Published: July 10th 2006May 12th 2006
The boys are back in town
This is Millsy and Vinh giving me my present on my birthday before heading off to see Vinh's ex girlfriend perform a concert.
OK, first up, let me apologise for not having posted anything on the blog for several weeks. I am tempted to blame Stef but I have to take full responsibility here. Up until now, Stef had been doing most of the writing whilst I was in charge of the photos and other 'techie' bits of running the blog.
I did promise Stef that I would write about our first parts of Vietnam and I have been procrastinating constantly. Whilst this is entirely in Character, part of me thinks that I have been delaying it because, to be totally honest, Vietnam has not been the experience we were expecting.
In fairness, Vietnam is a country that is experiencing massive growth in the tourism industry, particularly from the backpacker and flashpacker crowds. As a result, the attitude amongst 90% of the Vietnamese that cater to this market (hotels, guest houses, transportation, shops and tourist sites) is one of simply trying to get as much money out of you as possible in the short space of time they have you.
Maybe I'm being a little hard and in hindsight, maybe we did set our expectations a little high for Vietnam. We
My 15mins of movie stardom
This is basically what I did for a couple of hours as an extra on a film set and got paid for it.
had deliberately left Vietnam until the last part of our trip and had allocated 6-8 weeks here as we loved it so much after spending a 5 day break in Saigon last year. The change in just one year in parts of Saigon we saw was amazing. Whole areas of Saigon that were more laid back alleys with a few budget guest houses now have more hotels and guest houses than some whole countries. The competition to get you in at times can be frantic. The up side is that you rarely need to book ahead anywhere, the down side is getting off an overnight bus or train feeling smelly, groggy and a little disorientated and then having 10-30 very pushy locals shouting at you at thrusting guesthouse cards in your face whilst the motorbike taxi guys try and grab your arm to steer you towards their bike can really get annoying.
In many conversations we have had with other travellers, would we recommend that someone does not experience Vietnam? The answer would definitely be no,it is an amazing country with some stunning countryside and natural environments that have to be seen to be believed. However, if you are
Steve and Stef looking great ;-)
A nice picture of both of us at the Saigon Saigon bar on my birthday.
expecting Vietnam to be friendly, relaxed and beautiful, think again. After our time in Laos, Vietnam did come as a bit of a rude shock but we are comfortably into the swing of life here now.
OK, enough of that.
We crossed from Cambodia on the 10th May taking a bus from the Capitol GH that took us straight to the border crossing. So far, so good. Having paid for our Vietnam visas in Phnom Penh, the actual immigration part was easy, then we had to walk past a desk with two pretty scruffy looking uniformed police to get out the door of the immigration post. Still all good.
The police guy at the door stopped us leaving at pointed back to the table with the two guys and spoke to them. We were called back and they wanted to see our passports. Turns out we did not have a magic bit of paper that was all in Vietnamese that you need to leave the building with. We guessed it was some sort of medical/health thing but they were no interested in explaining it to us. The price for this piece of paper, 2,000 VND (the local
Steve coming out of the last stretch of the Cu Chi tunnels
The last part of the tunnel is where most tourists don't go because it was incredibly hot and cramped.
currency, worth about US$0.15) Thankfully we still had some Dong from our trip last year and paid the guy, who did not look happy (most tourists don't have any local currency on arrival as it's hard to find in Cambodia). One of the other girls on our minibus behind us didn't have any Dong, so was told the price was US$1. In speaking with other travellers since, we have decided that this is not corruption, it's simply the kindly Vietnamese police helping you understand how you will be treated for the duration of your stay in Vietnam, actually rather caring and compassionate in hindsight ;-)
From the border crossing, we headed straight to Saigon. The bus dropped us off in the heart of the backpacker district. Stef and I have now got the 'arrive in a new city and try to find somewhere to stay' plan down to a fine art. This time it was my turn to sit in the first cafe we found and look after the bags (whilst drinking beer) while Stef goes and visits a few nearby guest houses and picks the best one. Travelling can be so tough sometimes ;-)
We had arranged
to meet up with several of the people we had met in Laos as many of them were following a similar path to us and were able to be in Saigon on the 12th May to celebrate my birthday. The photos I have included show some of the fun that we had but it ended up being a very late but great night. One I'll certainly not forget. Thanks guys for making it an amazing night.
To make the weekend even better, Helen, Steve, Adam and Ines had all managed to make it to Saigon for the weekend. To help celebrate both our birthdays, they treated us to the most extravagant meal we would have on our whole trip. They took us to Jaspa's, an Australian restaurant and we had many bottles of great red wine and Stef got to have one of the best Aussie steaks she has ever had. As you can see from the photos, it was a fantastic night. Backpackers know how to party but Australians really know how to live it up in style ;-)
Saigon will forever be in my mind, not just for my birthday and the people that made it
The mix of amazing people at my birthday bash
Probably the most diverse group Saigon has ever seen.
for me but also because I got to appear in a movie!!!!!! Long story cut short is I was in a bar with Stef and some other backpackers and was approached by a waiter saying his friend wanted extras for a film shoot the next day and would I be interested. After confirming that it was not an 'adult' film (there was a few moments of confusion thanks to Vinh) and finding out that it paid US$25 for a mornings 'work', I jumped at the chance.
So what did I have to do to earn my US$25? I had to sit around the pool for 3 hours at Saigon's most expensive hotel and look good (OK, I made up the look good bit ;-) The movie is called Saigon Eclipse and from what I saw in my brief time as an extra in a pool scene, it looks like a very cheesy movie. The actors are US born Vietnamese who all look either muscled or unusually curvy for a normal local Vietnamese person. It's supposed to be out soon so I'll try and get a copy before I leave. Some of you can expect an autographed copy for Xmas
Sexy girls ;-)
Roxy, Karen, Stef and Helen are having great fun watching Tucker and me down too many shots.
We ended up spending several days in Saigon with the rest of the guys we had met along the way in Laos and had some great late nights. We had planned to do some shopping but ended up buying very little, most of what is for sale is cheap and tacky touristy stuff. The markets in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Laos were much better for the sort of stuff we were after.
In between the partying, Adam and Ines joined Stef and me to see some of the sights of Saigon. We took a bus out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, just south of the city. The underground tunnels are over 75 metres long and were a hiding place for thousands of villagers and fighters who could launch surprise attacks on the US Military. The US eventually retaliated with a multitude of bomb attacks, destroying much of the area but parts of the tunnels have been reconstructed for tourists. Adam and I ventured into the tunnels to experience it for ourselves. We couldn't believe how cramped they were. The movies that show the tunnels (usually Hollywood war films) do not do justice to what it was really
Happiness is two avocadoes and a baguette
Dalat has the most amazing food, these two avocadoes cost us just 30 cents
like. We crawled through all the way and sometimes we had to slide on our sides as there wasn't even space to crawl, plus it's all done in entire darkness. We had to admire the Vietnamese who were able to operate so effectively in such circumstances and pity the US soldiers who were attempting to follow them through the tiny tunnels. To make matters worse, the area was riddled with booby traps, most of which were designed to cause the most brutal injuries to the victims.It was even more amazing to learn that the reconstructed tunnels had been widened for 'big' Western tourists. (The previous paragraph has been blatantly stolen and edited from Karen & Helen's blog site without permission mainly because they did it to us and plus, they write much better than I do. If you want to read the rest of their blog, visit http://www.travelblog.org/bloggers/gypsyrovers)
We finally decided to leave Saigon and headed up to Dalat, a city north of Saigon but set high up in the mountains. Dalat is famous in Vietnam for it's fresh produce and wine. The wine is OK, a little sweet for us but the food is amazing. As we both
Girls on film!!!
Stef shows Roxy how to dance to Duran Duran's "Girls on Film" in Mui Ne with lots of encouragement from the bar.
love avocados, we bought two huge ones for US$0.30 and some fresh baguettes and made lunch on the street, very tasty.
We only spent two nights in Dalat but it was nice to actually feel a little cold and not sweat all the time, Stef even had to break out her fleece in evening, something we have both been carrying round taking up space and hardly using.
After Dalat, we decided to head back to the coast to catch up with Roxy and Tucker in Mui Ne, a supposedly lovely beach town. Asking around the different bus companies, they were all around $4 and took about 5-6 hours. The guest house we were staying in explained that all the buses went via another town first to drop people off heading to Nha Trang which is why it took so long. He told us that there was another bus that went to Mui Ne directly and took only 3 hours and cost a couple of dollars more. Sound too good to be true? You guessed it, same bus that everyone else was selling. Ahh, Vietscam just keeps getting better.
Mui Ne turned out to be a sad excuse
for a beach resort. What must have started out as a nice small town with an OK beach and a few guesthouses is now several kilometres long with nothing but 'resorts' and restaurants, nothing else. The place really has no centre, no real attraction apart from a long beach that was a little dirty and no soul. Oh well. We enjoyed catching up with Roxy and Tucker and had some great nights at the Sand Dollar drinking and playing pool.
OK, that's the first part of our tour of Vietnam covered, sorry it's taken so long but the rest will be up shortly.
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