Highs and Lows on the Journey South

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From our last blog, I’m sure you could tell that we weren’t immediately enthrawled with Vietnam. But now that we have been in the country for two weeks, we are feeling better about the country. However, it seems to be a country of highs and lows. We will have a really great experience with someone being super friendly and then turn around and have a disappointing experience. 

From the very north of Vietnam in Sapa, we took the overnight train back to Hanoi. Again we had problems with a couple of taxis, as we noticed their meters going up at astronomical rates and had to get the driver to pull out and hop out. It is so frustrating to always have to have your guard up all the time. We had pre-booked a day trip to Tam Coc, an area near Ninh Binh for that day. 

Tam Coc

Our first stop was Hao Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam. We visited a couple of temples there, which is all that remains of the old capital. We continued on to Tam Coc, which was what we were really looking forward to. Tam Coc is often called “the Halong Bay of 

Hao Lu Hao Lu Hao Lu 

Ancient Capital of Vietnam, outside Hanoi

the rice paddies” because the scenery is very similar with towering limestone cliffs rising up out of the rice paddies and streams. The way most visit Tam Coc is in a simple boat made for two people and rowed by one or two people, usually women. You row 7 km roundtrip through the waters and through three caves, with the longest being 120 m. It of course was a brutally hot day and a lot of people use sun umbrellas to protect from the sun. This makes it a really quaint picture as you see tons of these rowboats with people holding umbrellas. We had brought our hats, but for some people that didn’t, the rower retrieved lotus leaves to wear as hats. The scenery, like Halong Bay, is really spectacular and it is a peaceful way to spend a few hours. The women work very hard rowing, while at the same time keeping up an agressive sales pitch to buy their embroidered goods. Again, we are amazed at how hard these women work. The experience was quite Disneyesque and popular among domestic and international tourists. It is always interesting to watch the Asian women cover themselves from head to 

toe to stay out of the sun because pale skin is valued. They usually wear long clothing, hats, nylon-like gloves up to their shoulders, face scarves and masks. It’s funny how we all want to be tanned and they want to be pale. We have also noticed how we sweat litres in our tanktops and shorts, while they don’t have a drop on them wearing all these layers. 

Back In Hanoi

We have become accustomed to the bustle of Hanoi and we are becoming experts at the best strategy for crossing the streets. We ate at our fav little restaurant, Little Hanoi 1 and had make your own springrolls. Took the local bus to the airport and got pushed around by the ticket collector. But we had a few guys come up and apologize for his behaviour, which was nice. We flew Vietnamese Airlines south to Danang, instead of taking the long bus ride. It was a really nice airline and it was interesting that the pilots were Aussies. 

Hoi Ann

Our destination was Hoi Ann, a UNESCO Heritage city. We decided to take the local bus from the airport in Danang to Hoi Ann (30 km). The 

guidebook warned that tourists often get overcharged, so we were prepared. Sure enough we get on the bus, after getting pushed out the front door, and the driver immediately comes back to us. He demands a ludicrious amount of money and we of course say “no, we will pay what the locals pay”. He storms away and sits on the sidewalk and comes back every so often to see how much we will pay. A nice girl tells us the correct fare and we tell him we won’t pay a penny more. At this point, every one on the bus is watching this exchange and the driver has decided he will not drive, until we pay a higher amount. The standoff continues and the girl who helped us is thrown off the bus. Eventually the driver starts driving and leaves the ticket taker to try and get money out of us. He plays a game with everyone who gets on the bus and makes them pay this higher fake rate and then he slyly slips them money back. As if we can’t catch onto this. We tell him we will pay when we get to the bus station and check 

the amount. We get to the bus station and by now poor Patti is shaking with worry. We assured her it wouldn’t get violent and after getting the correct change, left the local amount with the ticket collector who refused to take the money. So we left it on the bus steps and walked away and got a big ole “FU”. We aren’t sure why the government allows this kind of crap to happen and this is what we have found frustrating in Vietnam. It was also very upsetting, that all these people on the bus played along with the scheme and obviously were too intimidated by the driver and ticket collector. 

We arrived into Hoi Ann and found ourselves a great little place to stay, Vinh Hung III. For $10 we got a great little room and there was even a rooftop pool, which we took advantage of to cool down. Right away we took a liking to Hoi Ann, which is a really quaint town most known for the tailors located along every street just waiting to custom tailor anything. It is a major tourist destination and once was a major SEA port. We immediately set to 

Tam Coc2Tam Coc2Tam Coc2

The Halong Bay of the rice paddies

work scouting the tailor shops. There must be 300+ tailor shops in this town and it is very hard to settle upon a place. We decided to have a couple of things made at a few places, that had been suggested to us by other travellers. These tailor shops range from large to small and they have mannequins outside displaying their work. You can pick from many fabrics and they have tons of catalogues, where they can copy almost anything. It is so fun to get measured up and have these clothes made especially for you for a pretty cheap price. Pants = $12, Dress = $12, Shirt $8-14. 

Over the next few days, we spent our time touring the town and going to fittings throughout the day. We found the best tailor shop to be Bao Khanh, ironically the place our hotel recommended. But we didn’t realize that to the end. After being very impressed by their work, we continued to get more stuff made. Paul seems to think I am going on too long about tailoring, but it was such a cool place! 

The food in Hoi Ann is unique and we enjoyed our share of 

Rowing with FeetRowing with FeetRowing with Feet

How else can you hold the umbrella and row?

Cau Lao (local noodle dish), White Roses (shrimp in rice paper), cheap beer (20 cents) and lots of seafood. We toured around the old town and visited the large markets. Patti wanted to buy a basket they used (she is correcting my grammer as I type – only an English teacher! – now she wants me to take that out because she says there are lots of sentences she wants to fix!) for rice and beans and it was hilarious to watch these old ladies dumping out their beans and running up to her with their baskets. I don’t think they had any idea why she would possibly want an old basket, but in a month I’m sure someone will turn it into a business. She got lots of laughs and stares as she walked through the town with her new prized possession. 

We rented bikes one day and rode out to the beach. It was a really nice beach, but just way too hot to lay out. We were having lunch and watching some tourists load off the bus and get out their trusty Lonely Planet guidebooks and stumble around. Patti really liked our hotel and wanted to 

Tam Coc CavesTam Coc CavesTam Coc Caves

Rowing through the caves

tell all of them about it because it wasn’t in the guidebook. Later, we saw two of the same girls still wandering around and Patti ran up to them to tell them about our hotel. Paul wanted to try and make an escape in the hopes that they wouldn’t know she was with us. She proceeded to tell them all about this great hotel and how she had watched them earlier from the restaurant looking for a place. She couldn’t understand why they looked scared….hmmm….stalker lady! But she was quite happy that they decided to stay, although she kept waiting for her thank you from them. Total Huber moment. 

Nha Trang

We caught the overnight bus to Nha Trang, a popular beach destination. The bus was total torture says Patti, although I managed to get some sleep. There are four ways to get around Vietnam. 1. Fly – expensive. 2. Train – expensive (tourists pay 4x what locals pay) and slow. 3. Local Bus – after our experience with the local bus to Hoi Ann, we aren’t keen on that anymore. 4. Open Tour Buses – these run up and down the coast and are really cheap. The problem 

Local RowerLocal RowerLocal Rower

Notice how the girl wears tights on her arms to not get tanned. 

is they get kickbacks from all the restaurants and places they stop. So you drive about an hour and then stop somewhere for 40 minutes, drive another hour…etc….it takes 12 hours to go 500 km. 

We managed to make it to Nha Trang and decided to only spend the day there. It has a nice beach, but it is just so hot here, you really can’t lay out in the sun. Although the sand is nice, a lot of garbage washes up on the beach, making it pretty unappealing to go swimming. All over Asia, we have found that the concept of littering does not exist and people just chuck out their garbage onto the street. We did spend the afternoon lounging around, although with all the people trying to sell you everything, it is not very restful. It was interesting to see how the beach came alive around 5 pm with all the locals swimming and playing on the beach. 

We took another open tour bus to Dalat this morning and are looking forward to a few days in the cooler weather here in the Central Highlands. 

“A traveller must have the back of an ass to bear all, a tongue like the tail of a dog to flatter all, the mouth of a hog to eat what is set before him, the ear of a merchant to hear all and say nothing.” -Thomas Nashe (1567-1601) 

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