We're Never Coming Back

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Day 277 - Tet Festival & Dam Sen Park

vietnam Happy New Year... again.

So whilst china and the rest of Asia (and every chinatown in every city in the world) celebrates 'Chinese New Year', the Vietnamese had to be different. Tonight its 'Tet', their own version of New Year, and its big business. When we left Ho Chi Minh City over a week ago, they were already clearing the streets, decking them with lanterns and flowers. And even back then the town was geared up for new year with flower markets and yellow-blossomed trees on sale everywhere - their very popular equalivalent of christmas trees.

But we come back on the eve of the Tet festival and the town is manic. Soundsystems blare out Vietnamese music, interspersed with 'Happy New Year' by Abba. Whole swathes of streets are blocked off, covered in flowers, gardens and statues of pigs (it is the year of the pig, after all). People are flocking to have their photo taken with anything they can find from decroated trees, huge terracotta piggy banks or displays of hanging flowers. Its carnage, and its still only daytime.

But, as with most new years celebrations these days, I'm ill. so is sam. so at 8pm when we wave off the london guys, we head straight for our cool, air-conditioned bedroom, climb in, and sleep right through til 11pm. We're rough - i'm bugged with the sweats and some weird headache that makes me want to die, and sam's suffering an evil cold that's leaving her bedridden too. BUT, its new year. So we get up.

And within 45 minutes, we've crawled into a cab, through the heaving carnage of moped traffic into town and are stood surrounded by thousands of vietnamese people staring into the sky, as if waiting for God to descend and wish them happy new year personally.

He doesn't. But at the strike of midnight, amidst the usual fanfare of music and hugging and cheering, a 15-minute firework display lights the sky. There's no real focal point in HCMCity. So the fireworks are being let off by the river, and their view is obscured by the town centre's skyscrapers. But it doesn't bother the people here. Every couple of minutes, they burst into applause at the sight of the fireworks. How mental is that? They are applauding explosives. I imagine like people did when fireworks were first invented. But its sweet.

And after walking back home through the equally hectic traffic carnage - people this time, not mopeds, we take our broken bodies and put them to bed. Happy New Year.

The next week is kinda boring. We're stuck in HCMCity, waiting for our Indian visas to be approved. But its Tet festival, so everything is shut. and they take 4 working days. So we actually have to sit around this city, which isn't the most fun-packed city i've been to, for over a week. But its fine. We kept ourselves busy - hours on the internet; a whole day in a cinema (apocalypto - AMAZING. Persuit of happyness - dull); hours browsing the pirate dvd and cd stores (guys - if you want anything for a quid each, let me know), swimming in overpriced hotel pools; introducing tanning oil to my skin - until now its been factor 15 cream and I'm blacker than my mate angie these days - needless to say my sensitive skin isn't ready for the oil. whoops. We also take a walk along the Saigon river. its grim. probably the nastist river I've ever seen. And the comedy tourist boats don't do it any favours either. grim.

But most notably of the weeks uninspiring events was a visit to the Dam Sen park. Not totally sure what to expect, the park is described as quirky in the guide books, and since the city's only other waterpark is shut for maintenance, we decide to go there instead. A confusing attempt to find a local bus takes about an hour, but we make it on board - don't underestimate how difficult getting a foreign bus is when you don't speak the language and have left your phrasebook at home - and 20 minutes later we arrive at this mental, huge theme park in the suberbs of the city.

Its huge, costs less a quid to get in, and is packed with a huge lake, a rickety monorail, an enormous ferris wheel and a waterpark tagged on to the side. We ride the monorail round and whilst fearing for our lives that its gonna collapse, we see the whole park's beauty. People lounge on the grass, soaking up the sun. Kids scream at every corner, riding the basic and very dated fairground rides. Pedalos dart across the lake, decorated with chinese new year... sorry, Tet... displays. Its SO nice.

And after an hour of wandering around, we throw on our swimmers and attack the waterpark.

Now. The main waterpark in closed, so this one is heaving. But its not just heaving. Its full to bursting. You can bearly walk around there is so many people. And they're all staring - we're the only tourists in the whole complex. But its fun. The water is gross - warm and murky from all the kiddies peeing as they play. But we have a swim in the pool, Eve and I ride some slides, we manage to make some friends with vietnamese kids to share out 3-person raft, and Sam and I float down the lazy river giggling like 5-year-olds again. Its nice.

And a couple of days later, we're picking up our Indian visas, repacking our backpacks, and hopping on a bus to Cambodia. I'm SO excited about Cambodia - its the main place I wanna visit in south east asia, and its just a 6 hour bus away. And before we know it, we're having our passports stamped at the the border, and preparing to cross into 11th country in 10 months.

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