A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

We're in Hoi An, it's November and its 30 degrees! Crazy!

sunny 34 °C
View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

Day 1

Moving on from Hue we took another open bus or Hung Tranh as it is known in Vietnam to Hoi An. We had heard great things about this place from friends back home and people we met so we were eager to get through the 6 hour bus ride.

On the way to Hoi An we travelled in the daytime and it made a huge difference to the open bus experience mainly because the scenery was so amazing that you didn't feel like the bus ride was a chore. When we reached Hoi An we had arranged pickup which was a blessing as we couldn't be arsed to walk it. Hoi An is a small place but with our bags, especially Sarah's, weighing a lot and looking like you are carrying a rhino on your back you can understand our slight laziness. As we jumped in our taxi we whizzed through the streets and the driver stopped and said 'one minute' . It turned out he had a pickup and managed to get a local tourist to help him chuck in this huge bag which I can only guess was laundry.

Anyway we set off only to stop again shortly and we thought this cant be it, and it wasn't. The driver had to drop off his big bag, so dutifully I stepped out and gave him a hand to which he was very grateful. It was fortunate we were in good spirits and so happy to help.

Finally reaching our hotel we thought it looked rather plush compared to our other hostels and was impressed to have a awesome pool which would be our saving from the incredible heat that was to follow.

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To get our bearings we ventured out to see what Hoi An had to offer, and it was clear from the off that this was the tailoring capital of Vietnam. Loads of shops lined the streets offering all sorts of suits and jackets made to measure and it was tempting to say the least however before we decided on that I needed to get my haircut.

Now this was a simple enough challenge and within minutes I found a barbershop and sat for my cut. The man who cut my hair was very good and knew what I was after despite the both of us lacking the ability to speak the others language. It was all going to plan and then something got lost in translation and he began to pull at a sharp razor edge knife.....oh dear..... in my haste I had opted for the full monty as it were and he began shaving my recently cut beard and then continued to then run the blade over other parts of my face including ear lopes and eye lids!!

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It wasn't that much of an ordeal really until he broke out the tool kit which had been kept in a coke can and put on a head torch! This was were I got more than I bargained for and he began burrowing into my ear. What came out of my my first ear I will save you the torment of showing but let's just say Sarah was quite shocked to see how much had came out..... I'm sorry .... Not the nicest thing to read but it was too much of an 'experience' not to be documented. Sarah says it looked like an alien coming out!

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The unfortunate thing was that my other ear was more tricky and he battled with it for a bit too long, so much so that my ear ached for quite some time after.

Upon leaving the barber shop fully cleaned we decided we needed some bikes to get round so for the mere cost of 80p each for the day we got our bikes and rode on. The heat on this day was upwards of 30 degrees and to be on a bike was a blessing being able to get the wind in your face. Getting the bikes turned out to be smart decision because we were able to cover a good distance but also make our way away from tourist centre for a bit.

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Our off the beaten track route led us to a dead end and we turned back to to town, not before buying a couples of cokes from a local family who Sarah found out had a baby on the way and the lady asked if she could she keep the change. We obliged.

During our cycle we visited the Japanese walking bridge which is quite small and had two animals at either end which represented when it started being built and the year it was finished. When it was started it was the year of the Dog and when it was finished it was the year of the Monkey. Vietnamese culture seemed to have similar themes as Chinese and the Animal calendar was one of the them.

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On our way back we had worked up an appetite and chose a restaurant on the river to hopefully cool down. It wasn't easy. We did however order one of Hoi An specialities 'Cao Lao Noodles', which Sarah took a huge liking too.

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Pictured is the ingredients but what made it was the soup that came with the dish, the flavouring had an aniseed type taste but not to intense. It was delicious ...and again you can't complain for £1.20.

When it got to the evening we decided we wanted to try some more local cuisine so we opted to go to Mermaid restaurant which in its menu described its beginnings as the first restaurant which was part of a chain now round Hoi An that a young women had created which is very successful. The idea was to bring the foods she had grown up with to the mainstream tourists.

Well we tried a few of them and again we were not disappointed. Vietnamese are known for their fine cuisine and this place in Hoi An was a great representative.

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After dinner we walked around taking in the evening entertainment and beautiful candles and lanterns that lit up the streets and I had a go out trying to scare Sarah with a torch....it's a bit late for Halloween now but I think this would of been a good addition.....creepy!

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Day 2

Today we wanted to continue our with seeing the sights on a bicycle and chose to get a guided tour with one of the recommended companies Love of Life. We chose the artists hand tour as it was an opportunity to see how locals produced the sleeping mats, pottery, lanterns and woodwork that are sold throughout the streets. Arriving via taxi we met our guide Vinh and were surprised that we were the only people on the tour but it did mean we had our own private tour which was good.

Once the seats were adjusted and water packed we set off and rode through the streets and made our way to the port to get a ferry down the river. Upon reaching our destination we rode onwards passing rice paddie fields and stopped to take pictures. Our guide was insistent on taking our photos which was great but it was quite funny because he began to treat it like his own professional photo-shoot, directing us like models. It was good to be in the countryside seeing the buffaloes and the white birds that follow them for the flies, and Vinh told us that 80% of Vietnam is countryside!

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We rode for a short while and Vinh would point out different crops that were grown in the area and it wasn't long before we reached what seemed like an impassable bridge. To look at it you would think this must have been damaged in a flood or something but sure enough as we looked across it to the other side a motorbike began to cross and made it look easy, so we didn't question it and rode on. I was impressed that Sarah took on her reservations and rode across the whole thing without hesitation.

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It wasn't long after that we reached our first stop and were led into an old couples home to watch them prepare grass sleeping mats. Their home was very basic, built out of wood and corrugated iron. We learned that the sleeping mats they made took half a day to make and would earn them $2.5 each, about £1. It was amazing that they are able to sit crossed legged for that long at 76 years old! The sleeping mats were made out of purposely grown grass in the surrounding fields which grow to at least a metre and half before it is cut down, dried out and dyed.

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As we watched the couple we joked with the guide about how much bigger I was to them and we also found out they had a grandson who lived with them because the father had left at birth and the mother had fled to the city to start a new life, which was sometimes common occurrence for the rural families.

We made our way back over the bridge and stopped at the other end to have a drink. As we sat by the river to quench our thirst some locals began chatting to our guide and signalling to me to come over.....oh dear..... The big guy wanted to arm wrestle me! I thought best not be rude and got up and sat down oppsosite him knowing full well that this was going to be a short battle. It turned put he wanted me to wrestle with his son which would have been fine but his son had obviously inherited a lot of his fathers genes and probably worked on the fishing boats all day because he was a big fella too. Anyway, despite my best efforts I did lose but all was not lost because they all thought I was French (apparently some locals are not aware of other nationalities other than the French who colonised Vietnam).

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Next stop was the local wood workshop where they built pagodas which are shipped around the world. The style in which the guys who made
these works of art was quite different to home mainly because health and safety is not in the Vietnamese vocabulary. These workman would be barefoot holding the wood down with their feet whilst hammering and chipping away, but the work they made was exquisite.

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After the woodshop we popped into the local boat builders and watched them cut the rivets to an almost finished fishing boat which again was beautifully made and we were told would cost thousands of pounds. It was a short stop but was good to see the craftsmanship. We journeyed to the next ferry and the driver was very friendly and even let me have a go at steering the boat. We noticed that most of the boats had eyes painted on the front and Vinh told us that this was to make the boats friendly to the fisherman who were away from their families.

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Once we stopped we had docked at a village who specialise in making pottery. We walked round for a bit and then were shown to a house where there were two women spinning the clay and preparing different types of pottery. One of the women had the tiring job of keeping the pottery wheel spinning using her foot. It wasn't long before Sarah and I had a go and to be fair we both did quite well for our first time. The whole thing reminded me of Art lessons back at school.

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Last on the agenda was the where they made lanterns however once we got there it appeared they were on lunch which was a bit disappointing as we were particulalry interested in learning more about how these are made as they are everywhere in Hoian. However we were able to look around and we did get some ideas for wedding decorations.

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After the lanterns we cycled for a short while and were taken for lunch to a fanatastic cafe who served up some delicious local foods. Sarah had the curry and I had the stuffed squid. We both were glad to have a good lunch after the half day trip and after we returned our bikes it was decided that being so hot we would chill by the pool and enjoy food and drinks at the hotel. Happy days.

Day 3

Our last day in Hoi An we wanted to visit the beach so we hired bikes again and took the 10 min ride. Is was a scorcher of a day and the sweat beads were dripping as soon as you stopped. On the beach we lazed and dazed and I went for my first run since Beijing. The beach was picturesque and it was difficult to leave, but we had to as we were on our way to the next destination Nha Trang. In our way was a 14 hour bus ride , but being seasoned pros we took it in all our stride.

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Stay tuned for more tales.......

Posted by doyledan 21:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Visiting DMZ


View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

After arriving in Hue we decided to take a day out to plan the next part of our trip rather than succumbing to the relentless pestering by cyclo and motorbike riders to take us around the citadel and to the tombs etc... We were knackered and just needed to stop, particularly after another night on a sleeper bus that continually played this on repeat for first half hour... ...and our seats were right next to the smelliest toilet ever!

One of the main reasons we stopped at Hue was to take a day trip to find out more about the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) that divided north and south Vietnam during the Vietnamese War and so we focused on getting this organised and after a lot of debating the best option (mainly as so tired) we opted for the bus tour from our hotel rather than going by motorbike. Although we would be in a larger group it was a long day with a lot of driving and a least on a bus it does not matter if you fall asleep in between destinations but falling asleep on a bike is prob not a good idea! Also it was significantly cheaper at $15 per person compared to $40+ although we were concerned that this could mean our guide would be crap but we were not disappointed as her English was great and she gave us loads of information. Only problem we did have was the bus wasn't able to power the air con for half the trip and at one point we all had to push the bus to get it started again! Took me back to all the times the trucks broke down in Namibia :)

We stopped off at several locations on the way there was not always a lot to see but more a case of listening to the guide to describe the significance of the site. First stop was what is called the "Rockpile" which is a tall karst mountain which used to have an American bunker on the very top to get a good vantage point of the area. It is only accessible by helicopter and I believe 10 US soldiers were based up there for 2 years. The position of the bunker is where the flag now is in the photo.

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On our way to visit the Ho Chi Minh Trail we stopped off at a minority village of people who live in traditional stilt houses where the family live in the raised level and their livestock live underneath. It was a bit odd to be on a bus that pulled over for photos for 10 mins without any interaction with the people themselves which made Dan and I feel a bit uncomfortable. Very different from our experience in Sapa where at least you talk to the people rather then just gawp at them from the roadside!

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Next stop was to see the Ho Chi Minh Trail which has since been covered in tarmac to be made into the main Highway and we stopped at the bridge that marked the beginning of it. We were all suffering in the heat particularly as the air con had been turned off to give the engine more power for the bus to make it up the hills and it was hard to fathom how our guide was not burning up in all the clothes she was wearing...including gloves!

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After push starting the bus we headed on to the site of the former US base at Khe Sanh where there is now a museum and several bunkers, planes and tanks remain to commemorate the area. This site was chosen as the US base so that they could control the supply routes from Laos into Vietnam and became an area of a lot of fighting. From Feb 8th to July 9th 1968, Huong Hoa forces laid siege to this area and it became known as 'Hell on Earth'.

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The highlight of the trip and the most humbling was visiting the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Astonishingly 400 people lived in these tunnels over 6 years with only one toilet in the tunnels and two large ventilation holes to let some air in. The tunnels are small and narrow and most of the time you are stooping with some of the taller guys being bent double to get through.

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We went through various sections being shown the holes off the tunnels where the families would make their home to bomb shelters within the tunnels. It was so dark in places you could not see the person in front of you so I will definitely remember a torch if we go to see the tunnels when we get to Saigon.

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What was amazing was that they also had a maternity ward and during this period 17 babies were born in the tunnels. It is hard to imagine how terrifying it would be to be in the tunnels with bombing overhead, let alone whilst giving birth! There was evidence of the bombing around the site with large bomb craters so they were lucky to have survived as they had to come out of the tunnels to work the surrounding land for food etc...

We then moved on to cross the Ben Hai river which was the natural divide between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. This was in the middle of the DMZ and for 5km in each direction is no mans land. Here there was a moving monument to the women and children who would be watching to hope that their men would come home safe to them.

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Our final stop was the Truong Son National Cemetary. Many of the graves here are for unknown soldiers who died during the war and have never been identified. With many of the graves with tributes and burning incense sticks it brought it home that this happen so recently in our history.

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Posted by doyledan 00:05 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

This is the life!

Halong Bay and Monkey Island


View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

Back in Hanoi we had a day to recuperate after Sapa and meet up with Jude, our friend from our China travels who had got into Vietnam the day before. We spent it casually walking around the city and checked out the military museum. The relics from the war were quiet interesting and there was a art like sculpture made up of old US fighter planes that had been shot down which was impressive. However I think that if you are not into seeing planes and missiles its not the best museum to go to mainly because outside of the disused planes and artillery the displays inside the museum didn't really but artefacts into context.

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By then end of the tour I was shattered and so I left Sarah and Jude and caught a motorbike ride back to hostel. There is no way to do this without getting cosy as it were with your driver which I'm guessing from Sarah's picture she was amused by it.

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Later, we booked our 3 days and 2nights trip to Halong Bay with Jude and made sure we got a good nights sleep for the 8am start the next day.

Day 1.......

The next morning we left for Halong Bay, one of the treasures of Northern Vietnam. It was a quick shuttle to our main bus and we were off. Throughout the 4 hour bus ride the sun was sun shining and despite the weather reports it was looking like the weather was going to be on our side. However, typically this changed to a far less brighter day when we made it to Halong City Harbour and we were beginning to think our luck was out.

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Upon reaching the harbour it was clear that these boat trips are a huge attraction as swarms of people were getting ready to board their boats and returning parties looking slightly worst for wear making their way home. We had heard about the very popular booze cruise trips that existed around Halong Bay but decided after being on the go since Beijing really, to have a more relaxed and less boozy trip would be preferable and it would also mean we could have a good catch up with Jude before we parted ways. Through our Hostel (Hanoi hostel) they booked our trip with Asia Cruise on one of the junk boats. Sarah and I had a double room which was a good size and the rest of boat offered a dining area above as well as rooftop with sunloungers

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On the boat we had our vietnamese style lunch, which allowed us to get acquainted with the other members of the group. We sat with Jude and two Aussie sisters Ellen and Lisa who joined us, and we had a good chat about our travels before the itinerary for the rest of the day was laid out by Danny our guide.

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The first thing on the agenda was going to be the Thien Cung cave that is situated on one of the islands. Upon reaching the shore we saw that many of the boats stopped in the same place and I must admit I was beginning to fear that this was going to be the trend of the trip, stopping at well trodden destinations without getting the sense that you have gotten away from it all.

The cave itself was good, however as Sarah and I had seen caves in China, this one didn't really offer anything different. In fact when we walked in there was a real sense of déjà vu because the lighting that was used was identical. I think the only difference was that this one had daylight shining through one part of it which Sarah managed to capture. We did find out that the cave was used by fisherman during typoons as a place for shelter which was an interesting fact but apart from that it was kind of been there done that.

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Upon leaving the cave we were delighted to find that the sun had decided to make an appearance just as we floated at of the small bay and onward to our next activity of kayaking.

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As taking the camera kayaking was not the best idea we didn't document it but we had a good time paddling about the bay around the fishing village and one of the isolated karst rocks which features on the 200,000 dong note before making our way back to the boat for dinner and a relaxing evening on the rooftop watching the sun go down. Not too shabby!

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Not before I and a few others jumped off the roof of the boat into the water to have a swim which was great fun although I was a little freaked out by the seaweed when I hit the water.

Day 2........

Today we were going to make our way to Cat Ba Island and also our private island resort. As the day begun we knew after yesterday that the weather could go either way, however to our fortune the sun came out early in the morning and would stay with us for the rest of other day.

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Upon reaching Cat Ba we took a short bus ride to the national park. We stopped there to have a tour with the local guide. Cat Ba national park is home to endangered golden-headed langur monkey with only 62 individuals left on the island. Their numbers dropped dramatically by 98% over the last 40 years predominantly due to poaching to be used in traditional medicine. Other than conservation and tourism the island is used as an Ecological study area for insects, birds and other animals.

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One of which being a praying mantus

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Our guide was a quirky fella who I likened to the Lion king character Rafiki mainly because he had the same kind of lunatic laughter and during the trip he would jump around the trees and rocks showing off to the group. It was entertaining and helped with our spirits as the trek through the forest was going to be quite steep.

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Having made our way a group through the forest, almost rock climbing in parts, we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the island . At the top they had built a iron viewing platform which was a further 25 meteres in the air. I started to walk up leaving Sarah who was not so keen on the open staircase and was able to capture some good shots before making my way down to pose for the camera.

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It was a nice to do something active for the morning and meant that relaxing at our resort was just what the doctored ordered. Our resort was called Monkey Island because the island housed a population of monkeys (bet you didn't figure that one out) and before reaching its' shores we hit a snag as the driver had to stop the engine and take a look underneath. Fortunately nothing was arye and we continued our steady pace to the shore and boy was it worth the wait.

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The resort was made of 10 to 15 beach huts that looked out to sea and garden, it was one of those picture perfect set ups that meant we were eager to get to shore and enjoy the sun loungers on the beach to start working on the elusive tan. And the rest of the day was just that , some went kayaking again to find the monkeys and others just chilled out on the beach, it was the first time we had felt like we and properly stopped and it felt good.

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It also gave me the chance to try out my new purchase .......a guitar!!! ....just a small travel one but a good one nonetheless.....

The next day was an early start to get the ferry bank to mainland and travel back to Hanoi. We still had time to soak up the sun and made sure we rinsed it!! It was sad to say goodbye to Jude as we had had so many good times since Beijing and we wish her all the best for her onward travels -:)

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Next stop would be Hue....

Stay tuned for more tales.

Dan

Posted by doyledan 08:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches boats bay halong Comments (0)

Mud and Mists of Sapa!


View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

We'd organised a 4 night and 3 day trip to Sapa from our hostel in Hanoi, aptly named Hanoi Hostel, and were looking forward to getting out of the hectic city and see the rice paddies and a slower way of life in the north.

Our adventure began with our first ever sleeper bus! Which is the most random transport we have been on yet. It was crazy being stacked in three rows of double decked reclining seats in a bus complete with multicoloured lighting effect too. It was like being in some kind of spaceship transporter thing that you would see on a sci-if programme.

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It was not long though before the novelty wore off as we soon realised there was no toilet and very little space even for me and I'm not exactly tall! The prospect of 12 hours on here seemed a bit daunting but we buckled up and hoped for the best. Fortunately there was a loo stop after a couple of hours and the Vietnamese music videos kept us entertained, which later turned into ridiculously violent martial arts movies not exactly the kind of thing to help send you to sleep. Once you got to sleep though it didn't last for long as the bus went up steeper and more bendy roads so it took all your concentration just to stay in your seat!

Day 1...

We arrived in Sapa at about 6am tired and disorientated as you could hardly see anything due to all the mist. We were staying at the Sapa Summit Hotel and were guided through the mist to the hotel already clad in our waterproofs due to all the moisture in the air. It is advertised as having the best views but all we could see was this...

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But the mist and dew made it really pretty

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As our rooms weren't yet ready we had breakfast before setting off with our group and our local guide Sun for a morning trek to Cat Cat village and some waterfalls. Sun is a tiny lady and brightened up our day not only with her smile but her multicoloured coloured umbrella, which was sometimes the only way we could spot her in the mist!

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As we walked along we noticed that there were spiderwebs everywhere which oddly made the trees look like they were covered in snow and reminded us that the festive season is coming up soon...an eerie Christmas in Sapa!

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Sun pointed out to us how the people used the water coming down the mountains to help them crush the rice that they grew in the paddy fields. The water runs down bamboo pipes and when the end pipe fills up with water it drops to the next level, lifting up the back end and dropping back down to pummel to the grains in the trough beneath. Genius use of water power!

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It was hard to make out the rice paddy fields due to the mist but it all added to the atmosphere.

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We stopped to look in one of the H'mong houses at Cat Cat village, it was really dark inside but you could see where they cook over an open fire and store food in the relatively open plan living space. In the darkness you could also make out a television in the corner and so they do have mod cons too. The Cat Cat area seems to be very set up for tourists and is pitched as a way to preserve their culture so it is unclear how true the aspects of life we saw are to how they live today when the tourists are not around. Sun told us that the main form of income is still from agriculture but they also make textiles and we were shown where they dye the material and how they weave and sew the fabric into clothes etc...

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We made our way through the village and much to Suns amusement would stop at every pig, duck, chicken and puppy to take pictures.

I want to take this one home!

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At the bottom of the village we crossed a suspension bridge to some spectacular waterfalls, sampled some of the local grub, checked out the local crafts and again found some puppies to play with.

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But as everyone knows when trekking if you go down you have to go up again so we built up an appetite for lunch heading back up the hills to the hotel through the paddy fields and some close encounters with water buffalo.

We had a free afternoon to explore Sapa but it had got even more misty so you couldn't see where you were heading too, even if there were meant to be views or interesting buildings to see we couldn't, so when we stumbled across the well named Misty bar with its warm fire it seemed only right to pass the time in there playing pool, cards and chatting over beers.

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Day 2....

Fully rested after a night in the hotel we set off for our 12km trek to our homestay. It was a very different experience from the day before as within minutes we were surrounded by local women and girls who were going to escort us along the way.

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They were all smiley and enjoyed talking to us although you ended up having the same conversation with each of them as they had learnt to ask your name, say it was beautiful, ask if you had brothers or sisters and boyfriend or girlfriend, and could tell you the same about themselves. Some seemed to think Dan was a catch for a future husband :) many were way younger than me with kids already so I think they thought we should hurry up! In their village I would be a spinster as they marry young at around 13!

We each got given a gift of a horse/cow made out of grass although some of us got more elaborate gifts than others!

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With the mists clearing we were finally able to see the amazing views that Sapa has to offer of the Muong Hoa Valley.

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The paths we went through got narrower, steeper and muddier and in true Sarah style I of course slipped over not once, twice but about four times in the same spot which is embarrassing when you are pulled up by an 11 year old who makes trekking in this terrain look so easy. At a well deserved and needed rest stop Dan got out the frisbee and little did we know how much this frisbee was going to shape our evening at the home stay later.

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Now covered in mud a helping hand was never far away even if not really needed and they giggled each time my footing went a bit and I made the all too British woopsey daisy type noises!

It became clear that the group of women who were with us would not be joining us for the rest of our trek as we reached Ylinhho village for lunch as suddenly we were bombarded with cries of "you buy from me, you buy from me" whilst having different bags, bracelets etc that seemed to have materialised out of nowhere shoved in our direction. It was a bit overwhelming as we dived into the lunch area to get some peace. This was different from 'stopping in the village for lunch to see local lifestyle' than I had interpreted from tour info we had been given. The women were from the Black H'mong tribe and this village was their home so they would not be coming with us to the next village.

We continued on through the village after lunch with a couple of hangers on intent of making a sale. It was quite jovial though and we enjoyed the banter.

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We moved into the next village which is Lao Chai and bigger than the last with 4000 people living here and a large school in the village. As we went by the children were out in the playground and we watched as the older ones played football and the younger ones did some kind of dance exercise which was cute to watch. They only go to school in the morning as the boys are needed to help on the land and the girls are needed to help sell and keep the house in the afternoon. As we went through the village we saw racks of incense sticks drying and more farm animals before following Sun further up the paths to our homestay at the Ta Van village.

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Again this was different to how I had imagined and instead of the group being split to stay with individual families in the village to help make dinner and be shown their way of life in more detail we were brought to a large two storey building complete with TV, computer, wifi & pool table and joined two other groups.

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Although this was not what I expected we ended up having a great time. The family that also stayed at the homestay (again I am not clear if this would be their home without the tourists) were really friendly and the food was great.

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They had a little boy who took and instant liking to Dan once he brought out his magic folding frisbee. It made the kid go a bit mental with excitement and the funny thing was that he would only let Dan or one of the other guys fold it up to put it back in its bag for him to pop it put again. Then he was taught to throw it and all hell broke loose as it rebounded off everything and everyone to his delight. Wild screams, giggles, jumping on beds and people followed until it all got a bit much and he accidentally hit his own head on the floor! It was definitely his bed time!

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Not for us though as Sun and the other guide pulled up chairs and lined up the shot glasses! The local H'mong whiskey was their shot of choice and we all gave it a go....lets just say it has a unique after taste and the rest of the shots were only done out of politeness but after the third one almost made a reappearance I had to say no. It probably would have been ok if they gave you time to recover but they wanted to do them back to back!

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Day 3....

Pancakes for breakfast were a welcome sight and it is safe to say we were all feeling affects from the night before, although the fun memories were worth it. The groups split up again and we started off on the final part of our trip in Sapa a morning trek to our lunch point before the bus back to the hotel. We had a new group of local women today who instantly clocked my muddy trousers from yesterday and knew I was one to watch on the slippery paths and if it wasn't for their help I would have been caked head to toe in mud that's for sure! Particularly as when I was left to my own devices I fell over in the waterfall!

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At one point in the trek there was a bit of a commotion ahead as a giant centipede walked across the path. You know not to touch something if the locals keep a wide berth, they can be quite aggressive and have a painful bite. Apparently this is also the only type of centipede that has ever been attributed to a human death when one bit a 7 year old girl on the head and she died 29 hours later (so the Internet tells me).

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We were not disappointed with the views today as the cloud filled the valley

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But the best view was saved for last when we got back to the hotel, with the mist gone the colours of Sapa came to life and the Summit hotel lived up to its name

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Huge thanks to Peter, John, Coral, Mandy, Sam and Alan for making Sapa and our homestay so much fun. Safe travels xxx

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Posted by doyledan 08:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hanoi sights and sounds


View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

Our first morning in Hanoi was met with humid temperatures and sunshine which encouraged us to get up early and see the sights. We walked the streets of the Old Quarter and found ourselves at a street resturant which are commonly used by locals and you find them on every corner amongst the hussle and bussle which adds to the experience. Whats funny is that the seating is crammed in smalls spaces on the pavement and therefore they use tiny stools that wouldnt look out of place in a primary school. We ordered our food but were a little bit too keen and had not realised that best way to order food at these places is to ask for what you want, pay for what you want, then get served. The reason for this is that upon understanding what was on the 'set menu' we subsequently found out that we were paying for each dish instead of a set total price. In the end in didn't matter as the food was good and only cost us £9 for two people, it was enough food that we didn't need to eat for the rest of day. Bargain!!

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Having left the resturant we leisurely made our way to the Hoa Lo Prison. The history of the prison dated back to when France colonised Vietnam during the 1800s. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners who were often subject to torture and execution. It was often overcrowded, with its inmates held in subhuman conditions, and it had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and of the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.

Today most of the prison has been demolished to make way for hotels and other buildings but one section is still available to view. I was particular interested in going because it also housed the American pilots during the Vietnam War, so I thought a bit of history around that time would be worth seeing. It turned out that the period that the Vietnamese were brought to this prison was more interesting, mainly because of the appalling treatment they received.

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They would be kept for days on end locked up by a chain on one leg unable to stand up. If they were disciplined they would be kept in solitary confinement in a room no bigger than two metered squared without daylight. There was a large stone in the courtyard which was the old sewage drainage and it told of prisoners who had escape by using the pipe to crawl out of. As you can see from the picture below it was such a small space, and only because the prisoners were so malnourished that their bodies could fit through. The whole experience of the prison started remind me of one of my favourite films 'Shawshank Remdemption' when Andy crawled through the sewage pipe to freedom.

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As we carried on through the prison we learned about the period when during the Vietnam War and how US pilots were held here as POWs. What became evident was how this victory over the US pilots was so important to them when describing their history and also the kind of propaganda that might of been fed to the world during this period. When we saw the pictures of the pilots having a laugh and being cared for it seemed very convenient and we did question how truthful it could be. We did however learn that the pilots jokingly renamed the prison 'Hanoi Hilton' but I imagine they were being very ironic. I wasn't convinced that the solitary confinement, chains etc would not have been administered to these guys in some sort of way.

Towards the end of the tour we walked into a room which housed a old guillotine which had an eerie presence. I think Sarah was tempted to put her head near the dangerous part but thought best not too. The room also housed a corridor leading to the solitary confinement rooms, and they had painted a picture on the back wall to give the illusion of a longer corridor. There was a young boy who was with his parents and understandably was nervous about going in and tried to to convince Mum and Dad not too which was quite cute. To be honest it was creepy enough that I didn't want to stay long either.

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A sobering experience walking through this prison but it gave a new perpective that I wasn't aware of in terms of the conflict within the country..

Next it would be the Women's Museum which Sarah chose to visit so I will pass on too her to tell all.....

I'd heard that the Women's museum was one of the best in Hanoi and we were not disappointed. You definitely got loads of info for your money with exhibits spread over 6 floors in this modern museum taking you through different aspects in women's life in Vietnam from their efforts in the country's conflicts to their role in everyday life. It really demonstrated how different my life could be if I had been born in Vietnam even today.

The main part that stuck with me was the opening section on today's street sellers, where we watched videos of them telling their story on how they live. We had seen these women all over Hanoi loaded with various goods from fruit & baguettes to shoes & ponchos, some of them managing to stack up and carry unfathomable amounts.

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Many of these women come from rural areas and have had to come into the city to make additional money to help support their families, often not seeing their husbands and children for 2-4 weeks at a time and living in cramped conditions sharing a room with 10 other women. The main reason this has happened seems to be because a lot of the land they have to farm has been taken away from them to make way for other development so the crops they yield are small and can only provide an income for part of the year and so they are forced to come to the city to make ends meet. Their hours are long starting at 4am to get their goods from the market to sell and they stay out until they have sold it all which could take them into the evening, and in a 'good' week they can make about 20 US dollars. It was quite sobering when we sat down later and worked out that it would take a street seller best part of 6 months to earn what we do in 2 weeks, and although we need to put it in perspective of different costs of living etc it still made us take a step back and appreciate what we have. I definitely would prefer to buy from them than a shop.

It was also interesting to see the varying traditions of the different people when it came to their wedding ceremonies too, particulalry as i am hoping to pick up ideas along our trip for our own big day! For one of them the tradition is for the father of the bride or the eldest brother to carry to bride to the ceremony...so Dad and Jez you can sort out amongst yourselves who will have that honour :)

I also like the saying

"Wife and husband are as inseparable as a pair of chopsticks"

I guess coz one couldn't work without the other

Some of their wedding outfits were interesting too. One with a massive veil that sticks out a couple of feet and covers the brides face completely so she has to be led. Looks quite cumbersome to wear so not sure I ll be going for that myself.

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We also got to try out some of the ways the people the countryside live as well... Definitely need to be strong!

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I won't ruin the rest of the museum in case you go there but well worth a visit....back to Dan. Sx

Having finished with both museums it was our plan to make our way around Hiem Lake towards the Water Pupptery. It was a nice stroll and what we found was that a lot of the locals hung out here as well as many couples who were having what seemed like wedding photos. The junctions we passed still never ceased to amaze when full of traffic, at one point the road was full to the brim with motorcycles.

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We found ourselves at the Water Puppertry in good time and were able to see a early performance, truth be told I was on my last ounce of energy but it was supposed to be a good cultural experience so we bought our tickets and went in. Now I would like to say that I took it all in but unfortunately that last ounce fell part as soon as the lights went down and my memory of the performance is slightly blurred due to intermittent moments of nodding off. However I think Sarah would agree that although culturally it was worth seeing, it was quite repeative and it was a job to stay interested.

After the show we had time to kill and decided after a wash up we should see what the nightlife had to offer. It was a good night out and we put the world to rights for a few hours before all the bars had to close due to a curfew that is put in place by the military. Fortunately we had seen this before and knew about it so it wasn't much of a surprise , but I bet if you didn't know and you saw guys in military uniform on the back of trucks shouting across the streets you could think some sort of coup was happening ..... Thankfully it was just a normal noise curfew and we congregated with most of Hanoi's backpackers on the streets before finding our way to a dingy club/bar the other side of the highway with the help from a guy we met on the China/Vietnam border , and that was that ... To be honest it was one of those nights that should of ended after the first bar but you live and learn. But also it made me realise the type of places and people that I want to be around more on this trip so that was a blessing.....

The next day we knew we had a long bus trip to Sapa to look forward to so the day was spent mainly catching up with blogs and then walking the streets of the Old Quarter in search of the allusive shoes that Sarah has been unable to find due to most shops in China selling ridiculous coloured ones or ones with inch thick soles. During our leisurely walk we did stubble upon a great place for lunch which was high above the street levels called the City View Cafe. The lunch soaked up what alcohol we consumed the night before and the views meant we could have a good old people watch.

Once again the traffic continued to baffle with at one point cars and motorcycles weaving their way around this poor old guy who walked across the 'Zebra Crossing' at turtle speed. We both concluded that after a couple of days it was time to get out of Hanoi and see the countryside.

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Coming up our first sleeper bus and the trip to Sapa

Stayed tuned for more tales .

Dan

Sent from my iPad

Posted by doyledan 03:02 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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