Social Whisper

Archive for April 2009

If it’s possible Hanoi is actually more mental than Saigon. On arrival its almost too much and makes you want to get out of there as soon as possible. If you’re arriving as a backpacker the city can be pretty hard work in terms of navigating your self around and finding cheap places to stay and eat compared to other cites we’ve stayed at.

There’s also a lot of people always trying to have one over on you so you also ways have to be on the ball which can be hard work and tiring after a while, especially after a long journey. Safely to say that on arrival we quickly booked our tour out of there to Halong that left the next day.

One thing you notice as you travel round is that the lonely planet lies a lot. Its quite useful for general information about an area but some of the maps dont quite match up and the prices are always wrong so you have to take it with a pinch of salt.

For example when booking our Halong Bay tour it recommends a number of tour operators as there are quite a few dodgy ones and scams going about because of its popularity. The problem is that as soon as it appears in the lonely planet everyone else seems to change their name to jump on the bandwagon (similar thing in hotels). We used a tour company called Sinh cafe which was fine but we later found out that there are over 100 Sinh cafes in Hanoi so had no chance of knowing if we used the one suggested – incidentally it was fine and we had no problems.

Our trip to Halong Bay left the next morning, with one night staying on a traditional junk ship and another on Cat Ba Island. Once we left the mainland and went out into the bay the views were breathtaking – believe the hype as words and pictures wont be able to get across how amazing this place is.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay at Sunset

During the day we also stopped off at some caves which were pretty amazing but were lit up with all these different coloured lights so it felt a bit like you were in Disney land – but amazing all the same.

Halong Caves

The rest of the group on our boat were really nice and had some great stories. I love people who have a story, in fact I might start vetting people I meet on the story they have to tell.

The one thing that had been worrying me about this trip was that it meant dealing with an annoying fear I had of drowning in confined spaces such as a sinking plane, or trapped in a boat while a sleep as it sunk. Luckily nothing happened although one of the guys on the trip cheerfully informed me that people did wake up to their boat sinking last year which was helpful.

The next day when we reached Cat Ba island we had a trek up one of the jungle covered mountains, which was pretty hard going – even more so because we were in flip flops which made it even harder not to fall off, but 2 hours later we made it!

Cat Ba Mountain

In the afternoon we had free time but as the weather had turned miserable and there wasn’t much to do we decided to go down the pub and play drinking games all afternoon with some bottles of cheap vodka. It was all going well with me and Nikki kicking Chris’s arse until after dinner when we invited this Aussie guy to join us (he turned out to be a bit weird and didn’t really get the English sense of humor) and he took Chris’s side and every time we lost made me down the vodka.

drinking games in Cat Ba

Luckily being English we still managed to win with him breaking first. The next day back to the mainland the weather was really foggy which made it hard to see much and gave the bay and errie affect, but also made us glad we’d had some sunny weather on our first day.

Back in Hanoi it was time for us to part ways as my visa ran out the next day and so I was headng down to the Thai islands and the guys were going up to Sapa for some trecking before heading down to Cambodia.

It was pretty emotional but we may potentially be meet up again in Thailand so we’ll see, it just means I will have to start being nice to random people and making friends again – which to be honest I’m quite looking forward to altough it wont be the same as my Vietnam group, but we’ll see!

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Hoi An

Posted on: April 26, 2009

After Nha Trang we continued northwards to Hoi An – the tailoring capital of the world. To get there we took the night train which arrived in Da nang at 4.30am, and so because of the ridiculous time and there were no buses we took a taxi down to Hoi An which was about 20km away.

Although the sleeper trains are a bit more expensive than the sleeper buses they are actually quite comfortable and so you actually have some chance of getting some sleep. They only thing is that you have to make sure you wake up when it’s your stop or you’ll end up some where in north Vietnam or miles away from where you were heading to.

Hoi An itself is beautiful – especially at night with all the lights by the river. Unlike other towns we’ve visited Hoi An is made up of old style French Buildings and is very chilled and laid back, giving it a completely different vibe to other places we’ve visited.

Hoi An

Lanterns in Hoi An

There’s not really much to do actually in Hoi An apart from shopping as the town is mostly made up of tailoring shops where you can get any thing you could want made, with generally the more you pay the better the quality.

We all got a couple of bits made – me and Nikki a couple of dresses and skirts, and Chris some shorts which generally weren’t more than $10 each and came out beautifully.  This does mean however that I have to stop getting any fatter if I still want them to fit by the time I come back home.

Nikki's new shoes

In terms of going out at night there are quite a few restaurants but only a couple of bars with most people generally ending up at the same bar which name escapes me. Randomly in this bar I bumped into Jen who I’d met a couple of weeks ago on the Mekong Delta trip, but separately she also knew Chris and Nikki who she’d met while in Mui Ne before I was there (small world!) so we had a bit of a reunion.

Bumping into Jen

We only stayed for a couple of days in Hoi An as we would have just ended up buying too much stuff. Moving up to Hanoi we ended up getting a flight as it was the same price as the train and only took and hour compared to 17 hours on the train – I love that sort of bargin!

Just off Nha Trang is an Island called Vinpearl which is reached by a cable car that goes across the sea. The Island has a waterpark, rides, a sealife centre, 4D cinema all rolled into one and included in the price (about 12 pounds).

vinpearl

Considering we’re in Vietnam the park is pretty impressive although surprisingly quiet, but this did mean that there were no queues or annoying kids.

We went on pretty much most of the rides and slide while we were there although many were only open at certain times which was quite random, but spent most of our time in the wave pool as the lazy river was being repaired – Nik and Chris were devastated.

The only thing that didnt occur to me before we left was to wear a secure bikini so there was a lot of boob flashing going on.

The rest of the afternoon we went to the sea life centre which had some gorgeous fish and a massive amusement arcade where everything was free so we got to try them all. Which was pretty good as I was rubbish at pretty much every thing.

underwater world

The next day we went on a boat trip round some of the islands off Nha Trang. Where most people seemed to get on boat trips full off other tourists (mostly westerners) we managed to get on a trip where we were the only westerners, wit a crazy crew that loved Karaoke and where every hour was beer o’clock.

One of the boat crew called Lon the worst I think he was permanently drunk and got us downing beer at 8.30 in the morning and if you didnt he would could up behind you and force it down you by holding your head back which was worse for poor Nik as she doesnt even like beer.

Lon

Nik forced to drink Strawberry whiskey

We spent the day swimming off the boat and snorkeling and visiting different islands round Nha Trang with an amazing lunch on the boat.

Nha Trang boat trip

boat trip in Nha Trang

The afternoon then started to turn a bit random, after lunch the crew formed a bit of a band with some bucket drum kit, Lon on electric guitar, and the leader for some reason wearing a motorcycle helmet and sunglasses with only one eye and made everyone get up and sing a song before they would leave.

If you didnt go along with it you got dragged up anyway. Luckily for us we were made to get up together to sing the finest rendition of yellow submarine – truly awful. After that we were allowed to go back up and sunbathe as we moved to the next island where the weirdness was stepped up a level.

While swimming about in the sea chatting these two old Vietnamese men started chatting to us and practicing their English and invited us to come over and join them on shore for a drink.

We said that we might come over ‘later’ until we realised they were just standing on the shore waiting for us, which kind of made the decision for us. Once on shore we realised that it wasnt just them it was all their mates who had been drinking all afternoon and were battered. There was empty bottles of whiskey and beer every where.

It was all a bit weird but dealable until they realised Niki was with Chris and I was the single one when they all started wanting ‘hugs’ and photos and kept trying to kiss me. Obviously we made a quick exit boat to the saftey of the boat after that.

The rest of the boat trip was thankfully quite normal as I was slightly traumatised by the random Vietnamese lot on the last Island.

The journey from Da Lat to Nha Trang was through the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. The road went through the mountains with sheer drops either side as the road was literally stuck on to the mountain with waterfalls coming out on the other side. Its almost worth going to Da Lat just to leave.

Nha Trang its self is actually really nice with a gorgeous beach, which when we were there was practically empty. Nha Trang is always described as the party town of Vietnam so you’d expect it to be quite mental and a bit like one of the Greek or Spanish islands.

Its not really like that, as like most of Asia it has a more laid back vibe to it, which probably makes it easier to go out and get on it as you just fall into the flow of the place.

Nha Trang also has a bit of a reputation for the amount of crime that takes place there, mostly affecting tourists. You hear quite a few stories as you travel round for example Dustin who I met on Ko Samet managed to get beaten up and mugged twice in the space of a week. Although I’ve also met quite a few people who’ve havent experienced any trouble.

Going out we kept an eye out but werent really too worried, especially as there were a few of us, and had a great night out. We spent most the time in Guava bar which is a really nice little place on the main road. What made it even better was that spirits and cocktails were only 70p each! We stayed there most the night before heading down to the Sailing club, you have to pay to get in but you get a free bucket (well more of a large jar).

nha trang

sailing club nha trang

The next day I met a couple of guys in our hotel who hadnt been so lucky. They had ended up in the Sailing club like everyone else and had had their drinks spiked which this drug that paralysed them for about four hours.

One of the guys hadnt been feeling great so his mates took him outside but by the time he realised what was happening he was unable to move or speak to get them to find their other mate. They later found him on the beach unconscious with all his stuff gone.

While we felt pretty bad for the guys we realised it could have quite easily have been us, as by the time we got to the Sailing Club we were pretty hammered and were leaving our drinks and bags all over the place, so were definitely going to be more careful.

Ironically because my camera had finally packed in and died a couple of weeks ago I had just gone out and got a new one from one of the local shops as that was the only place where you seemed to be able to get one.

I got a great deal on a ‘second hand’ Sony Cybershot which I can just about figure out how to use, but couldnt help feel slightly suspicious/ guilty that this ‘second hand’ camera may have been taken from an unfortunate tourist a few nights before.

It was emotional but inevitable that we’d all have to split up and leave Mui Ne. After two amazing weeks we finally left and went our separate ways.

I’m traveling up north with Nikki and Chris, Jorma and Dave have gone to Thailand, Bas to Bali and a load of other people to either Bali or back home.

I’ve worked out that today is actually the mid point of my trip and although I think it will be hard to beat the last two weeks I think I’m going to find it impossible to leave – if it wasn’t for money and my flat I wouldn’t go back!

Leaving Mui Ne we headed up into the mountains to Da Lat – probably in the smallest most crammed mini bus I’ve ever been on, think there was nearly 30 people in there. Although it was bad it was quite funny, I’m just glad I had people with me to laugh about it.

Arriving in Da Lat it was like being in back in the UK – 17 degrees! Outrageous!! Its nice though being in the mountains for a change of scenery as it make you appreciate the beach. (My cameras broken so I dont have many pictures of Da LAt or Mui Ne and so are having to get these off Google images so you can get an idea of where I am).

Da Lat Mountains

The next day we went on a motor bike tour round the mountains and to visit the waterfalls which were probably the best I’ve seen. We got to go behind the waterfall as well which was amazing – just like the scene in Last of the Mohicans.

Da Lat Waterfall

On our way back it did actually rain – don’t thing we’ve ever been so cold or wet in our lifes – even with the sexy 20p all in one plastic rain outfits. The rain was really sharp an had hail stones as well so by the time we got back my lips had actually turned blue.

Although Da Lat is nice we felt like we’d done our time and so tomorrow we’re heading back to the beach and hitting Nha Trang for some sun and hot weather!

Originally after Saigon I had planned to go to Da Lat but I was starting to crave a bit of beach action so I decided to head to Mui Ne that a couple of girls I’d met had recommended and said was amazing.

What had also swayed me in to going to Mui Ne was that I’d read that there were lots of hot kite surfers there – admittedly they weren’t described as hot but when are they not?!

So far I’m quite glad of how how my trip has worked out as I’ve done the cultural bit and some tours at the beginning when I’m still getting used to things and now I can just chill out and have fun.

Heading up to Mui Ne I planned to stay for 1 or2 days to chill by the beach before hitting Nha Trang which is pretty mental. I should have learnt from the last time that I planned to chill in Ko Samet that this was unlikely to happen….

I planned to stay for 2 days and so far I’ve been here 8 days – I love this place!

Mui Ne

Mui Ne beach

On arriving I decided to have a casual investigation about trying kite surfing and giving it a go for a couple of hours and met a group of amazing people who I love. All of which planned to stay for a couple of days and have been here weeks/months/years – it happens to every one.

Sitting here 8 days later its amazing to think of all the good times we’ve been having such as the goat bbq, poker night, lots of happy hours, magic Jeff, Friday night will be A Night With The Dragon (vodka party) AND I’ve been learning to kite surf!

I’m not that good at it (yet!) and have swallowed enough sea water to counteract the affects of global warming for the next few years, as well as smacking myself round the head with the board but I’m determined and am not going to give up yet!

What also makes Mui Ne so great is that because it’s not that big everyone knows each other and so it’s a bit like uni where you’re always bumping into people you know and meeting everybody, so nights out in Wax are just one big party.

goat BBQ

Jorgan & Song

Dave & Jorgan

Nikki's vodka

I’m going to be gutted to leave and so I’m going to get back to it and will update in a couple of days when/if I leave.

This post was meant to come before the previous but I just realised it didnt post.

After my marathon sleeping session I felt amazing and back to normal – a bit like after when you’ve had a really long cold and you forget what its like to just feel normal again.

That morning I went on a half day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels built by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. Arriving at the tunnels you watch a 10 minute documentary made by the Vietnamese in the 60’s which to be honest is slightly bizarre. I think it must have been made as some sort of propaganda video as it was all about how great the Cu Chi people are and all these people that won ‘American Killer medals’.

Walking round it was pretty touristy but you got to see reconstructions of all the boobie traps and weapons they made to stop the Americans – which were pretty nasty.

booby traps

The tunnels themselves were pretty small and so you have a lot of respect for the guys who spent so much time down there. This is one of the original entry holes – apparently  a fat american women got stuck in one a year ago and they had to dig her out.

Cu Chi tunnels

The actual tunnels are made up of three levels the first where you have to crouch down, the second where you have to crawl and the third where you have to wriggle on your stomach. We were only allowed to go down to the first level which to be fair is enough and I dont think I wouldn’t want to go any smaller.

Cu Chi

down Cu Chi tunnels

Once down in the tunnels its really dark and hot and you get quite disoriented about how long you’ve been down there and how far you travel – we’d only been down there a couple of minutes but it felt like ages.

The trip was only a half day so back in Saigon we went for probably the best Pho so far (even Bill Clinton had eaten there) with some of the girls I’d met on the trip. Since being in Vietnam I have started to meet a lot more people form the UK as pretty much everyone I met previously have been Australian.

The only minor disaster of the day was when I sliced off the bottom of one of my toes after a few drinks. The guy back at the hostel was pretty horrified at the amount of blood coming of of my foot and offered to help me fix it up but as I’d been carrying this bulky first aid kit about I was determine to use it.But its all good still got 10 toes and it hasnt gone green!


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