Cone-hats, pushbikes and stir-fried dog!!
17.10.2004 - 02.11.2004 31 °C
After saying farewell to Glenn at Phuket boat harbour, I got a ride into Phuket itself and found a hotel for the night then got up early the next morning for the short flight back to Bangkok. My flight to Hanoi the next morning was very early and I left the hotel room I was sharing with a girl I met on the airport transfer bus at about 3am. I snuck out of the room and waited on the street for yet another airport shuttle bus. The lady-boys were out in full force and appeared to have no shortage of clientele.
The plane arrived fairly early and I transferred into Hanoi. The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of people riding pushbikes. And, yes, they do wear cone-shaped hats!! The streets were full of people selling everything imaginable. In the afternoon I took a trip to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum but was disappointed to find that 'Uncle Ho' was away on his annual pilgrimmage to Russia for a spot of taxidermi-ing. After a disappointingly 'western' dinner, I met up with my tour group and we went off to see a water puppett show (picture Punch and Judy in a swimming pool!!). Most entertaining.
Street markets in Hanoi
The next evening we took an overnight train south to Hue where we spent two days exploring the palaces and narrow streets. We had dinner one night at a restaurant run by a man whose children are all deaf. All the children work in the restaurant and it made for an interesting night. One or two of his children are quite accomplished artists and we bought quite a few of their paintings at ridiculously low prices.
We then left for Hoi An, another overnight train trip. The trains were less comfortable than the trains in Thailand, but the beverage carriages seemed always to be in fine form!!
Arriving in Hoi An, we wasted no time in legging it to the best reputed tailor in town and putting in our order for clothes. The whole process of having clothes made is incredibly quick. I had two suits,a jacket, a dress and a skirt made in less than a day. You simply point at a picture in any of the magazines in the store, they measure you up ( I steadfastly refused to make the same soul-destroying mistake I made in Thailand and declined to hazard a guess at my size), then tell you to come back in two hours at which point they have a pinned-together version of your soon-to-be clothes. They then re-measure you and tell you to go away and come back in three hours, and when you return all your clothes are ready and waiting in a suit bag. The only problem being that you have to carry around the suit bag for the next month!!
With my tailors in Hoi An
From Hoi An we went to Ngah Tranh and then across to Whale Island for three days of uninterrupted swimming, reading, volleyballing, scuba diving bliss. My volleyball skills were never anything to write home about and my arms paid the price for about three days afterwards. The scuba diving was brilliant and ironically the guy who took me was a friend of a friend from Brisbane so I think I scored a longer mates-rates dive. Brilliant coral and fish.
From Ngah Tranh again we took another overnight train further south to Ho Chi Minh City and then further on south for three days on the Mekong Delta. The Delta communities are amazing in how they conduct all their business from their boats. Each boat sells one type of item (eg pineapples) and attached to the front of the boat is a really tall pole with a pineapple attached to the top of it so that people can see from a way away that the boat sells pineapples.
Markets on the Mekong
The people live in huts and lodges on the banks of the Mekong and we spent two nights in homestays with the local people. The second homestay had an enormously fat snake in a tank that they treated like a pet. I freaked out when they put it around my neck and I thought I might have to perform CPR on myself. Am not a snake person. Or a spider person. Or a praying mantis person.
Bec and a very big snake
On returning to Ho Chi Minh City, I had a week to myself before having to head back to Australia. I spent a day out at the Cu Chi tunnels (the tunnels used to hide during the vietnam War). The tunnels are incredibly narrow and are pitch black. Someone I had met previously had told me to take my headtorch and admittedly I felt like a bit of a git (and was paid out accordingly by the people in my tunnel group) but 10 metres into the dark, winding tunnels I was soon everybody's new best friend.
In the Cu Chi tunnels
For $1US it's possible to buy a bullet and then choose which gun you want to shoot it with. Initially I wanted to use the semi-automatic but the gun guard wasn't convinced that I would remain standing afterwards so I lost my gun-firing virginity to an AK47 and a pair of shoddy ear muffs, most likely lifted from an airplane in the late eighties. I was unilaterally deaf for almost a week afterwards.
I spent a day trawling through the massive Ben Tanh market in central Ho Chi Minh City and bought so many wooden women, placemats, chopsticks, Ralph/Polo/Rolex/Cartier/CK rip-offs that I needed to but another bag (Polo rip-off carry-on size suitcase on wheels for 150000 dong/ 7 quid/ $17Aus) to get it all home in. Pho 2000 (famous for having been visited by Bill Clinton) was good for yummy noodles.
Hat weaver at Ben Tanh markets.
I spent another day museum and zoo hopping and found the War Remnants Museum to be quite disturbing. I had my hair cut and my nails done and had the best and longest scalp and head massage I've ever had.
The people of Vietnam are smiley, happy people. A hundred year old lady (or thereabouts) walked out and stopped an entire street of traffic so that I could cross a busy road. Boiled snake has the same texture as the insides of grapes but tastes repulsive. Dog tastes like stringy beef (sorry dog lovers, I didn't do it on purpose. It was cleverly disguised in a stirfry). There is an enormous market for bootleg books (photocopies of actual books) and I bought about thirty bootleg CDs, all of which work. Locally made beer is incredibly cheap and is served in plastic jugs and drunk while sitting on child size plastic chairs at child size plastic tables on the side of the street. The cyclo riders know the town like the back of their hands and will wait an entire day just to take you back to your hotel. Life in Vietnam appears simple, yet complicated at the same time.