Thoughts of a Flowertot…Vietnam (with Compact Camera Snaps)

(Part of a series of articles by Fi trawling the archives for photos taken on the tiny compact camera way back when).


Time to digress again to catch up with our compact camera photos and we’re back to Vietnam, in January,  some 10 months ago! We had a somewhat whistle-stop trip through Vietnam, skirting down the coast in roughly 3 weeks. Our first stop was Hanoi, a compact city with an old heart.  The hustle and bustle was exciting and somewhat different to that of the Chinese cities. Overnight we had become millionaires, Vietnamese dong being 33,000 to 1GBP,  yet we were sat roadside on childsize plastic chairs slurping bowls of pho surrounded by chickens, dogs and motorbike exhaust fumes. Hanoi has a wonderful busy atmosphere and despite now being littered with western bars and cafes its managed to retain its old world charm. Embarrasingly enough on our part, aside from the yummy pho & com ga, our favourite culinary treat was the excellent chippie we found in an unassuming side street. Real baked beans, Heinz Ketchup & a steaming hot cuppa. We could have almost been at home.

Hanoi also served well as a jump off point for Halong Bay where we joined a 3 day cruise on a Junk Boat. Googling the fatality rate of such cruises is never a good idea prior to a trip but makes interesting reading afterwards – that is all I will say but thankfully we had an excellent  experience. The boat we chose had come on recommendation of our friends Rob & Gilly and proved to be provide a perfect base for relaxing and meeting a fantastic group of Dutch, Brit & Aussie shipmates as we cruised through the Karst formations. Our kayaking trip through the Karsts proved interesting when we realised that the verbal directions given by the crew were a little vague – ‘head between the two Karsts on your way back’ – we turned to realise there were many, and they all looked the same. Eventually we made it back to the boat, skimming the edge of a shipping lane but we were alive and ready for dinner. A delicious but bizarrely presented meal including such delights as some ‘I love you’ chips and a rice turtle with sword. Click the picture for our Hanoi & Halong Bay compact gallery and one final note – check out that beard!

From Hanoi we took the overnight train to the similarly named Hoi An. Hoi An is wonderful. A French colonial town with a squillion tailors, 9p beers, a ton of fantastic restaurants and ‘Cargo’ the yummiest patisserie. Everyone is happy in this town due to the fact that they are having clothes made ridiculously cheaply, drinking cheap beer, eating cheap gourmet meals and gorging on cake. A week of suit fittings, cakes & SUNSHINE? Hoi An was heavenly.

I  actually found the choice of clothing options somewhat overwhelming and ended up with ‘just’ a jacket, 3 dresses and 2 skirts, sadly the majority of which were nicked in New Zealand, however I will be back to Hoi An one day with a gigantic scrapbook of clothing ideas for a full wardrobe.  To show someone a picture of a jacket, be measured up and then be standing in your tailor-made version 2 days later is just awesome.

Paul had opted for a full work suit & shirt to be made. After his first fitting he decided that he looked like a hobo – seemingly he had only just noticed the gargantuan mound of hair spurting from every angle of his head – the search for a barber was on. Using a poster of a close shaven Beckham for reference I watched our trusty 70’s style barber rescue Paul’s head from within the bushy undergrowth. I continued to watch, slightly unnerved as he covered Paul’s face with a flannel and whipped out a large vibrating receptacle. Phew, it’s for his face. Hmm is that safe? As all supportive girlfriends should I just sat back and watched – he seemed OK – and within a few minutes we were back on the street in the search of cake!

We had accidentally timed our visit during the lead up to Tet, Vietnamese new year. It was lovely to experience the excited hustle and bustle with flower vendors lining every road side & shops preparing to close up for the celebrations. It was also wonderful to wander the quieter back streets and catch a glimpse of everyday life; wonderful colours, rickety houses , families washing up on the street, kids playing football – running up excitedly saying hello in English & hi-five’ing us, beautiful smiley people and the puppies! So many of them everywhere, I was so excited until Paul asked me why I thought we never see dogs, only puppies… Nobody eats puppies really, do they?

I would like to think that I didn’t eat any puppy meat during our time in Hoi An as we ate some beautiful meals including the most flavoursome vindaloo ever, but the most memorable meal would be that shared with our train-mate Sam at ‘Bale Well’. The motherly – and slightly mental – host taught us how to roll our rice paper rolls stuffed with spring rolls, meat, veg & sauce. She also showed us how to eat them & how to clean our faces afterwards. It will be a memorable meal for many reasons but it was also scrummy!

After an overnight transfer from hell on the ‘sleeper’ bus which resembled 3 rows of bunk style coffin shaped ‘beds’ which enclosed your legs from the knee. Not built for anyone over 5 feet in height and certainly not comfortable when accompanied by a driver who likes to smoke, spit, honk his horn and break harshly for the full 12 hour journey.  After a further 6 hours journey, crammed into a minibus weaving its way along sheer mountain faces in a cloud of mist, we arrived in Dalat and promptly arranged a motorbike tour through no doubt further twisty mountainous roads! The tour was brilliant. Riding pillion on a motorbike through the Vietnamese scenery gave us a totally different view of the country. For more info on the day see Pauls earlier blog entry here the day was topped off when we met a fantastic bunch of people while having a cheeky beverage – Melbournite Jo- Jo who we had bumped into a few times on our bike tour and Katie, Anthony, Bex & Dizzy all Brits who we bizzarely ended up meeting up in Melbourne some 4 months later.  One drink turned into many and thus followed a night of pizza, beer & killer pool until 3am, just enough time for a powernap before our 6am bus to HCMC!

Our next stop was Ho Chi Minh City, better known as Saigon.  With Tet fast approaching our visit had to be a quick one as the city would soon shut down for days and we wanted to make it to Cambodia in time to cross paths with Rob & Gilly. We managed to fit in a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, an amazing network of underground tunnels that lead throughout the city and connected across much of the country, used to resist the US forces during the Vietnam war.

After watching a heavy bit of propaganda on video we were led past booby traps, secret trap doors and then into the tunnels. Despite them having been widened for the western frame they were still pretty tight, hot & low, resembling a crawl space.  Perhaps in bad taste there was also the opportunity to shoot some shit before we moved onto the more sombre War Museum.