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4 Waiheke Weekender
tising implants; they might be
hoping to get into the ‘dentistry
tourism’ market, like Thailand.”
One market the country is
certainly making the most of is
tourism from Russia, its ideologi-
cal, if not geographical, neigh-
Vietnam has been run by a
communist government with
Hanoi as its capital since the
reunification of north and south
after the war in 1976, and during
their stay at the beautiful Bao
Dai Villas in the touristy beach
resort of Nga Trang, they were
told the town gets overrun with
Russian tourists during the north-
ern winter, with as many as five
flights arriving every day.
“One of the local taxi driv-
ers referred to the planes as ‘big
flies’, which appealed to me,” laughs Pete, saying he never heard
planes referred to that way during 37 years in the aviation industry.
Nga Trang used to be a quiet little fishing village but these days,
since its transformation into a playground for rich Russians and other
Westerners, speedboats buzz around the bay and a lot of the restau-
rant menus are printed in Russian as well as English.
In what they rate as a definite highlight of their trip, the couple
stayed in the summer residence of the last emperor of Vietnam; five
colonial-style villas taking up a whole headland and set in an exten-
sive tropical bush setting, leading down to a private beach.
“The hotel was very beautiful and untouched, with an atmosphere
of faded glory, ” says Sally.
“Lavish wood, ceiling fans, our villa even had its own dining
room and two bathrooms. And it wasn’t that expensive by New
Despite finding the water too warm to be refreshing, she says they
swam every day at the private beach but there was an issue with the
rubbish from tourist boats washing up on the shore.
“They would clear it by 6.30 in the morning but within minutes,
new debris would be washing up; things like plastic cups and bottles,
food containers, stuff from the ‘booze cruises’ that tourists just
threw over the side after they were too drunk to care I suppose.”
Signs asking people to ‘say no to plastic bags’ suggested locals
are aware of the problem but the rising tide of plastic still keeps
Reflecting the preferences of the tourists, Russian vodka was on
every menu in the area as well as French champagne, but local people
preferred beer and something called Hanoi vodka, which according
to Sally, is pleasant, cheap and refreshing with orange over ice.
“There is no point in drinking wine in countries like Vietnam
because you know it’s going to be awful,” she laughs.
She says there is a wine industry in the cooler hill area called Da
Lat; but having tried it, they stuck to the beer and vodka.
As keen foodies, they were particularly looking forward to the
Vietnamese cuisine, with each region having its own speciality.
“A lot of menus featured things like noodle soup, shrimp dump-
lings and won tons with herbs like mint,” says Sally. “I would say
we paid about $NZ60 each time we ate out anywhere fancier, but we
also ate at a lot of much cheaper places, paying between $5 and $10.
The food was generally good.”
Sally says she tried to talk Pete into patronising the roadside food
stalls, but he wasn’t so keen.
Two days of bicycling in the Mekong Delta was another high-
light. The river is a huge transport hub and a big area of food produc-
tion and is dotted everywhere with rice paddies and orchards.
Sally and Pete stayed on an island and had a guide who was a bit
of a character called ‘Tiger ’.
“The biking was flat and easy going but the problem was the
heat,” says Sally. “It would be low-thirties and that is just too hot for
The colourful river boats caught their eye, decorated with their
own symbolic eye paintings which apparently ward off evil and
bring good luck.
A train journey north took them from Da Nang to Hue, the ancient
imperial capital. However there was to be no loitering on platforms.
“I wandered out on a platform before the train had arrived, just to
have a look,” says Pete, “and I got told off. It’s a pretty low tech sort
Above – The Cai-Be floating market in the Mekong Delta. Below – The
gateway to the red bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake. Right – The tyre at-
tached to the lamp post means there is a motorcycle repair cart nearby.
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