Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vietnam in 2 weeks

Began my next Vietnamese leg by flying from Halong Bay down to Hue which, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, helped me to avoid some of the worst flooding which has hit parts of north Vietnam hard. Apparently the bus ride from Hanoi to Hue which generally takes 12 hours is taking 24 hours now.
Hue is a pleasant city and famed for its citadel which takes up most of the northern part of the river. The citadel itself is dreary as hell though - easily its most impressive aspect is the wall which surrounds it. Between bombing and neglect the inside has all the charm of an empty Tesco car park albeit without the boyracers. On my second day in Hue I took a tour north to visit the DMZ (demilitarized zone) which marked the unofficial border between north and south Vietnam during the conflict. Interesting stuff which was finished off by a visit to the Vinh Moc tunnels where, remarkably, the locals lived for 6 years and where you‘d have to be of Tom Cruise dimensions not to develop a permanent stoop.
Next stop was Hoi An, a truly beautiful little town which reminded me of Luang Prabang in Laos. There is little else to do than ramble slowly through the streets there, soaking up the atmosphere and no better place to do it.
I had my first sleeper bus experience on the trip from Hoi An to Nha Trang and it’s something that should be tried once - but only once. Picture about 20-30 half-reclined beds spread three wide throughout the bus with barely enough room in between to squeeze through so, to paraphrase the song, if your arse is indeed the size of a small country, take the train. I finally found a berth at the back where the beds were five wide and where, if you have privacy issues, too fucking bad. You soon become accustomed to someone shoving their elbow in your neck just as they become accustomed to your flatulence. No one complains as it’s a 12 hour journey and it’s best to suffer these things in silence. It’s the sleeper bus way.
Nha Trang is quite possibly the ugliest and most banal place in this entire country. Jesus wept, it is monotony incarnate. Try as I might I cannot put forth any valid reason for the existence of Nha Trang but, inexplicably, the Russians love it - there are Russians everywhere here and consequently lots of see-through singlets and bleached blonde hair, and that’s just the guys. If you don’t dive here then - simply put - you’re fucked as far as I see it. In my 2 days in Nha Trang the sun didn’t shine once and so those who came solely for the beach must have felt very shortchanged indeed. Perhaps it was just me - a type of SE Asian weariness maybe - but everything in Nha Trang was shiteful, even the diving. Visibility was about 5 metres at best, and when you could see ahead there were a few sorry looking patches of reef scattered here and there. Even the fish looked fed up. No, nothing could have saved Nha Trang, not even if I’d seen a whale shark dry humping a blue whale.
I arrived in Saigon in the early morning hours having taken the hard seat overnight train to get there. Splintered and weary I wandered in search of a bed for the night. Little did I know that Mrs. Hu would be patrolling the streets looking for folk just like me - tired, grumpy looking, lost with Lonely Planet in hand wondering where the fuck I was - and she almost literally dragged me to her ‘home’. Strange, strange place - she made all sorts of claims for it on the street - free wi-fi, big breakfast etc etc - but none of them came to fruition and I was too tired to argue so I took the room. She pretty much told me that I’d be buying my ticket to Phnom Penh from her but I said nothing because all I wanted to do was sleep.
Saigon - evocative name or no - was, to my eyes, just another city. Took in a few sights, tried to drink in some of the atmosphere but it wasn’t really happening for me. The fact that there was a biblical downpour for about 10 hours on the only full day that I was there certainly didn't help. And then that evening as I wandered around trying to buy my ticket to Cambodia, there she was again, every time I turned around - Mrs. fucking Hu asking me what my plans were, where I was going to next and when I would be going there. I did buy my ticket to Phnom Penh but not from Mrs. Hu because if her rooms were anything to go by - oh and the light in the room didn‘t work either - I could quite conceivably end up to my neck in shit somewhere in the Mekong Delta. Balls to it, I’m just getting city weary at this stage. Vietnam is undoubtedly best enjoyed from south to north methinks. Bring on Cambodia.

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