Published: November 10th 2011November 10th 2011
Sorry for the long gap between updates, I've been city hopping for the last couple of weeks, barely in one place more than a few days and wifi has been a bit unreliable.
Anyway, I apologise in advance if this goes on forever but I've been a busy bee.....
So I had my first experience of a sleeper bus from Hanoi to Hoi An via Hue. It was 14 hours I would prefer not to have to repeat again for a while! Unfortunately there is an unspoken rule in Vietnam that the tourists get the shoddy seat...., so we toddled off to the back of the bus not realising that the seats (which you can lie down in) were like bunk beds, on the bottom, you couldn't sit up, and the bunks were built for the average Asian sized person...i.e. 5ft5, two of the guys in our group are over 6ft3, Ciaran is 6ft6. Needless to say they weren't very comfortable sleeping with their knees tucked by their ears for 14 hours. If anyone gets these buses in the future request top bunks and not at the back!
Anyway 14 hours later we arrived half human half zombie into Hue, which was pretty boring and not worth writing about because we only stayed 4 hours before getting another bus for 5 hours to Hoi An.
Hoi An is a really beautiful coastal town with French colonial buildings and a tailor on every street corner. There is a river running through the centre of the town and a Japanese bridge decorated with multi-coloured lanterns...very picturesque. We had a really nice time here with the exception of one bad incident which I'll explain later. Hoi An is famous for its food and it's apparently cheap made to measure clothes. The food was great, but the clothes were disappointingly expensive and not that great quality. I tried explaining to one lady that I could get the same dress she was selling in Primark for 1/4 the price of what she was asking, she wouldn't budge on the price...maybe my haggling skills need a little fine tuning.
We stayed in Hoi An a few days but a couple of the girls I was sharing with got physically assaulted in our hotel room by a random guy who accused us of being noisey. He punched one girl in the face and kicked the other girl in the head....I was on the balcony and didn't witness it, only heard the commotion. The hotel staff were particularly unhelpful, more concerned about us waking people up whilst complaining. The culprit was a fellow guest who holed himself up in his room - probably for the best considering we are travelling with a large group of big guys. The next day they refused to give us back our passports until we had been to police station, but the police just laughed at us and told us it wasn't a big deal. We didn't stay another night at that hotel, but the previous owner rang our next hotel to warn them that we were trouble makers.....luckily she ignored them and seemed shocked at how we had been treated. The man who hit my friends checked out with no issues. So a word for the wise, there may as well be no police in Vietnam, and violence against women is normality. Thank god for the UK.
The girls were shaken up after this but otherwise fine, we got the next bus to Nha Trang. There isn't a massive amount to say about Nha Trang, it's a beach town, with a beautiful beach and a few bars, and not a whole lot else. It was nice to hang out and relax for a bit though after a stressful couple of days.
We only stayed in Nha Trang for 2 days and then got the bus to Dalat. Dalat is in the central highlands of south Vietnam. It has a completely different climate to the parts of the country that we had become used to i.e. humid and hot. Dalat is cold. I wore my jeans and jumper for the first time in 6 weeks, and I had goose bumps! Dalat at first glance could be almost any European city, it seems to have a lot more wealth than other towns we have visited. But the market is unmistakably Asian. Only in Vietnam could you have a stall selling both chicken feet and toothpaste.
One of my favourite days so far was our second in Dalat when we hired a taxi for the day with a legend of a driver..Mr We. He took us to a silk factory, a rice wine distiller, a coffee bean plantation, and an amazing waterfall called Elephant waterfall; where we scrambled across rocks in flip flops until we were standing behind the waterfall...beautiful (and wet). Has anyone heard of Weasel Coffee??? Well if not let me enlighten you about a Vietnamese delicacy......basically they feed weasels coffee beans, and then collect them after they have passed through the other end, wash them and make coffee about them. Apparently it makes the coffee taste divine, I want to know who on earth came up with the concept?? Can you imagine the chief executives at Nescafe sitting round a table in a meeting trying to think of new and inventive ways to expand their coffee range, and someone chirps up 'how about weasel coffee'.....anyway I haven't tried it but I have seen the weasels and the beans, before and after, that was enough.
After spending a few days in Dalat we got the bus back to the coastal town of Mui Ne. Ahhhh Mui Ne...I love this place, and if it didn't smell of fish sauce all the time, I could live here. (Mui Ne is Vietnam's largest exporter of Fish Sauce). Mui Ne reminds me of the south islands of Vietnam. Our hostel consists of beach bungalows - literally a stones throw away from the beach. Paradise, with an occasional whiff of le poisson.
Mui Ne is well known for its sand dunes. Yesterday the majority of the group did a day trip to the fairy stream, a fish sauce factory (this part of the tour lasted 2 and 1/2 minutes before everyone ran out gagging) and a visit to the sand dunes. The fairy stream was really pretty, the stream was only a few inches deep and the bottom was just sand. it led to some small sand dunes and some sinking sand. We then had the opportunity to ride an ostrich - yes you heard right. And I know what you're thinking - my previous experiences with Vietnam's wild life has been eventful, maybe she would think twice before getting on the back of an Ostrich - well I'm not that clever.
It turn's out ostriches don't like me. Apart from Elliott who fell off his ostrich after 30 seconds, everyone else's ride went without a hitch. The ostrich was well behaved and tame. But then it saw me, and our eyes met before I attempted to mount it, and I saw pure hatred in its beady little eyes. Anyway, I climbed the platform to climb on the ostrich, and the ostrich turned its head, opened its massive beak and went for my nose. Luckily the 10 year old boy who owned the ostrich was there to rescue me and help me on it's back, but instead of walking calmly round the enclosure it took off at a gallop and ran around with me holding on for dear life on it's back. Ostrich riding, an experience, as was riding a quad on the sand dunes....
Because a couple of our group hired mopeds to get to the sand dunes (and hadn't arrive for reasons I will explain later) I had to share a moped with a Canadian guy we met that day called Tanner. Tanner apparently is an adrenalin junkie, Mum and Dad don't read this bit, or if you do, don't worry, if I was dead I wouldn't be typing this....Tanner has a quad bike at home, something I didn't realise before I got on the back of his bike. When my hat fell off after 20 metres because he did a 360 turn, I realised this might not be the leisurely jaunt across the dunes that I was expecting. Apparently the rest of the group could hear me screaming before they could see me coming, and Tanner had a few bruised ribs, partly from where I was gripping on, partly from where I punched him. Apart from the nearly dying bit, quad biking on the sand dunes was amazing. And we got to watch the sun set too......
Meanwhile, Rich and Ciaran had a little adventure on their mopeds. The disasters they encountered were 3 fold. Firstly Rich had a puncture, and they had to wait 45 minutes for a 13 yr old mechanic to mend his bike whilst bemused locals made fun of how tall they were. A couple of hours after the puncture they were pulled over by the Vietnamese police and taken to the police station for not having a valid Vietnamese license. They got stung with what was essentially a bribe to let them go, because they were allowed to drive off on their bikes, and I am pretty sure no one has a license in Vietnam, in-fact I think I saw a dog driving a moped last week. So with their tails between their legs, with only an hour before sunset they tried to make it to the sand dunes. Then disaster 3 struck in the form of a monsoon. We were in open jeeps at the same time, and felt the full force of the monsoon which flooded the roads in Mui Ne knee deep in 20 minutes. The boys had to drive home in the dark (because the monsoon had caused a power-cut) with only 3ft visibility. Let's just say their love affair with mopeds has come to an abrupt end.
And this brings you up to date with my trip so far....random, brilliant, scary, frustrating but amazing fun all the same.
Plan for tomorrow is to get the bus to Saigon - a city with even less road sense than Hanoi apparently. And then Cambodia for the final leg of my trip.
Missing you all of course, hope you're all well.