Saturday, March 1, 2008

Vietnam: Speedy Synopsis

My apologies for not blogging more frequently! We are enjoying ourselves thoroughly in Vietnam as we travel up the coast, so much so that I haven't had time to put fingers to keyboard. However, I have fourteen hours on a train and not much to do, so sit back – we've got a lot of catching up to do!

We left the glamorous chaos of Saigon over a week ago and rested awhile in the quiet, coastal town of Mui Ne, as famous for its delicious seafood as it is for the kitesurfers that speckle the beach. We had a beach-front bungalow, and whiled away the days alternating between splashing in the enormous waves, with me trying to hold on to both parts of my bikini while simultaneously trying to not drown, and lying comatose on the beach under an umbrella. Mui Ne is a 10-km stretch of golden sand lined with palm trees and small, independent (ie adorable and inexpensive) resorts. Never in my life have I seen the ocean's machinery meeting land with such force; whitecaps crash down upon the sand (and foolhardy swimmers!) with enough power to drive sand between the lining and fabric of my bathing suit. That, coupled with the tropical breeze, makes Mui Ne Vietnam's most popular place to kitesurf, and so each afternoon, the horizon is swarming with kitesurfers in various states of successful gliding. Beginners struggled, bobbing in the ocean, vainly struggling to hold onto their kites, while experts literally caught air and skimmed across the waves. Boards and kites continually washed up on shore, and we lowly ocean bathers were constantly on the lookout for renegade hardware on the loose. We were certainly tempted to take a kitesurfing lesson, but were discouraged as we watched the beginners struggle in the sand and surf – it seemed an unpleasant experience to spend so much money to do. Just to prove we're not complete sloths, BG did take an ATV through the local sand dunes. He came back completely covered in dust and sand. Four days drifted away from us in Mui Ne before we realized it and decided to relocate to yet another beach town.

The primary reason we traveled to Nha Trang was for the scuba diving – as Mui Ne is known for kitesurfing, so Nha Trang is known for its diving. Unfortunately, the three days we were there it rained, which reduced visibility underwater so much that diving was pointless. Instead, we visited the local thermal springs (and mud bath) for a soak. We floated in a tub of muddy water with a fellow Canadian, and then spent two days trying to soak the mud out of our skin and bathing suits afterwards – and that was with the thermal tub soak afterwards!

Note: The guy in the tub with me is not BG. It was a mud-tub for three!

We also visited the gallery of the famous and deservedly-awarded Vietnamese photographer Long Thanh. He is truly a master of his art; he shoots in black-and-white, on film, and develops his photos by hand. He sees the beauty in the people and landscape of his own country, and captures it with glistening clarity. Other than that, our time in Nha Trang was spent in coffee shops, restaurants, and bars.

From Nha Trang we made for the ancient city of Hoi An, which is beautiful in its own right, but is most famous for its multitude of tailors. It is estimated that Hoi An has over 500 tailoring shops within the city limits; certainly it seemed that four out of every five shops had a tailor in it – the rest made shoes. While initially hesitant and overwhelmed by our choices, we soon found ourselves rifling through the pages of current fashion magazines and catalogues with glee, poring over fabric samples, and being measured for entirely new custom-fitted wardrobes made in less than two days and priced at a song! We started with new jeans. BG wanted a suit. From there it was anarchy, as we further selected new pants for both of us, dress shirts and a tie for BG, and for me: two dresses, a silk top, a skirt, and a bright red wool jacket with a funnel-necked collar. We haven't bought new clothes in five months, and the famine truly was followed by feast: a feast of expertly made, perfectly fitted clothing. We shipped most of the clothing home, unfortunately, and won't see it for another ten months, but I was unreasonable and kept a pair of jeans. I told BG he would have to pry them from my cold, dead hands.

While we waited for our clothes to be ready, BG went bicycling through some nearby islands, an experience he calls the best he's had on this trip so far – and I attended a cooking class and learned to make some local Vietnamese delicacies!

Before we came to Vietnam we were warned on at least a dozen occasions that Vietnam was a difficult place to travel. People told us tales of being cheated and lied to; the guidebook itself has a section on “Scams and Annoyances” not seen in the guidebooks of other countries; there are warnings everywhere to be careful with personal belongings and valuables. Of course, we are always cautious. Maybe we've just been very lucky, but everywhere we've met people who are friendly, courteous, and generous. On the bus to Mui Ne we met a girl who stuffed us with fresh fruit for three hours. In Hoi An, the receptionist at our hotel made reservations for our train ticket, but also helped us translate when we called a hotel in Hanoi to make a booking, and negotiated a better price. Here on the train, the fellows we're sharing a berth with have shared their snacks with us. People have stopped us on the street to chat and make conversation. All in all, we've been amazed and impressed over and over by the welcoming people we've met. I hope I'm not jinxing myself, since we have not yet arrived in Hanoi, but I think I can say that the Vietnamese people are some of the nicest we've met so far – and that's saying a lot, because we have met some very nice people!

We are now moving north to the city of Hanoi; from there we plan to head to famous Halong Bay before heading to Thailand, where we will buckle down to work at the orphanage in Pattaya. We are looking forward to this for many reasons; it will be a trying, intense experience for us, and though we're a bit nervous about what's in store for us, we also look forward to facing it. We are also beginning to weary of continuous travel, and have found ourselves tired and out of sorts, uninterested in sightseeing, and most of all, homesick. It's been tough struggling with the urge to go home while realizing that we don't actually want to stop seeing the world. I hope that making ourselves a temporary home in Thailand will help reignite the wanderlust that got this whole thing started five months ago. For now, I look forward to actually emptying my backpack for a while and giving my passport a rest. I wonder if we'll even start to say at the end of the day that it's time to go home.

More photos are here.

1 comment:

Charms said...

Wow! There isn't much more to say, is there? I love reading your entries, keep them coming!