Here are a selection of the photographs Sharon took in Vietnam while we were there in November 2017.
In November I head for Vietnam for my 3rd trip, this time Sharon came with me so I was worried if she would like it as much as I do. Also since I wanted to take photos I gave her a camera as well. This sort of backfired as she got better photos :-) We visited Hanoi, a 2 night cruise in Halong Bay and finally 6 nights in Hoi An.
I love Hanoi, it's vibrant, brash, busy, noisy full of motor cycles, but the people are friendly and happy and Vietnamese food is amazing. We stayed in a really nice hotel in the Old Quarter. In reality I think I would happily stay for weeks in Hanoi, wandering the streets taking it all in and getting photographs. The last time we were in Vietnam we went to SaPa in the north of the country on the Chinese border but I remembered that when we took the train you could virtually put you arms out the windows and touch the houses. I wanted to visit the tracks and see how people lived along the tracks. It was great fun and we met some nice people in particular a young lady selling her own clothing designs in a shop on the tracks. I will head back here again.
We also met some good friends we made at a previous trip to visit the Haemophili Centre in a hospital. Dr Mai and her family were really nice to invite us to her house for a meal and we had a great night. On the Friday Minh and Hang took us out for a lunch and showed us around Hanoi, another lovely afternoon.
Halong Bay was a great peaceful break after hectic Hanoi. We spent two nights on a lovely junk, it was spacious, lovely bedroom, great food and excursions to some of the islands, caves and villages on the bay.
Hoi An is an amazing place, my daughter recently did a tour of Southeast Asia and it was her favourite. We were a bit apprehensive heading out as it was just at the end of a fierce storm the Damrey Typhoon which sadly killed 89 people, injured a further 174 and caused huge damage. However we had fantastic travel agents Exotic Voyages (link) who looked after us very well and they had arranged a five star replacement hotel for our first two nights. This is the second time I have used Exotic Voyages (Myanmar 2014) and they are fantastic.
What amazed us was the strength of character and resilience of the locals. They have regular floods, in one restaurant two streets from the river we could see the water line above our heads where the river water had reached. Yet within days and as the water receded the shops and streets were cleaned and up and open again. Of course it might have been due to the APEC conference in Danang and visiting dignitaries to Hoi An! We had a few trips arranged with Exotic Voyages that were great fun, a cooking lesson, trip to My Son Sanctuary, and tour around Hoi An. Sharon had a dress made and me a bamboo shirt. Overall a great experience and a place I would head back to along with Hanoi.
Day 9. For me the last couple of days have been excellent as there have been great photo opportunities in both Sa Pa and Bac Ha, and the weather was really good, as opposed to Hanoi where it rained quite hard, the remnants of the Super Hurricane. Agaan the long trip home on the train through the night. I sleep fairly well for the 8 hour trip but Anh points there had been some rock falls that we were lucky didn't make it as far as the track. As we start to come through Hanoi it is amazing how close the tracks are to the houses in the city. In fact we can see straight into peoples homes, in fact I feel if they left a window open it would hit the train.
We arrive and it is drizzling rain and I think what a great opportunity of photos of Hanoi in the rain. We get back to the hotel for around 7am decide to get breakfast and a rest and I plan to head out then for a few quicks shots. We are due to head out to one of the provinces for the opening of a chapter of the association, a two hour drive there and another two back, but this is cancelled and meetings later in the afternoon are arranged. Anyway I get up and hope to get my rainy shots but when I look out the sun is shining, the storm is passed and heading to China!
A meeting in the afternoon and we are invited to Prof Tri's house for dinner with his family. Again a lovely meal and evening. Now to get packed for the long trip home tomorrow, so early to bed for a good sleep. But I wake up at midnight with a terrible pain in my back, I just can't find anyway to lie comfortably, sO I take an injection hoping it's a bleed and will heal overnight. I don't get much sleep but after a few hours the pain subsides it must have been a bleed, never had one there before!
Another nice breakfast in the hotel. We are staying in a nice boutique hotel on the outskirts of the old town in Hanoi. Brian has used this chain a number of times and stayed in a number of them and they are all very good. The back is getting better but still a few tweeks of pain, I'll take another shot before flying. This morning I have the final photography workshop but it gets cut short as we have a final and concluding meeting. A quick lunch and off to the airport for me and I will be home in about 24 hours!
Another really great trip. The people of Vietnam are friendly, Hanoi has a real buzz about it, and I love the food although there are a few things you have to be weary of. Our hosts have been fantastic, they have looked after us fantastically, feeding us great food, entertaining us, and showing off their beautiful country of which they are rightly proud.
From a haemophilia treatment point of view they have huge challenges. It reminds me of how things were in the 1960's in Ireland. The sad thing though is that there is excellent treatment available in the world but it is not available freely in Vietnam. Consequently the hospital is filled with patients many sleeping two to a bed. They have injuries and consequences from bleeds that just would not happen in Ireland, in fact a donation of treatment by us almost certainly saved the life of one person with haemophilia while we are here.
In Ireland we have treatment available in our homes that we can self administer at the first inkling of a bleed, or in fact that is administered, in the case of children and teenagers prophylactically, to prevent any joint damage. This is just an option here, consequently long distances may need to be travelled to get treatment which in itself is not adequate enough. This means that many people with haemophilia are seriously immobile, miss a lot of school because of this, and therefore cannot get jobs thus left in a position of near or actual poverty. None-the-less the doctors, nurses, staff, haemophiliacs and their families remain hugely positive in the face of such adversity and continue to fight to improve their position. It is our hope that we can help in some way through our efforts of twinning with the Vietnamese Haemophilia Association (VHA). We continue to work with them and try to find funds for programmes such as creating some jobs, teaching English in order to improve their opportunities of employment and to fund minor alterations at some of their homes to make life safer for them and to prevent accidents. The IHS also continues to work with VHA to help them with their organisation, to provide a better service and to advocate for better treatment.
Good bye Vietnam, thank you so much for making me feel so welcome and looking after me. I hope to return again some day.
Sunday morning but no lie on, the girls have us called at 6.15am for breakfast and ready for checkout by 7.30 in time for a pick up by a tour guide for a days outing. First an hours journey to Lào Cai, where we will take the train back to Hanoi tonight. A very quick stop and we have an 85 km journey which will take us over two hours. Although Hanoi has had a lot of rain we are fortunate to have very good weather. Our destination is Bac Ha which has a large weekly market that is famous for its size, variety and numerous local ethnicities that attend in their local costume. The market has food, clothes, machinery, live animals, toys, crafts, gifts, spices, fruit, vegetables nearly anything you care to mention. But the bonus for me, is the rich culture from a photography perspective. Everywhere you look there are woman, men, children, animals, and artefacts to be photographed. The colour and texture is amazing and they are used to being photographed, as there are a huge number of visitors with cameras snapping everywhere. So we have from 10.30 to 13.00 to see everything and time just flies by. We had wondered if the long journey that wound its way along narrow windy roads rising higher into the mountains with 15 of us packed into a minibus would be worth it, but yes definitely. As an aside, nearly everywhere we have travelled around Sa Pa, Lào Cai, and Bac Ha, is marked with signs of construction. From small homes, outbuildings, to large hotels (particularly in Sa Pa) making you wonder if the whole place will be destroyed with new construction!
A quick lunch in Bac Ha at the market and we get back in the minibus for a sort journey to a tiny village where we can visit a local's house, garden and fields. The family was there and actually live in the house and it hits you how poor these people are and how primitive their dwellings are. After a vert short stay here we head back to Lào Cai for our dinner at 6.30. We arrive with a couple of hours to spare and Anh and Mai arrange for a taxi to take us around Lào Cai. It is quite a big town and the reason becomes apparent as it is on the border with China. First we are taken to a local temple, then the border gate where we can nearly touch China on the other side of the river and finally we are taken to a local market. The time until dinner flew by, and after dinner off to catch the overnight train back to Hanoi. It looks like the storm that tragically killed so many in the Philippines is now heading towards the Vietnamese Coast and will ultimately make its way to Hanoi. Hopefully it will have eased off and it will not cause as much destruction. From our own point of view we have to be concerned about getting our flights home on Tuesday.
Here is a samples of the photos taken today. I think I took about 300 in total, hopefully there is a handful of keepers!
Day 6 is Friday and we spend the day in the hospital, I spend the day giving photography tutorials. I hope the volunteers and staff that attended enjoyed the day I had a good time anyway. We finish up at 4pm, and we have the afternoon to ourselves as we will be picked up at 8.30pm to be brought to the train station for our overnight trip to Sa Pa in Northern Vietnam practically on the border with China. It is about 380 km from Hanoi and we will leave the station at 9.50 and are due to arrive at Lai Chua at 6am. The train has 4 bunks and is quite comfortable so Brian, myself, Mai and Anh head off all with our cameras hoping to have some fun.
Day 7 we arrive a couple of hours late in Lào Cai , we are next stuffed into a minibus. Men, woman kids and baggage are all jammed in. The bus driver is no slouch either and to be honest you would be better to have your eyes closed with the overtaking manoeuvres he takes along the winding roads to Sa Pa. We arrive after another hour, quick book in to hotel and breakfast and we head straight out. Sa Pa is a surprisingly big town with a lot of building and construction. Parts of it are really nice with a lovely lake in the middle of it. But you can tell that tourism in particular trekking is a huge business. Bus loads of tourists and trekking shops filled with North Face in particular.
We are taken on the back of motors bikes to the outskirts of the town for a walk to an ethnic village. Fortunately the morning is glorious with plenty of sunshine though the clouds roll in later. We walk out of town and see the familiar stepped fields for which Sa Pa is famous. We walk through the village and the views are spectacular although the locals dressed in local costumes are particular annoying, trying to sell you their wares. After a while it becomes tiresome. But the walk itself was fascinating and on the way back to the hotel picked up some bargains on North Face which is made here.
Some photos from the day.
That night we have one of the best meals in Vietnam and that says a lot as nearly all the meals have been good, some lovely salmon, raw that you soak for a minute in lemon, a cooked salmon dish and loads more. After dinner we head around the village for a look around and to visit the night market.
Here is a short video walking around the streets of Hanoi, it gives you a feel for the sights and sounds of Hanoi. It is in the Old town of Hanoi as I walked around today. You will here the beeping horns of cars and scooters the sounds of traffic and see how packed the walkways are with parked scooters and people seeing on the street eating food.
After doing some work in the hotel I headed out for a walk in the old town. It was great just wandering around taking it all in, dropping into shops stopping for a coffee took some video as you can see above and took a few photos, nothing spectacular but here are a few.
Finally one to prove that it's not just in Dublin that they walk around the city in their pyjamas!
A lazy morning this morning not up until 7am and we are picked up and brought to the Hospital for our meetings today, so no real opportunities for photographs. Our hosts are charming and friendly, and we are treated very well. The objective of the Twinning project between the Irish Haemophilia Society and the Vietnam Haemophilia Association is to help the Vietnamese Association to improve services for people with Haemophilia in Vietnam. In previous blogs from when I was here in March 2012, I documented my feelings regarding this project and my feelings about the situation for haemophiliacs and the trojan work performed by the health service providers there considering the challenging circumstances that prevail.
After the meeting the board and guests were invited for another great meal and Brian and spent a lovely evening with Dr Mai and her family. I am providing tutorials on photography on Friday, to which I am looking forward, thanks to Peter & Paul who supplied some a lot of raw material for the workshop.
I forgot to mention that yesterday we were told of the details for our trip to Sapa. We leave on Friday night by train and although it is roughly 3-400km away we do not arrive until early Saturday morning. An unexpected pleasure (I hope) to travel by train. We spend Saturday and sunday in Sapa and return on Sunday night by overnight train again. I'm really looking forward to Sapa and I am hoping for some great photographic opportunities and to see and experience this region of Vietnam.
So tomorrow I'm skipping the meetings and preparing my tutorial and I'll get out and about old town Hanoi to take some photos.
Sorry no pics today!
Up early this morning at 6am, Prof Tri and one of the hospital administrators Ms Anh collected us at 6.15 and we headed out for breakfast. Prof Tri was very keen we try the traditional Vietnamese breakfast of Pho, so we headed to a local Pho eatery that has been there for 3 generations. Pho is a soup or broth with rice noodles, beef and two raw eggs broken into it, and it was really nice and a great way to set oneself up for the day. It was something I was keen to try but wasn't sure where to get it. I was really pleased to have tried Pho and would recommend it.
The above shows the owner cooking breakfast and Prof Tri and Brian enjoying the Pho.
Next we headed off for coffee and naturally in Hanoi there is a street for coffee bars.
Our very hospitable hosts took us out for a very enjoyable day, we headed for Ninh Binh (pronounced Ning Bing) province which was a drive of over two hours. We had a lovely drive through the country side and arrived first at Chua Bai Dinh a fairly modern complex containing a large number of temples.
Fortunately we arrived early at about 9am and beat the crowds. It was a fascinating morning plenty of walking and loads of steps. Here are some of the photos I took.
A really interesting morning and although it was hot at times and a lot of walking the weather was just perfect.
Next we headed off for lunch. Vietnamese food is great, very fresh, simply prepared and served with delicious dipping sauces that enhance the food and the experience. Prof Tri was insistant that the food be as fresh as possible and sent Ms Anh into the first restaurant to check and it was given the thumbs up. We were early so the first and only ones there. The food was extremely fresh so fresh in fact, you will see in one the following images where they had just killed the chicken for our meal. The staff were very friendly and kindly invited me in to take some photos.
The food started with a sort of salad of fresh leaves of mint (two different types I think) and a third leaf that looked like a bay leaf but wasn't, banana cut in slices in the skin and a sour tasting star shaped vegetable which was gorgeous. Lovely dipping sauces were also provided, a peanut sauce, a sort of nam pla with chillis, and a brown sugar with lime juice. Next came two pork and two (very fresh) chicken dishes and a soup made with spinach. Just so much food and so good.
After lunch we were taken to Trang An in the Ninh Binh region. Trang An is a waterway with caves or grottoes that run through and between vast limestone cliffs that rise out of the waters and it is often compared to Halong Bay. We hired a boat that took us through the waterways and through the caves in a trip that took over two hours. We were very fortunate that it was not high season as there was very few people around. In high season there can be over a thousand boats on the water. The woman that rowed our boat was a slight person and as I said it took her over two hours to take us around and it didn't appear to take anything out of her. It was truly a memorable experience and gave a feel for what the famous Halong Bay must be like.
Time to head back to Hanoi and we met Hanoi evening rush hour. I've never seen anything like it, cars, bikes and scooters coming from all sides and angles. For dinner we were brought to a special restaurant that served mainly mushrooms in loads of different guises and varieties and as always everything was great. It is typical for Vietnamese food to be cooked at the table. A burner is put in the middle of the table and a broth already boilng is placed on the burner. Next the raw ingredients are added to the broth, in this case a variety or mushrooms and small black skinned chickens no bigger that same a Robin, and of course the head is still looking at you.,5 of these one for each of us. This cooks for 10 mins until fully cooked. The waitress serves up and we avoid the chicken. This time there is a beautiful coconut based dipping sauces. But it doesn't stop there, next raw thin slices of beef are added (really yummy), then sliced salmon and finally fresh vegetables like spinach and spring onions. It was all finished off with a serving of ice cream (though not this time in the broth). The perfect end to a prefect day.
Tomorrow it's work.
Day 1 & 2 have just merged into each other, mostly spent in planes or airport lounges, something like 24 hours since I left the house. I must say Etihad have been excellent, literally from the time I left the house until I reached Bangkok any way! Quick checkin, nice lounges, very relaxing flights they literally flew, pun intended! Bangkok airport is not great and unfortunately had to spend the most time there. Finally make it to Hanoi after a little sleep on the plane, and I'm prepared for the long wait for bureaucracy to take its course and issue us with our visas. But I'm pleasantly surprised at how quickly we got them, another advantage of getting off the plane first and getting to the top of the queue. Pick up the cases, thank god it makes it here, but half my case is full of toys for the kids in the hospital, Brian forgot to take them so I get volunteered to give up half my case. I wouldn't mind but there is a street called toy street (in Hanoi there are streets named for different guilds or products, like silk street, tailor street, shoe street, bag street etc) where we could have got these toys cheaper. Like taking coal to Newcastle. In arrivals we are met by two sets of people to take us to the hotel. Two staff from the hospital and a taxi arranged by the hotel! I'm knackered when we arrive at our hotel and when I get to my room it's 27 hours since I left the house. The hotel is in the old town of Hanoi, it's very comfortable with a laptop in every room, free wifi and friendly staff. A sister hotel to the one we stayed in last March 2012, called the Essence hotel chain, and this one is called Happy. Glad we didn't get any of the other 7 dwarfs!
But no rest for the wicked, unpack, the 4 s's and out again for a short walk to the Metropole hotel where we meet with the Irish Ambassador. We spent a little while having a chat with the ambassador to bring him up to date with the twinning programme. We headed out for a walk around the lake and I took a few photos. I have to admit I missed my Nikon D800 while handles the dark nights in the city, focuses faster and captures sharper. I hope it's just a matter of adapting to the X-E1 and changing style a bit. then off for a bite to eat a nice light Vietnamese meal in a restaurant down the road from our hotel and then off to bed an early rise at 5.45 am as Prof. Tri is meeting us for breakfast before we head out for the day.
I attach a few photos I took as you can see a few are soft.
Here is a slideshow of some of the photos I took in Vietnam:
The last few days have been about relaxing and getting home. Sunday in Vung Tau (admittedly forgettable), back to HCM city Monday to walk around city and night market and finally 24 hours getting home via Bangkok and Amsterdam. What are my impressions? Well much of the time was spent at meetings though we did get to sample some of the country. But based on my limited experience Hanoi and the north appears more traditional Vietnamese whereas HCM City in the south is more cosmopolitan and western as evidenced by the newer, bigger city and shops like Gucci, Armani, Burberry, Channel etc, etc. Though we did see a Gucci store in Hanoi as well but not on the same scale. Though I am sure that not many locals purchased here, the wealthy international visitor I expect makes up the majority of the customers. As I understand it even well-educated professionals may earn only $200 a month and we saw plenty of people living on much else, and inflation is rampant now.
I love Hanoi and some of the local areas we saw and were taken to, it whetted my appetite for more. It would be nice to visit and travel widely with other photographers to get some great images of the very varied landscape and seascapes as well as the beautiful people. The people themselves are, friendly, welcoming, quiet and sometimes shy. There are many different ethnicities with varying traditions which would be great to explore and to get to know more about. In the time available we really didn't even scratch the surface.
The food is great, a preponderance of fish and seafood, but it all seems so fresh, plainly cooked and embellished with lovely sauces, and the use of vegetables is great. Though we also sampled some of the very unusually: uterus, pigs intestine, testicle, liver and a desert which contained frogs stomach, fortunately we avoided snake! Also unfortunately they did not inherit good desserts from their French invaders but they have an abundance of fantastic fruit to make up for this.
For those of a more cultural bent, than myself, there are also plenty of museums and places that commemorate the struggle against their previous invaders, the USA and the French.
What, though, of their Haemophilia care? Well there are some very good points. Firstly there are a number of Haemophilia centres around the country, this is excellent as I have no doubt that without these centres there would be many more injuries and indeed deaths. General hospitals just don't treat as well, they don't have the expertise or the treatment and the delay or denial of treatment, or inappropriate treatment can lead to permanent injury or death. Even in Ireland, where we have good comprehensive care in centres there is a concern about being treated in none centres without this expertise, steps are being taken to try improve on this. The problem here in Vietnam though is that many patients live a long way from the centres and most do not have a decent mode of transport except perhaps on the back of a motorbike which isn't exactly the best mode of transport with a bleed or injury! This delay causes further problems.
At these centres there are very good and dedicated staff who look after their patients as well as they can, but the problem is two-fold. The lack of access to sufficient and appropriate factor replacement treatment. As a poor country it is difficult to access the most modern factor replacement concentrates so less efficient plasma derived products are used. And although these are made locally to high standards with proper screening for viruses and contaminants, sufficient treatment cannot be made to allow patients treat themselves at home when they get injured, which, would revolutionise the standard of care. Secondly, people with haemophilia here must pay a contribution towards their treatment, 20%, which for the vast majority here is a great burden and has led to great hardship. In circumstances of poverty this contribution is reduced to 5% and in these cases the treatment manufacturers will pay the final 5%, but this really only encourages poverty.
The outcome is that patients lose out on their education, can't get jobs and find it difficult to support themselves. Seeing this is very humbling and makes me appreciate the very good level of care we get. But also it reminds me of how it used to be in Ireland many decades ago. It has been a long road, a very hard-fought road, to get us where we are and this road has been paved with many instances of hardship, through lack of treatment which lead to: deformity and disablement, poor education, lack of job prospects, families ashamed of their haemophilia, poor quality of life, and indeed lives cut tragically short through injury. In the last 3 decades poor safety measures in the manufacturing of the treatment has had its own tragedy through contamination with HIV, AIDS and Hep. C, where the lives of many friends and families have been devastated. So my visit here reminds me we should not be complacent about what we have achieved, irrespective of our economy. We need to retain and continue to improve our level of care so that we should not fall back into the abyss of inadequate treatment, and we must insist on the highest level of care, in this way people with haemophilia and bleeding disorders can have full and fulfilling lives, and can contribute to society rather than be a burden on it.
So finally a country I would live to return to and explore more fully.
A lie on at last, up at 8.30, breakfast, store our main luggage at the hotel, let's hope it's still there on Monday when we return and off the catch the hydrofoil to Vung Tau. Our boat leaves at 11.30 and will take 1.5 hours. Vung Tau is a beach resort outside HCM that the Vietnamese visit at weekends, apparently it's famous as the place that Gary Glitter frequented!!!!!! Anyway we check in, it's not Ritz but will do fine and relaxing and taking in the sun is the order of the day.
The morning started with a very formal inauguration of the HCM City club, which essentially is a branch of the Vietnamese Haemophilia Society. There are over 50 people attending, with high-powered doctors there and we are invited to the top table as guests. There is a TV camera for local news reporting. The opening ceremony lasts two hours the most touching contribution being from a fairly disabled man with haemophilia who is obviously overcome with emotion at the set up of this club, and what he hopes may improve overall treatment. After it finishes it gives us an opportunity to mix and talk to the haemophiliacs and parents attending. They are extremely friendly and talk freely and ask us about our services and the level of treatment we receive. In fact it's a little humbling as I soon realise that in perhaps two or three treatments I would have used up an entire years treatment for one of these young men. They can only live in hope, and repeatedly I am told our position is a dream for them.
After another fine lunch with the doctors we have a couple of workshops to discuss the way to organise a society and how to get and train volunteers.
That finishes our work for the day so we have 3 days left to enjoy ourselves.
We set off at 6.45am for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Vietnam is a long country it being some 1900 km between these two cities and it takes 2 hours by plane. The first impressions of HCM is a slightly more modern city to Hanoi with wider streets though the traffic is still fairly hectic.
In the afternoon we are to visit the blood bank and three hospitals that treat haemophilia. It's when you visit hospitals like these that you realise how lucky we are, there are many problems with our health service, but here things are much worse. The doctors and nurses are excellent but they cannot work miracles with the resources they have. We see crowded hospitals with no privacy and in many cases patients are sharing beds. The worse part of this is that haemophilia is readily treatable, and patients can treat themselves at home with modern treatment. When this is done there are less strains on the medical system, with patients being more healthy and requiring less hospitalisation. Instead here there is limited and poorer quality treatment which means these young men are severely disabled, which means they cannot get full education and hence appropriate jobs. Also here the patients must pay a contribution towards their treatment (20%) except if they are destitute. Salaries are poor here so that one treatment can cost as much as a months salary. So it is not unknown to sell their possessions and homes to pay for treatment. Because these children and men are not getting sufficient treatment most are disabled with deformed joins and in many cases they have lost limbs. It is a very humbling experience.
Tomorrow we are to return for the formal set up of a branch of the Vietnamese Haemophilia Society in HCM city and for workshops.
Again we are treated to a very nice seafood meal in a fine restaurant by the health care professionals in HCM city, our hosts are extremely hospitable and friendly and it is a very enjoyable evening.
We were picked up this morning at 6am, we were being brought out for a days sight-seeing and to see a family with a Haemophilic boy. The province of Hoa Binh is a good 2 hour journey though we have to stop off at the hospital first to pick up all those going on the trip. We have Dr Mai and some of her team including another doctor, a few nurses, one of the nurses daughters who acts as a volunteer, a young man with haemophilia and Ms Hang who is an administrator at the hospital in the centre. On the road in a bus for a couple of hours, and it's interesting to see the country side and the small villages along the way. Where we are going isn't in fact too far away, less than a hundred kilometres, but the roads are not great, we come across slow moving vehicles, and the odd small herd of cattle. It appears that it takes forever to drive any sort of distance.
About 9 am we make it to the hydroelectric power station that produces about 20% of the country's electricity. It was built with the expertise of Russian engineers and some 37000 Vietnamese workers. It took 15 years and some 167 lost their lives in its construction. It was built in a mountain side to prevent its distraction during a war. It was completed in 1982.
We were then taken for a long boat ride on the lake, perhaps to make up for the fact we didn't get to Holong Bay. We are taken to a small temple on a tiny island in the lake. Here Dr Mai buys some freshly barbecued fish which we eat on the boat. These are lovely people and even with a bit of a language barrier we had a great laugh and they are so hospitable.
Sorry Michael but I have to say we had another great lunch. We were taken to an excellent restaurant. The food is so fresh and great vegetables and dipping sauces.
Next we are brought to a very entertaining and ethnic dance show. We shared some local wine from a large pot using long bamboo straws.
We are then welcomed into the house of a local boy with haemophilia, our whole crew of 12 of us, are invited in to sit at two long tables they have prepared with food. As well as his parents there is his grandmother, aunts, local doctor, 3 of his school teachers and he also had a friend there with haemophilia. We were made most welcome with, food, drink, flowers, speeches and a gift each. They are truly wonderful people and hopeful that our twinning programme can produce dividends through improved overall health care for their boys and all boys with haemophilia.
It's just gone 5pm and time to set off. We've been invited to an after wedding party of one of the nurses in the Haemophilia Centre. As can be expected weddings are slightly different here, the ceremony is actually tomorrow and tonight we were invited to the brides party in her house (sort of hens party) meanwhile hubby to be is having a party in his home. The wedding album is already produced they took the photos in all the wedding garb about 2 months ago. The family treat us like royalty we are taken into the house and given the bet chairs and introduced to all the important members of the family. Then of course there's even more food. Overall a fantastic day and they have looked after us very well. Here are some photos from my iPhone today on the lake.
Michael asked me if I travelled all this way just for the food, so just for today I won't mention how good the food is, oops too late I've done it again! The hospital is a fine modern building but still sometimes there are more patients than beds and at times there may be two to a bed. I also forgot to mention yesterday that the hospital deals with both adults and children. And it was just brilliant to see how happy the kids were when they received the simple toys and gifts we brought for them, one little lad jumped and ran around the corridor for joy. I have a feeling Fiona would happily steal one away, they are such wonderful little boys.
Seeing and listening to these young men and the parents brought me back to the 60-70s in Ireland before there was effective treatment. Here they are stuck into a vicious circle. There is not sufficient treatment so the boys miss a lot of school, they are becoming disabled with impaired limbs, their education suffers greatly, so they cannot get proper jobs due to their poor education and their disability, so they have a poor quality of life that is very frustrating for them. The funny thing is that they have a lovely modern hospital, all be it with too few beds at times, great doctors, and just as important good nurses, but they don't have enough treatment to allow these young men live a full, healthy, and good quality life. They are looking to the I.H.S. to help them organise an efficient and effective Society that will help them over time to deliver the comprehensive treatment they deserve.
Tomorrow we visit one of the regions about 100km from Hanoi where we will meet some families and see some of the sights. We have also been invited to part of a traditional Vietnamese wedding, so early to bed tonight!
Last night we ate out in a lovely little restaurant. Upstairs in a small room with no more than 8 tables, but lovely Vietnamese food. I had spring rolls and we all had their speciality, chicken 5 spices, I think it was called, with steamed rice. Anyway the whole thing was gorgeous and all for only 5.50€!!! Then off to the last night of the late market. Up early today, quick breakfast and we are taken to the hospital. This involves a 40 min drive from our hotel and it was a real experience driving through rush hour traffic I've never seen anything like it. We arrived at the combined blood bank and hospital, it is an impressive building, with very good laboratories, impatient facilities, dedicated staff but unfortunately they lack enough treatment to completely treat everybody. We are introduced to a large number of inpatients and outpatients and it is really heart breaking to see such young men who are severely crippled due to haemophilia. We are very fortunate in Ireland that no one suffers like this any more and it is a great pity to see such suffering when the knowledge and treatment is available in the world. We have a busy day with meetings and I cannot say much about these except it was great to see so many people, some who had travelled a great deal, to meet us. They were very enthusiastic and energetic which hopefully means that conditions will improve in the future.
Afterwards we were taken to another fantastic restaurant and I have to say Vietnamese food is gorgeous, well worth trying if you ever get the chance.
Did I mention it was drizzling here, so much for the long range forecast which made me go out and buy sun cream, more likely to get rust than a sun burn! And now see what the forecast says!!
Silly boy I am last night I stayed awake until 2 am listening to the commentary of the Ireland rugby match on my iPhone. It wasn't even worth listening to! So this morning I slept on a little and the rest were half way through their breakfasts. It was a Sunday and our last free day before the work starts on the workshops. To be honest we didn't do too much just wandered around looking at the sights. Thankfully most of the museums closed early or Brian would have dragged us around a load more. Getting used to the streets and being able to walk between the cars and motorbikes. Also it didn't drizzle all day, it didn't get sunny, but we didn't get wet at least.
Tonight we will have another look at the night market and then go for a meal. We are being collected at 8am in the morning to go to the hospital which I think is about 45 minutes away from our hotel. Looks like it will be a busy days.
As we sat having a cup of coffee we watch these balloon sellers who sold their balloons in the middle of the traffic with cars and motorbikes whizzing around them. The funny thing is that people on motorbikes would stop to buy balloons and head off holding their purchases as they drove along!
The hotel is a lovely boutique hotel right in the middle of the old town. The rooms are well appointed with a laptop in each room with Internet as well as WiFi. Mind you you're not allowed access Facebook. After a few hours rest we head out in the afternoon for a stroll. The drizzle persists, and we start to get used to the manic traffic. Motorbikes and cars weave all over the street with horns constantly hooting and the pedestrians are also weaving in the traffic. It's next to impossible to walk on the pavements as there are either people sitting on them or else there are motorbikes parked on the sidewalk.
The streets in the Old Town are narrow and the smell of cooking abounds, it must be the ubiquitous Poh, a noodle soup. As well as standard cafes, there are people selling food from bikes or baskets. Every so often there are people cooking on the pavement and people sitting on little plastic seats eating and drinking. There are shops selling all types of nicknacks and small supermarkets.
We return at 6 pm to meet Dr Mai and her Assistant Ms Hang. We discuss the workshops for the following week before heading off to dinner. The schedule looks very good with visits to people's homes to see how they cope with their haemophilia. We are also invited to a nurses after wedding celebrations on Wednesday. Dr Mai and Ms Hang are very friendly and bring us to a specialist fish restaurant where we have a fantastic meal. Everything is cooked at the table, the sauces, vegetables and fish are lovely and I manage the chopsticks surprisingly well. Afterwards we head to the market that runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The streets are thronged with people. To finish the night off, after we leave the girls back to the hotel, Brian and I go look for the Irish bar to get a drink for Paddy's day.
Tomorrow the plan was to go to Holung Bay, but today due to the bad mist the boats were not allowed out so we've decided not risk the 3.5 hour drive there and just do our own thing. In the mean time I listen to the Ireland England rugby match on my iPhone app, amazing what you can do!!
Up early at 4am for the flight to Paris, a 4 hour stop over in Charles De Gaul airport, and then on to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines. The flight is 10.5 hours so in fact the first day is gone on traveling as we arrive on Paddy's day, Saturday 17th at 5.40am. Not much to say about long flights except I think the plane we flew on had many, many, many hours clocked up on it!!! Anyway we arrive, and the sun isn't up yet. Next we have a two hour wait to get our visas, that eventually sorted the bags are waiting for us and so is our taxi driver from the hotel, this is great as you hear all sorts of problems with scams between taxi drivers and hotels.
So the first impressions? Typical Paddy's day it is raining and misty. The drive from the airport to the city brings us through some country side and we get our first sight of Paddy fields. As we get closer to the city we see a very industrial city with a mixture of typical communist type buildings with a mix of factories: Panasonic and Yamaha to name a couple, and more historic buildings that look Vietnamese with their beautifully ornate roofs. Although its 8 am the traffic is building up and the ubiquitous motor and push bikes become even more prominent. Some stacked high with wares for the market and others with two or three passengers. The traffic runs in all directions with no apparent control, and then the pedestrians trying to cross the road, what havoc!! I'm not looking forward to trying to cross the road.
Our hotel is nestled in the middle of the old town and it is very nice and well appointed. So we decide to get a bite of breakfast and go to bed for a few hours before exploring.