Vietnam!

My first introduction to Vietnam came when I arrived in Hanoi from Laos after a 10 hour bus journey. I negotiated a price (still too much probably) for a motorbike taxi to my hostel. Wow, I only thought I was going to die about 5 times, the traffic, mostly scooters was so intense. I just had to relax and put my life in the hands of my driver. That was certainly a rude awakening after sleepy Laos and a perfect introduction to this land of scooters. I have never felt so alive as I did clambering off that motorbike…

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The amazing Halong Bay and its beauty shines through even on a dull (and rainy) day. On a short kayaking trip I managed to find a small cave or rather short passage through a cliff that came out into a secluded cove. Only kayaks could pass underneath so it was mercifully free of the ubitquitous cruise boats. To add to the magic monkeys were playing around the cliff
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After a nice night on the boat in the bay (with free beer!) we visited an oyster farm
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Never having given much thought to the process of oyster pearl farming I didn’t realise that the pearls must be seeded first and left to develop for years, even still there is no guarentee that a good quality pearl would be found after all that effort
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Hi mum
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The limestone karsts are enormous and tower high over the bay. I would love to go back (when it’s warmer) and try to visit a more secluded part
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Scooters almost move like a fluid through the Hanoi traffic. Honestly there were many more tree-lined bouvlevards than I was expecting…
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…and about the correct amount of communist statues
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A giant square in the capital is a communist country must-have
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As is an embalmed dead guy. I missed Lenin, saw Mao but missed Ho Chi Minh, 1/3 must try harder
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After the chaos of Hanoi it was a pleasure to arrive in Phong Nha, an impressive national park playing host to numerous caves, including the world’s largest. The drive in the park itself was fantastic
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In fact caving was one of my essential activities in Vietnam and even in this entire trip. I booked onto a 2 day caving expedition. It first involved a trek through the jungle to the cave entrance. This was dense jungle, real jungle…and I was so happy to be in it
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The first cave was Nuoc Nut Cave. This required some swimming and a little squeezing
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The mouth to the cave offered some great photo ops
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Reaching the end of the cave, well not the end if you have diving gear, we had a quick swim in the perfectly still water in the absolutely pitch black, quite an experience
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Happy and relaxed after leaving Nuoc Nut cave. All that remained was a very tough trek to the jungle campsite
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The next day we entered Hang Va which was the highlight of the tour. This cave definitely required some scrambling and squeezing through tight spaces half submerged in water. It didn’t present so many good photo options but it was a real caving experience which was exactly what I was after. At the end is an almost unique sight (apparently there is one more example somewhere in Latin America). These cones are not stalagmites but are formed in a different but not understood way. Really interesting to see and just highlighted the fact that we were in a different world
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Trekking out of the cave and back to the road was tough. The jungle is so dense that an open view like this is breathtaking
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An ice cold beer at the end (this tour company thought of everything…even the high price)
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Next to Hoi An, a favourite of travellers to Vietnam. An old town with old architecture that has a look of managed decripitude. Virtually all the buildings in the old town are now devoted to tourism, somewhat limiting their appeal
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At night it is lovely to stroll around and enjoy the lights
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Cao Lau, my favouritest dish in Vietnam. Well either that or banh mi, the delicious baguette-like sandwich you find everywhere
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Outside Hoi An are the ruins of a set of temples, dating from when the region was dominated by Hindu rulers, called My Son
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While most of the ruins are nothing more than very ruined ruins, one site is impressive and gives an insight into ancient Vietnamese history. In fact I had no idea that Hinduism was once the major religion here
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In Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it’s officially called I was able to learn more about recent history. The War Remanents Museum is an not entirely enjoyable must-see. Gruesome images show the impact of the American War (as the Vietnam War is called inside the country)

 

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Another typical must-see are the Cu Chi tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war. Actually many of the tunnels are reconstructed for tourists and are maybe not the originals. As in the Vieng Xai caves in Laos, I was struck by the lengths that people have gone to to exist and fight in times of hardship and war. The mood was light-hearted and not sombre at all. In fact I took comfort from this place being a tourist attraction because for me, perhaps misguidedly, I saw that war and its atrocities could some day be seen just as pointless, bizarre and ancient as European medieval torture chambers seem to us today
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One of the hidden entrances to the tunnels (maybe reconstructed?). The guide asked who wanted to climb down inside….*silence*….so I decided it had to be me…
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Actually despite the many beers, unhealthy eating and lack of exercise my waistline still allowed me to sink inside; the only problem was my height. I might not be that much wider than the Vietnamese of the 70s but I am considerable taller!
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With a significant lack of elegance I made it inside…just

 

Next up: Sumatra Paradise

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One thought on “Vietnam!

  1. The caving experience looked amazing. I’ll have to find out what it was like in the tunnel!!! BTW glad you survived the motorbike taxi!

    Like

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