Motorbikes, Robin Williams and Happy Endings....
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!!! Two words - bloody marvellous. 'Nam' far surpassed all expectations and my fellow travellers weren't too shabby either. Potential holiday highlight?! I'm likely to be in deep s%*t for suggesting such a thing but it certainly rivals NZ/Oz. I'm now finished that part of the tour and into Laos but I thought I should probably blog in two chunks to make it less thesis-like. Plus, I can't be arsed to sit and write about the whole thing in one sitting....
We jumped on private minibuses to take us from Cambodia, across the border and into Vietnam. I could get used to this private minibus malarky - they're pretty dam good. And after witnessing two public bus crashes in two journeys, getting dripped on when the rain started and enduring hours of Cambodian karoke on the public buses, my faith in public transport isn't sky high. Saying that, our private minibus did get a flat tyre. Not so flawless after all.... Border crossing was pretty easy although we were immediately aware of how strict this place can be - Rusty got told off for playing cards and for taking photos. How daring. That night we stayed at a sleepy little border town called Chau Doc. Not much to see/do but most of the group went on a motorbike ride up to the mountains to have some drinks and watch the sunset. Thankfully, all we had to do was sit and hang on to the guides - no driving skills necessary. Just as well considering I am barely past stabilizers on a push bike. Everyone else seemed content to hang on at the back. I, on the other hand, hung onto this poor guy for dear life - as demonstrated below. Pretty sure he loved it.
The sunset was a bit shite but it was rather nice to lie in a hammock in the middle of the mountains and drink coconut milk straight from a coconut.
After an uneventful journey home (Mr driver and I seemed to pick up serious momentum when hurtling down the mountain though), we had dinner at the hotel. Bit of an experience in itself - none of us really knew what we had ordered until it arrived. Despite the prolific use of photographs. Who needs a photo to tell them what an 'orange juice' is?! God knows.
After another long journey on the bus, we made our way to Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh city. Jumped on the ferry for about 5 minutes to cross the river.
We stopped for some very local lunch - immune systems seem to be holding up pretty well in the face of all the local grub. Constant stream of immodium dealing goes on within the group but you will all be glad to hear that I'm healthy as a clam.
Saigon was absolutely bloody nuts. I have never seen anything like it. I think Vietnam has a population of about 80 million. And they like to say that that means there are 80 million motorbikes. Crossing the road is an absolute nightmare. And I hate crossing roads at the best of times! The girls took to just grabbing my hand and making me come with them. The key seems to be to just walk slowly across and let the bikes dodge round you rather than try and make a run for it. Lizzy would literally have had a coronary if she'd seen some of the situations we got into...! That evening we met up with 6 new people who joined us for our whole time in Vietnam - 4 British gals and 2 Aussie guys. Joining tours half way through can be a bit of a bitch but we all got on like a house on fire. We all went out for dinner and some drinks, partially to wave off Christian, Jo and Simon who were leaving us :-(. Amy ensured that I got thoroughly tipsy as she ensured a constant stream of cocktails. You won't see me complaining....
The next day we took a trip to Cu Chi tunnels - an intricate system of underground tunnels used by the Vietnamese during the war. Seriously anti-American sentiment - perhaps unsurprisingly. Our tour guide, 'Hero', was really good and it was pretty class to go down through the tunnels. Not for the claustrophobic it has to be said! They showed us some of the original traps used to capture American troops - they were pretty inventive... (and completely barbaric).
After sorting out another flat tyre, we made it back to central Saigon and I had to embark on the camera hunt after mine had decided to pack in. All very helpful. I marched off to Vietnam's 'Currys' equivalent and only got slightly ripped off - score. Pauline took us to Fanny Ice Cream Parlour. Make your own jokes about this in conjunction with the Vietnamese currency - dong. Bloody good ice cream though - well impressed. Stopped at a bakery on the way home (got to keep the blood sugars up!) to collect some supplies for our first night train experience.
We used the night trains three times in Vietnam... They really cut down on the 'travel days' that are wasted on buses so I am all for them. The little cabins have two sets of bunks so Sepi, TJ, Pauline and I bunked up for the nights. The group had four cabins between us and we usually just whipped out the cards and the wine and put in our evenings pretty well!
The night train got to Nha Trang really bloody early. So we trundled off and arrived at our hotel before breakfast started. John put in a particularly good effort at breakfast time - managing to conquer 9 eggs in one sitting. LAD. We spent most of the day on a boat trip and got really good weather for it.The boat was quite an experience... It took us to some snorkelling sites, a private beach and an aquarium. But along the way, the crew dressed up in coconut bikinis, picked up their instruments and pumped out some tunes. All a bit bizarre! Before we got back to the harbour, they set up a floating bar, gave us all rubber rings and poured shots down our necks. Those guys were definitely drugged up - they were completely nuts. All good fun though - not a bad way to spend a day in the sun.
That evening, I headed into town to get a massage - another experience! The massage involved two therapists working at the same time and they were brutal! Absolute animals. They jumped up and down off me like yoyos and I began to get a little worried that we were going to have a repeat performance of the shoulder palavar! No need to fear though - they let me go in one piece. Just about. Think I'll stick to Thai massage in future. Masochists. At least I wasn't asked if I required extra services, unlike other members of the group! I made it back to the hotel just before the storm arrived - I've never seen rain like it. 'Torrential' doesn't do it justice - it flooded our bedrooms it was so heavy. And the thunder and lightning was unreal. In truth, I thought the end had come. But, surprise surprise, we made it out alive and we had a really nice dinner at the Sailing Club on the beach. Tough life.
After a much needed lie in, we spent the next morning/early afternoon at the mud baths where we wallowed about for hours - all for less than a fiver. After the success of dinner, we went back to the Sailing Club for a late lunch and lazed about on their private beach until it was time to head back in prep for the next night train! And dinner - no meal skipping on this trip!
The next train was a bit more of an experience! A number of events culminated in a slightly odd evening! First off, a man tried to jump in the window of the toilet whilst one of the group was in there. Like, who does that?! Charlotte then preceded to scare the shite clean out of me by killing bugs on our shared wall and I thought someone was about to land in on top of me. Finally, after messing around with the volume of the speaker (thinking it was the airconditioning control), we got the scare of our lives when it started BELLOWING a Vietnamese annoucement at about 2 am. I sat up so fast, I nearly went through the roof of the cabin. Potentially scariest moment of my life thus far. I also managed to lose my phone on that train. Along with the broken camera incident. And a lost laptop case with DVD player. I knew my record couldn't stay so clean forever!
The train rolled into Hoi An a couple of hours late - think we were all glad to see the back of that one to be honest! Hoi An is absolutely amazing - completely fell in love with the place. It was almost completely unaffected by the war so still has a lot of its old world charm. The older parts of Hoi An are preserved as a UNESCO heritage site and it is really beautiful. After another good feeding, we went to the tailors, armed with half my suitcase to get replicas made. The tailor industry is a bit nuts in Hoi An - think there's about 350 tailors in this tiny little town. After picking fabrics, taking measurements etc - I ordered up two dresses and a pair of shorts and made my fitting appoiintments for the next day. If it wasn't for the fact that my rucksack is already about 23 kg, I could have completely lost my senses in that place. They have loads of magazines, catalogues etc and you can just point and order up whatever you want in whatever fabric you want.
Dinner that night was at a very local 'all you can eat' place which fed us a constant stream of roll your own spring rolls.
The waitresses were very hands on in their demonstration of how to make the things - hand feeding most of the group. Think they took a particular liking to the boys... Maybe Laurent in particular?!
Took a bit of a walk along the river afterwards and got some ice cream - Pauline is a big fan of ice cream, hence its frequent appearance in evening time activities!
Then the evening took a turn for the drunken as we headed to 'Before 'N Now' bar and started on the card games.
Some new friends apparently!
At about 12.30, we decided to head to the beach party so jumped tandem onto the back of a couple of motorbikes (ignoring the free shuttle apparently!) and continued our merriment on the beach.
Lots of fun had by all, think we got home around 4.30 - our little motorbike man was standing waiting when we left the bar.
After a slightly slow start the next day, we went for our first fitting at the tailors at 11 and then spent the rest of the day on the back of a couple of motorbikes that some of the boys had hired. We headed down to the beach, got some lunch and had a splash in the sea before heading back into town. The beaches were absolutely gorgeous - well impressed. Probably the nicest so far in Asia.
TJ even did some driving on the way back - Chris is a pretty brave boy. I gave the throttle a bit of a turn but that was as far as it went. I make a bloody good passenger so gonna stick to that role. I think everyone who knows me will agree that that was a very wise idea?! After another fitting at the tailors, Charlotte, Catherine, TJ and I went for a Vietnamese cookery class. The food was amazing - mackerel stuffed with lemongrass and wrapped in banana leafs, chilli chicken, wontons with sweet and sour sauce and vegetarian spring rolls.
After eating ourselves to a standstill, we headed back to the same bar and things took on a familiar routine as we played some cards, drank some drinks and went to the beach later on - this time opting for the free bus...
More to follow very soon..... LOVE LOVE LOVE XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX