Monthly Archives: September 2012

Vietnam – September 2012

Ho Chi Minh City Day 6 – A fun but slightly disappointing day (Part 2)

Given that what I had originally thought was going to be a full day tour was only a half day I found myself back at the hotel at 2:30pm unsure of what to do with myself for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.  I figured what a better way to ponder my dilemma than over coffee so I headed off to flash coffee just down from the hotel to procrastinate.  The solution to my problem seemed resolved whilst sipping on a nice hot cup of Vietnamese coffee as there was an American guy sitting on the next table over with a huge laptop and an even bigger backpack so I figured what better way to spend time than to spend it in conversation so that is what I did.

As he had a camcorder and a laptop two things that I tend to be familiar with they proved to be a good conversation starter.  He is currently living in South East Asia travelling from country to country looking to meet locals and find out their stories and see how they live and has been in the region for the last six months, with the last 2.5 of them being in Vietnam.  He has a little camcorder that he uses to record the people he meets but mostly his own conversations with himself so that he will have them as memories to look back on and also takes some stills with them as well.

From memory he is planning on spending one to two years in Asia moving from place to place and teaching English when he needs to earn some additional funds, but thus far he has found his money stretching really well over here, given my time here I can easily understand why it is so easy to spend so little.  I asked him to share with me his thoughts and observations having spent two and a half months here in Vietnam.

The first point that he made was how busy the people are here, he has made a lot of friends here but does not get to spend a great deal of time with them, not due to the fact that they do not want to, but by virtue of them being so busy.  He was mostly socializing with people towards the end of their time in university and said that they tend to do university 5 – 6 days a week, plus the additional studies required but in addition to this they all seem to have part time jobs and have joined at least one social based club which virtually leaves them no time for other things.  Everyone that he meets and spends time with have all fallen into the same grouping the only difference being the social club in which they belong to.

Based on this it seems that the Vietnamese are a very industrious people and they like to keep themselves busy, if they do not have something to fill all their time with they will find something with which to do so.  Personally I like the quiet down time so that I can sit back and reflect on everything that has been going on, but it is certainly an admirable trait in a people.

The other topic we discussed was English and my surprise at it’s lack of penetration here.  Apparently though most of the Vietnamese especially younger can actually read / write English at a reasonable level, it is the verbal communication that they have the issue with.  Most of them do not really learn English until they hit university in which they then get classes on the language however the bulk of the time it is not a native speaker in which they learn from.  As their language appears to be tonal based they have a large amount of trouble understanding us as if the inflections don’t match up with how they expect the word to sound they will not believe it to be the same thing.

A case in point he made is that he went to see Madagascar at the movies here, when he asked for a ticket the counter staff did not understand him so he pointed to it and she said oh Madagascar sounding exactly the same to him but there must have been a slight difference in the inflection so she did not believe it to mean that.

Apparently robbery is quite common here, especially if you are a westerner and when it takes place do not expect anyone to come to your aid.  The people will just ignore it, have no information in regards to the perpetrator or what took place.  He had been robbed once and then attempted another time when he got boxed in front and behind by girls so he jumped onto the street and he could see the motorcycle waiting to whisk them away once they had his stuff.  Apparently it is your fault for having stuff worth being taken if you get robbed and it is fine for the people taking it from you.

Vietnam whilst having a reasonable number of tourists visit is still relatively small in relation to the number of visitors that their neighbors get and an even smaller percentage of them appear to be westerners so as this is likely to change in the coming years I think that this attitude towards the victims will need to change as being a victim of crime and then finding no support and you are the one to blame is not one that will go down well with most people I know, and nor should it.  Thankfully in my entire time here I have not seen it, or even felt threatened so overall I do think it is a relatively safe place to visit but if you have expensive things on you it does pay to be a little more mindful of them and your surroundings.

He is next off to Laos I believe for a month in a couple of weeks, and I must admit feeling envious again.  But with that and a successful 4 hours killed drinking coffee and chatting the afternoon away it was time to part ways and have something to eat.  A simple dinner of chicken rice and pepsi and it was time for bed as it was going to be an early day out to the Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam.

Things Learnt:
– The Vietnamese are a very busy / industrious people
– Whilst more and more people are learning English the tonal based differences make it difficult and they could probably benefit from more exposure to native English speakers
– Don’t be a victim of crime
– This will be a very different place in 20 years

All in all I could definately see myself wanting to spend a great deal of time exploring all around the country here.

Ho Chi Minh City Day 6 – A fun but slightly disappointing day (Part 1)

As I had decided to extend my stay here in Ho Chi Minh it was time to begin the tours that I had organised with the hotel. Today’s trip was to be a full day out to the Coa Dai temple followed by heading further south to the Cu Chi region of southern Vietnam where there was fierce gorrila fighting with the American forces by use of a network of tunnels which the Americans couldn’t seem to do much about.

I was up and ready by 7:30am and the pickup by the bus occured at 08:30am so I had plenty of time with which to wake up which was good.

There appeared to be a little confusion in regards to the tour that I booked, I was put in the half day tour which others in my hotel had also booked, so instead of Coa Dai & the tunnels the trip for today was just going to be out to the tunnels. I was actually rather looking forward to seeing this temple as it seems to be based on a local religion which souned rather interestering, however given that I have nnot managed to find any of the pagodas here I can simply add it to the list of reasons for me to come back here again.

The trip out to Cu Chi took about 2 hours in the bus, the roads here while tending to be in quite good shape are a tad bumpy so it was an interesting ride out there with one rest stop in the middle at a factory set up by the government for disabled people. They set up a huge workshop and display hall where they get trained in the creation of lacquerwear masterpeices. The level of intricacy and detail in so many of the peices was phenominal, whilst I do have a slight objection to using disabled people as a tourist attraction I can understand the motivation behind it.

The workshop is located a fair way out of town, so by using it as a rest stop they can run a cafe to service the buses as well as introduce a rather large and somewhat more wealthy customer base to their wares, being so out of town it is less likely that tourists would just stumble across it, every peice is a handmade work of art in my opinion, from the small traditional like paintings to huge dresser like tables. They were all made, painted and sealed by hand and they have every right to be proud of it.

It is here that I learnt that like some other regions of South East Asia Vietnam does operate on the basis of “face” this government initative gives them a trade and employment which stops the potential for the disabled becoming beggars on the streets and subsequently loosing face.

It was here that I also learnt that our tour guide has a very odd sense of time lol, 5 minutes in reality was anywhere between 30 seconds to 3 minutes tops and 15 minutes is more like about 8.

Having not learnt much about Vietnam before coming here, I discovered what I had suspected to be true, the language appears to be tonal based which explains their difficulty in handling spoken English as without a fair amount of exposure to native english speakers unless a word is announciated exactly as they expect to hear it then it won’t potentially mean the same thing.

Our tour guides name was Tuey (sounds like T-wee when spoken) and apparently a slight different inflection can change the meaning of her name from beauty to sinking so she asked us to just call her Lulu. With the rest stop out of the way we continued on our way to the Cu Chi region for a look into the history of the region and how they dealt with the American War as it is known here.

One thing that did strike me as we got further out is the place does seem to be kept to the same standard throughout all the areas of the country that I have seen thus far, they have lots of people in orange overalls keeping all the streets and roadsides tidy as well as tending all the numerous gardens they have around, in that sense aside from the slightly higher grime due to being built around a lot of clay it has reminded me of Singapore, they really seem to take pride in keeping their areas clean and tidy as well as well presented.

Another thing of note is thus far there does not really seem to be much poverty either, it is easy to base your opinions on what constitutes poverty around how much money or possessions one has but when travelling the world I tend to take a slightly different view than what it constitutes in Australia. Pretty much everyone I saw had relatively clean and new clothing and they all appeared well fed with most talking / using mobile telephones so it seems overall the bulk of the people here have what is needed for basic survival and most likely a bit extra. From my conversations the government does a fairly reasonable job of looking after it’s citizens and it does pretty much show throughout all the areas I have been thus far.

As we approach Cu Chi, I will make a note that if you are reading this and are American and easily offended do not visit here, or at least if you do you may want to skip the documentary part at the beginning of the tour when you get there, even if you are not easily offended it is worth noting that it will most likely make you feel a tad uncomfortable, that said on to the history of the Cu Chi region.

Firstly let me say this place is beautiful, set in a lush jungle surrounded by various plants and trees it looks amazing, 50 years ago this would be a completely different story however. It is amazing just how resiliant mother nature can be, most of the damage has been grown over already, however I did get the sense that the land has yet to forget what was done to it. Admist all the lush jungle there is still bomb craters from the large amount of ordinance that was dropped on the region.

After first entering the complex we sit down in a little hall for a bit of history. Let me say I don’t take pride or joy in the death of my fellow man, however the documentary going over the history of the region does tend to put a lot of emphasis on the honour and pride of the slaughter of Americans. It begins with going over the peace loving nature of the Cu Chi people, how the area was beautiful farmlands and jungles with rubber plantations and how at the beginning the people were neutral towards the Viet Cong (sp?) and the American forces and how the attitudes then changed as the Americans started to (best way to describe it here) bomb the absolute shit out of their homelands.

After this it moves on to the set up of the tunnels for supply lines, guerilla fighting and overall housing for people that would otherwise potentially die with the amount of ordinance being rained on the area, with the tunnels at their peak being home to about 16,000 people. After this it is rather blatant propoganda of the struggles of the heroic revolutionary fighters against the imperialistic Americans. It showcases the achievements and tactics used by many of the fighters in the region (several of them children) and the awards / recognitions that they received.

Awards that were given:
– American Killing Honour Medal
– American Tank Killer Honour Medal
– American Fighter Killer Honour Medal

They definately did take a lot of pride in their slaughter of the US troops, one point I did notice however is that all of this seems solely directed at the US, there were many countries that supplied forces and supplies to that war including my own, however the only one mentioned as being the enemy was the US.

A point I will make here is that this level of animosity does not appear to have really continued throughout the years, most people seem to just want to be seen as equals and “fellow man” by the US and move forward, which I think is a good thing.

I have what I see to be a somewhat pragmatic view when it comes to war, overall I believe it to be an evil thing and there should always be a diplomatic solution to our problems, however as highlighted by the plight of one little girl who got many medals for killing a large amount of Americans, if someone was to come to my home, a beautiful jungle and then drop a massive amount of bombs on it turning it into a massive pot marked blackened mess of what it once was killing people that I cared about chances are I would want to fuck them up back. Am I proud of this, no I do not believe anyone should be motivated by revenge, however I have to acknowledge that in the case of me it would be potentially true so on some level I have to relate and although not condone at least understand.

I don’t claim to know a great deal about the Vietnam / American war as it is called depending on the side aside from basic knowledge gained by reading history as it was well before my time, however from my understanding the bulk of this conflict and the reason why the Americans were so tenacious with it was “Red Fear” in that they did not want communism to gain another foothold in the world. I disagree with wars based on ideology as they are just plain stupid in my opinion which should not hold relevance in the modern world. Your god wears a pink tutu, mine wears blue therefore DIE INFIDEL!! It is retarded.

Now with that out of the way, it was off to explore the jungle. The whole region seems to be made up of 70-90% clay which does explain why it managed to hold up so well versus all the bombs that were dropped against it, and why a multi level based tunnel system would work so well, it is self reinforcing and the bombs being dropped would only ever be able to collapse the top most level in any given area. Given how interconnected and multi-leveled the system is it makes sense why they could never really irradicate it.

They take you through paths through the jungle, the first thing we are introduced to is the tiny little hidey holes that were used, with us being tasked with finding one on the jungle floor, when it was finally located and we went to open it there was a little guy hiding behind a tree with crackers which he set off as soon as it was opened. They sure did love their booby traps, and who could really blame them in war. The entrance was literally tiny, I think that maybe I could have gotten a leg in there but that would be it, the smaller girls and one guy from our group got in there and it was well and truly cramped. I must say it is not how I would like to spend an afternoon waiting for a patrol to go overhead.

After that we continued through the jungle to check out the various traps that were used and how traditional hunting methods were then adapted to serve as wartime techniques  Not all of the traps however were designed to kill, some were designed with the purpose of maiming. This I don’t agree with personally, if you are fighting someone and at war, kill them don’t design traps to remove their testicles and penises leaving them to a life of a lady boy that is just rude and cruel in my opinion, and can then potentially brew brutality from the opposing force not necessarily always directed where it belongs (also not right in my opinion).

After this it was into the tunnel system that is open for tourists. Apparently a lot of the old tunnel system is still there and intact however so are the original booby traps designed to deal with anyone that is not supposed to be there. The original tunnels are quite tiny being about 30- 40cm wide as the people back then were considerably smaller and not as well fed. The section we could go into is about 100m, with enterances up every 20m however it still involved crawling. The 6″1 guy in the group couldn’t get through the crawling section so needless to say I passed on going down there, that and being mildly claustropobic leads me to avoid tiny dark spaces lol.

After this it was on to the rest area / souvenir shop which marked about half way through the jungle trek. Here I decided to do something a little different, I paid 350,000VND (about $17.50) for 10 rounds and headed down to the firing range to try out an AK47. The guns were all mostly mounted, and mounted for shorter people so I had to crouch a bit. My aim was pretty good in terms of if it was at the right height it would have gone through the center of the target, however the aim was high. Overall not too bad considering I couldn’t properly see down the sights and my first time with a rifle. The AK-47 had barely any kick, I was expecting it to knock back into my shoulder harder than it did, whilst I could feel it kicking back in to the shoulder it was not much force.

After declining the offer to be rambo with a huge ass machine gun it was off to continue the trek through the jungle. The remainder of the tour had setups of camoflauge and how people used to hide and cook including description of huge underground smoke chambers with cotton filtering set up so only slight wisps of smoke would then make it up from the ground. One highlight was a damaged and mostly rusted out US tank that was destroyed by a delay mine but other than that for me it was simply enjoying my remaining time in the jungle before getting on the bus to head back to the city, which was actually good timing as it was just starting to rain.

Overall I did really enjoy my time out in the jungle as well as appreciate some of the history of the region however I was a little disappointed about not getting to see the Coa Dai temple.

Thoughts / Observations for the day:
– Vietnamese appears to be a tonal based language
– I really really like the jungle
– The AK-47 has considerably less kick than I was expecting
– People here operate on the principle of “face”
– They appear to take a great deal of pride over the killing of Americans during the war

Ho Chi Minh City Day 5 – Change of Plans

Originally the plan was for a few days in Ho Chi Minh city followed by a trip up north to visit Hanoi however without being able to get on the internet really for the first few days getting information / planning an itinerary proved to be quite difficult.  Last night I tried to see about continuing along with the original plan however it did not really look like it was going to pan out.

By virtue of many additional expenses I was not anticipating before coming on holiday and the costs associated with having to change this trip to this week I have come considerably poorer than I was planning on, whilst I still do have my credit card to fall back on I prefer to pay for my trips with cash if I can and the flights to Hanoi were $200+ at this short notice and I could then not get anything to line up with my trip back to Singapore and subsequently home which has lead to my decision to spend the remainder of my time here in Ho Chi Minh,

$17 a night for the hotel for an additional 5 nights only equates to an additional $85 which is more than reasonable.  Based on my new found decision I decided to have a chat with the receptionist here, given that it was my first time here she was keen to make it a memorable one for me and recommended a few tours for me to do, these start in the morning so I will start from tomorrow and spend my next few days on day tours.

So that today was not a waste I had a sit down with her and have decided on going to the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show and additional Vietnamese cultural & heritage show this evening at a price of US$6 followed by a dinner cruise down the Saigon river which will set me back about $12 which sounds quite reasonable for local entertainment, a meal and sights along the river.

The tours that I have selected for the next few days will really take me out of my comfort zone.  I have never made a secret of my dislike for boats, they make me really really uncomfortable second only to my fear of heights.  But travel is all about broadening your horizons and doing new things right?  So one of the trips I have arranged for involve boats, and rivers and did I mention boats?

Trip number one Cu Chi Tunnels & Cao Dai Temple

Taken straight from the brochure at the counter:

08:30 – 18:30

Firstly you will go straight to Tay Ninh to visit the Great Coa Dai Holy See, a place of pilgrimage for quite a few south Vietnamese people  and for those who are interested in Cao Dai sm – this is a unique religion that you might never expect to encounter. (Personal note: Have not heard of this one before so I am quite curious to learn about it) In time for its noontime prayer service, you will enjoy peculiar hymns with followers attired in livery red, yellow, blue and white.  Quite a scene for the eye and for snapshots.  Following is lunch in Tray Ninh, then on return to Ho Chi Minh City we will stop at the underground village of Ben Dinh in the Cu Chi District which was used by the guerillas during the Vietnam War.

Price 495,000VND (about $24)

The next trip will be My Tho & Ben Tre

07:30 – 17:30

An unforgettable way of seeing the Mekong Delta to drive along the provincial roads down on the southern region of Vietnam through paddy rice fields, pine-apple plantations, orchards and small hamlets (2 hour drive)

After arrival in My Tho you will ride on a local motor boat along Dragon Island, Unicorn Island, Phoenix Island, Turtle Island and stop at the famous Unicorn Island. While at Unicorn Island, you will visit pure natural honey at a bee keeping farm and taste some honey wine, banana wine and rice wine.

Then you will walk on to the village to take a rowing boat along the natural water coconut canal to see the local’s daily life in the Mekong Delta.

From there you will continue your motor boat trip to Ben Tre province to visit a handmade coconut candy workshop, then transfer to a small motor boat and travel along the lush green canals followed by a stop off at a local restaurant for a Vietnamese lunch.

After that coming to another area on the Unicorn Island ot enjoy many kinds of tropical fruits at the orchard garden and listening to southern vietnamese traditional music.  A local boat will then take you back to My Tho where the bus will then drive you back to Saigon via the Bonsai Garden at Trung Luong

Price 410,000VND

Although I really do not like boats, I think that this will be an interesting trip and I will hopefully get many great photos.

Ho Chi Minh City Day 4 – The Day that Wasn’t

Yesterday was a total bust in terms of doing things, I got up later than anticipated and then when I was foraging for my morning coffee and food it started to rain so I made a hasty retreat back to my hotel room.  The one down side to having an indoor room is you can’t tell what the weather conditions are like outside.

Decided to lie back on my bed and give the rain a chance to pass, that proved to be an error of judgment as when I next looked at the time it was 7pm the day had just disappeared.  Decided I did not want to go far in the search for dinner, so I picked up another coffee from Flash and then went to KFC next door.  It seems like most of the dishes here involve the spicy side of KFC, I settled for a small grilled chicken burger and got some strange looks when I did not want to supersize my meal, the small was more than enough for me.

Then it was back to my room for some more napping, which didn’t eventuate till about 1am due to some eastern europeans checking into the room next to mine and making quite a racket until 1am.   After that it was time for some sleep and to see what day 5 would have to offer me

Ho Chi Minh City Day 3 – A Lazy Day

Today started off considerably later with me not getting out of bed until about 9am which is forgivable as I am after all on holiday and I did come here to relax.  Once I was showered and ready to go it was time to begin the morning forage for breakfast and coffee not in that order.

The coffee part is an easy beast to satisfy as I am quite taken with the coffee shop called Flash a few doors down from where I am staying so I stopped in there for my new found replacement being a Vietnamese milk coffee over ice.  Tastes amazing and I could sit drinking it until the cows come home.  Armed with a fresh supply of caffine in my blood it was time to forage for some food.

I stopped at another little cafe to grab my breakfast which was a simple tuna toasted bagutte and another coffee to go with it for about 70,000VND all up, I think I am getting quite spoiled by the prices here, I still haven’t got through the first $50 I changed when leaving Australia.  I have become slightly more rude for me, in that I don’t actually stop with all the cyclo drivers anymore, as if you stay still they have their books of recommendations from people all over the world and I think I have seen somewhere between 20 and 50 by now.  I still say good morning and no thank you but keep on walking.

I set out thinking to see the reunification palace today instead of just from the gates, however the multiple streets off the one intersection did prove to be my downfall and I didn’t actually manage to track back to it, I know that I would have been close however was probably a street or so over either side.  It was no matter though either way I was still thoroughly enjoying myself walking around.  In the end I found myself close to turtle lake so I decided to go and take a look.

It never ceases to surprise me that they tend to put these little parks / lakes in the middle of busy intersections, it makes crossing over to see them an interesting experience, but often well worth it for a place to sit down and watch the traffic go by.  It was a relatively nice lake so I took some pictures and believe that I managed to get a few decent reflection ones of the sky and trees so it will be interesting to see how those turned out.

With that under my belt I thought that I was near to either a massive park or a botanical garden so I headed off in that direction thinking to pick up some lunch on the way.  I encountered a gloria jeans coffee shop not far from the turtle lake and they also had a Bread Talk!! attached to it so I decided to stop for more coffee and some lunch from bread talk.  The coffee whilst quite good was definitely the most expensive I have paid for a single coffee here at 90,000VND being almost on par with Perth prices, but to be expected from a western chain really.

Once I had finished the coffee it was time to grab something to eat from Bread Talk, was surprised and very happy to see it here, it makes the 5th country in Asia that I have found it, I picked up a breakfast sandwich of egg / bacon and a few other things for 20,000VND and I rate it as one of the best sandwiches I have ever tasted, whatever mayo they used in it tasted absolutely divine, I could eat that all day and be quite happy.

By this point I was quite close to the gardens that I was heading to and the place was certainly huge, must have wandered around there for a good hour to two hours looking at the trees and various plants that they had in there with some very interesting hues and took loads of photos to bring back and show dad as they will be right up his alley.

After enjoying the unspoilt natural beauty surrounded by crazy traffic on all fronts I decided to try and find a pagoda, aside from not knowing where one was I took a stab on another green area on my map and headed in that direction.  It turns out that there doesn’t appear to be pagodas in the general area that I am staying or where I walked to however I did come across a large public park and was quite content to sit down and watch the world go by.

At this point I had a somewhat odd experience, a guy walked up and started talking to me in Vietnamese which I then tried to communicate that I didn’t understand a word that he was saying, he kept on talking and then started touching me. He was running his hand up and down my arms and my first thought was a distract tactic to try and rob me however his hands never once went anywhere near where my camera bag or wallet was so it seemed like he just geniunely wanted to touch me.

He grabbed my hand and looked at it and traced it, then placed his hand on my chest, it looked like he wanted to touch me some more but I was feeling rather uncomfterable by this point so I took his hand and put it next to his side and just said no and shook my head, he just walked off smiling still chattering away.

He never acted threateningly or menacing however it was just an odd experience to be sure.

Ended up striking up a conversation with an Indian guy who lives / works here as his chemical group is starting up some south east asian operations and I think we chatted away for a good 3 – 4 hours on a wide range of topics such as sport, travel, state of the world, politics.  All in this beautiful setting with people all around us jogging, playing badminton, doing some variant of tai chi and other fitness based activities.

One thing that he explained to me is there is a kind of security there that keep an eye out for displays of affection that are too out there such as a hug that lasts too long or kissing to remind them that they are in a public place and that children are often present and to do that sort of stuff at home.  I see far worse on my travels to and from work every day than what they would consider too much lol.

At one point there was an old retired vietnamese soldier that came to sit and watch the day go past as well however he didn’t like where the seat was so after some gesturing the guy I was chatting with and myself picked it up and moved it to where he wanted, he was incredibly thankful and insisted on giving us each a cigarette for services rendered which I thought was quite nice.

I shared a coffee and some chips with Phawhe and we continued to discuss the countries that he has lived in and traveled to and I gave him some tips and advice on Singapore / Hong Kong as he was looking to travel there in the next few months for a visit.  We had a local lady join us for a short time, she mainly wanted to comment on how handsome I was and to offer me weight loss services as she seemed to represent Herbalife range of natural products, she didn’t speak any english and his vietnamese skills were very basic he just told her he was from malaysia and I was from south africa and we were not interested.

He made the point that if people made you uncomfortable you didn’t necessarily have to tell them where you were from which I found slightly interesting as I had never thought of that.

In the end it was getting quite dark so we shook hands and parted ways with me heading back to my hotel and he his apartment.  It was a very slow and uneventful day for me but a day well spent.

Thoughts / Obervations for the day:
– Bread Talk is here!
– I really love the local coffee
– Even in the dark streets I felt totally safe walking back to my hotel
– Experiences are everywhere just waiting for you to find them

Ho Chi Minh City Day 2 – The horrors of war

Today started slightly later than I was anticipating based on a decent nights sleep after the previous evenings wandering around.  I arose about 8:30am and sat down to have my morning water and a cigarette whilst planning what I was going to do today.

Internet access here is proving to be somewhat problematic, there is the hotel wifi connection as well as one other open netowrk but I have thus far only managed to get online breifly as the connection does not seem to work, with this realization I decided to just wing it for the day, I had a beautifully hot shower and set out for the most important start to the day coffee!

A couple of doors down from the hotel as I discovered the night before is a local coffee chain called flash, so I stopped in there and had a very nice coffee to start off the morning at a reasonable 25,000VND I sat and ejoyed that for awhile before setting off to find the second most important start to the day, breakfast.

I had already decided that I was going to visit the War Remanants meuseum today (previously known as the American War Crimes and Atrocities Museum) so I decided to head off in that general direction to forage for some food.  When I am exlporing a new place I tend to operate in a grid like pattern which seems to work well here for the most part as the streets are relatively grid like (with the exeception of multiple streets off the one corner in many instances) and it allowed me to get a general feel for the lay of the land.

The first thing that struck me for the first part of the exploration was the fact that I was the only white person around, I thought this was slightly odd as I know that a fair amount of tourists did come here, so perhaps I was just in the wrong area for where tourists usually walk which later proved to be true,  The area that I was in however seemed to have no shortage of cyclo drivers all wanting my business, with everyone of them seeming to have a book of recommendations / stories from people around the world.  It was quite difficult to communicate that I just wanted to walk around.

All the cyclo drivers throughout my time here thus far have all proven to be exactly the same with the exception of the two in the short distance I was about to run into.  After the initial speel he then came out with I take you to nice lady which given that I had not experienced that kind of offer here yet slightly surprised me.  I politely declined his offer and started away when the offer of heroin then came, my first thought was shit you aren’t even starting off at weed?! Needless to say I just kept walking as I have never had an interest in that scene.

The second and final offer for those kind of services came only a few extra steps up the street from a moto driver sitting next to his bike on the corner, it was straight to the nice young girl? When I said no he responded with she suck your dick!  Perhaps that is a big deal or something here but most relationships do tend to involve that experience at some point so why would I want to pay for it?

Just ahead I decided on my breakfast, a small place somewhere between local and western standads and prices which I think was called the Zhou cafe.  130,000VND for a breakfast of a large (and I do mean quite big) iced mocha and a bacon and vegetable bagutte which was to die for.  I don’t know if it is based off how they feed / prepare their pigs or how they slaughter them but the bacon here tastes amazing!  it is so full of flavour and delicious to eat I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now considerably cooler by virtue of the fans and my belly full I set out down the next street.  It was here that I started to see considerably more caucasian people so it seemed that I was either too early or that they seem to congregate only around a few streets.  I found a little circle k so I stopped to replenish my liquid supplies having alreay been through my first 1L and picked up another 500Ml bottle of Revive isotonic and 500Ml bottle of regular run of the mill water for a nice 14,000VND (about 60 – 70c) as I was heading out the door and saying no to a motobokie driver there was a couple just heading in.

The husband then turns to me and states that I sounded Aussie to which I responded that would probably be because I am mate with a grin.  We ended up stopping and chatting for a good 20 minutes with a constant flow of people trying to sell us hats and sunglasses to which neither of us were interested in.  They were from Arhnemland (sp?) and were over for some dental work.  He had 9 crowns manufactured and fitted, one filling repaired and general cleaning done for only $2.5k a damn sight different to the about $15k it would cost at home.  Apparently the facilities are all modern and clean and pretty much on par with western standards so that was relatively impressive.

At this point both of us could only just laugh, a guy came over with shoe polish and really couldn’t understand why neither of us wanted to have our shoes polished, I was wearing the sneakers which have seen a fair portion of the world and the guy I was chatting with was just wearing thongs, not exactly footwear designed for polishing!

They gave me a card and directions to a driver / tourguide that they had used here and thoroughly recomend as having good english and a pleasure to spend the day with which was definately useful, I doubt that I will use it this trip however I do definately plan on coming back to see more of the place and that will come in handy.  And with that we parted ways and I continued my exploraitions.

At this point I decided to check if the camera had acclimatized to the humidity or if it was just going to fog over like it did the night before but all was good and it was time to let the picture taking commence.  Given that it is the beginning of day 4 that I am writing this synopsis for day 2, I shudder to think of how much post processing I will have to do, I have a lot of raw files!!

I decided to swing more towards the general direction of where the museum was going to be and kept wandering, after about half an hour I came across a little park on the corner of a road and I was thinking it was nice to finally see some public seating and was thinking of taking a seat and watching the traffic go by on all sides, needless to say I didn’t.  As I entered the park and looked to my right there was a woman with pants around her ankles squatting taking a piss, needless to say I kept on walking.

One point I will make here is that I wasn’t actually disgusted by what I saw, definately a tad surprised however it is a natural body function and as I have discovered here you can go massive stretches without access to a shop with a toilet and even more of a stretch before you come across a public toilet so I guess that it is a neccassary occurance. And this was not to be the first time I would see it, but thus far the only woman (from what I hear that is considerably more uncommon it is usually males which is slightly more understandable as it is considerably easier for us)

I encountered a giant computer store and decided to wander over and take a look, there were a lot of laptops which was to be expected really and most of which were at quite reasonable up to comparable with home, however one thing that struck me a lot was I only saw high end machines with windowns.  The rest were a split between DOS (if you can beleive it in this day and age) and ubuntu which I thought was pretty cool.

I then encountered a large shopping mall I think it was called the Royal Towers which seemed quite nice (if you were into that kind of thing) hoever they had a coffee bean and tea leaf store there so I decided to stop in for lunch which proved to be a very good idea.  A couple of minutes after stepping foot in there torrential rain started outside so it was a case of excellent timing on my part.  I ordred my staple iced mocha and settled on a chef’s special spiced tuna bagutte which costed I think 160,000VND all up, slightly on the expensive side but still reasonable.

They had free wifi there so I decided to catch up on facebook and post a few pictures.  I also decided to take advantage of it and give skype a go and see if mum was online which she was.  A slight echo with the connection but overall the connection quality was not bad and we could hear each other realtively clearly for the most part which was good.  Had a decent chat before finsihing off my lunch and waiting for the rain to clear which must have been a good hour to an hour and a half. And then set off again.

One thign that did strike me was the children here, when I was walking along I would always get them saying hello to me, often running up excitedly and waving if they were on their own and saying hello, it gave me a big grin and must have been a decent highlight for their day.

It was just after 4 by the time that I finally found the museum I set out for, I paid my 15,000VND admission fee and set out for a look around.  The displays of military ordinance in the open area out the front was quite impressive and I believe that I got some decent shots of the planes and tanks but this was not the most striking and impacting part it was all the displays.

They had a replica of a prison in there and the conditions and pictures to go with it were certainly deplorable.  Whilst I am not naive and I realised that all the displays were biased towards favoring the plight of the north vietnamese fighters and that they were guilty of at least as much of the horrors that were shown it unfortunately does not detract from the fact that they were still true.

There was a hall of mostly propoganda towards the north vietnamese in their fight however it did portray the massive outcry from all over the world in regards to that war, there were numourous posts thanking those around the world for their support in the struggule and numerous historical records of demonstrations and the like.

I didn’t go into the agent orange section as I know I never would have been able to get those images out of my head, however two of the most moving things I saw was a complete set of service medals from a US Armyman and accompaning letter saying I was wrong and I am sorry.  The other was from the establishment of friendly relations with US – Vietnam in the Clinton administration and their desire / commitment to move forward from the horrors of the past to work together for a better world in the future.

It is amazing what the fear of communisim did to the world.  Outside the museum I broke one of my usual standing guidelines when travelling, I don’t travel to shop I travel to experience, I really wasn’t interested in buying a hat or a fan at this point but she was practically begging me to buy at least something as she hadn’t sold anything during the day.  I realise that it is potentially an effective ploy for sympathy but based on her compliment not appearing diminished I believed it and $5 was not really a great deal of money to me so I ended up buying a hat to a profuse array of thank you’s.

With my time there coming to a close I decided to head back towards the hotel for a shower and to cool off before dinner.  On the way back I passed a local coffee chain, I was having a smoke at the time so I was planning on just walking past however a guy upon noticing my glance came out with a menu and took my order so I ended up stopping there to watch the traffic and have yet another coffee.

I must admit I do quite like the cofeee here.

I took a lot of photos on the walk back to the hotel and look forward to seeing how they all turn out.  I have never once felt threatend or unsafe at any point during my time here which does make it easier to relax, most people seem to look at me with curiosity.  I do seem to spark many conversations on a few points about me, however they are not in the order that I was expecting.  The most common commented on feature is my beard, followed by my height and lastly how much extra weight I carry, I must admit I did expect it to be the reverse order.

On the way down I noticed someone fiddling with a camera and it happened to be the first Canon shooter that I had encountered so I struck up conversation.  He was an older German bloke that lives in Vietnam for work and he only had a day and a half in Ho Chi Minh City but like myself loved taking photographs.  He had shot with an Olympus OM2 for a very long time and was not a big fan of the canon that he was now shooting with.

The Olympus apparently had a feature that was split screened images in the viewfinder that each had a line and when the lines met your image would then be in focus.  He was shooting with an older 450D however even my 7D does not have a feature like that which actually sounds like it would be useful.  The reunification palace apparently closes at 4pm so we were past that point already so had to settle for some shots from out the front of the building and the tanks through the bars, I think they turned out ok but won’t really get an accurate judge until I am back home.

The next building however looked considerably more colonial and we could go past the gates to get some shots, it was a very interesting shade of yellow and a beautiful building overall, it looked like the kind of building a leader could stand up on the balcony and deliver addresses from.  We made conversation on the way back down towards the market which was subsequently near where I  was staying regarding photography and what vietnam was like overall.  Apparently Ho Chi Minh is very different to Hanoi where he had just come from and if I thought there were a lot of little cafe’s and crazy traffic here apparently it is nothing compared to Hanoi.

We parted ways at the Ben Tranh market which was certainly an interesting sight.  It was here I encountered my best local english speaker, a girl maybe 8 – 9 years old trying to sell me a fan, aside from slight conversation as to where I was from and why I was not interested in purchasing a fan from her she then moved on to other punters.

There is a beautiful mix of old and new here that overall seems to mesh well and I was heading towards the tail end of my day feeling happy at what I had seen and done throughout the course of the day, I think I walked between 20 – 30km overall.

By the time I got back to my hotel I was well and truely beat, I figured shower and short nap before dinner however ended up waking up at 4:30am well and truely killing that evening and subsequent dinner.

Thoughts / Observations for the day:
– My beard seems to be a topic of hot comments / curiosity
– English really does not have much penetration here, 95% of the people I have encountered you are lucky if they understand two words
– People piss in the streets
– The vietnamese even in the city seem to be a gentle and friendly people

First impressions of Vietnam

First impressions of Vietnam.

It was a fairly long trip in getting here (well for me quite possibly at any rate) I think that I have been spoiled with my regular trips to bali, I have gotten fairly used to flights only being about 3.5 hours.

The trip itself was quite pleasant, I was seated next to a Russian Kiwi and we spent most of the flight exchanging travel stories and tips, he was on his way to Thailand for 9 days to begin his three months off work and to meet his mother who was going to fly from Russia.  The budget terminal in Singapore hasn’t changed much, I had forgotten how cheap the “expensive airport” food / drink was which made the 4 hour stop over quite bearable, which was a good thing given how wrecked I was feeling from not sleeping.

The flight to Vietnam was uneventful I actually managed to get a bit of sleep which was quite surprising, I remember heading for take off and the next thing was the captain announcing we would shortly be landing in Ho Chi Minh City, so definately a pleasant flight and allowed me to feel not quite as ruined when hitting Vietnam.

The immigration staff seemed surprised that I was prepared, I handed over my passport, letter of authorisation to travel and obtain my visa there and a completed landing card and he hande me the form to fill out and I pointed to the already completed form and he smiled.  Afer about a 20 minute wait I had my visa to enter and exit vietnam multiple times up until the 25th of September and it was off to get stamped and pick up the baggage.

In terms of customs there was no forms to hand in like many countries and drop he bags through a scanner and out the door process took less than a minute.  I have seen a reasonable percentage of the world thus far and it never ceases to amaze me just how serious our customs are compared to all the countries that I have visited around the world, with the only potential difference being the multiple security screenings and checking for liquids that takes place in Indonesia.

With the entry protocols out of the way I headed out the front door to get my first taste of Vietnam to be greeted by a cloudy day, a reasonably warm tempreture, mild humidity and a very loverly breeze.  Any humidity and me doesn’t always mix well and especially given I was ladended down with a heavy backpack and my camera gear I figured I would grab something cool to drink and enjoy the breeze.  I headed to what appears to be a local coffee chain, they had a range of beverages from 40,000 – 80,000 VND so the “expensive airport prices” equated to AU$2 – 4 for a drink, quite reasonable actually.

Ordred myself an iced mocha and sat down to enjoy the mocha, typically I expect my mocha drinks to taste within a certain range based on the variables of the coffee beans used, the chocolate type / how much is used and the local variants of milks and what came out was nothing like I was expecting at all.  Surprise at the taste aside the drink was positively awesome tasting and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Armed with a lower core body tempreture and feeling refrehed it was time to grab something small to eat before heading to catch the bus, I figured I would be lazy and western as there was a burger king right there so went bugger it and decided on a quick whopper.  I was just after a burger and thought the price of 110,000 VND was quite steep just for a whopper, but then again similar to home and somewhat to be expected.

I don’t think I properly communicated what I wanted however as what came out was some form of meal deal, it had 2 whoppers a huge serving of chips and a large coke, so in hindsight it was actually extremely good value.  Unfortunately however I was not particularly hungry so the second whopper and chips went to waste, would never say no to a cold beverage so I had a smoke, drank my coke and just generally took in the scenery around me at the airport.

There were two points of note thus far: Burger King was selling beer and their breakfast ranges were crosswiches which looked like really thick crossaints.

After that was out of the way I headed for the bus, the fact that I was so tired was a testament to the point that I didn’t notice when I got on that the door and driver were on the “wrong side” to what I was expecting.  It wasn’t until about half way through the trip that I realised that we were on the right hand side of the road and that the road rules here appear to be based on the American system of driving on the right with the driver being on the left.

The big thing that struck me was the amount of traffic that was on the roads, after travelling to Jakarta I have seen some crazy ass traffic and more scooters than I thought existed on the roads but I think Ho Chi Minh is actually on par if not a little worse in regards to the sheer volume of traffic on the road.  The other thing that struck me when looking out the windows is for the first half pretty much every female that I saw outside the bus had a bun in the oven, I don’t think I have ever seen such a large number of pregnant ladies in such a small sample size before.  Perhaps it is a good thing that I am a. Male b. It’s not safe to drink the water *grins*

We got dropped off at the bus station near Ben Tranh Market and subsequently near where I am staying and it was at this point that I seriously had my comfort zone tested.  Ordinarily I am not a fan of crowds as they make me feel incredibly claustrophobic  however I am able to suspend this when I travel as I understand it to be part of the experience and I simply alter my mental state to accommodate   Usually in the crowded places that I have visted though there is usually a constant ebb and flow of the crowd and it is never usually stagnant so it is not too bad to deal with, and usually I don’t have the zone I consider to be my personal space impeded upon.  Very different at this bus port, I was boxed in with people on all quadrants and no movement and to top it off the tiny bit of space that I did have there were people using to get to another tiny bit of space.  It was rather off putting but I did ok.

The next thing that I learnt is that I am going to have to relearn my concept of crossing the road, zebra crossings here don’t mean any thing and there is not a great deal of traffic lights where I was going to be crossing, and even the one intersection that there was the traffic turning ensured a constant 100% flow of traffic.  After about 5 min I decided to tag with a local, scooters will go around you as you are crossing and for cars you stop and let them go past you before again proceeding.

So the moral of crossing the road here appears to be, take a deep breath and walk out into a constant flow of oncoming traffic, ok then lol.

As I am staying in what is considered to be the backpacker area I expected a large number of people pushing their wares / services but I as pleasantly surprised here, the number was actually quite small and they were the least aggressive of the places I have visited thus far and even the cyclo driver didn’t mind a bit of a chat after I said I wasn’t interested.

There was this one woman that appeared to have a street side cafe that was offering me beer, beer beer as I was walking past and was very surprised when I kept on saying no lol.  I don’t mind a beer but it was not even lunch time yet, and even when travelling I have a general rule that I won’t drink before lunch lol.

Got to the hotel and checked in.  I was not sure what I was expecting checking into a place that charges $17 a night however it managed to take all my expectations and blow them out of the water.  The rooms are not horribly big, however not the smallest I have stayed in either, probably about the right size for what you want out of a small room.

There is a large double bed, about a meter gap with a wardrobe which also has a mini bar in it, a small desk / dressing table next to that and then the door into the ensuite.  In front of the bed there is not quite as much space but still wider than my backpack and a small tv up on the wall.  The only way I would see this room size being a downside is if you had a large number of reasonably sized suitcases.

the ensuite is not large but even me a quite large guy still had plenty of room to move down to the shower, and plenty of room to move about within the shower as well which was good.  In regards to the rest of the rooms features, simply decorated but clean / tidy looking relatively new the bed is quite comfortable and the shower had high pressure and was capable of getting very hot.  Oh and good aircon, got the room quite cold just how I like it.

All in all for $17 a night I am really really impressed, and I would happily stay here again.

I pretty much went straight to sleep and got a good nap, however now it is time for me to see what is around in the local area / have dinner and obtain some more smokes and water.

Overall first impressions of Vietnam:
– Burger King sells beer & their breakfast menu is based on croissants
– Everyone automatically seems to assume that I am American and are surprised when I say Australian
– There appears to be a large number of pregnant women
– I really need to relearn how to cross the road

Thus far things are positive, I am awake and ready to wander the general area  more from me later.