on the move in vietnam

After spending a fair bit of languid time waiting around for things in places we’d already been, it was time to get a wriggle on and get some serious Vietnamese kilometres under our belt.

A few days back in Phnom Penh saw us collect our visas, both Vietnamese and Chinese, and head on our merry way. The visa application process, or lack thereof, perfectly embodies how things “work” in Cambodia. No forms; no details; no signature – just pay the fee to the right person (in this case, chihuahua-lover and hands-down winner of the Asia’s Most Efficient Man Award, Sem, at Exotissimo Travel) and it somehow magically happens. The other way things work is that people are incredibly kind, from the four generations of family that lived in the lobby of our hotel to the delightful Veary, who kept us well fed and watered at Aw’-Kun.

 

A few more days back in Saigon saw us welcome newly-arrived expat and “Business Development Manager”, James Kirton. After sending him to work hungover a few times and bestowing upon him our limited culinary expertise on the city, it was time to move on again and revisit that which we swore we’d never do again: the long-haul sleeper bus. Thankfully, it was “only” 23 hours this time and catching a magnificent blood-red sunrise over verdant rice paddies almost made it worth the trauma. Dodd decided to put the rest of the time to good use and listen to Captain Beefheart on a continuous loop.  Bat Chain Puller. Puller, puller.

 

 

Hoi An, where the livin’ is easy. To cope with the Luciferian heat, we decided it was only prudent to adopt a Spanish lifestyle – wake on the later side of early; stagger around in the heat until midday; snooze away the afternoon and rouse ourselves in the evening for cocktail hour. Our last couple of days saw us enjoy what has been our first and will likely be our last bit of beach for quite some time, and it was glorious. Deckchair, swim. Deckchair, swim. Repeat. Sorry Kizza and Janeo. At the risk of copping huge amounts of abuse from our gainfully employed readers, and perfectly timed to coincide with my own decision to resign from work, I’ll mention that the most taxing task of those couple of days was deciding whether or not to order a second serving of crunchy squid from the friendly beachside seafood vendors.

 

Hue: We felt we had a bit of unfinished business in Hue, it having been our first stop in Vietnam many weeks ago and the embarkation point of the original bus ride from hell. Imperial history, more blazing heat, more bikes. Cue lots of raised eyebrows and chuckling at the outlandish antics of two Hue personalities: the lady touts on motorbikes who see fit to slowly putt alongside of you while you’re wheezing your way up a hill on a bike with no gears; and the pint-sized Emperor Tu Duc, who was taller than some things, including chairs and women on their sides, and who pre-emptively ordered the execution of all 200 workers involved in his burial so as to forever conceal the location of his tomb.

The 13-hour train journey to Hanoi was a walk in the park, albeit a highly populated one, replete with endless people-watching opportunities – communist-clad septuagenarians with wispy beards; young, urbane Mac-toters; and toddlers who wandered the aisles sitting on strangers’ laps and helping themselves to their drinks and snacks. We had been quite proud of our own collection of snacks which included a box of sugar-free digestive biscuits – that was until we noticed the warning that “excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” After we’d munched down about 10 each. Woops. Thankfully, that doesn’t fall into the category of excess consumption, but it certainly had us worried for a while.
 
Hanoi is a city in love with the open flame. Although technically prohibited, the streets are usually filled with smoke of one kind or another – grilling meat; burning rubbish; or ceremonial fires where photocopied US dollars are burned as spiritual offerings (honestly, do they really think the spirits are that gullible?). We found our spiritual home in a four-storey BBQ barn where every kind of goat is ceremonially barbecued and devoured. Call us weak, but we bypassed the goat testicle and goat blood liquor for the more sedate offerings of goat fillet and goat “breast”, or udder. Although we were the only foreigners in the whole barn, we suspect they must have had a few problems with others setting things on fire as we were highly supervised throughout the whole goaty experience. I’ll just say “goat” a few more times for good measure: goat, goat, goat.
 
After the sweeping boulevards of Saigon, there is a definite charm to the narrow winding streets of Hanoi’s old quarter, which are named according to the goods traditionally sold there – silk street; pickled fish; coffins. It is also a city dominated by the personality cult of Ho Chi Minh and we paid a visit to his mausoleum and the sort of Uncle Ho theme park that surrounds it, which includes a Soviet-funded museum with psychedelic exhibits explaining the factors influencing the rise of communism. Despite the thronging crowds, the mausoleum and surrounding park complex are quite serene. People even manage to queue in an uncharacteristically orderly fashion, such is the power of Uncle Ho (and the bayonet-wielding military guards).
 
We recently tallied up the number of hostelries we’ve stayed in since we left home – quite a rogue’s gallery of the good, the bad and the ugly. Check out the wild climb to #55, our current digs, which thankfully fall into the “good” category.
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4 Responses to “on the move in vietnam”

  1. Tom (late-at-night) Says:

    Nice decolletage, Lind’s.
    Just a note to say G’day and postpone both bed and uni reading. I know what you’re up to, so heres us: Barnhill was O.K. Hard work as usual, but I got to see less of the old people this year so it wasn’t all bad. The most rewarding part was that Erin took her massage chair up and earned some experience, and some much needed praise and confirmation of abilities, massaging the leathery, yet also papery, hides that proudly bear the bright red fruits of a full day in serious UV radiation (does noone pay attention to community service messages?). She had plenty of repeat custom. Erin also has her first ‘wet lab’ on Saturday …

  2. Tom (late-at-night) Says:

    … which means cadavers. Just the bottom half. Academically, I had my most successful semester of uni so far, albeit with some major administrative fuck-ups, all beyond my control. I also found out why my back has been sore for the last 14 months; I have anklosyng spondylitis (easier to say than it is to spell). It’s a genetic autoimmune arthritic condition, which makes it sound far worse than it is. Mine is very mild, but I’m supposed to swim, and you know how well I do there… In case you hadn’t been told, West Coast won the last 4 out of 5 matches, all without Kerr and Cox. I see good things on the (distant) horizon. Must dash, just another 30 pages before bedtime. Adios, muchachos

  3. Marshie Says:

    Hi kids! We got your postcard last week. I’m really proud that a photo of pigs in confined spaces who are about to be eaten made you think of me.
    It’s been a Hollywood weekend here in Syd-er-ney. 30 both days. I’m at work rugged up against the lethal airconditioning though. Awesome.
    Needed to tell you I made ribs for dinner last night with homemade BBQ sauce. It was sooo good. Boiled the ribs first and then marinated them to make them extra tender. And the BBQ sauce was the best combo of salty, spicy, vinegar, tomato goodness. We commented that it was a meal that needed to be consumed with you guys.
    In other news, I’m off to Jakarta tomorrow for a week to hang out with my pezzers! Much food and shopping commentary to follow…
    Missing you guys and thinking of you all the time. xx

  4. Rex Says:

    Dudes

    I’ve been reading about your exploits in Hue and Hoi An – memories bring tears to the eyes. I remember in particular the tears of fear that flowed duing the course of a bus ride from Hue to Hoi An – up over some mountain range with the most ridiculously steep and sharp switch back turns in the road. I’m sure our bus driver over took quite a lot of other cars (ie driving on wrong side of road) while going around some of these switch backs up hill. I mayhave pissed my pants, I don’t remember. I do remember sweating my arse off though, cos it got really steep near the top and the bus driver switched off the air conditioning to help the bus get up and over… cool view from the top though – and lots of guys selling tiger balm.

    I loved Hoi Ann. made some friends with locals there and had great culinary experiences (eel with something like citronella stands out). I rememebr that beach too – there will lil stingie bitey things in the water that kinda detracted from the experience a bit while I was there (like mild stingers or something). hope you didn’t encounter those.

    In other news, Oxfam trailwalk was a huge thing to be a part of – and even huger to finish. I still can’t even now get my head around having walked 100km. 33.5 hours I think it took us – during which time I drank half my body weight in water/sports drinks and ate the most ridiculous amount of food – still lost a bit of weight during the event (luckily I had plenty of reserves to draw on!). Kate was bitterly disappointed not to finish. My feet ached for a week after – no blisters though.

    Hope you guys are faring well. I’ll write soon about Nepal n stuff. Coming into that country from Tibet side will be a great challenge/adventure.

    cheers

    Rex

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