In Other (lighthearted) News...
We heard some great one liners in Vietnam!
The first one was when Graham tried to take a picture of a lady selling fruit who said to him: "You take Vietnamese picture, you buy pineapple"
Second was from our tour guide in Halong Bay who laid down the truth about the Vietnamese dating scene: "In Vietnam, no motorbike, no girlfriend"
The most famous one... "Same same, but different!"
Providing us with two quotes was our waitress in Hoi An: "Lovely Jubbly" and "No pain, no gain" which were said to anything and everything whilst serving us. Thankfully the food wasn't painful.
Lastly, (whilst we are talking about food), we'll leave you with some amazing mis-translations of Vietnamese meals.
Show. Me. The. Money! We're millionaires! Withdrawing a cool 3 million Vietnamese Dong out the cash machine we set about splashing our dough around town. Wait, what's that? 1 million Dong is only about £60? Oh... We weren't so rich after all...
We arrived in Hanoi a couple of days after the lunar new year and although the fireworks had ended there was still plenty of activity as the Vietnamese get 10 days off to celebrate. It was great to see the streets lined with lights and floral decorations as well as all the locals taking to the street each evening dressed in their best traditional outfits.
We had an extra special treat for our time in Vietnam, travel companions in the form of Lila and Graham! (Thanks guys for the amazing photos)
Such friendly people, with good sense of humour
State of WCs:
Some people still squat on the seat - 5/10
13*c - 35*c
Bahn Mi - a pate filled baguette of incredible tastiness! Also had a lot of Pho which is noodle soup
No. Of bites:
Maryam 8 v 2 Andy
Soviet flags flying on every building and street corner. Entire families (we saw 5 people) on a single motorbike!
You can purchase a tailor made fitted suit for £130 and leather shoes for £35 in Hoi An, Bargain
Fish, oysters, tortoises, cockerels, snakes, bees, rats, kittens, dogs
Generally cheap as chips, as long as you can contain yourself in the Hoi An tailors...
Communism, same same (but different), Ho Chi Minh
7 hours ahead of GMT
Where the people are so polite and proud, the cold war is forgiven but not forgotten,
the food is tasty and the propoganda is of many!!
So we arrived in Vietnam - on different flights! It turns out Tet (lunar new year) is a pretty big deal in Vietnam and as such, there were no buses across the border from Laos! So we had to book flights instead but, we couldn't get on the same plane! So we travelled apart for the first time in 5 months, it was emotional... we actually got some peace and quiet!
80% of Vietnamese are not associated to any form of religion, however they do believe in the worshipping of their ancestors. Every full moon, personal ceremonies take place which involves the offering of food (rice, fruit, even full pigs) to the spirits as well as the burning of money (pretty sure it's meant to be real money but they use monopoly money) in order to help the spirits pay for things in the afterlife. Mental!
In the city there is a mausoleum devoted to their historical leader Ho Chi Minh who is revered by all in Vietnam for his role in gaining their independence from the French. In the mausoleum there is a building and in that building is a room and in the room there is a box and in the box are the 'remains' of Ho Chi Minh. Remains to us suggests maybe, his bones, or maybe a sealed coffin would be on show but no, there was none other than Ho Chi Minh himself, embalmed laying on a bed inside a glass box! This was all pretty serious stuff as we had to hand in all bags and cameras, be escorted by security to the building and then walk in silence once inside. On top of that there were military guards everywhere including 4 surrounding his glass box at all times! Turns out that he has been embalmed. Click on the Mausoleum photo for further info on embalment.
A tradition from the rural areas of Vietnam is water puppet theatre. You guessed it, it's puppets, in water! Much like the puppeteers we saw in Myanmar, the skill and control that the Vietnamese had was brilliant. The puppets are attached to long poles under the water which lead back behind a screen at the back of the stage which hides the puppeteers.
Alan, Alan, Alan, Steve, Steve, Alan! His name was actually He-ya! but our tour guide told us to call him Alan after many failed attempts to pronounce his name. The two-day trip to Halong Bay was a great experience and the boat was flawless but with Alan in charge and his team of merry men it did feel like we were in a carry on film! Alan was a man of many talents though, tour guide, chef, pearl farmer, you name it, he could do it! Luckily we had an actual chef onboard who cooked up a storm at every meal.
During the two days on the boat we were wined and dined, kayaked to little islands, swam in the salt water bay, went squid fishing (unsuccessfully), visited some amazing caves and learnt about pearl farming. But the best thing about the trip was the early morning haze during sunrise whilst we sat in awe on the front deck.
Oh noooooo! Hoi An got a little out of hand when it came to shopping! Hoi An is known as the place in Vietnam to get tailor made clothes for cheap prices. When you have your photo taken with your tailors, you know you've spent too much time with them...
Ho Chi Minh City... aka Siagon
So he is the leader of North Vietnam and the communist party. The country finally reunites after over 20 years but sadly he doesn't get to see it as he has already passed. Don't worry though, he gave the country independence so his people named a city after him. Did they change the name of Hanoi, the capital of his north Vietnam or did they change the name of Saigon, the capital of the south? They went for the latter which seems like a slap in the face of Southern Vietnam in our eyes! At least they don't see it that way.
In the Vietnam War, 14.3 million tons of bombs were dropped over the country in comparison to only 5 million tons being dropped over the whole of Europe during WW2. A staggaring 100 million litres of toxic chemicals (including agent orange) were sprayed over the land directly affecting 4.8 million Vietnamese. This is on top of the 3 million Vietnamese killed and 2 million injured during the war.
Hue has a large historical walled city at its centre, surrounded by the modern city. The imperial city was almost completely destroyed during the war and began being rebuilt in the 1990s with work still ongoing.
The city of Hue is located near the old North-South border of Vietnam from the Cold War period. Here we met Tam, our private tour guide who grew up during the war. The South were capitalist aided by USA and North communist allied with China and the USSR. Tam accompanied us throughout our DMZ tour offering political and personal insight on life during this horrific period.
Stop #1 of our venture into Vietnamese history was at Hao Lo Prison. It was built by the French to house Vietnamese revolutionaries (Ho Chi Minh was held here and it was within the prison that the communist party was formed) before being used later by the Vietnamese to house American Pilots shot down during the Vietnam War. This was an intense place which made us see the brutality during colonial times.
The tour took us the Khe Sanh Marine Base and to the Vinh Moc tunnels. The former was the key American base and where a lot of the major battles occurred whilst the latter was a network of underground tunnels on the coast within which the Vietnamese locals/fighters lived/hid. There we also visited a Vietnamese Minority village, where the children were all asking for pens "pen, pen, pen!!".
We went to Mandarin Cafe for breakfast (and dinner) one day which is owned and run by a man named Mr Cu. His hobby is photography and the walls of the cafe are lined with his work which are available to buy. He photographs Hue and the surrounding region and has been featured in international press. Check out his website (www.mrcumandarin.com) as some of his work is outstanding!
The town itself (what we saw of it when not in tailors) was beautiful though. It is a UNESCO world heritage town and the streets are lined with lanterns making the evenings really special as they all light up. There is also a tradition of taking a small boat ride down the river and releasing floating lanterns onto the water during full moon which we got to experience.
We had more reunions in Hoi An as we met with Matt and Alexi from Luang Prabang and heard more amazing wildlife stories from Matt (the only person we've met on this trip that is excited to go back to work!). We also had an unexpected sight as we saw Roger Stevenson walking down the street!
Made a wish and set some candles into the water from our boat
After an 'interesting' tour of the Mekong delta (by interesting we mean there was a lot of animal cruelty), we had to say bye bye Lila and Greymo, our travel companions left us after a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh to head back to the UK. Sad face. After we said our farewells we headed to meet Kim, our Singapore friend from Luang Prabang who is also due to go to the UK after hosting us in Singapore, 'England will be wonderful at this time of year, Spring will be in the air and the daffodils will be blooming' says Kim - not sure which England she's on about!
Our last port of call in Vietnam was the Cu Chi tunnels to the northwest of Vietnam which is were the Vietcong forces hid during the Cold War. These tunnels were unbelievably small! The hatches to enter were incredibly well hidden under leaves and dirt and mustn't have been more than 40cm x 25cm in size. As our guide said - 'they're designed small so that the KFC eating Americans couldn't fit inside'! Learning about how they lived in the tunnels, the traps they set to prevent the Americans from entering and the way they kept themselves hidden even when cooking was a real insight.
Following this we headed to the war museum, words seize to describe the horrors that came upon the Vietnamese people during the Cold War, we have selected some 'less graphic' images to do the talking.
Next stop Cambodia for some temple raiding!