Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Vietnam Wrap - a bit late...

• Only 18 passengers on the KL to Hanoi flight (737).
• Very hazy in Hanoi. Drizzles rain occasionally but sky never clears.
• Driving to Hanoi – paddy fields, cows and buffalo on the highway, four story houses (only about 3m wide) in the middle of nowhere, bikes, scooters, vans, constant tooting and light flashing. Organised chaos.
• Hotel adequate but not flash. But a fridge with beer in it. Warm. Can only run the fridge or the TV at any given time. Have unplugged TV.
• Walked into town and went to the famous water puppets. Quite funny and very clever. Loved the ‘catching a frog’ sequence. Noodles and home to bed.
• Up early – Margaret joined in a community Tai Chi group at the local park. I watched.
• Breakfast at the hotel – lots and lots of French folk in at present. Almost as humorless as the Germans in Thailand. Don’t know why.
• Taxi to museum of ethnology – ripped off something terrible by the taxi driver – paid the meter fare but far too high, must have been fiddled with.
• Museum of Ethnology quite interesting. Lots and lots of school kids there; many said ‘hello’. Several Uni students wanted to take our photos.
• One young lass wanted to show us around Hanoi – fearing a scam (and wanting our freedom) we said ‘no’.
• Taxi to the Temple of Literature – one fifth the cost of the first taxi. Beautiful architecture. More school kids. More ‘hello’s.
• Tried to find a restaurant for lunch. The first time I can recall anywhere where we could not make ourselves understood in either broken English or broken French. Even sign language seemed to make no headway. Picked two dishes at random from the menu – ended up with stir-fried greens with garlic and some sort of beef dish with chips. Ate the greens and beef. Plus a beer.
• Walked home past the army base – kept my camera firmly in my pocket.
• Guy on a bike riding beside us offering to sell us books – The Quiet American, something with that famous picture of the young girl with napalm on her back on its cover, various other books that all seemed to have a guilt-trip element. Didn’t work.
• Trying to master the local words for ‘thank you’ with mixed success. As Vietnamese is tonal I am probably offering to fill their letter box with rice porridge. Or possibly worse.
• Crossing the road an act of faith – you just walk out into the traffic and rely on it going around you. They, in return, ignore most traffic signals.
• Lovely fresh salads – risky eating-wise but, oh, the flavour!
• War relics – bunkers from both the French and the American wars.
• The Imperial Citadel in Hue – fascinating complex; being rebuilt after over 75% demolished by bombing in the war (well, the Viet Cong had set up home there, you see, so you can’t really blame the US for bombing it.)
• Mad drivers, overtaking on blind corners.
• Four sacred animals – Turtle, Dragon, Phoenix & Unicorn.
• Storekeepers who shout out “Hello Sir, you buy something?” as you walk past. (Variant: “Where you from?”, “Australia”, “Gidday mate, you buy from me?”). No-one asks what you are looking for, just implores you to buy something. Anything. You seldom get left alone to browse but have immediate attention from someone who keeps passing you stuff. System overloaded, I walk away.
• At restaurants small children approach you and try to sell postcards, Tiger Balm gel, flowers, and chewing-gum. It is a really awkward feeling when they do this – you don’t want what they are selling and yet you feel for them. One, when walking away, said “It’s not fair. You have so much and I have nothing.”. Ouch.
• Sitting on the front verandah of a restaurant; watching rats running past the front step. Lovely food, though.
• About eight high-rise five-star resorts being built along Danang-Hoi An beach. It will be a totally different place in 10 years time.
• 6am at the fish market – hustle, bustle but no hassle. The first time we have been totally transparent. They know we don’t want to buy fish so ignore us and we can wander at will. Gently moved to one side if we are in the way.
• People drying their product in their front yards – corn, peanuts, squid...
• Eating grilled, dried squid while walking home late at night.
• Considering that dogs are a delicacy, there are a surprising number of them about the place.
• Rice nearing harvest.
• Watermelons en-route to the markets by truck and boat.
• Lovely meals with lots of aromatic fresh herbs. (Yes, I know the ‘rules’ say ‘don’t eat salads’ but they are so nice!)
• Pretty young ladies in tailor shops charming naïve men into buying clothing. Whole new slant on the term “suitors”.
• Ancient ruins in the bush ay My Son, Hindu temples from 6th-13th century, overrun by weeds and camera-toting tourists. Hot, hot, hot. And sticky. Same story as the Imperial Citadel – a lot of it bombed during the war. Now a world heritage area. Lots of officials looking over us, shooing people off the buildings.
• Breakfasts a mixture of Vietnamese noodle soup (Pho), western cereals and French cakes. And the ever present fruit.
• The Viet Cong tunnels were amazing. More so when it turned out that many of them were from the French era and that when the US came they built over the top of them.
• Hard not to cry at the War Remnants Museum.
• The overriding feeling in Vietnam is a country on the go and a people on the hustle. The country is building and growing but, as a tourist, I was forever feeling that I had been taken for a ride and over-charged wherever they could get away with it. But lovely scenery, lovely food and enough pleasant people to help forget the others. The best single word for Vietnam is energy.

Photos and previous country wraps:


  1. it was a slight from an unenlightened youth that spoke of how you have yet he does not.

    He who has has less than he who has nothing, for the one who has must care for what he has. While the one who has not has no cares.

  2. I kind of feel for the people's a hard life after they're been affected by wars..wish to witness all this myself one day.

  3. We felt as if we were cheated & overcharged everywhere we went in Singapore. We were not there long, but even the people did not make up for the feeling of hostility towards us. Such a contrast to Thailand.


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