Greetings from Vietnam!
We arrived a bare week ago into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and have had lots of exciting times. This city is so cool!
Our flight from Bangkok was extremely civilised and we waited patiently to be scrutinised and allowed out of the terminal. Having battled through the rip-off taxi services and found a metered taxi we set off into the mad roads and proceeded to quiz our driver for a quick language lesson for the basics!
On arrival at the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao we were fortunate to meet a lovely lady touting a huge clean room in the charming backstreets for $6 or 90,000 Vietnamese Dong or 3 Pounds Sterling (currency is a flexible concept here). All houses in Vietnam appear incredibly narrow but astonishingly deep - something to do with being taxed on the frontage of your property or something bizarre. Our house is so narrow that to get to our room on the first floor we are pratically having to climb a vertical slope!! The family are just so sweet and the father used to work in the main market as a greengrocer. There have been times when he has insisted that we eat great quantities of watermelon whilst cobbling together a conversation thanks to his son who speaks a great deal of English. Great fun!
Since being here we have explored the city and its great sights like the Reunification Palace and the Fine Art Museum - but by far the highlight was the War Remnants Museum. Incredibly hard hitting, it pulls no punches in documenting the horrors of warfare against the French and later the Americans. Although it sometimes feels a little too strident at times, it certainly gave us both a few things to think about afterwards.
We've made pigs of ourselves in the French restaurants and slurped an awful lot of wine as both are here in abundance. So different to Thailand where wine was overpriced and of poor quality. We have yet to fully experience the Vietnamese cuisine but I can heartily recommend the fresh spring rolls which are delicious.
To work off the calories we have been quite active around town (taking care of the roads though! The driving here is CHAOTIC. THank heavens there are not so many cars on the road - if you walk slowly and don't stop then the millions of motorbikes will simply swerve around you) and have been on a few trips.
Our first trip was to the Cu Chi tunnels about 2 hours drive northwest. The tunnels were constructed by the Viet Minh in the 1950's to escape the French and later enlarged by the Viet Cong to a massive network stretching 200 km - right up to and around Saigon. Whole areas above ground were bombed and napalmed and gassed and subject to awful chemicals like agent orange, meaning that it is only recently that even the poorest quality rice and some rubber plantations can grow there. Rather foolishly I volunteered to lead the group through a 100m section of the suffocating blackness of a tiny tunnel. Rather disconcertingly there were other tunnels leading off in random directions so can count ourselves lucky that I fumbled out of it and didn't crawl deeper into the maze! Most bizarre of all was the opportunity to pay $1.60 per round to fire a real AK47, M1, M16 or Browning revolver. As if this place hadn't seen enough weaponry being fired... The absurdity was lost on two young American girls who took advantage of the "buy 4 get 5th free" promotion on the bullets. This is Asia. They do things differently here.
We returned from a two day trip to the Mekong Delta towns in the south west yesterday which was lovely and the people we met were delightful and got a few email addresses to meet up with people when we are in Oz later in the trip. We were vaguely aware of the typhoon called Durian that was due to hit Vietnam but it was only when we did some research last night, when planning our next step, that we learned that it had hit the towns just 30 miles east of where we had been, killing 55 people and injuring many hundreds more. We had even visited the place it hit only the day before. We had experienced a heavy rainfall that lunchtime - almost like the monsoon rains we saw in Ko Chang - but had no idea it was the typhoon.
We are due to leave for Nha Trang tomorrow by train, along the coast. We shall be sad to leave I think. There is a great buzz about the place and would recommend anyone to breeze on up to the 9th floor of the 5* Caravelle Hotel and sip a glass of Sauvignon Blanc whilst watching the night unfold below.
As I type Cheryl is uploading some of the pictures so do check those out too!
Love to all