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Published: February 16th 2013
It was an opportunity too good to refuse. There have plenty of Travelblog meetings for dinners and drinks, and sometimes two bloggers have travelled together, but this was perhaps the first time a group of three or more had met with the specific purpose of travelling.
Upon arriving at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, I quickly passed through immigration and customs and eagerly exited the building. Towering above the crowd was Nick (the host for this gathering) and beside him I could espy the black hat of Dave (Dancing Dave
) (the instigator of this event). Even though they had only met 15 minutes prior, the two of them were already conversing like old friends.
It took a moment or two of disbelief to actually realise that both Dave and Nick, whose blogs I have followed for a long time were now standing next to me. None of us had ever met before, so it was interesting to witness that the blogging style of my fellow bloggers matched their behaviour.
Dave, the compulsive portraiture photographer, eyes often roaming for another face to immortalise. Calm, confident, and clinical, he was the perfect complement for Denise, his wife, who uncovers
the feelings, thoughts and dreams of those she meets through her exceptional art of conversation. If Dave is the head in this marriage, then Denise is certainly the heart.
Nick, having built a life in his adopted home in Vietnam, is wry, and holds strong opinions about many aspects of life, including the most disrespectful excesses of the tourism industry. Like me, he shares an interest in military history and the Gods of Rock, Led Zeppelin. His wife, Quynh, perfectly encapsulates the women I met in Vietnam – strong yet feminine, especially when riding a scooter.
The first stop was bustling Ho Chi Minh City, a placed filled with a dizzying density of darting scooters and mopeds. Any street crossing is coloured with excitement as innumerable two-wheeled opponents dash around you and a there is a definite sense of achievement when the road has been successfully navigated.
We visited the rather grand Revolutionary Palace (formerly called the Presidential Palace) where tanks broke through the front gates in those famous images from 30 April 1975. It was as if entire rooms were frozen in moment from that time, with some particularly garish 1970s furniture on display. We then
proceeded to the sobering War Remnants Museum, which detailed the atrocities of former governments and of course, the War in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. Most confronting was the numerous images of birth deformities caused by “Rainbow Herbicides” (such as Agent Orange and Agent Purple) I managed to remain stoic, but that veneer almost cracked when an emotional Dave held Quynh’s hands and apologised for the war nations such as Australia had inflicted on the Vietnamese.
At the conclusion of a busy day, the group became acquainted of a fetish of mine, for located within metres of our accommodation was a Baskin Robbins Ice-Cream store; it is the only Western style eating place I frequent during my travels – and having it so close was too tempting to resist multiple visits.
We then proceeded to Nick and Quynh’s home town on Bein Hoa, which was our base for a day excursion to the remarkable Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh. Cao Dai is a syncretism of Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity (amongst others) and they venerate Victor Hugo and Sun Yat-sen as saints. There followed a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels, where the Vietnamese’s pride, resourcefulness and tenacity
The faces of a Baskin Robbins' delirium - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Frpm left to right: Dancing Dave, Quynh (Mrs Cockle), Cockle, Denise (Mrs Dancing Dave)
saw them burrow hundreds of kilometres of tunnels with which to confuse and confound their invaders during the Vietnam War.
I was particularly keen to visit the nearby rifle range where one could fire weapons used during the War. Firstly, I shot 10 rounds of the AK-47 and it had an impressive ear-splitting noise, with a noticeable kick After the first shot, the only words to blurt from my mouth were; "Well, f*** me!"
Not being content with just one weapon, I treated myself to 10 rounds of a Browning Machine Gun. The noise and power of the Browning was incredible and after unleashing the load from the pulsating weapon, I turned to see my travel companions aghast with open mouths and wide eyes. Supposedly the expression on my face was one of even greater astonishment.
Prior to leaving Bein Hoa, the others went off for various beauty treatments, leaving me alone at the hotel. Whilst awaiting their return, I was observing one of the many wedding receptions occurring on the premises, when I was very kindly invited to attend one of the receptions by Rainie, a cousin of the groom. It only took a few steps
for me to transform from traveller to wedding crasher, and I was led into a room of 400 people, to be seated and fed. Dave finally found me at the reception and whilst leading me out and shaking his head in disbelief, muttered something about my troublesome behaviour when not under the watchful eye of fellow Travelbloggers.
The final segment of our tour was an overnight journey to the Mekong Delta, where we cruised the waterways in vessels of various sizes and safety to observe floating markets and other activities conducted on and around the sprawling maze of water channels. Arriving back in Ho Chi Minh City, our hosts parted ways - the hospitality of Nick and Qunyh was incredible – every place we visited was memorable and every restaurant they recommended served Vietnamese food superior to anything I had eaten in Australia.
After heartfelt farewells, it was left to Dave, Denise and I to conclude exploring the city together. One day, Dave and I explored the metropolis hunting for photographs, and we came back with a pile of images featuring school children and beautiful young women; it sounds more suspicious in writing than it did in reality.
That evening we met Kris & Kate (Rat on the Road
) for dinner. I could have listened to Kris’ lovely accent all night, but something uncomfortable was stirring inside, so after less than an hour I returned to my room, where I gave a mighty fine performance of replicating the vomiting scene from The Exorcist
. Not sure what caused it, but afterwards I felt fine.
The following day I departed for my favourite region of the world, the Middle East, and is usual for me, I hate farewells, and this one was no exception. Feeling quite emotional in ending this hectic but memorable week, and with tears in my eyes, I watched from the taxi as Dave and Denise waved me goodbye, before my sight of them was obscured by a sea of scooters.
“How odd”, I thought, as I wiped my eyes, “I’ve only met these people in person a week ago and I’m feeling this parting so acutely...” But it should not be a surprise as I later ruminated, for Travelblog is not just a site for keeping family and friends informed of travels, but it is a community of people who share a passion for travelling or
exploration – whether that be their own city, own country, or faraway lands. But more importantly, it is a passion that is shared with such warmth and humanity.
Dancing Dave’s Blogs: MISCHIEF ON THE MEKONG Part One...Preparing the Mind & the Body
& MISCHIEF ON THE MEKONG Part Two...CAI DAI CU CHI
& MISCHIEF ON THE MEKONG Part 3...Kidnapped & Extorted...The Polly Diaries
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