Yes you all know we are actually in New Zealand...but havn't written blog for here yet!...here is Vietnam story for now...more soon! Keep posting messages...reading even if I'm not writing.
Vietnam 17th - 30th January
OK here goes for a whirlwind blog of Vietnam....very very overdue!...and now subject to selective memory ....mostly de-selecting Bob's runs, hotel bound and kidney problem!
I think I told you about my moterbike trip up Sam mountain from Chau Doc to watch the sunset...that was our introduction to Vietnam. Immediatly the feel of a more populated, more developed country than Cambodia...but still with a 'third world feel'. Chau Doc was a Kirkcaldy sized town ..on the river...where they were slowly clearing the slum dwellings, and their inhabitants...to gooodness knows where to 'yuppify Vietnam style' the riverside. Had a great conversation with the ferry captain who enjoyed practicing his English and poigniantly showing us a wound he received at 9 years old when an American bomb flattened his house, kiilling relatives. He bore no grudge and enjoyed having an American family to stay with him last year...' wars are all political...nothing to do with normal people'.
More ' war' thoughts when we visited the tunnels of Cu-Chi.....here's where the Vietcong had the upperhand and outwitted the yanks. These tunnels were actually constructed during the earlier Communist invasion from the North..so just re-used and extended...miles and miles of underground access, hospitals, kitchens, schools, workshops, armaments depots etc.....facinating..and the photo is of Leida, from our tour group...who was pretty small going into one of the entrances. For tourists they had enlarged a section of the tunnels...still really tight for us...to give the experience.
Siagon, for us didn't have much going for it ( sorry all Siagon fans).....now actually called Ho Chi Min City, but still referred to locally as Siagon. Pretty bustling, modern city which seems to have grown without any planning thought...maybe we weren't there long enough to grow to love it. City of motorbikes...country of motorbikes actually....with tremendous loads being carried on above or behind...including whole family's ...driver has a helmet but not anyone else...saw lots of kids on the bikes...wee babies and toddlers hanging on. We did have an absolutely wonderful coffee in 'Highlands cafe'...and also found out that in Novevember Vietnam overtook Brazil as the largest coffee producing nation in the world!...and Bob bought an orange silk sleeping bag liner, what a nancy boy, for $7. Blog photo also of copy artists at work...ready to copy a Vetriano. Vietnamese are the master copiers...so you can buy anything here for not much money...but we didn't buy any fake stuff.!!..our Trading Standard boys ( hope your reading this Martin and Fraser) wouldn't like that.
We left Siagon on The Reunification Express sleeper...great name eh?....with a bit of trepidation remembering the India train experience....However more than pleasantly surprised...spotless 4 dorm carriages, with crisp clean sheets and blanket, TV, and flowers on the table, clean loos and washing area..also with flower vase!...what a treat.
Arrived early am in Nha Trang, shuttle bussed to hotel, then off exploring. We took a boat trip out to an island to do some snorkling...most of our group came along....but most folks didn't want to snorkle for two hours...so they left Bob and I and went for a wee jolly to another bay to jump off the side of the boat shouting 'ya hoo' and all sorts of jollifications which we were happy to skip. They couldn't believe we were still in the water when they returned to pick us up. The snorkling was OK...not great visability...most of the coral was dead..not sure why...probably polution. ..but we did see some great fishes..a few different green and yellow spotted box fish ( for the fishy fraternatiy)...and some pics on the blog. But now have to confess..we did see these fishes but the pics. were actually taken in a small aquarium/conservation/museum which we visited the next day!...the photo of the squid ...is real but its a photo of a photo taken 50 years ago!!...but you must admit it is amazing!
Nha Trang is a very clean modern 'arty' town..not what one thinks of when thinking of Vietnam. The country is generally very rural...and agricultural...but this trip was quite city focussed, with bus travel through the countryside. Nice buildings and sculptures in gardens along a paved esplanade of a beautiful white sandy beach...with grotty poluted water from local industry and oil refinery.
Had a very 'Western' nice meal in this town...fancy place ...went there on recomendation of Australians in our group who were on the look-out for 'buckets'....of alcohol!...an Ausatralian speciality Mohito cocktail or whatever buckets!...didn't find it here but did have just that in next place we stopped ..Hoi An...photo also on the blog.
We liked the local Vietnamese food...when it wasn't dog or rice field rat!...thats what the photo in the blog is of ...rice field rat mind you ..not your common sewer rat...different class of feeding! .......generally noodles or fried rice with veg, fish...a speciality were crispy crab wontons...like tortilla chips with bits of crab meat...delish with a local beer....beer is always good the world over! In Nha trang ate lobster from a street vendor...steamed on a charcoal burner carried around on a pole...served on the side of the beach from a woman who when not harassing passers by to buy a lobster played a kind of beach bingo using stones sand or bottle tops!.....and I ordered noodles and a beer from the resturant to go with the lobster! ( Bob had water!!!!...his fried rat was still trying to get out!!) Amazing place!
Hoi An was really great...a small town with a thousand tailoring shops!...We did the tailor thing ..although thought we wouldn't ..'can't carry stuff round the world'....but couldn't resist!...my wool jacket....a spur of the moment purchase...cost $28. Here they will make you anything in 3 to 4 hours...look at a Gucci or Armani catalogue or bring in a dress or pair of shoes that you like and they'll make you another identical. Then as easy as you like the Post Office lady came to the shop, parcelled up all our stuff in a box and sent it home for £30. That included some hand made silk laterns which we watched an artist make in the town too. ..Amazing service. Had a lovely cycle ride around the countryside here ......very neat 'allotments' and rice fields, passing pigs and cockerels and waterbufalo wallowing in the rivers. The town is on a nice beach too. I could have spent a few more days here quite hapily....exploring more once the 'can't walk passed this talor shop without looking in' urge had passed.
Vietnamese people we met were all friendly and all our accomodation, including our three nights on the Reunification Express were all lovely...we were well impressed with the GAP tour and its accomodation choices...very high standard. Lots of Vietnamese people wear masks...not sure if they are protecting themselves from the polution or protecting others from their germs...but common to see people going about their business with masks on.
Hue, pronounced 'Whey' was where Bob's kidney stones kicked in!...we did manage a cyclo rickshaw tour together to the Imperial Citadel before virtually carrying him on to the train to Hanoi. He was in agony but we thought it best to get to Hanoi where decent medical facilities would be available....he passed a stone on the train! We arrived in Hanoi at 5.00 am and the bus dropped us at the hotel...the rest of the group went on to spend the night in Halong Bay and we went immediatly to the 24hr SOS medical services. Bob had residual pain in his back and front but not the seering agony as before. Best to see the doctor who whould be on duty at 8...so we went for breakfast then back. 3 hours and several scans and discussions later they reconed he had indeed passed a stone and there didn't seem to be any more in the ureter, bit one .4.5mm in the kidney ( so others were hiding at this point!!) ..thought that passing 4.5mm was probably not a big problem!..and it may not move anyway but suggested as we were on a big trip that Bob see a specialist ...not here but Bangkok or Singapore was recommended by the French Doctor whom we saw.
A bit relieved at this news and out of agony we made plans for our own overnight trip to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is one of these places that we've seen photos of over the years and thought 'we'd love to see that'...we definately saw Halong Bay as the highlight of our Vietnam trip and didn't want to miss it. So we were very lucky to be able to to do the trip. It was fantastic. We sailed - motored- around Halong Bay in a Junk, ( thats a type of boat ..not a description of the state of the vessel!) staying overnight in a lovely wee cutesy cabin for two...looking out over the water from our beds....with my comfortable 'Alison pillow' with me of course....great food provided on board. With clandestine vendors rowing up in their small boats selling beer and snacks...cheaper than on board. We stopped at a lovely wee isolated beach and had a swim. The trip included a visit to a large interesting cave...which had lots of steps up to. and our Japanese travel companions...aged 85 and 89 breezed up...as I felt my knees at each step!........I must eat more Sushi!!!...Also met a lovely Austalian couple who were staying in the same hotel in Hanoi as us. Then had a short kayaking trip around some of the limestone karst islands. Halong Bay really was the Vietnam highlight...sleeping and travelling on the boat was just superb.
Back at the hotel in Hanoi was the GAP trip last night for the Vietnam section...so we'd been with some of the group for 22 days..Cambodia and Vietnam, and others for 12..so was looking forward to last meal together..but had to say our goodbyes in the lobby as our timing was not quite right and Bob was really knackered from his trip, and experiencing a bit of pain. We enjoyed meeting all the folks from all over the world and Haing our Cambodian guide and was very grateful for everyones help and concern when Bob was ill. Thanks for good wishes and follow up messages via our blog/email too.
We also loved Hanoi. Completely manic city..especially as Chineese New Year with all its gold and red glitsy tac was full-on...at some of the streets our mouths were wide open agape, unbelieving the torrent of sound and colour....complete sensual overload. In the city ..rickshaws and cars, trucks and men and women with the stickbasket shoulder things in 'coolie' hats all bustling around together. We took advantyage of a 6th floor Illy coffee shop to watch it all happening below us in awe.
Visiting Ho Chi Min Tomb was an experience....we could see it ...stand in front of it..but had incredible difficulty actually getting in to it....guards at all points ushering you to the next entrance...quarter of a mile round and then the next and so on...eventually we just kind of sneaked past and joined a que...then security leave bags etc......then round another corner another que and another security system..hand in camera..in separate bag in numbered box...never to be seen again we thought...and joined another que ..this time two by two walking quietly in line...if you came out of line...you were reprimanded by stern looking guard with machine gun...we whispered to each other 'feels like Solyn Green' ( only significant for geeks who know the film!)...seeing lines of people going in but not coming out again! In was a very reverent affair filing past the elbalmed body.....not what the guy wanted at all...he wanted cremated and his ashes split in four tand scatered to the four corners of Vietnam. We were lucky he was 'at home' as from November to January ..he's sent off to China I think for a make-over...so I guess he'll be there for ever.
We also saw 6 sets of bride and grooms in a park all waiting to get married...aparantly until very recently it was very popular for 100's of couples to get married together..take their vows together ..in a big sport stadium and then all go on honeymoon together.....all on the same plane...all wearing their wedding gear... to the same destination! I wondered how many came back with different partners?...and would it really matter 'cos they'd all said their vows together anyway! Traditional Vietnam wedding dress is bright red. Saw one of the brides in the park with 505's under her dress! Hanoi has lots of parks and lakes which also makes it attractive...but city or not, washing of pots and stuff in the lakes is common...so you just have to check which resturant you're going to! ...oh and also to make sure that dog is not on the menu!...they eat dog here!
The Hanoi Water Puppets!...they were just fantastic.....an art form that developed as entertainment in the Paddy fields. The puppeteers are up to their waists in water and work their puppets from horizontal poles behind a screen....such a marvel....a variety of scenes depicting county life....catching frogs, fishing, waterbuffalo ploughing the fields...etc...etc...and all with a live orchestra ....you can hear it now the meeowe, whiny whiny scratchy ting ting ..and opera singers....we loved it!...I'll need to try to post a vid!
...and then back to Thailand.