Matthew's News and Gossip

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Dalat via Nha Trang via Hoi An via Hue to Dong Hoi -- I've spent most of this month thinking of the Eddie Murphy skit at the start of Trading Places, when he's pretending to be a blind, crippled Vietnam Vet, and two cops ask him where he was stationed. He says (something like!) "Dan Ang, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Du Nang, Ru Tang, yeah man I was at all of them places...", then the cops kick of his blind man's specs, and he says "It's a miracle! I can see!" Then they lift him up, and he goes "It's a miracle! I can walk!" Anyway, I've been to all of those places now, and it's a miracle that I can still see and walk, after 2 days of non stop scootering! Today has been my most remote day in Vietnam. I haven't seen a single white (or black) person or met anyone who can speak something that even passes for English (One guy at the hotel can speak some French).

So when you left me last I was abseiling down a waterfall in Dalat (top right of this map), in fact a bunch of them, on a very fun tour led by Mr Thiep from Hardy Dalat adventures. On the tour with me --and loving it! -- were Heidi from Canada (the buddy of Vicky of previous Matthew blog fame); a random American called Ben who was a rock climbing instructor; the bald, young, and disgusting -- but funny -- geordie (that means he's from Newcastle if you're a Yank)- Chris (in this photo with Heidi); and the glamourous but deadly former Israeli army officer Roni. Dutchman Arnie came along too but had a rather rough time! I loved it -- especially the abseil straight down the waterfall....I think I may have found my calling (althought at that waterfall my battery died so the photos in the waterfall are of Chris not of me!)!

After a quiet night out at the Saigon bar, I spent the next day trying to get my fake walkman fixed (the solution is apparently to buy a new set of batteries for EVERY CD I play!), and then wondered around Dalat being guided by Kim around the rather fun "Crazy House" owned by Ho's sidekick's daughter (hence the ability to get around planning regulations), meeting the rather sensible "crazy monk" and seeing the incredibly dull and ugly summer villa of the last emperor Bo Dai. Not surpisingly the Emperor took all the millions the French gave him as a bribe to be their puppet and left at Ho Chi Minh's "request" in 1945 for the life of a playboy in Monaco, where he happily spent the next 40 years gambling and whoring!

All the Dalat photos (including the abseiling) are here

Everyone else had pissed off to Nha Trang the day before, and leaving Dalat wasn't a bad idea, but Nha Trang is a hell hole. It's supposed to be the St Tropez of Vietnam, but it's more like Clacton-on-Sea designed by Soviet "architects". The only thing to do was to get drunk, and by the time I arrived everyone else had and appeared to stay that way. I would have joined them more but I was engaged in babysitting duties for the first night (i.e I was talking to a really drunk Engish girl when she passed the point of no return, and rather than leave her to die as I should have done, I decided to take her to the only place I knew -- my hotel -- and let her decorate most of it with her insides before she eventually woke up saying "where am I? Who are you? Who am I?"). The second day I went to a very dissapointing Cham tower and an even more dissapointing mud bath --cold, thin, and not muddy. I reccomend you go to Golden Haven in the Napa valley instead. It costs $100 more, but you get what you pay for! Here are the rest from Nha Trang

Up the coast on the night train, populated by some wierd Dutch air stewardesses and Lisa a Canadian who leads tours for Tucan Travel in Central America. The sleeper is fine other than the conductor waking you up at 6am and then blaring awful Vietnamese disco-bop on the PA until told to cease and desist by a very angry Englishman (Yes, it was me!). After a little haggling about 7 of us got a bus from Da Nang to Hoi An.

Hoi An is a very touristy original Vietnamese city that the Viet Minh, Viet Cong, French AND Americans neglected to blow off the map, unlike the rest of central Vietnam. With luck like that, what would you do? You too would become a tailor. There are 300 tailors shops in Hoi An. 100 great resturants and on sunny days a beautiful beach 2 Kms away. I made friends with lots of tailors, conincidentally mostly gorgeous young women. Some things, fitted some didn't, but at $25 for a suit and $6 for a handmade fitted shirt, who's complaining! I'll soon be going into business importing wholesale from the place (and if I won't Stephanie Wong will!). I'm particularly keen to become the American agent of Jade, who was as tough a cookie as I met; her mother and sisters (Jade is in the orange scarf) all looked lovely in their scarves -- let me know if you like them!. There were scads of tourists I knew and some new faces. Here's a gaggle of girls (Lisa, Lynn, Heidi, Jo, Heidi, & Vicki) getting a massage after dinner from the lovely Yan. Somehow after going to dinner with 7 women, I ended up drinking with 4 men.......

Full Hoi An set is here

Eventually I stripped myself away from Hoi An and went up the coast past Da Nang to Hue. And what a coast, this one rivals the Big Sur coast-line in California, and staggeringly hasn't become a major tourist resort....yet. But with beaches like this it will soon. 3 hours later we were in Hue, ancient capital of Vietnam. After a night at the aptly named DMZ Bar, I knocked around the market, full of very tired Vietnamese sales girls, and went to the Citadel with 2 old (i.e. nearly my age) Canadian women called Brenda (on right) and Mary Lou. The Citadel was mostly blown up in the 1968 Tet offensive during which the VietCong held Hue for several days and killed 3,000 US sympathisers, before the Americans took it back street by street. The Citadel has a few minorly impressive buildings that have been restored, such as the Main Palace, some Imperial gowns, and the To Tem Temple. We spent ages dawdling here, and longer having lunch at the deaf mute Mr Than's well-promoted resturant. However, at 4.15pm we decided to rush off to see Minh Mang's Tomb 12 Kms away. After a wild fast moto ride, followed by a confusing 1 minute cross-river ferry that cost as much as the 2 hour moto ride each(!), we eventually got there to discover that it had closed early (according to the Lonely Planet)! After lots of shouting and trying to breach the walls, we never made it inside! But it looked nice from the outside, despite the corrugated-iron shed effect!

The full coast road set is here
The full Hue set is here

In order to get away from me, Brenda and Maureen decided to go to Laos. Inn order to get away from the ubiquitous tourist mini-bus tours of the DMZ, I decided to take a brief train ride north to Dong Ha. After much haggling I procured a motorbike and rode up the nice coast line to the Vin Mhoc tunnels. In these tunnels (right next to the beach) the villagers of Vin Mhoc lived for 4 years, saw movies, had 17 babies (between them, not each!) in this maternity "ward" and avoided the awful fate of their village. Here's the full set including the nice coast road there.

Taking a moto is much nicer than being on the bus, so I decided to do it again the next day. This time I took a train to Dong Hoi,where they have never seen a tourist and have only Soviet-style hotels--which at $15 a night are $8 MORE than anywhere else I've stayed and architecturally compare unfavorably to a 1960s Skermasdale leisure centre. The place is dire! The next day I hired an extremely crappy fake Honda belonging to the crappy hotel, and rode up 40kms to the Phong Nha caverns, stopping for lunch with some very drunk Vietnamese (who claimed that they were going back to work later!). $6 procured what turned out to be a private tour of the cave on a large boat rowed by a husband and wife team. Pretty impressive cave, though Carlsbad Caverns it's not. Still a great day outinto the heart of rural rice fields ,wierd mountains and pig transportation. More to come when I get to the north..... on the night train tonight, I hope!

Dong Hoi and Pha Na Caverns are here
posted by matthew  # 2:32 AM
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