Posts Tagged ‘Mui Ne’

Saigon – full circle

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

On Thursday Vietnam was celebrating a special day. It was the 35th anniversary of the Reunification, i.e. the end of the American War. We got on the bus in Hoi An at 6:30pm, and headed south. We spent a couple of hours on Friday morning in Nha Trang, from 6am to 8am, before continuing on to Saigon. As we stopped for lunch in Mui Ne, Gjerulf was the last person off the bus before it was locked, and Annikken was the first person back on after it was unlocked. In the mean time, someone had stolen her cell phone from the top of her day pack… We asked the bus drivers if they had let anyone in during the stop, but they didn’t understand the question. Eventually they called the office, to give us someone who spoke English, but even then all they could come up with was a shrug and a wagging of the right hand from side to side, which apparently means “Shit happens” or “Nothing we can do about it” or something of that sort.

We met some nice travellers on the second bus, who are living in Tokyo, teaching foreign languages; a German, Karoline,Ā  teaching German, and two Americans, Bryan and Jake, teaching English… šŸ˜‰ Jake had his camera and ipod stolen from his bag on the previous bus, so someone was definately making some extra money on that trip.

We went out for dinner with the three teachers last night, along with a Canadian guy from the bus, a Japanese girl that the teachers had met earlier in Vietnam, who just happened to be there, a Japanese guy who had studied with the girl in Australia a couple of months ago, and who also just happened to be walking by, and last but not least a Scottish guy whom the Canadian had met elsewhere in Vietnam, and who ALSO just happened to be there… When you’re a backpacker, these things tend to occur. The night ended early, however, as most of us had just gotten off the bus after a 25 hour bus ride…

Today we met up with Bryan for breakfast, and Karoline a bit later, and then the four of us spent the day walking around Saigon, buying stuff at a local market, and we even managed a tour of the Reunification Palace. The tour was very interesting, and we learned a lot about Vietnam. For example, they had four presidents in South Vietnam during the war, one who was president for three years before he was killed, but managed to start the building of the palace we visited. The second president was in power for eight years, and lived in the palace. The third president lasted about a week, and the fourth president lasted all of 43 hours in office…

Tomorrow is the last night before Annikken gets on the plane to go home, so this will be our last blog post together. To all of you who have been following Annikken, hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you back home soon.

Gjerulf will continue to travel, and continue to write. He might head into Cambodia with the three teachers we met, on the same day as Annikken goes home, but we’ll see. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Ca Na – True VietNam

Friday, March 27th, 2009

We were supposed to go dune-sledding the day before yesterday, however due to Annikken’s severe sunburn we decided to postpone our dune-sledding adventure one more day. Annikken just relaxed the whole day mostly inside, while Gjerulf spent a few hours on the beach enjoying the sun and waves as well shopping for beachwear and finding an ATM that worked to withdraw some money.

Yesterday however we woke up bright and early at 6.30 to avoid the worst of the heat when dune sledding. We met up with Mr Binh and Mr. Khanh at 7.30, and rode motorcycles out to the dunes. It was about a half hour ride, and the scenery was stunning, with the turquoise sea, the bright blue skies, and the sand on the side of the road changing colour between bright red and stark white and back again. On the way out, we stopped for some photos at the idyllic fishing village of Mui Ne, away from resorts and hotels. Once we reached the dunes we dismounted for some pictures by a small lake filled with lotus flowers, before getting some thick plastic sheets for sliding on, and heading on foot into the sand dunes. For a while we got the feeling portrayed by humourous cartoons, of people walking in endless desert, as the dunes rose till they met the blue sky!

Having trudged to the top of the biggest dune, we sat down on our sheets, and started off the steep side. To our great disappointment it was EXTREMELY slow, just barely moving down the side of the mound of sand. We didn’t despair, however, being raised with sledding on snow, we decided to try on our stomachs, head first down! With the increased surface touching the sand we stopped shoving half the dune in front of us going down, and instead flew down the incline! We had great fun, but the scorching sun was trying to kill us even though it was still before 9 am! We reluctantly slouched back to the edge of the sand, where we downed a soda and two bottles of water each, trying to restore our cool. Annikken, being unsuccessful, started feeling dizzy and faint, and we decided to cut the trip short, and head home to the hotel. A couple of hours later our bus for Ca Na arrived, and we were pleased to find another airconditioned sleeper bus.

The bus stopped at Ca Na, but we were the only ones to get off, as it’s a bit off the beaten path for western tourists. There are three resorts just outside the small fishing village of Ca Na, but one of them has been closed down. We were looking forward to some less commercialized beaches, peaceful surroundings and motorcycle rides around the area to explore small coves and tiny beaches. It started off great, although the staff at our hotel don’t speak more than three words of English between them. The maid showing us our bungalow on the waterfront said we needed to use Visa. We refused to pay by Visa, and said we’d only pay cash. When she didn’t back down, we decided to go to the other resort and try our luck. Finally, as we were about to walk out on her, we realized she was talking about passports, which they need to see, in order to register us with immigration! šŸ™‚

We got an airconditioned room with TV and ensuite bathroom, the surf lapping the shore just a few meters from our balcony, all for the neat sum of 80000 dong per person, or just under 30 kroner. We immediately decided to go check out the beaches, and ride around to look for a good place to have dinner. We’re still not sure whether there were any places to rent motorcycles at all, but our hotel didn’t have any, and neither could they point us in the direction of anywhere that did. We were walking around for a while, looking, but no luck. The resort area was definately not aimed at westerners. We were so rare a treat that literally EVERYONE that passed us honked or shouted at us, smiling and waving! Seeing as distances were rather considerable though, we were unable to get around to where we wanted to go on foot, and decided to just head on to Nha Trang in the morning. We managed to find a guy who spoke English, who called a bus company and managed to get us a minibus at 7.30Ā  am. We had a dinner that was surprisingly pricy for a non-western area, and headed to bed. The place was gorgeous in the night, with a million stars visible, and lights from hundreds of fishing boats glittering out to sea.

Sunrise this morning was fabulous, the illuminating the sea and our back porch beautifully! We headed out to take the bus to Nha Trang, and the trip was quite memorable as well… We were at least 23 people that we managed to count, plus some personal delivery mail and luggage, piled into a 14 seat van with no aircon. On the road we were suddenly waved over, and a column of official looking vehicles came racing past in the opposite direction. There were people in some sort of uniform along the road, and suddenly two bicycle riders came zooming past us. A few more cars, some television broadcast vans, and a bunch of motorcycles with TV-cameras followed, and then the main field of the bicycle race! We felt like we’d been dumped straight into some sort of Tour de VietNam or something!

We are now sitting in a divers bar in Nha Trang, looking forward to our first two dives on a trip out to the island of Hon Mun tomorrow morning. We found a decent looking Padi certified diving outfit with Vietnamese instructors that speak very good English, and decided to go for them. The divers bar we’re at has it’s own dive team, but they’re all Russian. Apparently there are lots and lots of Russians coming to Vietnam, which confirms our suspicions, having seen loads of menus written in Vietnamese, English and Russian.

Mui Ne – Tropical Paradise

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 24

Yesterday we arrived in Mui Ne. The bus ride was a bit of a surprise, to say the least! We were expecting a normal, cramped bus, hopefully with A/C. What we found, was a sleeper bus, with beds instead of seats, comfortable, well airconditioned, with pillows and blankets for everyone. No doubt the most comfortable bus ride we’ve ever had, especially after a couple of too warm, sleepless nights, trying to adjust to the heat.

On arrival, we checked out a few hotels before deciding on Thai Hoa Beach Resort, with it’s own stretch of beach, and a lush, green garden with an outdoor restaurant. We had a bite to eat before we changed into swimwear, and literally raced each other into the waves. Gjerulf’s delight at finally seeing the sea again for the first time since November was only topped by the feeling of luke warm salt water on our poor over heated bodies. We are continuously grateful for the price level in Vietnam, as the room with en suite bathroom, TV and fan only sets us back 105000 Vietnamese Dong per person, approx 40 NOK.

Last night we finished off the day by dressing up and heading to a nice restaurant down town for a bit of a splurge… Garlic bread, thai coconut curry, BBQ Barracuda and fruit platter was the order of the night. After finishing the regime of medicine Gjerulf was finally able to have a refreshing beer again, and was introduced by Annikken to the wonders of TIGER beer!

Today we have done as little as possible, the day was solely dedicated to lying on the beach and playing in the surf. Despite SPF25 and only short periods in the sun, Annikken has changed hue on the front side, from a standard Norwegian Winter White, to a deep Lobster Red. Gjerulf hunted around shops and a pharmacy for some aloe vera gel, but it took a woman’s determination to achieve any results… Annikken headed out, despite the severe sunburn, and tried to ask around for it. The motorcycle driver misunderstood her intentions, and took her to a restaurant down town. After a quick stop at a travel agency to ask for more pharmacies, the return trip consisted of frequent stops along the road, with unfruitful attempts at conversation with well meaning Vietnamese with no knowledge of English. Eventually, Annikken spied a massage parlour with a picture of an aloe vera plant on the board. Communication was still difficult, and the manager assumed she wanted their special Aloe Vera and Honey massage. Finally they understood her needs, and brought her around to the back of the shop to where a big plot full of Aloe was growing! Two huge leaves were cut and given absolutely free of charge, as both driver and shopkeeper were happy when they had finally managed to put a big smile on the face of the resolute girl with a mission! Upon her triumphant return, Gjerulf voluntarily conceded that her stubbornness paid off, even though he was convinced there were no shops selling aloe vera gel in this town! Covered from head to toe in Aloe, Annikken is hoping fervently that the aforementioned bright colour will turn into a more pleasant sun-kissed brown by the morning, when we’re going dune-sledding!

VietCong’s Cu Chi Tunnels

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 22

My plane was an hour late, but I got through immigration without problems. Annikken was waiting for me when I arrived, and we took a taxi with a Canadian woman to the backpacker area De Tham in Saigon (=Ho Chi Minh City=HCMC). We bargained for accomodation, and managed to get it down to eight dollars for a room for the both of us.

We tried to get a CS host in Saigon, but due to some misunderstandings and short notice, we’re spending our nights in Saigon in a hotel (read: room above an arts and crafts shop). The temperature down here is a scorching thirty five degrees centigrade, and we’re both having a bit of trouble adjusting to the climate. We’re travelling together for the next couple of months, so the coming weeks we’ll share this blog.

Yesterday was mainly spent resting and trying to recover from jet lag and sleep deprivation respectively, while both attempting to cope with the dramatic climate change. In the afternoon, however, we had a nice walk around down town Saigon. The parks were filled with teenagers and young adults playing games. The most prominent is kicking around things made of layered plates of plastic, with tails of feathers, as if they were hackeysacks. Another favorite pass time is apparently hiding from parents, making out on all the benches in the darker shadows in the park. A striking point to be made on the layout of the city, are the abrupt changes between different quarters. On our side of the park is the backpacker area, while the park was almost all Vietnamese youngsters. On the other side of the park we entered an area catering to well off Vietnamese professionals, and at the north end were all the luxury hotels. Amongst them is the New World Hotel Saigon, where Annikken will be spending her last well deserved night in Vietnam, drinking her long awaited champagne after backpacking for sixty days. Google it and and weep! šŸ˜€

We decided early to try to mostly eat traditional and local cuisine preferably outside of the typical tourists areas, dining where the vietnamese dined, from street vendors or similar. So yesterday at lunch we started our food adventure by buying baguettes from the street vendors, one with tofu and one with ham, filled with lots of vegetables and different kinds of tasty sauces, and for desert a big pineapple. Unsurprisingly this tasted fantastic and we will without a doubt try this again. For dinner however, Gjerulf decided to be a bit more adventurous and we sat down at a street barbeque and ordered a whole frog WITH skin as well as grilled pork to be a bit more on the safe side.

This morning we got up early and headed off to see the Cu Chi tunnels, for which the American War (that’s the Vietnam war to you Americans:)) is famous. On the way there we stopped to see a laquer-workshop run by vietnamese who were handicapped due to the military use of the chemical Agent Orange. The workmanship was fabulous, but being backpackers with weeks and months left to travel we couldn’t very well stock up on the awesome trinkets. At Cu Chi, the Vietnamese soldiers dug small tunnels under the ground, to stay hidden from American bombers and infantry. The tunnels were tight, with little oxygen and less light, but the construction was fantastic. The area was spiderwebbed with tunnels, so that if a bomb broke through the ground and destroyed some chambers or tunnels, there were always ways to circumvent the missing parts. On three levels, at 3, 7 and 9 meters under the surface, the lowest tunnels needed air shafts to supply oxygen. They were built by drilling bamboo pipes from the surface to the ground, and disguising the opening at the top as a termite mound! The tunnels were in places riddled with booby traps, to stop any unwelcome visitors, and deep fresh water wells to get drinking water. We were shown how they popped up of the hidden entrances, some of the ingeniously cruel traps, got to taste the food they ate (mainly tapioca) and had the opportunity to fire weapons from the period, like the AK47, M30 and others. Annikken had done it before, and Gjerulf is pasifist, so we skipped directly to the tunnel walk. The tunnels were widened and heightened to fit westerners, but it was still a pretty claustrophobic squeeze, running at a crouch through the pitch black heat. We were told the widened tunnels would feel to us as the originals feel to the Vietnamese. The small size of the tunnels was a great defense against American soldiers, who’d have no chance following into the tunnel system.

Tomorrow we’re off to Mui Ne, a five hour bus ride from HCMC. It’s a famous beach resort, and we’re looking forward to finally throwing ourselves into the turquoise water, and lie on the beach under a clear blue sky. The bus leaves at eight am, so Annikken is headed to bed, while Gjerulf goes out to see if he can meet some CS’ers for a little while.