I’m a sucker for a musical so when the opportunity came to attend  kite festival New Year’s Weekend I pounced.

Now first let’s take  second to sing with Mr. Banks:

With tuppence for paper and string,

You can have your own set of wings …

A winding 60 minute bus ride away is the Grand at the Ho Tram Strip (which is a strip of lovely beach with nice resorts) was the first annual Ho Tram Kite Festival. Friends informed of this event and came on down from Ho Chi Minh City for a visit and we made a day of it. In addition to large unique kites there was a Rokkaku Kite Battle (which I think was a competition to be the last kite flying) as well as people bringing their own kites and enjoying the wind. It appeared that the other kite club enthusiasts were quite helpful and friendly based on our inability to communicate using words and instead using hand gestures, smiles and help with string untangling. ‘Twas a great way to enjoy the New Year long weekend.

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Bicycle Races Are Coming Your Way

I have a great group of international ladies here in Vung Tau and on Wednesdays we wear pink, oh wait, no, on Wednesdays we meet for coffee. I left at my normal late time to head on over to catch up on the week’s goss. I revved up my vespa and puttered on down the road. I took my normal route and as I approached the main road and I saw a cyclist coming and looked and saw more cyclists in the group. This is a typical sight in this area. There was also a big motorbike with them of two people on it who I was assuming was their support. I waited for them to pass and then turned onto the road.

I continued on my way, a bit relieved to not have other motorbikes zipping past me, and then I noticed it. Ahead of the cycling group was a mob of professional photographers – um, this was NOT normal. I mean we do get photographed periodically for being foreigners but it’s usually on iPhones. As I kept driving (and getting closer to the cyclists) I then noticed A LOT of people on the sidewalk, as in spectators, watching cyclists which then made sense of the giant INFLATABLE FINISH LINE ARCH! Holy crap I was in the middle of a bicycle race. I frantically looked for the next available turn off and took a fast right. Of course I don’t know all of the side streets of Vung Tau so I wandered around as I let my heart rate normalize eventually made it to coffee, where of course we solved all of the world’s problems except why the heck they didn’t close off the roads to the mornings race. But who knows, maybe they did, it was probably in Vietnamese and so was all of the yelling directed my way …

If you’d like to read about the bicycle race here it is.

Get Your Motor Running

I’m sure you’d heard stories or seen pictures of the motorbikes in Vietnam. I’m here to tell you, yeah, that’s how it is. At first I was pretty intimidated by all of the bikes weaving in and out of the traffic flow but then at further glance you quickly realize the traffic is like a living, breathing organism itself. When you finally brave the advice to “just start walking gosh darnit!!!” to cross the street you see the bikes all part of go in front and behind you and never (yet) hitting you and suddenly you’ve made it to the other side.

Although it does seem a bit chaotic at times but then when I think about what the traffic would look like if all of the bikes were cars I’m not sure how anyone would get around. Plus, the bikes are pretty darn convenient and easy to park. For my most recent birthday Robbo decided to surprise me with a Vespa! I haven’t been driving since we moved here (I can’t drive a car here) so it has been a real treat to be able to zip around town on this baby. Granted I’ve only been out on it twice without proper adult supervision and it was during the times of day when everyone is napping (more about that in another post) and without having to make any major turns – but I’m getting there. I figure practice makes perfect!

Um.... ummmm ... help?

Um…. ummmm … help?

in between the lines! (Always ample parking)

in between the lines! (Always ample parking)

Don't worry these streets were closed off to the general public

Don’t worry these streets were closed off to the general public

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Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Food Friday – Bánh cuốn

Remember when I post about all of the wonderful people who have helped us in this move? Well some of super helpful people are the owners of the home we are living in. They. Are. Awesome. They have not only come to our rescue time after time but we enjoy genuinely enjoy spending time with each other. This past Saturday they invited us to join them for Vietnamese breakfast (I think they spotted our wide but sad selection of sugary breakfast cereals). We met up with Hien and Son and their son at this local joint. What I like about the Vietnamese eateries is that they basically make one thing, which makes ordering WAY easy.

This specific place specializes in bánh cuốn. This is a rice based dish – but not what you think. They start with a rice batter that is spread out thinly over a drum-like-looking thing and then steamed. This makes wide sheets of rice noodle. These are then used with fried shallots, coriander (cilantro) and pork sausage. As you eat with chopsticks (which we did!) you dip the combination of ingredients in fish sauce that we added lime juice and red pepper spices too.

I was impressed with the dish. The rice noodles definitely look like quite a bit of work and I love the flavours of the fresh ingredients that are always included in Vietnamese dishes. It was definitely filling, which I’m still not used to eating large breakfasts so I was the only one to not finish. It was nice to have a breakfast date with friends.

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The lovely meal

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Took a picture of the location so I can make it back

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Rice noodles being made

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Hon Ba Island and Mieu Ba

Remember when we went on the run to the Jesus Statue and has this view:

This View Here

This View Here

About two times per month it’s actually possible to walk to this island, the tide goes out and shows a strip of rocks. On Hon Ba island it is Mieu Ba (which means the “Lady Temple”). The temple was built in 1781 and to worship the Water Dragon Holy Lady. We were alerted to the tide being out recently so we quickly jumped down to the beach and started out walk. The walk was short and on slippery rocks. Thankfully I was smart and wore proper trainers while all of the Vietnamese wore flip flops and then I slipped and fell on the rocks and caused some pretty gnarly bruised hands and shins. The island was small and there was little to explore but it was pretty and provided new views of Vung Tau from what we are used to seeing. if you are keen to make the walk the tide is usually out around the beginning and the middle of the month. Make sure you make it out there in the early evening (4-5ish) so you don’t get stuck out the island when the tide comes back in!

Look - there's an island here!

Look – there’s an island here!

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The final steps!

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Hands post falling on slippery rocks

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View of Jesus Statue from the island

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Posing on the rocks

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Mieu Ba – the Lady Temple

Escape to Monkey Mountain

On Saturdays we like to explore our new surroundings and one of the best ways to do that is by foot. We decided to walk from our house near Back Beach to the Front Beach area of Vung Tau. The goal was to get to Monkey Mountain (I’m sure it’s not officially called Monkey Mountain but since we can’t read Vietnamese we assumed that’s what the sign says). After a two mile walk (in which we passed some people “fishing” in a canal near our house. By fishing I mean wearing a battery pack looking similar to a Ghost busters set up and shocking the fish with poles that are conducting the electricity from the battery … all while standing in the water) we arrived close to the entrance. We had a little trouble finding the entrance but thankfully a Russian guy drove by and could tell we were lost and told us directions in Russian while pointing the way. At least we took a chance that he was giving us directions. It was a nice incline up to the monkeys but it was easy to find once we got there ( I mean it is one road and there are monkeys). You can buy or bring bananas to feed them, luckily the monkey’s know what to do and will happily jump on you to take the banana out of your hand as well. Even though they were fun to see I still think I prefer a little more distance between me and monkeys.

FishBusters!

FishBusters!

This monkey obviously knew I was missing my roos and decided to wear her baby

This monkey obviously knew I was missing my roos and decided to wear her baby

Whatchyou looking at fool?!

Whatchyou looking at fool?!

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I like to eat, eat, eat bananas

I like to eat, eat, eat bananas

An Un-pho-gettable Food Friday

When we announced we were moving to Vietnam one of the most common responses was

I LOVE Vietnamese food!

Whereas that is a pretty general statement as there is A LOT to choose from, one of the things they are most often thinking of is Phở. We’re going to start of with pronunciation. It is not pronounced “foe”but sounds more like “fu-uh” – yes, two syllables. Think of it like you are saying fuh when someone pinches your arm or like a singer starting out in a lower note and then trying to reach higher. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal but in a tonal language if you pronounce something incorrectly it could literally mean five other words. (Although I get around it by just pointing at what I want and grunting – which I learned by age 2 when my nickname was literally “grunt”).

Next we’ll learn a little more about this dish. This rice noodle soup originated in the Northern part of Vietnam where they eat it at any point of the day. Down South, where I live, it’s more popular for breakfast and can still be eaten at lunch – which is what I did because I really like cereal for brekky. The two main versions are chicken and beef (two words I learned VERY quickly) and served with a side of bean sprouts, mint, chilis, lime and an assortment of sauces to add to your liking. I prefer tossing in as many veggies as possible as it enhanced the soups fresh taste, Robbo added in chils in an attempt to burn his lips off. For our first Pho visit we walked to a nearby eatery only a block away. The entire street is lined with Pho joints so I’m sure we’ll just make our way down with each trip. Our meal of two orders of Pho and two bottles of water cost 90,000 VND (or $4.50 USD). I was impressed with the simplicity of the kitchen needing to make this soup. Only a burner and a few pots and bowls were necessary. It just goes to show you don’t need big, bright and fancy to make a big impact on your tastebuds!

Look at me eating!

Look at me eating!

The accompaniments

The accompaniments

Close up of the Pho Bo (beef)

Close up of the Pho Bo (beef)

The kitchen it was cooked in

The kitchen it was cooked in

Pull up a seat and join us next time!

Pull up a seat and join us next time!