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A Dream Come True Finally I am off on a dream trip that I dreamt of for many, many years. I flew from London Heathrow on 2 October 2008 to Delhi I will continue my journey to explore many places for the next 8 months:) And years to come......

Vietnam

VIETNAM | Thursday, 12 February 2009 | Views [482]

Hanoi

Back in the hustle and bustle after sleepiness of Laos. Amazingly we both managed to get there without any major delays, James with the chaotic snow in London and myself with Laos airline from Laos. I flew with a small plane with outboard propellers skimming across treetops, quite a bumpy journey.

We both enjoyed the madness of Hanoi and eventually even enjoyed the challenge of crossing the road which to start with felt like an impossible task. We now feel we have got the hang of it and can now cross the roads leisurely with all the motorbikes swirling around us.

Here in Hanoi everything seems to be transported on motorbikes, anything from chickens, pigs, people, beds and crates of beers being stacked up so that the vision of the driver is blocked out.

Really enjoying the food, eating from the roadside vietnamese cafe's sitting on childrens sized furniture as the people here are so much smaller than us Westerners and seem to be comfortable to sit in squatting positions everywhere, still consindering trying the dog which is on some menues.

There seem to be a lot of rats in this city, one evening when we walked back to our room, we saw two huge rats scuttling up the stairs towards our room, this made me uneased and I think even James felt slightly surprised.

We both enjoyed Hanoi meandering around exploring sights, smells, sounds and flavours but after four days we were both ready and excited to travel up to the hills.

Sapa

On a packed 10 hour night train from Hanoi to Sapa and with very little sleep as all the sleeper cars were fully booked, we arrived in the calmness of the mountains, although cold, grey, misty and drizzly. Luckily on my birthday it all changed into glorious hot, sunny weather, this was perfect for our 2-day trek into the hill-tribe villages. We stayed in a homestay in a village called Ta Van where Dzao tribes lived.

We had a wonderful young girl who came from the H'mong tribes as our guide, she was only 19 years old and was so friendly, knowledgeable and told us some wonderful but moving stories about her life, we both felt there was a friendship built over the two days, she kept on clinging on to my arm and hugging me in the morning, she was lovely.

The woman in the homestay was also very nice and looked after us with lots of homecooked food and homebrewed "happy water" (rice wine). After four shots you had a choice of singing a song, or have more to drink. All the women sang, but James decided to continue the drinking. He slept very well. Sanitary arrangements were very primitive but functional, consisting of a hole in the ground, taking away the waste into the stream. There was no shower, only two large tubs of water in which to wash. The walk back to Sapa was really beautiful scenery, with terraced rice paddy field, waterfalls, bamboo growing everywhere. We got to try sugarcane, mountain ginger which had a real delicate taste and almost looked like asparagus, but red in colour, and various other wild plants that our guide Si introduced us to. After lunch we had a wonderful swim in the river, or I had a quick dip as it was cold but James had a splash about.

Next on our journey will be Halong Bay.


Halong Bay

Our three day journey in Halong Bay started on a beautiful junk (wooden boat), with a group of 10 other people. As soon as we were out of the port we were served a seafood lunch, consisting of fresh crab, prawns, stir fried squid and vegetable, fish etc, we all got stuffed with too much food but it was so nice. Most of us then lounged about on the deck until we layed anchor in a small bay where we started 2 hours of kayaking into various caves and hidden lagoons. It was wonderful and so peaceful listening to the exotic sounds of many different birds. Back on the boat for another few hours cruising through the floating fishing villages and more limestone crags which made amazing scenery. It is unbelievable how these people live on the water in little wooden huts built on floating jetties, with their families and animals.

We arrived on our private island, with 6 bamboo huts right on the beach, it was so beautiful and peaceful, very romantic for Valentines day.

For dinner we had a seafood BBQ, served on the beach, and again we had a 6 course meal. The food is just so fresh and delicious.

On our second day we took a boat to one of the islands for a 5 hour trek, up a very steep and wild path through the jungle. When we reached the top we were all soaked with sweat from the humidity and effort. It was all worth it though as we almost had a 360 degree view of Halong Bay, it was just fantastic. On the way back we stopped off in a little village for our well deserved lunch, more yummy food. Then it was back to the island for another feast.

Our last day in Halong Bay we took the boat to Cat Island where we visited the hospital caves. Halong Bay was heavily bombed during the American war so this cave served as a bomb proof hospital. It was quite a disturbing visit trying to imagine what it must have been like to live here for the nurses and the doctors and for the injured patients.


Then we collected our bicycles for a 2-hour cycle ride up and down steep windy roads. James couldn't resist speeding past everyone up the hills, while I was taking my time, but managed to cycle all the way without dismounting. This ended with another huge lunch and karaoke which our guide started, followed by James and another person in our group joining in. We then had to head back to Hanoi to resume the chaos. By now we felt brave enough to jump onto a xe on (motorbike taxi) to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, which was a bizarre experience. While queuing and walking up to the glass sarcophagus where his dead body is kept, there were very strict formalities on how to behave, which included walking in straight lines, no hands in pockets, no holding hands, no talking etc etc. He looked so peaceful and almost as though he could wake up anytime.

We were now more than ready to move south away from busy Hanoi.

Hoi An

On our way to Hoi An we passed through Hue, which was not much to write about, except the Citadel which was an interesting place to walk around, exploring the architecture and the surrounding gardens.

We only spent one night here before catching the bus to Hoi An. As soon as we arrived we knew we would love this place. We stayed in a 100 year old guesthouse built in beautiful dark wood. We had a balcony in our room facing the vegetable market below. The town has got a lot of interesting old houses, temples, museums and assembly halls.

Hoi An has got about 500 tailor shops and it was not long until James and I got talked into being measured and choosing clothing to be made just for us. I went a bit mad and had 3 dresses, 1 skirt, 2 trousers, two blouses and a pair of sandals made for me. While James got a very smart suit made for him, a jacket and a pair of boots. It was a fun experience but also tiring as we had to go back several times to some of the tailors to refit our clothes and having to send things back to have proper stiching.

We also rented bicycles in Hoi An and cycled to the beach one day, this was really nice passing by little villages, vegetable gardens and rivers. However, on the way back in the rush hour we really had to concentrate on our cycling as there were times when traffic came straight for us, dogs running out in front of us, other cyclists swirling their bikes around us. It was a challenging experience.

One morning we got up at 4.30 to visit My Son holy site, although it was very, very early to get up, I was so glad we made the effort. It was a magical place surrounded by jungle and a lot of birdsong and other wildlife sounds. It was also really nice to get here before the coach loads of tourists. It made it perfect for photographs.

We ended up spending 3 nights in Hoi An and were ready to move on once the tailoring was finished and we were both so glad to be leaving the temptation of buying more clothes.

We now decided to head for the beach and travelled to Nha Trang which was a natural stop over before heading inland and into the hills again.

We spent a day on a beautiful beach and swimming in the South China Sea. However Nha Trang turned into a busy, drinking holiday resort in the evening, it was not really our scene, so we decided to leave for Dalat.

Dalat

We found a very nice hotel, one of the more luxourious ones so far and still good value, they even let us use their jacuzzi on the roof top. The breakfast here was great, lots of various tropical fruits, eggs, bacon, baguettes, yoghurt and even Marmite, which is a rarity.

We decided to explore Dalat and its surrounding areas with a company called Easy Riders, who take you on tours on their Honda motorbikes and I must say it was a wonderful way of travelling in this area, with winding hilly roads passing through huge pine forests, lakes, villages and coffee plantations. The smells of pine and coffee flowers as we cruised along the roads was superb. The journey started very gently but as my driver Mr Hung realised how much I enjoyed myself, he decided to increase the speed which was quite exhilarating. James also gained confidence in his driver Mr Hong and at the end of it had overcome his apprehension.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Saigon seems to be the name still used by majority of Vietnamese people. However the official name is Ho Chi Minh (renamed 1976) and used by government.

Arrived in this very busy city on 27th February 2009 and found a nice little guesthouse on a back lane in Pham Ngu Lao which is the backpackers area. They say there are about 4 million motorbikes in this city, in a poplulation exceeding 8 million. There are motorbikes everywhere, drivers loading everything you can imagine on the back of their bike. It is an extremely hot city and our energy level is drained very quickly as we have been walking around the city.

On our first day in Saigon, we visited the Reunification Palace which was the home to the South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. In 1962 his own air force bombed the palace in an attempt to kill their own leader. He decided to rebuild the palace and include some underground bunkers and tunnels. However he was executed by his own troops in 1963 so he never got to see the rebuilt palace. Today the palace is still used for some government meetings.

We then continued to the War museum, which was a very disturbing and upsetting place to visit as it was all about the American war, there were some very disturbing stories and pictures on display. Both James and I had tears in our eyes.

By now it felt like we had had a very gloomy, long and sweaty day, which was not really the plan as we were celebrating James birthday a month early. However we had a lovely evening in a very nice restaurant with wonderful food.

During our time in Saigon we also had a day trip to the Cao Dai Great Temple, which was an interesting place to visit as the religion practiced here is Cao Daism. This is a combination of Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism and Islam. They pray four times a day and we were lucky to be around in the temple to witness one of their prayer sessions.

We also visited the Cu Chi Tunnels which were built and used by the Viet Minh during the French war and then later by the Viet Cong in the American war. We had the opportunity to crawl through 100 metres of a tiny section of the whole network of tunnels (as they are about 250km of tunnels). The ones we crawled through were 80cm wide by 120cm high (bigger than the originals), I needed to exit straight away as I got very claustrophobic, while James managed the whole 100 metres, even though he is 25 cm taller than me.


Otherwise we have been meandering around the city cooling down regularly with nice drinks and food.


Sadly James is leaving tonight having to go back to the daily grind and the cold. While lucky me is travelling to Cau Doc in Vietnam to cross the border into Cambodia to start another chapter.

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