Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Down to the delta

WOW, WHAT A CONTRAST TO LAOS! VIETNAM IS A BEAUTIFUL, oh sorry, I'm shouting - it's so damn loud here!

We've only got a short time in Vietnam, but we're determined to get the most out of our $55 visa. I've already lost track of how long we've been here though, er... what day is it?

We decided it would be fun to walk across the border from Laos to Vietnam, and so it was - never done that before, quite a cool thing to do. Strangely enough, it was like waving a magic wand - "Shaz-nam!" (geddit?) - as the landscape suddenly transformed into the classic Vietnam you see on TV. Ludicrously green hills and mountains, muddy little rivers and guys with pointy hats on the banks, mist rising from the vegetation and so on and so on...

First impressions have lasted too - it's an incredibly beautiful country.

And the people? That's what we were worried about! Several travellers we met in Laos told us that the Vietnamese were really horrible, hasslers and ripoff merchants to a man. Based on this and other advice we completely ditched plans to visit the north (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, etc.) in favour of staying longer in Laos. And we don't regret it at all.

But the Vietnamese have turned out to be surprisingly nice after all the doom and gloom prophesies. They are out to squeeze your wallet, sure, but a smile and some really determined haggling makes all the difference. Our first encounter was in Lao Bao, where we emerged from the border crossing and spent about half an hour negotiating the price of a minibus to Dong Ha down from $10 per person to a more reasonable $6 for two.

Once in Dong Ha we found a rather grubby $10 room at the Mai Yen hotel, ate some OKish food at Quan Chay Vegetarian House (weird chewy fake meat, but at least it was vegetarian), and booked a train ticket for a 22 hour ride down to Ho Chi Minh City. Long day, very tired, crash out.

Up very early the next morning we marched off to the train station to catch the 07.14 Reunification Express to HCMC. The locals giggled at us as we strode past with our enormous backpacks. Times like these you do feel a little foolish... but we don't care! We have fresh baguettes and Laughing Cow cheese for breakfast and the world is a better place.

The train... took... ages. I'm not sure "express" is the right name for it, but it was all good fun. Stunning scenery out the windows, steep Tiger beer prices ($1 a can) and lots of very loud Vietnamese in our little 6 bunk compartment. We bought - cos it was the only sleeper ticket available - a hard sleeper aircon seat/bunk. Slightly cheaper and less comfortable than the soft sleeper, but much better than the seated all the way option. The whole ride cost us VND 1,280,000 which is about EUR 50. Not bad.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at 05.30 and dived into the already bustling streets... let's go!


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