Vietnam gets better

Vietnam did not create a good first impression. Immigration at Moc Bai was a complete shambles. It was tempting to go to the airport in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon and get on the first plane to anywhere else.

The temptation wasn’t eased by the chaos that is the Ho Chi Minh traffic. In a city of 10 million people there are about 6 million motorbikes, only 90% of them are on the road. The rest are all over the pavements (sidewalks for the Americans); being driven on them or parked on them. Walking down the road often means literally doing that because the pavements are impassable on foot.

Next day we visited the Cu Chi tunnels used by the Vietcong and local resistance fighters in the guerrilla war with the American army. The “information” film about the heroic locals fighting off the evil American aggressors was hugely amusing – hardly biased at all. OK, it was hardcore propaganda. In the interests of balance I’d have to say the traps they used to maim the American soldiers were every bit as evil. On the way back to Ho Chi Minh we visited the War Remnants museum covering the physical, social and human effects of the Vietnam war. The human cost of the Agent Orange defoliant used by the American forces was truly horrific.

Hannah was keen to get back to Bangkok to do another massage course so we went our separate ways; she to Hanoi by plane and me to Hoi An by bus. Twenty four hours and two buses later I reached the pretty little seaside town. It’s the ideal location for anyone in the market for a new suit or seafood dinners. A much nicer place than Ho Chi Minh. I spent a day here but could have easily stayed two or three more and just chilled out.

Another two buses and nineteen hours later I reached Hanoi. As they say in SE Asia “same same but different” – smaller than Ho Chi Minh and with slightly less manic traffic. There were still motorbikes everywhere and billboards covered in propaganda posters for the elections held on 22 May. I arrived on a Friday and pretty much all the museums and tourist attractions were closed. It was grey and raining too so not a great day for sightseeing. All the tour booking offices were open though so I booked a three day two night trip to Ha Long bay leaving the next morning.

Cruising around Ha Long bay on a junk was lovely, the cave visit and kayaking not bad either. Overnight on the junk was nice and Cat Ba island was good too. The trekking was rather hazardous but no-one broke any bones on the slippery and uneven path or the jagged limestone and fortunately it wasn’t a stupidly hot day. The view from the hill we trekked up wasn’t really worth the effort and it was no better from the top of the precarious looking rusty iron tower which occupied the summit. Cat Ba town is another seaside town full of hotels and restaurants and a seafood aficionados delight. Outside all of the restaurants tanks of fish, crabs and shrimps waited for pointing fingers and “I’ll have that one” to condemn them to the cooking pot. In the harbour floating restaurants serviced by the waterborne equivalents of tuk-tuks looked rather sad during the day time. At night they were brilliantly lit and easily won the competition with the neon signs on the land based restaurants. It reminded me a lot of Blackpool.

In Vietnam the constant barrage of “tuk-tuk sir?” calls while walking around has been replaced by “motorbike sir?”. Polite, but every bit as irritating after the first few dozen  (ie: about two minutes) refusals. Despite this, after a few days the place is growing on me.

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