21st May 2012 - 29th May 2012
Good Morning Vietnam! … our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as it is otherwise known. The city of motorcycle mania and our introduction to crossing the road in this crazy country.
Some people put the number of motorbikes in Vietnam at 20 million. Others say it could be more but whatever the number that’s a whole lot of motorbikes! We have visited seven Asian countries since we have been travelling, all of which have dubious driving laws and try to fit as many people and baskets of chickens on their bikes as they can, but even for us this is something else! It is like nothing we have seen before and the sheer number of motorbikes on the road here is truly unbelievable.
The Vietnamese love their motorbikes and they ride them anywhere and everywhere, including the pavements! They weave in and out of the hundreds of other motorbikes, cars and bicycles and even happily ride into oncoming traffic! This makes it hard to cross the road but there are some tips to doing it safely. You have to take a deep breath and step off the kerb, start walking and whatever you do don’t stop … just keep walking slowly and the motorbikes will weave around you …. well that’s the theory anyway! The roads are wide and the flow of motorbikes never seems to stop but after a few days exploring the city I got the hang of stepping out in the path of oncoming traffic and could finally cross the road without screaming!
We were really looking forward to visiting Vietnam as we had heard so many contradicting opinions of the place and we wanted to check it out for ourselves. Our first impression was the border crossing into Vietnam which was quick and easy. Andy did get a funny look from the border guard when he saw his hairy passport photo but at least my watermarked one didn’t get a second look!
When we arrived in Saigon we went exploring and after seeing a few cheaper guest houses we found one for $10 dollars with air con, tv, hot water and a fridge. The only downside was the fact it was on the 5th floor, which is a killer with the bags but you get what you pay for and the cheaper rooms are always at the top! All the hotels and even the houses are strangely tall and skinny in Vietnam.
Our first day in town we went to check out Ben Thanh market. We needed some more clothes and toiletries and thought this might be a good place to try but it was a lot more hassle than it was worth. We get less and less interested in big clothes markets the more we travel, they totally see us coming and the prices start so high for cheap rubbish that it is impossible to barter them down. For example a deodorant in the market was 150,000 dong and in the local Circle K it was priced up at 35,000! So much for markets being cheaper. Also the stall holders in this market were a bit grabby and that makes the whole experience a pain in the behind. We did manage to do some shopping though and brought ourselves some guidebooks for OZ and NZ. This does mean we have to carry them around for another month or so but it is worth it for the cheap price tag. I also got a new purse, FINALLY I hear Power-Gibbs cry! It was about a tenth of the price of the purses in the market as I brought it from a local shop and even though I loved my old purse it was time for a new one.
We spent another day visiting some less stressful sights, including The Jade Emperor Pagoda and The Reunification Palace. It was there that we met Mark and Rebecca, a couple on the same tour as us. We were all hot and bothered in the sticky heat and after the afternoon tour we decided to grab a few beers and some dinner. We all wanted to do a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels so we all booked on it together for early the next day.
The Cu Chi tunnels are a series of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The system of underground tunnels stretch for 200kms, are spread over several levels and are unbelievably small. It is amazing to think men women and children lived down there for up to 9 years in some cases, only coming up at night to avoid detection. When we arrived at the tunnels we watched a video showing some old footage of the war and people moving around in the tunnels. It was pretty biased and anti USA as the commentator talked about the Viet Cong calling them ‘American Hero Killers’. Still we are in Vietnam so what did we expect!? We walked around the site looking at examples of traps laid by the Vietnamese to catch US troops, which were very gruesome. Then we went to a shooting range where you pay for your bullets and choose your weapon before cracking off a few rounds. We decided to pass on the shooting and let Mark try the AK47 and tell us about it afterwards! The final part of the day was a chance to experience the tunnels for real. The crazy thing was that the tunnels had been widened for the chubby tourists as the authentic tunnels were far too skinny for us to crawl through. Still I’m not sure I believe they were widened as they were still really really tiny. I managed to sort of walk, leaning over at a 45 degree angle and with my knees bent but Andy had to crawl on his hands and knees. I have never thought I was claustrophobic before but when I crawled a metre into that tunnel I was freaking out. My heart was beating proper fast and I felt like I had to get out. But … Andy was in front of me and Mark was behind so I couldn’t freak out, it wasn’t like I had anywhere to go if I did! I put on my biggest brave face ever and made it to the first exit without losing it completely!!! There were 4 exits from the tunnels,the first at 20metres and the last at 100metres. Andy shocked me when said he was going all the way and I had a very tense wait for him to come out. I was very proud of Andy, Mark and Rebecca for getting the whole way through and tunnel. I will never be doing that again … but I can’t think of many reasons I would have for crawling through an underground tunnel in England!?
On the way back from the tunnels we were dropped off at the War Museum for some interesting viewing. There was a great exhibition of photographs taken during the war by the many war photographers in Vietnam. They proved to be an amazing photographic account of the humanity of war. After a few hours there we were only a little bit closer to understanding why this war started and the rights and wrongs on both sides. The lasting message of the museum was the Agent Orange exhibition. Agent Orange was a chemical weapon used by the American army during the war to destroy crops and pollute water in areas of Vietnam. It has had catastrophic effects on the population for generations following the war and been the direct cause of babies born with birth defects and terrible disabilities. It was a reminder that war has a lasting effect on a country and its people ….. even those born many years later.
We enjoyed visiting Saigon but it was time to move on and the next morning we jumped on a bus to Mui Ne with Mark and Rebecca. Mui Ne would be our first experience of a beach resort in Vietnam and we were excited to get in the sea. We had a really nice room in Mui Ne for $10 a night, one of the best rooms ever with huge beds, a fridge and mini bar! It was a great find and kept us comfortable for a few nights. The only small problem was the weather, Mui Ne is well known for its minimal rainfall but no one told the weather man that when we got there. When we arrived it was raining and when we left it was too! There was some dry time in between but we didn’t get to the beach, opting instead for a trip to the beautiful sand dunes a jeep drive away.
Our sand dune day trip started with a stop at a local fishing village … it was pretty fishy as fishing villages go and we didn’t stop there long. After that we visited the white and red sand dunes. The white ones were the most impressive and made for some great photos. We decided to try the walk up and let Rebecca and Mark try the quad bikes. The walk wasn’t too bad but the quads looked pretty cool too. We hired some sleds (or bits of plastic) and attempted to slide down. One problem, we didn’t know what we were doing, so we didn’t get too far! The red sand dunes were where we met two cute little girls who showed us how to sled properly loading the board up with sand pulling us big lumps down the hill to get us off to a flying start. They were very sweet but I managed to get some blank looks from them when I tried my Vietnamese on them …. ‘Rat Hung Hang Duh Gap Bang!’ …. They looked very confused … I tried again and finally they said ‘oh! Nice to meet you!’ I was determined not to give up and use my one and only Vietnamese sentence.
On our last day we had a yummy last breakfast with Mark and Rebecca we said our goodbyes. It was really fun travelling with them and we hope they have a fantastic time when Marks Mum and Dad come to visit. We have made plans to meet again in Thailand in a month or so, get the sofa bed ready guys!
From one rainy beach to another our next stop was Nha Trang. It was a larger city and the beach was only 5 minutes walk from our hotel. The rain seemed to be heavier here (If that was possible!) and one afternoon as we walked around it came down particularly hard and some of the back streets were flooded in minutes. Motorbikes were breaking down in the high water and we had trouble walking along the pavement as we couldn’t see where we were stepping.
We did have some time on the beach though opting for breakfast on the beach instead of lunch as the rain normally came in the afternoon. We picked up some rolls, cheese triangles, tomatoes and bananas and were at the beach by 9am. The sea was gorgeous and we swam, sunbathed and read books until the afternoon when we had to call it a day to avoid getting too burnt.
Nha Trang was particularly memorable as it was the place we met up with Patsy and Eddie, our best friend’s auntie and uncle. It was great to see two familiar faces (even if Eddies was a bit red that day! ;)) and to share some travel tales and a few Saigon beers with them. They are travelling up to Hanoi the same as us, just with a different time table so we hope to catch up with them again before we leave Vietnam.
We explored Nha Trang visiting a cathedral and a temple before it was time to board the night bus and spend another night on the road. All the H’s are next …. Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi! Confusing!
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