A Travellerspoint blog

June 2008

Sweltering Vietnam

Hello everyone. It has been awhile since our last blog entry. We have been busy doing the travel thing and also have had some issues with slow internet connections. Besides, the internet cafes are not air conditioned and we haven't felt much like sitting in the sweltering heat long enough to write a blog. This entry has taken a few sittings to complete.

Dave and I took a bus from Phnom Phen, Cambodia to Sai Gon, Vietnam earlier this month. The bus trip was going well - air conditioning was working, seats were big enough, etc. All was well until we stopped at the mid point for lunch and when they tried to start the bus up again it wouldn't go into gear. We had to wait over an hour for a smaller bus to do two trips to drop us off at the Vietnam/Cambodia border which thankfully was only about 15 minutes away. The border crossing was a bit of a hassle with a lot of us standing around not knowing what to do but eventually we made it through (although this seems to be a common occurrence while traveling here). Then we were all jammed onto a smaller bus that had no air conditioning and not enough seats for everyone for the remaining 3 hours to Sai Gon. 3 people actually had to sit on Corona Beer boxes in the isle. We were thrilled when we finally made it to the city and into our hotel room. The no air conditioning thing wasn't too bad since we could open the windows and the breeze cooled us off enough. I also was dealing with a digestive issue in that I must have eaten something with bad bacteria in Cambodia and had spent the day before the bus trip just laying on the bed in the hotel room. I still wasn't feeling that great when we arrived in Sai Gon so for 2 days we really didn't do much except stay in the air con watching T.V. and eating at one of the many near by restaurants.

Sai Gon is a big city but instead of cars packing the roads here the scooter is king. So, pile up the kids, grab the kitchen sink or dog or whatever because they transport EVERYTHING by scooter! 5 people on a scooter is the most I have come across. For babies, we have actually seen high chairs strapped to the front of the seat behind the handle bars, but often we just see women holding their infants in one arm while driving with the other. Crossing the roads is a crazy experience here. You have to walk slowly and cautiously across the street and people will drive around you (hopefully). There are few lights and people hardly obey the traffic laws. This scares the living day lights out of me but I'm getting better with Dave's Cleveland city-boy help.

In Sai Gon there isn't a ton to see. We walked around a bit and went to the disturbing War Remants Museum which has a significantly different take on the "American War." Yep, that is what the war is called here in Vietnam. Seeing this perspective as an American is extremely strange to say the least. The museum has actual American tanks, planes, cannons as well as lots of pictures including pictures of victims of Agent Orange and other extremely disturbing war pictures. We also visited the Cu Chi tunnels which is about an hour or so outside of Sai Gon. The Cu Chi people used tunnels to fight against first the French and then against America. These tunnels were small but they widened one tunnel two times the size for westerners. Dave was brave and went through a portion of it but I opted out. He had to walk crouched over with bent knees though it - yikes can you say clausterphobia! His thighs were sore for 2 days after going through the tunnels. Before going into the forest where the tunnels are we were shown a video about the Cu Chi people and how they fought and killed many Americans. The video said that the Americans came to Vietnam "like a crazy batch of devils." They showed us the various guerrilla warfare traps that were used to hurt and kill their enemies. I can't imagine what it would be like for a Vietnam Veteran to return to this site where tourist are walking around talking and laughing looking at bomb craters and the devices used in battle and to be shown through the tunnel by an actual Cu Chi person. It was weird for me it must be flat out surreal for a Vet.

A non war related thing we did was visit a service at the Cao Dai temple. This religion is a combo of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. Victor Hugo is considered a saint! The temple is outrageously beautiful with tons of colors and decorative features like nothing we have seen and we have seen a lot of temples. All the worshippers walk in to the main temple area and they are all in white except for the chosen few representing the colors of Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism so it visually is stunning. Another thing we did in South Vietnam was take a two day one night trip to the Mekong Delta area. People here are extremely friendly. We spent the night and a day on the a boat and all along the river kids yelled hello to us and waived and smiled. The Mekong area was full of people who still depend completely on the river. Markets are on boats, people live either on boats or very near the river. It kind of feels like you are stepping back into time.

After returning to Sai Gon after our Mekong Trip we started heading north and flew to Nha Trang. This is a beach town and oddly enough is the location for the next Miss Universe pageant. They created a new road from the airport to downtown for "The Donald." I guess Mr. Trump will be staying at a 5 star cruise liner instead of a hotel in Nha Trang. All went well on the flight from Sai Gon to Nha Trang although we couldn't find our hotel and were hot and tired so we got on a bicycle taxi who didn't know where our hotel was either, even though he said he did, and kept trying to drop us off at other hotels so he could get a commission from the hotel for getting them business. He ended up dropping us off exactly where he picked us up. We eventually asked some women who were working for a restaurant for directions to our hotel and they were able to point us in the right direction. As we walked to our hotel this bicycle taxi guy walked right next to us saying something we couldn't understand. When we get to our correct hotel, the bicycle taxi guy tries to get a commission off our reserved hotel. Our hotel told him to basically buzz off. We know this because the receptionist who told him to buzz off spoke great English and told us what he wanted.

After Nha Trang we flew to Hoi An which so far is mine and Dave's favorite town we have visited. The town itself is a Unesco World Heritage sight due to its architecture. It was great just walking around the town and looking at the old buildings. Hoi An is also known for tailoring so Dave had a shirt made for him and I had a dress made. This took exactly one day and was pretty inexpensive when you consider that it was custom made for us. We also went to another Unesco world heritage sight nearby called My Son. These are ancient ruins of the Cham people. They actually were more intact before the Vietnam War but according to our guide, the VC used them to hide in and so therefore they were bombed by the Americans. There were several bomb craters and several bombs on display in this area.

After Hoi An we took a bus to Hue. Hue was ok but really not much more than a day is needed. It was the capital of the Nyguyen Dynasty until there was no more Vietnam royalty. It also is the site of the Tet Offensive. This took place in an area called the citadel that you can visit. The citadel used to have lots of buildings from the royalty days of Vietnam but unfortunately again war destroyed a lot of it. But, the ornate gates are still there along with several temples and buildings. Not far from Hue is where a lot of fighting took place during the Vietnam War. You can take a DMZ tour that will take you to the various war sites but we opted not to do this since we figured it will be a grassy hill where they would say - this is where a bloody battle took place. We talked with a man who actually did the DMZ tour and he said a lot of the bomb craters have been turned into rice fields.

After Hue we flew to Hanoi. We thought it would be cooler here since it is in the north of Vietnam but we could not have been more wrong. It is sooooo hot here. The heat is oppressive and draining. We really have to force ourselves sometimes to do things because all we want to do is sit in the air conditioned hotel room. And the stifling heat makes putting up with the little inconveniences and discomforts much more difficult, which there are a good amount of here in this very foreign country. But we keep stocked with bottled water and bought 2 of those fold-out Asian fans and went out to see the Hanoi sights. We took a city tour of Hanoi and visited "Uncle Ho's" mausoleum, various pagoda's, Vietnam's first university, etc. Ho Chi Minh's final will asked that they cremate his remains and spread them across Vietnam. However, because he was so revered by some they decided to ignore his wishes and embalm his body and put him on display for all to see. There was a massive line that we were in for about 45 minutes and when you go into the mausoleum you are sort of man handled along so as not to slow up the line. I know Lenin is also on display in Russia but this was just strange. What is it with communist leaders being embalmed and put on display?

One thing about Vietnam is that its beautiful country. Ha Long Bay is the perfect example of its beauty. We just took a 3 day 2 night trip through Ha Long Bay and to Cat Ba Island. There are hundreds of rocks jutting out from the water and it is stunning. We cruised around the bay and spent the first night on the boat. We were extremely hot during all of this as there was no air-con on the boat but thankfully there was a fan and I spent a few hours that night sleeping on the boat's top deck under the stars. The second night we spent in an air con hotel so we were in heaven and actually had a nice sleep. We slowly cruised back from Ha Long to the mainland earlier today and took a bus from the port to Hanoi.

Tonight our adventure continues with an overnight train ride to the hill station of Sapa. Our train leaves at 10:30 p.m. tonight and gets to Sapa around 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Not sure how much sleep we will get since we heard it was a bumpy ride but Sapa gets rave reviews from all the people we have spoken to that have been there.

We'll try to post some Vietnam photos when we get to Hong Kong in a week or so where they have air conditioning! We can't wait.

Till next time,

Lynette & Dave

lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 03:39 Comments (3)

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