A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Day 42-44 Saigon


After over preparing ourselves for Ho Chi Minh City with tales of scooter craziness and bag snatching scares in mind we actually found it a really pleasant and is one of our favourite stops (and last) in Vietnam. Now writing this having left I think its okay to share some statistics that may have worried my mum a bit. On the way to Cu Chi tunnels our guide explained that if you buy a car in Vietnam you have to pay 300% tax hence why there is more than one scooter for every two people in the city. He said that 20 people die per day in Saigon from a scooter accident, 400 a month in the whole of Vietnam and in total 14,000 last year. So clearly his math is a bit off so let's just summarise it that a lot of people die from scooter accidents. Probably because there are hardly any pavements to walk on because the Vietnamese eat, sleep, get married, park and piss on them. Traffic lights are more of a guide of how fast to go through them and everyone is intent on their destination and will risk a head on collision to avoid any use of breaks. The good news is that we didn't die and we are so good at crossing roads now that other westerners follow closely behind us. (Probably using our bodies as a shield. )

We went to watch some locals play shuttle and Dan bought one to take home (See my instagram for a video. I believe a Larkins reunion is on the cards when we return) While we watched a young girl approached us wanting to practice her English. She was with her dad and younger sister and had travelled for 30 mins to the city center to find someone English to speak to. We spoke to her for about an hour in total and attracted two more boys who wanted to talk about Chelsea players with Dan. Like most, she was keen to hear all about tattoos, there was a moment when she didn't know what to say in fear of insulting us but we let her know that we understood that women with tattoos are seen as criminals and general scum by the older generation- to which she confirmed but proclaimed her personal love for them. The compliments continued when she told me that my eyes are weird and she normally only sees brown or black coloured eyes. Finally on the same day that I tried a new center parting hair do, one of the guys told Dan I looked like the Mona Lisa. I've not since worn my hair the same.

Whilst in Saigon we also visited Cu Chi tunnels which like all S E Asian attractions could do with some improvements such as crowd control, and information signs. But Dan shot an AK47 so apparently not a wasted day.

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We also went to see Catching Fire at a cinema that was so western that halfway through I snapped out of my film absorption and realised I wouldn't be exiting via westwood cross car park in the rain. With the excitement of the film it was all a bit much and my heart raced as I realised that I was going back out onto the smelliest streets where bbq pig kidney and chicken feet at breakfast on a plastic stall is normal. Panic soon over.

Another day on the way to a museum a local gave us incorrect directions as she probably didn't want to loose face. It was hot and I was tired so we jumped into a taxi. He then misunderstood us and tried to take us to another museum. We made it to the right one eventually. Only 200m around the corner from where we asked for directions. This is when the language and tourist barrier becomes frustrating and I miss just being able to get somewhere or something without having a constant battle to communicate and not get scammed. At the same museum something very strange happened...

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We were the only two on the museum tour and the guide dressed up us and took lots of photos of us. I felt like Professor Quirrell.

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I think you can tell that we are not sure about any of this 'pretend your in a pharmacy thing

The same night we went to Baskin Robbins for $3 icecream - which cost more than dinner! We've never been to one before and understand that was a crime. Best chocolate orange and cotton candy flavours EVER!

Posted by vincerb 04:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 40-41 Let us be tourists!

Today we tried to visit a pagoda only accessible by one tourist railway track. After 20 minutes of communication we came to the summary that they didn't want our money (shocking) and that the driver was probably sleeping somewhere instead. The guide book claimed it would run with two passengers but the lady in charge claimed they needed 15. As there was only 9 of us the only way they'd run it would be if we paid triple the guide price. But even then we'd have to come back in two hours. It was really annoying as its the main attraction in Dalat and we couldn't get to it.

We spent the day by the lake and visited crazy house.

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In the evening we went to a recommend restaurant with a huge menu that we browsed for 10 minutes before ordering. Then we were told that only 2 of the 50 dishes were available. We were so irritated that we'd sat clearly deciding for ages. In the end we couldn't eat there because they had (apparently) no vegetables. Dan has for now, gone vegetarian.

So I overall it was a frustrating day. On the plus we had for the first time in 6 weeks, a comfortable mattress with good pillows and a duvet. Dan did get to speak to a local boy keen to practice his English
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Posted by vincerb 04:44 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 37-39 Nha Trang

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Dan certainly took some convincing as we got into the mud bath with two Russian ladies at Thap Ba Spa. I kept having to assure him it was a normal spa treatment. Admittedly sharing wasn't ideal but private baths were double the price and we're backpacking don't ya know.

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He was less impressed when I got out of the mud bath and told him to look as I emptied a pint of muddy water from my bikini bottoms. He wasn't quick enough to crack the 'have you shit yourself?' joke which I maturely pulled out of the bag later as he tried to wash the mud off his shorts.

We enjoyed salt showers, mineral baths, hot pools and waterfall back massages alongside alot of very large Russian men in speedos. One man had wrongly decided that beige budgie smugglers were a good swimwear choice. It was not. He may as well have worn nothing, it was all very unfortunate for our eyes.

Vinpearl Land

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In true British spirit we got on with the rain and headed to Vinpearl Land water park. For a nation who drive on both sides of the road with no apparent laws these people do not understand bumper cars. Bumper cars with no 'no bumping' rules. We expected chaos. We were disappointed. The Vietnamese drove around in circles AVOIDING each other. We ignored this and Dan took it upon himself to make faces at them before impacting and ruining their peaceful ride.

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I took the above picture just before Dan came out of the loo and asked if I was okay. I burst into tears. The trainer had been restraining the monkey to dress him, the monkey was clearly in distress and the trainer was laughing at it as it bared its teeth in resistance. I cried because the trainer had zero respect for an animal that could easily rip his face off. I know that it's different here but it can still be upsetting. After seeing chickens and pigs crammed into baskets on motorbikes and having eaten some awful quality meat here we are both considering our automatic consumption of meat and on the verge of going veggie.

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The park had was a mish mash of a water park, theme park and arcades - despite some horror stories the health and safety wasn't too bad, although we did fly out of a rubber tube on one ride. Dan conquered some fears and went on the biggest slide in the parks - he is very proud of this. The next day I did suffer from whiplash as a result of bumper cars and violent water slides!

Posted by vincerb 04:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 36 Sleeper bus

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Whilst waiting for my shoes to be altered we went for a drink in a cafe. On route to the toilet through the owners living quarters I saw something out of the corner of my eye on the kitchen counter. I looked over and froze as a fat black rat ran across the chopping boards and cooking area. I squealed. Turned on the spot and walked back out hugging myself. There's no way I was going to risk being in a cubicle with that! Luckily we were only drinking at this café. I like to avoid visiting restaurant loos until after we've eaten in case I see something like this before I eat and then start second guessing a dicky tummy. In most cases the toilet is actually a cubicle they've built into the kitchen with the families toothbrushes at the sink.

On the subject of toilets we keep running into ones we claim to be "the worst yet" mainly occurring at bus stations and toilet stops. But really the womens at Hoi An bus station have been the absolute worst yet. So bad that I passed and used the mens. There was no light so it was a head torch jobby. 3 mid height brick walls, concrete floor with two bricks to squat on. Each one was blocked up beyond the height of the foot bricks with sludge. Me and a fellow female passenger opted for the mens who not only had doors and cubicles but ceramic squats too. The door was so dirty that I left it open refusing to touch anything in there and enjoying a hand sanitiser bath on exit. I curse the day I forgot to pack my she wee.

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We then got a sleeper bus which was one nail away from a coffin. Some Vietnamese ladies pointed, laughed and took pictures of Dan as his feet hung over the 'bed' into the aisle.

Posted by vincerb 04:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Day 35 Water Well

Dan collected his suit this morning

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Then we cycled to a farm for lunch. We missed the turning and ended up being waved at by 6 women trying to get us to park our bikes in thier shed. Dan mused that its the equivalent of going to a car park in the UK and having the choice of 6 different people to pay depending on which corner you choose to park in. We re-checked the map and headed back to a little alleyway leading to the open farm.

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We watched a group of school children learn about traditional Vietnamese farming techniques whilst we cooled down in the shade. For lunch we ate amazing Vietnamese savory pancakes (see above photo for Dan being taught how to roll the rice paper) and cinnamon pork. We made it back to the hotel just in time for the rain. In the evening I had a shoe fitting and we browsed the shops some more.

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Posted by vincerb 20:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 34 Shopping

We spent the day going to Hoi An houses and temples whilst shopping and enjoying the quaint town.

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I got measured up for a pair of red brogues which I'm really excited about. I'm going to struggle to post them home and not wear them till April. Its got to the point where I'm quite bored of my tiny wardrobe and I'm jealous of anyone I see with clean ironed clothes.

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Posted by vincerb 20:36 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 32/33 Washout/Waiting

We attempted to leave Hue but due to flooding up and down Vietnam we were unable to move on. Having had enough of men on scooters relentlessly following us repeating offers of where they can take us we decided to spend the day watching films and using the hostel computers. Perhaps due to the bad weather these men on scooters and other hawkers seem to be super persistent in Hue. Usually one or two no thankyou's will suffice and they will move into the next white person. In Hue we're being followed down streets as they repeat offers over and over. It can be infuriating. My latest tactics is to loudly say "bye" while waving over the top of them speaking. I usually do this just as I think Dan is about to loose it.

Walking home from dinner one speed pasted, beeped his horn and said "marijuana". If we wanted it he was gone before we could enquire.

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The next day we got to the train station and faced a 5 hour delay that was announced in two hour intervals. Actually it wasn't announced. Each time the train was supposed to arrive it didn't so we went off in search of someone who wouldn't ignore us- standing at the counter proved pointless. For all nationalities. Finally we got on the train and travelled one of the most scenic parts of the N/S railway. When we arrived in Danang there was no train station sign so we nearly didn't get off. I used the station loo and triumphed as the attendant tried to give me the wrong change and charge me double. Okay so it was 2000 Dong (6p) but a triumph none the less! After sharing a taxi to Hoi An we checked into our nicest hotel yet. And most expensive (£10 per night) purely because nothing else on hostelworld was available. We downgraded the next day to our usual standard complete with lumpy pillows/hard bed/odd furniture/everything tiled in random miss matched tiles/wires hanging out the walls/air con shit/stained sheets.

After dinner Dan got measured up and ordered a maroon suit.

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Posted by vincerb 20:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 31 Phong Nha Cave

Today started at 6.30am as the cave was 4 1/2 hours drive away. We've done so many bus journeys now that the time isn't really an issue. The two 10p sized holes in my window were an inconvience especially as it was a very rainy windy day- more on that later

After the bus we got onto a boat and headed for the cave.

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Inside cave was like succession of Louise Bourgeois sculptures- I was in my element.

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On returning to Hue the rain had clearly been coming down heavily all day. The mini bus dropped off other people and we laughed as they stepped out into ankle and shin high waters. We should have guessed something was wrong when we were one of the last to be picked up but were not the first to be dropped off.

The guide informed us that the bus couldn't get down our road and that he would walk us back. He walked with us until it got shin high, pointed and retreated.

The path leading to our hostel? - thigh high.

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Posted by vincerb 02:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Day 30 Hue Citadel

Today we braved the heavy rain in our flip flops to visit the citadel.

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We stumbled across the first supermarket style shop so far on this trip. I managed to find a pair of sandals that fit me after trying loads of shops and being looked at like some freak girl when I ask for a size 6. Whilst in the supermarket I was followed around by a group of school girls who enjoyed staring at me in all my western glory.

Dan needs to buy some more pants but he refuses to buy Gucci knock offs from the market and there was only a very limited selection at the supermarket

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Dan is now getting tired of random people grabing his/rubbing his tattoos and would kindly like to let the world know that they are not an invite for groping in the same way he imagines pregnant women do not like old women rubbing their bellys in supermarkets.

Posted by vincerb 07:13 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 29 Near Miss

Today we left Cat Ba Island via the bus/boat/bus/bus route to Hanoi. The journey was supposed to take 5 hours and took nearly double that meaning we were left with a mad dash to catch our flight to Hue (cheaper than the sleeper coach) We happened to get Hanoi's only cautious taxi driver who also delighted us with an hour of loud dance remixes including Sean Kingston and what can only be described as Elmo rapping for 7 minutes. On arrival at Hanoi airport I Vietnam style pushed the trolley and took no mercy on anyone trying to push infront of me (which they love to do). We made it to check in with 10 minutes to spare...The flight was then delayed.

The bus drove into a telegraph pole, the driver went through the skylight to kick off the wires and we were back on the road
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A standard issue SE Asian seat belt
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Posted by vincerb 07:11 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Day 28 Halong Bay

This morning we left the hostel to go on a tour. Two of the men from the hostel gave us rides on the back of their scooters to the harbour. Both men coasted down the hill and turned their engines on about half way down. Only my guys bike wouldn't start so while Dan whizzed off I was dropped at the bottom of the hill and asked to walk the rest of the way.

After a very choppy sea sick boat journey we found calm sea around Lan Ha and Halong Bay where we kayaked through caves. Dan did jump off the boat 3 times because I was completely incapable of capturing a good photo. I blamed our cheap camera.

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On the way back to the harbour a man on another boat waved at us. He was squatting over the edge of his boat having a shit.

In the evening we had a treat meal which soon led to talking about Landos (having a Nandos when we land) and various other things we are starting to miss. For me it is cereals and real cheese. They seem to believe that a dairylea triangle is mozzarella and that a cheese single is permitted outside of a burger bun. Which it is definitely not.

Posted by vincerb 07:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 26/27 Storm

This morning as we drove through town we noticed a certain quietness around town with locals clearly preparing for the storm coming from in the path of typoon Haiyan/Yolanda.

We headed to Cannon Fort in the morning.

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We enquired about booking a ticket off the island and were basically told that there were no boats till the storm has passed.

And then the rain started.

So we got ripped off in a little shop buying Mars bars and a toblerone and seeked shelter in the hostel watching Jurassic Park 3 and the latest Walking Dead episodes.

Then we got hungry and there was a power cut so we went to the common area and the hostel owner made us all instant noodles in the candle light.

The storm sounded very scary but by daylight it proved to have caused minimal damage. While the locals cleaned up and attempted to restore power we took an easy day reading and researching the rest of our proposed Vietnam stops.

Posted by vincerb 03:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 23 Vietnam Hanoi

Hanoi is mental. Crossing the road involves walking at a steady confident pace looking straight ahead and hoping everything weaves around you. The scooters drive on both sides of the road, cut corners, jump red lights, drive on the pavement (if there is any because most of it is used for parking scooters) and drive out of shops/alleyways at speed.

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We arrived late evening tired and hot from carry backpacks through the maze of the Old Quarter. We avoided the men putting there heads into the mini van as we tried to get out offering motorbike taxis.

The next day we went to Hoa Lo Prison Museum, temple Hoankiem and the Vietnamese Women's Museum.

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At the Women's Msueum we read some inspirational accounts of Vietnamese women during the war. Including taking down 100 soldiers in guerrilla forces. And then we tried to put on traditional hats.

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On the walk back to the hostel a street seller tried to rip us off doughnuts for 150,000 dong. By walking away saying they were too expensive (£4.50 ish) she dropped to 30,000 dong. Out of principal Dan refused to buy them. It is annoying being targeted for scams and most of the time it doesn't happen or we don't engage. It was just a noisey road and a double harassment from a tuk tuk driver and doughnut lady that got us a bit agitated. But there were good times too- children saying hello and old women trying to rub Dan's arm clean! Feeling a bit overwhelmed we planned to head to the quiet island of Cat Ba next.

Since arriving in Vietnam we haven't stopped singing Sisqo- Thong Song each time money is discussed. (Currency is Đồng)

Posted by vincerb 03:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 25 Hospital Cave

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This morning we rented a back firing scooter from the hostel and headed to Cat Ba Island's National Park. The drive was beautifully scenic passing colonial French inspired buildings alongside make-shift shacks. Having watched Jurassic Park in the hostel last night I hummed the theme tune as Dan drove us through the lush green mountains. The drive was without any major hiccups but as always on the roads of SE Asia there was some undesirable situations. Like coaches driving on the wrong side of the road round corners heading straight towards us. Luckily Dan is able to remain logical in these situations as I squeeze my legs tightly and make incomprehensible squels and gasps. (Note to Mum's and motherly figures in our lives we of course wear helmets and drive as sensible as Vietnam will allow)

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After a poor attempt at exploring the park. We saw stags and butterflies and then the steep climb got all a bit to hot for me and in a moment of weakness we retreated.

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After a injection of 7Up we went onto the Hospital Cave used in the 60's. We pulled over at the cafe opposite. A man emerged claiming he was the key holder and that he'd be our guide for 30,000 dong each. Probably double the actual price but we went ahead anyway up a rickety steep wooden ladder which clearly had an older broken version underneath that they'd just built over. Essentially the cave was many empty concrete cells but worthwhile for the eerieness the dripping walls and bare light bulbs gave it. At the end of the tour a group of boys enjoyed pointing at Dan's arm whilst another man in the cafe inspected his arm and asked how much it cost. This happened three more times today with Dan making 'friends now' with one man who was keen to show his own backpiece off to us.

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After a much needed decent burger for lunch. (Yes we should be eating local foods but sometimes you just need a fix and a break from the gamble of getting ill/ordering something horrible). We headed to Cat Co Beach 1 where a Vietnamese version of PGL was kicking off with all sorts of games for the boys and photo shoots for the girls.

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Yesterday we went to a bar advertising hair cuts and pedicures so Dan decided he was ready to risk a Vietnam haircut and I decided my feet were going to have some $2 TLC. Both treatments happened just next to the bar top with the hairdresser doubling up as the bar maid. I watched in apprehension as Dan's hair was randomly hacked at by a clearly unqualified hairdresser. But for $1.50 it doesn't look as bad as it could! My pedicure encountered no issues and all toes are intact.

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Posted by vincerb 02:48 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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