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Thrills and spills in modern Vietnam

We arrived in Hanoi and were greeted with Beep-beep, honk honk!  Tiny little streets with no pavements and a whole rally of motorbikes driving in all different directions, no one paid any attention to crossings or the green man, it was so bad my sister had a panic attack!  Crossing the road was almost impossible.  It was our first point of real traveling; we had been to Hong Kong for a 3-day stopover but that hardly counts!  We got to the guesthouse and paid the $15 USD they asked (everyone rips you off in Vietnam as we soon discovered, we left Vietnam paying $4 USD for cable, fridge, own bathroom and air-con!)  We soon got used to Vietnam but enjoyed ourselves more as we reached the South, although the Halong Bay overnight boat cruise was beautiful and really relaxing after the madness of the city – probably nicer experienced as lovers rather than me and my sister!

We reached Hoi An, a cute little town packed with dressmakers, and we just missed the full moon party (we didn’t know there was one!)  We went for a game of pool and met some of the locals, who were totally random in a wacko kind of way.  They kept grabbing our faces by the cheeks like grandparents do and giving suffocating hugs – it was funny and scary at the same time but kept us amused just watching them!  We stayed in Hoi An for a week and saw our new friends everyday, we went dancing, to the beach, to karaoke, then the day we left the stole my sisters iPod.

We moved on to Nha-Trang, it seemed more my kind of place; nice beaches and it was sunny for the first time, until now we had only seen torrential rain!  My sister and me decided to have an alone day – to save on arguments but it rarely helps, nice all the same though.  We met up later and she said that she’d found a tour guide for Monkey Island, I had found one cheaper but she introduced me to the guide she had met.  She’s been with him all day and he had bought her dinner and drinks in the local café but was blatantly trying to sell her loads of tours, to which she was oblivious.  He’d been nice to her so we decided to go on the tour with him instead of the cheaper place that I had found.  We all left the café and went to play pool, while we were playing we noticed him with his hand in her bag!  At this point, obviously, we cancelled the tour.  He threatened to run us down with his motorbike; “I think you’re going to have an accident” were his exact words, whilst revving the engine on his motorbike.

The next day we went on the Monkey Island tour with someone else, the trip included a visit to four different islands and it was such a fab day, we got to feed Emu’s and Deer and we saw loads of other animals and beautiful sights – except for the actual Monkey Island as they had a bear that was made to do tricks – In the UK I donate to WSPA to help stop stuff happening to bears so I was almost in tears.  He was made to stand on two legs instead of four, which had obviously caused him a lot of pain; his back bent inwards and outwards in three different places, so he looked much worse than the Hunchback of Notredamme.  My sister thought it was a man in a suit at first as it was hard to tell that it was actually a bear (OK, not so much that it looked like a man in a suit as it visibly had bear paws)  He was a smart bear though as he could ride a bicycle and a motorbike!  I’m serious!  I can’t even drive a motorbike, I tried but I veered off in to bush!  He was traumatized and had given up all hope so I reported him to WSPA who said they would help him.  Monkeys were also made to do tricks but at least they had a bit of fight left in them, one monkey bit the man and another one ran away!  The dogs loved it though, all wagging their tales ecstatically, keen to show off all their tricks.  We were also allowed to feed wild monkeys – not sure how wild they were but they looked like they were free.  My sister (again!  She has lots of incidents happen to her – as you can tell!) was holding a bag of corn and feeding the monkeys, most of which were very polite, but then a monkey jumped at her out of nowhere and bit her hand to grab the bag of corn then ran off with it.  We hadn’t had the rabies jab but the tour guide said it wasn’t a problem and she didn’t die during the night so we though it was fine – until we met someone later in Thailand who had the same thing happen and the doctor told him that some people don’t show symptoms until 12 weeks later (it hasn’t been 12 weeks yet so we’ll see how it goes, guess that would be something else to write about!)  

We got back to the guesthouse about dinner time and saw the crazy tour guide thief fly down the road in our direction just as we were crossing the road, shouting obscenities at us, lucky I saw him first.  He kept following us around so we had to go into a bar to lose him – it was like some kind of action movie.  We came out a couple hours later and headed back to the guesthouse, which was a five minute walk away and it was only 10pm.  Two men on a motorbike drove up the pavement and ripped my bag off me, which was across my shoulder.  I didn’t have much to take; about £3 and my mobile phone but it was out of battery so without a pin number they couldn’t use the chip or the phone so it’s useless to them but the cut from where they ripped my bag off of me was bleeding loads and burnt like hell!  I had to, for insurance purposes, report it to the police, which was impossible as they had no idea what I was saying, I got the manager from the hotel to try to help translate but his English was really limited.  I was in the police station in the middle of the night for about 3 hours and getting nowhere – I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you have the patience of a saint!

By this time we had had enough of Nha-Trang, too many incidents had happened and we didn’t feel comfortable staying there anymore so opted for seeing a bit of nature at Yok Don National Park.  We drove for hours to get there and eventually arrived about 4pm.  First up was an elephant ride, which we had been looking forward to since we left England.  The elephant was huge; somehow they look much smaller on the TV!  We boarded the elephant from a tall hut and had to tread on the elephants head to get on the cradle on its back, which I felt really rude for doing.  I thought we would be on the elephant bear back; the harnesses didn’t look very comfortable for the elephant.  The elephant set off with me and my sister perched in the tiny cradle on its back, it was made for midgets and had bits of chicken wire poking into us all over and there was no leg room at all.  The elephant was funny, if anything was in its way, i.e. a tree, it would just grab it with its trunk and rip it out of the ground!  Then it kept stopping to eat loads, it was really cute but every time it did the man who was sat on its head would hit it with a big stick.  I shouted at him not to but he continued and I tried to grab the stick but I couldn’t reach it.  I wanted to get off but he wouldn’t let me and he wouldn’t make the elephant go back, it was horrible, we just had to watch; this wasn’t at all what I had imagined.  The cradle kept sliding all over the place and it was really scary, our legs were dead after the first five minutes.  The ride seemed to go on forever, but eventually after 45 minutes it came to an end.  I had cuts and bruises all over me but deserved it for getting on the elephant in the first place (I reported the elephant to WSPA too).

It got dark about 6pm, at which time the air filled with millions of flying insects of different varieties, all swarming and buzzing around in different directions  Our room was in the National Park – loads of trees had to be cut down in order for the huts to be built!  It’s supposed to be a national park, therefore conserving nature but instead just abusing it for monetary purposes.  I felt guilty for funding it.  We had to run through the hoards of bugs, which seemed to be purposely aiming for us, to the cafeteria.  The cafeteria was packed full of them too, there were thousands of them, everywhere and loads of dead ones on the floor.  They were like wriggly maggots with wings, it was sick (I have a huge bug phobia!)  The food arrived and we had to eat it really quickly as the flying maggots were all flying into our heads and our dinner – it was like some kind of horror film, or “Arachnophobia” but with wings!  Everyone was staring at us like we were freaks (we were screaming and trying to dodge them).  The waiter said not to worry about them and to just eat the ones that land on your plate – like it was normal!  There was no way that I was up for that, but I did have to eat around one.

After dinner we ran back to the room and there was what looked like a baby crocodile outside our door and the biggest stick insect I have ever seen, which was on the door of our room, right by the lock so we couldn’t get it.  Meanwhile all the flying maggots were still attacking us so we had to brave it and hope that the stick insect wouldn’t get us and both got into the room as quick as possible.  The bug spray that we sprayed before we left still hadn’t cleared and it hurts your lungs to breathe it in.  We tried making gas masks out of socks and pajamas but it didn’t help, we just looked stupid. So we reverted to turning all the lights off (as they attract more bugs) opening the window and holding a mosquito net over it, then  put the fan was on in the hope that the room would air out.  We stayed like that for an hour!  I was so glad to have a mosquito net to sleep under that night.

The next morning we awoke to find our doorstep covered, completely (no joke) with the dead winged beasts, it was nearly enough to make me puke.  We couldn’t wait to leave; next stop was Ho Chi Minh City.  We had heard that it was worse than Hanoi but I preferred it as there were loads of cool places to go and it was much easier to venture out of the hotel and a lot less scary.  It was my birthday so I decided to treat myself and go shopping; there were so many cool clothes shops.  I wanted some jeans so I took a few of the largest size into the changing room, most of which I couldn’t even get passed my ankles as they were so small.  The shop assistant was laughing at me and went to get loads of her friends; they kept opening the curtain of the dressing room while I was getting changed and laughing hysterically at me!  The tops didn’t fit either, I kept getting them stuck when they were half way on and had to get my sister to help get them off again.  Vietnamese people are much smaller than they look; some of the jeans had knees that were two inches wide – who has legs that small? Even babies legs are bigger than that.  Shopping was pointless and embarrassing so I went to get a haircut and a facial (I’d never had a facial before).  The facial was first and started off well, until they stuck a hot steamer in my face, which burnt and didn’t allow me to breathe.  I think my discomfort was apparent as they quickly took it away.  The facial also included a head, neck and should massage.  The facial massage was funny as she pushed my face in different directions so I made funny faces (like you do with adults when you’re a kid), then she moved onto my head.  I had no idea what she was doing but it felt like she was hitting me on the head with a big stick and it hurt.  The strange and painful experience came to and end and I was moved into a chair to have my haircut.  In the mirror I could see the woman behind me, I don’t know what she was having done but it looked more painful than what I had.  The hairdresser grabbed her chin in one hand and her forehead in the other and twisted forcefully enough for me to hear the ‘click’ from across the salon.  Then she started poking the woman’s forehead (what that is supposed to do is beyond me) and then slapped her around the face!  Glad I didn’t have that done.

After our peculiar encounter we went to the water park, which is the coolest water park I have ever been to!  It was empty so there was just a hand full of people in the water.  They had loads of really amazing slides – one of them was a tunnel which was blacked out so you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, so you had no idea what turn was coming next, plus you aren’t allowed on the ride unless your in a double inflatable ring for 2 people.  One person sits in the front ring, the other in the back.  The slide is fairly steep too so we were both flying down the tunnel, in pitch black, which had loads of sudden corners.  Then at the end of the ride there’s an open, almost vertical drop so you fly through mid air before you hit the water and almost drown!  There was another slide where you had to lay on a mat face down, headfirst.  My sister and I went on at the same time, as there were two slides next to each other.  I stopped at the end but she just kept on going, and going, past the end of the slide.  There were loads of people that she was heading straight for, they were all running and screaming trying to get out of the way in time.  Finally in the middle of the passage way she stopped sending a blast of water over everyone.  It was hilarious to watch, I only wish I had a camera!

Our visa was up and to be honest I was glad to be leaving – sick of noodles (its all people ate) and all the hassles but the country has some amazing things to see (like people carry ridiculous amounts on motorbikes – we even saw a piano on a motorbike!)  I don’t know how keen I am to go back though but at least now I am prepared for anything and my younger sister, who before was scared of everything, is now an adrenaline junkie!

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