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Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

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Ho Chi Minh is Vietnams largest city, and although in places it is quite dirty it's arguably the most modern city we visited in Vietnam. One of the most important things we wanted to achieve in our time here was to sort out our Thai visa. To enter Thailand from a land boarder only gives you a 15 day visa, and to enter by air you gain a 30 day Visa. However we wanted longer than this so decide to apply for a 60 day visa at the Thai embassy before entering. The first day was taken up getting pictures taken, buying bus tickets and changing money into U.S Dollars, which are pretty much a second currency here in South East Asia. 

The following day we decided to visit the Vietnam War Museum, in the courtyard outside the shoebox shaped building were several American military aircraft and a few tanks that were obviously captured intact. 

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The Museum is a three story building, the ground level and almost lobby area concentrates on explaining the reaction of the war around the world. There were pictures from most of the big cities all over the world of people demonstrating against American force in Vietnam. There were also examples of political propaganda from communist political parties around the world, who were against the war and in support of the communist North Vietnam.

The first floor was slightly more grim, showing the devastation of the war on the Vietnamese countryside and it's people. Explanations of the different battles or cases of war crimes committed by the Americans. In particular the use of chemical weapons that had never been tested, in particular Napalm and Chemical Defoliants (Dioxin). The people who survived Napalm attacks were left with horrendous burns and disfigurements. The Chemical defoliants were used to destroy huge areas of the forests in order to expose the enemy. However, this chemical once exposed to it, either directly or by contaminated drinking water caused a generation of children to be born after the war with terrible birth defects, this was even the case for some American and Australian soldiers who were exposed. There were examples of some of the children who had been effected by the Dioxin which was quite depressing.    

Something i found interesting about the museum was the different viewpoint that it offered of the war. As a westerner my understanding of the Vietnam war was guided by the films that depict it, however these being American Hollywood war films tend to convey an obvious pro America slant. However, the museum, while being bias understandably to the Vietnamese,  helped me understand the war without Hollywood tinted glasses. There was an interesting exhibition of war photography too, it was quite a sombre collection of work as all the photographers died during the conflict. 

Photography is not forbidden in the museum, however it seemed in bad taste to be taking pictures of the subject matter, so Ho Chi Minh wasn't much of a place for photos.

While walking back to our hotel we stopes by the central market and had a little look round. Opposite is a square where people meet to play badminton or ball games, as well as a game I have only seen in South East Asia which is played with a handmade weighted shuttlecock which you kick with your feet, the intention is to keep it off the ground between the group of you playing. While the girls talked to the Vietnamese girls, me and Smith got involved with the game which was fun.

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(an example of the busy roads and the powerlines, all of them looked like this tangled chaos!)

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The following day we decided to go to the Water Park which was a laugh, I always regress into a small child when I go to water parks and this was no exception. That evening we parted company with the Germans, we were all sorry to say goodbye, but we would meet again in Cambodia!

The following day we would be leaving our first stop in South East Asia, next stop Cambodia!!!

Posted by Christian25 07:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Central Vietnam (Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang)

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We arrived in Hue after a long bus journey through the night in pretty cramped conditions. Surprisingly we were not feeling too tired and decided to head straight out after dumping our stuff. After walking for a while and being accosted by cyclo touts (bikes with a seat at the front that tourists can be peddled around on by often poor scrawny Vietnamese men). After a while we arrived at our intended destination, The citadel, which is a huge complex built by the Nguyen Dynasty from 1805 to 1945. The citadel is also referred to as the forbidden city, but it bares only a mild resemblance to the forbidden city in Beijing. A vast amount of the citadel was destroyed during heavy bombardment during the Vietnamese American war as Hue was an important military point. I really liked the fact that it was slightly run down an that nature had taken over in places, it had a great character.
   
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After a napping we got ready and went out for some drinks at a bar just down the road, me and Smith decided to challenge two guys (Henrich and Philipp, both from Germany) to a game of pool and after talking to the guys we realised they were staying in the same dorm as us at our hostel. After further discussion we realised we were heading virtually the same direction through South East Asia. However, they had bought motorbikes in Hanoi and were doing it all on two wheels. Both of them had spent time in Ireland at a private school so their English is pretty perfect, and Henrich has even got an Irish twang which is quite amusing! 

The following day we decide we would go to the beach, which excited us all as we have been so primarily stuck in the stuffy cities. We arranged with the hostel someone to take us as it was a good 20 min drive away. We arrived at a quiet white sandy stretch of beach with only a few deck chairs and dumped our stuff and ran into the mellow surf! Although we had done the Halong Bay trip, this was our first outing to the beach and it felt, to me, quite liberating. I had been quite desperate to just sit and stare at the waves with the sand between my toes. I spent a while walking the shoreline watching green soft shelled crabs the size of tangerines scuttling at speed to avoid me and being dragged out by the surf. It was a pretty perfect day as it for-filled in a very modest way what I had pictured the coastline of South East Asia to be like, we had some Seafood from an open sided Restaurant which just tipped it off!

That evening we went out again with the Germans and a few others from the hostel, after a while we had got the whole bar virtually in on a game of Killer Pool and even the owner and his staff were getting involved, we were putting in each, 10,000 dong and after the first three rounds I had won two picking up around 200,000 an a XXL T-shirt from the owner! It was pretty amusing as it sounds like a considerable amount of money but in reality that's about £6 and a T-Shirt that is massively oversized for my small stature!

The following day we were back on the road again, heading to Hoi An, we exchanged details with Henrich and Philipp so they could meet us up again. Hoi An is closer to the coastline, but the main town an it's famous old town is still about a 20 to 25 min bike ride away. When we arrived, staying at a hotel as it's more of a resort, the room offered a luxury that we hadn't had for some time. There was cable TV, a mini bar, our own Air-con, and most importantly for Kailey a Bath (not that I'm saying she needed one!!!). Both me and Smith not being as excited about the bath left her to enjoy a soak while we took full advantage of the free bike service the hotel offered and cycled down to see what the shoreline was like! Greeted by palm trees and beyond a white sandy beach, it looked like a definite day out!

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That evening the Germans turned up and we decide to head out and grab some food and some drinks in the old town. By the day the old town is full of tourists looking round the little galleries but most famously the tailors. I expect there are famous places in India for tailors, or even Hong Kong, which we may have missed, but Hoi An is pretty ridiculous. Lot of the different groups we have made friends with and keep bumping into, including the Germans all got different clothing made, from suits, to tweed jackets, to dresses and even shoes they'll make you anything. Hoi An post office must be one of the busiest in Vietnam with all the different travellers and tourists sending packages of clothes home. We decided not to get in on all the excitement.

Hoi An apart from it's nice beach and old town us a place to relax, and in all honesty that's exactly what we did, which means I can't offer you anything massively cultural to wet your palette, but it's a lovely town to mooch around an look at all the old buildings.

The next stop heading south is Nha Trang, again a seaside town, more so resorty that Hoi An, but there to break up the journey to the last stop in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as everyone in Vietnam still calls it. Nha Trang apart from the large group of people we met and some good nights out wasn't anything to write home about. Unfortunately this seaside town experiences a freak rainy season between November and December, so the weather apart from maybe the first day was pretty poor. Staying at our hostel though was two girls, Emma and Zoe who we had been bumping onto since Hanoi. The Germans, and Three girls, Sammy, Leanne and another Emma. The first day Sammy suggested we went and experience a spa and natural hot springs, where we had a mud bath and enjoyed mucking about at the pool. That evening we all met up, had some food and headed out to experience the town by night.

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(a floating village we passed During the boat trip)

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The following day, collectively experiencing hangovers we had the wise idea to go on a boat trip. The boat took us to a few islands offering different water sports as well as the opportunity to jump off the boat, apart from the poor weather, although still warm it turned out to be a fun day. For the rest of our stay in Nha Trang, dodging showers we didn't go a great deal instead rested up before making our move on to Ho Chi Minh!

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(views of the vietnamese countryside from the coach)

Posted by Christian25 07:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hanoi

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Hanoi came as a shock initially as we stood outside the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel with out bags. It had only been a two hour plane ride and a relatively easy bus ride into Hanoi. The whole front of the hostel was opened up and the place was bustling with young westerners either checking in sweating and lugging their massive rucksacks about or people drinking and eating, with loud music booming out. I had been a little disappointed that for the first few months of our travels we had bumped  into very few fellow travellers and now there was so many people who were clearly doing the same thing in one place I couldn't work out if I liked it or not. 

We checked in and decided to come down for a beer and quickly struck up convocation with and Australia called Chris. He recommended that we went with him to a small bar round the corner which sold the local home brewed beer called 'bia hoi'. Once arriving we were greeted to a narrow cross roads with motorcycles zooming in all directions and two opposite corners packed with people sitting on little plastic stools up to mini tables drinking the local brew. It was actually very nice and we ordered several round as well as some street food and conversed about each others travels so far, later crossing over the road to sit with the Vietnamese after they ran out of beer on the primarily western side, typical westerners.

The first whole day we went and explored the city which is ruled by the motorcycle. Crossing the road becomes a game of chicken, even more so due to the fact that although a pavement exists, it isn't used for pedestrians, rather parking the mopeds or motorbikes that are not currently choking the roads! Hanoi is a maze of similar looking streets which have have shops spilling out onto the street and a sticky heat that makes you feel a little dirty, but you soon get used to it.

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We have done lots of tours and trips through China, but in Hanoi we didn't feel like doing too much but becoming comfortable with our new surroundings. However, one excursion we had repeatedly been recommended was the Halong Bay trip. It's a place that has been shortlisted for the latest list of the 7 natural wonders of the world. 

It took a four our coach ride to get to the Halong port where we picked up our boat. Once aboard we were soon treated to a delicious lunch of all different Vietnamese dishes, many of which were seafood as we cruised for and hour and a half or so to eventually moor up in Halong Bay. Once we had anchored up in the bay we were able to cool off by jumping off the top of the boat. Later on we went canoeing round the bay, exploring the caves and visiting floating fishing villages, arriving back at our boat at dusk to another tasty meal after we had showered up. The evening wasn't as picturesque as the bay and descended into some drunken antics with the guides getting us playing drinking games, the rest of the evening became a bit of a blur, probably due to the long day and all the excitement.

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To cut a long story short I woke up in high spirits, had a nice breakfast and went up on top deck to soak up the morning rays. The other boat we were moored next to was continuing the trip further into the islands, bit our boat was heading back with us and a small group of people who had decided one day would be sufficient. I'm not sure if it would have been beneficial for me to have stayed, but due to being one of the last people up the night before my condition deteriorated on the journey back to the port. Boats and four hour coaches do nothing for a hangover, especially one that starts at midday because the initial good feeling when you have woken up is because your still drunk! After such a cultural and educational trip so far it's all a bit blasphemous to be describing getting myself into a bit of a pickle, but it was a funny memory (from what I can remember) and I'm sure you can pull something cultural out of my experience! 

One of the most interesting meals we have had so far on the road was at a grubby looking restaurant, with small plastic chairs and tables. The menu gives you a choice of different plates of raw meat (we chose beef) and vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, aubergine, garlic which you then cook yourself over a hot plate on the middle of the table, it was a really fun experience and also very tasty when put in one of the fresh rolls that they offer. 

We bought from our hostel in Hanoi a bus ticket with four stops on it that can be used within a month heading south for the equivalent of about £30, you can't go wrong, next stop Hue!

Posted by Christian25 07:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged travel vietnam asia Comments (0)

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