Being the engineering nerd that I am, I planned a long layover in Taipei, Taiwan so that I could go to the top of the world's tallest building, Taipei 101, before it was officially eclipsed by the opening of the Burj Dubai on December 3, 2009. I planned out everything to get to and back from the tower with enough time to catch our connecting flight to Vietnam. I printed the subway map, the bus schedule, and all the other important sites of the city. I unfortunately forgot to check the times of which Taipei 101 observatory deck was open. So instead of actually going to the top of the tower, we had to settle for just looking at it. My bad.
Ho Chi Minh City
We got into the city at the worst possible time...rush hour. This means that we were moving about 1 mph through the city on a 20 cent bus. We were in utter shock at the amount of motorbikes around us. It looked like complete chaos. Motorbikers were swerving through the sidewalks, going through red lights, and even getting a little physically aggressive with the riders next to them. One motorbiker got pushed into our bus by another rider he cut off. And please don't get me started with the honking. I swear the Vietnamese spend more time with their hand on the horn than off of it.
Once we left the bus, we spent a couple hours finding our hotel in heat of night. In the process, we had to cross a street. There was no getting around it, although we tried. We literally thought we were going to die crossing the street. As we stood around looking for an opening, we were laughed at by the locals. We soon figured out that you just have to go for it. Just look straight ahead and hope that everyone slows down for you. I think it might be easier to do it with your eyes closed. Oh yeah, If you stop in the middle of the street, you might get stuck there forever!!
We took the city tour in Ho CHi Minh City (formerly called Saigon) our first full day in Vietnam. We finished off our first day with fried frog legs for dinner and a few 50 cent beers. I also bought some fake Ray Bans off a street vendor- a process that became way more complicated than I ever wanted when we started dealing with multiple pairs of glasses and 2 different forms of currency ( I only had a few dollars worth of Vietnamese Dong on me and the vendor saw that I was holding a few American dollars).
We visited the War Remnants Museum (which was pretty anti-American as you can imagine), a cathedral, the post office, the China Market, and a couple of other places. While in Saigon, we took a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dao cathedral. The tunnels were crazy!!! They were created first by the Viet Minh in the 1940s to combat the French and later expanded to a 250 km network through Vietnam by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War (they call it the American War here). The tunnels were tiny in size. They actually had to make another set of bigger tunnels so that tourists could actually fit through them. Even those were pretty small. We shot M60 assault rifles there. As a result, I have lost even more of my limited hearing.
Our next stop on our journey was Mui Ne, a beach town about 6 hours bus ride north of Saigon. It was super relaxing. We slept under a mosquito net in our hut by the beach. We got $5 1-hr massages on the beach from the local women. The minute you step out on the beach they all huddle around you trying to get you to pick them for the massage. And if you don't one at the moment, the only way to stay on the beach without being harassed too much is to just say "later". And yes, they do find you later. I promised one ladie that she could give me a massage and when she found out that I was getting one from another lady, she started hitting me. It was funny. They are very territorial. But, the massages were awesome. I ended up getting a couple the next couple of days.
In Mui Ne, we also visited some sand dunes they had about an hour away. We rented some sleds off a couple of kids and slid down them. Derek's camera was the only causality of the day. Sand is not very good for cameras we found out.
Nha Trang was another beach town, but a little more touristy than Mui Ne. It will be completely different 10 years from now as there is a lot of hotel construction along the coast. We did the infamous boat tour through the islands off the coast of Nha Trang. We didn't realize what we were getting with this tour when we signed up. We were expecting to just boat around, stop at a few islands, and do some swimming. We were not expecting for the all-Vietnamese crew to bust out drums, guitar, and a microphone and start rocking out on the boat. It even got a little stranger but I wont get into that.
If you like serenity, don't stop in Hue. I have never been harassed so much in my life by street vendors or motorbike taxis. A minute did not pass that we were not asked to buy something, stay somewhere, or get on a motorbike while walking down the street in Hue. The motorbikers will literally follow you for blocks asking you to get on their bike. By the end of our stay in Hue, I was walking with my head down so that I would not make eye contact with anyone. Although the harassment got annoying at times, Derek and I just laughed it off.