Happy St Patricks Day from Vietnam
Happy St Patricks Day to one and all. Unfortunately we will not be celebrating St Patricks day in the traditional way - pints in Maddens followed by a party at the Keenans and the inevitable comatose state. Rather, we will be spending the day in the Vietnamese city of Ninh Binh waiting for our 9.00pm bus. So what have we been up to over the last couple of weeks?
We topped off our month in Thailand with a fantastic 10 days in Chiang Mai. After our Thai Cookery course Seonaid began her Thai Reflexology while I started Muy Thai Training at Lanna Gym.
Seonaids course lasted 4 days and she had a really good time, and although this was just an introduction to Reflexology she learned alot. The experience compounded her desire to continue to train and perhaps work in the area of Massage when we get home. My training was tough but very enjoyable. Many of the westerners at the gym are professional fighters who pay for their stay in Thailand through the money they make from fighting. After talking to Josh from Cork, who has spent around 6 months in Chiang Mai and fights out of Lanna I had initially thought this was a bit of a pointless existance, but as Seonaid pointed out to me Josh enjoys training, fighting and living in Thailand and he gets paid to do so. Cant have any complaints about that!
Chiang Mai is a nice place to settle, not nearly as hectic as Bangkok but still with plenty to keep the interest. Training started each day with a run at 6.30 am. Then some skipping, shadow boxing and pad work until 9.30. We returned for another 3 hours from 4.30 to 7.30 pm. I was a little nervous on the 1st morning but was very warmly welcomed by Andy, who runs the gym. He spent a good hour going through basic technique with me and another beginner. Then it was into the ring for a very enjoyable few rounds on the pads. There was a terrific atmosphere in the gym and everyone was very friendly. My second day started well, but a horrific injury caused by training in bare feet on the concrete would hinder my training for the rest of the week. Ok, just to clarify, I got a little girlie blister on my foot. Nothing major but you've got to watch out here for flesh eating viruses and suchlike.
On the Friday night Seonaid and I went to the stadium to watch the Muy Thai fights. It was great to arrive with the other guys from the gym and be made to feel part of the evenings action. There were 3 guys from Lanna fighting, 2 Thai Kids and a fantastic fighter from Glasgow called Sean. The kids were amazing. They must have been about 12 to 14 years old but they were tough as anything and terrific fighters. They won and Sean knocked out his Thai oponent to make it a clean sweep for Lanna. Seonaid and I had a great evening.
I met a couple of people who took their months holiday from work to come to Chiang Mai and train at Lanna and I can understand how this would be an appealing vacation. They would go home in great shape, meet some terrific people and Chiang Mai is a great springboard to other places in Thailand.
We flew to Vietnam on 8th March and landed in Hannoi very excited about this stage of our journey. Vietnam, we felt, would be a highlight of the whole trip. We were initially a little disappointed.
Hannoi is loud and intimidating and the traffic is agressive and relentless, but no more than we experienced in La Paz (Bolivia). The main difference is the people. We had expectled the Vietnamese people to have a it of warmth but so far the majority of people we have met have been at best indifferent or intollerant towards us, at worst agressive and willing to lie and cheat to get as much money as possible from us. From the airport to our hotel I had a swiss army knife stolen from my bag, and we got ripped off by a taxi with a dodgy metre. We were going to have to be very careful in Vietnam.
As we travelled South to Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island the rip-off culture continued as a bus driver tried to charge us double the agreed fare and then left us on the side of the motorway where his pals were there to take us the 5 km to Halong by motorbike (for a fee of course). We decided to walk rather than pay - "Id rather crawl than pay" I yelled back as we walked off the motorway sliproad. It was a lie. I would rather pay than crawl.
It was in Halong City that we discovered that there seem to be no Tampons here in Vietnam. I say "we", it was actually Seonaid who made the discovery after visiting numerous shops and chemists, sample tampon in hand where she was a source of great amusement and in the end offered a range of products including cotton buds.
We spent a pleasnt couple of days on Cat Ba Island where we met a great couple from Lithuania and a guy from Singapore. We had great craic with them before continuing our journey South to Ninh Binh. Yesterday we took a pleasnt boat ride through the paddy fields at Tam Coc. We were transported in a small rowing boat by a local woman through 3 enchanting grottos. When we reached the 3rd we were approached by another boat selling sweets, fruits and drinks. We refused, and the sales woman then suggested we buy a drink for our driver. As we turned to look at our driver she put on an act of being flustered, wiping her brow, breathing heavily and suchlike. I asked her if she would like a drink. She nodded and Seonaid offered her some of the water we had brought with us. She refused. This had all been described to us exactly as it was played out in our guidebook. Aparently she would have sold the drink back to the woman for half price.
When we returned to Ninh Binh we passed a little boy in the street "Hello" he said entheusiastically. "Hello" we replied in unison. "Money!" he responded as he walked off. And unfortunately that summed it all up. Thats all we really are out here. Money! Vietnam is a beautiful country but getting anywhere or doing anything is like trying to run through treacle. Rather than facilitate our experience in the country the locals have hindered it. We are having to watch ourselves like nowhere else for fear of being ripped off. We head South to Hue this evening where we hope to see some of the Viet Cong tunnels from the American War. I hope things improve.