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Vietnam

Mud Baths and Rollercoasters

Nha Trang

sunny 30 °C
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Day 1

Arriving in Nha Trang was a bit of a shock to the system after the quaintness of Hoi An as we were surrounded by loads of tall buildings and new resorts being built along the beach. Escaping the usual barrage of motorbike riders plying to take us to our hostel we opted to walk the short distance to Mozjo Inn and after a couple of wrong turns and bumping into a couple of Aussie girls we had met in Halong we found it. They told us that the night before the streets had been flooded due to a sudden downpour and where they had been sitting outside their hostel had been underwater and the hostel had to put barriers up to stop the water getting inside. Not that there was any evidence of it in the morning as all the water had gone and the sun was beaming.

As we weren't able to check into our room until 2pm we were initially at a bit of a loss as to what to do as we were shattered after another bad bus journey, this time with a screaming baby who needed a nappy change in the early hours of the morning on the bus! Not very pleasant but what else could the mother do. What made it worse was the other disgruntled passengers who angrily complained to each other about it, paying no heed to the fact their aggressive tones were probably making the baby cry more! Fortunately our hostel gave us free cold water and they have a water filter system on site for their guests to have free water and reuse their bottles doing their bit for the environment.

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After a shower to freshen up and with a clearer head we decided that the only thing to do was to head to the Thap Ba Hot Springs for some relaxation in the mud baths.

It was exactly what we needed and within 15 minutes the hostel had organised a pick up and we were on our way. We opted to go in the communal mud baths rather than bothering with one for a couple which was more than double the price. Even though up to 8 people could supposedly go in one mud bath we were pleasantly surprised to only share with one other couple for a short time before having it to ourselves. Result! The mud bath was cool and soothing which was great particularly as I had burnt my arms a bit whilst cycling the day before. We had a buckets which we could pour the mud on ourselves with and it didn't take long before we were covered, although you had to keep pouring it on as the mud was surprisingly thin, I had expected it to be thick. Once we had wallowed for long enough it was time to stand in the sun for the mud to dry which it did in seconds before washing it off in the hard showers, as well as trying to scoop out the mud that had collected in our swimwear!

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Next was a hot spring water bath but as we were walking there we were directed to go between two walls and suddenly water was sprayed out at us from both sides...just in case you hadn't done a good job in the shower yourself :). They weren't lying about the hot water, it was scorching and took a few tentative goes before we were in although I could not put my arms in due to the sunburn. You are only allowed in the hot water for 15 minutes and we didn't even manage that hopping out after about 10! We definitely felt relaxed though and the combination of the mud and hot water left our skin super soft. We then had free time to enjoy the pool and also the hot waterfalls around it.

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The pool was over 30 degrees so again you could only be in it for 15 mins at a time and it was too hot to really swim in so we just floated about a bit before getting a cold drink. Not really wanting to be in the midday sun as it was a roasting day Dan opted to get a full body massage whilst I went to get a manicure and pedicure. My experience is the only part I would not recommend at the spa. After being directed to where the beauty therapist was I knocked on the door as I could not see anyone. It turns out she was taking a nap behind a screen and rudely shooed me away miming that she would be sleeping for another 5 minutes. After hanging around looking at some of the small stalls nearby she appeared in the doorway with a face like a dogs arse and grunted that I should come in. This was not going to be the relaxing pampering I had hoped for and even after giving her my best winning smile and trying to make conversation it was clear that she did not want to look at me, smile or talk, instead she just pulled me about making the odd grunt if my hand or foot wasn't in the right position and shoved the choices of nail varnishes in my direction to take a look. It was a bit of a relief when Dan appeared in the doorway as it eased the tension and I was glad when it was over. To be fair though what I can't really quibble with is the price as I got both the manicure and pedicure for 40,000 dong which is just over a quid!

Back at the hostel we had the pleasant surprise of being upgraded from our dorm room to a private double room with ensuite for our first night.

We had decided that we wanted to do an Easyrider tour after being told how much fun it was by John and Peter when we were in Sapa. We decided that even though we already had bus tickets booked to take us from Nha Trang to Dalat and then Moi Ne that we would rather go by motorbike. Easyrider touts are everywhere in Nha Trang and we wanted to make sure the company we chose was a good one so spent some time online and emailing a couple of companies until we found Mr Bin who's website was great and answered all our questions straight away and our 3 day trip was booked leaving the day after tomorrow. We celebrated with a glass or two of Dalat wine with dinner at The Verandah, the food was great, the wine not so much! We had planned to pop back to the hostel quickly before going back out but I ended up falling asleep so we would need to see Nha Trangs night life another night.

Day 2

The night before we had seen what looked like several Eiffel Towers lit up in the sea and realised that these were the towers for a cable car to an island and wanted to check it out. It turns out this was the cable car to get you to Vinpearl Waterpark and so we decided to spend the day there checking out the rides and waterslides. Our hostel pointed us in the direction of the bus stop and after hopping on the right bus and getting our ticket for only 11p we were on our way. Not far from the final stop as the bus turned the corner I noticed a crowd to the side of the road and thought there might be some street performer behind them but as the bus got closer through a gap in the crowd we saw it was the aftermath of a terrible accident with a truck and a motorbike. Everyone on the bus gasped and it was clear from the position of his limp body and the bad head wounds that there was no hope for the rider. We were passed it in seconds but I was really affected by it and it felt wrong that we were heading to a theme park when that had just happened. It was a quiet and reflective journey in the cable car and Dan tried his best to distract me, but it wasn't ideal considering we were heading on our own motorbike trip the following morning.

It turns out that the cable car is the longest over sea cable car in the world and as we approached you could see Vinpearl written on the hillside in the style of the Hollywood sign and we could see a ride sweeping all the way down the side of the hill and Dan was keen to have a go.

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When we got off the cable car we were in a small theme park area and after riding on the pirate ship and carousel we headed to the entrance for the hill slalom and started the long ascent to the top in our little car. When you get to the top you are in control of the breaks and we raced down the turns which was fun, only problem was there were a group of girls on cars in front of us who were going slow so we soon caught up with them and had a slow finish but it was fun.

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After some lunch overlooking Nha Trang Bay with the sound track of American rock in the background we checked out the underwater world aquarium which was really cool with a long tunnel section with a travlelator that took you through whilst sharks and rays swim all around you. It defiantly made us look forward to learning diving later in our trip. There is meant to be a mermaid show where a woman dressed as a mermaid swims in the tank to Little Mermaid sound track but I think to Dans relief (and my disappointment) we missed it!

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Next was the water park itself with its wave machines and slides which was really fun. We joined some Russians to go down the family slide on a huge dingy. Only problem was our one was broken and one of the guys was really big so when we went down and hit the water at the bottom he sank right through the hole! There are a lot of Russians in Nha Trang and apparently this is because there is some kind of tax back agreement on flights here between Vietnam and Russia...I did here this in a bar later so not 100% sure this is true but would make sense.

We had heard from Sam and Alan who we had met in Sapa that they were also in Nha Trang. It was Alan's last night before heading home and Sam was keen to join us on the motorbike tour the next morning so we met up for dinner and a catch up. Food at the Red Lantern was great and Dan and I opted for the beef BBQ which is cooked at the table which was delicious. Alan had a guest at dinner of a baby gecko which appeared on his arm out of nowhere and seemed to like being on his shirt. We moved on to Why Not bar running the gauntlet of all the bar girls trying to get us in their bar instead? For some reason they thought I would be the one to sway the group and lots of shouts of "come on lady" and occasionally being physically pulled in the other direction (they are quite strong) we got to the bar we wanted and passed the evening drinking rubbish vodka to send Alan on his way!

Tomorrow I would become a biker chick eek!

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 04:36 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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

sunny 34 °C
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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


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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


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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)

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