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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City
December 14th 2005
Published: January 31st 2006
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Hi everyone! Sorry it has taken me so long to add some more to my blog- it's been a hectic and busy few weeks travelling down through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Bali- have barely had time to catch my breath! So a combination of lots of fun and bad internet connections have kept me from updating.....sorry again! Hope you enjoy what's next...
(I am now in Cairns, OZ, so the connections are great! Hope to catch up to present day while I'm here!)
So, here we are still back in Vietnam, travelling down the East coast....

7 DEC 2005 -9 DEC 05
Our bus from Nha Trang to Mui Ne leaves at 7am so we're up at 6.15. It's still chucking it down with rain! The drive is very scenic; coming down along the spectacular coastline reminds me very much of the West coast of Portugal- all rugged outcrops and splashing waves. We arrive in Mui Ne about 1pm and go in search of somewhere to stay. Most are full, or too expensive, so Luke leaves me with the bags and goes off on a motorbike taxi to find somewhere. He comes back to get me (phew!) and off we zoom down to a place called Bao Quynh, a sweet little 'bungalow resort' set in gorgeous gardens ($15pn- so pricey for us!). They grow all sorts of fruit and veg here in the gardens, and we get to eat the freshly picked fruit everyday. Tasty. We head off for a late (3pm) lunch, and then for the rest of the afternoon we wander, trying to get our bearings, and sit and have a cuppa back at the bungalows, with some freshly-picked bananas. We just chill out, read our books and then head out for dinner- have very tasty pork sauteed with coconut in a claypot, with rice and spring rolls, all washed down with a Saigon beer. Mmmmmmm.

Woken by 'housekeeping' (wow- luxury!) the next morning- we head off down to the beach in search of brekkie but have to cut through another resort to get to any restaurants. We then sit on the beach for a few hours- it's lovely to feel the sun and salty sea air on my skin. It's very windy here, so it's a popular spot for kitesurfers and windsurfers. They hold part of the annual Asian Windsurfing Tour here in February/March time. I think this place will grow and grow to be a very popular place for holidays- it's much nicer than Nha Trang. Think the coast of Thailand was probably like this about 20 years ago. I would definately think aabout comning back- and your money goes so much further here too. We go for a nice stroll along the beach- the tide's out and a sandbar has created a lagoon running along the beach- it's lovely and warm so just sit in there for a while! Luke has a swim instead and it's actually really wavy. I watch the Kitesurfers getting some pretty big air- everyone there is Western apart from one awesome Vietnamese guy. It's middday sun now so we head up to the garden and have a cup of tea (and some more bananas), and don't move until we go for dinner! We are leaving tomorrow at 1.30pm to head for Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) so decide to get up early the next morning to make the most of our remaining time in Mui Ne.

So, up we get, have brekkie and head down to the beach. It's only 9am, and although the wind has dropped today it's already fairly warm We have a lovely long swim in the South China Sea , and the tides in so the lagoony area is a nice depth to float about in. Shortly after, we head back and get changed, grab some lunch and then wait for the bus. Its's already practically full by the time it gets to us, and Luke and I seem to get the most squashed seats- but it's only for 5 or so hours, so not too bad.

9 DEC 2005-13 DEC 2005
You arrive in HCMC way before you reach the centre- it's seems a very sprawled out city. Otherwise, it's a bit like Bangkok- a bit muggy, smoggy and dirty (though not as bad as you initially think, it actually turns out to be a fairly nice city). When we get off the bus, we are picked by two forceful women to be the lucky ones to receive their 'special price' rooms- we look at one before heading off on our own! We settle at Phan Lan GH- a friendly place with free bananas, tea and coffee anytime. Best of all it's really clean. So, we're pretty hungry by now, so after showering and handing our paspports over to reception (always a bit worried I might not get it back or get a new identity when I check out!), we head out for some food. Two minutes down the road we bump into Christina and Ingrid (the 2 Austrian girls), so we go for dinner with them and another Austrian girl they've met. Have the BEST banana shake and food- the portion are massive and also very cheap. Great!

We wake up with the city noise and have our free brekkie before heading out to discover HCMC. We only have today to do the city sights, so first stop is the Notre Dame Cathedral, followed by a cyclo ride to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, built by the Cantonese community here in around 1900. As you would expect from a Cantonese Pagoda, it's more Chinese in design and featured lots of carved gilt woodwork panels to decorate the interior. So, as you can imagine, very different from all the temples we've seen so far in Thailand and Laos. After a cylco back to the Notre Dame we wander in the direction of the War Remnants Museum. A very distressing exibit. It's made up of 7 sections, most displaying photos of varying aspects of the (what they call) American War, while the courtyard is filled with bomb parts, howitzers, tanks, a bomber plane and helicopter. Although it was all harrowing, I think the most distressing section was a series of halls presenting a grisly portfolio of photos of mutilation, napalm burns and torture. Further on, it looks at the effects of the 75 million litres of defoliant sprays (Agent Orange) dumped across Vietnam- including hideously malformed foetuses preserved in pickiling jars. Other effects of Agent Orange inlcude, for those directly exposed; cancer, diabetes, lifelong nausea, deafness and blindness. For their children; horrific physical and mental disabilites. So for the Vietnamese, the horrors of this war continue to live on and haunt them. I can't even find the word to describe how I feel about the Americans that dumped this stuff knowing the effects it would have. There are also some photos of some U.S. soldiers who are so far from any level of normal sanity it's terrifying; one photo documents a soldier's joyous face as he holds half of a Vietnamese soldiers corpse blown apart by a bomb or mine. Sick. Sick. Sick.

There' s also a section called "Requiem", which presents war photos from the countless photojournalists who also died during the conflict- again a disturbing insight into war, and the effects it has on the human mind. One plaque next to a photo of a terrified man to be shot reads that the photographerr asked to take a photo first before they killed him. How anyone could watch someone get shot, and have the nerve to ask for a photo of the victim first is anyone's guess. Another section then recreates the Tiger Cages- tiny dark prison cells used to hold Viet Cong Prisoners on Con Son idsland. So all in all, a hugely disturbing and distressing insight into a devastating war that is, incredibly, so recent in the worlds' history, and really still not over for so many.

For the following day we have booked a day trip to see the Cai Dai Holy See at Tay Ninh snd the Cu Chi Tunnels.

So first stop is the Cao Dai Cathedral, the holy see of the Cao Dai Religion, founded in 1926 as a fusion of Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The Cathedral itself is very colourful, and reflects the eclectic ideology of the Cao Dai religion. Dominating the interior is a massive duck-egg-blue sphere, speckled with stars and shows the Divine Eye- reflected in various areas of the Cathedral. We are there to see the midday mass, where a traditional band plays as robed worshippers chant, pray and sing. Mass is held at 6am, midday, 6pm and midnight- so followers are very dedicated!

After stopping for lunch, we arive at Ben Dinh, a site of the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. It is here that during the American War, the villagers around the district supported a substantial Viet Cong (VC) presence. The threat of the Americans 'neutralising' them (ie bombing the hell out of them) drove them to dig their way out of harms way, resulting in the Cu Chi Tunnels. By 1965, 250km of tunnels crisscrossed Cu Chi and the surrounding areas. Tunnels were as small as 80cmx80cm, and in places, 4 levels deep (containing latrines, kitchens, and even hospitals where operations were carried out by torchlight using instruments made from scraps of ordinance). They lived down there for weeks at a time, if necessary. American attempts to 'flush them out' didn't succeed, and neither did the use of defoliants and bombs. The VC were so strong and resourceful, the Americans didn't stand a chance!

After seeing the real Cu Chi tunnels, we were taken to see a version made for Westerners: a reconstruction made twice the size of the originals (I wondered if a Westerner had got stuck before they thought to make a wider reconstruction!?). Luke goes through it but I don't (I don't like small spaces where I think I'm not able to breathe fresh air), and he tells me it's just as well I didn't go in. It's sweaty, claustrophobic, hot and dark. We are also shown the VC booby traps for US soldiers, and there's a shooting range where you can fire various weapons. I'm a bit disgusted by an Australian family who are bullying their 10 year old son to fire a gun- and yet they did not want their children to see the War Remnants Musuem exibits as it might be too awful for them! If you want them to fire a gun, at least show them exctly what damage it can cause. I've never heard a gunshot before, and I'll be relieved if I never have to again. Every time someone fired a round it made me jump! Strangely enough, there is also a wedding happening somewhere in the area- what must it be like to be celebrating your special day and then hearing random gunshots in the background? It was actually really disturbing to see how excited people were at the chance to fire a gun, especially after seeing what we had yesterday at the Museum; it just seemed so wrong.

Again it just is so incredible that this area is part of such recent history, and how resilient people can be when necessary (if it was you could you imagine doing the same?).

The next day, our last day in HCMC, is a hectic one. We book our Mekong Delta Trip that will end in Phom Penh in Cambodia, and then head to the market. It's a bustling mix for both tourists and locals alike, and then we head to Pho Bo 2000 for lunch where we have (you guessed it...) pho bo (beef noodle soup). We also hunt for a bank that will change VND to USD (again very tricky!) as there are no ATM's in Cambodia (however, once we get to Cambodia we do see one, and weirdly it only dispenses USD!).

Luke and I go to Lemongrass for our special Vientamese dinner (again thanks M&D!). It's a gorgeous little resaturant, and a lady is playing traditional music on a zitha (mandolin/sitar type instrument). We try some fresh beef spring rolls (basically spring rolls but au naturel and not fried!), and then I have deep-fried prawns in coconut batter while Luke has fish. We have banana cake and ice cream for dessert. Absolutely delicious!! A lovely finish to our time in mainland Vietnam.

13 DEC 05-14 DEC 05
It's an early start for our Mekong Delta trip. We get a bus to Cai Be, where the group all get on a boat to putter through the canals and local floating market (think we're a bit late as most of it is finished!). We then stop to try the local produce; honey tea, coconut and banana candy, and rice paper crackers. After various transfers between buses and boats we arrive in Chau Doc, where we'll stay overnight. We have gained another in our select group of two- Johnny, an English photographer on some time out. Very interesting, chatty guy, and a great laugh! Good value, as some would say!

We get a 6am wake-up knock the nex morning- decide not to have a shower as the water is freezing and brown. Luke, Johnny and I have some brekkie and then the bus takes us to the harbour, where we get on local rowing boats (in 2's) to see a floating fishing village. These floating houses have cages 4-5m deep underneath that house up to 70, 000 fish! Then we pootle along to a Cham villlage- they are a Muslim ethnic minority village. We see their mosque and also the women weaving silk scarves. The children all ask for pens- unfortunately I only have one! Then we make the transfer to the border on a boat that is absolutely infested with cockroaches- eeeeewwww!!! (After an easy border crossing and a bit more boat time on the Cambodia side we change to a bus for the 2 hours to Phnom Penh). Johnny has adopted us (or we've adopted him, I'm not sure which!) for the duration of our time in Cambodia, so the three of us make our way to New Lodge, a GH on the lake with hammocks, pool table and beer fridge. Of course the boys, in particular, love it!!

So next up...our adventures in Kampuchea!!!


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