|My FLoating Hotel|
|Yes... that is previous chickens on the back of a bike|
Before I talk about Saigon proper, I will mention how one can tell Vietnam is more developed than Cambodia pretty much from arrival. This is easily spotted in three ways, all traffic related:
1. There are proper roads that aren't potholed to buggery and they actually have something that resembles a motorway.
2. There is more than one type of car. In Cambodia the only cars are new black 4x4s. In Vietnam they have a variety from new to old.
3. People obey traffic lights. I only once saw anyone really obey a traffic light in Cambodia and that was only because to not would have meant instant death.
This isn't to imply that driving in Vietnam would be advisable, it is not. It is nightmarish with the million of motorbikes that swarm you.
|Rise of the Bikes|
I quite like Saigon, for all its noise and brashness it has a certain charm to it. The replica of Notre Dame is also quite amusing. However I did not have enough time to linger any longer as I have too many places I would rather see.
|Cu Chi Tunnel|
I awoke nice and early to depart for Halong Bay. One of the iconic areas of Vietnam, stunning scenery of karst islands set in the South China Sea. However it was far too wet and misty to truly appreciate this scenery, besides I have seen much of this before (Yangshuo, Rai Leh etc) so I was not too bothered. The tour however was fantastic, this was largely due to the people, the food and the mutual dislike of our scouse tour guide (in fairness he brought us all together) with his constant shouts of " Guys guys guys, I Will destroy you" before he drank himself in to sleep. I acquired my 'back in nam' flashback stories and took a grand total of five photos. I then returned to Hanoi to recover and decide what to do for the 3 days I had left and was stuck due to Tet.
|Transporting a tree|
|New Year decorations|
|Bridge over the Lake|
|Me and Kevin rocking Halong Bay|
Hue is the old imperial city back when Vietnam still had something resembling an Imperial family. The weather was still wet and cold. I arrived fresh from the 'great nights sleep' on the bus and booked a tour for the next day, had breakfast/lunch and set off on a moped to visit some sites that were not on the tour. It was kind of wet, but I had fun visiting 'Elephant Arena' and Tu Duocs tomb before deciding to try and get lost in the countryside. Considering Tu Duoc (and most of the emperors) had no power and were under French rule, his tomb was quite grand, but that is actually wherein lies the cause, they had nothing to do except build huge tombs. I awoke early for the next day for the City tour which included some trips to more Tombs, and to my surprise Tu Duc's tomb again, which I skipped before we headed for lunch and a trip to the citadel/forbidden city. Largely bombed out by the French/Americans during the war it houses vast empty fields and weirdly a tennis court. It also has an Elephant that looked decidedly depressed when chained up. The tour was rounded up with a trip to a Pagoda to touch a statue of a Turtle for good luck. I went back to the Hostel for happy hour and to figure out how to move on to Hoi An the next day..... Hippy van tour wasn't running unless i paid for all five spaces ($17 x 5 = $85) so I decided to do the Motorbike option! Hue may not have been the most exciting of places, but the hostel is a good base to meet pretty much everyone I met in Hanoi and then some more people, with the tombs and citadel it kept me busy, even if it was far too cold. The hostel staff are very pretty girls who are very friendly, you should all come visit and marry one. (This is that they told me to write, the marriage part)
|Tomb at Tu Duoc|
|Pond in the Tomb complex|
|Dragon with Green eyes|
So motorbiking to Hoi An. Top Gear describe a stretch on this trip as one of the "greatest coastal roads in the world" (Hai Van Pass). The Vietnam special is quite worth the watch if you are interested in that trip and travel in Vietnam. Despite being apprehensive about doing the trip alone the hostel staff assured me nobody had ever gotten lost in the two years it has been running. With this in mind I thought it might be fun to be the first, but I am actually pretty good at map reading. I set off after a breakfast bowl of noodles and bumped in to two Dutch girls I knew from Hanoi, heard another Vietnamese scam story and learn't they were so sick of Vietnam they had decided to go to Laos earlier than planned. On to the road with better weather I set off through the morning hustle of Hue and found my road out into the countryside. This took me along to the coast and then to a rather large lagoon surrounded by rice paddies, complete with water buffalo and farmers working the field wearing those iconic coned hats. Eventually I came to the beginning of the pass, after a rather rude attendant made it clear I almost went the wrong way I started my climb up the pass stopping briefly for a photo moment before the winding roads took me higher in to clouds and fog. Visibility was reduced to only a couple of metres at times and bikes/trucks lights would slowly emerge out of this fog. Suddenly as if out of nowhere I emerged out of the fog in to glorious bright sunlight and warmth. I had reached the top of the pass and was rewarded with stunning views south of Vietnam and a stark contrast of fog and sun. After photographing a group of Vietnamese (at their request) I got one of them with Kevin and explored the bunker complex before a chocolate snack and I continued onwards towards..... Da Nannnnnnggggggggggggg, (according to South Park during the war this was where the theme parks were). In reality it is where 'China Beach' is, which almost true to South Park is where American troops were sent for R n R. Da Nang it self is obviously rather wealthy however it is still developing, in a few years the beach front will be full of 5 Star Resorts(there were already at least two golf courses, a rarity in South East Asia). I headed off to visit Marble Mountain, a giant mountain with a weird fusion of futuristic style elevator and ancient pagoda set atop a giant slab of rock that jets out of the ground. I stopped for a squid lunch before making the final stretch to Hoi An, found my drop off point and hotel. The ride had been easier than expected but also totally awesome and rewarding.
|My Steed, with lucky Buddha symbol too|
|Boats on the River|
|Fog and Sunshine|
|Chinese Assembly hall garden|
|Hoi An river at sunset|