Kingdom of Wonders

View from our beach
 
While the Vietnamese border building was a fairly unattractive concrete slob that reminded me of east Germany the Cambodian one was build like a temple with a golden roof and big pillars. However the beauty was limited to the outside as the interior was as plane and as boring as it is in most such establishments. The border was fairly unguarded and attaining the visa stamp was rather simple and not too much of a wait (it did take longer than usual because a big Cambodian general came to visit that day).


 In many countries in official buildings, restaurants and the like one will find a nice framed picture of the monarch, dictator or president smiling down on you. One thing that I found rather amusing about the visa office was that instead of a golden frame there was an a4 sheet of paper that had been stuck up with tape (perhaps just for the generals visit).
We continued our journey and started driving through Cambodia to get to Sihanoukville (named after a previous king). Driving through this country reminded me more of Kenya than Vietnam. The roads themselves where a lot less busy than the Vietnamese and the driving here is a lot less aggressive (less honking and not so many aggressive overtakes). The roads themselves were pretty awful, no street markings or traffic lights and many cows that block the street. The reason that these roads remind me of Kenya is the poverty one can observe from the car window, wooden shacks instead of concrete buildings and a much more agrarian society. Finally, while rice paddies still make up a large part of the landscape other crops appear here at a much higher percentage than in Vietnam. 

Me and harry at a psychedelic rave
 
One thing I found rather confusing about Vietnam was the religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Daoism, crossing into Cambodia I saw many women wearing head scarfs and occasionally a mosque which added another religion into the mix. Once I get home i’ll try and educate myself a bit about how this mix came to be. We also noticed that the people looked different, darker skin and fewer Chinese features, people here look more Indonesian.

Finally the alphabet changed again. While Vietnam uses the Latin one, which we could read, we found that the Khmer language had its own alphabet.
Once we arrived in Sihanoukville we took a tuk tuk (first since Bangkok) to Otres beach where our hostel was. Our hostel was on the beach a few meters above ground on big wooden pillars, below which where tables and soft furnishing. After we dropped our bags in the room (one big room with many mattresses on the floor, corrugated iron roof and wooden walls) we went for a swim in the sea, which was extremely warm and very calm. 
After our swim I was able to take a better look at the people that were working and staying here. Otres is a hippy beach and we could see that clearly in the people that were employed here. Dread locks and multi coloured hair, juggling and astrology courses on offer and some of the clubs had not only drinks on their menu but also a variety of pills and powders. On some evenings while watching the sunset we could also observe one of the hippies smoking some chemical out of a steel tube and dancing and then passing out where the waves broke. While most of the people here were friendly some we felt sad for as they didn’t seem to have their life together. The stories we heard here and the people we met were always interesting though, one example being a guy who went to prison in India for murder.
The police let most of this happen as laws are fairly relaxed in Cambodia but occasionally when a superior comes to visit or they didn’t receive a bribe they will strike down and enforce the law. The bar where they had drugs on the menu was shut down a few weeks after we left and a few guys were sent to prison. 
Although drugs are something you shouldn’t take anywhere, taking them in Asia is especially unwise as they cut whatever you are taking with all sorts of horrible stuff and you hear many stories of westerners dying after taking something like rat poisoning or snorting heroin believing that it was something else.
Even if you don’t voluntarily take the drugs, you might take some any way as people (often ladyboys or flirty girls) spike drinks and then rob the victim. This happened to one of my friends who woke up on the beach with no memory, phone or wallet.
The days here were spent on the beach reading (I read catcher in the rye and then Jamie’s book about economics “the paradox of choice”) or swimming. I also walked/jogged up and down the beach as far as I could to explore a bit.

The beach can be separated in to 4 zones, the hippie shack area where we were staying, a nicer resort area, a hidden beach and a beach where the locals go. The latter two are the ones I found most interesting. After walking over ‘our’ beach, on which there are many wooden bungalows comes a beach with no buildings where the Cambodians go on the weekend. We stayed here over Cambodian new year, so this beach was packed and I found it really interesting to see the Cambodian’s on holiday. They were always in huge groups, rarely under 8 people and cooked gigantic feats on small BBQs. Some were big families with varying age groups and some were groups of teenagers my age, the latter of which always offered me to join them for a beer. They also always had enormous speakers from which they blasted Cambodian music. This one song especially was played constantly, I shall link it below. One thing that bothered me a bit was that these people left all the plastic bags and cans on the beach and half was blown into the water. I found it sad how oblivious they were to what they where doing and how easily this could be prevented as there was a bin just by the road 20 meters from the beach.
After walking further (I walked past a stranded giant jellyfish with a 1 meter circumference that had attracted a bit of a crowd) one reached a part of the beach with nicer resorts and then a empty beach to which you could only get by swimming. This beach stretched for about a Kilometer and was really lovely, not a soul insight, however quite a bit of rubbish had washed up. It really felt like paradise with the sand between my toes and the sun in my eyes. (When walking on the sand here it makes a squeaky noise because it is so fine).
We also met two groups from London, one of whom Harry and Jamie had met previously in Australia and did things with them such as go on top of a floating parkour. In the evenings, we either stayed at our local bar or went to one of the other bars along the beach. Some played the normal kind of music you might expect to hear on the beach while others catered to the hippies by playing psychedelic dance music.
Relaxing on the beach for a few days was nice but the road was calling to me and I wanted to go travelling again, to see new places and experience new adventures. Kampot seemed like a town one night be able to fulfil those needs, so me and Harry got a bus there.

If you ever find yourself in a big water fight against a lot of Cambodians with white powder on their faces and wonder what the hell is going on like I was when I was in that situation, you are in the mids of the new year celebrations. Instead of fireworks they have water guns, instead of champagne a BBQ on the beach.

PS. Apart from drugs, another thing I would advise you to stay away from in Asia is locally produced suncream. I made the fatal error of buying some and was punished for this decision by turning as red as the sunset over Phu Qouc.

I could not find the song but this one is similar.

It is hard to explain how I felt about this music after hearing it constantly for days and just incase you feel like you lost a few brain cells listening to that here is a quote from the catcher in the rye.
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, the mark of the mature man ist that he wants to live humbly for one”.

Phu Qouc

The journey to phu qouc was an uncomfortable one. After a long and painful overnight sleeper bus we got to Ha tien, a border town on the sea where we had to wait for our boat to arrive. Soon we boarded the superdong 8, a very modern ferry with air con, complementary water and face towels and a TV showing some Vietnamese game show. Once we reached the harbour it was almost impossible to get out of the boat as there was a huge rush to get out quickly while there was also a large amount of men blocking the exit shouting TAXI ! TAXI ! We met two English boys and decided to get a taxi together (they had not booked a hostel yet and they liked the sound of ours so they decided to come with us). After about half a dozen taxi drivers fought over us we finally got in a van that took us to the other side of the island.
Our hostel (called 9 station costing us 5$ a night, which is a very average price) was recommended to us by our friends whom we had met in Hoi An and they did not disappoint. We entered a big, spacey and modern hostel build only a few years ago. There was a swimming pool and the rooms where modern and clean. The beds where cubicles and we got fresh towels everyday, lockers, bedside lamps, key cards, air conditioning and free use of the washing machines. Compared to the dirty brothel/prison of a hostel we stayed in Ho Chi Minh City this was heaven. Also we were delighted to find that the showers where separate from the toilets. The Vietnamese have this horrible habit of putting a shower with no curtain or drainage right next to the toilet instead of having separate rooms or at least a cubicle for the shower. This means that the toilet and bathroom floor is always wet and the shower full of bad odours, it is simply revolting and I am always delighted when I find a hostel that separates the two. As it was still before our check in time we decided to go for a dip in the infinity pool and grab some pho in a little restaurant near the hostel.
After checking in and dropping our bags we went to the sea which was a 5-10 minute walk away. The beach was beautiful; palm trees with swings hanging of them lined the beach and the sand was golden. The water was warm and there where no rocks or plants in it, (This, although nice for swimming meant that my snorkel that I had been lugging around since I first arrived was useless in Phu Qouc) however tiny bits of coral where floating around stinging us a bit.

We went for a swim and then a walk on the beach past quite a few nice hotels. There where a few people trying to sell us things, mostly fruit and massages but they where far more relaxed than in Hoi An (where some woman with a basket just sat on one of our towels for a few minutes asking us over and over again if we wanted to buy stuff). Then came something that we have heard a lot about, the famous Phu Qouc sunset. This island is pretty much the only place where you can watch the sunset over the water (in Vietnam) and hence is infamous among Vietnamese. As the sun was approaching the horizon the sky was set ablaze with vulcanous reds and yellows, spreading far further than sunsets back at home. The powerful illuminating colour of the sky turned ever so slowly into a mysterious dwindling display of purple and even green colours following the sun as it submerged into the ocean. When I looked around on the beach during the sunset I saw many others fixated on the sun in an almost trance like fashion, even the locals who must see this everyday stopped what they where doing and watched the suns curtain call.
In the evening Harry, I and one of the Liams (the two English guys are both called Liam) enjoyed a few drinks at our hostel before going to a bar on the beach which had quite a nice bonfire with a big group from the place we were staying at. The next day was spend on the beach, in the pool and in the sea. After the long journey and the stuffiness of Saigon this was just what we needed. We also appreciated our room but there was one little issue with it. There was this group of Vietnamese girls staying in our dorm that I talked to a bit and seemed quite nice however they had a few awful habits. Firstly they always cooked pot noodles and had them in the room which made the whole place stink. There was a big lobby and a pool and plenty of other places where you could eat your noodles in peace but for some reason they chose our room. In a dorm not everybody goes to sleep at the same time and whenever we come back to our room, whether at 10 in the evening or 5 in the morning we try and be as quiet as possible and use our phone lights to get to bed. Sometimes if we have an early bus and have to pack in the morning we have to turn the lights on but we still try our best to turn it of as soon as possible. Those girls did not share that attitude. They would come in at night turn all the lights on, leave the door open (which made the room really hot) and have loud conversations while everyone else was asleep, once leaving they would not close the door or turn of the lights. We asked them nicely to turn of the lights but they didn’t. I looked on of them in the eyes while asking and she didn’t seem like she was doing it to annoy us or because she was rude it seemed that she was simply confused about our perspective on this matter. We also had a girl in our room who had been stung by a poisonous animal and didn’t want to die in her sleep so she had an alarm every hour throughout the whole night which was also a tad annoying.


On our second full day the three of us and one Liam decided to rent mopeds and explore the island, after haggling at a few rental places and getting some petrol we set of. The first part of our journey took us over a fairly empty highway on which we tested our bikes, that where a lot faster than the ones we had for the Hai Van pass. (The Phu Qouc bikes did a bit over 100 kmh). We had to turn of the highway and followed a gravel path that turned into a dirt track until we found the sea. We parked our bikes by an abandoned restaurant and walked to the beach, there was not a single soul insight apart from a few fishing boast that had anchored just of the coast. After resting here for a short while we got back on our mopeds and continued our drive until we found another secluded beach on which we decided to go for a swim. The sea here was lovely (no biting coral) and once again there was no one else bar us. We went for a swim and enjoyed our secluded beach resting in the shade given by some trees. The water here was also somewhat clear however my snorkel showed me nothing apart from the occasional fish swimming past.
Soon we got back on our bikes and instead of finding a road we took a dirt path up north. This track was by far the worst road I have ever driven on, instead of gravel it was fine sand which meant our bikes often got stuck in the sand, of which there was plenty as there where huge piles of it on the side of this track. Occasionally we came past these huge puddles of dark orange water which would force us to drive on the side where the trees would smack us in our faces with their prickly branches.
After getting stuck a few more times there was a red and white chain stopping us from going further and behind it we saw a giant digger cutting its way through the trees. It dawned on us that the only other vehicle that had driven on this “road” was a machine that had tyres bigger than our mopeds. We realised that we had to turn around and go through the whole torture again. Harry went to get something from under his seat and left his key there when he got back on his bike. The problem with that was that you could only open the boot with the key. At this point we though ourselves in trouble, would we have to push the bike back over this hell road and down the island? As we though about ways to tackle this task Liam went over to Harry’s bike and yanked the seat open. With the help of brute strength crisis on the track was avoided. 
Driving further north we saw giant construction sites of holiday resorts being raised from the ground. Before coming here we heard that big investments have started to come in in the last few years and that phu qouc is going to be completely developed in 20 years in a similar way to somewhere like Phuket. At the northern tip we saw further evidence of this in a giant modern hospital and a water park that looked somewhat surreal as they where completely empty but really new and well kept.
On our drive back south we found a giant abandoned runway (this island had a lot of military presence due to its close proximity to Cambodia so I assume this was a military airport back in the day) and we decided to do some drag racing up and down this runway. This was really fun as the four of us where speeding down this empty runway with no other vehicles or turns insight and the sun beginning to set.
Liam drove of to drop of his bike and the three of us drove to a luxurious resort with a nice infinity pool just by the beach from which we enjoyed the view, the beautiful sunset and a Russian model who was doing a photo shoot in the pool we were swimming in. One of the guys who worked there got a bit suspicious and asked us if we where guests of the hotel. A confident yes ended his doubts and we remained in this pool undisturbed.

The next day we went of to Ha Tien near the border and ended our time in Vietnam with one last Bahn Mih.
After just under a month in the socialist republic of Vietnam we went on to the next country, the Kingdom of Wonders.

PS. My love for Bahn Mihs is endless however that does not count for all of the people who sell them. About 50 to 75% of the time they will not give me the change back that I ought to get and when asked they conveniently happen have it right there. A typical example would be paying with a 500.000 and instead of getting 480.000 they will only give you 380.000. Of course mistakes happen but it just happens to much here to be purely accidental. That is one thing I find tiering about Vietnam as you always have to be on guard to stop people from ripping you of.
PS. My blog writing app seems to be broken and I cannot add a descibtion below a photo. Both of those photos where taken by jamie (I did not take many photos in phu qouc).

The Mekong Delta


Our trip to the Mekong river delta started the same way as the trip to Cu Chi, on a bus in the backpacker area. This time however the bus was a lot bigger. 

Halfway through the journey we stopped to visit a temple, with the highlight being three giant Buddha statues in three different positions, one lying down asleep, one standing up and one meditating. These where build around 100-200 years ago. There was also a burial site for monks who had worked here and some graves where very impressive.
Soon we arrived at the sea and after passing through a maze of people trying to sell us an enormous variety of different hats we got on our boat. Our boat was a long wooden thing with the captain and our guide at the front. Our captain was telling us a lot of interesting things about the Mekong delta during the boat journey, or at least I assume he did as we couldn’t hear a thing, the motor and a bad microphone restricted the back half of the boat from listening to him. Instead we marvelled at the change in scenery, from harbour to wildness and talked to the people next to us, a Check doctor and a group of girls from somewhere in South America.


After about 10 minutes in the giant orange coloured river we arrived at our first stop on a mangrove island. After jumping of the boat we reached a tiny coconut product factory. Here we saw how the coconuts where opened and pressed, then the pressed coconut would simmer over a fire for a while until it turned to a brown wax like solid. They passed around a plate of this and it was delightful, it’s taste is hard to describe as although it tasted like coconut it tasted nothing like coconut water, milk or flesh. After having a whole plate of this to ourselves we saw how it was cut up and wrapped by a line of women sitting in the shade. We also got to try different flavours such as peanut (my favourite), coffee and a variety of fruity flavours. Then we got to a giant jar filled with a liquid and something else inside. After closer inspection and explanation by the guide we could see that there where king cobras, lizards and bits of ginseng root inside, submerged in alcohol. At first nobody wanted to try a shot of this and I decided to give it a go, it wasn’t as bad as I expected and tasted somewhat like medicine. We also got to taste banana wine and these dried banana flakes that I really enjoyed even though I am not a huge fan of bananas normally. There was a table full of beauty products made from coconuts and a bunch of sweets one could buy at the end.
We got back on our boat and drove to the next island where we had a rather plain lunch. While eating we had a fun view as there where two giant ropes strung across a small lake and Vietnamese school children about our age tried to climb over this while the others swung the ropes trying to make them fall into the muddy water below. As we walked around this island we saw a big pit overfilled with young crocodiles snapping at bits of meat that one could purchase and dangle over them with a wooden rod. Next to them was an enclosure equal in size but instead of about 50 inhabitants it only had 3 crocodiles that where about 4 times larger than the ones being fed. Neither of the enclosures where that secure either, it would have not surprise me to hear that some of the reptile inmates had escaped. If one was fond of the crocodiles you could take bits of them with you, whether it was a belt or a full size skin, the souvenir shop had everything you could possibly make from crocodile leather.


We got back on our boat and drove to the last island, a mangrove swap like the last two. After walking for a bit a mysterious humming reminded me of an activity I used to partake in back at school. My guess was confirmed when we saw a man holding up a bee hive. We soon got to sample the produce of these busy workers as we were served tee with the island bee honey. This drink tasted great as the honey provided it not just the usual mellow sweetness that I am used to from honey but also a fruity aftertaste. The four of us (the Check doctor joined our table) finished a whole bottle of honey after drinking countless cups of tee. After our little tee break they brought out an anaconda that we could hold and take pictures with. It felt a bit odd having this giant mass of muscle wriggle around your body but we all held it at some point. I could not help but feel a bit sorry for the snake as it looked somewhat sedated but I suppose it’s life is better than that of the cobras submerged in alcohol.

After our little tea break we got on these wooden boats that would take us further into the mangrove swamp. At the front of this boat sat an old lady (65plus) that gave me a toothless grin as I got on. She handed me a paddle and together with a guy sitting at the back we propelled the boat through the jungle. The sun shun upon us mercilessly, however the rice hat we got given prior to embarking the canoe helped a bit in keeping us protected from the elements. Before paddling away our guide also reminded us to keep our hands out of the water because of the crocodiles. After a very interesting journey through submerged palm trees and impressive mangrove root systems my arms felt very tired, which made me feel a great sense of respect for the old lady who as soon as we got of paddled back the way we came.
Once disembarked from the wooden boat we walked to a bamboo hut in which we where served plates of fruit. Apart from the usual mango, pineapple and dragon fruit, there where also a few exotic fruits we had not had before such as the durian. While enjoying these and drinking tea a band serenaded us with traditional Vietnamese music. The women wore dresses and provided the vocals while the men sat on the side playing a variety of strange looking instruments such as a sort of harp with three strings. The last song they played was “if your happy and you know it”, which made everyone laugh a bit. Then we got back on our boat and tuckered of to the port past a few fishing boats that would always wave back at us.


On returning to Ho Chi Minh City we had supper and got back to the hostel. After we packed our bags we waited in the reception for a short while waiting for our bus. During this time I started talking to a young women who was working there. I asked her questions that I normally ask when I meet someone from a single party state such as if she liked the system. She replied that she doesn’t as it does not do a good job and because it is corrupt. When I mentioned the possibility of a people’s uprising she replied that there is no one to rally behind and that they don’t have it that badly, she giggled at the thought of rebelling, it seemed almost absurd to her. She also mentioned that if one was to criticise the Communist party, even if only a negative post on a social media platform, one would go to prison. Finally she said that in Bangkok and Malaysia you occasionally have bombs blowing up and that she enjoyed the safety of Vietnam. I guess the Vietnamese have it too good to risk loosing their livelihoods for political change. I also inquired a bit about Vietnamese education and where she wanted to go in the future (Singapore was her answer). The questions she asked me where of slightly different nature, inquiring about general life in Germany and about what we eat and more specifically what my parents fed me as a child (first time anyone has ever asked me that). After telling her that the staple food in Germany would be bread and potatoes that i had when I was a child instead of rice she pointed out that that was probably the reason I was so big (which was very odd for me as I am average height back home and rather thin (we also haven’t exactly been gaining weigh while travelling).
And so we left Saigon, sadly the way we came on a horribly long bus journey. On this journey we looked back on our time in the southern capital, we learned a lot in the museum and in the tunnels and had a great time in the Mekong river delta. Saigon was a good City to end our trip in mainland Vietnam.

Saigon and Cu Chi


First impressions of the old southern capital.

If put simply Hanoi is a traditional city influenced by communism with a hint of modern. Saigon on the other hand is a modern city with a hint of tradition and communism. In explaining this there are several important factors, one being that while Hanoi has over 1000 years of Vietnamese history the Vietnamese only came to the Saigon area 300 years ago. Then of course Saigon remained part of a western leaning capitalist country until 1975 and still today the city is the Vietnamese economical powerhouse. This change is very visible in the city, we did not see a single western fastfood joint in Hanoi but dozens in Saigon. While the roads and cities of Hanoi or Hoi An are lined with communists flags or giant propaganda posters there are hardly any in this city. Ho Chi Minh City is simply what I expected a modern Asian metropolis to be like before I went travelling. 
Our hostel was behind the kitchen of Mexican restaurant which meant that every time we walked to our room we walked up a smelly crumbling staircase full of sleeping cooks that where taking a rest. Our room was not ideal either, no window, but at least it was only a 4 man so we occupied most of it. 
On our first day of Saigon we decided to go visit the War museum. On they way there we walked past the Notre dam cathedral, an impressive church with a statue of Mary in front of it (the influx of Catholicism that we have witnessed so far in the south is also very visible here).
The museum had a variety of American and French war equipment in front of it, everything from 1900’s French artillery to American flame throwing tanks. The museum can be divided into several parts, I recon il call the first the “propaganda section”. This section was full of pictures and flags send by European communist parties and youth movements to show support Ho Chi Minh. While there was undoubtedly a lot of support in the west for the north I think this part of the museum over exaggerated it a tad. This floor also contained an exhibition about what the government has done for the war victims and showed the stories of a few that where injured in the war such as a girl who won gold in the paraolympics. On the next floor where photos of American soldiers and the stories behind them. Some where ones we recognised such as an army private gazing emptily into a camera or the silhouettes of a group of American soldiers walking on a rice paddy in front of the sunset. Other photos where horrible to look at such as a before and after photo of two Vietnamese boys being executed by GI’s or an American soldier carrying the blown up corpse of a comrade. Detailed stories of American war crimes gave the museum a very eerie feeling. We also saw the original print of the photograph showing a girl running away from her village that suffered from a napalm attack next to US GIs. The many interesting things here such as stories about the life of American troops or displays of their equipment where overshadowed by the horror stories and I left this exhibition feeling somewhat sickly. One thing that I always find shocking about the war here is that it happened so recently (compared to the other wars I have studied).
The next section was all about Agent Orange and its effects on the Vietnamese. Agent Orange was a defoliating agent dropped on the jungle to kill the plants and reveal the positions of the Viet Cong. While not very harmful to the person who comes in contact with it there a great genetic consequences for the following generations. Graphic pictures where on display showing babies with multiple heads, children with arms bigger than their torsos and other such horrible birth defects. We saw quite a few people that had such disabilities on the street, and while they are not necessary agent Orange victims there is a chance they where. The day at the museum really helped us three understand the Vietnamese and I recommend anybody visiting Saigon to go. It was also interesting listening to Harry compare what we saw in the museum to what he learned about the Vietnam war in school as he studied the War most intensely out of us three.
One thing we failed to find in Saigon was a restaurant selling pho and when I asked the receptionist she said that pho is a northern thing and better the further you get up north. Instead we had this pork peanut dish that was rather tasty.
Our first day trip from Saigon was to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, an underground tunnel system that witnessed heavy fighting during the war.
The trip left next day from the backpacker district area close to where we were staying. We where on a small bus with a mixture of young western backpackers and older Asian tourists from China and the Philippines. This bus stopped of at a factory that employed war and agent orange veterans although we did not see any, merely their produce, fine marble like paintings made from egg shell that pictured everything from the standard scene of a sunset rice paddy to American Hollywood stars. We had a look around and then found a quiet little spot to play cards to the great interest of a Chinese tourist to whom I had to explained the game in detail. After a little frenzy (the bus almost drove off without us) we continued our journey and soon arrived at the site of the tunnels. After buying our entrance ticket (around 5$) and crossing through an underground entrance we came to a jungle with big bamboo huts half submerged in the ground. In here we watched an ancient video on an even more ancient tv that described the “American killer heroes” and showed staged footage of young Vietnamese soldiers taking out scores of American tanks and troops. During this 20 minute video the words “American killer heroes” where repeated numerous times as where “imperial evil American troops”. Once we left the hut we started walking through the jungle with deafening explosions going of around us and the sound of gunfire rattling ahead of us. We had the opportunity to go into one of the tunnels for a photo or climb on top of a tank that was left there by the Americans. We also saw the traps the viet cong used to create fear among US troops, horrible contraptions mainly made from bamboo or scrap metal that would injure and kill GIs in the most terrible ways. Our guide also told us about all of the tricks the viet cong used to hide, such as wearing sandals backwards or washing themselves with items stolen from the Americans to gain their scent which confused US dogs. 

When explaining why the tunnels where so good our guide began listing all the western food he knew reasoning that hamburgers and the like made the soldiers too big to go in the tunnels. Walking through the jungle under the burning heat of the midday sun that was only partially lost in the thin bamboo canopy, under the sound of gunfire and explosions with the tunnels and tanks made it almost feel like we were participating in the battle ourself. The explosions where created by this pyromaniac employed by the people that ran the place to give an authentic experience, which it did but it also proved a bit annoying as the explosions where set of far to close to the people which resulted in my ears ringing for quite a while, which was fine for me but not for the old French tourist with the hearing aid that appeared to be in serious pain. It was also interesting to see the strength of these “mock” explosions as there was always a big ring of fire, full of torn apart plant material where the explosion had been set of. 
After walking a while longer through the jungle (a very young jungle as all the vegetation was obviously destroyed during the fighting) past some B52 bomb craters we reached the source of the gunfire, a firing range. Here one had the option to fire various guns, from the signature weapon of insurgents and terrorists around the world, the AK-47, to a heavy machine gun mounted on the back of a jeep. This area was also chosen by our guide to be the rest stop which was an awful idea as you could not hear a word anybody was saying.
Soon our journey through the jungle continued and we saw huts filled with examples of how they made their weapons, sandals and how they cooked without being seen from above. At this point our guide passed around a plate filled with some kind of root that the Viets ate, it tasted like a sugary papery potato. 
If we wanted to we had the chance to go through the tunnels to experience what living in them must have been like. The one we walked through was slightly enlarged and concrete but still very small, so small you could not kneel upright. In a kind of squatting position with the backpack in front we inched our way forward until we got to a crossing where me an harry decided to go straight instead of upwards not knowing that we could exit the tunnel here. This meant that we had to crawl for another 20-40 meters in the dark until we reached the light of day. With our quads and backs aching we left the area and got back on the bus to Saigon. The day in the Cu Chi tunnels really helped us understand the spirit that the Vietnamese troops had which enabled them to fight of the Japanese, French and Americans
We had changed hostel after the first night in the Mexican restaurant and where delighted to find that our new hostel was also behind a restaurant, this time a vegetarian one. The hostel was pretty much equally poor in facilities, blood stains on the sheets and bunk beds several meters high, however much better wifi and a roof garden with a nice view made the stay here somewhat better.
So far we have eaten almost exclusively Vietnamese and I can count the amount of western meals I have had in the last few weeks on one hand so we decided to get some pizza, a decision we somewhat regretted as it was the worst pizza we have ever had. Later that day we had a few Bahn Mihs, much more tasteful.
As a bonus to staying in the Mexican place we got a free beer in “one of the best clubs in town” (or so the flyer said) so one evening me and harry decided to go and get it (jamie was still taking medications). After a lot of walking around we finally found it, a modern building with big illuminated letters saying “republic” on it. The club was very modern with a sort of industrial theme, a lot of iron, smoke machines and dark blue lights. The people in here where exclusively Vietnamese and the music was a lot better than in the clubs in Hanoi. While handing in our free beer flyers we noticed something peculiar about the women in the club. There weren’t any. Me and harry sat down on a balcony with an illuminated table and watched the happening while enjoying our Saigon beer. Both of us where rather amused at how we where in a gay club, something you would think they would write on the flyer. Afterwards we walked back to the hostel through the Saigon party area that reminded us a bit of Bangkok, neon lights, old western men accompanied by young Vietnamese women and a lot of drug dealers and women asking us if we wanted to buy their products or services.
Our next trip from Saigon will take us to the delta of the great Mekong river.

Not all who wonder are lost, but I sure was

Sunset in Hoi An
 
– A city of tailors
The three of us slept very well during our first night in Hoi an as we were exhausted from the odyssey that we had undergone the day before. When we woke up we had the pleasant surprise of finding two school friends, Adam and Archie, waiting in our homestay lobby. 
This was of course not by accident but a organised meet up, our friends are travelling north so we knew that we would cross paths at some point. Once we had a lovely breakfast we started walking through the town looking for tailors as Hoi An is known for that craft. The town is magical and beautiful, roads lined by green trees go through orange buildings dating back to French administration. The roads are overhung with yellow and orange lanterns hanging from above and communists/Vietnamese flags on the side.
 We walked past many tailors, their walls full of silks and other such materials and also many leather shops in which you can get custom shoes, handbags or coats. We had a look at a few tailors and decided to get ourselves a tailored suit. The hard part was deciding what materials to go for, in the end I went for a light blue with a bright inner lining. After they took many measurements we were told to come back tomorrow to see if they fit. In the evening I decided to go walk to the beach. The road to the beach took me past a beautiful river which was lined by coconut trees on one side and rice paddies on the other. Eventually I made it to the beach and I strolled north for a while looking at a group of islands on the horizon. The walk back took me a ‘bit’ longer as I got lost but I was able to view a stunning sunset over the rice fields and the river. Seeing the traditional fishing boats floating in the orange light next to the rice paddies made the longer walk worth it. In total the little walk to the beach and back took me two hours. 
In hoi an we discovered something we had not yet encountered, the legendary Bahn Mi. The Bahn Mi is a legacy of French influence on Vietnamese culture. It is a baguette filled with meat (mostly beef or chicken) vegetables and many sauces. We quickly grew very fond of these and had them at least once a day. As evidence of french colonial administration gets stronger the further south you go, so do the Bahn Mi shop frequency increases and their products in taste. 
The nights where usually spend in a hotel that offered unlimited drinks for two hours, and at night we saw something we had not seen yet, that being completely empty roads (cities like Bangkok or Hanoi never sleep). One evening we met up with the older brother of one of our mates who was working in Da Nang (something in renewable energy). It was interesting to hear him discuss the pros and cons of working in Vietnam (the latter mainly being the corruption). Also we found several bars that sold beers for 3000 VND which is about 10cent. 
During the days we would often rent bikes and cycle through the town or down to the beach. One day near the end of our stay there I went back to the tailor to pick up the last items I had purchased there and decided to visit the old town. This area was closed to motorised vehicles and full of pedestrians, both locals and a fair amount of tourists. The old town was full of beautiful pale yellow colonial buildings, all of which had paint crumbling of their walls, however that only added to their charm. These buildings also usually had this green plant growing on them with intense purple flowers. In these shops you could find many things, from leather products to colourful spices, from silks and fine cloths to fake Adidas and Nike shirts. As I continued my bike ride trough this part of town I reached the river on which there where many long wooden boats with ladies in rice hats slowly gliding above the sunset dyed calm waters. The river was lined by the colonial style buildings, Chinese lanterns and tall trees. Crossing the river was made possible by a very old bridge which separated the Chinese and Japanese districts. As it was getting darker I decided to head back along the river. I cycled through a market full of fruit I have never seen before and big strange looking fish gazing at me with their big eyes from the piles of ice they where kept on. My way back took a bit longer than it should have as I got lost again which I did not mind however as I was cycling through peaceful rice fields as the sun was setting.
A day after we first went to the tailor we came back to check if our suits needed any readjustments, the ones that needed readjustment where told to come back the next day. After all of us where satisfied we had our suits packed up and put in a parcel for sea shipping (they should arrive in 3 months).
Saying goodbye to Hoi An was hard as our room and home stay had been amazing, and the town was magical. From the windows of the bus we had one last look at Hoi An before heading south on the road to Nha Thrang.