Gooooood morning Vietnam

Trip Start Apr 27, 2004
1
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Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, June 7, 2005

GOOOOOOOOOD MORNING VIETNAM
THE HEAT IS ON IN SAIGON!!!

Well, where do we start, it's been a seriously busy couple of weeks since we last wrote an entry. We did try a couple of times but the internet cafes out in the sticks are not the fastest or the most reliable things on earth!

Vietnam - a total wind of change compared to everywhere else experienced on the short but lengtheneing trip. It is the first place we have felt like real travellers (if such a term exists) and got right off the beaten track... and on to a few dusty, crumbling roads. Before talking about Saigon we must mention the most dazzling and amazing thing about this country - the people. Never have we been anywhere in the world with such smiley, happy people and we're not just talking about those who are paid to serve you. Literally, everywhere we go we face cheerful shouts of "hello!", even from children in the middle of nowhere, including tribal minority hill villages who have never seen white people before.

On to Saigon, we arrived bleary eyed and anxious of what to expect at 3am but were greeted with big smiles at our hotel by the staff who had waited up for us to arrive. The place was realy roomy and all the staff extremely helpful. The area we stayed in (Pham Ngu Lao), was a real backpacker area, full of cheap bars and restaurants. It was interesting to see how the old street cafe culture stood side by side with boozy western style bars. Although the area was great to meet fellow travellers and we met some good friends, we quickly tired of the synthetic lifestyle here and found our way to the side streets to eat and drink for half the price.

While in Saigon, we visited various historical sites, mainly based around the American war. These included the Cu Chi tunnels, which were 3 levels of underground tunnels built by the Viet Cong to attack the enemy and we got to crawl through these. Extremely small, hot and unbearably clostraphobic. Hard to imagine how people could move around these quickly with injuries and equipment.

We also visited the war remnants museum, which was basically a bunch of photographs showing the damage caused by the Americans, mutilated babies in jars and life-sized reconstructions of tiger cages used to hold POW's in barbaric conditions.

The highlight of Saigon must be a 2 day trip we took up the Mekong Delta, the scene of many a war film. There we spent both days in small, rickety boats cruising up and down the chocolate brown river, visting real floating markets and working farms. Helen even held the end of a python, but wouldn't let its head any where near!!!! As we meandered upstream local children divebombed our boat and tried to climb aboard. We wouldnt have minded... if they werent all naked as the day they were born! Many of the people living around the Mekong Delta survive in simple floating wooden houses, with no gas, electricity or other amenities. Their income comes directly from the land and the river.

One day we went for a nice swim at Saigon water park and got a little more wet than we bargained for, as half way through the leisurly afternoon a thinderstorm cracked open above our heads. Everyone left the water except for us and the kids who were playing with us. We figured we were already wet so why the hell not!

After a great week, longer than we expected to stay, we caught the open tour bus to Mui Ne, a tiny, deserted beach resort. Now, we are not going to pretend to have visited some alternative location, simply it was the wrong season, which was great!! Picture this, a bungalow on the beach (only 5 quid a night), a 14 km stretch of white sand a clear blue sea and nobody else, except a couple of Germans. Guess who got up at the crack of dawn to claim the sunbeds. And guess who cast the towls out of the way without caring. Ha, ha one nil to us!!! In Mui Ne, we spent the hot days lazing on the beach, eating luxurious food in restaurant all to ourselves and riding around on our own Honda Melody - hardly James Dean (more like supergran) but great fun! We did plan to visit the famous sandunes but Helen got a touch of food poisoning and spent the day in bed!

From Mui Ne, we took another day long bus up to the mountainous region of the Central Highlands. En route the crazy bus driver flung us around the windy roads at riduculous speeds, around hairpin bends and blind summits but it was OK cos he pipped his horn first, or so he thought! Anyway, about half way there we screached to a halt and a girl shouted, "a large blue rucksack just rolled out of the bus and down the mountain." "who's bag is it," everyone asked including us. Any guesses, yes, of course it was mine! (Luke). Luckily a police truck was behind, who picked it up and hand delivered it back - phew, a lucky escape!

Eventually, we arrived in Dalat, which was cold and rainy and a little bit like the Lake District. I didnt mind the weather but helen was simply not of the same vein! To us it was still warm but the locals dressed like it was the antartic in their own Albanian Chic kind of way - puffa jakets, flat caps, reindeer jumpers and balaclavas - we didn't know the charva style had reached Vietnam but it has here!

We only stayed here for a couple of days, as we met the legendary Easy Riders, motorcylcle riders who take travellers around on their 1970's Chinese and Taiwanese made bikes. We agreed to go with them on a 4 day tour around the Highlands and down to Nha Trang. For both of us, this was easily one of the best parts of our whole trip so far. As we werent chained to a large coach tour, it gave us the chance to see some sweeping countryside including Hamburger Hill and real people, including minority Montgnard villagers, small home farms, an illegal rice wine factory, proper food and local kids who'd never seen white people before. One actually ran away crying as she didnt know what we were!!!! Over the days, we rode around windy mountain passes, treked in the jungle, splashed through waterfalls in torrential rain and learned loads of Virtnamese (including plenty of slang) from our crazy guides Phillip and Quy. We now want to buy a tourer bike when we get home!

Yesterday, we arrived in Nha Trang ( a beach resort resembling the Spanish Costas, perhaps Benidorm!) and were actually quite sad to say bye to the lads as they were such great company. Our hotel has a sea-view balcony and is right near all of the action. Tomorrow, we are taking a boat trip around the islands for Helen's birthday. Watch this space!

sights, sounds and observations

- crazy traffic including scooters, buffalo, chickens, home made tractors (lawn mower engines!), 5 kids on one bike, riders laden with all sorts of produce including pigs in baskets, everyone all over the roads. There are 3 million scooters in Saigon alone!

- smiley, happy people

- great food, drink and accomodation (cheap to boot!)

- hard working women carrying their wares on their shoulders, heads and in baskets on bamboo poles, sometimes carrying their children as well.

- loads of travellers (especially Canadians who insist on telling you they're not American, can't blame them!)

- mobile HMV on wheels with fortune telling machines and popcorn for sale!

- crazy food and drink including half fertilized duck eggs (you eat the developed embryo!), dog meat, snake wine, geckos and bugs.

- the noise - everyone pips their horn or plays music from their scooter or car all day and night.

- lack of commericalisn and communist propoganda posters everywhere. even international TV stations don't have adverts.

- everybody's got something to sell and a story to tell about the War.

- war remnants everywhere - very fresh in peoples minds.

- more developed country than we expected. great tourism and easy to get around everywhere.

- gulf between the city and the countryside where people still live in mud huts.

- huge French influence on architecture, language and food.
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