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No Worries 'Mas o Menos' 2 years on the road, travelling South East Asia, China, South & Central America and who knows where after that... Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/

Temperatures Rising in Vietnam

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 12 August 2009 | Views [2735] | Comments [1]

From Phnom Penh we caught a direct bus all the way into Vietnam. After our Laos/Cambodia border experience we thought that this would make for a smoother ride. The journey was nothing special, but Jo was pleased that we arrived 11.45am in time for her to say “Good morning Vietnam”.

Part of the bus companies ’direct’ service was to pre-fill our H1N1 health report declaration for us, we thought it a little strange, but as we didn’t have any of the symptoms we thought nothing more of it. As well as the health declaration the bus company pre-filled our immigration arrival and departure cards, with incorrect names (as is always the case it seems with reading our passports) along with some dodgy signatures.

All this pre-filling became a problem at the Vietnam H1N1 screening when having passed through immigration myself, Jo was refused entry into Vietnam! The reason...she had a temperature of 39.7 with 38 degrees being the limit. I managed to talk my way out of Vietnam back to Cambodia to be with her and we found out that she would be allowed a second attempt after 5 minutes. Using the time to organise a plan B if needed, Jo was then called forward to try again and after a very long pause she was allowed to pass through, where they showed us the machine reading of 37.9! Having just scraped through with much relief, we were able to continue our journey to Ho Chi Minh City.

Saigon was renamed HCMC in 1975, but almost everyone still calls it Saigon. Just when I was beginning to think that I couldn’t be surprised by anything in the region, Saigon goes and slaps me in the face! It’s a sprawling metropolis unlike any other we have seen in South East Asia. Most of the hotels are stick thin and have 3 to 4 floors above a shop of some description, which made searching for accommodation a challenge first time out, but we managed to find ourselves a nice little retreat down a quiet lane.

Away from the truly astounding mass of mopeds on the road .

Due to the mopeds our first attempt at crossing the road took a long time. But we gradually learnt the skills needed: walk slowly, no sudden movements and no stopping, or resort to using a local as a human shield! Everything then seems to part around you like a school of fish, although it can still be a little daunting at times. Having some of the necessary skills required we set off on foot to explore Saigon.

Our first stop was at the reunification palace, which is very kitsch and retro as it’s still preserved from the time the North’s tanks stormed through the front gates in 1975 signifying the end of the Vietnam war.

We followed this with the War remnants museum, which documents the war and shows how peoples lives were and are still affected. Most of the literature accompanying the photographs and remnants was obviously written not long after the fall of Saigon, as in todays Politically Correct world it seemed a little out of place. However, the Vietnamese have every right to document the war as they see fit after the atrocities that were committed against them.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a cinema to check out their timetable as Jo has been dying to see Harry Potter. H1N1 seems to be taken more seriously here than anywhere else we’ve encountered and they were performing temperature checks before you were allowed in to watch a film. Learning my lesson I let Jo go first, only to see the man gasping at Jo’s temperature reading, apparently Jo is one hot lady!

In the evening we went for dinner at one of the numerous cheap food options that Saigon has to offer and washed it down with an ice cold beer

Having spent a couple of days exploring the city on foot, including the Chinatown area with some lively temples, we decided to see some of the attractions further afield. We were picked up early by our guide, Thong or Slim Jim as he liked to be called. Slim was a knowledgeable guide who had also over the years learnt Cockney rhyming slang and every Australian Slang known to man, he would intertwine these into his presentations, which we found amusing although most of the other European tourists were having trouble keeping up.

Of all the things in Vietnam I was looking forward to, travelling through Trang Bang junction was one of the most important to me. Having studied the Vietnam War, I was keen to see the location of one of the most famous images from the 20th Century, the Pulitzer prize winning photo ‘The Girl in the Picture’, which captures Kim Phuc running naked and burnt down the road during a napalm attack in the area.

Sitting next to Slim Jim, he practised some of his ‘blue’ slang on us, until we arrived at the Cao Dai temple.

Caodaism is a religion incorporating aspects of Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism, which even has the poet Victor Hugo as a Saint. No matter what your beliefs the mixture certainly made for some very colourful architecture and we were able to witness their midday ceremony.

Our next stop were the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of underground tunnels originally built during the Vietnamese fight for Independence from the French. However, during the war the network was expanded to approximately 200km worth of tunnels.

The allegiances of the people of Cu Chi were with Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) and the North and they used the tunnels to fight against the Americans and the South. Similar tunnels were used throughout the country and it was this type of guerrilla warfare that the American troops were untrained for. Seeing the size of the tunnels you can begin to understand why. To protect against collapse tunnels were only big enough to crawl through lying flat using their elbows to pull themselves along and entrances were no wider.

Cu Chi soldiers would disappear into the tunnels when under attack and surface behind an unsuspecting enemy. Today they have widened one of the tunnels so that westerners can experience 100 meters inside, they have also added 6 new exits for quick escape from the tunnel. Being claustrophobic Jo decided to give this one a miss. It was a wise decision as even expanded the tunnels don’t have the luxuries you normally associate with a tourist activity, it was hot, very cramped and everyone was on all fours. The Cu Chi guide at the front with the only torch raced through the tunnel as if the war was going on, leaving everyone but one tourist to complete the full 100 meters.......

Nha Trang

From Saigon we headed 11 hours over to Nha Trang for the beach and our first glimpse of the South China Sea. The temperature is rising as this is the right season to be on the coast of Vietnam, with the mercury hitting 35 degrees again! So its out with the wet rain look and back in with the wet sweat look, somethings just never go out of fashion!

Nha Trang was a lot bigger and more developed than we had expected, it felt like a little Saigon by the sea, but after the initial surprise it started to grow on us.

The beach at Nha Trang is 6km long and mostly quiet during the day. Around 4 o’clock each day the beach would swell with local families who would arrive and head straight into the water in whatever they had on, bringing with them the vendors selling peanuts, rice noodles, beverages and sunglasses. It was nice to be on a busy beach with so many locals rather than foreigners around you. Despite the huge beach it seems that the Vietnamese can’t or don’t like to swim, nobody goes further than 3 meters out and everyone stays playing or floating in the surf. So for the rest of the sea it is like you have the whole ocean to yourself. There were even games organised for the kids to enjoy, including sack races that were hilarious to watch.

Quy Nhon

Our next stop was further up the coast in Quy Nhon. The journey along the coast was enjoyable, passing picturesque bays filled with fishing boats. Sharing the journey with crickets wasn’t so enjoyable. Throughout SE Asia we have seen many different forms of livestock including chickens, birds, fish, frogs even a pig on our buses. My first knowledge of crickets on this bus was when one crawled along my foot and up my leg, knocking it off a local picked it up and set it free. Later another ran across my foot and then yet another. Someone was transporting boxes of crickets and they were escaping into the mini bus. To be honest we should have realised sooner than we did as the music was quieter and a lot better than the normal fare! Thankfully they were only crickets.

Departing the bus in Quy Nhon we were hounded and prodded by the the taxi and moped mafia, asking “Hey, You, Where you go?”, all except for one moped driver who having opened the back door of the mini bus to remove our bags had seen all the crickets and found himself an empty bottle. Rather than pestering us, he set about capturing a snack for himself, catching the loose crickets and removing those crawling all over our backpacks.

Quy Nhon beach was another long one, deserted in some places and very picturesque.

One area of the beach was covered with small round fishing boats lying around for fishermen to get to the larger boats offshore. After sundown, the town and promenade again filled with locals exercising, enjoying the sea and having a Bia at the beer stalls set up all along the pavements. In all, a relaxing town with a good insight into the Vietnamese way of life.

Until next time...

Uncle Ryan and Jo

Congratulations to Alex and Kristine on the birth of Charlie John Pace.

Photos:http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/72157621819402495/

Tags: cao dai, cu chi tunnels, ho chi minh city, nha trang, quy nhon, saigon

 

Comments

1

Hey ryanandjo,

We really liked your blog and decided to feature it this week so that others can enjoy it too!

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Aug 17, 2009 10:32 AM

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