Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ Category

We decided that the easiest way for us to get from HCMC to Phnom Penh and also get a taste of the Mekong Delta in between was to take a tour. I’m not sure what I thought the Mekong Delta was going to be like but it definitely was not what I had in mind. I suppose I had been picturing serene waterways through the trees and sailing next to huge rice fields but I was mistaken. Instead the Delta is made up of communities and villages
living right on the water or at the very least on the river banks. We got to see the locals going about their daily lives washing clothes in the river, the kids scrubbing down and the fishermen on their boats. It’s an interesting style of life to live on the water. It’s not something I think I’d like but I can see that if you grew up there you could never imagine any other way of life.

The tour took the better part of two days and with not much going on we entertained ourselves the way we usually do – people watching. We’re traveling a fairly popular overland route and we have the opportunity to spot people again and again as we move along. We often make up stories for the people we encounter. This tour was no exception. Unfortunately, the people made up the best part of the tour. Our tour group was made up of four teenagers from different European countries, two Israelis and a lone Brit. The Israelis breaking up and the girl latching on to the Brit (who we saw together later in Phnom Penh) and the fact that the Israeli male was one of the dumbest people I’ve ever met really was quite entertaining. After finding out that Jacob was a fisherman, his only question was how much you get for catching a shark.

The tour was long and at times rather confusing. We had to transfer boats and buses quite a few times and usually with no idea where we were going or for how long. I can definitely say that I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have your heart set on seeing the Mekong Delta (which I didn’t find that spectacular). After day two we finally arrived in Cambodia exhausted. We checked into our hotel and spent the rest of the day watching movies on satellite tv.

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Day 44: Saigon

We only ended up having one day to spend in Ho Chi Minh City so we would have enough time for Thailand. I ended up being really disappointed that we had such little time. Everyone we had talked to about Saigon had protrayed it as this miserable loud overbearing city. I don’t think this was really a fair assessment. Sure it’s big and busy but the city could handle it and the people were some of the most friendly we’d come across.

We spent the first part of the day doing some running around. One of our cameras got a little smashed up in Hoi An so we took it in to have the LCD replaced. That’s the best part of being in Asia, you can have anything fixed. An hour later and only sixty bucks and we had our camera back good as new.

We spent the afternoon at the obviously depressing War Remnants Museum. It’s a collection of hundreds of photographs taken by journalists covering the Vietnam war. I had always known that the Vietnam war was unpopular but never really knew why or anything else about it.

There are rooms filled with pictures of the unnecessary and cold path of destruction caused by the American army. Pictures of children left alone in a pile of dead family members. Pictures of entire villages destroyed. And the worst, pictures of all the people still affected today by the agent orange poison that was sprayed over the country. It has caused severe deffects in several generations. After looking at the pictures they had a mock detention facility outside where they have outlined all the possible methods of torture used by the US army. I stopped reading.

I left the museum struggling to understand how any of it actually happened. How it’s possible for a country to drop in and massacre entire families without any consequences. The most surprising part is the Vietnamese reaction. No more than 50 years ago the country was torn apart by Americans and now they welcome them to their country with open arms.

After the museum we headed home through one of the parks. Since it was evening the place was full of people playing games, exercising or just hanging around. The parks are incredible places in the evening to just sit and watch life, a nice end to a day looking at death.

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While in Vietnam we used the Open Tour Buses to hop around from city to city. They weren’t ideal but they were cheap and got the job done. All of the buses run overnight too which is quite helpful as you get to save a night’s accommodation and you don’t lose a day traveling. We had already taken quite a few night buses but our last one was definitely the most memorable.

We left Nha Trang around 830 at night heading for Saigon. I somehow got the smallest bunk on the bus. This was our first time sleeping on the bottom bunk and I can say I definitely prefer the top. The “bed” was only big enough for my feet to touch one end and my head to touch the other . I could fit one arm down by my sides but there wasn’t enough room for both. Now I know I am bigger than most Asians, but I didn’t think I was that much bigger!

At around 130 we stopped in Mui Ne to swap out some passengers. This is when we were lucky enough to have Frankie ( late 50s from NY) his sister (mid 50’s from Florida) and his beautiful Vietnamese wife (no older than 35). Oh, and their 12 year old dog. Truthfully, I didn’t really hear anyone get on or off the bus, I had my iPod on loud enough to drown out the man snoring next to me that I didn’t hear much of anything. Until later that is.

At 2:45 everyone was woken up to find the bus smashing into the back of the transport truck ahead of us. Team America immediately rushed into action. Jacob and I checked to make sure each other were okay and I went to fetch our stuff that had slid to the other end of the bus. The rest of the passengers on board sat up for a few minutes then went back to sleep. Frankie and his sister though, took over. She started hooting and hollering trying to make sure everyone was ok, in some fairly colourful language while he rushed to the front of the bus to snoop around. During his investigation he discovered that the bus driver had become pinned under the steering wheel and he needed “some guy with big muscles” to come help him.

Seeing as Jacob was the only other English speaker on the bus and the only one awake, he stepped up to the challenge. They got the driver out and thankfully no one was hurt. Frankie’s sister was quite keen to get everyone and all their stuff off the bus so we sat under someone’s front porch for the next couple of hours waiting for the next bus to show up. Thankfully we were given constant entertainment with Frankie and sister’s retelling of their harrowing tale.

I think the funniest part of the whole ordeal was that no one else seemed to be at all bothered by the situation. The two Americans acted as if Armageddon was imminent but then most other people just went back to sleep on the bus. They didn’t ask any questions, check to make sure anyone was ok, or even bother to find out where we were. There was no police or ambulance called in. Traffic didn’t even slow down.   I’m thinking this thing may happen on a more regular basis than I’d care to know.

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Day 42&43: In Nha Trang

Nha Trang seems like years ago now, but I suppose it was just last week. I know I’ve been slack with the updating but I won’t bother with excuses. So here goes.

Nha Trang was definitely not my favourite Vietnamese town. There was just something about it that felt half way between seedy and cheesy. It is a major tourist destination as Nha Trang has the largest municipal beach in the country, but as far as I was concerned that’s about all it had. Although to be fair, we never really tried to find out if there was anything else.

We spent both days just relaxing on the beach which is usually ideal for me, but this left a bit to be desired. We were asked about every 30 minutes if we wanted to buy something from the ladies who were illegally selling souvenirs up and down the beach. They aren’t supposed to be selling anything on the beach and had to hide every time they saw a police officer walk by to avoid paying the “fine”.  We eventually gave in and bought a few things and gave the woman a place to stash her goods to escape being caught.  The selling didn’t bother me as much as the general dirtiness of the beach. There were cigarette butts and trash all through the sand and Jacob even had the pleasure of spotting a dead animal in the water and a rather large one at that.

While the beach wasn’t perfect we did get to spend a good part of our time  with our friends Hannah and Melissa. We celebrated our last days together in Vietnam as they were planning on kicking around for a while and we were out of time. We paid a visit to the local ice bar where the cold room was -9 degrees! They were really quite proud of how cold it was and the locals looked like they wanted to die instead of serving us in there. After the ice bar we finished off the evening with a dance at the beach side bar to re-acclimatize ourselves.

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Finally found a decent internet connection to get some more pictures up. Enjoy! Hong Kong & Vietnam

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Day 40&41: Motorcycle Diaries

For the last two days Jacob and I have been ripping around Hoi An on our rented motorbike and we are hooked. I had forgotten just how nice it was to be able to hop in a vehicle and just go.

We didn’t really go anywhere spectacular. We spent the better part of both days just driving. We went through a couple small villages and ended up at the beach both afternoons.

It was definitely a little nerve wracking at first. Especially sine there are no rules on the roads but Jacob caught on quickly and by the second day I even gave it a shot. I don’t think either of us would be comfortable in a city for quite sometime. There is just too mich going on but to cruise out to the beach it suits me just fine.

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Hanoi / Ha Long Bay Recap

You can easily walk between most places in Hanoi in under 40 minutes but occasionally it is nice to just get in a cab and escape the heat and chaos on the streets and sidewalks.

Navigating the city’s Old Quarter on foot can be a little overwhelming because of motorcycle traffic but in the rest of the city it is much easier. It’s fun to see terrified tourists watching the motorcycles zip past in all directions and hear them gasp in disbelief as you boldly step into the mix. The trick I’ve found is not to hesitate and keep a steady pace – that way the motorcyclists can adjust their direction and speed accordingly.

We spent more time in Hanoi than we had planned and I think we saw all of the city that we wanted to see.  It is a nice city once you get used to it but it has a love/hate feeling.  At times we hated being there and other times it was quite pleasant.  I suppose that’s how it is with most cities.  Brynn and I are realizing that we enjoy our time more outside of the bigger cities.

I would say that a highlight of our time in Northern Vietnam was spending some time in Ha Long Bay.  We did the 3 day 2 night tour from Hanoi where you spend your first night on the boat and the second night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island.  The tour was fine but I think personally I would have preferred to have stayed on the bay another night and skip the Island.  Coming on the end things got a little too touristy for me with the island locals pressuring us to buy things we had little need for.

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Day 39: I’m in Love.

We arrived in Hoi An after our little stop off at Hoa’s yesterday. Our first order of business was to follow our new best friend Hoa’s advice and check out Sarah’s Boutique.

Hoi An’s claim to tourism fame is the hundreds of tailors lining the streets. Sarah’s Boutique is one of those. We went in and sat down looking to have just a couple of things made. Jacob needed a suit for Nick’s wedding shortly after we get home and I was thinking about getting a classic black dress made. Not only are they talented tailors but these people are good salespeople. Couple that with neither of us being able to do any real clothes shopping for the past year and you have a disaster on your hands.

After looking through the books a few times we ordered quite a bit more than a suit and a dress. Our final order also included a pair of jeans for each of us a pair of dress pants a white blouse a wool winter coat for yours truly and a shirt and tie for Jacob.

Today we went back for our fittings and we were hooked. It is a completely different experience trying on clothes that you chose and that were made to fit you. It makes you feel like a million dollars. So much so that we placed another order. Jacob asked for two more shirts and I finally decided on a skirt and another shirt.

It has all been fun and games until now. We will see how we feel tomorrow when we have to pay for the whole thing. Luckily they charge a tenth of what you’d pay to have a tailor look at you in Canada. The really hard part will be paying to ship it all home.

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