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Published: January 21st 2007
Arriving in Vietnam was probably my first real culture shock. Just driving from the train station to the hotel in Hanoi was a labyrinth of motorbikes, bicycles, women balancing baskets on their heads, and non-stop action on every corner. Vietnam's tours are developed just the same as many countries but it's still 'different.'
We first set off on a 3-day boat journey in Halong Bay; driving to the dock we discovered that Vietnamese tour guides love to talk and mopeds are the main means of transportation, even if you need to bring a pig to someone. Taking off from the dock is done without speed waiting for the rest of the 'junk boats' to depart out of the way. The 3000 islands are not unspoilt but we had the chance to tour a couple of caves and walk the shortest trek until a sign said "stop!" Joe and I tested our canoeing skills failing miserably- rowing in a straight line was impossible, but we had other chances to improve along the way. As all the other boats followed our path. However, we tried to do a few things different-enjoy a boat BBQ with rice wine, karaoke on Cat Ba island,
eat endless meals of squid and bony fish, visit the floating village...still all the other boats seemed to have the SAME ideas.
After Hanoi, we headed to Hoi An and had a cheap suit made from one of the 300 tailors just the same was everyone else. Now was the time to relax, cramming 20 people into a minivan to Mui Ne. We spent several days in a bungalow on the beach listening to the waves crash upon the shore. Mui Ne is known for its consistent streams of wind that blow many kite surfers and wind surfers along the waves. A typical day for most visitors and us, was wake up early in the morning to have breakfast on the beach, sit along the beach reading a book or sun bathing, perhaps getting adventurous to kite surf or just a nice stroll along the water, snack on the exotic fruit in the afternoon, get a massage or buy bracelets from the many ladies walking up and down the beach, wash up for a fresh fish dinner and end the night sitting on a bean bag chair in the sand sipping a drink and nibbling on peanuts.
last stop in Vietnam, was Saigon...the madness continued. The same Vietnam war presented in America has a different view in Vietnam. To see the difference, we visited the Cu Chi tunnels and war museum. The tunnels were an underground network during the Vietnam War to store bombs, use of hiding and communication system. At one stage during the war, the tunnels were widened to allow American soldiers to fit through the entrances and then trapping them inside. We crawled through the claustrophobic tunnels and saw the dangerous traps that were scattered throughout the woods during the war. The war museum was more of shock...who knew that Americans acted like the Nazis during the Vietnam war with their concentration camps, deadly chemicals, and barbaric actions that killed or injured many innocent people. To end Saigon on a lighter note, we walked through the markets and met up with some friends to have a drink or should I say a few. One of our friends went behind the bar to make the same drinks as they do in Ireland with a few different touches.
Leaving Vietnam we traveled through the Mekong Delta, the same route of fishermen and river village people.
Along our way (a much longer way than expected) we visited a fish farm, mingled in the floating market, tried homemade coconut candy, canoed through a small channel, and watched the production of rice and rice paper. As they say it everywhere in Vietnam its "same same but DIFFERENT."
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