Gooood Moooooorning Vienammmmmm
Trip Start Apr 17, 2009
17Trip End Ongoing
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Apologies for not writing anything for ages. I've just finished my last blog from Malaysia back in July, I have a feeling this one might be quite alot longer.....
I headed home at the end of July and then had most of August there. In that time I had to squeeze in a stag do, 2 weddings as well as catch up with as many people as I could and earn a few Dad dollars to boost funds! It was great to be back although by the end of it I was itching to get away again - I'm still suffering from that travel bug.
I think it took about 30 hours from leaving London until Capatain Dong(!) safely touched down in Ho Chi Min City (HCMC), or more commonly known as Saigon, in Southern Vietnam
My first impression of Saigon was CRAZY. Supposedly there are more motorbikes here than in any other city in the world. I'm not sure how true that is or indeed who goes round counting them all but I could easilty believe it.
There's quite a large Ex-Pat community out here as well as large numbers of people teaching English. I ended up spending the first few days here hanging out with a bunch of guys here, partying, sight seeing and trying to get over my jet lag.
Crossing a road here is like nothing I've ever experienced and it flies in the face of everything you have been taught while growing up. There is literally a constant wall of motorbikes coming at you and you just have to close your eyes and step out. Somehow everything moves around you with only inches to spare and a few seconds later you end up safely on the other side of the road. Comitting suicide by jumping in front of the traffic here would be impossible because everyone would just move out of the blood way!!
Most of the tourist attractions in HCMC are based around the American War. I spent an afternoon in the War Remnants Museum which, as someone who's not massively into museums, was pretty gripping if a little disturbing. Obviously the place was full of propoganda and stories involving the widespread use of 'Agent Orange' but it was pretty intersting all the same.
Another visit took me to the Cu Chi Tunnels which were used by the Viet Cong in resisting the Americans. I decided after seeing some of the 'man traps' and crawling through one of the tunnels, that this would be no fun place to fight a war. However my favourite fact of the day was that if prononunced incorrectly (as many non-Vietnamese regularly do) "Cu Chi" roughly translates as "womens penis". Only in Asia.
From Saigon I took a bus to Mui Ne, a sleepy beach resort. As the bus left the city the heavens opened and it rained. Alot. The roads quickly turned to rivers, and everything gets hidden away under a sheet of plastic. The funniest thing for me however was how the bus would send a wave of water over some poor sod trying to negotiate the torrents on a motorbike as it passed!
I had 2 nights in Mui Ne but decided to leave as it was just too quiet
Another beach resort but with alot more going on. I met up with a Swiss Guy, Chris, who I ended up travelling with for the next 10 days or so. We met a few interesting ex-pat characters, partied some more and had a day snorkelling in crystal clear waters. Unfortunately illegal fishing is prolific (even though it was a protected dive site) so the only fish there were of the Jelly variety. Millions of them, as well as some pretty decent coral. The sting wasn't too bad, i just ended up coming out of the water looking like I'd jumped in a bush of stinging nettles!
I also took a windsurfing lesson - something I've wanted to try for a while. After some initial difficulties with the board being set up for a five foot nothing Indo-Chinaman and a distinct lack of wind, I got the hang of it and had a great morning of falling into the water!!
The afternoon I left Nah Trang the heavens opened once more, and after just an hour of rain the streets were filled like a river that came almost to my knee as I walked back to the hotel one last time. Welcome to an early Vietnamese rainy season
That evening I experienced my first night bus to Hoi An, a mere 12 hours away. My bed was a bit like a bobsleigh, only 18" too short. Needless to say that with another 39 unsuspecting tourists on board it was not the most comfortable night of my life. Anyway, after getting a room late morning and a bit more kip, I headed out into the rain of old town Hoi An. It made a nice place to spend a couple of days with the oldie worldie french architecture as well as the more traditional pagodas and temples.
Hoi An is THE place to get a made to measure suit, which i'd been toying with the idea of for quite a while. However in the end I decided I didn't really want to get a suit, so opted for a pair of made to measure smart leather shoes for under 18 quid. All you had to do was pick the style you wanted from the current edition of the NEXT catalogue, and after drawing round your foot on a piece of paper, they were ready to collect the next day. Awesome. I had intended to meet the man who made my shoes (how cool does that sound?!) but due to a breakdown in communication i.e. me not speaking Vietnames and them not speaking English, it didn't happen.
I spent the evening hanging out with a bunch of 19 year old Somerset Yocals, who were basically on a 3 month bender around Asia. After they'd had a day on it, drinking 30p a pint lager, they were up for a night of it too. I joined in for a while but thankfully drew the line when they started to drink a liquid that had at some point in the past been vodka. However it was now in a large jug which was also home to a decaying cobra snake, the idea being that drinking a shot of this rank stuff somehow made you more virile!!
Next stop was a place called Hue, via the marble mountains and lunch at a cafe run by deaf kids. I wasn't 100% confident i'd get what I ordered, but then you never are when you order food here. Turns out the food was excellent, as it is everywhere in Vietnam. You can get a main meal and a beer for about 3 quid, in a 'proper' restaurant. A room is about 6 pounds (by far the highest overall standard of accomodation i''ve found in Asia so far) and a bus ride works out about $1 for every hour you spend on the bus so it's a pretty cheap place.
So, Hue. I had 2 nights here, the full day was spent going round the sites with an 'easy rider' - on the back of a guy's motorbike which was so fun! More temples, great views, Pagodas, Tombs, American bunkers as well as the very impressive citadel.
I actually got scammed as well for the first time here (that I later became aware of anyway!), and it was very cleverly done. I basically handed over a 100,000 dong note and a 10,000 dong note for two entrance tickets, both are similar coloured notes. With a blink of the eye, the ticket lady swapped the 100,000 for another 10,000 note and says you've given her the wrong money
Last day in Hue was spent on a crappy river cruise, before a cycle tour of the city, where funnily enough I got into another argument about being overcharged!!!
The plan now was to take a night bus to a place called Ninh Binh, where there are dramatic limestone cliffs amongst the rice paddies. However after another, much more comfortable night bus, Ninh Binh didn't look too appealing in the pooring rain at 5.30am so I stayed on the bus to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. I had a little bit of hassle here trying to find somewhere to stay but eventually did and then headed out to explore the city. Quite a frantic but nice place to wander round and just watch the world go by.
I made a trip to the Hoa La prison otherwise known as the "Hanoi Hilton' a name given to it by captured US pilots during the war. Another intersting museum visit(!), again full of one sided stories and propoganda - they love the fact that they captured US Senator John McCain
With a change to my plans, I've headed north to Sapa, a cool mountain town near to the border with China. I plan to spend a few days here before returing to Hanoi and Vietnams premier tourist destination, Halong Bay, once an impending cyclone has passed through, before flying back to Saigon and into Cambodia.
So enough from me about Womens Penis', dodgey scams and made to measure shoes!
PS Apologies once again about the dodgey spelling as was so dearly pointed out to me by a few when I came home!! ;-)