Vietnam 🇻🇳: Three days in Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon)

After a hectic Xmas break, it was time to pack the bags once more and jet off to Vietnam. Laura was already waiting in Asia after a seemingly endless journey from Colombia and, for a few days, Daniel came over from Bangkok to join us too. Side note, as of the time of writing i am still jet lagged! 😴

Happy New Year from Ho Chi Minh

After catching up ourselves not having met since July in St. Petersburg (Back in St. Petersburg), we met with a Vietnamese business partner of Daniel and went for food and beers in Pham Van Hai – a nice district with trees alongside a canal. The beer drinking culture is pretty strong here and ordering a whole crate of beer is completely normal. Cheers! 🍻🍻🍻

In the evening we visited my friend Jan. In theory his apartment was only 10mins away by car yet the traffic was horrendous. Car not an option! So all three of us got on separate motorbikes (you can hire them with ride sharing app Grab). What a crazy journey! Got to hear that a metro project for HCM is underway – dearly needed!

In the end we arrived in time for new years. Last i had met jan was last year in Bangkok for NYE (Hello Thailand & Koh Phangan: Muay Thai training begins) and by now his wife had given birth to their daughter. Fun evening with a bunch of expats. Happy new year everyone!

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The traffic back was much better and we hit the bars and clubs nearby our hotel in the Pham Ngu Lao area. One notable trend were the laughing gas balloons that many people consume here (read here) similar to what i saw in Amsterdam and Suriname. We also tried and it gives you a short rush (like 30sec). Trendy stuff!

War Remnants museum: Cruel history on New years day

We enjoyed a slow start into 2019 after the late night and hit a nearby food market to get something into our bellies. I like these markets with lots of fresh food and tasty juices and smoothies. Daniel joined us too for a coffee.

First up, we decided to get some massages nearby the hotel to relax. They are quite economic here and USD5 gets you 30min foot massage. Happy endings are extra 😉

Next stop was the war Remnants museum, which is probably the no1 place to see in HCM. It shows the Vietnamese side of the US – Vietnamese war that finished with the capture of then capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, by the communists led my Ho Chi Minh who renamed the city after himself.

For sure it is meant to be a form of propaganda yet one wonders after the visit how any american can be regarded a hero for Vietnam war efforts. To me it is just a senseless show down of the cold war and crime against the people in Vietnam. I hope that efforts of the Vietnamese to get war reparations, especially for agent orange, will be successful. At last, they have been for US army personnel.

Read more about the Vietnam war here. 

Exploring Saigon a bit more

There are only so many things you can do in Saigon. Museums are good, but there are a few more highlights of such as the magnificent post office in Colonial style, a few churches (Christianity is 2nd religion here after Buddhism), the waterfront along Saigon river with its many boats, an impressive Hindu pagoda and the night markets. The latter are definitely a tourist thing, but are vibrant with tasty food choices.

Our last evening kicked off with yet another dinner. This time with the boss and the sales department of Daniel’s partner here. They took us to a large Vietnamese restaurant with no tourists in sight. We sampled lots of local dishes (i just don’t get why snails are that popular!?) and, of course, more Saigon beer. Afterwards  .. well, an eventful night near the hotel 😈👿.

Cu Chi Tunnels: Entering Viet Cong zone

From HCM you have two main tours outside the city. The Mekong delta (we plan to do on 🛵) and the Viet Cong tunnels located some 60km outside the center. If you are early, you can book a bus half-day trip for as little as EUR8.

On the way to the tunnels we stopped at a factory for kind of mosaic paintings done by disabled people – many of which suffer in the aftermath of agent orange.

The Viet Cong were the guerilla force based in colonial south Vietnam yet part of the communist forces of the north. They digged out 250km of tunnels running from Saigon to Cambodia. This network provided for protection (especially once chemical deterrents like agent orange came into the game) and camouflage – the enemy that can’t be found.

Quite impressive to see though pretty overrun with tourists as one of the key attractions of the historical Vietnam.

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Full Christmas Agenda 🎅🎄🎉

It was pretty fresh when i got back from Aruba – a 30 degree temperature swing and most of the weekend was dark & wet. Welcome back to London! Didn’t i just miss it! 😊☔ 🌃 🇬🇧

Card Fraud 💳: Back in london, I found a host of charges on my card for deliveroo, taxi, bus travel and online shopping in the US. Interestingly, the card was active exactly while i was on the plane and couldn’t do anything about it. So i guess someone in Bogota airport copied the details knowing which flight i am on (you always give your flight details for shopping) and probably traded the details online. Clever trick really. But even nicer was the resolution process with Revolut bank. Simple. Quick. Got a new card in 3 days. Money back. Wow!

Star of the week 🌟: Alex was on a post-school playdate with his classmate Nathan when i got back. Nathan and his family are originally from Eritrea and his mum cooks the most delicious Eritrean dishes for the international evenings at school. Alex had been awarded the star of the week award for his good behaviour and effort at school. That means you get to take home Wuffi (the toy dog) and document your time together – Sunday church, time at home (last time together with Ross), sunday football and winter wonderland – London’s annual christmas fair.

New tenant 🇪🇸: While Amazon deliveries had sorted most of my presents, there were a few other things to sort out. First up a new flat mate with Ross moving on to lice with his girlfriend. He will be missed! Glad it didn’t take long and soon Ana from Barcelona will take up his room. Bienvenido!

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Catching up with Tina 🗞: She had just returned from an exhibition in  Turin on her work with African immigrants working in prostitution. Nice job. Generally, she had been busy on her photojournalist work – be it the African topic, lost Mexican children, Chernobyl or else. Always fun to talk with her and her work begins to pay off too with commissions from Der Stern, potentially a National Geographic deal and a new migrant project in Colombia. May all go well!

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A visit at the Chelsea stadium 🏟 ⚽: Wednesday night was a special night for Alex and myself – our first live football game. Obviously it had to be at Stamford bridge to watch the Chelsea play Bournemouth in the Carabao cup quarterfinals. Tight game, but we squeezed a 1:0 out thanks to an Eden Hazard goal – much to the delight of Alex. Next up is Tottenham who qualified the other quarter final.

Godfatherly duties ➕ 👦: Last, but not least was some time down in Dulwich village to hang out with Paul, my godson Atlas George and his sister Liberty. We had a pizza night and the kids enjoyed playing while the adults chatted away – as usual talking about god and the world (literally). I still regret having touched that strange polish liquor Paul offered … 🤢

Frohe Weihnachten! 🤶: Saturday we went to Germany after an exciting two days watching drone activity grounding air traffic in Gatwick. It turned out fine for us though a small knock-on delay made for a long journey and so we missed the 40th birthday party of my cousin and Alex godmother Denise. Well, happy birthday anyway!

Two friends reunited 👬: This year the christmas walk with my former classmates and family didn’t happen (see here last year Uttewalder Grund: Catching up with school friends (& their +1’s, +2’s … +4’s)). Not too tragic given most of us met at a recent school reunion (A wedding, a christening and two reunions). Instead i met up just with katja and her kids, Valentin & Valerie. For valentin and Alex i still had the friendship wristbands to exchange. Last year alex wanted to give one to him and made. A huge drama when i had none left. We had a great time in their house where alex worked on his art skills, we played in the park (yep, parents included owing several rounds of hide and seek) and fed ducks before enjoying lunch near the river elbe. Good times.

Christmas market 🎄: The weather was rainy ☔ throughout and not really inviting to visit the Christmas markets. We just made it to Pirna briefly for my only mulled wine of the year (!). Sadly someone rammed into my mums car in the car park after we left the market. Nuisance!

The Georgiev’s 🇧🇬 🍷🎄 vol. 2: While I had missed Denise’s 40th birthday, i managed to catch up with quite a few people of her husband’s family (aka the Georgiev gang) during their traditional get-together on the 23 December. Very entertaining as we discussed my bike trip (especially the Bulgarian part they had visited too), got some tips for the upcoming Vietnam trip (including, would you believe it, a recommendation to drink Vietnamese rum from my cousin) and laughed a lot. Thanks for the invite! This year i got off the train in time 😴 saving me the long and cold walk back to Königstein of last year 😂🤣

Christmas eve without church, but good vibes at granddad’s: We decided to skip church this year to have a little less busy agenda. Admittedly, I did miss the christmas flair the church visit usually spreads. Instead we had more time in granddad’s 👴 house. He has gotten old, but was on good form. To my surprise, my uncle Jon, wife and daughter joined us. The latter accompanied by her daughter and boyfriend – both of whom i hadn’t met yet. Back in Koenigstein we first stopped by the other grandparents anf then followed the usual protocol of dinner (potato salad, sausages, meat salad) followed by presents. Alex was so happy and got going right away with his huge lego ninjago ship and later we enjoyed a game of Mister X.

Preparing a xmas goose 🦆: Never in my life have i cooked a duck or goose for xmas. Now, most people don’t care yet i was curious. So i offered my help preparing the family meal for 26 December. Granddad Georg, who got comforting news from his hospital visit earlier in the day, had already prepared the birds for seasoning. From here it is simple. Salt and pepper inside and out, stick two apples and  mugwort inside, close it up and put it in a pot with some water. From here is about 3-4h in the oven on 150-180 degrees. Simple. The fat and all other that comes out while cooking then gives you tasty gravvy.

God-children hanging out: Later on the 25th we got a visit from Denise and Anton. Frances had also arrived from xmas at her dads in Munich. Alex and Antin love playing together though (no different from my childhood) need calming down at times. Adults meanwhile indulged in sparkling wine and conversations 😉

Second Xmas day feast 🍽️🍷🍗🍨☕🍿: Tradition has it that we spend the 26th of December with the Rehn section of the family. All kids were around and everyone busy stuffing tasty goose (thanks 👨‍🍳), dumplings, red and green cabbage… The desert, however, was unusual this year. Alex got a popcorn 🍿 machine for present and supplied the whole room – plain, sugary, salty or with whipped cream 🤣😂. The walk about town after lunch was dearly needed to digest!

Bowling bowling 🎳 night at Joe’s: After aan afternoon stroll and hot chocolates, it was time for bowling. Family bowling is also a long-standing tradition. We prefer at Joe’s in Pirna, as they have bounderies to help children score (seriously lowers drama occurrence for Alex). Finished off with a McDonald’s for dinner made this a truly american evening 🙄.

Last stop – Granddad Kurt: After Alex and Frances spent the morning making candles, we visited Opa Kurt in Dresden. Naturally, he had bought Christmas cake from Dresden (Stollen) and so munched and chatted away. Next year he will already be 90 years old and is still doing great!

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Lars in London: Just when i thought all is done and i can focus on my next trip, a close childhood friend of mine visited London. I managed to squeeze two hours out of the little time i had in london to catch up. The world is a village!

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Busy two weeks!

Aruba 🇦🇼: Happy Island Life

Aruba was an unusual holiday for us given that I normally chase Laura and myself on foot, bike or canoe through the world. Being in one place for 10 days was quite relaxing and also a little treat for my 39th birthday. Still, our time on the island turned out pretty active with kite surfing, snorkeling, parasailing, diving, motorbiking, quad biking and many other activities. Put it this way, we didn’t have a single ‘beach-only’ day while we were on the Island …

Laura’s comment: For Aruba, I can only say that it is an amazing place!!! The landscapes, the atmosphere, the beaches and the activities are really incredible! Although it is not very economical 😕 Our time together on this beautiful island was a good time for reflection 👫😎.

Aruba basics: Aruba is a Caribbean island located just 30km north of Venezuela (the differences in living conditions couldn’t be more stark). It is one of four countries forming the Kingdom of the Netherlands alongside Curaçao and Sint Maarten. All Arubans are Dutch nationals. The economy is mainly tourism (75%) chiefly from the US and Aruba has its own currency (the Florin, 1.79% Florin = 1USD).

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Kite surfing: Getting the hang of it

After my Thai boxing exercise and motorbike license this year, I managed to knock off another activity from my bucket list … learning how to kite surf. Aruba is a pretty decent place for it given permanent and reasonably constant winds. So let’s go.

Laura and I decided to take our lessons with Armando’s kite shack and jumped straight into our first lesson – all about kite control (steering left /right with cords & bar, power zones etc) on land and later in water. It went reasonably well though lack of winds forced an early finish and we postponed.

Our second lesson started straight in the water and made you swallow some sea water, as we tried to control the kite, do figures of eight, play with the power zone, body surf etc. Laura decided to drop out still curing her diving accident back in Colombia – good decision as the unavoidable dives during training would have made things worse. I continued the 3h set solo and by the end managed to get up here or there and actually kite surf. Enough for today …

The next two sessions I did solo and picked up a bit more confidence and an injury on my left arm/shoulder, as I didn’t release the kite quick enough and it propelled me forward like a rocket. Quite powerful these kites, especially in power zone and pulling the bar towards you. Got the basics, but much more to learn next time.

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Our favorite bars & restaurants
  • Zeeroovers: Best value in Aruba. Great taste.
  • Moomba Beach: Especially good with live music. Happy hour around sunset.
  • Passions on the Beach: Tables right in the sand and a decent menu. Something for a romantic evening … like my birthday.
  • Soprano’s piano bar: Been there many nights. Love the live music.
  • Kalins Mexican Food: Right in the heart of Palm Beach. Great service & value.

Diving plane wrecks

I went only on one diving trip while in Aruba with two tanks. Laura joined us though and got to enjoy a free boat ride. Our target were two plane wrecks that were purposely sunk to create dive sites (otherwise they would be smashed …). See here a youtube video of the dive (not my recording).

Overall, quite a nice experience with several fish around – the spotted eels and morays standing out for me personally. I was quite happy that I didn’t struggle as much with air as I usually do … I must have been more quiet under water.

Aruba Languages: Dutch and Papiamento are the official languages though Spanish, English and even Portuguese are widely spoken reflecting the versatile background of the Aruban population and migrant workers. So we got by …

Papiamento Spanish Portuguese Dutch English
Bon dia Buenos días Bom dia Goedemorgen Good morning
Bon tardi Buenas tardes Boa tarde Goedemiddag Good afternoon
Bon nochi Buenas noches Boa noite Goedenacht/Goedenavond Good night
Bon bini Bienvenido Bem vindo Welkom Welcome
Danki Gracias Obrigado Dank u/Dank je Thank you
Ayo Adiós Adeus Tot ziens Good-bye
Pasa un bon dia Que tenga un buen día Passa/Tenha um bom dia Fijne dag Have a good day
Con cos ta?(Informal)

Con ta bai?

(Formal)

¿Cómo estás?/¿Cómo te va? Como está/vai? Hoe gaat het? How are you?
Mi ta bon (Yo) Estoy bien (Eu) Estou bem Met mij gaat het goed I am fine
Cuant’or tin? ¿Qué hora es?/¿Qué horas son? Que hora tem?/Que horas são? Hoe laat is het? What time is it?
Mi por papia Papiamento (Yo) Puedo hablar papiamento (Eu) Posso falar papiamento Ik spreek Papiaments I can speak Papiamento
Si Sim Ja Yes
No No Não Nee No
Aruba ta bunita Aruba es bonita Aruba é bonita Aruba is mooi Aruba is beautiful

Parasailing: Panorama & Sea Turtles

Parasailing is available pretty much every where in Palm beach for less than $100 for two (10min flight). You get to enjoy some great views over Aruba and, if you are lucky and in the right spot, loads of sea turtles in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We opted not to take our mobile up (which would have been possible) … so no aerial pictures sadly.

A day on a Harley ….

In summer I finally completed my full motorbike license (see here), but never actually used it since. Aruba was a perfect place to do so and so we hired a Harley Davidson, more specifically a Heritage Softail with 1600ccm & some 70hp. Nice ride.

It was the first time we were mobile (there is a bus network, just needs a lot of patience) and hence checked out the island. First all the way to San Nicolas with Baby beach, then the graffitis in San Nicolas town, lunch at the famous (and amazing) Zeerover’s serving just the catch of the day nicely BBQ’d, Alto Vista chapel and then back all the way to the other end to the California lighthouse.

Very enjoyable altogether.

39th birthday bash: 24 hours+ of fun together

Laurita did a fantastic job organising my 39th birthday. We kicked off at a German restaurant the evening beforehand with traditional German food and beer – even one from my home state (let’s not think about the prices …). Afterwards we hit the nightlife.

The actual birthday was pretty relaxed and started late (so I could be home and take phone calls) before we hit Passions on the beach restaurant for a lovely and very romantic dinner. Obviously, Laura had to inform the restaurant of my special day and they turned up with a tasty dessert and fireworks to my surprise.

We continued to Moomba beach and danced away to some excellent night music before having a night cab at Soprano’s piano bar. One can’t ask for a lot more … gracias amor!

Aruba’s beaches

All beaches on the downwind side of the island (concentrated around Palm beach, but also closer to the lighthouse and San Nicolas) are kind of picture perfect. The Palm and Eagle beach ones seem especially well maintained given their close proximity to the large hostels. If a storm stirs up rocks, dredging boats even things out. We liked the atmosphere there be it clearly touristic. If you prefer it more quiet/local and you have transport, check out baby beach near San Nicolas.

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Exploring Arikok National Park on a quad bike

During our time on the Harley we passed by the entrance to Arikok national park that covers close to 20% of Aruba. It was pretty obvious that we stand no chance with a heavy road bike and hence needed a different ride or walk in the park. So we rented a quad bike or ATV as they call it here.

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I never tried riding one of these and admittedly it felt a little weird initially. Gas is controlled by a lever (not the handlebar) and you have to watch out in bends. However, once you get to the rather challenging roads in the park it shines through stability. Laura did most of the driving anyway. Quite impressive.

First up we visited two caves (#9 in above map) before making it over to the natural pool (#3) where we enjoyed a refreshing swim after many miles on dusty tracks and blazing sun. Most places on this side of the island are restricted for swimming due to very strong winds and currents present here … really dangerous yet nice to watch.

Checking out the butterfly farm

I was never too much into butterflies to be frank, but in Aruba I still figured its worthwhile seeing the butterfly farm close to Palm Beach. In hindsight, the USD16pP entrance is pretty steep for what you get but heh. Laura for her part had fun (yet little luck) trying to get a clean picture of a blue butterfly.

The farm is host to 35 species of butterflies and moths with some 800 in total. There are butterflies from the rain forest (with more prominent colors) and tropical ones (more plain). On average they live for just 6 weeks though some up to 9 month or a year. Part of the short life span relates to the unhealthy diet of fermented fruit that contain alcohol (2.5%) and actually makes the butterflies drunk!

The butterflies are born in Aruba yet most don’t reproduce there. Rather, the chrysalis are imported from dedicated dealers in London and Costa Rica. Hatching happens every morning 6.45am and can be observed with the ticket.

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Moth vs. butterfly: Usually we think the color is a good indication. However, more biological moths have wings on the abdomen and not on back like butterflies. This means that moths can not fully close their wings. Further, moth can be nocturnal or active daytime helped by additional antennas while butterflies are always active during the day. The largest moth we saw was the King Cobra moth – the largest in the world at 12inch wingspan.

Snorkeling & Party: An afternoon on the Jolly Pirates cruise

I guess a boat trip is sort of mandatory when you visit an island. There are plenty options ranging from party cruise to romantic sunset dinner to private hire. We jumped on the Jolly Pirate after lunch party cruise. That gets you relatively cheap booze (by Aruban standards), some good chat (we met a nice couple from the US), gets you snorkeling on a reef and above a ship wreck and you get to try the swing. It was fun and we were pretty tipsy by the time we got off the boat … though some more than others :o)

Bye Guyana’s, Bon Bini Aruba 🇦🇼

Four incredible weeks in Suriname and French Guiana are over (British Guyana has to wait). Sad in a way, but also time to move on. We take so many different memories home! We keep it dutch, however, and are off to Aruba’s wonderful beaches 😎🏖 for some diving, kite surfing 🏄 and probably the odd fiesta here or there 😉

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The final two days in Paramaribo turned out rather well. We relaxed quite a bit at the wonderful Palaccio hotel, visited the zoo (finally a jaguar 🐯), did some work out (really keen on getting sweaty again), more sightseeing and enjoyed a rather lively saturday night… In particular the DJ at Zus & Zo’s.

Of course we couldn’t leave without a few more Saoto soups 🍵 and a Dutch pancake 🥞… Too tasty.

Ah, before i forget… We also had our first ‘anniversary’ having met one year earlier in Santa Marta, Colombia. Cheers! Quite a journey since… 8 countries together, no less (and a few more each individually). 😘

Suriname 🇸🇷: Lazy sloths & busy monkeys in Groningen

Groningen is a small town (5,000 inhabitants) to the west of Paramaibo and home to many weekend houses of wealthy parbo’s. It has a really nice and relaxed feeling helped by its location right on the river, friendly people, hungry dogs and is pretty clean (weekly cleaning efforts make all the difference). We enjoyed a morning river tour and visited the local sloth rescue center.

Laura’s comment: The place is very quiet for a short vacation, a lot of silence and the people are very friendly. Without a doubt a nice experience 😊

Wild life spotting with Harry 🐒🐦🦅🐟

We had heard from Carsten about the Bloemendal lodge and its morning river cruise. While we stayed elsewhere, the tour is open to non-guests at Eur25/head. Just give them a call beforehand.

 

 

Promptly at 6.30am we got picked up by Harry – a former dutch pig farmer that resettled to Suriname 14y ago with his wife. He was our capitain for the day.

 

During our 2.5h cruise we spotted many monkeys (all Capuchins) though not really visible in the jungle pics below, many birds (eg toucans) yet sadly no manatees. That the river is full of fish was already evident during our stroll the previous day – loads of very busy fishermen along the river.

 

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Saoto soup – our favourite

I dont know how many times we had this originally Javanese soup. Be it with egg or chicken or both  … It was laura’s and my favorite dish by far.

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Sloth Wellness Center… Little cuties 🤗

Harry mentioned a local sloth rescue center – something not even our guesthouse hosts had visited and they live here 20y already. Maybe because of that our host gave us a lift to this arguably a bit hidden place.

 

We were welcomed even though one usually requires a reservation and best visits in the afternoon, as the animals usually return to base that time.

 

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There are two kind of sloth in Suriname – the two-toed and the three-toed version. The latter is active during the day and moves very slow. This in turn relates to their low energy diet requiring 4 stomachs to digest (why is unclear given the abundance of fruit). The two toed sloth is in turn nocturnal and eats everything. It is by no means slow and can actually be aggressive.

We saw 2 three toed sloth hanging out in the trees and, as a special treat, got to see the indoor raised 8mth two sloth baby… Adorable!

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