Nam ’71, I was posted out at Camp Hollaway in the Central Highlands. We were on a counter guerrilla operation in the jungle. But that was no mission man, it was suicide. It was a set up. There was Charlie all around us. There was no way out man. We were just like sitting ducks on a Mississippi hog farm. Not one person came back alive from our platoon that day apart from Rocky and I. I carried that boy over my shoulder for 9 days through the bush. We had to drink each others urine to stay alive. That kid nearly broke my spleen but I had to carry him, I made a promise to his Momma. You weren’t there, you don’t know what it was like man……….
Uh sorry about that. I was just having a flash back from when I was in Nam. We arrived into Vientiane, Laos this morning. After 10 months of travel (holiday) we are finally getting a little bit soft and opted to fly here which took 50 minutes instead of going for a 24 hour (minimum) bus journey. I’ve gone off buses in Asia as they
are made for small people and not 15 stone Yorkshire men. That goes for chairs too. I am currently writing this sat in the very light and airy lobby in our hotel on what I think is a small child’s chair. I also think I’m beginning to loose it slightly as I am sat in my pyjama bottoms and it’s 4pm. We’ve had our first meal out in Laos and gone for a traditional local dish of falafel and chips. We’ll get a bit more adventurous for tea. We then had a quick walk to the National Sport Arena which is on the end of our street and was excited to see there was a football game on. Initially we thought it might be the equivalent of say Man U v Chelsea but then we soon realised it was a game between the Laos equivalent of Fray Bentos Tasters Club v Keighley Ladbrooks Staff FC. But do you know what; it was more fun than watching England. That is apart from the woman in full pyjamas (it’s a South East Asia thing), with a brolly up (it wasn’t raining and she was in the shade) who was screaming like a
banshee in my left ear the entire time we were there.
So where were we? Ah yes, we left Kampot, Cambodia and headed across the border to Can Tho, Vietnam. We have learnt on our travels that when a bus company tells you how long the journey is, you need to multiply it by a BS factor of 1.5714 (it’s the new Pie). The BS factor is applicable across parts of South and Central America and most of Asia. So in this case the bus journey which should have taken 7 hours actually took 11. The bus driver was clearly a big fan of ‘Back to the Future 2’ as he thought the bus was a Delorian and not only did he think that it could fly, he thought that if he drove it at 88mph we would manage to go back in time. He even managed to get it on 2 wheels at one point. We stopped at someone’s house so the driver could have something to eat whilst all the tourists just stood about wondering what was going on. There was a toilet for women but men had to wee in
the garden. I don’t have a problem with that but what benefit did it offer the homeowner? It’s not like we could buy anything from them, it was just a house but they let me and the other 15 blokes on the bus wazz in their garden. Nice. We finally arrived into Can Tho and took a moto taxi (a bloke on a scooter) to our homestay in a little village outside of the city. I most enjoyed it when we were riding down the hard shoulder of the motorway with my driver on his mobile. But everyone does it so it’s ok.
We took a trip out the next morning to see the floating market. On our first day in Vietnam I was amazed to see that people were wearing those conical hats which Raiden off ‘Mortal Kombat’ wears. Any photo with someone in a conical hat is going to look cool. We visited a rice noodle factory, a water melon farm, some rice fields and a rice factory. That afternoon at the homestay our Judith and I went out for a bike ride through the village. Kids would come running out
of their houses to say hello to us. Judith even gave one of them an English lesson. The following morning we were having breakfast of bread and jam which for some reason they had served in a shot glass. Jokingly I told an American girl that it was snakes blood. She completely freaked out, held it up to the light saying “oh my god it’s got bits of snake in it too.” The bits of snake were strawberries.
We left Can Tho and headed to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Traffic in Saigon is like nothing on earth. Apparently there are 7 million people and 3 million scooters. Everything the Green Cross Code Man ever taught us about crossing the road goes out of the window. You’ve almost got to just close your eyes and walk.
War huh good God yall, what is it good for? Tourism! We took a trip from Saigon out to the Cu Chi Tunnels on the kind of tour I normally hate as they are generally full of idiots, but in this case the tour was cheap which makes the idiots
a little easier to tolerate. We were warned (by some morons) that the Cu Chi tunnels were like Disney Land. Really? If I ever have kids I’ll put that to test. “Right kids where do you want to go, Disney Land in Florida and see Micky Mouse and go on Thunder Mountain or go to the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam and crawl around in nightmareish tunnels and see horrific traps made from bamboo which the Vietcong used to kill Americans?” We enjoyed it though and I got to climb in some tunnels and shoot an AK47 Assault Rifle. I don’t even like guns but when in Nam do as the Nams do. They had big blocks of ice in the urinals at the tunnels. Not actually in the tunnels but at the souvenir shop which I’m assuming wasn’t there during the war. One of the many things I’m struggling to get my head round in Asia is the amount of snooking of snot people do. It’s disgusting. We had a chap called Mr Snooky Snook Man sitting behind us all the way back from the tunnels. Even listening to Dr Dre’s ‘the Chronic’ on full blast on my ipod
We really liked Saigon and I got to spend my birthday there which was cool. We left Saigon with a more respectful bus company and headed to a place called Mui Ne on the coast. The problem with the nice buses is that you never get any good stories out of them. Imagine how boring our trip would have been if we’d have stuck to sensible travel? Maybe something like this:
“The bus journey was on time, comfortable and absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened. No one was sick on me, there was no livestock on board and the driver was sober and stayed awake the entire trip. After watching an original non pirated copy of a film in English that didn’t star Vin Diesel, we stopped at a service station where we were able to visit a toilet that didn’t have faeces on the walls and not once did I think I was going to be skinned alive and buggered.”
See, boring. Mui Ne was really nice but it rained every
day we were there. Not all day but at some point in the day. It didn’t matter though as we had a pool, all day breakfasts and the best TV channel ever – Star Movies. When we were there it was ‘Jason Statham’ week. Why would we even need to go outside? We did manage to venture down to the beach one day and although it was the windiest roughest sea I‘ve ever seen I still had a little swim. Judith didn’t fancy it and waited on the beach. Two local girls came over to chat to her so I went over to say hello and ask them if they had a day off school today. Judith stopped me half way through and explained that one of them was 28 and one was 32. Ooops.
We left Mui Ne for Dalat in the Central Highlands on a horrible hot mini bus (yeah we’re back) which very kindly threw us off the bus about 2km out of Dalat at a hotel we hadn’t booked. But the bus driver got commission for tourists he dropped off there so that’s ok. When we said we didn’t
want to stay the driver buggered off in the bus with all the Vietnamese that were still on board and left us to walk in the rain to the hotel we’d booked. Cheers mate! It was cool in Dalat. Not as in the Fonz but as in temperature. I think Vietnamese must enjoy heat as the people we’d met previously in really hot places had been friendly. In Dalat however most people we met were miserable gits. We were such a massive inconvenience for the owners of our hotel and the local restaurants. How dare I come here and spend my hard earned money in your establishment. The cheek of me! Who do I think I am? Whilst in Dalat we popped into an ice cream shop for a strawberry milkshake. I’d have thought maybe put a bit of milk in a glass, add ice cream, strawberry flavouring of some kind, probably a bit of unnecessary sugar as we are in Asia. No no no let’s mix half a glass of strawberry syrup with water and some ice cubes and then add about 10 tea spoons of sugar, as if it wasn’t sweet enough already from the syrup! It was
the worst drink I have ever had. I actually started hallucinating off it. In my ‘crack shake’ induced state I thought it would be a good idea to get my hair cut. I think when I said, “can I have a haircut”, she heard “can I have my haircut like I’m from the 1930’s.” She even gave my side burns an undercut. Why would you even do that? That wouldn’t have even been acceptable in the 80’s. We spent the rest of the day wondering the town, fending off people who were trying to sell us sunglasses even though we were wearing sunglasses at the time.
Aside of the miserable gits, the ‘LSD shake’ and the sunglasses seller people, Dalat was actually quite cool (in a Fonz way). However we couldn’t stay there for ever so headed off on what was to be one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip so far; a 5 day, 4 night motorbike trip from Dalat to Hoi An. Our drivers were called Mr Binh and Mr Nah with a company called Easy Riders. Chortle chortle. We visited all sorts of little treasures on route and
saw 3 other tourists the entire trip. The food was incredible and cheap. My favourite combo. We even had fresh goats blood with barbequed goat and then got hammered on fermented goats wee. When in Nam do as the Nams do. We also ate caterpillars that tasted of fish, watched a chicken get killed for our dinner and had the most amazing pho bo (beef noodle soup) for breakfast every day. We started noticing that there are a lot of puppies in Vietnam but not many dogs. Then we realised. Yeah don’t ask for a hot dog in Nam. We were asked by Mr Binh if we wanted to try it. I’ll eat most things but I just can not bring my self to eat dog. The other thing I am not going to eat on this trip and let’s be honest never will eat, is chicken foetus’. They flipping love them here.
The more we went into the Vietnam countryside the more people asked me why I hadn’t impregnated my wife. I think one word to describe the Vietnamese is ‘blunt’. We were woken up one morning at 5am to the sound
of Communist propaganda being blasted out across the town with songs and speeches about being good Communists for 2 hours. Apparently it happens every morning. We travelled for around 7 hours each day. Three days into the trip I was at maximum bum pain. From then on the pain subsided, which was nice. 760km later we arrived in to Hoi An and said our goodbyes to Mr Binh and Mr Nah.
Hoi An is famous for numerous things including a large number of Tailors. We ‘popped in’ to one for a ‘quick look’ and 4 hours later we’re getting measured up for various bits and bobs. We spent the next 4 days going in and out of the tailors for fittings. Good job it wasn’t 35 degrees otherwise it would have been really uncomfortable trying on a 3 piece suit and winter coat. I was being sarcastic. It was boiling. We stayed at a hotel which had nice breakfasts which always keeps our Judith happy. Some Yanks were on the table next to us one morning who not only had the biggest plate of buffet food I’ve ever seen but also had 2
pancakes each with bucket fulls of chocolate sauce and honey followed by scrambled eggs with bucket fulls of chocolate and honey too. Chocolate and egg, really? I’m not surprised healthcare isn’t free in the States if people eat that type of crap for breakfast.
In Nam pavements are not for pedestrians. They are for parking your motorbike, throwing your rubbish on (even if there’s a bin next to you) or selling food and drink. Hoi An has got plenty of little street food and drinks vendors on the pavements down by the river. We were wondering how they retain their positions every night when they are all mobile. Judith suggested maybe they are like prostitutes? Judith is still having trouble with her name. No one can say it.
“what is your name?”
A sleeper bus (with bunk beds instead of seats) picked us up from Hoi An which was on a long haul
route up the country. It was only a 4 hour trip for us and it was the middle of the day but we still had to lie on a bed nonetheless. The sleeper busses are made for Vietnamese people who are on average quite small (male 5ft 4in/ female 5ft 0in). I’m about 5ft 10in and twice as wide as most people here. It was like being in a very small uncomfortable coffin. It was only for 4 hours but inspired me enough to not want to take the 24 hour sleeper bus to Laos.
Hue was maybe the hottest place we’ve been to all trip at around 38 degrees C. We decided to take a boat trip up the river to see some tombs and that. What we hadn’t accounted for is that the boat was basically a floating conservatory, with no fans and it went about 2mph so we benefitted from zero breeze. It was lovely. At least they had considered putting on board 5 life jackets to share between 30 people. If the boat had started sinking maybe we could have had a WWF style Royal Rumble with the winners
getting their pick of the jackets. Only a couple of nights in Hue then it was off to Hanoi on the night train. Two guys on motorbikes took us to the station. One of them looked like Texas Pete off of Superted. We boarded the train and entered our cabin (cell). I’m pretty sure there are nicer prisons in the UK. We were sharing with an old Vietnamese couple who had a cardboard box with a snake in it. It was ok though it had some holes cut in the top so it could breathe. Yes holes, snake shaped holes. They did however feed us on corn on the cob and boiled eggs. We offered lychees in return. She got very excited about Judith’s knitting, so much so that she took it off her and wouldn’t give it back to her for about an hour. If you want to re-enact our experience of ‘sleeping’ on the night train the next time you are in bed get your partner or neighbour or whatever to shake you from side to side all night and occasionally jolt you to a stop to mimic the drunk (probably) train driver slamming on the breaks for
Hanoi was a bit like a Smartprice Saigon. It was alright but just missed some of the buzz for me. We did however see Ho Chi Minh’s pickled corpse in the mausoleum which was weird and also a water puppet show which was weird too. Shop assistants in Vietnam have this great method of making you feel uncomfortable by following you around the shop about 1m behind you, most of the time we just keep walking and run out of the shop. Waiters do it in restaurants too where they hand you the menu and then just stand really close staring at you until you panic order something.
We took a trip out to Halong Bay to spend 2 nights on a junk boat. The trip to Halong Bay should have been 4 hours but it took 5 as some fake tanned morons in stupid sunglasses were asleep when the bus arrived to pick them up, then they picked up the wrong passport from their hotel reception like complete spazzos only realising when we were about 10km out of town. So instead of saying anything to them I just occasionally tutted very loudly and slagged them off behind their back. The boat in the brochure looked amazing, plus we had been upgraded to a nicer boat for free. When we arrived at the boat I realised what a powerful tool photoshop actually is. It was quite nice but no way near what it looked like in the photos. The trip turned out to be really good and we met some lovely people. One day the guide had been telling us that one of the rocks looked like an incense burner although it was quite hard to understand in his broken English. An Australian woman who clearly misheard repeated “incest boner?”
To which the guide said, “Incense burner”
The Australian woman repeated “incest boner?”
This repeated about 6 times until I had to step in and set her straight.
We headed back to Hanoi for one night and then took the flight to Laos where I am now. Right then it’s half 6, I’d best put some outside clothes on and head out for some tea. Judith’s found a lovely restaurant down the road where we can get a dog curry with pickled chicken’s foetuses. When in Laos do as the Laos’ do.
Me and the wife have gone travelling for a year. We're from Yorkshire, England. It’s our mission to travel the world to see if there is anywhere that does better chips and gravy than our local chippy. First stop Argentina, last stop Bangkok and a whole lot of gubbins in between.... full info
The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Independence was declared after World War II, but the French continued to rule until 1954 when they were defeated by Communist forc...more info