10.06.2009 - 20.06.2009 40 °C
Vietnam in ten days...... Ummmm. Probably not enough time to give it a fair chance but we was happy to get to Cambodia by the end of it. This is one unbelievable country, and we found that you both love it and dislike it! The country itself so beautiful, but from start to finish we felt as if locals would try to constantly swindled you. Arriving at the airport we headed for the taxi in to Hanoi. We was told that taxis cost 250'000 Dong in to the city (yep-get your head around all those 000's! Going to an ATM to withdraw 2'000'000 was a scary and wierd sensation, yet in our money less than 200 pounds) we knew this seemed to be alot, but not being able to get the exchange rate before arriving we had no idea what this equated to. Fortunately a Turkish buisness man overheard this and told them to give us the real price (which should of been around 110'000 Dong). The Turkish guy told them after a heated discussion that this was why one day no-one will want to visit their country. With that he offered us to share his taxi that was already pre-booked. I had my reservations, but there are many good people in this world and this man was one of them - thankyou. Giving us a good insight of the scams in Vietnam he got us safely to our destination and wouldnt even let us pay! Hanoi itself was a great city. It plusates with life 24-7. The streets are lined with shop goods or street 'kitchens' spilling out on to the paths and what little room that is left on the is taken up with parked motorbikes forcing you to walk on the crazy roads with buzzing mororbikes comming at you from every direction. The Old Quarter our favourite part walking through each exotic section your senses are bombarded. The smell of spices, incence and fumes; the sound of horns, moto, cyclo and tuktuk drivers all wanting your buisness; the sight of the colours from the markets and materials in contrast with the grubbiness; the fabulous taste of Vietmanese food and the feeling of intense heat and the daily built up grime on your skin. Theres nothing else like it. A crazy infectious city. We grew repetedly tired of the hiking of prices for tourists when you knew full well that the local before you did not pay 40'000 Dong for 1 apple!!!! (neither did we - but they tried). In its centre there is a serene impressive lake where you can almost escape from the madness - the constant noise from horns reminding you that its still right there.
Spending a few days around the Halong Bay area was a pleasant change. The port being quite chaotic but upon the Imperial Junk Boat it became a little sanctuary. Halong Bay consists of 3000 islands most having steep rugged limesone faces sometimes covered with vegetation. It is a stunning area, one that you could easily get lost in. We visited 2 different caves, both extremely busy and highly decorative with some incredible stalictites and stalicmites. Kyacking on the gentle ocean (although the sea was quite murky and at times littered) was a good way to explore the smaller crevices and floating villages it is impossible to see from a boat. Ankored up for the night in the middle of a cluster of islands was topped off by a great sunset and jumping in to the sea from the top deck of the boat. We spent an unexpected blissful night under the stars on top deck after finding out our room was above the engine room and subsequently made the matress and pillow vibrate. Good in the right situation - sleeping not one of them!
This, and spending time on a small island with no other tourists or litter was my favourite part. Just half a dozen locals and the quiet mysterious bay. Cat Ba island a different experiance again. Much of the island declared a National Park to protect the beautiful diverse ecosystem - a good move. The town itself compact and busy, where we discovered how untidy and unaware Vietnamese people are. We could not believe how much rubbish these people would leave behind - after a meal, underneath the tables families would leave literally piles of discarded cans, tissue, and unwanted food scraps. They would toss litter from boats, bikes and throw it to the ground without a second thought. No wonder the area was so full of rubbish lined shores. It was unbelieveable to see - one of the worst areas for this so far. There was not as many scams here, things were priced fairly for all to see.
We made our way up to Sapa on an overnight sleeper train. A mountain village which is overlooked in every direction by the regal Hoang Lien mountain range Franzipan in the distance (3143m). We visited several mountain hilltribe villages. In the area there were 5 different communities each having their own colourful traditional costumes. The most interesting to me 'Red hat' where the women would let their hair grow long until the point of marriage and then upon marrying it would be shaved and kept that way. The costumes of these beautiful women included what looked like thick red material folded and pinned uopn their head making them look quite elaborate.
The land here was rich and lushious, rice paddy terraces make interesting patterns on the mountains everywhere you look. The blinding colours from the land and costumes were out of this world. The people here were kind, funny, interesting and at times overpowering as they follow you and ask "you buy from me?" - you have to take a sense of humour with you here if not it would drive you mad with so many people trying to sell you things. We had a good laugh with them and at one point when I interest in the decorative earings that a lady was wearing, making her lobe stretch through the weight of several pairs being worn she instantly reached in her pocket, pulled out a pair and said "you buy from me?". Not having my ears pierced she then looks at Sean and said "you buy from me?", Sean replying "no, I have enough thankyou" and shows them his ears. Captivating the growing group of locals he continues to show them his bellybutton and nipple rings. What a laugh, I have never seen expressions like this before. At one point we was walking to Lao Chai Village along a track and Sean and I was holding hands, we hear a squeal and patter of feet running up behind us and a 70 year old local grabs Seans other hand. At the height of Seans elbow she looks up wearing the most biggest smile and continues to happily walk with us for about 1km, never letting Sean out of her firm grip. Chatting in her own tounge, unable to speak a word of English and us barely knowing basic phrases communication was limited. That did not matter she seemed overjoyed to be holding hands with Sean, much to our amusement we found it hilarious - this charachterful woman full of wrinkles and eyes that told a million stories. The outcome was that she wanted money to walk with Sean, even though this was under duress - he tried several times to get out of her clasp!
The way of life in these small villages is quite adorable and very basic when stripped down with no tourism. At a very young age children here are free to play and enjoy what kids should enjoy for a good part of their lives, adults see to the land, weave, cook and see to daily duties. But the kids soon learn the power of an adorable smile to make you melt, selling and begging, they see you as a walking money box. Simply the way that they have allowed tourism to grow around here. Quite saddening really.
Getting wrapped up in the life and landscape of Sapa we had just a few days left to get to Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon) before heading over the boarder the Cambodia. An overnight train got us back to Hanoi and a cheap quick flight we headed to Saigon. Siagon had the same vibe of Hanoi only bigger and not so compact. We had heard people say that Siagon was alot worse for the chaos of traffic. We didnt find this, maybe we had got used to just walking out infront of oncomming traffic as if you was blind! You always seem to make it to the other side unscathed. Seeing the city on foot and getting down some of the small alleyways for us was the best way to see it. Enabeling you to see the local life, and get away from pepole hassling you to buy someting. Good fun.
Vietnam - A landscape of boldness and rich in culture that is so tantalising. In danger of becoming spoilt by tourism and the vietmanese's lack of respect for its country.