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Asia » Vietnam
June 3rd 2007
Published: June 3rd 2007
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I was previously using travelpod but have now changed to travelblog.org (as I'm sure you know) for my entries. I transferred the text from those previous posts here but I lack the patience and the intestinal fortitude to wade through and post the photo's again. For the original Japan and Vietnam postings with photos cut and paste this url in the address bar:
http://www.travelpod.com/members/gred78



Vietnam



Hanoi
Hanoi is a bit of sensory overload and it took a minute to get a hang of things, my first impression wasnt all that great, but it grew on me somewhat and helped me learn a few Vietnam survival skills for the rest of the trek south, first.......... the hotel.


The hotel
After being picked up from the airport we maneuvered through the city streets to the glorious "Win Hotel". Upon arrival I immediately got bad vibes cuz there were too many people hangin around outside and it didn't look like they were the philanthropist type..... to top it off our hotel had a partition pulled across the front door and the clerk had a lil bed on the floor in the lobby.... note to self, "check out tomorrow and find someplace different". The attendant asked us for our passports and took them..... I asked for them back after a few minutes and he says "tomorrow", which really didnt help things out. Our room was nice enough though, however, we had a little blood sucking visitor buzzing about. Being the hypocondriac that I am, the lone mosquito was pursued and summarily executed in the name of malaria prevention, next step, move the nightstand in front of the door and now we can rest..........


Initiation
The next morning we went for our "free" breakfast and sat in the lobby watching Vietnam pass by. I thought the street was busy the night before but in the daytime there was alot more foot traffic passing to and fro. For the first time on the trip I found myself feeling a lil overwhelmed and actually intimidated to hit the streets.......... there were just so many people and so much going on, we finished breakfast and headed for our initiation to the streets of Hanoi.

Just to sum it up I will give you a recap of our trip 2 1/2 blocks down the street to the lake in Old Quarter. As soon as we hit the street we are approached by hired guns who sit in front every restaurant and are paid to get you inside, "you eat here", "good food very cheap", "what you like", polite no thank you's all around.... nevermind that the restaurants are all but side by side and everyone saw you turn down the 4 restaurants before theirs, but they ask anyway. We made it through to the first corner where guys sit on their motobikes and offer you rides around the city for a fee, another round of polite no thank you's and now we have the daunting task of crossing the street for the first time (more on this later).......... I'm sure we looked like deer in headlights out there and the locals must love it. We waited for a big enough break and all but sprinted across the road avoiding the literally thousands of motobike drivers and cabs constantly buzzing around the old quarter. Once across we sat down at a bench to enjoy the view of the lake but the remaining neighborhood salesmen came out of the woodwork offering us everything from tours of the city to sunglasses, two guys approached back to back selling the exact same books, and nobody seemed to undersand no thank you until it was repeated for the 5th or 6th time. One guy literally went down the stack of books in his arms and asked us to buy each book......... all to a continued parade of no thank you's. Our mission quickly turned from relaxation to make it back to the room and regroup......... valuable lessons learned, guess its better to learn sooner than later.

The motobikes
Right away in Hanoi you notice the notorious "Moto-bikes" as the locals call them, you and I know them as scooters. These guys sit on the street and ask every westerner that passes if they want a ride, and thats what keeps their lights on I guess. In Vietnam moto-bikes far outnumber cars and everyone and their cousin's, mothers bridge partner is on one whipping around the city. These things are packed with up to 4 people, baskets, grain... we even saw one with a cow hog tied on the back, we thought it was dead till it moved while the guy drove past.... by any means necessary!!! All this is of course without a helmet in sight, whole families, infants, toddlers holding on on the back, and to top it all off, there are literally thousands of these things in one way traffic around the lake in the "old quarter" and literally not a traffic light to be seen. There was a 5 way intersection by our hotel and we just sat and watched in amazement as a perpetual stream of bikes whizzed past in every direction without a traffic light and no accidents (saw one on 1st day), everyone just honks and drives and somehow the organized chaos works. The bikes made crossing the street crazy because there are no cross walks, and when there were.... it is just paint on cement and carries no weight with anyone driving, it took a sec to get the hang of it cuz the trick is counterintuitive... all ya gotta do is walk slow, everyone sees you and you see everyone and everyone lives, rookies run and almost cause accidents.

The open wallets
That would be anyone not from Vietnam, to them we are rich and they try to shake you down for every last nickle. When you shop, nothing has a price tag, everything is negotiable and westerners pay at LEAST double what the locals pay if not three or four times more. It seems petty because 16,000 Dong is equal to a dollar and they may only be ripping you off by 8K dong (50 cents) and thats little to nothing, but eventually it becomes like a million little mosquito bites and turns into a nuicance and a half. I understand to an extent, but after Hanoi, everything was a negotiation....... if we meet somewhere inbetween then everyone is happy, but I dont pay $1.25 for a 7up in the states, I sho fa'sho won't pay that much in Vietnam(ok maybe I did once or twice).


Ha Long Bay
We did a two day tour of Ha Long bay, we sailed out one night and stayed on a boat and came back the next day, it was awesome. The whole bay is full of thousands of small islands/karsts and the tour boat is taken out with all meals and all that jazz provided. The scenery in the bay was amazing, we to to swim, visited floating villages, kayaked..... it was our first time out of the "city" in vietnam and was a welcome change.


Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh was stop number two, its about a 3-4 hour train ride from Hanoi and a completly different feel. Here we saw more of the countryside and visited Tam Coc and and Coc Phuong. Tam Coc is similar to Ha Long Bay but the mountains are on land instead of in the water. Coc Phuong is a national park with a monkey rehabilitation center right outside of it. If you ever happen to visit the park, please note that sign saying the trail is 2.5 miles long is only one way, once you make it 2.5 miles, you have to hike back in the sweltering sun in a rain forrest on steep trails that go up and down the terrain................ for miles. Maybe I missed the asterisk at the bottom of the sign but I just thought I'd bring it to everyones attention.

On the train ride to Ninh Binh we were joined by our Vietnamese cabin mates who at first irritatated the heck out of us (I think some cultural differences), and then became very friendly and changed our opinion. When the train served food they brought out their own supply and insisted we eat with them, even down to the very strong alcohol in the second hand water bottle (they really got a kick out of that). It was alot of fun and you would be amazed how much you can communicate through sign language and two or three words of another language......

Aside from that Ninh Binh was nice because it was more relaxed and had a more historical feel to it as opposed to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.


Hue
Hue was awesome......... the city was taken in the 1968 Tet Offensive by the NVA and was held for upwards of two-three weeks before being recaptured by American forces. Hue is divided in two by the perfume river and on one bank is "the citadel". The citadel is a massive complex complete with huge walls and a moat, it used to house the Vietnamese Emperor. I read a book called "Phase line green" back in the day about the retaking of the city, interesting stuff if your a bit of a military history junkie such as myself (Read "We were soldiers once, and young" if you get the chance, as usual, movie does book no justice). It was awesome to see for myself, and we also did a day trip down the perfume river to visit former kings tombs and sightsee. Once again a step up, it seems the further south you go the more I enjoy the country, maybe it's a mix of getting used to it and maybe it's just getting away from the big city feel.

Hoi An
If Vietnam was California, Hanoi would be downtown L.A. and Hoi An would be Santa Monica or Pismo Beach. The town is situated between the Hoi An river and the Ocean, in town the riverfront has alot of restaurants and shops, and if you want to get away from that getaway you can hit the ocean, we did it once riding on the back of motobikes and then we rented one to ourselves another day............ interesting to say the least. Hoi An comes highly recommended for some rest and relaxation.

Nha Trang
A beach resort city, the water was nice and warm and the town was definitely tourist friendly. I ended up spending my birthday here (happy birthday to me) which was odd but kinda cool. The place definetly had a stronger party vibe but was not one of my favorites.


Mui Ne Beach
Mui Ne was very nice, we checked into a beachfront bungalow (for all of $25) and no sooner had we sat down our bags than 4 or 5 cows walked off the beach and through the gate and began eating the lush landscaping. They pilfered some flowers and such before hotel staff shooed them away lolol. The vibe here was very relaxed and we got to do some hiking up a creek and explore some huge sandunes............... aside from relaxing on the beach and just hanging out.

Saigon
Saigon was a nice city and a welcome change from the small town. Everything was full service and we splurged on a nice hotel to enjoy our last few days in country before taking off again. It was also the only other place where I saw any number of blacks in the country (judging from the amount of people who stared and the few who reached out and touched me I dont wager they get many of us in Vietnam). We did the Cu Chi tunnels which displayed vietnamese wartime tactics and such, it was kinda disturbing and I didnt end up liking it as much as I thought I would...... maybe communits propaganda videos before the tour didnt help. Thats about that for Vietnam, worth the trip but it takes some desire on the part of the tourist to view it, its not as set up tourism wise as many other nations I've been too but worth it if you have an adventurist streak.


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