Friday, June 30, 2006

Spending a day in olde cultural capital of Vietnam!

June 30th. Arrived in Hue early evening! Got waylaid at the bus stop by a tiny girl about 4ft nothing pushing her way through all the touts to get people to stay at her hotel- which just happened to be right next door! So decided to stay here - cute room but def. couldn't swing a cat here! As I didn't have one, this wasn't a problem!

Knew i would only be in Hue for a short time so went out right away to organize my tour for tomorrow on the Perfume River. What's that - you want to hear all about Hue! OK then here goes! Traditionally, Hue was one of Vietnam's cultural, religious and educational centres. Today, its decaying opulent tombs of the Nguyen emperors and the grand crumbling Citadel showcase a bygone era, and are collectively, a Unesco World Heritage site. The Perfume River is the perfect way to amble along the waterway, stopping off at the key tombs on your way, on the northern side of the city.

July 1st. Another hot, sticky day in Vietnam! So much for the monsoon season here - its just hot, muggy, humid, sticky - you name it, but not very much rain i have to say!Had breakfast before my trip at a wee cafe across the street. The little ladies working there were so lovely and sweet. The coffee i had however, was not! This stuff would knock your socks off - talk about strrrrrong! But as we had been talking and smiling at each other, i didnt have the heart to leave it so of course politely drank it all! And felt quite sick afterwards; ahh the lengths us travelers go to not to be rude!

My tour started at 8:15am. Of course the usual pick up from the hotel on the motorbike (don't think twice about jumping on and off motorbikes now! So funny 'cos i remember at the beginning I was a nervous wreck..). My boat was pretty empty.. just a few couples - French, Canadian and Norwegians.. and me! And how to describe the boat - lets just say bare bones is pushing it.. but at least it wasn't taking in water, so everything was ok!

First stop was the tomb of Tu Doc - meant to be one of the most impressive of all the crumbling architectural wonders here, laced with frangipani and pine trees, nestled around a lovely lake. Hey, I'm not knocking it, but it didn't really do much for me I'm afraid! And of course where the boat stopped, you HAD to take a mototaxi, you couldn't walk! It wasn't that far but hey, we are on the tourist trail! After this, back on the boat and off to another ancient and majestic wonder...hmmn so majestic i can't remember its name .. Then lunch on the boat - so cute how they set it all up with bamboo mats ..really pretty! After lunch - it was scorching by this point, we headed to the other 'piece de resistance" the Tomb of Minh Mang. Minh Mang ruled from 1820 - 1840 and the architecture here really was quite impressive. After that we went to a beautiful pagoda called the Thien Mu Pagoda, famous as the home of Thich Quang Doc, a monk who publically burned himself to death in 1963 to protest the policies of then President Ngo Dinh Diem ('member i talked about him earlier.. not a good guy at all!). They still have his car at the back of the pagoda - felt it a tad disrespectful so didn't take a pic. On our way back we met these gorgeous wee girls at the ruins - who could speak a few words in 7 different languages - can you believe that! Quite amazing and so cute!

After this it was back to the mainland and of course, I took about 2 hours to find my hotel, completly lost but no rushing today, so not a problem. After a wee relax, I headed out to the internet then to this fab vegetarian restaurant for dinner. I was the only tourist here (yah.. cos dinner last night was gross and totally tacky touristy!). Anyway, I asked the owner what would he recommend and he said "oh if you like spicy, then definitely the fried deer ears with lemongrass and hot pepper". Hmmn... why do vegetarian restaurants here like to make all their tofu dishes into meat-like names and shapes.... so strange. Well, I have to say this ended up being one of the best meals i've had in Vietnam - and i've had tons of great ones! Funny thing happened, as i struggled with my chopsticks. I'm getting better folks but it takes time (well, for me anyway!), I noticed that a large family at the next table - about 20 of them in total, were all looking at me eating my dinner. Talk about pressure! But OK - I smiled and said "Sin Chow" - hello! Next thing this wee lady about 105 yrs old, came shuffling over to me, and gave me - a fork! What! I said, no, no, i have to practice with my chopsticks! After this they all laughed - WITH not AT me - hopefully!!! And came over to sit with me and chat! One of the sisters was now living in St.Louis and was over in Hue on holiday to visit family, so we had a good chat about America and how different it was from Vietnam.

Back home (well, to the hotel!) and watched some World Cup of course, then got engrossed in Vietnam's Pop Idol show. Couldn't understand a word but there were definitely some dodgy singers in the line up! Anyway, my visit to ancient Hue was over (and as you can tell, i wasnt overly impressed so if you don't have too much time here, my advice would be to give it a miss, but hey what do i know! Tomorrow I think ill just potter, do some blogging, then catch the 6pm overnight bus to Hanoi, capital of Vietnam - a mere 12 hour journey.

Post script - in my case it ended up taking a mere 14 1/2 hours! Yah!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hanging out in Hoi An.... tailor capitol of Vietnam!

June 27th. Ahhh a new day dawns. A new town to explore! Lots to do here...tailors, beaches, ancient ruins - where to start! Well, first just a little on Hoi An. Set on the Thu Bon River, Hoi An was a trading port as far back as the 17th century. Influences from Chinese, European and Japanese culture are well preserved in local architecture and art here. And as well as looking pretty, there is a beautiful beach, the Cham ruins outside of town and of course tons of fab restaurants to choose from so not a bad place to stay for a few days! Having been named a Unesco World Heritage site, Hoi An Old Town is a lovely area to walk through; a real historical district with buildings dating back to the 1500's...that would be the Japanese covered bridge which was constructed in 1593.

Met up with Dave and Jackie and we decided to rent some bikes and ride down to the beach! Ahhhh the beach! Chill out time - i must be tired for me to be looking forward to this as im not a huge beach fan! The ride down there was lovely, really peaceful and so nice to do by bike! The beach - Cua Dai - was deserted! Well, deserted of tourists. Lots of local people selling fruit, jewellry and of course your typical beach pursuit - manicure, pedicure or threading! Yup threading.. I got my legs done.. well, as usual, i didn't really want to but the lady was very persuasive and i ended up saying yes 'cos i felt bad....pathetic i know! Jackie got a pedicure and our metrosexual friend Dave got his back threaded (he is too funny!). Not only did he think it painful, he also got a bad sunburn down one side where he was lying in the sun! Silly boy!

Met alot of the local vendors - they are too funny and definitely know how to chat to tourists! Typical chat would be something like "you want pineapple. You shop at Tesco or Asda? Where you from? Buy now, buy later. Dont forget - if you want pineapple you remember me. Bin Number 1 ok ok ".....Whatever their name was e.g Lin or Bin or Lee, everyone had to add Number 1 after it. Seriously, there were so many people on the beach, I had to start writing their names on my hand, so i could remember who we had talked to first - cos you had to make sure you didn't buy from anyone else! As it was quiet, they were quite happy to chat away for a while.. and their English was really good! Everyone wanted to be a tour guide ....well, i suppose it is a good career considering how Vietnam's tourism continues to grow. Had a wee incident with Bin Number 1. He's about 12 yrs old and i had said "I'll MAYBE have a pineapple later". Anyway it comes time for us to leave and as we are walking off the beach, up he comes and says "you have to buy your pineapple now, you said you would buy one today". I said "I'm really sorry but I dont want one today - we had had lunch just a bit earlier - but I promise you ill buy one in 2 days - they only get to sell on the beach every 2 days cos there are so many of them. Well, he started screaming at me, and shouting that i had to get off the beach and just go, go away now!!! I felt absolutely awful and was going to buy one but Jackie said no, not after that! He was so mad, but it's hard 'cos there are so many people who are asking you to buy stuff, and you cant buy everything. Well, you can but then you are an idiot like me! So that was a bit traumatic!

After this "incident" we cycled back to town and organized our trip to My Son for tomorrow. Dave and Jackie were going to hire a motorbike and ride themselves while myself and Ziggy, a new pal who had also done an Easy Rider trip, decided to hire moto taxis to take us out there (I didn't really trust myself to drive a motorbike on my own for 1 1/2 hours!!). The Cham ruins at My Son dating back to the 7th century, are a scenic 35km trip southwest of Hoi An. The ruins are nestled in a lush valley surrounded by hills. Best time to see it is at sunrise or just after, so you get the place to yourself before the masses arrive around 9am, so we booked our rides and planned to meet to 5am! Phew, another early morning!

Liked this pic of the cows as we were heading back into town! Then it was off to the tailors for our first fitting. Loved my suit; hmmn the dresses not so much! But hey, that's what a first fitting is for - so we talked through the changes (Jackie helped me be strong here!) and then decided to potter around town. Lots of gorgeous shops to go mad in .. bad news for the budget again tee hee! Dave had met a canadian guy called Stanley in the hotel (who liked to remember people's names by word association e.g as he said, his name was Stanley as in Stanley Cup as in Hockey right?. Hmmnnn seemed a tad strange to me but whatever!), so we met up with him at the Japanese covered bridge to go to a real Vietnamese restaurant for dinner - none of that tourist rubbish for us - Luong would be proud of us, or would he! Ended up Stanley and his Vietnamese "friends" - girls who know the people who own our hotel, as well as another Canadian guy and 2 other Vietnamese girls he met on the beach (yeh alot of us!) jumped on 3 bikes - 3 per bike and Jackie and Dave's bike (they were not driving at this point) hit a child on the way to the restaurant - the child wasnt hurt but still -crazy driving by these tiny wee girls Lee and Ciu! Go to this authentic restaurant, ends up being very posh authentic restaurant and cost ten times what we usually pay for dinner. Hey i dont care but Stanley was grandstanding just a little and so it ended up being a very wierd and surreal situation - he basically chatted up all the girls - who seemed about 12 - while Jackie, Dave and I felt like we were at a high school disco watching all the antics! Very strange indeed!

June 28th. Up at 4:30am today for our trip to My Son. It was actually lovely being up at that time in the morning. All the local people were up and exercising before it got too hot and their work day began. There were so many people out and about; playing badminton, jogging, or doing tai chi! We got to My Son around 6am and headed up to the ruins. Hard to believe but it was already getting hot, hot hot! So glad we came early! There weren't too many of us there so we could actually get shots of the ruins without other people in them - yah! Had a great chat with Ziggy as we pottered around here - lovely girl! Really peaceful place here; don't know too much about the ruins to be honest, (you'll be glad to hear!) but just a lovely morning to potter around in a beautiful environment!

Back to town around 10ish.. and we collectively decided to keep going otherwise we would be in bed asleep all day! Found a second tier tailor and went mad again -not just me honestly! Both Dave (an initial sceptic but who began to quite enjoy the experience and ordered a suit, shirts and ties.. ) and Jackie also had quite alot of fun here! Then it was back to the first tailor to see how our clothes were working out -its very stressful this hand made stuff I tell you! I was much happier with my clothes - yah! They look quite fab.. to pick them up end of the day today! Pottered again (it's that kind of town!) then back for an afternoon nap! Met up with Jackie and Dave later that evening for dinner - treated ourselves to a lovely restaurant that looked out onto the water! Just gorgeous.
Then we went to pick up our new clothes - yah.... Jackie and I coined a new phrase "tailor rage"... ok its a bit of an exaggeration but there are definite highs and lows and some people get more than a little upset if things dont turn out perfectly right away (not us of course we were the height of politeness!)- so it usually goes like this - you tell the tailors what you would like, they say no probs we can do it (even if they are not sure, cos of course they want the business). Then you haggle on price (or not if you are rubbish like me) then you go back and try on, and first or second try, if not quite right.. so a bit of back and forth, but in the end, well for us at least - its all fab and everyone is quite happy with the outcome.. ..

June 29th. Yet another fitting (at the second tailor this time teeeeheee) all looks quite fabulous. So excited i decide to order a few more things!! Then rented my bike again, toodled around town, got lost a few times, but found some gorgeous wee alleys to explore, so no problems! People really are lovely here and its just a laid back (excluding tailor rage) kind of town -everyone who comes here seems to love it too! Then off to the beach for some more relaxing. And who is the first person i see - Bin Number 1! We had a big chat, i reminded him that i had promised to come back and buy a pineapple off of him- which i did. And which (i knew cos Jackie had bought one the other day and all his wee pals came up and told on him) he overcharged me - 30,000 dong instead of 20,000 dong! Hey, what's a few dong between pals eh! Had a lovely chat with him and he practiced his English so very nice time. Dave and Jackie arrived later (have i mentioned that they are both really lovely people; great fun and so nice to have wee pals...) and then i went for a long long walk all the way to the end of the beach where the fishermen leave their boats. Again the beach was almost deserted - so nice to have it just to ourselves.

After our final final pick up of clothes from the tailor, it was time for dinner, at Miss Ly's Cafe 22. Fab fab place where we had Hoi An specialities of "Cao Lau", flat noodles mixed with croutons, bean sprouts, and greens, topped with pork slices and served in a savoury broth. And "White Roses" - petite steamed dumplings stuffed with shrimp. Love Vietnamese food - yum! We had a great chat tonight as it was our fond farewell. Felt like we had been traveling for ages together - met in the Mekong Delta then 5 days on the Easy Rider trip then 4 days in Hoi An so it was quite a long time. Great folks...will be sad to say goodbye but hey, thats traveling for ya!

June 30th. Last day in Hoi An. Have loved my time here! Yah my pack is the lightest its been as i've just posted 2 massive boxes to the US and UK (fingers crossed they get there!). Checked out then off to do some darn blogging before my bus picks me up at 2pm for my next adventure - a short one but still... - to Hue.....Hmmn - the adventure started early with the 2pm bus leaving at 3:45pm. Met Katherine from Cape Town so we lamented together...and then just chatted away once we got on the road....more on my trip to Hue soon!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Day 5 - it' the end of the Easy Rider road for us!

June 26th. Up early today not because I had to - but because the 'ole rice wine petrol hangover had kicked in - oops! Thought I'd go for a walk but just wanted to check the football scores on TV first! Ended up getting hooked on the Holland vs. Portugal game (hmmmn that means last nights England game couldn't have been against Portugal oh well!)...Anyway, this was a terrible game as i'm sure you all know! 16 yellow cards and 4 red cards (that's right yeh?). Highest number in history and obviously stellar refereeing of course! Shocking! Anyway, after all that excitement it was off on our last day together! First we stopped off at a beautiful bridge, where you can see a part of the original Ho Chi Minh trail in the background. We took a nice morning walk here, making sure to keep out of the way of the leeches which apparantly are quite rampant at this time of year - yuk!

Then it was off to meet our last ethnic group of the trip - the Brau people. They are a very interesting group; only 500 left in this particular group so they may not last much longer......even tho' they are a very old tribe. The rules are that they cannot marry outside of their group (most of the tribes are like this) and therefore there is a pretty small pool to choose from for husband and wives. They live exactly like their ancestors; on the land and in their lifestyle. Tiny wee people, very brown and sinewy 'cos they work so hard on the land. When we went in to see them, they all touched our skin and said that i looked more like them (obviously the tan is on overkill right now, oops!)....They were hanging tobacco plants from the ceiling to dry....and pretty much just chillin' out a bit when we popped by!
After this it was time for some agriculture, so we hit a pineapple farm and met the local farmer who works the land. Usually this is only one of many fruit crops that farmers grow, because although pineapple farms are plentiful in Vietnam, each plant only grows one pineapple, once a year, so that alone wouldn't be enough to keep a family going.

Then it was on to an ice factory in a wee town we were passing through. Up till this point, none of us had really thought too much about ice - apart from realising quite early on that although some people had fridges at home, very few had freezers. But we didn't really think through where they get their ice! After seeing this wee place, we realised "ahhh, this is where it comes from"! Most mornings, local people will just pop round to the "ice man" whenever they need any. On their travels, Dave and Jackie had been pretty good about not having it in drinks! Me - I like to live on the edge! And even tho' I'd read that you shouldn't, I hate warm drinks so i'd had ice many times and never been sick so far, so I felt fine about having it.. until we went to the ice factory. Well, factory is a bit of a strong word. Imagine a wee man sitting in a back room with a big generator, a pipe with water flowing through it (and another pipe he was smoking!) into three big freezers and another big box with lots of blocks of ice wrapped in tea towels, where you can pop in and pick up if and when you need some! Yep, a little different than just opening the freezer door! But really very simple; just have the generator (which the wee man bought for a very good price according to Ton!) make the ice, then hang out and wait for the customers to arrive. I asked Ton where the water came from, and he looked at me like i was daft! The tap of course! Oh right - silly me! He did say this type of ice is only for local people and we would get pretty sick from it, hence i think all the ice we get is made from filtered there you go. Apparantly it's quite a lucrative business for this gentleman - good for him! And so - another interesting experience with the Easy Riders. Loved this shot of the quintessential bike, a hammock slung across the walkway and a kids GI Joe tank.....interesting mix post-Vietnam war eh.. Or am i looking into it too much?

After this we had a little more time on the Ho Chi Minh trail, then sadly it was time to come back to reality! As we were coming into Hoi An, Luong explained this is one of the poorest regions of Vietnam, with over 85% of people here being farmers working the land, rice being their principal crop. The rice fields are so beautiful; so many colours of green and everything just looks so clean and green and velvety!

After this, we stopped off at a local market to potter around; the children were so happy to see us and ask, of course, "where are you from?"....don't they look cute here! Had a nice time with them (it was still early but the market was actually closing up, as it had been going since 5am! Wow - these people really know how to fill a day! They never stop going!)... but the heat was unbelievable today so we didn't stay too long!

Last stop en route was an armaments factory where Luong showed us tons of old bombs. As I had mentioned before, due to this area being very poor, alot of local people go out specifically to look for old bombs to bring in for scrap metal to this place. The concern of course is that the bomb has not yet detonated which can defintely be the case there have been many instances where people in this situation have lost limbs and sometimes their lives, looking and finding old bombs. So sad; and so ironic that post-war these bombs are still having such an effect on the Vietnamese people!

Stopped for our last lunch together and had a great old chat - the boys brought out their testimonial books and we all wrote our thoughts of the last five days and the trip ...of course mine was very long winded, corny and emotional - just like me! It's funny; but all three of felt really, really sad to say goodbye to these guys. I mean they were complete strangers to us five days ago; how do you get so attached to people so quickly - and its not just me! Jackie and Dave felt the same way - so there!

Into town then, we arrive in Hoi An. Looks lovely I have to say! Our hotel is actually quite posh! After checking in, the boys took us to the best tailor in town! Oh - my - god!! Jackie and I got ever so slightly carried away....lets just say! Basically, you walk in, you are greeted by these beautiful girls who bring you tea, coffee or water, all within 5 seconds it seemed. Then you are shown to a seat where you can peruse the most recent Next catalogue (that seems to be the big favourite here, every tailor has a copy!), but also Vogue, Elle etc. you name it, if you can find something you want made and have a pic or can describe it, they can make it for you! I had brought pics of two dresses i liked (yup, thinking ahead!) - one was a Jackie O number and the other a funky dress which Mary J Blige wore recently to an event! Also got a new suit made for when i have to return to the real world! It's incredible - I get them all back tomorrow - within 24 hours! People working through the night on all of us tourists' new clothes! Well, not exactly true, at least not at this tailors. They have hundreds of seamstresses who work in this industry AND as everyone ia promised their first fitting within 24 hours, you would need hundreds of people for that! To be honest, the whole town buzzes with tailors. There are over 200 here and wherever you are, on a motorbike, walking down the street; you get these very chatty people coming up to ask you when you arrived, how are you liking Hoi An and oh, yes do you need any clothes made! You learn pretty quickly to say "Thanks but im picking my clothes up from the tailor tomorrow!".

So after all that excitement, the boys dropped us off at our hotel, we said a very sad and fond farewell, to them and our wonderful adventure being over! Luong hates saying goodbye, so he made it quick and then they were gone! What a fab fab time! But of course this meant the three losers were left to find our own way around town. "What would we do now" we all cried? Where should we eat? We can't go to any tourist places - Luong would be very disappointed in us!....oh dear, we all sat and sighed, and hummed and hahhad and wished for the good 'ole times. What would this new chapter bring....

Well, dinner for a start... we headed into town for a potter, and what a lovely quaint town it is! Really think im going to like it here.. haven't planned exactly how long i'll stay but that depends on how much i like it - see im working on my non-anal issues of going with the flow man, sort of! Plus it will be nice to stay in one place for a few days! Had a lovely evening with Jackie and Dave then off to bed....lets see what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Day 4 - traveling to Indochine... and beyond!

June 25th. Today up and out by 8:15am. Our first stop was a gorgeous old rickety bridge. Lucky for all of you, my notes are getting a bit short hand 'cos there is too much stuff to remember so i'll make it a wee bit shorter - hence much sweeter to all of you, right! Lets just say there was a lot of traffic on this bridge, of all varieties!!! Loved this shot!

Next we visited a traditional "long house" of the Ba'Na tribe; for those of you interested, this is a totally different group from the M'nong tribe we had met before('member there are 54 ethnic minority groups here in Vietnam). The house (think its called a "Nah Rong Va Hoa??" could be wrong here) is used for celebrations, community events etc. When we were there, they were killing two pigs, apparantly for a celebration - the pigs were trussed up on a stick and the squealing was horrific. We didn't see it (phew!) but i think they cut the insides out while it was still alive -eewww- then they lit a fire and roasted it on the fire. Honestly, if you ever hear the description the "noise would make your blood curdle'.... this was it. Poor pig - what a way to go but hey, different cultures do different things, not for us to pooh-pooh! Some of the children were quite curious about us; they love when you show them a picture of themselves ... it usually means "yes, more more!".. its so great to see their wee faces light up and hear their giggles when they see the shots! Wish I had a portable printer so they could all get a copy there and then!

After this slightly jarring experience (the pig issue not the kids of course!), we visited another part of the village and the chief elder living there - what a sweetie! He seemed so delighted to meet us, and still likes to speak French; a leftover from his time working with them before the wars. As well as playing traditional Vietnamese music for us, he explained that everything was hand made from materials from the land, and he loved to play.. then he made us all take a shot to see if we a) liked it and b) could actually play anything tuneful! I did the scales which he said i did quite well (hmmn ole' smooth talker - who can get scales wrong!). So we all sat and chatted in French for a bit.. to him and his wife.. their faces had such incredible character... He explained that he is worried that alot of the traditional practices will disappear as none of the younger men in the village are interested in keeping them up - what a shame!

They invited us into their home; they were Catholic, but also believed in the God of fire and water. The people in this village have lived in the same houses for over a hundred years. Luong showed us one house with what looked like a large log underneath it.. It was a coffin, which are typically made from trees, picked especially from the forest and carved out for this purpose. They are kept under the house for the elderly in the family, while they are still living and get it ready for when they die (hmmn not so great to see that every day as you go out to do the shopping!). These people believe that when someone does die, they put them into the river and let the coffin float to wherever it stops. At that point, they take the coffin out of the water and bury the person next to this resting place... close to the earth and the water. And not in a traditional cemetary...

After this lovely visit, we headed out (as Luong had promised as it is Sunday!) to a wooden Catholic church, built in 1912. There were so many ethnic people at mass with their babies - we all noticed that babies don't cry here for some reason... they are very chatty and smiley but very few whiners around!

Then it was on to a tapioca farm to see how this vegetable (i think its a vegetable?) was put through a process that ended up with it in hard, white chunks (that looked a bit like chalk actually) then was pummeled down into powder and sold all over the country.

At this point it was time for some more history of war, so we headed out to Diem Cao 601 also known as Tank Hill and Skeleton Hill.. Eeerie names for this place, which had beautiful views of the surrounding area; hence it was of such a strategic importance! The memorial, although looks a bit worn, was only put up a few years ago to commemorate this area, which was a VC base that saw a number of very famous battles played out, with over 800 soldiers dying over 10 days around here. We saw bunker holes and the remains of a trench. Without sounding shallow, the more we discussed the details of the war, and saw the actual places where big events happened, it really made me realise i would be a terrible soldier (I'd be terrified the whole time and try to hide - i know i would!).. These children were playing up here and took a shiny to Jackie - they were too funny, especially when one of them tried to pull off her engagement ring.. no harm done although that child does have exquisite taste as Jackie's ring is quite lovely!

Then it was off to the remains of Phoenix Airport (that's what it was called folks) and Charlie Hill, where the Southern Vietnamese fought for over 40 days. Some gruesome stories about catching VC soldiers, tying them together and then electrocuting them all. Horrific. Don't know how Luong keeps all this info straight in his head - he knows so many details.. so forgive me any Vietnam scholars out there if ive gotten some stuff wrong (which im sure i have..).. too much to remember!

Just before we jumped on the bikes and headed into town, we saw this funny sight! Yup - here the motorbike is king of the road! It can carry people (whole generations at a time sometimes), animals (chickens are a favourite!) and now exercise equipment! Fantastic!

Time for lunch and then the excitement - we got to see the crossroads of Indochine. Amazing to stand in one spot and look around seeing Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos all at once. This land is so lush and green, its hard to believe there has been such heartache in all three of these countries; Vietnam and its wars, Cambodia and Pohl Pot and the Killing Fields and then Laos, apparantly one of the most bombed countries in the world! Lots of people do overland trips to both Laos and Cambodia from Vietnam but when i was first organizing this trip, I wasn't too sure about my plans so even tho' I'm so close, I'm flying to Bangkok first; doing some of Thailand then heading into Laos overland that way instead! Aah - its all the same in the end really!

Unfortunately, because it was a complete scorcher today, we didn't really stand around and contemplate too much here, although it was so beautiful! We needed the open road, the next stop on our exciting adventure and most importantly the wind in our hair - phew!!!

Later we visited another ethnic minority tribe - the H'long people - and walked across this scary suspension bridge, which the kids enjoyed running behind and in front of us, making the bridge wobble - ahh!! This lady invited us into her house to meet her family.... she was just lovely! (I know ...i overuse that descriptor and have to come up with another one - and quick smart!). One of the family members explained to us that if you do three years service in the army, you get a free TV, so in this wee house where everyone basically lived in one room, with the animals to the side, and the fire on the other side, there was this big TV in the middle of the room! Definitely felt a bit nervous we were being a bit exploitative again, as these people had so little and were so open with us....but they seemed happy enough and smiled and were curious about us, and asked where we came from.....sooooo I think it was all ok?

Then it was on to the "piece de resistance".....the Ho Chi Minh Trail! Everytime i said somewhere was really beautiful, Luong would say "it gets better than this... just wait and see". And how right he was. The area we drove along was quite close to the Cambodian border, at other times right next to Laos. It really was incredible.. so lush and green, very jungle like rain forests, tons of mist everywhere.... and so quiet. The HCM trail (as it was previously called; now its a brand new highway that spirals down through the jungle and takes place of the original "trail") was so quiet. There was literally no other traffic on the road except the odd motorbike, certainly no other tourists. It was so beautiful.. and so great to see how excited Luong gets taking people through this area, even tho' he has done it a ton of times before. I absolutely loved it here - it was really quite felt so lucky you could see all this; definitely more than off the beaten track and by far the highlight of our trip so far! The skies were picture perfect; blue with cotton clouds, mist over the jungle, you could really imagine how life would be for the American soldiers who realised the only way they could find the VC was to enter the jungle - wow, i wouldnt want to go in there. Even the VC sometimes got lost so the Americans wouldn't stand a chance! And just as luck would have it, when we were all standing admiring everything and saying how incredible it was; a rainbow appeared! What can i say - perfect, just perfect!

After this, well, nothing could top it .. well, ahem, nothing except dinner of course! We checked in; our last night together - what would we do without these guys? And then it was round the corner to dinner, at a fabby place the boys had already picked out, as usual! We all got chatting, and the rice wine came out, and the Dalat red wine, and then the black eggs. I'm sorry yes i said black eggs.. we had to try them of course, on a cracker with some shrimp and spicy sauce. Not bad although they looked awful! The night just got better and better.
Lew and Dave kissed (as you can see - they had become very close on this trip!); Luong went out during dinner after we had been talking about how much we liked the Vietnamese coffee and bought each of us a big bag of coffee and a traditional Vietnamese coffee filter - how fab is that! As I went around hugging the boys to say thanks I got more than a wee bitty tearful ("no, Stefanie tomorrow, tomorrow" they cried!). More rice wine was drunk - that stuff is like petrol but i have to admit, I had a few wee sips myself tonight as it was our last hurrah! As you can see the boys had more than a few!

After this we had to rush back to watch the football - did i tell you many Vietnamese are heavy gamblers. I had asked Luong if it was just a stereotype about Asian men specifically and he said no, and especially in Vietnam, people live in hope that they will win the lottery - mind you, i think that is true everywhere right! Anyway there was much money and anticipation riding on the England game (i think it was England vs Portugal maybe??) so we had to rush back to watch it over a few wee Tiger beers! Definitely a brilliant night out and just sad to know this is our last night together as tomorrow we head to Hoi An where we end the trip. What can i say - its been brilliant!!! Absolutely brilliant!