HIHO, HIHO! Down the Ho Chi Minh Trail I Go

Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
Trip End Mar 19, 2009

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, March 1, 2009

HIHO, HIHO, it's down the Ho Chi Minh Trail I go!

The journey south began on an overnight sleeper bus. Picture a train sleeper car, equipped with bunk beds, only inside a bus; dorm on wheels. China has similiar style overnight buses.
Since I was picked up after Hanoi, the more comfortable individual beds were already taken, thus my remaining choice was the very back of the bus where four people are aligned in a far too cozy row. I mentioned to the Vietnamese man next to me that I felt cheap since he didn't even buy me dinner. He didn't get the joke but the German fellow nearby laughed.

Our route south was on the main highway, the only highway in fact, that linked the elongated nation from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, connecting some 80 million people in the process. Financial stations lauder Vietnam's burgeoning economic engine. Chief exports include rice, textiles, coffee and people. Yet, coming from the western world, I find it difficult to envision this growing economic powerhouse while our bus drives a maximum of forty miles an hour down a two lane road; a two lane road where the interstate buses and trucks must honk their horns and slow down for motorbike traffic and little old ladies crossing the street.
Even road construction equipment is mostly accomplished by manual labor with men using crowbars to break up old tarmac.

Today, Vietnam's northern and southern regions are unified into one singular Vietnam, cultural differences aside, so our post dawn crossing of the Ben Hai River, the physical boundary that defined the DMZ, held little fanfare. The only activity today that could be seen on the river were several fishing boats and some sleepy-looking fishermen.

Of course, this region was the center of some of the bloodiest battles of the conflict (DON'T MENTION THE .....! ). Within this Central Vietnam region are places like the Vinh Moc Tunnels, DMZ, Hamburger Hill, Danang and China Beach; names that I only vaguely recall as a child and are more recognizable to me through movies and television. Living history yet still history.

I stopped for a few days in Hue before continuing on to Hoi An. Hue is famous for establishing the ubiquitious surname Nguyen, a name you find among the majority of the Vietnamese population. Long ago in a place called the Forbidden Purple City (I saw no purple while I was there), the imperial Nguyen Dynasty ruled the land from their fortress in Hue. Funny, I don't recall any Smith and Jones Dynasties back in the States?

Hoi An is very nice. Whereas Hanoi is a good place to leave, Hoi An is a good place to stay awhile. Designated a World Heritage Site, Hoi An's attributes are many. A very laid-back riverfront town that provided me wtih the first clear blue skies I've seen so far in Vietnam. The colorful French colonial-style architecture is reminiscient of New Orlean's French Quarter or the Portuguese influenced narrow streets and plazas in Salvador Do Bahia in Northeastern Brazil.

The town also boasts colorful characters and delicious food. A few of the riverfront characters I've given names to such as Grinning one tooth FuManChu, Hoi An Princess and Gold Tooth. There's also a jolly fellow whose a Danang branch Easy Rider, a group of Vietnamese bikers who takes tourist on motorcycles and travel through the Central Highlands. Born To Be Wild !!!!!

Some favorite food dishes I enjoy eating while I'm watching the riverfront world walk by are Cao Lau, a local noodle favorite, spring rolls dipped in fish or chili sauce, a variety combination of yellow noodles with beef, chicken or shrimp, fresh vegetable picked straight from the garden or local lily pond, and hot Vietnamese coffee.

In particular, there's a food stall canopy I frequent, where each bench area represents a different entrepreneurial cook; a placard designates who is cooking for you. Let me introduce them to you:
Mr Son, Ms Bay, Mr Com Ga, Mr Tung, Ms Nam, Mr Rin, my favorite Ms Quyen, and of course, Mr DONG.

Hoi An also serves as a travelers' harmonic convergence vortex for seeing past travelers. In Hoi An, you have a more relaxed opportunity to begin conversations and make friendships with those passing faces you saw on prior buses, street corners, and hotel lobbies.

To see more of my travel photography, and travel books, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com

To read more of my travel writings, and more, please visit www.pecoskid.com

To view my Oriental Odyssey - Asia Travels video, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0DArr5uJUo
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