Friday, 25 March 2011


Friday 25th March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Shut up and drive - Rihanna

Weather: cold, windy, wet and miserable. At one point blue cloud could be seen, however the patch of blue was very small and easily swallowed by the far superior rain clouds.


As my tour started at 6am, I'd set my alarm for 5:15. My travel alarm clock had already gone off and, conscious of the other eleven people sleeping within my dorm, I hurried to turn off my secondary phone alarm (which is a lot louder than my travel alarm clock). I got ready as quietly, and as quickly, as possible; after twenty-five minutes I was almost ready when, a sarcastic British girl, asked if I had 'nearly finished'. I gave the question the reply it deserved and pretended not to hear her. I was in fact nearly ready and, considering I hadn't turned any lights on (apart from the bathroom light), I'd thought that I'd done rather well. I tip-toed out of my dorm and awaited my pick-up within reception.

Once downstairs I extended my stay for another night and awaited the arrival of the coach. The weather outside looked dark, very windy and very wet. I had almost forgotten what the sound of heavy rain, hitting roof tiles, sounded like however, within the space of five minutes, my memory was soon jogged. A very British guy, from my dorm, was also going on the trip. We joked about the girl's comment before the receptionist instructed us, and four others, to headed to a restaurant three doors down. We dogged the rain and finally came into a restaurant / tour agency. Breakfast was included and so I had a banana pancake, with chocolate, and an orange juice (certainly beats the usual bread roll with butter). As I awaited my breakfast to arrive I looked at all the tours, to various tombs, on offer. I made a mental note to investigate further at another time, for now I had finished my breakfast and the coach was waiting. The time, 7:00am … why we couldn't have got up a little later was beyond me.

As I walked to the coach I hoped that the heating was on full blast. This thought made me chuckle as it's been so long that I've longed for heating. My shoes, plus socks, hadn't dried out from yesterday and I dare not have rummaged around, in my bag, for another pair of socks in case of annoying miss 'I actually want a single room but can't afford it'. As a result my feet felt like two blocks of ice. The coach wasn't the oldest I had seen in action, but it wasn't far off. The seats we all scratched, the air-conditioning didn't work (not really a problem) and there wasn't any heating. The coach was full so I sat, on the isle seat, next to my new British friend. We drove off without the driver saying a word. The view was the usual rice fields and mountains; it wasn't long before the view became obscured due to steam covering the inside of the plastic windows. Using our coat sleeves we tried to clear it, however the outside of the window was getting just as dirty due to the constant rain.

It took almost two hours of driving to reach Dong Ha, the main town within the demilitarized zone (DMZ). It was here that we met out tour guide; a short, slim Vietnamese lady with a huge smile and many teeth. Our tour information specificity stated that we would get an 'English speaking guide' however, it never mentioned what level of English said guide would have. It was very disappointing to find that her level of English was very poor; broken sentences and the lack of using the plural were just two minor difficulties in a sea of accent and grammar mistakes that made her, almost, impossible to understand. I tried to take in what she was saying however, on a topic as complex as the Vietnam War, I could only make out a sentence or two. I was glad that I was currently reading a book about the topic. As we drove through the mountains on the Vietnam / Laos boarder I'm sure the view would have been excellent however, with the rain and steamed up windows, the view was less than perfect. Our first stop was at the side of the road; to our left was 'Rockpile' a US artillery base located on a high hill only accessible by helicopter. Our guide said that we would be stopping for five minutes to 'allow take picture'. Unfortunately, our buffoon of a coach driver, had stopped at the only place, along the road, with trees between us and the hill. It took a little while for us all to back-track, on foot, to find a viewing point to take said photo.

After that excitement we pushed on. Our guide babbled on about something or other (at one point I thought she was speaking French, though I was reassured by others that it was indeed English) until we made it to our next stop. I genuinely had no idea why I found myself, in the cold, looking at a newly constructed bridge. When questioning some of my group some said that it was the start of the Ho Chi Minh trail … others said that it was the first bridge to be built after the war. I took a photo and decided not to worry about it. Back on the coach we were advised that a long drive was a head of us as we headed for Doc Mieu Firebase. As views had been canceled I spent the time chatting to fellow groupies testing the mood. Not good I'd say. Once off the coach our tour guide asked everyone to follow her into the small museum. I, and a sizable group, veered to the right to a 'WC' sign. As I was waiting inline I was getting more and more agitated that I was missing vital information. I soon relaxed remembering that I wouldn't be able to understand her anyway.

I went up the stairs and into the museum. I found my group – rather bored looking – surrounding our tour guide who was pointing to a map. I was correct in assuming that her talk was pointless as, after the tour, I found out that two girls, at this point, were counting how many light bulbs were within the sealing. After forty minutes of dialect we were given fifteen minutes to wander around the museum and the exhibits outside. As you would expect the museum was lacking in material and it was all extremely bias. The museum themed itself on the 'glorious Liberation armies assault of American firebases'. There were photos everywhere depicting, it said, 'American forces in total shock and close to breaking'. Looking more closely I saw a different picture; one photo, which apparently, showed Americans, 'and there puppets', running from the liberation army was clearly just American Marines taking cover. It was all very biased and so I headed outside and down the steps. I changed my direction, on said steps, three or four times to avoid two Vietnamese blokes hold trays of objects. I knew they wanted to sell me something however, as I tried to get away, they countered. Once at the bottom they asked if I wanted to buy something to which I gave a stern 'no' as a reply. They were really annoying; as I moved from an American Helicopter to a bunker they kept following me, and other members of the group. They certainly didn't take my hint and so I left quickly and waited on the coach.

Near to the coach lay a small shop with a dog and four puppies. I didn't think anything of it until I herd a puppy, barking, within the coach. There was a little drama as all tourists were trying to find out what was going on. Finally we worked out that the tour guide had either bought said puppy or was given it. Either way this was a first for me; I've had tour guides drinking beer and smoking whilst working but never purchasing live animals. The puppy was put into a wooden box and that in turn was put into the boot. Once we were all on board our tour guide announced that our next stop was for lunch … I hoped it wasn't the puppy.

It took an hour and twenty minutes to arrive at our lunch stop, which was back in the town of Dong Ha. We pulled into the same car park we met our 'tour guide', got off, and went into the restaurant there. It was here that I found out that lunch wasn't included which, for a $16.00 tour, I was very annoyed about. Worried about a 'tourist trap' I checked the food prices and came to the conclusion that they were pretty reasonable. I didn't like paying for my meal however I was so hungry I ordered noodles with chicken. The restaurant was colder than outside due to doors being left open and, I think, the air-conditioning being on. The staff were all wearing huge coats and you would have thought someone would have sorted this, relatively straight forward, issue out

It took an age for my meal to be put in front of me. I had to eat fast as the portion was quite big and it was soon time to go. I finished my can of coke as I walked towards the doors of our coach. Our tour guide, with her huge smile, said that we were now off to the '17th Parallel. Here we would drive along the riverfront and see the demilitarized zone (DMZ); afterwards we were off to the Vinh Moc tunnels. Wiping the steam away from the windows for the hundredth time I could see that the DMZ area was very flat. Rice was growing with small wooded areas scattered around. You could still make out possible bomb craters however, if they really were craters, was anyone's guess. We were told that, due to the sheer amount of American bombs and artillery (throughout this tour it felt as though the North Vietnamese army hadn't used a single weapon to fight the 'American Imperialists') this area, during the war, was just a vast, baron, open space with nothing growing (just like 'no mans land' during World War One). The area had now recovered and we were told that some American war veterans had trouble pin-pointing various military locations.

We eventually crossed the river and headed into North Vietnam. After stopping at a war monument we arrived at the Vinh Moc Tunnels. An Impressive, three level, tunnel complex with underground schools, hospitals and living quarters. Our tour guide handed us over to another guide which said that we would all be entering the tunnels shorty. After visiting the Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City I was a little skeptical that I would fit inside and so I made a mental note of the path back, in case of sudden need of evacuation. Once again I found myself within a small museum and once again it was extremely bias. After looking at the photos of the 'American Imperialist' we all followed our new guide and went to the start of the complex.

These tunnels had been properly widened and so I could almost stand up. There was sporadic lighting in places however I mostly felt my way along, by running my hands along the mud walls. On the way we saw living quarters, a medical ward and a staircase to 'level two' before stopping in a meeting room. I looked around and surveyed the surroundings. Not only was this a very impressive feat, considering the scale of the project, but with a bit of wallpaper and carpet I bet it could have felt quite 'homely'. We were underground for around twenty minutes; It was dry and warm therefore most of us didn't want to leave. Once out my eyes gradually re-adjusted to the light and off we all walked back to the coach. It was now 4pm and as it would take an hour to Dong Ha, then another ninety minutes back to Hue, that was the end of the tour. The view was still blocked due to mud and steam and so I chatted to the people around me. The overall consensus was that the trip hadn't been worth the $16 we had all paid. Sure seeing the DMZ was good however not really knowing where we were, in relation to any of the key places, was annoying. However, the biggest problem by far, was not being able to understand our tour guide.

Our guide left us at Dong Ha and wished us a safe trip back. Most people spent the rest of the journey asleep; I however thought about my next moves. Around Hue there are meant to be some Royal Mausoleums. I haven't got time to view them all however it would be worth, good or bad weather, seeing at least one. Tomorrow I decided that a lie-in, followed by chilling at the hostel (see if I can watch the Australian F1 Qualifying), before heading out to book a trip, for Sunday, to a couple of these mausoleums sounded like a plan. This would finish my sightseeing within the area of Hue and so I could then plan to move onto Hanoi.

Once back at the hostel I got changed and had something to eat. It had been a long and disappointing day; I didn't stay up long and went to sleep early wondering what tomorrow would bring.

Toodle Pip!

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