Trip to Vietnam 2004
All travel reports are translated electronically although minor improvements are sometimes made.
Trip to Vietnam 2004
My trip around Vietnam: Moc Bai – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – Cu Chi tunnels – Mekong delta – Hanoi – Halong Bay (where the dragon enters the sea).
The Vietnam border
(It blew with communism)
To Vietnam, I crossed the border in Moc Bai. I expected it to be as easy as it was before crossing all the borders in Southeast Asia, and this would be very cool. Unfortunately Vietnam has welcomed me very communist though in my own way and ridiculously. There was no wooden hut in the jungle and a man in short shorts with a basket of stamps after 2 seconds from the stamp. Instead, armored soldiers with caps like aircraft carriers waited on me and the border looked very well guarded. They made everyone get out of the bus, take out their luggage and set up in a row. After two hours of checking luggage, the brigade commander sat down at his desk and shouted our names aloud and handed out his passports, piercingly staring at the people. It was a very good comedy but I was trying to get a little laughter because the officer was nervous.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
(Accommodation in a cheap hotel and description of the area, “bum bum for $ 20”, moped city, badminton, parks, temples, museum of war)
In the end I managed to get on the bus and after a few hours I reached the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City (although for me it will always be Saigon). Saigon is the former capital of Vietnam and its largest metropolis, as refugees from North Vietnam and Chinese merchants were here. The capital was when the French took over control, it was still in South Vietnam and also when the French had already gone out until the merger in 1975. I reached Nguyen Hue Street where there are many cheap hotels, bars and restaurants, small stalls and many tourist agencies. The place had its own climate, everywhere were sold baguettes, the windows hung plucked chickens and people ate outside. I did not have to worry about the hotel because after a while ran to me a boy who asked for how much I want a room. I said I’m on a modest budget and I’m looking for something for 4usd. Driving through very narrow and winding streets, I went to a very nice house where just for the price I had my own large room with shower. After a while I went outside to get a feel for the area. It was quite noisy but nice. It was also dirty and trash was falling on the street but given the climate of this place it was a beautifully integrated environment.
As soon as I stepped out onto the big street, two moped girls approached me almost immediately. One asked, “Hey, you want to bum the bum with the back for 20 bucks?” I thought: “So this is how it is done in Vietnam – boom boom.”
First I went to breakfast and as always in this country, I got soup with pasta and vegetables. I ate what I could grab and the rest I drank while tilting the bowl because the spoons I did not get. I was sitting in a rather quiet place but still I heard mopeds all the time and the ricks stopped near me and wanted to lift me up. When I went to the main street I saw that the city is really very busy and loud. I was told that there are 8 million people living there and 5 million mopeds. It is a city of mopeds and it is only visible here on the streets. With transport here there is no problem as almost every moped is a potential taxi. Many times it was enough to just whistle a few crashes from the big cork.
When I walked around this city, I saw a lot of workshops where they were repaired. The good thing in Saigon is that you can always sit somewhere and eat something good, unfortunately even a dog but I did not try it. There are also many parks where people are actively practicing and practicing tai chi. I spent a couple of hours in one of them because I played some good matches in badminton, which in Vietnam is a very popular game. On my first day I was walking around town, watching the old (traditional and colonial architecture) and the new one, built of metal and glass. I talked and photographed people who have always been nice to me and to the people. They always played with me badminton and when I got lost, they always wanted to help me. Those who did not speak English translated me in Vietnamese. Many tourists do not like Saigon but I loved it here. I like the kindness of people, parks with nicely trimmed trees and ubiquitous mopeds.
As I was walking down the street in the Chinese district of Cholon, the rickshaws were often bothered by me and they were so depressed that I finally agreed. He drove me to a very interesting place, ie the pagoda (temple) of Nghia An Hoi Quan. It is an old Chinese temple built in a traditional way for this kind of architecture. The temples of the temple were in a sleepy mood as there were many incense sticks in large gold pots. At the central point was the altar of the Chinese dignitary and the rest of the mood of the temple was filled with nice curtains and chandeliers. People taking care of this place let me light a candle and take some pictures. Outside, there was also a swimming pool with turtles, which added charm to the temple.
Then I went to the popular War Museum in Saigon. It is a museum that is a memorial to both the French and the American wars, although I felt that it was more about the American. I add that the former name of this place is a “war crime museum” which gives us an idea of the angle of the story of these wars. There is a very large collection of weapons, pictures and other relics of the sad past, which grabs the heart and at the same time shows how the Vietnamese propaganda works. There are no pictures of US soldiers shooting rifles at defenseless Vietnamese children or the big propaganda poster: “US Out from South East Asia”. Even many years after the war, in the 80’s and 90’s, a lot of crippled and underdeveloped children were born, as Americans dropped bombs with dioxyne. The whole world was behind the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The Nixon poster with a stupid expression on the East-East Asia map was funny. There are rooms devoted to weapons and machinery, other ways the Vietnamese defend themselves and yet another showing the world demonstrations against the war (also in America). There is also a room showing the destruction and the victims in the people after the use of bacteriological weapons, and outside there is a helicopter, a tank, bombs and heavy artillery.
The whole museum was unforgettable and showed very well the cruelty of war. But in spite of the shocking experience, in places like this I try to keep cold blood. The museum did not show how the Vietnamese treated the Americans. Anyway, this was a place I would recommend to anyone who is in Saigon. On the same day I walked around town, went to some nice parks and played with people in badminton. There was no way to avoid traffic, which meant hundreds of thousands of mopeds. I was at the bazaar where there were many stalls of all kinds but the most memorable were the ducks and geese that plucked hung on the hooks in the windows. Dogs I have not seen.
Cu Chi tunnels
(The realities of US – Vietnam war)
On the next day I decided to deepen my knowledge of the Vietnam-US war, so I went to Cu Chi Tunnels, located about 65km outside the city. As usual in Vietnam I took a very cheap bus there. So far Vietnam is so cheap and everything is so well organized that it does not pay me to organize tours on my own. Cu Chi tunnel was built in the 40s against the French, but in the 1960s it was expanded to Viet Cong and due to the war with America. The tunnels were so big that they buried themselves on the Cambodian border and they were home to 10,000 Viet Congu partisans. There were small villages with rooms for meetings, dining rooms and even hospitals. I had a very good guide who showed me everything. Like many Vietnamese at that time, he managed to escape to America and gain citizenship. The tunnels were located in the woods and the doors to them were very well covered with earth and leaves. But the entrance was so narrow that no American would not even get there even if he discovered the tunnel. When I entered the ground and passed a small piece, I felt very bad because all the time I had to go all over and push through the narrow tunnel. It was a very dirty and claustrophobic experience but it allowed me to feel on my own skin as it was crawling in such cracks a few meters below the ground.
I also went to the underground kitchen where there was a table in the middle and there was a kitchen with a chimney. I drank tea but went out quickly because there was nothing to breathe. Other attractions also offered. I was told that during the war the whole Vietnamese nation was a very well organized, guerrilla army and that is true. I saw very cleverly invented traps, mostly made of metal, nails and bamboo, which acted as a lever. It was a very clever way to eliminate an opponent, especially since the traps were underground, in the jungle or in water, and were always so hidden that the American soldiers did not expect the threat. Many of the sharp parts of the bamboo were also poisonous snakes. No wonder the Americans were tortured. They fought in a foreign land and were trapped in the jungle.
Cu Chi Tunnel also included a shooting range where you could shoot from the real AK-47. From the designated positions, I shot the target with sharp cartridges. This is a really nice weapon, but it just gently drove me back. Many souvenirs were sold outside and some of them were very original. I think Vietnamese vodka with dead cobra in the middle and local spices, but there are also many other nice souvenirs, such as paintings of rural life in Vietnam. These are always simple drawings of farmers in rice fields, plowing the field with buffalo or people in their characteristic, pointed hats, charging the net. It was a very successful day in a very special place.
Return to Saigon
(A little more about “bum bum for $ 20” and the openness of the Vietnamese)
That evening I was still around my neighborhood, I was in several stores and went to the park to practice and play badminton. On the way to the room, there were several girls on mopeds who asked me if I wanted to “bum bum for $ 20” and once a young boy asked me if he could go with me to the room. It was just that moment when I had enough of that day but it was not over because the masseuse on the bike also smiled at me. I pretended not to see and sat on the stall to drink a delicious fruit cocktail. The cocktail was of course good but I went there because I walked into a very nice Vietnamese. I bought her a cocktail but as it turned out she could only say “bum bum for 20usd”. When I said I did not want, she started looking for an interpreter to explain to me what conditions. Strangely, strangers stopped and explained to me in English what I could expect. It showed me that the Vietnamese are always very helpful and open to topics of all kinds. Then I just saw my friend on an old white moped who stopped by me and said in broken English: “No money, go to mom and papa.” I thought they were probably proud of their daughter, but that was not my problem.
Mekong River Delta
(Beauty of the natural surroundings, people living like “100 years ago”, simplicity and silence)
The next morning I drove to one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam – to the Mekong Delta. This is a great area because it occupies about 60,000 square kilometers. Here, the Mekong forms a labyrinth of river roads from which small islands rise. On these small sections of land people mainly deal with fisheries and rice cultivation, although there are also vegetable gardens and bazaars and cane fields. Sailing here, I watched the life of the local people, which, despite the achievements of the present day, has not changed.They live in wooden huts on bales set on the shore and converted into boats. The life of these people is closely related to the aquatic environment and every part of their lives depends on the river. The bazaars are organized on small islands but also on water. Just like in Thailand on the “river bazaar”, the same people here make up a group of boats on the water and thus trade. Everything they sell comes from their surroundings as the sugar cane grows near the houses and the rods are thrown from the terraces over the water, so you can eat without even going out of the house to shop. There are also cages where fish are kept. There are a few small towns such as My Tho or Can Tho where there are some bustling bazaars and beautiful views but I liked the small tropical islands that I got by boat. With the rest, another transport is impossible here.
Every time it was beautiful because I always flowed through narrow canals bypassing palm trees rising from the water and people living on the shore waved and sometimes wanted to sell something. As I mentioned before, I did not have to leave the boat because every local boat was a potential stall. During my beautiful trip I reached my little canoe to one of the many islands where palm leaf roof was a factory where handmade coconut and banana sweets were made and all were always wrapped in banana leaves. Other souvenirs were also sold and one of them was Vietnamese vodka with a cobra in the middle. A woman who sang a song typical of South Vietnamese culture and a beautiful, two-meter-long tiger python, was raised as a pet by the factory owners. I took him out of the cage and took my neck, which made me feel even better and then gave him a hold of other tourists for the photo.
I was also on a large vegetable market where Vietnamese in traditional pointed hats kept on the floor their bags of rice and whole branches of bananas. I think that in every part of Asia where I have been so far, the bazaar is always something interesting and noteworthy for me, although on the other hand it is so commonplace. The point is that here the setting and the climate, every ordinary place is very different than in Europe. Being here I traveled mainly with Americans, who despite their sad history with Vietnam are very willing to come here. I talked with an old gentleman who said he remembered the 70s when he was here as a soldier and crossing the Mekong Delta had to look out for Vietnamese traps and come home every year for holidays with his family. We can see that Vietnam is still a very poor country, even if it is our guide.He thanked us for visiting his country because he has a job. He also talked about the realities of life here, that is about working in the rice fields and that the average salary here is 50usd a month, although I think he was still very optimistic. He drove us to a good dinner where the bungalows were thatched, adjacent to the river and the pineapple field I tried very good food from this region. As I could have guessed they were fish with rice and vegetables that I had seen at the bazaar.
Upon my return to Ho Chi Minh City I planned my further trip to Vietnam. The time for my expedition was unfortunately endless, and this time I could not, for example, take a train across the country, stopping at selected places. So I decided to fly north to the capital city of Hanoi. On my morning flight, I was sad because I was awake by a host who had not yet sobered up and the afternoon flight was delayed by two hours. Anyway, “I packed my beautiful memories” and came happily north.
(Description of the capital of the country, Literature Houses, Ethnographic Museum and other places, Vietnamese art, the other side of Vietnamese women, moped neck for neck fracture)
I arrived in Hanoi late in the afternoon and myself did not know exactly where I wanted to go but the bus drivers threw me inside and before I could ask anything I was already on my way. Besides, the conversation did not stick, and no one could speak English. After about an hour I reached the tourist ghetto in the city center near Lake Hoan Kiem. This is a very centrally located place where there are many shops, cafes and tourist agencies. Although Vietnam is the capital of Vietnam, it is the second largest metropolis of this country. They are characterized by great noise and huge traffic in the streets where the mopeds are probably more than the Vietnamese themselves and every moment they press the horn and drive as they like. In this city there is also a beautiful colonial architecture, visible Chinese influences and some interesting museums. I lived on Lake Hoan Kiem, which is a real respite after very loud and full of trumpet mopeds city. Fortunately, it even has its beautiful climate which makes it a city that is unforgettable. My goal was to spend only a few days here to have more time to get to know the beautiful Halong Bay but later on.
When I got off the bus, I first wanted to look for a hotel, especially since it was late in the evening but it went away because the area was beautiful. Around me there were many shops with traditional Vietnamese clothing and souvenirs and many bars with local food. Of course, it had a beautiful, unique atmosphere and the only danger was mopeds. I went to one of the stores and saw a lovely young girl. I asked her about the scarf for Mom but I really wanted to talk to her. She was very nice and nice but she was surprised by her directness. I just talked to her and she immediately very firmly pointed out that only this man can sleep with her who will be her husband so if I have honest intentions and intend to live in Vietnam then I can make an appointment with her and she will present me to her parents. Then she just smiled and said she had to work. I have to admit that I did not expect such an answer, and that it was much better than the “bum bum for 20usd” in Saigon. I saw her one day as she drove on a moped with a friend at the place where I later lived. Apparently they talked about our meeting because after seeing me they started laughing. In the meantime I was looking for a hotel and found a nice double room with separate bathroom for only 5usd. I like it so much because it is very cheap.
The next day I jumped on one of the speeding mopeds and in the stormy movement of the city I reached the House of Literature also called the former national university. The whole resort is a complex of temples built in the second half of the eleventh century in honor of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. This place has been the center of teaching the philosophy of Confucius for over 700 years, and for the Vietnamese people is a symbol of independence after centuries of Chinese colonization and symbolizes Vietnamese national culture and its values.Architecturally, the Literature Homes are a classic example of Sino-Vietnamese influences. There is a gate that once served as the entrance to the university, as well as many beautiful temples, robes of that period, and plenty of vegetation, including interestingly profiled trees in large pots. The whole place was of course well-maintained and the architecture was one of the most beautiful and oldest in the region. Part was destroyed during the French war but is carefully rebuilt.
To this day it is a very popular and visited place. I was lucky that day, because in the main square elderly people, dressed in traditional costumes from that time, played drums and sang. I was able to take a moment to take a picture with them. In one of the university buildings, young women sang songs appropriate to the culture of North Vietnam and it was also an interesting experience. After the concert, one of them sat down to me and began to ask where I was and what my name was. After a short conversation she gave me her phone number and said she was waiting for the phone. What a pity that I will be here so short – I thought. Anyway, Literary Houses give a wonderful example of beautiful architecture and I think they should be visited by anyone who is in Hanoi.
My next destination was the Ethnographic Museum, which was a bit of a walk from the House of Literature. But this was a very nice road because this time I came across a crazy moped driver who was running to break his neck. Everyone was out, he was fast in the bends and even once we drove between two trucks. In that style I reached the Ethnographic Museum. It is a museum that talks about the ethnic minorities living in Vietnam, and bases on the culture of these ethnic minorities based on pictures, costumes, films and local community products. The museum was also open-air museum and the most interesting expositions were on the outside. There were houses built by different communities, and although everyone was different, they all had some similarities. They were all set on bales and all had straw roofs. They differed only in shape and size and purpose. The height was 19m and the height of the roof was supposed to symbolize male power. Others were much lower but always longer, up to 40 meters. Some served as residential homes where many generations lived together and others as storage rooms for food, clothing and animals. There was also a tomb where there were interesting sculptures of pregnant women, which in the culture of one of the communities meant fertility. In the middle of all the houses had mats and were very cozy. In one of them I fell asleep for two hours, which happens quite often in East Asia. When I want to sleep I just find myself somewhere and fall asleep. Not because it is boring but because it is so emotional that after a while I feel tired. Across the street was a park and quite a large lake that I walked around. The whole property I liked very much. Interesting was the tai chi show with swords, performed by very old men and dressed in silk kimonos. This is the beautiful culture I am looking for in my journeys.
After the same road and moped, I returned to the hotel after an eventful day. But I was not tired anymore because I had a two-hour nap in an ethnographic museum. I went for an evening walk on Lake Hoan Kiem. First, I sat down for a moment in a nice restaurant and from the terrace I watched the centrally located Turtle Temple, which has its beautiful, 15th century legend associated with the independence of Vietnam from China. I also walked along the lake, watching people playing chess and practicing tai chi. It was beautiful and much quieter than usual on the bustling streets of Hanoi. I also wandered along the narrow streets of the old town, where even late night flourished silver, antique, silk and many other interesting things. I saw a magnificent opera in Hanoi from the beginning of the 20th century but unfortunately I could not get in. Being close to the lake I was pulled into the restaurant by the girls and their boss gave me a chair, poured tea and wanted to talk to them. Earlier in the ethnographic museum when the older man was with my grandchildren at my age, he also wanted me to talk to them. He asked me where I am, which granddaughter I like and whether I would like a wife. He also wanted me to speak as much as possible. This is because English courses are expensive and young girls are eager to meet foreigners who take them to restaurants, they will be nice and they will give you free English lessons and maybe more. Just as it was in Thailand, it is the best and easiest way to be beautiful, intelligent Vietnam to Europe or America, and to have a white man at his side who cares and loves with mutual respect. Anyway, contact with the Vietnamese I very much praise. I think they are nice and in conversation with me always nice, polite and always good to talk to them. I’m not talking about girls offering “bum bum for 20usd”.
On one day in Hanoi I went to English school to ask for a job because I like it so much that I would like to come here soon and stay longer. I was told that with my education, nationality and English I could live very well here. I would get a salary of about 1000usd at the beginning which is not in Europe but special for the conditions of Vietnam I could live like a king because this salary is still 20 times higher than the average here. I would live in a new country for me, an exotic country where everything is cheap and women are beautiful. Although I have not had time to see the famous Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, my time in Hanoi has come to an end and I decided that I would realize what I actually came to the north of Vietnam. I went for a two day trip to Hanoi, Halong Bay, about four hours drive away. As always in Vietnam, I went with a tour instead of organizing myself because it is so cheap that it does not pay off.
(Unbelievable beauty of the bay, caves, mountains, fish vendors, Cat Ba island, village on the water)
Halong Bay is a natural phenomenon and one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam and all over Asia. In translation, it is “the place where the dragon enters the sea” and the bay itself has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. About two and a half thousand square kilometers there are about two thousand mountainous islands of various sizes and shapes. They form beautiful landscape because they are narrow, quite high and scattered in irregular distances from each other. The places resemble fjords in Norway, although the specific vegetation, turquoise water and exotics of this place testify to the difference of the Halong Bay. In addition, many islands do not even have their name and many are uninhabited (many would be difficult to live because of the terrain). Some of them are also spectacular caves and caves, which are open to tourists. You can also enjoy coral reef and mangrove forest. As it turned out, in fact the place is even more beautiful and there are a lot of other attractive things not mentioned in the guide or tourist office. When I reached the Halong Bay after four hours of driving, I immediately got on the large wooden ship with red sails that I sailed through the bay. For a couple of hours I sailed the ship and admired the high mountains, rising vertically from the turquoise sea.
The company was also good because I traveled with people from other European countries and I talked with a Vietnamese student who was a tour guide on this tour and told me some interesting things about the difficult life of the average Vietnamese in his country.So we sailed for a while, talking and admiring the surroundings. We moored on one of the islands where after a walk to the very top, we reached the cave of the Palace of Heaven, where I could admire its picturesque interior and from which was a beautiful view of the bay. Immediately after going to shore, I was greeted by children who wanted to sell me the fruit, but I succeeded because I said that white people have money and I have nothing. The island and the entire bay landscape were very picturesque, but so far the greatest pleasure was the cruise itself. I could just lie under the sail and despite the fact that the ship itself was already over, it was not the case here. It was a beautiful landscape and all that I was able to see.Halong bay is not only a place for tourism. There are many Vietnamese who live in this area. There are floating shops and fishing villages.
When sailing on a boat, many times I saw Vietnamese people huddle their little boats on our boat and try to sell fruit and fish and crabs to tourists. The cruise was a great adventure and gave me a good opportunity to watch the lives of Vietnamese fishermen in their pointed hats, with boats full of fish. When it started to darken, I reached the island of Cat Ba where I had to spend the night. The island itself is a large village on the water where from generation to generation people live in this way and do not want to go down to the mainland. The guide said that the Vietnamese government even offered them land on which to settle, but the desire to live on water is stronger for them. Cat Ba Island is a former fishing port, which today is a popular tourist destination and most often serves as a tourist accommodation for tourists on Halong Bay. It was a place where I could sleep first because the island itself does not have much to offer. I had a nice dinner because I talked with travelers from all over Europe who told us where they were and some people just travel and love to live in this way. I think travelers are like collectors of stamps, but they collect memories from the countries they see.
After dinner I went to explore the island but many interesting things I did not see and to make it more comfortable I took a girl from Singapore who was sharing a room with me. We went where there was the largest concentration of people and although no one spoke English I had a good time because I played a billiard game with some good players and I tried local delicacies. On the way back to the hotel, it turned out that Cat Ba Island is full of brothels with the official name of “massage parlor” or sometimes even without name. As I walked through the narrow street, the girls tried to put my hands on my pants and pulled me to the brothel. It seems that they had a stagnant interest because the “bum bum for $ 20” changed to “bum bum for $ 10”. I struggled and returned to the hotel to which I had to shoot because it was solidly closed overnight. The Singaporean girl was shocked and then she did not even speak to me as if it were mine. The next day I got into the same boat as before and around the afternoon my expedition on Halong Bay came to an end. On the mainland I unfortunately lost the trip but luckily I started with the other, who took me for lunch is the same restaurant where were the people on my tour. It cost me a bit of nerves but everything went well. I also bought a pointed hat from farmers in rice fields and then after a few hours I was already in Hanoi.
To sum up Halong Bay, I want to say that this is a definately cute place and when I was there, I had the impression that I wanted to come here again. At first I said that it is good to take a tour of the office and still think so because it is the best, cheapest and least stressful way to explore the Halong Bay but unfortunately nothing is perfect. Although overall the tour was successful I saw that the guide did not care to see what I paid for but at his own time. When I wanted to take a picture in a cave, they just turned off the light and when I wanted to photograph the floating villages on the island of Cat Ba, it was too dark. Anyway it was beautiful but if time permits I would recommend a trip of 3 days or longer. It’s just more time to admire the surroundings.
Race to the Hanoi airport
When I was in Hanoi, I rushed to my hotel from where I just took my big suitcase and then put it on a small moped where in two and with a big suitcase we reached the bus station. I had to get to the airport as soon as I had to fly in about an hour. Unfortunately it was about 20km away and I was very wrong with time. My bus was still not departing and someone advised me to take a taxi because I would definitely miss the flight.Driving a taxi, and so all the time on the signal, dodging all the way, arrived at the airport at the time when they closed the gate. So in a big hurry and stress I had time for a flight-this time to Hong Kong.
The summary of Vietnam
My journey through Vietnam was a beautiful learning experience. Although I have not spent too much time here, I had the opportunity to see the remains of the sad history of this country, and I’ve seen some of the most interesting natural sites north and south as well as the monuments left by the ancestors. In this busy and noisy mopeds country’s most liked the beautiful nature but also the people were nice to me. Vietnam made a special mood, it is a country which does not want to leave. Here, time passes more slowly and each new day is a reason to rejoice. As in all countries in the region, within a few hours you can reach from the famous and interesting city on the tropical beach. It was beautiful.