Fiona and Ash's Gap Year Extravaganza travel blog

...We got up to quite a lot! For a start, we're staying in the nicest hotel we've stayed in since Mount Lavinia!. The floors are tiled, the furniture matches, there's furniture, the bed is comfortable, there's hot water, the decor is tasteful (Apart from the rather out of place 101 Dalmations border running round the room), the walls are made of bricks and plaster and not plastic, we have a window, we have a sit-down toilet which has a lid AND flushes itself, there's a sink, shower, not a cockroach in sight, a desk and chair, and to top it all off there's a TV and a fridge freezer!!! It may sound standard to some, but to us it's a palace.

And a rather more modern palace to the one we visited a few days back. The 'Re-unification Palace' in Ho Chi Minh City was built in the 60s, and it shows quite a bit. Looking for it on the map, we knew it should be at the end of this road, but where? All we could see was this pretty ugly rectangle of a building (Think Queensway Hall for those who knew Dunstable a few years back). This turned out to be the palace. Inside, it was less like a palace, more like a very nice 60s home, complete with small cinema, games room, gambling room and a pool/ billiards table with no pockets. Didn't quite get that. Casino table maybe? We didn't have a guide, so that never got explained. The best part of the palace was actually the basement which was transformed into a war operations bunker, and all the radios, typewriters, offices and maps were still there.

We also went to the 'War remnants museum' which housed a lot of dead tanks, minesweepers, planes and cannons. There was also loads of really amazing photos, just taken in the right place at the right time. There were also some very gruesome photos of Agent Orange victims and the war crimes of American soldiers.

We went on a day-tour the other day and visited a load of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war to hide from the Americans. We got to go inside one of the tunnels, and discovered that they really were extremely cramped. They've been re-inforced with concrete now, but back then they were just mud tunnels, completely in the dark (Apart from a few candles) and apparently they would collapse on people occasionally. Certainly not one for claustrophobics! We went to a handicrafts centre too where there was a big long table of people polishing wood, cutting 'mother of pearl' flowers and painting pots and vases. There were some beautiful things in the shop too, but all quite expensive.

Two childhoods were re-visited yesterday when we visited 'Dam Sen Park'. The Lonely Planet describes Dam Sen as a park with lots of cool sculptures made of coconut shells and metal and coke cans and stuff. We thought it would be a nice place to visit for an hour or two, so didn't leave that much time for it, getting there at about 1 in the afternoon. We were going to go swimming in the pool just down the road afterwards too. Alarm bells should have started ringing, I guess, when we had to pay nearly a dollar to get in and there were kiddie's rides next to the entrance. When we walked in, we found ourselves next to a big lake around which a big theme park was built! Our faces lit up like we were 7 again and we started opening up our maps that we'd been handed to see what rides there were. A roller coaster, enormous ferris wheel, log flume, ice sculpture house and swan boats for the lake were all present, but what excited me the most was that there was a dinosaur house!! (If you were trying to guess which one of us was writing this, the debate should be over now...)

We went swimming first as it had started raining (As it has nearly every day in Vietnam) and we figured if we're going to get wet, we might as well go the whole hog. The water park was excellent with loads of slides and flumes as well as a zip wire from which you fell into the water (Ash hit the water particularly amusingly head-first with legs flailing and arms waving) and a wave pool. We both agreed that the best one though was the unexpectedly fast and furious rubber-ring ride.

After that, we headed for the dinosaurs! The ride was, to be honest, far from exhilerating, and the dinosaurs, to be honest, far from realistic. Flabby, rubber-skinned comic-book monsters lunged lack-lustrely at the boat in which the visitors sit. For some reason, the people behind us were screaming like they'd just stepped into Jurassic Park, But Ash knew better. They had a Dimitrodon which isn't even a dinosaur! Don't they know anything? To be honest, they threw in an extremely funny looking giant snake as well as a few gorillas at the end for good measure, so perhaps the emphasis was more on 'Prehistoric' rather than 'Dinosaurs'. The best bit was an unexpected-if-small plunge at the end where we got ever so slightly wet. All in all, it was fantastic! They even had Albertosaurus and Mammenchisaurus skeletons in the foyer which were quite impressive.

Next up was the log-flume. Again, like the dinosaur ride, most of it was very lazy-river style floating round, but they had two big (And steep) drops, both of which forced screams out of us (Even brave Ashley) and got us a bit more wet than the Dinosaur plunge.

Being quite wet by this time, it was probably not the best idea to visit the ice-house next, but that's what we did. On arrival, we were given big thermal coats, and we certainly needed them! The ice sculptures were excellent. There was a big car, a horse and cart, a palace, a pyramid, a sort of castle rampart which you could walk along and an ice-slide! Annoyingly, the slide was closed (They'd even frozen big blocks into the slide so you couldn't even quickly slide down 'illegally'). It was great, but after 20 minutes, we had to call time as we were both freezing. We almost literally melted when we got out, the moisture in our skin going from very cold and dry to very warm and evaporating.

Our next stop was SUPPOSED to be the big roller coaster, but as were were there too late (By this time it was 6.30), it had closed!! Thanks a lot Lonely Planet!! All you had to say was 'Oh, it's also a big amazing theme park with cool rides'...

We did get to see some Crocodiles though. Most of them were asleep (Or so it seemed). They're part of a thing where in the daytime (When it's open) you can go out into the Croc lake in a caged boat and feed them with big long poles. We didn't think they were real at first because they sit so unbelievably still you can't even see them breathe, but when we saw a few drifting silently across the lake, some towards us, we decided they were real enough and left to go and see the light and water show, which was thoroughly enjoyable and a good end to the unexpectadly great day!

Since then, we've not done too much. We went crazy buying rediculously cheap bootleg copied CDs from a shop where it was 'Buy 5, get one free'. I got one 'set' while Fiona went all out and got 3. That's 18 CDs!!

(Mum, one of my CDs was Muse's new album, 'Black Holes and Revelations'. I remember you asking me whether or not you'd like it. I think you would. To my mind, it's not as good as Absolution or Origin of Symmetry, but that's because I like the heavier, more guitar based songs. It's quite different and far more dramatic and theatrical, using a much wider range of instruments and sounds, and for these reasons, I think you'll really like it. It's more intricate rather than catchy. You'll love 'Soldier's Poem', and probably the rest of it. Some quite angry lyrics in a few places, like 'Hell, you'll burn in hell', but don't let that put you off. If you haven't yet bought it, do because my copy is pretty awful and will probably not play in 3 weeks!)

Anyway, we'll probably post again before we go to 'Oz, but if not, our next news will be from 'Down Under'!

Ash and Fiona xxx

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