and other related things
25.11.2007 - 02.12.2007 17 °C
First off, is it snowing in Vancouver? I read there's a storm coming and you guys are getting 20cm or something. Maybe it'll be a white Christmas. And Luongo! Three shutouts in a row! It's too bad I can't watch the games because it looks like they're really on a roll right now.
Second, here's a map of the trip. I don't think I've posted one in awhile. You can zoom in and move it around if you want.
Anyways, I entered Vietnam on November 26, travelling by bus to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) from Sihanoukville. It was a lengthy ride, about 11 hours, but we had to go through Phnom Penh and change buses. I don't really mind the bus rides, to be honest. I'm getting used to them. I usually read, so I'm lucky I don't get motion sickness. I think I've read more books on this trip than I have in my lifetime.
I instantly noticed that Vietnam is far more developed than Laos and Cambodia. It definitely put the poverty of Cambodia into perspective. Maybe I didn't fully notice it because I had came from Laos and the poverty was gradually introduced to me from Thailand, but Cambodia really is a step behind it's neighbours. Laos is poor, but it's also Communist, so everyone gets something. Even driving through little villages in the countryside, every hut has electricity, a TV, and a satellite dish. Cambodians really have to work for what they've got, and tourism is a huge part of life there. Most Cambodians I talked to were optimistic about the future and thought the country was ready to turn the corner, so I guess we'll find out.
But back to Vietnam. I loved Ho Chi Minh City. There were trees! It was nice to see big trees lining the streets. The city is bustling, but it's very comfortable and I got a great vibe from it. I've never seen so many motos in my life. I heard there's over three million motos in the city, and it's really ridiculous watching the traffic. There aren't any rules. If you want to cross the street, you basically just walk into traffic and all the motos just drive around you. You're safe as long as you don't stop. If you stop, they don't know what you're doing and you're as good as dead. I spent three days in the city, mostly just walking around seeing the sights. I also went on a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels, which is the tunnel network the Viet Cong used during the war. It's pretty impressive, over 200km of tunnels that in some parts were only 45cm wide and 100cm high. The tour came complete with a deafening shooting range, where you could fire off rounds of various different weapons. I didn't bother, but it was funny how relaxed they are about it. If you want to fire a gun in Canada, you basically have to sign your life away, give an insurance deposit etc. There's rules and regulations. But here, I watched a Vietnamese load up a handgun for a tourist, hand him the gun and point him towards the range. So there he was, some guy with a loaded gun walking freely towards the range. He even had to ask for ear muffs because they forgot to give them to him.
A million motos waiting for the green light.
A church in Ho Chi Minh City. About 10% of the Vietnamese are Catholic, so there's Christmas stuff everywhere. I'll probably be in Hanoi for Christmas, so at least it'll be a bit festive.
From Ho Chi Minh City, I caught a bus to Mui Ne, a little beach town about four hours north. I spent another three nights here, mostly just laying on the beach. I also took a day trip to see these huge sand dunes just north of the city. Mui Ne is super touristy, the beach is lined with resort after resort, and there's a lot of old people taking taxis up and down the strip, even though it's easily done on foot. But who am I to judge? There's also Russians everywhere. Some of the signs are even in Russian and most restaurants seem to have someone that can speak the language. I thought Canadians could hold their liquor, but my god, Russians drink. I watched a table of about six of them pound back two full bottles and rum and numerous beers in an hour, and they were just getting started.
White sand dunes outside Mui Ne.
Sunset on the beach in Mui Ne.
I left Mui Ne this morning for a little town called Dalat, which is in the mountains in Central Vietnam. I only arrived here a few hours ago, but it's my favourite city so far. First, it's a lot colder. I mean, not super cold, but at night it probably dips down to 10 degrees, which is a bit of a shock after two months of sweltering heat. It's kind of funny because all the locals are bundled up in winter jackets, toques and scarves, while I'm walking around in shorts and a tshirt. It's comparable to a sunny Vancouver day in April. The air is also really fresh up here too. The town is nestled in the mountains, surrounded by green forests and crops that creep up the hillsides. If I didn't know better, I could easily mistake it for somewhere in BC. It's beautiful here.
That takes me to my current dilemma. My original plan was to go to Nha Trang by bus after a few days here, but another, much more attractive option has come up. There's a group of moto drives here called Easy Riders, and they offer extended tours through central Vietnam. There's a three day tour to Nha Trang, and a five day tour to Hoi An, which would be my next stop after Nha Trang. It's just you and a moto driver on a vintage bike. He acts as your guide and takes you to minority villages, waterfalls, and goes way off the tourist trail to see the Central Highlands of Vietnam that are essentially off limits otherwise. I've already met one of them, Long, he speaks great English, he's friendly and he's really knowledgable about all things Vietnam. The problem is that it's a bit pricey at $60 per day (accomodation included), but everyone I've talked to raves about these guys, and the reviews they've gotten are absolutely glowing. And if I do it, I think I'd want to go all out and do the five day tour, which means I'd skip Nha Trang (Tuyet's hometown!), but I guess I could always backtrack. I definitely have the time. Anyways, I guess you'll find out what I decide soon enough ..
So that's it. You're up to date. Enjoy the snow!