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V I E T N A M

20.06.2011, 12:00   ---   Chaotic, patriotic, colourful  

Wow, what a contrast!! Vietnam is so totally different to Laos … it’s absolutely not calm and laid-back, but rather hectic and vibrant. The traffic is pure chaos und road signs (especially prohibition signs) don’t seem to be of any importance, they are apparently rather considered being some sort of street decoration. Overall it’s extremely colourful, heaps of Vietnamese flags everywhere and at many places one’s still strongly reminded of the former Chinese regime by decoration, style and writing. I’ve never seen as many people wearing mouth masks (don’t know the proper English word) and especially photogenic are all those cone-shaped straw huts. The Vietnamese don’t only wear them at work on the rice fields, but also when shopping, during a day out with the family and so on. And the Vietnamese… well, lots of people had previously warned me about them! Unfriendly, no smiles and only ripping one off – that’s all bullshit! Admittedly, they are not as nonstop-smiling and overly friendly as the Thais for example, but in Thailand I sometimes regarded it being insincere and fake. The Vietnamese instead simply don’t put on a face, they act natural and are more authentic at the same time and they are also friendly and helpful to a normal degree. And by being able to say at least a simple “Cȧm ơn“ (Thank you) one totally gains their sympathy. Slightly annoying are indeed all those taxis, cyclos (bicycle taxis), motos (motorbike taxis), shop owners, street vendors… they permanently approach people on the street, but they are way easier to handle and less persistent than in Egypt, so it’s not too bad after all and so far I haven’t been ripped off either (or at least clever enough, so I didn’t notice). Maybe all those Vietnam-critics should be sent to Egypt for some kind of a shock therapy, that would change their mind very quickly!! :-D Anyway, I already love this lively, authentic country!

I spent the first few days in Hué, a nice town by the Perfume River . In the burning heat and with almost no breeze I joined one of those traditional dragon boats to the Thien Mu Pagoda, where we were lucky enough to arrive just on time for a food ceremony of the monks, and several royal tombs. Formerly they had also been the king’s residences and are mostly situated within beautiful surroundings. I also hired one of the cyclos to be taken around town and visited the Emperial Enclosure, the ancient emperor’s residence, within the Citadel.

The next stop on my journey was the picturesque town of Hoi An. This ancient town is protected by Unesco world heritage, it’s packed with tailors and shoemakers advertising their handmade goods and by bike it’s only a short ride to the beach. Sadly the huge strip of sand is lined by big resorts, but at least a beach after a long time without! ;-)
One morning I hired a moto and left very early (for me it was kind of in the middle of the night) to be taken to My Son, an ancient city and temple. Early in the morning it’s still comfortably cool and no tour groups yet. So I had lots of time to wander around the ruins and enjoy the silence – until the first group arrived: A hilarious bunch of Vietnamese of several generations, who were extremely curious where I was from and how I liked Vietnam and wanted to take loads of photos with me, really funny people! :-D

On a "Sleeper Bus" I continued overnight to Nha Trang. I have already spent quite a few nights on buses, but this one was different: Everybody had some sort of a bed-like seat!! Not very big though, but big enough to properly lay down, I’d never seen that before. But with the Vietnamese way of driving along with constant use of the horn it’s still not all that easy to get any sleep.


25.06.2011, 23:30   ---   Tourist hotspots and miserable weather

Nha Trang was meant to be situated right at one of the beautiful Vietnamese beaches… Well, sand and water were abundant, also some palm trees offering shade, but the entire town is extremely touristy, cramped with western restaurants and bars and nothing is left of the typical Vietnamese flair – it’s a pity!
One day I joined a boat trip to the nearby islands… the islands itself were not too worth visiting, the fishes seemed to hide from all the snorkelers, the guide wasn’t as funny as he thought he was and for the Vietnamese tourists the most interesting part of the trip was obviously to watch and photograph us foreigners. But along with my Dutch-English-Turkish-American fellow victims I tried to make the most of this day and totally joined along in all those hilarious entertainment stuff. We even (although not totally voluntarily) rocked the stage of the “fantastic” music-entertainment show. Last point on the itinerary was the “floating bar”. Every foreigner hangs in a tube in the sea, Mr. Entertainer serves wine and the Vietnamese of course stand at the reeling taking photos. ;-)
We actually had a fun day after all, but that was simply about the brilliant bunch of people and not about the tour!
But a permanent optimist as I am always finds at least one good thing about every place… in Nha Trang it was a German restaurant, a tiny place where indeed everything’s 100% homemade by the German owner and I enjoyed authentic German “Bratwurst” and “Kartoffelsalat”! :-)

Next day, I was about to take a bus to Dalat in the central highlands. But the night before I met Wing at my hotel, a member of the Easy Riders (a bunch of local motorbike-guides from Dalat) and along with him and his bike I left next morning for the mountains. Beautiful scenery, Wing was very knowledgeable about the country, the people, plants and so on, we stopped quite a few times at nice places, visited a village of an ethnic minority… a great trip!
Not as great was the weather in Dalat though! It was freezing (well, nearly 20°C still, but being used to easily 35°C that feels indeed freezing!) strong wind and nearly permanent rain! So I could totally skip my plans to go hiking, spent the entire day in my hotel, only left for some food between the rain showers and escaped straight away overnight back to warmer places.

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, renamed in 1975 in honour of revolutionary and national hero Ho Chi Minh) is Vietnam’s biggest city (about 8Mio people), it has about 4Mio registered motorbikes, accordingly the traffic is horrendously chaotic (way worse than anywhere else in Vietnam) and crossing a street is quite a though thing to do! But with some practice it gets much easier and I learnt to just slowly and confident step into the traffic, keep walking and never ever stop – the masses of motorbikes will see me and miraculously find their way around, it’s all about trust!! ;-) One only has to be careful about cars and buses as they are less flexible.
HCMC is a very modern city, it has nice parks and a surprisingly organised and non-chaotic market. I went to the shocking War Remnants Museum , which displays the torture-prisons for political prisoners, the terrible war, and the still present consequences in all their brutality and tragedy.
Today I went to the Cu Chi tunnels, a network of more than 200km of subterranean tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war. Some parts of them are accessible and (even though they’ve been widened for visitors) are incredibly small and claustrophobic, unimaginable that the troops spent several weeks or even months down there!!


02.07.2011, 20:00   ---   Save the best for last  

One of my last places to go in Vietnam was the Mekong Delta. I chose Can Tho as a gateway and was quite surprised when I first arrived. I had expected a quiet small town and found a busy city instead! But not bad after all, Can Tho is situated right on the Mekong river bank with a lively esplanade. That’s where I met Phung (well, she actually found and literally chased me) while strolling along the river in the evening. Phung is a Vietnamese lady making a living with her little boat – a boat trip into the delta was what she was about to sell me. I liked her from the first moment, just her English was quite difficult to follow. So she quickly called her sister to act as a translator and within a few minutes we agreed on a price and had an appointment for the next morning.

We were meant to leave by sunrise at 5:30am and while I was still half asleep on my way to the dock the entire town seemed to be up already and in their pyjamas (at least that’s what it looked like) they met at the esplanade for some communal morning workout. Also Phung was already wide awake of course, had the boat ready to go and waved at me from the distance – off we went! Past heaps of stilted houses along the river and lots of curious looking people we drove to the floating market, the biggest one in the Mekong Delta. Inside the market it simply swarmed with boats, people and loads of fruits and veggies, which were loaded from big to small boats and from there to even smaller ones. Haggling, loading, rowing… and in between were also some boats selling cold drinks and hot coffee. With our little boat we could cross right through all this trouble, unlike the big tourist boat, that could only drive past. Meanwhile – like the boat was on auto pilot – Phung did lot’s of amazing handicrafts from palm leaves, picked flowers and fruits from the trees, taught me some more Vietnamese and even managed to explain lots of things with her little English – she was brilliant!
We drove a whole lot farther into the delta, also visited another floating market and winding through lots of small canals (it’s a bit like a labyrinth) we slowly made our way back to Can Tho. We finished this fantastic trip with all those great impressions in the early afternoon and I was dead tired!

Those two weeks in Vietnam had been quite exhausting, which was actually not caused by the country itself though, but rather by my own current pace of travelling. But after luckily getting some important things sorted now instead of waiting with it until I get back to Bangkok , I can now finally slow down again! To recover a little bit and recharge my batteries I decided to spend a few days on an island – Phu Quoc.

What can I say… It’s a paradise of relaxation and silence! I’m living in a bungalow just a few metres off the beach and just haven’t done anything for the last days. Sunbathing, reading a lot, massage on the beach, going for a walk… Well, for two days it rained a lot, but even that was relaxing, just another good reason to read or simply get some sleep! ;-)
Today was the first day that I was a little active again. I rented a scooter to explore the island and went to a wonderful beach!
By now, I feel perfectly rested again and tomorrow I gotta leave. My visa is due to expire and I’m off to Cambodia .

   

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