Vietnam, land of the bike.

Trip Start Feb 21, 2010
Trip End Aug 12, 2010

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Where I stayed
Vuan Lu

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, April 15, 2010

I awoke with a start, and seconds after I had opened my eyes the plane was bumping down onto the runway. I'd managed to sleep for nearly all of the short flight from Bangkok, including all but 10 seconds of the descent, probably because the previous night had been spent in Bangkok airport where Rachel slept on some seats and I kipped down on the floor to the amusement of many passers-by (apparently).
Unfortunately for us the airport at Hoi Chi Minh City (HCMC) was fairly barren, and there were only a few money-changing and taxi counters which couldn't help us with our rumbling bellies. So we quickly got aboard a bus that would take us to the city center near our accommodation - again we plumped for the traveler friendly area of town. Fortunately the bus driver spoke good English so we were able to say we wanted to get off in the De Tham area, and helpfully he did tell us when to jump.
One thing became startlingly apparent as the bus took us into HCMC - in Vietnam the motorbike is king. Never have I seen so many bikes in one place, there are literally thousands, probably actually millions as there seem to be as many bikes as people. At every red-light bikes massed at the front of the queue and as the lights changed to green they flooded into the junction, weaving their way past oncoming traffic, constantly tooting their horns as they somehow all avoided collisions even when it looked inevitable they would crash. It was a while until we realised that there were almost no cars on the road and we reckoned that the ratio of bikes to cars must be about 100:1, a truly weird sight coming from the UK where that ratio is probably reversed.
We found our guesthouse after a small road-name confusion; it seems they like to name several near-by streets the same name. Luan Vu, our guesthouse was very nice when we did locate it, especially since we had a nicer room than we had actually paid for, so we had the luxury of air-conditioning and a fan, as well as cable TV and a fridge!
That first day in HCMC we did very little, partly because we were both very tired from our night in the airport and partly because there wasn't anything that we really wanted to see in the city. While some sights such as the Reunification Palace and the Jade Emporer Pagoda sounded interesting they didn't appeal enough for us to find our way to them through the maze of Saigon's streets. So we napped and made use of the guesthouse's free internet before having a nice dinner and then watching some television in our hotel room! Pretty much the first non-sport TV we'd watched in 8 weeks so I think Rachel had a good evening!
Our second day at HCMC was spent mainly outside the city as we went on a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels which Cu Chi villagers and the Viet Cong built during the war with America as the Yanks had bombed the village to smithereens. Upon arrival we watched an introductory film which was amusingly anti-american and told us about many local heroes, mostly saying: "so and so was awarded a medal for shooting Americans" or "such and such was awarded a medal for blowing up Americans".
We had a fairly whistle-stop tour of the area, which included a large hole in the ground which was apparently a bomb-crater, lumps of earth supposedly containing air-vents for the tunnel, some dummies wearing Viet Cong kit that we were invited to be photographed with, and a horrific selection of traps that were used against the Americans. Most of the traps involved luring Americans into pits filled with snake-venom topped bamboo stakes. I think seeing the traps made me realise why Americans always go on abuot the Vietnam war, the guerilla warfare of the Viet cong must have been very nasty to go up against.
However the main reason we had gone to Cu Chi was to see the tunnels and in due course we got to crouch and then crawl through some. The tunnels have been widened to allow fast-food loving westerners to fit through but even so they were very narrow in places and crawling was a killer on the knees. Even with electric lights the tunnels were very dark, and they were also incredibly hot and I can't imagine how a whole community lived inside the tunnel complex for so long.
The following day we headed out of HCMC for Phu Quoc via a one-night stay in Rach Gia. The journey to Rach Gia took about 7 hours altogether, including an hour on an HCMC local bus and 6 on a cramped minibus full of Vietnamese all who looked at us as if we were another species.
We drove through the Mekong Delta region which is supposed to be quite nice but from the bus the area looked rather uninteresting as rows of houses and assorterd businesses lined the road nearly the whole way between HCMC and Rach Gia so we didn't see any scenery. The further from HCMC we got the less cars we seen, until there was just coaches, vans and bikes on the road.
We had to get a ferry across one of the channels of the Mekong river and when we stopped in the queue six or seven hawkers (people selling food, drink, etc) climbed on board the bus and began thrusting their wares under everyone's noses. We actually escaped the worst of it being westerners in a fairly untouristy area. That sort of thing would never happen while you're queing for the toll-booth for the Severn Bridge but over here it's accepted that anytime the bus stops anyone can jump on board!
We were dropped off at Rach Gia bus station not knowing where any accomodation was, nor the whereabouts of the ferry terminal. 'Fortunately' some English-speaking motorbike taxi touts were on hand and so we paid them well over the odds (we realised in hindsight) to take us to a hotel near the ferry where we also bought our ferry tickets for the next morning.
That evening we wandered about Rach Gia in search of a menu that we could understand. We actually found a nice seafood place on the bank of the river so we ate al-fresco on tiny middle school (junior school to the Welsh readers) chairs! Half-way through dinner the town had a power cut but some places had generators and we had enough light to eat. I had fried rice with seafood and Rachel once again had crispy shrimps which are her new favourite as sweet and sour chicken is less available in Vietnam!
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nix on

thanks for the wenglish translations there kev :P god you two have lost so much weight-no wonder your mam wants to know what you've been eating ray lol! glad you're enjoying :)

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