Hanoi - Halong Bay - Hue - Hoi An - Nha Trang - Dalat
Hanoi (23/05/2011 - 26/05/2011)
Good Morning Vietnam!!!! A real obvious way to start our Vietnam Blog I know, but I just could not help it! - It was a good morning! We had already deciced the day before when we arrived that on our first full day in Hanoi we would get up nice and early to go to Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum. This was Vietnam’s holiest shrine, it was a place to pay homage to their inspirational former leader Ho Chi Minh or Uncle Ho to the Vietnamese! Our walk to the Mausoleum was also a good opportunity to see a bit more of Hanoi, on the previous day we enjoyed are walk through the old quarter in locating are hostel, this was a chance to see the other side of town. Our walk included many Government buildings as we walked through the tree lined streets, everywhere you look you can see the red flag of Vietnam hanging in the wind. It also seems like every 100yards you will come across a Vietnamese guard stood at his post, not to protect anything but to create that ever present watchful look. As we followed are map we picked up from our hostel we eventually arrived at Ho Chi Minhs final laying ground, we could see the huge que on the other side of this huge green that layed before the Mausoleum. It is described by the Vietnamese to resemble a lotus flower rising up, but to me and Kay and everyone else as Lonely Planet described, it just looked like a concrete building with Pillars around it, still knowing what is within that building you can not help but get a weird eerie feeling from the place. Not disheartened by the huge que we made are way over and joined it, on the way feeling the wrath of those ever watchfull guards. We thought we could use the path that went through the green, especually as we could see others using it, well we quickly realised that this was not the case. As two guards loudly and repeatedly sounded their whistles as they rushed towards us. Forcing us to turn around and walk all the way back to the other side when the side we wanted was just a few yards away! Ha We could not see the point in this and we were frustrated to be so close, but we were not about to start arguing with them! Ha The que flowed fairly quickly and before we knew it we were inside walking around the body of Uncle Ho, as you can imagine we both felt rather strange and awkward in the situation. We also could not work out if the body was real or infact another stroke of magic by Maddame Tussaudes! The Mausoleum is closed for 3months of the year whilst they take the body away to help preserve it, but Uncle Ho has been dead for over 30 years, so im not sure how they would be able to keep it looking the way it does. The whole experiece was very surreal! Afterwards we moved on to the museum that was located behind the Mausoleum, it was a set of grounds which included a small lake that showed the buildings that Uncle Ho once lived in, we had a good nose through the windows and the garages where you could view the many cars he had recieved as gifts from the old Soviet Union. From the museum we made are way to the two lakes that were in the north of the city, there we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon walking around the lakes taking everything in. Stopping a couple of times for a coffee and some noodles. That night we enjoyed some good western food, a few beers and a pub quiz as we spent the evening at the nearby lively Backpackers Hostel Bar! Great first day in Hanoi, really interesting to see Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum, not something I would ever expect to come across back home! We continued with the museum vibe for our second day and went along to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, this was where the French had destroyed a village to build a prison to house anyone opposing their occupance of Vietnam. The museum displayed many relics showing just how bad the French treated the prisoners there, it even included an original French Guillotine, complete with actual pictures shortly after the guillotine had done its job on those who had opposed the most. The Prison was also used during the Vietnam War to house American POW’s, ironically the Yanks nicknamed it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. The information in this part of the museum was very interesting and again much like China it was good to see the Vietnamese spin on things. From the museum we enjoyed yet another park and lake before deciding to wander back to the old quarter where we were staying to book our Halong Bay Cruise for the next day!
Both Kay and myself were really surprised with how much we like the look of Hanoi, people we have spoke to before coming here said they did not really rate the place! We find the buildings here really grand and great to look at, each house, shop and government building on every street seems individual in its own right, yet very French inspired. Kay has likened some of the buildings to the houses you see that line the streets of a Carribean Island, if you could imagine the buildings that are tall, but not very wide, go back with huge depth, with three floors and each floor has a balcony. Each house has chosen a different colour, so the street runs along like a colourful pack of sweets! The roads are all tree lined, with every now and again the road finishing to incorporate a huge green park for the locals to relax, kids to play and the elderly to dance or practice their Tai Chi! For a capital city, it is so green! Even the tree lined old quarter, which the minute we arrived there we thought we were back in India! With the crazy traffic, over populated streets where everyone seems to be sat out eating around the many, many food stalls! We both agreed that Hanoi seems to have taken a slice of whats good of both India and China and placed here, we have really enjoyed are few days here! Great way to start Vietnam!
Halong Bay (26/05/2011 - 27/05/2011)
Following on from the enjoyable Hanoi we took to our Halong Bay cruise, with the promise of a couple of days of great weather! With our fingers crossed we made are way by coach to Halong City where we would pick up the boat. On the coach we met are fellow shipmates, which bar one, a girl from Argentina who seemed a bit full of her self/nausiating, were really nice. Once at Halong Bay we boarded are dragon boat and set sail, well switched the rather loud engine on! Ha And made are way to a set of caves that were well hidden amongst the famous peaks of Halong Bay. On the way to the Hang Sung Sot caves, Kay and myself checked into are suprisingly luxiorious cabin and then made are way to the big table where we joined are fellow shipmates for lunch. The food was great and we both really enjoyed it, I even had crab and squid for the first ever time, which I know my family will be extremely surprised to hear! Ha! After lunch we made are way to the top deck where the sun was beaming down on and crashed onto the comfy looking sun loungers! Both Kay and myself looked at each other, let out a huge puff of air and without even saying it, we both knew what what the other was thinking...."At last!” We had two hours of our first real taste of a sun longer before we hit the caves and we both thouroughly enjoyed it, the only break that I allowed myself from it was when I began to get a bit carried away with the hundreds of photos I took as we approached the peaks! The views were amazing, turquiose water with unique peaks rising up creating these magical coves! Everywhere I looked I kept thinking, that will be a good picture and snapped away! Ha! But the views really were that good! It was great to see the tiny fishing villages dwarfed by the peaks that inhabbit the coves! Every now and again a small boat would row up to us and offer us some half price beer or soft drinks, which we would take advantage of later on that evening! The coves looked great! Once anchor down, we then left the boat to go view the caves, our guide pointed out to us the many, many rock formations that legend has it are meant to resemble different things, some are animals, some are Buddha and one of them is even meant to resemble Buddhas finger, though Kay, myself and the rest of our group all believed that this looked more like another body part of the famous Buddha! Kay even made me to take a photo of it to place on the blog - Child! Ha! From the caves we made are way back to the boat to pick up are swimming stuff for an afternoon of kayaking, which both Kay and myself thouroughly enjoyed! It was great to get out on our own and Kayak around these stunning peaks and find our own way through the many gaps in the coves. The activities continued with the chance to jump off the top deck and into the turquoise water below to enjoy a good swim as the sun began to set! We spent a good hour enjoying are swim around the boat and within the coves, we had been looking forward to jumping in the moment we boarded! Once dried off we made are way back to our room to shower and get ready for our evening meal. The food once again was great, we enjoyed a few beers after whilst we first participated in some squid fishing, where Kay the former animal lover almost killed her second fish in a matter of weeks! Ha! I do not know what has happened to her lately, she seems to have aquired a taste for it! Ha Before enjoying a bit of Karaoke! Im not the singing type at all, so im not sure how it happened, I think the sun and beer might have got to me a little as I found myself up scerenading the lucky Kayleigh! Ha - Still it was a great evening, to what had been a great day!
The following day we attempted to get up for sunrise, but after a few beers and not hitting the sack till late, that as you can imagine did not happed. Still we were up in time for breakfast! That morning we said goodbye to half of our shipmates as they were continuing on to a second boat for a second night, whilst Kay, me and the others set sail back for Halong Bay. We enjoyed the three hours sailing back, relaxing on the top deck in the sun, again with me taking yet more pictures! Once back we met are new tour guide who took us back by bus to Hanoi, stopping off on the way for yet another great lunch! That evening me and Kay took the overnight bus from Hanoi to Hue, still smiling from a great, enjoyable two days on our Halong Bay Cruise!
Thouroughly enjoyed are Halong Bay Cruise, right up there with my favourite things we have done travelling! It was brilliant! Well worth the money, it only cost £48 each! It was great to enjoy a combination of things, the chance to relax on the top deck on a sun lounger, take some photos, see a bit of culture with the fishing villages and caves, have a bit of fun with the Kayaking, jumping off the boat for a swim and some Karaoke! - All with some great food and a few beers! We met some really nice people as well, a nice couple from Spain, a group from France, a girl from Grimsby and our favourite Pierre from Denmark! Though Kay called him Phillipe and I called him Peter for most of the trip! Ha - He was a top bloke though, really nice, really funny and he even gave us some home comfort! Just when you miss home and those we know at home, it was nice to have a chat with Pierre and remind us both of you lot back in Bristol, as he resembles are very own Des! Ha! Now this is payback Des, for the Cliff Richard jokes! Have a look on our blog and see if you agree! Ha! So all in all Halong Bay delivered up more then we could have expected! It was great!
Hue (28/05/2011 - 29/05/2011)
Arrived in Hue early on Saturday morning, after a 12 hour bus journey from Hanoi. We were both extremely tired following a few recent late nights and a lack of sleep on our recent bus journey. Still once checked in to our room that I checked had satelite TV in the hope of catching the Champions League final that night. We decided against a nap and headed out, Hue was really nice, so chilled out and relaxed. Not much traffic about, so you could easily cross the road and not worry about the many Eddie the Kids that would normally shoot past you! It was exactly what me and Kay, two fragile, really tired people needed! We headed for the Citadel, an old town across from the river that has walls running around it to house the majority of the residents in Hue. Within the Citadel is the Emperors enclosure, this as the title suggests was where only the Emperor and his loyal servants would reside, with no one else allowed to enter. Kay and myself spent a few hours walking around the old town and the walls of the Emperors enclosure, stopping to rest under a tree now and again from the sun. We then made are way across the bridge to walk along the river, again stopping to sit along the bank to enjoy a rest and the great views. From there we continued onto a quiet part of town to see a Pagoda that was set in these really old gardens where the local monks lived. That evening we enjoyed a good curry from a nearby restaraunt before heading back to our room, where Kay enjoyed an a early night and I foolishly stayed up to watch the football!
Needless to say the next morning Kay woke up feeling nice and fresh and I was still slightly tired! That day we had decided to move on to Hoi An in the search of a beach! We enjoyed some food from the same restaraunt, still impressed from last nights meal, before taking the three hour bus to Hoi An.
Though when writing about Hue it does not seem like we did much and that we left fairly quick, we still both really enjoyed the place. It was so chilled out and a real pretty place to walk through, again so much greenery. So many trees, it felt like walking through parts of England on a really hot, sunny day. It was nice not having to visit somewhere, just being able to aimlessly wander through the place was great! Going by the first few places we have visited in Vietnam, if it continues like this, then I think it will be hard to match as our favourite place! And we have not even hit the beaches Yet!!
Hoi An (30/05/2011 - 02/05/2011)
Our first proper beach destination!!! Wahoo!!! We finally made it!!!
The long awaited beach had finally arrived - and it didn’t disappoint - it lived up to our very high expectations created over the past few months.
We decided on 4nights here straight away, we wanted to completely relax in such a beautiful place.
Our first 3 days here all followed the same perfect pattern that we created for ourselves. Up and out for breakfast about 10.30ish (which truthfully was always a bit of a disappointment as it was not particularly cheap, and not value for money considering the tiny portions the Vietnamese seem to serve - probably because they seem to graze on countless small meals per day), which fuelled us with enough energy to complete the 1hr 30min walk to the holy grail (aka: the beach). The journey was lengthened by my inability to pass the many bikini shops which lined the streets, without popping in to see if I could find myself the perfect one to treat myself to - much to Ollies annoyance - even though he wouldn’t admit it!!! Ha! After much searching - I unfortunutely couldn’t find one - I will have to wait until Nha Trang. On our shop hunt though, we did manage to haggle down the cheapest sun lotion we could find (£3 for a tiny bottle - it is much more expensive than England for some things here!) - in factor 30 Jane - you will be please to hear!! The walk to the beach didn’t just include shopping - we walked past stretches of beautiful tropical river, the sight of which would excite us by reminding us - we are actually in Vietnam, a tropical paradise - far far away from the worlds of Spain, India & China. Arriving at the beach about mid day (just about made it in time to avoid walking in the strongest sun, not that it felt like it - we finished bottle upon bottle of water on the walk to replenish all that we had sweated out!) we would sit on our shared towel and bake ourselves in the heat until we gave into our cravings of the cool waters, which had been fiercly crashing against the shore, beckoning us in the whole time we were there. The sea was refreshing - beautifully blue - the waters stayed shallow for quite some way, gently easing you in, you had to walk out pretty far before it was swimable, and it took some effort to make it out that far, having to first fight your way past the suprisingly strong waves that crashed onto the shore. The sea was not calm enough to swim properly in - but we enjoyed acting like children jumping around diving through the waves. After we had accidentaly swallowed a sufficient amount of sea water, we would return to our towel to dry in the sun - ah, this is the life!!! Dry, our next treat would be to enjoy a few snacks from the nearby food stalls, fried bread topped with pork meat & a spicy chilli sauce - finished with a coconut donut - both scrumptious - and much more affordable at 5,000D a pop (after they have tried to overcharge us and we have managed to coax the real price out of them). We eat our treats on the beach, still sat in the sun, which is now slowly lowering in the sky. The light begins to change, which tells us we are drawing close to the end of another perfect day. Next the food stalls would all set up under the palm trees, ready to serve their evening customers, who were mainly Vietnamese, the local delicacy of Cao Lau (which we tried one night, pork, noodles which tasted like a distant relative of pasta, beansprouts, in a broth using a special local water, we didn’t love it - but were glad we tried it!!), telling us that it must be around 4.30pm, so we we would head back shortly after, usually grabbing some more fried bread & coconut donut treats for the journey. Getting back to our hotel around 6pm ish, we would quickly shower and head around the corner to Kimmy’s, which is where on our first night Ollie had decided on a tailor made suit for himself. After hours of being sat in the shop (it was very busy which meant we luckily ended up being looked after by the owner, Kimmy herself - who was extremely professional and straight away installed every confidence that she knew exactly what she was doing - we could trust her opinion.) on that first night, I had decided there wasn’t anything there for me, and we concentrated on finding Ollie the perfect look. Trawling through pages upon pages of pictures of designer suits, we agreed that we both liked the first one we picked out, and Armani classic!!! A 3 button suit I thought gave a more classic feel & a difference to the usual 2 button that people seem to choose these days - Ollie agreeing with me said that his Gramps always told his 3 buttons is the way to go - so 3 buttons it is!! Hoi An is famous for tailored suits, Ollie had planned to get a suit here when we were planning our trip - and he had already had it in mind that he wanted a light grey one - so he stuck with this. After considering others he liked the material we were first shown by a sales girl (which suprise suprise turned out to be the most expensive one!) was the one he wanted. Kimmy took all of his measurements and gave us a price for the suit - £90. Now we knew that we hadn’t gone to the cheapest place for the suit, Kimmys had a good reputation and is ranked highly on the net, the professional shop set up already told us that we were going to be paying a little more - but we hadn’t anticipated it to be this much!! Ollie considered other materials for cheaper prices, but we both agreed that we were still set on the more expensive material - Kimmy kindly dropped her price to £65, which I genuinely believe was her best offer - and we happily settled on the price. The suit was made overnight and was ready for us to try the next day, we returned each night at 6.30pm there on until we left for fittings (plus a day fittings too - taking it to a total of 5 fittings after the initial measure up - which I’m sure is more than anyone else has! Ha! Typical Ollie! We were told that this was down to him having nice broad shoulders, and slim waist - Ollie smiling at this point - but that he had a hunched back and crooked shoulders, one higher than the other - Ollie no longer smiling at this point! Ha!) When we finally collected the finished suit on our last day - it all fell into place - it looked perfect!! Well worth all the time and money! It really is fantastic!! Perfect colour - perfect fit - on my perfect boyfriend - very sexy!!! I was very proud of him - he looked so handsom!!
Back to our day to day routine, we would usually finish Ollies fittings about 7pm and then walk down to the old town for our evening meal. Now this place is the icing on the cake, with a cherry on top! Day and night, these tiny little roads were beautiful - and even though I have never been (unfortunutely - damn volcanic ash!) it looks just as I dreamed Italy would. Quaint little roads, lined with mild yellow rustic old builings, with the most beatiful flowers of every different colour growing from every direction, all of which led down to a little harbour housing a few little wodden row boats, and a bridge to cross to the other side. Be it in sunshine, the colours of this place would explode - be it at nightime, the soft lights would creating an enchanting place - either way it was so charismatic. I love this beautiful little place (say the word Hoi An to me - and this little beautiful little harbour is what I see - my favourite part!). We would enjoy our evening meals mostly on the other side of the harbour, unfortunutely as with the breakfast restaurants on a side street of our hotel, the prices were not cheap and the quantities were not great - but we did manage to find a really good place right at then end of the string of restaurants that was the cheapest - and gave us the most delicious curry - in excellent portions! We would treat ourselves to a beer or two each night, more because it is half the price of soft driks - but hey we aren’t complaining!! Then, feeling full and content - with a smile from ear to ear - we strolled back to our room to perhaps catch a film on TV to fall asleep to.
And that is our time in Hoi An - completely and utterly loved the place - we both did!!!
Nha Trang (03/06/2011 - 07/06/2011)
Nha Trang - this is meant to be a lively part of Vietnam for drinking and partying - which seemed to fit the bill when we arrived off of the sleeper bus and were bombarded with touts trying to get us to go to their hotel - we thought, yes, this is the touristy bit!! Ha! We ignored most of them, thinking that if they are this desperate for business, we should hopefully be able to haggle down the room price, which after an hour of walking round different hotels, we finally managed to haggle a room for $6 per night as long as we didn’t have air con, or use the lift that was in the hotel...!? As we were on the first floor, we laughed at the terms, but happily accepted! All checked in, it was time to hit the beach, which was only a 5min walk away. Nha Trang was a little more expensive than other places in Vietnam it first seemed, so we invested in some supplies to keep in our hotel room, including cereals for breakfast. Each day we would wake up, earlier than usual as the room was SO hot without aircon, have our cereal for breakfast and the collapse on the beach for the morning. The beach was a great big long stretch of sand, fairly close to a main road, but with plenty of greenery seperating the two, to allow you to totally forget that it was there. Led in the sun, letting our food go down, we would cool off in the sea after a few hours, just as we did in Hoi An. This beach was a little different to Hoi An though, both white sand, but this entrance into the waters was not so subtle, you weren’t able to touch the sea bed just a few steps into the waters edge. Either way, they were just as nice, this sea just as rough as the last. This time there were no food stalls to snack on, but we luckily went for a walk and found a fantastic little Vietnamese / Italian restaurant pretty far down the beach (but not on the beach front, the beach front ones here, which we treated ourselves to once, are very cool, very swanky, and very expensive!!!) early on in our time there. The owners were a couple, he was Italian, she was Vietnamese, hence the menu. We ate their most days, be it lunch or evening meal, trying both cuisines, again just as delicious as each other - at a very cheap price!! What more could we ask for! After enjoying perhaps, a Goi (Vietnamese salad), greens & garlic, noodles, pasta, ice coffee, etc we would head back to the beach and sun ourselves again for the rest of the day, starting the book “Eat Pray Love” given to me by a kind girl from our Halong Bay tour (this book I get really into, really enjoyed it - addicted to it - so Ollie went and treated himself to a second hand book to read too, seing as I am unable to talk to him as my nose is permenantly stuck in a book now!). As the sun went down, we would walk back to our hotel the long way round, snacking on BBQ corn on the cob, passing all the bars & restaurants on the way, teasing our tastebuds for later that night, completing the daily square circuit that we would walk each day. We would also continue my bikini hunt here - and after checking every shop, I settled on one, and suprisingly for me, is was the cheapest option! Wahoo! Back at the room we would quickly shower & change. We tested out lots of different restaurants on the 4 nights were were here, a fantastic & cheap Indian, and we enjoyed a feast of BBQ food one evening - it seems like we have broken the spell of portion size bad luck we have been having so far!! We enjoyed every single meal we had here, heading back to the hotel after a short walk. Giving up on finding any nightlife, it seems pretty quiet here at the moment for tourists, we would instead indulge in a very tasty little treat, an ice cream parlour serving Italian ice cream and fresh warm waffles, DELICIOUS!
And that pretty much sums up our time in Nha Trang - I think I perfer Hoi An as a place, it is so beautiful and charasmatic - but I love Nha Trang just as much for the lovely evenings me & Ollie have shared over such delicious food!!!
Although, as a side note, I would like to say that I have realised how much I like routine and miss routine of daily life from home, Moving around all the time, now being in beach resorts, it gives me too much time to be aware that I feel like I need to do somthing - a project. I don’t like it for the first day when I arrive places generally, I start enjoying myself as soon as I get settled into a place, getting our little daily routine of popping to shops etc to look forward to. Sad aren’t I! Ha!
Also, another thing I have noticed, all Vietnamese men for some reason have a second toe that is literally about an inch longer than his big toe. Don’t know why this is. Not important in the slightest. Just somthing I have noticed.....
Dalat (07/06/2011 - 09/06/2011)
We arrived at Dalat, not really knowing why - we had planned to come here - so we did. Before leaving, we tought about looking into it properly, but thought, na, we’ll just go there and sort it out when we get there. Well we got there - and pretty much decided we couldn’t be bothered to sort it out when we got there! Ha! Having been dragged away from the beach - I think our mind and bodies were resenting us a little - not allowing us the energy to be bothered to navigate our way to the day trips on offer here. We could have gone and seen lots of waterfalls on nice long walks through forrest - but to be honest - we just couldn’t be bothered!! What we decided to do - was to give in to that feeling & just take what we wanted out of Dalat. On the first day, we decided to head to “The Krazy House” which is a very random property located on a perfectly normal street, actually - quite a posh street - I bet the neighbours weren’t happy when the mad architech moved into the area! In amoungst the uniquely designed, yet still classically beautiful buildings - The Krazy House sticks out like a sore thumb. We walked in, reading a little about the architech initially (we even actually managed to spot her on the way out - we must have been lu cky enough to catch one of her few visits!?) and then explored. The house, which embodied fungus like growths on it’s body (yet it was all just pured concrete) was made up of 3 main buildings, containing themed rooms, like Tiger, Bee, Ant, Bamboo etc - all of which you could stay in now as a hotel (not that you would want to - it was not cheap - and would have been creepy!). We reached each of the rooms via maze like bridges & tunnels. Also inside was a crazy dinning room (which was now a cafe - that nobody seemed to use) and an Alice In Wonderland type garden, with fake giant spider webs, mushrooms, ponds, fake aligators. We wandered around the whole place over a hour or two - wondering what on earth was going through her mind to come up with such randomness!? We then headed to the markets here - I hoped to be able to pick up a purse handmade by the local ethnic minority groups - but I couldn’t find any I liked so I had to give up on this idea, and leave as soon as we got to the fish market - felt too bad for all those poor little fishes, about to become somebodies tea, led in bowls with no water, frantically thrashing around for their last breath. We only stayed 2 nights in Dalat, and the remainder of our time was spent enjoying eating!!! We had Vietnamese both nights, both equally as delicious, I tasted my first hotpot which was really yummy! And then every night without fail, we would go tot the AMAZING bakery that we had found with our noses, when they were displaying their freshly baked selection of cakes. We chomped into HUGE coconut cakes, big enough for me and Ollie to share really - but neither of us admitted this. They were yummy (and made me think of my mummy - as good as they were - still not as good as mums coconut & jam tart). On our last night - regretting leaving so soon just on the basis that we couldn’t cram in any more tasty treats, we had the brilliant idea of getting some in for breakfast tomorrow morning on the bus - genius!! So we did!!
We also went to the lake in Dalat and sat by the edge in a restaurant enjoying a (overpriced!) drink. That was nice. But the weather here in Dalat is the same everyday - nice in the morning - rain in the afternoon. This helped us reach the decision not to go on a walk at the waterfalls - as if we didn’t really feel like doing it - and then we would have to walk in the pouring rain - I don’t think we would have enjoyed it anyway! Bit sad / naughty really that we didn’t push ourselves through - but hey - this isn’t meant to be work - so nothing wrong with being a slacker here! Ha! Still glad we went as I wanted to see Krazy House when planning our trip. Fingers crossed we get to make up for the waterfalls in Thailand!