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The Paroissien Diaries

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VIETNAM | Monday, 30 April 2012 | Views [427] | Comments [1]

Due to an oversight on my behalf (it doesn't happen often) I misjudged the day of arrival of Dima and Lucy, who were due to meet us in Ho Chi Minh City. This misjudgement, however, was not a disaster as we all arrived into Saigon (HCMC) pretty much at the same time, exhausted from our travels. We'd had another fantastic night on a bus where again we were last on and given the worst seats in the house. Luckily no urine or smoke this time, but a couple of broken chairs which eventually forced Reeves into the aisle of the bus for the lie down effect, not exactly health and safety in a rickety bus hitting 100km an hour on winding roads at 3.00am, but well, when you're tired...

Although tired we rocked into HCMC as keen as mustard; find a place, have a shower and go to find Dima and Lucy to get this party started. It wasn't particualry hard to find a place either. In the nature of the ease of travel that is South East Asia nowadays, the bus dropped all the backpackers off in the budget accom area and there waiting was a  group of people wanting nothing more than to take us to their hotel. After gathering our bags we said yes to a small statured lady with a hard featured face and walked through tiny alleyways, witnessing the backrooms of peoples lives and taking in the classic 'hang your washing line between houses' views. On that note- why are westerns so obsessed with washing lines and people's homes? interesting isn't it? I mean I do it all the time, "oh look at that washing line over there with that washing, ohh it's so authentic."

Anyhow, through the alleys we go and find what was to be the norm in vietnam for the next two weeks; a clean, lovely room with hot water, wifi, cable television and clean sheets for 10-15$. Mrs Fu, the lady who was the owner of the hotel, turned out to be a classic! I've changed her name for my protection but she exuded the same qualities as the matriach out of that Australian movie called Animal Kingdom; scary but nice. It turns out after having extensive chats with her over my baguette and coffee (free breaky- get in) that she used to be a millionaire but lost it all to the mafia and now owes lots of money and so is working 7 days a week in her hotel and travel agency.

There are two things that first grab your attention in Saigon-

1) the traffic and the noise, i'll get to this later, and

2) All the travel agents.

There are more travel agents in tourist Saigon than there are hair dressers in Brighton and Toorak combined, more travel agents than pasty shops in Cornwall, i think you get my drift. They're everywhere, which makes doing anything independently difficult because they've got it all covered. This is why the hotels are so eager to get you in their door too, they make more money from commission on travel tours than they do on hotel rooms. Amusingly though, I don't think anyone really knows the price of anything in Saigon, traveller or tourist that is, someone may pay $5 and $20 for the same tour depending on the hotel they're staying at!

And away we go, we met up with D and L and due to time difference in Australia were justified in having a beer straight away. Straight to the go-go bar for a cleansing green saigon beer and a mega catchup (hang on hang on, better not talk too much, we've got two weeks on the road here and dont want to use all our conversation up in the first hour haha). The thing of most import in all of this though was Dima's beard. My goodness me, what an absolutly amazing super human effort of a beard; connotations of jesus, alby mangel, Abe lincoln, the caddy from Happy Gilmore and my former 2001 self. My well groomed moustache just looked silly next to this living specimen- so proud.

Four effects of having a Jesus beard while on tour:

1) You get hassled less because no one thinks you have any money
2) You get ripped off less because people think you've been travelling long enough to grow such a thing and are, therefore, aware of all conceivable cons
3) You get offered marijuana 10x fold
4) People think you're awesome and girls want to sit near you.

Two effects of having a filthy moustahce:

1) People assume you're weird
2) You have an instant connection with other people who have moustahces

Right, back to Saigon and the highlights

-Off to the war remnants museum where the bias against the yankee doodles is on show for everyone. It is an epic museum and the displays, although disturbing, were effective. The images of the war were horrible, evocative, sad, and at times incredibly, achingly, beautifully shot. They brought on the same feelings that were evoked at the killing fields- such pointless waste. I didn't mind what was said about the North Americans and to an extent the whole forces because I believe it to be true through the photos and the history. However, it would have been nice to see some reciprocal evidence of the horrors from the other side too. The highlight of the museum was a collection of photos from war journalists working on both sides of the war, walking through the gallery you recognise your dad, uncle, yourself, your mates in the faces in the photos. Powerful stuff.

-Saigon is just an awesome city with so much going on. Their use of space in an overcrowded city is delightful. Dima and I giggled as we watched en mass dancing classes in the park from 5pm onwards, but didn't have the courage to join in, and loved watching the young and old join together to play a form of hacky sack with a modified shuttle-cock.The track suits were a classic, think shell suits from the early 90s and then imagine 25 of them doing arobics in the park. Wicked.

-Crossing the road is a highlight.You simply have to walk out into the traffic and allow the bikes and cars to go around you. It's pretty exhilarting actually and unlike in Indonesia when crossing the road, these guys are going pretty fast. I can only imagine what it's like to teach the kids how to cross roads in schools is like. Stop, look left, look right, look left again and then go and then stop, go, stop, left, right, left, stop, eye contact, eye contact, go, go, go.haha. Bike education would be a 15 year course that carries on through university.

- Cu Chi tunnels, we made the mistake of using our hotel to book the tour and ended up on a bus with 50 or so backpackers with a tour leader who called himself Mr.Buffalo. Although he was funny, it slightly tainted the experience of what is an incredible feat of ingenuity. The tunnels are fricken amazing, running for some 250 km, and the cu chi people were unbelieveable. So despite backpackers laughing and joking at what essentially was a sad time for all (10,000 people lost their lives in the tunnels) you couldn't help walk away with a feeling that no matter who visted the tunnels and what view they had on the war, everyone would appreciate the sheer genuis of the people. They were incredibly resourceful using US rubbish to make bombs and finding US bombs that hadn't exploded and using them against their enemy. For every new challenge they found a solution; when the US army used sniffer dogs to locate their holes, they stole US army soap to disguise their scent. They certainly weren't short of hrorrible ways to hurt people either, and for someone who is claustrophobic it's enough to scare the shizen out of you. Dima fired an AK 47 too which made him feel like a real man, although he was dissapointed that they forgot to switch to automatic so that he could rapid fire his way through 10 bullets, oh well next time eh Dima?

- A wicked night out at a vietnamese barbeque that Lucy had been reccommended.The bbq food was so fresh that when they brought out the tiger prawns they were still moving! "Quickly baby, if you just put a little more oil on them they'll burn quicker and they wont suffer as much." Needless to say we didn't order any chicken or beef. But man what a night it was, fresh squid, cold beers and one of the best nights on the holiday- despite my rant about John Howard.(sorry D and L).

- On the way home, a couple of hoodlums on a bike tried to steal lucy's handbag but she was too quick and strong and thus prevented disaster. Dima and I then chased down the bike, tackled them off it in mid air, apprehended the two criminals and frog marached them to the police station, not before collecting all the bags that were stolen and returning them to thier owners that night. Straight to heaven.

Saigon to Mui Nui
The next day we got a bus to Mui Nui- prounounced like mooney ponds but a little different than moonee ponds.Mui Nui is about 4 hours from Saigon and a beach town. Unfortunately for us it was bucketing down with rain when we got there and there's nothing worse than a beach town when it's raining. We were like kids on holiday, " mum there's nothing to do".  Luckily we found a great restaurant that served big cold beers for 50 cents and so Dima and I were away. What a lunch! and that carried us through the afternnoon with a nap, followed by a wicked dinner with more cold beers and some great games of cards. As it turned out we were sitting on some couches which turned into a stage and soon this guy with his keyboard was playing and we were freakin back stage! How awesome! The more we drank, however, the more we evolved from being roadies to full on backing singers- Beth rose to the occasion when Crowded House came on, but unfortunately the guy didn't know any ACDC for Dima.

The wonderful skills of Lucy Peatling came into play the next day when she managed to organise us a cooking course in the morning before our bus to Nha trang. Clearly the men dominated the proceedings whipping up a pho bo (beef noodles), spring rolls, pinapple style salad and some famous Mui Nui pankakes. It's just so easy at these cooking classes to make tasty food but I dont know how much im looking forward to the reality of it when we get home. " This doesn't look anything like my mui nui pancake!"

Highlight 3 was a walk along Mui Nui beach on day two to find the whole town and beach had been taken over by the Russians.This is not an exagerattion either. Everywhere you looked were incredibly white people wearing as little clothing as possible. Good on em I say, soak up the sun.There are no rules with beach wear and Russians except that it must be small and tight- you can be young, old, fat, skinny, hairy, tall or short or a combo of all of those but please wear practically nothing, preferably in leopard print, accessorized with gold, and no sun screen either.

We honestly saw a very sexy Russian man, mid 50s, wearing tiny loapord print speedos, slicked black hair, a gold chain and two massive gold earings. I'm not making this up, it was radical beyond belief. Aghhhh good old stereo types, so fun yet so damaging.

Mui Nui to Nha Trang
This was one of the most scenic bus rides of the entire trip so far. Wonderful beaches and epic sand dunes, little fishing villages and open areas that could have been anywhere in the world. Parts were of desert similar to morroco or mexico with nothing at all but sparse wastelands pickled with litle shops selling religious monuments of different kinds, strange but cool.  We entered Nha Trang along a sensational cliff top coastline that rivalled anything that Cornwall or the Mornington Penninsula could offer- and it once again reminded us of the postives of traveling by road or train; yeah you might be hot, stuck behind some dude who has b.o. and his chair all the way back and forced to listen to Vietnamese pop music for 4 hours, but it's all worth it when you see the view. What would the world do without a view?? meltdown?

Because I'd been to Nha Trang before and we'd had enough beaches for the time being, we left D and L at the bus stop and missioned on that evening to find a train or a bus to go to Danang or Hoi Ann.  A long walk later and we were at the station witnessing first hand the Vietnamase idea of a queue. Coming from Australia and England, you get very precious about a line.There are few things that can ruffle my feathers these days but people who cut into a well formed line will always make me cross.  Well at the station there was no line but more a rugby scrum trying to push down a window. After standing 10 mins or so I realized I wasn't getting anywhere and so out the hip and shoulder came, Vietnamese went flying left and right, money in the air, shouts and cries or western sized foul play, but at last I was at the window, shouting and waving money and sweating and having a bloody marvellous time."Aghh no seats left Mr, sorry do you want tomorrow night?"
All that for nothing and so off to the bus station where we realized all the buses had left and so we resigned to the fact that we were destined for Nha Trang. We found a crack den hostel, had a baguette filled with mystery meat, found D and L's lush fricken hotel and left a note telling them we'd meet the next morning.

Well well well, thank goodness we missed the train and the bus because what happened that morning not even David Hasselhoff could have predicted. Bright and early we strlled to their hotel, up to room 1107 we went and in we walked to what was a freaking presidential suit. We told them of our missed chances and said we were there for the day and on a bus that night. Then Dima says 'we have something to tell you' and Lucy starts welling-up and crying and im like 'shit, what's happened? They've been robbed, they hate this holiday, they're going home', but no!


Well bugger me and call me Harry! What spectacular news it was. I think i was more excited then than when I proposed to Beth and to tell you the truth I think Beth was as well! They couldn't find any champagen and so in true vietnam style we all cracked cold tiger beers at 10 am and giggled and hugged and got all girly and asked the details and drank more tigers and I ate all their free pastries cause I was starving and we just had a gay old time.
So we changed our tickets and book us all on the sleeper bus for the next night and had two days of celebrations.

Further highlights of Nha Trang
- Sitting in D and L's private beach area they got when staying at hotel
- Wicked engagement lunch
- Amazing engagement celebration dinner at the Sailing club where Beth and I devised a quiz about how much they knew about each other, on reflection this could have been a disaster, but they smashed the quiz- 50 out of 50- 2nd best couple in the world.
- Visiting a Buddha and watching Dima spend 30 mintues take photos of a very colourful lizard:
Lucy: "Umm baby? do you think you have enough photos of the lizard?"

-The night bus to Hoi Ann- we all felt like we were in a Harry Potter movie except the bus conductor was a real piece of work, shoving people here and there, but so what? a bed on a bus!!! Boom Shakalaka!

The 10 meanings of car horns in Vietnam

1) Beep- hi, how are you

2) Beep beep- Would you like to ride in my taxi?

3) Bip Bip- would you like to ride on my bike

4) Beeeeeeeeeeeep- im going through an intersection right now and im not stopping

5) Beep Beep Beeeeeeep- Im running a red light, im not stopping but just letting you know out of courtesy

6) Beeo- no reason

7) Beep- Look at me on my nice bike

8) Beep Beeep- "I love horns, horns are fun"

9) Bip bip bip bip- Your're in my way, please move

10) Beep Beeo- "What? Everyone else is doing it!"

Hilairously Vietnam has just brought out strict rules about the car and motor bike horn but at the moment they're having trouble policing it. Latest word on the street is that they're are employing a further one million police with one million whistels and one million flags to wrestle control of the noise pollution.

Hoi Ann

Hoi Ann is nothing short of a perfect holiday or travelling destination. The only problem is that everyone knows this and so loads of people go there. But even then, the tourists just slide in and take their place in this town, they fit in as a piece of the landscape. It's a wicked little colonial town that is based, like all good towns, on a river and near a beach. It has an old town which is old and lovely to walk or bike ride around and a new town that is new and laid back and relaxed. The reason why it's so perfect is because it has three important factors:

1) Shopping- this place has more tailors than travel agents in Saigon. It makes up a huge part of the buisness and success of Hoi Ann. People can come for 2 days, walk into a shop and get three jackets and suit made up and walk away with plenty of cash left in their pocket. The people are nice, the tailors are naturally competitive. but it seemed with the amount of tourists there that there was enough to go around. On top of this it had some cute markets, plenty of street sellers and an atmosphere  (most important in asia) that didn't make you feel pressured to buy- which of course makes you spend double what you would normally.

2) A clean and beautiful beach which is hard to come by in Vietnam. On day one we hired some bikes and took a ride around the old town and then out to the beach, riding passed big hotels next to lush green paddy fields (rate my rice paddy com) and just had a splendid time.

3) It's cheap. You can afford to go bananas and we did. Happy hour with 50 cent beers and 75 cent gin and tonics and an amazing day of shopping and touring turns into an epic day.

D and L went mad for the shops while we, thanks to mum and dad's birthday presents, bought ourselves some sweet winter coats, just what we needed for sth east asia.

Day two saw us leave the shops behind for a bit of culture. We headed to My Son, which according to the guide was Vietnam's Angkor Wat- errr I dont think so mate. The ancient structues were beautiful but they had been blasted to shiz nizzle during the wars that Vietnam had experienced and so there wasn't much left. All the same it was a nice outing, but there was really only one massive highlight: that's right, we got to hang out with the one and only Danny Southern, the former footsgray Bulldogs back flanker in the 90s, the one who used to have no teeth and long hair and apperently owned a pet snake, pit bull and pet shark! He was on our tour and we were lucky to share the back row of the bus with him on the way home. He's a really interesting guy and one of the nicest people I've ever met without exagerattion. He lives with his wife and child in Egypt and so for ages we talked about the revolition and egyptian politics. After a while, Dima and Danny got talking about their respective tatoos and I was so jealous that I wanted one- temporary of course.

Later on in Hue, a few hundre ks down the road we ran into Danny again who from afar shouted out "g'day dima"- Dima was stoked for the rest of the trip and kept bringing up; "Hey remember when Danny Southern shouted out my name?" hahahaha awesome!

Hoi Ann to Hue- day bus

We were all sad to leave Hoi Ann, but more adventure beckoned and so on to Hue (Hway) We arrived late but were suprised to find that it was the start of a 15 day festival. Yay. Lucy and I pretended that we'd planned it that way and high fived before finding a nice room next to each other. Dima found the footy on the Aussie channel, but alas, the girls threatened to leave us behind and so we were up and exploring Hue and all its festivities.

- Discovering that festival time meant a specially brewed festival beer! Boom town! We found a massive tent, muddy as shit, and some plastic chairs and sat drinking festival beer and eating peanuts and singing  Britney Spears and generaly having a gay old time. Hilairously, at one point the guy behind the bar tried to charge us double for our beers when the price of them was printed in huge bold writing on massive posters right behind him, he was embarressed and everyone laughed at him. Deserved, I say.

-Walking the next day around the old back sreets and exploring the purple palace and having a hilarious conversation about what constutues a eunich and how it all works.

Hanoi and Halong Bay

Arriving into Hanoi wasn't the greatest. D and L had taken a flight
but we had taken the trusty old night bus which arrived at 6.00am.
Unfortuately when the bus pulled up and I awoke, I realised that
someone had taken my ipod touch! Bummer. What's that, I hear you cry?
Yes, that's right, all those amazing scores on angry birds gone! All
those sushi fishing high scores...gone! and unfortunately and the real
bummer, a heap of sweet photos and videos and yes, a meticulously
planned wedding speech hehe.

This moment kind of represented the Vietnamese people on a micro scale. The
bus company couldn't care less and pretended not to understand and were
horrible. The first police station were kind of helpful, they pulled
away from the tv and listened to my story which was translated by the
guy on a bike out the front and then deliberated for a bit before deciding that we were, in fact, at the wrong station hmmm. Okay, onto the next station where they were having none of it, as they were all lying in their beds clearly glued to something on telly.  But eventually I sat down and smiled and played a bit of charedes and pictionary and my story came through. We used
the assistance of this young guy, who happened to be there to get something else done, and who spoke english. However, he didn't feel like he could help well
enough so he called his friend who drove 15 minutes to come and help a
complete stranger!
I was gob smacked, such a generous act. She sat there with me as she
translated the police report and then translated my story and then
translated a couple of jokes of mine for the entertainment of the
police and really it all ended well.


Hanoi highlights
- Getting a police report
- walking around the wicked old quater eating pho and drinking coffee. so sweet!
- Admiring the peacefullness of the old lake. In a city with 50
million motor bikes, the lake does a remarkable job of enstilling a bit of calm on the city.
- Don't go without a map or a wife who has a map- very easy to get lost
- Organsing a birthday cake for Beth which had happy birthday written on it!
- Sharing a room with Dima and Lucy on our last night:
sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep overrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr whoo, I loved it!

-Saying good-bye to Dima and Lucy, woe is us.

Halong Bay  (in between our days in Hanoi)

Halong Bay, just south of Hanoi is one of the most, if not the most
visited place in all of Vietnam. This is for a reason, the bay is a
geography teachers dream with clean blue water and huge rock mountains
jutting out of it in every direction. What struck me was the complete
stillness of the bay, where the only sound you could hear was the tut
tut tutting of the hundreds of junk boats that make Halong bay their

HB must get 1000s of tourists everyday sailing on its waters. Yet,
despite this saturation it has managed to remain
beautiful and clean and a wicked place to visit. Everyone who visits
does so on a junk boat, a wooden oldy looking ship with big sails and
small cute rooms. Because we're awesome we had a fricken sweet luxury
boat that tailored to our every waking need.

highlights were

- Sneaking on a bottle of gin and vodka knowing that it was going to be
expensive to buy booze. hehe school camp style, ordering tonic
water and keeping a look out for any boat personal coming our way haha
- Getting boozy on a boat, playing golf with friends and mocking
Americans singing Karaokee.
- Subsequently joining americans in singing Karaokee, culminating in a harmonious duet. (The videos were deleted)
- Jumping off the top of the boat
- Seeing Black Kites (Beth highlight)
- Going canoeing into caves
- Fishing for squid...rubbish...jellyfish while listening to the
'Party Boat Halong Bay' sing Karaokee and have group vodka body shots.

A small tale to finish. On our second day we went canoeing with some
less than qualified guides who, after 30 minutes or so, took us into a
large open air cave that we then couldn't get out of. woe is us!
"It's okay people, we just wit 5 minute and water go up and we paddle
back okay, no problem."
- "Err, I dont reckon 5 minutes is going to cut the mustard mate, I
reckon we'll be here for a little longer than that."

Hilariously, a couple of frenchies in their canoe ignored the advice
of the guide and perserved into the current while 10 boats looked on.
They were repeatedly smashed back into the rocks (unhurt) and forced
back into the cave while 20 people shook their heads in bewilderment.
Points for trying though.

Cue heroic other french guy who borrowed shoes from his mother in law
and dragged 10 boats out of the cave! Who would have thought we'd be
saved by a frenchman- first time for everything right?

Back on the boat it was joyous time for us because after 3 months of
carrying around our geeky enormous medi kit, it came in handy! Bandaids
and anteseptic for all who cut their feet trying to drag their boats

And that's it folks. Sorry it's late, we're well into China now but hope you
enjoy it. 

* A special thanks to my beautiful wife who edits this blog and makes it sounds much better than it originally was.



Thank you Andrew for your fab blog. Jim and I are off to Vietnam on 16th Nov and after reading your stories I can't wait to experience this amazing country. Keep up the good work and enjoy your adventures. Safe travelling, Imelda

  Imelda Donnelly Oct 4, 2012 6:44 PM

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