Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 5

6 October 2017 – Tu Le – Bac Ha

Up about 6.00am.

I must have been tired, because I slept alright.  And being able to sleep alright on that bed was certainly an achievement.

Hard?

Ooooh yeah!

At least now I know what to expect should I find myself on a mortuary slab….

Downstairs by 7.00am for breakfast with Toan.  Caphe sua da, of course, as well as some sticky rice.

And yep, sticky rice is definitely well named.  Geez, it’s hard work…

Breakfast done, and it’s back upstairs to pack and get ready.

I also bite the bullet and put my sunscreen infused deet on.

Yep, it all comes flooding back.

It’s greasy and sticky, and just not a great deal of fun to be putting on.  The tube also says something about keeping it away from pretty much everything a person could possibly be wearing.

I assume being naked, and not wearing spectacles or a watch, is really the only safe way you can go about using it.

Seeing as that ain’t going to happen, I half expect to destroy a few of my possessions, and quite possibly some of Toan’s if I get too close, all in the interests of being sun smart.

Back downstairs and we’re on our way just after 7.30am.

But we didn’t get far.

Yep, all of three minutes in, and it’s my first ‘wow’ moment of the day.

Now, some of the views yesterday were pretty good.  But they just pale in comparison to what I was now seeing.

Looking down on a fairly wide valley that included several small villages and towns, as well as vast areas of rice paddies.  On the other side of the valley mountains rose skywards.

Just stunning!

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Yep, wow.
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Nice start to the morning.

Fifteen minutes later, after we’d wound our way along our mountain road, we came to another stop.

This time, we were now on the other side of the valley, looking back towards where we’d just been.

Low cloud and mist now hung below us, limiting slightly what we could see, but that soon cleared.

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Looking back towards our first stop.
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Starting to clear.

And when it did, well, once again, another ‘wow’ moment.

In fact, it was even more impressive than the previous one.

And here’s the problem.  All the scenery is great, but then there’s scenery that just takes it to another level.

It then makes the previous ‘stunning’ scenery a little ‘run of the mill’, which isn’t really fair.

The fact that I had to walk between the half a dozen cows and two sleeping pigs that were sharing the vantage point, kind of confirms that what would normally be classified as photo worthy, becomes a little ho hum.

Less than half an hour into day two, scenery overload was already becoming an issue.

Back on the bike, around a few more mountains, and then over a ridge.

Hmmm, completely different look.

Still mountainous, still green, but more natural looking forest and jungle.  No real noticeable farming going on.  Again, very picturesque, but has nothing on what we’ve just seen.

It’s not long before the rice terraces begin to return and we soon come to a small village.

Toan turns off the main road and starts heading up to higher ground along a narrow track that deteriorates quickly.

The bike, with me on it as well, is not going to get up it, so I jump off and walk while Toan struggles on alone.

I begin walking and two minutes later a local, also on a motorbike, comes up behind me.

He motions for me to get on and he’ll take me up.  I try, with hand gestures, to tell him I’m okay with walking.  There’s not far to go, anyway.

He won’t take no for an answer, so I jump on.  We get a little further before he too starts to get into trouble, and I’m once again back on my feet.

It’s not long before we both get to the top, picking up Toan’s bags that fell off the bike on the way, (it really was little more than a goat track) and the views were definitely worth the effort.

I ask Toan if he can ask my new friend if I can have a photo with him.  My mate happily agrees, but doesn’t really show it in the photo.

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My mate who tried to save me from walking.

Back to the views, and once again, just beautiful.

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The photo is enough.
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And again.

There’s another local up there outside his house, tending to the rice that he’s drying on the track, while his two kids bathe and play in the water running down the concrete channel opposite.

Yep, it was just such a great example of local life.

We reluctantly move on and head back down the bumpy track.  Going down was slightly easier, but still not a lot of fun.

Safely down, we’re back on the made road.

On we go, Toan concentrating on the driving, me trying to take in everything I’m seeing.  There’s just so much and I feel a little bombarded by it.

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That’s Toan in front.
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Rice terraces.
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Nice spot for a break.

A little later we stop in a small Black Hmong village for a rest break.  While the views are pretty good, it’s the young kids and the everyday village life that take most of my attention.

The kids are pretty happy to see me, offering lots of ‘hellos’, but really, they were more interested in each other, as well as whatever game they were playing.

On the other hand, a local guy, perhaps the father of one of the kids, was far more interested in me.  Talking with Toan initially, he seemed very happy to have the two of us there.

He then came closer to me and showed great interest in my legs.  I’m not sure what he was saying, and I’m not sure what exactly it was about them that fascinated him, but he did spend some time studying them.

Once bored with my legs, he turned his attention to my stomach.  Now, while I may be carrying a touch more around my middle than I’d like, I wouldn’t say my stomach is the first thing that people notice about me.

It was all good natured, but at the same time I was slightly hurt.

Made a mental note to start with the sit ups when I get home…..

Talking the whole time while he was ‘appraising’ me, Toan then translated that he wanted to know how much I weighed.

I didn’t know if he was impressed with my size, or perhaps a little appalled.

Weight subject dealt with, he wasn’t quite finished with me.

He wanted to check the size of another part of my anatomy.

Now while he was quite an attractive bloke, as well as it having been a few days since I’d seen Lisa, I politely pushed his hand away.

Slightly confused, partly bemused, and perhaps even mildly flattered, we hopped back on the bike to continue our journey.

It’s now starting to warm up, and my legs are making me well aware of that.

Really hoping that this greasy deet stuff, apparently with the sunscreen in it, does what it’s supposed to.

Just in case it doesn’t, I try and cover my legs with my hands, as well as try and ‘hide’ my arms from the sun.

Being on windy mountainous roads, this proves rather difficult.

It’s around now that I notice that the deet is beginning to eat away at the leather band on my watch.

Geez, I love this stuff….

On we go, stopping occasionally for breaks and photo opportunities, before we pull up next to a local’s shop in a Tay village. (yep, the one that kind of sounds like ‘Thai’).

As we pull up, a young boy comes along on his bike.  He’s pretty happy to see me and wants to practice some English.  We give it a go and he tells me his name is Do, or Dzo.

That’s about the extent of the lesson, but with the help of hands and fingers, I find out he’s seven years old.

While he’s obviously happy to have met this strange Westerner, it’s me who absolutely loves these interactions.

They really do make my day.

Conversation done, he jumps back on his bike and heads off down the road.

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English lesson done.

We sit and enjoy a cold water out the front of the ‘shop’, and I enjoy the break from the sun.

Now watered and rested, we’re on the move again.

Our next break, not too much later, includes lunch.

And because Toan tells me they serve it, and because I don’t think I’ve had it before, we have stir fried buffalo.  It comes with rice, of course, as well another, again, unknown by me, green spinachy type vegetable.

Sorry, if it used to walk or swim, I’ll know what it is.  If it was eaten by the thing that walked or swam, then yeah, no great interest….

While it was all good, it was nothing to really write home about.

But it hit the spot.

And it was probably better, well, at least ethically I suppose, than one of the other options they sold.

Yep, thit cho.

Lisa probably wouldn’t talk to me, and I could never tell anyone on Trip Advisor.

Back on the bike, and we’re off.

This stretch became a bit of a slog.  There were perhaps a few reasons for that.

It was hot.  And it was sunny.

The heat I could handle, but the sun was becoming quite a problem.  Legs weren’t happy….

A lot of the journey was over steep, windy, and bumpy roads.

Then there were also the traffic issues.

Well, more specifically, truck issues.  I’ll get to that soon.

Fortunately, there was enough to look at which helped take my mind off things.  Well, most of the time.

The kids you see.

It’s all about the kids.  They just seem so happy going about their day.  And it doesn’t really matter what they’re doing.  Even riding their bike up a fairly steep hill to get to school, or back home.  They just do it, and don’t seem to complain.  And they’re only young, too.

Mine, well, they get annoyed if they have to catch the bus….

The animals.  Both on the side of the road, and on the actual road itself.

All just part of rural Vietnam, and in some cases, not just the rural areas.

Half a dozen water buffalo returning from a mud bath; the little dog spending time with a goat; small pigs, as well as chickens, walking around the legs of some other water buffalo while they eat the roadside grass.

I don’t know, I just never tire of it.

Actually, speaking of chickens.

After some careful research on the road sense of Vietnamese animals, I’ve come to the conclusion that the water buffalo are pretty switched on.  They seem to actually anticipate what’s happening and will get out of your way with time to spare.

Dogs too, are generally pretty good.  Although there can be some confusion at times.

Cows and pigs are similar, but are probably third on the list.

Chickens, on the other hand, are just plain dumb!

Sitting safely on one side of the road, causing no issue to any road user, they will suddenly dart across the road as you approach.  Now if they kept going, that would be fine.  They would again be out of harm’s way. But part way across, more often than not, they’ll suddenly change their minds and decide to head back.  Or, just stop in the middle of the road and run around in circles.

Yep, just dumb….

Anyway, enough about brain challenged birds….

Back to the scenery that is keeping me going.

Waterfalls!

Countless waterfalls, either beside the road, or off into the distance.

Waterfalls, that in Australia, would be signposted. They’d be tourist attractions and you’d actually make a day of it just to see them.  But here, we just keep driving.  There’s just so many things to see that you just can’t stop at everything.  If you did, well, you’d get nowhere.

Now, the trucks….

They weren’t a constant, but there was a period of an hour or two where we had to deal with them.  There are iron ore mines in the area; we actually passed some iron smelters a bit later; and obviously because of that, there are trucks.

Now, there seems to be a ‘thing’ on Vietnam’s roads, when it comes to trucks.

If you are going to overtake one, be overtaken by one, or pass one coming towards you, then you can almost guarantee that it will either be on a bend in the road, or when someone, or something, is also on that particular stretch of road at exactly the same time.

And rest assured, the truck will not slow down.  The manouvre will be done regardless of who is nearby, and regardless of any potential danger.

The two seconds the truck driver will save by completing this manouvre, seems to be a matter of life and death.

But not his….

Anyway, just a Vietnam traffic observation, and one that makes you feel very small and vulnerable when you’re sitting on the back of a bike.

Having said all that, Toan was incredibly safe, as well as very aware of what was going on around us.

Another thing the trucks ‘helped’ with?

Dust!

Lots, and lots, of dust.

Which, because I was wearing my sunscreen deet, was able to stick to me very effectively.

The dust, however, soon disappeared as a result of a couple showers of rain.  At one point it got heavy enough that we needed to pull over under a local’s shop awning, in a small town we were passing through.

He didn’t mind, and in fact went and fetched a couple of chairs so we could sit it out.  I love that helpful camaraderie thing.

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Watching the endless procession of trucks while sheltering from the rain.

Rain passed, dust settled, sunburnt legs much happier, we headed on.  Now only having to deal with the resultant mud…..

Yep, it had been a long day…..

A bit later on we had a train line pop up beside us, and then we actually rode along it over a bridge.  I believe that that train line is the one that goes to Lao Cai.

Onwards, and upwards.  So far upwards, and so windy, we were now probably averaging 20 kmph.

And then, around one of the many, many, many bends, a ‘wow’ moment.

And definitely a photo moment.  Even though I know the camera won’t show what I was seeing, I had to try.

Sitting a fair way up a pretty big mountain ourselves, looking across a valley that was a long way down, and seeing a mountain on the other side in the distance that made our mountain look like a hill.

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Stunning.
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In dire need of a shower! But I don’t really care at the moment.

Yep, the scale of the place is hard to comprehend.

The beauty even harder.

Made the dirt, the sunburn, and the sore bum, all become a distant memory.  Well, for a few minutes, anyway….

Back on the bike, and I spent the next 10 minutes with my head cocked to the left, wanting to hang on to that image for as long as I could.

Just after 5.00pm, we rode into Bac Ha.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Bac Ha, but sort of expected it to be a bit touristy.

It is; as it didn’t take long to see people like me; but it also has a bit of an authentic charm.  The guy with the horse drawn cart, with him and a pig on the back, sort of helped with that.

We find our accommodation for the night, and I head upstairs to get organised.  It’s a ‘homestay’, but a fairly large one that caters to reasonable numbers.  Almost hostel-ish?

My room, well, everyone’s room, is on the first level in a pretty big stilt house.  There must be 10 – 12 mattresses on the floor, separated by curtains, with mosquito nets over each one.

Not exactly what I was expecting, but, it’ll do.

I get as organised as I can, and then head off to the single shower available.

While I’d been in far better showers than this one; read, I wouldn’t have been in too many worse; it was up there with one of the best showers I’d ever had.

Gee, I felt good after it.

Rid of dust, dirt and deet, I headed downstairs to find Toan.

He’d just come back from seeing a doctor and apparently he has a tooth or gum infection.  Given antibiotics, he’s been told he has to avoid alcohol.

Personally, I would have gone to get a second opinion, but if that is what he has to do, then that is what he has to do….

Dinner is soon ready, and as there is a bit of a party going on in the ‘restaurant’ downstairs, we all head out to the undercover area out the back.

There’s about 12 there, including some other guides that Toan seems to know, a family group of four from France, as well as the homestay’s owners.

Food was good, without being great, (didn’t pay that much attention) and the beer was cold.

Happy days.

And the rice wine made it a little happier, again.

Sat around and chatted for a while after dinner, and then adjourned to my mattress for the usual note taking, Trip Advisor and beers.

Being a communal room, as well as being absolutely stuffed, it was a relatively early night.

Which was a good thing, as breakfast was at 7.00am.

Cheers,

Scott

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Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 4

5 October 2017 – Hanoi – Tu Le

Up reasonably early again, but not quite bouncing out of bed.  Long days and late nights will kind of put a dampener on the amount of bouncing achievable….

Downstairs and out into the still fairly quiet streets of Hanoi to do something I should have done yesterday; and that is, to exchange some money.

Being a little after 7.30am, most tour agent places, as well as shops, are still closed.  Having embarked on this exact exercise when I was last here 18 months ago, I head up towards beer corner.  It was here that I got a better rate than some of the places in the streets closer to the lake.

Again, most places are still closed, but there is one lady sitting in a tour agency.

Fortunately, before I’d left the hotel, I checked what the current rate was for Australian dollars.  It was around 17 800 Dong.

I asked my potential exchange lady what her rate was.  17 200 was her response.

“Hmmm”, I responded, with a slight screwing up of the nose.

Now, another couple of hundred Dong, in the whole scheme of things, makes very little difference to the total amount.  Unless, of course, you’re exchanging massive sums of money.  Which, in my case, I wasn’t doing.  Partly because I didn’t need massive sums of money, and partly because I’m not the owner of massive sums of money.

But, there is a principle involved here, and not to mention, a little fun to be had in the negotiations of a mutually acceptable rate for both parties.

“How much would you like to exchange?”, she asks, obviously aware by my response that I was not overly enamoured by her offer.

“Probably two hundred”, I said.

“Hmmm, ok, 17 300”, she countered.

“Will you do 17 400 for four hundred dollars?”, I asked, with a smile.  And that’s the bit that’s really important; the smile.

Exchanging money, buying a souvenir, or whatever, always do the bargaining with good nature.

Another look at her rate, along with some punching of numbers into her calculator, and she smiles while agreeing to that.

She then goes to her stash of Dong and begins counting the amount out, before quickly realising that she doesn’t have enough.

“Please wait here, I will get more and will be back in five minutes”, she says, with a slight look of concern on her face.

“That’s alright, I’ll come back in ten minutes”, I say, thinking that I might use the time to find a caphe sua da.

“No, no, no”, she says, that slight look of concern now turning into quite a worried look.

“Please, just wait here, I’ll be quick”, she continues, obviously very nervous that I may not return, which incidentally, I’d never considered.

I smile, and agree to wait.

She returns a few minutes later with more money, and after counting it twice, our exchange is completed.

Four one hundred dollar notes, swapped for considerably more notes, my wallet is now struggling with the extra demand placed on it.

6 960 000 Dong will do that.

A ‘cam on’, and I’m on my way, trying to work out exactly how many glasses of bia hoi my extra 80 000 Dong will buy me.

Oh, and here’s just a little reminder of the whole ‘should I change my currency at home, or wait till I’m in Vietnam’, scenario.

So, with a currency exchange website showing the rate at 17 800 to one Australian dollar, I could have got 13 000 Dong at the airport before I left, or 17 400 here in Hanoi.

6 960 000 compared with 5 200 000 Dong.

A 1 760 000 difference.  Which is around $100 AUD.

Now, that’s a lot of bia hoi!

Back to the hotel for a quick pack up, and a second check out in less than 24 hours, and I sit out the front waiting for Toan (my tour guide for the next eight days) to arrive.

This is the part where I get a little nervous.  One, hoping that he remembers, and two, hoping he’s able to find this little alleyway.

Once again, nervous for no reason, and Toan turns up just after 8.30am.  It’s great to see him again.

Helmet on, bag stowed on bike, and we’re on our way.  Even though it’s been 18 months, it feels like only yesterday that I last sat on the back of his bike.

And here I am again, but doing something I’ve not done before.  And that is riding through the streets of Hanoi.  A small thing, and something that I’d wanted to do, but had just never got around to actually doing.

Busy, crowded, noisy, and fun.

Out of the Old Quarter, and now into areas I’d never seen.  The place is rather large.

But one thing remains the same.  And it’s something that I have noticed since day one, three years ago.

Vietnam is a country of contrasts.

Brand new skyscraper buildings next to small single storey shops and houses.  Motorbikes and bicycles sharing the road with luxury cars.  Street food vendors selling their wares opposite new designer shops.

Contrasts and extremes.

And then there was the new railway line being built.

Not on the ground, mind you, but about four stories up in the air.  They still have a fair bit to go, but those pylons are huge.  I suppose it has to be, considering that at least one point it actually goes over the top of a road overpass.

Yep, it’s huge, and it goes a fairly long way.

Eventually, the big busy landscape of city life starts to give way to glimpses of green.  And then it’s not long before we are finally out in the countryside.

It was nice to see, as well as feel.  I love Hanoi, but this made me realise I’d missed the open spaces of rural life in Vietnam.

We continue on.

And on….

Through a toll way on what looked to be a fairly new road.  Seeing as there’s a bit of space on the side of the road, Toan decides that a short break is required.

I, as well as my bum, agree with him.

Timing was quite good, too.

A couple of guys were out walking their cows.

Again, that contrast thing.

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Tolls and cows…
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A pleasant morning stroll.

Bum rested, and we’re on the road again.

Eventually, up ahead in the distance, and I mean a long way off in the distance, mountains come into view.

And they’re big.

Yep, excitement levels increasing just a tad.

Through countless country towns, with so much to see and try to remember, that it all became a bit of a blur.

All so very interesting, particularly with what the shops were selling.  Anything and everything, including so many food places, more motorbike mechanics than you can imagine, places selling timber or bricks.  Even coffins.

But it’s not just what you can see, it’s also what you can smell.  The cooking of food, the food itself, smoke, the smells of industry.  Sensory overload, but I love it.

Yep, just all so fascinating.

The sky looks a little ominous, and sure enough, it’s not long before it starts to rain.

Toan pulls over and out come some rather fetching green plastic pants, along with a matching jacket.

Pants on first, followed by jacket, and I manage to break the zip in the process.  Great…..

Now reasonably waterproofed, apart from my feet, we continue on.

I’d always thought it might be a bit of fun being on the back of a motorbike in the rain.  And it probably was for the first two minutes.  But it began to wear pretty thin, pretty quickly.

Part of the issue is the water, but other thing is being wrapped up in plastic when it’s still quite warm.  Yep, just a little sticky and uncomfortable.

Into, and then out of, yet another town, and Toan pulls over to check we’re on the right road.

Google maps says we’re not, so we head back to the last main intersection and turn left.

As we approach a fairly large bridge, I notice a small-ish pig on a spit beside the road.  While it’s rather unfortunate for the pig, he does look rather delicious.

We head over the bridge and stop again.  Google maps says we’re still going the wrong way.  Toan seems to have it now, and we turn around and go back over the bridge.

I get a final glimpse of the delicious looking piggy; it must be getting close to lunchtime; and we’re now on the road we need to be on.

The scenery is starting to change.  It’s now getting a little hillier, and the roads are becoming windier.  (why is windier and windier spelt the same!? Anyway, there was no wind blowing.)

Rice fields, mostly harvested but still some left, are becoming common.  There’s also heaps of corn, as well as green tea plantations.  There’s lots of other stuff too, but horticulturally, I’m a little challenged.  I know it’s edible, though.

We come into yet another country town, and the decision is made to have lunch.  The husband and wife owners are very surprised to see me; perhaps even a little chuffed.  They set about making our lunch – fried rice for Toan, pho bo for me.  Then followed by those little cups of tea, while watching the goings on of small country town life.

Suitably full, we’re back on the bike.  The rain has stopped so my plastic clothes are no longer required.  Pretty happy about that….

Another notable change in the scenery is the houses.  Yep, far more stilt houses of some of the minority groups.

Which also means that the people you see out and about are also different.  The clothing gives it away.

Something else I start to notice are the local’s reactions towards me.  Not much in the way of ‘hellos’, but more in surprised looks and ‘double takes’.

I like that.

We stop for another break near a bridge on the outskirts of a town.  In the fields are a few people working, lots of water buffalo, and some young kids just playing around.

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Kids being kids.
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Local life.

A young boy, maybe eight years old, yells out “hello, hello”, to me, and then makes his way towards me.  I put out my hand to shake his, and he obliges.  We try to have a conversation, but that was rather limited.  He starts to walk away and I ask if I can take his photo.

“No, no”, he says, in a raised voice.

“No problem, that’s fine”, I reply, respecting his wishes.

We then get back on the bike and continue our journey.

The earlier rain is now just a distant memory, but it’s at this point that I realise I’m fairly sunburnt.  It had been sunny for the last hour or so, but I suspect that a lot of it was from when we were heading out of Hanoi.  It’s mainly the top of my thighs, but also the top of my forearms.  Along with the underside of my right forearm, which is the arm that had been holding the back of the bike seat from time to time.

Great, only day one…..

Now hoping for cloud cover, I continue taking in the sights.  So much better than sites…

The rice harvesting that is still going on, with non la’s bobbing about in the fields, the animals; so many animals.

Water buffalo, now in some of the ‘empty’ rice paddies, eating the left over straw, cows on the side of the road, goats, chickens, dogs.  A lot of dogs.  It’s nice to see, but I do fear slightly for the ones roaming near the thit cho restaurants….

The scale of this area is just huge.  Coming around a bend in the road, a whopping great big mountain is revealed.  But it’s not that mountain that is impressive (although it is), it’s the bigger one behind it, as well as the even bigger one behind that.

It’s hard to comprehend and take in.

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Not a bad view.

We stop again; I am very much grateful for these stops as legs need a stretch, and bum needs to, well, just not be sitting on a motorbike seat anymore; this time outside a stilt house.  A couple live there with their very young child, and Toan seems to know them.  We have a bit of a chat; well Toan does, seeing as English is of not much use up here; and have a bit of a look around.  They are from the ‘Tay’ group, which apparently is pronounced a bit like ‘Thai’.

There are so many groups, so many names, so many different characteristics.

All quite confusing and difficult to remember, but it’s all so interesting.

We bid our farewells; me still trying to wrap my head around things, but perhaps not as much as the young child who couldn’t quite seem to work out who, or what, I was; and continue on down the road.

It’s still sunny, or so say my legs…..

Damn it, I was going to bring sunscreen but it wouldn’t fit in the zip lock bag that I had to put all my toiletries in on the plane.  I should have bought some in Hanoi yesterday, but never thought about it.  I could have put some deet on, which apparently does have sunscreen in it, this morning, which I did happen to bring, but I have this vague recollection that I don’t like it.  I can’t remember why, but there’s something in the back of my head from three years ago when I first and last used it.

And anyway, who would have thought I’d get sunburnt!  Damn it!

Fortunately, not too much later, and my hoping for cloud cover becomes a reality.  Ahhhh, relief.

But now I’m a little cool….

Being tough, I suck it up.

We’re back onto windy roads, as well as being up reasonably high.  We then come across a group of four women cooking something on the side of the road, under shelters.

Toan pulls over.

Turns out they’re cooking, and selling, some of the corn we’ve been seeing growing in the fields.

“Want some corn?”, Toan asks.

“Yeah, why not”, was always going to be the answer.

So we sit beside, but pretty much on, the road and eat corn.

It wasn’t actually something on my list, but I can now tick it off.

The corn is boiled in pots over hot coals, and then those coals are used to roast the corn slightly.

It’s nice, but the whole experience is better.

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Toan and our corn lady.
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Our snack.
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Our view while eating our snack.

All the women are from the Dzao minority group, and the one that served us is 32 years old.  She’s been married for seventeen years.

Yep, she married in 2000, and yep, she was only fifteen at the time.

I think of my own daughter who is now sixteen, and then try not to think about any of that anymore.

Yep, a vastly different world.

Incidentally, feng shui played a part in her marriage date.

Yep, vastly different…..

Corn done, we get back on the bike.  Which now just happens to be a little wet as a result of a light shower while we were eating.

Geez, it’s been bright and sunny, overcast, cool and wet, today.  This four seasons in one day is the kind of thing that happens in Melbourne.

Kinda feel like I’m still home….

A little over half an hour later, just after 5.00pm, we enter the town of Tu Le.  This is where we’ll spend the night.

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The view of Tu Le from my window.

As much as a walk down the main street appealed, I was spent.  A shower, a rest, and a phone call home, was all I was capable of.

After an hour or so, and now feeling far more refreshed, I headed downstairs at 7.00pm to meet Toan for dinner.

I pretty much leave the ordering up to him.  Yep, I’m one of those people that eat to live.  Not fussed, just give me something.

We end up with pork, beef, rice, egg, and some green plant type stuff that surprisingly, for me anyway, was really good.

But the thing that was the best?

Yep, the beers.

Ohhhh, they were good!

Actually, there was one other thing that was really good.  The rice wine.  It wasn’t your normal everyday peel the paint off the walls and turn you blind type stuff, this one had been infused with…..aaaargh,…….I can’t remember.

It was some kind of herb or spice, and it had turned it a slightly pinky, browny colour, from memory.  Apparently it has to sit for 12 months, or so.

Anyway, however it’s made, it was really good.

But oh my, did I mention how good the beers were…???

Met some Vietnamese tourists who were eating at one of the other tables.  Judging by the noise and laughter, as well as the look on their wives’ faces, they too were enjoying the beers and rice wine.

One of the guys came over and shared a couple of sweet dessert type things with us.  While it kind of mucked up the taste of my beer for a few minutes, it was a nice gesture and certainly much appreciated.

Called it a night about 9.00pm for the usual beers on the bed, as well as some Trip Advisor.  Also a fair bit of note taking.  So much happened, and so much seen, I had to make sure I remembered as much of it as I could.

Speaking of the bed, well it’s…., ummm…., well, half a notch down from really hard.  One positive of that is I’m able to actually sit the beer on the bed without any real risk of bouncing it over.

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It was pretty safe!

Breakfast tomorrow is at 7.00am, so I kind of do the right thing by not staying up too late.  It’s been a long day, but a good day, and I suspect, scenery wise, there is only better to come.

We shall see…..

Cheers,

Scott

 

Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 3

4 October 2017 – Ho Chi Minh City – Hanoi

Up reasonably early.  And there’s a few reasons for that.

One, I have a 12.00pm flight to Hanoi.

Two, I want to make the most of my limited time here.

And three, I need to do something that we were unable to do on our last trip here. That is, to go up to Tao Dan Park to see all the birds that get taken there early in the morning.

Last time we were here we only had a single night in District One before returning home the next day.  Neither of us were terribly well by this stage, and getting up early for the birds was just too much of an ask.

For 18 months I’ve been wanting to rectify that.

Out the hotel and up one of the narrow streets towards the park.  It’s only 6.45am and already the kids are heading into school.

Our kids have it so easy….

The whole area is already a hive of activity.  As well as the kids, and along with already ridiculous amounts of traffic, there are heaps of street vendors cooking on the footpaths.  In some cases, they’re already packing up after selling out of whatever it was they were selling.

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It’s always busy, just different degrees…
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Local Banh Mi lady.

The sights, along with the smells, were more than just a little enjoyable.

It made me realise something that I don’t think I’d noticed before.

HCMC has a very different feel in the morning, compared to later in the day.

There’s a freshness, and a vibrancy, to the place.  Maybe all places are like that, but on this particular occasion, it was the first time I’d noticed it about HCMC.

I really like it, and I really like that I like it.

Could be the beginning of a love affair….

Eventually up to the park, and there’s a lot more people around than yesterday afternoon.

And there’s plenty of birds in cages as well.

First things first, however, the morning caphe sua da needs to be ordered.

That done, it’s time to people watch.  As well as a little bird watching, I suppose.

Anyway, it was all quite interesting to see the goings on.  But to be honest, it probably doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, when you have a caphe sua da in front of you.

The bird’s owners, who seemed mainly to be men, turn up with their birds in their small cages and then hang them on these metal structures in the park.

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Tao Dan Park
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Socialising for humans and birds.

The owners then enjoy a drink and a chat, while the birds chat to each other.

Well, I assume that’s what the birds do, but I could be mistaken.

Anyway, if I was a bird, that’s what I would do.

Caphe sua da done, it was off for a bit more of a walk through the other parts of the park.

And there was plenty going on there as well.  Lots of people exercising, walking, jogging, playing badminton, doing aerobics; there were heaps of people out and about.

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Early morning badminton.
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Aerobics anyone?

With time not really on my side, I headed back to the hotel for breakfast.  I would have been quite happy to have something outside, but after last year’s final morning where I could stomach nothing more than a piece of toast, I needed to make amends and try the hotel’s food.

As I walk into the dining area, the guy from last year is there.  The one that tried to get me to try some of the various offerings they had, which incidentally, looked really good.  The one that I’m sure was so disappointed when all I could do was have a slice of toast.

I felt really bad at the time, and not just because I felt really ordinary.

Anyway, as I walk in, he says hello, and ‘welcome back’.

I must have made quite an impression last time…..

The breakfast again looks good.  A couple of western options, but mainly Vietnamese.  Including pho and half sized banh mi’s.

“Noodle soup?”, he asks.

I want to say yes, mainly to please him, as I still feel like I let him down last year.  But seeing as I’ve just been out in the heat, a hot bowl of soup is not something I really feel like.

And seeing as the banh mi’s look so good, that is my preference.

And as it turned out, they not only just looked good.  They were very good!

So much so, that I had three.  And for me, at breakfast, that’s a fair effort.

As I’m finishing up, an English guy sits near me.  We have a good chat about what we’ve both been doing, as well as what we will be doing.

It was nice, and it made me realise that I’d missed that interaction with people.  Also, that travelling solo can be a little lonely.

Anyway, he’d been up North and had now made his way down South.  He’d only been in HCMC a day or two, but had already decided that Hanoi was easily his preferred city.

We talked about that, and while I had just had a really enjoyable walk around the park and its surrounds, I said I agreed with him.

I really want to love HCMC, like I do Hanoi, but it’s just not the same.  And I’m not really sure what it is that makes me feel like that.

With the clock still ticking, I bid farewell to my chatting partner, as well as my breakfast mate, and headed upstairs to get sorted.

Geez, I hate one night stays….

It actually took me longer to get here, than the actual time I got to spend in HCMC.

All packed up, and then it’s back downstairs for one of those ‘goodbyes’, with Anh.

Already, and once again, it’s the people.

Out the door and off in the direction of Ben Thanh market to get the 109 yellow bus, back to the airport.

Twenty seven ‘no thanks’, to the cyclo drivers and xe om’s as I walk past, and I can see the bus in the distance.

Reaching it, a guy tells me it’s not going anywhere at the moment.  Apparently, it’s been involved in a small accident with a car and they’re sorting it out with the car’s driver.  I’m not sure what’s going on, but the car driver doesn’t seem convinced that he’s done anything wrong.

Oh well, not my problem, and ten minutes later another 109 bus turns up.

Another 20 000 Dong handed over, and 30 minutes later I’m back at the airport.

It really is so simple.

Into the terminal, and to try and quicken things up a bit, I head over to the self check in machines.  Being somewhat technology challenged, I get the Vietnam Airline’s girl to do it for me.  I don’t think she has the same issues I have, but she can’t get it to work anyway.

Great, we’ll do it the old fashioned way.

Doesn’t take too long and I’m quickly heading upstairs for the security check.  There’s a few there, but it seems to be moving alright.  Having to take off shoes, belts, watches and hats slows things down a bit, but what price security, hey?

Through to the other side, and it’s time to play the waiting game.

A quick phone call to the guy we’re staying with when we return to HCMC in a week and a half, and it’s then off to find another caphe sua da fix.

It’s a bit of a McDonald’s type of one, and it costs a whopping 50 000 Dong, but it’s actually alright.

I mean seriously, when is a caphe sua da not alright.

It’s a bit like pizza and sex; even when it’s not that good, it’s still pretty good.

So, I sit, wait, savour my drink, and do Trip Advisor stuff.

Soon, the call comes.  And yep, as usual, they all race up.  Queue diminishing, I make my move.  Downstairs and out on the tarmac, and then into the bus to take us to the plane.

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We eventually got there…!

What seemed like ten minutes later, we finally got there.  I’m not sure if the plane could actually be parked further away from the terminal itself, but for a few moments there I thought we may have been bussing it to Hanoi.

Anyway, all good, and we take off just a few minutes late.

Being over a one hour flight, as well as it being lunchtime, we get fed on the plane.  And as far as airline food goes, it was pretty good.

Oh, and the other good thing was that I finally got a window seat.

Which, unfortunately, due to cloud cover, was only partly good.

But the cloud made up for it in other ways.  As we were coming into Hanoi, it got bumpy.  Not so bumpy that you were in danger of needing a change of pants, but bumpy enough that you ended up getting a really good ride.

Well, it entertained me.  Not sure if everyone else was that happy with the proceedings.

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Coming in to land in Hanoi.

Off the plane pretty quickly, and still without any checked luggage, I was out through the doors of the terminal in just a few minutes.

Now well and truly a convert for buses, along with wanting to experience other options, I quickly spot the orange number 86 bus.

Taking a seat, handing over 30 000 Dong, we are quickly on our way.  First stop is the International terminal, and the bus is now full.

I end up with a young French girl sitting next to me.  Well, I didn’t realise that she was French until I started talking to her.  And it actually took me a few minutes to get that conversation started, as I didn’t want to come across as this weird old guy.

It’s funny, I don’t think of myself as old, but when I think of my age, I quickly realise that I ain’t that young anymore.

I also don’t think of myself as weird, but I’m probably not the best one to be a judge of that.

Anyway, when I finally got up enough courage to talk to her, we ended up having a really good chat.

It was her first time in Vietnam so I was able to give her a few tips on what to do, as well as what not to do.

She wasn’t sure where she was staying, but she was apparently meeting up with someone.  Where she was meeting them was also a bit of an unknown, so I said that I would help to get her to Hoan Kiem Lake, and then she could then work out the rest from there.

The other advantage of that for her, was that she would get a couple of lessons in how to cross the roads.

And judging by the sounds she was making as we did cross, it seemed to be a rather steep learning curve.

It was kind of funny.

Safely at the lake, and as a shoe repair guy approached her, I gave her one final tip as I politely told him to go away.

Yep, say no thank you to the shoe ‘repairers’, and keep walking.

Wishing her all the best, I left her and headed off in search of my hotel, feeling more than a little pleased with myself.  As well as feeling very happy to be back in my Hanoi.

Up optical street, keeping an eye out for Hai the book seller, but not seeing him, and left into Hang Gai which then becomes Hang Bong.

I spot the little alleyway that I have to walk down.  Very local, very different feel, and very much a place that I probably wouldn’t have walked down on our first trip.

But now on the third trip, well, this kind of thing is what I crave.

So, yes, very happy with the location, except I can’t actually find the hotel.

Fortunately, I had the name written down and I was able to ask a rather perplexed local sitting on his bike.  Turns out it was just around the corner.

Quickly checked in to the Tung Trang hotel, and while the room is rather small, it is quite modern and also seems pretty new.

So yes, pretty happy with my choice.

But some things never change, and once again, I have phone issues.

This is now more of an issue as I’m trying to contact someone I’d been talking with on Trip Advisor.  She’s been in Vietnam for the last three weeks or so, and she now has a couple more nights in Hanoi before she heads home.

Tonight is the only night that we’ll both be here, so a catch up was trying to be arranged.  My phone issues, coupled with some limitations on her phone, are making communication more than a little difficult.

Email seems the ‘best’ way, and that’s working at the moment, but unless I’m sitting in the hotel, I don’t always have wifi.

Trying to find a meeting point is also problematic.  Partly because she doesn’t know where beer corner is.

Yes, while her research on Trip Advisor had been quite good, it was far from perfect.

In the end I take a chance and head out.  I still need to find that power adaptor that I half heartedly looked for in HCMC.

I ask the guy at the hotel where I can get one, and he mentions a shop over near optical street.

Excellent!, I know exactly where that is.

Well, it would have been excellent, had I been able to find the shop, but alas, I either misunderstood what he said, or the shop is no longer there.

Yeah, yeah, I suspect a misunderstanding is probably the more likely scenario….

Starting to get a little frustrated with everything that’s going on at the moment, I have a brilliant idea about how to solve my wifi issue.

I head around the corner to the hotel that we normally stay at when in Hanoi, and sit out the front in the hope that my phone will automatically connect.

As it turned out, my idea wasn’t as brilliant as I first thought.

Frustration levels now slightly higher, I do the only thing that I know will definitely help.

I head up towards beer corner.

I’m not sure which place I’ll go to, so I walk around the block for a bit of a look.

This, as it turns out, is quite fortuitous.  I pass a shop that seems to sell electronic type stuff, and sure enough, they have power adaptors.

See, beer, or even just the searching for it, can solve all sorts of problems.

Anyway, 65 000 Dong later, and one of my issues is taken care of.

I have no idea if I paid over the odds for it, but at that point I didn’t care.

Not really finding any other beer place, I head back to the one I was at last year.

Unfortunately, for some reason, they didn’t have a beer keg on this particular day.  It would have to be bottled beer.

Aaaaargh, fine then……

I just need beer.  Doesn’t matter what vessel it’s in at this stage.

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Not exactly how I wanted it, but still happy!

Now, I don’t know if it was the beer; it probably was, remember, it is an amazing thing with extraordinary powers; but I then get wifi.

I email Rachael again to let her know where I am.  She emails straight back and says she’s just about to leave her hotel.

Ahhh, things finally seem to be working out.

So I sit.  And wait.

And wait some more.

I then start to get that feeling of being the old weird guy.

What if she’s seen me, and then decided to just keep walking?  Maybe she thinks I am that weird old guy…???

Bloody hell, this must be what a blind date is like!

This kind of stuff is no fun at all.

Might have to hang on to Lisa a little bit longer….

Damn it, I’ll just get another beer.

Then, she finally arrives.

“Oh, sorry for keeping you waiting”, she says.

“No problem, all good, just been people watching while relaxing and enjoying a beer”, I say, of which only some of that is true.

So we chat for a bit, and then decide to get some dinner.

Now we just need to make a decision on where.

I mentioned a bun cha place that I’d walked past earlier, not far from the hotel.  It was quite small, and fairly ‘basic’.

Both those things appealed, but it was the fact that there was a tour guide in there at the time with some tourists, obviously on a food tour, that really caught my attention.

If it’s on a food tour list, then the assumption is that it must be reasonably good.

What the hell, let’s give it a go.

My problem, however, is that I can’t really remember where it is.  I know it’s somewhere near the other end of the street that I walked down, when I first got to the hotel.

So, knowing how to get back to the hotel the same way I originally arrived, we did that.

We then walked past the hotel, turned right down another alleyway, then turned left.

And whaddya know, there it was!

Very happy with my deduction skills, as well as my memory.

We take a seat on the footpath and continue chatting, while the food arrives.

Chat was great, and food was pretty good, too.

Although, to be honest, and I’m sure people will roll their eyes here and wonder what the hell is wrong with me, but I don’t really ‘get’ bun cha.

I mean it’s nice, but I just don’t really understand the combination.  Either, or, but not both together.

Anyway, maybe it’s just that old, weird guy thing….

Dinner done; but what now?

I don’t know if she’s had enough of our catch up, and wants to run away rather quickly, or whether she’s not quite sick of me yet.

So, trying to sound as least weird as I can, I ask her what she wants to do.

Nup, she wants to hang out a bit longer.

Oh, ok, just a little surprised at that, but also quite happy with it.

But now, what will we do.

Unfortunately, Rachael isn’t a beer drinker.  If I’d known that beforehand, this catch up may not have happened.

We, or mainly I, decide to head further away from the lake in the hope of finding somewhere different to beer corner.

After 20 minutes of aimless walking, the only thing that we manage to succeed in doing, is get lost.

A combination of my paper map, as well as Rachael’s google maps (ok, mainly Rachael’s google maps) we finally work out where we are.

Walking through some ridiculous sized crowds at times, we take the easy option and head back to beer corner.

Somewhere on Ma May street, just opposite a backpacker’s place, I spot the welcoming sight of a beer keg.

The guy in charge of it also spots us and is quite keen for us to patronise his establishment.

Sorry, some times big words just pop into my head.  I’m not sure where that came from…

Anyway, the non beer drinker asks our man if he has anything other than beer to drink.

He thinks for a second, and then offers the suggestion of vodka.

The beer hater likes that suggestion, and the guy quickly pulls a bottle of vodka out from underneath his motorbike seat.

I mean really, where else would you keep your vodka….???

We take our seats on the small plastic chairs on the footpath, which is by far the best way to do this.

Beers, vodka, people watching in the madness of the Old Quarter, and a new friend.

Geez, that was going along ok until I went all gushy.  But she is a nice girl, even for a Queenslander, and we got on extremely well.

Maybe don’t tell her I said all that, though.

So we chatted, drank, chatted, and continued to drink.  Which was going along alright until some of the drink needed removing.

Fortunately, I checked our establishment’s toilet first.  While it wasn’t the worst one I’d used in Vietnam, it also wasn’t the best one.

A heads up was given to Miss Vodka, and a quick visit to the backpacker’s over the road was made.

Situation resolved!

As much as I didn’t want it to end, it was eventually time to call it a night.  Another early start in the morning awaited me.

But it had been a great night, and it was just nice to be able to chat with someone.  Especially someone that was so easy to get along with.

Again, don’t tell her.

Because I’m a gentleman, but not a really good one, I walked her part way back to her hotel.

But she still must have thought I was a reasonable one, as we had to do the selfie thing.

After some confusion on where I was supposed to be looking, we finally worked it out.

Yes, that technology thing….

Time for one of those ‘goodbyes’; still hate ‘em….; and we went our separate ways.

Off back towards the hotel in streets that were now far quieter than what they were earlier, and I drop into a small independent convenience store for some supplies.

Not being completely sure what I’ll need, or where I’ll be, for the next eight days, I decide to be prepared with some ‘just in case’ items.

Toilet paper and soap purchased, and seeing as they also sell beer, a couple of them too.

Finally back at the hotel at 11.30pm, and I was rather pleased to find the front door still open.

Greeting the manager as I walked in, I was not sure if he was as pleased, as I.

He played a rather straight face….

Up to the room for some Trip Advisor and note taking, as well as those two beers that I didn’t really need.

All that done, it was time to crash.

A new journey is to begin tomorrow.  And it’s why I’m here by myself.

Cheers,

Scott

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Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 2

3 October 2017 – Kuala Lumpur – Ho Chi Minh City

Ended up being the best kind of flight; an uneventful one.

Did actually manage to get some sleep, but please note the word ‘some’.  And in this case, ‘some’ means a little.

Oh well, don’t ever really expect to get any, so any that I do get I sort of consider a bonus.

Into KL on time and then begin the rather long walk to roughly where I need to be to get my next flight.

I don’t really know where that is, partly because I don’t really know where I am, so I follow the crowd around me.

Surely they can’t all be wrong….

I also try to follow the airport direction signs, with varying degrees of success.

I don’t really like airports.  I used to, but now they just kind of annoy me.

I find them soulless and confusing.

The confusing bit probably has more to do with my lack of awareness.  Not to mention my lack of intelligence.

I also find them expensive, but that probably goes without saying.

Eventually I believe I’m where I need to be.  I still don’t know exactly, but I’m in the right area.

Through a security checkpoint, and I have two options; left or right.

It’s a decision I’m not going to make on my own, given my success over the years when betting on two horse races.

Yes, it’s that bad that people ask me for my opinion, and then back the other horse….

I find the information desk and I put all my trust in the very friendly and helpful girl.

I now know where I need to go later, but not just yet.

Still having four and a half hours to wait, I decide to hang around the main area for a while, rather than heading off down to the gates.  They’re doing a lot of renovation and refurbishment at the moment so the options for food and shopping, not that I’ll be doing any shopping, are a bit limited.

Café / bar / restaurant found, coffee and a donut purchased.

I’m actually not really hungry, but seeing as I haven’t eaten for 12 hours I force myself.

Last Western coffee done, average donut dispatched, I head off to find my gate.

Through another security checkpoint, which I don’t really understand why, and I begin what turns out to be a rather long walk.

And that walk confirms that the renovations are also taking place down towards the gates.

Great…..

There’s even less to do here, well, other than to sit and wait.

Shoulda stayed where I was….

Oh well, what to do….

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Just because it’s a cool looking plane.
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Not mine, but I’m waiting for one that looks like this…

Seeing as it’s too early for a beer, as well as not being hungry, a little Trip Advisor stuff sounds like it could be a good idea, as well as a phone call or two.

I find a quiet spot, and the first problem is solved.  I now have wifi.

Second problem not so easily fixed.  No call or text ability.

Geez……

Three years ago when we were here it automatically connected.  This time…., nuthin’.

Aaaaargh…..!!!!!

Again, it’s more than likely me.

Did I mention I don’t really like airports….?

Anyway, did the Trip Advisor thing, and then managed to work out the phone thing.  Not sure how, but it’s working.

Ahhhh, all good now.

Except my battery is now running low….

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That’s my plane – 3rd from the bottom on the right hand screen.  That’s a lot of planes in front of me…

Geez, these four hours are dragging.  Not helped by the fact that I actually feel pretty ordinary.  The lack of sleep is catching up and it’s making me feel like I’m hungover.  Which surprisingly, I’m not.

Finally, we get called up.

Getting close now….

Boarding pass checked and we move to another area to sit down.

Then the announcement that I was kind of expecting.  Partly because there was no plane where I thought there should be a plane.

The flight has been delayed by 15 minutes.

Phew, can live with that!

For the two girls opposite, however, 15 minutes seemed to be a major issue.

Really!?

A 15 minute delay is going to cause major headaches to your schedule?

Schedule may have been a little tight in the first place, if that’s the case….

Anyway, we’re soon boarding.  Well the ones that jump up as soon as it’s called, are.

Quick, quick, gotta be first on……!!!!

Eventually get on, and once again, no window.

But, I do have a spare seat next to me.

Finally in the air, and with nothing to look at, I try the sleep thing again.

And shock horror, it actually works!

Managed to get a good hour in, and even better, I now feel so much better.

It’s not long before we’re on the ground, and it’s a nice feeling being back.

Off the plane and I head quickly to the VOA (visa on arrival) counter.

Well, bugger me, I’m first there!

Get called up, give him a ‘xin chao’; receive nothing in return; and hand over my documents.

I then get told off.

For the question of ‘Where are you staying?’, I’ve put ‘various’.

Partly because that’s true, and partly because I couldn’t remember what I put last time.

What you’re supposed to put is the name of the first place you are staying at.

So as the first beads of a cold sweat form on my forehead, I frantically try and recall the name of my hotel, and then in a slightly quivering voice, I tell him.

My ‘entry and exit’ form is thrust back at me, along with a pen, and I’m told, quite forcefully, that I have to write it down!

I apologise profusely, but he’s not terribly interested in my groveling.

With a shaking hand, I somehow scrawl out the hotel’s name.  I’m not sure it was legible, but it was the best I could do with a hand that I had no control over.

Tail between my legs, I went and sat down to wait for my name to be called.

By now a few people had turned up, so to ease my shattered nerves I sat and watched the happenings around me.

Was all rather ‘same same’, apart from one reasonably well dressed European guy.

The VOA fee is supposed to be paid in USD.

Yes, it is Vietnam, but this fee is the ONLY thing, and trust me here, regardless of what anyone tells you, or quotes you, it is the ONLY thing that needs to be paid in USD.  Right?  Got it?  Good!

So anyway, this guy asks the young girl, and she would have only been early twenties, behind the counter, why is it that he has to pay in USD.

He wants to know how much in Dong.

He then goes on and continually asks why this is the case.

Like she’d passed that particular legislation.  Like she’d know, anyway.  She’s just doing her job, and this big man has decided to pick on the ‘weakest’.

He finishes by saying ‘enjoy the coffee money’, as he walks off feeling pretty good about himself.

Yep, big hero….

My name is then called out and I make my way back up to the counter, being careful not to make eye contact with my tormentor.

The young girl hands me my passport, and I give her a ‘cam on’, as well as my $25.

This surprises her, the ‘cam on’, not the $25, and she gives me a smile.

Hmmmph, eighteen months on, I still got it.

I head off to immigration, and there’s no one there!

My ‘xin chaos’ and ‘cam ons’ are more or less ignored, as they usually are with these happy people, and I’m off downstairs and out the doors before I know it.

Ahhhh, the sights, the smells, the heat, the crowds, and the noise, of HCMC hit me.

But it hits me in a good way.  Unlike our first trip, where it was full on culture shock.

Ignoring all the taxi touts, I head towards the ‘109 yellow bus’, over to the right.

They see me coming and as I get there, he’s handing me a ticket, and I hand him a 20 000 dong note.

Twenty minutes after the plane pulled up at the gate, I’m sitting on the bus.

I kid you not!

We’re soon on our way and into the thick of it with the traffic.  It feels a little like coming home.

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The 109 Yellow bus.  So, so simple.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, for the first half of the journey into District One the bus stays neck and neck with a car that I noticed left the airport at the same time as us.

Car quicker?

Maybe sometimes.  But not by much.

Get off at the Ben Thanh market stop; well, the one that’s close to Ben Thanh seeing as the original is no longer there due to road and rail works; and make my way towards the hotel.

Well, in the direction of where I remember the hotel to be.  It’s the Thien Hai, in Ly Tu Trong street, and we stayed there on our last night when we were here in May last year.

Partly because I have to actually walk past it, partly because I need to get a power point adaptor, and partly just for the hell of it, I decide to walk through Ben Thanh market.

By the time I get 10 steps in, I’m already sick of it.  Feeling like a hot chip thrown into a flock of seagulls on the beach, I head for the nearest exit.

And I just didn’t have the guts to ask someone where the power adaptors were.  I just knew how that would end, and I wasn’t up to it.

Finally into the street that the hotel is in, and I walk past it without realising.  A quick look at the number I’m after, and there it is back where I was a few minutes earlier.

I’d like to blame jetlag, but I’m not sure a four hour time difference constitutes jetlag.  We’ll have to agree to blame tiredness, otherwise it’s me again….

Into the cool of the hotel, and then up into my room a few minutes later.

Ahhhh…..

Surprisingly, or not, the phone issues return.  Now being an expert on how to solve that issue, I manage to somehow solve the issue.  My problem is I’m still not sure how I did that.

Still a touch early for a beer, I head off in search of my next favourite Vietnamese drink.  A caphe sua da.

On the way out I asked the receptionist where I could find a banh mi.  She circled it on a map, and it was at that point that I already knew where that one was.  It’s all well and good to do that research beforehand, but if you then neglect to return to your ‘notes’, well that research is all kind of done for nothing.

It apparently doesn’t open till mid afternoon, which my earlier research had also told me, but that was ok, the caphe sua da was more important at this point.

Out the hotel and up around the corner, and into Tao Dan Park.  Yep, the bird park.  No birds there at this time of day, but the café is still open.

So, relaxing in the peace and tranquility of the park, with the sounds of car and bike horns in the background, with a caphe sua da in front of me, it was nice to sit back and take it all in.

I had to pinch myself as I couldn’t believe that I was actually here again.

Caphe sua da done, and it was back to the hotel to do husbandry / family things, now that I’d worked out the phone.

By the time that was done, it was close to the banh mi place opening, so I set off again.

Down the road and through the big scary roundabout, and there up ahead I can see the place.  Well, not so much the place itself, but all the people lined up out the front.

And the best part was that there was no one else that looked like me.  Which was confirmation that the place indeed does have a very good reputation.

This was confirmed again by the girl behind me telling me that it’s ‘very famous’.  This was good for two reasons; one, that the food was in fact good, and two, she spoke English and could give me a hand if I got stuck ordering my banh mi.

She quickly put my mind at rest when she told me they only do one banh mi.

Even better!, as decision making is not always a strength of mine.

I did have to navigate the ‘chilli?’, or ‘no chilli?’ question, but I managed to get through that one without too much of a problem.

And was the banh mi any good?

Yep!  Various cold meats, pate and chilli, along with a crunchy, but soft, roll.  Yeah, doesn’t get much better than that.

Back to the hotel for a bit of a rest.  I’m absolutely stuffed, and it’s all starting to catch up on me.  But I’m not prepared to give in just yet.

Short rest and it’s back out on the street.  The plan is just a bit of a walk to see what’s around, (remember, we’ve actually spent very little time in the ‘main’ area of District one over our previous two trips) before then ending up in Bui Vien Street somewhere for a few beers.

Kind of re-living one of our two nights way back in 2014.

Eventually I find a little place, not one of those ‘bars’ that everyone flocks to, but a little family run drinks and food place.  Yep, sitting on the footpath is always my preference.

So three years after I first did that, and realising that I loved doing that, here I was sitting just a few doors down from our original hotel, doing exactly the same thing.

20171003_171918
Three years between drinks!  Well, in this location anyway…

I loved it!

And it all looked completely different to the last time that I’d done it here.

But I was under no illusions; it wasn’t any different to three years ago, it was most definitely me who was looking at it through vastly different eyes.

Three years ago it was all a bit intimidating; scary, even.  Now, well, it was kind of just normal.  Still very much ‘in your face’, but now with a bit of experience, easy to handle.

A few beers, some people watching, and just generally watching the world go by, it was a nice way to relax after what had been a pretty long day.

Final beer done, and feeling like I hadn’t returned to the hotel enough times already today, I headed back as it was getting dark.

20171003_175841
Peak hour well underway.

As I walk back into the hotel, a girl behind the reception desk greets me with, “Hello sir, welcome back!”

She looks familiar, and then I realise that she was here last year.

“You remember me?”, I ask, more than a little surprised.

“Yes, you were here with your wife last time”, she says.

“Wow”, I think.

We have a bit of a chat, and I find out her name is Anh.  Damn it, now I need to remember it, and being worse than shocking with names, I’m expecting to embarrass myself at some point.

Knowing that that is more than likely, I apologise in advance.

I also explain that I don’t feel comfortable with the title ‘Sir’, and to please call me Scott.

I hate formalities, and she seems happy with that.

Suitably chuffed; yes, I’m quite easily chuffed at times; I head up for a quick shower to freshen up.

And oh my, was that shower good!

Now a little more awake, it’s back out in search of food.

Back up past the banh mi place, down a dark laneway, across and through 23/9 Park (still too early for the rats from last time, it seems) and then out onto Pham Ngu Lao Street.

And there, on the corner, is a pho place.  What else do you have on your first day back in Vietnam?

Decision made, and all of a sudden I’m back on a small plastic chair, sitting out the front.

Steaming hot bowl of pho, and a couple of beers – 95 000 Dong.  I could get used to this….

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My dinner choice for the night.

Suitably full, I head off around the block.

The place is now humming.  People, noise, traffic, touts touting for business.  It was constant.

By the time I had walked up Pham Ng Lao, turned right into De Tham Street, and then walked down to Bui Vien Street, I had been asked if I wanted marijuana, amongst other drugs, probably twelve times, as well as being asked if I wanted a massage, which I suspect wasn’t ‘just’ a massage, more times than the drug dealers had asked if I wanted drugs.

I even had my nipple tweaked by one rather persistent ‘massage seller’.

Or perhaps she just genuinely liked me…..

Anyway, I just found it all rather sad.  Being the wrong side of 45 may have something to do with that, but seriously, I just find that whole area a pretty ordinary and seedy place.

But hey, each to their own….

With the realisation that I’m now too old, along with the fact that I’m knackered, (perhaps because I am too old) I make my way back to the hotel for an early-ish night.

But not before dropping in to a convenience store for a few beers.

Into the hotel, and Anh is behind the desk.  I say hello, using her name.

She is quite shocked after what I’d told her earlier.  But probably not as shocked as me, at actually remembering.

Very proud of myself, I am…..

Into the lift and there’s another guest already in there.  We exchange pleasantries and I ask her what she’s been doing.

She’s just returned from the XO Foodie Tour.

Hmmm, I think….

“What did you think of it?”, I ask, pretty sure knowing what the answer will be.

“Absolutely loved it”, is the reply, which was what I was expecting to hear.

“That’s great”, I say, and go on to tell her we’ve done the tour as well.

“Yep, it was a great night.  I had it recommended to me on Trip Advisor”, she explains.

“Oh, really, well that’s good then”, I reply, wondering if we had already ‘met’ at some point over the whole internetty thing.

To save any awkwardness, I leave it there and bid her goodnight.

Hmmm, who knows….

Into the room and onto the bed for the beers, a bit of Trip Advisor, as well as some note taking.

Being away for a full month, I want to do trip reports for the whole thing, people expect me to do trip reports for the whole thing, and because I’m worried about my memory, the note taking thing is probably going to be an imperative part of the whole thing.

It’s not long before body and mind finally give up, and for once I do the right thing by them.

I have another early start tomorrow, and another plane to catch.

As well as ticking off something that didn’t happen last time.

Cheers,

Scott

 

 

Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 1

2 October 2017 – Melbourne

Three years ago to the day, on our very first trip to Vietnam, we were in Hue. We’d spent time in HCMC, the Mekong, Nha Trang, and we’d just come up from Hoi An.

And at that point, we still hadn’t seen Hanoi.  Along with a few other places.

Three years later, along with a second Vietnam trip under the belt, I’m now getting ready to head to the airport later tonight.

How did we end up here?  How did it get to the point where the third trip in three years is about to begin?  And how is it that I’m heading there on my own, ten days before Lisa will join me in HCMC?

I’m not really sure.

I suspect the ‘journey’ began on the last night of our first trip.  Sitting at beer corner in Hanoi, texting my Auntie back in Australia.

Trip Report #10 – https://seriouslynot.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/vietnam-2014-trip-report-10/

I think she sensed, after some of my texts, that I’d fallen in love with Vietnam before I’d even realised that I actually had.

She was probably the one that planted the seed that we would return at some point.  Up till that stage, I’d never considered that there’d be a subsequent trip.  Let alone, two.

The friendships I’d also made on Trip Advisor, along with the friendships that had yet to be made, also played a part.

A little over 18 months later, we were again on a plane heading to Vietnam.  This time without the kids, and this time doing a few things, and staying in a few places, that we would never have done, or had the opportunity to do, the first time.

We also met some people that could, and would, change the way we go about seeing Vietnam.  Opportunities that just wouldn’t have been possible without them.

That second trip also included three days on motorbikes, including two nights in homestays, around the Pu Luong Nature Reserve area.

And it was that portion of the trip that ultimately leads me to Vietnam ten days earlier than Lisa.  She was able to ‘cope’ with those three days, but also found that three days is probably her limit.

A desire of mine was to see the Northern area of Vietnam.  The mountainous region up towards the Chinese border.  It’s not an area that you can just wizz up to for a couple of days.  A week, at a minimum, is required.  And if you’re going to do it, then as far as I was concerned, it was going to be done on the back of a bike.

And because of that, and because it was going to be eight days, Lisa was never going to be a starter.  And anyway, because the kids weren’t invited again, she could stay back and do a little extra parenting.  As well as look after the house for a little longer.

So, that day had arrived.  The flight wasn’t until 1.00am the next day, but today was the day I’d be leaving.

Even though I was pretty organised, I still had so much to do.  Mowing lawns, printing last minute things, tidying up various bits and pieces, last minute packing….

I can’t remember all the stuff I did, and even sitting at the airport I couldn’t remember what I’d done, but whatever it was, it did take up the whole day.

Finally done just before dinner, and just as Lisa came home from work, I finally had some time to think.

That, as it turned out, wasn’t such a good thing.

A realisation suddenly came across me.

I was nervous!

As well as a little scared.

And I’m not really sure why.

Travelling on my own?  Not having Lisa with me for the next week and a half?  Facing everything that Vietnam can throw at you, without any support?

Probably all those things.

It was silly, and I didn’t understand it, but I was a little worried.

And that annoyed me.

Anyway, I put on my big boy brave face, and pushed on.

Got through my last ‘western’ meal, eventually…., of spaghetti, for a month, and said goodbye to the kids.

They actually seemed genuinely sorry to see me go.

Perhaps they do love me….???

Or maybe they’re just very good actors…..

Into the car by 8.00pm for the drive out to the airport.

A small detour past the long term carpark where Lisa will leave the car next week; just so she knows where it is, making it less likely she’ll get herself all worked up if she can’t find it; and then on to the quick drop off point for our final goodbye.

A quick kiss and a hug, and we both head our separate ways.

I suspect neither of us really enjoyed that moment.

I know I certainly didn’t.

But, we had now passed the point of no return.  It was now happening.

So, with an hour or so to wait before check in, a way to pass the time was required.

Ooooh, there’s a bar.

Problem solved!

A beer, as well as a couple of phone calls to say goodbye; including one to Dad, as well as one to that Auntie that is partly responsible for my Vietnam addiction.

Beer done, good son and good nephew duties complete, and it’s off to check in for my Air Asia flight.  It’s not quite open yet, but already I’m a little down the queue.

A quick scan of what’s in front of me, and it looks like it may be a slightly slow process.

Not helping that thought is the fact that there seems to be far more bags than people, actually checking in.  And that doesn’t include the carefully taped up cardboard boxes.

Well, I am heading to Asia, I suppose….

As it turns out, it’s all rather painless. Even had my VOA (visa on arrival) documents ready, just in case they wanted to see them.  They didn’t last year, which surprised us, but this year they didn’t let me down.  Feeling rather chuffed with my impeccable organisation, I promptly handed them over when asked.

So, fifteen minutes after check in opened, I’m on my way.

I then get a text from my phone provider.  Something along the lines of, ‘Planning on using your mobile overseas….?’.   Is there nothing technology cannot do!?

Off to immigration, and as I turn the corner, it’s all rather empty.

Ha!, this is going to be quick!

Well, it would have been, had the guy waving the bomb residue stick not stepped in and pulled me aside to ‘test’ me.

Fortunately, having not played with any bombs that day, I was waved through.

Off to the automatic passport machine thing, and I’m through in seconds.

Kind of a bit disappointed with that part.  I always so look forward to meeting a lovely, smiling immigration official, who always adds some excitement and joy to my day.

Now through to the other side.  Still have a couple of hours.  Mmmm, how to fill the time….

Ahh, there’s a bar!  Problem solved again.

Like I’d be doing anything else…..

That, as it turned out, ended up being the most painful thing of the night.  Well, apart from saying goodbye to Lisa.  But don’t tell her that….

Why painful?

Well, first off, it wasn’t great beer.  But second, was the amount I had to pay for it.

Geez, talk about being bent over and….

Beers consumed, wallet somewhat emptied, Trip Advisor duties fulfilled, it was almost time for boarding.

But first, a bottle of water was needed for the flight.

See a sign in the distance advertising water for $2.  That’ll do.

Grabbed one and handed it to the girl.  She asked for my boarding pass.

“Really?”, I thought, thinking I may have had too many beers.

Turns out it was a duty free shop.

So, first ever duty free purchase ticked off.  And it was water!  Who would have thought….

Off to the gate, and as it turned out there was a Travelex exchange counter right next to it. So, taking the opportunity to do a little more research for future travellers, particularly on Trip Advisor; I checked what they were offering for Vietnamese Dong.

13 000 Dong for one Australian Dollar!

The current rate was around 17 500 Dong.

So when you start considering whether you should change in Australia, or wait till you’re in Vietnam, there’s a bit of a guide to what you’re likely to get.

In a day or two, I’ll have an update to what you can get in Vietnam.

So, time to sit and wait for a bit while boarding gets underway.

And as usual, as soon as it’s called, everyone rushes to line up.

Well, most of them.

Some of the smarter ones sit back and wait for a while…..

Eventually the smarter ones make their move, and I’m soon in my seat.

Well, it did take a while to get there.  Being in row 40 will do that.

Got an aisle seat; which is nowhere near as good as my preferred window seat; but seeing as it’s 1.00am, along with the fact that I’m planning on sleeping, I probably don’t require a window.

Plane leaves on time; next stop Kuala Lumpur for a few hours.

Cheers,

Scott

 

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #11

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #11…

16 October 2014

That dreaded day.

That dreaded day, that seemed so far away 4 weeks ago, was here.

That day that I was not looking forward to.

Up early…ish, downstairs and into next door for our final breakfast.

One last opportunity to watch the world go by from ‘our’ balcony.

And once again, it didn’t disappoint.

I don’t think it ever would.

Breakfast done and it was back to the hotel to check that the kids were getting themselves organised.

They ‘kind of’ were……

“We’re going for one last walk around. Want to come?”

“Nah…..”.

“But it’s our last……”

“No”.

“This is the……”

“No”.

“Fine”. Eyes doing plenty of rolling……

Not really sure why I bothered. I knew what the answer was going to be…..

So it was just Lisa and I…….for a change….

Back downstairs and out the front.

Up to the corner…….and there he is.

He sees me.

“Aaaahh, hello!” With a huge smile on his face.

“Good morning”. I say with as big a smile on my face.

He is eating something. Might have been a banh mi. I didn’t really take much notice. I was too busy looking at his face and noticing how happy he seemed to be.

I wondered if me buying that book last night had anything to do with how he appeared this morning. I hadn’t seen him like this before.

It may have had nothing to do with it at all. But it did make me think.

He comes straight up to me and shakes my hand.

Again, one of those little things. Insignificant even.

But it means an awful lot to me.

He goes his way, we go ours.

We walk. Wherever.

Again, doesn’t matter.

I have in the back of my mind that I might like to buy a bottle or two of scotch or similar to take home. I’ve seen it cheaper than at the duty free shops at the airports.

In the end I lose interest in that idea. I just want to walk around and soak it all up one last time.

Back up to ‘beer corner’ for a final look and then we make our way back towards the hotel.

Around the corner, and yep, there he is. My mate.

Exchange of pleasantries again and we say good bye for the last time.

I’m actually going to miss him. And I do!

And here is my one regret for the whole trip. Apart from taking the kids….

I didn’t ask him if I could have a photo taken with him.

Not bad for four weeks. But I still think about that moment.

Oh well, I’ll just have to try and find him next time….

Lisa goes on ahead and I stop out the front to take a couple of photos of the hotel.

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The Artisan Boutique Hotel
VN28
Breakfast / afternoon beer balcony.

The doorman sees me doing this from across the street.

He moves out of the way.

I wish he hadn’t.

I walk into the foyer and he and his mate say they want to take some photos of me, with them and Angela the receptionist.

“Ok, no problem”.

Two cameras, four phones and 5 minutes later I make my way upstairs to pack for the final time.

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Lovely hotel, but even lovelier people!

Another one of those little things.

I love them, but they’re making it very difficult to leave…..

Packing done; that moment has arrived; we make our way downstairs for the last time to fix up our bill.

We actually have a small issue with this. It was more a bit of a misunderstanding, or miscommunication, than anything.

I was of the understanding that our private car transfer to the airport was included in our package. They were of the opposite understanding.

I let it go very quickly. There was no way I was going to make an issue out of it. The time we’d had, the things we’d done, the things we’d seen. For the sake of twenty dollars it really wasn’t worth the potential uneasiness it could have caused.

Hugs, handshakes, and maybe a tear, done, we were now on our way to Noi Bai airport.

Nose pressed up against the car window. Camera at the ready.

Not going to waste one last opportunity to see these beautiful people go about their lives.

All too soon we were there and our holiday was, essentially, over.

Queued up for what seemed like ages; probably because it was; to check in our baggage and then it was off to the happy, smiling faces that Customs officials wear so well.

HCMC, Hanoi. Arriving, departing. Doesn’t seem to matter. They all have that demeanour.
To be fair, it was the same in Melbourne too.

Are they born like that? Or is it something that happens after they get their uniform?

Anyway, manage to make it through that process, and then make our way to the ‘bubble’ that is the departure lounge.

The ‘bubble’ that is multinational brands, crap ‘authentic’ souvenirs, and highly inflated prices.

Sterile, characterless. Made even worse when you’re on your way home…..

Upstairs, and it begins.

“We’re hungry”.

“Should have had more for breakfast then!”

It’s a lost cause. Lisa, the boy, and the girl, are off.

Where to?

Burger King!

Aaaarrgh…….I will not be a party to this.

I’ll take my chances with looking at crap souvenirs while being followed, ridiculously close, by the store assistant.

I’m sure they think they are just being helpful, but it just makes me uncomfortable. Personal space and all that, along with ‘trust me, I’m not going to steal anything’.

I return to Burger King. They’re enjoying their burgers and fries.

Enjoying them a little too much for my liking. It annoys me.

They also have smiles on their faces. That annoys me more.

KFC before the flight...
Their happiness annoys me.

I need to remove myself.

Oooh, there’s a place that sells Vietnamese iced coffee. Bit of a McDonalds looking one, and more expensive than anywhere outside the ‘bubble’, but at least it’s not American hamburgers and fries.

I want to feel like I’m still in Vietnam for as long as I can.

Finally the boarding call comes through.

Fortunately I hear it. The burgers and fries have obviously affected their hearing.

“Get on the plane!”

“We didn’t hear the call”.

“That’s because you weren’t listening”.

“Get on the plane!”

So, as the happy family we are, we’re off.

Next stop, Kuala Lumpur for a three hour layover.

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It’s now become real…

Three or so hours later and we’re in a different airport. Same ‘bubble’, but different airport.

Lisa and the kids want coffees and hot chocolates, or something.

No prizes for guessing what I want.

How much for a beer!?

Bloody hell, back to the real world…..:-(

A big Malaysian electrical storm, this could be fun…., a few beers, and we’re boarding our plane for our final journey.

One final ‘experience’ with a Customs official and we’re waiting to be pushed back ready for take off.

And here was my final ‘Wow’ moment.

It wasn’t anything that I saw or heard.

This was about me.

For the first time since we’d left Melbourne, I found myself thinking about what we’d done over the previous four weeks.

Sitting on that plane, gazing out the window into the Malaysian night, I was able to recall each day of our trip. Right back to day one.

Things that we’d seen, things that we’d done, places that we’d travelled to.

The highs, the ‘moments’, the experiences.

Yep, Wow!

But it wasn’t just about what we’d done.

It was how we had done it.

With the help of TripAdvisor, and the amazing people that frequent it, we had done it ourselves.

Yep, a couple, and their kids……, who had never been overseas before, managed to organise a four week holiday to a non-English speaking Asian country.

Had ridden on the back of motorbikes through the crazy streets of HCMC on day one, caught a public bus down to the Mekong on day three, negotiated various taxi scrums, organised a non-standard Halong Bay cruise, spent another two days on motorbikes exploring Ninh Binh, saw the most amazing scenery in the country town that is Mai Chau, and then finished it off totally immersing ourselves in what I consider one amazing city, Hanoi.

And that was just some of what we did.

Something that seemed so foreign, so daunting, and so scary, less than six months earlier, had now been done.

And not just done, but embraced.

I look back to that very first day when we arrived in HCMC. What we knew, or more to the point, what we didn’t know. We must have looked like startled deer in the headlights.
And we were. It was just unbelievable and I really did wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.

But, as time went on, it became easier. We started to feel more comfortable.

And then we reached the stage of actually feeling confident.

The fear of the language barrier; of not being able to communicate; was no longer a concern.

In fact, I actually enjoyed being in that type of situation more than communicating with someone with very good English skills.

It was fun. And you really knew you were in someone else’s country.

Yep, it was fun.

So, what would I do differently if I knew then, what I know now?

Nothing.

Not a thing.

Apart from the missed photo opportunity, there is absolutely nothing I would change.

Would I return?

Absolutely! And that is the plan. Hopefully next year. Minus the kids…. 🙂

 

I suppose a quick summation of the places we stayed to finish it off.

HCMC – At the time we probably didn’t appreciate it enough. The culture shock was huge. Would love to see it again through more experienced eyes.

Mekong Delta – Would definitely return. And quite possibly stay at Green Village again. It’s not just the place, it’s the people.

Nha Trang – Been there, done that. Happy to have seen it but once is enough.

Hoi An – Loved it. Touristy, busy; all that. But has so much character. Yep, loved it.

Hue – Hmmmm, yeah…. Probably didn’t get as much out of it as we could have. Again, glad we saw it, and did get the train experience along with it, but not sure about returning. Perhaps…..

Halong Bay via Cat Ba Island – Great experience! Now that I’ve seen the Bay I probably wouldn’t bother going back, but, if I did, I would go through Cat Ba again.

Ninh Binh – Loved it. And loved the way we did it. Toan really is fantastic.

Mai Chau – Yep, loved Mai Chau too. Great little town with scenery that is spectacular.

Would re-visit both Ninh Binh and Mai Chau but would perhaps do it a little differently next time. Probably incorporate a couple of homestays and would get a little further out of Mai Chau to see the surrounding villages.

Hanoi – Ahhhh…….., Hanoi. What a place. Suspected I’d like it before we’d even arrived. It lived up to it, and more. Would return in an instant and would spend more time there.

Yep, loved it!

So there you go, final instalment done and dusted.

Again, thank you to everyone who gives up their time to help others with their questions.
Without you all, there is no way we would have been able to achieve what we did.

To have the adventure we were able to have.

And to anyone thinking about a trip to Vietnam and not sure if they can organise it on their own…..

Give it a crack.

Yes it’s daunting at the beginning.

Yes it’s a lot of work.

But it is oh, so rewarding.

And finally, The Artisan Boutique.

Would I stay there again?

Yes! And more than likely will.

Great location, great rooms, great people.

Just happens to have a nice little balcony next door as well……

Cheers,

Scott

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Almost home!
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Our first Australian sunrise in 4 weeks.

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #10

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #10…

14-15 October 2014

Second last full day in Hanoi.

Second last full day in Vietnam.

Trying not to think about it….

Up early. Real early! 5.30am in fact.

Well, early for me. Especially when you’re on holidays.

And why were we up then?

Because of Tripadvisor.

Someone had posted something about getting up early and walking around Hoan Kiem Lake. Something about seeing the locals exercising, walking dogs, doing Thai Chi. That sort of thing.

Apparently, it’s interesting.

So we’re up, and down at the lake before 6.00am.

So, is it interesting?

Oh yeah!

The first thing you notice is how quiet the streets are.

VN 26-018
Streets look far different early in the morning!
anti clockwise thank you
Early morning runners.

Most of the shops are still closed. There are very few cars and motorbikes on the road. And it’s very quiet.

For the first time, we could actually get to a road and walk straight across it without waiting.

It was a bit eerie…..

Down to the lake; like I said; interesting. Fascinating, even.

26 Up early! 5:50am!
Proof that we were actually up at that hour!

I seem to use that word a lot. But it is. I just find the whole place fascinating.

Thousands of locals walking, or jogging, around the lake. Most of them (mainly the males) wearing white singlets and shorts.

People walking their dogs – one memorable one was the little black poodle, wearing red shoes.

socks!
Maybe all dogs should wear shoes.

Of course……

Thai Chi groups.

Aerobics.

People using park benches, or anything else that was available, for stretching exercises.

Yep, fascinating.

aerobics class
Organised aerobics.
VN 26-007
Using whatever’s available!

We did a lap of the lake and then headed back towards the hotel. The long way.

Again, it was just interesting to see the locals beginning their day. The fruit and vegetable vendors just starting out, the shops opening their doors for the first time, the street food breakfast places setting up.

And it’s just so quiet. So different from later in the day.

Yep, well worth the early start.

Back to the hotel for an earlier than normal breakfast. Our usual spot on the balcony.

Could sit there for hours.

Later that morning we decided we’d go for a walk.

Just the two of us, of course…..

Out the door of the hotel and around the corner.

There’s the guy with the books again.

“Want to buy books?”

“No thank you”. Same answer as yesterday….

No particular plans but we thought we’d walk towards Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum.
We had no desire go in; and in the end we couldn’t anyway as he was off being ‘serviced’? or whatever they do to him each year…..; but we thought we’d just walk up there to see where it was and to see whatever else there was around.

It’s a fair walk. But it’s a good walk.

Apart from having to put up with the cyclo riders every so often.

“You want cyclo?”

“No thanks”.

“Where you going?”

“This way. Doesn’t matter”.

“You want cyclo?”

“NO”.

“Mausoleum closed!”

“We know”.

“You want cyclo?”

“NO!!!!!!”

It’s all part of it but it does get a little tiring at times…..

We eventually got there.

And apart from a couple of policemen on guard duties, we were the only ones around.

A large impressive looking building in the middle of a very, very empty square.

I understand it gets incredibly busy there, but it’s hard to imagine with what we saw.

A quick walk around, posed for a ‘selfie’, seeing as our young photographers were having a sleep in, and then headed back in the same direction from where we’d come.

VN 26-027
Well there was no-one else there to take our photo…!

Came across some sort of demonstration. A group of 20 or 30 people walking peacefully down the street carrying a large banner.

Had no idea what they were trying to raise awareness of but decided that we were possibly better off on the other side of the road just in case the authorities took exception to them.

We got back to the Army Museum, which we had passed earlier, and decided that we’d have a look around.

Spent probably an hour and a half there and ended up getting kicked out because they close for lunch. That was ok, we’d seen most it by then anyway.

Interesting place and worth a look. Particularly the tanks, planes and helicopters on display outside. The Flag Tower is also impressive.

Flag tower at War Museum
Hanoi Flag Tower at the Military History Museum
VN 26-034
Hanoi Military History Museum
VN 26-038
The scale of this sculpture is impressive!

On our way again, back towards the old Quarter.

And another “Wow!” moment.

A woman, squatting down on the footpath next to the gutter.

A meat cleaver in her hand, and a chopping board in front of her.

And a plastic bag beside her.

In the bag. Frogs. Very much alive.

On the chopping board. Two neat piles.

One pile. A stack of headless frogs.

The second pile. A stack of, not quite surgically removed, frog heads.

Someone was certainly going to enjoy an incredibly fresh plate of frogs for lunch.

Again, just so natural. So real.

Unfortunate for the poor frogs, but fascinating none the less.

frogs for lunch
Lunch.

Back in the old Quarter we found a small ‘café’ that specialised in banh mi and fruit smoothies.

Simple stuff but oh so good. And cheap too.

Actually, lunch was one of the things that we often struggled with from time to time.
We didn’t actually need that much as we had often eaten a fairly big breakfast. What we wanted most days was just a snack or perhaps a sandwich. At times we found it difficult to find something like that.
There was certainly no shortage of food available but a lot of it was large bowls of steaming hot pho or similar. And the Vietnamese love that. They have it for breakfast and then again at lunch. But for me, when it’s 32 degrees, I don’t find a boiling hot bowl of something overly appealing.

Lunch done, we made our way back to the hotel.

Kids had been experiencing the real sights of Vietnam by sitting on their beds watching movies. Then venturing out to purchase the traditional Vietnamese food of a chocolate bar and a can of Coke.

It really was wonderful to see them getting so much out of it……

Time for a little shopping; and surprise, surprise, the kids are interested.

An hour or so of that, and I’m done.

It’s also very close to beer o’clock.

“See you later, I’m off. I’ll meet you on the balcony next door to the hotel at around 5.00pm”, I said.

Repeating myself 5 times to ensure there was no mix up and thus alleviate my need to apologise again for Lisa’s inability to listen properly……

So, off towards ‘beer corner’.

Arriving at the particular intersection I’m faced with two immediate possibilities.

One, a largish establishment with maybe somewhere between 50 and 100 people sitting on plastic chairs out the front.
Ok, obviously popular. But they’re all tourists.

Second possibility is opposite the first. Half as many people but a few locals sprinkled amongst the group.

Neither overly appeals.

Turn to the right and begin walking down the street.

Ahead is another bia hoi place.

A local standing next to his keg. A sign indicating bia hoi for 5000 dong.

And the best bit; about 15 to 20 locals sitting on the footpath drinking his beer.

He sees me and acknowledges me with a smile.

This is the place.

VN 26-066
My beer man.

I sit and he pours me a glass of fresh, and very cold, beer.

For 25 cents, it don’t get much better than this.

It really is a great way to relax at the end of the day.

And it’s so interesting to soak in everything that’s going on around you.

From the guy on the motorbike dropping off kegs to other bia hoi places; another guy carrying more crates of beer on his motorbike than I thought was possible; to the food vendor who would crouch down in the gutter and cook something (not sure what it was) on her little portable stove with charcoal.

VN 27-068
Road side cooking – not sure what though…

Here I go again…..fascinating

I think I sat there the whole time with a silly smile on my face. I just loved it.

It was funny though. Every so often a couple of tourists would walk past me. I’d smile; they’d smile; and they would continue on their way. Quite often, into the tourist oriented bar across the street.

I just didn’t get it.

You come all this way and you end up sitting in a bar, just like the one you sit in at home, with people just like you.

Yep, just didn’t get.

Anyway, couldn’t stop at one so ended up having a few. After all, at 5000 dong it really was a case of – the more you drink, the more you save.

Did the right thing and left with enough time to get back to the ‘balcony’ by 5.00pm.

Turned into the street the hotel is in……

“Would you like to buy a book?”

Geez……

“No thank you”.

Enjoyed the last hour or so of daylight on the balcony and then headed up to get ready to go out for dinner.

Had no plans so just walked till we found something.

Then we found it.

A mass of people, more importantly, locals, sitting on the footpath in the usual chairs. On each table was some sort of hot plate, like a little barbeque.

Turns out you cook your own food.

“Would we like a table?”

Kids look a little horrified.

That helps with my answer.

“Yes!”

They fire up our barbeque and a large plate of meat and assorted vegetables arrives.
Instructions are given and the cooking process begins.

And guess what!?

The kids get into it. They did all the cooking and they loved it.

Who would have thought!

Unbelievable…..

VN 26.11-3
It’s a pity they don’t do it at home…
street food barbeque
Tasted as good as it looks!

The food was beautiful and the beer was cold.

It was a fantastic night, and a great way to finish off what had been, a really good day.

The next day……unfortunately, our last full day…..

Started the day in the usual way.

Downstairs and into next door for breakfast. Grab our usual balcony seat.

Watch the locals go about their morning.

Absolutely fascinated by it.

VN 26-022
The pho stall over the road.
the ice vendor
Ice lady.

Breakfast done, we drop into the kid’s room on the way back up to ours.

“Morning!”

Grunt…..

“We’re going for a walk. Assume you’re not coming?”

“No”.

“Ok, breakfast finishes shortly so get yourselves organised. Here’s 100 000 dong if you get hungry later. We’ll be back when we’re back.”

We’re happy. Kids are happy.

Back downstairs, Angela, the hotel receptionist, asks us where we are going.

We’re not really sure but we mention Dong Xuan Market.

“Is it worth having a look at?”, we ask.

Yeah, she says, but certainly not ‘selling’ it to us. It’s a wholesale market apparently.

Ok, that’s where we’ll head.

Out the front door and up towards the corner.

“Would you like to buy a book?”

Sigh……same answer as the day before…..

Eventually, we get there.

Oh my…….

Wow!

What a place!

It has everything.

Everything you see in the shops around town comes from here.

All the tourist souvenirs.

The coconut bowls, the placemats, the t-shirts, the hats. Everything.

But it’s not just souvenirs.

Clothes, material, food, hardware, shoes.

Anything and everything.

It’s crowded, it’s cramped, it’s busy, it’s vibrant and it’s just so interesting.

VN 27-005
Just so much!
VN 27-001
Dried food galore!
VN 27-011
Bucket of eels.
VN 27-013
No, they’re not pets.

Being a wholesale market I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to buy anything there. We actually assumed you couldn’t.
We stopped at a souvenir type stall run by a little old woman. I picked something up to have a closer look and she motioned to me indicating I could buy it.

In the end we bought quite a few things from her and had a lot of fun in the process.

And it saved us a few dollars. More importantly though, it saved us heaps of time.

But the real highlight was just walking around the whole place.

Yep, incredibly interesting, and here’s that word again, fascinating.

Oh, and another first….only took the best part of 4 weeks….I had my first sugar cane juice. I’d wondered what it would be like but never had the guts to try one. Assumed it would be really sweet. It’s actually not too bad. Quite refreshing with a large block of ice in it.

Yep, ice……oooohhh. Living dangerously…..

Reluctantly left the market and headed towards the Long Bien Bridge. Only because we were reasonably close to it. Then headed back to the hotel along that busy road we’d crossed the day before.

VN 27-028
Long Bien Bridge area; I did actually help her.
VN 27-030
You’d want to make sure they were secure…!
VN 27-037
Walking on footpaths is not always easy!

Eventually back at the hotel to meet our now incredibly knowledgeable movie reviewers to drag them out for lunch.

Lisa was keen to return to our lunch place from yesterday and show the kids what they had been missing out on. I suspected that they would feel that they hadn’t missed out on anything.

I was half right.

The boy enjoyed it but did a reasonably good job at hiding it.
And the girl just sat there with that face she does so well.

VN 27-042
She didn’t even try to hide her displeasure.

Bit more shopping followed before the call from my bia hoi mate became too strong.

One last visit before that dreaded final day arrives tomorrow.

“Meet you at the balcony at 5.00pm”.

I’m off, out the hotel and up to the corner.

You know what’s coming.

“Want to buy a book?”

But quickly followed with –

“Hey, I keep seeing you and asking you the same thing!”

“Yes, yes you do”. “And no thank you, I really don’t want a book”.

The penny well and truly dropped….finally….we both head on our way with smiles on our faces.

Sitting in my usual spot I have my last few bia hoi’s.

VN 27.16
Love it.
VN 27-054
I pray that it doesn’t end badly!

Just as good as yesterday. Just as much fun as well.

It’s at this point I started to realise that this is unlikely to be the only time we visit Vietnam.
I’d sent my aunty, who was back in Melbourne, a couple of texts while I was sitting there drinking my beer, as well as several during the preceding 4 weeks. She’d sensed that I’d fallen in love with the place and that I’d probably want to return.

I hadn’t actually thought too much about it up until now.

I suspect it was the first time I’d had a chance to reflect on what we’d done.

Beers finished, I headed back to the hotel.

Surprisingly, even though it was essentially our last day, I felt good. I felt content.

I’d had a fantastic day, I’d loved Hanoi and now I realised that at some point, hopefully not too far down the track, I would return to this wonderful country.

Back to the street the hotel is in.

There he is.

He has the biggest smile on his face when he sees me.

I burst out laughing and shake my head.

He tries one more time.

“No….., I don’t want a book”.

He laughs. I keep on walking.

Then this…..

“How about a Vietnamese phrase book?”

He has me. Almost. If we’re going to return, a phrase book could be handy…..

Mmmm…..I stop. I almost ask him how much.

But I’ve been here for 4 weeks. I’m much more street smart now. If I ask him, he’ll have me.

“No, no thank you”.

Back up on the balcony with Lisa, doing what I love. Just watching the world go by.

VN 26-073
Open air convenience store.
VN 27-076
Recycling bike!

I look down. There he is again. Further down the street than usual.

He looks up and spots me.

He laughs. I laugh.

He holds up his little phrase book.

I’ve lost it.

“Ok! How much?”

I have never seen a bloke move so fast.

All of a sudden, he is on the balcony with us.

It’s funny. We’re all laughing.

We haggle back and forth and in the end I give in. I probably pay a dollar or two more than I should have.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter.

I bought a book that I can use, and along with that I got an experience. It was nice.

He disappeared off into the night happy with his sale and, like I said, I was content.

It had been a great day.

Time for dinner.

Like last night we had no plans. Worst case scenario we would go back to the same barbeque place. Not a bad scenario at all.

So we walk.

And there it is.

A big place, or more to the point, area, filled with the usual tables and chairs.

And busy!

Lots of locals as well as a fair few tourists. It’s pumping.

This will do.

VN 27.55-002
Last night but still smiling!
VN 27.57-003
Good. And cheap too!

We sit down and order. Can’t remember exactly what we had but it was a couple of meat and noodle dishes. Doesn’t matter. It was beautiful and there was plenty of it.

A couple of Hanoi beers. With ice of course. It was just a fantastic way to spend our last night.

While we were sitting there a western couple sat down beside us. They seemed to be a little lost and actually pointed to our food when the waiter came up to take their order.

Turns out they were French and they had arrived in Vietnam only 6 hours earlier.

I asked them what they thought so far, even though I knew the answer.

They looked the same as we did 4 weeks earlier, when we first arrived in HCMC.

They were stunned. The culture shock had whacked them over the head. They were struggling.

I gave them a few tips from what we had learned and I think they were happier by the time we had left. I think they were grateful for the chat.

It was a nice feeling knowing that I had helped to put their minds at ease, too.

Back to the hotel to drop the kids off; apparently there was a movie on they wanted to see…..

We, on the other hand, were not quite done.

Back up to the big round about and into the building that overlooks it. There’s a bar on the top floor.

Very touristy, very western, and of course much more expensive.

But, I was going up there for the view.

And again, what a way to finish your last night.

Watching the madness that was still going on below; even at 10 o’clock at night.

A fantastic day that had turned into a wonderful night.

Yep, a great way to end it.

So that was that.

I think there might be one more report.

A bit of a summation to finish it off.

I’ll include the last half day in that as well.

Cheers,

Scott

VN 27-051
Happy family!
VN 27-045
Shoe Street.
VN 26-059
Best to look before you walk out your door…!

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #9

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #9…

12-13 October 2014

Time to say good bye to Mai Chau.

The only thing that makes it slightly less difficult is the fact that we are going back to Hanoi.

Having said that, it is our final destination. And I hadn’t been looking forward to reaching that…….milestone.

Four full days still left of this amazing adventure; don’t look too far forward.

Make the most of every minute. Live the moment.

So, Sunday morning in Mai Chau, head reasonably clear after the “local water” the previous night. Good start.

Unfortunately the trip to the market didn’t happen. Duong was extremely busy that morning at breakfast – think he had quite a few people checking out at the same time.

There may have also been a bit of a mis-communication. Oh well, never mind. We’ll just have to come back again.

So, what to do……

Went for a walk with Lisa (that’s right, kids stayed in their room…..) round to the contrived tourist village to show her. Lots of visiting Hanoians dressed up enjoying themselves.

Interesting, but…..

VN24-041
Hanoian girls enjoying a weekend in Mai Chau.

Then got back to the hotel and just sat out the front and people watched. Almost as much fun as a market anyway.

Just watching the locals doing what they do. Now that’s interesting.

Eventually our car and driver arrived and we were off.

Back up the hill out of the valley. Typical winding road but at least it was made. Didn’t have to worry about being bounced around but did have the usual anxious moments of overtaking trucks and cars on blind corners.

Gee there was some clenching going on.

Didn’t worry Lisa though…..she just went to sleep.

The drives from Mai Chau to Hanoi, like Ninh Binh to Mai Chau, are good examples of how slow travel in Vietnam can be. Hanoi is around 140 kms from Mai Chau.

We were told it could take around 4 hours. In the end it took us a little over 3 hours. We had a good run, maybe because it was a Sunday.

A similar drive in Australia would probably be around 1.5 to 2 hours.

Yep, takes time.

Usual sights on the way back. Cows on the road, road side vendors selling…..stuff. Didn’t recognise most of it…., apart from the oranges, which are actually green. Didn’t matter. Never dull.

enroute to Hanoi
Just another typical day on the roads.

Finally the country road gave way for the wide open space of the freeway.

Woohoo! We were getting close.

The freeway gave way for narrower roads and at about the same time the number of people around steadily grew.

And then the unmistakable Old Quarter appeared.

We had arrived!

Got back to the Artisan Boutique early afternoon and were reunited with our luggage that we’d left behind a week earlier.

In hindsight, we probably could have left most, if not all, of that in Melbourne. Live and learn…..

Time for lunch so we headed out round the corner to a small “café”.

On the way, a street vendor – “Want to buy some books?” he asks.

“No thanks, not really much of a reader”.

Especially of books that were written 25 years ago….

The rest of the afternoon was spent re-acquainting ourselves with the streets of the Old Quarter. This time in daylight and with far fewer people (still s#@*loads though) than the week before. A stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake, and guess what….., the kids came too.

Probably prefer it when they stay in their room…..

VN24-077
Nice to see Hanoi in daylight for the first time!
VN24-071
Turtle Tower, and the red bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake.
VN24-066
The gardens are well looked after at the Lake.
bridge to the Temple
Huc Bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake
roundabout at Hoan Kiem Lake
At the big roundabout near the Lake.

That night we got a phone call from our Ninh Binh friends and we decided to catch up for dinner.

It was suggested we meet at the big round-about near the lake. Not too sure why that particular spot was mentioned. It’s not like it’s a busy place or anything……

Anyway, in amongst the 27 000 people there, we found them.

Like us, they had arrived from Mai Chau during the afternoon. And like us, they had also loved Mai Chau.

And as it turned out, the duck didn’t end up being a pet.

It did however, end up being delicious, apparently.

Went to a restaurant around the corner and had a great meal while we caught up on what we’d been doing and what we’d seen on our respective journeys.

After dinner we walked around the night market. Amazing sights. So many people. So vibrant.

Bid our friends farewell; they were leaving for HCMC the next day; and promised to catch up when we all returned to Melbourne.

Up early-ish the next morning to have breakfast in the restaurant next door (part of the hotel).
It seriously does not get better than this. Sitting on the first floor balcony, overlooking the street, eating probably the best hotel supplied breakfast we had had in Vietnam.

But it wasn’t the food that made it so good.

It was the setting.

And again, it was watching the locals go about their day.

The two women over the road that set up their kitchen in the narrowest of laneways and served breakfast to those that were obviously regulars.

25 Breakfast
Breakfast across the road from the Hotel.
safe way to paint
Safety rope?  Check.  Shoes?  Oops….

The woman on her bike selling bags of ice to the shop owners in the street.

Another woman setting up her little stall selling drinks and snacks.

The fruit and vegetable vendors walking along selling their wares.

Amazing sights and just so wonderful to watch.

And the best bit?

Finding out that I would be able to finish my day the same way I started it.

Sitting there as it’s starting to get dark, watching the world go by. But this time with a beer.

It would become my afternoon ritual. Happy days indeed.

That morning we had a booking with Hanoi Kids. Our guide duly showed up to the hotel at 9.00am and asked us what we would like to see and do. Wasn’t overly fussed. Was just looking forward to spending some time with a local while looking at something.

He suggested Hoa Lo prison. Perfect, it was something I wanted to see anyway.

“Did we want to get a taxi there or walk”.

“How far?”

“10 minute walk”,

“Pffft……we’ll walk”. Partly to annoy the kids……

Sky, our guide, is a 21 year old university student who is studying tourism management. Lovely guy, very friendly and came across as really knowing his stuff.

Once again, it was great to just talk to him about his life and about his plans for the future.

And the prison?

Very interesting.

Would not be a place that you would want to have had to spend time in.

Depressing, soul destroying, scary.

We spent around 1.5 hours looking around and it was well worth the time.
Having a guide enabled us to get more out of it too.

On the way back to the hotel we walked past St Joseph’s Cathedral.

What an amazing building. It just comes out of nowhere and has so much character.

Great photo opportunity.

St Josephs Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral.  Imposing!

Finally back at the hotel Sky grabbed a map and noted a few places and things for us to go and explore.

Two of them grabbed my attention immediately.

First, where to get the best egg coffee.

And second, beer corner.

Seeing as it was only 12.00pm, beer corner would have to wait.

It was time for egg coffee.

“Egg coffee Lisa. How about that?”

You’d think I’d said, “Fried goat testicles and chicken feet”.

“Trust me, I’ve read about it on Trip Advisor”.

She’s not convinced. She has that look.

Doesn’t matter; we’re doing it.

“Kids?”

“Kids?”

Already gone up to their room.

So off we go; trusty, non-drawn, map in hand.

We have the address and we’ve been told what the front looks like.
We’ve also been told you have to walk down a narrow passage way, so don’t be nervous.

That was good to know. I’m not sure I would have been game enough to go in.

Eventually we get there.

Sure enough, there’s the passage way.
In we go.

Lisa still has that look.

“Trust me”.

We get to the end and the guy tells us to go upstairs. Getting even more interesting.

Upstairs it’s quite open, very bright and pretty warm.

And there’s no one else like us up there.

This is good!

Lisa still has that look though.

The waiter arrives,

“Egg coffee please”.

“Hot or iced?”

“Iced please”. It’s hot up there. Has to be iced.

Lisa still has that look.

Fair dinkum, she’ll be left home with the kids next time as well……

It arrives.
It’s in a glass.
It’s yellow and a little frothy.

egg coffee!
The famous Hanoi egg coffee!  Much, much nicer than it sounds!

I’m excited.

Lisa’s…….nervous.

First taste.

I had no idea what to expect, but Wow! I like it!

Lisa tries it.

That look disappears.

“That’s nice!”

“Seeeee, told you so”, said in that annoying voice I’m so good at.

Ahhhh, enlightenment.

Even if you have to be dragged kicking and screaming……

Another thing ticked off the list, we head out to explore more of Hanoi.

Heading further away from the lake we get to Tran Quang Khai street.
It’s wide (3 or 4 lanes each way?), it’s on 2 levels and it’s busy.

Very busy.

Is it worth risking life and limb to see what’s on the other side?

We’ll find out.

So what’s over there?

More of Hanoi.

Different Hanoi though.

How is it different?

No one tries to sell you anything, there’s no one else that looks like you and the locals are just as curious about you, as you are of them.

I love it.

It’s so real.

So we just walk.

Where ever. It doesn’t matter.

Yep – I just love it.

We cross “that” road one more time and head back towards the lake.

Eventually we end up somewhere around ‘beer corner’.

Still a bit early for one so we find something to eat.

A traditional Vietnamese meal of French fries and fried cheese is ordered…….yum……hmmmm…….

lunch. French fries and fried cheese sticks!
It was just easy…

Lunch done, it’s probably time to try out some parenting, so we head back to the hotel.

They’ve spent their 100 000 dong lunch money on soft drink and chocolate bars.

Surprisingly……they’re still hungry.

We head out to do a little shopping and I offer to get them a snack to tide them over till dinner.

Five minutes later we’re standing in KFC.

I feel dirty…..

What the!
You’d think they ‘d look happier.

Souvenir shopping done Lisa has promised the girl a hot chocolate from the multi-national coffee chain place thing near the round-about.

Lisa wants one too and the boy is also interested.

“Knock yourselves out, I’m off”.

“See you back at the hotel”.

It’s this part – “See you back at the hotel” – that is disputed.

I’ll get to that later.

Off I go, just doing my people watching thing and exploring the streets.

VN 25-037
Typical Old Quarter street.
VN 25-047
Old Quarter scene.
VN 25-030
Well, it’s quicker than walking with it.

Eventually I get back to the street the hotel is in. The same bloke that tried to sell me books the day before is there again.

“Want to buy some books?”

Still, “No thank you”.

Can’t blame him for trying I suppose…

Back at the hotel I discover they haven’t yet returned.

That’s ok, I’ll go next door and do my beer on the balcony thing.

Now this the life. Yep, what a way to finish the day.

VN 25-052
The old lady with her stall across from the Hotel.
VN 25-048
Recycle lady.

Well into the second beer and I’m thinking Lisa and the kids must be out doing some more shopping.

Then all of a sudden, a thought pops into my head.

They’re not waiting for me at the coffee place are they……?

Nooo…….surely not……

A few minutes later…….Oh, here they come.

“Hi Honey!”

If looks could kill….

Time for another beer….

Beer finished, it was time to head back and apologise to Lisa for her not listening to me properly…… 🙂

That done, it was off to dinner.

An Italian / Vietnamese restaurant opposite the previous night’s restaurant as it turned out.

Can’t remember what I had, but whatever it was, it was ok. And the kids were happy.

So it actually probably wasn’t that good after all…… 🙂

It was just nice sitting on the first floor balcony, within touching distance of tangled power lines, watching the world go by.

VN 25.53
Always something to look at.

First full day in Hanoi down; two to go.

The days were flying by now…… 😦

There you go, told you it would get out of hand again…..

Till the next one.

Cheers,

Scott

view from Artisan Boutique
View from the balcony of the Artisan Boutique.  Love it!
Made entirely of roses!
Flower arrangement at Hoan Kiem Lake.
sucked in!
Lisa gets scammed again. The pineapple was nice though…. And the photo is pretty good!
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The big roundabout at night.

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #8

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #8…

9 – 11 October 2014

Ninh Binh continued…..

Last full day in Ninh Binh.

A day off.

And it had been a while since we’d had one. Day before we left Hoi An was the last.

So, what to do…..?

Walk. Just walk and see where we end up.

Breakfast done. Kids woken up. We’re off.

Kids not interested in our plan.

They’re going to have a day off in front of the television. Could have done that at home.

Oh well, see you later….

First stop, an electronics appliance store.

Cameras, phones, televisions etc, etc.

And loud, very loud, promotional music / advertising over their PA system.
I have no idea what’s being said, but whatever it is, it apparently needs to be done at a really high volume. Working there would drive you nuts.

We’re heading in the direction of a market we’ve been told about. Not totally sure where it is but that’s part of the fun. It’s quite often the things you see on the way.

I said a few times when we were over there, and I’ve said it quite a bit since we’ve been back; Every day I saw something that made me go – “Wow!”

goldfish!
Goldfish anyone?
recycler
Recycle lady.
fresh bread - sour, chocolate, communion!
Box? man.
VN21-012
What else do you expect to see on a city street?

And usually it was just something that would be a normal thing to any Vietnamese local.
But to me, it was Wow!
A motorbike rider carrying far more stuff than you would think possible, an old lady – no taller than 5 foot – walking along the street carrying something that I would struggle with, chickens walking on the footpath of a busy city.

Just random things that are normal in Vietnam.

But to me – Wow! Just fascinating.

And here comes the next “Wow” moment.

A woman walking towards us carrying a white mesh bag over her arm.
I’m trying to work out what’s in the bag. She notices me looking at the bag so she puts it out in front to give me a better look.

21 scorpions anyone?
Not something you see every day!  Well not in Australia anyway…

It’s full of scorpions.

She motions to me, with a smile, would I like to buy some?

Ummm, no thank you….but may I take a photo?

Absolutely.

Photo taken, we both wander off on our way.

Me with another “Wow” moment; she happy because she knows she’s shocked a silly western tourist.

Win, win.

Eventually we find the market.
It’s funny, I’m not a shopper. I go into supermarkets and shopping centres only if I absolutely have to. I don’t go to markets in Melbourne.

But Vietnamese markets. I love them. Fascinating sights.

Fish, crabs, eels, chickens, ducks (that have had a really bad day along with ducks that are going to have a really bad day), fruits, vegetables.

market. Frogs front left.
No, not pets…!
VN21-005
Food can be very colourful.

And this was all, like a lot of markets, down either side of a suburban street.

Could easily sit there for hours and just watch. So interesting.

I may have said before, one of the things I thought I’d struggle with before we left was seeing live animals at markets destined for the plate.

Surprisingly, it didn’t affect me. It is what it is. It is the way they go about things and who am I to come to their country and judge.

Perhaps not a warning; maybe more of a heads up; at one end of this street there is a building where cuts of meat are sold. As we walked past I said to Lisa I had a feeling about what they sold in there. The type of meat. I’m not sure what made me think that. Perhaps it was all the Thit Cho signs we had seen on the way down to Ninh Binh. Anyway, I decided that I needed to go in and have a look. I didn’t really want to, but it was something I felt I needed to do.

In the end we both walked through. It wasn’t as “grisly” as I thought it could be but if it’s something that you would struggle with then it’s probably best to avoid it.

This market also had non-food items. Clothes, hardware, household items. You name it.
It’s great fun to haggle with the stall holders too. And even more fun when they don’t speak a word of English. Make an effort and you’ll find it very easy to have a laugh with them. Lovely people.

Continued our walk around town and managed to take a photo of something that you are not allowed to take a photo of. That could have ended badly……

Then headed back to the hotel to practice some parenting skills. This involved dragging them away from the TV with the promise of lunch.

Five minute walk down the road and we found the Pho restaurant that Phuong, the hotel manager, had recommended. Great food and oh so cheap. Perfect combination!

Bit of a walk around……until the whinging became too much, and it was back to the hotel to cool down and rest up.

Later that afternoon, parenting skills once again put on hold (even Lisa stayed behind) I went for another walk. This time around the streets behind the hotel near the football stadium.

Found another market!

This one much smaller and bit more temporary looking. But still a lot of fun and very interesting.

Once again, very local. No other tourists. And by the way they reacted to me, I suspect very few tourists are seen around here.

They seemed as interested in me as I was of them. Even had a couple of laughs with some stall holders who tried to sell me food……that wasn’t actually yet food….

And then one of those “little” things happened.

Walking through the crowd a young boy, maybe 10 or 11, saw me and made a bee line towards me. My initial thought was, what is he going to try and sell me.

Nothing as it turned out.

He just wanted to shake my hand.

As quick as he was there, he was gone.

He made my day.

Again, just a small thing. But gee, it made me feel good.

Raced back to the hotel to get Lisa to show her but by the time we got back it was almost dark and the stall holders were packing up.

Walked up past the stadium and came across something that we hadn’t really seen in Vietnam before.

A supermarket.

Just like a supermarket you’d see back home. Lots of processed food and lots of over packaged goods. It just seemed so out of place compared to what we had been experiencing.

That night we took the easy option of eating over the road at Chookies. Kids more than happy with that decision.

The next morning we were picked up at the hotel by our driver to be taken to Mai Chau. It was the same driver that had driven us from Haiphong to Ninh Binh and had been organised through Toan.

On the way out of Ninh Binh it was interesting to see all the places that we had seen on the back of motorbikes earlier in the week.

Two things stood out; one, how far we had actually been. We seemed to drive for a long time before we stopped recognising places we had seen previously. Probably explains why our bums were so sore after riding. 🙂

And two, how much better it was seeing all these places on the back of motorbikes rather than in a car. Bum wise you might be more comfortable, but seeing it all on the back of bikes really is the only way to go.

So, the drive to Mai Chau.

Will remember that for a while.

A fair section of it was along a road….actually, road is not an accurate description.
More like a dirt, potholed track. Again, track is probably not terribly accurate either.

It was fortunate the car had a roof……, as well as seatbelts.

It was undoubtedly the worst “road” I have ever travelled on. It was that bad, it was funny. You just had to laugh.

It did make you think though. The poor people that either lived along it, or had businesses on it, and even the poor school kids that had to ride along it.

It was so dusty that the banana palms were actually brown.

dust everywhere
Yep, brown banana palms.
VN 22-001
If the dust wasn’t enough, the trucks just added to it.
VN 22-006
Have to feel sorry for the locals.
VN 22-007
More dust!
VN 22-004
Just something else to look out for on the roads!

Can’t imagine what it would be like in the wet.

It made for a long, slow trip, but there was still plenty to see on the way.

Finally arrived in Mai Chau around lunchtime so we stopped at a local restaurant for something to eat before making our way to our hotel down the road.

Our accommodation for the next two nights would be the Mai Chau Valley View Hotel.

Very apt name too.

It’s in Mai Chau. Mai Chau is in a valley. It is a hotel. And it has a view.

And does it have a view!

Looking out the window, or standing on the balcony. The view.

Another of those “Wow” moments.

Rice paddies from the block next door to as far as you can see, with mountains in the background.

Yep, Wow!

VN 22.44-002
No words.

Separate rooms again; everyone’s happy.

See ya kids, we’re going for a walk. (Don’t bother asking anymore…..)

Off up the main street, essentially the only one in Mai Chau, to check out the place.

It’s a country town; and a fairly small one at that. But it’s nice. Not touristy and seems pretty quiet. Well it would be if not for the trucks going up and down the main road. Apparently there is a dam being built a bit out of town, hence the trucks. They’re a bit noisy but we’re in Vietnam. Be a bit weird if it was too quiet….. 🙂

Up the road we come across a small market outside a school and in the school grounds there are two games of soccer (football) being played. Stop for a few minutes to watch that before heading on. There’s not a lot in Mai Chau but it has a nice feel. People are friendly and there are plenty of kids about calling out “Hello, what your name”.

Mai Chau - kids' soccer tournament
Local soccer match.
hey!
They were so keen to say hello!  Love it.

On the way back we passed a place that did iced coffee. Well the picture looked like some kind of iced coffee thing.
I suggested we have one.
Lisa is reluctant.
It’s not going to kill you.
Ok then…..

The guy is a bit surprised to see us. Suspect he doesn’t see too many westerners. But he’s very keen to help us.

Our iced coffees arrive. Now these aren’t your traditional Vietnamese iced coffees.
It’s in a large plastic cup, with a lid and straw. It has whipped cream on top with brightly coloured syrup and sprinkles.

VN 22.10-1
She was so brave….

I suppose you could call it a “McDonalds” type of iced coffee.

But Lisa loves it. So much so that we have to take a photo of it.

“See honey, you need to try things. Be daring. Take a chance occasionally.”

“Shut up!”

That night we ate at the restaurant at the hotel. Under cover, but outside, with rice paddies an arm’s length away.

And the food?

Good. Very good. Probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. What a setting.

Next morning we decided to take a bike ride. We hired bikes from the hotel and Duong, the owner, gave us a hand drawn map and explained where we should go.

Here we go again, another map. Hand drawn too.

25 – 30 km round trip apparently.

With a hand drawn map I suspect we’ll be doing more than that…..

So off we go, heading out of town. We have to turn off to the right a bit further up. It doesn’t look that far on the map so I make an educated guess (first mistake) at which one to turn.

VN23-012
You can tell it’s still early in the ride; everyone’s smiling…
VN23-008
The view is helping the “happiness”.

Down through more rice paddies and across a bridge. Beautiful scenery. So far so good. Road gives way to a dirt track. Not sure this is it. Keep going. Track gets narrower and forest gets thicker. Reasonably convinced now that this is not it.

I start to get “Are you sure this is the right way?”

“No!” count to 10………

“I don’t think this is the right way”.

“Well you look at the #$%@ing map and work out where we should be!”

Toys are still in the cot. But only just…..

We turn around and start heading back to the main road.

The boy sees a snake.

We now cycle quicker.

Finally back on the main road the temptation is to return to the hotel. It’s hot and I’m really not sure if we’re going to be able to find where we’re supposed to be going.

Resisting the temptation, we decide to give it one final crack. So on we ride.

Through a couple of tiny towns / villages, past a huge wedding set up on the side of the road and past some lovely country side.

Just as the map starts to make some sense, we get lost again. Well sort of. As it turned out we were going the right way but we got nervous and backtracked a little.

Then we found what we were looking for. There was no mistaking it.

VN23-026
The camera doesn’t quite capture it.
vilage near Mai Chau
Just so different to what we had seen previously.

An ethnic minority village. Stilt houses with flowing water in their yards that makes its way out to the rice paddies. Cows being walked along narrow paths, chickens roaming freely and just the most amazing scenery. Absolutely unbelievable.

VN23-051
Intruding on local life.  But so glad we did!

And guess what? The kids were impressed. They actually struggled to maintain their indifference.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before their indifference returned, but for now, I had won! Haha!!!!!

VN23-023
Still happy-ish, I, however was starting to lose it.

Did a big loop through the village and then came back onto the road that we had been on earlier. Back to the hotel via a different road, and surprisingly, we did it without getting lost.

VN23-061
One is not trying as hard as he was, one is trying too hard, and the other one is not trying at all.
VN23-068
Seriously considered losing them and heading off in the opposite direction.

I win again!

Finally back at the hotel, hot and exhausted, but very content. It had been a memorable morning.

Back to the same restaurant for lunch, that we’d been to when we arrived, and we bumped into our friends from Ninh Binh. Ended up having lunch with them and spent an hour or so catching up. They’d done a homestay the night before and were doing another one that night. Their guide was off getting supplies for dinner that night and he soon returned carrying a couple of bags. In one of them was a duck. It was actually quite a funny sight with the duck peering out over the top of the bag.

We tried to convince the kids, and ourselves, that it was going to be a pet.

Later that afternoon I went for a walk by myself through the rice paddies (which were in the process of being harvested) around the hotel and eventually found a small tourist village. Apparently local Hanoians come to Mai Chau for a weekend away and stay around this particular place. Like I said, very touristy but worth a look.

VN23-085
Kids being kids!
VN23-079
I don’t know, it just seemed to sum up the place.
VN23-100
Their water moving fascinates me.
VN23-078
View from the hotel is brilliant; looking back towards the hotel is pretty good too!

That night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant again. Got chatting to Duong and it was interesting to hear about his life and how he’d worked hard to set up and build the Valley View.

He then offered us some “local water”.

“Why not?” “Actually, what is it?”

“Corn spirit. 40% proof”.

Whoa…..! Strong stuff.

Nice, but you wouldn’t want too many.

The next morning it was time to pack up and say good bye to Mai Chau. It had been a great couple of days and we had only just scratched the surface. I would like to go back at some stage and really try and immerse myself in the culture of the people that live around Mai Chau. I suspect there is a lot more to see.

So, would I stay at the Valley View again? If we ever stay in Mai Chau again, absolutely.
Good size rooms, great location, extremely friendly staff and unbelievable views. And I mean unbelievable.

And while I’m at it; the Ngoc Anh 2? Yep, definitely recommend it. The room we stayed in was probably the biggest room we stayed in during our whole trip, and while the kid’s room was a bit smaller, it was still ample.
Good location, friendly staff. Yep, definitely recommend it.

So next stop is Hanoi. Our final destination.

Should only be one more instalment but I suspect Hanoi may come in two parts.

Considering my tendency…….

Cheers,

Scott

VN21-001
Ninh Binh street life!
interesting acroprops..
Is there anything bamboo can’t do?
VN21-009
Vietnamese school kids seem to care so much about their appearance!
VN23-035
Not a bad view.
VN23-119
There are worse places to drink a beer.
VN23-122
Relaxing after a hard day on bikes. Hopefully they’ll go back to their room soon!
VN 22-019
When the time comes, half the work seems to have already been done…!
VN24-038
Just quintessential.

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #7

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #7…

6 – 8 October 2014

Arrived in Ninh Binh around 6.00pm just as it was getting dark.
My initial opinion on the town, actually…., city, as we drove in was one of,….ummm…..not much to be honest. It just looked like a big rural city; and one that wasn’t overly interesting.

Don’t make a judgement yet, said that voice in my head…..

We arrived at our hotel, the Ngoc Anh 2, and checked in.

Once again we had separate rooms but this time the kids were on the same floor as us.
Bit closer than I preferred but there were still 2 doors between us and them. Much better than no doors…..

Bear in mind we’ve been away for 2 1/2 weeks by this stage…..

Our usual ritual of a quick unpack and then it’s off to have a look around Ninh Binh.
Surprisingly, the kids decline the offer to explore with us…..

So back out the front and we get back onto the main road. The plan is to see what’s around and to find somewhere to have dinner.

So my initial thoughts…….? Pretty much confirmed. It is a big rural city. Touristy is one word I wouldn’t use to describe it. In fact, on our 30 minute or so walk we didn’t see too many westerners at all. That’s good; not unhappy about that. But the place doesn’t grab me at the moment and I’m wondering if Ninh Binh was such a good idea. It has a different feel from any other place we’d stayed. Different shops, different traffic feel.

Still lots of bikes, lots of cars….and lots of trucks. Lots of trucks….

VN21-033
Big trucks.  Noisy trucks.

It seems that every truck in the country drives through Ninh Binh. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if they even go through Ninh Binh when they drive from HCMC to Danang. Check a map if you don’t get it…..

And they’re noisy. Very noisy.

Anyway, I listen to that voice again. You’ve been here 5 minutes, give it time.

We don’t really find anywhere that grabs us for dinner. Actually, we found one possibility. A fairly plain looking place about 3 or 4 blocks away.

I’m not looking forward to the prospect of telling the kids how far we’ll need to walk…..

As we come back to the hotel there are lots of people sitting on the usual plastic chairs at the three or so food / drink places next door to the hotel. One of the owners motions to us, and one of the few tourists we’ve seen tells us the food is good.

The kids have been saved a walk. I’ve been saved a lot of whinging.

We retrieve them from the hotel and make ourselves comfortable…..? on our cubby house chairs…..

Can’t remember what we had, but while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t that bad either. It was some kind of soupy noodle dish with beef and these little roundish white coloured balls that had a meatish texture.

Lisa reckons they were exactly that. Yep, balls. Testicles.

It wasn’t something I had initially thought of.

And I would have preferred she hadn’t mentioned it while I had one in my mouth….

Anyway, whatever they were, they were nice. Not quite as nice as before Lisa mentioned it, but still ok.

The next morning we were due to meet Toan, our tour guide, outside the hotel for day one of our two day exploration of the outskirts of Ninh Binh.

At breakfast that morning we met another family from Melbourne. Turns out they were doing similar things to us. They too were doing the motorbike thing, as well as a homestay near Mai Chau and then a return to Hanoi.

It was now time to meet Toan. It was great to finally put a face to an email address.
After a quick introduction, he asked us what we wanted to do and what we wanted to see.

My answer – “I don’t care”. “Show us what you think is worth looking at”.

Him – “Ok, no problem”.

So, we were off.

It was great to have the wind in our faces once again. It truly is the best way to see the sights.

First stop was a boat ride in Bich Dong to see just a few of the limestone karsts.
The boy and I were in one boat while Lisa and the girl were in another. Didn’t see any other tourists on our way out and only saw a couple on the way back. Very scenic and very quiet and it was quite an experience going through a couple of caves. Not much room at times.

VN19-053
Bich Dong
VN19-031
The caves are low and dark!
VN19-054
Stunning scenery!
VN19-062
Local life at Bich Dong.

We knew when we had got to the end of the first leg of our paddle, as the bag containing the souvenirs made an appearance. Ahhh, so that’s what that bag was for…..

Bit of a captive audience….

So a little lighter in the back pocket and we were off on the return leg.

Almost back to the start and our lady started calling something out. I didn’t understand at first but eventually got it.

Tip!……of course…..

Glad we didn’t buy more stuff…..

Our next stop was Bich Dong Pagoda which is built into the side of a cliff. Interesting place with good views.

VN19-078
The view from Bich Dong pagoda.

Back on the bikes and it wasn’t long before we were off the main roads and in amongst the fields.

I have no idea where we went but it didn’t matter. This was Vietnamese countryside and I loved it.

Eventually we got to the end of a dirt track. In front of us was Tam Coc River and beyond that was this huge mountain with some kind of lookout on top.

Tam Coc
Tam Coc River, with Hang Mua behind us in the distance.

Turned out it was Hang Mua – and it’s 500 steps.

Again, the scenery!

Time for lunch.

Toan and his mates took us to a very local restaurant just down the road from Tam Coc.
A nice meal and the chance to have a bit of a rest before our afternoon challenge; those 500 steps.

Again, through the back blocks and there they were.

Those steps take you a looong way up.

500 steps...
Yep, they go up a long way!

The boy raced off (think he just wanted to get away from us), I tried to keep up with Lisa (but I can’t walk that slow) and again, surprisingly, the girl stayed behind.

Couldn’t have been bothered putting up with her whinging anyway….

Finally we had all made it.

I’d asked a few people on the way up, that were on their way back down, if the views were worth it.

They said yes.

They were right.

Absolutely stunning!
Absolutely worth the effort!

VN19-125
Stunning view from the top.
VN19-109
Certainly worth the effort.
VN19-118
Overlooking Tam Coc.
Are we there yet?
Coming down was hard work too!

Our next stop were two temples in Hoa Lu.

Lovely architecture and a very interesting story to go with it, that Toan explained to us.

Can’t remember the finer details but it involved poisoning and a little adultery.

We had time to see one more pagoda but that involved more steps.

I was all stepped out, Lisa even more so, and to be honest, I was pagoda’d out as well.

The kids even more so.

Back to the hotel and it was time to try out the little plastic chairs out the front again. But this time it was for beer, not food.

VN21.18-003
Great way to end a day.

I think I’ve probably said this before, there’s just something about sitting on the footpath, beer in hand, watching the world go by. I could still hear, and see, the noisy trucks up on the main road going past, but it didn’t matter. It’s all part of it and watching the locals do their thing quickly takes your mind away from all that.

It was now around this time that I started to feel something for Ninh Binh.

Starting to understand it.

That night we ate at a restaurant over the road (Chookies) owned by an Australian girl and her Vietnamese husband. It’s tourist orientated but it does very good western style food. The Vietnamese dishes aren’t too bad either but I think the western stuff is better.

The next morning we began our second day of adventure and exploration with Toan.

Before we left he suggested we might do things a little differently today. I think he’d sensed that the kids weren’t overly enamoured with pagodas and excessive walking.

He’d summed them up quicker than I ever had…..

He also suggested, as we had discussed beer the day before, that we could perhaps finish a little earlier and spend the last hour drinking Beer Hoi.

What did I think of that he asked?

I almost kissed him before I said Yes!

Our first stop was Trang An.

He suggested a toilet stop before we got into our boat.

I said I was Ok.

But he was quite insistent. The trip takes 3 1/2 hours.

3 1/2 hours!!!!!???

Toilet thing done and off we went.

Four of us in the one boat, our Vietnamese man in the back doing all the hard work.

 

rowing with feet!
When his arms got tired he used his feet!

Ten minutes in and I notice another boat about to pass us.
Gee, their paddler must be faster than ours, I think.
Hang on, two of them have their own oars.
I look down, I’m sitting next to an oar. So is the boy.

I motion to our guy – “Can we paddle”? “Can we help”?

Well, he was never going to say no, was he…..?

Now we’re motoring along.

And I feel much better because he’s not doing all the work.

We go through several caves, some quite long and low, and just generally take in the scenery.

Again, just stunning.

We get to the turn around point and decide not to get off. Our guy actually seems to encourage us not to, so we turn around and begin the journey back.

We’re still assisting with the paddling and we’re still flying along.

We have some fun with a few of the other boats and end up having a race with a couple of them.

Half way back we stop at some sort of temple or pagoda that just happens to have a snack and drink cart near it. Time to reach for the wallet again….

The lady there suggests I buy our guy a drink too.

Yes, I was going to do that anyway.

Ever get the feeling you’ve been set up?

So we all sit, and we rest, while they chat. And chat…….and chat.

I suspect we made up too much time by helping with the paddling and he doesn’t, or can’t, be seen getting back too early.

Eventually we’re back in the boat. It’s been fun, and the scenery is amazing, but by this stage I’ve had enough. My bum is really sore – not sure if it’s recovered from the train – and I just want to get back.

Finally the finish is in sight and I’m ready for the tip request.

Sure enough, it comes.

I don’t have a problem with it – it’s been great – but I’m wondering if the tip should have been coming from him.

My arms are almost as sore as my bum…..

Back on land it’s time for lunch
Toan takes us to a different restaurant this time. Again, very local.
They seem to specialise in goat. All different parts of the goat.

Yep, there it is, the goat testicles (yes, plural) dish.

Mmmm... lunch
At least they use all of the goat.

I see a photo of a goat. Wow!

I’m now wondering if a goat testicle (yes, singular) dish wouldn’t be more than enough.

You learn something new every day……

Lunch done, Toan suggests we just ride around. Yep, more than happy with that.

Along narrow tracks and laneways only a bike could get through, past locals harvesting rice with their non-la’s on, along roads covered in rice which is being dried in the sun.

VN20-044
Our preferred mode of transport, and rice drying in the sun.

It was an afternoon of amazing sights.

This was exactly what I wanted to see and I loved every bit of it.

We travelled through a fishing village, rode past Van Long Nature Reserve and even stopped for a closer look at a water buffalo and her twin calves lazing in a river by the side of the road.

VN20-052
Mum and the kids cooling off.
VN20-057
Nice family pic but the scenery is more impressive!

Yep, amazing sights.

It was now time for that beer, so back to Ninh Binh we went.

A little non-descript place, not too far from the hotel as it turned out, under cover, but out in the open, the usual plastic table and chairs.

Beer never tasted so good.

But it wasn’t just about the beer.

It was the experience.

VN20-070
Just brilliant!

An opportunity to spend time with new found friends and to experience the real Vietnamese culture.

What a way to finish our two days with Toan.

Perfect!

That night we went out to dinner with our fellow Aussie travellers. We ended up going to a restaurant that one of the guys at the hotel recommended.

Following a short taxi trip we were ushered into a rather empty looking building and then into a lift. Reaching the second or third floor we entered another rather empty looking large room. We were then directed to a smaller, again empty, room which we then had to ourselves.

A few minutes later a waitress appeared and we ordered drinks.

Warm beer, warm coke and plenty of ice in glasses soon turned up.

Managed to, well kind of, decipher the menu and the food was ordered.

The food was good. Not the best meal we’d had, but it was Ok.

The chicken dish – which somehow we’d managed to order two of – was not really what we were expecting.

I’m not really into heads and feet, and unfortunately, the two plates came with both.

It really did look like some kind of chicken jigsaw puzzle.

Umm... yeah. Claypot chicken
The only thing missing is the feathers.

As we were finishing dinner the boy (need to mention here that he’s 6 foot 2) needed to use the toilet.

Fifteen minutes later he finally returned.

Me – “Where have you been?”

Him – “Standing out there having my photo taken by all the girls that work here. They’ve been giggling and calling me a giant!”

Our friend’s two daughters (8 & 16) along with the girl, decided it might be fun to see what sort of reaction they drew.

Yep, same response; photo after photo.

They were absolutely fascinated by these “strange” western kids.

It was funny to watch.

They even wanted me in the photos too.

I did have to walk past several times though before they noticed me…… 

There’s still another day left in Ninh Binh but I’ve just stopped and read what I’ve written, and once again, it’s gotten out of hand.

I’ve said before that I have a tendency to crap on a little…..

I’ll leave the last day till the next instalment which includes Mai Chau.

Cheers,

Scott

long way up
Hang Mua
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Bich Dong
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Lotus flowers
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Tam Coc River with Hang Mua in the background.
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Bich Dong