Nil by mouth, and by that I wasn’t expecting 6 months …

Plan B, Reality Check
Ice chips were not an option either – that’s when I knew I was in for a long and very bumpy ride to recovery.

This, most definitely, was not on the bucket list for 2019 – for someone who loves food and all that it represents, life can be unbelievably unfair at times. Given my absolute lack of knowledge on this disease and the side affects – I will update where I can. Here’s my story …

I had managed to travel throughout Vietnam for 3 months aided with nasal spray, aspirin, high dose pain killers from home, anti inflammatories, anti hystemanes, antibiotics and nasal steroids. Somewhere in the back of mind I kept thinking “something is not right here” and despite numerous doctors visits both at home and overseas, I kept being told it’s chronic tonsillitis. I went to hospital in Saigon and had an Endoscopy with an ENT specialist and was told it’s nothing sinister. At the time I recall saying to my family & friends that I was so relieved it wasn’t cancer. I had my ears cleaned, ate a lot of Strepsils and soldiered on.

I had spent so much time preparing and getting organised to live in Asia and to experience something different that being sick was certainly not part of the plan. I pushed on until the first VISA run. It was about this time I realised how tough a person can be, how much pain you can live with without having an answer, how much pain you will endure until you can’t.

Golden Bridge Danang

I had planned a month in Indonesia to set up my business and get some fresh air time away from Ho Chi Minh City. Thinking I would then return to Vietnam to start working on some food and hospitality activity I had put in to place with new contacts. I was tired and really running on empty and thought …perhaps I just need rest. Fast forward to mid October 2018 and I am lying pool side having a beer in Bali, weighing up work decisions when I discover that one of my nearest and dearest has had a heart attack back in Australia.

For whatever reason it jolted me into action, I immediately booked a flight home within the next 24 hours. I wasn’t thinking about me so much as thinking perhaps I could help at home. I was on that flight, excess luggage and no plan …other than to get home and see what I could do and what I could do about my very sore throat. I was thinking a tonsillectomy at worst. Better to do that in Australia if it came to that.

I arrived in Australia on Sunday morning and was in with my local GP by Tuesday morning. That week saw me in with an ENT specialist, PET Scan, MRI the list of “tests” goes on – but oh how efficient, how I thanked my stars I had private health insurance (surgeon/wait time) and that it all happened as fast as it possibly could. My friends rallied and made decisions for me, there is a lot of information and when the surgeon said “viral tonsil cancer” – squamous cells, biopsy will determine I had all but tuned out. This was meant to be a simple tonsillectomy in my mind. I was in denial.

I really liked my surgeon Andrew Foreman, what a job to have to tell people this outcome. I always had someone else with me, mostly my best mate of forty odd years, to take notes and pick up on all the detail I just wasn’t taking in. I recall saying “I just want the pain gone” – what do we do and in what order to make that happen? “

Surgery, then 6 weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Andrew removed the tumour through my mouth via a newly acquired robot at Calvary Hospital. A two part operation that involved not only removing the tumour but also removing 25-30 lymph nodes in my neck. For reasons beyond me, I thought this was going to be a walk in the park, I thought I’d be up kick boxing again in weeks and absolutely no thought given to not eating food again for a very long time.

A drain in my neck, a stiff shoulder and an asymmetrical everything I was later to find out. I spent twenty days in Calvary and a week of that in ICU. I have never been in hospital before and certainly never had an operation. It was so new to me, I didn’t understand anything and no idea what to expect. This is a girl who fainted when she had her ears pierced. I had never broken anything, never been sick, no surgery no operation … no freedom. I was scared.

Saline Humidifiers became my new best friend.

Andrew removed a tumour roughly 19x15x17mm although he suspected it was bigger, and it was when he got in there. My left tonsil removed, my right tonsil removed and 1/3rd of my tongue. When I woke up in recovery I couldn’t speak, couldn’t swallow and awoke in the dark. It was very frightening, nursing staff kept asking me if I was alright? Can I get you something? I didn’t know it at the time but I was in shock. I just sat there not knowing what to do, couldn’t move, couldn’t communicate. I had a nasal feeder, a catheter, a lymph node drain, surgical stockings, spit bags ..it was all so foreign to me and I was a long way from even getting to the ward.

So many bodily functions were taken away from me. You know you are incapacitated when nursing staff start doing everything for you and I mean everything. You just have to swallow pride and let them. For those that know me and know I am pretty independent this came as a major shock to me. Universally this is known as Head and Neck cancer, not throat cancer and the major difference between this and the better known Breast and Prostate cancer is that you can’t eat. Everything you consume is through a nasal feeder and or a peg in the stomach. This news did not sit well with me and I was frightened. What if ? – Surely you can’t live your life with a stomach peg? Turns out you can and turns out I refuse to.

Getting through Christmas Day with a stomach peg turns out to be a challenge in itself … one I hope not to repeat in 2019.



Robotic Trans oral surgery
Oropharyngectomy and right tonsillectomy , L) neck dissection and selective arterial ligation.

Transoral robotic surgery is a procedure to remove mouth and throat cancers in which a surgeon uses a sophisticated, computer-enhanced system to guide the surgical tools.
Transoral robotic surgery gives the surgeon an enhanced view of the cancer and surrounding tissue. Using a robotic system to guide the surgical tools allows for more-precise movements in tiny spaces and the capability to work around corners.


When compared with more-traditional procedures, transoral robotic surgery tends to result in a quicker recovery and fewer complications for people with mouth and throat cancers.By Mayo Clinic Staff

This scar and Dewlap I hope to manage with hot yoga looking down the track …

It is the end of summer – March 1 2019, I have been in treatment for an entire season. I missed summer in Australia and as at March 1, 2019 I am now officially finished my treatment. Radio therapy and Chemo therapy. I had six cycles of Cisplatin and no interruptions – my magnesium levels held out too, I am really grateful for that because that bit really hurt. Felt like someone whacking my forearm with a base ball bat. The radiation was relentless. My blood platelets held out and getting bloods to the oncologist proved tricky for me – Code Blue Princess (CBP) I named myself. I opted not to have a port put in but a cannular every week for blood, ready for the Monday chemo session.

Lack of veins, dehydration, being a massive scaredy cat all contributed to CBP – in the end I opted (begged with tears) for Day Care centre to do my bloods rather than the ‘normal way’…

Every day (except for weekends) they radiate/burn you with pin point accuracy. Before they start the radiation they make you a mask to ensure they are only treating the areas that require treatment. I brought my mask home after the final session. I am going to grow succulents in it.

So the end of treatment I convalesce, they say the two weeks immediately following treatment is the worst, they weren’t wrong. In between manic bouts of acid reflux, heat burn, nausea, peeling skin that blisters, no food, no appetite and mucous thick enough to build a mud brick house … you try and get better. I have lost nearly 7 kgs since leaving Vietnam, but maintaining at the moment. No alcohol, caffeine for over 3 months and that also means no food either, I was managing soup for a while but that all goes backwards during radiotherapy and chemo. I have no appetite and the smell of cooking food is hit and miss with me. Today is day 4 post treatment.

I have had better days but the worst day was day 3 for me. I continue to look to the horizon and continue to work on plan B. It will show its hand in good time. To my wonderful friends both old and new and my family – thank you from the bottom of my heart for your cards, flowers, notes of encouragement, taxi services, entertainment, and general love you have cast my way. I still need plenty of time to get better and to be able to share pork crackling, a lamb burger with beetroot relish, pepperoni pizza (kidding I’ll never be able to eat that again) crusty bread with butter, toast and a cup of tea. Milestones to work towards

Namaste x

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Why? and other oddities

Getting around

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I am nearing my first VISA run – you need to leave the country every three months. I know many expats find this tiresome, I actually love the opportunity to plan my “where to next” – and for me this November I have narrowed it down to Cambodia (obvious choice) but I did not get to spend a lot of time when last there in 2017. The other has been on my bucket list for years, Kota Kinabalu. So I am researching in earnest. Map below will provide some geographical context. There is a mountain walk there I’d like to do – I’ll investigate the relative safety of that before I decide.

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Next week I travel to Danang –  I opted for the overnight train to save some dollars. Surprised to find that flying both ways was in fact only $10AUD more than taking the train. I will fly up and train back during the day and use a four berth sleeper. It’s a great way to see the country side and let’s face who doesn’t like a clickity clack.

I also opted for the top level thinking the view of the country would be better. As with everything here, this could be the worst mistake of my life, you share a 4 berth with strangers and hope like hell your snoring or theirs doesn’t keep everyone awake! Still having done a similar trip to Sapa I now know to take my own esky with beer and snacks. see Meeting the Queen & Vespa Riding Dogs  The plan is to also go to Ba Na Hills and do the cable car and most importantly Golden Bridge (opened in June)

The past few weeks I have discovered Farmers Union yoghurt, which did more for my homesickness than my throat. Moved to another flat, helped a friend relocate to another country and have continued to search for some work. As time goes by I think the need to start an online business / income is fast approaching. I like this digital nomad life and although I missing a cup of tea ( Australian style) I dropped by the InterContinental Hotel yesterday for breakfast. I needed an Earl Grey.

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Why?  as you walk the streets here, the locals start to accept you are not a “tourist” but someone who is living here (albeit short or long time) and the conversation subtly shifts to but “Why?” – Madam you want massage ? no, thank you …But Why? the responses can be long or short or non existent. Like the cyclo driver who pulled up next to me outside the statue of Ho Chi Minh – his English was good, good enough to have a five-minute conversation. The usual – “where you from?”” what do you do?” followed by “why you not want me to take you to your flat?”… anyway you get the picture. Some days I just get home and collapse it’s exhausting. Wit, humour and knowledge does not necessarily equate in another language. This changes your mindset too I have noticed, you start to think differentlly as a result, refuge to be found with other expats, even a brief encounter with an Aussie at the ATM. I am already helping new comers.

The gentle art of not giving a Phuc (sic)

Getting around

img_1492If Vietnam has taught me one lesson it is this, whatever happened yesterday has no bearing on what will happen today. I have learnt a few life lessons – well, when I say learnt, more of an “A ha” moment – I now know to always trust my gut instinct and actually ACT on it. Easier said than done sometimes, but I know this, if you dig deep enough you already know the answer, the challenge is self acceptance and to follow your own values and core boundaries.

Language barriers aside, you can still get a feel for a place and know whether you should stay or make a bee line for the door. They say the first six months are the hardest, at what point you wake up and realise your living the ‘dream’ I don’t know. I am pretty sure I am on the right path and I just need to keep moving slowly along, like learning to walk in “heels” on a wet Saigon pavement at night holding an umbrella.

I am pleased with my progress to date.  I am crossing the roads like a pro now, always mindful of that bike launching in from the right, and the cyclo driver who wants to take you everywhere “I live here” – normally does the trick. I have been ripped off, grabbed in markets and asked  why I am here and why I don’t I want a massage many times.

I have learnt that you must carry an umbrella, you must have small denominations, carry toilet tissue and despite the kind demeanour of the people, my legendary don’t mess with me look does have to be put in to effect at times. I have learnt not to use my mobile whilst deciphering Google maps whilst standing on a street near the road (motorbike snatches) and that if you smile and laugh, you can and do get through most things.

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I have been looked after on the way to hospital by a caring taxi driver when at deaths door, helped to order food when I was clearly out of my depth, had english translators brought in to assist.  I have found caring ex-pats who have been here for a short time and a long time. Ready to listen and to help where necessary.

As I write the rain pours down and life goes on. Next week marks two months and yet another accommodation move. The time has gone quickly, yet so much has happened already.

 

 

Finding My Nemo …week one.

Settling in and finding Nemo

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, or in my case her wallet.

In fact I didn’t lose it, it just went missing for a heart stopping 15 – 20 minutes. I managed the flights via Singapore (25 minutes between planes and Terminal 1 to Terminal 3), customs, immigration and then I hit the humidity … standing alone under column 11 waiting for my assured lift to Bon Bon Residences.  Experience has taught me, when in doubt do nothing in Asia, just wait … and for someone with my patience level that is a lesson in itself.  But wait I did, and before long Vo and friend turned up with helping hands and a cold bottle of water.

Although I had been in Saigon previously, there is something about the night light and traffic that confuses the senses. We drove for what seemed a relatively short amount of time ( mid year school break here for 8 weeks – this town in quiet) and I was tucked up in my small room in no time, Lemon Tea Room – mezzanine level with a full kitchen just outside my bedroom door. Walking everywhere is the only way to familiarise yourself with your surroundings. So walk I did, heat, dust, rain, wind and everything in between. It can be challenging especially on your own. No one to share the stories, experience and hold your bag whilst you go the loo. You become very self sufficient and very aware of your surroundings. Yes I got lost, hopelessly lost at one point, I was dehydrated and my feet were sore. I found a cafe, sat down and watched the weather and the sun and through a process of elimination found my way back to the residences. I might add here that I have a photographic memory when it comes to direction and I know exactly where I am mostly and which route I took to get there. So for this to happen to me is a rarity. Still, as always in Asia, don’t panic and just wait. All will be revealed.

Mostly Vietnam I find is a safe city – not withstanding bike grabs, pick pockets in crowds the usual stuff – never have I felt uncomfortable until this week when I encountered a man who just would not let me out of his sight and not in a good way. I eventually lost him by standing up, looking him in the eye and daring him to proceed any further. He lost interest and I got lost quick smart. Thankful for a busy food market.

Back to the lost wallet – seven days in and I was pleased with my progress, rolled oats found, powdered Australian Milk found, bananas, tofu and noodles found and purchased at open market – tick tick tick. So on day 7 with rolled oats and banana in hand I headed to the rooftop to have my breakfast whilst watching the elephants.  I was moving to a friend’s apartment today in District 1 for the weekend. The apartment I am eventually to take over when she relocates to Ireland.

That 30 minutes I was away from my room it had been cleaned, linen changed, re stocked and tidied. I arrived back at the door to meet lovely staff members leaving my room. I had all my belongings on the bed to be packed for the weekend including my green leather travel wallet and cash and credit card. Other money and cards in safe – never keep it all together.  My wallet was missing. I searched high and low, every pocket, every bag but I knew it had gone. I didn’t jump to conclusions,It had to be in the building, still I thought, oh FFS … not week one!

I raced to reception and told them and within minutes there were 3 people at the door of my room including “G -Jason” who had cleaned my room looking more than a little worried. “Miss Miss check toiletry bag”. The wallet had been put carefully in my toiletry bag then packed into the over night suitcase and tucked under the desk. Yes it was there. I nearly slapped him, but relief and some slap stick activity on my behalf and the situation was diffused. Note to self: Don’t leave anything on the bed you don’t want packed away.

So the first week in I have walked the city centre and out to my area at Ward 19 – it’s a bit quieter out here by the river and the Zoo, mostly Japanese expats and hence the food also has a wide variety of Ramen noodle and some very good Japanese cafes. The early morning Thai Chi and early evening aerobic classes on the river bank and long boats arriving dropping off coconuts, makes it an idealic location to start out. Bon Bon Residences have made me feel very at home.

Do I have to eat ? When the dreaded stomach peg becomes the easier option, and you realise you are never eating pizza again.

Food thoughts, Reality Check, Recovery Mode Post Treatment

Before I left Australia I had been suffering a constant sore throat, I put it down to stress and the fact that I was upheaving my life to go and do something else. I had assured myself that it would disappear and after five days on Phu Quoc island I realised I wasn’t getting better.

A heavy chest cold had settled in too and my ears hurt, I was swallowing razor blades and well, I felt like hell. My other blogs posts explain fully as to exactly where I was health wise https://thefoodmanifestoblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/05/nil-by-mouth-and-by-that-i-wasnt-expecting-6-months/

So fast forward 9 months and I am back home in Australia and trying to make myself eat and not rely on the stomach peg that was inserted back in December 2018. The life giving food peg and administer of all things water, medicine and food. Using the peg is relatively easy but you have to learn how to fill syringes, get them on to the end of the peg, keep them kinked, don’t push too fast or it all comes out every other orifice. Wash the syringes, have towels and wipes for mess and know that it will get all over your clothes if you are not careful.

The peg dangles (literally) from your stomach and gets in the way of everything. I tuck mine into my undies and apparently when they inserted mine they made it very short compared to others. My biggest issue was breaking the ‘seal’ that plugged the feed tube. I have had to go to Gastroenterology Department two times to get them to replace it. Apparently they had never seen this happen before, and suggested I was being too rough with it. Given I can’t turn the peg every day as I should, much like an ear ring … I doubt I am too rough on it. I threatened to go to Bunnings and get my own if they didn’t fix it. They fixed the problem by cutting the seal of a new peg and giving it to me. I am now month five with my peg. The last week or so it has become the only way I can take it anything either water, food or meds. I am also about to go into week 12 post treatment, 3 months since the chemotherapy, radiotherapy finished and 6 months since my surgery.

The past couple of weeks I have noted rapid changes in my skin texture, jaw numbness and the width to which I can (or cannot) open my mouth, also known as Trismus. The pain if I consume anything is excruciating. I have spent days in tears and I can honestly say I have never known pain like it. This is the after affects of radiotherapy. It’s not swallowing that hurts but the sensitivity my gums experience when anything other than ice cold milk is in contact with them. I am not eating anything now, I do try, but it ends with me doubled over in pain and in tears. It’s so debilitating and the small amount of social contact I had with the outside world is now nil. I can’t manage coffee or smoothies out side of my own home.

You should be able to get three fingers in between your teeth … I am a long way from home!

So I sit here on a rather dreary Sunday wondering whether this is ever going to get better, the solitude I am some times grateful for, but mostly I spend my time trying to heal, all my energy and focus is on me and getting better. It would appear that there is no end to this awful disease.

Hell of a way to lose those pesky last 5 kilos! Since we started the treatment I have lost 10 kilos.

With this being my third month post treatment I also get to have another PET scan ($$) and it’s my first to see whether they “got it” … there are no guarantees with the scanning, you could still have cancer and it’s not picked up. So I decided that they have got it all and that I am cancer free. What else can you do ? Next week too I am going to give cold laser a go to assist with the dewlap forming under my chin as a result of having 30 lymph nodes cut out. Accupuncture seems to alleviate some serious saliva issues through stimulating my saliva glands, and thrice daily face and neck stretches. Early days they keep telling me, early days.

May I have some more serviettes please? Week # 4 post treatment.

Recovery Mode Post Treatment

Today marks my mum’s 89th birthday and I am eternally grateful that she has been here for this most horrendous journey of mine with Head and Neck Cancer. This week marks week four post treatment. Although I have received conflicting information regarding what to expect, mostly it’s been accurate but to be fair, recuperation is different for everybody. The first two weeks after the radio and chemo therapy finished were appalling. They did not sugar coat it, and you just have to get through it best you can. Hold your breath and run straight towards it, keep going until you have to surface for air again.

I stayed with mum for those two weeks. Ideal because we both sat in very comfortable leather armchairs watching Edie McGuire followed by Channel Nine News. Leg rugs and soft food (or in my case no food) and lights out by 8pm. I suddenly realised how much closer to a nursing home I was getting. Still, it allowed me to spend time with mum and I was happy to sleep during the day and most of the night except for regular spitting into an old honey bucket every five minutes, I slept well with the help of some opioid.

For those to go through this it’s hard to explain how you are going to feel, I had this clawing tightness in my throat, gagging sensations that resulted in vomiting (a little not bucket loads) and the tricky part is to look after your teeth. Mouth sores and ulcers (I was lucky and did not suffer too badly) I kept up regular swilling of bicarb soda. I kept flossing and did what the specialist dentist told me to do religiously. My dentist Sharon gave me a scraper – best utensil ever.

Soft tooth brush, scraper and Christmas Tree flossing

Food wise I have dabbled with soup, smoothies ( which I couldn’t stand before this disease let alone now!) pulverised vegetables and pasta. Sounds appetising huh? then you eventually have no taste, or rather for me nothing tasted as it should. I had an iced coffee with ice-cream in it – I could tell it was cold but it could have been plaster for all I knew and could taste. I appeared to have lost the ability to taste ‘sweet’ and I don’t trust myself to cook because what I can taste and what it actually tastes like are two very different things. I have read that venturing out to public eating places can be challenging. No one these days makes good soup – well they do, but they are few and far between. I think I want something to eat, I can feel my appetite then ‘poof’ nothing. So mostly I dine at the home based buffet which is below.

Home based buffet where you can go back as many times as you like!

Week # 5 and now my saliva glands and taste buds are taking a hit. My surgery scar is healing nicely and my spit bucket has decreased in size. I also decided to go back to my exercise group for company and fresh air as much as any kind of disciplinary exercise. I have lost 8/9 kgs since I came back to Australia. In that sense I feel good but it’s a hell of a way to lose those pesky last 5 kilos. I hope to take up running and kick boxing again in the not too distant future, in the meantime I am taking it day by day. One day is good, the next it’s all I can do to get out of bed.

Step into Life Kensington Gardens – My fellow SIL comrades helped me through treatment and for that I am eternally grateful.

So we now head for week #6 with my eye on week #8 to see how much progress we have made. Something is new and different every day and I ventured out to have a fresh juice with a friend a week back and well, let’s just say that was not that successful. Although I discovered that I could swallow more than previously I had to have 3 big glasses to ensure I could add enough ice to my fruit juice to get it down ( the colder the better), watermelon plays havoc with your tongue and tastebuds, and I pretty much depleted their stash of serviettes for wiping, mopping up and generally making me look as though I had a two year old with me. Suffice to say that the G&T I tried at my local tasted like kerosene and is something I wont be trying again in a hurry. Ce La Vie.

Talk to the Foot & Number 40 – what really happens in an Asian Massage joint

Getting Technical

When you have had as many massages as I have you start to know what works for you and what doesn’t, and when you strike gold or a really good masseuse you tend to go back, or in my case a few times. You might recall my time on Phu Quoc island Squirrels Playing & Slow Progress

Whilst on Phu Quoc I treated myself to a massage offsite at Sofitel M Gallery which was a few metres up the beach. I say “treated” as the price was up there in terms of Asian massages. Despite the glorious surrounds the young woman who did the massage (Vietnamese ) talked the whole way through it. Miss On had good English and I understood enough to hear the entire story of her German boyfriend. Who, as it happens was considerably older than her (another blog for another day). Anyway, I digress. I treated myself for a number of reasons, one of which was trying to tackle the health issues I was having, another because I needed some care having had a pretty rough week prior. The last thing you need is someone talking through the whole 90 minutes.

My time on Phu Quoc was a solitary few days until the “Americans” turned up in the Bungalow next door. Lovely couple, highly educated and boy he could talk.

Talk and talk and well, he found me no matter where I was on the island. Breakfast, doing laps in the infinity pool he was still talking … now as much as I enjoyed the company having had a few days on my own, there comes a point where you think enough is enough and I can’t hide because you are in the bungalow next door. This gentleman did give me something worth while however, at the airport ( yes they were on the same flight home!) he handed me a card “Royal Foot Massage” a distinctive card and some conversation ensued about this particular place in Saigon.

I didn’t think much of it until a couple of weeks later another friend based in Saigon said let’s go for a massage this afternoon. I agreed and we bundled into a taxi only to arrive at Royal Foot Massage in Mac Thi Buoi Street. The distinctive brand stirred something in my mind and I thought that bloody American is still haunting me! Turns out he did me a big favour and this place is an institution here Royal Foot Massage 

Royal Foot Massage has been run for over 20 years and I believe is run by the same family – I seemed to recall reading about it on site but nothing on the web but TripAdvisor comments. I have now been four times during my time in Saigon. I now also have a preferred masseuse ( pictured above) I opt for the blokes as they are strong and I am a knotty little client. So my Number 40 – they all have numbers probably because you’d never remember their name afterwards as you are sort of in a dream like state post treatment.

I know people who don’t like massages, I actually hate my head being massaged, but let’s face it these places can be intimidating. Point in case with Royal FM – you enter a reception then in darkness get led down a corridor then up a few flights of stairs to find rows and rows of armchair areas. It’s all done in an armchair – and I have had my doubts about this but my number 40 soon allayed any misgivings about that.

The arm chairs lie right down to a horizontal position, but before that, you are asked to change in to shorts ( I had long pants on) supplied by them in a plastic bag. Complete darkness and the whirr of ceiling fans they only distraction. Your feet are placed in a bucket of warm water to soak whilst tiger balm is applied to various trigger points.

I opt for 90 minutes so that a fair bit of time can be spent on feet and legs. Reflexology in this place is just a given and they do it well. Number 40 seemed to intuitively know my weak points (old ballet injury) and worked his way to the point where you flip over           (they lower the armchair flat to accommodate) and then slow pressure strokes until I realised he’s standing on my back and using his heels right on the top of my buttocks to get at that major gluteus maximus. These guys are deft at undoing bras without removing anything – so be prepared! Some yoga stretches holding his arms and legs they use their entire body weight for deep tissue affect. At this point I went into a meditative state and started to see a green aura and lights. I looked this up later to discover that this indicates healing of heart and lungs. Green Aura  Made sense to me after my first two months in Vietnam.

The final stages are a rub down with hot towels and hand wipes scented with menthol. Reflexology hurts – well it does for me but number 40 seems to have found a way to get to the source without me kick boxing him into the next stall. Worth a visit if you are in Saigon for a short or long time.

img_2370My health has been 45% most of my journey this past three months. Dodged with chronic tonsillitis, heavy chest infection, sneezing and coughing. Despite numerous trips to the doctor and hospital for an Endoscopy, steroid nasal spray, saltwater sinus wash, Codeine, Antihystamenes,  not much has changed except my ability to continue to get up each day and find the strength to leave the flat.

Month three and things have gone to plan to a degree, some of the major pre Vietnam

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Ben Thanh Market

ideas have fallen to the wayside, but generally the “plan” has materialised enough for me to make decisions and take action. As I write, I am sitting outside one of Saigons major  tourist (local) markets. Ben Thanh Market where you can purchase anything from frogs to bed linen. Back in 2012 this market was my haven and I loved wandering the limitless alleyways to see what I could find. Now, I dash in purposefully armed with photos of what I am looking for and no waivering eyes. “madame what you looking for” – for those that have never been, the trick is to know where the cold coconut water is and how to negotiate that $15 fan which is worth $1.

So mostly consideration for my health has been my driving factor as to what I do and provides an excuse to travel with my base being in Saigon. The need for fresh air resulted in a trip that I planned and executed 5 minutes after I got out of bed. I wanted to do a river cruise, get some air and see river life and the city from a different perspective.

I had heard about a fast ferry that you can hop on and come back in a day. I didn’t want to do a tourist Mekong Delta tour – I wanted the luxury of no commitment and no coconut candy to which I am addicted. Greenlines offered the ideal trip. I made my way to the ferry terminal with a small backpack (undies, toothbrush and sarong just in case I wanted to stay overnight) and booked the 10am fast ferry.  Ticket purchased with return ticket for 4pm that day I waited on the dock. It’s a 2 hour journey (although their website says 90 minutes). The ferry is modern, clean and air-conditioned with entertainment I didn’t watch as I was out on the deck facing the wind and river spray, whilst the sick bags were distributed inside. Although you are allocated a ‘seat’ – number dependent you can choose where you sit. The journey s pretty smooth for the record. I can’t vouch for bad weather – but either way you are on the river most of the trip.The WiFi is also excellent.

 

 

The trip was wonderful and you get to watch the scenery of Saigon’s large city skyline dissipate into mangroves and jungle. You follow the river all the way to Vung Tau and disembark on a tropical beach. As I had no idea as to what I was going to do, I headed straight for a Cafe Den on the water to plan my next move. Not before I met Quang the 55-year-old Grab Xe Om ( pronounced sah omh) who convinced me to go with him. So finishing my coffee and deciding to stay over night, I picked The Green Hotel on Back Beach. Found Quang ( I don’t think he ever took his eyes off me to be honest) swung my leg over and off we went. I love using Xe Om (motor taxi in Vietnam) you get to see things and if you are lucky you get to meet Quang. Delivered safely at Hotel at half the price of online booking – I had a seaview room, with balcony and breakfast thrown in for about $46 AUD. You can get much cheaper but as I say – my health was the point of the exercise.

 

I have learnt to pack really light, in this case literally a small Sea to Summit backpack that folds up to the size of a passionfruit. Only essentials and provides hassle free travelling and exploring. I was tired and burnt after the two-hour trip so found lunch and walked the beach. I didn’t make it to Long Tan – I will do that one day but it was to take more time than I had so it was great to meet an Ex Vet on the wharf the next day. Red Flanegan had been staying at Hotel 95 near Belly’s Bar which apparently is an Australian institution. I spoke to Red for some time and he came from Perth and did the trip once every year. I didn’t take a photo with him, it seemed disrespectful, although I am sure he would have relished it.

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Red told me a story about about an Australian solider and Vietnamese woman and an unplanned pregnancy. Nothing unusual in that, but there is more to this story and has left me with another avenue to follow. I will return to Vung Tau – I liked it, I really liked it. The food was different to Saigon and the chilled beach atmosphere 2 hours from HCMC.  Red told me to visit Belly’s Bar where he assured me a meat pie and sausage roll could be purchased. As we stood chatting quietly on the wharf he said to me, you must come back here, I explained that I had not really packed for longer than an over night stay. Red said “53 articles” hey? I looked at him and he said ” a pack of cards and a toothbrush” – the history and horror he had seen was in his eyes. I’ll never forget you Red Flanagen and yes I will get to Belly’s bar one day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

53 Articles and Red Flanegan

Escaping the Air, Getting around

Meeting the Queen & Vespa Riding Dogs

Getting around

 

Despite the idea of travelling long term and its romantic connotations, I needed a break.

I booked a week in Danang (north of HCMC) – beach side hotel, with infinity pool. I have been sick pretty much the last 3 months and I needed a reprieve from noise and pollution.  I called upon a local travel agent to book flight and train ( fly up and train back) to Danang. I was trying to be budget savvy and was originally going to train up and back. Upon investigating the costs, it was in fact only $10AUD dearer to fly both ways. Still, I thought I want to see the country side and 18 hours on the train seemed the ideal way to do this. How wrong could I have been.  Lurking in the back of my mind I knew there was no double-decker trains here, I am going to put it down to heat and exhaustion. Packed a small carry on and my mission to visit Golden Bridge  and cable car I took off.  An hours pleasant flight to Danang, I was at my hotel within 20 minutes of landing. The hotel I stayed deserves special mention, Adamo Hotel who’s service ( low season) was exemplary. They upgraded me to a beach side view – full length views of the entire beach .. they looked after me well and the food (breakfast buffet) was very good with lots of variety.

 

 

 

Even though it was rainy season I managed to get plenty of beach time right outside the hotel. Two days later I discovered the underground walkway to the beach rather than trying to cross the road, which in many respects was harder than Saigon due to trucks and tourist buses the size of small townships. (see road in image above). I rented daily a beach lounge at 20,000VND  about $2 AUD and made friends with the locals who brought me Espresso coffee and cold coconuts. I was made aware that street sellers were not welcome and the staff did a good job of keeping them at bay. There is only so many pairs of sunglasses you can wear! Swim between the flags is an unknown concept in this country, mostly ignored by Japanese, Chinese and Koreans. It says alot about Bondi Rescue in Australia – the rip is strong, the waves are not to be trifled with and I am a competent swimmer and it buggered me out totally.

Behind the hotel I discovered a plethora of eateries, very hip and groove bars and quite a bit of good HSH. I went to the wrong bar one night (whatever that means) and ordering a cold Saigon Special noted a chicken sitting on a bar stool ….quite at home and I thought to myself that’s odd – but lets face it, nothing here is bizarre anymore – you learn to expect and see oddities on a daily basis. As I watched her (the chicken) she seemed to be waiting for something ? Then on que a nun appears from nowhere and bundles the chicken in her arms and walks off with her. To this day I wonder what that was about. Chicken day care?

 

 

 

I booked a tour with the hotel to visit Sun World (AKA Wally World) and also visit the newly opened Golden Bridge and Cable Car. I wasn’t too fussed about going to Sun World per se but despite my reservations it was in fact pretty amusing and provided some of the best food I have eaten since being in Vietnam. I booked a tour that included a buffet lunch. Met some incredibly interesting people from all over the world and spent the majority of my afternoon taking photos and people watching. The bridge itself is an engineering feat and I am so glad I made the effort to go. What was not included in the tour was the wax museum. With my sense of macabre I couldn’t not go in, so for an extra 100,000VND I entered the very quiet exhibition. Travelling solo means lots of selfies but the crown of the afternoon ( no pun intended) was Queen Elizabeth.

 

 

 

A lovely week spent in Danang, I am looking to relocate here, as not only do I like the “air” the “beach” but the nightlife is pretty cool and it’s cooler weather wise too.  A couple of work meetings and then it was time to head home to Saigon. Via the train.

Never, ever again will I do this trip ..I have caught a train a total of 3 times in Vietnam now and this trip was by far the worst. When I say worst, I mean a non working air-conditioner, screaming babies, top bunk ( yes yes I got it wrong), blocked stinking toilet kind of worst. At least this time I was prepared with snacks,water, headphones and easily accessible toothbrush etc. The linen was still left over from the previous 18 hour journey and all in all, along with the loud Vietnamese music played on cue at 5 am and constant interruptions by well-meaning train staff to purchase what I can only guess was boiled eggs – nope, never again. I have now done the entire east coast of this fabulous country by train – I no longer need the train experience nor the non romantic connotations of actually getting work done whilst enjoying the 18 hour solitude.

 

 

So a couple of items off the bucket list. I am hoping next week I can get to PuLuong RiceRoad Homestay which sits between Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho. I’ll be booking this myself ! I am noticing things about myself now that were probably always there about my organising ability, and to really trust your instinct. Being self sufficient (as much as you can) in a non native tongue country takes its toll, but for me, half the fun is the charades you have to play to get your message across. Try explaining “Stapler” via a game of charades. Happy Days…