Monday, November 23, 2009

Wonderful Vietnam

Dear Friends and Family,

Our travels to Vietnam included three different flights totaling about 27 hours; 19 of those hours were actually airtime. We lost 14 hours due to the time change, and upon arriving in Ho Chi Mihn City, we got a taxi to our hotel and settled in for the night; it was about 11pm.

The next morning upon browsing the city, we could not believe our eyes were being truthful with us. The amount of traffic was astronomical; mostly motor scooters (thousands of them), taxis, and buses. There were very few personal cars and no pickup trucks. The rules of the road were - there are none. While most of the traffic tried to flow as we would expect, much of it did its own thing. Every which way and in every direction, including the sidewalks and it never ended. Trying to cross the street was incredibly scary for these honkies, but we learned that when you want to cross the street, you simply must just begin walking out in to traffic; somehow, they go around you and you survive. Horns were honking continuously; those never end as well. We learned that variations of how the horn is honked may mean different things. A long drawn out horn means I’m passing you so stay where you are, two short honks mean get out of the way, etc. Even while sitting in a dead stop traffic jam, horns were honking - why? we wondered. In addition, the scooter being the main mode of transportation carried everything you can possibly think of. We saw up to four people on one scooter, which was perfectly normal. Some things the scooters hauled were-  at least five enormous sacks of grain, potatoes, or  some other food product, at least 30 wooden (non folding) chairs made of wicker and bamboo, 50 gallon oil drums, at least 25 foot steel rods, a kitchen table, 100’s of stacked plastic baskets, enough paper goods to make the scooter about 6 feet wide,  a queen size box spring and mattress, a cook stove with a large pot of soup (cooking and for sale), mirrors, large screen tvs, and there are so many more things. One gentleman was hauling some large metal crates or something. They were laying sideways on the seat of his scooter and he was sitting inside them hunkered down in order the drive. Now that’s talent! It was incredibly unbelievable and unimaginable unless you can actually see it for yourself. Wow!

The bus rides were ..….well there’s really not any one word to describe them. It is very typical for the bus companies to overbook. It was not uncommon to get on a 16 passenger bus with a total of 26 people.  Please enjoy reading about our most extreme experience:  Jimi and I were lucky enough to be one of the first on the bus thinking we got good seats, when in reality we became buried under other humans. People just kept piling on and on and on. Jimi and I just looked at each other thinking it would end, but it didn’t. Even after we began our six hour travel, the bus would stop to pick up one more and then another and finally another. When the bus stopped for the 26th person there was literally no other place to put anyone without laying someone across our laps, or so we thought. The lady we picked up took another gentlemen’s place and the gentleman squeezed in between the driver and the driver’s door. Lol – Are you laughing now? Well you should be.

Our meals were very good. We typically liked to order from the stands on the side of the street where we could just point at what we wanted rather than trying the break through the language barrier and decipher a menu. The most common meal was a noodle soup dish called Pho (pronounced Fa). It was so yummy and cost about 10,000 dong (which was less than $1). We ate a lot of that, as well as some beef, chicken and pork. The only issue with the chicken is they simply chop it, cook it and serve it. There is no such thing as boneless. I had fried squid at one restaurant while Jimi ate fried swamp eel. The eel was served just so: a coiled up eel, head and all on a plate. Jimi ate all of it. I had a bite myself and it wasn’t bad; just another kind of seafood; however, I finally had to ask Jimi to turn his plate slightly because it was staring at me as I ate. Lol Sitting on beach one day we were served a meal when I ordered a grilled fish – yes, you have guessed correctly. It was a fish split down the middle and slapped on the grill. It was so tasty, but thank goodness I didn’t turn it over the see the eye balls looking at me before I finished it. Lol. Oh ya, I cannot forget the bananas. They were to die for; they were so good.

The cost was cheap cheap cheap, which is one of the reasons we chose Vietnam. The hotels were about $10 per night. There were a couple of places we had to pay a little more, but very few. The meals ranged between under a dollar to $3 per plate depending how much we splurged. The coffee, which by way was WONDERFUL, was 10,000 dong per cup, about 60 cents. We could not drink the water, so were forced to purchase bottled water, which was between 10 cents and 25 cents depending on the area of the country we were in. The bus rides averaged about $3 to $6, except for the overnight buses which were much larger and had reclining seats for sleeping; they were closer to $8 per person. We took two over night buses to save on time. It worked out great. Between the two of us, our two week vacation cost us less than $800.

Some of the really cool things we did and saw were:
The markets were bustling with just about everything you can think of for sale. Our favorite was in a little town called Phung Hiep. They had the freshest of all seafood and various meats. Fish of many different kinds, shrimps of all sizes, frogs, eels, crabs, chicken, pig, beef and many more items were available. Each family has their own little area, station or building to sell in and yet everyone worked together. We spent two days there taking pictures, walking, and admiring the area. A particular group of ladies got to know us and would tease us with the live fresh seafood knowing we probably weren’t accustomed to seeing such things. We all laughed and we took many pictures of them. In the same town, but down the river we also visited the floating markets both days by chartering a boat and driver. This was expensive costing us $5 each day. Lol. The floating market served more of the fresh fruits and vegetables even though we could get them at the regular market. It was just really neat to be a part of the trading on water and see all the boats moving around one another.
We had the opportunity to relax on a couple of beaches. The first was in Hoi An, which was set up for tourists. We had loungers and our own grass umbrella on the beach including service with a smile. We ate lunch and enjoyed a couple of soda pops. Jimi swam in the ocean while I sun bathed and read my book. Another was the Bai Bau beach. Believe it or not, but we had the ENTIRE beach to ourselves with a very acceptable room right on the beach. The staff was somewhat hard to find when we wanted to eat though, but we were not complaining considering we really did have the whole place to ourselves for $10 a night. The down side was, it rained the entire time we were there. We still relaxed and enjoyed our selves. We spent two days and one night there. We were on another beach in Quy Nhon; however, it was more of a fishing beach. The water was not as pretty clean. Jimi spent a lot of time capturing pictures of the fishing apparatuses.
In Kontum we were very fortunate to visit an orphanage. What an amazing thing to do. Going in we had prepared ourselves to see dirty, unkept children with poor living arrangements. But, to our surprise the children were happy and bubbly. They and the entire orphanage was clean and very well kept. They had structure with discipline and rewards. Every child went to school and with acceptable grades would be sent to Ho Chi Mihn City to attend college for free at 19 years old. We toured the facility, played with some of the children and then spent a bit of time talking with one of the nuns. The orphanage is actually Bana people (indigenous hill tribe) and not Vietnamese. It currently houses 209 children and 6 nuns. A really neat experience!
From the same town, we set out early one morning to walk into the hills. Our goal was to get away from the city and visit the rural tribes (not so modernized). We left about 7am and after 12 miles of walking, returned to town about 3:30pm. Amazing! We went places that vehicles could not go. During our walk we were with a couple of Oxen and their carts. Jimi and I hopped on the back of one of the carts and hitched a ride with the three young boys driving the Oxen. Before hopping off, Jimi gave the boys a 2,000 dong coin. They were reluctant to take it at first, but after some persuasion they accepted. The Bana tribes had obviously not seen many white people, as they were a little more reserved to our presence. Still we felt welcomed as we walked through the villages and the hills. We were lucky enough to come across a couple of men who spoke some English and we enjoyed conversation with them briefly. Have you heard of a Rong? It is a large gathering place typically built on the center of the village. It stands on stilts and the roof is incredibly tall in a V shape made of thatch. Jimi took some great photographs of them. They were really remarkable.

While in Hoi An we visited the My Son Ruins (pronounced Me Son).  Amazing to see what the ancient people made. The carvings in the stone were just beyond anything imaginable. Most of the area was destroyed during the war, but what was left was still a sight to see.
Also in Hoi An we visited the tailors. Jimi had a pair of black corduroy pants made and I had two Asian style shirts and a pair of capris to match one of the shirts. That was fun and really neat souvenirs.
Back in Ho Chi Mihn City we visited several Pagodas; one during a prayer service. And then we went to the War Remnants Museum. It was weird seeing our own military equipment there. They have some planes, tanks, and other things from the US Army and the US Air Force. Otherwise rest of the museum was made up of all photographs, some being quite graphic.
Anyone selling anything including a moto ride or a taxi, did not take No for an answer. We were bombarded with at least five people yelling at us all at once trying to get us to choose them or their product throughout most of the trip. It was frustrating at times. And at other times we encountered huge language barriers and there was no way to get around them. We would simply have to move on to the next person who may or may not be able to help us. Either we are really bad at charades or they are – Lol. Some individuals were unable to speak a lick of English, but through acting it out knew exactly what we wanted, while others just laughed with embarrassment because they had no clue what we were trying to say. The children and elderly loved to say “Hello” to us. Not just say Hello, but shout it out across the street or up the block or from a passing moto. We were Rock Stars for much of the trip. We must have delivered 200 Hello’s in one day. It was funny how it would even cheer us up or give us renewed energy. There were days that we would be dog tired from walking all day and dodging moving vehicles, horns honking and unknown substances on the ground. But then a child would deliver a cheerful Hello waving with the biggest smile on their faces. Seeing that and knowing we were a part of it made everything better. We would smile and wave back with the most energetic Hello ever. None of the Hello’s ever changed. Both coming and going, they were in high spirits.

We have a few encounters with animals to share. The first was in Ho Chi Mihn City. While waiting for our bus, we stopped for supper. While eating our meal, I saw a rat the size of a small cat run across the ground almost running over my toes. I let out a little squeal and quickly raised my feet. I was so stunned I could barely tell Jimi what had happened. When I was finally able to get it out he grinned in disbelief. The rat would occasionally poke its head out looking for a clear opportunity to eat some spilt rice on the ground. My eyes were glued looking for the rat and of course for about 10 minutes Jimi thought I was crazy because he hadn’t seen it. He finally saw it and laughed. We finished our food, paid and left. This was the only rodent we saw throughout the entire two weeks. In Hoi An we got up at 4:30 am one morning to catch a 5am tour bus to My Son (pronounced Me Son). As Jimi moved something from a pile of our belongings on the floor and cockroach the size of a mouse fled. Jimi spent the next 10 minutes trying to herd the insect out of our room. Unfortunately for the fella, as Jimi tried to swoop him towards the stairs, he missed the stairs and fell about three flights below. The entire 10 minutes was quite comical. At one point we almost brought a calf home with us….yes, I said a calf. On the way home from climbing the hills to visit the indigenous tribes of the Bana people, Jimi stopped to take some pictures of a couple of ladies husking rice. I walked over to a barbed wire fence and began petting a calf. The calf LOVED me. She licked my entire right arm and then started on my left leg. When it was time to leave, I stood up gave her one final pat on the head and began walking away. Looking behind me, Jimi and I realized that the calf had walked through the barbed wire fence and was following me. The people were laughing. We turned the calf around and tried pushing her back in to the fenced area, but it was no use. We even smacked her on the butt, but she was not going. She wanted to come with us. I was finally able to divert her attention on to some nice grass and that’s when we made our get away. During our stay on the Bai Bau Beach we befriended a German Sheppard puppy. He became our companion playing with us, following us around, and laying at our feet while we are either eating or just sitting. We had fun with him.

I know this mail is long. I tried to sum up the best parts the best I could. We have so many stories and wonderful experiences from our trip. And despite all the negative talk of the yelling, horns honking, traffic, bus rides, rats, and etc., we would do it again in a heartbeat. Vietnam is a wonderful place from the land to the people.

We have attached a couple of pictures. I will get the scrapbook together and uploaded to our blog site as soon as I can. More than likely, it will be after this semester is over.

Love Everybody,
Lorie & Jimi

No comments:

Post a Comment