Location: Hanoi, Vietnam, Vietnam
Well, had a great time in Ninh Binh - our swiss friends that we have met periodically through Vietnam joined us and we had a few eventful days. Weather was pretty bad - raining mostly and much colder than we are used to - had to get our jumpers out! Ninh Binh much quieter and less set up for tourism, which was good in some ways, but more complicated in others! We decided between the four of us to hire a car for the two days and go to see the surrounds - would have hired motorbikes but after the amount of crashes we have seen and after our swiss friend matt had a accident on a bicycle, we opted for the car. Saying that, the roads here are pretty scary and we are really glad that we have no further bus journeys to do - the one to Ninh Binh was petrifying, our first driver got stopped for speeding and then our second kept driving head on towards other traffic in the wrong lane! not fun......
First day we went to Tam Coc with a driver - the hostel told us that all the posh cars were booked up so they asked if we minded a lada - of course not we said, trying to pretend not to be snobby...well, there are ladas and ladas. The guy turned up, opened the door from the inside as the catch was broken, started the car up by basically hotwiring it.....spoke no english...things weren't going too bad although we should have learnt more vietnamese..until the driver slammed on his brakes 'one minute please' and then ran out of the car up the highway...to our complete bemusement he returned with his windscreen wiper which had sheared off! so , the remainder of the journey was pretty scary as he couldnt see through the rain - with Mike giving him directions through the passenger window! then the car overheated despite the cold, so we had to wait for that to cool! all in all, a great laugh!
Second day we got a different driver. we went to the national park eventually, although he kept thinking of excuses to get us back quicker, - pretty overgrown and difficult to get around, but we had a pretty nice walk, which was good except for the rain. Then they tried to rip us off in the local restaurant, with gone off noodles, which we werent so impressed by and refused to pay. Went to the monkey sanctuary which was really nice - some of the gibbons there have less than 30 of the species left in the world...
Getting more tired now and was glad to get the bus journey to Hanoi over and done with...however, arrived in Hanoi with the swiss guys, with the plan of staying a few days and then getting the train to Sapa...when we arrived, Eveline and I went looking for accomodation, the boys stayed put in the first place we looked at..to cut a long story short, we ended up in a row with the owners of the first hostel, who were trying to rip us off...we decided that we didn't want to hang around Hanoi - a really built up city, not our sort of thing...made a decision to call up Singapore Airlines and see if we could make our flights a little earlier, in time to surprise our mums for mothers day - to our amazement they said we could fly tomorrow - so that is what we are going to do! mad dash round for presents this afternoon, a meal tonight to say goodbye to our swiss friends and then home Wednesday am (won't put this onto the web until after just to make sure of the surprise!! so excited about seeing everybody!!!!)
Now home - time to finish off the blog.
We have had the trip of a lifetime and dont regret a single second, although really missed our families and friends. We have learnt so much, had a great time together and had some great laughs. Most of all, we have made some great new friends who we hope to stay in touch with...and memories that will last forever.http://www.michaelhallphotography.co.uk
Location: Hoi An, Hue, Vietnam
After our biking days were left behind us in Dalat, we headed on the epic bus journey from Dalat to Hoi An - 6 hours journey then 5 hours waiting in the beachside town of Nha Trang before the night bus 13 hours to Hoi An...actually, not too bad, somehow managed to sleep on the bus. Not so bad we thought, we can easily do this again - quit while you are winning we have now learnt...Our latest journeys from Hoi An toHue and then Hue Ninh Binh overnight was much more of an ordeal...on the first journey, although short with great views, the bus driver managed to crash into a motorbike with a man and old lady on it - the bus ended up giving her a lift to the hospital after knocking her onto the road.... at least he drove steadily after that! can't get any worse though? could it? wrong again. the night bus driver was erratic to say the least, driving into oncoming traffic, making his own lane..we were petrified....add to this the loud vientamese karoake music in the speakers all through the night, people sleeping all up the aisle, overcrowding and about 80 stops when the bright lights would be switched on, loads of vietnamese deciding to shout at each other across the bus at all hours....an experience never to be forgotten or repeated. still all is well thankfully and we finally got to a hostel at 4 this morning.
Whilst spending four days in hoi an we updated our wardrobed (although with a little more than mikey planned) so now suited and booted well. its really cold up north here (although probably not as bad as when we get home ) - we have had to wear jumpers..how bad is that? hoi an was a beautiful quaint french colonial influenced town lit by lanterns and full of tailors shops.. Hue, the next town up the coast was okay although a large city - we hired a boat up the perfume river to see some tombs (with some friends we have met), called ourselves 'same same but diferent tours' (you'll understand if you have been to asia!) with name badges and all much to the bemusement of the local guides! we left hue pretty quickly as we got mad with all the sellers - children with postcards, ''motorbike sir'', ''okay, cyclo, okay'' etc. we got followed by about 20 people trying to get us into their hotels when we first arrived and they would not go away, no matter what you said....gives us such aheadache after a while - cant go anywhere without being mobbed...
Now in Ninh Binh - much less touristed town which is nice, much less hassle - hope to spend some time in the coutryside the next few days, and then head to Hanoi en route to the Hill Station of Sapa, where we may even have to wear a coat....! vietnam is beautiful, really enjoying this far more than Thailand...on the whole the people are really friendly and great fun xxx
home in less than 2 weeks! roast dinner and no more website!
Location: Dalat, Vietnam
We have now been in Vietnam a week, arriving from Cambodia by boat. Since we last wrote, we have spent three days in the Mekong Delta in the south, then two days on the beach and two days in the mountains in Dalat....seems like loads has happened!
Decided to be cheapskates and make life easy on ourselves by booking a 3 day trip which took us from Pnhom Penh in Cambodia to Saigon - the old saying 'you get what you pay for comes to mind!' picked up by a really rough bus, (the aircon on the leaflet was actually windows which couldnt open as they were broken and taped shut) with a crazy driver who constantly leant on the horn, we were harrased and glad to get to the boat terminal in one piece...until we saw the boat... still, an experience!
when we got to the border, we were told we were going to have to wait while our guide took our passports through customs - never been able to get through without showing our face before! - and we were told which cafe to eat in - just to be obstinate we all went to the cheaper one next door! anyway an hour late, finally got through the border (without any monetary bribe which was a plus) and got taken to our first 'homestay' guesthouse in Chau Doc via a beautiful river trip with stilt houses and fishing villages...ride was amazing but guesthouse less so - pretty grim, still, free entertainment provided in the room in the form of mice playing scratching music behind our heads in the wall - altogether a wonderful nights sleep.......what do you expect for 50p!
second day was the saving grace - we spent the afternoon and night with a local family on the river in a wooden home, which was a fantastic experience - the family were lovely and the food great and they tired to teach us vietnamese (not that we were very good students) - they showed us around the village and attmepted to get us to play chinese chess although we lost abysmally as we couldnt remember what each of the pieces was....
mike managed to endear himself to the mum so much that we somehow got a double bed to ourselves in a separate room while everyone else slept together - spoilt rotten as ever!
trip around the floating wholesale veg market the next day was a real highlight, but glad to get to saigon and do our own thing! the only downside was that we met a swiss couple (who were great) but who shattered our illusions - we cant believe that milka is not swiss and that swiss army knives arent red and dont have toothpicks or scissors...devestated!
This area is beuatiful - a small and quiet beach area, and we found a great little bungalow room 10 yards away from the beach...so got great sunburn...in mikes infinite wisdom he decided that we should get up at 5am and see sunrise over the sand dunes.....only to find, exhausted after climbing the dunes that it was the only cloudy day of our whole trip and the sun was nowhere to be seen! still had a good time burying each other in the sand and walking the fairy stream of red rock...very pretty and peaceful here - we had been walking for three hours and it was only 8am.....still, thank god for siestas (hence the sunburn!)...
Finally got to the central highlands after a pretty interesting bus ride which involved closing our eyes and gripping onto the seats for a fair bit of the journey, wearing ear plugs to block out the symphony of horns! worth it though - decided today to hire two 'easy rider' motorbike drivers - hopped on the back and they took us around for the day - saw terrace upon terrac of vegetables and flowers being grown, met the locals on the farm, drunk tea with an ex soldier who now weaves bamboo, had lunch with another local family (amazzing food and people) - didnt see another traveller all day...the people were incredibly friendly and we had some amazing conversations via our guide who was excellent - and we didnt fall off the bikes either! tempted to go with them on a four day excursion to hoi an but budget overruled us...and we could hear our parents screams - a motorbike? what?!!!!! so, another hair raising bus for 19 hours instead....choices are so good heh! still can now spend the money on getting outfits made to measure in hoi an - our next stop...
will be in touch - looking forwards to seeing everyone in April! cant believe it is nearly over! oh - and why arent you all sending us messages - is it getting too boring now?!
The 13 hour train was actually very enjoyable with stunning scenery on the way, it only went belly up when we arrived in bangkok to argue with taxi and tuk tuk drivers who wanted to rip us off, so caught the metro to the hotel and then walked the wrong way..........got to the hotel hot & shattered and late. Only in bed for 20 mins before being woken by rats banging against the air conditioning vent....one irate phone call later, we moved rooms, first being offered the room next door as if!!!!!!!
Anyway, now in Cambodia, spent three days at Siem Reap first, trecking around the many temples - built between 9th and 14th centuries....all by hand. They are truly amazing - photos can't do them justice - just sprawling, some in ruins, some with beautidful carvings still intact...you could spend weeks wandering around them and still not see everything. Some are being restored, others are being taken over by nature - beautiful tree roots growing around the stone , like scenes from Narnia!
Traffic rules here are by far the most amusing we have seen....in theory traffic drives on the right, but nobody stops at junctions, roundabouts etc....basically the rule seems to be (if there even is one) biggest vehicle goes first - so if you want to turn left through the opposing traffic, you just do it, and they all move around you...as you can imagine, crossing the road is a real feat! if there isnt a traffic lane for your bike, you just make a new one, even if its not wide enough for you!
Now in Pnhom Penh and we have been to the El Chouek Memorial (killing fields)...up to three million people killed in whole country, many of them here, buried in mass graves in the late 1970's..they have exhumed some of these graves and they have a huge memorial to those killed...just impossible to contemplate...we also went to S21 prison (which used to be a high school) which was the administrative centre and torture area for those captured locally before they were sent to the killing fields..this place is absolutely horrific to describe....they have photographs of all the people kept here in cells, with their legs chained..and the images of torture are impossible to forget..cant really explain....
On a positive note, we have luckily managed to spend time at a school in Siem Reap and an orphanage here in Phnom Penh, which has been really moving. we are wishing we had more time, and had thought to be a more selfless and spent more time volunteering at one of these places, helping with English or something. The children are so happy to spend time with you, and they are so keen to learn..so engaging..a really beautiful sight...so many orphans here in Cambodia, and the poverty in Pnhom Penh is so tangible...street children come up to you regularly to beg or sell goods..its so hard to descirbe the way that we are feeling right now....kind of helpless and a bit self centred maybe.... this is one of those places that makes you think a lot about your life and how lucky we are and how unfair that now seems.......yet we are constanly amazed by how happy many people are, and how far they have developed already considering the Khmer Rouge was only 30 years or so ago.. its amazing.
Anyway, on a lighter note, we cross the border to Vietnam tomorrow where we are going on a homestay in the Mekong Delta so likely to be out of touch for a few days....looking forwards to catching up with everyone in April.