If there is one country in southeast Asia that everyone has heard about long before they discover the region, its Vietnam. However such Infamy has not always been for the right reasons; but this is a new Vietnam, one that has arose from a century of titanic struggles, imperialism and war and into one of the most intoxicating places on earth. Its a kaleidoscope of vivid colours and subtle shades, of exotic sights and curious sounds, of compelling history and very contrasting cultures and climates. This is a stunning place, emerald green rice paddies and soaring mountains similar to Laos, but unlike Laos, Vietnam has a curvaceous coastline, filled with beautiful beaches, lagoons and hidden coves that brings divers, surfers and sun ware-shippers here in there droves. The sorrow of war weighs heavy on the people who remember it and its story is told at significant and poignant sites across the country and with powerful impact. Its important to understand that the history of Vietnam did not begin or end with the American war and that the country is littered with battles, empires and conquers that has shaped the people of Vietnam. They are fiercely independent, hard working and protective but they are also happy, humorous and positive people who welcome you in to their country as long as you are not a would be conqueror. I will be spending 4 weeks in Vietnam traveling north to south starting in the capital Hanoi visiting Halong Bay, before heading south to Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne and finishing in Saigon the old capital in the south that most people refer to as Ho Chi Minh City.
We arrived late in the night of 27th September after a 30 hour long drive and so stayed in the first place we found, unknown to us we had found a communist government building; I was wondering why so many military men were walking around the place. We promptly moved to the Backpackers Hostel up the road and stayed there for almost a week. We had planned to visit Halong Bay but due to two Typhoons hitting the North East coast we had to delay the trip and stay in Hanoi until the weather improved. What can you say about Hanoi? Hanoi, situated in the north is the grand old power of the orient that has an at atmosphere you can cut in half; bustle, heat, food, exotic smells, energy, noise, moped capitol, life and at such a pace that if you don't keep up with it, it will suck you in to its 1000 year old cauldron of history and spit you back out before you can say, 'Xin Chao'.
|Hanoi in all its glory|
Its an experience to feel so muchenergy in one place, perhaps similar to the old market traders in Liverpool years ago. You can feel the pulse of this resurgent city. I enjoyed this energy, it had more purpose, more defiance; there is method in the madness here as opposed to madness is in the method and most days we would just walk among the city streets and soak it up.
The Vietnamese eat anything that moves; cats, dogs, snails, carp, pigeons, rats, brains....I mean anything. One day as I was walking around the streets I witnessed a women outside here shop cutting the heads off her pigeons. I was glued to it. I just watched as she pulled a fresh one out, pulled the knife out, and cut the heads clean off, BING BANG BOSH!!! into the bucket, simple as that. I then turned into a row traders you were pulling live fish out of their tanks, butchering them on the floor and I remember feeling quite sorry for the six dogs strapped to a moped, caged up going to the slaughter house. But this is their culture and its not always for the faint hearted, but the food over here is very good, mostly consisting off rice, noodles and soups called 'pho', served on the street on child like table and chairs. Its good to sit down, have some street food and watch the city move over a beer. Beer is cheaper than water, costing about 30p a bottle. Great stuff!!!
The Army Museum was very interesting, thanks to its large collection of weaponry that surrounds it; Soviet and Chinese equipment, alongside French and US made weapons captured during the years of warfare. At the front of the museum sits a T35 Russian tank, perhaps one of the greatest tanks every made. The centerpiece is the MiG-21 jet fighter that looks amazing but was no match for the US F4 Phantoms that controlled the sky's during the Vietnam war and shot many hundreds of MiG-21s down. For me the best part of the museum collection was the captured US helicopter, and F-111 plane that sit stoically next a variety of different ordnance (bombs) including the infamous cluster bombs and napalm bombs. There is also an amazing artistic sculpture made from the remains of the great killing machine, the B-52 bombers that were shot down over Hanoi. Next to the army museum is the hexagonal flag tower, one of the symbols of Hanoi that was originally built by the French in the 19th century and has had the North Vietnamese flag flying since 1954.
|The mighty T-54 Russian tank that stromed the presidential palace On 30 April 1975 signalling the end of the Vietnam war.|
|Sculpture made from parts of US planes shot down over Hanoi|
The weather finally improved and on the 2nd of October and we went on a cruise around Halong Bay, the majestic and mysterious wonder of Vietnam. Halong Bay consists of 1,959 Islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and some of the scenery is simply breathtaking. When we were there they were applying for the status as one of the wonders of the world. We sailed around the Bay stopping off at different locations to Kayak, visit limestone caves, watch fishing villages go about their business and best off all to dive off the boat. On the second day we went trekking up to the highest point on Cat Ba Island, climbing up a very dodgy watch tower that is so rusty and broken it wobbles uncontrollably (like I was) when your at the top, but what a view. To finish the cruise we visited Monkey Island, which as you've guessed is full of monkeys. But don’t be mistaken into thinking these are lovely cute monkeys you just want to pick up and cuddle, these monkeys are evil, often drunk little baddies who want to attack you. A Russian couple got lulled into this false sense of security and ventured a little to close to the monkeys; she ended up with two monkeys hanging onto her hair, and one nearly biting her finger off, as another monkey attacked her husband, before the monkey ran off with the mans shorts over his head. What a scene, It was very funny though. Ha Ha Ha.
|Lime Stone Cliffs|
|Cat Ba Island home of the evil monkey|
|Me and Laura nervously getting picture took before the watch tower falls down|
|What a View from the top of the watch tower on Cat Ba Ilsand|