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Vietnam

Vietnam – Halong Bay

How Long... Ha Long

sunny 36 °C

Probably what I had been looking forward to most in South East Asia was saved till last. Ha Long Bay is a world heritage site and one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. Legend says that the Vietnamese people called to the gods for a dragon to help them in battle with the Chinese. A mother dragon with her child dragon were sent from the heavens, but when they came to Ha Long Bay they gave up on fighting and stayed because it was so beautiful. Those dragons, you can never trust them!!

So our final overnight bus from Hue brought us into Vietnam’s cultural capital and historical capital of the North, Hanoi. Checking into a hotel we quickly scouted around for a company to spend a night on a junk boat in the bay. There are around 1500 boats that operate in Ha Long Bay ranging from super luxury to super terrible. As enjoying a night in the Bay is a once in a lifetime experience, we were keen to make sure we steered clear of the latter. We settled on a company who were good value but promising a high level of service. We will see if they deliver!

The bus picked us up from the hotel and an hour or so into the trip from Hanoi we made a shopping stop. Wasting 40 minutes sat around not wanting to buy any overpriced handcrafts, I would have much preferred spending this time relaxing on the boat. Getting back into the bus the landscape started to get more dramatic as we passed plenty of rice paddies framed with limestone mountains in the distance

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Out at Ha Long City Port, there were swathes of tourists and just as many boats chugging around making their pickups before heading straight out again. A lot of the boats looked less than seaworthy, in desperate need of a paint job and packed to the brim. We had sinking feelings ourselves that our trip might not be too good. Fortunately though as a boat approached the jetty, it looked promising and with relief we were asked to board the boat. There were only 14 of us on our boat which was a really good group size to make it not crowded on board but also friendly enough for a chat with someone. The fit out on the boat was very good too, high quality wooden interior, nice cabins with air-conditioning and some good sun decks we were instantly happy that our $55 was a bargain. Actually, we got told not to say how much we paid to the other people as some had paid double that amount.

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Our welcome lunch onboard

We immediately sat down and enjoyed a really tasty and filling lunch of seafood, fish, chicken and vegetables as we crossed from the mainland to the archipelago of 2000 islands that sit off the coastline. After finishing the lunch we got to finally sit on deck and enjoy the views as we started to weave in and out of the dramatic islands.

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We pulled into a bay where we stopped at a cave, known as Surprising Cave. The first thing we noticed was the amount of boats around. Any tranquillity of the place is quickly lost with hundreds of boats moving in and out to drop off loads of tourists. Unfortunately it becomes part and parcel of being an incredible place that so many people come to see it, us included.

After we got off our boat we walked up to the cave entrance and our guide told us the legend of the Ha Long Bay dragons and the history of the caves. Once we got through the first part of the cave, we found out why the cave is referred to as the ‘Surprising Cave’ before walking around the rest of the impressive cavern. We have seen a fair few caves on the year long journey, but even so, this one was still very good.

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Hmmm, surprising

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The view from the cave out to the bay was quite nice too and we got the obligatory photos before waiting for our boat to collect us again amongst the fruit sellers.

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Back on the boat we spent the afternoon kayaking around the bay for a short 30 minutes of allocated time before heading to an island where we walked up a few hundred steps to a vantage point over the bay. The view was great, even with the small armada of boats that were raiding the bay. We had a chance to swim at the island before getting back on the boat, however closer inspection of the water turned us away from that idea. The scenery of Ha Long Bay is stunning, but unfortunately the imprint that tourism is leaving on it is sad to see.

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We moored up soon after and enjoyed another good meal onboard and watched the sun set behind a big storm cloud which cast shadows across the sky before putting on a light show of its own. We played some cards into the night in the tranquillity of the bay before a comfortable sleep in the airconditioned cabins.

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As we were walking through the cave earlier in the day I was looking up at the ceiling and busted my toe on a step, leaving a bloody hole in the end of it. Luckily there was a Dentist on board... Mateo’s profession of pulling teeth also lends itself nicely to patching up toes it seems :-)

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We set our alarms for sunrise in the morning. It wasn’t bad, especially seeing it over the landscape of Ha Long Bay, but we should have got up about half an hour earlier to get the best colour of the morning.

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The rest of the day we got to just relax on the boat with only a quick stop on the way back to the port. The scenery for the two days was absolutely amazing and we had managed to get some good luck with our boat, but the crowded feel of the bay with all the boats unfortunately distracts you a little bit.

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Our plan for after the boat trip was to get ourselves across to Cat Ba Island which is the biggest of the islands in Ha Long so we could enjoy the scenery by our self for a while. While we were on the junk boat, we asked the guide for info of how to get there. Unfortunately in Vietnam, everyone can organise stuff for you and get a healthy commission from doing so. Therefore giving you information on getting somewhere by yourself doesn’t pay any dividends. So we first got told that he could sort out a hotel and boat over to Cat Ba (The most expensive way naturally). After we said that we wanted to catch the public ferry that we read about, he said it would be very hard and hotels would be full over on the island so we couldn’t just sort that out when we arrived. After constantly turning down his offers and friendly advice regarding how difficult it would be, we finally convinced him that we were happy to just get ourselves over there and all we needed doing was dropping off at an intersection on the road back to Hanoi. At our final lunch stop at the port, the guide told us that he couldn’t drop us at the road, and we would have to find our own way there (even though it was on the way!!). Fed up with misinformation and his offers anyway, we shared taxi to the docks where the public ferry departed from.

For about $2 each we got to Cat Ba on the public ferry (opposed to the $20 each that our guide could have sorted for us) and it wasn’t overly difficult after getting pointed in the right direction. Naturally we were the odd ones out on the boat, as it was full of Vietnamese with only 3 other western tourists on the ferry. The funny thing about the ferry crossing, is that it its route was probably even more impressive than the Junk boat route!

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The Cat Ba Ferry

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We had to negotiate a share taxi (with the other westerners) at the northern port on Cat Ba island, which quickly came down from 500,000 dong each to 20,000 dong each once we pointed at the sign that showed the bus fares to Cat Ba town should be 15,000. Once in town we rented 3 motorbikes and set off to find somewhere simple to stay on a nice quiet beach somewhere on the island. Before we set off, we wanted to get some ice for our carton of beers that we had been carrying around since Hanoi (we got it for the boat but was not allowed it on there as they had an overcharging Bar for drinks). The best ideas come when there is the greatest need, and we solved the problem of warm beers quite nicely...

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The moto luggage compartment, a perfect cooler box

We hit the road and drove out through some beautiful scenery. We came across a little cove with not another person around and parked up the bikes, got out some ice cold beers and enjoyed them on the beach with a swim to follow. As we were leaving town, Heloise was one of the other westerners who was on the ferry, and she had rented a bike too so she joined our little convoy for the afternoon.

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Our nice little deserted cove

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The 6 of us got back on our bikes and continued on looking for somewhere to sleep, we didn’t have much luck though by the time we reached the end of the road, so turned back to head for Cat Ba town for a place there. Unfortunately Heloise, had picked up a flat tyre on the last stretch of road, but we weren’t far from a place that could fix it. When she went to get her money and phone out of the storage compartment on the bike she realised that they were missing. She had left her stuff in the bikes while we were at the cove and someone must have opened up the bikes while we were down at the beach!

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Getting the tyre changed held us up from seeing the sunset, and we ended up riding back in the dark. We found a place to stay for a reasonable rate and good enough rooms before getting some food along the main road.

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Love a bit of ‘Fried Crap’ in my spring rolls

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View from our rooms in the morning

Back to just the 5 of us again in the morning we stocked up the bikes with more beer and ice and headed into the centre of the island to the national park. There was an hour walk in the national park up to a vantage point. It turned out to be the most sweaty, laborious walk that we have probably done in the year of travel with 38 degree heat and 90% humidity hard conditions to walk in for 10 minutes, let alone an hour of solid uphill. The inland views from the top were good, but not as stunning as they would have been looking off into the sea with the surrounding islands. We just welcomed the wind at the peak which gave us a moments respite from the sweat!

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Ice box and a cup holder too, i’m getting me one of these back home

We then stopped at hospital cave, which was an interesting stop. During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese built a pretty extensive hospital in this cave with some smart defences and escape systems. We were shown around the cave and given the history, but the guide was a lot more interested in showing us his collection of coins and notes from around the world. He had a banknote from 38 countries in his wallet which he showed us, but it was his US$2 note from 1967 that was his pride and joy!

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The entrance to hospital cave

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The view from hospital cave

After lunch back in town, we headed back out to the west coast for sunset. Unfortunately the sky wasn’t as clear as it was the prior day, so we didn’t get too great a sunset. More ice cold beers made up for that however!

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On the final morning we headed over to some of the beaches close to town for a final swim before getting a ferry and bus back to Hanoi. We spent a final night together with nice food, incredibly cheap beers, cards and plenty of laughs as we all went in different directions the following day. Tanya and I caught a flight to Hong Kong, sorry to be leaving the other 3 behind after a great few weeks of travel with awesome companions!

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Seeing Halong Bay was a fitting finale to South East Asia in terms of the amazing scenery. Vietnam has been an interesting country with much more of a scramble for the tourist dollar making it so difficult to do things by our self. Luckily having our little group always made the difficulty of getting out on our own worth it every time!

Tanya – Halong bay is an absolutely stunning place and we wanted to get amongst the islands for the best possible sunset and sunrise views which had to be from a boat surrounded by the beautiful scenery. Although the Vietnamese don’t seem to understand independent travel, we finally managed to break away and the car ferry across to cat ba island probably provided the best scenery of the bay without hundreds of tourist boats.

Posted by dbgomes 04:35 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam round_the_world Comments (3)

Vietnam – Hoi An

Shopaholics Anonymous

sunny 40 °C

Vietnams most picturesque city, Hoi An´s old town has kept its traditional buildings, small lanes and tailor shops. After coming through a few of the big cities, this change to a nice small more peaceful city was great. And to make things even better for the 3 girls, shopping is cheap and everywhere. Mateo and I on the other hand didn’t quite have the same enthusiasm for the shopping.

We had an overnight sleeper bus taking us up to Hoi An and as we were now in our group of 5, we were given the back row beds which was a cosy setup for the nights sleep. There ended up being people sleeping on the floor in the aisles and everything, so at least we had a bed each.

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The streets are very nice to walk around and after having some breakfast down by the river, the girls stopped to look in a shop. Mateo and I said we would go and sort out our bus tickets for the following trips and meet the girls back at the hotel in 15 minutes. 2 and a half hours later we had had a snooze and showered by the time that it seemed the 3 girls had visited every shop in Hoi An and made a number of purchases of tailored dresses to be made over the next day or two.

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For the afternoon we once again hired some motorbikes with Tanya taking her own one this time. We headed out to the coast and north to a small set of rocky hills called the Marble Mountains. The ride out was nice, and the breeze on the motorbikes was a welcome relief from the heat! The Marble Mountains had a lot of Buddha images and temples that we took a while walking through and having a bit of fun here and there.

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We found out that Mateo is actually a ghost in the form of an Italian body

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The view from the Marble Mountains

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On the way back to Hoi An we stopped at the local beach which was jam packed with local people enjoying the balmy evening and slightly cooler water. We sat on a mat and ordered a round of drinks and played cards for a while as an awesome sunset played out before our eyes.

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Back in Hoi An we walked around the streets as they were full of colour and light with all the shops showing their stock. It really is a beautiful little city Hoi An. We had some good food and drinks before retreating back to our air conditioned hotel rooms for some more cards and drinks

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The following day the girls went to check on the progress of their recent purchases before we hired some pushbikes to ride around the old town with. We crossed the river and managed to keep at it for about 30minutes before the heat became too unbearable. From this part of Vietnam and further north, the weather isn’t wet and dry season, but rather a traditional northern hemisphere 4 seasons. So we were in the height of summer with 40 degree temperatures. Mateo and I called a day on the bike riding at that point and sought the comfort of ice cold beers for the sum total of 4000 dong each ($0.20) while the girls took the opportunity of not having us around to do some more shopping and hunting out the local markets. A win win situation really, apart from the budget of course.

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We cycled back out to the beach again to spend the afternoon before coming back into town and doing some more exploring under the cooler conditions of the night. The colonial architecture that has been preserved really does make it an enjoyable city to walk around and get photos.

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We had an early morning bus pick us up from our hotel and take us a few hours north to the city of Hue where we had another bus that night to Hanoi. We had about 5 hours to spare in Hue so walked over the river to the citadel that used to be the home of the emperor Nguyen. It wasn’t spectacular but gave us something to do for a few hours before the next bus journey

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Probably the prettiest city we have seen in Asia since Pingyao in China. Still with old buildings and traditional shops, you have to stop here on any tour of Vietnam. Although watch out if you have female company with room to spare in their bags...

Tanya – The city had that oldie worldly charm and the countless tailors, shoemakers etc that made it even more special. Luckily with 20c beers, we could find room in the budget (plus room in my backpack) for a few additional purchases.

Posted by dbgomes 00:58 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam round_the_world Comments (0)

Vietnam – Central Beaches

Flying kites and slippery slides

sunny 35 °C

Leaving Ho Chi Minh on a sleeper bus for the 6 hours or so up to Mui Ne, it was the same type that we had in China, with rows of forward facing seats come beds. We had booked our bus ticket as an open ended ticket all the way to Hanoi, so we just booked a bus as we wanted. We drove along the coast prior to arriving in Mui Ne and my first thoughts were, I hope I can do some kiteboarding.

Tan and I had booked a hotel that we saw online at a good price which also had a roof top pool. A little bit of luxury is always welcome when it only costs a dollar or two more. Mateo and Tuli booked themselves into a guesthouse near the beach a few places down from us. We all met up on the beach after getting checked in and as I had read, there are lots of kiting places along the beach but there wasn’t a single kite out on the beach given it is not the right season, and the midday wind was pitiful. I spoke to an English bloke who ran one of the schools and he said that as it was offseason, the wind is very unreliable and without the wind we can’t do anything. The best thing he could do was take a contact number for me and if the conditions are good the following day he will let me know. Ever since seeing the kiteboarders in Mancora in Peru I wanted to learn while on this trip as it would be cheaper than doing it back in Perth, but given the prognosis, I basically resigned myself to missing out.

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For the afternoon we hired our favourite form of transport and rode to the outskirts of the city where there were some sand dunes to see. Tanya and I were hoping it would be something like we saw at Ica in Peru. The ride out was really nice as the road stuck close to the coast. When we got out to the dunes, they were not quite as impressive as we hoped, and it looked like they were being mined with big pits dug into them. We did find a spot that was not impacted from the activities and waited for the sun to set, but there were some ominous clouds to the west which obscured any colour in the sky.

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On the way back into town, we stopped at some basic looking food places that served fresh seafood. It turned out to be a great move, as the seafood was fresh, big, tasty and best of all, dirt cheap! Normally it’s pretty difficult to get completely full on seafood given it usually comes in small quantities, but Tuli, Mateo and I shared a huge spread of seafood including scallops, clams, mussels, squid, prawns and cuttlefish that set us back a mere $7.50 each. The same spread in Europe or Australia would have easily broke $25 each! The heavens opened just in time for our ride back to the hotel and by the time we get there we may have well swam back we were like drowned rats.

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In the morning, I looked out the window of the hotel and there looked to be a bit of movement in the trees below, but I hadn’t heard anything from the kite school. Just as we were about to head out the door, a message came though that said it looks like we were on. Down at the beach, the bloke said that I must be the good luck charm as there hadn’t been any good wind for a week. I started off on the small learner kite that gets you used to flying the kite and holding it in position. The wind was not really strong but it was clean and cross onshore being perfect for learning. I went through the kite setup on the big kites and then got harnessed up to start flying the proper kites. I mastered the big kite on the beach which requires a balance between the power and steering to hold the kite in place with the gusting wind. Just as we went to get ready for moving into the water and body dragging, there was a noticeable drop in the wind and it changed direction as a big black storm cloud rolled over the horizon. That brought my afternoon of kiting to an end, but it certainly won’t be the last time as I will definitely finish off learning in Australia and add a kite and board to my shopping list for once I am employed again :-)

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It was time for another BBQ seafood feast (except Tanya with her allergy to seafood) at a nice restaurant near our hotel and the following morning Tan and I enjoyed the benefits of having a pool in the hotel before we got our bus North to Nha Trang

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Getting into Nha Trang in the early evening we found a local guesthouse for our few days in town. We booked a tour visiting the Islands off the coast for the morning and went out for our third seafood banquet in as many days. This time even including some really good oysters along with everything else.

We were picked up from our guesthouse in the morning and arriving at the crazy boat port we had a funny feeling that this island tour was not going to be like we expected. There were countless amounts of boats all being filled up with big tour groups. We sat on the front row of our boat as it filled up and then the boat cranked its music to maximum volume and our guide for the day started to do a bit of a strip show on the bow of the boat!

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Boatloads of waiting tourists

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Our guides slightly disturbing pre-trip show.

With a full complement of passengers we pulled out from the docks but over half of the boat were Vietnamese on their weekend vacations. We got the usual speak about what we were going to do and all that before we arrived at the first island. We went for a swim to start off with. The boat had snorkels and masks but they were pretty average and the coral was less than impressive. For the next three hours we sat in the same spot first having our lunch, then joining up with 3 other boats to make a floating bar followed by singing, dancing and partying. From what we can gather this is what the Vietnamese like to do on their excursions as everyone from all 3 boats were really getting into it and having a great time. We are always up for a good time, but we had paid to come and see some islands and so far we had seen jack!

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We all had to get up and sing a song from our different countries, Mateo was a crowd pleaser.

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The floating barman who was also the drummer in the band

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We finally moved onto the second island where we got off the boat and paid our $1 entry fee for a crowded little strip of sandy beach. We escaped that pretty quickly to have a walk up the hill above the beach.

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We soon moved on while all the local tourists were enjoying their parasailing which had a very dodgy looking takeoff procedure from the beach above all the people swimming. The final island had an aquarium that the Lonely Planet said was alright, so we went in to see. It was ok, but i think you see better coral and fish just by going snorkelling down in Thailand and Indonesia than in the tanks here. We were soon back on the boat heading to the docks at the end of the days excursion feeling like we had seen very little of the islands that we wanted to see and much more Vietnamese partying. Ohh well, it was pretty funny at times!

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We got ready to go out for some dinner when we got back and Mateo and Tuli discovered that someone had stolen some money from their bags during the day. It was clearly the cleaner and she had been smart about it as she only took 1 million dong and $10US ($60 equivalent all up) obviously hoping that they wouldn’t realise the money was missing until a few days time once they left Nha Trang. We didn’t get much help from the hotel or police when we confronted them so left it for the time being.

That morning Valentina (who we spent time with in Cambodia and Laos) had arrived into town so we had organised that the 5 or us would go to the water and amusement park over at Vinpearl Island. The idea of a water park in Vietnam sounds like it might be a little lame, but I had some friends tell me that it was actually a good day out. The ticket was US$25 each but that included the cable car ride over to the island and everything except food. We got to the line for the cable car at around 10:30, just half an hour after opening time. There was a pretty long line which didn’t bode well for the rides over on the island but it moved quickly enough.

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See the excitement in our faces for a day at a water park!!

It turned out to be a really fun day as we all enjoyed being able to be big kids again. The water slides were actually pretty impressive, and for all of the morning it was really quiet and we never had to wait in line for a slide. We really enjoyed one of the slides where we went down in a big tube that sat all 5 of us going pretty fast, flinging us high up on the walls of the big slide. We had a break at lunch and rested on the beach before having a final blast through the water park in the afternoon before it shut around 5pm.

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The Tsunami Slide was also a favourite for the day with single, double and triple tubes allowed

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After leaving the water park we dried off while waiting in line for the toboggan. Certainly a lot of the Vietnamese tourists preferred the dry rides over the water rides as we experienced the pushing and shoving of the Asian queuing system. The ride was really fun though once we got on it. We had a go on most of the other rides as it got dark then we called it a day and got the cable car back over to the mainland for dinner.

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The following morning we hired some more motorbikes and headed about 50kms out of town to a waterfall. We had hired 3 bikes between the 5 of us, but given Valentina was riding a bike for the first time, the crowded city streets were not the ideal place to learn. A slight fall later and we returned one of the bikes and headed out to the waterfalls Asian style with 3 on one bike and 2 on the other. The drive took us on some nice stretch of road by the coast before getting onto the craziness of the highway.

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Our rather inappropriate USA helmets

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At the waterfall we walked up the rocks until we got to one of the many swimming spots in the river for a refreshing swim in the cool river water. We stayed there for a couple of hours swimming and exploring before heading back to the city. On the ride back we stopped in at a very small fishing village to try to find somewhere to eat. As it was not touristy at all we had to look pretty hard but finally found some traditional rice porridge bowls and roadside noodles.

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An interesting climb up the river

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Tuli’s meditation is so good that she can float on top of water

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Monumental blowout!

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We had another good meal this time at a Japanese sushi place before a rather late night with beers, pool and dancing.

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The girls mean business when they get their pool gloves on.

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In the morning we had a problem checking out of the hotel regarding the stolen money and trying to overcharge us for our rooms on top of it all. We left and the guy at the hotel then told us that he was going to phone the bus company and get them to steal our laptops from the bus that night!!! Needless to say that we all left bad reviews for this hotel on trip advisor!! If you are in Nha Trang, do yourself a favour and don’t stay at Thien Thanh Blue Sky Hotel.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – In months of travel where you go between temples, ruins, cities and hikes it was really good to just be able to go and have fun at Vinpearl and not worry about having to get out and see another sight! A fun few days with our little group of 5 amigos. Oh and the seafood... A-MAZ-ING

TanyaMot, hai, ba, YO! Well we learned one thing that we will take away from the ‘island’ tour – just say ‘1, 2, 3, cheers’ in Vietnamese and the locals will 'love you long time’.

Posted by dbgomes 09:36 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam round_the_world Comments (0)

Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City

The artist formerly known as Saigon

sunny 36 °C

It’s had a new name since 1975, but it’s also got a lot of modern history. Ho Chi Minh City also has about 10million people with a further 7 million motorbikes calling it home!! Trying to cross the road, it feels like all 7million are crossing that very intersection as you put your life on the line.

When we arrived into what was clearly the backpacker part of town, we got in contact with Mateo and Tuli who we did the Komodo Boat trip with in Indonesia. We had figured we would be in Vietnam around the same time as each other so we organised to meet up for dinner and drinks that night. We had a good catch up on what we had been up to for the last month and plenty of funny stories to hear. Our time for Vietnam is identical and had the same places in mind to visit so we decided that we may as well stick together as we work our way up the country!

The other two had a tour out to the Mekong Delta set for the following day so Tanya and I decided just to have a look around the city. We started off walking up to the reunification palace. Starting off as the palace for the French governors, it then turned into the palace for the presidents of the South Vietnamese governments following independence. During the Vietnam war, the Americans set up state of the art telecommunications and war rooms in the subterranean basement of the palace.

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We were shown around on a free tour of the palace. The interesting thing about the palace is that it has been kept as it was when the North Vietnamese stormed the palace to bring an end to the Vietnam War in 1975. The stately palace rooms and underground control centre complete with war maps and communications equipment was interesting enough for the morning and it was the first time we picked up an anti-American sentiment with the way the guide spoke about the war. The gambling room was particularly 70´s looking which made us laugh.

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Proclaiming the spot where a bomb landed in the taking of Saigon

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It was raining as we left and walked past the two tanks that crashed through the fence in 1975 to unify the country. Next destination was the War Remnants Museum. This used to be called the Museum of American War Crimes until Bill Clinton normalised relations with Vietnam. Although walking around the museum the old intent is still apparent. Tanya wasn’t too worried about going to the museum so she sat at a coffee shop while I went to visit.

There are tanks and aircraft that were left over from the war sitting outside, and the multi story museum in the middle. Now I didn’t actually know much about the political situation of Vietnam War so I found it really informative. Although you need to realise that what you are reading needs to be taken with a little pinch of salt. As the saying goes, history is written by the victors. For example, one part of the museum is reconstructed into the prisons of South Vietnam before the war for holding suspected communist North Vietnamese. The signs when you walk in this part highlight that the torture methods were carried out by the South Vietnamese but also make sure to continually remind the reader that it was while the American government was supporting the South. There is no doubting that this kind of inhumane treatment should never happen, but maybe I’m cynical to think that the North Vietnamese prisons wouldn’t have been holiday homes for the South Vietnamese prisoners that they took.

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In case you are also from generations post the Vietnam War and need a little history update, Vietnam first gained independence from being a French colony in 1954. At this point communism and democracy set up in the North and South with the American government fearing the spread of communism they supported the south leading many to view the South Vietnamese government as just a puppet government for America. A gurilla force known as the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) started to attack the south attempting to Liberate the South to join the North. As the South started losing through poor government and military against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, the US got deeper and deeper involved with full scale war until public and diplomatic opinion turned so much that the US withdrew leaving the South Vietnamese army to be overrun by the North.

One thing that the museum gives a lot of information about is the use of chemical warfare by the US during the war. Another thing that I wasn’t really aware of, but the extensive use of Agent Orange devastated the country. The chemicals in Agent orange are some of the strongest known to man and when these chemicals were spread all over the country it turned the lush countryside into barren wasteland so that the US could cut the supply lines all over the country. The worst part of the chemical agent is the lasting effects that it has had. Genetic deformities have been spread into the Vietnamese generations and even US military personnel. A big law suit was won by servicemen who spread Agent Orange but as a letter says in the museum, How can the man who dropped Agent Orange from his feet be compensated, while the millions of Vietnamese who had it rain on their heads be given no recognition. I certainly felt that using chemical warfare against what was in many ways just guerrilla armies was way over the top and warranted the international condemnation that it received then and still now!

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‘To the people of United Vietnam, I was wrong, I am sorry’

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So after a slightly propagandist education lesson, I met back with Tanya and went back to the guesthouse via a walk through the park. Lots of people were out for the afternoon plying badminton, throwing balls and kicking around the shuttlecock type thing that we saw lots of in China. Vietnam definitely has more of a Chinese feel about it compared to the rest of South East Asia with the people, food and mannerisms being similar to their Northern cousins.

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Later on we met up with Tuli and Mateo again ready to have some cheap Beer Hoi (street beer from as little as 15 cents per beer) before the European Cup Final between Italy and Spain that night. Being Italians, they both couldn’t miss it and i will usually take any excuse to stay up till 4am to watch a football match. We met a Danish bloke to share the beer hoi with and then went onto a bar to watch the game. Unfortunately the game wasn’t such a good result for our Italian friends and Mateo couldn’t even mention football for a few days to follow

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Full of hope and expectation through the National Anthem

In the morning we made a trip out to the Cu Chi tunnels. This was a vast network of tunnels that the VietCong used to fight against the US Army for years. After a 4am finish for the football, an 8am wakeup was hard, but at least the bus trip to the tunnels gave us another hour to catch up. Now I need to point out that I know that I have claustrophobic tendencies. Ever since I saw the movie Aliens when I was young, the part where Bishop crawls through the air vent to the relay station gave me nightmares of being stuck in that pipe, not the Aliens! So I was not so sure if i could get myself down into the tunnels. Only one way to find out!

The tourist area is part of what was a massive complex of tunnels that stretched 120kms to the Cambodian border allowing the Vietcong and North Vietnamese to plan their offensive around Saigon. We were first shown around the above ground areas of the tunnels where the escape hatches were hidden, air vents disguised as termite mounds and some traps hidden. The overriding thing that came through was how incredibly resourceful and smart the Vietnamese were. Wearing their shoes backwards so that the enemy couldn’t work out where they were going, to putting chilli powder round the air vent holes to cover the scent from the army dogs. At the escape hatch we had the opportunity to hop in the hidden hole for a photo. I took the chance to overcome any irrational fears

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An example booby trap complete with poisoned bamboo spikes

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An original unwidened tunnel

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A stop at the firing range where plenty of people had paid to shoot Vietnam War era weapons made us realise how much louder a gun battle is in real life compared to what you see in movies when people hold audible conversations with each other. We were then shown how rice paper was made before being taken down to crawl through 100meters of westernised (widened for us plumper westerners) tunnels. At this point all I wanted was to make sure I was the first person through so that I wasn’t boxed in by anyone which would have freaked me out I think. There were exits every 20 meters just in case, but I managed to make it to the end following the guide. Tan, and Mateo crawled through the last 20meters and Tuli could only bring herself to get into the doorway for a photo. I could completely sympathise with her!

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At the end of 100 meters I was sweating crazily from the humidity down in the tunnels. I was relieved to stand upright coming out the other side and 5 minutes was enough time for me down there. How the Vietnamese managed to live in the tunnels for years rarely coming above the surface is amazing! Even though the tunnels are wider than original, for us, it was an incredible way to experience life in the tunnels.

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We headed back to the city and had an early night ready for a morning pickup to take us to the beaches further up the coast.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – I think I may have slightly overcome any fear of enclosed spaces. Only slightly though!!!

Tanya – An introduction to the Vietnamese tourist conveyor belt. The tunnels were very well done and made a great day out despite the shopping trip on the way and the charges you don’t usually see. If youre going to go, don’t pay the guide on the bus, demand to pay at the entrance and only pay for what you want (the tea at the end costs 30,000 VND) and we didn’t even get to see the full video, just the last 2 minutes which also cost 20,000 VND. Regardless, the tour was very very good.

Posted by dbgomes 11:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam round_the_world Comments (0)

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