Southern Vietnam (a.k.a. How We Met The Family)

Hi guys!

Nearly a month flew by since my last post and I figured I should probably catch you up again. I’ve decided to split this post in two, because it’s just way too much and I’m never going to finish writing it this way.

Since last time, I’ve managed to get myself to Vietnam and meet up with Rachel. Somehow, along the way, we picked up even more people and we’ve been having the most amazing time here.

Saddest Saigon
My flight from Manila landed in HCMC shortly after midnight. After the routine of getting trough the immigration, taking some cash out, figuring out if it’s worth it to get a SIM card at the airport and finding myself a decently priced cab, I finally got to my hostel at 2 am. I was greeted by five drunk people sleeping in the lobby. The joys of hostel life! I managed to find my way to my room on my own and finally got some well deserved sleep. After all, I needed to rest before meeting up with Rachel and visiting the Cu Chi tunnels, which was our plan for the next day.

Cu Chi tunnels.
Cu Chi tunnels.

The visit of the tunnels was the first contact I’ve ever had with the Vietnam war. I was aware it happened, but I honestly did not know much about it. It was fascinating to see where the Viet Cong hid and the civilians tried to survive. The tunnels, which were already enlarged for the purpose of tourism, were so tiny… When we went into one of them, I literally had to crawl on my knees to fit through. Being squeezed in that tiny little space, with almost no light, very little air and the relentless heat was very uncomfortable on all sorts of levels, even if you’re not claustrophobic. It was quite impossible to fathom the idea that some people spent a lifetime in there.

 

A rolling trap, one of the nasty ones.
A rolling trap, one of the nasty ones.

 

Me trying to fit into one of the tunnel entrances.
Me trying to fit into one of the tunnel entrances.

The day after that, we visited the War Remnants Museum. Walking through there and reading about the horrors of what happened makes one really quiet. I was afraid if I say something, my voice will crack and I might not hold back the tears. Although the museum quite apparently told a very one-sided story, the world rallying to support Vietnam to the extent where people immolated themselves to get the message across, the undeniable crimes against civilians and the (after-) effects of agent orange were very, very touching…

Shells from the Vietnam war.
Shells from the Vietnam war.

 

Peace in Vietnam.
Peace in Vietnam.

Touring the Delta
From HCMC, Rachel and me have decided to make our way to the Mekong Delta. We booked a two day tour, which included staying in a home stay with the locals. Upon joining our group, the two of us realized we’re the only non-Vietnamese people in the bus. This was bound to be interesting!

At the beginning, we made a short stop at a Buddhistย temple.

Me in front of a giant laughing Buddha.
Me in front of a giant laughing Buddha.

The tour took us around the delta on a boat. I quite enjoyed the sailing, I like boats ๐Ÿ˜› We watched the locals on theย muddy waters and saw how coconut candy is made.

Vietnamese couple at the Mekong Delta.
Vietnamese couple at the Mekong Delta.

 

Vietnamese lady.
Vietnamese lady.

 

Rachel & me blending in :P
Rachel & me blending in :P

 

Coconut candy in the making.
Coconut candy in the making.

However, the highlight of the tour was definitely the homestay. We were the only ones not opting for a stay in a hotel. While in a bus, it started pouring one of the biblical rains. Just as it calmed down (not stopped), we were told to get off and “follow that guy”.

It turned out “that guy” was our host and he did not speak a word of English. We were joined by one more backpacker and together we all started walking. We only walked a few meters, when we came to a path that was literally flooded. Our host just walked in. After exchanging a few questioning looks and figuring out he’s not joking, we followed, ankles deep in the water.ย About ten minutes later, we arrived to a river and a tiny little motor boat. We got on and patiently waited for our host to get the water out of it and start the engine, whilst watching the lightning. What else would you do in a thunderstorm, but sit in a tiny little boat? The host kindly offered us his raincoat and Rachel and me made full use of the offer, huddling under it together. It was quite hilarious really.

Selfie while our host was getting the water out of the boat and starting the engine.
Selfie while our host was getting the water out of the boat and starting the engine.

The homestay was very bare, but it had all we needed. We spent a great evening together. Our dinner consisted of self-made fresh spring rolls, which tasted amazing. We played a simple card game with the host, while he taught us to count in Vietnamese, and then headed to bed early. In the morning, we rejoined the tour group and visited a few more places, such as the floating markets and a rice noodles production site.

Floating markets.
Floating markets.

 

Rice noodles drying.
Rice noodles drying.

The warmest of welcomes
Our next stop after HCMC and Mekong was Dalat. We finally experienced the (in)famous sleeper buses of Vietnam. It took some getting used to, but we both managed to get some rest. We arrived to Dalat really early in the morning and headed to a hostel Rachel remembered someone recommending us earlier. And it was simply amazing!

We were greeted by a free breakfast (even though we technically were not guests yet) and hugs and kisses (no joke). We got to check in early and managed to get some extra sleep in a real bed. It was more than we could ever wish for ๐Ÿ™‚ And that was not even the best of it. Over the course of the few days we stayed, we met some really amazing people, most notably the four we continued travelling with for weeks after. First, it was our very British and cheerful roommate Harriet, who joined us right from the first morning. Then it was two very young, but surprisingly mature Aussies Sean & Matt. And finally, just as we were leaving, we needed a Dutch person, cos there are so many of them in Vietnam, it statistically doesn’t add up if our group didn’t have any, and so we got Jaap ๐Ÿ˜›

One of the earliest pictures I've taken of our group. From left: Harriet, Matt, Sean, Cheek-Pincher & Rachel.
One of the earliest pictures I’ve taken of our group. From left: Harriet, Matt, Sean, Cheek-Pincher & Rachel.

The first day in Dalat was mostly lazy, we managed to get out of the hostel though and visit the local market (so much fruit!) and the Crazy House, which is one of the strangest buildings in the world. It was quite fun, looked a little like something from Disneyland or Alice in Wonderland. Afterwardsย we got some coffee – you have to drink coffee in Vietnam, it’s amazing.

Crazy House.
Crazy House.

 

Crazy person at the Crazy House.
Crazy person at the Crazy House.

 

Crazy House.
Crazy House.

During our evenings in Dalat, we visited the coolest bar ever, which was styled as a maze. We had a pretty good time confusing lost drunk people and telling them that they did not go around us before ๐Ÿ˜€ Furthermore, our hostel was by no means shabby when it came to partying and we actually had a really great time, but I’m going to spare you the details of that ๐Ÿ˜›

Dalat is very well known for canyoning and we did not want to miss out on that. The second day was thus dedicated to abseiling, cliff jumping and water slides. I was surprised by how easy abseiling is, I expected it to be much more physically taxing. It was loads of fun! And as an icing on the cake, we got a free super comfy hostel unisex tanktop!

Picture before going down the wall!
Picture before going down the wall!

Next morning, our little group (at that time Rachel, Harriet, Matt, Sean and me) rented out motorbikes and drove to a nearby waterfall. On the way, we stopped in a random roadside restaurant with a lovely view, and the most amazing coffee of our lives. It was made from weasel poop! Yes, you read that correctly ๐Ÿ˜›

Enjoying the best crap coffee :P
Enjoying the best crap coffee :P

 

At the Elephant waterfall.
At the Elephant waterfall.

On this very day, we were also approached by one of the girls from the hostel, asking us if we wanted to be in a movie. It turned out she was actually being very serious (and very excited) about it. We barely had any information, but we decided to do it anyway, just for the experience. How many other people can say they’ve been in a Vietnamese movie? ๐Ÿ˜‰

How we became stars
We’ve all been expecting a low-budget, indie, university movie. In the morning, we got picked up at 8am by a cab. We were driven to a beautiful, large resort. There was marble everywhere and the view was absolutely stunning. Just after we managed to take that in, we saw the tons of equipment some of the staff were dragging around and we realized, this is definitely now low budget. We waited around for over an hour, after which we got called to get dressed up and get our hair and make-up done. We were still quite confused about what exactly we were supposed to play, but hell, we looked fancy!

Just before we started shooting.
Just before we started shooting.

It started off being a lot of fun. Most of the time we didn’t really understand what exactly is going on, since there were only a few people who spoke English. The assistant director gave us quick directions, such as “sway to the music and smile” or “pour the champagne, nod to what people say around you and smile”. We certainly smiled a lot. We’ve gotten into all kinds of silly little situations and tried to make up random scenarios about what is really going on in the scenes we were shooting, going as far as a secret lesbian relationship between Harriet and Rachel ๐Ÿ˜€

The actress playing the main character.
The actress playing the main character.

We spent about 14 hours on the set and actually made about 30 bucks from it! It was quite tiring though, the uncomfortable shoes, constant smiling and strange hairdoos really wear on you. At the end of the day, all of the work amounted to only a few short scenes. Unanimously, we concluded that being in a movie is way too much work… It made for a hell of a story for the rest of our trip though!

Goodbye, Dalat Family
Our last day was spent driving around on the motorbikes to the nearby monastery. We took our sweet time, got some lunch and by the time we got there, it started raining pretty bad, so we spent most of the time huddling under the roof of some souvenir shop.

How to keep the spirits up when it rains.
How to keep the spirits up when it rains.

We were all quite upset about leaving Dalat (and mostly our hostel) the next morning. It was simply amazing, hands down the best hostel I’ve stayed in during my whole trip, it’s not even a competition. Rachel and me originally planned to stay for two days and we made it five! Ever since then, we recommend it to everyone, along with handing out some spare cards and wearing the free tanktop (sometimes with the whole group at once ๐Ÿ˜€ Yes, we’re dorks) Represent!

One of the less glamorous (yet hilarious) moments of backpacking - eating cheap pizza on the side of the road while waiting for a bus.
One of the less glamorous (yet hilarious) moments of backpacking – eating cheap pizza on the side of the road while waiting for a bus.

 

Selfie before splitting up in Hoi An.
Selfie before splitting up in Hoi An.

Chill in Hoi An
We have taken a night bus on to Hoi An. This is where we were really joined by Jaap, and our group became complete. Granted, he was kinda forced on us by having the single ticket for about 11 people, but that’s how things happen around here ๐Ÿ˜›

Hoi An!
Hoi An!

Our experience in Hoi An kind of matched what we heard from other people – we did not really do much in our four days, but it was still great. Our first night was marked by getting an all you can drink pass in a bar for $5, which had pretty dire consequences for most of the group the next morning. We went to the local beach and tried to recover in there. The beach was a pleasant surprise, truthfully I did not expect much, but it was quite nice.

We’ve also visited the Marble Mountain, which contained the strangest temple I’ve seen so far. The combination of religions, mostly Buddhism and animism, was truly fascinating.

Buddha at a Marble Mountain temple.
Buddha at a Marble Mountain temple.

 

One of many disturbing figures at the Marble Mountain temple.
One of many disturbing figures at the Marble Mountain temple.

 

One of the Marble Mountain temples.
One of the Marble Mountain temples.

Since there are about three million tailors in Hoi An, we all got some custom made clothes/shoes, including suits, night dresses, rompers (yes, I’ve learned a new word ๐Ÿ˜› ), badass Assassin’s Creed coat (not me, I swear ๐Ÿ˜€ ) and “thongs” (which apparently, in Australian, is not a piece of underwear). We’ve spent a whole day going from tailor to tailor, fitting our clothes and drinking coffee in-between.

One of my suit fitting sessions. Trying on a suit whilst drenched in sweat is not much fun.
One of my suit fitting sessions. Trying on a suit whilst drenched in sweat is not much fun.

We’ve had some of my most favorite moments here. I’m not sure if anyone else really perceived them the same way, but for me they were quite special. Once again I realized that beauty lies in simplicity. They were a few evenings, where we could sit down somewhere a little quieter, grab a beer and talk. We had some really fun conversations ๐Ÿ™‚ At one evening, we were literally sitting on a corner of two streets, on some miniature plastic garden furniture, buying slightly overpriced cans of beer (which were totally worth it) from a local couple, who had a small “shop” there and did not speak much English. Another evening, we just sat outside our hostel on a riverbank. It doesn’t get much better than that ๐Ÿ™‚

Black & white matching outfits. Unintentional, but too much fun to pass on a picture.
Black & white matching outfits. Unintentional, but too much fun to pass on a picture.

For now, I’m going to stop here and write about the other part of Vietnam in the next post. I hope to finish it soon and I’ll definitely do my best. Spoiler alert – the north of the country is super beautiful!

Thanks for reading again and hopefully see you again very soon ^_^

Love you all!
N.

2 Comments

  • matt laidlaw

    August 18, 2016

    this is brilliant ! brings back some amazing memories :))))) so good you are doing this blog !

    Reply
    • Nicole

      August 18, 2016

      Matt you just made me so happy haha ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad you like it! Your pics on FB look great btw, makes me regret leaving Vietnam earlier ๐Ÿ˜›

      Reply

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