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Warmth, chaos, noodles and motos...back to Asia!

Jan 12th - 20th

sunny 26 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

January 12th : Stockholm -> Beijing (China)
Everyone had a surprisingly good sleep last night! We all got up and changed, Romain, David and Saskia headed out for the day. Cam and I had breakfast and tea with Emmy and sorted out our bags ready to fly this afternoon while she studied for a bit. While Emmy and I were hanging out in the lounge Cam went to get us all a coffee. Thanks to the icy paths, he stacked it just outside the front door of the apartments and dropped 2 of them :( When he went back to the shop t buy 2 more, the lady felt bad and gave them to him for free! Those charming Swedes, you gotta love them!
We got showered and ready and then left at about 1 to catch the train/bus to the airport. When we arrived we were disappointed to see that the flight was delayed.....until 1am!! We checked in early, got our boarding passes all the way through to Vietnam and then happily accepted the service check for 25euros, to go and get some nice food! We had pizza and wine, used the internet for a bit, walked around all the duty free shops, read books in the book store, watched the news in one of the passenger lounges, had a nap......all in an effort to kill 10hours waiting time. The time soon flew by, and we finally got on board. The first flight wasn't too bad, a little bit of turbulence but nothing major.......

January 13th : Beijing -> Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
We got into Beijing a bit after 4pm local time. Thanks to the delay from Stockholm, we now only 3 hours until the next flight, so we made our way through the transfer section and then to customs. We got shuffled between a number of officers because we were sort of international, sort of domestic, transfers (stopping in Nanning). There was a whole lot of forms and checks we had to do in order to get a short stay visa (despite the fact we will not be leaving the airports in China), and my day pack was completely emptied and searched by the 2nd lot of customs because one of my little liquids bottles had fallen out of the sandwich bag (danger!). When we went to check in for the second flight they told us we had to go back to collect our luggage so it could clear customs, despite the fact we told them we arranged in Stockholm to have it go all the way through to Vietnam. We walked back to luggage collection and pointlessly searched all of the luggage styles to no avail. We went back to check in again, telling her our bags were nowhere to be seen. She shrugged and said 'Well....they should get there, have a nice flight'. Feeling pretty exasperated by this stage, after 2.5hours of formalities in Beijing, we got to the gate in time. Geez.....the Chinese really know how to do red tape ;)
The next flight was then also delayed by ½ hour. All of us weary passengers happily hopped on the cold bus which took us out to the little 737 jet, and accepted the flight food with joy. A 3 hour flight took us to NanNing, where everyone had to disembark, walk through the airport to the transfer lounge and get exit stamps on our visas from Beijing. There was then a wait for another hour at the gate before hopping back onto a plane. The next journey was about 3 hours to Ho Chi Minh City....

January 14th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Once there, we breezed through customs, picked up our bags and guitar and, feeling bleary eyed and already sufficiently jet lagged, stepped out into the arrivals hall. As it was 2:30am, it was quite quiet and we took the opportunity to change some money and check out the airport bus. Unfortunately this doesn't start until 8am, so we'd have to take a taxi. As we stepped outside we saw a miniature version of an old, frail man, wearing thick cloudy glasses, meekly holding up a sign with my name on it! It would seem that there was a bit of confusion with the guest house, and hopefully this means they have a room. We huddled in the corner for a bit and weighed up our options – whether we pay the overly inflated price for a hostel pick up, or just get a meter taxi....and decided upon going with the old man because, well, he was absolutely adorable and we wanted to lavish him with dollars. That, and we were so tired we were ready to drop.
During the 45min drive through Saigon we were both grinning with glee to be back in Asia, the little man at the wheel had his nose pointed in the air in an effort to stretch himself up high enough to see over the rickety steering wheel, and as the warm, sticky air rolled in through open windows we were confronted with the familiar cacophony of sounds, smells and sights this region has to offer. Motorbikes weaved between each other bearing all sorts of loads: bamboo, plants, other bikes, families, meat...... Roadworks threw dust up into the air as leathery old ladies carrying huge baskets of fruit clambered over the gravel to cross through the traffic. Ah, it is wonderful to be back!
The car stopped outside a dark alleyway and the tiny old man leapt out the door to the open boot, shakily grabbed our guitar and hobbled down into the shadows, kicking a barking mutt on the way. Following him with our bags, we got to the hostel, which was well and truly closed! We bashed on the door and called out, suddenly worried that perhaps there was no room but the driver had come anyway........eventually a dozy guy in his boxers let us in and mumbled to us that we could just stay 'til the morning then had to move to his cousin's place. We happily accepted the key and went up to our room, which was really, really nice! Worth the inflated price. By the time we got to the hostel it was 4am, making it about 40 hours between when we got to Stockholm Airport to drinking a nice cold Tiger here in Saigon....we were stuffed!
We had a celebratory 'welcome back to Asia' beer and then hit the sack for a few hours. Went downstairs for breakfast, suddenly hit with that awful, foggy jet-lagged feeling. After eating we had to sleep for another hour and then we collected our bags and wearily checked out of there and walked down a few streets and alleys to his cousin's place. Another beautiful room was offered to us, the $20 price tag put it way above what we normally pay for a bed, but we were way too exhausted to say no. We had showers and then resisted the urge to go back to sleep! With the idea that we could set our body clocks right by going outside, we stepped out into the chaotic streets of Saigon. We grabbed a roadside fruit juice and curry and chatted there for a while, before meandering around the little alleyways some more. The motorbikes here are really something else – there are 7 million people in this city and I have no idea how many bikes, but a bloody lot of them to say the least!! To cross the road you simply have to step out INTO the traffic, and let them all weave around in every direction while you maintain exactly the same pace and speed until you make it to the other side. Any sudden stopping or running completely destroys the flow of vehicles. It is challenging, but quite exhilarating!
We then went and visited a number of guesthouses to find somewhere cheaper to stay. Found a nice little family run place which had a decent room for $10 a night and arranged to come back there tomorrow for a few nights. We headed back to our room in the afternoon and had a very early night!

January 15th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Hot weather means......destroying clothes! I 'adapted' some of my winter clothes. Yes, that does mean hacking parts off of them with paper scissors. Now prepared for the warmth outisde, we collected our bags and carried them to the small guesthouse we will now move to. We went to a little roadside coffee stand and got our first taste of Vietnamese coffee. Vietnam is the worlds 2nd largest exporter of coffee, they grow Robusta beans and serve it in a little metal filter drip which sits on top of your cup. You sit and watch the coffee drip until all the water has passed through, and then, voila! Yummy! They commonly serve it with condensed milk on ice, but I opted for hot and black (...the way I like my men?).
We watched the world (chaotically) pass by over our brew before walking through the big park full of people playing badminton and sports, to the famous Ben Thanh Markets. Our intention was to by some summer clothes, but we had no such luck. Instead, we simpy enojoyed taking in all the smells and colours, and bought some mango, dragon fruit and Vietnamese plums. We then went for a walk through the rest of District 1. We bought a Vietnamese SIM card and haggled a lady down for a cheap (photocopied) guidebook. Went to an internet cafe to check our emails, then went to a cool little Indian/Vietnamese place for dinner. After a spicy feast we went to a bustling sidewalk bar and had a couple of beers. As is often the case in places like this through SE Asia, we were visited by numerous buskers, beggars, street sellers, touts and hookers. The most shocking was a boy, about 8 years old, whose face was covered in weeping burns and scabs. He yelled out to the tables and then proceeded to do some fire breathing amongst the traffic in the street, his face cringing as the fuel dribbled down onto his raw, pink chin. After the flame show, he took a snake out of a jar and then showed his ability to put it in his mouth and out again. It was so dangerous, desperate and sad.
Side Note: A moral dilemma so often faced here (and all around the world) is whether or not to give money to those who ask for it on the street. In most instances, I believe that those people driven to beg on the streets are more in need of my petty cash than I am, but I am constantly nagged by the feeling that there must be a better way to help them. There are of course more practical ways to help, like donating to organisations etc, but when a dirty, amaciated woman and child sit before me, covered in filth and flies, I feel more than obliged to offer them what is the equivalent of a mere 50c, while I chomp down on my meal which has probably cost me more than they will see in a week. Still, so many questions hover around this decision, like; What will she spend it on? Will she put it to good use? Aren't I supporting her continued acts of begging?
I am yet to come to a decision as to whether it is fundamentally right or wrong to give a beggar money, and I try to make sure I only give to those individuals I think are worthy and in real immediate need of it, but f*ck knows I am in no position to make that judgement as I sit here under shelter, with a cold beer and a computer in my lap. Ah, World, you confuse me!
We finished our beer and wearily made our way to bed, feeling right proper tired!

January 16th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Had a smidgey bit of a sleep in today........until 1pm!! Argh! Obviously, thanks to jet lag, our bodies needed it. We went to a vego place a few streets down for some coffee and lunch, and then set up camp at a cafe to try and sort out what on earth we are going to see and do in Asia, and what we can afford to spend doing it. Guide book, maps, calculator and note book at the ready, we got to work!
After getting a bit more organised, we headed back to the hostel to empty our bags of any winter things we want to send home and took our dirty clothes to a place to get washed. Went to another little vege place for dinner and talked to Mum and Dad on the phone for a little while. Back at the hostel we watched a movie on the TV and then crawled to bed.

January 17th : Saigon AKA: Ho Chi Minh City
Body clock;s till not 100% yet...up a little late again. Went back to thee coffee stall for a caffeinehit and then, winter bag in hand, went for a long walk to vvisit the Notre Dame cathedral which, not surprisingly, looks just like Notre Dame in dear ol' Paree! Although it has an eastern taste, with lush green hrounds and nice peach-coloured stones. Over the road from there is the Saigon Post Office, another lovely French era building with great tall door ways decorated with at nouveau faces and hair, before entering a tall ceilinged hall. We filled out all of the (many) customs forms to send off our jackets, hats, scarves, gloves etc home. After that was all paid and packaged up we made our way to the Reunification Palace. This was once the Independence Palace for South Vietnam but was stormed by the North Vietnamese in 1975, after which the South and North of Vietnam were unified. Out the front of the Palace, the 2 tanks which famously stormed the grounds through the front gates are still there.
We walked through the various rooms and ceremonial chambers, the area in the basement was a bit creepy. The president's 'War Room', with antiquated maps, mysterious corridors and heavy metal doors, was a bit eerie.
Getting late into the afternoon, we begun the walk back to the guesthouse. Starting to feel the heat now! Being out for long sunny days, we are beginning to get re-acclimatised. We stopped again at the Ben Thanh Markets for a brief look around, then went to us a bus ticket to Mui Ne tomorrow.
For dinner we had the Vietnamese national dish of Pho. It is a beautiful clear broth full of noodles, vegetables, tofu.....lots! It is delicious.
We were very ready for beddy byes after a long day in the sun.

January 18th : Saigon -> Mui Ne
We were up at 5:30am this morning. Packed and dressed, we set out to grab some Pho and fruit for breakfast. We then walked to the bus station where we were picked up at 7:30am for the journey to Mui Ne on the coast. The journey took us along Highway 1A, which is much less a highway than it is a very full, very chaotic car park. A stop-start drive along there for about 5 hours, we got into Mui Ne about 1pm. The town is spread along a road parallel to the beach and is dotted with those awful white, fancy beach resorts, as well as quaint little bungalows and guesthouses. We wandered along there in the sun for a while, checking out places along the way. We opted for a place on the 'wrong' side of the road (i.e; not the beach side) which was a nice little room behind a family home, set at the base of a huge sand dune. After dumping our bags we set out to explore the place. Got some mangoes and dragon fruits and meandered.
The beach was okay. We are plagued by being accustomed to the South Australian beaches! It makes us so uneasily impressed by beaches, we have such high standards :) One of the more popular activities here, thanks to the windy climate, is Kite Surfing. WE went to one of the schools on the beach to find out details, but were disappointed to learn that it is incredibly expensive. Scratched that off our list and went to check to something within our range: Cooking School! This was unfortunately full, so we headed to the next appealing place: the local music place. We found a cafe which supports local (and, surprisingly, international) music and had some coffee there. The rest of the day consisted of all it can in a beach town: chilling out in the sunshine, with good intentions to do physically demanding activities the following day!

January 19th : Mui Ne
Our plans to ride to the big sand dunes were foiled by the rains which began at about 1am this morning and never ended! Vietnam's skies opened and sent a huge downpour to the South, making it nearly impossible to do anything. The road in front of the house flooded and the population seemed to vanish.
We went for a soggy barefoot stroll to a shed on the beach which was full of Vietnamese having a party of some sort. A guy with good English invited us in and we had some noodles before heading back to the music cafe to have coffee and fruit and tunes.
The rest of the saturated afternoon involved playing songs in the room, typing the journal and generally bumming out of the rain.
In the evening we went to Joe's for dinner and some drinks. There was a local musician playing there and Cam got roped into playing a few songs with him :) He did a fantastic job as always and the crowd really enjoyed it! We hung out with Joe, the owner for a while. Learned a bit more about life living in Vietnam, and some awful stories about pet dogs being stolen in the night to be taken to restaurants.....as ingredients :S
We watched a movie on the big screen, hung out with some dude from the navy, played with a gorgeous stray kitten, drank lots of beer and then splashed home through the puddled streets in the wee hours.

January 20th : Mui Ne
The rain has not ceased. Thankfully we were slow rolling out of bed this morning, so it was no big deal. We once again waded down to Joe's, where we indulged in gigantic breakfasts'. Next stop was to get bus tickets out of here tomorrow. The weather has meant that Mui Ne has been purely a chill out place for us, but we have enjoyed it. Dripping wet again, we sploshed back to the bungalow where we pulled up pews out the front to look out through the frangipani trees to the sand dunes, write the journal and learn some songs.
For dinner we walked a long way down the beach road and scored a little local homestay which made the most amazing Morning Glory with Garlic.
Got a couple of big dragon fruits on the way home for desert. Dragon Fruits are grown in this region. Tasting like a mild kiwi fruit, only about 5 times the size with flourescent pink skin and white flesh flecked with black edible seeds, they are a delicious fruit. The plants look like something out of a sci-fi film, large and aloe vera looking with big pink spiky fruits at the tip, they dot the road sides here.

Posted by saresNcam 22:53 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking

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