Good Morning Vietnam...!
A new month; a new country. Paul and Carolyn arrived in the bustling city of Ho Chi Min (AKA Saigon). Being used to the sedateness and friendliness of Cambodia the city was a shock to the system. They kept their stay pretty short and visited the highlights before moving on. One of these included the War Museum which hosted an impressive selection of 'Nam' war army vehicles including Huey and Chinook helicopters and an M41 tank outside. Paul was in his element here clambering around all the exhibits and asking for pictures of everything. Inside was a more sobering and somber experience. It explained the repercussions of the US Army spraying millions of gallons of Napalm and Agent Orange over the countryside and the subsequent effects on the environment and indigenous people.
A trip to the Cu Chi tunnels demonstrated how the Viet Cong managed to overcome the US Army by creating rudimentary yet effective killing traps above ground and a series of tiny underground tunnels to live in during the day and attack at night. The tunnels have long since collapsed but evidence of their existence is everywhere in the small openings in the ground. They have built replica tunnels (but made them twice as wide and tall for fat Westerners) to cater for the hordes of tourists to shuffle along the sweltering underground tunnels in the dark. Paul (who suffers from Claustrophobia) and Carolyn did incredibly well shuffling through until a German tourist following behind them with a torch screamed that they'd just crawled past a huge live scorpion. They rapidly returned to the surface at the next opening, Carolyn making 60m and Paul an impressive 80m! It might not have been the real tunnels but it sure was an unnerving experience!
Next stop in Vietnam was Nha Trang; a popular beach resort a mere 10 hour coach drive from Ho Chi Min city. Almost all coaches in Vietnam are driven by suicidal lunatic drivers. They swig red bull (if you're lucky, beer if you're not) and chain smoke, horn beeping while they overtake at breakneck speeds constantly on the wrong side of the road. The coaches are 'sleepers' which basically involves bunk bed seats designed to fit the tiny frame of SE Asian's. Paul constantly creates new yoga positions when folding himself in to the seats. TV screens blast out Vietnamese comedy programmes or shocking pop videos driving the Western passengers insane. All in all it makes an interesting journey.
Once safely deposited in Nha Trang Carolyn and Paul wasted no time hitting the beautiful beach. Mountainous islands surround the beach and the South China Sea laps the white sandy beach. Bliss. They enjoyed a fantastic snorkeling trip one day visiting many amazing coral reefs filled with beautiful tropical fish. There is a good bar scene here so Paul and Carolyn we're of course obligated to investigate several of the bars. Their favourite was Guava bar where beer was 25p per bottle. Winner!
After a few chilled out days they prepared for the next epic 14 hour journey to Hoi An. This coach was particularly special with the driver choosing to drive the bus with one leg on the dashboard for most of the journey. Paul and Carolyn were unceremoniously deposited in the middle of the night at a crossroads 10k from their destination. Great! Tracking down the ONLY taxi in this one horse town they finally made it to Hoi An... and it was well worth the effort.
Hoi An is a little town made up of quaint French colonial influenced buildings & streets, integrated with traditional Vietnamese houses, Temples & Assembly Halls, giving it a movie location feel and a UNESCO World Heritage site status. It was swelteringly hot when Carolyn and Paul explored the little town. Sweat dripped off the ends of their arms when they stopped for a well-earned ice cream. This town is famous for its many tailors who can whip you up an exact replica of your favourite designer for "very good price"! Even looking at the tailored coats and suits on show was enough to put them off going in for a fitting due to the heat. Instead they opted for a cycle tour of the countryside and surrounding little islands.
Here they learned how traditional wooden boats were made, how clay bricks were formed (boy that is hot, sweaty, backbreaking work) how ice is made and distributed to the islanders (by carving great chunks off with a hand saw and biking it to the houses) and witnessed an 86 year old lady weave bed mats with gusto. They even got to have a go in the little Vietnamese 'basket boats' which were harder to steer than you could imagine.
Carolyn faced her fears when she had to cycle over a floating bridge. This precarious construction was made of huge floating containers and the occasional plank of rotting or missing wood as the road. It was a bumpy 2 minute ride taking them to a smaller island with only 400 inhabitants. This was extreme rural Vietnam where villagers survived on a diet of rice and fish sauce (delivered by a shop boat) and did their best to live off the land. Very humbling.
Leaving stunning Hoi An behind they enjoyed a short 4 hour trip to Hue. From here they visited the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) which was a pinnacle location during the Vietnam War, dividing the North from the South. They visited sites of ex US Army firebases and battle sights. The highlight of the day was a visit to the Vinh Moc tunnels. These tunnels were not built by the Viet Com army but the villagers who were desperate to seek a safe place to hide. The tunnels were a little taller than Cu Chi, so Paul only had to walk bent over double as opposed to crawling on his knees. As they crawled through the tunnels they were shown meeting rooms, sleeping & play rooms, and even maternity rooms. Bomb craters litter the land and bomb shells lay in shreds in the nearby area. They made it through the tunnels after a 20 minute crawl very hot, sweaty and relieved!
After spending time enjoying the ancient citadel of Hue (unfortunately mainly ruined in the war) Paul and Carolyn begrudgingly got on yet another sleeper coach and drove through the night on a 16 hour bumpy ride to Hanoi, the Capital of Vietnam and a quick stopover for them to sleep before embarking on a voyage to the magical Halong Bay where they hope to enjoy a few days of bliss at sea.
Take care & speak soon
Alan (the duck) Paul & Carolyn xx