Published: October 12th 2010October 6th 2010
A short bus ride over the Cambodia/Vietnam border took us to the southern city of Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon). After dropping our stuff off at our hotel, we all went to the nearby market, which we had been recommended to go and see. To be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment. In Vietnam, you cannot show even a hint of interest in a particular item without the stall owner pouncing on you trying to make you buy it. In fact at one point, Myself and Sarah (a fellow Tour member) seemed to be walking down a gauntlet of sellers, off the usual walkway for the potential buyers. It was a narrow corridor, with sellers on both sides every 3 feet, all vying for our business and professing that we should buy from them. It did feel rather surreal as I walked briskly, constantly saying 'no thank you'; which I must of said about 20 times!
As we would be saying goodbye to four of the Tour members who had been with us during Cambodia, we decided to dress that little bit smarter and go out for a Mexican. Which most of us were happy to do , as we were starting to get tired of the constant Asian food. Even I, who loves spicy Asian food, was so happy to see something on my dinner plate other than meat with sauce and rice. The meal was excellent, and we returned back (via a bar) to the hotel all rather contented. That night we welcomed four new additions for the Vietnam part of the tour - 3 Aussies and a Swiss, and said our goodbyes to the 4 who were leaving us. I was just happy that for the first time I had two guys who were travelling on their own, with no accompanying girlfriend (no offence Jake!) and who were both 'lads'. It was also good, beefing up the man numbers, as so far on the trip we had been hopelessly outnumbered.
The next day we went to the Cu-chi tunnels, where the local North Vietnam army, would outfox thier American adversaries by moving underground. During our visit we watched a tourist video, which instead of being informative, was more like a propoganda video for the Vietnamese Government (the term "evil American invaders" was used) and witnessed the various gruesome booby-traps the Vietnamese set for any unsuspecting enemies. That night we headed to the train station for the first of the three overnight trains, of which we would have to get during through Vietnam. In the overnight train we stayed in small 4 bed rooms. We had been prior warned about bed bugs on these trains, so we all dowsed our beds in insect repellent. In my carriage there was obviously a new recruit for the Motherlands Communist forces, as his parents were waving him off with tears in their eyes. I did feel a tad sorry for him though, here he is taking this momentous step in his life, and he has these raucous capitalist dogs in his room (it is maybe worth mentioning that our room had been designated the party room by the tour).
After arriving at our stop (a town which I cannot remember the name of) we took a two hour coach journey to the town of Nha Trang. After dropping our stuff off at our new hotel, Kevin had arranged for us to go on a 'booze cruise' for the day. The captain of the boat was a rather eccentric individual who seemed to sink about 10 cans of beer as the day progressed. During the cruise we snorkelled, had a fantastic lunch on board the boat, saw "Asias best boy band" (in other words the crew with the captain as the lead singer) perform a variety of catchy songs, and experienced my first ever floating bar! After dinner that night, we hit the town. We ended up at this fantastic nightspot, called the rather uninspiring name of 'The Sailing Club'. However, with the drinks flowing and the dancefloor witnessing some mean dance moves, the night was certainly one of the best I had had during the tour.
However, the exhiliration of the night before was at least matched by the absolute brutal hangover I experienced the following day. It was certainly one of the worst I have had in recent memory. It just absolutely floored me, meaning most of my day was spent lying by the pool suffering, and swearing to anyone in earshot that I would never again touch the dreaded drink. That evening we got another overnight train to Danang, where on arrival we would take the short coach ride to Hoi An. Unsurpisingly, we all just wanted to relax and catch up on sleep during the long journey North. However, it did not help that his one was by far the shabbiest of our trip, it was not particularly clean as there was definetly suspect stains about.
Hoi An is famous for its tailor shops - it seems the whole town is built around them. Almost every second shop is a tailor shop; and as there is so many, the majority of them must struggle to make ends meet. As we arrived at our hotel at 0800, we dumped our things and went out for breakfast. After a lovely breakfast, we went to the tailor our guide had recommended to us. As I was on a budget, and going to be living out of a backpack for the next 3 months, I declined the chance to get a suit, but opted to get the much cheaper option of some linen trousers (good for the hot weather). Afterwards, as the weather was glorious (which it was for almost all of Nam), I chlled by the pool for a bit; before having my now customary afternoon snooze. That night we went out to a Vietnamese/Italian restaurant (strange combination, i know), again I took the opportunity to have something non-Asian, and decided to have some damn tasty Carbonara.
A few of us had signed up for a Vietnamese cooking class, so the following day, we got a lift to a nearby restaurant. During the day, we got a tour of a nearby market where they normal procure ingredients. There were some weird and wonderful food there, but I think a health and safety officer from Britain would faint if he'd joined us round the market. Back at the restaurant, we started by making some spring rolls, in the process of which I got very frustrated as mine looked pretty poor. We then made dessert (a very sweet bananna rice pudding) then a side dish (abaurgine cooked with copious amounts of garlic and butter), finally we made the main dish ('beer chicken'). After all this was done, it was very satisfying for all of us to sit down and devour the end product of our labour. Oh and I have a recipe sheet, so hopefully I can recreate the dishes for you all on my return!
That night as it was our guide, Kevins 30th, we dressed up and went out for dinner (me sporting my new trousers!). After dinner we went to a nearby bar, which was bustling with westerners. Kevin, with his eternal wisdom, decided to purchase a couple of botlles of tequila from the bar, and proceeded to pour a couple of shots each for our entire party. Add the fact I was drinking Long Island Iced Teas, one could say that I was a little bit inebriated when we left the bar at closing time. However, this was not to go back to the hotel, but to take the short bus journey to a nearby club. The club itself was not really up to much, but that did not deter our posse, and we continued to enjoy ourselves until the small hours of the morning.
The next day, after a short coach journey, we arrived at our hotel in Hue. After having lunch with Eden and Rhys (the Aussie lads), me and Rhys decided to take a walk about the city to have a look. On returning to the hotel, I collapsed into bed, and again had a siesta. Later, after dinner, I turned down the chance for more drinking and went to my room to get into some hardcore Discovery channel and catch up on some sleep. The next day, a few of us had signed up for a motorbike tour of the city and the surrounding area. This involves all of us sitting on the back of motorbikes cruising about like 'Hells Angels', but culture being our vocation rather than bourbon. During the tour we went to a nearby Pagoada, an old arena where emperors used to pit elephants against tigers (The matches were always fixed in the elephants favour, as the elephant was the animal of the emperor), an old North Vietnamese army base which is beside the Mekong river (which made me want to watch Apocalypse Now), onto a local shop that makes insense, then finally to the magnificient Hue regional palace.
Later that evening we got our third and final overnight train. This time to Hanoi. The journey would of been uneventfull had it not been for our train colliding with a HGV as we were approaching Hanoi station. It was about 6am, and we were all preparing our things to disembark, when suddenly there was this tremendous crash, the train thundering to a halt, and all of us being thrown sideways. It transpired that the HGV that our train struck, had attempted to cross despite train lights informing motorists to do otherwise. Thankfully we came away with only a few bruises. Our guide took photos of the crash as we left the scene, and days later, after reviewing the pictures, it struck us how fortunate we had to all walk away unscathed. National news said that had the train been had full speed, there would certainly have been casualties. A humbling thought, when you consider we were the closest passenger carriage to the crash!
After getting picked up from the train, we drove to the coastal town of Halong Bay for the night. This was definently the most uneventful part of the Nam trip. So I am not going to write much about it. In short, the weather was poor, our days boat trip mediocre and our dinner that night rather greasy.
The next day we drove back to Hanoi for the final few days of our Hanoi trip. The second and final night there, was the farewell dinner for the 3 Aussies, the Swiss and Natalie (who had been with the group from the start). Again, we all dressed to impress as we were told we would be going to a very swanky restaurant for dinner. I opted to wear my kilt for the first time since coming to Asia, and to be honest, for the first time ever, I felt slightly uncomfortable wearing it. I don't think the legend of a Scotsman and his kilt has reached Vietnam yet. To the locals I just looked like a man in a dress, and got some bewildered looks and unwanted attention as I walked down the street.
Prior to dinner we all went to see a water-puppet show, which was as strange as it sounds and was rather boring at times. We then went out to this supposedly top notch restaurant. The decor and prices were certainly upmarket but the service was the worst we had experienced during our tour. However we did not let that spoil our evening, and went out afterwards to give the leavers a proper goodbye. I swapped numbers with the Aussies, and made plans to meet up with the when came to the Melbourne leg of my trip.
We left at 0530 the following day to head to Laos, so after 2 hours sleep I stumbled onto the bus and waited until I would be awoken to fulfil the now customary border checks. Vietnam had been great, but not as enjoyable as Cambodia. Would Laos continue the slight, but still downward spiral? Time would tell.