Good morning, Vietnam!
What’s the first thing you do when arriving in a new country? Head to the cinema, of course!
Following a long journey from Cambodia, we arrived in the middle of a downpour. The only sensible option (so we told ourselves) was to sit down in oversized, plush seats and watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them on the big screen, all the while gorging ourselves on delicious caramel popcorn. For good measure we roped Ben and Anabelle in to our lazy evening. Despite a rather disappointing Pepsi – 80% ice; even writing this hurts a little – and enduring the constant interruptions of Vietnamese with miniscule bladders squeezing past our chairs, we had a great time. It was a nice way to kick off Vietnam, whilst ending our journey with our new friends.
A busy day of sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) lead us from Notre Dame Cathedral (we were as surprised as anyone to not find ourselves in France), to the War Remnant Museum and off to the Post Office; weirdly the latter is listed in the top 10 things to see in HCMC. We learnt that France had a large role in Vietnam’s past and that America dropped a ridiculous number – ok, we forgot – of bombs during the Vietnam War.
To fuel our big day out we ate a lot. On the menu was Japanese food and mystery-meat noodle soup, so named because, of the 3(?) different meats involved, we were unable to confidently say which animals any had come from –we’ll let your imaginations run wild with that one. *Cough* Dog
Following our culinary adventure Jamie came down with an impressive and explosive case of food poisoning. Jade ‘Iron-stomach’ Hodgson remained immune to whatever nasties we’d ingested. In between bouts of vomiting and the other thing – which we won’t talk about in polite company – Jade was kind enough to keep Jamie drugged up, well hydrated and in a relatively good mood all things considered.
Fully recovered – Jamie physically, Jade from the psychological trauma of hearing Jamie in the bathroom – we headed to Mui Ne. Essentially one long stretch of sun-bleached sand; Kite Surfing was the main activity on offer. Unwilling to shell out $250 dollars (in some places the equivalent to 50 nights of accommodation for the two of us) for a few hours of kite flying, we instead enjoyed several days soaking up the sun, interspersed with the odd dip in the sea. On one occasion the waves were slightly more formidable than usual. A few seconds of not paying attention resulted in Jade being knocked off her feet and dragged backwards up the beach in the surf. She survived the ordeal none the worse for wear. It took days to wash all the sand out.
Our time in Mui Ne coincided with Jade’s 24th birthday! Food played a big part in proceedings; we consumed an awe inspiring amount of delicious Mexican food and ate ALL the dessert. We rounded off the day with a few games of pool and then settled down in a bar, eating cake and sipping chocolate milkshake, whilst watching live music.
Next stop: Da Lat. A mere 5 hours away by bus, the diminutive city is in the southern highlands of Vietnam, walled in by mountains. The road wound through valley after valley, like a snake clinging to the mountainside. The surface was more pothole than road, a juddering rollercoaster of a ride. None of this went down well with Jade’s travel sickness. Despite being prepared and medicated up to the eyeballs, she felt incredibly ill for the entire journey. The 5 hour bus soon stretched in to eternity; the journey may have been short but the way was not easy.
Da Lat is home to something called the Crazy House. What started off as a themed guesthouse has mutated over the years in to something you’d expect to see in the demented dreams of a serial killer clown. Part maze, each building was linked by an intricate and confusing array of walkways, fashioned into the shapes of giraffe necks, thorny branches, and gigantic vines, pulled inch by inch from the pages of Jack and the Beanstalk. Each room in the complex had a theme of sorts; tigers, giant eggs, mermaids and huge shells were all present. The most memorial being a sinister rendition of Pooh Bear, bees buzzing around his head, hand stuck in a hive, oozing great globules of honey.
Da Lat is not just the home to some of Walt Disney’s darker imaginings. A long day of walking lead us through winding streets, and over hill tops; finally arriving – via yet another cake and milkshake stop – at the cable car station. This was Jade’s first trip in a cable car. Initially having concerns about the safety of a glass case suspended 100ft off the ground by a single, not that impressive looking, wire, she eventually relaxed and we both enjoyed the view. Disembarking after our ride we then continued our day’s march to visit deafening waterfalls, a mirror-like lake and a stunning mountaintop Pagoda – complete with diminutive monks, unhurriedly going about their business in vivid orange robes.
When visiting a town with two lakes at its centre, what trip would be complete without a ride on a giant swan-shaped pedalo? What initially looked like fun quickly became hard work; with tired thighs we opted to go where the wind took us and sat back to enjoyed the view. As it turns out the wind was out of puff as well, we went nowhere…
And so, in the blink of the eye, half of our time in Vietnam is complete.
Finally, after much deliberation we have decided to rearrange elements of our itinerary. Our original plan was to be in the Philippines for Christmas. Following an increase in scary things – kidnappings, bombings and drug dealer assassinations – happening over there, combined with warnings from the home office we have decided it might be more intelligent, and less life threatening, to give the beautiful island nation a miss. As a result we will get to spend more time in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia, hardly a bad thing when you think about it.
Christmas in Northern Thailand, here we come!
Jade and Jamie