Our first city was Saigon- and man what a city it is! Scooters and cars and buses dodging left and right; scary road crossings; noisy; polluted and oh-so-hot! There was no escape from the stickiness! We stayed in a nice hotel- with free breakfast, tea and coffee and noodle soup for dinner.
We didn’t do a whole lot here, except plan for our departure and next town. We did go to a Czech restaurant, which made both Honza and I extremely pleased. They had no kofola, but the beer made up for it, as well as the smazeny syr :-) Later we had an awesome karaoke session…
One of the weirdest experiences was being massaged by a blind lady. Close to our hotel there was a massage institute where blind people are taught how to massage. We arrived, and were shown to a hospital- smelling- and- looking room. I was indicated to take my top and bra off and lay on the bed. It was the worst massage I have ever had! Sometimes she would be fiddling with some earpiece and have one hand on me- rubbing the same place for 5 minutes!
Angie had worst experience: since she was massaged by a guy- all he did were her legs in the most painful manner! Even though it was no Thai massage- we left with a good feeling that we had helped them somehow.
From Saigon we took a bus to Dalat- up in the cool highlands. What a relief to be away from the heat and humidity! We rented scooters and just rode around going nowhere in particular. It was my first time to drive a scooter in a town, so I was a little nervous (especially with the right-side road rules) - but I got used to it pretty quickly.
On our second day we went canyoning in a beautiful setting. There were 7 of us- 2 really nice Israeli’s (who we would later bump into further north) and a British couple. We had some practice abseiling from an easy height- then we moved to higher ground. The most challenging abseil was the waterfall! We had to abseil (very slowly or you’ll slip) down through a waterfall. At one point I was literally in it- water splashing all over you; I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet. Then the rock ended and below was a 3m drop- and the only way out of this mess was to let go of your rope and fall…. Fun times! :-)
We also had the opportunity to jump off rocks- about 4m high. It might not sound high, but when you’re standing on the edge- it’s pretty scary. The best is not to think- just jump. The more you think, the harder it gets.
Our next destination was Nha Trang (on the coast). The bus to get there would take about 7 hours- so we wondered if there was an alternative way to get there… Riding a bike? 70km? Seriously? Ok, why not? A minivan drove beside us (carrying our luggage and lunch). Our guide, Happy, was true to his name and was great company. The road we took wasn’t a busy one- the odd truck or bus passed every now and again; so we had the road pretty much to ourselves. There were some horrible up hills- but wow was it worth it when we went down and down and down! The pass cuts and winds through the most fantastic scenery- huge hills and mountains covered in lush, green jungle. I felt so free! The sky darkened and the clouds released their load- but we didn’t care or even mind- riding in a torrential downpour is character building ;-)
We stayed the night in Nha Trang and took the train up to Danang the next morning. From Danang we took a taxi to my favourite Vietnam city- Hoi An. This is the cutest, quaintest, quietest, funnest and prettiest little town I’ve seen. We planned to stay 3 days, ended up staying 5. Our hotel was great- an outside swimming pool and free cocktails in the evening. For the 5 days all I did was ride a bike, go to the beach, eat and have clothes made. Hoi An is famous for its cheap tailors- so of course we took advantage. Honza had a few shirts made, while Angie and I got some dresses. It’s an addictive activity- once I had one dress made and I see how well it fits- I wanted more and more!
Within Hoi An there is an “ancient town”, which is pretty much European looking- little streets here and there, tiny alleyways, cute café’s, people walking and riding everywhere. It was so much fun just riding around, maybe stopping from cheesecake or tiramisu.
We spent some time on the beach- getting hassled by the ladies selling crap and no matter how many times I say “no thank you I don’t want anything”- they wouldn’t go away! I was really impressed by the beach- could be compared to South African beaches. It was big and wide with white soft sand. The water was clear and warm and just perfect- there were even waves! Go Vietnam!
We bumped into our Israeli friends and had a great night out with them and the friends they had met along the way.
We continued on, by train, north, to Hanoi. This was my first sleeper train and it was actually not bad! Relatively comfortable beds allowed for a good night’s rest. We had booked a 2 night 3 day tour on Ha Long Bay so when we reached Hanoi at 5am we immediately took a taxi to a hotel from where we would be picked up. It was 4 hour journey in the worst minivan I have ever been on! I don’t think the manufacturer has ever heard of a thing called “suspension”
The boat we would stay on was just like a pirate boat! It was awesome! :-) There were 15 of us- from the UK, Italy, Israel, New Zealand and Taiwan. We all sat down and enjoyed a nice lunch (vegetarians catered for! :-)) and got to know each other a little bit. In the afternoon we visited a cave, and then did some kayaking and swimming and jumping off the boat (5m). Ha Long bay is such a weird place—all these giant rocks randomly jutting up out of the sea!
We were supposed to stay the second night on Ca Ba Island, but the tour guide messed it up. So instead we spent the day kayaking (which was just amazing!) This is when trouble started and we discovered that the Vietnamese in the north are very different to the south. Honza and I were 10 minutes (just 10!) to get back to the boat after kayaking- but as we got there the boat started to speed away. We had no idea what was going on so we just paddled faster, thinking it was some game… Well, while we were gone (being late) our guide started to shout at the rest of the people on the boat (Angie and 3 other UK girls) about where were we and that he was going to leave us behind… As soon as he saw us coming he told the driver to speed up! Angie and the other girls started shouting at him to stop but he wouldn’t hear it. When we eventually pulled near to the boat he sneered at us “you stay in the water, not on the boat”. Eventually we got on… But it was so weird- who shouts at their customers?!?(Vietnam is known for not receiving “repeat tourism”- and I can see why!)
Then another incident- we were taken to another boat where we would stay the night. Everything seemed honky dory…until the lady in charge told me that our group would split up in the morning- 2 of us would go to another boat and one would stay on this one. I simply refused this and kept on insisting that we were not going to split up!(Especially since they had messed up our itinerary) She stormed off in a huff- only to come back 10 minutes later with the same proposal- this time basically shouting at me! I raised my voice quite a bit (never knew I had it in me to shout at someone--It was fun! ;-)) And then she did this a third time! A while later she came back saying that we would all stay on this boat. Hahaha I won b%$ch!!! ;-)
We have met several people with similar experiences in Ha Long Bay—being treated so badly by the tour guides on the boat. Someone needs to tell them that shouting at a customer is the single worst thing they can do! So if anyone is heading to Ha Long Bay- I advise you to not take a tour. Rather just get to Ca Ba Island on your own (there are ferries to take you there) and figure out the rest on your own.
Some other friends were in Sapa (in the north) and they had to stop a fight between backpackers and the owners of the hotel (hotel owners can get angry if you don’t want to stay there or for some other lame reason). This is not uncommon and we were warned that the people in the north are more uptight, angry, short tempered compared to the south. I can definitely tell the difference between north and south Vietnamese, and if I ever go back to Vietnam I am definitely staying in the south!
From Ha Long Bay we went back to Hanoi for just one night- and here is when our trio split up. Honza took a train all the way down to Saigon (30 hours) and from there he flew to Kuala Lumpur and then to Paris. So now it’s just us girls.
Angie and I took a train to Ninh Binh (2 hours south from Hanoi). It’s a small town with beautiful surroundings- they call it “Ha Long Bay on rice paddies”. On the first day we met up with Cary and his friend, Ian. I know Cary from South Korea (also was an English teacher) and for the past 3 weeks we had been trying to find a meeting point. We were always 2 days ahead of them, but in Ninh Binh our paths finally crossed! We rented bicycles and rode around in the most intense heat I’ve had in a long time! We got a bit lost trying to find this one place to take a boat- I find that maps in Vietnam are absolutely shockingly bad!
The next day Angie and I rode a bit, but went back to our aircon room quite quickly… In the evening we had some great laughs with a really funny British couple- man I love their humour!
The next day would change our trip somewhat…. We rented a scooter and tried to find Cuc Phuong National Park. I had checked google maps for the directions, so we had a mild idea of how to get there. So together with the shitty map the hotel gave us and my hand drawn google-map we set out on a mission! It was a bit scary in the beginning- real weekday traffic with buses, trucks and scooter dodging here and there! But I did alright and soon we were on a quite country road. Wow! It is so beautiful here- in the distance there is the mountains (which look like “Ha Long Bay on rice paddies”) and all around us are green rice paddies (reminded me a little of South Korea). We got a bit lost- due to the locals all telling us different directions, but it’s all part of the journey! The National Park is amazing! Huge hills covered with jungles, tons of butterflies and so peaceful.
We didn’t have much time (since our train was leaving at 6pm) so we ate some vegetable noodle soup and started to ride back. We had ridden for about 20 minutes when in the distance we saw what looked like “dooms day clouds”-low, black and thick clouds moving towards us. We kept on going—gotta make the train! The rain fell down and it stung our faces; the wind picked up and I had to steer the scooter extra carefully- so as to avoid being swept away. I was following a dude on a motorbike and everything was going well- when all of a sudden he stupidly braked hard. I had to follow suit so as to avoid hitting him. In all the confusion and rain and wind I hadn’t noticed that we were on loose gravel, so obviously when you brake hard on gravel the inevitable occurs… The bike skidded on its side for about 5 seconds, taking us along with it. We were wet and in shock. My right arm felt like it was broken and my upper right thigh had been badly eaten by the road (in this moment I could hear my dad’s voice saying “always wear jeans when you’re on a bike”. I can now see why his advice is a pretty good idea….).
There were some boys standing near us and it took some while before they ran to help us (North Vietnamese…) This is when I should say how proud I am of Angie! There I was confused, in pain and a bit lightheaded and she took complete control of this shit situation. She had also received her fair share of roasties, but this didn’t cloud her thoughts. We managed to get the bike back up and since my right arm was useless- she had to drive. We got about 2km when we had to stop or run the risk of another accident. We found some shelter and waited out the storm with 8 other Vietnamese- who all seemed to think our accident was funny! WTH?!?
After about 20 minutes we could leave and brave the scooter again. Angie was nervous about having to drive on the main road, at peak traffic hour- but with some backseat driving from me- she did wonderfully! We arrived at our hotel hoping to be received with care and love and help- but no, we are in North Vietnam-so I can’t expect them to give a damn about us! Honestly- they cared more about their scooter then us! I was disgusted at the way they dealt with us! We had to ask for some antiseptics etc, and then hobble to the pharmacy for more supplies (and deal with the language barrier). We had to do all of this in a jiffy- since our train left at 6pm (it was 5pm now) and to miss it meant we would lose $80, and then have to take a bus. Somehow, I don’t know how- but we managed to clean ourselves up and get to the train station on time. I really didn’t think we would make it. To get through the 26 hours we stocked up with oreo’s and yoghurt and painkillers. I surprisingly got some sleep and the next day flew past.
Finally we reached Nha Trang- in the south (so back to friendly people! Yahh!! :-) ) A pharmacist helped us out (again I can feel the huge difference in friendliness and helpfulness between north and south) and applied some iodine and some antibiotic cream to my damaged leg. We bought some supplies and then headed back to the hotel to sort ourselves out. Angie has a scraped knee and a roastie on her elbow- but no serious damage. My right arm isn’t broken, just sprained. But it’s no surprise that its so weak- since it has gotten the most damage in the recent past…
I write this from our hotel in Nha Trang, where we will just chill out and heal and feel sorry for ourselves that we can’t go snorkeling :-(.
Tomorrow night we take our last Vietnamese train and fly out from Saigon to Bangkok on Friday morning. On Saturday evening we leave Southeast Asia and begin another journey…. INDIA! :-)
So this will be my last blog entry for a little while- I will probably start another one for India. If you have read this far- well done and thank you for taking the time to read- I appreciate it a lot!!! :-)
Until next time. Peace and love