Carry on Motorbike Cabby
30.10.2009 - 09.11.2009
"Where you go"? "I can help you". "You looking for chip hotel?" "I take you to Boom Boom girls - very good price". "You want Marijuana?"
Whereas before I seemed to be greeted with a mere "Hello taxi". Now every motorbike taxi driver in Vietnam seems to think I am up for prostitution and / or drugs. I have developed a way of curtailing this questioning however. They always ask about my intended destination first. I simply state somewhere very far away. I am now in Hoi An in the middle of the country. So if I say either Hanoi or Saigon which are both at least 500 km away. If I am feeling a little inventive I will say that I am popping in to Holland for some wacky backy on route to a whore house in Texas. What will the fare be?. Or sometimes my retort to "where you go?" is " to a far and distant galaxy many light years from here". "OK $30 - very chip price"
After 4 days of walking around the mountains of Sapa - relaxing on a boat was surely the tonic. I took another organised trip to Halong bay. This is the Vietnam that I have dreamed of and it certainly lived up to its expectations. This is about 150 kilometers East of Hanoi on the Gulf of Talking. Natures works of art: mighty harst island formations seem to rise impossibly out of the sea. An awesome sight to behold. As well as the hundreds of traditional 'junk' style cruise boats, fishing boats weave around these islands, stopping off in little floating villages for refueling or to sell their catch. We spent one night on the boat and one night on an island. Sunset on the boat was magical. Just after that I jumped into the enticingly warm water for a swim. The following day started with a 45 minute kayaking session around the bay. Bliss. When on dry land a short but steep jungle trek to a up a rickety metal lookout tower for the best views of the bay. My attention was however distracted by hundreds of giant menacing hornet creatures straight out of Jurassic park. They seemed to patrol the look out tour. Our guide for that trip was a thin wiry bloke of about 50 who could not speak English. He could however make monkey noises and swing from the vines with one hand though. There was not attempt to educate us on the rich nature surrounding us. He was more concerned about mischievously throwing. sticky flower buds at us whilst running around like a naughty school kids. Jungle man, as he will be known is the most eccentric man (or half man) I have met this holiday.
After my return from Halong Bay I spent another night in Hanoi, visiting another couple of museums and just looking around. One of them was the Ethnographic museum. I spent all morning looking around the recreation of village life representing different ethnic Vietnamese communities. At least it was not as stooped in propaganda as some of the museums of the single party Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Like the womens museum that had on display the glorious dedication of women soldiers in their fighting of the imperialist enemy. Another museum that I can't quite remember kept referring to the American soldiers as puppets.
Politics is something that people do not talk much about. One individual who will remain nameless (just in case someone is reading this) spoke of the disappearance of his countrymen who opposed the regime. Although certainly not a paid up member of the single party state fan club, I was curious to see the Vietmese president who was on a visit in Hanoi. In preparation for the occasion an break dancers dancers and (rather strangely) circus acts where preparing to entertain the guy. (Maybe a lion tamer of juggling act would cheer up Gordon Brown). It was fascinating watching the build up for this, with all the press gathering, and rehearsals. I observed as a suspicious parked car was turned away. Then that was it. All the uninvited spectators were abruptly whistled off the street. Anyway - it was his loss.
One thing that can't be doubted though are the scars that dig deep into modern Vietnam. It is a very young country and it appears that the majority of the population are not old enough to remember the war. Of those that could shed some light there seem to be an absence of over 55's. It is almost like a generation has disappeared. Even those born in 1971 are affected like a guide on a recent tour. He informed me that his father had died 6 months before he was born. Another bombing victim. In Laos the story is similar. One chap told me that his grandfather had stepped on a mine and that was the end of him.
Cant discuss politics any more. Big brother and all that. After a one day return to Hanoi for a night it was off to Hue for a couple of nights after a 12 hour sleeper bus journey. I was told 12 hours but it became 15. Not bad though. Quite comfortable for anyone my height or shorter though. Hue was the political capital up to 1945. Theres a citadel to visit and a number of grand tombs built to honour a number of emporas along the Song Huong (Perfume River).
After that I intended to take a train to the 3rd biggest city Denang. I got to the station and either the train was full or had broken down. Anyway I decided not to wait for the comfortable tourist bus but instead was crammed in on the local coffin. Clearly only designed for tiny Vietnamese people. The ticket collector joked that I should pay double the fare because I am double the size. It turned out to be an enjoyable journey. I was the only foreigner in a bus packed with about 40 people. I had a could chat with some of the locals and shared there strange snacky things. Fishy tasty things in banana leaves.
I took a motorbike taxi via the marble hills (Bhudist temples in caves) to Hue. Certainly one of my favourite places so far. I think I must have stepped into a time warp and walked into 17th century Vietnam. A living museum. It is all narrow streets, with some immaculate ( UNESCO preserved) houses and shops. Complimenting nicely with this is the crumbling charm of the yet to be restored buildings. This used to be a trading port for the Chinese, Japanese and Europeans. You can see all the influences.
Yesterday was a visit to Myson - ancient remains of a 4th century Cham civilisation. 40 degrees - too hot to appreciate. Today the beach. Tonight an overnight bus further south to Nha Trang (more beaches). I got a hair cut today. Unfortunately the lady did not understand very short and she proceeded to practically shave it all off. It gets rid of grey hair though but so does the guillotine . I guess I will be wearing my baseball hat for some time now.