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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

The Misadventure to Nha Trang / & Saigon City

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 29 October 2013 | Views [3571] | Comments [2]

Our 13 hour overnight bus journey turned into a 24 hour nightmare!
We departed from Hoi An around 5pm. Our "sleeping" bus was very unusual. It had bunk bed style seats with two levels, where your legs are stretched out into a cubby hole under the persons seat infront of you. The seat was locked into a half reclined position which leaned too far back to sit up comfortably but was too high to lie down. The seat cover felt like grimey carpet that made my skin crawl and itch. Still, it was cheap and it would do! We settled in for the ride.
In Asia and South America, all transportation seem to have their own code. They do as they please. They stop whenever they want, to pee, to visit a friend, to drop something off, to pick up people on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, to buy snacks or cigerettes from a passing stall etc We stopped at a gas station and ended up sitting there for an hour. I wish it was just the driver doing as they please but unfortunately the bus had broken down. They fiddled with it and eventually got it running again. Hurrah! But half an hour later, we stopped again. And it didn't move again. At all. 
The driver jumped onto one of the spare bunks and went to sleep. The locals on the bus started hitching with passer bys in the pitch blackness of the night. Anyone who knew what was going on didn't speak english. So all us foreigners just sat there, unsure of where we were and wether we should find our own way or to go to sleep and wait to be rescued. Surely they would send another bus?
Without air con running, the bus became very stifling and smelly. Andrew and I were surrounded by 2 men snoring loudly like they were operating machinery. I managed to get an hours sleep but we spent most of the time wondering around in the dark coolness outside waiting for head lights from another bus to arrive.
It's ironic that this happened after we had avoided overnight buses in the north of Vietnam because we had heard the standard was rubbish. We splashed out on going on the train instead. But the south was supposed to be better! We contemplated the train but we would've had to get a bus an hour back to Danang from Hoi An to the train station and it seemed like too much effort. Heh.
A massive 9.5 hours later, the driver started yelling and gesturing at us to get into a passing van filled with locals. All we knew was that it would apparently take us to our destination of Nha Trang. We had no idea how long it would take or what was required of us. Money passed hands between the 2 drivers so we assumed our passage was paid for. As it should be! We were shocked and quickly reminded that weren't in the western world when 21 of us was forced into the back of a van that only seated 13 - plus all our luggage! We had bags under our feet and on our laps. We were sitting on top of each other with no room to move, even a centimetre. People were standing along the wall of the door. It was amusing and everyone was taking pictures, but 3 hours later, noone spoke. Everyone looked grim, uncomfortable and in pain. 
The van stopped from time to time on the side of the road for people to relieve themselves and a minute later the driver would shout and gesture to hurry up back into the van. He even thought that if he pushed our backs, that we would go faster like herding cattle! After that first 3 hours, he was furious that he was stuck with us and convinced another driver to take us - but we had to pay more for the service. At least this time there were 17 of us seated on 13 seats, which was a blessing to begin with, but was still horrible. I even sat on the floor wedged between the seats and the door for an hour to try and free up room for the guy that only had one butt cheek on the seat for hours. This section of the journey took another massive 5 hours.
The entire time we only managed to find noodles and white bread to eat. We had no official food stops but thankfully we are always prepared and bring extra snacks. With only the one hour sleep and non-nourishing food, we finally arrived to Nha Trang dirty, smelly and exhausted. The real wake up call though was the fact locals always travel like this without a word of complaint. If you want to get somewhere for cheap, you just do it. Hats off to them! I have to admit, I prefer the western world where you get relative comfort and the company is liable if things dont go as planned!
But no hard feelings, I was just happy we had finally arrived and could shower and go to sleep. Bliss! The thing I was most annoyed about was that my bag had been covered with cooking oil. 
We had planned on staying in Nha Trang for a few days enjoying the beach and then go on to Dalat in the mountains. After such an exhausting experience though, and another whole wasted day, we unfortunately decided to skip Dalat and relax for longer. Its a shame as its meant to be a beautiful place but the thought of being in transit again so soon was too much. For 3 days, 4 nights we actually had a holiday! The weather was hot and sunny with a nice refreshing wind keeping us comfortable. The orange sand beach and rolling waves stretches for miles with hordes of foreigners soaking up the sun. The locals arrived after work as the sun set and started playing organised games of football and vollyball.
We enjoyed a cocktail in a nice bar with a pool next to the beach. We walked around the tourist town looking at all the shops and discovered that there were so many Russians there that resturants even had menus and signs in Russian. The palm tree lined sidewalk along the beach made us feel like we weren't in Vietnam - but the haze cloud in the distance was a reminder. We did a day trip out on a boat with a small group of Brits and Europeans. We were taken out to pretty uninhabitable islands where we jumped off the boat, swam and snorkelled. There was some cool fish and coral but it still doesn't beat Fiji! 
One of our days we went on supposedly the worlds longest cable car over to VinPearl Island to it's amusement park and water park. The whole island was covered in a smoggy haze so the beach wasnt stunning, they confisgated our snacks to force us to buy food - which was disgusting, the amusment park was more aimed at kids so not very amusing, and it was quite expensive for Asia's standards - but the saving grace was that it had an awesome water park. We went on all the slides and had a great time, despite the fact that they only had limited staff so various slides were only operating for an hour at a time on a rotation. Some of the slides were so extreme I even managed to give myself whiplash! My neck felt like I had been in a car accidant for 2 days afterwards.
We had the tough desicion of train vs bus again to get to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We were wary about buses now but surely the chances of it happening twice in a row is slim?! The bus was half the cost of the train and it took us pretty much door to door to the hotel's so we decided to give it another go. This time, we spent 11.5 hours travelling by day - just so we could cope with the craziness in the city after a decent sleep! The bus was set up in the same way with the "bed bunks" but this time we could adjust the recline to a certain degree which was a great novelty. The journey went by comfortably with no disasters. The only downside was trying to make the battery on my ebook tablet last for the whole time! We stopped for lunch in a neat little beach town of Mui Ne which is becoming quite popular with tourists. The locals have these massive plastic bowls that they take out into the water and float around in to go fishing. Bizarre!
We were warned that Saigon's traffic was worse than Hanoi but I disagree. In Hanoi we stayed in the old qaurter though which had tiny streets that increased the chaos. In Saigon we stayed in the city and it actually seemed like most people obeyed traffic lights which made crossing roads easier. Either that, or we had learnt the system and felt more comfortable! The citys very modern with high rise buildings, shopping malls, expensive fancy shops and relatively clean streets (the locals are always out with their brooms). Its really just another city, but at night, the vibe is infectious with its flashing coloured lights and streets & bars pumping with activity. 
We haven't been prebooking accomodation (other than Singapore) and have just been picking an area, turning up, and having a look at whats on offer. It was overwhelming picking a place in the tourist hotel alley in Saigon though - 15 hotels all next door to each other and trying to drag me in to see their rooms. All of the cheap rooms were up 6 floors of stairs, with peeling paint walls in tiny small rooms. For the same price as other hotels we have been staying at in Vietnam, the standard was alot lower, but it'll do! A young boy had dragged us from where the bus stopped to this alley to see his hotel and we didnt end up picking his. He looked so disappointed and I felt terrible. Its his job in the family to bring in customers. The alley catered purely to tourists with hotels and restaurants so it constantly has locals walking up and down trying to sell you things like cigaretts, books, dvds, sunglasses etc It can be annoying but I know theyre just trying to make a living.
We spent 3 nights in Saigon and explored the cities streets. We visited the Reunification Palace that the Vietnamese President used to work out of until it was bombed during the war. Now it still holds functions but is more of a tourist destination - its a bit of a time warp with its bunker underground with the old phones and type writers that they used to use. We also went to the War Remnants Musuem which was rather sobering. 
It was heartbreaking seeing all the photos of the torture people were put through, the devastation of the bombs (which still causes deaths to this day), the statistics of the millions brutally killed and the disabilitys and birth defects caused by Agent Orange (the americans releasing chemicals over the jungle to drive out the rebels). The whole exhibition was extremely one sided though. I'm not condoning what the Americans did but the musuem made it out that they were trying to invade the country when really they were replying to a cry of help from the South. Communism still remains in 5 countrys of the world - Cuba, China, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam. In the 60's Russia and China supported Vietnams emerging communist group with money and guns. The country became split in two with the South not supporting the change. The South asked America, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand for help. The Vietnamese were alreay doing horrible things to each other before the American troops even arrived. But that isn't mentioned anywhere. Seeing as communism won in the end, it is portrayed that the whole of Vietnam always wanted communism and the Americans were interfering.
Still, America did take it too far. They tripled the amount of troops and money they provided for the Vietnam War than they did in World War 2. I don't think they realised just how devastating Agent Orange was going to be for the people either. Birth defects caused by men and women eating and drinking contaminated water and food were atrocious - enlarged heads, bulging eyes, shrivelled and contorted limbs etc Even American and Australian troops suffered. But America still to this day provides finances to support these people - all though of course, its never enough....
Its such a shame that a countries people have to suffer because of their governments decisions. So many unnecessary deaths for the greed of power. Its sickening, heartbreaking and astounding what people are capable of doing to one another. The Americans ended up withdrawing when almost the whole world held protests against their presence in Vietnam. Some people even lit themselves on fire and died to stress the seriousness of the situation.
We also visited the Cu Chi Tunnels which used to strech 250km around Saigon, almost to Cambodia. It started off as bomb shelters when the French occupied Vietnam but the communist supporters spent 12 years underground during the Vietnam war developing it and fighting from it. They built tiny little tunnels for the small size of the Vietnamese people to fit (Americans are too big) with hidden holes for air and guns to fire out of. The even had bunkers for a hospital, kitchens, sleeping, making bombs etc They stole american uniforms so that they could easily hide and the americans dogs couldnt smell them. They had a well for water and access to the river to bath and go toilet. They made thousands of hidden death traps filled with spikes that American soldiers would fall into as they ran through the jungle. 
We only got to go underground for a very short time which was disappointing but it was a taste of what it would have been like. We had to crawl and it was incredibly hot. I have no idea how they managed to live under there for so long, even amongst the dropping bombs. It would have been a terrifying time for both sides of the war. Never being safe...
There was the option there for tourists to fire M16's and AK47's for an extra cost. The powerful guns are so loud they are almost deafening. I cant imagine having that noise constantly around me.
We only have 4 more days left in Veitnam and then we are on to Cambodia. The half way point of our trip! It feels like we have been travelling for an incredibly long time as we have done so much, but at the same time, the last 5-6 weeks has flown by.  




Also recently visited Nha Trang; I can vouch for the coach trips you describe; the coach just keeps stopping, and more locals get on, until you are crammed in! Overall enjoyed the visit there though

  Stephen Fisher Feb 19, 2014 11:35 PM


If you are so completely clueless about Vietnamese history, you should make some attempt to educate yourself before writing such drivel.
Here's a clue to get you started:

President Eisenhower, 1963: "... had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80% would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh..."

The USA, protecting people from democracy the world over for the last hundred years.

  Offended by Stupidity Aug 14, 2016 10:26 PM

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