Published: March 28th 2009March 26th 2009
The first thing that strikes you upon entering Vietnam is the absolute motorbike madness that surrounds you. It seems as if as soon as you are able to walk, you are also able to ride a motorbike. The result is seemingly chaotic, with everyone from the huge population taking to the streets (and the footpaths) whether it is a 12 year old boy on his way to school or a middle aged woman with her groceries and baby on board.
The second thing you notice (if you are on the ball), is the amount of scams aimed at foreigners. Getting from the airport was a chore in itself - firstly some guy attached himself to us, claiming that he would take us to town which was ‘very far’ for the ‘very cheap price’ of $70AUD. We actually laughed in his face and he acted almost offended when we asked him to use the meter. The second guy who came along flashed us his taxi driver ID card and promised us he would use the meter. We went so far as to get into his car before noticing the car didn’t actually have a meter. Upon our enquiries as to the
meter, all he said was ‘same same as meter, I give you good price’. Upon telling me his ‘good price’ of $25AUD, he copped a mouthful of verbal abuse from myself before we got out, hauled all our stuff out of the boot and left. So this went on for a while until we finally found someone that actually had a meter and was willing to use it. We got dropped at our hotel doorstep for $10AUD.
The third thing you notice is the amount of hassling you receive. It’s worse than India. Every time you walk past a store of any kind - even a convenience store, you hear ‘hello lady, you like to buy something’ and if you’re unlucky enough to make eye contact, ‘hello miss, what are you looking for’, accompanied by the grabbing of your arm. Did someone write the letters ‘ATM’ on my forehead without me noticing? I guess they are just trying to make a living but it gets to the point where people frequently come into restaurants when you are having a meal and hassle you. At least with the shops, you can walk away and on the street you can run
away but when you’re sitting down waiting for a meal, there is little you can do but wait it out.
Now despite my complaining we are actually having a good time. Our first stop in Vietnam was Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. Once we had mastered crossing the road (walking into a stream of oncoming traffic and hoping for the best), we set our sights on checking out the city’s war history. It was a scorching hot day (every day is 40+), yet we didn’t want to pay for motorbikes, so instead we walked the couple of kilometres to the Reunification Palace. The Reunification Palace was Southern Vietnam’s presidential palace. Upon entering, you feel as if you are stuck in a time warp as the palace has been left exactly as it was on the day that Saigon fell to the communists. The result is a whole lot of tacky retro furniture.
Upon leaving the Reunification Palace, it started to rain, though as we were hot and it was only sprinkling we thought ‘what the hell, we won’t bother waiting it out’ and walked to the next sight anyway. It turns out that this was
not such a fantastic idea as 5 minutes later we were facing a monsoonal downpour in a rather exposed area. The result was two very wet tourists running through the rain, which was now made even more difficult because we were now a prime target for taxi drivers trying to charge some outrageous price for some shelter in their car. Eventually the rain stopped and we found ourselves at the War Remnants Museum. The museum housed a shocking (if one sided) display of the atrocities committed in the Vietnam War by the Americans, some of the history and much to our delight, huge tanks and aeroplanes. Admittedly we kind of glossed over the history and just checked out the tanks and planes. In our defence, there was a lot of it, the room wasn’t air-conditioned and we were hot and very wet from the recent downpour!
The following day we set our sights on some more war history further abroad with a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels (the underground tunnel network used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War, for those who like me, are not history savvy). After watching a propaganda video essentially celebrating the
killing of Americans by the villagers (I know that in the war, the Americans, in my opinion anyway, were more so at fault than the Vietnamese but for a country which Vietnam is apparently now on diplomatic relations with, it seemed almost as if the video was made with the purpose of offending), we set out to explore the surrounding complex. The Viet Cong were indeed a crafty bunch as evidenced by their array of booby traps, the tunnel system and methods of diverting the enemy away from their camps. After a tour of the area, we made our way down into the tunnel complex. Not for the claustrophobic, the tunnels were tiny and you had to squat down and very slowly shuffle though. It was quite the work out, after which we were quite happy to get back on the air-conditioned comfort of the bus and head back for a well deserved shower (via a lacquer wares store of course).
On our final day in Saigon we booked a day trip to the Mekong Delta. I really don’t have too much to say about this. For us it seemed as if we had paid to be taken on
a shopping expedition around the delta. The floating market that we were promised didn’t materialise and we spent most of the time sitting at shops. I guess I can’t really complain when we only spent $10US on the whole day, and most of the other people on the tour seemed to have a good time. The only thing that we did enjoy was a boat ride through the canals but the people who were rowing the boat were going so fast (no doubt so they could pick up another customer) that we could barely enjoy it. Perhaps the two most infuriating things were that for one we couldn’t actually leave and go back to our hotel because we were 3 hours away from Saigon and had to wait for the tour bus to take us back and that on the way back after 20 minutes, we had a ‘rest stop’ which according to the guide, was a great relaxing place that tourists loved to go. It was of course a shop with some chairs out the front.
The following day we caught a train to the coastal region of Nha Trang, stepped onto the beach and felt all our
troubles melt away. Originally we had only planned to spend a day here, but before we arrived we decided to extend it to 3. We stayed 5. Other than swimming and trying to rid ourselves of our T-shirt and shorts tan we spent a large amount of time spending our daily budget eating and drinking at the Sailing Club with a spot of parasailing thrown in.
We also made a trip out to Vinpearl, an island off the coast adorned with tacky Hollywood style lettering. Vinpearl turned out to be an indoor/outdoor theme park complete with a water park and an aquarium. Strangely enough there were about 30 people in the whole theme park - there were actually more people working there than visitors. This worked out rather well for us as it meant no lines, so after hitting up the outdoor rides until I got motion sickness, we moved onto the indoor rides consisting of dodgems, arcade games and 4D movies, then checked out the water slides which were pretty crazy, in particular our favourite one, the Tsunami. The Tsunami involved what was essentially a free fall, followed by an almost vertical wall which, due to the extreme
force, you then went right up, then fell right back down. This continued until you were dunked into the water at the end. While no Sydney Aquarium, the Vinpearl aquarium was decent enough to bother checking out before we took the 8 minute cable car ride over the ocean back to Nha Trang.
On our final day in Nha Trang, we decided rather than spending the day at the beach and then having to pay for the room for half a day for a shower before our overnight bus to Hoi An, we would go to Thap Ba Hot Springs and then use their showers before we left. Thap Ba Hot Springs is known for its ‘mineral mud baths’, which are apparently great for your skin. We really just wanted to immerse ourselves in mud for the novelty of it. After our mud spa was over, we spent the rest of the day in the ‘cold mineral pool’ which apparently has therapeutic benefits. The’ hot mineral pool’ (which is 40 degrees C) apparently is really good for you also, but after less than a minute in there I felt like a lobster coming to boil, which really wasn’t worth
any of the therapeutic benefits for me.
We had a tough time saying goodbye to Nha Trang and reluctantly boarded our sleeper bus for Hoi An. Whilst not as bad as our sleeper bus in Laos, I still had to fold myself in half several times before I could fit in my berth which was evidently not designed for Westerners (or anyone over 150cms).
There are more photos below