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Published: November 25th 2007
Pirates or tourists?
The boats sailing through Halong Bay create an old world atmosphere
We didn't quite know what to expect of Vietnam, some people we had met had raved about it, while others were much less enthusiastic. What we had gathered was the touts in Vietnam were particularly aggressive. Our first day showed us quite a bit of this.
Our first step was to find a taxi or van that would take us up the hill from the border town of Lao Cai to the old hill station Sa Pa. After working our way through the touts we did find a van, but to our dismay we proceeded to drive around the town for 2 hours while the driver tried to fill up the van. The last half an hour was spent driving around the same roundabout until the driver managed to pick up a pot plant and finally decided enough was enough.
We then started the long climb to Sa Pa. The town was lovely, perched in the hills above great rice terraces and jungle. Again we got a taste of the touts when we were followed for half an hour by almost a dozen touts as we tried to find a room. We found a great place to stay eventually and
Sa Pa sunset
Sunset over the old colonial hill station of Sa Pa
forked out the grand total of 6 USD.
The next day we took an overnight train to Hanoi. The train arrived in Hanoi at 4am which is a really silly time, but after an hour or so wandering the streets we found a place to stay that wasn't too bad, we did suspect that they usually rent the rooms by the hour though. Hanoi is a bustling town like those in China, but has many many more motorbikes and scooters, meaning that crossing the roads is certainly thrilling. We spent a few days in Hanoi waiting for the weather to settle, as a Typhoon had just come through. It had caused lots of damage including sinking 23 boats in Halong bay which is where we really wanted to go next.
Halong bay is one of the big attractions of Vietnam, but despite all the boats and tourists, we still had times when it felt like we had the bay to ourselves. We were there for three days and two nights, one night on the boat and the other on an island. We had a fantastic time, kayaking, swimming, jungle walking, or just relaxing on the junk.
Hanoi moto madness
Stepping off the footpath in Hanoi is a harrowing experience, you just walk slowly and everyone moves around you - crazy system but it seems to work
stop was Ninh Binh, a small town a few hours out of Hanoi and a good base for quite a few sites. We spent the next few days exploring jungle, visiting monkey sanctuaries, travelling through floating villages (this was one of our first floating villages, and by the time we left Vietnam, we were quite blase about them). The last day it poured with rain (it is the rainy season after all), so we took the time to catch up on some reading before taking the bus on to Hue, halfway down Vietnam. It rained throughout the whole journey, and when we arrived in Hue we saw what had caused the bad weather. Another Typhon had come through, and devastated the coast, so when we arrived in Hue it was mostly underwater. We had planned to explore the temples and palaces of the city, but given the fact the whole town was underwater, we decided not to get off the bus but instead we continued on to Hoi An.
This proved to be a good decision, as Hoi An had escaped the worst of the weather. However it seemed that our packs didn't fare so well. They were in
Uncle Ho's Mausoleum
Reminiscent of Lenins tomb, Ho Chi Minh is visited by thousands each day, mainly locals coming to pay their respect.
the baggage compartment of the bus, and as we drove through the floodwaters they got saturated. Still we stayed in Hoi An long enough to get our packs dried and all our clothes washed. While in Hoi An we visited the ruins of My Son and got lots of clothes tailored and posted to NZ. Hoi An is famous for its tailors and has hundreds of them. The tailor shops were very addictive, and we had to stop ourselves from going crazy, but we still managed to spend 200 USD. But that got us a lot of clothes, that should last us quite a while when we get back to NZ.
On to Saigon, this time by train which made a nice change from all the buses. Saigon was a very un-asian city, it really showed it's French influence, with wide streets and colourful boulevards. We also enjoyed a great steak and some nice wine from a French Cafe one evening, which was fantastic as I had been craving one for about a month!
We visited the Reunification Palace or the Old South Vietnam Parliament. The whole place was preserved exactly as it was when Saigon fell to the
A view of the many limestone formations on Halong Bay
North Vietnam forces, which was strangely surreal.
One thing we made a special point of visiting was the Cu Chi Tunnels, these were used by the North Vietnam fighters during the war and they would spend even years in them. After crawling through these for a while, we had a huge respect for these men and women, to live like this for so long I think they deserved to win the war.
Rather than just crossing over to Cambodia by road, we decided to head by boat through the Mekong Delta and then up the Mekong river. This would take a few days, partly due to the fact that we would be looking at things on the way, and partly due to the fact it takes a very long time to get anywhere. The main form of transport in the delta is boats, and most things are done on the water. Markets are on the water and towns are also built on the water. After three days in the delta we took our last boat from Chau Doc up to the Cambodian Border.
We ended up having a great time in Vietnam, and despite a few aggressive
Floating communities living in Halong Bay
Floating houses are scattered everywhere throughout Halong Bay
touts the locals were really lovely and friendly. All the way down the river into Cambodia the locals (mostly Cham people in this part of Vietnam) would wave at us, and the kids looked so excited to see the white foreigners travelling along their river.
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