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Vietnam: Week 1

Phu Quoc, The Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 30 °C

Arriving in Vietnam was quite a significant turning point in our travels. Until now, our journeys had been meticulously planned and yet here we were, on an island just off the south west coast with only one thing dictating our travels - our return flight to China three weeks later from Hanoi, in the north. Naturally, there was an ounce of drama upon arriving, we had arrived a day early for our accommodation. Luckily, that was easily resolved by an extra night on beautiful Phu Quoc island - you can't really complain - which gave us more time to plan the rest of the trip... well, that was the idea. We spent the next few days indulging in some much needed down time, and delicious seafood and Pho. And did very little planning. Phu Quoc was a surprisingly lively destination, with fairly busy beaches and a bustling night market, even in low season. It was in a quiet beach cafe overlooking the palm fringed beach that I had my first experience with Vietnamese coffee. Initially I thought it was just plain vile, but over the next few weeks, it became a staple part of my diet.

After three beach filled days, it was time to make a decision on where to head to next and we agreed on Can Tho, a city famous for its floating markets. It would be our first real challenge in Vietnam; we booked a ferry to the mainland and then we would have to find transport to get to the city which was about 3.5 hours away. This 'challenge' turned out to be incredibly simple. Upon arriving at the harbour, I noticed a huge banner for the bus company we were hoping to track down. As it happened, you could by tickets right there and there was a free shuttle to the main bus station. Within an hour on the mainland we were already on route to Can Tho. Even better, upon arrival, there was another free shuttle to the front door of our hostel. The whole trip could not have been more straightforward and that initial experience took all the possible stress out of future journeys. We realised then that travelling up Vietnam was going to be great.

Due to our expected late arrival at the hostel in Can Tho, we had already organised a boat trip to the floating market the next morning before we arrived. We had to be up and out by 5am latest and our guide was there on the dot to meet us. It was still dark when we left the hostel and we walked down a pitch black alley, arriving abruptly at the water edge to board our small motor boat. We then set off down the river towards Cai Rang Floating Market, about 6km away. The market is only active early in the morning and it is where people go to buy fruit such as watermelon and pineapple from large boats. There are some smaller sellers with rowing boats full of colourful produce and our little boat did laps of the market so that we could see all the action as the same came up. We stopped to get some (Vietnamese) coffee and Pho for breakfast - it's not everyday you have noodles for breakfast on a river!

When we had seen our fill, our guide took us to a noodle factory near the markets which was fairly interesting, but the most enjoyable part of the tip was leisurely meandering back along the Mekong Delta towards Can Tho. The scenery was beautiful and we passed small settlements with people washing clothes in the river and going about their daily business. It was very relaxing and the perfect temperature. We got back to the hostel around 9am and felt like we had already done a full day! We were leaving Can Tho that same afternoon so after checking out, we went for a stroll around the city. It was nice but wasn't particularly busy and we actually ended up catching an earlier bus to Ho Chi Minh because there really wasn't much else we could do with so little time.

We arrived in HCMC at about 5pm. This time the free shuttle only took us part the way into the city. It didn't seem like too far for us to then walk to the hostel, so we strapped our bags on, stopped for a snickers and then went in search of Backpackers' Street. It was evident as soon as we arrived. The streets were teeming with travellers and there was English everywhere. Arriving at the hostel, there was a tad more drama, they had missed our booking so we were shown to another hotel on a slightly louder road but it was overall OK. We went out to get some food and look around the area local to our hostel. The surrounding streets were called "walking streets" but a more accurate description would have been "stumbling streets" because they were full of bars and drunken westerners, still, it made for an amusing evening stroll.

The next morning we set off in search of a more authentic HCMC. Initially, we were fairly disappointed by the walking route we followed from the Lonely Planet guide book. It was just a lot of walking and not a lot else. However the afternoon picked up when we reached the area surrounding the Reunification Palace. We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral and stumbled across a small book market before ending up at the War Remnants Museum, where we spent a couple of hours reading harrowing accounts of the Vietnam War, looking through graphic photos and learning about the modern history of the country. Although it was an emotional experience, we were really glad to have taken the time to visit the museum.
That evening we went to a roof top bar called 'The View' in the backpacker's district. Although it wasn't in the city centre, the perspective we had due to being a little further out was really cool, and we made it just in time for happy hour!

The next morning, our history lesson from the previous day came into good stead as we took a trip out of the city to visit Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of underground tunnels used by Vietnamese fighters during the war. It was a great trip and we learned about the different kind of traps and avoidance techniques the Vietnamese used against the American forces. We also had the opportunity to go through a section of the tunnels. The length was just 100m - easy, right? Wrong. The tunnels were so small that it was impossible to stand up straight at any given point. They were so narrow that most of the people in our group turned back before the last section as they weren't sure they could get through. We emerged at the end of the 100m stretch breathing heavily and dumbfounded by the exertion it had taken to travel such little distance. Back in HCMC, we went for some lunch before heading to the airport; the day before we had booked a flight up to Hoi An to save us some time. It was time to leave the south and head for Central Vietnam.

Posted by amysblog 04:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beaches sea food history market river island asia traveling phu_quoc mekong_delta ho_chi_minh boat_trip war_tunnels Comments (0)

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