Trip Start Oct 20, 2008
19Trip End Oct 20, 2009
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We had planned to stay a month in Vietnam (before Laos & onto Hong Kong to live & work). In reality we were out within 10 days and our last 6 months was turned on its head....
Saigon was vibrant and modern although when we first arrived it took at least 20 minutes to cross a road. It was just a case of standing on one side of the road all day or just breathing in and stepping out into the swarm of a squillion scooters hoping to God they'll swerve to avoid you.
We arranged a couple of trips to the Cu Chi Tunnels (Vietnam War site) and the Mekong Delta. At the site of the tunnels it was difficult to imagine the horror and desperation that existed less than 40 years before with a sugar-coated procession of tourist exhibits including plastic dummies dressed up, a laid out selection of lethal booby traps they used and hilarious propaganda films calling the Americans "treacherous devils" and such like
In the evenings we sat out on the street in deckchairs drinking Saigon Beer watching the world whizz, strut, trudge, hop and hobble by. On the first night, starving hungry and trying to avoid the fried rats delicacy, we made the mistake of choosing some gawd-awful neon-lit bar for some comfort food. We watched fat US ex-pats wobbling about on their bar stools like bin liners full of yoghurt catching their leering glances at the "happy ending" women. It was like a soft porn Cheers with a Bob Marley soundtrack - good place for a soap opera though. So, instead, we sat like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show in our deckchairs on the pavement of a street bar as women with portable height and weight machines, girls selling tissues and gum, massage men on bikes shaking their rattles, booksellers, sellers of dried fruits, eggs & postcards all joined the outright beggars and the limbless in floating by.
We started our ill-fated Mekong Delta tour at 7:30 and it soon became clear that we were part of a large tour group and not the personal tour we had naively assumed. Japs, Germans, Aussies, Swedes & South Africans all listened to the robotic voice of our guide, Fonk, who enlightened us with life-enhancing facts such as how many mopeds there were in Saigon
For the next 2 days we were moronically ferried from staged buying opportunity to pointless demonstrations of how people make rice paper or coconut candy. It was as authentic an experience as putting your head in an unplugged oven to kill yourself. The life was being sucked out of us. The highlight of the trip was an opportunity to see the infamous floating Mekong markets. With high hopes of at least seeing some form of real Delta life perhaps being punted quietly through quaint and colourful food stalls; we quite frankly should have known better. We boarded another loud, polluted narrow-boat and, in procession, chugged across the filthy water and petrol-filled air watching drab river gypsies manage to squeeze the colour and life out of the fruit & veg they were selling.
One ray of sunshine on this otherwise terminal greyness were 2 girls, Gilly & Sophie - all jolly hockey sticks and fabulous English eccentricity - keeping everyone's pecker up like some spirit of the Blitz. On the first day, in their element pouring tea and poring over the sponge cake, we sat round a table with these sparky 25 (going on 60) year olds, a young German couple and a 50-year old Japanese couple
"We are doctors," said the German couple.
"Wonderful! And you sir?" Sophie said to the Jap.
"I have big penis"
Nearly spluttering out my packet noodles I managed to retain a stifled smirk unable to look at anyone.
"Sorry. Can you repeat that again?"
"Yes. I have big penis. I had lots of small penises but now have one big penis."
Thankfully, it was Gilly who quickly realised he was trying to say 'business'!!?
Apart from the trips we had a great following week blowing away the travelling cobwebs lazing on the beach in Mui Ne and Nha Trang catching a ride on our new books, sloshing around in an outdoor mud-bath spa and sledging down huge sand dunes. But, stuck in heavy traffic leaving Saigon on yet another tourist bus to Mui Ne our travelling spirit over the previous couple of weeks had been knocked and with no real party to speak of it just wasn't what we were after from this part of the trip
The buses were at first a novelty - half first-class style flight seats, half Japanese micro-hotel. The men working the bus were moody and aggressive patrolling the narrow walkways like some army camp. I could not switch off to go to sleep with pot-holed roads, squeaky brakes and the insect I saw scramble into my foot-well so with shadowy sleep we arrived at a town called Hoi An at 8am for pick-ups and drop-offs with some girls complaining of things stolen in the night. We were pretty much frogmarched off the bus so they could clean and fleeced $4 for sandwiches. Trying to get back on the bus they said the Hoi An - Hanoi leg of the journey did not leave until 6pm! So much for a 20-hour bus - the bus agents had simply lied to us and we'd have to spend another sleepless night on the bus. At our wits end with the country's constant lying and scamming and facing a day lugging our packs around some town we walked in a daze trying to digest our fate. We sat down and had our annual cup of coffee which didn't help. Trying to find somewhere to sit it all out for the day we passed a travel agency and noticed an overnight bus straight to Laos so....with no sleep, high on caffeine and in a paddy we did another deal with the devil and stuck 2 fingers up at Vietnam. A new lease of life washed over us and the smiles were back - the answer was staring us in the face all along: just leave.....