You weren't there man...but we were

Trip Start Jul 11, 2010
Trip End Jul 11, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Phil Says:

Over the last three months we've traveled around Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which has been all about war, motorbikes, scenery and people. We’ve covered a lot of ground, seen many beautiful places, waved at so many children and said "no thank you, no thanks, no really, NO" to countless tuk tuk drivers and hawkers.
Our time in SE Asia started in Vietnam, and what a place to start.  This really is a country on the up and you can see the economy growing before you, whilst you still have the women in the classic conical hats selling their crispy fried beetles, with the government allowing private enterprise there are hundreds of enterprising Vietnamese making the most of it, optimistic people that embrace the opportunity for a better life.  I just hope that they don’t go too far and destroy the essence of Vietnam that people go there to discover.

So we started in Saigon and, as you’d expect in Vietnam, the war related trips we’re abundant. We visited the War Remnants Museum (previously called the War Crimes Museum, but they’ve toned it down a bit) which offered a very one sided view of the war although there is no denying America used some truly appalling methods.  The museum has some very graphic pictures of victims and you begin to appreciate the suffering people will inflict on each other, as well as the lengths people will go to win a war.  If there is one thing my time in SE Asia has taught me it is the depravity that people are capable of and the pain and suffering they can cause others in the name of what they believe to be right or in the name of others that they are too afraid to question out of fear or stupidity and usually a combination of the two. 

Whilst in Saigon we also took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Cong hid and fought to hold this strategic spot from the South Vietnamese and their allies.  We saw some pretty nasty booby traps that they used and I got to fire an AK-47.  Everyone’s happy. 

From Saigon we made our way to the central highlands and a small market town called Dalat.  Here we did some Canyoning which basically involves abseiling down waterfalls.   We were okay with the abseiling but Paul did sustain a nasty injury to the knee following a fall whilst flirting with an Israeli. Laugh, me?

In Dalat we met the 'Easy Riders’ who took us on a three day tour to Nha Trang.  This is a really good way to see the country and you get a totally different perspective having a local guide to take you to those ‘hard to reach’ places. It also gave us a much better insight into the divide that still stands today between North and South Vietnamese.

Hoi An and Hue were the next places to visit. Both are World Heritage sites and well worth a visit for their French Colonial buildings and also the older Chinese citadel at Hue.  Was there ever a more paranoid race than the Chinese?  They do love a nice big wall to keep people out (or in).  From Hue we visited the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). It’s funny how things work; all the tourist sites are, as you’d expect, biased towards the victorious North Vietnamese. However, due to the now lower status of those on the losing side, it tends to be the South Vietnamese that operate as tour guides so you are able to get a more balanced view.

For our first day in Hanoi we had a full agenda; we arrived at the Army Museum at 11.30 only to find that it didn’t open until 13.00. Not to worry, we’ll walk over to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and then head back... but what’s this “Ho Chi Minh is having his annual clean and isn’t due back for a couple of weeks.” Okay, that leaves the Ho Chi Minh Museum, another 45 minute walk away. So we get there at about 13.00 to find it opens at 14.00.  Needless to say we never got around to seeing any of them in the end.

To finish out time in Nam we decide to do North Vietnam on bikes too.  But this time we wanted to be the ones riding them. We arranged to meet a really nice guy called ‘Knock’, who even lends Paul a bike so he can get used to riding it, before taking us on the North West loop which covers around 1000 km.  Riding through Hanoi is like nothing I’ve experienced before.  You basically need to forget everything you’re taught in the UK and ignore the people around you and just go for it. It is actually a lot of fun once you do.  You can do whatever you like really, things you’d be pulled for at home.  I get a feeling that I’m being tested by Knock to see if I have what it takes!  We head south out of the city and are soon in the spectacular countryside stopping on the way for a coffee, where we meet a crazy, yet friendly, old guy who offers me his daughter. I decline on the basis that I have too much on my bike already.  

Paul does really well on the bike for the first two days but it was on day three that he had his first fall whilst looking at a pig and failing to notice the mud on the road (much to the delight of the watching hill tribe.)  He only suffered minor scratches and the pig walked away unscathed, unlike the cat that Paul ran over earlier that day (1 down 8 to go kitty).  

In Sapa, the most northerly point on the tour, the scenery is supposed to be spectacular; if that scenery were painted on my hand and put in front of my face I still wouldn’t have seen it due to the fog. So rather than our planned hiking, we watched TV, ate some hornets and relaxed.  After 6 days we were back in Hanoi which left us just enough time to do Halong Bay.

Vietnam has been an unexpected pleasure.  Having heard comments from others, I was expecting the people to be pushy and I’m glad to say that they weren’t.  Those that we spent time with were all genuine people who were proud of their country.  It has some beautiful scenery and some great cities and we have really enjoyed our time here.  Now which way is Laos?

Paul says:

Just to clarify... the suicidal cat came out of nowhere (who said they were smart?)... it was the pig looking at me, not the other way round... and I was only flirting with the Israeli a little bit. 

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Jo on

Paul I can't believe you ran over a cat - so not impressed!!!

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