3000 miles. That’s approximately how far I’ve travelled since my last blog post in June. Almost a third of the distance it takes to get back to England. A sudden deluge of blogs from other friends and insistence from my grandparents has persuaded me to do an update, to assuage fears I may have died and also to unashamedly brag under the guise of simply reporting my whereabouts. I blame my lack of correspondence on three things, firstly the electricity company were ‘rewiring’ the street outside and clumsily cut our internet wire. They obviously wouldn’t fix it, and the internet company wouldn’t take the blame, so for 2 months our internet connection has been terrible. Secondly I’ve been travelling a lot and thirdly I’m lazy.
We last left off with me in June teaching at my normal private language school, anticipating the arrival of Mike and enjoying the lovely, chaotic Saigon. Since then I have travelled from Hanoi down the country, mainly following the trail popularly known as the ‘Reunification Route’. Mike and I took just over two weeks to rapidly cover the country in a time the NVA could only dream of. Here are some brief highlights, apologies for no photos at present, aforementioned crappy internet cannot handle uploading them!
Hanoi and Ha Long Bay
This is the capital of Vietnam, it’s much smaller and considered the more traditional and conservative alternative to Saigon. We stayed for two nights and also took a two day trip to Ha Long Bay. Through a friend in Saigon we managed to get a good deal on a boat trip and stayed the night in a beautiful cabin. We saw the ingeniously named ‘amazing cave’ (the guide said this was because It was very big and so amazed you, how creative), kayaked, sunbathed on the deck and dived into the water. This last bit was pretty dangerous and resulted in another passenger dislocating his shoulder and having to be taken on a speed boat to hospital.
Now, this place is something special. It’s about a 2 hour train journey from Hanoi. The only seats avaible are hard seaters, so that means squeezing onto wooden planks on a smelly train for two hours. This was the least of our train dramas however! You arrive at what looks like your average dusty motorway town. But this is the gateway to one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. It’s fondly called ‘Ha Long Bay on land’ and it surpassed expectations. The Ha Long Bay limestone pillars are beautiful, but are set against a backdrop of tourist boats, litter and hundreds of people. Ninh Binh is more beautiful, less busy and astounding. Driving around on motorbikes through huge cliffs, caves and over streams was one of my favourite bits. We also took a boat ride through Tam Coc caves and climbed a very small (yet exhausting for me!) mountain to take in the glorious views.
Due to our lack of time, we decided to cut out Hue. Despite it being the location for the excellent film ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and the scene of some famous massacres, the history nerd inside me conceded that we didn’t have enough space in our schedule so we missed it. This meant however that we’d have to get a 16 hour train from Ninh Binh to Da Nang. It was more like twenty hours, on a hard sleeping bed, in a tin tuna-can cabin. It had six beds, so there should only have been 4 other adults. but instead there were 4 other adults plus their 4 children!
It was all worth it when we got to Da Nang and then to Hoi An by taxi. Hoi An is reknowned for its tailoring, bars, cafes and generally accessible, peaceful feel. The buildings wouldn’t look out of place in Tuscany and the beaches were incredible.
A beach town I’d been too before however we wanted some where to break up the long journeys. We had excellent food, did lots of sunbathing and ate so much Indian food we couldn’t move.
This was undeniably the pinnacle. Da Lat is in the highlands so Mike was much happier with the cooler climate. Here we went canyoning, hiking, rock climbing, abseiling down waterfalls and free water sliding. Despite the dubious health and safety provisions we both had a great time and miraculously managed to not break anything. We also rode around the lake in a swan pedalo with lots of Vietnamese honeymooners and children.
Back in HCMC
The day we returned back my mum and brother arrived for their two week stint in ‘nam. Having them here was lovely, they were excellent at not getting run over and adjusted really well to the huge cultural differences. Mum even got on a motorbike and stroked a water buffalo in the Mekong Delta!
So, after that it was more or less back to everyday life. Mike left in July and I started another job In addition to my current job. I am officially a ‘Lecturer of English’ at a University here, which is pretty ridiculous seeing as I am grossly under qualified! Nevertheless it pays well and the extra money is welcomed! The students are great, the management is really friendly and it’s a bit further out of the city. Seeing as it’s next to a boys’ school and I am the only western female member of staff I get plenty of people shouting that I’m beautiful which is never a bad thing, even if they are probably joking!
Now I am working two jobs I’ve decided I clearly need more holidays so I also took a week trip to Phu Quoc island with three other friends, I won’t bore you with the reports because it was essentially just eating, off road motorbiking and sunbathing!
I also went to Singapore to stay with an old school friend. The city was such a contrast to Vietnam and so refreshing. It’s like a cleaner, more efficient and futuristic New York. It was great to have people the same height as me, to not worry about opportunistic crime and actually stay at a nice family house with an oven. The first meal I had there was a jacket potato, something I’ve been craving for 10 months!
So there it is. A lengthy and hastily assembled attempt to briefly summarise of the last three months!