This week was my last full week in Vietnam. Here I will write about a bit more than a week because I want my next post to start in Cambodia. I last left off in Phong Nha near the caves. I wanted to start this post with my journey way down south to Nha Trang. This journey was quite a hilarious experience. That morning, I met two Canadian guys that were also trying to get on the train in Dong Hoi. Since I had taken the local bus before, I tried to show them the way to get on the bus and go to Dong Hoi. I am so glad that I went with them though because this local bus experience was one for the books. Last time, the bus was not crowded and it was low key. This time, the bus was very crowded and I sat next to the weirdest of local men. Right from the beginning of the ride he was trying to talk to me in Vietnamese and even though I clearly did not understand he kept right on going. I have no idea what he was saying but everyone around me was cracking up. He kept pulling plastic bottles with a yellow gel out of his backpack and showing them to me, but to this day I have no idea what that was. Then, he pulls out some rice wine in a water bottle and asks if I want some. I tell him no, but he tries to pour a cap full anyway. The bus bounces a bit and he pours rice wine all over himself. I am happy I did not agree to drink it because it smelled like really stale alcohol and I had to put up with that smell for the next hour. He kept putting his arm around me and the Canadian guys asked if I had a new boyfriend. The whole experience was then magnified by me trying to tell the locals I was going to the train by saying chug a chug a choo choo with hand motions and everyone cracked up. Finally, we reached Dong Hoi and began to walk to the train station. We walked around and had some food at a local homestay. My train was earlier than the other guys, so I left them and headed to find my train.
For the first part of the journey to Hoi An, I had a first class sleeper cabin. For half of the journey, my cabin was empty which was really nice. Then, 2 Vietnamese guys came in and I was thankful that I was changing cabins because one of the guys snored like a freight train. In Hoi An, I switched to a 2nd class sleeper cabin since 1st class was fully booked. This means that instead of 4 bed there were 6 beds, and I was on top. Everyone was sleeping when I entered and it was hard to climb up. It took some flexibility to get settled as there was probably only a foot above my head laying down. Yet, once settled I had a really great night sleep.
Finally, I arrived in Nha Trang which is a beach town in the south. This town is known for the amount of Russians that frequent the town. Lots of other Europeans avoid visiting here for that reason. The town is much more westernized with lots of western food, higher prices, and lots of hotels. There, I stayed in Majzo Inn, which was a great choice. I walked about 1.5 miles there in the morning because it was so nice out and I had heard bad stories about taxis in that town. The hostel gave me a welcome towel and water and let me change to go to the beach. I met two girls in the lobby and we went to eat some breakfast and then headed to the beach. I was enjoying myself, but the other two girls thought it was hot and left. I grabbed some ice cream for lunch and walked around the beach. There were lots of Russians there and people kept asking me questions in Russian and getting irritated when I didn’t understand. At 5 in my hostel they had an hour of free beer on the rooftop. Well, an hour turned into about 2.5 hours and I was pretty drunk. Then, we all went to a restaurant called the Lantern where I ate my meal out of a pineapple! Finally, we all went to bar called the Why Not Bar and drank a couple of mixed drinks and played beer pong. I hadn’t partied in a while, so it hit me a bit hard.
The next day, I was hung over and tired. I had been going for a long time and needed a day off so I got a private room and just hung out for a lot of the day in there watching TV. It wasn’t a nice day so I wasn’t missing much outside. I went and got lunch and then went for a long walk on the beach. That night, Nate made his way to Nha Trang after motorbiking all day from Hoi An. We went and got some Italian food for dinner and then went to bed.
The following day, we wanted to go see a waterfall that was about 15 miles from Nha Trang. We got a bit of a late start and needed to get his oil changed on his bike before we left. Since all of the bikes that people buy and sell in Vietnam are old and have a lot of miles on them, if you buy a motorbike you are guaranteed to run into some problems. So, the kid that was changing the oil could not be any older than 12 even though he said he was 15 to justify why he was not in school. While he was trying to tighten a piece on Nate’s bike he broke a whole piece, so we had to wait about an hour while his dad fixed it. We bought some lunch, and then we were off.
We arrived at the waterfalls and had to pay a small entrance fee and bike parking. Then, we hiked in. I am so glad that we did this because it was the highlight of Nha Trang. There were these huge white boulders running all up a blue river. The path was marked with red arrows to show you how to navigate up to the waterfalls. There are 3 waterfalls, but since we only had limited time now that we were there so late we only saw the first.
We get up to the very large waterfall with a pool of crystal clear water at the bottom. We see a group of people that are climbing up the cliff and then jumping off the side, so naturally we do that same. It was probably about a 7 meter drop. Then, we try to swim up to the waterfall, but the water is coming down so hard it is almost impossible to get all the way up to it. The fish in the water were also biters and even drew blood a couple of times on Nate’s feet. We then climbed to the top of the waterfall to get a good look down below. At the top, the rocks were very slippery and I fell pretty hard and got all wet. Then, we took out a couple of beers and watched the waterfall until it was starting to get late and we had to leave. We climbed back down the way we came and motorbiked back to the city.
We made it back for a couple of free beers and then went to our sister hostel down the street for a family style dinner. The food was really good! Then, we walked around for awhile through Nha Trang and got a beer and an ice cream sundae at a brewery that was right on the beach. The sundae was huge and amazing and I loved it! Then, I went to rent a scooter for the following day to ride with Nate to Dalat. For $30 I could rent an automatic scooter, drive it to Dalat, and get my luggage forwarded. This sounded like a great idea since I had not yet ridden my own scooter, I did not have to worry about my bags, and Nate was experienced. So I did it!
The next morning we woke up, dropped my bags off at the shop, and I got my very own scooter. The only downside to starting this ride in the city was that there was so much traffic! I hadn’t quite become comfortable yet when I already had to dodge motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians. It was slow going at first because I didn’t want to go too fast for fear that I would hit something. I think this part was a bit painful for Nate. Then, we hit the open road and we ramped it up a bit. It was amazing!!
At first it was just a flat road, but we soon hit the mountains. In our last village before we started going up a local Vietnamese man started point at Nate’s bike, shaking his head, and motioning us to follow him. So, we follow him down a side road to his house where he quickly puts Nate’s bike up on a stand and takes it apart shaking his head the whole time saying no no no no. We had no idea what was happening! Then, he is motioning to the bike and getting Nate to go with him in to town (we weren’t even sure if he was a bike mechanic!) and telling me to stay at his house. They end up going to his shop and getting a couple parts, but Nate told me later he was scared is was a big scam and that I would not be there upon his return. The man was trying to charge Nate a ridiculous amount of money for the new parts, but Nate negotiated it down to about $45. The whole situation was quite hilarious and this was his most expensive repair yet.
We started off again and we went up and up and up. At one point, we stopped and hiked back a bit because we saw a waterfall. After that, we were stopping about every 10 minutes to take in the views as we wound higher and higher. Then, we started to go up into the clouds that were hanging onto the mountains. The temperatures dropped significantly and the fog set in so thick that we could only see about 10 feet in front of us. I was happy that Nate was in front of me so that I could have a reference point. Cars or motorbikes would suddenly just pop out of the mist going in the opposite direction. Finally, we found a place to stop and rest a bit and also so we could put on more clothes because it was freezing. There was one restaurant in town and they had one thing they were serving. Pork and Rice. I was very surprised though because it was delicious!
Then, we continued on. We could not stop as much now or we would not make it to Dalat before sunset. About 2 miles from the town my motorbike stopped having any acceleration going down a hill. So, I pulled over and Nate came back for me. At lunch, I had said that I thought my bike needed gas but was unsure because the gas gauge didn’t work. Nate still had half a tank so he thought I was good. Well, this was not the case. My bike was a gas guzzler for sure. So, Nate road off down the road in search of some gas and came back about 20 minutes later with a partial container full of gas and we were off and running again. We were going to make it!
Once we arrived in the city, it was much easier for me even though it was equally crowded because I had become really comfortable on my bike. I returned the bike and got my luggage with ease. Then, we headed to the night market in town for some dinner. The food was pretty terrible, but it was interesting to see the market because it was full of old used clothes that they were selling really cheap. Most of the clothes were jackets and sweaters to get everyone ready for the winter season.
The following day we signed up for a canyoning trip. Of course it was raining again. We can’t seem to escape the rain and its not even rainy season!! We all arrive at the headquarters where they give us wetsuits, gloves, and harnesses. We practice repelling a couple of times on their wall to get us all comfortable for the actual canyon. We eat lunch before we go since we would have to wait for other groups anyway and it would be terrible to eat out in the rain. Then, we are off! Our first stop is repelling down a cliff next to a water fall where we would end up in the water and have to swim to the other side. I have never repelled into water before so it was fun!
On the other side they had us in partners jump backward into the water to get back into the waterfall. I am not sure why we went backward except for the photo opportunity, but the picture was quite hilarious. Then, we all played in the waterfall that we were just next to and got a couple of good group photos.
From here, we hiked a bit then got into the river and floated down like it was a lazy river until we came to the next waterfall. This waterfall was a bit of a leap of faith because they called it a natural waterslide. They asked us to come to the edge, lay down with our head facing down the waterfall and our face to the sky, then they would push us down the waterfall. I was the last to go because I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, but it turned out well! The rocks were nice and smooth and if you kept your body loose it was fun! I am still not sure who the first person was that said oh yea lets go head first down this waterfall.
Our next stop was another repel. This was a dry repel and pretty straight forward but just as fun. I was really jumping down this cliff face. We hiked for a bit more until we reached another natural water slide. This time they sent us down in pairs. I had to lay on Nate and he had to hold my head and then they pushed us down. This one was a bit more awkward and I hit my butt on the way down.
We floated down the river some more until we came to a cliff. At the cliff there was a 7 meter, 9 meter, or 11 meter jump. Everyone had to start at the 7 meter jump first to prove that they could go higher. The guys counted one, two, three and if you had not jumped by 3 they asked you to get down. The 7 meter was easy and my shoes broke the surface tension really well so I climbed back up to the the 9 meter. For the 9 meter, you had to jump out to clear some rock and grass so it was a bit scarier. I knew that if I didn’t go right away I never would so I jumped before they even started counting. The 11 meter was trickier because you had to run and jump to clear everything. Since it was raining, I did not want to try this one because I was scared I would slip and tumble down.
Our final stop was what they called the washing machine. I was not sure why they named this the washing machine until I was in it. This repel would never be allowed in the US to novice climbers! First, you start repelling normally down the rock until the rock gives out under your feet and starts to slant back in.
Now, you are just lowering yourself…..into a raging waterfall! As I got lower the water started hitting me really hard and pushing me back into the rock that I was scared I was going to get slammed into the rock. The waterfall then just spun other people, hence the name the washing machine. We were supposed to wait until the rope stopped to then let ourself go. Then, we would get pushed under the water, through a rock shoot, then out the other side. I let go way to early for fear of getting slammed on the rocks and fell quite a ways. This was not my favorite activity though I think it would have been better if I knew what I was getting myself into. Finally, we hiked up a muddy slope, got picked up on the bus, changed clothes in a parking lot, and were dropped off at the hostel.
It felt so good to shower even though the shower was cold! We ate a family style dinner that night and I waited to catch the night bus to Saigon. Nate was going to ride his motorcycle down so we would part again for a couple of days. On the way to the bus, I met Nicole who was from Chile. We got along really well, but she was on a different night bus. The night bus was an interesting experience. You had your own little laid back chair and there were 3 rows of these chairs stacked 2 high. The bus was going so fast that I was definitely a bit scared at times that we were going to tip over. Our bus was supposed to arrive at 8 am and it arrived at 5am! Nicole met me when we got there and we walked to the hostel that I had booked. I asked if they had a room available for that night and they had one more so I dragged myself upstairs and slept until 10am.
The following day, Nicole and I wandered around Ho Chi Minh (also called Saigon). We saw a couple of government buildings and the post office. Saigon doesn’t have too many beautiful buildings and is much more westernized with fast food and western stores. I didn’t like it too much. I really liked hanging out with Nicole because I felt that we were very similar people and it was nice to talk to someone who I had a lot in common with. We had a wonderful lunch at this jungle place and then wandered back to take a bit of a nap at our hostel. Meghan and Tom who I had previously traveled with were also in town so Nicole and I met up with them for dinner. It was so nice to catch up with them again! Then, Nicole and I went to a sister hostel to get some drinks, which then happened to turn into a bar crawl. We had a couple of drinks and danced and then came home.
The following day Nicole, an Irish guy who she knew, and I went to the War Remnants Museum. This was their museum documenting the Vietnam War (or the War of American Aggression). As an American it was really tough to see everything that happened. We aren’t taught a whole lot about the Vietnam War in school, only in the context of the Cold War. I know that it was a highly disputed war, but to see the ways that we ripped apart the Vietnamese was tough. I know that all history will have a skewed version and both the way we learn about the war in the states and this museum were skewed with a certain agenda. Yet, the pictures were live proof of some of the atrocities that we committed over here. I am shocked that they hold no grudges against Americans and I think that is because they view it as they won the war. Yet, Agent Orange alone, which was a chemical weapon that we used to wash the guerrilla fighters out of the forests, has caused generations of genetic mutations. This has caused skin problems, siamese twins, children born without legs or arms, and many other mutations. It was awful to see not only the pictures, but the people walked around the city with these disabilities knowing that my country caused them. Also, to hear about the torture that was done the political prisoners by the government that we were supporting brought tears to my eyes. Later that day, Nate arrived and we all went to dinner at this amazing restaurant that was so cheap and we had a drink on one of the rooftop bars overlooking the city.
On Sunday, Nate and I took his motorbike through the city out to the Cuchi Tunnels. These tunnels were started during the war with the French to escape the bombs and then continued and make larger during the war with the US. I can see why the US resorted to using Agent Orange and pulled out of Vietnam because you would never be able to find the enemy because they were holed up underground.
Underground rooms in the Cuchi Tunnels
They had 3 levels of tunnels; the rooms on the first level, the second level where the tunnels were still largish, then the 3rd level about 10 meters below of tiny tunnels. On the 3rd level they would be safe from even the largest US bombs. They lived underground, slept, cooked, went to school, took old US bombs and tanks and made bullets and bombs of their own. Everyone down there was fighting for the cause. They were really smart as well by sending the cooking smoke diagonally though several chambers and then out the top through a mound that looked like a termite mound so the smoke would be undetected above.
Inside the Cuchi
It took us awhile to get to the tunnels, but I am glad we went ourselves because there are 2 locations: 1 where all the tour buses go and the other less popular site. There were only 8 people in our group and we first had to watch a crazy propaganda video in black and white where they called the US the devil. Then, we were taken to the tunnels. They explained everything that I already explained above and we were able to crawl through stretches of the tunnel and see the rooms they had built below the ground. The first one was the craziest because we were walking along and all the sudden he opens a camouflaged board and I see a tiny hole. He asks who wants to go down so naturally I am the first to volunteer. I climb down, see a little bunker with a tiny slit of a lookout hole and pop out about 10 meters away.
Going down the Cuchi Tunnels
It was really educational to see these tunnels and learn about the war from the other perspective and I am happy that I did these things while I was here. They also showed how resourceful that they could be. They showed how they used old tires to make their sandals and they were even selling the sandals.
The ride home though was a nightmare. At one point Nate’s chain popped off the bike and we were towed to a shop and had that fixed. Then, the traffic in the city is like nothing I have every experienced! It took us about 2 hours to go 10 miles on a motorbike. Just insane!
The following day we took it easy and caught up on various things. I caught up on applying for jobs and Nate was trying to sell his motorbike all day. I went out for ice cream and had some girl time with Nicole, but it was a pretty uneventful day. Now, on to Cambodia!!!