So, after Cambodia, we crossed into Vietnam at Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta, and slightly anxious about the mere 14 days we had to reach Hanoi, quickly headed on down to Can Tho, where we arranged a visit to the floating market.
Bringing the goods in...We were also able to sample pineapple which our driver cut up for us, pomelo and even a hot pot of coffee from one of the boats that pulled up next to us - given the 5:30am start, it was very welcome.
After weaving in and out of the floating markets and canals of the delta region, we were offered snakes for lunch, but opted for fish instead - it was delicious and came with rice paper and vegetables which we used to wrap our own fresh spring rolls
After seeing what passes for a "bridge" in Vietnam, I don't think we can complain about the bridges in Minneapolis - the locals were even carrying their bikes across!
After a short stop-off in HCM City, we decided to take the path (somewhat) less travelled through the Central Highlands of Vietnam to Hoi An. Our first stop in Dalat revealed a charming mountain city built around a beautiful lake and stunning sunset. It was easy to see why the French often came here as a summer retreat from the hotter and more humid lowland cities. It was also a very easy city to tour around with motorbikes available for rent. After a few anxious moments (mainly for Tara on the back after seeing me do a few wheelies during the practice run!), I was able to get used to the manual gear shifts and we were free to zip around the local sights.
Tara brushing up on her archery - could come in handy if we run out of money!
Our next stop was in Buon Ma Thout, where Vietnamese coffee and green tea is grown - and tastes great! Apart from a few minority groups, there was little else to see and do here (even finding a restaurant open past 6:30pm was a challenge), but some beautiful scenery and virtually zero tourists by now (most go to Dalat and then back to the coast).
Propaganda not yet dead in Vietnam...
The next few shots concern our harrowing bus trips from Kon Tum down through the mountains to Danang and then to Hoi An. In short, we were seriously concerned for our lives as this bus full of about 20 people hurtled around narrow mountain roads and around blind corners on the wrong side of the road...we could have been back in Hong Kong, the bus spent so much time on the left hand side! Although we passed another wreckage of a bus that was being cleared and towed away by police, this seemed to have zero impact on our driver who resumed his reckless driving immediately after passing the police barricades...After about 6 hours of driving in this manner, we arrived at our destination (alive!) and very much ready for more than a few drinks! You can see in the picture below that even the locals are in awe of what is happening in the back of the bus...
The toll on Tara's mental health was starting show as we set out from Danang on another bus that was almost no less stressful than the first and to relieve her state of high stress, she jotted down some lines on what we have been going through...
"Bus trips from hell,
Panic, rushing, too slow,
Pushing old ladies out the door without stopping,
Why 2 horns?
Swerving, loading junk onto bus, so much stuff!
Yelling, head-on traffic, people vomiting in plastic bags and throwing them out the window,
Ripping us off, woman yelling "Aye Aye Aye Aye Aye!", but where is she?
Loading motorbikes, bicycles and fishing equipment onto bus, mean boy in yellow shirt collecting money and yelling,
People grabbing my arms, stress, can't calm down
Scared for my life, need some peace and quiet, help
people running frantically up and down the aisle,
Screeching tires around sharp corners, way too fast,
Stop passing people, it isn't a race,
Stay on the right side of the road, "oh my god",
"We are safe, we are safe, we are safe...""
Although proud to have made the trip through the highlands using all local transport, an organised tour group seems the preferable and safer way to go if we do it again...But all smiles now in lovely Hoi An, where we were finally able to enjoy a beer with our survival buddies Karli and Annika from Estonia, who we met in Buon Ma Thout
Some scenes from Hoi An where Tara enjoyed the shopping (including no less than 2 pairs of new tailor-made shoes which somehow found their way into my backpack!), we hit the beach a couple of times and visited the My Son ruins. We also ate extremely well and not only were restaurants open for dinner, but there was more than 1 restaurant open for dinner!
Well, after a short (and cheap) plane trip from our sanctuary in Hoi An, we made it to Hanoi with a few days up our sleeves but time was still short to arrange the various tours and other activities we wanted to squeeze in before heading on to Japan...Fortunately, we had read up on the local scam in Lonely Planet before arriving - we jumped into a cab at the airport, showed the driver the hotel we wanted to go to and showed him on a map and everything seemed fine. As we neared the destination, I felt something was not quite right as he started to drive away from where we needed to go and suddenly he started telling us that there was a festival on and roads were blocked and refused to drive down streets that were clearly still open to traffic. Anyway, we finally started pulling up to a kerb and I looked up to see what hotel it was - clearly not our hotel, however, to our amazement, someone ran out of the hotel shouting welcome and the name of the hotel we had originally asked to be taken to. After telling the man I was not born yesterday, a stalement ensued as the driver refused to drive and I refused to get out of the cab or pay until we were taken to the right place. Eventually, the driver agreed and we drove on, but before we even made it there, he again started saying it was around the corner and it was closed to traffic (another lie). We didn't believe him, but had had enough so got out and walked the last couple of blocks. The final insult came when the driver had the cheek to ask for more money because we forced him to drive further than we agreed at the airport! Of course, he didn't get anywhere with that - we are battle-hardened now.
While tempting to try the local thing and my beard was certainly getting to that point, we could hear the scraping skin from where we took the photo, so I decided my own shaver was probably best!
The water puppet show was definitely a highlight of Hanoi!
Our first destination outside of Hanoi was a river trip at Tam Coc, aka the "Halong Bay of the Rice Paddies", and then on to the real Halong Bay (in the Ocean) where we boated through the mysterious mountains, kayaked through caves, and had a tasty seafood lunch before arriving on our private island for the night.
On our last day in Vietnam, we woke up in our beach bungalow to the sound of waves crashing into the beach and the taste of salt in the air and that same day we were off to Japan for our ski "holiday" where we were greeted with several inches of cold dry snow!