The Last of Vietnam

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October 15th 2010
Published: October 23rd 2010
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Well my time in Vietnam is drawing to a close, I have to say I am getting a little travel weary and the chaotic pace of life in Vietnam has taken its toll. But still it has been great and I have been especially glad that I had Carrie and then Terrie meet up with me, it's made the maddness more bearable!

The four days I spent in Hanoi waiting for Terrie to arrive were not very active at all. I needed some chill time and also I desperately needed to catch up on my blog! The gorgeous little hotel I stayed in Rendevous was fabulous, serving a huge choice of breakfast and including much needed A/C and cable TV in the room! However after 4 days of lounging and minimal exploration I was ready to catch up with Tez and head out of Hanoi. Before we did however we joined in with the Hanoians in celebrating 1000 years of Hanoi with their major events on Sunday the 10th. The traffic was crazier than usual and there were pedestrians everywhere. Unfortunately there were no fireworks as 2 days before the event the container holding them had exploded (oops).

After a night of celebration we spent the following day strolling the streets and I showed Tez around what was becoming very familiar territory (after 5 days!). Next day it was off to Halong Bay, yes again! Although I had been with Carrie a week earlier I felt Tez just had to see it so although it was tough I managed to drag myself there once more!

Before heading to Halong we had done some quick planning and calculations on distances and unfortunately Vietnam is much bigger than either of us anticipated! Once we looked at a calendar we realised we did not have nearly enough time to do all of the things we wanted to, so that meant prioritising. Luckily Vietnam has a great and ridiculously cheap airfare system so we took advantage of that and instead of a 12 hour bus ride to Hoi An we got a cheapo 1hr flight. Our flight was booked for the night we finished our Halong tour so on the way back to Hanoi the tour guide said they would drop us off and get a taxi from there as it would be quicker than going all the way into the city. Tez and I both imagined this meant the bus would drop us in a little town where there were taxi's and the guide would negotiate a price. Oh how wrong were we! In fact what it entailed was the bus pulling up on the side of the highway and trying to flag a taxi down! It was funny to start with but as the other passengers started to get more and more restless Tez and I began to fear mutiny! Eventually after about 30 minutes and by this time the distant thunder has turned into a full on down pour complete with lightning, a taxi pulls up. Glad to be off the bus and away from the frustrated stares we jumped in, the driver didn't seem to know where we wanted to go but after what we think was a call to the tour guide he seemed to be confident, over-confident might be a better word! By this time the rain was coming down so heavily the visibility was very low and the puddles high. This didn't deter the driver though and he simply plowed through the puddles, at each one we anticipated a major fishtail but luckily the car never quite got out of control. To our relief half and hour and one major storm later we saw a sign indicating the airport, phew - dodged a bullet there!

Our flight was actually to Danang as Hoi An doesn't have an airport but its only 1/2 hr down the road so after a late night arrival and one night there it was on the bus to Hoi An. Unfortunately Terrie was struck down with a mystery illness and awoke in Danang not a happy bunny. That aside the hotel we eventually found in Hoi An was a hightlight! We asked to see their cheapest room and the receptionist led us to what I would have considered a suite. There was a lounge with our own computer with free internet, then the bedroom with 2 massive beds and the bathroom had a jacuzzi! Hello! There and then Tez and I decided that we now belonged in the Flashpacker category for sure!

Hoi An is a gorgeous little town set on a river, with lovely little cobbled streets and old shop fronts. It's famous for it's tailors and believe me there are a myriad but I think the feel of it is what makes it special. Of an evening all of the restaurants and cafes hang chinese lanterns so all along the river is a beautiful soft glow. Just lovely, our days were spent sampling the many local restaurants, cycling the streets and yes being measured up for a few custom made items!

From Hoi An it was on to Nha Trang on what was to be my last night bus for the trip - although fun the novelty has worn off after 4 months of it! 12 hours and 1 breakdown later we arrived bleary eyed but ready to hit the beach. Our first day was spent solely on a sunlounger on the main beach before heading back to the hotel for a pre dinner nap, life really is hard. Our second day though was by far the highlight, we found the Lousiane Brewery, convieniently located on the beach but also featuring a swimming pool. It didn't take long for us to realise that this was where it is at in Nha Trang! The day was spent by the pool sampling the local beer and enjoying their food, couldn't think of a better way to relax. All was blissful until we headed back to the hotel for showers when suddently I started to feel off. I won't go into details but needless to say something on the menu was very off and instead of heading out for dinner I stayed in and endured my first (and hopefully last) bout of food poisoning! Food poisoning aside Nha Trang was great and next stop the big one - Ho Chi Minh City!

Pressed for time we landed in HCMC and after choosing a hotel had to mission straight to the War Remnants Museum. Wow for anyone who has been you will undertand but for those who haven't I don't think I can quite explain just how confronting the images are. I've visited Auschwitz and seen the horror of the Holocaust and what happened in Vietnam is definitely on par. Although the exhibit explanations were certainly propagandist and really only spoke about what American did (there was no mention of lives lost at that hands of North Vietnamese soldiers and guerillas) you can't deny the facts. Just one of the terribley unjust aspects of the war was the use of chemicals such as Agent Orange etc. The chemicals unleashed by the USA upon the Vietnamese people had such an horrific and ongoing effect it was difficult to look at, in fact I physically recoiled and felt ill when I looked at most of them. And that's just one aspect, the torture and mutilations that occured at the hands of soldiers is just unfathomable. I think the worst part of it all is that as I was reading about US soldiers going through village's, destroying homes, killing and maiming civilians, all that I could think was - this is happening again right now in Iraq.

Moving on to a lighter note the next day we headed out of HCMC to visit the Great Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cao Dai are a religious sect that combines the main themes of Buddism, Christianity and Confucianism. It originated in Tay Ninh which is where were visited the Great Temple and were able to observe the noon prayer session. I have seen a lot of temples, churches, synagogues and mosques in my travels but I have to say this was the most interesting I have seen yet. The temple was just so bright and airy, very different from most other buildings that are normally dark and somewhat closed. It was really interesting to watch the ceremony and see the followers all lined up in their finery, definitely a highlight of Vietnam.

After lunch we headed to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels with the worlds most inappropriate tour guide! After watching THE most propagandist film yet on the people of the cu chi tunnels the guide decided to tell us a little story about a woman who was born in the tunnels in 1968. Apparently she now has a shop just outside the gates and she is very beautiful but she is quote 'a virgin, you know virgin? it mean she have no husband and so she not know how big the banana is' - as you can imagine this sent the audience into gales of stifled laughter all wondering is this guy for real? This wasn't his only bizzaro story but I'd be hear for days if I included them all.

Returning to HCMC during Friday night peak hour was fun, especially after the long day but all of this was forgotten after a shower and a number of beers at a street corner bar. Although the chaos of the city is mind blowing it is quite fun and relaxing to sit on a street corner in a comfy deck chair, sipping beer and watching the maddess pass you by. It was Terrie's last night so beers on the sidewalk seemed a fitting farewell to a fantastic 2 weeks in Vietnam.

I spent my last day in HCMC walking through the markets and visiting the Reunification Palace. I have to say the Palace was a disappointment, it reminded me of Communist East Berlin! Urgh so dreary I don't think it's actually worthy of the title 'Palace' - oops did I say that out loud.

So for me my trip is coming to a close, I can't believe 4 months has gone by in fact it's exactly 4 today since I left Perth! Tomorrow I fly to Malaysia where I will spend 8 days in the Semporna Archipelago - 3 of which will be attempting to gain my dive certificate. I'm looking forward to escaping to the quiet and calmness of island life, not to mention evenning out my tan before heading home!

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25th October 2010

last leg
Hi lisa, nice blog. Good to read now that i am going on holidays in less than 1 week's time i can read it without bitterness!! You make me want to go to Vietnam though, not boring Melbourne. Well thanks for the update, stay safe love Mia and Vegemite xxx

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