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Published: March 1st 2008
Jesse has left for the UK so I am now wandering around Vietnam by myself. I am at Nha Trang which is 10 hours north of Saigon, on the East coast.
Yesterday I went on one of the boat trips around the islands. The only way they make any money is by selling beer (the day trip was US$6 including a huge lunch, snorkelling gear, taxi there...) so they encourage drinking to excess. They tally your beers and you pay at the end, according to the hosts I got the biggest score and "won". I went on "Mama Hanh's" tour. She is a legend around here, and used to go out on the boat 7 days a week and drink all the western boys under the table (she is about 70). Unfortunately she went to prison for a while for allowing pot to be smoked on the boat, and now she has a couple of lads doing the trips for her. The highlight was the floating bar, where well all jumped in the water with rubber rings and drunk cheap Vietnamese wine (16% alc). The Vietnamese guys are hard case, they learn all these sayings from travellers and pull them
out at the funniest times. He was saying "che bro" to me and calling me a sheep shagger, and after sculling some wine he screwed up his face and said "Ahhh, that’s fu
Today I hired a bicycle and went for mission. Went to a section of the town where there are no tourists for a look-see. It is important for Vietnamese to show their wealth, so they buy the latest motorbike and live in a shack! They think it is very funny that a rich westerner would ride around on a decrepit bicycle. I passed a local market which was interesting. The meat was sitting outside in the sun, and I realised that one chunk of meat was a head because it still had the eye attached. There were a whole lot of ducks tied up. Sad, felt like buying them to let them go. Rode past three guys that had organised a cock fight. The chickens here are scungy enough without getting them into fights. One chicken was quite good, the other would launch at him and he would crouch letting the attacker fly over him, then turn and get him off balance! Ninja chicken.
Had grilled frog for lunch. Really tasty, but frustrating because of the size.
The day before yesterday I travelled from Nha Trang to Hue on a sleeper train. I met four Aussies while waiting for it and had a sleeper party in one of the cabins to celebrate one of the guy's birthdays. They were shocked at how primitive it was for the most luxurious class, but I loved it. No knees against the seat in front of you, and when I slept I could just about lie flat out. There were cockroaches and a mouse in our cabin (one of the girls screamed, pointed at my foot and jumped up to the top bunk, causing me to pack myself, but twas only the mouse).
I booked a bus from Hue to Savannakhet in Laos. The bus arrived at 6.30am and off I went. Except everyone on the bus was on a tour to the old DMZ in Vietnam... The Welsh guy next to me was initially quite confused at me asking him if he had been to Laos before... Anyway after visiting a church that was riddled with bullet holes and travelling through the sandy infertile land that I presume is a result of all the herbicides dropped on the area during the war, we stopped for lunch and I was told that my bus would be here shortly. The "bus" was a minivan that had had a very hard life (sort of the vehicle version of Stu's liver). It was full when they picked me up, but we stopped for another 6 people. THERE WERE 21 BLOODY PEOPLE IN THIS THING! And it was a short wheel-base with three rows of seats, not one of the big mini vans. Even the Vietnamese were laughing, especially at the big blonde boof-head with his legs wrapped around his ears (I was the only westerner). I must have been some form of karma getting me back for travelling in relative luxury to Hue...
Luckily I was distracted from the discomfort of the situation by the pace we were travelling through the countryside. The driver was obviously sick of life, and did not mind taking us with him. He had full faith in his horn, assuming that if he held it down, any oncoming traffic around the blind bends would magically disappear. Somehow it worked, but my heart rate was significantly elevated for an hour and a half. At one stage the Vietnamese girl next to/on top of me was sick.
In addition to this I was the trip freak show. People were touching my hair, touching my back and arms (and signalling how big everything was), even my legs were subject to attention. One guy tried on my watch and sunglasses, while another gave me an arm wrestle which he lost even though he was using both arms...
All in all I really enjoyed it, totally away from everything familiar, scared for my life, treated like a freak, and as uncomfortable as I have ever been. I don't think I stopped smiling once.
The minibus stopped before the border at 10am (an hour quicker than predicted by the travel agent) and I was kicked out. mmmm... by myself in some random foreign place. After a minute of this (which was long enough) a girl came up to me and said "Savannakhet?", it was music to my ears. Went through the Vietnamese border check point, got a motorbike to the Laos one, then the girl took me to a local bus that was going to Savannakhet (bless her soul).
Just west of the Laos border there were 20 large trucks packed with virgin native timber. Apparently the official quota is tightly controlled, but corrupt government officials allow massive amounts to be trucked to Vietnam.
The bus ride here was brilliant. Bumpy, but I had a seat to myself. I watched a guy eat a boiled fertilised egg. The baby foetus had feathers on it and all. I'm in to trying new foods but they can keep that one.
Don't know what I am going to do from here. There is a five day trek into the jungle, staying with local villagers, trying to spot wild elephants (and rarely tigers). Might do that, I am going to find more about it now...
Below are also a few photos from earlier in Vietnam.
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