Even with pre-paid Visas the border cross into Vietnam is the longest I have had to suffer through. The majority of this tedium was spent standing waiting for the bus to be checked, presumably thoroughly, as it took nearly 2 hours. As soon as we hit the road in Vietnam 2 things stood out, firstly how wet the landscape is with flooded paddy fields as far as the eye can see, and secondly, the amount of push bikes. These appeared to be up at similar numbers to the endless amount of scooters I had encountered but the problem is they move a lot slower, clogging the roads as they ride in gangs of large numbers at least 3 or 4 abreast.
The streets of Hanoi bring back memories of an old John Smiths advert, maybe I'm just missing proper beer other than lager, but there are distinct similarities between the old Jack Dee advert with the Rallycars careering past him, and the gauntlet that is crossing a Hanoi street. You have to just walk out and keep going trusting them to miss you. Luckily I can verify that it does work. The lake in the old quarter of Hanoi has a pagoda in the middle which you can visit, as well as the standard Buddha, temple parts, there is a display of a turtle which lives in the lake and is part of a Vietnamese legend. In fact that evening we saw the legend played out along with other stories at the water puppet theatre which was really good. Anyway this turtle is very rarely seen but noticing a small crowd gathering on our last day in the city, Kyla and I went up to the side of the lake and out of the water rose the turtle, to the gasps and cheers of the onlookers. I can confirm it did not have the sword in its mouth however.
Possibly the most affordable way to travel Vietnam and most comfortable, I left Hanoi laying on the top bunk of a bed in a bus. The sleeper bus is a hop on- hop off ticket that can transport us to all the places we wish to stop. A surreal thing at first but definitely the easiest bus to sleep on in my experience.
The rain is on and off all the time now and so fitting most sight seeing in between showers we visit the citadel of Hue as well as the tombs of the kings. The kings who were respected have modest tombs set in large beautiful grounds however Khai Dinh's tomb is different as apparently he was little respected when alive so he built a very high and lavishly decorated temple (all paid for by taxing the people) so that he could force visiters to show him respect once dead. During the drive to Hoi An the weather was seen whipping up some huge waves as we skirted along the coast, the skys are heavy and gray and so ponchos were swiftly bought upon a rain drenched arrival. The streets of Hoi An are flooded and so walking around the town as much as possible we took in the interesting architecture such as the old Japanese bridge guarded by a monkey statue at one end and a dog at the other. Thanks to the jungle setting of the My Son ruins the visit here was possibly enhanced by the on off rain, sadly however the numbers of tourists at the place were not complementary to the ruins. It was hard to get a proper perspective to the place you were walking around.
Another sleeper bus ride later and we arrive in Nha Trang where I hoped to teach for a few days however I have to say that Crazy Kims bar, contrary to the guide books suggestion was poorly organised and couldn't even tell me when and where to go. Frustratingly this meant the opportunity was missed. Even the T-shirts to raise money for the schooling were questionable, with slogans such as "Hands off the kids". Nha Trang did offer the best buddha I think I've seen so far, much more understated even though it sits looking over the town, it is painted white not decorated in gold leaf and looks much better when glimpsed against blue sky. Blue sky is a rarity at the moment.
The people in Vietnam have presented themselves to me in a very bi-polar manor, there are some truly nice people such as a guide we had around one of the pagodas who sang to us all to demonstrate a song of worship, you could tell he was just a truly nice man. The other side of the coin, and I'm tempted to say the more commonly seen, is the person out to trick you out of money or mislead you in an endless list of ways. I have felt less relaxed or trusting here with the people than anywhere in South East Asia.
Saigon, or the now Ho Chi Minh City is very much your typical large city, ridiculous amounts of traffic on dirty streets however a couple of days here allows enough time for me to catch a tour to visit an important temple which amalgamates all the religions in Vietnam allowing them all to worship side by side as we watch on quietly. From there we traveled back the way we came, to the Chu Chi Tunnels, a guerrilla stronghold defending the American bombardment of the villages. The tunnels are an ingenious complex with many clever techniques used to baffle or trap the enemy. For 60 meters or so you can walk through the tunnels and trust me, people who are claustrophobic need not apply. Back in Saigon there are sights to visit, mostly illustrating various things from the war. They're not particularly up beat most of the time, however the stories we herd when visiting the palace were like something straight out of Catch 22 with people flying off in American planes to bomb the Vietnam resistance but then turning around and bombing the Americans with their own planes.
I feel I must apologise for the length of this rambling however that's all of my time in Vietnam covered and now I shall move over into Cambodia where I might see tigers and will definitely see more temples.