The Secret Six in South East Asia! - Episode Nine - 'It was Hell to get here, but Heaven when we did!'


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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City
November 29th 2018
Published: December 2nd 2018
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Rest stop on the journey from hell Rest stop on the journey from hell Rest stop on the journey from hell

Still smiling at this stage.
It's Thursday morning and, sadly, our tour of Indochina is over! The rest of our group have most of the day to chill in/explore Siem Reap, before catching a flight this evening to Hanoi, followed by a 1.00 am flight back to the UK. But for the Secret Six, plus Chris (now the Magnificent Seven, I suppose!), we're off to the seaside! To the, allegedly, fantastic beaches of Mui Ne on the coast, east of Ho Chi Minh City, for our 4 day/3 night rest and recuperation extension to the trip. Departure was at 7.45 am and although we did see one or two of the group at our early breakfast (and Paul & Julie got up especially to see us off!), the majority, quite rightly, took the opportunity for a lie in this morning.

Dee took us to the airport, where we said our goodbyes (and, of course, handed over his tip!), then it was through the usual process of check in, security and finally finding seats at the departure gate - all very straightforward! Our 10.25 am flight with Cambodian Airways (code sharing with Vietnam Airlines), was expected to last about 75 minutes, but it was over in no time at all and we landed well ahead of schedule - the cabin staff didn't even have time to serve a drink of water or coke, which is what we had on the last couple of flights. We whisked through passport control with our 'multi-entry visas' and although we had to wait a little while for our baggage, we were still leaving the airport, well before noon! We were due to be met by a Mercury driver outside the airport, but there was no sign; there were plenty of placards up for other arriving passengers, but........no Mercury! The place was teeming with people and was baking hot and although we all walked up and down the arrivals area several times, if the driver was there, we couldn't spot him. I decided to send an email to Mr. Len (our contact in HCM) and to his credit, he replied within minutes. After checking with the driver, Mr. Len apologised for the delay, but he had been caught in 'big traffic jam' and he would be about 15-20 minutes. This sounded a bit like the local taxi firm, who always say that the car is 'just coming up to your road and will be with you in five minutes', when you chase a late cab! But we had no choice and had to wait for our driver, Mr. Hung, to arrive, which he eventually did, in quite a nice, half size coach, as it happens. Mr. Hung spoke no English, but we checked that he knew where we were going and we were on our way. It was 1.30 and, annoyingly, we could have left 90 minutes or so ago.

When we booked the holiday, we had no idea how long the coach transfer would be, but on checking our paperwork a day or so ago, we were surprised to see that our beach destination was over 200 km away and the coach journey could take four hours plus! However, there is no alternative, with the planned airport for Phan Thiet (close to Mui Ne), still some years away. It would have been handy if Mercury had warned us about this before we booked the extension, but it was what it was, so we had to grin and bear it! Little did we know, just how long we would HAVE TO grin and bear it!

The first 30 minutes
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.....very pretty....
or so of the journey were taken up slogging our way through City traffic, but before too long we were in a two lane motorway and we were zipping along quite happily and after about 90 minutes, we saw a sign saying 127 km to Phan Thiet and we thought that this isn’t going too badly. Kiss of death!!! Soon after, we left the motorway and joined a one lane road, where the traffic became more congested and slower. After a couple of hours, Mr. Hung pulled into a rest area for a comfort break and to pick up some nibbles/have an ice cream, but we were on our way again in 20 minutes. I have previously referred to the crazy traffic in Vietnam and it was no different on this journey, with vehicles of all shapes and sizes pulling out from every conceivable direction and overtaking on the inside and outside, often when there was the most marginal of gaps. Things got worse as we passed the four hour mark and the 'rush hour' traffice joined in. There was an inside 'half lane' for scooters and cyclists, but they were weaving all over the place and poor old Mr. Hung needed extra eyes in the back, sides and every other part of his head, to avoid hitting something!

Then, to cap it all, it got dark! To be fair, some of the scooters and bicycles had rear lights, but an awful lot didn't and still this didn't stop them weaving all over the place, often with a whole family on board the scooter! Plus, for some reason, there was a lot of lorry traffic coming the other way and they all seemed to be lit up like Christmas trees! It was a nightmare for any driver and not much better for us passengers either. Yet, Mr. Hung just kept ploughing on, seemingly taking it all in his stride; there was a point, when I did wonder if he was close to dropping off, but just as I was about to go up to the other front seat and find some way of talking to him, we stopped at a toll booth and he perked up after that. And, just as we thought we were never going to get there (and after avoiding our umpteenth near miss), we pulled up at our hotel, the Bamboo Village in Mui Ne, after a hellish FIVE HOURS on the road!! I will be taking this up with Mercury on our return to the UK, but for now we were just glad to be here. We thanked our driver as best we were able and gave him an extra special tip.........only to learn that he was driving all the way back to the city tonight - insane!!

We checked in at reception and were given a welcome drink, before being taken to our rooms. It was all very dimly lit around the site, but first impressions were good and our room was lovely. We needed food and after a quick change we went back out and found an Italian across the road from the hotel and it was perfect. We had three large Pizzas (and boy, did they taste good!) between the six of us, while Chris had a salad. A total of seven large beers and two decent glugs of wine and the whole lot came to $34, or under $5 dollars a head. Tina, Chris and Mandy did a little reccy of the nearby shops for half an hour, while the rest of us came back to our rooms to
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Being looked after.....
crash. A long and challenging day, but at least we were here.

We didn't rush out of bed the next morning, but we were down for breakfast before nine and that's when we saw the hotel in all its glory. This place is fabulous, with beautifully kept gardens, two lovely pools (one of which was a 'quiet pool' and was just outside our balcony), a cracking restaurant and all leading down to an absolutely stunning beach, with a plethora of sun beds and parasols, all made from bamboo. Staff were everywhere, either tending the gardens or around the pools and the beach, looking to serve drinks, ice creams or whatever and they were all so friendly. The sea was lovely and warm and because it was pretty breezy on the beach, the breakers were amazing; it was also a kitesurfers paradise.

Whilst Mui Ne is clearly difficult to get to, the beaches here are legendary and this has resulted in a massive build up of hotels, restaurants and the like, to satisfy the growing tourist market.The Bamboo Village has been around 20'years (although you wouldn't know it) and it is rated number 3 on Tripadvisor, out of 137
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The quiet pool from our balcony.
hotels in the Phan Thiet/Mui Ne area, with over 95% of the 1500 reviews being either 'Excellent - 79%' or 'Very Good' and we can certainly see why. After the 'Hell' of yesterday's journey, we're definitely in 'Heaven' today.

So, what are we planning to do in this Vietnamese version of Paradise? Well, as far as I am concerned..........absolutely nothing! No temples, no early starts, no set menus, basically, no anything!! These two or three days are to relax and recharge the batteries, before we return to the UK and Christmas is upon us. And this is exactly what we did - a bit of sunbathing round the pool or on the beach (where there was a nice breeze), a few swims in both the sea and the pools, a little bit of shopping (which I generally, managed to avoid), some lovely breakfasts and the odd beer/cocktail or several! And for my part, time to catch up on the blog! The seven of us did also manage to congregate in Tina and Sarah's room each night to demolish the two bottles, one of gin and one of vodka that we picked up at the airport!

The good
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Looks better than our golf fairways!!
thing about relaxing however, is that it also gave us time to reflect on our experiences of the last couple of weeks or so AND to say a few thank you's. So here goes:

* Firstly, a big thank you to all our fellow travellers. To Rob and Cheryl, Malcolm and Penny, Phillip and Lynn, Paul and Julie, Andre and Katherine, Len and Wendy, Andrei and Allison, Doreen and, of course, Hazel. It was great to meet you all and to share this adventure with you;

* A special mention to Christine, who joined us on the last few days in Mui Ne and who has become like part of the family, especially with Sarah. And how about the fact that you actually got married in the same place in Lewisham as Steve and Lily......amazing;

* An extra, extra special mention to the Forbes/Filby clan. This is yet another great holiday to add to our ever lengthening list. As always, we've had a great time and Mandy and I have loved being with you, as usual. As for Tina, I was going to say that it was great to spend this holiday with you, without having had
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Lily and Sarah looking good!
to walk for miles each day, but..........my legs feel as though we have walked miles anyway! I hope you have enjoyed it as much as Mandy and I have enjoyed spending time with you;

* Thank you also to all our drivers and particularly our guides, Jackie, Phong, Vong and Dee. They were all hard taskmasters and definitely kept us at it, but their time commitment was phenomenal and they all did a great job;

* Thanks also to Vietnam Airlines. Every flight was on time (or early) and not a single bag went astray. An excellent service;

* Of course, thanks to Mercury Holidays, who organised a terrific trip and managed to cart 23 Brits around South East Asia, without losing anyone (although it did get close Hazel) and without any major catastrophes. Inevitably, with 23 people on a trip like this, it is hard to please everyone all of the time, but Mercury did a damned good job. I have no doubt that we will all feed comments back to Mercury, but as far as we are concerned they will be by way of constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement and definitely not by way
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One of the pools.
of any complaints;

* And last but not least, a massive thank you to the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. They have been unfailingly courteous and friendly and a joy to meet. It is incredibly humbling that, people who generally have so little can give so much and seeing the lifestyle that many of the people lead, definitely puts our First World 'poverty' and 'problems' into perspective. What they thought of this rag tag bunch of Brits is anyone's guess, but if it was remotely negative, they certainly kept it to themselves.

As I type this, we are sitting in Ho Chi Minh airport waiting for our 12.40 am flight to London. We had a good last day at the Bamboo Village 'doing more of the same' and after Mandy and Tina got on the case, we were allowed to keep all our rooms until 3 pm, meaning we could come in from the pool/beach/bar around two, get showered and changed, check out and then have a meal before our transfer was due to arrive at 4.30. As it happens, the driver turned up just after four and we were on the way by ten past. Whether
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From the outside part of the breakfast restaurant.
it was because we knew what to expect this time or not I don't know, but somehow the journey didn't seem so bad, and it was actually a bit shorter at just over four hours!

We are due to arrive in London at 7.15 am and I suspect it will be a touch chilly, compared to what we have experienced these last 18 days. As I said earlier it will also be countdown to Christmas and speaking to the family back home has been more than a little odd, firstly seeing them wrapped up in warm winter clothes and secondly, surrounded by Christmas decorations and the like, while we are sweating In our shorts. No doubt, we will soon get into the swing of it. It will be great to see everyone again and especially Alfie and Felix, who can now stop hugging each other (see the picture in Episode One) because.............Grandma and Grandad are coming home!!

So that's it, the end of another blog and thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read it. I hope that it's not been too soporific and that you have found a few things at least, that may
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Looking down the beach with kite surfers a plenty.
have made you smile or given you some insight to this lovely part of the world.

Farewell Indochina, we will miss you!



Additional photos below
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The Beach - 3

There’s the kite, where’s the surfer?
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The Beach - 4

The beach at night.
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The Magnificent Seven

Evening drinks before dinner.
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.......and Mandy.
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The Beach Sellers - 2

A lunchtime conflab!!


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