Archive | October 2012

Hoi An

I really enjoyed the journey along the Vietnamese coastline to Hoi An even if it was slightly scary at times! We saw lots of cool things.

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This woman was trying to sell dead chickens, holding them by their feet, gross!

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We stopped at Elephant Springs. There was a big carved elephant in the rock.

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We swam in the water, it was so clear! I went in fully clothed as I was so hot. It was super slippery so I couldn’t get out again. I think someone’s got a photo of me struggling.

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The views along the coastline were great.

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Hoi An is the tailoring capital of Vietnam so naturally the boys decided to get hand made suits as it’s so cheap here. Whilst they got measured we sat in the massage chairs. Will and Mitch look a bit awkward!

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I got a new pair of sunnies too as mine were held together with Superglue. Fake Ray-Bans for $2. Anyone want some sent home? I also got a new bag as mine was white when we left the UK and is now brown. A darker one with waist straps too so safer as well! On the subject of being safe, the boys in the group could definitely look after us if we got into trouble. There’s an ex-policeman, ex-soldier, ex-prison guard and an ex-security guard!

The old town party of Hoi An is so pretty. Motor bikes and cars aren’t allowed there, it was bliss! It got through the war relatively unscathed.

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There is a beautiful bridge that we visited in the day time:

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And at night:

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This lady sold lanterns to send down the river.

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In the evening we watched the Chelsea match (yay!)

I’m enjoying Vietnam but not as much as Thailand, it’s quite different and I’ve found the people pushy as they try to sell you stuff. As I’m typing a lady is trying to sell me limes! She’s not taking no for an answer!

The money is also different, it’s see-through!

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This evening we are heading to Nha Trang, a beachside town, on the sleeper bus. It’s Amy’s birthday tomorrow and I think we’ll stay there a few days as it reportedly has awesome food and we’re all a bit tired from moving so often. I’ve got a cold in Vietnam from being run down! Here’s hoping I’ll get a good sleep. Fingers crossed.

Finally this is bang up to date!

Hue

The night bus to Hue wasn’t too bad and I slept quite well, surprisingly. On these buses I survive on pringles and water. The coach stopped for a toilet break. We had to pay for the privilege of using the worst toilets I’ve seen in Asia!

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Hue was very hot when we made it there. We checked into our hostel and found a note from the other 7 who had gone to the beach so we met up again in the evening.

Amy, Michael and I walked a good 5km in the heat through the park and along a long road. It was a nice walk but we were sweltering!

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We made it to our destination: an amazing pagoda!

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There was lots of interesting decoration there.

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There was also a big “lucky turtle” whose head you patted.

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Monks live within the pagoda enclosure and we saw some of them eating lunch. They tend the gardens which have (another one for my dad) lots of bonsai trees in.

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There was an interesting exhibit on a monk who drove into central Hue from the pagoda and performed self immolation in the lotus position in front of his car to protest against the poor treatment of buddhists. They still have the car there.

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In Hue I saw more funny Vietnamese menus… Strangled chicken?

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Cat Ba Island

On our first day in Cat Ba, we toured the island and explored.

The 7 of us made it up to the “hospital cave”. It was built in 1965 as a secret hospital within the mountainside that the Americans couldn’t reach. If the Americans came near it, it would have been easy to shoot the wooden ladder away.

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We knocked on the giant iron door within the cave and the tour guide came out and gave us the fright of our lives!

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We even got to try it on!

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The cave has 3 levels, 2 of which are natural, formed within the cave. There were many rooms inside; treatment rooms, surgery, doctors quarters and space for military generals. There was even a cinema room and a swimming pool for rehabilitation:

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There was a recess in the cave where soldiers trained for strength and you could jump up into it. I wasn’t strong enough!

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This was their bath:

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The generals lived on the top floor and they devised an amazing escape route. Instead of bothering with stairs if they had to get out quickly, they could jump into a pool of water on the ground floor.

It was fascinating how they’d built it so quickly and thought of everything!

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Later on we got to the top of the island and explored the cannon fort and could see for miles from there.

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We got some food and I tried crab and clam. Crab was nice…clams not so nice.

I held this!

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4 people left to go back to Hanoi for varying reasons but Amy, Michael and I stayed on the island and agreed to meet them further down the coast. I went for a swim alone on Cat Co 1 as the sun went down, it was lush.

The following morning we went to ‘Monkey Island’ – an island half dominated by monkeys! The moment we landed monkeys stole the food from Amy’s bag!

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We climbed across the island to Monkey Island Resort. It was deserted until 1pm so we had a good few hours of our own private beach!

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As the sun set, we climbed to the peak, it was quite dangerous in flip flops but we made it up and down safely.

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We had a half day before our bus to Hue so saw the sights of the market and the fishing port.

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Special noodle soup with crab for breakfast anyone?

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Squid drying in the sun:

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To top it off, just before we caught our bus we saw some cute puppies!

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So, that’s 3 blog posts in 2 days! I’m trying to catch up with it, I promise. Apologies for my terrible English but it’s all over the place at the moment whilst speaking to people of all different nationalities. I found myself calling trousers ‘pants’ the other day!

Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

Hanoi Backpackers ran a “Castaway” trip to Ha Long Bay for 2 nights and 3 days all inclusive for $199 but we found that to be pretty steep. (I should explain they use VND and US dollars here simultaneously, it gets rather confusing. Especially when you’re trying to figure it out in pounds too!). We decided to go with a much cheaper trip including a “seafood buffet”, visiting a cave and kayaking for 1 night, sleeping on the boat in the bay. We soon learnt that you get what you pay for; it was terrible! The tour guide was rude and unhelpful and the food was awful. There was a major incident at the kayaking whereby an Australian on our boat got whacked with a paddle by a Vietnamese guy… But there were also positives!

We saw some awesome lit caves:

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At least we weren’t in a really rickety boat:

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We saw lots of karsts, which are rock formations:

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Kayaking was really fun, it was my first time and I wasn’t too bad at it! We had a kayak race and paddled through a cave.

The sunset was beautiful over the islands:

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Before dinner we got the chance to go in the water off the boat for an evening swim. It was all going swimmingly (ha) until I managed to dislocate my shoulder in the sea. Luckily there were people around to keep me afloat and calm me down enough that I could put it back in. I was a bit hysterical, laughing and crying at the same time!

In the morning, 7 of us got off the boat at Cat Ba Island whilst Sam, Yolly and Alisha went back to the mainland to get back to Hanoi before going South towards Ho Chi Minh City to get a flight to the Thai islands for the full moon party. It was strange saying goodbye!

When we got to the South of Cat Ba we found The Bungalows to stay in; right on the beach (Cat Co 2). They were very basic but we fell asleep to the sound of the sea and I woke up for an early morning walk along the beach!

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This panoramic will only fit sideways, I’m not good with technology!

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To get to the bungalows you had to go through a gap in the cliff!

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I tried to snorkel but there was poor visibility and I was atrocious at Frisbee so settled for reading instead – perfect! As I read, eagles were flying overhead so close to us, it was really special.

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Hanoi

Checking into Hanoi backpackers, there were 10 of us; me, Sam, Yolly, Alisha, Bobby, Elliott, Amanda, Mitch, Michael and Amy. We had a twelve bed dorm which was cool, all together!

Hanoi is crazy. There are so many motorbikes there it’s unreal. Crossing the road is a nightmare so you just have to wave at the oncoming traffic then boldly walk slowly across the road as they dodge around you, scary! Also street sellers accost you and try to make you buy bamboo hats and yams at every opportunity.

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There is a corner called “Beer corner” where vendors sell Bia Hoi for 5000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) . Considering there’s 33,000 to £1, that’s cheap! When they hear the police come they hide the signs, it was amusing to watch them scramble.

On our second day in Hanoi, I read a map! (Shocked myself). Exploring the old quarter, we went to the lake that is the centre of Hanoi. There was a temple in the middle with an embalmed tortoise in but we didn’t go to that.

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There were also lots of wedding photo shoots going on, I’m not really sure why.

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Next, we went to the jail. Hoa Lo prison is where anti-government rebels were kept (and later American POWs). It was sad but interesting to learn more about Vietnam. Also we learnt that a lot of women fought for their rights in Vietnam and were imprisoned.

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We saw a guillotine once used in the prison and the solitary confinement room with shackles!

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There were a few escape plans that worked during it’s time as a prison, including a group of prisoners who got through some cut bars in the sewage system. It shows how thin they would have been.

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After the jail we got some food in a cafe overlooking the lake. It was the best meal I’d had in Asia!

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We wandered to Hanoi market but it was like a jumble sale and massively tacky so didn’t linger there too long!

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Whilst walking back to the hostel the boys helped out a motorbike driver with his load – they really do take everything on the bikes!

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I saw a card for my Dad in Hanoi but I don’t think it would have travelled well!

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That evening I was so tired I chilled out on my own at the hostel whilst everyone else went to a snake restaurant. They bring you the snake and let you eat it’s beating heart before cooking it into 7 courses (including snake bone rice) washed down with snake blood and snake bile in rice wine. I’m so glad I didn’t go for that, I was happy with my chicken sandwich!

Laos to Vietnam (it’s not all fun and games).

To leave Laos from Vang Vieng, we had to catch a bus to Vientiane and then a sleeper bus from there. It was all very confusing but when we reached Vientiane we were excited by the bus we got on, it was so cool with multi-coloured lights and nice beds!

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10 minutes later when we were all comfy, we had to get off and onto a new, less comfy bus. We settled down to try to sleep and it was fairly restless. We stopped a few times for toilet breaks and some dire food. During one of the stops I realised my phone was missing and it had fallen down the side of the seat. When I shone a torch down there I also find a huge dead gecko, which was nice. The bus man had to take the seat apart and underneath my foot compartment there were more butterscotch sweets than I have ever seen in my life! As I was tired I didn’t think much of it…

We all went back to sleep again and awoke at the Laos-Vietnam border at 6am. It was pretty grim, I had about 30p left of Laos money so could only get manky banana fritters for breakfast! We couldn’t cross the border until 7am and even then there was extreme confusion.

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Having crossed the border we had to walk a kilometre to meet up with our bus again. It was hard with all the luggage and we weren’t sure why we had to walk so far!

I fell asleep again on the bus and woke up when I felt it turning around. We were in Vinh, nowhere near Hanoi and we’d been pulled over by the police. As our driver and his crew didn’t speak English and the Vietnamese police were just plain rude, we couldn’t quite grasp what was going on until they started taking the seats of the bus apart. They found the contraband butterscotch sweets and lots of smuggled fabric softener!

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I still don’t really know what happened but the driver wasn’t arrested and they didn’t seem that fussed about it. We were at the police station for 2 hours and it was terrible. An hour after leaving we stopped for food and I had just rice with egg. It was another awful meal!

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The bus was supposed to take 24 hours and ended up taking 32. An interesting experience and we were glad to get to Hanoi! I’ll post about the last few similarly “interesting” amass then amazing days at some point in the next week!

Vang Vieng II

After the massive bike ride the previous day, the girls and I decided to go back to the blue lagoon to swim and sunbathe (I mainly swam so didn’t get a tan!). I jumped off the high branch 4 times and was still scared each time. Yolly and Alisha rented tubes. Watching Yolly try to get in hers was the funniest!

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Her phone takes panoramic photos so you can see all of the lagoon! I’m struggling to stand up on the swing in the water:

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On the way back to the guesthouse we saw a man washing his tuk tuk in the river. I don’t know how he was going to get it out again!

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That evening we went to a Korean barbeque. We’d been to one in Chiang Mai and it was similar. You cook your own food on hot coals in the middle of the table. It was fantastic and I ate a whole plate of shrimp (even peeled it myself!)

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I’m glad I’d done all my active stuff in Vang Vieng when I did as that night I tripped down the tiniest step and my foot swelled up instantly. I’ve been hobbling along for a few days and it’s getting better but it’s so frustrating not being able to walk properly!

Yesterday we went to the swimming pool in town as it was too hot to do much else. The pool overlooked the river, it was beautiful.

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We saw a hot air balloon go overhead! I would have liked to go in one but it was 80 USD. Cheaper than home but still too much!

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As it was our last night here we met up with some friends (it’s funny how quick you build a community) and Felix showed us his fire dancing – don’t try this, he was in the circus!

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Today we are leaving Vang Vieng and Laos for a 2 day bus (ugh) to Hanoi, Vietnam. I’m glad to be leaving Vang Vieng but we couldn’t leave sooner as we had to wait for our Vietnamese visas to come through.

I’m considering staying in Vietnam and Cambodia a bit longer than Sam as she wants to go to the full moon party on Koh Phangnan (Thailand) at the end of the month and I’m not so fussed about it anymore. I’m sure I will meet people along the way in hostels! We will meet up again on the islands to go back to Bangkok for our flight to Australia on November 27th.

I’m packed and waiting for this presumably awful bus… Wish us luck!