Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vietnam – Vietnam – Tuesday 29th December 2009 – Saturday 9th January 2010 - mardi 29 décembre 2009 – samedi 9 janvier 2010

Hoi An – 29th December 2009 – 2nd January 2010

After about 4 hours in a weird but comfy half-sleeper bus, we arrive (Laurent, Nico and Renu) in Hoi An from Hue.    Hoi An is a little town on the east coast, at the mouth of a river.  Due to its positioning, It was once (a few centuries back) an important capital for trade with China and many other places in the world.  Upon arrival, we’re not that impressed, however, after a short rest at the hotel and some photo shots of the boys in sexy dressing gowns (!) we go out to discover the town, and very quickly change our minds.  Thanks to some local government intervention, the old buildings have been well preserved, and the streets have a wonderful laid-back feeling to them.  We arrive on a very special night, full moon party, where all street lighting has been cut and replaced by candles and lanterns in the streets and floating in the river.  We have a yummy dinner by the riverside, take a walk around before going back to collapse in our beds.

The next day we borrow some bikes from the hotel and take off to the beach.  % km later, following the river edge, under the scorching sun, we’re stopped by some guard on the road that wants us to pay to leave our bikes there, as he claimed we’re not allowed to take them further (even though all the locals we’re clearly allowed).  No chance.  We carry on another kilometre down a back road, and cross over to the beach, finding a perfect spot behind some fisherman’s huts.   We stay there for the morning, reflecting on how strange it is to be on a beach between Christmas day and New Year.  Laurent and Nico lend a hand to the fishermen to pull out their strange floating device for catching fish, while Renu takes a long walk along the beach.  On the way back we stop and have a drink on the pretty terrace of one of the little cafes on the riverside. 

After a little nap, we’re back in town we see a little bit more by bike.  It’s just before sunset as we’re riding around, and tonight we really get a feel for the Asian continent ... with the dogs and chickens getting in your way, all over the road, Buddhist chanting in the background as you see an charming old woman emerging from the cloud of dust in front of you.  Her wrinkles are well engrained into her leathery skin; she smiles at you as she walks by revealing nothing but one rotten tooth.  The sun is glistening off the river, and the wind in your face as you peddle harder reminds you exactly what t was you went away for.  That evening we wonder around town checking out the pretty little lamp boutiques.

Thursday 31st December, it’s an early morning for us, we’re up at 5.30am to visit the ancient temples at My Son.  The beautiful Buddhist and Hindu representations are gorgeous to admire in the early morning sunlight with few tourist around.  Back in time for a well deserved nap before lunch at Cafe 43; probably the best eatery in Hoi An.  We take a little walk, on the way Laurent and Nico get kidnapped by some local kids to play a kind of football ... tiny disks with a big feather attached to it, that is kicked around with the aim of keeping it constantly in the air.  We eventually find ourselves walking through rice fields as we watch the sun go down for the last time in 2009.  Back at the hotel, we make ourselves ‘pretty’ for the night ahead, but before hitting the first bar, Renu goes go get measured for some traditional clothes, that turn out to be very nice.  So New Year’s eve is here, we make the most of happy hour with a practically open bar of bacardi-cokes and vodka-tonics while playing pool.  We have a quick bite to eat before finishing off the night on the terrace of a little wine bar that caught our eye the day before. 
3, 2, 1 ... Goodbye 2009, Welcome 2010, best wishes to all!!!

It’s a fairly quite celebration and we’re not in bed to late, but nevertheless Renu is not on top form the next morning, so decides to have an ultra long lay-in, while Nico and Laurent go back t  o the beach.  Probably a first in their lives that they find themselves on a beach on the 1st of January, without a hangover!

Once back from the beach, Renu is up and we make our way back to Cafe 43 for a late lunch / cooking lesson.  We learn to make spring rolls, fried stuffed squid, and fish cooked in banana leaves.  Quite delicious, and if you are really nice, we may make it for you on our return! J

See here for the photos.

Ho Chi Minh City – 2nd – 4th January 2010

Saturday 2nd January, in taxi to Danang airport, where we board our plane for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  The childish nasty side come out of Renu and Laurent as the take the piss out of Nico for being scared for the hour and half journey ;-).  When we land, it’s a feeling of Déjà vu, though the city is a lot more modern compared to Hanoi, it is still the abomination of traffic, noise and pollution.  We dump our bags and straight out again to discover.  It’s hot, humid and stuffy … we walk through a market and stop at a real ‘locals’ place for lunch, where they specialise in crab dishes. 

It’s too hot, we decide to spend the rest of the afternoon in our air-conditioned room until it cools down a bit.  We head out again and take a walk around a park where we have a fresh sugar cane juice and snack on green mangoes mixed with chilli and salt ... a common snack in Mauritius, but proves to be far to bitter for Lola’s pallet ... that is less impressed with the taste.  We decide to treat ourselves to a massage done by blind people.  Interesting concept and reports are all great except for Renu, who receives her second useless massage in Vietnam. 

The next day, we try hard to work out the bus system, but fail miserably.  Instead we head to the War museum, where we learn a little more about the American’s war with Vietnam.  For any human being with half a heart, it’s a tough visit.  Interesting to learn a little more on such a major part 20th Century history, but heart-breaking to learn what evil humans are capable of. 

That evening, we take a walk around the local fun fair, and finish the evening playing pool at a little bar right near the hotel.

See the photos here.

Ben Tre – 4th – 5th January 2010

We take a taxi to the bus station, as we are determined to try to organise out travel alone, instead of going through an agency.  On arrival, there is not one tourist in site amongst the hustle and bustle of the bus station ... there are people everywhere, some shouting, others arguing ... utter chaos.  We are greeted at the taxi by a guard at the bus station, that starts to shout at the taxi driver, we guessed it was because he’d bought tourists here, instead of taking us to an agency where they could have made more money out of us ... of course this is pure paranoia speculation ... he was shouting in and treat ourselves to a massage done by blind people Vietnamese so we had no clue what he was saying really!

We eventually get into a mini-bus that takes us for two hours to Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta region.  We try to get a room in the least dodge of all dodgy hotels by the lake ... of course once we’re in the room, it seems that we failed miserably.  It was like a grim hotel room you see in a horror movie!  We take a walk around town, unfortunately, there is nothing to report on Ben Tre, it is pretty boring, other than that we had some great food at the street stalls.

Can Tho – 5th – 6th January

We leave early for Can Tho, another town in the Delta Mekong, famous for its floating markets.  On the bus, Nico and Lolo make friends with an old Vietnamese dude that was born in France and so speaks good French ... he uses his language abilities to continually ask us for money.  Other than that, he was a nice guy. 

Upon arrival, it takes us a while to find a hotel that is within budget and not to dirty.  We quickly notice a an old woman behind us, that does not seems to be all with it, that will follow us around that day for 7 hours in an attempt to sell us a boat tour to see the market.  Yes, that’s right, 7 hours.  We take a nap in the hotel, come down and she’s there waiting for us.  We have lunch and she waits outside for us.  She unsubtly sneaks around 20m behind us, hiding behind a tree or pretending to be on the phone every time we turn around.  Nutcase.  She gives up only once she sees that we purchase our tour somewhere else. 

We decide that Can Tho is pretty cool, though very touristy.  We’re also disappointed with most of the restaurants we eat at.  Hardly worth staying around really.

The next day, we’re up at 4.30am, and on a beautiful little boat at 5.30am to visit the floating market.  It’s quiet and peaceful at this time, with no other tourists.  We see the sun rise and the market setting up.  A very enjoyable morning. 

A burger for breakfast, a little nap and then back on a very hot and sweaty minibus to Chau Doc (not far from the Cambodian border), with a driver that thinks he races in F1.  This is not before being harassed at the bus station by every vendor trying to sell us the ticket.

Chau Doc – 6th – 9th January 2010

We get very hot and sweaty and we walk for what seemed like forever on a search for a decent hotel.  Our time at Chau Doc is of little interest.  We take a bike ride around the unimpressive Mount Sam under the scorching sun, narrowly avoiding bout of sun stroke.  
The evenings are spent at a little bar close to the hotel, with Samuel, a lovely American guys we met at the restaurant on the first day. 

On the 9th, Nico and Renu leave early that morning to take a boat to cross the Cambodian border across the Mekong river, to Phnom Penh.  We say a sad goodbye to Lolo … we’re back on our own again after six weeks of travelling with friends.  We’re surprised to see Lolo running after us 5 minutes later, all out of breath … Nico had forgotten his trimmer in the hotel room, and Laurent had run to give it back.  Funny.   Laurent takes a bus later that day back to Saigon, where he spends the night before his plane the next day for Hanoi and then Paris. 

Renu and Nico cross the border around midday, relieved to be leaving Vietnam, and going somewhere new.  It’s been an experience, a superbly beautiful country but unfortunately ruined by mass tourism.  Tourism doesn’t always necessarily ruin a place, it in this case, it does seem to be so.  The scenery and all the images you have of Vietnam in your head are still there, but the country seems to have lost its soul … to the visitors’ eye anyway.  It’s hard to see the beauty when you are constantly hassled for money and pushed into booking through agencies to see things.  It seems that we are fifteen years too late in visiting the country.   Without speaking the language and spending a lot of time there, it will be difficult to discover the real Vietnam. 
Another disappointing side, though this is not particular to Vietnam, more of an issue across all of Asia … we are animal lovers, and some of the things we saw here were hard to stomach.  The worst is that you are powerless, you can just stand, watch and cry as animals are tied up or caged purely for the pleasure of us humans. 
Though, despite the difficult parts, it was still special to be there.  After growing up hearing a lot about this country, reading about the war and seeing films made here, it was incredible to see it with your own eyes. 

It was not a relaxing month in Vietnam to say the least, but we saw some beautiful things, and even more, got to share those moments with friends.  A big kiss to all three of you. 

See here for the photos.

Hoi An – mardi 29 décembre 2009 – samedi 2 janvier 2010.

Après environ 4h dans un bus (assez confortable) depuis Hue, nous arrivons, Laurent, Renu et Nico, a Hoi An. Petite ville en bord de mer a l’embouchure d’un fleuve. Elle avait une importance capitale il y a quelques siècles, de par sa position, pour les échanges avec la Chine et le reste du monde. Le premier feeling que nous avons a l’arrivée n’est pas super mais une fois nos sacs déposés a l’hôtel (et la séance photo en robe de chambre), notre petit tour en centre ville nous fait changer d’avis. Les bâtiments anciens sont très bien conserves grâce à un programme de la ville et les rues sont très agréables, sans trop de circulation. Nous arrivons un soir spécial, fête de la pleine lune, aucun éclairage public n’est allume et l’atmosphère est vraiment géniale avec des bougies et des lampions de toutes parts. Nous mangeons au bord du fleuve et faisons un tour rapide avant de rentrer.
Le lendemain nous prenons les vélos mis a dispo par l’hôtel et filons a la playa. 5km après et sous un soleil de plomb, un gardien veut nous obliger à laisser les vélos dans un parking payant. Pas question. 1km plus loin nous trouvons un bout de plage derrière des huttes de familles de pécheurs et nous installons pour la matinée. C’est la première fois que nous sommes à la plage entre noël et jour de l’an et je crois que nous ne réalisons pas vraiment. Laurent et Nico filent un coup de main à un pécheur pour ramener son étrange embarcation près des huttes et après ca Renu part se promener sur la plage. De retour nous nous arrêtons pour boire un verre à une terrasse au dessus du fleuve et passons le reste de la journée à balader en vélo dans la ville avant de retourner diner au bord du fleuve et de faire un tour des boutiques des lampions.
Jeudi 31, nous ne levons très tôt pour aller voir les temples de My Son. De retour, siesta, dejeuner au Café 43, certainement la meilleure adresse de Hoi An. Petit tour dans les rizières derrière l’hôtel pour voir le dernier coucher de soleil de 2009 puis on se fait belles pour le réveillon. Avant d’entamer l’apéro nous accompagnons Renu chez le tailleur pour prendre ses mesures pour des vêtements sur mesure qui au final seront vraiment très beaux. Donc pour le soir du 31, apéro/billard, et après moult bacardi/coke-vodka/tonic nous décidons de manger quelque chose rapidement avant de se poser en terrasse d’un bar à vin repéré la veille.
3, 2, 1… Bonne année !!! Adieu 2009, meilleurs vœux à tous.
Nous ne coucherons pas aux aurores mais le lendemain Renu à du mal à se lever alors Nicolas et Laurent partent seuls en amoureux à la plage à bicycleeeeetteee. Il fait trop beau, c’est vraiment la première fois que nous sommes debout ci tôt un premier janvier sans gueule de bois a la plage !!!
De retour, Renu est réveillée. En milieu d’après midi, nous prenons un cour de cuisine au Café 43. Au menu, Nems, Poulet cuit dans des feuilles de bananiers et seiche farcie poêlée. Un vrai régal. On garde les recettes mais si vous êtes sages vous pourrez gouter à notre retour.

Ho Chi Minh City – samedi 2 - lundi 4 janvier 2010.

Le samedi 2 janvier, nous prenons un taxi pour l’aéroport de Danang ou nous prendrons l’avion pour Ho Chi Minh. Renu et Laurent se feront un malin plaisir de pousser Nico à bout pendant l’heure et demi d’avion. A l’arrivée, comme un air de déjà vue. Bien que la ville soit bien plus neuve que Hanoi, le trafic y est tout aussi abominable et les rues assommantes de bruit. On pose nos sacs, on part manger et on rentre à l’hôtel siester avant de ressortir pour se faire masser et diner.
Le lendemain, on traine un peu le matin et l’après midi on visite le musée de la guerre duquel on ressortira assez chamboules. Le soir, diner puis quelques parties de billard dans un bar tout proche de l’hôtel.

Ben Tre – lundi 4 - mardi 5 janvier 2010.

De Ho Chi Minh on prend un bus le matin pour Ben Tre dans le delta du Mékong. A l’arrivée nous prenons une chambre dans le plus communiste des hôtels communistes et partons faire un tour dans le village. RAS.

Can Tho – mardi 5 - mercredi 6 janvier 2010.

On repart de Ben Tre en bus le lendemain pour Can Tho, une autre ville du delta réputée pour ses marches flottants. Des notre arrivée nous avons du mal à trouver un hôtel dans notre budget et pas trop sale. Une femme qui n’a pas l’air d’avoir toute sa tête va nous suivre pendant 7h ce jour la pour essayer de nous vendre un tour en bateau.
Le lendemain matin, nous prenons un bateau a 5h30 pour aller visiter un marche flottant puis retour a Can Tho 3h plus tard. Nous prenons un minibus en début d’après midi pour Chau Doc, pas loin de la frontière cambodgienne.

Chau Doc – 6-9 janvier 2010.

Nous arrivons à Chau Doc après 2h de route en minibus avec un chauffeur qui se prend pour un pilote de F1. Nous marchons 2 bons km sous un soleil de plomb avant de trouver un hôtel potable.
Le reste du séjour a Chau Doc n’a rien d’intéressant. Une ballade a vélo rapide dans le centre et au Mont Sam tout proche. Quelques verres le soir dans un café proche de l’hôtel avec Samuel, un américain rencontre dans un resto à Chau Doc.
Le 9, Renu et Nicolas partent tôt le matin prendre un bateau pour traverser la frontière cambodgienne et rejoindre Phnom Penh. Après s’être dit au revoir, nous nous séparons et, surprise, quelques minutes plus tard nous revoyons Laurent tout essoufflé accourir vers nous avec la tondeuse de Nicolas oubliée dans la chambre. On rit. Laurent reprendra un bus plus tard dans la matinée pour Ho Chi Minh ou il passera une nuit avant de prendre un avion pour Hanoi et un autre pour Paris.
Nous traversons la frontière Vietnam/Cambodge vers midi.

Ce séjour d’un mois au Vietnam ne fut pas de tout repos mais nous sommes tellement contents d’avoir revu nos potes. On vous embrasse tous les trois et on vous dit a tres vite.