Vietnam - Day 6

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.

Vietnam - Day 4

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.

Vietnam - Day 2

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!!

Vietnam - Day 1

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.