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Nick + Carolyn's Amazing Adventures

Nick + Carolyn are travelling to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam! This is our travel page - please feel free to leave us comments!

Diary Entries

Monday, 05 January 2009

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

maybe this is the last entry...
just sitting in the hotel foyer waiting for our airport transfer.
We have just returned from a fun little expedition to Dong Xuan markets which were tightly packed and extremely crowded. Decided that it was too difficult to navigate through the very narrow corridors (all the stall vendors were continuously unpacking goods and eating bowls of pho - a bit of an obstacle course for us). So ventured out onto the streets to dodge motor bikes instead.

Did a bit of shopping and had a fantastic lunch at the Tamarind Cafe - vegetarian and the best meal we've had so far in Hanoi (our tour leader has taken us to mostly local restaurants that are very very cheap but the local food seems pretty dull).

Managed to find a 'good' taxi (there are good taxis and evil ones - we've learnt to distinguish between the two!) and return to our hotel where we sit...waiting...

Monday, 05 January 2009

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Back from breakfast...this may be my last entry here as we're flying out this evening.
Yesterday we had a long day trip to Halong Bay. It's about 3 hours by bus from Hanoi - a bit longer for us, as the bus broke down whilst we were having a break at a humanitarian centre for victims of agent orange.
Luckily, there was another Travel IndoChina tour stopping at the centre, so we hopped onto their bus and continued on to Halong Bay. Our bus was repaired and caught up with us eventually.

The bus ride was quite fascinating - we passed many dog meat restaurant - just as well we weren't travelling with Sooty! Dog is particularly popular in northern Vietnam.
We were treated to an amazing display of what can be transported by one motor bike - obviously, we've seen whole families travelling on one bike (5 is the most we've seen) - but today we saw people carrying hog-tied calves, crates of piglets and chooks, huge ceramic pots, massive plastic bags filled with effigies, bonsai plants and massive floral arrangements.
All along the road were women wearing conical hats selling mandarins, baguettes and we passed hectares of rice padis and market gardens where the agricultural methods have remained extremely unmechanised - very manual with the occasional help of a water buffalo.

Halong Bay is a very quiet place, 20 kms from the sea. massive limestone outcrops form dramatic shapes and, in the misty conditions, the silhouettes provided wonderful photographic opportunities. We boarded a junk and cruised around, past the floating villages and anchored in a bay all by ourselves - the most tranquility I have experienced in weeks! Nick and another guy decided to jump into the 18 degree waters - didn't stay in long. We had a pretty awful, greasy lunch but enjoyed soaking up the sunshine afterwards, and then headed back to port for the long bus trip to Hanoi.
The traffic was quite manic - the so-called 'flying coffins' (local buses) were particularly aggressive and the motor bike riders were just crazy. No one stays on the correct side of the road and we seemed destined for several head-on collisions. The roads are also incredibly bumpy - full of pot holes - so hard to just fall asleep and ignore the surrounding chaos!
Apparently only about 15% of the population pays tax so no wonder that there is no money put into roads, pavements or sanitation.
Very happy to make it back to Hanoi and we had one last meal together - big farewell session!

This morning, Nick and i are just chilling in the hotel before we have to check out. We might go to the Old Quarter this afternoon for some last minute shopping before our airport transfer at 5.30pm.

It has been an amazing trip - not an easy one, but very enlightening.
I'm looking forward to returning to a country where cars stop at pedestrain crossings and the plumbing works!

Monday, 05 January 2009

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Hi from Hanoi!

Upon arrival at Hanoi, we were whisked away to 'Hanoi Hilton'- the notorious prison, not the luxury hotel up the road. It seems every day on this trip has served up a helping of human atrocity.
Not surprising, I guess.

We had lunch at a restaurant called Koto - a kind of Jamie Oliver establishment that trains street kids in hospitality/restaurant skills. Nick ate the best chocolate brownie ever (apparently - he wouldn't share).

On to the beautiful Temple of Literature - an ancient university and scene for many wedding photographs - it's wedding season in wintery Vietnam right now. Too hot for parties in summer. (fortunately, the weather is very mild).

We went then to pay homage to Ho Chi Minh - unfortunately, we were too late to see his embalmed body but it was wonderful walking around the Russian funded Communist construction, museum and his old home.
Hanoi is definitely the Communist heartland of Vietnam - more Communist posters and guards everywhere than I have seen before.

Dinner was in a restaurant high above the main lake in the city. The major purpose of the lake seems to be to form a circuit for the many thousands of young people and young families to hoon around on their motor bikes. The numbers are not quite as bad as Saigon and the city doesn't seem quite as intimidating. It's quite beautiful with many street trees and French influenced architecture.
I'll continue soon - after breakfast.

Saturday, 03 January 2009

Location: Hue, Vietnam

Just about to set off for an early flight to Hanoi!
We had a good morning yesterday - before the rain returned!
We went on a 'cyclo' ride through the back streets of Hue and around to the Citadel. Cyclos are a combination type of rickshaw and bicycle - all the cyclo drivers were incredibly lean of course.
And very poor as the cyclo driver reminded me several times.
It was a great way to see daily life in the back streets of the city and we especially enjoyed seeing the local markets and floating houses.

We enjoyed the tour of the Citadel - much of which was destroyed by the French and then during the Tet offensive.

Rain set in again as we went on a cruise down the Perfume River and on to see several amazing tombs - in the mud and with many small children trying to sell us 'chicken or banana, madame' - very sad.

must away!

Friday, 02 January 2009

Location: Hue, Vietnam

Hi again!
Just a quick note from the hotel lobby...we're off to see the sites of Hue today. I'm happy'cos it's not raining right now - I hope it stays dry as I'm sick of soggy shoes and navigating flooded, pot-holed footpaths!
I meant to say that our drive yesterday from Hoi An to Hue was very scenic - we passed through a mountain tunnel to view vast expanses of rice padis and the South China Sea. Boys were riding water buffalos along the road (hoping for tourists to stop for photographs and US$)

must go!

Thursday, 01 January 2009

Location: Hue, Vietnam

Continuing from entry below... 31 December:

At lunch time, we were taken to a rural area, famous for its herb gardens. Upon arrival, we were all given a wonderful foot bath - wonderful hot water filled with lemongrass and ginseng - just fantastic as a our feet were so wet and cold from walking around the flooded streets.
Lunch involved a cooking class - most amusing - making fresh spring rolls and savoury pancakes. All delicious!

After lunch, it was back to the tailor for fittings. By the evening, our clothes and Nicks shoes were all complete and wonderful (and incredibly cheap!) Nick has had some amazing things made and will look splendid at his Year 12 formal and any future band gigs.
When he was trying things on at the tailor, all the Vietnamese female assistants were making various comments and giggling - of course, I have no idea what they were saying - but one girl asked Nick his age - further giggling after he told her 17.

Last night the hotel put on a NYE party which was good fun.
Today, we drove by bus to Hue - it's still pouring and quite cool.
Off to dinner soon!

Thursday, 01 January 2009

Location: Hue, Vietnam

Hi everyone!
Happy New Year!
Sorry - dodgy internet connections in rural Vietnam have prevented us from accessing the blog!
Anyway, to day we arrived in Hue, central Vietnam.
But, let me back track a little...
Our last dinner in HCMC was in a wonderful open air BBQ restaurant, with many locals enjoying birthday party and other celebrations. We finished the night off with cocktails at the top of the Majestic Hotel which has wonderful views over the Saigon River.

On Tuesday 30 December we visited the War Remnants Museum - aka The American War Crimes Museum - interestingly located in the former American Intelligence Service building.
All very graphic and disturbing...

After that we were taken to the airport for our flight to Danang and our bus trip past the Marble Mountains and China Beach (famous as former US forces R&R site)to Hoi An.
Hoi An is utterly charming and world heritage listed.
Unfortunately, the rain was bucketing down (and hasn't stopped!) so by the end of our walking tour, we were all saturated. (even though we had purchased stunning plastic ponchos).
Hoi An was a destination much anticipated by Nick who was keen to head straight to a tailor and blow his spending money.
The recommended tailors shop was a mad - house! So many people and staff and fabrics everywhere. We both decided on designs and were promptly measured and photographed and told to return 1pm the next day for our first fittings.

Yesterday - 31 December - the rain became torrential and our planned boat trip was cancelled. Nick and I decided to head back into town as Nick was keen to find a shoemaker. We found the Tinh shoe shop in a back allery - Nick described the shoes he wanted, his feet were traced onto paper and measured and we were told to return at 7pm. Such a fast turnaround!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Location: Saigon, Vietnam

This is our last night in Saigon and we're just about to head out for a bbq dinner. Today we were driven to the Mekong Delta - the 'rice bowl of Vietnam'. The day started with a terrible sight from the bus - I've mentioned previously how crazy the traffic is and today we were witnesses to the carnage - a young man had just had some sort of motor bike accident and was lying in a pool of blood by the side of the road, surrounded by on-lookers.
Well...anyway...we visited a massive wholesale market with amazing spices and less amazing unrefrigerated meat and some Chinese temples this morning. We passed duck farms and rice padis before a boat trip on the Mekong to one island to sample tropical fruits including dragon and jack fruits. Then on to another island that specialised in coconut products - we enjoyed coconut candy and had lunch.
It absolutely poured in the afternoon and I was very glad to be in a bus and not on a motor bike or bicycle in the deluge.

We're certainly seeing things that we never see back home - many things that I would never wish to see, such as the dead young man this morning and the incredible poverty...
Hope you've checked out our photos.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Location: Saigon, Vietnam

Today we were collected by our hot pink 'peace tour' bus and taken to the Cu Chi Tunnels over an hour from Saigon.
I meant to mention that Nick has been the baby on the tour so far but we have now been joined by another Sydney family who has an 18 year old son - good that he now has someone of the same generation.
The drive to the tunnels took us through the 'burbs and rubber plantations and cemeteries and the amazing traffic, of course, with families of 4 - 5 on one motor bike and people transporting their entire stock-in-trade on a bike...
The tunnels were packed with tourists and it was a very humid, hot morning and the mossies were out in full force. I left it to Nick to crawl through the very narrow, low tunnels. The nearby shooting range provided authentic sound effects to the site.
We got back to the city at lunch time and were taken to a simple PHO restaurant - we hadn't eaten that before and it was delicious. The afternoon was spent at the Reunification Palace where we enjoyed seeing the bunker area.
We've decided to have a very quiet night tonight in the hotel as the pace of the tour has been pretty frenetic. We were also warned that it will be incredibly busy on the streets tonight as there is a big soccer match Vietnam v Thailand.
Tomorrow we're off to the Mekong Delta for the day.
X Carolyn

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Location: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Hi veryone - thanks for the messages!
You'll be pleased to know that Nick has not suffered any ill effects from consuming a tarantula.(although he seems to be possibly looking a little hairier?)
Last night we flew to Saigon. Upon arrival at the hotel, we all headed out to learn how to cross the road...a very unnerving experience in a city of some 8 million people and possible 5 million motor bikes. And road rules? None that are apparent. The motor bikes seemed to ride at least 6 abreast and came in a non stop, noisy torrent down the roads. I've never seen nor heard anything like it! We were told to just start walking slowly out into the traffic, not to make eye contact with the drivers and keep your fingers crossed?
We all survived several street crossings and finally reached a night market where we had a simple meal.
Being a Saturday night the pedestrian traffic was incredibly busy - and motor bikes occasionally drive on the foot paths as well. The main streets of Saigon are currently decorated with the most amazing Christmas light displays and all the locals were out en masse photographing themselves in front of the lights.
We returned to the hotel quite late and somewhat exhausted from a rather long day of blood banks, tarantulas and traffic!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today we had a slow start, getting up around 8:30 to have breakfast.

At around 10 we checked out of the hotel and went to the local childrens hospital to donate blood. This was a first for me (nick) and it was oh so much fun... not really, but atleast we got a free t-shirt and i found out my blood type was A+. We have spent the rest of the day hunt down a deep fried spider for me to eat, and guess what, i got 2 for $1. they're big terantula's and i am yet to eat them, so ill get back to you on the taste. Although all the locals seam to agree they are very good.

Anyway, tonight we are off the Sigon, to Ho Chi Minh city!!! we are farewelling Cambodia for now.

love
nick

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Dear diary

Yesterday was a good day. As for myself (Nick) i got much better, back to usual in fact.The timing couldn't have benn better as we had a very large day exploring the temples of Angkor. We began with an early start around 4:30 am, with an early morning tuk-tuk ride to Angkor wat. (Now Carolyn writing:)It was fun being in a tuk-tuk convoy so early in the morning - although there were hundreds of children already lining up outside the childrens hospital that offers free care (95% of Cambodians cannot afford medical care). We arrived at the temples in the dark but soon found many, many other tourists waiting to watch the sunrise over Angkor. $1 bought Carolyn a chair and a sweet cup of coffee. After the big photo opportunity we wandered around several ruins and the sprawlings grounds before we eventually had breakfast at 7.30 in a local cafe.
A monk came, seeking alms, and Nick gave him some of our food. Now he is blessed. No wonder he got over his stomach problem.
We went to some more temples and by now it was getting very hot and crowded with tourists and vendors and child beggars/vendors, not to mention the elephants that were ferrying tourists around.
The temples were just amazing and atmospheric but very tiring walking around the uneven ground and up and down many rough stairs.
We had a short break in the middle of the day before heading out to a more distant temple, the Land Mine Museum and, finally, the temples made famous by the Tomb Raiders film. Awesome! But deafening cicadas there that sounded like a kettle permanently on the boil!
Last night we had amok degustation (US$8) - amok is the Khmer national dish. We returned the hotel absolutely exhausted!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Merry Christmas from Siem Reap!
We took a 35 min flight this morning from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Cambodia is certainly incredibly flat and covered in water, even now in the dry season.
On arrival, we were bused to Tonle Sap Lake - a massive inland body of water that appears endless...sitting on a boat in the lake, you cannot see any other land and it just seems that the water turns into the sky.
The lake is home to many floating homes and tiny houses built precariously on poles. Apparently, mid-year, the water levels rise dramatically as the mighty Mekong floods. The standard of housing is extremely poor and basic and, like much of Cambodia, rubbish is just everywhere. The country is one big anti-plastic bag advertisement, if ever I saw one.
Returning to the relative civilisation of Siem Reap, we had lunched at The Blue Pumpkin - a very pleasant cafe with huge white lounges upon which people sat with their laptops.
We checked into our hotel and unfortunately Nick's stomach ache has got somewhat worse...we won't be joining the Christmas festivities tonight. I just risked life and limb by walking up to the local supermarket to stock up on water and bread for the night instead. (Being a pedestrian in Cambodia is risky - the footpaths are either non-existent or potted with holes filled with filthy grey-brown sludge and to cross a road is like playing "chicken".
Tomorrow we're heading out at 5 am to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat.


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Recent Messages

From Diana
I look forward to seeing the tailored clothes and bespoke shoes. It sure can rain heavily in the tropics, can't it (it's not green like that for nothing!)
Response: yep - it continues to rain in Hue today but we're leaving hotel soon for flight to Hanoi - hope it's dry there!
From Diana
The spider photo is truly disgusting!!
Response: yep! but it was covered in BBQ sauce!
From al
Liked the pix, especially of the spider. Looks yummy. I bet there are more in the tunnels.
Response: Thx - will try to up[load more photos along the way!
From Greg
A great and amazing adventure! I look forward to the photos. Shooting with a .22 will never be the same after a Kalashnikov, will it Nick?
Response: Yeah - Nick was pretty pleased with the experience!
Unfortunately he has retire early tonight with a stomach ache...hope he doesn't get sick!
From alexi
This page is really boring, glad im not going.