So we start this journey in Hanoi the capital of Vietnam. After leaving the quietness of Pai this was a shock to the system. Crazy doesn't come close. Thousands of motorbikes crammed in every small street. No such thing as a path to walk on as these are the local restaurants. People hounding you every minute and pick pockets lurking round each corner waiting for you only to have that bag on one shoulder! I was really not sure about it all, with Mark saying simply "where have you brought me!!" We decided to sleep on it and see the place in daylight for another assessment.
Nope, no change but I suppose in a strange way a few hundred bikes coming towards you from every direction became acceptable. Although the scams were tried on us we didn't bite. We survived the day in the old quarter. Recommendations for dinner came from our guesthouse Golden Wings III so we ventured into Vietnamsee food. New Day on Ma May rd delicious ( Hanoi Spring Rolls, Hot Spicy Chicken, Salt And Pepper Ribs, mmmmm ) as was Tandoor as few streets down towards the lake.
Mausoleum, a very strange experience of viewing a dead man virtually in the dark and complete silence. This man is seen as some sort of god by the local people but just looked like something out of Madame Tussards to me. The old prison was an eye opener. Torture chambers for female political prisoners who tried to defy the French during their 100 year occupancy. Beheading, knee cap removal and eye removal were common. Yet this did not seem to discourage them and for the few who escaped through the drains they rejoined the liberation front. An extreme suffragettes movement.
Mark seemed to be a star attraction in Hanoi, especially with the women! Blowing him kisses, telling him he is handsome and looks like a footballer!!! Errrrrrr!? When he started getting male attention it wasn't so fun and a bit creepy.
We decided to take a 3 day trip to Halong Bay (one of the national heritage sites). Splashed out on a ocean view cabin for 2 nights with trekking and kayaking. Boat was the Golden Lotus. Halong is 4 hours from Hanoi so after being up at the crack of dawn and surviving the bus journey we
finally arrived around 11am. Chaos at the port, passports taken (will we see them again we thought!) then suffled onto a tender and taken to the main boat. Well the boat looked nothing like the photos and for only 14 months old it looked from the outside it had been used in world war 2!. Inside however was nice and we were taken to the restaurant. Here things changed. We were told that we would not be staying on the boat and effectively our tour was cancelled. they said the government had closed Halong bay as there was to be a storm that night. They wanted us to stay in a hotel instead which would not alow us to do the trekking or kayaking or experience halong bay. Errr NO. Trip was ruined as we spent all day arguing with the staff to get our money back. They knew the night before that our trip would be cancelled! In the end we stayed the day saw the floating village (waste of time) saw the cave (waste of time) as was then ferried back to the port to drive all the way home. Very annoyed and hated Vietnam even more!
So back to Hanoi and a few days to spare before our train booking. We tried to put Halong Bay behind us and book another trip to Tam Quoc. Temples, bike riding and a boat trip down the limestone cliff river. So we wake up to torrential rain! Just what you want for bike riding! Off on th coach we go and was told if we did not do the bike ride there were no refunds. The tour guide tried to put us off biking which put me in a good mood. Well If I'm gonna do it then the bloody tour guide will get wet too! Ponchos on we set off for our 14km ride. This was actually fantastic. The rain started to ease and we were surrounded by rice paddy fields and lime stone cliffs. Animals roaming and not another person, motorbike or car in sight. Bliss. We were glad we did it.
Arriving in Tam Quoc for a buffet lunch, most of which we had no idea what it was. I stuck to veggie, no chance of dog or cat appearing on my plate then!
Next was the boat trip. Two young boys paddling up
stream, through caves and beautiful scenery. Shame we had to share it with about 1000 other tourist and many boats trying to sell you stuff on the way. Having bought the boat boys drinks but ignored the photos, clothes and other trinkets we were back on the shore. Not a bad day, the bike ride certainly being the highlight.
When we arrived here I didn't know much about the Vietnam wars or why USA really invaded. It seemed clear the Vietnamese had a rough ride but due to the amount of censorship and propaganda I wasn't too sure where the truth lied. I wanted to find out more.
From Hanoi we travelled by night train to Hue the old capital (in fact it seems many places held this status at one point). No sleep and shared a room with a mouse but that's all part of the experience right?? Things were calming down and Hue had a safer feel about it. Sights included the old Citidel and the Forbidden Purple City. The history of the country started to unravel. Vietnam was once part off China and for 1000 years Emperors ruled from Hue. They often held a strict
regime and had hundreds of wives. Years before they died they would build lavish tombs and grounds where they would eventually be laid to rest however during unrest groups would try and overturn the emperors and conflict often broke out. We visited the tombs of 2 emperors. King Ding who's tomb took 25 years to finish and rumours have it that he was gay and his only child was not in fact his. This man was tiny at only 153cm tall and had such a complex about it that he would only employ mandarins to work for him that we're shorter than he was. Pics attached show the statues being the same height as me!
One of the longest serving emperors was King Tam Quoc who ruled for 45 years and beat off many attackers. The people were so concerned he would be dug up when dead that they did not bury him where he wanted but somewhere else secret. The 200 men who knew of this place were then all be headed once the tomb was complete. That's gratitude for you!
Some kings were poisoned and ruled for only a few days but in fact the last
only died in 2009 in France. When the French left in 1952 the last emperor left too. I always associated this lifestyle to ancient china and for me it was wierd to think only a couple of years ago it was in fact still a working dynasty.
The country is full of history with temples, pagodas and Buddhas all with some meaning in history. Some of you may have watched the harrowing post Mark put on Facebook about the monk setting himself alight and dying in the street to fight his political cause. It seems everywhere you turned there was unrest of sorts for most.
From Hue we took a motorbike trip to Hoi An. Having never been on the back of a bike I was nervous to say the least. But I could not recommend this day trip enough. If you take the bus you miss the mountain pass which to us was one of the highlights of our trip. Stunning scenery and gorgeous beaches. At one point you can see both Danang and Hue from the top of one mountain. Here old milatary bunkers remain highlighting the wars that have occured here. Why the Americans could
not have just recycled the French ones is beyond me! We were also taken to Elephant Waterfalls, a local 'theme park' made out of natural pools and waterfalls. Crystal clear waters and a welcome break from the suns heat. Thank you No 10 for a great experience.
Hoi An was different again and almost sleepy compared to the north. It was once a fishing port but that has since long gone. It is very clear the Vietnamese people have no foresight with anything. Fish until there are no more fish to catch and try and get as much money from tourists whilst proving poor service. They certainly have a lot to learn about sustainability. A bar owner told us, Thailand has a 70% tourist return rate but Vietnam only 20%. I'm afraid it's not hard to see why at the moment. Construction is everywhere and I think soon this place will be unrecognisable. I'm sure they will learn tourists should be their friends one day but at a price. This untouched scenery is soon to be lost forever.
Hoi An is tailor city. They will make you anything. I went for a traditional Vietnamese outfit ( ao dai
) from blue and black silk. £30 all in with 5 fittings over 2 days. Recommended restaurants included Mangos and Cafe96 where they draw a line on the wall each year after the floods. Most were taller than Mark. Our snorkelling trip to Cha Am island was a waste of time but drew a few giggles watching the Vietnamese. Women in there mid 50's done up to the nines getting on a speed boat. They then put ski jackets on and face masks to hide there bodies from the sun. Then on goes the life jackets. The pictures below say it all! We then find out they can't swim but still launch themselves off the boat and start screaming whilst holding the boat anchor rope. What a sight! We are told there are many fish so we hope the day would improve, nope, I could have counted all we saw on one hand. What we did encounter though, were tiny jellyfish which stung you all over like needles. Fantastic! Let's do that again!!!:-(. Mark had issues with his snorkel so climbed up a rock to sort it out. Obviously he cut his tow on the barnacles as he did this.
So there's me thinking, great he is now going to get an infection resulting in another trip to the doc. Luckily with some antiseptic cream he was ok, for the time being anyway!
From Hoi An we transferred to Danang for a flight to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called, changed in 1975 but the south still prefer Saigon. This sprawling city is much larger than Hanoi and is the home to 20 million people. Although it was still crazy with traffic it felt a little safer than Hanoi. You could walk on paths and although the hotel told me to remove my necklace as people would drive by and just snatch it from my neck, we saw nothing of real concern. From here we took a trip to the Chu Chi tunnels about an hour away from HCMC. This was a real eye opener into the war with America. A small farming village taking a stand against the Americans in their battle to secure the south between the the Mekong river and Saigon. 200km of tunnels on 3 levels housed the village for 9 years. Some of the tunnels were 12m underground. The
original tunnels were tiny and the pic of mark in the hole shows u how small. Unless he laid down he could not move through it. They have now enlarged 100m of tunnel to crawling size and invite tourists to have it a go. So we did. Mark videoed it so check the Facebook link soon. I apologise in advance for my language outburst whilst stuck and dropping everything out my bag in the dark! I was impressed at Marks calmness but after we emerged even he said there were a few hairy moments! Mark was then offered to shoot AK47's. His eyes lit up and off he went to the firing range. 10 rounds later, not ear drums left he was very pleased with himself. The guns were held in place but still briused his shoulder from the force when fired. No idea how people held these things up and fired them on their own.
We then learnt about the weapons and traps they set for the Americans, ( pics ) and they were pretty barbaric however the USA had bombs and during the war 2 million Vietnamese died compared to 53,000 US soldiers. I asked myself many
times, For What? The war museum then enlightened me. Although below is what I read and saw many pictures portraying these horrific scenes, please bear in mind there is much propaganda in Vietnam so it probably cannot be viewed as an independent view. I have to say though if it's anywhere near the truth ( which I believe on the whole to be ) the American government's decisions and behaviour has truly disgusted me.
On the top floor of the museum is an exhibition of photography from journalists who tried to capture the war on the front line. Many lost their lives and the pictures shot were sometimes the last roll of film, with cameras being found at later dates. 151 photographers died trying to capture the essence of the war. Tim Page, a surviving journalist put the exhibition together and it is rumoured there will soon be a movie about his life. Amazing scenes and horrific brutality, verging on genocide of whole villages, soldiers being told to leave no one alive. One picture shows an American gunning down 2 children no older than 10. I still cannot understand after the USA have admitted they were wrong and generals
admitting to these genocide missions, why no one has been tried for war crimes.
So how did this start? After the French left in 1952 signing a peace treaty. The north was communist and the south a coalition government of American and French supporting Vietnamese. They were later known as the puppet government. Vietnam was rich in tin being used heavily by the americans. By putting this government in place they remained in control of their important export. The gloss was this big stand against communism but it appears that that was really just a cover. Mr Ho Chi Minh was president of the north and wanted Vietnam united under communism, this is not what the Americans wanted nor in fact those Vietnamese who worked for them. In 1965 the prime minister of the puppet government was assassinated by the north. The USA were begining to lose control. The Tonkin episode occurred with the US government lying but stating the North had attacked the naval ships of the USA. They then used this to declare war in Vietnam. The beginning reminds me of Iraq with our government using non existent weapons of mass destruction as their trigger for war.
One would have hoped lessons would have been learnt from what then became mass slaughter but it seems not.
The USA have now openly admitted using biological weapons in Vietnam, against any treaty they ever signed. Vietnam became a testing ground for Napalm and Agent Orange. The effects of Agent Orange were even unknown to the US soldiers drafted to the war and told to use it. It was a form of severe pesticide designed to kill off all plants and animals therefore staving the Vietnamese into surrender or killing the folliage so they couldnt hide in the jungles. The US government knew of the side effects but ignored all human rights to test these new weapons. The photo exhibition has a whole section dedicated to the effect agent orange had. What it did was cause severe birth defects. Those who drank the water, ate the contaminated fish had children with missing limbs, deformed babies, Siamese twins were common as we're severe mental health problems. What, however, we are just finding out is agent orange is now affecting 3rd generation children. It seems there is no stopping it. Americans who made it home also suffered. Their children were deformed
by their Parents exposure. The government paid out to them in compensation but to this day have not paid a Penny to Vietnam in compensation.
It wasnt until 1975 that the Americans declared they were leaving Vietnam. Saigon had been taken by the north and pressure from Europe and other countries about the legitimacy of war meant their occupation was not sustainable. The war was over.
This was quite a day, I never knew of the Vietnam war having never learnt about it at school and I apologise if this blog is really a history lesson but I cannot believe less than 40 years ago this went on. How the Vietnamese in that short space of time have built friendships with America is beyond me. Clintons stay in 1995 marked that change. So history lesson over we moved on.
So from HCMC we went to Mui Ne. A beach resort with Vietnams equivalent to the Sahara behind it. A great few days meeting 2 new friends Emma and Andy. Great little hotel called Sand Dune at $10 a night right by the beach. Our day trip to the dunes was fun. ATV rides to the peak and
plastic sheets they call sledges to slide down them. There are red dunes and white dunes to see, with the white being steeper. We stopped off at the Fairy Stream on the way back, where you can see canyons with the red and white striped rock walls. A $10 day trip well spent. On our second day the heavens opened and it did not stop for 4 days.
We decide to go to Phu Quoc, an island 15 miles long off the south coast. Undeveloped for the most part it hides some boutique resorts to just get away from it all. So this is exactly what we did. A beautiful resort called La Veranda was found on our friend Agoda for a good price so it's bye bye crazy mainland and hello tranquil island life. So this is where I am writing this blog, round the pool sipping cocktails. Times are tough but someone's gotta do it! 282 Photos added to this blog and a video for you to watch if you feel like it!
Back to Thailand next to meet up with Marks' parents and then on to do our dive master courses in lovely Koh Tao.
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