Day 326, Mon 30th Dec
It turns out the train ticket office is mere metres away from our hostel, so we sorted all of our Vietnamese train tickets and then took an afternoon tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, where the Viet Cong hid out, and struck from, during the war. The (enlarged) tunnels were interesting to see, but the tour was dull and formulaic – Keir said it would have been better to get the old men who had been involved to take the tours – and I am sure their stories would have made the place come alive. The video afterwards kept referring to ‘hero American killers’ – so no toning it down there! I am not sure if there were any of our US brethren present, if so, they kept it to themselves…
The tunnels were interesting, if only in the ingenuity of fellow man & woman in how to maim & kill each other using simple tools. Crawling around the tunnels, which had been enlarged for westerners, was enlightening; made me think that the Yanks who used to volunteer to go down them to search out VC were even braver than I thought.
It was, not surprisingly, very one sided propaganda; you wouldn’t have thought that the Yanks were fighting alongside southern Vietnamese troops. Just very sad all the loss….
Day 327, Tue 31st Dec
Up at the crack of dawn for our train to Phan Thiet, nearly disastrous as we had to leave appallingly early and had been locked in by the hostel owner – fortunately our attempt to escape woke said owner who let us out – hooray! Then in a Vinasol taxi – which I think had an ok meter – to the station and on the train to meet Efrain and Dina again!
I enjoyed some very enlightening conversations with a couple of old men on the train about Ho Chi Minh, freedom of speech and Vietnam’s special brand of communism while Keir slept, who knew that a train ride could be so educational! Reached Mui Ne at about 11:30, both knackered and hungry and not really ready to engage in the kite surfing that Efrain had planned; I had to have a nap in our lovely room instead:-).
Cocktails on the balcony with Efra and Dina, then a quick shower and off for some great seafood; with unexpected, and not so great, durian sauce on the side – at least I have tried it now – very weird flavour, very, very bad smell! And then the Dragon bar (I think) with Dina’s cousin and her boyfriend for some GREAT mango daiquiris and some dancing to ABBA with lots of Russians – and not just the ones we had brought with us
Unfortunately I was still shattered, plus worse for wear after the evening’s wine + rum combination, and started to fall asleep around 2:30. Keir gallantly took me home. Oh dear…
The train to Phan Thiet was meant to be along a beautiful stretch of coast & countryside… so beautiful that I slept most of the way- Doh!
Fantastic to meet up with Efrain & Dina, plus her cousin & boyfriend. Had a nice evening (although in a very Russian manner) before I had to escort the young Miss T home from too many cocktails… about 2 cocktails I think it was! How the mighty have fallen!
Day 328, Wed 1 Jan
Ah, the glories of having to get up and travel on New Year’s Day. Luckily the hangover is not too bad, I am just tired… a rather expensive triple taxi ride, train and plane later, we got to Hoi An around 9pm – I am not convinced the Mailinh taxi’s are ok either, we shared the cab with a German couple that we happened to meet at the airport and paid 260,000 dong for half the fare, yet the trip back was only 280k for the two of us! Is every taxi driver in Vietnam a crook?
Yes, very dodgy taxis but just glad to get there… this part of the trip was planned as a bit of a rollercoaster – 4 places in about 8 days!
Day 329, Thurs 2 Jan
Hoi An is a lovely little town and I really wish we had longer here, the sights, on the other hand, are not that inspiring. Perhaps if we had not been to China they would have been great, but all of the houses and temples were so tiny that there was not so much to look at, the charm was in the wandering around.
We bumped into the nice German couple from last night’s taxi – Kerstin & Elmer – lucky, as we had not quite gotten to swap details – and went out to dinner at The Little Menu Restaurant. It was our third choice, but the green tea crème brûlée was worth a visit alone. On the down side, they clearly eat very early here; we were last in the restaurant and then managed to be last in our post-prandial bar too
Lot’s of beautiful old houses converted gracefully into shops, restaurants or bars… T was very much at home. The river meanders slowly by so we had drinks & watched it go by, browsed & found a bookshop for T to swap some books. Luckily met up with Kerstin & Elmer, & T’s choice of restaurant was again spot on.
Managed to get a morning trip in to My Son – the old Cham capital. Some beautiful carvings but not a lot left after American bombing in the war; in hindsight we’d have probably given this a miss.
Day 330, Fri 3 Jan
Our hotel here was incredible, $8.99 a night for a double room with bathroom and the most phenomenal service I can remember. We were met at the train station, put into a pre-paid cab, greeted by the manager at the start of the alley in which the hotel is situated, and our bags were whisked to our room while we were given complimentary fruit and a welcome drink. When we reached our room, we had rose petals on our bed. What a find!
Yes, as T said – hotel was a little faded but 5 star service – absolutely fabulous! Managed to get out & about & see the Citadel & what’s left of the ancient moated city & palaces of the Ngung Emperors – the Vietnam war destroyed a lot of it unfortunately.
Day 331, Sat 4 Jan
One day in Hué, and the train tonight, so we decided we would visit the Pagoda & the Citadel by cyclo – a sort of one person sized chair, into which two people can squeeze, with a cyclist at the back – in the morning followed by a tour of the Royal tombs in the afternoon. A slight ‘mistake’ by the tour agency meant our guide showed up half an hour early while we were eating and in the ensuing attempt to make it right we were each popped on to the back of a moto taxi and whizzed out to join the tour – a result as we missed the dull bus journey and had the rather more ‘exhilarating’ motorbike ride instead. Fab!
The tombs were really interesting, completely different architecturally and fascinating to visit, we could have done with a little longer at the last, and best (for us, anyway) tomb, Khai Dinh, but were unexpectedly switched to a different tour involving a boat trip home – not actually that great due to the miserable weather, but I had actually fancied this trip, just
baulked at the cost. The upshot was that we got the best of both worlds for the lowest tour price available – result. All this and then we caught an overnight train to Hanoi
A very productive day… before we then got on another night train.
Day 332, Sun 5 Jan
Woke up in Hanoi after an epic sleep and a pleasant chat with Brett (Australian) & Robi (French), we seem to do pretty well with our train cabin sharers! The traffic here seems even worse than Saigon, at least in the old quarter – it is virtually impossible to cross the road without serious life risk and one can rarely walk on the pavement due to it being used as a moto parking zone; insanity…
After a lovely breakfast in the Ladybird restaurant we went for an afternoon constitutional to check out some of the 36 streets, each of which houses a particular trade. Then off to the water puppet show – odd, but good, I especially liked the fire-breathing dragons swimming around the stage – and dinner.
Walking the streets was fun; T is not that aware of the traffic around her… so had some near misses! Loved the fact that each street had a different trade – particularly liked watching the ironmongers/ blacksmiths & the guys making ‘tin’ boxes & the like – as per the cabinets you find in bathrooms. The water-puppet show was cool… the water pool was the stage & all the puppets appeared out from it with the puppeteers behind a curtain – they even had fire-breathing dragons – Gerry Anderson eat your heart out!
One rant – every m*ther-f*cker around me was taking pictures – if you weren’t blinded by flashes then all you could see were the screens of phones & cameras held up in the air to get a better angle for the video. If you did this in London you’d be thrown out… quite rightly! Where’s my sawn-off when I need it!
Day 333, Mon 6 Jan
Well, today was going to be Halong Bay day, but as the weather reports are inconsistent and it would involve an 8 hour return trip for 4 hours on a boat in possible rain, we decided to bin it and see some more sights instead – the highlight of which was the 11th century Temple of Literature – somehow Keir’s usually unfailing sense of direction does not work in Hanoi, so we also spent much of the day walking in the wrong direction…
We also had some very bad news this evening, when Keir’s grandfather, Tom, passed away.
The temple was a highlight – it’s actually a university (established in 10 something – before the battle of Hastings!) where the Vietnamese would come to do their final administrative & poetry exams. The emperor initially actually presided over the final exams – very impressive! So when Harold was getting one in the eye & William was busy subjugating the Saxons, destroying their history & building his castles, the Vietnamese were passing exams in poetry & the like!
The day finished badly with the news of my Grandfather; he’s been poorly for a while but been struggling on. It’s hard not to be there with the rest of my family to support them & I seem never to be in the right place when any of my grandparents have passed away….
Day 334, Tues 7 Jan
Despite ambitious plans to the contrary, we managed to merely to check out and have breakfast before having to catch the airport shuttle for our flight back to Bangkok. Well, I guess I did start reviewing my CV at least, just didn’t get very far with it…
Sadly, the hotel I had chosen in Bangkok – due to the need to take another flight from a different airport tomorrow – was in the middle of nowhere, thus leaving me with no chance to go to the night market (one of the better ones) and little option but to have dinner in the local ladyboy bar – it was ok, but flouncing and hair tossing featured more heavily than table service; at least the sort we were after
Not a lot to say – hotel was nice but in a crap part of town.