Published: April 24th 2008April 10th 2008
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on a day bus, it took 10 hours but was a far better option than the sleeper bus. The bus dropped us right in the heart of traveller district and as usual we were hounded by touts the moment we got off the bus however we walked directly to the guesthouse we had in mind and were in a room within 10 minutes of getting off the bus and in a restaurant with a nice cold beer a further 5 minutes after that!
Between spending a few days wandering around HCMC we found time to visit the Cu Chi tunnels. Though there are others in the country these are the most popular due to their location to the city. It was a half day tour that sadly didn't get off too well as the bus was half hour late and managed to get stuck in the morning rush hour traffic. As with all tours there was the customary drive to a staged factory for a wander around and given more than enough time to go to the toilet or is that more than enough time buy some tourist tat?
Originally the labrinth
of tunnels were incredibly narrow, namely to stop any American soldiers from wandering down them although luckily the tunnels had since been widened for the average tourist so moving along the tunnels didn't prove too difficult. We only went along a small section which was only 15 feet down but according to the literature this was only a fraction of the depth many of the tunnels were dug to and there were some sections which incoporated small kitchens, dorms and meeting rooms.
A quite staggaring part to the trip was the bomb craters that have been preserved and labelled, one of the craters must be the best part of 30 yards across and 20 feet deep. The whole area had been staged with old tanks and mock-up soldiers to help give an account of what life was like for the Viet Cong.
I guess high on the priority of any trip to Vietnam is a chance to see the Mekong Delta, its quintessentially Vietnam and if you've seen pictures there's a very good chance some of them have been of the Mekong Delta. Handfuls of little rivers disecting miles of palm trees and vegatation obsurcing your view down
to anything but a surprisingly close range.
We had booked ourselves on a tour of the Mekong Delta that was going to include a stop over in Can Tho and another one in Rach Gia enroute to Phu Quoc island. The first day turned out to be rather action packed for a tour and we managed to see plenty of the area. Of course getting there wasn't going to be easy because the upper part of the Mekong Delta river, while fine and calm at the waters edge, was somewhat like the ocean in the middle and our little boat wasn't really enjoying the waves. At some points I was getting ready to dive in. It was also a bit worrying that we were the only tourist boat out there bobbing around on the 5 foot swells.
After the hair raising experience from the middle of the river our tour took us to the heart of the delta where we chugged around for a good hour before refreshing ourselves with some tropical fruit and honey tea during which we had our ears assaulted by traditional folk music. I'm sorry but I found it very hard not to laugh
and thinking of the inappropriate timing made it all the more amusing. I guess it didn't help that our guide told us we wouldn't understand it and should pay attention to the melody. As you can imagine when two of the instruments have less than three strings it barely gives a lot of scope for depth so I just filled my face with jack fruit and told myself I couldn't possibly understand so that made it alright. Jack fruit is a strange spiky fruit, once the outside skin is removed the fleshy insides are divided into lots of smaller, yellow pieces that you eat although unlike Caz you have to remember there is a huge stone inside the fruit which is really something you don't want to choke on.
Following on from the tea stop we strolled through the forest to a pick up point from which we were going to be transported by horse 10 minutes up the road for lunch. The ponies were so small and each was expected to lug six of us in the cart. It didn't help when the guy controlling the pony had to jump down off at every little incline to give
a helping hand with a run up.
The rest of the day kept us busy with a man powered boat ride through some of the even smaller waterways and a couple of visits to some magnificently simple factories that produced rice paper and coconut sweets. We did get lured into buying some of the coconut sweets which I must admit were very tasty. After a visit to the little men's room I came out to find Caz holding a snake. It wasn't so much she was holding a snake it was more the fact that there was a snake in a sweet factory that was more of a concern. Wherever there's snakes there's rats.
For the first night we ended up in a rather battered hotel but I guess thats what happens when the tour costs 11 quid. We had to get up really early the following morning to catch the daily floating markets. It was interesting seeing how the river folk traded their wears and crops. I was quite impressed by some of the boats and the fact that they were actually still floating, some were almost comically old. Anyone trading or selling displayed their products on
a pole way above the boat to alert buyers. There were even boats floating around selling filled baguettes and soft drinks for anyone feeling peckish.
Afterwards we floated through some of the lower Mekong Delta which looked very similar to the upper areas. We stopped briefly at a village to walk through a typical Vietnamese house. The guide explained that every room in the house has an alter, the outside alter is dedicated to farming or food. An offering of a glass of rice water and a cup of salt is usual.
We headed back to the hotel to have lunch and pick up our bags, anyone on the two day tour went back to HCMC while a few stayed on for a third day and then there was us, just us who were going onto Rach Gia. We were under the impression that the journey to Rach Gia would be part of the tour where everything was done for us, how wrong we could be. We were put on a local bus then dumped in the bus station, hardly the door to door service we had been promised. We got a scooter taxi to our hotel and
went about trying to find out about buses back to HCMC. Stupidly we had left only a day to get back to HCMC after the island.
Rach Gia is very untouristy and there isn't the luxury of tourist buses so after asking locals and people in the superdong office we started to get a little worried that we wouldn't be able to get back to HCMC in order to catch our flight to Singapore. We found the Vietnam Airways office just as the bloke inside was finishing for the day. All the staff had gone but he gave us some hope by giving us the office address on Phu Quoc. Feeling like we would actually be able to get back to HCMC in a few days time we rewarded ourselves with the most expensive dinner we've had so far, it was 300 000 dong which is about 10 pounds.
The ferry crossing to the island was very smooth, the only annoyance was the loud Jackie Chan video blaring the whole way there. The very helpful conductor on the boat arranged us a taxi to get us to our hotel. As soon as we were off the boat we
were whisked off in a minivan to Long Beach.
Visually Phu Quoc island is very different to the rest of Vietnam; the flora and fauna is green and tropical. The beaches were beautiful and pleasingly there was not too much rubbish on them either. Long Beach is situated on the western side of the island and provides some brillantly pink sunsets at the end of the day.
The local dogs were so cool, they all had spiky backs. The fur alone their spines grew in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat causing the spiky look. Some dogs had really large sections of the backward growing fur so from afar it looked as though they had patterns and shapes on their backs.
Some of the beach front cafes were a bit dodgy, we went to one which served up ants in the burger bun. The blue lagoon bar, although expensive, was great for watching the sunset, the mango and coconut lassi's were lovely. The roo cafe was definately the best place to eat, the seafood noodles were gorgeous and the staff very pleasant.
Luck was on our side and not only did we manage
to find the Vietnam Airway office but we also we managed to secure a flight back to HCMC, apparently they had laid on another plane just that day. As we were paying a woman who had been overhearing suddenly went into one. She too had wanted to fly back as the bus journey was seven hours and had asked about flights the previous day but was told all were booked up.
We could see why all the flights were always full as they are tiny, I think they only seated about 50 people. The plane was propeller so the landing into HCMC was a bit hairy but we made it in an hour. We couldn't help but think of the lady we had met the previous day. The ferry took 2.5 hours and the bus 7 hours so when we had landed she would have been still on the boat. Poor cow.
We had just enough time in HCMC to do some last minute shopping, drink a mango shake and enjoy some museli and yogurt before heading off to Singapore.
All in all we loved Vietnam, travelling was so easy; everyone spoke english, buying tickets was painless,
the people were friendly and helpful. We could really see why the destination was popular.
There are more photos below