Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'Good morning Vietnam!!!!'

Hello all, and hello from Vietnam. First off, sorry for the time taken to post, we have been none stop on the road without settling for many days in any particular place, so finally we get to upload the best bits of a month in Vietnam!!!! We arent so keen on the place to be honest, we feel that the whole time we have been in the country has been a struggle to avoid being ripped off constantly by every person we meet. It has just been a constant battle since we tried to get over the border from Laos with the guards taking extra money off us before we could enter and every bus journey is paused with the only food stop being some dire cafe that charges westerners 10 times the local price for 10 times less quality food. $2 each for a plate of warm rice and mustard greens that were too bitter to eat. I can assure you that $2 goes quite far when it comes to eating in asia, but not when you are easy to exploit. Oh well, i guess thats our first taste of eastern retribution!!!!! when not being hassled within an inch of our lives by people for something or other, we had a nice trip to Ha Long bay, spending a sunny day on the water which included a very cold swim and kayaking, aswell as a trip to a cave. We settled down for the night, sleeping on a junk, but not before we waxed the night with some karaoke! We spent a second day heading to Cat Ba island, where we were treated to a nice invitation for green tea and a chat with a local, a slice of more rural Vietnam and a welcome break from Hanoi and its annyances. James spent a morning going to see the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh while in Hanoi and to be honest there wasnt much else to do; Laughing at ladies underwear with bum enhancers and shops with funny names, turns out Yana has a nice clothing store namd after her!

From the capital, we journeyed south into Hue, a small place on the eastern coast which was the former political capital until the end of WW2. It features an ancient citadel, with a citadel inside, which houses what was then the palace and imperial buildings, though was bombed almost to rubble post WW2. It was hard to pick ourselves up as we were in the middle of a huge weather system that has sat over asia and prduced weather to make europe look like the sahara. So much rain and it doesnt let up for a moment!!! We made a soaked trip to the home pagoda of Thich Quang Duc, the buddhist monk who set himself on fire in protest to the regime of Vietnam and the treatments of buddhists in 1963. We decided to cut our stay short as everything else in Hue involved river trips and more wetness, so we hoped for better weather farther south.

We reached Hoi-an, a quaint town which kept much of its original french architecture intact, so small narrow lanes weaving between terraced chateux... though that appears to be the main draw of the town, unless you wanted some tailoring done cheaply. As neither of us was in need of a new suit or dress, we took a trip out to see the ancient Cham ruins, My Son, at the base of Cat Tooth mountain. In the area of where the VietCong were hiding our durning the war, it was carpet bombed, destroying much of the beautiful temples which were in hounour of both Hindu and Buddhist deitys.

Onwards to Nha Trang and where warmer, if not windier weather met us, rendering this beach town useless to us as the diving visibilty was to poor to spend money on and the beach was blowing away in the gusts! We did pass an afternoon visiting a temple where we were very fortunate to meet Vietnam's oldest and highest monk, who gave us a gift of some beads for good luck in our future life together. We also saw the grave of the first female monk to self-burn to death in 1967, the second wave of protests against the government following 1963. All of the moks being remember in a memorial that sits on the highest point of the town, overlooking the bay. Our second day we plumped for a trip to the Vinpearl resort, what seems to be a national getaway for russia! We had some fun on the slides in the waterpark and saw a bunch of marine life in the unerwater aquarium, including a cheesy mermaid show. Oh well, rainy days- what can you do?

We left to seek better times in Dalat, a hillside town in the highlands, where we hoped to do some trekking but our trip was cut short by the fact tht james left the camera in the previous town, so a day trip here was all we could muster before we had to head back to Nha trang to locate the camera!!! (which we did, in a russian restaurant, good ol' communism and yana's country folk!). Dalat was nice, we had a whirlwind day trip around the town, taking in the Chicken village (named after a big 7 spurred mystical chicken monument in the village), where we got shown the local coffee plantations. Then on to the royal summer palace, which was more like a 2 story post war soviet block house that was cheaply erected. hmmm, not what we imagined! From there we took a trip to the valley of love, a cheezy place for couples to hang out and have pictures taken with plastic animals and anything heartshaped. Then onto the crazy house, a hotel containing many themed rooms ranging from the funny to the whacky, all encased in a wierd, concrete tree structure. Our trip included a waterfall, a pine forest with lake and a beautiful pagoda where we learnt more about buddhism in Vietnam. Oh and we also got to hang out with a hippie who never got over woodstock (and to be fair, should never have left!!!)
Our last stop on our open bus ticket had us terminate in Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City. One night was clearly enough for us and we left the next day. This city really felt empty to us, even if it was filled to the brim with traffic. But we were entertained by Karol, a nice chap who kept us laughing for our short stay in the city. Good luck on your trip mate!
We decided to try our luck down on the Mekong delta in the very south of Vietnam. A day spent on a nice long boat to ourselves as we were piloted around the floating markets and local villages as our guide/captain made us all kinds of gifts made from palm leaves and such. Considering we were boating by 5:30am, we had a great time and rounded the trip off with a spot of watermelon fishing off the side of the boat, picking up dropped market produce that lay floating in the river, probably the best thing in all of Vietnam!!!!
To take us over the border into Cambodia, we chose the four hour boat trip option up the Mekong, which proved to be a dull waste of time that was far more expensive than the sights were worth. Avoid it. But we had a nice little stay in Chau Doc though waiting for the boat and eating lots of fake meat goodness.

                                                                       Ha Long Bay
                               In the cave at Ha Long Bay- absolutely the biggest cave we ever seen

              Cat Ba island in Ha long bay - James made friends with random kid, Yana gathered shells

               Our guide, the chinese guy from Hangover. He was the master of karaoke and vegetable carving
                                                        Hanoi - being all artsy and shiz
                                                              Hue city - The Citadel

                                                Hue city - Thich Quang Duc's home pagoda

                                                          This thing was the size of a palm

                     Another temple in Hue, vietmanese temples appreciate the Buddhist swastika
 Hoi An city - you can get all kinds of souvenirs, but mainly people come here to have a suit or a dress made

                                              Nice display in the river for the special cat day

                                                                       Artsy an that, innit
                       The Earth Hour - non stop Earth Song by MJ AAA aaa AAAA aaaaaa AAAAa
                                                                     My Son ruins

                                                       The biggest waves in Nha Trang
                                                 Head Monk of Vietman, 90 years old.
                    Reclining Buddha. Buddha on a Tuesday, he does a different pose each day.
                      Vinpearl communist resort, where all the water slides have scheduled times
                                                     A massive aquarium, it was pretty rad
                                                            Not as rad as the Mermaid
                                       Dalat - the waterfall. You get down to it by rollercoaster!!!

Crazy House

                                                                 Hard working monk

                                                                    The valley of love
                                        Saigon - The number One attraction The Crazy Bufallo
                                                          Number two - Crazy traffic
                                                        Can Tho on the mekong delta.

                            One of our captain made presents, he made this while steering with his legs

  Messy Mekong river, there was plastic everywhere, so we had to have "take the plastic of the propeller and put it back in the river" breaks every 10 mins. And also we saw 3 dead dogs

                                                                          Floating market

                                                                          Chau Doc

                                                            On our way to Cambodia