17 July 2008.
I hope you’re all fine and dandy, especially after the Springboks finally beat the All Blacks and South Pacific Islanders on their home soil. Schweeeet.
Since my last e mail I’ve left Hanoi and I started heading south towards Saigon. My first stop was about 90 km south but took 4 hours by train. We (I was travelling with a Spanish girl, Elizabeth) stopped at a town called Ninh Binh which doesn’t have too much to offer but if you hire a bicycle or scooter there is a beautiful ride to one of the many ancient capitals called Hoa Lu. Its 12km and a bruised arse away but the scenery is spectacular. If any of you are planning on visiting Vietnam soon then this place should be on your agenda as already there is a lot of development happening. Soon the spectacular country side consisting of rice paddies and limestone outcrops will be dotted with hotels, motels and guest houses. Of course we got lost and the 12km’s took us 3.5 hours to get there and only 45 minutes to get back. Never before have I had such a sweet tasting beer as the one on arrival in Hoa Lu.
Two days after arriving in Ninh Binh I experienced my first overnight sleeper bus ride that was going to take me further south. The sleeper buses are very comfortable sardine tins on wheels, if you’re not squashed in the back corner on the top bunk above the rear wheel, as I was. The buses have 8 bunks on the bottom running down the sides and middle of the bus with 8 bunks on top. There is an inside toilet which isn’t too dissimilar to the toilet on an aircraft. I’m still wondering what the club would be called if you managed to have shag in the toilet. “The tight, bumpy, mile an hour club? Hmmmm, tights not too bad now is it?” There is an option of an outside toilet, but I don’t even want to begin to think how you get to that one in the middle of the night while travelling at 80km’s hour.
As our stop was the last one leaving town I was the lucky Jew to get the top bunk at the back, in the corner squeezed in next to a sweaty pom. Every time I needed to go to the toilet I had to climb over him, down a ladder while kicking the person below me awake and then repeating the whole process on the way back up. Not a very popular passenger was I, especially as the trip was 12 hours long and I’d consumed quite a few beers at the guest house before leaving. I’ve recently found out that you can actually book which bed you want on the bus. Forward bottom left for me it is.
In Vietnam honking the horn is a VERY big thing. I think to pass your drivers licence for a scooter, car, minivan, bus or truck you only have to know where the horn is. To pass a roadworthy, your indicators, brakes and lights can be faulty but god help you if your horn doesn’t work. They’ll impound your unroadworthy vehicle for sure. Where I come from you only honk your horn in a case of an emergency, but here it’s out of courtesy. A driver will courteously honk his horn to warn you that he is coming up from behind. To make it even more pleasant the horns are LOUD and have different tunes.
Generally the rules of the road is that you drive on the right hand side, but over here anything 10 centimetres right of the left hand pavement is considered the right hand side of the road. So it is not uncommon while cycling around to be confronted by 4 scooters and a minivan driving abreast heading straight for you. Just as it’s about to get messy a truck driver who is 2 metres behind you will courteously let you know that he is there by honking his horn. I’ve now begun to wear nappies
So back to the bus. I shit you not when I say that the longest time between the driver honking his horn was 27 seconds throughout the night. And this I know how? An American girl who was on the bus couldn’t sleep the whole night and decided to time the silent times between the honks. I last saw her twitching uncontrollably and drooling at the mouth with a very weird look in her eyes at the bus station in Hoi An. God help the first guy that honks his horn at her. I ask you with no sleep in my eyes, what was this driver thinking? It didn’t matter to me though as, as I was at the back end of the bus wondering how the hell I was going to get to the toilet without getting beaten up. I didn’t sleep a wink and stopped short of peeing in my pants. I now fly “poor man’s” first class which is a valium and a shot or two of rice whisky.
Hoi An is a really quaint little town that is a must see. It is very well known for its tailor shops where one can get …..well, tailored clothes. The Vietnamese are quite funny in business and they definitely don’t fear competition. When you walk down one of the many streets that are lined with tailor shops, they’re all exactly the same, offering the same cuts at the same rates. I have been told that there is a difference and you should definitely buy from the shops that have a website. Why, I’m not sure.
I met a woman from Brighton, who had left her card in an ATM machine. Elizabeth found her card, and before I could work out a way to siphon some money out of the account, she had left her hotel details at the nearby shop. Alex, as her name turned out to be, rushed over to pick it up once she realised that she had lost it. When I met her she was acting like a shark in a feeding frenzy, with no Seals in site. I have officially witnessed what credit card withdrawal looks like, and it’s not pretty. Once she had her card in hand she was back on the scooter and whipping the poor driver to go faster-back to the shops. She also had a strange look in her eyes. At one of the many shops she visited she had a dress made in 4 different materials and, she was even getting a mermaid suite made, for what I’m not sure but a small fantasy did pop into my head. She ended up having to send an extra 15 kg’s of clothes home.
The travelling salesman in Hoi An are even better than those in Hanoi and very much more determined, but their maths isn’t that good and neither are they very good at identifying a relevant target market. Every time I bought something off the street, they would always short change me by no less than 10000 dong. Bugger teaching english, it’s maths they need. While sitting at one of the many restaurants overlooking the canal, drinking “Fresh beer” which costs R2, 00 a glass, and waiting for my food, a travelling salesman would stop and ask if I wanted to buy peanuts………………I think they’ve definitely missed the bus with this one.
“Peanuts, onry 10 000 dong?”
No Thanks, I’ve just ordered food”
“Onry 10 000, you eat after yoh food”
“After my food, I’m having desert”
“After desert you have peanuts with beah, only 10 000″
“Listen buddy I’m sitting at a restaurant, enjoying the view and waiting for my food, maybe you should go try a sports bar or something!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Ok, onry 5000 dong…………………..
I have now picked up an allergy from all the peanuts I’ve eaten. I would still have some on me but my rug sack is still filled with caps.
But the best is definitely their entrepreneurship. I organised a lift into town on a scooter for 10 000 dong. 3 minutes later I arrived at my destination and the scooter driver asks for 15 000 dong.
“No,no 10 000,” I say?
“5000 extrah for the helmet” he replies.
When I finally did get up off the floor from laughing so much, I left him grumbling with 10 000 dong in hand.
They’re that good.
Besides the tailors and restaurants, Hoi An is one of those places where you can get caught up in for days. The endless beaches are quiet and relatively hassle free except when one, but not too many, of the travelling saleswoman wakes you up from a beer filled doze to find out if you want peanuts. I’m so happy they don’t understand Afrikaans. I’ve recently become really fluent.
You can cycle around (wear nappies) the many little avenues and stop to drink very cheap “fresh beer.” Personally I wouldn’t be able to tell you what stale beer tastes like as it’s never around long enough to go off.
There is great architecture, like the merchant houses and Japanese bridge to marvel at if that’s your idea of fun. They have a speciality dish called “Cao Lau” which is a thick rice noodle based soup. Very tasty indeed. And as around many other towns in Vietnam there are pagodas and temples and islands to explore, or you could just laze on the beach drinking beer and eating….peanuts.
The next day I floated onto the overnight bus, my bed was front, bottom left, not that it mattered as I was completely zoned from the valium etc. Even the honking horn didn’t bother me. I actually thought it was a new release called ” Try wake me up” by the Rolling Stones.
And onto Nha Trang, a seaside city that was hosting the Ms Universe contest.
Nha Trang could be any seaside city and the only reason I went there was to go diving and hopefully to shag a Ms. Universe contestant.
Well at least I got to dive, which wasn’t anything special. But I did find a local brewery called Louisiana Prime Rib that is right on the beach and sells the best beer I’ve ever tasted, after the one in Hao Lo that is. The beer is brewed by an Australian brew master and his beer has won many awards. The establishment is situated right on the beach, is very modern, and a fantastic place to watch Vietnamese woman in bikini’s, and of course the sunset.
When I arrived in Nha Trang I was almost over my sinus attack, but I still had a headache. Not one for pills, except vitamins, I decided that I would go for some reflexology. At around midday I wandered into a massage parlour that had two big feet in neon lights on the wall depicting a reflexology establishment. The guy behind the counter says 100 000 dong (R55,00) for a full body massage and reflexology.
“Cool, I’m cured.” I think to myself
I go up to a cubicle where this woman gives me a towel, tells me to undress and lie on my stomach.
She begins to massage me.
Now I’ve had Aromatherapy, Deep tissue, Swedish, Shiatsu, Acupuncture and Sports massages and after 90 seconds of her prodding me, I quickly came to the conclusion that this ain’t a professional masseuse. As I’m thinking this she says,”tuhn ovah,” which I do.
She whips off my towel with the one hand and grabs my crotch with the other one and says,”You want mohr than a massage?” Her hands were so quick David Copperfield would’ve been impressed.
Playing hard to get at that moment just wasn’t an option
Funny how a teeny little thing like a sinus attack with a migraine quickly slips away when there are other issues in hand…………….
Just to digress. Ever since I told friends that I was going to SE Asia they’ve all been saying to me that you have to go for a massage and a “heppy ending” Since I’ve arrived and travelled through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and as hard as I’ve tried I haven’t been able to find such a parlour. I know, I know…useless of me. But here I am in the middle of the day in a so called reflexology establishment with a genuine illness and wanting to be cured….. and she has unconventional ways on curing my now forgotten ailment.
The good lord above works in such wonderfully mysterious ways.
I think I’ll have to go back for my sore knee, battered shoulder, in grown toe nail,……
So the scoreboard looks like this:
Scuba dives – 2
Happy endings- 9 (in 2 days)
Physical health- 100% (But I will go back for a check up or two).
I’m now ready for Saigon……..
I’m now ready for Saigon……..
I arrived in Saigon with the idea of possibly extending my visa. From the moment I stepped off the overnight bus, in a daze, I realised that I would be heading out the next day.
In Vietnam whenever you ask someone the price of something and they say
“1 Dolla,” you know you’re being ripped off. I wobbled off the bus at the bus stop which the Rough Guide to Vietnam says is 5km from the city centre only to be told that it is 1 Dolla for a ride on a scooter to my guest house. Being a seasoned, Se Asian explorer my highly tuned senses warned me that I was being scammed. It finally cost me 10 000 Dong for the 110 metre scooter ride to my very humble abode. I’m considering claiming from “The Rough Guide”
For the first time I got violently ill from the some food I ate. They were very dodgy looking spring rolls indeed, but I still went ahead and ate them for lunch. Later that evening, some travellers that I’d previously met, and I went out for dinner at the market and then to a pub for a drink or two. 2 minutes after sitting down I rushed to the toilet where I stayed for about 45 minutes expunging all I’d eaten previously. (Thank God I still wear nappies).
Later on I managed to find my way to my guest house where I occupied the bathroom for the night. I’m now writing on a bus where I’ll be for the next 6 hours on my way to Cambodia. My stomach rumbles quietly as I kick myself for not thinking of bringing my personal reflexologist to help me keep my mind off my gut.
Saigon is big, bad, busy and expensive. I did manage to squeeze in a trip to the Fine arts museum which is housed in a very impressive French colonial building. If you’ve seen things like the War museum and Prison in Hanoi then skipping Saigon wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.
The (happy) end(ing)