Kon Tum - pretty boring, and didnt really do anything the day after my easy rider trip. in the morning i checked out and got to the bus station for 6 30 in the morning, and arrived just as the bus was about to leave for Da Nang and then to Hoi An. because i got there late they decided to charge me an extra bit of money so instead of being about 80,000 Dong it was more like 200,000 dong, ridiculous! i headed right to the very back of the full bus and amazingly they stopped along the way several times to pack more and more people in. was very hot and very cramped, possibly the 2nd worst journey so far. but fortunately there was also possibly the most beautiful scenery to keep me occupied with a light drizzle of rain which made all the colours much more vibrant and everything more beautiful.
arriving in da nang all of us going to hoi an, not very many of us, were rushed to a local bus which broke down after about 5 minutes. and got a new bus to the very small, quaint tourist trap, where every other shop was a taylors attracting many tourists (especially girls) to get some new clothes and shoes specially fitted. i bumped into some english guys from sheffield and we hit the old street food pretty hard. the best food is always on the street here. restaurants are just no way near as good.
the next day arrived with more rain, and in the morning i had a wonder about the market and drank a crazy amount of the incredible vietnamese coffee, whilst reading a bit of Shantaram (incredible book!!!) before bumping into the swiss guy from Da lat again. after thinking what to do, over some more street food, we headed out to the beach just as the sun broke through the clouds. was a bit further than we thought and took quite a long time to finally get there. was a really really nice beach. but was quite cold and windy. we stayed for a bit and headed back to our hotels.
after dinner a young local girl came to sit down beside us, she said she was 15 but she looked about 8 and started talking to us. asking for foreign coins. we were joking around with her and asking why she wanted presents and then she started to tell us how some of her friends have very old western friends who give them very expensive presents to come and walk with them back to their hotel. up until then i hadnt realised how much of a problem child prostitution is in vietnam, apparently quite a big thing in Nha Trang, but its just so awful!
we later found a bar where all the travellers hang out and its so weird to see all these westerners in fancy dresses and suits, that they had obviously just bought, in a fairly small dirty town and in a bar that is very erm... common i guess.
my last day in hoi an was much the same as the previous ones, having a venture around the small market and sitting and drinking some more coffee. until the evening once i had met some guys and managed to persuade them into doing a cooking course, which was great. learnt how to make all these different meals and got to eat loads of food too, and drink the very cheep bia hoi. was good fun.
Next stop on my open bus trip was Hue and after checking in and getting some food i headed around the old citadel. walking around i bumped into another traveller and said hello and got some coffee with this guy. at the cafe some local students start talking to us in small pieces of english which was accompanied with lots and lots of sign language. and eventually they invited us both to their house to play a bit of guitar and talk a bit more. after about 10 minutes and seeing them playing some incredible music we agreed to come back later for a bit of a jam.
we arrived very late and started playing some music. but these vietnamese guys, who study music at uni couldnt improvise anything. they could only play things they had already learnt, which was mostly flamenco music of all things! the jam started off ok, but gradually got more and more boring until the end where it just got weird and they were trying to sell us stuff and spoke in rapid vietnamese and bursting out in fits of laughter. so we quickly got out and walked back home. after splitting up and going our seperate ways, after walking about 10 meters, some local drunk and stoned guy starts to run at me with his arm stretched out as if to punch or stab me or something. and then just before hitting me he stopped and packed up laughing. my heart was beating so fast and the adrenaline started pumping and i just thought to myself, s***! what if he had a knife and actually wanted to mug me! guess i was pretty lucky.
the next day in hue again i did nothing other than walk about a bit. and again i bumped into my swiss friend from hoi an and da lat, Markus. and again we hit some street food and drank coffee and talked about random things. then he left at around 5 to get the bus to Hanoi which he thought would be a bit more interesting. and i met up with the german again, who had just been on the tour of the DMZ which apparently was awful and so instead of going i thought i wouldnt bother and get the night bus the next day.
i climbed onto a pretty horrible bus and was pleased to see some other travellers there along with some locals. but in about 5 minutes the bus stopped and all the travellers got off and i, again was the only white person. one guy from vinh city who could speak a little bit of english started talking to me and was asking me lots of questions, and in the end it turns out that he is the nephew of Ho Chi Minh, pretty crazy. was just like wow for about 5 minutes. the bus was cramped, hot and a bit smelly and we stopped off for the 2nd time at about 1 for like an hour. being very tired my new friend decided it would be a fantastic idea to get me some red bull to drink with him. i really wanted to sleep. but when i tried to refuse it 'no, please. please.' he said whilst reaching out to open the can for me. and so i was pretty much forced to drink this really strong red bull. but fortunately wasnt enough to stop me from going to sleep. we carried on talking for a while and he invited me to stay with him and his family for a few days and to go to the celebrations on saturday with him. i was quite keen and took down his address and phone numbers. and sent him an email.
that morning i went to search for the german guy because we said wed meet up and share a room. but after searching for about an hour for him and for a restaurant i finally decided to go to the next place i saw for some breakfast, which was a bit expensive, but i got to use the internet and found out that backpackers guest house is where its at. so i got there, had the first shave in a couple of weeks (trying to make myself look respectable for the chinese embassy) and headed on out to the embassy. arrived there around 1 and was hanging around, found out that you cant apply for a visa after 11 after a while, and was like dam, now i cant make it down to vinh for these celebrations. but once again i met my swiss friend, markus, and we waited for a while and then we split our seperate ways agreeing to meet up the next morning, same place.
on the walk home i found a supermarket and found some frosties!!! incredible! never has cereal ever tasted so good! even without milk! my hanoi highlight! but thinking that theyd be enough for 3 breakfasts they lasted for only 1.
the next morning, 9 30, chinese embassy, thought i had plenty of time, so i grabbed an application form, filled it out in the line and waited, with markus and a ukranian, vlad with his chinese wife, tilly, and some irish guys who looked about 14. and we waited. we moved up the line very slowly, waiting. and eventually, just before we managed to get to the front. 11 oclock. gates close. doors locked. and its friday! we stuck around for a while, thinking that they might see westerners as a good opportunity to get some extra money or something. 1 vietnamese guy had had enough, he was hanging around there for a while and like all of us, very worked up about it. but possibly a bit too wound up and started pushing the security guard and demanding to speak with the embassador. we waited. and he appeared. but there was nothing we could do, he took a look at one of our passports and told us to come back on monday. so to comiserate we went to a cafe around the corner and had a coffee, before moving onto the beer.
vlad and his wife turned out to have a fairly big business together and make fake copies of everything and anything, from clothes, to iphones, to motorbikes, cars and yachts. but that seemed to be like all they talk about. money. and politics, as you could probably guess, very anti american, and pro china and russia. so we talked for a while and then left to do our own thing for a while after a few drinks.
we met up again that evening and hit a jazz bar, but it was completely dead, and very expensive so we went somewhere else to kill time before the music started. we ended up in a very quiet road with lots of small restaurants dotted around near the lake. i ordered a BLT which was a bit odd, was a chunk of proocessed ham and a bit of lettuce and a tiny bit of tomato and markus had a load of lettuce leaves and a tomato. he asked where the tuna was in his tuna salad, so the waitress took his chopsticks and lifted the top of the tomato to reveal a load of tuna. very random. hadnt seen that before. and we laughed and again vlad talked about business and politics and then introduced the russian mafia to us and his connections with them. then informed us that he had been asked by the ukranian government to run guns to a few countries or something and told me he could sell me some guns if i wanted, i laughed at it, and he said 'why you laughing? whats so funny?' still not sure if he was joking or not. after a while we hit the jazz bar again and watched some amazing guys play some crazy jazz, like three times the speed its usually played!
with only the weekend left to kill i figured id go see halong bay. another 3 hour trip down to the city. and then we got on the boat and had a spot of lunch and played a bit of cards and then we entered the main part of the bay. incredible! floating passed these hundreds of awesome mountains coming out of the sea, really was something out of jurassic park or something. after a short while we stopped off at a small island and the biggest cave theyve found in halong bay so far, there must be hundreds of them!
the story of how it was apparently discovered goes something like this. 10 years ago some guys were out on their boat and found this really beautiful island where they decided to chill out on the beach for a short while. whilst they were maxing and relaxing, making the most of the incredible scenery a monkey comes along and steels one of their hats. they chase after the monkey and see it standing on some low branches next to the wall of the mountain, as they approached the scared monkey it jumped in between the rocks and was completely hidden. wondering where the monkey had gone the two guys move a couple of rocks and open the door into the jaws of a stalagmite and stalagtite ridden cave with some incredible rock formations.
after the cave we carried on around the bay on the boat, when we thought the start of the bay was amazing, we were absolutely stunned by the shear beauty of the if when we really got in the middle of it. we carried on around the baoy and came to a relatively large island. really beautiful. but these guys from america and myself were thinking we should really get off the boat and stay on the island instead of spending the night on the boat. we figured we werent going to do anything on the boat and at least there are a few pubs and clubs on the island. so after a while they managed to persuade me to come. we had missed the first bus to the hotel and found a south american couple waiting around by the bus. we asked them why they werent on the bus. they said 'we dont know man, they just wont let us on', so we started thinking we cant get on this bus if they cant. just didnt seem right. so we tried to get the bus drivers to take them if they paid a bit of extra money. but they werent having any of it. we were very confused and we asked the motorbike taxis, what if they pay you guys $10 each (about 160,000 Dong). 'no no' they replied '120,000 Dong!' they must have been thinking it was more. but these guys reluctantly agreed and took the bikes.we later found out that the bus had tried to charge them an extra $5, which really angered the argentinian man who started shouting and swearing at them, and eventually apparently ended up throwing a few punches!
Making this desicion to go on the island was one of the smarter desicions ive made. it was incredible! everywhere were just really thin mountains, coming up from nowhere. it was definately one of the most beautiful places ive ever seen. was incredible! we went for a short walk before lunch near the beach and part of the way to the main town and in the fading sun it was so picturesque. at the dinner table we then met one of the guys we'd been talking to on the boat. The Judge what we named him, an italian egyption, very nice, down to earth guy. and we all decided to go down to one of the local discoteques, which turned out to be pretty big and really good fun. not being the keenest dancer in the world i thought f*** it, after a couple of days, im never going to see these guys again, so i reluctantly dragged myself up onto the dancefloor and have a little boogy. all the local people loved it and really encouraged us, forming a circle with us and one of us would go in and be joined by a local, really good fun. i didnt have the courage to go in myself, but when the judge went in, being a larger, older guy than the rest of us, and calling some young girls to join them, they ran away and sat back down, which was a bit mean and made the rest of us feel a bit sorry for him. but on the whole it was a good night, even if there was one guy who thought he was the man there, possibly some kind of gangster, dressed all in black and wearing sun glasses and looked a lot like Bruce Lee. was pretty funny though.
we made our way back to the mainland in the morning after the amazing drive from the town to the harbour through some of the national park, and along the winding mountain passes. we had lunch and waited for the bus back to hanoi.
today there was no way i wasnt going to get inside the embassy and got down there an hour before it opened and was first in line.i was swiftly joined by vlad and tilly and then by markus, and the whole chinese embassy crew had reformed, and there was no way anyone was going to push in front of us. the gates opened and i led the way to the doors, the guard checked my passport and papers and let me through. when i walked in i was shocked to see that all these guys from the travel agents, with plastic carrier bags with literally hundreds of passports were in front of me. fortunately another position opened and i was seen to fairly quickly. no questions were asked. but instead of issuing me a 2month visa, they only issued me with one, which i pick up tomorrow, and so i need to decide, should i go to laos for a couple of weeks? or should i go to china and try to extend my visa in china? but with tibet likely to be closed due to all this crazy riots and violence, i think i may opt for the laos option, ive heard great things of the small country too.
anyway much the same happened as the first time the crew met, we went to the same cafe, drank some coffee, but this time we went to vlad and tillys hotel and got some food and beer, which they both kindly, once again obligingly paid for. and again, we talked about politics and business among other things, but i didnt have any plans so it was ok. and then we all met up again for some food, and again they covered the drinks before the meal, very nice guys.
anyway thats the update on the story so far. and this is possibly the last post from vietnam.