Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Following the birthday to end all birthdays I spent the next day having a leisurely tour of the countryside around Dalat on the back on one of the Gecko boys' humongous motorbike (his name escapes me, there were so many!) Getting on and off it proved painful but all worth it to wind the way out of the 'city' and out to the villages of the Minority People, as they are known. We saw so much! Coffee plantations, silk worm farms, silk factories, mushroom farms, Elephant Waterfall, a beautiful new pagoda, the mahoosive happy, white buddha, basket weaving...and also had a lovely lunch overlooking a peaceful and luscious Mulberry tree and coffee plantation. Lovely jubbly! Oh yes, and we went to see lots of greenhouses full of all sorts of wonderful blooms of all shapes, sizes and colours. A lovely day filled with lovely people. The Minority People, as the Daltians called them (i'm sure they have a 'real' name that they call themselves) were really accommodating and quick to correct my Vietnamese with the alternatives in their own dialect. As with the tribes up North in Sapa the people in such places less touched by tourism and close to the borders with other countries seem to consider themselves to be their own people, and unfortunately in some cases aren't treated very well by ignorant 'locals'. The languages and dress are different and the vibe a lot more relaxed...it was rather sad to see in places that along with the business that the growing tourism brings to these places comes a disillusion amongst the younger inhabitants that school isn't worthwhile and ripping tourists off is. But I suppose if no one is willing to aid this situation living hand to mouth for today will continue, sadly....anyway, I shall leave that little ponderment there, for now.
The next day I headed down to Mui Ne on the bus (yep...by now I was pretty much back to Saigon, from which I had come...but the beaches are so beautiful I was merely prolonging the opportunities to laze about/swim/tan etc ;)). Two days were spent sitting in the sunshine on the very quiet beach - tres different from the moisey lot in Nha Trang -, watching a triathlon (poor boogers running the full length of the shoreline in the blazing heat - madness!!), eating seafood, drinking Larue, seeing the lovely sandunes and generally chilling out before my epic 29 hour train journey up to Hanoi. Yes, yeeeess...it was self-induced due to my roundabout way of travelling about the glorious country of Nam but those were some memorable hours i tell you....
I arrived by jeep, after some slight offroading, to the train station about 45 minutes away from Mui Ne in the back of beyond. Being the only non-local there was a tad unerving, but I befriended an older couple as the gentleman wanted to practice his English and coincidently his wife, who spoke no English, was in the same 6 bed cabin as me. As you can imagine, being the only non-local in the cabin proved to be great entertainment for the whole carriage, there was much gawping as we all sat on the bottom bunks gesticulating and speaking in broken English/French and Vietnamese. The lovely lady kept me fed with some fruit which was rather like a cross between a potato and an cooking apple that you dipped in a chilli and salt powder. It was rather delicious and I offered up sweet popcorn rice cakes for dessert. One thing that I wasn't informed about was the pre-ordering of the evening meal when booking the ticket - however I managed to find some left over rice and veg in the Buffet Car (hmmm, sounds alot more posh than it was to be honest). After this I hit the hay for a rickity,disturbed sleep and woke up to find 4 new faces in the cabin...a lot of toing and froing in the night! After a brekkie of instant noodles I settled down to chops away with the new arrivals and played a game of 'guess my age practice my English/Vietnamese' which was full of giggles and no doubt a lot of misunderstanding. Lunchtime came and I made my way again to the Buffet Car where I met a lovely couple, from England and Ireland, who were on route home from living in Oz for a number of years. With the help of a Vietnamese Singaporian named Nam the beers started flowing and we all enjoyed a few hours of sociable banter before a quick nap and a bleary eyed exit from the train when we at last arrivedin Hanoi feeling pretty grubby and disorientated. The 3 of us were cornered by a hotel worker who we followed to find accommodation for the night (it wasn't until later that this 'scam' by various hotels of making a name through one well run hotel only to spawn a number of other hotels of the same name to form a 'chain', which ultimately take you for a ride in one way or another, became apparent to me...ho hum, live and learn!!).
And so the Hanoi Experience began....
Greetings from Hanoi! Well, it's the school holidays here so i'm surrounded by a cafe full of crazy local younguns playing their online games...it gets them rather excited so am bracing myself for some flying elbows and thrown keyboards...
Yes, yeeees....i knooow. I'm pretty cack at regularly updating this but what can i say!? Just having far too much fun! :)
Now let's seeee, where did I leave things...Oh aye, I had a couple more days of sunning it up in Nha Trang and eventually got myself round to the gallery of a local black and white photographer, Long Thanh, whos work was amazing!! Spent a lovey hour wandering around his small exhibition area feeling rather inspired by his images of day to day Vietnamese life. I had a brief chat with the man himself as he was developing some of his photos too...a really lovely guy! Some of his work has been published in Harper's Bazaar and such like publications but his work warrants much more attention, for sure. I'm sure I can get him into my lectures somewhere :)
By this time Reuthe had made her way to Nha Trang from her week away working at a rural medical clinic and we headed off to Dalat up in the Central Highlands to celebrate my birthday! Yippee! Yhere's only so much lieing on the beach, eating and drinking a girl can take and i didn't want the day to just merge in with the rest, of course. The trip up from the coast into the mountains was beautiful, such lush greenery, bustling paddy fields, clean cool air and stomach flipping mountain drops...yet another face of the Vietnam that was/is astounding me at every turn. The first day in Dalat city Gabby and I did a little tour of the town by bike stopping off at the 'Crazy House' which wasn't so crazy disappointingly just a little weird hotel type place made by a strange architect. The 'Valley of Love' which was a beautiful big gardens away from the town with breathetaking views and cool breezes. Up hill and down dale proved difficult on a motorbike that would get stuck in 1st and 2nd gear but a day in the sunshine mooching about was thoroughly enjoyed.
...continued in bright and breezy Pembrokeshire...sitting for endless hours in stuffy crazy internet cafes just wasn't happening i'm afraid! and so back to the tale telling...
My birthday!! THE BEST DAY EVEERRR :) Canyoning was so much fun! I couldn't however walk properly for several days afterwards, but totally worth it! On arrival at Groovy Geckos early morning the three cheerful faces that met mysel, Reuthe, Gabby and German dude Ben were that of lovely,and somewhat crazy natives Hi, Nam and Tung...however at first glanes they really didn't look capable of holding any of us safely in our harnesses during the days activites! Yet they were insanely strong, thank goodness! Upon reaching the canyon that we were to spend the day in we had a rather leisurely walk alongside fellow sightseers, however it wasn't long before the beaten trail turned to narrow paths over roots and rocks and down steep inclines, which could only be tackled tarezen style swinging from branches at times. We arrived a little scratched at out first rockface where we all had a few practice decents before hitting the big boy further along. This was successfully completed, with a sllight hairy moment when Reuth who is pretty scared of heights ended up hanging upside down off the top of the cliff....yiiikes!!! Composure was soon regained with Tung talking her through a safe recovery *shudder*. Being the first one to descend this mammoth 17m (I think, it could have been more...felt like it!) rock we were all left with the jitters with the prospect of ending up in the same position! Well...I bravely went next, had to keep the eXtreme dream alive, innit! No worries :) PHEW!
The path to our biggest and bestest challenge of the day consisted of another little absail into the river before lunch, some sliding down little falls and rocks on our bums and more monkeying along the banks...and the BEAST that awaited us at the end of our wanderings and giggles was...well take a look at the photos!!!? It was quite possibly one the most lovely and fab things i've ever done, and has given me a big lust for doing more of the same. Although the not being able to walk without excrutiating pain for the next 2 days wasn't pleasant. The force of the water hitting you legs as you absail down the middle of a huuuge waterfall was insane, water in gob, up nose, in eyes...feet slipping, sound of the roaring falls in your ears! Great stuff! Even when I had a slip and fell face first into the rocks bashing my knees, the sense of acheievement once I was back on my feet steadily again was cracking. The most stomach churning moment was pushing off the rocks and jumping the last few metres down into the churning pool of dark water at the bottom...it just felt like I was falling for that split second too long! Big grins all round though after that...and a little 'light' entertainment was had at the end where we all hurled oursleves off a rock along the way to end the day...oh the screams!! After much fun and with wobbly legs we all tackled the short but rather steep trek back up the hill to the van. All in great spirits the party back at Groovy Geckos didn't take long to get going. I was extremely chuffed with my cake and flowers and went rather red when they all started wailing a rather drunken rendition of 'Happy Birthday to You'. Rice wine is some ace stuff - they really should sell it over here!! Doesn't half make you giggle and your head spin...the makings of as a right merry gathering! After this we all went our seperate ways for food and I hit the hay pretty early with aa tired body, spinning head and big grin on my face....*siiiggghh* Wicked :)
to be continued....
x x x
Location: Hoi An, Vietnam
Belated well wishes to you all!
I'm actually now in Nha Trang slighty south of Hoi An on the coast, and I did try to update when I was in Hoi An (promise!) but as I was coming to the end of a wonderfully amusing and detailed account of my time there the power in the hotel cut out!!
Where to start...again...Hoi An!! The South of France meets Nam really :) Was a really beautiful and tranquil little town on a river, a few kilometres from a fantastic beach (there were more but I just saw the one!) with fantastic restaurants, where grilled fish cooked in banana leaf with garlic and lemon and things was a speciality, great bars, pretty shops and rambling houses and alley ways....siiigggghhh...just heaven after two months of Saigon and Cambodia!
I arrived by plane from Saigon on the 3rd May, and with Miles Davis playing as I alighted the vibe was set. After a long taxi ride into Hoi An from Danang airport the driver recommended a nice, new hotel, 'Long Life' for me, so I decided that i'd check in and then set about finding Bec and Jamie after I'd refreshed myself. I was welcomed with big smiles and a really fantastic hotel, the room was fab, and not TOO expensive, and after a quick chat with the lovely lass on reception about my plans in Hoi An I was joyfully informed " Your friends stay here!" Sorted!! :) After a good catch up with the guys and a sleep we headed into the centre for some dinner. With the sun setting and the brightly coloured lanterns that adorn the restuarants and shops on the river side lighting the streets and reflecting on the still water it was a truly lovely introduction to this magical place!
The rest of the week was spent wandering around the town soaking up the atmosphere, drinking tea and reading on the riverside, spending nights in Tam Tam bar where the beer was cheap and the music pretty grand (not Vietmanese Kareoke or cheesey pop for a change) and the locals and fellow travellers friendly and full of stories and giggles. Hoi An is famous for it's tailors so I felt it would be rude to not get a couple if things made. One lovely dress and top later I am a very happy bunny...oh, how i could have spent days and numerous $$ in those places. I spent a few afternoons topping up the tan at the beach with the guys and two Israelis that we met in Tam Tams. The best way to get around the town was by bicycle and the 5 km rides to the beach were very enjoyable...although the day that the gears on my bike decided to pack up was rather amusing - the Vietnamese guys at the bar where I parked up thought it was hilarious to watch me trying to work a bike in 1st gear...i pretty much just free wheeled home with my fingers crossed holding my breathe, that day!!
As Bec and Jamie are working for a while volunteering in a Centre for Street Children I decided after a week to move on on my tod...there was talk of heading off on a trek with some Canadians, but one of the girls got ill and nowt came of it. So I have now come down to Nha Trang with one of the Israeli guys, Gabby. We got here last Friday after a 12 hour bus journey and met up with two of his friend here who work in a rather lovely and decidely lively bar on the beach called the Sailing Club Resort (the same owners as the one i stayed in in Mui Ne). The weekend was spent relaxing on the beach, pool and at the various fabulous bars and eateries around the place. Really is a hard life, eh!!? Headed off out to Vin Pearl Island on Wendesday (the Vietnamese Oakwood!) and played computer games and Air Hockey all evening after being thrown upside down on one of the fair groud rides that I really don't think came up to any half decent health and safety standards to be honest!! I thought I was going to fall out as I hung upside down and tried not to hurl! The 'Water and Light' show was rather interesting though....alot of strobes and arcing spurts of water followed by some minor gas explosions - awesome!!?
So yes!! I'm here, i'm relaxing, working on my tan and talking alot of crap to fellow travellers (sooo...whaddya think of Saigon? Where are you from? How long have you been away for?? Isn't the beer great!! It's so cheap..!? Only so many times in a day you can spout this stuff without needing to head to the beach to lie down for a bit) :)
It's rather late now and I have a bit of a head cold so i'm going to hit the hay I think!!
I shall update a bit more animatedly soon...at least you all know that i'm OK now (as if you were worried!!) The little earthquake didn't hit here so now worries :)
Lots and lots of sleepy love and hugs to you all x x x