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Sunshine

Arriving at Heathrow, on a the gray damp morning, my grin was from ear to ear. After 5/12 months I’d made it back home but Heathrow had never looked so good, I’d never been so happy to step off a plane. No one was hassling me, everything was familiar(even the naff carpets), I even did not mind the cold. Finally I made it to arrivals, and looking up I saw my sunshine and my spirits were lifted as I said wow one final time. I was home, warm and felt complete again.

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Vietnam – Hanoi Part 2

Good morning?

4.30am. That’s when the knock came. We were there. We were in Hanoi. I was barely awake. Staggering up, grabbing bags, people left the train for the cold morning air, and the blackness and the stillness. I wandered off, finding the station entrance when a wall of people started shouting ‘taxi’, ‘moped’, ‘mister’. I was not ready just yet, it was 4.40am, so using a few choice Anglo-Saxon words, I told them to go away and leave me alone. Wandering down the streets, the light ran out, and you suddenly realise you are in a random street, alone, in the dark, in a very foreign country. I thought I should get a lift after all. Finding a selection of moped men, I asked how much it was to my hotel and pointed on a map. After being quoted a quite ridiculous amount, I told them, again using the same choice Anglo-Saxon words, that that was too much and come talk to me when they had a better offer. After a few rounds of polite negotiation, we were off (I was actually guiding the driver most of the way) and was dropped at my closed hotel. Feeling tired and just wanting sleep, a light was on at a hotel the road. Finnly i’d found somewhere new to stay, and got back to bed.

 

Saturday night

Finally waking, I slumbered out back on to the streets of Hanoi, and finished off my site seeing at the war museum (still 100 of kids), and back to the guest house for a powernap. After all it was Saturday night, my last Saturday night, so I should see some bars in Hanoi. Finding a bar that was recommended, it had a few westerners in, but was mainly young, hip Vietnamese. the pool table suddenly was covered, full bottle of Spirits were placed on it with little signs saying reserved, people came in found their bottle and mixers, drank and danced to western music. The bar was very busy, but was fun seeing a completely different culture having a night out. the bar closed early so befriending some westerners, we went to another smaller bar to carry on drinking. That was enough for me, I staggered back to my guest house. On the way I was again befriended by a lady on a moped, who I told politely and repeatedly, again using those Anglo-Saxon words, to go away. changing tack, I told her I was not interested, but if she had say ‘yes’ to the last question I asked her, I would have been quite shocked!!! Sometime during the night, my camera got stolen.

 

Hoa Lu & Tam Coc

 The minivan journey seemed to take forever, but I had a sore head and was annoyed that my camera was gone. After about 2 1/2 hours, we got to Hoa Lu. The weather was rubbish with low clouds, but from the flat valley floor, limestone tower shot into the clouds above. hoa Lu was once a Capital, but all there is left now is a single temple. Although stunning, I’d had enough of temples. next was the bike ride, which the guide was slightly confused about. It seems the bike ride option is not taken hardly ever. Even thought the weather was rubbish, it was only a few miles, so grabbing a bike (which had a flat), grabbing another bike (no brakes) I finally got a crap bike and set off. Everyone else was in the van as the guide, myself, and a chubby 12 year old Thai Girl, we were off. the scenery was stunning, with the limestone again looking like giant oblong rocks had been dropped from the sky and just stuck upright in the ground. We cycled along the road, through mud, through tunnels into to secret looking valleys. After a few miles, I was getting a little tired. Unfortunately the expected 20minute ride turned out to be around 1hr. We arrived to the rest of our group, who were all patiently waiting for us in Tam Coc. But this place was really breathtaking. Of all the places I’ve been, I managed to say ‘wow’ one last time.

 

row, row row your boat, gently with your feet.

The Limestone thrust skywards, creating mountains on either side of the river, with lust greenery on the valley floor. As you walk to the river, there are 50 or 60 small boats floating around, someone on the bank assigning people to boats. the small boat comes it, you carefully climb on (enough room for 2 adults, comfortably). and then your rower rows you down the unbelievably clear river. The river and valley are absolutely stunning, with the low clouds giving it an almost mystic feel. the river is like the M25 on a bank holiday, boats bumper to bumper, going up and down the river, through low caves into new secret valleys. You are out for 2 hrs, but it feels like minutes as the beauty of this place just sucks the time away. You feel you could be any-when, or on a pathway between worlds. As the rowers row for so long, they use there hands, and feet, changing when they get tired. Seeing someone rowing with there feet takes a little getting used to. Finally it was time to go, back again to the big city, but for one last ‘wow’, it was worth it.

Last Day

So this was it. Today I was going home, and to be honest, I could not wait. This last day felt like 1 day too many, I had to hide in coffee shops as I could not handle to constant hassle. Just to prove this was the 2 caps in my hand I did not want, but it had got to the point where being screamed at in my face for several blocks, then losing, them being found again by the same person who kept up the screaming campaign just got in to my brain. It came down to buying a cap, or punching her, I must say it was a close one. I was glad when the cab came. I was ready. I just wanted to go home.

Delay

The airport was dark and in the middle of being renovated, but nothing could dampen my spirits, I was on my way home. All way going well, but arriving in Bangkok, the news came than the flight was delayed by 4hrs. making matters worse, I had no money. My small backpack was also emptied when checking in which is the last thing you want when you have been awake 20hrs, but nothing could dampen my spirits, I was on my way home.

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Vietnam – Sapa

The return of the accent

After being squeezed in to a mini van and seeing a Nottingham Forrest top, I talked to a group of Lads who were from Nottingham University. We all got to the train station for an overnight train to Sapa, with chaos as the guides were giving the tickets out. You can’t believe they do this every day, but I’m sure there is a system in place as after 5 minutes of shouting, tickets being handed out, taken back, and handed out again, we all stood there, very confused , with tickets in our hands. When lads of the lads opened their mouth, the sound was like being slapped round the head, as he talked funny, bit like me. It ended up he was from about 5 miles from where I grew up. Hearing a local accent has a strange effect on me suddenly  odd noises started commin’ aaaat mi maaff. wi ada li-all chat an’ wi all gorron train an’wi weroff.

Phone call

this train was much nicer (and more expensive) than the last time I did an overnight train. Finding my carriage, I was sharing with some Vietnamese. One of gentlemen asked where I was from in his best English. He got very excited when I said Nottingham as his son had studied at the university. Before I could do anything he had whipped out his mobile, dialled his son, and thrust the phone in my face. When he answered I had a strange conversation with someone I did not know. After all that, the conversation died, I scrambled to my bunk and fell asleep.

arrival

Arriving in the dark, the same chaos that happed getting on the train happened again when trying to get us all to the right minibus. We set off and started climbing, as the dark lifted you got the first glimpse of the stunning scenery with lush green valleys. Sapa (which is only 30k from the Chinese border!) is best described as an alpine town without the snow and a nice mild climate. The hotel was actually very nice, some rooms had stunning views down the valley (mine looked over a small courtyard), and when the time came to meet out walking guide, the same chaos as before happened, but after around 20 minutes, we were all standing with a  (usually female) guide from one of the local villages.

Cat Cat

Our first walk was down in to the valley, to Cat Cat village which is home to the H’Mong people. Talking to the guide, each village has its own customs, some have their own language. This village looked like it belonged to the bamboo age as irrigation, basic machines,tools, even food containers were all made from bamboo. This was a kind of show village, on a hillside with the con we were invited in to some houses, some building were set up to show how things are done, but was very good. When we got back I’d decided I wanted more! Spotting a lookout on the top of a nearby hill, I was off again, scrambling around the town with naff maps trying to find the path up Climbing up a steep hill, past the first small building, halfway up to the second, I realised that was where you buy your ticket. At the second building (200m up the hill) is where they check your tickets(Very steep hill. You would be annoyed if you missed the ticker booth). More climbing and up steep paths and it hit a small plateau.  This turned out to be a sort of park, with a European Garden, an Orchid garden, and if you please, a cultural show. looking up at the cliffs, I could see my target, now it had a name, the Cloud Catcher. Things got a little difficult when the English names stopped appearing. Using my naff map, finding the English name, then the Vietnamese name next to it, I deciphered the names on the arrows and carried on, the path went round rocks, through cave and rocks, but I got to the top, to look down on the town of Sapa, it the beautiful valley. The sites and sounds of the city were slowly melting away….

Gypsy Kings

Meeting with the boys from Nottingham for a few drinks, we found a bar with free pool table (we found out why, large balls and small pockets. One game took forever.) Most of the bars, and indeed town seemed very quiet. This bar had about 7 people in it, 2 who were sitting with the bar staff. The bar staff seemed to know what to do on a quiet night, drink the stock. The staff and the 2 people at the bar were drinking something of the purest green, slammed down out of shot glasses. And repeat. This was not that bad, until the Gypsy Kings came on (I bloody hate the Gypsy Kings). Even worse, after many shots, the bar staff thought it would be good to test the speakers, the volume turned up to 11, the Gyspy Kings blaring out. ‘Bamboleo’ at full volume is like being hit around the ears with Symbols. With spikes on. I thought my brain would melt, we quickly left the bar, but the song would not leave me for the rest of the night. Bamboleo…bamboleo

you buy from me

Meeting the next morning, we set off for our second walk. this was a walk down into the valley. the sights here are stunning as the steep hills have all been terraced so the whole view looks like a low resolution picture, with jagged edges, it just looks unreal as you look down the valley. Flanking all the groups are women from the villages, at this point all nice and calm, all asking the same questions, ‘ Where you from’, How many brothers and sister’. Some even gave me presents, bits of grass bent to look like a horse, after the first one, I was given one on a much larger scale, with a muttering of ‘remember me’(All will become clear). We walked along the roads, then down paths in through the rice terraces. At one point, probably giddy with the high altitude and free of the city, I was racing our guide down a very steep hill, but I did manage to beat her( looking back, if I had fallen, not sure how far the nearest medical facility was..). We got to the bottom of the valley, to a small village (think this was the black h’Mong’ people) where we were to have lunch. That’s when it happened. that Ghostbusters moment. The old lady in the library becoming some kind of monster ‘YOU BUY FROM ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ‘ We managed to slip in to building for lunch, but they were waiting outside. Looking across the river from my seat, to the bridge, I caught one of the ladies eyes, and she tried to sell me somthing from 50 meters away. they have all become crazy selling machine

Run Away!

Leaving lunch, I tried to sneak out, there were only a few ladies. I found one alone, and asked for a twanger (it’s a metal think that makes a sound when you flick it near you mouth. you have got dirty minds!), but it was too late, like magic, 5 appeared, 10, all thrusting things in my face. I stood to my guns and was going to buy from the first lady, but I wanted 2 more, and some others produced what I wanted, then more. It was all getting too much, then in from of me, out of nowhere the blind girl appeared, her pupils had a while covering, It now felt like I was choking is a cloud of homemade scarves and material, I had to get away. Grabbing the 3 things of random women, I threw some money at one of them and ran. Was all a bit too much like the city!!! 

Departure

Far too quickly were were back in the minivan (more scary ride because you could now see the steep drop from the side of the road and all the crazy driving) back to the station (usual chaos handing tickets out) back on the train for the overnight journey, back to Hanoi.

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Vietnam – Hanoi part 1

More Balancing

Before even leaving the train, cab drivers were wandering up and down the train asking if you wanted transport (at ridiculous prices). I’d not even got my bag on! Pushing past the cab drivers, I seems found now what was my transport of choice, the moped. Showing the driver the map of where I wanted to go (and the street name), we were off, then we stopped to ask directions( you would at least expect him to know where I’m going). After several stops, several random pointing, and question from the driver like ‘is this it?’ were were there, but the hotel was full. I ended up in another hotel owned by the firsts ‘brother’. Think it had just been painted as I was nearly suffocated by fumes… But I just wanted to sleep!

Sightseeing

Hanoi is a little more relaxed than Hoi Chi Min City, but only just. The old city has narrow streets still with mopeds passing dangerously close to you and each other, but I kind of found the Centre of Hanoi, in all its craziness. Lots of people wanted to talk to me. Along with the usual transport paps, some students who wanted to practise their English (by feeding me apples to keep me there), and someone who wanted to explain what Manchester was like to her sister. After escaping into the narrow streets, It was time to go sightseeing. First to the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, the prison that held shot down pilots, and according to the videos in the museum ‘in good condition’. Not sure the POWs would agree (including presidential candidate, John McClain) that torture is good condition. Next it was to Ho Chi Minh‘s mausoleum, which was closed. Just to get my fix of Mr Minh, next to Ho Chi Minh Museum, which was it a stunning soviet style building. The museum itself, was, well, a little confusing. It seems to assume you know everything about the man, and just showing documents and evidence of what he did. There are also ‘art’ spaces to physically convey various concepts which were intriguing, but I left the place non the wiser.. Next it was to the War museum, but the sudden invasion of around 100 kids just before I got to the ticket hall put a stop to that, not sure I would cope… Think that was enough sight seeing. Actually, think its enough of the city. The mopeds, the narrow streets, the constant hassle. I need to escape!

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Vietnam – Hue

Dangerous driving

After arriving in hue I had a few drinks with some people I met on the train. We met up for a pre diner drink, which ended at 1 in the morning. During that time we hi-jacked a cyclo (paying for the privilege), these are the pushbikes with a seat at the front for passengers. the other guy had a go, who did quite well, with me as a passenger doing a small loop in the street. Myself, not so good. the bike had no breaks, the peddles just drove the wheels, so to slow down you had to resist the pedals. Also it was hard to turn, with a crap turning circle, during my small ride I had an annoyed driver behind me as I tried to do a turn in the street (think Austin Powers). I then went down another street and decided to open her up, and tried to go faster. Unfortunately I slipped off the pedal, the bike lurched to the left into the path of an oncoming moped, who had to swerve out of the way. I was a little scared, but I think the bloke at the front must have nearly shit himself as we swerved into oncoming traffic as he had no control and was at the front. We gave it back after that.

Ill

Oh dear. I’m booked on to a 8 hr tour today, and last night was not very kind. Unfortunately I think the the alcohol is only part of it, as the meal I had seemed a little, odd. Feeling like death or not, off we go! Hue was once the Imperial capital of Vietnam when it was rule by Emperors. A big part of the centre of Hue is a walled City with the Citadel and the Emperors’ palaces. (War. Bombed. not lot left.)  We also went to see some of the old Emperors’ tombs, the first looked very classic, very peaceful, a very loved emperor, and he also loved back. he had over 40 ‘official’ wives, over 100 concubines, 400 children and reportedly got 5 women pregnant in one night! You can buy his tonic, said to help him achieve this feat from the sellers at the tomb. The next, Tomb was built on a hill, more modern and very over the top. The inside of the tomb was completely over the top, with ceramics and intricate works all over the wall. Also the roof was painted by by foot, the artist not daring to use his hands. Alas this Emperor , had 1 ‘official’ wife, 1 child and no concubines. Well, no female ones anyway. The last tomb and the boat trip back, I just wanted to go to sleep. Finally getting back, I lay in the room watching TV with the air-con on. Leaving the room to find food, all I managed was to swear at a lot of people who were hassling me, so just went back to the room, and hid away from the word, feeling rubbish.

13hrs

The next day was not much better. I did managed to get a bike for a few hours, then it was back hiding in the room. The next day, I had a 13 hr train journey. This was ok, a little manic at times, after 10hrs I realised I’d been in the wrong seat all this time (actually I was ‘told’ and had to move an old lady out of my seat!). I was also told off by another lady for playing on my Game Boy too much! I did managed to have some of the train food, which was very good (UK train companies take note!), even watched some TV! (You don’t need to understand it to work out what is going on….) The scenery on the journey was stunning. endless rice fields, more Limestone blocks looking like they had been dropped from the sky jutting out the ground, but finally the buildings built up, the traffic outside got manic, and we finally pulled into the Station at Hanoi. 

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Vietnam – Hoi An

Wet Wet Wet

Standing at the station in the rain, I wandered out trying to find a taxi, which for once there were plenty. Ignoring all the set prices the cab drivers were offering, I opted to pay by the meter. So off we went, driving, driving and more driving… We went through the traffic and the rain and finally got to the bus station.. I’m sure some of the quotes given were a fraction of what I paid on the meter… As usual, as soon as you are dumped somewhere, someone picks you up, so next thing I know I was on a big yellow bus, sitting at the back with several boxes of chick all chirping and other random stuff. Finally we set off… back the way I had just come in the cab. in fact I could have just walked around the corner from the station and got this bus…. After a bumpy ride and an assortment of things appearing and disappearing from the back of the bus (its interesting as the bus never stopped for the stuff to be loaded and unloaded, it just went slow…) I was dumped in another bus station in the pouring rain, but this time there was no rush to grab me, I just stood in the rain…

 It’s a matter of balance

The only thing to get to the destination was a moped. the rain was starting to saturate my clothes I just wanted somewhere to rest. I was still loaded up like a buckaroo mule, complete lack of balance with backpacks and bags everywhere, but nothing else appeared. I’d only ever done this once many years ago and nearly fell off the back of the bike. This time I held on. Squeezing on to the seat, backpack hanging over the back of the bike, everything else pressing in to the back of the driver, I was virtually hugging him as the bike set off, trying to lean forward as he accelerated so I did not go flying backwards, but it was ok. the bikes don’t accelerate that fast so as long as you had your wits about you, you did not need to hug the driver. But after a 10 minute ride, on a moped, fully loaded, in the rain, I finally got somewhere to stay.

 Vietnam, Disneyland

Hoi-an in very Twee. The narrow streets and the buildings from when it was a major port make it look like some kind of ‘Vietnam World’ at a theme park. In fact most of the people here look like tourists, except in the early morning (when I arrived) and the local fishermen had arrived and the local market was a crazy hive of local activity (later in the day it reverted to same, same tourist stuff).The rest of the time was exploring the endless tourist shops  and museum houses, some run by the original descendents of the house builders(apparently) showing the different cultures that settled in the port.

 Over ‘ere, My Son!

My son is actually a temple complex, different to the rest of the temples seem so far as its not Buddhist, but actually a Hindu temple and was part of the central Vietnam Champa civilisation. The other big difference is in its construction, as it is built form bricks, but strangely with no mortar. The setting is stunning, with the temple in the middle of the jungle, 2 of the remaining temples are the ‘male’ temple and the ‘female’ temple. You can tell them apart because of the giant phallic outside on of them.. The site was lost for years, but found again in 1885 by the French, but most destruction was done in the last war. The area was subject to B52 carpet bombing as the USA thought that the Viet Cong was using the temples as headquarters, so next to some of the temple and huge bomb craters. War, what is it good for?

 Oh! Sir! Suits you….

The one thing I was told before I got to Vietnam, is ‘go to hoi an and get something made’. I’d never heard of the place, but is famous for its tailoring. So, on advice of my guest house I was in a tailors with the poor assistant who had put up with me for over an hour trying to pick the bloody material (I usually have help…) after getting out about 10 different rolls of material, and draping them over me, I finally chose something, and had a tape measure thrust in odd places, and a photo taken to get my ‘shape’. The next day was like an episode of Mr Ben. I walked into the store and suddenly the shopkeeper (er, lady) appeared and took me to the changing room. Walking in in my scruffy shorts and shirt, non of the ladies working in the shop took any notice, but after putting on a fitted shirt, a fitted suit, I walked out feeling like a different person. I was kind of shocked what fitted clothes can do for you, the girls who had ignored me all started giggling and called me handsome (my sunburn red face took on a colour of the redist red) and after looking in the mirror, I ordered a second suit there and then! Obviously I should not get used to the made to measure clothing thing, but 2 suits and 5 shirts cost less than a good off the shelf suit in the UK!!!

 2 Men and a push Bike

meeting another soul in the guest house, we ended up going to the bars and having a few drinks, and a few more and after a bit of hunting found a late bar with a little bit of life. This was all fine, but we had ended up a little way from the guest house, which is not a problem to walk back, but the other bloke was on a push bike. After he climbed on the bike and after a small science, I noticed the bike had a luggage rack, so drunkenly pointing i just announced ‘I will sit there’ and climbed on. We were off! Hoi An was dead at this time of night, the other bloke peddling with all his might as we went through the deserted picturesque pedestrian streets, through the market ducking under the low covers and finally back to the guest house. My legs were aching as I had nothing to rest them on so had to lift them up and hold them wide, but it was better than walking. I was actually surprised 2 drunk people can keep balance on a bike! You live and learn….

 Where are the bloody mopeds!!!!!!!!!!!

The next day was back on the train. the option arrived of tacking a cab to the train station, but that just seemed a little to…… easy. Declining the cab, I regretted it almost immediately as for one of the very few times I actually want to get a bike, I could not find one. If you ever want to feel like you are famous, come to Vietnam, you are constantly hassled for one thing or another, usually for mopeds. You turn down one, then man next to him will ask. It drives you mad. Except today. Mopeds were everywhere, but non for rent. I stood on the street corner, looking a bit like a hooker putting out, eyeing everyone who went past on a moped, still nothing. Time was running out so I started running to other street corners, looking for anyone to give me a ride. Finally I found someone, we went back to the hotel to get my bags. Running in the lady asked if I had got a moped, after saying yes she said ‘I could have got you one’. There was no time, buckaroo’ed up, I climbed on the moped to the bus station. The bus journey, when we eventually set off was uneventful except they wanted to charge me 3 times as much as I paid before. Eventually it was only twice as much, but I did get dropped off at the train station, so was no back on the train.

 Pass the Pass.

We start off by the sea, as the trains heads to what looks like some impassable mountain range. This is the hi-van pass, virtually splitting Vietnam in half. The train approaches, and starts to climb as the sea drops away on one side, down a steep slope. The train weaves in and out, following the contours of the mountain, the track looking like it does not belong, with signal men along the track. Looking one way you see the steep slope going into the mist at the top of the mountain, looking the other the slope plunges into the sea, the train feels like it is glued to the side. Obviously I had half my body hanging out the train window, looking out for thing that could decapitate me, but it was so stunning I did not care. We made it through the pass, back on the flat and we steamed out way to Hue.

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VietNam – Nga Trang

Turn of the Tv and go and do something less boring instead

The train was actually ok. In the carriage there was a Italian guy and me. The rest were Vietnamese, so was interesting to see how they travelled and what food you could get! The small problem was the enforced Tv. The speakers were blearing out in Vietnamese, but you got used to it after a while, but the comedy shows need a little work!!!

Oh I do like to be besides the seaside.

Nga Trang is best described as the Vietnamese seaside resort. It is quite nice with a long clean beach, clear blue sea (but slightly crazy waves) and a few streets with a selection of bars and restaurants.  It also had mudbaths. I’m quite partial to mudbaths, to sitting in the ‘clean’ mud, to cover it all over my body, swim in it…… i’ll stop there. After hiring a bike and several attempts at finding the spa (the signs are very bad, and in a different language),arriving tired and sweaty, all was forgotten as I managed to cover myself from head to toe in mud, even in the hair, and stayed in my ‘bath’ until I was thrown out. Next was sitting in the sun until the mud had dried, then blasting with hot water, siting in hot springs then finally left to swim in a bloody hot swimming pool until you had had enough. God, that was good.

CUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cycling along the road, feeling relaxed and eating at Ice-cream (I felt I had mastered the Vietnamese traffic), I went to see the ‘Po Ngar Cham’ Towers. These are on a hill just outside of town and were part of the Cham people, a early Hindu empire in central Vietnam. Although templed out, this became interesting when people were sitting at monitor screens and people in costumes were wandering around. They were making the magic of tele. Watching this Bollywood style spectacle take place, I edged around the part of the temple they have cornered off, then heard the Director loose it a little and everyone stopped. Looking to see what had happened, I saw this familiar dark shape on the floor near the actors. I slowly moved away and the shaped followed me, realising my shadow had caused the actors to stop as it swept across the scene. I smiled, sat down and kept still as they did there scene again…..

Hard or soft.

The mud must have removed months of worn in dirt from my face, as the next day my face burnt for the first time in months. The day was spent on the beach, on the bike and just hangin’ around until it was time to get the train. Arriving at the station With bags and a face glowing so bright I could see in the dark, I was told at least 3 different times the train left. This (finally) resolved, I was sent to a platform, when a random man was shouting at me, telling me to go to the other platform. Just to shut him up, I moved (walking across the tracks) stood 2 minutes, then the train came on the platform I was in. He went very quiet, probably because I gave him a stare Medusa would be proud of. Clamouring onto the train, bags loaded up more than the mule from Buckaroo, into the very narrow passage was, the Vietnamese did not realise I took up the whole width of the passage. After several attempts to get them to move, I just charged down the passage sending people flying until I got to my berth. There were hard births, the mattress as thin as a sheet, beds 6 high. There was only myself and a mother and daughter in the cabin, the daughter very young and had just had her hyper sugar injection. with 3 months of camping behind me, the matress was fine, the young girl wore herself out and slept when the time came. Unfortunately one of the guards decided he would sleep in our cabin, who would come at least bronze in the Snore Olympics, so with my finger stuck in my ear, I slowly, finally got to sleep…. Waking in the morning, after a so so sleep, I looked out of the window, watching the rain streaming across the glass. the next thing, the train stopped, I grabbed my stuff and I was there. Standing in the rain on the platform. Did I mention it was raining????

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Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City

Finally……

Wow, the border crossing was actually quite easy, probably because you have to do all the visa stuff before you get there (although I’ve heard of some nightmare crossings so looks like I got the easy one….), back on the bus, and the landscape slowly changed from the endless paddy fields to small buildings, to big buildings, to a huge urban sprawl. My god, this really is a City. Make Phon Phen look like a small village.

Crazy

Driving in on the safety of the bus, the one thing that completely shocks you is the traffic. People warm you of the chaos, but you are just not prepared for it. Mopeds are several deep all swarming around the place. you don;t even know how they avoid each other. The bus just ploughs through, horn blearing and the bike scurry out of its way. Its still seems the bigger vehicles have the right of way. The other experience you have to get used to is crossing the bloody road. If you used the Green cross code, you would probably dies of old age waiting at the roadside. The technique is to just ‘cross’. You take a deep breath, find a small space and step out walking steadily across the road. The bikes all swarm around you as you walk across, praying nothing hits you. getting to the far side you let out a deep breath and unclench, looking back at what you have just achieved and wondering how…..

War

the city is a crazy place, with mopeds coming at you at all angles, so is not really a relaxing place to be, as you have to be alert at all times, dodging the traffic as pavements don’t really exist. That saying, one of the only ways to get around the city is by moped. As a tourist, you get unending requests to hop on the back of a bike to be whisked away across town.

Once such ride was to the War museum, barely surviving the journey as we cut through two cars closing together, the moped finally got to the museum, my mind arriving a few minutes later as it cut through the fear of the journey. The museum was very interesting, partly because it was from the Vietnam point of view, describing how a foreign power was trying to dictate what happens it there country and had picutres and details of the war with the American Imperialists. After genocide museums, war museums I did have a moment halfway around as it all becomes a little too much of what we sometimes do to each other , but hopefully we will learn from the past??? Until next time?

Religion and war

One of the day trips outside of the city is to the Cu Chi Tunnels, think of the Viet Cong popping out of the ground on any ‘Nam film, and that will be it. The whole complex describes how the Viet Cong, with there basic supplies but loads of ingenuity beat the American war Machine, using the unexploded American weapons as weapons against the Americans, and the tunnelling system allowing the Viet Cong to spy and attack troops as if appearing out of nowhere. The tunnels were too small for our fat western arses, but some of the tunnels had been expended to give us a feel for what it must of been like. It was actually horrible, shuffling under the ground, but the Viet Cong was on their bellies, going vast distances, it must have been a living hell.  Randomly, you are also given a chance to fire some live rounds here on a selection of guns. Saying that it is not cheap, but after 10 shots on a AK47, I was nearly deaf. That’s the first, and probably last time I’ll be firing a gun!!!!  On the flip side to this was a visit to the Cao Dai Catheneral. Cao Dai is a religion with a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity, all mixed together and is inside a cathederal which looks like it is made out of cake, the interior all pastels and pictures of Buddha and Christ next to each other. Its quite interesting, can’t choose your religion, make one of your own!!! just be careful of the colour scheme.

Dancin’

The rest of the time in the city was spent avoiding mopeds and turning down offers of drugs and sex (from the crazy moped drivers). A random meeting with some other travellers and a crazy Spanish lady took us all to a dance club which was mainly westerners. It kind of reminded me of home. Too expensive, too busy and people trying to start random fights. Not sure how the safe the bike ride was back, being drunk and holding on to the driver for dear life!!!

National rail.

most travellers use the buses to get around ‘Nam. The pick you up in the backpacker area, ram you in and drop you off at a different backpacker area many hours later. Well, I’d had enough of bloody busses. ‘Nam has a train line, so I’m off on the train!!!

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Cambodia – Phnom Phem

Steps!

They really should get some good steps, its always a bloody climb from the river.

After the usual hassle of fighting off moto and tuk-tuk drivers, and the hassle of finding somewhere to stay (5 floor, no lift, no fire escape but aircon and TV!!), wandering around the City I was quite pleasantly surprised. Bangkok is just huge and crazy, Vietienne was very small and sleepy, this place is, well, just right. Again once owned by the French, they seemed to have given the city a bit of a facelift, so there is old faded grand French architecture all warn down along the endless streets. The river has many of the bars and restaurants, and they are quite good, and cheap. I managed to spend endless hours in nice coffee shops just clillin’ and reading and watching the world go by.

 

The light and the dark

Trying to put into words of some thinks you see and just being in a country and just not understanding how something happened, is frustrating. Again within my lifetime, Cambodia suffered for many years under the Khmer Rouge. They tried to take Cambodia to its glory days, made it year 0, wanted to make the country self sufficient, favoured people of the country, punishing the educated and the city folk (and emptying the city), destroying the family ties, killing, torturing and maiming for some impossible ideal. Today I went to S21, a former high school that they turned into the interrogation hq. People who came here, their ‘confession’ extracted were then sent to the killing fields. It is eerie wondering around the makeshift cells in former classrooms knowing this is the place people were held and tortured. It again just exposes you to a dark so black, that you just feel guilty, and so scared that this can happen. The Khmer Rouge were in power for 3 and a bit years, devastating the country, leaving a legacy of landmines and a crippled country (in many ways). Yet now the capital is one of the most interesting cities, the people nice. You just can’t understand…

 

Rules of the road?

The best way around the city is by moto aka the moped. Whenever you leave a place, or just walking down the street, you get swarmed by people asking where you are going, jostling for position, bit like transport paps. Most of the time you just say no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no. When you do one to get somewhere however, it is great. The journey is sometime interesting as you are on the back of a bike, being driven in to oncoming traffic down the wrong side of the road, weaving in and out of other cars and bikes, negotiating crossroads (I though I’d loose my knees several times). Its nearly worth the cost for the fear factor.  One even got lost. Unfortunately it was to pick up my visa and had a few minutes to get there. Surprising as it is a grid system (so like coordinates to find somewhere), we had a map, we asked several people. I actually knew where it was, but our communication and understanding was limited. The best thing about the journey is when we did arrive, I said stop, so he did. In the middle of a T junction on a very busy road with traffic swarming around us. I pointed to the side of the road, and he gave a nod and a smile as he moved the bike.

Also later that night, ending up in a nightclub full of westerners, the rich Laos (and their bodyguards) after leaving, you just hop on a bike, and are driven through the streets drunk on the back of a moped… Not sure how safe this is. At least the streets are empty..

 

Sites

The sites of the city are limited, the Palace, the museum, the mental shopping area with narrow streets, lots of people and lots of bikes sharing space, but overall I like this place. Its had its fair share of shit happening here, but it is a good place. Go now before the rest of the world finds it….

 

Gone

Another day, another early start, another pickup, another bus. Wait a minute, where the hassle? Where are the people? Why is this so easy….

Got picked up on time, taken to new, clean bus with about 7 people on it (I’m only westerner), which left with no hassle and nice reclining seats. Something has got to go wrong. I bet this border crossing is going to be hell!!!

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