Sunday, June 19, 2011

Easyriding from Hoi An to Hue

As we were researching motorcycle trips to Hue, 2 Easyriders pull up to the hotel.  What luck!  The customer they are dropping off recommends the trip so we decide to book a 2-day tour with them.

First stop: Marble Mountains.  Highlights include pagodas, temples in caves and for 3 Vietnamese tourists: us!

The visit confirms to us that  people in Vietnam have more money than in Laos and Cambodia.  Here and in Phu Quoc, we have seen many Vietnamese tourists whereas we saw no local tourists in the other two countries.

The roads in Vietnam are very good so the ride is smooth...once we are out of the city, that is.  It is easier if you just close your eyes whenever you enter a roundabout and let the driver manoeuvre his way through the madness.  Once in the countryside, we are on our own.  We don't see any roadkill, but there are plenty of piles of cow dung to try and avoid.  Kids smile and wave at us like in Laos and Cambodia.  We just needed to get out of the city.  The trip includes some botany/biology lessons.  We stop to smell and taste cinnamon.  We had no idea it came from the bark of a tree!  We also learn how rice wine is made and that rice grown on the side of a hill (drier and harder) is better for making it.  The wet stuff is better for eating.

The trip also includes history lessons.  We stop at a minority village and meet a 30 year old man who walks with crutches because his mother drank water contaminated by Agent Orange.  His sister is healthy, but his niece also suffers from the effects of the defoiliant used by the Americans during the war.  We also stop by the side of the road and find leftover fragments of bombs.

The ride along Ho Chi Minh Highway was fantastic.  Quiet, windy roads through lush primary jungle.  The views were worth the numb bums we had after 2 days of riding.  Prep for Japan...

Thomas becoming enlightened

Even stuck at roadworks didn't dampen our spirits
Learning how to play Vietnamese pool Bida with the locals

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City

Funny enough we like this place. It is the biggest city in Vietnam with about 7.5 million souls and about 20 times more cyclos than people. The scooters or "cyclos" are on top of the food chain here, even when you think it is not humanly possible to see more coming your way, trying to scare the cr@p out of you well, you are wrong!

See below a little video of us, trying to make our way to our guesthouse.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Road to Ho Chi Minh City

Our bus trip from Ha Tien to Ho Chi Minh was very special. Our 6h journey lasted 7.5. So far, so good. 

The fact that our bus driver drove at a speed usually experienced by astronauts was just mad though. The road was officially wide enough for 2 cars but the reality was that if cars didn't want to collide, they had to put 2 wheels on the hard the shoulder, which is a dirt road full of potholes about 4 feet deep. 

In these conditions it is better to fall asleep than witness the drivers playing chicken avoiding impact at the last second. Ignorance is bliss.
Falling asleep however was just impossible this time as the vicious Vietnamese road builders strategically placed about 874 bridges on the way to Ho Chi Minh City. Every single one of them has a little "bump" just before and a little "drop"just after the bridge to ensure that all the passengers would stay fully awake. As we were passing the bridges at the speed of sound, our stomachs were tickling our achiles entering them and we felt like a bungee jumpers on a freefall exiting it.
The only way not to hit our heads on the ceiling was to fasten our seat belts.

We made it safe and sound in Saigon, just in time for a massive downpour.  
Woo hoo!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Relaxing at the beach

On the way to Kampot from Phnom Penh, the bus stopped at Kep.  Riverside or beach?  So we jumped off early and soon found ourselves enjoying a fruitshake in an infinity pool overlooking the sea and nearby islands.  It can't get much better than this....or can it?

After a yummy meal of fresh crab and beer with our new friends from Ipswich Kim and Paul, the next morning we were off to Rabbit Island.  After a 30 minute boat ride, we were greeted with a clean, sandy beach, warm, clear water and the best part, very few tourists.  We ended up spending the whole day in the water chatting with our boat mates David and Sanya, an American and Czech living in Okinawa.  We hit it off so well that we were sad to have to say good bye to them at the end of the day, but we hoped to meet up with them again in Kampot.

In the evening, we shared an aperitif of rice vodka with our other boat mate Bartek from Poland.  As we did our cheers, a table of locals followed suit and then invited us to join them.  The custom: a shot of vodka followed by a spoonful of a tender fish in a very tasty sauce.  But what's this?  A big rib bone.  It's not fish we are eating, but snake!  And a rather big one at that.  The bone was a good 5 cm long.  One pitcher done.  2 of the locals went to bed.  After the second pitcher, Thomas and Yumi stumbled to bed.  We passed out at 9pm, which was perfect because that's when the generators are turned off and there is no more electricity for the night.

We only planned to stay one night, but soon after checking out of our bungalow, we decided to stay another night so checked right back in.  We spent the day swimming, reading (Thomas has read more in 3 days than he has in the last 3 years!), playing volleyball, sleeping, drinking shakes and repeat.  We realised this was the first time in 5 months that we were just chilling on a beach.  It was a great way to re-charge our batteries.  We didn't sleep very well at night due to a lack of through air in the bungalow (very basic: bed, mosquito net, squat toilet and shower head), but we caught up on our zzzz's during the day.  A big thunder storm brought a much needed breeze through the bungalow in the middle of the second night.

We didn't want to leave the island and are wish almost came true.  We had booked the trip with a tuk tuk driver Rath and he said to give him a ring whenever we wanted to leave.  We are then sent on a 45 minute wild goose chase to find "our" boat.  We tried approaching a couple of boats, but they wouldn't let us board without tickets (Rath said he had them).  Finally, we were advised to ask a French group if we could join their privately rented boat.  They kindly agreed.  We learned that they are a group of audiologists and ENTs who donate 2 weeks of their time every 6 months to do hearing tests and hearing aid fittings for children in Cambodia.  Upon arrival at Kep, we found ourselves stranded again because of course Rath was no where to be found.  The doctors had 2 extra spaces in their mini van and were staying just across the road from us so offered us a ride.  We met them later for a lovely seafood dinner at the Crab Market.  It all worked out in the end and actually for the better.