Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hoi An Taylor

Two things I learned mid-way through my tour of 'Nam:

1) Hoi An is probably one of the most beautiful cities in all of the country.

2) Getting there via a Camel line night-bus from Nha Trang is not such a great idea.

Earlier, I wrote about how efficient and stress-free the Fula/ Pula buses were.  On this journey, I met their bizarro world counterparts, the Camel bus line (or to use their full name, the "You'd wish you ridden a camel instead bus line").  Not to get into all the nasty details, because #1 is the memory I am taking away from all this, but the bus was filthy and smelled like feet. For 13 hours, the driver was reckless, even by regional standards.  And they crowded the aisles with local villagers sleeping on the floor, making it impossible to reach the (possibly working) bathroom.  Not that this mattered, I guess, since I woke up to find- first thing in the morning- a toddler with his penis in a water bottle and a group of women making "ssssss" sounds, trying to get him to pee into the bottle. Before the little darling had produced a single drop, I had already reached the conclusion that there would be no more overnight buses in my future.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Naw, Trang

Stop #4 on the Trail: Nha Trang, a popular, touristy beachy party town, a Vietnamese Cancun, if you will. And like Cancun, it is not really a place where anyone in a sober state of mind would want to stay for too long. Perhaps I say this because it was raining during most of my time there; it was the wrong time of year for scuba-diving; I already live by a beach and/ or, this may have been a big contributing factor, I contracted a pesky stomach bug that left me not really feeling up for the Spring Break-like bacchanalian spirit that prevailed.

Initially, I was pretty excited about the multitude of restaurants, bars and galleries around the corner from my hotel, the fantastic Ha Van. I spent an hour taking in the surroundings, both on the beach and off, before checking back in at the hotel and asking if perhaps there was something else that I should be doing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Easy Riding in Dalat

I have already blogged Dalat...sort of. In my kangaroo-induced excitement (and, let's be honest, my need to get in a December adventure), I wrote about the Crazy House mere days after my return to the States. In that same frenzied state, very similar to extreme jet lag as I recall, I neglected to mention much about what exists outside the walls of Chez Loco. That is a real shame because Dalat ended up being one of my favorite places in all of Vietnam.

I arrived into Dalat via a surprisingly comfortable seven hour bus ride from Saigon aboard a bus line that has not decided whether it wants to be called Fula or Pula. The buses say one thing and the uniforms another. With clean buses, competent drivers and free bottled waters, Pula/ Fula made the ride through glorious mountain passes even more enjoyable than I had expected.  They also set me up for certain disappointment in the north, but that's a story for another time. This story has more to do with Easy Riders and their motorcycles than Pula/ Fula and their buses.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mekong Delta Blues

From the traffic and scooter madness of Saigon,  it was time to venture south-west to the peace and serenity of the Mekong Delta. I accomplished this via a three day tour commonly offered at every travel agency and am now here to say that the three day tour is much too long (as the one day tour is much too short). It is the two day tour that is the best bet, assuming you are returning to Saigon, that is. If not, then disregard everything I just said.

On day one of my escape to the wetlands (my 3rd such escape if you also count the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Danube Delta in Romania, all before setting foot in the Everglades, a mere few hours from my home), I was joined by two lovely French couples and an elderly American woman who had a disturbing propensity for vomiting and collapsing at the worst possible moments. I would have been more sympathetic to the old lady's plight if she would have heeded the advice of the guide and Fadia, one of the French women who also happened to be an incredibly kind-hearted doctor, and returned to Saigon to seek medical attention but she stubbornly refused to listen and thus we were almost two hours late and with a near invalid in tow by the time we got near the water.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

No, not the famed mountain and river routes used by the Northern Vietnamese Army to provide aid and support to their Southern counterparts.  I'm referring to the current backpacker tracks.  There are two: either you begin in Ho Chi Minh City and go north or you start in Hanoi and go south.  Either way, somewhere along the way, you end up crossing paths with those who chose differently than you and fervently exchange notes on all the places they've been/ you're going to.   If this sounds like conveyor-belt tourism, it sort of is, but with a country as long and narrow as Vietnam, it is all but unavoidable.

I chose option #1 so my introduction to Vietnam came via that place that no one really calls Ho Chi Minh City.  It has had that name since 1976 and every now and then, you see the abbreviation HCMC used in newspaper and such, but almost everyone I came across still refers to it by its earlier name, Saigon.  I guess this is akin to how I still refer to the place where the Dolphins regularly lose as Joe Robbie Stadium even though that name has not existed since the mid-90's.  Also Miss Ho Chi Minh City would make a crap name for a musical.