Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Nha Trang, Dalat, Saigon

I took the sleeper bus to Nha Trang. This wasn't just a normal coach at night, but a fancy bus decked out with rows of almost fully reclining bunkbeds. It's comfy in theory, but only if you're less than 5ft tall, otherwise you spend all night with your knees in the air (though judging by the extent of the sex industry here it seems like a lot of people are doing that already). Also you're lucky if your bus isn't over-booked. Most operators take more people than beds, forcing some travellers to choose between sleeping in the gangways or being left at the roadside (you're often taken to the bus, which is parked some distance outside town so that it's not that easy to get back... full marks for deviousness).

I arrived in Nha Trang aching and tired and immediately booked myself on a snorkelling trip that morning. The reefs off the coast aren't special but I figured that a casual day of soaking up the sun and sea would be a perfect cure for the lousy transport. The town itself is pretty small and, aside from the beach, had very little to see. So, nursing some typical English sunburn I took a bus to Dalat in the central highlands - the main reason being to get out of the 35C temperature and exhausting humidity. 

Perched up in the mountains Dalat has a very European climate, with some vineyards (Vietnam's finest wine, apparently) and strawberry plantations, and I was pretty cold - it must have dropped to 25C. Brr. Plenty of stalls selling hats and thick jackets and all the locals were wrapped up in the evenings. I took a tour with "Easy Peter", part of the ubiquitous "Easy Riders" crew who do motorbike trips in the surrounding countryside. Peter Fonda he was not, and I never did find out in what way he was Easy.

Central Highlands near Dalat
Elephant falls, Dalat
Next up was Saigon. I grabbed another sleeper bus, not learning from my past mistakes. I was assured it would take 8 hours but somehow it managed to shave 2.5hrs off that time, leaving me in Saigon bus depot at 3.30am. After finding my hotel I woke up the staff and slept in the lobby, waiting for my room to be ready. I awoke to the sound of people eating breakfast around me but still with no room I decided to head out to the Reunification Palace.

The palace was used extensively by the President of South Vietnam and when NVA tanks bust through the gates in 1975 it effectively ended the Vietnam war. Remarkably the building is in pretty much the state it was left 36 years ago and is a weird timewarp back to the final days of the conflict. Saigon also houses the War Remnants Museum, with countless displays of pictures from the photographers who bravely brought the war to public attention and a heavy anti-American slant. 

I took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, used by the Cu Chi guerrillas to attack American troops, stopping on the way at the Cao Dai temple at Tay Ninh. Cao Dai is a curious mix of Buddhism, Confucianism and Catholicism. The 2.5m followers also worship 3 "saints": the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen; 16th century Vietnamese sage Nguyen Binh Khiem, and, bizarrely, Victor Hugo.

Cao Dai temple, Tay Ninh
Cao Dai worshippers
Saigon was a pretty seedy place at night. Aside from the numerous massages, I was also offered a girl for the night by a madam on a moped, with said girl riding pillion at the time. Prostitution going mobile. But I wouldn't be hassled for sex for much longer. I was heading to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where the sex trade is practically non-existent... right?

1 comment:

  1. Just spent 10 seconds of my life trying to make sense of how all of the Cao Dai followers could be 2.5 metres tall