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Monday, 28 January 2013

Glenmorangie Distillery, Dunrobin Castle, and the best Chippy in the Highlands

What a strange world it is, when we happened to be driving back to Dingwall, from eating the best Scallop and chips in the world (in a wee chip shop in Golspie) and the quite amazing but surreal Dunrobin Castle , home of the infamous Duke of Sutherland (infamous because he became extremely rich by kicking the peasants off his land, replacing them with sheep, much to the benefit of Glasgow, Canada, New Zealand, USA and Hong Kong where they mostly went to)...sorry back to the point...

The ancient highlands (without the hills)

what a strange world it is when you're driving along a little country road, only to see at the side a sign for  'Glenmorangie Distillery'. I mean THE Glenmorangie. The only one in the world. Wow. So we hopped off and had a little tour, along with some pretty nice whisky, to find that it has the tallest stills in the world, and the water comes from a little spring outside...

The weird and beautiful Dunrobin Castle, the biggest building in the Highlands (although probably some council offices are bigger now) and its grounds, on the (public) beach, below

As for the castle, I love how you can just walk up to it - the beach at the front is public. No hidden zionists with cameras everywhere here, just good freezing cold Scottish wind to keep the public away...

There are falcons and i'm sure lots of interesting history stuff you could read up about if you were interested ;o)

The early distilling process 

Me not helping make the whisky at all, just standing like a tourist

Tallest in the World!

Ready to get shipped off to China or wherever...
The whisky process, i must confess got me a taste for the old water of life, and so the rest of the holiday, a wee dram would sit by my book in the creepy old haunted hotels we tended to stay in...more of which later....

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Plockton, Skye and the Romantic Highland Dream (or was that Dram)

Every time I visit the north of Scotland I get pangs of wanting to buy a smallholding (called a 'croft') get some guns, grow carrots, and peas, fish and shoot for my meat and scallops, start a cult, and live the dream...

This, believe it or not is 'Coral Beach' on Skye...

this last trip to Skye was no exception...We stayed in the Stein Inn, in the Atlantic(ish) swept Northern part of the island, which boasts one of the most strangely placed palm trees in the world...

Winter isn't the best time for a picnic in Skye...
Touring around the Island, it seems like a good few thousand people have had the same idea. With a population of 10,000 people, there are over 50 artist/sculpture studios open to the public - I mean 50!!! That means one in 20 people here are professional artists. Add their wives/husbands and children into the equation and basically half the population lives on a cottage converted into a studio...

The weird and haunted Quarang, in northeast Skye, where giants fight and eat humans

This is great from a general economic and anti-redneck point of view of the Island, but personally i'm not sure if I want to be neighbours with ponytailed guys from Surrey who name their children 'Slate' or 'Flower', or even worse 'Finlay' (or any other first name second name for that matter) and who's ugly wives keep hitting on me.

Can we make one island, please where these people aren't allowed? I think an island with a '2nd amendment' rule, where guns, gambling, drinking and smoking are legal and untaxed, meat is be eaten by all, trees are not allowed to be hugged, normal pursuits like hunting are encouraged (as opposed to shipping in organic aubergines from Waitrose) and women aren't allowed to speak about things that make them sound stupid (like on football, or economics, for example)


I've already (in this blog) talked about the lovely (but overpriced) restaurants in Skye selling locally caught food and so on, and Dunvegan Castle, the Cuillin mountains, and the various other pretty cool and haunting attractions of the Island. My next plan is to make a little adventure around one part of Skye where there are no roads and no one lives, on the other side of the mountains. Like a little, wet, cold Shangri-La. I suppose I won't tell you about it now in case you arrive and ruin it for me. Really, loud american accents aren't made for this part of the world, dear friend...

Dont forget your sandwiches!

Ok, thats all for now, (I'm off to the movies...) I'll write more on the beautiful Plockton and the Highlands later in the week...don't forget to send me a birthday present tomorrow!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

What's Saigon Like?

Saigon’s really began to grow on me, and despite its oddness, I’ll be sad to leave.  Sure, it doesn’t have the glamour of Hong Kong or Singapore, nor the ‘poison lotus’ edge of Bangkok, but it has its charm in its own, old school, chaotic but graceful way.

The best things about this dirty but dreamily romantic city, have to be experienced by getting involved with locals. There’s no point in hanging around the Rex hotel roof terrace hoping to get inside the city or going on a quite silly daytrip to some random temple crowded out with Russian package tourists.

Nothing’s made me feel more alive for years, than racing round the streets of Saigon with the chaotic horde, getting totally lost, peeping my horn, and dodging out in front of buses. I don’t advise doing it drunk, you need to keep your wits about you (and to be fair, I didn’t even see any other white people doing this) but it certainly made my whole holiday…So, first thing you do,  is rent a scooter. It’s about $5 a day so don’t give me any squeamish excuses.

The best way to rent them is to ask at your hotel. Usually you’re actually borrowing one of the workers bikes, so try not to crash it or you won’t get your passport back. 

The whole city is crammed with bikes and motorbikes (the only cars are usually taxis) Despite looking completely chaotic from the outside, like a swarm of bees, they seem to all flow smoothly in and out of each other and despite most people going in opposite directions, no one seems to crash….

The other main positive is the food.  Thousands of street vendors line the streets selling, I’m 100% sure the tastiest healthiest food I’ve ever had for a couple of dollars. Quails eggs, weird fruit, fried rice, nuts, sweets, satays, spring rolls, rice paper rolls, oysters, pho (soup), tofu, and even raw sugar cane mashed up to make a drink can all come out of a random little hovel up a back lane. Pho shops are all over the place – they basically give you a filling ramen style soup and a bunch of leaves and beansprouts that you put in yourself, along with a whole bunch of other tasty things. I’ll get a couple of addresses of some standout places from a local friend and put them in here, I doubt too many lonely planet clad drongos end up out in the back lanes at night anyway – I didn’t see any outside the main tourist drags or one ludicrously overpriced market in the centre of town.

Pagodas are the other weird and wonderful thing to go out of the way for. There are the ‘tourist’ pagodas near the centre, but today I went 40mins out of the city so a bizzare one swastika covered pagoda (name to follow!) which had a psychedelic light show in the main hall while a monk sang prayers like shamanic ‘icaros’. All very Hunter Thomsonesque. 

The ‘Saigon baby’ days were pretty much wiped out (along with the whole middle class and all the smart people, who jumped on boats across the pacific rather than be killed) when the lefties took over from Hanoi after the war. Recently though some nightlife started coming back. Every night there’s a ‘ladies night’ somewhere, which just means one club a week is even more thoroughly packed with expats, and local girls looking for a nice western man. Most things close earlyish (about 3 or so latest) which is a bit of a waste of Thai red bull (which I read on the can, has 1000mg of Taurine per can!)  Things change every night, so just check up with locals if you’re doing that. It’s the usual stuff, with places called ‘lush’ or ‘velvet’ and quite unimaginative all round. I heard that the famous Apocalypse Now bar/club is still going strong- we had a great night out there 15 years ago, and I understand its still the same old freak show and well worth a visit.  There are loads of tired looking girly bars all around the Japanese area, and also around ‘Go2’ bar (a really pretty morose backpacker/hooker hangout)

Spa’s are everywhere, cheap, and amazing. $25 can give you a whole afternoon of saunas, spa treatments and so on (although no happy endings, I understand, just so you know)

And, most wonderfully, you can now play poker every night in the casino next door to the super posh ‘New World Hotel’ – Its an electronic poker table, which is pretty weird. Real poker, real money, real people sitting round playing against each other,  but you get your own little screen to see your cards, and it actually moves a lot faster than normal ‘live’ poker. All in all a pretty good experience though, and mostly the usual rich donkeys you see in poor countries, squandering their national debt at the card table…

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A Photo-Tour of Saigon

Ok, i'm going to put all my travel photos up here now, rather than Facebook, since here I have some confidence that they aren't selling on my photos to dodgy sites...

I'll write something later today about Vietnam (and perhaps Dubai) where I just spent New Years - Vietnam was amazing, so here's a first batch of photos from Saigon for ya all...

I do by the way, appreciate all the views and comments here. I will one day work out how to make some money from this blog, but meanwhile, while I still enjoy it and am happy writing and travelling for free, I wish you all a late Happy New Year!

Lunchtime Saigon Style

Exploring the City with my Kamikaze Motorbike

A bit of French Colonial (Saigon Museum of Fine Art)

Changing City

The Real City

Weird city...


This is how they build

The famous 'Rex Hotel' Roof Garden...(google it)

I love the trees in Zone 1 (combined with the truly blissful, seamlessly beautiful chaos, which is Saigon traffic) 

Barbers shop, Saigon

Don't do this while driving behind a taxi that will knock you down any minute

I love exploring these little lanes, not a lonely planet loser in sight!

Sidesaddle, nice!

View from the Pagoda in zone 3 (which one, I can't tell you)

Fruity Bhudda

Pagoda time...

Being a monk is cushy

So you don't have to live in this chaos

Sugar Cane Drink Machine

Zee Zermans got Everwhere !

Typical Saigon style

Angry Bird

Pagoda Entrance

Maybe it aint so Glam after all...

Fat guys exchange words...

Before the Storm Starts...View from my room

Evil Kinievel does Saigon 

Elf' N Safety in Saigon. Yes there are 5 people on that Scooter (plus shopping)

A mere three people is nothing but childs play

Monday, 7 January 2013

Nha Trang, Vietnam = Sex Tourist Fail !

The funniest thing happened when we got to Nha Trang, which is the main resort here in Vietnam. Walking around the quiet town after dinner, on our first night out (and feeling increasingly disappointed by the fact that no one actually seems to go out here after dark) we happened across a bar jammed full of a coachload of fat sex tourists from Manchester who, every year, went on holiday to some poor part of the world ‘to party’ as they politely put it (meaning to get drunk and have sex with cheap prostitutes.) After their last years excursion to Pattaya, one of them suggested what perhaps looked like on paper, a similar place in Vietnam, Nha Trang.

Funnily enough all the more idiotic (i.e. lonely planet) guidebooks do say that it’s a ‘party town’ kind of place, with people on the beachfront being accosted by ‘kamakaze hookers and pimps’ but back in the real world, this simply is not true, the beachfront has a couple of half empty quite upmarket bars/restaurants populated by random Russian families eating dinner and groaning about the weather.

What no one seemed to mention to our amorous heroes, is that Vietnam hasn’t been ‘that kind of place’ since the GI’s prowled about in 1967, and nowadays this town is host to 20,000 package tour families a month from Siberia, American Vietnamese returnees, and assorted backpackers - and no prostitutes.

So as I listened to their morose tale, it seemed these guys had spent the last 3 days scouring the whole town for ‘brassers’ as they call them, not to find a single one so, much to the benefit of the ladies of the world, were destined to spend their annual holiday week here in the rain, with only the Manchester United match and Saigon beer for company. Complete Sex Tourist Fail!

Anyway, more on Nha Trang later, my $2 lunch just arrived!