Published: June 17th 2008June 12th 2008
Yes I know Vibrant, terrible, but you try thinking of a better word beginning with V!! It was the best we could think of... suggestions on the back of an e-postcard please!
So yes another blog another country and this time its Vietnam! We've only got 2 real countries left after this (if you exclude Singapore and don't class Malaysian Borneo as a different country!) so we are trying to appreciate everyday to the max as it will all be over soon!
Last time we blogged we was post Angkor. From Siem Reap we took a largely uneventful bus back into the capital Phnom Penh. It was odd going back to somewhere we had already been for the first time since leaving home. It was great because the bus stop in the melee of the square we ate at most nights so we could smugly walk through the madness knowing exactly where we were going, a rare treat in Asia! We went back to the same hotel (Spring) as its a great deal, unfortunately one afternoon when we came back into the lobby some cleaners were making odd hand gestures to each other and when we
checked the money belt in Sars rucksack it was about 40 dollars short. We hadn't checked it in a week but still make of it what you will. They also wanted an extortionate amount to get us a Vietnam visa so we spent the next day doing it ourselves. Basically you go to the embassy first thing and go back at 5pm where there is loads of people waiting. A bit of 'argy-bargy' later and we had passports and visas back. One poor sod had been waiting 5 days and they still told him it will be ready when its ready! Hilarious!
Again Cambodian buses are so easy hotel pickup and a direct bus to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon or HCMC from now on!) in Vietnam for about 6 pounds each, amazing! The bus was ridiculously fast though, we must have spent the majority of the journey travelling at about 90mph, which in a coach on Cambodian roads was not at all fun! Still the border was great, no bribes! It was almost a novelty to not have a few golden handshakes to get accross. More like an airport immigration setup, refreshingly different to the opposing garden sheds
of Laos-Cambodia! Started raining as soon as we crossed the border though!
Again you could instantly tell we had crossed over to another country as it was much much more developed and busy. Between the borded and HCMC there was barely a gap in the development. Great to see the Vietnamese pointed hats in force though. When we arrived in HCMC my usual following us on the map by street name worked for once so I knew where we were and after telling the other confused backpackers we found ourselves a nice little hotel around the corner from the bus stop near the main drag but on a quiet alley. At 14 dollars it was a bit more than we have been used to lately but was amazing value for money. Ultra modern, air con, cable TV and a small but swish new bathroom.
HCMC is brilliantly insane. The city is a never ending army of motorbikes, ponchos and general busyness! There was a great central market where we got our first taste of the food! Delicious - see video also for crazy old vietnameese woman who stared at us the whole time :)! We had our best
fresh spring rolls so far and some great noodles. Good intro but now its time to get adventureous! The next morning was our first full day but it was raining so we decided to go out to the water park as a) it wouldnt matter getting soaked and b) we thought it would be empty, after all who would go to a water park on a rainy day, us! When we got there plenty of vietnam style confusion, where do you go, where do you change, how many million dong is a locker etc! It was less touristy than we thought so sar kind of had to go in her short and tshirt over her bikini, as some of them were swimming in jeans and stuff! The slides were quite amusing, there is something about the lack of health and safety in asia that makes things that are meant to be exciting/scary plain old terryfying! Sar is usually an adrenaline junky but I had to convince her pretty hard to go on some of the more 'extreme' rides. All this while deep down I was thinking can my back and contact lenses actually survive another ride?! See the video of
us giggling like school kids (as we did all day) as we bobbed around the river ride to calm down. There were amusingly no towels to hire and we had brought none so luckily the taxi drivers didn't care we were soaking wet and took us back to the hotel (not before adding a few thousand dong to the meter slyly though! That evening we grabbed out first bowl of 'pho' which is the vietnameese staple dish. Its a huge bowl of clear noodle soup with either beef 'pho bo' or chicken 'pho gai', it is delicious which is lucky as its everywhere and cheap (50p)!
The next day was our last full day in town so it was allocated as our 'sightseeing' day. First off we headed over to the Reunification Palace. This is the huge parliment type building which has been the setting for most of Vietnams historical turning points. Its a bizzare place and totally unlike most other 'sights' we have seen on our asian wanderings. It has the strangest atmosphere, it feels incredibly communist everywhere you go. From the lavish red carpet banquet/conference halls upstairs to the stainless steel war command rooms of the basement.
It certainly gives you a feel of vietnameese history/culture. After here we stopped off for a tasty tofu lunch before walking the short distance to the horrific War Remants Museum. Sometimes we both wonder why we do it to ourselves, taking in incredibly depressing things like this. The thing is, it just doesn't seem fair to travel a country which has such a rescent violent history without gaining at least an insight into what has happened. In Cambodia the S21 prison may have been hearbreaking but it helped us understand some cambodians attitudes etc a lot more. The war remnants museum was again incredibly graphic and upsetting. It was interesting to get an (albeit government spun) vietnameese view of the war and more importantly the effects of the war. It certainly shows how no good ever comes from governments bombing each other in the name of various politically motivated campaigns! Needless to say the people who invented Agent Orange and Napalm must struggle to sleep at night. Really makes you realise to make the most out of life when you see such graphic portrayals of human suffering. I think that the deformed foetus in jars was a step too far
though. We could bang on about how we should try and get everyone to live in peace with each other, but combined with a veggie rant later in the blog we will be branded true tree huggers!
So the veggie rant... We are both eating more veggie food each week after finding out about all the bad animal stuff that goes on in the world! Having worked in a slaughterhouse (only in packing mind) briefly a lot of it is no surprise to me, but I like most people choose to ignore it when eating my half price Tesco chicken. Sar on the other hand has been generally struggling with the idea of ever eating meat again. After a couple of days of chatting though we've decided that we can deal with eating meat but vastly reducing the amount we consume and also by only eating ethically sourced local organic meat. We will also be far stricter with eating organic fruit, vegetables and cereal when we get back. There is quite a few veggie/tofu restaurants over here which is odd but is making the transition easier!
We feel as though crossing the road in HCMC deserves a note
of its own. There are theories about going slow or fast and eye contact or not. To be honest these go out the window when your halfway across a 12 lane road with several hundred mopeds bearing down on you beeping their horns. I was going to try and do a video as we crossed one but sar was not to keen on the distraction as I nearly got hit one morning!
From HCMC we headed out to the coast for the first time in 3 months! We opted for Mui Ne as our coastal stop in Vietnam as it is meant to be quiet and was on our route so didn't require much diversion. It took us about 5 hour by bus to get out there (long coach journeys starting to grate now, cant wait for the trains!). On arrival it was clear the place was waaaay more developed than we expected. The beach has loads of resorts all along it, thankfully some are pretty darn cheap which is good for us! We decided to stay a couple of nights at a nice little resort where we got a smart modern room in a block style hotel with
all the mod cons for 14 dollars a night. Main plus though was the nice gardens and pool behind the beach! It is amazing how nice it was to get in the pool after having only dribbly Asian showers for months! I wont lie, on our first main day there we did very little apart from eat, swim and laze by the pool/sea. It was great as we have been on the go in dusty busy cities for ages so it was a mini-break within our travels if you will.
The second day was a Saturday and as predicted the place was absolutely flooded with Vietnamese tourists away for the weekend. Far from ruining the atmosphere we had a great time watching Vietnamese have a proper 90's day out at the beach, the kids are particularly hilarious. Googling wide eyed at us before running around giggling in hysterics waving madly shouting hey-yow. I feel we must tell you about their love of cheese and I'm not talking cheddar. Vietnamese people are obsessed with all things that we would class as cheesy. Every bus journey or meal is carried out to the most over the top power ballads, they are
basically Vietnamese versions of songs akin to "don't break my heart, my achy breaky heart..." The musical oddity though is the theme from Titanic. They play it everywhere. To such an extent that the other night in a market someone had a musical weigh-yourself-scale that blared out a computerized version of my heart will go on and on an on and on and on... Their passion isn't confined to music oh no, theres the women in day-glo pedal pushers with socks pulled up to their knees. Theres the shell suits with Ive been to XYZ on the back. Theres the obligatory huge plastic sunglasses. Theres so many more we will try to include them when we remember.
I dont think we've ever posted a blog with so many side tangents. Keeps you all interested though I suppose!
The next day we left Mui Ne for Dalat up in the hills of south/central Vietnam. The deluxe AC coach turned out to be a minibus. Which had it not been filled way beyond capacity, the aircon not broken and there been somewhere for the luggage it wouldn't have been too bad. But it did! The road was pretty bumpy too
which didn't help my back (which is really suffering at the moment) on the uber uncomfortable seats. The scenery though was nothing short of stunning and more than outweighed these gripes. After about 3 hours of climbing near continuously up 45 degree roads hairpin after hairpin we pulled over at the top of one of the highest passes in the area to stop the engine over heating (again!). The air was cool and fresh and the view stretched out into infinity, green peak after green peak. As all the men lined up for a wee on the side of the road (one Vietnamese guy seemed intent on standing too close to me and smiling) I can safely say it was the best view I have ever had at a toilet stop. As usual all the women on the bus stood there po faced as there was clearly nowhere for them to go, and the cigarette smoking driver shrugged as if to say what do you want me to do! Sar is an expert now though after 6 months on the road and found a bush suitable for a bandit wee!
We pulled into Dalat at lunchtime outside a scrappy
looking hotel. The manager got on the bus and welcomed us to Dalat and said he had the best rooms in town for only 5 pounds a double. Like the others we were weary of this practice and we were just collecting our bags to march off to find ourselves our own 'bargain' when we decided to give it a try. And how glad we were! A true example of no matter how long you've been travelling you shouldn't be to closed to offers as the room was possibly the best yet. The room had a double bed and a single (why not it was the size of a tennis court!) loads of furniture and a fridge freezer and cable telly all housed in a bright second floor room with city views from two huge windows covered in flowers, there was even a huge bath in the bathroom! with hot water Bonus!
Dalat is such a great place, it a chilly 23 degrees by day and an artic 20 by night. Haha no really it feels COLD to us! Sar has been walking round the room in a duvet and wearing long sleeves and trousers! How we will struggle
when we get home... Its hard to imagine a temperature that starts with a 1 let alone single figures... brrrrr!
We also did a suitably grand-parental trip to the flower gardens here. It was the height of the afore mentioned twee but was a nice escape from the town and only 20p to get in! Attached some pics for the grandparents of the flowers even got conned into buying some seeds off a Vietnamese lady. Doubt they will grow but hey worth a shot! We also saw hordes of locals flying kites over the lake in the late afternoon which was lovely. More amusing though was the honeymooning young Vietnamese couples on tandem bikes, what were they thinking!!!
Dalat is market town set around a pretty lake and flower garden high up in the hills thats again popular with holidaying Vietnamese. The whole place is how should we say 'twee' it feels more like the alps than Asia and is a never ending source of amusement. The well groomed Vietnamese families in their best clothes 'strolling' around town in the early evening are great, if difficult to get around on the pavements. The evening market in Dalat is
also one of the best we have seen outside Morocco (and thats saying something! They are the souk masters!) We've spent every night, and probably tonight, eating random foods at kindergarten sized tables and chair on the street. As an insight into a travel diet this is what we have had to eat in the last day or so... breakfast (free at hotel) baguette with jam and luminous orange juice, lunch tofu cooked in Chinese five spice filled clay pots with rice and courgettes or sweet and sour hot battered cauliflower with iced jasmine tea and on our evening market wanderings we've eaten everything from sugared/dried kiwis and such to baked taro (sweet potato) and BBQ chickens feet (just had to be tried!). Main meals are usually either sticky rice with random animal parts or steamy bowls of pho gai, great stuff!
Looks like the library is closing now (great internet access for 9p an hour!) so will wrap it up. Going to try and get another walk around the lake done before we leave for Hoi An the ancient town on the coast 'half way up' Vietnam. Not looking forward to the 18hrs on the bus/coach but hopefully
sleeping and music will get us through!
Lots of love to you all,
Dean and Sar
PS Without boring you all here is five facts that might change your views on food:
1. Meat (beef in particular) is incredibly inefficient to produce. One portion of intensively reared (i.e. normal) beef on your plate requires 10 portions of grain etc to produce (lets ignore the water, chemicals, energy etc). So if you ate 1 portion of veg or cereal once in a while that would free up another 9 for the third world markets.
2. Nearly a third, yes a third of all food brought in Britain ends up in the bin, what!?!
3. If everyone on the planet ate a western diet (particularly meat) we would need 7 more planet earths just to feed everyone!
4. Incredibly, 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to the growing numbers of livestock around the world.
5. 16,000 children die every day from hunger. Enough said!
Don't become a tree hugging vegan just realise a) where you food comes from and b) in a globalised world what you eat affects what others can or
cant afford to eat. Rant over!!!!!!
There are more photos below