Thailand and Vietnam

Hoi An Travel Blog

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New week, new country. Suze and I are still having a wonderful time,
although the weather is a little British in Vietnam - cold in Hanoi and wet
in Hoi An, where we are now. This was a big culture shock following the heat
in Thailiand. However, we are hoping to top up the tans soon, as we
gradually head south.

I think that the last email finished before we went on the elephant trek,
which was very touristy, but very different from anything that we had done
before. They are pretty tall creatures, and on of our group managed to fall
off the top (fortunately avoiding the pile of dung on the ground). He didn't
break anything, although I don't know how. Our elephant was a strong
character, but it felt rude putting a foot on his head before mounting our
chair, which was situated on his shoulders. I'm sure that we would have had
some animal welfare concerns had we chosen to look further (they all seemed
to have chains round their necks for no ascertainable reason), but they
enjoyed being fed with bananas through their trunks. Did you now that there
are two nostrils in an elephant's trunk? It surprised us. The same trip saw
us visit two "authentic" hill tribes, although they both seemed to sell the
same tourist tat, and go bamboo rafting.

I'm not sure why I didn't heed the playground taunts about being beaten up
by females, but I decided that I would join Suze for a Thai "massage" that
evening. It only cost two pounds, and seemed like a bargain. I'm sure that
the masseuse's gravestone will read "she was only a small woman, but boy did
she have strong fingers", albeit written in Thai. It was more like an hour
long torture session. We were taken upstairs into a dingy room (I wondered
if this was one of the parlours I had heard my less salubrious clients
talking about), and the little old woman proceeded to fold my knees over my
head and place my heel behind my neck. I must admit, though, that I feel
better for it, and might try it again sometime.

The night market in Chiang Mai was not as good as the one in Chiang Rai -
very big but mainly concerned with selling pirate DVDs. Nice hotel, though.

Hanoi is a very pretty city. However, I do feel a cathartic need to say that
whoever gave the Vietnamese horns on their cars and bikes should be shot! I
have developed the theory that they do not open their eyes when they drive
on the road (they would have heart attacks if they did, the way that they
ride/drive), and use their horns in much the same way as bats use sonar. The
problem is worst in the old quarter, where the meagre pavements have been
unofficially requisitioned for use as bike parks, meaning that you have to
walk in the middle of the road. The French quarter is positively European,
with tree-lined boulevards and good coffee. And then there's the Ho Chi Minh
mausoleum area, which is suitably communist and domineering. We saw HCM's
body, which looked like a waxwork. You had to be totally silent when
entering the mausoleum, and the omnipresent soldiers teased hands out of
pockets so that you didn't look slovenly in the body's presence. We were
assured that it was really HCM that we saw, as he only leaves for two months
each year to go to Russia for "maintenance" (I guess that they have some
experts who work on Lenin).

We are now on an organised tour for a couple of weeks, with the main focus
being food. We have a local guide who has been brilliant, and has helped us
to experience the full array of Vietnamese cuisine, which is far more varied
than I expected and very tasty. We have eaten some fantastic meals, and all
for about three pounds or so including drinks.

I am writing from our hotel in Hoi An - a small town with lots of tailors.
People are very friendly, although no rude postcards, I'm afraid.
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Hoi An