A Travellerspoint blog

Jeep Tour...

...number 2

sunny 35 °C

Despite it’s quirks I’ve decided I really like Vietnam, or at least the little I’ve seen of it…I’d definitely like to return one day to tour the north of the country…just different priorities this trip with the kitesurfing!

Having said that, we have definitely got out and about more this time. Yesterday we went on a jeep tour (yes, another one…see previous entry!) to a few different sites. Our jeep picked us up at 7:30am (yes that’s in the morning 7:30!). Sleepily we jumped in and set off for a 5 hour tour of…dragon fruit farm, market, Ca Tu Mountain and the Cham Towers!

First the Jeep…there are an abundance of ex USA army jeeps still in operation here, left on the side of the road and reclaimed by local Vietnamese at a later date. As you can imagine they are extremely well used and it’s unbelievable how they keep them running. Observations I made about this particular one…steering wheel was from a Toyota Corrola, welded onto what looked like the original steering column…gear stick looked like it was from a Honda and I’m suspecting so was the gear box itself as when the chap changed gear the layout seemed to be completely upside down, which suggested to me that they installed something else and had to “fit” it in any which way they could….none of the instruments were wired to anything (they are minimal in such a vehicle anyway)….the jeeps are open air with a roll cage and a bit of fabric stretched over it, our roll cage appeared to be made out of plumbing pipes, evident by the screw type corner joints that had “extra” corners and holes...there was no back to the jeep it seemed, and the spare wheel was tied on to something behind our seat, meaning anytime we went over a bump it thumped into our backs…pulling away from a standing stop involved the driver reaching down below the gas/accelerator peddle and pulling on the throttle cable to get enough revs to dump the clutch, which made for an interesting spectacle when he had to pay at the toll road booths as he was reluctant to come to a stand still (missing at least one lot of change)…starting the jeep after it had stood for about 30 minutes involved a lot of work under the hood/bonnet, I’m not really sure what.

I mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again…the driving is crazy here…pick a side of the road and go for it whilst trying to avoid thousands of bikes and mopeds…I can’t believe there aren’t more deaths on the road (maybe there are!). In fact as a side note we have just come back from the supermarket and witnessed the aftermath of an “incident” between a couple of mopeds and a cart pulled by 2 buffalo. All parties seemed to be ok…but the buffalo were loose with their wooden harness type thing (do they call it a yolk??) all smashed up.

Anyway first stop was the dragon fruit farm. A dragon fruit is a bright vibrant pinky red fruit with spikes a bit bigger than a mango but smaller than a melon. The flesh is white with tiny black seeds in (that you eat). Kind of the texture of a papaya, a little mushy. At first I wasn’t a fan, but they are growing on me. Anyway you get served them quite often here and seems that’s because if you drive 30 minutes up the road there are acres and acres of the things growing. The tree/bush they grow on is about head high with what looks like cactus leaves sprouting out the top…the fruits grow on the leaves themselves. Weird looking plants and fruits. Well the visit to the farm was actually just a stop on the side of the road to snap a few photos before heading on to the market.

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We stopped at a market just outside Phan Tiet. It was quite big with the usual food and wares stalls. I have to say it seemed a lot more hygienic than some I’ve been to over the years based on the lack of nauseating smells from the food section. We were definitely the attraction of the morning…2 tall, 1 very tall, blonde people…it did strike me how short the people are while we were there. The market is mainly made up of stalls with canvas roofs and awnings although there is an indoor bit too…I spent a lot of time walking round with my head out of the market looking down on the top of the stalls. I definitely felt a little like a tourist attraction myself. One stall had a bunch of live chickens and geese on who seemed to be shaking quite a lot. It was then that I noticed the 2 hanging by their feet, blood dripping from their necks (Kim tells me this is the best way…I don’t want to know how or why she knows this), and the completely plucked pair in a bowl on the same table, which probably explained the nervousness of the others. The only thing we bought were 2 deep friend bananas…I thought mine was pretty good, but Kim wasn’t impressed with the hair she found in hers. On to Ca Tu mountain.

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Ta Cu mountain is 20 miles or so from where we are on the beach. It is the site of (and I quote from the guide book) “…a pagoda constructed in 1861 during the Nguyen Dynasty, an important pilgrimage center for Buddhists and the site of Vietnams (…note I’ve only just read this in the guide book while writing this, I was thinking it was the worlds….damn) largest reclining Buddha at 49m/160ft long”.

We arrived at what looked like a very deserted, but pretty entrance to the mountain complex (for mountain, read pretty big hill!). We were told we had to buy a 65,000 Dong return ticket for the cable car (about 5 bucks each…Mike’s “I’m getting conned” alarm starts ringing!) and ushered onto a little electric wagon (kinda like a stretched golf cart) with a young Chinese couple for a ride to the cable car to get up the mountain.

I think the ride on the wagon was possibly the highlight of the trip…it won’t come over well in writing but we have video…the trip was about a quarter of a mile down a little path that wound its why around bends and over a significant hump back bridge. Well the driver slams his foot down at the start and we proceeded to take this journey at about 20 to 30 miles an hour…as we approached the hump back bridge Kim and I both looked at each other thinking “he will slow down right?”…but no, we flew over the thing and through the s-bend/chicane on the other side before coming to standstill at the bottom of the cable car.

A little exhilarated the four of us walked up to the non-operational cable car where there was one car with a guy asleep inside and the control room with 2 other guys smoking, staring at us and generally not doing much. Seemed quite a modern contraption, much like the one at the ski resort of Sunshine Village in Canada with about a tenth of the amount of cars on it (…not many). The Chinese girl went up and asked if they would start it, and with a grunt one guy sauntered over and took all our tickets. There wasn’t much action for the next few minutes, but then once he’d finished his cigarette, he hit the “GO” button and the thing buzzed into action (much to the surprise of the chap asleep in the one cart I imagine…I’m not sure whether he woke up or not!). The four of us jumped in and headed up the mountain.

I’m guessing it was a 10 minute ride up and over the jungle. It seemed extremely dense and green jungle with lots of birds and I’m guessing animals with all the noises we heard. We did spot a few monkeys playing in the trees.

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On arrival at the top my heart sank a little bit as I heard the banging of hammers and the general buzz of a construction site. I may have mentioned in a previous entry that this is the general sound of Mui Ne where we are staying. Construction everywhere, including the house they’re building next to the hotel. Well firstly the good, the views were amazing from the top, and the jungle setting spectacular. The ancient Nguyen Dynasty Pagoda, an important pilgrimage site…well that’s been knocked down and is in the early stages of being replaced by, what I can only assume, is an even more important Pagoda of the 2008 Dynasty! Currently a construction site. We climbed about 10,000 steep steps to see this construction site, and when we got there I began to think that the site was also big enough to once house a 49m reclining Buddha! Surely the tour company (or the chap who sold me 2 65,000 Dong tickets, or the jeep driver) would have mentioned if the Buddha had been removed…wouldn’t they? As I caught my breath and scanned the horizon, there was no sign of any Buddha or indeed of any people…other than the Chinese couple (who to me seemed to be having similar suspicions), a Russian family (Russian mafia, they’re everywhere here), and some random locals.

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At this point they’re were 2 options, back down or more steps leading up (why they couldn’t have extended the cable car a few more feet I don’t know!). Well we kept climbing and eventually I caught glimpse of said reclining Buddha through the trees. It was indeed large, pretty run down, covered in graffiti, but impressive non the less. It would have been quite a peaceful spot as well, with the spectacular views and jungle setting, but the noise of the construction, jack hammers, drills etc, meant we only spent about 15 minutes hanging around before heading back to the cable car.

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Once again it was non-operational when we got there and on asking the guy in the control room whether he could start it, I received a reply in Vietnamese followed by much laughing, so wandered off to wait (I suspect I may now know the Vietnamese for “Sorry you’ll have to walk down”!). 15 minutes later it started up, we were whisked down and rode the “kamikaze cart” back to the front gate.

Our final stop was at the ancient site of the Cham Towers…three 9th Century temples. They were impressive, but by this point it was the middle of the day, 35 degrees C, and we were a bit done in, so we didn’t spend long there. After summarizing there were no ancient pubs in the vicinity (see UK entry), we jumped in the jeep and drove back to the hotel.

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A fun and interesting outing…just driving around in this country is fascinating even if the sites when you get there are not quite as impressive as maybe you’d hoped!

Posted by msmitheman 08:17 Archived in Vietnam

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