And so to bring you up to date on our antics since Viv last wrote….
We left Saigon and headed back to the centre of Vietnam on a loooong sleeper train. Managed to somehow get a compartment all to ourselves, it all felt very decadent until the train food arrived – Vietnam has the worst train food I’ve ever experienced. Yes, worse than soggy British rail sandwiches with cucumber in them, eugh! It is at least free but probably because there would be riots if they tried to charge for it. It’s actaully quite a cunning ruse – give the passengers some horrible food for free and then come around with moderately nicer food that you have to pay for. You buy it just to remove the lingering horrible taste in your mouth that the free muck left you with.
We got off the train in Dong Ha and the following day went for a tour round various war sites in the DMZ on the back of motorbikes. It was great fun bezzing around on motorbikes and a great way to see the countryside and rural life too. Almost every group of children that we passed would wave at us and shout “Heellloooooo!!” and then collapse in a fit of giggles when you shout back “Sin Jow!” over the hum of the motorbike engine. It was quite surreal viewing the war remnants and junk as it is all very peaceful now. Trying to imagine this place as a barren expanse of land, home to nobody and with the whirr of B-52 bomber engines from above and explosions and gunfire on the ground was hard. It really didn’t seem like the same place that we had seen war photos of only a few days previously such is the extent that life and normality has returned to this area. There were only occasional reminders of the war that was so recently and intensely fought on these lands: a bullet scarred bunker, a ruined bridge, bomb craters, a tank shell.
One thing you can certainly say about the Vietnamese is that they are an incredibly resourceful lot. To avoid having their villages razed by bombers they built an underground network of tunnels and living quarters that entire villages would live in, they lived in them for 6 years. Seeing the cramped and dingy conditions that they would have lived in at the Vinh Moc tunnels was a real eye-opener to the lengths that people will go to survive.
The tour was a lot of fun and our guide was great for adding a bit context; he was a South Vietnamese veteran who spent 5 years at a ‘re-education camp’ after the war ended along with our guesthouse owner. We’d recommend the DMZ cafe in Dong Ha and their DMZ tour – the rooms are cheap and clean and the tour was fun.
There’s nothing much else of any interest in Dong Ha so we took a bus to the Laos border the very next day. The journey to the border was a little hairy at times, the driver seemingly deriving his driving ‘talents’ rather too much from the Indian school of vehicle pilotry. We made it to the border safely and getting through border security was a breeze – the most lax border crossing we’ve been to yet for sure which is great for us as it means no hassle and less queues.
The bus journey on the other side was an interesting experience too. The passenger bus also doubles as a goods truck and it seemed there was as much produce crammed on to it as you would usually be able to fit in a reasonable sized truck – sacks of potatoes stacked 3 high in the aisle, boxes under our feet and all sorts piled high on the roof. Not too soon after we had set off we realised that this bus probably wasn’t quite so dangerous as it first appeared being that it never got above 30mph and the roads were very good with barely another soul on them.
The bus journey really made us realise just what a difference a border makes. Almost all of the houses along the way were of the traditional wooden-stilted type and their inhabitants seemed largely non-plussed about tending to their arid and parched fields, instead choosing to sit/lie around chatting or sleeping. Laos only has a population of 6 million and we reckon there are probably more goats here than there are people, at least going by our 6 hour bus journey here – there’s shit loads of them! We both like goats – very comical looking creatures. If we ever have a lawn again we reckon that a goat is the order of day for keeping the grass short rather an lawn-mower. It would surely enhance our lives with many a comedy-caper to be had chasing the goat down the road and appeasing Mildred at number 32 when the goat had escaped and eaten all of her begonias, again.
We arrived in Savannakhet last night, the southern capital of Laos but with more of a small town feel to it, at about 7. About all there was time for last night was an gorgeous Thai-influenced meal and a Beer Laos by the Mekong looking over to the bright lights of Thailand on the other side. We’re looking forward to exploring the rest of Laos, it seems a really chilled out and fun place to be.
Until next time,