…and then there were two…

Brollies on Bikes!Hoi An is another gorgeous little Vietnamese town that felt like it had more tourists than locals at times…for this reason, along with the architecture, a lot of the time we felt as though we were in Europe. We planned to stay for three nights but stayed for four for reasons outlines below!

My birthday had left me cashed up – thanks to some generous family members – which was perfect timing to be visiting a town of tailors and cobblers! It was exhausting walking the streets full of shop fronts wanting your business. Visitors appear to come to Hoi An and leave with an extra suitcase or two. Along side the tailor shops the bag shop owners seem to be doing a decent trade. We had come with a rough idea of what we wanted to purchase (as we knew that we needed some clothes for work and colder climates), but really it was a bit overwhelming…the process involved sitting down and looking at pattern books, then choosing the material that it should be made out of, then haggling over price, then returning the next day to be “fitted”, and then returning later to pick up the finished garment. I didn’t want to ‘put all my eggs in one basket’ or the manufacturing of my clothes in the hands of one tailor – so I ended up dealing with three tailors, two cobblers and a leather worker. Our four days were jam packed with walking from tailor to cobbler to the ATM – as the maximum withdrawal amount was 2,000,000VND(dong) (AU$160) and our clothes/shoes came to a bit more than that (our haggling skills are not that great) and trying to fit some time in to eat at the great restaurants that Hoi An had to offer. I have to put a big rap in for the Mango Room – which impressed us no end, the meals all come at once and in order of the courses, along with the fact that the food was tantalising. Adding mango to anything can only really improve the dish ๐Ÿ™‚

To appreciate how exhausted we ended up, can only be illustrated by the amount that we purchased –
Philippa
1. shirts (6)
2. suit – with a skirt
3. duffel coat
4. work slacks (2)
5. leather jacket
6. knee high boots (2)
7. sandals/high heals (3)
8. skirt

Matthew
1. suits (2) – both with additional slacks
2. shirts (6)
3. shoes (3)
4. over coat

Robert
….lost count

We also managed to fit in a half day trip to My Son and to Marble Mountain. My Son is where the centre of the Cham Kingdom was about 1500 years ago. Unfortunately there is not much left to see after the US bombed the place senseless. There are a few remaining temples, but unfortunately – they really did not compare to the Angkor temples in Cambodia. The jungle surrounding the temples was dense and we saw a number of colourful butterflies which kept us entertained…and the ride down to the temples in an old army jeep with 9 tourists hanging out the side kept us on our toes.

Marble mountain on the other hand was well worth the trip – there are actually 4 mountains which look like blemishes on anotherwise smooth terrain. Scurrying around the caves looking for the hidden temples made me feel like a kid again! Surrounding the mountain there is a booming industry in making marble artifacts (all the marble is now imported from China, as the government worked out pretty quickly that they would have no mountain if they continued to remove marble). You can purchase a life size sculpted tiger and have it shipped to the US for US$1500…Matt wants to get a couple for our place in Caroline Springs. Around the corner was China beach which was the R&R place for the US soldiers during the war (and is the setting for the TV series of the same name).

We sadly said goodbye to Hoi An as our time was quickly running out in Viet Nam and we still had half the country to cover. We caught the bus to Hue (the old capital during the Nguyen dynasty) stayed for 4 hours then caught the night bus to Hanoi.

Hanoi…another big city, but with somewhat more charm than Ho Chi Minh city. Motor bikes continually zoom up and down the narrow streets, and women walk around with heavy baskets selling there wares. There are many shop fronts that open out onto the street and the city is doted with lakes, that people fish in and meet around in the evening. As we stumbled off the bus at 7am, after a night of broken sleep a man grabbed us to “show us his hotel”. We had little energy to resist, so before we knew it we had agreed to the US$10 a night room, probably being ripped off ๐Ÿ˜› We ventured into a local cafe trying to find some breakfast, like most local cafes the food preparation seemed to be outsourced to a number of local traders, no sooner had we ordered our meal than a little boy and a teenage girl headed off in different directions with bowls in hand. Dad’s soup arrived from one direction and a loaf of bread from another…this cafe even had more varieties of tea than lipton (which seems to hold the majority of the market here). We spent the day visiting tourist agents looking for the best deal in tours to Harlong Bay and to Sapa (in the North West mountains). We walked through the different streets which are named after the main trade that occurs in the street such as “Tin Smith Street” and “Spice Trading Street”, interestingly there is a counterfeit street, where counterfeit money is sold for burning in the ceremonies dedicated to the ancestors. You can purchase a US$5000 bill.

We found a middle range tour that we booked to Harlong Bay and dad also organised a trek to Sapa that Matt and I miss out on as we have run out of time – Matt was sorely disappointed! We found a place that makes a decent Aussie burger and we had an early night catching up on sleep.

The next day we decided to go and see Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) at the mausoleum, but unfortunately he has the day off. We instead spent our time organising tickets to see the Water Puppet Theatre. While queueing to get our tickets we witnessed a very uncomfortable seen were a military officer was trying to detain a pick pocket until the police arrived. The poor kid was on his knees crying to be let go, and in the end the officer (who I think was in as equally difficult position) did let him go, as the seen became a little too public for his liking I think. We really enjoyed the water puppet theatre, complete with fire crackers and traditional music. The show was in Vietnamese, but it was fairly self explanatory and full a cute little jokes. We planned to go out singing at a Karaoke bar later that night – however after repacking (and purchasing another suitcase), we instead had another early night.

The next day we headed off on our tour to Harlong Bay. The weather looked shocking…misty rain. We stopped at the usual tourist stops, with over priced souvenirs…however this was the most overpriced so far. Matt was looking at a necklace for me that he thought was 245,000VND ($20), but it was in fact US$245…I don’t think we have seen anything that expensive the entire time that we have been here.

Harlong Bay as all the post card show is amazing – the lime stone islands, I think there are 1900 in total are spectacular, and the weather cleared up for the afternoon, for us to cruise the bay. Our poor guide (who was a previously a journalist and is a trained computer programmer) had nothing go right for him. As we settled down in a quite part of the bay to spend the evening, he received a phone call that another four guests were arriving via water taxi. The problem was there where not enough beds to accommodate all of these people. So dad got turfed out to the staff quarters (as he had a double bed to himself). The Vietnamese culture seems to have no concept of compensation – so the fact that dad had paid for a private room with an ensuite bathroom didn’t seem to phase the guy. After some negotiation, dad did receive a complimentary beer. We spent the evening playing a Swedish/Danish version of a card game called “asshole”, which seems really similar to a game that I used to play at youth group. It was great fun and almost everyone on the boat got into the game.

The next day we woke up to no water in our bathroom, a man came and fiddled around for a while and I did get a warm shower in the end. Showering become redundant after heading off on our bushwalk through the jungle and up a very muddy hill. Information communication is also not a strong point on Vietnamese tours, even with English speaking guides. Luckily I did not arrive in my tan shorts and thongs as some other people had. My white shoes however were soon mud red. The walk was actually very enjoyable and the view spectacular. In the afternoon we had an opportunity to see Harlong Bay up close as we canoed around it. We canoed into caves that opened up into little land lock lakes. It was great fun, however, I think that an hour was long enough for me…I have no upper body strength at all. Dad went to spend the second night on the boat and Matt and I spent the evening at a Hotel on Cat Ba island, with the rest of our tour group.

That evening we visited the local disco…the had the music cranked really loud and the two times that we walked in a local guy was singing out some Karaoke song that I could not recognise, though the music sounded familiar. We tried to stay twice, but the environment was unbearably uncomfortable. Instead we opted for a second dinner with our new friend Rikard. We ended up at a pizza place that also served porcupine and turtle. Rickard ended up with a pizza that had more cheeses than it did crust and Matt with a burger that was white at times. The town was decked out in lights and a new water, sound and light show was being trialled, for the upcoming visit of someone important. I think it was something to do with the 30 year celebrations of reunification???

Again another early night…the next morning we discovered the party was in room 405…the German guys room. Later we met up with dad on the boat and he had also had a big night…with some Germans he had met on the boat. The only thing that I can deduce is that Germans really know how to party! The cruise back to the harbour was slow, and the mist had set into the harbour again, most people slept on the boat on the way back. We had a lovely French family on the tour who had a five year old son who looked like a miniture Harry Potter – he was the smartest kid I have ever seen and he did not cry once on the trip. Matt was feeling a little clucky (maybe I was too) ๐Ÿ™‚
The mother of little Harry Potter I discovered was also an OT…which was very odd, considering I usually have to spend half an hour explaining my profession because nobody has ever heard off it. Sadly she betrayed the profession and went back 8 years afterwards and trained as a physiotherapist ๐Ÿ˜›

We arrived back in Hanoi and spent our time trying to organise freight home for some of dads belongings. We turned our nose up at the US$240 quote that we received from TNT and instead sent it home via sea at the post office. We met up with some of our tour group mates for dinner, before the majority of them caught the 10pm train to Sapa (along with dad). Rikard again got the raw end of the deal with his “tuna salad” arriving…actually it was more like not arriving. In the end it was rushed goodbyes and exchanged email addresses. Dad got all his gear together and jumped on the back of a motorbike to the train station which I can only imagine was for an early night after his previous one.

Today we did get to visit Uncle Ho. We lined up and went through three security checks, got man handled by the guards and had our cameras removed. Gee he is looking good for a guy that died over 30 years again. I have been reading a bit of his work and he sounds like a pretty decent guy, his wishes was to be cremated and not to have a big fuss made of him…the party didn’t really respect that though.

So here Matt and I are, almost one chapter of our adventure is over, we are jumping on a plane to Hong Kong tomorrow and still we are not in debt. I think that Europe is going to be a shock to our budget. We are really looking forward to catching up with Pete and Kate in Sweden, and with my uni friends in England. Sorry about the long blog…Matt and I have resolved that we have to blog more often! We are feeling a little further away from home now that dad has left and there is about to be greater disparity in time zones – but looking forward to Hong Kong!

Iโ€™ll have one of those, and three of them, andโ€ฆ

Philippa's Birthday Party at an Indian, Italian, Chinease restaurantBrrrrr…. It’s cold up here in Hanoi! Happy Easter Everyone!!

We last left you in the hills of Da Lat, about 10 days ago! Sorry for taking so long to post, we have just been having to much fun!

After a short (about 6 hours, yet only 150km from memory), uneventful bus trip we arrived at the sea-side city of Nha Trang – think of a Vietnamese Gold Coast, circa 1985! Our bus driver recomended a hotel upon arrival (I’m sure that he got a kick-back) which we eagerly accepted as it was cheap and clean; however we soon learned otherwise as white ants had also decided to make it home (you could hear them munching at the walls in the middle of the night).

I scoped the town out, for what appeared to be the best hamburger place and somehow managed to drag Philippa and Rob there for dinner. Afterwards I enjoyed a US$3.00 foot massage at the “Relax Hut” … hmmmm, they have a broad definition of what constitutes a foot,… I was centimeters away from being *really* relaxed!! Philippa however opted for a US$1.00 manicure (somewhat cheaper than our Bali experience) and spent the hour chatting to a newlywed from Frankston receiving the same treatment. The Frankston couple had been to the “Relax Hut” every day that week!

Philippa had decided that it was high time that we sent some birthday gifts home and took us on a death march to find the post office (she refused to take a Cyclo after our previous experience in Saigon). After what seemed like hours, and lots of “it should be just around this corner”, we finally found the place. We huffed and puffed up to the counter and handed over our neatly wrapped packages. We were politely informed in broken English that we had to unwrap the packages for inspection, and than fill out half a dozen forms – groan… all up, it took almost an hour to translate and fill in the correct forms and re-wrap the packages! Happy bloomin Birthday, hope you enjoy your pressies kids! ๐Ÿ˜›

Following our ordeal at the Post Office, Rob took us out for dinner to the best restraunt in town for Philippa’s birthday (a day early as we had planned to catch a bus the following day) – it was the “Sailing Club”, not exactly sure where it got it’s name as there where no boats! This place offered Indian, Vietnamese, Italian and Mexican cuisine. We opted for Indian and wow, we were not dissapointed, the best meal we have had on our trip!

Philippa’s birthday didn’t pass unnoticed – I think that she woke up at 5am and requested breakfast in bed. I comprimsed with her and took her back to the great hamburger place for breakfast (at about 9am, had to get my beauty sleep). Rob and Philippa spent the rest of the day on the beach, while I ran around town trying to organise a birthday present… that girl is hard to buy for. We met up for a late lunch/dinner (again, at the burger place) and it was Rob’s turn to bring up his lunch (and by the sound of it, his breakfast and dinner from the previous night too), he did so as we sang happy birthday to a candle lit icecream. The plans for the night bus to Ha Noi were aborted and Philippa went on a scouting mission for a hotel with a few less insect inhabitants. The “Dream Hotel” proved to be just that, compared to our prevuous experience. We vowed from then on not to take the first place offered by the bus company – no matter how cheap it is!

Rob was a terrible patient until he realised that he didn’t have the capacity to get out of bed – he slept for about 20 hours! As he was feeling much better, we decided to jump on the evening bus for the 12 hour trip Ha Noi!

Again, the trip was rather un-eventful other than the 2.30AM stop where I purchased a can of “coke” from a 7 year old! Apart from the fact that she should have been sleeping – getting ready for school, she tried to rip me off (price wise) AND… once I got back on the bus, I discovered it wasn’t coke (it was the equivalent of AC Cola from K-Mart).

Being all bright eyed and chirpy when we arrived at 6.30AM (yes, thats me being sarcastic) – we decided not to go for the first hotel our driver recommended,… or the second,… hell, even the third was no good! The bus driver ended up dumping us in town and we had to hoof it (well, Rob did – we stayed with the bags)! Lucky we did, we ended up at the nicest and newest place in town!

….oooops, I’m being kicked out of the Internet Cafe — Will finish soon!

The American War…

Philippa and Rob heading off on their motorbike tour of HCMC.We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city pretty tired from our three day trip through the Mekong-Delta (which dad has filled you in on) – and were happy to indulge ourselves in the three star comfort that Matt had organised. By far the nicest hotel that we have stayed in to date (however the price tag also reflected that).

Ho Chi Minh was an interesting city – they have a saying throughout Asia “Same, Same – But Different”, usually people who are trying to sell you something will use it to get a better price (it is cotton not silk, same same but different). But it could also be used to describe most of the big cities that we have visited. When you have worked out some basics like how to bargin and to watch where you are walking when going down the street you can survive in any Asian city, however there are always little customary things that you stumble upon, only through embarrassing yourself or others. So Ho Chi Minh – same, same – but different. One thing that really stands out in a city of similar size to Bangkok is the lack of development, much fewer shopping centres, high rises and general sight seeing attractions.

After meeting up with Matt he took us to the best budget restaurant in town, that he specifically sussed out for our arrival. It was very nice – on Matt’s recommendation I had an Aussie burger for dinner. We visited the Reunification Palace the next day and got our dose of propaganda – which I suppose just balances out the propaganda that we are indoctrinated with through other sources. The Vietnamese propaganda is just so blatant – and it leaves me feeling sad, because it appears to leave room for only one way of interpreting history. This has developed what appears to be a very patriotic nation – but some of the distorted facts that it (“The Peoples Party”) comes out with are almost laughable when you take into consideration other nations perspective…come to think of it there are a number of nations that you could charge with the same crime ๐Ÿ™‚ This is a very strange, complex community – in some ways as Matt has commented we feel very at home here, but in other ways we are really struggling to understand it. You only hear quietly from some people about the hard years – no museum we have visited or famous war site have spoken of the the severe rations on the people which lead to starvation or the “re-education” camps.

The next day Dad and I spent a half day cruising around on the back of motor bikes seeing the sites (while Matt was having his turn of fighting off the food poisoning) – the highlights included some Chinese pagodas, visiting some shops that sold Chinese medicine (I bought Matt a small vile of wine with a cobra in it – medicine), a floating market on the blackest river I have ever seen (pretty much an open sewer), a visit to the Chinatown (every country has one) and a stroll along the river front. It was really good to get out of District One (tourist central) and get a look at how people live in Ho Chi Minh. Dad and I hit the central market that afternoon, I think that dad is now at the stage were he requires a candy bag to get all his wares home! I never realised how much of a shopper he is – and he wouldn’t buy anything for more than half of the original price! The shop keepers often look impressed at his bargaining skills. By the time we got back from shopping Matt was was begging to go to KFC – it was good that he had his appetite back!

Traps and Tunnels at the Cu-Chi Tunnels.The next day we visited Chu Chi tunnels – an area 60km from Ho Chi Minh city were the Viet Com built complex tunnel systems to live and fight from. These systems had everything from a hospital, an ammunition manufacturing factory, kitchen and sleeping areas. It was very eye opening, even frightening to see the way that these people lived. One thing that the Vietnamese people do very well is get across the horror of war! Our guide was an ex-south Vietnamese soldier (another contradiction that it is hard for us to get our head around), who appeared almost pro-vietcom. He was an old guy that would go off on tangents and then come out with really inappropriate jokes and you would wonder if he was joking. He loved the microphone and spent the 90 minutes bus trip telling us stories of the war. Next to the Chu Chi tunnels was a rifle range – so as we were walking through the forest and looking at the tunnels, you could hear the constant sound of gun shots…. A little too realistic for my liking. But never the less Matt was able to satisfy one of his goals for this trip – he shot off 20 rounds on an AK47, at the cost of US$1 a bullet. You can’t be too trigger happy! This was all a bit surreal.

That afternoon it was Matt and my turn to go shopping and we headed down to central market to make some purchases. Afterwards we decided to catch a Cyclo back to our hotel – we were quoted 15,000VND for both of us, which is a bit expensive (about US$1). But we were tired and wanted a lift back to the hotel about 800 meters away, so we agreed to the price. When we arrived around the corner from the hotel we were told that the drivers were not allowed to cycle down the main street at that time of day (about 200 meters left to our hotel) – which was all good, then Matt went to pay them – when he handed over 15,000 they complained that they had asked for 50,000 (just under US$4) for their 4 minutes of work. Matt had been ripped off by a cyclo driver two days prior, so we were very careful to be clear on the price before we took this trip and we felt as though these men were playing us (wanting 50,000 – for a trip that we had received for 5,000 a number of times prior). Feeling disappointed – because we hate the feeling of being ripped off, we explained that we felt that this was a bit a rich. When they dug in and said that they would starve if we did not pay them – a card regularly played with tourists, we also dug in and I said that if they wouldn’t take the 15,000 we would not pay them at all. They threatened to call the police at which I said I would be happy for this to happen as it was clear that we were the ones being ripped off (how self righteous was I). At that they played a different tact and asked for 15,000 each, to which I stated no – then they said 10,000 each and Matt being the wise man he is paid up (as by this time nearly the entire street was involved) to dissolve the situation. Sitting in the hotel room, I felt crap – quivalling over such a small amount of money! How far do you push principles? They were ripping us off – it is so hard to swallow your pride and just pay up! It takes away from the joy of travelling and it leaves you feeling cynical about the general population.

Girl standing in front of water tower in the Chicken Village, just outside of Da LatOn Monday we jumped on a bus and travelled north to Da Lat – in the high country. Da Lat is much cooler than Saigon and I felt cold for the first time in a while on our first night here. We are staying in a lovely little guest house for US$7 a night. Soon as we jumped off the bus we were recruited for a “cooking class”, which turned out to be five tourists crammed into a one room “house”, watching the “chef” and his 5 assistants help prepare a meal on the floor. The learning side of the evening was pretty light, but the hospitality and the humour of the people made the evening one that we wont forget! The food was also fantastic. Today we took a tour (with the chef of last evening now turned tour guide) around the hills on the back of three motor bikes. It was great fun! I can see why people like riding – you feel a lot closer to it all. Da Lat is a funny mixture of the natural and the really tacky. With theme park like attractions set in the hills amongst a thriving farming community. Tomorrow we head to Nha Trang on the coast.

So if you have gotten this far I have to commend you for getting through my late night babble – we are off to pack our packs and tomorrow is an entirely new adventure ๐Ÿ™‚