Posted by: The Travelling Mallorys | September 13, 2010

A cockroach on Erin’s pillow…and other chronicles from our early days in Vietnam

Hello from Vietnam! Never thought I would write that!

We took the slower route into Vietnam and decided to ride the waterways from Cambodia. After being picked up in a rickety old minibus and driven on miles of bumpy unfinished road, then down a dirt track into what looked like someone’s backgarden, we were turfed onto a speedboat (!) for the first leg of our journey.

It soon began to monsoon and as rain and waves lashed against our little boat Gavin grinned and I fretted!

Gavin grinning (Photo taken by fretting Erin)

Gavin grinning (Photo taken by fretting Erin)

We were served a ‘light lunch’ of a pot noodle fished out from the back of the boat just as we arrived at immigration on the side of river. The rains and winds beat against us we hauled ourselves up a ladder from the side of the boat up to immigration.

It was so much fun!

Hmmmmmmmmm, not sure about that! But after having to slide and scramble up and down this ladder a few times (you need to go back and get your rucksacks , no you don’t, put them back) the good news is that our pot noodle was stewed enough and ready to eat when we trudged back inside the speedboat!

Woooo, we were officially in Vietnam! We arrived in Chau Doc and were left at our skanky Floating Hotel. Quite definitely the worst room we have ever had. Never mind. When we were standing in our room we were bobbing up and down on the Mekong!

Yeeeeessss….We had dinner that night in the floating restaurant with our new friends, Jenny and Lucky who also joined us on the expedition on the river.

Drinking with Lucky and Jenny

Drinking with Lucky and Jenny

Jenny is an OU lecturer taking a year out to travel and Lucky was a Cambodian tour operator away on business. He was very enigmatic.

The next day we visiting a floating fish farm, and a traditional Cham village – not floating, this was on the land and then we had our cruise along the Mighty Mekong for four glorious hours. Amazing.

Cruising on the Mekong

Cruising on the Mekong

We arrived in Can Tho and said goodbye to Jenny and Lucky who were continuing on whilst we had another day on the river.

Guess what we visited the next day? The floating market! Only for LOCALS as we kept being told which deterred us from trying to buy 50kg of taro.

Floating market at Can Tho

Floating market at Can Tho

It was cool – they hung whatever they were selling on big sticks so you could see which boat had what you wanted to buy. Not sure why anyone would want this though:

Spiders for sale

Spiders for sale

We also saw rice noodles being made on the land and visited a rice factory which I found fascinating! E-mail me if you want to hear about it in great detail.

After experiencing the slow and rural pace of life with the Southern riverine people we were heading to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with the warnings of fellow traveller’s in our minds:

“It’s MAD!”

“Cross the road at your peril!”

“Too busy, too much hassle, too many motorbikes!”

“It’s MAAAAAAD!” and so on.

So imagine our surprise when it turned out that we loved Saigon. It was the first big city we had been to since Bangkok and it was nice to be back in the thick of it. But I think it probably is the city equivalent of Marmite – you will love it or hate it.

We had a wonderful time visiting the Reunification Palace. This is where the tanks of the Northern Vietcong rolled in in 1975 and the whole place has been preserved since then. There are bunkers and war rooms and tunnels running underground the palace and we had fun exploring them. And the rest of the Palace is like going back to 70’s – fantastic architecture and interior design.

The swinging Reunification Palace

The swinging Reunification Palace

We also visited the War Museum and again I learned a lot. It was really moving to read about the the awful effects still being felt from the American’s use of napalm, Agent Orange and other chemical weapons.

But Saigon is an example of how Vietnam has changed and grown as a country. It is a buzzing, vibrant city full of culture and we had a great time.

We caught the Reunification Express train for 7 long hours up the coast to Nha Trang, the party beach. American GI’s used to come here in the war and the culture of partying hard is still in evidence. Of course we were tucked up in bed whilst the nearby clubs pumped out banging choons. I grooved along in my sleep.

We enjoyed the beautiful beach and coastline and then decided to head on, up to Hoi An. We booked what we thought was a soft sleeper for the overnight journey. Turned out we actually had a hard sleeper in a six berth carriage. An old man was snoozing on Gavin’s bed when we boarded –

I got rid of him quick smart!

-and we settled down for a very uncomfortable night.

Our bed for the night

Our bed for the night

Yes, the ‘bed’ was hard as nails, tannoy announcements kept waking us up, there were 4 other men in the carriage snoring away, the train kept stopping unexpectedly, we were 4 hours late (so it turned into a 12 hour trip – as long as it took us to get here from London!) and there were bugs everywhere – but this is an experience! And I slept all night anyway as I had gone into hibernation mode.

A cockroach fell on my pillow.

They were everywhere darling! At least we weren’t back in third class which we passed through en route to the restaurant car. Hard wooden seats and no air con, fully rammed with people, some of them sleeping on the floor. Could have been worse is all I am saying!

We do not want to relive those dark hours so let’s move on. Hoi An is a pretty Unesco world heritage town with crumbling old French colonial architecture, lots of lovely buildings, red lanterns lighting up the town at night, scenic riverside strolls and about a million tailor shops.

Hoi An

Hoi An

Everyone wants to make you a suit, or a dress, or a pretty skirt – all things we have no use or space for whilst travelling.

It was fully boring though.


It was! Yes pretty, blah blah but nothing to do. All the ‘sights’ took about 1 hour in total to visit but on the plus-side they did have the cheapest beer on our trip so far at 3000 Vietnamese dong – about 10p! Obviously it was rank but if you paid about 5p more you got a fairly decent brew. Oh and nice noodles called Cau Lao.

Eating Cau Lao

Eating Cau Lao

Our daytrip to My Son was fun. Although reallllly hot.

Ah yes, a mini Angkor Wat. We had a funny tour guide who called himself a young Vietcong and we went on a bus where the seats were beds!

Time to go. The train again, but this time only a 2 hour daytime trip to Hue. The scenery was very dramatic and gorgeous during the journey and even Gavin stayed awake to coo over it.

We are now halfway through out time in Vietnam and are having a nice time here in Hue exploring.

We will report soon on our adventures in Hanoi, Halong Bay and maybe Sapa. And after Nam comes Laos. Seeeeeee yooooou!



  1. isn’t there something fundamentally, morbidly wrong with a floating fish farm? florey says get your hair cut (to gav, obviously) xxx

  2. Glad you are enjoying Vietnam! Are you going to do the Gibbon Experience in Laos? It’s an amazing experience. Most people just visit Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng & Vientiane but there is so much more to the country. Enjoy!

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