Hoi An

February 11, 2004

Arrived in Hoi An, it’s a beautiful picturesque riverside town, its so much warmer than Hue to my relief, there’s loads of chinese influence in the architecture all over the town. Also there’s loads of cool bars restaurants and over 200 tailors for clothing, great value suits, shoes and shirts. I tried not to suck myself into buying anything and lasted about 2 seconds, it made me realise it how much I love talking about the cut, styles and designs all the usual stuff Jimmy and I at home would spend ages talking about, bought some excellent new shirts designs with fantastic Harry Hill style collars, should go down well at home!!

Took a trip on the second day to see the ‘My son’ monument a 14th century monument from the Chapas, don’t know much about these fellas but they’ve been around a while, Chimpy would love this place. I found it hard work getting into it as I’d been up early the third day in a row, my tiredness probably didn’t enable me to stop asking the guide a really dumb question; ‘did you know myson is one half of a famous English cockney expression, awwwwwwright myson’ the guide thought I was real wanker after that and rightfully so, I kept my head down at the back of the group after that.

I met a great Japanese guy who wrote cookery books for a living, he looked a bit like Bruce Lee which was weird but we had some great tucker afterwards, had a long chat about how all these Communist states seem to be the most capitalist places I’ve ever been to.

We also visited a great local pottery where I tried my hand on the wheel at trying to making some really dreadful looking eating bowls, I think I’d get 1 out of 10 on the generation game for these efforts, really pants. Fantastic day overall.

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Was up early at 5.30 to be collected outside my hotel for the start of the highly rated DMZ one day trip to the key war landmarks around the Ben Hai river, the key strategic demarcation line which separated South and North Vietnam durring the US ocupied war. This was a really fantastic and worthwhile tour and gave me a real sense of clarity regarding the US involvement.

The one day tour is kind of the best of highlights of the border area including Twong Son National cementary, Koh Sahn military base and museum, the key US base in the war which took an absolute shooing, the same base portrayed in the opening sequences of Mash which seems like a really jovial and fun place to be but was actually the biggest hell hole known to man. The guide who’s grasp of English would at best be described as low budget, when I asked him how long the US forces were in Koh Sahn he replied, ‘ yeh, we leave in 20 minutes’…seems a bit of a short time to build a base for 60,000 troops. He did suggest reading the guest book in the museum which I did and was very moving to read some of the anecdotes and comments from US war veterans.

The tunnels of Vinh Moc, were absolutely amazing, really worth seeing, the organisiation is just incredible. This is the infrastructure where the North vietnamese (NVC) survived durring the bombing and essentially defended their country and laid the foundations for defeating the US. You get the impression that Vietnamese were a highly organised resilant and adept at fighting jungle gorilla warfare. Lets face it, you don’t dish out major shooings to both the French and the Chinese without being experts in military warfare. I think the downfall of the US was believing that all their weaponry could destroy a more intelligent, experienced and commited armed force, will Iraq repeat itself?

Really fascinating and amazing trip, well worth doing.

Thought of day; now trying to grow the old goatee like Ho Chi Minh

Hue

February 8, 2004

Arrived about midday in Hue after saying goodbye to my new Vietnamese friends on the train, it would have been nice if the chap who sold me the ticket had told me that I was not only the single westerner on the train but also the only westerner alot of them had ever seen, felt like a monkey at the circus, most of the journey there was a queue outside my carriage with people wishing to see me, got a bit tiring after 3 hours but managed to get a bit of sleep. The people in the carriage were great, they shared all their tucker which was a relief because as usual I forgot to bring any, some the meat tasted rank but I pretended to enjoy it as I had visions of me rolling around the floor with chicken flu.

Hue is positioned on the perfum river (no its not a gay town) about half way down the East Coast of Vietnam, it’s famous for its involvement in many imperial wars particularly the US occupation when it was one of the last towns to be relenquished by the North Vietnamese after the Tet offensive. I used the afternoon to cycle around, I quickly got the feeling from the faces of the locals that I may have picked the worst push bike in town, I’m quite glad noone knows me here. Checked out the main imperial centre of town and the citadel and the war museum where lots of US captured tanks and aircraft are gloatingly displayed; ‘captured and destroyed from the puppet enemy’. I got the distinct feeling that US forces took a bit of a shooing in this town but I didn’t mention it to any of the yanks I met in the evening.

My guest house is definately the worst I’ve stayed in, felt a bit of a mug believing the guy at the station when I arrived, he looked like the worst authur daly character I’ve every met , ‘hey mister free, internet, free laundry, warm water’ Decided to drown my sorrows over some local ales at the DNZ bar, took a hiding on the pool table and went home early.

 

Halong Bay

February 6, 2004

Decided to take a 2 day trip to magnificent Halong Bay, left early with about 30 others about a 3 hour drive from Hanoi, this is acclaimed as one of the natural marvels in Vietnam, however weather today is still horrrendous, drizzly and wet.

Arrived about midday, this is a truly beautiful coastal town, its a Unesco World heritage site with stunning beaches and over 3000 islands dotted around the bay, like giant furn covered stones pointing out of the sea. We climbed onto a paddle steamer for the rest of the afternoon circumventing the islands, stopped and one of the countless caves which was amazing.

Met some really great people on board including a 62 year old Vietnamese American dentist and his wife, really interesting guy as he’d escaped South Vietnam about 30 years ago and set up practice in LA, I asked him if he was also the actor who played Starskey’s boss on Starskey and Hutch which set him off laughing. Was also a great mix of Australians, Dutch, a few English and Danes all heading on the same ruite through Vietnam.

In the evening we moored the boat onto a beautiful but fairly touristy island called Cat Ba Island, again very cold and the guest house was a bit of a dump, set off early in the morning for the remaining boat journey.

Overall this trip is well worth doing and I had a really good time despite the weather.

 

Arrived early morning in the congested metropolis of Hanoi, checked into a OK hotel in the old town with Steven, American guy I’d met in Laos. The weather is freezing and drizzly.

In the afternoon decide to hire motorcyclist to take me round town for a quick whirlwind tour of the city centre. The roads here are so motorbike thick you can reach out and touch 4 other riders at any given moment. The driver works the breaks , the norns and gas simultaneously and constantly and I’m thinking ‘Oh fu*!, O God, look out’ to which he relpies a snigger and reassures me that traffic accidents are the number 1 kiler in the city.

Noboby gives to anyone on a motorbike in Hanoi. Everyone just angles, points, dives directly towards his destination pretending it is an all or nothing gamble. People glare at one another and fight for manourvering space. All parties are equally determined to get the right of way, indeed they insist on it! They swerve at the last possible moment, giving scant inches to spare. The victor goes forward , no time for any victory grin, already engaged inanother contest of will. Hanoi traffic symbolises vietnamese life; a continuous chirade of postering, bluffing, fats moves, tenacity and ocasional surrenders.

My driver veers a moment from being broadsided by another motorist, I panic and grab his torso and he tries to calm with his ‘don’t worry my..’ the air is toxic and it really seems the whole world is on the road today.

Welcome Hanoi