A Travellerspoint blog

Hollywood comes a knocking ...

Extra's shine in debut role

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In our new life we have experienced new places and lots of new things. We did not expect to be chosen to appear as extras in a movie that is currently being made in Vietnam.

The film is about the life story of Christina Noble who runs a charity here and does outstanding work with children.

Although being a small budget movie it has attracted some fine actors, notably Brendan Coyle, him out of Downton Abbey, and Liam Cunningham.

We duly went along to casting and was awarded the job of 1980s Russian Audience. As you can see from the photos wardrobe and make up have done a fine job.

We were pleased on the day to be placed next to the main actor and were informed to mime in the scene.

Jonathan was popular on the day and was asked to come forward again and was given a call back to be a 'oil executive', not unlike his day job as a socialist librarian.

We enjoyed our peep in to this very different world, but decided there was too much hanging around and not enough space in this world for another Kate Winslet or Daniel Craig.

The film Noble is due out later in the year!

Posted by TheBackyard 01:38 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Blown away by the beauty of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Or, five days on a bus, in a Toyota Camry and aboard various tuk tuks visiting some quite big temples ...

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Wow.....that was a truly amazing experience, still trying to get my head around the beauty and exquisiteness of it all. Cambodia is a mesmerising place and the feel was very different to our new home in Vietnam.

We had a most brilliant guide- Sun Same, whose knowledge and learning was akin to an Oxford Don.

The stone masonry and carvings were so perfect and intricate for the C11, that I have never witnessed any thing like that before.

Cambodia appeared poorer and seeing signs for Oxfam and Save the Children really informs me that people's hard earned cash is going to a good cause.

Seeing Children walking to school barefooted and independently. I admired the freedom of living in such a society. When we are home we rush to buy the Tomb Raider film, to see Angkor Wat. But instead we only witness the contours of Angelina's breasts and some damned awful acting!

Arriving home I am still trying to fathom the colossal architecture of it and how it aligns with cosmology. We know one day that we have to return! ... Jill wrote that bit ...

This blog entry should be read whilst listening to NRBQ and the Whole Wheat Horns Live at the Yankee Stadium. It's a belter of a record and perfect for this trip. Jill might disagree ...

We're a bit templed out actually. However, as Jill has said, Siem Reap and the Angkor temples were truly mindblowing and amongst the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. There are few adjectives, or words in general, that can describe their majesty, their size and their beauty. And I haven't got a thesaurus handy either, which doesn't help. On Christmas eve we explored the main Ankgor temple in all it's vast glory, followed by a visit to Angkor Thom, which has 216 enigmatic stone faces on 54 towers, each with a different smile. We spent Christmas morning watching the sun rise over the main Angkor temple, which was very picturesque ... and followed this with visits to Banteay Srei, which has amazing stone carvings, and Pre Rup, which is a bit like a pyramid and has fantastic views from the top. We then visited Ta Prohm, which is overun with tree roots and is very atmospheric. On the last day we visited Beng Mealea, which is still a complete ruin and is also overun with jungle vegetation but is an amazing example of how all the othet temples were before they had been conserved. The sheer scale of all the conservation work beggars belief. In the afternoon we had a bit of a change and visited Tonle Sap, which is Asia's largest freshwater lake. There's some impressive mangrove swamps, some extraordinary stilted villages, and it's like time has stood still in pre-colonial times. Our guide, the genial and very entertaining Sun Same, drove us through the beautiful Cambodian countryside, past seldom seen villages and through rice paddies. It was exceptionally tranquil and beautiful. He also had a very good grasp of Cockney rhyming slang.

Siem Reap is also a very laid back and peaceful town, as long as you avoid the unfortunately named Pub Street. Everyone rides bicycles or tuk tuks and there is a lovely air of quietness and peacefulness about the whole place.

The coach trip proved a bit challenging at 13 hours each way, with a quality bit of vomiting here and there (not from us), but, all in all it was an amazing way to spend Christmas. Oh, and last but not least, we saw our first pigs on the back of a moped which was very exciting!

Back in Vietnam we saw the new year in with 9 million other city dwellers and 6 million mopeds in the middle of town and it was very joyful. Vietnamese like a photo of themselves in front of a shop window so you're constantly dodging cameras to avoid appearing in unwanted photos. Shops of choice appear to be Louis Vuitton, Versace, and Cartier ... as a confirmed socialist they're not my first choice for photos but, rest assured, when Poundland finally targets world domination and hits Ho Chi Minh City I'll be first in the queue with my camera.

Lastly, we have welcomed our first special guest to these shores and had a lovely few days in the company of our friend Caterina and it has been a joy! All other special guests welcome ... as long as we're not shillyshallying about ourselves. Chuc mung nam moi and we'll write again soon with adventures from Laos.

Posted by TheBackyard 06:16 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Random ramblings from the land of Uncle Ho

What we've done in the last few weeks

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It appears to have been far too many weeks since we blogged and, for that, we can only apologise. The life of a school librarian is, apparently, very busy and I had never realised this before. However, that hasn't stopped us eating our way around the city as well as investigating various out of the way attractions and doing one or two other things ... the most exciting of which has been painting a government run school in one of the poorer districts of the city. Many of the state schools in the city are very short of money, resources and so are in a state of disrepair. The owners of our school (Mr Bill and Ms Ha) have provided the funds to repaint the classrooms of one of these schools and so we have been taking groups of pupils to the school to do this on various Saturdays. The pupils have been brilliant and we've now completed 8 classrooms with another four to do, as well as concreting the courtyard. The school is very small, has few decent facilities and each class caters for about 38 pupils and they seem to be delighted with the results. It's not quite Farrow and Ball, it's very splish-splash but it stills looks much better than it did before.

Elsewhere, I spent a month participating in the attempted growing of a moustache for Movember. I looked ridiculous, hence there are very few photos of me in November. Facial hair is not something I will be pursuing with any meaningful gusto in the near (or far) future, and for those photos that do exist I can only apologise profusely.

Our most exciting purchases of recent times have been bicycles, which has made us more independent and allows us to get from A to B much more easily. The bikes are brilliant. They're single gear girl's bikes with baskets, bells and dynamo lights and everyone rides them in the city. They are fantastic for hacking about on and are just the best things ever. I have ventured into town and negotiated the Ben Thanh roundabout which is a bit like negotiating the Elephant and Castle and Waterloo roundabouts together and survived to tell the tale. There is very little skill to cycling in the city ... more a question of luck, good brakes, good reactions and the ability to swerve quickly. All of which we are quite good at now. Especially the swerving.

We have continued to tick off the city's pagodas and churches and last week visited the Xa Loi pagoda, which is very serene, and has a massive 30 ft brass Buddha in it. It is also quite important in the city as it was one of the key bases in the communist revolution and a centre of resistance to Ngo Dinh Diem's anti Buddhist regime in the early 1960s. Yesterday we also came across (quite by chance) a really beautiful Catholic church. It had a great interior, a bizarre grotto, and a chapel full of people's ashes. It was quite unlike anything else we've seen in the city.

Christmas has finally taken off in the city, with 5 days to go. The lights have gone up around town, and at night it looks very pretty. In a 34 degrees centigrade kind of way. And I have done many things in my role as a school librarian but this year I surpassed everything by dressing up as Santa Claus for the primary children. Wonders will never cease and my CV now looks complete. Seasonal employment is assured should I ever lose my job.

Lastly, in with the pictures is one of a scout leader and me, for no other reason than he was a really lovely bloke who we had a really lovely chat with and scouts seems to be quite big around here. On Sundays hundreds of them gather in the main park in town and spend the morning doing all sorts of activities and it's really quite good. Next time we'll try and introduce you to Mr Yao, who lives around the corner from us and is also a really lovely bloke.

All that remains is to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year. We miss to all, love you all and we'll be more efficient next time in adding a blog about our trip to Cambodia.

Happy Christmas! That was a very sober entry wasn't it?

Posted by TheBackyard 05:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The exotic delights of Phu Quoc Island ...

and other varied adventures in pursuit of happiness (there's a Beat Farmers song in there somewhere)

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We're just back from a few days sampling the delights of island life. Phu Quoc is an island owned by Vietnam but set off the southern coast of Cambodia. And it is absolutely beautiful. It's not quite caught on to the tourism thing fully yet so there are only about two stretches of paved road on the island and the rest of the routes are a little more bumpy. We stayed in a rammed earth hut at Mango Bay ... this is actually slightly more glamorous than it sounds, though the shower and toilet are outside and Jill had the rather unfortunate experience of seeing a rather delightful yellow frog jump out of the toilet bowl one morning. To be fair, it was difficult to see who was most shocked ... there were also some massive geckos in the bedroom but they were (apparently) harmless and were quite impressive.

Anyway, the coastline is spectacular, the sea is crystal clear, there are loads of fish to see when you go snorkeling, the sunsets are stunning, the cocktails are a bargain and very quoffable, they blast out some quality reggae (including the marvellous Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin), the food is delicious and, all in all, it is just a fantastic place. We did venture out around the island and visited the fish sauce factory (much better than it sounds, honestly), a pepper farm (with very hot pepper corns), some tranquil waterfalls, another white sand beach, and a manic market. And, for the record, we also ticked a massive black snake, a cockerel fight, loads of chickens, a monkey on a chain, a Brown Shrike, a Pacific Reef Egret, some Oriental Pied Hornbills, loads of other birds I couldn't identify, a Common Mormon, a Great Mormon, an Indian Cabbage White, a Common Grass Yellow, a Common Tiger, a Blue Glassy Tiger, a Common Palmfly, a Common Five-ring, a Common Four-ring, a Peacock Pansy, an Autumn Leaf, a Great Eggfly, and about ten others I couldn't identify.

All in all, an absolutely top few days.

Back in the city we have ventured back to D-Lish to sample more tea and were afforded the chance to test a new tea that they'd just got in. It was very, very good indeed (like I know what a good tea should taste like) and was very Christmassy which got us quite excited actually. And the owner's wife also made us (under duress) test out her new banana bread pudding which was also top quality. So, along with banana bread, orange creme brulee and chocolate and cream choux buns we had a very exciting morning. To top it all we caught the no. 34 bus to Phu My Hung and it was our best bus ride yet. It went through downtown district 4, past all the old docks and very local neighbourhoods and was just a brilliant ride.

We have also tried to be a bit cultural and went to see King Lear at the Opera House last week. It's a great building and the floor is very slippery so you can do massive skids down the aisles. Alas, the actual play was far less exciting and all four of us fell asleep for quite a lot of it. I don't know profess to know much about Shakespeare or King Lear but I'm sure he didn't have a broad American accent. With a southern twang. All I remember is that whenever I woke up two blokes were waving sheets frantically to (I assume) pretend that it was quite windy. They looked quite tired after a bit but I'm not really sure the wind should have kept dying down like it did. Suffice to say the show lacked props and, clearly, had quite a small budget. Even King Lear himself was quite short. And we felt a bit short changed. But felt we'd had a good night's sleep.

Last night we ventured to the cinema to see Skyfall and Jill seemed quite drawn to Daniel Craig's rippling biceps. Again.

Oh, and we also tried out a Vietnamese dentist for the first time. This was a necessity rather than something the guide book suggested we needed to do whilst we were in the city. Anyway, we survived and after a very thorough cleaning Jill and I now have sparkling sets of pearly whites and we can highly recommend Vietnamese dentists.

All in all an eventful half term break.

Posted by TheBackyard 05:36 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

A little trip down the Mekong River

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Last Saturday we ventured out of the city and hit the Mekong Delta (not literally) for a day of adventures on the high seas. The Mekong Delta is Vietnam's answer to the Norfolk Broads ... sort of. It's a couple of hours from HCMC and the drive down there takes you past masses of rice paddies, lots of people with conical hats tending the fields, and lots of family graves in the middle of the fields. It is a very flat but quite intoxicating landscape.

Once at the Delta we boarded a boat and cruised past the floating market at Cai Be. Here merchants sell their wares from their boats - you can tell what they're selling by what's hanging from tall poles attached to the boats. We stopped at a collection of small shops that make and sell coconut candy, rice paper, popcorn, jasmine tea and rather impressive rice wine. Then we sailed on and boarded a small sampan that took us up some really quiet and peaceful canals where it seems like time has stood still. It really is a quite beautiful and awe inspiring, watery landscape. We were dropped off in the middle of some amazing fruit orchards and took a half-hour stroll through them, past old ramshackle houses and orchards growing jackfruit, bananas and pears. Chickens potter about aimlessly, people dose lethargically in their hammocks and children can be heard singing and playing. We stopped to try some of the fruit before heading for lunch in the middle of the forest. And a quality lunch it was too ... Jill enjoyed the elephant fish wrapped in rice paper, followed by chicken ... and more chicken ... and more fruit. After lunch we rolled back onto the boat, headed back to Cai Be and back home. Oh, along the way we ticked some enormous butterflies, a fantastic (and very large) kingfisher and (quite possibly) a sarus crane in the rice fields on the way home.

In all, a fantastic day and it was really good to get out of the city and into the countryside for a bit. We kind of miss all that. Don't get me wrong - I love a moped as much as the next bloke but six million of them every day for the last 10 weeks and a bit of peace and quiet is called for. A top day!

Posted by TheBackyard 19:44 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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