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The Saga of Heather's Travels ... the story of a dream come true

Good Night Vietnam

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 26 May 2010 | Views [422] | Comments [2]

Hello again after a long delay. I have found the internet in Vietnam very inferior, I am not able to upload photos easily, and can get online only sometimes. Some websites are blocked, all in all internet use is pretty censored here, so have been discouraged trying! However as my time in Vietnam draws to a close, I feel sad to be leaving, as well as very excited to be seeing my family again. I fly from Hanoi to Singapore tomorrow, and after a few lovely weeks with my precious grandaughter, Eva (Oh and Deb and Ramesh of course!) I will then carry on to Mumbai, to see my wee Nikita, and Michaela and Kishore. Then in August I am heading home folks! I never thought I'd say it, or feel it, but yes, I am ready to settle down again. It has been the most satisfying, enjoyable and exciting year of my life, and I hope to get the opportunity to do some more travel one day, but for now, I am so ready to put down some roots again. I am so grateful to my former boss Marie who suggested my taking a years leave instead of resigning, which I did just to humour her really, thinking, there's no way I'll be back after a year! Well thank you Marie, I am so looking forward to getting back to work, seeing all my colleagues, and getting back to a routine, and most of all not having to pack up every few days. Anyway, I digress!! Vietnam....it is a while since I updated, this could be a long one, so thought I would just list the places I have been since the last update:

Hoi An:I had two stints here, as after I'd left, I heard that my lovely friends Melissa and Paul were in Hoi An on their funnymoon, so I hightailed it back there! So first time round, I stayed in the gorgeous wee town, which is totally overrun by tourists, but still manages to retain its quaint oldworldliness. Very ancient buildings crowd together in narrow little streets that are so charming and pretty, you just want to keep wandering. There are cafes, restaurants and everywhere, tailor shops. (Someone said over 300 tailor shops in the wee town!) This is Hoi An's main claim to fame, people come from all over to have dresses and suits, etc made to order. I had a few things made to replace my worn out travel clothes, but sadly was most disappointed in them. They weren't that cheap either, but it was one of the "cheaper" options I chose, and it wasn't a good choice, but of course that is easy to say in hindsight. I went on a river "cruise" which was most interesting to see life on the river again, so many people rely on it for their livelihood. I ventured to the beach, but struck a very windy day so was unable to enjoy it. Then I moved onto the beach made famous by the TV program "China Beach", half way between HoiAn and DaNang. I stayed one night in a us$7 per night guesthouse called "Hoa's Place" it was pretty rough, and the beach was quite disappointing so next morning moved onto:

DaNang: This is the city that was at the centre of the american war in Vietnam, and you see here the american airforce and army bases. From my memories of the war on TV, reports always seemed to come from Da Nang. It's not a usual tourist stopping place but I decided to stop and have a look, and found it quite charming. Didn't do much more than wander around the streets looking, finding nice wee cafes, and a ?? totally empty of people shopping mall - those overpriced designer shops weren't doing a roaring trade thats for sure. Again a large river dominates the city, which always makes for photo opportunities. Then it was onto

Hue: The ancient capital of Vietnam, until the 1950s, this pretty town is steeped in history and of course historical places to visit. I did a tour here of ancient houses, temples, pagodas, and kings tombs. It included a river cruise on a gorgeous "dragon boat" (When I can get photos up you can see this, so amazing) and the obligatory craft village, where, surprise surprise, you can buy stuff! I found it interesting to watch a woman making incense sticks, using cinnamon and sandalwood, but I remind myself that everything I buy must be carried on my back! Its a good deterrent. There is also an amazing large walled citadel that takes a whole day to explore, which was the main central ancient city, and home of some of the kings. Then just as I had booked my overnight train to Hanoi, I found out about Melissa and Paul being in Hoi An, so changed my bookings and headed back there. I had 2 lovely days with them, they were staying 5 star on the beach, so I hung out at their hotel during the day :) It was incredibly amazing and wonderful to see these lovely friends and spend this time with them, swimming in the pool and the beach, drinking lovely wine and cocktails, eating excellent 5star meals, and not being allowed to pay for a thing! It's hard to explain the thrill of seeing/being with loved ones after being alone and so far from home. I felt so nurtured and just LOVED my time with that gorgeous couple! So we parted company, they heading south, and me heading north, this time on overnight train to Hanoi, it was a 14hour trip, but trains are so amazing for sleeping, we seemed to be there in no time, even though I had a top bunk!  

Hanoi: I'd been looking forward to Hanoi for a long time for a couple of reasons: my girls had loved it when they were here 5-6 years ago, and had told me "Mum you'll LOVE Hanoi" (they weren't wrong!) and also I was meeting up with my dear friend and colleague Judy Bailey from home. We had about 10days together before Judy was joining up with her tour group, to head south, and then on into Cambodia to Angkor Wat. I had a few days before Judy arrived, so took the time to go on a 3day/2night cruise of Halong Bay - Wow!!!That cruise would be one of my highlights of the whole year, along with maybe Angkor Wat, and the Plain of Jars. The scenery is just sooo stunning it is indescribable, but I'll give it a go! In the bay there are over 1800 islands, all made of the Kharst rock, like small mountains growing straight out of the sea. The water is calm and flat, and the boats just cruise around the bay, between and around all these gigantic rock monoliths, it is breathtaking. You get the chance to swim, jump off the boat, kayak, visit caves and an amazing fishing village out there somewhere, with no dry land available to the people at all. Some of them spend all their lives on the water, and hardly ever go ashore, there is a school, shops and seemingly great social interaction, all on the water. The meals on the cruise were excellent, all fresh seafood, crab, giant prawns, clams (always wondered what they were, just pipis! very nice though) fresh fish etc etc, every meal. There was quite decent wine, and good company, my cabin had the most comfortable bed I've had on my travels, so all in all it was a great 3 days. Then the 4 hr bus trip back to Hanoi, and the excitement of meeting up with Judy. It took a few days talking to catch up with each other's news, then we made plans and headed off to Sapa. This is an incredible little town up in the mountains northwest of Hanoi. Once again it is an overnight train trip to get there, lovely comfortable clean train. We rather foolishly some might say, did a fullon day tour of Hanoi before catching the train the same evening, then getting off the train in the morning to join another day tour to the sunday market at Bac Ha. We hadn't realised quite how far this was, and as it was before we even reached Sapa, let alone check into a hotel we were pretty exhausted at the end of the day! You live and learn, but it was an amazing day all the same. The Bac Ha market is where all the many many different hill tribe people come to buy and sell their wares, all in their different traditional costumes. The glory of it is that they are not dressing up for tourists, this is their normal lives, they wear these amazing clothes all the time. I have so many photos, and will upload hopefully in the next week or so from Singapore. It is hard to put into words, the colours, smells and noise from this crowded and so incredibly different market. For once the tourists are the minority, and they are as fascinated by us as we are by them. Don't get me wrong, there are many tourists, just far more local people, they are from so many different tribes, known as the Montagnard groups which include Flower Hmong, Red Hmong, Black Hmong, Dzao, Red Dzao, Han, Nung, and many more. Each tribe wears different costumes, The Flower Hmong seemed to be the dominant one in that area, but when we got back to Sapa, about 120km, they were hardly to be seen, and the Black Hmong and the Red Dzao were more obvious. As you can imagine the photo opportunities here were endless, though you had to be sensitive, as some didn't like to be photographed, and some wanted to be paid for it. The wares on sale were interesting and once again I had to be mindful of my backpack, and bought little, but it was more about the sights to me. What a day, what an incredible insight to a way of life so very very different to ours. We were shown through some local villages too, I found it a little uncomfortable and insensitive to be invited by the guide to walk through peoples homes while they were sitting watching tv - the villages close to town have tv, but not when you get further out. The kitchens were so primitive, never again will I complain about a kitchen!! So finally we arrived in Sapa, and sunk exhaustedly into our beds! The next few days were spent exploring around Sapa, Judy went on a walking trek, which I didn't do as wasn't feeling too well. I was glad too, as they had told Judy it was "all downhill" when in fact there was alot of very steep uphill, and it was very very hot. The views in Sapa, have to be seen to be believed, enormous mountains that have been terraced over thousands of years, and mainly rice, but other crops as well grown up the slopes of very steep mountains. It is just breattakingly beautiful, and once again, many many photographs taken. The wee town of Sapa is like an alpine village, all perched on the slopes with breathtaking views everywhere you look. The tribal ladies in Sapa are very determined to sell their wares to you, and lie in wait outside the hotels, and the cafes, in fact anywhere you go! They follow you down the street, "you buy from me, maybe later??" but they are good natured. I lost patience one time and said (alright, quite loudly and rudely!) "NO no no, what part of no do you not understand?" and the lady just shamed me by laughing and kissing my arm! I did buy a couple of things from a petite 70yr old who followed us into a restaurant and obviously wasn't going to leave without a sale. She was so good natured though, and everytime we said no she bought something else out. It is a shame though that the whole experience of Sapa is coloured by the persistant touting everywhere you go. Apparently they have decided that tourism is more profitable than growing rice! So after our 5 days in the Sapa region Judy and I returned to Hanoi and had another couple of days together exploring, before she joined her tour group and deserted me!! Judy went with her group to Halong Bay where she texted to say she loved it as much as I did, and has now headed south to Hue. I went on another day tour yesterday which took me to Ninh Binh, 3hours southeast of Hanoi. We visited more temples, but the main reason to go was the gorgeous 2hr trip on a rowboat through rice paddies and 3 caves, it was stunning. The boats were mostly rowed by women, using their feet, and even though there were probably hundreds of wee boats on the river, carrying only 2 or 3 tourists each, it was peaceful and quiet, and so beautiful, with no motor boats, and I felt, a very fitting farewell to Vietnam for me.

Comments

1

So glad to hear your travel news. It had been a long wait and i was a little concerned.
I will be away when you arrive home. Back in September after my trip north to see my lads and families. Look forward to catching up some time love Mxx

  Marilyn May 27, 2010 4:48 AM

2

Again, lovely to catch up with your travels. Great to hear you're returning to us. No doubt with even more stories to tell. Safe travel home my friend, and hope to see you soon up in Auckland. Probably will find it hard to show you any of the countryside to impress you anymore,, .after the parts of the world you've experienced.

Be great to have you home again. Take care.

Lots of love,

Trish XXXX

  Trish C Jul 14, 2010 4:15 PM

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