Vietnam September-October 2004
27/11/2004 Last days of Vietnam
I join a tour goup early morning to the Cu Chi tunnels... read more
25/09/2004 Into Northern Vietnam
A women from a hotel where our moto driver stops, says she has the bus tickets, 8 dollar at 19h, 5 dollar at 20h. Mmm, we don't see a bus stop... read more
25/09/2004 Into Northern Vietnam
So here we are waiting in this tiny village. A women from a hotel where our moto driver stops, says she has the bus tickets, 8 dollar at 19h, 5 dollar at 20h. Mmm, we don't see a bus stop, so ask the moto to go on. Some other place is then the bus stop, still no office or nothing. And nobody speaks
English... Then we see a minibus passing by. This one goes to Vinh, this evening, so we need to wait 5 hours... Then the moto driver brings us to a tailor shop, where we can get the ticket. But we don't understand what we are paying for, and they can't explain either. So off we walk, back to the hotel women, the one we didn't trust before. She is the only one speaking
English, so the only hope for some clarification. The bus at 19h is ok for 5 dollar now. If I ask her it is the small one we saw, it is not that one. So we rest, have some cleanup at the toilet and get a noodle soup at a local improvised eating place. A few minutes past 19h we see
the mini bus, off course this is ours. The owner is rather pissed that we booked at the hotel and walked away. Then I piss him even more of when he wants to
separate us on 3 random seats, and our bags far away from us on 2 different locations, all of this for no apparent reason but to show his 'power'. The guy is not even 16 years old, but he surely thinks he is the man.
So I put the bags all together in the back, and that is where we will sit. An hour later we understand why there was a 7 and 8 o'clock option. The bus drives up and down the dusty town for 3 times
until it is full. And full means, 5 people on each 4 chairs !! This is crazy, m
neighbor is using my armpits as his pillow. His hair is tickling in my ear, and every 10 minutes we move to change into another as least as possible uncomfortable position. Sofie is in the corner next to me, and when the bus stops for a land slide being
cleared away, she almost gets a claustrophobic attack. On my socks I crawl over the bodies on the rows before me, get out and open her window from the outside. Finally some more air, though very sandy.
You can imagine that we didn't sleep a minute, with two bags leaving no space to put our legs down, and cramped together like sardines in a can. Just before arriving the rain leeks in right on the last row of seats, ours. Together with the sand it makes me feel muddy, but we are happy to be on a concrete road, almost in Vinh this means.
In Vinh we wait for an hour till the ticket offices open, and some nice man with some broken
English is quite fair in saying which bus is most comfy and quickest to get to Hanoi. Finally at midday we arrive. We grab a taxi, pass an ATM to get 2.000.000 Dong (about 130 US dollar), and get to a hotel from the Lonely Planet. After a quick comparison, me and Sofie decide we deserve some splurging and check in the 15 dollar room, including breakfast buffet ! We are exhausted and crash.
I stay in most of the day, due to some fever and flue like feeling, except for some obligatory internet sessions , I need to get some Laos stories online ! I guess the off-the-beaten-track border crossing is taking its toll. Two days later Sofie and Brianna will feel kind of similar, but cruising on a boat, that is rather ok. We decided to take the Halong Bay tour, 3 days through
beautiful islands, with shapes that look like the dragon tail is partially above water. Lots of caves, relaxing and swimming in clear emerald water.
28/09/2004 Halong bay
We get in the minivan and a few hours later on the boat for the trip. There are at least 40 of the same type of boats, and so many tourists... All of us doing exactly the same, that is how it works here. No tour is different from any other, the system rules !
But it is pretty and soon we are afloat between the islands and having lunch on our boat. Then some more cruising and time for a swim, in a very calm spot. After some test swims and dives, we go for the big jump from the roof of the boat. After this we retire in another bay, the generator goes on, and we sit on the roof, for a full moon, and some nice beers. Soon the 2 Americans on the boat come under fire of an eager
French, Kiwi and Belgian forum against war. Still the Americans won't say Iraq was a mistake, and that war is never the answer.
29/09/2004 Halong bay, Cat ba island
We drop of our backpack in a hotel on the island, which isn't worth writing about, except for the very
kitschy neon lights used everywhere. Then we hop on a tiny boat, just 5 of us, the 7 others took the 2 day option and already left. We cruise through some more
beautiful bays and get to an island. From there it is an easy walk to a tiny little village, and then to the top of a hill. Normally this is peace of cake, and I would shake of the competition with ease, but now I reach top last, and not feeling to well. Also Brianna is going purely on mental force, she too is feeling quite flueish. But now it is down hill, and after a lunch we get back for the boat to go to some canoes. We stroll around and for some time me and Sofie feel like exploring an unknown world, imagining how it would be to be like Robinson expedition, alone on an island. What are the basic needs to survive, and what to have lots of fun as well ?
Leaving these day dreams behind we join the other trippers on a peaceful beach spot and get a tan. It is the first beach for us this trip, congratulations Sofie, also your first burn.
The evening is boring in Cat Ba town, and we are both exhausted and need some sleep.
30/09/2004 Back to Hanoi
One quick breakfast, then a boat ride back to main land. We enjoy the sun, and I go for another swim , Sofie is to unwell to go for it. The water here is quite hot, not really
cooling you off if you have a fever.
At 17h we are back and receive our train tickets. A dinner and taxi ride later we join an
English brother and sister in the 4 soft sleeper compartment. We really have a good night sleep and arrive in Hue early in the morning.
At the exit there is a nice sign for Mister Tarantino, our free ride into town center and to a 10 dollar hotel. With
air co and satellite TV, we spoil ourselves. Sofie is still sick, and it is very hot and humid around here. In the afternoon we stroll around the old town and citadel. We are very surprised to see this quiet spot in the center of a city. But not much is left, most buildings where destroyed during the 'American' war. The citadel was a stronghold for the South Vietnamese, but taken over for 23 days, during which the Vietcong eliminated 3000 people, teachers, monks, tourists, journalists, politicians,... All of this was perfectly prepared before the city take over, and the locals still have bad feelings
because of that, I understand.
As the rain starts pouring when we think about food, we order pizza and stay in the hotel.
We relax and do gringo stuff, e-mail, eat, and book a tour ticket for the boat to the
tombs the next day.>
It is raining, very hard, so the boat is not going. We walk over to 'cafe on Thu wheels', which also does tours but on motorbike. She says we can go and be back in time for the bus to Hoi An. Perfect for us, so a quick checkout and on the bike for the tour. Amazingly we don't get wet at all,
every time we are inside visiting a tomb or pagoda, it rains, when we appear in open air, the rain stops. The ride on the back of the bike is very relaxing and we see
beautiful local life style, kids catching rats in the rice fields, a guy catching a snake, markets, old Japanese bridge, typical burial places, an old US bunker... A great trip and perfect weather and timing. And of in the bus to Hoi An we go.
We walk to the Huy Hoan hotel, and take it just because we are to tired to look further. Hoi An is famous for the tailors, and soon we end up in the shop of the sister of the hotel owner... Everybody in Vietnam is
someone's sister, brother nephew, cousin, as long as there is a financial link I guess. From the summer collection I choose a long pants, Sofie goes for a top. A lot more is to come I feel. We go eat in the recommended Mermaid restaurant, a set menu for 50000 Dong, some 3.5 Us dollar. Not super cheap, but super good. Fish in banana leaf, stuffed squid, and local specialties like wonton crackers and white rose.
Mmm, definitely a good town for food.
Early morning we change to a cheaper room in another hostel. Same same but different, and a lot cheaper. Then more clothes and a lot more good food the next few days.
06/10/2004 Hoi An
Happy birthday to my dad, I even give him a call but he is already out partying. My mom is glad to hear me though and I enjoyed it too. We visited some old Hindu temples, Ankor Wat like but then very small, and very little left over. The guides
English is worst then the worst Italians English, but at least we got out of the
''clothes fitting and buying more'' cycle.
07/10/2004 Hoi An
We do some shopping, some great photo albums, some presents for home, and stuff it all in a box to send home. 9 kilos is what the post office scale says, we did buy a lot of clothes ! We had time left and it is a very sunny day so we hop on the back of a motor cycle and spent some hours baking in the sun and hitting the big waves. Delicious.
08/10/2004 to Nha Trang
At 6 am we are up and ready for the bus to Nha Trang. Wonder o wonder but I manage to sleep at least a few hours, leaving Sofie jealous, as she is usually the easy sleeper. On the bus or two US girls, living on the Virgin islands, one is really like Madonna, same glasses,
same look, bit older but funky, the other girl Pat is cool to, very on ease and relaxed. After a 12 hour ride we force our driver to get us to the Sun hotel. While Sofie waits with the backs I do a comparative tour around. The only 2 Dollar cheaper room is quite a big difference with the one in the Sun, so this time our first option was the right one. Located 100 meter from the beach and the so famous Nha Trang Sailing Club !
09-16/10/2004 Nha Trang beach bums
This is our official first beach week. It consisted mainly of beach, sun, sea, sand, and some cold beers and happy hour cocktails,
including some dancing even in the Sailing club, the grooviest place in town. We did get to some serious action though and did a 'PADI Open water diving' certification. 6 dives in the sea, the deepest to 18 meters, all the skills learned, and a 92% score on the
theoretical test, allows us to go diving whenever we want ! We finish our great week with some splashing in the local hot springs and mud bath before deciding to leave Nha Trang and move on to some new adventures.
17-18/2004 Mui Ne
We arrive in Mui Ne on midday, and leave our bags at the travel cafe to find us a cheap bungalow at the beach. The town has used most of its space for resorts, most of them seriously out of our budget, but after a stroll on the beach we found one for 7 US dollar. There is nothing to say about this place, except that it is a long 10 kilometer beach, with some eating places across the street, resorts on the other side. We are becoming professional beach boys now, almost no tan lines from t-shirts any more, only the usual swim gear line.
19/10/2004 Mui Ne
There is one tour you can book so we take it. Sunset over a nice bay, a jeep ride to remote white sand dunes, a body board slide down on the hot sand, some fishing port with lots of boats, and a fairy spring. The latter was actually the most interesting, wading through the river bare
feted, with magnificent eroded sand sculptures in white, yellow, red, black on the left side, and water seeping through this sand creating different
colors of water during the walk. And after the hot dunes, refreshing too. Before checkout we still have time to wash of the sand that tried to get in every spot possible. I seemed to have managed
quite well ridding the sand, but Sofie seems to have some problems sitting... Poor girl. We woke up early so once in bus my eyes close quickly, we are on our way to the Saigon, renamed to Ho Chi Minh City after the Socialists united and
The city is definitely more modern than Hanoi, and also homes more motorcycles. Crossing the streets is quite an interesting game. You start walking, and try to keep the pace the same. Don't just stop, don't start running. It is not you trying to dodge motorcycles, it is the motorcycle that will drive around you. For some reason, the Vietnamese don't like to stop. So they will keep going, and rather illegally go around an obstacle than using the brakes. Maybe they don't have any.
We are getting quite good at it, and walk around the center to the War
Remnant Museum, a show of what the American war did to the people of Vietnam. Lots of brilliant pictures, but also many ones that make you very silent. After we wandered to the more commercial and
posh center of the city. Very chique, and no option for us to go for a drink somewhere. This is where the big companies, banks and shops compete for the shiniest and tallest building. We grab some cheap vegetarian food on the way back, and some local Dalat wine (less than 2 dollar) to put in the hotel cooler. Maybe there is a good movie on tonight !
I join a tour goup early morning to the Cu Chi tunnels. A vast underground complex used by the Vietcong in there guerilla warfare against the Americans. They even had tunnels under the US army base camp in the area, as they were sure they wouldn't get bombed there. The visitors only see cleaned up versions of the tunnels, which means they are widened a bit, to fit bit tourist asses. The longest tunnel we crawl trough is just over a 100 meter, ut we all emerge completely sweaty and exhausted. Then off to a shooting range were we can try AK 47 machine guns at 1 Us dollar a bullet. I tried the carabine rifles with visor and unsurprisingly didn't hit any target. On the bus I chat with Holly and Richard, on the same trail as us for the next few weeks. The evening ends after some beers with some Dalat wine in our room, little bit drunk if I remeber correctly.
Today Sofie joins me on a tour to the Mekong delta. Nothing interesting really, except maybe for the fellow trippers. There is this one french guy, late thirtees we guess, and an older french women, about fifty years old, and then a 20 year old Vietnamese girl, trying to lure the french guy. We first think it some kind of marriage arrangement, where he and his sister are trying to find him a suitable wife, and test this doing a tour trip together. In the group is also a Dutch couple, they off course think more radical scenarios like a trio or a very open minded couple, the Dutch...
Tomorrow morning we leave Vietnam after some really great time. The beginning was a bit of adaptation to the pace and noise and character off the people , but we sure left Vietnam with a very positive vibe. Interesting, beatifull and diverse places to visit, a lot of history and good ways to have fun !
Keep on tripping,