Planes, Trains and Bicycles

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Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast
July 11th 2015
Published: July 13th 2015
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After breakfast, Brendan and I got into our routine of leaving the kids behind to watch HBO while we investigated street life and shops. We found a good shop selling boys shorts, although it was actually Vietnamese men's sizes. We will come later with the the boys to try them on. Back at the hotel we waited till 1000 to pick up our glasses, but the lady meant 1300. No drama, as the shop is literally next door to the hotel, so we went for a swim and relaxed at the hotel instead. At 1300 we collected our glasses, then went for another fitting for our clothes at the tailor.

At about 3.30pm First Born and I hired a couple of bikes which some random stranger delivered to the hotel on her motorbike. The stand broke off First Born's bike the first time we stopped, which was at the tailor shop so I could have another fitting. The dresses were still a little tight so I had to come back again before 9pm to pick them up. The ladies have absolutely no compunction about coming right into the change rooms while you are half naked to help you dress. Well, actually I've been dressing myself for over 40 years now and I really don't need any help I feel like saying. But in their culture of living in close proximity to many family members, the concept of personal space means absolutely nothing.

From there we headed out of town on the busy road. I was shitting my self at first, but just like crossing the street in HCMC, it wasn't long before we found our groove including being on the wrong side of the road. It wasn't long before we turned into a side street and the traffic died down and we were in the real Vietnam. No tourists here. All the locals were really friendly. We passed a temple and were lucky enough to see the monks just leaving after a prayer session. Lleyton and quickly put on some sarongs and I covered up my shoulders. We wandered around looking inside, taking care to remove our shoes. After that we meandered through some narrow laneways before encountering rice paddies and water buffallo. From there we hit the main road to My An Beach, which at its southern extremity, used to be called China Beach during what the Vietnamese call the American War. Bicycles and motorbikes weren't allowed on the beach so we had to park with the 1000s of other bikes. We had to pay but I told the guy, I only wanted a couple of minutes to take a picture and he was good with that. Well, it was worse than Scarborough Beach on a 45 degree day. Most unpleasant with dirty, coarsely rained sand and throngs of people leaping about in joy of the luke warm bath water, known as the South China Sea. The main road back led straight to our hotel but it was busy with lots of cars, coaches, cyclists and motorbikes, but I survived to tell the tale. I was sure this was going to be one of the highlights and it certainly lived up to all my expectations.

I was knackered when we got back and my face was like a beetroot. I showered and got ready to head out again, on foot this time, to pick up our clothes from the tailor shop and to grab a bite to eat. We settled on a place close to the hotel and I chose the Papaya Salad with prawns which was quite possibly the nicest salad I've ever had. We had a wonderful 3 course meal with drinks for 4 of us, all for under $23.

In the morning, we headed off back down the street to find a shop, that Brendan and I spotted yesterday, selling cheap shorts. We got the boys sorted with a couple of pairs each and got back to the hotel with half an hour to spare before our ride back to Danang train station came to collect us. An interesting ride with our driver stopping on the road and running off onto the other side of the road, never to be seen again. This is the thing about third world countries, one quite never knows what the 'system' is, there is little point trying to figure it out and one just has to trust that everything is going to work out and try not to panic. I worked on this motto when another random stranger appeared out of nowhere to 'relieve' our absconded driver, who then took us to Danang Airport. Well I'm sure we are in the wrong place because that plane does not look like a train. I thought, maybe the train station is right next to the airport. Or MAYBE it is on the other side of town in Vietnam's 3rd largest city. Then I thought , good job we left really, really early as I'm busy doing my Thomas The Tank Engine impersonation to indicate to the driver where we wanted to go. All's good. We get there, but what a shit fight inside, a kazillion people vying to buy tickets, or just standing around ike sardines in a can waiting for a train. It was so stuffy and hot and the Skinny Controller locked everyone inside the building on what I could crudely describe as a platform. I have no idea why we weren't allowed out because later we went outside and no one cared. It was so much cooler out there in the 100% humidity. Chaos and cacophany reigns and basically we have no idea what'ss going on and when I showed The Skinny Controller our tickets, she barked at me to go back inside because it was coming later. Great, the ticket says our train departs at 12.45pm and it is now 1.15pm and there has been several trains coming and going. My only salvation was that there were plenty of our Western travellers who had the same train number as us and they also had no clue about what was going on. Finally, an hour later we are on the right train and settled in our berths. Everyone turned their noses up at the state of the cabin. They just didn't realise that 1st class in a third world country is, at best, 3rd class in the Western world. We had the afternoon to enjoy the ride through the Hai Van Pass which was very scenic. Train travel is certainly a great way to see the Vietnamese country side as we passed many farmers tending to their cattle and buffalo and working the rice fields in their traditional conical hats.

At about sunset we passed the DMZ which no longer exists and no real visual evidence that it used to exist. One needs to watch their step around these parts. Between 1975 and 2000, nearly 40,000 people have been killed and nearly 70,000 have been maimed by UXOs and landmines in this area. Approximately 20% of the rest of Vietnam is also covered with UXOs and land minds and it is mostly children who are hurt. We have seen several legless people. Nowhere as many as I've seen in Cambodia though. Thank goodness for the NGOs who are making these countries safe and arable again for the poor countries. Once it had got dark, we noticed several food trollies serving up Pho to the locals but would completely bypass us. We had bought some instant noodles to make with the boiled water available on the train as I wasn't sure what the food situation was going to be like on the train. An evening without a meal meant there were going to be two UXOs going off in our cabin. As we were debating over whether the water would be safe enough to drink despite being boiled, the train came to a grinding halt at another station. We peered out over the platform in the darkness and drooled over the steaming pots of food from all of the vendors. Then another discussion ensued about weather it'd be okay to get off the train and buy some. Last Born had the most to gain by volunteering to watch over our stuff in the cabin, as he grows about half a foot a day while we went off for a food reconnaissance mission. I didn't think it was safe as no other Westerners had got off the train as there was no real way of finding out how long the train was actually going to stop. As it turns out, we were real trail blazers that evening in the middle of no where, because once we were off all the other Westerners followed. Surely the conductor would noticed that we were all off? Well, we knew that, but poor Last Born felt the train lurch forward a bit and thought he'd be hurdling off to Hanoi all on his lonesome. Anyway the chicken rice looked pretty good, then the whistle went just in time to get some drinks off another vendor before the conductor told us to get on quick. I thought he whistled because we were leaving, but as it turns out we were standing in the middle of the track where the train from the opposite direction was coming!

Anyway, back in the safety of the cabin, I was chomping on my chicken drumstick wondering if I was better off getting the squirts for a day or two from the dodgy boiled water if getting Hep B or salmenella from the chicken was a better option. As it turns out, I ate nothing as the chicken rice looked better than it tasted. There was no avoiding having to go the toilet and the boys suggested that the one right at the end of the train was much nicer than our manky one. On the way we saw the train workers sleeping in an alcove no bigger than a toilet or on lazy boys at the end of each car. Crossing from one car to the next was an experience in itself, taking car not to get one's foot trapped between the heavy iron connecting the two cars whilst busy staring unbelievably the ground beneath. Well if a 3 year old toddler can do it, and if the lady pulling the snack cart can do it, then I can do it.

Rollin' rockin' riding all along the paddies. All bound for Hanoi Town many miles away.


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