Vietman.....the good, the bad and the ugly
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog› entry 4 of 18 › view all entries
Can't quite remember when I got here, sometime at the beginning of Oct is near enough! I'd got it all planned in my head that I was going to get the train from Nanning in southern China to Hanoi (its meant to be really stunning), but having been told a silly amount of horror stories about Vietnam customs and corruption and dodgy taxi rides over the border I decided against it. Have come to the conclusion its the only problem with traveling alone, there are somethings that I'd really like to do and if I was with someone I'd do them in a heartbeat but feel a bit to vulnerable on my own. Flew instead - much to the unhappiness of my bank balance!
Arrived in Hanoi late so it wasn't until next morning that I discovered the madness I'd arrived in. Had to learn very early on in the day that unless I wanted to be confined to one block the only way to cross the road was to close your eyes and step out into the road, keep walking slowly and hope that people would swerve to miss you. Spent the first day walking round the old quarter, getting a bit lost and fighting the urge to turn around and shout at the cyclo drivers to fuck off - I started off being polite but when your asked at least a hundred times an hour, every hour patience becomes a little thin - if I want one I'll hail the bloody thing....if I'm braving the traffic to cross the street to get away it means no!! Decided that to really enjoy Vietnam I needed to do very little city based things and as much outdoor stuff as possible.
So having decided that I needed to get out of the city I arranged to go cycling with a guide in the countryside around Hanoi the next day. Thought there was going to be a few of us but it turned out to be just me, the guide and a really lovely, hot Auzzie guy. Transport out of Hanoi wasn't quite what I expected. Thinking there would be a few of us I just presumed we would go by car, however, only me and the guide went from Hanoi. Having said that the only way anyone could get me on to a motorbike in that city was to pay me it came as a bit of a shock to do it voluntarily. It was actually really good fun though - once I'd loosened the vice like grip that I was holding the seat with and actually opened my eyes! The day was awesome, got one of the local boats across the red river and spent the day cycling around little villages, watching the rice harvest and causing havoc as we passed schools as all of the children ran from their lessons to shout hello until we disappeared from sight.
I then traveled back up north from Hanoi to Sapa for a couple of days trekking. Its was great, the local people were lovely although they did make me feel like a giant. Spent a night in a home stay and drank way too much rice wine - more like shot of tequila (but a little smoother) than wine. Pissed as a fart by the end of dinner - didn't realise there could possibly be that many people to drink to, and then what with the penalty shots that had to be drank when someone went to the loo....
Back to Hanoi for a day before going east to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island. That felt like a mini holiday! Sailed out to the bay and stayed one night on a very posh junk - we were served by waiters wearing white gloves, calling us sir and madam - felt like walking onto the wrong set - looked behind me to see who he was talking to!! Did a bit of kayaking, good fun but hard work when you and your partner both think you know best about which direction its best to go in!! Got to Cat Ba island the following afternoon and found a very nice beach to relax on, very dubious wooden path bolted to the cliff side to get to it, but well worth it as there was very few people there. Needed to get moving again the following day so decided to do an 18km hike through the islands national park. Didn't occur to me that going through forests and shoulder high grasses that there might be a chance of the odd mosquito or two so rolled up in my little shorts and top......the bottom of my legs looked a little like I had chicken pox by the end!! The walk was brilliant though, saw a few creepy crawlie things that nightmares are made of - luckily all at arms length! Think doing the walk made me realise that you can't really begin to imagine what soldiers faced during the wars, The levels of heat and humidity made it really hard work, and we were walking with no packs at the coolest time of the year. Was very pleased that the end of the walk finished on the opposite side of the island to where we started so it was a boat back around through a different bay (all still very James Bond scenery). Stopped off mid way for a quick swim, the sea was so warm, it was amazing - my swim was very quick though...the old Jaws phobia kicked in after a couple of mins and I had to get out....damn watching those movies too young!!
On the boat back from the Island to the main land met a couple from NewZealand and an American girl who were all going south the same way as me so we hooked up. Went our separate ways after a week or so, its been really nice to spend more than a day with someone. Much as I'm not on my own very often, am not with anyone long enough to get past whats your name, where do you come from, where are you going? Its been good to get some proper conversation!
We spent a couple of days in Hue, borrowed a bike first day from the hotel, proper local Vietnamese stylie one - big white girl on little bike....the locals seemed to find it amusing!
Second day went to the DMZ, saw lots of little sights but main and most impressive thing we saw were the Vihn Moc tunnels. They were amazing, hundreds of meters of tunnel dug out of the clay ground where 300 villagers lived during the American war. Inside the tunnels were rooms that were about 1.5meters high and the size of a double bed which whole families lived in. There was even a maternity room (17 children were born in it) - big enough for a single bed and room for someone stand.
Got a bus from Hue to Hoi An - the town that has to be every girls dream. Reckon about 90% of the shops are either tailors or shoe shops. I spent a fortune......actually thats a lie.....I doubled the amount of clothes and shoes I have with me though.....and they all fit properly......none of the normal to short trousers or fat belly top just so the boobs fit in - its great! It wasn't all shopping, not quite anyway, did a cooking class - can now make some pretty good Vietnamese food - as long as I don't loose the recipe!
Left Hoi An a lone traveler again - feels a bit weird now.
After spending all that money on clothes I decided to travel on the cheap, meant a 26 hours bus journey - ouch my bum!!!!
Arrived in Saigon last night and leave by boat tomorrow for Cambodia. Glad I only had today here, to busy for my liking and have found a few things a bit disturbing and uncomfortable. It started this morning walking through the market and I saw a lady preparing frog. She picked this ribbeting frog out of a bucket of loads of them snipped its back feet off, then snipped its front legs off and then finally its head. It only took like 5 seconds but I was traumatized, that poor frog - why not chop its head off first to put it out of its misery!
Went to the war remnants museum and it basically showed the American war in pictures. Guess you get used to a lot of censoring back home so how graphic some of the pictures were was quite shocking. Think I cried all the way round, just cant understand why people would do that to each other. And even more sad that lessons don't get learnt and the same thing is happening in other countries now. Saigon brings it back to you in the streets too, much more than any of the other cities I've been to. I remember seeing a couple of people in Hanoi, bit younger than me, with big facial disfigurements, and remember thinking that it was unusual to see more than one case of it in one place before the penny dropped that it was probably a result of agent orange. In Saigon though walking down the main street the reminders of the effects on people are every where. From someone walking up to you on their hands because they have no legs, to the person whose face is that badly burnt that they have no lips just bare teeth, a melted nose and no eye lids. Its just really hard to see.
Feels all wrong ending on a sad note because I have really enjoyed Vietnam (well apart from the awareness that to a lot of people I have a big $ sign on my head). For genuine friendliness of locals China was so much better, but I think of all of the places so far I've liked Vietnam best - probably because I've spent more time doing the out door "me" things.
Looking forward to Cambodia now, 4 weeks in one place, I'll actually get to unpack properly - might even get the chance to wear some of my nice new clothes......just need to find a nice bloke to take me out in them!