Ho Chi Minh City and Southern Vietnam
Ok, so this blog has been a while coming. Mainly due to me not being allowed to upload my photos whilst in Vietnam.
We arrived in Vietnam, what seems like a long time ago, travelling by boat from Phnom Penh - a spectacular journey - and arriving without incident in the Delta. Our original plan from there was to stay in the Delta for a while, but we decided to head straight for Ho Chi Minh City - the locals still call it Saigon at times, but it was considered to have been given a new start once the fighting ended so they renamed it in honour of their leader. By the time we arrived, we were so tired that we checked into the first hotel we found - that was a mistake, and we moved onto a much nicer Guesthouse first thing the next day.
Following the usual routine on arriving in a new city, we set off to amble through the streets, getting a good feel for the place, and seeing as many sites as possible. Before I get onto the sites, I'm going to get back onto traffic. Now, I think Thailand may still be the worst, purely because there's more of it. But, in Vietnam there seems to be a continual game of 'Chicken' going on! The lights (they have them, and to my surprise obey them most of the time), but come the green light and it's like Carmageddon out there! Now, imagine trying to cross that... It took us 5 minutes at one point before we felt it safe enough to go!
Back to wandering the streets. Out first stop was the War Remnants Museum, featuring some of the vehicles involved in the American war, and focusing heavily on the photographers and the effects of Agent Orange. Seeing what that chemical has done to the people and countryside is frightening, and realising how many it affected is just unthinkable. Speaking to some of the Vietnamese people, you realise they'd either been directly affected, or have a direct relation who has. The photographers' stories were amazing, seeing the shots they took, on occassions where their camera had saved them, and on others, were it had been their undoing. The machinery was also largely in good condition, even the planes that had been shot down.
In the centre of town, we came across Notre Dame Cathedral - yes, there is one in Paris too. Wandering the streets for a few more hours, we settled on top of the Majestic hotel to watch the world go by with a beer or 3. This really is a great way to pass a few hours, and get some colour in my case, and I can see why travel writers enjoy it so much. We sat slack jawed, whilst the madness on the roads continued, and the ferries did piroettes in the river for no reason other than to keep the timing correct between the 2 boats. Each ferry also delivered another load of scooters onto the already heaving roads.
I'm not normally one for organised tours, but it seemed like the best way to get the most out of the Delta. On that trip, we were taken through a floating market, a rice paper and Coconut Candy factory - fresh coconut candy is delicious! Taken for a fantastic fresh water fish lunch and cycle round a village (on a bike equivalent to a BMX for me), finishing off with a visit to a brick factory (ok, even though I'm a civil engineer, I could have quite easily skipped that!), and then a local market which sold snakes. Yummy! We also got to try snake wine, which is very similar to Sake in Japan.
We also did a trip around the Cu Chi tunnels to the West of Ho Chi Minh. This tunnel network was constructed and used by the Vietcong during both the French and American wars, and was made up of a network of tunnels some 250km in length. Our guide was a veteran from the war, fighting in the American army telling us the stories of how the VC evaded them for so long using some fairly simple but effective tricks. We also got to see how the VC lived, crafted weapons from US ordnance and survived for so long. Part of the tunnel network still exists, and has been widened and heightened for 'fat westerners' as the guide put it. I also took the opportunity to be slightly childish and fire an M16 rifle on the range. Ok, I'll admit, it was a buzz.
Our next stop up the coast was Mui Ne, which is a quiet beach resort famed for it's place on the Asian Kite Surfing circuit. You can see why! For starters, the beach was golden and the wind and waves just perfect. When we arrived, the sea (and sky) was alive with kite surfers, jumping in and out of the waves. When we hit the beach, the waves were so good, I could've mucked around in them for ages - those who know me, know I'm not so good at sitting around doing nothing on a beach. The food was also superb, and we enjoyed doing nothing so much, that we ended up spending 4 days there. Alright, not strictly nothing. We did swim and go for a cycle along the 20km of coast.
Carrying on to the North, we arrived at Nha Trang where we would be for Tet - Chinese New Year. I'll start by saying that this place is a real tourist trap. Having spent the last few days in a lightly developed area, to suddenly be engulfed by this resort town reminiscent of something on the Med, was quite overwhelming. We had fun in the evenings, but there wasn't a massive amount to do during the day due to the choppy seas, and we had to stay there till after Tet - which as it turned out was a good thing due to the major party atmosphere in the town! Again, the food was excellent, the people we met were all friendly and we did have a great time. Although one barmaid really struggled with my name, and in the end opted for calling me 'Chris' the whole time.
Our one dread was the forthcoming 12 hour bus journey upto Hoi An...