Hi everyone! We left Sihnoukville early on the 8th of June at 7am to get the 11 hour coach across to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Packed with our self made burger cheese and bbq flavour pringle sandwiches, we got on the first coach, just a normal four hour coach journey to Phnom Penh. We had a break in very hot Phnom Penh for two hrs before the next coach to stretch our legs before continuing to Vietnam.
After an hour and a half on the next bus we had to cross the river by ferry. When we got to land on the other side the coach wasn’t moving, and randomly everyone started getting off the bus without explanation minus their bags and walking. We found everyone just standing around further up the hill, with the bus operator nowhere in sight. This was the same gentleman who had everyone’s passports to go through immigration quicker, but him being unseen made us very anxious. Then, when we looked back at the ferry port, the coach which had seemingly broken down started moving off land with our luggage inside! After more waiting around, the bus operator came into sight finally and confirmed that the coach had broken down and that the company were sending out another coach from Phnom Penh so we just had to wait!
We got talking to two american girls and a canadian guy, went and sat at a nearby cafe, had some drinks and chatted with them. In the end we all exchanged email addresses. It was around 4pm when we sat down and after two hours the bus operator came over and told us the bus was now here. We all felt relieved that we could finally get going, but just before getting to the coach Toe got bombarded by some cambodian children who were after the pringles and chocolate in a plastic bag he had! They were by far the most aggressive kids we came across in Cambodia, they were grabbing and pulling at the bag and one kid was actually hitting Toe. They just wouldn’t leave us alone but we didn’t give them anything because then they would just learn that being aggressive will get them what they want. It was good timing when we got on the coach, it just got dark and it started to absolutely pour down with rain and some spectacular lightning storms which looked amazing from inside the coach! We got to the border and crossed over through immigration really simply, got given all our passports back and relaxed the whole way on the bus to Ho Chi Minh whilst watching movies.
After leaving Cambodia at 7am, we finally got to HCMC at 11pm! Getting into Ho Chi Minh, the city was bright with neon signs and the city looked a mixture of brand spanking new buildings and old buildings that are being done up. We got off the bus and walked to Bui Vien, which is the street with the most backpacker accomodation and was extremely buzzing with loads of people and loud music playing. We said goodbye to everyone and went to our hostel which was down an alley off the main road. In Vietnam, if the building is 34/4 or 34/5 then it will be down a small alley off the road. If it’s 34 it will be on the main road. The guesthouse was pretty good value for the price, we got a double room, tv, fridge and air con. You get a decent breakfast in the morning of eggs and baguettes with coffee or tea and internet was free. Pretty much just crashed when we got in as we were shattered from the long journey!!
The first day there, we just explored round the city. Absolutely marvelled over the conical hats that the vietnamese wore with Natalie seriously considering buying one for a souvenir to take home. We thought Phnom Penh was busy with tuk tuk drivers but this was busier! There was hundred of motos on the roads absolutely everywhere, the roads look like gridlock and was a challenge walking across the road but that was the excitment of it! It was safe to go across as the motos just drive around you and you just take it at a slow pace! We walked through the park in Ho Chi Minh which is a nice bresh of fresh air from the bustling city and went to the Market and wandered through looking at everything. You don’t get bothered anywhere near as much to buy anything here like we experience in Cambodia but Natalie did get grabbed by some vietnamese women trying to sell shoes! Later that evening we were still recovering from our journey and had an early one resting.
The next day, we went to the War Remnants Museum which had exhibits relating to the American’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Outside the museum was military equipment and aircraft used by the USA such as tanks, various bombs that were used and the US UH-1 helicopters and fighter jets. Inside there are some disturbing photos of the war, with photos of patriotic American soldiers, terrified vietnamese families and a large section of the museum showing the Vietnamese civilians affected by Agent Orange, the use of Napalm and other bombs and chemicals. There were also maps shown of where these toxic substances affected Vietnam and the damage it had done to towns and cities. The museum is a bit of a one sided view of the Vietnam war but is a real eye opener and completely understandable considering the horror that the Vietnamese went through from some of the American soldiers. Other parts of the museum were exhibits of torture weapons that were used, and a history of Ho Chi Minh who was the Vietnamese prime minister then president, who stood for peace and freedom in Vietnam. Unfortunately for Toe, on the way back from the war museum his ‘abercrombie and fitch’ sandels that he bought in a market in Cambodia completely broke so he was footless! Ending up taking off his sandels completely he had to walk back to the guesthouse with no shoes! Luckily though he still had his other sandels from before!
Later on we went out in the evening to try the staple Vietnamese dish Pho. We went to one of the restaurants which was more of a street stall with some seating upstairs aswell and had more of the locals in, and they only had about 4 different ones. We went for the Beef Stew Pho and it tasted delicious! It was a thick beef broth with carrots and onions with noodles and very tender pieces of beef. On the side is a dish of herbs and bamboo shoots to put in yourself and chilli and soy sauce. Very cheap aswell with the meal costing 30,000 dong which is just over a pound!
Fancying another chilled out day round the city, the following day we went to more of the shopping areas of Ho Chi Minh. We went to the Diamond Plaza which is a huge shopping mall which is also an office building for companys on the higher floors and decided to go to the cinema which worked out as being only 2pound each! Deciding on seeing Prince of Persia, we had 2 hours to waste before the movie and went to get lunch in the food court. Pho 24 was there which is one of the leading chains of Pho and is also the most recommended so we got some pho there and it was yummy! Toe had a meatball pho and Natalie a chicken pho. Prince of Persia was suprisingly good! Then we went off back into town again. We arranged a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels for the next day and also a bus ticket for Mui Ne beach in the next two days.
Wanting to find somewhere to watch the opening game of the World Cup, we went down the road next to the tour company where we bought our tickets and went to a place that was recommended called Le Pub. It was a really nice smallish pub with wooden tables and chairs and a nice bar. It had a few screens and they said they would be showing the first game of the World Cup,
South Africa vs Mexico. Toe was very happy we found somewhere to watch it! We bought a couple of beers there before heading off for a short rest and then came back around 6 to get a good spot to watch the game! We got a good table and ordered food. Toe got a steak dinner which also had onion rings, potato wedges and salad. Natalie got a falafel and tzatziki pitta bread wrap with fries with chilli sauce, both meals were very very good! A few cocktails and beers later, the game was supposed to be starting but they kept flicking channels assumingly to find the right channel to watch it on. On the seating area outside though, it stayed on one channel and looked like the right one so we decided to move and sit outside albeit it was quite hot though! We sat near some english people who were also watching the game and got talking to one of them throughout the whole game. Le Pub got really busy quickly once the game started and the atmosphere was buzzing! After the game we said goodbye to the english guy we were speaking to and went back to the hostel.
We had an early start the next day as we had to get to the tour company for 7.40 and we wanted to get our free breakfast before so got ready for 7am. The bus left for the Cu Chi Tunnels at 8am and the there was so much traffic so took a while to get out of the City.
The tunnels were used by the viet cong during the American war, they were extremely cramped to suit the small asians and they were 250km long underground to shelter them from attack.
Our vietnamese tour guide for the day was quite a character, he was giving the bus a history of Vietnam and proclaimed that Ho Chi Minh was his uncle, then he said that ‘Ho Chi Minh spoke 6 languages, I can speak 5…*holding up 10 fingers* english, irish, anything, seriously’ to which me and Toe tried to keep a straight face. He was quite a funny tour guide so he kept the tour group entertained throughout the tour of the chu chi tunnels. When we got there, we were guided some secret entrances to the tunnels as well as some booby traps that were used to capture and kill American soldiers who were trying to smoke the vietnamese out. Toe and some other tourists were able to climb down one of the entrances, Toe barely fitted and the entrance had been enlarged for visitors. There would have been no way he would have got down the original one! Later on, the whole tour group had a chance to go down one of the tunnels and make our way across underground. Both of us skipped out at the very first possible exit, it was claustrophobic, very dark and there was hardly any air (plus Toe has his dodgy knees!) It was quite harrowing knowing that the vietnamese had no choice but to stay down there. Also, the tour guide had obviously a very vietnamese view point of the war which was to be expected. It was very well known that the Americans were even more misled in their actions in this war than the Iraq war. The tour guide has also claimed that he was born in the tunnels and that he lived there for 5 years…!!! This would make him at least 40, but then he reasoned that his young look of around 20ish is down to good skin care routines. We came to the conclusion that he was a compulsive liar!! Sweet guy none the less!
We rested for the afternoon (getting MORE pho!) and evening until the England vs USA world cup game. Beforehand Toe popped to a cool gallery selling prints of Vietnamese propaganda posters and got a really nice set of three for around $20 dollars (these will be posted home soon mum!). We originally intended to watch the game somewhere in town but as we fell asleep and woke up just before it started, we decided to watch it in our guesthouse. Lucky thing having a tv in our room. Obviously the game was a disappointment presumably made much worse by the media back home but it was probably good we didn’t watch it with the Americans, as they probably saw it as good as a victory! An early start beckoned but we were in a better state than expected after just a couple of hours sleep following the late night game. A fairly standard bus journey ensued and before long we found ourself in….
The scenery was lovely as we passed a fishing town on the way to Mui Ne beach. The bus company was obviously familiar with all of the resorts there and so asked us where we would liked to be dropped off. Now this was one of the couple of places that we hadn’t booked ahead so we just pointed at somewhere alright looking in the Lonely Planet! Having looked at the map the place looked fairly small and easy to get around and so when we were dropped at our chosen accommodation everything looked fairly promising.
Turned out that we hadn’t closely looked at the scale guidelines on the map and whilst we were in the middle of the bay, we were a fair trek from the busiest area and the tide was in making the beach front fairly useless where we had chosen. Having discovered this we spent a half hour or so walking further down the coastal road to find the stretch of beach that looked pretty promising in the distance! Finally we came across a nice resort which had some cool bungalows for a good price right in the area near all of the fancier places! We quickly agreed on a room and the owner said it was ok for us to come 9am the next morning to check in. Following this we enjoyed finally reaching the proper beach and stopped in one of the previously mentioned fancy places for beer and sandwiches! It wasn’t actually pricey in their restaurant at all and we had a nice lunch before enjoying a swim until the sky got darker. We rounded off the day by popping into a restaurant near to our guesthouse and getting some simple seafood rice and noodles. Everything simply died around 9pm but that is simply a minor downside of traveling in the down season! (plus we were a little way out of town)
Next day started with some fun as we were promptly picked up by some Moto drivers for a lift to our new place. They obviously saw us coming as we didn’t! No sooner had we checked out before we were on the back of their bikes (helmeted of course) and winging our way down the road. We had been wondering how they would manage with our luggage but the blokes promptly tucked our big packs between their legs leaving us only having to handles our day packs, that question solved! Unfortunately the room we had wanted had been taken the afternoon before and as all bungalows were full we were faced with the prospect of having to wait until 11:30.
We had skipped showers which was regretted at this moment! After grabbing a quick pancake breakfast in their cafe we opted instead to go for a cheaper room just back from the beach, more affordable anyway so no great loss! We skipped showers at this point anyway as we took our chance to jump straight in the ocean. It was quite a while before we went back to our new room as we kicked back under the palm trees to truly do nothing at all!! We were originally planning to head on to Dalat the following day, but as today is that day I can tell you now that an extra day was impossible to refuse! A nice lunch was had over the road at another guesthouse, this was however forgotten swiftly when none other than Gordon Ramsey walked up to the restaurant to ask for directions!! Seeing him at home would probably be a bit weird but here it was rather surreal. Nat was agonizing over whether to chase him up for a photo, but before the chance was really there he was gone. We met a nice, but very drunk, dutch guy named Hein (Heine?) who sat down at our table to chat. Man was he a talker!! Very nice, rather strange. We ended up leaving quite a while later having said adieu. Dinner was at a good place recommended in the guides for it’s cheap seafood. It was obviously quieter than usual but served up two great squid meals whilst we watched people digging on the beach by torchlight.
Today… well what can we say about today? Pancake, book onwards ticket, swam and crashed by the beach all afternoon! Tomorrow we are off to Dalat in the Vietnamese highlands, kind of similar to the Cameron Highlands but obviously we are expecting distinct differences. We will blog soon after our travails there, if you don’t here from us before then C’mon England Vs Algeria!! :D. Lot’s of love, Natalie and Toe. xxx