Good Morning Vietnam

Trip Start Apr 14, 2009
Trip End Aug 06, 2009

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Where to start? 13 days in 'Nam!  Our flight from Frankfurt actually took us to Singapore, where we found the cheapest bed we could to try and sleep.  Think we could sleep? No.  So a 12 hour flight followed by about 12 hours of no sleep.  Then we get the taxi to the airport about 4:30am for our flight to Vietnam.  Great start :-)

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh CIty (Saigon) and were kept awake and alert by the thousands of car and motorbike horns raging a noise like you've never heard.  6 million motorbikes race through Saigon, and it felt just about every last one was surrounding our taxi.  The traffic is amazing to watch.  Well our taxi dropped us off at the wrong building, so through broken conversations with locals who can't speak English, we were forced to walk a kilometer or two down a main street, with and against all the traffic!  An exciting introduction to Saigon indeed.

All was made better with a few hugs from family, we found Natalie's house OK and Alicia had the first sight of her parents, brother & sister in three and a half months.  Was very comforting.  We shared a few stories over breakfast and grabbed a taxi into the city to explore.  Got lost for a while around Ben Tanh market...havoc in there with shopping and bartering.  Checked out War Remnants museum for a sobering reminder that Australia was fighting here as recently as 35 years ago.  Over centuries so many groups of people (including Vietnamese themselves) have destroyed parts of South Vietnam.  Alicia and I were barely breathing at this stage and went home to nap.  After being forcefully woken close to 9pm we had dinner, hung out for a bit, then went back for another 12 or so hours sleep.  We didn't know what jetlag was before, but now we know we had it and we'd slept it off!

Continued the tourism after late brekky and visited a Buddhist pagoda for an insence-filled glimpse into local religion.  Then off to Reunification Palace, and learnt more about the modern history of Vietnam, mainly Ho Chi Minh's decision to surrender in the 70s and declare the North and the South one soveriegn nation.  The late afternoon kicked off the first of many food & drink splurges...enjoying the glorious exchange rate eating and drinking to our heart's content for low, low prices.  Something we didn't find too difficult.  "Crawled" to possibly 5 different venues that evening for various stomach fillers and sampled the Saigon nightlife.  Fun for all.

Chris quickly became addicted to ca phe su da, rich coffee in a tall glass with condensed milk and ice.  It was very comfortable having the option of paying for taxis everywhere, eating out, and entering museums.  Over Europe with high prices and strict budgets, much of our food came from supermarkets and consumption was limited.  In Vietnam were were able to get 45 minute taxi rides for close to 10 dollars, great dinners for 5 dollars and beer/coffee anywhere from 50 cents to 3 dollars.  And I still haven't mentioned the shopping!

Next day was definitely a shopping day, where Chris ordered a suit, Alicia purchased three pair of shoes...shorts, dresses, ornaments and souvenirs were all exchanged at prices Daryl Kerrigan will surely diagnose as that of a dreamer.  It was nice.  David flew back home today leaving a motley crew of 5, we still got up to our fair share of mischief over the following week.

Monday we went on an organised day tour of the Mekong Delta.  After a fair busride we boarded a boat crusing down the massively wide "river" to do some island hopping.  We checked out locals making rice paper, honey tea, coconut candy...all of which was delicious :-) We had the chance to row our own small boat down a narrow canal of water, ride on a donkey-led cart, and the big one that freaked the girls out: holding an adult python. We sampled local fruit while listening to local music, it was a packed day of different insights and activities.  Upon returning to the city, we of course had a nice big night out.

Another day tour during our trip took us to a Cao Dai temple - a Vietnamese religion that is the result of mixing a whole bunch of other religions.  The building itself was so darn colourful, you couldn't help but feel happy.  No opression in this joint.  A hoard of robed locals then treated us to a prayer session with plenty of kneeling, gongs, and soe odd singing.

The rest of the day was at Cu Chi tunnels, those used by the Viet Cong in the "American" War.  Chris had been fascinated by this for a while so was excited to learn more...Alicia's parents felt a little more subdued as it was their generation who was caught up in the futile war.  We were taught a brief history but mainly were shown the tactics and techniques the Cu Chi and Viet Cong people used against the American & allied soldiers, including their 200km long underground tunnel system.  We had the chance to walk a section of a tunnel of which Chris walked the whole 100 claustrophobic leg-tearing metres, the others got out at 20.  Still enough to give an insight on how these people lived during the war...absolutely amazing.
We were shown scale models demonstrating the traps and weapons used, and even had the chance to shoot war guns including AK-47s and automatics.  So loud!  So unreal but was not hard to imagine what it would have sounded like in the area during 60s and early 70s.  An interesting day, which again deserved big city meals as a reward.

By the end of the week Denise and George and flown back to Melbourne via Hong Kong, and Vietnam was left with the ugliest, most rebellious of the lot.  We set about doing some damage.  Not really...actually far from it...we turned the "Relax" notch up to 11.  Sleeping in, a bit of shopping, a full body massage for each of us that totalled about $14 on the bill, late dinner and drinks.  Nice.

Sunday morning we rose early for a 3 day getaway to beach town Quy Nohn.  Not on the traditional tourist trail, it's the beach that Vietnamese go to, and pretty much ONLY Vietnamese.  So much so that when we walked down the street people stopped, pointed and stared.  I checked, there was nothing on my face but my white skin.  It was amazing.  The locals were so local they've never had to learn that staring was rude; it was just incredible to see white people.  We received many "Hellos" and smiles, and it felt great.
We did spent much of our time bludging at the beach resort which was mostly quiet.  Buffet breakfasts, ocean views and hee-yuge beds.  We shared a bottle of Baileys in an overwater gazebo...Alicia and Chris had another massage...hahaha we know we're making you jealous!The rooms were perfectly facing east...check out the sunrise photo we got at 5am.  This place was so beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We were told the best beach was about 20km south so we headed out in a taxi, swam for about 10 minuted before we spotted the first jellyfish and scampered out.  Enjoyed a relaxing read/drink in deck chairs, and watching local boys play an awesome sport we hadn't seen before.  Beach volleyball but with no hands.  Pass the ball with soccer moves - kicking, kneeing and heading - including the overhead scissor kicks!  Play at home.  Vocceyball???

Spent one more full day with Natalie in Ho Chi Minh City before flying out to Singapore.  Packing the bags, finalising shopping (again), and going out for cheap again.  It was so nice to still be travelling yet enjoying comforts of being with family, and staying in a house, or at least a beachside chalet!  Certainly felt closer to home, and was a nice feeling after the length of time we'd been away.  But now it's all coming to an end...a day and a half in Singapore to go before heading home!  Exciting!!!

Got to Singapore about 6, had a buffet dinner included with our hotel, watched some B grade TV movies and spent our last night o/s.  The next day we took a walk through Singapore's Little India, which felt like the flying visit to India we never had time to do.  Found a cheap lunch in our favourite local place, Clarke Quay, at none other than Hooters! For less than $10 we had soup, main, ice cream, tea/coffee and a soft drink, so great value.  Then walked riverside for an hour or so, before finalising our packing in the hotel room.

10 o'clock tonight we fly back to Melbourne.  How strange.  115 plus days of roaming streets aimlessly, not paying rent, not working, seeing new places, meeting new people.  We don't know how to accurately sum it up - we might have to write one more blog entry shortly with greater conclusions.  Anyway thanks for joining us and hopefully we'll see you soon!

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