. Whoever she was, she was an expert boat woman and handled the boat through some tricky situations during the 4-hour morning trip. Vang's trips usually cater for groups up to 4 people and today, 2 French Canadians joined Monk and Saavas. At the Chau Doc floating market Madame V skillfully manouevred through the traders' boats moored on the river, gently colliding at times with other boats, some containing tourists, others, ... read more
February 28th 2011
Chau Doc Most Vietnamese bus stations seem to be some distance from the town centre and Chau Doc is no exception. Monk and Saavas caught a taxi to the Victoria Hotel, a seriously up-market place for Chau Doc, in the hope that they might be able to negotiate cut-price rooms for a couple of nights. No such luck - the hotel is in such demand that discounts are not necessary. They were treated to cold drinks while attempting to negotiate with the ever-so-polite booking manager who suggested another hotel a short distance from the centre of town. The Chau Pho hotel proved to be a good recommendation. Chau Doc is a good stopover for a couple of nights. It has an excellent market, open all day until early evening, all claustrophobically jammed in to a few ... read more
February 27th 2011
Phu Quoc to Ha Tien and Chau Doc On Sunday Nellie, Monk and Saavas said their goodbyes to Gerard and Mai and left the tranquility of Mai House on Phu Quoc to catch the 13:30 boat for Ha Tien on the mainland. When buying the tickets, the agent said it would be the moden 'Superdong' hydrofoil. It turned out to be an old rust bucket called the Can Tho which looked like the rusted fuselage of a 747 minus its wings. The real 'Superdong' was leaving just as we turned up but it was going to Rach Gia instead - further south on the mainland. The Can Tho was jammed full of the usual crowd of fun-loving (read - raucous) Vietnamese holidaymakers. The 'in-flight movie' this time was a series of bizarre pop-videos, one where the ... read more
February 26th 2011
Chilling at Mai House Resort on Phu Quoc The past couple of days have been spent doing nothing much more than the occasional swim, walks along the beach and a couple of trips into Duong Dong. Phu Quoc is described as a 'paradise' island. Certainly some parts are, however, Duong Dong is as nosiy and busy as any other town with motor bikes whizzing all over the place. One has to be very careful of these machines, particularly in the market area over the bridge on the other river bank from the main town. The market itself has so much produce - all sorts of exotic fish, fruit and vegetables, set out in stalls along the narrow road where bikes speed past between the shoppers. The Mai House Resort, however, is a haven of peace. The ... read more