Sunday, May 02, 2004

There is a definite cycle to this traveling malarky. It goes: city, mountains, beach, city, mountains, beach, and so on. And so it came to be that after descending from the peaks of north-west Vietnam we should head for the near-coast town of Hoi An and all its associated tailors.

Halong Bay was both beautiful and enjoyable. Firstly because it consists of thousands of separate island and caves and secondly because Vietnamese people trying to hawk me stuff don't generally get out to sea much. Halong bay is a World Heritage Site, which means it gets all sorts of special protection; but that doesn't stop ships captains' tossing their plastic bags of rubbish into the water. We went as part of a tour with six other travelers - I would definitely recommend such a thing as it is a great way to meet like-minded individuals from across the world.

Halong Bay in some of its glory...

And meeting such people in the days since Halong have caused me to realise how ridiculously expensive my home city of London really is. During my only day back in Hanoi I got chatting to a local who was studying English at university. Now remember folks, to work out a price in Vietnamese dong one must multiply the British pound by 27,000. 27 is a bastardly awkward number to work with. Also bear in mind that a long distant bus takes 12 hours might cost about 50,000 dong. And furthermore I ask you to consider that I am not doing the patronising phonetic representation of my Vietnamese chum's attempts at English; although it was rather good anyway.

"How much does it cost you to get to work in the morning?"

"Er.... *insert many seconds of furious thinking here* about 150,000 dong."

*makes face of surprise and concern* "How much do cigarettes cost?"

Ah. This was easy - it's the same price: "150,000 dong." I reply speedily looking smug as if I had just done the maths again but in super quick time.



A packet of Marlboro Lights here in Vietnam cost about 17,000 dong I am told by those who buy such things. Which is a mixed blessing for them I guess. I also guess that with no regulations on what the evil tobacco manufacturers can stick (get it? Weak pun there) into their product, ciggies here probably contain something nasty and highly addictive like heroin or the like.

"How much does a house cost in London?"

I baulk.

How much is the average London house price? I ask my friend Rob. "300,000 pounds" he reckons.

I baulk more - adding to the previous baulk - at the mathematics ahead of me. I decide to estimate a rough approximation. It's a billion dong I believe.

I put on my best Ren and Stimpy voice:

"A biiiilleeon dong!" I exclaim. It turns out I was wrong; the actual figure is more like 8,100,000,000 dong but he gets the message anyway: study English but don't visit England. Not unless you're prepared to be bank rolled by a Vietnamese tobacco company.

Yesterday I met a Japanese chap called Yoshio. After the initial and mandatory conversation about Manga and the marvelous Takeshi Kitano and his new film Zatoichi we move onto prices. Or rather I move the conversation on to it. I always thought that Tokyo, from where Yoshio hails,
was possibly the only city more expensive than London, but oh no. I won't bother with more details, but now I'm more pissed off than ever about the ridiculous expense us Londoners' are put through on a regular basis. Yoshio pays $100 a month for his Tokyo apartment.


Today I paid $35 to get a tailor made tuxedo. It is very nice thankyouverymuch. Such an item would cost me double this to rent one for a weekend - although to be fair it would probably cost double anywhere else. I'm still baulking.

Finally here is a very sad man indeed. Or is it just a spoof website? Don't send your answers to me.

Fruits in Vietnam.Try the Sapodilla. Yummy.

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