after 14 days of vietnam... and no update... this is bound to be a long one.
my first impressions of vietnam? motorbikes and surprised as to how developed it is.
after 30 years of war, vietnam appears to be doing really well. i was surprised to see shops like mango, a kfc and decent coffee shops. even some of the houses here are actually quite pretty looking, tall skinny colourful houses. we'd pass houses made from the likes of wood, bamboo and iron plates... and then in the middle of it all would be a few of these tall houses. quite bizzare how it goes from one extreme to the other. it turns out that during the war, some vietnamese seeked refuge in the states and have now made themselves a pretty good life over there. so they send money to their families that are still in vietnam.
i knew vietnam was known for it's motorbikes, but i had no idea just how much. saigon has a population of 6.5 million, 5 million of which have motorbikes. crossing the road is an experience. you've just got to go or you'll be standing there all day. even when it's a red light they are still going. they dominate the roads, we rarely see a car as no-one can afford them. motorbikes here go for $300 US dollars and that's why there are so many. i've seen 4 people on the one bike, toddlers standing at the front as their mum drives, and one guy driving past with a 5ft fridge tied to the back.
the humidity is terrible. it's soooooo hot and we're sweating buckets. our first week we had rain on and off but it's getting brighter and drier as we move up north.
the people here have been amazingly friendly. and from what i've seen so far the scenery has been stunning. the food is superb, and the prices are crazy! we eat out and our bills are coming to about 300,000 dong, which is about £10. we could do it a lot cheaper as well. last night, we went for some western food, bruchetta, pasta, pizza, 7up, orangina, coffee, tea, water and 3 glasses of wine... all for about £8.
it's definitely been my favourite place so far.
we arrived in ho chi minh (saigon) and spent a couple of nights there. both of us are interested in the vietnam war so we booked a tour to go and see the cu chi tunnels. my understanding of the war so far is... the north and south used to be seperate countries, north wanted control of the south, they fought, north was for communist rule, the south for capitalist. then the americans got involved as they didn't want vietnam as a communist country. they were on the south's side and fighting with the north. 30 years of war that finally ended in 1975. the north won and liberated the south.
what surprised me, was the amount of countries involved in this war. we only ever hear about the americans involvement but australia, china, philipines, south korea, north korea, thailand and new zealand were also involved. although the biggest impact was with the americans.
the cu chi tunnels is a 200km network of underground tunnels where cu chi guerillas hid. they lived in the south but were against capatilist rule and therefore fought with the south and the americans. i can't remember the details but basically if the americans had captured the guerillas the outcome of the war could have been a lot different.
the tunnels were tiny. one of the entrances was so small that paul and i had no chance of fitting in it. they delibirately made them so small so the americans couldn't fit in it.
there was a section for tourists to crawl through, slightly bigger so we crawled through it for about 10 minutes getting very clostraphobic.
we also got a shot of a gun. i had an ak47, 10 bullets, shooting a target. i didn't like it. it felt a bit weird learning all about the war and then getting a shot of a weapon that killed thousands of people.
from the cu chi tunnels we were driven to the war remnants museum, the reunification palace and a post office. i have no idea why the post office was part of the tour. something to do with the collection of stamps ?! the reunificaton palace was home to the president before he moved to the states after the war. it was boring. i had no interest at all about how the president lived. the palace was bombed during the war and there were 2 red circles on the helicopter pad to show where the bombs had landed.
the war renmants museum was okay. learned a bit more, saw photos and the cells where they kept troops from the north in.
from ho chi minh we headed further south of vietnam for a 2 night tour of the mekong. the mekong river runs through most countries of south-east asia and the say the heart of it is where we were... where the river starts.
we spent 3 days visiting villages, seeing the floating houses, the floating market and learning all about local life in the mekong.
the floating market was the biggest one in vietnam... i'd hate to see the others as it was pretty disappointing. it was basically a bunch of boats selling veg, meat and drinks. it lasted about 15 minutes and then we continued down the river.
we were on a few boats, one with just me, paul and a local rowing the boat. the boat trips were definitely the highlight... just cruising down the river and watching people go about their daily life. lots of kids shouting and waving at us... they're so adorable!
paul tipped the girl that was rowing our boat 200,000 dong which is about £6 pounds. she was so happy... we left the boat and i saw her dance up to her family, yapping away with excitement.
we then headed to mui ne. the beach resort of the south. we spent 3 nights here doing absolutely nothing. the weather was roasting hot during the day, and we had 2 nights of thunder and lightning. it was so cool to watch. our accommodation had it's own wee private beach so we sat on the deckchairs one night watching the sky lit up.
next was dalat for 2 nights. dalat is away from the coast and known for it's mountains and lakes. we wanted to see some of the countryside so we picked dalat. i'm glad we went as we climbed the highest mountain in southern vietnam. but apart from that there isn't much to see and do.
we had a guide called paul who took us up lang bien mountain. it took us 5 hours to climb it and it was really tough. if not for the inca trail, i'd be saying it's the toughest climb i have ever done. it wasn't a long climb, it was just because it was so steep... and so slippery because of the wet season. we fell on our arses a few times... completely bogging and soaking wet with sweat.
the visibility at the top was poor. too cloudy but every now and then the clouds would break and we'd see a bit.
view near the top of lang bien mountain
our guide paul then took us to his house to meet his family. all of them were sitting on a blanket on the floor eating food, one dish looking like intestines from some sort of animal. they gave us some rice wine, telling us it's impolite to refuse. we were praying that they weren't going to serve us food !
thankfully they didn't. paul then took us to a hut where they make the rice wine. he tasted one that wasn't quite ready, just to make sure it wasn't poisinous and then offered us a sip. when he removed the seal the brim of the jar was swarming with flies... when we took a sip from the straws (that have never been washed) the rice was crawling with flies. i took the tiniest sip ever... nice of him to offer but it was yuk lol.
he mentioned how he loves the beatles so paul took out his ipod and played a beatles song for him. it was so funny. he was walking down the mountain screaming the words. he obviously hadn't heard songs from an ipod before as he was so amazed as to how clear it was. he had no idea that he was shouting too when he was talking to us and i was trying hard not to laugh in his face. the whole village could have heard him.
from dalat we caught the bus to nha trang. nothing for us here. we only came here to catch the train the following day to hue. an 11 hour train journey. we purchased the superior soft sleeper ticket. i wasn't expecting much. we were pissing ourselves laughing when we saw it. we took a walk to the other end of the carriage to see what was on offer for food... we then hurried back to our compartment realising that our superiour soft sleeper aint that bad really. basic we can live with... but to see the cleaner go in and out of the compartments, taking sheets off the bed, folding them and leaving them for the next person is pretty disgusting. who knows when the sheets and pillows were last washed.
the 11 hours flew in. we saw some great views... and it also gave us time to sort out our photos on the laptop and write blogs etc. it's becoming a chore this whole blog... but i'll be glad of it in years to come.
in the 14 days we've also managed to squeeze in a few massages. our first one was in ho chi minh by trained blind masseurs. the place was kind of hidden and we must've walked past it about 5 times. it looked a bit like a hospital ward but completely empty. we paid this guy at the desk and out came these blind folk wandering about with their arms out trying to find us. it was bizarre. the girl i had looked about 17. she grabbed my arm and led me to the room and paul was taken to his. it was one of the best massages i've had. it was sometimes a bit sore when she was working on the knots... and i wasn't too keen on my toes and fingers getting cracked. it was the cheapest massage i've had too. 1 hour massage for just over £1.
we are now in hue, arrived 2 nights ago and are leaving tomorrow for hanoi. will update you from hue onwards soon hopefully...