Hopefully over the next two years I'll be sharing some amazing stories and photos, from what I know is going to be a life-changing experience.

Friday, February 3, 2012

(Not really gonna) Miss Saigon

To be thrifty, see the countryside and generally because it seemed like a cool idea, we booked sleeper beds for the Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City train. We left at 6:30am and would arrive 33 hours later. The train station and train itself looked like something out of the depression-era...it felt a little like traveling back in time. It also didn't look remotely like the train advertised on the website. Not that there was anything wrong, it was functional and reasonably clean, it was just annoying given it wasn't that much cheaper than flying and was going to take an actual day and a half. In the end I slept a lot (a moving train will do that) and did get to see some gorgeous countryside. I particularly enjoyed seeing water buffalo work and frolic in the rice paddies. As we got further south it warned up dramatically so that by the time we reached HCMC it was hot and humid. The area we stayed in was similar to Hanoi- small streets, food vendors, a zillion little shops and restaurants and friendly people. The biggest was how busy it was. Even in our neighborhood you could tell we were in a big city. The street vendors were also much more pushy. On the upside more things were open with new year celebrations being mostly over. Still overall I preferred Hanoi and its more laid-back feel. We were also staying in the main part of a hotel so were able to chat and eat with staff and other travelers. We have a very nice room which surprised me when I first saw it, but then never thought about again until we paid more for it then what I was expecting. Really we should have double checked at the beginning. But given the free breakfast and dinner which we ate almost every day it was still a reasonable price. We spent our days wondering around and went to a few museums. We saw the Reunification Palace which was nice, but almost more interesting for the history (there was a free tour in English) than the building itself. We also went to the War Remnants Museum, which we felt was a must-do. It was very sad and made me wonder at just how cruel human beings can be to each other. It was very clearly biased, but the language used was relatively neutral and understandable. I did appreciate the exhibit showcasing photographs collected from journalists from around the world who were in Vietnam at various points during the war.
In the evenings we wandered, went for foot massages and bought fruit from one lady to eat on the way back to the hotel. On the first night we met a couple of girls from Australia and a New Zealand couple they had met that day and had drinks and good conversation at the Crazy Buffalo.
For our last full day we went on a Mekong Delta tour with a guy from Hamilton that we met at the hotel. We ended up getting separated because he was doing the two day tour even though it said day one was the same as the one day tour. We also had to take a bus instead of a boat to -- which was not my prference but we didn't really have a choice given our time constraints. The bus was a bit chaotic at first as multiple buses were going to the various hotels to pick up people. Once we got going it was fairly smooth. When we arrived in -- we transferred to a boat and went through a fairly non-existent floating market (I guess new year celebrations weren't quite over yet) then on to a river side village. We visited a honey farm (which was delicious but too heavy and breakable to put in my pack) and then a shop where they make poprice (like popcorn) coconut candy (which I definitely bought) and rice paper. From there we went farther upriver and stopped in another village where we got on old, rusty, kind of able to break bicycles and rode for about 10 minutes to a large house/restaurant. During lunch our guide brought out a very large python, put him into the hammock nearest me then left allowing us to handle/take pictures with the snake, who had no plans on staying in said hammock. There were enough people around who wanted pictures and to touch the snake that he was never able to escape very far. A young French boy and his older brother were particularly enamored. From there we were rowed down a side river by bare or socked footed ladies (with Vietnamese comical hats for us to wear) back to our main boat. We were taken to a larger town and given some time (20 min) to shop in a crowded, bustling market before making the journey back by bus. The trip back took longer than the way up due to traffic from the Vietnamese returning back to the city after the holiday, although I'm pretty sure the traffic is always that bad. We did manage to get back in time for Sarah to pick up a silk embroidered dress she had made.
We met some great people in Saigon and I appreciated finally being somewhere warm, but I'm not sure I'd go back.

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