Vagabonding in Vietnam

Sunday 5th April 2009

So here we are in Vietnam…

At 7am yesterday our alarm went off but we didn’t get up to pack until after 9. Thankfully we didn’t have the killer hangover we’d got the morning before. Our flight went as smoothly as ever. We landed 15 minutes early at about 5.30pm and I was personally lookingΒ forwardΒ to a break from the heat of bangkok because word had got round that it was cooler at night. (You sweat all day everyday in Thailand. No escape!!) But here we are – sweating.

We got the local bus into the center of Ho Chi Minh City last night. The woman wanted us to pay for 4 tickets because of our 2 big bags which she counted as people. ha ha ha. We didn’t. Got somehow to the back packer district and tried to find a hotel in the dark. We are totally unimpressed. All the hotels were like “20 dollar” or “15 dollar” and I was like “I’m in Vietnam, how much in Dong???”.

Getting tired, hungry and generally annoyed we settled for a really really crap “10 dollar” room. We will be leaving first thing and defo’ sleeping in the sleeping bags because as the title suggests there’s mushrooms growing behind the bed and wardrobes etc. The most annoyng part of the day… arriving in Vietnam to find that you can buy a Vietnamese visa on arrival now. This must be a brand new thing because everybody who’s ever been to Vietnam knows you can’t turn up without one. At the airport they were 25 dollars and we’d paid 40 quid each 2 days before. So we paid probably double. We are very very annoyed!!!!

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This morning has got off to a better start. We left our hotel at 12. We must have needed the sleep because we were out cold until after 11. We are sat here in a cafe now, just eaten our first western breakfast in 6 weeks, real beans, a big loaf of bread EACH that was hot and crispy, two eggs, sausage that tastes like sausage and bacon. Wow. It might have been 2 quid each but we also got a brill brew. everyone needs an English breakfast every now and then πŸ™‚ An American couple has just informed us of a much nicer 10 dollar room round the corner. We’re going to check that out now, because we have all our bags with us in the cafe!

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one thing we’re defo’ doing here is visiting some underground tunnels. it’s a bit like pot holing apparently because the people in vietnam are so small. They were used during the war to connect underground hospitals etc when they were hiding. I don’t like the fact that some of it’s a squeeze but it’s gotta be worth doing πŸ™‚

So bye for now. New country, new experiences. Will keep yahs informed!

QUICK UPDATE – found a lovely little hotel called “mini hotel” for the sameprice as last night, 180,000 dong. TV, aircon,hot shower, lovely staff, very clean. We’ll be filling the fridge with Saigon beer and watching the grand prix at 4pm πŸ™‚ yey!

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Monday 6th April 2009

Today we went to the war remnants museum. It was quite an eye opener. I was expecting American abandoned tanks and photo’s of the damage but I wasn’t prepared to see deformed babies damaged by dirty bombs preserved in glass tanks, or photo’s of people who have been destroyed by land mines that have laid undiscovered in rice fields since the war. There was a special section of photo’s that military photographers had taken on the American side. The worst was a photo of a group of Vietnamese women and children, even babies, all crying and looking pretty scared and desperate.

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The photographer said that the Americans prepared to fire when the photographer shouts ‘No!!!” and takes a pic quickly, walks away and hear’s the Americans open fire! he wrote down on this one that it was really hard for him to see as they were defenseless so he couldn’t look. Kills everybody. The Americans admitted to their war crimes eventually, but it doesn’t excuse them from tying Vietnamese people to their tanks and dragging them to death or torturing them with hammers and nails to the skull or chopping off both legs from Vietnamese men. Their were pretty graphic pictures of this too.

One of a woman with 4 young kids neck deep in water crossing the Mekong, running from the Americans who had destroyed their house. Hard to think this was going on in the 70’s when you’d think the Americans of all people would be able to behave in a humane way. Clearly not.
On a lighter note, besides being almost killed by a fair few motorbikes flying very close to us we’re enjoying Ho Chi Minh City. There’s many tours we can do, cheap ones well within our budget.

Number 1 – Saigon water park tomorrow! It’s very hot here,no cooler than Thailand so we’re looking forward to a bit of cool relaxation tomorrow πŸ™‚ There’s a 3 day trip that’s also within our budget that takes you along the Mekong Delta – very exciting! We’ve never actually come across tours like this that are within budget so we’re going to indulge in a few.

Also, if anyone knows of any good places in Vietnam, please speak up! I followed the blog of “Kay1968” last year before we came traveling and I’ve re-read it recently. She took a similar route to us and her blog is amazing and so interesting. Lots of photo’s. So if anyone’s interested have a nosy at her blog too I think you can just search for it on this website. Good read if you’re interested in that sort of thing πŸ™‚

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Tuesday 7th April 2009

Today went a little bit unplanned. Originally we headed to the bus station with our swimming stuff for a day at the water park. We asked which bus we should get and the people there told us that it was closed and tried to take us to a different water park that I’ve heard is nothing special once you’re aged over 10 so I was a bit annoyed and we gave it a miss. So we had nothing planned and were just stood there outside the bus station when it started to pee it down, monsoon style (like the one that canceled the grand prix in Malaysia this weekend). We ran over the road to Ben Thanh market for a few hours. After a browse we got some cheap food in there and Taz got an ace prezzie for his dad, small enough to carry until we get home πŸ™‚

The rain didn’t ease up. But with the hot weather and the warm rain it was hard to resist behaving like kids, so we pranced back in the rain to the hotel like crazy people. All that was missing was ‘I’m singing in the rain”. I got video of evidence of the monsoon and how fun they are. If you can’t be childish when you’re traveling, when can you be childish?!

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We booked a full days tour for tomorrow that only cost us a fiver each. It takes us to the Cu Chi tunnels and a famous temple, the Cao Dai in Tay Ninh.

We had a good cheap tea and some excellent 40p beers tonight. We’ve found a pub that sells beer cheaper than in the supermarket. yey! I think we have a 6th sense now that can sniff out the cheapest beer in town. Ha ha. We got a little peckish after a few mini kegs, so we grabbed a kebab and some crabs. And another keg to takeaway πŸ˜‰

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Saturday 11th April 2009

Yesterday we arrived in Da Lat after a bearable but long bus journey (that we left our mozzy net on). The bus was a little like a tour in its self. We passed houses with tin roofs that looked more like sheds with small herds of cattle in the garden, people watering their huge rice fields by hand (2 very large watering cans attached to a pole which is carried across the workers shoulders) and then you’d pass a tourist town or a posh looking school and it was a different world… Huge mansions built next door to tiny wooden houses. There’s a big contrast between rich and poor. It affects you in different ways on different days. Some days you feel a little ignorant and nothing sinks in because you’re used to seeing it. Yesterday I soaked it all up like a sponge!

We got off the bus in Da Lat and the cool air we felt was really nice. The first cool air since the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Last night we went out for tea in jeans and a fleece. It’s nice to be cool and wrap up warm for a change. We stayed in the Dreams hotel where they had a sauna, steam room and an open jacuzzi on the roof that we made full use of. Again, the cool air was just so nice when you were in the hot jacuzzi. Their rooms are really nice, with posh bathrooms and the breakfast this morning was really really good. Price – 12 quid. Receptionist – excellent. But they’re full tonight which is a blessing in disguise really because it has forced us to shop around and we found “My dreams” hotel a few doors down for half the price, 6 quid. We thought it’d be pricier up here because lots of honeymooners flock in, but everything’s really cheap, especially food.

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Da Lat is a nice little area. We’re surrounded by mountains and there’s a lake at the bottom of our hill and waterfalls reachable by motorbike. We’re renting a bike today for “3 dollars” which is 54,000 dong or just over 2 pound for us. There are lots of outdoor activities going on and Taz wants to try the mountain biking! They do climbing courses but only for complete beginners so we’re going to give that a miss. The people here are noticeably nicer. I heard from Sammi (Finland) that the people in Vietnam aren’t as nice as everywhere else in Asia. In Ho Chi Minh City this was the case unfortunately and it actually got you down, but Da Lat is very different and everybody we’ve met here is incredibly friendly and helpful. In Ho Chi Minh City it was like the Vietnamese didn’t want tourists at all. They didn’t seem to like us! It wasn’t always the case but we’ve never been snubbed in Asia before quite like we have in Vietnam. Maybe they think we’re Americans! They usually lighten up if they bother asking where we’re from. I didn’t like pimp guys coming into the restaurants trying to sell Taz a “massage” either…

This morning the sky is bright blue and the weather feels like spring at home. They call this place “The city of eternal spring” and it’s just lovely to be here πŸ™‚ We may stay for a while to save cash and be cool! This little place might save me from thinking Vietnam was about to become my least favorite country when I expected it to be my favorite!

Ps – The tour we did the other day to the temple and the Cu Chi tunnels was very long and a little boring. 6 hours in total on the bus. 2 hours off the bus. The hour we spent at the tunnels made it worth it though, we got to climb through a widened tunnel. It was dark and hot down there and I almost freaked out but shimmied to the end. You don’t have to be claustrophobic to feel trapped in a Vietnamese tunnel! I don’t think anybody on our tour was small enough to squeeze down the unmodified tunnel. The thought of trying and getting stuck was frankly quite horrifying!

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Tuesday 14th April 2009

We have come to the conclusion that if you spend a quid each and buy local food and a drink you will not be disappointed. Spend a few quid in a touristy looking cafe/restaurant and you’ll be really disappointed. And hungry. For example a few nights ago we went to a restaurant that looked posh by Vietnamese standards. The kind of place you’d expect to pay about 20 quid each for a meal in the UK. I ordered bolongaise and Taz ordered a carbonnara. I ordered a cup of tea and Taz ordered a sprite. Taz’s food and drink arrived in about 5 minutes so the spaghetti must have been pre-cooked. I waited and waited. Taz finished his meal and they cleared up and I was like “where’s my food” and they were like “Oh you want 2 spaghetti?” I gave a huge annoyed sigh and said yeah, and i also ordered a tea. The guy rushed off in his very fancy waiters outfit and I heard a couple of microwave dings later my spaghetti arrived. I was really annoyed, so after eating ON MY OWN we paid the bill and did one. Noting that I still had no cup of tea!! I do not recommend anything that looks remotely fancy. The fancier the restaurant, the crapper the food in our experience. Sit on a plastic chair at the side of the road and order Pho (noodle) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Yesterday we got up at 8.30 to meet some travelers we’d met the night before. Taz got some yummy eggs, I made the mistake of ordering a “chocolate pancake” that was just gross. We were harassed by the resident touts to go on their tour while finishing our brews. Then we got stood up by the travelers. So at 10am we got our own motorbike and visited a waterfall that was shite and full of people trying to sell pony rides. So we drove to the cable cars that shut as we got there for a 2 hour lunch. Apart from being on the wrong side of the road in Vietnam, the driving is strange – as pedestrians just walk and bikes swerve, it was our turn to do the swerving! People just step out, as we have been doing too. God help us if we forget and try this at home, crossing the road with your eyes shut expecting all traffic to move around you! Trying to cheer ourselves up we went to a decent looking cafe (mistake) but the food arrived totally wrong 3 times and I gave up and didn’t eat. We set off back to the hotel and a monsoon struck and drenched us to the bone. Returning to the hotel wet as rats, we got stick of the hotel for renting the bike elsewhere but weren’t in the mood to answer with anything other than one word “CHEAPER!” We watched TV for a few hours while starving and decided to splash out and buy some ice cream from another poshish looking cafe (why do we keep getting attracted to these places)? We both ordered chocolate ice cream and something grey that tasted of durian fruit arrived – “Oh the chef must have used the same spoon as the durian, is that ok?” ER NO! So I gave up again and just ordered a brew, went back to the hotel and had a brief unenthusiastic with the people that stood us up this morning who were in our hotel cafe. At this point you have to remember the saying “A crap day traveling is better than a crap day at work”…
In the end we went to a very cheap local food stand and had some brilliant, can’t go wrong with, Pho. Nipped out for a couple of beers and then stayed in with another bottle of tasty local red wine and watched cable TV.

We’re really looking forward to Nha Trang tomorrow for the beach and then Hoi An when we want to move on again. I hear they have hot springs as well as nice beaches!

Friday 17th April 2009

Hi everybody just a very quick one. We’re loving Nha Trang and we’re feeling very perked up after the annoyance of Da Lat. We really like Nha Trang and the weather’s amazing, we’ve both had no prob’s topping up our tan after 5 nights in the mountains on Da Lat. We’ve been sunbathing, eating some really nice food for tea at night (fish!!) and we’ve had a few too many nights out in a row!! It’s all good. Chow for now!! Jemma and Taz x

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Sunday 19th April 2009

Just to let all you people know how we’re getting on I thought I’d update you as we have just arrived an hour early for the Grand Prix…

Yesterday as we were whizzing down the road a guy pulled out on us on our scooter and the crap brakes on our bike didn’t quite let us stop before we hit him. It’s weird I saw it all happening in slow motion, all the traffic was flowing at about 30 and he just rolled out in front of us at about 3 miles an hour while looking at us as if to say “swerve you stupid tourists”. Idiot! No injuries apart from Taz receiving a bashed foot.

At the moment we’re sat in “Crazy Kim Bar”. It’s more than a bar though. For 3 hours a day they teach English to street kids here and they take any English speakers in if you offer to help in one of their lessons. We’re considering it. It’d be weird but I’m sure it’ll be an experience we don’t forget. They also kit the kids out with t-shirts that say “hands off the kids” as part of their anti-pedophilia campaign so that when they’re working selling their books, tourist guides or snacks on the street, people are aware of the problem in this area. When they’re old enough, they take them in and train them to work in the restaurant so that they can earn their money more safely.

Tomorrow we’re going to Vinpearl. It’s an island that you get to by cable car and once on the island you can go to a theme park, water park and aquarium. They even have an animal circus. You can tell we’re back in tourist central!

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All in all we’re having a fabulous time in Nha Trang. It’s incredibly hot during the day and at night too. It’s very easy to slip into the routine of beach bum / bar hogger!! Yet again we have also tracked down the cheapest drinks in town – tasty double vodka or rum for 40p. Can’t ask for much better than that.
Also we had a shocking realization last night over a few doubles that time is flying and we may only have 8 or 9 weeks left in Asia!

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Thursday 23rd April 2009

Tonight we are leaving Nha Trang for Hoi An. We got a fancy sleeper bus that leaves at 7.30 and arrives at 7am which I think is the longest bus journey we’ve done so far.

As we speak Taz is being robbed by a local kid who is playing him for money at pool. When you play a local kid at pool/connect 4 you ALWAYS lose. They’re very good at cheating!! We’re in Kim’s cafe mentioned in the blog, so all the money they extort from you goes into a pot to help the cause so it makes you feel better when you lose. The Thai kids had the same idea with thumb wars!

Hoi An is meant to be a nice town so we’re looking forward to that. The beach is a few miles from the town so it’s not rammed with the same type of tourists we’ve found in Nha Trang. Ater Hoi An we plan to move countries again, this time to Laos since our visa runs out on 4th May… God damn visas!
Can’t believe Sarah’s comig over in just 4 weeks time! It’s a reminder though that once her 3 weeks holiday is over we’ll be going home shortly after 😦 But those 3 weeks will be amazing I’m sure!! We have provided Sarah with a little shopping list of goodies to bring over – mostly in chocolate form added by me πŸ˜‰

Saturday 25th April 2009

Hi everyone, we’re in Hoi An now and it’s lovely. The atmosphere’s very different from Nha Trang. Yesterday we arrived on time after the night bus which was an experience in its self. We checked into a hotel and got a few hours of proper sleep!

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We rented some bicycles (60p each) for a change from a motorbike and pedalled around the shops and a few miles down to the beach. We did a lot of tanning on those bikes, it’s realy really hot! We first reached a touristy bit of beach with sun beds etc, but 5 minutes further down it was deserted. You didn’t really have to venture far for some peace and quiet, even the bit with the sun beds only had a couple of people on it. The sand here’s amazing and really clean. They really look after Hoi An, there’s no rubbish all over the place as in other places. The view’s like a postcard. Pictures coming soon when I find decent wifi!

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Last night we went out on the bikes again and at night Hoi An’s even nicer. The river that flows through the middle is lit up and the trees all have the handmade bright multicoloured chinese looking lanterns hanging up. The market is still open and there’s lots of little shops, restaurants and bars along the front. Not in your face thought, just nice and quiet. The streets are undeveloped and not paved well so it’s like you’ve gone back in time. Really nice place to be at night. The nicest place we’ve found in Vietnam and the nicest people. This is how I imagine Vietnam would be and it’s nice to find it! We stopped off for some ice creme on the way back and then popped into a tailors to see if they could sort us out wit anything for Rick and Kelly’s wedding in August. They’ll do me the dress I liked in any material/colour for 15 dollars made to measure, and Taz his ideal shirt for 15. This was without bartering. And yu don’t pay unless it’s right after they’ve made it. They also offer 100% silk ties with matching cuff links for about 20 dollars (I think I remember this right) which is good apparently??

So today we’re off on our pedal bikes again in the heat to the lovely white beach for some relaxation… probably the shade for me, any browner and I’d be unrecognisable!

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Wednesday 29th April 2009

Well its our 4th day here and we are still enjoying the peaceful life here. Night times are just simple amazing because of how old the town is and how much character the buildings hide! There is a river that runs through the center of it and at night if you had landed here out of nowhere you would think its little Italy or something.

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The town is full of tailor shops and if you do have time and a little spare cash then we would defiantly recommend getting so clothes made. Jemma has had some dark jeans made with silver stitching and her name subtly embroidered on the back pocket in the same color. As if she designed them herself. Plus a awesome dress that you will not come across anywhere else in the world! I, myself have had some wicked cashmere silver/grey pants made with a personalized shirt! A timeless classic !!

Beer is very tasty and very cheap here too. Had cheap lager in Saigon and it was awful. 18p a glass you cannot grumble can you. Food is ok same same as the rest of Vietnam! You ask for grilled tuna fish and you usually get fried catfish and they always swear its not. You get sorta accustomed to it after time.

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Has rained for the last 18hrs which is a change but still really enjoying the peaceful area. One thing we will not miss when we do eventually leave Vietnam is the dangerous drivers on all the roads! Nobody looks ever while pulling out and coupled with the fact that they have no form of driving license or training you are defiantly risking you life. If they want to let someone know they are doing a dangerous stunt they just blast their horns continually!

Friday 1st May 2009

Today we are moving towns, in an hour we’re getting a bus to Hue where we’ll spend the night and get a bus to the Vietnam/Laos border the next day. Our visa runs out in 4 days so we want to get there in plenty of time to avoid getting ripped off because we’re last minute.

We’ve had a really enjoyable last couple of days. Our clothes that we’ve had made are excellent. Taz got his 2 pairs of trousers, a shirt and matching tie and I got my jeans and dress. Everything fits excellently after a few alterations! It’s hard to find clothes to fit as well as these (especially me trying to find jeans!) and the materials good too so you can’t complain. Taz’s trousers are cashmere wool stuff, whatever that means! My dress is thai silk. So we’re sorted for Rick and Kellys wedding in August! We posted everything today for 10 quid. It’ll be home in 3 weeks.

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NYX NYXWe have been enjoying everyday life in Hoi An. There’s plenty of food places and hotels that are within our budget and the drinks are ridiculously cheap. Last night we were just sat in a little restaurant chatting to a German man and an Irish couple and managed to drink quite a bit and the bill was so small. The rum you get is Vietnamese and nice enough to drink straight, they’re 40p and you get a small wine glass full, so we had some of them as well as the 18p beers. It’s a very relaxing place at night, and because it’s the 1st May today they had celebrations in the street last night. They had an art exhibition area lit with hundreds of small candles and it looked really nice. Kids were doing martial arts demonstrations. People were playing all sorts of instruments. All in all, an excellent last night in lovely Hoi An.

Bye bye! Jemma and Taz x

Saturday 2nd May 2009

Today has been a very long day. We’re knackered!! It all started when we arrived in Hue yesterday at around 5pm. After some food and a beer we set off to find a cheap hotel. What we didn’t expect to find was that every hotel was rammed with Vietnamese celebrating the bank holiday weekend. 2 hours and very sore shoulders later we took a hotel up on the offer of a matress in reception with the night staff. So that was that, we got some beers and rum in the busy bars and returned at midnight and got onto our matress! At 4.30am the kitchen staff arrived and we were awake, not wide awake because we were so tired but deifinitely awake!! At 6 am today our bus was supposed to arrive to take us up the Vietnamese coast towards the border to a place I think is called Hong Ha or something. It took off at 7am! We disembarked the comfy coach 2 hours later and tried to find the bus station so we could get to Lao Bao which is on the Vietnamese side of the Viet/Lao border.

We found our transportation – a mini bus designed for 8 or 9 people. It had 20 people rammed in for most of the way. The jourey took about 1.5 hours… long enough!

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So there we were at Lao Bao with no sign of accommodation so we decided we’d leave today and walked over the bridge into Lao and had to pay 30 quid each to get in.

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They have a list of prices for different countries and UK is at the very top 😦 In Lao we intended to stay near the border but we had 10,000 Laos kip left after the cost of the visa and the nearest ATM was 10k away so we decided to get a bus out of there. Thankfully a company let us get on, promising to pay them when we got to Savannaket because we had no money! For our massive 10,000 kip (about 80p) we got 2 bottles of water, 5 cobs of bread and 2 bundles of rice wrapped in banana leaves, nice!! We like Laos already, they charge us tourists 50p-80p for water in Vietnam.. 6 hours later we arrived in Savannaket after picking up a guy who’d had a motorbike accident and had clearly not been wearing a hemlet. I thought we were takng him to a hospital but we dropped him in the middle of nowhere. He apparently lives in the middle of nowehere.

And here we are in Savannaket!! On first appearances it’s a nice little place, cheap. Our hotel is only about 7 quid air-conned. It’s not too busy but we still found a little bar for beers.

I’ve no idea what we’ll do in Laos or how long we’ll stay in any place. We have one place to be and that’s Bangkok to meet Sarah mid May but in the meantime, Laos is our oyster.
Goodbye for now, the Laos beer (which is also very good) is calling!