Trip Start Nov 02, 2003
50Trip End Mar 01, 2005
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c... We started our journey in Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh city, after the founder and president of the new democratic Vietnam - Uncle Ho. I prefer the name Saigon though, gives a romantic impression of young beautiful Vietnamese girls in their long flowing dresses cycling around the city amongst the old restored buildings from the colonial days and women in conical hats on the roadside, selling tropical fruits and fresh baguettes - and the truth is - it still is like this...only just.
A... It's funny to see how much people live their lives out on the pavements of the city. There are people eating, drinking, cooking, getting their hair cut, doing their washing and of course selling everything under the sun out on the pavement. In fact, given their other main function as motorbike parks, about the only thing you can't do on the pavement is walk along them.
This means you get to play the fun game of dodging the motorbikes, cyclos, bikes, cars and buses charging down the street at you. Apparently the way to cross the road is to look out for the cars and buses and just walk slowly letting the rest of the traffic swerve around you. Sadly, Dom who is in our group has the bruises to prove it's not a foolproof method.
Any car or bus journey around Vietnam always seems to involve at least a dozen near misses. Every vehicle is fitted with one piece of standard safety equipment to be use at all times - the horn. As far as I can make out, possible uses of the horn include "I am overtaking", "I am thinking about overtaking", "I am not overtaking", "Look out, I'm driving towards you down the wrong side of the road" and "Look at how much the passengers jump when I use the horn in this little tunnel".
Motorbikes and bikes are the main forms of transport round Vietnam, and it's amazing to see just how much you can get on one. Its not unusual to see 3 people on one pedal bike, and an entire extended family clinging to a motorbike. You also won't see many riders wearing helmets. Apparently it messes up the girls hair, and for the blokes it gets in the way of smoking and chatting on the mobile. Even more intersting is the amount of stuff that can be carried on a bike. The funniest I've seen is an arcade game on the back of a bike, but apparently coffins aren't too unusual.
C... We took a trip out of town to visit the Cu Chi tunnels. This was a 200km maze of secret tunnels, where thousands of fighters and villagers could hide during the Vietnam/American war. It was an underground city with living areas, kitchens, weapons factories and field hospitals. In places, it was several stories deep and housed up to 10,000 people who virtually lived underground for years.... getting married, giving birth, going to school. They only came out at night to tend to their crops and occasionally surprise the pants off the Americans.
Our next stop was Nha Trang a Vietnamese beach resort, purely for chilling out, and this is what we did while the rest of the group took an "interesting" snorkeling trip to find some sea-life amongst all the rubbish floating in the water.
A... Hoi An is the nicest place we've been to in Vietnam - a sleepy little town fill of historic buildings left by first the Chinese, and then the French. It also has great food, nice bars and a few hundred tailors shops waiting to knock you up a made to measure suit for a few dollars. At least we'll have something to wear to the interviews when we get home!
C... Our quick stop in Hue was just that, so we took in a whistle-stop tour around the sights of this ancient capital. Most people come to see the old Imperial complex, the Citadel and the Forbidden city, the pagodas, and the many tombs of the emperors, each containing temples, palaces, and lakes. The best way to see it all is by floating along the Perfume River (no it does not smell) in a boat that looks very much like a dragon, while being constantly hassled by a moody woman trying to sell pikey mandarin shirts and tacky jade ornaments. Unfortunately the tour guide's imagination could not get past the information that was already on display next to the attractions. This is why my write up stops here.
A.. Hanoi is prettier than Saigon, but still hot and hectic. We joined a few thousand Vietnamese in traipsing past Ho Chi Mihn's body yesterday, and then decided to have a look at the Air Force Museum...
The scene is a busy central Hanoi Street. Conversation between Adrian and Cyclo Driver (A Cyclo is a Vietnamese bicycle rickshaw).
Cyclo Driver: Where are you going?
Adrian: We're going to the Air Force Museum
Cyclo Driver: I take you!
Adrian: But it's a very long way.
Cyclo Driver: No problem, I take you 30,000 Dong
Adrian: I think we'd better get a taxi.
Cyclo Driver: No,I take you very cheap
Adrian: I know it's cheap, but it's a long way!
Cyclo Driver: No problem, I take you in 15 minutes
Adrian: Ok then.
15 minutes later...
Cyclo Driver: Ok, we are here
Cyclo Driver: I said 15 minutes!
Caroline: But the sign says "Art Museum"
Cyclo Driver: No, no, Air Force Museum (Does plane action with arms)
Adrian: (Takes out map) But we are here, and the Air Force museum is over here!
Cyclo Driver: Ah yes, long way away!
Adrian: Yes, but that is where we wanted to go!!!
Cyclo Driver: But it's a very long way, better you take a taxi.
Adrian: But why have you brought us here?
Cyclo Driver: Ok, now my 30,000 Dong.
Cyclo Driver: Ok, 20,000 Dong
We gave him 10,000 out of admiration for his barefaced cheek!
Where I stayed