VIETNAM

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
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10
118
Trip End Feb 18, 2007


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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Goodbye China, Good Morning Vietnam!

We board a local train at Nanjing to take us to the tiny Chinese border town of Pinxiang. As usual we are the only foreigners on the train and the centre of attention. One girl on the train, who had just purchased her first mobile phone, didn't seem to realise that they come with built in microphones (poor thing!) and spent most of the journey yelling down the phone in an attempt to help the person on the other end hear her better. Marc broke the ice with the other, now fed up, fellow passengers when he got his ear plugs out. All the locals were in stitches, the noisy girl got the message and the phrase book led conversation started to flow!

There can't be many employment opportunities at this dead-end border town, we realised, as we leave the train and are met by about 2000 tuk tuk drivers all desperate to take us to the border. We were so overwhelmed we just ran into a bank whilst working out how we would deal with them all waiting for us outside. We eventually braved the masses and chose one of calmer ones hoping he would be a more sensible driver. It was a good choice.

We eventually reach the Chinese border post and have to precede on foot.
We don't think the border guard has ever had a Spanish person walk across the border between China and Vietnam before as he spent about an hour with Patricia's passport, kept asking her what country she was from, was continuously checking things with his colleagues and kept looking things up on the computer.
When they eventually let Patricia through, we walk across stunning green and tropical countryside for 5 minutes to reach the Vietnamese control. After paying 1 USD for a medical check which involved us handing over the money and nothing else, we negotiate a price for two seats in a minibus which is going to Hanoi. China's relatively undeveloped tourist industry meant we were offered a reasonable/local price for everything but we're now in the world of bartering where tourists are automatically added on the new in town tax. The drive down to Hanoi was unmissable, through some of the most stunning countryside we have ever seen.

We arrive in Hanoi, the streets are a seething mass of chaos. Motorcycles, bicycles and people are everywhere. The French colonial influence is very apparent in the architecture and in the numerous cafes serving delightful pastries. There is an abundance of streetside foodstores and backpacker style bars.

The next day in Hanoi we are woken up by the sounds of Typhoon Damrey, the worst storm of this type to hit Vietnam in Decades. The wind wasn't so bad in Hanoi which is inland but we have never seen rain like it. Standing in the entrance of the hotel and looking out to the street could be likened to standing behind a gigantic waterfall. You couldn't see anything but water and the sound was deafening. It rained continuously for three days until it eventually went on to annoy the neighbours in Laos and enabled us to go and see the famed Halong Bay.

Just before leaving Hanoi we joined another small group tour which would take us all the way to Bangkok via Cambodia. Traveling in China on our own was exciting as we had the freedom to go where we wanted and move on when we felt like it. There are downsides though such as having to be continuously planning transport, accommodation, places to visit etc. Besides, group travel is much more socialable and this group seem like a bunch of wild party animals who will still be propping up the bar at 6am:-)

So it was back to sleeping overnight on a train as we make it down to Hue for a trip on the Perfume river and then down to the stunning World Heritage town of Hoi An.

At Hoi An we decided to hire some bicycles and head out to the imposing surrounding countryside. Patricia was excited as they gave her a brand new bicycle. All was just fine until about 45 minutes into the cycle when the pedal on Patricia's bicycle came off and flew across the road into a flooded rice paddy. The locals found it highly amusing.
So there we are, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a busted bicycle and only 1 hour to go until it gets dark. So, guess who had to cycle all the way back into town on the bicycle with just one pedal (clue: it wasn't Patricia!).

After, Hoi An we traveled down to the secluded Whale Island. So called this not because of the sheep but because of the Whales that can be spotted from the shores.
For the first time on our trip we feel like we are on holiday as we sun bathe on the golden sands of the island next to clear blue sea.

After a quick stop in the party town of Nha Thrang we travel down to the Mekong Delta.
This river delta is huge and we spent two days visiting local families and businesses for a fascinating insight into life around the countless distributaries.
Everything that is made around the delta is done so manually, from house bricks and tiles to coconut sweets, popcorn and rice paper.
What amazed us is that they find a use for everything. Nothing is thrown away.

We visit an island bar to try the local speciality of snake wine. Marc refused to try any saying that fermented raw animals body did not seem at all appetising.
Patricia the Brave gave it a go though (gee the Spanish eat/drink anything!).
Tonight we are guests of a local family who cook us some amazing Vietnamese food. However, gravity must be stronger in this part of the world as insects and bugs keep dropping off the ceiling and in to the food (yum!).

So, we head off to Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam. At Saigon we visit a table top BBQ restaurant where you cook your own food. By now we are quite used to seeing strange things on menus but the Goats Penis deserves a special mention (not that we were dumb enough to try it!).

Our last night in Saigon and we go out bar crawling along the backpacker's district to say bye to some of the group members who are leaving. I was impressed to hear that the GLC are even played out here in Vietnam (go Newport go!). So now we're just recovering from our hangovers before catching the bus to Cambodia.
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