Yoni ran into a person who he knew from his time doing field work in
The bus was a total disaster – on the outside it was one of the older muddier buses (that should have been a clue that the road would be rough) and on the inside it was fairly dirty and overcrowded. (Tal’s comment: “a little more than fairly.”) We slept in bunk beds, with three bunks across the width of the bus. Dirty, smelly, and the guy in front of me was a chain smoker. Excluding Noam, none of us could stretch totally out on our beds-they were too short. The slimy “owner” of the bus greeted us by charging us extra to transport our bags. Quite certain this was a scam but didn’t want him to get angry at us and chuck all of our belongings off in the middle of the night. The road was AWFUL – reminded me of our Juizhaigou trip in October. Recent rains had made what was probably already a very bad road much worse. Did not sleep much and was quite nervous for a significant part of the ride. Thank goodness I was sleeping on the bottom, the top guys seemed to feel the bumps and swaying of the bus more. A Dutch couple on the bus said that we were very "brave" for travelling on that bus with children. Not sure if that was a compliment.
Miraculously arrived safe and sound (almost sound, anyway) in Hekou and crossed the border into Lao
We easily caught transportation to Sapa, a French hill station. Truly gorgeous. Huge mountains, moderate climate, terraced rice paddies, many different ethnic minorities. We stayed at a decent enough guest house, but the real selling point was the view. Stepping out of our room, was a million dollar view. Here's a picture of Noam on the balcony. We trekked two days – first day was a fairly rigorous hike to a waterfall; Noam struggled a bit and at the end had pretty much given up when a friendly jeep passed us just as we had climbed up to the road. Noam hopped in, followed by Yoni and the rest of us, for the final 500m. Crazy enough, it happened to be the very jeep that we had reserved to take us back to our hotel. Here's a picture of us at the waterfall - after lunch and a rest everyone was happy again. Afterwards we took a jeep ride to a famous Vietnamese canyon that bridged the gap between the hottest and coldest places in Vietnam, Sapa being the coldest. The view was supposed to be spectacular, but it was very foggy and we could barely see 10 meters in front of our faces.
The second day we took an easier route to a local village called Ta Phin – shortly after heading out we were joined by three minority women who walked with us for the majority of the trip, clearly trying to sell their wares. In the end we felt bad for them so asked to at least see what they had – beautiful embroidery work – and then I felt too bad not to buy anything. It was a bit of a scam, or an extremely guilt-ridden way to sell things (but I just walked 5 km with you with all these heavy things on my back . . what do you mean you’re not going to buy anything??). Maybe if it was later in our travels I would have held firm. But now I’m the proud owner of a table covering and some small purses.
Here's some pictures of us trekking amongst the rice paddies. Rained two of the days we were there, but it was a nice, gentle rain, and didn't stop us at all. Notice the plant that we found growing all over the place?
Overnight train from Sapa to
Things ended up OK, as we went to a beach on Cat Ba Island with enormous waves – much fun. Yoni and I were a bit edgy as we just couldn’t take our eyes of Noam (who basically couldn’t stop laughing no matter how many times he was thrown by the waves).
Next came another overnight bus trip (this time much worse than the first, but still not as bad as our
One of the perks of Nha Trang was that we got to hang out with a lovely local family (a friend of a friend), so that we were able to break free from the tourism circuit a bit. We ate in their home two nights (we ate on the floor – good vegetarian fare), and they took us shopping and siteseeing. Their hospitality was wonderful and two 11 and 9 year old girls let me braid their hair every time I saw them, and tried to teach me how to count in Vietnamese. From the beginning, we have all felt totally overwhelmed by the 6 tones of this language, and the very difficult to decipher words (they swallow way too many letters). Tal, amazingly, has learned to count, so he is our language expert. Anyway, one of the women in this family is married to a Canadian guy, so she has this little one year old who wears “future hockey star” t-shirts, although the kid has never experienced weather below 18C.
Nha Trang was not as hot as Hue or Hoi An, being by the beach, but was not as relaxing as we had hoped, so we decided to squeeze in a 3 day trip to Mui Ne – a more rustic beach town about 4 hours from Saigon (it’s still referred to as Saigon by everybody, although officially it’s called Ho Chi Minh City). Of course, the ultimate perk was that adding in this journey ensured that we didn’t have to do anymore overnight bus trips. We lucked into an idyllic bungalow resort right on the beach, beautifully sculpted gardens and not much else to do except go from the beach to your room. Unfortunately, Noam got stung by a jellyfish (a big one) and refused to go back into the water after Day 2. We subsequently found two HUGE dead jellyfish washed up on shore, and if one of those things was the stinging culprit for Noam, it’s amazing that he didn’t suffer more. Here's a picture of Noam's sting (about day 3; it actually looks worse now (day 5). And here's one of the massive dead jellyfish we saw on the beach.
The siteseeing in Mui Ne was low key – we walked through a stream to a waterfall and ran down some sand dunes (red dunes and white dunes). Here's a picture of Tal and Noam that seems like they're wandering through the Sahara. These were the white dunes - they were nicer than the red dunes as they were a bit harder to get to. Mostly, in Mui Ne, we went to the beach, played cards, read books, and relaxed. It was a nice break from the hectic pace of travelling. Here's pictures of our bungalow and the beach (when's the last time you saw a herd of cows on a beach?)
And now here we are in Saigon in front of the Reunification Palace. For those of you who remember - the North Vietnamese tanks plowed through the gates of this palace in 1975, to claim their victory over the South. The whole place has stood still in time - wandering through it is like an eerie walk back into 1975; dial phones, tacky furniture, out of date communication equipment. It was very interesting.
And now it is our last day; we were supposed to do some more touring but cancelled at the last minute to just enjoy Saigon, get some good food, and wander the streets. Yoni has been recruited to give a lecture at a university here, so it's me and the boys wandering around. Of course, this is slightly dangerous as the motorcycle madness is totally out of control - millions of wheels coming at you from all directions. Makes Hanoi appear tame.