We crossed the border into Vietnam from Sihanoukville, thankfully it was much quicker than the border crossing into Cambodia and we drove a couple of hours more before reaching Can Tho, where we were spending the night. Long bus journeys are a regular occurence, so 2 hours on the bus now feels like a quick ride! We spent the night at a homestay on a rice farm, so we were mainly surrounded by paddy fields and although it was the most basic accommodation we've stayed in it was probably one of my favourites. The mosquito nets over the beds made them look like a child's imitation of a princess bed and it was lovely to be out in the middle of the countryside too, but the scuttle of rats across the wooden beams above us was less enjoyable! The famer's mother and auntie cooked us an absolute feast, including vietnamese pancakes (which are made with rice water), spring rolls, and a sweet pumpkin soup. Pun Pun, who regularly eats about 8 chillies with every meal, convinvced Joe to eat a chillie. People attempting to eat chillies at dinner is a regular occurrence and people usually have an entertaining reaction...Joe definitely
The next day we went to visit one of the floating markets by boat, we circled the market passing big boats selling all kinds of fruit and veg. There were also people on their own, rowing their boats around, selling their produce. There was some excellent multi-tasking, sellers managing to keep their boats in line with others as they handed over goods and exchanged money, or even made iced coffee or food to pass over. The guy taking us round was just doing his weekly shop and bought a boat load (literally) of yellow flowers. This was in preparation for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, which was just about to take place as the yellow flowers are a tradition.
Our next stop was Ho Chi Min, or Saigon as it's still known; on the journey there I got to see a bit more of what Vietnam is like, through the bus windows, and began to realise the differences between here and Cambodia. In many ways it seems more organised and the difference that instantly struck me was the roads, or to be more precise the thousands of motorbikes and the way Vietnamese people
ride them! Within a few days of being in Vietnam I had seen families of 4 on a bike; baskets of live ducks; pigs; household furniture! I'm also massively impressed by the way some Vietnamese girls ride bikes, often in killer 4 inch heels (it's like something out of Kill Bill) and sometimes as passangers just perched on the side of the bike with their legs crossed. Their erratic driving style makes crossing the road an adrenaline fuelled game...the trick is to walk slowly, don't stop and do not turn back!
Although it means more traffic than usual, Tet is a great time to visit Vietnam as there are decorations up everywhere and celebrations taking place. It's a 10 day holiday for most people! Saigon was buzzing with people and it suprised me how much of a cosmopolitan and modern city it is, lined with designer shops, which seemed odd in the streets of a communist country. Something else that I found really odd is that every manikin and poster girl in the shops is white. Our first night in Saigon was the last night of Jen, Ali, & Angelique; Rebecca & Helena; and Justin's trip. We
were all gutted to say goodbye, but hopefully I will be catching up with them all along my journey at some point. We were also joined by Joke from Amsterdam and Hayley & Jamie from England. Jamie actually lives in Leeds...small world.
Whilst we were in Ho Chi Min some of us visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, the underground network used by the Viet Kong during the war, as they fought on the side of the Communist North. Our tour guide, Hai, was a war veteran and fought for the Saigon government along US soldiers. He brought the remains of the tunnels and displays of viet kong traps to life with his stories and personal experience of the war. The visit also made me realise how little I had known before about the Vietnam war (I think shamefully most of my knowledge was gathered from Forest Gump). I lowered myself into one of the opennings to the original tunnels, which was unbelievably narrow. We also crawled along 100 metres of tunnel but this had even been widened for tourists; I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be down there in the dark for days,
months, even years!
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