4th August - 18th August 2010
We had been on the coach for about 15 minutes when the driver’s assistant delivered the news. Our visas were valid from the 5th August and it was only the 4th. We might not be allowed in the country and we might be left behind somewhere on the border! It was about 3 hours to the border, 3 hours of torment - how could we be so silly? We had applied for the visas as soon as we arrived in Phnom Penh, before we decided to head for Vietnam a day earlier. To make matters worse, the border control area was chaotic. About 150 people we crammed in a lobby for about an hour and then names were called one at a time for people to pass through. We were still there with the last 20 or so when Ellie’s name was called, then Steve’s. We had been told to have $10 to hand for a ‘gift’ so we were optimistic. We both made it through the visa section and passport control and into Vietnam. Ellie however noticed that she had just got through on someone else’s passport - Ellie Lewis when called out
by a Vietnamese sounds like Helen Louise! A quick swap over and we were delighted to have made it!
As soon as we got off the bus in Saigon, we headed to get a local bus to the coast. It was getting late into the afternoon though so we got a taxi to bring us to the bus station via a cashpoint. After driving like a reckless crazy fool - some of the time being on the correct side of the road - he got us there charging us 500,000 dong. We had just withdrawn 2,000,000 which was the maximum, so we thought something was wrong. We later discovered that the dot was in the wrong place on the faulty meter so it should have been 50,000 - scammed again our’kid. Never again we vowed!
We arrived late in Vung Tau, and found a guest house for the night. The next day we were greeted by a wonderful view of the sea from our window and the weather was baking. Vung Tau is a weekend retreat for locals, so they don’t speak much English which made it fun! We headed for the big monument of Jesus Christ, apparently
it is taller than the one in Rio. The climb up the steps in the heat was torture but the view from the top was awesome. After trundling around some, we decided to spend the afternoon on the beach. Vung Tau was very relaxing and it was nice to be the only tourists there, a break from the city life we had been accustomed to. The following day we headed back to Saigon, batteries recharged.
So, it had been four weeks since the infamous hospital trip and Steve decided it was most definately time for a beer! We dropped our bags off and headed to the nearest pub. The first beer was done and dusted in a matter of seconds and Steve looked ever so pleased with himself. This was then followed by another 5 beers from Steve (which were drunk in the same time as it took Ellie to have three very strong cocktails) by which time we were both feeling a small bit tipsy. We went for some dinner but cant remember much about that and then headed to bed.
The next day was all about the sites! The Presidential Palace was first and on entry
we were asked if we wanted an English tour guide. Being the cheap skates that we are our first question was ‘how much?’ and when she answered with free, we both accepted in unison. It was useful to have the guide as a lot of it wouldn’t have made sense without explanation and it was a really interesting visit. This was followed by the War Remnants Museum which, it seemed to us, put the whole blame for the Vietnam war on the Americans. There was a huge amount of propaganda and pictures of suffering and virtually no mention that any Vietnamese people had been involved in the fighting. We were both pretty glad not to be American at that point and spoke really loud in ‘Hugh Grant’ English just in case.
After all that educational stuff we decided to acquaint ourselves with Vietnamese culture....... and head for the Hard Rock Cafe. This was a big treat for us as the prices were surprisingly similar to the prices in Britain but we were excited to have some proper western fare as 7 weeks in to our trip we were really starting to miss it.
That night, we boarded a
night train headed for Danang in the central coast of Vietnam. As soon as we boarded the train, we knew we were in hell. Firstly, we had got the cheapest sleeper seats which meant being on the top bunk of three, very close to the ceiling and the other bunks were taken up by a young family with two babies. Half an hour into the journey and one of the babies was sick all over the floor and it was about an hour before they cleared it up. This was then followed by them turning the lights on and off whenever they felt like it and babies crying through the night! When we eventually arrived in Danang 17 ½ hours later we were pretty relieved.
At the station we walked into a scrum of taxi drivers who were offering us really expensive fares. We settled on the cheapest (as usual) and as we walked towards the ‘taxi’ we realised it was two motorbikes. Halfway to our next destination, Hoi An, they pulled over at a roadside cafe and offered us a drink. During this drink they told us about their ‘Easy Rider’ tours where we could see as many
sites as we wanted in as many days as we wanted. This was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss so we settled on a three day tour, which took in all the sites in the central part of Vietnam that we had originally found a bit inaccessible. We arranged for them to pick us up from Hoi An two days later.
Our first full day in Hoi An was all about getting things sorted! Our bank accounts had been blocked so we spoke to the banks and then got some money. However, this ended up taking a very good part of the day and by the time we eventually got round to sitting in the sun, it had started raining so instead we got ourselves into a cafe and whiled some hours away. The next day we were very exited about a cooking class we had booked. The day started early and we went to an organic farm where they showed us herbs and vegetables and then gave us a drink which looked like it had frog spawn in it, it was however delicious. After this we went to a local market where the chef picked up things
As you can see, it was pretty spacious!
that we needed for our cooking and then headed over to the cooking school where we were given a beer and told to get into the pool whilst they prepared the ingredients. It was then time for some serious cooking!! Steve got stuck into it and was really quite good whereas Ellie struggled somewhat and when she said that she didn’t do much cooking at home, chef said he could tell. He also said that it scared him when Ellie had the knife so he ended up doing quite a lot of her chopping. We met a couple of nice Aussie’s who live in Sydney so will hopefully meet up with them later in the trip.
After all that hard work (!?!) at the cooking school, we met up with our French friends, Eloi and Cilia who had just arrived in Hoi An. A few hours and a good few cocktails later, we stumbled back to the guest house to find there had been a power cut, no lights and far more disastrously...... no air-con!! Luckily, we survived through the night and got up at 7am the next morning to meet Duong and Thi, our ‘Easy Rider’ drivers.
I'd been carrying this for three weeks so I was going to bloody well enjoy it!!!
We had a great three days with the Easy Riders. Day one we were taken well off the usual tourist trail where we met with minority communities living in the mountains, saw lots of beautiful landscape and ended the day bathing in a natural hot spring. Day two was all about the war.... we started at Hamburger Hill before heading into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which straddles the old border between North and South Vietnam. Here we saw Ta Con Airstrip which is an old airbase which was used during the Battle of Khe Sanh in 1967/8. We also visited Vinh Moc tunnels which is where some northern Vietnamese people lived during the war. The deepest of these tunnels was 23 metres below ground level, and despite ventilation it was pretty hot and very claustrophobic down there!
The final day with the Easy Riders we travelled to Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. On the way we stopped at an old Catholic church which was the subject of a siege in 1973. The church is completely untouched and we could see the bullet holes and bomb damage, which was quite shocking. After a walk round the historic Citadel of
Authentic farmer at the organic farm, Hoi An
Minutes before this photo he had tried offering Steve a massive grub to eat - cheeky boy!
Hue, we parted company with Duoung and Thi and boarded the night bus to Hanoi, the capital city.
Getting onto the night bus we were a little bit excited as we had seen these buses from the outside and it looked kinda cool. Just minutes later we realised that we were in for a long night with very little sleep. The seat/beds were not exactly roomy especially for someone of Steve’s size and it was impossible to get into a comfy sleeping position. Then someone started snoring realy loud and suddenly we were longing for the baby sick train carriage. We arrived in Hanoi feeling somewhat sleepy and not sure if we could cope with the four hour trip to Halong Bay (which was our next intended destination). In the tourist office where we were dropped off we got chatting to a couple of northern lads and a German (Matt, Dan and Mike) who had also been on the hellish night bus and were considering Halong Bay. In the end we all decided to go on a 2 day, 1 night organised ‘cruise’ which turned out to be a fantastic decision. The boat we were cruising on was an
old Chinese style junk boat and we spent most of the first day sunbathing on the top deck, drinking beer and enjoying some really beautiful scenery! Once we dropped anchor we were allowed to swim in the sea so all the lads and the Aussie girl, Jess, were jumping from the top deck. Ellie, living up to her usual wuss-ness could only manage a jump off the bottom deck but it was still fantastic. After a few of the boys had swam over to hijack another boat, found it boring and came back, we were called to dinner and then it was time for karaoke. Everyone in our group (7 out of the 20-odd on board) was already a few beers to the good so karaoke was always going to be interesting.
The singing was opened by Matt but it wasn’t too long before we were all wailing along....then it was Steve’s turn who belted out an Elton John number and serenaded the Vietnamese barman in the hope of a free drink but to no avail. The singing continued with a few of the other boat guests and even the barman singing some weird Vietnamese song. It didn’t take
for the remaining 13 guests to escape to the top deck but we continued nonetheless and finished the night with a tribute to the Welsh, Tom Jones’ Delilah which started off so beautifully sung but was soon just drunken shouting. After a few more hours we retired to our little cabin and got a few hours sleep.
We were woken at 5.50am when they decided that we no longer needed electricity in our cabins which meant no fans to keep us cool. After breakfast we went kayaking in the bay which was very peaceful and good for our sore heads! We then headed back to the mainland for our 4 hour bus ride back to Hanoi.
On returning to Hanoi we checked into a guest house with Matt, Dan and Mike and arranged a big night out - this will go down in history as being ‘The Infamous Night in Hanoi’. We started the night eating Italian food at Little Hanoi then went on to a few bars before settling on a club for the night. The club had everything.... loud music, strong cocktails, headbanging Asians and even a small group of lady boys, who seemed to take
Eloi with ever so manly beverage!
It was called a Bikini - how could he resist.
a liking to both Matt and Steve. At 4am, after hours of sweaty dancing, Steve, Matt and Ellie decided it was time to head out and source a late night snack. This is where the drama begins to unfold. The three of us jumped onto 2 motorbike taxis and slurred something about getting food - mostly along the lines of ‘where might we get a kebab/sandwich/chips’. The driver said he knew somewhere good so we went along with it and before we knew it we were sitting at a table staring at three huge plates of beef fried rice.... not exactly what we wanted but grub all the same. As we were eating the chef decided that we should pay 190,000 dong for the three plates, which is not only far more expensive than usual but also not even divisible by three. When we questioned this, we were told that the food was 63,333 dong each which we dismissed as total rubbish. However, being a bit drunk we were probably not at tactful as we should have been and, while still eating our food, Ellie sat there calling them thieves while Steve told them ‘you just got greedy, you should
have said 180,000!!’. We put down 120,000 which they were not too happy about so hastily got out of there fearing we may be followed by the group of Vietnamese that had gathered. We jumped in a taxi at the first opportunity and agreed a price of 70,000 dong to get us back to the guesthouse asap - mistake no.2.... Firstly, after telling us he knew our guesthouse, he blatantly did not as he got lost three times having to ask locals for directions. Then, after going through a no entry sign, he crashed his taxi into a big slab of concrete that was lying in the road next to a construction site. We were shocked by this, but then even more shocked when he tried to overcharge us on the basis of the damage to his car. Obviously this was completely ridiculous and we paid the agreed amount and scurried into our guesthouse before we caused any more trouble. By the time we eventually got into our bed, the sun had risen and the locals had started work for the day.
The next afternoon, we woke once again with a groggy head and spent the rest of the
day eating and chilling out with the lads in a Playstation 3 bar (normally this would have been a problem for Ellie but the comfy seats were enough to persuade her). In the evening we had a couple of very quiet drinks with the lads followed by a relatively early night.
The following day was our last in Hanoi and we went with Matt to see Ho Chi Minh’s palace and house. This was our token bit of sightseeing for Hanoi but was interesting nonetheless. This was followed by a couple of goodbye drinks with Matt then a Vietnamese dinner to round off the Vietnam experience.
Our flight out of Hanoi didn’t start too well as we arrived in Hanoi airport and found it full of stalls of tat and about 10 duty free shops - nowhere to get a bloody coffee which was a real need after our 5am start. However, not too long later we were up in the air and on our way to Kuala Lumpur and had a nice stress free flight. We really enjoyed ‘Nam and met some very nice people but we couldn’t help notice a divide between North and South Vietnam
in terms of the attitudes of the people towards us. We had been warned about this by Duong who was a true southerner and we can definitely say that we preferred the South to the North.
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