Cu Chi Tunnels

Had my lazy day yesterday and changed hotels to somewhere quieter and cheaper, and today have just got back from a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels, another relic of the American War (that’s the Vietnam War to me and you). A pretty good day out and you get to crawl 90 metres through these tiny little holes, most of the group bailed out through a side exit as soon as they got in as it was all a bit too much for them! There was also a chance to fire an AK-47, M-16 or a machine gun which I didn’t bother with myself but some people did. The noise they make is absolutely deafening!

Meanwhile I’m having potential problems with my Cambodia visa – as I think I mentioned before most immigration officials are retarded, and insist on putting their stamp on a completely blank page instead of using some of the other acres of room where existing stamps are. So far in Indonesia and Vietnam they happily buried some American stamps for the visas, but they are fussing for Cambodia even though I’ve got a page with just a poxy smudged Mexican stamp on it. I’ll find out my fate on that in a short while when I go to pick it up from the agency I found that was willing to go to the consulate and try. All being well I’ll probably up and leave tomorrow morning for a 3 day boat trip on the Mekong Delta and then up the river to Phnom Peng in Cambodia, if not then I’ll probably go back to Thailand and sit on an island 🙂

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The slow trains are not half as nice as the expresses it turns out, but still fine. I shared my cabin with a German bloke and a 137 year old Vietnamese gentleman. I felt so guilty when he was trying to climb up the pegs they give you to get to the top bunk that I ever so generously let him sleep on mine. But it was good in a way as I didn’t have to look at the German bloke all night from the top 🙂 Just along from the door of our cabin which we kept firmly closed was the so called hard seat car, which is pretty much exactly what the name suggests. This was just a sea of Vietnamese people all piled up sleeping anyway that they could. Not pretty..

I’ve ended up in the backpacker zone of Saigon, can’t remember for the life of me what the road’s called but’s it’s the Khao San Road of Saigon. Not the prettiest of cities I don’t think on the whole so not too much point to hang around too long. I went to the palace today which is actually fairly modern, built in the 60’s or so, and is the root of much more Vietnam/American history of course with a rabbit warren of basement tunnels where the top brass could hide from bombs. It’s rather reminiscent of the Cabinet War Rooms in London for anyone that’s seen them.

Tomorrow I’m going to take it easy and lie in I think, and find ways to circumvent the problem of my bank card that expires in 2 days (how the hell did I not notice this before I came away!?) then I might take a day trip to the Chu Chi tunnels a little way out of town the day after. Then I’m considering a 3 day boat trip up the Mekong Delta, home of many floating markets and all that stuff which will end me up in Phnom Peng, capital of Cambodia. Then it’s a case of juggling dates to see if I can still fit in Angkor Wat, Laos and North Thailand or whether I need to bin Laos and North Thailand, or extend the trip. Too many decisions to make, *** sigh ***…

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Nha Trang

Had a lot of fun on the bike yesterday, went about 25Km north of Nha Trang to find the Ba Ho waterfalls and swimming holes, it was most interesting trying to find the dirt track that leads off the main road as nothing is signposted, but with the help of about 300 locals I eventually got there. Lovely little spot, there’s no track really, just some red arrows painted on the rocks here and there and a few staple hoops to help you climb the steepest bits. I managed to secure a waterhole to myself which was nice, lovely warm water but somewhat full of algae, so who knows what new diseases I’ve picked up now. Later I went to a couple of big Buddhas that are hanging about on a hillock.

After that had an early night, as the previous night I accidentally got talking to some people in a beach bar called the Sailing Club and crawled out at 4am. I had a reasonably early start today anyway to go on the boat trip, which was OK but nothing spectacular. There were a lot of Vietnamese on board, many of whom seemed to be seasick so we missed out some of the things we were meant to be doing I think for their benefit.

I’m going for a bit of food now and a couple more beers to try and get in the mood for the night train, I’m pretty tired so it should go well. I’ve deliberately chosen a slow train this time as the expresses are too fast and arrive at Saigon too early! (hard to believe in Vietnam, but..)

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Hue to Nha Trang

I shared the 4-man cabin with three senior Vietnamese hydro-electric engineers, on their way to Nha Trang to check on another new dam/powerstation in the south here somewhere. They were friendly enough but the dodgy English was hard work after about the first 8 hours.

Now I’m in Nha Trang, the bloke that was meant to pick me up from the station last night to take me to a hotel I reserved never materialised (big suprise) so I found somewhere else and stayed there instead. Today I’ve moved to a lovely place with sea views and all mod-cons. The weather is fantastic and ridiculously hot, for some reason Nha Trang’s dry season is the reverse of most of Vietnam so we’re basking in it at the moment. The beach is beautiful too, with the brochure-style turquoise seas and all of that. I think tomorrow I’ll get another death bike and do the local-ish sites which consist of various pagodas and waterfalls and stuff, then the day after take a boat out to the islands. The tour I’m looking at is renowned for the pisshead Vietnamese guide they have!

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Not the most exciting day out ever, the DMZ tour to be brutally honest. Not for the amount of driving involved anyway. Would be better for yanks to be patriotic I’d imagine. We went down the Vinh Moc tunnels in a very spectacular coastal setting, a very well preserved rabbit warren of tiny passageways going down to 23m below surface. There were built by the Vietnamese civilians for shelter purposes. Next we stopped at the Rockpile, which is, errrrrrr, a pile of rocks but was the site of some serious battles apparently. Then there was the site of some bridge which is no longer there, over the river dividing north and south vietnam. Next was a minority village stop which is really nothing more than a chance for the annoying kids to try and extort money from you. Final stop was the famous Khe Sanh American airbase, but again there is little of it left, apart from a huge area where nothing can still grow after the huge bloodshed, and loads of bullet casings strewn all over the place.

Chickened out on a Minsk but have got a little Honda bike for today, so have toured around some tombs near to Hue. It’s been quite interesting trying to drive around here, as there is basically only one road rule – try not to hit anything. Tomorrow morning I’m catching my trusty E1 “express” train from here down to Nha Trang, it’s a 12 hour journey starting at 11am, and I have a sleeper car, so I’ve got 36 hours in bed starting from tonight! I could have got an overnight bus instead, but the lure of a full bed in a train is just too tempting…

Time for the first dinner of today. I’m having to eat four meals a day as the portions are so small!

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Halong Bay

The Halong trip was absolutely amazing! There were 8 of us on it out of a possible 16, two English lads, an American and English girl, another older English bloke with his wife who quickly turned out to be total wankers, and a rather strange Czech bloke from Prague, called “Czech” who spent the entire trip either drinking beer, smoking or videoing anything and everything. The boat was incredible and rather like a floating 5-star hotel (relative to traveller’s terms, anyway) brand new but done in traditional style and extremely large and comfortable. We had a great guide, crew and food as well. We cruised out into the bay on the first day and did some swimming in the very warm waters, Czech providing much amusement in his Speedo. Then it was mealtime, which turned into a game of “who can avoid sitting with the wankers” from there on. Czech had paid an extra wedge for air conditioning, and whilst I was up on the sun deck at night with the other lads and Czech, drinking beer, the girls stole the air con remote from Czech’s cabin and turned on the units in their cabin and mine as well which was blessed relief. Unfortunately they turned it on at 16C so it was bloody freezing but still probably better than sweating it out all night.

Next day we stopped off at a big limestone cave, in keeping with the ruggedness of the 2,000 or so limestone islands that make up Halong Bay, then went kayaking across to a floating community. We stopped off at the (floating) school because our guide fancies the teacher there and so he stops every day to ask her some irrelevant question. They were tandem kayaks and of course, I had Czech in mine who was something of a nutter behind the paddle. All of us easily managed to leave the Wankers well to the rear, even though they are allegedly “experts” in the field.

Arrived back to Hanoi in the evening and went for dinner with the new gang, and just managed to leave in time to catch my 11pm train. This was yet another very pleasant night train journey, with a nice rough track so you really get some good rocking motion going on. So now I’m in Hue which seems to be a pretty reasonable small city and certainly a lot cheaper than Hanoi. Tomorrow I’ve stupidly booked myself on a DMZ (DeMilitarised Zone) tour which picks me up at 6am – what was I thinking! It takes you to various tunnels and whatnot, will find out exactly what tomorrow I suppose. Next day I might rent a Russian Minsk death trap motorbike and check out the tombs a little way out of town, but not too sure yet.

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Water Puppets

Have secured a place on a Chinese junk for tonight out on Halong Bay. I’ve no idea quite what to expect really, as I’m always rather paranoid about these organised tour things, but this is one of those times where there is not much choice. Tomorrow night I have booked a place on the “Reunification Express” train which runs for a continuous 32 hours at 48 km/h to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but I’m getting off at Hue after a mere 11.5 hours. I saw the train come through the level crossings of town last night, it looks not bad. Fascinating watching the motorbikes play chicken with it, mounting the pavement to get around the worthless barrier that a guard pulls across the road.

I went to see a performance of the famous water puppet show last night, basically a theatre with a big murky pond of green water that 11 puppeteers wade in, with various puppets on the end of long sticks that appear up out of the water and do things, accompanied by an orchestra and singing. Most of the scenes seem to be very traditional, and depict way of life such as agriculture, religion, fishing etc. Perhaps the most amusing part was these two chickens that they showed humping, which was followed by a floating egg which naturally turned into a chick. As part of the ticket price you get a cassette of the music, so if you are the one that receives that as a gift once I’m home you’ll know that I really don’t like you all that much 🙂

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I’m here in Hanoi, after a fair amount of hassle getting here. The flight was fine, except that I left my watch on the plane which, strangely enough, has not been found. Looks like I’ll have to get a fake Rolex for 2 quid for the time being. The next hassle was negotiating a place in a minibus for the trip downtown, then the actual journey was quite a laugh, I’ve never seen so many motorbikes on the road, not even in India, there are literally hundreds of them using up the whole width of the road at once, trying to dodge the oxen, chickens and pedestrians. Crossing the road is a similar game, you just have to walk out into the traffic, slowly, giving the bikes hopefully enough time to see you and miss you one side or the other. It seems to work, I only had one bike fall over in front of me last night spilling it’s two passengers onto the road, but at least they avoided me. They got up, rubbed their grazes a bit and carried on.

Hanoi seems to be quite an interesting town what I saw of it wondering around, but have not made the most of it yet as the anti-biotics I’m on are making me feel a bit like a space cadet at the moment. There was something quite novel in the bars, as soon as you walk in the door you get hounded by a group of gorgeous Vietnamese girls, one begging you to drink Tiger wearing a Tiger dress, one Carlsberg in a Carlsberg dress, one Ha Noi (yes, there is a beer in Hanoi called “Ha Noi”), one Hindberg, etc. It’s the same everywhere you go, seemingly the girls are on commission from the breweries. As soon as you have one quarter of your beer left, they’re all back again with the same spiel. Very odd.

The hotel is a lovely old French colonial place, albeit fairly expensive at USD 25 a night, irritatingly the hotels all publish their rates in USD rather than Dong, which burns a whole in the 2 million Dong that I have in my pocket, or, as some witty arse cracked – “Is that a million Dong in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

Onto the next challenge, to see if i can book a trip to Halong Bay for the next day or two.

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Massage Time!

I ended up having a few too many in Khao San last night with some English guys I bumped into, so only woke up at 1pm today, fully clothed with all the lights on and TV blaring. Never mind.. Have come over to Khao San yet again to get my Hanoi flight for tomorrow, and it’s a lovely sunny day too. Suppose I should get some lunch, seeing as it’s nearly 5pm, and get some poor sod to rub the mountains of hard skin off my feet.

Next update from Vietnam perhaps!

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Bangkok Continued

I am still in Bangkok, unfortunately my ear has not progressed the way I would like, so today I had to resort to going to a clinic, the doctor there immediately referring me to a hospital. Once I had found that which was a nightmare in itself, they actually turned out to be very efficient with a quite impressive level of English, but I was somewhat alarmed when the doctor looked in my ear and took a sharp intake of breath, rather like a builder does when he’s scratching his bum crack and telling you that your kitchen extension is going to cost you an extra three grand. Seemingly my eardrum is akin to a PG Tips tea bag and covered in pus, and he’s given me some Goliath-strength antibiotics and some sulphuric acid ear drops. Let’s see what happens.

Meanwhile, my Vietnam visa has arrived. It’s interesting that my passport is now full in terms of blank pages, but the officials of both Indonesia and Vietnam have chosen to bury entry stamps for the USA in the passport with their visa stick-ons. Wonder if they’re trying to convey a message? I’m thinking now along the lines of getting a flight to Hanoi on Wednesday, then making my way south to Ho Chi Minh City before coming back via Cambodia. Maybe now I won’t have time to work in Laos, but we’ll see. Great service from the travel agent that got me the visa though, basically they send some poor sod to queue up all day at the embassy whilst I lay in bed. Sounds good to me! (or it would do if I could hear a damn thing)

Today has seen me mostly trudging around clinics, hospital and travel agents, so tonight I’m chilling in Khoa San for a while, then tomorrow all I have to do is fix a flight and go for a pedicure. On top of the two recent Thai massages I’ve had I should almost feel like someone else, with any luck!

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