Op reis met Papa en Mama (traveling with mom, dad)
16 december 2009
I will write this blog in english so that my mom's friends and Martijn's girlfriend can also read this.
It has been a while ago since I wrote something and time has not stood still. It's been a while now that my mom and dad were here in Saigon and my next guest Jannes is poised to arrive in only 2 more days. So it is time that I write this story but so much has happened that it is difficult to write it as one coherent story. Anyway here it goes.
The day before mom and dad were to arrive I took the nightbus to Saigon. It was a sleeperbus so with beds. Unlike many busses that are for tourists I was the only foreigner on this bus. The trip went quite smoothly with only one stop for repairs which I happily used to go to a bathroom. At six in the morning I arrived in Saigon and wondered where I had ended up. I looked around but nothing looked familiar, offcourse the motorbike drivers were offering me rides before I had even touched the ground when stepping out of the bus and we were discussing where I needed to go. It was still a while before mom and dad would arrive so I didn't want to go to the airport yet but I had forgotten my guidebook. Anyway I decided to go the tourist center and negotiated a price with the motorbike driver got on and quickly realized I was very close to the center. While in the center I bought some books for Le to learn english and then it was time to go the airport. Knowing how dad hates it when I am not shaved I went to a bathroom shaved, did my hair and put on a clean shirt. Looking good I waited outside till mom and dad would arrive. There I saw the lady from exact that was supposed to pick up dad and us and we started to talk. I would have been looking for mom and dad but mom was so fast that I didn't even time to notice that people were exiting the airport.
With mom and dad both present we drove to the exact office and well mom and dad were the same as me when I first entered Saigon. They were amazed by the huge number of motorbikes that flow through the streets like a noisy stream of water. They also wondered about the very narrow houses which is due to some sort of land use law. The houses are twice as expensive when they are too wide. And then all the commotion on the streets as people sell things on the street, transport things on their motorbikes that seem way too big and heavy, and all the restaurants and places on the street to eat. To get back to the motorbikes they never seize to amaze, sometimes they are with 3 or even 4 people on one motorbike, often they have small kids with them, they transport things such as gas cylinders, windows, chickens, long steel rods for constructions, various foods, furniture and much more. Then when the amazement of how versatile a motorbike can be in the hands of vietnamese person wears off you can be amazed by the huge array of helmets, the fact that the women wear facemasks so that only a small slit with their eyes is visible, that they wear gloves and jackets where for us wearing a tshirt is almost unbearable due to the heat and so much more.
With this introduction to the craziness of saigon we suddenly entered the tranquility of the Exact office. The vietnamese were exited to have such an important person coming to their office in Saigon and treated us very warmly. We introduced ourselves and Dad made his customary jokes, asked various questions and then proceeded to check his email. The poor guy work work work. Anyway mom wanted to go take a look at the river which was very nearby the office but to get there a considerable obstacle had to be crossed. Crossing a road in Saigon is interesting for some, terrifying for others. Basically you have to cross a gauntlet consisting of motorbikes, cars, trucks, bicyclecarts, motorbike carts and more. The trick is to start walking and just keep walking, don't run, don't step back, and be confident. When you do this the traffic with swerve around you as if you are a rock in a river stream. Don't do this and you are asking for trouble. Well since this was mom's first time to cross a saigon road and this was one was even busier than usual it was interesting. Luckily she made it across although not without being terrified. We stood by the river and looked at some of the boats. One thing I love about the river traffic in Vietnam is that many of the boats are made of wood and are colorfully painted, it is truly a mixture of old and new. We saw some men fishing in the river which is awful because the river is clearly horribly polluted but it didn't deter them. After a while we returned to the exact office and I saw that a motorbike accident had just occurred, it is a usual sight here in Vietnam. Once back at the office we proceeded to go for a seafood dinner. Vietnamese people love seafood so we had clams, oyster, crab and a variety of other foods. Unlike in the past I now had to tell my mom to try the various foods instead of the other way around. I thought the dinner was quite good and I think everyone enjoyed it.
After the dinner we took a taxi to the airport from where we were going to fly to Nha Trang. The flight however was delayed and this worried dad who was worried that his returning flight might also be delayed causing him trouble when returning to Holland so we cancelled the tickets and arranged a hotel. With help from the men at exact I arranged a trip to the Cuchi Tunnels which was something that I thought dad would find interesting but also something I was very much looking forward to because I had just read a book about it. However before we went to the Cuchi tunnels I took my mom and dad to one of my favorite restaurants in saigon the lemongrass where we had some really great food.
So the Cuchi tunnels were a network of tunnels used by the Viet-cong (south vietnamese freedom fighters, not those from the communist north) who fought against the South Vietnamese regime and the Americans. The Viet-cong used guerilla style warfare to kill the enemy with great succes. The price however was tremendous with very very few of the local viet-cong soldiers surviving the war. The Cuchi Tunnels were however instrumental in winning the war. The Viet-cong could appear from anywhere and with equal ease escape, while entry into the tunnels by American soldiers was terrifying and highly dangerous. The most horrific traps were used by the vietcong to kill their enemies using traps with spikes, hooks, and even traps with rolling spikes so that someone who fell in would be penetrated multiple times on their way down. However the strangest trap I read about was a snake that was placed in a bamboo stem with his head still outside and then attached to the roof of a tunnel. When a soldier entered the tunnel and touched it with his back he would be bitten and quickly die. However the sudden burst of an Ak47, of a "home made" gun, or a grenade would be more likely to kill a soldier. Then offcourse there was always the danger that they would become lost in the tunnels or that when they exited a tunnel they would be shot by their own men. We ourselves entered some of the demonstration tunnels through which mom could easily crouch through as she is small like the vietnamese, I had a more difficult posture that eventually hurt my knees while dad being the biggest had to crawl through on his hands and feet. I heard though that these tunnels have been enlarged so I wonder what it would really have been like. Dad and me also took the opportunity at the tunnel to shoot with a m16 and an ak47. At 1 dollar a bullet it wasn't cheap especially when you consider how cheap everything is in Vietnam but oke. We got some headphones to protect our ears but they were so bad that I doubt it helped more than if we had held a sheet of paper against our ears. While I missed the targets dad was much more effective and hit the target with most of his 10 shots. We finished the Cuchi tunnels by posing with the doll of a female vietcong soldier and an icecream and then entered our airconditioned van. Driving back it is hard to imagine that there was jungle and intense fighting in this area as it is now heavily populated and farmland. The effects of the urban sprawl from Saigon and the huge increase in population from after the war are clearly visible here.
After the Cuchi tunnels we were dropped of at the ben thanh market. This is a market where they sell lots of clothes, souvenirs, fruits, fish, meat and etc. It is however very much oriented for tourists and offcourse everywhere they try to sell you something. I am never too interested but mom let her eyes wander and saw things to buy everywhere. She however refrained from buying anything until we came to the shoe section. There she took an interest in some shoes covered with glitter decorations after which she was quickly drawn into the salesgirl's web. The girl grabbed her arm to have her sit down and there was no escaping, at least no escape without some newly bought shoes. So mom tried on the shoes and after having found a suitable pair the negotiations began. I don't know how much we got off but I doubt our negotiations would be very impressive to a vietnamese person. Everything is so cheap though that it hardly matters, it is more a matter of principle than any kind of necessity. While at the market many of the girls including those selling the shoes said I was handsome something that I hear here all the time (it still hasn't gotten old). When a girl asked my smartass dad how much for me he said "you can take him". Thanks dad!
After the Ben Thanh market though I wanted to give mom and dad a real taste of Saigon. There is really only one proper way to experience saigon and that is on a motorbike! So I arranged for 3 motorbikes to take us back to the hotel. I negotiated a price which was apparently way to high because the ride ended up being very short. It didn't matter though because mom couldn't stop laughing for half an hour in the hotel.
At night mom had found a place with live music so we went there but after a beer they both left. I had hoped it would be a place typical for vietnamese visitors where there are girls who continuously refill your beer and try to get you to drink more. This place was however too hip. After mom and dad left I met a chinese guy and we started talking. He was in the handbag business and told me some things about doing business in Vietnam. It was quite interesting and afterwards he asked if I would like to go somewhere else. So we went to this other cafe where the music was even better and we proceeded to do some dancing. When I asked him what he thought of the girls though he said "well I don't really like girls." Well he didn't get lucky that night but it was just a crazy night. The next morning however I had to wake up early again which with 6 or 7 beers the night before was not the greatest. Still the excitement that mom and dad were here kept me going. Since I was told that the weather in Nha Trang was still bad mom and me changed our plans of going to Nha Trang, and mom thought she would like to travel by train. I looked at the map we had bought the night before and decided that Mui Ne might be a nice place to go. However I first had to check the trains if they went there so I took a motorbike after the breakfast and quickly went to the trainstation and got the travel times. Then I had to race back to the hotel because I was taking dad to the war museum before he had to fly back home. With dad and me on motorbikes we raced to the war museum where you can see pictures of terrible afflictions caused by agent orange and other chemicals, pictures of countless war victims some of the equipment used and a large array of guns and grenade launchers. It clearly drives home the point that war is horror. While dad was slowly bantering through the museum I was trying to get him to speed up his pace because mom and me would soon have to take the train. Well with half of the museum unvisited we went back again and said goodbye. It is too bad that Dad only had such a short time because there is so much more to see but luckily for mom she had a couple of extra days.
We went to the train station and bought a ticket for the station closest to Mui Ne and first enjoyed a coffee excited about our new adventure. Even this was an experience because we had not been to a restaurant where they serve free green tea with ice before. Then I got a normal coffee but mom ended up with vietnamese coffee. Vietnamese coffee is served with a aluminum filter on top of the glass. You first have to wait untill the coffee trickles down to form a layer of about a centimeter or half an inch. Since she ordered it with milk it was served with the typical vietnamese condensed milk which is almost as think as honey. Then you are given ice with it since most vietnamese drink coffee with ice. And it tastes quite different but I do like it although just black. After this mix up we went to the train where we had to figure out where our seats were. I asked but none of the people I asked spoke any english they just pointed to the end of the train. Finally it was the last wagon and we got in but not before posing with the train attendant in full uniform. She first posed with me with a big smile on her face and making the popular victory sign (which must mean something else here) and then with mom. Once on our way I saw that the Vietnam countryside is much nicer than I had seen before from any busses, boats, or cars. While on the train mom commented on the mess that some of the travelers made especially a woman who was eating water melon seeds and throwing all the waste on the floor. This however is normal in Vietnam where most people throw their waste on the street or floor. We also got treated to a vietnamese comedy show on one of the tvs but I have no idea what was going on the vietnamese however seemed to be enjoying themselves. After several stops the girl called out that we had reached our destination and we had to hurriedly get our stuff and make our way out of the train. We really had to jump out of the train because the wagon was stopped past the platform and then we looked around and thought "SHIT!". We both thought where the hell are we? Well pretty much we were at a tiny trainstation where no one else was getting out and all the people in the train were staring at us like we were crazy. So we walked to the outside of the trainstation looked around and saw no taxis, motorbikes or anything. There were vietnamese people however and one man quickly walked up to me and asked if we needed a taxi. I thought thank god someone speaks english. So I said yes we do and I asked him how much. He said a price but when the taxi came we saw it was a popular and good taxi service and told them we wanted to use the meter. Luckily they grudgingly obliged and so we were on our way. We both felt really relieved.
As we drove through the country side wondering where we were going and with no accomodation booked it felt adventurous. When we came to Mui Ne however the sense of adventure quickly ended. Everywhere there were beach resorts and after having told the taxi driver what kind of accomodation we were looking for it quickly became apparent we were going to have a very relaxing time. Our accomodation was a beach resort for just 35 dollars a night with a large room 2 beds and was just very nice. We went to the beach and I thought wow this is really really nice. Since it was already quite late we went for a dinner which ended up being great Vietnamese food and then we went for a massage. What a day!
The next day mom and me rented a motorbike and went on our way. Luckily mom was not scared and we started driving. We hadn't gotten far when mom already wanted to stop for the first time to make pictures of the basketboats the same type that my grandpa had encountered maybe 40 to 50 years earlier. After that we just kept driving and driving along the coast looking wondering about the various things we saw, we explored some ponds and nature near the coast, made pictures of birds, looked at fishermen and women sorting their catch, looked in a fishing village, climbed a dune and more. However I will not tell anymore about Mui Ne because although it was a very nice place to visit it isn't an interesting story to tell.
So after Mui Ne mom and me went to Nha Trang by bus my home town. In Nha Trang the bus stopped exactly in front of the hotel that I had intended mom to stay which couldn't have been more perfect and we checked in. For 25 dollars a night she had a hotel equally nice as in Saigon for 4 times cheaper. Then we went to eat dinner at Linh's cafe a friend of mine. Linh ownes a restaurant where I often eat because she speaks good english and is fun to have a conversation with. The next mom, Linh and me went for a boat trip which was sadly enough a little bit disappointing but also interesting for it allowed me to see how few fish still live on the reefs, that the corals still manage to survice and that plastic destroys corals by becoming entangled and then tearing off coral or killing it due to abrasion or just covering it completely. So after the trip we went out to for dinner and then I showed my mom a bhuddist temple from where you can overlook Nha Trang, showed her where I live and then finally had dinner with someone who usually helps me with my thesis. A very good dinner again.
The next day I took mom to a large bhudda statue, some ancient temple and then the local market where almost no tourists come. Here they sell all kinds of things but so far I have bought a backpack here and a motorbike helment. They however also sell foods, clothes and much more. While walking there mom and me saw how they were plucking the feathers from dead chickens while many other were lying nearby still alive with their feet tied. They sell all kinds of live animals though. While we were at the market mom offcourse managed to find the only jewelery shop there and quickly found earrings that she liked. The jewellery was very cheap and real gold so mom decided to buy a pair of earrings but still had to decide on another pair. She ended up just buying one pair and we left to have lunch. After the lunch however she decided she wanted the other pair but the shop was closed because it was around lunchtime. We visited Le another friend of mine and mom had a really fun time talking to her and her crazy uncle. After this we had lunch but mom still thinking about the earrings wanted to go back to the market. She was however supposed to leave in about 2 hours so we got on my motorbike I went pedal to the metal and we went like madmen to the market. There they were now open so she bought the earrings and again pedal to the metal raced back to Nha Trang. There we said bye to Linh and then mom got her stuff and quickly her ride to bring her to the airport arrived. Extremely exhausted almost falling asleep I said goodbye. I felt sad seeing her leave and wanted to chase the car with my motorbike but I was too late and so I returned to my guesthouse where I felt completely wrecked.
This story in no way can grasp how good a time we had but maybe its enough to make you want to come to Vietnam as well. Also I didn't proofread this because I have too much to do so.....
We had beautiful weather all the time so what a luck
Even got a bit sunburnt on the boat and while snorkeling.
Then a nice chat in the plane with a handsome men from Germany who had spend 2 days in a nice resort in Natrang . We spoke about the pollution of the ocean and the destuction of coralreefs,then from sports we ended in Kitzbuhel Autria . And spoke about skieing family work and lost loves and and all in less then 1 and half hour!!
Arriving in Saigon I shared a cab with the same girl,looking forward to visit the spa in my hotel that was a bit a disappointment, because it was only for men so no steamsauna and hottub.!!
I said but I have a bikini what made the girls giggle.Going back to my suite upgraded!!!,I ate some fruit watched a ,movie and fell asleep.
Next day back to the market buying all the things I still wanted and having a delicious fresh mangoshake.
Then on the motorbike back to the hotel checked out and went back to the spa for a facial,manicure pedicure all for less then 10 dollars.
So complete pampered I went back to cold wet Holland.
While writing this story the world outside is white and on the roads of Holland it is one big trafficjam!!!
a big hug from mom
Enjoy your christmas together with Jannes!
en alvast een happy new Year.