Survived the flight on the dodgy plane from Laos and landed safely into the tree-lined streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.
The next hurdle was avoiding getting run over! Not even Cairo had quite prepared me for the sheer chaos on the streets. Seemed like one million mopeds all driving in different directions. Crossing the road could be compared to Russian Roulette. In the end I gave up with the green cross code which quite frankly got me nowhere apart from the verge of a nervous breakdown and just crossed hoping everything would go around me – this seemed to be the winning formula! Although, since being in Vietnam, I have witnessed a few what looked to be fatal accidents.
Hanoi was nice with a definite French influence. We did our usual of doing the sites in a day and headed off on a boat tour of Ha Long Bay with its 3000 odd (not that I counted them) limestone vegetated islands rising from the emerald water.
Stopping off at a very dramatic cave lit with different coloured lights and looked more like it belonged
in Disneyworld rather than being a natural wonder of the world. Still, a nice cave. We also stopped off to allow us to jump overboard for a swim which I did rather hastily without realising the how difficult it was to get back on the boat without a ladder. Needless to say I recruited two poor mugs who looked quite strong to pull me up in a true beached whale style – No dignity! I just hope I didn’t put their backs out.
In the evening we docked at Cat Ba Island, a national park and our home for the night. Lesley and me hit the local Vietnamese nightclub with some other British girls we had met. Very amusing indeed, we felt like we had been transported back to a school disco. The place was full of Vietnamese teenagers all eager to try out their latest moves.
Back on the boat the next day, we secure prime sun baking positions to roast before heading back to Hanoi to board the night train to Hué.
What luxury compared with the Indian trains, but then they are about ten times more expensive. Hué, once the Vietnam capital in the Nguyen dynasty was a charming town. I hired a moped for the day and sped around the sites and surrounding countryside. The ancient Imperial City was quite impressive or would have been had it not been so badly bombed. I got a tad lost on the way back from the tombs and did a bit of off-roading on my 50cc moped – hardly a dirt bike but it eventually got me to civilization in the form of a small village. I stop to ask directions but considering the only Vietnamese word I have learnt is ‘come on’ which means ‘thankyou’ (being the polite person I am) as you can imagine I didn’t get very far. Instead of getting directions, I was mobbed by a load of women who seemed to derive great pleasure from stroking my arms and face as well as slapping me quite hard on the back. The Vietnamese women are not quite as gentle & submissive as portrayed.
From Hué we get a minibus to Hoi An stopping at various sites along the way. The old merchant town of Hoi An is very quaint with again a strong French influence reflected in the architecture and baguettes. Hoi An has been very bad news to our budgets as we both went a bit mad at the tailors shops. Lesley buying a whole new wardrobe with me not far behind. But 30 quid for 4 pairs of trousers, 3 tops and a skirt, all made very well and with good quality material, is not bad at all. But saying that, I really didn’t need them and have no room to carry them! Oh well at least we are the best dressed backpackers around.
While in Hoi An, I also treated myself to a massage which was a bit of an experience! Let’s just say that it was not your usual gentle, relaxing job. I had 4 women attacking me from every angle, and as I said before, Vietnamese ladies are far from gentle. I felt like I was being beaten up and there were even some women spectating. I was in hysterics, it was just so funny. Hence, the next day was spent recovering and relaxing on the beach before catching our night bus to Nha Trang.
Nha Trang, another seaside town was visited for the sole purpose of doing the Mama Hahn’s infamous booze cruise. Mama Hahn being well known for being quite a character, if not a bit of a crazy woman. Unfortunately, she had recently been arrested by the police for singing songs about alcohol on her trip – that’s communism for you! Despite her absence, we managed to have a good time and sink quite a few beers, I went a bit overboard with the free wine served from the floating bar in the sea.
The other key event in Nha Trang was my cyclo (similar to a cycle rickshaw) ride. As you may remember from previous emails, I have very bad judgement when picking a suitable man for the job – this time I got a blind man!!! You may think I am joking but ask Lesley, he really was blind as a bat and her one was leading my one. His blindness was later confirmed by his noticeable inability to see the money I gave him and by the fact that we had many near collisions.
From Nha Trang we board another night train to Ho Chin Minh City, aka Saigon – our last stop in Nam. Today I took a cyclo around Saigon visiting China Town, the Notre Dame cathedral and many other sites. I also went to a children’s home set up by the Irish woman Christina Noble (for those who have read her book). My cyclo driver this time was not blind or disabled but he did the usual and pretended that he could understand what I was saying. On asking him if he was one of those cyclo drivers I have heard about who take you down an ally and mug you he replied ‘Yes, that’s not a problem’!! So to clarify the matter I then asked if he was going to steal my bag to which he replied ‘Yes, Yes’. This is just an example of the communication problem we have been experiencing!
Tomorrow, I depart on a 2 day trip to the Mekong Delta to go on yet more boat rides, visiting more floating markets and the local settlements. On my return to Saigon I am hoping to also pay a visit to the Chu Chi tunnels utilized during the war for storage and refuge and contained sleeping quarters, hospitals and schools. You also get to fire a rifle from the war.
Next stop Singapore. Anyway enough of my waffling, it’s time to wake up now!