A Travellerspoint blog

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

all seasons in one day 35 °C
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As we arrived into Hanoi, we were greeted by torrential rain and overflowing roads. Not exactly the welcome we had in mind, nor the ideal conditions for exploring Vietnam's capital city. We weren't to be put off however, so we donned our matching raincoats and got stuck straight in. Hanoi is a sprawling city, with a much calmer atmosphere than it's southern cousin HCMC, so we really enjoyed just wandering around and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the place.

We spent a lot of time exporing the Old Quarter of Hanoi, which was mainly organised into little streets and alleyways selling different wares and goods. We enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the market streets, where we saw all manner of gruesome animal parts and even live fish being cut up into steaks - you can't get fresher than that!

Our strangest experience though was visiting the Vietnamese legend Ho Chi Minh (who has actually been dead for over forty years). His body lies embalmed in his mausoleum where literally hundreds of locals flock every day to pay their respects and show there admiration.

On a slightly more normal note, we visited the theatre for a traditional water puppet performance. The evening consisted of live music performed on traditional Vietnamese instruments, singing and extravagant Punch and Judy-esque tellings of old folk tales and legends.

After two days in the city, we decided to escape to the idyllic Ha Long Bay, a collection of over 2000 limestone islands that stand in the crystal blue waters just off Vietnam. We had booked a lovely two day cruise on a beautiful junk boat which took us around the islands, and to some of the amazing geological wonders in the area. We had a fantastic time swimming, jumping from the boat, exploring caves and climbing huge hills to take in the gorgeous panoramic views of the bay. Our highlight was kayaking around an enclosed sea water lake, where we were lucky enough to see wild monkeys swinging from the trees above us (unfortunately there are no pictures...we were on a kayak!). The Bay is utterly stunning and the whole experience was fantastic.

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We spent one last day in Hanoi with friends before flying out to Melbourne via Singapore. We were sad to leave Vietnam as we have had a brilliant time, and think that it is the best country we have ever visited. It will take a lot to beat it!

Posted by Tom and Jo 02:05 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Hoi An and Huế

Shopping heaven!

sunny 37 °C
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Hoi An was our next stop, and yet again a completely new landscape. With the charm of Dalat, and the heat of Nha Trang, it was a great mix of all the places we have seen so far. We spent three days in this peaceful little town, enjoying the slow-pace of life and the friendly welcome. The heart of Hoi An is set around a river, on which we took a gentle boat ride. We also spent a lot of time exploring the old town, wandering round the narrow alleys, and admiring the strange mix of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architecture. We also sampled our first bia hoi in the riverfront bars (local fresh beer at 13p a glass). We challenge anyone to find a beer cheaper anywhere else in the world!

The main attraction of Hoi An is the shopping. There are over 500 tailors in the town, who are all eager to entice you into their shops filled with racks of brightly coloured silks and fabrics. We succumbed far too easily and one day later took away a made-to-measure cashmere suit and trousers, a shirt and two silk/chiffon dresses. An amazing bargain at only 160 pounds!

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Before heading up to Hanoi, we stopped in Huế for a couple of days. Another pretty town set on a river, Huế is another main stop on the backpacker route up Vietnam. There was a lot of historical sights to be seen including the Imperial Enclosure and Palaces, and the many temples and tombs of Emperor's from long ago. We spent a great day on a dragon boat cruising down the Perfume River, where we saw the sights, a floating village and even a traditional conical hat maker...very Vietnamese!

Posted by Tom and Jo 04:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Dalat and Nha Trang

Beginning our journey north...

sunny 37 °C
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We began our 1700km journey north through Vietnam with a night bus up to the lovely little town of Dalat. Set in the Central Highlands, Dalat is completely different to HCMC. Our time here was limited as it was a last minute addition to our itinerary, however it was well worth the diversion! Quiet, quaint and pretty it was a refreshing break from the mania of most south east Asian cities. The temperatures here fluctuate between 15 and 20 degrees so it was a perfect holiday spot for the French colonizers back in the day. Their influence is still seen in the European architecture that is scattered about the town.

Our second day in Dalat was spent with Duc and Jean, two of Dalat's coolest and friendliest Easy Riders. The Dalat Easy Riders are infamous throughout the land for their fantastic motorcycle tours. We spent the whole day exploring the town and whizzing around the surrounding highlands on the back of their big bikes. There is no better feeling than the excitement and exhilaration of travelling in this way. We saw so much in this fun-packed day, and every turn in the road brought a beautiful new landscape. Duc and Jean were fantastic tour guides and we got to see so much more than we would have done by ourselves. We visited temples, locals working vegetable crops, a kindergaten, a traditional silk centre and the beautiful Elephant waterfalls (plus much more along the way!).

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After Dalat we headed on to Nha Trang, Vietnam's most popular beach resort. It was really busy with Vietnamese holidaymakers, many of whom had clearly not had much contact with Westerners before; we felt a bit uncomfortable on a few occassions when we were stared at for ages. We spent the majority of our time here relaxing, drinking and eating. The highlight of our stay was a trip to the Hot Mineral Springs where we had a lot of fun wallowing in hot mud and mineral water pools.

Posted by Tom and Jo 03:42 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City

Good Morning Vietnam!

sunny 35 °C
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Ho Chi Minh City is one of the busiest places we have ever seen. With a population of over six million people and a whopping four million motorbikes, you can only imagine how crazy the streets are. Our first day in the city was spent gingerly creeping out into the throng of motorbikes, preferably whilst hiding behind a bold local pedestrian (a.k.a. human shield).

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Despite a few exciting moto-taxi rides, we favoured exploring HCMC on foot, as it gave us a real chance to experience the sights and sounds of Vietnam first-hand. Every street presented a complete sensory overload; smelly food, noisy bikes, persistent salesmen, brightly coloured clothes and tacky souvenirs in the markets, smiling locals. We fell in love with Vietnam as soon as we arrived in this bustling and vibrant city.

The city that used to be Saigon, is now named for the Vietnamese national hero and revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho as he is often affectionately called). The city is bursting with history and culture, which is proudly presented in the abundance of museums. By far the best and most interesting visit was to the War Remnants Museum, which documented the Vietnam/American war through insightful exhibits and photographs. Although the museum was clearly one-sided, it was fascinating to discover more about the war (beyond popular films) and how it affected the nation.

We took a day out of the city to visit the highly recommended Cu Chi Tunnels. We witnessed first hand how the Viet Cong survived underground during the 20 years of war with America. The spider tunnels and fox holes that we saw were between 3 and 10 metres underground and extended to 200km in length. The tunnel that we went through was so small that we had to half squat, half crawl for thirty metres. It was so hot and suffocating, and if we weren't claustrophobic before we went in, then we certainly were by the time we came out. Also on show were replicas of booby traps used to injure unsuspecting American soldiers. They were pretty horrific!

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Our stay in HCMC was exciting and thought-provoking. Not only did we have a lot of fun, but we also learnt so much about Vietnam's history and struggles. A great start to our three weeks in Vietnam!

Posted by Tom and Jo 04:01 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Sihanoukville

It's raining, it's pouring...

storm 27 °C
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We were looking forward to a nice, relaxing time in Sihanoukville spent sunbathing and frolicking in the sun on the beach. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as the weather for our entire visit was overcast and rainy. Despite this we still managed to have a great time at our lovely hotel with its swimming pool, pool table and long happy hours at the bar.

Each night that we stayed in Sihanoukville, we were treated to the most awesome storms we have ever experienced. Torrential rain hammering against our windows, huge flashes of lightening and massive cracks of thunder that managed to startle us out of our sleep at 4am. These dramatic nightly shows were great fun, although quite frightening at first!

A great day was spent on a boat tour of Ream National Park. We cruised down the Prek Toeuk Sap estuary in a traditional long boat with just four other passengers and our tour guide. Luckily we had the best weather on this day, so were able to enjoy the wildlife and scenery. The banks of the river were lined with mangrove forests, and we saw eagles swooping overhead and kingfishers and storks fishing in the long grasses. When we arrived at our destination, the boat suddenly became stuck on the sand, so we had to wade to the beach from the middle of the river (which was about four times the width of the Thames). The walk seemed to take forever as we attempted to avoid the sharp oyster shells underfoot, and constantly got stuck in the sticky clay sand. All good fun though!

Once on the beach we went on a short trek through the jungle to an uninhabited beach. We saw all sorts of wildlife including huge colonies of ants and giant millipedes. A friendly dog lead the way to the beach, where he proceeded to clumsily hunt for crabs buried in the sand. We spent the return journey eating a meal of barbecued barracuda on the boat, and doing some more bird watching.

Next stop...Vietnam!

Posted by Tom and Jo 22:11 Archived in Cambodia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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