Fun with friends in Vietnam…

From Phnom Penh we took a bus to Ho Chi Minh City in the South of Vietnam and there we met up with our friends Phil and Louise who had travelled from New York and Drew who had travelled from New Zealand. Coming from Cambodia, Vietnam seemed relatively developed and Ho Chi Minh City was bustling and modern. The density of motorbikes was so great that at times you couldn’t see any tarmac and crossing the road required both skill and balls of steel! The only way to get across, was to walk straight out into the deluge of motorbikes and slowly but confidently keep walking (using other people as human shields whenever possible) and then finally breathe a deep sigh of relief if you managed to make it to the other side!

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Whilst we were there, we spent some time exploring the city, including the colourful flower markets selling blossom trees and decorations for the upcoming Tet celebrations (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) and visiting the War Remnants Museum. The museum was previously called the ‘Museum of American Atrocities’ and whilst the narrative is fairly bias, it did highlight some fairly sobering tactics used by the USA in the Vietnam War. The use of the chemical ‘Agent Orange’ to clear vegetation during the war, was particularly disturbing, as this led to the next generation suffering from birth defects and deformities.

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Whilst we were in Ho Chi Minh City we celebrated Drew’s birthday. We had a fun night out with a few beverages to celebrate. Our night out was so good in fact, that only 60% of us made it to the Cu Chi Tunnels the next day! The tunnels were fascinating and we were shown around by an ex officer from the Southern Vietnamese Army, who had fought against the Viet Cong at Cu Chi. We got to go inside the tiny tunnels through small trapdoors and secret entrances as well as seeing the brutal traps used by the Viet Cong. Their tactics were very clever to ensure the tunnel entrances were kept secret. They even had sandals that had soles which produced backwards footprints, so that anyone trying to track them would go the wrong way!

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From Ho Chi Minh City, we took our first sleeper bus (albeit in the daytime so we didn’t sleep) to Mui Ne, where we spent a few days by the beach. The area is one of the top kite surfing spots in Vietnam and we spent some time at the beach watching the kite surfers and swimming in the sea. One thing we hadn’t expected to find in Vietnam was a miniature desert, but Mui Ne has its very own set of impressive and vast sand dunes. We went to visit the White Sand Dunes where we went for a very hot walk through the colossal dunes. After that we visited the Red Sand Dunes where we did some ‘sand sledging’ (attempting to slide down the sand dunes whilst sitting on a thin sheet of plastic!)

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From Mui Ne, we took an overnight sleeper train to our next destination, Hoi An. There were 5 of us in the cabin, plus one other Vietnamese passenger and it was a cosy trip, with triple bunk beds on each side. That night was Tet and at midnight we were woken up with a loud burst of Abba’s ‘Happy New Year’ blaring through the Tannoy system. The guards then switched on all of the lights and handed us all presents to open. As we arrived at our station at 3am, the fireworks were still lighting up the sky and luckily our hotel had a free room for us where we were able to have an extra few hours sleep.

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Hoi An is a touristy but historic town, with interesting architecture and a relaxed riverside setting. We were there for a couple of days, visiting a few of the historic buildings, cycling to the beach and our friends got some clothes made at the local tailors. The highlight of our trip to Hoi An was doing an excellent Vietnamese cooking class. The session included a trip to a local market to buy ingredients and we then made a number of dishes including Fresh Spring Rolls with Chilli Dipping Sauce and a traditional Vietnamese Pho (noodle soup). Our teacher was hilarious and got us to sing songs whilst we were cooking. She also gave everyone nicknames based on the ingredients they were in charge of adding to the dishes. Phil was in charge of the sugar, so was known as ‘Sugar Daddy’ and luckily another girl in our group got the pleasure of being called both ‘Oily Girl’ and ‘Fishy Girl!’ Alex was very happy with the nickname he got, which was “appropriately” (according to Alex!) ‘Good Looking Boy.’ We also had a lovely meal out one evening courtesy of Phil and Drew’s parents Roger and Anna (Thank you very much for treating us! There is a picture of us at the restaurant below…)

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From Hoi An we took another sleeper train to Hanoi. This journey wasn’t quite so pleasant as the previous train, as it was a grotty old train which was pretty dirty, extremely busy (with lots of people sleeping on the floor in the corridors) and it only had squat toilets. When we got on, we found that our sheets had already been slept in, people were smoking in the cabin and later Kate woke up in the middle of the night to see a random nun sat on the end of Phil’s bed! We made the best if it though and played lots of games to cheer ourselves up. 17 hours later, we were very glad to reach Hanoi. After a tasty dinner in Hanoi, we were sad to say goodbye to Louise and Phil, who had to fly home, but the next day we were off on our next adventure, to Halong Bay…

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