We took the bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh city where we spent a couple of days. HCMC or Saigon (as everyone still calls it) is quite mental. Crossing the road is an extreme sport as there are thousands of mopeds on the road and no pedestrian crossings. The technique is to walk out in front of the oncoming traffic very slowly and hope that they go around you. This takes a little bit of nerve at first and David and I found that the best method was to use the local people as a human shield, even so it was still fairly terrifying. The stuff that they managed to get onto their mopeds is also impressive. We saw a chest of drawers, very large panes of glass, dead pigs and a cage full of puppies all being ferried in this way.
While we were in Saigon we decided to get our Chinese visas to avoid any worry in the future. We had heard all sorts of tales of confusion like having to book all your transport and accommodation in advance but it turned out to be very simple and much the same as applying for any other visa apart form being considerably more expensive, especially if you are American, which thankfully we aren´t. Along with that excitement we also went to see the War Remnants museum which was interesting but quite depressing (again). We mainly learnt that the Americans are bastards and how lots of Vietnamese people are still suffering because of the chemical weapons used. So for the second time in a day we were glad not to be American and that the UK didn´t get involved (although probably only because we were broke) which gives us one less thing to be ashamed of. There was an interesting photography exhibition and one particularly disturbing photo of an American soldier holding up the legless torso of a young Vietnamese chap. Because we had to collect our Chinese visas we couldn´t go and see the Cu Chi Tunnels which was a shame and instead we wandered about the city and visited various shopping centres.
Then it was off to the beach at Mui Ne. Unfortunately we were both a little hungover for the bus ride after a night of wine and gossiping. Mui Ne was very nice but the beach was totally overrun with kite surfers which meant that it was a difficult to swim and that got on my nerves a bit. We stayed across the road from a very posh resort which was great because we got to nick their sun loungers and umbrellas on the beach and no one said a word because we are European. We went on a trip to see some sand dunes (about as exciting as it sounds) and wandered up a little stream to some waterfalls. There were also some squirrels in a cage which I wanted to liberate but David wouldn´t let me. The highlight for me though was the giant tiger prawns. I have never seen the like and they were very tasty and cheap.
Against better judgement we decided that it would be a good idea to take a 24 hour bus ride to Hue. It started badly when the bus turned up an hour and a half late and then drove 200 meters down the road only to stop for “lunch” for half an hour. We had to change bus twice and because we were late arriving for the first connection we ended up getting the worst seats on the bus for the “sleeping” section of the journey. This meant that we were stuffed in the back of the bus where every bump feels like it´s going to shatter your spine and you are expected to sleep cuddled up to three strangers, not great when you smell as bad as I did by that point. David spent the night spooning an old Vietnamese lady who looked terrified and tried to wedge herself as far into the corner as possible.
Fortunately our home in Hue was lovely and we caught up on lost sleep the following night. We didn´t have a lot of time in Hue (only a day really) so we decided to let someone else do the organising and take a city tour which cost a whole three pounds each. It was quite interesting but it was more of the same tombs and temples which are becoming a little dull. We did see some filming for a movie at one temple which was entertaining and we met a nice English couple from Carlisle.
Because of our bus experience we decided to fly from Hue to Hanoi, with time running out it seemed like a good idea. Hanoi is again quite mental, I stubbed my toe quite badly (by kicking David) trying to avoid a collision with a motorbike. When I say stubbed, I mean bent the toenail back until it bled quite a lot. David brought a cool laptop bag (probably fake but still a bargain) and we went to a water puppet show which is one of the naffest things I´ve ever seen. I quite liked it for it´s cheesiness but David was less convinced and slept through most of it.
Again, to save time and hassle, we took a tour to Halong Bay and spent a night on a boat and a night on Cat Ba island. The boat was brilliant, excellent food and we had a really nice group. The evening got a little messy and three older Australian ladies decided to indulge in Karaoke (which the Vietnamese love) until one in the morning.So, of course we absolutely had to drink lots of booze to numb the agony and them maybe a little rice wine which tastes like (and probably is) pure alcohol. I may even have sung a bit, dear god the shame!
The next day we lost half the group who were returning to Hanoi and were left with just seven of us (an American couple and a Dutch girl with her mum and uncle). There was a choice of cycling or trekking and because there weren´t enough bikes and I´m not a very proficient cyclist we decided to trek. This turned out to be not such a good choice. The path was basically up a very big hill which a panoramic view from the top. It started off easily enough with steps but soon deteriorated into a muddy, rocky trail which you had to climb up. There were also several sections of rusty ladders to scale to get you over the steepest bits. It was actually very dangerous and there were lots of people doing it who shouldn´t have been. One old guy in our group looked very ill and pale when he got to the top, the woman in front of us was having a panic attack about the climbing sections and there was also a chap in flip flops of all things because he had been told by his guide that they were appropriate footwear for climbing.
When we got to the top it was very pretty. There was a big old rusty tower which David climbed up but I drew the line at (apparently it really was falling apart). We decided to go back down (a bit of a daunting prospect) and just as we set off a man coming up the hill screamed. I thought that he had been bitten by a snake but it turned out that he had dislocated his hip and couldn´t move. It really is not a good place to hurt yourself. Because he couldn´t move we were stuck above him for a while until some blokes managed to manoeuvre him into a better position. Even then we didn´t want to go because the man´s tour guide was useless and being completely unhelpful. He wanted to make him walk down even though the poor guy couldn´t move and then all he kept saying was that he had told him not to do it (the guy was in his late 50s). Like that´s helpful and not totally beside the point! Infuriating! Fortunately someone had a mobile which worked and a girl who worked for the red cross ended up calling the American embassy to sort something out. There was much talk of a helicopter evacuation which made David laugh (they were American and saying the army could re-route a helicopter from army exercises in southern Thailand). Our limited help involved supplying a pen and some paper to write down phone numbers. It did mean that David lost his special pen which he has had since we started our travels which was a bit sad (it had six different colours… and he used them all) but a good cause. It seemed that there was nothing else we could do and we were late to meet everyone else so we made our way back down, fortunately without incident. I did startle a crab however, and got very muddy. We were met halfway down by our lovely tour guide Tony who was worried about us and I´m sure would have been much more help than the other cretin. We also saw a doctor and some guys with a stretcher so hopefully the chap made it down shortly after us although it would have been an effort to carry a stretcher down that path.
Next, for some light relief, it was too Monkey Island were we saw a monkey drinking beer and generally harassing the tourists. Then we went back to the hotel for a rest and some dinner before having a walk around the town. While standing outside a shop waiting for David a large, black hairy spider the size of my fist ran over my foot. I didn´t even scream, it must have been the shock! The following morning we journeyed back to Hanoi via some more of beautiful Halong Bay. Shame about all the bloody tourists 🙂
Now we are in China where you can buy tasty ´snacks´ such as vacuum packed chickens feet and there´s sad looking hedgehogs waiting in cages outside restaurants.
Lots of love Sian (and David) xxx