Existing Member?

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/

Are we having fun yet?

VIETNAM | Thursday, 20 August 2009 | Views [1280] | Comments [3]

Up to Kon Tum, named the friendliest city in Vietnam and it was here we really appreciated the size of the population in the country. The description of Kon Tum sounded like a small rural village, remote and off the beaten track. We were disappointed to see it was a large town and realising that with a population of 85 million, we are not going to find any quiet retreats in Vietnam. But we decided to give Kon Tum a chance and it lived up to it’s name with every one giving us a friendly wave and hello. The town is surrounded by traditional villages that contain an unusual communal house called a Rong, something we haven’t seen before in Asia.

We were also able to view rice noodle making techniques, and see them dry out in the sun.

To get back to the coast we were looking forward to taking a journey through the Central Highlands most impressive scenery and along the road that was part of the Ho Chi Min trail during the war. The journey was definitely memorable...as the journey from hell!

We were up early to get the 6am bus only to have the ticket guys laugh at us when they saw how much we had overpaid for our bus tickets. Not a great start. The bus was a cranky old minibus and even though we had allocated seats the organiser put us in the middle of the back row. This was fine until the bus fills up and there were still passengers waiting to get on. The organiser decides another man can sit on our row....where though, there is NO ROOM!!! How many times could we tell him there is absolutely NO ROOM!!! That peed us off even further and we refused to move into the non-existent space he wanted us to take, so he rearranged the bus so a very small teenager could be squeezed on to our row, I have no idea how but sardines in a tin can were having a better day than us. We could hardly see the scenery out the window, there was no air conditioning working, only two windows open but none near us. The crazy driving skills and winding road resulted in motion sickness for the girl next to me, so I was surrounded by full sick bags all the way. Her Mum also got sick and actually threw up into her hat, which was quite funny and made the whole bus laugh, until the smell hit us. On top of that it was a 6 hour journey with only two quick stops for toilet breaks in the bushes. So with no food or drink stops we arrived in Danang, hungry, thirsty, with shoulders, hips and knees all out of joint. Bad day?...you bet.

Danang is where the American invasion began in 1963 and the local beaches, including China Beach, were used by the troops for R&R. From here we headed straight to Hoi An. Now we know the lads selling bus tickets raise the price for tourists, it's expected, but when we were told the price was 50,000 dong each, 5 times more than we should pay, we just laughed, but he got angry and wasn’t going to take any less from us and since the bus had already set off and we didn’t know where we were, we had no choice but to be ripped off.

This is a recurring theme in Vietnam, it seems the tourist industry has all the scams and tricks in the book to extort extra money out of us. We feel like we are back at week one of our trip learning to travel again, or maybe we have let our guard down as we haven’t encountered any touts for a while. For example...(skip this section if you don’t want to hear about it...You may need a beer to get through this!)

At a road side stop for lunch, there is a menu with no prices on it so you check the price of a meal before you order, that’s obvious. When it’s time to pay the cost has doubled and they refuse to take any less. What can you do?

Hotels quote prices in US$ so we ask what the exchange rate is if we want to pay in Dong. When it comes to paying, the exchange rate always increases making us pay more, literally within two minutes of asking in one instance.

Taxis always get lost trying to find the hotel you’ve asked to be taken too, even though you’ve pointed to a map, said the hotel name 3 times and they confirm they know where it is, still you get taken to the wrong place or they take the very long way to get there. I could go on.

We had no real expectations for Vietnam and so far we are still trying to work out what we like about the country, it’s charms are not obvious but unfortunately it’s flaws are. We’ve had a few bad days and journeys so we have decided not to write the country off yet, we are optimistic for the North, but that guard is up and staying up from now on.

Vietnam does have an upside...the food is great, really great, whether it’s from a street corner or a restaurant.

and the Bia is so cheap, 20 cents for a draught beer! Cheaper than water. Trust us, some days we really need it!

Hoi An

A World heritage listed town, left untouched by the war and overflowing with charm and quaintness, showing the colourful Vietnam of yesteryear and a delight to stroll around.

The number of tourists that visit make it a touts dream. It’s overflowing with tailors and souvenir shops with every other building containing someone who can make you the latest fashions in a day. But it wasn’t a problem for us, the touts kept quiet as we wandered by, we must have looked so dapper already there was nothing they could do to improve us!

Hue

Taking the 4 hour drive north, Vietnam started to grow on us. The scenery was beautiful with mountains and beaches, small low key villages, the reunification train crossing bridges over rivers and the roadside dotted with war cemeteries. This was what we had been expecting, or maybe what we had seen in the movies.

Hue was once the political capital of Vietnam and we discovered there is much more to this country’s history than the war. The countryside is home to tombs of Emperors from days gone by, set in lakeside grounds and grand hilltop scenery.

We also learnt that Mandarins are not just a fruit or a Chinese language, but important government workers for the Royal dynasties.

 

The heart of Hue city is the Citadel and Imperial Enclosure where the Nguyen dynasty Emperors lived until they handed over power to Ho Chi Minh’s provisional government in 1945. It’s also where most of the local population live today, although many of the historical buildings were bombed during the war, so there isn’t as much to see as there could be.

But lets not forget the War (American or Vietnam depending on which side you were on). The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is 70km north of Hue on Highway 1 and was the scene of the most intense and significant battles of the period. We booked onto a 12 hour tour to visit the DMZ, which ran 5 kilometres either side of the 17th parallel, with the Ben Hai river creating a natural border between North and South. The area is still pockmarked with bomb craters and tunnels used by the North.

The tour also took in the main sights on Highway 9, including Khe Sanh combat base, where the bloodiest battle took place killing 500 Americans and 10,000 North Vietnamese. A memorial museum of US Army remnants is all that remains from the tented city which housed 14,000 US troops and part of the original runway is still visible.

The Ho Chi Minh trail still exists today but it has all been upgraded to highway now and a new bridge has been built over the Dakrong river, with funding from the Cubans.

The worst aspect of the tour, which typically sums up how Vietnam has gone for us, is that eighty percent of the tour was spent travelling on the bus and we were made to rush around the sites we did stop at. Maybe if we hadn’t done a 2 hour round trip to go for lunch at the tour company’s hotel, we may have had more time to sight see. The tour company didn’t actually allow us to stop anywhere in the 10km wide DMZ and the only photos we were able to take of the area were from the bus!

Apart from what we saw on the tour there really isn’t much evidence of the war left in the area, but it’s not hard to imagine the land as a battle zone, with hills for key vantage points and land still scarred from Agent Orange. The countryside here is beautiful and picturesque, with a low population made up mainly of tribal villagers. But the beauty does not come naturally, of course most of the areas residents were killed or displaced, and the use of Agent Orange ruined the land for cultivation, so the peaceful area has only evolved as such through chaos and bloodshed.

 

Jo & Ryan

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

 

 

Tags: dmz, hoi an, hue, kon tum

 

Comments

1

Hey ryanandjo,

Another great blog story! We decided to feature it this week on the Adventures homepage so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Aug 24, 2009 2:26 PM

2

Remember guys, a bad day travelling is better than a good day in the office! *

* apart from when the aussies are getting thumped in the cricket of course!

  Marc Aug 24, 2009 9:57 PM

3

You have me hooked. I am looking forward to your future adventures.

  Your favorite American Aug 27, 2009 8:38 PM

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.


About ryanandjo


Follow Me

Where I've been

Favourites

Photo Galleries

Highlights

Near Misses

My trip journals


See all my tags 


 

 

Travel Answers about Vietnam

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.