Friday, August 15, 2008

Vietnam (August 5 - Aug. 15)

After a tough (although still amusing) 3-hour sawngthaew drive from Vieng Xai, we arrived to Namsoy. We got our bags checked and went through a compulsory "health check", which actually did not happen, however still had to be paid for. With a legendary sentence "when in Vietnam, you do not have to worry about safety", the border officer waved us goodbye and we crossed the border to Vietnam, namely to a small town Nameo.

Judging by the excitement and honest interest of the locals, our arrival to Nameo was probably the most interesting thing that happened in Nameo for last couple of months (and probably will happen couple of the following ones as well). Having chosen the Namsoy/Nameo border crossing, we were aware of the fact that getting to Hanoi may be quite difficult, since our resources claimed the public transport at this crossing fairly "undeveloped" (meaning totally unreliable and random). One of the locals that actually spoke English quickly offered to take us by motorbike to a nearby town, where we were supposed to catch a bus to Hanoi or at least move closer to the coast, since there was no connection from Nameo to anywhere that day. The price was not that bad, so we have set off. After a few minutes of driving on a scenic road through the mountains, the drivers suddenly changed their minds and without bothering to explain us what is going on, drove back to the town which we have just left. Later we found out that the bus-driver found enough people for the bus to Hanoi (or just woke up), so we soon found ourselves sitting in a bus to Hanoi - together with 15 Vietnamese, one motorbike, ca. 20 large bags of potatoes and ca. 100 50kg-bags of soybeans and/or grass. Being already quite tired, we no longer cared when it began to rain inside the back of the bus (and into Martin's backpack) and the Vietnamese decided to move all their farming products and equipment to the front of the bus (while the bus was still going of course and all passengers still present and seated).

To our own surprise, we arrived to Hanoi soon before midnight the same day and went to bed. Our plans to go to a 2-day boat trip to Halong Bay was terminated by the typhoon, so we spent 3 pleasant days in Hanoi, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying all the sights and activities, including a water-puppet theatre and western-style cinema complex.

On Friday (August 8th) we took the sleeper bus to Hue, the former capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty and its historical centre. Although being interesting to see, the ruins were not extremely appealing, so after visiting them, we hired a bike and cycled to a nearby Thuan An beach - our first real encounter with the sea during our trip. Sitting on the sandy beach and watching the sea was really a pleasant change.

We left to Hoi An in the morning the other day. We spent the afternoon walking around the town, enjoying the atmosphere of a town that was one of few not damaged during the Vietnam War. Second day in Hoi An, we hired a motorbike and visited the close famous Cham monuments My Son.

Following stop was Nha Trang, the beach capital of Vietnam. While morning was effectively spent on deciding on our next stops in Vietnam and arranging a few things in this sense, the majority of the rest of the day we spent just lying on the beach, not really doing much (actually for the first time during our trip!). The only thing that disturbed us from our "doing nothing" was a great thunderstorm that came and paralysed the city for a while, with roads looking like little rivers, waterfalls instead of stairways etc. ... We swam back through the traffic to our guesthouse, changed clothes, picked up raincoats and with the storm getting weaker, we enjoyed the evening outside, discovering the town.

Mui Ne, another point of our interest, was a little charming town at the seaside. Having arrived around midday, we did not hesitate and booked a jeep trip to the famous white and red sand dunes. The sights we saw were really astonishing and we kind of regretted that we could not stay much longer. Our bus to Ho-Chi-Minh City (Saigon) was supposed to arrive at 2 AM at night, so we spent some time on the internet and then got some rest on the floor of a (already closed) local restaurant.

Having spent 3 days in Hanoi, we did not really want to invest much more of our time to Saigon, which was "just another regular city". Therefore we booked a trip to nearby Cu-Chi Tunnels - another important place of the Vietnam war - an amazingly sophisticated system of underground tunnels the Viet Cong used to fight the Americans. In the evening the words of the border officer of Nameo came true, when a passing motorbike-driver snapped my favourite fatal dog-tag and drove away with it. Hopefully, it was the one and only thing that we will have stolen.

On Friday, August 15th in the morning we got on the bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, excited about our next adventures to come.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Temple of Literature, Hanoi

One of the gates of the imperial city, Hue

Cham monuments, My Son

Nha Trang beach

Red sand dunes, Mui Ne

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