Dec 312013
 

The next morning we started early when the mini bus came and picked us up to take us to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is Vietnam's top tourist attraction, and is on the UNESCO list of stunning natural areas.

Troubles group

Troubles group

We knew that Halong Bay was going to be horribly touristy but felt that it was a "must" in Vietnam. We had booked a 3 day trip. The bus was full of aspiring youngsters with twinkles in their eyes. That twinkle would soon disappear. The bus was just as uncomfortable as it looked, and after 3 hours we arrived to another tourist-trap. This place was yet another place where thousands of tourists are dropped off to buy seriously overpriced souvenirs. 1,5 hours later, we arrived to a chaotic ferry dock where there were 10 white people pr vietnamese.

After buzzing around like headless chickens for half an hour we were shuffled on to our boat, which would later get the nickname "Drama-boat». There were about 20 people in our group, most of them in their late teens or early 20s. Among them were 5 young british lads on a boys-trip, a British drunk couple , a Scottish/dutch couple and some nice American girls. From early on in the trip it became clear that there were strong negative forces on board. Already when we arrived at our first stop the complaining started. It was based on the fact that everyone had to leave their bags on the boat as the rooms were not ready for check-in, and some people in the group, especially the British couple, were paranoid and would not leave them on the boat for fear of a criminal boat-crew. This seemed to us quite irrational because we were on a boat and we were going back to it. But they managed to get several others with them in the complaining- symphony. At this point we decided to distance ourselves from the rest of the group because we wanted to make the most of our trip. We were not included in the complaining-choir.

On the boat in Halong bay

On the boat in Halong bay

The first stop was at a small island with a big cave. This cave was discovered a few years earlier by a local who had wounded a monkey so he followed it, and stumbled into this cave. We had to walk a short distance up the mountain until we arrived to the garish cave. The paranoid British couple had both brought their giant backpacks up to the cave while all the other bags were on the boat. They looked pretty stupid as they waddled up the mountain edge. The cave was only mediocre, at least compared to other caves we have seen elsewhere in the world.

colourful cave

colourful cave

Maybe we are just too well accustomed when it comes to caves. I guess you can say that we are cave-people!! This cave was inside a limestone mountain and the whole thing was lit up with blue, red and green lights to make it look more attractive for the tourist hordes. We had a guide with us, but in the familiar Vietnam-style, it was impossible to understand a word of what he was saying. What little I did understand was relatively uninteresting as it was only subjective interpretations of cave formations looking like to goats or boobs. We were underwhelmed but we did not complain, which is more than what can be said for the rest of the group. When we got back to the boat our guide wanted to register us and asked everyone for their passports. That was the start of the next drama as the British couple flatly refused to give them away. They were convinced that the guide was going to steal their passports and sell them, and they were joined by several other passengers in this conspiracy theory. The guide (Mr.Fly) looked like he wanted to commit suicide at this point. We sat on the outdoor deck while the boat went to the next stop where we were going kayaking..

Torunn in Halong bay

Torunn in Halong bay

While I and Torunn tried to enjoy the sight of the amazing limestone cliffs that surrounded us, many other people in our group was busy being negative. Driving around Halong Bay in a boat is like sailing in a fjord surrounded by scenic cliffs which provide a dramatic landscape. It looks like they've popped right out of the sea in one day! Some people come here only to do rock climbing in these steep cliffs. This is extreme mountaineering where they do not use ropes so they plunge into the water if things go wrong. We jumped in a kayak and paddled away from the rest of the group, which at that time was a relief.

Torunn kayaking

Torunn kayaking

It was fun to paddle between rocks in narrow passages and through caves in the mountains. We even saw a big red bottom, belonging to a baboon.
After that experience we sat on the boat the rest of the evening. At one point the guide came up to us and made a half-hearted attempt to engage in a "cooking-lesson" which was at an incredibly basic level. We were well acquainted with the rest of the group and found that most were pretty nice. The British couple stood for most of the trouble. And it was going to get worse. We decided not to drink alcohol on the boat as the prices were ridiculously high, and it was not allowed to bring alcohol onto the boat without paying.

When I talked to the negative British couple (let's call them Cher & Sony from now on) it became clear to us that they were both alcoholics and into partying (incl drugs). In fact, the first thing they did in the morning before the bus arrived at 7 was to drink half a liter of pure vodka. This was necessary because they had bought a 2-liter bottle of vodka that they would smuggle aboard in a 1,5 liter water bottle. There were not very intelligent so it was pretty obvious to everyone, including the crew, that it was more than just sprite in their glasses which they were sipping constantly . They smelled of vodka and their glasses smelled of vodka. And they were very drunk.

Drunk girls

Drunk girls (thanks google)

The crew tried to charge them but they flatly refused and made a big fuzz out of it. The more I talked to them, the more clear it became how disturbed they were. "Sony" informed me that the first thing he did when he walked into his room was to tear up the planks to hide his valuables. He was convinced that someone would break into his room and steal all his drugs (I am assuming it was drugs)
"Cher" was so pissing drunk that she could not move without falling over. Around dinnertime they created another huge drama when they found out that someone had taken their camera. Everyone on the boat tried to help and support them, but they continued to behave hysterically. "Cher" sat down at the dinner table and salivated/cried so much that her whole plate of fries was like a small lake.

After much ado, they found out that the camera actually was safely in their room (a sober person had to go with them to find it).

Broken window in our cabin.

Broken window in our cabin.

After a social evening we went to bed in our cabin around 11pm. Around 1 am we heard intense knocking at our door. Seconds later a fist was rammed through our window and glass sprayed over all our stuff and onto the floor! .We were totally shocked! Outside the window "Sony" was standing with an expressionless face. Torunn told him off but he turned and walked away without saying a word. A minute later Mr Fly came running with tears in his eyes. He said: “This is the wost day in my life, this is the wost group I ever guide, horrible people”. He had a swollen, bloody lip, after he had been punched in the face. The morning after we talked with the English boys at the breakfast table, and heard what had happened. "Sony" had pushed "Cher" around like a rag doll in the arms of a gorilla. One of the boys asked him to stop doing that since she was already barely able to stand upright. "Sony" had then tried to beat him, but missed.

You should have seen the other guy!

You should have seen the other guy!

Then the English teenager got an adrenaline rush that drove him to hit "Sony" in the face about 8 times. Mr Fly got between them, and got a hit on his lip. Why the drunkard smashed our window, we dont know even to this day, but he never said sorry.
After this episode we understandably had no desire to have any further contact with these weirdos. Fortunately they disappeared when we got to the next island, and we never saw them again after that. We learned later that they blamed all the problems that had occurred on the boat on everyone else. After the first night on the boat we were going to stay on the island "Cat Ba» the next night.

Torunn in the mountains

Torunn in the mountains

There we had a little walk in the woods (with too many tourists) after which we went to one of the cheapest and most dilapidated hotels on the island. We became good friends with the Scottish / Dutch couple , and we got our mood up by drinking beer on a small beach in the sunset. Cat Ba was quite OK, but we'd really prefer to be on the boat another night, as there was too little time on the boat during the 3 days in Halong Bay.

new friends on the beach

new friends on the beach

On the ride back to the mainland we got another chance to enjoy the beautiful UNESCO-protected area. This time, together with a new group that was full of positive people. The trip back to Hanoi was a rather long affair where we yet again were forced to stop at a souvenir-shop for 3 quarters of an hour! Tragically enough it does not matter that no one in the group wants to buy souvenirs, they stop there anyway for the guide to get his commission. When we finally got back to Hanoi, we were stuck in a traffic-jam for 1 hour, but luckily we were back just in time for the most important: Happy Hour with free beer!

 Posted by at 5:52 pm
Dec 292013
 

Hanoi was a little less chaotic than Saigon, yet more chaotic than most cities I've been in. On our first day in Hanoi we were of course scammed by a Vietnamese taxidriver, but after that things picked up a bit. We went to Hanoi old town to find a hostel in a little side-street. We picked one at random and remained there. The hostel was only average, but it had an advantage which pulled it up to full marks for me - free beer for more than 2 hours every night !! P1060366
It's pretty crazy to stay at a place with free beer. After the first glass it was not very tempting to have another one as it did not taste particularly good,

Torunn drinking beer !

Torunn drinking beer !

but it was a taste that grew on us (especially after 2-3 glasses). There was a large barrel where we could fill up our glasses every time we ran out of beer. We ended up quite tipsy every single night for 4 days. All my memories from Hanoi seem a little blurred.
We lived right next to a small lake that was nice to stroll around. Along the lake we saw amorous young couples in their best outfits posing for pictures in romantic poses next to the lake, to decorate the mantelpiece (or the aircondition).
By chance we came across a camera team from Vietnam national TV that wanted to interview us. We agreed to that, and immediately they placed typical Vietnam-hats on our heads, just so there would be absolutely zero doubt that we were tourists. We answered many funny questions about Hanoi, a city we had only been in for a few hours and had

Interview with Vietnam Television

Interview with Vietnam Television

no knowledge about.
Next on our agenda during our touristy day in Hanoi was a traditional waterpuppet show….! I have no idea why the dolls need to be in water, but I guess it gives them the possibility to put in things like boats, fish and sea snakes.

Waterpuppets

Waterpuppets

It was a funny thing, but became a bit repetitive after an hour. The dolls jumped up and down in the water and danced in circles while singing. Sometimes there was some drama with dragons and sea snakes and fighting for women, all the typical things in the Vietnamese daily life. Next to the water stage there was a traditional Vietnamese band that played music during the acts. When the puppet theater was finished we found out, to our dismay, that it was only 10 minutes until the free-beer time so we hurried back to the hostel and let the fun begin.

 Posted by at 12:41 pm
Dec 272013
 

We only had 14 days in Vietnam, so we decided to get get a move on to have time to see as much as possible. We got on a 24 hour bus ride to Hoi An. Buses in Vietnam are

Vietnam bus

Vietnam bus

completely different from buses we have taken in other countries. There is 3 rows, one along each window and a central row with walkways on each side. Each row has 2 floors with sleeping beds in each row. They beds are actually relatively comfortable, and it is possible for most people to stretch the legs out. The drivers are always driving like maniacs as well as honking every 10 seconds 5. seconds, but there is`nt too much any of us passengers can do about that.
The worst thing on the buses in Vietnam is all the Vietnamese people. They are horrendously, rude and inconsiderate people, and this is no exaggeration. On all the buses we took in Vietnam we got to experience how amazingly low amounts of consideration one person can have to others in the same limited space.
On the night bus to Hoi An I was sitting next to a middle-aged lady, and I knew the second I saw her exactly what awaited me. Few things are worse than middle-aged ladies who feel that they are a little better than everyone else ,as they are a little older and therefore think they can ignore everyone else. I think I saw it in her eyes as she tried to sending some flirtatious glances in my direction.
At first she was only mildly annoying - bad body odors, Staring at me, and the movie that I was watching, and tapping on my shoulder to get my attention(for no reason).
Thenthe night came and as normal people went to sleep, that's when things started getting really bad. ..
at 24.00 - Time for sleeping, put the mask and earbuds on.
at 01.00 - Middle-aged lady decides to call her best friends for 30 minutes to discuss something that was so important that it apparently could not wait till the morning
at 02.25 - Middle-aged women snores loudly
at 03.10 - Idiot sitting behind me starts smoking 2 cigaretteswithin the confines of this closed bus where no one can escape
at 03.30- Middle aged lady decides to play Chinese-screaming-music at high volume for half hour
at 03.45 – 2 men behind me lights up a smoke again - Stig has serious trouble breathing
At 04.20 – 3 men and a kid sitting behind me starts an extremely loud conversation that involves screaming, high-pitched laughter and singing
at 04.32 and 04.45 and 05.10 - Middle-aged lady decides to call all of her friends to announce that she's still on the bus.
at 05.30 - Middle-aged lady playing high-pitched and terrible music while the man behind me smokes and kids screaming - all hope is lost.
05.30- 10.30 – All the above is repeated with freequent intervals until the bus arrives in Hoi An.
Very possibly the worst bus we have taken for 14 months of traveling. The bus itself was relatively comfortable, but our co-passengers were a nightmare.

Hoi An is located on the coast of central Vietnam and used to be a quiet little fishing village, but has now been totally and completely invaded by tourists. Being so deep inside of tourist territory is something we have not experienced much on our journey, but Vietnam (and South-East Asia in general) has considerably more tourists than all of the other places we have traveled.

Hoi an river

Hoi an river

It is described as a very charming little river village, but much of the charm has gone away as we actually had to fight our way past other white people on the "local" market. Hoi An is a fairly small town with narrow cobbled streets and myriads of religious buildings called "Wat". They are generously decorated with dragons and massive gold ornaments.
The thing we liked best about Hoi An was "Bia hoi", which means "fresh beer" in vietnamese. It is a home-brewed unpasteurized beer that is sold in many of the restaurants along the river. It gave us a great pleasure to enjoy ourselves with the cheapest beer we have had anywhere in the world at only 1 crown(0,2$) for a relatively large glass (0,4Litre) filled with foamy,cold beer !

beer for 1 crown (0,2$)!

beer for 1 crown (0,2$)!

It is a very affordable price. It was not the best beer in the world, but this was very easily forgivable for a 20 cent beer. We did not do much sightseeing in Hoi an, but we got a pretty good feel of the local vibe by walking around, eating lots of good food, and drinking cheap Vietnam beer, The best sort of pastime as far as I am concerned.

Stig Buys delicious,cheap beer

Stig Buys delicious,cheap beer

The food in Vietnam was a positive surprise - everything was easy and tasty; noodle soup with beef, Spring Rolls, fried noodles with meat and vegetables, sweet and sour chicken etc. There was probably hundreds of typical vietnam dishes that we did not get the time to try,but we enjoyed the ones we did try. In some places they were selling snakes, snake blood and fried dog, but none of those things were tempting to us. we are funny in that way...
River Cruises seemed like a big tourist-attraction in Hoi an…but it seemed like more of a gimmick than a genuinely wonderful experience, so we did`nt do it.
We also heard about some ruins outside of the city, but decided to drop them because they were overpriced (everything that tourists want to see becomes overpriced at some point...supply and demand).

Ruins

Ruins

We rented a moped and drove out on the countryside where we found that it was extremely easy to get lost. "Roadsigns" is a foreign word in Vietnam. It was a good chance to get to see markets and villages that was`nt crowded with tourists, .It was also nice to meet locals that did`nt try to scam us at any chance they got. We found some ruins that were made by the same tricksters who made the other ruins that we originally had planned to see. The only difference was that these ruins were free since no other tourists took the trouble to go there. The danger of going out and finding your own ruin became apparent soon after when I nearly got bit by a green snake hiding in the green gras, and of course a slight risk of landmines and such things.

Snake peeks out

Snake peeks out

The bus journey to Hanoi was marginally better than the previous bus trip, but there was still both smokers,mobile-talkers, and people who played loud music at midnight…Vietnamese people....…

 Posted by at 5:55 pm
Dec 232013
 

We came to Vietnam tired and looking ugly at the ungodly hour 2 AM. Our first encounter was with an unfriendly customs officer who stamped the wrong date in the passport, and refused to fix it afterwards, which gave us one day less in Vietnam. The next Vietnamese guy we met was a taxi driver who was taking us to the centre of Ho Chi Minh. After 2 minutes in the taxi we arrived at a toll booth where he insisted that we should pay, even though we had already agreed a price with him. Vietnam-English is the worst kind of english I've ever heard, almost totally impossible to understand. I asked how much it cost and he mumbled out something that neither me nor Torunn could understand. I asked him at least 4 times how much he wanted - "fiiifffooaaeeeeeeennnn tehaaausssaan" was all he rattled off.
He began to be aggressive and loud. I looked at the money that we had just gotten out of the bank, and tried to find the right amount. Before I knew it, he took the money stack from my hand to "help me" find the correct sum. He held the stack on his side of the car and counted it loudly, and I grabbed the money back as fast as I could. We continued drive toward the city, and I celected to count our money again. It was lacking 500 000 dong, which is about 150 Norwegian kroner(14$) ", quite a lot of money in Vietnam. It was a quite uncomfortable situation. we were sitting in a cab at 02.30 A.M with an aggressive driver who apparently had just stolen money from us.
We told him that there was money missing, and he tried to come up with lots of excuses, he tried to convince us that we must have lost the money before we met him. «Did you remember all the money from the ATM?» , Treating us as complete idiots did not help his cause. He began fiddling with his mobile and sending lots of texts while driving. We started to get worried about where this villain was taking us, maybe he had some other guys waiting to rob us some more,or even assualt me sexually,as I caught him staring into my beautiful blue eyes many times. …

Ho chi minh statue

Ho chi minh statue

After much nagging about our money, He gave me a small torch and told me to look around my legs, as I probably just lost my money there. And funnily enough I found my 500 000 dong right by my leg. There was of course no way that I could have "lost" the money there, but I think he realized that we would`nt stop until he gave the money back, and then decided to use his dexterity to put the note back where I could find it.. We realized later that everything he did had been a carefully planned fraud. When we asked him how much the toll-both would cost he was mumbling and aggressive on purpose just so that I would bring out a stack of money that he could "count".. When we caught his scam he had to give the money back as we had the number plate of his car and could have reported him to the police.
It was a very bad start to Vietnam - The Two first people we met were brazen crooks.
We found that this was not isolated incidents. Everywhere we went people were trying to trick us, and lie to us. Vietnamese are the worst people we met in any of the 35 countries we have traveled on this trip.

After a night's sleep we went out to explore the city formerly known as Saigon. The traffic is the most unstructured chaos I have ever seen. There are over 3 million mopeds only in Ho Chi Minh City, and for most of the time it seems as if they are all on the roads simultaneously . Crossing the road is virtually impossible. There is only one way to do it - risking your life. Eventually we developed a certain strategy, but that story is a chapter in itself...

Torunn in Rickshaw

Torunn in Rickshaw

We had a little walk around town to do some mandatory sightseeing. For fun we hired a rickshaw to take us a short distance. There was not enough room for both of us, so we had one rickshaw each. They drove us around for about 5 minutes before we got to our destination - an exhibition about the vietnam war(or the American War as it is called in Vietnam). Although we had agreed the price before we started they were now demanding 10 times more than what we had agreed. They wanted 300 000 instead of 30000, 100 kroner(18$) instead of 10 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". They told us that we had heard wrong, even though we had confirmed the sum to them several times. It was probably another incident where vietnamese people used the fact that it's insanely hard to understand their English. 100 kroner(18$) is more than people earn in a week, I was so mad that I threw 10 kroner bill on the ground and walked away. Vietnamese are doing everything they can to make it difficult for tourists, at least that is the impression we are left with. It is no wonder that statistics show that very few people go back to Vietnam for a second visit, Unlike Thailand where people come back year after year.
The War museum was very interesting. There was a lot of interesting information, and even more heart-breaking pictures. Pictures say more than a 1000 words, and this was very true for the pictures displayed there.

Torunn - the war machine

Torunn - the war machine

There were many grotesque images of U.S. soldiers holding up body parts as they were smiling for the camera. Most of the information was very anti-American, which is`nt very strange considering how much Vietnam has suffered because of this war, a war that ultimately was totally unnecessary and destructive, nor did it have any conclusion.

Krigsmuseumet

Krigsmuseumet

Even today,,35 years later, there are thousands of Vietnamese and Laosians who die annually from unexploded bombs, and from the poison that the Americans sprayed over their fertile lands and forests. They used a particularly nasty poison called Agent Orange. one of the displays showed pictures of hundreds of children and young adults with serious deformities. These happened because their parents have been exposed to the poison in the drinking water. The poison is still in the water, and children are still being born deformed . It is very understandable that they are not to fond of America, although they have apparently become friends again after Bill Clinton visited the country 12 years ago.
We also went on a day trip to the Vietcong tunnels outside of the city. It was an organized day trip that took a whole day. Very typical for organized tours in Vietnam we were forced to stop at a souvenir shop for half an hour. No one asks what the people on the tour want, they just take us there and tell us that we must stay there for 40 minutes…a bit tedious..…

Torunn looking at souvenirs

Torunn looking at souvenirs

This place was something that I like to refer to as a "cluster Fu##" as there are 20 different tourist buses there at the same time. In the souvenir shop there are hundreds of workers working on painting, and on making jewelry and such. It is a type of work that disabled people usually get to do. After all the poison United States dropped over Vietnam, and all the bombs that are still claiming quite a few limbs(and lives) every year, Vietnam has more than enough disabled people.
All the stuff that they sold there cost about 4-5 times more than the same stuff in the city…so you have to be pretty stupid to buy things in such places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our bus continued until the Cambodian border, where we were visiting a temple belonging to a very special little religion called Cao Dai. It was never quite clear to me what their "thing" was, but I understood it to be a mix between Hindu,budhism and islam, and that they worship some French poet who they believe that they have met his ghost.

Cao Dai temple

Cao Dai temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a pleasant and colorful bunch of monks who were busy with the morning prayers when we visited them. What was particularly pleasing was that both women and men were allowed to pray together, much more liberal than Islam. Some were blue,some were red,some were purple and others were gray , simply told a very colorful community !
The temple was very stylish, many fine dragons and sculptures. At the front by the altar was a giant planet with a large eye inside a triangle, a little bit like Sauron. .

The monks who pray

The monks who pray

After the temple we were sitting in the bus for well over 4 hours before we got to the Vietcong caves Chi-Chi. Very few of the caves survived the war as the Americans bombed them back to the stoneage. . Every aircraft that was returning to the airports were instructed to drop all the bombs that were left over this area, hoping to hit some of the caves.
We got a little tour of the area, and learned a bit about life as a cavemen. The caves were dug very deep, down to 10 meters , and the entries were under water in rivers so no one would find it.

Tanks from wars

Tanks from wars

The caves were insanely narrow and without anh light, but very effective to get around without being detected. They had hundreds of miles of caves. Some of the tourists did try to squeeze themselves into one of the entries, but most got stuck. One girl we met fell into the darkness,but managed to get back up.. In the jungle around the caves we got to see all the different kinds of traps they had made to kill Americans. There were many clever varieties,typically a hidden hole-in-the-ground with sharp iron poles, or some kind of swing mechanism with wooden spikes.

 

 

We got to try out life as cave-rats in a 100 meter stretch that was "approved for tourist" with lights and a bit bigger than the original ones, here was an opportunity to test who is the most claustrophobic!

Stig In tunels

Stig In tunels

It was a little bit claustrophobic, but mostly because there were 30 tourists in a line to crawl down into the pit, and once you were in the cave there was really nowhere to go. There were tourists in front of you, and tourists behind you…we were caught in a Viet Cong cave,as rats caught in a trap. The other guys were excruciatingly slow to crawl through the cave, so it took quite some time to get through it. Torunn was terrified and started to cry several times, but I comforted her as the stalwart hardcore guy that I am.

Tourists who are trying "the hole"

Tourists who are trying "the hole"

The Americans tried to kill the cave guys in many ways, but all methods failed. Firstly they had a squad which they called "cave rats", but they were slaughtered pretty quickly as the Vietcong had home-field advantage in the darkness of the caves. Then they sent the dogs to eat them, but that failed too. The Viet Cong cleverly began washing themselves with American soaps so that the dogs would be confused. The dogs also had a tendency to run right into the death traps they had set up in the caves. The last attempt was to in bombing the area back to the stone age , but it did`nt work as in many ways they already lived in the Stone Age. Then they dumped a few million tons of poison in the woods, which only helped to kill all trees,animals,and insects. It also destroyed the earth and groundwater in many parts of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This again took away the possibility for the locals to farm the ground, or for using wood or drink water without getting sick and getting disfigured Children. GO USA,right ! !

 

 

 

 

We got back to the madness of Ho Chi Minh so we could spend the evening exploring the night market. It was a quite exhaustive …lots of yelling and pressure to buy shit we did`nt want "you buy,now!",very pretty¨, ¨how much you pay??¨, ¨special for you only sailor boy!¨ .
All of them started at ridiculously high prices, hoping that we were complete morons, and they always end up winning, no matter how much they pretend it is highway robbery.

We only had 14 days in Vietnam, so we decided to move on sooner,rather then later, and jumped on a 24 hour bus ride to Hoi An.

 Posted by at 11:35 pm