“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes….”

CategoryHong Kong

De fatherland…

Turns out I don’t have SARS (thanks for all the well wishes), just a bad head cold which has finally cleared up.

It was really sad saying goodbye to Hong Kong and our new friends. We had a really good time and felt at home in Honkers! I have a feeling that we may end up there for an extended stay sometime in the future (but don’t tell Philippa).

We woke up early in the morning to finish packing our bags and hurriedly ran downstairs to catch the shuttle bus (after a Macca’s breakfast of course) – after sitting around, complaining that the bus wasn’t getting ready, we soon learnt that the bus wasn’t running due to a public holiday. The hotel concierge quickly realised we where upset (as we had a flight to catch); he grabbed our bags and threw us into a taxi… which was nice of him!

We arrived at the train station 5 minutes later, checked our bags and boarded the train to the airport (how good is THAT… you can check in AT the train station!!!). 20 minutes later we arrived at the airport, boarding passes in hand with time to kill. After ummming an ahhhhhing for weeks, we finally decided to buy a few expensive electronic gadgets (figuring that duty free at the airport would be the way to go) – unfortunately the airport was a good AU$50.00 more expensive than the shops in Hong Kong city, so we decided to wait until we arrived in Holland – assuming you could purchase duty free goods there for a reasonable price (oh boy, where we wrong… more on that later).

Somehow we managed to be late for boarding; when we arrived at the gate, people where ready to usher us straight to our seats. Quite an experience, kind of felt like being a Munckton for a few minutes!

After the looooong flight over China and Russia (lucky we didn’t catch the train as first planned), we finally arrived in Amsterdam. What a grumpy bunch of buggers. Seriously,.. not a single welcome, hello or did you have a pleasant flight – all we got was “Passport”. We decided to get some food (yes Tommy… at Macca’s) – the staff there where just as unpleasant, not even “would you like fries with that”! Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy…, we guessed it’s because it is so bloody cold and they never see the sun! Give me Thailand any day!!

Philippa out the front of a After Dinner (or was it breakfast??) we went to the duty free store at the airport to pick up our gadgets (after our mis-adventure in Hong Kong) only to learn that duty free once you arrive in the EU doesn’t exist (even though we hadn’t passed through customs)! The inc. tax price on the items we where looking at where over AU$200.00 more expensive than in Hong Kong. We decided we didn’t need an iPod after all. Note to anyone travelling to Europe – “The inflated prices at the airport in Hong Kong (or Singapore, or Bangkok) are CHEAPER than the cheap stores in Europe!”).

After exiting customs (no problems with the first use of my Dutch passport – except everyone spoke to me in Dutch), we caught the next train into town. Again, the staff at the information desk where less than helpful and it took us over an hour to work out which train to catch.

From our train stop, it was a short taxi ride to our Bed and Breakfast. We were on the third floor of a traditional Amsterdam flat and the room was lovely. Our host Anna Lynne was the first nice person in Holland we met; she gave us a quick run-down on what we could do and where the closest place for dinner was. We had a little snooze and than headed down to the local kebab shop! Mmmmm, Kebabs – just like at home.

Breakfast the following day was enormous; we couldn’t work out if it was for our entire five day stay in the B and B or just that morning. We found out the following morning that Anna Lynne expected us to eat two small loafs of bread, a block of cheese, a packet of ham, yoghurt, cake, hot cross buns etc every single day!we have since put on a lot of weight!

After recovering from breakfast, we made our way into town by foot. We passed the Anne Frank house, which was a real eye opener. It was a really odd feeling being in the same room (complete with her posters and stickers still on the walls) in which she wrote her diary. Unfortunately I couldn’t help comparing the Holocaust, which Anne endured with the atrocities that happened more recently in my lifetime in Cambodia.

As we were a little down about life after the Anne Frank house museum, we figured we should do something a little light hearted – so,… we went to the Sex Museum (we heard that as far the “sights” of Amsterdam went – this was the safest). Turns out it was quite interesting – the museum started with all sorts of antiques (lots of old master paintings and snuff boxes). Look if you want more details Tommy you can talk to me directly ☺ Afterwards we went to the tourist information, where not surprisingly they were very unhelpful. We passed up the 17 euro, two hour walking tour through the red light district as we figured that it was something that we could do ourselves. The rain started and we jumped on the number 17 tram home.

On route to the Van Gogh museum the next day, we passed a Cash Converters…it is exactly the same as at home…but so much cheaper, they know the true price of second hand goods over here. We had to elbow our way through the millions of school kids lining up to see the Van Gogh museum. It was good and all, but bah…I’ve seen and heard it all before – Cashies was the real highlight of the morning.

We walked around Amsterdam that afternoon and found more entertainment that this liberal society affords, an entire strip of Casinos. We were getting to the point where we were thinking “Is anything illegal in this town?”. The unhelpful, grumpy assistant at the “Cheapest internet café in Amsterdam” (which is false advertising by the way) would not give me change to buy a ticket “No change” he grunted, I had had enough of poor customer service by then so I grunted back at him “No Use!”.

So not to bore you too much more we also visited: Rebrandt’s house, hung out in Coffee Shops, went to the movies and had lots of croquets.

We went for a day trip the Hague before we left because Phil really wanted to see the World Court (geek). We were a little disappointed because we were wisked around on a bus (we felt like Japanese tourists), but in a way we didn’t mind because it was freezing outside, I don’t think that it got above eight degrees that day! We visited a huge model of Holland on the way home, which would have been a lot more fun if we didn’t loose circulation to our fingers, toes, nose…but it was really quite cool, they had working models of cannels, showing how 49% of Holland manages to stay dry, while below sea level. The airport in Holland is called Schipol which is literally Ships Hell, because when they were “reclaiming” the land (draining the land) they found many ship recks in this area. We went past a new housing estate on the way back to Amsterdam that they were building on recently “reclaimed land”, better watch out the Dutch might be knocking at our door soon ☺

We had wine and a long philosophical discussion with our lovely host Anna Lynne on the Saturday night before we boarded the plane to Copenhagen.

Going bonkers in Honkers

Matt at Madame Tussauds - Whats under there?We left you on the bustling streets of Hanoi. We we’re able to cram all our stuff into the four bags that we are now travelling with. The alarm went off at 6am and we lingered out of bed and ended up rushing to get our taxi who was waiting for us outside. We arrived at the airport and checked in to Southern China air (the most budget airline that we could find – as this flight was not in our original itinerary). We high fived (well metaphorically) when our bags weighed in at 18.5kg and at 22.6kg…it was our hand luggage that ended up being an issue. Matt and I consciensciously asked the lady if our hand luggage was okay, unfortunately it weighed in about 8kg over (both bags combined), the remedy was we were sent to the bag stall to purchase another bag which had to be checked along with our big bags. So yes dear friends Matt and I stooped to new lows and purchased a “candy bag” – like middle aged ladies on a crazed shopping tour! Dad we revoke any slide remarks that we have made about all of you luggage 🙂 The lady very nicely checked our 8kg excess bagage for no cost. Nothing runs smoothly in Vietnam so after a gate change and about 30 minutes after our scheduled departure time we boarded the plane.

We had a 6 hour stop over in the middle of China that we had to pass through imigration for, we could have gone out and explored the city – but instead Matt and I decided to spend the time exploring the terminal (which is the biggest and most modern airport that we had both ever seen)! The information lady laughed at us when we asked where the McDonalds was (Matt was keen to get back into it after spending a month in countries that hadn’t quite reached that stage in development). Instead we spent $37 on a very average lunch – we spent some time trying to work out the exchange rate and got caught out! The part of china that we saw was very expensive, Au$5 for a coke!

We arrived in Hong Kong and cruised through imigration to baggage collection where the very polite customer service officer informed us that our baggage was probably not going to arrive that evening! I was so impressed with the customer service that I wasn’t too put out that our bags hadn’t arrived. And of course there was McDonalds. We jumped in a taxi…and as we watched the meter tick over on the highway to our hotel, we got a very serious reality check about the cost of living in Hong Kong. Our Au$60 cab fair reminded us of the real cost of living in the Western world.

We checked into our lovely hotel (which Matt’s mum spoiled us with) and got a good night sleep, after checking out all the cable TV chanels. HONKERS – what a big bustling city it is! You can spend a lot of money very quickly in this place, but you can also get some great bargins. We are loving the food here – hmmmm…BBQ pork! We spent the first few days crusing up and down Hong Kong island on the double decker trams and checking out all the big (generally expensive) shopping spots. Mattie purchased some Hong Kong cinema (which we are very excited about watching when we pick up his lap top and we’ll prolly bore Pete and Kate with) and we have been comparing price on iPods and having the “Do we really need this” conversations. We caught up with a girl that we met in Hanoi who lives in Hong Kong. She sings at a hotel here, so we went and saw her perform (eating out Au$20 hamburgers and drinking our Au$7 coffees). Natalie is a Melbourne girl who is pursuing her music career in Hong Kong. We invited ourselves to her church the next day and got to hang out with a heap of expats, which was loads of fun, we did really normal things like go to McDonalds for ice cream and then hang out playing sherades at the harbour. Matt and I almost felt as though we could stop here for a while. I met another OT…dunno what is happening to the world!

Tonight we went up to the peake of the island on a cable car (actually that is where I am sitting at the moment enjoying free internet access. The reason you are hearing from me again (and not Matt) is that he is a little under the weather – he is hoping that it is not SARS.

Tomorrow we jump on a jetplane and head off to Amsterdam. If you have been wondering why you haven’t got a post card lately it is because I haven’t posted any since Cambodia. So chances are you will receive one from Vietnam with a Netherlands postmark on it…sorry just having too much fun at the moment 🙂

The holiday is almost over and the reality of upcoming work is beginning to set in! What a great time we have had though and what wonderful people we have met along the way! Thanks for all the new from home…hopefully Matt is all better for the next post!

…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 🙂

To appreciate how exhausted we ended up, can only be illustrated by the amount that we purchased –
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

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

….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 😛 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) 🙂
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 😛

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!

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes….”

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