Friday, 7 December 2012

A little taste of Vietnam...

Phu Quoc Island - Mai House Resort

Southern and Central Vietnam

After 24 hours in transit Phu Quoc Island came into view. A bungalow resort on the beach, exotic fruit buffet for breakfast, the wind in our hair as we whizzed around on a moped; an ideal start to the trip.

But four precious days of the total twenty-four had melted away already: it was time get stuck into the mainland.

We set off for the ferry with just one flimsy receipt to show for the next three days of our journey, about to experience the confusing phenomenon of Vietnamese organisation; so seemingly haphazard that you constantly expect the worst, yet they always pull it off.

With verbal communication virtually impossible we had to just trust the people flapping their arms enthusiastically, pushing us one way or another, pointing and nodding. We followed their indications from ferry to minibus to local bus to cylo (rickshaw), and miraculously arrived at a floating hotel in Chau Doc.

Mekong Delta - Chau Doc
The next day was the same - boat to bus to boat, money changing hands all over the place, until we were dropped off, with no explanation, on a little island in the middle of the Mekong River. We explored, sheltering under banana tree leaves during a sudden deluge, and cooked our own dinner with the host family (guided by plenty more gesturing).

On day seven we hit Ho Chi Minh City. It is everything that the Mekong Delta is not: loud, busy, westernised and awash with neon lights. The change of pace takes some getting used to, but before long its intoxicating buzz wins you over.

Up the coast we went, by-passing hedonistic party town Nha Trang in favour of idyllic Doc Let, where commune-style living is all the rage (simple huts and communal meals at a big dining table). Hoi An flashed by in a whirl of fabric and negotiations; after just 30 hours in the city we left with a whopping four tailor-made suits in tow.

Northern Vietnam

Following a cramped night on the sleeper bus we awoke amidst the early-morning traffic of Hanoi. No rest for the wicked though - we set out immediately to get to Ba Be Lakes, for once entirely unaided by tour guides, taxis or tourist information.

Ba Be Lakes
Vietnamese people are unbelievably friendly. There are, however, exceptions, and they have been systematically rounded up and sent to work at My Dinh Bus Station in Hanoi. We were treated like moronic aliens, repeatedly ignored, laughed at and lied to. Eventually, finding ourselves 60km away from our intended destination, we ordered two xe oms (moped taxis) and headed into the pitch-black night for what was easily the most terrifying 40 minutes of my life.

Perhaps exaggerated by the relief at having survived the mountain death-ride, the stunning scenery of Ba Be Lakes, as yet not overrun with tourists, made the testing journey seem worth it. Although I may have reconsidered this the next day, as we sat waiting for four hours for a bus whose existence I had increasingly little faith in...

TG xx

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