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Vietnam Part 2: North to South

VIETNAM | Monday, 21 January 2013 | Views [697]

Four days into my time in Cambodia, it seems a bit backward to be writing about Vietnam, but for the sake of continuity, and for those who are not following me on facebook, there are still details to be filled in. So I will attempt a brief tour through Vietnam – North to South.  Please excuse the shocking grammar; for the sake of space and time you are getting a stream of thought rather than a polished story.

Hanoi: flying in from balmy Bangkok… did I hear the pilot right? 130C? No he must mean 30, it’s just his accent. Yes, its 130, and raining. Doing a quick stocktake of my bag, yes I did pack a warm top, and a raincoat – will it be like this for the whole trip? I was all prepared for sun!

A lucky encounter with Aussie girls heading the same hotel – a shared taxi into the city. First impressions: it’s a bit grey. The money is crazy! I’m carrying MILLIONS of Dong – the taxi ride costs us just over 400,000 VD (about $20)

Geckos: I’m starting my round the world trip with a group tour through Vietnam. It’s nice to know that for the next 10 days I will have someone to sort out the details, and people who will share these experiences with me. But it’s always a bit of a lucky dip with these things. Who will I be travelling with? Will we have anything in common? Will they understand my accent? Thankfully I ended up with an amazing group of people. More on group vs solo travel in a later blog.

Doing the tourist thing – Hanoi is the political capital of Vietnam and the home of Ho Chi Minh. Visited the site of his Mausoleum, the palace and his home. More sightseeing – the first university (where we learnt about the traditions of education and religion in Vietnam), and the French built prison dubbed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by the American prisoners of war held there. My first taste of Vietnamese history and nationalism.

Reunification express: We took the overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Hue. It took a bit of manoeuvring to fit four of us and our luggage comfortably into the Soviet era sleeper cabin, but we soon got cosy. Tucked into our stash of food while in the cabin next door there was poker and whisky. When their alcohol ran out & the beds soaked in beer-spillage (blame the train rocking) our cabin became an even cosier retreat. Four became 11. One cabin managed to squeeze in 15 or so. Time for bed; very glad for the silk sleeping bags we picked up in Hanoi; tried not to imagine how many other people had used the bedding before me.

Hue. What happened in Hue… Oh yeah, the BIKE happened in Hue! Whoever said ‘it’s like riding a bike’ obviously never stopped riding a bike and then tried to start again 20 years later on the streets of Vietnam, with the scooters and the crazy people and the no control at traffic lights. I got the hang of it eventually, but not before tumbling into a row of parked scooters, nearly knocking over an old lady and riding headfirst into a scooter at a busy intersection. All I could think about was “I’m sure my insurance doesn’t cover this!” So with grazed knee and bruised pride I sucked it up and rode with the group out to the Kings tomb. It was worth the blood and sweat (no, there were no tears!). What a beautiful tranquil spot!

The next day we travelled by bus to Hoi An. I love Hoi An! It reminded me of Venice in a weird way – I guess it was that sense of stepping back in time. They have preserved the ancient houses and French colonial architecture while still managing to be a vibrant bustling town. The locals don’t seem jaded by the tourist hoards, but were genuinely friendly and helpful. Hoi An: tailors, food and lights. I’m so coming back here with a massive suitcase to fill with tailor made cloths, lanterns and art… and an appetite; I love this food. Took a cooking class and have a bunch of recipes to try out when I get home.

Day train this time – the whole day! Nice to see the country side, ate more, read heaps, arrived in Nah Trang. SUNSHINE! – now this is more what I was expecting. Heading North to South we have gone from winter to summer. Nah Trang: beaches, boats and nightlife. We spent a day on the water, visited a beautiful fishing village full of beautiful happy children, had lunch on the boat in a little bay. There was swimming and sunbathing and snorkelling.  Next day there was free time, a sleep in, a massage and a trip to the markets.

One more night train, this time to Ho Chi Minh City – Saigon. Arriving at 4am after a less than comfortable sleep and a few too many late nights, we were all a little jaded. Nothing a hot shower and a bit of fresh air couldn’t fix. Five of us spent the day on the Mekong. Ben Trey was a beautiful, lush island full of fruit. Really hard to believe that it is home to over a million people! More amazing food – I haven’t stopped eating this whole trip. Crazy ride through the plantations on a little tuktuk truck; small boat paddled along the river wearing cone-shaped hat. This is the Vietnam I was expecting.

Last day in Saigon – Cu Chi Tunnels and the war remnants museum. Not easy, but so important! It’s amazing to think how far Vietnam has come since then. It’s sobering to see the people out on the streets and know that this is their history, their heritage – for many this was there experience, these are their memories.

Last days in Vietnam – now I’m on my own! I take my first baby step – a bus to Chau Doc. Two nights to rest and prepare myself for the next step… on to Cambodia.

Tags: food, train, vietnam

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