•A smiling ending•

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On August 19 we took the bus from Phnom Penh to the biggest city in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Already from the bus we could see that Vietnam is a wealthier country: motorbikes and neon signs everywhere and the Vietnamese people dress quite fashionably. In the city centre of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) the international luxurious brands are all lined up and there’s a huge variety of restaurants of all kinds (except Mc Donalds and the other the junk-food chains). This historically interesting city with its 7 million citizens is fast moving and vibrant. During rush hours the roads are congested with rattling motorbikes and crossing the street was a real challenge sometimes.

We strolled around the lively backpacker area and had a traditional noodle soup (Pho) followed by a “Saigon Beer” while squatting on a little plastic stool next to the bustling road. Our visit to the “War Museum” was shocking and everything was portrayed in a very subjective way – not to say: opinion-forming (propaganda against the USA)! Besides tanks and different weapons they also show uncensored pictures of war victims – simply horrible!

After so much tough stuff we needed a break and time to relax.  And so we went to Mui Ne – a little town at the Chinese Sea with a wide beach and great wind conditions for kitesurfing. We explored the surrounding on a scooter and marveled at the massive sand dunes and the “Fairy Stream” – a shallow river in midst of impressive rock formations.

On a night train we continued our trip to Hoi An – our favorite city of all the places we’ve been to in Vietnam! This place has it all: a cozy historical old town with narrow alleys and a laid-back vibe as well as beautiful beaches.  On a bike we discovered the beautiful landscape with its green rice paddies und lovely Vietnamese peoples. At the nearby “An Bang Beach” we rented a surf board and had a lot of fun in the sun. Besides its historical importance, Hoi An is also famous for its many tailor shops – unfortunately our budget was not tolerating any extra expenses for a customized dress. And after three awesome days we left Hoi An reluctantly as our schedule was getting tighter and tighter – now we regret that we didn’t spend more time there.

On the way to Hue we also got an idea of how it feels to ride on a Vietnamese “sleeper bus”: pretty shi***!  Especially because the bus was overbooked and some of the passengers even had to sit on mattresses in the aisles reluctantly. Luckily it was only 4 hours to go to Hue – which was more than enough for us because the reclining seats are made for the average Vietnamese people and not for North-Europeans (50 x 150cm).

In Hue we visited the ancient Citadel with the „Forbidden City“ (based on the model of the Forbidden City in Beijing) and had a look at the local market. We were quite surprised to see this huge variety of goods offered at this market: from food over household articles to technical fuss… it seemed they had everything! ;-) Before we left this historical rich city we were invited by our hotel staff to share a special “full moon lunch” with them. And off we went for another night train ride.

Our hopes that the newer train would also feature better cabins died the moment we saw the sleeper wagon rolling in the train station… and so the strategy was “Take a deep breath and get to it!”. At sunrise the train arrived to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and we went straight to Paul and Jyldyz – a lovely Couchsurfing-couple who hosted us very comfortably for the last days of our trip. Hanoi is a very busy city: motorbikes, cars and busses all try to “honk” their way through the heavily congested roads and little soup kitchens on the sidewalks with their customers sitting on these teeny-tiny plastic stools make it really difficult for pedestrians to reach their destination without being run over by any vehicle. It’s definitely not the most pedestrian-friendly city in the world!

Anyhow, we dropped the “Museum of Ethnology” a visit, saw a “water puppet show” and strolled through the streets of the Old Quarter which are even busier than in the rest of the city. Food stalls, all sorts of souvenirs and travel agencies all over the place. We enjoyed the nice architecture of the buildings and just check out the different shops.

We spent a lot of time thinking about where we wanted to do our last trip to. The so-called “must-see” Halong Bay was put off the list quite quickly as we feel that it is simply a waste of money and time to get on a group tour boat trip around a bay where 199 other boats cruise around and do exactly the same thing! And the other famous destination, the mountain village of Sapa (close to the Chinese boarder) is mainly visited because of the beautiful rice terraces and the minority groups there (Hmong). But we’ve got the impression from various reviews online that it got so touristy up there to a point where the locals wear their traditional closes only to attract more tourists and on top of this we didn’t feel like doing another night train ride.

Finally we found this promising area 100km south of Hanoi called Ninh Binh on the internet. We saddled a motorbike and hit the road. Going there on a bike was hell! Once we’d left the feisty traffic in Hanoi we faced dusty roads under constructions plus honking trucks and busses which were overtaking, breaking and driving without any logical sense. And on top of that there were people on bikes and even horse carriages. Three hours later we arrived safe and sound (apart from the pneumoconiosis, the jarring of our spirals and our sore bums ;-) ).

Ninh Binh town wasn’t that interesting but the surrounding was breathtaking! Say may say it’s the Halong Bay without the sea. Instead there are rivers which curve around the mighty limestone hills. Lush green rice paddies reach as far as our eyes could see and the good-hearted locals where just a joy to be around with. None of them tried to sell us souvenirs, no street noise… a very recommendable place to visit! And we haven’t even seen the scenery with sunshine … it was raining almost all the time and also on the way back to Hanoi: rain rain rain! Maybe this is the warm-up for the upcoming autumn in Germany! :-)

Back to Hanoi we spent the last two days together with Paul and Jyldyz and had a great time together. We laughed a lot and had so much good food! We stuffed as much fresh, tropical fruits into our bellies as possible! :-)

And now is Friday, September 7, 2012 and tomorrow we’ll fly home. That’s it! It’s time to say goodbye! One year of travelling is over and the money is all spent! It’s hard to describe our thoughts and emotions right now. How will it feel to be back home… the daily life? What again is this actually? But one thing is for sure: we had an amazing time which we’ll never forget in our lives and we can’t wait to see family, friends and Hamburg again after such a long time!

Alright then… the next post will be published in Hamburg! For the meanwhile take some time to get “itchy feet” while looking at the pictures!

See you soon, world!

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