07.01.2009 - 12.01.2009
Good morning Vietnam!
Saying goodbye to Singapore was hard, but we were much excited to begin our Vietnamese Odyssey. After a painless last Tiger flight, we touched down in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon depending on your interpretation of history...
First impressions - this place is insane! From the air it looks very sprawling and not-so-organised, and on the ground it is even more chaotic. We got a taxi and entered the chaos - scooters everywhere (as in 10 across and 30 deep), going in any direction, no real lanes, traffic lights or road rules. The only rule seems to be honk your horn before you do anything. Amazing that anyone can survive on the roads, but apparently they know what they are doing, as we haven't seen a bad accident yet. However, any trip on the roads is always interesting, and crossing the road is a thrilling adventure - you just basically walk out slowly and hope for the best as scooters and cars dodge around you. Awesome!
We just stopped in Saigon for one night, on route to Phu Quoc island. Stayed in a nice little hotel in the Pham Ngu Lao 'backpacker' area - where all the budget whities stay. Really fun area with cheap bars and food. There are tons of people on the street all the time - some sleeping on the seat of their scooters, some just hanging out, and a lot of people trying to sell you anything you may want. This was our first introduction to the Vietnamese hard sell - in any market and on most streets you are constantly, well, harassed by touts and sellers, and no definitely does not mean no, it just means try harder...It becomes a bit of a game after a while, and we are used to walking around to soundtrack of 'you want motorbike (taxi)', 'you want t-shirt', 'you want sunglasses' etc etc.
That first night in Saigon we just wandered around sucking up the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells, and also ran into 2 of Nicola's friends from ANU, pretty random, but had a good dinner with them. Also, we made the most exciting discovery EVER. Bia Hoi! basically these are little bars/cafes that have a fresh, homebrew type beer for sale, that they distribute out of a porcelain keg. You take a seat and the beer flows, with a little piece of paper on your table for marking off how many you have had. Awesome beer, and lots of characters around - and each beer is 5000d, which is about 40 cents. Woo!
Oh and that night we became instant millionaires after we withdrew a cool 2 million dong each. oh yeah.
Next day we flew to Phu Quoc, an island off the south of Vietnam, which is actually closer to Cambodia. This place was amazing. About 80,000 people are on the island, living a simple fishing village lifestyle, supplemented by tourism. One stretch of a spectacular tropical beach has been developed with about 20 or 30 resorts, some simple small bungalow places, and some massive 5 star type places. We scored a bungalow right on the beachfront for $40 a night.
We lived the island life for 4 nights, indulging in drinking and eating right on the beach, lazing around, swimming, exploring the towns and markets (the markets here are so great, always busy and filled with so much delicious food and cool clothes etc).
Phu Quoc is known for its amazing sunsets, and it didn't disappoint - the colours that appear at dusk are incredible, as the photos show. We hired a scooter on one day to explore the rest of the island - the roads were really rough and a little scary (Nicola wasn't having the best time on the back), but it was a fun adventure. we managed to get lost and ended up in someone's dirt driveway - a couple of lady's ran out and then one jumped on her scooter and took us on this winding, narrow sandy scooter adventure through the jungle, back to the main road. Love it! The scooters skills these people possess are awesome, they can take them anywhere, loaded with anything - we have seen a family of 4 on one scooter, and people carrying more on the back of a scooter than you could fit into a car boot.
We finished off our time on Phu Quoc with a boat trip out to some surrounding smaller islands, snorkelling and swimming. Was a bit rough, but a fun day - good coral snorkelling and really cool floating fishing villages. Also found a great night market, where we found an Au Lac, selling delicious vegetarian (chay) food. Best fake meat ever!
Sad to leave Phu Quoc, so peaceful and relaxing. But, it is on with our Vietnam adventure, back to Saigon and back to the craziness! So far Vietnam is everything we had hopes for and more - a really incredible place with incredible sights, smells, tastes and sounds, and the friendliest people going around.