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The Mekong Delta, Việt Nam

Is not so mighty...

rain 26 °C
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Up early and checked out, we were ready to be picked up for our tour into the Mekong Delta. We left our big backpacks at the hotel (as we would be staying one more night after the tour) and boarded our bus. It took around 3 hours to reach the Delta where our first stop was a local family's "home" where we ate fruit and drank tea while they performed traditional music during which the heavens opened. The set up was a tourist trap even being offered a CD of the music and did not feel genuine at all - not helped by two other tour groups!


Performance over and with it still bucketing it down it was time to board our hand rowed sandpan to explore the narrower tributaries of the Delta. It was time to get wet - very wet! We covered up as best we could with all our waterproof covers over bags etc but we were drenched in seconds. You just have to go with it though and its still stinking hot. The sandpan was the part Nick had been looking forward to the most and although it was good fun (even in the rain) it was over in less than 5 minutes where we were deposited at a traditional Coconut Candy making workshop where our guide explained how it was made before getting to sample it. Both Nick and I wondered how traditional this was and whether they would be making it if there were not tour group after tour group being filed though.


We then boarded a larger boat (the rain had stopped by this point and we were already drying nicely) to go for lunch in a fruit orchard which was ok and where we got talking to a nice couple from Poland. It was then back to the boat where we sailed along the Mekong for a couple of hours taking in the scenery before re-boarding our bus to visit the Nam Mô Đương Lai Hạ Sanh Di Lặc Tôn Phật Temple with its huge laughing and reclining Buddhas.


Again though this felt rushed as we had to be back on the bus for a 2.5 hour journey to our hotel in Can Tao where we were pretty much given a key and told to be ready for 06.30 the next morning. Hmmm. This was not living up to our expectations at all and we were regretting not paying the extra money to use the tour company we had used for Halong Bay. Our room was very basic but comfortable enough so we popped out for food at a nearby restaurant which served everything you can think off (and would not want to eat!) rat, dog, snake and even hamster. We had want we think was chicken and pork but can't be 100% sure before heading back to the hotel.

Very early the next morning and after a surprisingly good sleep and basic breakfast (a Dairylea slice, bread roll and a tiney tiny banana) we walked to the river to get back on our boat to visit the famous floating market at Can Tho. Even though there were lots of tourist boats and people trying to sell us things (they would hook onto the boat!) this actually felt more genuine as there were actual locals buying and selling. Our guide explained what the different boats were selling and how you could tell by the bamboo poles they had displaying their products. She then said that Gordon Ramsey had recently visited the markets and tried a snake blood wine concoction before vomiting into the river and insulting everyone by saying "if it moves they will eat it". After looking at the menu the previous night I tend to agree with him! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODg309JkPRo


While trying to leave the markets it all got a bit heated with lots of the smaller boats fighting for our business and at one point we were completely surrounded and our boat managed to snag one of their ropes - it was all very entertaining! Finally we broke free and set off to visit a rice paper workshop. Fearing the worst after the previous days tourist traps we were pleased to end up in what appeared to a be a genuine "factory". They were working so fast and kept telling us to get out of the way (again making us believe it was real) and our guide explained the process and showed how the paper is dried and then made into rice noodles. Very interesting.


Back on the boat and this time we were heading for a fruit orchard where our guide explained all of the different fruits they grow in the Delta which was really interesting. Sadly at this point the heavens again opened so it was cut short while we fled for shelter and a chance to sample the fruit, I didn't expect to get a whole pineapple.


From here it was about an hour on the boat back to the hotel where we had lunch before getting the bus back to Ho Chi Minh. Nearly 5 hours later we arrived and checked straight back into our hotel where of had time to shower and book a hotel in our next destination before heading out to meet Corina and Teresa (again) for dinner.

To my annoyance Nick had told them that it it was my birthday and bless them they had got me a party hat and a little cake with a sparkler in it (which was very amusing when Corina was bent under the table trying to light it in secret but the ceiling fan kept blowing it out!). Our meal was delicious and in a great restaurant where they help locals by teaching them English and giving training in Catering and Hospitality. Excellent food and service and more importantly and excellent venture. Go here if you are in town.

Photo by Corina Hintermeister

Photo by Corina Hintermeister

Sadly the night ended sooner than we would have wanted as we were on the early bus to Cambodia in the morning, so we said our goodbyes (again!)

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 02:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mekong_delta Comments (0)

Hồ Chí Minh, Việt Nam

semi-overcast 28 °C
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We were at Da Nang airport with plenty of time thanks to our private taxi transfer from Hoi An, but when we checked the Departure Board could not understand why our flight was missing?!? We asked at the JetStar counter who informed us that our flight had been delayed from 16.45 to 22.00 due to technical difficulties - wonderful! So we know had 8 hours to kill in a tiny airport. Nick had a mini-meltdown at this point - I think things had finally gotten to him as we were struggling to finalise our onward plans and this was the last straw for him. Surprisingly they gave us food vouchers, although we were only allowed to order one thing from the "restaurant" - noodles with Beef which were ok, but nothing special.

Somehow we managed to kill time thanks to some coffee, the laptop (until it died), hangman and a dirty Burger King (sssh!). After finally being able to board our flight, 1 hour later and were touching down at Ho Chi Minh. By the time we collected our luggage it was nearly midnight (joy!) so we had no choice but to get a taxi. There were English speaking porters keeping track of things and our taxi driver seemed decent enough, even phoning out hotel when he couldn't find it - it was down a side alley so you couldn't see it from the main road - although it cost us more than we think it should have. Our hotel hello http://www.booking.com/hotel/vn/hello-hotel.en.html were waiting for us, knowing we were delayed so swept us into our room to rest without any of the usual formalities. Our room was nice, although nowhere near as nice as our swanky hotels in Hue and Hoi An.

During our extended stay at Da Nang Airport we had booked a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, unfortunately we had to be at their offices for 07.30 so it was a sleepy start to the morming with both of us falling asleep on the bus. It was worth it though. On arrival you watch a 20 minute film about the war and the Viet Cong before following our guide into the main complex. The first stop was at what appeared to be small clearing but when he brushed the leaves aside it revealed a tiny wooden hatch which a member of staff then jumped into to display how to get in and out. This hole is tiny, half full of muddy rain water (and god knows what else) and pitch black when the hatch is closed. Members of the Viet Cong would stay in there for hours at a time waiting to ambush passing US troops. We were then all invited to have a go, but neither Nick or I were brave enough.


We then walked through lots of exhibits of the different entrances into the tunnels, how they disguised air holes as termite mounds and all of the different traps they used - some of which are barbaric involving razor sharp bamboo. They also used pieces of American munitions they could find against them, so gunpowder, shards of metal for spikes etc.


The tour ended at a series of tunnels which have been constructed especially and believe it or not are 3 times larger than they actually would have been. Now as not all of you may know Nick suffers with claustraphobia and has had panic attacks when we have visited small caves in Monte Carlo and even in lifts. He is normally ok if he can see an exit or if he can feel movement (a lift or plane etc). The tunnels are between 4-6 meters underground for a 100 metre stretch with exit points every 20 metres just in case. He was determined to do it though so we followed the rest of our group into the hole and into a dimly lit, very hot narrow crawl space which slowly worked its way down twisting and turning. At 20 meters I broke off to the exit but Nick was adamant he wanted to keep going so we carried on for another 20 metres going deeper underground and getting narrower, darker and hotter. By this point Nick had had enough and wanted out so we headed for the 40 metre exit along with a couple of others I'm so proud of him for facing one of his biggest fears head on and I know he is very pleased with himself, although you can see from the photo how scared he was - that is the most forced smile!


Back in the fresh air we had a final few exhibits and obligatory gift shop before getting the bus back to Ho Chi Minh. Our bus dropped off us very close to the War Remnants Museum, so after a quick drink at a local cafe we went in to learn more about the War. Outside the museum are a number of tanks and aircraft (all of which. I'm sure Dad can name) and a reconstruction of a POW prison with the infamous tiger cages.


The highlight of the museum however was its photographic exhibits with documented the war and also the aftermath including a particularly moving exhibit of photographs of the victims of Agent Orange, the chemical agent used by the US for deforestation and which continues to have long term genetic side effects for children 4 generations later. What was so upsetting was that American soldiers who were also affected have been paid large amounts of compensation from the US Government and chemical companies yet the Vietnamese claims are still being refused by the US Supreme Court. We completely lost track of time in the museum and were surprised when at 17.00 on the dot they started locking doors, turning off lights and ushering people out while they were desperately trying to read display boards.

After our very early start it was a dinner at a local street side restaurant where we found it very amusing to watch an older "lady of night" try her charms on an unsuspecting older American tourist to no avail.

Next morning and we had a bit of lie in, but still managed to make breakfast! Today we decided we wanted to see more of the city so set off to the Central Market where we only lasted about 10 minutes before getting fed up of being grabbed and saying "no thank you" to everything they offered. From here we walked to Notre Dame Cathedral which looks like it has been teleported straight from Europe and the Central Post office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel who I think build some tower in Paris?!? Haha.


We then went on a bit of a hunt to find somewhere to change some money into US dollars as we knew we needed some to pay for our Cambodia border crossing in a few days time. This however was surprisingly difficult to do! Lots of places would change Dollars into Dong but not the other way around. The last place we tried gave us the card of somewhere nearby. We arrived to lots of people handing over wads of cash. We told them what we wanted and were surprised the price they offered us was a like for like swap with no commission. We said yes, handed over our Dongs and were given brand new Dollar Bills with no questions or receipts etc. We then spent the rest of the afternoon convinced we had been screwed and had been given fake Dollars (We even Googled how to tell if they were fake later that night when we got back) luckily they seemed genuine!

Anyway after a spot of potential money laundering we walked to the Reunification Palace, a very cool 60s building which was the seat of the President during the war and which is now preserved as a museum in the state it was when the tanks rolled in. We arrived just in time to take the free guided tour which was really interesting and gave us loads of information and helped us make sense of the huge building. Nick likened it to being in a James Bond set from the 1960s. Surprisingly this being the equivalent of the white house in South Vietnam building it was only bombed once in the war. A double agent who had a small window to bomb it, missing it on his first attempt but miraculously managed to fly round again before being shot down and hit the target on the second run destroying the helipad and the central stair case. The building was captured till near the end of the war when some 10 tanks invaded the grounds, two of which are on display at the main gate.


From here it was a stop for some local street food before another rock and roll early night ready for our tour to The Mekong Delta the next day...

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hội An, Việt Nam

Sun + Sand + Sea = Happy Nick...

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The bus from Hue was only about 4 hours and very straightforward. As usual when we arrived at the bus station there was the usual crowd of touts selling their services, although this now also included having a suit made (Hoi An is famed for it's abundance of tailors - some more skilled than others apparently). Avoiding them as usual we walked the 20 minutes (in baking heat) to the Vaia Boutique Hotel http://vaiahotel.com and for the second time thought we had arrived at the wrong place - it was stunning and right up Nick and my street!


After a quick shower we walked the 5 minutes into the centre of Hoi An which is a Unesco World Heritage Site with it's wooden buildings, ornate temples and it's famous Japanese Covered Bridge. The town is so picturesque although, thanks to the typhoon the previous day, partially flooded..


There is nothing higher than 2 stories in the centre with some of the streets being pedestrianised and being set along the banks of the Thu Bon River. The pace of life here is so much slower than up in Ha Noi so we spent the afternoon mooching around, looking in shops, the huge central market selling all sorts of exotic fruits and vegetables (and everything else you can imagine) and even bumped into our old friend Teresa!


We knew that Teresa and Corina would be in town when we left them in Ha Noi so had already arranged to meet up that evening at a restaurant the British guys on our Ha Long Bay tour had recommended; The White Marble http://www.visithoian.com/whitemarble/ which had fantastic reviews. It was a little pricier than we would normally pay, but we all decided to treat ourselves, sharing a couple of set menus. The reviews were right, the food was amazing and we spent the evening catching up and chatting until we were the last ones in the restaurant! We said our goodbyes agreeing to meet up when we all reached Ho Chi Minh if the timings worked out.


After a great night sleep in our queen sized bed, we were up early to be collected for our half day tour to Mỹ Sơn (another Unesco World Heritage site!). These Hindu temples pre date Angkor Wat (the largest temple everyone knows) but were still part of the Champa Dynasty which at it's height covered area's of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. These temples were constructed in the 4th century and abandoned in the early 14th century for reasons unknown, it may have been decease, living in the jungle, climate change or even war. Over the centuries the jungle reclaimed the land covering most of the temples, so they were all but forgotten until French scholars discovered them in the 1930's and soon started to restore them. However when the American's carpet bombed North Vietnam during the American War in the 60's they were greatly damaged. Today you can still see bomb craters and there are a large amount of unexploded bombs in the area killing locals daily.


I think for me the most amazing thing is there construction. The older ones dating back to the 4th century were made completely out of brick but they used no mortar and are still standing 12 centuries later with no moss or major decay. This technology must have been lost as when new temples were built or additions made these bricks are noticeably different with thick coverings of moss or discolouration - very interesting!. Scientist still don't know how the bricks were made and are currently studying them. The very late temples were constructed from stone from a quarry up in the mountains a good distance away. It's fascinating to think while in the UK we were building medieval castles with hardly any detail, here they were building beautiful ornately carved temples using technologies we would take a centuries to discover.


We explored the ruins in the heat and humidity of the jungle for another couple of hours (even bumping into Teresa and Corina!) before taking the mini bus back to Hoi An. Sadly we then had to spend an hour or so sorting out our onward travel arrangements and how we would get to Ho Chi Minh. We opted for another nights stay in Hoi An to make the most of gorgeous weather (unusual as this part of the country was supposed to be well into it's wet season!) and opted for a flight down south, rather than the gruelling 18 hour bus ride.

Boring stuff done, we picked up some free bikes from our hotel and set off for the 2km ride to An Bang Beach for a bit of rest and relaxation in the sunshine. This was so much fun cycling along on the rural roads with very little traffic until we reached our destination about 25 minutes later.


After a couple of hours we decided we should make the trip back before it got dark (having no lights or helmets - or street lights!). As we cycled back the sun was setting into the rice fields where water buffalo were grazing so we could not resist staying to watch - simply stunning!


Instead of cycling straight back to the hotel we went to the riverfront as there are lots of street food options and had a delicious meal sat next the river watching candle lit paper lanterns float by.


Our final day in Hoi An was a lazy one! We got bikes again and cycled back to the beach where we spent most of the day soaking up more sunshine. That night we ate at another really nice restaurant called The Blue Dragon which was really well priced and donates part of it's takings to support under-privalidged children throughout Vietnam - ethical and yummy!


Sadly though it was an early night to pack and get ready for our flight to Ho Chi Minh the next day...

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Huế, Việt Nam

Cycling in the rain...

rain 28 °C
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After a remarkably good nights sleep on the 12 hour night bus from Ha Noi through some amazing thunderstorms, we arrived in Hue at around 07.30. Annoyingly our bags (which had been in the hold under the bus) were soaked through when we collected them! Avoiding the crowd of touts trying to sell their taxis, cyclos, and hotels we walked towards out hotel just as the rain started!

About 20 minutes later we arrived at the Serene Palace Hotel http://www.serenepalacehotel.com soaking wet with mud splashed up us and looking hot and sweaty at this very swanky looking hotel. As we climbed the steps to the lobby two uniformed door men rushed towards us, grabbed our backpacks off us while two of the female staff gave us cold towels simply asking for our passports before inviting us for a complementary breakfast. By the time we were finished we were all checked in and our bags were already in our room - incredible service and all for only £15 a night!! We even paid for them to do our laundry as it was so cheap!

Because of the typhoon we were now a day behind our schedule, meaning we only had 24 hours in Hue, so wanted to make the most of it. After a shower, we decided to rent bicycles from the hotel (£1.20 all day), much to the staffs amusement as it was still throwing it down with rain. As we waited we started chatting to a Swiss lady (who was also renting a bike) who had just come from Cambodia so we swapped stories and tips for a good 20 minutes. Raincoats on we braved the downpour and set off into the thankfully less chaotic and scary traffic of Hue.


After 2km we arrived at the Imperial City (in glorious sunshine?!?), Hue's former Citadel which is a huge complex of former Royal buildings of the Emperor which was still in use as recently as 1956! It's currently being completely restored due to the American War however some parts of the complex have been "over-renovated" and look brand new so it is a little strange to walk around. They don't seem to have found the balance been restoring and rebuilding. Still amazing to walk around though.


From here we stopped for a quick coffee and got talking to the owner who was really nice and gave us loads of tips on where we should go, not only in Hue, but also throughout Vietnam. Back on our bikes and another 3km ride brought us to the Thien Mu Pagoda and Monastery just as the heavens opened with the most amazing monsoon downpour! Luckily these normally only last about 5 minutes so after sheltering with some other tourists we are able to explore. The pagoda and monastery were beautiful and really tranquil to wander around. The monastery was also the home of Thích Quảng Đức, a Buddhist monk who drove to a busy intersection in Saigon and set himself on fire in protest against the way that Buddhists were being treated by the South Vietnamese. They proudly display the car he used outside the monastery.


We cycled back to the hotel (dodging another couple of downpours) to find immaculately clean, ironed laundry waiting for us - it smelt so good! That evening we ate at a really nice restaurant called Golden Rice which the hotel recommended where you had to cross a small bridge with tiny ducklings floating in a small pond! The food was delicious and the staff were so friendly. We got chatting to one of them who was asking about our travel plans and giving us ideas on where to go and what not to miss. We had really enjoyed Hue and it was a shame that we had missed out on another night, but our onward bus and hotel were already confirmed.

Next morning after a fantastic nights sleep in the largest and comfiest bed, we were up early for another great breakfast before being picked up for our 4 hour journey to Hoi An...

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hà Nội, Việt Nam (again!)

Pesky typhoons!

sunny 28 °C
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After a long time in a coffee shop waiting for our night train to Hue we went back to Ethnic Travel to get our tickets and bags and be picked up to go to the train station...

... however once at the agency they said they had tried to ring us as our train had been cancelled due to flooding and the typhoon which had hit Hue the day before. Great! For the second time in two weeks a typhoon had buggered up our plans! All the buses were full so our only option was to stay another night and get a night bus the next day. Ethnic Travel were fab though. They booked us on a bus, booked a night in a hotel with transfer from the agency and helped us ring the hotel in Hue to cancel that nights stay. All this and it came to less then the train journey so they gave us some money back!

Saying goodbye and lots of thank yous we were ready for transport to the hotel...by moped! Getting on the back of the bike with both my backpacks on was fun (I had one on the front and my big one on the back) which meant I had to sit further back and could only just hold on. Nick's rider took his front one so he was a little more stable and was able to reach the handrails behind him. No adjustments or helmets we offered, we were just off weaving our way fast through the small maze of streets in the Old Town - it was so much fun! Half way though and our riders split off in different directions which caused us some slight concern, and somehow my rider managed to beat Nick so I did have a few moments of worry that he had fallen off or been taken to a different hotel! The room at the Prince 2 was ok but it was obviously the staff room normally as there were some random pairs of shoes and toiletries in the bathroom but this was just for one night and it was clean enough.

The next morning we had a lazy start leaving our bags with the agency and we walked to the lake again in the lovely sunshine and after looked in a few shops, sending a postcard and stopping for a coffee before our pick up at 17.30 for the night bus.

Ok so this was a little confusing a mini bus picked up a lot of people (more then there were seats for) so we had a 10 minute journey squeezed in with our backpacks. We then were randomly dropped off at the side of the street where a man pointed to a small shop where chaos does not come close to describing it! Here we queued and after a bit of explaining were given a ticket. But when we headed to the big bus with everyone else it was already full and we were turned away - great! Trying to ask if there was another bus we got a kinda nod and decided to wait but we were a little worried we may have missed our bus. Luckily 20 mins later another one turned up and we were able to board. As with everywhere in Viet Nam you have to take your shoes off when entering someone's house or your hotel room, so shoes off and in little carrier bags and after being shouted at for sitting on the wrong bunk we settled in for a long and bumpy night to Hue...


Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi_to_hue vietnam_night_bus Comments (1)

Ha Long Bay, Việt Nam

Messing about in boats...

semi-overcast 29 °C
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An early morning start at 7:30 (well for us) we checked out of our hotel and headed to Ethic Travel to start our trip to Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. We arrived a little early and had to wait for a mini bus, which was fine as we started chatting to two girls also going on the tour. After a few minutes we were joined by a few more people and were ready to start our adventure. Once on the full mini bus we were told that only four of us would be doing the 2 night tour and luckily it was with the two girls we had started chatting to. This was great we would end up having the boat all to ourselves. We first had to travel the 3 hours to Ha Long Bay to drop off the other people. The trip was a little bumpy, with Nick and I sat in the front we saw the crazy but normal Vietnamese driving. Basically anything goes, overtaking, undertaking and playing chicken with on coming large trucks while avoiding stray dogs (and cows) running into the road, giant pot holes and all with hundreds of mopeds weaving between everyone! You don't even have to drive the right way on the motorway, if you see your exit or road just cut across to the wrong side and take it! Gladly once we dropped off the others the four of us could spread out in the back and carry on for over a hour to Cai Rong.

Our guide; Ker led us from the minubus to the dock through all of the fishing boats to our traditional junk. Sadly the sails were down as it was the wrong time of year for them to sail. We hopped on board and after a quick introduction settled down on the deck to enjoy the glorious sunshine and breathtaking scenery for the next couple hours. About a hour in and it was time for lunch all traditional food and sooo much of it, we got talking to the other two people a lady from Mexico, Teresa and a lady from Switzerland, Corina who were really funny and we hit it off straight away. Once our bellies were over full we all had a little sleep in the sun before mooring up at an oysters farm with no one around and beautiful scenery.


It was now time for some kayaking! Some of you may know of our Kayak of Doom in Lake Garda, Italy a number of years ago so we were both more than a little apprehensive about getting back on one, especially in open water! We sucked it up, and followed the girls who annoyingly were naturals and sped off. We on the other-hand spent most of the time going in circles! Even so, this was fantastic with blue skies and surrounded by limestone rock formations with no one else around for miles. Amazing! After exploring for a while and getting close to the rocks (and seeing a couple of jellyfish - argh!) we made our way (slowly and zig-zagging) towards the boat where they were laughing at us attempting to try and pull up alongside them, finally having to jump in and drag us into the right position! Nick and the girls then went swimming with them all taking it in turns to jump off the boat, but the jellyfish had put me off so I stayed on deck!


From here it was a relaxing couple of hours sailing to our home stay/guest house on a remote, tiny island in a village called Quan Lan. We were met by a tuk-tuk come pick-up truck which took us from the boat to the house (around 5 minutes) with lots of bugs flying in your face! The family welcomed us and were shown to our rooms. Ours was nice, very basic with a mosquito net and fan but was very clean and we were lucky enough to get the ensuite room. Nick got very paranoid about bugs again, covering himself in insect repellant and long clothes before heading downstairs to help make dinner. Nick and I were shown how to make spring rolls with rice paper and shredded vegetables (mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots and garlic) they were then deep fried and tasted great! The family made the rest of our huge meal of fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, morning glory (not what your thinking), rice and sweet potato chips, and then bananas and mandarins for dessert. There was so much food we couldn't eat it all! It was shame that the family did not eat with us and it felt more like they were waiting on us, which none of us had expected. They were lovely though and kept trying to get us to eat more! Our guide Ker joined us for food and filed us in on life on the island and her village near Sapa.


After a couple of beers and chatting, we called it an early night (about 21:00) as we had to be up for 06:00 the next day for breakfast. We both slept ok, although the electricity on the island cuts out at 23:00 so it meant we had no fan and it was so hot! After a huge breakfast of freshly made pancakes fruit and coffee - again more than we could finish - we picked up our bikes for a 10km (6 mile) bike ride to a remote beach on the other side of the island. Sadly during the night the weather had clouded over, but it was still beautiful to ride through the rice fields with their mountain backdrops, seeing water buffalo grazing. The beach was also beautiful, very remote with only a couple of local fishermen weaving nets and with lovely white sand looking like snow. Another 10 minutes on the bikes and we were back at the boat for our 3 hour trip back to Cai Rong for our mini bus connection to Ha Long Bay.


The trip back was so relaxing with us all finding a spot to read, sunbath or sleep, again it was so remote often with our boat the only one around. Near the end however we had to go inside as the water got a little choppy and waves came through the window getting us wet! Back on the mini bus we had an hour ride to Ha Long Bay to meet up with 8 other people; 5 Brits and 3 Germans. Once onboard our next boat, we checked in to our room which was really nice with a separate bathroom and air con if we wanted it. Again it was time for more food and again it was huge and really nice. Then we cruised leaving all the other tourist boats behind to a floating village Lan Ha where there was a small school and little shops. The four of us in a small rowing boat and a very strong lady rowing us around the village. We were amazed that so many people could survive living out in the sea like this. Back on board Ker gave us some information about the village and answered all our questions. It was now time to sail out to our next stop while dinner was being prepared. While waiting Ker taught us a card game called Xam which she kept winning every time, probably because we were struggling too understand the rules. Corina, Teresa, Nick and I tried to cheat when she wasn't looking but messed it up completely and she still won!


Once at our anchor point Hang Trong we had dinner - I think they were trying to fatten us up with more giant portions! That evening we chatted on the deck in the dark for ages and then joined the group of boys on the top of the boat, to play a game which was really fun (and I think called Mafia in the UK?) where you had to find the liars so it was hard with people you had only just met. But it was a really good laugh and a great ice breaker. It was so nice to be outside in the pitch black with only a few lights on our boat and just two other tourist boats in the area. Realising it was late and we had to be up at 06:00 we all went to bed and slept really well.


The next morning breakfast was followed by more kayaking, being rubbish last time we stayed on the boat and took pictures for the others and watched the crew play cards - Ker winning yet again! This time they were playing a game called Phom which is a little like Rummy, I was asked to join in but kept picking up the wrong cards and one of the crew had to keep telling which card to pick up.


It was then time for a gentle cruise back to the harbour. Upon arrival we went to a restaurant for dinner, again a huge selection of really good food. Happy and full it was time to get the mini bus back but we couldn't all fit on the first bus so Nick, Ker and I waited for another one for about 20 minutes. We said goodbye to our new friends and arranged to meet them in Hoi An in a few days. Along the journey back Ker pointed out more sites and translated the news about the typhoon which had hit Hue the day before which unfortunately was where we were heading on the night train that evening...

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam ha_long_bay ethnic_travel bai_tu_long_bay Comments (1)

Hà Nội, Việt Nam

sunny 31 °C
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Finally (three days later than planned) we landed in Ha Noi around 21:00. We had paid for our hotel to pick us up as we knew at the time of night we would struggle to figure it out ($18 but saved us the hassle) and about an hour later we arrived at Apple Hotel http://hanoiapplehotel.com/Room-Type.aspx?typeID=3. The hotel was fairly basic (looks a lot fancy on it's website then it is) but at £10 a night it did the job and had a great location in the heart of the Old Town.

We were up early for breakfast before setting off to explore the sights and smells of the Old Town. To say it's hectic is an understatement! It is a maze of narrow streets which are made narrower by the shops spilling out onto the pavement and then mopeds parking in front of that so you have no choice but to walk in the road and dodge the mopeds whizzing past you. The shops seemed to be grouped together depending on what they were selling, so you would have a clothes street, a toy street, a stationary street and even one that was an "industrial street" selling all sorts of mechanical parts - very strange! Everytime you walk past a shop they try and get you to buy something, picking a random item and saying "you buy? Make me happy"


We weaved our way through for a while before walking to Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake which sits in the centre of Ha Noi. It's not the most picturesque lake we have seen on our trip but there is a temple on a small island called Temple of the Jade Mountain which we visited for 15,000 VND (43p) each. The name of the lake means Lake of the Returned Sword, as legend has it a turtle stole the magic sword of the king while he was boating on the lake to return it to the Golden Turtle God from once it came. For this reason there is an embalmed Giant Turtle which is huge, easily 4 feet long and 2 feet wide inside the temple. Also on the lake is the small Turtle Tower which isn't visitable but pretty to see. From here we continued walking to the end of the lake and realised we were in the French Quarter. You could tell the difference, the streets were wider, the buildings bigger, more ornate and the shops more expensive (Louis Veitton being one of them). After stopping for coffee due to the rain, we continued exploring finding the Opera House and a street with lots of English book shops. That evening we ate at a great little restaurant called New Day just round the corner of the hotel, the food was fantastic and you could go into the kitchen to chose the dishes you wanted to eat if you liked. We hand spring rolls, a rice dish, noodle dish and two local beers (which are actually really good all around Viet Nam) and it came to 200,000 VND (£5.80) bargain and it was soooo nice. Bellies full it was time for bed.


We missed breakfast the next morning due to a lay-in whoops. We thought it was time for a bit of culture so I dragged Nick to the Women's Museum (again a bargain at 30,000 VND 80p each). The Museum was really good and interesting to compare the lives of Vietnamese women to our own. While we were starting to wear trousers more frequently in the 50's and 60's, Vietnamese laddies could only wear trousers by law until the 70's. Reading and seeing pictures of the daily routines for women through out the years was great too. Home life being the most important thing while still maintaining a job farming. The next floor down was about the Vietnam war (or American war as it's know here). Just lest then a decade after the second world war when our ladies had to really prove them selfs worthy of working in the factories. Vietnamese women were on the front line commanding troops and taking down US planes. Girls as young as 12 were joining the Guerilla's using large weapons and getting in the thick of it. Many of these ladies lost their lives but some went on to be high ranking military or political officers. While in the museum engrossed in reading an article I was suddenly the interest of a local tour group who were laughing at me. One of the ladies even came up to me and grabbed to pose for a photo with her! We decided it was either that I'm short or western but still aren't sure. After the Museum and another coffee break (coffee is really good here too) we went in search of a tour to Ha Long Bay. We knew that we wanted to do a trip during our time here but didn't know what kind of trip we wanted and it wasn't help by the fact there are hundreds of trips advertised everywhere in hotels, cafe shop and of course travel agents. We asked around getting some names and prices but when we researched further found really poor reviews. We called it quits for now hoping the hotel may be able to assist, but sadly they weren't much help either not seeming to care what you booked, as long as you booked something. As with Hong Kong the evenings came a life here. Once the shops were closed the food stalls took over, setting up in front of them shuttered shops, with tiny stools (not made for westerners) and amazing smelling food. You can't really go wrong with the street food here it all tastes great.


Our last full day we decided to visit another temple, The Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius and Vietnam's first national university (only 20,000 VND 58p each). This temple was a lot larger then the one on the lake and more impressive then anything we had seen so far. Again it centred largely around turtles but was mostly about teaching. With five temples, a beautiful garden, a fish pond and five courtyards it took quiet a while to go round everything.


The temple wasn't to far from Ho Chi Min's Mausoleum although we didn't really want to see his embalmed body we went to see the sight (as it turned out he was in russia having his annual maintenance anyway) and the One Pillar Pagoda. Emperor Lý Thái Tông was struggling to create a heir, in a dream he was handed a baby by the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who was siting on a lotus, soon after the dream had a baby son and built the Pagoda as gratitude. Today couples come and visit the Pagoda if they want to have a baby, hence Nick and I stayed out.


It was now time to make a decision on a tour, so we used the trusty Lonely Planet and went to all the tour companies they suggested, luckily they were fairly close by. It wasn't until we cam to the last one that they had something a little different and less touristy. umming and ahhing yet again (as we seem to be rubbish at making a decisions) we went for it, not doing any of the usual Trip Advisor research and keeping our fingers crossed it would be good as it was the next. Happy we had something booked we went for food and then back to pack for our two night trip to Ha Long Bay.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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