21/06/10 - MAD Donations

I have become aware that there was a typographical error in the MAD bank account details. The correct information is:

Account Number: 82160 9147
Bank: NAB Pitt St Sydney
Account name: MAD Indochina

If you are looking for the error and cannot spot it the original email had the BSB's initila digit as 1 instead of 0. There are no BSBs starting with 1, but the bank insists that they cannot correct it by themselves, even though they are aware of the correct code. In any event the fault lies with me, for not being a more careful typist and for not proof reading my emails more carefully. I hope that this has not caused too much pain and inconvenience

20/06/10 - Vietnam weather -the best time to travel

I am often asked to comment on the weather and the best time to visit Vietnam. Unfortunately, I do not have a simple answer. To understand the weather in Vietnam and the different climates, here is a map of Vietnam:

Map of Vietnam

Vietnam stretches the length of the Indochina peninsula. The 14 degree range in latitude give scope for significant variations in climate from north to south. The climate variation means that there is usually sunshine somewhere, so Vietnam can be a holiday destination at any time. You may, however, prefer the cooler weather from September to April.

The tropic of Cancer lies 23.5° north of the equator. Vietnam is 9° to 23° north, (1650 km from north to south). The northernmost point of Vietnam is a ½ degree inside the Tropic of Cancer, but Vietnam’s climate is not entirely tropical. Vietnam is in the tropics, but it is also part of the Asian continent. This allows temperate continental weather to extend south into northern Vietnam. North of Hue, there are the four distinct seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The Hai Van mountain range, just south of Hue, forms a barrier against the cold northerly winds which blow into north Vietnam from China. There is a distinct difference in climate north and south of Hue: North Vietnam's temperate climate meets the tropical climate of south Vietnam and Hue gets some of the wettest weather in Vietnam. For the students of geography, this is orographic rainfall, caused by the mountains channeling moisture laden air into higher altitudes where it releases its water, in this case, as rain.

From Da Nang to Phan Thiet, the climate is tropical. Transitions between the wet and dry seasons feel like spring and autumn, but they are not distinct and the winters are mild. The major factor affecting central Vietnam’s weather is the tropical monsoon and the coastal towns usually experience flooding whenever there is a few days rain in the highlands.

South of Phan Thiet the climate is entirely tropical. There are two seasons; the wet and the dry, with a months transition between seasons, typically bringing heavy afternoon downpours. Rain is heavier in the south than in central Vietnam. Because, the monsoon migrates north between September to December, there's a monsoon every month but March, somewhere in Vietnam. The monsoon affects Saigon and the south from April to August. The monsoon moves north up the coast into central Vietnam, affecting Nha Trang from July to November, and Hoi An from November to February.

The best weather in Vietnam is usually March. South and central Vietnam is monsoon free and north Vietnam is warm. Having said that, the monsoon season can vary by up to a month. Typhoons affect the 3260 km coastline of Vietnam from October to December but the effects are localised. A large typhoon, (large is over 280 km wide), could hit the east coast of Vietnam anywhere. They are less common in the Mekong delta (south of Saigon (HCMC). Up to 25 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, of which 4 or 5 reach Vietnam, although it is unusual for typhoons to hit the same place twice in the same year.

16/06/10 - Mid Year Festival-Tet Doan ngo

A few brief notes you keep you up to date with events at Laugh Cafe. Today is Tet Doan ngo the mid year festival that occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Vietnamese Lunar calendar. It is a holiday for our trainees, so Hong, Quang and Peter will be the only staff at Laugh Cafe. Here is the little shrine set up at 5:45 am to greet the day. Quang is out resident religious consultant and burns more incense that most cathedrals almost every day. Today sandalwood has been added to increase the smoke :-)

Click here to view the pictures

One of our trainees, Vien, has decided to leave us, which is always sad. Vien comes from the west of Quang Nam province, in the mountains, where it is distinctly cooler. Vien is returning to her parents home. Vien speaks good English; her elder sister is a teacher and has been encouraging Vien's endeavors since she was very young. We shall miss her.

Phuong, who now works as a chef in Danang, has been visiting Laugh Cafe over the last few days. It is always great to see out trainees in good positions. Laugh Cafe has only been in operation for two years so it is especially rewarding to have early successes.

Over the past six months we have had visits from quite a few of you, our readers, and your relatives and children. We look forward to seen more of you and your friends when you visit Vietnam and Hoi An. Peter is heading to Cambodia next week, for a short period at Angkor Hospital for Children, and will report from there. He will be back in Hoi An in early

02/06/10 - Summer without power in HoiAn

I arrived back in Hoian this afternoon to find that, yet again, we have no power. I wrote about power shortages in Vietnam a few months ago and the situation, now that summer is here in force, has deteriorated markedly. Every second day we are without power for half a day. No big deal, you might say say, but the temperature is about 38° c (about 30 at night) and the freezer and refrigerator cannot keep food, and beer, cold. We also rely on well water, which is pumped to a cistern on the roof. No power, no pump, no water.

For us, that is close to disaster. A solution would be a small generator art a cost of about ten million VND (about US $ 500). if you would like to contribute to this the easiest way is probably to deposit into our paypal account or into our Australian back account. Details of both of these are below. Of course, you can always send a cheque to: MAD Indochina, 11 eastview St, Greenwich, NSW 2065, Australia

Apart from that, things seem to be going well; Hong is six months pregnant but still skinny, so just a big bump out front :-} Tourist numbers are down as people avoid SE asia following the problems in Thailand, but that does not stop our training, which is the main purpose of Laugh Cafe.

22/05/10 - Uni Students, ODR

You are all aware of the work done by MAD Indochina in Vietnam with Laugh café, and in Cambodia with Angkor Hospital for Children. This note is about some of our other activities – it is not complete but gives you an idea of what else is being done by our little organisation J

Uni Students and English language students

We support a number of students at Universities in Vietnam. We provide a stream of English lessons, by email, and with personal tutoring, to a wide range o students. We provide (used) laptops to students whose budgets do not stretch much past living expenses. We provide (used) mobile phones where that seems necessary and we provide small amounts of money for internet access. All University students have access to internet facilities on campus but many rural families who send a child to Uni cannot afford a PC for private study and research.

Overseas Disaster Resources

In Australia we work closely with Overseas Disaster Resources. (ODRI) - In 2010 so far we have sent containers of tarpaulins, ropes, clothes, shoes, sheets, eating utensils and other emergency relief items to Haiti, Samoa, Sumatra, and Chile following their emergencies. Here is a link to some photos of tarp distribution in Haiti

ODRI’s work is supported to some extent by the City of Sydney and Exodus Foundation, but the goods it distributes come from a wide variety of Australian organisations. Many millions of dollars worth of equipment and supplies is sent each year by this amazing and largely unreported organisation. The Sydney City Council paid for the cost of shipping the containers to Port-au-Prince and Jacmel in Haiti. Because the harbour at Port-au-Prince was closed for a long time we sent the containers via the Dominican Republic and trucked the over the land border to Haiti. Here is the link to those pics.

ODRI works with the NSW Department of Corrective Services and uses the services of Work-release detainees; supervised by prison officers and authorised supervisors at ODRI (Peter and Guy are authorised supervisors).

09/05/10 - A sad story

Some years ago, when I first started going to Vietnam to work with young people, I told readers of an incident with a taxi driver who refused to hand over my luggage when he took me to the wrong hotel.My story was resolved with the intervention of hotel staff; not so with this very sad story taken from the local (Ho Chi Minh) press

Cabbie died after dispute with Australian tourist

The problem of cheating taxi drivers and angry tourists took an extreme turn last week when an Australian tourist hit a driver so hard that the latter collapsed and died. Police in Ho Chi Minh City said on April 29 they had detained 68-year-old Rolfe Alexander to investigate the death of the Vietnamese cabbie a day earlier.

Alexander had taken a Saigon Tourist cab driven by Le Van H., 41, to the Phuong Dong Hotel in Tan Binh District from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport, also located in the same district.They’d struck a deal that Alexander would pay H. VND200,000 (US$10.54) for the trip, police said. Alexander should have been charged around VND40,000, some taxi drivers said. On the way, Alexander wanted to get out because the driver kept driving around, investigators cited Alexander as saying after interrogating him. The Australian had arrived in HCMC from the central highlands resort town of Da Lat, they said. When H. stopped on Hoang Van Thu Street to ask local people for directions to the hotel, Alexander got off and agreed to pay him VND100,000. The taxi driver then ran after Alexander, and grabbed his luggage, police said. Alexander then hit H. in the face, causing the driver to fall and lose consciousness. He died of brain injury before being hospitalized, according to the police.

The problem of tourists being cheated by taxi-drivers, especially on rides from the airport has been widely reported in the media for some time, but the response, including stricter and more frequent monitoring by inspectors, have not been very effective. Four days after Alexander’s arrest, another Australian couple reported a taxi rip-off. The Australian couple had flown in from China to HCMC and took a taxi to the Majestic Hotel in District 1. “They knew they paid too much but were not sure how much. $25 to Majestic Hotel [in District 1] from Tan Son Nhat [airport], plus another fee for the airport toll on top,” said Peter Murray, general manager of the Novela Muine resort in the south-central province of Binh Thuan, where the couple stayed. The fare should not have been higher than $7.

Murray said such rip-offs and the deadly incident involving the Australian man last week made him sad. “All terrible for Vietnam. It happens probably every hour out of Tan Son Nhat,” Other tourists and foreign visitors have worse stories to tell. Tim Russell, owner of Come & Go Vietnam, a tour operator in HCMC, said he had witnessed physical intimidation of foreign visitors by taxi drivers, and that the problem of cheating was not confined to rides from the airport. He also said he had been threatened by a drunk driver with a wooden club, but had managed to snatch it away. Amanda Perry, an Australian tour guide, said two of her female clients had been driven from the War Remnants Museum in District 1 to their hotel next to Ben Thanh Market in District 1 and the taxi driver asked for VND500,000.

“When they refused he grabbed one of the women to hold her back so they could not get out of the taxi and get help from the hotel. He then also tried to grab her bag and take everything,” Perry said. “Finally the hotel staff saw what was happening and rushed to help them and the ladies were able to get out - the driver however sped off as one of the women was still getting out of the taxi and she fell to the ground and was a little injured.” Several visitors at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport insisted they would not catch a taxi designated to come to the international terminal to pick them up. Some even ran after a Mai Linh Taxi which had just dropped off customers. “The only company I trust here is Mai Linh, and yet they are not allowed to pick me up,” said an Australian who identified himself only as Darrell. A Mai Linh taxi said he and his colleagues could pick up passengers at the airport, but had to join the long queue of other taxi operators. “We are not allowed to pick up any passenger after dropping customers [at the airport]. Otherwise we will be suspended or fined

Do not let this stop travelling to Vietnam; most people are less confrontational.

18/04/10 - MAD tax deductible donations

A couple of people have asked about tax deductible receipts for donations to MAD Indochina, and I admit that it can be a bit confusing. Your donation generates two receipts; one from MAD, as you would expect, and another, from The Exodus Foundation. This latter receipt is for tax purposes. The Exodus Foundation allows MAD’s overseas programs to form the basis of its activity in SE Asia, and yes, it claims the credit J, but it also allows us to provide tax deductibility for donations and that is a plus. Gaining Deductible Gift Recipient status is not difficult if all tour work is done in Australia. When you work overseas, as we do, then getting the appropriate status is difficult.

We urgently need someone who is able to make the appropriate applications to AusAid (the body that governs all overseas aid activities) to gain the appropriate status. It is a standard application, but needs some work to make the appropriate responses. If you, or a friend or acquaintance wishes to help, then I would be very grateful.

Many thanks for your continued support.

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