Dong Ha....ummmm, where?

Trip Start Jan 12, 2006
Trip End Feb 13, 2006

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, January 23, 2006

So we are in Dong Ha. Yes we are. The internet cafe here is charging 10,000 vnd dong an hour which is usury. But on the other hand our hotel room costs $5.00 which is about 80,000 vnd so who's complaining? We rolled in here around 7:00 a.m. after a fairly grueling bus ride. We couldn't get a seat on the train so we went on the open tour bus which is amazing idea. You buy a ticket and get off and on wherever you want. The buses stop at many hotels in almost every fairly large city. We hadn't bought a ticket so we sort of bribed our way on and ended up paying $12.00 each for the 11 hour journey from Ninh Binh to Dong Ha. It's funny what you'll do in a foreign country. I would never sit on a bus in the U.S. for 11 hours. Never. I"d be like, "ummmmm, you must be out of your mind." But as Tet approaches, the Vietmanese New Year AND national birthday, the Reunification Express, with its relatively comfortable soft sleeper cars is becoming less and less an option for travel.

(Hugo here.) Brutal is only one way of saying what 11 hours on a bus seats built for tiny Asian bodies with creaky springs that chittered with every bump. However, it being our only option, I guess we should be grateful for the opportunity to move on. 11 hours south the weather is already considerably warmer if rainy and thick with humidity today. It also seems as we have fallen off the tourist trail. Dong Ha has nothing to offer in the way of shopping, beaches or nightlife so, we were the only travelers getting out at Dong Ha. Hue is the next big tourist attraction to the south offering up fantastic beaches and a lively nightlife.

Dong Ha, on the other hand, is a small, grey industrial town just north of the DMZ. It boasts very little of interest expect for a micro industry of tours to several of the wars major battle sites... and a bar appropriately called DMZ which seems to be a magnet for returning vets in search of some sort of closure.

Our host and guide at the grubby guesthouse facing the highway is an energetic man in his sixties who served in the war for the Americans and South Vietnames. He has a bright, almost shocked expression on his face and speaks and spells in military lingo. " my name is Dang- Delta, Alpha, November, Golf... etc.

So today at noon we set off on motorbikes, this time as passengers behind two very old men for: Charlie 3, a bunker during the war, the North Vietnam War Cemetary, and the 17th parallel which divided Vietnam into north and south after the Geneova Accord. I wont bore with the details but the day was interesting and challenging. Just imagine an old abandoned bunker, charred and pitted from years of mortar shells and bullets in the middle of a beautiful field of banna trees, flowering berry bushes and acres and acres of rubber tree saplings in rigid formation. For years after the bombing of the DMZ, nothing would grow but now nature' indominable spirit is re-asserting itself.

(Denis Here)...Cold. Cold. Never. I'll never be warm again. Or Dry. While riding on the back of the motorcylce (scooter) with Dinh I think these thoughts. Of course, I'm also looking at amazing sights. Rice fields that are being worked by Water buffalo and women wearing traditional hats. Yes, they actually wear them and no, they are not wearing them for the passing cold, wet tourist.

I am also thinking random, disconnected thoughts, some of which are about me and my life back home, some of which are about life in general. As Hugo and I have been discussing, when you travel you really are thrown back on yourself. YOur personality is stripped back down to its essence and no matter what you "do" at home, you are who you are when you travel since you're not really "doing" anything. Are you a tourist because that is what you are doing?

We keep meeting wonderful people. We meet, form wuick bonds, have quick, sometimes intense conversations, we sum ourselves up, we throw out philosophies and then we part and move on. Last night in Ninh Binh, before we left on the 9 p.m bus, our host, Mr. Xuan Ho was moving around the room passing out Ninh Binh water (rice wine - none for me, thanks) and making sure the conversation was lively. And it was. There were 3 conversations going. One in French which I kept dipping in and out of with Claire, Benjamin, Nicholas and Hugo. Another in English with James, the 19 year old grocery clerk from Plymouth, England out for 6 months as well as the Swiss couple and the German lady. Then there was the Israeli conversation taking place at the next table. The room was incredible. A hotspot of life and energy and then it was over. Our bus came, Mr. Xuan took us out into the night, put us on the bus, walked up and down the aisles, literally tucking us in and then he left and the lights turned off and we were plunged into noisy, anonymous darkness.
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mandvzullo on

11 hour bus ride -- ouch!
Congratulations, 11 hours on a bus -- no way Jose. You guys deserve a few cold beers and more.........

It's 39-degrees here in Manhattan and raining (Monday -- January 23, 2005). Seattle Seahawks beat Carolina Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Denver Broncos, yesterday. So, it's Seattle vs. Pittsburgh in the SUPER BOWL, February 5th.

Mike and Virginia

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