OK…so, since we last wrote, we have all successfully rock climbed the limestone karst formations..and loved it!...crossed the border into Vietnam..and spent 18 days in lovely Vietnam! We were all a bit sad to leave China..after 6 wks there, but since I (Doria) had my wallet stolen in our last city in China…we decided to move on!
So yeah, we have a bit to catch up on. First things first…we arrived to Vietnam..and instantly we were thrown into the culture. Clint was riding on the back of a guys motorbike to the ATM, while Melissa and I were crammed into a mini bus with many locals..eating some strange nutty dish wrapped in a banana leaf! We finally made it to Hanoi, (the major city of the North) and spent a day there touring the markets, shopping, drinking great Vietnamese coffee (2nd best in the world!), and enjoyed taking a rik shaw ride around the city for an hour (an easy way to see the sights and be immersed into the crazy scooter/motorbike traffic). We have learnt very well to just close your eyes and walk when crossing the street…they WILL stop!
We then took a 3 day, 2 night boat tour to Halong Bay/Cat Ba Island. The boat was like an old fashioned wooden junk, with sleeping quarters (which we spent one night on!)…and great tanning and eating areas. The scenery was WONDERFUL….tons of islands (they say there are 1,900 islands..only 900 have names!)…lots of limestone and grassy hills on the islands. We toured a cave on one of the islands, climbed to a look out on the other and kayaked around some of the others. There were tons of boats around the islands, very touristy…which made for a great scene at night with all the lights over the water. The next day we hiked through Cat Ba national park for fantastic views from a top of a mountain…and we kayaked in amongst the islands to our own private beach! That night we stayed in out most posh hotel yet!...and enjoyed great seafood (shrimp, squid, etc.)…on Cat Ba Island. It was a very relaxing and beautiful time…getting us in the mood to do some great beaching in Thailand! Oh how our trip has changed…from touring temples in chilly China…to lying on beaches in very warm Vietnam.
We then took a 12hr overnight bus to Hoi An…another touristy/beachy city on the coast of Vietnam. The overnight bus was an experience…lets just say, you need to buckle yourself in so that you don't fall off the top bunk! One of the main attractions of Hoi An are the 200 tailor shops ready to make a suit, dress, coat, leather boots or really ANYTHING for you!...for cheap!...all tailor made to fit! We spent..ha..3 days there, Clint getting 2 great suits and Melissa and I coming out with quite a few nice dresses! Twas a fun time, but also stressful..getting them all to fit just right! So we also took some time to bike through the countryside villages and go swimming at the beach!
Next stop..after yet another 12hr overnight bus trip, (this time just in seats…very cramped, not too much sleep to be had)…we made it to the ocean city of Nah Trang (right on the ocean..very beautiful!). There we decided to do a day tour of 4 different islands around the area. It was a smaller boat, but full of fun. We got to eat a delicious meal of seafood and fruit right on the boat…be entertained by our very funny tour guide..including kareoke, dancing and jokes…and enjoy snorkeling and swimming. Now, the snorkeling was a bit of a disappointment, for us who have been to the Great Barrier reef…but we still saw a few little fishies! Also..we found ourselves getting stung almost the instant we hit the water..by tiny little jellyfish that we couldn't see. They aren't poisonous..and do not really hurt…but are just kinda annoying! We still managed to jump off the top of the boat a few times….and well, Clint decided to do a face dive…giving himself a nice black eye!
Our next adventure was a highlight for all 3 of us…the best way to see the true culture of Vietnam… We took a 3 day 2 night motorbike tour into the Highlands of the Vietnam (chillier and totally different culture)…and down the coast. We each had our own driver…and our luggage was our backrests! We got to experience Vietnam with every sense…so different from the back of a bike.. We saw the lush jungle of the Ho Chi Minh trail (saw the effects of agent orange in the valleys…), we heard the Zicada bugs chirping in the trees, we smelt the exhaust and every interesting smell along the way, tasted great local curbside café food, and felt the breeze on our faces! Our guides were so helpful, hilarious…and great companions for the 3 days! We got to see various ways of Vietnamese life, rice paper making, silk making, brick making, traditional dance and song, and just the everyday life of the people alongside the roads. It was an amazing experience….and we came out of it with a bit of dirt on our legs (we slid in the mud once…and got all muddy!)…a burn on one of our legs (mine..from the exhaust pipe--oops)…and a lot of good pics and memories.
Our motorbike gang dropped us off in Mui Ne..a coastal town…basically all sand!..desert like. We stayed in a cute beach side resort, where we got to relax after our trip…in hammocks, with the beach air, with some good books! The next day we took a tour of the white and yellow sand dunes….Clint got a chance to go sand surfing (which is a business all run by little kids..they swarm you to use their crazy carpet!)…and we all got to enjoy the endless view of sand! We also got to walk through a shallow river, surrounded on one side by sand formations caused by water and erosion….and through a red "sand canyon"….twas pretty cool.
Our last stop in Vietnam was the city of Ho Chi Minh (previously Saigon). We are all reading books on the Vietnam War..so when we got to HCM we were somewhat prepared for what we were going to see. We went and toured the Cuchi tunnels..where Vietnamese villagers and North Vietnamese army hid, lived and fought during both the Indo-China war and the Vietnamese war. They are very shallow, dark, endless tunnels below ground…where people and family's lived…for uppermost to 5yrs. It was pouring rain when we were there…but we still had the chance to climb into and explore one of the tunnels which was widened for tourist use! (original tunnels were VERY small…and some have collapsed). We also visited the War Remnants Memorial museum…which has old army helicopters, tanks, bomb/bullet remnants and rooms of endless pictures and stories of suffering. From the Agent Orange victims, to the Napalm victims..to horrid pictures of war brutality…to candid shots of the soldiers in combat by war photographers….we were all a bit speechless…and solemn. Its hard to imagine that it all only happened 30yrs ago….the Vietnamese people are some of the most resilient people…so strong. We have utmost respect for the Vietnamese people…past and present.
We are now in Cambodia…our 3rd country of our trip! The border crossings just keep getting easier and our passports more full with visa's! We are looking forward to more culture here, more war memorials, seeing the famous Angkor Wat temple and hopefully some volunteering at an orphanage! We might be coming home with a few children of our own! That’s Vietnam in a nutshell….ciao for now! Peace (or Binh in Vietnamese!)