Ha Noi

Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
Trip End Apr 10, 2009

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, April 24, 2008

Xin chao!
I am in a new country (and almost out of it again), so that calls for a new update I guess.
I left Phnom Penh in Cambodia by of sort of tour (bus-boat ticket to Chau Doc in Vietnam for only US$6). The first part of this tour was by minibus to Neak Luong on the mighty Mekong River. I saw two small passenger boats and thought that was OK. I little later a small speedboat arrived and then I realised that that was my ride to the border at Kaam Samnor.  Travelling in this small speedboat is very noisy and very uncomfortable. Luckily enough, it only lasted an hour and a half. The border formalities at Kaam Samnor were straightforward. At the Vietnamese side at Vinh Xuong it was easy as well, but they tried to charge me for some health test, which I declined with a smile, because they weren't doing anything for it. In Vinh Xuong a cute Vietnamese girl turned out to be our guide to Chau Doc. The boat to Chau Doc was a beautiful small and slow passenger boat. This part of the trip was the best. I relaxed and did some reading while in the meantime the cute girl drew a picture of me. Later I sunbathed a bit at the back of the boat. In Chau Doc I checked into a hotel associated with the travel agency where the cute girl was working for. The room looked OK, but after I had the light fixed I found at least 8 long hairs on my bed and complained. Another room also had hairs on the bed and then I decided that it was time to look for another hotel. But they wouldn't give my passport back, because I should pay for the cyclo ride to the hotel. I said I just hitched a ride with the cute girl and it is their problem that they don't know how to clean a hotel. After trying to get my passport back the nice way  - which didn't work - I got very angry, got behind the desk, grabbed some stuff and threatened to destroy it if I didn't get my passport within 10 seconds, which resulted in me getting my passport back (and them getting very angry as well). I soon found another friendly and cheaper hotel. In the late afternoon I took a cyclo ride to nearby Sam Mountain and from the top of this hill a saw a so-so sunset and had a look at Cambodia for the last time.
The next day I moved on to Can Tho, where I wanted to see some floating markets, but the tours to these markets were ridiculously priced so skipped that. In Can Tho there wasn't much to do, so the next day I took a minibus to Ho Chi Minh City (or Sai Gon), where I already had been 5 years ago. I found a cheap room above a beauty parlour. Ho Chi Minh City is even more crowded with motorbikes than ever before: an amazing sight and it takes some courage to cross roads, but you learn very quickly (and you have to as well if you want to go somewhere because Vietnamese will never stop - and use their horn first and perhaps - if you are lucky - their brakes). In the first afternoon I met two nice Indonesians who were visiting relatives and they invited me to go with them to their relatives (amongst them a girl who was flying to Amsterdam in a few days to work there as a nurse). I talked a bit to the Vietnamese hosts, was offered some food and then the host (who works as a croupier in a casino in Poipet in Cambodia) wanted to show me a few card tricks (blackjack) and I hesitantly said yes and we went upstairs. Basically the tricks were all about cheating the banker. And surprise, surprise half an hour later a guy from Malaysia show up who claimed to have won US$60.000 with mahjong the day before and said he wanted to kill some time while waiting for his plane. It was all very suspicious. Some money was put on the table ('only a few hundred dollars') and I said (like I'd said many times before) that I don't gamble. I could borrow the money from the croupier if I wanted to (I was going to get the money back of course because we were going to cheat the Malaysian.....). I declined again and said that I was not comfortable there anymore, got downstairs and got out. I had read about these scams in Bangkok so I was not going to be tempted! Another 'nice' experience in Vietnam. The second day I did some sightseeing and saw the ever impressive War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes): especially the (remaining) effects of Agent Orange are horrifying.
After Ho Chi Minh City I took a bus to Da Lat, a former French hill station reminding them of the French mountains. Although the altitude of Da Lat is 1475 meters, the road towards Da Lat wasn't exciting at all, apart from the last few kilometers. Da Lat turned out to be a nice, hilly and green city with lots of beautiful villas. I walked around a bit, checked out the beautiful train station and had a rest near a school campus on a hill. Here my camera broke down: all the pictures were now heavily overexposed. I went back to the hotel and tried a lot and even got my manual out, but nothing helped. I then figured I was going to have it fixed in Nha Trang (a bigger city) where I was going to the next day.
The trip from Da Lat to Nha Trang was quite the opposite from the trip towards Da Lat: it was really a mountain road now and there were some sweeping views. Nha Trang is a big city with a very long and beautiful beach, the main reason to go here. I found a camera shop where they wanted to repair my camera for 600.000 dong (US$37.50). I worked on my tan, enjoyed the beach and the next day got my camera back, which seemed to work fine. Seemed, because after taking a few pictures, the screen turned black, so I gave it back to the shop and they said it would take another day. That afternoon I met the Dutch couple Hannah and Jannes again and we had some drinks and food together. The next day my camera again seemed repaired, but later on the beach with Hannah and Jannes I discovered that a button for special functions (video, night shots, fast shots, etc.) wasn't working anymore. So again I brought my camera back to the shop. Here they said that that problem was an old problem and that they didn't have anything to do with it. I said that this wasn't true. I also said that I wanted half my money back, because the camera was half repaired. The guy from the camera shop didn't want that and was willing to give me all my money back if he could get my camera and get the new machinery (which he said cost 600.000 dong)he had put in back out, which would take another day. I of course didn't want that: I already stayed more days in Nha Trang than I wanted to and I had a ticket for a night bus that very evening. He then suddenly started to become aggressive and stood in front of me with his fists and yelled: "You want boxing?! You want boxing?!". I wasn't very happy and I said I was going to the police (for threatening and damaging personal property). After a while I finally found a police station in a back alley but here they were very uncooperative: basically I had to get the shopkeeper to the police station! Yeah right! I then decided to go back to the camera shop to have one more talk of reason in a calm way. Another guy was working at the shop now and yes, after about 15 minutes of talking and explaining, I got 300.000 dong back. Yes! I had something to eat and then walked to the bus, meaning I had walk past the shop one more time. Now the aggressive guy saw me on the street, rushed back into the shop and got - I am not joking at all - a big machete out and was running with it towards me! I was petrified: not so much scared -because it was so surreal - but more to the fact that I stayed where I was. How quick can you run anyway with a big backpack and a smaller one in the front? Luckily enough some bystanders disarmed him. He broke loose again though and did his boxing thing again in front of me: I just gave him a look and the bystanders said I should go, which was good advice of course. Whoa, what an experience! I was still excited when I boarded the sleeper bus and told my recent adventure to Hannah and Jannes.
I didn't sleep much on the bus and the next morning we arrived in historical small town of Hoi An. Hoi An is a Unesco protected town consisting of a mix of French and Chinese architecture. Soon after I arrived in Hoi An I was already on a tour to another Unesco site nearby: My Son. My Son has a few temples leftover from the old Cham civilization. After I got rid of the tour leader (one of those with a flag!) I discovered that the ruined temples were not all that impressive. Furthermore, most of them were destroyed by bombing in the Vietnam War (which is known in Vietnam as the American War). Back in Hoi An I wandered around Hoi An for a while. That night I had dinner with Hannah and Jannes again. Although a nice town, I decided it was time to move on the next day.
I took a local bus to Da Nang (45 minutes) and the busboy charged me 40.000 dong! For a comparison: the price for the luxury night bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An (about 10 hours) was 160.000 dong. So I laughed disdainfully at the busboy and said that I was not going to pay that. Over the next 15 minutes he then offered: 30.000, then 20.000 and then 15.000 dong. I learned from two locals that I should only pay 10.000 dong and finally he said 10.000 dong. He even had the nerve to give me a ticket with exactly that amount on it! In Da Nang I visited the small Museum of Cham Sculpture and had a walk to China Beach, the site where the Americans had short breaks from the war during the war.
From Da Nang I took a bus to Hue (seen it 5 years ago) and from there soon the night (sleeper) bus to Ha Noi (a combined ticket), where I arrived the next morning. Within the hour - after checking into a hotel - I was on my way to the Chinese Embassy to arrange a visa. Soon after arriving at the embassy I realised that getting one was not all that easy as it had been before. The Chinese government recently changed the rules and now you have to be able to show a ticket out of the country and confirmed hotel bookings. I then went back to my hotel and discovered that I have free wifi in my room. So I surfed a lot and finally booked a flight from Hong Kong to Manila in the Philippines at the end of May for 57 euro. I also booked a few nights accommodation in a hotel in Sanya and thought I would be fine. But as it turned out to be the next day (I was at the gate at 08h05, got inside at 10h45), it wasn't good at all. They only wanted a "real ticket" and not an e-ticket - oblivious to the fact that most airline companies in the world don't issue paper tickets anymore, and the hotel reservation needed to be a letter by the hotel with an official stamp (which should be clear, because the day before a guy was sent back because the stamp was not clear enough!). I was a bit sad now and wondered what to do? At a travel agency I soon found out the my airline company does not issue paper tickets and started looking other cheap flights out of China and found a US$160 flight from Guangzhou to Hong Kong: the helpful lady at this travel agency said that there was only a US$40 fine if I would cancel the flight. I soon saw this as a viable option and went back to the hotel. Here the guy at the front desk said that he knew a travel agency which could arrange a Chinese visa for me. He then called that travel agency and I talked with them. After letting them say "guaranteed" and "100% sure" a few times a decided to do this. I paid US$64 and had to wait 5 days.
In the meantime I mostly used the internet in my room, watched TV and read books, because I don't like this city. I did some sightseeing, but most of it I had already seen 5 years ago. One thing I hadn't seen 5 years ago was Ho Chi Minh up close and that's what I did today. Maybe not a great idea to do this on this very day, being it Liberation Day (celebration of the South surrendering to the North): the line to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was at least 1 kilometer long! I joined the queue anyway, because I was already there and had not much else to do. Surprisingly the line moved very quickly and I was in and out of the mausoleum in just over an hour. Ho Chi Minh looked just like Lenin: like a doll. After this experience I went back to the hotel and here the guy behind the desk got a very pleasant surprise for me: my passport was back, containing a visa for China! Since then I am very happy! :-D
So tomorrow I will finally go (back) towards China!
This is probably the longest entry so far, so I'd better stop now. A next entry will probably be from China.
Everybody take care!
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